Title: Much Abides
Summary: I remember his rare, wide smile, his eyes, full of love and joy and heartwrenching trust. I will not betray those eyes.
Undying thanks are due to everyone who helped me with it during its gestation, but especially to Maria Nicole and cofax, for beta services beyond the call of duty. I owe you.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though We are not now that strength which in old days Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are-- One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
"Have I ever told you how sexy you look in Kevlar?"
I frown at my partner even as the touch of his voice makes me shiver. "Mulder, we're working," I hiss, suppressing a smile. "Now is not the time."
"I know." His forlorn tone is too much for me; I give in to the laugh that has been fighting for escape ever since he pulled me aside to help me fasten my vest.
"What?" He crinkles his nose, puzzled.
"It's not my fault you told Agent Anders we'd fill in tonight. In fact, I distinctly remember making very different plans for the evening."
He groans. "Don't remind me. Believe me, Scully, if I had remembered what today was, I would never have agreed to this."
I raise a disbelieving eyebrow. "This from the man with the perfect memory." "Hey, I only remember things I *see*, " he protests. "And you won't let me write it down."
I sigh. "Mulder, you know why that is." I tighten the fastenings on his vest, tugging them to make sure they're secure. "We can't afford to have anyone find out about us. Not now, not yet."
He lays a gentle hand over mine as I fidget with his vest. "I know, Scully. It's just that sometimes I wish..." he trails off, his wistful face speaking of a thousand stifled desires.
"I know," I whisper. "Me, too." I glance around; the rest of the team is oblivious to us in our shadowed corner. I kiss my fingertips and press them to his mouth, pulling them away quickly, but not before I feel his answering pressure. "Someday, Mulder, I promise, we can tell as many people as we like. We'll make a web page. We'll run an ad in the *Post*. I want to as much as you do, you know that. It's just... not time yet."
He nods, a bittersweet smile crooking his mouth. "I know." He traces my jawline with his knuckle, a whisper of a caress that reminds me what I had intended to do with Mulder tonight. He drops his hand and turns towards the others.
"Mulder." My voice is low, but demanding. He cocks his head, looking like nothing so much as an inquisitive puppy. "Don't you *dare* get hurt tonight. I refuse to sit in the ER when I could be in bed." *With you,* I add silently, willing him to hear the words.
His smile is slow and brilliant, like dawn on the water. "Yes, dear," he teases. I make a face at him, then smooth my features into a professional mask. Side by side, we move to rejoin the team in one last briefing.
It's not supposed to be an exceptionally difficult or dangerous raid. The Temple Militia is certainly worth our attention, but their practice of using swords and knives instead of automatic weapons seems almost innocent by the standards of most modern anarchists. Our information indicates that their leaders are nearly fanatical about the "purity of the blade" and won't permit firearms on the premises; the Kevlar is purely precautionary.
Mulder's steady voice breaks into the briefing, asking for clarification on some point. My partner's maverick reputation has caused him trouble for as long as I've known him, but nobody can honestly deny that he is good at what he does. I've often compared him to an ice skater, moving with smooth grace through the standard figures, then startling the judges by leaping so high and so far that it seems he cannot help but fall.
He falls, sometimes. But sometimes he nails the landing, too, and the audience is hushed with awe. I can see him, absorbed in his task, turning over scenarios in his mind as his long fingers tap idly against his leg. Whatever happens here, tonight, he is unlikely to be surprised; his profiler's brain will have contingency plans prepared for even the most improbable eventuality.
My stomach coils tight against my spine as I listen to SAC Anders. The adrenaline is already beginning to surge through me.
I never get tired of this feeling. Some people skydive. Some bungee-jump. Others seek their thrills in competition or illicit liaisons. This is what I do; this is how I appease that part of me that craves the rush, that thrives on the sick tense feeling in my gut, in my limbs, as I prepare to take part in yet another raid.
With the stiff heaviness of Kevlar and the cold weight of a gun, I hold myself in readiness. Despite my reluctance to come tonight, I can't resist the call. It's singing in my veins, winding me up. I feel Mulder behind me; his warm, solid reality tethers me to the moment. A scene from a movie I would never admit to loving roils in my mind, and I see a Klingon warrior behind my eyelids. *Cry "Havoc!" and let slip the dogs of war...*
Agent Anders releases the leash. We move on the barn with deadly quiet, seeking to take the suspect into custody and settle the situation with minimal disruption. There's no such thing as a "routine" raid, despite what the movies and detective novels say, but this one promises to be less trouble than most.
I sense more than see movement in a stand of trees to my right-- and as I turn I hear the shot. They aren't supposed to have guns, dammit! What the hell is going on here?
As I fall to the ground all I feel is cold fury. If I could find the cretin who gave us our intelligence briefing I would rip him apart. I hate getting shot. It hurts. The scar from New York still aches when the weather changes; it's too soon to have to go through this again. Through my anger, I am dimly aware of volleys of gunfire. I guess they know where he is now.
"Scully?" Mulder's face swims into my vision. "Scully, are you--" his query dies as he sees the blood welling through the neat hole in my Kevlar vest. Armor-piercing bullets are a real bitch. For an eternal second we are frozen, staring at each other. I don't know what he sees in my face--pain, most likely--but I can read horror and anguish and dread in his eyes. The spell breaks and he is shouting for a paramedic as he frees me from the vest, his fingers tearing at the fastenings that less than an hour before he had closed with a caress. I can't hold back a little cry. God, that hurts. It's getting hard for me to breathe, and the clinical voice inside my head informs me that the bullet probably punctured a lung. Great.
I'm on the ground and he is trying to put pressure on the entry wound. His hands are ten-ton weights on my chest, and I can't breathe. I try to get his attention, to ask him to lift me up a little. "mul..." I can't get it out. I realize, in that odd detached part of my brain that always surfaces in a crisis, that the wet choking sounds I'm making are a very bad sign. Somehow, though, he realizes what I want. He lifts me a little, cradling me against him, trying to close the exit wound by pressing me back against his chest, while his hands continue their futile attempts to staunch the blood that spurts from between his fingers at each beat of my heart. I cough; through the wracking pain I feel frothy blood bubbling out of my mouth. I am dimly aware of his heart thundering behind me, his breath sobbing as he screams for the ambulance. They won't make it in time, Mulder. There's not enough blood in my body to keep me till then.
