Silent Night, Painful Sight

silent night

Silent Night, Painful Sight

Author: XSketch

RATING: R – for language and violent content

CLASSIFICATION: X, MSR, MT, ST, A

Field Notes: Inactive

Summary: Just another little trip to the forest, really –

cannibalism, thick snow…oh, and an evil Santa Claus. Just what Mulder and Scully really wanted at Christmas instead of spending time together at home!

Archive: Two weeks exclusive to Virtual Season 14, and then it’s yours as long as you let me know where and keep my name attached.

Field Notes: Active

Author’s Notes : Mucho kudos to Lisa and Vickie for the great, speedy beta, the constant pokes, the support and the ending – YOU ROCK!

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———-

TEASER

———-

Wide, fearful eyes blink back the sting of ice particles. Chattering teeth bite back against searing, unending pain that will bring the body down if the small plates of enamel fail to keep up their task.

Brow sweats, lungs wheeze, heart thuds frantically with a maddening beat that may have the power to set it free from the confines of its chest cavity very soon, legs pump despite the constant flow of blood and deep, slippery snow underfoot.

Mind dwells on one, solo thought:

‘Why the hell did I leave my gun behind?’

As fresh powder is kicked into the air – spraying every which way – the tall, dark figure desperately forges ahead. He stumbles several times, and even drops to a knee at one point as the unbearable pain, cold and exhaustion tear at and overwhelm his senses, yet still he shakily regains his footing and rushes ever further onward, crashing through a low curtain of spindly tree branches.

Only to come to an unexpected halt at the fallen pine blocking his escape.

*Shit!*

Short shallow breaths fog the silent air as the figure contemplates all available options, but before he’s had chance to decide on a new route, the sound of chasing footfalls crunching the crisp snow echo in his ears and he knows jumping the log is the only realistic choice. Biting down on his lip even harder, he gathers what little strength he has left and makes a vaulting leap over the obstruction.

…Except, his foot slips, and there’s a loud thud followed by a bone-jarring, throbbing pain in his groin as both legs straddle either side of the tree trunk. Eyes begin to water profusely and there’s no fight left in him to ward off the inevitable cloak of unconsciousness, so he lets it claim him, certain that it will

shortly be followed by his death.

“Sculleeee…….”

As the prone figure of Special Agent Fox William Mulder slides to the ground, a large man pushes through the mesh of branches ten feet away – blood-red smearing his thick white beard – and then looks hungrily at his next meal.

XxXxXxXxX

———-

ACT ONE

———-

42 HOURS EARLIER

As a rule, it had become almost customary for just about anything and everything to go wrong – particularly in conjunction with special occasions or when plans had been made – so as a guy that had ignored pretty much all the rules in the book over the years, Mulder’d be damned if he was gonna let this one go by unbroken with a perfect average for yet another year.

No hospitals or bedside vigils. No family interruptions. No explosions or car crashes or gun shots. No cases.

He didn’t care what it took, even if that entailed tightly wrapping padding around every single thing in their duplex: this was gonna be *the* best Christmas that they’d spent together, if not ever – just him, Scully and the overweight turkey they’d managed to leave untouched over the Thanksgiving holiday and keep hidden at the bottom of their chest freezer.

“Excellent,” he smiled to himself, stepping back and proudly surveying the room as he finished putting up the last Christmas decoration. They’d both shared the task of finding and erecting the eight foot tree last week like excitable children (though Scully would deny that part), but work had gotten in the way of the rest of the regalia being tended to, so when his partner had been called to the Bureau for what they could only guess was an unseasonable audit assessment for their division, Mulder had promised to have the place finished by the time she got back.

“That’s it! I quit!”

Mulder sharply turned on his heel at the sound of the front door slamming shut and stared in worried bewilderment at his partner as she stormed into the room, threw both handbag and car keys onto the coffee table and then dejectedly dropped herself onto the couch.

“I don’t care what truths we haven’t uncovered or whatever – we can go ‘independent renegade’ for all I care!” she exclaimed, waving both hands in the air. “I’m not having them completely screwing with us one more day! I quit!”

A little disappointed that his efforts of the day had gone unnoticed (although he doubted she’d even realized he was actually in the room), Mulder sighed and moved to sit down beside her. By the sound of it, it had been the dreaded audit after all.

“‘Hi, honey!’ to you too,” he joked, leaning in to nudge against her arm. “What happened? Did they accuse us of spending too much on pencils?”

There was silence as Dana stared blankly at the space in front of her and mulled over this afternoon’s meeting with Deputy Director Wallace. Time and time again they’d had to put the job before their personal needs and lives, so much so that she’d stupidly let herself believe that this once – this one insignificant Christmas when everything was working out right for a change – they’d be given a restful respite.

Obviously an even higher power than believed possible was against them.

“Scully?”

“Our vacation time has officially been cut short,” she finally grumbled, wiping at her face with both hands.

Mulder let out an uncomfortable snort of laughter. “Wha-at?”

“The Bureau has decided our work is so invaluable that three days before Christmas they’re sending us on an ‘urgent’ case somewhere in the wintry wilderness of Colorado.” Her head turned and she watched the disbelief and anger vie for supremacy of his senses as his facial features contorted. “You’ve pulled some sneaky ones in the past, but I’m afraid you’ve been beat by this one.”

“Skinner–”

“Trust me, I’ve already had rather sharp words with him, but his hands are tied – the order has come direct from Deputy Director Wallace and there’s nothing he can do to out-rank her. I just wish–… Oh, what’s the point? Every time something happens we say ‘we won’t make plans next time’, but…” Reluctantly sealing their fates, Scully stood up. “I’m gonna go get changed – the thoughtful

DD kindly booked us on an 8PM flight.” Her hand lingered momentarily on his crest of hair. “…And you’d done such a beautiful job with the decorations…”

As their bedroom door clicked shut behind her, Mulder grabbed for his basketball and threw it across the room.

“*Dammit*!”

XxXxXxXxX

EN ROUTE TO WYNTACK, COLORADO

8:43AM

If he’d been pissed at just the thought of being sent on a case three days before Christmas, Mulder was certainly not far from downright outraged and ready to shoot someone in the ass by the time Scully had finished filling him in on why they had actually been sent to the tiny town out in the wilds of Colorado. Of course, he had to concede that he’d sent them on some pretty wild goose chases in the past, but he couldn’t see the motive behind one of the Powers That Be sending them to investigate an obvious case of cannibalism that had nothing

to do with them and could easily be handled just by the local law enforcement.

“It’s gotta be a trap.”

“Mulder, you think everything’s a trap unless you hand-picked the case.”

“So, you don’t find this at all suspicious?”

“Of course I do! But I live in fear of what your next injury will be enough as it is – if I dwell on this too much, it’ll drive me mad. Let’s just catch the perp and get back to D.C as soon as possible so that we can actually wake up Christmas morning in our own bed, okay?”

“I knew we should have gone to your mother’s again this year…

Thanksgiving at Skinner’s instead of in our own company no doubt doomed us…”

They’d reluctantly taken the pre-arranged late flight out to Denver International yesterday (noting also that it was just their luck that it wasn’t one of the hundreds that had been cancelled), and then stopped at a nearby hotel for the night, refusing to tackle the icy, treacherous roads in the pitch black – in broad daylight was proving difficult enough. Now, as their rental carefully made its way across

the white, unpopulated wasteland, Mulder couldn’t avoid the unsettling feeling in his gut that they should turn back.

Scully was experiencing the same sickening sensation, but as much as she’d come to trust it in the past, she knew they had no choice but to do their jobs.

“I still say it’s a trap,” Mulder grumbled, tightening his grasp on the steering wheel. “Who is this Deputy Director Wallace anyway?”

From the picture Dana had painted him yesterday, the stranger was nothing more than an insufferable bitch, but considering his partner’s mood since she’d returned from the FBI building, even a description of her mother would have had him conjuring up images of the Wicked Witch of The East in his head. “Was she transferred from somewhere else or promoted?” He diverted his gaze from the road momentarily to shoot a glance in her direction.

