Blood Ties V: Legacies(2/3)
Nature's Best, Inc.
"This is crazy, Mulder. Sheer, unadulterated insanity."
Scully glared at her partner, her entire body thrumming with fury.
Somehow Mulder had maneuvered her into the role she was
playing, a role that went against some pretty fundamental beliefs.
First do no harm. It was a basic creed among doctors, and
one she took very seriously. What she'd done to get Mulder to this
point, huddled in the back of the Gunmen's van and preparing to
infiltrate Nature's Best, could be described negligent at best,
criminal at worst.
"Scully, relax. I'm doing just fine. I haven't even coughed in nearly
an hour," Mulder insisted, eyes overly bright and temperament
what she commonly referred to as "twitchy."
"You are *not* all right, Mulder -- far from it! The only reason
you aren't coughing is the truckload of codeine in that elixir I gave
you, and you're wired out of your mind on that shot of caffeine.
You may feel good now, but when you come down you're going to
"Then I'll deal with it when the time comes. What's important now
is that I'm able to go in there and get Grey without barking like a
dog and giving us away." Mulder paused in his restless fidgeting,
finally taking in the guilt on Scully's face. "You did the right thing
to help me, Scully. Never doubt it."
He curved one hand around the nape of her neck and pressed a kiss
to her forehead. The heat she could feel from his skin, however,
undermined the reassurance in his words.
"I don't like being backed into a corner, Mulder," she persisted,
pulling away from the embrace.
Irritation crept into his own voice. "I never forced you, Scully. You
had a choice."
"The hell I did! What would you have done if I refused? Stayed
home and let us handle this?"
Mulder's eyes skittered away from her unyielding stare. "No."
"So my options were to refuse your request and watch you
endanger your life, or do whatever I could -- however unethical --
to get you through the next few hours. Some choice, Mulder."
Mulder could be incredibly thickheaded, but occasionally she
managed to squeeze through a chink in his armor of self-
absorption. His annoyance crumbled, leaving him suitably contrite.
"You know I admire your beliefs, Scully," he said quietly,
suddenly aware of the Gunmen's lame attempts to appear too
occupied to notice their fight. "Even the ones I don't share. But this
is MY brother, the man who has been there for me time and again
over the last six months. I need to do this for him." His voice
plunged until barely more than a whisper. "I need to do this for
Scully closed her eyes and pressed her lips tightly together,
amazed and a little pissed off by the way the man could defuse her
anger with a few well chosen words and a pair of soulful eyes. She
loved him beyond reason, beyond common sense -- a feeling that
was terrifying in its unfamiliarity, frustrating in its irrationality,
and exhilarating in its intensity.
"Let's go," she growled at Frohike, who was ostensibly checking
the microphones on their headsets. Before Mulder could
congratulate himself she turned back on him, one eyebrow raised.
"You owe me for this, Mulder. Big time."
One side of Mulder's mouth turned up in a gentle smirk and he
pressed a hand to his chest. "Just name your price, oh mistress," he
said with an exaggerated wink. "I am yours to command."
"Can it, Frohike," Scully warned, slipping past the little man and
hopping out the sliding door. "In your dreams."
Frohike didn't attempt to hide his leer. "You peeked!"
Nature's Best, Inc.
Getting inside the gate proved to be easy. Validating their "kung
fu" claims, the Gunmen had spent the previous afternoon and
evening hacking into the Nature's Best computer system.
Blueprints and schematics of the buildings and outlying areas
revealed a section of fence vulnerable to wire cutters. Mulder pried
open the jagged edges while Scully and Frohike squirmed through,
following as Frohike returned the favor.
"We're in," he announced quietly, adjusting a headset knocked
askew by grasping, sharp pointed wire.
"Things look good on this end," Byers answered from his position
in the van with Langly. They'd managed to patch into the buried
phone cable that serviced the plant, Langly manning the keyboard
and Byers only too happy to relay communications. He'd never
quite recovered from his foray into the Lombard Research Facility
"Langly says you need to skirt the trees to the north. You'll see two
buildings. The large two-story one is the factory. The smaller is
research and development. Report when you're in position."
"Got it," Mulder said crisply.
Scully took the lead as they cautiously circled northward, keeping
to the shadows of a thick copse of oak and birch trees, their leaves
glittering silver in the moonlight. Clad from head to toe in dark
clothing with her fiery hair tucked up in a baseball cap, Scully
reminded Mulder of a sleek black cat as she picked her way
through the underbrush. Dispelling the oddly whimsical notion
with a shake of his head, Mulder moved quickly to her side when
she pulled up short.
With a tilt of her head and a lifted eyebrow, Scully silently
indicated the problem. Across an open, rolling meadow squatted
two buildings, surrounding floodlights blazing bright as noon. Mulder
contained a groan, eyes methodically cataloguing the area while
one finger tapped at his puckered lips.
"We're in position," he finally murmured into his microphone.
"There's no cover for at least three hundred yards leading up to the
building. Are there any other options?"
A faint buzz of muted voices as Byers conferred with Langly
before replying. "No other choice. He can disable the security lock
and cameras on the west door for about forty-five seconds but
you're on your own to get there."
Mulder cursed softly under his breath. Scully leaned over to lay a
calming hand on his arm.
"We'll just have to make a run for it," she said practically, as if she
were suggesting mild inconvenience instead of life-threatening
risk. "We go all together, and we don't stop until we're through the
door. With any luck the security guard will be off somewhere
taking a nap."
Mulder studied her face a moment, then nodded. "You up for this,
"Get real, Mulder. You should know by now that I'd follow the
lovely Agent Scully to the ends of the earth," Frohike smirked.
Mulder rolled his eyes while Scully wore an expression
somewhere between pained and pleased. "On the count of three,
Byers. And that door damn well better be open when we get there."
Crossing the open field, heart pounding and legs pumping, Mulder
experienced the disjointed flash of an image courtesy of his eidetic
memory. He'd been 10 and Sam 6 when his mother had taken them
to see the movie Bambi at the dollar theatre. Dragged along against
his will, he'd protested bitterly at being subjected to such kiddie
fare. But within minutes the story had sucked him in, weaving him
in its spell. He'd literally crept to the edge of his seat during the
scene in the meadow when Bambi's mother sensed the hunter's
presence and told him to run, run and not look back...
The recollection of the shock that had jolted his body at that
fictitious gunshot jerked his head to the left, his eyes searching for
Scully without slowing his momentum. She was only a few steps
behind, flanked by Frohike, her face a grim mask of concentration
as her shorter legs worked double time to match his own. The
tightness in Mulder's chest loosened almost imperceptibly. He put
on an extra burst of speed, right hand flung out before him as the
door loomed into view. In the slow motion special effects of his
own mind, he saw his fingers curve around the brass knob and
twist hard just before his shoulder slammed into the metal.
And bounced off.
Before he could begin to process his lack of success, a distinct
click pierced the huffing of his own distressed pants for air and
Scully's small hand displaced his own to open the door. They
slipped inside, pulling the door shut and ducking around a corner
to avoid the temporarily blind video camera. Mulder folded over at
the waist, an iron grip on his knees as he struggled to pull air into
lungs that felt compressed by his ribs. He stared with dazed
fascination as perspiration fell from his brow to patter on the dusty
floor like rain.
The faint stirrings of a tickle in his throat brought panic. He raised
his arm, turning his face into his shoulder in a desperate attempt to
muffle the sound. Scully's fingers abruptly locked onto his chin,
bringing his head up and around to face her. His protest silenced
when she slipped the plastic mouthpiece of an inhaler between his
lips and hissed, "Take a deep breath!"
If the past six years had taught them anything, it had been to trust
each other unreservedly in dire situations. Though a deep
inhalation would normally exacerbate his cough, Mulder ceded to
Scully's instruction. A puff of something moist and faintly vile
tasting was sucked into his lungs along with the oxygen, instantly
aborting the compulsion to cough and easing the pressure on his
lungs to a manageable level.
"Bronchodilator," Scully murmured, watching his face closely as
she slipped the little miracle device into her pocket. "Don't talk for
a minute, just breathe."
Mulder was only too happy to comply. When his hammering heart
slowed, he was finally able to observe his locale and Frohike's
absence. His eyes must have registered alarm, because Scully gave
his hand a pacifying press with hers.
"Relax. He just went to scout out the hallway. Langly's guiding
As if summoned, the inner door cracked open to emit Frohike's
head. He squinted at Mulder, a small line appearing between his
eyes. "You all right? Ready to join the party?"
Mulder nodded, placing his hand in the small of Scully's back to
guide her through the doorway. He leaned over to press his lips to
hear ear, provoking an involuntary shiver. "Thanks, babe. Even if
that stuff does taste like piss."
They slipped down a long corridor, the dimmed fluorescent bulbs
and absence of activity exuding an aura of dormancy overlaid with
watchfulness. Staggered doors on each side bore electronic locks
and identifying nameplates -- microbiology, toxicology, electron
microscopy. Mulder peered in through windows that divulged
nothing more sinister than lab benches and equipment, Scully's
"Where are we going, Byers?" he growled, ducking around a
corner with Scully and Frohike to avoid a security camera
swinging their way. "We need some direction here."
