"X"treme Fears

By Jeannine Ackerson

 

 

Nov 21, 1996

 

Rating: G. (No violence or bad words in this one folks.)

Spoiler: One mention to Scully's abduction way back in season 2.

Disclaimer: The X-Files and the characters portrayed therein are property of C. Carter, Fox Broadcasting, 1013 Prod., etc. No copyright infringement is intended.

Relationship: T. Friendship only, but with a big single dose of UST.

Summary: Mulder and Scully are subjected to a chemically induced phobia of the X-Files, and everything associated with it, including each other.

Hi all! Oh my gosh everyone, it's a real X-File, with a plot and everything! I give here a nod to the 1979ish Batman comic book that inspired the climatic scene in here. It stayed with me, which is a hallmark of good writing. And as you might have guessed, this is my "X" story. I hope you like it. Now, to the story . . .


"To conquer fear, you have to confront it."


When Fox Mulder came to, it was to a pounding headache and awful nausea. The room felt like it was spinning, even though he was lying on the floor, his partner sprawled out nearby.

Around them, the remnants of the fog-like gas was dissipating, leaving not even the slightest trace. It disappeared just like it had appeared; quietly and without anyone to note its presence. Except for its effects, which were much more lasting.

Mulder had regained his higher motor functions first, and started to shove his body up from the tiled floor. He fought the urge to lose the lunch he'd eaten a few hours before, and shakily got to his feet. It wasn't until he was standing that the fear hit him full force.

The room felt oppressive, shrinking. Every instinct he had was urging him to bolt from the place and get as far away as he could. It was overwhelming. His eyes fell on Scully's still form, and for just a moment the fear subsided, only to return with renewed strength as he looked away, and towards the filing cabinets. Shutting his eyes, he tried to concentrate, but the phobia was overwhelming him. No matter what he tried, the near physical pain of staying in the room was excruciating.

Finally with a strangled cry, he threw open the door and ran down the hallway, slowing only when he'd reached the elevator. Pounding on the button, he willed the elevator to hurry, the fear still gripping his chest in its icy grasp.

While Mulder waited for the elevator, Dana Scully had regained consciousness, the sound of Mulder's cry and the slamming door reverberating in her ears. Her head was throbbing and she swallowed hard several times to fight off the gag reflex that had started. Unsteadily she got to her feet only to be assaulted with feelings of abject terror.

Around her the walls were moving, writhing and threatening to crash in on her. Everything seemed closer, and the place seemed threatening. She shook her head violently, ignoring the pain in her brain and the lurching of her stomach. Undaunted, the phobia tightened its hold on her, and she too resorted to racing from the room.

Running down the hall, she caught sight of a figure moving into the elevator, and hurried to catch it as well. When she threw herself in, and heard the doors close behind her, she gave a sigh of relief and turned to see who else was in the elevator.

As soon as they saw the other, they immediately backed up to opposite corners of the elevator. The fear they'd both just raced to escape clutched at them again. An irrational dread of something they couldn't describe assaulted their senses, and sent them cringing in the corners.

Scully slid down into the corner, huddling into herself. At the same time, Mulder tightly shut his eyes, wrapped his arms protectively around his stomach and tried to melt into the elevator wall.

When the doors opened on the main level, a group of astonished and alarmed agents and federal employees were witness to the sight. At the sound of the bell, and the slide of the door, Mulder opened his eyes, saw his escape route and flew out of the elevator, barely avoiding crashing into the bystanders.

Once Mulder had exited the elevator, Scully felt the fear dissipate, and quickly got up and hurried from the elevator as well, leaving the people standing with open mouths and curious glances. More than a few of the agents were sure that 'Spooky' Mulder and his partner had finally gone off the deep end. And that wasn't far from the truth.


As soon as he was safely locked away in his apartment, Mulder sat down heavily on his couch and tried to piece together what had just happened. Between the incident in the office, and the one in the elevator, he knew something bizarre had happened to him. To *them*, he mentally corrected himself, fighting to control the pain running though his limbs at the thoughts he was having. Scully had been affected as well by whatever had induced this fear. While he'd been able to look at her while she was unconscious, when they'd made eye contact in the elevator they'd both been sent cowering in the corners.

Forcing himself to use his photographic memory even though his head felt like it was ready to explode, he went back to the moments before he'd woken up on the floor at the office. They'd been discussing their newest case, a series of inmates in a Louisiana prison claiming that they were being abducted and experimented on, and that the prison officials were in on it.

Scully had scoffed at the claim, commenting that they were looking for a way to get attention paid to the conditions in the jail, hoping to get media coverage to improve their situation. Mulder had been expecting her skepticism, and simply waited until she'd finished before getting ready to recite chapter and verse, again, the reasons why the inmate's claims should be taken seriously.

