The Death of Me Yet

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This story is based on characters created by Chris Carter and Ten Thirteen Productions. Characters used without permission. No  infringement intended.

TITLE: The Death of Me Yet

AUTHOR: Jo-Ann Lassiter

EMAIL ADDRESS: 70302.3654@compuserve.com

DISTRIBUTION STATEMENT: Post anywhere. Thanks.

SPOILER WARNING: Season 8, only for the reference to Kersh’s

new title

RATING: R

CLASSIFICATION: S, R

KEY WORDS: Mulder/Scully UST/Romance

SUMMARY: Scully and an ailing Mulder track a killer in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

THANKS: As always, to Gerry.

The Death of Me Yet

by Jo-Ann Lassiter

70302.3654@compuserve.com

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Teaser

February 5

Deputy Director Kersh’s Office

9:16 a.m.

“Mulder, I’ll meet you downstairs in a few minutes, okay?” Scully

paused in the doorway, gently guiding her partner out the door.

At his look of utter befuddlement, Scully had to fight down the

almost overwhelming urge to take him in her arms and make him

all better. She settled instead for rubbing a hand between his

shoulder blades while sending him on his way. “Go on. I’ll be right

down,” she whispered.

Mulder nodded shakily, then turned and walked stiffly away.

Scully took in a deep breath, letting it out slowly as she closed the

door behind him, stepping back into the office. She faced the man

at the desk.

Kersh wasn’t even pretending he hadn’t witnessed that touching

little scene at the door. “Something, Agent Scully?”

“Yes, sir.” Standing tall, Scully squared her shoulders, ready for

battle. “Why did you pull Agent Mulder off the X-Files to work on

this case?”

Kersh leaned back in his chair, folding his arms across his chest. “I

believe I already explained that, Agent.”

Scully strode to his desk; she knew enough not to sit unless she

was invited. “You said that the Portsmouth office needed a profiler

in New Hampshire. What you didn’t say is why you’re sending

Mulder when you’ve got all the profilers in the ISU at your

disposal.”

“Two-thirds of whom are out with the flu.”

Scully just stared at him. “Sir, Agent Mulder has the flu, too. Yet,

you’re sending him, and it’s not even his *job*.”

“Agent Mulder looked perfectly healthy to me,” Kersh said,

waving her off. “If he’s so sick, why was he here?”

“Because he was ordered to be here!”

A long, slow smile grew on Kersh’s face, making Scully want to

shudder more than she ever had at the sight of any ghost, mutant or

Reticulan. “Are you telling me…” Kersh let out a laugh. “…So

you’re trying to tell me that Agent Mulder, lying in bed with the

latest designer flu, got up, got dressed–quite dapperly, I might

add–and came in here because he was *ordered* to?” Kersh stared

at her, as if actually expecting an answer, then continued without

giving her a chance to formulate one. “Forgive me, Agent, but

that’s bullshit.”

Counting to ten under her breath, Scully waited until she was sure

steam wouldn’t escape from any external orifices before she

opened her mouth. “That’s exactly what I’m saying.” She wondered

if Kersh was aware that the soft, controlled tone she’d just utilized

was the one that caused Mulder to nearly wet his pants whenever it

was directed at him.

Kersh laughed harshly just before he slammed his fist on the

desktop. Placing both hands palm down, he raised himself until he

was towering over her. “Do you know what, Agent Scully? I don’t

care. I don’t care if it took every last ounce of strength he had to

get here; the fact is that he did it. And if he can do that, then he can

*damn* well get his ass up to New Hampshire to work on this

case.”

“Sir, that makes no sense…” Scully felt herself spiraling out of

control. “Why didn’t you order one of the ‘real’ profilers out of

bed? Why Mulder? He’s not–”

“I’m making him useful, Agent. I’m justifying his even being in the

Bureau at all. I’m giving him a real case where he can use real

skills to find a real killer. And if he wants to keep his job, he’ll

*do* his job.”

Stunned, Scully fell into the nearest chair, protocol be damned.

Kersh must have been counting the days to Skinner’s vacation so

he could pull this stunt. “He can barely stand, sir. How can you

expect him to work?”

“Oh, he can work.” Kersh smiled again, and Scully felt sick to her

stomach at the sight of it. “Agent Mulder’s abilities to work while…

indisposed… are legendary. That’s why I know he can do this.”

Kersh sat back down, looking much like the cat that ate the canary.

“That’s why he *will* do this.”

“Sir…” Scully leaned forward in her chair, all shows of strength

rapidly deserting her. “He really is sick,” she said softly. “Isn’t

there anyone else–”

“No, there is not,” Kersh said sharply; then he sighed, and Scully

became immediately wary as his face softened into something

almost resembling human compassion. “If it makes you feel any

better, the Portsmouth people jumped at Mulder’s services–and

they requested yours, too.”

Scully narrowed her eyes, wondering when the hell he was going

to tell her this little tidbit of information. After all, she’d been out

the door already, only returning to plead Mulder’s case. “Mine?”

Kersh nodded. “The local coroner’s admitted that he’s way out of

his league, and they figured that since Mulder’s coming and you’re

his partner…” Kersh looked her in the eye. “Or would you prefer

that another pathologist accompany him?”

“No,” Scully answered quickly, before he could change his mind.

“No. I…” She stood up. “I’ll go.” Quite aware that she was leaving

without being dismissed, Scully strode to the door, opened it and

got the hell out of there.

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*****

Act I

February 5

FBI Resident Agency

Portsmouth, New Hampshire

8:48 p.m.

“Agent Scully, I’m so sorry. If I had known he was sick–”

The young Supervisory Senior Resident Agent looked beside

himself with concern, and Scully wanted to allay his fears that he’d

killed a fellow agent. “It’s not your fault, Agent Watts,” she said,

rushing into the conference room where Watts was standing

helplessly behind her partner, who lay hunched over the

conference table, face down in a river of yellow legal paper. “Do

you think you could…?” She smiled weakly at the flustered SSRA.

“Oh. Yes. Yes. Sorry.” He started to move away, yielding his

position at Mulder’s back to Scully. “Is he…” The young man

swallowed audibly. “Should I call a doctor?”

Scully shook her head. “I’m a doctor.” She laid a hand gently on

Mulder’s forehead. “He’ll be all right.”

Watts hesitated a second, his eyes darting to the prone agent. “I

didn’t know what to do,” he stuttered. “He was telling me what he

had so far, and he just… bam! No warning, no indication that…”

The agent sucked in a breath. “I’ll be just outside if you need

anything.” And he hurried out of the room.

Even as she frowned at the heat her hand encountered, Scully

allowed herself a small smile. Watts was okay. Thrilled when she

and Mulder arrived, horrified when he took one look at Mulder and

discovered how ill her partner was, Scully found the SSRA an

intelligent man with a compassionate heart. Instead of dispatching

her off to the White Mountains, where the killings took place and

the bodies were being held, he had asked her if she’d mind very

much waiting until tomorrow and flying up with Mulder.

Something about a gas shortage and favorable weather conditions

and some other B.S. that he’d conjured up.

Mulder moaned, and Scully gave him her full attention again.

“Hey…” She brushed her hand through his hair.

“Scully…” he groaned, raising his head. “Scully, I…” His head fell

back to the table. “Scully, please… Please take out your gun and

put me out of my misery.”

“How is my pistol-whipping you going to make you feel better?”

she asked, tugging at his arm until he rose to his feet.

“Funny,” he mumbled. “No wonder you went into pathology.”

“Come on, Mulder,” she said, slipping an arm around his waist.

“I’m taking you to the motel and putting you to bed.” When she

received no indecent comment, not even a leer, Scully knew just

how ill her partner felt.

“Scully, I’ll give you anything if you’ll just let me lie down right

here,” he whimpered, aiming himself at the table.

“No can do, partner.” As she yanked him away from the smooth,

polished wood, her hand came into contact with his thigh, and she

rubbed it soothingly. “You’ll appreciate this in about half an hour.”

He froze at her words and stood, staring at her, panic and disbelief

on his face.

“What?” she asked.

His face flushed even more than it already was, and he ducked his

head. “I can’t.”

“Can’t what?” she asked, pulling him closer to her, snaking a hand

under his jacket and around his waist, getting ready to help him

out.

“I can’t…” He mumbled the rest.

She leaned in closer, trying to see his face. “What? I can’t

understand you?”

Angry, embarrassed eyes met hers. “I said I can’t…” he snapped,

then looked away. “I can’t make love to you tonight. I don’t think I

can—”

“Oh, Mulder,” she said, sympathetically, finally tumbling to the

fact that his mind had gone there after all; she lifted his arm around

her shoulders and propelled them toward the door. “I would never

proposition you when you weren’t well enough to enjoy it.”

He angled his drooping head so that he was eye to eye with her.

“Make me better, Scully.”

*****

February 6

FBI Field Base of Operations

White Mountain National Forest

Rocky Gorge Campground

11:45 a.m.

Scully snapped off her gloves and tossed them in the hazardous

waste bin, looking around at the canvas walls as she strode to the

rear of the large tent. Well, it wasn’t the worst place in which she’d

performed an autopsy, but it certainly ranked in the top five. At

least, she reasoned, shivering in the frosty mountain air, there was

no need to haul the body back into a refrigeration unit. What the

hell kind of a person killed under these conditions anyway?

Gazing down upon the man who might be able to answer that

question, Scully hated to wake him. “Mulder,” she said, softly,

shaking him gently. “Mulder, c’mon. Wake up.”

“Wha… Scully? Time to go?” he murmured sleepily, grunting as

she helped him to sit up. “Are you done?” He rubbed his eyes with

the heels of his hands. “God, I feel like shit.”

“I know,” she said, rubbing her hand up and down his back.

“Find anything?” he asked.

She nodded. “The coroner’s reports indicated the cause of death as

‘blunt instrument trauma.’ While this may be true, there was

something done post death which leads me to believe that we’re not

dealing with your average serial killer.”

“What?” he asked, tiredly. She could tell that he was trying his

hardest to act interested, but he didn’t quite pull it off.

“I noticed a tiny hole just above the ear, so I decided to take a look

inside.”

At an inarticulate noise from Mulder, she paused, but he waved her

on.

“Well, judging from the miniscule amount of matter I found on the

skin near the pinhole…” She took a breath. “…I’d have to say your

suspect sucked out all of the brain fluid, and a good deal of the

brain matter–”

Mulder’s hand immediately covered his mouth. “No more. Don’t

tell me anymore.” He struggled to his feet with her aid. “I need

fresh air.”

Once outside, he gulped in several breaths and looked around. “Is

there anyplace warm around here?” He stuffed his hands into his

pockets and tried to burrow deeper inside his jacket. “You can give

me all the gory details, and I can make a few more refinements to

the profile if I can find somewhere to write.”

Scully nodded. “The rangers’ cabin. Behind the hospital tent. It has

real heat and hot water.”

“Great,” he said, heading in that direction. “Let’s make the

additions before we head up to the first crime scene.” Mulder

coughed into his gloved hand, a harsh biting sound that Scully

thought had to be hurting his throat.

Scully wanted to tell him to forget about the crime scenes, that he

should be in bed, resting, but she knew he couldn’t. Not with Kersh

breathing down his neck. “Mulder, why are they making you do

this?” she asked, unable to contain her curiosity any longer.

Mulder doubled over with a series of hacking coughs before he

answered her. “Because they know I can do it,” he said, out of

breath.

She steadied him, returning his nod of thanks. “That’s what Kersh

said.”

“Ah,” Mulder said, trying to suppress another cough. “The fabled

iron profiler legend knows no bounds.”

“So it’s true?” Not that she doubted it, but to hear it confirmed

appalled her.

He gave her a sickly smile. “You’re witnessing it first-hand.”

