Clarity of Vision

By Mary Kleinsmith (

Spoilers: none, I don't think

Summary: Mulder faces the ramifications of a deadly attack

Rating: PG

Classification: MTA, SA, MA, UST

Archive: Yes, anywhere

Disclaimer: Mulder, Scully, and everything related to them belong to Chris Carter and 10-13, with magic added by David and Gillian. I'm only borrowing them.

Feedback: Please, please, please, please, please, please, please?

Author's Notes: I'm tagging this UST to indicate that there are hints of a coming relationship in the story, but don't expect much sexual tension - it's all true love.

Clarity of Vision

J Edgar Hoover Building

2:00 am

It was so simple. So easy to get into the Hoover building unquestioned, especially at night. As he made his way to the basement level, nobody even looked twice at his ID badge, which was displayed in typical fashion from the collar of his jacket. He laughed to himself, thinking how he'd purchased the thing from some web site a couple months ago. This plan had been weeks in the making, but he was going to be sure that the job was accomplished - thoroughly and completely. By this time tomorrow, Fox Mulder would be dead. If truth were to be told, the worst part of the entire plan was trying to deal with the mercenaries - lowlifes who'd fight for anybody for a price, uninterested in causes or reasons. But they'd had the item he needed in plentiful supply, stored away for just the particular occasion they seemed sure would be coming eventually. The small box was held securely, yet casually, under one arm, even the "inter-agency mail" sticker testifying to its legitimacy.

The basement hall was darker than the rest of the building, and he wondered momentarily if this was just for the night or if, seeing that there was only one office in this part of the building, the lighting was kept at a minimum 24 hours a day. He placed the box gently in front of the locked door, laying it on the floor for lack of a better place to leave it. At least, in this less-trafficked area, there was only a small chance that anybody other than his intended victim would be the one to open the box.

His instructions had been explicit. Special Agent Mulder was to be the only victim. He knew, from his research, that Mulder usually came in early, which helped. The only other person who was endangered was his partner, and he'd already taken care of that. Thankfully, Agent Scully's car, parked inconspicuously in front of her place of residence, was not equipped with an alarm system. Upon leaving for work this morning, she'd quickly find that her car was no longer in perfect operating condition, and getting it fixed would take, he estimated, until at least ten or eleven o'clock. By that time, Mulder would have succumbed to the package's deadly contents.


Office of the X-Files Division

J Edgar Hoover Building

"Damn," Fox Mulder cursed as his cell phone began ringing. He didn't have a spare hand to answer it, having his incoming mail and briefcase in one hand, a package he'd found at his office door under the other arm, and the keys to unlock said office in the same hand. He piled it all on the first horizontal surface he could find as soon as he was through the door.


"Mulder, it's me." He couldn't help but smile at the sound of her voice. It was somehow melodic, at odds with the singing voice he knew she wielded so seldom.

"What's up that we can't talk about when you get here within half an hour?" he asked. Some day, he hoped, she'd call simply to tell him she missed him, but he didn't see that happening until he got off his duff and talked to her about his feelings. He didn't know when, if ever, that was going to happen.

"That's what I'm calling about," Scully said, sounding a little frustrated. "I'm not sure when I'll be in today. Vandals did a real job on my car last night and I had to have it towed to the mechanic for some major work. I think they made my mechanic cry."

Mulder chuckled. "Do you want me to come pick you up?" he asked, glancing at the clock and noticing it was almost 8:00.

"No, that's okay. I have to be here to approve the estimate anyway, so I'll just have them do a rush job and then come in. I shouldn't be any later than eleven."

"I'll take care of the 9:00 meeting with Skinner, and then go over some new case files until then. Maybe I'll have a new assignment by the time you get here."

"I'm on pins and needles," she said with a slight chuckle. "I'll see you then, Mulder. Oh, and make sure that you proofread the entire report before handing it in, okay? I'd planned to do that this morning."

"Trust me, Scully. Skinner will have a perfect report by the meeting time. Bye."



Assistant Director Skinner's Office

9:30 am

It had been an uneventful meeting. Despite Agent Scully's absence, the report had been concise, thorough, and impressive. Never mind that the case itself sounded like it had taken place in the Twilight Zone. Agent Mulder had explained how Scully's car had been vandalized and that she was expected in later, but Skinner saw no reason to postpone the simple meeting as long as she'd had such obvious input on the report itself. Mulder, as was his custom, heaved a sigh of relief as their meeting drew to a close and he was dismissed. Walter Skinner decided that he didn't think he'd ever figure the man out. Their relationship, as superior to agent and near friends, had been becoming more and more comfortable in the preceding months, yet Mulder still had an obvious unease about him when they had a meeting over the Files. Perhaps it was the simple fact that Mulder knew he was more an unbeliever, like Scully, than a believer. Or perhaps it was his compromised position since Mulder had read his mind and found out that it was Krycek who'd put the nanites into Skinner's bloodstream and was controlling them.

Skinner transferred the report to his "out" box, moving onto new business when the report caught his eye. Or, rather, something on the report caught his eye. The line where the department head's signature was required stood stoically blank. Mulder had forgotten to sign his report.

"Kim," he said, pushing the intercom button on his phone, planning to have her run it down to Mulder to sign. He immediately had second thoughts, although he had no idea why.

"Yes, sir?" Kim's respectful voice returned.

"Uhhh. Never mind. I'll take care of it myself." His next meeting wasn't until noon, and to be honest, he felt like he wanted to get out of the office anyway. He may be administration now, but inside, where it counted, he was still an agent. An agent who wanted to be out among other agents, getting the feel of what was going on in the Bureau. That must be it, he thought to himself. Why else wouldn't he want Kim to run the simple errand?


Mulder tried to stifle a sigh as he walked the halls of the FBI building. He was eager to get back to the seclusion of his office, evading the stares and whispers he always seemed to attract from the staff. Comments here and there would reach his ears, much less kind when he was alone than when he was with Scully. At those times, the few his ears caught had more to do with speculation about their relationship than the "Spooky Mulder" comments that he heard now. The other agents were very careful not too utter the "S" word in front of Scully, since she'd laid into agents often enough very early on for making that mistake. She still wasn't in, he thought, disappointed, when he opened the door and Scully wasn't there. Not that he'd really expected her to be. She'd said around eleven, and no mechanic in existence underestimated the time it would take for a job. Still, he'd hoped she'd be there.

Well, he had some time to kill. Dropping into the chair behind his desk, he dug into the incoming mail with greater relish than usual. Most of it was junk mail, a few citizens' reports forwarded from law enforcement agencies, and standard interoffice memos which usually didn't apply to the X-Files division but were required to be distributed to all departments just the same.

The box intrigued him, which was why he'd left it for last. Who inside the agency would be sending him something? For a fraction of a second, his mind entertained the thought that it was from Scully - disguised so innocently and set to arrive so that he'd see the contents while she wasn't there.

Damn, he thought to himself. I've got to get these thoughts under control. Granted, he knew there was something beyond friendship growing between them, but Scully wasn't the type to send romantic gifts. Or, at least, he'd seen no indicated that she was. There was a lot about her he still didn't know, he realized as he grabbed a razor blade to slice open the sealing tape.


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

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

"Security, this is AD Skinner. We have a poisonous gas leak on the basement level. I believe it to be Hydrogen Cyanide. Evacuate the building, turn on the security systems and isolate this area. Contact HAZMAT, the police, and ambulance crews. Unknown yet if there are any victims."

The security officer was obviously thrown for a moment before going into action, yet he recovered fairly quickly. "Yes sir, immediately, sir." The line went dead as the guard disconnected the line. He was as good as his word as the whelps of an evacuation siren could be heard permeating the building. Everybody should be leaving the building, but as he looked on, there was no activity from inside the X-Files office. Taking a deep breath through the handkerchief, Skinner rushed forward, using the unsigned report to cover the doorknob before turning it to gain entrance. It wouldn't do to have any directly on his skin. The fog in the office was stronger than in the hall, and he was grateful for the glasses that protect his eyes somewhat from the noxious gas. Nerve gas, he thought to himself, remembering how they'd been trained in emergency procedures against its use during wartime so many years ago.

He found Mulder, collapsed behind his desk in a pool of what appeared to be vomit. "Damn," Skinner muttered, checking the man's pulse. It was racing, his face having taken on the flushed cast of a victim of the toxic substance. It was safe to presume the agent had already taken in several lungsful of the gas.

