TITLE: Smoked
AUTHORS: Sally Bahnsen and Dawn
EMAIL: sunrise83@comcast.net
ARCHIVE: MTA, Xemplary, Gossamer – others are fine,
just let us know
SUMMARY: Filling in the Brand X blanks through Mulder
and Scully’s eyes.
DISCLAIMER: Mulder and Scully belong to Chris Carter
and 1013 Productions. We just like to finish what he starts.
Dawn: There I was, plugging away at Blood Ties 8, when
Sally and I started chatting about the missing scenes in
Brand X and what we would like to have happen. She
wanted me to write ‘em, I wanted her to write ‘em – so
collaborating seemed the only fair thing to do! This is the
first time I have co-written a story with anyone, and I have
to thank Sally for making it not only easy, but loads of fun.
I hope this will be the first of many.
Sally: Thanks, Dawn. I had loads of fun too. It was a great
honor for me to write with one of my all time favorite
authors. <G> I’d better point out that I haven’t seen Brand
X yet, so I had to rely on a transcript from the episode and
Dawn’s advice. I did get to see an Internet clip of Mulder’s
“code blue” scene, courtesy of Ten (thanks, buddy). As
always, a big thank you to Vickie for beta reading.
FEEDBACK: We’d rather not beg, but... PLEASE!!!

By Sally Bahnsen and Dawn

County Morgue
12:28 p.m.


How can the simple echo of shoes on tile provoke such a
wide range of emotion in me?

I’m standing in front of a lung unlike any I’ve ever
witnessed – and believe me, I’ve witnessed quite a few –
carefully dissecting the tissue to reveal hundreds of fat,
wriggling larvae. I divide my focus between trying to make
sense of the gruesome sight and Skinner’s somewhat nerve-
wracking presence just over my right shoulder. Until the
measured tapping of my partner’s footsteps steals my
attention as adroitly as Charlie used to steal second base
and initiates a cascade of feelings.

Relief -- that his return means I’m no longer alone with
Skinner, whose previous duplicity still troubles me in spite
of Mulder’s reassurances.

Irritation -- that he’s ditched me once again to carry out his
own agenda, giving only a cryptic explanation for his

Warmth, affection, and a slight tingling that usually ends
with a goofy grin plastered on my face. It’s been that way
ever since Mulder recovered from his illness last fall, but
even more so since New Year’s Eve, when we finally
stopped dancing around the truth and admitted our feelings
for each other. Still aware of Skinner, I carefully squash the
smile that tries to bubble up.

“Hi Mulder. Where’ve you been?”

There, that wasn’t so hard, was it? Cool, professional, with
no hint of the way I’d really like to greet him. Mulder is
right, we *can* keep our personal relationship separate
from the work. I’m so busy admiring my self-control I only
vaguely hear Mulder say something about trying to get a
look at Morley’s records.

“Take a look at this,” I tell him, indicating the lung with a
tilt of my head.

Mulder’s eyes skitter briefly over the organ and he makes a
face, circling around to perch on a gurney out of the line of
sight. I can’t help the small upward tilt to the corners of my
mouth. This man has faced down serial killers, flukemen,
and a regenerating mutant, yet an autopsy never fails to
turn his stomach.

“They are the larval stage of the tobacco beetle, Mulder,” I
tell him, since he’s opted out of a closer look. “And
somehow they’ve wound up nesting in Thomas Gastall’s

Mulder grimaces, and the thought that he’s looking rather
peaked, even for a man less than comfortable in an autopsy
bay, flutters across my mind. Skinner’s gruff voice distracts
me from my observation.

“But what doesn’t make any sense is why Scobie’s lungs
didn’t show this same condition,” he says, moving around
to my left and pinning me with the intensity of his gaze.

I’m deep into a description of larvae pupating inside the
lungs until mature when I hear the first, husky rasp as
Mulder clears his throat. Nearly inaudible, but it pierces my
rational scientific bubble. Suddenly my mouth is on
autopilot while my ears zero in on the sound of Mulder’s
breathing like a satellite dish searching for a vital
transmission. Skinner, oblivious to all but the case, frowns
at my explanation.

“That explains the condition of the face and throat. Only

Skinner’s voice fades to an insignificant drone, the words
indistinguishable over the pounding of my heart. No longer
muted, Mulder is coughing – make that hacking – into his
fist in a futile attempt to muffle the sound. The spasms
subside and he slowly pulls his hand back from his lips,
then goes very still as he stares blankly at the palm.


I can’t keep the edge of fear from my voice and my feet are
moving even before he lifts his head. Skinner is at my side,
his long legs actually working to keep up with mine as I
stride rapidly over and seize Mulder’s wrist, swiveling the
hand outward.

Crimson, shocking in its brilliance, splatters Mulder’s palm
and flecks his lower lip.


Ice envelops my body from head to toe and for a long
moment I can only stare, horrified, first at Mulder’s palm
and then into his wide-eyed face. His panic face, a corner
of my mind gibbers hysterically, but I’m not laughing.

A tremor runs through the hand and Mulder tugs it from my
grasp, fumbling in his pocket for a handkerchief. He’s
trying hard to appear impassive but I recognize fear
simmering just beneath that cool exterior. The faintest
trembling of his fingers, the expressionless cast of his
features, and the rigid spine all betray him.

I turn to Skinner, a little surprised and quite gratified to see
my alarm mirrored on his face. “Call 911,” I tell him
tersely, unapologetic for reversing our roles.

He simply nods, his cell phone appearing in his hand before
Mulder’s vehement protest freezes his fingers.


I jerk my eyes from Skinner and give Mulder the look I
reserve for his most outlandish theories. The one that says
he can’t possibly expect me to believe him.

“Mulder, you’ve obviously been infected and need
immediate medical attention,” I tell him firmly. “Now let
the A.D. call for an ambulance.”

“Scully, I’ll go to the hospital, just not in an ambulance,”
Mulder replies with that mulish tone to his voice. He
punctuates the refusal with another jagged cough.

“Listen to yourself! You’re respiratory tract is being
compromised as we speak. You’ve brought up blood, for
heaven’s sake! Sir, call for an ambulance,” I demand. I’m
in no mood to get into a pissing contest with Mulder over
his health.

“I said no, Scully! There’s no reason to make a scene and
that’s exactly what will happen” – he coughs – “if you roll
me out of here on a gurney!” More hacking and now his
breathing is more effortful, a wheezing in his chest. “I’m
perfectly capable of…of…”

The air catches in his throat and he sags forward, overcome
by violent, wracking spasms as fresh blood splashes the
floor between his feet. His eyes, the only spot of color in
his face, latch desperately onto mine for an instant before
turning dull, lids fluttering.

“Mulder? Mulder!” I cry out, lunging for him as he begins
to slide bonelessly to the right.

Skinner is there first, catching Mulder under the armpits
and lowering him gently to the floor. I vaguely hear him
barking orders for an ambulance into the phone, invoking
the powerful call for an officer down, sure to get immediate
results. It registers only on the most peripheral level, my
senses attuned to the man sprawled on the tile. My eyes see
only his wan, still face. My ears hear nothing but the rattle
of his labored breathing.

“Mulder? Don’t do this to me,” I say sternly as I loosen his
tie and undo his shirt buttons with clumsy fingers. “You’ve
already ditched me once today so you damn well better stay
with me now.” I reclaim his wrist to check his pulse,
dismayed by the results.

A couple weak coughs and he moans softly. Heedless of
Skinner, I lean over until my face is just inches from
Mulder’s and push the hair back from his brow, letting my
fingers brush his scalp the way I know he loves.

“I know you can hear me, Mulder. Come on, show me.”

Even down here I can detect the wail of sirens – they must
be very close. Mulder coughs, whimpers, and his eyelids
open a crack to reveal a glimpse of hazel. His lips move but
what comes out is little more than a breathy jumble of
vowels. I lean closer, my lips nearly touching his ear.

“I didn’t quite get that, G-man. Try again.”

Skinner stands, awkwardly rubbing his palms against the
legs of his pants. “Ambulance must be here. I’ll send them

I don’t even bother nodding, just maintain eye contact with
Mulder as he fights to make me understand.
“Can’t…breathe,” he puffs, and for the first time I notice
the bluish cast to his lips.

My stomach twists painfully but I put on my doctor face. “I
know, partner. EMTs are on their way in and we’ll fix you
up with some oxygen. Just hold on a little longer for me.”

It breaks my heart to see how hard he fights to obey me.
His eyes hold mine as if he can draw strength through the
simple fusion and his lips move again, this time in a pattern
so familiar I don’t need to hear.


A volley of voices, the clatter of equipment, and Skinner
bursts into the room with the EMTs on his heels. Giving
Mulder’s hand a reassuring squeeze, I move back just
enough to allow them to work.

“I’m Dr. Scully. Agent Mulder is suffering from acute
respiratory failure and needs O2, stat,” I tell them crisply as
I struggle not to hover. “Respiration is shallow, pulse weak
and thready.”

“How long ago was the onset?” the older of the pair, a
woman of about thirty with dark, cropped hair, asks as her
partner dons a stethoscope and listens to Mulder’s chest,
then starts an I.V.

“Approximately ten minutes.”

“Is Agent Mulder allergic to anything? Sounds like it could
be acute anaphylactic shock,” she remarks, slipping an
oxygen mask over his nose and mouth after checking his
pupils. “Agent Mulder, can you hear me? Don’t talk, just
squeeze my hand.”

“It isn’t an allergic reaction, it’s a pulmonary infection of
sorts,” I answer, relieved when I see Mulder’s fingers
tighten briefly.

The second paramedic, who looks more like a high school
football player to my critical gaze, stares at me quizzically.
“An infection? You mean like pneumonia? His lungs do
sound terribly congested, but…”

“Let’s just get him to Asheford Medical, Joey,” the woman
says briskly. “He’s stable enough to transport, they can sort
it all out there.”

They carefully shift Mulder onto the gurney, but his arms
begin to flail. Joey grabs for his wrists, pinning them to the

“Take it easy, Agent Mulder. You don’t want to knock out
that I.V. or I’ll have to stick you all over again,” he warns

I notice Mulder’s head moving, as if searching for
something. Understanding, I insert myself next to his head,
gently displacing the woman, whose nametag reads
Carolyn. Mulder quiets immediately, and though his eyes
are huge with fright I’m pleased to see that his lips are no
longer blue. He tries to tug away the mask but Carolyn
snags his hand.

“Ah, ah, ah. You need that to stay put,” she tells him

I have to blink back tears when, sick as he is, Mulder rolls
his eyes. He tries to speak but only succeeds in bringing on
another round of coughs, more blood flecking his lips and
the mask. Carolyn goes into high gear, lifting the side rail
and locking it in place.

“Come on, we need to move him. Now!”

Mulder’s stubborn hand slips through the bars and clutches
mine, effectively stopping her. His lips move and this time
I both see and hear the plea.


For just a moment, I’m the one who can’t speak. When I do
find my voice it’s wispy with emotion. “Don’t worry,
partner. I’m not going anywhere.”

“I’ll meet you at the hospital,” Skinner calls as I follow
Mulder and two glaring EMTs into the elevator.

They might not be happy about my company but no one
says anything as I climb into the back of the ambulance
with Mulder and Joey.

A very wise decision.