"Langly says there's a wing in the back that's not identified on the
blueprints. Go to the end of the hallway and turn left, then a quick
right. You'll see a double door. He's trying to crack the lock now."
Byers' words sped up with his increasing nervousness. "Lots of
cameras in that area, Mulder. Langly can't get them all. Be
They jogged quietly down the designated path, ducking into a
doorway once to allow a lone technician absorbed in a file folder to
shuffle past. Peering cautiously around the final corner, Scully
gave Mulder a thumbs up before stepping toward the security
doors that Byers had described. Mulder barely lifted a foot to
proceed when her body slammed hard against his own, driving him
backward into Frohike as they stumbled back into the shadows. At
their questioning looks she scowled and mimed smoking a
Mulder's eyes darkened and his body quivered with repressed rage.
Ripping the headset from his ears he flattened against the pebbled
texture of the wall as the rising drone of voices drifted closer.
"...drip runs out in about an hour, you'll have the desired results."
The voice was a high tenor with a nasal twang, eager to please.
"Excellent." Cancerman's gravelly voice broke off and then
continued, and Mulder could visualize the missing drag on his
Morley. "Will there be any side effects?"
"Nothing worse than you've seen before. Disorientation, headache,
vomiting -- perhaps a low grade fever. You can still transport."
"That's good to hear. I have other, more pressing matters that
require my attention."
Measured footsteps passed within inches as the men continued
down the corridor without turning, and the irrational desire to
reach out and catch Cancerman by the throat possessed Mulder
until his hands unconsciously flexed at his sides. To wrap his
fingers around that sallow throat, pinning him against the wall and
squeezing to drive that smug expression from his face.
Swept up in the images, he didn't realize Frohike had moved
toward the doors until Scully's hand stilled his clenching fists and
brought him back on task. As vulnerable as bugs on a wall, Mulder
could feel the cold electric eyes of the video cameras impassively
recording their invasion. The small light above the complicated
keypad on the lock winked a baleful red.
"Byers, now would be a very good time," he hissed, slipping the
earphones back into place and tugging at the unyielding knob.
"Hang on, hang on, he's almost got it," Byers chanted.
More footsteps, impossible to determine origin when sound
bounced and echoed off tile. Mulder slipped out his gun and
clicked off the safety, sensing Scully do the same as his eyes
tracked apprehensively around them. Steady tapping, purposeful,
and drawing inexorably closer.
"We are running out of time," he grated through his teeth.
Frohike jiggled the knob again. "Damn it, Ringo! This is no way to
get my video collection!" he muttered into his own microphone.
A soft click, the light flashed green, and they were tumbling
through the first door, then the second, and sliding around the
nearest corner. Once it became clear that the owner of the footfalls
had passed, Mulder straightened and turned the handle of the first
door, pushing it open on silent hinges.
The room was dark and completely empty of furniture or
equipment with the exception of two cots that crouched beneath a
barred window in a spill of moonlight. Mulder walked slowly over
to the nearest, slipping his gun back into its position at the small of
his back. Each cot contained a body, both young males in their late
teens or early twenties. Only the slight rise and fall of their chests
distinguished them from corpses -- that and the fact that restraints
secured their arms and legs to the bedframe.
Frohicke peered around Mulder's shoulder, while Scully moved
around to the other side. She hesitantly touched an arm, then
turned it to curl her fingers around the wrist when the owner didn't
move or awaken.
"Pulse is strong and steady," she said.
Mulder reached over, rotating the arm to expose the underside.
"Look at this."
Track marks traced an ugly pattern from wrist to elbow, marring
the smooth flesh. Mulder repeated his examination of the other arm
with the same results. Scully leaned over, using thumb and
forefinger to spread apart slack eyelids, then gasped sharply and
"You okay?" Mulder asked, frowning at her uncharacteristic
"Yes. But he isn't."
Motioning for him to come closer, she pulled back the lid. The
fixed blue orb beneath swam in a pool of black viscous liquid.
Mulder recoiled, then cursed softly as Scully turned to examine the
other young man. He'd nearly forgotten Frohike's presence until his
elbow was seized in a vice-like grip.
"What the heck is that?" the little man demanded, eyes wide.
Mulder grimaced, turning for the door. "The ultimate betrayal."
Across the hall to the next door, and this time Scully turned the
knob. This room was just as stark, but bathed in subdued lighting.
A single figure lay motionless and restrained on the cot, an I.V.
fastened to the back of one hand and dripping amber fluid.
Mulder's breath caught at the sight of familiar dark wavy locks and
he pushed past Scully in a blind rush to the man's side.
"Grey," he whispered, blinking rapidly to resist the hot prickling
sensation in the back of his eyes.
Oblivious to Frohike and Scully's worried looks, he touched his
brother with one trembling hand, laying the backs of his fingers
against the warm cheek. Grey didn't twitch, his slow, deep
breathing never altering. Biting down hard on his lip, Mulder
raised his fingers to Grey's left eye and gently pried open the lid.
Hazel irises, the pupils dilated to huge black circles, but no oily
Mulder quickly withdrew his hand and clutched at the edge of the
cot, lightheaded with relief. Scully ran a comforting hand down the
length of his arm, then turned to Grey, her blue eyes hard. Quickly
and efficiently she disconnected and removed the I.V., using a
corner of the sheet to apply pressure and halt bleeding.
"Is it safe to move him?" Mulder asked, voice thick with emotion.
"Anything that gets him out of here would be safe," Scully replied
grimly. "His pulse is good. Let's go."
Frohike had retreated to a corner of the room, where he'd been
speaking quietly to Byers. Seeing Scully shove the I.V. pole out of
the way, he helped Mulder haul Grey partially upright. Grey's head
lolled drunkenly on his neck as Mulder propped his upper body
against his chest.
"We've got to go back out the way we came in," Frohike said
apologetically, aiding Mulder's struggle to swing Grey's legs off
the side of the cot. "There's no exit back here."
"How are you going to carry him?" Scully asked, a lump forming
in her throat as she watch Mulder tenderly cradle his brother
against his body. "He's a dead weight."
"Same way he got me back to camp during our nice little trip to the
forest," Mulder replied. "Fireman's carry. You two will have to
watch my back, I won't be able to defend myself." He slipped the
gun from his waistband and handed it to a horrified Frohike.
"Mulder...man, I've never used one of these," Frohike protested,
holding the weapon as if it were a poisonous snake.
"Come on, Melvin," Mulder coaxed with a grin as he hefted his
brother's passive form over his shoulder. "I've never believed that
saying about old dogs and new tricks."
Flashing him a disgusted scowl, Frohike awkwardly tucked the gun
into his own waistband then lead the way back into the hall.
Within two minutes Mulder was unpleasantly reminded that Grey
had been in prime physical condition while carrying him through
the woods, not suffering from an unknown respiratory ailment.
Sweat poured down his face and an annoying ringing filled his
ears, blotting out Frohike's whispered instructions. He slid into
automatic pilot mode, the world narrowing to the back of Scully's
head and the mechanics of placing one foot before the other.
A small hand gripping his wrist and yanking him into a doorway
ripped him from his daze. He leaned weakly against the wall,
bracing himself with the shoulder not occupied by Grey, eyes
closed and panting. Running footfalls and loud voices receded down
the corridor and cool fingers pressed his cheek.
"They're onto us, Mulder," Scully murmured urgently. "Can you
Gritting his teeth, Mulder conserved energy by merely
straightening with a nod. A few more twists and turns and they
burst out into the crisp night air, crossing the meadow at a dead
run. A popping sound, then a bullet whined past his left ear.
Mulder ducked instinctively, stumbling and nearly losing his hold
on Grey in the process. He could hear Frohike screaming, ordering
Langly and Byers to pull up the van. Scully flashed by to his right,
sprinting ahead to pull apart the gap in the fence. She squeezed
quickly through, wincing when a barb raked her cheek and swiping
impatiently at the line of blood as she maintained the opening.
Mulder threw himself to his knees, allowing Grey to slump to the
frigid ground with a thud. He crawled quickly through, then turned
to grasp Grey under the armpits and drag him to freedom, Frohike
shoving from the other side. Two more sharp reports as Frohike
dove through, rolling quickly to his feet. Mulder, his bones feeling
like jelly, fought to pick Grey up as three figures approached the
fence, guns in hand.
"STOP RIGHT THERE!" one barked, calmly swinging the
weapon in Mulder's direction and squeezing the trigger.
Mulder let go of Grey, covering his brother's prone form with his
own body. Scully popped up from her spot in a small ditch and
fired several shots at the pursuers until they scrambled for cover.
Grey chose this inopportune moment to moan and begin struggling
weakly as Mulder attempted to gather him up.
Frohike scooped up Grey's legs and Mulder reasserted his hold
under the man's arms, staggering toward the road and an oncoming
set of headlights. The next few minutes passed in a blur of pure
sensation - the crunch of tires on gravel, a blast of warm air from
the van, strong hands pulling Grey from his arms, the vibration of
the engine as he slumped onto the floor. At last he regained the
ability to process the activity around him in a more sophisticated
"That was too close," Byers said from the front seat and Langly
grunted agreement from his position hunched over the wheel.
