Title: Other Considerations
Author: Laura Akers
Disclaimer: Mulder, Scully, and X-files are all the property of Chris Carter, etal. All other written-out delusions are mine alone. I'm not really sure what else I have to put in the disclaimer, so someone clue me in if I've said something wrong.

Well, I thought I'd try my hand at this. This is not a para-normal story (yet), nor does it involve sex (yet). Just an experiment to see if this is a muscle that I can use. So please, tell me what you think and let me know whether I should continue.

Mulder fumbled at the door, struggling to balance the files folders and the fast-food bag he was carrying enough to unlock the door. The key turned and the door flew open, propelled by his weight. The folders began to topple; he threw himself forward toward the chair and let the whole mess slide out of his arms, the files effectively burying his dinner at the bottom of the pile. He sighed heavily and headed to the kitchen for a glass of water.

Feeling not at all refreshed, he returned to the pile and extricated his burger and curly fries. His dinner disappeared quickly--when was the last time I enjoyed a meal? he thought--and he started to work on the files.

Scully and he had returned from an assignment over a week ago and still the paperwork was not finished. The worst part was that it hadn't been very interesting case, just a photographer and some his friends hoaxing up a small town in Oregon. Not that the fake photos weren't excellent work--but why did the people who manufactured these kinds of shots always take the expression "flying saucer" so literally?

The phone rang. Mulder leaned over to pick it up and spilled the papers in his lap onto the floor.

"Shit! He wangled the phone under his chin and began to pick them back up. "Mulder."

"Remind me not to call after your bedtime," Scully retorted from the other end of the line. "That's a charming way to answer the phone."

Mulder could hear an annoyance in her voice that went beyond his rough greeting. "What do you need, Scully?"

"Randall called from Accounting about our expenses on the Gerlach case. You did turn the paperwork over to them, didn't you?"

Mulder groaned and rubbed his head. "I thought I did, but I'll call him in the morning and get things straightened out. Anything else?"

"No, that was all. See you in the office tomorrow. 'Night."

"Goodnight, Scully."

He hung up the phone and put his work aside. He had been fighting an uphill battle all day, unable to clear his head and concentrate on what he was doing. Something was wrong, and he had been avoiding it all day. He'd have to deal with it before he'd be able to get any work done.

Mulder changed into his sweats and sat himself in the middle of his living room floor. He closed his eyes and tried to clear his mind. As a student of psychology, he had explored meditation in his time at Oxford. He was rarely driven to use it in his daily life, but when things pressed especially heavily, he found that it never failed to help.

His mind would not clear. Rather than fight it, he decided to try to locate when and where the trouble had started. It came back quickly.

Mulder entered the break room and headed straight for the coffee. He rarely came in here, especially during lunchtime; being "Spooky" had some benefits, but this was definitely one of the drawbacks. All eyes were on him as he crossed the room. Conversation stopped, picking back up only when he had poured his coffee and was headed back out.

"Yeah, and 'Spooky' went down to..."

"Vampires. Can you believe it? And on the bureau's..."

"I'd like to spend that much time with Dana Scully..."

"Yeah, I'd put those slabs in the morgue to pretty good use if I..."

"Shacking up in those motels..."

At the time, he had chuckled. He knew that working with a woman as beautiful and dynamic as Scully would always lead to these kinds of comments. Hell, he'd heard worse than that...Frohike alone had had volumes to say on the subject. But today, for some reason, the words did not slide like water off of the proverbial duck's back. It annoyed him.

He rolled his head from side to side and tried to drive away some of the tension that was collecting in his shoulders. Taking another deep breath, he sank a little lower into himself, and for the first time in over a year, Mulder reflected on their partnership. After Scully's abduction, and even before that, when the X-files had been closed, he had had it driven home to him exactly how he felt about her. Without Scully, he was lost. Scully grounded him, centered him. It was only her friendship and strength that had enabled him to keep going after the Samantha clones had so effectively emotionally manipulated him. When Scully was abducted, his life became condensed to a single focal point--his only goal, the only meaning his life had, was to find her, to bring her back. His motivation was simple--he loved her.

