Title: It's Me
Author: Lee Burwasser
Written: 2001
Rating : G mostly noromo:safe, but some bumps Doggett-neutral
Category : S
Spoilers : Requiem, W/in
Keywords : ScullyAngst
Archive : yes, with the usual provisos
Disclaimer : they ain't mine

Summary : He's baaaaack! :: and so is Lioness!Scully

Author's notes:

Lines in }reverse braces{ are verbal descriptions of nonverbal reactions.

Carter did a piss-poor job on all three characters -- and while I will *try* to turn PalaceFavorite!Doggett into a real boy, I will have nothing to do with WhinyWimp!Scully or CandyAss!Skinner. Those two stay as Morgan & Wong made them.

Doggett entered the office just as Scully closed the reagent box and grabbed her coat. "You are not going to Oregon," he said.

"Wrong, Agent Doggett. I am."

"Not in your condition!"

"Strike two! Agent Doggett. One more and you're out!"

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"Kersh's golden boy, that's what!" Into his slack-jawed silence, she continued: "You've been behaving yourself, while there was no reason to Misbehave. But now the abductees are returned, you try to *order* me out of Oregon -- using the lamest, most despicable, fake argument that men have ever used to bully women--"

She had to catch her breath, and into the pause came Skinner's voice. "So you've both heard."

The two agents turned to face their A.D., and Doggett burst out, "Sir, she *can't*!"

"If you please, Agent Doggett. Agent Scully, why are you taking personal time?"

"Because I'm not the fool that Agent Doggett thinks I am. I *am* an MD, and I have consulted with specialists whose training and clinical experience entitle them to a voice in my decisions. I am going first class, with all the amenities. To avoid administrative complications--" this with another glare at Doggett -- "I am going on my own time and my own money. Which makes it my own business and nobody else's."

"What will you do when you get there?" asked Skinner.

"I've devised a set of tests, based in part on my own abduction and in part on statistical analysis of a database the Gunmen assembled for me. Standard clinical pathology, plus of course the EEG check. Most of the reagents are hospital standard, the odd ones I'm taking with me, along with the EEG records," she gestured at the box next to her briefcase on her desk, "of the abductees' electro-encephalitic traumas."

"So you'll be staying at the hospital."

"I repeat, sir, I am not a fool."

"No, you've never been a fool. You're aware that anything that can possibly be described as carelessness on your part will give the ... 'administrative complications' a field day."

Doggett burst out, "She's bigger around than she is tall!"

Scully whirled on him, but Skinner reached him first. She deferred to her superior.

Skinner did not, however, grab Doggett's jacket or touch him in any way. Standing just inside his subordinate's personal space, he said, "First of all, Agent Doggett, you exaggerate: a bad habit for an investigator. Second: you are not a doctor; not the father of the baby; and not the head of the X-Files. Clear?"

"Clear, sir," said Doggett. "But you can't send her out alone."

Skinner glanced at Scully, who said, "Anything could 'just happen' in a forest search."

Skinner shook his head. "Not with all those eyes on it. When the interest dies down is the time to worry."

"Very well, sir."

He turned back to Doggett. "Be on the same flight, it doesn't have to be in the same cabin."

"I'll upgrade, sir," said Doggett.

"All the amenities" turned out to include the no-smoking section under the stewardesses' collective eye and close to the forward rest room. The solidly-built female steward (she reminded him more of male stewards he'd known than 'stewardesses') personally checked out the pregnant agent's oxygen setup. No one offered her anything alcoholic or caffeinated. He wondered if he dared ask whether any of them were prepared to handle premature labor at 10,000 feet, but decided not to risk Rosie the Riviter holding him down while *Doctor* Scully got out her scalpel. Or that hideous long knife that she groomed so carefully after cleaning the rest of her gear.

Fortunately, there were no incidents between DC and Salem, Oregon, where a similar variety of VIP ground transport awaited. Skinner's influence, no doubt: "One pregnant woman and one set of unique reagents, delivered in prime condition. Clear?"

The regional hospital was expecting them, with local colleagues to help Dr.. Scully set up in a spare lab and orderlies to get the EEG records over to *that* lab. "Two have been brought in," a nurse briefed her over the organized clatter. "Both with varying degrees of malnutrition, exhaustion and exposure."

The arrival of the third abductee started Dr.. Scully and Nurse Concise on their rounds. Doggett asked if the team could use another stretcher-bearer.