There was no way to get Mulder out of that room with one arm, even for a man who worked out daily. He had to find another option. Skinner quickly tied the kerchief over his nose and mouth and around the back of his head, holding it in place, but reducing the number of layers filtering the poisonous gas. It would have to do, he admitted, hoisting Mulder's prone form onto his shoulders. He headed for the farthest point on the floor from the contaminated office, slamming Mulder's door shut behind him to contain it as much as possible. Halfway down the hall, he felt his burden's body behind to move. But he wasn't regaining consciousness.

Lowering him to the floor, Skinner watched helplessly as Mulder began to convulse. He was still begging God to help him do something when things quickly grew dark. The blackness overtook him in seconds as he, too, slid to the floor unconscious.


If the cab driver had any sense, he'd be thanking God that he wasn't one of those chatty people who drove Scully so crazy. Especially this morning, she was in no mood for it.

After waiting around at the garage for hours, she finally came to realize that there was no way her car would be ready that morning. It took a little convincing to get the mechanic to admit it, however, but with the threat of an IRS audit he finally gave her the revised estimate of late that afternoon to repair the damage left by the vandals. Not willing to miss out on the rest of a work day for such a stupid reason, especially when Mulder had a perfectly good car they could use, she'd called for a cab and given the driver directions to the Hoover building.

By the time the cab was a block away, the traffic's crawl had slowed even further, essentially becoming a dead stop. Impatient as she watch the meter tick over the charge, Scully finally gave up.

"I'll just get out here, cabbie." Resigned to being stuck in traffic with nobody paying the fare, the driver muttered the charge. Scully threw a few bills through the window before leaving the vehicle in favor of the sidewalk. From this vantagepoint, she could see the commotion around the building. Police cars and firetrucks were either arriving or already at the scene, and many people she recognized were talking in small groups at the curb.

"What's going on?" she asked as she approached one group, simultaneously noticing the bright blue HAZMAT truck screech to a stop.

"I don't know," a nervous-looking woman said. "They came over the speakers and said we had to evacuate.

"Have you seen Agent Mulder?" she asked urgently, the alarms going off in her mind. The woman barely got out her apologies that she hadn't before Scully rushed off toward the HAZMAT team. They were scrambling into contamination outfits and breathings masks.

"I'm Agent Dana Scully of the FBI and I'm also a medical doctor. What's happening?"

"We had a report of toxic gasses. It's probably just a false alarm, Doctor, so if you wouldn't mind . . ." He motioned her to clear the way, but she had no intention of budging. Her next sentence, though, took him totally off guard.

"You have to let me go in there with you."

The man to which she was speaking, who had an air of authority to him, looked stunned. "I'm sorry, Doctor Scully, but I can't let an untrained rescue worker in there. On the outside chance that there really is some kind of danger."

"I'm a federal agent, I live with danger every day of my life," she said to him harshly. "And while we're arguing about it, there could be victims - my coworkers and friends - in there who I can help! Having a doctor with you could help save lives. Now are you going to give me a suit or do I go in as I am?"

Realizing that there was no way he was going to deflect the stubborn redhead, the chief called into the truck, and a small decontamination suit was quickly handed out. "Any idea of the nature of the gas?" Scully asked as she pulled the suit on over her clothes.

"The person who called 911 said that an ex-Marine on the scene said it was Hydrogen Cyanide, but that's not been confirmed."

"Exactly where is the 'scene', Captain?"

By this time, the rest of the HAZMAT team was headed toward the building. Scully scrambled behind them as she heard the Captain say, "The basement."

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

Grabbing a medical kit, Scully joined the small platoon in white headed for the entrance. The heavier equipment was handled by other team members - equipment she knew would be used to wash down any victims before transporting them to the hospital. She looked frantically around until her eyes fell on the Captain, carrying a pair of oxygen tanks. That would be vital if anybody in the basement had inhaled the fumes.


The atmosphere in the hall was clear to the eye, but Scully knew better than to automatically take that as authorization to take off her gas mask. As inconvenient as the visor could be, it was better than getting a lungful of the stuff. It also didn't keep her from seeing the crumpled forms on the floor near the X-Files office. Skinner's bulk was very still, at odds with the slender form next to it. "Mulder!"

Dropping to her knees by his side, she did her best to hold him against her. Nothing seemed to calm the tremors, though, so she turned her attention to other, more immediate, problems. Mulder's lips were blue, his panting breaths barely taking in any oxygen while his body fought the affects of the poison.

"We need some oxygen here!" she screamed through her ventilator. The Captain handed her the second oxygen tank while affixing an identical mask to Skinner's face. "We need to get them to the hospital!"

"We'll need to wash them down before we can transport," he reminded her, shaking his head. "Can't take any chance of this stuff getting on anybody else."

"First things first, Captain," a young man said from his place next to him. His decontamination suit bore the insignia of an Emergency Medical Technician. "We need to get IV's started on these guys."

"You have the antidote for this?" Scully asked in surprise. She was too upset about Mulder to realize how preposterous the suggestion sounded.

"No, we don't carry it with us. But we can get them started on something to help their breathing and counteract some of the symptoms." As he was uttering his last words, Skinner began to stir. He turned frightened eyes set in angry red skin to the men above him.

"Mulder . . ." he whispered through the oxygen mask, and Scully fought the tears that threatened to fall when she realized she didn't know what to tell their superior and friend. Her partner's convulsing had lessened, the oxygen helping slightly with the paleness of his lips, but at this moment, there was nothing more she could do. Luckily, the Captain's words kept her from having to respond.

"You're both alive, and we're going to get you to the hospital as quickly as we can." Exhausted, Skinner seemed to accept the man's word as he sunk down again into near unconsciousness.

Around them, Scully finally realized that the remaining members of the team had completed setting up their equipment. "Why don't you stay where you are," one of them said kindly to her as he reached for Mulder.

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

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

"We need to irrigate his eyes, in case any got in there. Can you lift his lids?" Scully just nodded, the awkward gloves making it difficult to manipulate Mulder's eyelids until the sterile water could be sprayed over the hazel irises. They finished one and then moved on to the other, her doctor's instincts keeping unconscious check on her partner's respiration rates and coloring.

"What's that?" she asked, watching as the EMT slid an IV into Mulder's vein. She didn't know if, in her anxiety over the situation, she'd forgotten, or if she'd never known, what you were supposed to give a victim of Hydrogen Cyanide poisoning.

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

Unwilling to expose equipment unnecessarily to whatever fumes may remain, both men were wrapped in sterile sheets and gently carried from the building. Ambulance attendants awaited the team with beds on which they laid the two victims of the vicious bombing. Scully scrambled out of her decontamination suit, eager to get into the ambulance with Mulder and Skinner. Two senior agents stood nearby, at the sidelines, looking on in horror at what had happened to the Assistant Director and one of the best profilers the bureau had ever known.

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

She knew the agents and knew she could trust them to be as good as their word, but revenge or justice was the last thing on her mind at the moment. Exchanging nods with them, she added, "I'll let you know how they're doing," before the ambulance doors slammed shut on them.


The most frustrating thing about a hospital was the helplessness. As Scully waited for word on her best friend and her boss, she was struck by how totally powerless she felt. There was nothing she could do, nobody she could arrest, no tests she could run or autopsies she could do - thank God. And she needed to do something!

The nurse who was working the desk, noticing her unsettled mood, took pity on her. She'd seen patients' families behave like this before, and knew that if she didn't find something to occupy the agent's time soon, she'd be storming the treatment room.

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

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

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

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

"No, Mulder's parents are dead," she thought dazedly. There was one mother she could call, though. As an afterthought, she asked, "Did anybody call the emergency contact in Skinner's file?"

"The only people listed there are Agent Mulder and yourself," Susan said with a slight grin. "I guess you're his family, too."

Turning toward a bank of pay phones, Scully muttered, "then his family is about to become a little bit bigger."


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

"Hi, Sweetie," she said, enveloping Scully in a hug from behind. Dana hugged her back, turning tired yet grateful eyes to her mother.

"Thanks for coming, Mom."

"What did the doctor's say?"

"That it's up to him now. They'd done all they can, but he's still comatose. They said he stopped breathing twice in the treatment room," she added, her voice cracking.

"Fox isn't going to give up now, honey. He's fought his way through too many things to give up his life to this."

"From your mouth to God's ears, and Mulder's, too," Scully whispered, managing a slight smile.

"That's a winning combination if ever I've heard one," Maggie smiled back. "Would you like some coffee, sweetheart?"

"That would be nice, Mom, thanks. I just couldn't bear to drink any before, while I was waiting."

"I'll get us some. Who knows?" Maggie added. "Maybe if I get some of that good Starbucks coffee, the smell alone will entice Fox into waking up."

