Disclaimer: Chris Carter and 1013 Productions own X-Files and the characters.
Author's note: Takes place before, during and after the action of "Zero Sum."
Mulder had always disliked the cloying antiseptic smell unique to hospitals, but not quite as much as he hated the sea green cinder block walls of Holy Cross Memorial. Briskly, he made his way down the hall, keeping his line of vision focused straight ahead. He was only peripherally aware of the nurses and doctors brushing by, the rather tired voice of the PA operator, and of course, the other patients -- some standing, some in wheelchairs, but all of them waiting for news of some kind.
Scully's room was on the right, nearly at the end of the hall. He knocked gently and then opened the door.
"Hi," he said, shutting the door behind him.
Scully smiled at him. "You didn't have to come, Mulder."
He held up the flowers he'd picked up at the grocery store across the street. "I figured you had a better chance of getting these--" he tipped the flowers in her directions "-- if I brought them rather than trust in the acne and angst scarred delivery boy who'd just broken up with his girlfriend whole sold me the flowers to bring them to you. Good help, it seems, is hard to find these days." He stood, somewhat awkwardly, at the foot of her bed. "How are you feeling?"
He nodded. "Um, so, how long are you here for?"
"Just a couple of days." Scully wrinkled her brow. "Dr. Carlisle wants to run some tests, some new screens."
"That's what I'm here to determine."
Mulder sat down in the chair next to the bed, touching the tips of his fingers together. "I'm not sure I like the sound of that, Scully."
"There's a possibility, Mulder, a very good possibility, that my cancer has metastasized." She sounded clinical, completely devoid of emotion, as if talking about someone other than herself. Not for the first time since her initial diagnosis, Mulder marveled at her self-control. "That this disease has now spread into my blood stream."
"What does that mean?"
"I won't know for sure until I've spoken to Dr. Carlisle."
"But you must have some idea? In your medical opinion?"
"If it has indeed metastasized, Mulder--" she paused, laying her hands flat on the white sheet covering her "-- there is very little left in the way of treatment options available to me."
"You've been saying that from the very beginning."
"It's the truth."
Mulder got up. He found it difficult to sit still these days. Every minute idle meant one less he could be spending looking for a cure for Scully. He still had that the hope and it angered him when Scully reminded him just how tight a hold the cancer had on her body, that conventional medicine had nearly zero percent chance of surviving. She had explained to him more than once that given her options, she was choosing to go with minimal treatment, what she needed to get by day by day. Even so, in an unguarded moment, he'd seen her carefully lay out no less than eight pills of varying colors on a paper napkin and then toss them back easily with a glass of water.
"I got your message, Mulder," Scully said, breaking into his thoughts. For a moment he wanted to pretend that he wasn't standing in a hospital room, that they were out in the field, business as usual. He turned to face her, noticed she was watching him carefully. "What's going on?" she asked.
"I'm not sure, to be honest." He stared at her contemplatively. She said she wanted to work, but at times like this, he always felt guilty bringing cases up. "Someone sent me some photographs yesterday of a woman who died mysteriously at a postal processing facility. Apparently, she went into the restroom for a cigarette and never came out." He looked expectantly at Scully. This was the easy part of their relationship, he thought.
Scully frowned. "Any suggestion as to cause of death?"
"Nothing. she was perfectly healthy. The pictures, however, show large bumps on her face, like a massive allergic reaction to something. Yet, when the police searched the restroom, they came up empty."
"But you have a theory."
At this he smiled. "Of course. Bees."
"Bees," she repeated carefully and he knew from that tone of voice that she was taking a moment to indulge him. At the same time, he knew there was no one else he could talk to about this kind of thing. Skinner sometimes, but Scully always.
"Killer bees." Mulder paced a couple of steps and then turned back to look at her. "Of course, why and how, those are questions I don't have the answers to right now."
"What are you going to do?"
"I figure I might as well take a jaunt down to picturesque Desmond, Virginia, and check it out for myself."
Scully clutched tightly at the edge of her sheet and didn't look at him. "Please let me know what you find."
