TITLE: Last Kiss
AUTHORS: Sally Bahnsen and Dawn Zemke
ARCHIVE: Two weeks exclusively on VS10, then
Gossamer and Ephemeral. Others are fine, just let
DISCLAIMER: Mulder, Scully and Skinner belong to
Chris Carter, 1013 and Fox. No copyright
SUMMARY: When your worst nightmare comes true,
could it be time to just let go?
FEEDBACK: Gratefully accepted.
AUTHORS’ NOTES: Many thanks to dtg and Vickie
for insightful beta, and to Suzanne for both beta
and medical expertise. This story was three years
in the making, and was inspired by the Pearl Jam
song, “Last Kiss.” We hope you like it!
By Sally Bahnsen and Dawn Zemke
Darkness enveloped him, moon and stars hidden by
an impenetrable black veil. Wind battered him from
head to toe, piercing his clothing as thoroughly
as the blade of a knife. He squinted against the
droplets that pelted his face, crystals that
collected on his eyelashes and
melted to trickle down his cheeks in icy tears.
Oh, God. What had he done?
Hands, stained red. Dark hair matted against pale
skin. Tight, painful breaths. Chest heaving. Pain.
All over. It resounded through his head. Thumping,
adding to the confusion. Where was he?
WHERE THE HELL WAS HE?
“Scully.” Softer now. Barely a whisper, the word
evaporating on his lips like the sheer white cloud
created by his breath. Swirling into the night.
Find her. Yes. He had to. But where? *Which way?*
Branches scraped at his face, tearing the skin,
*Can’t, it hurts.*
Knees trembling, weak.
Shivering. Freezing. Sleet clung to his clothes,
ran in rivulets through his hair, wound its way
down his back.
Margaret Scully’s House
Six hours earlier
Damn, it was cold!
He shivered against the freezing wind that whipped
his legs, catching his thick coat and pulling on
it until it resembled a billowing sail, stretched
taught on a gale-driven yacht. His hair blew into
spiky tufts, standing straight out from his head,
a look any punk rocker would envy.
Slush crunched beneath his feet and a fine dusting
of sleet settled across his shoulders, sprinkled
like powdered sugar. He tried brushing it off with
his fingers but as quickly as he scraped at it,
more appeared. His hands were freezing. He cupped
them to his mouth and huffed into them, his warm
breath useless against the icy chill. She had told
him to wear his gloves. He should have listened.
He jogged the remaining distance to the house and
stomped loudly up the wooden steps. Ice quivered
nervously on the railing then slid soundlessly to
the ground. A security light winked on above his
head, bathing the porch with a brilliant white
glow. For a second it startled him, and he blew
out a long breath that swirled into a frosty
Squinting, unaccustomed to the sudden glare, he
reached out and rang the doorbell. He smiled when
the cheesy tune of “Home, Home on the Range” sang
out from inside.
He waited, tucking his hands under his armpits
trying to keep them warm, jiggling his legs like a
toddler desperate to use the bathroom.
The door swung open and a blast of warm air rushed
out at him. He shivered.
“Fox! Come in, you must be freezing.”
“Hey, Mrs. Scully.” Mulder stamped his feet and
swiped at the last remnants of ice that clung to
his clothing and hair.
“Oh, don’t worry about that. Come on in! I want to
close the door before all the heat gets out.”
Inside was blessedly warm. He removed his coat and
hung it on the coatrack beside a smaller version
of his own, smiling. Scully.
“You go on ahead to the kitchen, Fox; I’ll be
there in a minute. I just need to fetch some wine
from the basement.” Maggie punctuated her words
with an affectionate squeeze to his arm.
Mulder’s lips automatically returned her smile,
but his brow wrinkled. “Are you sure you don’t
need any help?”
“I think I can still manage to heft a bottle up
one flight of steps–even if they are a bit old
and rickety.” Maggie tossed the words carelessly
over her shoulder, the dry wit in her tone
reminding him sharply of her daughter. “Go
reassure Dana you’ve arrived in one piece. I’ve
had to listen to her fret about you driving in
this weather for the last half hour.”
Any acknowledgement he might have voiced was lost
in the creak of the basement door and the clumping
of feet on wooden steps. Rather than stinging, her
dismissal warmed Mulder, driving away the last
vestiges of chill winter air. Actions truly spoke
louder than words. Maggie’s casual treatment only
served to reinforce the fact that, at least in her
mind, his status had irrevocably shifted from
guest to family member. The feeling of welcome, of
belonging, was one he hadn’t experienced in a very
Longer than he cared to admit.
Ironic, that Maggie’s genuine affection, her
willingness to embrace him, warts and all, brought
an equal mix of pain to temper the joy. The sad
truth was that he was more relaxed and at peace
here, with her, than he’d ever felt with his own
mother. That admission, disturbing enough while
she was alive, now haunted him.
He’d tried to love his mother deeply and
unconditionally, like any good son. Focused on her
perseverance and strength of spirit. Her ability
to survive unimaginable sorrow with quiet grace
and poise. Struggled to accept that there were
parts of her he’d never know, that he’d never be
allowed to know.
Charred photographs, dark secrets, and bitter
She’d taken that damn self-possession to her
Mulder blinked, pulling his thoughts from their
dark plunge with an almost physical tug. He sucked
in a deep breath, brushing his fingers over the
smooth fabric of Scully’s coat, and headed for the
He wandered through the living room, redolent with
the spicy scent of cinnamon and apples and warmed
by a crackling fire, and into the dining room. The
polished top of the large cherrywood table gleamed
in a spill of bright light from the kitchen
doorway. Pausing with his toes just shy of the
tile, fingertips trailing back and forth across
the smooth wood, he admired the view.
Scully stood at the stove, stirring something in a
large metal pot and humming under her breath.
Burnished copper tresses brushed the neckline of a
moss green angora sweater, and well-worn denim
hugged her curves in all the right places. She
swayed a little to the tune in her head, small
feet clad in ridiculously fuzzy pink socks
scuffing back and forth against the tile.
*MINE* Mulder thought, a little surprised by the
intensity of the accompanying emotions–
overwhelming wonder, wide-eyed disbelief, fierce
possessiveness, and not a shred of shame for his
caveman attitude. Deliberately quieting the tread
of his sneakered feet, he crept up behind her and
slipped both arms around her waist.
“Hey, baby. What’s a looker like you doing slaving
over a hot stove?” He pitched his voice low and
husky, nuzzling the tender skin just behind her
A breathy gasp and then Scully relaxed, her body
sinking into his with easy familiarity. “Making
Irish stew for the man I love,” she answered, her
own tone smoky.
“Lucky guy.” Mulder nibbled his way down the pale
skin of her throat, lips curving when she couldn’t
suppress a shiver.
Scully released the spoon and turned within the
circle of his arms until she faced him, arched
eyebrow tempered with a grin. “And he better not
Mulder’s smirk faded as he gazed intently into her
eyes, heart on his sleeve. “Not a chance,” he
Before she could swallow the lump in her throat,
he’d taken possession of her mouth with a kiss
that curled her toes–literally. With a sound that
was half sigh, half whimper she surrendered, body
melting into his embrace and mouth opening under
the assault of his lips and tongue.
She experienced a hefty dose of missing time
before recovering her wits enough to remember the
pot of stew. Scully’s fumbling fingers located the
dial to shut off the burner, inadvertently
breaking the kiss in the process. Struggling to
slow her rapid respiration, she lay one hand on
his cheek, frowning a little at the lack of
“Mulder, you’re freezing.”
He leaned over to press his forehead against her
own so that when he spoke, his warm breath puffed
gently against her lips. “Brilliant deduction,
Agent Scully. The temperature’s dropped another
ten degrees and my damn heater’s acting up.” She
felt, rather than saw him wriggle his eyebrows.
“Had to think warm thoughts about my partner to
avoid turning into a Popsicle.”
His lips trailed across her cheek before returning
to her ear and she reflexively slid her fingers
into the short, silky hair at the nape of his neck
while tilting her head encouragingly.
“To what…ah…do I owe…oooh, yeah…all this
Mulder never faltered in his task, punctuating
every few words with his lips and teeth on her
neck. “Because…*nibble*…I can. Don’t have to
protocol…*kiss*…or the Bureau rumor mill.”
Scully’s eyes, which had drifted shut, cracked
open in time to see her mother leaning in the
kitchen doorway, lips pursed in a poor attempt to
disguise a cat-that-ate-the-canary grin.
“Very true, Mulder,” she agreed, breath catching
when he began working his way back along her jaw.
“There is, however, my… ah…mother.”
“Downstairs getting wine,” Mulder mumbled against
“Not any more.”
Five thousand volts of electricity couldn’t have
affected a quicker halt to Mulder’s festivities.
He pulled back, the back of one hand swiping
across his lips as if to remove the damning
evidence and a flush spreading across his cheeks.
“No need for more salt, Scully, the stew tastes
fine. So, uh, what can I do to help?”
Maggie smirked, crossing over to the refrigerator
and removing a tomato and a cucumber. “You can cut
these up for our salad, Fox. That is, if you’ve
finished…sampling the stew.”
Mulder accepted the vegetables, casting Scully a
quelling look. “I think so. For now anyway.”
He retrieved a knife from the block and began
carefully slicing the tomato. Maggie took Scully’s
place at the stove, giving the pot a final stir
and examining it with a critical eye.
“Were the roads a problem?”