"Sure," said the dog handler. "Clem wants to sit with his sister a while. Come on." As an afterthought, "I'm Mick." Indicating the other man, "That's Joe." By this time they were at the jeep, where a big mixed-breed dog raised his head. "This is Duke."

The first rustle was something shy and too small to be a human. The second was a hit. As they moved toward it, though, Mick said, "Wait."

"What's wrong?" asked Joe.

"The other one wasn't curled up on himself, nor the ones the other teams brought in. This one could be hurt worse than just cold and hungry."

Slowly they approached their target. It was indeed a man curled up on himself. When Mick spoke to him, he curled up further.

"Are you hurt?" Mick asked, laying a hand on the man's shoulder.

Abruptly the man uncurled and scrabbled toward the deeper underbrush, trying to get up and get away simultaneously. Doggett tackled him in pure reflex. The man stopped trying to scramble off and started fighting and screaming.

"Easy!" said Doggett, keeping hold of one leg and trying to avoid getting brained by its flailing mate. "Easy, there!" He couldn't hear himself over the screams.

The other two scrambled to the man's head and tried to calm him, with no success at first. The man's voice gave out, his screams becoming rasping croaks. Now they could be heard, the others tried to soothe him vocally. What finally settled the matter was exhaustion; the man was running on adrenaline, and when that ran out, he collapsed.

Doggett retrieved his flashlight and shone it on the supine figure. He wasn't in the least surprised to recognize Mulder. "She's gonna kill me," he sighed.

"It was me touching him that set him off. Not your fault at all."

"Anything happening to Mulder is my fault. Can we get him to the hospital without tying him down?"

"Don't seem to have much fight left," said Joe. "Just keep him from grabbin' me or the wheel."

"Two more, Dr.. Scully," said the ER nurse with the vials of blood. She set them down before adding, "More variations on the same theme: malnutrition, exhaustion, exposure."

"I can't say I'm impressed with their technique," said Scully, sorting the vials into racks and taking up a fresh pipette. "It smacks less of dominance than of carelessness. Thank you, just set it there." For the next few minutes, she added and swirled and sealed while the nurse looked on. One entire set ended up in an ultracentrifuge. Finally she pulled off her mask and cap, saying, "Let's see if anyone's awake yet."

All the returned abductees had showed the presence of mind to fall asleep as soon as the nurses stopped swarming over them. Some didn't wait that long. The ones that had preceded Scully to the hospital, and had to have more blood drawn for her tests, slept through that. They were clinically exhausted, and didn't need doctors to tell them what to do about it; as soon as they were out of the wind and no longer being jounced about, they did it.

So the nurse and the pathologist strolled down the line of sleeping forms. Billy Miles snored softly. Ray Hoese snored a bit louder. Neither Billy's father nor Ray's wife had turned up yet, but the steady results of the search teams presaged well.

Shouts and thumps sounding toward the emergency room entrance reminded Scully that the abductees were not the only thing going on in the hospital this night. The ER nurse trotted off to her post, Scully following essentially by habit. By the time she recalled that she had no business in the ER and would only be in the way, she was in sight of the entrance and the figures struggling around the gurney. The sight of John Doggett sent her fairly leaping toward them.

Sure enough, it was Mulder. With a brusque, "Let me," she pushed into the broil. Though probably trying to shout or scream, Mulder was only managing a sort of rasping croak; he should be able to hear her. "Mulder, it's me," she said. As soon as she was close enough, she stroked the sweat-soaked hair back from his brow. "You're back, Mulder. It's over. It's going to be all right."

Slowly his struggles subsided to adrenaline shakes. When those ran down, he fell asleep as promptly and as deeply as the rest. The staff wheeled him into the ER. The search team started picking up in preparation for another run. Scully pinned Doggett with laser eyes.

"What happened?"

The search leader gave her a brief description, ending, "--when I touched him, all hell broke loose."

"I see," said Scully, more civilly than she'd addressed Doggett. "Thank you." She took a breath and said, as much to herself as anyone, "He's going to be out cold for a while. I'll get back to the tests."

Doggett said "I'll call Skinner."

She nodded and headed back to the lab.

}warm{ }warm-sound{ }warm-soft-touch{ }warm-warm-warm{

Hospitals don't like cell phones. Doggett headed for the bank of pay phones, digging out his phone card.

Mick said, "She was reasonable."

"Sure, in front of company," Doggett growled. Damn it, what did it take to *keep* her trust?

