Sent: Monday, September 11, 2000

The Clarity of Things
By Mary Kleinsmith (

Spoilers: none, I don't think
Summary: Mulder faces the ramifications of a deadly attack
Rating: PG
Classification: MTA, SA, MA, UST
Archive: Yes, anywhere
Disclaimer: Mulder, Scully, and everything related to them belong to Chris
Carter and 10-13, with magic added by David and Gillian. I'm only borrowing
them. <g>
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
2:00 am

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, nobody even
looked twice at his ID badge, which was displayed in typical fashion from the
collar of his jacket. He laughed to himself, thinking how he'd purchased the
thing from some web site a couple months ago. This plan had been weeks in
the making, but he was going to be sure that the job was accomplished -
thoroughly and completely. By this time tomorrow, Fox Mulder would be dead.

If truth were to be told, the worst part of the entire plan was trying to
deal with the mercenaries - lowlifes who'd fight for anybody for a price,
uninterested in causes or reasons. But they'd had the item he needed in
plentiful supply, stored away for just the particular occasion they seemed
sure would be coming eventually. The small box was held securely, yet
casually, under one arm, even the "inter-agency mail" sticker testifying to
its legitimacy.

The basement hall was darker than the rest of the building, and he wondered
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 door, laying
it on the floor for lack of a better place to leave it. At least, in this
less-trafficked area, there was only a small chance that anybody other than
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 early, which
helped. The only other person who was endangered was his partner, and he'd
already taken care of that. Thankfully, Agent Scully's car, parked
inconspicuously in front of her place of residence, was not equipped with an
alarm system. Upon leaving for work this morning, she'd quickly find that
her car was no longer in perfect operating condition, and getting it fixed
would take, he estimated, until at least ten or eleven o'clock. By that
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 horizontal
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 wielded so

"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 missed him,
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 to happen.

"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 work. I
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 report before
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
9:30 am

It had been an uneventful meeting. Despite Agent Scully's absence, the
report had been concise, thorough, and impressive. Never mind that the case
itself sounded like it had taken place in the Twilight Zone. Agent Mulder
had explained how Scully's car had been vandalized and that she was expected
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 think he'd
ever figure the man out. Their relationship, as superior to agent and near
friends, had been becoming more and more comfortable in the preceding months,
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 compromised
position since Mulder had read his mind and found out that it was Krycek
who'd put the nanites into Skinner's bloodstream and was controlling them.

Skinner transferred the report to his "out" box, moving onto new business
when the report caught his eye. Or, rather, something on the report caught
his eye. The line where the department head's signature was required stood
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, he was
still an agent. An agent who wanted to be out among other agents, getting
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 building. He
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 with
speculation about their relationship than the "Spooky Mulder" comments that
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. She'd said
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 agencies,
and standard interoffice memos which usually didn't apply to the X-Files
division but were required to be distributed to all departments just the

The box intrigued him, which was why he'd left it for last. Who inside the
agency would be sending him something? For a fraction of a second, his mind
entertained the thought that it was from Scully - disguised so innocently and
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 control.
Granted, he knew there was something beyond friendship growing between them,
but Scully wasn't the type to send romantic gifts. Or, at least, he'd seen
no indicated that she was. There was a lot about her he still didn't know,
he realized as he grabbed a razor blade to slice open the sealing tape.


The elevator clattered to a stop a moment before the doors opened onto the
basement level. Skinner emerged into the hallway that led to the X-Files
office, something in him urging him to walk faster. Turning the corner, the
hair on the back of his neck stood on end and he knew something was
drastically wrong.

His Marine training identified the faint, bitter-almond smell of Hydrogen
Cyanide a moment before he raised his handkerchief to cover his mouth and
nose, trying to protect himself as much as possible. He rushed to the wall
phone nearby.

"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, turn on
the security systems and isolate this area. Contact HAZMAT, the police, and
ambulance crews. Unknown yet if there are any victims."

The security officer was obviously thrown for a moment before going into
action, yet he recovered fairly quickly. "Yes sir, immediately, sir." The
line went dead as the guard disconnected the line. He was as good as his
word as the whelps of an evacuation siren could be heard permeating the
building. Everybody should be leaving the building, but as he looked on,
there was no activity from inside the X-Files office.

