Blood Ties 8: The Fragile Cord (2 of 3)
By Dawn


Walnut Woods Apartments
Sunday, March 26
12:51 p.m.

"We're early," Mulder said reproachfully as he turned off the
engine. He tipped his thumb toward the sign on the rental office
door that read "Out to Lunch. Back at 1:00." "Ten minutes, Scully.
I could've seen ten more minutes of the Yankees."

Scully turned in her seat and lifted an eyebrow. "It's just one game,
Mulder. You act like I dragged you away from the World Series!"

"No, it takes experimental brain surgery to accomplish that,"
Mulder growled, slumping down behind the wheel with arms
folded and lip extended.

"Guess maybe I'm a bit overanxious," Scully offered, hoping to
avoid an argument. "This is important to me."

To her relief, Mulder's petulant expression faded and his mouth
curved. "I know, babe. It's important to me too."

She couldn't help herself. "Is it? Because I know this hasn't been an
easy decision for you, Mulder. I would never want to push you into
taking this step if you aren't ready."

Mulder turned to face her, pulling his right leg up onto the seat. He
framed her face in his palms and searched her eyes as if they
contained the answers to Life's greatest mysteries. Scully caught
her breath at the love he made no attempt to conceal.

"Scully, you are the best thing to come into my pathetic, screwed
up, solitary existence. I'd have to be crazy not to be ready for this."
The full meaning of his words struck him, and Mulder grimaced.
“How 'bout we strike that last part? You get the idea."

Scully covered his hands, holding them in place as she pressed a
kiss to each palm. "You are not crazy, Mulder, just a little off
balance. You're going to be fine."

Mulder touched his forehead to hers. "Yeah, I’ve heard that before,
babe. Right about the time they were fitting me for the jacket with
the really long sleeves."

"That's not funny."

"You're telling me."

Scully pulled away to glare and Mulder tried to affect a suitably
repentant expression. Evidently he failed miserably, because she
snorted and rolled her eyes.

"You're impossible."

He grinned roguishly. "That may be, Scully. But you've got to
know I wouldn't give up the New York Yankees for just any
broad."

"Gee thanks, Mulder. You sure know how to sweet talk a girl," she
replied sarcastically, then smirked. "Guess I'll just have to make it
up to you."

Mulder looked interested. "Ooo, Scully! Do you take requests?"

A white sedan pulled up to the office, discharging a silver haired
woman in a cranberry suit who unlocked the front door and took
down the sign. Scully indicated the bare door with a nod of her
head.

"Give 'em to me later, ace. Time to go sign the lease."

Mulder followed her to the door, popping sunflower seeds and
grumbling under his breath. A small brass bell jangled, announcing
their arrival, and the woman looked up from her desk with a bright
smile. A transitory line creased her forehead when she saw Mulder
and Scully, smoothing as she rose and moved around the desk.

"Hello, Mr. Mulder and...Ms. Scully -- is that right?" She extended
a thin, wrinkled hand.

Scully accepted the press of cool fingers. "Yes, that's correct. It's
nice to see you again, Mrs. Groman."

Handshakes out of the way, Mrs. Groman continued to smile, eyes
darting between their faces and an expectant lift to her brows.
Mulder shoved both hands into his pockets and rocked on his
heels, indicating that he expected Scully to do the talking. She
cleared her throat.

"We have a one o'clock appointment," she prompted.

Mrs. Groman's face twisted in puzzlement. "An appointment?
Whatever for, dear?"

Scully's brows drew together and she took a half step forward,
peering over the woman's shoulder at an open day planner on the
blotter.

"To sign our lease, of course," she answered a bit impatiently.

"Your lease? But..." Mrs. Groman broke off, turning to Mulder in
confusion. "Surely you told her, Mr. Mulder?"

Now it was Mulder who looked baffled. "Told her? Told her
what?"

Mrs. Groman stared at him as if he'd grown an additional head.
Attempting to cover her discomfiture, she circled around the desk
and scooped up the appointment book. She held it so that both
Mulder and Scully had an unobstructed view. A heavy line ran
through their names, penned in flowery cursive in the 1 p.m. time
slot.

"I canceled today's appointment when I voided the preliminary
agreement."

"What? Why on earth would you void the agreement?" Scully
demanded.

"Well, because...because Mr. Mulder asked me to!" Mrs. Groman
spluttered, turning her head to pin Mulder with a baleful glare. "He
came in last week and said you'd changed your minds. I assumed
he spoke for you both. Obviously I was in error."

Scully struggled against a rush of anger, staring questioningly at
Mulder, who flushed.

"I did no such thing."

Mrs. Groman's mouth dropped open and her eyes narrowed. "You
most certainly did! It was last Tuesday. I remember because I had
to leave early for a doctor's appointment. You walked in just as I
was closing up. You were very apologetic, said you both were
experiencing second thoughts and decided to postpone moving."

Mulder clenched his jaw, glancing over to Scully. "Scully, she's
wrong, I never..."

Scully bit down hard on her lip and turned her face from him, but
not before he recognized the raw hurt. It tore something deep
inside him, and his confusion turned instantly to rage. He rounded
on Mrs. Groman, eyes blazing.

"I don't know what kind of game you think you're playing! Did
someone pay you to say those things? Is that it? Was he smoking a
cigarette? Huh? Was he?"

"Mulder, stop it!"

Scully's voice cut through the pounding in his skull. For the first
time he saw that Mrs. Groman had shrunk back from him, her eyes
wide and her arms pulled defensively against her body. Ashamed,
he stepped backwards.

"She's lying, Scully," he said weakly, running trembling fingers
through his hair. "I swear to you, I would never back out of this."

"You told me there had been a death in your family," Mrs. Groman
spoke up, her voice shrill. "You said you'd just buried your sister."

An invisible fist slammed into his stomach. Mulder staggered
backward several more steps, the back of one hand pressed to his
mouth. His feet tangled together so that he nearly fell, but he
righted himself, spun, and stumbled out the door.

Scully kept her eyes trained on the beige carpet, blinking rapidly to
clear the moisture that insisted on blurring her vision. A terrible
silence descended over the office, broken only by Mrs. Groman's
harsh breathing. After what seemed an eternity, the woman
nervously cleared her throat. Scully tilted her chin up, expression
painstakingly composed.

"I'm very sorry, Mrs. Groman. Mulder has been under a
tremendous strain lately and he's not himself."

Mrs. Groman shakily lowered herself into her chair, face pale as
milk. "Your friend needs help, Ms. Scully. He appears to be very
unstable. I'd be extremely careful if I were you."

Scully shook her head. "You don't understand, he's just upset.
Mulder would never hurt me, or anyone else. I *know* him."

Mrs. Groman gave her a pitying smile. "I'm sure you think you do,
dear. But that man has a very volatile temper. Please, just keep in
mind what I've said."

Somehow Scully got her numb feet to carry her across the room
and out the door. She sucked in deep gulps of fresh air and turned
her face up to the warm sunshine. Her stomach twisted into knots,
and her chest felt tight. Mulder was nowhere in sight.

Tears threatened again and she squeezed her eyes tightly shut to
stave them off. As hard as she tried to dismiss this latest incident as
minor, just another indication of Mulder's fragile emotional state,
the sensible voice in the back of her mind wouldn't allow it.

*I'd be very careful if I were you.*

Scully shuddered and strode rapidly toward the car, as if by doing
so she could somehow escape the echo of Mrs. Gorman's words.
She'd known Fox Mulder for seven years, and in all that time she'd
never considered him to be a violent man. Never. Oh sure, he
could bluster like a pro -- she'd seen him slam the odd suspect up
against a wall, shove his gun under Cancerman's chin... But she'd
always known it was mostly for show. She never doubted his self-
control, his ability to hold his temper in check.

Until now.

The man in the rental office, the one who'd physically intimidated
an older woman, was a stranger. Fury had completely eclipsed his
natural sensibility and restraint. And that scared her more than she
cared to admit.

Scully opened the car door, nearly shrieking in surprise when the
slumped figure in the passenger seat lifted his head. She tightened
her grip on the door until her knuckles turned white, tamping down
the slight twinge of fear.

*Get a grip, Dana. This is Mulder, remember?*

The blatant misery in his eyes eliminated her uneasiness but
increased the ache in her gut. Mulder pressed his keys into her
palm.

"You drive, huh Scully? I don't think..." His voice caught and he
just shook his head, evading her eyes.

Scully curled her fingers around the ring, shut the door, and
walked around to the driver's side. Once inside, she sat motionless,
her feet absurdly far from the pedals. She ran her hands around the
smooth, warm plastic of the steering wheel, her mind dull and her
thoughts sluggish.

"Say something," Mulder said quietly.

Her throat constricted. "I think we should go home."

Silence, then a nearly undetectable dip of his head. "Okay."

Scully busied herself with adjusting the seat and mirrors, focusing
on the mechanics of each task with single-minded intensity.
Mulder remained very still, face turned toward the window and
hands limp in his lap. It was when she checked over her shoulder
before pulling out of the parking space that movement caught her
eye. She froze, one hand on the wheel, one propped on the
seatback, and watched his throat tightening and releasing
convulsively.

She shifted back into park and turned to lay her hand on his
shoulder. "Mulder."

"I'm screwing it all up, Scully," he rasped. "Just like I knew I
would, sooner or later. I'm losing you, and I don't even understand
how or why."

"Wait a minute, wait a minute! What are you talking about? What
makes you think you're losing me?" Scully said sternly, inching
across the seat until she was pressed along his side.

Mulder's eyes were so dark, so haunted. "I saw your face, Scully. I
hurt you. You can't deny it. And the hell of it is, a big part of me
still can't accept that I did it." He shook his head. "Why, Scully? I
wanted this, want to be with you. Am I so messed up that I'd
subconsciously sabotage my one chance for happiness?"

She reached up to brush her fingers through his hair. "I'm not an
expert, Mulder. I can't tell you what might or might not be going
on in that complicated brain of yours. I know you're confused right
now, but there's one thing you can be sure of -- I am *not* going
anywhere."

A shiver ran through his body. "What if I told you to?"

"What?"

Mulder tilted his head back on the seat and closed his eyes. "I just
scared the shit out of a little old lady, Scully," he said tersely. "Add
that to the fact that I don't seem to know what the hell I'm doing
from one moment to the next and it doesn't seem like I'm the
healthiest person to be around right now. Maybe there's a point to
this little fiasco, maybe you should...should..."

"No."

Every ounce of the Dana Scully spirit and determination was
packed into that one little word. Mulder looked down into eyes
snapping with outrage, and it was like finding his compass after
being hopelessly lost.

"You are a complete idiot, Mulder, but I love you. And I'm not
going to let you punish yourself out of an overdeveloped sense of
guilt and a misguided need to protect me. I am *not* leaving you.
Now get it through your thick skull and don't mention it again."