He dialed Skinner's office number, got Ms. Cook and was passed on to the AD.


"Doggett here. We've got Mulder."


"Yes." He decided to let the details wait.

"The rest of them?"

"Not all are in yet, the teams are still bringing them."

"Get back to it, then; call me again afterward."

"Yessir." They both hung up.

Back in the jeep, he fumed to himself: I thought she'd learned to trust me.

He didn't realize he'd spoken aloud until Mick said, "There's some as trust their own lives more easily than people's close to them."

The pathology tests were done and the results coming in. The abductees started to wake up, and were fed and run through the EEG as they did. Somebody called Gramma Hoese to bring Theresa her baby. Scully had no more immediate duties toward the group as a whole and headed for Mulder's bedside. He was still out, not surprising the way he'd used up what little strength he had. She stroked his arm and sat beside him, holding his hand.

Billy Miles returned from his EEG and ambled around the ward for a bit, ending up by Scully. "The first time is always the worst," he said. "And they were real interested in him."

Scully looked up. "Hi, Billy. You feeling OK?"

"A little tired," he yawned in proof. "Otherwise OK." They both stared at the sleeping Mulder, then he said, "They tell me you've been doing tests on us, too."

"Yes, I'm afraid so. The lab's checking you all as you wake up for electro-encephalitic trauma. They should have the results by this afternoon. The pathology results are coming in now. None of you have branched DNA, which is a relief. None of the women show residual trace of the drugs that induce superovulation, but after this length of time that's not at all definitive. Visual exam turns up no one with new laparoscopy scars, but with the Bounty Hunter involved that's not very definitive, either."

"How come?"

"It's a common scenario for abductees -- Whoops, I didn't use that word! -- for captives to report being 'dissected like frogs,' with no scars to show for it. We don't have that kind of technology, and neither does the Consortium. But the Bounty Hunter very well could."

Billy looked his question.

"I'm under orders not to use either of the A-words."

Billy made a wry grimace. "The FBI does not credit ... 'foreign kidnapping'?"

"Well, nobody's denying you were kidnapped. But nobody saw any foreigners."

Billy gave an equally wry chuckle and commiseratingly shook his head.

Mulder stirred at last. She forgot Billy. "Mulder? Mulder, it's me." She stroked his arm. "Gonna wake up, Sleepy-head?"

}warm{ }warm-sound{ }warm-soft-touch{ }warm-snug-safe-warm-warm{

His eyes opened, still clouded with sleep. "Mulder?" she said again. "Mulder, do you know where you are?" A smile and a grip to her hand was his only reply; she'd settle for that temporarily. "You're back, Mulder. It's over. You're safe."

"I'll tell the nurse," said Billy quietly, and left them together.

She hardly noticed. "You all came back safe, Mulder. Hungry and tired and cold, but alive and well. You're going to have some broth, now, and a little of something soft to eat, and then we take you for an EEG -- that's why they took you, Mulder. It wasn't me they wanted at all. Skinner says you were sticking your fingers in things again. He blames himself for losing you; Doggett called him as soon as his team brought you in. Doggett's your temp; not a bad cop, but Kersh has his hooks into him. Maybe he'll get loose. No scars on anyone -- no new scars -- and no branched DNA." She babbled on to those sleepy eyes and childlike smile, and the thumb rubbing circles against her hand.

Mulder's sudden alert brought her attention to the nurse that took his vitals. He didn't like the pressure of the rubber cuff, but kept quiet under continued stroking. Raising the bed startled him, but again he kept quiet.

An orderly brought in a tray and put it on Mulder's lap. The nurse diplomatically let Scully position his near hand to steady it; he got the idea and positioned the other. He stared at the tray with its cup, bowl and spoon until Scully spooned broth from the cup into his mouth. That got his interest, and after another spoonful he picked up the cup.

"Slowly," said Scully, putting her hand around his. She tipped the cup away from his mouth for him to breathe every few sips.

Both the doctor and the agent in her noticed that Mulder had ignored the cup handle and was holding the cup as though it were a glass. Soon he brought his other hand up, letting the tray balance on his lap, to use both hands. When he finished the broth, he still held the cup, as though cherishing the warmth.

Scully took the spoon again and offered him a spoonful of -- gruel? mush? -- whatever was in the bowl. He accepted it, and a second, then abandoned the cup to hold the bowl in both hands.