Letting out a deep sigh, Dana closed the folder she’d been looking through yet again for any clues that would explain their impromptu involvement with a two-week old cold case involving the discovery of a family of four by a hiker in the local woods, who had then reported his bloody find to the city cops in Denver instead of Wyntack’s lone sheriff. According to the pathologist’s report, the bodies had been bitten by what appeared to be human teeth marks, and the chests had been sliced open by a hunting knife, after which varying organs had

been ‘scooped out’ from each. By all accounts, the local FBI field office hadn’t been informed of the investigation, let alone involved, and the DPD held little hope that any suspects would be found as a light snow flurry had erased any footprints or evidence at the scene.

Basically, they were too busy with ‘more important’, easier-to-solve crimes that were actually covered by their jurisdiction, and the deceased didn’t have any other family, so……

None of this made sense, and her doubt about following orders seemed more and more founded as the mileage constantly clocked up.

“Scully?”

“I told you alread–”

*BANG!**BANG!*

The car suddenly lurched and fish-tailed violently for ten hundreds of a second before losing ground on a patch of ice and spinning completely out of control. Mulder used his lightning-fast reactions to tug at the steering wheel and try to right the vehicle’s forward motion, but the sideways incline of the mountainous region’s sparse road network and the below-freezing treacherous conditions made it impossible.

And he knew all was lost.

As he moved to shield his beloved partner from the inevitability of what would follow, the rental swerved one more time, hit a bank of snow and flipped once, twice, and then came to a halt…

On all four wheels.

XxXxXxXxX

FBI HEADQUARTERS

WASHINGTON, D.C

Walter Skinner sat down at his desk, ready to start his last day at work before a two-week holiday vacation, when he noticed the copy of the case file his two best agents had just been sent to investigate lying in the middle of the wooden surface.

‘No doubt they will come running to you to complain-‘

‘I’m their superior.’

‘Maybe, but you’re also an assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. You have a responsibility to the work which far exceeds your favoritism of two troublesome agents. They are employed to accept assignments, and that’s what they will do.’

‘Their ‘assignment’ is to the X-Files, investigating bizarre cases. This is for somebody at VCU, not them.’

‘We’ll see. Just be assured that if you insist on fighting me on this, you won’t have a job to let you run to their defense.’

He felt a shiver run up and down his spine as he recalled the encounter with the newly-appointed deputy director yesterday morning. Of course, Scully had come to him about it after her own meeting, but he was powerless – only able to wish that his two friends could be left alone to enjoy the festive season for a change.

Or was he?

As the conversation repeated itself once more in his memory and he toyed with the corner of the folder, Skinner realized that the best way to help his agents right now was to do some investigating of his own, from the safety of his office. He quickly stood back up and opened the office door.

“Kim?” he started in a hushed tone, leaning towards his assistant’s desk, where she sat sorting through some paperwork.

Her head snapped up at the sound. “Yes, sir?”

“I, um…I need you to find out as much information for me as you can about Deputy Director Deborah Wallace. Do you think you can do that? As discreetly as possible?”

The redhead hesitated for a moment. “Of course, sir. Is this to do with the case Agents Mulder and Scully have been sent on?”

“If I answer that you’ll be in possession of too much information. Let’s just call it a ‘background check’ for now, okay?”

She gave a nod and reached for the phone as Skinner smiled his appreciation and then disappeared back into his office.

XxXxXxXxX

From a perch high in the Wyntack Forest, two tired, aging eyes blinked against the sunlight as it reflected against the end of the figure’s high-powered binoculars, and then lips pulled back in a crooked grin to reveal blood-stained teeth as on the road a day’s trek away, a maroon sedan swerved and then flipped over several times.

Not wasting any time, the large figure quickly packed the binoculars

away and reached for the red suit neatly laid out on the crisp snow.

It was time for the show to begin.

XxXxXxXxX

“Mulder?”

He blinked several times, disorientated and mistaking the air-filled bag his face was snugly pressed against for his bed pillow at home, until the freezing chill of the air stabbing at his skin registered and dragged him back to reality…as well as the pain radiating from the left side of hairline.

“Mulder, are you okay?”

A groan to assure Scully he was at least alive, and then he lifted his head to check she was more than ‘fine’. “A little daunted by this moment of déjà vu and pissed that with fifty inches of snow on the ground, Lariat couldn’t provide us with a rental that actually had chains…Other than that, I’m fine,” He noticed her wince and shift uncomfortably in her seat. “How about you?”

Dana shifted yet again, knowing she couldn’t – and didn’t want to, anyway – lie. There was a razor sharp sting tearing down her arm whenever she moved, and she needed to check it but there was a sense of fear niggling at her.

Dreading the worst, Mulder quickly unbuckled his seatbelt and moved to examine her. And that was when he spotted the large shard of glass from the shattered window on her side of the vehicle protruding from the top of her left arm – blood seeping out in copious amounts, but thankfully slowed by the offending item acting as a plug. Panic rapidly shifted to something much greater as he struggled to think of the best thing to do to help his partner. “Shit, Scully…Why didn’t

you rouse me a lot sooner and tell me?”

“You were only out for ten seconds!” she unexpectedly snapped, gritting her teeth against a wave of nausea. It subsided after a moment, and she stared at the worried expression wrought on Mulder’s face. “I’m sorry. I’m…I’m sorry, Mulder. I–…I know I’ve been a little distant since I got back from the meeting yesterday, but I don’t know how to explain how I’ve been feeling or what’s been going through my head. I have the same suspicions as you about Wallace,

just as I have questions about the missing gaps in this report, but we’re in a Catch 22 situation – They know how much off our radar this invesyigation is and, with Christmas coming up, the inconvenience it will cause by sending us on it, but that we’re also walking a thin line and that if we refuse this assignment They have grounds to fire us.” Scully sighed, resigned, and tentatively leant in to rest

against the comforting, solid frame of his body. “And I know you worry about me, I’m–”

“Just tell me what to do,” he whispered against her hair, glancing once again at the slice cutting through her thick winter jacket and muscle.

She gave an accepting nod and sat up, swivelling in her seat as best she could so that he had better access to the injured arm. “I need you to pull it out at the right angle.”

“But if I pull it out–”

“It’ll do further damage whether it’s left or not. Just remove it at the angle it’s going in and get some snow to press against it – it’ll help to slow the bleeding and wash the wound at the same time.”

“But Scully–”

“Mulder, please.” She paused to wince against the excessive pain again. Over the years – thanks to frequent medical emergency hospital visits (or ‘The dreaded gurney treks’ as Mulder unaffectionately called them) – Scully had acquired a very high pain threshold, but this little injury, which paled in comparison to many she’d had before, was causing an unbelievable amount of discomfort that she couldn’t avoid. “If it’s left there, one wrong move and it’ll be buried all the way in.”

With a reluctant nod, Mulder took off his padded gloves – shivering slightly as the cold air bit at the newly-exposed skin – and leant in to pinch the end of the glass fragment between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand. He gave her one last questioning look, and then in one swift move he pulled the shard out. Scully snatched in a breath and hissed as her right hand shot up to clutch at the wound, from where the where was beginning to flow a lot more freely.”Holy shit,” Mulder gasped, watching her and then diverting his attention to the two-inch length that had been buried in her arm.

“Mulder?…Snow?”

He looked back up at her, realized what she was saying, and quickly turned to open the driver’s side door and scoop up a ball of the white powder thickly blanketing the land.

At least, he would have, had the snow not been packed against the door and stopped him from opening it.

“Oh, for–” His voice trailed off as he awkwardly squeezed between the two front seats to get into the back of the car. An attempt at the left back door proved more promising and he managed to force it open far enough for one of them to escape should they need to. As soon as he had a handful of snow, Mulder quickly moved to sit beside his partner, who had removed both her jackets to expose the deep lesion, again. He wanted to comment on the large amount of red liquid bathing her arm, but thought better of it – knowing that upsetting her more right now was not a wise idea – and promptly placed the freezing ball against the injury, holding the pressure there as hard as possible for a silent moment. “You hold that,” he instructed, letting up on what was quickly becoming a slushy mess so that she could replace his hand with her free, slightly trembling, one. “I’m just gonna get the first-aid kit of the trunk – I won’t be a second, I promise.”