Then he remembered the sound, a low hissing sound that was barely noticeable above the hum of their computers and their voices. He remembered the faintest smell, like vanilla, and then they were falling from their chairs, loosing consciousness.

Obviously someone had employed some kind of chemical weapon on them. And the results seemed to be phobia producing. That phobia or fear being of the X-Files and his own partner. With the thoughts of the X-Files and Scully, he could feel the fear fighting for dominance, his stomach beginning to join the fray as it rolled restlessly. He was hoping he was equal to the task he'd set for himself. Battling his fear and his body, he persisted, trying to focus on what *They* had done.

It was perfect, he thought with some contempt and awe. Until he could figure out a way to counteract the chemical, or beat the fear, the X-Files were closed and he couldn't even go to Scully for help. Effectively they'd neutralized him.

A sudden burring in his pocket jerked him back to reality, and he quickly answered it.

"Mulder."

"It's me," a voice said unsteadily, edging on hysteria.

Scully, he realized suddenly, and felt a wave of apprehension run through him at the sound of her voice. He knew she had to be feeling the same thing as he, but she had fought her fear enough to attempt to make contact with him. You're still the stronger of the two of us, aren't you Scully, he thought.

"I think we've been gassed with something that has induced a phobia of . . .," he explained, trying to keep his mind focused on just relaying information.

"The X-Files . . ." she got out with difficulty. Just saying the words triggered a shiver down her back. Mulder felt his skin tingle and his head pound at the mere mention of it aloud. This was not going to be easy.

"And each other," he filled in for her. "We need help. I'm going to see the guys. Maybe if they can help us."

"I'll check with Pendrell and see if he can find any trace of the gas."

"We're going to get through this Scully," he said, forcing himself to say her name aloud, even if it made his head feel like it was caught in a steel vise. She had to know that no matter what they'd been subjected to, he still needed his partner.

"I'll contact you soon Mulder," she replied with some audible effort, trying to let him know she understood. Then the connection broke, and he held the phone away from him, wondering how they were going to survive it when they couldn't even bear to say each other's name.


Mulder's next move was to contact the Lone Gunmen, hoping they might have some information on such a chemical weapon. He'd driven to their office, wanting to be in the room with them as he explained it all, so there would be no misunderstandings about the severity of the situation.

Knocking on the door, which proclaimed the location of "The Lone Gunmen," it swiftly swung open to reveal Frohike's grimacing face.

"Mulder!" he yelped, reaching for his arm and hauling him into the trio's office. Inside the technologically cluttered space, Byers and Langley made their appearance, both looking genuinely concerned. Langley hurried over to an impressive looking piece of electronic equipment and flipped a switch.

"Scrambler," he said quickly, answering Mulder unasked question.

"We didn't expect to see you here Mulder," Byers said in his controlled voice. "Last we knew, you were running like the men in black were after you over at the Bureau. I'm surprised your AD hasn't called you in to ask you about what happened in that elevator."

"Jeez, now I remember why I come to you guys. Anyway, all I can figure is that I got gassed with some type of chemical weapon that creates phobias. And this one was specific. It had me running for the elevator, scared for my life," Mulder explained, leaving out certain names, and steering his mind away from the specifics, lest the fear encroach on his mind again.

"Is Agent Scully all right?" Frohike asked, concerned about his favorite female member of the FBI.

At the mention of her name, Mulder shut his eyes tightly, and closed his hands into fists. Just hearing her name had started his mind towards thoughts of the X-Files and his partner, and with them the fear reappeared with its full power.

The Gunmen watched as he pulled into himself, fighting off what outwardly appeared to be violent shaking. And they were surprised at the sight of Mulder struggling like this. Finally he opened his eyes and looked at them, seeing the questioning looks on their faces.

"Even the mention of names is enough to generate the fear. She . . ." he began, tightening his fists more as he struggled to continue, "called me earlier. We're both affected, and until the gas can be identified and neutralized, I'm on my own."

"You're saying that this chemical produced a fear of anything associated with your job," Langley tossed in, carefully avoiding the key words.

"Yeah."

"Can you remember anything specific about the gas? A smell or color for us to identify it by?" Frohike asked.

"Just the smell of vanilla. It was really faint, but I seem to remember that. I think it could have been a cover smell, to mask any real odor. So, have you guys heard of anything like this?"

"You know, this sounds like something they might have been working on for the Gulf War. What better weapon than a fear inducing chemical," Byers suggested. "But if it exists, it's not going to be easy access information. We'll have to do some looking."

"Well do it, cause we need to figure out how to counteract this. Until we do, They've won." Mulder announced bitterly, and then turned for the door. It was late and he was tired for a change. Hopefully things would look better in the morning.


Scully had been able to walk back into the Hoover building without any twinge of the fear that had possessed her earlier. It was a good thing, since she had to get Pendrell's help on this. How were they going to do their jobs if they couldn't even think about it, or each other.