Her tirade coaxed a feeble spark to his eyes, but when he gazed
back out the window it died.

"Guess we won't be moving in together, babe. Even if they had
another vacant apartment, I doubt Mrs. Gorman would offer it to
us."

Scully scooted back over to the steering wheel and shrugged. "Her
loss, Mulder. There are plenty of other apartments out there, when
the time is right." She looked at him slyly, out the corner of her
eye. "Maybe we'll even find one with a built-in shadowy
informant."

Mulder's lips twitched. "Convenient."

Scully's soft chuckle died down to a smile. "Let's go home,
Mulder. After all, I still have those ten minutes to make up for."

He nodded, turning back toward the window as Scully put the
engine back into gear. When he was certain she'd become
preoccupied with driving, he let the smile slide from his lips.
Scully talked a good game, but he'd recognized the fear in her
eyes. Recognized it, because it mirrored his own.

The X-Files Office
Tuesday, March 28
11:45 a.m.

Exactly ten number 2, yellow stalactites dangled from the ceiling
above Mulder's desk. Scully stared, undecided whether to remove
them or add to their number. The office felt unnaturally quiet and
still without Mulder, as if his presence were an electrical charge
that kept things humming. Ironic that she found herself missing
him, when just days ago his edginess had driven her to distraction.

But that was Mulder -- a walking contradiction. Arrogant and self-
assured on the job, yet self-deprecating and unassuming in private.
Suspicious and paranoid of strangers, but nave and trusting with
victims. Willing to embrace the bizarre and implausible, but unable
to acknowledge the validity of God or organized religion.

Not to mention the man had the dubious ability to inspire feelings
of profound love and intense rage. Simultaneously.

Still staring blankly at the pencils, Scully nearly knocked over her
coffee in surprise at the sound of a throat clearing. Skinner stood in
the doorway like a little boy waiting to be invited in to play.

"Agent Scully? May I have a minute of your time?"

"Of course, sir," she answered formally, then couldn't resist
adding, "Two trips to the basement in less than a week. I'm not
sure whether to be flattered or worried."

Skinner actually grinned. "Go with the first option, Scully. Trust
me -- you'll know when you need to worry." He sobered. "I really
just wanted to ask how Mulder is doing."

Scully's smile became wooden. "Taking it easy at home and hating
every minute of it. How are negotiations with Carpenter?"

Skinner grimaced. "Let's just say that Mulder is going to really
owe me for this one. Pete Carpenter is not an unreasonable man,
when his temper isn't doing his thinking. He's agreed not to take
the incident before OPR, but only with the assurance that Mulder
will see one of the EAP counselors."

"Not a problem," Scully said quietly. "He has an appointment with
Karen Kossoff this afternoon."

Skinner's eyebrows shot upward. "You've got to be kidding. How
did you manage that?"

Scully's eyes eluded his and she rolled her tongue against the
inside of her cheek. Abruptly, mercilessly, tears welled in her eyes
and clogged her throat. Terrified of losing control, she forced
herself to breathe slowly and deeply.

"He's scared," she admitted. "There was another...mishap that left
him pretty shaken. He's not thrilled about talking to Karen, but he's
desperate."

Skinner eyed her shrewdly. "Do you want to tell me about it?"

"That wouldn't be my first choice, no," Scully replied ruefully.

"Karen is an excellent psychologist," Skinner continued, showing
no offense at her reluctance to elaborate. "Whatever brought
Mulder to this point, I'm please to hear he's willing to get help."

Sully sighed. "Karen probably has a better chance than most, but
I'll be honest with you, sir. Mulder possesses a strong disdain for
psychologists and a wealth of built-in defense mechanisms. No one
is going to help him unless he decides to allow it."

Skinner frowned. "I thought you said he was scared. That he was
desperate enough to do just that."

Scully shrugged, her face troubled. "You know the old saying, sir.
Better the devil you know than the one you don't. As frightened as
Mulder is over what's been happening to him, digging for the root
of the problem holds its own set of fears."

"I see what you mean." Skinner's gaze turned distant. "I was in
pretty rough shape when I got home from 'Nam -- nightmares,
panic attacks, depression. But whenever my parents tried to gently
suggest I get professional help I became furious. I was trapped in a
dark place, but to change that I knew I'd have to relive the very
events that sent me there." He snorted. "Not an attractive
proposition."

Moved by his candor, Scully leaned closer. "So what happened?
What finally convinced you to get help?"

Skinner's jaw thrust forward and a small muscle in his cheek
twitched.

"I'm sorry," Scully said quickly, "I didn't mean to..."

"No. No, it's all right." He paused. "I had an extremely vivid
flashback to when the Viet Cong ambushed my unit. When I
regained my senses, I had a gun pressed to my mother's head." He
pressed a fist to his lips, then held it up with thumb and index
finger nearly touching. "I came this close to killing my own
mother. When I looked down into her eyes, saw that she was
terrified -- of ME..." He shook his head. "I had no choice. I
couldn't risk it happening again."

Scully's teeth worried her lip, blinking. "He gets so out of control,"
she whispered, almost to herself. "I've never seen him like this."

Skinner's voice was very, very gentle. "Scully, has he..."

Her eyes flew wide open. "NO! Mulder would never do anything
to hurt me! Never."

"But something happened," he prompted softly.

"We went to sign our lease, for the new apartment," Scully said,
staring at a spot somewhere over Skinner's left shoulder. "The
woman who showed us the apartment, Mrs. Groman, said she'd
cancelled the preliminary agreement. She said Mulder had come in
last week to tell her we'd changed our minds."

"But Mulder denied it."

Scully's lip trembled and a few wayward tears trickled down her
cheek. "He started yelling at her, accusing her of being in league
with Spender. For a moment I thought he was actually going to put
his hands on her. The poor woman was terrified."

"What snapped him out of it?"

"Me. I yelled at him to stop and he did," Scully said, using her
thumb to brush the moisture from her face. "When he realized
what he was doing, saw Mrs. Groman cowering away from him,
Mulder was devastated."

Skinner blew out a long gust of air, his brow furrowed. "There's
been no trouble since?" Scully shook her head, her expression
guarded. "Then I'd suggest that..."

The phone rang and Scully lifted it with two fingers. "Scully."

"Where is it?"

The naked anger in Mulder's tone stung like a slap. Scully
frowned, turning her body away from Skinner and cupping her
hand around the mouthpiece.

"Where is what?"

"This is beneath you, Scully. I know your feelings on the matter
but you had no right to take it. Now where did you put it?"

His words practically thrummed with nervous tension. With effort,
Scully resisted the urge to react offensively. Instead she pitched
her voice low and soothing.

"Mulder, slow down. I don't understand what you're talking about.
What is it you think I've taken?"

"Sam's diary. I've been over this apartment a dozen times and I
can't find it anywhere. Last night it was on the bedside table and
now it's vanished." Mulder sucked in a slow breath of air and when
he resumed speaking she could hear tears in his voice. "I know
you're trying to help, but this isn't the way. That book is the last
link to my sister, all I have left. Just tell me where it is, okay?"

"Mulder, I'd love to tell you where it is, but I *don't know.* I
haven't even seen her diary, but it must be around somewhere.
Why don't you take a break and go to your appointment with
Karen and then..."

"I do not need to take a break, I need to find that book," Mulder
growled. And I'm not going to the damn session with Karen unless
I do!"

The slam of receiver meeting cradle left her ear ringing in protest.
Scully stared at the phone, astonished, then quickly redialed
Mulder's number. Four rings, then the answering machine picked
up.

"Mulder? Mulder, pick up the phone!"

When she received nothing but dead air in response, Scully slowly
hung up. She could feel the ponderous weight of Skinner's stare on
the back of her neck. Ignoring it, she shut down her computer and
collected her purse, the routine comforting.

"I'm taking a long lunch," she told her boss stiffly. "I'll be back as
soon as I can."

"Scully... Maybe I should go with you," Skinner suggested,
motionless except for the dark eyes that followed her every move.

"NO!" The reply burst from her lips, razor-edged, before she
caught herself and padded the corners. "No, sir. Thank you for
your concern, but that would only raise Mulder's paranoia. I can
handle this alone."

The lines around Skinner's eyes and mouth betrayed his doubts.
"Are you *sure* about that, Scully?"

She lifted her head, shoulders squared. "Yes, sir. I'm positive."

Once in the car, however, Scully's resolve crumbled. Mulder
would be angry that she'd left work -- he'd undoubtedly interpret
her visit as checking up on him. The last thing she wanted was to
provoke a full-blown fight, and she could tell over the phone that
he was spoiling for one. Lately his natural stubbornness and
paranoia seemed magnified tenfold, and she couldn't help feeling
she was headed straight into a no-win situation. Scully chuckled
humorlessly. But she was just hardheaded enough to give it a try.

Mr. Pendleton, owner of the apartment above Mulder's, had taken
his usual post at the window. Scully returned his wave distractedly,
unable to conjure up a smile for the elderly man. When she
reached Mulder's door she hesitated only a moment before using
her key. Maybe if she caught him off balance she'd bypass his
defenses.

Scully stepped inside and froze, her heart pounding wildly in her
chest. It looked as if a tornado had touched down in Mulder's
living room, and it must have been an F5. Books, videos, knick-
knacks, and photo albums -- in short, the entire contents of the
packing boxes -- were strewn carelessly across the floor. Totally
focused on finding the diary, he'd disregarded any attempt to
preserve order.

She was still gaping in surprise when he barreled out of the
bedroom, his expression thunderous. He jerked to a halt and his
eyes narrowed.

"Why aren't you at work? Afraid I might run off and terrorize a
little old lady?" he sneered.

So much for circumventing his defenses.

"I'm here because you were obviously very upset about the diary. I
thought I could help you look for it," she replied mildly, walking
over to a scattering of paperbacks and assembling them into a pile.

While she stacked she watched him from the corner of her eye.
Hair damp with sweat, respiration rapid, hands trembling -- he was
the picture of agitation. There would be no hope for rational
discussion if she couldn't get him to calm down.

"Nice try, Scully. It still doesn't convince me you don't have it," he
replied.

"Mulder, I didn't... Never mind. When was the last time you saw
it? Think hard."

"I *told* you already -- it was on the nightstand when I went to
bed last night. Which, I might remind you, was while you were
still in here reading a medical journal. What did you do, wait until
I was asleep, then come in and take it?"

"Why are you so convinced that I took it?" Scully asked, temper
rising in spite of her good intentions. "What evidence do you
have?"

Mulder braced his hands on his hips and scowled. "I know *I*
didn't move it, Scully. And there sure as hell wasn't anyone else
here!"

Scully straightened and shook her head. "Mulder! You are a law
enforcement officer! Would you try for a conviction with that kind
of circumstantial evidence?"