"I will. I'll call you tonight when I have more of a handle on what's going on." He quirked a smile at her. "I'll probably need your medical expertise."
Mulder touched her cheek lightly with the back of his hand and nodded. "Will call you tonight." She nodded in response. Mulder turned and left, but very aware as he opened the door, that Scully was watching him intently.
She woke with a blinding headache, centered behind her nose and her right eye. Scully put her hand to her face, her eyes closed tightly against the pain. In a matter of minutes, she knew the headache would expand to the back of her skull and would eventually creep to behind her left eye. It was a pain that she now considered as close to her as those she loved. She shifted in bed, curling onto her side, facing away from the window.
She opened one eye. "Mom? Hi." She tried to inject some energy into her voice. "How, how long have you been here?"
Mrs. Scully stroked her daughter's hair lightly. "A couple of hours. How are you feeling?"
"Tired, but otherwise fine. You didn't have to come, Mom."
"It's just some tests. Really. Nothing to worry about." Struggling, Scully managed to sit up. "There's nothing to worry about."
"I want to be here, Dana." Scully recognized the look in her mother's eye. There would be no arguing with Maggie Scully once her mind was made up. "So. Tell me about these tests. What are they looking for?"
"Uh, cell growth and spread, for one," Scully said. "Honestly, Mom. It's the usual routine. MRIs, biopsies, blood and urine work."
Scully inhaled sharply, pressed the tips of her fingers to her aching temple. "Mom, we talked about this."
"You said you were forgoing treatment, that you didn't want to be sick. Forgive me, Dana, if I don't understand."
"The placement and size of the tumor--" Scully winced slightly "-- make it difficult. In the extreme." How many times had she repeated those words? They rolled easily off the tongue and somehow, she managed to sound calm, collected, every time she said what was clearly a death sentence. Nothing like putting that clinical detachment, learned in medical school, to work on oneself, Scully thought wryly. She looked up at her mother, noted Maggie's stricken expression. Scully reached over, covered Maggie's weathered hand with her own. "Mom. Please. I know what I'm doing."
"From where I sit, Dana, it doesn't look like you're doing much at all." Maggie got to her feet and began to pace the room, twisting her hands together as she did so.
"Dr. Carlisle will have recommendations."
"Where is he anyway?"
"He'll be here. Mom. Please. Sit down."
Maggie sat and as she did so, she noted the flowers still lying on the bureau where Mulder had left them. She got to her feet. "Those need to be in water. I'll go find a vase."
Scully fell back against the pillows, pressing her hands against her face, so she wouldn't see her mother leave the room. She closed her eyes, took deep breaths. And soon, she was fast asleep.
"Scully, it's me."
"Where are you, Mulder?"
"Outside of Skinner's apartment. It's the newest hot spot in the city."
Scully struggled to sit up. She felt lethargic, as if she was being held down by powerful hands. A quick glance at the clock showed that it was well after midnight, but then again, when it came to telling her what was on his mind, Mulder had never had a particularly good sense of timing. She cleared her throat. "What's going on?"
"That's a really good question." A pause as a car roared by in the background and then Mulder continued, "The postal worker's body is missing from the morgue. All evidence that anyone died, or that anything at all happened, it's all gone. Scully, someone did a bang-up job of making this whole thing disappear."
Scully frowned. In the dark, she could barely make out the shadowy outlines of the television in the corner or the bureau directly in front of her bed. The blinds had been pulled down over the only window in the room. Next to her, the medical instruments monitoring her condition blinked and beeped.
"What do you think?"
"I think--" she paused. What *did* she think? She glanced down at the IV, taped to the inside of her arm. She could rip it out. She could get dressed, put on her shoes, and walk right out of here, show everyone that it was possible to live even when dying. She could tell the doctors how she really felt – fine -- and she could join Mulder outside of Skinner's apartment. No speculation, no trying to figure out what was going on from a distance. "I think," Scully said carefully, "that you were never meant to know about what happened to the postal worker. What was her name?"