She didn’t respond.

“*Scully*?”

That got her attention, and her head snapped up to stare at him – teeth chattering as the frosty air entered through the back of the car and wrapped itself around her small, thinly clothed frame.”Stay with me, okay?” He gently kissed her forehead.

At her acknowledgement, Mulder hurriedly left the car via the back door, but slowed to assess the situation. All four tyres were deflated, and the vehicle had landed at an angle so that the nose was essentially buried in the snow. As he reached the trunk, he looked out at the road and shuddered at the harrowing sight of the erratic, out-of-control tracks burnt into the icy tarmac – his mind reflecting back to the last nightmarish time their car had been forced off the

road in snowy conditions, not long enough ago.

“H-how did they a-all blow-out?” Scully’s inquisitive voice suddenly asked from behind where he stood in thought.

“I don’t know – I’ll follow the tracks back to where it happened in a minute.” Mulder turned, wiped a hand across his face and then stared down at his partner with a raised brow. “And what are you doing out of the car? I said I’d be back! Go sit down – you’re badly injured!”

“So are you!”

“What?”

As always unwilling to let him win the debate when it came to what she should and shouldn’t do, Dana carefully took a step forward and reached up to touch the still lightly-bleeding cut on his forehead. The contact made him instantly yelp in surprise and recoil. But he lost his footing in the slippery powder, and before he had chance to right himself, Mulder fell hard onto his butt.

And, despite the pain tearing down her arm or even the direness of their current situation, Scully couldn’t hold back her burst of laughter.

“Ha-ha,” Mulder grumbled as he struggled to stand up. “Like I don’t get my ass kicked enough, now I have to have it hit by hard, compact snow?” He picked up a handful of the stuff and passed it to her to press against her arm – the last ball having already melted into the water that was now washing away some of the blood.

“S-sorry,” Scully sighed, still lightly snorting at the sight of him trying to get up.

He eyed her, smiled, and then turned to open the trunk.

Ten minutes later her arm had been cleaned and tightly wrapped, and she’d made sure he’d put a band aid on his own cut. They now followed the skid marks back along the road, and stopped when they reached the point of impact.

“What the hell?!” Mulder frowned, crouching down

“I-is that–”

He brushed away the light dusting of snow to expose the police-issue spike strip that had punctured all four tyres of their rental.

“Yep,” he sighed. “Either this was left here by accident, or for about the millionth time we’ve stumbled across more crooked cops.”

“But w-where does that l-l-leave us?” Scully asked, bending down beside her partner.

Mulder pulled out his cellphone, and sighed as ‘No signal’ flashed back at him. “With a nice little trip in the forest.” He slowly raised back up to his full height and glanced around at the open landscape and then at the dense tree line that flanked the other side of the road. “We got a choice – either we sit and wait in the car, or we hike it.” A pause and his focus fell once more on Dana. “Or

you stay in the car and I hike it.”

“Oh, no – don’t even think it! You’re not ditching me this time!”

“It’s gotta be at least three days trudge over that ridge…It’d be easier for you to stay in the car, and then I could send for help…”

Scully stubbornly rested both palms on her hips. “Mulder, if I stay in that car and it snows I’ll be buried alive. And what if something happens to you? Do I really need to give a not-so-brief recap of your medical track record? As always, we’re better together, and if we’re gonna get out of this, that’s how it’s got to be.”

There was a moment of silence as Mulder tenderly regarded his pint- sized but feisty partner. “You always seem to know best, even in the most hopeless of situations,” he sighed with a smile.

“Damn straight, and don’t you forget it!”

“We’ve got enough snacks in the back of the car to keep us fed for at least a day and a half, and I guess the snow will provide enough liquid to sustain us…”

“Is this where I have to teach you the ‘Yellow Snow’ rule again?” she teased, following him back to the car.

He wheeled on his heel – almost slipping over yet again. “Aren’t you just the wittiest little sprite today? What happened to the bad mood?”

“Seeing you fall on your butt kind of got rid of it.”

XxXxXxXxX

3:46pm EST

“Chief Chad Spector speaking.”

Skinner snatched up the handset of his phone and sat back in the seat behind his desk. After reading through the case file more thoroughly, he’d decided it might be worth contacting an old war buddy of his at the Denver police department to find out why they had given up so easily on the investigation of four murders.

“Hi, Chad, it’s Walter Skinner in D.C.” he sighed. It had been at least ten years since he’d last spoken with Spector, so he just hoped the man remembered who he was.

“Walt? No kidding? Hey, man, how’s it going in the life of an FBI assistant director?”

“Great, thanks, Chad. You?”

“Oh, you know – not as fun as the life of a big-shot g-man, but I can’t complain. So, what can I do you for? Drug bust? Stakeout? Hair piece?”

“Very funny,” Skinner shook his head “Look, I need some information on a case – four homicides in Wyntack Forest? I just wondered If you could fill me in on why it was so quickly filed as a cold case? A whole family’s killed and two weeks later you give up hope?”

At the other end of the line, Spector turned to his computer and typed in some information. “Hey, now! We’re not *that* incompetent here, Walt. We may not be New York or D.C, but we still have a pretty ‘together’ way of doing stuff.” A little humming to himself, and then, “Aha! See? We never cold-cased it – the case was closed, period.”

“Wha-at?”

“I haven’t got all the details here, but apparently the bad guy was caught and the investigation was closed. One man, one woman and their two young daughters found cannibalized in the woods by a hiker almost a month ago?”

“That’s the one, but…” Skinner frantically thumbed through the folder that was quickly in front of him again and then stared disbelievingly at the last page. “Two of my best agents have just been sent out there to…to investigate…” He stood and pulled his jacket from the back of his leather chair.

Spector snorted. “You’re kidding, right? What idiot did that? Wyntack isn’t the most friendliest of terrains at any time of the year, but it’s like minus ten out there, sixty inches deep and there are only about five houses in the whole place, miles apart! I wouldn’t be surprised if the sheriff’s moved here for the winter. If

you’ve got people going out there, I hope they’ve got a truck-load of supplies or gas to get ’em through!”

“This isn’t funny, Chad!” Walter exclaimed, wiping a sweaty palm down his face. “Who caught the guy?”

“Like I say, I haven’t got all the details here – I could go track ’em down, but it’s gonna take me at least a day.”

“That long?”

“We’re understaffed – it is Christmas Eve tomorrow unless you didn’t notice! Have you got a number there I can fax the details to when I find them?”

“No need – I’m gonna get the next flight out–”

“Whoa! Didn’t you hear me before? Haven’t you been watching the news lately?” Spector turned in his seat and looked out the window at the zero-visibility whiteout. “All the airports in the state are pretty battened up – I’d be surprised if your agents’ flight even took off – hundreds are being cancelled….It’s just not safe for a plane to try land or take off in this. Sit tight, let me dig out

this info, and if there’s any reason to think your agents are in danger, we can go from there, okay?”

Skinner wasn’t happy, but he was out of options for the time being and he needed as much help as possible – knowing their luck, Mulder and Scully needed as much help as possible. “Okay. The fax number’s 202-555-1704. You got that? I can’t tell you how much this means, Chad.”

“Hey, Walt, you need anything, you only have to ask! No need for begging…If it hadn’t been for you I wouldn’t have gotten through – let alone survived – ‘Nam. Just make sure it ain’t another decade before the next time!”

The assistant director bade his goodbye with a promise of speaking again tomorrow to end the call, and then – slipping on his jacket, left the office.

“Sir?” Kim suddenly started, standing up and taking a step toward her boss to be as circumspect as possible. “I found a little of what you asked me to ‘background check’, but I should be able to have some more by the end of the day.”

“Thanks heaps, Kim. I’m going out for a late lunch – I’ll be back in about an hour.”

