Chapter 41: Aftermath

     NOVEMBER 3, 2013
3:35 P.M.

     When she wakes, it’s to a bright, warm light in a sunny hospital room, but her first waking thought is less than sunny.

     Mouth tastes like a dead animal.

     She gags, stomach churning, trying to get the thick, greasy taste of dried spit off her tongue.

     Where the hell am I?

     She tries to sit up, and everything comes back to her in a rush of miserable pain; the ship above them, the white light, the explosion that pushed her out of the sky, and Mulder’s dead body…

     “Whoa, easy does it, Doc.”

     Her heart leaps to hear her partner’s voice at her ear. She turns her head to find him sitting at her bedside, and in her drug-induced fog she wonders if she’s speaking to a ghost.

     “You…you were…”

     “Dead? Yeah, so I’m told,” he replies. “Pulled through, though. And not nearly as bad off as you,” he teases gently.

     “What…happened?”

     “Four broken ribs and a collapsed left lung. They had to open your chest. The doctor said you looked like a broken wind-up toy in there. I hope you don’t intend to take any professional advice from the guy about bedside manner, Scully,” he winces, shaking his head.

     “You were on a ventilator for a bit, but they took you off this morning, said you were breathing on your own. It’s really good to hear your voice,” he smiles, reaches out to take her hand.

     “And…you?” she whispers, throat raw, gesturing weakly for the thermos at her bedside. Mulder holds it up so she can sip the sweet, cool water.

     “Me? I’m just peachy.” 

     She shoots him a look, letting him know without words that he can’t dodge the question so easily.

     “Yeah, alright. My heart gave out after the fall, but they gave it a jumpstart. I have a torn right ACL, a busted forearm,” he holds up the cast, cradled in a sling, “and a bad back from sleeping in this damn hospital chair. Could be worse.”

     Leave it to Mulder to make light of heart failure.

     “Shouldn’t…you be in…bed?”

     “What, and miss you waking up all dopey on painkillers? Never.”

     She pinches her eyes shut in frustration; she’ll never understand how he can be so cavalier at times like this, how he can look over the precipice of death’s cliff and come back from the edge laughing.

     Mistaking her grimace for pain, he continues, “Speaking of painkillers, you’re due for another round of morphine. I’ll page the nurse.”

     She winces, shakes her head. No.

     “How…did they…”

     Mulder leans forward, finishing her sentence, and she’s grateful—it hurts to speak, she’s out of breath. “How did they find us? The Gunmen tipped off Skinner about reported UFO activity around Bonners Ferry. Skinner and Doggett strong-armed their way into the RCMP, sent a search team for us. Apparently the giant glowing light in the sky gave us away,” he finishes with a smirk. “Next time, I get to pick the camp site, k?”

     She fixes him with a narrow stare. “No…more…camping. Ever.”

     His grin widens, eyes liquid. “I’ll agree to that.”

     Something nags at the back of her mind, but it takes her drug-addled brain a moment to grasp it.

     “Oh! Isaac!” she gasps. “Where…?”

     Mulder sobers a bit at the mention of the boy’s name, lowering his voice. “Skinner took him. They’re going to place him in foster care, probably. They wouldn’t let me talk to him after I woke up, said they had to have all the evidence in place before they let us have contact with him again…if ever,” he finishes.

     The news hurts, but is not surprising. “He’s…safe?”

     Mulder nods. “Mostly unharmed. I think he’s going to be OK, Scully.”

     Their eyes meet, and she knows Mulder’s cheerful exterior is a facade, a face he’s putting on to protect her, to hide the distress that comes with losing their son again.

     “Mulder…” she wants to reach for him, to hold him, but doesn’t dare move for the tightness in her ribs, her stitches pulling taut around the sensitive skin. She settles for squeezing his hand.

     “He saved us, you know. Kid should have run screaming in the other direction, but…he came for us. Knocked us out of the sky, kept the darkness at bay until the Feds got there. And he covered for us when they brought him in for questioning, told them we were only trying to keep him alive. Whatever he is…whatever he thought…he saved us,” Mulder repeats, his face drawn.

     She’s quiet. Mulder’s fingers squeeze hers, watching her face for a reaction that doesn’t come. Eventually he sighs and stretches. “You should rest, you’re going to be here a while. All this talk is getting in the way of my flirting with the nurses,” he smiles, but the joke lacks his former enthusiasm. The circles under his eyes tell her he hasn’t left her side since she came out of surgery.

     Already she’s being pulled under by sleep and morphine, her mind drifting in a pillowy fog. She feels Mulder place a kiss on her forehead, hears him murmur “sleep tight” against her cheek.

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