Title:       Barely Breathing II: Things to Do in Vegas When You're Dead
Author:      Lynn Gregg
Date:        1997
Rating:      PG-13
Code:        VRA
Summary:     Mulder thinks things over while underground.
Spoilers:    Gethsemane, a little
Disclaimer:  Would that I owned them! Alas, the Surfer, the Birthday and
             the Woodland Creature do. I merely borrow them occasionally 
             for my own demented amusement. Lyrics quoted herein are from
             "Something to Hold Onto" by Trevor Rabin. And no, I didn't 
             ask his permission either.

Notes:       This is Mulder's side of the story that I told from Scully's
             POV in "Barely Breathing"--you asked for it, you got it! 
             Angst aplenty, kids. Enjoy!

Barely Breathing II: Things to Do in Vegas When You're Dead
by Lynn Gregg

Luxor Hotel
Las Vegas, Nevada

     If you had to go underground, there were probably far less entertaining
places to do it than Las Vegas. Cleveland, for example. Or Gary, Indiana;
nothing good ever came out of Gary. No, Vegas was definitely the place to go
if you had to hide out under an assumed name and spend your days wandering 
around in a white-knuckled agony of worry, waiting for the call informing you
that the last remaining person in the world you gave a damn about was dead and
you'd essentially ended your own life for nothing.

     Dead. (Viva Las Vegas), Fox Mulder thought to himself with sour amusement.
Under any other circumstances, this was a trip he would enjoy immensely. The
premiere insomniac's playground, the Hanging Gardens of Neon, slot machines and
showgirls, legal prostitution and free drinks--what's not to like? He had a
splendid suite in a huge hotel shaped like a pyramid, with a jacuzzi, room 
service, free cable, six different porn channels, and none of it was costing him
a dime. A luxurious, comfy prison from which there was no escape, not yet...and
maybe not ever.

     Somewhere in the world, the *real* world, an FBI Special Agent by the name
of Dana Scully was witnessing the funeral of a friend, unaware that said friend
was still every bit as alive as was she. Maybe even more so, since he wasn't
dying of an inoperable nasopharyngeal tumor. Dana was dying, thanks to him,
thanks to his "megalomaniacal quest for the truth" as she put it--and oh bitter
irony, she thought he'd beaten her to the punch and eaten his gun in a frenzy of
guilt and despair. And he couldn't tell her, couldn't tell his own mother that it
wasn't him being shoveled into the earth back in DC. Those were the terms, of an
offer he couldn't refuse: your life for hers. You die, Scully lives. Your corpse
in exchange for her cure.

     "Go west, young man," Mulder croaked, his voice sounding alien to his ears.
It bounced off the walls of the suite, echoing back to him, distorted and lost.
The empty wine bottle on the table mocked him. One vicious swipe of his arm 
knocked it to the floor and he wrestled open bottle number two. Dispensing with
such niceties as a glass, he tipped the bottle to his lips and gulped the wine
like water. Going to be another long night. Hard work, being dead.

     He had gone west, all right, literally and figuratively. The ancient
Egyptians had believed that the Ka, or soul, of the dead went to the land of the
West, the realms of the god Osiris; and here he was, far west of his home,
presumed dead and chilling out in a pyramid--the whole thing had a certain
lunatic beauty about it, a sick synchronicity he was sure Scully would've
appreciated...if only he could've told her. He hated leaving her in the dark,
especially now. If those bastards reneged their promise...

     This was the first time he'd been out of contact with his friend and
partner for more than a few hours since...since her abduction three years
before. Since they'd taken her away from him, and done what they did, done
the things that had caused her cancer. That time, he'd felt more lost and
alone than he'd ever felt in a lifetime of alienation, nearly sick with
rage and fear and guilt; this time, he felt like some vital part of him,
his soul perhaps, had been ripped from his body. What she must be thinking,
what she must be feeling, right now, he didn't even want to imagine.

     (My fault. Again. Always my fault. I thought the truth would save us,
Scully, but all I have to give you are more lies.)

     If he allowed his thoughts to lead on in this vein much longer, he 
might be tempted to eat his gun in earnest; forcing himself to his feet,
Mulder swayed into the bathroom and inspected himself in the mirror.
Haunted. He looked haunted, more dead than alive. Splashing some water on
his face, he raked his hair into some semblance of order and quit his 
room, heading downstairs to the casino. When in doubt, throw your money
away. Hit it big and blow the country, head for someplace sunny and far
removed from the nightmare your life had proven to be: Rio, perhaps, or 
the Riviera. Beautiful tanned girls in thong bikinis, with laughing eyes
and melodious accents, living breathing girls he could have for a night 
and never see again. Girls who would not be tainted by association with
him, girls who would not end up dying for his lost causes. A place where
the sun never set and the party never ended, that was what he needed; a
place where he would never be left alone in the dark, with only his demons
to keep him company. Surrounded by sun and sea and women as golden and
elemental as undines, perhaps he'd never again have to close his eyes and
see before him the reproachful face of the woman he'd killed, the woman
he'd loved.

