It is a scene like others before it. The dim but obtrusive light from
above, casting the room in a sterile calm that belies the approach of
death. The steady but jerky snort of air from the pump, much like the
liquid exhale of a majestic whale at sea, especially when they hook on
the dose of albuterol twice a day to facilitate an easier rise and fall
of the chest. He knows it's necessary, but he winces at the tube that
mars the delicate line of her throat.
"We really should pack, Mulder."
"Why? All we have to do is throw our clothes in the suitcases."
"I have to separate the dirty from the clean, take out what I'm going
to wear home tomorrow, as well as the few things I'll need from my
"Toiletries? Geez, Scully. No one calls them toiletries."
"Hmph. Too much organization. Just stay here, okay? We can get to
all that in the morning."
"Stay here and I'll tell you a story, little girl."
"This wouldn't have anything to do with the Creature from the Black
Lagoon, would it?"
"Nope. This one's a genuine African folktale - heard it from Hubris
yesterday when he drove me to town."
"Clio Hubris Johnson, though he goes by Hubris. Says Clio used to get
him beat up on the streets."
"And Hubris didn't?"
"Ha... very funny. Actually, he told me his mother picked his name out
of a book with nine beautiful ladies on the cover."
"And he just happened to take after the muse of epic poetry, right?
Guess I'm in for a snoozer. Hold on, let me get comfortable."
"Watch the elbow!"
"Mulder, just scoot over a bit... there. Okay, let's hear it."
"You're still poking me in the ribs."
"You're the one who wanted to share the chaise lounge, mister. Now,
get talking or I'm going inside."
"You love to torture me, don't you?"
"I live for it."
He's not slept in more than a day, refusing to leave her side. Her
mother keeps vigil as well, but it's a pain-filled watch, he knows,
punctuated by short trips to the cafeteria for a respite. She can't
look at him anymore, not again. Blame, that once fleeting feeling she
tamped down on other occasions, has taken hold now. He sees it in her
posture, in her crossed arms and angry, hard face. It's no more than he
deserves, and less than he expected, really. He doesn't know if he
could be so silent were their positions reversed.
"So, there once was this girl..."
"Let me guess - Erato. Hubris's long lost love."
"Actually, he never mentioned a name. So, there's this girl -"
"But I'm right about the long lost love, aren't I?"
"Just let me tell the story, Scully."
"Sorry. You were saying?"
"She is the most beautiful girl in the land. Her father, the king -"
"Okay, okay. My lips are sealed."
The nurse comes in, interrupting his descent into guilt. From the
corner of his eye, he sees her lay out supplies on the nearby table.
Knowing the syringes and instruments are just the trappings of modern
medical science, he still can't help but look at them as more torture
for her. An organized, methodical torture she's endured before, but has
never shrunk from. He thinks of her battle with cancer and wonders if
she can find the same strength within to fight this new, unexpected
As the nurse injects the IV, he leans over, taking Scully's cold hand
Wake up, please, he silently begs. Don't do this Sleeping Beauty act
with me. I know you're in there. I know you can come back; you have
before. Wake up and tell me something. Anything. Just break the seal
"So, this guy comes along one day, having heard of the girl's unrivaled
beauty. He sees her in a meadow next to the castle, and vows to have
her for his bride. She tells him many more have come for her, but none
have freed her from her father's dominion. It will take a man of great
courage and faith to claim her. The suitor says he has the heart of a
lion, strong and unsurpassed in strength. She tells him his battle
will not be one of brute force, but of constant vigilance. He must not
He laughs. He is known for dispatching his enemies with a swift sword,
but he is also quick of mind and he knows he can outwit her father. He
will have her before the day is through. He approaches the king, who
gives him three tasks to perform. If he passes the tests, the king
will give him his daughter."
"Piece of cake, huh?"
"Yep. Piece of cake."
"Let me guess - he has to cut down an entire forest in an hour, am I
"Nope. He has to fill a well from a nearby river using only a bucket."
"Not too bad."
"Did I mention the bucket was full of holes?"