Taking a deep breath through the handkerchief, Skinner rushed forward, using
the unsigned report to cover the doorknob before turning it to gain entrance.
It wouldn't do to have any directly on his skin. The fog in the office was
stronger than in the hall, and he was grateful for the glasses that protect
his eyes somewhat from the noxious gas. Nerve gas, he thought to himself,
remembering how they'd been trained in emergency procedures against its use
during wartime so many years ago.

He found Mulder, collapsed behind his desk in a pool of what appeared to be
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 substance.
It was safe to presume the agent had already taken in several lungsful of
the gas.

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 tied
the kerchief over his nose and mouth and around the back of his head, holding
it in place, but reducing the number of layers filtering the poisonous gas.
It would have to do, he admitted, hoisting Mulder's prone form onto his
shoulders. He headed for the farthest point on the floor from the
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 began to
convulse. He was still begging God to help him do something when things
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 morning, she
was in no mood for it.

After waiting around at the garage for hours, she finally came to realize
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 that afternoon
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 had a
perfectly good car they could use, she'd called for a cab and given the
driver directions to the Hoover building.

By the time the cab was a block away, the traffic's crawl had slowed even
further, essentially becoming a dead stop. Impatient as she watch the meter
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 the sidewalk.
From this vantagepoint, she could see the commotion around the building.
Police cars and firetrucks were either arriving or already at the scene, and
many people she recognized were talking in small groups at the curb.

"What's going on?" she asked as she approached one group, simultaneously
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 Scully
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 doctor. What's

"We had a report of toxic gasses. It's probably just a false alarm, Doctor,
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 off

"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 rescue
worker in there. On the outside chance that there really is some kind of

"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 with you
could help save lives. Now are you going to give me a suit or do I go in as
I am?"

Realizing that there was no way he was going to deflect the stubborn redhead,
the chief called into the truck, and a small decontamination suit was quickly
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 building.
Scully scrambled behind them as she heard the Captain say, "The basement."

The panic almost overtook her as the ramifications hit home. She was no
expert in HCN, but knew it was deadly - just as well as she knew that her
partner was more than likely in that basement. Please, Mulder, she thought.
Be okay.

Grabbing a medical kit, Scully joined the small platoon in white headed for
the entrance. The heavier equipment was handled by other team members -
equipment she knew would be used to wash down any victims before transporting
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 if anybody
in the basement had inhaled the fumes.


The atmosphere in the hall was clear to the eye, but Scully knew better than
to automatically take that as authorization to take off her gas mask. As
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 on the
floor near the X-Files office.

Skinner's bulk was very still, at odds with the slender form next to it.

Dropping to her knees by his side, she did her best to hold him against her.
Nothing seemed to calm the tremors, though, so she turned her attention to
other, more immediate, problems. Mulder's lips were blue, his panting
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 mask to
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 on anybody

"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 sounded.

"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 eyes
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, the oxygen
helping slightly with the paleness of his lips, but at this moment, there was
nothing more she could do. Luckily, the Captain's words kept her from having
to respond.

"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. Before she
could ask, the man in her arms was divested of his clothing, another man
putting them and the clothes other members had removed from Skinner into a
large bag which was then tightly sealed and labeled.

Trying to keep her cool and remember that she was a doctor, she asked what
she could do to help as the team members began washing down the two men.

"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 to
manipulate Mulder's eyelids until the sterile water could be sprayed over the
hazel irises. They finished one and then moved on to the other, her doctor's
instincts keeping unconscious check on her partner's respiration rates and

"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, or if
she'd never known, what you were supposed to give a victim of Hydrogen
Cyanide poisoning.

"Amyl nitride, Dr. Scully. Once I have the line in, we get these two out of

Unwilling to expose equipment unnecessarily to whatever fumes may remain,
both men were wrapped in sterile sheets and gently carried from the building.
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. Two senior
agents stood nearby, at the sidelines, looking on in horror at what had
happened to the Assistant Director and one of the best profilers the bureau
had ever known.

Scully's eyes locked with theirs for just a moment. "Don't worry," they
assured her. "We'll find out who did this."

She knew the agents and knew she could trust them to be as good as their
word, but revenge or justice was the last thing on her mind at the moment.
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. As Scully
waited for word on her best friend and her boss, she was struck by how
totally powerless she felt. There was nothing she could do, nobody she could
arrest, no tests she could run or autopsies she could do - thank God. And
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 be storming
the treatment room.