He knew the moment that his feeling for her had crystallized. It was on the bridge that night, when he stood ready to trade his sister for her. Before that, he had believed that his feelings for his sister and those he had for Scully were virtually identical. The same tragedy, the same emptiness, the same drive to get them back. But on the bridge, things had become more clear.

As the two women began to walk toward each other in the exchange, Mulder realized that, if all hell broke loose, he could not possibly protect both of them--he would have to choose--the sister he had been searching for since that night so long ago or the woman who helped him in that search. His choice took him by surprise.

When they had taken his sister, he had been a boy, a frightened, powerless child. As he grew to be a man and took on the quest for his sister, it was as a duty, an obligation which he, as her brother, had to fulfill. Of course, he had loved his sister...as much as any adolescent boy loved his sister. But as the years went by, he had often struggled with the question of why he searched for her. Was it for her? Did he want to save her? Or was it him? Was his entire reason for living simply a matter of salvaging his wounded pride? Was he looking for her only because he had to make amends for his own powerlessness on that terrifying night?

And the answer had come rushing at him that night on the bridge. He realized, in a single instant, that he loved the idea of redemption more than he loved his sister. But more importantly, he loved Scully more than either. If he was forced to choose, it was Scully he would save.

He had known that he loved Scully for several months now. But now was the time, he realized, to ask himself a more important question: Was he in love with her?

It was one thing to realize how much she meant to him. But the constant innuendo from Frohike and the others pressed the other question into his consciousness. Did he love her as his friend and partner? Or was there something more there? Conjuring up an image of Scully--not a difficult or unpleasant prospect, he noted wryly--he began to examine his responses to her. Her strange, pouty looks had attracted him from the beginning--squelched only by the information that they were being forced to work together. That meant "hands-off" in the FBI, and he had kept that firmly in mind...most of the time. There were moments, though, when he slipped, forgetting who and where he was, and seeing her, for an instant, as the striking woman that she was. It happened virtually everyday, and it always caught him off-guard. Watching her white hands, bathed in blue light, moving over the computer keys in the office. Glimpses of her smiling at one of his sardonic little prods (does she suspect my reason for teasing her so incessantly? he wondered). Admiring the passion in her face as she strode up to men a foot taller and demanded answers to her questions. Losing his train of thought briefly when she locked eyes with him. And the little things-- her red-gold hair, her flashing eyes, her lovely mouth.

Now that he was allowing himself to explore these feelings, they pelted him without mercy. Image upon image of her flooded over him, freed of the constraints that he had constructed to contain them. He gasped at the intensity of his emotional and physical reaction to her. His eyes snapped open, but still the last image was there. The vision of Scully, standing with her fists clenched on her hips and explaining to him, in that defiant and totally logical way of hers, just how silly he was being. His desire to take her into his arms and kiss her roughly and thoroughly was broken only by the realization that the woman in front of him was only an illusion he had created for a moment.

He shook himself back to full consciousness only to find that he was indeed standing, his arms limply at his sides; he felt weak and strong at the same time. He blinked several times and stretched to restore feeling to his body. He walked over to the wall and leaned on it, his forehead resting between his hands on the wallpapered surface.

He smiled for a moment. Then a shadow passed over his eyes. His foot and head made sharp contact with the wall at the same instant as the frustration burst out of him. "Damn it!" he growled. He had his answer. But it was not the answer he had wanted, and he had no idea where it was going to lead....

Her perfume filled his senses. He could see her form in silhouette, standing in the light of the window. He crossed the room and stood behind her. He didn't know what she was doing here, and for the moment, he didn't question. Her eyes were locked on something outside his bedroom window, and he leaned forward over her shoulder to try to see what had mesmerized her. He could see nothing...a swirling mist obscured his sight. Lights played deep inside the mist, but he could make out nothing solid.

"Mulder," she breathed out his name, low and inviting.

