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Death Will Be Our Darling

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Georgetown University Medical Center
Critical Care Unit, bed 3
4:17 a.m., June 19

It was the headache that finally woke him. He'd had hangovers, fatigue and eyestrain headaches, the occasional sinus headache, and way too many post-concussion headaches. Roll them all together, add in that skull-splitter he'd had in Alaska after almost dying from the blood-thickening alien virus, and you came up with something that didn't hold a candle to this one. If he could have figured out a way to cut off his head he'd do it--and not care two hoots in a holler that he was committing suicide. However, since the pain made it impossible to think of a method, he did the only thing he could: he groaned in agony.

That was a mistake. The vibration of his own voice was just that tiny bit too much. In mid-groan he fell back into unconsciousness.


 

11:21 p.m., June 25

Words that weren't in any language he understood provided the rhythm to his life. There were male and female voices, but they never seemed to hear him when he told them about the headache. Finally, he couldn't stand it any longer, and decided that he'd scream loud enough to wake the dead, if that's what it took to make them listen. ". . . hurts."

Margaret Scully leaned forward and tenderly stroked the flaccid hand lying on top of the bed covers. "Fox, it's Margaret Scully--Dana's mother. You have to talk louder, dear; I can't quite understand you." She held her breath for fear that she'd miss his next attempt.

". . . hurts."

He was talking. A real word, not gibberish. After three days in a coma and another six days of agitated, incoherent delirium, Fox was waking up, and Dana wasn't here. For just a moment, Margaret berated herself for insisting that her daughter go home and sleep in her own bed for one entire night. Then she put that pang of guilt aside and said, "What hurts, Fox?"

There was a long pause, long enough for her to press the nurse's call button and then wonder if she hadn't imagined it after all.

". . . head . . ."

Mrs. Scully was a saint. She had to be--not only had she stopped the pain, but she'd found a way to teach all those voices to speak English. This one was saying something about "glad you're back with us" and "get the doctor".

When the voice had gone, he decided to simply enjoy the emptiness left behind inside his head when the pain had stopped. It was so quiet he could swear he could hear rosary beads slipping between Mrs. Scully's fingers. They went beep . . . beep . . . beep . . . beep . . .. It was much too bright behind his closed eyes, but that was still better than the excruciating black he'd been not- seeing for however long it was.

The entire right side of his head itched. He started to reach up to scratch, and a flare of agony stopped him. That's when he realized that his shoulder had moved, but not the elbow or wrist. He had a broken arm, with a cast on it. Well, if the right hand couldn't get there, maybe the left could. That hand barely moved.

Great.

He hated it when they restrained him. That had happened a couple of times before. Hospitals had such stupid rules about removing restraints, too. Like you had to not scratch all the itchy places where there were IVs, stitches, and tape, and not move the oxygen tubing that was tickling your nose, and God forbid if you even touched the Foley catheter tubing that pulled unmercifully if you didn't turn over in slow motion to make sure it wasn't hung up somewhere. That was sure to get you restrained for another twenty-four hours, as well as a lecture on how much damage you could do to your bladder if you pulled the catheter out.

But if you asked, sometimes--

He was asleep before he had the chance to try.


 

6:30 p.m., June 30

"Yes, Mom . . . Yes, Mom . . . No, Mom . . . I love you, too, Mom."

Scully took the phone from his ear and hung it up. "What did she say?"

"Mostly unintelligible. I think she understands." His mother's recovery from her stroke last year had been remarkable, but not nearly complete. He could remember all the trouble he'd had trying to find a way for her to stay at home. It had taken a dozen trips up there, each time to hire a new live-in companion, before she agreed that she couldn't keep the house and needed to move into an "assisted living" apartment. At least she had been happy there the last time he went see her.

Maybe he should write her a letter; she could understand writing better than she understood speech. Maybe Scully or her mom would do that for him. Maybe he'd actually remember something about this conversation later. He realized he was beginning to sound pretty bitter, even to himself, and told himself to cut it out.