"Ah, so *that's* the catch. I knew there was one somewhere."
"He tries many times, but can only bring a trickle of water to the well
with each trip. After a dozen or more trips, he throws down the bucket
in a fit of temper. The princess, having watched from the shadows of
the forest, comes to stand beside him. 'Why have you stopped?' she
"To which he says..."
"'It's impossible. I can't do this.'
'You can,' she answers. 'This task is not insurmountable.' Her
suitor, his frustration climbing, asks her how they can fill a well
with a bucket full of holes."
"Actually, I'm rather curious myself, Mulder."
"Well, it happens the girl knew a thing or two about impossible tasks
herself - as well as her father's sneaky ways of spurning suitors..."
"Mr. Mulder, you really should get some rest."
He doesn't respond, not even looking up to face the nurse's displeasure.
They've tried to keep him from her, playing on his health, on hospital
policy, even with speculation as to his partner's sure objections to him
wearing himself out like this. Each suggestion he's let roll over him
like a wave, waiting a bit until the crash dies down, signaling his
victory in the battle to remain.
"She gives him a magic stick."
"Oh. I get it."
"A *magic* stick? Am I going to have to go to confession after hearing
this tale, Mulder?"
"Scully, after this week, I think you'll get a dozen rosaries for
penance, my story aside."
"It's a nice story, believe me. I could tell it to a nun without fear
of a lightning strike."
"Are you sure? I'm still waiting for it to hit us, you know. We
shouldn't tempt the gods."
"Hasn't hit yet, has it? Told you this was a good idea. Now, if you
"Okay. I'm listening."
"So, she tells him to dip his stick into the water -"
"Is that lightning on the horizon?"
He could scream at the heavens for the injustice done to them. It was
supposed to be a vacation. Relaxing for a week in the bright sun and
warm Gulfstream waters. And they'd almost made it perfect. Almost.
Another half hour and he could have ended it with a kiss on her
doorstep, ready to face their world again. Rejuvenated by her love and
made strong by her touch. When he'd broached the idea two months ago,
she'd actually checked him for fever.
He promised her that she didn't have to worry about a call from Skinner,
or an alien invasion; he'd even be on his best behavior and overlook
even a hint of an X-file in Bermuda - an island known for spiritual and
paranormal activity. Surely if he could swear not to dig around for
ghosts and voodoo priestesses while there, she would go? Not even an
errant bolt of lightning could stop them.
Aching now at the remembrance, he knows lightning did strike. They just
hadn't seen it coming.
"The holes in the bucket disappear, all because he touched the stick to
the water. In no time, the well is full. He's confident he can do the
other two, especially with her help."
"Something tells me he's about to get shot down."
"Always the skeptic."
"This *does* have a happy ending, doesn't it, Mulder?"
"When have I ever let you down? Don't answer that. Anyway, moving
along... stop laughing."
"I'm not laughing, I'm listening. Please continue."
"So, he goes back to the king - stop laughing!"
"Okay, okay. Now keep going, I want to know what happens."
"He goes back to the king, who says -"
"'Thank you, thank you very much.'"
"If you're gonna do Elvis, I'm not telling you the rest."
"I'm sorry, really. Don't pout, Mulder. If I give you a kiss, will
you tell me the rest?"
He kisses her hand, so lightly, careful not to scrape her knuckles with
his split lip.
"Nice. I should pout more often."
"You should tell me the rest of the story."
"Oh, right - the next task."
"The king tells him since he did so well, he must have power over the
river. Dry up the river, so I can cross it, the king demands. If you
are truly a powerful man, worthy of my daughter, you can do this."
"Let me guess - the magic stick again."
"Yep. This time, she tells him to strike the ground twice, and the
earth will swallow up the water. But she warns him that the magic in
the stick will not last forever. He has to hurry."
"But he gets the job done, doesn't he?"
"Yes, the king is able to cross the dry riverbed. Many times,
actually, as the suitor looks on with increasing panic - the king, he
knows, is on to him. Making him waste time."
