Darkness. Complete, total, utter, blissful darkness. She was swimming in it. There was no fear, no trepidation in this knowledge, just simple acceptance, mostly apathy, really. She embraced it almost, was thankful, yet somehow indifferent, to have the opportunity to just surrender. To stop fighting and just give in. She was vaguely aware of some physical discomfort and found herself wishing, even in her disorientation, for a blanket to wrap her body in. Caught in the shallow end of sleep, she felt her consciousness propelling her slowly into awareness.

The first sensation that registered was that she ached. Had she been more awake, she would have moaned at the discomfort of it. It was most noticeable in her back, but there wasn't one muscle, from the crown of her head to the tips of her toes, that wasn't affected. Then she felt her skin crawl with uncontrollable chills, the rawness in her throat, the knot of nausea in her stomach. Something was wrong.

It might have been her imagination, but she almost felt a feather-light touch against her temple and behind her ear. Then she remembered.

So sick. Crying. Fever. Cold. Mulder? What the hell?

"Scully?" His voice, whisper-soft and dripping with concern, calling to her, gently summoning her out of rest, answering her unasked question. She tried with great effort to open her eyes, somehow feeling more tired than she had before falling asleep.

"Muuhhller?" She had no idea where she was. Again, she would have been scared if she held the capacity to care. That and she knew Mulder was with her. He would protect her, she knew without a doubt. Her confusion must have been evident, because the next thing she knew, her partner was soothing her.

His words drifted to her once again, and she clung to them like a tether to the shore. "It's ok, Scully, you're at my place." Something like relief washed over her as she closed her eyes, bits and pieces of the 'whos' and 'whys' and 'hows' coming back to her in just enough detail that she didn't feel the need to question him. She opened her eyes once more, feeling only a bit more centered and lucid.

"You think you can eat some soup?"

'Mulder? Cooking?'

Her face must have betrayed her thoughts, because her partner chuckled. "It's ok, delivery from Bernie's." She smiled back at him in relief, adding to the unintentional tease over his lack of culinary skill. He said something she couldn't make any sense of, and the next thing she knew he was helping her sit up. It was a monumental effort on her part, and she prayed that she didn't look as helpless as she felt, but somehow she found herself propped up in a sitting position. Very quickly, much faster than she was comfortable with, he passed her the bowl of soup.

Bernie's chicken soup. Her own personal 8th wonder of the world. Normally an offer she couldn't refuse. Hell, she'd been known to grab a bowl of the stuff for lunch on the hottest, most humid day in July, just to satisfy a craving. In the winter, all bets were off. She herself had attempted to recreate it at home, and, being no slouch herself in the kitchen, she had always failed to replicate it exactly. Just the right amount of thyme, and she suspected there was a great deal of butter in the broth.

She stared at the bowl she held, and somewhere in her brain it registered that she was shaking. As good as she knew this stuff was, she didn't think she had the energy or the stomach for it at the moment. "I'm not too hungry Muller."

He nodded and encouraged her to eat whatever she could, even if it was just the broth. She shook her head in agreement. She began blowing on the liquid to try and cool it down a bit.

It barely registered in her brain when Mulder sat down at the foot of the bed, facing her. She could, however, feel his eyes on her as she sipped at the soup, hardly able to taste the seasoned, hearty broth she loved so much. His attention made her feel slightly unsettled, though it wasn't anything she wasn't accustomed to. Every once in a while, at the office, on a stake-out, in the privacy of one of their homes, she would feel him watching her, studying her almost. At first, it had been jarring, and before she knew him well, she suspected he had been trying to profile her. Now, though, she knew better. He would never violate her privacy like that, so she just chalked the behavior up to 'Mulder being Mulder.' She did wonder, often in those times as he was doing it, what he saw when he looked at her. What he was thinking about, where his mind went. For all she knew, he was just lost in thought, processing a theory or evaluating information, and his eyes just happened to focus on her, perhaps without him even realizing it. Whatever the case, it never scared her, never made her uncomfortable. It was just one of his little quirks.

Meanwhile, the bowl in her hand might as well have been a solid granite rock. After a couple sips, she knew she couldn't eat anymore, though the taste was heavenly. All she really wanted, though, was to go back to sleep. "Ss'really good, Mulder, but I don't think I can eat anymore."

Saving her once again, he took the bowl from her and she was free to lie back down. He helped her settle in, but prevented her from reaching for any covers. Her eyes stung with unshed tears, and she was just about prepared to beg, but the look of determination on his face told her not to even bother. He walked away from her again, but returned quickly.

"Here Scully." The tenderness in his voice almost undid her, but the cool kiss of the wet wash rag on her forehead was like ice, and it felt good, even as the rest of her body craved warmth. She heard her partner's voice again, and could tell by his tone that he was concerned, but she couldn't understand his words. Instead, she just watched as he picked up the thermometer once again and submitted to having her temperature taken.

How long was this supposed to take? It felt like hours had passed, and she was quickly running out of the energy to hold it under her tongue. Finally, mercifully, the device beeped and Mulder picked it up.

She recognized instantly The Panic Face that appeared.

Panicked herself now, the words flew from her mouth. "Whatisit?"

"It's a little higher than last time." She had to concentrate on each individual word as it escaped his lips, but the adrenaline kick to her system was overriding the fever's control at this point. The next words out of his mouth shocked her further. "Scully, let's get you in the tub."

"What's my temp, Mulder?"

'Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee...' The mantra came to her effortlessly, the familiar prayer from her childhood coming to her mind even in the anguish she was experiencing.

She hardly heard her partner's reply. "103.1. The Tylenol isn't working."

'Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death...'

Even as she continued the prayer in her head, Mulder's words reached out to her, and she knew it was going to be okay. He was going to make it all okay.

"It's gonna be ok, Scully. We're gonna get your temperature down and you're gonna be feeling better real soon." She nodded, it was all she had left in her, as he tenderly brushed her hair back. She didn't even realize she had let the tears slip until she felt him brush those away too.

"Alright, you sit tight, I'm gonna go run the bath. Can I get you anything?"

She almost laughed through the tears. 'I can think of about half a dozen things off the top of my head, Mulder. Starting with a new immune system.'

Instead, she shook her head. "Thanks, Mulder," was her reply. She felt him get up, then the cool, reassuring touch of his lips on her forehead before he left the room again.

This was agony