Mulder's lip curled and he began to pace back and forth.
"Sometimes, if the person is guilty as sin, circumstantial is
enough."

Even armored with the knowledge that something was wrong, that
he wasn't himself, Scully reeled from the venom in his words. She
tried to cover it by collecting another stack of books, bending so
that her hair veiled the hurt on her face.

"Why would I take the diary, Mulder? Evidence is just part of
what's necessary for a conviction, after all. What's my motive
supposed to be?"

Mulder picked up his basketball, bounced it twice and set it down,
then moved on to briefly finger a paperweight on the desk before
abandoning it for a photo album. He delivered his answer amidst
the restless movements, never stopping long enough to look Scully
in the eye.

"A warped desire to protect me? You've told me to stop looking for
the men who experimented on Sam, to just let it go. You always
try to distract me from reading it. Did you think I didn't hear you
the other night when you said you wished I'd never found it?"

"Sometimes, Mulder. I said *sometimes* I wished you'd never
found the diary. If you'll recall, I'd just brought you down from a
nightmare." Scully bit back further argument, sensing futility. "I'm
sure it must be here somewhere. It's probably in one of these piles.
Let me drive you to see Karen and then..."

She never sensed him approach until he was looming over her. A
sneakered foot swung unexpectedly into view and the books she'd
just organized into a neat pile went flying in six different
directions. Mulder's hand curled around her wrist and yanked her
upright until her startled face was inches from his own.

"I am NOT going to see Karen!" he roared. "How many times do I
have to say it? Do you think I'm stupid now, as well as crazy? Is
that it? Because I'm not, Scully. I know exactly what you're trying
to do and…"

Shock gave way to pain and Scully's face contorted, tears filling
her eyes and an involuntary hiss escaping her lips. Mulder reacted
as if burned, dropping her arm and lurching back a step. She
automatically kneaded the sore flesh until she saw the horror on his
face.

"Scully, I... Are you all right, did I hurt you?" he babbled, reaching
once again toward the abused wrist.

She couldn't help flinching. He quickly pulled back his hand, but
not before spying the bracelet of livid red marks left by his long
fingers.

"Oh my God. I can't believe I did that," he whispered raggedly.

Scully tried to grasp his hand, hastening to reassure him. "Mulder,
I'm fine. I'm a redhead, I bruise if you look at me hard enough."

Mulder squirmed away from her touch, shaking his head. "I tried to
tell you, Scully," he moaned. "I tried, but you wouldn't listen, and
now I've done it. The one thing I always swore I'd never do, not in
a million years. I've hurt you."

Scully's head shook in counterpoint. "No, Mulder, it wasn't like
that. You didn't do it deliberately! It was an accident. Now come
over to the couch and..."

"NO! I want you to leave before I do something worse," Mulder
insisted, his voice high with panic. "I don't understand what's
happening to me, and I won't risk it spilling over onto you!"

"Mulder, I'm not afraid of you! I know you would never..."

"You know nothing, damn it!" Mulder snarled, picking up .the
paperweight and dashing it to the ground. Solid marble, it
weathered the abuse but gave a loud bang that vibrated through the
flooring. He tugged on his hair with shaky fingers. "Please leave,"
he repeated with exaggerated patience.

Scully's lashes fluttered vainly against her tears. "No, Mulder. I've
tried to tell you, but *you* won't listen. I'm not leaving."

Mulder's body went rigid and his hands curled into fists. For a long
moment they engaged in a silent battle of wills, eyes locked.
Mulder was the first to crack.

"Fine. Then I will."

He crossed the room, yanked open the door and fled down the
hallway. Scully, on the other hand, found she couldn't move.

Ronald Reagan International Airport
Thursday, March 30
5:23 p.m.


Grey wound his way through kisses, hugs, and handshakes, the
duffel strap digging into his shoulder and worry for Fox gouging
his heart. He caught sight of a lone, trenchcoated figure waiting
near a newsstand, the fluorescent lights glinting off a pair of wire
rimmed glasses and a bald head. He shifted his bag to a more
comfortable position and swerved in that direction, stomach
churning with both eagerness and dread. Skinner's expression did
nothing to reassure him.

"Grey. How was the flight?"

"Frankly, Walt, it sucked. I've spent the last hour breathing canned
air, listening to somebody's kid scream bloody murder, and
worrying about my brother. So I'd appreciate it if you would cut to
the chase and tell me what's going on."

Skinner stared at him quizzically for a moment, rubbing the back
of his neck and shaking his head ruefully. "I get the message. You
know, sometimes the resemblance between you two is uncanny."
He sighed deeply. "There's been no new developments in the
search for Scully, but preliminary labs on the blood sample don't
look good."

Grey licked his lips. "The blood on the knife?"

Skinner nodded and motioned for them to start walking. "Both
from the knife and some flecks found on the floor of Mulder's
living room. Couple that with the fact that the knife came from
your brother's kitchen and you have the beginnings of a solid case
against him."

Grey's eyes narrowed and he stopped walking. "What are you
saying, Walt? Where is Fox?"

Skinner stared out the concourse window at a taxiing plane, then
back at Grey. "They took him into custody this morning, Grey, on
a forty-eight hour hold. I should have told you up front, but I didn't
like breaking the news over the phone."

Grey exploded, dumping his duffel on the ground and pacing,
oblivious to passing travelers. "I can't believe this! They don't even
have a body, Walt! How can you let them get away with this? Why
haven't you...?"

"I'm doing the best I can, Grey!" Skinner grated, teeth clenched.
"You've been here ten minutes, you don't know the whole story.
Now get hold of yourself, before someone calls security."

Grey jerked to a standstill, running his fingers through his hair and
sucking in a long, slow breath. He looked up, face contrite but
hazel eyes still smoldering. "I'm sorry, Walt. I'm sure you're doing
everything you can. And you're right, I haven't been here."

Skinner frowned at the undertone of guilt in the words but simply
gestured to Grey's bag. "Let's go. You need to hear it all before you
see him."

By the time they hit the highway, he'd filled Grey in on Mulder’s
odd behavior over the previous two weeks. Grey listened intently,
only interrupting briefly to tell of the phone call he'd made at
Dana's request and his brother's assurances that he would cope
with his problems alone. He stared out the car window, face a
blank mask while Skinner recounted Scully's story of the cancelled
lease and the tense, one-sided phone call Mulder made to the
basement office.

"Scully said she was taking a long lunch," he concluded grimly.
"She was plainly upset but wouldn't let me come with her. Told me
it would only upset Mulder further, and she could manage him
better alone."

Thick silence for several long moments before Grey spoke. "That's
the last time you saw her?" he asked quietly, eyes still locked on
the passing traffic.

"Yes. That was Tuesday noon. I didn't give it much thought when
she never came back to work, just figured she was engaged in
damage control," Skinner admitted, navigating around an elderly
man in a Cadillac who refused to top forty-five miles an hour.
"When neither of them showed up for a meeting on Wednesday
morning and I received no answer at Scully's apartment, I called
Mulder. He was pretty fuzzy at first -- he'd obviously had too much
to drink and overslept, had a hell of a hangover. Once it sank in
that Scully hadn't reported to work he sobered up fast. I met him at
her place and we conducted a thorough search."

"But you didn't find anything," Grey stated dully.

"No signs of a struggle. Not to mention no dishes in the sink, no
wet towels in the bathroom, and the bed hadn't been slept in,"
Skinner said. "In short, it didn't appear she made it home Tuesday
night.

Grey's brow furrowed. "Wait a minute, they weren't together on
Tuesday night? And Fox had been drinking?"

"He said they'd had a...disagreement," Skinner supplied dryly. "He
left her in his apartment sometime around 1 p.m. and when he
came back at 3 she was gone."

Grey scrubbed his palm across the stubble on his jaw. "Must've
been one hell of a disagreement if he went on a bender and spent
the night alone," he mused. "When did the knife turn up?"

"Very early this morning. Your brother has been like a man
possessed. I've never seen him like this, not even when…"

"When Dana was abducted," Grey murmured.

Skinner nodded, a brusque dip of his head. "His behavior has been
erratic enough these past few weeks, this just put him over the
edge. I don't think he's eaten anything but sunflower seeds and
coffee and he's damn near alienated every other agent on the case.
About 3 this morning I finally pulled rank and insisted he go home
and catch a few hours sleep. He was in no condition to drive, and I
figured the only way he'd do as he was told would be if I took him
home myself and sat on him."

Skinner's fingers tightened on the wheel. "His apartment -- well,
I've seen less chaos after a grenade detonated. It looked as if he'd
been searching for something, and pretty frantically, but he just got
nasty when I asked about it. Whatever had been packed for the
move was all over the floor and every piece of furniture.

"He flat out refused to sleep in the bedroom, so I started clearing
off the couch. He mumbled something about a drink of water and
disappeared into the kitchen. After a few minutes had passed, and
he didn't come back, I went to see what he was doing." Skinner
huffed quietly. "To tell you the truth, I was afraid he'd ditched me.
Instead, I found him standing in front of the refrigerator, the door
wide open and the knife in his hand, just... staring at it with a shell-
shocked look on his face. I had to call his name three times before
he responded. Said he found it just lying on the shelf next to a
carton of milk."

Grey made a small sound of acknowledgement in the back of his
throat. "You called in other agents?" he asked curtly.

A streetlight flashed yellow, then red and Skinner eased the car to
a stop before turning toward him with a face like stone. "I called in
forensics, yes. That piece of evidence turned your brother's
apartment into a crime scene."

Grey watched a woman walk four dogs across the street, his
fingers tapping a staccato beat on the armrest. "You're right, it was
unavoidable. But, jeez Walt, did you have to involve the D.C. cops
too? I thought the Bureau took care of its own!"

"For your information, I didn't call them. Mulder's upstairs
neighbor did shortly after forensics arrived," Skinner ground out.
"He was concerned about the ruckus -- especially after the
commotion he'd overheard the previous afternoon. By the time the
local boys reached Mulder's door they'd already gotten an earful."

Grey’s eyes darted to his face. "This neighbor -- he heard Fox and
Dana fighting?"

"Actually, it's worse than that. Evidently, sound carries right
through the ventilation system in Mulder's building and the old
man, Mr. Pendleton, isn't shy about listening in. He spends most of
the day in front of his window and he's got quite a soft spot for
Scully. He told the police that when Scully arrived she looked
upset, and that he heard Mulder yelling at her. He says Scully was
trying to calm Mulder down when he heard a loud thud, like
something heavy falling. After that it was quiet until Mulder burst
out of the building and took off running like the devil was on his
heels."

Grey's eyes slipped shut and his head tipped onto the seatback.
"Shit."

"Couldn't have put it better myself," Skinner deadpanned.