Scully caught the cup before it rolled off or unbalanced the tray and set it upright. The nurse, who had continued her diplomatic silence, put it safely on the bedside table. Scully gave her a grateful glance, and found her eye held. Nurse ... Lane, said her nametag ... was about Mulder's age, and had clearly been looking after patients all her adult life. "Try him with the spoon," she suggested.

A little fumbling got the spoon safely into Mulder's grasp. He used the power grip rather than the precision grip to hold it, but successfully fed himself the rest of the bowl.

Dr. Reid had worked with Nurse Lane for some years; he could read trouble in her posture. He schooled himself to hide his apprehension without sounding falsely hearty as he gave his customary greeting: "Wide awake, are we?"

The patient came to a silent alert, then slowly relaxed and reached for the woman beside him; Dr. Scully, Reid remembered, the FBI pathologist. She held his hand and studied him a moment before turning to face Reid.

The patient did not respond to "I'm Dr. Reid," but stared at the doctor's outstretched hand. After a minute, he offered his own, but did not speak. Several efforts to entice a verbal reply had the same no-result. "Hmm," said Reid, and raised his eyebrows at Dr. Scully.

"He hasn't spoken since he woke," she said. "He had to be introduced to cups and bowls and spoons, but he caught on quickly."

Reid looked at Nurse Lane. She said, "Since we're going to take an EEG anyway ..."

Dr. Scully nodded and completed the thought: "... we can look at Broca's and Wernicke's areas at the same time."

The patient was no fonder of the wheelchair than any of his fellow returnees, but he didn't argue (they would have preferred it if he had) and didn't actively resist. He just didn't cooperate. At the end of the ride, though, when he saw the table and the electrical leads, he panicked and tried to run.

The orderlies brought him down within three steps. He continued his panic fighting. They got him turned onto his back, setting off fiercer struggles.

"Mulder!" Dr. Scully cried, "It's me!" She caught her breath and knelt beside his head. "It's me, Mulder." This time she kept her voice low and soothing. She stroked his hair. "Mulder, you're safe. Nobody's going to hurt you." It was her voice that mattered, not her words. "It's not going to hurt, Mulder. You're safe." She looked up at Reid. Still in the same low, soothing voice, she said, "Why not show him the electrodes?"

Good idea. Reid brought a handful of spares from the drawer. The patient flinched and closed his eyes when they came close to his face, but when nothing happened, he slowly opened them. Reid spread them out, holding up one at a time.

Meanwhile Dr. Scully said, "See? They're not sharp, they can't hurt you." She bent further over the patient and said, still soothingly, "Show him on me where they go."

Another good idea. Reid put an electrode approximately over her frontal lobe, let it fall and put another as approximately over her temporal lobe. He ran through the set while she reassured the patient with unheeded words and vital tone of voice.

Cascade of pictures:

}bright white place{ }bright-sharp-hurt!hurt!{ }glare-glare-hurt!hurt!{ }bright-glare-sharp-hurt!hurt!{ }help!help!hurt!hurt!help!help!{

Another cascade:

}Warm room, warm voice, warm touch.{ }Smiling woman holds his hand.{ }Touches his wrist, throat, forehead.{ }Strokes his arm, his hair.{ }Many rooms, little differences.{ }Herself. Herself. Always Herself.{

Mulder stopped fighting and lay trembling in the orderlies' grip. His eyes fixed on Scully, and for the first time his face gleamed recognition. He was still frightened; his eyes clung to her like a terrified child's. *Like a traumatized twelve-year-old.* She went on talking and stroking, interspersing, "Let him up, now," and "See if he'll get on the table."

He sat on the table, still trembling, while Dr. Reid and Nurse Lane slowly fastened the electrodes, showing him each one before touching him with it. He flinched but didn't try to pull away; his eyes rolled like those of a frightened horse.

It took more soothing to get his head positioned. Scully held his hands and kept on talking. The sound of the recording machine starting up terrified him to immobility, but in time he relaxed.

"OK," said Dr. Reid quietly, "We need a few minutes' silence here."

Scully pinched her lips and then laid her finger across them. Mulder kept his eyes on her, staying quiet if not actually calm.

"OK," said Dr. Reid again. "Now just a tone. Ahh."

"Ahhhhhh," said Scully, trying to hold the same note. At least he wasn't asking her to sing.

"Good," said Reid. "Now a Series of short tones."

"Hah. Haah. Haah. Haah." They came out breathy, for some reason.

"Good," said Reid again. "Another round of silence, now."

