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                                    The next morning found Mulder unable to sit up due to 
                                    weakness and increased stomach pain.  Wilson had 
                                    roused them before the sun came up, bringing their 
                                    breakfast consisting of a thermos of coffee and a bag 
                                    of stale donuts.
                                    
                                    "You enjoy that now.  Boys, I'll be back for you in a 
                                    few minutes."  He turned and shut the door, locking 
                                    it as he left.
                                    
                                    "How many donuts are there?" Zach asked, hoping he 
                                    would get more than one.
                                    
                                    Tyler counted them twice.  "We've got eight!" he 
                                    announced, excitement evident in his voice.  They 
                                    weren't used to getting breakfast.
                                    
                                    "You can split Mulder's and one of mine," Scully 
                                    offered.
                                    
                                    "Awesome!"  Zach crowded in to get his allotment
                                    
                                    "Take it easy, Zach.  No one's going to take your 
                                    share," Tyler admonished.
                                    
                                    "Just makin' sure I get what I deserve."
                                    
                                    Tyler muttered something under his breath.
                                    
                                    "What did you say?" Zach demanded.
                                    
                                    "I was just about to tell you what you really 
                                    deserve."
                                    
                                    "And just what would that be?"  Zack angrily turned 
                                    to him, a menacing look in his eyes.
                                    
                                    "Hey, guys!  Knock it off!" Scully yelled, pushing 
                                    her way in between them.  "If you want to get out of 
                                    here you'll need to cooperate . . .with each other!"
                                    
                                    The two young men faced each other, anger still 
                                    evident in their expressions.  Finally, Tyler backed 
                                    down.  "Sorry, man, I guess this situation is getting 
                                    to me."
                                    
                                    "Same here," Zach agreed.  "Agent Scully is right.  
                                    We need to work together.  Who knows what these guys 
                                    have planned for when they've finished.  We need to 
                                    keep our wits about us."
                                    
                                    "Then, let's chow down so we can get to work.  Maybe 
                                    we can get out of here tonight."
                                    
                                    Once the young men got their donuts and coffee, 
                                    Scully fixed herself a cup of coffee and grabbed a 
                                    donut for herself.  She sat down beside Mulder who 
                                    had been watching the entire scene.  He looked even 
                                    worse than before.
                                    
                                    "You would make a good high school principal," he 
                                    observed.
                                    
                                    "What makes you say that?"
                                    
                                    "Oh, the way you got right in there and didn't back 
                                    down.  Your mere presence resolved what could have 
                                    been a tricky situation."
                                    
                                    "I'll keep that in mind for my next incarnation," 
                                    Scully chuckled.  "How about drinking a sip of water 
                                    for me?"
                                    
                                    "Don't think so," he refused.
                                    
                                    "You need to try.  Please?  For me?"
                                    
                                    "You're not playing fair, Scully," Mulder complained, 
                                    trying to sit up.
                                    
                                    Scully put her coffee and donut down and helped her 
                                    partner get comfortable.  "Why am I not playing 
                                    fair?"
                                    
                                    "You know that I can't turn down any request from 
                                    you."
                                    
                                    "Mulder, you are so full of it," she laughed 
                                    searching for the water bottle.
                                    
                                    "Name the last request I turned down."
                                    
                                    "I seem to remember asking you to drink some water 
                                    several times during the night.  Is that enough or do 
                                    you want me to start on the previous day?"
                                    
                                    "I was thinking of other requests, you know?  The 
                                    ones that don't concern water."
                                    
                                    "Sorry, you didn't specify that."  She handed him the 
                                    water bottle.  "Two sips nice and slow."
                                    
                                    "Here goes nothing," he sighed and took a short sip.  
                                    After waiting a few minutes he took another swig and 
                                    handed the bottle back.  "I'm gonna lie down for a 
                                    bit before my stomach reverses itself again."
                                    
                                    Tyler and Zach finished their breakfast.  "We're 
                                    going to spread this tarp out on the floor.  You and 
                                    Agent Mulder can use it as a barrier between your 
                                    bodies and the floor.  Maybe it will take some of the 
                                    chill out."
                                    
                                    "Good idea.  Thanks guys."
                                    
                                    No sooner had they spread the tarp out, the door 
                                    opened revealing both brothers, each with a gun 
                                    pointed at their captives.
                                    
                                    "All right college boys, haul your asses out here.  
                                    If you work extra hard today you might be home by 
                                    tomorrow," Wilson told them.
                                    
