Title: A Taste of Fear
Summary: A fill in the gaps for Mulder's ordeal in the basement. Mulder faces his fear.
Thank you to Vickie, Jenniferanne and Ten, for comments, corrections and setting me straight on a few things. Thankyou so much!
Authors notes: After much deliberation, false starts and rewriting, I finally found a way to tackle this thing. To me, Mulder has always hidden his fear or pain behind humor. The totally serious Mulder we saw in the basement in this episode made it difficult to get a grasp on his character for this story. Finally I found and angle I could work with and this is the result. I hope it worked.
Feedback and comments would be most appreciated.
Rice County 10.30pm
"Hey, open the door! Hey! Open up! Let me out! HEY!"
Noise. Behind me. Shit. Turn, shoot. One, two, three, four, five rounds fired into the darkness. Growling, silence, another noise. A sound, like a body tumbling, falling. In the distance, more growling, shuffling, dragging. Retreating noise, moving back. Away from me.
"Mulder? I asked you what happened down there." Scully's voice cuts into my thoughts, jerking me back to the present. I take in my surroundings, feeling a little dazed. I am no longer in the basement but sitting in the passenger seat of Scully's car. She is beside me, kneeling on the ground, a first aid kit by her side. I'm safe, I tell myself. And breathe out a long sigh of relief.
For the briefest of seconds I stare at my partner, mesmerized by her hands, tugging at the knot in my tie, trying to loosen the binding around my arm.
What do I tell her? That I was so damn scared down there that I could barely think straight? How can I admit such a thing to her? When it's all said and done, I can't. So I don't. My reply is flippant, non-committal.
"Oh, you know Scully. Just the usual. I went to check out a lead, which led me to a basement. Guess what? The lights weren't working. When I made it to the bottom of the stairs I was jumped by four zombies. Imagine that Scully? Zombies residing in the boon docks of rural Maryland. Anyway, before I could escape, some asshole slammed the door in my face and left me to die. What can I say? Just another day in the life of Special Agent Mulder."
I offer what I hope is a light-hearted chuckle, but something seems to get lost in the translation and the last thing it could be interpreted as is light hearted.
Scully looks at me appraisingly and I can tell she is trying to determine just how much of that rambling diatribe is utter bullshit. Not so much the content of what I say, but the way I deliver it.
I know what she's thinking. I can read this woman like a book, as she can me, but I refuse to crack, to confess that my act of bravado just now, was exactly that, an act. Her gaze lingers a second longer then she returns to the task at hand, tugging on that damn knot. Doesn't she realise that every little jolt on the tie sends a piercing lance of agony up and down my arm?
"You know Mulder, you did a pretty good job with this makeshift bandage. I'm impressed. Maybe you're starting to learn something from me after all these years." A ghost of a smile drifts across her face.
"Ah, actually Scully," I confess, "It was the mandatory First Aid course the Bureau put us through awhile back that gave me the inspiration for that." I nod towards my arm.
She neither looks disappointed nor impressed. I guess her face expresses relief.
"At least you had the sense to do something," she replies.
Hah! The sense. Well yeah, I guess an act of self-preservation brought on by extreme pain and fear could be referred to as 'sense'. I remember wondering; 'what would Scully do if she were here?' and the only thing that I managed to dredge up from somewhere in the furthest regions of my brain was that damn First Aid course. DRABC, playing through my mind like some kind of mantra. Danger: yep, plenty of that, Response: I remember thinking, there'd definitely be some kind of response if those Zombies come near me again, Airway: still functional, just. Breathing: That would be the gasping sound, Circulation: there lay the problem. Too much circulation! I needed to control the bleeding, but with what? Then, like a bolt of lightening on a stormy night, I had an amazing flash of brilliance. I removed my tie and wrapped it around my arm. Who said he couldn't think on his feet, or in this case, his ass?
"Ah!" I am slammed back to the here and now as pain shoots through my arm.
"Jeezus, Scully, what the hell did you just do?" I glare at her as she unwraps the tie, easing the deepest layers away from my arm, now that they are glued with coagulated blood.
She quirks an eyebrow at me and I watch in wondrous fascination as it slowly disappears into her hairline. I get this mental picture of someone pulling a cord,- much like the one used to operate a venetian blind- moving her eyebrow up and down. This elicits an untimely giggle from me. Yes, a damn giggle!
"Mulder?" The other eyebrow follows its mate on safari through her hair. Wow, Scully, very impressive. Was that a God given talent or did it take years of practice? Or more to the point, was it something you mastered after working with me for seven years?
Her hands are on my head now, kneading and feeling their way across my scalp as she mumbles to herself.