Grey was stretched out on a seat, Scully in doctor mode beside
him. "Mulder, he's coming around," she said quietly.
Mulder shifted, began to cough, and gave himself over to the
spasms for several minutes before he could move to his brother's
side. Grey's eyes fluttered and he groaned, his head tossing
restlessly back and forth. Mulder lay a calming hand over his
"Easy, Grey. You're safe," he murmured soothingly.
His brother's eyes slowly opened and he stared into Mulder's face,
blinking. "I... How did I get here? Where am I?"
"You're in a van, we just got you out of that place Krycek took
you. You're safe," Mulder repeated.
Grey's face screwed up in pain. "Hurts," he muttered, lifting a
shaky hand to his head.
"We're going to take you to a hospital, get you checked out,"
Mulder assured him. "Just try to relax."
Grey absorbed his words for a moment, then bit his lip. "I just have
one more question," he whispered, voice thin and shaking.
Mulder mustered a grin. "Fire away."
"Who are you?"
Skinner stepped off the elevator and walked down the long quiet
hallway, the brisk tap of his loafers out of place amidst the quiet
whisper of crepe soles. When he neared the lounge, he spotted a
lonely figure hunched over in one of the molded plastic chairs,
head cradled in hands, and he unconsciously slowed his pace.
Gritting his teeth, he wished once again that he were better at this,
words of comfort flowing off his tongue rather than clogging in his
throat. Inadequacy was a feeling he rarely experienced and barely
tolerated, having discovered that simple avoidance usually took
care of the problem. Like turning a corner into a brick wall at 90
miles an hour, this time it couldn't be avoided.
Scully's call snatched him from the edge of a restless sleep, the
fatigue and worry in her voice bringing him instantly awake. In her
clipped, business-like style, used to maintain composure in
emotionally charged situations, she'd briefly summarized their
rescue of Grey and his current condition. Only when she finally
worked up to making a request did her detachment slip.
"Sir, I'll be staying with Grey while the doctors run some tests.
Mulder could use...that is, he's very..."
Imagining Mulder's state of mind all too clearly, Skinner had
spoken without hesitation. "I'll be right there."
Only now, as he approached the man, did he curse himself for
seven kinds of a fool. If he'd spent more time trying to nail
Krycek and less worrying about his own skin, perhaps they
wouldn't be here now -- Mulder looking like the walking dead and
He rested a hand on Mulder's shoulder as he sank into an adjoining
chair, disturbed by the lack of response. When Mulder did raise his
head, Skinner bit back an exclamation of concern. His cheeks were
flushed with fever, eyes glassy with exhaustion.
"Mulder, why don't you lie down on the couch," he suggested
gently, bracing himself for a typical Mulder scowl at the
insinuation of weakness.
The lethargic shrug of shoulders increased his anxiety. "Don't want
to fall asleep. I need to be awake when Scully comes back."
"You haven't heard anything yet?"
"He was unconscious again by the time we got here. They were
going to do a tox screen, CAT scan, and some other tests to rule
out brain damage." He spoke the last two words in a wispy thin
voice lacking substance but not emotion.
Skinner licked dry lips. "You can't just believe the worst, Mulder,"
he said, inwardly wincing at the lame sound of his own words.
Mulder's laugh had the quality of a sob. "Why not, sir? Don't you
think past experience grants me that right?"
Skinner was still fumbling helplessly for a response when Mulder
returned his head to his hands. "I'm so tired."
Misunderstanding completely, Skinner saw a way out and jumped.
"Lie down, Mulder. I'll keep watch for Scully."
Mulder's jagged laugh turned into hacking, tapering off just as
Skinner was ready to hunt down a nurse. "Sleeping won't fix this,
sir. It won't give me back what they've taken -- what they continue
to take. My sister. My father. Now Grey. They've taken Scully
from me twice -- it's only a matter of time before they do it again,
and this time I won't get her back. I'm not one of those damn
punching toys, I can't keep popping back up." He turned his head
to reveal haunted eyes. "I'm running out of reasons why I should."
"Then let me give you a few," Skinner replied in a voice fiercely
gentle. "Millions of people going about their average,
unremarkable lives in complete ignorance of the impending threat
of slavery and death. A brother down that hallway needs you to be
there for him, the way he's been there for you. And if that's not
enough, there's a certain, redheaded partner who will personally
kick your ass if you even think about giving up now."
As if summoned, Scully rounded a corner and headed down the
hallway toward them. Skinner watched in fascination as Mulder's
head snapped up and rotated, some internal Scullyradar alerting
him. He stood, swayed slightly, then moved quickly down the
corridor to meet her, Skinner in tow.
Scully frowned, cupping his cheek with her hand to feel the heat.
"Mulder, I want you to let someone take a look at you," she said
Mulder fretfully pulled away from her touch. "Not NOW, Scully.
How is he?"
She tensed as if ready to argue, then gave in. "We're still waiting
on the tox screen and other bloodwork but the CAT scan looks
good. He surfaced once or twice, but just long enough to be sick
and he was pretty incoherent. They settled him in a room down the
hall and are hoping he'll sleep off the worst of the effects. Mulder,
I could kick myself for not taking a sample of that drug."
At the sound of her self-recrimination, Mulder sought out her hand.
"We were a little preoccupied, Scully. Can I see him?"
"He's still sleeping. I'd rather a doctor took a look at you first
"Damn it, Scully, my brother is lying in a hospital bed after they
seriously messed with his head! No one is examining me until I see
him, make sure he's going to be all right!" Mulder snapped.
"You're no good to him if you wind up here yourself, Mulder!"
Scully retorted, beyond mere frustration with his intractability. "Or
is your plan to be roommates?"
The acidic humor pulled him up short and he attempted to forcibly
calm his impatience and his labored breathing. "Okay, okay. Just
let me see him and then I'll let the doctor of your choice poke and
prod me to your heart's content. Deal?"
Her lips curved a little but her eyes remained troubled. "Ten
Skinner's voice broke through, reminding them of his presence.
"I'll wait in the lounge," he said dryly. "Just in case you need back-
Mulder's look was scathing, but Scully openly grinned. "That's
good to know, sir."
Tugging on his arm, Scully led Mulder down the hall and around a
corner, steadying him when he began weaving a bit from side to
side. She stepped through the open door of the first room on their
left, moving over to allow Mulder to approach the bed. Another
I.V., this one delivering saline, was inserted in Grey's hand, and a
bandage at the crook of his arm marked where the nurse had drawn
Scully pulled a chair up to the bed and motioned for Mulder to sit,
a suggestion he was more than willing to accept. He tenderly
clasped his brother's hand, taking comfort from the peaceful
expression on Grey's face.
"They gave him some Compazine for the nausea," Scully
explained softly, massaging the knotted muscles in Mulder's neck
and shoulders. "It knocked him out but he should be coming
Mulder's thumb stroked Grey's knuckles. "There were no signs of
"Some deep bruising on his abdomen and lower back but nothing
to worry about. He'll most likely just be stiff and sore for a few
days. He was a little dehydrated, but the saline will take care of
Mulder slowly shook his head, lips parted but unable to form
words at first. "Just a little bit sooner, Scully. An hour or so earlier
and maybe I could have prevented them from giving him whatever
was in that I.V. I let him down."
"You did *not* let him down! You risked your own life to get him
out of there, Mulder," Scully said vehemently. "He's here now,
alive and getting treatment because of you."
"Did you call Kristen?" Mulder asked, clearly unwilling to accept
Scully's appraisal of the situation.
She recognized the evasion, but let it slide. "Right before I called
Skinner. She wanted to come over immediately, but I convinced
her to wait until later this morning."
Grey's fingers twitched and his head rolled to the right, a string of
indecipherable words conveyed with a moan. Mulder leaned in
closer, eyes glued to his brother's face. Grey's tranquil expression
contracted into a grimace and his eyelids twitched.
"Kate?" he mumbled, his voice like chalk on concrete.
Mulder shot Scully an agonized look, his thumb quickening its
motion on Grey's knuckles. Grey's eyes blinked open and he stared
fixedly at the ceiling for several moments.
"Thirsty," he rasped, licking his lips and slowly turning his head to
focus on Scully, who was already moving toward the water pitcher.
She guided the straw carefully to his mouth and Grey drank
greedily, rapidly draining the contents of the small plastic cup. His
eyes tracked around the room as he swallowed, a small frown
darkening his features.
"Where am I?"
"Georgetown University Medical Center," Scully said, setting the
empty cup on the nightstand.
"What's wrong with me?"
"What do you remember?" Mulder spoke up, his own face drawn
Grey started and his eyes darted to his brother as if noticing him
for the first time. He started to speak but then snapped his mouth
shut and studied Mulder, his frown deepening. One shaky hand
crept to his forehead, and he rubbed at the spot just over his eyes.
"I...I don't..." He trailed off, eyes wide with fear and respiration
coming in short pants.
"Easy, Grey," Scully said calmly. "Take deep breaths, you're going
"Everything is all tangled up," he moaned, heedless of her
warning, drawing inward. "Like pieces from different puzzles all
spilled together. Nothing fits to make a complete picture!"
