TITLE: Bitter Harvest
AUTHOR: Michelle Kiefer
E-MAIL ADDRESS: MSK1024@AOL.COM
DISTRIBUTION: Archive if you like, just tell me where.
DISCLAIMER: Mulder and Scully belong to 1013,
Chris Carter, and to the X-Files.
SPOILER WARNING: none.
CLASSIFICATION: Casefile, MSR
SUMMARY: Mulder and Scully investigate the heart related
deaths of seven young people in a small town. Will Mulder
get too close to the truth?
COMMENTS: Written for the IMadeThisProductions VS9 season.
Please visit my other stories at:
Maintained by the wonderful Jennifer.
Author’s notes at the end.
August 20, 2000
Dental office of Dr. George Taft
It is so important to give thanks at a time like
this. Truly, he thinks, it is integral to the process.
George Taft rests his hand on the young man’s head and
offers up his silent gratitude to whatever makes this
possible. He regards the sleeping man before him.
“Thank you, Phillip, for the blessed sacrifice you will
be making,” he whispers through blue-tinged lips.
So weary these last few days, it has taken every bit
of strength just to put one foot in front of the other.
He can hear the wheeze in his chest from the fluid that
fills his lungs. He must hold onto the chair’s armrest,
just to stay upright. Just a few more minutes, he
thinks. Just hold on.
Timing is everything: a little longer and he wouldn’t
have the energy to do what he must. Too soon and he
would deprive the donor of whatever joys he might
experience in his last few days of life. He hopes
Phillip, while unaware of his upcoming sacrifice,
lived his last days to the fullest.
The man sleeps, so peacefully, oblivious to the
significance of the moment. His wavy brown hair
spilling over the headrest, Phillip’s strong young
body is stretched out along the light blue naugahyde
of the examination chair. A lovely harvest.
Vivaldi fills the air, an important part of the ritual:
The Four Seasons. “Winter,” is the perfect accompaniment
for the preparations–the restful, yet expectant strains
enabling the subject to accept George’s quiet suggestions.
“Peaceful, Phillip, be at peace. Float away on a cloud
of sighs. Rest your spirit, Phillip, soft, sweet,
gentle, no resistance. Sleep now, sleep, glide along
on angel’s whispers.”
“Winter” ends and for a moment, there is only pure white
silence. No sound of movement from the outer office,
the staff gone. Taft waits, waits, waits for the
perfect moment for completion of the ritual. There,
ah yes, there it is, he thinks, as the first triumphant
notes of “Spring” sound in the air. The swell of the
music causes Taft’s weary heart to beat a little faster
“Spring,” the rebirth of life after the stasis of winter.
And now, the rebirth of George Taft. Taft’s fingers tremble
a little as he unbuttons Phillip’s shirt. The man sleeps
on, innocent as the angels, as the shirt is drawn open.
He is still so young; his chest is nearly as hairless as
Can’t think about the loss, Taft admonishes himself. Not
if the sacrifice is to have any meaning at all. Some must
die so others can live; this is the way things have been
for thousands and thousands of years. Phillip’s sacrifice
will not be in vain. No, George Taft wouldn’t let that
He can almost hear his mama’s voice. “You must rest and
get well, Georgie. You have gifts the world needs.” He
would lie, bundled up against the winter chill and watch
the other boys play in the street. “Take your medicine,
Georgie, and so you can get well enough go back to school.”
He knows now what he needs to do.
Taft unsnaps his white jacket, pausing a moment to catch
his breath. He has almost left this too long, past the
point of exhaustion. Taft’s breathing rattles, his chest
heaving. It is time.
Placing his left hand on the baby skin of Phillip’s chest,
Taft presses his right hand over his own aching heart. His
bulbous, blue-tipped nails stand out against Phillip’s pink
skin. His hands are on fire, almost burning the skin of his
own chest. The smell of singed hair fills the room.
Taft smiles, watching his fingertips become pale and then
pink. Yes, it is ordained. So it has been and will always
be, George Taft will live; he will live. His joy is only
slightly tinged with sadness as he looks on the sleeping
man. “Thank you, Phillip,” he whispers.
* * *
January 15, 2002
Hoover Building – basement office
She reminds him of a schoolgirl bent over her books. Her
hair is tucked behind her ears, her face a study in pure
concentration. She’s caught her lower lip between perfect,
white teeth, and he feels very adult emotions begin to
stir. Maybe she doesn’t remind him of a schoolgirl after
“Hey Scully, I’m starved. Why don’t we grab some lunch?”
“Hmmm.” Still bent over her reading, she raises one hand
in both greeting and a request for his patience. “Not
right now, Mulder. I’m busy.”
“Come on, Scully. Breakfast was hours ago.” He mustn’t
let her see how pleased he is to find her totally absorbed
in the medical records he asked her to review. Still, he
can’t resist a little prodding. “Interesting stuff?”
“Fascinating. Seven young adults, undiagnosed with any
congenital heart defects or other health problems, all from
the same small town and all dying of congestive heart failure.”
“I sense a ‘but’ coming,” he says as he hitches a hip onto
the desk. “Go ahead. You know you want to.”
“Okay, since you mentioned it.” She crosses her arms
and smiles up at him. “‘But’, Mulder, where is the X-File?”
“You don’t think it’s odd that all seven people died
within the last twelve years?”
“It is certainly anomalous, especially considering the
small population of the town. But while this is
interesting on a medical level, I don’t see anything in
these records that would indicate a supernatural cause.”
She levels a shrewd look in his direction. “What
haven’t you told me?”
She’s on to him. He smiles to think that she knows him
so well. It’s somehow comforting to know that someone
has him figured out.
“Scully, it sounds like you don’t trust me.” His
defensive tone is offset by a smile he can’t keep out
of his eyes.
“I believe I’ve only heard the first shoe drop,” she
says, poking his thigh. “Come on, spill.”
“Okay. The second to the last victim,” he says, sorting
through the files until he finds the right one. He
opened the file and began to read. “‘James Forrester,
age 25. Died March 11, 1999.’ There was something that
didn’t make it into the official report.”
“Why am I not surprised?” Her tone is ironic, but he
“Before he died of heart failure, James spoke with his
sister, Rachel Walker. He told her that someone had
stolen his heart and left him with one that was
“The autopsy notes make no mention of scars on
Forrester that would indicate he’d ever had surgery. He
became very ill as his organs shut down and was probably
hallucinating. It isn’t uncommon, and the hallucinations
can be very intense. How did you find out about this
“Rachel Walker has been trying for years to get someone
to investigate what happened to her brother.”
“And she finally hit paydirt,” she says with a flourish
in his direction. “Mulder, I’m sure Ms. Walker is
grieving for her brother and would like this to be
somebody’s fault. It’s not unusual for a relative to
need to place blame when a loved one dies.”
“All right. What else could have caused so many young
people in that community to die of heart failure?”
“There are a number of things that can cause
damage in young hearts. Coxsackievirus can destroy
heart tissue as well as several other viruses. Chronic
bacterial infections can lead to coronary problems,
not to mention cocaine use. Non-surgical organ hijack
doesn’t even make the list.”
“The last victim, Phillip Hajus, had a full physical exam
three days before he became ill. No heart problems were
detected even though he had an EKG. Scully, something
more than a virus happened here, and I think we need to
“When do we leave?” she asks, stacking the files.
“What?” This is far too easy. “Just like that–when
do we leave?”
“Yes, when do we leave for…” She opens the file on
the top of her stack. “Elmwood, Ohio?”
“Well, as a matter of fact, we have a flight at 5:25
tonight. Hey, didn’t we miss a step here? Aren’t you
going to say something like…?”
“Like Mulder, this should be investigated by the local
health department? Or Mulder, there is a logical
explanation for these deaths?”
“Yeah, something like that. You’re throwing off my
balance here. Probably interfering with the planetary
“Don’t worry. You’ll get your sea legs soon enough.”
She rises, straightens her suit and sauntering through
the door, tosses him a smile. “Well, are you coming?
I thought you were hungry.”
* * *
January 16, 2002
Office of Dr. Mark Kirkland
“This is definitely not the Redbook my mother read.”
Mulder flips the pages on the glossy magazine. “There
must be four articles on sex in this issue alone.
You should read this one, Scully–‘Seven Sex Secrets
That Will Curl Your Man’s Toes’.”
“I haven’t heard any complaints.” She settles a stern
look on him before finding herself smiling. Masking the
sound of tearing paper with a series of loud coughs,
Mulder rips the the pages out and stuffs them into his
“Future reference,” he assures her.
Fidgeting in her chair, she checks her watch. Dr.
Kirkland had agreed to speak with them this morning,
fitting them in between the flu shots and checkups.
They’d been waiting for three quarters of an hour, and
her backside was growing numb.
From deep in the inner offices, a child’s sudden cry
shatters the quiet of the room. Several waiting patients
glance up at the door leading into the exam rooms. A
young boy, who had been pushing a small car across the
carpet, climbs onto his mother’s lap with a whimper.
The wailing becomes louder as the door opens, and a
red-faced toddler is carried screaming through the office.
“The doctor can meet with you now.” The receptionist has
a voice that could crack glass. Her sour expression
reminds Scully of a nun she’d had as a teacher in high
school. The woman shoots Mulder a withering look as they
pass the desk, probably having noticed his magazine maneuver.
Yes, Sister Mary Constipation in the flesh.
Dr. Kirkland comes to greet them in the hall, ushering
them into his office. He is younger than Scully thought
he would be, no older than mid-thirties. He shakes each
of their hands as they introduce themselves. He seems
to hold Scully’s hand a beat too long.
“Dr. Kirkland, two young men were patients of yours when
they died of congestive heart failure, James Forrester
and Phillip Hajus.” Mulder begins his questions before
Dr. Kirkland has even released her hand, his voice
projecting calm confidence. Somehow this pleases her.
“Yes, they were my patients. Tragic, both of them so
“And neither had any history of heart problems?”
