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Chapter 6

Southside Community Hospital
5:37 PM

"I want it on the record, Mr. Mulder, that I'd feel much better if you remained here one more night. You're still extremely weak, and--"

"And I'm deeply touched by your concern, Doctor. Really. But I'll have my personal physician with me at all times, and she's acquainted with my condition. Intimately."

Scully pursed her lips, smirking inwardly at Mulder's guileless expression, while Grey simply turned his back, shoulders hunched.

Hammond eyeballed Mulder for a long moment before scribbling his signature onto the discharge papers with a shake of his head. He tucked the chart under his arm and turned his attention to Scully.

"Perhaps we can have a word outside while Detective McKenzie helps your husband dress."

Mulder clenched his jaw, shoving off the blankets and swinging his legs over the side of the bed. "I've never considered dressing a group effort. Now undressing, that's another matter."

"Mulder, wait. I don't think--"

He'd pushed off the mattress before she finished speaking, stubborn triumph melting to disbelief when his stick-thin legs simply folded. Scully lunged, grabbing for his arm, but Grey got there first. He caught his brother around the waist and dragged him upright, easing him back onto the bed.

"Easy, Fox. Those legs are a little rusty."

Hammond cleared his throat. "As I was saying..."

Scully took one look at Mulder's flushed face and rigid spine before grasping Hammond's elbow and steering him into the hallway. "You said you had something to discuss with me, Doctor?"

Hammond waited until they'd moved away from the open door before speaking. "Dr. Scully, I just want to stress how important it is that your husband continues to receive treatment. He's made incredible progress over the last 72 hours, but I'm afraid complete recovery will take plenty of time and patience--on both your parts."

"Of course." Scully tipped up her chin. "I'll make an appointment first thing tomorrow morning. I've already had his records from the last few days sent to his physician."

"Good." Hammond hesitated, his soft drawl becoming more pronounced as his voice gentled. "It will be tempting to focus on his physical health. But you and I both know his problems run much deeper than the perplexing reduction in his lymphocyte population or a dropped twenty pounds.

"Though I can't begin to explain the blood test results, the x-rays, the MRI, I also can't deny what they reveal--trauma of an incomprehensible nature. Something terrible happened to your husband, Dr. Scully. Something his subconscious is doing its damnedest to bury. He'll need help--professional help--to cope with his experience."

Irritation welled up inside her, tightening her chest and pounding behind her eyes. "I don't need a lecture on my responsibilities, Dr. Hammond. I'm a physician and a professional law enforcement officer, and I know my husband better than anyone."

"I know. I never meant to suggest otherwise."

Shamed by his patient response, Scully's temper cooled. "I'm sorry. I do appreciate your concern, believe me. I'm aware that my husband has a long road to recovery--longer than even you can imagine. I'll do everything possible to ensure he gets whatever help he needs."

Hammond scrutinized her face. "You know where he's been the last three months, don't you? Or at the very least, who took him. The high white cell count, the presence of glucocorticoids--even the anomaly of those recently-healed injuries. You displayed shock, yes, but never disbelief. Almost as if..." His eyes narrowed. "As if you'd seen it, or something like it, before."

"Dr. Hammond, I'm really not at liberty to discuss--"

Grey stepped into the hallway and cocked a thumb over his shoulder. "There's one seriously pissy FBI agent in there who's anxious to leave this fine establishment. Where the hell is the nurse with the wheelchair?"

For a moment Scully though Hammond would persist, but he relaxed with a mild chuckle. "Wouldn't want it said I obstructed justice. I'll track down Camilla."

Scully followed Grey back into the room, finding Mulder perched on the bed, fiddling with an emesis basin. Her heart lurched and she had to blink back the prickle of tears. At the last moment, as she and Grey prepared to leave her apartment, she'd snatched a few items of Mulder's clothing. A talisman against failure and a pledge of faith that this time she'd bring him home. The faded blue jeans and soft, gray sweatshirt leant him a heartbreaking air of normality despite his sunken cheeks and shadowed eyes.