“Yes, sir.”

XxXxXxXxX

After examining the area map, both Mulder and Scully had agreed that their only hope of survival was to hike the forty-six miles to Broomfield, which lay just over the ridge on the other side of the forest. They’d donned as many layers of clothing as possible, and packed as much of the food and accessories they’d had in their overnight bags into one easy-to-carry holdall. As if on cue, the clouds had then begun to close in, and they’d taken that as their own cue to get moving. Four hours later, as darkness loomed on the horizon to the east and an occasional snowflake fell from the sky, the two agents stopped to rest and scavenge any food the woods had to offer.

“D’ you ever think ‘this is it’?” Dana unexpectedly asked, resting back against a fallen tree and rubbing the bandage that covered her sore injury.

Mulder sharply looked up from the map and frowned at her. “Wha-at?” Of course he’d heard, but he didn’t like the implications…

“Do you ever wonder if this could be it – that your body can’t take anymore?”

Now he really was worried! He immediately rushed to her side to unwrap her arm and check the wound hadn’t become infected. When he was satisfied it was clean and okay, scared eyes lifted to stare at her. “Scully, honey, you’re scaring me…” He reached up to brush an errant strand of coppery hair from her face. “What’s brought this on?”

Her head jerked up, as if only just noticing his closeness.

“Explosions on Valentine’s Day, hanging from the rafters when we just go to see a basketball game, Egypt, and now this… We’ve almost lost each other so many times just this year…”

“Hey, hey, hey! We’ve only been out here a few hours, and you’re giving up all hope on my Indian Guide skills already? You wound me!” He cupped her frozen cheeks in his gloved hands. “Christmas Day we’re walking out of here…Frostbitten, tired, chapped lipped, hungry, and my ass as bruised as hell, but alive nevertheless – we might even be able to avoid the chapped lips by making out a lot.”

Dana rested against the welcome warmth of his palms and nodded, uncertain herself why she’d been so ready to give in…Until she saw the figure approaching from behind her partner.

“Mul-der?”

“Okay, so we won’t overdo the making out…”

“No – behind you!”

Both hands slowly lowered away from her face as he carefully pivoted to glance over his shoulder, and see the adult wolf that skulked several more steps toward them before stopping and just staring.

Scully fumbled for her holstered gun, but there were too many layers of clothing in the way, and her frenzied movements were only spooking the animal more, so Mulder quickly stilled her hand.

The wolf continued to watch them with nothing more than curiosity for five minutes before sharply turning and running away.

Leaving the two agents completely bewildered.

XxXxXxXxX

———-

ACT TWO

———-

LONE GUNMEN OFFICE

TACOMA PARK

“You sent them on a case right before Christmas? Man, I thought you were on their side!”

Both eyebrows sharply lifting, Walter Skinner looked down at the shortest of Mulder’s three friends in shock. Byers and Langly were nowhere to be seen, which didn’t help the assistant director’s unease, but now the false accusation…

“After all these years – after what happened this summer – you really believe that?” he retorted, not breaking eye contact with Frohike.

“Come on, Melvin! If it’d been up to me, they would’ve had the whole holiday season off! This Deputy Director Wallace…”

“Who?”

“Oh, don’t worry about that for now – I’ve got my assistant looking into it. I need you to find out if they did catch that plane and–”

Frohike turned to his computer and started typing in the necessary details.

“And track them down somehow…”

The tapping on the keys paused momentarily, but then continued without anything being said.

Langly chose that moment to enter the office. “Hey, Skinman! Skipping work to come hang with us? Cool! Any governmental secrets you wanna leak while you’re here?”

“Mulder and Scully may have been sent on a bogus case to endanger their lives by a newly-appointed deputy director at the FBI,” Skinner stated flatly, not looking away from the monitor as the details of yesterday’s scheduled flights came up.

Frohike glanced over at his friend and shrugged, before sighing,

“They went and they landed last night. According to their bank cards they booked into a hotel that end and left early this morning.”

“You don’t know where they are now?” When the elf-esque man shook his head, Skinner forged ahead, “*Can* you find them?”

“We could track them down via the GPS chips in their cellphones,” Langly piped up, nudging his friend aside and hacking into a system they’d had to use a number of times in the past to find their FBI buddies. “The only problem is, their phones have to be on or at least able to pick up a signal for us to track it, and at the moment…” A tense pause as he set the system to dial either of the two phone numbers. “Neither of them are connecting.”

A loud curse word erupted from Skinner as his fist slammed against one of the tabletops and he turned away

“Hey, man, calm down!” Frohike assured, moving to stand in front of the much taller man. “We’ve found them before, we’ll find them again – just trust us, okay?”

Walter considered this for a moment, knowing that these men, above anyone else, had never given up on Mulder or Scully and certainly wouldn’t now. Even if they did find them, though – from this far away – would they be able to get to the two agents in time if they were indeed in danger?

Awkward silence descended for a moment – only the sound of the whirring computers circulating the air around them.

“Scully came to me…begging me not to let them be sent on this case…but…” The assistant director stepped around Frohike and moved slowly toward the exit, his head lowering. “I had orders to follow – that’s my job. I know I’ve sent them on some pretty pointless investigations in the past that have only ended with them badly injured, but even I wouldn’t have sent them on this one if the

302 had come to me directly.”

“We know, dude, don’t take it so hard – it’s not your fault!” Langly piped up, diverting his gaze to the computer monitor to check the program was still redialling the two cell numbers.

“Yeah, I’m sorry, Walt. I didn’t mean what I said before,” Frohike added solemnly, patting Skinner’s back. “They get in so much trouble so often, we’re scared one of these times we won’t get to them in time.”

Skinner’s hand fell on the door latch and his head gave a shaky nod.

“I fear that every day.”

And with that he left.

“Jeez, man! What did you say to upset him that much? He looked like his favorite pet had just been run over!” Langly snapped, standing up and stepping towards his much shorter friend.

Melvin eyed him back and then stepped back towards the computer. “I said exactly what he would have said if the roles had been reversed. Now let’s find them.”

XxXxXxXxX

He dreams he’s running, as fast as possible, for his life. Running, struggling for breath, smacking into hordes of branches.

Running against the snow, not fast enough.

And then there’s pain ripping through his whole body, blood, and–

“Mulder?”

Her voice cuts through the haze, and the pain morphs into something much more piercing that instead envelopes him and seeps through his muscles straight to the bone.

Bitter, freezing cold air.

“M-Mulder?”

He shuddered back to awareness and tightened the circle of his arms around himself as both eyes tentatively open – blinking several times against the fresh snowflakes before focusing on Scully. They’re still resting against the fallen tree, but there’s now a dark blanket of nimbostratus clouds blocking out the sky above them, and the steadily increasing rate of falling snow lets him know enough time

has passed for the forecasted impending storm to find them. The last thing he remembers is the wolf leaving them alone, and then…. nothing. No wonder she looks so worried.

“What time is it?” he asked, yawning and scrubbing gloved hands at his damp, icy hair.

Scully folded back the cuff of her jacket to examine the watch hiding underneath and then puffed out a sigh as she looked back up at her partner. “Almost three o’clock, local time. You were snoring away for about half-hour, and I would have left you a little longer, but you started frantically kicking and mumbling something…I figured you’d rather be woken up than left in whatever nightmare you were having.”

“Thanks.” He gave her a weak smile and nod. “Are you okay? Did you get any rest?”

“No – I’ll take my turn a little l-later.” At his confused frown, she elaborated, “Somebody had to keep an eye out for wolves that weren’t as friendly.”

Mulder gave an appreciative huff of laughter and uneasily stood up, folding away the map that had been resting in his lap. He then paused, though, and dropped to his knees in front of her – both arms outstretching to embrace her tightly. He felt the shakes wracking her body fade slightly as she absorbed the heat their bodies shared, and wished he could whisk them away to a tropical isle within a blink of an eye.

“Come on, let’s get moving. The map says there should be a cave a little further up ahead. We can shelter and rest there for a while.”

“A cave? Won’t bears be hibernating in it?”