Maggie rushed from the hospital to the coffee shop around the corner, returning in short order with two large, strong, aromatic cups of coffee. She was an observant woman, and noticed that the curtain in the adjoining cubicle - the one that had been pulled when she'd first arrived and then left again - was not pulled back. A patient was in the bed, and it was a moment before she recognized it as being Dana and Fox's boss, Walter Skinner.

"Dana," Maggie said as she returned to Mulder's cubicle. "Is that Mr. Skinner in the next room?"

"Oh, yes, Mom. Did I forget to tell you about that?"

"You didn't tell me much - just that you needed me and that Mulder was in the hospital."

"Sorry, I guess I didn't realize. Somebody sent Mulder a poison gas bomb. Hydrogen cyanide. AD Skinner recognized the smell and called for help. He then tried to pull Mulder out of the fumes and took in some himself for his generosity. It wasn't too much, though, and the doctor says he'll be coming around soon. At least he didn't have convulsions like Mulder . . ." she finished in a whisper.

"Why is he by himself?" Maggie asked. "Shouldn't they be calling his family?"

"He doesn't have any family, Mom. Maybe that's why he's sometimes so sympathetic to Mulder's idiosyncrasies."

"No family?" Maggie repeated, a troubled frown creasing her brow. "Nobody should have to wake up in the hospital alone."

"I thought," Dana said quietly, "that we could take turns. And when I'm sitting with Skinner, you can sit with Mulder and keep an eye on him for me." Maggie could tell that leaving Mulder's side was the last thing her daughter wanted to do, but that she also felt an obligation to the man who may have saved her partner's life.

"That sounds good, but why don't you take the first shift with Fox. I can sit with Mr. Skinner just as well as you can."

"Are you sure, Mom?" Scully asked, but she didn't have to be her mother to recognize the relief in her voice. "I'm sure. Besides, Mr. Skinner just might be more comfortable with someone from his own generation."

Maggie exchanged smiles with her daughter before kissing her on the cheek, handing her one of the cups of coffee, and then disappearing into the adjoining cubicle.


The first thing that occurred to Walter Skinner was the noise. Somehow, he always expected waking up after an injury to be a silent time, but here, before he even opened his eyes, he was deluged with noises. Clicking, beeping, ticking - the sounds of soft-soled shoes and medicine cart wheels on tile floor.

He also always expected to be inundated with light, but he was proven wrong there, too, as he raised tired eyelids. The bed was surrounded in dim light, curiously at odds with the amplitude of the sounds, not by the bright, emergency room fluorescents he'd seen more times than he cared to consider.

In that dimness, he could see the silhouette of a woman. It must be worse than it feels, he thought, if they've had a nurse sitting vigil this whole time. As long as she was there, though, maybe she could get him a drink of water. He opened his mouth to form the words a moment before the pain hit him. There was acid in his throat, he was sure - nothing else could cause this kind of pain. The dryness turned into a slight cough.

"Would you like some water?" the woman asked, emerging from the shadows. She held a cup to his lips and he took a taste, fighting to swallow against the soreness there. As she withdrew the cup, he got his first, clear look at his good Samaritan.

"Mrs. Scully?" he managed, his voice sounding like sandpaper.

"Take it easy, Mr. Skinner. The doctor says you're going to be all right."

If I'm going to be okay, why does she look so worried? Then it came to him. "What about Mulder?"

"Dana's with him in the next room."

Skinner didn't miss the fact that she hadn't really told him anything except that his agent was still alive. "How is he?"

"The doctors are . . . . hopeful."

"Which means his condition is what right now?"

"He's in a coma, Mr. Skinner. Dana won't leave his side, and I agree with her being there. But we both owe you a debt of gratitude. Thank you."

"Thanks for what?" Skinner asked, bemused. "Being too late? Not recognizing that horrible smell soon enough to save them the agony?"

"No!" Maggie said, reprimand clear in her voice. "Thank you for getting him out of there so he would live to be taken to the hospital."

"Too little, too late," he mumbled, suddenly realizing how tired he was. "Could you please ring for the doctor before I'm too tired to talk to him?"

"Sure," Maggie answered while she pushed the button. "Look, Mr. Skinner . . ."

"Walt, please," Skinner interrupted, but his words were more of a gasp than anything.

"Okay, Walt. I know we don't know each other very well. It's a shame, actually, considering how much a part of my daughter's life you are, but I do know enough about you to know that you did all you could. Berating yourself isn't going to help Dana or Fox. They need you to be there for them, as you always are, and that means you getting better."

"A lot you know," Skinner managed. "I wish I had been there for them whenever they needed me, but at times, my hands were tied. I couldn't . . . I didn't support them the way I should have."

"And on those occasions, I know that they understood your reasonings. If they didn't, they wouldn't still trust you so much. And they do trust you, Walt."

Arguing with Maggie Scully was getting to be too tiring, Skinner decided, and was relieved when the doctor entered his cubicle.

"Well, good to see you awake, Mr. Skinner," he chimed in as Walt rolled his eyes. Without further preamble, he began checking the Assistant Director's vital signs, grunting unintelligibly as he reviewed results of his blood pressure, oxygen levels, heart rate, and on and on. Finally, he looped his stethoscope around his neck.

"Everything looks pretty good. The antidote has done its job, and you're going to be fine. I do want to keep you a couple days for observation, though."

These words went unheeded by both Maggie and Walter Skinner, as they could hear the commotion coming from the next cubicle. Not negative commotion, but after 12 hours of Scully's silent vigil by her partner's side, any noise was noteworthy.

"What's going on over there," Maggie asked pointedly.

"They're treating Agent Mulder as best they can," the doctor assured. "That's all you need to worry about."


Scully was more than worried - she was frantic. It was bad enough that nobody seemed to be able to assure her that Mulder would ever wake up from his coma, now she had this to deal with.

"Please, Ms. Scully. You only have to leave for a few minutes while I take care of this, then you can come right back."

"Why won't you tell me what this is for? Mulder's been in comas before and they've never made me leave. What are you going to do to him?" She knew she was sounding paranoid, but she didn't trust her partner's health to just anyone. "I am a doctor - I can handle it."

"I'm not trying to keep any secrets from you, Dr. Scully. I just didn't want to upset you unreasonably. I'm an ophthalmological specialist, and I need to check his eyes. We need to know if exposure to the gas resulted in damage."

"Damage?" Scully said, suddenly frightened.

The doctor looked up from where she was rinsing Mulder's eyes with a clear fluid. "Patients who are exposed to Hydrogen Cyanide at the levels Agent Mulder experienced can incur damage to their retina or optic nerve or disturbances in their vision. I'm seeing some redness around his optic nerve that could be a problem, but we won't know the extent until he wakes up. There's no sense in buying trouble ahead of time, though," she added almost as an afterthought.

Scully found herself suddenly breathless, unable to grasp the horror. Mulder could possibly end up blind? And that was if he woke up at all. Before she could regain control of herself, the ophthalmologist was gone, leaving her once again alone with Mulder. She went to his side, taking his hand in her quivering own.

"Mulder," she whispered, unable to speak at a higher volume. "Don't let this keep you from coming back to us. You're going to live, and you're going to see - I won't let you suffer any more. You've been through too much." A tear silently rolled down her cheek as her emotions warred with each other. She knew she'd promised more than she could deliver. She had no control over this, but he knew it as well as she did, and would understand her words as more wishful than fact.

Finally, her words grew stronger as she calmed. "Y'know, I'm getting extremely tired of visiting you in hospitals. Why don't you wake up, and we can get out of here? Mom's here and she'd love to see you. I know, I know, she's not right here in the room, but she's just next door. She wanted to look in on Skinner and see how he was doing. He saved your life, Mulder. So much for your theory of how much he'd like to be rid of you." Scully sighed . . . still nothing.

"Dana, are you okay?" She didn't have to be as in need of hearing that voice as she was in order to recognize it instantly.

"Better than he his," she said quietly, her eyes never leaving her partner's face. There was no way he was going to start to come around without her knowing it. She hoped that her mother would understand that she needed her despite the fact that she didn't - couldn't - look up at her entrance.

"He'll be okay, Sweetheart," Maggie assured as she wrapped her daughter in a hug from behind. Thank God, Mom always knew what she needed. She wanted to savor the hug, closing her eyes and 'making a memory' as she'd seen somebody call it in an old movie once, so she tried to come as close as she could without having to break the visual connection between her and Mulder. They hung on tightly for a few moments before parting slightly.

"How's Skinner?" Scully asked, turning her mind, if not her eyes, to another topic.

"He woke up awhile ago. He has a heck of a sore throat but otherwise seems fine physically. The doctors are checking him over now, and we'd heard voices from over here, so he asked me to check on you two. He's pretty upset, I'm afraid."

