Bitter Harvest

cover

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.

RATING: PG-13

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:

http://members.aol.com/msrsmut/MichelleKiefer.htm

Maintained by the wonderful Jennifer.

Author’s notes at the end.

August 20, 2000

Dental office of Dr. George Taft

5:30 PM

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

in anticipation.

“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

a boy’s.

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

happen.

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.

* * *

ACT I

January 15, 2002

Hoover Building – basement office

1:45 PM

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

all.

“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

senses interest.

“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

worn out.”

“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

anyway?”

“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

investigate.”

“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

alignment.”

“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

9:20 AM

“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

breast pocket.

“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

young.”

“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

Elmwood, Ohio

2:10 PM

“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

together Scully.

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

patients.

“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,

very soon.”

“The timing on these deaths could very well be completely

random. If you look hard enough, you’ll find patterns

anywhere.”

“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

your nose.”

* * *

January 16, 2002

Rachel Walker residence

3:45 PM

“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

down?”

“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

us.”

“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

Elmwood Motel

11:15 PM

“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

families.

“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

morning.”

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

11:25 AM

“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

familiar names.

“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

here.”

“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

became ill.”

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

assistant present.”

“‘Usually’?”

“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

2:10 PM

“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

the fry.

“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

yield anything.”

“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

his heart.”

“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

imaginings.”

“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,

Scully.”

“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

breath.”

“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.”

* * *

ACT II

January 17, 2002

Dental Office of George Taft

5:25 PM

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

more questions.”

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

experience.”

“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

and snow.

“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

consciousness.

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

gift.

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

donation.”

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

Elmwood Motel

8:20 PM

“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

be up.

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

his hands.

“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

feel nauseous?”

“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

Elmwood Motel

7:15 AM

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

his bed.

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

his bag.

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

completely circumstantial.”

“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

Brantley, OH

12:30 PM

“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

know.”

They both look to Mulder, who nods slightly, under the

oxygen mask.

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

his feet.

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

this?

“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

Mulder’s condition.

“No. No trauma to the chest as far as I know. He had

a slight concussion last month, but he recovered

completely.”

“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

5:45 PM

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

really strange.”

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

nervous, here.”

“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

leaflets.”

“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

around her.

“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

the victims.”

“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

5:15 PM

“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

8:15 PM

“Try some of this orange, Mulder? It’s pretty

juicy.” She’s trying so hard, keeping the

atmosphere light.

“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

bitterness.

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

like that.”

“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

9:45 AM

“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

you soon.”

“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

a gasp.

“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

that sounds.

“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

number.

“Kim? Hi, it’s Agent Scully. Can you put me through

to the assistant director? Yes. It’s an emergency.”

* * *

ACT III

Brantley Memorial Hospital

Cardiac Care Unit

January 19, 2002

11:45 AM

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

vitals now.”

“Mmm.” He isn’t underwater anymore, but sadly, his

chest still hurts, and his head still pounds.

“Scully?”

“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.

“I know.”

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

understood.

“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

tears.

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

breast.

“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.

“Mulder?”

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

electrical charge.

“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.”

“Lido’s in.”

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

remember.

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

12:30 PM

“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

her dress.

“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

immediately.”

“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

toaster oven.

“Dr. Taft! Stop right there!”

clip_image001

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

done anything.”

“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

convince himself.

“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

no less.”

“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

donor, Doctor.”

“You’re bluffing.” Would a federal agent shoot an

unarmed man? He isn’t sure when he looks into

her eyes.

“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

2:00 PM

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

yours?”

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

pass out.”

“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

2:45 PM

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

handle.

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

time.

“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

8:45 PM

“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

very ill.”

“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

8:15 AM

“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

and heartbeat.

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

being underwater.

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

left with.

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.”

End.

Author’s notes:

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.

Michelle Kiefer

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