She pulled him to the edge of the woods when his next bout of

coughing unsettled his stomach. Holding him as he vomited up the

water and crackers she’d made him consume earlier, she found her

thoughts straying to the deputy director.

And what a bastard he was.

*****

February 6

Ranger’s Station

12:45 p.m.

“You’re kidding, right?” Scully stared at Special Agent Dale

Forsberg as she watched a second head sprout up from between the

man’s shoulders. “You don’t seriously expect us to ride in one of

those… things.”

Forsberg shrugged. “It’s the only way to get up there. That, or

walk.”

Scully planted her feet and shook her head. “Neither of those is

acceptable.”

“Acceptable or not, Agent Scully, those are your only options.”

“We came here by helicopter. Why can’t we–”

“It’s too thickly wooded up there. There’s no place to land, and you

don’t want to be lowered down in those crosswinds.”

Scully was at a loss; she wondered if Mulder would forgo the visits

under the circumstances. Then she heard Kersh’s voice spewing all

that garbage about Mulder’s job, and she knew he couldn’t.

“Are you sure there’s nothing else we could take?” She glanced at

her partner, curled up on a cot practically on top of the stove.

Forsberg’s face softened, following her gaze; he shook his head.

“I’m sorry. You were originally scheduled for the regular four-

wheelers, which only seats one, but we thought it might be better if

you took the two-seater.” The agent reached behind him and

picked up three sheets of yellow paper with her partner’s

handwriting on them. “Agent Mulder’s drawn us a pretty good

picture already. Does he really have to go up there?”

Scully looked at Forsberg, then back at Mulder. Did he? Again she

heard Kersh’s voice and again she knew that even if they could get

away without visiting the sites, they shouldn’t because it would

only come back and bite them–bite Mulder–on the ass when they

got back to D.C. and it was discovered that they hadn’t touched all

the bases.

“Where’d you say it was?” she asked, facing Forsberg again.

He walked over to a window, and Scully followed him. “Right

there.” He pointed to a lean-to in which she could see a group of

four-wheeled vehicles, one of which, the two-seater which

resembled a mini-jeep, was to be their transportation. “If this was

any other winter, you’d be on a snowmobile,” Forsberg continued,

“but we’ve gotten hardly any snow this year so you’ll have to take

the four-wheeler.”

“We’re going to freeze,” she muttered, gazing at the open-air car.

“Uh, they gave us these…” Forsberg produced a bundle of cold-

weather gear from thin air. “Snowsuits, gloves, hats, goggles and

boots.”

Scully took the articles, not even curious as to whom the ‘they’

might be.

They were going to freeze.

**

Act II

February 6

Somewhere in the White Mountain National Forest

2:25 p.m.

She had to give credit where credit was due. ‘They’ had actually

provided the correct sizes–for both of them. Not only was she

attired properly, after half an hour of driving exposed to the frigid

mountain air, she was not quite the popsicle she’d thought she’d be.

Mulder, however, wasn’t faring so well. As she glanced at him,

huddled beneath all the blankets she could wrangle out of

Forsberg, she doubted that anything short of a blast furnace could

warm her partner.

“How are you doing, Mulder?” she asked.

“Okay,” came the muffled reply. “How much longer?”

She glanced quickly at her watch, then at the folded trail map she

held pressed between her hand and the steering wheel. “About ten

minutes.”

The wind caught a pocket of the map and tore it out of her hand;

when she made a grab for it, the four-wheeler ran off the trail and

nearly smashed into a tree. As she fought to get them back on the

trail, she abandoned her hold on the map, and it flew out behind

their heads.

Finally getting the vehicle back in control and on the trail again,

she skidded them to a stop. She gazed over at her partner, who was

dazedly unburrowing himself from his nest. “Look,” she panted, “I

know you don’t feel well, and I’m sorry, but I could really use some

help with navigation.”

His expression changed rapidly from frightened to confused to

shamed, and she immediately felt awful for yelling at him.

“Where’s the map?” he asked, in a quiet voice.

Scully secured the 4-wheeler and stepped out. She gestured to the

woods around them. “I’ll… find it. You…” She pointed at him. “…

stay here.”

Mulder nodded, then reached across and grabbed her arm. “Scully,

wait! It’s right here.”

Following his gaze, Scully snatched the map from where it lay

plastered to her seatback by the wind. She smiled at him, getting

back in and handing him the map. “Maybe our luck is changing.”

She caressed his cheek as lovingly as she could in her extra-thick

insulated mittens. “Maybe you’ll be feeling better soon.”

“Maybe,” he agreed cautiously, as he gathered the blankets around

himself. “Is the wind picking up?” he asked, and she could see him

trying to keep a firm grip on the trail map.

“Yeah,” she said. “The higher we get, the windier and the colder

it’s getting.”

Scully put the vehicle in gear and sent them bouncing over rocks

and branches and tree roots again. Mulder made a sour face and

pulled the blankets more securely around himself.

“Peachy,” he said.

**

February 6

3:47 p.m.

They were at the third site when Scully realized that their earlier

luck had been just as she’d feared: a fluke. Instead of getting better,

her partner’s condition had worsened to the point where she felt not

only concern for his well-being, but for his survival.

“Okay, Mulder, we’re almost there.” She relaxed the death grip she

had on him only for the two seconds it took for her to maneuver

him into the four-wheeler. “You with me?” she asked once she had

him settled in.

“With you,” he wheezed, then broke out into a coughing fit.

Grabbing a bottle of water from the seat beside him, she quickly

uncapped it and held it to the lips of the still-coughing man. “Try

to drink some water,” she told him, tilting the bottle. “Your throat’s

too dry, and it’s making you cough. The last thing you need is

oxygen deprivation.”

She managed to get some down his throat, and the coughing eased

but the wheeze didn’t; her partner was literally gasping for air.

“Okay, that’s it.” She stalked around to the driver’s side and got in,

starting the engine. “We are getting the hell out of here. Kersh can

just kiss my ass.”

“Why should… he… have all the fun?”

Shocked to hear him speaking, let alone coherently, let alone alert

enough to make a ribald comment, Scully looked at him in wonder.

His eyes were closed, his breathing was labored, but he was

smiling. “Thank you, God,” she said, and Mulder’s eyes snapped

open. She smiled at the hopeful look on his face. “Feeling better

now that you’re not running around out there?”

He nodded, then leaned his body into hers and rested his head on

her shoulder. “Do me a favor?” he asked in a whisper.

“What?” she answered, wrapping her arms around him and pulling

him closer as she felt him begin to shiver.

He encircled her with the arm that wasn’t pressed between their

bodies and his head slid off her shoulder and onto her chest.

“Scully… Mm…”

“What is it, Mulder?” she asked gently. “What do you need me to

do?” Her hand traced soothing circles on his back while she

pressed a kiss to the top of his head.

She felt him hugging her with all the strength he had. “Christ,

Scully. You’re already doing it.”

Moving back a little so that she could see his face, she allowed an

expression of amusement to come into her eyes. “And here I

thought I was doing it for me.”

His eyes slid shut, and he snuggled into her. “Scully?”

“Yes, Mulder?”

His voice was breathy when he spoke. “Just wanted to tell you that

I love you, and…” He struggled to take a breath. “I…” His arms

loosened around her, and his head grew heavy against her. “I’m

going to…” His body went totally slack in her arms, and she knew

he’d passed out.

She held him for a few minutes, then shifted him so she could

buckle him in. Gazing at him with a mixture of sympathy and

affection, Scully sighed as she engaged the engine. She positioned

the map half under her bottom and started down the mountain.

They hadn’t been on the road fifteen minutes when she came upon

the moose.

**

February 6

4:08 p.m.

It was a bull moose, and it was big. And it was standing about ten

feet away, smack in the middle of the trail. Even if Scully hadn’t

read the literature on vehicle/moose collisions and the ensuing

human fatalities, she would have chosen to avoid something twice

her height and weight–jeep and Mulder included.

She slammed on the brakes and jerked the wheel sharply to the

right, in the only direction that wouldn’t get them killed outright.

The change in terrain was drastic. Whereas before they’d been

traversing the gentle slope of the trail, they now plummeted at

breakneck speed down the steep mountainside. Braking did little to

stop wheels sliding on dried pine needles and loose pebbles, and

when the collision with the birch tree seemed inevitable, Scully let

go of the wheel and grabbed onto her partner.

She almost cried when, at the last possible second, the jeep veered

off to the side and came to an abrupt stop inside an elder bush. For

about five seconds, all Scully did was hold tightly to Mulder and

breathe. Then she felt a sharp pain in her side and found that not

only was the jeep inside the bush, but the bush was inside the jeep.

Those parts of the bush that hadn’t been broken off during the

crash were poking and prodding every which way above and

around them.

Craning her neck to her left, Scully sucked in a breath when she

saw the bloodied tip of a broken branch dangling a few inches

away. Carefully, she changed position, relieved when the level of

pain in her side increased only slightly. At least it was a clean stab

wound; if a piece were still in there, she would have felt it.

Ignoring the burning in her side, Scully turned to her partner. He

looked relatively intact, at least injury-wise. She was worried,

however, that their wild ride down the side of the mountain hadn’t

produced so much as a peep out of him. She peeled off a mitten

and felt his skin, then frantically looked around for a way to get

them the hell out of there.

Mulder was burning up. His fever was higher than when they’d

started back, and she needed to get him to a medical facility ASAP.

But how, dammit? The jeep was literally embedded in the bush.

Judging by their position about a foot off the ground, Scully

guessed that they’d been airborne the last second or so. Lucky for

them the bush had been there to stop their attempt at finding a

really fast way down the mountain.

Almost afraid now to look out the front windshield, Scully gasped

when her gaze beyond the brush encountered nothing but blue. She

was suddenly grateful that the bush had taken it upon itself to hug

them so firmly to its bosom. All the same, they had to get out of

there. Even the strongest of branches–and these didn’t look

particularly strong–could snap, and send them careening to their

deaths.

She unbuckled herself and then Mulder. Reaching beneath her, she

pulled out the map and tucked it inside a pocket, then tossed any

supplies she could get her hands on out the back, onto the ground

behind the jeep. She took a breath and looked for the safest

direction in which to disembark. With the front of the jeep tilted

upward, the rear was nearly sitting on the ground behind them, so

the decision was, for once, an easy one. Once she got Mulder into

the storage area in the back, he should literally roll right out. The

hard part would be getting him there.

There was no way she could lift him out without causing some

movement to the jeep; she had to wake him.

“Mulder…” She tapped lightly on his cheek, and when she got no

reaction, she pulled his hood away from his head and put her lips

to his ear. “Mulder… Come on. I need you to wake up.”

He made a sound that was part moan/part whimper, and Scully

swore she’d get even with Kersh for this somehow.

“Hey, partner. We’re in a little bit of trouble, and I need your help,”

she told him when his eyelids fluttered.

“Whazzit, Scully? Whassmatter?” he slurred.

“We ran off the road, and we need to get out of the jeep. I’ll explain

more fully later, but for now I need you to help me, okay?” She

hated talking to him like he was a child, but in his half-awake state

it was the quickest way to get through to him.

” ‘kay, Scully.” He nodded clumsily, as his eyes kept drooping

closed.

“Good.” Scully climbed up onto her seat, then crouched down and

held onto the sides of his head with her hands. “I want you to get

up on the seat, Mulder. Like me. See?” She waited while he

blinked his eyes a few times, trying to focus.

Then his head tilted back, and he looked up at her. His mouth hung

open, and he blinked lazily. “I don’t know if I can.”

Sliding her hands to his shoulders, she leaned forward until she

was face-to-face with him. “Sure, you can,” she said in her most

reassuring voice. “I’ll help you. Okay?”

She pulled him up until he was kneeling on the seat, his feet

hanging over the edge, his chest flush with the seatback. He laid

his head on his folded arms. “I don’t feel well, Scully,” he said, his

voice shaking. “I really don’t think I can climb up there.”

