"Honey, I'm home!" he sing-songed between clenched teeth.
Scully set her coffee mug on the table and grabbed the damp bag, wrinkling her nose. "I wondered where you'd gone." She peered inside. "Danishes? From Harner's?"
"Yup." Grey began unpacking the grocery bags.
Scully raised an eyebrow as he spread a banquet spread across the counter. "Filet mignon? Baking potatoes? Sour cream, fresh bread..._Double Stuff Oreos_?"
"Good with a tall glass of milk."
"The cupboards were bare."
"So you stocked up on all of Mulder's vices."
"Hey, we've got some good sources of protein and fiber here."
"And fat, and cholesterol..." She trailed off. Despite Grey's banter, she could read grim determination in his level gaze.
"He looks like a stiff breeze could blow him away, Dana."
She sighed, surrendering. "Don't bother freezing the steaks; we can have them tonight. We'll make it a special 'welcome home' party. Call Kristen and ask her to join us."
"Will do." He tucked the sour cream and a carton of milk into the refrigerator. "Where's the guest of honor?"
"Still sleeping, last I checked." She frowned. "The diazepam must have hit him harder than I thought. He's been out for nearly eleven hours."
Grey cleared his throat. "Uh...not exactly."
"What do you mean?"
"He had a little trouble during the night."
"Define 'a little trouble'."
"A nightmare." Grey grimaced and began unpacking the second bag. "Actually, more like a memory."
Scully grabbed his wrist. "Mulder remembered something?"
"Well? What was it?" Scully flushed when Grey gently pried her fingers from his arm and she saw the small crescent-shaped marks her nails left behind. "Sorry."
He gestured for her to sit. Scully sank into her chair, watching through narrowed eyes as he leaned back against the counter and drew in a deep breath.
"He remembered them breaking his fingers."
She clasped trembling hands together and rested them in her lap. "How explicit was the memory?"
"He didn't go into a lot of detail, but..." Grey paused, teeth clenched, then continued in a monotone. "From what I can gather, they treated him like a science project. He said they asked questions as they hurt him. Quizzed him about the pain."
"God." Scully tightened her fingers until her knuckles turned white.
"It gets worse, Dana."
"I know where this is going, Grey. Was I the one breaking fingers or the one asking questions?"
"I, ah, guess they thought maybe he'd talk to you."
Scully closed her eyes, swiping at errant tears that leaked past her defenses. "I saw this coming, but..."
She stood and picked up her empty mug. Grey shifted, giving her access to the sink, and continued to watch her.
"I expected this. I did."
"All right, so you expected it. That doesn't mean you can't be hurt by it. Or extremely pissed off. Dana..." He ducked his head, peering into her eyes. "Give it some time. You two will get past this."
She shut off the water and faced him, heedless of the droplets that trickled down her arms and dripped onto the floor. "I know we'll get past this. After all, coping is what Mulder and I do best. We spend our lives recovering from one tragedy after another. Well, I'm tired of it, Grey. Mulder deserves better than this. We both do."
Grey frowned. "What are you saying?"
She turned her back to him, snatching up the dishtowel and drying her hands. "Nothing. I just...I have some thinking to do."
"Do I smell coffee?"
Scully spun around, forcing a smile that felt unconvincing. Mulder shuffled over to the table, dropping into a chair with a soft grunt. She studied his damp hair and clean clothing with pursed lips, grateful to focus on something else.
"I smelled, therefore I showered." Mulder inhaled, eyes half-closed with bliss. "Now, did someone mention coffee?"
"Yes, there's coffee." She held up her finger. "And no, you can't have any. It's on the list of restrictions Dr. Hammond sent home with you. Right next to showering without supervision."
Mulder batted his lashes, lowering his voice. "Baby, you can be my shower chaperone any time you like. All you had to do was ask."
"I'm serious, Mulder. You're still too weak. You could have fainted, hit your head."
"First of all, real men don't faint. We black out, keel over, lose consciousness." When she glared at him, he huffed, "I'm fine, Scully."
"Catch." Grey tossed him the white sack.
Mulder fielded it and peeked inside. "Harner's!" He bit into a Danish, moaning as he chewed.
Scully's lips turned up but she shook her head. "You're going to regret that, Mulder."
"Don't tell me--it's on the list," Mulder said around another mouthful of pastry. He turned wistful eyes on Grey. "Coffee?"