“Not when I left DC, but they’ve gotten pretty icy
since then. For the last fifteen minutes of the
trip I had to slow down quite a bit in order to
keep the car on the road.” Mulder set aside the
tomato wedges and began attacking the cucumber.
“Well, I’m glad you made it in once piece. This
weather is so unpredictable. Who would imagine
we’d be hit with a snowstorm this late in the
season?” Maggie added a pinch of thyme to the pot
and resumed stirring. “Dana, would you mind
setting the table? We’re just about ready to eat.”
Mulder felt Scully’s warmth along his back, one
hand lingering on his waist while the other
reached around to open the drawer to his right.
Unfortunately, she misjudged the distance and the
drawer’s corner clipped his right hip. The impact,
more startling than painful, caused the knife to
slip, slicing flesh instead of the cucumber.
Mulder hissed in pain, dropping the knife to
clutch his left index finger, which attempted to
bleed all over the cucumber slices.
“Oh, Mulder, I’m so sorry!” Scully yanked several
paper towels from a nearby roll and thrust them
into his hand. “Here, put pressure on that.”
“Don’t worry about it, it’s not that bad,” Mulder
replied, grimacing a bit as he followed her
“Dana, there’s a first aid kit under the bathroom
sink.” Maggie’s voice was calm and unruffled.
“Take Fox in and patch him up.”
“It’s not a big deal, really, I can just…”
Maggie’s stern glare stopped his words cold.
“No sense risking an infection.” She raised a
Scully brow. “Anyway, you don’t really think Dana
is going to let you get away without examining
that, do you?”
Hazel eyes cut over to blue and Mulder’s lips
curved. “I see your point. Lead the way, Scully.
I’ll come quietly.”
Scully’s hand curled around his elbow and she
steered him out of the kitchen. Once in the
bathroom, she retrieved the kit and uncovered his
finger. She carefully blotted the blood, which had
slowed to a steady trickle.
“Fairly deep, but not very long. It’s your lucky
day, Mulder. You won’t need stitches.” Her voice
was light and teasing, but her face twisted with
remorse. She busied herself unwrapping a sterile
gauze pad and a small bottle of hydrogen peroxide.
“Hey.” Mulder ducked his head, forcing Scully to
meet his gaze. “The finger is still there. Stop
beating yourself up over this.”
She bit her lip as she struggled with the bottle
cap, which stubbornly refused to yield. “It was
careless of me to reach around you like that when
you had a knife. I should have known better.
Mulder stilled her restless hands and liberated
the bottle. Sticking it under his arm, he wrestled
the cap open one-handed. “It was an accident,
Scully. I’m prone to ’em–in case you hadn’t
noticed. Now slap a bandage on it and you can kiss
it and make it better…later.”
That coaxed a rueful little grin onto her lips.
“Deal.” She upended the bottle, liberally soaking
the gauze pad, and stretched out her hand. “Here.
Give me that.”
For the first time Mulder seemed to register what
the bottle contained. Eyes wide, he snatched the
injured digit to his chest and vehemently shook
“Are you crazy? That stuff is going to burn like a
son of a bitch! Just hand me a band aid; we don’t
want dinner to get cold.”
Scully folded her arms and narrowed her eyes.
“Mulder, you are such a baby. That cut has to be
cleaned. Do you know how many germs there are in
the average kitchen?”
He stuck his lip out, the poster boy for
belligerence. “This is your mother’s house,
Scully. You could eat off her floor!”
She shook her head and waved the pad at him. “If
that finger becomes infected you could lose
dexterity. Next thing you know, you can’t handle
your weapon and poof!–there goes your field agent
status for a week. Is that what you really want?”
Mulder stared at her for a long moment as if
desperately trying to gauge how serious she was.
Finally, he huffed and stuck out his hand.
Scully took it gently in her own, though the
corners of her mouth turned up in a smirk. “Now
hold still. If you’re a really good boy, I’ll see
that mom gives you a special treat after dinner.”
Mulder waggled his eyebrows. “Really good is my
middle name, Scully. But there’s only one kind of
treat I’m interested in and it doesn’t come from
your mo…OW! Shit! Sculleeee!”
“There, all done. That wasn’t so bad, now was it?”
Scully chirped, reaching for a bandage.
“Remind me to explain the concept of ‘playing
doctor’, Scully, because you’ve got it all wrong.”
Tiny twigs and stones pressed into his face. Mud
clung to his lips, gritty against teeth and
tongue. He spat, a half-hearted effort that
required more energy than he was capable of
expending. He knew he had to get up, keep moving,
but couldn’t quite figure out why. His head hurt
when he moved. So much better on the ground. Lying
still, sinking into the darkness.
Bone chilling. Icy. Pressing into his body, the
damp ground soaking his sweatshirt, the frigid air
boring into every cell.
*Can’t stay here.* He knew that. There was
something he had to do, some place he had to be.
Mulder took inventory of his situation, digging
deep within to summon the energy needed to drag
his body up. He pulled his right arm close to his
body, spreading his fingers wide and pushing the
heel of his hand down in readiness to take his
weight. He tried to do the same with his left, but
it seemed to be missing.
A moment of panic seized him before he realized
his arm was trapped beneath his body. Numb and
He wished for a similar numbness in his head.
Anything to dull the unrelenting percussion
ensemble behind his eyes.
With his face screwed up in a tight grimace he
pushed hard with his right hand, managing to tip
himself awkwardly onto his side, eventually coming
to land none too gently on his back–panting hard.
And then…he screamed. A loud, ear-splitting
A blinding jolt of agony shot through the fingers
of his left hand, along his arm and into this
shoulder. His head rocked from side to side; the
immediate pain almost unbearable.
Short ragged sobs seemed to be the only way he
could get oxygen. Tears leaked from the corners of
his eyes, hot against icy skin. He hugged his arm
to his chest, and moaned.
It felt like an eternity before the gut wrenching
agony began to subside, only to be replaced by a
continuous undulating thud. It originated in his
fingers, worked its way up his arm and enveloped
his shoulder before traveling back to his fingers
to start over.
Mulder grunted, fighting both dizziness and
nausea. If he could just concentrate on the simple
task of breathing, maybe everything else would
take care of itself. Somewhere, from deep in his
memory, echoed a familiar mantra.
*Deep breath in, slow breath out. Come on, Mulder,
breathe with me. In…out…*
“SCULLEE!” His eyes flew open, blinking against
the fine flakes floating from the sky.
“Scully?” And then he remembered. She wasn’t with
him. He was alone.
There was someplace he had to be. Scully was
there. And he had to go to her.
Oh, God, that meant he *had* to get up.
Maybe if he just took his time.
Slowly. He could do it.
Take a breath. Hold it.
Support left arm against chest.
Slide right arm against body. Use elbow for
Wait. Deep breath. Another.
Okay. Bend at the waist. Sit up.
*Breathe! Breathe! No! Don’t pant! Don’t pant.*
A little more. Just a little more.
Bend knees. Brace right hand on the ground. Big
breath. Hold it. Now…PUSH!
Oh God. His knees trembled, his head pounded, his
stomach heaved and worst of all, his arm gave
another spike of pure agony.
But he was standing. Staggering to maintain his
balance and regretting ever having made the
decision to move, but standing nonetheless.
Wobbling like a newborn colt, Mulder managed a few
ungainly steps towards a tree, and giving himself
a minute to recover, hung on with the desperation
of a drowning man clinging to a life raft. He had
to stay upright. If he fell, it was all over. He’d
never make it up again.
Time had become a blur, its relevance completely
lost on Mulder. He had no idea how long he’d been
leaning against the tree until his body’s reflexes
reminded him that he was cold. The shivering sent
little sparks of pain radiating from his wrist. It
pricked at his skin like hot needles. His hand
He stared at the arm cradled protectively against
his chest. It was too dark to see the damage
clearly, but he had a pretty good idea what was
wrong. Hesitantly he ran the tips of the fingers
on his right hand over the wrist of his left,
flinching when even this light contact provoked a
sharp stab of pain.
Mulder swayed when he felt a large bump protruding
from the side of his wrist. Further investigation
revealed fingers swollen to twice their normal
size, but something else caught his attention. A
soggy, wet bandage wrapped around his index
finger, cutting into the distended flesh.
He toyed with it. Gently caressing the frayed
edges peeling away from his skin. A memory flashed
through his mind.
*Oh, Mulder I’m so sorry!*
“Wha…Scu…” The words caught in his throat.
*Here, give me that*.
He could see her so clearly. Hear her voice in his
head as if she were standing beside him.
*There, all done. That wasn’t so bad, now was it?*
Blue eyes smiling at him.
Where was she? Where the hell were these images
coming from? His head ached with the effort of
thinking, the need to focus.
*If you’re a good boy, I’ll see that mom gives you
a special treat after dinner.*
Mrs. Scully. Oh God, he was supposed to pick her
up from her mom’s! But…if the memories were
real, if she had put the bandage on his finger, he
must have been there already.
Then where the hell was she?
Mrs. Scully’s House
Two hours earlier
“Fox, where’s Dana?”
“She went upstairs to get her overnight bag.”
Mulder lounged against the banister, picking idly
at the bandage on his finger.
“It’s been so nice having her here this weekend. I
appreciate you driving all this way just to give
her a ride home,” Maggie dried her hands on a
dishtowel, turning to face him.
“You think I made the trip for Scully? It was your
stew that brought me out on a night like this,” he
replied with a crooked grin.