                                    When they reached the door Wilson allowed them to 
                                    pass.  He pointed his shotgun at their backs and 
                                    ordered them to hurry.  Wayne put his hand on the 
                                    door handle to shut it then paused.  "How is Mr. 
                                    F.B.I. today?"
                                    
                                    "He's worse.  He needs to be in a hospital."
                                    
                                    "If those two college boys work hard we'll be out of 
                                    here tonight.  We'll call somebody to come and get 
                                    you."
                                    
                                    "He might not have that much time."
                                    
                                    "Well, all I can tell you is that he'd better hang 
                                    on."  With that Wayne shut the door and locked it.
                                    
                                    "I'm gonna make it, Scully," Mulder promised.  "Just 
                                    so I can catch those two idiots and put them behind 
                                    bars."
                                    
                                    "And I'll be right beside you making sure their cuffs 
                                    are extra tight," Scully vowed with a grin.  "Let's 
                                    get you moved onto the tarp.  Can you help?"
                                    
                                    "Yeah," he answered summoning all his strength to 
                                    push up on his elbows.
                                    
                                    Scully finally had to drag him onto the tarp when his 
                                    strength gave out.  "Mulder, you still with me?"
                                    
                                    "Uh-huh," he answered shakily.  "Cold."
                                    
                                    "I need to check your temperature again.  Can you 
                                    hold the thermometer under your tongue?"
                                    
                                    "Yeah."
                                    
                                    Scully positioned the thermometer and waited for it 
                                    to beep.  When it signaled its completion she removed 
                                    it, clicking on the flashlight so she could see.  
                                    "102.6," she announced.  "Do you think you could get 
                                    some aspirin down?"
                                    
                                    "Yeah, I think so.  Stomach hurts but I don't feel 
                                    like throwing up right this minute."
                                    
                                    "Good.  If you can keep them down you should start to 
                                    feel a little better."
                                    
                                    "How much better?"
                                    
                                    "It should bring your temp down a bit.  I can't 
                                    promise any more than that."
                                    
                                    "How will you treat this, whatever it is that's 
                                    making me sick?"
                                    
                                    "It depends on what's causing it.  You'll have to 
                                    have some diagnostic tests."
                                    
                                    "Like what?"
                                    
                                    "Blood work, CT scan, ultra scan, maybe a biopsy."
                                    
                                    "Can't wait," he said sarcastically.
                                    
                                    "You'll need an IV to replenish your fluids and maybe 
                                    an NG tube."
                                    
                                    "Sorry I asked," he groaned.  "I hate those things."
                                    
                                    "I know that they're unpleasant, but if you can't 
                                    stop vomiting it'll help.  Let me find that aspirin."
                                    
                                    She searched through her kit and quickly found them.  
                                    In the space of time that she turned away from 
                                    Mulder, he took a turn for the worse.
                                    
                                    "No aspirin!  I'm gonna puke again."
                                    
                                    Scully began to worry as the dry heaves continued for 
                                    an alarming amount of time.  He finally collapsed, 
                                    barely conscious.
                                    
                                    "Mulder, I'm so sorry.  I'm going to give you another 
                                    injection and from here on out I won't ask you to 
                                    drink any more water."
                                    
                                    "Thanks," he managed, unable to even open his eyes.  
                                    "Gotta rest."
                                    
                                    "You do that."
                                    
                                    He was out completely by the time she had the 
                                    injection ready.  She administered it and pulled him 
                                    back to her lap.  She smoothed the sweat-dampened 
                                    hair back from his forehead and prayed that help 
                                    would arrive in time.
                                    
                                    Mulder moaned and tried to shift his position.
                                    
                                    "Take it easy, partner.  You're going to be okay."
                                    
                                    "Don't think so.  Hurt so bad and feel so sick, I 
                                    think I'm going to die."
                                    
                                    Scully tried to swallow the lump that was stuck in 
                                    her throat.  "Shh!  Stop talking like that!  You're 
                                    very ill but you're going to pull through this.  
                                    You're going to feel like hell for a few days but you 
                                    will get over this."
                                    
                                    "Just hold me."
                                    
                                    Scully pulled him up until he was in her arms.  
                                    "Anytime, Mulder," she whispered, kissing him softly 
                                    on his right check, then his lips.
                                    
                                    "Now, I know I'm dying.  You never did that before."
                                    
                                    "You're not dying and I've wanted to do that for a 
                                    long time.  You hang in there so I can do it some 
                                    more."
                                    