Well, that was a waste of time. I trot down the stairs to
meet up with Scully. The sound of my footfalls echo off
the sterile walls, punctuating my anger and frustration. I
*know* the beetles are responsible for the deaths of Scobie
and Gastall. I *know* that Morely Tobacco is involved.
But until I can come up with some hard evidence, the likes
of Voss and that smarmy bastard Brimley, will continue to
hide behind big time corporate lawyers, conducting their
tests on innocent people and getting away with it.

Scully should be finished with the autopsy by now. I hope
her time has been more productive than mine.

I hit the bottom step the same time as my chest is hit with
an untimely breathlessness. I puff and pant like a two-year-
old attempting to blow the candles out on a birthday cake.
I cast an accusing glance up the two flights of stairs I've
just jogged down, trying to figure out why my short spurt
of exercise would evoke this kind of reaction.

I pause, and clasp on to the banister, alarmed that my
breathlessness seems to be getting worse. I can feel my
lungs straining but nothing is getting in. I wouldn't say I
am panicking, not yet, but it's not far away. My initial
thought is to run back upstairs, head out into the open air
where an unending supply of oxygen is mine for the taking.
But my legs are trembling and I'm beginning to feel
decidedly lightheaded. The hallway begins to shift like an
out of focus computer image, each individual pixel visible
to the naked eye.

My knees give way and my butt hits the bottom step. I
continue to suck in deep lungfuls of nothing. What the hell
is wrong with me? Thoughts of asthma and heart attacks
flit through my mind. A scratchy, tickling feeling quivers
deep in my throat. My chest spasms and a series of
hacking coughs wrack my body. I find out the hard way
just how difficult it is to cough when your body is
incapable of drawing air. I wouldn't recommend it.

Something shifts. A glorious path is cleared and I suck
greedily as air begins to fill my lungs. I heave and gasp
like a drowning man that has just burst through the surface
of a watery grave. I sit until my breathing returns to
normal and my legs quit trembling, then haul myself to my
feet, using the railing as leverage. My head throbs and my
vision dances, but it only lasts a few seconds.

Unbidden images of Scobie and Gastall scroll through my
mind like credits in a movie. My skin crawls along my
spine and over my scalp as I recall the condition of the
bodies; the decimated faces, the presence of the tobacco
beetles at both crime scenes. The glass -- half full of
bloody water, the beetle lying belly up at the bottom -- and
the handful of squirming bugs surrounding Thomas Gastall.

My stomach does a slow roll and I swallow back the rising
nausea. Somewhere in the hidden recesses of my mind a
little voice is warning me and I don't like the implications
of what it is has to say. I refuse to listen to it. I don't want
to know.

I straighten my jacket and dust off my pants then head
purposefully down the hallway to the autopsy lab, hopeful
that Scully has some answers for me.

When I enter the room, Scully is huddled over the latest
victim. Skinner is peering over her shoulder.

"Hey, Mulder. Where have you been?" Her tone is light
and conversational. I wonder irrelevantly how she is able
to condition herself to be so casual while poised over a
dead body.

I explain where I've been and she seems satisfied with what
I tell her, or perhaps her priority is directed at what she has
to show me.

"Well, take a look at this." She indicates the body as if
offering me a banquet.

I take a quick look. Jeezus! My stomach perches itself on
the edge of a precipice and prepares to jump. I stifle the
urge to cough and vomit and move myself to a nice
secluded, “body free” corner. I spy an empty gurney that
looks mighty inviting and head towards it.

Scully starts her running commentary on the gory details of
Thomas Gastall's death. Under normal circumstances I
would love to hear all the finer points of bug infestations
and their breeding habits within the human lung. Now is
not normal. In fact I feel far from normal.

My concentration is fully engaged in controlling the
irritating tickle in my chest. A small cough escapes, but the
sound is muffled by my fist, held tightly against my mouth.
It is only a temporary measure.

I hear the deep rumble of Skinner's voice, the soft, earnest
reply of my partner. The words “larvae” and “pupate”
hover in the air but the rest is lost as my body is seized in
another spasm of coughing. I hack and hack until
something is expelled into the palm of my hand.

I pull my hand from my mouth and stare in morbid
fascination at the bright red splotch that is smeared across
my skin. Fascination quickly turns into stunned horror as
the full ramifications of what I am looking at hit me.

Scully stands beside me, I wasn't even aware she had
moved. She pulls at my hand, turning it to face her. My
eyes lock with hers and I know my expression mirrors her
own. Unadulterated fear.

I snatch my hand back. With trembling fingers I fumble in
my pocket for a handkerchief. I wipe the blood from my
palm and the expression from my face.

"Call 911." Her fear has joined hands with mine and
ducked for cover. She has armed herself in a suit of
professionalism. Entered her comfort zone. Gone is Dana
Katherine Scully, friend and lover of Fox William Mulder.
In her place is Dr Scully, FBI agent, forensic pathologist
and of late, taking in the last seven years, part time medical

Skinner has his cell phone out, finger poised, ready to
punch in the magic numbers, when I voice my protest.


Scully turns to me, her expression incredulous. Not a new
thing for Scully when dealing with me.

"Mulder, you've obviously been infected and need medical
help." Her features are set, her tone firm, indicating there
is no room for negotiation in her instructions.

"Now let the A.D. call for an ambulance."

"Scully, I'll go to the hospital, just not in an ambulance."
My case loses ground though when I end my statement
with a cough.

That's all the encouragement Scully needs. She starts
quoting chapter and verse all the reasons why I *need* to
travel to hospital by ambulance.

I pay little heed to her warnings and counter her attack with
one of my own. I am perfectly capable of walking, and I
refuse to be the main topic of mortician gossip for the next
month. No way, Jose`.

I'm almost all the way through my argument when another
round of choked coughing cuts me off.

This is the worst one yet. Not only do my lungs feel like
they are being squeezed in a vise, but there seems to be
something caught in the back of my throat. My panicked
mind immediately turns to the beetles. My chest crackles
with each new cough, my lungs are being sliced by razor

Blood sprays from my mouth decorating the floor between
my feet with bright crimson dots. Now I'm scared. No
more Mr. Tough Guy. I search out my partner, desperate
for some reassurance. I see her, but she's bathed in a
shimmering mass of shapeless color. I feel myself begin to
slide sideways, completely out of control. Then...

"Mulder don't do this to me." I search through my mind.
What have I done now? Who the hell is sitting on my
chest? Why am I lying on the floor? I feel frantic, busy
hands fiddling with my tie, my button. Is that supposed to
help me breathe? Just get that bastard off my chest, Scully.

What's that about ditching? I didn't. God, it hurts. Please,
Scully, help me.

Soothing fingers stroke across my brow. I gasp for breath.
It makes me cough.

"I know you can hear me Mulder. Come on, show me,"

Yes Scully. I hear you! Can you hear me? Help me. I
can't breathe. Something in my throat. My chest hurts. I
force an eye open. Maybe if I look at her she'll understand.
Know what to do. Silent communication is not working
today. I'M SUFFOCATING, SCULLY! I tell her over and
over. Make it stop.

I feel her warm breath against my ear.

"I didn't quite get that, G-man. Try again."

I find her eyes. I draw on all my energy and try to make
myself heard.


For one fleeting second she lets her defenses down and I
see the devastation on her face. She recovers quickly,
doing her best, as always to comfort me, reassure me.

"I know partner. EMTs are on their way in and we'll fix
you up with some oxygen. Just hold on a little longer, for

Anything for you Scully. I never want to hurt you. I see
the pain in her eyes and I know I am failing dismally.

"Scully." I'm sorry.

Her hand tightens around mine then she's gone. Mild
panic grips me. I search the room for her. I recognize her
legs, she's still by me but now there is a whole bunch of
other people here. I hear the familiar clatter of a gurney
being rolled in. Voices. I'm not sure what they are saying.
I pick out Scully's determined manner, issuing orders and
instructions to the new comers.

A mask is slipped over my face. The cool hiss of oxygen
fills my mouth and nostrils. I suck greedily at it, but it's
still a fight to get any in. Don't they realize there's plenty
of air available, I just can't get my lungs to breathe it ?

The cold surface of a stethoscope skates across my chest.
The jab of a needle. A very large needle. Feels like a steel
spike in my arm. They don't know what's wrong with me.
Only Scully knows. The bugs are growing in my lungs.
Where is she?

The paramedics are tossing conventional words around.
Pneumonia, infection. Congestion. NO! No, No. None of
those, it's nothing you've ever seen before.

Strong hands lift me under my arms, under my feet and
place me on a gurney. Strangers' hands. Where's Scully?
God, I still can't breathe. Scully! It's not pneumonia. Tell
them. It's the tobacco beetles. They won't know how what
to look for. How to treat me.

I try to voice my fears, but any sound I make is muffled
under the oxygen mask. Gotta get it off. I make a grab at it
but someone pounces on my hands, pushing my wrists into
the mattress.


I move my head, trying to shake off the mask, searching for
Scully. I need her with me.

One more shake of my head and this time Scully is right in
front of me. King Kong has released my wrists. I bring a
hand up to the mask but it's nabbed and back by my side
before I get the chance.

The paramedic is saying something to me. Speaking to me
like a child. I roll my eyes. They have this compulsive
behavior pattern of treating sick people like children or

"Scu..." More coughing. Shit. I groan. I want to cry. It
hurts so damn much. I gag and another spray of blood
coats the oxygen mask.

I hear the paramedic barking orders. The side rail is lifted.
Scully is still by the gurney. I quickly snake my arm
between the bars and latch onto her hand. Don't go. Don't
leave me.

"Stay." I gasp out.

"Don't worry partner. I'm not going anywhere."

Thank God.

Asheford Medical Center
1:44 p.m.


"...anaphylactic shock. Is he allergic to any foods?"

"No. Listen to..."

"Is he on medication? Allergic to any drugs?"

"No, he..."

Does he suffer from asthma?"

"No, Doctor..."

"Has he come in contact with any chemicals? Insects?
Such as..."

"DR KLEIN! STOP! He is not suffering from
anaphylactic shock. Nor has he been exposed to toxic
chemicals, at least not in the way you are suggesting.
Please, just hear me out..."

I gasp. A band tightens around my chest. Scully's voice
disappears, lost among the voices that surround me. A
male voice rises above the din of activity. I hear words,
commands. My head swims as I fight to draw air.

"Agent Scully, please step back or I will have to ask you to
leave." The man.

No, Scully. Stay. I call her name, but there's no sound. I
can't breathe. Scully!

"...and a portable X-ray. Come on people I want action,

"Heart rate is climbing. Respiration..." Their voices make
no sense. My chest aches with the effort of breathing, my
head throbs. Where's Scully? I try to find her. No energy.
Scully! Help me.

"Okay, I want 5mgs of epinephrine..." In between my own
harsh gasping I hear the doctor issuing orders.

"Mr. Mulder. Try to relax, we're going to give you
something to help you breathe." A woman. Not Scully. I
open my eyes. Bright lights, faces. No Scully. I move my
hand but nothing happens, it's made of lead.

"Heart rate's still up."

A spasm of coughing seizes me. More blood sprays from
my mouth, dribbles down my chin. The oxygen mask is
removed. I hear my own wheezing. My chest is on fire.

"Damn it. What the hell is wrong with this guy? Where's
that medication? Hold him still while..."

Hands, on my arms, my legs. Someone holding my
shoulders. The mask is back on my face.

I gasp. Again and again. Then... air. A little at first. Then
more. I can breathe. My body starts trembling. I'm so

"Mulder?" Scully.

I stare at her. She's here.