The light turned green while he was still contemplating Grey's
pinched expression and how to break the really bad news. The
impatient driver behind him, a young man who could not have
been a day over twelve, honked stridently, eliciting a muttered
curse from Skinner and a spasm of surprise from Grey. He pressed
the gas pedal and they rode in silence for several minutes until
Grey heaved a sigh.

"What aren't you telling me, Walt? It's written all over your face.
Fox is in bad shape, isn't he?"

His timing was incredible. As if in reply, Skinner signaled and
turned right, following the signs for Georgetown Memorial rather
than heading for the police station. Grey hissed but said nothing
while Skinner navigated through the lot, located a space, and
parked. Killing the engine, Skinner squinted at the building
through the glare of the setting sun.

"At first I think he was in shock, too numb to fully comprehend the
implications of the knife's location. All he could think about was
the blood, potentially Scully's blood, and what it might mean. He
was frantic, ready to charge in ten directions at once, but I
managed to talk him down enough to wait for forensics to get a
better picture of the situation. He was adamant about two things --
that the knife had not been in his refrigerator yesterday morning
and that he had no idea how it just appeared."

Skinner shoved his glasses up and rubbed the bridge of his nose
between thumb and forefinger. "He was undeniably distraught, but
holding it together until the local boys showed up. They
immediately called in homicide, and things went straight to hell
from there." He flashed Grey a wry grin. "No offense."

Grey stretched his lips into a reciprocation he could barely feel.
"None taken. Go on."

Skinner's smile evaporated. "The detective in charge, Cooper
Johnson, is a ruthless son of a bitch. I've dealt with him before, and
there's no love lost between us. He and his partner, Benton, took
Mulder aside and started grilling him two minutes after they
arrived. I was busy with the forensic people in the kitchen and
didn't notice what was going on. If I had I would never have
allowed it."

Grey touched his arm briefly, shook his head. "It's okay, Walt. Just
tell me."

Skinner ground his teeth until Grey was certain he would hear one
snap. "I'm not exactly sure what Johnson said, but I know his
methods well enough to believe it was aimed to get a rise out of
your brother. And it worked. Next thing I knew Benton had
Mulder on the floor in cuffs and Johnson was nursing a split lip.
Mulder was out of control, screaming obscenities at Johnson that
would make a marine blush. They insisted on hauling him down to
the station, and considering he'd struck Johnson I didn't have a leg
to stand on."

"But he's not at the police station," Grey said quietly. "What
happened?"

"According to Johnson and Benton he became increasingly
agitated as they were taking him in. I left another agent in charge
and followed as soon as I could, but by the time I got there he
was…" Skinner trailed off, turning to stare at Grey with troubled
eyes. "He was incoherent, Grey. He just kept pacing back and forth
in the cell and screaming for Scully. I tried to talk to him, to get
him to calm down but it was like he couldn't even hear me. I made
the mistake of saying her name, hoping it would reach him
somehow and he'd respond." Skinner laughed bitterly. "He
responded all right -- by trying to put his fist through a cinderblock
wall. He broke two fingers. All I could think was, 'My God, this is
just like when he was hearing voices.'"

"So they brought him to the hospital to set his fingers. But that's
not why he's here now, is it?" Grey asked.

Skinner shook his head. "They had to restrain him just to get a look
at the damage. He didn't want the doctor or nurses anywhere near
him, kept screaming that they were all in league with the cigarette-
smoking man and trying to poison him. The doctor finally sedated
the hell out of him, set the fingers, and shipped him up to the psych
ward for observation." He drew a hand down his face and around
to cup the back of his neck. "And then I called you."

Grey nodded, his face very pale. "I can't believe this is happening.
Everything was going so well, I was supposed to be coming up
tomorrow night to help Fox and Dana move into their new place.
Now she's missing, maybe even…" His voice trembled and he took
a deep breath. "And Fox is in a padded room, accused of her
murder? I mean, how did this happen, Walt? How could everything
go sour so quickly?"

Skinner ducked his head, fingers still curled tightly around the
steering wheel. "I don't know, Grey. I wish I did. I knew that
something was wrong, that Mulder wasn't himself, but I didn't
think he'd…"

"Fox would NEVER hurt Dana," Grey growled fiercely. "I don't
care if you found her blood on his knife. And I damn well don't
care what kind of reports he's written, how many things he's
forgotten, or if he fought with her. He loves Dana more than his
own life. I refuse to accept that he's responsible for her
disappearance."

Skinner tilted his head in acknowledgement, but his face was
dubious. "Let's go. Maybe he'll respond to you."

He reached for the door handle but Grey's fingers clamped onto his
arm, stilling the motion. "Walt? Do you think he did it?"

Skinner kept his face averted while he carefully chose his answer.
"I think it looks bad, Grey. Very bad. And if your brother isn't
guilty then we damn well better find out who is."

"You really think they can nail him for this?" Grey demanded
unsteadily. "Walt, do you...do you really think Dana is dead?"

Skinner's bicep tensed and he swiveled to look Grey in the eye. "I
don't know. But if she is, I'm afraid the D.C. police will be the least
of our worries where your brother is concerned."

Georgetown Memorial
Thursday, March 30
6:26 p.m.

Grey stared, stomach churning, at the figure huddled in the corner.
Clad in washed-out gray coveralls from the D.C. jail, dark head
pillowed on knees drawn tightly to his chest, Fox rocked slowly
but incessantly. Back and forth. Back and forth. Grey tore his eyes
from the monitor and fixed the doctor with a baleful glare.

"I want to see him. Right now."

The doctor, Samuels, pursed his lips and shook his head, never
raising his gaze from the chart in his pudgy hands. "I really don't
think that would be a good idea, Mr. McKenzie. We had to sedate
Mr. Mulder a second time and he's just now settling down. I'd hate
to see him riled up again, and with the Haldol he'll barely be lucid
anyway."

"Mr. Mulder -- hey, look at me when I'm talking to you!" Grey
growled, snatching the folder from the startled man's unresisting
fingers. "Mr. Mulder is trying to deal with an extremely traumatic
set of circumstances. Something he'll hardly be able to do if you
keep pumping him full of drugs."

Samuels shuffled backward, running a hand over the perspiration
on his bald scalp and huffing indignantly. "The patient repeatedly
pounded his fists into the wall," he sniffed. "It was either 'pump
him full of drugs' as you so eloquently put it, or risk reinjuring his
hand."

Grey lunged forward, using his superior height to loom over the
man. "That *patient* happens to be my brother," he snarled,
thrusting the chart into Samuels' face. "I'm the only living blood
relative he has, and if you don't let me in there right now I'll..."

Skinner's restraining hand on his arm cut through the anger and he
abruptly realized that the smaller man was cowering in
apprehension.

"Dr. Samuels, Mr. McKenzie has just flown in from Raleigh to be
with his brother," Skinner said reasonably. "I should think his
presence would be calming to Agent Mulder, not disturbing."

Samuels threw Grey a nervous glance before bobbing his head.
"Very well. But only Mr. McKenzie. You wait out here."

Skinner inclined his head and the rigid set to Grey's shoulders
softened. He followed Samuels impatiently around the corner to
the door, shuffling his feet while the little man pulled out a card
key and swiped it through the electronic lock. The indicator
flashed from red to green, there was a soft snick, and Samuels
pushed the door open with a resentful scowl.

Grey walked into the middle of the small room and froze, barely
registering the sound of the lock engaging behind him. He
observed his brother for several minutes, hands clenched at his
sides. He'd been so focused on gaining access to Fox, he hadn't
given much thought to what came next. He noticed that while his
brother hadn't ceased rocking, the motion had slowed significantly.
Obviously the Haldol was taking its toll, just as Samuels predicted.

"Fox," he called softly, afraid of startling his brother. "Fox, it's
Grey." He took a cautious step forward, then two more.

No reaction, and the rocking didn't miss a beat. Grey's eyes cut
uneasily to the video camera in the far corner, and he imagined he
could see Skinner's tense, concerned face on the other end. He took
a deep breath, and moved close enough to crouch down at Fox's
side. Keeping his voice low and soothing, he rested one hand
lightly on his brother's head.

"Fox. Come on, little brother. Is this any way to greet someone
who just traveled a couple hundred miles to see you?"

The swaying motion faltered, then ceased, and Fox slowly raised
his head. His face was haggard, marred by sweat and dried tear
tracks; his eyes so dilated that only a thin hazel ring remained. He
scanned Grey's face and his brows drew together.

"Grey? You're here?"

Grey formed his lips into a smile he didn't feel, his fingers
brushing back a damp lock of hair before retreating to his lap. "I'm
here."

Grinding the heels of both hands into his eyes, his brother shook
his head. "Shoulda called. Didn' need to come. No par'ment an' no
Scully."

It took Grey a moment to work out that in his confused state Fox
thought he'd come to help him move. He groped for a response,
wanting desperately to glean information from his brother, afraid
of upsetting him, and ever mindful of hidden eyes observing his
every move.

"I'm not here for the move, little brother," he murmured. "I came
because I heard *you* needed me."

Fox gaped at him, mouth slightly open, before his face crumpled.
Not even the thick cotton of drugs could blunt the raw despair in
his voice.

"Scully's gone. 'S gone an' there's blood an' they think…" His voice
dropped to a whisper. "They think *I* killed her."

Steel bands tightened around Grey's throat, but he squeezed the
words past them. "There's no proof she's dead, Fox, they don't even
have a body. You shouldn't…"

But his brother kept talking in the same haunted monotone. "Found
blood, Scully's blood. On my knife. *My* knife." His eyes pierced
Grey's. "How'd it get on my knife? Can't remember." He dropped
his head and resumed rocking, sporadic shudders passing through
his body.

Rattled by the bizarre behavior, Grey's own voice sharpened. "You
have to pull yourself together, for Dana. If she comes back and
finds you like this, she'll..."

It was like talking to a brick wall. Fox had withdrawn into himself,
and try as he might Grey couldn't seem to follow. His brother
shook his head, rocking faster.

"Not coming back. Ever. Blood. Can't remember but they say I did
an' I think..." This time when he picked his head up from his knees
there was resignation in his eyes and tears on his cheeks. His lips
moved soundlessly.

"Fox?"

"Maybe they're right."

Grey stared at him, stunned, for a long moment before lurching to
his feet and spinning to glare at the video camera. "Walt, get
Samuels the hell out of there right now," he hissed, running
trembling fingers through his hair.

He turned back and watched his brother, fighting the rage that
crashed over him like a tidal wave. Fox was swaying again and
muttering to himself in an unintelligible slur. Licking his lips and
wishing for a drink, Grey resumed his seat next to his brother.

"I know you're hurting. But I need you to tell me why you think
you could have killed Dana. What would make you say that, little
brother? Did something happen between you?"