                                    "I'll try," he sighed.  "Want more kisses."
                                    
                                    "When you get better we might try something more 
                                    advanced than kissing. Okay?"
                                    
                                    Mulder managed to open his eyes.  "Promise?"
                                    
                                    "Promise."
                                    
                                    He closed his eyes again.  "Gotta rest, build my 
                                    strength up."
                                    
                                    "You do that," she smiled placing another kiss on his 
                                    fevered forehead.
                                    
                                    Around 1 PM the boys were shoved unceremoniously back 
                                    into the shed, their meal thrown in behind them.
                                    
                                    "Lunch time already?"
                                    
                                    "Yeah, if that's what you want to call it," Tyler 
                                    answered as Zach began pulling out what passed for 
                                    sandwiches.  "He's worse isn't he?" he asked nodding 
                                    toward Mulder's lifeless form.
                                    
                                    "Yes, he is.  He's been unconscious for the past two 
                                    hours.  I was sincerely hoping that the sheriff might 
                                    have found us by now," Scully sighed.
                                    
                                    "Oh, come on!  That stupid sheriff is doing well to 
                                    find his way to his car every morning!" Zach 
                                    exploded.  "We've been missing for two weeks and he 
                                    hasn't found us.  For Pete's sake!  We're only a few 
                                    miles from where we started out!"
                                    
                                    "Zach, that's enough!" Tyler exclaimed.  "I'm sorry 
                                    Agent Scully.  Look, it's not going to take us much 
                                    longer to finish with that field.  Another couple of 
                                    hours, tops.  If these guys do what they've said we 
                                    could be out of here by tonight.  Don't give up."
                                    
                                    "I haven't given up, Tyler," she sighed.  "Mulder 
                                    needs medical intervention now.  His vital signs are 
                                    beginning to de-stabilize.  He doesn't have much time 
                                    left."
                                    
                                    "Wow, Agent Scully, I didn't realize it was so 
                                    serious.  Zach and I will just have to work twice as 
                                    fast."
                                    
                                    "Shut-up!" Zach yelled.
                                    
                                    "What are you yelling about?"
                                    
                                    "Shh!  I hear something."
                                    
                                    Scully and Tyler stopped talking and joined Zach in 
                                    listening for the slightest sound.
                                    
                                    "It's a helicopter!" Scully shouted.
                                    
                                    As they continued to listen the helicopter came 
                                    closer, then moved away again.
                                    
                                    "Damn it!" Scully cried in frustration.
                                    
                                    Outside Wayne and Wilson began to run for their 
                                    truck.  "Let's get out of here!"
                                    
                                    "What about the kids and the F.B.I. agents?" Wayne 
                                    asked as he climbed into the driver's seat.
                                    
                                    "They'll find them, eventually.  Who cares?" Wilson 
                                    assured him.  "Now, get us out of here before they 
                                    find us too!"
                                    
                                    As soon as Wilson slammed his door Wayne floored the 
                                    gas pedal and took off, leaving a cloud of dust in 
                                    their wake.
                                    
                                    "They're gone!" Zach exclaimed, "Tyler, help me knock 
                                    this door down."
                                    
                                    As the young men began trying to kick the door down, 
                                    the sound of the helicopter was heard again, sending 
                                    them into a frenzy.  The poorly made door was soon 
                                    hanging crookedly from one hinge.
                                    
                                    Tyler and Zach pulled it off and ran outside, yelling 
                                    and waving, trying to get the helicopter's attention.
                                    
                                    Scully gave silent thanks as the sound grew louder, 
                                    then hovered mercifully directly overhead.
                                    
                                    
University of Kentucky Medical
                                    Center-Lexington, 
                                    Kentucky
                                    
                                    "Agent Scully," Sheriff Chambers greeted her, taking 
                                    a seat beside her.  "Any word on Agent Mulder yet?"
                                    
                                    "They've got him stabilized and now they're running 
                                    some diagnostic tests."
                                    
                                    "Is he going to be all right?"
                                    
                                    She sighed.  The last few days had taken their toll.  
                                    "I think so, but it was a close thing."
                                    
                                    "I'm sorry.  I don't know how we missed it before," 
                                    he apologized.  "We should have found those boys in 
                                    the first few days."
                                    
                                    "Well, it was way off the trail and pretty well 
                                    hidden with all of the marijuana."
                                    
                                    "That's no excuse.  The good thing is that we have 
                                    the McGowen brothers in custody and they're being 
                                    very cooperative.  Neither one of them is the 
                                    brightest bulb on the string, if you get my meanin'"
                                    
                                    "Yes, Sheriff, believe me.  I know what you mean."
                                    