"Mulder, listen to me. The doctor's given you something to
open your airway. It's only a temporary measure till we
figure out how to treat you, but it should help you breathe a
little better. Do you understand what I'm telling you?"

She takes my hand. I feel her thumb caressing my palm
and I give her hand a little squeeze and nod my head.

"We're going to get some pictures of your chest, we need to
know more about what we're dealing with. I want to go
and speak with Dr Klein, he's running with a theory of..."
She sighs. "He thinks you've been exposed to some kind of
toxic chemical..."

No! No don't go. I try to tell her with my eyes.

"...I won't go far. Right outside, okay?"

"Agent Scully?" A nurse is standing by Scully. "We're
ready to do the X-rays now."

Scully smiles at me. She pulls my hand to her lips and
lightly kisses my knuckles. "I'll be right back, partner."
Her eyes leave my face and she gives the nurse a
meaningful look.

"He'll be fine, honey, we'll take good care of him."

The nurse sets up the X-ray. It's cold. I'm cold. My teeth
start chattering. Makes it hard to breathe.

"We'll just be few minutes Mr. Mulder, then we'll get you
nice and warm."

My shirt is gone. The pictures are taken. I stare at the
roof. I'm scared. I have bugs in my lungs. Oh, god. Bugs.
Growing in my lungs.

My stomach heaves.

"He's vomiting! I need help here!" Hands grip my body
and roll me onto my side. Someone has my head, the
oxygen mask is whipped away. It hurts. My stomach, my
chest, my throat. Hot bile fills my mouth. I spit. And spit.
A bowl is under my chin. I spit again. The retching stops.
I can't move. I don't have to. Gentle hands lower me onto
my back. A wet cloth wipes the inside of my mouth and
around my chin. A hand brushes across my forehead. Not
Scully. Someone else.

"You better now, honey? " The nurse. I open my eyes.

"We're all done with the X-rays. Let's get you settled
somewhere more comfortable. We've still got a few more
tests to run." I feel elastic tugging on my hair. Oxygen
mask. No, not this time. Plastic tubes in my nose.
Cannula. I shiver, harder this time.

"Cold." Did she hear me? I'm so cold.

A blanket is placed over my body, the edges tucked under
my hips and feet, then another. I drink in its warmth. A
heaviness descends on me and I sink into oblivion, too
exhausted to resist.


The frenzy of activity surrounding Mulder has abated and
I’m actually able to resume my post at his side. Thanks to a
combination of oxygen and bronchodilators, his breathing
has eased from frantic to merely labored. Of course, there’s
nothing “mere” about the way his chest works to pull air
into lungs whose capacity is so dramatically reduced. He’s
learned to refrain from speech, conserving precious oxygen
and energy, but his expressive eyes, dark with exhaustion,
follow my every movement. It’s as if I’m the only tether
grounding him, preventing his fear from spiraling out of

It didn’t help that during the initial flurry of carefully
controlled chaos that characterizes an ER I’d been forced to
abandon Mulder to engage in a battle of wills. My
opponent? An overly zealous resident who possesses even
less of an appreciation for extreme possibilities than I.

Imagine that.

This kid took one look at Mulder’s gasps for breath
intermingled with violent coughing spells that produced
bloody sputum, and came up with a preliminary diagnosis
of exposure to a toxic substance. Not so far off, really,
except that the wet behind the ears Dr. Klein insisted the
toxin must be chemical in nature – something, most likely
an inhalant, so caustic that it had essentially burned
Mulder’s bronchial passages and caused massive tissue
damage and edema.

Naturally, I immediately reneged on my promise to be a
good little observer and stay out of the way. As a nurse
rolled in the portable X-ray equipment I pulled Klein aside
and explained in detail exactly what kind of toxic exposure
he had on his hands, including my fledgling theory that the
victims somehow inhaled the beetles’ eggs. Klein, in
return, looked at me…well…the way people usually look at
Mulder after he’s just spouted one of his outrageous
theories. Two thoughts chased each other through my head
in that instant:

*Oh my god, another seven years with this man and I'll be
watching movies that aren’t mine and renewing my
MUFON membership.*


*How many times has Mulder wished he could slap that
look off my face?*

“Agent Scully, while I would never dispute the role of
tobacco smoke in lung cancer, I hardly think it could
transmit mutant tobacco larvae into your partner’s lungs,”
Klein told me condescendingly. “You’re understandably
distraught and lacking objectivity, so if you’ll just stand
back and let us do our jobs…”

Dr. Klein owes Walter Skinner his life. Before I could pull
out my gun and shoot the sanctimonious little bastard,
Skinner walked in bearing a specimen jar that contained a
section of Thomas Gastall’s lung and its uninvited guests.
That, coupled with the chest films, left Klein green around
the gills and hollering for a pulmonary specialist.

More tests, some stopgap measures to ease Mulder’s
immediate distress, and now we wait.

With Skinner off calling the Bureau for a progress report
and Mulder relatively stable, I relegate both Agent Scully
and Dr. Scully to a distant corner of my mind and look at
my partner through the eyes of the woman who loves him.
With my alter egos, unfortunately, goes my professional
detachment, and the rapid deterioration of his appearance
hits me like a physical blow.

Skin too pale, except for the bruised shadows beneath his
eyes; pain etched in fine lines across his brow and around
his mouth; and perhaps worst of all, his body sprawled
limply on the bed. No whining about the I.V. and the
oxygen mask, no snide remarks about hospitals in general
and this one in particular, no protestations that he’s fine and
we’re overreacting. Each shuddering, inadequate breath
taps his strength, and it’s not hard to see the reserves are
running dangerously low.

I slide my right hip onto the mattress and enfold Mulder’s
hand between mine. He watches me solemnly as my fingers
flirt with his. Mulder has beautiful hands, with long,
elegant fingers much better suited to a pianist or a surgeon
than a FBI agent. I’m tracing the pad of my index finger
over the ridge of his knuckles, trying to ignore the bluish
tint to his nail beds, when he musters a rough whisper.


He’s scared. Seven years and a plethora of terrifying
situations have given me ample chances to learn that
Mulder deflects fear with humor. I know his “panic face,”
in all its disguises.

“Doctor McManus is checking the second set of chest
films. Barring complications he’s recommending deep
suctioning,” I answer, trying to keep my voice light and
optimistic. “You remember what I described?” He was in
and out during McManus’s consultation so I figure I’d
better ask.

Mulder rolls his eyes. “The…crazy straw,” he rasps.

He opens his mouth to continue, but a succession of jagged
coughs slips out instead. I can only stand by, helplessly
stroking his sweaty brow until the spasms ease up. Each of
these episodes takes a little more out of him -- he’s limp
and passive as I use a cool cloth to wipe perspiration and
blood from his face, eyes at half-mast. I turn to rinse the
cloth, struggling to maintain composure. A break in the
relentless rhythm of Mulder’s breathing steals my attention
and I freeze, spinning around when it is repeated, like a
record skipping a groove.


I don’t mean to speak his name as an accusation, but alarm
seizes control of my vocal chords. Mulder jerks in
response, hazel eyes flying wide open for a moment before
relaxing. I lay an apologetic hand on the crown of his head
and weave my fingers through his hair.

“Sorry, I… Just stay with me, all right?” I stammer lamely.

His gaze is that of a marathon runner miles from the finish
line. “Tired.”

My throat tightens. “I know you are, love. I know you are.”

Sick as he is, his eyes widen and one corner of his mouth
turns up. Unlike Mulder, who can be practically effusive
with sentiment, it doesn’t roll easily off my tongue. Seeing
the power in that simple endearment, the rekindled spark in
his gaze, I silently vow to do a better job of reminding this
man of his place in my life.

“Agent Mulder, Dr. Scully.”

Dr. McManus hovers in the doorway a moment before
entering. One look at his grave face and I know the news
isn’t good. Dr. Scully steps forward, elbowing Dana
gracelessly out of the way.

“Dr. McManus, did you look at the films?”

McManus’s eyes graze Mulder and he tilts his head toward
a lightbox mounted on the wall. I turn, flash Mulder a
reassuring smile, and follow, cringing internally as the
doctor snaps two views of Mulder’s lungs into place. The
white patches, signaling larval infestation, have grown and
spread in the hour between X-rays. As if to confirm the
diagnosis, Mulder begins to cough.

“We need to get him upstairs right away,” McManus says,
terse but not unsympathetic. “If we don’t clear his airways
soon he’s going to go into pulmonary failure.”

“You have to anesthetize him for the procedure, don’t
you?” I ask quietly. “Isn’t that dangerous? Won’t it depress
his respiratory system further?”

“We’ll use light sedation and monitor him carefully,”
McManus replies, still staring at the X-rays. “We really
don’t have an alternative. He’s weakening rapidly, and his
pulse ox is dangerously low.” He sighs. “Would you like
me to talk to him?”

I shake my head. “I’ve already explained the procedure. I’ll
tell him we’re going ahead with it.”

McManus finally abandons the x-rays to meet my gaze. “A
nurse will be right in with the sedative. We’ll take him up
as soon as he’s under.”

I draw myself up to my full height and square my
shoulders, trying to look as intimidating as a petite redhead
can manage. After growing up with two brothers (one of
them a bully, and I’ll bet you can guess which) and joining
the FBI, I’ve become surprisingly good at it.

“I want to observe.”

I can see him weighing his options – say no and piss off the
federal agent or say yes and go against his professional
judgement. In the end he caves to pressure with a reluctant
tip of his head.

“Very well. You can follow him up. One of the nurses will
get you a pair of scrubs.”

I tell him thank you, which he acknowledges with a wave
of his hand, and walk back over to Mulder. One look at his
face tells me that he already knows what I’m going to say.

“This…really…sucks,” he croaks. “Right?”

“Big time,” I confirm, and even manage a ghost of a grin.

On cue, a nurse enters with a stainless steel tray and a no
nonsense smile. “I’ve got something to guarantee you’ll
sleep through the procedure, Agent Mulder,” she says,
swabbing the rubber port on his I.V. and uncapping a

Mulder’s hand latches onto mine in a death grip and there’s
no camouflaging the fright in his suddenly rigid posture. I
instinctively recognize the source of his panic and hasten to
reassure him.

“I’ll be right there the whole time, Mulder. You wouldn’t
want to be conscious for this, it’s worse than being
intubated, and you *know* how you feel about that,” I
warn him, watching as the nurse injects what is probably
Versed into the line. “Trust me, you’ll be awake in no time
and breathing much easier.”

In his weakened condition, the drug hits him like a truck,
and within seconds his eyes are glassy and drooping shut. I
stroke my thumb soothingly over the back of his hand as
his fingers turn slack and pliant. He mutters something just
as he slips into sleep, and between the sandpaper voice and
a tongue thick with drugs it takes me a moment to decipher
and another to match it with my plea for his trust. I bite my
lip and blink hard.

“Only you.”


I watch Scully pace. Not a nervous, erratic stride. Her
movements are slow, cautious. She checks my IV, my
chart, the heart monitor. I follow her with my eyes. She is
no longer hiding behind her professional facade. The
worry lines are set around her eyes. I know she's scared.
It's bad this time. I'm amazed I'm still alive. How long did
it take for those other people to die? How long will it take
for me...I don't want to go there.

Scully stops her restless movements and sits on the edge of
my bed. She picks up my hand and starts caressing it,
playing with my fingers. Her brow is locked in a perpetual
frown. What is she thinking as she toys with my hand?