Again she gestured silence so Mulder knew she wasn't distracted or losing interest.

"Good. Talk to him again."

Thank God. *Thank you, God, for bringing him back again.* She picked up on her soothing babble.

Back in the ward, Mulder could scarcely stay awake long enough to get back into bed. She waited and watched him, turning it all over in her mind.

*He's back. He was disoriented for a while, but he definitely recognized me in the EEG lab. That business with the warm cup and bowl is surely significant. As though he associates warmth with safety.* He seemed to be in permanent child-mode: Scully's little boy. All right, she could be patient.

Eventually, Dr. Reid and Nurse Lane brought the EEG records and they went over them.

"Normal resting rhythm in Wernke's area," said Scully.

"No sign of anything wrong, but no sign of any activity, either. He's hearing normally," Reid pointed to the upper squiggle, "but not processing words. And here," he pulled out another sheet and set it on top of the stack, "he's seeing normally, but the angular gyrus is resting instead of active."

"Where's the nearest PET facility?"

"Portland, but will the Bureau finance it?"

*Not with Kersh peering over our shoulders.* "Probably not, but with a full suite of readings we can probably get someone interested."

"I do believe that was a hint," said Reid, and turned to Lane. "CAT scan and MRI as soon as we can squeeze him in."

"Speech therapist?" asked Lane.

"Let that wait," said Reid. He glanced at Scully's swelling abdomen and away again.

"I know I can't be with him during the CAT scan. It may not be as much of a problem, now that he's recognized me. But how we're going to tell him 'Hold your breath' ..."

"Train him beforehand," suggested Lane. "There's nothing wrong with his hearing."

Reid nodded. "So the speech therapist can't wait, after all."

Both of them went about their various tasks. Scully debated checking the pathology lab again when a sound in the doorway called her attention to Agent Doggett. When he caught her eye, he tilted his head toward the corridor. She followed him out.

In a quiet corner, he introduced her to agents Altamont and Barton from the Salem Resident Agency.

Altamont asked both of them, "Does anybody know what we're supposed to be doing, now that the missing people are back?"

"Besides saying 'No comment'," said Barton

"Nobody knows how they were taken, nobody knows how they were returned, the reporters are lying in wait for us, and the SAC in Portland sends the word down not to say anything about 'alien abduction'."

Scully sighed and shook her head. "I'm under direct orders not to use either of the A-words, but the Bellefleurans will use whatever words suit them. If they want to talk about ... 'foreign kidnapping' ... nobody can make them stop."

"The reporters are trying to set us and the Bellefleur cops by the ears," said Barton. "Do we think the locals are hysterical, or lying?"

"Mmm. Well, aside from the fact that mental and physical abuse such as we know the captives suffered does interfere with observation, even in trained officers, the ... 'foreign kidnapping' ... scenario is very like a bad acid trip. And there are many psychedelics, both natural and synthetic. A judicious mix of drugs and hypnosis should scramble anyone's memory, and by this time the drugs will have cleared out of the system, leaving no physical trace."

"Look here," said Altamount. "You're doing special tests on these people. Off the record, what are you looking for?"

"Off the record, trouble of the sort that's often associated with this kind of disappearance. Fortunately, they all test out normal so far."

"*Strictly* off the record," said Barton, "why this flap about 'alien abduction'?"

Scully kept her face and voice expressionless. "Strictly off the record: If you shoot someone and he bleeds green, hold your breath and blow his head off. You need to destroy the brain stem, which is about here." She demonstrated first on Barton, then on Altamount. "Remember that your eyes will be stinging from toxic fumes. Don't touch the body except with instruments; it's corrosive."

Both Salem agents drew long breaths. "OK," said Altamount. "We just say 'no comment'."

Agent Doggett turned his cell phone back on as he left the hospital. He understood why the rule, but it was a nuisance all the same.

Halfway back to his hotel, his phone rang.


"Why was your phone turned off, Agent Doggett?" asked Kersh in a dangerous voice.

Doggett refused to squirm. "Hospital regulation, sir. Cell phones interfere with their telemetry."

"I see." Dismissing that, Kersh said rather than asked, "Who is behind this talk of alien abduction. Agent Scully?"

"No way, sir. She has not used the A-words even to me."

"Then where *does* all this 'alien abduction' nonsense come from?"

"The Bellefleurans. We can't order *them* not to use the A-words."

"What *are* you doing, then, Agent Doggett?"

