Shenandoah National Park
He rambled on, his lips caressing her ear. "You don't understand, Scully. It's time to go. They'll be here soon and I can't...I can't let you stop me."
She shivered. The husky voice, the tickle of his breath, the heat of his body pressed along hers left her weak-kneed with fear. The man holding her so tightly bore little resemblance to her husband.
From the moment she'd found him on the ground, huddled in a ball and hypothermic, he'd been spouting nonsense. It's all right, Scully. There's no reason to worry; I'm fine. Oblivious to the abrasions, the bruises, the bone-rattling chill. Words tumbled from his lips, uttered in his voice, but they weren't Mulder. He sounded as if he were reading from a script.
"Mulder, you're hurting me." From the corner of her eye she saw Grey edging closer. "Put away the gun and you can explain everything to me. Help me understand; I want to understand."
"You don't want to understand; you just want to change my mind." He tensed and pressed the gun harder against her skull. "That's far enough, Grey."
Still over ten feet away, Grey froze, then pasted on a smile. "Well, hello to you, too, little brother. You want to tell me what's wrong? Maybe I can help."
"I don't need your help. I'd be fine if everyone would just leave me alone."
"Fox, you've got your wife in a headlock with a gun pressed to her temple. Way I see it, you're about as far from fine as you can get."
Mulder shuddered, then swayed and the gun shifted away from her head. Scully became a dead weight, using gravity and a quick twist to squirm out from under the arm at her throat.
But Mulder grabbed a fistful of her hair and yanked, catching her as she stumbled backward and crashed into his body. Something hard smacked her jaw and she went still, blinking tears of pain as he nestled her gun snugly under her chin.
Mulder shuffled backward, dragging her with him. "It's time, Grey. You can't stop this. I've got to go." His delivery was chilling. Matter-of-fact. Reasonable.
A figure detached itself from the shadows at the treeline. Frohike. His glasses reflected the moonlight, turning his face into an expressionless mask as he jabbed a finger at the sky.
"We've got incoming, man. If we don't get the hell out of here the phrase 'Beam me up, Scotty' is gonna take on a whole new meaning for all of us."
Mulder's iron grip on her hair prevented Scully from looking, but she saw the color drain from Grey's face.
"Fox, for the love of God, let her go! We've got to get out of here; you don't realize what you're doing. Remember what they did to you, the way they hurt you, broke your fingers, your--"
"Shut up! All of you, shut the fuck up!"
It was the first crack in his calm exterior. Mulder shifted restlessly behind her. Fine tremors vibrated through his body and Scully could feel his heart hammering against his ribs. She squirmed in his arms, desperate to see his face.
"Remember it, Mulder. All of it. The pain. The fear. The way they tore you apart and put you back together. They hurt you, Mulder, and made you want to die. You don't want to go back to--"
Agony blasted through her cheekbone, showering sparks across her vision. Scully cried out, sagging against Mulder as she fought to remain conscious. Grey shouted, fierce, pleading words that rolled over her without meaning. She saw his hand reach toward the small of his back, then drop to his side. Wincing, she forced her tongue to make the right sounds. What emerged was a slurred whisper.
"Grey...stop this...know what to do."
Grey's gaze locked onto her face and time slowed to a crawl. His eyes, wild with fear, widened as the meaning of her words sank in. He shook his head.
"Dana, no. I...I can't."
She wanted to scream, to remind Grey that there were evils far worse than death, but Mulder was choking off her air. And then she felt searing heat. Oh, God. The device.
Grey shut his eyes, twisting his face into a grimace. Then in one smooth motion he pulled his gun from the small of his back and fired.
Scully screamed as Mulder collapsed, taking her down with him, their arms and legs tangled together. Her head struck the ground and the breath whooshed from her lungs. Above the roaring in her ears she could hear Grey and Frohike shouting. Rough hands moved her away from Mulder's body.
"...coming...find it before...how the hell should I...do it now!"
Someone grabbed her arm and tugged her upright. Pain knifed through her skull, and the world spun sickeningly while she fought for balance. Byers face swam into view, his eyes huge and his mouth moving rapidly.
"...Scully...move before...trees...provide cover..."
He slung her arm around his neck and she pushed with her legs, wobbling to her feet. They staggered across the grass, weaving drunkenly. She heard Frohike and Langly screaming at each other. Grey sprinted toward the trees, Mulder slung over his shoulder in a fireman's carry.
They ran, crashing through underbrush and tripping over tree roots, until her lungs were ready to burst. At last Grey barked out the command to stop and they all dropped to the ground, panting.