“We won’t disturb them. It’s our only option.”

After a thoughtful pause, Dana nodded her head against his chest, and then looked up to press a kiss against his pale, frozen lips – a kiss which he quickly returned, fuelled with passion that burned even hotter than the warmth their bodies could generate or share. The bitter air biting at them and exhaustion brought it to a much-too- soon end, though, and their icy foreheads rested together for a moment before they helped each other to their feet.

“This must be how the victims were forced into the woods,” Scully noted as they started forward.

“Most likely, but they probably didn’t have a map or compass and that’s how they became lost. What I don’t understand is if there are indeed a group of cannibals out here, what benefit would any source of law e-e-enforcement have protecting t-them, or even – more darkly – providing live meals for them? There’s no way they c-could survive out here in these mountains on just the occasional person, unless more people have b-been reported missing and there’s a cover-up.”

“The townsfolk ignored what was going on in the d-desert in ‘The Hills Have Eyes’.”

Mulder blinked and gave her a mock-shocked glare. “Scully! Your taste in m-movies just keeps surprising me! W-when did you get time t-t-to see that? And without me?”

“I was actually thinking m-more along the lines of the original – there were actually advantages to having an older brother who could sneak you in to an NC-17 flick.”

“Bill? Doing something generous and against the rules? That I do wish I’d seen.”

“He had his moments.”

As they forged ahead against the blistering breeze and snow, silence fell between them momentarily, but then Mulder had an idea. “Unless the local LEOs *are* the cannibals?”

“The only n-native officer is Sheriff Lynus D-Donner.” She quickly raised a hand to stop him interrupting. “And don’t even think about making that joke.”

Mulder gave an innocent shrug of his shoulders. “You mean the s-same Sheriff Donner – I have read the file, remember? – we were on our way to see when the tyres were blown out?”

“Well, y-yes, but… S-surely you’re not implying that one m-m-man on his own managed to k-kill that whole family?”

“One person could kill a whole army g-given the r-r-right tools and means, S-Scully.”

“But the crime-scene photos showed the bodies were all together and t-there w-w-were no signs of great struggle.”

“‘No signs’ that were probably covered by fresh snow.” Mulder came to a stop, wheezing against the frigid air filling his lungs. The weight of the backpack he was carrying was beginning to take its toll, and struggling to walk as quickly but carefully through the deep snow so as not to end up chest-deep in it was no easy stroll in the park. He coughed, wiped a hand down his face – wincing when he

accidentally brushed a finger over the cut on his forehead – and was about to continue onwards when he paused to glance over his shoulder to check she was okay. “Do you w-w-wanna t-take…take another break?”

Scully shook her head and took a deep, shuddering breath. “N-no… Let’s k-keep moving for as l-long as possible.”

From the pain tearing at her face, he wasn’t convinced, but he gave her an assuring smile and started moving ahead again.

XxXxXxXxX

FBI HEADQUARTERS

WASHINGTON, D.C.

5:09PM EST

Kim jumped out of her seat as Skinner walked through the door to the area outside his office with his head lowered and quickly moved to walk alongside him. “Sir?” Her voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. “Sir, I managed to get the information you were after…for that ‘background check’.”

His head snapped up and fixed on her. When she gave him a slight affirming nod he guided her into his office and immediately shut the door after them.

“‘Officially’ Deputy Director Wallace was transferred from the New York offices,” Kim started, keeping her voice as low as possible as she offered her boss a file folder – which he instantly accepted, “but I contacted a friend whose worked there for twenty years, and she said she’s never heard of a Deborah Wallace. She didn’t even recognize her from the file photo I e-mailed to her. So I did a

little more digging…” She became slightly antsy, shifting from one foot to the other. “Apparently whoever assigned her here is…Is from somewhere high up in the chain of command at the Pentagon.”

Walter Skinner sharply looked up from the pages in the open profile and frowned. He knew the Syndicate had never been restrictive when it came to the lengths they were happy to go to, to get at Mulder and Scully, but placing somebody in the FBI seemed like too elaborate a plan for such a brief, insignificant end.

Unless there was even worse trouble on the horizon…

He mulled it over, chewed on the gristle of the facts, and then spat it all out of his thoughts for the time being, knowing that it was enough to prove his fears that his two agents were at risk but that he also couldn’t go after Wallace to try have her exposed and removed from the Bureau – that was a level in this conspiracy he would never be able to battle. All he could do was focus on finding and rescuing

Mulder and Scully.

“That’s excellent work, Kim. Thanks so much for doing that,” he sighed, squeezing her shoulder affectionately with his left hand as the right one slipped the now-closed folder underneath his arm. “Why don’t you pack up and go enjoy Christmas? I’ll see you next week.”

“Agents Mulder and Scully are going to be okay, aren’t they, sir?”

“Of course.”

Kim gave a grateful smile and then turned to leave. “Merry Christmas, sir.”

“You too, Kim.”

As the door closed after her, Skinner reached for his cellphone, moved to pick up his briefcase from beside his large desk and then left the office via the double doors at the back of the room.

“It’s me. Have you managed to find them yet? Okay. I need you to get me a seat on the soonest flight out to Colorado.”

XxXxXxXxX

WYNTACK FOREST, COLORADO

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 23rd 2006

11:27PM

The figure huddled underneath a large blue spruce as the snowstorm reduced visibility on his trek down from the mountain to zero. This wasn’t the most convenient of developments in his plan, but it was far from about to hinder him too much. He’d almost literally grown up in these woods, and had used them for many hunting games over the years so he knew the area and how to survive in it rain or shine like the back of his hand. Plus the red suit he now wore was thickly

padded, so it kept him well-insulated.

No, no snowstorm would deny him these two fine, healthy catches.

Bare, frostbitten-but-steady fingers tore at some more of the red, raw meat pooled by his feet and bloodstained teeth hungrily bit into it – ripping as much of the flesh from the bone before discarding the inedible remains onto the nearby pile of fur, bone and cartilage that had – not twenty minutes ago – made up the body of a tall, proud, adult wolf.

The night would be long and this was his only meal for now, but he could relax with the knowledge that by tomorrow afternoon he’d have the finest cuisine for the taking that he’d had in over a month.

Thank God for people with grudges who could deliver!

XxXxXxXxX

———-

ACT THREE

———-

7:07AM

The storm had died out about two hours earlier, and as the sky began to slowly lighten and welcome the new day, Mulder watched the clouds begin to part from where he and his partner were huddled.

They’d just managed to reach the cave before the complete whiteout had set in – tired, weak, frozen to the core and leaning on each other as the fierce wind had fought back against them – but it had turned out that there were indeed three happily-snoring grizzlies hibernating within the depths of the shelter as Scully had feared, so they’d been forced to rest right at the entrance where they had

been protected from the cutting wind, but not from the bite of the chilly air or all of the snow.

Mulder glanced down at Scully, pressed a kiss against the crest of her icy hair and then pulled the hood of her jacket that had slipped down at some point during the night back up over her head. She shivered and snuggled even closer against him, but didn’t wake up.

“We will get out of this,” he vowed in a hushed whisper, holding her a moment longer before carefully slipping away from her and edging toward the cave’s exit. “I’ll b-b-be b-back, I p-promise – I’m just gonna g-go ahead a l-l-little and check the w-way is safe…”

He was about to turn away when one of her hands suddenly shot out and wrapped around his wrist. “N-No you d-d-don’t,” she stammered, shifting to sit up. “No w-wandering off o-o-on y-your own…Wherever y-you go…” Her eyes fluttered shut, no matter how hard she tried fighting it, and her voice began to trail off. “…I g-go…” And before she’d even had chance to fully wake up, she was asleep again.

Mulder smiled, leaned in once more to kiss her on the lips and then crawled out of the cave – leaving behind the backpack of supplies for her, just in case.

XxXxXxXxX

27th STREET

DENVER, COLORADO

8:32AM

*knock* *knock* *knock*

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m coming!”