Scully planted herself in front of the machine. "Over my dead body."
Grey lifted both hands. "Sorry, little brother. I will NOT go there."
"Nope. Just blessed with a healthy sense of self-preservation."
"Is that what you call it?"
Scully let them draw her in, reveling in the normality of their banter. Seeing Mulder like this, laughing and grumbling with Grey, she could forget about broken bones and scarred organs. Nightmares and panic attacks.
At least, she could try.
"Mulder, you have an appointment with Nick Brewer in a little over an hour. I'm going to get cleaned up."
"Need a little supervision, babe?"
She smiled, but her heart wasn't in it. "One hour, Mulder."
"I still don't see why we had to do this today." He beat a rapid tattoo on the counter, occasionally tapping a glass jar full of cotton balls for variety. "Hammond ran every test known to mankind on me, and he released me from the hospital."
"Reluctantly. And with the understanding that you would see your own physician as soon as possible." Scully tightened her lips. "Mulder. Please sit down."
He dropped the sticks onto the counter and, shying away from the exam table, snagged a small, wheeled stool. He sat on the vinyl seat, swiveling left, then right. Even though he knew he was driving Scully nuts, he couldn't stop himself.
"Mulder, what's going on? You know you can trust Nick. Just let him look you over; it won't take long."
"I'm fine, Scully. I can think of a million places I'd rather be, that's all." He spun left and glimpsed the cloth restraints dangling from the sides of the mattress. Suddenly his mouth felt bone dry, and the itchy, jittery sensation ratcheted up several notches. Scrambling to his feet, he backed toward the door. "I need some water."
"Mulder, my man!" Nick breezed into the room, a chart in his hand and a fish tie knotted around his neck. "It's good to see you. Even if you do look like hell." He tipped his head at Scully. "Dana."
Nick's smile faded as he set the chart on the counter and folded his arms. "I've gone over the records you forwarded to me, and..." He shook his head. "Well frankly, I'm speechless."
"Welcome to the X-Files. They have that effect on the uninitiated."
Scully frowned at Mulder's flat, emotionless tone. "You know what we do, Nick. Mulder's told you about quite a few of our cases, not to mention the fact that you had a ringside seat when he nearly died from the alien virus."
Nick scratched his head. "Weeell, I don't exactly remember you calling it 'alien' at the time, but I've gleaned enough information since to put it all together." He looked at each of them with sharp eyes. "I know you both believe in the existence of extraterrestrial life. And that over the years you've seen some things that you feel corroborate that belief."
Mulder snorted softly. "Yeah. Well, now I could give whole new meaning to the term 'eye witness.'"
Nick's eyes narrowed. "What are you saying? The information I received states that you incurred your injuries in the line of duty. That you were abducted and held against your will for over three months."
"Well then maybe you can explain how you survived the kind of trauma evidenced by the x-rays and MRI. Because as much as you've proven to be the comeback kid, there's no way in hell you should be breathing right now."
Mulder shook his head. "Nick, Nick. You're not thinking X-Files. Extreme possibilities, remember?"
"Mulder," Scully warned.
A small piece of him felt remorse for playing with Brewer's head just to delay the inevitable.
Nick sucked in a quick breath. "Wait a minute, wait a minute. Are you trying to tell me aliens abducted you?"
Mulder tapped his nose.
Nick blinked, mouth hanging open. "My God."
"Had nothing to do with it."
"Okay, let me get this straight. Aliens...," Brewer made a spiraling motion with his finger, "...beamed you up. And did this to you? How--"
"I don't remember."
Brewer raised his eyebrows.
"I don't...at first it was all a blank." Mulder stared at a point just past Brewer's shoulder. "It's starting to come back, in small pieces."
"Okay." Nick stroked his chin. "Why don't you, ah, hop up here and take off your shirt." He patted the exam table.
Mulder pushed down a spike of anxiety and seated himself on the mattress. Stripping off his tee shirt, he tossed it to Scully. He shivered, holding his body rigid as the cool air raised goosebumps.
Nick looked up from the chart and grimaced. "God, Mulder, what did they do, put you on some kind of alien Weight Watchers?"
The irreverent humor was exactly what he needed. Mulder relaxed, the stiff muscles in his back loosening. "You've got a hell of a bedside manner, Brewer. Didn't they teach you anything in med school?"