"Jane Brody." Mulder paused. In the background, she could hear the siren of a rescue vehicle of some kind. After the noise subsided, Mulder spoke again. "And you want to know the crazy thing too, Scully?"
She rested her chin lightly on her knees. "What?"
"The guy who switched the lab tests? He signed in as Fox Mulder."
"There are two of you then?" In spite of herself, Scully smiled. "That may be a little more than the world can handle, Mulder."
"Well, I need to find him. Could be I've been living the wrong life all along, Scully. Could be that I'm actually a potato farmer from Idaho named John Smith, married with eight potato-heads of my own. It could be that the truth I've been looking for this entire time is that I'm not, never have been, Fox Mulder."
"A potato farmer from Idaho?"
"Digging deep is my special talent, Scully. And I have a special fondness for the heartland of America."
Scully shifted position on the bed, hoping to relieve some of the pain in her joints. She hadn't yet told Mulder about the pain, that she now felt it in every part of her, that there were days she found it difficult to get out of bed. She put her hand to her nose, felt the familiar stickiness there; her fingers came away red. She swallowed hard, stared at the IV again. Then her eyes, already adjusting to the dark, fell on the closet where her clothes hung. Navy pumps, navy pants, and a white blouse and she realized that while it would be difficult to leave now, one day it would be impossible.
"I need to go," she said. She found it difficult to get the words out. "Uh."
"I'm fine." She clutched the phone even tighter. "Call me when you find Skinner."
She curled up on the bed, lying on her side, as usual, the phone gripped tightly in her hand.
Years ago, Dana Scully had a very certain vision of what her future would look like. Medical school, of course, and private practice. She hadn't decided back then what kind of doctor she wanted to be -- maybe something exotic like a brain surgeon, or something with a more family-friendly schedule, like dermatology. At the age of fifteen, she hadn't developed strong feelings about death. Medicine would be about discovery and saving. She never imagined that her medical career would lead her to the FBI, to pathology, where death surrounded her at all times. And she had certainly never imagined that she would be looking at her own imminent death so calmly.
She had been witnesses to so many deaths in the last four years. Too often, she was too late for the saving, but always early for the discovery. She had hit the books hard at medical school, but at the X-Files, reality often trumped explanation, and science, once her saving grace, was leaving her helpless. She hated knowing her mother thought she was giving up, giving in, and it was difficult to explain to those who had not seen or experienced what she had, that her disease was not based in this world, that the cure and circumstances were out of her control. Science, the last bastion of hope, had fallen for her. At least in the way she had chosen, she might have some energy to help Mulder one last time.
Still, this was not the life the young Dana Scully had imagined. This wasn't the way it was supposed to be.
"What time do you take the garbage out?" Mulder sat in the chair opposite Scully's bed, his fingertips steepled together. His hair was disheveled, and he'd loosened his tie. He looked tired, gaunt, and she wondered if he'd remembered to eat.
"Four in the morning, I found Skinner. Taking out the trash."
"Insomnia leads to late night housecleaning?" It was a struggle to find the words.
"There's more. The detective who sent me the pictures of Jane Brody's body? He's dead. Shot, execution style."
Scully frowned. "Let me get this straight. The body's gone, the test results are missing, the detective who reported it to you is dead, and Skinner takes out the trash at four in the morning?"
"And you talked to Skinner about all this?"
"I tried to. He didn't seem particularly helpful." Mulder looked at her squarely. "He asked about you."
"What did you tell him?"
Scully sighed and looked out the window. The sky was a mixture of textures today, the clouds, white and gray both, sliding across the face of the sun, creating alternate bands of shadow and light. She thought the day matched her mood perfectly, the excitement of discussing a case with Mulder mixed with the very real disappointment she could not be out there with him. She shifted her gaze once again to the closet where her clothes hung.
"I don't want to die in this hospital bed," she said softly. The confession and realization both startled her.
The words seemed to take Mulder by surprise. "Who said anything about dying? There are possibilities, Scully, uh, cures out there. I'm not giving up." He inhaled sharply. "We can do this. There's a cure out there for you and we can find it. We've already started down this path and I'm not willing to give up. Not yet. There's still hope."