"Agent Scully is caring for Agent Mulder. The rest of us are standing around saying 'No comment'."

"And what is wrong with Agent Mulder?"

"Same as the rest, plus aphasia."

"I want all of you back at your desks, you two and the Salem agents as well."

"OPR won't back you on that, sir."

Kersh's voice was dangerous again. "*Explain* yourself, Agent Doggett!"

"Agent Mulder is effectively disabled. Ordering his personal physician to abandon him is going too far. OPR will carve you, not Agent Scully."

"How long until he can be brought back to DC?"

"They're sending him somewhere for tests in a couple of days, then he'll be released to Agent Scully's care."

"I'm having Portland recall the Salem agents now. You two will consider yourselves recalled as soon as Agent Mulder's tests are done. And I expect Agent Scully's interim report on Agent Mulder's condition in 24 hours." Click.

At the next stoplight, Doggett left a message for Dr. Scully. Since it would be passed along by hospital personnel, he worded it diplomatically.

Scully decided to rough out her report and cover letter in longhand so as to sit with Mulder. With all the tests and therapies on his schedule, he'd been moved from the ward to a semi-private room; he had only one roommate at the moment, but it was still not a good idea to be tapping computer keys when patients were resting. Few people found it as soothing as Mulder did.

Cover letters, plural, she decided. Copy to Skinner and -- did she have the fax number of Mulder's lawyer, what was his name? Danford, that was it: Curtis Danford. He'd done the legal paperwork on Mrs. Mulder's autopsy, and she'd spoken to him about keeping up the rent on Mulder's apartment. Wouldn't hurt to plan on sending him a copy, she decided. She'd check for his fax number before she typed out the final draft.

She looked up at a soft rustling sound, and saw Mulder propped on one elbow, looking at her. She smiled at him and put the paperwork on the bedside table. Turning back, she found him staring in total crogglement at her waist -- or where her waist used to be. It was funny, and it was adorable, and it was her next challenge in nonverbal communication. How do you tell a man with global aphasia *this is our daughter, yours and mine*?

Mulder sat up and advanced a hesitant hand about halfway to her before he lost momentum, or lost courage, and started to let it drop. *None of that,* she thought, and caught his hand in hers, holding it against the swell of her abdomen while her other hand cupped his cheek. She knew her face was stretched in a ridiculously wide smile.

Mulder sat dumbfounded, then surged to his feet and pulled her close to him, only to let go and fall back in transparent fear of hurting her -- or them. Still grinning like the Cheshire Cat (or so it felt), she stepped back into his embrace and leaned against him.

Yes, indeed, Mulder was very good at nonverbal communication.

The next morning, neither Scully nor Mulder were in the ward when Doggett arrived. He tracked down Mulder, and to his surprise did *not* find Scully with him. Instead, an intense young woman was apparently giving him breathing exercises. Speech therapist, he hazarded, and went on hunting.

He and the Salem agents found her almost simultaneously, in the office area where she was printing something off her laptop. Altamount and Barton had stopped in to say goodbye, and left in a flurry of good wishes for their future cases and for Mulder's recovery. When they were gone, she closed up her laptop, gathered up what she had printed, and headed for another bank of office machines.

It didn't take rocket science to recognize a fax machine, nor to deduce from the two pages left on the table while three went into the machine that there were to be three faxed copies, each with its own cover letter. "One to Skinner ...?"

"He *is* our immediate supervisor," she said.

"Yeah, I mean -- Who gets the third one?"

"Mulder's lawyer."

"When did you get palsy with him?" He knew it was the wrong thing to say, or the wrong way to say it, before the sentence had fully left his mouth.

"Lost the transcript?" Scully growled.

"Damn it! What does it take to *keep* you convinced?"

"Skinner gave you good advice. You are not the head of the X-files: you do not give me orders."

What else they might have said was lost to a call of "Dr. Scully?" from the doorway.

Doggett looked up and saw the intense young woman he'd seen with Mulder earlier. In his peripheral vision he saw Scully wave.

"Here, Elaine," she said. "Faxing." When the young woman had come up to them, Scully made formal introductions. Sure enough, Elaine Thorne was a speech therapist.

"Agent Mulder is going to the CT lab now."

"Good," said Scully. "I thought he would catch on."

"He's very good with nonverbal communication," said Elaine. (Scully flushed slightly.) "Once I got him to breathe in synchrony with me, I used a broad, obvious gesture at first to signal holding his breath, then switched to a pitch pipe."