"No obvious sign of head trauma, but that doesn't mean anything. Perhaps at the back of the head." Her hands reach behind my neck and work their way to the top of my skull.
I bat them away with my good hand.
"I didn't hit my head, Scully!"
"Are you sure? You know, you might have, and not realised it."
"Yes, I'm sure. At no time did I have the merciful relief of blacking out. I remained fully aware of my surroundings, the relentless throbbing in my arm, and the foul smell of zombie breath the whole time." Uh-oh, too much information.
Her eyebrows are back in their rightful place, but only for a second. They seem to be tangled up with one another in their haste to form themselves into a frown. Her hands still their wandering investigation of my head, she sits back on her heels and regards me solemnly. I hate the way her gaze penetrates into my very being, so I drop my eyes and take up an intense study of the dirt covering the tops of my shoes.
What exactly am I trying to hide from her? The fact that I cracked down there? That in a moment of weakness, of vulnerability, a chink in my armour invited fear in with open arms?
Why this time? After all the danger Scully and I have faced together, why did this incident affect me so much? I remember the time I was locked in the car with the man who promised me a cure for Scully, who gave me the vaccine and the means with which to find her. I thought I was a dead man then, but I don't recall feeling fear. Anger, frustration, yes, but not fear. Maybe there wasn't enough time, or energy, to waste on being afraid. I had a mission to accomplish, something else to consume my thoughts, the need to find my missing partner.
Is that the answer? Too much time to contemplate my situation? For the first time, facing death alone, not in the name of my quest, but in the dingy, stinking, basement of some lunatic. God, Scully, I thought I was gonna die down there. It did scare me, and I panicked. The face I showed you in Dallas, that was nothing compared to the face I was wearing tonight.
"You know Mulder, it's okay to feel fear, to admit something frightens you." She's uncanny, she speaks to me as if she has read my mind.
I lift my head and search out her eyes. My initial reaction is to tell her that that is crap. It's not okay. Once you admit to something like that how do you ever live it down? Do I want my partner to know that I didn't want to be alone? That I had wished that she was with me, even if it meant she too would be facing the same danger? Do I tell her when the pain became so bad, and I thought I would pass out, that I called for her as a child cries for its mother when hurt or afraid? That in my lowest moment, my fear and pain were expressed as tears? And the sight of my own blood pooling on the ground beside me made me sick to my stomach. No, Scully. You have seen me at my worst and my best, but not in a state of complete pathos, and while I can admit it to myself, never to you Scully, never to you.
What was the motivation for my fear? My imminent death at the hands of those creatures or the fact that I might never see Scully again? Perhaps each was entwined with the other.
"You know Mulder, a great man once said, 'We have nothing to fear, but fear itself'."
Scully's voice cuts into my thoughts, drawing me away from my self loathing.
"A woman." I reply half-heartedly
"Excuse me?" She asks, not a little surprised
"Credit is often given to Franklin Roosevelt for that quote, when in actual fact it was Eleanor who coined the phrase. Frankie borrowed it to use in his speech."
She sighs. "Well whoever said it, it bears thinking about."
I give a little snort. "You gotta wonder if he ever had the pleasure of facing down a bunch of zombies that had him lined up for the main course on their menu?" I reply, with more than a hint of bitterness.
"Mulder, there's no need to be afraid of your fear. It doesn't make you less of a human being, less of a man, to admit that something scares you." She is looking at me with such sincerity, such open trust. But she doesn't know what I know. Would she still trust me if she knew I had wished her at my side knowing full well that we'd both end up as Zombie fodder?
So I answer her, knowing she will hear the acid in my voice.
" I usually find profound statements like that tend to come from people who have never experienced fear. They comfort themselves, and I suppose, to a degree they think they are comforting others, but all the while they have no idea what they are talking about. Do you know what I mean, Scully?"
"I think everyone has felt fear at one time or another. It would be a rare human being that could speak on the subject without some kind of personal experience." Her words are quiet.
I lift my head to meet her eyes, but her head is bowed. I notice her left hand going to her neck, fingering what appears to be a series of scratches, standing out against a backdrop of black and blue. What the hell happened to her?
"Scully?" I reach my left arm up and move her hand from her neck. I replace it with my own and gently trace the rough contours of the scratches under my fingertips.
"What happened to you?" I choke out.
"I'll tell you my story if you tell me yours," she responds, a sad smile playing about her lips.
I hang my head in shame. I'd been so wrapped up in my own pain, my own feelings of inadequacy that I had failed to notice my partner's injuries.
I feel her hand under my chin, lifting my head.
"I guess my name was on the menu too," she smiles.