As she passed some of the agents in the hallway, she wondered if the incident in the elevator had made it's way to Skinner's ears yet. If so, she didn't know how she was going to explain to him what everyone had seen. She was still having a hard time reconciling it to herself.

Finally she reached the lab door, and knocked briefly before opening it. Sticking her head into the room, she saw Pendrell hunched over a slide underneath a high powered microscope.

"Agent Pendrell?" she said, leaning into the room.

"Agent Scully! Come in. What can I do for you?" Pendrell asked, smiling his brightest smile at her.

"I need you to have a lab tech check for any foreign substances in the air vents that could cause any type of hallucinations or phobias," she related. She was hoping that the younger agent could come up with something concrete. A possible place to start, and then they could begin to work on an anti-toxin.

"In your office in the basement?" he asked suddenly curious, and Scully felt a tremor run through her. God, no, she couldn't lose control right now. She had to stay focused.

"Yes. Please give me a call if you find something."

With that she headed out the door, leaving Pendrell standing there stunned.

She didn't get far before AD Skinner met her in the hallway. He positioned himself in front of her, blocking her path. She looked up and saw the very serious glare he had in his eyes, and knew this wasn't going to be good.

"I need to see you in my office Agent Scully," he said, turning to one side and putting up a hand towards the direction of his office down the hall. Scully went quietly, hoping that he wouldn't ask her too many questions that would throw her headlong into this unexplainable fear.

As they walked into his office, she was almost half afraid that *he* would be there too, but he wasn't. With an almost audible sigh of relief, she sat in the chair before Skinner's desk.

"Do you want to tell me what that little scene in the elevator this afternoon was all about? I have five agents who have sworn that you and Agent Mulder looked like you were petrified of each other, and that you both bolted as soon as you got the chance. Does this have anything to do with the Rossmore prison case?" Skinner asked worriedly.

When she didn't answer right away, he took a closer look at her. She was gripping the arms of the chair tightly, holding on as if for dear life, her arms literally shaking. Her eyes were closed and she'd clamped down her teeth on her lower lip.

"Agent Scully?" he said carefully, more quietly now than before.

"They did something to us," she started shakily, carefully glancing up at Skinner. "There was some kind of gas, pumped into the building. I, was affected by it. It has induced a fear of certain things in myself, as well as . . ."

"Agent Mulder," Skinner finished off, and watched as she shook in response to hearing her partner's name. "I assume you're trying to find an antidote to the gas?"

"Yes sir. Until then, you can reach me on my cel phone. For obvious reasons I won't be returning here unless it's absolutely necessary."

"Keep me posted Agent Scully. You're dismissed. And good luck."

With that she pushed herself from her chair and walked carefully out of the office, not stopping until she got to her car. I've got to get home and get some rest, she thought. The willpower it took to fight was absolutely draining. Soon she was in and on her way home.


The next morning, Scully woke and hoped it had all been a dream. Then without thinking she mentally remembered that she'd left her purse in the basement office, and the fear came back at her. She crumpled to the floor for a moment as the image of the office and Mulder assaulted her senses.

With a violent push at those thoughts, she got up and forced herself to focus on calling Pendrell and getting some answers. She only hoped the Gunmen had a hypothesis, or even some answers because she was certain that there weren't going to find any at the Bureau.

With a sigh, she reached for the phone to call the Pendrell, and hopefully get some good news.


Mulder awoke with a pounding headache, curled into a ball on the couch. He'd been dreaming about Scully's abduction, and somehow even in his dreams, the phobia had affected him. He hauled himself off the couch and walked towards the window.

He'd thought the night before about pasting up the masking tape 'X' on his window, but just the thought had put his stomach into knots. It seemed that his mysterious contact was just too close to the phobia to be allowed. If he'd thought it would have done any good, he would have called Senator Matheson. But he was certain that the regular channels had been closed to him with this most recent attack on him and his crusade. It had been a very successful but ultimately unsubtle exercise in strategy.

Now all he could do was wait and see what the Gunmen or Pendrell could come up with.


The day had wore on, and Mulder's temper was growing shorter. They were still no closer to finding an antidote to the phobia. The Gunmen hadn't been able to get a line on the compound. They had resorted to checking out some unverifiable leads, but nothing had panned out.

They had called several times, relaying messages about Pendrell and the tests he'd run on the basement. He hadn't come up with anything. All the evidence was gone. The gas had been pumped though the ventilation system, and nothing had been left. *They* had made sure of it.

Mulder slammed his fist into the wall as he realized how simple it had been for them to set them up. But they weren't going to get away with it.

The phone rang suddenly, and Mulder went and picked up the receiver. In case it was *her*, he didn't answer it with his usual greeting.

"Hello?" he said with some exasperation in his voice.

