Stolen Moments (M/Sk, PG-13)
by Debra Fran Baker
<dfbaker@panix.com>


***Prologue***

May 14, 1998
Barryville High School
Barryville, Ohio

I had been Fox Mulder's partner for five years. I had seen him asleep on motel room floors, in cramped airline seats and beside me in parked cars. I had seen him unconscious because of injuries, fever or shock, and I had seen him drugged in hospital beds and his own couch, and sometimes by my own hand. Even then, even when he was so deep he couldn't react to pain, I could see his questing, restless spirit move in him, and make it impossible for him to be completely quiet, completely at rest.

He was completely still on that cot in the makeshift ward. Only the slow beeps of the EEG told us he was alive. I stole glances at him as I worked my way down the rows of silent, unmoving patients. Every so often, I could see Skinner, Walter, steal time from his own tireless labors to go to Mulder and just hold his hand for a moment, or stroke his forehead, or kiss his cheek with a tenderness that would have made me cry if I had any tears left.

Then, he would get up and bathe more patients, check more IV's, comfort more survivors, and make more phone calls. Meanwhile, I administered yet another experimental drug and prayed for all of us, and wondered at the people who let all this loose on the world, or at least on this small town.

***Chapter One***

May 7, 1998
J. Edgar Hoover Building
Washington, DC

Mulder's hair was wet when he entered the office that morning, and his eyes were bright. I knew he'd spent the night by himself because he'd called me three times - once to talk about Voyager, once to make certain I was watching Babylon 5 and once just because he was lonely.

"Did you two have a good workout?"

"Yeah." He grinned. "People are used to us being in the gym at the same time. And I get to watch Walter pump up without anyone noticing."

"Other people use the gym."

"We don't do anything out of line. It's not like we're necking in the parking garage."

"Ah, yes. Steamed up windows on a Thursday morning in the JEH garage. No one will suspect a thing. I could see *you* doing this, Mulder, but I'm glad you couldn't talk Walter into it."

He got out his coffee cup - the new one Walter had given him. "Me talk him into it? There have been times I've been the voice of reason."

"You, Mulder? I'm surprised you don't jump him in the gym."

He looked at me in shock. "Scully! That would attract attention."

"At least you're keeping your heads." One day, my partner and my boss might be caught, and that would be the end of their careers. It wasn't just that they were both men. We all know that's time-honored here in the FBI. It was also that Walter was our supervisor, and that isn't permitted. Frankly, I was worried, but better this than watching them pine for one another.

"Good. Now I can tell you about our plans for the weekend."

I rolled my eyes. "Do I need to know what you and Walter are doing this weekend?"

"Actually, Scully, I was talking about you and me. Take a look at this file." He handed me a folder.

In it were photographs of what looked like dead bodies -twelve adults and children of both sexes. There was an autopsy report attached. I began to read it.

"Mulder - these people aren't dead."

"No. A few days ago, all of these people were healthy and active. Then, out of the blue, they became like this. No one knows why, and at least one was almost dissected before they realized that they were alive. Their metabolism is down to almost nothing, but their brains are functioning. No one knows why."

"Do you have any theories?"

"I think something has forced their spirits to travel the astral plane." He said it with all seriousness. Mulder may have had his doubts about aliens, but never about the supernatural - unless the supernatural was God. My partner was the king of contradictions.

"I have feeling it's something a lot more mundane, like sleeping sickness."

"Not that many tsetse flies around Barryville, Ohio, Scully."

"Is that where we're going?"

"Yep."

"Why isn't the CDC handling this?"

"I don't know. I got this from other sources. We're flying to Columbus this afternoon. Pack your doctor stuff."

"Does Walter know?"

He fidgeted with a pencil. "He signed off on the 302, so I guess he does. I'll have to find some reason to see him before we go. We've been apart before."

"It doesn't get easier, does it?" I reached for his hand.

"No. The day it does is the day I'll start to worry. I'm beginning to think that maybe...I'll call him."

I shook my head as he went to the phone. He still wasn't certain of his feelings. He could believe in vampires, but that he could be in love or that someone could love him? That was impossible.

"Hi, Kim? It's Agent Mulder. Is AD Skinner available? A meeting? Okay. No, it's not an emergency. No need to page him. Tell him that Agent Scully and I will be heading for Ohio in a few hours. Great. Thanks."

Mulder had no idea that Kim knew their secret. I thought that Skinner suspected that she did, but he wasn't about to find out for certain. Skinner's secretary was the best ally I had in the effort to preserve their jobs.

We spent the rest of the morning cleaning up paperwork, and then went home to pack. He picked me up at one thirty, looking a little forlorn.

"You okay, Mulder?" I tossed my suitcase and my laptop into the backseat of his car.

"I'm fine. I just didn't get a chance to say good-bye to Walter."

"He never returned your phone call?"

"We played phone tag. I'll call him from the motel tonight."

The flight was pretty uneventful. Mulder even napped on the plane while I reviewed the notes. There was some delays at the Columbus airport, but we were in a rental car for the two hour trip to Barryville soon enough.

We got into Barryville about 8PM, and checked into the local motel - an actual Howard Johnson's for a change. He got on the phone before he unpacked, while I unpacked and hung up my things.. After five years of this, I had it down to a science. I was finished when he finally reached Skinner.

"Walter? It's me. I'm in Ohio, at the Barryville HoJo's." Did everyone start a phone conversation with Mulder by asking where he was? "It was an easy trip. I tried to reach you all day. I know, meetings. Yeah. I know. Weekend's probably gone. I'm going to miss you, Walter. I wish I could have, too."

"Mulder, you're not alone in here."

"Scully sends her love. What? If you want. Scully, he wants to talk to you."

I put down the file and took the phone. "Walter? Hi."

"What are you doing?"

"Not much."

"Playing mommy?"

I grinned. "I guess so. He needs one."

Walter's voice was serious. "I know, Dana. That's because he never really had one. Take care of him for me."

"I will, sir. But he should be fine here. No evidence of a killer - at least not a human one."

"Good. Maybe I can sleep tonight. Put him on?"

"Take care, Walter. Mulder, it's your turn again."

He put down the tv remote. "Hi, Walter. Yeah. I'll be okay. I'll call you tomorrow. Miss you. Bye."

He looked sad for a moment, but the mood passed.

"Hey, Scully, there's a diner across the way. Want to get some grease for dinner?"

"Sure. Just let me get my purse."

***Chapter Two***

May 8th
Methodist Hospital
Barryville

The ward held thirteen beds, and there was room for two or three more. A nurse pulled a sheet over the head of one of the patients as a couple standing by the bed cried. A blond man in blue scrubs and a lab coat had his hand on the man's shoulder.

I glanced at Mulder. "There was no mention of deaths in your file."

He frowned. "This is something new." He spoke up. "Excuse me? I'm sorry to intrude."

The man in the scrubs gave the other man a reassuring squeeze and came to us. His eyes were red and there were dark circles underneath.

"Can I help you?"

"We're from the FBI." We held out our badges. "I'm Agent Mulder and this is Agent Scully. *Doctor* Scully."

"Doctor? MD? You mean the government sent someone useful?"

He looked hopeful. I hated crushing those hopes.

"I'm a pathologist, not an epidemiologist. I wish I could say otherwise. And you are?"

"That's still one more doctor than we have. I'm Dr. Peter Miller. I'm chief internist here. And I don't mind telling you I'm in over my head. You can see this is a small hospital - not much more than a clinic. Normally we deliver babies and set broken legs here. Anything bigger goes to Columbus."

"I understand, Doctor." I looked at the grieving couple. "Is there some place private where we could talk?"

"Of course, of course. My office is just down the way. Janice!" A woman in colorful scrubs looked up from the chart she was annotating and walked towards us.

"Yes, Peter?"

"I'm taking Agent Mulder and Dr. Scully to my office. I'll be there if anything changes or needs my attention."

"I'll take care of things." Janice nodded at us and went back to her charting.

Miller's office was indeed just down the hall. He ushered us into a room not all that much bigger than the basement office, but much, much neater.

"Sit, sit. I'll get some coffee started." As he clattered around the coffee maker, we sat down in the chairs facing his desk and Mulder retrieved the file folder.

Instead of sitting on his chair, Miller perched on his desk. "Now, what do you want to know?"

"When did people start dying, Dr. Miller?" Mulder apparently didn't want to waste any time.

"Mr. Gray was the first one we've lost here, Agent Mulder." "How did he die?" I took out a pad.

"We don't know. It's as if he decided he didn't want to come back. Mr. Gray was one of our oldest citizens. That couple you saw was his grandson and his wife. He'd been living with them for the past few years. It's hard on Larry, the grandson. They thought he was dead three days ago when they couldn't wake him from a nap. It's been a roller coaster since then."

"Three days ago. Then he'd be one of the first."

"Yes, Dr. Scully. And it's growing. That ward you saw was one of two, and there are more coming all the time. We're going to run out of facilities soon." He rubbed the hair out of his eyes. "I don't know just why you're here, or what you can do to help, but whatever it is, we need it. We already have one doctor in those wards. Coffee's ready." He got up from the desk. "How do you take it?" Miller fixed three mugs and brought them back.

"Thank you." I sipped my coffee. "Were they all found like Mr. Gray?"

"Some were - those with families. Kids wouldn't get up for school, wives would wake up next to comatose husbands. My baby girl just stopped crying this morning."

"I'm sorry, Doctor." I touched his hand. "We'll do our best."

"My wife is with her now. I think she blames me a little."

Mulder put down his mug. "How do you mean?"

Miller shrugged. "If it's infectious, I could have brought it home. But then why is she ill and not me? Or Amy?"

"Dr. Miller...earlier, you said that Mr. Gray was the first to die *here.* Have others died elsewhere?"

"Again, Agent Mulder, we don't know for certain. We don't know anything for certain. However, we have found a couple of bodies that were absolutely dead. Both lived alone, although neither were particularly antisocial. The young man was in good health like many of the other patients."

"And the other?"

"She was an middle-aged woman, fairly overweight and out of shape. It could have been a heart attack, except I saw no signs of it."

"You think that living alone was a factor?" Mulder was beginning to look intense.

