Gathering Strength (R)


“Just a second.”  Scully responded to the tap on the door.  She finished tucking in her blouse and smoothed down her skirt.  “Come in.”

Dr. Foon opened the door.  He didn’t look happy, and she straightened up as though to defend herself.   “Dana, there’s another test I’d like to run.”

“What did you find?”

“Maybe nothing, but I’d feel better if I got another angle on it.”

“Dr. Foon, please.  The cancer’s growing isn’t it?”

"Dana, you’re refusing the chemo - “

“Which wouldn’t help anyway.”  She interrupted.

The older man sighed, “I’m not going to fight you on that, but you know as well as I do we need to keep a close eye on the mass due to its location.  Just come in tomorrow and let me - “

“Not tomorrow.  I have a flight out in the morning.  I’ll be back Thursday, Friday at the latest.”

He looked up surprised.  “Dana, are you still working?”  He sounded totally disbelieving.

“Dr. Foon - “ 

“Now listen, I don’t want to throw my weight around, but you know you’re not up to working.  You are markedly weaker than when I saw you last month.  I’m trying to keep you alive Dana.”

She wouldn’t meet his eyes then.  “Dr. Foon, I appreciate all you have . . . have done for me, but we’ve . . . I’ve know from the beginning that this was one fight I couldn’t win.  As long as I feel able to work, that’s what I want to do.”

“Dana, can you tell me honestly that you feel like working?”

She did look at him then, “I can tell you that being at work makes me feel better, more useful, than sitting around my apartment.”  And Mulder’s there for the strength I need more and more each day, she added silently.

Dr. Foon sighed.  “Call me when you’re back in town.”  She nodded and started to put her jacket on.  He held the coat and walked her out.  When the door closed, he turned to the nurse, “Schedule another MRI for Dr. Scully for Friday morning, please.”

“Yes, Doctor.”

**** 

When Mulder insisted on picking her up the next morning to drive to the airport, she heard herself agree.  That would give her a little more time to get herself together before the trip.  She hadn’t wanted to admit to herself how little things exhausted her now.  Dr. Foon had hit a sore spot yesterday.

They were quiet on the way to the airport, it was early and neither was used to company at that time of day.  It was okay, not a hostile silence, just quiet and together.  She felt herself relax a little; she could do this. 

Once seated on the plane, she turned to watch the activity out the window, waiting to queue up for take off.  He took the opportunity to look at her while she was unaware.  The makeup didn’t quite hide the circles under her eyes or the prominence of her cheekbones, as she continued to lose weight.  She was beginning to look sick and it ripped at his heart.  He’d been unable to find anything, do anything so far.  He hadn’t quit, he wouldn’t, but he needed to speed things up.

Her headache had returned as they walked to the gate, it had almost gone away in the car, with him looking after her.  It was never completely gone anymore, but his presence seemed to help.   Not scientific, but true nevertheless.

Now as the engines revved up for the take off, the air pressure in the cabin shifted slightly and the headache returned full force.  She closed her eyes and her grip tightened on the armrest.   She had to bite her lip to keep from whimpering.  This was the worst one yet.

Then she felt his hand over hers on the armrest, squeezing ever so slightly.   He didn’t speak; he just let her know he was there.  The pain receded back to a bearable level.

She didn’t open her eyes but he could see the tension leave her shoulders and fingers.  This wasn’t fear of flying; she looked like she was in pain.  Damn it!  Why couldn’t he do something?

Once the plane leveled off he turned to her, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.  “It’s still early Scully.  I can bring you up to speed later.  Why don’t you take a nap?”

“I’m okay.”  She gave him a faint smile.

“I know you are, but we might be up late.  There’s plenty of empty seats.  I can move; you can stretch out.”

“No.  I mean, you don’t have to move.”  The very thought caused her headache to flare again. 

“Okay, but you’re welcome to a shoulder.”

Her smile grew a little.  “I might take you up on that.”

Very shortly she did just that, falling asleep faster than he expected.  He flagged down a stewardess for a blanket for her.  She slept until the landing gear came down.

He kept his hand on her back as they walked from the plane and she seemed grateful.  Rather than go directly to pick up their bags, Mulder steered her toward a coffee shop.  He ordered without asking and appreciated the way she inhaled the steam.

“We should go on Mulder, we still have a drive ahead of us.”

“I know.  I’m going to the men’s room.  Be right back.”

As soon as he turned into the restroom, she took the medicine bottle from her pocket and shook two pills into her hand.  She swallowed them quickly and stuffed the bottle back in her pocket.

When he returned she stood, and the bottle landed on the tile floor.  He grabbed it before she could and read the label. 

“Scully?  This is strong stuff.”

She took the bottle from him and zipped it securely in her bag.   “I don’t use it often.  We need to get the bags and the car.”  The change in subjects was definitive and he allowed her the space.