Maggie folded her arms, eyes twinkling at his
gentle teasing. “I’m flattered. I hope you know
you don’t have to stand on ceremony. As far as I’m
concerned, you’re like one of my boys, welcome any
The sincere warmth in her words hit him
unexpectedly on the raw. “Thank you.” He ducked
his head, but the emotion must have bled onto to
Maggie’s gaze was gentle but shrewd. “It never
really stops hurting, does it? I’m sorry if what I
“Don’t.” He pasted on a smile to soften the word’s
sharp edges. “Please, don’t apologize. It’s not
necessary. I’m…I wasn’t very close to my mother.
We didn’t see much of each other, and when we did,
we didn’t really get along.”
Maggie absorbed his words with a barely
perceptible nod. “I raised four children, Fox. We
had more than our share of disagreements–issues
as insignificant as skirt length and as life-
altering as career path. But not one of those
arguments had any bearing on the depth of my
Memories rose, unbidden. A stinging slap. Photos
turned to ashes. No note–*oh, God, how could she
have left him without even saying goodbye?*
“I know my mother loved me.” He chuffed a bitter
little laugh. “I just don’t think she liked me
very much.” He shoved his hands into his pockets
and turned away, willing the conversation to be
“What’s going on? Why the grim faces?”
An arm snaked around his waist, fingers tickling
the area just above Mulder’s right hip, and an
auburn head nudged its way under his left arm.
From the corner of his eye, Mulder saw Maggie give
him a searching look before turning her attention
to her daughter. “I’ll let Fox explain it to you
in the car.” Her brow furrowed. “Are you sure you
don’t want to stay here tonight? If the
temperature has continued to drop, those roads
must be pretty slick by now.”
Mulder answered Scully’s questioning eyebrow with
a slight shrug, deferring to her judgment. After a
brief hesitation, she sighed and shook her head.
“Thanks for the offer, Mom, but we really need to
get back. Mulder and I were out of town all week
and I’ve got a mountain of laundry and a case
report that A.D. Skinner expects first thing
“All right, I get the picture. You two get your
coats while I pack up some of this leftover stew
to take with you.”
Mulder allowed Scully to tug him back toward the
front door, enjoying the softness of her hand in
his. He liberated her coat from the rack, holding
it so that she could slip her arms into the
sleeves, and took the opportunity to envelope her
in a brief embrace.
Scully watched him don his own coat, eyes sharply
assessing. “What exactly were you and my mother
talking about, Mulder?”
He filched her knit cap from her pocket, tugging
it snugly over her ears until only the wisps of
her bangs protruded. “Baseball,” he said, keeping
his face guileless. “She wanted to know if I
thought the Yankees had a shot at the World
Both eyebrows disappeared under cream colored
yarn. “Baseball. My mother.”
“Sure, Scully. You didn’t think I really bought
that ‘I’ve never hit a baseball’ act, did you? I
mean, between your father and brothers–not to
mention your own tomboy past–I bet your mother
could teach me a thing or two about the game.” His
voice was light and teasing, his eyes dark and
Scully pursed her lips and looked up at him
through a fringe of lashes. “Everyone can use a
little personal instruction now and then, Mulder.”
She let her voice drop. “A little one on one.”
Mulder leaned in until his lips brushed her cheek.
“Wrong sport. But I’m only too happy to give
private lessons whenever you’d like.”
She shivered, tilting her head to bring his lips
to her own. “Oh, I like.”
The kiss was just getting really interesting when
the rustle of plastic and a cleared throat
reminded them they were not alone. Scully pulled
back reluctantly, licking her lips. She turned to
accept the bag of food from her mother, self-
consciously pressing one hand to her flushed
“Thanks, Mom. For dinner, and for the doggy bag.”
“It was delicious; thank you for the invitation,”
“I meant what I said, Fox. Any time.” Maggie gave
them each a quick hug and kiss, urging Dana to
turn up her collar and grumbling over the fact
that Mulder had neglected to wear gloves.
“Drive carefully, and call me when you get home,”
she said, swinging open the door to admit a blast
of frigid air. “And keep warm.”
Mulder leaned in close as they descended the porch
steps. “You heard your mother, Scully. We need to
keep warm. And I’m full of ideas on how to
It consumed him. It clung to every fiber, every
cell. It penetrated his sodden clothing and wormed
its way deep into his bones.
There was no reprieve. No escape. The cold just
was. He had come to accept it.
He no longer shivered with the teeth-jarring
regularity of earlier. A spasmodic jerk feebly
offered intermittently was the only sign that his
body was making even the slightest attempt to warm
Numbness. He ached with it.
His feet were nothing more than useless clumps of
flesh crammed into saturated sneakers. His
sweatshirt hung heavy across his shoulders, the
icy weight of it further contributing to his
Time had ceased to exist in any organized form as
he sat huddled beneath the spindly branches of a
weather-beaten pine tree, seeking its meager
How long had it been since his body gave up all
pretense of staying upright? Since the cold had
sapped what little adrenaline-driven energy he had
been relying on to push him forward? He didn’t
know, and now, he was beyond caring.
Mulder’s world had narrowed down to a one-
dimensional existence: misery.
He fought to keep it a bay. Clawed through the
veil of hopelessness that wrapped around his
thoughts, making him doubt what was real, what was
truth. Confusing him. Perhaps he was trapped in
the midst of a cruel dream. Caught in a nightmare
and unable to awaken. But he felt the pain. It was
real. It hurt.
His wrist throbbed mercilessly. He hugged his arm
to his chest. Fat, swollen fingers scraped
against his stubble-roughened chin. Mulder groaned
and his head swam when even this meager contact
heightened the agony in his arm.
He tried to think beyond the pain, beyond the
frigid temperature sapping him of his strength.
How did he get here?
How did he come to be alone?
If he was hurt then what about Scully? Was she
lying in a ditch somewhere? Injured? Waiting for
him to find her?
*MULDERRRR! I need your help!*
NO! No, that wasn’t right. That cry was from a
time before. A past he wished he could forget, a
past he wished he could erase from his life. But
more so from Scully’s.
*Drive carefully, and call me when you get home.*
Drive carefully. Drive carefully. Drive carefully.
*Mulder! Watch out!*
His heart froze in his chest, the blood in his
veins as cold as the rain and sleet beating
against the ice-deadened skin on his face.
Memories more horrific than his imagination could
ever conjure flooded his mind. The truth. It
pummeled him. And now he knew. He knew there was
no reason to fight the cold. So he didn’t. He lay
down among the prickly, frozen pine needles
scattered on the ground. He buried his head into
the crook of his uninjured arm, letting his
painful left one lie uselessly beneath his chin.
He waited. Praying the cold would carry out its
task quickly. No longer possessing the will to
fight, Mulder allowed himself to succumb to the
frigid temperatures. As he slipped into a numb,
pain-free sleep he could have sworn he heard a
voice, calling to him on the wailing gusts of the
Mrs. Scully’s House
Two hours earlier
“If you’re sleepy, I can drive. It’s late, and I
know you haven’t slept much this week.”
Mulder slid behind the wheel, tossing the ice
scraper into the back seat and blowing on his
chilled fingers. At this point the heater was
doing little more than blowing tepid air. “I’ll be
You know me–this time of night is when I get my
“Looks like we might actually have some
accumulation by morning.” Scully squinted through
the windshield as he guided the car carefully onto
the main road. The back end shimmied when he
completed the turn, gliding across the pavement
toward the center line. Mulder grimaced and
reduced their already sedate speed.
“Sorry. It’s a lot slipperier than it was a few
Scully studied his face in the dim glow from the
dash. “It’s not too late to go back to my mom’s.”
“What about the case report? And all those dirty
“Skinner will understand. And it wouldn’t be the
first time I had to wash a pair of underwear in
The corner of Mulder’s mouth curved. “Or better
yet, go without.” He darted a quick look at her
face, openly smirking. “C’mon, Scully. You had to
know that one was coming.”
She blatantly ignored the jibe. “The storm,
Mulder? Do you want to turn back?”
“Nah, it’ll be fine. If it makes you feel better,
turn on the radio. They should be giving status
reports on the roads.”
A soft click, rapid snatches of country, rock, and
muzak, followed by the drone of a newscast. Mulder
listened idly to the announcer describe the latest
in a rash of convenience store hold-ups, muttering
under his breath when ice began to coat the
windshield wipers and render them useless.
“What were you and Mom talking about?”
Trust Scully to remember that little detail.
Mulder tightened his grip on the steering wheel
and concentrated on not clenching his jaw.
“We talked about a lot of things, Scully. You, the
weather, Irish stew…”
It never ceased to amaze him how one word–his
name–on her lips could convey such a wide range
of meaning. Light and teasing when she managed to
snag the last bagel. Sharp and urgent when danger
loomed at his back. Low and throaty when his lips
and fingers shattered her customary reserve.
Gently reproving when his smoke and mirrors proved
no match for her powers of perception.
Mulder sucked in a long slow breath; let it out in
a whoosh. “We were discussing mothers in general.”
A beat. “Mine in particular.”
He watched Scully from the corner of his eye, saw
the way she worried her lip between her teeth.
Scully, of all people, knew this subject was an
emotional minefield. Her hand crept across the
seat to rest on his thigh, warm and solid.
“I’m sorry if she said anything…painful, Mulder.
If she did, it was completely unintentional.”
Her gentle attempt to comfort became tangled up in
the maelstrom of feelings regarding his mother’s
death. One piece of him was warmed by her tender
concern, another irritated by the kid glove
“Scully, your mother’s only offense is in making
mine suffer by comparison.” The sharp, cold tone
of his voice both startled and gratified him.