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

"No, no guilt. Not really, anyway. More anger. I've seen men angry in my time - your Dad was no slouch at it when he was on a roll - but rarely directed on themselves. He says he should have realized what was going on sooner. . . gotten Fox out of the office faster so he wouldn't be in such danger now."

"He worked a miracle as it was, Mom. Skinner hardly ever comes down to the office, and when he does, it's usually something serious. He could hardly be expected to recognize a noxious substance he hadn't smelled in thirty years quickly enough to have done more than he did."

"It wasn't something serious," came a raspy voice that yanked her stare from her partner to the edge of the curtained cubicle. There, seated in a wheelchair, was the very subject of their conversation, and he didn't look happy. "Mulder forgot to sign his report. I'd been in the office all day and needed a breather anyway, so I decided to take it down for him to sign. That's all there was to it. There was no reason for me to have been so distracted."

Rather than replying to his self-flagellation, Scully was drawn to his medical status. "Sir, what are you doing out of bed? I'm sure your doctor didn't say you're well enough to be up and around yet." Despite the dim light, Scully could see as well as hear the affect the poison gas had had on her superior. His face, neck, and hands were angry red, like the bad sunburn she'd get if she forgot her sunblock on a hot summer's day at the beach. Even the baldness of his head was not spared the assault of the gas on his skin. She suspected that Mulder's would be even redder if he weren't so pale from its more serious affects.

"They came in and checked me out, and wanted to move me to a room. I asked if I could stop in here first." Unnoticed until now, a young candystriper pushed the wheelchair in which he was sitting further into the room, drawing it up beside Scully and the recumbent Mulder. "What did the doctors say?" He was obviously no longer talking about himself.

"That first priority is his waking up. After that, we'll have to see." She didn't want to bring up her discussion with the ophthalmologist - it would just serve to give everybody one more thing about which to worry. "Do they have any idea when, Sweetheart?" Maggie asked.

"Did you see those doctors in the ER?" Scully asked with a hollow chuckle. "They don't know much more about the affects of this than I do, and I don't think they have any idea when he'll wake up. It's going to take an expert in this damn gas to tell us anything, I think."

"It's time to go, Mr. Skinner," the young girl said quietly, not wanting to interrupt the conversation but determined to take proper care of her charge.

"Okay," he said to her before looking back to Scully. "When I get to my room, I'll call some of my contacts in the military. I've got a few favors I can call in. It shouldn't take too much to get a military doctor who's familiar with these kinds of things sent over to have a look at him. It'll help, Scully." Now who was supporting whom, Dana thought with a small grin.

"Thank you, sir. You know where I'll be if you hear anything." The candystriper turned the wheelchair away as Scully turned back to the bed. Maggie squeezed her hand quickly but firmly.

"I think I'll go with him. You need some time with Fox, and I can help him with his phone call and bring the answer right back here, okay?"

Scully merely nodded as her mother's hand left her own. Once they were alone again, she settled in, sitting on the edge of the bed Mulder occupied. "You have to wake up, Mulder. You've got a lot of people very worried about you out here. Please . . ."

She sat, silent and still as a stature, until well into the night. Finally, frustrated, she rose and began to pace, thinking about the many other times she'd gone through this same ritual. What were they doing here yet again? Mulder got hurt enough all on his own - they hardly needed to add an assassin to the group, but add they had.

She chuckled to herself, thinking how her thoughts sounded more like Dr. Seuss than Special Agent Scully. "Mulder," she said, willing to try anything. "If you don't wake up soon, I swear, I'm going to read every single book Seuss ever wrote out loud until you do. You'll have to hear it all, Mulder. Green Eggs and Ham, Horton Hears a Who, How the Grinch Stole Christmas - even if it is only March!" Still, there was no reaction from the comatose man. Heck, he'd probably like it if she read those books. "Okay, I'll do you even better, then. I'll read to you from my science journals, Mulder. Just think, hours and hours and hours of purely scientific data. No insight, no 'extreme possibilities'. Nothing that can't be proven in a laboratory or a courtroom."

So intent was she on trying to figure out what would most rile her partner that she didn't notice the increase in the frequency of beeps from the heart monitor. It, therefore, came as quite a shock when she heard rustling from the bed. She spun, her eyes drawn to the bed. The legs under the sheet moved again, and Scully raced back to his side.

Nearly crawling onto the bed in order to get as close to him as possible, she aligned her face with her partner's. "Mulder, can you hear me? If you can, take my hand," she added, gripping his fingers like a lifeline. Slowly, gently, she felt the slight pressure on her knuckles, but before she could react, or even glance at the movement, his eyelids were raising.

"Mulder!" It was more of a sigh than anything. He began to doze again, but Scully was determined. "Stay with me, here, partner. I know you feel rotten, but try to stay awake." Her eyes met his as he studied her intently, obviously still groggy.

"What happened?" was the whisper he finally managed.

"You were gassed, do you remember?"

"And I don't even usually drink much," was the sardonic reply that accompanied his attempt at a smile. Scully returned it, relieved at the obvious presence of the old Mulder.

"It wasn't liquor. Somebody sent you a bomb that released Hydrogen Cyanide. If your throat is sore, it's just the aftereffects of the respirator. You stopped breathing, Mulder . . . nearly died." She tried to hide the pain in her voice. It hadn't hurt this badly since she found Mulder strapped to an operating table in a military facility, near death from his impromptu brain surgery. "You've got to stop doing this to me, Mulder. I'm not sure how many more times I can almost lose you."

"You can't get rid of me that easily," he quipped, falling silent as their eyes communicated in a way their words couldn't.

Scully's peripheral vision picked up somebody standing in the doorway, and she knew she should break their gaze. She just couldn't do it.

"So, Mr. Mulder has joined the land of the living!" Scully had expected the words, but Mulder just about jumped out of his skin.

"Easy, Mulder. It's just the doctor!" she tried to calm him, but his breathing was fast and his eyes were wide. "This is the doctor who's been treating you. His name is Wayne Herbst," she assured again. "He's okay, he won't hurt you."

Obviously still groggy, Mulder panted. "Didn't see 'm coming. Think they'd warn a guy . . ."

"Let's give him a minute," Scully said, exchanging a look with the doctor. "He only just woke up."

"Then I'd say his timing is perfect," the doctor responded. "I figured I'd check on him before I headed home for the day." They waited silently for another minute, then the doctor approached Mulder's bed.

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

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

"'s okay," he answered, trying not to shiver at the cool metal of the instrument.

"I'm going to try something for just a few seconds, okay? I'm going to remove the oxygen and see how you breath unassisted."

"Why not?" Mulder answered with a shrug.

Slowly, Mulder felt the tube being removed from under his nose, grateful to not have it pressing against his skin. "How's that feel?" the doctor asked.

"Like breathing in high humidity."

"Your pulse-ox has dropped and you're breathing heavier. We'll just have to leave this on for awhile yet."

The physician replaced the oxygen tube. Able to breath easily again, it occurred to him that he had not yet seen the man with whom he'd been talking. Mulder turned his head to check out the doctor, who seemed to be better than most. . .

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

Feeling the need to take action, she was above him in a microsecond, and he searched out and met her blue eyes.

"Mulder, what is it? Talk to me, partner."

"Pain . . ." he groaned. "In my eyes."

Scully noticed that he seemed to be a little better. "And how is it now? Does it hurt as bad?"

Mulder looked at her a little easier. "No, it's better. Like needles through my eyes," he panted. Scully exchanged a look with Dr. Herbst.

"Okay, Mr. Mulder. We're going to call in an ophthalmologic specialist to take a look, but for now, I'm going to do a few basic tests. Think you can handle it? Still feeling groggy?"

"I can do it," Mulder said, sounding so sure of himself.

The doctor took a pen from his pocket and held it in the air between Mulder and Scully. "You see this pen, right, Mr. Mulder?"

"Yep. It's blue, and looks like it costs about what I make in a week." The doctor chuckled and went on.

"Now, when I move it, I want you to follow it with your eyes. Keep your head still." The pen moved slowly to Mulder's right, and his eyes followed. Yet his breathing rose a notch. "Does that hurt, Mr. Mulder?"

"Yeah," Mulder panted. "Not as bad as before, but lots worse than when you started."

"Okay, let's try this." Dr. Herbst moved it to the other extreme at Mulder's left, and it nearly elicited a scream from the tortured agent. Suddenly, the doctor broke into his realm of pain. "Mr. Mulder, look at Scully. Stop looking at me - just focus straight forward!"

He complied quickly, and both Scully and the doctor could see how much he settled when he was able to focus forward again. "What's going on?" Mulder asked with a catch in his throat. Obviously, he'd never read anything of the affects of Hydrogen Cyanide or the facts in that steel-trap of a mind of his would be spilling the information to the forefront even now.