"Yes. Perhaps if they'd had someone living with them, they might have been helped in time. Or not, since there is very little we can do."

"I noticed IV lines."

"It's a gesture." He got off the desk again. "Output is about equal to input. It just makes us feel better to run glucose through their bodies. They don't seem to be metabolizing much of anything."

"Have there been toxicology studies?" I finally spoke up.

"We don't really have the facilities here, but I've sent samples out to the state university. We haven't gotten the reports back yet."

"What about autopsies on the suspected deaths and on Mr. Gray? Would that be possible?"

"I'll set you up as soon as possible with that, Dr. Scully."

"Dr. Miller?"

"Yes, Agent Mulder? Has anyone reported odd dreams?" I gave him a look. He ignored it.

"Dreams, Agent Mulder?"

"Have people, family members, mentioned any of the patients coming to them in a dream?"

Miller looked at me. I shrugged.

"He has his own theories, Dr. Miller. Sometimes they work out." He looked at me again.

"I'll get you those autopsies, Dr. Scully. Why don't you have a look at the living patients in the meantime."

We stood up and shook hands. As Miller picked up the phone, we left the office and found our way back to the ward.

Janice gave us a smile.

"Which one of you is Dr. Scully? Peter wasn't exactly clear."

"I'm Dana Scully. I'm not practicing, though. I'm not used to the title anymore."

"Yeah, but you love it, Scully. I'm Fox Mulder." He smiled and shook her hand. Mulder was at his most charming. I could see Janice eyeing him up and down. I just kept my grins to myself. Mulder flirted with anyone and anything. It was a game, nothing more.

"I'm Janice Barry."

"Barry? As in Barryville?" Janice sighed.

"My great-great-great grandfather founded the place. How can help you?"

"I'd like to see the other ward and examine some of the patients, if I may."

"Of course, Doctor." Mulder grinned at me behind her back as she led us away. I ignored him.

The other ward was just as strange - beds filled with unmoving people, surrounded by distraught family. There were also cribs here, with silent children surrounded by stuffed animals.

"The kids are the hardest ones to look at. Do you see that crib over there?" She pointed to one with a tall brunette woman next to it. The baby looked Asian. "That's my cousin Amy, who's married to Peter. They just adopted the little girl. They only brought Colby home a couple of months ago."

"So not everyone in this ward was born here?" Mulder stopped being charming and started collecting data.

"No. Others came from out of town. We don't get a lot of newcomers, though."

"If it's not too much trouble, can you get me a list of newcomers?"

"I can find out something, Agent Mulder." I sighed and went to the first of the beds. Mulder and the nurse tagged along behind me.

This patient was a young black woman. There was a little girl, about five, standing next to her, clutching a rag doll and crying.

Mulder immediately crouched down.

"Hi. My name is Fox."

She looked at him. "That's a silly name."

Mulder put on a hurt face. "I guess it is. What's your name?"

"Keesha." She was suddenly shy.

He nodded solemnly. "That's a much nicer name. Can I have it?"

She actually laughed. "You can't be Keesha! You're a boy!"

"Oh. I guess I am. What's your friend's name?"

"Mr. Raggs. Mommy made him for me." She looked like she was going to cry again.

"Is that your mommy, Keesha?"

She nodded. "Mommy's asleep. She went to sleep before dinner last night and she won't wake up. I'm scared."

"Scared of what, Keesha?"

"That Mommy won't wake up."

"Do you see that pretty lady over there? The one next to Nurse Janice?"

"Yeah."

"She's a doctor. She's the best doctor in the world. She'll find a way to make your mommy better."

"Mulder!" It's hard to shout and whisper at the same time.

"Don't listen to her. I know her. She's the best." The frightening part was that he truly believed it. I could hear it in his voice.

"Keesha, sweetie? Where's daddy?" Janice looked worried.

"He went to the bathroom. A long time ago."

Mulder smiled at the little girl. "Keesha, I want you to something for me. First, do you know your daddy's name?"

She nodded.

"What is it, Keesha?"

"Daneel."

"That's wonderful. I want you to stay here with Nurse Janice and Dr. Dana while I go look for your daddy. Can you do that?" She nodded.

"Good girl. I'll be back soon." He looked at Barry, who pointed the way to the men's room. He stood up and ran out.

She turned to me.

"You are very lucky, Dr. Scully."

"You're not his partner. Janice, I have to warn you. He's taken."

"I didn't see any wedding ring on his finger. Or yours, for that matter."

I tried to imagine Fox Mulder with a wedding ring. It would be easier to believe in shape-shifting aliens.

"He's not mine, Ms. Barry. And it's very new."

Her eyes grew wide. And then she smiled at me. "Who ever it is, is very lucky."

I returned her smile. "Depends."

Just then, we heard some shouting down the hall. It was Mulder. "We need some help here!" Two orderlies ran down to the men's room. Someone else fetched a gurney. Mulder came out of the men's room half-carrying a limp black man. They transferred him to the gurney, and within minutes, he was lying next to his wife, while Janice and I hooked him up to various monitors and tubes and Mulder sat on the floor and held the little girl, who in turn was holding her doll. She wasn't crying. She was just staring at all the things we were doing to her daddy.

***Chapter Three***

While Mulder sat in the waiting room telling Keesha stories (I was afraid to find out exactly what he was telling her. I know I heard "Flukie" at least once.) I examined her parents thoroughly.

Both were barely functioning. There was no detectable pulse or blood pressure, but there was a faint and extremely slow heartbeat, and both were breathing extremely slowly. The EEG's showed minimal brain activity.

There was no reaction to pain or any other stimulus. Limbs stayed where they were positioned. Both would have to be turned regularly to prevent or at least limit bedsores.

I took blood and fluid samples but did not send them out to the University lab. Instead, I called the Columbus office and asked them to send me a forensics van with all possible equipment. It wouldn't have the resources of a university lab, but it would be here.

By then it was noon, and I was starving. I went to the waiting room. Mulder and Keesha were on the floor playing with puppets. Keesha was obviously in charge, because I saw her point and Mulder obey. I wanted a video camera. I also wished there had been more for Mulder to do at that point. He was wasted as a babysitter.

"Dr. Dana! Do you want to see our puppet show?" He held up a rather dilapidated king puppet.

"Later, Mulder." I was *not* going to call him Mr. Fox. "Why don't we take Keesha out for lunch? I'll buy."

"Whaddaya say, Keesha? Want something really *bad* for you?"

"McDonald's? Mommy says it's pure junk."

I considered. This little one had had a very bad day indeed. No contest. "Happy meals it is. Just don't argue over the prizes, kids."

"Yaaaay! Thanks, Scully."

We stopped by to tell an increasingly harried Janice where we were going, and got directions to the nearest McDonald's. This was emphatically *not* one of the modern hospitals with fast food built right in. She seemed happy someone was taking care of Keesha.

Keesha was just tall enough that she could hold Mulder's hand without forcing him to stoop, although I knew he would have if he had to. She clutched Mr. Raggs in the other.

We ended up ordering two Happy Meals because they had two sets of toys, one for boys and one for girls. Keesha, of course, was perfectly satisfied with her chicken nuggets, but Mulder had an extra Big Mac and fries. I watched them play with the prizes as I ate my virtuous salad - and stole Mulder's fries when he wasn't looking.

"Keesha? Sweetie, can I ask you a few questions?" We had come down to the frozen yogurt. Keesha was happily getting fudge sauce all over her face.

"I guess, Dr. Dana."

"Did your mommy or daddy go on a trip recently?"

"We visited Grandma for Easter. I had a new dress."

"Easter's fun. I remember looking for Easter eggs and getting all dressed up to go to church in my new clothes."

"I had lots of chocolate."

"Did you eat the ears off the bunny first?"

She nodded. Score one for the grown-up in the bunch.

"Sweetie, did mommy or daddy go on a trip without you?"

"No. It's the school year."

"Are your parents teachers?"

"Uh-huh. Mommy's a principal, and Daddy teaches big kids. I can't go to Mommy's school next year 'cause she's a principal. Fox said you were going to make Mommy and Daddy better." I gave Fox a look, but he was too busy holding Keesha's hand to notice.

"I'll do my best, Keesha. I want to make your Mommy and Daddy better."

"Look at you, Keesha! Are you eating that ice cream or wearing it?"

"Daddy says I absorb ice cream through my skin."

"Come on, Keesha. Let's get you cleaned up. And as for you, Mr. Mulder - you're no better." His tie was a mess of butterscotch.

We drove back to the hospital - there was no place else to take Keesha, since she had no family in town. She was settled in the nurse's lounge in front of cartoons, with a pile of coloring books. We took over an empty treatment room with the day's findings.

Janice had found the time to compile the backgrounds of all the patients as of lunch time.

Mulder took out a pile of index cards and we began to sort what we had. An hour later, we discovered we had nothing. The only thing any of the patients had in common, besides the condition, was that they were all in Barryville. They were all ages and races, they came from everywhere - from the Miller's adopted Korean daughter Colby to the late Mr. Gray, who'd never left Barryville. Keesha's parents were the only two from the same household, and they had different blood types.

My cellphone rang.

"Dr. Scully? That lab van you asked for is here. The driver is coming up to give you the keys."

"The driver?"

"He insisted, Dr. Scully."

Five minutes later, the door behind me opened. Mulder went through the most remarkable transformation. He'd always been beautiful, but now he was glowing. I had never seen such pure happiness in his face. It was dazzling. I turned around, and sure enough, there was Walter Skinner wearing decidedly non-regulation jeans and sweater. And he was dazzling, too, in his own way. One day, I'd meet someone who would make me look like that, and who would look like that for me. After seeing this, I could settle for nothing less.

"Walter. What are you doing here?"

"I'm delivering Dana's van, of course. The request was sent to Washington for confirmation, since there aren't that many of these vans available. If Dana needed something like that, then you two might need an extra investigator, so I flew to Columbus and drove the van here."

"I'm glad you're here. You may be right. Now, if you two will excuse me, I have some autopsies to perform. Mulder..."

"I'll bring him up to date, Scully."