                                    "Although, I was surprised that they were able to 
                                    pull off that little UFO, alien show in the woods.  
                                    Scared the crap out of a lot of people."
                                    
                                    "Well, I guess it served its purpose.  It kept 
                                    everyone away except the drunkest college students," 
                                    Scully agreed.
                                    
                                    "Yeah, the last I heard those boys had cleaned up and 
                                    were chowin' down on whatever wasn't tied down."
                                    
                                    "I can only imagine.  They were a bit hungry.  Thank 
                                    you for driving to Lexington to fill me in, Sheriff.  
                                    I realize it's out of your way."
                                    
                                    "Agent Scully, it's the least I could do after 
                                    messin' up so bad on this thing.  You two wouldn't 
                                    have been called in if I'd done my job a little 
                                    better.  I've got plenty of help in town.  We're just 
                                    waitin' for the narcotics guys to get there and pick 
                                    up the McGowens.  I intend to stay here with you 
                                    until you find out something about your partner."
                                    
                                    "Thank you, but you don't have to do that," Scully 
                                    assured him.
                                    
                                    "Oh, yes, I do.  I hope you don't mind, but I stopped 
                                    off at your motel rooms and packed some things for 
                                    the both of you.  I thought you might appreciate a 
                                    change of clothes," the sheriff grinned.
                                    
                                    Scully almost sighed with pleasure.  She was hot, 
                                    dirty and smelly from her time in the shed.  "Yes, I 
                                    would.  Thank you.  Maybe I can find someplace to 
                                    take a shower too."
                                    
                                    "I'll tell you what.  You sit right there while I run 
                                    to my car and get those things I brought and I'll see 
                                    about that shower on my way back up."
                                    
                                    "Thank you, Sheriff."
                                    
                                    xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
                                    
                                    When Scully finished her shower, she found the 
                                    sheriff still in the waiting room.  He had gone to 
                                    the cafeteria and brought back an assortment of 
                                    sandwiches and a salad with an array of dressings.  
                                    "I didn't know what you would prefer, so I got 
                                    several things."
                                    
                                    "Sheriff Chambers, you're too kind."
                                    
                                    "No, I'm not.  I know you've got to be hungry.  Those 
                                    kids said you gave them most of your food," he 
                                    explained.  "Now, eat up.  If you would rather have 
                                    something else just let me know and I'll get it."
                                    
                                    "No, this is fine," she assured him, picking up a 
                                    turkey sandwich and the salad.
                                    
                                    "Is someone here with Mr. Mulder?" a male voice 
                                    asked.
                                    
                                    "I am," Scully answered, jumping to her feet.  "I'm 
                                    Agent Scully, his partner."
                                    
                                    "Pleased to meet you.  I'm Dr. Reed.  I've been 
                                    called in to manage his case.  Let's have a seat.  I 
                                    could use a break," he sighed, sitting down heavily 
                                    and propping his feet up on an adjacent chair.
                                    
                                    "How is he?" Scully asked apprehensively.
                                    
                                    "He's shown quite a bit of improvement over the past 
                                    hour.  His vitals have stabilized and he has regained 
                                    consciousness."
                                    
                                    "Thank God."
                                    
                                    "He's still very sick, however."
                                    
                                    "Do you have a diagnosis yet?"
                                    
                                    "Yes, I do.  As you suspected he has acute 
                                    pancreatitis.  Since you said he isn't a heavy 
                                    drinker we gave him a fairly thorough examination 
                                    including blood work, ultrasound and a CT scan.  At 
                                    this time everything seems to point to gallstones as 
                                    the cause of this attack.  He has several and his  
                                    bile duct was probably blocked at one time, although 
                                    it seems to be clear at present.  His color has 
                                    improved dramatically and the jaundice has almost 
                                    disappeared." 
                                    
                                    "Great, but the gallstones are a bit surprising.  He 
                                    hadn't mentioned anything about feeling ill before 
                                    all of this started."
                                    
                                    "The symptoms may have been mild enough that he 
                                    dismissed them as indigestion or a light stomach 
                                    virus," Doctor Reed suggested.
                                    
                                    "What are your plans for treatment?' Scully 
                                    questioned.
                                    
                                    "Well, he's going to the ICU for at least 24 hours.  
                                    Although he has improved, I'd like for him to be 
                                    closely monitored.  We put in an NG tube and I've 
                                    prescribed antibiotics and some drugs to slow down 
                                    the production of his stomach juices."
                                    