“I’ve come to terms with what happened; it’s
Scully observed his white-knuckled grip on the
wheel and his studiously blank expression. *You’ve
put it aside, Mulder. Buried it in a dark place.
But come to terms with it? I don’t think so.*
“You know, Mulder, it’s not surprising that
He shushed her, twisting the knob to raise the
“…steadily dropping temperatures have
transformed the freezing rain to sleet and snow.
Roads are extremely slick, making travel
hazardous; there is a travelers’ advisory for the
entire metropolitan area. We highly recommend you
stay indoors if at all possible. We’ve already had
a five-car pile-up
on the BW Parkway near 175; police and EMTs are on
Mulder signaled and jockeyed the car into the far
He indicated an approaching exit with a tilt of
his head. “That accident isn’t more than five
miles ahead, Scully. I’m going to get off the
Parkway and take back roads from here.”
She nodded and sank back into her seat, watching
Mulder guide the car off the highway and onto a
darker, quieter stretch of road. Though she wanted
to pursue their earlier conversation, Scully held
her tongue. Mulder needed to focus on navigating
the icy roads, not old wounds.
As she had countless times before, she wondered
what had possessed Teena Mulder. Not to take her
life–after her own bout with a terminal illness,
Scully could empathize all too well with the
crushing sense of hopelessness, the overwhelming
weariness. What she could not understand was the
lack of a note, of some attempt on Teena’s part to
connect with her son one last time.
Despite Mulder’s emotional words, inspired by a
vision of his sister in a starlit field, Scully
feared it was a gift he’d never truly receive. And
a part of her she kept carefully hidden hated
Teena Mulder for that.
The sound of Mulder cursing lustily under his
breath tore her from her dark thoughts. He was
hunched over the wheel, peering through the
windshield, his body thrumming with tension.
“Visibility is practically zero,” he said tightly.
“It doesn’t help that the heater isn’t working
well enough to defrost the glass. Scully, grab
that ice scraper from the back seat. As soon as I
find a safe spot to pull over I’m going
She’d just removed her seatbelt and was fumbling
for the scraper when Mulder’s sharp cry jerked her
attention forward. Through the curtain of sleet
and ice she could just make out the station wagon
lying sideways across their lane, its front end
hanging off the side of the embankment.
Time slowed to a crawl. Mulder pumped the brake,
struggling to guide their car around the crippled
vehicle, right hand flung out in an instinctive
gesture to protect her. Despite his reduced speed,
the slick pavement provided no traction, and their
sedan lurched into a sickening spin that seemed to
pick up momentum as they neared the stalled car.
Impact was swift and unavoidable.
“Mulder! Watch out!”
The cars collided with a bone-jarring jolt and the
shriek of metal on metal. Their vehicle ricocheted
off the stalled car and suddenly everything turned
topsy-turvy as the violent impact tumbled them
into a head over heels roll. Her hands wrenched
from the vinyl seat, Scully was thrown sideways. A
blast of frigid air enveloped her and she was
airborne for a brief, sickening moment before her
slammed into something with enough force to tear a
scream of pain from her lips.
Everything went mercifully black.
U.S. Route 1
One hour earlier
Mulder came to slowly and painfully, Scully’s
scream echoing in his ears and a faint smell of
cordite stinging his nostrils. For a moment he
thought he’d been shot, and it took a few seconds
for him to realize the smell was coming from the
airbag. Carefully, he forced himself to move,
sucking in a sharp breath as pain ricocheted along
his left side. He was crammed in tight against the
steadily deflating airbag, his knees jammed under
the dash and the roof nudging his head. It took a
few seconds to work through the cotton in his
brain until the pieces fell into place.
Mulder turned his head toward the passenger seat.
What he saw almost stopped his heart. A gaping
hole where the door should have been and the empty
seat beside him confirmed his worst fears.
Panic deadened the pain in his side. He wriggled
and kicked till he could pull his legs free,
heaving the airbag aside with his right hand and
grabbing at the door handle with his left. But the
fingers wrapped around the handle were strangely
weak and uncooperative. His wrist throbbed and
sharp pain shot up his arm.
Leaning hard into the seat with his left shoulder,
he reached across and tried again with his right
hand, at the same time giving the door a solid
kick with his right foot. It burst open and Mulder
half fell, half climbed from the stricken vehicle.
Wind blowing straight off the snow whipped through
his hair, its icy chill flaring the ache in his
head to a squeezing agony. Dizzy and disoriented,
Mulder leaned against the side of the car,
desperately trying to force his body to cooperate.
Tentatively, he reached up and touched his
forehead, not surprised when his fingers came away
damp and stained with his own blood. Using the
mangled hood of the car as leverage, he propelled
himself forward and staggered around to the
passenger side, struggling to maintain his footing
on the slippery ice.
A crumpled form lay on the snow-covered ground a
few yards from the rear end. “Scully!”
Mulder dropped to his knees beside her, working
his hands under her body so he could turn her
over. “God, Scully!”
He scraped through the shallow layer of snow
around her, his clumsy movements reminding him of
his injured wrist.
“Scully! Talk to me!”
Gently he brushed the hair from her face. Thick
blood coated his fingers. It clung to her hair and
oozed along the side of her face.
A flicker of eyelids, a slight twist of her mouth,
and then his name on her lips. “Mul…”
“I’m here. Just hold…”
“Cold…I’m…cold.” Her eyes rolled shut.
“Scully. No! Stay with me.”
He slid cross-legged to the ground, carefully
pulling her onto his lap, fear and panic making
him oblivious to any other injuries she might have
sustained. “Scully, wake up! Come on, talk to me!”
His mind whirled, eyes darting from her pale,
motionless features to the sleet and snow swirling
lightly about them.
Get her warm. Get her warm. That’s all he needed
to do. Then she’d be all right.
He scrambled to his feet, shrugging out of his
coat as he stood, but the sudden movement sent his
feet skittering from under him. Rubber soles
fought to find a grip on the smooth ice. He
managed a couple of staggering steps before losing
his balance and crashing to the ground. Reflexes
kicked in and instinctively he stretched out both
hands to break the fall. Agony, sudden and violent
engulfed his left wrist and Mulder couldn’t help
Injured arm nestled against his chest, Mulder
rolled onto his knees and shuffled back to Scully.
One-handed he pulled at the coat and placed it
over her. Then, gritting his teeth he gathered her
up and stumbled back to the car. By the time he
had laid her on the back seat he was seeing stars.
A couple of deep breaths stilled the spinning in
his head and settled the nausea in his stomach.
He dropped to his knees by the open door, leaning
in to tuck the coat around her.
“Scully.” Panting heavily and keeping his head low
to avoid the dented roof, he clambered inside the
car and slid along the seat till he was perched on
the edge by her waist.
Carefully, he moved the hair from her face and
traced the line of her jaw with his index finger.
Closing his eyes he dipped his head so his
forehead rested on hers. “Scully. Please. C’mon,
babe, wake up. You’ve got to help me out here. I
don’t know what to do for you.”
She remained silent.
He pulled back and looked at her. The pale glow
from the partly veiled moon offered little
illumination, but it was enough for Mulder to make
out the ashen tone of her skin, the bluish tinge
to her lips.
Trembling fingers sought the soft skin under her
jaw. He held his breath and concentrated, but no
matter how hard he willed the artery to throb
beneath his fingers, he felt nothing. “NO!
Scully.” Ignoring his injured wrist, Mulder
grasped her arms and pulled her towards him.
She remained quiet and unresponsive, her head
lolling bonelessly to the side.
His lungs froze in his chest, his vision narrowed
to a pinpoint of light. He shook his head and
forced himself to breathe. No! He couldn’t pass
out. Scully needed him.
And then he knew what he had to do. It was all so
clear to him now, so obvious.
Gently laying her back down, Mulder made sure the
coat was securely tucked in place. He leaned over
until his mouth was pressed against her ear and
whispered, “I’m going to get you out of this,
babe. I promise.” Then bringing his lips to hers,
he kissed her one last time. “I love you, Scully.”
Mulder backed out of the car and moved to the
front. He squeezed into the confined space,
desperately hunting for his cell phone. The glove
box, the door panels and the compartment between
their seats all came up empty. He searched the
back again, feeling along the floor under the
driver’s seat and…there it was. He snatched up
his cell phone and climbed outside again. It took
2 attempts before he finally hit the right
buttons, frantically pacing as he waited for 911
to connect. When
nothing happened he pulled the phone from his ear
and inspected the digital window. “No signal”
glared back at him.
“Shit!” He hurled the phone at the car, feeling
little satisfaction as it clunked against the
abused metal and dropped onto the ice. He stood
panting, right hand cupping his forehead as he
struggled to come up with a plan.
The other car. THE OTHER CAR. Get there. Might be
help. God! Was there someone in it? Were they hurt
too? Where the hell did it go?
He turned in circles.
Where is it, where is it?
He could just make it out, hidden in the shadow of
several trees. The mangled rear end angled
skyward, the front buried in a ditch by the side
of the road.
Swaying like a drunk, Mulder staggered towards the
wrecked vehicle and slid to a halt. The icy ground
forced his momentum forward and he came up hard
against the side of the car. It wobbled under the
Check the doors.