     Mulder slumped against the wall of the elevator, covering his face
with both hands, willing his heart rate to slow, fighting the urge to put
a fist through the wall. The lift carried him down with quiet efficiency,
coming to a gentle stop and speading its doors wide; stumbling out into 
the flashing lights and ringing bells of the casino, Mulder shoved away
the image of Scully. It would return again, of course; but for now, free
drinks and a few hands of blackjack were indicated. Then perhaps later he
might call up one of those young ladies who advertised their charms so
openly. God, you had to love Vegas.

     "Sure. Fine. Whatever," Mulder mumbled, just as the pager stuffed 
into his jeans pocket went off with a low vibrating buzz.

     A passing waitress, in a skimpy low-cut Cleopatra dress, glanced
nervously at the tall man who had stopped abruptly in front of her, face
gone a sickly cottage-cheese color, eyes wide and blank in deep shadowed
sockets. She wondered momentarily if he was having a heart attack or
something; he was a young-looking dude, but you never could tell, these
things could come on you so sudden and then boom, you were dead--just 
like that Russian skater guy a while back, only in his thirties and
everybody thought he was healthy as a horse, then one day he just keeled
over, just like that. Maybe this dude was gonna be like that; or maybe he
was having some kind of seizure. Screwing up her courage, the waitress
approached the man and touched him tentatively on the arm.

     "Sir, are you all right? Do you need any help?"

     "Yeah. Where's a pay phone?"

     "R-right over there, through the archway, to the left of the
restaurant." She pointed. Thanking her absently, he dashed away,
running like his feet were on fire and his ass was catching. Some big
business deal, she thought to herself, and went on her way, giving no
more thought to the matter.

     Mulder found his hands were shaking so badly he could barely get
the coins into the slot; he fumbled three times before managing to make
it. It took two more tries to get the number punched in correctly. (This
is it), he was thinking, a monotonous mantra of despair circulating in 
his brain. (This is it, she's dead, this is it, she's dead, my fault, this
is it, she's dead--)

     "They made the deal," said the gruff voice at the other end, without
preamble. "They took her last night. Enjoying your vacation, 'Marty'?"

     "Starting to, sir," he whispered through numb lips.

     "I'll be there in two weeks to give you a full report. If you have
a message for her, it can be delivered at that time. Until then, go easy
on the slot machines."

     The phone went dead in his hand. Unlike it, Mulder felt himself 
coming back to life just a little. He barely recognized the faint flicker
of emotion running through him; it was hope, something he thought he'd
lost for good a long time ago.

     (Viva Las Vegas), he thought to himself. Heading back to the casino,
he started to hum.

                             *     *     *

Luxor Hotel
Las Vegas, Nevada
Five weeks later

     "This town rocks," the blond man said, downing the last of his gin 
and tonic. The dapper man in the neat suit and the shorter, gimlet-eyed
fellow added their concurrence. Mulder felt a rush of affection for his
strange, geeky friends; they'd come all this way just to--

     "We've gotta be going," Langly continued. "We've got some weird shit
out at Hoover Dam to check out. Wish you could join us, dude--oh, hey,
before we go! Frohike, did you remember to bring it?"

     "Right here," the stocky man murmured, pulling a cassette tape from
his coat pocket. "When we spoke with the lovely Agent Scully, she asked
that we deliver this to you."

     "Any message?" Mulder took the tape and studied it curiously. He'd
sent a tape to her, via their boss, three weeks before.

     "She sends her love," Frohike sighed, "and said to tell you that she's

     Back in his room, Mulder wasted no time in popping the tape into his
portable player, eager to hear Scully's response. As on the tape he'd
sent her, there was only the hiss of leader before the first crashing
chords of the song:

          "It's where you go when you're in danger
           it's how you work with your disguise;
           It's your uncompromising anger
           it's how you cope with all your ties--
           If you'd look over your shoulder
           you'd find a kindred soul in me--

           I never said that it was easy,
           but I need to make you see:
           When the time comes round don't slip away
           you'll need something to hold onto
           I'll give you more than you came for
           I'll give you something to hold onto--

           It's how you look when you are angry
           about the things you say you've seen
           The way you search for what you're after--
           I wish you'd look around at me...

           I never said that it was easy--
           When the time comes round don't slip away
           You'll need something to hold onto
           I'll give you more than you came for--
           You gave me something to hold onto..."

     Not certain whether he was laughing or crying, Mulder started
rummaging through his tapes to find a suitable response.

     "Hold on, Scully," he murmured, smiling now. "Hold on."

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