                                    Scully smiled at his use of laymen's terms.  At least 
                                    she wouldn't have to explain it to the sheriff.  
                                    "That sounds like a good course of treatment," she 
                                    agreed.  "What about the gallstones?  Do you think 
                                    they'll need to be removed?"
                                    
                                    "Most definitely, but I'd like to wait until he 
                                    regains some strength.  I think he should start to 
                                    recover quickly with the proper medication and rest.  
                                    He can probably wait to have the stones removed after 
                                    he goes home."
                                    
                                    "That's wonderful news.  When can I see him?"
                                    
                                    "He should be on his way to the ICU as we speak.  Why 
                                    don't you give them around 45 minutes or so to get 
                                    him settled in," the doctor suggested.
                                    
                                    "I would like to stay with him," Scully stated 
                                    firmly.
                                    
                                    "Normally, I wouldn't allow it, but I understand you 
                                    have a medical background so you should know the ins 
                                    and outs of the procedures and rules in the ICU.  
                                    I'll be sure the ICU staff knows to expect you.  Any 
                                    other questions?"
                                    
                                    "Not at this time."
                                    
                                    Doctor Reed rose tiredly from his seat.  "I'm on 
                                    until 10 PM.  Don't hesitate to have me paged if 
                                    anything comes up."
                                    
                                    "Thank you, Doctor."
                                    
                                    Dr. Reed nodded and left.
                                    
                                    "Now, that sounds like good news, Agent Scully," the 
                                    sheriff smiled.
                                    
                                    "Yes, it does," Scully smiled back
                                    
                                    "We'll you'd better dig in and eat if you're gonna 
                                    stay with him."
                                    
                                    "Don't mind if I do.  My appetite has just improved 
                                    tremendously."
                                    
                                    Forty-eight minutes later Scully was escorted to 
                                    Mulder's cubicle in the ICU.  She stopped in the 
                                    doorway and observed him.  He was lying on his back 
                                    with the bed slightly raised.  He appeared to be 
                                    sleeping despite the NG tube in his nose, an IV in 
                                    each arm and a wide array of tubes and monitor wires.
                                    
                                    "Oh, Mulder," Scully whispered.  She knew that he had 
                                    to be extremely uncomfortable and a tear ran down the 
                                    left side of her face.  She quickly wiped it away.
                                    
                                    "Scully, don't cry," Mulder ordered hoarsely.  "I'm 
                                    okay."
                                    
                                    She quickly made her way to his side.  "How do you 
                                    feel?"
                                    
                                    "Like hell," he sighed, "But if I'm not crying, you 
                                    can't cry either."
                                    
                                    "I'm sorry, Mulder.  I was just thinking of how 
                                    uncomfortable you must be."
                                    
                                    "It's not so bad," he assured her.  "I actually feel 
                                    a little better."
                                    
                                    "Wonderful!" she exclaimed as she moved the chair 
                                    from the corner to his bedside. "You're going to be 
                                    just fine."
                                    
                                    "I know.  The doc already filled me in.  You look 
                                    nice, by the way.  Smell nice too."
                                    
                                    "The sheriff was thoughtful enough to bring us both 
                                    some things from the motel, and the hospital let me 
                                    use a shower in the doctor's changing area," Scully 
                                    explained.  "And you look like you've been cleaned up 
                                    a bit yourself."  She leaned over to give him a kiss 
                                    on his left cheek.
                                    
                                    "Mmm, I like your kisses," Mulder grinned, trying 
                                    hard to keep his eyes open.
                                    
                                    "The better you feel, the more you'll get."
                                    
                                    "I'm trying very hard to get well," he promised.
                                    
                                    "How's the stomach pain?" Scully inquired.
                                    
                                    "Still hurts, but more of a dull ache instead of the 
                                    excruciating pain I was having."  He still struggled 
                                    to keep his eyes open.
                                    
                                    "Mulder, I want you to keep your eyes closed so you 
                                    can sleep."
                                    
                                    "I'd rather look at you.  They catch those guys yet?"
                                    
                                    "Oh, the McGowen brothers?  Yes, they're in custody.  
                                    Sheriff Chambers and his men had the drop on them 
                                    before they were out of the forest."
                                    
                                    "Good," he yawned, then winced as pain lanced across 
                                    his abdomen.
                                    