Scully bit her lip. "I don't want the drugs. Surgery isn't an option. It is what it is."
Mulder glanced down at his fingers. The vibration of the air conditioner, the clang of carts in the hall, the smell in the air, and the hushed voices outside of doors -- these were the sounds Scully had gotten used to, and had even accepted. Mulder's silence, however, was foreign to her, and even dismaying.
"I'm not going to watch you die," he said quietly. He got up, agitation clear in his quick, jerky movements. "I need to find Skinner."
Scully appreciated the change in subject, the opportunity to switch the focus to someone else for once. "Seems like you're looking for Skinner a lot these days."
"Yeah," he said heavily. "I don't like it, this feeling I'm getting." He quirked a smile at her. "But paranoia is what I'm known for, but this time, I'd like to be wrong. I want to know Skinner isn't working against us, but he isn't giving me any indication I can trust or believe in him."
She bit back the reassurance she knew he wanted. There was so much he wanted her to promise him and Scully knew she was in no position to offer him what he so desperately needed. That acknowledgement manifested itself as a sharp pain behind her right eye. She pressed her hand to her head as if to push the pain into submission. She made no noise, only smiled as Mulder nodded at her and left.
"What do these look like to you?" Mulder pushed the pictures across the table to Scully. As she glanced at the photos, he got up and quickly shut the door to the hospital room. At her curious expression, he said, "You can never be too careful. For all I know, your Dr. Carlisle could be in on this."
He sat down again, his elbow brushing against her arm as he did so; she took a small pleasure in this brief intimacy. "Preliminary investigation shows some similarities between his mode of death and that of the postal worker. There has to be a connection. I find it hard to believe that two people, miles apart and with no known connection, could die so violently under similar circumstances," he said, looking at her expectantly.
Scully fingered the pictures lightly, zeroing on the victim's ravaged face. The disfiguration was stunning and once she moved past the swelling of the victim's extremities, she noted something else that made her question everything she knew to be true.
"Who is this?" Scully asked. She needed a moment to process what she was thinking, to understand exactly what it was she thought she was seeing. She had seen pictures similar to these in medical school, but had never encountered it in real life, and for good reason too. For that reason, she thought caution was the best policy.
Scully frowned. "That name sounds familiar to me."
Mulder nodded. "Six months ago, I talked to him about bees. Strangely enough, he was examining a honeycomb when he was stung to death, according to witnesses." He was watching her carefully. "What do you see?"
"You're not going to believe this."
"You see this here?" Scully pointed at the victim's face. "These are pock marks, blisters. You're looking at some kind of pox, not anaphylactic shock."
"Pox? You sure?"
"You'll need to run some tests to verify my thoughts, but for sure, it's some kind of pox. What's curious here is transmission between humans requires some kind of proximity. Have you linked the post office worker to Dr. Valedespino?"
"Only by mode of death." Mulder shook his head. "Scully, I understand. Surveillance video shows Dr. Valedespino was alive and well yesterday afternoon. He left his lab briefly around 2 pm and his body was found just an hour later by a laboratory technician who heard him pounding on the glass and attempted to come to his rescue. By the time they entered the lab, Valedespino was dead, and the bees were gone. If what you're saying is correct, we're talking about an incredibly fast acting virus and I was under the pressure that pox could take 12 days or more to act."
"It does defy explanation." Scully settled back in her chair, ignoring the nagging pain in the small of her back. "Have the FBI lab run some tests." She took a deep breath. "Check specifically for variola."
"Variola? You mean smallpox?"
"Is it?" Scully leaned forward. "Mulder, you know what we've seen, what we're up against. We've witnessed the impossible and what could be more impossible than the transmission of an extremely virulent strain of smallpox via genetically engineered bees?" She felt a rush of energy flow through her body. "
Mulder pushed his chair back. "And if what you're conjecturing is true, then it makes it even more sense that the body of Jane Brody went missing. The Syndicate doesn't want us to know they've been successful in engineering an unparalleled biological weapon." He gathered up the pictures. "I'll take these down to the FBI lab and see what the coroner finds out."