"Just one more easy test, Mr. Mulder. I promise, this one won't hurt." The doctor walked to the end of Mulder's bed and held up a small sign littered with colored blocks. "You'll forgive me for the subject matter, but the only one available nearby was from the pediatric ward. Mr. Mulder, please look at the poster and tell me how many blocks you see."

"This is dumb," Mulder muttered warily yet exhaustedly. "I may have just woken up, but even now I can tell you that there're ten blocks there."

Scully's head snapped up so quickly, the doctor worried she'd injured her neck. The picture held fifteen blocks. She almost instantaneously hid her reaction, not wanting to upset her partner, and she breathed a sigh of relief when he didn't seem to notice how upset she'd become.

"Well, that's fine, Agent Mulder," Dr. Herbst said gently. "I'm just going to go call in the ophthalmological consult and then we'll be back to talk to you both some more." Looking intensely at Mulder for just a moment, he then left the room.

"Mulder, why don't you get some rest," Scully said, smoothing his hair away from those oh-so-expressive eyes. "I just want a couple words with the doctor, then I'll be right back."

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

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

"Dr. Herbst, what's wrong with him?" she asked abruptly. She knew that none of this was his fault, but it was the best she could manage under the circumstances. He obviously understood.

"I'm not totally certain, Dr. Scully, which is why I want to talk to an expert before we say anything more to either of you."

"I can understand your not wanting to upset Mulder, but I'm a doctor - I'll understand whatever his status." "That may be true, but if you were able to look at this objectively, you'd realize just how connected to you he is right now. Every time you react with an emotion, it's mirrored on his face. I presume you two have been together for a long time?"

Scully didn't stop to think about the possible implications of the word "together". "Seven years."

"And in those seven years, you've developed a connection. If I were to tell you something was seriously wrong with him, you'd go in there and he'd feel it in a minute. We can't have him thinking the worst at the moment, so we have to keep both of your spirits up." His kind face smiled slightly, and Scully realized he was absolutely correct.

"Okay, but will you let us know as soon as you know anything?"

"Of course, Dr. Scully. There is something you can do, though, to help occupy the time."

"What's that?" she asked eagerly.

"These are the orders for his move out of ICU. Now that he's conscious, the orderlies will move him to a room in the next few minutes. Go with him, keep him calm, and, if necessary, get him to keep his eyes stationary or closed during the move. It'll reduce the pain."

Sighing, Scully realized just how much this doctor was trying to help her partner. "Thanks, Dr. Herbst. I'll do just that."


The move went relatively smoothly, but nobody was more surprised than Scully to find out that Mulder was not only not getting a private room, but he was being blessed with Assistant Director Skinner as a roommate. The AD was sleeping as they wheeled Mulder's bed into the room, but Maggie was on her feet in a second, coming to the young man's side. Scully suddenly felt guilty at not having been more conscientious in keeping her mother up to date onthe situation.

"Fox!" Maggie exclaimed, seemingly unsure whether the man with his eyes tightly closed was awake or asleep.

Mulder's head rolled toward the sound of the maternal voice, his eyelids rising a moment later. "Mrs. Scully. You really didn't have to come all this way . . ."

"Oh, yes, I did," she interrupted affectionately. "You've always been there for our family - how could our family not be there for you?" He looked confusedly at her for a moment before his eyelids drooped once again. It was apparently he didn't believe it, but wasn't up to arguing the issue.

"Excuse me, ma'am," a very young voice interrupted. It was the orderly, standing quietly beside a similarly dressed young man. "We really need to get the patient into bed before the doctors come back to see him."

"Oh, I'm sorry," Maggie smiled gently, stepping away as the two transferred Mulder from the rolling bed to something more comfortable, being careful of his oxygen and IV lines. Before long, they left the foursome in peace.

Scully's attention was drawn to the other bed in the room. "How's he doing?" she asked her mother, nodding at the AD's form.

"Pretty good, although I didn't think it was going to be quite so easy getting him to go to sleep."

Mulder listened to the two women continue to talk through the haze of half-sleep. He vaguely wondered of whom they were speaking, rolling his head to the side to study the next bed. "Skinner?"

Scully seemed to be surprised that he was awake. "This may be your worst nightmare, Mulder, but he's your roommate for a few days."

"What happened to him?" Mulder realized he was whispering in deference to his sleeping boss.

"Mulder, he pulled you out of the office. He was on his way down to see you when he recognized the peripheral odor of the gas. He managed to pull you out of there before succumbing himself."

"He saved me?" Mulder asked incredulously.

"Yes, he did, Fox," Maggie added, taking Mulder's hand. "Luckily, he didn't inhale as much as you did. The doctor says he'll be released tomorrow or the next day."

"I can't believe I owe him my life," Mulder commented sardonically. "I'm never going to hear the end of it." Scully and Maggie both chuckled, trying to stifle the sound behind their hands.

"Don't be quiet on my account," came a deep voice from the other side of the room. Skinner pushed himself to a sitting position, trying unsuccessfully not to pull on the IV still protruding from his arm. At least he didn't have to deal with the oxygen tube, Mulder thought.

"Nice to see you back among the living, Agent Mulder. Although I hadn't really planned on spending this much of your recovery time with you."

"You're no more surprised than I am, Sir," Mulder managed as a knock sounded.

"Everybody decent?" Dr. Herbst asked, poking a head in the room.

"For the moment. Keep those nurses out of here and we'll be able to keep it that way," Mulder joked weakly. The doctor entered, followed closely behind by another female doctor that Scully seemed to recognize.

"Nice to see you again, Doctor," Scully said, shaking hands with the woman. "I'm sorry we weren't able to be properly introduced earlier. I'm Dr. Dana Scully." Mulder thought ironically how her title abruptly changed from Agent Scully to Dr. Scully whenever he was hospitalized.

"Dr. Hayden. Nice to meet you." She turned her attention to Mulder. "So how are you feeling, Mr. Mulder?" "Why does everybody ask me that? Doesn't it tell you all that in my chart?"

"Oh, a smart alec, huh?" Dr. Hayden chuckled. "Would you mind if I took a look at you? Then we'll talk."

"Fine, just promise me that if it's going to hurt like it did before, you'll borrow Scully's gun and shoot me, first."

"That's my job, Mulder," Scully smiled, but it was lost amid the laughter, heard only by her partner.

After a thorough going over, Hayden drew Herbst aside and there was whispered conversation, after which the male doctor left the room. He returned a moment later with a nurse carrying a tray with a scary-looking hypodermic. That thing had better be going into the IV port, Mulder thought.

"Okay, Mr. Mulder, not to sound like a cliché, but there's good news and bad news. I wish I could give you the choice of which to get first, but in this case, they're pretty much entangled too thoroughly to separate. As a result of the nerve gas to which you were subjected, you've developed a condition called Optic Neuritis. It's a condition of the optic nerve, and explains why you're having such serious pain when you move your eyes. This condition also manifests itself in what lay people call 'blind spots'."

"I'm not having any blind spots," Mulder denied but without rancor. Scully could see the uncertainty clearly written on his face.

"I hate to disagree with you, but you are. The conscious eye compensates for the blind spots so you don't fully realize where they are, but trust me that they're there." At the puzzled look on the patient's face, Dr. Herbst stepped forward.

"Do you remember in ICU when you were startled so badly when I came into the room? You didn't see me. And the poster I showed you with the blocks? There were fifteen, not ten."

Mulder swallowed, but was quiet as Scully took his hand. It was cold, and clammy. "What does all this mean? What can be done?" she asked, voicing what she knew he could not.

"We're starting you on a series of steroid injections," Hayden spoke to Mulder rather than Scully, knowing that he would have asked the questions had he been able. "These should eliminate the pain and definitely put a stop to any further advancement of the blind spots. Meaning, Mr. Mulder, that there's no threat of you losing your vision. There's a possibility that the treatment will result in the spots becoming reduced and eventually disappearing altogether, but the chances of that are not absolute. But even if they don't, you'll begin to automatically compensate for them and go on as if nothing has happened."

They all knew that she was trying to be supportive, happy to be able to inform her patient that he would be able to resume a normal life, not realizing that this patient's life was anything but normal. Turning his head to meet Scully's eyes, the statement was clearly written in them. //I can't be a field agent if I can't adequately cover your back.//

"What are the odds, Doctor?" Scully asked.

"Odds?" The doctor seemed puzzled.

"The odds in his getting back to 100% vision."

"As I said, we can't be certain. Possibly in the 50/50 range if we're lucky."

"I'm not sure if you're aware, Doctor Hayden," Skinner spoke, breaking in when he'd practically been forgotten. "But Mr. Mulder is a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and his vision directly affects his position with the bureau."