"It's okay," Mulder said, gripping Grey's hand hard until his
brother winced a little and seemed to regain focus, tugging to free
himself from Mulder's grasp. "You're safe now, that's what matters.
No one can hurt you. You're safe."
Grey abruptly ceased struggling and went still, his jaw dropping
open and his gaze fastening on Mulder's face like a drowning man
to a life preserver.
"I remember... you...you were hurt and lying in a hospital bed. You
had a...a bad dream and I...I held your hand and told you that you
were safe." He shuddered, the vibration passing through his whole
body, and his eyes blurred behind a sheen of tears. "Fox."
Mulder grinned, but his lips quivered suspiciously. "Scully always
tells me I'm unforgettable."
Grey rolled his eyes, a flash of his usual humor surfacing. "I was
there, little brother. I believe the word she used was 'impossible.'"
Mulder chuckled roughly, turning his head and swiping at his eyes
with the sleeve of his shirt. Scully bit her lip, distressed by the way
his fingers trembled.
"So why am I here?" Grey repeated, all traces of laughter gone.
"My last clear memory is of playing basketball with you. Is that
"That was Friday," Mulder said grimly. "It's Tuesday. You were
kidnapped on your way to see Kristen on Saturday night. We
finally figured out where they were holding you and got you out
early this morning."
"Why can't I remember any of that? Why does my brain feel like
scrambled eggs -- not to mention this headache! Did someone hit
me over the head, give me a concussion?" Grey struggled against
the panic that wanted to devour him.
Mulder ran fingers through his hair and down to cup the back of
his neck, sensing the muscles that had loosened under Scully's
ministrations grow taut. "We're pretty certain they gave you some
kind of drug to tamper with your memory. You were hooked up to
an I.V. when we found you."
Grey blanched, gaze flitting back and forth between their faces as
if to assure himself that he wasn't the subject of an elaborate
practical joke. What he saw must have convinced him, for his
fingers clenched tightly onto the sheets.
"You keep saying THEY. THEY kidnapped me. THEY drugged
me. Who did this? And what could they possibly want with me?"
Mulder reacted as if slapped, flinching and drawing back from the
bed. Scully saw him fumbling for a response, and stepped closer to
"We think they were after Mulder, Grey. Taking you was a
Grey processed this, then reached out his hand. "Fox. Don't."
It was enough. Mulder stretched out his still trembling hand to
briefly clasp his brother's. Even separated by several inches, Scully
could feel the heat radiating from his body. She glanced at Grey to
see if he noticed, but his eyes were already beginning to droop
with weariness. Seeing her opportunity, she lay one hand on
"Ten minutes are up, Mulder," she said quietly. "We had a deal."
Mulder's lips thinned. "Five more minutes, Scully, we just..."
"Mulder. Look at him."
As she'd hoped, concern for his brother achieved what her own
threats could not. Mulder registered that Grey's eyes were mere
slits and his annoyance faded.
"Get some sleep," he told Grey mildly. "We'll talk more later."
Grey nodded amiably, not bothering to open his eyes. "'Kay."
Mulder stood with all the agility of a ninety-year-old man.
Evidently his blood didn't get the message that his head was
moving up, since the world went uniformly gray and without
Scully's death grip on his arm he would have gone down in a heap.
She steered him out the door and down the hall, to the lounge and
the incongruous image of Skinner with a copy of "Better Homes
and Gardens" in his hands. When he saw Scully's face looked
nearly as pale as Mulder's, he jumped up to help her settle her
partner in a chair.
"I'm okay!" Mulder snapped, then disintegrated into harsh, wet
coughs, bending forward and clutching his ribs.
Skinner pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and pressed it into
Mulder's right hand. He brought it to his lips and attempted to
muffle the raw, uncontrollable spasms. When they finally
diminished, Mulder clutched the bit of cloth in a fist pressed tightly
to his lips.
"That's it, Mulder. We're going downstairs to the emergency room
right now," Scully said, trying for her command voice but only
managing to sound desperately worried.
"I don't want Grey left alone," Mulder replied stubbornly, his voice
fading in and out like a man with laryngitis.
Skinner shook his head. "Mulder, we've already determined that
they probably never wanted Grey in the first place. I'm sure he's
not in any..."
"They never finished wiping his memory!" Mulder cut in. "He
might have seen something, heard something that they didn't
intend for him to remember." He struggled to stand, still forcing
words from his abused throat. "I won't take a chance, Skinner! You
have to promise me..."
Mulder froze, only halfway to standing, his eyes becoming
impossibly wide and losing focus before rolling back in his head.
Skinner caught him before he could pitch forward onto the tile,
terrified when he felt Mulder jerking spasmodically in his arms.
"Oh God, oh God, he's seizing! Lay him down on the floor!"
Scully moaned. "We need help down here!" she bellowed in the
direction of the nurses' station.
Skinner complied, fighting not to lose his grip on Mulder's twisting
body. By the time a nurse arrived with an orderly and a gurney,
Mulder had gone limp and very still. Scully hovered, barking
orders like a drill sergeant as he was expertly lifted and strapped
down. She followed them down the hallway and into the elevator
without sparing Skinner a backward glance, one of Mulder's hands
cradled in her own and a continuous flow of background
information directed at the nurse.
Skinner stood in the middle of the vacant lounge, shock
smothering his emotions like a heavy wool blanket. Forcing
himself from his stupor, he clenched his teeth. The best way he
could help Mulder now was to ensure that he concentrate on
getting well. If the man wanted Grey under protection, he'd see to
Skinner took three steps before his foot landed on something soft
and lumpy. Looking down, he saw his crumpled handkerchief and
bent to retrieve it before continuing toward Grey's room. He was
about to tuck it absently into his pocket, but a flash of color caught
his eye and he halted. His stomach knotted as he unfolded the
pristine white square to reveal ugly splatters of bright crimson.
"I know you weren't thrilled about going to that concert, but don't
you think this was an extreme way to avoid it?"
Grey brought Kristen's hand to his lips and placed an apologetic
kiss on the palm. "I believe that's called 'extenuating
circumstances,'" he said ruefully. "I promise to make it up to you
when I get out of here."
Kristen shifted a little more firmly onto the edge of the mattress.
"And that will be...?"
Grey curled his lip. "Not soon enough. Actually, it's possible
they'll release me tonight, if I can keep down my dinner." He rolled
his eyes. "No small feat when you consider the slop they served for
"I'd be glad to play chauffeur," Kristen offered, her shy smile
revealing matching dimples. "In the interest of your complete
recovery, of course."
Grey grinned back. "Of course. But I'll have to get back to you.
Fox will most likely be planning to take me home, since I'm
staying at his place."
Kristen shook her head, frowning in confusion. "Fox? But he can't
do it, he's " She stopped abruptly, chewing on her lower lip and
turning her face to gaze out the window.
"What? He's what?" Grey demanded, alarmed by her discomfiture.
"Kristen, what's going on?"
"I thought you knew. You didn't seem surprised that he hadn't been
back to see you," she said quietly, hands twisting in her lap.
Grey sat up and stilled them in his own. "Tell me."
"He's very sick, Grey. The A.D. told me he's been admitted and
they're running tests. They think it's pneumonia."
Grey's expression shifted quickly from anguish to anger. "Why
didn't anyone tell me? Did they think I wouldn't want to know?"
"I guess they didn't want to upset you, when you were sick
yourself. The A.D. said ... Grey!"
Grey ignored Kristen's cry of alarm as he grimly rid himself of the
I.V. and tossed off the blanket. He swung his legs over the side of
the mattress and rested for a moment, feet dangling, before
offering her a tight smile.
"I suggest you turn around, darlin' or we're going to get to know
each other a lot better. This gown isn't made for taking a stroll."
Blushing furiously, Kristen turned her back and folded her arms
across her chest. She heard the slap of bare feet on tile, the click of
a light switch, and then running water.
She turned cautiously to see Grey's head poking from the bathroom
"Would you find Walt and send him in here? And have him bring a
pair of scrubs? My clothes seem to be missing."
"You shouldn't be doing this, Grey," she said, cursing herself for
revealing information that Dana and Assistant Director Skinner
evidently felt Grey was in no condition to hear. "You've been
through a terrible ordeal, you need to rest."
Grey's intense focus softened. "Come here."
She complied, but unenthusiastically, brows contracted with worry
and guilt. Grey ran the backs of his fingers down her cheek, then
cupped it tenderly.
"I'm doing much better. He's my brother, and I need to be with
him. There have been too many times in his life when he's been
Kristen placed her hand over his and nodded. "I understand. Just
try to pace yourself, okay?"
Grey pressed a swift kiss to her lips and smiled. "Deal. Now please
have Walt find me some pants. I promise I'll call you later."
Grey climbed into the shower, sighing in pleasure as the hot water
washed away the sweat and grime accrued from three days of...
What? His mind was a collage of disjointed images interspersed
with patches of complete darkness. Dana had said that they
believed Fox to be the intended target of the kidnapping. Why did
that thought fill him with such a prickling uneasiness?
He emerged from the shower to see a pair of sweats and a tee shirt
hanging from the hook on the back of the door. He toweled off
quickly, resting briefly on the seat of the toilet when he became
light-headed. Skinner sat rigidly on the edge of his vacated bed, a
disapproving scowl darkening his face.