“Can you try, Mulder? We need to get out of here, and I can’t lift

you.” Spotting his blankets where they’d slid to the floor, Scully

retrieved them and lobbed them out the back with the rest of their

supplies.

Suddenly, everything spun around her, and she found herself

sitting back down, Mulder’s anxious face looming above her.

“Scully! Scully! What happened? Are you all right?”

” s’okay, Mulder,” she said, as the world settled back on its axis

around her. “I have a minor injury, and got a little light-headed for

a minute.”

“You’re hurt?”

She saw the alarm in his eyes and patted his cheek. “It’s no big

deal.” She tried not to grimace as she climbed back onto the seat.

He was wide-awake now, she was pleased to see; concern for her

well-being had knocked him out of his stupor. She couldn’t resist

giving him a hug for it. Then she tugged on his arms, trying to pull

him up.

“Don’t Scully. I can do it.” The determination in his statement

might have convinced her were it not for the tremor in his voice.

She laid a hand on his arm and spoke to him gently. “Mulder, I’m

not hurt that badly. If you need my help, take it.”

He seemed to debate the issue, then nodded his head. “Thanks,” he

said, quietly.

She smiled, then gripped him under his arms. “Ready?”

Giving her a nod, he let her pull him up while he concentrated on

getting his feet under him. When he was finally upright, she

panted, “Okay. Up and over.”

She made a mental note to laugh later at the look of astonishment

that came over his face, but for now she just crawled over the seat

and gave a yank on his hands. She could only think, “Oh, shit,” as

Mulder practically soared past her to land heavily in the back of

the jeep before tumbling out onto the sloped ground. Scully

scrambled out after him as she heard the snap of a branch, and the

jeep’s front end dropped a couple of inches.

Pulling Mulder clear of the jeep, she watched in horror as the heap

of metal finally became too much for the bush, and their only

means of transportation trundled down the mountain, quickly

disappearing from sight. A loud crash signaled its demise as it

made contact with a tree or a rock or God only knew what.

Scully tightened her hold on her partner, unwilling to allow the

same fate to come to him. Looking up, she breathed a sigh of relief

when she saw the trail about thirty yards above them. Their flight

down the mountain must have only *felt* like miles. Well, at least

if they had to hike, it wouldn’t be on the treacherous mountain

itself but on the mild–in comparison–incline of the trail. Plus,

their chances of being rescued were greater on the well-marked,

well-traveled trail.

“Scully–” Mulder began, but broke off when he was overcome

with a series of coughs. Scully held him and rubbed his back until

he calmed, then examined his face. They were a little further down

the mountain, so the air wasn’t as thin, and Mulder could breathe

better, but he looked done in enough just from the flu.

“Mulder, I want us to get up onto the trail,” she told him gently.

“We need to climb up there.” She pointed to the slight clearing

behind and above him.

He didn’t even look. He just nodded and reached out a hand to her.

Slipping his arm around her neck, they made it a couple of feet

before Mulder collapsed onto his side.

“Oh, Mulder…” Scully felt so bad for him as he lay panting and

sweating in the frosty mountain air. She picked up the blankets and

covered him with them. “Maybe we can wait a few minutes.”

Again, he just nodded, but there was no mistaking the gratitude in

his eyes. Taking a corner of one of the blankets, Scully patted his

face dry, then stood up. “I’ll be right back,” she told him.

She checked the surrounding area for the items she’d salvaged, and

recovered everything that was within reach. Forsberg had provided

her with a knapsack, and she’d stocked it with water, aspirin,

packages of tissues, and an assortment of granola and candy bars

she’d bought at the motel’s snack area. The jeep had been equipped

with a length of rope, spare tire, first aid kit and a walkie-talkie.

Scully sighed. With the exception of the first aid kit, which had

been within easy reach, she hadn’t had a chance to save the other

items before they lost the jeep.

She wondered if she should try to get to the jeep; that radio would

come in mighty handy now that they were stranded. As she trudged

back up to Mulder with her cache of supplies, she decided that the

risk was too high that she’d sustain an injury. She also doubted the

radio had survived what sounded like a teeth-shattering collision.

Pausing briefly to glance at her partner, Scully carried the

knapsack, a couple opened bottles of water and the first aid kit up

to the trail. Her side was feeling uncomfortably wet and sticky, and

Scully hoped that the bleeding had stopped. Mulder’s being sick

was bad enough; she didn’t need both of them incapacitated.

She paused a moment to catch her breath, then made her way back

to Mulder, giving a startled yelp when she lost her footing and

started to slide down. She had just started to gain momentum when

she felt Mulder’s arm snag her around the waist. Grateful though

she was for his stopping her, she couldn’t hold in her cry of pain as

his arm dug into her wound.

“I’m sorry, Scully. I’m sorry,” Mulder practically sobbed, but he

didn’t let her go until they both stopped sliding.

Scully had to wait a few seconds until she could think clearly

again, and then she turned around to look at her partner. Tears

were in his eyes, and he looked frightened to death.

“Mulder, it’s okay. I’m okay.”

He nodded his head that he understood, even though the remnants

of his anguish remained in his eyes. With a shaky hand, he reached

over and gently wiped her face of tears she hadn’t realized she’d

shed. Scully grasped his hand and kissed his palm, then pressed it

to her face. For a few moments, she closed her eyes and let

sensation take her over as she let herself feel how much she

appreciated having Mulder in her life.

The heat from his hand, however, brought her back to reality

damned fast. She opened her eyes to find Mulder gazing at her

with what could only be described as loopy contentment. He

looked like he was about to pass out but was enjoying himself too

much to do so. Well, whatever worked, she thought, suddenly

feeling an overpowering need to grin at his expression.

Mulder’s eyebrows rose a couple of notches at her smile, and she

couldn’t resist–she just had to hug him. Mulder reclaimed his hand

and hugged her back loosely, mindful of her injury.

Although she truly hated to break their embrace, she needed to

capitalize on his temporary fortitude and get him up to the trail.

“Mulder, can you walk?” she asked, pulling out of his arms far too

easily for her liking. “Can you climb up there with me?”

Nodding, he clambered to his feet. The lightheartedness of a few

seconds ago had been replaced by an air of gravity. “Actually,

Scully, I think it had better be right now, because in about three

minutes I’m going to pass out.”

She gave a short nod and jumped to her feet, then doubled over

when the wound in her side reminded her that it was there.

Mulder reached out to her, and she took his hand, more to help him

than to accept any help he had offered. Still, she found herself

relying on his aid as they picked their way up the mountain. About

halfway up, they reversed position, and she took the lead as

Mulder’s strength began to flag.

“Almost there, Mulder. Come on. Just a few more feet.” His lips

were pressed tight, and she could see him trying desperately not to

cough. She felt an adrenaline burst kick in and pulled him the

remaining distance.

As soon as she let go of his hand, Mulder fell to his knees and

started coughing; he hunched forward, his head resting on his

folded arms. Scanning the area, Scully located one of the water

bottles and scooped it up. She knelt beside Mulder and gently

coaxed him upright; uncapping the bottle, she handed it to him. He

suppressed his coughing long enough to take a couple of swallows,

and that seemed to do the trick

He gave her a smile of thanks right before he fainted.

clip_image004

**

1989

Quantico, Virginia

10:41 p.m.

“Hey, Mulder…”

Mulder looked up quickly as the door slammed against the wall.

His vision darkened momentarily as the room faded from view,

then it wavered back in until he could focus on the source of all the

noise. Neil Valenti, his immediate supervisor, stood hands on hips,

a frown of disapproval on his face. “You got that damned profile

done yet? I promised it to the A.D. forty-five minutes ago.”

Looking down at the notepads scattered over the table, Mulder

reached for one, then checked himself. “Which one was yours?”

“For Christ’s sakes, Mulder. The Jacoby case.”

“Oh… Right.” Mulder picked up a blue file folder and held it out to

the agent. “Just finished it a few minutes ago.”

Valenti looked peeved. “Then why the hell didn’t you bring it to

me? You knew I was waiting for it.”

Mulder wanted to curl up on top of the table and cry. Or die. At

this moment, he didn’t care which. He was up to his ears in

profiles, all of them “top priority,” and he felt like death–most

definitely not warmed over. He was too damned cold for that.

“Sorry, Neil. I’ve got these others to finish, and–”

Valenti snatched the folder out of Mulder’s hand. “Yeah, yeah.

That’s what you always say.”

Mulder closed his eyes as Valenti left as brusquely as he came.

“Because that’s the way it always is,” he said to the empty office.

**

February 6

Present Time

8:51 p.m.

“Sorry…” Mulder mumbled in his sleep. “I… finish…”

He moaned, squirming in her arms as though trying to escape from

his dream. “Please… just want sleep few hours… Let me…”

When he folded in on himself, and his shoulders started shaking,

Scully couldn’t stand it any more. “Mulder,” she called gently.

“Hey, come on. It’s only a dream.” She touched his arms, and his

reaction was immediate, wrapping her in a bear hug and holding on

for dear life.

“Mm… Scully. You came. You came to save me.”

When he rolled them over, pinning her beneath his body, Scully

became mildly alarmed. “Mulder, what are you–”

“I’m so tired, Scully, but they won’t let me sleep.” His eyes were

open, and he was looking at her, but she suspected that Mulder was

still a long way away.

Reaching out, she brushed her fingers through his hair. “Who won’t

let you sleep?”

“Valenti, Rogers, Wattumbi… all of them. Can’t sleep. Need to

work.” His eyes closed. “So tired, though.” He turned his head

away to cough. “And sick. They won’t let me sleep when I’m sick.”

Her anger with Kersh flared when she heard that. When she

caressed his face, his eyes opened, and he gave her a lazy smile.

“But you let me sleep, Scully.” His eyes closed again, and he

reopened them with an effort. “Did you come to make them let me

sleep?”

Her heart went out to him at the hopeful expression in his eyes.

“That’s right, Mulder. You sleep, and I’ll kick their asses if they try

to wake you.”

Smiling dreamily, he slid off her until only his head lay pillowed in

her lap. He looked at her, and she could tell that he had snapped

out of his dream. “Is this okay?” he asked softly.

She sat up and placed a gentle kiss on his cheek. “Of course it is.”

He sighed happily and snuggled in closer, wrapping one arm

around her waist. “I wish I had you back then, Scully.” He gave her

a squeeze. “I’m so grateful I have you now.”

Scully gathered all the blankets and covered them both. She slid

down, pulling Mulder up until his head was resting just beneath her

chin. Kissing the top of his head, she hugged him to her. “As well

you should be.”

She felt him shake with silent laughter. “Ah, God, but I love you,

Scully.”

“I know you do, Mulder.” She ruffled his hair and settled her cheek

atop his head. “Sometimes that’s the only thing in this life that I

*am* sure of.”

**

1989

Quantico, Virginia

“Maybe we should lay off him for awhile. I mean, *look* at him.”

Jack Godfried’s voice reached Mulder’s ears through the crack in

the door and even though he was puking up everything he’d ever

had to eat, Mulder felt himself flushing with embarrassment. When

he could pause enough to take a breath, he stretched an arm out

and slammed the door shut.

He wanted to stay where he was forever. He might be sick, it might

smell pretty rank in there, but he was alone. He had privacy. And

there were no babies dying in there. No kids with their hands

chopped off, or their intestines removed or their tiny bodies

violated in any other number of unspeakable ways.

Here he needed only to concentrate on one thing: making sure his

aim was on target.

An impatient rapping on the door made him cringe. “You almost

done in there, Mulder? Some of us are on deadline, you know.” It

was the despised voice of the recently promoted Neil Valenti, and

it gave Mulder an incentive to keep puking.

“Mulder!” Valenti was pounding on the door now, and Mulder

wished he’d just shut up and go the hell away.

