Title: The Land of the Living
By: Jessica Harris
Disclaimer: All things X-Files belong to CC and friends.
Notes: PG 13. No sex at all, but please bear with me folks, I needed to get this one out of my system. Mortality warning. No beta - this was a quickie, so any mistakes my fault.
Feedback: Please! lumpj@hotmail.com


================
The Land of the Living
Jessica Harris
================

We're watching the computer screen when Byers' chest bleeps. He excuses himself, and disappears into the kitchen with a rattle of pills. The drug-minder appeared around his neck a couple of months ago - he's on one of the new drug cocktails, three, maybe four drugs, plus all the others, the prophylaxes for the infections he's survived.

"My human Tamagotchi," Langly calls him now, mockingly, but hope and fear wage war in the eyes behind his glasses. Byers' viral load is down, Langly tells us, but his T-Cells remain stubbornly low.

The drugs make him tired, and upset his stomach, to his own hideous embarrassment. Sometimes he can't control the nausea, and Langly holds his shoulders as he vomits into whatever's handy, holds his shoulders and glares balefully at anyone who dares to stare.

Byers hates it, just as he hates the way his suits sit oddly on him now, his arms and legs still too thin but his shirts straining over a small hard paunch. "It's the drugs," Scully tells me when I ask her privately, worried that it's some strange new problem. "Crix belly.It's just one of the side effects."

Byers has never been a vain man, but he's always been thin and dapper, and I know he finds it hard. We were walking down the street one day and he caught sight of himself in a window. He stopped and stared, his face appalled. Langly came up behind him and hugged that round little belly hard, and Byers turned to look at him with an expression I had to turn away from, there was so much naked emotion in it. They're neither of them demonstrative men, not usually.

I'm ashamed at how relieved I am it's not me. Byers and I spent some nights together in the past, comfort mostly, nothing serious. I was happy when he and Langly hooked up - they're a strange couple, but you can tell they have something really solid.

And we were always safe, but still... the first thing I did when he told me was hug him tight for a long time. The second thing I did was run to the clinic and have myself tested again. It hadn't been that long since my last test, but I couldn't help myself. When the results came back negative, I was so relieved I cried.

And then I cried some more. Jesus christ, why *wasn't* it me? I was always safe with Byers, but that's more than I can claim with Alex, and god only knows where *he* puts his dick when I don't safely have ahold of it. I cried for Byers and Langly, and for myself and Alex, and for all the stupid fucking things we do for love. None of this should carry a death sentence,none of it.

And me, I've not been sentenced to death, but sometimes I feel I've been sentenced to life, a life of fear and mistrust and precautions, a life of watching my friends die.

Scully got angry at me when I said that. "Stop feeling sorry for yourself, Mulder!" she snapped, and I winced, thinking of her cancer. "Be grateful for what you have. And it's not like Byers is dead already - he could have years left, he still has a life. If you want to do something about it, call him up, see if you can help."

But she hugged me tight before she left that day, said "Take care of yourself, Mulder. Stay safe." Once she was gone, I dissolved into tears again. It's a responsibility, you see, having people who love you. It took me a long time to learn that.

Then I picked up the phone, and dialed. "Byers? Hey, it's Mulder. Anything you guys need?"

That was a few years ago now, and we've all pitched in since. I dropped by one morning and found only Frohike there. "Miss Scully's taken Byers and Langly to the hospital," he reports. "She thinks his shunt is infected. We've concealed this address so well that we can't get home care for him, so she's been by to take care of the IV for his drugs." She hadn't even mentioned it to me.

Now Byers returns from the kitchen, sipping grapefruit juice, and stands beside me. I put an arm around his shoulders and squeeze a little. He looks surprised, but leans into me, accepting the affection. I pull him closer, hug him long and hard like the day he told me. He rests his face on my shoulder. No one comments. I get the feeling we've all been doing this to him lately, all his friends, all the people who now make up his family. Putting our arms around him and squeezing, as if by holding on tight enough we can bind him here, keep him with us just that much longer.

 


 

Title: The Land of the Living II
By: Jessica Harris
Disclaimer: All things X-Files belong to CC and friends.
Notes: PG 13. Warning - !!Character Death!!
Feedback: Please Please! lumpj@hotmail.com


================
The Land of the Living II
Jessica Harris
================

We keep telling ourselves that he was ready. And it's probably the truth; the lymphoma was at an early stage still, and though he was thin and tired, and used a cane when the neuropathy was bad, there was no reason for it to happen so suddenly.

He even seemed to get slightly better that last little while. It might have been going off the drugs - sometimes their side-effects are worse than the actual disease - but all of a sudden he was *there* again, present in a way we all realised he hadn't been in a long time . . .

Maybe it was because he was always a quiet man, who didn't like to complain, but it was too easy to forget sometimes, to joke about him growing old with the guys, to say something like "Five years from now, we'll all laugh at this." And then something would shut down in his eyes, and suddenly he'd be looking right through you, looking out at something no one else could see. And you'd remember, remember that he never would grow old, that in five years he might not be around to laugh or do anything else . . . I know, none of us have any guarantees, any one of us could be hit by a bus tomorrow. But somehow it's different to *know*. And so I think he started to keep a lot inside himself, and just grew quieter and quieter and more and more remote.. .