"Thanks," Grey said diffidently, gesturing to his clothing. "How'd
you get these?"
"I still have Mulder's gym bag in my trunk. They removed it when
his car was impounded as evidence and I kept forgetting to return
it. Those disreputable running shoes of his are here too, and some
socks. I wasn't sure if they'd fit you."
"Close enough," Grey said, sinking into the chair and pulling the
soft white cotton over his left foot.
"You're not ready for this," Skinner growled, watching him lace up
The anger, which had continued to simmer as he showered and
dressed, sprang to a full boil.
"I think *I* am the one qualified to decide that," he snapped. "You
had no right to keep this from me, Walt. It doesn't matter how pure
your motivations were."
"Grey, twelve hours ago you didn't even recognize your brother.
>From what Scully tells me you spent the better part of the morning
vomiting and disoriented as hell," Skinner kept his tone reasonable,
but the thrust of his jaw testified that it was difficult. "We weren't
going to keep this from you indefinitely, just until we had a better
handle as to what's going on."
"He's my brother, damn it! He just put his life on the line for me. I
need to be there for him." Grey stood up slowly and deliberately,
rubbing the stubble along his jawline.
"He's not going to know the difference right now, Grey," Skinner
replied soberly. "He's very sick."
Skinner's words rebounded in Grey's head, triggering an image
both stark and frightening in its clarity. As if suddenly removed
from himself, he saw the scene unfold.
*Piercing dark eyes scrutinizing his face. "How sick is he?"*
*Feelings of fear, rage, helplessness intermingled. The stench of
cigarette smoke and the ache of abused muscles and bones. "Go to
*The craggy face displaying concern as well as anger. "Don't play
games with me, this concerns your brother's life! HOW SICK IS
Skinner darted forward to grasp Grey's elbow as the man swayed
and clutched his head. He guided Grey back down into the chair
with no resistance, then turned to pour a glass of water.
"Yeah, you're a terrific judge of what you're ready to do," he said
sarcastically, placing the cup in Grey's jittery hand.
Grey took a gulp of the cool liquid and a deep breath before
responding. "It's not what you think. I just...I think I just
"Something from the last three days? What?" Skinner realized he
was towering over Grey and consciously backed off, sitting back
down on the bed.
Grey turned the cup slowly and stared into its depths as if would
reveal the answers he sought. "It doesn't make sense, really. I
remembered a man asking me questions about Fox, about his
illness. He seemed concerned, and he told me that Fox's life
depended on me telling him what he wanted to know."
Grey was silent a moment, then nodded bleakly. "Yeah. I smelled
Every muscle in Skinner's body went taut, and he muttered several
colorful words under his breath. "I shouldn't be surprised," he said
darkly. "Whenever Krycek turns up, that SOB isn't far behind."
"Krycek? You mean the guy Fox calls 'that one-armed rat
Skinner chuckled. "He does have a way with words. That's the one,
all right. We found his thumbprint on Mulder's car. He must be the
one who kidnapped you."
Grey stared into empty space, hands clenched on the arms of the
chair. After a minute his shoulders slumped and he massaged his
temples. "Nothing. That part is still a blank."
"Give it time," Skinner replied mildly. "You're not going to force it
to come." He sighed in resignation. "If you're ready, I'll take you
up to Mulder's room. I already explained your insanity to the nurse
in charge, but you'll have to stop by and sign yourself out AMA."
He stood and extended a hand to Grey. "You know, you and your
brother may just be the two most stubborn men I've ever met," he
Grey allowed himself to be pulled up and grinned. "Why thanks,
Walt. I always do enjoy coming out on top."
Scully squeezed excess water from the soft terry cloth and gently
bathed Mulder's burning cheeks before laying it on his brow. In
spite of the cooling blanket his temperature remained dangerously
high, though he'd been seizure free for the last several hours.
Scully reached her right hand through the side rail to grasp his limp
one, the skin hot and dry, while her other soothingly stroked
through his hair.
"What's happening here, Mulder?" she whispered. "You're scaring
When they'd gotten Mulder to the emergency room, Scully had
been horrified to learn that his temperature had spiked to over 104
degrees, provoking the seizure in the lounge and a second, longer
one in the trauma room. Both lungs were congested with fluid and
he'd ruptured some blood vessels along his trachea through the
violence of his coughing -- a fact she'd explained to her white
faced boss when he'd turned up a few minutes later with the bloody
Despite bitter complaints, the ER personnel had resolutely ejected
Scully and sent her to the waiting area, Mulder becoming the
queen bee in a flurry of workers. Blood drawn, sputum cultured,
and a CAT scan run to rule out brain damage from the seizures. An
arterial line, I.V., Foley catheter, pulse oxymeter, heart monitor,
and oxygen mask put in place. Finally they'd packed him off to
ICU, where she was allowed to rejoin him as she waited for the test
She'd just removed the already warm cloth and was dipping it in
the basin of water when Skinner and Grey stepped into the cubicle.
Scully's eyes widened, then narrowed in annoyance.
"You're supposed to be downstairs, resting," she told him. "Do
they even know you're here?"
"I'm no longer their problem. I checked myself out," Grey
answered distractedly, moving around her to get closer to his
brother. He stretched out a hand and tentatively brushed his fingers
across Mulder's forehead, wincing at the heat. "What's wrong with
All at once the tension of Grey's disappearance, fatigue from too
many sleepless nights, and worry over Mulder's illness congealed
into a crushing weight in her chest, and Scully struggled for
composure. "Bacterial pneumonia," she said, blinking hard. "We
just won't know what strain until the results of the culture come
back -- tomorrow at the earliest. Until then they've got him on a
broad spectrum antibiotic and they'll perform respiratory therapy to
clear his lungs."
"He's so hot," Grey murmured. "His skin feels as if it's on fire."
"Actually, his temperature has dropped about a half degree since
they brought in the cooling blanket," Scully said. "It's not much,
but at least the seizures have stopped."
"How did he get this sick this fast? I know he was a little under the
Scully shrugged, absently stroking the tender skin around the I.V.
with her thumb. "Worry, exhaustion, poor diet I guess it all
combined to accelerate the process. Hard to fight off a disease
when you've been abusing your body."
"Because he was looking for me," Grey said guiltily. "You don't
have to say it," he added quickly when Scully looked
uncomfortable. "I know him well enough to picture what he must
have been like."
The ICU nurse in charge of Mulder's care walked into the cubicle
bearing a cart of medical paraphernalia. A young woman, Elena
Alvarado wore her jet-black hair twisted into a thick cable that fell
halfway down her back and rose-colored scrubs.
"Dr. Brewer is waiting to speak with you down the hall in the
lounge. I'll take care of Mulder's therapy while you're gone," she
said, nodding to acknowledge Grey and Skinner.
Scully smiled warmly, pleased that Elena had remembered her
advice not to call Mulder by his first name. "Thanks, Elena. Can
you handle him alone? I'll be glad to help after I speak to the
"I'll be fine, thanks. Joey is coming in to give me a hand so we
should be able to get it done quickly. With any luck, all the
unpleasantness will be over by the time you get back." Seeing
Scully flinch she reached over to pat her arm. "Try not to fret.
We'll get him through this and he'll be back to hunting down the
bad guys in no time."
Scully leaned over to place a kiss on Mulder's cheek, murmuring
something that was obviously meant for his ears alone. With a
weak smile for Elena and a final parting glance at his still face, she
allowed Skinner to take her by the elbow and gently steer her from
Grey hung back, watching the nurse set up a small machine and
begin to unpack sterile tubing. When she gently removed the
oxygen mask from his brother's face, he turned and trotted quickly
to catch up to Scully and Skinner.
"Dana. Just what does this therapy entail?" he asked, ducking a
little to peer into her face.
Scully's reply was subdued and she avoided his eyes. "It's vital to
clear the bad stuff out of his lungs, Grey. And Mulder is too weak -
- he can't do it himself right now."
Grey pictured the coil of tubing and swallowed hard. "Will it...
Will it hurt him?"
She licked her lips. "It's not pleasant. But then, Mulder isn't exactly
cognizant right now." She blinked at the film in her eyes that
turned the sharp lines and planes of the hallway into an indistinct
blur. "Last time he never really woke up enough to realize what
Dr. Nicholas Brewer looked like a cross between young urban
professional and California surfer dude. As he stood in the center
of the lounge, studying a chart, he gave the appearance of the
consummate professional -- crisp white coat, serious blue eyes
framed by wire-rimmed glasses, and a stethoscope slung around
his neck. But here and there about his person lurked the signs of
subtle rebellion against the status quo. Blond hair just a little bit
too long and unruly, feet clad in Doc Martens rather than shiny
dress shoes, and the tie Distracted and nearly out of her mind
with worry as Mulder succumbed to a second seizure, Scully had
taken one look at the obnoxious riot of color knotted about the
doctor's neck and felt an instant sense of peace. Mulder would love
that tie -- the man was obviously a kindred spirit.
Brewer looked up at their approach and offered a welcoming
smile, but Scully's stomach dropped at the sight. She'd pasted on
too many similar smiles herself, when breaking devastating news
to a victim's loved ones, not to recognize it when on the receiving
end. Whatever was on that chart was not good news.