I listen to Scully as she explains what is in store for me.
Deep suctioning.

"The...crazy...straw." Three little words and it exhausts me
to say them. A spasm of coughing grips me. I close my
eyes and wait for it to stop. God, my chest feels as if it
might explode. I think I hear myself groan.

Scully strokes my brow. I feel a cool cloth glide across my
chin, around my mouth. I open my eyes, the cloth is tinged
with pink. More blood. It's such a struggle to breathe. I
feel my eyes slip shut. I'm so tired.


Scully. I jerk awake. What's wrong?

"Sorry, I...Just stay with me, all right?" Her eyes are


"I know you are, love. I know you are."

The fact that she has slipped that term of endearment in
tells me more than all the medical jargon combined. It
can't be good if Scully is calling me love in a public place.
But even under these circumstances, it 's nice to know what
I mean to her.

"Agent Mulder, Dr Scully." Scully drags her gaze from
me and turns to face the man lingering in the doorway.

"Dr McManus, did you look at the films?"

The doctor casts a glance in my direction, then indicates
he'd like to speak with Scully. She gives me a quick smile
then joins him to view my X-rays. I lie quietly and
concentrate on breathing, leaving the medical details to
Scully. Something itches deep in my chest. It sets off
another bout of coughing. I no longer bother trying to stifle
it, too much energy is required. The hacking goes on and
on, when it stops I am left weak and breathless.

I try to listen to the Doctor and Scully. Their conversation
floats across the room, soft and barely audible. I hear the
no nonsense tone of Dr McManus, the quiet, resigned
quality of my partner's voice, discussing the best course of
action. I know they want to use deep suction, and I know
they want to put me under for the procedure. While the
idea of being awake is repugnant to me, the option of sleep
scares me more. What if I never wake up?

Scully walks back to my bedside. I can guess what she is
going to say. Her expression is pained, somber.

"This...really...sucks. Right?"

"Big time." The pained expression leaves her face. She
tries for a smile.

A nurse enters the room. She carries a tray littered with an
assortment of medical paraphernalia. She speaks to me, but
I take no notice. Now that the time has come to put me to
sleep, I feel my courage sink to my toes, cowering out of
sight. I grab Scully's hand, holding on for dear life. God, I
don't know if I can go through with this.

Scully speaks to me, assuring me she will be by my side the
whole time.

The familiar feeling that accompanies anesthesia washes
over me. My mind becomes sluggish, my thoughts thick
and tangled as if wrapped in cotton. I sense each individual
beat of my heart as it pumps the drug through my system.
Tingling, around my lips, my tongue. I feel myself slipping
under. Scully's voice drifts through the heaviness in my

"Trust me...awake...no time...breathing... easier..."

Trust me. Trust me. I do Scully.

"Only you."

Asheville Medical Center
4:20 p.m.


I can’t believe what I’m seeing. Simultaneously fascinated
and repulsed, I can only watch as one by one, fat wriggling
larvae are drawn up the tube inserted into Mulder’s lungs.
The collection jar contains a gruesome cocktail of bloody
mucous and the soft, pale bodies. Thank God that Mulder
lies there in drugged oblivion, spared the horror of
witnessing his body’s insidious invaders.

Not that his waking will be pleasant. I warned Mulder that
this procedure would be even more disagreeable than
intubation, and I wasn’t exaggerating. The suction
apparatus is invasive, abrading the soft tissue of Mulder’s
trachea, and Dr. McManus has literally rooted around the
delicate bronchi in search of the insects. He’s going to have
one hell of a sore throat when they’re done.

Another maggot shoots up the tube with a wet, squelching
sound and I can’t help wincing. The walls around me press
inward and the sterile mask clings like Saran wrap to my
nose and mouth, suffocating me. I catch sight of Skinner
peering through the window, brow contracted in
apprehension and concern, and jump on the excuse to flee
the O.R.

“How is he?” Skinner asks before I can even remove the

“They’re using a deep suction technique that’s been
designed for asthma and cystic fibrosis,” I explain, feeling
myself slipping into the safety of doctor mode. “And, so
far, we’re having some luck at clearing his lungs.”

*That’s it, Dana, accentuate the positive – there’s so little
of it.*

Skinner has never been satisfied with half an answer, and
now is no exception. “But?” he prods me to continue.

“For every one of those things that are in his lung tissue
there may be a dozen eggs that have yet to be hatched.”

Skinner, only marginally better at assimilating extreme
possibilities than I am, squints at me in disbelief. “Eggs?”

“His pulmonary tissue is riddled with them,” I tell him,
anger and frustration bubbling up inside me. “And they’re
going to hatch. It’s just…we’re buying time.”

I want to weep. I want to scream. I want to throw an adult
version of the childhood temper tantrums Mom loves to
remind me I had. But I am a special agent of the FBI, this
man is my boss, and in this particular arena Mulder is only
my partner. As I’ve done too many times in the past, I tuck
my own feelings safely out of sight.

Skinner, on the other hand, is visibly shaken by my
revelation. His eyes slip shut and he glances away,
swallowing hard. Finding his voice, he steers the
conversation away from the emotional quicksand of
Mulder’s death sentence to the safer ground of the
investigation – how did the eggs get into Mulder and
Scobie’s lungs? I’m only too glad to oblige, spouting
information on the tobacco beetle’s life cycle and my
personal theory that the genetically altered eggs were
transmitted via cigarette smoke.

We’re not so different, Walter Skinner and I. He hides his
emotions behind authority and procedure; I bury mine
beneath logic and science.

*Unquestionably an X-File*

Mulder’s voice, complete with smirk, echoes in my head,
accompanied by a bright rush of pain that steals my breath.

I turn to stare through the window of the O.R., peripherally
hearing Skinner take his leave. He’s on a mission,
determined to acquire the warrant necessary to search
Morley and hopefully persuade Dr. Voss to talk. A part of
me envies his ability to act, to immerse himself in the hunt
for the truth, while I’m reduced to a helpless observer.

And yet I must admit the catch-22 in this whole nightmare.
If I was out there with Skinner right now, I’ve no doubt I’d
be fretting over Mulder and longing to be by his side. When
I fled to Africa, desperate to silence the voices in Mulder’s
fevered brain, I nearly went crazy with worry. Had he
gotten sicker? Did he understand where I’d gone, that I
hadn’t abandoned him? Had I done the right thing? For the
first time I’d truly comprehended what Mulder had endured
during the end stages of my cancer.

I should probably go back inside now, but my leaden feet
won’t cooperate. I recall the gurgling sound as the larvae
pass through the tube, the rapidly filling jar, and Mulder’s
deathly pale face, and shiver. There’s a reason that doctors
make it a policy not to treat their loved ones, and I’m
brutally reminded of it now.

I’m not sure how long I stand with one hand on the door,
waging an inner battle, when the decision is taken out of
my hands. Dr. McManus removes the suction apparatus
from Mulder’s body and steps back, stripping off mask and
gloves. He steps out into the hallway and pulls the surgical
cap from his curly head with a sigh.

“I think we’ve done all we can. Your partner’s breathing
should be significantly improved.” He shakes his head in a
mixture of amazement and disgust. “I can’t believe how
many of those things we extracted. It’s amazing Agent
Mulder functioned as well as he did.”

I glance through the window as a nurse carefully wipes
Mulder’s face and mouth. “Agent Mulder has had to
overcome more than his share of obstacles.” I allow my lips
to curve. “And he has a stubborn streak a mile wide.”

McManus chuckles wearily. “Well, it’s served him well
today.” He sobers. “You do realize…”

“Yes,” I say, more sharply than I’d intended. I suck in a
slow, deep breath of air and lace my arms across my chest.
“He’s only been given a temporary respite. The larvae will
continue to hatch and his condition will continue to

McManus brushes his fingers fleetingly against my
shoulder, his brown eyes honestly sympathetic. “The nurses
will finish cleaning him up and take him back to ICU. The
Versed probably won’t start wearing off for at least an
hour. You’ve got plenty of time to change and grab a cup
of coffee, maybe something to eat.” He starts down the
hallway toward the changing room but tosses over his
shoulder, “You look like you could use it.”

Though my impulse is to return immediately to ICU and
wait for him, common sense and McManus’s not so subtle
comment on my appearance convince me to take a short
break. Mulder, sick as he is, will be the first to notice if I
look like something the cat dragged in. The crazy fool
would be just as likely to start worrying about *me* when
he should be concentrating on his own health. So I change
out of my scrubs and spend some time on damage control,
splashing cool water on my face, finger-combing hair
flattened by the surgical cap, and endeavoring to erase the
fear from my eyes. A trip to the cafeteria for a cup of bad
hospital coffee and a carton of yogurt, and I’m headed
back, my steps quickening as I draw closer.

I’m sidetracked, however, when my cell phone chirps
cheerfully, drawing the hostile stares of several nurses. I
give them my best Special Agent Dana Scully glare in reply
and duck into an out of the way corner to take the call.

Skinner’s report, confirming what I had suspected, gives
me a seed of hope. If we can find this man, Darrell Weaver,
and if he does have some kind of immunity to the beetles,
and if we can figure out how to transfer that immunity to
Mulder… The number of “ifs” involved overwhelms me,
crushing the hope before it can begin to take root. I tuck the
phone back into my pocket and work hard to regain my
game face.

When I walk into Mulder’s cubicle he’s still asleep and for
a moment I’m content with looking, mesmerized by the
steady, if shallow, rise and fall of his chest. No matter how
many times I’m forced to see Mulder in these
circumstances, I never grow used to it. The man possesses
such an incredibly intense drive, always moving, always
seeking. To witness him as he is now – so still, so passive –
is almost more than I can bear.

I walk quietly over and take his hand, weaving my small
fingers among his larger ones. Like our lives, I muse,
surveying the tangled digits. Hopelessly entwined, so that I
am no longer able to tell where he ends and I begin. With
my free hand I stroke the soft skin between knuckles and
wrist, not caring that the unpartnerly gesture can be easily
observed by the nurses just a stone’s throw away.

Mulder’s eyes flutter, then slide slowly open and he
solemnly absorbs the fact that I’m breaking rule number
two – no public displays of affection. (Rule number one
being no private displays of affection -- in the basement
office.) Never one for subtlety, Mulder has been amazingly
cooperative when it comes to our “rules.” I suppose
eventually the truth about the shift in our relationship will
get out, but for now, like a precious jewel, we hold it close
and guard it jealously.

“Hm. Must be bad,” Mulder rasps, his voice rough and thin.

I keep my smile in place. “How do you feel?”

Mulder grimaces. “Like a dust buster attacked me.” Even
the abbreviated reply provokes a cough.

My mouth quirks half-heartedly as thoughts of a hospital in
Alaska and freezer burn float through my head. “We’re
looking for someone who may be able to help you,” I
explain. “A Morley test subject by the name of Darrel

“Mr. E Pluribus…” Mulder rolls his eyes and gives a
comical shake of his head that I can only assume is an
imitation of Mr. Weaver.

I’m in the middle of explaining my hope that Weaver just
might provide a cure for what’s ailing Mulder when on odd
look crosses his face and he gasps.

And gasps again.

Panic replaces puzzlement and he’s struggling in earnest
now, his mouth opening and closing ineffectually as he
wheezes and can’t fill his lungs with oxygen. I’ve only
been fishing once in my life, lured into the outing by
Charlie and Bill when I was only eight years old. I’ve never
forgotten the sight of the poor fish as they lay on the
bottom of the boat, mouths working impotently in their
efforts to breathe. Mulder’s eyes lock onto mine and I feel
as helpless as that eight-year-old child.