“Neither. I’d seen Phillip Hajus just days before he
become ill. He was going off to Ohio State for his
freshman year and had a very thorough checkup. After he
died, I thought that perhaps I’d overlooked something, a
virus or infection. But all the bloodwork came back fine,
and his EKG was normal.”
“Dr. Kirkland, there were five similar deaths in this
area prior to James and Phillip.” Mulder draws a folded
sheet of paper out of his breast pocket and hands it to
Kirkland. “Are any of these names familiar to you?”
“I took this practice over in 1998. These people may
have been patients of my predecessor, Dr. McNamara.
We might have their records in the basement.”
* * *
January 16, 2001
“Mulder, nothing adds up here.” She pushes back from
the table in frustration. “No history of heart disease
in any of the families. All seven of these patients
were remarkably healthy according to their records.”
He probably should tell her that she has a smudge of dust
on her nose. He won’t, though, not right away. It isn’t
often that he gets to see a less than perfectly put
They’ve spent the morning in the dusty basement of
Kirkland’s office, having persuaded the doctor to allow
them access to the medical records for the deceased
“I’ve been working out a timeline,” he says. They
hunch together at the tiny folding table, heads bent
over Mulder’s legal pad. “David Kissel died March 10,
1990. Maryanne Polasky died July 21, 1992. Frank
Sherwood, October 24, 1994. Cathleen McCarthy died
November 13, 1996. William Desrosier, May 28, 1998.
James Forrester on March 11, 1999, and finally, Phillip
Hajus dead on August 20, 2000. The length of time between
each death decreases over the years. There are over two
years between Kissel and Polasky, and then progressively
less time between each death. Whoever or whatever is
doing this, needs to do it more often.”
“Mulder, these records don’t indicate that anyone is
‘doing’ anything. I’ll admit there is a puzzle here,
but I’d guess it has to do with some sort of undetected
virus or bacteria.”
“Whatever this is, the timing is right for it to happen again,
“The timing on these deaths could very well be completely
random. If you look hard enough, you’ll find patterns
“Scully, something happened to James Forrester. He
felt his heart being removed and replaced by another.
I want to speak with his sister.”
She regards him for a moment, and he wonders what she’s
thinking. “Okay, but you have to feed me first; I’m starved.”
He checks his watch, shocked to see that it is already
after 2:00 pm. Lunch sounds pretty good. He leans
toward her, pulling his handkerchief out of his pocket.
“Deal. Hey, Scully. C’mere. You have a smudge on
* * *
January 16, 2002
Rachel Walker residence
“I know what you’re thinking. I thought Jimmy was
delusional too, at first. I know sick people hallucinate,
and Jimmy was so very sick at the end.”
Rachel Walker’s steady brown eyes gaze at them across her
scrubbed pine table. The woman sitting before them
is spare and tall, as serious as a college textbook.
They sit in her tidy kitchen, the air scented with pine
cleaner and ripe bananas.
“But you came to believe what your brother told you.”
“Yes. Jimmy was in and out of consciousness for days,
but he always came back to this. With each day, he
became more positive. Someone had lulled him to sleep
and removed his heart. He was so sure, so unwavering.
He wanted me to write it down.”
“Did you?” Mulder’s voice has a little edge of
excitement. That edge always worries her.
Rachel Walker nods, solemnly, the gleam of tears in her
eyes. She rises and walks into the living room. From her
vantage point at the table, Scully watches her retrieve a
notebook from the desk. Rachel holds the notebook against
her chest for a moment, her head turned away from the
visitors, before returning to the kitchen.
Placing the notebook on the table with reverence, she
carefully flips through pages until she comes to the
right place. She emits a tiny gasp at what she sees there.
March 10, 1999 is scrawled across the top of the page.
“This was written the day before James died. He’d been
sleeping more and more, having a lot of trouble breathing,
but that day, his eyes were clear, and he seemed really
‘there.’ It took him a long time to tell his story. He
had to keep stopping because he was so out of breath.”
She wipes a tear away, overcome with the memory.
“This is what Jimmy told me: ‘I felt myself falling
asleep. A soft voice was telling me to let go, to drift
off. I could hear music playing, something familiar, but
I couldn’t place it. Even the music was telling me to let
go, and I felt myself shut off. A hand was on my bare
chest, but I don’t remember how my shirt came off. Soon
the hand felt really warm, then hot. I felt my heart being
pulled out of me. It didn’t hurt, but for a couple of
seconds, my chest felt empty, and then it felt like another
heart was dropped into me. For some reason, I knew this
wasn’t my own heart.'”
“Rachel, is that all James said?” Mulder’s voice is
low, persuasive. “Was there something you didn’t write
“Jimmy told me he knew who took his heart. I didn’t believe
him at the time. I still can’t believe it.”
“Who was it, Rachel? I think Jimmy would want you to tell
“He said…he said he opened his eyes at the end and saw
Dr. Taft. I didn’t believe him. Dr. Taft has been our
dentist for years. I thought Jimmy was confused because
he’d been to Dr. Taft right before he got sick. I thought
he’d gotten mixed up. But after a while, I just couldn’t
go to Dr. Taft anymore. He didn’t act odd or anything,
but he just started to give me the creeps.”
* * *
January 16, 2002
“Mulder, could you hand me the file on Maryanne Polasky?”
Scully reaches out to take the folder out of his hand.
The eleven o’clock news drones on in the background: small
town stories that seem dull to big city dwellers.
She’s stretched out on the bed, in pajamas that are
little more than tap pants and a camisole, the deep blue
fabric contrasting with her pale skin. She seems totally
unaware of her effect on him, and he wonders if that is a
careful illusion. He forces his eyes back to the open
folder before him on the motel room table. He’s going
to find it difficult to sleep tonight.
“I think we need to talk to this Dr. Taft tomorrow,” he says.
After speaking with Rachel Walker, they’d spent the rest
of the afternoon and most of the evening interviewing
Phillip Hajus’ parents and the Polasky and Desrosier
“Mulder, we have no evidence that he’s caused any of
these deaths.” She rolls onto her stomach and writes
some notes in the file folder. The panties’ soft
cotton clings to the gentle swell of her bottom, and
his mouth gets a little dry.
“Hajus, Polasky, and Desrosier all saw Taft just days
before they became ill. I’m betting that the other
victims were his patients, too.”
“Mulder, this is a small town with one dentist.
According to Rachel Walker, Taft is an outstanding
practitioner, gentle and good with fearful patients.
I wouldn’t be surprised to find that all seven people
saw him. I’ll admit the timing is a little suspicious,
but I’m still thinking more in terms of accidental
transmittal of bacteria.”
“So, we call in the morning and make an appointment.
I could probably do with a cleaning,” he says,
watching as she pushes herself off the bed. Damn,
that camisole is snug. She moves to stand between
his legs, her hands bracketing his face as she leans
in to kiss him.
“I think your teeth are pretty clean,” she says,
pulling back. “It’s getting late. See you in the
She gathers up some of the files and walks barefoot
through the connecting door and into her room.
Oh yeah, sleep will be elusive tonight.
* * *
January 17, 2002
Dental office of George Taft
“Dr. Taft, your next appointment is here.” Betsy’s
somewhat shrill voice cuts through the intercom. Ah
yes, his next appointment. He’d felt a prickle of
worry when the federal agents had called earlier to
make an appointment.
Taft tries to catch his breath. Losing his composure
would be a terrible error in judgment. “Send
them to my office, Betsy.”
The two people who introduce themselves as Special
Agents Mulder and Scully seem younger and better looking
than Taft would have expected. The woman is truly lovely,
with dewy skin and bright blue eyes. She offers a small,
fine hand for him to shake. Glancing down, she seems far
too interested in his blue tinged fingers.
The man is tall and intense. Taft feels the nervous
vitality of the man, his handshake firm and almost
testing. There is an inquisitive quality to the man’s
eyes that worries Taft.
“Dr. Taft, we’re looking into the deaths of several
young people who were patients of yours. I believe all
the people on this list were part of your practice.”
Agent Mulder hands him a slip of paper with a list of
“Yes, some of these names go back a number of years,
but I think they were all mine.” No point in hedging
on something so easily traced. Calm yourself, he
admonishes, these people can’t prove anything. “Do
you think their deaths were somehow related to me?”
“We’re looking into a number of possibilities,” the
woman says. Her voice is cool, like clear water
running over stones in a mountain brook. “I’d like
to take a look at your autoclave, Dr. Taft, and look
at the records for these patients.”
“Certainly. I assure you that I’ve invested in the
best equipment. I know our small town might seem a bit
provincial to you, but we don’t stint on health issues
“Dr. Taft, the family members we’ve spoken with have
nothing but praise for you. I understand that these
young people were in for dental care days before they
The man unnerves him, as if he knows many secrets.
Taft tries to will his heart to stop pounding, and feels
himself grow a bit faint. Please God, don’t let me pass
out, he prays.
“I’m afraid I don’t remember details, but I believe all
of these people were healthy when they left my presence.”
“Thank you for your time, Doctor,” the man says,
slipping the list of names back into his pocket. “Oh,
one more question. Do you always work with an assistant?”
“I fail to see the relevance of that.” The man’s eyes
seem to narrow just a bit. “Yes, usually I do have an
“Well, there have been occasions when my assistant
needed to leave before my last appointment, but that’s
quite rare.” He doesn’t like that question at all, and
is relieved when the two agents finally seem satisfied
and leave. Closing his office door after them, Taft
listens to their voices as they speak to his assistant.
He lowers himself onto his desk chair, his chest heaving
with exertion. He needs to act soon, he thinks, or it
will be too late. Donor selection is so important, though,
and he hasn’t found the right person. Taft fights
panic at the thought that he might not have the
strength to keep searching.
He’d thought he had a good candidate last week.
Unfortunately, he’d found the man took care of his
aging mother. Taft couldn’t bear to cause hardship to
the man’s family. It was so important to find someone
with no dependents. The magic might not work
if he is selfish and chooses a donor carelessly.