"I'm sorry Scully, I didn't know. I should have known, or at least noticed before now."
"Mulder, stop beating yourself up over this. You haven't done anything wrong. You were doing your job, you got injured in the line of duty. This isn't the first time, what's the the problem?" She sounds frustrated.
I feel my body start to shiver. It's an internal shiver, residing in the pit of my stomach. The preamble of a deep and meaningful confession, hovering just at the edge of my voicebox, hiding, reluctant to be heard.
I drop my head to my chest, shut my eyes and take a deep breath in preparation. Then, I let the words spill out.
"I _was_ scared tonight Scully. Really scared. I was afraid you wouldn't get there in time, I was afraid of the Zombies and I was afraid I was going to die alone. I've never really faced my own mortality before. I don't mean the thought of death, of me dying, has never crossed my mind, it was just, I dunno, different tonight. You've always been there with me. Keeping me strong, keeping me grounded, and I didn't like the fact that you weren't there tonight. God, Scully I even wished you _were_ there. I wished you into a dangerous situation."
If at all possible, I sink my head even lower onto my chest.
"Scully, I'm so sorry." A trembling, weak, whisper.
"Mulder." She sighs my name. I feel her hands wrap around my shoulders as she pulls me against her. The shivering in my stomach spreads to the rest of my body. I fight back the tears with a deep, shuddering breath.
"It's okay. I understand. Wishing I were with you is not the same as wishing for me to be in danger. We're partners, friends, we back each other up, it's what we do. And in a way I'm flattered that when you were afraid, it was me you wanted with you. I know you would never seriously wish for any harm to come to me. I trust you Mulder, with my life."
My voice has deserted me so I nod my head against her shoulder. I hear what she says, but I still feel like a jerk. Scully squeezes me tighter, and quite involuntarily I let out a gasp as my arm stings in protest.
She pulls back and apologizes. Apologizes? She saves my life, my pride, and quite possibly my sanity, and she apologizes? There's something very wrong with that scenario.
Scully's attention is back on my arm. The much abused tie is now lying abandoned on the ground at my feet. With that task out of the way, she has had to find a new way of amusing herself. Unfortunately it's at my expense. She is now busying herself with peeling back the remnants of my shirt sleeve to get a better look at the wound.
She is completely oblivious to my squirming, and, fearing that I have revealed enough of my 'feminine side' tonight, I bite down manfully on my bottom lip to stifle the major groan I can feel building at the back of my throat. I decide to test out the old saying, 'out of sight, out of mind,' and squeezing my eyes shut, chant the words over and over in my mind, hoping that by doing so it will somehow become true, and my arm will cease to throb.
"AAAAAH!" Guess it didn't work. "Shit, Scully, I thought the idea of First Aid was to promote the patient's well being and to prevent the injury from getting worse?"
"So, suddenly you're an expert now?" she asks, flexing her eyebrow muscle.
"No," I sulk, "but it hurts."
"I know, I'm sorry. I'm just going to wrap it in some gauze and try to still the bleeding till we get to the ER."
"If you hadn't peeled back my shirt like that it probably wouldn't have started bleeding again." I reply tersely.
She doesn't bother answering, just flashes me a look that says 'and what the hell would you know ?'
"Do I really need to go to the hospital? Can't you fix me up?" I ask, dreading the thought of spending New Year's Eve in another Emergency Room.
"Sure I could. If I was a practicing surgeon, nicely scrubbed up and had a fully equipped, sterile OR at my disposal." She flings back at me casually.
I snap my head up in shock.
"You don't think I'm going to need surgery for this do you?"
I examine my arm with a kind of doleful pride, taking in the various degrees of cuts and scratches. To my untrained eye it looks messed up, but not in need of surgery.
"No Mulder, I don't think it's going to require surgery. You've lost a lot of blood, but not enough to indicate any arterial damage. But you were hurt in a pretty unhygienic environment, I expect the wound will need flushing out before you're stitched. Then there's the various medications to be prescribed: antibiotics, painkillers...just be grateful you won't need a tetanus shot."
My arm throbs harder at the memory of my last tetanus shot, after our encounter with the 'mothmen.'
Scully carefully lifts my arm and applies a thick gauze dressing to the worst of the wounds, then proceeds to wrap it in place with a bandage.
"You still haven't told me what happened down there, Mulder? Why didn't those..." she searches for the scientifically correct word..."creatures"...and then, maybe not..."kill you?"
"I really don't know. When I first arrived at Johnson's house I checked out his trash and found an old bag of salt. I grabbed a handful thinking it might be useful."
"And was it?" She asks absently as her concentration remains on my arm.
