DISCLAIMER: Not mine; they belong to CC, FOX, etc. Nor do I own the MPAA rating system.
Notes: Special thanks to Emily Sim and xdks for the helpful comments, pghfoxfan for helping me keep my facts straight, and UnderMySkinner (X-PhileChick#35) for being at my beck and call.
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"Mulder, if you keep staring at me like that, I'm going upstairs to work in the bullpen." Scully shot him a look and then returned her attention to the computer screen.
He was trying to look busy but gave up, knowing that he had been caught. "I'm just concerned. I have a right to be, don't I?"
"For the last time, I feel fine. I'm doing much better than I was last night. The back pain is all but gone."
"You were having contractions. Don't try to tell me that's nothing."
"They were just Braxton-Hicks. I've been having them for a while now."
"I realize that, but last night they seemed stronger than anything you've had so far. I just wish you could've gotten in to see the doctor earlier."
"Well, I couldn't. One o'clock is the earliest they could fit me in, so you'll just have to be patient. And stop staring."
Mulder shifted restlessly and looked at his watch again. It wasn't even 11:00 yet. He wasn't sure that he'd last for another two hours, especially just sitting in the office with little to preoccupy him.
The ring of the phone was a welcome distraction.
"Agent Mulder, I'm glad I caught you. This is A.D. Skinner. Are you involved with a case right now?"
"No, not really."
"Good, because I need you to join me in Atlanta as soon as possible."
Mulder glanced over at his partner, who was still focused on her screen, but he knew she was listening to his end of the conversation. "Um, today isn't really a good time. There's a personal matter I need to attend to."
"Is it an emergency?"
"Uh, no, I guess not. At least, I hope it isn't."
"Well, then I need you here. Anything short of a family emergency can wait."
Mulder sighed. "What's in Atlanta?"
"A six-year-old girl went missing from her home last night. We have a full manhunt in progress, and we're working against the clock."
"What do you need me for?"
There was a pause before Skinner answered. "When the parents were first interviewed, they made some comments about lights in the sky and missing time, but nobody was taking them seriously, so they stopped talking about it. I'm not willing to leave any stone unturned in this investigation, and that's why I need you. You're the only person who can determine if there's any validity to their account."
Rubbing his forehead, Mulder replied, "I'll get there as soon as I can."
* * *
Mulder brought the car to a stop in front of the glass doors leading into the clinic. Leaving the engine running, he climbed out and hastened to the passenger side to give Scully a hand as she struggled to get out. She seemed to grow larger by the day, and sometimes he worried that two of his offspring would be more than her small frame could accommodate. She was already too large to fit comfortably behind the wheel of a car, and they still had over two months to go.
Once she had her footing, he released her arm but made no move to leave yet.
"Maybe I should just go in with you. I can catch a later flight."
"Mulder, go. Skinner's expecting you. Everything's going to be fine here--it's just a routine check-up. I was going to have one tomorrow anyway. This won't be any different than the one I had last week."
He shifted his feet, obviously not convinced. "Just promise me that you'll call your mother if anything happens."
"Mulder, nothing's going to--"
"Just promise me."
She heaved a very put-upon sigh. "Fine. Now go. You're going to miss your flight."
"Yes, Mom," he teased, deftly side-stepping her before she could swat him. He leaned over and gave her a quick peck on the cheek before jogging back around the car. "Call me and tell me how it went."
"I will." She waved at him as a final signal to leave. Once he finally climbed into the car and sped off, she turned and made her way into the clinic. At the sound of tires squealing behind her, she sent up a silent prayer that he'd make it to the airport in one piece.
* * *
"Hi, Dana. How are you feeling today?"
Scully smiled at Susan as she entered the room. She tried her best to seem at ease, although she felt completely vulnerable with her feet up in the stirrups.
"I'm doing okay. Just the usual discomfort."
"I hear you've been having some contractions."
"Yeah, they were especially bad last night, but I did have a rather stressful evening. I'm sure they're just Braxton-Hicks, but Mulder insisted that I have it checked out, so here I am."
