Dancing with Mephistopheles

by Satchie

Title: Dancing with Mephistopheles
Author: Satchie
E-mail: satchie51@hotmail.com
Category: MT/A; post-ep
Rating: PG-13 (for language)
Spoilers: Demons. Also contains references to cancer arc and Scully's abduction.
Summary: While trying to recapture his past, Mulder jeopardizes his soul.
Feedback: Pretty please, down on my knees? Archive: Gossamer, Mulder-in-Jeopardy and After the Fact. All others please ask.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Obfusc8er, my wise Jedi master and beta. May the Force always be with you. Disclaimer: The X-Files universe belongs to Chris Carter, Ten-Thirteen Productions and FOX. I'm only borrowing them because I'm a seriously sick puppy.

"Mulder, it's me."

My partner's deceptively calm voice penetrates the Ketamine fog that clouds my troubled thoughts. Under normal circumstances I'd welcome her comforting presence, but right now, it distracts me from my intended purpose. I came here to exorcise my demons, and Dr. Goldstein's highly unorthodox treatments have provided the elusive key to the dungeon where dark secrets have been kept safely hidden. Fragments of long-suppressed memories flood my consciousness in a resplendent kaleidoscopic array. But this is more than a mere recollection; I am actually reliving a painful experience from a night long ago. Surprisingly, my senses are heightened beyond my wildest expectations. Each detail is extraordinarily vivid; colors are shockingly bright and muffled sounds are amplified into an ear-splitting cacophony. I can see the haunted expression in Samantha's eyes, the tiny freckles across the bridge of her nose and the delicate blue and purple flowers of her cotton nightgown. In this twilight state, my gustatory sense is engaged, and I'm able to taste the salt of my mother's tears and the bitter stinging sensation of my father's scotch. Unfortunately, even in this dreamlike trance I can't escape the stale stench of cigarette smoke from that black-lunged son-of-a-bitch's ever present Morleys.

I can't be bothered with Scully's interference when I'm so tantalizingly close to the truth. This is my journey, my sacred quest, my Holy Grail. She has no right to be here. Infuriated by her intrusion, I order her away.

"Scully, leave me alone."

The directive has barely escaped my lips when another flashback overwhelms me. Images dance across my visual field in rapid succession. Old Smoky clutching Samantha against his chest, blue plastic Stratego pieces violently shaking across the game board, my sister shouting my name, the fireplace bathed in an eerie glow, a bright light streaming through the shutters, Samantha floating through an open window...everything is beginning to coalesce with perfect clarity.

My head feels like it's going to explode, and I'm not sure I can survive this intense confrontation with my past. I've made a Faustian bargain, exchanging my sanity for a memory. Was it worth it? The pain is phenomenal, and seems to be increasing exponentially by the second. I press the barrel of my service weapon against my throat, and breathe a sigh of relief when the cool metal touches my skin. As a wave of nausea washes over me, I begin to understand how it all fits together.

"It's...all falling into place."

I'm vaguely aware of Scully's desperate entreaty for me to put my gun down, but I can't comply. It was my fault Samantha was taken, so I am required to make atonement. There can be no forgiveness without the shedding of blood. I think that's from Mosaic Law, something about sin offerings. I lost my sister, ergo I must pay with my blood. I owe her that much. All I have to do is pull the trigger and it will all be over. My psychic pain, my physical pain...everything.

Before I have a chance to follow through with my plan, more brilliant Technicolor flashbacks intrude upon my defenseless psyche. I helplessly watch Samantha drift into a vast expanse of space and time, farther and farther away until her petite form nearly vanishes from sight. Then within a split-second she miraculously returns and stands before me. With the unconditional love and blind faith of a little sister, she silently implores me with her wide innocent eyes to protect her from some unimaginable horror. I promise to keep her safe, but before I can embrace her, Samantha's image inexplicably shatters like a broken mirror. To my consternation, the man who has become the bane of my existence now occupies her place. Once again my sister cries out for me before she disappears into the abyss. I seem destined to repeat this scenario ad infinitum. Samantha keeps begging for my help, and I keep failing her. I was utterly undeserving of her adoration and trust. Samantha, I'm so, so sorry.

