Long Weekend

Fox Mulder slammed his desk drawer with a flourish, and spun his chair around to face his partner. "That's it, Scully, I'm out of here. See you on Tuesday."

 

Dana Scully looked up from the report she was editing, and looked at her watch. "It's only 4:30, Mulder."

 

"Ooooh, half an hour early. Fire me. I'm on vacation. I'll catch you later."

 

"Mulder, it's four days. That's hardly a vacation; it's a long weekend. And I can't believe you let the Gunmen talk you into this. UFO-enthusiast conventions are beneath even you."

 

Mulder laid his folded arms on his partner's desk, rested his chin on them, and focused his hazel eyes on her plaintively. "I'm bored and I'm desperate. See what Kersh has forced me to resort to?"

 

"Speaking of whom, if he finds out where you are going this weekend, he'll. . . . ."

 

Mulder cut her off and sat up straight again. "He'll what? It's not like I'm filing a 302. It's vacation time; I can do whatever I damn well please."

 

"Okay, Mulder, okay. Just don't advertise where you're going on your way out the door. Where are you staying, anyway?"

 

"The guys set it up. I think we're staying at the same hotel as the meeting. Some Hilton. I think Frohike said it was the Bev-something."

 

"The BEVERLY Hilton?"

 

"Yeah, why?"

 

"Mulder, it's in Beverly Hills! It's just one of the most exclusive and expensive hotels in LA, that's all!"

 

"Come on, it's a Hilton. How nice can it be?"

 

Scully smiled sweetly at her partner. "A heck of a lot nicer than the places _you_ usually choose!"

 

"My choices, Scully, have character. It's not too late, you can come too! You, four men, Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive?"

 

"And what men, too. I think I'll pass. Go on, get out of here. If Kersh comes looking for you in the next 15 minutes, I'll cover for you."

 

"As if he'd ever come looking for _me_." Mulder turned back to face his desk, pulled his keys from his pocket, and locked the drawer.

 

"Why do you do that, Mulder?"

 

He looked back to face his partner, trying to convey the stupidity of her question by his expression. "So no one can get in my desk."

 

"Who would want to do that? You think they're counting your paper clips?"

 

"Who knows, Scully, who knows."

 

"Sometimes I forget how paranoid you can be, Mulder."

 

Her tall partner stood up and grabbed his jacket from the back of his chair. He looked back at her over his shoulder as he headed for the door. "I have a reputation to live up to," he said with a wink. "Have a good weekend."

 

+ + + + +

 

Mulder was haphazardly tossing clothes in a duffel bag when the phone rang.

 

"Mulder."

 

"Hey, it's Langly. You about ready to go?"

 

"We don't leave for 12 hours, Langly."

 

"Yeah, I know. But it's gonna be a blast. There are a couple of guys who are gonna be there that you HAVE to meet. God, when we show up with _you_."

 

"Stop right there, Langly. I don't want to meet anyone. I don't want anyone to meet me. Understand? I just want to lay low, wander around, soak up the atmosphere, so to speak."

 

"Oh, come on, man, you're LEGENDARY! One whisper in the right ear and you'll have more people flocking around you than Elvis!"

 

"Elvis is gonna be there?" Mulder paused a beat to give his joke maximum effect, but Langly didn't respond, so he continued. "Seriously, though. No, Langly, NO." Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. Mulder figured he could trust Byers. Maybe Frohike. But this guy? No way he'd be able to keep his mouth shut.

 

"Okay, okay, chill out man. The reason I'm calling--why don't you come crash here tonight, and we can all go to the airport in one car in the morning. We're closer to the 287 than you, and it will be the morning rush hour."

 

"No that's okay. I'll meet you there."

 

"Come on, Mulder, our couch is as comfortable as yours. We'll save time, save parking fees. Besides, Frohike made a batch of that chicken chili of his, and we gotta finish it."

 

Mulder looked at his watch; almost 9pm. Langly did have a point. The gunmen practically lived off the exit to 287--he'd save at least an hour in the morning by going there tonight. It was weird enough that he was going anywhere with these characters, might as well start the fun early.

 

"Yeah, alright. Let me finish packing and I'll be over. But we're taking my car to the airport. No way am I driving up to the terminal in that damn bus of yours."

 

"Okay, Cool. See ya later."

 

+ + + + +

 

Mulder tried to stretch, and banged his elbow on the arm of the sofa. This thing was NOT as comfortable as his. No way. He ached all over. He pulled his watch off the table by the couch, and checked the time--a little after six. The place was quiet, and if he got up now, he'd beat them to the shower. That is, provided they showered. He wasn't so sure about Frohike. He sat up, and when he did he felt an odd sort of twinge in his stomach. Probably just hungry, he thought. He had begged off on the chili last night; hadn't been hungry.  He stood, got his shaving kit out of his bag, and made his way into the bathroom.

 

+ + + + +

 

Mulder let the heat of the water envelope him. He wondered if maybe he was using up all the hot water, but he didn't much care. They'd deal. He needed to wake up, needed the pelting water to make him stop feeling so, so . . . weird. He couldn't put a finger on it, but he just felt strange. Vaguely queasy. He hadn't eaten anything since lunch yesterday, so there was no doubt he was hungry. And of course, he was about to head off into uncharted territories with the Lone Gunmen of all people. Scully had nailed it yesterday. How _had_ these guys talked him into this? Was he . . . nervous? If Langly didn't keep his mouth shut like he'd promised to, he could be in for a very long weekend. Oh well, too late now. He'd make the best of it; maybe even have some fun. The guys were amusing if nothing else. And if this hotel was as nice as Scully said, hell, maybe he'd get lucky.

 

Yeah, with a woman from Illinois who was sure she was a multiple abductee. Mulder laughed out loud at the thought, and stepped out of the shower. He dried himself quickly, slipped on his boxers and jeans, and went into the main room sans shirt, still towel-drying his hair.

 

He smelled it the moment he stepped out, and the aroma made his stomach do a minor flip. Chili. For breakfast. Figures. Langly had said they needed to get rid of it, and Mulder _had_ eaten the stuff before--it was pretty good, actually. He'd eaten worst for breakfast in his life.

 

"You got coffee to go with breakfast?"

 

Mulder startled Frohike; the shorter man spun around quickly. "Cripes, Mulder, don't go sneaking up on people like that! And put a shirt on, showoff. Of course there's coffee. Hawaiian Kona blend, hand-ground at the shop on the corner."

 

Mulder grinned at the 'showoff' comment, and raised an eyebrow at the highbrow java. "Who died?"

 

"Hey, man, we have very refined taste for the Juan Valdez. We only drink the good stuff. Help yourself. Chili's almost hot."

 

Mulder poured himself a cup, and sat at the large counter in the middle of the room that served as workbench and dining table, purposefully ignoring his friend's request that he finish dressing. "Chili for breakfast, huh? I don't suppose you have an egg or two?"

 

Frohike snorted. "Who needs eggs? This stuff'll stick to your ribs."

 

"That's exactly what I'm afraid of. Where are the other two?"

 

"Byers went next-door to shower. . . " Mulder took a moment to try and decipher what that meant. Did these guys own the loft next-door, too? That was news to him. Or did they just have an arrangement with the neighbor? Or was it empty? Ah, hell, he didn't care enough to ask right now. Some other time.

 

". . . And Langly's still asleep."

 

Mulder checked his watch. "Shouldn't someone wake him? We have to leave in an hour."

 

"Uh huh. So we'll wake him if he isn't up in 45 minutes. You wouldn't believe how fast he can be ready."

 

"Sure I can. How long does it take to throw on jeans and a Led Zepplin tee shirt?"

 

"It's a foolproof system. So you want some chili?"

 

Mulder nodded. "Why not."  He hopped off his stool, went to his bag, and yanked out a tee shirt to wear.

 

+ + + + +

 

Mulder pulled the car into the long-term parking lot at Dulles and found a space. Why hadn't he ever noticed how noisy these three were? The whole 40-minute drive had been filled with nothing but the white noise of their chatter. It was making him sick. After a while he had just tuned them out and concentrated on the road. Before he could turn off the engine the three men had piled out and were waiting by the trunk to get their bags. He flipped the latch from inside the car, and slowly climbed out. He felt like an old man this morning.

 

"Hey Mulder, you okay?"

 

Mulder looked up to see Langly looking at him oddly. "Yeah, fine. Why?"

 

"I dunno. You've been acting a little weird this morning. That's all."

 

"You've been awake for less than an hour, Langly, how would you know? Let's go. We're late." Mulder swung his duffel bag over his shoulder and started the walk toward the shuttle bus to their terminal.

 

"Don't worry, Mulder, I got your point last night. Mum's the word. I won't tell anyone who you are."

 

Mulder shot a look back at the blond man trying to catch up.  "Better not."

 

+ + + + +

 

It was while they were at the gate waiting to board the plane that the pain started. At first Mulder felt a sharp cramp in the middle of his stomach, which went away. He didn't give it a second thought. But after a few minutes it returned, but this time it was just a dull ache. A stomachache? What the hell?

 

He waited for a few minutes, hoping this pain would also be temporary, but it wasn't. In fact, a feeling of queasiness was added to his discomfort. Mulder paused to assess how he was feeling--was he gonna throw up? He didn't think so, but maybe a trip to the john wouldn't be such a bad idea right now. But how best to not tip off the guys? He looked at them for a moment. They were all in their own little worlds. Byers was reading, Langly was playing with some handheld electronic contraption, and Frohike couldn't seem to peel his eyes off the group of 15-or-so young women who would apparently be on their flight. None of them were looking at him. None of them had noticed; he was sure of it. He stood up.

 

"Hey where're you goin' Mulder?" Guess those coeds didn't have _all_ of Fro's attention.

 

"To the can."

 

Frohike nodded knowingly. "I'll come with you. Long flight--avoid those tiny things on the plane if you can, ya know?"

 

Shit. Now what? Well, there was nothing Mulder could do, he had to let him come with him. The two men started to walk, and Byers shouted after them "We board in less than ten minutes!"

 

Mulder pushed his way into the men's room, and hastened his pace into a stall. He sat on the commode, and doubled over, tightly clutching his abdomen with his arms. God, he hated this feeling. Was this the result of that damn chili? The timing was right. Part of him wished he'd just upchuck and be done with it, despite the unpleasantness of that thought. But he wasn't that sick; he knew that. And besides, not with Frohike in the room.

 

Mulder heard the flush of the urinal, indicating Frohike was done with his business. Figures, he didn't wash his hands. "You almost done in there, Mulder?"

 

Sit up, make your voice normal. "Yeah. Go on back. I'll be there in a minute. Don't let the plane take off without me!" He was sure to make his tone light.

 

It worked--Frohike chuckled. "Sure thing. Hurry up."  Mulder let out a sigh of relief when he heard the door shut, and wearily laid his head against the wall of the stall. Now what did he do? He waited another moment, and the queasiness seemed to subside. Maybe it was just a momentary thing. It was gonna pass. He sat up straight, and actually felt a little better. Oh, thank God. It was just a momentary thing. Thank God. He left the stall, and doused his face with cold water. That helped, too.

 

Okay, that was weird, but it was over. He didn't feel totally normal, but he felt 100 times better. He left the bathroom and confidently rejoined his friends.

 

+ + + + +

 

 As the plane taxied down the runway, any confidence Mulder felt quickly started to slip away. They were securely strapped into their seats, and he knew it would be many more minutes before the seatbelt sign would be turned off.

 

And he was gonna puke.

 

He could feel the telltale sensation building in his gut, there was no question in his mind. Damn Frohike and that chili. What had he been thinking? He took a few deep breaths and swallowed hard, willing his stomach to settle. The motion of the plane taking flight did not help matters at all, and Mulder found himself gritting his teeth. He wanted to lean forward, to double himself over in an attempt to keep his stomach from revolting, but the force of the plane's ascent made that much more trouble than it was worth. And besides, as much as he wanted this sensation to go away, he didn't want to let on how he was feeling, especially to his three travelling companions.

 

Fuck, fuck, fuck. What was he going to do? He reached out, and flipped through the contents of the pocket in front of him. He hoped that anyone looking would think he was checking out the magazines, but in fact he was looking for an airsick bag. He'd never seen anyone upchuck on a plane before, yet those bags always seemed to be there. And he was thinking that if things continued to go as they were going, _he'd_ be the first person he ever saw use one. His fingers found it tucked behind the in-flight magazine, and he pulled on it until a corner was sticking up, making it quickly accessible if need be.

 

God, he hoped there wouldn't be a need. He sat back and closed his eyes and concentrated on taking deep breaths. Mind over matter, mind over matter. He could make it until that damn light went off, or until the feeling went away. He knew he could. He didn't have any choice.

 

Damn that chili.

 

After what was surely an eternity, Mulder felt the plane begin to level out. This was it. He opened his eyes quickly and found Frohike looking at him. "Thought you were asleep already."

 

Mulder grinned slightly, unwilling to say anything, lest the effort cause him to lose his battle with his stomach. But Frohike was looking at him expectantly. He opened his mouth, but before he had to form a word he heard the "ding" that signified the seatbelt light had gone off. He raised one finger to his friend, as if to tell him he'd be right back, unhooked his seatbelt, and flew down the aisle to the back of the plane.

 

Fuck, he'd forgotten how small these damn bathrooms were. He'd never done anything but stand in one. He started to panic when he thought he wouldn't be able to lean over the bowl of the toilet to vomit. He looked at the tiny sink and immediately discarded that option. Instead he just backed against the door and crouched a little and bent over, and let it go, hoping his aim was good. Thank god he wasn't wearing a tie, he thought as he allowed the contents of his stomach to leave his body.

 

He could only hope no one was standing outside listening to this.

 

After he was done he leaned back against the door and allowed it to support him while he got his strength back. The worst part of barfing, he always thought, was that feeling right after, when you're sure your legs won't support your weight. It doesn't last long, but it's an altogether unpleasant sensation, being so helpless. It passed, and he turned and leaned heavily on the tiny counter. He dropped the lid on the toilet and flushed it, then set to cleaning himself up.

 

The damn sink was one of those designed to make it impossible to leave on, so it only delivered a brief stream of water before automatically shutting off. It took five bursts of water before he felt he'd sufficiently rinsed his mouth out. He splashed another burst onto his face, and then another. With the eighth he wet a paper towel with cold water and pressed it hard against the back of his neck. He was just thankful this was over, and he felt much better. After a moment he stood up and scrutinized his reflection in the mirror. He looked a little out of sorts, but not so bad that the guys would notice something. Scully would be a different matter, and he was thankful she wasn't here.

 

He was tempted to return to his seat and tell Frohike that his chili was poison, but decided it would be best to not mention anything. He opened the lavatory door and headed back. He was two feet from his seat when he encountered a flight attendant in the tiny aisle, and they had to pass in close quarters. As soon as she was past, the woman spoke to him.

 

"Sir? Are you okay? You don't look well."

 

Shit. "Yeah, ummm, fine. Nervous flier. I'm fine." He smiled at her to try and make his words more convincing. The woman nodded and smiled sympathetically then went on her way, and Mulder was able to sink into his chair.

 

"You're a nervous flier, Mulder? But you fly all the time." Damn, he'd hoped the Gunmen hadn't been listening, but they obviously had been. Not only was Frohike calling him on it, but Langly and Byers were looking at him too.

 

"Doesn't mean I have to like it. It's not like any of you have flown with me before." He'd just dug himself deeper with his story, he knew. It would have been so much easier to just say 'No, Frohike, I'm not a nervous flier. Fact is, your chili made me sick!' But it was too late now.

 

He reclined his seat a little bit, and closed his eyes. When the drink cart came through he only asked for water. He still had a wretched taste in his mouth, and although he felt much better, he didn't want to risk things. He swished each mouthful around before swallowing it, and by the time he'd downed the glass his mouth felt much better.

 

It took less than five minutes before Mulder knew that the water he'd just swallowed was on its way back up, and quickly. He stood again, as nonchalantly as he could manage, turned, and started to go back down the aisle.

 

But the drink cart had only gone another three rows at best, and there was no getting around it. He felt a surge of panic rise in him, and quickly scanned the middle rows, hoping against hope that one would be empty, and he could cut across to the other aisle. On a Friday flight from D.C. to L.A.? Who was he kidding. He looked to the front of the plane, frantically hoping there were lavatories at the front of the cabin as well. No. It took him no time to decide that he had no choice. Desperate times required desperate measures. He turned and strode purposefully, quickly, toward the front of the plane. As he passed his three friends he knew they were looking at him and each other, but he didn't care. He reached the curtain that separated their coach cabin from first class, and went through.

 

He was so single-minded in his mission that if one of the flight attendants up front said anything to him as he passed, he didn't hear it. He got to the bathroom and shut the door with relief. He immediately noted that the bathroom was bigger than the ones in back; maybe twice the size. Still tiny, but not obscenely so. He actually had room to kneel in front of the commode.

 

As he vomited up the glass of water he made a mental note that in the future he should do all his puking in first class.

 

This time when he was finished he dropped the lid on the toilet and sat down for a minute. His stomach hurt from the vomiting this time, no doubt because it had been all but empty. And he had that burning feeling all the way up his throat from bringing up bile. Maybe _that_ was the worst feeling associated with throwing up. And the shaking; the way your body shakes uncontrollably right afterward. He hated that, too. There were so many unpleasant sensations to choose from.

 

Not to mention the desire to throttle the person who made you sick in the first place.

 

He sat there as long as he dared, rinsed his mouth and washed his face yet again, and steeled himself for the walk back to his rightful cabin. This time he did hear a woman calling after him, but he didn't acknowledge her, and he noticed that the first class passengers were paying him no heed. As he reached the dividing curtain he heard the woman sigh exasperatedly, and when he did he sighed with relief. She'd just told him that she wouldn't be coming after him.

 

When he got to his seat he was horrified to find a food tray sitting there. Runny scrambled eggs, it looked like. When Frohike saw him he picked up the food and lifted Mulder's tray table so the man could sit.

 

"We got you the eggs, Mulder, but if you want the pancakes we can trade. I don't mind. You okay?"

 

Mulder sat, and Frohike put down the table and set the food on it. The second the smell hit his nose, Mulder knew he had to get rid of the food immediately. Fuck. He examined the buttons on his armrest, found the one to call someone, and pushed it.

 

"So, what'll it be, Mulder?"

 

The agent suddenly realized his friend was waiting for his answer to the menu questions. "Oh, umm, I don't care, this is fine," he answered distractedly. He was busy trying not to smell it.

 

"You okay? Why you keep getting up?"

 

Oh, give it a rest, Frohike. He looked at his friend and shrugged. "When you gotta go, you gotta go." He sat back and arched his neck so he was looking up at the plane's ceiling--anything to avoid the smell that was everywhere.

 

"Aren't you gonna eat?"

 

He didn't change position, but glanced over at his neighbor. "How could I possibly eat this after eating your chili?" When Mulder saw Frohike smile, he realized his friend had taken that as a compliment. If only he could tell him how far off he was. Instead he just closed his eyes.

 

"Excuse me, can I help you?" Mulder opened his eyes when he heard the woman addressing him. They had taken their sweet time answering his call, and trying to keep the smell of food out of his nostrils without actually plugging his nose had been taking all his concentration.

 

"Um, yes. Can you take this away?"

 

"They'll be by to clean up shortly. Aren't you hungry?"

 

"Um, no. And I'd really appreciate it if you could take it away now." He looked at her earnestly, slightly desperately. This was the same woman who had passed him in the aisle earlier, and he silently entreated her to remember, and realize exactly why the food had to go immediately. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw understanding come to her eyes.

 

"Of course." She gave him another sympathetic smile and took the tray away.

 

Mulder sighed and sat back, but suddenly felt watched. He looked to his right, and found Langly staring at him. "What's the matter with you, Mulder?" he asked pointedly.

 

God, could he keep hiding this? It seemed like everyone was on to him. But he wasn't ready to give up yet. The best defense, he knew, was often a great offense--or something like that.

 

"WHAT, Langly?" He acted as annoyed as he could, hoping to put Langly on the defensive. Maybe he'd just drop it.

 

"You paid for that, Mulder! You don't just send it back! I would have eaten it!"

 

Mulder almost laughed with relief. "Sorry. I'll remember that next time." Maybe he was gonna get away with this.

 

+ + + + +

 

He almost felt as if he could relax. It had been 40 minutes, and his stomach had remained settled. Sure, it hurt, but after vomiting twice that was to be expected. He'd been feigning sleep, because there was no way he wanted to be engaging the guys in conversation--it might turn to his recent runs to the bathroom.

 

He did allow himself to relax, realized that he actually might be able to doze, and let himself drift off.

 

He wasn't sure how long he'd been asleep when the nausea returned bad enough to wake him. He looked at his watch and realized it hadn't been ten minutes. That would teach him to let up on his vigilance. He found himself once again fidgeting in his seat, swallowing heavily, and trying to fight down the queasiness.

 

+ + + + +

 

Frohike really wanted to know what Mulder's deal was. One minute he's completely still next to him, obviously asleep, and the next he's squirming around like some hyperactive ten-year-old. It was friggin' annoying, that's what it was.

 

"Mulder, what is your problem?" He looked over at his friend, annoyed, but when Mulder caught his eye Frohike realized something was wrong, and changed his tone. "Are you okay?"

 

"Will you stop asking me that? I'm fine. I hate to fly." Why on earth was he keeping up this charade?

 

Frohike figured that was a lie, but he didn't know what he could do about anything, so he let it go. By now Byers was interested in their conversation, so the older man looked over at his friend and shrugged. They all knew Mulder could be odd at times.

 

A minute later Mulder was once again racing toward the back of the plane, only this time Frohike was close behind. He had to know what the hell Mulder was doing back there. He got to the lavatories just as Mulder's door closed, and he didn't have to wait long to figure out what the problem was. The sound coming from the bathroom was unmistakable.  Mulder was throwing up.

 

Frohike returned to his friends.  "He's puking his guts up back there," he informed them.

 

"No shit?"

 

"No shit, Langly."

 

"Why hasn't he told us if he's sick," Byers wondered.

 

"I dunno. Stubborn?"

 

"What do you think we should do? We should tell him we know, don't you think?"

 

Langly hated that idea. "No way, Byers! If he wanted us to know, he'd tell us. Leave the guy alone." He looked suspiciously at Frohike. "Did you feed him that chili?"

 

Frohike dismissed that implication with a glare. "Langly's right. We leave him alone. Since we know we can keep an eye on him. We can always say something later, right?" The short man suddenly sat down hastily. "Here he comes," he hissed to his friends.

 

When Mulder sat Byers couldn't resist. "Are you sure you're okay, Mulder?"

 

Mulder rolled his eyes. "I just want to get off this tin can." Well, that was the truth.

 

As Mulder sat back and again closed his eyes, Byers leaned over and whispered in Frohike's ear. "If he gets up one more time, I'm gonna call Scully and ask her what we should do." Frohike nodded silently.

 

+ + + + +

 

"Scully."

 

"Hi Scully, it's Byers."

 

"Byers? Aren't you. . . . Wait a minute, where _are_ you?"

 

"We're on the plane."

 

"You're calling from the plane?" Her voice suddenly turned somber. "What's wrong."

 

"Scully, is Mulder a nervous flier?"

 

"Not at all. He likes to fly, as a matter of fact. Why?"

 

"Well, he's in the lavatory. For the fourth time in three hours. Last time Frohike followed him, and he says he heard him throwing up. When we asked him about it, he said he was a nervous flier."

 

"If he is, it's news to me. I think he's pulling your leg. When he gets back let me talk to him."

 

"Oh, no, Scully. We don't want him to know we called you--he'll be furious. But what should we do?"

 

"I don't know, Byers! What do you want me to do, diagnose from 2000 miles away when you won't even let me talk to him? How does he seem otherwise?"  She was exasperated with them; it was obvious.

 

"He looks a little green around the gills, but he's alright, I guess."

 

"It's probably nothing. Probably a stomach bug. Or maybe he ate something that disagrees with him. Do you know what he had for breakfast?"

 

"Yeah."

 

"Well, what was it?" More exasperation.

 

"Chicken chili."

 

Scully laughed. "That's probably it right there. I keep telling him he's getting too old to keep eating like a frat boy."

 

"So what do we do?"

 

"Make sure he stays hydrated. Make him drink lots of water; warm soda like Coke or ginger ale calms the stomach. Does he seem either hot or cold to you?"

 

"We haven't touched him!"

 

"Well, is he peeling off his jacket or asking for a blanket?" Again, Byers could hear the annoyance in her voice.

 

"No, neither."

 

"Well, if he does either--heat or chills, that's an indication of a fever--then you know it's probably not something he ate. If he has a fever, try to get him to a doctor, but good luck doing that! You guys are really staying at the Beverly Hilton?"

 

"We are."

 

"Under whose name?"

 

"Langly's."

 

"Okay, I'll call you to see how he's doing at, ohhhh, five. That's two California time. You should be there by then, right?"

 

"Absolutely."

 

"Okay. Make him drink lots of fluids. The more the better. Saltines, too, calm the stomach. All those things your mother did for you when you were a kid? They work."

 

"Thanks Scully." Byers turned off the phone and immediately flagged down a flight attendant. "Excuse me, but can you bring me a can of either warm Coke or warm ginger ale?"

 

The attendant looked at him oddly. "Warm?"

 

"It's for our friend," Byers motioned to the empty seat. "He has an upset stomach."

 

The woman nodded knowingly. "Oh, right. No problem. We have antacids or Pepto Bismol if you think they might help."

 

"No, not right now, thanks."  The woman left for the galley.

 

"Is that what she said, Byers? Warm Coke? We coulda thought of that!"

 

"Well then why didn't you, Frohike? She also said to try and find out if he has a fever, and if he does, get him to a doctor."

 

Langly snorted. "How are we going to find that out without him noticing?"

 

"I don't know. . . . Frohike, switch seats with me." Frohike was happy to--it gave him the window instead of the center.

 

As Byers was settling into his new seat, the attendant returned with a can of Coke and a can of ginger ale, and two cups. "Let me know if there's anything we can do."

 

"We will. Oh, can you bring some water, too?" Byers flipped down Mulder's tray table, and put the two cans there. Within a moment Mulder returned to his seat.

 

"What's this?"

 

"Warm soda. Good for an upset stomach." Byers looked at his friend matter-of-factly.

 

"Who says I have an upset stomach?"

 

Langly couldn't resist. "Come on, Mulder, you've been up and down like a Mexican jumping bean! You're not fooling us. You okay?"

 

"I'm _fine_."

 

Byers moved the soda onto his tray for a moment so Mulder could sit down. "Coke or ginger ale?"

 

"Neither. I'm not thirsty."  He sank into his seat and wearily collapsed against the headrest. He really did feel like shit, but he just couldn't let them know that.

 

"Really, Mulder, it will help. And besides, you don't want to get dehydrated."

 

Mulder opened one eye and looked at Byers suspiciously. "You sounded just like Scully for a minute there, Byers."

 

Byers tried to look offended. "That's not medical knowledge, that's just common sense." He flipped open a can and poured the contents into a cup. "Here, ginger ale."

 

Mulder scowled, and lowered his tray so Byers could put the cup down. But he didn't. Mulder waited a second for his friend to finally put it down, and when he steadfastly held it in front of Mulder instead of placing it on the tray, the FBI agent finally took it into his hand himself. What the hell was Byers' problem? Couldn't he hand off a damn cup? He took his sweet time doing it, and there was a great deal of fumbling of hands involved before Mulder finally secured the cup in his own hand, and placed it on the tray.

 

"Drink it, Mulder."

 

"Would you guys just get off my back? I'll drink it, but I'm _fine_. Nothing to worry about."  He picked up the cup and took a long drag on the liquid just to prove his point. God, he hoped this stayed down.

 

As Mulder was drinking, Langly looked across at Byers and mouthed the words "Is he hot?" Byers shrugged. He'd tried, but he had no idea.

 

+ + + + +

 

As Mulder put the glass down on his tray he found himself wondering what it was that made him believe it was preferable for the guys to think he was afraid to fly than it was to admit that he actually wasn't feeling well. Honestly, which was the worse weakness here? What was it about men that made them so loathe to admit that on occasion their bodies betrayed them? And even though he knew how stupid it was, here he was, powerless to stop himself, digging himself into a deeper and deeper hole.

 

He should just say 'Look, guys, I'm sick.' He knew it. But he also knew that at this point there was no way in hell he'd say it. They obviously _knew_ it, anyway.

 

His biggest priority, though, was on doing his best to make sure the ginger ale stayed where it belonged.

 

"Do you think it's something you ate, Mulder?" The sick man almost laughed at the hesitantly guilty tone in Frohike's voice.

 

"I don't know, Frohike." He turned and looked at his friend for maximum effect. "Maybe." Then Mulder turned back to face forward, reclined his seat, and closed his eyes.