"Well, as they say, better safe than sorry. Let's take a look here and see how you're doing."
Scully took a deep breath and tried to relax while the technician inserted the lubricated transducer to conduct a transvaginal ultrasound. She was no stranger to this technique, having undergone it a few times now to keep an eye on her cervical length, but that didn't make the procedure any more comfortable.
Susan made small talk with her to try to keep her at ease, and before long, she declared the procedure complete.
"So, how does everything look?" Scully did her best to ask this calmly, but even she could hear a slight tremor to her voice.
"I'd like to have the doctor review the results. Just relax, and we'll be back in a few minutes."
*"Relax"--right,* Scully thought as the door closed behind the technician. She sensed that she had every reason to be nervous. Susan was usually upfront with her, speaking to her in technical terminology just like she would with any physician. The fact that Susan needed to consult with the doctor first meant that something had to be wrong.
After an agonizing wait, the door opened again, and Dr. White, the obstetrician on rotation today, entered and then pulled up a stool next to where Scully still lay on the table.
Before he had a chance to speak, she cut to the chase. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing to worry about, but I am little concerned about the changes to your cervix. You say you've been having contractions?"
"Yes, but I thought they were just Braxton-Hicks."
"They still might be, but your cervix has shortened, and you're slightly dilated. I'd like you to go over to Georgetown Memorial for a while so they can put you on a monitor. If the contractions don't abate, we'll have to admit you so we can stop the labor. Is Mr. Mulder here with you today?"
Scully's attention had dropped off as her mind wandered through the frightening possibilities that accompanied pre-term labor. "What? No, he had to go out of town on a case."
"Is there someone else you can call? I'd prefer you didn't drive over there on your own."
Scully hesitated. She had been planning to take a cab home after the appointment, and she could just as easily take one to the hospital. But she had made a promise to Mulder.
"Yeah. I'll call my mom."
* * *
"Can you open a window or something? It's like an oven in here."
Maggie pulled her sweater tighter at the thought of chilling the air further. "It's not the room, honey, it's the medication. The window's already open, and we don't have a fan or anything. Let me get you a cool washcloth. That should help."
"God, I hate this!" Scully all but shouted out as her mother got up and crossed the room. "The magnesium sulfate is making me hot, and the terbutaline is making me shaky. If the drugs are having this kind of effect on me, I don't even want to think about what they're doing to the babies."
Maggie returned from the small bathroom and began to stroke the cool, wet cloth over her daughter's face. "I know you don't like taking medication, but the doctor said--"
Scully impatiently took hold of the cloth and wiped down her arms and neck, managing to avoid the IV despite her brusque movements. "I know what the doctor said. I realize that the dangers of premature birth are much worse than the potential side effects of tocolytics, but I know the literature just as well as he does, and frankly, the jury is still out on the lasting effects of these drugs on a fetus."
Maggie resumed her seat next to the hospital bed, knowing that she wasn't going to succeed in persuading her daughter otherwise. They'd already debated this point after the doctor determined that IV drugs would be necessary to stop the contractions. Instead of pushing it, Maggie decided to concede the battle and change the subject. "Did you get a hold of Fox yet?"
"No." Scully sighed and tossed aside the washcloth. "I just keep getting his voicemail. I didn't want to leave too much information on the message at the risk of scaring him. Hopefully he'll call back soon." She glanced over at the clock on the wall again. It was almost 9 pm. She was trying to avoid getting anxious, but she would kill him if he had simply forgotten to charge his phone.
Maggie picked up the discarded washcloth and returned to the bathroom to rinse it out with cold water again, mostly just to give herself something to do. Thankfully, Dana had a private room with a recliner, so she'd be able to stay with her through the night. But the night promised to be a long one.
When Maggie returned, she simply handed over the cloth this time instead of trying to play nursemaid. "You should try to get some sleep, dear."
"I'm too jittery. I don't think I can sleep."
"Do you want me to turn on the TV?"
"No, I doubt there's anything on. You sleep, Mom. I'll be okay."
The sudden ringing of the phone made them both jump slightly. Since the bedside table was beyond Scully's reach, Maggie answered it.