At that point in his brooding Scully said, "I could write her a letter if you want me to."

He didn't reply because he was afraid he'd scream in frustration instead. His right arm was in a cast and the brain damage had almost completely paralyzed his left arm and leg--he was nearly as helpless as a newborn baby. The only thing that kept him from screaming was the fear that he'd trigger a headache if he opened his mouth that wide and made that much noise.

Scully must have learned how to read his mind because this time she said, "Mulder, you know, if you weren't so weak you'd be besieged by every neurosurgeon, neurologist, memory expert, and therapist on the East Coast."

He blinked at her in surprise. "Huh?"

She grinned at him. "Isabelle--that's Dr. Carrington, your doctor, by the way--and your PT think your recovery is due to your eidetic memory. Isabelle doesn't know how, of course, but you're getting back the use of your left side at a rate that's nearly unbelievable."

He smiled at finally hearing some good news and turned his attention to something equally important. "So what happened to me, Scully? Nobody's told me anything." Moving very slowly to minimize the headache and dizziness from the skull fractures, Mulder shifted his head to center his uncovered left eye on her. "If I haven't remembered it yet, can't we assume the retrograde amnesia is permanent?"

Scully shifted from standing with her weight on her right foot to standing with her weight centered, and crossed her arms, giving him one of her patented "Don't try my patience, Mulder" looks. As much as he could see her in the dim light which was all he could tolerate, she looked exhausted and out of sorts, but he didn't care. Right now she was the most beautiful person he'd ever seen. Not that Mrs. Scully wasn't good looking, but she wasn't the right Scully.

His Scully might have been at his bedside eighteen to twenty hours a day for two full weeks, but he didn't remember seeing her. He didn't remember seeing her mother either, except for today before Scully came. Hell, he didn't remember much of _anything_ from the last five days. As far as he could remember, this was the first time he'd seen Scully since saying goodnight on June 4th. At least that was better than it had been. When he first woke up, according to the nurse, he couldn't remember anything after Memorial Day. It was frustrating. It was more than frustrating, it was driving him crazy.

He knew the medical reason for the gaping hole in his memory-- retrograde and anterograde amnesia secondary to traumatic brain injury. His chart would have TBI as his primary diagnosis, and they would gauge his overall progress, to a certain extent, on how quickly he regained his memories from before the accident, and on how soon his memory since he woke up started being continuous rather than spotty. But knowing the reason for the amnesia didn't make it any easier to accept. And this was nothing like the few hours he'd lost when he'd had his memory tinkered with at Ellens Air Force Base. If he counted in the time after whatever-it-was happened until his first clear memory, then he was talking about more than three weeks missing.

How was he supposed to live with all that time missing? How the hell was he supposed to live if his memory never got any better than it was now? It wasn't like for other people. They didn't have eidetic memories. They--

Scully was answering him, and she'd be pissed if he wasn't paying attention.

"Mulder, I can't. You have to talk to the police first and--" She stopped in mid-sentence with a look of horror on her face.

He pounced. "Too late, Scully. You can't take it back. If I have to talk to the police, then get them in here *today*, and then tell me what the hell happened to me! For that matter, why the police? Why not you? Why not Ski--?"

His entire head exploded into agony, so bad he could feel himself teetering on the brink of unconsciousness. Scully must have pushed the button on his IV pump that gave him an extra dose of Demerol, because after several minutes he could feel the pain slowly back down toward its usual level. When he could open his eye again and look at her, Scully was talking to a nurse he hadn't heard come in. He caught the end of her explanation: ". . . tried to say too much at once. All that muscle movement--" The nurse nodded and left.

That was interesting. It made sense, too. They wouldn't even let him try pureed foods instead of the Ensure he drank for meals because that would be too much work. Chewing and talking used a lot of the same facial muscles, so if simply mouthing pureed "whatever" was working too hard, then saying more than a couple of sentences at once was obviously working too long.