Dr. Hayden's eyes were shining with contentment at the minor inconvenience her patient would endure even if he didn't get any better. Now they grew thoughtful and then sad. She was an intelligent woman, and now surely understood why they were so concerned. "I understand the problem a little better now, thank you." "No, thank you, Doctor," Mulder said, regaining his voice. "So what's next?"

"Well, you'll be in here at least four more days to be sure the situation in your lungs has resolved itself. In that time, we'll continue to give you the steroid therapy and I'm going to see what I can find out about the latest developments in treating this condition. And as hard as this will be, you need to rest. That will help you heal, too."

"I'll try," Mulder mumbled, noticing that Scully still clenched his hand firmly.

"He'll do it," Scully affirmed strongly. What had he ever done before he had her taking care of him?

Soon their number was reduced to four once again. The room was eerily silent for several minutes before somebody finally spoke.

"Not to bring up a sore subject," Skinner asked Scully, but has anybody informed the Director how this happened? I'm sure he's going to want to review the security protocols."

"He has, sir, and there's another team of agents reviewing the situation, trying to find out who sent Mulder his care package. If we're lucky, the cameras got a good picture of him. Hopefully we'll be able to put a name with a face if we do."

"I keep hearing that word more and more, Scully. We've never been able to rely on luck before, and I'm not sure we can now."

"Which is why the Director put only the best agents on this case. We'll find him, Mulder. I promise you."

"Sweetheart," Maggie interrupted, seeming a bit timid. "I know we've all been distracted, but shouldn't there be a guard on the room in case whoever did this tries again?"

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

"I think your mind was elsewhere, baby," Maggie answered warmly. Scully blushed slightly at the endearment, but quickly went to the phone to call the bureau. Mulder admired the authoritative air in her voice as she gave orders for the security guards to be stationed outside the hospital room he and Skinner occupied. It occurred to him, for just a moment, how far she could have gotten in the bureau had she not gotten mixed up in his quest. Maybe she'd even be the youngest AD in history by this time. Even so, Scully stuck with him. Just as, tonight, she stayed in the room until she was sure the guard arrived and was given instructions. Only then did she and her mother leave for some sleep of their own.


You didn't have to be a trained FBI Agent and ex-Marine to see that Agent Scully was at a loss. She seemed tentative during her time spent visiting with her partner, which was more often than he expected. As if she was anticipating a storm that wasn't manifesting the way the weatherman predicted it would. So Walter Skinner watched quizzically while waiting for the doctors to finally say he could leave. The "one or two days for observation" had stretched into three at the recommendation of military intelligence, but that didn't make it any easier to take.

The only time he got a brief respite from the poking and prodding of the doctors and the silent communication of his roommate and his partner was when Maggie Scully was there. He couldn't put his finger on why he felt so relaxed around her, and chalked it up to her personality. While he saw a resemblance between his agent and her mother, there were stark differences. Scully was serious where Maggie was joyful, Scully was reserved where Maggie was open and giving, even to strangers, and Scully tended to be pessimistic to Maggie's relentless optimism. Granted, he could hardly blame Scully for being pessimistic after her last seven years with the X-Files Division. It hadn't been easy for either her or her partner, yet they persevered.

Dana Scully knew that her boss admired her perseverance, and normally, Mulder's stick-to-itiveness would have even outweighed her own. But how would that strength in his character work for him if he wasn't able to go back to work? It had been three days, and they hadn't again brought up the subject of the possibility of the loss of his field agent status. He could only repress that fear for so long before it would have to come out, and she expected to see it. But he hadn't once mentioned it since that original diagnosis. Repression wasn't anything new to Mulder, and she knew it wasn't good for him. In light of this, she was keeping a close eye on him.

The morning of the fourth day, when Scully entered the hospital room, she was surprised to see Mulder watching wistfully as Skinner tucked in his shirt. Could it be he'd miss the older man's company?

"What's the matter, Mulder?" she asked, smiling. "You look like you're losing your best friend."

"Nope, not quite," he said, turning a sardonic smile on her. "I can't tell you how nice it'll be to be able to watch whatever I want on the TV without having a certain somebody telling me that I'm rotting my brain." He and Skinner exchanged wry smiles, obviously signifying the start of their banter.

"I don't know how you ever kept what little intelligence you have watching that kind of stuff," Skinner added. She'd never known Skinner and Mulder to joke like this with each other; at least this hospital trip had been good for something. It was new to her, and Scully had to admit she found it endearing.

"You didn't seem to mind my 'little intelligence' when you needed some profiling done, Assistant Director." The title was said with an inflection that spoke of Mulder's commonly accepted disdain for titles.

"Any port in a storm, Agent Mulder," Skinner rebutted, inciting a rare, sudden laugh from Scully.

"Enjoying the show, Scully?" Mulder asked, raising an eyebrow. "Y'know, you could come to your partner's aid while he's being verbally attacked."

"You'd never let me live it down if I didn't let you fight your own battles. Especially since you're so well armed yourself in that kind of skirmish."

"Some partner you turned out to be!" Mulder pouted, but there was a lightness that belied the remark. "Hope I'm not interrupting anything," came a voice from the door as Dr. Herbst entered the room.

"Nothing important," Scully said. "Just me trying to keep 'the boys' from verbally thrashing each other."

"Well, if they're being a problem," Herbst said, exchanging a wink with Scully, "maybe I should reconsider releasing Assistant Director Skinner. You never know what abnormal behavior could signify."

"You'd better be joking," Skinner said, all seriousness, to the physician. He looked like he'd take off the head of the person who denied him exit from the hospital.

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

She shook her head and gave the doctor a smile as he let Skinner off the hook.

"We just can't have people here affecting the morale of our patients, so I guess I will have to release you." He observed Skinner's sigh of relief as he handed over his papers. "See your personal physician in a week for a checkup, but I'm fairly certain you're going to be fine."

"Thank you, Doctor," Skinner said, seriously this time, as he shook the man's hand. "I appreciate everything you did for us."

"That means I should be able to go any time now too, huh?" Mulder asked.

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

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

"How is he doing, Doctor?" Scully asked quietly.

"The steroids we've been giving him have halted the progression of the Optic Neuritis, and his lungs are showing marked improvement."


"But while the blind spots aren't progressing, they're also not receding. Dr. Hayden will be in to check you more closely in a few minutes, but it may be that this is the best we're going to get. Thankfully, on a day-to-day basis, they won't affect your ability to live a normal life. Knowing that you have them will give you all the edge you need to be sure to compensate for them when driving or walking in traffic. It's easy to forget that they're there, but as long as you don't become complacent, it's perfectly safe."

Scully looked over to Skinner as they exchanged a look - neither one of them knew if Mulder would be allowed in the field with this impairment. Mulder, however, seemed and unaware that the bureau could have a problem with his operating this way.

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

He was barely out of the room when Scully had an idea. "Hold on just a second, Mulder. I'm going to let the AD use my car to get home. Mom will be here in a little while, and she can drive me to pick it up from him later. It'll save him having to get a cab."

Out in the hallway, she called to her boss's retreating back. "Sir!" He pulled up short and turned around to face her. "Why don't you take my car - I'll catch a ride home with my mother later."

"Thanks for the offer," he replied, taking her keys. "Can I presume that this is not the only reason you followed me out here?"

"You know me too well, Sir. Are you planning to check into the bureau's policy on disabilities in field-agents?"

"Yes, I need to know whether they'll let Mulder in the field with these blind spots."

"I know better than to ask that you keep this to yourself, but why do I feel like I want to anyway?"

"Because you don't want to lose your partner, Agent Scully. I'll see what I can find out."

"Whatever that is, Sir. Could you please let me know before you talk to Mulder? I want to hear the FBI's version, not that of a wishful agent." She'd originally planned to say "friend", but found this more appropriate in front of her boss.

"Of course, Agent Scully. I'll be in touch."


A week had passed, but Scully was still worried. By all accounts, things should be going swimmingly, as she remembered her mother describing it, but it wasn't. They were back to work, the office had been swept in more ways than one, and Skinner had found a never-considered loophole that was keeping Mulder in the field. Apparently, the regulations called for a specific eye test to be passed - a test that examined visual acuity, not necessarily range. All Mulder had to do to pass the test was be sure he turned his view to avoid the blind spots. Scully remembered how the doctor had said that this action would become second nature. As unforthcoming as Mulder had been about his feelings of never again being a field agent, he was equally unrevealing of them when he was told that his worries were over. What did it take to get a reaction out of the man?