 

+ + + + +

 

When the seatbelt light came back on, Mulder remembered takeoff, and silently hoped his stomach would remain calm.

 

It did, though the bouncing of the landing sent his stomach up his throat.  But he was able to maintain control of it, and it settled back down as the plane taxied to the gate. He suddenly realized that he'd had his eyes closed for some time, and opened them to find Langly staring at him from across the aisle.

 

"Are you _really_ a nervous flier, Mulder?"

 

Here it was, a moment of truth. He could drop the charade right here and now.

 

"It's not my favorite thing, Langly."

 

Well, that wasn't a lie, anyway. He shook his head slightly, disgusted with his inability to put a stop to his own idiocy. Then he felt the plane come to a stop, and like any seasoned traveler, he quickly unhooked his seatbelt and leapt to his feet in a bid to be the first to his overhead compartment. It was reflex more than anything, and it was a big mistake.

 

The head rush and wooziness sent him careening back down toward Byers, who put his hands up and steadied his friend.

 

"God, Mulder, how sick are you? Sit down!"

 

Mulder steadied himself with the help of his seat-back, and stood up. "I'm alright. I just want to get off this damn plane." He opened the overhead compartment, and ignored the pain the movements caused in his stomach while he pulled down everyone's bags. He dropped them on his vacant seat, and then moved forward slightly to join the line of passengers waiting to disembark. He wasn't lying. He really DID want to get off this plane. He just knew he'd feel better if he could breathe real air some time soon.

 

When Mulder reached the terminal, he realized that the guys were all behind him. He turned and was dismayed to see them huddling together as they walked, clearly discussing something. They were still quite a bit behind him, and Mulder realized he felt lightheaded, and his stomach was killing him. He dropped his bag at his feet, and sank into a chair to wait for them to catch up.

 

"So what are you three conspiring about?" he asked wearily as they reached him where he sat.

 

Frohike sat next to him. "We were just thinking that we all don't have to go and pick up the rental. Two of us can wait here, and two of us can go, then come back to pick up the others."

 

Mulder chuckled ruefully. "And let me guess. You figured I'd wait here." He was perversely pleased to see the slightly scared look on each of his friends' faces as they all nodded silently. He thought for a moment. He really did feel like shit, and he really didn't relish the idea of packing onto a shuttle bus and whatnot. What the hell.

 

"Yeah, okay. Who's waiting with me?"

 

The three men all let out relieved breaths. "I am," Frohike said. "They won't let me drive the rental, anyway. I had a slight, ummm, mishap with one once."

 

Mulder nodded and pulled his driver's license out of his wallet, and handed it to Byers. "Here. Have me put on as a driver. No way do I want to be completely dependent on you guys all weekend."

 

Byers took the card. "We'll pick you up right outside this terminal. Do you have your cell phone?" Mulder nodded. "We'll call you when we're about to pull up."

 

The two men left, and as soon as they did, Mulder stood up slowly and started to move. Frohike jumped up and started to follow. "Where are you going Mulder?"

 

"To the bathroom."

 

"Do you have to puke again?"

 

Mulder stopped in his tracks, then slowly turned. "No, I have to go. Watch my stuff." He left, but rather than stay there, Frohike grabbed both bags and followed.

 

+ + + + +

 

When Mulder exited the men's room and found Frohike standing there, he grunted disgustedly. Frohike ignored him.

 

"Come on, Mulder. I figured we could wait closer to the door." He led them to a bench about halfway between the terminal doors and the bathroom, and sat down. Mulder sat too, hunched forward at the middle.

 

Frohike looked at him for a minute, hoping he'd say something. When it was apparent that nothing was forthcoming from his friend, he decided to speak up. "Look, Mulder, If you think, I mean, if I. . . ." He stopped, completely unsure of what he wanted to say, or how he wanted to say it.

 

Mulder turned his head slightly, allowing him to see his friend with a sideways glance. "I _don't_ want to talk about it, Frohike. Just leave me alone. Don't say anything."

 

Frohike sat back and looked straight ahead. He didn't want to talk about it? Fair enough. He'd tried.

 

+ + + + +

 

As soon as the four men entered the hotel, Mulder knew something was up. Scully was right, the place was unbelievably posh--too posh for them. The lobby alone was huge and golden, with crystal chandeliers. There was a UFO convention _here_? But it wasn't just that--he watched a transformation take place in Langly. The man instantly stood up tall, and marched purposefully toward the desk.

 

Mulder lagged behind, and when he caught up, he immediately was alarmed by what he was hearing. The desk clerk had heard Langly's name, and become very flustered and apologetic, and called his boss over. What the hell was going on?

 

"Mr. Langly. I am so glad to be able to welcome you back to a Hilton Hotel. We are so very sorry about the unfortunate experience you had when you last stayed with us, and hope we can make up for it here. Your party is four people, correct? We have set aside our Executive Suite. It has three bedrooms, we hope that will be satisfactory." The manager was practically running off at the mouth, so profuse was he in his efforts to make Langly happy.

 

Mulder had no idea what was going on. He looked at Frohike, and when their eyes met, Fro had to turn his back on the desk, so the hotel staff would not see him stifling a laugh. And suddenly Mulder figured it out--they were scamming the hotel. Somehow Langly had convinced the hotel that they owed him a first-class stay. Were these guys nuts? He was a Federal Agent! He quickly walked away rather than hear the whole thing, and allowed one of the plush, overstuffed lobby chairs to consume him. These guys could be monumentally stupid at times. It was a good thing he felt like death, or he'd be packing them all off to the nearest Econolodge.

 

"Come on, Mulder." He looked up to see Byers offering him a hand to help him up. He ignored it, and slowly pushed himself up from the chair. It took a great deal of effort, but he did it himself; he didn't want any help from these guys.

 

Once he was standing next to Byers, he leaned in to whisper in his ear. He didn't want the bellhop to hear him. "What are you guys pulling here?" he hissed. Byers started to answer, but Mulder stopped him. "Wait. Don't tell me. I might have to arrest you if you do."

 

They entered the elevator, and Mulder found himself standing slightly behind Langly. He leaned forward and whispered in his ear. "You are fucking nuts," he said. Langly clearly took that as a compliment, because he broke into a wide grin.

 

The elevator reached their floor, high up in the hotel, and the bellhop opened the door to their suite with a flourish. Mulder noted that the kid refused a tip from Byers; they _really_ must have pulled a number on them. He wearily entered the room, and found a large main room, with two large sofas, a bar, an entertainment center, a dining area, and a pair of large sliding doors onto a balcony. There were two doors on the left, and one on the right, up two steps from the main room. That was clearly the master bedroom.

 

"I'm taking that one," he said, pointing to the master bedroom, and daring them to complain. None of them did. Instead the three men looked into the other two doors, and Langly and Frohike silently agreed to share.

 

Rooms chosen, the four men just looked at each other for a moment. But it was only a minute, because Mulder suddenly felt the need to run to the bathroom. He took the two steps up to his room as one, and raced through. Byers followed him, and stood in the doorway to the room. He listened for a minute, then looked back toward his two friends.

 

"Not again," he said. He sighed, shrugged, and sat on a sofa, waiting for Mulder to come out.

 

+ + + + +

 

There was something strangely comforting, if that was the right word, about being able to sit on the floor in front of a real toilet to throw up. So much for that ginger ale, which had stayed down longer than anything else he'd ingested today. Mulder stayed on the floor longer than he needed to, but he wasn't in much of a hurry to go anywhere. Except he was really hot. He shed his jacket, leaving it on the bathroom floor, and stood up carefully. He realized he could finally brush his teeth, and went back into his room to get his things. When he reentered the room, he finally saw the place. He'd chosen well. A king-sized bed, a 32-inch TV in a large armoire, a loveseat and chair, a mahogany desk, as well as a walk-in closet. It was fabulous. Mulder lifted his bag onto the bed, and noted that the motion caused a sharp pain in his side. Fuck, he must have pulled a muscle while puking. Just what he needed. He grabbed his shaving kit and a pair of sweatpants to change into, and shu!

!

ffled back into the bathroom to brush his teeth.

 

+ + + + +

 

Byers had taken a moment to put his bag into his room and check it out, but he quickly returned to the main room. He wanted to see Mulder, see how he was. He knew his friend wouldn't tell him anything--that much was obvious by now. So he knew they'd have to watch him closely.

 

Mulder finally came out, looking pale and sick. He was moving slowly, and had a slight sheen of sweat on his face. Byers watched him scan the walls of the room. He found what he was looking for, by the door, and moved toward it.

 

"Is it me, or is it hot in here?" he asked as he turned the air conditioning up.

 

Hot or cold, that indicates a fever. That's what Scully had said on the phone. Byers didn't comment on the temperature; he just watched Mulder lie down on the sofa and curl himself into a little ball.

 

"Room okay, Mulder?"

 

"Yeah. It's great." Mulder didn't even open his eyes.

 

"You okay, Mulder?"

 

That got a look. "Yeah, great." He flipped over onto his left side, so his back was to his friend, effectively ending the conversation.

 

Byers got up and hurried into Langly and Frohike's room. He quietly shut the door behind him, and turned to his friends.

 

"Well, he's hot," he declared. The two men stared at him blankly. They clearly didn't remember. "If he's hot, he might have a fever."

 

Frohike still didn't seem to get it. "Yeah, so?"

 

Byers was losing patience. "Scully, remember? She said if he had a fever we should get him to see a doctor."

 

"How are we gonna get him to do that? He'll never let us take him to a doctor." Frohike was right, and they all knew it. But suddenly Byers had a thought.

 

"It's a big fancy hotel. Maybe they have a staff doctor! Langly, call the desk and see."

 

"I don't want to call. You call!"

 

Byers shook his head. "You have no problem letting an entire hotel staff think you spent a night in a rat-infested room in Kansas City, but you won't call to see if there's a hotel doctor?" He sat on the bed, picked up the phone, and dialed the front desk.

 

+ + + + +

 

Mulder was still lying on his left side on the sofa, facing its back. He had his head buried in the back cushions, and his knees pulled up to his chest when he heard the doorbell ring. The guys must have decided to take advantage of the free ride, and ordered room service. The very thought of food sent another wave of nausea through him; he knew that even the smell would be enough to send him running for the bathroom, so he decided to clear out. He'd go to his room for a while.

 

He pushed himself up and turned to face forward, putting his feet on the floor; he ran his hand through his hair and waited for a wave of nausea to pass. But before he could stand he noticed the strange man standing in the middle of the room. He was definitely not a room service waiter, and he was too well-dressed to be one of the guys' friends. Mulder looked at Byers standing next to the man, and the look on his friend's face was a mixture of concern, and fear. Or was that guilt? He looked back at the man, his eyes narrowing suspiciously, and then he saw it. The guy had a black bag. Fuck.

 

"Mulder, we. . ." Byers was cut off by the stranger.

 

"Mr. Mulder, my name is Stan Ashman. Dr. Stan Ashman. I'm the hotel doctor. Your friends tell me you're not feeling well?"

 

Mulder slumped back against the sofa and put his hand over his eyes. How could they do this to him? He moved the hand, and surveyed the room. Figures that the other two would make themselves scarce. Oh well, he'd take what he could get. "BYERS!"

 

"Mulder, you're sick. We didn't know what else to do!"

 

"How about leave me alone and let it pass? It's a bug, or it's food poisoning. It'll pass!"

 

The doctor took that as his cue to move forward. "Why don't you let me be the judge of that?"

 

Mulder turned his head away from the two men. "Oh, Christ," he muttered, then he turned back. "Honestly, doc, I'm fine. It's a stomach bug, not unlike a million other stomach bugs I've had in my life."

 

The doctor smiled kindly. "I'm sure you're right, but I'm here anyway, so what's the harm? Humor me?" Mulder found his placating tone to be exceedingly patronizing, and was about to say so, when he changed his mind. It would require too much energy.

 

"Just hurry up, will you? I was about to go lie down."

 

The doctor had taken a seat next to Mulder on the sofa. "We can do this in your bedroom if you prefer. Maybe you would? More privacy?"

 

"Oh no. I want witnesses when you tell me it's nothing." He glared at Byers, who shrugged helplessly. "Tell Frohike and Langly they'd better keep hiding." The doctor had picked up his wrist, and was taking his pulse.

 

"So Mr. Mulder, can you describe your symptoms for me? Your friend just said it was a stomach complaint."

 

"Stomachache, cramps. Nausea. Nothing special."

 

"Any vomiting?"

 

"Yeah. Once."

 

"MULDER!"

 

"What?"

 

Byers had moved forward from the position he had taken up in the corner. "More than once! What about on the plane?"

 

"How do you know what happened on the plane?"

 

"Mulder, you threw up on the plane, too, and we both know it."

 

"Those bathrooms are awfully small, Byers, and I _don't_ recall inviting you along."

 

Byers scowled, and Mulder gave in. "Okay. Twice," he lied. He looked pointedly at his so-called friend. "Happy?"

 

The doctor seemed bemused. "Any diarrhea?"

 

"No."

 

"Constipation?"

 

"No." Mulder rolled his eyes at the personal questions, and made sure Byers caught it. Across the room he caught Frohike peeking in from his bedroom.

 

"Frohike, old buddy! You can't hide forever. Come join us! Maybe we'll have the doc here check *you* out too, before he goes!" The door to the room closed quickly, and Mulder chuckled.

 

The doctor ignored the drama going on around him. Discretion was part of his job, and besides, it was none of his business. "Any trouble urinating? Pain, difficulty voiding?"

 

Mulder looked at the doctor incredulously. "It's my stomach, doc. NO."

 

"Abdominal pain can be caused by any number of problems, Mr. Mulder, including kidney stones. That's why I asked."  He felt Mulder's forehead. "Have you taken your temperature?"

 

"Believe it or not, I don't usually bring a thermometer on vacation. No, I haven't taken my temperature." God, Scully would kill him if she could see how badly he was treating this poor doctor. But he was pissed off. These stupid guys never knew when to butt out. See if he ever went anywhere with them again! The doctor was coming at him with the thermometer, and Mulder opened his mouth, clamping down on the instrument so hard you could actually hear the click of his teeth hitting the glass. Cripes.

 

"Can you sit up straight for me, Mr. Mulder? I want to listen to your lungs." Mulder did, and flinched away from the cold of the stethoscope's drum when it hit his chest. The doctor had reached up under his tee shirt. "Take a deep breath for me?" Mulder did, and he felt the stethoscope change position. "Again?" He did, and it moved again. "Again?"  The doctor repeated the sequence with the stethoscope placed on his back.

 

"Good."  The doctor removed the thermometer from Mulder's mouth, and when he did he noticed something. He pulled Mulder's lower lip away from his teeth, and looked closely at his gums before he read the thermometer. "It's 100, Mr. Mulder, a little bit elevated."

 

Mulder sighed heavily. "Look, doc, I've been up since dawn, Washington time. I just spent six hours feeling lousy on a plane. I'm exhausted and I feel like crap. Isn't that enough to elevate anyone's temp a little?"

 

The doctor chuckled. "Indeed it is. When is the last time you ate something?"

 

"Seven this morning. D.C. time, that is."

 

"And what did you eat?"

 

Mulder raised his voice, in hopes that the culprit could hear from the other room. "Frohike's Lethal Chicken Chili!"

 

The doctor raised an eyebrow at that and stood. "Quite a breakfast. Can you lie down for me? I want to check your abdomen." Mulder swung his legs back onto the sofa, laid down on his back, and folded his hands under his head in his best effort to appear nonchalant. The doctor pulled the coffee table over and sat on that. "Is the pain located in a specific area?"

 

"No, not really. Sort of everywhere. Right in the middle, mostly."

 

"And how would you characterize it? Is it sharp, stabbing, or is it more dull and constant?"  The doctor had pushed up Mulder's shirt and was pressing on his abdomen as he spoke.

 

"It's mostly a dull ache. With some cramping right before I have to. . . . you know, puke."

 

The doctor nodded, and noticed Mulder grimacing. "Does any place hurt more when I press on it?"

 

"No, not really."

 

"That's good." The doctor put his stethoscope back in his ears and leaned over Mulder's stomach with the drum in his hand. "Be quiet for a moment. I need to hear."

 

The doctor began to listen to Mulder's digestive system, placing the stethoscope in various locations. The three people in the room remained silent, and Byers stepped forward expectantly. But just as the doctor slipped the stethoscope under the waistband of Mulder's sweatpants to listen to the lower part of his intestines, the spell in the room was broken by the ringing of the phone. Everyone jumped.

 

>From the other room they heard Langly yell. "Got it!"

 

Mulder looked at his watch and then at Byers. "We've only been here a few hours. Who's calling already?"

 

The bearded man took that as the excuse he was waiting for. He didn't think he liked the direction the examination was taking. "I'll go find out!" He hastily made for the door.

 

Mulder chuckled and settled back on the sofa. "Are you almost done?"

 

"Almost, Mr. Mulder, almost. Let me finish this, though." He put the stethoscope back in his ears.

 

+ + + + +

 

Byers slipped into the room Frohike and Langly were sharing, quietly closed the door behind him, and took a deep breath. Langly was in mid-conversation.

 

"The doctor is examining him right now. No, he still doesn't know we called you. We won't tell him--he'll kill us! He's mad enough as it is!"

 

Scully.

 

"Yeah. yeah, Scully, we'll call you as soon as we know something." Byers thought of something, and waved his hand to get Langly's attention. "Hold on, Scully."

 

"Tell her we'll call her, okay? He's suspicious about the phone calls."

 

Langly put the phone back to his ear. "Did you hear that? Let us call you. Our spooky friend is suspicious already. . . . Yeah, yeah, we'll call. Later, Scully." He hung up the phone.

 

"Did she sound worried?"

 

"Naw, Byers. Just curious more than anything."

 

Frohike was lounging on his bed, saying nothing up to this point. "Hey Byers, you better get out there and hear the diagnosis. Mulder won't tell us anything."

 

Byers glared at his friend. "You *could* come with me. Especially since you're probably the one who got him sick in the first place."

 

Frohike turned indignant. "Did not! I ate it too, and I'm fine!"

 

Byers looked at his rather rotund cohort. "That's because you have a cast-iron stomach." He opened the door and returned to the sitting room.

 

+ + + + +

 

"Well, Mr. Mulder, from the looks of things, I'd say you are probably right. It probably is just a bug or a slight case of food poisoning." Mulder grinned smugly at the man. "You should just," Byers came through the door and back into the room, and Mulder put his hand up to stop the doctor in mid-sentence.

 

"I'm sorry, but can you repeat what you just said for my doubting friend here?" he nodded toward Byers.

 

Dr. Ashman turned and noticed the other man. "I was just telling Mr. Mulder that it probably is just a bug or food poisoning."

 

Mulder couldn't resist, and a quiet "HA!" passed through his lips.

 

The doctor turned back to his patient. "No 'I told you so's,' Mr. Mulder, they were merely concerned, and with good reason. Between your illness and the flight you _are_ quite dehydrated--your skin is too dry, and I could tell by looking at your gums. So I want you to drink as much as you possibly can, okay? Water, clear liquids like apple juice. And rest. Lots of rest. I probably don't need to tell you this, but as the bug moves through your system, the cramping and problems will probably move lower, and you may experience some diarrhea." He picked up the thermometer. "You can keep this. Monitor your temperature every few hours or so, okay? If it spikes, call me again. These things usually run their course in 24 to 48 hours. So if you don't feel any better by this time tomorrow, call me. If the vomiting gets much worse, call me. Okay?"

 

"Okay."

 

"And try to eat something in a couple of hours. See how you do. Do you know what the BRAT diet is?"

 

"No."

 

Byers did, and he spoke from behind the doctor. "Bananas, rice, applesauce, toast." The doctor and Mulder both looked at him. He shrugged. "Three nieces."

 

The doctor turned his attention back to Mulder. "Your friend has it right. Those are things that don't upset the stomach too much. It's used mostly for children, but it works for adults, too. Start out with some of those things. Soft, plain, bland foods. Like I said, see how you do."

 

The doctor stood. Mulder did too; he offered the doctor his hand, and they shook. "Thank you doctor. I'm sorry my overeager friends here _wasted_your_time_." He glared at Byers again as he spoke.

 

"Absolutely not. That's why I'm here, after all. Take it easy, and I hope you're feeling better soon. No one wants to start a vacation this way." The doctor headed for the door, and Byers led him there.

 

"So he's okay?"

 

The doctor smiled at him. "He should be. But keep an eye on him. You can call me tomorrow if he gets worse, okay? I'll be on-site from 11 to 3."  The two men shook hands, and the doctor left.

 

Byers walked slowly back into the sitting room, preparing himself for the inevitable and justifiable wrath of his friend. But he stepped into the room just in time to hear the door to Mulder's bedroom slam as loudly as possible, and he found himself alone. Just as well, he thought.

 

Byers heard a door open, and saw Langly and Frohike cautiously peer out of their room. "It's alright. He's in his room." He motioned toward Mulder's door.

 

The other two men came out, and Langly spoke, quietly.  "What'd he say?"

 

"A bug. Or slight food poisoning. Should pass in about 24 hours."

 

Frohike grimaced. "Oh, man, just like Mulder said. He's gonna kill us!"

 

Byers nodded. "He's angry all right. But when he feels better he'll realize that we were just concerned."

 

Langly nodded "We can hope, anyway. So what did the M.D. say he should do, Byers?"

 

"Ummm, drink plenty of fluids. Rest. Monitor his temp." He looked at the coffee table and shook his head when he saw the thermometer abandoned there. "Try to eat in a few hours. The usual."

 

Langly looked toward the closed door. "He gonna do all that in there?"

 

Byers sat down on one of the sofas. "He's mad enough at us already for not trusting him to take care of himself. I think we just have to assume he will."

 

Langly chuckled. "You know what happens when you assume. I think we really fucked this one up, guys." He paused for a moment. "So, who's gonna call her?"

 

+ + + + +

 

Mulder remained curled up on his bed, where he'd collapsed after slamming his door for emphasis. If he strained his hearing, he could hear his three friends talking out in the main room. About him, no doubt, but he couldn't make out any words. And frankly, he didn't care what they were saying.

 

His emotions at the moment were conflicted. He was furious with them for overreacting, for going behind his back, for hovering and watching him with a hawkish intensity. He wasn't used to it. Sure, when he really managed to do something to himself Scully was right there. But with everyday aches and pains and illnesses? She treated them with a respectful disdain. A simple "You don't sound too good," and nothing more. She simply acknowledged the ailment, and trusted him to take care of it, which he always did--usually by ignoring it until it went away. Isn't that what most people did? The attention these guys were paying to a case of bad chili was beyond too much.

 

But at the same time, he really couldn't remember the last time he'd felt _this_ bad, so a part of him was actually relieved to have had a medical opinion telling him it was nothing to worry about. If he'd been home and feeling like this, he might even have buckled and given Scully a call. Who knows.

 

He pulled his knees up tight to his chest as another sharp pain gripped his midsection. After a moment it subsided a bit, and he was able to relax. Fluids. The doctor had said to drink plenty of fluids. He made his way into the bathroom and got himself a glass of water. He sat back on the bed and drank it slowly, mindful of what had happened the last time he'd drunk anything. When he'd finally finished it, he refilled the glass and put it on the bedside table. He didn't totally disregard his health; never had. He'd take care of himself, this would pass, and the men outside his door would leave him alone.

 

+ + + + +

 

Byers hung up the phone, and looked at his two friends with a grin. "She wished us luck," he said.

 

"What'd she mean by that?" Frohike wanted to know.

 

"She said that Mulder's at his worst when it's something minor. Said she has to make sure he doesn't notice that she's showing concern, or he'll clam up in a second. I think we've already seen that side of him."

 

"What does she mean by that? What does she do?"

 

"She downplays, Langly. Doesn't ask him if he needs something to drink, just gives it to him. Leaves a bottle of aspirin on his desk without a word, stuff like that. That's what she said, anyway. Suggested we try the same approach."

 

Langly looked frustrated. "How the hell we gonna do that?"

 

"I don't know. I'll call room service and get some juice in the fridge, for starters. Maybe a bowl of bananas. The doctor said to drink clear liquids and try eating bananas and applesauce, stuff like that."

 

Frohike just shrugged. "He'll be fine." He got up and headed back into his room to unpack. One of the first things he found in his bag was his trusty bottle of Pepto Bismol. He never left home without it. Remembering what he'd just heard about Scully's approach of medication-by-suggestion, he took the bottle out into the sitting room, and put it on the table right outside Mulder's door. If he wanted it, it was there. But Frohike wasn't gonna cram it down his throat.

 

+ + + + +

 

Mulder woke with a start, completely unaware that he'd even drifted to sleep. How long had he slept? As his vision cleared he looked to his watch, hoping it had been hours. Only five-forty? He'd only slept about two hours, and why he'd woken up was obvious. The pain in his gut was getting worse. Rather than just the intermittent cramps, it was almost constant now. But at least he didn't feel nauseous. The glass of water had obviously stayed down, and for that he was thankful. He rolled over to get the glass he knew he'd left there. He didn't relish the idea of putting anything in his mouth, really, but he knew dehydration was a bitch, so he drank it down. He felt hot, flushed. Was his fever up? He looked around, and realized that he'd left the thermometer in the other room.

 

Well, he supposed he could make an appearance. Wouldn't kill him.

 

He pushed himself up and wearily made his way into the other room. Langly was sprawled on a sofa, watching something on the Sci Fi channel, but the other two men were absent. His friend didn't even notice he was there until Mulder moved in front of him to get the thermometer off the coffee table where the doctor had left it.

 

Langly jumped up, startled, when Mulder moved in front of him, and the sick man looked at him apologetically, then silently picked up the thermometer and started to move away.

 

"Mulder?"

 

Mulder stopped and looked back at the man on the couch. "Yeah?" He even sounded sick; he could tell.

 

"Byers said to tell you that he got some juice--it's in the fridge. And some bananas? He said something about ordering rice, toast, some shit like that? I dunno."

 

Mulder merely nodded and went behind the bar. Sure enough, there was apple juice, lots of it, in there. He took out one of the bigger bottles, and headed back toward his room.

 

"You want me to order something for you to eat?"

 

Mulder didn't even turn, he just waved his bottle of juice to indicate a no. "Not hungry." He arrived at his door and saw the bottle of Pepto. Who left that, he wondered? Might come in handy, though, so he picked that up, too. He was almost through the door and back to the sanctuary of his room.

 

"Mulder?"

 

He looked back out. "Yeah." Now what did he want?

 

"Planet of the Apes is on at six. Wanna watch?"

 

Mulder smiled slightly. "No, thanks. I need sleep." He shut his door behind him.

 

+ + + + +

 

"Mulder come out at all?" It was the first question out of Byers' mouth as he and Frohike reentered the suite after a brief visit down to the convention floor.

 

"Yeah, about an hour ago. Got some juice and went back to bed."

 

"How'd he look?"

 

Langly looked at his friend incredulously. "I don't know! He's looked better, I guess."

 

"What about food? Did he eat anything?"

 

"Said he wasn't hungry. I remembered to offer, though."

 

Byers pursed his lips, clearly concerned. He looked to Mulder's door, then to the phone, and made his decision. He went to the phone and dialed.

 

"Hi, yes, I was wondering if you could cook something special for us? You can? Great. Well, it's just rice. Plain rice. And some toast." Byers listened for a second, then smiled. "Yup, stomach flu," he said to the person on the other end. "Right, apple sauce, too. Great. Thanks." He hung up.

 

"Don't you think you shoulda asked Mulder first? He said he wasn't hungry."

 

"I know, Frohike, but the doctor said he should try to eat something."

 

Langly was shaking his head. "Weren't we were gonna leave him alone? Leave him alone, Byers."

 

Frohike agreed. "Yeah, you're the one who said we had to trust him."

 

"Yeah, we should respect his privacy, shouldn't we?"

 

Byers shook his head at Langly. "So it'll be here if he wants to eat it. Just because he's not hungry doesn't mean he shouldn't eat."

 

Langly shook his head right back. "I still say we should just leave him alone."

 

+ + + + +

 

Byers accepted the tray from the porter, and carried it over to the table by Mulder's room. He set it down, and quietly rapped on the door. He waited a moment, and when there was no response he knocked again, louder.

 

Again nothing. He looked back at his two friends, and they were both watching him with disapproval written all over their faces. He reached for the doorknob, but Langly's voice stopped him.

 

"He said he needed to sleep, Byers. Leave him alone!" Byers studied his blond friend's face for a moment, then acquiesced, and walked away from the door.

 

"I guess cold rice is okay," he said by way of compromise.

