"Go and sit on the couch, Mulder."
"I'm thirsty. Damn stuff always gives me dry mouth."
"Here, give me those. I--" The metallic clatter of keys hitting the hardwood floor, followed by Dana's longsuffering sigh. "Mulder."
"I'll get you some juice. Just go sit down before you fall down."
Grey swiveled in his chair, watching his brother walk to the couch. He moved slowly and deliberately, as if concentrating on each step.
"Hey. How was the appointment?"
Fox listed a little to the left as he turned and sank into the cushions. He dropped his head onto the back of the couch. "Eye-opening." He smirked, the corners of his mouth turning up.
Okaaaay. Grey regarded the relaxed sprawl and serene demeanor. If he didn't know better... He leaned closer and peered into his brother's eyes. Sure enough, the pupils were abnormally dilated.
Dana emerged from the kitchen, carrying a tall glass of apple juice. She placed it into Fox's hand, steadying it before she let go. Meeting Grey's inquisitive stare, she subtly shook her head.
"I saw that." Fox sipped his juice, gaze moving between the two of them. "Just because I'm stoned doesn't mean I'm oblivious."
Grey frowned. "You're stoned?"
Grey looked at Dana. "What the hell happened?"
"Standard procedure for any patient who assaults his nurse." Mulder saluted with his glass and apple juice nearly sloshed over the rim.
Scully rescued it and set it on the coffee table. "I think Nick was a little heavy handed with the Valium."
Mulder grinned goofily. "Good stuff. Even my bones are relaxed."
"Could we please go back to the bit about the nurse?" Grey didn't disguise the edge in his voice.
"I had a little flashback. No, wait--strike that. Biiiiig flashback. A 'somebody call the guys in the white coats' flashback." Mulder snuffled a laugh.
"While you were at the hospital?"
"Knocked Nurse Nancy clear across the room. Bet she didn't expect that when she came to work this morning. Nursing: It's not just a job, it's an adventure."
Grey recognized the guilt lurking beneath the sarcasm. "Is she all right?"
Dana sat beside Fox, resting one hand on his leg. "Traci is fine, more shaken up than anything. Nick calmed her down, explained the situation."
Mulder threw an arm over his eyes. "Probably something along the lines of 'Don't mind him. Ever since he was abducted and tortured by aliens he just hasn't been himself.'"
Dana tugged his arm away from his face. "You are traumatized, Mulder. Not crazy. There's a big difference."
Fox blew out a long breath and looked at her with ancient eyes. "Somehow I don't think Traci sees it that way."
"Considering what you think happened--"
"Not think. Know."
"--your reaction is perfectly understandable."
Grey raised his hand. "Yoohoo. Remember me? The guy who couldn't buy a clue?"
Dana looked at Fox, who extended his hand. She pursed her lips and thought for a moment before speaking. "Mulder remembers them taking his blood."
"What, like vampires?"
Mulder snickered. "He's come such a long way, hasn't he, Scully? I'm so proud."
Dana glared at him. "More like the Red Cross."
"Except the Red Cross generally doesn't drain you dry." Mulder yawned hugely, eyelids drooping.
"Drain you..." Grey trailed off. "But taking all your blood would kill you."
"Give the man a cigar," Mulder mumbled, closing his eyes.
"I died, Grey. Many times."
Grey looked at Scully. "How could that be?"
"How can we possibly guess what they're capable of? From what we've seen, they can run circles around us technologically. And, if we're to believe even a fraction of the abduction accounts, they've been experimenting on humans for years."
"Using humans as guinea pigs is one thing. But bringing them back from the dead?"
"I understand the finality of death, Grey, it's in my damn job description. For God's sake, we're talking about my husband! Do you think this is easy for me?"
Grey mustered a weak smile. "I see your point." He took a deep breath. "So you believe Fox is right? That this flashback was a recovered memory?"
"It explains the x-rays, the MRI. It makes no sense that Mulder survived such massive trauma."
"Because he didn't." Grey rubbed the back of his neck, unable to soothe the tension. "Dear God, Fox, no wonder you needed the Valium. I could use a hit myself."
"He dropped off a moment ago." Smiling, Dana stroked a lock of hair from Mulder's eyes. "He really needs a haircut." She stood and collected the half-filled glass of juice. "I don't know about you, but since Valium's not an option I think I'll take a cup of coffee."
Grey hauled himself upright. "You just going to leave him like that?"
"Leave him this moment of peace, Grey. Knowing Mulder, he won't be out for long."
Grey sat at the kitchen table, watching Scully set up the coffee maker. She moved with competent efficiency, shoulders straight, hands busy. He propped his chin on one fist and studied her from the corner of his eye.
"Want to tell me about it?"
Dana faltered, spilling coffee grounds on the counter. "No," she said, reaching for a sponge.
"Why not? Dana, I can see this scared the hell out of you. Talk to me."
She didn't move for a moment, then dropped the sponge into the sink. After taking a long look into the living room, she joined Grey at the table. Leaning in close, she pitched her voice just above a whisper.
"This was worse than anything we've seen so far. He was out of it for at least five minutes, Grey. I was terrified someone would call psych services and he'd wind up admitted. Thank God, Nick keeps a calm head in a crisis."