Fox tipped his head back until it connected with the padded wall.
"Hurt 'er. Knew sooner or later I would." So resigned, so full of
self-loathing.

Grey winced, proceeding with caution. "You hurt her? How did
you hurt her, Fox?"

One tear, then another spilled down his cheek. "Grabbed her." His
voice caught and he added roughly. "Bruises, all 'round her wrist.
My fingers."

Grey's eyes slipped shut and he forced them open. "You were
arguing?"

A nod.

"Grabbing her wrist during an argument doesn't constitute
murder," he pointed out gently. "You love Dana and I don't believe
you would ever intentionally cause her harm. Do you really believe
you could have stabbed her with a knife?"

His brother twined the fingers of his good hand into his hair and
tugged viciously, shaking his head. "I DON'T KNOW! Don'
unnerstan' what's been happening t' me. People keep tellin' me I've
done things, an' I don' remember doin' 'em. I…" He shivered.
"What 'f I did an' don' remember?"

Grey ached at the horror and confusion. "Oh, Fox."

The shivering increased and his brother's face contorted in a futile
attempt to stave off tears. "Scully," he moaned. "Need Scully."

Sinking back against the wall Grey pulled him into his arms and
rocked, not knowing what else to do. "Don't you dare give up on
her, Fox," he murmured fiercely. "We're going to find out what
happened to her, you hear me? I won't accept that you hurt her, and
I won't let you believe it either."

He had no idea how long he sat like that, rocking and murmuring
reassurances while Fox shuddered uncontrollably. By the time he'd
slipped into a heavy, drug-induced slumber, Grey's back was
screaming in protest and his left foot had gone numb. He eased his
brother carefully down to the floor and straightened up with a soft
grunt of discomfort. He was still gazing at Fox's face, peaceful
with temporary oblivion, when the door clicked and swung inward.
Skinner stood in the opening, hands shoved in his pockets, and
tipped his head toward the anteroom.

"I hate to leave him just lying here on the floor," Grey said
hesitantly.

Skinner glanced at the man in question and though his eyes
remained grave, one corner of his mouth turned up. "Doesn't
appear to be bothering him." When Grey still hovered he added.
"Come on. I'm sure they'll move him to a bed now that he's settled
down."

Grey allowed Skinner to steer him out the door, through the
observation room, and into the corridor. After panning his eyes the
length of the hallway, he turned to Skinner with a raised eyebrow.

"Where's the doc?"

Skinner offered him a tight grin. "You told me to get him the hell
out of here. I did."

Grey massaged the back of his neck and rolled his shoulders,
looking apologetic. "Sorry, I was a bit blunt, Walt, but Fox
shocked me when he said what he did. I didn't want Samuels to see
it as some kind of confession."

"I think anything Mulder says would fall under doctor-patient
confidentiality," Skinner remarked. "Problem is, I'm not so sure I
trust Dr. Samuels."

Grey sighed wearily and leaned against the wall. "Walt, we have to
get him out of here. He's already to the point of thinking he could
actually have harmed Dana and…" He broke off, eyes narrowing
when Skinner shuffled his feet uncomfortably. "Walt? Are you
with me on this? Because Fox doesn't need any more people
doubting him."

Skinner grit his teeth. "I've read testimonies from the apartment
manager and Mulder's neighbor, and I've witnessed his volatile
behavior first-hand. Can you be so certain that he's innocent?"

Grey pushed himself off the wall and thrust his face into Skinner's,
quivering with fury. "Yes. I can. I know my brother, Walt. In the
last year I've played ball with him, gotten drunk with him, risked
my life with him, and spent more hours than I care to admit just
shooting the breeze. He is incapable of hurting Dana, no matter
what the drugs…"

His mouth dropped open and his eyes turned blank, an expression
Skinner found eerily similar to Mulder's whenever he made an
intuitive leap. As he'd learned to do with his agent, he stepped back
and waited Grey out, allowing the man time to process whatever
epiphany he'd just experienced. When Grey's eyes snapped back to
his, he gestured for him to continue.

"You were saying?"

"Walt, has anyone run a tox screen on Fox's blood?"

It certainly wasn't what he'd expected, but Skinner rallied. "I'm not
certain. I would guess they drew blood here when he was admitted,
but I'm sure it was just a routine CBC. Why?"

Grey started pacing, his hands planted on his hips. "I don't know
why I never thought of it before -- mood swings, irritability, not
able to account for his own actions… I spent some time in
Narcotics, Walt, and those are all classic symptoms of a substance
abuse problem."

Skinner's eyebrows shot upward. "What are you saying? That
Mulder has been using drugs?"

Grey glared at him. "Not willingly."

"You think someone has been drugging him?"

"It's been done before."

Skinner grimaced. "He's been under such an emotional strain -- the
LaPierre case, your sister. In the face of all he's gone through, the
odd behavior didn't seem that unreasonable."

"Convenient, don't you think?" Grey muttered. "I want a sample of
Fox's blood, and some of the blood from the knife. You can run
your own through the Bureau labs, if you like, but I think I know
exactly what Fox would do and I intend to follow his instincts."

Skinner's expression showed first bafflement, then surprise.
"You've met Moe, Larry and Curly?"

Grey grinned. "They invited Fox and me over one of the last times
I was in town. Treated us to cheese steaks and every crazy
conspiracy theory in their impressive collection."

Skinner squinted at him. "You really think those bozos can come
up with something the Bureau would miss?"

Grey hesitated, running his thumb back and forth over his lower
lip. "Walt, tell me this. What has the Bureau had to say about Fox's
involvement in Dana's disappearance?"

Skinner averted his eyes, mouth twisted. "Mulder doesn't have
many supporters in the upper echelon. And the ones who actively
dislike him, who haven't forgiven him for leaving VCS…" He
shook his head grimly. "I've heard rumblings already. They want to
crucify him."

Grey shot him a humorless smile. "Think I'll place my trust in the
three stooges if it's all the same to you." He looked up and down
the hallway again, frowning. "What did you do with Samuels
anyway?"

Skinner showed his teeth. "I just reminded him that his patient was
a key player in a murder investigation, and anything he had to say
was classified. He's waiting for us in his office."

Grey smirked and extended his arm. "I like the way you operate.
After you, Assistant Director Skinner, sir. I'll follow your lead."

"If only you could teach your brother that trick," Skinner growled,
heading down the corridor.

Grey paused, peering at the monitor through the open doorway.
Fox had curled into a fetal position, arms wrapped tightly around
his torso for comfort. Clenching his hands into fists, Grey jogged
to catch up.

Headquarters for the Lone Gunmen
Thursday, March 30
10:16 p.m.

"Who is it?"

Grey shifted his weight back and forth between feet, the only way
to keep from kicking the door in front of him.

"Grey McKenzie."

Dead silence. In his mind's eye he pictured the three, huddled in a
paranoid meeting of the board to discuss the enigma of his
presence. When nearly half a minute ticked by without a response
he curled his fingers into a fist and hammered on the door.

"Come on! You remember me! I'm..."

Eight rapid machine gun clicks and the door cracked cautiously
open to reveal the little one -- Frohike.

"Mulder's brother. We know who you are. The question is, what
are you doing here this late without Mulder?"

Grey's temper flared. "Sorry. I wanted to bring him but they
wouldn't spring him from the psych ward. Now will you let me in?
I don't have time for this bullshit."

Frohike opened the door wider and stepped back. "You're Mulder's
brother all right," he muttered as Grey shouldered past.

The grunge, Langly, looked up from a computer and squinted
through coke bottle lenses. "Hey, dude. You're looking kind of
rough."

Byers, the Frick to Langly's Frack, politely extended a hand and a
tentative smile. "Hello, Mr. McKenzie. Did I hear you say
something's wrong with Mulder?"

Grey shook his hand cursorily. "Look, it's Grey and I need your
help -- more importantly, Fox needs your help. So y'all need to
decide here and now if you trust me. Otherwise I won't waste my
time."

If the circumstances hadn't been so dire, he would have found the
cryptic looks that flew between them comical. As it was, he
remembered his brother's broken confession and shoved his fists
into his pockets.

"We don't know you well enough to trust you," Frohike finally
spoke up. "But Mulder does, and that's good enough for us."

The coiled spring in his gut unwound a couple of turns and Grey
felt weak with relief. Before he could say anything, Frohike
continued.

"We already know about Scully. Mulder put us on the case right
after he figured out she was missing. I wish I could say that we've
made progress, but..."

"So far it's as if she's vanished without a trace," Byers said gravely.
"No evidence, no witnesses..."

"Yeah, and zero leads," Langly chimed in.

Frohike's eyes narrowed. "What did you mean when you said
Mulder was in a psych ward? Was that for real?"

Grey rubbed the back of his neck, wishing disjointedly that it was
Kristen's fingers kneading the tense muscles instead of his own.
The realization that she had no idea he was in town, or the purpose
of his visit, gave him a detached, surreal sensation.

"I hate to say this, but you boys are out of the loop," he replied.
"Early this morning Fox discovered one of his knives in the fridge.
It had blood on it, and preliminary findings suggest it's Dana's."

Byers looked stunned and Frohike shocked speechless. Only
Langly managed a response. "Man, Mulder must be freaking."

"He was already in a precarious emotional state when he asked us
for help," Byers said. "This must have pushed him over the edge."

"It's worse than that," Grey said grimly. "The police took him into
custody. The fact that it was *his* knife in *his* refrigerator,
coupled with the testimony of a neighbor who heard them fighting
has Fox convicted in their eyes. Even without a body."

"Have they formally charged him?" Byers pressed.

Grey shook his head. "Way I heard it from Walt they had him on a
twenty-four hour hold, hoping he'd crack. And he did -- just not the
way they were thinking."

Frohike stepped forward. "What can we do?"

Grey pulled two small vials from his pocket. "I need y'all to take a
look at some blood samples -- one from Fox and one from the
knife. I need to know if the blood really is Dana's. And if there's
anything -- ANYTHING --out of the ordinary with either sample."

"We'll give it our complete attention," Byers assured him, taking
possession of the vials. "But it might help if you shared what
you're hoping to find."

"Why Mulder's blood?" Langly piped up.

"You three see him pretty regularly," Grey countered. "Have you
noticed anything strange about his behavior recently?"

This time the looks exchanged were decidedly uneasy. "Define
strange," Frohike replied.

Half of him admired their loyalty, the other half just wanted to beat
the stuffing out of them. "Strange. As in unusual. Moody, maybe,
or just plain wired? Irritable? Impatient?"

Langly snorted. "Are you kidding? When has Mulder ever been
patient? Anyway, it's not exactly strange that he'd be moody
considering the stuff he's had us digging up about your sister..."