The machines are going crazy, readouts dropping and
alarms blaring. I finally shake myself out of immobility.

“DOCTOR!” I call frantically, trying to elevate Mulder’s
head to ease his breathing.

By some miracle McManus is right there, circling to the
other side of the bed. Unfortunately, my manipulation of
Mulder’s position has had no discernable effect. My heart
hammers wildly in my chest, a counterpoint to Mulder’s.

“His SAT’s down to 72! Get some O2 on him and call the
code!” I snap, heedless of etiquette and the fact that I have
no authority to give the man orders.

McManus, a true professional, accepts my instructions
graciously. “Susan, Code Blue,” he barks as he slips an
oxygen mask over Mulder’s nose and mouth.

The next several minutes pass in a blur as Susan rolls the
crash cart into place and McManus runs the code. Relief
leaves me weak-kneed as Mulder demonstrates his
stubborn streak yet again and comes back from the edge of
the abyss. Until my eyes catch a flicker of movement
beneath the oxygen mask and the noise and activity around
me is drowned out by the ringing in my ears.

A beetle.

Crawling over Mulder’s lip, INSIDE the mask.

And suddenly Mulder isn’t the only one who can’t breathe.


I awake to the reassuring pulse of a heart monitor. Yes, I
amaze myself that I would consider being attached to a
machine reassuring. Each high pitched beep reminds me
that I am still breathing in my own special, wheezing,
ragged way. I am alive. I made it. Although the way my
throat feels I'm wondering if that's such a good thing.

I push my negative thoughts temporarily to the side as I
recall the look on Scully's face. The devastation she tried
so valiantly to hide, the worry lines framing her beautiful
eyes, the quick upturn of her mouth as she realized she'd let
her defenses slip. If for no other reason, she is enough to
make me fight this. That, and I want to get my hands on
Voss and his cronies. To have the opportunity to prove that
their unlawful tests are responsible for the deaths of
Gastall, Scobie and who knows how many more. The truth
is in me. I chuckle, then regret the action. Pain in my
throat and chest quickly reminds me that there is nothing
humorous about this situation.

I sink back into my pillow and concentrate on not
swallowing, not coughing, and not laughing. My breathing
is better than earlier but that depends on how you define the
word “better.” Better than a dead man? Based on that
benchmark then yeah, sure, it is better.

I try not to think about how close I came to reaching that
particular milestone, how close I probably still am. Did
they get all the beetles, all the eggs? Are more hatching in
me right now? A chill runs up my spine and I shiver at the
image that thought conjures.

I wonder where Scully is? I'm not used to waking without
her by my hospital bed. Perhaps she has a lead, an answer
to how these beetles can be killed. I hope she comes back
soon. I feel safe when she is around, I trust her judgement.
No matter how difficult this is for her to believe, how
extreme the possibility, she has seen the evidence and she
has seen what is happening to me. I know she will do
everything in her power to help me, to save me. But I can't
help wondering how strong that power can be against
something that defies the laws of nature.

I sigh in frustration. A cough slips out, then another. I hate
this. I hate being sick and I hate the fear and vulnerability
that I am forced to deal with. All I can do is lie here and
wait. And hope that Skinner or Scully can find a cure
before it's too late. My head aches, my chest hurts and my
throat feels as if there’s been a layer of skin torn from it.
As soon as I can talk without pain I'm going to let that doc
know exactly what I think of his surgical skills.

The continuous rhythm of the monitor has a calming effect
on me, lulling me into a state of sleepiness as easily as a
mother rocking her baby and humming a gentle tune. I let
its monotonous tone wash over me and concentrate on
regulating my breathing to match the beat. My mind is dull
and tired -- sleep is not far away. Maybe when I wake
Scully will be back. And then...maybe...she...she...she

Mmmm. Soft. Gentle. Someone drawing little circles
over my hand, around my wrist. Cool, strong fingers
entwined in mine. Scully. She's back. Guess I drifted off
after all. Things are not looking too good if she's showing
another open display of affection. She really is letting her
hair down.

I push my eyelids up and gaze at her hand caressing mine.
She doesn't let go.

"Mm. It must be bad." Was that really my voice?

"How do you feel?" She offers me a smile.

Truthfully? "Like a dust buster attacked me." And its
cousin, uncle, auntie, bother, sister... Hell, like a whole
brigade of dust busters attacked me. My throat constricts
and a cough escapes. Right now talking is way down low
on the “top ten” list of things I'd most like to do.

Scully is speaking again. "We're looking for someone who
maybe able to help you. A Morley test subject by the
name of Darrel Weaver."

Oh yeah. Mr. “I'd like to quote you the whole damn
constitution if you try and step on my civil rights.” I give
Scully the condensed version.

"Mr. E. Pluribus..." I wonder if she'll get my weak attempt
to impersonate the man himself.

"Well, Mr. Weaver seems to have some kind of tolerance
or immu..."

I hear her talking to me, but my attention has been drawn
away by something moving in my chest. Oh, Jeezus. It's
not in my chest, it's crawling up my throat. Scully. No
sound. NO AIR. I gasp. Shit, still nothing. Can't cough.
Can't breathe. Scully! Help me!

She's looking at me. Her mouth is moving but I can't hear
words above the roaring in my ears, the hammering in my

Hands. Lifting my head. I gotta get out of here. I move my
arms, my legs. My head is spinning. Noises. Beeping.
Voices. People all around me. I struggle to get up. Can't.
Hands pushing me down. Mask on my face. No effect. A
spasm hits my chest. I cough. Again. Gasping. AIR! I
suck it in. Oh god. It's in my mouth. Crawling. Slithering.
Tickling across my tongue, my lips, on my chin. But I can
breathe. I can breathe. I search for Scully. I see her face
hovering above me. It's twisting and rolling and shrinking
into blackness. All around me. It's dark...

Asheford Medical Center
10:34 p.m.


Like a rock tumbling downhill, picking up speed as it nears
the bottom, Mulder’s condition continues to deteriorate. I
grudgingly allow the nurse to shoo me from the cubicle so
that she can run Mulder’s vitals, but hover near the
window. I know it’s ironic and out of character for the
rational Dr. Scully, but I can’t bring myself to let him out
of my sight. I have the overwhelming sensation that if I do
something terrible will happen.

Well, he got into this mess without me beside him, didn’t

Ever since McManus and the nurses pulled him back from
respiratory failure, Mulder has drifted in and out of
consciousness. The sheer effort of trying to fill his lungs
with air coupled with repeated bouts of coughing up blood
has weakened him, and I know he won’t be able to breathe
unassisted much longer.

Intubation. Mulder hates it even more than the Foley
catheter I’ve heard so many wise remarks about. Looking at
him now, though, I realize he’s probably past the point of
caring. He’s so tired…

“Doctor Scully?”

Dr. McManus strides down the hallway and hands me
Mulder’s chart, complete with the latest set of films.
“We've got him stabilized on ECMO for the moment but
we're not going to be able to maintain him on it for long.
Of course, you see why.”

Oh God. I stare at the X-ray in disbelief, a prickling feeling
not unlike the legs of certain black, hard-shelled insects
creeping up and down my spine. The image is no worse
than I should have expected, given the downward slide of
Mulder’s condition. Yet confronting the raw, physical
evidence of just how drastically he has lost ground rocks
my determination not to give up hope.

Larvae. Lots and lots of larvae. Clogging Mulder’s airways
and interfering with the crucial transfer of oxygen into his

“There’s more now than there were six hours ago,” I say,
unable to mask my disbelief.

“They're beginning to block the flow of blood. Our best
bet is to go back in there,” McManus says soberly. He
hesitates a moment before adding, “I think this time, we
have to crack the chest.”

His suggestion rips my gaze from the X-ray to fasten on his
face. “No. No, I... He's too weak for thoracic surgery.
He...he'd die on the table,” I tell him vehemently.

I won’t let him die alone in a cold, sterile operating room,
cut open like a slab of meat, damn it! Skinner is still out
there, tracking down the elusive Darrell Weaver and our
miracle cure. I’ll do whatever I can to hold Mulder together
long enough to grant Skinner the time he needs. And if… If
death comes for Mulder in spite of our efforts to hold it at
bay, then by God I’ll be holding onto him, kicking and
screaming, until the very end.

McManus shakes his head in resignation, a little frustrated
with my refusal to capitulate with his suggested course of
treatment. “I don't know what our other options are.”

Now, more than ever, I must not lose credibility with this
man. I fight to keep the tremor from my voice with only
moderate success. “I'd say for the time being, we just wait.”

Disapproval darkens the doctor’s face. Though his tone is
not unkind, his words bludgeon me. “That'll definitely kill
him. Sooner or later.”

I turn back to watch the nurse finish working on Mulder,
listening to McManus’s receding footsteps. Susan looks up
and nods, clearing out of the way when I practically charge
back through the door. She catches my elbow before I can
reach the bedside chair.

“His pulse ox isn’t good. I’m going to talk to Dr. McManus
about getting him on a respirator,” she murmurs, eyes
warm and sympathetic. “I thought you’d want to know.”

Mulder’s eyes are closed, and I mistakenly think he’s
slipped back out of consciousness until his hoarse protest
startles me.


I pick up his hand and his eyes drag slowly open, a bit
glassy with exhaustion and pain, but aware. He licks dry
lips and gives a small shake of his head before repeating
the word.


“Hey,” I greet, trying to ignore the negative. I know all too
well what he’s trying to tell me. “How are you doing?”


Stubborn bastard. I feel my forehead contracting in a frown
of disapproval and ruthlessly smooth the lines away.

“Mulder, you aren’t getting enough oxygen on your own.
Your lungs have to work too hard and you aren’t strong

Sensible words. If only this were a sensible situation.

“Hate it.” He coughs feebly and a small trickle of blood
spills from the corner of his mouth.

Focusing on the task, I pick up a moist cloth and swipe it
gently across his lips and down his chin. “I know you hate
it, G-man, but we don’t have a lot of alternatives. Skinner is
out there right now, tracking down Darrell Weaver, and we
need you to hold on until…”

“Long shot.”

Mulder has always had a way of taking the wind out of my
sails, even lying half-dead in a hospital bed. He takes a
little hitching gulp of air and his eyes bore into mine. My
smooth exterior develops a few hairline cracks, but I
struggle on persistently.

“We investigate long shots, Mulder. That’s what the X-
Files is all about.”

He blinks, surprised and even a little amused by my
answer, if the slight curve of his mouth is any indication.
The humor fades quickly, however, and he squeezes my

“Don’t want…be…produce section.”

My eyes burn. “Mulder, I don’t…”


I stare helplessly into those beautiful eyes and nod, my
throat tight and sore. I reach over to stroke dark hair back
from his sweaty brow and he leans into the touch. “If it
comes to that… I know what you’d want, Mulder. But it
hasn’t come to that yet.”

He’s either satisfied with my response, or just too tired to
put up further resistance. Susan comes back with McManus
on her heels and they proceed to set up the respirator.
McManus, obviously still miffed at me, speaks only to

“Agent Mulder, you aren’t getting enough oxygen on your
own power. We’re going to have to hook you up to a
respirator and give you some help. Do you understand?”

Mulder’s eyes lock on mine for a long moment before he
nods. McManus looks at me from the corner of his eye as
he continues.