 

+ + + + +

 

Mulder let out a relieved sigh when there was no third knock on the door. Whoever it was had left, thank God. He had no desire whatsoever to see or hear anyone right now. He pressed his arms around his midsection tighter. He'd realized a little earlier that the pressure alleviated the pain slightly. The Pepto he'd taken earlier hadn't done any good, that was for sure. Maybe he hadn't taken enough? He opened the bottle and took another swig, which he followed with an apple juice chaser. If his illness didn't make him puke again, that combination, he realized, might just do it. But maybe that's what he needed. Maybe another good upchuck would ease the stomach pain.

 

+ + + + +

 

As the credits to Planet of the Apes started to roll, the Gunmen were roused by the sound of Mulder's door opening. Suddenly aware of the mess they'd made with their own room service order, Byers sat up quickly and started stacking dishes.

 

The three men silently watched Mulder as he slowly made his way back to the refrigerator. They all noticed that he reached out for every piece of furniture he came in contact with on the route. He didn't hold on for dear life or anything, but he clearly felt like he needed the support at hand. He looked pale, even in the dim light of the room. They all looked at each other silently, wondering what was going to happen.

 

Mulder bent over to open the door to the small box behind the bar. When he stood up again, they all heard him gasp. Byers couldn't keep quiet.

 

"How you feeling, Mulder? Any better?" He asked it hesitantly.

 

Mulder turned, put down the bottle of juice on the bar, and rested both hands flat on its surface. "Yeah, I guess so. Nausea's gone, anyway." He was long past being mad at them, but he didn't feel the need to tell them that the nausea had been replaced by a fairly intense pain.

 

"That's good. There's some food that we ordered." Byers motioned toward the food, still sitting where he'd left it. "It's cold by now; we can order you some more if you want."

 

Mulder looked at the tray by his door, seeing it for the first time. All three men clearly saw him blanche at the prospect. "I'll pass."

 

"The doctor said" Mulder cut him off.

 

"I know what he said, Byers. But I can't. Just can't. Maybe tomorrow." He made his way back around the bar and gingerly traveled to his door. "Good night." He pushed the door closed behind him, and was gone.

 

The three men just looked at each other, totally unsure what to make of what they'd just seen.

 

+ + + + +

 

Frohike tossed and turned. Why couldn't he sleep? Langly's loud snoring from the adjacent bed had nothing to do with it--hell, at this point he doubted he'd be able to sleep without hearing that. No, something else was the matter, but he couldn't put a finger on it. Christ, he was in Los Angeles: great weather, great chicks, really great hotel. What could possibly be wrong?

 

Mulder.

 

Yeah, he was putting up a good front, and the doctor had even said he was okay, but Frohike had a bad feeling. Something was wrong. Frohike couldn't shake the suspicion that Mulder was sicker than he was letting on.

 

You're probably full of shit, Frohike, get over it. He rolled over yet again, and slammed his eyes shut in a determined effort to force himself to sleep. Count to 50. Count sheep. Count Scullys. Just go to sleep.

 

Nope. Not gonna work. Something to drink, that oughta do it. It was nice to think they could raid the wet bar with impunity; he could get used to this. He got up and wandered into the suite's sitting room. The room was completely dark except for the pallor cast over the furnishings by the moon outside. It was just enough to ensure he didn't need to turn on a light, so he padded his way to the bar and opened the fridge.

 

He found enough apple juice to fill the bathtub. Byers always erred on the side of caution--he'd obviously done that for Mulder. He also must have removed every other beverage stocked in there, in order to make room for the juice. Bottles of juice, cans of juice, and three bottles of Evian water for good measure. Frohike chose one of those and shut the door.

 

As he was twisting the top off the bottle he thought he heard something coming from Mulder's room. Was he awake? Frohike wandered to his ill friend's door and stood outside for a moment, listening for signs of life from within.

 

He heard them, but not what he wanted to hear. Mulder was moaning. No doubt about it. He _knew_ something was wrong. Shit. Okay, calm down. Maybe he was imagining it.

 

"Uhhhhhhh."

 

Nope. It was barely audible through the closed door, but there was no mistaking the sound.

 

This did not sound good. Mulder was sick, really sick. To hell with respecting his privacy and trusting him to take care of himself. Frohike opened the door a crack. At least it wasn't locked. "Mulder?"

 

Mulder had his bedside lamp on, so Frohike had no trouble seeing him. He was on his left side, curled into a tight ball, in the middle of the bed. Upon hearing his name, Mulder started, and immediately turned over to face the door. "Huh?"

 

"What's wrong, Mulder?"

 

He heard Mulder sigh. "Nothing."

 

"I heard you, Mulder. You feeling worse?"

 

"Heard what? I'm fine." Frohike could hear the stress in his friend's voice. He'd heard enough, that's what he'd heard.

 

He pushed the door open all the way, and walked right in. "Bull shit, my friend. I heard you moaning." He arrived at the edge of the bed, and got a good look. "Jesus Christ, Mulder, you look like hell! What's wrong?"

 

Mulder turned back onto his left side, wrapped his arms around his midsection, and buried his face in his pillow. "Nothing," he hissed into the pillow.

 

"Come on, Mulder, enough! Are you in pain?" Frohike dared to reach out and feel the man's forehead. "Oh, man, you're burning up! Why didn't you call one of us?"

 

"What, and let you guys totally overreact again? Just leave me alone. I'll be alright."

 

"No, you won't."

 

Mulder turned and glared at his friend. "Frohike, get the hell out of my room and leave me alone."

 

"I'll go, but I'll be right back." Frohike left, absentmindedly pulling the door behind him, but not bothering to make sure it latched.

 

Mulder buried his face in his pillow again, and bit the soft fabric in both frustration and pain. This could not be happening. The pain was unbelievable. All this from a bowl of chili? But then, Frohike wasn't sick. If it wasn't the chili, then what was it? And when would it pass?

 

+ + + + +

 

Frohike left Mulder and made a beeline to Byers' door. He banged on it loudly, actually hoping he'd wake Langly in the process. Byers opened the door, impeccably dressed in pajamas; his eyelids at half-mast and slightly tousled hair were the only indications that he'd been awakened. "What, Frohike?"

 

"It's Mulder. He's really bad."

 

That woke the bearded man up. "What do you mean?"

 

"I got up to get something to drink, and I thought I heard him moaning. He's in there curled up like I don't know what, he looks like shit, and he's burning up."

 

"He's burning up?"

 

"Uh huh. I think so."

 

At that moment Langly stumbled out of his room, wearing the same shirt he'd worn all day, and boxers. Nothing more. "Do you guys mind? I'm sleeping here."

 

Frohike looked at his roommate. "Not any more you're not. We got trouble. Mulder's really sick."

 

Langly looked across the room at their friend's doorway. "Yeah?"

 

"Yeah. So what should we do?"

 

Byers was stroking his beard. "It might still be nothing. I don't know. Maybe we should"

 

Before he could finish the thought, Frohike did it for him. "Call Scully?"

 

"Yeah, I guess so. What time is it?" He looked at the watch he wore faithfully, even to bed. "It's almost two? God, we'll be waking her up. It isn't even five a.m. back home."

 

Langly already had the suite's cordless phone in his hand. "Who cares?" He handed the phone to Byers, who took it and looked at Frohike.

 

"Why don't you call her? You actually saw him."

 

Frohike almost blushed. He couldn't. He wouldn't be the bearer of bad news, didn't want to be the one to upset her. "Oh, no, that's okay. You're better in a crisis, Byers. You call her."

 

Byers rolled his eyes, and started across the floor to Mulder's room, phone in hand. Frohike stopped him.

 

"Wait. Call her first, then go see him. Maybe he doesn't have to know we called her at all."

 

Byers stopped and looked back at his shorter partner. "Not if he's as bad as you say he is."

 

"Well, I don't know, maybe it just looks bad. Just call her from here first."

 

"This is stupid. Someone get me her number." Frohike recited it from memory, and Byers dialed.

 

>From his place in bed, Mulder heard the whole discussion transpire. Frohike hadn't closed the door fully, and those three weren't exactly whisperers. They were calling Scully in the middle of the night, about him. As much as he hated the idea, as much as he wanted to spring out of bed and read them the riot act one more time, the better part of him knew that they were doing the right thing. So he just pulled his legs up closer to his stomach, and waited to find out what Scully told them to do.

 

+ + + + +

 

When the ringing phone woke Scully up, she first looked at the clock: 4:48 am. What was Mulder doing calling her at this hour, from his vacation, no less? She leaned over and fumbled the telephone receiver until she had it to her ear. "This better be good," she mumbled.

 

"Excuse me?"

 

Scully was instantly wide awake, and she sat up. It wasn't Mulder. "Oh, I'm sorry. This is Dana Scully."

 

"Scully, it's Byers."  Byers?

 

"What's wrong, Byers. Is he worse?" It wasn't Mulder, but it was about Mulder. She knew that instantly.

 

"Yes, Agent Scully. Much worse. Frohike says he's burning up, and doubled over in pain."

 

"Have you called that doctor who saw him earlier?"

 

"Can't, Scully. He's not here, and I don't have any contact info besides here at the hotel."

 

"What exactly did Frohike see? Put him on."

 

Byers handed the phone to Frohike, who put it to his ear apprehensively. He hated being the bearer of bad news, especially to Scully. "It's Frohike, Scully."

 

"What did you see? Why are you guys so worried? Didn't the doctor say it was nothing?"

 

"I don't know about the doctor, Scully, but I heard him moaning. And when I went into his room he was curled up on his side, in a little ball. He's hot. I think he's burning up."

 

"Did you take his temp?"

 

"No."

 

"Well, DO IT!" Scully was beginning to feel panic rising in her chest. She was three thousand miles away, and there was nothing she could do. The hundreds of possible diagnoses started swirling through her head. Bowel obstruction or perforation, ulcer, gall or kidney stones, appendicitis, hepatitis, pancreatitis, some sort of infection, liver abscess. There were far too many options. Or stomach flu, Dana. It could easily be just a bad case of stomach flu.

 

+ + + + +

 

"She wants us to take his temp." Fro had his hand over the mouthpiece, and was relaying the message.

 

Byers looked to the coffee table, and found it empty. "What happened to the thermometer?"

 

Langly was scratching his head. "Mulder took it into his room."

 

"Oh." Byers took a deep breath. "Well, here goes." And he walked to Mulder's room.

 

"Mulder?"  Byers stood at the door, but didn't enter.

 

"Yeah, Byers."

 

The man cautiously approached the bed. "Will you let me take your temperature?"

 

"You, or Scully?"

 

"What?"

 

"You left the door open. I may be sick, but the hearing's fine. Do you want to take it, or does Scully _want_ you to take it?"

 

Byers let out a sigh of relief. Mulder knew, and he didn't seem angry. "Scully told us to. Where's the thermometer?"

 

Mulder gestured haphazardly toward the nightstand. "There somewhere."

 

Byers found it, took it out of its case, and shook it down. "When's the last time you took it, Mulder?"

 

"I dunno. Around ten."

 

"What was it?" Byers was ready to insert the thermometer, but he waited for the answer first.

 

"Around 101."

 

Byers stuffed the instrument into his friend's mouth, and checked the time. "Didn't the doctor tell you to get help if your fever spikes?"

 

Mulder grabbed the thermometer with his hand so he could speak. "101 is hardly a spike. So it's the flu instead of food poisoning. Big deal." He settled the device back under his tongue.

 

Byers turned and walked toward the door, but Mulder heard what he was muttering anyway: "I don't think this is the flu." Truth be told, neither did Mulder.

 

Byers called his two friends into the room, telling them it was okay, and that Mulder knew what they were up to. Mulder just lay there, trying to keep his discomfort from showing on his face. Byers was studying his watch, watching each second tick by as if their very lives depended on it. Langly just looked down at him, the concern showing clearly in his eyes. Or maybe it was pity; Mulder wasn't sure. Frohike had the phone stuck to his ear, but he said nothing. Either Scully was giving him an earful, or the two of them were anxiously awaiting the verdict from the stick of glass under his tongue, too. Finally Byers pulled the thermometer out, and stood by the lamp to read it. He looked at the three men in the room, with a slight look of fear in his eyes.

 

"Was it really just 101 four hours ago, Mulder?"

 

"Oh, just say it, Byers. Geezus."

 

"It's 102.6, Mulder. That's a huge jump in such a short time."  He looked to Frohike, waiting for him to relay the message to the doctor on the other end of the line.

 

"Scully? It's 102.6. It was 101 four hours ago, Mulder says."

 

"I know he's right there, Frohike, but don't pull any punches. How does he look?"

 

"I dunno. It's kinda dark in here."

 

"So turn on the _lights_, Frohike!" Did she have to spell everything out?

 

Frohike turned on the overhead light, a move that was met by a feverish, yet steely gaze from Mulder. "He looks like hell, Scully. He looks sick. What do you want me to say? Here. Talk to Byers." Frohike practically threw the phone at his friend, and shrugged when Byers caught it.

 

"Byers? Tell me what his skin tone looks like."

 

"Ummm, he's kind of pale. I don't know. He looks feverish. He looks sick!"

 

"Is his skin yellowish at all? What about the whites of his eyes. Are they yellow at all?"

 

Byers got close and peered at Mulder. The sick man just sank as deep into his bed as he could, pulling the blanket up to his chin. He hated this; hated being the subject of so much scrutiny. In the process, Mulder also rolled his eyes, giving Byers the view he was looking for. "No, Scully, they're white. Why?"

 

"If he was jaundiced that would indicate there was something wrong with his liver. But he's not, and that's good." So what was it, Scully wondered? She had to know how he was feeling, that was the only way she could get a clue. "Can he talk? Put him on the phone."

 

"Yeah, he can. Hold on." Byers covered the mouthpiece of the phone, and handed it toward Mulder. "She wants to talk to you, Mulder."

 

Half of Mulder's face was burrowed into his pillows, and he made no attempt to extricate it. But he did reach for the phone and rest it over his ear, returning his arm to his midsection as soon as the phone was balanced there. "Hey Scully."

 

"Hey yourself, Mulder. What's the matter?"

 

"I'm sure it's just stomach flu. I'll be fine."

 

"Probably, Mulder, probably. Look, I'm going to ask you some questions, and I want you to promise me that you'll answer them completely honestly, okay?"

 

"Yeah, sure."

 

"I mean it, Mulder, don't mess around. It's important."

 

"Fire away, Scully." She could hear the pain in his voice--he was making no effort to hide it. It had to be bad.

 

"Where exactly does it hurt, Mulder?"

 

"In my gut."

 

"I know, but where exactly?"

 

"Sort of on the right side.

 

"Upper or lower part of your abdomen, Mulder?"

 

"I don't know. Does it matter?"

 

"Very much so. Concentrate. Where exactly?"

 

Mulder did. It was hard to tell--by now he hurt just about everywhere, it seemed. But it did seem to be located mostly in the lower part. "Lower."

 

Scully blanched. Right lower quadrant pain. She suddenly had a pretty good idea what it was. "Did it always hurt on the lower right, Mulder?"

 

"No. At first it was in the middle."

 

"By your belly button?"

 

"Yeah."

 

"When's the last time you ate anything?"

 

"Can't eat anything. The very thought. . . ." He let his voice trail off. She'd get the idea.

 

"How many times have you vomited today, Mulder?"

 

Mulder sort of laughed. "Lost count."

 

"Have you kept anything down today?"

 

"Uhhh, not really. A little water; some juice. That's it."

 

Scully was almost certain. Inability to eat, nausea and vomiting, right lower quadrant pain that migrated from the center, elevated temperature. It all pointed to one thing. But there was one more thing she wanted to check, just to be sure. "Mulder, I want Byers to press on your abdomen for me. Lay flat on your back and give him the phone."

 

Mulder did as she asked, flipping the blankets down to his knees in the process, and handed the phone to Byers. "You get to play remote-control-doctor, Byers."

 

Byers looked at Mulder wide-eyed, but took the handset. "What do you want me to do, Scully?'

 

"Have Mulder show you where the pain is. Then I want you to place the fingertips of one hand over that area, put your other fingertips on top, and press down firmly for a second. Then just let go. Give the phone back to him so I can hear him when you do this."

 

"Uhhh, okay." He handed the phone back to Mulder. "She wants you to tell me exactly where it hurts."

 

Mulder took the phone with his left hand and used his right to indicate an area on the lower right side of his abdomen. "Kinda here," he told Byers. Then he spoke into the phone. "Now what?"

 

"Byers is gonna press on the area for a second. It might hurt, but it will only take a second, okay? You tell him when you're ready."

 

Mulder nodded, then realized that didn't help Scully any. "Yeah, okay." He addressed his next words to his bearded friend. "Ready when you are, doc."

 

Byers looked at Mulder skeptically, but put his hands in place and did as Scully had asked.

 

As he pressed, Mulder's face furrowed into a horrible grimace, and he bit his lip to keep from crying out. But when Byers let go the pain got so much worse for a second that Mulder couldn't help himself, and he did yelp in pain.

 

"Mulder? Mulder, you okay?"

 

Mulder was panting. "What'd you make him do _that_ for, Scully?"

 

"Tell me, Mulder, did it hurt more when he pressed down, or when he let go."

 

"When he let go."

 

That was it; all she needed to hear. Even from 3000 miles away, Scully was pretty sure of her diagnosis. Of all the luck, in all the places. In California with the Lone Gunmen.

 

"Look, Mulder, you need to get to a hospital right away."

 

Despite his pain, that news was enough to make him sit up on one elbow. "What?"

 

"You have all the classic symptoms of appendicitis."

 

"No way. You're overreacting."

 

"No I'm not. Anorexia, vomiting, migrating right lower quadrant pain, fever, rebound tenderness. It's all there. And the longer you wait, the more dangerous it becomes. I'm not kidding, Mulder. This can be life-threatening if not treated immediately."

 

The Gunmen saw the look of disbelief tinged perhaps with fear that had settled on Mulder's face. What was she telling him?

 

"Are you sure, Scully?"

 

"I'm sure. I wouldn't tell you this if I wasn't sure, would I? Now give the phone to one of the guys so I can tell them what they need to know."

 

Mulder tossed the phone on the foot of the bed, and collapsed back onto the pillows. "One of you take it."

 

The three men looked at one another for a moment, each hoping another would take the phone and get the news. It had landed closest to Langly, and so far he'd weaseled out of the unpleasant phone calls, so finally he picked it up. "Scully? Langly. What's the news?"

 

"Do you guys know where the nearest hospital is?"

 

"HOSPITAL?" Upon hearing the word released into the room, Mulder curled back onto his left side, and pulled his blanket up over his head.

 

"Yes, hospital. I'm 90% sure Mulder is suffering from appendicitis."

 

"No kidding? That's bad."

 

"It can be. Do you know where the hospital is? If you do, then there's no reason you can't drive him there yourself. If you don't, then call an ambulance. I don't want you driving him all over Beverly Hills looking for the emergency room."

 

"Hang on." Langly looked at his two friends. "Appendicitis. We need to get him to the hospital. Either of you know where it is?"

 

"No shit?" Frohike had just KNOWN it was something bad. Both he and Byers shook their heads about where the hospital was located. They'd been there less than a day. How would they know?

 

"Okay, then she wants us to call an ambulance."

 

"NO!!!" Mulder threw the blanket off his head and glared at the three men. "There is NO NEED for an ambulance. Just drive me there. We'll find it."

 

Byers adopted his most even tone of voice. "Mulder, it's a big town and we have no idea where to go--and every minute counts. An ambulance is the easiest thing to do."

 

"No!" Mulder hissed at them. "If you won't drive, then call me a cab. No ambulance!"

 

Langly spoke into the phone. "You getting this? He's going postal about the ambulance, Scully."

 

"I hear him. Look, it doesn't matter how you get him there. Just do it, okay? Call a cab, get directions, hire a limo. I don't care. Just get him there right now, understand?"

 

"Got it, Scully."

 

"Look, Langly, find Mulder's cell phone. I know he has it with him somewhere. Take it with you. My home number is speed dial three on there. I want you to call me every half-hour with updates, understand? Even if there's no news. And if you don't call me, I'm gonna call you, so leave the phone on. Understand?"

 

"Understood. We'll call you as soon as we get to the hospital, okay?"

 

"Okay. I'll be waiting." She hung up the phone and ran her hand through her hair. It was only five in the morning, but there would be no more sleep. She got out of bed, flipped on her coffee maker, and went to the section of the bookshelf where she kept the medical texts. She knew she'd never get to LA before they pulled his appendix, so there was no point jumping on a plane. But she could refresh her memory. It was going to be a long morning.

 

+ + + + +

 

Langly turned off the phone, and all three men turned their gaze on Mulder. He just looked at them and shrugged.

 

"So now what do we do?" Langly wondered aloud.

 

"We get _him_ to a hospital. I'm getting dressed, I don't know about you guys." Byers was at the door already.

 

Frohike followed him and turned back to face Mulder. "Don't go anywhere!"

 

Ha ha. Mulder watched the men leave, grabbed a pillow and pushed it down over his face, effectively smothering himself--and stifling the scream of frustration that he'd been waiting to release for a while. Of all the dumbass luck. As bad as he felt, as bad as the pain was, and as concerned as he was at the prospect of undergoing surgery in the next few hours, this was his overwhelming response to this whole turn of events. Of all the dumbass luck. But there was nothing to be done about it. He removed the pillow and carefully stood up, pausing as a wave of nausea and dizziness swept over him. He needed to find his shoes.

 

"What are you doing, Mulder?" It had taken Langly 45 seconds to get dressed. He'd thrown on the jeans he'd been wearing yesterday, and his ratty pair of Converse All Stars.

 

"Where are my shoes?" Mulder's voice was plaintive, almost childlike. Whiny. Even he could hear it.

 

"I'll find them. You sit down and relax. Don't worry about a thing." The blond man gently placed his hand on his friend's shoulder, and guided him back down to sit on the edge of the bed. Wow, Langly really was concerned, Mulder realized as he doubled over in pain. That was unlike him. Flippant was his usual demeanor.

 

"Got 'em!" Langly knelt in front of Mulder and picked up one of his feet to put it in the shoe.

 

Mulder was still doubled over, but he lifted his chin off his chest to look at his friend. "I can do it," he rasped.

 

Langly smiled kindly. "Yeah, I know. But I got it. Don't worry about a thing."

 

Here's where he should sit up and assert himself, Mulder knew. He should scoff at the man currently tying his left Nike: accuse him of babying him, push him aside, and tie his own damn shoes. But instead Mulder closed his eyes and allowed his chin to fall down to his chest again. Let him tie his shoes; what was the big deal. As he felt Langly pull the laces of his right shoe tight, he ventured to look up at his friend again. "You guys are missing the convention," he offered as means of an apology.

 

Langly looked up from the shoe, compassion in his eyes. "No problem, man. Truth is, we just come to these things looking for girls."

 

Mulder felt one corner of his mouth turn up in a grin, and a breath of laughter escaped. Figures.

 

The shoes tied, Langly patted the top of Mulder's foot comfortingly before standing up. "Hang tight, Mulder, let me go find out what our plan is. Be right back."

 

The sick man watched as he was left alone again. He was cold, he realized, so he gathered the bed's blanket around his shoulders. He didn't want to lay down again, for fear that he wouldn't have the energy to get back up.

 

+ + + + +

 

Langly entered the sitting room from Mulder's bedroom just as Byers was emerging from his room. Frohike was already waiting. "How is he doing?"

 

"How do you think, Frohike? He looks like someone whose appendix is about to burst."

 

"Hey, man, no need to get testy!"

 

"Sorry. So what's the plan? We gotta get him out of here."

 

Byers had the phone in his hand. "We can call the front desk, the concierge might be able to give us directions."

 

"You really want to drive him, Byers? Just our luck we'll get lost!" Frohike did have a point.

 

"I know, but what are our options? He won't let us call an ambulance. Let me just call and see what they suggest." He dialed the zero to get the front desk.

 

"Front desk. How may I help you, Mr. Langly?"  The man's voice was smooth as silk and extremely calm; faux upper-crust. It was off-putting.

 

"This is Mr. Byers, with the Langly party. One of our companions is ill, and we were wondering if you might be able to give us directions to the nearest hospital."

 

"Oh my. Hospital? Perhaps we should call an ambulance?"

 

"No, no, that's not necessary. He's not that ill," Byers lied. "We just think it best that he be seen by a doctor immediately."

 

"I understand. Let me transfer you to the concierge. She should be able to give you directions. One moment please." Byers got the distinct impression that this guy was passing the buck on them. So much for impeccable service.

 

"Concierge desk. This is Kathleen!"  Not only had the guy pawned them off, he clearly hadn't alerted this girl to the problem. She was far too upbeat.

 

"Kathleen. I am Mr. Byers, part of the Langly party staying in the Executive Suite. One of our traveling companions has fallen ill, and the desk clerk told me you might be able to give me driving directions to the nearest hospital?"

 

"Oh my, of course. But would you like an ambulance?"

 

Byers sighed. "No, that won't be necessary. Directions would be fine."

 

The woman started giving directions, and Byers tried to write them down. She said it was only a few miles away, but she gave him a dozen twists and turns to get there. When Byers interrupted for clarification for the fifth time, Kathleen gave up. "You know what, Mr. Byers? I know it's terribly complicated. Beverly Hills has the absolute worst road plans. Give me five minutes and come down. I'll have a ride for you here."

 

"That would be wonderful, Kathleen, thank you." He hung up and looked to his friends. "Give her five minutes and she'll have a cab for us. Those directions were hopelessly convoluted."

 

Langly looked toward Mulder's door. "Let's get going. I think it's going to take us five minutes to get him out the door."

 

The three men went to Mulder's bedroom and found him huddled in his blanket, feet still on the floor. But he had given up at some point, and let his body fall sideways to the bed. Byers spoke. "Mulder? You ready to go?"

 

"Yeah." The man's voice was weak, and he slowly pushed himself upright with his left hand. In the process the blanket fell back to the bed, but Mulder immediately gathered it back around his shoulders. "I'm cold."

 

"Chills from the fever, no doubt. Are you okay to walk?"

 

"Yes, Byers." His tone was annoyed, so Frohike and Byers both took him at his word and left the room; but Langly had seen him standing a few moments earlier. He held back, and watched.

 

Mulder pushed himself up slowly and painfully. Getting his feet under him caused him to gasp, and when he tried to stand up straight he failed. He ended up hunched over at the middle. With his right hand he clutched the blanket to his shoulders. With his left he held onto his midsection for dear life. He tried to take a step, and everything wavered for a moment. For a split second he thought he might fall, but the sensation passed. And before he could take a second step, he felt a strong arm around his shoulders. It was Langly.

 

"Let's get you out of here, what do you say?"

 

Mulder grinned appreciatively. Langly could have sounded the alarm about his unsteadiness, could have tossed him back on the bed and insisted an ambulance be called--Mulder would not have had the strength to argue. But instead he just quietly offered aid when needed, and didn't make a big deal of it. Langly, the man who loved big deals, who was always sounding alarms. Who would have thought. Together the two made their way out the door.

 

Before the door to the suite could close, Frohike ran back inside. He returned with a small trash basket. "Nothing worse than puking in the back of some poor Joe's cab."

 

The elevator had arrived, and they all stepped in.

 

+ + + + +

 

It was obvious to the Gunmen that Kathleen the concierge had been awaiting their arrival. The minute the elevator doors opened, she descended upon them. She eyed Mulder carefully.

 

"Oh my goodness, he doesn't look well at all. Your car is right outside."

 

Mulder wasn't paying attention to his surroundings. Keeping his feet moving, even with the steadying hand of Langly, was enough of an effort. He feared that if he didn't sit down soon, he might throw up again. Or worse.

 

"THAT is our car?!?!" Frohike's incredulous shout was enough to inspire Mulder to lift his head and stop contemplating the spot of floor in front of his feet. They were at the front doors to the hotel, and sitting in the drive outside was a white stretch limousine.  Surely that was not their car.

 

He turned to look at the concierge, a small young woman in her late 20s, dressed in the blue blazer that was her uniform, looking professional and serious. "Indeed it is. A cab just would not do for a friend of Mr. Langly's. Allow us to offer the services of one of the hotel's fleet of limos. The driver has already been instructed to take you directly to the emergency entrance of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

 

Despite feeling worse than he could ever remember, Mulder couldn't help but grin. This was getting more absurd by the moment. He glanced to his right, to Langly, and when their eyes met, Langly just arched his eyebrows, and shrugged.

 

Kathleen held the limo door open, and Byers and Frohike climbed in. Langly helped Mulder enter the car, and then settled in after him. Mulder curled himself into a tight ball, facing away from his friends. "Wait till Scully hears about this," he muttered.

 

 

Frohike chuckled. "Hey, nothing but first class all the way for you, my man. Isn't Cedars-Sinai the 'hospital to the stars?' Maybe we'll see someone famous!" The car started moving, and they were on their way at last.

 

+ + + + +

 

The movement of the car seemed to lull Mulder to sleep--or into a stupor; the guys couldn't tell for sure. When they reached their destination, Langly tapped on Mulder's shoulder. "Hey, we're here."