I made sure to close the door as I left. I did manage to catch a glimpse of a clinch, but I stifled my voyeuristic impulses and went down to the hospital morgue. They had few enough moments to be together.

The autopsies were interesting. There was no sign of trauma anywhere - no heart attacks, no strokes, no signs of disease other than the normal difficulties of old age, or being out of shape or, well, it turned out our single young man was HIV positive, but he had almost no virus in his system. There was nothing that could have killed those people. It was as if they'd just stopped.

I had help from a couple of technicians, but three autopsies take time. When I was finished, it was late in the evening. That salad and the stolen fries were long gone. I gathered up my specimens and my notes and cleaned myself off before going to meet Mulder and Walter, who were trying to find out from the families where people had traveled and what their occupations were. I knew Mulder had good interviewing skills. So did Skinner. If it hadn't been so heartbreaking and I hadn't been so tired, I might have enjoyed watching them work around the room, stealing glances at each other when they could.

Walter looked up after shaking a man's hand and saw me. He went over and tapped Mulder on the shoulder. When Mulder responded, Walter gestured to me with his head. I could see my partner wrap up the interview and gather his notes.

"What did you find out, Scully?"

I was about to tell him when Skinner interrupted.

"Look at her, Fox. She's dead on her feet. I propose we pick up some dinner and take it over to the motel, and talk there."

"Thank you. It's been a long day." Mulder nodded. He looked a little worn himself.

Janice stopped us as we were leaving.

"Dr. Scully, Mr. Mulder, we have a problem. It's Keesha. I don't know where to put her. I suppose she can stay in a private room in peds, but that's not really a good place right now."

"Aren't there social services that can take care of her?"

"Right now, Mr. Skinner, our town's social worker is lying three feet away from you. Keesha seemed to bond with Mr. Mulder..."

"There *is* an extra bed in your room, Scully." How could he turn those puppy-dog eyes on me when my resistance was so low? Well, I liked Keesha, too.

"Are you certain of this, Dana? I mean, are you ready to take care of a little girl right now?"

I thought about it. "Yes. Yes, I am. Besides, it's only for the nights. We'll find something else during the days."

"Days are no problem, Dr. Scully. We have an onsite day care center. Peter's given you hospital privileges, so you are entitled to use it. Provided the workers are all right, I mean. I'll get you directions to her house so you can pick up some clothes and toys."

Keesha was fast asleep in the nurse's lounge. She stirred slightly when Mulder picked her up, but then settled down again. I took her doll. We must have made an odd procession down the corridor - Mulder in his suit, carrying Keesha, me still in scrubs, carrying the doll and my data and Walter in casual clothing, carrying everything else.

She woke up while I was buckling her into the back seat.

"Mommy?"

"No, sweetie. It's me. Mommy's still asleep."

"Dr. Dana? Where's Mr. Raggs?"

"Right here." I gave her the doll.

"Is Fox here?"

Mulder was in the passenger seat. "I'm right in front, Keesha. Would you like to stay with us until Mommy and Daddy get better?"

She was silent for a moment. "With you and Dr. Dana?"

"And our friend, Mr. Skinner. That's him right now." Walter, having deposited our stuff in the trunk, was coming to the driver's side of the door.

"Hello, Keesha. You're very pretty."

"You're Fox's friend?" I watched them exchange a glance.

"We're very good friends."

"Fox is a policeman. So is Dr. Dana. Are you one?"

"Walter is in charge of policemen like us."

"Okay. I'll stay with you."

"I guess we've passed the interview, guys." We all laughed, which confused Keesha, but laughter was laughter, so she joined in.

***Chapter Four***

Keesha lived in a small house a few miles away from the hospital. Mulder and I went with her to pack - the hospital gave us the keys from her parents' personal possessions.

It didn't take us long. She filled a pink ballerina duffel with pajamas and play clothes, and another bag with books and some carefully selected stuffed toys out of a huge collection. When I asked about them, she said her mother and grandmother made most of them.

It took us so little time that we had to wait for Walter to come back with dinner and pick us up. I got to hear Mulder's versions of storybooks.

"Once upon a time there were three bears named Langley, Byers and Frohike..."

"Which one was the mama bear?"

The doorbell interrupted that one, unfortunately. I was betting on Byers. We gathered up Keesha and her things and went to the motel.

By the time we got there, Keesha was falling asleep. She wasn't hungry - the nurses had fed her - so I put her into a nightgown and tucked her and Mr. Raggs into the other bed in my room. She looked so tiny in the middle of that double bed, and so all alone. She wanted to know if I wanted to hear her prayers.

"Of course, sweetie."

She sat up and folded her hands.

"Now I lay me down to sleep. God bless Mommy and Daddy and help Dr. Dana make them and everyone else better. God bless Dr. Dana and Fox and Mr. Skinner and Nurse Janice and Dr. Peter and Miss Anderson - she's my teacher - and make me a good girl. Amen."

"Amen, Keesha. Sleep tight." I hesitated for a second, remembering my daughter and that I'd never been able to do this with her, and kissed her good night.

"Good night, Dr. Dana." She lied down again. I smiled at her. Walter and Mulder were moving Mulder's things from the room adjoining mine to Walter's across the corridor. I could hear them talking and joking through all the open doors. I went out into the hallway.

"Guys, hold it down."

"Is she asleep, Scully?"

"Not yet."

"Good. I wanted to kiss her goodnight."

We followed him into my room.

He sat down on Keesha's bed.

"Hi, princess."

"Hi."

"If I kiss you good night, you won't turn into a frog, will you?"

"No!"

"Promise?"

She nodded. He planted a big kiss on her forehead.

"See you in the morning. How do you take your coffee?"

She giggled for a moment, and then, finally, drifted off.

I turned to look at Walter. He looked sad.

"Mulder's good with kids."

"Yeah. I wonder if it's because he's still one himself?"

"I don't know. Bill was no prize at twelve."

"Okay, you two. Let's eat." We took the food into Mulder's old room. That way we could keep an eye on our charge.

I took my steamed chicken and vegetables to the desk.

"Walter, where are the chopsticks?"

"Chopsticks? Dana, I was lucky they had hot and sour soup." He was sitting up on the bed with a tub of murky liquid. "Use the forks like God intended." I shook my head. "Or you can do what Fox is doing, and ignore utensils entirely."

There was no room on the bed for Mulder, so he sat cross-legged on the floor next to it, gnawing on an eggroll. He turned slightly to grin up at Walter.

"Wait till you see me eat my lo mein."

I found a fork.

We talked about the town and the case and what we'd found. With all the interviews they'd conducted, they still found very little in common with the victims.

"We've done everything but check their auto insurance companies. And we might do that tomorrow."

"What would we learn from that, Walter? I just pick whoever's cheapest."

Walter smiled and touched Mulder's cheek. Mulder leaned into it slightly, reached up to squeeze Walter's thigh.

"We could tell something. I can guess Dana's insurance company, for example."

"It wouldn't be much of a guess, Walter. It's probably the same as yours."

He named it. I was right.

"How did you know that?" I'd never seen Mulder look so bewildered. Walter just laughed.

"If you don't figure it out by tomorrow, we'll tell you then. It's a good company. It's a shame you can't use it."

"I can't? Why not?"

"Think of it as a clue, Mulder. And that's the last one you'll get."

He kept at us the rest of dinner, even after we'd read out our fortune cookies, but we didn't relent.

I spent a lot of that time watching the two of them. It was rare that the three of us could be so relaxed in each other's presence. They had so few moments together outside of the Hoover, so little time that they could be close. I didn't want to intrude on what they had.

Perhaps I should have been bothered by their display of affection, and perhaps I would have been if the circumstances had been different. This relationship of theirs had truly begun in a moment of crisis, when Mulder was possessed by the suggestions of two psychic Pushers, and Mulder had needed all the closeness Walter could provide. I never had a chance to be bothered.

I was jealous, though. I watched the two of them. They didn't hug or kiss around me; they didn't even sit on the same bed. Instead, Mulder maintained his position on the floor next to Walter, and they'd exchange gentle touches, and once I saw Mulder brush his lips against Walter's hand. It was sweet and tender and spoke volumes that more overt displays would not. I suppose I just wanted a relationship like that myself. Or I missed being the central person in Mulder's life. We were still best friends, and now Walter was my friend, too, but things had changed. Walter seemed to be taking my place in his life.

I gathered up the debris and checked on Keesha, who was fast asleep. Her breathing pattern was normal, so I knew she was still with us. When I got back to the other room, Mulder had his head down on the bed next to Walter, who was stroking his hair. I'd ruffled that hair. I knew how silky it was.

"Walter, I think maybe it's bedtime."

He checked his watch. "Midnight, huh. Come on, Fox. It's time for bed."

Mulder looked up. "Yeah. I could go for bed right now. I'm glad you got a king-size, Walter. I'd hate to have to spend the night like this." He struggled to his feet.

"I think you'd be more comfortable like that, Mulder. Anything but a bed." They laughed as they left the room.

Ten minutes later, I was in my own room, fast asleep.

***Chapter Five***

Saturday Morning
Barryville Howard Johnson's

Someone was pounding on the door. I didn't know where I was at first.

"Dr. Dana! Wake up!"

Keesha. Barryville. Right. I stumbled out of bed and dragged on a robe.

"Coming. Who is it?"

Walter Skinner, wearing only pajama pants, was on the other side.

"Thank God you're awake. Dana, it's Fox. I think...I think he's got it." I never thought I'd hear Walter's voice crack that way. I grabbed the room key and my medical bag.

"Keesha, you stay right where you are!"

Walter had indeed gotten a king-sized bed. Mulder was lying on the left side of the bed, in a fetal position. He was covered only by a sheet. I took out my stethoscope. His heart was beating very, very slowly.

"What happened?"

Walter sat down on the other side of the bed and buried his head in his hands.

"Walter, I need details."

"Starting when? And how much?" He glanced at the night table. I saw a crumpled condom wrapper and a squeeze tube. I blushed.

"Starting from when we parted. And you can leave out the gorier details. But...it's probably a good thing that there are gory details."

"I know. I'm grateful we took the time. Very well. We went back to the room and got ready for bed - you know, tooth brushing, things like that. Fox really was tired, so I figured we'd just sleep last night, which would have been fine." He grinned ruefully. "Mulder has a mind of his own, though."