“For Christ’s sakes, Mulder. Can’t you do this on your own time?”

The voice was right next to him now, and Mulder was so pissed

that the jerk couldn’t even give him five minutes to be sick that he

momentarily rose above his bodily ills to address the man.

“I don’t have any of my own fucking time, Neil. You and your co-

workers see to that.” Mulder indicated the door. “Get the fuck out.

And try working on your own damned profile for once. I’m too

sick.” Mulder turned back to the toilet.

“No fucking way!” Mulder’s shoulder was grabbed, and he was

jerked upright to face Valenti. “You just get over yourself, Spooky,

and get your head back in the game where it belongs.”

Mulder pulled out of Valenti’s grasp and sank back down to the

floor. “I can’t. I can’t do it any more. I can’t eat, I can’t think… Hell,

I can’t even sit up any more.” He let himself slide onto the floor.

“Lemme sleep, Neil.”

“You can sleep later, Mulder. For now, I want–”

“No!” Mulder sat up with the rest of his energy. “It’s always ‘later.’

You or Bill or Frank–” He stopped, frustrated when he couldn’t

remember the names of the people he worked with every day.

“You–all of you–need me every second of every day and every

night. For God’s sake, Neil, I haven’t been to my apartment in

days.”

“That’s not my problem,” Valenti said, dismissively.

“It damned well *is* your problem, because I quit.” Mulder pushed

himself to his feet, anger giving him temporary strength. “I fucking

quit.”

He tromped out of the bathroom and stalked out the door, nearly

colliding with Patterson. Then he pulled out his cell phone, called a

cab and got himself admitted to the nearest hospital.

**

February 7

Present Time

6:16 a.m.

Scully’s eyes opened and fell on her partner, lying beside her. His

restless shifting and his mumbling had awakened her, but since he

didn’t seem to be in too much distress, she let him sleep while she

slipped outside to relieve herself. She thought she’d take care of

her wound while she had her clothes undone, but it was too cold

and windy, so she hustled back to the blankets and her warm

Mulder. Once under the covers, she peeled back the layers of

clothing to reveal the injury.

The wound wasn’t too deep, but it was oozing pus, so she cleaned

it, disinfected it, and slathered on a generous amount of antibiotic

cream from the first aid kit. A gauze pad, folded in quarters, and an

extra large bandaid were all it took to complete her ministrations.

Satisfied with her work, she lay back down by Mulder’s side when

he began whimpering.

She caught enough of his dream for her to get a better idea of what

life had been like for him back in his ‘glory’ days. Now she had no

trouble understanding why he loved their office in the basement. It

also gave her more of an insight as to why Mulder often had

difficulty working with other agents.

It saddened her to think that he’d been abused so badly by his

fellow workers. It angered her to know that he still was–and that

she was a willing participant. She wondered how far up the ladder

this blatant mistreatment of her partner went. If she had protested

Kersh’s actions, would anyone have listened?

Mulder came suddenly awake with a cry of surprise, and Scully

hastened to comfort him. “Hey, easy there, Mulder. It was just a

dream.” She rubbed a hand across his back as she spoke in a

soothing voice. “You’re here with me: Scully.”

She felt a rumble against her chest and realized he was laughing.

“You are the first person I think of, Scully, and the only one I

would care to be stranded with in the mountains in the winter, so it

wouldn’t have been too much of a stretch for me to guess that the

‘me’ was you.” He lifted his head and smiled at her.

“I take it you’re feeling better?” she asked, both amused and

annoyed by the smugness in his tone.

“Yes, I feel better. Not much, but a definite improvement over last

night.” He sighed. “Let me warn you from experience, though–it

won’t last. I’ll be feeling rotten in no time.” He pulled gently from

her arms and got to his feet. “While we’re in the ‘eye,’ so to speak,

should we try to make some headway in getting out of here? Or at

least a little further down, where it’s not as cold and windy.”

She shivered, missing the warmth Mulder had been sharing with

her. Nodding, she stood, taking his hand up when he offered it to

her. “You’re right. It’s getting light out, so we should be able to

follow the path okay. Hopefully, we’ll meet a rescue team before

we get too far.”

Mulder turned and directed his gaze back up the mountain. “How

far from the ranger station do you suppose we are?”

Scully took the map out of her pocket, located their last known

position, then found the ranger station. “We’re actually not in too

bad a position. We’re about an hours’ driving time away, but we

weren’t going much over fifteen miles per hour.”

“We’ve gone fifteen miles?” Mulder asked.

“Well, the trail twists and turns and rises and falls…” She stopped.

“The elevation for this mountain is only around 4,500 feet. Could

we really have covered fifteen miles when it’s not even one mile

high?”

Mulder nodded. “Easy. These trails are blazed for enjoyment, not

for the quickest way up and down.”

Scully sighed. “Doesn’t anyone ever need to get down in a hurry?

What do they do when someone’s hurt?” She held up a hand at the

question forming on his lips. “I took care of it while you were

asleep. It was just beginning to become infected, but I think I

headed it off.”

Mulder nodded, apparently satisfied. “Is there anything on the

map?”

She shook her head. “I already looked. If there is, it’s not on this

map.”

Mulder gave a frustrated grin. “Figures. Nothing could ever go that

easy for us.” He helped Scully gather up their supplies, hesitating

when he came to the four wool blankets.

“It’d probably be easier if you wore them,” she offered.

Mulder ducked his head, a sure indication that he’d had the same

thought, but would not have voiced it; he didn’t want to admit that

he craved the extra warmth, a sign that he was feeling better.

“Would you mind sharing them?” She was so happy that he was

well enough to put on his brave front that she tried to soften the

blow for him. She held out a hand, and he grinned as he shook out

two blankets, draping them over her back.

“I thought you’d never ask,” he said, spreading the remaining two

around himself.

She shook her head, once again having figured him out correctly,

yet underestimated him at the same time. “You are one of a kind,

Mulder,” she said, smiling.

He hefted the backpack beneath the blankets and gazed at her, a

sparkle in his eye. “That’s part of the reason you love me, isn’t it?”

He was thrilled by the answering twinkle in her eyes. “You know

it, partner.”

**

February 7

6:25 a.m.

Scully watched with amusement the almost jaunty gait of her

partner as he walked ahead of her. Happy that a few words from

her had rejuvenated him this much, it also saddened her that he still

grasped onto these tiny expressions of love the way a drowning

man did to a life raft.

Was she so stingy with them before? Had she so rarely shown him

how much she cared for him that any crumb she’d thrown his way

had become, to him, equivalent to a banquet?

She wasn’t a very demonstrative person. Surely he knew that that

was why she didn’t throw platitudes of love his way every time she

wanted to. Daring a look at him, she smiled when he turned to her

as though he’d felt her eyes upon him. Hell, he probably could.

Catching up with him, she placed a hand on his back. “How are

you doing?”

“I’m good,” he said, nodding. He indicated the spot she’d just

vacated. “What were you thinking about just then?”

Reluctant to reveal her shortcomings to him, she shrugged and

offered him a half-truth instead. “I was thinking how much better

you were doing.”

He frowned as if he knew she wasn’t being totally honest with him.

“Oh,” he said, turning his attention back to the path. “I’m feeling

better, thanks.”

Suddenly, the disappointment she saw on his face, and felt in

herself, became unbearable. “I was thinking about how much I

love you,” she blurted out, “and how I don’t seem to tell you

enough.”

He stopped then, and she plowed into his back. Before she could

peel herself off his backside, he did a one-eighty, holding onto her

shoulders before she could move away. Relocating one hand to

caress her cheek, he smiled gently. “Thank you,” he said softly.

She shrugged. “I thought you needed to know.”

Chuckling, he touched his forehead to hers in a gesture she’d come

to associate with his deep affection for her. He kissed her forehead,

then tilted her head so that she had to look into his eyes. And then

she understood.

He knew. He’d always known.

**

Act III

February 7

7:06 a.m.

Mulder cursed softly as he trudged along behind Scully. He’d felt

the change come over him a few minutes earlier, but hadn’t

mentioned it to his partner. The further down the mountain they

could get, the better off they’d be, so he’d kept to himself the fact

that with each step he took he was feeling poorer and poorer. He

wanted to keep going until he absolutely couldn’t go on any longer.

Scully turned her head to check his progress, and before he could

blink, she was at his side, taking the brunt of his weight as he slid

bonelessly to the ground. “Oh, Mulder,” she said, softly. “You

should have said something.”

He shook his head. “I was okay until a couple of minutes ago.”

“You should have said something then.”

Giving a tired smile, he shrugged. “Thought I could keep going

awhile longer.” He let his eyes drift shut. “Must be getting old.”

She settled him a little more comfortably against a tree trunk.

“We’re both getting old.” Kissing him lightly on his forehead, she

uttered, “But as long as we do it together, I don’t mind.”

Opening his eyes, he fought to bring her face into focus. “Do you

really mean that? Do you… would you… grow old with me?”

She smiled then, a huge grin that he’d never before seen gracing

her features. “Well, not right away, but… yeah.” Her gaze shifted

down to their clasped hands. “I think I have to,” she said, her voice

just above a whisper.

“Wow,” Mulder said, just before he fainted.

**

February 7

7:09 a.m.

Scully laid the last of the blankets over her partner, narrowed her

eyes, and squinted up at the sky. She was certain that those fluffy

grey clouds rolling in were up to no good.

Where the hell was their rescue? Didn’t *anyone* notice that they

hadn’t returned? At the very least, someone should have missed the

damned jeep thing. And just where in the bloody blue blazes on

this blamed mountain were she and Mulder anyway?

Scully brought out the trail map and opened it to their last known

position. It was dismayingly close to the summit. She cursed

herself for not paying attention to landmarks on her drive down.

Absurdly, she wondered if she’d be able to locate the site of their

“mishap” if she looked for a picture of a moose.

The loud “snap” of a branch breaking off to her right sent Scully

scrambling into a side pocket for her gun. Just as her hand closed

over the weapon, a gravelly voice ordered, “Hold it right there.”

Her finger on the trigger, her thumb about to flick the safety off,

Scully froze.

“Let go of whatever it is you’ve got a hold of in there, and bring

your hand out slowly–and empty.” Scully looked toward the voice

and found a bear of a man holding a shotgun against her partner’s

head. “Or your boyfriend here gets his pretty face messed up.”

“Okay,” she said, in what she hoped was a calm voice. “Okay, I’m

doing it.” Relinquishing her hold on the hard steel, she drew her

hand out carefully.

“Good,” the man intoned, nodding and licking his lips. He looked

almost as nervous as she did. “Now reach in two fingers–no

thumb–and pull it out.”

Scully did as directed, and as soon as her weapon was in sight, he

snatched it out of her hand. She was relieved to see that Mulder

was no longer in the gun’s sights.

“What about him?” the man asked. “He got a gun, too?”

“Yeah,” she said, nodding, wondering whether or not she should

volunteer information about their professions.

“Get it.” The barrel was once again held against Mulder’s temple.

“The same way as yours.”

Scully nodded, pulling the pile of blankets off Mulder. Kneeling

beside him, she patted him down until she felt the hard lump at his

side. She reached into his pocket, pulled the gun out, and offered it

to their captor.

After the man had deposited their weapons in his jacket pocket, he

indicated the ground near Mulder. “Sit down.” He gestured to the

unmoving Mulder. “What’s wrong with him?”

“He’s sick,” Scully answered. “Flu,” she added, in case the man

should think Mulder had some highly contagious disease and

decide to put him out of his misery.

“Well, for godsakes, cover him back up,” the man said.

Surprised, Scully hastened to comply. Since it appeared that the

man wasn’t the ogre Scully had thought him to be, she took the

time to tuck the blankets snugly around her partner. “Thank you,”

she said, sincerely.