*knock* *knock* *knock*

Chad Spector wiped frantically at his sleepy, gritty eyes and scowled at the front door as the loud knocking continued. He’d been up all night going through the case file Walter’d asked for and he’d finally managed to dig it out of the records department at work at about 9PM, so this early visitor on Christmas Eve was not about to get on his good side.

*knock* *knock* *knock*

“I said I’m coming, dammit!”

He tore open the door as hard as possible, only to reveal Walter Skinner – red-eyes peering out from beneath a baseball cap.

“Walt? How the hell’d you get here?”

Skinner shrugged. “I …I managed to get a late flight out to Colorado Springs and then drove the I-25 over night…I’m sorry if I got you up…”

Spector stared disbelievingly at his friend for a moment and then quickly moved out of the doorway so the older man could enter out of the cold. “Don’t be silly! Holy shit…You drove here? I don’t remember you being this crazy.”

“There’s a big chance my two agents are in danger,” Walter sighed, dragging his tired frame across the threshold and shuffling with his head lowered into the living room. “I needed to get out here as soon as possible.”

“Your agents?” Chad frowned, puzzled, as he quickly followed the FBI assistant director. “You came all this way to–”

“They’re friends. Were you able to find that case report?”

“Uh, yeah – I was gonna fax it to you when I was fully awake. I’ve been going over it all night. Apparently Sheriff Donner called in to say that he’d caught the killer and the case was closed.” Skinner opened his mouth to say something, but Chad quickly continued, “*But* no official report was forwarded on to us, which is standard procedure – especially if we’re involved in the investigation – and

from what I was able to find out by calling a few favors in, no suspect was ever sent our way to be tried. Normally red flags would have flown up everywhere in our system, but whoever was handling it either accidentally or purposely altered the info on the system network to say the case had been wrapped up completely. It was only when I looked at the hard copy, which we’re always sure to keep of every single case we’re involved with in our Records department, that

I spotted the gaping holes.” The Denver Police Department chief shrugged his shoulders and picked a cigar out of the wooden box on the coffee table in front of where Skinner sat. “And before you ask, no I couldn’t find out who that was.”

“That I *can* help out with,” Skinner piped up, pulling a folder out of his bag. “I was able to acquire a copy of the personnel file of who sent my agents out to investigate the murders. It says she was transferred to us from the New York field office, but after a lot more digging, it turns out she was actually assigned to us from your department by somebody at the Pentagon.”

“You’re kidding? What’s her name?”

“She’s posing as Deputy Director Deborah Angela Wallace in D.C, but her real name – at least the one she was using when she was parading as a cop – is Sally Morse-Elba.”

Chad stood in thought for several minutes, puffing on his cigar as he wracked his brain to try remember the name. “Sally…Sally…Sally! Yes, I remember her – she must have only been with us a couple months! Never thought to find out where she disappeared to; she left at the start of the month. But how could a cop get promoted straight to deputy director of the FBI? Why would she go to such lengths to dispose of the case, and then send your two agents out?”

“These two particular agents have pissed off a few figures in authority over the years by trying to expose conspiracies. Let’s just say there’ve been a lot of ploys used to try get rid of them, so nothing surprises me now.” Skinner wiped a hand down his face.

“What about the sheriff? Why would he so blatantly lie about something he knew would send up red flags?”

Chad gave a shrug of his shoulders and rested back in the comfy chair opposite his friend. “I tried calling him at his office in Wyntack, but the line just kept ringing. As I told you yesterday, though, he might have moved to Denver for the winter months. He must be in cahoots with your deputy director there – there’s no way he’d dare to

try pull the wool over our eyes otherwise.”

There was a moment of thoughtful silence, and then Skinner suddenly reached to pull out a second folder from his bag. “Maybe not,” he muttered, thumbing through the file. “What if…What if Sheriff Donner’s the murderer? It would explain his need to throw you guys off the trail as soon as possible.”

“A cannibalistic sheriff? That’s a bit of a leap, isn’t it?”

“Like I say, nothing surprises me now. Seriously, think about it, Chad. He could have been doing this for years! The only reason why you were involved this time is because the hiker that found the family came to you first.”

“You really believe–”

Skinner’s tired head nodded vigorously.

Spector got up from his seat and moved over to his computer, where he immediately typed in a request for Lynus Donner’s profile. After reading for approximately three minutes he suddenly stood up and quickly snatched up his coat. “Come on, Walt, we need to get to the PD!”

“What is it?” Skinner queried, standing up also.

“When he was a kid, Donner and his parents were in a car crash out by Wyntack Forest. They were found a week later by a search and rescue team; Lynus had eaten his folks to stay alive.”

“Shit!”

XxXxXxXxX

Mulder hadn’t realized he’d been walking for as long as he had until he stopped to catch his breath and thought to look at his watch.

8:42.

He’d only intended to venture away from Scully for about half-hour to survey the path ahead before returning to the cave, not almost two hours! She’d probably be awake by now and worried about where he’d gone…as well as fuming and ready to kick his ass for ditching her.

With a sigh, as the sun peeked out from above the mountain and an eagle passed overhead, Mulder turned on his heel to go back and face the music, but as he did something caught his attention out of the corner of his eye. He paused and then – curiosity getting the better of him as ever – made his way over to the red patch underneath one of the taller spruces.

When he was close enough to see the lifeless, empty eyes of the wolf that they’d encountered yesterday staring back at him from a mass of matted fur, muscle, bones and diluted blood, he knew exactly what had happened here. Instinctively his hand reached for his gun…but it wasn’t there. He must have left it behind back at the cave, but that meant–

Suddenly there was a sharp pain tearing up his leg from somewhere in his right calf, and Mulder looked down in time to see the large hunting knife sticking out from there before he dropped to the ground. There was movement from somewhere behind where he lay, but he was too busy frantically scrabbling to apply pressure to his leg to stop the blood flow to care who it was. There were another pair of hands pushing his away, though, and before any of what had

happened had had chance to sink into the agent’s muzzy brain, a head came into focus, the knife was ripped out of his leg, and – just when he didn’t think the pain could get any more excruciating – teeth chomped into his bleeding flesh.

A scream barely recognizable as his own voice shot out of Mulder’s chest, and he thought he may have blacked out for a minute, but the pain, the blood, the pull of something trying to rip his skin from his body…It all never ended.

Lynus Earl Donner smiled greedily as blood poured down his white beard and the pain-filled cries echoed against the trees in the morning air. If there was one thing he’d learnt over the years, fresh, living tissue was so much more of a delicacy than that in which the heart had stopped beating blood – life – to the muscles and organs.

*I’ll be back, I promise.*

His own vow replayed over and over in Mulder’s mind as he lay on the frozen ground, futilely struggling to break free from the stranger’s jaws.

*Christmas Day we’re walking out of here…Frostbitten, tired, chapped lipped, hungry, and my ass as sore as hell, but alive nevertheless.*

He’d promised her an end to this nightmare. He’d promised her life. He’d promised that this would not be the final time Death stared them in the face and claimed them or that they’d be separated forever.

It was time to prove all his promises to her actually meant something.

With the tiny bit of strength left in him, Fox Mulder kicked and rolled his way away from the cannibal and shakily got to his feet. He felt the other man lunge at him, but before he could be taken down again the FBI agent ran with all his might deeper into the woods – disorientated and desperately trying to bite back against the pain tearing his senses to shreds.

He ran and ran and ran, almost feeling the breath of his pursuer right against the back of his neck, but then he reached a fallen tree that was blocking his path of escape, and the only option was to jump it.

Which he did.

And failed to clear.

And all he knew then was darkness.

“Sculleeee…….”

As Mulder’s body shut itself down, the distant sound of rustling branches registered in his brain, and he knew Death had finally caught up with him. He thought he heard something akin to a gunshot…

And then there was nothing at all.

XxXxXxXxX

WASHINGTON, D.C.

The sudden beeping from the computer snapped Frohike back to attention and he quickly sat up, staring at the monitor in shock.

“Hey! Guys! I’ve managed to connect to Mulder’s phone!”

Both Byers and Langly rushed to his side and stared at the screen also.