I am furious. We weren't even supposed to be here tonight. It wasn't supposed to happen like this. We haven't had enough time. I can't leave him now. I can't. I *won't.*
I try to reach behind me, to touch him. I want to lash myself to his chest like a sailor tying himself to the mast of his foundering ship. At last I find his hands, still trying to hold my blood in my body. Even as they press against me, I can feel them tremble with the force of his emotion. Somehow, I manage to cover them with mine. My blood coats his long fingers, hot and sticky.
He is talking to me, crooning in my ear, a stream of desperate pleas to hold on, to be strong, to stay with him. I can barely understand what he's saying. I can't see him. I want to see him.
With immense effort I tip my head back, moaning. I squeeze his hands convulsively, sending a silent plea. Let me see you, Mulder.
He shifts me a little so that he can look into my eyes. I will myself to concentrate, to keep them open against the agony in my chest that makes me want to slam them shut. I try to tell him all the things I can no longer say.
I cough again. More blood, more pain. A black haze gathers around the edges of my vision. He has fallen silent, but his eyes are screaming. *Don't leave me...*
*I can't help it... I'm sorry--*
I summon every remnant of strength in me and force my blood-slick lips to curve into a smile for him.
*I love you, Mulder.*
His anguished cry is the last thing I hear as I slip into the soft dark mist.
I remember the first time I woke in his bed. I think it was a chill that roused me; I had been hot--wonderfully hot--when I went to sleep and hadn't bothered with clothes or covers. As I surfaced with a shiver, I sensed that I was not alone in wakefulness. I looked down to where Mulder was resting the warm rough weight of his head on my breast; his open eyes seemed focused on something I couldn't see.
"Whatcha doin'?" I murmured drowsily.
"Listening to your heart beat," he whispered in reply.
My heart caught, and when I spoke my words were gentle. "Go to sleep, Mulder, it's late."
I felt him shake his head against me.
"Why?" My voice was so low that he probably felt it as much as he heard it. He went utterly still. The tiny puffs of his breath made me shiver; he tensed, but did not move or speak for a minute, or five. Tentatively, I whispered, "Please." His shudder shook us both, then I could feel his words like kisses on my skin. "I'm afraid."
"Oh, Mulder." I threaded my fingers through the soft hair at his temple. "You're not the only one."
"No. This..." with a gesture I indicate the two of us, the bed, our scattered clothes on the floor. "This terrifies me. But not enough to make me run away from it. Not anymore." He was silent. "Mulder?"
"Scully." It was a breath, a prayer.
"What are you afraid of?"
He was so still, I thought for a moment he'd gone to sleep. Then suddenly he buried his face between my breasts and the thoughts that kept him awake slipped from him in a desperate stream.
"I'm afraid... I'm afraid that somehow, they'll use this to hurt you again. I'm afraid I'll ruin us somehow. I'm afraid--" his breath hitched. "I'm afraid you'll leave and I'll be alone again." His arms tightened on me. "And this time it'll hurt forever." His entire body was tight, trembling. With a sigh, I pulled him up to face me. I was a little annoyed that he could still doubt, after everything we had endured, but my hands were tender on his cheeks. "Mulder. Listen to me." His eyes sought mine, fear and hope warring in their depths.
"I thought you would have figured it out by now. You can't get rid of me, Mulder." I threaded my fingers through a lock of soft hair. "I won't abandon you. I promise." Neither of us moved or spoke for a while. I could see him thinking, weighing my words, trying to convince himself that I would be the exception to the rule of abandonment that had ruled his relationships for twenty-five years.
I knew the instant he decided to let himself believe me. I felt him shudder with relief and cold, and his body eased with the first tears that slipped from his sealed eyes. I felt them scald my bare stomach as he collapsed on me again. "Go to sleep, Mulder," I whispered as I pulled the comforter around us, laying his head so he could feel the gentle rocking of my breath. "I'll still be here in the morning."
I wake to birdsong.
Dimly, slowly, I become aware of gentle sounds, sounds of water, of wind. I struggle to open my eyes and get a good look at my surroundings.
I immediately regret it.
I am lying on a bed of cushions in the bottom of a rowboat. It's a familiar scene; I remember being here before, in a dream or a vision while I fought my way out of a coma. The swirling mist and the dark smudges of forest on the shore are unchanged, stable. Even the ugly coat I'm wrapped in looks the same.
Except this time, there is no rope tethering me to the dock. And the boat is moving.
"No!" With a cry of horror, I sit upright, searching for oars, a paddle, anything I can use to get the boat back to the shore. I made it back from here before, I can do it again. I *can.*
There is nothing in the boat to help me. I try to paddle with my hands, but it's a futile effort. The boat is beginning to pick up speed now. I can't go. I won't. Not without him. There is only one option left.
I tear off the coat and dive into the lake.
It is a cold like I've never felt before. In Antarctica I felt the cold that burns; this is the cold that flays, the current moving past me in icy cutting thrusts. I force myself to ignore the pain and throw all my strength into swimming, using the easy efficient strokes I used as a child, swimming anchor on the Mary Goss High School 400 meter relay team.
A memory of swimming laps with Mulder sweeps over me. I see myself, in my Serious Exercise suit, trying to pretend that it was the workout and not his red Speedo that made my face flush and my breath catch. I feel his hands on my arms, my legs, my body. I can hear our voices bouncing off the water.
*"What are you doing, Mulder?"
"Helping you with your form." A wandering hand, a fleeting touch. His shudder is not due to cold. "Feels like you could use some help on your own form, Agent Mulder."
"Always, Agent Scully."*
I remember his rare, wide smile, his eyes, full of love and joy and heartwrenching trust.
I will not betray those eyes.
The water rushes past me with bruising force. The lake looked so quiet from the boat... I would be terrified right now, if I weren't already living my worst nightmare.
Finally, *finally,* I reach the dock. I cling to the rough wooden pilings, feeling splinters digging into the soft skin of my palms as I drag myself onto it. The wind is as cold and rough as the water, but I hardly feel it anymore. I can see my goal, the only irregularity in the scene, a kind of maelstrom of colored light. I struggle into it, and as I push through the dense darkness at its heart and feel myself falling, the fear that should have filled me is replaced by a litany of "MulderMulderMulderI'mcoming!"