 

Mulder flinched at the touch, and looked up at the men. "Here?"  His eyes darted around the space. "Where's Scully?"

 

The three men looked at each other, surprised. Finally Byers spoke. "She's back home. We're in Los Angeles, remember?"

 

Mulder allowed that explanation to satisfy him. "Oh, right. Sorry."

 

The Gunmen helped Mulder out of the car, and Langly again helped him walk, this time through the doors.

 

The receptionist at the ER entrance looked up and started to say "May I help you?" but one look at Mulder and she knew they had a patient on their hands, so she changed her tack. "What seems to be the problem?"

 

Mulder didn't even look up at her, he just sighed and said "appendicitis."

 

"Have you seen a doctor to arrive at that diagnosis?" Mulder just glanced at Byers in a silent plea for him to speak on his behalf. Byers nodded and stepped forward to the desk.

 

"We spoke to his doctor on the phone--he's from D.C., here on business. His doctor diagnosed probable appendicitis, and recommended we bring him in."

 

"I see." She looked directly at Mulder and gestured behind her. "Come around back here and take a seat, and I'll have the triage nurse come out and speak to you."

 

Mulder nodded, and started to move away from his three friends. He was stooped over like an old man, and his movements were slow and deliberate, as if each motion required supreme concentration. He was using the edge of the desk for support, and when he rounded the corner and had to let go, everyone in attendance saw him wobble on his feet. Frohike was closest, so he put his hand on Mulder's back, and propelled him quickly and safely into the chair. Mulder shrank into the seat and muttered "Thanks."

 

Frohike didn't bother replying, but the display had made Byers angry. "Look at him. He's in pain. He's in a great deal of distress. How busy can you be back there? Why does he need to talk to a triage nurse first?"

 

The desk clerk became defensive. "I'm sorry, but he has to go through triage first. That is our policy for all walk-ins."

 

Byers tossed his hand in the air in disgust. Walk-ins! That meant if they'd called the ambulance, his friend would be getting help right now.

 

"Look, I have already put the call in. The nurse will be here momentarily."

 

Momentarily was right.  A nurse came through the emergency room doors at that precise moment. She looked across to the triage area, and the minute she saw Mulder huddled there her pace quickened noticeably until she was sitting opposite the patient. "You don't feel too good, I'd venture. What's your name?"

 

Mulder didn't even look at her. "Fox Mulder. And no, I do not."

 

"What seems to be the problem?" She lifted his chin so she could look into his face. She checked his pupils with a light.

 

"What did she call it?" Mulder was addressing the question to the Gunmen, who were standing a few paces away. "Right lower quadrant pain. Can't eat. Puking. Fever. Appendicitis."

 

The nurse felt his forehead and his pulse. "She?"

 

"Doctor back home."

 

"I see. Well let's get you back to see a doctor, shall we?" She hadn't done any of the normal triage procedures; one look was all she'd needed. She procured a wheelchair, and helped Mulder transfer into it. As she was pushing it away she turned to the men left behind. "One of you can come with him if you'd like."

 

The three men looked at each other, unsure. Finally Frohike simply asked "Mulder?"

 

Mulder looked over his shoulder wearily. "Yeah, okay." The nurse pushed him through the doors, and the Gunmen were left to decide which one of them was going to stay with Mulder.

 

Before he had a chance to think better of it, Langly heard himself say "I'll go." He punched his way through the doors as Byers and Frohike found themselves looking at each other in disbelief. Langly? That had been unexpected.

 

The ER desk clerk caught their attention. "I don't suppose one of you can help me with your friend's paperwork?"

 

Byers looked at the woman, then pulled both Mulder's cell phone and his wallet out of the pocket of his jacket. He handed the phone to Frohike. "You call Scully, I'll give them Mulder's information."

 

+ + + + +

 

Langly watched the triage nurse hand Mulder off to another nurse, a young attractive blonde woman, from a few paces away. When the nurse pushed the wheelchair through a set of doors and into a treatment room, he tried to follow, but was stopped. "We need you to wait outside for just a minute until we get him situated, okay? Thanks." She shut the door in his face. Why the hell had they invited him back here if he had to stand outside? Langly looked around cautiously, fearful of what he might see. Too many sick people. He hated sick people. What the hell was he doing? He hadn't even thought about it; it just seemed like the thing to do. He hoped he didn't regret it.

 

+ + + + +

 

Mulder saw Langly's stunned face as the nurse closed the door on it. Why had they invited him back here if he had to stay outside? The new nurse yanked the curtain closed around the gurney he was situated next to. "We need to get you undressed, okay?"

 

Mulder glanced up from his hunched-over position and nodded. He was beginning to think he'd never sit or stand straight again. He kicked his running shoes off as he sat, and the nurse helped him pull his tee shirt up over his head. She handed him a gown, and Mulder slipped his arms through the familiar garment. She snapped the top snap, but neglected the rest. "Okay, we've got to stand you up, okay?"

 

"Okay." That was at least one 'okay' too many, he thought. But he pushed himself up slowly, using only his arms. As he stood, the gown fell down around him, to just above his knees. If he could stand straighter, he knew, it would only reach mid-thigh. Mulder transferred his right hand from the arm of the wheelchair to the side of the gurney; he was sure he wouldn't be able to stand without holding on to something. He tried to stand straight, and it caused him so much pain he cried out.

 

"That's okay, you're doing great," the nurse said encouragingly. The woman was standing facing him, and she reached around the gown to latch her thumbs under the waistband of his sweatpants. She pulled both them and his boxers down to his ankles in one deft, face-saving motion. "Now if you hop up on the bed, I'll get these off your ankles."

 

Mulder turned his back to the gurney, and tried to lift his right hip up onto the bed, but the pain was so intense he had to stop. The nurse saw this, and before he could try again, she'd procured a footstool, and Mulder climbed gratefully onto the bed. Christ, he couldn't even hop onto a bed. He immediately assumed his now-familiar position, curled on his left side. He didn't even care if it meant his ass was hanging out for all the world to see. He simply could not lie flat on his back.

 

He heard the door open, and wondered if it might be Langly, but instead it was the desk clerk. She was carrying a hospital bracelet. "Mr. Mulder?" He nodded; she smiled. "Just had to make sure I had the right guy!" she said brightly as she snapped the bracelet onto his wrist. She turned to face the nurse. "There's a blond guy outside awfully keen to get in here."

 

Langly. Mulder looked at the two women. "S'okay. Let him in." The nurse nodded and the clerk left.

 

"Okay, I'm going to raise the head of the gurney, Mr. Mulder. You should be more comfortable that way, okay?" It wasn't a question, obviously, as she was raising the bed as she spoke. And he sure as hell wished she'd stop saying "okay."

 

"Oh, damn." The nurse said that just as Langly moved around the curtain. She looked up at him. "I'm sorry, you need to step out again. Just for a minute. Okay?" Langly stopped in his tracks and looked at her in disbelief. Mulder wasn't paying the slightest bit of attention, it seemed, so he turned and walked out into the hall one more time. What was that all about?

 

"Mr. Mulder, we're going to need a urine sample, okay? I should have done that before we got you settled in the bed, I know. I'm sorry. There's a bathroom across the hall if you're up to it, or I can give you a urinal here."

 

Some choice. Mulder really didn't want to get up again, but at the same time, the thought of trying to piss in a bottle wasn't too appealing, either. Besides, he didn't think he had it in him, no matter which option he chose. "I. . . . I don't think I can."

 

"It's imperative that you have an empty bladder for your exam, Mr. Mulder. If you can't, we'll be forced to insert a catheter." She went over to a shelf and picked up a portable urinal. "Why don't you give it a try. I'll give you a few moments, okay?"

 

Mulder took the urinal from her hand "Only if you stop saying 'okay'," he mumbled.

 

"Excuse me?"

 

"Nuthin." Had she heard him?

 

"Okay. I'll be right back, okay?"

 

Obviously not.

 

+ + + + +

 

"You haven't called her?" Byers was furious. He'd just spent 15 minutes fishing through Mulder's wallet looking for the information needed to get him admitted to the ER, and in all that time Frohike hadn't called Scully.

 

"I can't Byers. I don't know what to say! I don't want to panic her."

 

"And you think not calling is easing her panic? Give me the phone." Byers snatched the appliance from his friend's hand, and hit the speed dial. He heard the numbers dial, then not even half a ring.

 

"How is he?"

 

"We're here. At the hospital--Cedars-Sinai in Beverly Hills. They took him into the ER a few minutes ago. Langly is with him."

 

"LANGLY?"

 

"I know. He volunteered."

 

"Ohhhhh kayyyyy" Scully was as incredulous about that as the rest of them were. "Have you talked to anyone yet? Tell me exactly what you know."

 

"We don't know anything, Scully. We got here, they put him in the triage area, but the triage nurse took one look at him and sent him right in."

 

"I bet. How was he doing?"

 

"He looks pretty sick, Scully. He kind of spaced out on us in the car on the way here."

 

"Spaced out?"

 

"Got confused. Wondered where you were. We had to remind him where we are."

 

"That's probably the fever and dehydration. They'd better get IV hydration in him fast or he could have a febrile seizure on them. . . ." Scully suddenly realized that she was thinking aloud. "Sorry. So how'd you end up getting him to the hospital."

 

Byers chuckled. "In a limo."

 

"What?"

 

"A white stretch limo. The hotel lent it to us. It's a long story. We'll tell you all about it later, okay?"

 

Scully chuckled herself. "Only in LA, huh, Byers? Too bad Mulder was too sick to enjoy the ride."

 

"I suppose."

 

"Did his pain suddenly get better at any time?"

 

"No way. Walking was excruciating--he looked like a 90-year-old man. Why?"

 

"If his appendix actually bursts, the pain would suddenly dissipate for a bit, then it would get ten times worse."

 

"Oh. It didn't do that."

 

"Good."

 

There was an awkward moment of silence--the conversation had obviously run its course. Finally Byers spoke up. "So we'll call again in a little while, okay?"

 

"Half an hour, Byers. In half an hour."

 

"Okay, Scully. I don't think we'll know anything yet, but we'll call."  He hung up the phone and handed it to Frohike. "YOU call next time."

 

"Okay, Okay."

 

+ + + + +

 

"Successful?"

 

Mulder looked like he hadn't moved, but he had, in fact, been successful, and he handed her the urinal.

 

"Excellent!" Mulder rolled his eyes as she took it over to the counter and prepared the sample for the lab. "Now I need to take down your vitals. The doctor will be here any second."

 

"Can my friend come in here?" Mulder was feeling worse by the minute, it seemed. A friendly face would be welcome.

 

"Oh, sure. I'll see if he's still outside, okay?" She went to the door and Mulder heard it open, heard mumbling, and then two sets of footsteps returning.

 

"Hey Mulder. How you doin'?" Langly had walked around the gurney and crouched down so he could look Mulder in the eye. It was a nice gesture.

 

"Been better. You got a chair?"

 

"Oh, okay!" He heard the nurse behind him, and suddenly he watched a chair appear before his eyes so Langly could sit down and they could see each other. "But I might need you to move, okay?"

 

"Yeah. Okay." Langly turned his attention to Mulder. "They do anything for you yet?" Mulder just shook his head.

 

"Mr. Mulder, do you think you can roll onto your back for a minute? I need to take your vitals and it's hard with you curled up like that. Okay?"

 

Mulder had his eyes clenched tightly shut, but he nodded and used his feet to move onto his back. His arms never left their protective place around his abdomen. He got onto his back with his knees up and his feet planted on the bed. But when he went to straighten his legs, he ended up screaming in pain instead. He instantly returned to his side. Langly was completely taken aback. He'd never heard Mulder cry out like that. The pain had to be really really bad.

 

"Okay, Mr. Mulder, okay. It's okay. That's okay. You stay like that for now. I'll manage." She looked at Langly. "But you'll have to move out of the way, okay?" Made sense. In order to let Mulder stay in what looked like the only position that didn't leave him in unbearable agony, she had to be exactly where he was sitting. Langly stood, picked up the chair, and moved back. "Thanks."

 

The nurse clipped the pulse oximeter onto Mulder's finger and recorded the first readings. She left it attached. She took his blood pressure. She took his temperature. That was one reading Langly was interested in.

 

"What is it?"

 

"102.8"

 

"Up two-tenths."

 

"Excuse me?"

 

"It was 102.6 at our hotel."

 

"Oh. Okay." She said it as if she didn't really care. "Now Mr. Mulder, I need to get an IV going on you. Why don't you tell me exactly what happened to get you here tonight, okay?"  She was already kneading his right arm in search of the perfect vein.

 

"Uhhhh. Got sick coming here. On plane. Thought it was food poisoning--throwing up, stomach cramps, you know. Just kept getting worse and worse. Pain got worse, fever got worse, here I am."

 

"Okay, I see. Did you take anything at home?"

 

"Tried Pepto."

 

The nurse was suddenly alarmed. "Pepto Bismol? You did? When and how much?"

 

"Hours ago. Dinnertime. Didn't work, so I didn't take it again. Took maybe two doses."

 

"Oh, okay, good."

 

Mulder didn't seem to care, but Langly was interested, so he asked. "Why?"

 

"Well Pepto Bismol contains something that thins your blood. If he ends up in surgery and had taken a lot of it tonight, they'd have to be extra careful about bleeding, that's all. I don't think a dose or two is going to be a problem, but I'll note it in his chart to be sure. Are you allergic to anything, Mr. Mulder?"

 

"No."

 

Langly butted in. "What about morphine?"

 

"Huh?" Both Mulder and the nurse said it simultaneously.

 

"Doesn't it wig you out? Remember when Scully was trying to embarrass you? She told us about the time you got morphine and thought your IV was full of worms? She said it gave you the shakes, too. Like your body was doing the samba on it's own, she said, didn't she?"

 

Mulder rolled his eyes at his friend. "Thanks for reminding me." He looked at the nurse. "No morphine."

 

"That was a good catch. We probably woulda given it to you!" She pulled a bright red bracelet out of a drawer, wrote MORPHINE on it in marker, and attached it to Mulder's wrist. "Okay, you sit tight. The doctor will be here any second, okay?"

 

"You said that already."

 

"I know. But he will. I'll be right back, okay?"

 

God, she was annoying. The nurse left and the two friends were left alone. Langly sat in his chair again, but he left it where he'd moved it--at Mulder's side, but fairly far removed from the man. "Really hurts, huh?"

 

Mulder responded by taking a sharp intake of breath as another wave of pain hit. "Yeah." He shivered. "I'm cold."

 

"I can help you there, I think." Langly got up and pulled a blanket off the supply shelf in the room. He unfolded it and placed it on top of his friend. "Better?"

 

"Yeah. Thanks."

 

"No prob. I wonder where Nurse Okay went."

 

Mulder sort of laughed. "You noticed that too, huh."

 

Before Langly could respond the door opened, and Nurse Okay returned with a doctor. He had Mulder's chart in his hand, and was reading it as he approached them. "Hello Mr. . . ." He was seeking the name on the paperwork. "Mulder. My name's Doctor Santana. I hear you have a bellyache."

 

A bellyache? That was an understatement of epic proportions. "Uh huh. Appendicitis."

 

The nurse spotted the blanket on Mulder, and pulled it off quickly, as if it was on fire. "Oh, no, no. You have a fever, Mr. Mulder. We need to keep that down, okay?"

 

"But I'm cold."

 

"Your nurse is right. You're feeling cold from the fever, but we've got to do everything we can to keep it down. Now just about everyone who comes in here with abdominal pain thinks it's appendicitis, and 19 times out of 20 it's something else. There are hundreds of other possibilities, many quite minor. So why don't you lie on your back so I can take a look."  This doctor was all business.

 

Langly stepped forward protectively. Who did this guy think they were, anyway, assuming they'd jump to conclusions. "He can't. Hurts too much." He noticed his friend giving him a look that said 'it's alright.' No, it wasn't.

 

"Move slowly, and give it a try, Mr. Mulder. I can't examine you in your current position."

 

Mulder did--he moved extremely slowly, and worked his way onto his back. But he kept his knees bent, and the doctor didn't object. The nurse took a thin paper sheet and draped it over the lower half of Mulder's body.

 

"You couldn't use the blanket for that?" Mulder was actually shivering from time to time. She grinned at him apologetically and shook her head.

 

As the doctor began to listen to his abdomen with his stethoscope, Langly watched Mulder stare intently at the ceiling, gritting his teeth but saying nothing. For his part, the blond man didn't know what to do with himself. Should he be watching? Should he leave? He wanted to leave; he was pretty sure of that. The doc was now tapping Mulder's stomach all over the place. He'd seen that on TV, but he didn't know what it was for. Hell, he didn't know what any of this was for. Mulder's expression didn't change.

 

But it did when the MD started to press. Langly could tell he wasn't pressing down hard, but when he got to the right side, Mulder grimaced. At one point he actually gasped.

 

"Hurts here?" No shit, Dr. Genius. He watched his friend nod through gritted teeth. "Okay, can you try and put your legs down for me?"  Mulder put his left leg down fairly easily. The right posed more of a problem, but he eventually got it down. The doctor started pressing again. Sometimes he asked Mulder to take a deep breath and hold it while he did. Langly watched the doctor's maneuvers play out on his friend's face. Sometimes the palpation caused virtually no change in his pained expression. Sometimes the teeth clenched tighter. Sometimes there'd be a sharp intake of breath. And in one particular spot Mulder cried out in agony.

 

So that, of course, is where the doctor pressed again and again. He'd move his fingers maybe a millimeter and press again. And Mulder'd cry out again. Langly noticed his friend's hands at his side, clenching the paper sheet in a death grip. He was amazed the man didn't make a fist and punch the doctor out. But by the fourth time the doctor pressed there, Mulder's cry was down to a whimper--probably because he was too worn out to scream.

 

"Okay, Mr. Mulder, I'm going to press down one more time and let go. I want you to tell me if it hurts more when I press, or when I let go, okay?"

 

That's what Scully had had them do at the hotel, Langly knew. "When you let go," he offered, and he saw the doctor dismiss him with a withering look. Bastard. The doctor pressed, Mulder winced. The doctor let go, and Mulder moaned.

 

"When you let go." Told you so. The doctor had turned his back on them, and Langly couldn't hear what he was saying to the nurse, so he turned his attention to Mulder. He noted that he'd bent his knees up again, and he was almost panting.

 

"Okay, Mr. Mulder, I've ordered some blood work and x-rays, to rule out a few things. And we'll give you something for your discomfort." Discomfort? Langly wondered what this guy would call pain if this was just discomfort. "And there's one more exam I need to do, and I think your friend should wait outside."

 

Huh? What? They were looking at him. "Me? Yeah, okay."

 

"It'll just take a minute." Langly pushed his way out the door, and when he got back into the hallway he gave serious consideration to going out to the waiting room and letting Fro or Byers replace him. What the hell was he doing back here anyway? But before he could act on that thought, the doctor was coming out the door.

 

"You can go back in; stay with him until they take him to x-ray." The man kept moving, not even pausing for a second. Langly couldn't have asked a question if he wanted to. He went back in.

 

The nurse was pulling a needle from the vein in the crook of Mulder's elbow. Gross. She stuck a piece of cotton there, bent the elbow, and turned away. She gathered the samples she had, and left. The second she was out of sight Mulder groaned and slid onto his left side again.

 

"You doing okay Mulder?"

 

"Not really, no."

 

"Did the doctor tell you anything yet?"

 

"Mr. Personality? Nope."

 

"Why'd he make me leave?"

 

"Let's just say he examined where the sun don't shine and leave it at that, okay?" Mulder's voice was weary, and his eyes were closed.

 

"Oh."

 

"I'm thirsty."

 

Langly looked over to the sink on wall behind him and saw a dispenser with small cups in it. He walked over and filled one, and was bringing it to Mulder when the nurse walked in again.

 

"I certainly hope that's for you, okay? Because Mr. Mulder can't have anything by mouth right now. Okay?"

 

Langly stopped dead in his tracks and drank down the water where he stood. He could see a small smile on Mulder's lips, though his eyes were still shut. The nurse was injecting something into Mulder's IV.

 

"Why not?"

 

"Because pre-surgical patients should have an empty stomach, okay? What I just gave you, Mr. Mulder, will help with the pain. Okay. Someone will be by to take you to x-ray in a few minutes." She patted his thigh, surveyed the room for a second, and seemed satisfied. "Okay," she said one more time for good measure, and she left.

 

Pre-surgical, huh? That was the only shred of information they'd been given so far.

 

"God, Langly, you hell-bent on killing me, or what?" What?

 

"What?"

 

"Blankets when I'm cold, water when I'm thirsty. A regular Marquis de Sade."

 

Langly grinned. "Shut up Mulder, I don't know what I'm doing here. What the hell am I doing here?"

 

"Dunno, Langly."

 

"The drugs working yet?"

 

Mulder contemplated for a minute. "Yeah, Kinda taking the edge off. Still hurts, though."

 

An orderly came with a wheelchair and Mulder was on his way to x-ray, leaving Langly alone. Guess this was a good time to update the guys, though he really didn't know what to say. He made sure he'd be able to get back in, and then went out to the waiting room.

 

+ + + + +

 

"No, not a thing Scully. Not a word. Nada. Zip." Frohike was trying to think up other ways to convey the message when he saw Langly enter the room. He looked kinda sick himself, Fro thought. "Hold that thought, Scully, here comes Langly."

 

Byers stood and was wringing his hands nervously. "Well?"

 

"They took him to x-ray."

 

"X-Ray, Scully, he's in x-ray." Frohike listened. "Okay." He held the phone away from his ear slightly. "She wants to know what the doctor said."

 

"Nothing."

 

"Nothing, Scully." After a second he addressed Langly again. "She said 'what do you mean, nothing?'"

 

"Just that! Nothing! He poked and prodded, made Mulder scream, took some blood, sent him to x-ray. That's it."

 

"Scully? He said he poked. Huh? Yeah, okay." Frohike handed the phone to Langly. "Here. She wants to talk to you, thank God."

 

Langly sighed and took the phone. "Yeah Scully."

 

"What do you mean made him scream?"

 

"He musta poked that spot that really hurts a dozen times."

 

"Oh. He has to do that. How's his temp?"

 

"It was up a little bit. Not much."

 

"Did they get him on an IV? He has to be dehydrated."

 

"Yeah, they did that first thing. Gave him something for the pain before they took him away, too. Mulder said it took the edge off."

 

"That's good. How about his other vital signs? Pulse, BP?"

 

"Dunno, Scully." He could hear the woman sigh exasperatedly.

 

"And the doctor didn't say anything about a tentative diagnosis?"

 

"Nope."

 

"And you didn't ask?"

 

"I didn't get a chance. They kept throwing me out of the room." Quite honestly, Langly probably wouldn't have asked anyway.

 

"They threw you out?"

 

"Yeah. Ummm, when they," he turned his back on the other two men and whispered into the phone "uhhh, did a rectal. And also when they, uhhhhh, needed a urine sample."

 

"Ohhh. They didn't need to use a catheter, did they?"

 

A catheter? Had they and he just didn't notice? Oh, God, he hoped that hadn't been the case. Disgusting. "No, I don't think so anyway."

 

"Mulder woulda been bitching about it if they had."

 

"Maybe to you, Scully, but not to me, I don't think."

 

"That's true. Did you happen to hear what kind of x-rays they're taking?"

 

"Nope. Sorry. Why, don't you think it's appendicitis any more?"

 

"No, no, I do. But if they were taking certain types of pictures then that's a clue that they might be suspecting something else."

 

"Well, the doc did say they were to 'rule out' some things. Didn't say what, though."

 

"That's good. Appendicitis doesn't really show up on x-rays. So if they are to rule out other things, then they probably do suspect a hot appendix."

 

"I'll make sure to ask when I get to go back in, okay?"

 

"Yeah, Langly, thanks." Scully hung up, and Langly did likewise. A few moments ago he was on the verge of abandoning his post in favor of one of his cohorts, and now he was vowing to go back in and get the complete picture. Quite a turn.

 

+ + + + +

 

Scully put her cordless phone back on its charger. It was almost a waste of time, since she'd be removing it again in thirty minutes, but it was habit. She hated when she went to use the phone and it was dead because she'd let it sit on the sofa all day and night.

 

Well, the latest news did nothing to dissuade her from her original diagnosis. Sounded like the doctors were doing everything right. She hated the idea of her partner being in so much pain he was screaming, but at least he'd been given something.

 

Oh God, what had they given him? She picked up the phone again and dialed.

 

+ + + + +

 

Langly still had the phone in his hand when it suddenly went off. He almost dropped it, he was so startled--as were the other two. But he caught himself and flipped it on.

 

"Uhhh, hello?"

 

"Langly?" The blond man relaxed when he heard Scully's voice.

 

"Yeah?"

 

"The pain. What did they give him for pain? Please tell me it wasn't morphine."

 

Langly smiled victoriously. "Nope! I remembered what you told us about Mulder and morphine that time you wanted to embarrass him, remember? Mulder didn't even remember it. But I did, and they gave him something else." The man recounted the tale like a schoolboy telling his teacher how he'd saved his homework from the jaws of the family pet.

 

"So what'd they give him?"

 

Except that now it was slobbered all over, and unreadable anyway. A hollow victory at best. He didn't know. "I don't know. I didn't ask."

 

Scully sighed. "That's okay. As long as it wasn't morphine. Thanks." She hung up again.

 

Langly flipped the phone closed, and noticed a hospital staffer looking at him sternly. "Excuse me, was that a cell phone?"

 

Langly looked at the phone as if he'd never seen it before in his life. "Yeah?"

 

"You can't use them in here. They can disrupt sensitive medical equipment. I must ask you to turn it off. If you need to make a call, there is a pay phone on the wall, or you can step outside."

 

While she was delivering her lecture Langly quickly passed the phone to Byers. But it didn't work, the blond man was still the recipient of the woman's ire. "Yeah, yeah, okay." Langly looked at the other two. "You hear that?" The two men nodded blankly, and the woman left.

 

Byers looked at the phone in his hand. "Now what?"

 

Frohike looked at the phone on the wall. "Guess we go the old fashioned way. The batteries on that thing probably wouldn't last much longer anyway."

 

Langly wasn't looking at them; instead his attention was directed at the doors into the ER. He wondered if Mulder was back. Scully wouldn't want him to be alone, he rationalized. He should go back in. "I'm gonna go back in guys."

 

Byers caught him before he left. "Do you want one of us to go in this time?" Langly knew the question was asked out of concern for his own wellbeing, not Mulder's. They always watched each other's backs.

 

"Nah, I got it."  He walked through the doors, once again wondering what the hell had gotten into him tonight.

 

+ + + + +

 

The treatment room was empty when Langly returned; he guessed he was early. But he didn't have to wait long before Mulder was brought back--on a gurney, not in a wheelchair like when he'd left.

 

"What happened, Mulder? You okay?"

 

The orderly was helping Mulder scoot over onto the bed in the room. He was clutching something in his left hand, and as soon as he was settled back into his left-side curl, he put it against his forehead. It was a wet cloth. "What happened? Nothing. Nothing." Mulder's voice trailed off and he said nothing more.

 

The orderly offered an explanation as he moved the IV bag onto the stand in the room. "He's okay. Got a little woozy when they stood him up for the x-rays, that's all."

 

The man left--and Langly noted smugly that he had left a sheet--a cloth one--over the patient. Nurse Okay wouldn't be able to blame him for that one. And Langly found himself alone with a very sick man. He didn't know what to do. Mulder's chart was lying on the foot of the bed, so Langly opened it and started to read. Research for Scully; she'd want to know. Pulse 85. BP 132/90. Temp 102.8. Presented with severe right lower quadrant pain, blah blah blah, yeah, he knew all that. But beyond the preliminaries it became gibberish. He'd have to spend more time at medical sites on the net. Never know when they'd come in handy. Mulder looked to be asleep, and Langly felt the cloth on his forehead. It was barely damp, so he risked another reprimand from the nurse and took it and ran it under the faucet. He wrung it out and replaced it.

 

As he was putting it back on Mulder's forehead, his friend mumbled "Thanks Scully."

 

Scully? Not this again. "Ummm, not Scully, Mulder. It's" Before Langly could get his name out, the patient's eyes shot open.

 

"Langly? Where's Scully? What happened to Scully?"  He tried to sit up, but had barely moved before pain sent him back into his protective ball.

 

"Mulder, you have appendicitis, remember? Scully's fine. She's back home. We're in LA, remember?"

 

Mulder settled back down. "Right. Forgot. Sorry."

 

"It's all right. Don't worry about a thing."

 

"Langly?"

 

"Yeah?"

 

"I think. . . . I think I'm gonna be sick."