                                    "Sleep, partner.  I'm going to stay with you until 
                                    you get out of ICU, so rest.  I've got your back."
                                    
                                    "Thanks," Mulder sighed as the drugs finally won the 
                                    battle and he sank into sleep.
                                    
                                    Although he was improving slowly but surely, the next 
                                    few hours were anything but pleasant for Mulder.  
                                    Even though the drugs and NG tube kept him from 
                                    vomiting, he could taste and smell the plastic, which 
                                    kept him nauseated.
                                    
                                    The stomach pain wasn't the terrible, knifing pains 
                                    he'd felt earlier, yet it was still severe enough to 
                                    keep the agent from sleeping for more than a few 
                                    minutes at a time, but even that wasn't the worst of 
                                    it.
                                    
                                    Mulder was thirsty.  His mouth and throat were 
                                    parched.  He wished that Scully was still nagging him 
                                    every five minutes to swallow some water, but she had 
                                    stopped.
                                    
                                    "When can I have something to drink?"  He'd noted 
                                    that the customary water pitcher and cup was missing 
                                    from his bedside table.  It was difficult to speak 
                                    around the irritation from the NG tube and he felt 
                                    that just a little water would feel so good to his 
                                    throat.
                                    
                                    "I'm not sure, Mulder.  The doctor wants to give your 
                                    stomach a rest."
                                    
                                    "Gotta have something wet," he groaned.
                                    
                                    "I can give you a swig of water to swish around in 
                                    your mouth, but you have to promise to spit it out.  
                                    You cannot swallow it.  Deal?"
                                    
                                    "Anything, Scully."
                                    
                                    Mulder kept his word, spitting the small amount of 
                                    water into the emesis basin Scully held beneath his 
                                    chin.
                                    
                                    "Better?" she asked as he sank back onto his pillow, 
                                    clearly exhausted from the slight effort.
                                    
                                    "Some.  Thanks."
                                    
                                    "I'm sorry, Mulder, but that's the best I can do 
                                    right now."
                                    
                                    "I understand, Scully.  I just didn't think that 
                                    getting better would be so miserable."
                                    
                                    "I'm going to have your doctor paged.  He needs to 
                                    adjust your pain medication.  You need to get some 
                                    rest."
                                    
                                    "No, don't.  Just talk to me.  That will help."
                                    
                                    "Any particular subject?" she asked.
                                    
                                    "You.  Us.  Our future."
                                    
                                    "You don't go for the easiest subjects do you?"
                                    
                                    "I'd like for it to be easy," he said hopefully.
                                    
                                    "Then, let's analyze what we have," Scully decided.  
                                    "Correct me if I'm wrong at any time, Mulder."
                                    
                                    "Okay," he agreed wincing from the pain, his fingers 
                                    finding her hand.
                                    
                                    "Mulder, I don't think you should be talking.  Let me 
                                    see if I can get you some more pain medication."
                                    
                                    "I'm okay.  If I'm not screaming my head off I'm 
                                    handling it.  Talking helps."
                                    
                                    "Okay," she agreed uncertainly.  "We were analyzing 
                                    our situation, right?"
                                    
                                    "Uh-huh."
                                    
                                    "I think we finally acknowledged that we have 
                                    feelings for each other."
                                    
                                    "Oh, yeah."  He squeezed her hand.
                                    
                                    "Now, we need to decide what type of feelings we 
                                    have.  Deep friendship?"
                                    
                                    "Yes, and no," Mulder answered, biting his lip.  
                                    "Friends, but more than that."
                                    
                                    "Yes, I can agree with that.  How much more than 
                                    friends?"
                                    
                                    "Quit beating around the bush," Mulder said abruptly.  
                                    "I love you.  I'm in love with you."
                                    
                                    "Oh, Mulder . . ." Scully started.
                                    
                                    "You don't share my feelings," he sighed, closing his 
                                    eyes.
                                    
                                    "Stop jumping to conclusions," Scully advised gently, 
                                    caressing Mulder's stubbled cheek.  "I share your 
                                    feelings.  Mulder, I'm in love with you too."
                                    
                                    His eyes opened in all their intensity and looked at 
                                    her with love and wonder as she leaned over, gently 
                                    kissing his lips.  "I know I promised you more and 
                                    better kisses when we were in that shed, but I think 
                                    we need to wait until you get rid of that NG tube."
                                    
                                    "Now, there's some incentive.  Think I'll get rid of 
                                    the catheter at the same time?"
                                    
                                    "Yes, hurry up and get better.  We have a lot to 
                                    catch up with."
                                    