The unrelenting pounding in my head draws me back to the present, and I'm enraged to discover that Scully has moved a little bit closer. How dare she! Damn it, I'm a federal agent. I know she was planning on trying to disarm me while I was incapacitated. Instinctively, I whirl around and aim my gun at Scully. I will not allow her to prevent me from paying my debt to Samantha. I can tell Scully is struggling to keep her voice devoid of her conflicting emotions.

"Are you going to shoot me, Mulder? Is that how much this means to you?"

I vacantly stare at her while the deafening roar in my head drowns out the rest of her words. At some level, I know the excruciating pain will end when I blow my brains out. Yet, I can't manage to turn the gun back on myself. There seems to be a huge disconnect between what I want to do and what I'm able to do. The internal noise finally subsides, and I hear Scully plead with me.

"This is not the way to the truth, Mulder. You've got to trust me."

I'm not quite sure what happened, but somehow Scully is standing behind me and I'm staring at our reflections. My partner's expression is apprehensive, and yet poignantly sad and beautiful. How could I possibly dare to make her a witness to my ultimate ditch? Putting a bullet though my brain would certainly end my years of guilt and self-condemnation, but wouldn't I be inflicting the same horrific sentence on her? Wouldn't she blame herself for her inability to save me, just as I accuse myself for not being able to save Samantha? As I contemplate my pathetic dilemma, my finger reflexively tightens on the trigger. I am a despicable, spineless bastard, unworthy of my sister's and Scully's affections. Exhausted and frustrated, I try to aim my gun at my reflection, but my arm doesn't fully cooperate. So while Scully anxiously holds her breath, I discharge my weapon into thin air until I have completely emptied the magazine. After I have fired the last shot, I feel strangely relieved, as though the bullets have slain one of the monsters that has been hiding under my bed since I was twelve years old.

I want to tell Scully I'm sorry for causing her so much grief, but my mouth refuses to obey. Instead, I simply slump forward and lapse into a semi-conscious state. Scully kneels besides me, cradling me in her arms and lightly resting her head on my back. If I didn't have the migraine from hell or wasn't in serious danger of puking my guts out, I would find the gesture downright erotic. I hear a harsh male voice outside barking orders, followed the frantic scuffle of boots inside the house. Suddenly, the room is filled with law enforcement personnel. Scully convinces them that we're okay, but she never shifts position. She gently continues to stroke my neck while murmuring reassuring phrases.

As my level of consciousness fades, I realize there's a warm damp spot on my t-shirt between my shoulder blades. My suspicions are confirmed when I hear a soft sniffle behind me. Shit, Mulder. You've really screwed up this time. I don't think she's ever cried in my presence when I've been sick or injured. Was it really worth it? Have I paid too high a price for a flicker of insight? Or in my reckless attempt to rediscover my past, has Scully once again been the one who ultimately pays for my stupidity? I've brought nothing but sorrow into her life. First her sister's death, and now her cancer. Knowing Scully, she's going to feel responsible in some way for my predicament, and neglect her health while she tirelessly intercedes on my behalf to protect me from the consequences of my impulsive actions.

Weighed down by the albatrosses of my guilt and shame, I seek refuge from my pain. Blissful oblivion beckons, and I eagerly allow the darkness to claim me.

"Fox! Wake up. Fox!"

Samantha's insistent cries awaken me from my restless slumber. Wiping the gooey sleepers from my eyes, I struggle to focus on the face hovering over mine. My sister's brunette tresses brush against my nose, and I fight off an impending sneeze triggered by the ticklish sensation.

"I'm afraid, Fox."

The familiar words evoke a chilling sense of dj vu. Oh, no. Not again. I immediately bolt upright in bed, determined not to let them take her from me. She looks so small and vulnerable clad in her ruffled nightgown. Her delicate pink mouth opens, and I lean forward in rapt anticipation.

"I need your help! Mulder!"

What? Samantha calls me Fox or Buttmunch, never Mulder. Wait a minute, that's not my sister's voice; it's Scully's. In fact, that's what Scully was saying when Duane Barry abducted her from her apartment. She was leaving me a message on my answering machine. I wasn't there to take her call, and I certainly wasn't there to protect her.