"I know. What he doesn't have is common sense."

"That's where we come in, except that mine flies out the window around him. Anyway, no sooner are we in bed than he...well, you can guess." I could, indeed. I forced that picture to the back of my mind.

"And...afterwards?"

"He fell right to sleep. I put back on my pajamas and curled up next to him - sort of the way Keesha treats that rag doll of hers. I could hear him breathing and feel his heart beat. He was just fine. I went to sleep. I don't know how long it was but I started having a nightmare - Fox was calling on me to hold on. It's a common enough dream, but usually I have it when you two are across the continent chasing God knows what, not when he's in my arms. As soon as I recognized it, I forced myself awake. The three of us and our nightmares. Someone should do a case study."

"Maybe Mulder, if - when - he wakes up."

"Fox use his PhD? That'll be the day. And he will wake up. After all, Dr. Dana is on the case."

"I think he really believes it."

"So do I. I *have* to." I didn't know whether there was challenge or trust in his face or his voice.

 "Anyway, when I woke up, he was like this. I couldn't wake him at all, and his skin felt cold."

"His metabolism has been lowered. They all feel cold. We have to get him to the hospital. I'll call an ambulance."

"You'll do no such thing. No one is touching him except me or you. Call the hospital. I need to get him cleaned up."

I didn't ask what he meant.

When I called the hospital, I got Nurse Janice. She sounded exhausted.

"Dr. Scully! I was going to call you in a few minutes. I just wanted you to sleep a little longer. We have had an explosion of cases. There are at least a hundred people down last night. We're moving them all to the high school."

"Agent Mulder's down. Should we take him there directly?"

"Oh my God. Yes. Come quickly, and bring that friend of yours. We need every pair of hands we can get."

"Any new deaths?"

"Just one - one of the first patients. She was already ill, though."

"Ill?"

"Cancer." I will always hate that word.

"We'll be there as soon as we can. What are the directions from the Howard Johnson's?"

By the time I had thrown on some clothes and dressed Keesha, Walter had Fox cleaned up and wrapped in a blanket.

"Are you sure you don't want to get some help taking him down?"

"No. Not for him. Are we ready to go?"

"Change in plans. There's been many more victims. New ones are going to the high school."

"So long as there's a place for him. Let's go." With that, Walter gathered Mulder up in his arms, Mulder's head leaning on Walter's shoulder. I took Keesha's hand and my bag and followed them down to the car.

There was no room for the length of Mulder's body in the back. Finally, we propped him up next to the door and buckled him in. Walter sat next to him to hold him steady. Keesha, too little to sit in front, sat next to him, her supplies for the day on her lap. That left me alone in front.

I could hear Walter murmuring to Mulder all the way to hospital. He didn't say anything of substance, just reassurances and gestures of hope and trust in me.

The high school was an old-fashioned brick building. It still had doorways marked "boys" and "girls." I parked in front, and Walter wrestled Mulder back into his arms.

We found the gymnasium (marked Boys). Walter carried Mulder in and placed him on an empty cot. There was no paperwork to fill out - just a list of names.

An older doctor seemed to be in charge.

"Can you fill me in on what's going on, sir?"

"We're busy, miss. Why don't you stay with your husband or brother or who ever that is?"

Great. "Sir, I'm *Doctor* Dana Scully of the FBI. The man my *supervisor*, Assistant Director Skinner, and I brought in is my partner, Agent Mulder. We're here to investigate this epidemic." His manner changed instantly.

"I'm sorry, Dr. Scully. I remember you from yesterday. You obviously know about the increase in victims. Dr. Miller and his wife are among them now. I'm a pediatrician."

"I'm a pathologist, so this isn't quite my area, either."

"What was your partner?"

"He *is* a psychologist. Assistant Director Skinner is not a scientist at all, Doctor..."

"Dr. Vincent Grass. Very well. The situation, Dr. Scully...we have decided not to use any more IV glucose since the patients are not metabolizing anything. We are administering IV H2O on the grounds that it couldn't hurt. We have not tried any new medication."

I nodded. "The bodies I autopsied did not die of starvation or dehydration. For all I know, these people could be like this for days or weeks...or longer."

A clearly harried nurse came to start Mulder's IV. She noticed that he was naked, but said nothing. I saw Skinner talk to her for a moment. She pointed to a door. Skinner disappeared inside of it and came out with a folded hospital gown and a blanket. Gently, he dressed Mulder and covered him up. He then folded the hotel blanket to return it.

Keesha stood looking lost. Then she seemed to come to a decision. She hugged the rag doll hard and then put it on Mulder's bed. Walter smiled at her and wrapped Mulder's arms around the toy.

I nodded to Dr. Grass and went to them.

"Mr. Raggs will take care of Fox, so he won't be so scared."

"And you, Keesha?"

"I won't get scared. You and Mr. Skinner will take care of me until you get Mommy and Daddy and Fox better." I just gave her a hug.

We dropped her off in one of the home ec rooms, with a bunch of other semi-orphans. She found a friend almost immediately and was soon playing quite happily at a table. At least we wouldn't have to worry about her for awhile.

I caught a ride to the hospital, where the forensic van was waiting for me, while Skinner did what he could at the school. He was organizing paperwork and teams as he called Columbus for extra supplies and help and tossed me the keys so I could get into the van and drive it back to the school.

***Chapter Six***

The van had everything I needed, from a centrifuge to a small electron microscope. I soon lost myself in analyzing blood samples. I've always enjoyed detailed work like this - it's one of the reasons I went into pathology in the first place, and why I majored in physics in college. I've always liked numbers and theories. It helped to get my mind off my worries, and it was certainly constructive.

It took a few hours to begin to correlate all the data, even with my laptop, but it became clear that there was an organism to blame for the strange coma. I wasn't quite sure what it was. It wasn't viral in nature, as I could make it reproduce on a growth medium, but it resembled no bacteria or other known disease organism. It didn't seem to respond to standard antibiotics. I ended up faxing a picture to the lab back home so that someone more familiar with microbiology could look at it. I also faxed one to Mulder's three friends in case they could find something out.

It was well past noon by the time I'd done all that, and well past time I'd had lunch. I had to report to Walter anyway, so I drove the van back to the high school.

Walter was where I'd expected him to be, sitting next to Mulder's cot and talking to him. There was something else that I didn't expect to see.

"Walter? When did this happen?"

"A couple of hours after you left. One minute she was finger painting; the next she was like this. I didn't know where her parents were, so I put her next to Fox."

Keesha looked so tiny even on the narrow cot. She'd been such a bundle of energy before, just like her playmate, my partner, his lover. Her arms were wrapped around her rag doll.

Walter followed my glance.

"I thought she would need it more than Fox." I nodded, not daring to speak.

He must have noticed, because he became all business. "Do you have anything to report, Agent Scully?"

It was exactly what I needed. "Yes, sir. I'd like to discuss my findings with you - perhaps over something to eat."

"They have the school cafeteria working. We'll go there."

For a moment, I felt like I was back in high school myself. There was the same noise level and the same cafeteria smell of overcooked vegetables and milk, and behind the serving counter were the same ladies in hairnets. Even the hot lunch looked the same, except they also offered coffee and they didn't charge us money. I was inwardly amused to see that Walter had opted for chocolate milk.

We found a table to ourselves. As I ate mystery meatloaf and gray peas, I told Walter about my findings.

"So we know there is a specific causative agent, but we don't know what it is, how it's spread or how to stop it."

"Correct, sir. However, just knowing there is an organism is a good first step. That's more than we knew this morning. I now recommend that no one come into this town. We don't know how it is spread. I don't understand why it wasn't quarantined already."

"Something's wrong about that. It's spreading, Dana. We've had to open the girl's gym for patients and we'll probably spread out into the classrooms."

"We need to stop this. We'll run out of support people. What else?"

"We're getting emergency supplies of food and medical needs. I've organized teams to search houses for families who have disappeared. This is a small town, so everyone knows everyone. Most of those who can are working here, too."

"Good. We'll need all of them."

"We're staying here. The motel isn't charging us for our rooms anymore, since they'd be empty anyway, but I took the liberty of packing your things as well as mine and bringing them here. With Keesha ... there isn't any need to stay in those rooms, and I...we need to be available in case..."

"Where are we staying?"

"Some classroom or other. There are single-sex only accommodations, but most folks here just don't care. I'd be happier if you stayed close to me."

I thought about it for a moment. I'd probably be sleeping in my scrubs anyway. "I can see why. I'd rather not be with strangers right now, either. Yes."

There wasn't much more I could do in terms of research. The computer was compiling our findings. We needed Mulder's brain and intuition to make some wild leap and solve the problem. Without him, I'd have to go step by step.

So I made myself useful the rest of the day by checking on IV's and starting new ones for the new arrivals. I did start to take blood from those who weren't ill. If the sick ones had nothing in common - and I could think of nothing Keesha and Mulder had in common no matter how hard I tried -maybe the well ones did.

Walter made himself indispensable. Other than at lunch and later dinner, I never saw him still. If he wasn't helping to organize matters, using skills honed in bureaucracy, he was doing whatever job had to be done then. He changed catheters and hospital gowns, he turned patients so they wouldn't get bedsores. Some were getting them already just because of their low heart rates. He even lent a hand with cleaning and with cooking.

Dinner was turkey and soup, as if it were Thanksgiving. There were less people even now, and the classrooms were filling up. People were dropping as they sat.

Nurse Janice joined us at our table. She looked exhausted. Even her bright scrubs looked faded. Mine were stained with blood. Walter looked impeccable, of course.

"Mr. Skinner, you are amazing. I don't know how we could manage without you, or Dr. Scully."

"I have to do something or go crazy worrying..." He stopped short.

"About Mr. Mulder?" She smiled. He looked at her. "Don't worry, Mr. Skinner. It doesn't matter anymore." She rubbed her eyes. "It's good he has the two of you to take care of him. Some people don't have anyone here at all. We lost two more this afternoon, you know."

Skinner nodded. He'd helped with the paperwork. "They didn't have family? Or friends?"