Scully sighed and turned back to him. "Mulder, I'll talk to Dr. Carrington, but don't be surprised if nothing happens. She rarely lets the police talk to her patients until they're out of the CCU."

She shook her head then. "And no, I don't know when you'll 'graduate'. I'm not a neurosurgeon, I don't specialize in head injuries, and I will not risk losing my and my mother's unlimited visiting privileges by pestering Dr. Carrington."

He knew better than to try nodding. He started to point to the IV pump, indicating he wanted more Demerol, but he couldn't lift his left arm or hand enough to point. Scully interpreted his aborted movement correctly anyway. In another few minutes the pain receded still more, enough to let him fall asleep.


 

Georgetown University Medical Center
Step-down Unit, room 712
9:45 a.m., July 7

Scully was sitting next to her mother. Assistant Director Skinner was at the window, half-perched on the sill, because there wasn't space for four chairs in this room. Mulder let Dr. Carrington raise the head of the bed two-thirds of the way up--the maximum he could tolerate. If he did it for himself, he got dizzy at about half way up because he had to watch for the "stop here" mark taped to the bed rail rather than stare straight ahead. When the bed had stopped moving, he carefully turned his head a bit to the left, so he was looking more-or-less at all four of them, but not at the window.

He knew that with the window blinds drawn, the door closed, and all the lights off, there was enough light for them, but just that small amount from around the edges of the blinds was more than he'd be able to tolerate, even with sunglasses on, if this conference lasted more than ten or fifteen minutes. It was a toss-up which was worse, the constant headache and double vision, or the unbelievable sensitivity to light and glare. The first could be handled with morphine instead of Demerol now, the second by closing one eye, but the only thing he could do for the last was keep his eyes closed and covered, or have the door shut, the lights out, and the window completely opaqued, with only the "night light" illuminating his room. That, of course, wasn't an option when the staff had to do something, so he spent the greater portion of his waking hours with his eyes covered. At least his left arm was back to normal. He'd know about the leg when he tried walking.

"Patient Care Conference". God, he hated that term. A bunch of medical people got together and decided what they were going to do to you. If you were conscious and awake when they were done deciding, you got asked what you thought about the plans, and if you had any objections. Then they went ahead with their plans anyway. Maybe this time, however, with three "civilians"--he decided to count Scully on his side--and just the doctor, he'd actually have some say in what was decided.

Skinner went first. He was finally going to hear what had happened to him on June 16th.

"You got carjacked, Agent Mulder. In Georgetown. In the middle of a case. The best the police can determine from where you were lying in the parking lot, the perpetrator surprised you while you were unlocking the car. Given that it was night, and with the power outage and how hard it was raining--and knowing just how narrowly you focus during a case--that makes a certain amount of sense. It does not excuse your carelessness, however. You must have gotten your right arm part-way up, but he swung the baseball bat hard enough to break your arm and fracture your skull. Then he took another swing for good measure."

Scully took over at that point. "You're lucky you didn't die right then and there, Mulder. Be thankful the only major problems remaining are a fractured radius and a good portion of the right side of your skull fractured. You could have had--should have had--severe permanent brain damage."

Mulder tried to find some memory--any memory--that fit with that explanation. It was useless. In the week since he'd asked Scully what had happened, his memory had become continuous and eidetic again, and he had also remembered everything from June 4th through mid-morning of the 16th itself. The last thing he remembered was the office phone ringing and himself reaching out to pick it up. Then his memory simply stopped. He didn't even know what case they'd been working on, and Scully had consistently refused to tell him, saying it was solved, closed, over--and had not been an X-File.

He wasn't satisfied with not knowing, so he said to his boss, "Sir, will you tell me about the case? Scully says it doesn't matter."