"Agent Scully," she said as gently as she was able.

"Yes?" Scully responded, turning to the woman behind the desk.

"I'm sure they'll be out as soon as they can to tell you something. Maybe
there's somebody you should call while you're waiting."

Somebody she should call? Scully turned a puzzled expression to the nurse,
who added, "maybe Agent Mulder's mother or Mr. Skinner's family?"

"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 Center,
she found her daughter entrenched in a chair beside a bed in the intensive
care unit. It took a few moments before she recognized the occupant of the
bed; he had so many tubes and wires coming off him, along with a respirator
down his throat. It looked exceedingly uncomfortable, and her heart ached
for Mulder.

"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 still comatose.
They said he stopped breathing twice in the treatment room," she added, her
voice cracking.

"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," Scully whispered,
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 up."

Maggie rushed from the hospital to the coffee shop around the corner,
returning in short order with two large, strong, aromatic cups of coffee.
She was an observant woman, and noticed that the curtain in the adjoining
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 Skinner.

"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 help. He
then tried to pull Mulder out of the fumes and took in some himself for his
generosity. It wasn't too much, though, and the doctor says he'll be coming
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 so
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 her daughter
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 with someone
from his own generation." Maggie exchanged smiles with her daughter before
kissing her on the cheek, handing her one of the cups of coffee, and then
disappearing into the adjoining cubicle.


The first thing that occurred to Walter Skinner was the noise. Somehow, he
always expected waking up after an injury to be a silent time, but here,
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
tile floor.

He also always expected to be inundated with light, but he was proven wrong
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 bright,
emergency room fluorescents he'd seen more times than he cared to consider.

In that dimness, he could see the silhouette of a woman. It must be worse
than it feels, he thought, if they've had a nurse sitting vigil this whole
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 pain hit
him. There was acid in his throat, he was sure - nothing else could cause
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 against the
soreness there. As she withdrew the cup, he got his first, clear look at his
good Samaritan.

"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 except
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 you."

"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 a shame,
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 yourself
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 reasonings. If
they didn't, they wouldn't still trust you so much. And they do trust you,

Arguing with Maggie Scully was getting to be too tiring, Skinner decided, and
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 Director's
vital signs, grunting unintelligibly as he reviewed results of his blood
pressure, oxygen levels, heart rate, and on and on. Finally, he looped his
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 they could
hear the commotion coming from the next cubicle. Not negative commotion, but
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 doctor assured.
"That's all you need to worry about."


Scully was more than worried - she was frantic. It was bad enough that
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 to just
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 in damage."

"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 levels Agent
Mulder experienced can incur damage to their retina or optic nerve or
disturbances in their vision. I'm seeing some redness around his optic nerve
that could be a problem, but we won't know the extent until he wakes up.
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 horror.
Mulder could possibly end up blind? And that was if he woke up at all.
Before she could regain control of herself, the ophthalmologist was gone,
leaving her once again alone with Mulder. She went to his side, taking his
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 going to
see - I won't let you suffer any more. You've been through too much." A
tear silently rolled down her cheek as her emotions warred with each other.
She knew she'd promised more than she could deliver. She had no control over
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, I'm getting
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, I know,
she's not right here in the room, but she's just next door. She wanted to
look in on Skinner and see how he was doing. He saved your life, Mulder. So
much for your theory of how much he'd like to be rid of you." Scully sighed
. . . 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 her
knowing it. She hoped that her mother would understand that she needed her
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 wanted to
savor the hug, closing her eyes and 'making a memory' as she'd seen somebody
call it in an old movie once, so she tried to come as close as she could
without having to break the visual connection between her and Mulder. They
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 otherwise seems
fine physically. The doctors are checking him over now, and we'd heard
voices from over here, so he asked me to check on you two. He's pretty
upset, I'm afraid."

"Skinner? Don't tell me he's caught Mulder's guilt compulsion," Dana said,

"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 rarely
directed on themselves. He says he should have realized what was going on
sooner. . . gotten Fox out of the office faster so he wouldn't be in such
danger now."