As for the attempt on Mulder's life, it hadn't been repeated. He'd accepted the guard at the hospital, and even the agent parked out in front of his apartment the first few days he was home, but shortly became frustrated with the constant supervision, needing to get out from under the watchful eyes. She couldn't say she was happy about it, but he seemed safe and the assassin hadn't shown his face again, so she was at least content. Or, she would be. Except . . .

The last few days, Mulder's entrance into the basement office revealed not her healthy partner, but a man who looked on the verge of collapse. The gray smudges beneath his eyes had grown closer to black each day. He looked like he hadn't had a full night's sleep in ages, and while he always ate normally in front of her, Scully couldn't shake the feeling that, when alone, he wasn't eating at all.

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

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

It seemed to take him a second to process the question. "Uh . . . not unless you count a sports video and a bowl of popcorn as plans. Why?"

"I just thought you might want to join me for dinner. I'd love to try that new Chinese place near the Mall." She knew his weaknesses, and how much he loved Chinese couisine. This was one meal he'd definitely eat.

Mulder appeared to consider for a fraction of a minute before smiling. "Can I stop home and change first?"

"Sure. You don't think I want to go in a business suit, do you? This is relaxation, Mulder, not business."

"Relaxation? You mean," his face brightened, "like a date?"

"To quote our less than illustrious president, it's all in the definition. Call it what you like, Mulder. I thought it might be fun. Good food . . . no business talk. What do you say?"

"I say that we've done enough paperwork for one day," he said as he shut down his computer and reached for his coat. "How about I meet you there at 6:00?"

"Six sounds perfect," she responded, surprised at how easily he'd been talked into the outing. Maybe he wasn't as unsettled as she feared.


This one night, I'm going to forget it. Mulder repeated it over and over in his mind as he shed his suit and slid into his favorite pair of jeans. But his eyes kept straying to the gym bag sitting next to the leather sofa. It wasn't very big. He could put it in his car and nobody would ever know it was there.

No! This night was for Scully, and he wouldn't let his compulsion take it away from her. But the compulsion was for her, as well, wasn't it? He was still arguing with himself when he realized that he was done dressing. He didn't remember choosing the black T-shirt over the white or gray one, nor his nearly-never-worn denim jacket over the leather one he usually preferred.

He tried to ignore the bag as he peered at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. "Jeez, you're a mess," he muttered as he tried to comb his hair into some semblance of order. What had he been thinking, letting that barber butcher his hair like this? Was he making some feeble attempt at regaining his lost youth? Was this a midlife crisis? Mulder shook his head slightly, dismissing the thought before wetting his comb and forcing his hair to behave. It would grow out fast enough, thankfully.

He was trying to decide if he should shave again when he heard the bells of the nearby church toll the quarter hour. It was the third time he'd heard the single beat - 5:45. Dismissing the notion in favor of being on time, he was almost through the door before, without missing a beat, he reached back and grabbed the gym bag. The door slammed, nearly catching the bag's strap.


"You failed," said the deep, menacing voice. "Not only is Mulder not dead, he's back to work! You assured me that you never fail."

Despite his experience, the voice from the dark intimidated him. He knew the person he was dealing with could be dangerous. "It was a fluke. Circumstances I couldn't have predicted came to light."

"Fortunately for you," the voice continued as if it hadn't heard his entreaty, "I respect your work enough to give you one more opportunity. Do it right this time, or Mulder won't be the only one to end up on a slab in the morgue."

"This might be harder than I thought," the contractor stated. "I know you said that Mulder was to be the only victim, but I may not be able to do it without taking Scully, too."

"If that's how it has to be in order to see Mulder in his grave, than so be it. Take some men with you if you need to, just get it done."


As it turned out, the restaurant was an all-you-can-eat buffet. Scully loved the variety, and Mulder should have loved the volume but somehow wasn't. He needed to get back on his feed, which had been disrupted after the bombing. And Scully wasn't above using whatever methods were at hand to get him to eat.

"Here, Mulder. Taste this!" She held a morsel of chicken between two chopsticks, close enough to his lips that he could smell it. She watched as he tipped his head slightly, taking in the food's appearance.

"Scully, I do have a plate of my own," he laughed before giving in to her entreaty and closing his lips around the chicken. After he chewed and swallowed, he added, "why do I get the feeling that you'd never allow me to feed you like that." When she didn't answer, he used his fork to skewer a piece of meat from his own plate, holding it in front of her own lips.

"I'm going to leave lipstick on that, you know," she grinned, knowing that it was the last of his concerns. He gave her that look, and before she knew it, she was chewing the spicy yet sweet pork dish. She had a momentary flash of how they must look to the other patrons but dismissed it quickly. They were having a good time, Mulder seemed relaxed, so who cares what anybody else though.

The pair continued to trade their favorite flavors until both plates were empty. He looked surprised as she rose from her chair. "We didn't have our fortune cookies yet," he reminded her, apparently thinking she was ready to leave.

"Oh, I'm not ready for that, yet! I'm going back to the buffet for dessert." She grinned at him. "Coming?"

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

"I've done that often enough," Scully quipped, turning quickly so he wouldn't see her blush.

The joke wasn't wasted on Mulder, who shook his head in silent laughter as he moved to the rear of the restaurant and the restrooms.

Scully was just returning to their table when she heard a ringing sound. It wasn't hers, she realized as she checked her purse, after which her eyes fell on Mulder's denim jacket, draped over the back of the chair. There was no sign of him returning from the restroom, so she patted down the pockets until she came up with his mate to her own phone.

"Uh . . . hello?" she said tentatively, praying that it wasn't work that would pull them away from their enjoyable evening.

"Oh, I'm sorry, ma'am. I must have the wrong number," said a deep, male voice that sounded somehow familiar.

"Wait!" Scully exclaimed, trying to halt the caller. When she sensed he'd returned to the line, she added.

"Are you trying to reach Agent Fox Mulder?"

"Why, yes, ma'am."

"Well, this is his phone - he just had to step away for a few minutes. Can I take a message?" She hoped it wasn't anything too complicated. Her memory was good, but not what Mulder's was, and she didn't have a pad to write on.

"Who am I talking to?" the man replied gruffly.

"This is his partner, Agent Scully." She failed to understand why this news incited a laugh until he continued. "Oh, I'm sorry, Agent Scully. This is Dan Monroe at the firing range. I just wanted to see if Agent Mulder wanted me to leave the SDS simulator area unlocked for him. He's usually already here when the time comes for me to leave, but I figured he was running late."

Scully didn't want to give away that she had no idea what he was talking about, so she played it calmly. "Well, we decided to have some dinner before he headed over. It's not that much later than usual, is it?"

"I guess you must've lost track of the time. It's almost seven. He's been here at 6:30 on the dot every day for the past week and a half. I don't mind, though - he's always great about locking up so I don't have to hang around."

"And don't think he doesn't appreciate it," Scully told him convincingly. "I'm sure he'll be along shortly, so leave it unlocked, okay?"

"Sure, thanks, Agent Scully. Tell Mulder I'll leave the key in the normal place so he can lock up. Night."

Scully clicked off the phone, her mind racing, as she unconsciously replaced it in the pocket from which she'd taken it. She began eating a pastry, startled when Mulder returned to their table and laid his hand on her shoulder. She jumped a mile.

"Dammit, Mulder, don't do that to me!" She quickly softened her comment with a smile when a stricken expression passed his face. The look disappeared, replaced by one of warmth.

"After all these years, Scully, don't you think you should be more observant of things sneak up on you?" he asked with a devilish grin.

"Things, yes. Mulders, no," she smiled back. "Thank God there's only one of you! That's work enough."

She knew that two or even one year ago, that would have been cruel to say. That Mulder, who seemed more like an injured puppy than a ferocious guard dog, had changed into the confident man who stood now smiling back at her. He was more comfortable with himself these days, and she knew that he would take her comment with the humor with which it was intended. At least he had been, before the explosion.

He slid into his seat, examining her plate. "Hey, that looks good," he said, filching one of two remaining heart-shaped pastries. It was half gone in the first bite, but Scully was just happy that he was eating.

"Oh, your phone rang while you were in the men's room. I hope you don't mind that I answered it."

"No, that's fine. Please don't tell me it was Skinner."

"It wasn't Skinner," she said, her own relief as strong as his. "It was Dan at the firing range. He said to tell you he'd leave the key in the regular spot so you could lock up tonight." Scully leaned forward in her chair slightly, anticipating what he'd say.

"Oh, okay," Mulder said as if it were nothing. When Scully's eyes turned to him questioningly, he added, "I called to reserve time this evening before I knew about coming here. I just felt like I needed to bone up."

Okay, Scully accepted. So far, he was telling the truth, even if he wasn't giving her the entire story. "So, are you still going?"