"Not really. Angie had been kicked out of her house when she got pregnant, and even when she miscarried they didn't let her back in, and Jim...Jim was just nasty. I'm worried about the people like that. I'm even more worried about the kids like Keesha. I don't know, I get this feeling she's at risk. Maybe because the only people she has are her parents, and they're out, too."

"Speaking of out, Ms. Barry..."

"It doesn't bother me. I saw enough in country that nothing bothers me anymore." Walter snapped to attention. "You were a Marine, right? Joined as a kid, became a non-com early, went to OCS and did another tour as an officer."

"Is it that obvious?"

"Oh, yes. Just as I can tell that Dr. Scully here was some kind of military brat."

"What makes you think that?"

"Something about you. I'm right, aren't I?"

"My father was a captain in the Navy."

"And Mr. Mulder would not have lasted a day."

We both laughed over that image.

"Mulder would have spent his entire tour either in the hospital or the brig."

Walter smiled, but then became serious. "Fox survived his own battles. He'll survive this."

I squeezed his hand. "Yes, he will. My partner is too stubborn not to."

"Excuse me." Skinner picked up his tray (quite empty, I was glad to see) and left.

Janice nodded at his back. "He's hurting badly, isn't he?"

"He loves him. God help him." She'd figured it out already, so I knew I wasn't betraying him.

"And you?"

"Mulder's my partner. We've been together for years now. He was with me when I had cancer and I've helped him fight his demons - the real ones as well as the ones inside his head. I shouldn't be saying this, Ms. Barry. Excuse me." My own tray was empty. Well, mostly empty. Just as well I wasn't wearing any makeup, since it would have been ruined by the time I left the girl's room.

That night, before I went to sleep, I started analyzing the blood work of those still functioning. Nothing was conclusive when I finally gave up.

I don't know how it happened, given that most of the town was either at the school or the hospital, but Skinner managed to get us a room to ourselves. It was a special education resource room and the two cots filled it, but there was no one else there. I was grateful. I needed to decompress badly.

Walter came in as I was drifting off. I don't think he noticed I was awake, because he undressed right in front of me. All I could see was his back, though, as he put on a pair of scrub pants. I knew he had broad shoulders and strong arms - I'd watched him carry Mulder just that morning - but I didn't know just how well built he was.

The cot creaked a little under his bulk as he lay down. I heard him toss a bit, and then it was silent. Just as I thought he'd gone to sleep, though, I heard him talk.

"He's been through so much in his life. I think I was making him happy. I know he was making me happy even though he was driving me crazy. I love him. Please, let him get well. Him and Keesha and her parents and all the others. Whatever it takes, I'll do. We only just found each other. I know that some say You don't approve of us, but You made us. He deserves to be happy, and alive. Please, give Dana the knowledge she needs and help her. Help me, too. Give me some of that strength you gave her. I wish I could cry. I know this isn't making sense, God, but, well, read my heart." He was quiet again, and then his breathing became regular. He didn't snore.

The night before, when I heard Keesha's prayer, I felt honored and happy. This night I felt like a peeping tom -which I hadn't felt when he undressed. He had a right to privacy. I thought about telling him the truth in the morning, but decided against it. Instead I rolled over and sank into sleep.

And there was Mulder. He was strong and healthy in a rumpled suit and a loud tie, and he had Keesha by the hand. He was smiling, and saying something but I couldn't quite hear it. He was too far away.

I moved closer, but it was hard, like walking through snow or sand. As I did, I could see his lips move, saying my name over and over again. "Scully! Scully!" How often had I heard that shout? Mulder lost, Mulder hurt, Mulder in danger, Mulder just excited and not able to see me. And I'd come and find him or heal him, or save him or listen to him. He'd call and I'd be there. And I don't think he understood why I didn't call him very often. Why I didn't let him know when I needed him even when I did. Why I couldn't call for help.

I could hear him call now, in my dream.

"Scully!"

"Mulder? Where are you?"

"Here. Where we all are."

"All?"

"We're all here, all of us, except for those who didn't want to stay. Or couldn't stay. We want to go back, Scully. Help us."

"I don't know if I can, Mulder."

"You can. I believe in you, Scully."

"What if...what if I go, too?"

"You won't. Walter won't. I figured out about your insurance, Scully. That's the clue. This is hard, talking to you. I'm getting tired. Tell Walter...I miss him. I need him. Take care of him. He needs your strength." He began to move off.

"Mulder, wait! What do you mean?"

"Check the water out, Scully..." He was too far away.

"Mulder! Mulder!"

"Dana, wake up! Wake up!" I was confused at first. Why was Skinner in my room? And where was this room with the bright letters on the wall? Barryville.

"Where is he?"

"Who?"

"Mulder! I was just talking to him!"

"Dana, Fox isn't here. He's in the gym with the others."

"I know what...Ohhh, my head. What time is it?"

"Just a second." He fumbled for his pants. He shined a tiny light on his wrist. "It's 4 AM."

I sat up and rubbed my eyes. "I was dreaming. I saw Mulder and Keesha. He was talking in riddles. Why do people in dreams always talk in riddles?"

"I have no idea, Dana." He sat down on my cot. "Are you sure it was him?"

"It looked like him and it sounded like him. He had Keesha with him, but she was quiet."

"What did he say?" I think Walter believed me.

"He said that he figured out about the insurance, and that it was important. He said we weren't going to get sick."

"Did he say that?"

"He said that everyone was 'there', wherever 'there' was, except for some who didn't want to stay. And that we wouldn't be going 'there.' And something about water."

"Did he...did he..."

I took his hands and looked him in the eye. "Walter, he said for me to tell you that he missed you and needed you." He smiled tightly at that.

"That's Fox. Even now he can't say...Okay. Let's see if we can figure this riddle out over breakfast."

I nodded. We weren't going to get any more sleep that night anyway.

***Chapter Seven***

A few minutes later, I was in the girl's locker room showering. At least there was plenty of hot water. Water. Mulder was so emphatic about water.

How was the water processed here? I couldn't smell any chlorine. We'll have to check. This I could manage. And there has to be something else I can check. What did Walter and I have in common besides our insurance that Mulder didn't also share? And that Janice Barry did?

All of these questions were spinning around my head as I dried myself off and got dressed. Once again, I didn't bother with makeup or doing more than combing and tying my hair back. I grabbed a fresh set of scrubs and a pair of sneakers and I was set.

Walter was waiting for me outside the boy's locker room.

"I keep waiting for the coach to show up and tell me to stop dawdling."

A man his age in sweats walked by. "I would at least tell you not to wear shoes on my floor."

"You're the coach?"

"Yeah. Most of my kids are here someplace, with their folks. Football?"

"Football."

"What about your boyfriend? It's hard to tell with him lying down like that, but I'll bet basketball."

Walter stood for a second. Then he nodded. "Fox was a varsity basketball player."

"Small town like this?"

"Place up in Massachusetts. I only went there once, on business."

"Must have been hard on a boy like that. Someone like you -you're big. No problem. Skinny ones - they get beat up sometimes."

"Coach? Is it written on our foreheads?"

"Might as well be. That pretty little doctor sure isn't involved with him, and you...you watch him like he was glass or something. And you touch him, too. Don't worry. I saw things like that in 'Nam - some boys just needed to be with each other. You were a Marine. I can always tell the Marines."

"Yes. You were..."

"Air Force. Rescue. I have some medic training, so I figured I might as well be of use while I wait. That's my wife over there." He pointed to a comatose woman.

"What unit?"

"Sir? We have to talk." I knew that if I let them, they'd be trading stories for hours.

"That's right. You two get yourselves some breakfast. It's going to be another long day."

"We'll talk later, Coach."

Something nagged at me. "Coach?"

"Yeah, little lady?"

I held my temper. "Has anyone taken your blood? At this point, I'm more interested in why folks don't have it than why they do."

He pointed to a puncture mark on his elbow. "That Janice girl took some yesterday."

"Thank you, sir. And, sir?"

"Yes?"

"We'll get your kids back. Next year, your juniors will be leading the league."

"I pray you're right, young lady. I pray you're right."

The halls were lined with patients - and they'd run out of cots, so they were lying on blankets. It looked like a scene out of a Civil War movie.

Walter insisted that I pile my plate high with the eggs and sausages and toast the lunch ladies were serving. I use the term extremely loosely - one "lunch lady" needed a shave.

"If I know you, Scully, as soon as we're done you're going to disappear inside that van for hours. You need your strength."

The place was not empty, but it wasn't full, either. The odd thing was that so many were in their forties or so -with only a few my age. Was it something about boomers? Couldn't be - Mulder was a boomer, if barely. It was one more piece of data to add to the mix.

We sat down and began to eat. I didn't know I could be so hungry at five in the morning.

"I've been thinking about what my dream said."

"You mean what Fox said?"

"Walter, it was only a dream - it was my subconscious. Mulder isn't somewhere communicating with me. Wouldn't he have gone to you last night?" I couldn't keep that edge out of my voice.

"Dana, I think you are jealous."

"I'm not in love with Mulder. What sort of idiot woman would fall for a man she knows is gay?"

"He's very good looking."

"He's damned beautiful. But I'm not that shallow."

"He's also damned brilliant."

"And he's also nuts. Don't forget that." I shook my head. "I love him, I think. He's a good man, and he has the courage of his convictions, despite what those convictions are." I snorted. "He's a good partner when he doesn't ditch me. He's honest. And he doesn't mind that I'm a better shot or that I know things, or that I cut people up, or that I disagree with most of his theories. He's probably the best friend I have. He was there for me when my...Emily died, and I pushed him away, and he respected that."

"You pushed him away?"

"I needed to be alone. Mulder...Mulder can cry in public. Not many men can. Not many can cry in private. The men in my family can't. And I can't. I can't be weaker than my brothers, you know? Missy could - Missy wasn't driven to be anyone but herself, to prove anything. Why am I telling you this?"

"Because you need to? Because I'm a friend?"

"Are you a friend? Not so long ago, I was telling Mulder to accuse you of being part of the conspiracy. He didn't believe me. He believed you. Even at the time I could guess why. And I was jealous that he didn't believe me. And I was glad to be wrong."