 

Oh Fuck. Fucking hell. "Wait. No, don't. Wait a sec. I'll find someone."  Brilliant, Langly, tell someone who's about to puke to wait. He ran for the door and threw it open; there was absolutely no one in the corridor. In an emergency room? What was the chance of that? He could hear Mulder begin to retch behind him, so he turned back and his eyes frantically surveyed the room. He saw a plastic basin on a counter, grabbed it, and ran back to the man on the gurney.

 

Mulder was wound so tight he was virtually retching on to his knees, so first Langly needed to unfold him. He put his hand over the wet cloth on Mulder's forehead, and pushed his head back. When he did he noticed that Mulder wasn't bringing anything up at all, he was just dry heaving. Thank God for small favors. Nevertheless, he put the basin under Mulder's mouth and waited for the episode to pass. He hadn't thrown up in a while. Not since the hotel. Was he getting worse?

 

Langly was still holding the basin for Mulder when another man entered the room. He looked disheveled; tired. He was in green hospital scrubs, wrinkled virtually beyond recognition; there was dark stubble on his face; and his curly brown hair was exhibiting the telltale signs of bedhead. Well, it _was_ four in the morning. When the man saw what was transpiring in the room he perked up, stuck his head out the door and shouted something down the hall, then came and relieved Langly of basin duty. To say Langly was relieved would be an understatement.

 

Langly stood back and watched the man push Mulder's hair back from his forehead kindly. When it looked like the puking had passed, the man removed the basin from under his chin. "Done?"  Mulder nodded weakly, and the man went to the sink and filled a cup of water. He came back and placed the cup under Mulder's lips. "Here. Rinse your mouth. But PLEASE don't swallow--spit it in the basin. Should use ice chips, but they aren't exactly convenient, and there's nothing worse than a case of puke mouth, I know."

 

Puke mouth? Who was this guy? Mulder rinsed and spit.

 

"Okay then, that was an interesting introduction, Mr. Mulder. My name is Doctor McCarthy, and it looks like I'm going to be taking out your appendix this fine morning." To punctuate the word 'morning,' McCarthy let out a lengthy yawn.

 

"Uh huh." It was all Mulder could manage at the moment. The vomiting had left him spent.

 

Langly looked at the guy--he didn't look any more like a doctor than he himself did. He looked at the man's feet, and he was wearing Converse high tops, too. Only his were black. This was a surgeon? The guy must have noticed the look on Langly's face.

 

"I assure you. I'm board certified and everything. Quite good, if I do say so myself. I was asleep in the on-call room when I got beeped. But I clean up real nice. If your friend here had had the good sense to get sick during normal hours, you might even have seen me wearing a tie. It's been known to happen."

 

Langly had no idea if this guy was any good, but he already knew he liked him. A damn sight better than the guy who'd examined Mulder earlier.

 

A nurse entered--the doctor must have been calling her when he shouted out the door. She was carrying something small in her hand, and when she arrived the doctor stepped around to Langly's side of the gurney, but spoke to Mulder. "We have something here, an antiemetic, to stop that nausea of yours.  It's actually a suppository, so you stay right like you are. Perfect." Langly grimaced noticeably, and the doctor put his arm around his shoulders very familiarly, turning them both until their backs were to the patient. "There are some things even the closest of friends don't need to see," he whispered. Then he winked and smiled, and turned them back around. The nurse was already finished; Mulder hadn't made a sound.

 

"Okay, on with the show. So tell me, Mr. Mulder, Has the pain gotten any better or worse while you've been here?"

 

"No. You gave me something, though."

 

"Oh, I know. But if your appendix had burst you'd have felt it. Just checking. I know you went through all this already, but I really do need to take a look at your belly myself. You mind?"

 

By way of answer, Mulder just slowly rolled back onto his back. The doctor pulled down the sheet and pulled up the hospital gown, exposing Mulder's midsection. He proceeded to repeat every torture that Dr. Santana had performed earlier. Only this time the doctor looked genuinely sympathetic and sorry for the pain he was causing.

 

But only Langly was aware of that--Mulder never once opened his eyes. He answered the questions the doctor posed, but he never looked. When McCarthy got to the extremely tender part of Mulder's abdomen, the patient did his very best to keep it together. But even with the medication he'd been given, the pain was severe. As he stood by the bed and watched, Langly felt something brushing his hip. He looked and saw that Mulder's left arm had slipped off the gurney, and that he was frantically grasping the air, looking for something to grab on to. Langly considered slipping his hand into his friend's--that was his first instinct. But for some reason he couldn't do it, and instead offered up his wrist, which Mulder clasped on to for dear life. Immediately Langly was glad he'd thought better of giving his hand--Mulder might have broken it. As it was, he was sure he was in for some bruises.

 

"Okay, almost done. Two more things." The doctor adjusted the sheet, exposing Mulder's right leg completely, but only his right leg. He placed his hand so it was hovering over, and practically touching his patient's right knee. "What I want you to do is to lift your right leg up at the hip and push it against the resistance of my hand."

 

Mulder did and let out a slight "aaaah!" It also got him to open his eyes and look at his surgeon.

 

The doctor smiled at the eye contact. "Hi there! Did that make the pain in your abdomen worse?"

 

"Uh huh." Mulder let the answer out as a gasp.

 

"No kidding. Cool. Okay, one more. Just relax your leg; let me do the work." The doctor picked up Mulder's right leg, and held it airborne with the knee bent. Slowly he rotated the leg inward at the hip, never taking his eyes off his patient's face. Mulder clenched his teeth, but stifled any exclamation.

 

"That made it worse too, huh?" Mulder nodded, and the doctor put the leg down. "Okay, I'm done. You can resume your appy ball."

 

"What?" Langly exclaimed, but Mulder was too busy curling back onto his side.

 

The doctor laughed and pointed at his patient. "The appy ball. You know, curled in the tightest ball possible on your side. Every appendicitis patient wants to curl up like that. I call it the appy ball." Langly looked at the guy like he was nuts, but Mulder didn't. He understood.

 

McCarthy walked around to the other side of the gurney, pulled the long-ago abandoned chair up close, sat down and leaned forward with his hands on his knees so he was virtually eye to eye with his patient. Langly was standing behind him; his eyes went wide for a second, and he actually had to cover his mouth to keep from laughing out loud. Mulder watched him quizzically before turning his attention back to the doctor.

 

"Okay, here's the story. You, Mr. Mulder, are the most perfect textbook case of acute appendicitis I have ever seen. You have absolutely every indicator. Fever, anorexia, vomiting, migrating right lower quadrant pain, rebound tenderness, guarding, positive obturator and psoas signs, elevated white-blood-cell count , everything. Every one of them. They should put a picture of you in the dictionary under 'appendicitis.'" As he was speaking he watched a tiny smirk cross his patient's lips. "What?"

 

"Just thinking. I never do anything by the book."

 

The doctor gave him a broad smile and stood up. "Well, there's a first time for everything! We've got one more thing I want to do before you head up to surgery, but we'll grab it along the way, and I promise it won't hurt. Not much anyway. I want to get a quick ultrasound. None of the other signs point to it, but your fever is higher than we'd like, and an ultrasound will hopefully confirm that your appendix hasn't ruptured yet. And it will help us find our way around in there." He turned and looked at Langly. "Say your sayonaras here, and I'll come out to the waiting room to tell you how things look before we get started, okay?" Back to Mulder. "You relax. We'll have you feeling tip top in no time. I'll see you in a few." He left.

 

Mulder immediately looked at Langly. "What was so funny?"

 

"It's too perfect for words, Mulder. Too unbelievable. Worthy of one of your X-Files."

 

"What, Langly?" He was in no mood for games.

 

"Your surgeon is wearing boxer shorts with little green aliens all over them!"

 

Mulder sighed. "Is that all."

 

"Is that all? Don't you see the poetry in it?"

 

"Poetry? Frankly all I care is that he's got a steady hand."

 

Langly was immediately sobered. "Good point."

 

Nurse Okay came in carrying an IV bag, which she hung up and connected to the tubing running to his arm. "We've got some antibiotics for you here, okay? It's always good to start them before surgery, okay?" She finished what she was doing and once more surveyed the room, emitting a satisfied "okay!" when she was done. "Well, that's it, Mr. Mulder. Take care, and feel better soon, okay?" She didn't wait for an answer, she just hurried out the door.

 

"Did I bring my gun? If she comes back in here and 'okays' me one more time, I'll have to shoot her." He was cracking jokes, but Mulder's tone of voice showed that his heart wasn't in it.

 

"She comes back in here, I'll shoot her for you." Langly's wasn't, either. The blonde man shuffled his feet and toed the tile floor. Shit, he hated this part. Now what did he do? What should he say?

 

"You'll call Scully?"

 

Thank you, Mulder. "Oh yeah, yeah, sure. As soon as I leave. I'll bring her up to date."

 

"Good. Thanks."

 

"Yeah."

 

Shit. Awkward pause number two. Mulder was gazing at a point on the wall far behind his friend.

 

"Well, uhhh, look Mulder. You take care. And good luck and all that. I'll see you in a few hours, okay?"

 

"Yeah, Okay." Mulder closed his eyes wearily, which Langly took as a dismissal. He started to slide to the end of the gurney and toward the door, but before he got away he impulsively reached out toward Mulder. His hand landed on his friend's right calf, so that's where Langly gave what he hoped was a reassuring squeeze, and he fled out the door.

 

+ + + + +

 

"Laparoscopic, Frohike. L-A-P-A-R-O" He cut Scully off.

 

"I know how it's spelled, Agent Scully." Actually, he didn't, but he didn't need to, either. "But Langly here says the doctor didn't tell him how they were gonna do it."

 

"Well then get in there and raise holy hell until you talk to the surgeon again! Don't let them cut him open. Recovery time is less than half as long with a laparoscopic appendectomy as with the traditional. Make them do it that way."

 

Frohike was frustrated. How do you make a surgeon do anything? And were they in any position to be demanding at 4:30 in the morning? Nevertheless, he covered the pay phone's mouthpiece and turned to Langly. "Scully says not to let them do it the traditional way. Takes too long to recover. Make them do it the newfangled way with the cameras and things."

 

"This guy's really cool, Fro. I don't think we have anything to worry about. He's even wearing alien boxers." Langly grinned at the memory.

 

Frohike's eyebrows arched incredulously. "You think _she_ cares about _that_?"

 

Suddenly Langly remembered. "Wait. Keep her on the line. The doc said he'd come out and talk to me one more time before he went into surgery."

 

Frohike spoke to Scully one more time. "If you hang on the line the doc said he'd come out to talk to us. You can talk to him yourself."

 

"Okay, Frohike. Great."

 

It was only a minute before the disheveled man appeared in the waiting room. Byers and Frohike paid him no attention--no way he could be a surgeon--but Langly jumped to his feet. "How's he doing?"

 

Their friend's voice roused the other two men into paying attention. "He's here," Frohike whispered into the phone.

 

"Oh, he's doing just fine."

 

Frohike heard the words "Where is he now?" whispered into his ear, and he repeated them into the room. The doctor seemed startled for a second.

 

"Oh, these are two more of Mulder's friends," Langly offered. "This is Dr. McCarthy. The surgeon."

 

The doctor nodded. "Where is he?" He looked at his watch. "Well, by now he should be safely ensconced in OR4, getting prepped and waiting for yours truly." He addressed his answer to Frohike, and noticed the short man holding the phone out toward his voice. "Am I speaking to someone on the phone, too?" He smiled. "My first long distance family consultation. Cool."

 

"Yeah, Mulder's partner from the FBI is on the phone. She's a doctor herself. In fact, she wants to talk to you about what procedure you're gonna use." Frohike nervously thrust the phone into the surgeon's hand, but he needn't have. The doctor seemed more than willing to take the call.

 

"Hello?"

 

"Hello Doctor. My name is Dr. Dana Scully. Mulder is my partner. I just wanted to make sure you planned to perform the operation laparoscopically."

 

"Oh absolutely. Why create unsightly scars on a strapping FBI agent."

 

Scully was offended. "It's not a matter of the scarring, Doctor. If you'll notice Mulder already has plenty of those." Her tone was clipped. "It's a matter of recovery time, and the reduced risk of infection and other complications."

 

Dr. McCarthy actually laughed at her. "You're preaching to the choir, Doctor Scully.  I always use the lap when I can. But you do, of course, realize that often we get in there with the scope and find that the appendix is too fragile to manipulate with the tools and remove through the tiny openings. Then we'll have to go in the old fashioned way. I already explained this to your partner. Or, of course, if it ruptures before we get in there; then we'll have to open him up. And the longer I stand here chatting with you, the better the chances are of that happening."

 

"I understand." Scully allowed her professional veneer to slip away for her last question. "But he is stable, isn't he?"

 

The surgeon dropped his attitude as well, and answered kindly, fully aware that the question was asked out of concern, not medical curiosity. "Absolutely. All the indicators are just where we'd want them to be.   Nothing to worry about. Maybe I'll talk to you after we're done."

 

"Maybe. Thank you, doctor."

 

McCarthy handed the phone back, and Byers took it.  He addressed the three men one more time. "Okay, I'm off. Surgery is on the seventh floor of this tower, and there's a great waiting room up there, so I'd get out of here as fast as you can. The procedure takes two hours tops if there are no complications. I don't expect any, but if there are, I'll send someone out to let you know what's going on. I won't leave you out there wringing your hands for five hours. I hate that. Oh, and the cafeteria opens in a few minutes, at five. You won't believe the cinnamon buns in there, and they have a great latte. It's Beverly Hills, after all." He winked. "See you later," and he took off.

 

Frohike looked at Langly. "THAT was a surgeon?"

 

Langly was looking after the doctor until he turned a corner and was out of sight. "Yeah. Cool, huh?"

 

Byers realized he was still holding Scully on the line. "Scully, you hear that end part? He said it would take two hours."

 

"I heard. . . . Byers?" She'd been expecting Frohike again.

 

"Yeah, it's me. So what do you want us to do? Do you still want half-hourly updates?"

 

"No, why don't you just call when the surgeon comes back out. Unless of course there's news in the interim. What was the doctor's name?"

 

"McCarthy." Byers saw Langly mouth the name 'Nick,' so he added that. "Nick McCarthy."

 

"Okay, thanks. I'll talk to you again in a couple of hours." Before she'd hung up Scully was already typing Dr. McCarthy's name into the search engine of her computer.

 

+ + + + +

 

Mulder just lay there, waiting. The pain was pretty much gone--they must have pushed something else into his IV. Maybe a muscle relaxant, he thought, because he did have that kind of floaty, high feeling. But he was still wide awake, blithely watching the activity around him. Either he was really high on something, or this being-prepped-in-an-OR thing was so routine it didn't bother him any more. He sincerely hoped it was the former.

 

"Are we ready to rock and roll?" Mulder recognized the voice of his surgeon, and wondered how this guy got a job in such a posh place as Beverly Hills. The man came into his peripheral vision on his right, and Mulder turned his head to look at him. "How ya doing, Mulder?"

 

Had he told him to drop the "mister?" He couldn't remember, and didn't much care. "Let's rock and roll," he mumbled. Funny, he hadn't meant to mumble.

 

Though the doctor's face was already obscured by his mask, Mulder could see the corners of the man's eyes curl up in a smile. "Excellent. Again, briefly, we'll put you to sleep, and then with three small incisions here" he pointed to a point by Mulder's belly button, "here," a point on the right side of his abdomen, "and here," a point on the left side, "we'll use a tiny camera and instruments to pull that appendix out. Two hours, tops. When you wake up you'll have three Band-Aids, that's about it. You want a video?"

 

"A What?"

 

"A video of the operation. We see everything on that TV monitor, and can record it. Don't worry, we'll make ya one. Maybe that lady doctor partner of yours would like it. A fine souvenir of your visit to Los Angeles!"

 

"Scully?" How'd this guy know he had a lady doctor partner?

 

"Yeah. Just spoke to her on the phone a few minutes ago."

 

All Mulder could do was shake his head. Figures.

 

"Okay, nap time. Bert, my favorite midnight anesthesiologist here is gonna put you out like a light now. I'll talk to you when you wake up."

 

Mulder had met 'Bert' in the pre-op room when he'd introduced himself and briefly quizzed Mulder on his experiences with general anesthesia. He'd actually called Mulder a "pro" at it, something the FBI agent had found mildly disconcerting. Suddenly he felt a heaviness start to spread throughout his body. They'd already started the IV stuff.

 

"Okay, Mr. Mulder, a couple of deep breaths and when you wake up it'll be all over, okay?"

 

"No counting?" Oh, fuck it. He _was_ a pro.

 

Bert chuckled. "Waste of time, dontcha think? No one ever gets past 95. Deep breaths now."

 

Mulder saw the shape of the mask as it was held over his mouth and nose, but it was too close for him to focus on. No matter. He took a deep breath.

 

+ + + + +

 

The three men had made their way to the seventh floor surgical waiting room. The doctor hadn't been kidding when he said it was nice; it was downright posh. Huge, with comfortable sofas, and several TVs. Frohike noticed the plaque on the wall, and pointed out to his friends that it was the Ozzie and Harriet Nelson room. Only in LA. One television was on, tuned to CNN, so they had naturally congregated around that one. Amazingly, they were the only people there.

 

Byers looked at his watch. "It's ten after five. What do you say we go get some coffee, something to eat?"

 

Frohike leapt from his seat. "I'm in." Byers stood also, and they both looked at Langly, who seemingly hadn't even heard them. "Langly?"

 

"Huh? Nothing for me. You go ahead. I'll stick around here--you know, in case someone needs to find one of us."

 

Byers sat again next to his friend. "They won't need to find us. This is a very routine procedure, Langly. He'll be fine. And they certainly won't need us in the next 20 minutes."

 

"Bring me a large black. I'll stay here."

 

Byers looked at Frohike quizzically, and the shorter man just shrugged. He stood up. "Okay, we'll be back in a few minutes. Do you want anything to eat?"

 

"No way. I'm not hungry."

 

"Okay, large coffee, black. We'll be back," and the other two men wandered off.

 

Langly watched them go and collapsed back against the sofa he was sitting on. Christ, what a night this had been. Not one he was gonna forget any time soon. He was the last person anyone would expect to have done what he just did. Hell, he'd never have expected it of himself. And try as he might, he couldn't figure out what had gotten into himself.

 

And all this introspection was making him tired. He picked up his feet and stretched out on the sofa. Within a minute he was sound asleep.

 

+ + + + +

 

"Excuse me? Sir?" Langly heard the voice, and felt someone poking him. Dammit, he was sleeping. He swatted the person away.

 

"I'm sorry. Are you waiting for word on Mr. Mulder?"

 

Mulder. Hadn't been two hours; couldn't have been. Langly remembered what the doctor said about sending out word if there were complications, and suddenly he was very awake. He sat up quickly. "Yeah. Yeah. What's wrong? What happened?"  He saw an impossibly young woman in surgical scrubs crouching down by his side.

 

"Nothing, nothing. Everything's fine and going well. But we did have a problem with our camera and had to move another one in from the other OR. Set us back about half an hour, though. Dr. McCarthy wanted to make sure you knew so you wouldn't worry."

 

Langly let out a relieved breath. Geezus, she almost gave him a heart attack. "Oh, that's all. Thanks."

 

"No problem." The girl looked at her watch. "So we should be done a little after seven, I'd say." She stood up.

 

"No complications, then?"

 

"Nope." She started to walk away, then turned back with a smile. "Not from the patient, anyway!" And she was gone.

 

Langly sat back and took off his glasses to rub the sleep from his eyes. He looked at his watch--the guys had only been gone about 25 minutes. Problem was, that girl had managed to set Langly's heart racing. There'd be no more sleep, that's for sure.

 

"Langly, are you okay?" The blond man put his glasses back on to see that Byers was walking toward him, carrying his coffee.

 

He took the cup. "Yeah, sure. I fell asleep and some girl scared the shit out of me by waking me up."

 

"Why'd she wake you?"

 

"To tell me that their camera conked out on them, and they had to replace it, so now they're half an hour behind schedule."

 

"They sent someone out to tell you that?"

 

"Yeah."

 

"That was incredibly thoughtful."

 

Langly considered it. Yeah, it was. "I told you that doctor was cool."

 

Byers put his coffee down and surveyed the room. "Where's the phone? We should tell Scully."

 

"Look, Byers, when that woman woke me up she damn near scared me to death. We make that phone ring now Scully will go nuts."

 

"But if we don't, and the two hours go by with no call, she'll get worried."

 

"She's a doctor. She knows shit like that happens. I say we don't call."

 

"Well, we don't have to call immediately, anyway, I suppose."

 

"Where's Fro?"

 

Byers rolled his eyes. "I have no idea. He said he was going to 'get the lay of the land.'"

 

"You mean he's snooping around."

 

Byers smiled. "Uh huh. In the cafeteria he was wondering if Pamela Anderson had her implants removed here."

 

"He has a one-track mind."  He took a gulp of his coffee, and he and Byers settled into a companionable silence. But it only lasted a minute before a commotion at the doorway caught their attention. It was Frohike.

 

"Umm, uhhh, Thanks. Thanks. Place is so big I got turned around." He was talking to a uniformed security guard who was depositing him in the waiting room. Fro turned and scurried back to his compatriots.

 

Byers looked angry. "What did you do, Frohike?"

 

"Me? Nothing! I was just looking around. Musta stumbled onto the superstars wing or something, because that guy just jumped on me. I told him I was lost."

 

Langly was vaguely interested. "You see anyone famous?"

 

"Well, it mighta been George Hamilton. Or some other old guy with a great tan."

 

"Frohike, that describes half of Hollywood. What would George Hamilton be doing in a hospital at six in the morning?"

 

"Hey, I dunno. I just call 'em like I see 'em."

 

+ + + + +

 

Scully looked at her watch. By her calculations the two hours were up. They'd be calling any minute now. Any minute. She turned the page of the medical journal she hadn't been reading for the last hour.

 

Ten minutes later. Still no call. She'd give them ten more minutes.

 

Ten more minutes and still nothing. She picked up the phone, ready to dial the number for the hospital, which she'd looked up and noted hours ago. But then she thought better of it--what if they tried to call her and got a busy signal? She went to her purse and fished out her cell phone, and dialed the number.

 

"Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, may I help you?"

 

"Uhhh, yes, I have a friend who was undergoing emergency surgery tonight, and I was trying to find out his condition?"

 

"Name please?"

 

"Mulder. Fox Mulder."

 

"According to our records Mr. Mulder is still in surgery at this time." What? He should have been out half an hour ago, Scully knew.

 

"Can you please transfer me to the surgical floor?"

 

"One moment please." Scully listened to the insipid music for a moment, her anxiety level rising with every note. Damn those guys for not calling her with an update.

 

"North Seven."

 

"Yes, is this the surgical wing?"

 

"It is."

 

Time for a different approach. "My name is Special Agent Dana Scully of the FBI. A colleague of mine underwent emergency surgery tonight, and it is imperative that I learn his condition. His name is Mulder, Fox Mulder."

 

Scully listened to silence for a moment--though she could hear the tapping of fingers on a computer keyboard.

 

"Mr. Mulder is in recovery."

 

She let out a sigh of relief. That was something, anyway. "And his condition?"

 

"I'm sorry, no one has input anything besides his current location. I really can't say."

 

"Is there a phone in the waiting room? Is it possible for me to be transferred there?"

 

+ + + + +

 

Frohike was channel surfing, Byers was dozing, and Langly was surreptitiously watching the four other people who had joined them in the waiting room not long ago when they were all roused by someone clearing his voice. They looked up and all three stood in unison when they saw Dr. McCarthy coming toward them. He was smiling, so the Gunmen immediately knew that the news was good.

 

"Everything went perfectly once we got a camera that worked. Sorry about that."

 

Langly wanted more. "Perfectly?"

 

"Absolutely. Mulder tolerated the surgery very well. In fact he's already coming out of the anesthesia, though of course he's extremely sleepy still."

 

"No complications?"

 

"None whatsoever." The doctor looked around and suddenly realized. "No one's holding a phone?"

 

 Byers was suddenly mortified. They had completely forgotten to call Scully about the delay. Shit, she must be going nuts. "Oh, uhh, we do need to call her. Can you wait here a moment?"

 

McCarthy looked at his watch. "Well, my regular day starts in about half an hour, but yeah, if you call her now I can wait a minute."

 

There was no need to wait. Before any of the Gunmen could pick up the pay phone in the corner, a hospital staffer came to the door. "Is there a Mr. Byers here?"

 

"I'm Mr. Byers."

 

"There is an urgent phone call for you. We'll transfer it to the house phone." It had to be Scully. Shit.

 

Within seconds the phone was ringing, and Byers picked it up. "Byers."

 

"What's going on, Byers? What took so long? Why didn't you call? Where's Mulder?"  She was firing the questions fast and furious, and Byers could tell that furious matched her mood.

 

"Everything's fine, Scully. We'll explain everything in a minute. But Dr. McCarthy is here and he has to leave. Do you want to talk to him?"

 

"Put him on."

 

Byers handed the phone toward the doctor, who took it with a smile. "We meet again!" he said brightly.

 

"Not exactly, doctor. How's my partner?"

 

"He's just fine. Great, as a matter of fact."

 

"No complications? What took so long?"

 

"Oh, they didn't tell you? We had a camera malfunction. Had to replace some equipment, which set us back about half an hour. It had nothing to do with your partner. And no complications."

 

"You're sure he's okay?"

 

"Came right out of the anesthesia and everything. He's sleeping."

 

"General anesthesia can make him nauseous. I should have told you that before."

 

"Well, that's something to talk to the anesthesiologist about, but I believe your partner made us aware of that, and it was taken into account. He hasn't puked yet, and obviously, I don't want him to. We're taking precautions."

 

"You were able to complete the surgery laparoscopically?"

 

"Yes doctor. I told you--no complications. I'd have considered having to open him up a complication, wouldn't you?" McCarthy's tone was gently chiding.

 

Scully allowed herself to chuckle at her overprotectiveness. "I suppose so. But you have no idea how much trouble he can get into. Even asleep. How long will he be hospitalized?"

 

"I don't think I need to tell you that it depends on a number of factors. But emergency lap appys generally are discharged within 24 hours."

 

"We'll need to get him home, Dr. McCarthy. When do you think he'll be able to fly?"

 

"Dr. Scully, why don't we take things one step at a time. He's not even out of recovery yet!"  His tone was always light, never annoyed. Scully appreciated that.

 

"Of course. You're right."

 

The doctor looked at his watch. "Now I really must go. I have an ulcer repair in less than 20 minutes."

 

"Thank you for taking the time to speak to me."

 

"Not a problem. Bye bye." He handed the phone back to Byers and spoke to the three men. "I really need to run." He started to leave, then looked back at Langly. "It's still early; really slow back there. You wanna come back and see him?"

 

Langly was taken aback. "Me?"

 

"Yeah, sure. Supposed to be immediate family only, but I figure anyone who'd hold a bowl while his friend pukes is a real friend. I can get you back there."

 

Langly panicked for a moment. This was too much. Way, way too much. But then, the doc wasn't inviting anyone else, and this wasn't an opportunity to be missed. He looked at the other two guys, and they looked as surprised as he did. Byers had the phone to his ear; he was listening. Finally he took it away slightly, and spoke. "She says to go, Langly."

 

That decided it. How could he not? "Uhhh, okay."

 

"Follow me."

 

The two men left the waiting room, and Frohike looked at Byers. "He held a bowl while Mulder puked? LANGLY?" Byers shrugged.

 

+ + + + +

 

Dr. McCarthy pushed his way into the recovery room, and turned to wait for Langly to follow. There was apprehension in every step the blond man took. This whole night and morning was nothing but one surprise after another for the man. For about the tenth time he found himself wondering 'what am I doing here?'

 

He caught up to the doctor, who then led him straight to Mulder's bed. He wasn't hard to find--he was the only patient there. Langly barely had a chance to look at his friend before the doctor was introducing him to a nurse. "This is. . . . Oh my God, I don't even know your name!"

 

"Oh. Uh. Langly."

 

"Nice to meetcha. Suze, this is Mr. Langly. He's a good friend of Mr. Mulder's, and I figured since it's early and slooooow, we could let him sit in here. Mr. Mulder is just visiting our fair city, so I thought a familiar face when he woke up would be a good thing. Mr. Langly, this is Suzanne, Mulder's nurse for his stay here in recovery." The two people nodded to each other. "Suze, what was his last temp?"

 

"101.7."

 

"Awesome. Okay, I gotta go scrub. Langly, stay out of the way. Suze, answer his questions, okay? And you--" he pointed to his sleeping patient with a smile "--get some rest." He turned to leave, and bid farewell to the rest of the staff in the room on his way out. "See ya later, guys!"

 

Langly was overwhelmed. Tossed in here and dumped. But 'Suze' was chuckling. "He's quite a character. We all love him. Great surgeon, too."