Keeping his painful left hand tight against his
body, Mulder reached out with his right and tugged
on the side rear door. Then the front. Both
locked. He skittered around to the other side,
hammering on the windows with the heel of his
hand. “Hello! Can anyone hear me? I need help!” No
sound. No movement.
The car shuddered under his pounding, shifting
slightly to the right before starting a slow tilt
towards the left. Mulder tried to scamper out of
the way. But instead of firm earth beneath his
feet, the ground dropped away under him. He landed
with a solid thump on his stomach. The impact sent
a jarring shockwave of agony through his injured
wrist, momentarily robbing him of breath and clear
He came to his senses with the realization he was
slipping. The soggy undergrowth offered
little resistance as he clawed at the ground,
desperately searching for a handhold to stop his
decent. But the rain had loosened the earth and
every time he managed to grasp onto a small bush
or a handful of grass it came away in his grip.
He fought to gain traction among the tangled scrub
making one last desperate grab at a small sapling
to his left. Pain ripped through his wrist and up
his arm, a silent scream twisted his lips as his
last tether to safety slipped from his grasp.
Mulder’s rapid slide turned into a roll that
abruptly ended in a teeth-rattling jolt. Sparks
momentarily burst before his eyes like fireworks,
then darkness descended.
Gnawing, relentless pain and bone-chilling cold
tugged him back from blissful darkness. He was
lying face down, cheek pressed against frigid,
snow-covered ground. Spitting grit and snow, he
struggled first to his knees, then to his feet,
swaying, his injured arm clutched to his chest. He
managed one, staggering, drunken step, then two,
and three. Clothes sodden with snow clung to his
limbs like leaden weights and he could barely see
through the curtain of swirling flakes.
He didn’t know where he was. Numb feet and uneven
terrain conspired against him and once again he
slipped and went down on his knees, a frustrated
sob wrenched from his lips.
His clumsy attempt to scrub the frozen crystals
from his lashes only succeeded in shoving more of
the cold wetness into his eyes, thanks to his
snow-encrusted sleeve. A flash of color, vivid
against the all-encompassing white, caught his eye
and he lifted trembling hands to stare at crimson
fingers. His breath caught in his throat and his
stomach did a lazy roll.
Oh, God. What had he done?
Hands, stained red. Dark hair matted against pale
skin. Tight, painful breaths. Chest heaving. Pain.
All over. It resounded through his head. Thumping,
adding to the confusion. Where was he?
WHERE THE HELL WAS HE?
Assistant Director Skinner stepped out of his car
into a wind that whistled in his ears and spit
light snow across his field of vision. He stood
silently, hands buried deep in the pockets of his
heavy overcoat, and surveyed the scene of the
accident. Paramedics were lifting a gurney into
the back of an ambulance, the small figure on
board barely visible beneath a pile of blankets
and a wall of medical
He headed toward the ambulance, hoping for a quick
word with the EMTs before they transported Scully
to the hospital.
Thick white bandages wrapped around her forehead,
a small patch of red already soaking through the
bulky padding. An oxygen mask covered her face.
She looked so still and lifeless that the AD found
himself checking the heart monitor for
Skinner stepped to the side as one of the
paramedics pushed past him and slammed the doors
shut. “How’s she doing?”
“All things considered, she’s one lucky lady.
“Is she going to make it?”
“Her vitals are stable and so far she’s holding
her own. We’ll know more when we get her to the
hospital. Now, I really need to get going.”
Skinner nodded, his jaw clenched and mouth set in
a tight line.
Skinner turned to face the man approaching from
“I’m Special Agent Rawlins.” He held out his hand
and Skinner gave it a firm shake. “I’ve got the
owner of the other vehicle here. You wanted to
speak to him?”
“We’ve got him waiting in one of the police
Skinner nodded letting his eyes wander over the
bustle of activity surrounding them. Searchlights
had been erected around the perimeter of the
accident site. A small generator hummed in the
background. An assortment of emergency vehicles
parked in a semi-circle bordered a makeshift
command center. The local PD had acted quickly and
efficiently in response to his call.
The ambulance with Scully inside pulled slowly
away, the flashing red and blue lights a colorful
contrast to the desolate background of snow and
deeply shadowed trees. He sighed inwardly–at
one of his agents was in relative safety. Now all
they had to do was find Mulder. Again.
He turned back to Agent Rawlins. “How long before
the dogs get here?”
“ETA is 10 minutes, Sir.”
Skinner nodded and fell into step beside Rawlins
as he led the way toward the parked cars.
“Sir? We’re checking along the road. There’s a few
houses not far from here, maybe Agent Mulder
it to one of them.”
“Maybe.” Skinner stared into the darkness. But
knowing Mulder, he doubted it.
When he opened the back door of the Ford Crown
Vic, Skinner was confronted by a wildly disheveled
man. He could have been 60 or maybe 70, his gray-
streaked brown hair standing up in unruly tufts
around his head. What looked like a two-day-old
growth shadowed his jaw. Despite his unruly
appearance and the early hour, the man’s eyes held
a surprising clarity.
“Sir, this is Mr. Harper.”
Skinner slid in beside the man, glad of the brief
respite from the frigid cold. He refused to think
of Mulder wandering out in this weather, instead,
choosing to believe that his agent had found
refuge in somebody’s home.
“Mr. Harper, I’m Assistant Director Skinner with
the FBI. Can you tell me what happened?”
“I don’t exactly know myself. My car stalled on
the side of the road earlier tonight, and no
amount of coaxing from me would get the old girl
started again. The battery’s been acting up for
sometime, so I figured that was the problem. I
live a half-mile or so up the road, and rather
than sit around here and freeze my butt off on the
wild chance help would come by, I decided to hoof
it on home. My son lives in town, and I figured
I’d call him and get him to come down to give me a
“What time was this?”
“Hmm…maybe ten, or a little after.”
“And what time did you get back here?”
“By the time I got home and called my son…I
guess we got back here some time after midnight.
Damn near gave me a heart attack when I saw the
state of the cars. And finding that poor young
woman in the back…” The man paused obviously
still having a hard time coming to terms with the
situation. “We thought she was dead at first but
when my son went to check on her she started to
mumble something. Couldn’t make out what she was
sayin’, but she sure seemed to be in a bad way.”
“Did you see anyone else? Was there a man with
“No, sir. Looked like someone else had tended her
though. She was laid on the back seat with a coat
over her. We found a wallet in one of the pockets
and an FBI badge inside. It had a picture of a
young fella. Is that the man you’re looking for?”
“Yes it is.”
“My son, Tommy, drove back to the house to call
the cops. His cell wouldn’t work out here. He had
some blankets in the back of the pickup, so we
covered the young lady with them before he left. I
stayed with her till help arrived. If Tommy had
seen anyone along the way he would have picked ’em
The police had been in constant radio contact
during the trip from DC and Skinner knew that so
far there’d been no sign of Mulder.
He slid his hands under his glasses and rubbed his
eyes. Something had happened to Mulder, of that
he was certain. The blood spatters they’d found
indicated he’d been injured, but still mobile.
That had to be a good sign, right? Or in Mulder’s
case, maybe not. Damn it. Why the hell didn’t he
stay with the car? Stupid question. He’d gone to
find help for Scully.
Skinner heaved a gusty sigh. There was nothing
more to be gained by talking to this man. He’d
confirmed that Mulder had been with Scully. Now
all they had to do was find him.
“Thank you for your help, Mr. Harper. An officer
will be along shortly to take your statement.”
The blast of cold air that hit when he opened the
car door only reinforced his growing concern for
Mulder’s safety. How long could he survive out
“Assistant Director? The tracker dogs are here.”
Agent Rawlins pointed to a van pulling in beside
the other emergency vehicles. “We’ve got Mulder’s
coat for them to work off. Sir, once they pick up
his scent it will only be a matter of time.”
“But will it be enough?” Skinner’s eyes locked
with Rawlins’s, the implication not lost on either
Skinner turned toward the police van acting as the
command center. “I’m going to touch base with the
officer in charge. Let me know when the search
team is assembled.”
“You’re going with them?”
“Is that a problem, Agent?”
“No, Sir! I’ll go and check on their progress.”
A quick nod of his head and Skinner was striding
towards the police truck.
Somewhere off Route 1
The voice was nagging, buzzing in his ear like a
persistent mosquito. Mulder mentally swatted it
away, straining to sink back into the velvet
comfort of darkness.
“Fox. Wake up.”
His befuddled mind conjured up images of early
morning darkness, chilled air and warm blankets.
His eyelids fluttered, but remained closed.
“Five minutes, Mom. Jus’…five…”
“Fox William Mulder! Open your eyes this minute!”
The familiar rebuke jolted through him like
electrical current. Mulder’s eyes flew open and he
scrambled to push himself upright, moaning as the
sharp agony in his wrist jerked him to full
consciousness. He stared stupidly down at his
soggy clothes, then squinted into the swirling
flakes, teeth chattering. His brain sluggishly
tried to process the discrepancy between dream and
The name left his lips as little more than a
froggy croak, sorrow and embarrassment prompting
him immediately to wince at his own stupidity.
*You’ve really lost it now, Spooky. First you
killed Scully and now you’re calling for your dead
mother. Pathetic*. He ground the heel of his hand
into his eyes, tears blazing a path down his icy
“Sitting there, feeling sorry for yourself isn’t
going to solve anything. You need to get up, Fox.
Get moving or you’re going to freeze to death.”