Frohike turned on him. "Would you shut up, you bonehead?" he
hissed. "Mulder told us a million times that information was to be
kept strictly between him and us."

"Take a powder, Hickey, I was just answering his question,"
Langly snapped. "I really don't think..."

"That's the problem, Ringo, you don't think! You just put your
mouth in gear and..."

"Gentlemen," Byers injected nervously. "This is not productive.
We…"

"SHUT UP!" Grey roared.

Huh. Silence really was golden.

Grey scrubbed wearily at his eyes and tried to bring his anger
under control. "I just left my brother in a room with padded walls,
sedated into oblivion. But before I did he told me he's afraid he
might have murdered the woman he loves. Now I really don't want
him sharing that with the D.C. cops -- I'm sure you understand
why. So I want you to come clean with what he's been up to.
Now."

"It's like Langly said, we've been checking into the information on
your sister," Frohike said. "Records for April Air Force Base, the
hospital where she was treated, anything to shed some light on
what was done to her and why."

"He didn't want Scully to know," Byers added. "He didn't come
right out and say it, but I don't think she approved of him pursuing
the matter. And in answer to your previous question, yes, he's been
extremely moody -- upbeat and positive one moment, irritable and
morose the next."

"Did he really say he thinks he killed Scully?" Frohike asked
quietly.

Grey looked at him sharply, and was surprised by the raw emotion
in the little man's eyes. "Yeah," he murmured. "Yeah, he did."

"The dude is seriously messed up in the head," Langly remarked.
"He'd never hurt Scully."

"Never," Frohike agreed. "It isn't in him."

"Well something is, and I need to find out what," Grey said. "I
need you to do a full screening on Fox's blood. Look for any drugs,
and not just the common ones. I think someone has set Fox up to
take a fall, and I need proof."

"We'll get right on it," Byers promised, moving toward the back of
the room where a microscope and other lab equipment resided.

"You think Scully is really dead?" Langly asked, dropping his head
to study the keyboard.

"No," Grey said tersely. "But I think that could change at any
time."

Frohike escorted him back to the door, throwing seven of the
deadbolts but pausing with his hand on the eighth. "You haven't
really said how bad it is," he said, gaze piercing. "Even if we do
find the information you need, is Mulder going to snap out of
this?"

With the gentle expression of concern, it all caught up with Grey --
the fear for Dana, worry for his brother, and bone breaking
exhaustion. He shoved his fingers through his unruly hair and
swallowed back tears.

"I don't know, Frohike. They say our tether to sanity is a fragile
cord. If that's true, I'd guess Fox's has always been more delicate
than most. Right now it's stretched to the breaking point."

Frohike considered his words. "Call us first thing in the morning,"
he said. "We'll work through the night."

Grey nodded. "Thanks."

Frohike released the last lock and shrugged. "Mulder and Scully
are more than just friends. We'll do whatever it takes."

Grey slid behind the wheel of his brother's sedan but couldn't seem
to make his fingers turn the key. He gazed sightlessly out the
window, but it was Fox's face that swam into view, and Fox's voice
that echoed in his mind.

It was during an impromptu visit he'd made to D.C. one weekend
in February. The weather had turned unseasonably warm and
they'd taken full advantage of the respite, playing pickup
basketball games at a park near Fox's apartment for most of the
afternoon. Dana was shopping with her mother and not due back
until dinner, so they'd parked themselves on a bench in the warm
sunshine, tired, sweaty and sipping bottled water.

The conversation, originally light and superficial, had taken a dark
turn when Grey couldn't stop himself from mentioning that the
previous week had marked the four year anniversary of Kate's
death. Fox had expressed his sympathy, of course, and then fallen
painfully silent.

"What's eating you?" Grey had asked, nudging him in the ribs with
an elbow. "Still bugged that I played so much better than you
today?"

Astonishingly, his brother hadn't taken the bait. He'd merely lifted
one shoulder with a self-deprecating little smile and answered that
he was just thinking.

Recognizing the deep waters beneath the surface, Grey had pressed
for more. "Give it up, little brother," he'd said, ducking his head to
read Fox's expression. "I can see something's bothering you."

Another shrug. "Sometimes when I hear you talk about Kate, it all
becomes just a little too real," he'd finally answered.

Grey had frowned, baffled. "That my wife is dead?"

His brother shook his head, and looked away. Immediately, Grey
understood.

"That it could happen to you."

Fox had practically flinched and smiled ruefully. "Ridiculous, isn't
it? Scully and I are FBI agents, we put our lives on the line every
day. In my head I'm always aware of the fact that I could lose her
at any time. I'd be a fool not to acknowledge that possibility." He'd
taken a long gulp of water and swiped at the beads of sweat on his
upper lip.

"Go on," Grey had urged.

His brother had leaned forward, bouncing the basketball between
his legs, the rhythmic thwacks punctuating his sentences. "I accept
that I could lose her, but I don't allow myself to look past it. To
think about what comes after, how it would impact my life."

"It's not a pleasant subject to consider," Grey had murmured. "But
I think you need to try."

"Maybe I can't," Fox had said, so softly that Grey had strained to
decipher the words. "Maybe my life doesn't exist past Scully."

Grey had bristled at the weak reply. "Don't talk that way! You
think I didn't want to curl up and die when Kate did? Every day I'd
struggle to come up with a reason to get out of bed. You go on,
Fox. If only because you know they'd want you to."

Fox had absorbed his diatribe and deftly guided the conversation to
safer ground -- a crazy story about zombies raised from the dead.
Grey now realized that his brother had never conceded the point,
merely avoided further discussion.

*Maybe my life doesn't exist past Scully*

He'd never expected those words to come back and haunt them
both. He had an uneasy feeling that, despite his protests to the
contrary, Fox just might be right.

Grey had the car in gear and moving before realizing he had no
idea where he was heading. Fox and Dana's apartments were
considered crime scenes, and he'd brushed off Walt's offer for
lodging, unwilling to entertain the idea of sleep. Now, body leaden
and eyes gritty, he could think of little else.

He pulled to the curb in front of Kristen's townhouse, shut off the
engine, and stared guiltily at the muted glow spilling from the front
porch light. It was nearly midnight and Kristen, the consummate
morning person, was usually asleep by ten on a weeknight. After
engaging in a heated debate with himself, he opened the door and
walked slowly across the lawn. His shoes had barely made contact
with the cement, hand halfway extended toward the bell, when the
door flew open and he was enfolded in Kristen's embrace.
The tears he'd successfully staved off earlier in the evening
bubbled up and he buried his face in the soft crook of her neck.

"I'm sorry... Fox..."

It was all he could manage to choke out, but she shushed him, one
hand rubbing soothingly over the taught muscles of his back, the
other tangled in his hair.

"Shhh. It's okay, sweetheart, I know. A.D. Skinner called me after
you left him. Come inside, you need to sleep."

Grey let her draw him into the sanctuary of her house and tuck him
into the comfort of her bed. He was asleep before his head hit the
pillow.

Georgetown Memorial
Friday, March 31
8:16 a.m.

“You don’t even have a body, Johnson! Why can’t you…?”

“Your brother assaulted a police officer, McKenzie. Now I don’t
know how you good ol’ boys in Raleigh do things, but here in D.C.
we consider that a serious crime.” Johnson’s voice was smooth, his
expression self-satisfied.

Grey’s entire body tensed and he could feel the blood heat his face.
He sensed Skinner poised at his shoulder, ready to intervene in
case he should be foolish enough to take Johnson’s bait. Forcing
the anger down he folded his arms and deliberately exaggerated his
normally moderate accent.

“That’s real good, Cooper. Is that how you got my brother to take a
swing at you?”

Johnson’s smirk melted into a scowl and now Benton was the one
prepared to step into the fray. “Make all the accusations you like. I
could have Agent Mulder’s badge for what he did.” His lip curled
in a sneer. “I’m real worried about Agent Scully. With a temper
like that, who knows what he might have done to her?”

“He was drugged, Johnson,” Skinner interjected, moving forward
until his shoulder brushed Grey’s in a united front. “You saw the
toxicology results.”

Johnson snorted. “Run by a bogus lab.”

“*Confirmed* by the Bureau labs,” Skinner growled. “An
unidentified narcotic substance. One that would cause mood
swings, paranoia, edginess, irritability…”

“And a high not unlike cocaine,” Johnson added. “Who’s to say he
didn’t take it voluntarily, for the buzz?”

Grey’s fingers curled slowly into fists. “My brother is an FBI
agent, and a damn good one. He does not take drugs.”

Skinner stretched his arm in front of Grey in a quelling gesture.
“Get to the point, Johnson. You and I both know that your
evidence against Mulder is circumstantial, at best. Without a body
you don’t have a prayer of getting an indictment. Now I suggest
you cut him loose and allow us to take him home – unless you
intend to pursue that trumped up charge of assault.”

Johnson’s eyes narrowed. “What exactly are you insinuating…?”

“Coop. Let them have him,” Benton broke in. “The guy’s a nutcase
and we’ll know right where to pick him up once we find the body.”

Johnson exchanged a long glance with his partner before
shrugging. “Fine. Take him. But you’d better make sure he doesn’t
take any unexpected trips out of town.”

“Darn. Guess that means we’ll have to cancel that vacation to
Tahiti,” Grey drawled.

Johnson muttered something under his breath but Benson deftly
steered him down the hall. Skinner watched them disappear into
the elevator before turning on Grey.

“I never thought I’d meet Mulder’s equal in the smartass
department,” he muttered. “Looks like I was wrong.”

Grey flashed him a cheeky grin. “Why thank you, Walt.”

“Have you talked to Samuels yet?”

“Yeah. We exchanged words right before Mutt and Jeff showed
up.”

Skinner’s eyebrows knit together. “Exchanged words? Jeez, Grey
is it your mission in life to piss everyone off?”

“Nope, just a side benefit.” Grey sighed. “He didn’t want to release
Fox into my custody. I insisted. He stormed off to sulk and fill out
the paperwork.”

“Why didn’t he want to release him? If he has legitimate
concerns…”

“I think I know what’s best for my own brother!” Grey snapped,
spinning around and stalking down the corridor.

He only traveled about five paces before his feet slowed, then
stopped, and his shoulders slumped. “Coming?”

Skinner joined him without speaking and they continued toward
Samuel’s office.

“Samuels said Fox is clinically depressed, very possibly suicidal,”
Grey blurted after several seconds. “I showed him the toxicology
results, but he’s not convinced that simply flushing the drug from
Fox’s system will cure the depression. He wanted to keep him
under observation and put him on anti-depressants.”

Skinner glanced away, jaw thrust out. “You shouldn’t even be
telling me this. It could end his career with the Bureau.”

“You think I don’t realize that? It’s part of the reason I insisted on
taking Fox home.”

“And the other part?”