Arching his back in a stretch, Mulder smiled as he rubbed his non-existent stomach. "Yeah, I'll go over for a little bit. Gotta work off some of this feast."

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

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


Dana Scully stared at the television, not having any idea what show she had been watching for the past half hour. Where was her partner right now? She'd plopped down on her sofa, in the same spot where she now sat, at 7:30 right after her arrival home. By now, Mulder should be finishing his practice drills and be on his way home, she thought.

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

Her eyes scanned the apartment, searching for something to occupy her mind better than the inane prime-time lineup. Who cared which person was the last on that stupid island, anyway?

Before long, she was kneeling at the bathtub, scrubbing it with a vengeance. Her bathroom had never shined so much - she'd already finished the sink, the toilet, and all the chrome. Yet only forty-five minutes of her evening had been used, and her mind was still crowded with thoughts of Mulder.

"To hell with it!" she exclaimed, ripping the rubber gloves from her hands and capping the cleaner. She realized she'd never get any rest until she saw him again and assured herself that he was safe and not overdoing it. She grabbed her keys, purse, and coat from the stand by the door, nearly catching the belt in the door as she slammed the it behind her.


For all Mulder knew, there could have been a stadium full of people watching him. His focus was so finely tuned that everything not directly involved in the simulation faded into the non-existent background. 30th time's the charm, he said to himself as he reset the simulator and stood poised, ready for the starting signal. This time, he'd get it perfect. This time, he'd be able to get every bad guy and save every innocent bystander. Nothing less was acceptable.

Not that he cared that much to ensure his own safety. He valued his life, but he valued Scully's a great deal more. And he'd never trust himself to be out in the field with her unless he knew that he could back her up. He couldn't have the blind spots in his vision risking her life. Despite the fact that the FBI regulations allowed him to stay on duty, he wouldn't allow it if there was a chance that it could hurt his partner.

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

All this flashed through his discerning mind in the second before the bell sounded and he made his way into the arena. Disregarded was the aching in his limbs and the tiredness in his mind as the figures popped up and then disappeared in turn. Mulder used all of his senses as he moved through the course. If he got them all, maybe he'd call it a night . . . treat himself to a Wendy's Spicy Chicken Sandwich on the way home and then settle into his cozy bed and actually get some sleep for a change.

He realized he'd finished a good deal of the course on instinct as he crossed the finish line, knowing that it was okay - that an agent had to be able to act on instinct just as much as the physical evidence he had at hand. Closing his eyes, a wish on his lips, he waited to see the score he'd garnered this time.

Falling to his knees as he opened his eyes, he read numbers that were not what he'd hoped. He swallowed the sob that tried to escape. Two minutes, thirty-five seconds with one bad guy missed. He'd missed one . . .

That could be the one who kills Scully, he thought. She wasn't safe on the streets with him yet. Unsure whether his legs would carry him through the course one more time, Mulder tried to get to his feet. Despite having just had dinner, the lack of food over the past several days and his exhaustion affected him, bringing him back to his knees a fraction of a second after he'd arisen. He panted, weary and out of breath. He didn't hear the soft footsteps until a small hand fell on his shoulder.

"Mulder, are you okay?" Scully asked with a gentle smile. He lifted his head, taking in the concern in her eyes and the casual quality of her clothes.

Rather than answer the question, he just laughed - a soft, bitter sound. "Okay? I don't think I'll ever be okay again," he added in a whisper. He'd promised himself that this was the last night. If he couldn't prove his ability to get around his physical limitations in two weeks, he doubted he ever would - and he couldn't ever let himself endanger his partner. He was nothing and she was everything. She deserved a partner who could back her up one hundred percent.

"Mulder, how long have you been at this?"

"Two weeks," he answered as she helped him to his feet. His legs seemed stronger after the brief rest, and she released him, although she stood closer.

"I mean tonight."

"I'm not sure, maybe a couple hours. How long does it take to run through the simulator 30 times?"

"You've done this thirty times tonight?" she asked, incredulous. "No wonder you're exhausted! Did you at least take a break every now and then?"

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

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

"Well, not every night," he said, hoping she wouldn't call him on it and ask for the last specific day he'd missed. Coming in during the day on the weekends would hardly meet the criteria for which she was looking. Her eyes met his doubtfully, but if she suspected his subterfuge, she decided to ignore it for now. "Why don't I take you home, Mulder. We can watch a movie or something."

Thank heavens. Maybe he could put all this out of his mind for awhile. "You don't like any of my movies, and it's your turn," he said, replacing his spent clip with a new one and zipping up his gym bag. The gun found a home in the hollow of his back, held fast to his body by the elastic of his sweatpants.

"Then we'll stop at Blockbuster on the way."

"How are you with nostalgia?" Mulder asked, slipping an affectionate arm around Scully's shoulders. "I just hooked up my new DVD player the other day, and I hear that there're lots of classics re-released with special features."

"You have a DVD player?" Scully asked, her concern dissolving in a warm smile. "Then I know what I want to see."

Making their way to the car, Mulder waited for her to enlighten him, and when she just walked in silence, he finally begged, "Well? Are you going to tell me or not?!"

"No, I won't tell you," Scully grinned mischievously. "But I will give you a hint."

Mulder was enjoying the game and being able to just enjoy being with Dana. "Okay, what's my clue?" He removed his arm from her shoulders as they arrived at the car, Scully breaking away to go to the driver's side.

"Da da Da da Da da Da da Da da." He smiled, recognizing the distinctive tune Scully tried her best to imitate. He loved that movie!

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

"Scully, get down!" He made a flying tackle, bringing her down to the pavement and rolling to protect her both from the pavement and the bullets that were suddenly flying overhead. It was hard to see in the darkness, but his gun was instantly in his hand and he loosed two rounds, hearing a distant thump as a body hit the ground. Still, the gunshots didn't stop, reduced as they were by a half or perhaps a third.

The rebound of a gun near his own ear alerted him to the fact that Scully, as well, was returning fire, and as he looked into her face, he could see her concentrating on a dark spot to their left where he could occasionally see the splash of moonlight on a gun barrel. There was a flash immediately preceding each shot, and Scully rose to her knees, getting a bead on where exactly the second shooter was.

Suddenly, everything began to move in slow motion. He saw Scully raise her arms and her finger tighten on the trigger, even saw the bullet leave the chamber, he believed. The conscious part of his mind was solely focused on his partner and her actions, but somewhere, his instincts were acting of their own accord. For a moment after Scully's shot took down the second shooter, he'd also taken down the third, the man dropping in his tracks as he circled around the car for a better angle.

It took a few silent, still moments for Mulder to realize that it was over. He panted, his need for oxygen crushing his chest as much as his fear for his partner and, yes, for himself.

"That was too close," Scully said, herself panting. She flipped open her cell and called the bureau, requesting a team and an ambulance. Mulder began to get to his feet, but Scully, snapping her phone off, grabbed his hand and pulled him down next to her. "Let's just sit here until the cavalry arrives, okay?"

Mulder nodded slightly, unsure he wanted to release his partner's hand. For once, he had nothing to say.

"You saved my life, Mulder," Scully said, making it apparent that she was going to keep holding his hand for awhile longer. "Thanks for backing me up. Good to see you at 100% again, partner."

And it was like an epiphany for Fox Mulder, sitting there in the parking lot of the FBI firing range. "Yeah, I did, didn't I?" he asked, more to himself than to her. But she heard, and she responded to the wonder in his voice.

"I never doubted it for a minute, Mulder."


"This is the life," Mulder luxuriated, stretching widely in his seat on the couch. He reached up to take a glass from Scully's hand, taking a sip off the edge.

"I'm only doing this because you did it last time, Mulder! Don't get cocky." Scully smiled wickedly as Mulder choked, spraying iced tea over the coffee table.

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

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

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

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

"I've always loved this one. There's just something so basic about it. Survival of the fittest."

"Yeah, like these past few weeks. Thank God that we ended up the fittest and they ended up with one of their shooters turning states evidence and getting his compatriots captured!"

"Nobody's happier about it than I am. I was beginning to picture my head on a plaque on somebody's wall." Both agents grew silent as the music began and the title credits were shown.

"I remember begging my father not to go to sea after seeing this movie for the first time. Took him almost an hour to convince me that a Navy vessel was too big to be in danger."

"The lake up in Quontacatauge went unused that summer, too."

The silence descended again, but it wasn't uncomfortable or strained in any way. It was right. Peaceful. Content. They sipped their drinks and watched, mezmerized as childhood memories returned.


"Yeah, Mulder?"

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

Additional note: for all of you who haven't yet figured it out, the movie in question was Jaws.