While my mind tries to process the incongruity, Samantha's long brown mane is transformed into a neat chin-length copper hairstyle, her nightgown into a utilitarian hospital gown, my sister's features replaced by those of my partner's. The metamorphosis is a painful reminder of my incompetence. Am I destined to have everyone close to me taken away? A burst of light floods the room, temporarily blinding me. When my vision clears, I find I have been transported to a sterile hospital room. I swallow convulsively as I recognize Scully's body attached to every conceivable piece of life-sustaining equipment. Unable to watch the grim death vigil, I wander into the hallway. Instead of the customary nameplate outside the door, a tombstone marks her ICU cubicle: "Dana Katherine Scully, 1964 - 1994, Loving Daughter & Friend..." Noooooooooo! This cannot be happening.

I feel myself being lifted up in the air, and then I'm moved to a narrow table. Have I been abducted, too? Am I about to undergo the same torturous experiments performed on Scully? I tentatively open my eyes, and scan my surroundings. It's a standard nondescript hospital emergency room. Whew! I never thought I'd be this grateful to wake up from a nightmare in an ER. My brief reprieve from the agonizing headache is gone, and I sincerely wish I had blown my brains out earlier. Hands poke and prod at me, but I don't have the energy to object. I'm freezing, but I can't figure out how to ask for a blanket. I guess they'll figure out soon enough that I'm extremely nauseated. Scully. I need Scully. Now.

"Scul..." That didn't sound quite right. Moistening my lips, I try again. "Scul..."

Someone probes a sore spot on the left side of my forehead. "Yeah, I see it. You have a couple of puncture wounds in your skull. We'll get some x-rays and a CT scan in a minute."

Damn it, that's not what I meant. I want my partner. It's as though the wiring between my brain and mouth have been disconnected. I know what I want to say, it just isn't happening. Scully can practically read my mind. Please get her in here to translate for you. She's used to trying to make sense of Mulderspeak.

After being divested of my t-shirt, a feminine voice penetrates through the organized chaos. "Where is this blood coming from? I don't see a wound on his back."

A male voice responds. "That's not his. The paramedic said that's from his partner's nosebleed."

Nosebleed? Fuck. So that's what the wet spot was. I assumed it was from Scully's tears. Mulder, you are such an insensitive asshole. Through no fault of her own, your partner is dying from an inoperable tumor, while you're willing to throw away perfectly good health to recover a lost memory. What in the hell were you thinking? How could you do this to her?

Someone at the foot of the gurney demands my attention. "Mr. Mulder? Can you press your feet against my hands?"

Huh? I have feet? All I can feel is the throbbing pain in my head. With Herculean effort, I strain to comply with his request.

"Great. Can you squeeze my hands?"

If you don't give me some good drugs soon, I'll squeeze your neck.

The man mutters something about right-sided leg weakness to what I presume is a colleague. While they're discussing my condition, another lightshow extravaganza keeps me entertained. Except this time there are no rapid-fire images of that traumatic night, or visual hallucinations of Scully's abduction and subsequent near death experience. No, these are only multi-colored lights flashing in a random sequence. It's rather beautiful, actually. A strange ammonia-like smell exacerbates my rising nausea, and my stomach muscles violently contract in protest. Warm, acrid vomit inches up my esophagus and throat. In my recumbent position, the emesis spews forth with the force of an erupting geyser before splashing back onto my face. As the medical personnel hurriedly turn me onto my side to prevent me from aspirating, my body begins a macabre dance. There is a flurry of activity and orders, and then I remember no more.

Imbued with a primal fear as old as time, I race along the riverbank. I have to find Scully before it's too late. Silt splatters onto my coat as I trudge through the marshes. Although the moonless night provides no illumination for my desperate mission, it affords me some protection. Two torches appear near the river's edge, and I cautiously approach. Pushing the tall reeds aside, I see a hooded form pushing a reluctant Scully toward a barge at the end of the pier. She is shockingly frail. Her cheeks are hollow and her skin is transparent as tissue paper, exacerbating the dark circles under her eyes. The ravages of cancer are patently obvious. Scully's once luxuriant red hair has been reduced to a few indiscriminate clumps, revealing large patches of pale skin on her scalp. Her hospital gown does little to disguise her emaciated frame. Holding onto her IV pole, she glances backward as if searching for me. Stumbling along the walkway, her piteous screams shatter the unearthly quiet of the night.