A jolt. A thud. Silence.
A weariness more profound than I have ever known fills me. I can't move. I can't see. I start to hear a strange, insistent buzzing, like a swarm of angry bees heard through a door. I lie still where I fell for interminable minutes, until I find the strength to look around.
The first thing I see is a scuffed and dirty tile floor. It’s like the floor in the Hoover building’s cafeteria, with the same institutional flavor of hard wear and frequent cleaning.
I feel like hell. I can’t locate the source of the pain, but it covers and surrounds me with a throbbing reminder of... of... of *something, * anyway, though I can’t think of what right now.
I shake my head in annoyance, or start to, anyway, before the pain stops me. What on earth is wrong with me? With infinite care, I ease myself into a sitting position.
Exhausted by even this small effort, I close my eyes and try to reconstruct my situation. I feel like I’ve been drugged; my thoughts are sluggish, my mind hazy, my body lethargic.
I concentrate on listening. The buzzing sound I hear is somewhat worrying, but right now I'm more concerned with figuring out what's going on. I hear activity, people moving and talking, various mechanical beeps and dings. Somewhere behind me a baby cries, and a man speaks soothingly to it until it calms. A garbled voice pages someone over a PA system. "Dr. Kotronis, please call extension 5432..." Doctor? Then this must be a hospital. That explains the weakness and pain, but what kind of a hospital leaves its patients passed out on the floor?
I manage to stand, somewhat unsteadily. I realize that I'm in an ER treatment cubicle, separated from the bustle by a half-pulled curtain. I stagger out in search of some answers.
"Excuse me," I say to a passing nurse, "what..." I stop as she breezes past me. Somewhat taken aback, I try the nurses' station. "Excuse me," I begin again, but the occupants ignore me. I know that the ER is a busy place, and I know that you catch more flies with honey and all that, but this is too much. I feel like I've been hit by a truck, I have no idea where Mulder is or what happened to me, I just woke up on the floor, and the medical staff seems determined to play the Silent Game with me. "What the HELL kind of hospital is this?" I explode. "I woke up alone on your floor and I have no idea how I got there. I've obviously been injured but I have received no medical attention, and--"
"Excuse me," comes a mild voice from behind me. "They can't hear you."
I whirl to see a pleasant-looking man about my own age, regarding me calmly. "What?" "Look for yourself," he says, indicating the nurses. Sure enough, they are going about their business with no signs of just having been berated by a federal agent. I don't believe this.
"I don't believe this," I say. What's going on?"
He regards me with an expression that looks a lot like pity. "Why don't you come over where it's quieter, and I'll explain," he offers.
I had forgotten my dizziness in the rush of anger, but it hits me again, hard. My head hasn't hurt this much since the cancer. I nod, slowly, and follow him as he leads the way to a small waiting area, where we sit, facing each other, on the orange vinyl chairs.
"My name is Rob Zachary," he says.
"Dana." He pauses, as though steadying himself for something. "Do you know why you're here?"
"I assume that I was brought in for treatment," I say.
"Well, you probably were." He pauses again, obviously thinking through what he's going to say. "What's the last thing you remember before you woke up?"
I frown, thinking. "Maybe it would help if you looked down," Rob suggests softly.
I glance down at my front and let out a cry of surprise. My white shirt is horribly red, sticky and starting to crust with blood.
I can taste blood... my hand flies to my mouth and I feel it, dried and flaking off my lips. I begin to shake as I remember, and I clutch my chest, feeling horrible pain where the torn edges of my shirt have been driven into my body. Scrabbling at the buttons, I open my blouse, uncaring for my audience, needing to see...
My flesh is smooth, unmarked. I start to sway.
"Easy, Dana, easy," Rob says, placing his hand on my shoulder. "It's OK. You're OK."
"How can I be OK?" I snap. "I was shot in the chest! I should be in ICU, not sitting here having a conversation!"
"Well," Rob begins, "technically maybe 'OK' isn't the best way to put it."
"Rob," I say wearily, "I don't have time for games. Could you please just tell me what's going on?"
He takes a deep breath. "You're dead," he blurts. "You died."
Wonderful. The only person who'll pay attention to me is insane. I look around unobtrusively for the orderlies from the psych ward who are probably searching for my new friend by now.
"Rob," I say in my best put-the-gun-down voice, "that doesn't make sense. If I'm dead, then how am I talking to you?"
He looks somewhat taken aback at this rational approach. "You're a ghost," he says.
"And you can see ghosts?" Calm, gentle, soothing.
"Of course, I..." he trails off, then starts to laugh. His amusement hits me with an almost physical force. "You're looking for my keepers, aren't you?"
I say nothing, hoping to avoid triggering some sort of psychotic episode. "Dana," he says, quieting, "I promise I am not insane. The reason that nobody can hear you but me is because you and I are both ghosts. You re-entered here because you died here."
"And did you die here, too?" I try to keep my voice level, looking over my shoulder for those orderlies.
"No, I hang around here to help newbies," he says cheerfully. "We get a lot of new ghosts in the hospitals, so we like someone to be there to help them figure everything out. It can be kind of scary at first."
I can't help but be intrigued by his delusion. I wonder if they just let him wander around the hospital? They have cut back public funding for mental hospitals lately. I recall the latest statistics on how many homeless people have been discharged from public mental institutions. I feel a surge of sympathy for Rob, with no one to remind him to take his meds, loitering in hospital waiting rooms trying to convince people that they're dead.
His voice intrudes on my reverie. "You still think I'm crazy, don't you?"
I say nothing.
"Look, Dana, if you don't believe me, I can prove it."
This I've gotta see. "How?"
He sighs. "I wish there was an easier way to do this."
Reaching out, he grabs me unexpectedly by both wrists. Startled, I try to pull away, to call for help, but before I can do more than open my mouth I feel a sickening lurch and the waiting room blurs, fades, and reshapes itself into a sterile generic back hallway. Rob lets go of me.
I clutch my stomach, heavy with sudden sour fear. What just happened? What was that? How could he have done that?
"What are you--" I begin, but he ignores me, and turns to open the double doors in front of us.