Breath caught in his chest, heart thudding wildly,
he whipped his head around stare in the direction
of the hauntingly familiar tone. Standing not more
than five feet behind him, her elegant clothes and
meticulously styled white hair undisturbed by the
gusting wind, sleet, and snow, stood his mother.
Lips pursed, forehead lined with exasperation–
he’d seen that expression countless times over the
years. The “oh for heaven’s sake, Fox!” look.
“You’re dead.” Not the most astute observation,
but then what could you expect from someone most
likely concussed and definitely on his way to
becoming a Popsicle.
The irritated frown deepened. “I realize that,
Fox. Now get up and turn around. If you keep
heading in this direction no one will find you. At
least, not until it’s too late.”
The initial chill as he’d jolted awake was fading,
shivers tapering off as a seductive feeling of
warmth took their place. Mulder drew his legs up,
aching arm sandwiched between thighs and chest,
and laid his cheek on his knees. “It doesn’t
An impatient huff. “Don’t be ridiculous. You, of
all people, know every choice we make matters. Is
this what’s become of you? The Fox Mulder I knew
would never just lie down and give up.”
Anger rose up inside him, driving back the
fogginess. His head snapped up and his lip curled.
“And the mother I knew would never seal herself in
a room and crank up the gas. I guess we’re even.”
Several indefinable emotions flickered rapidly
across his mother’s face before it settled into a
neutral expression. When she spoke, a hint of
warmth softened the words. “Not everything is as
it appears, Fox. There’s much about me you don’t
know or understand yet.”
“Really? And whose fault is that? How many times
did I come to you, begging you to open up to me
about Dad…about Sam? For years you let me chase
my own tail, blaming myself for losing her, for
not being able to bring her back.” He dug his
knuckles into bleary eyes. “Why am I wasting my
breath? You aren’t even here.”
“Of course I am. When did you stop believing in
those extreme possibilities, Fox?”
Mulder pressed his throbbing head to his knees. “I
didn’t, Mom. I just stopped believing in you.”
There was a long silence. Certain if he lifted his
head he’d find her gone, her voice startled him
yet again. “I suppose I deserve that.”
Was that…regret in her voice? Impossible. Teena
Mulder was nothing if not sure of her convictions.
“Fox, you and I may have been a bit of a
disappointment to each other. But I did love you.
I tried my best to protect you, even when you
despised me for it.”
The adrenaline rush was seeping away, leaving only
weary resignation. He met her gaze, surprised but
unmoved by the emotion he found there. “You
protected yourself and that bastard who wants to
call himself my father. As for love–I saw the
proof of your love. It was nothing but ashes.”
“There are none so blind as those who will not
see.” She shook her head impatiently. “Damn it,
Fox! The burned photos? Use your head. Does that
sound like something I would do without an
extremely good reason?”
“I don’t know. You’re the one with all the
answers. You tell me.” To his chagrin the gibe
caught in his throat and tears burned his eyes.
Suddenly she was beside him, carding her fingers
through his hair the way she’d done when he was a
little boy. The warmth and solidity of the
familiar gesture bypassed his defenses.
“They were only pieces of paper, Fox. Everything
important is imprinted indelibly in my heart.”
“You left me.” The words escaped before he could
stop them, aching and needy. He clamped his lips
together and blinked, horrified.
The fingers stilled, then cupped his cheek. “If
you believe nothing else, believe this: I had no
He leaned into the caress, chuffing raggedly. “I
want to believe.”
The warmth withdrew, her voice turned cool,
composed. “Now it’s time you got up and started
Overpowering lethargy weighted his limbs, his
“You can. Your boss, Mr. Skinner, is looking for
you as we speak. You just need to turn around and
head in the right direction.”
An image popped into his mind–his boss, jaw
clenched in the classic Skinner grimace, as he
lifted Scully’s cold, lifeless body. Mulder
squeezed his eyes shut. “Scully.”
“Do you think this is what she’d want? I’ll admit
I never got to know Miss Scully well, but she
didn’t seem the kind of person to give up. What
would she say if she could see you now?”
One corner of his mouth turned up in a painful,
lop-sided smirk. “She’d kick my ass.”
His mother’s voice was dry. “Undoubtedly. Get up,
Fox. For her, if not for yourself.”
It was possibly the only thing that could have
reached him. Mulder staggered to his feet, grimly
holding himself upright as the initial dizziness
and nausea abated. “You never cut me any slack,”
he muttered, surprised to find no bitterness in
She smiled a tight little smile. “You never really
needed it, Fox. You just thought you did.” And she
Somehow he got his legs moving, one foot in front
of the other, plowing doggedly back the way he’d
come. Just when he was certain he couldn’t take
another step, he caught a glimpse of bobbing
lights and heard the faint sound of a dog,
barking. Five more strides and his right foot hit
a hole, pitching him to his knees. After several
attempts to stand he sank back, exhausted. His
ears were ringing, his vision narrowed to a
“Here.” The weak, raspy cry for help would have
been comical if it hadn’t come from his own mouth.
“I’m over here.”
The barking seemed to grow louder, the lights
brighter, and then everything faded away.
Rugged terrain and slippery patches of ice were
fast reminding Skinner how many years he’d spent
behind a desk. Muscles bunched tight along his
thighs and calves ached in protest as he fought to
keep up with the tracker dogs. Despite the cold,
an irritating stream of sweat trickled between his
shoulder blades, and he’d made a mental note to
himself at least a half mile back to change his
brand of deodorant.
Within minutes of the team assembling, the dogs
had picked up a scent and were straining on their
leads, itching to follow Mulder’s trail.
The going had gotten tough almost immediately.
They’d half slid, half climbed down a sharp
incline and Skinner couldn’t begin to imagine why
Mulder would have gone this way. Lord knows, it
was nowhere near civilization and, if anything,
was heading away from the main road and his best
chance of help.
They’d been on the hunt for nearly an hour, the
dogs alternating between a breakneck pace and
lengthy pauses when the scent petered out. At one
point, they had actually turned completely around,
finding themselves heading back the way they’d
come, albeit on a slightly different route. If
Skinner’s estimation was correct, they couldn’t be
more than a half mile from the road.
Skinner’s feet were heavy in sodden boots, and he
felt the early warning sting of blisters on his
heels. He was on the verge of swallowing his pride
and succumbing to his body’s demand for rest when
there was a loud cry up ahead.
A new rush of adrenaline spurred the Assistant
Director on. Picking up his pace, he caught up
with the lead team in a matter of seconds. It took
a moment for his eyes to adjust to the bright beam
of light trained out in front of him, and then
another moment for him to realize what the
flashlight was illuminating.
A few yards ahead, a body lay sprawled on the
ground, barely visible amongst the tangle of small
shrubs and spindly grass. Two members of the
search and rescue team were hunkered down beside
“Shit!” Skinner pushed past the dog handlers and
crouched next to the men. He lay two fingers
against Mulder’s icy throat and nearly collapsed
with relief when he located a pulse. “He’s alive!”
Within seconds, the two paramedics who accompanied
the search party were at Mulder’s side. Skinner
stepped out of the way, but remained close enough
to keep an eye on what was happening. The wind was
brutal, knifing through his overcoat and seeming
to freeze the sweat on his overheated body. He
stomped his feet and hugged the coat tighter,
wondering again how Mulder could have survived
The EMT’s worked swiftly by flashlight, noting
their observations aloud in medical shorthand that
made Skinner wish fervently for Scully’s
expertise. The one reading he needed no help
understanding was Mulder’s measured body
temperature. Ninety-two degrees was dangerously
“Hey, buddy, can you hear me?” One of the men
checked Mulder’s pupils with a penlight. “Pupils
are equal and reactive but it looks like he took a
pretty good blow to the head.”
Skinner gritted his teeth, liking less and less
the report on Mulder’s condition.
“Yeah, and he’s got a fractured left wrist,” the
other EMT supplied. As he worked on immobilizing
the arm, Mulder moaned softly. “Hey, buddy! You
Mulder didn’t respond.
“Let’s get him out of here.” They unfolded the
stretcher and placed Mulder on it, nestling warm
packs around his torso and then covering him with
heavy blankets that must have felt like heaven.
Skinner got his first good look at Mulder’s face
as they lifted the stretcher, and his heart sank
to his toes. He couldn’t help wondering if either
of his agents would survive this night.
Georgetown Memorial Hospital
The maddening itch dragged him to awareness.
Mulder’s head rolled restlessly back and forth and
he scrunched his nose, cheek brushing a pillowcase
whose coarse texture and medicinal smell screamed
hospital. Try as he might, he could not seem to
raise either arm to deliver the much needed
scratch. Eyelids struggling to half-mast, he
blinked blearily at his surroundings and took
The expected hospital room–private, thankfully.
He could feel a bandage on his forehead, just
beneath his hairline. Both arms were immobilized,
the left by a cast that extended from wrist to
elbow, the right by an IV that seemed to be
delivering fluids and, if his muzziness was any
indication, pain meds. Several blankets had been
tucked snugly around him and the blinds had been
shuttered against the early morning sunlight. His
gaze panned across the room and froze on the chair
pulled up beside the bed.
The empty chair.
Mulder squeezed his eyes shut and breathed slowly
through his mouth, willing away the tears that
stung his eyes and clogged his throat. Though he
tried valiantly to conjure up the memory of her
laughing, eyes sparkling with mirth, all he could
see was her still, white face. His tongue touched
his lips, recalling how cold Scully’s had felt,
pressed against his in a desperate kiss. The last
A whoosh of air followed by footsteps alerted
Mulder to the fact he had company. He kept his
eyes shut, unwilling to face the bland cheer of a
nurse certain to remind him how lucky he was to be
alive, when lucky was the last emotion he was
feeling. Anticipating fingers grasping his wrist,
he was surprised to hear the chair scrape across
the linoleum, followed by a weighty sigh and the
faint scent of sweat and aftershave. Intrigued, he
cracked open one eyelid.