The visit by the federal agents worries him. He has
been in this small town too long. Taft feels a deep
sadness at the thought of leaving. He’s grown fond
of his patients and employees.
His life has been by necessity a lonely one. From a
childhood spent with his nose pressed against the window,
he’s grown used to the solitary life, having to forego
so many things: wife, children, friends. His
work has been the one true joy in his life. He must
find a donor soon and move on to another town.
* * *
January 17, 2002
Bob’s Elmwood Grill
“Why the hell didn’t you get an order of French fries? We
both know you’re going to steal mine.” He already detects
the covetous gleam in her eye.
“They taste better from someone else’s plate. It’s a
proven scientific fact.” To make her point, she lifts
one golden spear and brings it to her mouth. He watches
as coral lips part, and perfect white teeth sink into
“So, Ms. Scientific Fact, what did you make of old Dr.
Taft?” he asks, taking a large bite of his cheeseburger.
“His equipment was state of the art, just as he said,
Mulder. We’ll just have to see if the samples I took
“Medical science isn’t going to explain this one.
There’s something else here. I’m sure of it. James
Forrester was adamant in his belief that Taft had taken
“I checked the records for James Forrester’s appointment.
He had nitrous oxide during his treatment. Hallucinations are
not unheard of from nitrous. What Rachel Walker wrote down
is nothing more than her dying brother’s confused and drugged
“Did you notice the time of James’ appointment?” he asks,
forcing his voice to remain low.
“I believe it was 4:45,” she says in a tone that shows
she knows exactly where he is going with this conversation.
She stabs a piece of lettuce in her grilled chicken salad
with a bit more force than seems necessary.
“And Taft admitted that he’s been alone for his last
afternoon appointment on occasion. He’s hiding something,
“Well, I’ll admit, there was something strange about him.
He seems to be in poor health. His fingernails were blue
and rather clubbed, and he seemed to be struggling for
“And that sounds like…”
“All right, that sounds like heart disease. And lung
cancer. And about a dozen other conditions that affect
pulmonary function. In other words, it proves nothing.”
Her eyes are riveted to his last French fry, and he raises
his hands in surrender. Smiling, she snatches it up.
“I’m going to take my samples up to the Cincinnati office.
Do you want to come?”
“No, I have a few things to check out around here.”
* * *
January 17, 2002
Dental Office of George Taft
This has always been his favorite time of the day. The
last rays of January sun slant through the blinds, and
the office is silent. George Taft straightens up the
examining room, moving slowly and breathing hard. Tears
burn in his eyes, blurring the instruments before him.
By rights, he should leave these small tasks to his
assistant. He enjoys the day’s final details, though, too
much to hand them off. He isn’t sure if he can bear to
leave a life he loves so much. He braces himself against
the counter, the feeling of loss weighing heavily on his
heart. His heart. One could almost laugh.
“Dr. Taft?” A man’s voice echoes from the outer office.
He feels the surge of fear as the voice calls out again,
this time a little closer. He recognizes the voice now,
that of the male federal agent.
“I’m back here,” he calls out, stifling a cough.
“Your office door was open. I was hoping to catch you
before you left for the evening, Doctor. I have a few
There are moments in life when the direction one needs
to take is illuminated with perfect clarity. It occurs
to George Taft that this is one such moment, the answers
to all the questions laid out before him like his
instruments shining in the waning sunlight.
“I’m not sure what more I can tell you,” Taft says,
cautiously. The tiniest of smiles comes to his blue lips.
Agent Mulder studies the dental care poster on the wall
with a bit more interest than it requires.
“Before his untimely death, James Forrester talked about
his last visit to you. He said he had a strange
“That was so long ago. I don’t remember anything out of
the ordinary at all.” Taft is pleased to note the vitality
of the man before him. Such a strong and healthy man,
perfect for the harvest.
“Tell me Doctor, do you often play music during your
appointments?” Agent Mulder’s bright, inquisitive
eyes lock on Taft.
“Yes, actually, I find classical music relaxes the
patient as well as myself.” Taft switches on the audio
system, the strains of soft classical music filling the
air. Magical music, the rhythmic pulsing of wintry ice
“You love your work, don’t you?” the agent asks.
Taft smiles, excitement beginning to fill him. “Oh yes,
I consider myself very fortunate. I find a great deal of
satisfaction in what I do. I don’t think there is anything
as important as that, do you?”
“No, I guess there isn’t anything more important. I
imagine you would do anything in your power to keep on
with your work.”
“I suppose I would. My biggest regret is that I never
had a son to carry on with my practice. Do you have
a family, Agent Mulder?” Taft watches as the merest
hint of emotion flickers over the man’s face. Taft can
sense a deep sadness in Agent Mulder. It brings him a kind
of quiet joy to know he can end that sorrow. Ah, yes,
he has found the perfect donor. End this man’s pain
and extend his own life. Fate has truly smiled today.
“Is that how you choose them, Doctor?” Agent Mulder asks.
“You look for victims that have no dependents?”
Poor man, Taft can already see the slight glazing of the
eyes that signals the music is working. “I’m sure I have
no idea what you are talking about.”
“Oh, I think you’re quite aware. Is the music part of
it, too? James Forrester remembered music.” The agent
is speaking slower now, a very good sign.
“Isn’t it wonderful music? So restful, so peaceful.
It’s Vivaldi, you know. ‘L’Inverno’: ‘the Winter.’
Doesn’t this passage capture the essence of the earth,
asleep under a blanket of soft snow? Agent Mulder, you
seem tired. Why don’t you sit down?”
“You take whatever you need, don’t you? Those young
lives were sacrificed so you can keep on living.”
He’s struggling, swaying on his feet, eyes beginning
to close. “You’re nothing more than a thief. Why is
your life more valuable than theirs?”
“You’re so tired. I know you don’t mean those harsh
words. You just need to relax, to let go. Angel’s
wings will carry you, Agent Mulder, soft, soft, up
into the clouds. So peaceful, so gentle, rest now,
dear one, and let all the pain drift away.”
Agent Mulder’s knees start to buckle, his hands
reaching out to steady himself on the chair’s armrest.
It is easy now for Taft to guide the agent into the
examining chair. A wonderful subject, on all accounts.
“No more pain, dear heart. No more sadness for you.
Feel the warmth of sweet baby’s whispers as they cradle
you and surround you. Gentle, soft, peaceful. So tired
now, sleep sweet man.”
James had been a poor choice after all, resistant to the
music, to the words. He’d struggled against them, never
really succumbing to the magic. It was too late,
unfortunately, to find another donor at that point. Taft
had completed the transfer with his subject hovering near
But this one is different. Agent Mulder doesn’t stir
when Taft spreads his overcoat lapels wide, followed
by his suit jacket. The agent slumbers on as Taft loosens
his tie and unbuttons his shirt. “Winter” draws to a
close, as it always does. Taft waits, his excitement
barely contained for “Spring” to rise up like glorious
dawn from the silence.
It is time. Taft unsnaps his white coat and prepares
his mind for the transfer. Thanks, of course, thanks
must be offered. He is grateful to fate and the FBI
for sending the perfect donor to his door. He gives
silent thanks to Agent Mulder for his most beautiful
Hands in place, Taft feels the familiar warmth seeping
into his skin. He welcomes the burning, the fire of
purification and renewal. He watches with quiet joy as
his fingernails become pink as a baby’s again.
Agent Mulder sleeps as a child does, his features peaceful
and unaware. Taft looks upon his face with tenderness and
brushes back a lock of the man’s hair. “Thank you, my
friend, more than words can say, for your selfless
Taft feels strength returning and draws sweet air into
his lungs. He would love to savor this glorious moment,
but time is the enemy now. There are important tasks
to carry out. He leans close to Agent Mulder and
whispers into the man’s ear.
“Open your eyes, dear heart.” Taft smiles as the man
complies, hazel eyes only half open. “In a moment,
you will rise from this chair. Your only thought will
be that you need to sleep. You must rest, nothing else
matters. The need to stretch out on your bed will
supplant all other needs. You will go to your room for
a lovely sleep, and when you wake, it will be as
if we never spoke. You won’t remember coming here.”
* * *
January 17, 2002
“Mulder?” she calls out, pushing open her motel room
door. He hadn’t answered when she’d knocked at his door,
and now she feels the first prickles of worry.
She’d been detained in Cincinnati, waiting for hours
while a short-staffed lab tested her samples. Worry
wars with annoyance as she looks down at the lab
results before her. Nothing. There was nothing at
all out of the ordinary on any of the swabs or samples
she had taken from Taft’s office.
She’d tried Mulder several times on her cell phone,
wanting to let him know she was delayed. Now it is
long past dinnertime, and she hopes he hadn’t waited
for her. It’s just like him to get involved in the case and
forget to eat.
The doors connecting the two rooms are ajar, and
Scully wonders if the maid left them that way.
She pushes the door open and peeks inside. Mulder’s
room is dark, and there seems to be a slightly
darker shape on the bed.
“Mulder?” She flips the wall switch, bathing the room
in light. Mulder lays, sprawled over the bed, still
wearing his overcoat and shoes. She feels a twist
in the pit of her stomach at the sight.
“Mulder?” She shakes his shoulder, relieved when he
begins to stir. “What happened? Do you feel sick?”
“Go ‘way. Le’ me alone,” he mumbles into the bedspread.
She rests a hand on his forehead, then moves it to his
neck, trying to decide if he feels feverish. His skin
is warm, but bundled in his coat, his temperature would
She needs to check him out, alarms sounding in her head.
This can’t be okay. She’s learned to listen to those
alarms. She rolls him onto his back, noting the pallor
of his skin. He should be flushed from overheating.
“Scully, what the hell are you doing?” he sputters as
he looks around the room. “What happened?”
“You were dead to the world, still wearing your coat.
It looks like you walked in and collapsed. Let’s get
that coat off.” She helps him shrug out of the coat,
and suit jacket. He sits forward, holding his head in
“What time is it?” he asks, voice muffled.