So it was a bigger shock than I liked to admit to look up that day and see him in the doorway of my office. "Come on, Mulder," he said. "There's something you have to see," and the urgency in his voice made me drop what I was doing and follow him without protest. All he would say in answer to my questions was "I can't talk here," and I was starting to panic a little as I followed his limping progress down the hallway. I didn't know what to expect, but it certainly wasn't Langly waiting in a red convertible with rental plates in the parking garage. A red convertible with an enormous picnic basket in the back seat.

"What the hell!?" I said, but he just jumped out of the car and helped Byers hustle me into the back.

"Wait and see, Mulder," he said with a wicked grin.

It was warm out, one of those gorgeous spring days when the leaves are all still new and fresh and the sun is just warm enough to give you a first taste of summer. It had been years since I rode in a convertible, and I had forgotten what it felt like, that steady rush of wind in your face, how much faster everything seemed to fly by somehow. Finally we pulled in at a small park I had never been to before, and Byers led me to a picnic table near the pond while Langly followed after with the ridiculous picnic basket.

"What's going on?" I asked, but neither one of them would answer my question, just unpacked sandwiches and beer and started to eat.

So I gave in, and we sat there for a couple of hours, eating and drinking and talking about old cases and new theories. And it was really . . . well, *nice* - I realised it had been a long time since I had done anything like this, just sitting around, talking...

Eventually Langly got up and wandered down by the pond, peering suspiciously at the ducks that swam there, and Byers moved to sit beside me. "Hey, Mulder?" he said, and when I turned to him he grabbed my tie and kissed me soundly. I think my jaw dropped when he pulled away - Byers would never have kissed me in public even when we dated, let alone now, with his boyfriend standing by.

"What was *that* for?" I asked when I recovered.

"When was the last time someone kissed you?" he said gently. "For that matter, when was the last time you had dinner with someone, or talked about anything other than work?"

I shrugged uncomfortably. Things hadn't been quite the same with Scully since Diana Fowley and the trouble she had brought. Skinner seemed to be doing his best to distance himself completely, and things with Alex had gotten . . . well, OK, they had never been anything *but* complicated. But this last year it had all gotten to be too much, and I hadn't seen him in months. Didn't know when I would see him again, *if* I would see him again. And I wasn't sure how I felt about that. Or felt about anything anymore, to tell you the truth.

As if he could read my thoughts Byers shook his head and said, "I know, I know, your boyfriend poisoned your boss, and your girlfriend had a piece of your brain surgically removed, and I'm sure you have every right to have some trust issues, Mulder. But - you're not getting any younger, you know. *This* is what I wanted you to see -" he waved his arm at the park around us, "Look! This park is full of beautiful men, it's a gorgeous day outside, this is going to be a beautiful summer, and if we hadn't come along and dragged you away you'd have wasted it all down in the basement. We hacked into the personnel files, you know, and I wonder if you've noticed that you haven't taken a holiday in two years. Don't make me resent you *too* much, Mulder - it's not fair to *have* a life, and then to waste it."

That's when I suddenly realised that an all-too-familiar ritual had been missing from the lunch. "Your pills!" I said. "You didn't take them! John, please, what's happening?"

He looked away, back down at Langly by the pond. "They found lymphoma at my last check-up. Not much use in staying on the cocktail now."

"Oh," I said awkwardly, "Oh, John. I'm sorry."

By then Langly was walking back towards us, and Byers called out "Ringo? Can we go somewhere Italian for dinner? And then how about a drive-in? *Are* there still drive-ins? I haven't been to one since I was a kid."

***

He ended up falling asleep 20 minutes into the movie, curled in the back seat under the blanket from the picnic basket. Langly leaned over the seat and made sure his feet were covered, then turned back to the screen, taking his glasses off and polishing them furiously. When I looked over, there were tears on his cheeks.

"This movie *sucks*," he said tightly, and when I put a hand on his shoulder, he dropped his head onto the steering wheel and cried and cried. Then we drove home. Neither one of us felt much like staying for the rest of the show.

Three weeks later Byers was dead. Nothing huge and dramatic - one morning he just didn't wake up.

So we tell ourselves -- *I* tell *myself* -- that he was ready, that he simply...let go. But we can't really know, can we?

And he might have been ready, but the rest of us sure weren't. It's a beautiful summer, just like he said it would be, but it seems like none of us can tear ourselves away from the empty space where he used to be. Scully keeps downloading information from the treatment pipeline, stacks of paper that gather dust on her desk until eventually she drops them in the recycling bin. Langly haunts the apartment like a ghost - I dropped by there the other day and he was sitting at the desk, staring at the computer screens, which for the first time I can remember were all switched off. Frohike looks frail and suddenly old. Scully kissed his cheek at the funeral, and he didn't say anything, just stood there tugging at the lapel of his scruffy suit.

And me? Well, I know what I feel about this. I *hate* it. It seems to me sometimes that I've spent my whole life doing this, haunting the small empty spaces where people used to be. Byers was right, it's not much of a life, and it's not fair to the people who still *are* here. At my worst moments I feel like I would have traded my life for his - haven't I endangered mine in stupid ways often enough? But I know that's not what he was asking me for, not really.

But I feel like I do owe him something, owe it to him to at least try and be *there*, be present in my own life again. I haven't tried to contact Alex yet, but Scully and I have talked a little, and it's getting better, however slowly. And in front of me on my desk right now is a request for two weeks vacation. I hope I can still catch a little of the summer before it ends.

____________________________________________________