They were close enough to Samuels’ office to see him seated at his
desk, glowering over some paperwork. He looked up and gestured
for them to wait outside, denying the courtesy of a chair. Grey
propped his hands against the wall and dropped his head to stare at
his feet.

“Over the last year I think I’ve gotten a pretty good handle on what
makes my brother tick, Walt. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out
that Bill Mulder – I refuse to call him Dad – did a number on Fox
after Samantha was taken. He…inundated Fox with guilt, and
though I think Dana and I have healed some of those wounds, the
scars will never completely disappear. No matter how much we try
to convince him otherwise, there will always be a little voice deep
down inside of him whispering he’s not worthy of our love. Or,
worse yet, that he brings misery on those who love him.”

Grey turned and pressed his back against the wall, pinning Skinner
with blazing eyes. “Dana is missing. For all we know she could be
dead. That loss alone is enough to fray Fox’s tether to sanity, but to
make matters worse, he’s has already begun to doubt himself. To
fear he’s responsible. Confine him in a place like this, with nothing
to do but think, and there won’t be enough anti-depressants in the
world to stop him from plunging into the abyss.”

Skinner rubbed his jaw, absorbing Grey’s words. “What if you
can’t handle him?”

Grey’s mouth curved. “He’s my little brother, Walt. I’ll handle
him.”

Samuels chose that moment to bustle out of his office, muttering
under his breath. “Paperwork is done. I’ll unlock his door and
you’re free to take him home.”

Grey refrained from responding to the clear note of disapproval in
the doctor’s tone, following him mutely down a long row of carbon
copy doors. Samuels pulled the card key from his pocket, then
hesitated.

“If you have any trouble with your brother or find you’ve changed
your mind…”

*You’ll be the last one I call* Grey thought sardonically. Aloud he
simply said, “I have your number, Dr. Samuels. Now could I
please see Fox?”

Samuels inclined his head in acquiescence but his sour expression
betrayed him. A quick pass of his card through the lock and he
retreated to his office without a backward glance. Grey stole a
quick look at Skinner before slowly pushing the door open.

It was a small room, little more than a cubicle, the bed and a chair
the only pieces of furniture. A single, barred window took up most
of one wall and from where he stood Grey could just make out the
black asphalt of the parking lot through the glass. Fox had
positioned the chair in front of the window, and was currently
seated in it. He didn’t turn his head or acknowledge their presence.

“Hey, little brother. You ready to go home?”

The minute the words left his lips Grey winced. Going “home” was
not an option right now. He’d accepted Skinner’s offer to put them
up in his condo.

His brother didn’t answer, so Grey walked slowly over to stand
beside the chair. Fox’s head rested limply against the cushion, his
hands folded neatly in his lap. Grey cursed under his breath.

“What’s wrong?” Skinner asked quietly.

“When I called Samuels this morning I asked him to stop the
Haldol,” Grey replied sotto voice. “Either he wasn’t listening, or I
was too late. He’s still stoned.”

“’S lots of those at our new place,” Mulder said dreamily. “Right
ou’side the bedroom winnow. ‘S why we picked it. Scully loves
cherry trees.” He tripped a bit on her name, blinking.

Confused, Grey mimicked his gaze, panning across the rows of
parked cars to the far end of the lot. A lone cherry tree stood on the
parkway, resplendent in pale pink blossoms. He crouched down
and placed one hand on the wrist of his brother’s uninjured hand.

“Fox. Let’s get out of here.”

Fox’s eyes wandered slowly from the window to lock onto his
face. “You taking me home?”

Grey straightened and tugged on his brother’s wrist. “Not exactly.
Walt said we could stay at his place for now.”

Fox let himself be drawn to his feet but the blank expression on his
face turned desperate. “No…I… I wanna go to Scully’s.”

Grey’s throat constricted in anguish at the lost, little boy quality of
that voice. Skinner sensed him struggling for composure and
moved forward to grasp Mulder’s other arm.

“You can’t stay there right now, Mulder. It’s considered… The
police are still going through Scully’s things for clues to her
whereabouts.”

The tiny bit of animation seeped out of Mulder’s face. He retreated
inward, shoulders slumped and head bowed. “’Kay.”

He remained uncommunicative the entire way home, allowing
Grey to buckle him into the front seat of his own car like a small
child, ignoring attempts to draw him into conversation in favor of
staring out the window. He was half-asleep by the time they
reached Crystal City, his head pressed against the glass and his
eyes little more than slits. Grey followed Skinner into the
underground garage, pulling into the spare parking space he
indicated, and then hopped out to remove an overnight bag from
the trunk.

He gazed through the back window at his brother’s motionless
silhouette, chewing his lip. Skinner locked his own vehicle and
watched Grey for a moment before jingling his keys to catch his
attention.

“It’s too late now to worry if you did the right thing,” he said
gruffly. “We’ll get him settled and let him sleep off the drugs.
Then maybe he’ll be lucid enough to help us figure out what’s
going on.”

Grey cocked his head, an amused quirk to his lips. “How did you
know I was second guessing myself?”

Skinner snorted, lifting the gym bag from his fingers. “I’ve worked
with your brother for seven years, Grey. I’ve seen that expression
more often than I’d care to admit.”

Getting Mulder up to Skinner’s condo was like commanding a
robot. He walked when told to walk and waited mutely for the
elevator to reach Skinner’s floor, incurious of his surroundings.
When Skinner unlocked his door and ushered them inside, he stood
submissively in the center of the room as if awaiting further
instructions. Grey looked at Skinner helplessly.

“Guest bathroom’s at the top of the stairs,” Skinner said quietly,
returning the gym bag. “Why don’t you see if you can get him to
shower and change out of that coverall.” He grinned tightly. “I’ll
see that Johnson gets it.”

Grey nodded, grateful for the suggestion. “Come on, Fox,” he
called, starting up the stairs.

Mulder, staring vacantly out the sliding glass doors to the balcony,
didn’t twitch.

“Fox?”

When it became apparent that his brother wasn’t responding, Grey
sighed heavily and retraced his steps. He grasped Mulder’s elbow
and lead him up the stairs, all the while talking to him in a low,
soothing voice.

Skinner watched them until they disappeared into the bathroom,
then went into the kitchen and started a pot of coffee. He busied
himself with measuring and pouring, trying hard not to think about
Scully, the blood encrusted knife, Grey’s distress, and Mulder’s
empty eyes. His concentration was so deep that Grey’s abrupt
appearance in the doorway nearly startled him into dropping the
glass carafe. Cursing under his breath, he set the pot carefully in
place just as the first brown drips emerged.

“You should know better than to sneak up on someone like that!”
he groused, turning on Grey with an irritated scowl.

“Sorry,” Grey said insincerely. “Fox is in the shower. He’s thirsty
so I told him I’d bring up a drink.” He shuffled his feet. “Shower
must be helping. He seems a little better.”

Skinner reached into the refrigerator and removed a bottle of
water, tossing it underhanded so that Grey caught it neatly by the
neck. “How about you?”

Grey lifted one shoulder in a half-hearted shrug. “I’ll wait for the
coffee.”

Skinner leaned a hip against the counter, scrutinizing him. “That’s
not what I meant.”

Grey’s face twisted in confusion, then smoothed. He offered a self-
deprecating little smile. “I’m all right, Walt. It’s Fox who’s the
basket case.”

Skinner raised an eyebrow. “Yeah. And with Scully gone you’re
bearing the brunt of it. So I repeat, how about you?”

The smile faltered and Grey raked a hand through his hair. “I…
I’m scared for him. It’s like a big piece of him is missing along
with Dana. If we don’t find her, or if she’s…” His eyes ducked and
fled from Skinner’s and he swallowed hard. “I got mad at him
once. We…we were talking about Kate’s death and Fox said
something that upset me. He said, ‘Maybe my life doesn’t exist
past Scully.’ I was angry, furious that he would somehow perceive
his loss to be greater than mine. But now…”

“Now?” Skinner prompted gently.

Grey traced the beads of moisture on the bottle in his hands. “Now
I wonder if he wasn’t right. I loved Kate, she was the center of my
life. But Dana – Walt, Dana *is* Fox’s life. I have my parents, my
sisters. But Fox…”

“He has *you*, Grey,” Skinner said firmly. “And me, and those
three geeky friends. Whatever happens, we will get him through
it.” He grit his teeth. “But I refuse to give up on Scully. I fully
intend to find her and bring her home, safe and sound.”

Grey slowly nodded, some of the lines smoothing from his brow.
“Yeah. Me too. Thanks, Walt.”

Skinner cocked his head. “Shower’s stopped. You’d better get him
his water.”

Grey flashed him a grin and loped up the stairs. He rapped twice
on the bathroom door. “Fox? I’ve got some water.”

No answer. In fact, no sounds of any kind penetrated the door.
Grey’s heart gave a lurch and he rapped his knuckles a little harder
on the smooth wood.

“Fox? I’m coming in.”

The knob turned half an inch to the right – and stopped. Panicked,
Grey rattled the handle back and forth, pounding on the door with
his fist.

“Open the door! Damn it, Fox, you open this door right now!”

Skinner sprinted up the stairs, attracted by the shouting. “What is
it?”

“He’s locked the door and he’s not answering,” Grey ground out,
still hammering impotently.

Skinner didn’t hesitate. “Move,” he growled, shouldering Grey
aside.

Three bone crushing jolts with his shoulder and the flimsy wood
gave way in a rush of steam. Grey and Skinner crowded into the
open doorway and froze.

Mulder stood in front of the sink, a towel wrapped around his slim
hips while rivulets of water from his wet hair tricked down his
chest and back. His attention was centered on something clutched
in his hands. Oblivious to their presence, he turned it endlessly
over and over between his palms, mesmerized.

All the air left Grey’s lungs in a rush and he heard Skinner’s sharp
hiss of alarm. The object of Fox’s intense concentration was a gun.

Crystal City
Friday, March 31
10:03 a.m.

"Fox, I brought you a drink," Grey said calmly, extending the
plastic bottle. "I'll put that away for you and you can get dressed."

No response, not even a flicker of acknowledgement. Grey licked
his lips and took a half step into the bathroom, setting the water
bottle down on the counter. His senses felt hyper-attuned -- the
pungent aroma of soap and shampoo, the damp caress of humid
air, and the monotonous drone of the fan competing to draw his
eyes from their lock on his brother's blank face. He attempted to
clear the panic from his throat.

"Why don't you give me the gun?"

Smoothly, effortlessly, with the ease of a lover, Mulder's finger
wrapped itself around the trigger and he shook his head slowly
back and forth. Grey's fear kicked into overdrive and his tone
turned sharply from request to demand.

"Fox, give me the gun, damn it!"

His impatience served only to drive his brother back several steps
until his spine hit the wall and the gun swung up defensively.
Hazel eyes, no longer blank but desperate, darted between Grey
and Skinner.