“It’s after eight, Mulder. Where were you all
afternoon? I tried to call, but your phone was off.”
“I…I don’t remember. You and I had lunch.
Everything after that is just blank.”
“Mulder, that was six hours ago.”
“God, I feel tired. I must be getting the flu,
Scully. I can’t remember anything but wanting to lie
down and sleep.”
“You don’t seem to have a fever,” she says, feeling
his face again, her touch almost a caress. “Do you
“No, just exhausted. I’m going to go to bed.” He pushes
himself off the bed and loosens his tie. He wavers as he
unbuttons his shirt, reaching for the desk to steady
himself. “I’ll be all right in the morning.”
* * *
January 18, 2002
He wakes to the rustling of sheets and the feeling of
movement next to him. Turning his head, he sees Scully,
propped on one elbow, her face pink from sleep, hair a
tousled copper cloud. She is his favorite early morning
sight, one he usually doesn’t see on weekdays.
“How are you feeling this morning?” she asks, scooting up
in bed to sit against the headboard.
He remembers now, waking here last night, still wrapped
in his coat, disoriented, and missing hours of time.
Scully had been worried enough to spend the night in
He doesn’t speak immediately, unsure of his answer. He
is more unnerved by the void in his memory than he wants
to admit. Swinging his legs over the side of the bed,
he feels a wave of dizziness. As if beyond his
control, his hand flies up to his swimming head.
“Mulder?” Her hand goes to his shoulder, and she climbs
around to sit beside him. “Are you lightheaded?”
“Yeah, a little. My chest feels kind of tight, too.”
That is something of an understatement. His chest feels
like it has a thirty-pound weight on it. “I guess I
really do have the flu.”
He hates getting sick when they’re on a case. Scully
needs a partner who is working at top capacity, not a
coughing, sneezing mess. She rises and slips through
the connecting door to her room. He hears her root
through her luggage, returning with a thermometer
and a concerned look.
“Open,” she says, pressing the button to turn on the
digital unit. She stands between his knees, fingers
firm at his wrist as she finds his pulse. He inhales
the warm, sleep scent of her skin, wishing he had the
energy to draw her onto his lap and kiss her. He settles
for resting his palm against her bare thigh. The thermometer
beeps, and she begins to move again, as if released from
some sort of stasis.
“Your pulse is fast, Mulder,” she says, removing the
thermometer from his mouth.
“I can’t help it, Scully. What with you doing the sexy
doctor thing and all.”
“Very funny. You don’t have a fever. I think you should
get back into bed and rest.”
“Can’t Scully. We’re really close here; I can feel it.
I have an idea about how Taft chose his victims, and I
want to check it out.” Something nags at his brain, just
beyond the edge of his memory. What was the Yogi Berra
quote? Déjà vu all over again?
“Tell me your theory, and let me check it out. I think you
should get back in bed.”
“Work now, fun later. I’m going to take a shower and see
if I can knock a few of these cobwebs out of my brain.”
“Good luck with that,” she says dryly. Her voice softens
as she runs her fingers through his hair. “I want you to
tell me if you feel worse, okay?”
“You’ll be the first to know.” He pushes himself up and
fights the vertigo as he pulls clean underwear out of
The water is refreshing, and he does feel slightly
better, though a wave of dizziness leaves him clinging
to the handhold set into the shower wall. The warm,
moist air seems almost too thick to breathe, though. He
pushes open the door, glad to hear the sound of the
shower in Scully’s room. He needs to rest for a few
minutes before dressing, and he would rather not set
off her worry radar.
He congratulates himself for getting dressed before
Scully appears. If he were honest, though, he’d admit
he was seriously winded putting on his shoes,
and he’d almost blacked out bending over to tie them.
Scully returns, fully armored in her dark gray suit,
carrying her briefcase and laptop. Her hair is neat
and controlled now, but he misses the wild tangle
splayed out on his pillow. She eyes him with concern,
perhaps dubious about his ability to stay on his feet.
“You sure you’re up to this?”
“Let me at ’em,” he groans, rising from the bed.
Scully spends breakfast watching him push his eggs
around the plate. He’d ordered them to appease Scully,
but now he can’t bear to even think about swallowing
food. The now forty-pound weight on his chest doesn’t
seem to allow for anything else to enter his body.
“Mulder, did you eat dinner last night?” Scully asks
over the rim of her coffee cup.
“I’m just not hungry,” he snaps. “Listen, if you’re
finished with your coffee, I’d like to check some
stuff out at town hall.” He signals for the waitress
to bring the check and hopes Scully might just forget
about his lack of appetite.
He pushes open the diner door, suddenly struggling for
breath in the icy air. A coughing fit earns him a discerning
look from Scully, as they walk across the parking lot. He’s
beginning to wonder if this is the flu after all.
He feels progressively worse as they pore over records
at town hall. He can hear a wheeze in his chest and
wonders if it’s noticeable to Scully. She shoots him
worried glances over the dusty books. It seems Elmwood
has never moved into the computer age, and town records
are stored in a cavernous back room. Their
credentials granted them carte blanche from the clerk.
“Scully, none of the seven victims were married or had
children. I think Taft may be choosing them on that
basis. He doesn’t want to impact others lives any
more than necessary, but his own survival is imperative.”
“Mulder, let me remind you that we haven’t established
Dr. Taft as having done anything. Your theory is
“Granted. But all the victims saw him shortly before
their deaths, and all had late afternoon appointments.
We need to talk to him again. But first, I want to
find out a little more about him.” He rises from his
chair, gathering up the record books to return to
the clerk. The room spins around him, and he grips
the table to steady himself.
The forty-pound weight on his chest seems to be
increasing by the minute. Crushing pain overwhelms
him, and the books drop from his arm, landing on the
floor with an echoing thud.
“Mulder?” Scully is at his side in a moment, hand
at his elbow. “Mulder, what’s the matter?”
He can’t speak, can’t pull air into his lungs. A
horrible sound reverberates through the room, like
chains scraping on gravel. He’s shocked to realize
that the sound is coming from him, from his chest.
A great weight is pushing him down, buckling his knees
until his fingers begin to slip from the table. Scully
grips his arms, unwittingly causing him pain. He feels
her lowering him to the floor, and a wave of love pours
over him. Thank you, he thinks, for not letting me drop
like a stone.
He can’t see her. The room seems dark and shadowy,
but he can hear her voice, frightened and urgent.
“We need help! Somebody call 911!”
* * *
January 18, 2002
Brantley Memorial Hospital
“Forty-one year old male–chest pain, loss of
consciousness. BP 90 over 50. I want an arterial
blood gas, CBC and Chem 7.” The ER resident and
nurses diddn’t notice her following them into the
exam bay. “And send cardiac enzymes, too. We don’t
know what we’re dealing with.”
The ambulance ride had been harrowing. Elmwood didn’t
have a hospital, so Mulder was transported to Brantley,
twenty miles away. He’d regained consciousness in the
ambulance, eyes panicky over the oxygen mask as he
struggled to breathe. His fingers had felt swollen and
chilled in her grip.
“You’ll have to wait outside, Miss.” One of the nurses
tries to guide her back through the doors.
“I’m a medical doctor and Agent Mulder’s partner. I’d
like to stay; I won’t get in the way.”
The resident glances at her, and after a moment, nods
to the nurse. “His partner?”
“We’re FBI agents.”
“How long has he been having difficulty breathing?”
“He started feeling ill last night, tired and lightheaded.
He’s only been out of breath this morning, as far as I
They both look to Mulder, who nods slightly, under the
Scully watches the ER staff deftly remove Mulder’s clothes
under cover of the hospital gown draped over him. His
shirt and slacks are bundled up. She feels Mulder’s shoes
through the plastic bag they hand her, still warm from
She clutches the bag close to her chest as she watches
them attach EKG leads to Mulder’s chest. She can barely
see him behind the flurry of activity surrounding the
gurney. His eyes, wide with fear, seem to search for
her. She can only imagine his anxiety as he fights to
breathe. Dear God, how many times must he go through
“Bev, call Dr. Cerino. I want a chest X-Ray and an EKG,
right away.” The resident bends close to Mulder. “I’m
Dr. Kahn. We’re going to try to get you a little more
comfortable, Agent Mulder, but first we need to do some
tests. We’re calling a cardiologist right now.”
An hour later, she stands before a light box with Dr.
Cerino, studying Mulder’s chest films. She’d expected
to see evidence of pneumonia, perhaps, but not this.
The older doctor levels a rather severe look at her.
“I can’t believe you let his condition go this long.
Enlarged cardiac silhouette, diffuse pulmonary edema.
His heart didn’t get in this condition overnight.”
“I assure you, Agent Mulder has not been experiencing
any symptoms that would point to this. He runs or
swims almost daily, not to mention playing basketball
two or three times a week when we’re home. He’s had
several injuries lately and received medical care
that would surely have uncovered a heart condition.
I can’t explain it, but…”
“Has he sustained any blows to the chest? An auto
accident? Could bleeding inside the mediastinum be
causing the enlargement?” Dr. Cerino’s voice has
lost the edge, and she’s grateful. It had been
hard enough establishing her right to consult about
“No. No trauma to the chest as far as I know. He had
a slight concussion last month, but he recovered
“I’ve started him on Lasix, and hopefully that will
relieve some of the fluid congestion in his lungs.”
Cerino says as he pulls the chest films down from the
light box and slips them into the envelope. “I’m
scheduling him for a transthoracic echocardiogram.”
* * *
Brantley Memorial Hospital
Cardiac Care Unit
January 18, 2002
He wakes to the all too familiar sound, the beep,
beep, beep of the heart monitor. It should be a
comforting sound, but instead, it reminds him that
the sound may only be temporary.