"I could be wrong."
He flashed a smile at her. "You know you're not," he said. "I've got to go. I've got to get to Valedespino's body before those responsible for his death do and remove all the evidence. Time's running out."
Without irony, Scully answered, "I know."
She had never wanted sympathy in her battle against this most personal of enemies. Death, Scully thought, comes to all people in its own time. In Jane Brody's case, in Dr. Valedespino's, death came quickly and without warning. There may have been moments of fear, of acute pain, but the time between realization of consequence and actual death was very little. In a way, Scully envied them. The time left to her seemed nothing less than infinite, promising nothing more than an undeniable anxious wait for what she now knew was inevitable.
She appreciated the care and concern from others, but the stark truth remained. No matter how many tests she endured, how many procedures she sought in her journey towards life, only she owned this battle. Only she could control the time left to her.
Home felt like a foreign place to her. Scully put her bag down and turned on the lights. Everything was just as she'd left it, and nothing out of place, and this made her apartment feel even less like home. Her mother had offered to pick her up from the hospital, but Scully had opted for the cab. As terrible as Mulder's silence had sounded to her, conversation -- emotional conversation -- with her mother was equally terrible.
She walked slowly, deliberately, towards the kitchen, dropping her coat on the sofa, the keys on the counter. A trail of breadcrumbs of where she'd been, where was going, she thought with a slight smile. In the bathroom, she splashed cool water on her face. When she glanced at herself in the mirror, she saw no difference between the woman she had been before the tumor and the woman she was now. I'm still me, she thought with some relief. The battle, she knew, would be convincing Mulder that she wanted to go down on her feet, not in some hospital room.
She picked up the phone on the first ring. "Scully."
"You checked out of the hospital." The faint note of accusation in Mulder's voice was tempered by obvious delight.
"Your investigative skills are out of this world." It was a feeble attempt at humor on her part, but she was rewarded by Mulder's chuckle. The distance between them seemed to be closing in and she hoped that outside of the clinical medical environment they could regain their footing.
"Have you eaten yet?" Mulder asked.
"No, just got here. I haven't had time to think about it." In truth, she wasn't that hungry. "What were you thinking?"
"Sounds good. I'll order in."
"No need. Rumor has it that the delivery boy at our regular place just broke up with his girlfriend. The contagion of failed relationships in the service industry leads me to believe romance is an unattainable and impossible thing. I'll bring the pizza myself."
"When will you be here?"
"How about now?"
Scully smiled and opened her apartment door. Mulder stood there, cradling his cell phone between shoulder and ear, and the pizza box balanced precariously against his chest. Scully reached out and took the box from him. The aroma of the pizza wafted through the apartment.
"It's so good to see you," she said. "Come in."
"I've got so much to tell you," he said. "I was right about Skinner. He's been working with the Smoking Man all along."
"It's not your fault," he said. He watched as she grabbed a roll of paper towels, two plates, and a knife. "I trusted him. And in the end, he betrayed me."
"Skinner isn't like that, Mulder. Something else must have been going on."
"What I don't understand is *why*. What did he gain from all this? What was this, other than an academic exercise in subterfuge and deception? Innocent people died and I still don't understand how the puzzle pieces fit together or what Skinner's role in all this is or why he would even allow himself to work with the Cigarette Smoking Man. I thought his integrity wouldn't allow for that, but clearly I was wrong." He looked at her.
"Maybe you're not supposed to understand yet," Scully said gently. She took a bit of the pizza and then put it back down on the plate quickly. She still had very little appetite. "Maybe there are still more pieces out there to uncover. Or maybe you're searching for answers and motives that simply aren't yours to find." She took a deep breath. "Trust and integrity are complex things, Mulder, but not everything is unattainable and impossible, not when you have the right people on your side." She paused for a moment. "You're not alone in your search, Mulder. No matter what happens, I'm here."
"Of all the things unknown to us, I've always known that," he said softly.
moment, Scully forgot she was dying.
~ the end
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