"I can't. I...I have to think. I just...I have to figure things out."

Grey wasn't sure whether to be alarmed or relieved by the evident
improvement in his brother's lucidity -- Fox's speech was sluggish
but clear. He held up both hands, palms out and adjusted his voice
to a more soothing timbre.

"Easy, Fox. It's all right. We understand, and we just want to help
you."

Mulder dropped his head, his voice so low they could barely make
out his words, rich with anguish. "No. You want to stop me."

Grey's voice shook with a mixture of anger and grief. "No shit,
Sherlock. You think I want to watch my only brother blow his
brains out on the bathroom floor?"

Mulder's head snapped up and his lip trembled. "I can't do it," he
moaned. "Not without her."

"Yes you can. I know how much it hurts, but…"

"You don't know!" Mulder cut in raggedly. "How could you? Kate
*died*, you didn't murder her!" His legs buckled and he slid to the
floor, jerking the gun up and pressing the muzzle viciously against
his temple. "I'm so sorry, Scully," he whispered. "It should have
been me."

He squeezed his eyes shut and his finger twitched.

"No!"

"Agent Mulder!"

Grey's hiss and Skinner's quiet command melded, freezing
Mulder's index finger. His eyes popped open and the gun actually
pulled back a bit, leaving behind an angry circle of red flesh.

"Agent Mulder, despite your past history of leaping before you
look, you *will* listen to me now," Skinner plunged on, briefly
casting a look at Grey. Mulder didn't answer, but Skinner accepted
his paralysis as encouragement to continue.

"You have been drugged. Do you understand me? Your
bloodstream was riddled with a narcotic resembling cocaine. At the
very least it accounts for your uncharacteristic behavior these last
few weeks. On the other hand, the implications could be
significantly more far reaching."

Mulder's left hand scrubbed wearily at his eyes and the gun
dropped a little further toward his lap. "Drugged? I don't... How?"

"We don't know. But you can be sure we're going to find out,"
Grey spoke up, ignoring Skinner's scowl.

Mulder's brow furrowed in thought for a moment before his face
twisted in remorse. "So I was drugged. All the more reason to
believe I...I could have…"

"Think, Mulder. Why were they drugging you?" Skinner said
urgently. "If they'd wanted you dead, you would be. Instead they
gave you something to mess with your head, to confuse you. Why
would they do that, Agent Mulder?"

Mulder blinked. "How would I...I don't know."

"Come on, profile them!" Skinner pressed. "What would they
accomplish?"

The gun fell to Mulder's lap and he ground the heel of his hand
into his forehead. "Uh...Make me look crazy, I guess." For just an
instant the real Mulder peered out of the haunted eyes and his
mouth turned up in a sardonic grin. "Crazier than usual, anyway."

Skinner couldn't spare a glance at Grey, but silently rejoiced.
Mulder's intricate mind was beginning to cut through the fog of
drugs and despair. He very slowly and deliberately walked to
Mulder's side and squatted.

"Given all that, Mulder, don't you find the absence of Scully's body
more than a little suspicious?" he asked shrewdly.

He saw Mulder make the connection, mouth dropping open and
eyes widening in shock. Mulder's gaze jumped from his face to
Grey's and back again and he began to shiver uncontrollably.

"You really don't think I killed her?" he asked pleadingly. "You
think they took her?"

Skinner traded a long look with Grey before answering. "I'm not
sure, Mulder. But I think you owe it to Scully to find out. Now
give me the gun."

Mulder's fingers tightened possessively on the weapon. He stared
down into his lap for what seemed an eternity before slowly
placing the gun into Skinner's beckoning fingers. His head sank
back against the tile, tears glistening under the harsh lights.

Skinner stood and pressed a hand briefly to Mulder's shoulder.
"You need to sleep," he said quietly. "Once your body has had a
chance to purge itself of the drugs, we'll plan our next move."

He slipped the gun under his belt at the small of his back, moving
over to where Grey remained frozen in the doorway. "Relax," he
murmured. "He needs you to stay calm."

He was totally unprepared when Grey yanked him into the
hallway, face dark with fury.

"What in the hell were you doing with a weapon in your bathroom,
Walt?" he hissed. "I did a check for razor blades but it never
crossed my mind you might be keeping a *gun* in with the spare
toilet paper!"

Skinner gaped at him. "What?"

"I told you the doc said he was suicidal! Why in God's name didn't
you tell me there was a gun in there? He was millimeters from
pulling that trigger!"

Succumbing to the stress and Grey's hostility, Skinner's temper
flared. "Why in God's name would I keep a gun in my bathroom?
Besides being asinine, it'd rust! The only gun here is my service
weapon, and that's locked in my desk drawer."

Grey shook his head stubbornly. "He must have gotten it from
somewhere around here! Mine's locked in the car and guns don't
just appear out of thin air."

Skinner watched Mulder's slumped form during his brother's
diatribe, his own anger building. An object on the bathroom floor,
tucked in a corner near the sink, caught his eye. He reached back
and retrieved the gun from his waistband, studying it with
narrowed eyes.

"Walt? Are you listening to me?" Grey snapped.

Skinner looked up. "I think this is your brother's gun, Grey. I
remember this gouge in the grip -- it used to be his service weapon
before he got his Sig."

Grey's indignation faded to confusion. "That makes no sense, how
could he...?"

"That gym bag was in Mulder's trunk, wasn't it? Did you look
through it before you brought it up?" Skinner asked gently.

All the color drained from Grey's face. "Oh, my God," he
muttered, one hand fumbling for the wall before he sagged against
it. "I never even... How could I have overlooked something like
that?"

"Only your brother would have a gun in his gym bag," Skinner
replied dryly. "Especially considering he carries two on his person.
You can't blame yourself."

Grey was not mollified. "I was more than ready to blame you."

Skinner glanced over his shoulder to where Mulder still sprawled
on the floor, weeping. He took Grey by the shoulders and forcibly
turned him around to face his brother.

"You'd better get him into some clothes and calm him down," he
said tersely. "Coffee will be waiting."

Grey seemed about to argue until his eyes rested on his brother. He
gave a curt nod, gathered up the water bottle, and rejoined Mulder
without further comment. Skinner looked on for a moment while
Grey knelt beside his brother, talking softly. When he saw Mulder
nod and extend a shaky hand for the water he retreated to the
kitchen where he promptly broke into a cold sweat.

He'd always excelled at delaying his body's physical reaction to
stress. Nice to know he hadn't lost his edge.

He'd graduated to a second cup of coffee, this one laced with a shot
of brandy, when Grey finally wandered into the kitchen looking
nearly as shell-shocked as his brother.

"He's asleep in your spare bedroom," he muttered, crossing to
where Skinner sat at the small wooden table.

He sank into a chair, propped his arms on the oak top, and buried
his face in them. Skinner considered him silently for a moment
before mixing up a second mug and placing it near Grey's left
elbow.

"I'm sorry, Walt. You didn't deserve that." Grey's voice, muffled
but contrite, evaporated any residual resentment Skinner might
have harbored.

"Hey," he called gruffly. When Grey lifted his head he shoved the
mug closer. "This world is only big enough to contain one
Mulder's guilt and your brother got there first. Shake it off and stop
beating yourself up."

Grey dry washed his face and picked up the mug, smoothing one
finger around the rim. "That was way too close, Walt."

Skinner tipped back in his chair, one hand massaging the muscles
between his shoulder and his neck. "Yeah. You aren't the only one
kicking his own backside. We should have seen that coming."

Grey took a sip from his mug, spluttering a little in surprise.
"That's quite the Mr. Coffee you've got there, Walt."

Skinner shrugged. "You looked like you could use a shot. God
knows, I needed mine."

Grey grinned, then looked piercingly into Skinner's face. "In the
bathroom -- I couldn't reach Fox, but you handled him like a pro."

Skinner snorted, pulling one hand down the side of his face and
cupping his chin. "Don't feel bad. I've had seven years practice at
trying to manage Fox Mulder. 'Bout time I got it right." When
Grey's scrutiny didn't relent, he sighed. "You said it yourself, Grey.
The man's life has become irrevocably entwined with Scully's. He
needs a purpose, a reason to keep going. He won't do it for you or
me. But he'll do it for her."

Grey took a larger slug of the coffee. "Does this mean you accept
his innocence? Because yesterday you weren't sure what you
believed."

Skinner stood and took his mug to the sink, rinsing it carefully and
depositing it into the dish drainer. Snagging a towel to dry his
hands, he turned back to face Grey.

"Yesterday I had my doubts as to your brother's sanity."

Grey lifted an eyebrow. "And today you don't? That was you in the
bathroom just now, wasn't it, Walt? Not one of the shapeshifters
Fox keeps telling me about?"

Skinner rolled his eyes. "Believe me, I'm accountable for my own
actions! I..." He broke off, sagging back against the counter.

Grey leaned forward, alarmed. "Walt? You all right?"

Skinner waved him to silence, eyes narrowing in concentration. "It
never even occurred to me that he could be telling the truth," he
muttered, more to himself than to Grey. "But if they were drugging
him, trying to set him up, why not pull out all the stops?"

Grey shoved his chair back impatiently and stood, setting the mug
down with a thud. "Would you cut the Spooky Mulder imitation
and tell me what's going on?"

Skinner pulled himself back from wherever he'd gone. "Your
brother's behavior these past several weeks -- Scully and I both
assumed it was a result of the emotional stress surrounding the
LaPierre case and learning the truth about your sister. But what if
his apparent breakdown -- all of it -- was engineered?"

"What do you mean?"

"We already know he's been drugged, and that the substance used
interfered with his sleeping, gave him wild mood swings, and
increased his natural paranoia. But what if they didn't stop there?
All the instances where Mulder appeared to be unaware of his own
actions -- what if he really *didn't* do those things?"

Grey's face twisted in puzzlement. "But in some cases people
actually witnessed…" He gaped at Skinner's triumphant nod. "A
*shapeshifter*? You actually *buy* that theory?"

Skinner chuffed a small laugh. "Your brother would tell us that
when conventional means fail to offer an explanation we should
turn to the implausible. Maybe he's finally opened me to extreme
possibilities."

Grey ran his fingers through hair curled from the bathroom's
humidity. "You're saying they're gaslighting him."

Skinner nodded gravely. "And they've been doing a damn fine job.
Mulder's increasingly volatile behavior, Scully's disappearance, the
knife -- as you said, he was millimeters from pulling the trigger. At
the very least he'd wind up in a padded room, safely out of their
way. Up till now, we've not only believed the lie, we've
unwittingly helped Mulder embrace it."

Grey swallowed, a dry click in his throat. "And now?"

Skinner met his gaze grimly. "Now we fight back."

Concluded in part 3