“We’re going to give you a little something to help you
relax through the procedure. Not much, because we don’t
want to compromise your respiration any further. It’s
important you hold very still until we get the tube in place.”

Mulder grimaces. “Been…there.”

McManus grins just a little. “Okay then, here we go.”

Susan injects the sedative into Mulder’s I.V. port and
McManus opens the pack of sterile tubing. Mulder’s eyes
droop and lose focus and I can feel his fingers trying to
hold onto mine. Susan fastens a restraint over his free wrist
but indicates with a tilt of her head that I can continue to
hold the other.

The next several minutes are highly unpleasant. Sedative or
no, Mulder tugs reflexively against the restrictions of the
cloth strap and my firm grip, gagging helplessly. Even
when the tube is in place and the machine engaged he
persists in the frantic choking gasps.

“Agent Mulder! Agent Mulder, don’t fight the respirator,”
McManus orders sharply. “Let it do the work.”

When his commands have no effect I insert myself between
him and Mulder, leaning over the bed so that I fill his
vision. McManus makes a small huff of annoyance that I
ignore, cradling Mulder’s face in my palms and chasing his
wildly darting eyes with my own.

“Mulder. Mulder! Look at me.”

The urgency in my voice along with my touch captures his
attention and he ceases his thrashing, though his body
continues to tremble.

“Relax,” I tell him, stroking my thumbs over his cheeks.
“Breathe with the machine. In. Out. In. Out.”

Mulder slowly submits, settling into the rhythm of the
machine, which is set to augment his own respiration. As
the adrenaline rush dissipates and I keep up my soft patter,
his body relaxes and he drifts into an in between state – not
awake, but not quite asleep. I move back down to reclaim
his hand and McManus scribbles a few notations on the

“We’ll adjust the respirator accordingly as his breathing
declines. And if you change your mind about surgery…”

“I won’t,” I reply firmly.

He shrugs and hangs the chart back on the end of the bed
before walking over to the nurses’ station to consult with
Susan. I look back at Mulder’s wan face and sink into a
chair, the confidence I just projected deserting me.

*Hurry up, Skinner* I think. *Miracle cures don’t help
dead men.*


The incessant beep, beep, beep of the heart monitor is no
longer the comforting, reassuring companion it was just a
few short hours ago. Now it is a constant source of
irritation, reminding me of my tenuous hold on life, that
there are beetles growing inside of me, reproducing,
thriving on my lung tissue, my blood, and that in due
course they will probably kill me. If I had the strength I
would yank the damn lead out of the wall. Why do they
have to hear my heart beat to know I'm alive? Surely the
crackling, rasping sounds of my strangled gasps for air are
enough to tell them I'm still hanging on. Tethered to this
life by some fraying, tattered will to live that I've managed
to dredge up from who knows where.

And then she's back by my side. I no longer wonder where
the will comes from. She is my reason for fighting the
infestation residing in my lungs. Scully's face swims above
me. I don't know where she has been this time. She
alternates between holding my hand and accosting the
various medical personnel that stroll past my cubicle. I
stare up at her through heavy lids, trying to bring her into
focus. I'm not sure if it's the drugs or lack of oxygen, but
my brain has been taking it easy for awhile, my eyes
struggling with the concept of remaining open and peering
at the outside world.

I blink once, twice, and for a second Scully's face is clear
and looking like it should.

"The nurse needs to check your vitals, love. It should only
take a few minutes, okay?" She twists her fingers through
my hair, then sweeps them across my brow, the way she
knows I like so much. My lids flutter and begin to slide
shut again. I strain to keep them open, not wanting to miss
one second of Scully's face, not while it's clear and in
focus. And not while it's wearing one of those all too rare
killer smiles. She leans in and kisses my forehead. Oh
yeah, this is bad.

"Back soon, partner. Play nice for the nurse." Her words
are barely a whisper against my ear, then she's gone. No
reason to keep my eyes open now. I let them slide shut and
turn back to the task at hand.


Scully is right. The whole procedure of checking my vitals
takes only a few minutes. I have no need to open my eyes
to know she is back in the room. I hear the hushed
whispers between her and the nurse. Most of their
conversation is too quiet for me to make out the words,
except for one. It hangs in the air like a death sentence.

"No." I gasp. Not the tube. The thought of anything being
forced down my throat is almost unbearable. It feels raw
and swollen. Swallowing is a nightmare, talking almost
impossible. Not to mention the act of breathing. But I
*can* do it. I *will* manage. No more foreign objects
shoved down my throat.

I feel Scully take my hand. I know this is the prelude to her
explanation of how necessary it is to use the respirator to
keep me alive. I open my eyes. I at least owe her the
courtesy of looking at her as I present my argument,
however limited and feeble that may be. I lick my lips in

"No." I repeat. Okay so I'm not going to win any points
for my debating team, but hey, that took a lot of effort.

"Hey, how are you doing?" Don't ignore me, Scully.

"No...respirator." Please, don't make me do this. It hurts
too much to talk.

She gives me the facts. The Dr Scully sensible facts, and I
know that what she is saying is right. But I can't do it. I
just can't.

"Hate it." More coughing. More blood. It's getting worse.
I know it is.

Scully wipes my mouth and explains what Skinner is trying
to do. I appreciate his efforts, but what are the odds of
finding this guy and then him being able to help me?

"Long shot." I rasp.

"We investigate long shots, Mulder. That's what the X-
Files is all about."

That takes me by surprise. Very clever, Scully, play me at
my own game. She's learning. But I have to make her
understand. Unless they can find a way of killing the
beetles and their eggs there's no point to the ventilator.
How long is it going to keep me alive? Days? Weeks?
Years? Until my lungs are so completely full of
squirming, wriggling bugs that the damage is irreversible?
So, I get to live here like a vegetable, machines replacing
my brain, doing the work of my lungs, my heart, my
kidneys, living my life for me? Scully visiting me, wearing
herself down. Never moving on because I continue to exist
in a hospital hooked up to life support, reminding her of the
past. No. I won't put her through that. I won't be that kind
of a burden on the one person that has ever really given a
damn about me.

I muster up what’s left of my waning strength. "Don't
want...be...produce section."

"Mulder. I don't..."

"Promise." Please don't argue with me, Scully. You, of all
people should understand what I'm asking.

She strokes my brow again. It feels so good. I lean into
her touch, savoring the feel of her hand against my skin.
She speaks to me as she touches me, and I know she
understands. Relief floods through me. I knew I could trust
you Scully. Knew I could.

The moment is broken by the clatter of more equipment
being wheeled into the cubicle.

"Agent Mulder," Dr McManus addresses me, "you aren't
getting enough oxygen on your own power. We're going to
have to hook you up to a ventilator and give you some help.
Do you understand?"

Scully? My eyes latch onto hers, and I see it. Love, hope,
desperation. She feels all those things for me? How can I
give up? Wouldn't I expect her to fight if our situations
were reversed? Damn straight I would. Should I be asking
her to expect any less of me? The short answer is no. I
make my decision and nod, giving the doctor the go ahead.

He starts explaining the procedure, what he's going to do.
Don't waste your breath, Doc, you’re talking to an old pro.


McManus seems to find that amusing. "Okay, here we go."

I watch the nurse inject something into my IV. A sedative,
I suppose. Almost immediately I feel its effects. My eyes
grow heavy, my tongue thickens, and I feel my grasp on
Scully's hand begin to loosen. I try to hold on but my
fingers will not co-operate. Cloth around my other wrist.
Restraint? Then the torture begins.

Accustomed as I am to this procedure, I'm pretty sure most
of the insertions have been done while I've been
unconscious, only the unpleasant extubations taking place
while I've been awake. If I ever thought having the tube
pulled free was bad, it is nothing compared to this. My gag
reflex kicks in instinctively, trying to repel the intrusive
plastic tubing that bumps and scratches its way along the
back of my throat to my lungs. I gag again. This is much
worse than I expected. I start to pull at the restraint. Get it
out. Get. It. Out. STOP. Scully. No. I can’t do this. I
thrash and gasp, but still they persist. SCULLY! Help me.

"Agent Mulder! Age..."

McManus is yelling at me. Get the hell away from me.
You're choking me. I should never have agreed to this. I
shake my head but it’s held tight. McManus disappears
from my line of sight. In his place is Scully. She holds my
face in her hands. Lemme go, Scully! Please, make them
stop. I feel myself gagging, my stomach heaving.

"Mulder. Mulder! Look at me."

Scully? I fix my eyes on her face.

"Relax." She strokes my cheek. I try to do as she says.
Relax, relax. "Breathe with the machine. In. Out. In.

Right. In. Out. In. Out. It gets a little easier. I make a
conscious effort to relax my muscles. Shoulders, arms,
legs, neck. Yeah, it’s getting better. Easier. Scully keeps
up her gentle crooning. I focus on that. I'm breathing, the
machine is breathing. I let it do the work. Tired again.
Can't sleep, might not wake up. Don't have a choice. Eyes
won't stay open. Head won't stay clear. The rhythmic hiss
of the respirator fills my ears. Can't fight it any more.
Don't... want... to.

Asheville Medical Center
11:58 p.m.


Susan gives an apologetic wince as she adjusts the
respirator to further augment Mulder’s breathing. He’s past
the point of protesting, barely even lucid most of the time
now, and though I know he hears me I’m not sure he
understands. The machine may be doing most of his
breathing but it can’t compensate for diminished blood
flow through the lung tissue.

Time is running out.

I can’t stop agonizing over whether I’ve made the correct
decision or consigned Mulder to a death sentence. Maybe if
I’d allowed McManus to do the surgery, to really clean out
Mulder’s lungs… But no, he never would have survived the
strain on his heart and lungs, he was much too weak. Still,
just sitting here and watching him slip away, doing
absolutely nothing…

My cellphone trills and I scramble to answer it with
trembling fingers.



“We’ve got Weaver and are en route to the medical center.
He’s taken a hit in the shoulder and will need treatment
ASAP. I’d say we’re about ten minutes out.”

Skinner’s voice, clipped and gruff, may just be the sweetest
thing I’ve ever heard. I realize I’ve snapped to attention and
am nodding in spite of the fact that he can’t see me. The
man’s presence, even over the phone, is larger than life.

“Yes sir. We’ll be standing by.”

I tuck the phone back into my pocket and stand, staring
down into Mulder’s pale face. I have to get McManus,
prepare things for Weaver’s arrival, but leaving Mulder
proves to be much more complicated than simply making
my feet move. I glance furtively over my shoulder to be
certain I’m unobserved before brushing a kiss over first his
forehead and then the corner of his mouth.

“Don’t you quit on me now, Mulder,” I whisper, my
attempt to sound stern spoiled by the quaver in my voice.
“Help is on the way – do you hear me?”

Amazingly, his eyelids drift open a crack to reveal a glitter
of hazel. I have no way of knowing if he comprehended
what I just said, but the display of stubborn determination
comforts me.

The next ten minutes pass in a jumble of activity, and by
the time the EMTs rush Weaver into the ER my heart is
pounding with nervous anticipation.

“How’s Mulder?” Skinner calls immediately, and despite
my anxiety I’m warmed by his concern.

“Not good,” I reply shortly. To say more would be to
betray the depth of my feelings – something I can’t afford.
“Let’s get bloodwork on this man.”