He scowled as he searched the doorway behind her. "Please tell me Nurse Godzilla is on her way."

She tried for a look of disapproval but it slid off her face. "Camilla, Mulder. Dr. Hammond went to find her. Be nice-- she's the one driving you to the front entrance."

"Seems appropriate. She's been driving me up the wall for days." He tossed the basin onto the tray table and began plucking at his shirt.

Eyebrows raised, Grey waved a hand in his brother's direction. See?

"I know she's a little...abrasive, but her heart's in the right place." When Mulder graduated from plucking to scratching Scully grabbed his fingers. "Stop that."

"It itches."

She hooked a finger in the neck of his shirt, pulling it aside to check the bandage covering the wound left by the central line. "Itching means healing. That's good."

"Scratching means relief. That's good too." But he dropped his hand to his lap.

"All right, Mr. Mulder." Camilla breezed into the room with a wheelchair and her customary no-nonsense scowl. She wagged a finger at him. "Stay put until I can help you--"

"No problem, ma'am, I've got it covered." Grey gave her a soul- melting grin, taking Mulder's elbow and steadying him as he plopped into the chair.

"Why, thank you, Mr. McKenzie! The help is much appreciated." Camilla dimpled, blushing to the roots of her silver hair.

Mulder rolled his eyes but said nothing.

As they rolled out the door, Camilla tossed over her shoulder, "Don't forget Mr. Mulder's personal effects, Dr. Scully. Top drawer of the bedside table."

"But he didn't..." Scully shrugged when Camilla kept walking. Waving Grey onward, she stepped back into the room.

She crossed to the table and tugged open the drawer, sweeping her eyes perfunctorily over the interior. At first glance it appeared empty, and she'd begun sliding the drawer shut when a small baggie caught her eye. She lifted it, staring at the dark, glassy rock inside.

How could she have forgotten? Slowly, Scully opened the bag and grasped the smooth surface, flinching at the odd sensation of warmth. Holding it up to the light revealed nothing--if the object contained some kind of power source, the opaque surface effectively concealed it.

Grey's head appeared around the corner. "You coming?"

She startled, nearly dropping the rock. Sliding it into the bag and then her pocket, she turned with a brittle smile. "Let's go."

Mulder and Camilla were parked at the elevators, wearing identical sour expressions when Grey jogged up and punched the button.

"Everything okay?" Mulder studied her face, his voice warm with concern.

She snagged his hand from the arm of the chair, weaving their fingers together. "Everything is good, Mulder."

A high-pitched ding and the elevator doors rumbled open. Two nurses and a young couple got off, leaving the car empty. Camilla took two strides forward before Mulder clamped both hands onto the wheels, stopping the chair.

Camilla let out a displeased huff. "Mr. Mulder, please let go. I can't push when you do that."

Grey thrust out a blocking arm as the doors began closing. They popped back open, chiming a soft protest. Camilla gave the chair another shove, but Mulder clamped down harder, knuckles white.

"Mr. Mulder." Camilla clipped out the name like a curse, sending Scully a longsuffering glare.

Scully stood in front of him, perplexed. Mulder was staring into the elevator car, teeth tormenting his lower lip.


"Just...just wait a minute." His eyes cut to the left, locking onto the red exit sign. "We're only four floors up. How 'bout we take the stairs?"

"Nonsense." Camilla gave the chair a jiggle. "Mr. Mulder, I need you to remove your hands from the wheels so we can get into the elevator. You're wasting my time; I have other patients to attend to."

"Mulder, you know you're in no condition to navigate stairs." Scully kept her tone gentle as she reclaimed his hand. "Come on."

She stayed close as Camilla trundled the chair into the elevator and Grey punched the button.

The instant the doors began moving Mulder tensed, crushing her fingers. "Open the door!"

Scully gasped, half in shock, half in pain, while Grey simply gaped at his brother's wild eyes and high, panic-stricken voice.

"Open the door, open it!" Mulder lurched forward, dropping Scully's hand and straining for the control panel. "Have to get out. Now!"