"I agree. Which makes the third and final task the most difficult of
all. By the time the king sets the suitor to it, the magic stick has
lost its power. But the beautiful princess has faith that her suitor
will prevail, and she tells him so."
"Does he believe her?"
If he hadn't lingered on the plane with her, wishing for one last kiss
before they stepped back into real life. If he hadn't stopped for gas
on the way home, then spent that extra half-minute buying that pitiful
bunch of daisies at the checkout. If he'd turned for the freeway
instead of taking the long way home. If he'd had the courage to do in
Bermuda what he'd put off until the last moment...
He believes that somewhere along the way, he lost those precious seconds
that would have pushed them past the point of impact. He believes that,
like him, she never saw it coming. He never believed either of them
would die like this... for if she dies, so does he.
"The king sends him to the top of a mountain. At the very top, there's
a tree. He has to climb the tree, take the two golden eggs from the
nest of the hawk, and give them to the king. Only then will he be able
to marry the princess."
"And the problem is?"
"The tree is made of ice."
"I knew there was a catch."
"He tries many times to climb the tree, but he can't. It's too
slippery, too dangerous. The princess comes to him one last time; he
demands that she use her magic to help him."
"He demands? How arrogant."
"She thinks so, too, but doesn't say so. Instead, she asks him where
his faith has gone - does he still believe he can win her hand over her
father's treachery? Where is the heart of a lion he swore would save
her from a lonely life locked in the castle? He doesn't answer,
hanging his head in defeat, ashamed at his cowardice and ineptitude."
"But she helps him, doesn't she?"
"She does. Knowing this time, her magic may not be strong enough to
help them both -"
"To help them both?"
"I'm getting to the good part, Scully. Trust me."
"Famous last words."
In the car, of all places. He's such an idiot. He had seven days to
bring it up. Hell, he had seven years or more to find the courage.
But no, he waited until it was too late. She hadn't had time to say a
word before the car was hit. He could still see her shocked face, cast
in shadow by the headlights bearing down on the passenger side. Would
her last words have been what he wanted to hear?
At this point, he doesn't care. He just wants her to wake up.
"The princess tells her suitor, 'Place your lips over mine, and draw
the breath from my body. When you do this three times, I will die.'"
"Didn't I tell you to trust me, Scully?"
"Sorry. Go on."
"Getting into it at last, huh?"
"Mulder, if you don't finish this -"
"He protests, but she's adamant. She tells him, 'I will die, and my
body will turn to dust. Take my bones and build a ladder. When you've
come back down from the tree with the eggs, place my bones on the
ground. Give me your breath again. With your last, I will live.'"
"So he does, right?"
"The moment his lips touch hers, he feels her get cold. Drawing a deep
breath, then two, a profound sadness weighs him down. He doesn't
believe she will truly die - one man cannot take a life with just his
lips. Especially the life of one so beautiful."
"But it works, doesn't it?"
"Closing his eyes, he touches her one last time, feeling the softness
beneath him dissolve. When he raises his head, she's turned to dust
and bones. He falters as the import of what he's done hits him,
wondering if he did the right thing, wondering if he can win. Then he
remembers her faith in him, and he rises, the task ahead no match for
his undaunted heart.
He gets the eggs, and does what the princess said to do. After the
first breath, the dust beneath the bones rises like a cloud to hover
over her. After the second breath, her body becomes whole, though she
is still lifeless."
"And after the third?"
"After the third, he waits, smiling in anticipation of his beloved's
return. For she has become his beloved in truth, as he realizes what
she's sacrificed to be with him."
"So she lives, and all is well. The end."
Again, he doesn't look up. He feels movement at his side; the nurse
places a bag on the bed.
"ER sent this up, Mr. Mulder. Sorry it took so long - seems they
A flash catches the corner of his eye, and he looks down.
"I understand Miss Scully resisted when they took it from her, even
though she was in no shape to really know what... anyway. Just thought
you'd want it back."
"Not quite? What do you mean - not quite?"