"Fox? It's Margaret Scully," the voice announced, and Mulder had to fight the chill he felt at the backhanded mention of his partner's name.

"What can I do for you?" he asked, carefully avoiding her name.

"I was wondering, have you spoken with Dana? She wasn't answering her phone and I was concerned."

"No I haven't . . ." he began, and was just about to continue when it suddenly hit him. Dana! She'd said Dana and his body hadn't started shaking or his head pounding. In the process of becoming friends, that part of her had remained separate in his mind from the rest of her. When he thought of her as Dana, he didn't feel anything other than concern and caring. That was the answer!

"Thanks Margaret! I'll go check on Dana right now!" he said quickly and hung up the phone. Seconds later he was out the door and on his way to *Dana's*.


Minutes later Mulder was pounding on the door to Dana's apartment. "Dana, let me in! I've got the answer," he yelled through the door.

When she didn't reply, he realized that just the sound of his voice was probably still affecting her. Without a second thought he whipped out his key and unlocked the door. When he threw it open, he found her against the far wall, back pressed up against it. It tore at his chest to see her afraid of him. But then, he had been just as afraid of her less than an hour before.

He walked quickly towards her, and she tightened her fists and closed her eyes, like he had done when he'd been gripped by the phobia. Keep them separate, he kept reminding himself. This is Dana in front of you. Your friend. She has nothing to do with the pain.

"Dana!" Mulder's voice called out, reaching his hand out to her. Somehow calling her by that name was making the difference. Thinking of her as Dana wasn't frightening, he could look at her and not shake. Because he was seeing Dana. The grip of the phobia was backing off from his chest. He was winning.

But he knew she was going to have a harder time, because she didn't know how to beat it. For the first time, he wanted, needed to hear her say *his* name. Except she wouldn't. Because he'd ingrained it in her that she needed to call him Mulder. Not Fox. So the weapon that would defeat her fear wasn't at her disposal. Unless he gave it to her.

As he came closer, she moved into the corner of the living room, his proximity was starting to become intolerable. She fought to control the urge to run, and instead simply avoided his gaze, her nails starting to leave dark red indentations in her palms. He was calling to her, and she recognized her first name, but she couldn't look at him.

"Dana, look at me! Who am I?" he asked her, nearly touching her arm.

"Muld . . ." she tried to say, but her vocal cords tightened as the fear gripped her, and it strangled off into a gurgling sound. Then with the last ounce of fight she had left, she looked up to meet his eyes.

"No Dana, *not* Mulder. *Fox*," he said quietly, making it clear what he meant. Mulder was her partner, part of the X-Files, the things she feared. But Fox . . . he was someone else, someone safe.

Her eyes registered the message in his. And somewhere behind them, he nearly saw her change the image she had of him from Mulder to Fox in her mind. And as she did, he saw the fear begin to drain from her face.

"Fox," she breathed, her voice sounding less labored. Quickly he caught up her hands in his, feeling nothing in the touch. No pain, no fear.

When she sighed and could finally meet his gaze without flinching he smiled. Then with a sudden need, he pulled her into his embrace, tightening his arms around her. She responded in kind, hugging him back, finding comfort in being able to acknowledge her friend again.

Mulder and Scully were gone. Only Fox and Dana remained.

"Fox, how do we. . ." she started, not quite knowing what to say. She didn't know if their phobia was totally cured, or how they were going to deal with the aftermath of their fears. That she should have been afraid of him. That was something she knew would haunt him, even though he knew her fear hadn't been rational.

"Shhh. Don't worry about it just yet. We're going to figure this out Dana, I promise. As long as we have each other, we can beat this. We can beat anything."


Epilogue

One week later

They'd worked through the fear.

With no cure available to the unknown toxin, they'd had to rely on simplistic methods: confronting the fears. They had worked extensively with a psychiatrist with the Bureau that Mulder trusted. Since the fear had been artificially created in their minds, it had been easier to conquer than they'd thought. Once they had found the key, the stable base of their friendship, it had been downhill from there.

Scully had met Mulder at the elevator, and they rode it down to the basement, walking side by side down the corridor. It was just like any other day now, but it had been over a week since they'd run from the room.

Pushing open the door, Mulder set foot in their office once again, with Scully following right behind him. Slowly they made their way to their desks, and started the process of putting the whole thing behind them.

Well, almost all of it.

Scully got up and walked over to Mulder's desk, and leaned backwards against it, looking down at him as he sat in his chair, looking up at her.

"What Scully? Is there something the matter?" he asked hurriedly, afraid that her fears were still in place, even after everything they'd been through to defeat them.

"Yeah, there is." she replied cagily, giving him a serious stare, and crossing her arms across her chest.

"What?"

"Do I still get to call you Fox?"

Surprised, he didn't answer, and just smiled at her. Soon she was smiling too.

-End-

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