As she caught her breath, Scully's head cleared and the pain receded to a dull ache. Mulder lay on the ground, Grey and Frohike crouched over him. His outstretched hand was limp.
"Damn it, Frohike, you've got to press harder! Use this." Grey stripped off several layers of clothing, tossing Frohike his tee shirt. "He's losing too much blood."
"I can't believe you shot him." Frohike folded the shirt and tucked it against Mulder's right shoulder, leaning his full weight into the compression.
"I didn't exactly have a lot of options. That ship was closing fast and Fox was standing there with his thumb out." Grey's retort sounded belligerent but Scully saw his hands trembling as he slipped his jacket beneath Mulder's head.
"Yeah, but... If you'd been off an inch you could've nailed a lung, not to mention Scully."
"But he didn't." Scully shrugged off Byers' supportive hold and crawled to Mulder's side. She looked into Grey's red-rimmed eyes. "He saved Mulder, and the rest of us, as well." She nudged Frohike out of the way. "Hold the flashlight, I need to see the wound."
The bullet had struck the upper portion of Mulder's right shoulder, a mirror image of the wound she'd inflicted when he had been whacked out of his mind and ready to shoot Krycek.
"Turn him. I need to check for an exit wound."
Grey and Frohike carefully rolled Mulder onto his side. Scully touched the blood soaked shirt, feeling her tensed muscles relax. The bullet had passed through cleanly. Mulder would be hurting for a few weeks, but the damage would eventually heal.
"Here." Byers pressed another folded piece of cloth into her hand, along with a belt.
She accepted it and smiled tightly, quickly and efficiently binding the wounds. Mulder was out cold, not even twitching when she tightened the belt to exert pressure. His depth of unconsciousness troubled her, but she shoved the worry aside. First order of business was getting him the hell out of this forest. She'd deal with the rest later.
"That's all I can do here. He needs a hospital." She looked at Grey. "It's a long way to the car. Are you going to be able to carry him?"
Grey smiled but his voice was hoarse with emotion. "It won't be the first time I've had to haul his ass out of the woods." He brushed his fingers along her bruised cheek. "How 'bout you? You took a helluva knock from that gun."
"I'll be a lot better once we get out of here." Scully stiffened and gripped Grey's arm. "The device! What happened to it? Mulder--"
"Easy." Grey covered her hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. "We found it in his pocket. It's been taken care of."
"Grey, I know I don't have to tell you how dangerous that thing is. We don't really understand how it works; they could still be homing in on it."
"Uh...no. They can't."
Scully turned toward Langly, whose gaze shifted between her and Grey. "You can't be sure of that."
"Actually...we can." Frohike waved at hand at Langly. "Show her the device, Einstein."
Langly reached into his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief. Folded up inside, shards of the rock mixed with delicate filaments and a glistening viscous substance. "We, um, smashed it. Between two stones."
"YOU smashed it," Frohike said, then added grudgingly. "Not that I tried to stop you."
"It was the only way I could think of to shut it off." Langly ducked his head. "Sorry, Scully."
She stared at the bizarre mixture of organic and inorganic material. Our concrete proof of extraterrestrial intelligence. Mulder's gonna go ballistic. And then the implication sank in and she smiled. Mulder was going to go ballistic. Thank God.
Scully sighed. "Forget it, Langly. Let's get out of here. I think I've had enough of Mother Nature to last a lifetime."
Grey stood and pulled Mulder across his shoulders. "You and me both, darlin'. You and me both."
God, he was tired. Grey leaned against the back of the elevator and closed his eyes. His back ached like a son of a bitch and the muscles in his legs thrummed with exhaustion. Since his destination was the third floor, he didn't move when the car stopped at the next level and someone stepped inside.
"Don't take this the wrong way, but...you look like shit."
Grey opened his eyes. "Walt. Didn't realize you'd be the one handling damage control. Guess Dana figured she'd better call in the big guns."
Skinner frowned. "When I talked to Scully she said you were second guessing what you'd done. I'd hoped she was mistaken."
"Guess it's just further proof that a penchant for guilt really can be hereditary." The elevator doors rumbled open and Grey got out.
Skinner caught hold of his arm. "Don't. You're a cop, Grey, so think like one. You were looking at an agitated and extremely unstable individual holding an agent hostage."
Grey jerked free from his grasp. "That unstable individual happened to be my brother, damn it! I shot my own brother." He ran a hand through his hair and cupped the back of his neck. "We were in the middle of the wilderness, Walt. If I'd hit an artery, a vital organ, Dana--"
"But you didn't. They're alive right now because you had the balls to make a tough decision. Don't cheapen it with self-pity."