The look Skinner shot Scully spoke volumes. His words backed up that look. "I assume you're paraphrasing Agent Scully. The case matters a great deal to the Bureau, but it's closed. It was a raid gone bad, with four of our agents and six D.C. police officers killed. Every available agent and police officer was called in. You and Agent Scully were sent home because you weren't needed any longer. Agent Scully's report says you volunteered to get the car because of the rain. You know the rest."

Even that extra information didn't help him remember. He mentally shrugged off the frustration he felt at *not* being able to remember, and turned carefully to look at his doctor. "Now what? When can I get out of here and go back to work?" The question was only partly facetious.

Isabelle Carrington shook her head, sending her bead-tipped braids swinging gently. "Agent Mulder, this is only your third day out of the CCU. Don't you ever relax?" She smiled and glanced at Scully and her mother and Skinner, including them in her explanation.

"I won't discharge you until the pain can be managed by oral painkillers. You're doing well, even after we switched you to IV morphine, but you're still on strict bed rest. For that matter, you're not yet sitting straight up in bed. When you begin standing, things will definitely get worse before they get better, so don't get discouraged.

"We'll also continue monitoring you very closely for seizures. They're common after head injuries, so you won't be allowed to get out of bed or walk unless someone is with you every step of the way for at least the first couple of weeks. If you were to fall, you could kill yourself by hitting your head against something.

"You can assume the skull fractures will be healed in another three weeks. Your fractured radius might take a week or two more- -a total of seven or eight weeks. Light sensitivity as extreme as yours after a head injury is almost unheard of, but it will get better. The double vision--" She shrugged. "The Optometrist with our Head Injury Program will come see you when you're a bit stronger; he can tell you more. The headaches will gradually diminish in intensity and frequency, and should be gone in six months."

"Six months! You're telling me I have to live with these . . . these . . .." He couldn't find the words to convey the intensity of pain. "For up to another six mo--" He had to stop in mid-word, because if he didn't he was sure he'd pass out.

Dr. Carrington was polite enough to wait till the extra morphine had taken effect and he could pay attention again. Her list of cans and can'ts--and there were easily ten times as many can'ts-- went on for entirely too long. Her Jamaican accent was very soothing and he found himself with his eyes closed, listening to the sound of her words, not their content. Then the simultaneous change in her voice and the sound of her shifting position snapped his attention back to her.

She had turned directly to his boss. "If you can accommodate those restrictions, Assistant Director Skinner, Agent Mulder can return to desk work any time he feels ready after his first week out of the hospital. Just don't expect him to be able to work anywhere near a full day for quite a while."

Then she spoke to all of them again. "I'll leave you four to discuss things. I know it sounds overwhelming, so I want you to write down any questions or concerns you have, any at all. I'll come back this afternoon--say, 4:30?--to answer those questions. I'll put my answers in writing." She paused and pulled several sheets of paper out of her jacket pocket. "These reiterate what I told you, and further explain some of the restrictions. Dr. Scully can probably answer most of your 'why' questions." She put the papers on his over-bed table, nodded to each of them, and left.

She left behind stunned silence. Mrs. Scully and Skinner were obviously trying to comprehend everything she'd said--and he'd missed 95% of it. He reached out with his left hand for the papers, intending to quickly read through them so the others wouldn't know he had no idea what had been said.

Scully got there ahead of him. "Mulder! Stop that! You know you'll be seeing double if you try to read more than a line or two. Let me go over this with Mom and Mr. Skinner, while you rest. I'll come back in an hour--I promise--and then I'll answer your questions." The look she gave him said she knew he'd zoned out and she was sparing him the embarrassment of the others finding out.

She herded them out of the room, shutting the door quietly but firmly. So he did the only reasonable thing: he put the bed back down and took a nap.


 

Dr. Isabelle Carrington's office
11:29 a.m.

Scully couldn't believe she'd missed the implications of the Dilantin until she'd read through those papers with her mom and Mr. Skinner. Or was it that she wouldn't let herself see them? She just hoped Mulder was still sleeping, and that he wouldn't realize she hadn't come back in the promised hour. But she couldn't tell him this, and what it meant. She had decided to try to get Dr. Carrington to see her side--Mulder's side--of the situation, which was why she was now sitting here in the doctor's office.