"I need your help! Mulder!"

That's all the encouragement I need. Adrenaline courses through my veins, and I swoop in to rescue her. Unfortunately, before I reach my destination, I am apprehended. My struggle against my two muscular captors is futile, and they drag me to the pier and force me to kneel before some man of authority.

Setting his oars aside, the imposing boatman frowns at me. "This is no place for you."

Since my arms are still pinned by the overzealous henchmen, I nod toward Scully. "Then give me my partner, and I'll leave."

His answer is firm and resolute. "No, this is her journey."

"Journey? Where are you taking her?"

"She must cross the River Styx and enter the Land of the Dead."

"No!" My mind reels from the implication of his pronouncement, and I fight off my captors with the fury of a demon. "I won't let you take her."

The cloaked man removes his hood, and I stagger backwards as his identity is revealed. With a maniacal laugh, the cigarette-smoking man mocks me. "You couldn't save Samantha. What made you think you could save Scully?" To compound my horror, his hair and flesh melt away. The freshly stripped skull stares at me with its vacant sockets. Blowing a puff of smoke through its empty nasal cavities, the skeletal figure grins a ghastly smile as he points toward Scully. "Mine," he wheezes.

Scully's plaintive wails pierce the night air as the boatman carries her to the barge. "I need your help! Mulder!"

I feel totally powerless as I watch the boat push away from the shore with Scully. Every fiber of my being rails against the injustice of her plight. As the barge disappears into a scant point of light on the horizon, my guards release their hold on me. In the interest of time, I don't bother to remove my trench coat or kick off my shoes. There is only one thought running through my mind like a mantra: I must save Scully. I must save Scully. Diving into the water, I am shocked by the frigid temperature. Searing knife-like pain attacks my body from all directions, and I gasp for breath. My limbs are already becoming numb and useless, but I am determined to persevere. I lift my arm, and begin swimming toward the fading light. The effort is exquisitely exhausting, and my heart feels like it's going to burst out of my chest. Tears stream down my face as the realization dawns that I'm not going to make it in time. With one final splash, I sink into the murky depths.

Disembodied voices and fragments of conversations rouse me from my stupor. Most of it is garbled, but intuitively I understand I'm no longer in the water. I'm not sure how much time passes, but I begin to recognize snippets of hospital jargon. The explosive pain in my head is back with a vengeance. Pain. My head didn't hurt a minute ago. Did I hit it on the pier? That can't be right. I was in the emergency room earlier. I was throwing up and then I passed out. Did I experience another so-called seizure, or was I dreaming? Everything seemed so real. Voices continue to swirl around me as I try to fight my way to consciousness.

"He's shivering..."

"...blanket from the warmer..."

"BP's climbing..."

"...give him another milligram of Labetalol IV..."

"Pulse ox dropping...down to 75%..."

"Prepare to intubate..."

Uh oh. That doesn't sound pleasant. Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore. I must be in yet another operating room. What the hell are they doing to me? Just give me a shot of joy juice and I'll be on my way.

"...coming around..."

You betcha, and I'm going to express my opinion in no uncertain terms. "Uhhhhh..." Okay, that didn't sound very articulate and convincing. Good grief, you'd think an Oxford educated guy could manage more than a primitive vocalization.

A deep baritone voice booms over the din. "Mr. Mulder? Can you hear me? Can you open your eyes?"

Reluctantly, I acquiesce to his request. "Wha ha?"

Holding his gloved hands in front of him, the tall figure to my right leans closer. "What happened?"

Damn, this man is good! I nod imperceptibly.

"You've sustained an injury to your left anterior cerebral artery, which has caused some hemorrhaging into your brain. That's why you're having speech difficulties and the weakness on your right side. We're going to repair the damaged artery and evacuate the clot."

Brain surgery? You've really outdone yourself this time, Mulder.

"Pete, his heart rate is up to 124. Do you want me to go ahead and administer the Versed?"

