It's midnight, and Scully stands in aisle 6. She's alone in the brilliantly streamlined grocery store. Hygienic music plays discreetly overhead. She feels as if she's forgetting something. She checks her shopping list. She had everything, but...everything but....
A man in a limp suit appears out of nowhere and stands next to her. "Dana," he says intimately, "you're out of Earl Grey tea."
Scully startles. "Oh!" she says, its quick syllable slipping past her usually stoic lips. She glares at the man who stands next to her. "How did you know that?" she asks suspiciously.
The man with the grey hair takes a puff on his cigarette. Rules did not apply to him. "I'm in a position to know quite a lot of things," he says almost smugly.
Scully eyes the selection of teas on the shelf. So neat, so orderly, so colorful. Tiny hermetically sealed packets. "Why should I believe you?" she asks, still regarding the full shelves that a free market society could supply.
"You'd benefit greatly if you listened to me," the man with the cigarette says, sounding as if the secrets of the world would be hers. As if offering her eternal youth or knowledge that would destroy the gods themselves. "Otherwise you'll be forced to drink Chamomile," he finishes.
Scully makes a face and reaches for the Earl Grey. She can't stand Chamomile. But she pauses, tea in hand, wondering how he could possibly know all this.
Before she can ask a second time, Mulder comes dashing down the immaculate aisle, trenchcoat billowing out behind him like a GQ superhero. His hair sits sullenly on his forehead, gelled into submission, framing his wild green eyes. His black shoes polka-dot the gleaming tile as he runs to her.
"Don't listen to him, Scully!" he yells, frantic. He knocks the tea out of her hand. It falls to the floor lightly, its cellophane wrinkled. Disenchanted, Scully stares at its form against the cool squares of linoleum.
"This could all be a lie!" Mulder says to her, putting a hand under her elbow, willing her to understand, to be on his side this one last time. "He told you to buy this tea so that I'd believe," he insists.
She watches him blankly, hating the things he makes her say. "This isn't about you, Mulder," she tells him slowly, "this is my tea."
One quick second of hurt hovers on his face. One small instant where he realizes he shouldn't go on. It passes. "Yes, but it's my--"
The smoking man calmly interrupts him. "Agent Mulder, how do you take your tea these days?" He smiles. It was always so easy to provoke the young agent. His buttons were all red and all clearly labeled: "Do not push." The man with the cigarette only did so out of a faint sense of duty. It no longer provided him with any joy, but it was expected from him.
Mulder turns away from Scully, turns instead to the other man. His hate is openly offered on his face. "You BLACK-LUNGED SON-OF-A-BITCH!" he yells, the words echoing gently in the pristine, filtered air of capitalism. "What have you done to Scully?" he demands.
The old man is not impressed. Contempt breeds familiarity. Mulder's vocabulary was limited to a few choice phrases. The man pinches the cigarette he holds in his fingers, puts it to his mouth. "Nothing that wouldn't have happened in its own time," he says surely. "She's out of tea. Why do you find that so hard to believe?"
Scully tries to reassert herself into the conversation, "Mulder, it's just a little tea; I'm fine," she assures him.
He is not listening. "ANSWER ME, DAMMIT!" he demands of the man in the blue-grey suit.
"There's no need to get testy, Agent Mulder. Agent Scully stands to live a long and healthy life. It's up to you whether she'll have tea in it or not." He drops his cigarette to the clean linoleum and grinds it out with the toe of his dress shoe. Before he can walk away, leaving his flawless last words to caption the tableau, Mulder grabs him by the neck and shoves him up against a display of coffee filters.
"If you've so much as TOUCHED her tea, I'll kill you," the agent threatens, wanting so much to love Scully, but only knowing how to protect her.
Slightly strangled, but not letting it affect his diction, the man says carefully, "Agent Scully knew what she was getting into when she drove to the store. That was her decision."
Mulder tightens his grip on the smoking man's throat at his mention of Scully's free will. Mulder hated to be reminded. He'd rather blame himself for all the ill that befell her. It was probably his fault she was out of tea.
"I'll KILL you," Mulder says again, the threat not calming his guilt.
"What will you achieve by killing me? I'm just an old man. No tea of my own. I'm just doing my job," he states simply. He never was one to say too much.
Mulder's guilt makes him demand, "Why wasn't I told about her lack of tea?" Surely it was his fault. He should have known. He should have been able to tell her himself. He owed her that much.
"You weren't ready to know."
Over his shoulder, Mulder calls, "Scully, this is just a trick, you've probably got plenty of tea at home."
Scully says nothing. She stares at the neat packages of tea, hypnotized by the play of sterile light across the shimmering plastic.
"I wouldn't be so sure of that, Fox," the man says, looking over Mulder's shoulder, watching the red-haired woman who was transfixed by the rows of luminous shelves.
"Don't call me Fox, you black-lunged SOB." One more squeeze to the throat. "Scully," Mulder calls to his silent partner, "do you remember missing tea? Can you remember--"
Scully is crying now, tears trailing down her pale cheeks. She stares at the tea that lies at her feet. "NO! I can't remember!" she wails. "I can't--"
The cigarette-smoking man smiles dryly. "I like you, Agent Mulder. I like Agent Scully too. That's why I came here to tell her she was out of tea."
Scully smiles as well. In a strangely dreamy voice she says, "I remember a light...and a voice...."
Mulder doesn't know his place. Comfort Scully? Strangle this smoking satan?
A cell phone trills.
"Are you going to kill me? I'd like to answer my phone." The man does not sound afraid. He does not sound like someone with a hand wrapped around his throat.
Scully continues, "The voice...it's telling me...."
Mulder releases the smoking man in disgust. The man moves away down the aisle, his phone pressed to his ear. "You're a hard man to get a hold of. Where are you?..." He laughs. It is a strange sound, like a snake gliding over dry leaves. "The Russian Tea Room. I didn't know they served rats there." He turns the corner and disappears out of sight.
Scully does not see him go. "The voice says I am...that I am out of tea."
"Do you believe the voice?" Mulder asks gently.
"I want to believe," she says.