"Sounds like Pavlov," said Doggett.

"No, no conditioning. Just signals. Though of course Pavlov did have to communicate nonverbally with his subjects."

"I'm going to finish the faxing," said Scully, "and head over there. Fourth floor, you said?"

"Yes," said Elaine absently, attention still on Doggett. "Agent Doggett, will you be ... interacting very much with Agent Mulder?"

*Not if Scully can help it,* he thought sourly. Aloud, he only said, "We don't know yet."

"Because there are two rules you absolutely must keep in mind when dealing with someone with aphasia." She held up her index finger and said, "He's not deaf." She raised her middle finger next to it: "He's not retarded."

Picture cascade:

}other rooms like this one{ }Herself{ }other big metal doughnuts{ }Herself{ }many big metal tubes{ }Herself{

In the scanning room, the CT technician was trying to instruct Mulder nonverbally in what to expect and what was needed of him. He was clearly embarrassed at the acting out and gesturing, and Mulder was clearly enjoying it entirely too much. "Mul-l-l-der-r-r," said Scully, giving him a Mommy Look; she got back a not- really-repentant 'who could resist?' face. Letting out an exasperated/affectionate sigh, she clapped her hands briskly. Mulder meekly climbed onto the table.

Elaine came up to him and blew a pitch pipe. Mulder held his breath, then flashed her a V-for-victory and a mischievous grin.

At Scully's chuckle, he looked back to her. She gestured to herself and the window of the observation room, while saying, "I'll be right over there in the observation room--" then bent close and continued mock-ferociously, "so I'll see if you get up to any more mischief!"

Scully, Doggett and Reid trooped over to the observation room, while the tech and Elaine headed for the control room. Scully got the feeling that Elaine wanted to discuss something, but had decided to wait. Fine; one thing at a time.

No doubt a CAT scan was fascinating to someone who knew the process, or knew the patient, but Doggett was bored silly. The only thing he understood was that the tech would tell Thorne to blow the pitch pipe whenever he would normally tell the patient to hold his breath, and he never got to hear that.

As soon as the test was over, Scully and the tech were back in the scanning room. Thorne was still observing, apparently. Doggett decided to risk asking Doc Reid about Doc Scully's condition.

"I assumed Agent Mulder was the father," said Reid, puzzled.

"Probably. she hasn't said outright."

"But in any case, not you." Reid's nonverbal communication was good too: What business of yours is her pregnancy?

"I'm the one assigned to guard her back, while she's tearing around the countryside."

"I haven't noticed her tearing about. She stayed in the hospital while you went with the search teams. She left the scanner room without argument, before we started the x-rays."

"She flew transcontinental to get here," said Doggett.

"First class, I trust."


"As safe for her as for you." Reid was looking a bit more sympathetic, but no less stern. "Agent, my grandmother had nine pregnancies. For each one, she did regular farm chores right up until her water broke. Now, typical office workers today probably couldn't do my grandmother's chores even if they weren't pregnant, but most of them stay at their desks, doing what they *are* used to doing, well into the third trimester. Many stay on into the final month. And some are still there the day before delivery. For a healthy woman, her OB is insurance."

As Doggett chewed on this, Thorne appeared in the scanner room where Scully, Mulder, the technician and an orderly were gathered at the table. No need to see Mulder's face to figure that he was refusing to get into the wheelchair. It was written all over his body. No need to see Scully's face either; she was patience and determination personified. She might have to stand there the rest of the day, but Mulder *was* going to get into that wheelchair. Eventually, he did, and the whole party left the technician once more in charge of his realm.

Elaine stuck to Dr. Scully until they had Mulder back in bed and the rest had dispersed. She gestured the older woman away from both patients. They could have spoken confidentially next to Mulder, but that would have been more than rude. Not that she was about to be the picture of courtesy to Dr. Scully.

"Dr. Scully," she began, "you're very good at nonverbal communication too, at least with Agent Mulder. I suppose an investigator gets into the habit of *not* communicating with all and sundry. But I've noticed ..." Despite her own observation, she tried to gauge the effect her words were having on the other. "I've noticed that you tend to treat him like a child."

To her surprise, the federal agent merely nodded.

"That's ... not usually a good idea," Elaine went on. "Anyone who's treated like a child can't help but feel disempowered. And a patient who feels he's lost control of his life, that other people make decisions for him without even considering his views, is not going to make the best or fastest recovery."