"Hello?...Yes, Fox, she's right here. Hold on." She handed over the receiver.
"Hey. Sorry I didn't call you back earlier. Turns out this case isn't it Atlanta; it's in the boondocks. They even brought in satellite phones from Ft. Benning because the lack of cell service was hampering the investigation. I didn't get your message until I got back to the motel."
"How's the case going? Have they found her yet?"
"No, and I think everyone's optimism is beginning to fade. The parents' story changes every time we talk to them, and they're starting to look more and more like suspects. But how are you? Actually, where are you? I didn't recognize the phone number you left for me."
"First, promise me you won't panic."
"That's not the best way to start a conversation, Scully."
"Okay, I won't panic. Where are you?"
She calmly explained to him how she had landed in the hospital and her current status, glossing over any details that might sound too dire.
"I'm catching the next flight out. I can be there in a couple of hours."
"Mulder, you told me you wouldn't panic."
"I'm not panicking, I'm just....okay, I'm panicking. Why shouldn't I? You're in labor."
"I'm not in labor, I'm just having a few contractions. The medication will keep them under control. I'm under 24-hour supervision, and Mom will be here with me the whole time. I'm not going anywhere, and neither are the babies. Everything is going to be just fine. But right now, there's a little girl out there who needs your help much more than I do."
A heavy sigh prefaced his compliance. "Okay, but I'll still try to get out of here tomorrow. Besides, I'm not sure how much more help I can be. Skinner brought me in to investigate the possibility of an alien abduction, but it's pretty clear to me that's not what happened."
"Mulder, we both know that your talents are much deeper than just chasing down aliens. Stay as long as they need you. I'll be fine."
Famous last words.
* * *
The first sign of trouble came at about 7 am. Maggie was finally sound asleep, having only catnapped through the night between the many visits from nurses and orderlies. As the sound of voices broke through her consciousness, she woke to find her daughter complaining to a young nurse who had just come on shift.
"My breathing has become more labored over the past hour. I think you should call the doctor."
The nurse didn't look at her directly, preoccupied rather with the IV bag she was changing. "I wouldn't worry about it. You've got two little ones pressing up against your lungs, so you should expect some difficulty taking deep breaths."
Scully was starting to get testy, and Maggie wondered how long this conversation had been going on before she awoke. "Thank you. I'm painfully aware that I have two children pressing up against *all* of my internal organs, but I'm also a doctor, and I know the difference between the usual side effects of pregnancy and impending respiratory failure!"
It was the wheezing following her labored speech that caused Maggie the most alarm. If her daughter thought this was serious enough to call the doctor, then it wasn't to be taken lightly. But the nurse still wasn't paying attention, so Maggie felt it was time to get the point across before Dana wasted any more breath that she obviously didn't have.
Maggie stepped over and physically turned the young woman, finally capturing her full attention. "Listen,"--she looked down at her name tag--"Tami, my daughter is having trouble breathing. You need to call her doctor. Now."
To her credit, Tami immediately realized that you don't cross a Scully woman who means business. She was out the door like a shot, and before they knew it, the room was teeming with activity.
The first to arrive was the charge nurse, followed by yet another nurse wheeling in some equipment that Maggie didn't recognize. They flitted around the bed, checking Dana's vitals and rattling off numbers and medical shorthand. A few minutes later, a man wearing scrubs and a long white coat, apparently a doctor, strode in and started consulting with the nurses. He then slid the stethoscope from around his neck, positioned it in his ears, and leaned over to listen to Dana breathe. Maggie tried to stay out of the way, but she remained close enough to keep an eye on what was happening.
"Dana, take a deep breath for me. Okay, again. Again." The doctor pulled the stethoscope from his ears and turned to address one of the nurses. "Let's get a blood gas and put her on O2. And call radiology. I want a V/Q and chest x-ray, and tell the ICU to get a bed ready."
"No radiation." It was obvious that Scully was trying to speak strongly, but she could do little more than squeak out her words. Her voice was so weak that apparently the doctor didn't hear her the first time around, so she grabbed his arm to get his attention. "No radiation."