We rush Weaver into an exam room, McManus on my
heels. I force myself to look at Darrel Weaver through
objective eyes, though my brain screams that he’s the
reason the man I love knocks at death’s door. Rather than
the devil incarnate, I see a fairly unremarkable man with
thinning hair and grubby clothing. He evidently doesn’t
spend much time on personal hygiene, I note sardonically
as my eyes travel down his grime-streaked arms to his
yellowed fingertips. Maybe if he put out his cigarette and
climbed into the shower…

Everything around me, the bustle of ER personnel and
McManus’s quiet instructions, fades from existence as my
eyes lock onto those callused yellow digits. Nicotine stains,
my mind notes absently. Something only the heaviest of
smokers develop. How many packs has Weaver been
smoking each day, to wind up with those stains? Far more
than the average one to two packs of a moderately heavy

Unusual to smoke so much. Very unusual. Imagine the
nicotine level in Weaver’s blood stream…

My heart lurches. “Wait a minute. Wait a minute,” I
mutter, frowning to combat the sudden surge of hope that
blindsides me. “Get me 30 milligrams of methyl
pyrrolidinyl pyridine.”

McManus’s eyebrows skyrocket. “Nicotine?”

*Do not question me on this* I think, knowing I’ve just
made a Mulderleap. If the answer could only be this

“Yeah,” I confirm, ignoring his doubts and my own. I look
up at Skinner’s puzzled face, half-afraid to voice my hopes.
“I think this could save Mulder’s life.”

The nurse looks to McManus for confirmation and he
reluctantly nods. While she prepares a syringe I turn back
to Skinner.

“Nicotine is a strong poison,” I explain, trying not to chafe
at the delay. When Skinner continues to look baffled I add,
“It was actually used as an insecticide at one time.”

Understanding floods his face. “Do you really think it will

I tip my head toward Weaver. “Look at his fingers. He’s
obviously an incredibly heavy smoker. Could be that’s
what kept him alive.”

“Maybe we should go with a lower dose,” McManus
cautions. “Thirty milligrams could result in overdose.”

“We can’t afford for even one of those things to survive,” I

“So you’re hoping the nicotine will do for Mulder what
smoking did for Weaver,” Skinner muses.

“Exactly. If I’m right, the nicotine will kill the bugs, the
larvae, and even the eggs.”

“If it doesn’t kill Agent Mulder first,” McManus mutters.

I glare at him and accept the proffered syringe, heading for
ICU as fast as my legs will carry me. How dare McManus
be the voice of doom?

How dare he verbalize my fears?

“Pull the tube,” I order Susan as I breeze into the cubicle.

“Pull…I don’t…?” She looks at me as if I’ve lost my mind,
then over to McManus to see if he’ll protest.

“If this drug has the effect that I think it will, those things
are going to do whatever they can to get the hell out of
Mulder’s body,” I snap, swabbing the injection port on the
I.V. “I intend to give them a path of least resistance.”

I see McManus nod out of the corner of my eye, and I
empty the syringe as Susan disconnects the ventilator and
removes the tube from Mulder’s throat. I stand rigidly, eyes
darting between the monitors and Mulder’s face. For a long
moment nothing happens. Then, abruptly, the monitors go

And so does Mulder.

His eyes fly wide open and he gags and chokes, his body
convulsing. His heart monitor beeps wildly and Susan
desperately attempts to restrain his flailing limbs.
McManus darts to the other side of the bed just as
Mulder’s heartrate plunges.

“He’s not breathing! Code Blue, get the…”

His command ends in a horrified gasp as black tobacco
beetles squirm out of Mulder’s nose and mouth only to
drop onto the bed and floor, lifeless. Susan shrieks and
scoots backward so fast that she nearly knocks over the
ventilator. Shaking off my immobility, I grab Mulder, roll
him to his side, and wait helplessly until the last invader
drops onto the pillow near his cheek. The convulsions
abruptly cease and Mulder goes completely still. Brushing
stray insects out of the way, I turn to look for Susan.

“Get the hell over here and run the code, we’re losing


"Hello Fox."

"Who are you?"

"I think you know." Can't see. Too dark. How did he get

"What are you doing here?"

"This is my domain, Fox. You're here because I invited

"No. This is a hospital, you can't be in here."

"Take a look around you. Does this look like a hospital?"

Smoke, thick and heavy with the stench of tobacco. All
around me. Where the hell am I?

"Very good Fox. Hell. That's one word to describe it."

"What do you mean?"

"It's time to choose, Fox. This is all about choices."

"What choices? What are you talking about?"

"You still don't know which side you're on do you, son?"

"I'm not on *any* side."

"You know Fox, most people believe they're on the side of
angels. Is that what you believe?"

"I don't believe in angels."

"Ah. But that's not true. What about your sister? What do
you believe happened to her?"

I feel a cold sweat trailing down my back. Soaking my
under arms. Who is this guy?

"Come on, Fox. I'm waiting for an answer."

"Well, go ahead an wait. I have nothing to say to you. I
don't even know who you are!"

"You'd like to know though, wouldn't you? What if I could
give you the answers, Fox? All the answers to all the
questions you've ever asked? Whose side would you be on

"Are you offering me the answers?"

"It's your choice, Fox."

"And what's in it for you?"

"Why, you join me of course."

"I don't even know who you are!"

"Does it matter? To have the knowledge you so
desperately seek. Wouldn't it be worth it?

"What are you talking about? Come out and show

Footsteps. Muted. Dull.

"YOU! "

"Do you like what you see?"

"Yes. I do. I'm going to kill you, you son of a bitch!" And
I lunge at him.

My feet. Stuck to the ground. I look down, searching for
the reason I am unable to move. Oh God. Snakes. Around
my ankles, twisting up my legs. NOOOO! Higher.
Hissing. Slithering. I lose my balance, crash to the floor.
Another one. Coiled around my chest. Squeezing.
Crushing. I can't breathe. I try to pull it off. Arms, won't
move. More snakes around my wrists. Holding me down.
I twist my head. No, no, no, NO! Beetles. Crawling over
me, surrounding me. On my neck. Scuttling higher. Over
my chin. In my mouth. I spit and gag. God, they're
everywhere. Help me. SCULLEEEEE! No air. I feel my
body tremble, my arms, legs, twitching. Above me a giant
snake, ready, primed, hissing, squealing. Squealing,

"Hold him down! He's seizing!" Voices. Faces. Who?
Snakes. Still squealing. No, not snakes. OH GOD.
Beetles. In my mouth. I gag. They're choking me.

Light. Bright light. So warm. Peaceful. I feel myself
being drawn to it. Calm. Gentle. Floating.

"Fox. Honey."

Mom? Is that you?


Aaah! Scully? Mom? Mom. Warmth. The light, calling
me. Drifting. Higher. So... peaceful. I'm coming.


AAAAh! Pain! All around me. In my chest. Gagging.
God, it hurts. SCULLLEEE! No! Squeezing. Pressing,
into my chest.

"Clear!" Ah! A jolting agony shoots through my chest
again. Then it stops. Nothing. Voices. I think I hear
Skinner. Not sure. And Scully, yes, I hear Scully. Cold
sting on my arm. Voices, fading. Can't think. My head is
heavy, my body numb. Sinking. Deeper and deeper into
the darkness...


It takes McManus three tries to jumpstart Mulder’s heart,
and mine nearly stops in the process. Eventually it
maintains an acceptable rhythm and his breathing, though
labored, is steady. McManus, Susan, and I gaze shakily
from each other to the dead insects littering the floor.

“Is he okay? Does this mean it worked?”

Skinner’s voice startles me, and I look over to where he
stands uncomfortably, just inside the doorway. If his jaw
were any tighter it might crack in two.

“Dr. McManus will need to perform another deep suction
to remove the dead larvae,” I tell him wearily. “And we’ll
need another set of x-rays to be sure. But if this is any
indication” – I toe a dead beetle with the tip of my shoe –
“I’d say there’s a good chance it worked.”

Skinner grimaces. “I’m going to check on Weaver. Keep
me posted.”

It seems the events of the last twelve hours have finally
convinced McManus to defer to my judgement. He scrubs
his eyes wearily with the heels of his hands and sighs
heavily. “Susan, prep Agent Mulder for another deep
suctioning.” He wrinkles his nose. “And get an orderly in
here to clean up.”

Susan waits until McManus leaves the cubicle before
looking at me sheepishly. “I’m very sorry Doctor Scully. I
know it’s no excuse, but I’ve been a nurse for ten years and
I’ve never seen anything like that.”

I curb a sharp retort, reminding myself that the past seven
years have conditioned me to expect the unexpected in all
it’s most bizarre forms. “Forget it,” I tell her. “I’m going to
wash my hands. I’ll be right back.”

I spend long moments soaping and rinsing, unable to shake
the sensation of the hard shells beneath my fingertips. I turn
off the water and lean on the sink, staring at my haggard
face in the mirror. I reach slowly up to touch first my nose
and then my lips, eyes slamming shut as I remember the
way the bugs poured out of Mulder.

*They’re dead* I tell myself firmly. *It’s all over now. You
killed them*

But another, quieter voice chimes in.

*And you nearly killed Mulder.*

Tears escape the barriers I’ve erected and squeeze past my
tightly closed eyelids, scalding my cheeks. I shudder
helplessly and sink to my knees, no longer attempting to
stifle my sobs.

It's not over for me. It won't be for a long time.

Asheville Medical Center
Next day
1:14 p.m.


I give the remote control a shake. Yeah, okay, I know the
remote isn't responsible for the crap that is served up on
daytime television. But I've gotta take my frustration out
on something. The staff won't come near me. I don't know
what their problem is. All I did was ask to use the
bathroom instead of the plastic bottle. I mean, what's the
big deal? I'm breathing unaided and the Foley's gone, so
they must figure I'm capable of peeing on my own. It
wasn't my fault the IV nearly came out when I tried to get
out of bed and go by myself. I moved too quickly and the
blood rushed to my feet. If they’d given me a minute I
would have been fine.

And I guess they weren't too happy with my reaction to
lunch. Apart from the fact that my throat is killing me and
I have a headache the size of New York City, I really
thought I might have been able to manage some Jell-O.
That was until they removed the lid to expose some kind of
rice pudding concoction. My stomach lurched
uncontrollably as images of maggots jumped out at me
from the bowl. My enthusiasm for food took a nosedive
and I indicated where they could stick their hospital food.

That was about an hour ago. I've been left to my own
devices since then. Lots of time to think. To ponder how
differently this could have turned out. I owe Scully my
life. Again. And Skinner. Neither one of them gave up on
me. It must have been hard for Scully, I know she doesn't
really trust Skinner. Not after what happened to me when
we found the artifact. I hope this will restore some of her
faith in him. I've tried to explain to her but she gets this
pigheaded look on her face and I know I'm fighting a losing

I wonder how Weaver is doing. Another victim of big
business using whatever means they can to make money.
Well, maybe what happened to me will be enough to close
them down. Stop the moneymen from playing with
people's lives all in the name of profit.