I am swept with a sense of chilling familiarity as I follow him into the deserted morgue. Rob opens a drawer, with rather more effort than seems necessary, and beckons me over. I am abruptly afraid to see what he has found. He no longer seems like a harmless nut.
"Don't be afraid, Dana," he says, with that unnerving ability to read my emotions. "Come and see."
I approach slowly. The body is a small one, a woman from what I can see beneath the sheet. He gently draws back the cover, and I steel myself to look.
Red hair in a tangle at the top, red hair and a face I can't look at. I skip the face with my eyes, scan over white white shoulders to the hole in the chest, in the same place as the hole in my blouse, just over and to the side of another scar, healed but not yet silvered with age. Hips, legs, and she has a mark where I cut my ankle shaving yesterday, what are the odds of that? "It's not possible," I whisper, and Rob turns the toe tag towards me and I read it.
"SCULLY, Dana K."
"No!" I shake my head and my body shudders, and I am afraid here in the morgue with this lunatic who is making me see things and it's a dead clone, it must be but her wound is red red hair like mine the tag says Scully, Dana K and this can't be true this isn't true it's not me not me not me...
"I must be hallucinating," I say, forcing my voice to stay level. I turn to Rob, who is watching me with wide, concerned eyes. "I was kidnapped and drugged," I continue, hating the rising tone of desperation I hear in my own voice. "I'm dreaming this whole thing."
Rob's voice is soft and sad. "Dana," he says, gently, "*look*." With implacable fingers he turns my head, he's trying to make me see her face and I can't look but I have to look he's making me look and I know it's not, it won't be, it can't be...
The certainty is a brutal blow. This is, then, my finality. I am ugly in death, bruised and mottled and slack, small on the stainless steel, pathetic and naked like a cheap discarded doll. I shut my eyes, turning away from my last indignity, and I begin to shake. Dimly, I hear the whir and click of the drawer sliding home as Rob returns her-- returns me to my place.
I feel him, warm and worried as he lays a hand on my shoulder. I jerk away. The practice of a lifetime stands me in good stead as I take my whirling emotions, the anger and terror and grief, and pack them down, away, into a dark shadowed place where I can pretend they don’t exist. I draw my shoulders back and raise my eyes to meet his.
"I believe you," I say, my voice raw and barely above a whisper. "I believe you. Tell me what to do."
He looks at me, respect bright in his marsh-brown eyes. "You are a brave woman, Dana Scully," he says, and I feel the jolt again as he takes my hand and takes us away from the heaviness of dead things.
I'm afraid to think about it too much. I feel like I'm walking a high wire, working without a net above the abyss of screaming insanity. The only way I can keep even a shred of composure is to focus on my immediate needs. I spend the next twelve hours with Rob, getting lessons from him which help me a good deal. They were without a doubt the strangest hours in a life where strange hours abounded, but after what seemed like days of exercises and instruction, I've been able to reach a level of comfort in my new existence, mastering skills like teleportation and aura recognition. Missy would be so proud.
Being a ghost, it seems, has some serious practical disadvantages; the way Rob explains it, we don't have the equipment to do things like move physical objects or make ourselves perceptible to the living. We can learn to compensate for our lack of physicality, but it takes a lot more effort and concentration than one would think. For much of my quick-and-dirty education on ghosthood, I felt like the Luke Skywalker to Rob's Obi-Wan Kenobi. I kept expecting him to warn me about the lure of the Dark Side. I've always been a very goal-oriented person, never losing sight of my ultimate destination. It helps, when I'm up to my shins in noxious mud or getting my favorite suit ruined by a knife-wielding psychopath, to remember my purpose. I'm suprisingly thankful to Mulder, now, for the practice he's given me in dealing with the bizarre; without it, I would probably be in a corner somewhere, gibbering quietly. I wonder what they do with insane ghosts? I'll have to ask Rob. My concern right now is finding Mulder. Rob says that I'm the only new ghost that showed up at the hospital today, but that doesn't necessarily mean much. Mulder could have died, and chosen to move on instead of returning with me. I have to find out what happened after I lost consciousness. I have to find him. He needs me, and I promised to stay. Just one more stop before I leave the hospital, a last attempt I have to make.
The chapel is quiet and dim, and I wonder vaguely why poor lighting always seems to be associated with spirituality. Yesterday I would have found it peaceful, but now it only represents the upheaval of everything I've ever believed; I can feel my faith waver like the candle flames. I kneel at the altar and force myself to pray. The soothing rhythm of the words comes to me with the ease of a lifetime, and I allow myself to fall into the lulling of familiarity.
"...pray for us, now and at the hour of our deaths..."
I jerk to a stop, suddenly hearing my prayers in the harsh light of my current situation. The hour of my death? Apparently it's already come and gone, and left me lost and frightened in its wake.
I turn, and see the bank of candles burning by the door. An irrational anger rushes through me in a bitter blaze; each tiny hopeful flame seems to be mocking me, flaunting the quietude that they symbolize, the peace that has been torn from me.
I take the anger and push it out, away from me in a gust of wind, and the candles flicker and die. I leave the chapel with the smoke of charred wicks hanging bitter like betrayal in the air.
I make my way to the hospital cafeteria, busy with midmorning traffic. I'm still not very confident in my new abilities, and it helps to do the more difficult things where there are a lot of people around. Concentrating, I focus my mind on my destination, drawing energy from the emotions of the people who sit, unaware, sipping bad coffee and eating stale bagels around me. With the queasy lurch that I will never accustom myself to, I arrive at the first stage in my search.
In all my wildest imaginings, I never pictured myself haunting the J. Edgar Hoover Building. It would be funny if I didn't feel so... desolate. I am lonely and frightened and angry as hell and I want answers that no one can give me.
I can feel the living around me, buzzing like insects. I think I finally understand how Mulder felt when that artifact put him in the hospital; the voices seem to fill my head. It's annoying, but if I concentrate I can recognize individuals, and transport myself to where they are. I have to be careful with that one, though. I tried to find Skinner and materialized next to a urinal. If I'd been alive, I know I would have had a heart attack.
But what's really worrying me is that I can't find Mulder. I'm listening as hard as I can, but I don't sense him anywhere, and I know that if there's anyone I'd know, it would be him. He can't be dead, I'd know somehow. I have to find out what happened.