"Isabelle, you've got to understand. Mulder is not your typical head injury patient--"

"No, Dana, you've got to understand. This isn't your specialty; grant that I know my business. Seizures are practically a given. He hasn't had any yet, that's true, but that might very well be because he's already on the Dilantin. And he'll stay on it, for the full three years that's recommended."

Isabelle sat back, behind her desk, and looked at her as if she was being childishly resistant to something she knew she had to do. Scully shook off the feeling and replied, "I do understand. I know the medical reasoning. But I also know Mulder. I can tell you for a fact that he'll be dead inside a month if you tell him he's on an anticonvulsant for three years. What you have to understand is that Mulder is a Field Agent, and there's no way the FBI will allow him in the field on an anticonvulsant. You're sentencing him to three years of desk work with no possibility of parole. Mulder won't want to live like that. He'll give up without even trying."

The neurosurgeon came around to the front of the desk, taking the chair next to the one she was in. "How can you be so sure? How do you know that he won't understand and accept it, as he's accepted the other problems--the double vision, the dizzy spells, the headaches, to name just three? They come with the territory. If he can accept those, why can't he accept the need to take precautions and try to prevent seizures? One seizure, Dana, that's all it takes. Then he will be on medicine for the rest of his life."

"One seizure maybe versus Dilantin for three years for sure. The X-Files for an unknown length of time versus desk work for three years. There's no comparison as far as Mulder's concerned. He won't say a word to you, he'll take the medicine--how can he not? He can't even open his eyes when the nurse hands him the various liquids, so how could he know the Dilantin from any of his other medicine except maybe by taste? And with the headaches still so overwhelming, I doubt that he cares about any medicine except the morphine.

"Isabelle, he'll stop fighting. His morphine usage will skyrocket, he'll quit working on sitting up straighter in bed, he'll . . . I don't know what else, and I know he won't actively try to kill himself, but he'll just quit. One night the nurse will come in to check on him and he'll just be dying. And I categorically refuse to give you permission to put him back on life support. When he first came in, yes, obviously he needed it. There was no way he could have survived if he hadn't been on life support until his breathing stabilized. But if he decides he doesn't want to live, I'm not going to force him."

Isabelle looked at her with an expression she couldn't decipher, and stood up to walk across her office. She paused in front of a framed photograph of a ramshackle hut with a man, a pregnant woman, three very young naked boys, a goat, and a half-starved dog in front of it. She put up a hand and gently caressed the faces. When she spoke, she was speaking to the picture. Her voice was very gentle and very sad. "You shouldn't have said that, Dana. You couldn't possibly know what memories you would bring up."

She took the picture down, brought it back and handed it to her. "This was my family. It's the only picture that was ever taken. I'm the not-yet-born one. This was in 1930, in Jamaica, and my parents were very, very poor. They did what they had to, to put food on the table for themselves and my brothers. They even demanded payment for posing for that picture. Obviously they had no money for school if they didn't even have money for clothes for my brothers.

"When I was twelve, an epidemic went through the region. Probably dysentery or cholera, but we'll never know. My entire family died, as well as most of the people in the village. I didn't die because I was working for a rich man in a nearby town. I wanted an education so badly, Dana, that I just about sold myself into slavery to get the chance to work in a house that had books, and where the owner wouldn't beat me if I asked to read them. I lived in his house and ate the leftover food prepared for him and drank the water that came from his faucets. Not like my family, who drank untreated water from the village's community well and barely warmed their food because they couldn't afford enough fuel to cook with.

"When I found out that the rest of my family was dead, I wanted to die. In a week I was on my deathbed. Literally. Then the man for whom I worked came to show me the books that had arrived. He'd ordered them just for me, because I cared about books as passionately as he did."