Drawing air into his lungs has become the all-consuming
focus of his life. In and out, in and out, easing the
air beneath the anvil pressing on his chest. His
breathing does seem a little easier now, probably from
some of the medications he’s receiving and the oxygen
flowing through the nasal cannula. The head of his bed
is raised to help him breathe, but that hasn’t kept him
from dozing off and on all afternoon.
He wonders where Scully is. She’d been in and out of
his room since he’d been admitted, consulting with his
cardiologist and checking his test results. He had
been able to gauge his condition by the worry he found
on her face each time she entered his room.
He’d been poked and prodded, stuck like a pincushion,
and he felt far too lousy to even complain. The last
test hadn’t been painful, at least. He remembered the
shock of cold jelly on his chest and the slight pressure
of the ultrasound sensor rolling over him.
He raises his head at the sound of footsteps, feeling
a burst of happiness at the sight of Scully. She favors
him with a tremulous smile, taking his hand in both of
hers. Her firm grip feels both comforting and
frightening in its intensity.
“Hey, how are you feeling?” Her voice cracks, just
a little. No one else would notice, but he can tell
that she is rattled.
“Like an elephant is sitting on my chest.”
“That’s from the fluid in your lungs, Mulder. You
have what’s called pulmonary edema. The doctor has
you on a diuretic that should help relieve the fluid
buildup in your lungs and other tissues. The EKG
also showed an arrhythmia–actually, an atrial flutter.
You’re getting a blood thinner as well as
medication to help your heart beat normally again,”
she says, indicating the bottle hanging from the IV pole.
“I guess I don’t have the flu after all.”
“No. I won’t lie, Mulder. Your condition is very serious.
You’re maintaining your blood pressure for now, but just
barely.” She looks down at their linked hands, tracing
the edge of his plastic hospital bracelet.
“So, what happened to me, Scully?” He notices that her
expression grows graver by the moment.
“Mulder, you have extensive damage to your heart muscle.
Dr. Cerino is concerned with the rapid onset of this.
When viruses or bacteria damage heart muscle, it’s
often fast, but not overnight. I’m not sure I can
explain what happened. The echocardiogram results are
She pauses, perhaps wondering how to explain the
unexplainable. Her eyes drift to the digital readouts
on the equipment surrounding his bed.
“Strange?” he prompts.
“I had your medical records shipped from Georgetown-
made them rush them as an emergency actually. They
came a few minutes ago.”
“Scully, what are you getting at? You’re making me
“Mulder, your echocardiogram today showed an anomaly
of the mitral valve. The valve was what is called
tricuspid, meaning it has three leaflets instead of
the normal two.”
“And is that what’s making me sick?” he asks.
“No. The anomaly doesn’t affect the function of the
heart at all. You could live your whole life and
never know you had it.”
“Scully, what aren’t you telling me?”
“Mulder, you’ve had an echocardiogram in the past.
Actually, you’ve had more than one. Your medical
file is quite extensive–I had to pay for the extra
weight when they shipped it.” She favors him with a
forced smile. “This anomaly doesn’t show at all in
either the echocardiogram you had in Alaska back in
1995, or from the one you had eighteen months ago in
Raleigh. Your heart clearly showed a bicuspid mitral
valve in both tests. A normal heart with two
“This isn’t my heart, is it?” he asks, eyes riveted
to hers. He can see the beginning of a rationalization
building in her, the pull of old patterns drawing her
back into rigid disbelief. He feels the chill of
fear; they can’t afford for Scully to close off to
all the possibilities.
“Mulder, I can’t explain it, but no, it doesn’t
seem to be the same heart.”
“So whose heart is this and where is mine?”
She doesn’t say anything for long moments. Her fingers
slip from his as she makes her way to the window.
“I had a hunch. I really can’t tell you what possessed
me to do this, but I had to check something out.
Phillip Hajus was treated at this hospital, as were
almost all the victims.”
“You checked his records.” In spite of the gravity of
the situation, he can’t help smiling.
“An echocardiogram taken when he was fourteen showed
Phillip Hajus had a tricuspid mitral valve. The
echocardiogram he had when he was hospitalized before
his death, no longer showed that. I don’t think anyone
questioned it at the time. They probably assumed that
there was a mix-up with the earlier records.”
She remains at the window, her face a tightly controlled
mask. This isn’t easy for her. He wishes he wasn’t
tied up with wires and tubes and could put his arms
“Unfortunately, we still don’t know how this happened,”
she says crossing back to the bed.
“Scully, this ‘happened’ the same way it happened to
James Forrester, Phillip Hajus, and all the rest of
“How? How can a heart be removed and replaced with
absolutely no sign of surgery? There isn’t a mark on
your chest, Mulder.” Her voice rises with every word,
fear and panic turning up the volume. “According to
your theory, all the victims were in the presence of
George Taft before they got sick. But you weren’t
alone with Taft.”
“Wasn’t I?” he asks, his voice loud in his ears. He is
forced to stop when interrupted by a coughing fit.
When he continues, his voice is hoarse and low. “You
don’t know that at all. I can’t remember where I was
from lunch yesterday to when you woke me up last night.
Anything could have happened to me.”
He sees the growing horror in her face. Hours of
missing time, a huge chasm of memory. He knows she’s
painfully aware of the concept.
“We need to find out more about Dr. Taft, Scully.
I need you to call the Gunmen.”
* * *
Dental office of George Taft
January 18, 2002
“Good night, Dr. Taft. Don’t work too late, now.”
“I won’t, Betsy. Enjoy your evening.”
He draws a deep breath, pleased with his ability to
do so without a coughing fit. What joy there is in
simple things. A walk at lunch, the winter sun on
his face, a full day caring for his patients that
didn’t end in crushing exhaustion.
If only he didn’t feel this ambivalence at leaving.
He knows he should be packing, making plans to
disappear. But to leave his practice and his
patients with no successor, would be like
abandoning his child.
Part of him drifts into complacency, sure that the
threat from the FBI is removed. The woman was so
concerned with his dental equipment, he’s sure she
doesn’t suspect him. The man will not be a problem
after a few more days.
The man’s words echo in his head, no matter how
hard he tries to block them out. “You’re nothing
more than a thief.” Is he? Does he not have a
right, even an obligation to survive? People
depend on him: Betsy who raises her child on the
salary he pays her, the rest of his staff who
rely on the steady dental practice.
And what of the patients, some of whom were too
afraid to seek dental care before they found him?
Mouths that had been long neglected out of fear,
now healthy because of his calming presence. Who
would care for them if he were dead?
Taft remembers the first transference. So very ill,
his heart muscle destroyed by the fever, he’d stood
over a patient and felt terrible anger. How could he
be dying while that callow youth was gifted with
health? Watching from his office window, Taft had
seen the boy drive recklessly into the parking lot,
nearly hitting a pedestrian as he arrived for his
appointment. Taft cursed an unfair universe that day.
As he stood, gasping for breath over that sleeping
boy, he’d felt the overpowering desire to trade his
fate for that careless child’s. He’d become dizzy
and actually braced himself against the body of his
patient, while clutching his own heart in pain. When
the chest pain ceased as quickly as a light being
extinguished, he had been truly stunned. It was only
as his health returned that he truly understood what
had happened. He’d been shocked days later when the
young man’s tearful mother had called to inform him of
her son’s death due to an unknown heart problem.
Vivaldi had been playing that day, as he recalls.
That wasn’t unusual, as the Four Seasons had been
his favorite piece, but he had to wonder if it was
part of the magic. It was best, he thought, not
to question his gift too closely, so he made sure
the music was part of the ritual.
He wonders sometimes if fate had not played a diabolical
trick on him that day. Perhaps it was a punishment for
his audacity at cursing life’s inequity. Giving him the
means to correct fate’s error was a temptation impossible
to resist. Surely, his survival was ordained, even
required. Wasn’t it? Did he not have gifts to share
with the world?
“Why is your life more valuable than theirs?” He can
still hear Agent Mulder’s wavering voice as the man
swayed on his feet. The simple fact is that no one
has ever asked that question before. James could only
stare at him in horror, unable to speak. Of course,
his life is more valuable. His survival *is* imperative,
is it not?
Why does this question haunt him?
* * *
Brantley Memorial Hospital
Cardiac Care Unit
January 18, 2002
“Try some of this orange, Mulder? It’s pretty
juicy.” She’s trying so hard, keeping the
“I don’t think I could swallow it. Wish I could
have some water.” He’s so tired. Breathing
is so much work now, more difficult by the hour.
“I know you’re thirsty, Mulder. They have to
restrict your fluids. Try a piece of this
orange. It might help.”
Scully’s eyes never seem to leave him. He finds
himself fighting sleep, afraid that if he closes
his eyes, he’ll never see her again. He allows
her to break off a tiny piece of fruit and pop it
into his mouth.
“Thanks,” he says, shaking his head when she offers
another piece. The orange was refreshing, but it
didn’t distract him from his desire for a large
glass of cold water. It seems there are so many
things he wants and can no longer have.
They wasted so many years, days slipping through
their fingers like shiny coins. So many years of
standing too close to her, breathing in her scent,
hoping to brush against her arm. The times when
he got a chance to touch her were golden and far
too rare. He should be grateful that they’ve had
even these short months, but all he feels is
Anger stirs in his chest, anger that their time
together will be cut short. He hasn’t had enough
hours of holding her, enough minutes spent kissing
her, enough mornings waking next to her. His fury
leaves him gasping. Scully, her concern obvious,
comes to sit beside him on the bed.
“‘S okay. Come on, you need to relax.” She runs
shaky fingers though his hair, whispering softly
until he is able to draw oxygen into his lungs
again. Tears slide from his eyes, drifting down
to his jaw. Scully doesn’t tell him not to cry,
and he’s grateful for that. Instead, she silently
joins him in his sorrow, her tears mingling with his.
The ringing of her cell phone shakes them both out
of their quiet moment. Snatching a handful of tissues
from his bedside box, she flips open her phone.
“Scully.” Her voice trembles just a little. She listens,
quietly drying her eyes. “Hi Frohike…Yeah, he’s
holding his own.”