"Dana, we need to rule out a pulmonary embolism or a more serious cardiac condition."
She shook her head vehemently. "I'm pregnant. No radiation."
He gently extricated the hand that was now tightly grasping his arm. "We'll run some less invasive procedures first, but if your symptoms don't improve and I can't diagnose you otherwise, you may not have a choice. Okay?"
She wearily nodded her head, either too exhausted to argue or simply accepting the inevitable. An oxygen mask soon descended over her face, inhibiting any further protests.
The doctor turned to the nurse who had just returned from carrying out his previous orders. "Cancel radiology. Does the ICU have a bed available?" At the affirmative response, he continued. "Good. Tell them to run an EKG and an echocardiogram. I'll be down to check on her later."
Before Maggie knew it, Dana had been hurried out of the room. She tried to follow, but Tami told her to stay put until someone came to escort her to the ICU after Dana was settled. And then Maggie was suddenly alone.
For a long moment, she just stood there trying to process what had happened. She still didn't understand what was wrong with her daughter, but the fact that she had been moved to the ICU couldn't be good. Not knowing what else she could do, Maggie finally reached for the phone. It was time for Fox to come home.
* * *
Scully awoke to the hums and beeps of machines. The last time she had been conscious was to discuss the results of the x-ray with Dr. White, the first of her own doctors that she had seen during this whole fiasco. She had finally conceded to the test once Dr. Chan explained that the alternative was receiving blood thinners as a precaution, which she knew would be much worse for the babies. Once the x-ray came back, the official diagnosis was pulmonary edema--fluid in the lungs--easily treated by discontinuing the tocolytics that had apparently caused it and putting her on furosemide to flush out the excess fluids. The oxygen mask had been replaced with a nasal cannula, and she'd finally been able to drift off to sleep for a while.
As Scully now blinked awake, she soon became aware of a presence next to her bed. Turning her head slightly, she found Mulder there, his face buried in his folded arms that were propped against the bedrail.
"Hey." Her voice was raspy and soft, but when his head shot up, she knew that he had heard her. What she saw broke her heart. The tear tracks were obvious, and the smile he offered to mask his emotions wasn't the least bit deceptive. She reached a hand toward his face but soon discovered that she didn't have enough energy to lift it all the way, so she was grateful when he reached down and picked it up to complete the journey.
Holding her hand in both of his, he kissed the back of it tenderly before venturing to speak. "Hey. You gave us quite a scare there."
Grateful that she could breathe freely again, she cleared her throat to strengthen her voice. "Me too. But everything's going to be okay now." She offered him a reassuring smile, and he returned the gesture, but his eyes were still full of worry.
She decided to try a different approach to soothe him. "Did they tell you what those machines are for?" She gestured toward the end of the bed with her eyes and the tilt of her chin. He followed her gaze but then looked back at her and shook his head. "Those are fetal heart monitors. The charts are recording the babies' heartbeats."
He looked back now, his eyes full of curiosity and a glimmer of hope. Encouraged by this, she continued. "Their heartbeats are strong, and their movements are good. I don't think they've even noticed what's going on outside."
Mulder turned back to her with a shaky laugh. "A couple of little troupers, huh?"
"Guess it's in the genes."
They smiled at each other for a moment, and then Mulder took a deep breath and exhaled some of his anxiety. He kissed her hand again and then held it to his cheek, gently chafing it with his stubble. The gesture seemed intended not so much to comfort her as to comfort himself, still obviously shaken by what had happened. Scully didn't know quite what he had heard about her condition or from whom he had heard it, but she herself had only known the diagnosis for the last hour, so she could only imagine what sketchy details Mulder had received before he got there.
She decided to change the subject instead of making him relive that trauma by explaining it to her. "Hey, how was the case?"
He lowered her hand but still held it tightly, his eyes following his motions. "They haven't found the girl yet, at least not last I heard. They'd just gotten a warrant to arrest the parents before I left. I don't think there's much hope of finding her alive."
"I'm sorry, Mulder. You've had a hell of a day."
He chuckled, this time more heartily. "That's an understatement."