 

"Uh huh." Langly finally took a moment to check out Mulder. He looked okay. Pretty good, actually. Not even pale. The head of his bed was only slightly elevated--maybe 20 or 30 degrees. There were several bags of stuff feeding into his IV now, he had the oxygen thingie stuck under his nose, and he was hooked up to a heart monitor, but he looked okay. "Why all the. . . ?" He motioned to the monitors.

 

The nurse smiled. "Just a precaution. Any general anesthesia depresses things like breathing and sometimes heart rate. We leave that on until we're sure there won't be any surprises. Let me get you a stool." She went over to the next bed and came back with a tall backless stool for him to sit on. "Just a couple ground rules. Be as quiet as you can, don't touch anything, and if it gets busy in here and we ask you to leave, please do so immediately, okay?"

 

"Yeah, sure. How long will he be in here?"

 

"Not long at all, I'd expect. A couple of hours. He's doing great. I'll be over there working on some charts. If he stirs, starts to wake up, let me know, will you?"

 

"Uh huh." Langly sat and the woman left.

 

Now what, Langly? This was too much. Way too much. He wouldn't want to be here if it was his own mother, let alone Mulder. How the hell had he gotten himself into this? That was the question of the day. He noticed that Mulder's chart--which was now a three-ring binder rather than the folder it had been in the ER--was sitting on the tray table directly in front of him. She'd said not to touch anything, but surely she didn't mean his chart, right? What harm could it do?

 

He opened the notebook as quietly as possible. The top page was a page filled with stickers. He studied them for a moment and realized that they were charge stickers for medications and supplies. They'd pull the stickers off the supplies as they were used for a patient, and stick them in his chart, so he'd be the one to pay for them. There were stickers for drugs, for syringes, for bandages. So that's how they kept track. Langly looked around surreptitiously and gave a moment's thought to pulling some of them off and pocketing them. But then he realized what the hell. Mulder was on government employee health insurance. Let Uncle Sam pay for them. He turned to the next page and found that the ER had added hand-written notes that hadn't been there earlier. He found the one from Dr. Santana, the first doctor who had seen them.

 

Ha! Seen _them._ He couldn't believe he was thinking that way. The first guy who had seen _Mulder_.

 

 He tried to decipher the shorthand of the note, found he could understand only some of it, and that none of it was anything new. Then he got to the part about the 'pt's'--the patient's--demeanor. 'Though in extreme distress and pain, pt was cooperative and in surprisingly good spirits,' it said. He had been? Langly could barely remember. That seemed like days ago, and all he recalled of Santana was an overwhelming feeling that he'd hated the guy. Maybe he hadn't been so bad? He'd have to remember to tell both Mulder and Scully that the patient had received high marks for a good attitude.

 

"Mmmmmm." Langly looked up and saw Mulder pursing his lips. He turned to call the nurse, then remembered and first shut the notebook.

 

On her way to the bed Suzanne stopped at a metal container. She opened it and stuck a cup inside before she came over. "Mr. Mulder?" She spoke loudly and clearly, and Langly saw her pick up his friend's right hand and give it a squeeze. "Mr. Mulder, can you wake up for me? Just for a minute?"

 

"Mmmmm." Mulder turned his head away from the voice, and groaned again. Langly stood up and moved closer to the bed, too.

 

"Come on, Mr. Mulder, open your eyes. There's someone here who'd like to see you."

 

Another groan, but Mulder slowly worked his eyes open. And the face that came into focus wasn't Scully's, but rather Langly's. Langly? Mulder blinked again and turned away from Langly to face the nurse.

 

"Hi there, Mr. Mulder. Welcome back. How you feeling?"

 

Mulder cleared his throat, and the nurse immediately stuck a spoon into the cup she was holding. "Ice chips, Mr. Mulder. Just let them melt in your mouth and down your throat." She held the spoon to his lips, Mulder opened his mouth, and the nurse dropped them in. They brought instant relief, and Mulder closed his eyes gratefully.

 

Everyone waited a moment until Mulder finally opened his eyes again and spoke. "Ugh," was all he said.

 

The nurse chuckled. "How are you feeling, Mr. Mulder?"

 

Mulder focused his attention on the woman rather than on Langly. "Drugged."

 

The woman smiled. "Do you remember what happened; where you are?"

 

Mulder's right hand slowly ventured out from under the blanket until it rested on the lower part of his abdomen. "Uh huh."

 

"Okay, so what happened? Where are you?"

 

"Appendicitis. LA. Cedars-Sin..." His voice trailed off and the end of the word was lost. He closed his eyes wearily again.

 

"That's right. And what's the date?"

 

It took a moment, but Mulder finally looked at her again. "Never know the date without a calendar. It's Saturday. . . . Morning. October. . . . The tenth?"

 

The nurse smiled. "Uh huh. Very good. Your surgery went very well. Are you in any pain?"

 

"Feel . . . heavy. Don't feel much of anything."

 

"That's the aftereffects of the anesthesia. Speaking of which, I need you to take a couple of good, deep breaths for me. Can you do that?" Mulder took one, and grimaced slightly. "Good, that's good. A couple more, now. We want to get that anesthesia out of your lungs." She rested her hand on the middle of his chest to encourage him.

 

Mulder took two more, then stopped. "Hurts."

 

"I know, sorry. But you did great. Just relax and it'll go away. Go back to sleep."  She patted his hand and left.

 

But Mulder didn't close his eyes. Instead he looked at Langly. "What you doing here?"

 

Langly chuckled. "Beats me." He settled back down on the stool and looked after the nurse. "I wonder why they ask all those dumb questions," he mused aloud.

 

"Oriented to place and time. They gotta check." Mulder looked as though he was settling back to sleep, but still he mumbled the answer. And before he allowed himself to drift off any further, he pried his eyes open one more time to make a simple request. "Call Scully?" Then he drifted off again.

 

+ + + + +

 

"Hey guys, they're moving him to a room." Langly looked at the number he'd jotted onto the palm of his hand. "507. Should be there in half an hour." He flopped down on a sofa next to his two friends. "I'm beat, but I promised him I'd call Scully."

 

"She's waiting to hear from you, that's for sure," Byers said. "How'd he look? Bad?"

 

"Ya know? No. He looks fine. Better than before, actually. I only talked to him once, though. He's sleeping like a baby right now." Langly looked up and nudged Frohike sitting next to him. "There's the doc." Dr. McCarthy was talking to another family on the other side of the room, which was now at least half full. He looked up from the people he was with, caught their eye, and smiled. When he finished he wandered over.

 

"What are you still doing here? Is he still in the recovery room?"

 

"They're moving him now," Byers answered.

 

"Phew! You had me worried! I won't be by until after my surgical schedule is done for the day--probably early evening. But don't worry, they'll alert me if there's anything I need to know. Catch ya later."

 

As the doctor walked away Frohike turned to his friends. "If anything ever happens to me, I want a doctor like that."

 

"Yeah. he's alright," Langly agreed.

 

Frohike turned his full attention to his blond friend. "So, what's this about you holding a bowl for Mulder to puke in?"

 

Langly shrugged. "Didn't have much choice. And that wasn't the half of it," he offered cryptically as he stood up. "Where's the cafeteria? I'm starved."

 

"Don't you need to call Scully?" Byers reminded.

 

"Right. Who's got her number?" Frohike recited it from memory and Langly wrote it on his hand under the room number. He started for the pay phone then remembered. "Hey, I need a calling card." Byers offered up his, and Langly went and dialed the phone.

 

+ + + + +

 

"How's he doing?" Scully didn't even bother to make sure the call was about Mulder. She knew it would be.

 

"He's fine, Scully," Langly offered.

 

"Langly? You saw him, right?"

 

"Uh huh."

 

"And?"

 

"And what? He slept most of the time. Asked me to call you, though."

 

"He did?" She was touched. "Tell me everything you saw, Langly."

 

"I saw him sleeping, Scully, What do you want me to say?"

 

"What kind of equipment did you see? What did they do to him?"

 

"Ummm." Shit. He should have anticipated this. He should have taken notes. "He had oxygen on. The thing in your nose. One of those clippy things on your finger. A heart monitor. An IV with all sorts of stuff hooked into it. That's all I saw. I didn't look hard, though."

 

"Nothing went off, no alarms or beeps or anything?"

 

"Nope."

 

"Good. What did he say when he woke up? Was he in pain?"  God, she wished she wasn't such a worrywart, but she couldn't help it. Relying on these guys to be her eyes and ears was making her insane. If she were there she'd be fine, she knew.

 

"It only hurt when the nurse made him breathe deep to get the anesthesia out. He said he felt 'heavy' whatever that means."

 

"I know what he means. How'd you think he looked?"

 

"He looked good, Scully. Fine. He looked a lot worse before the operation."

 

"I'll bet. So if you're out, does that mean they're moving him to a room?"

 

"Yeah. Room 507. Should be there in a little while."

 

"Okay, thanks, Langly. I'll talk to you guys later, okay?"

 

"Yeah, Scully, later." The woman turned off her phone and breathed a sigh of relief. He was fine. Everything was fine. She looked at her watch; it was almost one. What had she originally planned to do with this Saturday? She couldn't remember.

 

+ + + + +

 

Frohike wandered into Mulder's room "Hey, guess who I saw this time?" he started, but Byers quieted him with a finger to his lips. Not only was Mulder asleep in the bed, but Langly had crashed on the sofa in the room.  "Oh," Frohike continued in a whisper, "Brooke Shields."

 

Byers cocked an eyebrow. "You did not."

 

"Did too! She was visiting someone, I think. Had a bunch of flowers. She's really tall."

 

"That's what they say."

 

"How's he. . ." Fro looked from one sleeping form to the other. "How're they doing?"  His bearded friend grinned.

 

"They're fine. Langly fell asleep the minute he sat down."

 

"Mulder wake up?"

 

"No." He looked at his watch. "It's been three hours almost."

 

"Yeah, but don't forget he didn't get any sleep last night. And he's probably drugged to the gills."

 

"True."

 

Their whispered conversation was interrupted by the arrival of a nurse. "Can I ask you to step outside for a minute? I need to take your friend's vital signs. And check his dressings."

 

"Sure," Byers said, then he noticed Langly. "Can he stay here and sleep? He's exhausted."

 

The woman noted the sleeping man with a smile. "Sure. I'll try not to wake him." The two got up and left, and the nurse pulled the curtain around Mulder's bed, creating a barrier between them and Langly should he wake up. She managed to get his pulse and blood pressure readings without waking him up, but when she stuck the thermometer in his ear he stirred slightly and groaned. She got her reading and was noting it in the chart when the phone by the bed rang. The nurse picked it up.

 

"Hello?"

 

It was a woman's voice, and Scully was surprised. "Oh, I'm sorry, I may have the wrong room. I'm looking for Fox Mulder."

 

"No, this is his room. I'm one of the nurses. I was standing right by the phone, so. . . ."

 

"Oh, I see. I'm a friend of Mulder's from back home. I was calling to see how he's doing."

 

"Oh, he's doing fine. Just fine." The woman looked at Mulder and saw his eyes fluttering open. "Seems our patient has decided to rejoin the living." She addressed her next words to Mulder. "Good afternoon, Mr. Mulder!" Then back to Scully on the phone. "Would you like to try to talk to him?"

 

"Can I? Ask him if he'd like to speak to Scully."

 

The nurse did, and even though he barely had his eyes open, Mulder nodded. "He would, Ms. Scully, hang on." She put the phone to Mulder's ear, and he leaned into it, trapping it between ear and pillow.

 

"Hey Mulder. How are you feeling?" Gone was the harsh tone she'd used with the Gunmen, and the no nonsense tone she'd tried on the doctor. Replacing it was the concern she saved only for him.

 

"Mmmmmm. Scully?" Mumbling was just about the only thing Mulder was capable of. His speech was slow and slurred.

 

"It's me, Mulder. You okay?"

 

"Where are you?"

 

"I'm at home. You're in LA, remember?"

 

"Not here?" He sounded confused, and sad. It broke Scully's heart. Maybe she'd made a mistake not jumping on the first plane.

 

"No, Mulder, I couldn't get there in time. The doctor says you're doing fine, though."

 

"Hurts, Scully," he whined.

 

"I know. I know it does. But it will get better. I promise." Why was he so out of it? She expected his head to clear as he woke up a bit more, but it wasn't happening. "Mulder, are the Gunmen there?"

 

The patient let his eyes lazily wander around the room. "Nooooo. Langly. He's been here. A lot."

 

"Yeah, I heard that Langly stayed with you. That surprised me."

 

"Hmmmm. He was good."

 

"I'm glad to hear it. How about the nurse. Is she still there, Mulder?"

 

"Uh huhhhhhh. There's a girl here. Not you, though."

 

"I know. I'm sorry. Can you let me talk to the nurse please?"

 

"Uh huhhhhh. Bye." Mulder lolled his head away from the phone and looked at the nurse. "She wants to talk to you."

 

The nurse smiled at her patient and picked up the phone. "Yes?"

 

"Yes, hi. I'm not only his friend, I'm also a doctor. Can you tell me what you have him on? He seems awfully disoriented."

 

"Well he did just wake up. These are the first words I've heard him speak since he got here. It will take some time for his head to clear."

 

"I understand that. But I'd still like to know what meds you have him on."

 

"Well, I don't think I should. . . ."

 

Scully cut her off with a preemptive strike. "I know what you are going to say, but let me assure you that you will not be breaking any medical confidence. If I were there I'd be reading his chart. We're FBI agents and I'm his partner, and as such I also have his medical power of attorney. I assure you, he will not mind."

 

The nurse thought about it for a second. "Well, we're in the process of weaning him off IV meds. He was on an antiemetic for a bit right after surgery, but we finished that a couple of hours ago. We want to see how he does without IV pain medication, so he just had his last dose of that. He still has a slight temp, so he's still on the IV antibiotics. But if you're a doctor, you know that it takes a while for the effects of these things to wear off. I wouldn't worry." The nurse looked at Mulder. "He's asleep again already."

 

"Thank you. What's his temp?"

 

"I just took it. It's 100.2"

 

"But it is going down?"

 

"Steadily, yes."

 

"Great. Thank you for your candor."

 

The nurse smiled "You're welcome. But you didn't hear any of this from me."

 

Scully chuckled. "I understand!"

 

+ + + + +

 

Byers stretched in the straightback chair he'd been sitting in for what seemed like hours. He looked at his watch; just after 3pm. It had been almost 14 hours since the shit had really hit the fan. He was so tired his head felt like it weighed thirty pounds. He looked behind him, at Langly still asleep on the sofa, where he'd been for almost four hours. He looked to his right and found Frohike, asleep on the empty second bed in the room, where he'd been for almost two. And finally he looked again at Mulder, lying with his head slightly inclined, still sleeping like he'd been since he first laid eyes on him at a little before ten. Everyone was catching up on much-needed sleep but him. He'd tried; he'd even ventured out into the plush lounge on the floor--this one donated by the family of Sammy Davis. Jr.--and tried to stretch out on a sofa. But within minutes he knew it wasn't going to work. He wasn't going to get any rest until he knew for sure that Mulder was okay. Hell, he'd!

!

 even called Scully and woken her up from a nap. If she could relax, why couldn't he?

 

"Looks like a goddamn slumber party in here." The words were coming from the bed directly in front of him. Byers looked up and found Mulder looking at him intently. The bearded man smiled broadly.

 

"Hi Mulder."

 

"Hi."

 

"How do you feel?"

 

Mulder shifted in the bed, and grimaced. "Okay." He paused a moment to consider his answer, and apparently found it to be satisfactory. "I feel okay."  He looked around him. "Is there anything to drink around here?"

 

Should he? Could he? "Let me check and see if you can have anything."

 

Mulder grinned slightly. "Langly'd let me."

 

"Well I'm not Langly." Byers went outside for a moment, and quickly returned. "No problem." He poured a glass of water from the pitcher on the bedside table, and handed it to Mulder. The agent's movements were slow, but he took the cup and drank from the straw. He drained the cup and handed it back, "Do you want any more?" Mulder shook his head.

 

The door opened and the same nurse who'd spoken to him before entered. "Hi Mr. Mulder. Welcome back. How are you feeling?"

 

"Okay."

 

"Do you feel up to eating anything? We need to get your digestive system up and running again."

 

"Not. . . . Not really. I'm not hungry at all."

 

"Are you sure? How about some Jell-O, Italian ice? We really need to get something in your stomach and see how you tolerate it."

 

Mulder sighed. He knew she was right. But he truly wasn't hungry--he actually felt full, bloated. Of course, he also knew the sooner he ate, the sooner he went home. "Yeah, okay."

 

"Great. How about the bathroom? Do you think you need to go?"

 

Mulder looked at Byers briefly, horrified. This was the second time in as many days his bathroom habits had come up in front of his prim friend. He quickly looked back at the nurse. "No. I don't," he lied.

 

"Okay, but ring when you do, okay? Don't try to get up the first time without one of us to help you, okay?"

 

More 'okay-ing.' What was it about this place? He willed the woman to go away, and she started to oblige, but then turned back. "Oh, we need to keep track of your input and output." Oh, God, don't start talking outputs again. Mulder tuned her out. "How much water did you drink?"

 

Byers waited for his friend to answer, and when it was clear nothing was forthcoming from the patient, he answered for him. "He drank a whole cup. Like this." He held up the plastic cup.

 

"That's about six ounces," the nurse decided. "Thanks." And she left.

 

Mulder and Byers were both drawn to a stirring coming from the adjacent bed. Frohike yawned loudly, stretched, and opened his eyes. He smiled when he saw his ill friend looking at him. "Good morning, Sleeping Beauty!"

 

"You should talk, Frohike. If you spent any more time in that bed they were gonna admit you."

 

Frohike swung his legs over the side of the bed and sat up. "You wish. How's it hanging?"

 

Mulder rolled his eyes. Already he was sick of that question, even in Frohike's rude phrasing. "I'm fine." He went to run his left hand through his hair and noticed the IV imbedded in his forearm. He followed the tubing up to the stand, and saw the two bags, one big, one small, hanging there. "Aw, shit," he mumbled. "What time is it?" he asked to no one in particular.

 

Byers looked at his watch. "It's three-thirty."

 

"Really? That late?" Suddenly Mulder's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Still Saturday, though, right?"

 

Frohike laughed. "Sure. You weren't gone that long!"

 

"Just making sure." Mulder looked at Langly, still snoring quietly on the sofa. "What's with him?"

 

Byers turned to assess his blond friend. "You don't remember?"

 

"Remember what?"

 

"You put him through the wringer last night."

 

"Huh?"

 

"He was with you every step of the way."

 

"Well, yeah, I remember him in the ER with me. Kept getting into trouble. Then I went to x-ray and he left."

 

"He went back after you got back from x-ray. And he was with you in the recovery room."

 

Mulder's eyes widened in horror. Langly? Oh, shit, what had he done that he couldn't remember. He probably made a damn fool of himself. He put his head back against his pillow and covered his eyes with one hand. "I don't remember that."

 

Byers' voice was kind. "You were in a lot of pain. And they gave you all sorts of drugs. It's no surprise."

 

Mulder separated the fingers over his eyes and peeked through. "What did I do?"

 

Frohike jumped down from his bed excitedly. "You puked! He held the bowl for you so you didn't puke all over yourself."

 

Mulder took the hand down slowly. "How do you know?" Please someone tell him Frohike wasn't there, too.

 

"The doctor told us."

 

Ahhh, shit, so the doctor knew? Fabulous. Just fabulous. He'd never be able to look Langly in the eye again. How do you repay someone who lets you barf on them? And Langly wasn't one to let you forget when you owed him one, that's for sure. Fuck.

 

"Here you go, Mr. Mulder!" The nurse entered carrying several small items and a spoon. "It's not normal dining hours, so I had to do a little scrounging. I've got some red and green Jell-O, and some grape ice. Any preference?" She held them out to him like they were prizes he got to pick from at a carnival.

 

Mulder looked at the three distastefully, and settled for the red gelatin. "I really really hate this stuff," he promised as he started to pull the foil lid off the plastic container. The nurse took the controls of the bed and started to raise the head. The sudden movement took Mulder by surprise, and he quickly put the gelatin down on his tray so he could bring his arms to his midsection protectively.

 

"Whoa! Whoa!" Frohike exclaimed, putting his hand up in a motion meant to stop the nurse from moving the bed further. "You okay?" he asked Mulder.

 

Even the slight bend at his middle had hurt, but the minute the movement stopped, the pain started to dissipate. "Yeah, it's okay. Give me a minute."

 

The nurse looked chastised. "Sorry about that. Shouldn't have moved the bed so quickly. I'll go a little at a time, but you do need to sit up more. Better for your lungs, you know. You should be taking deep breaths as often as you can. And we should get you an incentive spirometer in here, too." She continued to raise the bed a bit at a time until Mulder was sitting up. "Now before you eat, let me get a temp, okay?" She pulled the thermometer out of her pocket and stuck it in Mulder's ear. When it beeped she checked it and smiled.

 

"99 even. It's plummeting. Good for you. Now let's see you eat." She stood back a step and settled her arms across her chest.

 

Mulder looked at the three sets of eyes trained on him, waiting for him to perform like some sort of trained animal. Fact was, he hated Jell-O. Always did. The very idea of it made him feel queasy. But that ice stuff was even worse. And while his stomach itself didn't hurt, it did feel weird. He felt bloated. Like he had a bad case of gas. He didn't want to eat anything. He really didn't. He looked up again, and was again faced with the expectant eyes boring into him. He picked up the spoon, dug it into the gelatin, and passed it into his mouth without ever letting the stuff touch his lips. The one thing it had going for it was that it slid right down. If he did this right, he'd barely even taste the stuff. In three huge spoonfuls, the entire cupful had slid into his stomach.

 

The nurse smiled. "Excellent! That's one. Now which one?"

 

Oh, fuck, he wasn't done? "You don't understand. I hate this stuff. I mean really hate it."

 

"Well I'm afraid we can't give you any real food until your doctor okays it. So these are your options. Or I can get you some broth, or some apple or cranberry juice. That's about it, I'm afraid."

 

Mulder crinkled his nose at her options. They all sucked. "Okay, green," he sighed, and picked up the green Jell-O from where the nurse had left it on the tray. As he opened that one, the nurse excused herself for a moment. Mulder inhaled that stuff as quickly and tastelessly as possible, and was finished by the time she returned with several small containers of juice, both apple and cranberry; Mulder could tell by the colors.

 

"I'll just leave these here," she said as she deposited them on the tray. "Try to drink as much as you can, okay? You don't want to be relying on that," she motioned to the IV, "to keep you hydrated. Now, about going to the bathroom."

 

Mulder's eyes went wide. During the Jell-O exchange he'd almost managed to forget that the room was full of Gunmen. But no longer. He flashed an alarmed glance at the two men who were awake, and the nurse caught it. "Can I ask you two to step outside for a moment?" she offered. Mulder was instantly relieved.

 

"What about him?" Frohike nodded toward Langly, still sleeping. He seemed almost put-out; jealous.

 

The nurse looked at the sleeping man with a smile. "I don't think he'll get in the way. Really, it will only take a moment."

 

Byers and Frohike left, and Mulder sighed. "Thanks."

 

The woman chuckled. "Really, I don't understand what the embarrassment is all about. It's just urine; we all have it.  And YOU, I hope, have it in abundance. Do you feel the urge?"

 

Fact was, he'd been feeling the urge for a while. "Uh huh."

 

"Urgently?" the nurse asked with a grin. She went to the cabinet in the room, opened the door, and pulled out a bedside urinal.

 

"Oh, no, no. I can get up. I want to get up."

 

"I'm glad to hear it. But you've been through a great deal in the last 24 hours or so. You've been very ill, and you've had surgery. We don't want to have to worry about getting to the bathroom in time the first time you get out of bed. Use this, and then we'll get you up."

 

"No, get me up and I'll go to the bathroom."

 

The nurse's smile turned steely and set into her face. This was a battle she'd waged many times. "I don't think you understand. The first time you get up will be difficult and painful. You'll have enough on your mind holding yourself up, let alone holding anything else, if you get my drift."

 

He got it, and took the urinal. He glanced furtively over at Langly, and again the nurse noticed. She was good.

 

"I can wake him if it would help," she offered.

 

"No, that's okay."

 

"Okay." She pulled the curtain around the bed. "That should afford you some privacy. I'll go out, just ring the bell when you're done. I'll make sure your friends don't come back in." She walked around the edge of the enclosure and was gone. Mulder could hear the click of the door as it latched behind him.

 

He had to go so badly he thought he was going to explode. Slowly he tried to push himself onto his right side, but it hurt like hell, to the point where he gasped. He stopped and reassessed. He lowered the head of the bed somewhat, tried moving on to his left side, and found it was better. That was going to work. When he finally let go he actually groaned with relief.

 

+ + + + +

 

Langly slowly started to awaken. He liked to wake up slowly, and be fully awake before he opened his eyes. But he heard a gasp, and suddenly his eyes shot open. At first he was confused--he had no clue where he was. But one look around and it came back to him. But where was everyone? He heard a groan come from behind the curtain in front of him. Was it him?

 

"Mulder, that you?" he ventured.

 

Mulder heard the words and his heart and everything else stopped. Shit. Fuck. Hell. Langly, of all people. Again.

 

"Yeah, Langly." Please, please, please, don't come around the curtain, he prayed.

 

"You okay?" the blond man asked tentatively. Please please please, Mulder, say you're okay. Don't make me peek around that curtain.

 

"Yeah. Langly, could you, uh, step outside for a minute? I'm almost done." Mulder felt the blood rush to his cheeks. Jesus Christ, he was blushing. Too much.

 

Thank you, Mulder, Langly thought. He didn't know how much more he'd be able to take. "Yeah, sure. I'll be outside."

 

Mulder heard the door close, and suddenly realized he'd been holding his breath along with everything else.

 

+ + + + +

 

The toilet was still flushing when the nurse came out, still drying her hands. "Everything's right on schedule, Mr. Mulder. How you doing with that Jell-O? Any nausea?"

 

"No. Just this funny bloated feeling." It wasn't going away, so he figured he should mention it.

 

"That's normal after laparoscopic surgery. They distend your abdomen with carbon dioxide. They can't get it all out, so your body needs to absorb the rest. It will, and getting up and getting moving will really help that. You ready to go for a walk?"

 

"I guess so."

 

"Okay, so here's what we're going to do. I want you to roll onto your left side and I'll pivot you up. You're going to be more comfortable if you stay somewhat bent at the middle these first few days, so don't even try to stand up straight right away, okay?

 

Mulder chuckled at that. He hadn't been able to stand up straight before the operation, and now she was telling him he still wouldn't be able too. Great. "Yeah, okay."

 

"We have you off the IV pain medication already, and though you should still be under the effects of the last dose, you may be in some discomfort. If it's too severe, we'll stop, give you something orally, and let it take effect before we try again. Just let me know."

 

"Uh huh." He just wanted to get on with the show. He looked around the room, and was glad for the timing. The guys weren't here to see if he fell flat on his ass or something--not that he expected to. It's just that this weekend had been embarrassing enough already.

 

Mulder rolled onto his left side and swung his feet off the bed. The nurse tried to take hold of his upper arms and sit him up, but he shook her off and pushed himself upright with his left arm. All she ended up doing was making sure his IV didn't get tangled. He needed to grip the bed with his hands on either side of himself, and he knew without even trying that straightening his back up would be a mistake, but he was sitting up.

 

"Okay, ready? Put your left foot down first, and hold on to me." Mulder looked down and noticed his feet were bare and that the nurse hadn't offered any slippers or socks. But then he noticed the floor. It was ten times cleaner than his dining table at home. He slid his left foot to the floor, but didn't take her arms as she'd instructed.

 

"Uh uh. Hold on to me, not the bed," she admonished. Mulder left all his weight leaning on the bed, and transferred his hands to the middle of her forearms. "I'm just going to steady you now. Just stand up slowly."

 

Mulder got his legs underneath him, and stood, closing his eyes until the inevitable head-rush passed. His legs were straight, but he was bent at a 45-degree angle at his waist, and he dare not try to go any further. This was painful enough. "Ouch," he offered. He was still leaning heavily on the nurse's arms.

 

"Okay, good. Here we go." She reached for the portable IV stand and pulled it over, planting Mulder's left hand on that; she moved herself to his right side. "Take a few small steps."

 

Mulder started to pick up his left foot to move it forward, but the second he did, leaving his right leg to bear his entire body weight, pain shot through his side and he gasped. He stopped without going anywhere.

 

"That's okay. Your right side will hurt a little. Don't pick your left foot up all the way."

 

"I thought this kind of surgery wasn't supposed to hurt!" Mulder slid his left foot forward; that was more successful.

 

"Who told you that? It doesn't hurt as _much_, and it doesn't hurt as _long_. But it still hurts. But you'll be amazed. You'll be a whole new person tomorrow." Mulder had picked up his right foot and moved forward to place it next to his left. "Good."