She took the picture back and held it for a minute before going to hang it up again. "So I know what you mean by willing yourself to die. I thought I had nothing left to live for, yet I willed myself to live because I was reminded that there was something I cared for more than I cared whether I lived or died.

"If Fox Mulder cares that much about the 'X-Files', whatever they are, then I won't take them away from him."

Back at her desk now, Isabelle was once again the efficient neurosurgeon. "I can't just stop the anticonvulsant, you know. It's part of the hospital's protocol for head injuries. Mulder has to start paying attention to his meds, _all_ of them, so he'll know which is the Dilantin and can refuse it. You're not likely to be happy with what happens then, and I guarantee you he won't like it. I'll have to switch him to an IV anticonvulsant temporarily, whether he likes the idea or not. He's going to have to sit through--" She suddenly cracked a smile. "Well, 'lie through' is more accurate, in both senses of the word--lie through mandatory patient education sessions about the possibility of seizures and what damage they can do, and what the drugs do, and prove that he understands all that, and then still refuse. He'll also have to talk to a psychiatrist to prove he's competent to make the decision to refuse to take an anticonvulsant. Given how overwhelming the headaches are and how often he simply drifts off--I did notice that during the Care Conference, Dana--that's not going to be easy. John Kennedy is normally my first choice if I have to refer someone to a psychiatrist, but Mulder wouldn't stand a chance of convincing him."

Dr. Carrington fell silent, forehead puckering as she mentally scanned their options. "It'll have to be Lamont. Yes, I'll make sure it's Lamont that Mulder talks to. He's semi-retired, and with good reason: he's a good man, but he's more worried about his terminally ill wife than anything else these days." She was quiet for a moment, then brightened, apparently enjoying the conspiracy. "All right, then, I'll call Lamont.

"Once Mulder gets through those hurdles, he'll have to sign a release saying he knows what could happen to him, and he's willing to take that responsibility AND that he gives up the right to sue his doctors and the hospital and any of its employees if he should have a seizure at any time. If he's not able to do all that, or if you or he aren't willing to accept that responsibility, Dana, then you're stuck. You've got his Medical Power of Attorney, and because you're a physician, the hospital won't let you stop the Dilantin now, when you didn't object to it initially. So don't even discuss this with him, if you think or know he can't handle it. Remember, we're going to have to be on the side of reason on this. Mulder's going to have be stubborn and stick to his position, no matter how outrageous it seems."

Dana cracked up; she couldn't help it, no matter how serious the doctor was being. When her whoops of laughter had calmed down to intermittent giggles, she was finally able to explain. "Oh, God, Isabelle, you've just described the Mulder I work with every day. He comes up with these totally unscientific, absolutely impossible theories, and it's my job to refute them, to prove there's a reasonable, logical, scientifically-based solution to the problem. Usually we come to a compromise. Sometimes--not often, but sometimes--he comes all the way around to my way of seeing things. I guess this time he won't, will he?"

Isabelle smiled at that, then turned serious yet again. "Dana, even if Mulder remains totally seizure-free, it'll still be at least six months before I'll give him a medical release for full duty. It could be a lot longer: I want to see three months with no residual physical problems."

Scully nodded slowly, thinking that over. "What about driving? Will that same three months apply? He's going to get very . . .." She wasn't sure how to put it politely, then settled on, "Antsy, if I have to drive him everywhere when nothing's wrong any longer."

This time Isabelle was the one to laugh. "Oh, so he's one of those men, is he? Don't worry. As soon as he's able, I'll schedule him for a driving evaluation. The DMV's 'six months seizure-free' rule is only for someone who's had a seizure. Mulder hasn't had any so that doesn't apply."

So things weren't nearly as bad as she'd imagined they would be before this talk. And she hadn't hurt the tentative friendship she'd established with this woman who had overcome more, and higher, obstacles in her lifetime than any Dana could imagine would face her and Mulder.

All she had to do now was try to explain to Mulder his part in this "conspiracy".

And survive the next six months.