The drive took three hours.  During the first hour, Mulder gave her the information the deputy had given him about the missing bodies.  The next two hours she dozed off again.  He kept glancing over at her.  While asleep the ravages of the disease just couldn’t be hidden.  The animation in her face was misleading.  And in this light the bruises under her eyes, and the weight loss were obviously growing.

Mulder wanted to check into a motel first, and maybe figure out a way to ditch her and give her more time.  Okay, she had slept a lot, but she was with him.  He could use her for reality checks without her having to expend a lot of energy.

She, however, refused, stating correctly that the sooner they talked to the sheriff, the sooner they would know how long they would need to stay.

Mulder held the door of the storefront sheriff’s office for her.  The sheriff, an overweight man with a crew cut, was sitting on a battered metal desk, flirting with a younger woman sitting at the radio.

He stood as Scully entered and moved toward the plywood counter.  “How can I help you folk?”

“Are you Sheriff Loyzell?”

“Sure am.”  The man’s eyes fastened on Scully’s breasts and Mulder’s eyes narrowed.

“I’m Special Agent Fox Mulder.”  He held out his badge.  “This is Special Agent Scully.  We’re looking for Deputy Patterson.”

The sheriff’s own eyes narrowed then and he rested one hand on the butt of his gun that hung below his gut.  “The deputy’s not here right now.”

“I see, when do you expect him?”

“Late next week, Thursday or Friday.”

“I beg your pardon?”  Scully spoke up immediately.

“Yeah, he went hunting with his brother, brother-in-law, some friends.  You know.”

“No, I don’t know.  Deputy Patterson contacted Agent Mulder with some information about some bodies that had been exhumed near here.”

“Well, I don’t know about that, but in any case, if we needed the help of the FBI, I’d call you in.  Sounds to me like you may have wasted a trip.”

"You could be right."  Mulder put his hand on Scully's arm.  She looked up at him, obviously angry.   "Let's go Scully."

She stared at him, unbelieving, and he gave her a tiny shake of his head.  Well, he had a plan apparently.  Mulder turned to the sheriff.  "I'm sorry we bothered you."

"No bother, really."  Loyzell watched them leave, and then turned toward the dispatcher.  "Get Patterson over here.  Now."  The young woman jumped to follow his order. 

He seated her in their rental car, then climbed in himself.   "That's it?"  She was looking outraged.

"No, but that man did not want us here.  I made a mistake coming here first; I should have tried to call the deputy without showing up here.  Let's check into that motel we passed, and then I'll head out to the cemetery and see what I can find."

"We'll head out that way."

He nodded and turned the key.

After getting their rooms, he asked for directions to the cemetery.  The story was an aunt of his was buried there.  The young woman behind the counter was more than willing to be helpful to him.  Scully watched the interchange with some ironic amusement; he would always have this effect on women. 

When he turned back toward her, he winked.  So, he was aware.  She lowered her eyes to hide her amusement.

"Should we head that way now?"

"No.  I'm getting hungry, and I'm pretty sure the sheriff is going to have an eye on the place for now.   Let's have an early dinner and when it gets a little darker, check it out."

She nodded.  She didn't have much appetite, but she should eat something.

The wind had picked up by the time they were through eating.   She checked out the sky.  "I think it's going to rain, Mulder."

"That should keep the good sheriff inside.  He doesn't look like the kind of guy who would want to be uncomfortable."

She just sighed, out in the cemetery, in the dark, in the rain didn't sound just uncomfortable to her.  It was fairly dark by the time they arrived and was already spitting rain.

Neither of them were prepared for the distance to or the size of the cemetery.  It must have been the only one in the county.  Mulder pulled the car over near the structure in the center of the park.

"Mulder, do you know where these bodies have been found?"

"According to Patterson, mostly on the northeast side.  There have been four bodies dug up so far, the coffins have been destroyed.  Patterson said it looked like they had been axed, after they had been brought to the surface."

"Come on, it's really going to rain soon."  She started for that part of the large park while he opened the umbrella and caught up with her.

"Mulder, why do you suspect aliens?"

"Have I mentioned aliens?"  He grinned at her.

"You don't have to, I've been part of the team for awhile now."

His smile grew.  "Because there's no evidence of equipment.  No backhoes were out here.  Someone or something dug these coffins up without anything except a shovel."

"It couldn't have been washed away, or - "

"Nope, and the victims are all young, male, the same class in high school.  We've seen that before."

She shook her head, but didn't comment.  The rain was getting heavier and she was ready to see the site and get back to the room.  Maybe he'd be able to locate Patterson without anyone finding out. 

The scene had been hurriedly cleaned up, but he was able to find several pieces of the coffins.  He wanted to know what had been used to rip the boxes apart.  Even he could see there wasn't much to be learned out here tonight.  When lightening arced across the sky, he glanced back at Scully, huddling miserably under the umbrella.

"Sorry.  Not a good idea.   Let's get out of here." 

He hurried to her side as thunder rumbled through the sky.   He took her arm and they headed back toward the mausoleum.  They were getting soaked, despite the umbrella and she was beginning to shiver.