I sigh, and a cough breaks free. An ominous warning that
it's not over yet. I've been told I'll need therapy and
medication to repair the damage to my lungs. I guess that
cancels out running for awhile and field agent status. Back
to desk duty. Yet again. Oh, yeah, I'm real pleased about
that. I should stop whining and thank my lucky stars I'm
able to work at all. The alternative is...well...let’s just say
it's kind of hard to work when you're dead. It was touch
and go this time. I'm still not sure how Scully came up
with the idea of the nicotine. And more to the point, to
follow through and use it. She really had to make that call
on the fly, and she 's not big on that sort of thing. That's
more my style. Scully likes to analyze the situation, weigh
up all the odds, and then make her decision. Me, I don't
waste my time doing that. I have a tendency to bulldoze
right ahead and add up the damage later. I guess that's why
it's usually me in the hospital and not Scully. This time
though, the chips were down and in a tight situation she
made the right call. Just like I knew she would. I can't
think of anyone I'd rather have fighting on my side than

So, now it's a waiting game. The doctors want to make
sure there's no permanent damage, that I don't have a
relapse. Relapse -- that's a doctor euphemism for “we want
to make sure there's no more bugs hibernating in your
lungs.” I shudder at the thought. Trust me, no one wants to
make sure of that more than I do.

How long have I been awake now? It must be about 4
hours and already I'm bored out of my mind. I'd try and get
out of bed and stretch my legs if I didn't think it would
create a national incident. I glance at the TV, reach for the
remote, and start flicking through the channels again.

“Days of our Lives.” “The Bold and the Beautiful.” “Jerry
Springer.” Hmm, that has potential. Oh, no. Not the guy
who married his sister's best friend's cousin's adopted
daughter only to dump her in favor of his brother's
girlfriend's son! I saw that one last time I was in the
hospital. I continue my surfing until the frowning face of
Judge Judy fills the screen. I leave it there. Well, it's good
for a laugh if nothing else.

My attention is held for about five minutes. I cannot
believe the networks have such little regard for the
intelligence of the general population. Do they seriously
expect people to watch these shows? My patience frays to
tattered shreds. I have the urge to be doing something but I
don't know what. All I know is that sitting here doing
nothing is driving me crazy, despite my weakened physical

I shift restlessly in my bed. How long are they gonna keep
me in this time? And where's Scully? I need to know
what's happening with Voss. And Skinner -- I thought he
might have called by to at least tell me what is going on.

I pick up the remote and give some consideration to hurling
it through the television. That should endear me to the
staff. Then of course there's Scully. Do I really want to
have to explain that kind of outburst to her? Damn it, I hate

Back to channel surfing, surely there must be something
worth watching. If they had cable...

The door opens. Another nurse, come to give...Scully! At

"Hey, Scully." Is that husky, grating voice really mine?

She reminds me to whisper and that's all the encouragement
I need to start moaning about what a hellhole it is here. She
seems to find this amusing and I realize my bitterness is
subsiding as she giggles over my criticism of Judge Judy
and daytime TV in general.

Scully giggling -- pure delight.

I abruptly understand just how much I have to live for and
how grateful I should be for this second chance at life.

Scully’s face is drawn and pale. It's been rough on her too.
I want to hold her, tell her it's okay. I need her close to me.

I pat the mattress, inviting her to sit with me on the bed.
My action goes against all convention, she is not going to
be comfortable with this. But I came too close to bowing
out last night and I don't want to waste our time dancing
around protocol. Besides, who's going to see us here? She
is near enough for me to grab her hand. I do, and pull her
towards the bed.

She gives token resistance as she climbs up next to me.
Even as she is snuggling closer she continues to offer weak
protest. "A nurse will need to check your vitals."

"Not if you get there first." I lift an eyebrow suggestively.
I know I've won when she puffs a defeated sigh and shifts
herself into a comfortable position beside me. I mold my
body around hers and for the first time since waking up I
feel myself begin to relax. I wonder how I ever managed
before Scully came into my life. My very existence
depends on her now.


"Yes, Mulder?"

"Thank you." Thank you for being there, for loving me and
for saving me.

"I'm just staying here a little while, Mulder, so don't get
used to it." I'm not sure why she is deflecting me like this,
feigning ignorance. Something is bothering her. I tighten
my grip on her hand.

"I owe you. Big time." More than you'll ever know,

She shakes her head. I feel her body tremble against mine.
Her voice is tight and choked when she speaks to me.

"You don't owe me anything. It's only by the grace of God
that you're sitting here right now! What I did, the decisions
I made, could have killed you, Mulder. They nearly did."

Oh, Scully. You *saved* me. Your motives were purely
selfless. How many times have I put you in danger, risked
your life for my own selfish reasons? Again and again. I
have nearly lost you more times than I care to remember,
all in the name of my quest. And now you sit here and
doubt your decisions? Decisions that were based solely on
what was best for me? I've put you through so much,
Scully. So much. I reach up and run my fingers through
her hair, parting the silky crop that covers the scar on her
neck. A scar that exists because of me, because of the X -

"Me too," is all I can manage at the moment. This time she
gambled with my life, gambled against the odds and won.
The alternative? Certain death.

Scully turns her head and stares at me. Her expression is
both puzzled and incredulous. She holds my gaze as if
trying to understand exactly what I mean. I find it
fascinating that she has to think quite so hard. My lips curl
as I answer her. "Long shots. It's what the X-Files is all

She loses the frown and replaces it with a tired smile of her
own. "That's very profound, Mulder. Where'd you hear

I slide further down in the bed and nuzzle my head into her
shoulder. "A very reliable source. The only one I trust." I
wonder if she hears me as my eyes slip shut and a peaceful
sleep claims me.


Twelve hours later and I’m staring in disbelief at another
set of x-rays. This time, however, my incredulity is mixed
with joy and not horror. The second deep suctioning did an
admirable job of clearing away dead larvae and ridding
Mulder’s lungs of debris. He won’t be running anytime
soon, and he’s got a lingering cough from the trauma to his
lungs and trachea, but he’s already breathing without

“Your partner is an incredibly lucky guy. Lots of rest, the
right medication, and some respiratory therapy and he
should make a full recovery.” McManus shakes his head
with a wry grin. “With your permission I’d like to write this
one up for the journals – if I can get anyone to take me
seriously enough to look at the data.”

I shrug. “Go right ahead, though I don’t think it’s my
permission you need to worry about. I have a feeling
Morley Tobacco will fight to keep this quiet.”

I turn to leave, anxious to get back to Mulder, but
McManus stops me with a hand on my arm. “Agent Scully,
I just want to say…” He stops, fumbles with the chart in his
hands, and shuffles his feet. “I know we’ve had our
differences of opinion about your partner’s treatment. I
hope you know my opposition was based solely on concern
for Agent Mulder’s health and not mistrust of your
credentials as a physician. You did a hell of a job, and your
partner owes you his life.”

I acknowledge his affirmation externally, yet can’t seem to
accept it internally. About four o’clock this morning
Skinner banished me to the couch in the nurses’ lounge,
vowing to call immediately if any complications arose. For
three hours I drifted from one nightmare to the next, slight
variations on a theme that inevitably ended with me
administering an injection that stopped Mulder’s heart.

Now I’m even taking on Mulder’s propensity for guilt.

I know Mulder is alive at this moment because I took a
risk, just as surely as I know Mulder would have approved
of my actions -- had he been able. What haunts me is how
terribly close those actions came to killing rather than
curing him. If Weaver hadn’t been the key, if Skinner
hadn’t located Weaver in time, if the nicotine had poisoned
Mulder beyond resuscitation…

I held Mulder’s life in my hands and made choices that
could just as easily have ended it. A shiver runs down my
spine and I pause outside Mulder’s door, one hand propped
on the jamb, to steady my nerves. There was a sound,
practical reason I chose pathology all those years ago. I’m
not cut out for playing God.

Mulder is sitting up in bed, thumbing the remote with
rapid-fire precision and scowling at the meager daytime
television offerings. His darkened eyes and the taut skin
over his jaw and cheekbones signal a fatigue that is at odds
with the pointless channel surfing and restless shifting of
arms and legs. Tired as he is, both the nicotine and the
medications to ease his breathing have the equivalent effect
of dropping speed. He’s jittery and irritable, his throat is
raw from the medical procedures, and his chest aches each
time he tries to draw a deep breath. The result? Mulder at
his worst, the patient from hell. He’s darn lucky that he’s
cute or I think the nurses would have euthanized him by

His expression transforms when I step through the
doorway, pleasure and affection replacing bored
indifference. I can’t help the warmth that floods me or the
unbridled smile that takes over my mouth.

“Hey, Scully,” he greets me.

Well, he tries. What actually leaves his throat is a hoarse,
grating mutation of his normally mellow voice,
accompanied by a wince.

“No talking, remember? Just whisper,” I chide gently.
“Anything good on?”

It’s not as if I couldn’t read the answer to that question in
the sour twist of his lips, but Mulder – being Mulder – feels
the need to elaborate.

“This place is a speed bump in the road of life, Scully,” he
whines thinly. “They don’t even have cable.”

“No Cartoon Network, huh? I’ll report them to the AMA,”
I respond dryly. “Been stuck watching soap operas?”

His pout deepens. “Worse. Judge Judy marathon.”

I can’t catch the giggle before it sneaks past my lips but it’s
worth the delight on Mulder’s face. He loves making me
laugh; I love making him work for it. He slides to the right
and pats the mattress invitingly, unrepentant when I raise
an eyebrow in disapproval.

“Mulder, I am not getting in bed with you.”

“Chair’s hard as a rock,” he argues whispily.

“Skinner said he’d stop by this afternoon, he could walk in
any minute,” I counter, but I let him snag my hand and pull
me closer.

“Skinner already knows, I heard he won the pool,” Mulder

“What p… Never mind, I don’t want to know.” My right
hip balances on the edge of the mattress but my left foot
remains anchored to the tile. “Even if he knows, that
doesn’t mean we have to flaunt it.”

“Nothing to flaunt,” Mulder rasps, and somehow my
backside is now planted firmly on the bed, one traitorous
leg stretched cozily along his. “There’s a blanket and a
sheet between us.”

The solid warmth of his body seduces Dana, but Agent
Scully musters one more token protest. “A nurse will need
to check your vitals…”

“Not if you get there first.”

The man has no voice, yet he can still leer. Why should I be

Sighing, I admit defeat and settle more comfortably into the
bed. The heart monitor’s regular beep, though a little fast,
comforts me, and each wheezy breath is music to my ears.
Mulder fidgets for several minutes before finally quieting
and the tension in his body slowly dissipates. I try to
remain still, hoping he’ll find his way to sleep.

“Scully?” Not drowsy, but calm – even serene.

“Yes, Mulder?”

“Thank you.”

I squeeze my eyes tightly shut and try to pretend ignorance.
“I’m just staying here for a little while, Mulder, so don’t
get used to it.”

His fingers tighten on mine and I know that somehow,
instinctively, he understands what I’m trying to do, and
why. And, as always, he refuses to leave me my illusions.

“I owe you. Big time.”

I shake my head vehemently. Tears clog the back of my
throat so that my reply sounds as strangled as Mulder’s.

“You don’t owe me anything. It’s only by the grace of God
that you’re sitting here right now! What I did, the decisions
I made, could have killed you, Mulder. They nearly did.”

His hand reaches up to comb through my hair in what I
mistake for a soothing gesture until I feel his fingertips
trace the tiny scar at the base of my neck. I freeze,

“Me too.”

I turn and stare into his eyes, bright sparks of life in a wan
face. One corner of his mouth turns up. “Long shots. It’s
what the X-Files are all about.”

Deep inside me, a wound begins to heal and I manage a
bleary smile. “That’s very profound, Mulder. Where’d you
hear that?”

He wriggles down and drops his head onto my shoulder
with a blissful sigh. “Very reliable source. The only one I
trust,” he murmurs sleepily.

That’s good enough for me.

The End