"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 hardly be
expected to recognize a noxious substance he hadn't smelled in thirty years
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 in a
wheelchair, was the very subject of their conversation, and he didn't look
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 been so

Rather than replying to his self-flagellation, Scully was drawn to his
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 the dim
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 bad sunburn
she'd get if she forgot her sunblock on a hot summer's day at the beach.
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 so pale
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 candystriper
pushed the wheelchair in which he was sitting further into the room, drawing
it up beside Scully and the recumbent Mulder. "What did the doctors say?"
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 who's
familiar with these kinds of things sent over to have a look at him. It'll
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." The
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 were alone
again, she settled in, sitting on the edge of the bed Mulder occupied. "You
have to wake up, Mulder. You've got a lot of people very worried about you
out here. Please . . ."

She sat, silent and still as a stature, until well into the night. Finally,
frustrated, she rose and began to pace, thinking about the many other times
she'd gone through this same ritual. What were they doing here yet again?
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 like Dr.
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 Stole
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. "Okay,
I'll do you even better, then. I'll read to you from my science journals,
Mulder. Just think, hours and hours and hours of purely scientific data. No
insight, no 'extreme possibilities'. Nothing that can't be proven in a
laboratory or a courtroom."

So intent was she on trying to figure out what would most rile her partner
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 from
the bed. She spun, her eyes drawn to the bed. The legs under the sheet
moved again, and Scully raced back to his side.

Nearly crawling onto the bed in order to get as close to him as possible, she
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. Slowly,
gently, she felt the slight pressure on her knuckles, but before she could
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 you feel
rotten, but try to stay awake." Her eyes met his as he studied her intently,
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 reply that
accompanied his attempt at a smile. Scully returned it, relieved at the
obvious presence of the old Mulder.

"It wasn't liquor. Somebody sent you a bomb that released Hydrogen Cyanide.
If your throat is sore, it's just the aftereffects of the respirator. You
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 to an
operating table in a military facility, near death from his impromptu brain
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 doorway, and
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 who's been
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. Think they'd
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 silently for
another minute, then the doctor approached Mulder's bed.

"I just need to check your vitals, Agent Mulder," he said.

From Fox Mulder's perspective, it was unsettling, even if he was too groggy
to really know what was going on. He was looking at the ceiling, wishing
Scully would climb back on the bed beside him, when he felt the medical touch
of a stethoscope against his chest. "How is your breathing, Agent Mulder?"

"'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, grateful to
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 the doctor,
who seemed to be better than most. . .

. . . and was met with a blinding pain coursing through his eye sockets.
"Scully!" he nearly sobbed, reaching out a hand toward her.

Feeling the need to take action, she was above him in a microsecond, and he
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 needles
through my eyes," he panted. Scully exchanged a look with Dr. Herbst.

"Okay, Mr. Mulder. We're going to call in an ophthalmologic specialist to
take a look, but for now, I'm going to do a few basic tests. Think you can
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 Mulder
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 followed. Yet
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. Suddenly, the
doctor broke into his realm of pain. "Mr. Mulder, look at Scully. Stop
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 of the
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 littered
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 there."

Scully's head snapped up so quickly, the doctor worried she'd injured her
neck. The picture held fifteen blocks. She almost instantaneously hid her
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 with the
doctor, then I'll be right back."

"Thanks," was the only response she got as his eyes slid closed and he
drifted off.

Outside the cubical and out of Mulder's presence, Scully fought to contain
her emotions. She couldn't even decide which emotion was strongest. Anger?
Fear? Worry?

"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 the
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, you'd
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 been together
for a long time?"

Scully didn't stop to think about the possible implications of the word
"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, so we
have to keep both of your spirits up." His kind face smiled slightly, and
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, to help
occupy the time."

"What's that?" she asked eagerly.

"These are the orders for his move out of ICU. Now that he's conscious, the
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 or closed
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 than Scully
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 AD was
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 felt
guilty at not having been more conscientious in keeping her mother up to date
onthe situation.

"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 eyelids
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?" He looked
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 issue.

"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 careful of
his oxygen and IV lines. Before long, they left the foursome in peace.

Scully's attention was drawn to the other bed in the room. "How's he doing?"
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 haze of
half-sleep. He vaguely wondered of whom they were speaking, rolling his head
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 or the
next day."

"I can't believe I owe him my life," Mulder commented sardonically. "I'm
never going to hear the end of it." Scully and Maggie both chuckled, trying
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 I hadn't
really planned on spending this much of your recovery time with you."