"Dr. Scully," he said, casting a questioning glance at Skinner and
Grey. "The results of the CAT scan and some of the bloodwork
have come back. I'd like to go over them with you."
"This is Assistant Director Skinner, our boss at the bureau," Scully
said with a slight tilt of her head. "And Grey McKenzie, Mulder's
brother. I'd like for them to hear the results as well."
Brewer shook hands and exchanged brief pleasantries with Skinner
and Grey, then focused sober eyes on Scully.
"You obviously don't play cards, Dr. Brewer," Scully said with a
levity she did not feel. "Your face tells me that those results aren't
going to ease my mind."
Brewer's lips quirked. "So that's why they always include me on
poker night," he said dryly. He tucked the folder under his arm and
clasped his hands together. "We made a disturbing discovery on
Mr. Mulder's CAT scan. I know you're going to want to see it for
yourself, and I have no objections. I've already alerted them you'll
be stopping by."
Hard to force words through a parched throat. "What kind of
Brewer ran one hand along his lightly stubbled jaw, eyes clearly
communicating puzzlement. "I don't know what to call it. I've
certainly never seen anything like it, and neither has the consulting
Scully actually staggered a little, and only Grey's strong grip on
her elbow kept her upright. "Oncologist?"
Brewer's blue eyes were kind, the wrinkles around his mouth a
testament to his regret. "There's really no way to ease into this, Dr.
Scully, so I'm just going to say it. Mr. Mulder has some kind of
mass located on his pineal gland, but unlike any tumor I've ever
seen. I know it sounds crazy but it looks like...like..."
"Worms," Scully whispered, feeling as if something vital had been
sucked from her body. "Black worms."
She barely registered Brewer's stunned confirmation over the
ringing in her ears. "Yes. That's it exactly! But, how did you
Grey used his knuckles to scrub at eyes grown bloodshot and gritty
with fatigue. Between the jam-packed events of a very long day
and the black hole in his memory, he found himself fighting the
surreal feeling that his life outside the hospital was just a dream --
or perhaps worse, had ceased to exist. Barely twelve hours ago,
he'd played the role of patient, Fox the worried brother. Grey had
learned during Kate's cancer that life often possessed a cruel sense
of humor. Looking at Fox now, their positions swiftly and brutally
switched, he could swear he heard the ghostly echo of cosmic
"Always got to hog the spotlight, don't you, little brother?" he said,
the soft words coated with pain, not aggravation. "You've got our
complete attention, I promise. Why don't you wake up so you can
Fox's harsh puffs of breath, muffled by the oxygen mask, remained
steady, his face slack and one hand curled limply over his stomach.
Thanks to some heavy-duty antibiotics and an anti-pyretic, his
fever had crept down another degree -- still high but not
dangerously so. The truth of the matter was that he should be
awake by now, or at least in and out. Dr. Brewer was not
particularly concerned, but the thinly disguised panic in Dana's
eyes left Grey with a chunk of ice in his gut that still hadn't melted.
Grey closed his eyes and curled over to rest his head in his hands,
replaying the earlier conversation with Brewer through his
increasingly foggy brain. A mass of...something attached to Fox's
pineal body, the small gland located near the geometric center of
the brain. Dana's white face and haunted, knowing eyes. She'd
been shocked by the diagnosis, but not the disease. She and Walt
had exchanged looks that hinted at a dark and terrible history.
Dana and Brewer had then launched into a technical exchange that,
thanks to his own dark history, actually held some meaning. A
white cell count of only 500, with a T4 count of only 150.
Translation? A decimated immune system incapable of fighting off
disease. Cause? The answer to that remained unknown, and
accounted for Dana and Walt's absence.
He must have slid into a doze, because the gentle hand on his
shoulder jolted through his body like an electric shock. His head
snapped up and his gaze latched on to Elena's warm brown eyes.
"Sorry. I didn't realize you were sleeping," she said apologetically.
Grey rubbed both hands over his face. "I wasn't." He caught the
amused twitch of her lips and grinned. "Well, I didn't *intend* to,
"My shift ended about a half an hour ago, but I hung around so that
I could take care of Mulder's treatment," she explained as his eyes
lit on the cart.
"That was nice of you," Grey replied, touched by her
thoughtfulness. "Especially considering the fact that he won't
Elena shrugged. "You'd be surprised. Patients in that condition take
in a lot more than we give them credit for. I figured it might help to
have someone familiar administering the torture."
She caught Grey's stricken expression as she turned to her
equipment, and lay a reassuring hand on his arm. "I'm sorry again.
That joke was in poor taste. Believe me, this isn't that hard on
Grey accepted her words but moved toward the door. "I'll wait out
in the hall."
He squeezed past another nurse, obviously on her way to help
Elena, and propped himself up against the smooth cool wall with
his eyes shut against the stark glare of fluorescent lights.
*Think about Kristen* he told himself sternly. *Or the ball game
last week. Anything but what's going on in that room right now.*
It almost worked, until his brother's distressed cries penetrated the
muted overtones of hospital activity and pulled him upright. He
shuffled restless feet and chewed his lip as he listened to the quiet
voices of the two nurses as they tried to comfort and calm. When
he heard Fox call pitifully for Dana, something inside him broke,
and he pushed his way back into the room.
Elena and the other nurse wrestled with a thrashing Fox, his eyes
blank with fever and pain. Elena must have sensed Grey enter --
she called over her shoulder without releasing her death grip on
Fox's writhing body.
"Give us a hand, will you please, Mr. McKenzie? Your brother
could use a familiar face right about now."
In three quick strides Grey reached the bed and insinuated himself
into Fox's direct line of sight. Grasping his chin in gentle fingers,
he turned his brother's face until their eyes linked.
"Fox, relax. It's all right. You're very sick and you're in the
hospital. Stop struggling or you're going to hurt yourself."
He pitched his voice low and soothing, watching as wide, glassy
eyes regained focus and bunched muscles relaxed.
"That's it, little brother," Grey murmured. "Just try to relax. Come
on, let's get you settled."
Elena, who had hung back and allowed Grey to command Fox's
full attention, moved carefully over to adjust the pillows as Grey
helped his brother lie down. Grey saw Fox's eyes dart anxiously
toward the nurse and then back to his own, searching for an
explanation to ground his panic.
"That's Elena, she's been taking good care of you," Grey said,
giving her a small smile though his own heart was still beating
"Trying to suck my guts out through my nose," his brother croaked
feebly. "Call that good?"
Grey could almost feel his blood pressure lowering. If Fox could
wield that wry sense of humor, he must be doing better. Elena gave
the pillow one final tug and flashed a smile.
"You know the black market price for a liver in good condition?
Can't blame a girl for trying," she said irreverently.
Fox stared at her, started to chuckle in surprised delight, then broke
off into harsh, wet coughs. Elena immediately helped him sit up,
grabbed an emesis bowl from the bedside table, and held it under
his chin while thumping him firmly on the back.
"Come on, Mulder. I need to you get rid of all that poison and put
me out of a job. Just try to let your body do the work."
Grey took one look and quickly turned his back, swallowing hard.
When Fox's barks tapered off he turned around in time to see Elena
wiping his brother's pale, sweaty face with a cloth and murmuring
a string of soft encouragements. Fox lay bonelessly against the
pillows, his brief surge of energy zapped by the ordeal.
"Did that on purpose," he said reproachfully, but one corner of his
mouth turned up.
"You've found me out," she said, winking. "I'll resort to any and all
means to achieve my objective." She traded the oxygen mask for a
nasal cannula, slipping it gently around his head.
Mulder's smile widened just a bit. "First nurse I ever met with a
sense of humor," he said. "Must be tough."
Elena rolled her eyes. "You have no idea, Mulder." She grasped
the handle of her cart and rolled it toward the door, but paused in
the doorway. " Just out of curiosity, exactly how many nurses have
Grey snorted and spoke up before his brother could answer. "You
have no idea, Elena."
The bright tinkle of her laughter echoed down the hallway even
after she shut the door.
Fox coughed lightly, then grimaced. "Horrible taste in my mouth,"
he said. "Water?"
Mentally chastising himself for not offering, Grey poured a cup
and tried to hold it so that his brother could sip from the straw.
After Fox downed half the contents, he held up his hand and Grey
set the cup aside. Though his eyelids were already drooping, Fox
squinted at Grey.
"No offense, but isn't there something wrong with this picture? I
mean, last I remember *you* were the one on this side of the
bedrail. What's wrong with me? And how did I get here?"
Grey carefully repressed the urge to evade his brother's eyes and
shuffle his feet. Fox was a profiler, and he'd catch on immediately
if shown the slightest sign of falsehood. But there was no way he
intended to explain the full scope of the illness -- as if he could.
He'd just have to answer with the part he understood.
"You've got bacterial pneumonia," he said. "From what Dana tells
me you collapsed in the lounge after leaving my room early this
morning. Your fever was really high, but they've managed to
knock it down a bit."