"You could say that. After the zombies jumped me and Johnson shut me in, the only thing I could think of was to make a circle of salt to stand in."
"I thought you only grabbed a handful of salt? How were you able to make a circle big enough to accommodate your size thirteen feet?" she asks, pausing from her task and looking at me with a twinkle in her eye.
"Ha, Ha." My turn to be 'not amused'. "Shall I continue?"
"Please." She returns to the wrapping.
"Anyway...after I shot one of the zombies, I made my way down the steps, did I mention that I had lost my flashlight?"
"No, but it doesn't surprise, at least you kept your gun," she smirks at me."
"At first I couldn't see or hear anything but my eyes soon adjusted and there was a little moonlight shining in from a window. I could see the creatures in the shadows, and hear them. I kept my weapon trained on them while I made the circle and for some reason they seemed to be intimidated by the gun. But my arm was getting weak and by the time I stepped inside the circle I couldn't hold the gun up any longer.
"So there I stood, in a tiny circle, with the living dead around me, watching, waiting, listening to their moans, breathing in the smell of decay. And all the while, my blood dripping from my fingertips, soaking into the dirt at my feet.
"I remember the feel of my gun, slick and slippery in my hand, wondering how long it would be before it simply slid from my grip.
"I could feel my legs trembling and that's when I really began to panic. I wondered what I would do if I were to pass out, what the zombies would do? That thought alone was enough to keep me conscious.
"Eventually though, my knees did give out, by then the zombies had disappeared into the shadows, hiding. I managed to crawl to a nearby corner and sit, huddled against a wall. I'd stripped my jacket off earlier to try and get a look at the damage to my arm, but it wasn't until I was sitting that I had the energy to do anything about it. I knew I needed to stop the bleeding and that's when I remembered the First Aid course.
"I could hear the zombies, every now and then there'd be a shuffle or a growl, but they remained out of sight. I don't know how long I sat there, waiting, contemplating my death, before I heard a voice. At first I thought I was dreaming, then I heard someone call my name. There was a flash, like a flare and when the person stepped into my line of sight I saw it was Frank Black." I pause for a second. "Scully? Where's Frank?"
"He caught a ride to the hospital with one of the guys from the local PD. Which is where I'm taking you as soon as I'm done here, it should only be a minute or so." She stops the bandaging and looks up at me.
"Mulder, I know you feel awkward about being afraid, but when I arrived, I saw you crouching over Frank, your gun was aimed at the creature I shot. When it came down to the crunch you acted out of instinct, you saved Frank's life, which proves that even though you were afraid, when you had to, you were able to act appropriately, with courage. You did the right thing when it really mattered."
My vulnerability prevents me from answering her. I manage a smile though and I think she knows how much I appreciate her understanding. My mood is better for having shared the experience with her and as a consequence, the numbness I'd been feeling since my rescue is wearing off . In its absence my senses seem to be heightened and the awareness of pain is the strongest sensation. My arm, which has been waiting patiently in the wings to get my full attention, suddenly decides it's been neglected long enough.
Scully adds the final touches to my bandage and announces it is time to get some real medical attention.
"Sit back in the seat Mulder, I want to shut the door."
To twist my body around I have to move my arm. Agony shoots up into my shoulder and I hug my arm to my chest, clenching my eyes shut, waiting out the wave of pain.
"Aaaarh shiiiiit." I groan to no one in particular. I make a move to straighten up in my seat, but that just sends another burning, stinging, arrow straight up my arm and across my chest. Where was this coming from? A few minutes ago it was only uncomfortable.
"Why the hell is my arm hurting so much?" I demand of Scully as if it's her fault.
"Mulder, you were probably in shock before and that was numbing the pain. It looks like talking to me, getting things off your chest has helped you get over the shock, but now you get to feel the pain." Why does she sound so cheerful?
"Here." I assume she's talking to me, but I'm too involved in hugging my arm to take much notice.
"Mulder!" Ten out of ten for persistence.
"What?" I snap at her.
"Take these. Extra-strength tylenol, they should tide you over till we get to the hospital." I stare at the three pills rolling around in the palm of her hand. Enough with the manly bravado, I make a grab for them and swallow them dry.
"Scully, I could kiss you." I grin at her, the prospect of relief lightening my mood a little.
"Hey, back off partner. Didn't we just prevent the end of the world? Let's not put it under threat again," she quips, her eyes dancing in amusement.
I give her a sly smile and allow a little chuckle to accompany it.
The time will come Agent Scully. Maybe not in this century, but it will come, and I'm more than confident the world can withstand it.
So, did it work or not?