"I'm a friend. I've always been a friend, even before I let myself fall for Fox. I do care for you, Scully. I've never had a finer agent work for me, or a more competent one. I once told Fox I respected you, and I do. You should be...your assignment is holding you back."

"I don't care. Mulder used to joke that I'd be heading the FBI. He stopped awhile ago. I know you make him happy. I...just wish...I don't know. Maybe I want him to make me happy; maybe I want to be the one that makes him smile."

"No one smiles like him."

"No one does. Or maybe I want someone as in love with me as you are with him. You should see your face right now. It's glowing."

"Men don't glow, Dana."

"You are. Everyone here sees it."

"Everyone. Everyone seems to have served in 'Nam, too."

"Not me."

"No...but we do share the same auto insurance. The one that only officers and their children are eligible for. Didn't Fox say something about that?"

"Yes, he said he figured it out..." I sat upright, nearly spilling my coffee. "Everyone here is about your age, Walter, and many are men. Look around - there aren't many women. Even the 'lunch lady' has been replaced."

He looked at me. "Was Captain Scully on active duty during Viet Nam?"

"We didn't see him for years. I have to get to the van now!"

"Finish your breakfast, Dana."

"Yes, sir. Walter - do me a favor. Check on the water supply here - find out how it's processed."

"Yes, ma'am." There is something nice about Walter's rare smiles.

We finished our breakfasts - I cleaned my plate like a good girl - and we went our separate ways.

***Chapter Eight***

May 10
Barryville High School

It took time to collect the blood from a refrigerator in one of the home ec. rooms, bring it down to the van and get it ready for testing. I took all the time I needed. I knew that the answer had to be here - both here and in the fact that so many of those seemingly immune were connected to the military in Vietnam.

"Dr. Scully! Lunch!"

It was Janice Barry with a tray of something I'd rather not think about and coffee. I let her in.

I cleared some room for the tray. "Lunch time already?"

"Past. This place is amazing. I wouldn't even know how to work some of this equipment."

I took a sip of the coffee. "I know most of it. Sometimes I'm the only person on the scene who can do lab work."

"A doctor doing lab work. I haven't seen that since I became a civilian. We're lucky you're here, Dr. Scully."

"I'm still trying to figure out what it is."

"Eat first. No one can think with low blood sugar." I smiled.

"Yes, Mom."

"I'm probably old enough to be your mother, young lady." I began to eat. "Your parents must be very proud of you."

"My mom says she is. My dad was not happy I chose to be in the FBI instead of in practice, but Mom said that even so, he was proud of me."

"Your father is dead?"

"He's been gone a few years now. He was a captain in the Navy. I grew up on bases all over."

"See. I knew you were a military brat."

I nodded, my mouth full. She was right. A little food and caffeine made things a lot better.

Something pinged. I got up to check on a test I'd begun.

"Oh my God!"

"What is it, Dr. Scully?"

"This is my own blood. I needed multiple samples for some tests and I was available. I have *antibodies* to the organism. See?" I showed her the test results, but she waved them off. "Ms. Barry, since you're here anyway, may I take another sample of your blood?" She nodded and pushed up her sleeve.

I asked her to get some blood samples from Walter and Mulder and to pick a couple of victims and non-victims at random and bring them back. Meanwhile, I gave her blood the same test I gave my own. She had the antibodies. And I finished my lunch. It didn't taste any better lukewarm.

"Dana? I have those samples. And some information."

I let Walter in. He had a tray of test tubes, all neatly labeled and color coded, in his hands and a file folder underneath his arm. He looked at my empty lunch with approval.

I took the test tubes from him. "What did you learn?"

"The water comes from a tower, it's mostly rainwater, and they don't do more than filter it. I have someone collecting water samples now from the tank itself, and people going to random houses and faucets to get more." I nodded as I worked on the blood samples.

"What's this about antibodies?"

"So far, Janice Barry and I have antibodies. Barry has been here for years, except for a stint in the Army, and I've been here only since Thursday night. Neither of us are ill. And both of us have military connections. I wish I had Mulder's memory. Walter, do you know if any of the victims have military connections?"

He looked thoughtful. "Some do. I recall some World War II vets, and some kids from the Gulf War. Some are in the national guard. No one currently active and here on leave."

"But no one from Vietnam and that era?"

"Not that I can recall. There are folks who didn't serve, of course."

"What about wives and dependents? Any of them?"

"We didn't ask. I'll get the information."

"Thank you." As he left, with my lunch tray, I turned back to the samples at hand.

By the time he came back with the information, the water samples *and* a thermos of coffee, I had the results correlated. I was staring at the printout as he walked in.

"Dana? What's wrong?"

"According to this, you and I and all the other survivors tested have antibodies, while none of the victims do. I suspect the organism is carried by the water, and we've all ingested the local water. I'll test the water to be sure, of course. We still can't lift the quarantine because I can't guarantee that it can't be gotten by contact or transmitted by air yet. Walter, do you know what it means that the victims don't have antibodies?"

"Something to do with immunity?"

"When we get sick, our bodies begin producing antibodies to fight the infection. These people aren't fighting the infection at all. I should be finding either antibodies or increasing amounts of the organism corresponding with the length of time the victim has been out. I'm not finding either. It's as if it's meant to induce this coma and then stop. This is like no other disease I've ever seen."

"It's still killing people. We lost two more this morning."

"Who?"

"A little girl with a genetic heart problem and a very healthy young man."

"Was the young man alone?"

"No. But his wife had already fallen victim when he went. There is some record of depression."

"New victims?"

"No. I have a feeling we've reached the end there."

I sighed. "Let's see the information you have."

"I can enter it in your computer, and get it correlated. You can go to our room and take a nap."

"Walter! People are dying. I can't take the time..."

"Dana, I'm letting you run this investigation because you are the expert, and Fox's best chance, but I'm still your boss. Get some rest. I'll get you in an hour or so."

"Yes, sir." I thought about gathering up my things, but decided I didn't need to. "Walter, have you contacted the Lone Gunmen?"

"Fox's lunatic friends? Not yet. Should I have?"

"Yes, I think you should. Ask them about secret biowarfare experiments in the late sixties." He nodded, already at work at the keyboard. I left him, and the coffee thermos, there.

I didn't go straight to our room, though. After a stop in the girl's room, where I had an automatic urge to smoke a cigarette, I paid Mulder a visit. I brushed his hair back from his face.

"Mulder, you hang in there. Do it for him. He loves you, and you know you love him. You don't want to go away without telling him that, do you? If you do, I'll hunt you down myself, anyway I can. Oh, God, Mulder, if you knew how much I needed you right now, you'd jump right out of that bed." I shook my head. Yelling at him wasn't going to do any good.

I gave Keesha a pat as I walked past her.

I half expected my partner to pay me another visit during my nap. Instead, I dreamed of little green organisms and little girls with ragdolls. It was a relief to wake up. Walter was there when I did. He looked pale.

"What is it?"

"Dana, do you remember getting inoculated when you were about six or so?"

I rubbed my eyes. "I think so. We were always getting shots, you know. All the vaccines were coming out then -rubella, measles, mumps."

"Even your older brother?"

"Bill? He got the measles, but he had the other inoculations. What's this about?"

"Listen. Do you remember a time when your whole family, even your mother, were inoculated against something?"

"Let me think. Yeah. I remember - it was some flu thing, I guess. Daddy was away, of course. It wasn't very successful. We all had low grade fevers right afterwards."

"You felt bad for a day or so, and then were back to normal?"

I sat up. "Exactly. Walter, what's going on?"

"Fox's friends found evidence of mass inoculations around 1970 for everyone in active service and the families of officers. They're trying to track down the exact dates and times, and what was given now. Everyone walking around this town today was either in the service in 1970 or was connected to an active duty officer. And everyone I spoke to remembers a shot that gave them a low grade fever."

"Oh, dear God. I need to confirm this. I need a sample of my mother's blood. And I need to know how they managed to make us immune if it doesn't produce antibodies, and what it was meant to do. And how to bring Mulder and the others back."

"Slow down, Dana. I'll arrange things with your mother. I'll have to use the lunatics again. Damn."

"I can call them. Frohike will do anything for me - or at least my phone number. I'll need blood from someone who wouldn't have gotten inoculated, too. I'd enjoy bleeding Frohike."

"I don't mind dealing with them. Fox is only marginally saner." His smile was sad. "If I can deal with him, I can deal with that trio. The government, the same government that might have had a hand in this disease, is the one giving us supplies. They know exactly what's going on because I've kept them informed every step of the way."

"That's your job."

"I know. I just wonder how much danger we're in. Did you know that we haven't made the news? I've been listening to the local news stations and watching CNN when I have a chance, and there is no mention at all. Byers tells me that they haven't heard anything either. We have an epidemic that has taken out most of a town, including a visiting federal agent, and no one knows about it."

"No one knows. We're being covered up." I closed my eyes briefly.

"Okay. We have to work outside the government. I should be used to that.

"Well, at least you and Fox have the contacts."

"I'm going to call my mother. She should know what's going on."

"Good idea. Do you have the results of the water testing?"

"No. They are simple enough tests, so I have one of the science teachers doing it in a school lab. If I could get the equipment out of the van, I'd set it up...I'm a fool. There are enough strong arms I can borrow for that."

"At your disposal, Dr. Scully."

I grinned. "Round them up and I'll direct."

Within a half hour, I had the closest thing to a laboratory I could get - a nicely equipped chemistry lab, with Bunsen burner jets and sinks and more electrical outlets than I could ever need. Walter looked around and said that he'd drag me out at 11PM, kicking and screaming if need be. And then he'd lock the door and hide the keys.

I smiled and dug out my cell phone.

"Hi, Mom? It's me, Dana."

***Chapter Nine***

The food was getting better. Maybe the "lunch lady" guy was just a better cook, maybe it was that he had so few people to cook for. I don't know. Maybe I was just hungry.

Walter didn't wait until eleven to drag me out of my lab. He let me pay a visit to Mulder and Keesha, and then took me to the cafeteria.

He sat me down at a table and brought me my dinner. Someone else got me a cup of coffee - and put real cream in it. People kept stopping by the table and saying things.

