Scully looked at the exam room door, then into Brewer's piercing blue eyes. "Considering what he's been through--"
"Straight, Dana. Save the bullshit for the Feds."
She folded her arms, then, recognizing the defensive body language, dropped them to her sides. "What do you want from me, Nick?"
"The truth. He's my patient, and after all we've been through I consider you both friends. I need to know how he's really doing, and not just physically."
A nurse squeezed past them and into the exam room. "You're going to get the same results on that blood test," Scully warned. "The anomalous levels of lymphocytes and glucocorticoids--all classic symptoms of prolonged exposure to a weightless environment."
Nick rubbed the back of his neck. "Give me a break, Dana. You two have knocked enough dents into my worldview for one day. And don't change the subject."
"I think you can guess how he's doing, Nick. The x-rays, the MRI-- the evidence speaks for itself. For three months they systematically tortured Mulder. The physical marks may have healed, but not the wounds to his spirit." She shook her head. "Lack of appetite. Nightmares. Panic attacks. Every time he regains a memory the backlash is more intense, the repercussions more severe."
"Sounds like textbook PTSD. He's got to talk to someone, Dana."
"I'm not the one that needs convincing. You heard him."
"Yeah. Hate to say it, but he's got a point. Your average shrink is going to reach for the commitment papers five minutes after Mulder starts talking."
"Which leave us right back where we started. How do we get him the help he needs without--"
A cry of panic and a shrill scream filled the air. The clatter of metal and crash of broken glass immediately followed. Scully and Brewer bolted for the exam room.
Glass crunched and popped under Scully's feet as she ran into the room. A metal tray dangled from a shattered cabinet door. Reduced to shards, hypodermic needles and glass vials lay glittering on the floor. The nurse shivered and pressed herself against the wall. Blood oozed through her fingers as she pressed them to her nose.
"He's crazy," she sobbed, swiping at mascara-tinted tears when Brewer crouched down beside her. "He was a little freaked when I gave him the injection, but he went ballistic when I tried to draw blood--yelling, throwing things. He hit me, knocked me down."
"Calm down, Traci. You're all right."
"You didn't tell me he was dangerous. He belongs upstairs, not down here with..."
Scully scanned the room. The girl's sobs and Nick's soothing reassurances faded to the background. Small as the area was, moments passed before she spied him, folded up in a corner behind a crash cart and a rack of medical supplies. Knees clasped to his chest, head buried in his arms, he rocked back and forth.
Keeping her movements slow and deliberate, she got down on the floor and eased herself into his personal space, talking quietly in soothing tones.
"Mulder, it's me. You're all right. You're safe. No one is going to hurt you."
Mulder tightened his arms, rocking faster. He shook his head without lifting his face from its protective cradle. "Leave me alone. I know you're not her. Just...just leave me alone."
"Mulder, listen to me. I--"
She recoiled, scrambling back a few feet, but Mulder simply clamped both hands over his ears. He trembled, teeth chattering. "Please, stop. I can't...No more. No more."
Nick touched her shoulder and crouched down. "Traci went to get cleaned up. I convinced her we shouldn't call security. Am I wrong?"
"No! The last thing he needs is a stranger manhandling him, Nick. It would push him over the edge."
"Not a far trip from where I'm sitting." Despite his harsh words, Nick's eyes radiated concern. "Dana, you have to get him calmed down. I can't keep people out of here for long, especially once Traci starts running off at the mouth. I'll get a sedative--"
Scully shook her head, never taking her gaze off Mulder. "I already considered that, but it's no good, Nick. I'm pretty sure needles are what triggered this episode. If I approach him with a syringe..."
"Shit. You're right." Nick ran his fingers through his hair until it stood on end. "Okay, this is your call. What do you want me to do?"
"Leave us alone. Keep everyone out of here for at least five minutes. I know I can break through to him; I just need a little more time."
Nick made a face. "I'm not so sure that's a good plan, kiddo. He's dissociative. He already took out one of my nurses--what if he becomes violent?"
"He wouldn't hurt me. I'll be fine." She knew it was a lie, but tipped her chin up, looking Nick straight in the eye.
"Okay. Five minutes. But I'll be right outside, listening. If I hear anything..."
"I can handle this. Trust me."
"Just don't make me sorry I did."
"I won't. And Nick? Turn off the lights on your way out."
Nick froze, halfway to the door. "What?"
"You heard me. I've got an idea. Just--"
"Yeah, yeah. Trust you." Nick held his hand over the light switch for a long moment before flicking it off and leaving the room.
The sudden darkness was disorienting. Scully waited as her eyes gradually adjusted. The exam room had no windows, but light from the hallway filtered in through a frosted pane in the door. Eventually she could detect the shadowy outline of Mulder's body and the glitter of his eyes. He'd ceased rocking, but she could still sense his shivering.
"The light is gone, Mulder. The aliens are gone. There's just you and me. I promise I won't let anyone hurt you."
Mulder squeezed his eyes shut. "Blood. So much blood. I can't--"
"It was a memory, Mulder. Just a memory. They hurt you, hurt you terribly, but it's over and you're safe. I'm right here, love. Come back to me."
Mulder's voice rasped with sorrow. "They won't let me go...keep bringing me back. Please...don't let them bring me back."
Scully swallowed, her throat tight. "They can't hold you any more. See? The light is gone. You're free. You're safe."