“Mulder.” Skinner sat forward. “About time you
Mulder blinked, oddly disoriented by the sight of
his boss in Scully’s accustomed place. “Sir?” The
word emerged more breath than substance.
Skinner held up a quelling hand and fumbled with a
cup of water. Mulder sipped slowly from the straw,
taking the opportunity to study his boss.
Skinner’s normally pristine suit was rumpled and
he sported more than a five o’clock shadow. Behind
his glasses, his dark eyes were lined with
Mulder abandoned the straw, a frown pulling at the
bandage on his head, and tried again. “Sir, you
Skinner snorted, shaking his head. “Mulder, I’d be
remiss not to point out that you’ve seen better
days yourself. How are you feeling?”
Mulder shrank from the intense gaze, choosing to
inspect the ceiling instead. “Seems like I’ll
live.” And that was the irony, wasn’t it?
“Yes, you will.” A pause, and he could feel
Skinner scrutinizing his face. “Mulder, do you
remember what happened?”
He nodded, turning back to his boss with jaw
clenched. “There was a stalled car in the road. I
tried to swerve around it but the pavement was icy
and… Scully was thrown from the car on impact.
She wasn’t… I couldn’t…” He sucked in a deep
breath and pushed the memory away, determined not
to break down in front of Skinner. “I tried to
help her, but…there was nothing I could do.”
“You must have become disoriented from the cold
and the knock on the head. From what we can tell,
you’d wandered nearly a mile away from the road.
Then, for some reason, you doubled back.”
“You found me.”
“Well, the dogs did. It was touch and go for a
while there. You were dangerously hypothermic, and
they’re still a bit concerned about frostbite on a
few toes. Another fifteen minutes and…”
Skinner’s voice trailed off and he cleared his
throat, discomfort palpable. “You were lucky,
Mulder. Very lucky.”
“You think so?” Dismayed by the tremor in his
voice, Mulder returned his gaze to a particularly
fascinating crack in the ceiling. “That’s a matter
of perspective, I guess.” His head throbbed, his
wrist ached, and he suddenly wanted nothing more
than the oblivion of sleep.
He could hear the frown in Skinner’s voice.
“Perspective? How else could you…?”
The door swished open to admit a young woman with
long, curly dark hair, a stethoscope slung around
the neck of her white coat. Skinner rose as she
offered Mulder a dazzling smile.
“Agent Mulder. It’s good to see you’re finally
awake. I’m Cindy George; we met earlier. I’ve been
taking care of you since you were brought in.”
Mulder gave a slight shake of his head, followed
quickly by a wince at the foolishness of the
action. “I don’t remember.”
She waved a hand dismissively. “Not surprising.
You were in pretty rough shape, but you’re looking
much better.” She tipped her chin toward Skinner.
“Mr. Skinner. I need to examine Agent Mulder for a
few minutes. You can wait in the lounge, if you
like, and I’ll come get you when I’m finished.”
After an unsuccessful attempt to make eye contact
with Mulder, Skinner left Dr. George to her poking
and prodding. He retreated to the lounge, grateful
to find it unoccupied, and claimed an
uncomfortable plastic chair. Shoving his glasses
to the top of his head, he scrubbed at weary eyes
and stubbled jaw, longing for coffee yet too weary
to search it out. Something about Mulder troubled
him, a nagging sensation that his agent’s behavior
was off. Of course, considering the concussion,
broken wrist, and exposure, he supposed normal was
a relative term. With everything he and Scully had
been through, Mulder could hardly be expected
The revelation hit Skinner like a proverbial ton
of bricks. Scully. Mulder had been conscious for a
good five minutes before the doctor’s entrance,
yet he’d never once asked about his partner.
Skinner sat up straighter, replaying bits of
conversation in his head.
*Scully was thrown from the car on impact. She
wasn’t… I couldn’t…I tried to help her,
but…there was nothing I could do.*
*You were lucky, Mulder. Very lucky.
You think so? That’s a matter of perspective, I
My God. Surely he didn’t think…
But it all made sense. The cryptic remarks. The
air of despondency. And, above all, the complete
lack of interest in Scully’s current medical
condition. Mulder hadn’t asked because he thought
he already knew.
Mulder believed Scully was dead.
Skinner stood and began to pace, eyes flicking
toward Mulder’s doorway. Ten minutes passed. He
watched a nurse enter and leave, but it was
another five minutes before Dr. George finally
She flashed him a reassuring smile, eyebrows
soaring when he barreled down the hallway to meet
“There’s no cause for alarm, Mr. Skinner.
Everything is looking good. My concerns about
frostbite appear to be groundless–his extremities
have good circulation and there’s no tissue
damage. The blow to the head was severe, but he’s
obviously awake and oriented, pupils even and
reactive. Immobilizing the wrist has removed the
pressure on the nerves in his hand and he appears
to have regained nearly normal sensation in his
fingers. I’d like to keep him one more night, just
to be safe, but he should be able to go home
“And Agent Scully?”
“Ironically, though she gave us a scare when they
first brought her in, she’s doing better than he
is. She’ll have a pretty severe headache for the
next couple of days, and I’d be hard pressed to
find a square inch of her that’s not bruised, but
being inside the car protected her from the worst
of the cold. If Agent Mulder hadn’t moved her the
way he did, she undoubtedly would have died from
Skinner winced. “Yes, well, about that. I’d like
to talk to Agent Mulder for a moment, if
“I’m afraid it’s not.” At Skinner’s blank look she
quickly added. “Gail gave him his next dose of
pain medication while I was performing my exam. He
was out like a light by the time I left.”
“Damn.” Skinner squeezed the back of his neck.
“How long will he sleep?”
“Hard to say for sure, but given his level of
exhaustion I wouldn’t expect him to surface for at
least a couple of hours.”
Skinner shoved his hands in his pockets as he
mulled over the doctor’s words. “Perhaps that’s
for the best. It gives us, gives Scully, a little
more time. You said she’s feeling better?”
“Well…yes. She’s still quite weak and sore,
though. I’d planned to keep her overnight, as
“Better enough to be mobile? In a wheelchair,
maybe, if she took it easy?”
Dr. George’s brow creased. “You’re losing me here,
“There’s been a bit of a misunderstanding, Doctor.
But I think we can put things straight.” He
couldn’t help grinning at her obvious suspicion.
“If you’ll show me where I can get a decent cup of
coffee, I’ll be glad to explain.”
One corner of her mouth turned up. “You’ve piqued
my interest, sir. It’s a deal.”
This time he fought the pull of sounds and smells,
struggling to burrow back into the comforting
forgetfulness of insensibility. With consciousness
came pain, the throbbing of his arm and head
barely more than a minor annoyance as compared to
the aching emptiness in his chest.
Scully was dead.
Sensing a presence in the chair beside him, Mulder
swallowed and turned his face away, ignoring his
dry throat’s screams for water. He couldn’t deal
with Skinner now–not with pity barely concealed
in overly kind eyes, and especially not with his
boss’s attempt to ease a void no one would ever be
able to fill.
Scully was dead.
Long ago, even before they’d become physically
intimate, he and Scully had come to terms with the
risks inherent in their job and the consequences
of those risks. Losing her was an inescapable
possibility: a stray bullet, a terrorist’s bomb,
the flick of a knife…these were potential
outcomes he’d had to acknowledge, to accept in
their continued pursuit of the truth. That she’d
been taken from him by something so inane, so
pointless as a stalled vehicle and an icy patch of
asphalt multiplied his already crushing sense of
loss and guilt.
Scully was dead.
He’d once told her he didn’t think he could
continue without her, emotion-filled words uttered
under desperate circumstances. Now, irrevocably,
he knew the truth in them.
He squeezed his eyes more tightly shut,
remembering how she’d felt in his arms just scant
hours earlier, the soft curve of her cheek, her
tone low and smoky.
*Everyone can use a little personal instruction
now and then, Mulder. A little one on one.*
Had he ever told her what hearing his name on her
lips did to him? He’d always loved Scully’s voice
in all its varied inflections and timbres:
teasing, lecturing, comforting, seducing… He
could hear it now, as clearly as if she’d spoken
aloud. The thought that such clarity would fade
with time was unbearable.
Quiet, coaxing, a puff of breath tickling the
sensitive flesh near his ear. His eyes flew open,
his heart suddenly hammering at breakneck speed.
No. It couldn’t be. It was a trick, an illusion
conjured up by his grieving mind in a cruel effort
to blunt the pain.
The fingertips that brushed his forehead and
trailed back through his hair were unmistakable.
Breath caught somewhere between his lungs and his
throat and he slowly turned his head to lean into
the touch, terrified to look, powerless not to. It
seemed as if everything around him, all sound and
what little color the drab room had to offer,
faded away as his gaze locked onto wide blue eyes
and a rare, teeth-flashing smile.
“Hey.” Her hand dipped, thumb brushing his cheek
now, heart-stoppingly warm, and solid…and alive.