"What provoked this? Were you there when it happened?"
"Nick wanted a blood sample."
"We'd stepped into the hallway to talk. I saw the nurse go into the exam room, but it never occurred to me--"
"Of course it didn't. We both know flashbacks are highly unpredictable."
"By the time I got back into the room, the nurse was on the floor and Mulder was huddled in a corner babbling about blood and begging 'them' to stop." She bit her lip, her eyes misting with tears.
"How did you break through to him?"
"Luck, mostly. I figured the environment was contributing to Mulder's delusion--the medical equipment, the smells, the bright lights. So I asked Nick to turn out the lights and sent him out of the room."
Grey sat up straight. "The light! That's how they immobilized him."
Dana nodded. "Once the room was dark and we were alone, he snapped out of it."
"Did Brewer have to sedate him? I hate seeing him like that."
"After the flashback, when Mulder was telling us what he'd remembered, it triggered some kind of panic attack."
"Like the one in the elevator?"
"Worse. Much worse." She pressed her fingers against trembling lips. "He stopped breathing, Grey."
He shivered, goosebumps tingling his skin. "Stopped?"
"Just for a few seconds, but--"
"Dana, there's no 'just' to not breathing." Grey got up and rummaged through the cupboard for two mugs. He poured the coffee with unsteady hands and gave one to Dana.
"What are you thinking?" she asked as he gulped down the hot brew.
"I'm thinking I'd like to string the little bastards up and give them a taste of their own medicine." When she didn't respond, he returned to the table. "What are you thinking?"
"That we've only seen the tip of the iceberg. That things will likely get worse before they get better." She tipped her chin up. "And that I will not lose him to this."
God, she was so much like Kate. Strong. Stubborn. Tenacious as hell when it came to protecting the ones she loved.
"I'm right there with you, darlin'."
"At least something positive came from the whole mess. I think Mulder finally realizes he needs help."
"Sometimes you have to hit bottom before you realize how far you've fallen."
"Sounds like the voice of experience."
Grey rolled the cup between his palms. "When Kate died, I...lost myself for a while. I suppose it was inevitable. For months I'd eaten and rested just enough to keep functioning. Taking care of Kate, being there for her in every way possible, had become my whole life. And then she was gone, and I felt as if a big piece of me went with her."
Dana rested her hand on his arm. "Your partner used the word 'decimated.' He said he feared you might never pull out of it."
"It felt as if I'd fallen into a deep hole. I could see light up above, but it was too far away and I was too damn tired to climb back out. Mark and the other guys at work, my family--they tried everything they could think of to reach me. But it wasn't enough. I just kept falling."
A memory flickered through his mind--waking up on the bedroom floor surrounded by old photos and empty beer bottles, a headache pounding behind his eyes, a terrible taste in his mouth, and his gun clutched in one hand. "Probably the same thing that happened to Fox--I scared the hell out of myself. I finally had to acknowledge how deep I'd gotten."
He sighed, grinding the heel of one hand into his eye. "I started attending a support group for people who'd lost loved ones to cancer. And I quit shutting myself off from friends and family." He chuffed. "Well, I tried."
Dana squeezed his arm. "I'm glad you turned things around. And that they got better."
"I'll be honest with you, Dana. Things didn't get better--not at first. For a very long time the only thing getting me out of bed each morning was pigheaded stubbornness." He smiled. "And knowing Kate would've kicked my ass six ways to Sunday if I'd given up."
Dana sipped her coffee, smiling around the rim of the cup. "Well, the stubbornness seems to be hereditary. And I think the two of us can provide the ass kicking."
"Got that right." Grey sobered. "All I'm saying is that we shouldn't set the bar too high. After what Fox has gone through...well... Let's just say running is highly overrated. Sometimes just putting one foot in front of the other is a major victory."
"You know, you..."
The phone trilled, cutting off her reply. Scully grabbed for the receiver, catching it on the second ring.
"Hello?" She stiffened her spine, turning her full attention to the caller. "You did?...Are you sure?...What do you mean, Langly thinks --either it is or it isn't..."
Fox appeared in the doorway, rumpled and glassy-eyed. "Who's Scully talking to?"
"Sounds like Byers or Frohike."
"Byers and Frohike don't sound anything alike."
"Uh...yeah. Why don't you come and sit down?" Grey nudged a chair from the table with his foot, keeping an eye on his brother and an ear on Dana.
"All right. All right! I'll be there in a few minutes...Yes...In your dreams, Frohike."
Well, that answered that question.
Scully hung up and looked at Mulder, slumped in his chair. "That was the guys. They've been playing with that funny rock you found, Mulder, and they think they've figured out what it is. I'm going over there now."
Mulder caught her arm as she stood, much of the sleepiness fading from his eyes. "You said they figured it out. What is it?"
"They're speculating, Mulder. You know those three--Langly still thinks metal detectors are--"
"Scully. What is it?"
She searched his face, uncertain. When he stared back at her, fingers tightening, she sighed. "They say it's a tracking device, Mulder. That it called the ship that abducted you."