*Hmm. How to field that one without drawing suspicions?*
"She said she was going to follow up on some of your lab work,"
Grey answered, sinking down into the chair. "I expect she'll be
He caught himself nibbling on his thumbnail -- an action Kate
would have immediately recognized as a red flag that he was
hiding something. Fortunately Fox's eyes were defying his
attempts at gathering information, slipping shut and staying that
way for increasing lengths of time.
"Get some sleep, little brother," Grey urged softly. "Dana will be
here when you wake up."
"So tired," Fox mumbled, the words running together and blurring
like watercolors on a child's painting. "Headhurts."
Grey opened his mouth to ask if he should hunt down the nurse
when Fox's head slumped a little more to the right and his
breathing evened. He watched his brother sleep until his own eyes
began to mutiny and he could no longer stifle the jaw-cracking
yawns. Scooting his chair closer to the bed, he folded his arms atop
the soft mattress and used them to pillow his head. Within
moments, his steady breathing joined his brother's.
Skinner paused in the doorway to the lab, taking the opportunity
for a little surveillance. Scully sat on one of the tall stools, one foot
propped on a rung and the other dangling several inches off the
floor. A microscope occupied the space directly at her left elbow
and several pages of data papered the countertop in front of her.
Her auburn head, propped on her right fist, commenced a gradual
slide downward, only to jerk sharply up again. Skinner observed
the cycle repeat itself several times before loudly clearing his
throat and stepping inside.
Scully's slumped posture abruptly snapped to attention and she
pushed up the glasses that had worked their way to the tip of her
"Sir," she said, as he took a seat beside her. "I'm sorry, I didn't hear
you come in."
"Thought maybe you'd like a lift back to the hospital to check on
Mulder," Skinner replied, taking in the bluish cast to the skin
beneath her eyes. "Then I can drive you and Grey home to get
Of course she protested immediately.
"I'd appreciate the ride to the hospital, sir, but I don't plan on
leaving Mulder tonight. You should take Grey back to Mulder's
place, though, he's still not fully recovered and he must be
Skinner's eyebrows tilted downward and he clenched his jaw.
"Please, Scully, don't pull a Mulder on me. I'd hate to have to make
it an order."
He half expected an explosion. Scully in Mulderprotection mode
had terrorized more than one hospital ER and he knew he had just
bared his jugular -- so to speak. But she only raised one sculptured
eyebrow and regarded him with a bemused expression.
"Pull a Mulder on you?"
"Yeah. You of all people should know what I'm talking about. I
saw you trying to rein him in the last few days -- won't eat, won't
sleep. All his resources focused on finding Grey at the expense of
his own health. Is this starting to ring a bell, Agent Scully?" He
deliberately accented his use of her title, pinning her eyes with his
Scully flushed. "Sir, he's so sick. If something were to happen
Skinner held up a quelling hand. "Scully, he's stable. So far he
hasn't even been aware enough to notice if you're there or not. But
if it makes you feel any better, I'd be happy to sit with him while
you grab a little nap."
Her eyes filled before she could stop it. Scully ducked her head
and began scooping up the paperwork, blinking furiously. "I... I
don't know what to say," she replied unsteadily. "I appreciate the
gesture, but I know it's been a long day for you too, and..."
"You're forgetting that I actually slept last night," Skinner
reminded her gently. "Do we have a deal?"
Scully's lips curved. "I didn't think I had a choice."
"I like to preserve the illusion," Skinner said dryly.
Scully actually chuckled at that. She finished stacking the reports
in a neat pile and returned a small rack of test tubes to the
refrigerator. Skinner handed her the papers, hesitating a moment
She sighed heavily as she followed him out the door and they
walked slowly down the deserted hallway. "Nothing of any
consequence. I've been comparing Mulder's data with that of Dr.
"Sacks -- the NASA scientist infected by the rock?"
"That's the one. Unfortunately most of the data on his illness
disappeared at the time of his death. What I do have is sketchy at
best." Scully reached up to tuck a wayward strand of hair behind
her ear. "From what I can tell, the mass on the Mulder's pineal
body is virtually the same as Sacks's. I just can't account for its
"Meaning we know when Dr. Sacks was infected, and how. But
Mulder..." She removed her glasses and slipped them into her
pocket, then rubbed the indentations on the bridge of her nose. "I
keep wracking my brain, trying to come up with a time when
Mulder could have unwittingly come in contact with the oil.
Nothing fits. It just doesn't make any sense."
"You said in your report that Sacks appeared to have
immediately lapsed into a coma upon exposure," Skinner pointed
out, frowning. "But we know that's not true of Mulder. Hell, we
were standing right there when he collapsed! And what, if anything
does this have to do with the pneumonia?"
Scully bit her lip. "The pneumonia is just a side effect of his
depressed immune system. And it's my guess that the growth is
somehow responsible. If that's true..."
Skinner looked at her sharply, then gazed quickly away when he
realized she was struggling for composure.
"If that's true," she continued quietly, "then Mulder isn't going to
get any better until we can remove the growth. And as of right
now, I only know one way to achieve that."
When she didn't go on, Skinner pulled her up short with a hand on
her arm. He gazed searchingly into her face, alarmed by what it
Scully opened her mouth, then turned sharply and continued
walking. She spoke a single word, tossed hurriedly behind her like
an object that was too repulsive to retain possession.
Skinner stripped off gloves, mask, and gown, wadding them up in
a ball before shoving them into the trash can. As he left the
anteroom, Scully's voice cut through the cotton in his sleep-
deprived brain. Not yelling -- Scully rarely raised her voice -- but
ferocious in intensity.
"I'm telling you that you don't understand what you're dealing
with! You can't."
Dr. Brewer's voice, tight with control. "And you do? Because if
you have some information that you haven't shared with me, Dr.
Scully, I need to hear it right now. I don't have to tell you how
precarious your partner's situation is at the moment."
Skinner turned the corner and nearly ran over Grey, leaning against
the wall and glancing uneasily between Brewer and Scully. He
showed his teeth in an expression intended to pass for a smile.
"Hey, Walt. Join the party."
Skinner raised both eyebrows, while Scully and Brewer visibly
took a step back from their anger.
Scully pursed her lips and glanced down at her navy pumps. "I
know you're doing the best you can with what you know," she said
grudgingly. "I'll admit I don't have any answers myself. The only
man I'm aware of that presented with a similar growth never
Brewer's eyes narrowed. "He died?"
"Under...questionable circumstances," Scully replied. "We were
unable to determine the cause of death."
Brewer threw up his hands and glanced beseechingly at the ceiling.
"God save me from FBI agents -- as patients *or* next of kin," he
added ruefully. Before Scully could take offense, he shook his
head. "Look, I'm just a doctor. The mystery and intrigue in my life
exist on a much more physical and mundane level. The fact of the
matter remains that Mulder's white count has gradually declined
over the last twenty-four hours. I may not know what that growth
is, but it's obviously destroying his immune system one little piece
at a time, and if we wait much longer he'll be too weak to
withstand treatment. I've consulted with our head of oncology, and
I don't make this recommendation lightly. I honestly see no
Skinner frowned. "Recommendation?"
Scully closed her eyes and pressed her fingers against her temples.
"Chemotherapy." She looked at Brewer, her earlier fire quenched.
"We've placed him in isolation and pinpointed the exact strain of
pneumonia," she said pleadingly. "Can't we give him some time, a
few days for the new antibiotic to kick in? If he can throw off the
"Dr. Scully... Dana," Brewer said, his tone that of a man calming a
skittish colt. "You and I both know he's incapable of fighting off
this infection. His immune system is practically non-functional.
The growth is inoperable, and even if it weren't, surgery would be
out of the question in his condition. The chemo is his only chance."
Skinner watched as Scully's entire body communicated her
acquiescence, from the curve of her shoulders to a single bob of
her head. His breath caught in his throat and from the corner of his
eye he observed Grey turn to press his forehead and both hands
against the wall.
Brewer sucked in a deep breath and slowly released it in a very
undoctorly sigh. "I'll speak to Ramona Simons, our oncologist.
She'll stop by to see Mulder later this morning. Would you like me
to discuss this with him?"
Scully's reply was very soft. "No. I'll take care of it."
Brewer gave her arm a brief squeeze and nodded to Skinner and
Grey before heading toward the elevators.
They remained like a collection of oddly placed statues -- Grey
still pressed against the wall, Scully, head bowed and arms folded,
and Skinner, both hands shoved deeply into his pockets. Grey
turned his head to regard Skinner.
"How is he?"
Scully's head shot up and he could feel her hanging on his
response. Skinner sifted through images of the long, sleepless
night, not wishing to hide the truth but unwilling to further wound
her fragile spirit.
"He's in and out," he said gravely. "His temperature spiked a
couple of hours after you left, but they knocked it back down and
since they hung the new antibiotic it's remained steady. He was
delirious during that time, but he's been lucid otherwise. He just..."
Skinner broke off, wishing he'd stopped while ahead.
He grit his teeth. "He sleeps a lot. He's had a pretty bad headache
and they're giving him a painkiller. But I don't think it really makes
much difference. He's very weak, and even a few minutes of
conversation wears him out."