                                    "How long?"
                                    
                                    "How long, Mulder?"  
                                    
                                    "How long have you loved me?"
                                    
                                    "For so long that I can't remember when my feelings 
                                    changed from friendship to love.  How about you?"
                                    
                                    "I think I realized it when you were taken from me.  
                                    I was totally lost without you.  Nothing was right 
                                    until you surprised us all and came out of that 
                                    coma."  He looked away then, unable to meet her gaze 
                                    afraid she would see the tears that were threatening.
                                    
                                    Scully acknowledged him, wiping a tear from her own 
                                    eye.  Mulder weakly raised a hand to help.  She held 
                                    his hand there against her cheek, enjoying the feel 
                                    of his skin on hers.
                                    
                                    He closed his eyes and sighed contentedly.  When he 
                                    didn't speak for a time, Scully assumed he was asleep 
                                    and tried to tuck his arm under the covers, mindful 
                                    of all the wires and tubing.
                                    
                                    "So there is an us?  I haven't been having crazy, 
                                    fever dreams?"
                                    
                                    "There definitely is an us," she smiled.
                                    
                                    "Then what are we going to do about it?"
                                    
                                    "First, you're going to get well and get your 
                                    strength back."
                                    
                                    "And then?"
                                    
                                    "I want you to make love to me fast and furiously, 
                                    then slowly and tenderly and all speeds in between."
                                    
                                    "All in one day?" he gasped.
                                    
                                    "No schedule.  However long it takes."
                                    
                                    "That could take a lifetime," Mulder suggested.
                                    
                                    "That's exactly what I had in mind."
                                    
                                    "Does that mean what I think it means?" he asked 
                                    hopefully.
                                    
                                    "If you plan on us spending the rest of our lives 
                                    together, then you're absolutely, 100% correct," 
                                    Scully informed him with a beaming smile.
                                    
                                    "Scully, I'd get down on my knee but . . ."
                                    
                                    "That's not necessary, but perhaps you should ask 
                                    Bill for my hand in marriage," Scully suggested, a 
                                    twinkle in her eyes.
                                    
                                    A look of shock appeared on his face.  "Couldn't I 
                                    just ask your mom?"
                                    
                                    "I'm just teasing you.  You don't need to ask 
                                    anyone's permission but my own, and you have that."
                                    
                                    "Had me worried for a minute there," Mulder sighed, 
                                    his voice beginning to weaken.
                                    
                                    "Now that we've settled the major points, how about 
                                    trying to sleep for a little while?  We'll have lots 
                                    of time to talk over the little things later."
                                    
                                    "I'm so happy right now and so excited, but I'll 
                                    try."
                                    
                                    "You need your strength for all of the little things 
                                    to come now that the big things are out of the way."  
                                    She kissed his hand and tucked it under the sheet.  
                                    This time he didn't stir.  He was finally sleeping 
                                    peacefully, a goofy grin on his face.
                                    
                                    xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
                                    
                                    Five days later, Mulder had recovered sufficiently to 
                                    be transferred to a hospital in DC.  He had barely 
                                    gotten settled into his room when there was a knock 
                                    at the door and AD Skinner entered.
                                    
                                    "Welcome home, agents."
                                    
                                    "Thank you, sir," Scully answered letting go of 
                                    Mulder's hand and rising from her seat.
                                    
                                    "That's not necessary, Agent Scully.  Agent Mulder, 
                                    how are you feeling?"
                                    
                                    "Much better, sir."
                                    
                                    "I understand you had quite an adventure in 
                                    Kentucky."
                                    
                                    "Yes, sir.  It did turn out to be a lot more involved 
                                    than we'd planned," Mulder answered, reaching for 
                                    Scully's hand as she sat back down.
                                    
                                    "I've had nothing but excellent reports from the 
                                    local law enforcement people on this one," Skinner 
                                    informed them, looking as if he still couldn't 
                                    believe the unusual praise heaped upon his two 
                                    agents.
                                    
                                    "We really don't deserve any credit, sir.  We 
                                    literally stumbled onto the McGowen brother's little 
                                    operation," Scully protested.
                                    
                                    "Yes, sir, my original theory on the student's 
                                    disappearance was far from the actual circumstances."
                                    
                                    "Well, you're still responsible for their safe return 
                                    and keeping many thousands of dollars worth of 
                                    marijuana off the streets."
                                    
                                    "Thank you, sir," Mulder acknowledged, giving 
                                    Scully's hand a squeeze.
                                    