"She is whole, but without life. The suitor cries out to the heavens,
asking what he did wrong. He doesn't understand why she doesn't
breathe. Falling to his knees, he begs for a second chance, for some
sign... it's then he sees it."
"There, at the top of the tree - a small, slender bone. He looks at
her hand, lying so still in the green grass. One of the fingers is
missing! He realizes that in his haste, he must have forgotten it up
there. But there's no way for him to climb the tree once again; he
cannot undo what's been done."
"There has to be a way, Mulder. I told you this tale better have a
"It does. His fury at losing her is so great, his misery so consuming,
that he loses control. The once arrogant suitor, who was convinced of
his infallibility, takes his sword in hand. He slices at the tree,
chipping away at the ice. It takes time, something he's not used to,
as he's always been an impatient man. But, little by little, he cuts
grooves into the ice. Every handhold, every foothold is painstaking.
It seems like hours, like days before he reaches the top. But he does
- and his slide down is swift. He hits the ground on aching arms and
legs, crawling to his beloved. With a reverent hand, he places the
bone where it belongs, then collapses with exhaustion."
"That's it? No wake up kiss?"
He stares at the ring with dispassionate eyes. He's always been an
impatient man in everything but her - the most important thing in his
life. That he waited so long, in his arrogant self-assurance that she'd
always be there, makes him want to gnash his teeth and tear out his
hair. He's had the symbol of commitment for some time, but there's
always been another case, another lead to pursue. The vacation was
supposed to be *the* right time.
Now, he knows there never was a 'right' time. It should have been any
time... any time he faced her over the desk, or woke up to see her
beside him with a smile, or felt her love for him like a warm blanket.
There is no 'right' time - not for them. He slips the ring on her
finger, hoping she will not mind he didn't wait for an answer.
Lowering his head to the bed, he brings her cold hand to his face and
"Not in the conventional sense, no."
"You haven't let me finish, Scully."
"He wakes up to find her beside him. Still, she hasn't moved, hasn't
breathed. He is devastated, his body broken from the last trip up the
tree, his spirit crushed with defeat. With his dying breath, he gives
her a kiss, sacrificing his life so she may live... Scully?"
"Don't look at me like that, Mulder."
"Are you crying?"
"No. So... so what happened after that?"
"You *are* crying."
"So what if I am. Tell me how it ends."
"Umm... he kisses her, and her lips become warm again... damn it,
Scully. Stop crying."
"What do you expect me to do, Mulder? This is sad."
"What if I told you, that with that fourth breath, that final breath,
she believed him worthy at last?"
"It shouldn't take a final breath."
"Sometimes it does."
"You promised me a happy ending, you know."
"I didn't tell you? With her first breath, she gave him her trust.
With her second, she gave him her love. With the third, she gave him
"And with the fourth?"
"She gave him life. Now, stop crying."
"Say it, or I swear I'll -"
"And they lived happily ever after."
He's awakened by a butterfly touch. Jerking upright, he meets a steady,
blue gaze. She can't speak because of the tube, but he sees her eyes
flutter down, feels her hand lift, trying out the new weight of the
ring. He bends, giving her one kiss, then two.
When he touches his lips to hers for the third kiss, her hand clutches
his in a lifelong 'yes'.
With the fourth kiss, he lives again.
It's cornball, it's sappy, it's cliched. But it's *my* fairytale, damn
it. And it makes me happy, in a sniffly sort of way. What can I say?
I'm hormonal. :)
Mulder's fairytale is loosely based on a Creole 'magic tale' called "Les
Trois Jobs", which can be found here:
Haven's March "Tell a Story" Challenge. A folktale, Urban Legend, Myth,
or even a fairytale. Elements to include:
something or someone getting, being or becoming organized
Torture - use it, explain it, fondle it, action or just the word
The Fourth Breath
Category: SA, MSR, AU
Timeline: Vague 7th season
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Summary: Sometimes it takes more than one breath. Or
two, or three...
Haven's March Challenge fic to "tell a story". Notes at