The name clawed its way out of his parched throat,
rough, shaky, nothing like the reverent
supplication he’d intended. He saw her impossibly
beautiful smile widen a split second before it
blurred and the first, choked sob tore loose from
Time became hazy along with his awareness. When he
came back to himself he was cradled in Scully’s
embrace, face buried in the crook of her shoulder.
Despite the uncomfortable tug of tubing, he’d
managed to bury his I.V.-impaired hand in her
hair, sifting the silky locks through his fingers
in continual reassurance that she was real.
“Scully, God, I…I thought I’d lost you.”
Scully gave a watery little chuckle and he felt
her lips brush his forehead. “For a while there, I
Adrenaline ebbed, replaced by overwhelming
weariness and a sense of peace. Abruptly he
remembered Scully’s injuries and jerked backward,
scrutinizing abnormally pale skin and the thick
bandage near her right temple. He recognized the
fine lines of pain around her eyes and mouth, and
the slight squint that indicated headache.
Reluctantly he removed his hand from her hair,
swiping impatiently at the moisture on his cheeks
before carefully tracing the gauze with one
“I’m fine, Mulder.” She helped him settle back
onto his pillows and poured him a cup of water,
her movements smooth despite the unsteadiness in
her voice. His face must have registered his
disbelief as he accepted the straw; one corner of
her mouth turned up in a wry grin. “Well, all
things considered. Still, I’d say a concussion and
a few bruises are pretty tame compared to what
might have been.” She curled her fingers around
his. “I was unconscious until they brought me
here, Mulder. If you hadn’t moved me into shelter
of the car, I would have died of exposure.”
Mulder pushed the cup aside, unable to meet her
eyes. “I left you.”
Her grip tightened, drawing him back. “You covered
me with your own coat. Went out into that storm,
looking for help, despite a head injury and a
He snorted and shook his head, not ready to
concede the point. “I wandered around in circles.
If not for Skinner we both would be…” He trailed
He searched her face, feeling lightheaded as some
of the shock returned full force. “You were dead,
Scully. I was so certain. I tried… There was no
Scully released his hand, reaching across his body
to caress the fingers that peeked out of the
plastic cast. “Feel that?”
Mulder looked down, frowning a little at the odd
sensation. “Feels like my hand has been asleep.
Pins and needles.”
“Dr. George tells me you’d lost almost all
sensation in both hands by the time you were
brought in. Mulder, what with the cold and the
pressure the swelling from that broken wrist was
exerting on the nerves, you wouldn’t have been
able to feel much of anything.”
“I was alive. And thanks to you, I stayed that
He looked away, blinking, uncomfortable with
emotions stripped raw and too close to the
surface. Scully evidently sensed his unease and
“You know, I was never as much at risk as you
were. Skinner says you’d wandered away from the
road, that it was pure luck you turned back to
where they could find you.”
The bittersweet pang was unexpected, though not
necessarily unwelcome. “Luck? Not exactly.” Mulder
didn’t even realize he’d spoken aloud until he
heard Scully’s concerned reply.
“Mulder? What is it?”
He shook his head. “Nothing.”
She huffed. “Really? You certainly got an odd look
on your face. Did something happen out there?”
His mother’s face appeared in his mind’s eye and
he felt the phantom touch of her fingers on his
*If you believe nothing else, believe this: I had
He looked up, relieved to feel the shadow of a
genuine smile on his lips. “Soon, Scully. I
promise. I just need a little time to process
The door opened and a nurse stuck her head inside.
“Miss Scully? Dr. George says your time is up. She
wants you back in bed.”
“Huh. She can stand in line.”
Scully cocked a warning eyebrow at Mulder’s nearly
inaudible mutter, wincing when the motion pulled
on tender flesh.
He tipped his head toward the wheelchair parked
beside the bed. “Go get some rest. You look
She leaned carefully over, lips brushing, then
clinging to his until the waiting nurse politely
cleared her throat. Scully pulled away, a
lingering hand cupping his jaw.
“Are you all right?”
The fist around his heart, which had begun to
loosen the moment he saw Scully’s face, finally
let go. “Ten minutes ago I’d’ve had to say no. But
now…” Mulder’s lips curved. “Yeah, Scully. I’m
damn near perfect.”
He sank back into the soft pillows, battling heavy
eyelids and smothering a yawn as he watched Scully
climb back into the chair. By the time the nurse
had wheeled her from the room, he was asleep.
The low drone tugged Scully from slumber, vague
memories of pain and helplessness fading as she
registered the comfort and security of her own
bed. She reached one arm behind her, frowning when
her fingertips encountered cool sheets rather than
warm flesh. With an impatient puff of breath, she
eased herself carefully upright and swung her legs
to the floor, snagging her robe from the foot of
the bed. Standing slowly to accommodate aching
muscles and avoid reawakening the now dormant
headache, she slipped the soft terrycloth over her
arms and padded barefoot into the living room.
Flickering blue light from the television
illuminated Mulder, slumped on the sofa, his long
legs stretched out beneath the coffee table and
his casted wrist cradled to his chest. Though his
gaze was fixed on the screen, even at a distance
Scully could see his mind was miles away.
“Hey.” She switched on a small lamp, detouring to
shut off the TV before dropping onto the cushions
and leaning against him.
“Hey.” Mulder’s lips curved and his good arm came
around to pull her more snugly against his side.
“Hmm.” She nuzzled the soft fabric of his tee
shirt, soaking up his warmth. “Bed got cold.”
He chuffed softly. “Now I know my true place in
“Yup. Human hot water bottle.”
The sank into silent contentment for a while,
Scully listening to the steady, soothing beat of
his heart while his fingers stroked through her
hair. When it became clear he had no intention of
speaking, she shook off her stupor and sighed.
“Does this mean you’re still processing?”
His fingers faltered a moment before resuming
their previous rhythm. “What are you asking,
“Something happened out in that snowstorm, Mulder.
It’s been there, in your eyes, ever since you woke
up in the hospital. Now, if you need more time,
that’s all right. But you’re not getting off the
hook until you talk to me.”
Another long silence while she stubbornly resisted
the urge to drift back toward sleep. Finally
Mulder’s hand left her hair and came to rest on
her shoulder, fingers curling in a firm grip as if
to reassure himself of her solidity. When he
spoke, his voice was little more than a whisper.
“Do you remember what Skinner told you about how
they found me?”
She frowned, slipping her hand under his tee shirt
to touch the soft, warm skin beneath. “Which part?
That you were three-quarters frozen, or that you’d
nearly wandered away from any possibility of
“I’d headed in the wrong direction, Scully. I was
very confused, hopelessly turned around, and
definitely not firing on all cylinders.”
“I’m not surprised. Hypothermia alone could
produce such symptoms, and you were concussed on
top of it.”
The fingers tightened and she could have sworn she
felt him shiver. “It was more than that, Scully. I
thought you were dead. After a while, it got
harder and harder to come up with a reason to keep
She sucked in a sharp breath and lifted her head,
scrutinizing his studiously blank expression.
“What are you saying?”
One shoulder lifted almost imperceptibly. “I’d
given up. Decided to just…let go.”
She tamped down on the flash of anger, the desire
to shake some sense into him and demand that he
never, ever consider such an alternative, no
matter what might occur in the future. “What
Silence, then a reply so mumbled she could barely
make out the words, certain she’d misunderstood.
“I saw my mother, Scully. And I don’t want to hear
about concussions, hypothermia, and
hallucinations. I saw her, heard her speak. She
Okay. If the defensive tone and rigid tension in
his body were any indication, she’d best tread
very lightly across this minefield.
“What did she say?”
The guarded look faded from his eyes, replaced by
a hint of the affection she’d feared Teena had
destroyed along with some childhood photos and her
own life. “She kicked my butt. Told me to stop the
pity party, turn around, and start walking.” He
looked intently at Scully. “She told me to do it
for you, if not for myself. That you wouldn’t want
me to give up.”
Scully raised an eyebrow. “Smart woman.”
She laid her cheek back against Mulder’s chest,
thoughts and emotions swirling, chaotic.
Mulder’s hand returned to the back of her head but
simply rested there. “You think it was all my
imagination, don’t you? That she wasn’t real.” The
question held no condemnation, just an edge of
“I would, except…” She blew out a long breath.
Time to further demolish her reputation as
resident skeptic. “I saw my father, Mulder. The
night he died.”
“You never told me.”
“I never told anyone. Not even Melissa.”
“He was sitting in that chair.” She gestured at
the wingback on the other side of the coffee
table. “He and Mom had been over for dinner
earlier that evening. I fell asleep on the couch
and when I woke up, there he was. It think he was
trying to tell me something; his lips were moving
but I couldn’t make out the words. Then the phone
rang and it was Mom, calling from the hospital.”
“So, you believe I saw her?”
Scully smoothed her hand over the curve of his
hip, considering. “I believe the people we love
are not lost to us. That they can speak to us, if
we listen with our hearts.”
His body, relaxed back into its boneless sprawl,
told her she’d answered well.
“Thanks, Scully.” A tug on her hair, and then
Mulder was drawing her up until her face was
inches from his own, cheek cupped in his palm.
“But I have to say, I prefer the more direct form
He kissed her then, the long, slow glide of lips
and tongue leaving her body melting and her soul
filled with peace. Pulling back, he touched his
forehead to hers.
“I thought I’d never get to do that again,
Scully.” His voice broke on her name, but he
smiled. “I’m glad I was wrong.”
Eyes burning, she matched his grin. “So am I,
Mulder. More than I can say.” Threading her
fingers through the soft hair at the nape of his
neck, she proceeded to show him.