Thank God. Scully inched closer, tentatively stroking her fingers through his hair. "I'm right here, Mulder. Right here."
He reached up and latched onto her hand with a bone-crushing grip. "I can't go back in there, Scully."
"Shh. You don't have to." She tugged on his hand, maneuvering him into her arms.
At first it was like hugging a board--Mulder held himself stiffly, resisting her stroking hands and soothing words. He was too weak to hold out for long. Little by little he relaxed into her rocking, his head heavy on her shoulder.
"Sorry." He muttered the word into the crook of her neck, his lashes feathering against the sensitive skin. "Think I scared the shit out of that nurse."
Scully carded her fingers through his hair, relieved to hear the wry humor despite an underlying tremor. "Let's just say she probably won't be joining the Fox Mulder fan club."
Mulder sat up, extricating himself from her embrace. "There's a club?"
Damn his resiliency. He was already recovering, shoring up his defenses and sliding the mask firmly into place.
The door cracked open and Nick slipped inside, no more than a shadowy outline in the darkness. "Hey there, Mulder. What's the word?"
"The word?" Mulder stood up and extended an unsteady hand to Scully. "The word is I'm done assaulting nurses--at least for today." He winced at his own bitterness. "You can turn on the lights, Nick."
Nick flicked the switch and they all stood blinking against the abrupt brilliance. Propping one hip on the counter and folding his arms, Nick examined Mulder from head to toe. "You want to tell us what that was all about?"
Mulder shrugged. "You know us big, tough FBI agents. We're all cowards when it comes to needles."
"Oh, I'm familiar with the type. It's just that the typical response is to faint, not give the nurse a bloody nose."
Mulder looked away and clenched his jaw. "I'll say it again--you've got a hell of a bedside manner, Nick."
"Look, I'm not trying to add to what I'm sure is a formidable stockpile of guilt. But I won't play let's pretend, either. What happened just now will continue to happen. If you don't get help dealing with the memories, they will eat you alive. For God's sake, Mulder! Next time Dana might be the one who draws your fire."
Mulder felt the words like a blow. He looked into Scully's face, hating the worry lines around her eyes and mouth. The confession slipped out, quiet and broken. "She already has."
Scully hooked her little finger through his. "Did I just hear a breakthrough?"
"What do you want from me?"
Nick motioned for him to sit. "Sharing what you remembered is a start."
Blood, bright crimson, snaking through clear tubing and pooling in a large glass flask.
The room was shrinking, and the walls pressed inward, stealing his breath. Mulder shrugged free of Scully's grasp. Wrapping his arms around himself, he paced a restless circle, finally settling with his back against a wall.
"I must have been hallucinating. I don't see how it could be a true memory."
"What triggered it? The needle?" Scully asked.
Her mild, placating tone made Mulder feel like screaming. Anger mixed with the panic until it was difficult to separate one from the other. Mulder pinched the skin under his fingertips, using pain to drive back dark, irrational emotions.
"The needle started things rolling. But it was the sight of blood...my blood..." He tried licking his lips but didn't have enough spit. "I have this crazy image of them...taking my blood."
Scully and Brewer exchanged glances. "It's very possible, even likely, you lost some blood, Mulder. Your CBC indicated mild anemia, which--"
"You're not listening to me." Mulder snarled the rebuke, startled by the force of his own anger. He pinched himself again, twisting hard. "They didn't take some of my blood. They took all of it."
Nick frowned. "But that's...there's no way you'd be--"
"I know how it sounds, damn it! But I'm telling you, the flashback was crystal clear. I could see it, feel it. And I would swear..."
Weight on his chest. Sinking. Fading.
As he caught himself sliding down the wall, he straightened his buckling legs. Scully started toward him, but stopped. Her entire body tensed with the strain of respecting his need for distance. She blinked back tears and drew a shaky breath.
"What? You would swear what, Mulder?"
Oh, God, he didn't want to think about this, and he sure as hell didn't want to talk about it. He shook his head, denying Scully's urging and Nick's stunned disbelief. He knew he was breathing too fast, could feel the chill of hyperventilation tingling through his extremities, but couldn't stop. Looking around the room, searching for some kind of distraction, he saw the two syringes, one partially filled with blood.
The bright red flow slows to a steady trickle. His eyes slide shut, the lids too heavy to resist. Fluttering like a butterfly's wings, his heart races. Falters. Stills. And then he breaks free, soaring above the pain, the fear. Reaching for peace and warmth, and a brilliance more beautiful than his mind can comprehend. Maybe this time, he thinks. God, if you're really there, help me. Please, please make them let me go...
He heard a sharp crack, and heat flooded his cheek. Mulder tumbled back into his body, gasping. He was propped against the wall, ass on the linoleum--again. Scully knelt between his legs, peering anxiously into his eyes. She flinched when he raised a trembling hand to his stinging cheek.
"Are you all right?"
God, he was tired of that question. "I'm not sure."
"You stopped breathing." Nick crouched down beside Scully, who was taking his pulse and checking his pupils. "Scared the hell out of us. Must have been some flashback."
He shivered, grateful when Scully stopped playing doctor and warmed his icy fingers with her own. "What happened, Mulder?"
"I remembered some more." The images faded but stubbornly clung to the corners of his mind.
He swallowed, his dry throat clicking. "I died, Scully. I died over and over again."