"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 closely behind
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 was whispered
conversation, after which the male doctor left the room. He returned a
moment later with a nurse carrying a tray with a scary-looking hypodermic.
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 a condition
called Optic Neuritis. It's a condition of the optic nerve, and explains why
you're having such serious pain when you move your eyes. This condition also
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, Dr. Herbst
stepped forward.

"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 blocks?
There were fifteen, not ten."

Mulder swallowed, but was quiet as Scully took his hand. It was cold, and
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 questions had
he been able. "These should eliminate the pain and definitely put a stop to
any further advancement of the blind spots. Meaning, Mr. Mulder, that
there's no threat of you losing your vision. There's a possibility that the
treatment will result in the spots becoming reduced and eventually
disappearing altogether, but the chances of that are not absolute. But even
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 able to
inform her patient that he would be able to resume a normal life, not
realizing that this patient's life was anything but normal. Turning his head
to meet Scully's eyes, the statement was clearly written in them. //I can't
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 affects his
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 they grew
thoughtful and then sad. She was an intelligent woman, and now surely
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 the latest
developments in treating this condition. And as hard as this will be, you
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 eerily silent
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 want to
review the security protocols."

"He has, sir, and there's another team of agents reviewing the situation,
trying to find out who sent Mulder his care package. If we're lucky, the
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 case whoever
did this tries again?"

Three pairs of eyes widened and three faces flushed in embarrassment at a
civilian pointing out something so obvious. "Oh, shit. I should have
thought of that when they were first admitted!" Scully exclaimed.

"I think your mind was elsewhere, baby," Maggie answered warmly. Scully
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 gave orders
for the security guards to be stationed outside the hospital room he and
Skinner occupied. It occurred to him, for just a moment, how far she could
have gotten in the bureau had she not gotten mixed up in his quest. Maybe
she'd even be the youngest AD in history by this time.

Even so, Scully stuck with him. Just as, tonight, she stayed in the room
until she was sure the guard arrived and was given instructions. Only then
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 that Agent
Scully was at a loss. She seemed tentative during her time spent visiting
with her partner, which was more often than he expected. As if she was
anticipating a storm that wasn't manifesting the way the weatherman predicted
it would. So Walter Skinner watched quizzically while waiting for the
doctors to finally say he could leave. The "one or two days for observation"
had stretched into three at the recommendation of military intelligence, but
that didn't make it any easier to take.

The only time he got a brief respite from the poking and prodding of the
doctors and the silent communication of his roommate and his partner was when
Maggie Scully was there. He couldn't put his finger on why he felt so
relaxed around her, and chalked it up to her personality. While he saw a
resemblance between his agent and her mother, there were stark differences.
Scully was serious where Maggie was joyful, Scully was reserved where Maggie
was open and giving, even to strangers, and Scully tended to be pessimistic
to Maggie's relentless optimism. Granted, he could hardly blame Scully for
being pessimistic after her last seven years with the X-Files Division. It
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. But how
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 up the
subject of the possibility of the loss of his field agent status. He could
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 original
diagnosis. Repression wasn't anything new to Mulder, and she knew it wasn't
good for him. In light of this, she was keeping a close eye on him.

The morning of the fourth day, when Scully entered the hospital room, she was
surprised to see Mulder watching wistfully as Skinner tucked in his shirt.
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 TV without
having a certain somebody telling me that I'm rotting my brain." He and
Skinner exchanged wry smiles, obviously signifying the start of their banter.

"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 it endearing.

"You didn't seem to mind my 'little intelligence' when you needed some
profiling done, Assistant Director." The title was said with an inflection
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 skirmish."

"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 Skinner. You
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
the hospital.

"Doesn't have much of a sense of humor, does he, Agent Scully?" he asked in a
stage whisper.

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?" Mulder asked.

"Not so fast, Mr. Mulder. Don't forget, you had respiratory arrest in
addition to other affects that Mr. Skinner did not experience. I'm afraid
it's going to be a few more days."

Mulder sighed in disappointment and sunk down further into his bed.

"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 not receding.
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 day-to-day
basis, they won't affect your ability to live a normal life. Knowing that
you have them will give you all the edge you need to be sure to compensate
for them when driving or walking in traffic. It's easy to forget that
they're there, but as long as you don't become complacent, it's perfectly

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. Mulder,
however, seemed and unaware that the bureau could have a problem with his
operating this way.