"Yeah." Although the paper surgical mask covers the lower half of his face, I can tell by the doctor's eyes that he's smiling. "Just relax, Mr. Mulder. Pick a nice dream and go to sleep."

Sleep? Oh, no! I'm not going back there. And I'm not too thrilled about this brain surgery thing either. Don't you guys have medication to dissolve clots? That's weird. I have no problem letting some quack drill a couple of holes in my head, but I object to letting a qualified surgeon fix the damage. Have I reminded myself lately what a total asshole I am? I'm sure Scully would like to remind me after this little exploit. Speaking of which, where is she anyway?

Lifting my head from the table, I try to search for my partner. "Scul..." Shit. Not this routine again. All right. I'll try a different approach. "Scul...ee."

His brow furrowed in concentration, Dr. Smiley Eyes stares at me. "Dr. Scully? You want to know where Dr. Scully is?"

Hallelujah! If I could reach him, I'd plant a huge sloppy kiss on his nose. Maybe I should settle for sending him an FTD bouquet or a canned ham. "Uh huh." Wow, a complete sentence. Sometimes I simply amaze myself.

"She's in the waiting room. She said to tell you she's 'fine' and that you'd know what that means."

Don't be too sure about that, Doc. That could mean "Everything is peachy keen", "I only needed one blood transfusion after that last nose bleed" or "Do you have a copy of my Living Will handy?"

Something cold enters my arm through my IV, and within a few seconds, the nuances of Scully's definitions and my impending brain surgery cease to concern me. The seductive pull of the medication is insurmountable, and I contentedly allow myself to slip into drug-induced slumber.

The last vestiges of autumn adorn the near desolate courtyard. Scattered leaves of red and gold tenuously cling to barren branches. They are but visible reminders of the fragile cycle of our existence. A few short months ago, tiny buds blossomed into vibrant green foliage, an affirmation of life. "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die." A sudden gust of wind plucks a crimson leaf from its delicate mooring, sending the gossamer object on its final journey. I watch the lonely traveler float through the air, carried by invisible eddies and currents, until it gently falls to the ground. Soon its ethereal form will break down into its most basic components, and return to the earth from which it came.

Faint strains of hauntingly beautiful music interrupt my contemplative reverie, and I'm curiously drawn toward the Gothic-style Catholic Church. Once inside the foyer, I furtively glance around. A petite bride clutches a bouquet of lilies while trying to straighten the long train of her gown. Not wanting to intrude on what is obviously a private occasion, I turn to leave before entering the sanctuary. In the process, I accidentally bump into a tuxedo-attired man. I hastily mumble my apologies, but he is not appeased.

"What the hell are you doing here?"

Before I can react, I realize I've just run into Bill Scully. Literally. "Um...I'm sorry..."

His eyes flash with anger. "Yeah, I know you're sorry. You're one sorry son of a bitch."

Well, how can I possibly argue with that logic? I start to walk away when I glimpse a shock of red hair under the bride's heavy lace veil. "Scully?"

I feel a light pressure on my arm as Mrs. Scully tries to steer me toward the massive mahogany doors. "Fox, you need to go."

"I don't understand. Is Scully getting married?"

Grabbing me by my shirt collar, Bill slams me against the wall. "Yes, and it's all your fault!" He storms off, practically dragging Scully down the aisle.

I shake my head in confusion. "I don't understand. Who is she marrying?"

Mrs. Scully's voice falters, and she points to the end of the sanctuary. I peer past the rows of pews decorated with black crepe bows and elegant tapered candles until my gaze alights upon an open coffin atop a pall-draped catafalque. I'm momentarily paralyzed with disbelief when I recognize the cloaked figure from the pier. Removing his cowl, he turns toward me and grins his evil grin as he blows a puff of smoke in Scully's direction. Just before she collapses, he kisses her through her veil. No! I will not allow him to take Scully as his bride! I refuse to let her be wedded to Death!