"God bless you, Dr. Scully."

"Dr. Scully, I know you'll bring my boys back to me."

"Dr. Scully, I thank God you and Mr. Skinner are here for us."

"When we get through this, Dr. Scully, it will be because of you."

"I tell you this, little lady. I'll never say a bad word about the government again. Not after what you and Skinner have been doing for us."

I don't know which was worse: that I was doing nothing except for puttering around in a lab while people were *dying* or that it was the government that may have gotten them into this.

I must have been exhausted. That's the only explanation I can find for my loss of control. I just couldn't keep the tears from flowing. I felt a hand on my shoulder. For a moment it felt familiar, and then I remembered where my partner was.

"So slender to carry the world." I don't think he meant for me to hear those words, he said them so softly. Almost magically, the people around us disappeared. I don't know how he did that.

Then the tray was in front of me and Walter was sitting next to me. He took my hand. His hand was warm.

"Dana, do you need to leave?"

I shook my head. "I'm fine."

"You are not fine, Dana Scully."

I wiped away the tears with my free hand and took a deep breath.

"No. I'm not fine. I'm scared. I'm scared that I'll fail and let all those people down. That I'll let you down. That I'll let Mulder down, and he and Keesha and all the others will spend the rest of their lives like that."

He nodded and squeezed my hand. "I'm scared, too. I'm scared that we won't do our job and help these people. I'm scared that forces within our government may have made this situation. I'm scared that someone is keeping this a secret. I'm scared of the uses the military might find for this disease."

I had never thought I'd hear Walter Skinner say things like that. On the other hand, if someone like him could admit he was frightened, then maybe it wasn't so bad that I was frightened, too. I squeezed his hand back and tried to smile.

After dinner, I went back to my lab. Mr. Grange, the science teacher, was already there.

"Just in time, Dr. Scully. I have a report all ready for you."

To my amusement, it was in an old-fashioned graph paper notebook, exactly like I'd used myself in high school. Unlike the one I'd kept, though, the handwriting was beautiful and each number was crisp, clear and figured out only to significant figures. The nuns had despaired of my handwriting early on. Laptop computers are a godsend.

"I see you used bottled water as a control."

"Yes. If you notice, all the municipal water has the organism, but not the well water."

"I see. You did manage to infect the bottled water. Why isn't it in the water table. Do we need to warn other towns around us?"

"I don't think so. The well water should have been infected, but it isn't. I do see what looks like dead organisms. It looks like only the initial infection lasts any time - if you check the bottled water I infected, you'll notice that there is a significant reduction in the amount of the organism now."

"Yes. I see that, Mr. Grange. This is good news. There might be some growth medium infecting the water at the tower. It also means no other town is in danger. Thank you."

"I ran some other experiments using the tap water. I'm testing for some element that is in the rainwater but not in the ground water that might be sustaining the organism."

"Let me know if you find anything. Have you tried killing the organism in the tap water?"

"Yes. Bleach works. Boiling for ten minutes works. Lower temperatures don't work at all - I've tested hot tap water as well as cold. Soap works. I'm still waiting for the ice cubes to test freezing. It's all there."

"So normal water processing would take care of the pathogen."

"I'd say so."

"There's nothing else, then."

"Not really. Dr. Scully, you have been an inspiration to all of us. This is the first time I've done any real scientific work since grad school."

I just smiled.

"Good night, Dr. Scully. I'm off to dinner."

"Thank you, Mr. Grange. I'll see you in the morning."

I sat down to read the report. Everything was indeed there. He even charted the reduction in the amount of organisms in the control groups.

He'd also exposed the organism to air - it died. This meant that it was transmitted by water and there was probably no need for a quarantine - not that anyone should take any chances.

Until I received a sample of my mother's blood, I was stuck. I needed the blood of someone I knew for certain had gotten the inoculation but who had never, ever, been in Barryville. Mom was perfect.

There was nothing else I could do until I had those samples. I went to the wards.

Walter was there. He was turning patients. He seemed happy to use his muscles for a change. He was so gentle with them - gentle in the way only a strong man could be. And he spoke to them. I didn't hear what he said because it was too far away and he was speaking too softly, but his lips only stopped moving between patients. He kissed all the children before he left them.

This was not Walter Skinner the assistant director, nor Walter Skinner my partner's lover. This was the friend I'd discovered one night in my partner's apartment. He was my friend. And as much as I missed Mulder's insight, I was glad Skinner was here.

Walter finally noticed me. He touched his patient on his shoulder and came over.

"How are you doing, Dana?"

"Stuck. We need those samples."

"So you came here instead of going to bed?"

"I needed to be reminded that there are humans involved."

"You never forgot."

"You look worried about something."

"Whoever did this is keeping it a secret. We know this secret. All of the people in the town know this secret. I'm worried that Barryville will disappear, and take us along with it."

"You sound like Mulder."

"Sometimes Fox has the right idea."

"I don't know what to do about this. I'll leave that to you."

"Good thinking. Go to bed, Dana."

"Not yet. I want to talk to Mulder."

He nodded and went back to his work. As I walked to Mulder's cot, I spied a rosary draped over another patient. I touched the woman lying there to ask permission and took it.

I held the beads in my hand as I told Mulder everything that had happened - the findings, the possible involvement, Walter's worries, my worries. For once, he listened. Last time he did, he was someone else.

Then I prayed. I said a novena - the first novena I'd said since my cancer went into remission. When I finished, I felt better, as if I'd accomplished something. Maybe I did. I took Skinner's advice and went to bed.

Feeling a lot like a child, I crossed myself and said a paternoster before going to sleep. It certainly couldn't hurt. My mother and her priest would have been proud of me. Mulder would have been tolerant.

Then I settled down, half fearful of what, or whom, I might see in my dreams.

I saw Mulder. He had Keesha in his arms, and he was shouting my name. I couldn't hear it, but he was shouting all the same. Once again, I fought my way closer. I tried to see where we were, but all I could get was an impression of *nice.*

"Scully!" I could hear him.

"Mulder!"

"It's hard, Scully. We're losing our way. People are starting to drift. Hold me here."

"How?"

"I can hear you talk to me. I can feel Walter. We know who is with us. Anchor us."

"Come back to us."

"We can't get back in. Like a genie, you let it out and you can't put it back. Let it out."

"Let what out? Mulder!"

"Tired. So tired. Watch the sick ones, they go first. And tell Walter...I know when he's there. I'm glad he's there. Tired."

They were gone. And I had more questions than answers. And I understood what an anchor was.

I don't remember waking up, exactly. Walter said he heard me murmur "anchor" as he walked in, and then I was asleep again.

***Chapter Ten***

May 11
Barryville High School

There was no sunlight in the tiny classroom. Walter's alarm watch woke us up.

Everything was finally clear. Perhaps my brain had processed it after my dream.

"Walter, I know what we have to do."

He was wide awake. My father was like that, too - alert as soon as he opened his eyes.

"About what?"

"Have you received any orders to keep this quiet?"

"No." His eyes widened. "No, I haven't. Would this start a panic?"

"Panics start at the oddest things. I couldn't predict. If you make it clear that the organism can be killed by boiling or regular water processing, there should be no problem, but who knows? Tell them that the disease is a mystery we are on our way to solving, and that very few people have died. Don't even hint that one group of people are immune, or why. Be visible. Do you have a suit with you?"

"Not really. Does it matter? No one will see me. I'll conduct the interview by phone. Anything else?"

"Yes. All the things you did last night? Keep them up. Get other people to do the same when they can spare the time."

"What things?"

"Talk to the patients, pat them, kiss the kids. I had another dream last night. Mulder told me something about anchors. Keep them anchored, Walter. You can do it."

"If you say so. Meanwhile, before I leak something to the press and you get those samples, let's get the day started."

"Yes, sir."

I don't know how they did it, but they managed to send both blood samples - and it was Frohike's blood - via the medical supply airlift.

By this time, I could set one of those tests up in minutes. My mother had the antibodies; Frohike did not.

Janice Barry came to my classroom with a portable radio.

"Listen to this, Dr. Scully."

It was a county level news station. I could hear the tag end of a local commercial.

"And remember, Big Tom is your friend when it comes to buying a pre-owned automobile. That's Big Tom on Temple Road."

"And we're back with Assistant Director Walter S. Skinner of the FBI on the phone from Barryville, which is in the middle of a strange and deadly epidemic.

"Mr. Skinner, what is the FBI's involvement in this?"

"Two of my agents form a unit that investigates strange occurrences such as this epidemic. They received word of the situation last Thursday."

"What is the situation?"

"People are falling into strange comas, and some are dying. One of the agents, Dr. Dana Scully, has isolated the organism that causes the coma, and has determined that it will not go beyond this community. It seems to live in the water tower used only by Barryville, and nowhere else. We have been unable to successfully infect other sources of water, and believe that the disease is not carried either by air or contact."

"What are the symptoms?"

"Onset is sudden and complete. The victim looks dead at first, but careful examination will reveal a slow heartbeat, and EEG's will pick up minimal brain function. These people are alive, and we will bring them back. Dr. Scully is a determined woman and I have every faith in her."

"What are her plans now?"

"She is working on a cure or a vaccine. We have evidence that a vaccine is possible."

"This is WBCR, Barry County Radio, with Assistant Director Walter S. Skinner of the FBI."

"Turn that down, Ms. Barry." Thank the Lord it was now in the open.

"Why is he doing this, Doctor?"

"There is no need to keep it a secret, and maybe we can get some extra help." Something was bothering me.

"Janice, did anyone else die recently?"

"Two more in the Girls' Gym and one in the hospital. No one in the Boys' Gym."

"Anything odd about them?"

"Mrs. Henry was an 85-year-old widow, and her kids and grandkids are all on cots somewhere. Her kidneys were starting to fail. Mimi Jones was new in town. Don't know much about her, except that her boyfriend had just dumped her and she wanted to make a fresh start. Little Tommy Perry was eight months old and healthy. He's the one from the hospital."

"We need to correlate this. We have information on the victims and on the survivors. We need information on the dead. I want ages, sex, occupations, if they have family and where the family is, how long until they were found if that information is available, where they were when they died and illnesses, if any."

