“Just ten minutes. I have a watch you could time it on,” he begged, as she made another round. “Fresh air, Dana. I could use it.”
“Mulder,” she began, sitting down beside him to take his pulse. “You and I both know you’re too sick to go outside.”
“But the gardens outside are gated,” he protested. “And I wouldn’t be out there long. It’s not like I’d get anyone else sick-“
“Mulder,” she said, in a firm tone. “If you can stand up, right here, right now, no cringing in pain whatsoever, I will take you outside.“
He sighed, and laid his head back, knowing all along this was the outcome. She watched him, her heart sinking a bit, knowing how much he’d wanted to go. Dana had grown fond of this man and his simple desires. The other patients, despite their fevers and coughs, had distinctly other requests for her, but Mulder only desired a book. Weeks ago, she’d brought him a book from her own bookshelf. And then another when he’d finished that. By the time his fever broke (for an hour, but it was something), he’d made it through nearly all of her collection. He only began asking about the gardens again when he’d finished every last one she had.
“Well,” she said, after taking his temperature. “Your fever’s down a degree.”
“Call up the mayor, this deserves a parade,” he said, his voice hoarse and tired.
“It’s a start. You’ve been doing better, that’s something.” She tried to sound encouraging, but this was not a place that made it easy.
He nodded slightly, staring wistfully out the windows. “The city’s beautiful this time of year. The park, with all the trees blossoming…” His voice trailed off.
“There’ll be other years to go out and see it,” she said, grabbing his attention back. That kind of talk was almost forbidden by an unspoken rule there. With too many people in and out, coughing and crying, the future was never a topic of discussion. But in a soft voice, muffled by her mask, just to him in their little cot-sized bubble, she wasn’t afraid to be optimistic. “I’m sure when we do get a chance, you’d prefer not to be aching in every limb and have a fever like a furnace.”
For the first time in far too long, his reddened face cracked a weak smile. “If I didn’t know better, Miss Scully, I’d say you just invited me on a date.”
She rolled her eyes, only then realizing she’d said ‘we’. “In your dreams, Mulder.”
“Don’t I know.” From any other patient, she would have left immediately, restraining herself from slapping them. But with him, she simply looked down at her hands in her lap, and blushed. She was certain he could see it through her mask.
“I better finish my rounds,” she said.
“You’re not moving,” he noted, almost happy about that fact.
She looked at him and hesitated. “There’s been some rumors.”
“Some talk about treatments up north that have had good results for influenza.” Dana’s voice was low, so no one would overhear her.
His eyes grew wide. “What is it? I want to try it.”
“I don’t have any evidence that it works, Mulder.”
“Please,” he begged.
She looked down at her hands, nervous. It wasn’t what she’d been trained to do. If it negatively affected him, she would be devastated. But before she could tell him any of this, a weak hand slid into hers and squeezed. She looked back up at him, before lacing their fingers together briefly, just to feel the warmth.
“I’ll go get it,” she whispered, and squeezed his hand once more before dropping it. She couldn’t help but think about how intimate this gesture was as she walked back to her coat. How intimate they were. He was her patient. They’d known each other only a number of weeks. But they had seen each other every day of those.
Dana pulled the small bottle out of her coat pocket. She gripped it for a moment, staring at it, as if wishing on its contents like a shooting star, for their ability to make him better. She took a deep breath, and moved back to his bedside, taking the glass of water off his nightstand to pour the liquid into. She swirled the glass around a bit, watching the amber solution mix into the water, before handing the glass to Mulder.
“Drink it all,” she whispered.
He took a sip, and nearly did a spit-take. “Is this-“
“Yeah. It’s vinegar.”
Mulder opened his mouth to protest, but then glanced at the orderlies, striding to a man three beds away with a stretcher and a sheet. He pinched his nose and drank the entire glass, handing it back to Dana.
“I’ll get you another,” she said, quietly.
“I’m feeling better already,” he croaked, before launching into another coughing fit.
She returned to his side with another glass, and a wet towel for his head. If her fingers lingered in his hair after pressing the towel over his burning forehead, she would have fervently denied it. “Get some sleep,” she said.
He nodded, his eyes already slipping shut.