Pulling a pen and pad out of her jacket pocket, she
sits, hunched over, listening to Frohike on the other
end of the phone. She moves off the bed, after a few
minutes, her body stiff and tense.
“Okay. Okay, thanks…I will.”
“Frohike hoping to have a chance with you soon?”
He knows immediately that his effort at humor is a
horrible mistake. She stares at him, shock playing
over her tearstained face. When she speaks, her
voice is a fierce whisper. “Don’t say things
“I’m sorry.” He closes his eyes, wishing he could
call back his words. “What did Frohike say?”
“They looked into Taft’s background as we asked.
George Taft was born in Elmwood, March 5, 1947. His
childhood wasn’t terribly remarkable, though
he was a sickly child. Doctor’s records indicate
rheumatic fever and note that his mother went
overboard coddling him. Pretty understandable,
I guess. Rheumatic fever can cause heart
damage.” She keeps her eyes on her notes.
“The mother may have given him an outsized view of
his own worth, the all encompassing importance of
his own survival,” Mulder says. Speaking is becoming
harder and harder. The airflow through the cannula
seems to be decreasing.
“He left Elmwood when he went to university. Again,
nothing unusual in his college years. Graduated from
OSU College of Dentistry in 1971. The guys found a
record of Taft being hospitalized in 1979, though the
diagnosis was never clear. He suffered from an
extremely high fever of unknown origin but appeared
to recover. He moved shortly after that and lived
for a number of years in the Columbus, Ohio, area.
Frohike said they haven’t been able to confirm it yet,
but there seems to be a spike during the 1980s, of
heart related deaths among young people in that area.”
“I think he may be getting ready to move on, Scully.
You need to check him out.” Perhaps the tubing on the
cannula is kinked somewhere. He struggles to draw air,
panic bubbling up in him, threatening to spill
out of his pores.
Dropping her pad, Scully eyes him with concern as she
searches urgently for the nurse call button.
* * *
Brantley Memorial Hospital
Cardiac Care Unit
January 19, 2002
“Good morning, Mr. Mulder. I see you had a rough night.”
She startles at the sound of Dr. Cerino’s voice, and
snapping awake, forces down her embarrassment at being
found dozing. The older man is studying Mulder’s chart.
“You could say that.” Mulder’s voice is little more
than a husky whisper, muffled by the full oxygen mask
he had been switched to during the night when his
breathing became worse.
The night had been more than rough. Mulder had thrown
PVCs and gone into ventricular tachycardia, necessitating
a change in medication. He narrowly missed defibrillation,
his heart finally returning to normal rhythm. Scully was
sure the crash cart by Mulder’s bed would have been put
to use before morning. Any idea of questioning George
Taft had flown from her mind as she watched Mulder
struggle for breath.
“Good morning, Dr. Scully. I’m glad you’re here.
We need to discuss our options.” Laying the chart
on the bed, Cerino examines Mulder, listening to his
heart and testing for edema.
Mulder looks so much worse this morning, and it
shocks her a little. His skin is gray; his face,
puffy. His jugular veins are distended, and the
pronounced wheeze in his breathing is gradually
progressing to a rattle.
Pushing her hair behind her ears, she rises from the
chair and moves next to the bed. She feels sticky
and rumpled and far too exhausted. Somehow, though,
the fear that sits like a jagged block of ice in her
chest makes any other considerations seem trivial.
“I’m getting worse.”
Mulder’s tone is matter-of-fact, calm almost, and
she finds that utterly terrifying. She raises her
eyes to meet Dr. Cerino’s, wondering what he will say.
She’s pretty sure there aren’t any real options to
be discussed and that Mulder is all too aware of
that fact. Reaching over the bed rail, she slips
her hand into his.
“Yes, you are. I’m concerned at how quickly your
condition has deteriorated. I suspect you both are
realists, so I’ll speak frankly.” Cerino clears his
throat. “Your heart has sustained tremendous damage,
far more quickly than I’ve ever seen from a viral or
bacterial infection. Now, we’re doing all we can
with medication to maintain your blood pressure, to
clear your lungs and keep your heartbeat regular, but
this is becoming more and more difficult.”
Cerino pauses, perhaps to allow them to process all
the information. He replaces Mulder’s chart in its
slot and moves to the side of the bed.
“I think your only chance is a transplant, Mr. Mulder.
I’ve contacted the transplant coordinator at
University of Cincinnati Medical Center and asked
for you to be slotted high on the list. We’re going
to do everything we can to buy you time.”
Blinking back tears, she squeezes Mulder’s hand. His
eyes are closed and his head turned away.
“I’ll leave you to try to absorb all this.” With a
surprisingly gentle touch, Dr. Cerino pats their
clasped hands before withdrawing.
“I’m not going to make it, Scully.” His words are
barely audible, his eyes still shut.
“Mulder, you can’t think that way.” Her own voice
is low. She gently turns his face back to her.
“Mulder look at me.”
He opens his eyes, and she can hardly breathe at the
look of sadness and love.
“Mulder, you have to keep fighting. We can’t give
up hope. I…Mulder, I don’t want to lose you.” She
swipes at the tears that slide down her cheeks.
“We need to talk now. They may need to intubate
“Goody,” he quips. His small joke has the desired
effect and she smiles, which seems to please him.
“I know that years ago, we decided to forego extreme
measures, Mulder, I mean if it ever looked hopeless.”
“Looks pretty…hopeless, Scully.” Each word is
“No!” Her voice is much louder than she intends. She
takes a deep breath and continues, “This isn’t right.
This isn’t a natural illness, or an injury in the line
of duty. It’s unnatural and I won’t give up on you.
Something was stolen from you by means we don’t
understand. I refuse to give up until I know how
this happened and why it can’t be put right again.”
“Admit my heart…stolen? Scaring me…. Like
my dream…come true.”
She can barely hear him from behind the oxygen mask.
His words come out in little puffs, and she sees how
much this speech has cost him.
“I’m not completely convinced at all. You have to hang
around and continue to badger me with far-fetched
theories, or I’m sure to revert back to an unbeliever.
Promise me you won’t ever stop pushing me.”
“Even if…have to haunt you,” he whispers. His eyes
drift shut, exhaustion and oxygen deprivation pulling
him down into sleep.
Her need for coffee becomes stronger with each minute.
She walks down the hall, searching her pockets for
change to use in the coffee machine.
“Dr. Scully. I was wondering if we might have a word.”
Cerino falls into step next to her, his hands in his
slacks pockets, white coat pushed behind him.
“Sure, I was just getting some coffee.”
“Why don’t we go into the staff lounge? The
coffee’s better there, anyway.”
He leads her into the lounge and waits until she
pours a cup of coffee. The room is empty, still
retaining the impression of laughter and bustle.
It reminds her of other rooms in other hospitals.
They sit at a table, and she nods at him,
encouraging him to speak.
“I think it’s time to call Mr. Mulder’s family.”
“He…um. He doesn’t have any family. I’m sort
of ‘it’.” She can’t believe how incredibly sad
“Maybe you’re enough.” Cerino’s voice is soft,
too kind to bear, really.
She feels the sting of tears and swallows them back.
If she starts crying now, she may never stop. She
raises a trembling hand to shield her face, feeling
much too exposed in her grief.
“I have to finish my rounds, Dr. Scully. I’ll stop
back a bit later.” Placing a gentle hand on her
shoulder, he rises.
“Thanks.” She smiles up at him, her vision blurred
by tears. He leaves, closing the door quietly behind
him. Pulling out her cell phone, she dials a familiar
“Kim? Hi, it’s Agent Scully. Can you put me through
to the assistant director? Yes. It’s an emergency.”
* * *
Brantley Memorial Hospital
Cardiac Care Unit
January 19, 2002
He dreams about being underwater. The ocean is
turquoise and clear, and he can see the sunlight
as it glints and flashes on the surface. He sees
the light, but no matter how hard he swims, he
can’t reach the surface.
His chest hurts, starved for air, and the blood
pounds in his ears. The sun is almost blinding now;
he’s so close, but he still can’t break the surface.
“Mr. Mulder?” A voice, ungarbled by the ocean. “Mr.
Mulder, it’s Carol Morgan. I’m going to take your
“Mmm.” He isn’t underwater anymore, but sadly, his
chest still hurts, and his head still pounds.
“Right here, Mulder.” Someone brushes the hair
back from his forehead. Probably Scully, unless
Nurse Carol is getting fresh. His eyes finally
obey his request to open. It is Scully after all.
Carol goes about her business, taking his temperature,
checking his output, noting the level of medication
left in his IV. She examines his hand, checking the
IV needle under the bandaid. He likes her the best
of all the nurses because she’s got the gentlest
hands and the nicest disposition.
“All set, Mr. Mulder. I’ll be back in a little
while with some ice chips for you.” She pats his
shoulder, and smiles at Scully before she briskly
walks from the room.
“Not much time.” The words come out in a grunt, propelled
by the tiny bit of air he exhales. “Can’t say all
I want to.”
“I know.” Her voice is thick with emotion. She lifts
his hand to her lips, tenderly kissing the knuckles.
It comforts him to know that words aren’t needed now
that he hasn’t got breath left to say them. He won’t
tell her not to mourn. How could he ask her to do
something he would find impossible? He doesn’t need to
ask her not to forget him. Some things are just
“So tired.” The words come in a ragged whisper. Tell
me I can let go. Tell me I can stop clinging to this
useless body. He’s powerless to loosen his grip until
she gives the word. But Scully says nothing, her lips
pressed resolutely against his hand, now wet with her
His eyes meet hers and there is no release there,
nothing but a wordless plea to hold on, a desperate look
that says she won’t give up. Her strength has always
amazed him, and he hopes fervently that he can do what
she asks of him. But he feels the undertow, dragging him
deeper into the dark water. She presses one last kiss to
his palm before lowering his hand to cradle against her
“Mulder, we talked last night about Taft. I have to
leave for a little while. I need to talk to him and…”
“What? Tell him…give it back?” He gasps out the
question. “Need to…be careful.”