I concentrate on finding the agent who led the raid. Agent Anders. He had asked Mulder if we'd fill in for his partner and another agent who were out sick. I shudder as I locate him; hearing the man who is, however indirectly, responsible for getting us into this hellish mess makes me feel ill. I make the necessary effort and suddenly I'm in the bullpen, standing next to him as he chats over coffee. "...and I'll tell you, Sam, you're one lucky SOB. That raid was a disaster. A rogue faction within the Militia decided that blades weren't strong enough and started a little sideline in automatic weapons."
"Yeah, I heard. What was it, four agents got shot? And I heard on CNN that someone died, but I couldn't figure out who it was."
He whistles softly through his teeth. "Spooky's partner? I bet he went postal."
Anders nods, his expression grave. "I tell you, Sam, I was scared. I've been in the field for twenty-two years and I've *never* seen anything like that. He was screaming for the ambulance before anyone else had even realized she was hit. She never had a chance, though. Bullet went right through her lung and got the pulmonary artery. She bled to death right in his arms. Skinner sent me with them to the ER. When the paramedics got her there, they pronounced her DOA, and Mulder *freaked.* He pushed them away from her like some kind of maniac, ripped off the sheet and started CPR on her corpse. Took four orderlies to wrestle him to the ground, and the whole time he was screaming at her to wake up. It was awful." I hear a tiny, anguished sob escape me. With his spare phrases Anders made me see my partner's agony, and I felt it like knives in my gut. I bitterly regret all the times during my life that I suppressed my urge to cry; I would welcome the catharsis of tears now. Oh, Mulder...
"So what happened to Spooky?"
"Well, the hospital shot him so full of sedatives he could barely drool, and then checked him out to make sure none of the blood on him was his. Turns out he took one to the arm, but he either didn't notice or didn't care. He's in the hospital now. I hear they had to strap him to the bed to keep him from going down to the morgue and taking the body.” He is silent for a moment, his eyes distant. His aura is a weary gray. “I heard someone in Bank Fraud started a pool on how long he goes before he eats his gun."
"You in on it?"
Anders shakes his head. "I couldn't. You didn't see him, Sam. He was... he looked like I felt when Marie died. Except I had the kids to think about.”
"From what I've heard, he didn't have anyone except Scully." "You're right, Agent Robbins," I say aloud. "He didn't. He doesn’t." I gather my concentration and, with the sickening lurch that I have yet to get used to, I'm in the hospital lobby.
I have to find my partner.
I try to hear him in the hospital, but I can't find anything that sounds like Mulder there. The sedation Anders talked about is probably interfering with it, somehow, so I'll have to find another way to locate him.
Mulder would probably go rocketing around the hospital hoping to stumble across the right room, but I think I have a better idea. The Information desk behind me is unoccupied; I cross to the abandoned computer terminal. I rejoice to see the screen saver proclaiming that the hospital follows "the three R's of service," whatever that means. I don't think I'm up to hacking the system right now. Gathering my strength, I concentrate on making my hand solid enough to use the keyboard.
I panic briefly when the terminal beeps, but no one is paying attention. I have what I came for, in lime green letters: "MULDER, Fox W." Room 4318. I am there in seconds.
I don't want to alert the nurses by opening the door. I slip through it instead, shutting my eyes as I pass through. I hate doing that.
As I approach the bed I finally hear him. His pattern is very soft, but unmistakably Mulder. The colors I've been seeing around everyone are so faint around him they're almost absent, suppressed, I suppose, by the heavy medication. What I can see of them is black and purple and sickly yellow and gory red, the colors of wounds and pain, of bruises and blood. Even under sedation his rest is unquiet. Before, I would only have been able to tell by the look on his face, frowning even in sleep. Now, I can sense the anguish coming off him in burning waves.
Something clenches inside me. I stroke his forehead, his arm, trying to connect with him again, reaching for him with the power of our bond.
With a snap I can almost hear, I'm seeing Mulder's dream, hovering above the action with a perfect view of everything.
It's incredibly vivid, the sounds sharp, the colors lurid. I realize that the sedatives must be heightening the intensity of the dream even while they keep him from waking to escape it. I am furious with the idiot who prescribed a drug like that to Mulder, who is already prone to nightmares. I would never have let them, Mulder. I'm so sorry.
I look down, and the sight fills me with horror.
He is crouched over me, trying desperately to stop the flow of blood that pours out of the hole in my chest. Impossible amounts of blood cover him; the heat of it steams in the cold Virginia night. I hear my own voice, weak and interrupted with gasps and gurgles, pleading with him, my words a ghastly echo of the guilt he's carried for so long.
"Mulder, I need your help... I need you... help me, Mulder...please...help me..."
He redoubles his efforts, sobbing and screaming to anyone who'll listen to help him, please help him, she's bleeding... Suddenly, two hulking men with faces like ogres and EMT uniforms appear and wrench my body from his arms. I scream his name with a desperation my voice hasn't held since Duane Barry, but before he can lunge to my aid other agents are grabbing him, holding him back. He struggles so hard I'm sure he would have dislocated his shoulders if this had been real life. A looming figure appears from behind the EMTs; after a moment I recognize Skinner.
"Agent Mulder." His deep voice quiets my partner for a moment. He continues, his voice rasping and tight. "I'm sorry. They couldn't save her. She's gone, Mulder."
At that a thousand malevolent shadows start chanting, hissing "Dead and gone, dead and gone, never coming back again," in a chilling singsong.
His head falls back and a cry of agony rips from his throat. His pain sears white-hot into my soul. I can't just watch this. I can't just listen to this. The chant is rising, pounding against me like a physical force. Stop! Stop it! With the surge of my anger and pain I *force* the volume down. Amazingly, it works. The hissing chant has transformed itself into the soothing chirp of cicadas. Apparently I can not only see his dream; I can influence it, at least to some extent. The desire to give him some peace floods me. With exhausting concentration, I begin, focusing on one element of the dream at a time.
I turn the cold into a Southern summer night, warm and smooth with buttery stillness. I banish the other agents, the EMTs, my bloody corpse, turning them into bleachers and stars and fireflies. Skinner shrinks, changes, and transforms into a scruffy boy in baggy overalls and a painter's cap. A little more effort, and Mulder's gory clothes vanish, becoming jeans and a baseball jersey. He looks down at his hands, suddenly cleansed of my blood and holding a Louisville Slugger, and his face fills with a bewildered hope. I've seen the same expression in the eyes of kidnap victims that we've rescued just in time, people who can't believe that the horrors are over at last.