Before I can protest, a World Wrestling Federation wannabe moonlighting as an usher abruptly shoves me outside with more force than the task requires and I land flat on my ass. So much for all those hours I wasted on that "Buns of Steel" video. Despite his bulky frame, he's surprisingly fast and has both doors locked before I'm back on my feet. I furiously pound on the door and hurl epithets, all to no avail. Scully is going to die, and it's entirely my fault. I keep pummeling the door, vainly hoping the WWF guy will let me back in. In a worst-case scenario, I'll make such a nuisance of myself that he'll come out here and beat me to a bloody pulp. At least I'd be out of my misery. With renewed purpose and vigor, I slam my fists against the heavy door.

Small soft hands restrain mine, and I feel the tension dissipate almost immediately. Sounds of whistling wind and rustling leaves are replaced by electronic beeps and hospital noises. The headache isn't incapacitating anymore, but there's still considerable room for improvement. I almost laugh at my relief to wake up in pain. It's oddly comforting because it helps me distinguish dreams from reality.

Scully coos little encouraging phrases as she brushes her hand across my forehead. "Mulder, it's okay. You're going to be fine."

Uh oh. "Fine" as in "It's a miracle you're going to survive this latest bone-headed stunt reasonably intact", or "fine" as in "Be grateful you're not a vegetable and be happy to sit at home watching those videos that aren't yours while you collect your disability check"?

Although Scully's tone is non-threatening, I'm afraid to look at her. What must she be thinking? She's brilliant, compassionate, beautiful, and embodies all that is good in humanity. I, on the other hand, am but mere pond scum. The lowest form of life on the evolutionary scale. Yet, I'm pond scum that isn't dying of cancer. What kind of karmic justice is this? For reasons I can't fully recall, I let some fruitcake drill holes in my head and shoot my butt full of veterinary drugs. But by some bizarre twist of fate, my life has been spared while Scully's days are numbered. Why am I being rewarded for bad behavior while she is punished for good? I wouldn't blame her one bit if she hated me for the rest of her tragically short life, all because I was willing to strike a bargain with the devil and trade my soul for a few fragments of a buried memory.

With great trepidation, I glance at Scully. Her face is paler and thinner than I remember, and there are dark circles under her eyes. While that's not altogether unusual when she maintains a devoted vigil at my bedside, the sight terrifies me in light of my recent dreams. Do the physical changes indicate her imminent demise? If not, am I going to see death lurking behind every corner and shadow? Shortly after her cancer was diagnosed, Scully scribbled notes to me in a journal, although she didn't intend for me to read them when I did. I'll never forget the words that caused me such anguish, "this last distance must necessarily be traveled alone." I can't come to terms with this aspect of her illness. I understand Scully's need to feel independent and self-sufficient as long as possible, but sometimes it seems she confuses self-reliance with shutting me out. One of my greatest fears is that I will lose her long before she passes from this world. I often wonder if she's blind to how her illness affects other people. We suffer too, albeit it in a different way. When death takes her from me, I shall be lost, adrift without an anchor.

My morose musings have obviously not escaped Scully's exacting scrutiny, and she frowns. "Mulder?"

I weakly paste a smile on my face and summon my courage. I'm determined to project an aura of confidence and health, despite a pounding headache. "Hey." One syllable. That was impressive. My throat is sore and dry, and I try to produce a sufficient amount of saliva to swallow decently. As always, Scully is one step ahead of me. A cup of ice chips magically materializes, and she spoon-feeds me a few slivers of the frozen crystals. I'm practically in ecstasy as the ice melts on my tongue and trickles down my throat. To my profound disappointment, she sets the cup back on the table. My hoarse voice cracks when I ask for more.

She sadly shakes her head. "Let's wait a few minutes to make sure you don't become nauseated. Under the circumstances, they don't want to take the chance that you'll start vomiting."

That was not the answer I wanted to hear. In the time-honored tradition of small children everywhere, I stick my lower lip out in what I hope is a guilt-provoking pout. "Why?" Raspy from disuse, I hope my voice is sufficiently pitiful to merit another spoonful of ice chips, but she doesn't yield.

"Your intracranial pressure has been elevated." Noting my confused expression, she explains. "Elevated intracranial pressure, or ICP, can result from the initial injury or subsequent surgery. Too much fluid in the brain causes it to swell." Pointing to a spot on her forehead, she continues. "They inserted a monitor to keep tabs on your ICP and drain excess fluid through the catheter."