Barry wrote all of this down. "It does seem as though an awful lot of them were sick."

"Oh, my God. Are we treating existing ailments? Or have we been blinded by the coma?"

"I don't think we have been taking care of pre-existing conditions." She looked shocked. "What were we thinking?"

"Some of the illnesses might not be present now - high blood pressure, some metabolic disorders. We have to check. Janice - are there any pregnant women?"

"Yes. Several. They are all on monitors in the hospital maternity ward. The babies seem to be still alive."

"Thank God!"

"Amen. I'll get right on those things, Doctor."

"Janice...thank you. I don't think I could have done this without you."

"I'm a Barry, Dr. Scully. This is my town." There was something very old and familiar in her voice. It made me think of my mother and of Sr. Mary Josene, my elementary school principal, and, oddly enough, of Kim, Walter's assistant.

"This is a fortunate town, then."

"Yes. You're here." She left with her notes.

Walter walked shortly thereafter, with lunch and that thermos.

"Will no one leave me in peace to think?"

"Nope. Someone has to take care of the doctor. Nurse Barry is busy interrogating dead people, so I figured I'd do lunch.

"Actually, I'm glad you're here. I heard you on the radio this morning."

"I also made it to CNN. They can't hide it now."

"All I need to do is find a cure." I shook my head. "I can't do miracles, Walter."

"What do we have?"

"In terms of being sick and not sick, we have antibodies in the group that isn't ill and none in the group that is ill."

"So all we have to do is transfer the antibodies from one to the other?"

"Yeah. I have to start making a serum. I don't even know if it will work, or if we will have enough, or even why we have them and they don't."

"You'll need more blood?"

"From everyone still standing. I feel like a vampire."

"Do blood types matter?

"No. We filter that out."

"Start with me. And start with Fox."

"If I didn't, he'd kill me. Walter, I noticed something. Remember I told you about touching the patients?"

"Yes."

"Have you been in the Girls' gym at all?"

"That's not where Fox is."

"Last night, two people died in the Girls' gym. No one died in the Boys'. I think the difference is you. Tell the people in that ward to talk to the patients, to touch them. They are still alive and still human, and deserve to be treated that way."

"I'll tell them. And they'll do it. Dr. Scully's word is law at the moment."

I never wanted power. Now I had it and it galled.

"Good. Ask Mr. Grange and any one else who can handle a test tube to come up here, please. But first...roll up your sleeve."

He grimaced, but complied. I was getting rather good at taking blood, too. I hadn't taken so much since I finished my internship.

Shortly thereafter, I had the first dose of serum ready. I checked to make sure that the antibodies were present and filled a syringe. The Boys' gym was a flight down. People joined me as I walked. I felt like I was leading a parade. I hate working with audiences.

Walter was standing next to Mulder. I injected it directly into my partner's IV port. Now, all we could do was wait to see what it would do. And pray. I found myself beseeching St. Luke for his help. My mother would be proud.

We only had one centrifuge available, and it was going at full capacity to separate the blood so that we could make serum. I still didn't know if it would work, but I wanted to be prepared in case it did.

I was checking on blood and syringe supplies when Walter came into my lab with a handful of fax sheets. His eyes were blazing. I'd seen that look before, of course, but usually Mulder was on the other side.

"It's all here, Dana. Everything the three of them could dig up, plus whatever other information my own contacts could get.

"We were experiments. All of us - you and your family, all of us standing here. All experiments. And we were the lucky ones."

"Let me see those." He handed them over. I glanced through the reports. As I read, I felt the blood drain from my face. Walter guided me to a chair.

"Biological warfare, tested on our own soldiers. To be used on whole countries. But the first try didn't work. It was carried by air, and it was too close to diseases we were familiar with. No one got more than ill, and we all developed antibodies. We didn't have the skills then to make it more effective." There was no emotion in Walter's voice. I buried my head in my hands as he continued.

"We have those skills now, and we have the AIDS virus to help us out. They learned to suppress the immune system for this one bug. Damn. So they went back to work. This would knock out an entire city if they can get it past the water processing plants."

"They can. All they need to do is add the nutrient to plastic bottles. And it's perfect - it's based on pollution. Acid rain is the perfect medium. Mr. Grange figured that out. Oh, God, Walter! The ground filters it out before it hits the water table. They were using this town as guinea pigs. Who?"

"The military. The consortium, maybe, to fight the aliens. They were surprised at the coma. Now all they need to know is how to bring the victims out, just in case our boys get it. We were just fortunate that the earlier antibodies work for us. We're doing their dirty work and we have no choice."

"If you hadn't gone public this morning...we'd be dead. The people who did this don't care about human life. But they can't touch us now."

"I hope you're right, Dana. For all of our sakes."

I stood up. This was no time to cry. "We have work to do. I need to test Mulder's blood. Are you coming with me, Walter?" He looked at me and shook his head.

"Coming, Dana."

The blood results were good. The pathogens, whatever they were, were dying. Mulder himself had a low grade fever. However, there was no other change. He was still in a coma. We decided that getting rid of the bugs would be a good first step anyway, so we began injecting serum into all the victims, stopping only to make more.

One of the history teachers was a fan of a series of books about dragons. She suggested a primitive centrifuge -swinging a test tube in a circle. An auto mechanic and a shop teacher came up with a mechanized form. And we got more medical supplies from Columbus - thanks to Walter's publicity.

By the next day, we had wards of people without any trace of the organism, all lying as still as death. But no one had died in the night. And Mulder left me alone. I didn't know what that meant.

***Chapter Eleven***

May 14
Barryville High School

We had been in Barryville a week. The organism was gone and the quarantine was lifted, and no one else had died, but that was the only change.

No one was neglected any more. Everyone got a kind word, a touch, a kiss, something, all day long. Those who needed it had their normal medical treatment. The death data had painted a clear picture - no one who had any family or friends around them had died, unless they were already seriously ill. None of these had died of their illnesses, or anything else. It was as if they'd decided they didn't want to return. Mulder had told us that in my dream.

I spent my time trying to revive them. I tried L-Dopamine, I tried stimulants, I tried anything I could think of. I even yelled at Mulder. He was hooked up to an EEG - I wanted to know if anything changed in him. Walter kept stealing time to caress him. He never stopped, but he was looking exhausted. We all were.

It was too much. I dropped my tray of useless medicines and ran to our little, windowless room and let myself rage. I couldn't do anything, make anything work. Mulder and Keesha and all the others would be like this forever. Maybe they wouldn't even age. Wouldn't that be a kick? Mulder beautiful forever while Walter and I crumble to dust? I was so useless!

"Dana?"

"Walter, go away, please!"

"Dana, the EEG is moving. Something's happening! Come, see!"

I jumped off my cot and came running. Sure enough, there was the beginnings of higher brain functions. Walter grabbed Mulder's hand.

"Come on, Fox. Come back to us all the way. I need you, lover. Come back home. This is Walter. I know you've never obeyed an order in your life, but listen to me now. I love you, Fox and I'll bring you back with main force."

"Mulder, don't ditch me now. You know I'll come get you. Come back!"

Mulder's eyelids fluttered, and his mouth twitched. I could see him trying to make words. I clutched at Walter, who'd also seen this. He bent closer to hear the tiny whisper.

"He says...he says you can't get rid of him...He's back." There were tears running down Walter's face. I'd never seen him cry before. "He says... Oh, God. He says he loves me. Why'd you wait until now, you bastard?" Walter buried his face in Mulder's chest, unable to contain himself.

As for me - I spent the next few minutes crying on Janice Berry's shoulder. For once, I wasn't ashamed to cry in public. She was crying, too. Everyone was - especially when first Keesha and then the others started to move. They were back. All of them were back. Within a few minutes, we heard shouts from the other ward and the hallways and classrooms, and there were phone calls from the hospital.

The next few days were a blur. Miraculously, almost no one needed physical therapy, and there was no harm done by the interrupted medical treatments. Even the pregnancies were fine. As people groaned and moved and got back into life, we moved them home. The gym emptied rapidly. I did a few random blood tests, and everyone had the antibodies in their systems.

The army built the town a new water tower and the old one was emptied and destroyed. Walter made certain the whole country, the whole world, knew it was over, and he made equally sure I wrote a detailed report. He also made rather too much of me. I read what he wrote.

"It was only due to the untiring efforts of Agent Scully and to the depth of her medical skills that we were able to succeed in this. I recommend that she be cited for her work. She is perhaps the finest agent I have ever had the privilege of serving with."

I was doing my job and fulfilling both of my oaths. I could do no less.

***Epilogue***

Mulder moved next to me on the plane ride home. We were traveling first class for a change - and we were all alone in the cabin. He and Walter had begun with some discreet snuggling, but Walter was asleep now.

He had to pick up the rag doll that Keesha had given me "so I wouldn't forget her." Barryville was a part of me now. I wouldn't forget any of them. Even so, it felt good to put the toy on the seat next to me. It was the only gift I let them give me. Mulder unselfconsciously cuddled the doll.

"The famous Dr. Scully."

"Stop it, Mulder."

"That was me in your dreams, you know. I needed to reach you."

"You did. But I thought it was my subconscious talking to me."

"The ever skeptical Dana Scully."

"What took you so long to get back?"

"I had to find the way. Scully, I can't describe what it was like. We were all in this place - the whole town. We were like balloons - tethered to the Earth with ribbons. As time went on and more people joined us, the ribbons got thinner. I had the strongest ribbons. I had you and I had Walter and you were both always thinking about me, talking to me, keeping me there. Other people ... some removed their ribbons and floated away. Others were just too weak. The ribbons snapped.

"I kept trying to get back, but when I tried, the way was closed. I could feel Walter, but I couldn't get back. I could see it, but I couldn't reach it. And then the way was open, but I didn't have the strength to use it until you two shouted at me. Then I could lead the others. I don't know how long we could have waited. It kept getting harder. You did save us, Scully."

I didn't say anything. He was wrong, but I didn't say anything. He smiled that smile and went back to Walter, leaving the doll behind.

---
Copyright 1998 Debra Fran Baker and NightRoads Associates.