"Well, I guess I'll leave the three of you to your own company," Skinner
said, hefting the small bag of his personal possessions. "I'll talk to you
both later."

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 him later.
It'll save him having to get a cab."

Out in the hallway, she called to her boss's retreating back. "Sir!" He
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 the bureau's
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 agent."
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, things
should be going swimmingly, as she remembered her mother describing it, but
it wasn't. They were back to work, the office had been swept in more ways
than one, and Skinner had found a never-considered loophole that was keeping
Mulder in the field. Apparently, the regulations called for a specific eye
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 his view
to avoid the blind spots. Scully remembered how the doctor had said that
this action would become second nature. As unforthcoming as Mulder had been
about his feelings of never again being a field agent, he was equally
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. He'd accepted
the guard at the hospital, and even the agent parked out in front of his
apartment the first few days he was home, but shortly became frustrated with
the constant supervision, needing to get out from under the watchful eyes.
She couldn't say she was happy about it, but he seemed safe and the assassin
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 revealed not
her healthy partner, but a man who looked on the verge of collapse. The gray
smudges beneath his eyes had grown closer to black each day. He looked like
he hadn't had a full night's sleep in ages, and while he always ate normally
in front of her, Scully couldn't shake the feeling that, when alone, he
wasn't eating at all.

Figuring she could at least do something about that, she caught him totally
off guard ten days after his release from the hospital. The work day was
drawing to a close, and Mulder's eyes had been drifting to the clock more
frequently than usual. He was probably just tired of doing paperwork, she
figured, and anxious to find a case that would put them back in the field.
But not just yet.

"Do you have any plans tonight, Mulder?" she asked, abruptly.

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 smiling. "Can
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 a date?"

"To quote our less than illustrious president, it's all in the definition.
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 jeans. But
his eyes kept straying to the gym bag sitting next to the leather sofa. It
wasn't very big. He could put it in his car and nobody would ever know it
was there.

No! This night was for Scully, and he wouldn't let his compulsion take it
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. He
didn't remember choosing the black T-shirt over the white or gray one, nor
his nearly-never-worn denim jacket over the leather one he usually preferred.

He tried to ignore the bag as he peered at his reflection in the bathroom
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 barber
butcher his hair like this? Was he making some feeble attempt at regaining
his lost youth? Was this a midlife crisis? Mulder shook his head slightly,
dismissing the thought before wetting his comb and forcing his hair to
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 he'd heard
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 reached back
and grabbed the gym bag. The door slammed, nearly catching the bag's strap.


"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 fluke.
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 opportunity. Do
it right this time, or Mulder won't be the only one to end up on a slab in
the morgue."

"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. Scully loved
the variety, and Mulder should have loved the volume but somehow wasn't. He
needed to get back on his feed, which had been disrupted after the bombing.
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 between two
chopsticks, close enough to his lips that he could smell it. She watched as
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 and
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 lips.

"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 flash of
how they must look to the other patrons but dismissed it quickly. They were
having a good time, Mulder seemed relaxed, so who cares what anybody else

The pair continued to trade their favorite flavors until both plates were
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 for dessert."
She grinned at him. "Coming?"

"Yeah, but I need to make a pit stop first. Save my seat, huh, G-woman?"

"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 sound. It
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 was no
sign of him returning from the restroom, so she patted down the pockets until
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. Her memory
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 range. I
just wanted to see if Agent Mulder wanted me to leave the SDS simulator area
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 talking
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. I don't
mind, though - he's always great about locking up so I don't have to hang

"And don't think he doesn't appreciate it," Scully told him convincingly.
"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 replaced
it in the pocket from which she'd taken it. She began eating a pastry,
startled when Mulder returned to their table and laid his hand on her
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 to say.
That Mulder, who seemed more like an injured puppy than a ferocious guard
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 the regular
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 non-existent
stomach. "Yeah, I'll go over for a little bit. Gotta work off some of this

"Just don't overdo it," Scully warned. "Technically, you're still

"I'll keep it short, don't worry," he stated, but she wasn't reassured.


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 now?
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 his
practice drills and be on his way home, she thought.

However, every instinct in her was telling her that the apartment was the
last place she should be. Mulder was a big boy, her rational mind argued.
He's perfectly capable of taking care of himself. He'd been doing it for
over thirty years now, and didn't need her interfering in his personal life.
Somehow, the argument rang hollow.