“What are you two doing up here? Don’t you know there’s a storm

coming?”

Scully’s gaze took in the gathering clouds. “I suspected as much.”

She sighed tiredly. “I crashed our four-wheeler trying to avoid a

moose.”

The man snorted. “Wise move.”

Scully studied the man as his thoughts seemed to drift. “Are you

going to let us go?” she asked.

“You still haven’t told me why you’re here.” The shotgun, which

had been pointed toward the ground, swung up to cover her and

Mulder.

“My partner and I were investigating the sites of some murders

which took place up here.”

The man’s demeanor changed from irritated to interested. “Are you

law officers?”

Scully hesitated, then nodded, deciding that it would be in their

best interests to tell the truth rather than be caught in a lie. “FBI.”

“Son of a bitch,” the man cursed, and his face seemed to… ripple.

Scully blinked, wondering if she’d just seen what she thought she

saw. “Get him up,” he said. The man jerked his weapon at Mulder,

and Scully quickly turned her investigator switch to ‘off.’ “You’re

getting out of here now.”

Wanting nothing better, Scully rousted her partner. “Mulder,” she

called, slapping his face lightly.

Mulder groaned and rolled away.

Casting a quick glance to their captor, Scully latched onto Mulder’s

shoulder and gave it a shake. “Come on, Mulder. I’m sorry, but you

have to get up now.”

Suddenly, Mulder gave a wail of anguish. “Nooo! Scully, you

promised. You said you’d kick their asses!”

“What’s he talking about? Kick whose asses?” the man asked,

growing more and more agitated by the second.

Scully thought it best to come clean on the first attempt, rather than

try to pass it off as nothing. “He was dreaming earlier.

Remembering when he was a young profiler and his colleagues

wouldn’t let him sleep. He was so good they didn’t want to let him

stop to rest.” She brushed a hand through Mulder’s hair lovingly.

“Even when he was sick.” She looked up at the man. “I told him I’d

kick their asses so he could sleep.”

The man’s features softened to an expression of understanding. He

looked at Mulder, then turned his gaze to her. “I’m sorry, but it’s

necessary. If you don’t get out of here in time, you’ll know why.”

A plethora of scenarios, culled from too many years of x-files, ran

through Scully’s mind. She didn’t know which would apply in this

situation, or if it was an entirely new one, but she certainly didn’t

want to wait around to find out. She thanked her lucky stars that

their roles weren’t reversed. It would be just like Mulder to want to

see what would transpire.

She leaned in until her lips were grazing her partner’s ear. “Mulder,

we have to go. There’s a man here, and he says we have to leave.

He has our guns, and he said we have to leave now.”

She didn’t know which part registered, but Mulder’s eyes opened,

and he made an effort to sit up. “What? What, Scully? What’s

going on?”

“We need to go,” she said. “I need to get you up, and we need to go

now.”

His confusion-filled eyes blinking, Mulder nodded his head.

“Okay. But I’m feeling pretty fuzzy. I don’t know how long I’ll

last.”

“I know, Mulder. And I’m sorry.” She knelt beside him. “But

there’s something… urgent… in his insistence that we need to get

out of here.”

“Whose?” Mulder was blinking owlishly at her, and Scully read

the confusion in his eyes.

“There’s a man here,” she repeated. “He has our guns, and he says

we have to leave.”

“How?” he asked, and she saw that the cobwebs had finally cleared

from his mind. “Didn’t you tell him that’s what we’ve been trying to

do?”

He met her eyes, and she knew what he was going to say next. She

cut him off before the thought could be fully formed in his brain.

“No,” she said. “I’m not going without you.”

Expecting a rebuttal, she was surprised when he drew in a ragged

breath. “Thank you,” he said, quietly. “I was terrified that you

might finally listen to me.”

She shook her head. “Never happen.”

He laughed, then turned serious. “I feel like shit, Scully. I don’t

know how far we’re going to get this time.”

“He says there’s a storm coming.” When she leaned down to help

him up, she whispered in his ear, “But I don’t think that’s the real

reason he wants us to get moving.” She took the arm Mulder

reached out to her. “He’s afraid for us.”

“Why?” Mulder asked, as Scully levered herself under his arm and

raised him to a standing position.

“I don’t know.” She shook her head. “I only know that it’s

something we don’t want to be around for.” She turned so that she

and Mulder were facing their captor. “I just need to pick up our

supplies, and we’ll leave.”

The man held up a hand. “Let me.” He handed Scully the knapsack

and the blankets.

Accepting them, she nodded to the items in the man’s pocket.

“What about our weapons?”

Their captor hesitated a second, then reached into his jacket and

pulled out the guns. “Here,” he said, handling them as if they

would burn him. “Now, go.” He pointed his arm down the trail.

“And don’t stop until you’re off this mountain.”

Scully looked down the trail, then back at the man. “Do you know

how far we are from the bottom? How long will it take?”

“We’re a little more than halfway to the summit. Should take you a

couple of hours.”

Scully sighed in frustration. “My partner is sick. We’re not able to

travel very fast.” She gave her partner an apologetic smile. “He’s

already passed out twice. I doubt very much if we’ll make it down

that fast.”

The man shook his head slowly. “I sincerely hope you’re wrong

about that.”

“Why?” Scully’s patience was beginning to wear thin. “Why do we

have to leave so quickly?” Not that she didn’t want to; it’s just that

they couldn’t. Not with Mulder in the condition he was in.

The man seemed to be considering his words carefully before he

finally spoke. “Because you’re in danger from this killer you’re

tracking.”

Scully was alarmed. “He’s here? He’s close?”

The man nodded solemnly. He indicated the path. “Go now. And

put in as much distance as you can to the bottom.”

Scully held the man’s gaze for another second before she latched

onto her partner and led him back to the path. After they were out

of sight of their captor, she wrapped all the blankets around the

two of them, huddling closer to Mulder for warmth. “How’s that?”

she asked, adjusting the hood of his snowsuit so that it was more

snug around his head.

“Fine,” he croaked, and she could tell he wanted to be anything but

upright.

“I know,” she said softly. “I promise… you can sleep for a week

once we get out of here.”

Hell, he could sleep for a month, a year, he could have his way

with her whenever he wanted. Just as long as he made it out.

**

February 7

8:36 a.m.

Surely, Mulder thought, death could not be any worse than what he

was going through right now. If it wasn’t for the fact that it would

endanger Scully’s life, Mulder would have succumbed to death’s

allure long ago. He felt like he’d been walking for days.

It was snowing now. Just putting one foot in front of the other was

almost more than he could handle. He’d already fallen a few times,

and stumbled even more; he wanted to cry every time Scully

forced him back to his feet.

His foot caught on a jutting rock, and he went down–again–

landing hard on his knees.

“Oh, Mulder…” Scully mourned, dropping to her knees beside him.

Knowing what was coming next, Mulder felt his eyes fill and his

nose become stuffed. He sniffed and tried to blink back the tears,

but found that he just hadn’t the strength any longer. He bowed his

head, braced his hands on his thighs, and gave in to the despair and

self-pity that he’d been fighting off for the last hour and a half.

“Mulder, I’m so sorry,” Scully said, enfolding him in her arms.

“I can’t… go on, Scully,” he said, his voice hitching. “I don’t want

to give up, but I just can’t… do it.”

“Mulder…”

He braced himself for the pep talk, even as his tears continued to

drop onto the snow.

“I’ll try to find us some shelter.”

Surprised, he looked up. She was regarding him with so much

tenderness that it almost overwhelmed him. He sniffled, reigning

in his tears. “Is it safe?”

She shrugged. “I don’t really know.” She hugged him tighter. “I

only know that I can’t stand to see you suffering any longer.”

He took a deep breath, suddenly feeling ashamed; the snow

melting beneath his knees seemed like a good thing to look at. “I’m

sorry I’m not stronger,” he said, quietly.

“Stronger?” she asked, and his head snapped up at the near hysteria

he heard in her voice. She released him from her embrace and

grabbed his head so that he had no choice but to look into her eyes.

“Mulder, this whole case you have been nothing *but* strong. I

don’t know how you ever made it this far.” She shook her head,

letting her hands drop to her sides. “I know I couldn’t.”

He shook his head vehemently. “If it was you, we wouldn’t be

having this conversation. You would rather die than show me any

sign of weakness.”

He saw the flash of anger in her eyes. “I–” Then she stopped

abruptly and sighed. “You’re probably right.” She took hold of his

hand. “But that doesn’t make me stronger.” At his questioning

look, she dropped her gaze to their joined hands. “That just makes

me less open, more afraid to show you how I really feel.”

He nodded, sensing the truth in her words, feeling more like he

thought a man should feel around a woman, and especially around

the woman he loved. “Okay if I wait here?”

She nodded. “I’m not going too far. I’m just going to look for

something off the beaten path, so to speak.” Smiling, she wrapped

all the blankets around him before standing up. “I should only be

gone a few minutes.”

He couldn’t help but feel a little apprehensive, both at her going off

alone, and at his being left alone, in a snowstorm, with a killer on

the loose. Yet, he returned her smile and nodded at her parting.

Her footsteps muffled by the fresh snow, it was only seconds

before he felt like he was the only person left in the world.

**

February 7

8:58 a.m.

When she saw Mulder seated upright, his back against a tree, his

eyes closed, his hands limp and unmoving in his lap, Scully’s

breath caught in her throat. “Mulder?” she asked, not caring if he

heard the quiver in her voice, not caring about anything except if

he was alive.

To her surprise and great relief, his eyes opened immediately.

She released a shaky breath. “How are you doing? I thought you

were… asleep.”

He looked just as relieved at seeing her there as she was at seeing

him still alive. “I was too scared to sleep. I thought…” Taking a

deep breath, he seemed to be regrouping his thoughts. “I thought

that if I fell asleep, I might not wake up again. I thought I might

not see you again.” The hint of a smile touched his eyes. “I thought

you might not be too happy to come back and find I’d expired.”

She laughed, now that she could, now that he *hadn’t* expired.

“You’re right. I’d have been royally pissed if you’d died before we

got to do everything I want to do once we get out of here and get

you well.”

His eyes lit up. “Such as?”

“Oh, you know… the usual. Hugging, snuggling, kissing, making

love like bunnies…”

He laughed. “I’m glad I stuck around, then. I definitely don’t want

to miss out on any of that.” Then his smile faded, and he shuddered

violently.

“Come on,” she said, reaching down to grasp his hands, helping

him to his feet. “I found someplace dry.”

Leading him off the trail and onto the sharper incline, Scully

tightened her grip on him, following her bootprints, then the

markers she’d left when her footsteps were no longer visible

because of the falling snow.

Mulder seemed a little stronger now; the rest had apparently done

him some good. When she announced that they’d reached their

destination, however, Mulder threw himself through the opening

and lay on his side, shaking. Scully clambered over him, through

the entrance, into the shallow cave. She dragged Mulder the few

feet to the back of the cave, then hauled him to an upright position

when he began coughing uncontrollably.

The episode lasted about a minute, ending with Mulder trying to

suppress the cough by breathing through his nose. Scully slung the

knapsack off her back and uncapped a water bottle, offering it to

him. It was a few minutes more before he could calm himself

enough to chance a sip.

By this time, his eyes were tearing and his nose was running, and

he could barely draw in a breath between sips.

“Dammit, Mulder, why didn’t you say something? We could have

stopped to rest.” He had given no indication that he was in any sort

of distress.

“Couldn’t stop,” he gasped. “If I stopped… I might not be able to…

move again.” He sucked in a breath. “Couldn’t chance it.”

She sighed, nodding; she would have done the same. “Here,” she

said, softly, handing him some tissues from where she knew he’d

stashed them in the pockets of his snowsuit.

“Thanks,” he mumbled, yanking off his gloves to accept the

Kleenex. After making himself more presentable, he let his eyes

wander, examining their accommodations, while his breathing

evened out.