"Mulder, it's all right. We'll be down in a minute," Scully soothed, pressing gently against his chest as the elevator began its decent.

Grey laid a hand on his brother's outstretched arm, guiding downward. "Easy, Fox."

Mulder's breathing escalated to quick pants, a sheen of sweat breaking out on his face. His eyes darted around the car's interior and his body thrummed like an overstretched rubberband. "No, no, no. Can't...can't breathe, gotta..."

"You're fine, Mr. Mulder. Sit down." Camilla firmly gripped his shoulders, pulling him toward the back of the chair.

At the touch of her hands, Mulder's whole body jerked. "NO!"

He wrenched free from her grasp, knocking aside their restraining hands while struggling to scramble out of the chair. "No, don't! I don't want it. Letmeoutletmeoutletmeout!"

Scully caught his face between her palms but could not make contact with his blank, terrified eyes. "Mulder! Mulder, calm down, it's--shit!" His flailing hand smacked her in the face and sent her stumbling backward, head thudding against the wall.

She cradled her throbbing cheek, blinking back tears. Mulder had dragged himself out of the chair, fingers scrabbling at the crack between the doors, and Camilla was reaching for the emergency call button as the floor indicator light skipped from 3 to 2. Taking advantage of his brother's distraction, Grey lunged from behind, wrapping both arms around Mulder's chest. The wheelchair tipped over as they both tumbled to the floor.

"Don't...d...don't. Have to get out."

"Shhh, easy, Fox. You're safe." Grey rested his chin on his brother's shoulder and murmured the words into his ear.

Mulder stopped fighting, his frantic gasps harsh in the abrupt quiet. "Grey?"

"I'm here. Everything's gonna be all right. Just breathe." He looked up at Scully. "You okay?"

"I'm fine." Scully pushed past the flustered Camilla and knelt beside them, pressing her fingers to Mulder's wrist, then brushing the hair from his eyes and checking his pupils.

A faint bump and the elevator doors opened. Grey gazed up at the curious faces of an elderly man and two young women. He flashed them a grin as he and Scully hauled Mulder upright and out of the car while Camilla picked up the wheelchair. "Hang onto your hats, folks. That ride gets a bit bumpy."

Scully pursed her lips but merely took the wheelchair from Camilla, holding it steady while Grey lowered his brother. Mulder slumped into the seat, chin tucked to his chest. His respiration had already slowed dramatically.

The nurse cleared her throat. "I'll get Dr. Hammond."

"No." Mulder lifted his head. Occasional tremors still shook his thin frame, but his eyes were clear and lucid. "No doctor."

Camilla's eyes narrowed. "Mr. Mulder, I have never, in all my years--"

Scully held up a hand. "Thank you anyway, Camilla, but that's not necessary. Didn't you say you had other patients? We can handle things from here."

Camilla gritted her teeth. "Yes. I certainly do." She pasted on a tight little smile as she turned away. "Best of luck to all of you." The unspoken implication was clear: You're going to need it.

Scully crouched down, one hand on Mulder's knee, the other stroking up and down his arm. "Talk to me, Mulder. What just happened?"

He blinked and shook his head. "I don't know."


"I don't know!" When she flinched he sighed. "I don't understand it myself, Scully. I just...I had this overwhelming sensation that I was trapped. Like the walls were closing in on me and I couldn't get enough oxygen. I'm sorry I hared out on you like that, but I'm okay now. Can we please just get out of here?"

She thought about the eerily similar incident during the MRI but decided not to push. Mulder's eyes, dark with exhaustion, and the aftershocks still shivering through his limbs convinced her the subject was best left for another day.

She smiled and cocked her head toward Grey. "Sounds good to me. What do you think?"

"I think we'd better blow this joint before Nurse Godzilla comes back with reinforcements." He shook his head with mock amazement. "You sure know how to win friends and influence people, don'tcha, Fox?"

Scully chuffed, grateful for Grey's wry humor. "Just worked that out, did you?"

"It's a gift." Though still trembling, Mulder licked dry lips and managed a weak smile. "Let's go home."

Continued in Chapter 7