Reflexively, my hand flies toward the corresponding area on my own forehead, but Scully's prompt action thwarts my effort.

"Mulder, don't touch."

Isn't that the story of my life? Always doing stuff I'm not supposed to? The revelation of this intrusive device prompts me to perform a quick inventory of other medical paraphernalia. Hmm, let me see. I'm hooked up to an EEG and an EKG, and have one of those pulse oxyimeter thingies clipped to my left forefinger. I also have a tube in my nose, in my arm, one in my neck, one near my collarbone... Hell, I have them everywhere.

Scully tenderly rubs small circles on the back of my right hand. "How do you feel?"

"Wicked headache...queasy."

She nods as she presses the call button. Yup, Scully's going to get me some good drugs. Normally I'd opt for the stoic route and I'd argue that I don't need the pharmacological intervention, but my masculine bravado must have been excised during the surgery.

Soon afterwards, a tall redheaded nurse arrives with an impressive array of syringes. I warily watch her for any indication of their intended destinations. One by one, she swabs the IV port and injects the various colored fluids into the tubing. I'm not sure whether the drugs kick in immediately or I'm simply grateful that I've been spared a less pleasant mode of administration, but I feel downright euphoric.

After the nurse leaves, Scully continues making those wonderfully hypnotic circles on the back of my hand again. "Better?"

"Yeah." I gesture toward my IV pump. "Looks like she put everything in there but the kitchen sink."

"Just about. You're on antibiotics to stave off an infection, especially considering how the injury occurred, narcotic analgesics, antihypertensive medication to control your blood pressure, a vasodilator to prevent vasospams and any resultant ischemia, antiemetics to keep you from throwing up and thus raising your ICP, anti-anxiety agents and an anti-convulsant."

The last item catches my interest. "Anti-convulsant?" Shit. I can't be a field agent if I have seizures. I've been so preoccupied about how my little adventures to Dr. Goldstein's office were going to affect my relationship with Scully, I allowed that particular detail to drop off my radar screen.

Anticipating my unspoken question, Scully wanly smiles. "Your seizure activity has markedly subsided since you've been here, although you provided some excitement before you made it to surgery. You went into status epilepticus in the ER for about forty minutes. Then after you were loaded up on Dilantin and Valium, you had a breakthrough seizure in the CT room as an encore. Dr. Goldstein nicked the left anterior cerebral artery, causing a hemorrhage into the subarachnoid space. Dr. Parker, your neurosurgeon, repaired the damage to the artery and evacuated the clot. He believes that since you received treatment so quickly, you have a very favorable prognosis."

Favorable as in "I'll be able to go back to go back to work and pretend this sordid escapade never happened", "I get permanently reassigned within the Bureau and rot in wiretap purgatory", or "Chronic stupidity is not considered a work-related disability and we're tired of dealing with your shit, so good luck in your new career as a phone sex operator"? Deciding I need to hang onto some illusion of hope, I change the subject somewhat.

"Scully...how long have I been here?"

"Three days. In order to bring your intracranial pressure down, they hyperventilated you while you were on the respirator. To minimize the stress to your system, they kept you in a drug-induced coma until they extubated you early this morning."

I shudder at the thought of having that thing shoved down my throat for three days. No wonder my voice is so gravelly.

Careful not to dislodge the pulse oxyimeter clip, I lightly rest my left hand on hers and I gaze into her deep blue eyes. The medication flowing through my veins has taken hold, and I can't stay awake much longer. But I refuse succumb to the arms of Morpheus until I have obtained some measure of absolution. Without forgiveness, there can be no peace. Ironically, most people consider me to be extremely articulate, but words fail me at moments like this. How can I possibly convey the depth of my pain and anguish within the span of a few inadequate syllables, or tell the focal point of my existence how deeply I regret my selfish actions?

Scully's faint sniffle interrupts my ruminations, and a lump forms in my throat. Oh, God. Not another nosebleed. I hesitantly turn my heavily bandaged head and mutely stare at my partner. Miraculously, there are no bright red droplets of blood marring her face, only pure unabashed tears streaming down her cheeks. With a special dazzling smile she reserves only for me, Scully kisses my hand before gently resting her head on my chest. "It's okay, Mulder. We're going to get through this...together."