“It’s not much,” she said, “but at least it’s dry.” She eyed the

entrance. “As long as the wind doesn’t change.”

“It’s great,” he said. “Can we do anything about blocking that

doorway?”

It was about five feet high and three feet across, but as Scully

pictured the insignificant amount of brush they’d passed that could

be useful as a screen, it appeared double that. “I’ll see what I can

find,” she said, crawling toward the exit.

“Wait!” Mulder called, stuffing his hands back into his gloves. “I’ll

help you.”

She laid a hand on his thigh. “You’re too sick.” To emphasize her

declaration, she brushed a bead of sweat from his forehead with

her thumb. “Stay here and rest.”

He looked like he was about to argue with her when he suddenly

dropped his gaze and nodded. “Don’t go too far.” She heard a host

of emotions in that utterance, and she loved him for feeling every

one of them for her.

“I’ll be careful,” she acknowledged. “I’ll button up.” She kissed him

on his lips. “I love you, too.” And please don’t be ashamed, she

added silently, hugging him tightly.

“I can’t help it,” he said into her hair. “I should go with you.”

“Not when you’re this sick, you shouldn’t.” Letting him go, she

gave him a gentle shove; he acquiesced and lay down. “I’ll be right

back,” she said, burying him under a mound of blankets. “Warm

these up for when I get back.” She smiled and threw him a wink.

“I’ll do my best,” he returned, grinning.

She took in one last glimpse of him before darting out into the

snow.

“You always do,” she said, softly.

**

Act IV

February 7

3:16 p.m.

“Well. It’s about time.”

Even through his sleep-addled brain, Mulder heard the laughter in

her voice. “What time is it?” he croaked. He took in the darkness

outside the partially-blocked entryway. “What day, for that

matter?”

“Same day, but it’s a little after three.” She followed his gaze. “It’s

still snowing. That’s why it seems so dark.”

He felt no small amount of panic that they were trapped on a

mountain with little food, a serial killer on the loose, and useless

cel phones. Not to mention that one of them felt like total and

absolute crap. His only consolation was that Scully wasn’t the sick

one. He’d much rather that their fate rested in her hands instead of

his. “Are we in any danger?”

“Not at the moment,” she answered. “We’re out of the snow. We

have plenty of ‘water,’ and I have a small supply of the best junk

food the hotel and ranger station vending machines had to offer.”

“God, Scully, if we had a TV, this would be a regular resort.” A

pebble dug into his backside as he slowly sat up. “A soft bed might

be a plus, too.” His bladder let its presence be known when he

shifted to a more comfortable position; he remembered the winter

wonderland surrounding them. “Indoor plumbing could be an

asset, as well.”

She gave him a sympathetic smile. “I knew that a long time ago,”

she said, then indicated the doorway with a tilt of her head. “Better

get out there while there’s still enough light to find your way

back.”

He nodded, tossing off the blankets and donning his hat and

gloves. Scully moved the brush aside and crawled out ahead of

him; he was surprised to find her fully dressed for the outdoors as

well. “Are you coming with me?” he asked.

Her head bobbed a ‘yes.’ “I’ll turn my back to give you some

privacy, but we’ll be standing ass to ass, Mulder. I’m not losing you

because you couldn’t find your way back from a potty break.”

He felt exulted and insulted at the same time. “I can–”

“I know you can,” she said softly. “But you’re ill. And I’m a little

more familiar with the terrain.” She looked around at the almost

total whiteness. “What little we can see of it.”

His eyes took in the monotonous vision of trees and rocks, all

covered in snow. Ten feet out, he knew he’d be lost. “Lead on,

then, McDuff.”

Taking hold of his arm, she walked them to a tree not too far away

. She faced him toward the tree, then did an about-face. As he

pulled off one glove with his teeth and fumbled his way through

layers of clothing, he felt her at his backside. “You weren’t kidding

that we’d be ass-to-ass, were you?”

“Nope,” she answered. “Although we’re really more ass-to-back.”

He smiled as, finally, he reached his goal; he tried not to sigh in

relief while he was emptying his bladder. He also tried not to think

of how close Scully was and that she was privy to his every

movement. Finishing, he groaned in pleasure. “Oh, God. That feels

much better.” After tucking and zipping and re-gloving, he turned

around and grasped her shoulders gently. “All set.” When she

faced him, he kissed her on the forehead. “God, I love you.”

She raised an eyebrow. “And that’s the best you can do?”

Always up for a challenge, Mulder leaned down to capture her lips

with his.

He didn’t know if it was because of the kiss, the altitude or the flu,

but he felt himself growing light-headed and broke off. “I’m afraid

*that’s* the best I can do for now,” he puffed, leaning heavily on

her.

“What’s wrong?” She was gazing at him with concern.

“A little dizzy,” he said.

She wound an arm around his waist, taking on part of his weight as

she started them back. “You need to eat, and we need to get some

fluids into you.”

“Okay.” It had been awhile since he’d eaten–and then lost–his

breakfast. He wasn’t feeling so much nauseous any more as he was

feeling tired, achy and light-headed. By the time they reached the

cave mouth, he was shaking and sweating.

Scully lowered him gently to the floor; when she left him to move

the brush back into place, he closed his eyes, trying to will himself

back to some semblance of normal. Feeling her settling beside him,

he opened his eyes a crack. She was holding her arms open to him.

“Come on, Mulder,” she said, gathering him in her arms.

He didn’t hesitate even a nanosecond. He wouldn’t have thought he

could fold himself into a small enough bundle to be gathered to her

bosom, yet there he was. Gradually, through all the layers of

clothing, her warmth seeped into his chilled bones; he sighed in

contentment.

Scully hugged him tighter, then pulled away a little. “Feeling

better?”

“Feeling warmer,” he told her. He still felt like crap, but at least it

was warm crap.

Scully’s arm left him, and he felt her reach for something. “What’ll

it be, partner? I have a wide assortment of candy bars, granola

bars, cookies and crackers.”

He sat up, trying to get a peek into the backpack she was

unzipping. His stomach felt a little rebellious at the thought of

putting something in it. “Um, crackers?” He met her gaze for a

second. “The blander, the better.”

Out the corner of his eye, he saw her nod in understanding. The

sound of cellophane rustling brought his eyes to her hands.

Removing a plain saltine, she offered it to him with a shy smile.

“From my soup last night.”

He smiled gratefully as he took the cracker and bit into a corner.

Bless her for anticipating what he hadn’t even considered. A little

embarrassed that she apparently knew his body—and its

weaknesses—better than he did, Mulder let his gaze drop down to

his lap as he nibbled on his second cracker.

“So why all the food?” he asked, curious as to why his health-

conscious partner was carrying around a horde of junk food.

A fleeting smile came to her lips. “I knew we were coming up here

today. And I knew that you wouldn’t be eating much in the way of

‘real’ food. So I got a few things that might tempt you to eat, even

if you weren’t hungry.”

Warmed that she’d given so much thought to his well-being,

Mulder squeezed her hand. “Thanks,” he said quietly. “Thanks for

looking after me so much better than I look after myself.”

She squeezed back. “It used to be my job, Mulder, but now it’s my

pleasure.” A smile suddenly sprang to her face. “I suppose I should

make some glib remark about its being to my advantage to keep

you in top condition—and while that may be true to some extent,

it’s not the reason.” Her expression softened to one of affection.

“The fact of the matter is that I care about you. I care about how

you’re feeling, and I want to help you feel better.” Her eyes

hardened, and her lips compressed to a thin line. “I hate that Kersh

could send you out here when you’re so ill. I hate that it’s even a

consideration, that because they’ve abused you in the past, he

thinks that gives him the right to order you to work when you

should be home in bed. I’d like to see that bastard show up for desk

duty—much less field work—with a hundred and three degree

temperature.”

She was red-faced and puffing when she finished. Mulder couldn’t

help it: as shitty as he felt, he was tickled pink. “I’ve mentioned

that I love you, right?”

She looked at him then, gave a laugh and threw her arms around

his neck. “You may have told me once or twice.”

He smiled against her neck, but jerked back when he felt

something wet on his cheek. “Hey,” he said, brushing a finger

under her wet eyes. “What’s this about?”

She shook her head. “I just get so angry sometimes.” Using the

back of one hand, she wiped her eyes dry. “The way you were

treated. The way they still treat you.” She took a deep breath. “It

just pisses me off.”

He swore he could feel his heart swelling up into his throat. He had

to swallow before he could speak. “I don’t know why you love me,

Scully, but I’m glad you do.” Reaching out, he pulled her back into

his embrace. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to tell you how grateful

I am to have you in my life.”

Scully gave him a hug and then gently disentangled herself. He

caught the tail end of the pleased smile she had been wearing.

Nodding to the cracker he still held in his hand, she told him, “You

can start by eating something.”

Shaking his head in amusement, he dutifully finished off the

cracker. She promptly handed him another one. By the time he’d

consumed all the crackers from all the packages—eight crackers in

all—his stomach felt settled enough for him to try something with

a little more flavor. The adventurous side of him told him to go for

the jalapeno Doritos, but the more practical side of him (he was

surprised by this; he didn’t think he had one) made him choose the

vanilla wafers.

After eating half the bag, Mulder no longer felt hungry. He folded

down the top of the bag and handed it to Scully. “Thanks. I’ve had

enough for now.”

She regarded him with a suspicious glint in her eye. “Is your

stomach okay?”

He was surprised to find that it was; he nodded. “Yup. It’s fine. I’m

just full.” He ran an appraising eye over her petite form swallowed

up in all her winter garb. “What about you? You have to eat, too.”

She chuckled, reaching into one of the pockets of her snowsuit,

pulling out the wrapper to a granola bar. “Already ate.” She offered

the wrapper to him.

He frowned. Is that what she called a meal? “You have—”

Another wrapper appeared under his nose. Twinkies this time.

Mulder nodded his approval. “Okay,” he said in a gravelly voice.

Before the thought that his throat was dry could even develop in

his mind, Scully produced a bottle of water. Accepting it, he raised

his eyebrows. Well. Wasn’t someone taking this Mrs. Spooky thing

right to heart?

“There’s nothing spooky about it, Mulder,” she said, and he nearly

spit out the mouthful of water he was about to swallow.

Oh, no? he thought, swallowing the liquid, his eyes widening on

the question he was unable to voice.

“No,” she replied, a smug look overtaking her features. “It’s all

about being able to read you.” Taking the bottle from him, she re-

capped it and put it aside. She let her hands play over his face. “Of

anticipating what’s going through that delicious mind of yours.”

He couldn’t prevent the enormous grin from spreading over his

face. “Delicious?”

She sidled up closer to him, her hand skimming down his face to

gently caress his neck. “You are delicious through and through,

Mulder.”

He felt a shiver run through him at her words. “I think that’s my

line, Scully.”

She shrugged. “Can’t say I’ve ever heard it from you.” She

snuggled in until she was practically in his lap. “You don’t use it,

you lose it.”

Never one to be accused of inactivity, Mulder wrapped his arms

around her and pulled her the rest of the way onto his lap. “Oh, I’ve

used it,” he purred in his best sexy voice. “Just not out loud. I think

I was afraid you’d pummel me into a ball of mush.”

Pushing herself out to arm’s length, Scully’s amused gaze captured

his eyes. “You might end up a ball of mush, but it wouldn’t be from

my pummeling you.”

Trying to wrap his mind around what that might entail, Mulder

groaned. “Scully…” he whined.

She batted her eyelashes. “What?” she asked, innocently.

How could anyone with a three-inch layer of bulky clothing be so

damned sexy? Surprised to find himself reacting to her under his

own sixteen layers of winterwear, Mulder pulled her back to his

chest, burrowing his nose under her hood and into her hair.