“Finally!” Langly exclaimed, slapping his friend on the back and then nudging him out of the way so that he could have full access to the keyboard. “Now, if we can just locate their exact position…”

As the long-haired geek started tapping away, a shaky voice suddenly started over the speakers, “H-h-hello?”

Byers brightened when he recognized the voice and quickly reached for

the system microphone.

“Agent Scully? It’s John Byers. Are you okay?” Considering how weak and upset she sounded, it was probably a stupid question, but it was the first thing he’d managed to think to ask.

There was silence, the ever-so-faint sound of her shivering, and then, “I…Mulder’s b-b-bleeding…”

Langly sharply looked up from his work, but those two words made him even more determined to succeed with tracking their friends down.

“Don’t panic, Scully. Assistant Director Skinner is in Colorado, and we’re using the GPS in your phone to locate you, so don’t give up yet,” Byers gently assured, hoping he could calm the scared woman even a fraction.

“There’s a s-s-stinger on the r-road in…Make s-sure n-n-no one d-drives o-over it.” She paused, sniffed. “I-I-I need…I n-need

to–”

The line went dead.

“I’ve got them!” Langly smiled, taking a step back and pointing the flashing indicator on the screen.

“Let’s get those co-ordinates to Skinman immediately,” Frohike barked, wiping at his eyes and rushing for the telephone.

There was no need for questions from his two friends – they were all feeling the affects of the emotional charge.

XxXxXxXxX

DENVER POLICE HEADQUARTERS

CHEROKEE\STREET

Walter Skinner closed his cellphone and turned to face the group of twelve officers that Spector had managed to gather to help with the search.

“We’ve found them. Let’s go.”

The team moved into action at his order and quickly filed out of the room – leaving Chad and Walter alone.

“By the sounds of it, both of them are badly injured,” Skinner sighed, trying to compose himself as best as possible but failing to ward off the guilt that continued to consume him. “And there’s a concealed spike-strip on the road in to Wyntack…Do you have any choppers we can use?”

Chad gave a nod, knowing a lot was riding on his answer. “I could call one of our pilots in, but it’s gonna take him at least a couple hours to get here,” he explained, heading toward the exit.

“Please, can you call him? A foot search isn’t gonna get to them soon enough.”

“Sure thing, Walt. You go ahead with the guys and I’ll catch you up.”

The two stared at each other in companionable silence for a second and then went their separate ways.

XxXxXxXxX

6:39PM

Pain sifted through the darkness and tugged him in every direction.

In his head.

In his leg.

In his groin…

Fox Mulder had experienced a *lot* of pain and torture over the years, but he really didn’t believe that he’d ever experienced anything like the agonizing ache inflaming his squashed genitals, and he never wanted to again – hopefully that was something he could keep to himself and not let them use against him.

“…Joy to t-the f-f-fishes in t-the d-deep b-b-blue sea…J-joy to y-you and m-m-me.”

His eyelids slipped open as reality tried to break through the fog in his brain, and he realized he was resting in the cradle of her arms…

And there was something cold being gently rubbed against his testicles.

Not in an arousing way, but it was certainly helping to take the edge off the burn in his balls.

“You’re e-e-enjoying t-that far too m-much,” he whispered in a strained, quasi-falsetto.

Scully almost jumped out of her skin at the sound and she looked down at her partner, pulling him tighter against her as she rested back against the fallen pine tree that had caused him this extra injury.

“M-Mulder? You’re o-okay?”

“J-just as w-w-well we c-c-can’t think a-about having k-kids the old- fashioned w-way, ‘cos there’s n-n-no way I-I’ll b-be able to d-deliver n-now,” he pouted, letting his eyes close again. “That and m-my leg…it…I-it–”

“It’s o-okay,” she whispered, kissing the top of his head.

“How d-did you–…What h-h-ha-happened?”

“I w-woke up again after y-you l-left the c-c-cave,” Dana explained, withdrawing her hand from his pants and reaching for another ball of snow. “But I-I had that b-backpack to c-carry and f-f-fell behind, so I had to j-just f-f-follow your footp-prints in the sn-snow. Then I saw you and Donner–”

“D-Donner?”

“Mm, y-you were right – it w-was S-Sheriff Donner c-committing t-t-the m-murders after a-all. Anyway, I saw y-you b-both s-scrabbling up ahead after a-a-awhile, d-dropped the bag and r-r-ran to catch up. Sadly y-you h-had your procreation-damaging s-slip b-before I-I was able to s-s-shoot the guy.” Her hand delved back into his pants to cup and massage his swollen balls with the cold slush. She’d only just managed to get the bleeding from his leg under control, so she hoped upon hope that she could help him with this unbearable injury at least.

“H-he’s d-d-dead?” Mulder snatched in a breath as his testicles began to numb and the fog in his brain cleared a little.

Despite the lack of energy left in their bodies, there was no mistaking the fire of hatred and poison of disgust when she spat out, “H-he’s on the o-other side of t-this log.”

Mulder looked up at her, saw the icicles that had formed on her cheeks glisten in the moonlight, and gave her a loving, reassuring smile.

Her hand once again retreated to scoop up a fresh ball of frozen powder.

“I-is there s-something I should know a-a-about your knowledge and e-expertise at d-d-doing this?” he joked, eyeing the snow in her hand.

“W-well, y-you know,” she mused, expelling a huff of laughter when she saw him waggle his eyebrows, “I-I’ve always h-h-had this s-secret f-fantasy of ‘packing i-ice’ w-with y-y-you, so r-really I’m just t-taking advantage o-of you a-and your injury.”

“If only t-that was turning me on and n-n-not n-numbing my s-senses.”

“Will h-have to s-start c-calling y-y-you ‘Blue Balls’.” She began to chuckle, but then suddenly paused and looked up at the sky.

“S-Scully?”

“Shhh. Did y-you hear t-that?”

There was silence and he listened as hard as he could, but he guessed he must be more out of it than he’d thought as he couldn’t hear anything.

Scully could though, and she strained to hone in on the noise as it came nearer and nearer.

“It s-s-sounds l-like…” She paused, searched the horizon frantically for the source,

And then she saw it – its searchlight coming into view as it skimmed the tops of the trees.

“…H-helicopter blades… ”

“You m-mean we’re g-g-gonna be out o-of h-here for Christmas a-after all?” Mulder hummed as his eyes slipped shut once again – his body beginning succumb to the cold and pain and exhaustion. “N-not s-s-sure if I’ll…b-be up to coo-cooking the d-dinner…”

The searchlight stopped on them as the chopper hovered directly above. Scully quickly withdrew her hand from her partner’s groin and raised it to shield her eyes from the bright light and whirlpool of snow the rotors whipped up. If she’d had the energy, she probably would have sent up a silent ‘Thank you’ up to whatever deity had saved them this time, but everything left in her was focused on Mulder…

And getting the hell out of here as soon as possible.

XxXxXxXxX

———-

EPILOGUE

———-

‘Case File: #X14082273

Agent of record: Assistant Director Walter S. Skinner

Date: December 28th, 2006

Due to the injuries inflicted by Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully whilst on this investigation, I shall make my own report on this case.

Lynus Earl Donner was found dead wearing what appears to be an imitation Santa Claus outfit. His ID photo depicted him with a clean-shaven face, however his

corpse fashioned a thick white beard, giving the all-round impression that he was trying to portray himself as the mythological bringer of Christmas presents. To

date, no explanation has been found amongst his belongings sequestered from his office at the Wyntack Sheriff’s Station, but a full psychological evaluation

of his background from medical records etc. will be carried out in the new year. Personally, I wonder if the trauma incurred by his parents’ death triggered

something in Donner’s brain that made him regard every special holiday as a reason to feast and dress-up – I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d been dressed up as a turkey when he killed the Thompson family at Thanksgiving. Or, perhaps he had been psycologically okay, but – isolated out in the wilds alone – cabin

fever had begun to set in and his past caught him up, pushing him completely over the edge of reason. This is all hearsay, but I think that that’s all it will

ever be – only Lynus Donner knew the truth behind his reasons…Or, at least what he believed to be the truth.