"Sorry I can't offer much to make it up to you."
He shook his head at her. "You're okay. The babies are okay. That's all I could ask for."
* * *
"Mulder, will you just settle on a channel already? You're driving me nuts!"
"What do you want to watch?"
"I really don't care. I just want you to stop."
The "remote roulette" landed on a news station, and he tossed the device onto the bedside table. "What do you care, anyway? I thought you were reading."
She sighed and dropped her paperback next to the remote. It had been three days since she was released from the ICU to a regular room, and now that she was feeling stronger, the inactivity was clearly getting to her. "I can't read. It takes too much concentration, and all I can think about is getting out of here. Where's Dr. White? I thought he was coming by today to spring me from this joint."
Mulder leaned back in the chair, extending his legs. "I'm sure he'll be here soon."
Tilting her head to one side and then the other, Scully stretched out her neck to release some tension. "I can't wait to get back on my feet again. I'm so sick of sitting in one place all day."
"Well, don't expect too much action. Even without me breathing down your neck, I'm pretty sure that Skinner himself would insist on nothing more than desk duty at this point."
"I don't care. Sitting at a desk is better than this. At least it would be a change of scenery."
"So you're saying that my dazzling presence isn't enough for you?"
She rolled her eyes at him, but the entry of Dr. White preempted her response.
"Hello, Dana. How are you feeling today?"
"Restless. Please tell me I get to go home." Despite her efforts to stay composed, she couldn't completely suppress her whiny tone.
"Well, your stats are good, and your lungs are clear. I'd be happier if the contractions had stopped, but since you aren't further dilated, the best we can do right now is keep you on a monitor. But that's something you can do just as easily from home, and I think you'd be more relaxed there, so I see no reason to keep you here any longer."
"Thank you." The relief was obvious in her voice, and she was practically glowing with joy. She probably would've kissed his feet if she could actually get on her knees with any hope of getting up again.
"Now, we need to discuss your restrictions. I'm placing you on strict bed rest."
Scully's smile started to fade.
"That means you don't get up any more than necessary, basically only for trips to the bathroom and for semi-weekly visits to the doctor."
Her smile wilted further.
"And you need to be reclining as much as possible. Gravity is working against you, so the more you can stay horizontal, the longer we can delay the inevitable, and right now, that should be your top priority. You're at just over 28 weeks, and I'd like to see you make it past 30, to at least 32 or 33 weeks. There's an excellent NICU here, but I know we'd all prefer to see these babies born as close to full term as possible."
The smile was now completely gone, replaced by an unreadable expression.
"So, of course, that means no work, no cooking or cleaning, and limited showers. And no more sexual activity." The doctor shot her partner a chastising look. Mulder fully expected to hear her jump in with an explanation that such a reprimand wasn't necessary, but when he dared to glance over at her, he saw that her eyes were glazed over, and he wondered if she had even heard the doctor's last comment.
Dr. White's attention had already shifted back to his patient. "Now, do you have enough help at home?"
"Yes," Mulder quickly volunteered when she failed to respond. "Her mother and I will be there as much as she needs us. She won't even have to lift a finger."
"Good, because she won't be able to. Do you both understand the restrictions?" He looked from one of them to the other.
Mulder nodded vigorously. Scully just let her head fall back against the pillow, which the doctor apparently took to be half a nod.
"Good, then I'll sign you out. Before you leave, a nurse will stop by to show you how to use the fetal monitor we'll be sending home with you. Call our office tomorrow morning, and we'll set you up for your next appointment."
With that, the doctor was gone, either unaware of or unconcerned with the devastation he had left in his wake. Mulder turned to his partner to find her eyes closed, probably trying to shut out reality. "Guess that means you're on maternity leave, huh?"
"I suppose I should've seen this coming. I just didn't realize I'd have to be so..."
She chuffed out a laugh. "Yeah. But anything to have healthy babies, right? I should just be glad that I get to go home."
"It won't be so bad, Scully. Besides, your mom and I will be around all the time to help you out."
She groaned and covered her face with her hands. "That's what I'm afraid of."
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