“Love you,” he said, touching his lips to her neck gently. The

closeness of her shoulder beneath his ear was too much to resist; he

let his head drop down, and uttered one last, “Love you, Scully,”

before he drifted off.

**

Only the slightest bit miffed that her Romeo had fallen asleep just

as things were heating up, Scully eased herself off Mulder’s lap

and gently lay him down on the “bed” of pine needles that had

accumulated in the cave over the years. With a sigh, she leaned

back against the wall, contemplating Mulder, the cave, the

mountain outside their ‘doorway,’ the killer, the FBI…

Jolted awake from a sleep she couldn’t even remember lying down

for, Scully panicked for a few seconds while she tried to remember

where she was. The feel of pine needles beneath her hand and the

agitated moan of her partner brought her up to speed fairly quickly.

Pulling off a glove, she laid her palm on her partner’s cheek,

disquieted by the heat she found there. His thrashing calmed upon

her initial touch, but started up again when she removed her hand

to reach for the water and the first aid kit. Abandoning her search

for the moment, she rested her hand on his forehead.

“Mulder,” she called softly. He moaned in response. “Can you

open your eyes for me, partner?” She massaged his face gently as

she spoke to him.

“Save me…” he muttered. “Scully, save me… They won’t let me…”

He broke off suddenly with a sob that broke her heart.

“Leave him alone, you bastards!” she yelled. She leaned over to

speak softly into Mulder’s ear. “There you go, partner.” She

pressed her lips to his ear in a kiss. “Come on now. Come back to

me now.”

“Scully,” he sighed. His head turned until his lips met hers,

whether intentional or by accident, Scully couldn’t tell. “Thanks,”

he whispered into her mouth, before his breathing evened out.

“Sure thing,” she muttered, irked that he’d fallen back to sleep so

easily while she was now wide-awake.

About to lie back down and give it the old college try, she shivered

when the sound of a howl reached her ears. She froze, trying to

determine just which mountain creature could be out there, and

hoping that her ‘door’ would be effective at hiding them.

After a few seconds, she heard stealthy footsteps as they trod over

the snow-covered ground through to the crunchy leaf cover below.

Even though it had been snowing steadily for a few hours, only a

couple of inches had managed to accumulate, and she could see,

with the brightening sky, that the snow had stopped altogether.

While one portion of her brain marveled that she’d apparently slept

twelve hours straight, another pondered just what could be stalking

them. Slipping her hand into her pocket, Scully removed her

weapon, checking the clip and releasing the safety. She debated

whether or not to wake Mulder, then decided that, hell, misery

loved company, and wouldn’t he just be all the more miserable if

she didn’t wake him.

She leaned in close to his ear, shaking his shoulder while she

whispered, “Mulder, wake up.”

His eyes fluttered open, and for a moment, Scully was distracted

by how utterly endearing he looked. “Whassrong?” he asked,

blinking those glorious eyelashes over those gorgeous eyes.

Giving herself a mental swat upside the head, Scully filled him in

on their potential visitor. “Someone or some thing is outside. I

need you to back me up in case it decides to come in.”

His grogginess dissipated in an instant. She gave him a hand a he

struggled to sit up. “Thanks,” he puffed out, breathing heavily. “Do

you…” He reached inside his pocket, drawing out his gun. “…have

any idea what it could be?”

She shook her head. “Whatever it is, it’s treading slowly and

carefully.” She gave him a grave look. “Almost as if…” She trailed

off.

“As if it knew we were in here,” he finished quietly.

“Yeah.” She watched as Mulder flicked his safety off as quietly as

he could, then they turned their attention to the entrance, both

weapons trained on the doorway.

Within a minute, loud snuffling announced the arrival of

something most definitely not human. Holding her breath as the

outline of a very large biped loomed into view behind the brush,

Scully grit her teeth to tamp down the feeling of panic that was

starting to build.

Suddenly, the bushes were swept aside, and what looked like

Godzilla in armor plating stood glaring in at them. Scully’s mouth

went dry. She lowered her gun and reached for Mulder’s hand.

There was no way bullets were going to penetrate that hide. If she

was going to die, she was going to do it connected to Mulder in

some way.

Mulder, too, lowered his weapon. Grasping Scully’s hand in his, he

went her one better by pulling her into a crushing embrace. Scully

closed her eyes and hugged him for all she was worth, love and

regret now overshadowing the all-encompassing fear she’d felt

only a few seconds ago.

“Scully…” Mulder murmured, and she heard his voice—as well as

his heart—breaking. She felt him swallow as his throat constricted

with tears.

“I know, Mulder.” She hugged him tighter. “Me, too.”

As she waited for the beast to strike, it occurred to her that the

death blow was taking an unusually long time in coming. She

cracked open an eye, hoping that by some miracle…

It was crouched down, staring at her, regarding her with curiosity.

‘Intelligent?’ she wondered. “Mulder,” she whispered.

His head shifted forward a little, and his cheek pressed into hers as

he peeked around her head. “What’s it doing?” he whispered back.

The thing was now regarding them with an expression of

amusement, irritation, and indulgence. “I *can* hear you, you

know.”

Scully’s mouth dropped open.

Mulder jerked back in surprise so fast, he cracked his head against

the wall. “Son of a…” he began, then broke off abruptly.

As much as Scully wanted to ascertain that he was okay, she

couldn’t take her eyes off the refugee from Japanimation that had

just addressed them with a British accent.

“You’ll never apprehend him with *those*.” The creature was

gazing distastefully at the weapons being held limply in their

hands.

“Uh…” Scully began. “Wh…” She cleared her throat and tried

again. “What should we use?” Then the absurdity of the situation

hit her. “Who the hell are you? And who the hell is ‘him?'”

The beast laughed in delight, and Scully was surprised that she

knew this, because the only sound that reached her ears was a

growl. “Oh, I do so adore your attitude,” it said, in that damned

accent again, and she was really hard-pressed to match that voice

to that… er… face. “I,” the beast began, his countenance losing all

trace of humor, “am…” He paused again. “Oh, bloody hell. Just call

me ‘Targ.” You’d never be able to pronounce the Kilartian

version.”

Scully blinked. She ran though her mental database of all known

languages, including popular, archaic and defunct. “‘Kilartian’ was

not among them.

“Where are you from?” Mulder asked, annoying the hell out of her

that he’d come to the conclusion a split second before her: that

their friend was not of this world. Or dimension. Or plane of

existence.

She jerked her head. When had believing in aliens, demons and

time travelers become so matter-of-fact, so second nature, to her?

Thinking all Mulder’s attention was devoted to the creature, Scully

jumped when he touched her lightly on the arm.

“You okay?”

The warmth and concern in his voice knocked her out of her

thoughts and back to the present. It also served to vanquish any

lingering vestiges of irritation and jealousy she’d harbored toward

her partner. She was not surprised to find his gaze upon her, and

not the creature. “I’m okay,” she said, trying to convey by her tone

that she really was. Breaking their eye contact, she addressed Targ.

“Who are you?”

The creature dipped its head, a movement that looked so out of

place, given its fearsome appearance, yet also quite natural. “Like

you,” he indicated her and Mulder, “I am a law officer.”

Scully nodded. She’d suspected as much. “Are you from…”

Throwing a sideways glance at her partner, she decided to fulfill

her own curiosity, and shock the hell out of him as an added bonus.

“…from another planet or another dimension?”

Mulder did not disappoint. “Wow, Scully.” She turned to find him

studying her, his expression one of awe, surprise and delight.

Blushing a little, even though she’d expected just that reaction, she

returned his smile before turning her attention back to Targ.

“Actually, from both,” he replied. “And another time.”

“The future?” she asked.

Targ shook his head. “The past. The much distant past.”

“Really?” Mulder asked, and Scully shared his wonderment. She

thought how truly gratifying it was to finally experience that sense

of belief, of acceptance of something at face value, just because

someone told her it was so.

“Yes, really,” Targ answered. He gestured to the winter

wonderland outside, a little impatiently, it appeared to Scully.

“Now since you obviously didn’t take my earlier advice about

leaving this mountain–”

“The old man,” Scully interrupted. “That was you.”

Targ nodded.

“Why didn’t you just tell us?” Scully was a little irked by that

whole ‘mystery man of the mountain’ performance now that she

knew it had been Targ all along.

“I had no intention of revealing myself to you.” He indicated their

surroundings. “Now, however, you give me no choice.” Taking a

moment to sniff the cold, crisp air, he returned his gaze to her.

“Retic has your scent.”

“Retic? Is that who you’re after?” Mulder asked.

“He is, yes. And since you are now involved, you can assist me in

capturing my prey.” He sniffed again. “Although considering the

carnage he’s wrought, ‘prey’ is not too appropriate a term.”

“Is he responsible for the deaths up here?” Scully asked.

Targ nodded. “Yes, And in my home. And in the country you call

England.”

“Is that where you…” Scully raised her eyebrows in question. She

tilted her head. “The accent?”

Targ stared in incomprehension for a moment. “The language is

the same, but the… dialect… is not?”

“The accent is distinctly British, yes,” Scully told him, something

still puzzling her. “The old man, though. You didn’t use that accent

with him.”

Targ seemed put out. “Of course not,” he reproved her. “That

would have been as out of place as your seeing me like this.”

Scully exchanged a look with Mulder. ‘Probably more so,’ she

thought.

“So…” Targ rubbed his ‘hands’ together in expectation, then

indicated the area outside the cave. “Shall we?”

Assisting Mulder to his feet, Scully said, “I don’t know how much

help we’ll be. You said our weapons were useless, and if he’s built

like you, we aren’t about to overpower him.” She regarded her

partner, leaning heavily on her; he looked like he wouldn’t last

upright more than fifteen minutes. “And my partner’s sick. He

won’t be able to help us much.” Placing her lips to his ear, she

whispered, “Sorry, Mulder.”

He nodded shakily. “It’s okay,” he said softly. Then he lifted his

head to observe the alien. “I’m afraid she’s right. It’s all I can do to

stand. I’m not going to be any help to you in a fight.”

“Not to worry,” Targ tut-tutted, shooing them out of the cave.

“He’ll do fine.”

The smugness in the alien’s tone didn’t escape Scully. She stopped

in her tracks, holding onto Mulder tightly so that he stayed with

her. “No,” she said, when Targ turned around to face her.

“I’m afraid it’s the only way,” Targ replied, and the only thing

stopping Scully from giving him an earful was the fact that his tone

really did convey regret—and that he was probably right.

Mulder was to be the bait.

**

February 7

5:45 p.m.

If he’d ever been more miserable in his life, Mulder couldn’t recall

it. They’d selected a patch of flat land, cleared a small area of

snow, and started a fire. He was dry and relatively warm, but he

wanted to be anything but sitting up, pretending he wasn’t dying.

Targ had assured them that Retic was in the vicinity, if not the

immediate area, and would soon be paying him a visit. The alien

law officer had masked Scully’s scent from his adversary, and

Mulder gained no small relief from the fact that the only life being

risked in this ploy was his.

He knew that she hated the situation and that she was worried

about him; he hoped that that worry wouldn’t cause her to do

anything rash or reckless. His normally level-headed partner

tended to come a little unglued when his life was in danger.

Although she rarely displayed any evidence of this, it was a secret

she’d revealed to him when their relationship had finally, finally,

*finally* evolved to the next plane.

The snap of a twig off to his left jerked his attention away from the

fire. Mulder’s breath caught at what was now approaching him.

Although smaller than Targ, an air of viciousness clung to the alien

like a second skin. The smile it gave him was not meant to

comfort.

As the creature moved closer, and neither Scully or Targ appeared

to be coming to the rescue, Mulder thought some action in his own

defense might be advisable. Drawing his weapon out of his pocket,

he flicked the safety off and pointed it at the alien; he was relieved

to find his hand steady and his aim true—for all the good it would

do.