Deputy Director Deborah Wallace has not been seen since her meeting with Agent Scully. A further check into the FBI’s payroll list revealed she is not even listed as an employee here anymore, deepening my suspicions that she was placed here for malicious purposes, and I highly recommend that an investigation should be opened to deal with this matter.

Agents Mulder and Scully are currently still receiving treatment at Georgetown Memorial Hospital for pneumonia, and hypothermia, as well as the external injuries they suffered. There was a fear that the lower half of Agent Mulder’s right leg would have to be removed due to the damage incurred and infection that had started to set in, but thankfully his surgery went successfully and his

leg was saved.

Both agents will hopefully be fit to return for work in three weeks.

Further details can be found in Chief Chad Spector of the Denver Police Department’s report into the oversight on their handling of the case.

Otherwise, FBI case number X14072273 is closed.’

XxXxXxXxX

The woman walked away from the building – each calculating step taking her nearer and nearer to her next assignment.

“Who are you working for?”

Deborah Wallace turned at the voice, finding herself coming face to face with Conrad Strughold but never flinching at all, even though she knew this impromptu encounter probably meant that her deception had been uncovered.

“I thought I was working for you,” she dryly retorted, brushing her hair back away from her face.

“You know we have more plans for Mulder – more we need to learn from him,” Strughold snapped. “Why would you put those plans in jeopardy by sending them on that case?”

Wallace quickly unholstered her concealed gun and pointed it at the shorter man. “Because someone offered me a bigger pay packet!”

*BANG!*

One shot.

One kill.

Unwavering eyes stared and watched nonchalantly as Deborah dropped to the ground – a gunshot wound in the center of her head.

“It obviously wasn’t big enough,” Strughold coolly noted, pulling both his hand and silencer-equipped gun out of his jacket pocket and giving them a quick wipe. “Otherwise you’d have been long gone by now.”

Before a crowd could gather, he re-pocketed the weapon and moved to the nearby parked black sedan.

ROLL CREDITS

“Mulder? Mulder, are you all right? Mulder, wake up!”

Sounds slowly made their way through the darkness – hollow, indistinguishable to begin with but eventually sharpening into something he could place as his head groggily turned to the side. What was happening? The searing pain in his calf and certain other places of his body he would give anything to save reminded him of what had happened and that he must be in hospital. Except…there was no familiar smell of disinfectant, no clinical sounds or groanings of people passing back and forth in the corridor, or–

“Mulder, if you don’t open your eyes this very minute I’m calling for an ambulance!”

Scully? That was Scully’s voice! But she was– Wait… Did she say ‘ambulance’?

Mulder’s hand shot out and grabbed at the closest appendage, which turned out to be Scully’s warm, bare wrist. He must have been out of it for ages if she was back to good health! She was so going to kick his ass for this one… He slowly blinked open his eyes, preparing for the glare of cold fluorescent lights he knew would blind him.

There was no blindness, though. No fight to focus as the familiar ceiling of their living room came into view above him. No need to long for the heat that had been deprived from him for the past three days. No–

Living room ceiling? Why was he on the floor of their living room and not in a somewhat lumpy, slightly raised bed at Northeast Georgetown?

“Scully?” he choked out, lifting a hand to eye-level so that he could examine it. “Scully, what’s going on?”

“That’s what I want to know, Mulder.” Dana sounded pissed and worried at the same time. Knowing how long she could hold a grudge, ditching her at the cave really hadn’t been the smartest move he’d ever made “I came home from the office early and found you sprawled on the floor with the ladder knocked over, half the bulbs from the tree smashed on the floor and… Well, you were clutching…your pants,” she concluded, pointing to his midsection.

“What about Donner? And Deputy Director Wallace?”

“Who?” Scully asked, confused.

“Donner! Sheriff Donner – the cannibal. Scully, surely you remember–” His voice trailed off as realization dawned that she really had no idea at all of what he was talking about. “Scully, what day is it?”

She raised an eyebrow, wondering if it was time to examine his scalp again for any extra bumps that may have come up in the last five minutes, but then dutifully checked her watch. If there was one thing she‘d learnt from experience, it was that Fox Mulder would not settle until his confused mind had been appeased, and right now she needed him as lucid as possible so that he could lift himself up off of the floor (it was times like this when she really wished she

wasn‘t almost a foot shorter than him). “December 23rd,” she intoned, rising to her feet, “and it’s time for me to call that ambulance,” Scully slipped out of his grasp as she took a step away, but his hand outstretched to grab her ankle, and as he regained contact with her soft, heated, unharmed flesh the sudden movement almost brought her toppling down on top of him. “Wait. No ambulance. I’m fine.”

“You aren’t fine. You’re talking about cannibals and sheriffs and deputy directors I’ve never heard of, and you have a knot on your head the size of a melon!” she argued, inspecting the back of his head from her vantage point above him. When his head shook in dismissal, she dropped back to the floor and grabbed his shoulders.

“Mulder, track my finger.” A detached, authoritative and clinical order was the only thing she knew would bring him back into focus if he really was as okay as he insisted, and he dutifully obeyed, watching as her left finger slowly waved back and forth in front of his eyes.

“Scully, I’m fine,” he groaned, hoping her standard failsafe would be as acceptable as she expected it to be when she delivered it to him.

“I guess it was just…just a bad dream. It was so real, though! I could literally feel the ice hanging from my nostrils! It was so detailed I even saw things from everybody else’s point of view, like I was watching it on television! Honestly, Scully, I thought I was a goner! What‘s worse, I was shit-scared *you* were done-for.” His head lowered and he shuddered, the memory of the cold and fear

shaking his frame to the very core. When he felt her gentle touch on his cheek, he lifted his head again and stared into her blue, concerned eyes. “Really, I’m fine.“ He started to get up from the littered floor, hoping a vertical stance would reassure her, but the ache in his groin tightened and both hands quickly clutched at the area right over his pants’ zipper. “Okay, maybe not *that* fine,” he

admitted, barely managing to gasp it out. “But no ambulance, and definitely no hospital!”

Forty-five minutes later Mulder was resting in their bed with an icepack on his lap and ibuprofen happily flowing through his bloodstream. Scully came up the stairs with two cups of mulled cider and settled in next to him.

“Sorry you had to clean up the mess,” he lamented, taking one of the cups and sipping the cider.

“Well, it wasn’t as bad as I initially feared. Only two casualties in ‘The Great Christmas Ornament Disaster of 2006’ — not including you. You’re lucky you don’t have glass embedded in your ass as well, just to add insult to injury.“

“…Like what I did do isn’t insult enough…“

She couldn‘t hide the slight chuckle that burst out at that. “You were doing a great job, right until, I guess, you tried to tie the ornaments to the ceiling fan. What were you thinking, Mulder?”

“That it was a cool place to hang the mistletoe?” he replied with an innocent look.

“Well, judging from the swelling, we won’t be playing ‘find the mistletoe’ for a couple of days,” she reminded him.

Mulder winced, shifted uncomfortably and decided it was time to change the subject to something a lot less painful and embarrassing as soon as possible if he was to retain any dignity. “I heard the phone ring while you were clearing up my sorry mess…Was it your mom?”

“No, it was Skinner. He was calling to ask if we might be interested in a case. I told him you’d had an accident and would be laid up till after Christmas. He said he’d find another set of agents and see us in the New Year.”

“Did he say what the case was about?” Mulder asked, slightly uneasy.

“Not really. Something happened in a place called Wyntack, Colorado.”Scully shrugged her shoulders and settled back against the headboard, not noticing how pale her partner’s face had suddenly become.

“Anyway, it’s not our bother, so let’s just forget about it. Now, are you going to tell me about this dream you had — the one that played out just like a television drama complete with credits at the end?”

“Yeah, sure, Scully. But first, uhhh, I have to make a quick call to Skinner. He’s gonna want to send more than two agents on that case. I’m sure of it.”

THE END

….Really, it is this time J

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