I step out from behind the fence. I'm wearing an outfit I know he loves, cutoff jeans and his New York Knicks T-shirt. "Hey, Mulder," I say, letting all my love and longing roughen and warm my voice. "I missed you." He stiffens and turns, letting the bat fall with a clunk and a puff of red dirt. I can see hope and desire shaking his body; his eyes are full of something I can't define. I cross to where he stands in the batter's box, tensed as though for a pitch. His hands are twitching, as if he's prevented from reaching for me by dread that I will melt away beneath his fingers.
I reach for him.
As if my touch frees him from some kind of stasis, he pulls me near. Now, his nightmare cycle broken, he is sharing control of the dream with me. I press closer as he envelops me; I delight in the coarse texture of his jersey under my cheek, his warm breath stirring my hair, his smell of dust and sweat and leather. His arms around me, wrapping me up in him, press me so tight to his chest that I wonder why I feel no pain.
All I can feel and hear and smell and see is Mulder. I am wrapped in him and rapt with a feeling of connection stronger than any I have felt before. I feel almost as if I'm sinking into him, as though the boundaries between our bodies are giving way before the push of our souls to merge and blend and stay forever wedded. My senses quiver, filled with Mulder... ...and then I am him and I feel with his heart, I feel me so soft in his arms, so small and precious. The voice in my mind is his mind and we are crying Scully, Scully, she's here oh God I thought she was gone I thought she had left me the blood was so hot, the blood all over me, on me, on my hands, Scully's blood on my hands again oh Scully she's here and she's mine, mine, my Scully and she is beautiful, beautiful she is so beautiful...
I am so beautiful. I start to separate from him but he shudders and cries and clutches me closer. I choke on his pain as I try to speak. "Mulder..." his name is my incantation; I will heal his heart with it. "Mulder," I whisper, again, and then again in a stream of love and care for him as he calms, infinitesimally more with each repetition. I can sense him falling towards deeper sleep, at last released from the torment of dreaming, and as he drifts away I caress him with my hands and my voice and I hold him.
I hold him.
The baseball field fades slowly, like a long dissolve in an old art film. I can feel myself rising out of that place inside his mind that I had somehow found, and soon I am back in the hospital room.
He has stopped the little anxious movements; his face has cleared, and is now graced by the faintest tinge of a smile. For a time, at least, I have given him solace, and the knowledge comforts me.
With a little concentration, I find I can push his hair back from his forehead. It's such a simple gesture, one that has mutely told of love and care for a million mothers and lovers. In his sleep, he turns a little into my hand.
I feel drained, tired. Climbing into bed with Mulder isn't difficult. He is lying on his side, his good arm stretched out as though to make a pillow for me. I fit myself to him, glad that the myths about ghosts having an icy touch don't seem to be true. I continue to caress him softly as I watch him sleep, throughout the whole long night. His slumber is so deep that the night nurses checking his vital signs don't even make him turn in his sleep.
I feel the hospital waking before I hear it. The watery dawn brings a kind of low-key white noise to my new "hearing." The day nurse comes in to check on Mulder and give him his next doses of medicine; when she sees his face, unconscious and sweet, she smiles. "Must have tired himself out," I hear her whisper to herself. "Poor man." She does what she has come to do as softly as she can, her aura shining with calming blues and greens. When Mulder starts to stir I run my fingers through his hair and murmur to him soothingly, and he lapses back into deep sleep with a sigh.
I watch over him as the morning brightens, trying to give him this peace for as long as I can. The drugs help me in my efforts, and it is well into visiting hours when his slumber begins to lighten. I can tell that he is waking by the pattern of his breath. He burrows his head into the pillow, closer to where I lie. I think he feels my presence; I could swear that he just sniffed my hair.
There is a tingle at the back of my brain. A pattern I recognize, vaguely. Someone I know must be in the hospital. As it gets closer, it is more and more familiar. Frohike opens the door with the silence only a true paranoiac could obtain. I barely recognize our gleefully lecherous friend in this silent, beaten-down little man. His grief for us hangs around him like his ill-fitting blue suit. He crosses softly to the bed.
Mulder sighs, and his eyelashes flutter. "Good morning, Mulder," I whisper, delighting in the rasp of his cheek against my palm.
He makes a contented little noise. "Morning, sunshine," he mumbles.
"Mulder?" Frohike's voice interrupts us, hesitant and choked with pain.
Mulder starts, and his eyes snap open. I try to get his attention, but he looks right through me at Frohike. "Fro..." he breaks off, and I feel fear sweep over him in a heavy smothering wave. "I had a dream..." he whispers, and I can hear the nightmare in his words. He looks at Frohike with dread. He has to ask, but he already knows. "Scully?"
Frohike's face breaks at the tiny question, and he shakes his head.
The sudden burst of anguish I feel from Mulder nearly knocks me over, even while I feel myself gaining strength from its intensity. He looks down at where I am, where his body is still curled around me, but he sees nothing. He sounds like he's been swallowing sandpaper when he speaks again. "I think I'm going crazy."
"You don't understand! I'm delusional, Frohike. I keep... hearing... her." His voice breaks. "I can *smell* her." He looks down at his good hand. "That's her blood under my fingernails."
I can't hold back a dry sob. "Mulder, I'm right here, Mulder, look at me, please..." I take his face in my hands, but he doesn't respond. He heard me before; he felt me. Why can't he feel me now? I put all my effort into trying to reach him, trying to make him see, but he is blind to everything but the pain. I finally sink back to the bed, exhausted, and I notice that he hasn't moved since we held each other in the night. I curl into him again, clinging.
"Mulder, it's me," I whisper. Nothing. Frohike reaches out hesitantly, and touches Mulder's shoulder in mute empathy.
He is breaking, bleeding, and I cannot stop it. I cannot heal him. I can't even let him know I'm here. I can't stay here any longer. I can't watch this anymore. I have to go somewhere quiet and rest and think and regroup. I'm sorry, Mulder, I'm sorry.