Grey glared at him, then stalked down the hallway. Scully stood as they approached the waiting room. Under the harsh fluorescent lighting her shadowed eyes, bruised cheek, and mud-spattered clothing made her look like a battered child.
"Sir." She tucked a tangled strand of hair behind her ear. "Thank you for getting here so quickly. The staff has naturally expressed concern over the nature of Mulder's injury."
"I'll take care of it, Scully." Skinner's gruff voice softened. "Are you all right?"
She touched her cheek, then quickly dropped her hand. "I'm fine. They put Mulder in a regular room. The bullet went straight through without complications. Nick said it should heal well, no muscle or nerve damage." She directed the information to Grey. "He's with Mulder now."
"He's going to be all right, then," Skinner said.
"He should be."
Skinner frowned. "Should be?"
"He hasn't regained consciousness, sir. Frankly, there's no reason for it. Nick is...concerned."
"Speaking of which..." Grey gestured behind her.
Nick Brewer emerged from a room on the right side of the hallway. He jotted something on a chart before slipping it into the pocket outside the door.
"Nick." Scully walked quickly to meet him.
Nick slipped an arm around her shoulders and squeezed, nodding to Skinner and Grey. "He's starting to come around."
Scully sagged. "Thank God."
"It's encouraging, but it's only a first step. He's in and out, and when he's in, he's not making much sense." Nick rubbed his jaw. "I know you said he didn't hit his head, and I see no evidence of trauma. But he's behaving as if he's concussed."
Grey raised an eyebrow. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" he asked Scully.
"There must have been a neurological connection between Mulder and the calling device in order for them to control his behavior."
"So when Langly smashed the device--"
"It was like hanging up a phone."
"Slamming it down, I'd say."
"It's possible such an abrupt disconnection could act like a blow to the head." Seeing Nick's slack-jawed stare, she hastened to explain. "You see they had a kind of transmitter that also--"
Nick held up both hands. "Later. I think I'd really rather hear this story over a cup of coffee--preferably with a shot of brandy. Meanwhile, I'll schedule Mulder for an MRI to be on the safe side. You can go in and see him, but just for a few minutes."
Scully touched his arm. "Thanks, Nick. I'm sorry for dragging you in here at this hour. I know you'd already worked a full shift today."
He smiled and patted her hand. "De nada. One thing I can say about being Mulder's physician--it's never routine."
Grey followed Scully toward Mulder's room, slowing when he realized Skinner had remained behind. "Walt?"
"Go ahead. I'll straighten things out with the admitting doctor."
Grey experienced a nasty case of déjà vu when he walked into the room--the pungent smell, the dim lighting, and Fox lying so pale and still. Had it only been two weeks since that hospital in Virginia? His sense of anger and helplessness felt the same.
He moved closer, wincing at the sight of the bandages swathing his brother's shoulder. This time he was responsible for putting Fox in that bed.
Scully held Mulder's hand and stroked the hair back from his brow. When he opened his eyes, she smiled.
He blinked, struggling to focus on her face, and mumbled something unintelligible.
She leaned in closer. "What?"
He licked his lips. "Help me. Don'...don't want to go."
Scully looked at him blankly for a moment, then tears filled her eyes. "It's all right, Mulder. You're safe now. You're not going anywhere."
Mulder's eyes slid shut. Grey, thinking he'd fallen asleep, was startled when his brother spoke again.
"It wasn't your fault." Grey crossed to the other side of the bed. "They were controlling you through that damn rock.
He turned toward Grey's voice. When he opened his eyes, a tear rolled down his cheek and disappeared. "Too strong...God, couldn't stop."
Grey swallowed against the lump in his throat. "Hey, it's okay. It's over."
"Scully." Mulder lifted an unsteady hand to her cheek. "Hurt you."
"Shhh." She pressed a kiss to his palm, then resumed the soothing motion of her fingers through his hair. "Don't, love. I'm all right."
A nurse stuck her head in the doorway. "I'll be taking Agent Mulder down for his MRI in a few minutes. If you'd like to grab a cup of coffee he should be back in his room in about half an hour."
"Thank you." Scully looked down at Mulder, who had slipped into a doze, and lowered her voice. "Guess that's our cue." She kissed his forehead and walked to the door.
Grey lingered, watching the slow rise and fall of his brother's chest. He turned to leave but Fox's soft voice called him back.
His brother touched his bandaged shoulder. "Thank you."
Eyes burning, all he could do was nod.