Her warm tears continue to spill onto my chest, and her tiny body shakes while she sobs. Repositioning my left hand, I cradle her head and run my fingers through her hair. The moment is extraordinarily bittersweet as we comfort each other. There is so much I want to say, and yet I believe our unspoken form of communication often surpasses mere words, as if our souls have been inextricably intertwined since the dawn of eternity. Cleansed by her tears, I fall into a tranquil slumber.

For the first time in recent days, I have not awakened in a confused panic. No demons from my past or ghostly specters of future doom invaded my halcyon dreams. Pastoral scenes of lush green meadows and quiet streams have revived my weary spirit. Surely a deep healing sleep is as effective as any drug. Not to disparage the pharmaceutical industry, but the best medicine for me comes in the form of the redheaded woman dozing in the recliner beside my bed. I feel guilty taking such pleasure in watching her sleep. Careful not to disturb any of the numerous wires and tubes, I turn slightly sideways to gain a better view. Her waxen complexion and gaunt features concern me, even though she insists she's fine. Yes, the physical characteristics could easily be attributed to stress and exhaustion, but I fear they are precursors of her impending demise. I have to find a way to save her.

On a rational level, I recognize the absurdity of the concept. After all, I don't exactly possess an exemplary reputation for protecting people. Hell, I can't even manage to hang onto my gun in a crisis situation half the time. But ever since I lost Samantha, I've developed this weird Messianic complex. I couldn't save my sister; therefore I must save everyone else. Like Scully. It's my fault she has cancer, consequently it is my responsibility to find a cure. It's simple conditional logic. If this, then that.

It's funny in a way. Scully has covered my back and gotten me out of more jams than I care to count. I mean, who is really protecting whom here? She's fierce, tenacious, intelligent... I could go on and on. This past week is a prime example. I did something incredibly stupid, and Scully bailed me out, took charge of my medical care and squared everything with Skinner and the Bureau. All I have to do is get better so I can go home. I guess it's pretty arrogant at this point to presume she needs a protector. But it's only a matter of time before her body will cruelly betray her, a reality neither one of us wants to consider right now.

I need to make everything right with her. Maybe Scully has forgiven me for letting some charlatan crack my head open, but I'm not that charitable. I foolishly jeopardized my health for the sake of retrieving a memory, a memory I'm not even sure is real. Not only could I have lost my life, I could have lost Scully. If I had died, would she have spit on my grave for so glibly discounting the value of my life while she desperately seeks for a way to preserve hers? What would I really have gained if I rediscovered the secrets of my past, but sacrificed a future with Scully? "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"

Then again, I wonder if my willingness to compromise my beliefs was not inherently evil in and of itself. Perhaps it was merely my desire to satisfy a selfish motive by reclaiming my past. Is it possible there is a gray area when one strikes sinister deals for altruistic reasons? Are there certain metaphysical dispensations?

Scully and I frequently quibble about matters of science and faith. She assumes because I don't believe as she does that I'm ignorant of Catholic dogma, but she's mistaken. Over the years, I've studied a number of religious texts as I've searched for answers to life's mysteries. Admittedly, I've only approached these studies from an intellectual perspective and not a spiritual one, but certain phrases have been forever etched into my eidetic memory. This evening, a particular verse has replayed over and over in my mind: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." As partners, we're supposed to watch each other's backs, and I would gladly lay down my life for hers. If an opportunity fell into my lap that would provide a cure for Scully, and thus spare her from the debilitating effects of the incurable cancer that has invaded her body, I would gladly dance with the devil and sell my soul a thousand times over. Dare I hope for such a chance? I've always believed in extreme possibilities.


_Quotes from X-Files Episodes:_
"Demons," written by R.W. Goodwin
"Duane Barry," written by Chris Carter
"One Breath," written by Glen Morgan and James Wong "Memento Mori," written by Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz, John Shiban and Vince Gilligan "Redux II," written by Chris Carter

_Other Quotes:_
*The Holy Bible: King James Version,* Ecclesiastes 3:1-2, Mark 8:36 and John 15:13

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