Overcome with shame, I leave them to grieve together. Mulder's apartment is quiet and dim. I curl up on his couch, exhausted. This room is so filled with Mulder that I can almost hear his breath, but there is a place that aches, his place beside me that throbs with the lack of him. The whispers of his presence here are comforting, soothing me a little with smells and sights as familiar to me as the sound of my own breathing once was.
I don't know how long I sit there, wrapped in the lingering wisps of Mulder, before I realize that there are people approaching. I can hear weariness in their steps and the timbres of their voices. Their buzzes in the back of my head are familiar; I feel a great rush of gratitude to the Lone Gunmen for their care of him.
"Which-- oh, wait, I got it." Langly opens the door wide, leaving Mulder's keys dangling in the lock. He holds the door for Byers, his arms full of takeout food, prescriptions, and the miscellaneous rubbish that you always bring home from a hospital stay.
Mulder follows, with Frohike hovering behind him like an anxious mother dog whose only puppy is being passed around at a children's party. His arm is still in a sling, but I think the stiffness of his movements comes less from his body than from the dark, heavy pain I can feel in him.
Byers has laid his burden on the table, and is busying himself with cartons and cups of deli food.
"Hey Mulder, what kind of sandwich you want, man?" Langly asks, pushing him gently into one of the kitchen chairs.
"I'm not hungry."
Byers, without a word, continues fixing plates of food. He sets one in front of Mulder; nothing heavy, just a sandwich, cut small enough to be easily manageable with one hand. Frohike rummages through the other bags, coming up with an assortment of pills and a can of iced tea, which he hands Mulder.
My partner is stiff and somehow diminished, huddling at the table as though he could ease his grief by making himself easy to overlook. The eyes that have always burned defiant and sure are changed, faded and deadened and dull.
The four of them eat silently, the Gunmen darting anxious glances at Mulder over their sandwich crusts. He seems barely aware of them moving around the apartment, prodding him gently to eat, to swallow medications, to allow his bags to be unpacked; his acquiescence is frightening. I can sense his struggle; as his body calmly chews a sandwich, his soul is being crushed by emotion so strong it makes me tingle.
I ache to reach for him, but I restrain myself, gathering strength from the emotions swirling thick as woodsmoke through the apartment. If I'm going to reach him, we have to be alone. I don’t have the strength to cope with Mulder and three worried Gunmen at once.
"I'm going to put these leftovers in the refrigerator for you, Mulder," Byers offers. "You can eat them later."
The Gunmen busy themselves with picking up and packing up, tidying things as Mulder sits motionless at the table. I don't think he even notices what they're doing. When there is nothing left for the guys to do, they stand uneasily near Mulder, conversing in a series of abrupt gestures and strained looks.
"Go home, guys," Mulder says.
Frohike clears his throat uneasily. "We don't want to leave you alone, man."
Mulder sighs, the sound weary and utterly desolate. "Skinner took both my guns, and I know Langly came over last night and took the kitchen knives and Drano."
They flush, trading guilty looks.
"I'm not going to do anything stupid, guys, I just... I need to be alone, all right?" His voice breaks a little; I feel it like a blow. "Just leave me alone." He is silent for a moment, then whispers, so quietly I think he and I are the only ones who hear it, "I need to start getting used to it."
Uneasy but compliant, the Gunmen gather jackets and keys and file out quietly. Frohike, the last to leave, pauses to rest a hand on Mulder's shoulder.
"If you need anything..." his voice is choked.
Mulder stirs, lifting his eyes to meet our friend's gaze. "Thank you," he whispers, and I echo the sentiment as Frohike leaves, locking the door behind him.
Mulder doesn't move for nearly ten minutes, and I'm beginning to wonder if he's planning on spending the night at the table when he gets up.
His movements are heavy, screaming to me of his fatigue. He moves towards the bedroom; I hope he will sleep. He needs to rest. He pulls back the comforter as though it was stuffed with lead shot instead of down. Suddenly, he stops moving, staring down at something that is twisted in the sheets. With trembling hands he picks it up, shakes the wrinkles out, and lays it reverently on the bed. I move closer, peering around him. What did he find in there that has transfixed him so? I bite back a sob as I see what it is. My shirt. My nubbly, oversized blue flannel shirt that I got at the men's section of Wal-Mart in Claxton, Georgia three years ago. It goes well with sweatpants on those cold drizzly days that make you want to curl up with a book and never leave the house. I think the only time I've ever worn it outside my own apartment was the last time we slept at Mulder's. His apartment is always cold for some reason and I brought my shirt to sleep in.
He is running one long forefinger slowly over the worn cotton. His shadowed eyes flick from the shirt to the bed, and I know he is reliving that night in his perfect memory. His finger stops as he reaches the place where the buttons used to be; only a few remain, dangling crazily. The rest are gone, their places marked by frayed threads. Oh, God. My birthday.
He told me he wanted to do something special this year, this first of my birthdays since we had tumbled together in a storm of love and fear and want. I remember standing outside his door, the first time we'd even been there for weeks, waiting for him to let me in. "Shut your eyes," he had said, with that wistful look that spoke more clearly than his tongue ever had, and I had bitten back my impatience and allowed him to direct me.
He wouldn't let me open them, even after we entered the apartment; "Keep 'em closed," he said, his breath a warm surprise on my cheek, and I shivered. He took both my hands in his big ones and led me through his apartment, guiding me safely past the furniture into the bedroom.
"Can I open my eyes?"
"Not yet," he had whispered, and dropped a kiss on my hair, knowing how much it meant, how far we had come, that I could give so much control to him. I felt a cool slick touch on my eyes, and raised a hand to feel the silk scarf that was now ensuring that I didn't cheat. "Stay here."
From the middle of the room I had heard him undressing, cloth rustling and his smooth zipper, and shivered again in sensual anticipation. I could feel when he drew near, and reached out for him, but my hand was caught and kissed and lowered to rest again by my side.
"Just stay still."
I stood obediently while he lowered the zipper on my dress and slipped it from my shoulders. He moved away, and I heard unmistakable rustles and clinks as he hung it in his closet. I smiled, touched at his consideration for my dry cleaning bill, even in the middle of seduction.
Heels and slip and pantyhose and bra were all disposed of with the same tender touch, and when I felt his heat on my bare back I flushed, expectant.