When they came around the building, she was letting him lead her.  She ran into his back when he stopped abruptly.  "Mulder?"

"Uh, in here.  Come on."  He led her into the mausoleum itself.

"Mulder, we need to get out of this."

"Yeah, I know.  Hold on.  I'll be right back."

"Mulder?"  She put her arms around herself, but it wasn't helping.

He came back looking guilty as sin.  "Scully."  He glanced around, then back down at her.

"Will you come on, I'm cold."

"Yeah, I know.  Scully, the car's gone."

"Gone?"  She stepped around him then to see for herself.  No car.  "What the hell are we supposed to do?"

"Uh, well.  I can go for help in a little while, but right now, with this rain . . . “ His shoulders slumped in defeat.

"Great.  So the sheriff was watching us after all and didn't mind a little 'discomfort'."

"Apparently not."  He looked around the structure.  They weren't actually in the rain anymore, but with the wind it wasn't much better.  She rubbed her hands up and down her arms, and his guilt ratcheted up another notch.  She was soaked, she was tired, and it was all his fault.  She shouldn't even be out here.  She should be in DC looking after herself.

She had moved to the driest part of the structure and slipped down the wall with her arms around her knees.  He joined her, slipping his overcoat off and wrapping it around her.

"Mulder, it's okay.  You need your coat."

"Why don't we share it?  A little body heat, you know?" 

She sighed and he didn't dare make an off color remark now. 

For a long time they sat in silence.  The lightening had gotten worse and she was able to read some of the names on the wall behind them.

"You know, this is kind of a nice place.  I mean, it's pretty and peaceful, for the most part."

"What?"  He looked down at her.

"Well, I've thought about cremation.  Dad was cremated you know, and we scattered his ashes at sea.   But Missy's buried in DC.  There's room for me there and it would be easier for Mom to have - "

"Scully!  What the hell are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about where I should be buried.  Mom hasn't been able to talk about it and I need someone who knows what I want."

"You want me to help with the arrangements for your . . . Scully, I can't - "

"Mulder, I need you to help Mom." 

"Scully, you're not going to need to have 'arrangements'.  You're going to be okay."

"Mulder, you don't really believe that.  I need you to face this with me."

"Scully - " 

"Mulder, listen to me.  Mom is going to need you.  Bill and Charlie live too far away to be there for her.  They'll come for the funeral, but then they'll have to go home.  You'll still be there."

"Why are we talking about this Scully?  There's no good - "

"Mulder, I'm dying.  I have cancer and I'm . . . I'm getting weaker.  I'm not going to be able to come out of town with you any more.  The doctor - "

"What has he said?  Scully, is he telling you . . . “ His breathing was shallow.  She'd said the unthinkable.  She wasn't dying, Scully, his Scully was not going to die of this cancer. 

"He wants to do another test.  He wanted to do it today, but I told him I was going out of town.  I shouldn't have.  If I was honest with myself, I would have stayed and had the test.  I know it wouldn't do any good, but it's what anyone else would do.  I would be on sick leave and be conserving my strength, spending time with my family, tying up lose ends.   But look where I am - soaking wet in a strange cemetery, looking for aliens who want to exhume the bodies of male members of the class of 1990."

He couldn’t even pretend to speak.  Every word she said was true.  She shouldn’t be here with him and damn it, he knew that.  He just couldn’t accept it.  As long as she had played along, that things were going to be okay, he’d been able to push it aside.  Except at night, when he was alone and he couldn’t stop the thoughts from forming.

Fuck this case; fuck any aliens that weren’t on the planet to cure her.  Nothing else mattered.  His arms tightened around her as though he could physically keep her with him, no matter what.

She smiled for a moment at the increased pressure of his embrace.  This would be hard for him, she knew that, but it would be better to talk about it, quit avoiding the inevitable.

“Scully, we’re going home in the morning.  I don’t care what’s going on here.  We’ll go home, I’ll go with you for that test the doctor wants to perform and we’ll think of something.  There’s only one thing that matters to me right now and that’s you.  I may lose you one day, to another man, to a better career, eventually to death, but not now.  Now I’m going to get you help.  I know it’s out there and whatever I have to do to find it, I will.”

She said nothing; the feel of this man around her had actually pushed the headache completely away.  She knew it was his doing and she knew that if there was anything that could be done, he would move heaven and earth to find it for her.  She hoped that he wouldn’t allow guilt to overwhelm him if it didn’t happen.   She suspected that it would and that brought up a wave of grief for him.

He couldn’t talk about arrangements now, here.  She shouldn’t have tried but she had actually looked around and seen how peaceful the place could be.  She had been thinking only of herself.  She didn’t do that often, probably not often enough.

She sighed and made herself more comfortable against his body.   “Okay Mulder.  You know I trust you.  Whatever you find, I’ll try it.”  She felt his lips against her scalp and drew strength from the gesture.

Whatever the future held, or didn’t hold for her, she felt . . . she felt loved.  That would give her the strength to go on another day.

- Fin