 

"So why didn't we wait until tomorrow to do this?" He shuffled forward another step. The window on the far side of the room was apparently their destination.

 

"Oh, no. Can't do that. Gotta get you moving!"

 

"Yeah, yeah," Mulder intoned. But he took two more steps. It was getting a little easier.

 

"Hey look! It's the appy shuffle!" The voice of Dr. McCarthy caught both nurse and patient by surprise, and both their heads spun around toward the door. The motion caused Mulder to catch his breath and grimace. "Oops. Sorry Mr. Mulder. But let me just say, you look mahhvelous!" he said in a very poor impression of Billy Crystal. The doctor had indeed cleaned up nice. His hair was combed, he was wearing khakis that were only slightly wrinkled, a white oxford, and a tie--though on closer inspection, one would see that the tie was decorated with engineering schematics of the Starship Enterprise. "How you feelin'?"

 

"Better than last night, not as good as two days ago."

 

"Fair enough, fair enough. Glad to see you up and moving. Linda here been putting you through your paces? I can always count on her." Mulder saw the nurse beaming. Ugh. "How about you shuffle back to the bed so I can take a look."

 

Mulder pivoted in place and started shuffling his way back toward the bed. By now the nurse was barely providing any support at all.

 

"You're out of bed!" Another voice heard from. Mulder shifted his focus from the floor in front of him to the doorway. Not only was the speaker, Byers, standing there, but the other two Gunmen were peering in from behind him. Another party. He arched his eyebrows and gave them a toothy "No kidding" grin, but said nothing and continued his journey back to bed. He sat down and shifted himself until he was reclining again. He made sure he never put full weight on his right leg. It seemed he was okay as long as he remembered never to do that. He sat back and let out a relieved sigh.

 

"Tiring, huh?" The doctor was flipping through Mulder's chart. "Wow, look at this. Temp almost gone, you're eating, you're peeing, you're up. Textbook case begets textbook recovery. How about a bowel movement? Had yourself one of those?"

 

God, Mulder was tired of talking about this stuff. "No."

 

"Oh well, that's okay. Woulda been asking for too much."

 

"Mulder? Can we come in?" Byers was asking tentatively from the door.

 

Mulder looked at the doctor inquisitively. "Hey, I promise not to flash anything, but it's up to you."

 

The patient looked again toward the three pathetic souls in the door. It was a huge room. "Yeah okay, just stay out of the way." As soon as he said it Mulder regretted that. They certainly deserved the benefit of the doubt after what he'd put them through. He watched them file in, and was relieved to see that it didn't look like any of them were offended.

 

The doctor lowered the head of the bed slightly and pulled the blanket up to cover Mulder's hips before he lifted the hospital gown. "I'm gonna hurt you. Sorry in advance."  He palpated Mulder's abdomen virtually everywhere, but compared to the night before, it was nothing. A couple of winces, a few gasps, and that was it. The doctor seemed pleased. He snapped his stethoscope into his ears. "Now let's take a listen and see if I should be worried about that BM." He said it quietly, so only Mulder could hear it, and placed the stethoscope's diaphragm so low on Mulder's abdomen that he actually stuck it under the blanket.

 

"Wow, that's noisy. Sounds like a convention in there. Which is good, by the way." He stood up and pulled the instrument out of his ears. "Speaking of which, I heard there's a couple of doozies in town this week. One down at the Hilton woulda been a gas if I wasn't on call." He wasn't speaking to them directly, but still Mulder saw Langly get excited. Mulder shot him down with a steely glare, and Langly settled back onto the sofa, chastised. "I never did find out what brought you to our fair city, Mulder. Ahhh, shit, can I be calling you that?"

 

Wow it had taken him a long time to get around to the name thing. "Actually, yeah. That's what everyone calls me. How'd you know?"

 

The doctor smiled. "Just picked it up. All these people swirling around you," he motioned to his three friends, "and never once did I hear the word 'Fox.' So what brought you guys here, Mulder?" He looked at the other three men. "If you don't mind me saying so, you're a pretty motley crew."

 

"Close. We're a barbershop quartet," Mulder deadpanned.

 

For half a second the doctor took him seriously, then realized the joke was on him, and let out a hearty guffaw. "I'll bet! Okay, here's the deal. Everything looks, sounds, feels just great. We'll get you a regular diet dinner tonight, and if you manage to choke that down successfully, you'll be out of here first thing in the morning."

 

Mulder was slightly crestfallen. "I thought laparoscopic surgeries went home same-day?"

 

The doctor looked at him quizzically. "Where do you get your information? Okay, that's normally the case. But when they are done on an emergency basis, as yours was, that's not always true. In your case your fever got up there, and I wanted to make sure it was gone. And with the timing, we'd be releasing you at midnight, and who wants to do that. Besides," he added conspiratorially, "you have awesome insurance." He winked. "Seriously. First thing in the morning provided you don't do anything stupid in the night like pop your stitches or spike a fever."

 

"What about going home home. Back east?"

 

"You mean flying?"

 

"Uh huh."

 

"Well, technically there shouldn't be any physical reason to keep you on the ground, except for your own discomfort. When are you scheduled to leave?"

 

"Monday."

 

"Morning or evening?"

 

Mulder wasn't sure, so he looked at Byers, who answered. "Morning."

 

"You know, every hour will help. Think you can change to a later flight?" He directed the question to Byers, who shrugged and nodded. "If you have two good days recuperating out of here, you should be able to make it home Monday night. We'll talk more about that, though."

 

Dr. McCarthy went into the bathroom and washed his hands. "So, who can give me Dr. Scully's phone number?" he asked as he exited. Mulder cocked his head to one side and looked at him oddly. "I have a couple of real, honest-to-God _sick_ people to check in on," he looked to Mulder and winked as he said that, "but after that I'd be happy to call your friend and spare you guys her third degree."

 

Byers wrote the number on a page from his pocket calendar and handed it to the surgeon. "Great. Thanks. Like I said, I'm on all weekend, so perhaps I'll pop in a little later and see how dinner went. I think it's salmon. Only in Beverly Hills! Adios," and he swept out the door.

 

+ + + + +

 

Mulder dropped the fork on his dinner tray. It may be salmon, but it was salmon a la hospital. Still virtually inedible. And he just wasn't hungry, anyway.

 

"Come on, Mulder, you barely ate a thing. You heard what the doctor said."

 

Mulder gave Byers, his best glare. He appreciated their concern, but enough was enough. These guys were getting on his nerves. "Look, guys, I think it's time for you to leave." Frohike looked up, startled and hurt. Mulder could tell by the look on his face. He looked at Langly, and the expression he saw looked like relief to him. Poor Langly.

 

Byers remained impassive. "If we leave and you don't eat, you won't be released tomorrow. And then what will we do? I changed our flight to Monday night, I don't think I can change it again." Guilt? Byers was trying guilt on him? He'd have been equally successful if he'd left it at 'We won't leave until you eat.' Right now a little peace and quiet and privacy was the thing he craved most. He picked up the fork and ate the vegetables, followed by half the salmon. But that was all he could manage; he was sure of it.

 

"Look, that's enough. You guys have been here for what? Eighteen hours? Go back to the hotel. Raid the wet bar. Get your money's worth out of the place. Get some sleep. I'll be fine. Hell, I _am_ fine."

 

Byers looked like he was skeptical, but he stood, and the other two followed suit. "You sure? One of us can stay," Frohike offered, and Mulder saw the look of panic hit Langly's face. What had he done to the poor guy?

 

"No, no way. I don't need a babysitter. I'll see you in the morning." The three men mumbled their farewells, and headed for the door, with Langly taking up the rear. He might not have another chance. "Langly?" The blond man stopped, but didn't turn. "Can you hang on for a sec?" Frohike looked back, wondering what was going on, but he hadn't been invited to stay, he knew, so he reluctantly left the room. Langly just turned toward Mulder in his spot by the door, but didn't approach.

 

"Look, Langly, I just wanna. . . ." Shit, how should he do this? "I think I owe you. . . ." Damn, what should he say? "I just. Um. The guys. They told me a little. . . I don't remember a lot from last night, but they told me what you did. And I just need to say. . . ." Mulder could see Langly getting increasingly uncomfortable, too. He was fidgeting in place, and wringing his hands, which were clasped behind his back. Just spit it out. "Look, Langly, thanks." There, he said it.

 

Langly looked kind of surprised, like that hadn't been what he was expecting to hear. "Well, ummm, Mulder, ummm, it's okay. Glad I could help. If I did." Mulder knew he should assure him that he had helped, but he seemed frozen, unable to. Instead he just shrugged. Hopefully that would pass.

 

It did, and Langly grinned and turned toward the door. He grasped the handle but looked back to his friend before he turned it. "But don't expect me to do it again. Once was enough, that's for sure." He raced out the door before Mulder had a chance to respond.

 

Mulder laughed slightly and settled back on the bed. He was exhausted, and glad that he could finally

relax. But then the phone rang. He had to twist his body to reach the phone, and that hurt, but he got it. "Hello," he exhaled.

 

"Hey Mulder." It was Scully, and quickly his tone of voice registered. "Are you okay?"

 

"Yeah. I couldn't reach the phone, that's all."

 

"Oh, I'm sorry. Why didn't one of the guys reach it for you?"

 

"I sent them back to the hotel. Too much togetherness." By now his tone of voice was almost normal.

 

"I can imagine. You sound good. How are you feeling?"

 

"I'm doing okay. Good."

 

"Well Nick said you're doing great."

 

"Nick?" He knew who she was talking about, but he wanted to make her say it.

 

"Oh. Your doctor. Dr. McCarthy." It was apparent that she hadn't meant to call him that.

 

"You call him 'Nick'?" He was teasing now.

 

"Mulder!?"

 

"Well, he's MY doctor, and you're going around calling him 'Nick.' Bet you want me to tell you what he looks like."

 

"Shut up, Mulder. He said you were doing great, and will get out tomorrow?"

 

"Yup. That's what _Nick_ said. You'd like him, Scully. He's cute." And three thousand miles away.

 

She ignored him. "Have you eaten dinner yet?"

 

So Nick had told her that, too. "Yes, mom."

 

"No nausea?"

 

"No, mom."

 

"Are you up and walking?"

 

"Yes, mom."

 

"Do they still have you on an IV?"

 

"Yes, mom." God, this was getting tiring.

 

"Hmmm. Wonder why. What's the label on the IV bag?"

 

"Enough, Scully. I'm fine. You're not here, so you don't get to know all the dirty little details this time. I don't know what the label is, and I don't care. I'll be out of here tomorrow, okay?"

 

That stung. Scully wasn't sure if he'd said that to admonish her for not coming, or for being too much of a worrier. "I'm sorry, Mulder. I really didn't see the point in racing. . . ."

 

Mulder cut her off. "No, Scully, of course. You didn't have to come. I'm glad you didn't. You don't have to come running after me all the time. I'm a big boy, I can handle this."

 

"With a little help from your friends."

 

"Who are driving me crazy."

 

"They care, Mulder."

 

"Lucky me."

 

"They were frantic with worry. Don't let them tell you anything else. And they performed admirably in a crisis, I'd say."

 

"I'll take your word for it."

 

"Don't you remember?" He usually remembered everything.

 

"Yeah, most of it."

 

"What's that supposed to mean? What do you remember?"

 

Mulder wished Scully could see him rolling his eyes. "I remember being sick at the hotel. I remember talking to you on the phone. I remember being tortured in the ER. I remember going to surgery. I remember waking up in here. I remember what a pest you're being."

 

She ignored the last comment; she knew he didn't mean it. "That's it? You've got gaps, Mulder."

 

"Yeah, so what. I was drugged."

 

Suddenly she had a thought, and an idea. "You don't remember the guys getting you to the hospital?"

 

Mulder considered it. "No, not really."

 

"Well, you had a high fever. It's no surprise. I wouldn't worry about it."

 

"I'm not, Scully."

 

"Okay. Well, I'll let you get some rest. We'll talk tomorrow, okay?"

 

"Yeah, sure. I'll give _Nick_ your best."

 

Scully tried not to let her smile be apparent in her voice. "Sleep well, Mulder."

 

"Night Scully."  Mulder looked toward the phone on the table and remembered the contorting it would take  to hang it up. Rather than do that, he pushed the release on the side of the hospital bed and actually sat up. He could easily hang up the phone and did so, and then decided to get up. Might as well keep moving; things were going well. He stood, and it was much easier and less painful than it had been earlier. He started to take a step, and the pulling on the tubing reminded him of his IV. There was no portable stand in  the room, so he unhooked the bag and held it in his hand; what the hell. He made it all the way to the  window, to check out the view he had missed earlier. He hadn't missed a thing, it turned out. A nondescript  downtown cityscape greeted him.

 

Mulder turned back around and contemplated his next move. He was tired, yes, but he didn't really want to lie in bed--he'd been doing plenty of that. So instead he decided to try sitting in the chair that Frohike had occupied much of the day, one of those hospital recliners he'd found somewhere and brought in. He shuffled his way over to it, wondering when he'd be able to painlessly pick up his feet again, and lowered himself slowly into the chair. So this is what it felt like to be 80 years old. Sitting straight was uncomfortable, so he reclined the chair slightly. There was a copy of the LOS ANGELES TIMES sitting on the table next to him, and Mulder picked it up and started to aimlessly flip through it. It was something to do, anyway.

 

"Showing initiative! Just what I like to see!" Mulder glanced up from the paper to see his surgeon striding into the room. He unceremoniously flopped himself down on Langly's sofa, and tossed something to his patient. Mulder had to drop the paper quickly, but he caught the object; it was a videotape.

 

Dr. McCarthy had obviously noticed something--he was heading out the door when he said "that's the tape of your surgery that I promised you." He was gone for 30 seconds and returned with a portable IV stand, which he positioned by Mulder's chair. He took the IV bag from Mulder's side where his patient had stuffed it, and made sure it was hanging properly. After less than a minute, he had resumed his relaxed pose on the sofa.

 

"ANYWAY, as I was saying, that's the video of your inner workings. Picture-perfect technique, of course. Dr. Scully will probably get a kick out of it."

 

"Dr. Scully? Don't you mean _Dana_?" He'd teased her, so why not him, Mulder figured.

 

"Excuse me?" Except the doctor didn't get it. Guess they hadn't gotten as familiar on the phone as Mulder thought.

 

"Nothing."

 

"So, do I need to even ask how you're feeling? You look good."

 

"I feel good. A hundred times better than even this afternoon."

 

"Yup, that's how it goes. Amazing stuff, laparoscopic surgery. But just because you feel good as new, remember that you're not. Not for a couple of weeks."

 

"Who says I feel good as new?"

 

The doctor smiled. "I know. But you will. Just take it easy. Your partner seems to think she'll have to sit

on you."

 

Mulder arched his eyebrows. "Is that what she said? I'll have to take her up on that."

 

McCarthy just smiled. "So, _you_ are an FBI agent."

 

Mulder grinned wryly. "_I_ am an FBI agent, yes."

 

"Is it as cool as it seems on TV?"

 

"Depends on what you're seeing on TV. I once spent months transcribing wire-tap tapes. Not cool. Flashing

the badge is fun, though. If you're ever in DC give me a call. I can give you a tour of the basement of the Hoover Building. Literally."

 

The surgeon smiled at the offer, then held his arms out as if he was holding a gun. "Federal Agent! Stop right there!" He dropped his arms with a chuckle. "We used to play FBI in my back yard when I was a kid. I always got my man."

 

"Yeah, in the back yard and on TV you always get the bad guy."  Mulder was enjoying the conversation. "Not so in real life."

 

"No, I guess not." The doctor sat up and leaned forward a bit. "So, did a case bring you to LA?"

 

Mulder smiled. "Nope. I'm on vacation, believe it or not."

 

The surgeon looked around the room. Nice as it was, it was still a hospital room. "That sucks. The Beverly

Hills Hotel this ain't."

 

"Naah, it's okay. Better I get laid up now than if I actually was on a case."

 

McCarthy was standing up. "Now that's what I call dedication. Speaking of which, I better get going.

Sick people need me. I'll see you again before you leave tomorrow. You want some help getting yourself

out of that chair?"  He was holding out his right hand, and Mulder could either take it for help, or

just shake it.

 

Mulder opted for the latter. "No, I'm okay. Thanks again, though. Sorry I woke you up in the middle of

the night last night." He smiled as he shook his doctor's hand.

 

"That's why I'm here. Don't stay up too long. Get some sleep." The doctor waved as he swept out of the room.

 

+ + + + +

 

Mulder was roused from deep sleep by the persistent repetition of his name. Each time the "Mr. Mulder?" got louder until he finally woke up enough to respond.

 

"Huh?"

 

"I'm sorry to wake you, Mr. Mulder, but I really need to take your vitals."

 

The agent pressed the thumb and index fingers of his right hand into the corners of his eyes in an effort to force himself to full consciousness. "Uh huh."  The nurse flipped on the light over his bed, and the illumination was almost painful. Mulder moaned and spread his hand over his eyes in an effort to keep out the offending light.

 

"Sorry. It won't take a minute." The woman clipped the pulse oximeter onto her patient's right index finger, leaving it draped across his face. She waited for and recorded the measurements it provided. Mulder let his head flop slightly to the left as he felt the thermometer go into his right ear.

 

"So?" he asked when he felt its removal.

 

"Normal!" she replied cheerily. "I need your arm now." Mulder lowered his arm so she could apply the BP cuff. "How's your pain? We can give you something if you'd like."

 

Mulder's eyes were still shut. "What I'd like is to be able to go back to sleep." He dared open his eyes in tiny slits. "What time is it?"

 

"It's almost two." She finished up taking his BP. "So is that a 'no' to a pain pill?"

 

 If she left right away, Mulder figured, he'd be asleep before he could even register if he was in pain. "That's a no."

 

"Okay. But if you need something just call, okay?" She flipped off the light and was gone. Mulder gingerly rolled onto his left side and waited for sleep to reclaim him.

 

+ + + + +

 

"Mornin' Mulder. We brought you some clean clothes." Frohike handed a bag to his friend, who had been aimlessly flipping channels on the TV. "You are still getting out, right?"

 

"Uh huh. Just waiting until someone says I can go. Where's Langly?" Mulder didn't really blame him if he hadn't wanted to come; not really.

 

"He's sitting in the car in the discharge parking area so it won't get towed," Byers explained. "How do you feel this morning?"

 

"I feel great. Really great."

 

"But what did I tell you about taking it easy?" Dr. McCarthy had come in behind the Gunmen, unnoticed by the three men already in the room. "'Really great' is just what I want to hear, Mulder, but I warned you. Take it easy." He turned to the other two men in the room. "Make him take it easy."  The doctor then turned back toward Mulder and pointed at his abdomen. "May I?"

 

Mulder answered by pushing down the blankets to his hips. Frohike and Byers kept a respectful distance while the doctor examined Mulder's incision sites. When he finished he sat on the edge of the bed, and pulled a wad of papers out of his pocket. "Excellent. Okay, here's the deal. Here's a prescription for Tylenol with codeine. Don't be macho; fill it just in case. They're cheap. I hear you refused pain meds this morning?"

 

"Yeah, barely hurts at all. No problem."

 

"Nope, nope, nope, nope. While you're laying here you feel good. But you're about to get up, get dressed, get in and out of a car--need I go on? I promise you won't feel fine by the time you get back to your hotel. Take the pills." To stress his point McCarthy produced two pills out of his pocket and handed them to Mulder.

 

The agent took them, but protested. "I really hate taking pills I don't need."

 

"Have I steered you wrong yet? Trust me, you'll be glad. It's just Tylenol with a kick. Should hardly make you feel hinky at all." Mulder swallowed the pills. "Good boy. Now, here's what you can do: go back to your hotel, lie down for two days, and relax. Here's what you can't do: everything else. Get it? Particularly no lifting. Get up and move around a bit every couple of hours or so, but don't interpret that as permission to go and walk the Walk of Fame. The sightseeing will have to wait until next time. What I mean is walk around your room, go out on your balcony. If you feel up to it, sit by the pool for a bit. But if you feel tired, STOP doing whatever you are doing."

 

Mulder had to ask. "Doc, do you give this lecture to all your patients?"

 

"Some version of it, yes. But sometimes I suspect a patient needs it all spelled out for him."

 

"Someone wouldn't have helped you reach that conclusion about me, would she?"

 

McCarthy smiled. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

 

Mulder grinned, too. He'd thought so. "I don't think you have anything to worry about. Byers over there is taking notes."

 

The doctor looked over at the other two men, both of whom were trying their best to look completely oblivious to the conversation. "Think so? They don't look like the nursemaid type, but I'll take your word on that. Anyway, to continue. You'll notice that I don't have a scrip for antibiotics for you. I don't believe in it. Think they are wildly over-prescribed. There was no contamination from the appendix, you are showing absolutely no signs of infection, and we loaded you up on IV antibiotics. I had a fight with your partner on this." He grinned. "So I need you to monitor your temp every four hours. If it goes up more than a degree and doesn't go down next time you take it, get your ass back in here, understand?"

 

"Yes, sir."

 

"Okay, last things. Here's the name and number of a colleague in DC. Works out of Georgetown Medical Center. He'll take care of your follow-up. You need to see him in a week, and again a couple of weeks after that. Make an appointment as soon as you get home. You changed your flight, right?"

 

"Yeah, we leave tomorrow night. Around Nine."

 

"Coach?"

 

"Just how much do you think I make?"

 

"Gotcha. Gonna be a long, uncomfortable night. I can give you a couple of Valium, knock you right out so you sleep through the flight."

 

"No, that's alright. I'll manage."

 

"Seriously, Mulder, being folded up on one of those tiny seats won't be any fun. Let me give them to you. You don't have to take them."  He turned to Byers and Frohike. "He gets the aisle."

 

Frohike smiled wryly. "He always does."

 

The doctor stood up. "Okay, that's it, I think. Let me get you those pills, and you can get dressed and get out of here. Again, don't push yourself. Pay attention to how you're feeling, understand? Oh, and food. Take it easy on your digestive system for a week or so. Stick to easy-to-digest stuff. Soft stuff; not too much roughage, if you get my drift."

 

"Uh huh. Got it."

 

"Okay, that's it, then." The doctor stood. "It's been a pleasure--even if you never told me the deepest, darkest secrets of the FBI."

 

Mulder smiled. "Ahhh, doc, but if I told you those, I'd have to kill ya."

 

The doctor laughed. "Yeah, I'll bet. Get dressed and get the hell out of here. There are sick people who need this room."

 

"God, Langly was right," Frohike said after the man had left. "He said that guy was cool."

 

+ + + + +

 

Mulder slowly climbed out of the car and approached the hotel doors. He could only walk hunched over, like he was trying to hide something inside his jacket. His body just wouldn't go straight. The doorman looked at him oddly, but wished him good morning and held the door open. He went through, with the three Gunman close behind, and had barely entered the lobby when he heard a woman's voice addressing him.

 

"Well, you certainly look better!" Mulder looked up to see a young woman in a blue blazer smiling at him. Who the hell was she? He looked at his friends, puzzled.

 

"He is," Byers answered for him. "Thank you."

 

"Well, we're glad to have you back safely!"

 

Mulder just nodded and continued toward the elevators. Once the woman was out of earshot, he had to ask who she was.

 

"Concierge," Byers offered. "She arranged the limo to the hospital."

 

"Limo?"

 

"Yeah, Mulder. You arrived at the hospital in a white stretch! Don't you remember?"  Frohike couldn't believe that he'd forgotten that part.

 

He shook his head. No, he didn't remember. He didn't much care, either. He just wanted to lie down.

 

+ + + + +

 

Mulder had tried just about every position, and decided that on his left side, sort of in the fetal position, with a pillow in his midsection was the most comfortable. It entailed laying upside-down on the bed so he could see the TV, but that didn't matter to him. And there was football to watch. This wouldn't be so bad.

 

He was watching the third quarter of the Rams vs. Redskins at RFK Stadium back home when he drifted off. It was a blowout; the Skins were getting killed.

 

+ + + + +

 

The sound of mumbling pulled him from sleep. As he became more aware, he realized it wasn't really mumbling, but rather some people's poor attempt at whispering.

 

"He doesn't look sick."

 

"How do you know? He's asleep, dipwad."

 

"I dunno. I thought he'd be . . . bigger in person."

 

Okay, that was enough. Who the hell were these people? He opened his eyes, and saw no one. They had to be on the other side of the bed. He quickly rolled over, and immediately regretted it when he hit one of the incision sites.

 

"Ow, fuck!" He looked at the three men standing there taking him in like an exhibit in a museum. They looked a little shocked that he'd woken up, but more awed than anything else. "Who are you, and what are you doing here?"

 

The smallest of the three, a man with long stringy red hair and a sparse beard, held out his hand. "Frederick Kornhauser, Agent Mulder. Communications Director for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Alien Abductees. I must say, It is an _honor_ to meet you. Abductees who have met you say you have been nothing but respectful. . . "

 

Mulder had slowly pushed himself to a sitting position, ignoring the hand. "Save it. How'd you get in here?"

 

"Well, ummm, we came up, ummmm, Well we were with, ummm..."

 

Didn't matter. Mulder knew. "LANGLY!!!!" Oddly enough he couldn't get his normal volume, but it was loud enough, he was sure.

 

The first head to peek in the door wasn't Langly's, but rather Byers'. He was mortified by what he saw. "Oh my God Mulder. Langly must have. . . . So sorry. You fellows have to leave. Agent Mulder is ill. LANGLY!" The three men stayed planted in their spots.

 

Byers glared into the other room, and Mulder knew Langly must be approaching. He slowly stepped into the room, and addressed his friends. "Guys, I _told_ you not to come in here!"

 

One of the other two, a tall gangly man with a crewcut, answered. "Oh, come on, man. You tell us you got Fox Mulder up here but we can't see?  That's like saying you have ET in your closet. No one's gonna believe you until they see it for themselves."

 

The other one, a studious-looking guy with coke-bottle glasses concurred. "Really, Langly! What did you expect us to do? You even brought us up here and left us alone! You were asking for it!"

 

Mulder knew he should be furious, but to his surprise he was more amused than anything. Besides, he owed Langly big-time. Nevertheless, he couldn't let him get away with it. "Ummm, hello? Excuse me? I'm right here. Langly, didn't I warn you?"

 

Langly looked genuinely remorseful. "Sorry, Mulder. You were asleep, so Fro and I went down to the convention for a bit. Ran into these guys from the SPCAA, had a margarita or two, you know how it is. Oh, this is Fred, Alton, and Vega." Alton was the studious-looking one, of course, and he waved at Mulder as he was introduced. Vega--surely a pseudonym since he looked more like a "Stanley"--just nodded.

 

"Agent Mulder, now that we're both here, I would LOVE to get an interview with you for our biannual SPCAA newsletter. You're somewhat of a hero; a legend to our ranks."

 

Langly smiled proudly. "See Mulder? What'd I tell you?" Mulder was just sitting there, stunned by the gall of this man. But how to say "No" without embarrassing his friend?

 

He didn't have to; Byers stepped forward. "I'm sorry, that's out of the question. Agent Mulder is ill. He just got out of the hospital this morning. He needs his rest. You'll have to go." He was literally pushing the three men out the door.

 

"I'll leave my card on the table here, Agent Mulder! Call me!" Fred shouted as he was moved toward the door. Then there was silence until Langly returned.

 

"I didn't think they'd come in here, Mulder. Really."

 

"It's okay, Langly. Is that what I am, though? ET in the closet? Some sort of sideshow attraction?"

 

"God no, Mulder! I told you, you're legendary. There are people downstairs right now who'd probably volunteer to give you their appendixes if they heard you'd lost yours."

 

Byers had returned and was leaning against the doorjamb. "I don't know if they'd go quite that far, but he's right, Mulder. And unfortunately, I betcha that the entire convention floor will know you're here by the time those three get downstairs." Langly's eyes widened and his jaw dropped open; he clearly hadn't thought of that.

 

Mulder just lay back down. "I'm counting on you to keep the wolves at bay, boys," he sighed.  "I just don't have the energy."

 

+ + + + +

 

Mulder allowed himself to wake slowly, and checked his watch. Christ it was past nine in the morning. He'd slept most of yesterday, and half of this morning, too. Unbelievable. In less than 12 hours he'd be on his way home. Once he got there he knew he wouldn't want to see the Gunmen for a month. When Byers had tried to wake him last night at midnight to take his temperature, he knew he'd had just about as much as he could take.

 

He took a moment to assess how he was feeling. Not bad, actually. Not bad at all.  He took a deep breath. That didn't hurt. He tentatively felt his abdomen at the incision sites, pressing on them lightly. He felt a twinge, but it wasn't too bad. He realized that he felt almost normal--in a little over 24 hours. Gotta love the wonders of modern medicine. He scooted to the edge of the bed, swung his legs to the floor, tried to sit up, and discovered what he still couldn't do. When he tried to sit up straight his right side protested loudly enough to keep him hunched over. It wasn't a sharp pain, but rather a persistent ache that was bad enough to keep him bent. It was alright; he could take that. He sat there for a minute before he stood and made his way into his bathroom. As long as he stayed hunched over, he could walk almost normally. So he looked like a hunchback for a few days. He could live with that.