"They tried. 'Course, their approach was always a bit more...conservative than mine." He blew on his stethoscope, then pressed it to Mulder's chest. "Nice deep breaths."
Brewer proceeded to check respiration, heart rate, pupil response, the beds of his nails, and the whites of his eyes. He looked in Mulder's ears, nose, and throat and tested balance and coordination. Jotting a few notes on the chart, he sat back with a shrug.
"I have no explanation--but then, I don't think you expected one." When Scully pursed her lips and shook her head, he continued. "I'm troubled by the weight loss--I'm guessing you've dropped thirty pounds, and you never had it to lose. Along with the obvious weakness and fatigue, it puts you at high risk for whatever bug happens to be making the rounds--and there's plenty to choose from this time of year.
"I want to give you an injection of, in simplistic terms, a vitamin cocktail. And I'll send an oral supplement home with you. You must take it, and the antibiotic Hammond prescribed, religiously." When Mulder made a face he held up a hand. "I'm very serious here, Mulder. We need to build you back up or the first cold that comes along will take you out at the knees. I'd also stick close to home, avoid public places for a couple weeks. By then you'll hopefully have regained some strength."
Mulder chuckled, but there was no humor in the sound.
"Nick, I can't even get in an elevator right now without breaking into a cold sweat. I'm not exactly itching to go out on the town."
Nick glanced at Scully. "Yeah. About that. I'm sure you both realize Hammond made a strong recommendation for counseling."
Mulder chuffed. "Like that's going to happen."
"We haven't talked about it yet."
Mulder glared at Scully, irritated by the calm, firm tone of voice. "There's nothing to talk about."
"We'll discuss this later, Mulder."
"Who exactly do you expect me to see, Scully? Do we look in the yellow pages under Counseling dash Alien Abductees?"
"I told you, I'm not getting into this here."
"It doesn't matter where we 'get into this,' Scully, because the outcome will be the same. There's no way in hell I'm--"
Nick made a "time out" signal. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. I'm an internist, not a referee and this is certainly not the Monday night fights. Take off the gloves, kids."
They glared at each other, continuing the argument nonverbally. Mulder was the first to break eye contact.
"So when can I get out of here?"
"Like I said, I'm going to send someone in to give you that injection. And I think we'll draw some blood, do a full work up. Some of Hammond's results were pretty wonky and I'd like to double check the labs."
Mulder met Scully's gaze, seeing his own amusement reflected back. "Then let's get it over with."
"I'm on it. Mulder, you can go ahead and put your shirt back on. Dana, if you'll come with me for just a moment, I think we could use your signature on a couple forms."
"Subtle," Mulder muttered as Scully handed him the shirt.
Nick opened the door and flashed him a grin and a sloppy salute. "She'll be right back. I promise."
Mulder swung his legs, drumming his heels against the metal table. Realizing he was gripping the edges of the mattress with white- knuckled intensity, he rubbed sweaty palms on his thighs. A dull pressure throbbed behind his eyes and the jittery feeling returned with a vengeance, vibrating through his tense body. He desperately wished Scully would come back, hating the little-boy feeling of insecurity.
A nurse carrying a stainless steel tray pushed open the door with her hip and smiled at him. He tried to smile back, but the tray's contents drew his attention like steel to a magnet.
"Hi, Mr. Mulder, I'm Lisa. Dr. Brewer asked me to give you this B12 injection and draw some blood. Do you have a preference?"
"What?" His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth and he felt lightheaded. When he forced himself to look at her, he saw she was asking which arm to use. "Um. Doesn't matter."
"All right, then. I'll make this as quick and painless as I can."
Soft rubber wrapped around his upper arm. He smelled the acrid bite of alcohol, felt cool wetness rub briskly over the crook of his elbow. A small pop, the cap coming off the hypodermic. Light glinting off the wickedly sharp needle. He stared at it, respiration doubling.
Sharp, bright, stabbing agony. Needles in his arms, in his legs, in his neck. Blood, bright crimson, snaking through clear tubing and pooling in a large glass flask. His blood, pulsing, filling the container. Pumping. Heart pounding. NO! Move! Fight! Eyes-- curious, watching, waiting. Scully! Help me! Bleeding. Ohgodohgod. So much blood. Can't move. Can't fight. Tired. So tired. Weight on his chest. Sinking. Fading. Scully. Please. No...
Mulder fought back.