                                    Skinner pretended not to notice as he asked, "Mulder, 
                                    what's the plan of treatment now that you're back 
                                    home?"
                                    
                                    "The doctor wants to remove my gallbladder and all of 
                                    those pesky gallstones that I didn't know I had."
                                    
                                    "So, you're still several weeks from returning to 
                                    work?"
                                    
                                    "Yes, sir," Scully piped in.  "Although gallbladder 
                                    surgery is now done using small incisions most of the 
                                    time, Mulder may still need up to a month to get his 
                                    strength back.  The pancreatitis has left him quite 
                                    weak."
                                    
                                    "Yes, I understand you were critically ill after your 
                                    rescue."
                                    
                                    "Yes, I was, but Scully pulled me through it.  I 
                                    couldn't imagine anyone else staying by my side and 
                                    talking me through the worst of it."
                                    
                                    "Neither could I," Skinner thought.  He had sensed a 
                                    change in their relationship as soon as Scully had 
                                    called in her initial report.  Now, it was even more 
                                    evident in person.  "I suppose you'll be at loose 
                                    ends for a while then, Agent Scully?"
                                    
                                    "I hope not, sir.  With your permission I'd like to 
                                    use some personal time to stay with Mulder until he 
                                    has his surgery and is over the worst of that."
                                    
                                    "I don't see where that will be a problem.  If I'm 
                                    not mistaken you were already scheduled for two weeks 
                                    vacation time to start in seven days," he continued.
                                    
                                    Her face brightened.  "Uh, yes, sir.  With all that's 
                                    happened I'd almost forgotten about that."
                                    
                                    "Oh, really?"  Skinner smiled politely while he 
                                    thought about his agents.  He'd be willing to bet 
                                    that they wound up spending those two weeks together.  
                                    In fact, he had money in the office pool predicting 
                                    when Mulder and Scully would finally make their 
                                    relationship official.  He'd have to get Kimberly to 
                                    check his latest guess when he returned to the 
                                    office.  He had a feeling there might be an 
                                    announcement soon.
                                    
                                    "Well, Agent Scully, other than filing the report on 
                                    this assignment, I don't really see any reason for 
                                    you to come in until your vacation is over."
                                    
                                    "I'll take care of that as soon as possible, sir."
                                    
                                    "That would be the best course of action.  Get to it 
                                    while it's still fresh in your mind."
                                    
                                    "If Scully will bring my laptop, I'll file my report 
                                    before I have my surgery," Mulder volunteered.
                                    
                                    "Oh, I don't think that will be necessary.  From the 
                                    reports I got from the sheriff and the Medical Center 
                                    you probably don't remember much."
                                    
                                    "You're right, sir.  I don't remember a whole lot 
                                    after we were captured."
                                    
                                    Skinner could tell that Mulder wasn't being 
                                    completely truthful.  From the looks of their 
                                    newfound closeness, he was sure that he remembered 
                                    quite a bit, although it probably didn't relate to 
                                    the case.  He had just one more question to ask 
                                    before he went back to the office to have Kimberly 
                                    look up the records on the office pool.
                                    
                                    "Where do you two plan on going for that vacation?" 
                                    he asked innocently.
                                    
                                    "Oh, we're thinking about heading to Vegas, then 
                                    maybe Mexico," Mulder spoke up then realized that he 
                                    had been set up.  
                                    
                                    Scully looked at Mulder, dismay showing.
                                    
                                    "You're good, sir," Mulder chuckled.
                                    
                                    "That's why I'm an AD," he grinned.  "Agent Mulder, 
                                    take care.  I hope your recuperation is fast and as 
                                    pain-free as possible."
                                    
                                    "Thank you."
                                    
                                    "And agents, I hope you both enjoy your time out 
                                    west.  I hope you'll be well rested and ready to work 
                                    together when you return."
                                    
                                    "That's what we had planned, sir," Scully stated, 
                                    blushing.
                                    
                                    "I'll see you in three or four weeks then."
                                    
                                    "Yes, sir," they said in unison as Skinner left 
                                    Mulder's room.
                                    
                                    xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
                                    
                                    Outside, Skinner was quite pleased with himself and 
                                    his agents.  If he wasn't mistaken, he was in line to 
                                    win the Mulder/Scully office pool, which was worth 
                                    over $500.  It looked like the X-Files team had won 
                                    the biggest prize though, a lifetime of love with 
                                    each other.
                                    
                                    
                                    The End