 

Mulder surveyed his face in the mirror. What he really wanted was a shower. What had the doctor said about showering? Anything? He didn't remember. He looked down at the three large adhesive bandages--Band-Aids, really. He'd been given replacements. If he was quick, he didn't see any reason why he couldn't shower, even if the doctor had said not to.

 

He turned on the water, shed his sweatpants, and stepped in.

 

+ + + + +

 

Virtually the moment he turned off the water Mulder heard the rap on the door.

 

"Mulder?" It was Frohike.

 

"Yeah. What Frohike."

 

"You okay?"

 

Mulder sighed exasperatedly. "Why wouldn't I be?"

 

"Well, you know. Just wanted to make sure." In his mind Mulder could see his friend fidgeting nervously. Byers had probably put him up to it.

 

"I'm totally 100% fine, Frohike. And you can tell Byers I said so. I'll be out in a minute."

 

Too much togetherness. He realized that he hadn't brought clean clothes in the bathroom, so he settled for fastening his towel around his waist and returned to his room.

 

Byers was sitting on his bed waiting for him. WAY too much togetherness. Mulder stopped in his place and rolled his eyes. "WHAT, Byers."

 

The bearded man held up his favorite instrument of late, the thermometer. "You haven't taken your temp in 12 hours, Mulder. You know what the doctor said."

 

Mulder started moving again, and walked right past his friend to his bag sitting on the luggage stand by the closet. "Get away from me with that thing."

 

"Mulder!" God, he could whine.

 

He turned quickly to face his friend, grimacing slightly at a twinge of pain. "Look, Byers, do I look like a man with a fever to you? I feel fine. Great. Get out of here, I want to get dressed." He turned back toward his bag. "What happened to those replacement bandages, though?"

 

He could hear Byers stand up quickly; alarmed. "Why? Are you bleeding?"

 

Mulder guffawed. "NO. I'm wet. I took a shower. The bandages got wet, that's all. And you know what they say, dampness is a breeding ground for infection!" He'd turned toward Byers again, and as he spoke he made clawing motions with his hands toward his friend, in an effort to convey how ludicrous he thought this whole conversation was. He stopped, though, and settled. "You worry too much. Where's the bag of stuff from the hospital. That's all I need to know."

 

Byers stood and approached his friend. "It's in the other room. I'll get it." He handed him the thermometer. "Take your temperature, or I'll call Scully. You wouldn't want me to bother her, would you?"

 

Mulder grinned. "It's Monday, Byers, and lunchtime back home. She's snuck off somewhere and left her cell phone in the desk. Been doing that a lot lately." Nevertheless, he took the thermometer and Byers left.

 

+ + + + +

 

While he still had the thermometer under his tongue--a small price to pay to keep Byers happy, he'd decided--Mulder replaced his bandages. He marvelled at how small the incisions were. The two on either side looked like they were only three stitches. Maybe four. The one in the middle was maybe five. No wonder he didn't feel bad. He could even button the top of his jeans without concern about disturbing the incisions.

 

He wasn't sure if the four minutes were up, but it was close enough. He pulled the glass tube from his mouth and read it. Totally normal. Thank God. He hadn't even put a shirt on yet, but he got up and walked out into the sitting room.

 

"Hey Quasimodo!"

 

Mulder looked over to shoot a glare at Frohike, who was smiling at his own joke. The half-dressed man continued on his path until he was standing in front of a seated Byers. He held out the thermometer, and when Byers reached out to take it, petulance got the better of the FBI agent, and he dropped it in his friend's lap. "Normal, mom." He turned and headed back to his room. "I'm gonna finish getting dressed. Did anyone order any breakfast? I'm starved."

 

It only took him a minute, and when he returned Frohike was on the phone with room service. He covered the mouthpiece with his hand. "What do you want?" he asked Mulder.

 

"I dunno. How about a Western Omelet, some hash browns?"

 

Byers interjected. "Make it a plain omelet, and toast instead of hash browns." He looked at Mulder. "The doctor said to take it easy on your stomach, remember?"

 

"Byers, you have GOT to stop this. You're worse than Scully, and that's saying a lot." Nevertheless, he heard Frohike giving Byers' order over the phone. He sat on one end of a sofa, flipping his feet up onto it, and leaning his left side against the arm. It was a position that allowed him to remain somewhat bent at the middle, but still looked somewhat natural. "Where's Langly?"

 

"He met some of our contacts for breakfast before they went home."

 

Mulder loved how Frohike talked sometimes. They didn't have friends, they had 'contacts.'  He nodded. "How'd it go last night after I went to bed? Any more barbarians at the gate?" Three times during the course of yesterday evening conventioneers had knocked on the door with some lame excuse or another. Seemed Mulder was the big attraction at the meeting, and he wasn't even in attendance. Mulder didn't know if he should be flattered or terrified. A little of both, probably.

 

"Naw. Langly and I went down to the farewell cocktail party and guarded the door so no one could escape up here." Figured Byers hadn't gone. He'd been too busy guarding the patient. The phone rang, and there was an extension right next to him, so Mulder grabbed it in the middle of the first ring. He knew who it was.

 

"Beverly Hilton. Convalescent Suite."

 

"You sound chipper this morning, Mulder."

 

"It's a fine morning in the City of Angels, Scully." He looked at his watch. "You on your lunch hour?"

 

"Uh huh. I'm sitting in your chair with my feet on your desk at this very moment. But I'm not as good at flipping pencils in the ceiling tiles as you are. How do you feel?" Everyone's a comedian all of a sudden.

 

"Chipper."

 

"Come on, Mulder."

 

"Seriously, Scully, I feel fine. I feel great. Hey Frohike, don't I look good?" He held the phone out so if Fro yelled, Scully would hear.

 

"You're looking damn fine for a Quasimodo!" Mulder mouthed the word 'bastard' at his friend, making Frohike smile mischievously, and put the phone back to his ear.

 

"Can't straighten up, huh?"

 

"It's not that it hurts, Scully, I just won't go straight at the moment."

 

"That's normal, Mulder. Any redness at the incisions? Fever?"

 

Mulder went for outside confirmation again. "Any fever, Byers?" Byers just glared at him, but didn't answer, so Mulder did. "98.6, Scully."

 

"That's good. Hey, I'm gonna pick you up at the airport."

 

"You don't have to do that. It's gonna be some ungodly hour, isn't it? Six, Seven in the morning? And my car is in long-term."

 

"You're on driving restrictions for at least a week, Mulder. You can't drive yourself. I'll pick you up, and the guys can take your car home and return it to you later in the week."

 

Mulder saw the method to her madness. "Which, of course, will make sure I don't go driving when I'm not supposed to."

 

"Unanticipated bonus, Mulder. No, I just want to see you, and make sure you're settled."

 

"Scully, Have you ever considered dating Byers? You'd be perfect for each other. You're both mother" he suddenly cut off his sentence when he heard Scully speaking to someone in the office.

 

"Yes sir? Yes, I'm speaking to Agent Mulder now sir." Then she was speaking to him again. "AD Kersh is requesting an update on your condition, Mulder."

 

"Is he? Tell him I didn't know he cared."

 

Again Scully addressed their boss. Mulder could tell that she purposefully was not covering the mouthpiece; she wanted him to hear what she was saying. "He says he's feeling much better, sir, and thanks you for your concern."

 

Mulder almost laughed. "His bullshit meter is going off, Scully."

 

She was ignoring him. "Generally home recuperation is a week, sir. But Agent Mulder may require a little more time because he needs to fly home. But he should be back in the office some time next week, I'd say. And able to return to the field in three or four weeks."

 

Mulder snorted again. "Just what he needs, Scully, a medical excuse to keep me tied to that desk even longer!"

 

Kersh was apparently gone, and Scully's attention had returned to her partner. "Shut UP, Mulder, Geez!"

 

"ME? He 'thanks you for your concern?' What kind of crap is that? He knows I'd never say that."

 

"It's called being diplomatic, Mulder. Try it some time."

 

Byers was heading toward the door. "I gotta go, Scully. Breakfast is here."

 

"Bland food for a while, Mulder."

 

"That's it. Scully. When we get home I'm settin' you up with Byers. You're a pair of mother hens. See you tomorrow." He hung up.

 

+ + + + +

 

Mulder was bored out of his mind. The thirty minutes he'd spent eating breakfast with the guys was enough for him. He'd feigned fatigue and retired to his room again just to get away from them. But the fact of the matter, too, was that lying down was more comfortable than sitting up. But he didn't want them to know that. He'd run through the gamut of cable channels, and was appalled by what he saw. Talk shows. Nothing but clawing talking heads. And ESPN was showing workout shows; he couldn't even find Sportscenter. He tried Rosie O'Donnell, and tired immediately of the way she fawned over her overpaid, over-coifed celebrity guests; he flipped over to CNN and managed to watch an hour of news before desperation sent him back out into the sitting room.

 

The room was empty, to his surprise. He half-expected to find Byers sitting outside his room with thermometer in-hand. He wondered where they were for a second, but then realized his good fortune. He was on his own, able to do anything. The first thing he decided to do was raid the fridge. He was thirsty. His attention was on the beautiful day he could see through the doors to the balcony, so he didn't see Frohike bent over behind the bar, foraging through the snacks.

 

Frohike didn't see him, either, and just as Mulder came around the bend he stood quickly, his elbow making solid contact with Mulder's midsection. The surprise and sudden sharp pain took the agent by surprise, and he stumbled backward. He was unable to keep his balance, and the next thing he knew, he was landing on his butt on the floor, with both hands protectively around his midsection.

 

"Oh my God, Mulder! Are you okay?" Frohike was on his knees by his friend's side in an instant.

 

"Yeah," Mulder almost gasped it. He was out of breath--whether from the blow, the pain, or the surprise, he wasn't sure. "I'm okay. Fuck, that hurt."

 

"Oh, Christ, Mulder. I didn't see you."

 

Mulder was getting his breath back. It must have just been the surprise. "S'alright, Frohike. No harm done. Help me up, though?" Frohike stood and offered a hand, which Mulder took and they stood him up.

 

As he was rising, Langly entered from his room. "What the hell?"

 

"It's nothing, I'm fine." Mulder was gingerly pressing on his incisions through his tee shirt to be sure.

 

"You fall down, Mulder?"

 

Mulder looked at Frohike with a grin. "Not exactly. Forget about it. It's okay."

 

Frohike didn't look convinced. "Are you sure?"

 

"ForGET about it Frohike, okay?" He was trying to let Fro off the hook, to let it be their little secret. All he needed was for his short friend to take the offer.

 

"I accidentally elbowed him in the gut." Mulder rolled his eyes. The idiot.

 

"You what?" Langly approached quickly, alarmed.

 

Mulder carefully slid himself onto a barstool, the nearest seat available. He silently thanked God he was tall enough that he didn't have to hoist himself up to sit on it.  "Look, it was an accident, and I'm fine. See?" He lifted his tee shirt to show them his midsection, so they could see for themselves that no harm was done. Except he saw both men look at his stomach then look at each other. Finally Frohike spoke.

 

"Ummm, Mulder? You're bleeding." The look on his face was one of pure contrition. Mulder looked down at himself and sure enough, the middle bandage showed a spot of blood in the middle. Fuck.

 

"It's alright, I'm sure. Probably just knocked a stitch out of whack. I feel fine. Doesn't even hurt."

 

"Mulderrrr!" Langly was using a paternalistic tone that he'd managed to keep hidden so far during this ordeal. Mulder didn't appreciate it.

 

"What?"

 

"You forget? I was on this ride with you, remember? Blood ain't good. I'm calling the good doctor."

 

"For a drop of blood? Are you kidding? I've had worse than this and you guys know it. And I know this is nothing to worry about."

 

Langly peered at him disapprovingly through his glasses. "Uh uh. Sorry, not buying it. If it's nothing to worry about, let HIM tell us that."

 

Mulder rolled his eyes and slid off the stool. "He's gonna tell you you're overreacting, but tell him I said hello." He went back to his room, making sure his movement was as fluid and effortless as it had been before.

 

Once back on his bed he peeled off a corner of the bandage and had a look. It was bleeding alright. But it would surely stop in a minute.

 

+ + + + +

 

Mulder was on his 10th pass through the 98 channels offered free by the hotel when there was a knock on his door. He we go, he thought.

 

"Yeah."

 

Byers stuck his head in. It had taken him long enough to get in on this latest drama. "How are you feeling?"

 

"Absolutely and totally FINE, Byers. It's nothing. I promise you."

 

He dared to step inside. "I don't know, Mulder."

 

"What did the doctor say? I presume nothing, since you haven't tied me up and dragged me back to the hospital yet."

 

"Well, no, not exactly. He did say it's probably nothing to worry about, that you're probably right, just a tug on a stitch or two. But he wants someone to take a look at it."

 

Mulder sighed. "I'm not going back to the hospital, Byers."

 

"No, Nick didn't think that would be necessary." Christ, everyone was calling the guy Nick now. "He suggested, ummm, he thought,"

 

"No, Byers, I'm not letting you play doctor again. I'll look at it myself first."

 

Byers smiled, almost relieved. "No, no, not me. And you can't see yourself. No, Dr. Ashman is on his way up. You remember him?"

 

"You mean the guy who told me I had a _stomach_bug_?"

 

"Yeah. him. But you know, Mulder, the symptoms are the same. You can't blame him."

 

"I don't blame him, Byers. I blame YOU. He was one doctor more than I needed, and you're the one who got him involved in the first place."

 

"Look, Mulder, I was just trying to help."

 

Mulder hadn't meant to make his friend defensive. "I know, Byers. I'm just sick of being poked and prodded, okay?" They both heard the doorbell ring. "And yet, here we go again."

 

"Sorry, Mulder." His friend meant it; Mulder could tell. He was about to verbally let him off the hook when the doctor appeared in the doorway.

 

"Mr. Mulder. Pleasure to see you again."

 

"No offense, doc, but the pleasure's all yours."

 

The doctor chuckled and entered the room. "So I understand you've had an eventful weekend!"

 

Mulder looked at him warily. "Yeah, that 'stomach bug' of yours packed quite a wallop."

 

The doctor just smiled. "If memory serves, it was *our* stomach bug, Mr. Mulder. You sold that diagnosis with everything you had. And early appendicitis symptoms masquerade as stomach flu all the time. Nothing to be done about it." The doctor had taken a seat on the side of the bed. "So, I hear you've had a mishap?"

 

It was Mulder's turn to chuckle. "That's one way of putting it. Someone mishapped upon me, actually. But it's nothing."

 

"Like your stomach bug was nothing? Better let me take a look, don't you think?"

 

Mulder just leaned back against his pillows and pulled up his tee shirt silently, showing the doctor the three bandages. "Just the middle one?"

 

"Yeah. That's where I was elbowed. The other two are fine. Actually, the middle one is fine, too."

 

The doctor donned latex gloves and carefully removed the bandage. He examined the blood on the pad of the bandage before discarding it, then he peered at the incision. After a second he was pulling open a package from his bag. "I need to clean it to get a good look. This is gonna sting a bit." He proceeded to wipe the blood off the area with the pad in his hand. It was wet, and it hurt like hell, making Mulder gasp.

 

"Christ! What is that?"

 

"Antiseptic, that's all." He finished and discarded the pad, and peered at the site again. He went back to his bag and came up with a flashlight and a pair of very sharp, pointy tweezers. He got in extremely close--too close for Mulder's taste--and proceeded to examine every stitch closely. Finally he sat up.

 

"Looks like you tore a stitch, but only one. And I don't see any damage below the surface. Whoever did this does great work. Probably twice as many stitches as you actually needed, so popping one shouldn't cause you any damage at all. And since the bleeding's stopped, a new bandage and I'll be out of your way." He peeled the adhesive off a bandage and applied it over the stitches. "There, my work here is done. Take it easy, and try not to get that wet for a day at least. Give it a chance to heal up some, okay?"

 

The doctor stood, and Mulder sat up as straight as he could manage. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and started to stand, but the doctor put his hand on his patient's shoulder and kept him seated. "Don't get up on my account. Take care of yourself." He patted Mulder on the shoulder slightly and left the room before Mulder had a chance to say thank you.

 

Once he was gone Mulder looked pointedly at Byers. "Is this where I finally get to say 'I told you so?'"

 

+ + + + +

 

Mulder could hear Byers' frantic tone from his room: "Langly, come ON! We're going to be late!" It was true that you learned a lot about someone by travelling with them. Byers was too uptight, too nervous. Nevertheless, he figured he could do his part to ease the guy's mind; he hoisted his duffel bag onto his shoulder and carried it out into the sitting room. He was packed and ready to go.

 

"Mulder, what are you DOING?" Mulder stopped in his tracks and looked at Byers, thoroughly confused. He watched as the man rushed him and pulled his bag off his shoulder. Suddenly he understood.

 

"For God's sake, Byers! I'm fine!"

 

"He said no lifting!" Byers took the bag and deposited it by the door. "Take a seat. We're almost ready to go."

 

Mulder sullenly deposited himself onto a barstool and made a mental note to never ever travel with Byers again.

 

+ + + + +

 

Mulder tried to surreptitiously look at his watch. They were trapped in traffic, and with every passing moment they looked more and more likely to miss their flight. Byers, he knew, was probably flipping out, but to his credit he was keeping it to himself. Instead he turned around to look at Mulder.

 

"Did you take those Valium the doctor gave you, Mulder?"

 

Oh brother. "No, Byers."

 

"Are you sure that's wise?"

 

"They were optional, remember? For the ten millionth time: I was fine, I have been fine, I am fine, I will be fine."

 

He could see Byers assessing him skeptically. "Are you sure?"

 

Mulder sighed. "You are trying my patience, Byers."

 

Frohike was sitting next to Mulder in the back, and he decided to stick up for him. "Leave him alone Byers, will you? Cut the guy a break." Mulder looked across the seat to deliver a silent 'thank you,' but obviously Byers wasn't quite ready to let it go.

 

 

"What about Tylenol? Did you take the Tylenol?"

 

"Byers, look. It's none of your business if I did. If I didn't, I'll suffer, and it will be no one's fault but my own. Understand? I haven't been hovered-over like this since I was twelve. Give it a rest, will you?"

 

Chastised, Byers turned his attention back to the traffic in front of them. Mulder looked over and saw a broad smile on Frohike's face. He was glad someone was enjoying this.

 

+ + + + +

 

If not for curbside dropoff for their rental, they'd be goners. And thank God none of them had any bags to check. The porter at the curb gave them their gate and told them if they ran for it, they'd probably make it. Byers steadfastly refused to let Mulder carry his own bag, so he was lagging behind carrying two as the four raced through the labyrinthine building.

 

For his part, Mulder started out in the lead. Even two days after surgery, there was no way he was gonna let this bunch outrun him. He figured he had them good--until the cramping started. The first one was small and on the right side, feeling just like the little stitch in his side that he sometimes felt while out running. He ignored it and kept going. They still had a long way to go.

 

The second one was worse, so much so that it caused a hitch in his step. He heard someone behind him ask "Mulder?" but he didn't know which one it was, and he wasn't going to acknowledge it anyway.  They weren't even halfway there, he knew, and he was already getting out of breath.

 

'If you feel tired, STOP doing whatever you're doing,' he remembered Dr. McCarthy saying to him. Well, that just wasn't an option. He wrapped his left arm across his abdomen to give support to his right side, and kept going.

 

"Mulder, you okay?" Christ, Frohike had caught up with him. Was he going that slowly? He looked at his friend, and started to say something, but instead found himself gasping for breath.

 

"Whoa, whoa, STOP, Mulder!" Frohike reached out and grabbed Mulder's right arm. It didn't take much force to make him stop in his tracks, and he doubled over, panting. He looked up and saw Byers and Langly catching up. Langly now had Mulder's duffel, and they were sharing the weight of Langly's bag between the two of them, each with a handle. Like a couple of girls would do it, Mulder realized.

 

"What's the matter?" They'd arrived.

 

"He can't go any further, Langly--look at him." Mulder felt Frohike's hand on his shoulder blade, but he didn't care. They were gonna miss the fucking plane, and it was his fault.

 

"So what are we gonna do? Can you walk, Mulder? Maybe two of us can run ahead and make them hold the plane?"

 

"They won't. . ." Mulder was still breathing hard ". . . .hold a plane. This I know from experience. Fuck!"

 

"Well, it's worth a try. Langly, leave your bag and run for it. Tell them what's going on."

 

Langly took off, and Mulder stood up as straight as he could. "Okay, let's go. I'll be able to run for it again in a second. Just give me a second. Now there's four bags and two of you. I'm carrying something."

 

Byers looked at him incredulously. "Are you kidding? You almost collapsed right here in the terminal! We'll WALK, and Frohike and I will carry the bags."

 

Mulder lacked the energy to protest, and his side was still complaining loudly. He stuck his hand in his pocket, and was relieved to find the blister packet of Valiums there. He might be needing them after all.

And the Tylenol, he knew, was in the zipper pocket on the outside of his bag. Suddenly the prospect of oblivion for the duration of the flight was a welcome one.

 

"Hey! Yo! Stop!" Mulder was pulled from his thoughts by Frohike, flagging down a golf cart coming toward them. "Look, man, we're about to miss our flight, and our friend here has been really sick and can't run for it--show him your surgery scars, Mulder." Mulder just glared at him. "Anyway, can you give us a lift?"

 

The boy driving the cart smiled. "Yeah, sure. What gate?"

 

"77" Frohike said as he threw his two bags on the cart and climbed on.

 

"77? I'm sorry, I can't. That's an American Airlines gate."

 

"Yeah, so?"

 

"I work for United." To stress his point the kid pointed to the United logos plastered all over the cart.

 

"So what? So don't drive us as an employee of United, drive us as a human being, for chrissakes! I'm not pulling one over on you here. Seriously, he had surgery two days ago!" Frohike turned to Mulder again. "Seriously, Mulder, show him the bandage!"

 

"We're wasting time," Mulder said, and he started walking away. He heard Byers get involved in the negotiation, but he just kept going. Idiots.

 

But he hadn't gone ten yards when the kid pulled up alongside. "Hop in."

 

Mulder took the seat next to the kid and inwardly breathed a sigh of relief. "So what'd they pay you?" he asked with a smile. The kid smiled back but said nothing.

 

Mulder stuck his hand in his pocket, popped the two pills from their protective covering, and surreptitiously brought them to his mouth, where he swallowed them dry.

 

+ + + + +

 

When they arrived at the gate Langly was pacing back and forth in front of the door to the breezeway. The attendant there was incredibly agitated, but the door was still open. They'd made it.

 

When they got to their seats the other passengers were glaring at them. Had Langly gotten them to hold the plane, Mulder wondered? He watched Byers hoist his duffel into the overhead compartment along with his own, and take the window seat. Frohike sat in the middle. Before he sat, Mulder thought he should get those pain pills. He reached up to open the compartment again, and the pulling the motion caused in his abdominal muscles made him wince noticeably.

 

"What do you want, Mulder? I'll get it." Langly was behind him, waiting for his turn to take his seat across the aisle from Mulder.

 

Mulder took his arms down painfully. "My pills. In the pocket on the end. Thanks."  He sank gratefully into his seat. Langly got the pills and dropped them into his friend's lap. The exchange was not lost on Byers.

 

"I think we should call Scully."

 

Mulder looked over at his overprotective friend. "You so much as touch that phone, Byers, and I swear I'll kill you. Frohike, help me out here. What are the magic words?"

 

Frohike looked at Mulder for a moment, puzzled; then he realized, and turned to the man on his left. "He's fine, Byers."

 

Mulder popped two pain pills, put the bottle in his pocket, and braced himself for takeoff. As soon as they were airborne he reclined his seat slightly, and closed his eyes. He could feel the Valium taking effect already, and a not uncomfortable heaviness was overcoming him. He let it, and was asleep before the flight attendants had even started their first pass with the drink cart.

 

+ + + + +

 

"Mulder? Mulder wake up. We're landing." Frohike was poking him, and it took a moment, but Mulder finally regained his senses. He felt a dampness on his chin and reached up. He'd been drooling in his sleep.

 

"Yeah? What?"

 

"We're landing, Mulder. You slept the whole damn flight." Frohike leaned in so he could whisper. "You took those Valium, didn't you."

 

"Huh? Uh, yeah." Mulder wasn't coherent enough to lie. "We're home?"

 

"Almost, my friend. You gotta sit your seat up now."

 

Mulder did, and concentrated on regaining his bearings as the plane touched down. Just as it did, Frohike leaned over again. "We're just gonna sit here until everyone else gets off, okay?" Truth was, it was fine with him.

 

+ + + + +

 

There weren't many people waiting in the arrivals area--a 6am arrival meant most travelers were on business--so Mulder saw Scully immediately. Her face broke into a warm smile when her eyes met his, and he returned it. As he got closer to her he realized with humor that his hunched posture was going to make it much easier to hug her. God, he was glad to see her.

 

He opened his arms and enveloped her, and could feel her apprehension about returning the embrace. She let her arms circle his waist, but she didn't squeeze, which Mulder realized disappointed him. Nevertheless, he placed his mouth close to her ear and whispered.

 

"Scully, save me. Get me away from those three."

 

Scully laughed into his shoulder and looked at the Gunmen, standing behind their friend. She broke away and stood back, as if to survey her partner. "You don't look too bad, Mulder. How do you feel?"

 

"Like I want to go home."

 

She smiled at the nonanswer. She was used to it. "That's why I'm here. Your chariot awaits outside." She made a sweeping gesture toward where Mulder knew the curb was.

 

"Agent Scully, you didn't pull rank and leave your car in the dropoff area, did you?" He waggled his eyebrows at her for emphasis.

 

"Nope. Come on, you'll see." They started to walk away, when a voice stopped them.

 

"Umm, Agent Scully?" It was Byers. And Mulder knew what was coming. "Maybe you should get a wheelchair or a cart or something for Mulder. He practically collapsed on our way to the plane at LAX."

 

Mulder rolled his eyes and sighed loudly, and Scully just looked at him quizzically. "Mulder?"

 

"You know that airport, Scully. LAX is huge. And we had six minutes to get to our plane. I overdid it a little, that's all. I'm okay. Really." He looked at her as earnestly as he could. He was sure he'd be okay.

 

She studied him for a minute. "You do look tired, Mulder."

 

"I just woke up from a drug-induced stupor, Scully, that's all." He crossed his heart with two fingers from his right hand and raised them up. "Scout's honor."

 

Scully didn't look wholly convinced, but she started walking anyway. "I thought you said you were an Indian Guide."

 

They walked at a leisurely pace, and finally arrived at the curb. There was a white limo and a bunch of cabs. 'My chariot is a cab?' Mulder thought.

 

"Hop in, Mulder."

 

Mulder again surveyed the scene. "In where?"

 

"Right there!" Scully pointed, and Mulder followed her finger--to the stretch limo.

 

"Huh?" He was confused.

 

Scully looked at him, disappointed that her surprise was not having the desired effect. The Gunmen had come up beside them, and Frohike spoke.

 

"He doesn't remember that part at all, Scully," he said kindly. "We had to remind him."

 

That was all it took to jog Mulder's memory, and he started to chuckle. "The white stretch. Right. Scully, you shouldn't have."

 

Scully smiled again, relieved that she hadn't had to explain. "I figure you deserved a fun ride in one of these. Get in."

 

Mulder turned toward the Gunmen and tossed them his car keys. "I know what my mileage is, so watch it," he admonished. "And I want it back tomorrow."

 

Langly caught the keys. "We'll get it back to you when you are cleared to drive, Mulder." He was speaking to Scully more than Mulder, and the male agent noticed.

 

"Hey wait a minute. Whose side are you on here?"

 

Langly smiled. "Yours, of course. Always yours, Mulder."

 

"Funny way of showing it." He'd approached the car, and the driver had opened the door in anticipation of him climbing in. But before he did he turned back to his three friends. "Thanks again, guys. Sorry things didn't turn out as planned."

 

Frohike dismissed that with a wave of his hand. "Forget it. We're just glad you're okay. We'll keep in touch."

 

Mulder and Scully watched them return to the terminal to catch the shuttle to the parking lot, and then they climbed into the limo.

 

Mulder looked around chuckled. "Christ, I feel like I'm going to the prom. Wanna be my date, Scully?"

 

"Only if you promise to be a gentleman, Mulder."

 

"ME? Always." He settled back into the plush seat and sighed. "Scully?"

 

"Yes, Mulder?"

 

"Can this thing take me home? It's been a long weekend."

 

THE END



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