Her eyes scanned the apartment, searching for something to occupy her mind
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 a vengeance.
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 evening had
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 it. She
grabbed her keys, purse, and coat from the stand by the door, nearly catching
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 watching
him. His focus was so finely tuned that everything not directly involved in
the simulation faded into the non-existent background. 30th time's the
charm, he said to himself as he reset the simulator and stood poised, ready
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 less
was acceptable.

Not that he cared that much to ensure his own safety. He valued his life,
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 up. He
couldn't have the blind spots in his vision risking her life. Despite the
fact that the FBI regulations allowed him to stay on duty, he wouldn't allow
it if there was a chance that it could hurt his partner.

Thank God that Dan considered himself a friend - he'd pretty much lived at
the range since being released from the hospital. His own needs alone had
practically run the soda machine out of the bottled water that substituted
for his dinner most nights. He couldn't think about eating until he knew
what his ultimate fate was going to be: 100 percent functional or retirement
from the FBI at the ripe old age of 39.

All this flashed through his discerning mind in the second before the bell
sounded and he made his way into the arena. Disregarded was the aching in
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 through the
course. If he got them all, maybe he'd call it a night . . . treat himself
to a Wendy's Spicy Chicken Sandwich on the way home and then settle into his
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 hand.
Closing his eyes, a wish on his lips, he waited to see the score he'd
garnered this time.

Falling to his knees as he opened his eyes, he read numbers that were not
what he'd hoped. He swallowed the sob that tried to escape. Two minutes,
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 through the
course one more time, Mulder tried to get to his feet. Despite having just
had dinner, the lack of food over the past several days and his exhaustion
affected him, bringing him back to his knees a fraction of a second after
he'd arisen. He panted, weary and out of breath. He didn't hear the soft
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 of her

Rather than answer the question, he just laughed - a soft, bitter sound.
"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 prove his
ability to get around his physical limitations in two weeks, he doubted he
ever would - and he couldn't ever let himself endanger his partner. He was
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 she stood

"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 then?"

He smiled self deprecatingly, knowing he was in for a lecture. "I've been
working on a bottle of water between sessions. Does that count?"

"Knowing you, not hardly. Have you been coming here and working this hard
every night?" The crease in her brow reflected both her concern and her

"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 on the
weekends would hardly meet the criteria for which she was looking.

Her eyes met his doubtfully, but if she suspected his subterfuge, she decided
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 awhile. "You
don't like any of my movies, and it's your turn," he said, replacing his
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 of his

"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 the other
day, and I hear that there're lots of classics re-released with special

"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 with Dana.
"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 side.

"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, Mulder
wouldn't have been able to tell them. It was something on the subconscious
level, identified by eyes or ears or one of the other five senses. All he
knew was that, in a fraction of a second, he knew that they were in danger.

"Scully, get down!" He made a flying tackle, bringing her down to the
pavement and rolling to protect her both from the pavement and the bullets
that were suddenly flying overhead. It was hard to see in the darkness, but
his gun was instantly in his hand and he loosed two rounds, hearing a distant
thump as a body hit the ground. Still, the gunshots didn't stop, reduced as
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 see her
concentrating on a dark spot to their left where he could occasionally see
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 on where
exactly the second shooter was.

Suddenly, everything began to move in slow motion. He saw Scully raise her
arms and her finger tighten on the trigger, even saw the bullet leave the
chamber, he believed. The conscious part of his mind was solely focused on
his partner and her actions, but somewhere, his instincts were acting of
their own accord. For a moment after Scully's shot took down the second
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. Mulder began
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 cavalry arrives,

Mulder nodded slightly, unsure he wanted to release his partner's hand. For
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 parking lot
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 his voice.

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
the edge.

"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 the coffee

"Scully!" he exclaimed as he brought his coughing under control.

"Yes, Mulder?" she asked innocently, taking her seat beside him.

At a loss for what to say, Mulder whispered to himself as he ran a napkin
over the table's surface. "There's an off-color comment in there somewhere,
I'm sure of it."

"Just play the movie. I can't believe we found one we both like!"

"I've always loved this one. There's just something so basic about it.
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 and getting
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 were shown.

"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 Navy vessel
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 in any
way. It was right. Peaceful. Content. They sipped their drinks and
watched, mesmerized as childhood memories returned.


"Yeah, Mulder?"

"D'you think that actress is really naked?"