His chest feels as if someone were pressing on it
with an iron hand. He hears a rushing in his ears
and wonders if he’s fallen underwater again.
He can’t answer. He wants to, but the water is cold,
and he is sinking fast. He tries to hold on, but his
fingers grow numb. Somewhere above the surface, he
hears shouting and the shriek of an alarm.
“He’s in V-fib!”
* * *
“Mulder?” Her voice sounds shrill in her head. “Mulder!”
He isn’t breathing at all, and the sensors are rivaling
her voice for shrillness. She presses the call button,
but knows that the staff will be there in seconds from
the ringing alarm.
The monitor shows ventricular fibrillation, but disbelief
makes her check for a pulse–his wrist, his arm, and
finally his neck. Nothing. She tears off his gown and
thumps her fist on his sternum, but the tracing doesn’t
change. People are flooding into the room, shouting at
each other in shorthand.
“V-fib, start compressions!” she screams, and then she
pulls off Mulder’s oxygen mask, fitting her lips over
his to push air into his unyielding lungs. A hand on her
shoulder notifies her that help is here, and someone fits
a face mask tight against Mulder’s mouth with a bag to
squeeze in the breaths. She sees the laryngoscope and
the endotracheal tube, and she steps out of the way.
“200 joules!” Dr. Cerino calls from the end of the bed,
and she hears the whir as the defibrillator charges.
“Clear!” Scully steps back at the sound of the voice,
and she watches as Mulder’s body arches with the
“Still in fib!”
“Charge to 300. Clear!” Again, the paddles push
against skin, and again, Mulder’s body jerks and
settles back in a sort of macabre dance.
“V-tach! I’ll take it!” Cerino announces with
grim jubilation. “Check for breath sounds.”
Someone with a stethoscope listens and watches as
Mulder’s chest rises with the push of air from
the Ambu bag.
“You’re in,” she announces.
“Lidocaine, one amp,” Cerino orders calmly.
“We need more access,” someone complains, and a
voice across the bed answers.
“He’s got a nice antecube; someone give me an angio.”
Scully barely perceives individuals in the mob, and
she notes their efforts with strange detachment.
Patients who’ve had near death experiences report watching
themselves be worked on, having died and been resuscitated.
She doesn’t remember that from her own experience. Now,
she watches, almost from outside her body as Cerino
charges the paddles one more time.
She wonders if she and Mulder have achieved some kind
of symbiotic connection. It is as if her own body lies
on that bed, and people are furiously working to bring
her back to life.
Her eyes slide shut, no longer able to watch Mulder’s
still body. She doesn’t need to see. Her mind provides
all the information she needs. Without a miracle, she’ll
never hear Mulder’s voice again, never listen to him
laugh, never kiss his lips again. She listens to the
voices around her and the piercing alarms from the
various monitors. These are the sounds she will
Hot anger settles in her belly, a sharp knot of
burning fury that threatens to slice her through.
She swallows bitter tears. Giving them vent
would bring relief, but she wants to hold onto that
anger. There is something she must do now.
“Dr. Scully?” Cerino has a gentle hand on her arm,
but she can barely feel it. “We’ve got a rhythm going,
for now. I’m going to have a Swan placed and start
him on some cordarone. We’ll place some pads on his
chest, in case we need to shock him again, and we’ll
get a gas to check for acidosis. I don’t need to tell
you how unstable he is. Without a transplant–”
“Thank you, Doctor. I have to leave for a while.”
“Dr. Scully, wait.” Cerino grabs her arm, firmly
this time. “I was on my way to talk to you before
all hell broke loose down here. I got a call from the
transplant coordinator at University of Cincinnati.
Mr. Mulder has been accepted into the transplant
program. I was just going to arrange for transport.”
“No. We can’t move him yet. I need to do something
first.” She’s sure Cerino thinks she’s gone mad. She
hopes he isn’t right.
“What are you talking about? We can’t delay here–they
won’t hold his bed indefinitely. He’s unstable as it
is. If we wait, he could decline to the point where he’s
no longer a viable candidate.”
“At the rate his condition is deteriorating, he’ll die on
the table, if he even survives the trip. A few hours
aren’t going to make much difference, Doctor.” She shakes
off his hand. “I really need to go.”
“Dr. Scully,” Cerino begins, before she cuts him off.
“I promise, I’ll be back in a couple of hours. I
may have an alternate solution.” She can’t explain
further. In her heart, she knows that science is
failing Mulder, that medicine can’t save him. She isn’t
sure if she is even capable of it, but somehow she has
to think like Mulder, to do what he would do if their
positions were reversed. “I called our superior earlier.
He may arrive before I get back.”
Cerino’s shocked expression barely registers as
she rushes from the room.
* * *
Dental Office of George Taft
January 19, 2002
“Nothing to eat for at least an hour, Martha.
Wouldn’t want you to bite your tongue while
your mouth is still numb.”
The grateful look in Martha Bergen’s eyes is balm
to Taft’s heart. She’d neglected her mouth for
years, terrified of the dental drill. Without his
deft handling of her fear, she’d still be in
unnecessary pain. Who else could have helped her?
“Thank you, Dr. Taft. Thank you more than words can say.”
Martha climbs from the examining chair and straightens
“Take care now, Martha. Have Betsy make an appointment
for a cleaning.”
“I will, thanks again.”
He hears voices echoing from the reception area, and
instinctively he knows something is wrong. This is not
the sound of mild Martha and screechy Betsy. A woman’s
voice to be sure, but edged with steely authority.
“I’m a federal agent. I need to see Dr. Taft
“Doctor is booked through the afternoon with patients.
Perhaps if you could come back later this afternoon.”
Betsy’s shrill voice drifts off. “Hey, you can’t
go back there.”
Panic bubbles in his throat, and he bolts through the
door and down the hall. He passes Mrs. Philbrick,
waiting for him in exam room three, barely aware of
the lady’s stunned look. He catches a glimpse of
movement behind him, the blur of black clothes, a
flash of bright hair.
The heart in his chest beats steadily as he fumbles
with the lock on the back door. He bursts through
the door and down the musty utility stairs. He hasn’t
been out through the emergency exit in years, not
since Betsy accidentally burnt a pop tart in the
“Dr. Taft! Stop right there!”
The thud of heels behind him on the metal-edged
stairs propels him forward. Who would have thought
such a small woman could make so much noise? Her
shoes sound like gunfire as they hit the stairs.
He pushes the steel emergency exit door open with
enough force to send it clanging into the brick wall.
The air is cold, the pavement slippery with remnants
of snow and ice. His dress shoes have no traction,
and he slips and slides through the alley. His pursuer
seems to have no such problem.
“Dr. Taft, stop now.” Her hand closes over his upper
arm with an iron grip. She has a gun in her other hand,
and a look of desperation in her eyes. In spite of the
cold air and his inadequate clothing, he feels the
trickle of sweat down his back. This woman is
terrifying in her intensity.
“What did you do to him?” Her voice is cold, like
cracking ice. She isn’t even winded from the chase,
while he’s puffing with exertion.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I haven’t
“You stole his heart. That’s why you’re healthy now.
You look considerably better today than you did
two days ago, Doctor.”
“What nonsense. I can’t believe a professional
person such as yourself could believe such a wild
story.” She can’t prove anything; she can’t prove
anything. Repeat it enough, and he might just
“You’d be surprised at what I believe, Doctor. I
believe you hypnotized my partner. I believe you
traded hearts with him and left him to die. I don’t
know how you did it, but I know what you did.”
“You can’t prove anything. Who would believe you?”
The woman raises her weapon, her icy cold gaze
burning into him. “What gives you the right to
take his life away from him?”
“I only do what I need to survive, no more and
“Your survival is all that matters? Your life?
What about those you steal from?” Her eyes burn
into him, and he has to lock his knees to keep from
falling. “You’re coming with me.”
He backs away, but her hand tightens on his arm.
The cold hard steel of the gun presses into his
side. His voice wavers when he tries to speak.
“If you shoot me, his heart will die with me.”
“Then I’ll just have to render you a suitable organ
“You’re bluffing.” Would a federal agent shoot an
unarmed man? He isn’t sure when he looks into
“Maybe I am. I wouldn’t take that chance if I were
you. I have very little to lose, Doctor.” Her
bitter smile frightens him, little more than a baring
of her teeth. “We’re going to the hospital.”
“No!” His knees threaten to buckle, and he fears
he might soil himself.
“You’re terrified. You’ve never had to face the
result of what you do, have you?” The anger in
her voice scorches him with its force. “Never had
to see your victims struggle to breathe. Damn you,
Dr. Taft. It’s time for you to look at what
you’ve left behind.”
* * *
Brantley Memorial Hospital
January 19, 2002
The irony of the situation might be humorous if it
wasn’t so damned tragic. Dr. Taft seems to be on
the verge of a full-fledged panic attack at the
prospect of entering the hospital. She wonders
if he might go into coronary arrest with Mulder’s
strong, healthy heart in him.
She feels her own panic attack building. What will
she find when they get to Mulder’s room? Has she
condemned Mulder to death? She prays that she hasn’t
made the wrong choice.
She leads Taft through the lobby, a firm grip on his
arm. She may be the only thing holding him up at
this point. She has re-holstered her weapon, secure
that Taft is too frightened to bolt. Just to be safe,
though, she reminded him of its presence when they
entered the building.
For the hundredth time, she wonders if she has made
the biggest mistake of her life. She isn’t equipped to
make the leaps Mulder achieves with ease. She is as
earthbound as the roots of a tree.
Taft was right. She would be hard pressed to
prove what she believes. Without proof, can
there be justice? In spite of the echocardiograms,
her evidence is shaky at best. He was probably right
about her bluff, too.
The nurse at the cardiac unit station eyes her with
sympathy as they round the corner. The nurse smiles
at them, probably thinking Taft is one of
Mulder’s relatives, come to say goodbye.