Scully accepted his assessment stoically, though he couldn't help
feeling he'd just multiplied her pain. She straightened her slumped
posture and smoothed her jacket, assuming a more serene
"I appreciate you staying with him, sir. I'm sure you're more than
ready to catch up on your sleep. Grey and I can take over now."
Skinner lips formed a denial, but when a yawn nearly escaped in
its place he was forced to concede the truth of her words. "I'll be
back later this afternoon, after you've seen the oncologist," he
Scully nodded listlessly. "Thank you."
Skinner watched her turn the corner, Grey's hand cupping her
elbow. The resignation in her step alarmed him, as uncharacteristic
as Mulder's complete lack of energy. Events were spiraling rapidly
out of control, gaining momentum as they were pulled farther and
farther from the center. He had the uneasy feeling he could glimpse
the inevitable destination, and it was a very dark place.
Awakening occurred piecemeal, scattered and seemingly disjointed
parts integrating and fusing to form the whole. Sound -- the soft
rumbling of voices, the steady blip of machinery, and the rough
susurration of his own respiration. Smell -- alcohol, disinfectants,
and pure oxygen. Touch -- the slightly scratchy texture of
chemically laundered sheets, the annoying pinch of the nasal
cannula, and the relentless ache that reverberated through his skull.
Taste -- the arid, sour sensation in his mouth that signaled fever
and painkillers. The last puzzle piece, sight, came in the guise of
two blue eyes rimmed with smile lines and weariness, peering at
him from above a paper mask. Mulder blinked, his eyelids still
heavy and sticky with sleep.
"Good morning, sunshine," Scully said, pleasure communicated in
the lilt of her voice.
Mulder licked his lips, tongue attempting to soothe the parched
flesh. "Hate that mask," he grumbled. "Suppose a good morning
kiss is out of the question."
The laugh lines around her eyes deepened. "Always the
crackerjack investigator, Mulder. Nothing gets past you." She saw
him eyeing the cup of water and brought the straw to his lips.
Mulder tilted his head to capture the plastic tube, wincing when the
motion doubled his vision and the pressure in his skull. Scully
didn't comment, merely stroked the sweaty hair back from his
forehead while he drank and removed the cup when empty. Only
when he was once again reclining more comfortably against the
stack of pillows did she venture to comment.
"I noticed on your chart that it's been four hours since your last
shot. Do you want me to get the nurse?"
If he hadn't been feeling so lousy, Mulder might have grinned.
They'd learned, he and Scully, how to phrase questions in order to
glean productive answers. Queries that could be answered by the
phrase "I'm fine" were strictly avoided.
"Not yet," he replied, studying what little he could see of her face.
"We obviously need to talk, and it leaves me too fuzzy."
For the first time he noticed Grey standing near the foot of the bed,
fidgeting with the paper gown and latex gloves. "Nice look," he
said, the corners of his mouth turning up. "Not everyone can pull
off tyvek and latex, but somehow you've managed."
Grey scratched his nose with his middle finger, provoking a
chuckle, and then an extended bout of coughing. When Mulder
finally leaned back, breath whistling noisily in his chest, he
captured Scully's eyes with a demanding glare.
"I want you to be straight with me, Scully. This is more than just a
bad case of pneumonia -- isn't it? I can feel it in my body, and I can
see it in your eyes."
Scully sat down on the edge of the mattress and laced her fingers
with his, wishing she could feel the silk of his skin. "You're right,
Mulder, and you're wrong. You are suffering from pneumonia, but
not any of the strains we might have expected. You have
pneumocystosis, which is caused by an organism that occurs
naturally in the lungs and isn't a pathogen in a healthy person. In
the case of a severely depressed, immune system -- such as
premature infants and cancer or AIDS patients -- it becomes
opportunistic and causes infection." She paused, hating the clinical
tone her voice took on as a defense mechanism.
Mulder frowned, nibbling on his lip as he processed her words,
then his eyes widened. "Scully, I couldn't... I mean, you're not
saying that I...I have AIDS?" The question, almost belligerent at its
inception, ended in barely a whisper.
Scully squeezed his hand tightly and hastened to reassure him.
"Mulder, no! No, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to give you that
impression. They ran a routine test when you were admitted and it
came up negative."
He visibly wilted, the relief palpable. "But... Then what *are* you
saying, Scully? If my immune system is so out of whack, what's
Scully forced herself to meet his gaze, to keep her voice steady, to
hold back her tears -- in short, to avoid every instinctual response
to his question. "Mulder, we found something during your CAT
scan. A...a growth in your brain. But not just any growth, this is
located on your pineal body. We've seen this before, Mulder."
Mulder's confusion melted into understanding, and then fear. "The
NASA scientist? The rock?"
Scully nodded. "It's a...a nest of those black worms, Mulder, just
like Dr. Sacks. But it doesn't make any sense! Dr. Sacks drilled
into the rock, unwittingly exposing himself to the black oil. But
you... Mulder, I've wracked my brain and I just can't come up with
a plausible explanation for how those things could have gotten into
your body! You've never..."
Mulder shuddered, pulling back from her as if burned. His
breathing quickened to short, harsh puffs for air and his eyes
turned so dark they appeared black.
"Mulder? Mulder, calm down. What is it?"
A nurse burst into the room, mask askew and eyes flitting from
Mulder to Scully and Grey. "Is everything okay in here? Mr.
Mulder's monitor just went a little crazy."
Mulder held up a pacifying hand, slowing his breathing with what
appeared to be superhuman effort. "I'm all right, I'm all right. I
just... Something startled me. I'm fine now."
She pinned him with a suspicious gaze, but the undeniable drop in
bleeps from the heart monitor must have reassured her. "Take it
easy then, Mr. Mulder, or I'll have to ask your visitors to leave.
You can't afford stress right now."
Scully looked ready to spit nails at the nurse's insinuation, but
Mulder hastily cut her off. "I promise. It won't happen again."
The door hadn't even swung shut before Grey beat Scully to the
punch, planting a hand on either side of Mulder's feet and leaning
over him like a cat ready to pounce. "You know, don't you? You
*did* come in contact with this black oil that Dana told me about."
Mulder stared at him blankly for a moment, then turned stricken
eyes to Scully. "I told you about my time in Tunguska, Scully.
About the gulag, the beatings, and the roaches. About Krycek's
betrayal and my escape. I even told you about the prisoners used as
test subjects, injected with the experimental vaccine and then
deliberately exposed to the oil. I just left out one detail." He sucked
in a small gulp of air and fumbled to regain her hand. "I was one of
those test subjects."
Scully flinched, evading his searching fingers and slipping off the
bed. She walked woodenly over to the window and stared into the
bright sunshine, keeping her back carefully turned toward Mulder
and Grey. Mulder gazed miserably at the rebuffed extremity, then
her stiff, distant posture.
"Scully? Say something."
Her words were ice-cold, smooth, and colorless. "What do you
want me to say, Mulder? That I'm okay with this? That I'm not hurt
by your little secret? By the fact that you've lied to me for the past
Mulder's soft plea sharpened. "I didn't lie."
Scully whirled to face him, her fury clearly evident. "You *did*
lie, Mulder! A lie of omission that you perpetuated every time we
discussed the black oil. All your talk about trust is really just lip
service, isn't it? When it gets personal, you don't trust anyone.
Never have, and never will."
"How can *you* presume to lecture *me*, Scully?" Mulder
growled, pushing himself upright and shrugging off Grey's
restraining arm. "How many nosebleeds did you hide with a quick
trip to the bathroom? How many sleepless nights with another cup
of coffee and a little more makeup? I kept this from you for all the
same reasons you hid your cancer from me. I couldn't bear to see
my pain reflected in your face. And I couldn't bring myself to
admit it was real."
He folded back into the bed, absently rubbing his left arm and
struggling to adjust the pillows. Scully remained frozen until Grey
made a move to help, waving him off and gently guiding Mulder to
a more comfortable position.
"Things are different between us now, Scully," Mulder sighed,
voice thin with fatigue and thick with regret. "I knew I should tell
Scully lay her finger across his lips, frustrated again by the latex
barrier. "I know. You don't need my anger now, and I'm sorry for
that. I... I didn't expect this, Mulder. But it makes a terrible sort of
sense. That vaccine was still experimental. It imparted a resistance
to the black oil, but perhaps that resistance is temporary. No doubt
the experiment appeared to be a success, until now."
A harsh gasp and a thud wrenched their focus from each other to
Grey. He stood pressed against the wall, eyes shut and brow
"Grey?" Mulder asked, alarmed. "What's the matter?"
Scully stood, her plan to go to him sidetracked when Grey's eyes
flew open and he motioned frantically for silence.
"Quiet! Let me think, let me think!"
Scully and Mulder exchanged baffled looks, unnerved by his odd
behavior. Grey continued to ignore them completely, focusing
inward and muttering to himself.
"The experiment appeared to be successful. The experiment
appeared to be successful. Who said that? Somebody said that.
Think, Grey, think!" He wove his fingers into his hair, tugging on
"And they call me Spooky," Mulder mumbled, shaking his head.
"Looks like it's genetic."
At his words Grey went very still, his frenetic movements ceasing
abruptly. He slowly turned his eyes on Mulder, mouth dropping
open in shock.
"Oh, my God," he whispered raggedly. "I remember. I remember