Unlike the inaction he’d taken with Targ, Mulder did not lay his

weapon down; even though he knew it would have no effect on the

heavily-armored creature, it made him feel like he had some

control over his fate. Aiming for the alien’s eyes, Mulder got off

two ineffective shots before the creature was upon him. Its mouth

opened wide, engulfing the first part of him it reached: his

outstretched hand—his outstretched hand with the gun.

As the teeth were closing over his arm, Mulder fired into Retic’s

mouth. The alien howled, and Mulder yanked his wounded arm

free. Enraged, the alien backhanded Mulder, sending him flying

until a tree broke his flight.

Right before he passed out, Mulder saw Targ, and then a stormy-

faced Scully appear out of thin air. He almost giggled at the

thought that if looks could kill, Scully’s could annihilate. He

almost felt sorry for the alien.

And then he grew puzzled because her glare was not directed at

Retic, their enemy, but at Targ, their ally.

**

February 8

6:50 a.m.

His eyes, when he opened them, were met with the sight of gray

and green. He groaned in disappointment; he’d hoped to be waking

up in a nice, warm bed, Scully by his side…

He turned his head, and there she was, cuddled against him,

sleeping like a baby. As awareness returned to him, so did all the

aches and pains that reminded him he still had that blasted flu.

Suddenly remembering the last few minutes before his unexpected

nap, Mulder jerked up in alarm.

“What? What?” Scully reached for him in her confusion, and

Mulder cursed himself for waking her.

“Shh. It’s okay. I’m sorry I woke you.” He rubbed her back, then

looked at his arm. Wasn’t that arm recently in the mouth of a bad-

tempered alien? And didn’t that bad-tempered alien try to chow

down on said arm?

“Targ fixed it,” Scully told him, and he could feel the distaste in

her voice.

“Shouldn’t he have?” he wondered.

She nodded. “Of course. The jerk. It was the least he could do after

trying to feed you to that overgrown iguana.”

Mulder furrowed his brows in confusion; he replayed the entire

encounter with Retic until it became clear. “He had no intention of

rescuing me, did he?”

Scully shook her head angrily. “No. And since he had me in that

damned… stasis field… I couldn’t do anything, either.” She looked

away. “Except watch.”

“Scully…” he started.

“No, Mulder,” she cut him off. “No matter what you’re going to

say, there is no comparison. I was going to watch you die. I knew

it was going to happen, and there wasn’t a thing I could do to stop

it.”

“But it didn’t happen.” He gazed at her, puzzled. “Why didn’t it

happen?”

He was so pleased to see a smile on her face, he almost didn’t care

about the answer. “You shot him in the only place where some

damage could be done.”

Mulder blinked. “So I killed him?”

Scully hedged a moment before answering. “You incapacitated

him. While Targ was debating whether or not Retic would recover

enough to finish you off, I took Targ’s weapon and ended the

debate.” Her features turned surly. “He’s lucky I didn’t do the same

for him.”

“But why? Why didn’t Targ try to capture Retic once he was

down?”

Scully’s lip curled into a sneer. “It appears that right after Retic has

‘fed,’ he lapses into a ‘digestion’ period for about five minutes. Targ

was going to use this time to subdue him and transport him back.”

“But you didn’t let him,” Mulder said softly.

“That coward,” Scully spat. “Willing to sacrifice another living

being so that he didn’t have to break a sweat.” She drew in a shaky

breath, then captured his gaze. “I wanted to kill him. Because he

used you, and tricked me, and nearly got you killed.” She paused.

“And for what he put me through.”

He rubbed a hand up and down her arm. “I can only imagine what

it must have felt like—and just thinking about it scares the hell out

of me. I’m sorry you had to go through that.”

She nodded stiffly, and he could tell she was trying not to cry. “Oh,

Mulder. When I watched your arm disappear into that thing’s

mouth, I thought for sure I was watching you die.”

She threw herself into his arms, and he felt her tears on his neck.

He had no witty remark to make, and no words of comfort to offer

for a pain of this magnitude, so he just held her tight and tried not

to cry himself.

He wanted to slap himself when, after only a few minutes, what

had begun as a small tickle grew into a full-blown coughing fit.

When he could finally get a breath, he found their roles were

reversed, with Scully holding him upright, her hands offering

support as well as comfort.

“Sorry,” he wheezed.

She gave him a severe look.

“Sorry,” he said, apologizing for apologizing. Then the absurdity

of his words hit him, and he smiled goofily.

Scully laughed, and Mulder was so thrilled to see it that he forgot

about his illness and their situation and his near-death and laughed

with her.

All too soon, reality seeped back in. The grim look returned to

Scully’s face before it softened into one of concern. “We should try

to get out of here. Do you want to give it a try?”

What he wanted was to curl up in Scully’s arms until either he felt

better or spring arrived, whichever came last.

He surprised himself by telling her just that.

She smiled sadly. “I wish you could rest, too. You need to rest.”

She stood up, then helped him rise to his feet slowly. “When we

get home, and I get you into bed, I’m not letting you out again for

anyone. You’re going to stay put until you’re well, and until I’m

good and ready to let you go.”

It sounded terrific to him, but he was worried because the reason it

sounded so good was the promise of sleep–and nothing else. He

looked at her glumly. “I think I’m losing my sex drive.”

Her eyebrows set a new height record. “What?”

He let his gaze drift down to his boots. “When you mentioned you

and me and bed… the only thing I want to do is sleep.”

She shook her head. “Oh, Mulder,” she chuckled.

He looked back up, feeling silly. “It’s probably just temporary,

huh?”

She clutched his arm possessively. “I can almost guarantee it.”

Laying his hand over hers, he patted it lovingly. “In that case, let’s

get started on the road to recovery.”

**

Epilogue

February 10

Deputy Director Kersh’s Office

10:08 a.m.

“Bears?” Deputy Director Kersh stared at Scully over the top of his

wire rims. “Your suspect was eaten by bears?”

“Taken.”

“What?”

“The suspect was taken by bears. We couldn’t find any trace of

him, so it’s assumed he was eaten.”

“That’s your professional opinion?” Kersh challenged.

“That is the professional opinion of the White Mountain Parks

Department rangers.”

Kersh sighed. “You’re certain it was him?”

“Yes, sir He attacked Agent Mulder, and he admitted to the

murders.” Even if it wasn’t quite true, even if it was Targ who’d

told them about the killings, it was as close to the truth as she was

willing to put on paper.

“Very well.” Kersh’s eyes scanned the office. “Where *is* Agent

Mulder.”

“Home. Recovering from the flu.”

Kersh didn’t seem in the least affected. “Really. When do you

expect him back?”

“About one to two weeks.” She was about to offer more of an

explanation, then decided not to bother. Kersh didn’t care, anyway.

“I see. Dismissed, Agent.”

Meeting Kersh’s diffident eyes with a cold glare of her own, Scully

nodded and left.

She stopped off at Skinner’s office, arranging to take a few

vacation days with his assistant. After she thanked the woman, she

took the elevator to the basement, grabbed her coat and her

briefcase, and went home.

**

February 10

Dana Scully’s Apartment

12:21 p.m.

Clutching her bundles tightly, trying to make as little noise as

possible, Scully sneaked past the sleeping form on the couch; she

nearly dropped the three grocery bags, two lunch sacks, and one

pharmacy package when Mulder uttered a raspy, “Hi.”

She placed her parcels on the counter and returned to his side,

shucking her coat as she did so. “Hi,” she said, softly, touching the

back of her hand to his still-hot skin. “How are you feeling?”

He licked his lips. “Not too great physically, but much better

mentally.”

She smiled, knowing exactly what he meant. Sleeping in a cold,

dark cave and traveling on a snowy, unfriendly mountain were

harrowing under the best of circumstances, but when a person’s not

at his best, and is downright ill… well, it was enough to make a

grown man cry. She brushed the hair out of his eyes, her fingers

tracing his brow gently. “Are you hungry?”

He mulled it over for a moment before he answered. “I think so.”

He sniffed the air, and Scully could smell the tantalizing aroma

wafting from the kitchen. “What did you bring?”

“Roast chicken breast and a salad for me, and chicken broth–with

crackers–for you.” She indicated the bags on the counter. “I’m

willing to share if you think you can eat some chicken.”

He turned slightly green and swallowed hard before he answered.

“No, thanks. I’m going to stick with the soup and crackers.”

She rubbed her palm along his upper arm. “It’s okay. At least

you’re eating something.”

After they’d been picked up by the ranger–who had only

questioned their whereabouts because of the absence of the jeep

thingy–then choppered back to Portsmouth, she’d driven them

straight to her place. She’d put Mulder in her bed, from which he

hadn’t budged until this morning when he’d relocated to the couch,

and the comforting drone of the television.

He’d had no appetite for two days, and it had been all she could do

to get liquids into him. That he was now hungry enough for soup

and crackers was encouraging. She was glad she’d stopped at the

grocery store and stocked up on crackers, bread and a variety of

soups, from clear broth to the more hearty vegetable ones.

“Do you want me to bring it in here?” she asked.

He sat up slowly, and didn’t seem inclined to move. “If you

wouldn’t mind,” he said, eyeing her dining room as if it were a

thousand miles away.

“No, I don’t mind,” she assured him. Her eyes darted to her meal.

“I’ll get you settled, then I’ll eat in the kitchen.”

His gaze was equal parts grateful and guilty when he looked up at

her. “Thanks,” he said in a small voice.

Sitting next to him, she wrapped an arm around his middle,

holding him gently. “I know your stomach’s still queasy, and that

it’s my chicken you have an aversion to, not me.” She gave him a

light squeeze to emphasize her words.

He nodded, his expression one of misery. “I hate being sick.”

Taking her other hand in his, he brought it to his cheek. “I hate that

at this moment the only thing I want from you is for you to take

care of me. I feel like I should be ashamed for wanting that.” He

looked up at her, dropping their hands to his lap. “But I don’t, and

for that I do feel ashamed.”

She laughed lightly. “You’re such a *man*.”

That earned her a smile. He snorted. “I don’t feel like much of one

right now.”

She brought his hand to her lips and kissed it. “I know. You’re

thinking that I’m seeing you at your worst.” When he looked away,

she brought his face back with a gentle touch. “You’re actually

hugely appealing, all helpless and whiny and oh-so-cuddly.”

“Whiny?” he whined, then immediately grimaced. “Oh, God, I

am.” He gazed into her eyes, a little shyly, she thought. “Helpless,

I readily agree.” He let a grin grow over his face. “You think I’m

cuddly?”

Wrapping her arms around him, she hugged him. “You are

incredibly cuddly.”

His expression changed to one of doubt. “Even on that mountain?

You can’t possibly find anything cuddly about a delirious man

begging for you to save him from past ghosts. My God, could I

have been any more pitiable?”

“I felt honored,” she told him, “that you had such faith in my

capability to deal with your ‘co-workers,’ that you would weave me

into your dream, into your memory.”

He hugged her as tightly as he could, then released her so he could

see her face. “It’s true. What I said.” His fingers intertwined with

hers. “I wish I had you back then. I’m so glad I have you now.” His

eyes brightened. “I wish I could have seen you in Kersh’s office

after I’d left.”

She blinked. “Mulder, I didn’t change his mind. You still had to go

up that damned mountain.”

“Yeah, but you tried. I know you tried.” He looked into her eyes.

“And that makes all the difference.”

She saw the gratitude and the acceptance and the love, and she

knew he was right. “Yeah, I guess it does.”

“Still…” he sighed.

“What?” She was dismayed that he’d changed his mind so quickly.

“The next time you beat up an alien and take his weapon, I’d really

like to be awake to see it.”

She didn’t care if he was sick; she let him have it—right on the

kisser.

Then she got up to freshen her lipstick, since she left most of it on

his lips.

The End

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