"An adult patient," said Dr. Scully. She sighed, looked across at the patient, then back at Elaine. "In confidence," she said, and her eyes were cold steel as she waited for Elaine's response.

"In confidence," Elaine promised. She almost made a cross-my-heart gesture.

"In confidence, Mulder was emotionally traumatized in his pre-teens. Too much grief and guilt for a child his age, and his parents, well, they weren't coping all that well with their own." She drew a long breath. "Under the right stress --or the wrong stress-- he reverts to a traumatized twelve-year-old. His adult intellect, and some of his adult defenses, but a child's need for security. And a need for a child's security."

"I see." She, too, glanced to the patient and back. "He probably needs it for the moment, but wean him as soon as you think he's strong enough."

"He'll make it plain. Mulder is *very* good at nonverbal communication." Dr. Scully didn't seem to realize that she was stroking her swelling abdomen.

Elaine blushed, stammered, and finally blurted, "When is the MRI scheduled?"

"Not today is all I know. I'll have to ask Nurse Lane."

*Thank God for small favors,* thought Doggett. After too many days, they were going home at last, though via Portland, and Scully had let him take charge of the first leg of the trip. He had picked out and inspected the rental car, and he would drive it while Scully stayed in back with Mulder.

They would pause at every rest stop on Interstate 5, and Scully had some variety of motorman's friend with 'Jane' fittings that he'd never heard of, and was happy to stay ignorant. He knew far more about brain imaging than he wanted to, and they were going to stop in Portland to take pictures of Mulder's metabolism. 'Jane' fittings were really beyond the call of duty.

}cars and cars and cars and Herself{ }driving with Herself asleep in the other seat{ }waking to watch Herself drive{ }roads unrolling and Herself beside him{

"It's preposterous," said Dr. Vincent, pointing to the offending spots. "Broca's and Wernicke's areas, the Arcuate Fasciculus, the Angluar and Supramarginal Gyrii: they all sit there metabolizing normally, tissue maintaining itself, ready to go into action ..."

"Only it doesn't," said Scully.

"Only it doesn't. Here, where you're talking to him, Wernicke's area should be lit up, just like the hearing area here. Nope, normal resting metabolism. It's like something put a metabolic padlock on his entire linguistic apparatus."

"Aliens?" said Doggett expressionlessly.

"The saying goes," said Scully careful to show as little expression, "'When you hear hoof beats, look first for horses, not zebras.' That's what we're doing now. If we run out of places to look for horses and still don't find any, we'll look for zebras."

"Trouble is," said Vincent, "there aren't any zebras, either."

"No research that might bear results in a decade or so?"

"How do you mean?"

Scully spoke carefully. "There is a group of powerful men who have access to biomedical technology a decade or two in advance of our most extensively fitted hospitals. Given that lead time, could this be their work? Do you know of anything out on the fringe, so to speak, that might relate to this?"

Dr. Vincent slowly but definitely shook his head.

Doggett finally said, "OK, means is a dead end and opportunity is wide open. Who has motive?"

"The Consortium," she said, adding for Dr. Vincent's benefit, "That group of powerful men. Mulder gets in their way, but they've avoided killing him, because one of them has some sort of obsession about him. Spender may or may not be alive, or still in power, or there might be others with the obsession or with their own reasons not to kill Mulder, but this would suit the rest of the Consortium. It destroys him as an investigator, while throwing a bone to those who want him alive." She hadn't seriously thought about Mulder's professional future before; busying herself with his condition had kept it at bay. Until now.

"What about the Bounty Payers? Whoever's behind the Bounty Hunter?"

"Yes, he has to be working for, or with, some team or other." She thought, and said, "It's stretching, but part of their pattern is giving their victims amnesia. But eventually they do remember, even with average memories. Mulder has a photographic memory. Instead of trying to fight that, they could just decide to keep him from talking about it -- or anything else!"

"Or," said Doggett, apparently thinking aloud, "They might do the Consortium a favor while doing themselves one, too. Or doing another of their experiments."

At her response, Mulder made a distressed coo and held her, rocking slightly. She let him, and to hell with their audience. Dr. Vincent knew about aphasia, and Doggett mattered a lot less now that her *partner* was found. After a moment she pulled away enough to look him in the face, and received the wistful smile of a child.


Author's end note: Apologies to any readers who are or know speech pathologists. I collapsed a couple of specialists into Dr. Reid, and I know nothing about any of them.


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