They pause at the door to Mulder’s room, listening
to the hiss and whoosh of the ventilator and the
steady beep of the heart monitor. She feels a tiny
wave of relief at that relentless sound. But Mulder
is so very still on the bed, his mouth open around
the endotrachial tube in a silent scream.
“Let’s get closer, Dr. Taft,” she says quietly,
pushing him forward. “He’s dying. I don’t know if
he’ll last through the night. Look at him.
What right did you have to forfeit his life for
She pushes Taft close to the bed and reaches out to
touch Mulder’s hand. Her own fingers shake, and she
feels the warmth of tears on her face, cooling as
they slide down. Together, she and Taft watch the
mechanical rise and fall of Mulder’s chest, air
forced in; air pushed out.
Scully watches the monitors, noting the steady decline
in Mulder’s condition since this morning. The dentist’s
body trembles under the steady pressure of her hand,
and his face is a mask of horror.
“Please, Agent Scully. I think I’m going to
“Can you make this right again, Doctor?” She forces
the words past the lump in her throat.
“I…I don’t know.”
“Do the right thing, Dr. Taft.” She speaks softly,
not trying to hide her tears. “You know in your
heart what you need to do. Make this man whole again.
Please.” The last word is no more than a whisper.
“I’ll try,” he says, nodding. “I don’t know if I
can reverse it. I…I need to be alone with him,
to be able to concentrate.”
* * *
He has to force himself to look at the man. Agent
Mulder’s face is almost unrecognizable to him now.
The handsome features are bloated, the tanned skin,
gray under the harsh hospital light.
But it isn’t this terrible sight that makes him want
to fix this. No, it isn’t this face, but the face
of the woman, desperate with grief. That is
the face that he fears would haunt him to his grave.
He’d worked so hard through the years, to cause no
unnecessary sorrow. Knowing that the donor would
be at peace, far from the tragedies of the world,
was his comfort. But those left behind know no peace.
He knows what he must do now. Carefully drawing
Mulder’s hospital gown down, he tries to avoid
dislodging any of the wires attached to the man’s
skin. The forced rise and fall of that chest is a
distraction, and he hopes it won’t prevent him
from concentrating properly.
He slowly unbuttons his own shirt, trembling fingers
making that difficult. The woman’s words whisper in
his ear: “Do the right thing.” If only he could.
Taft wonders if the magic can even work without the
music. The melody of the ventilator and heart monitor
will have to suffice. He presses a hand on Agent
Mulder’s chest, unnerved by the artificial movement.
His other hand rests on his own chest, over the
steadily beating heart within. Please let the
wrong be made right.
The familiar old heat penetrates his skin, the
scent of singed hair again fills the air. He
feels the sting of tears, the choke of a sob rise in
his chest. His hands begin to shake as blindly,
he reaches for the handrail on the bed.
Agent Mulder stirs slightly, but seems mostly unchanged.
He hopes that the reversal is not too late. More than
anything else, he wants to see Agent Scully again, to
see the look of sorrow change to one of hope.
Unfortunately, the room is growing darker. His fingers
feel numb, and the bedrail slips out of his grasp.
* * *
Brantley Memorial Hospital
Cardiac Care Unit
Without the wall at her back, she would probably
fall into a heap on the floor. She stands, eyes
closed, praying so hard that words have ceased
to contain the thoughts. She doesn’t doubt that
God understands anyway.
From behind the door, the sound of something soft
and heavy hitting the floor jolts her out of her
prayers. She stands, frozen in place, for long
seconds, before carefully pushing the door open.
Taft is sprawled on the floor by the bed, clutching
his chest and moaning. It is the man in the bed,
who brings a soft cry to her lips. Mulder is
moving slightly, hands clutching the blankets. She
scans the monitors in disbelief.
Confident that Mulder is in no danger, she checks
Taft, laying a gentle hand on his neck, checking for
a pulse. It’s weak and thready, and he’s beginning
to gasp, undoubtedly in pain.
“We need help in here!” she cries out, pressing the
call button on the bed. Footsteps are already echoing
down the hall. She returns to Taft’s side, taking
his icy cold hand in hers. His panic-stricken eyes
bore into hers. “Help is on the way, Doctor.”
Nurses and the cardiac resident arrive and seem for
a moment unsure of which man to attend to. Scully
indicates Taft with a nod of her head. She’s
pretty sure Mulder doesn’t need anything she can’t
Aware of the frenzied activity behind her, as the
cardiac team works on Taft, she lowers the bedrail.
Hitching herself onto the bed, she takes Mulder’s
head between her hands.
His eyes flutter, gradually focusing on her face.
Her heart threatens to burst inside her at the
dawning recognition in his eyes.
“It’s okay. It’s going to be just fine.” She mumbles
platitudes, happy this time because they are true.
“Don’t try to fight the vent. I know it’s
uncomfortable, but it won’t be there for long.”
He nods his understanding, his eyes drifting shut.
She threads her fingers through his hair, and the
monitors tell her what she already knows. His rhythm
converts to a normal, regular beat, and the back
pressure in his pulmonary artery has begun to drop
from its dizzying height. His oxygenation climbs,
and he squirms a little, even as he sleeps, his
healthy body protesting the discomfort of all the
tubes and wires.
She turns at the sound of increased movement
behind her. Part of her mind had been keeping
track of the activity over Dr. Taft; now they’re
preparing to move him out of Mulder’s room. She
catches the resident’s glance, and he shakes his
head almost imperceptibly. Leaning over, she presses
the call button again.
“Please page Dr. Cerino.”
Cerino arrives half an hour later, stunned at first
into silence at the sight of a mostly alert Mulder.
Cerino examines Mulder, shaking his head the entire
“I don’t understand. His heart is beating normally;
his lungs are already clearing. What happened?”
“I’m not sure I can explain it, Doctor.” Actually,
she isn’t sure how much Cerino could handle. And
maybe if she’s very honest with herself, she isn’t
sure how much professional disbelief she could
take right now. Cerino levels a questioning look at
her, but she can only shake her head. He turns back
to his patient.
“Mr. Mulder, I think we’ll have you off the ventilator
by morning. Your lungs are still very congested,
so I’d like to let the vent do the work for a while
longer. I’ll be back in a few hours.”
“Thank you, Doctor.” Her voice is relaxed for
perhaps the first time in days.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you smile, Dr. Scully.
You should do it more often.”
* * *
Brantley Memorial Hospital
Cardiac Care Unit
“You know, one of these days, I’m going to start
ignoring the ‘come quick; he’s dying’ phone calls.”
Mulder looks up to see his superior lounging in the
doorway, arms folded. Skinner’s relieved expression
belies the tone of his words. An exhausted Scully
startles at the sound of their boss’s voice.
“I’ll try to keep that in mind the next time.” Mulder’s
voice is a hoarse croak, throat still sore from intubation.
His condition improved so much by early evening,
Cerino decided to extubate him.
“Sir. I tried to reach you with the news.” Scully
is flustered, quite attractively so. Pink cheeks
look good on her. “Honestly, Sir, Mulder really was
“I know.” Skinner’s voice turns serious. “We were delayed
on the runway at National due to snow. I called but you’d
left the hospital, so I spoke with Mulder’s cardiologist.
I know how close it came. So tell me what happened.”
“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather wait until our latest
epic case report comes across your desk?” Mulder rasps.
“You mean wait for the sanitized version? No, I’ve had
a long trip and could use a nice story. I think I’d like
it unvarnished this time. Go ahead, I’m going to get
comfortable,” he says, pulling over a chair.
* * *
Georgetown, Washington DC
January 29, 2002
“Your hair is tickling me.”
His voice rumbles under her ear, pressed against his chest.
She enjoys the early morning warmth of his skin as she
nestles against his side.
“Hmm? You say something?” She mumbles, drowsily. Saturday
morning. Nowhere she needs to be and nothing she
needs to do except lie here and listen to the only music
she ever wants to hear. She smiles against the bare skin
of Mulder’s chest, enjoying the symphony of respiration
It will be a long time before either she or Mulder are
able to put this behind them. He hadn’t talked about
it, but she knew the specter of death still haunted him.
He’s awakened several nights, gasping and mumbling about
She knows he’s curious about her actions, but he hasn’t
pressed her for explanations. He seems to know that
she needs to work through the questions in her own heart
before she can answer his. More than anything else, this
may be why she loves him so much.
She finds herself hard-pressed to let Mulder out of
her sight. Every evening, there seem to be reasons for her
to stay over: she’s lost track of time, her eyes are too
tired to drive, her favorite movie is just coming
on TV. Mulder seems to be enjoying her attention, though.
She finds herself cherishing every touch, every word, every
kiss. Well, maybe that wouldn’t be the worst legacy to be
George Taft had almost stolen this all away from them.
He’d died the day before Mulder left the hospital; his
body had simply burned out the heart in his chest.
She’d sat by his bed that last day, waiting with him for
death. Taft was barely conscious, but she’d felt a need
to be there.
She didn’t think Mulder understood, really. She didn’t
fully understand herself. But Taft had finally done one
unselfish thing, and she didn’t want him to die alone.
Mulder was almost completely recovered. He’d have to take
it easy for a few more days, but his body had eliminated
just about all the extra fluid in his tissues, and his lungs
were finally clear. And his heart was beating.
Mulder’s stomach emits a fierce growl. That’s back to normal too.
“Come on, Scully, let’s get some breakfast. I’m starved.”
“Not right now, Mulder. I’m busy.”
I have a long list of folks to thank, so bear with me.
First, thank you to Teddi Littman for answering my many
dentist questions. Thanks go to Kestabrook for beta and
warm friendship. More thanks to January, for her great
ideas. Tons of gratitude to the entire IMTP core group,
for their hard work. They are amazing ladies, and I’m
honored to know them. Very special thanks to Kel, for
beta, medical advice and translating English into “ER”ish.
Thanks also to Theresa for her artwork.
Let’s all of us cherish every moment.