He took my hand, and gently slid my arm into a fuzzy sleeve. I started and turned, but he only squeezed my hand. "Shhhh," he said. "Good things come to those who wait."
"You're doing this to get me back for that thing with the feathers, aren't you?" I asked, and he laughed. "Just go with it, Scully," he teased, and I was quiet while he pulled on the other sleeve of something warm and soft, and buttoned- buttoned? me into it. Soon I was dressed in sweatpants and he was leading me barefoot back out into the living room.
"You know, Mulder," I said conversationally, "This is pretty kinky, even for you."
He laughed again as he drew the blindfold away in a whisper of silk. "Happy birthday, Scully."
I blinked and looked around in surprise. Mulder, in sweats and white socks, was standing next to his coffee table, which was laden with popcorn and nachos and a pint of Ben & Jerry's Phish Food ice cream. In his hands was a stack of videotapes, each adorned with a bright bow. "Welcome to Chick Flick Theater," he said gravely. "We can watch any or all of these movies here, and I promise not to mock the girly parts."
I hugged him, then, videos and all, my breath catching in a sudden rush of love for him. Mulder withstood forty-five minutes of *Philadelphia Story* before he got distracted.
We were tangled together on his battered couch, him wrapped around me, half reclining against one arm of the couch and cuddling me like a teddy bear. I could feel his breath stirring my hair where he had leaned his head on mine. Every few minutes he would turn his head a little and press a kiss onto my scalp, one of those tiny gestures that served us as shorthand for contentment. He was stroking my chest through the worn flannel, drawing a finger in a straight line down the middle, tracing the buttons with his fingernail. His hand paused at the top button, and after a moment of deliberation, he released it from its hole. With a pleased little hum, he caressed the newly uncovered skin at the base of my throat, then went back to the buttons. I arched my back, the movie forgotten as I sought more contact, but he chuckled and held me still, his slow movements belying the excitement I heard in his rough breathing. He paused at the next button, and then the clever fingers worked and spread the flannel aside, baring another few inches of flesh to his wordless exploration. He abandoned my skin all too soon, returning to his invisible line with fingers now visibly trembling. I pushed backwards against him, rubbing against the fleece-covered hardness nudging the small of my back. He caught his breath with a groan, and then his hands were fisted in the loose fabric where he had unbuttoned my shirt. "Scully?" His voice was raspy, his breath uneven.
I nodded, once, against his shoulder, and he braced himself and pulled. Buttons went flying, scattering around his living room in a chorus of plinks and clatters. "Haven't you ever heard of unbuttoning things before you take them off?" I grumbled mildly.
"Nope," he said. "I skipped that day in preschool."
"You realize that I can't wear this shirt anymore."
"I like you better without it," he said against my skin.
"You're going to be finding buttons for months," I gasped, as warm hands mapped the newly discovered territory.
"Good," he said, lifting his mouth from the place where my neck met my shoulder. "Whenever I find one, I'll remember how it got there."
The next morning, I made him promise to buy a package of buttons and fix my shirt. I had been looking forward to seeing that.
A low, pain-filled sound startles me from my reverie, and I move closer to Mulder. His fists are clenching the soft flannel in a horrible parody of the way he held it that night. His body shakes as he lifts it to his face, rubbing against it as though it still held the warmth of my skin. Slowly, moving like an old man, he sinks to the bed, and his grief breaks over me like a bitter surf. I move towards him, touching him, trying to hold him, wanting him to feel me, but his own emotions are blinding him to my presence. I'm not strong enough, yet, or practiced enough in physical manifestation to force myself on his senses, and even if I could, Rob says that it's dangerous for both parties. I don't want to *hurt* Mulder, just to haunt him a little.
"Please, Mulder, look at me," I plead. "*See* me, Mulder. I'm here, I'm here, I didn't leave you. Please..."
Unmoved, he curls himself a little tighter, his position almost fetal, his eyes unseeing. I can almost hear him thinking, tormenting himself with why nots and if onlies. Suddenly, I feel him reach a resolution, and the livid swirls of his emotions settle and darken and fall. Something relaxes somewhere, and I *know* the dank chill of his surrender. Gone is the rage and hate and desperate grief that have torn at him since a sniper's bullet ripped me from his arms; all I can feel is resignation and a bleak despair as something vital and living in him is leached away.
Rob says that suicides rarely come back as ghosts. I have never been so frightened. He's breathing, he's here, but he's less alive with every minute that passes. I will *not* let him turn into someone who isn't Mulder anymore. I need him. I need for us to be together, and we could be, if he would only let himself see what’s here, to trust in his own senses and in my love for him.
"Damn you, Mulder, *look* at me!"
Something inside me catches at the mute suffering in his eyes. I'm getting desperate, frightened and lonely and more than a little angry that the man who believes in everything can't make himself believe in me. Gathering all the emotions in the room, I begin to store them inside myself like Rob taught me. Resolutely ignoring the pain of the feelings, I draw them in, feeding Mulder little pulses of love and concern. He is huddled on the bed, clutching my shirt as if to protect himself from invisible enemies. I touch his hand; he shivers, just a little, as though tickled by an insect's wing. A memory flashes vivid and startling into my mind, and I have an idea. This is probably a stupid thing to do, but right now I'll do anything to reach him, to pull him back from the cold, dark place he is sinking into. As he drifts towards sleep, I put all my accumulated strength into making my body warm and solid and my voice strong. I kneel in front of him, and reach out to touch his face, gently. He flinches, but I don't withdraw. Feeling like the biggest idiot on any plane of existence, I begin to sing.
"Jeremiah was a bullfrog, was a good friend of mine..." I stroke his hair like I did that night in Florida and a hundred nights since, when I cradled him against me and promised with my hands and my lips and the breath of my body not to leave him to face the void alone. I'm here, Mulder. Please see me.
"If I were the king of the world, I tell you what I'd do. I'd throw away the cars and the bars and the wars, and make sweet love to you." I didn't leave you. Find me, Mulder, I will wait for you. My throat aches with being unable to cry.
"Joy to the world, all the boys and girls. Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea..."
He shifts his eyes from the wall where they have rested without focus, without tears, dry and burning. I pause in my song, paralyzed with hoping. He looks straight at my face and I see the realization creeping over him like a wave, bathing him in wonder.
He sees me, and he believes.
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