His hand, imbued with a will of its own, reached around in front of her and went up to stroke her hair. In a fluid movement, his hand traveled down the length of her hair to her white neck, then came up to cup her chin tenderly. His insanity wavered for an instant and then reasserted itself as he gently pulled her head around toward him. As he leaned forward, she slowly raised her eyes to his own. When they met, what he saw in her eyes weakened his too-shaky resolve; he felt his legs give way under him, and he clutched at her convulsively to steady himself. He stroked her jawline, gently pulling her lips up to meet his. Her mouth yielded beneath his, and for a fleeting moment, his legs again threatened to give way. This time he fought back. He wrapped one arm tightly around her waist and, breaking the kiss, buried his lips in her hair.

"Dana," he murmured.

The knock at his door snapped him instantly awake. His eyes flashed open, but he did not move. The scent of her perfume still hung in the air as he shook himself loose from the dream. He groaned and looked at the clock--10:30; he had overslept. He heard a key turn in the lock and tensed, trying to move but still unable to stir. But the light click-click of heels relaxed him again, and released him from his reverie. He rolled over and swung his legs off the edge of the bed. He leaned over, dropping his head into his hands. The rhythmic sound stopped at the door to his bedroom. Mulder's eyes moved along the floor, stopping when they reached her feet. Steeling himself, his gaze traveled up the length of her body--her firm legs, the cream linen of her skirt, the cool silk of her blouse, the curve of her neck, the fullness of her lips. His eyes dropped again to the floor. He didn't dare to look into her eyes. Not right now.

"Mulder, while I realize that punctuality is not your strong suit, it would be good if you could at least *show up* to work."

His apprehension disappeared when confronted with the reality of his partner's teasing. He grinned up at her, threw aside the bed clothes, and headed for the bathroom. She watched his retreating form and could not resist a second jibe.

"Are you restricted to sweats for religious reasons, or are you clothing-disabled?" she asked as he rounded the corner into the bathroom.

Mulder leaned back around the corner and hooked a finger into each side of the waistband of his sweat pants. "If they bother you that much, I could get rid of them," he challenged, smirking at her. Scully raised her hand in a gesture of *stop* and beat a quick retreat into the living room.

He looked at himself in the mirror. He didn't look as bad as he felt--hardly surprising considering how he did feel. Since his revelation last night, he had felt--continuously--as though someone had knocked the wind out of him. "Get a grip,' he said, staring at his mirror image. It wasn't the first time he'd been in love-- you've never been in love with a woman like Scully, his mind retorted--no reason to go to pieces now. He splashed cold water on his face, closed his eyes for a moment and calmed his racing heart. He turned on the shower and slipped out of his sweats.

"So what was it that was so important it couldn't wait? I mean, I gave you the key so you could feed my fish, not so you'd have to act as my alarm clock. What's up?"

Scully listened to him step inside the shower. "*We* had an appointment with Skinner this morning."

"And what did Skinner say to *us*?" he said, mimicking her tone.

"He had an X-file for us. For about five years, there have been constant reports of unidentified lights and noises surrounding a mountain, uh," she flipped quickly through her files, "Mount Surrey, in the Sierra Nevadas."

"I know," he replied. "A few clippings on it crossed my desk two years ago. Interesting, but not really enough to investigate."

"Well, that all changed a month ago. Six people have disappeared in that area in the last five weeks. Solitary campers, for the most part. The bodies of two of them were discovered Wednesday. They are awaiting autopsy. Skinner thought there might be a connection between the unexplained phenomenon and the disappearances. Our flight is in an hour."

Mulder stretched his legs. One of the things he generally hated about working in the FBI was coach class. At six foot, there was simply never enough leg-room on these planes. He sighed. While flights were usually uncomfortable and boring, he was thankful that Reno was several hours away. Scully, with her uncanny ability to fall asleep anywhere, was peacefully dozing next to him. It gave him time to think.

His discovery last night--discovery? he snorted to himself, hardly the word for it--had hit him hard. It had been struggle enough to fall asleep last night, and his dreams did little to settle his emotional state. Waking up to the actual presence of Scully had been almost more than he could handle. This was not, he reflected, going to be easy. He had forced himself to put off dealing with the aftermath of last night until the morning...he had had every intention of taking a few days of annual leave to pull himself back together. Trust Skinner to interfere with him, even down to what meager personal life he had. Now he would have to deal with this while working with Scully on a case...not a scenario he relished. If this morning was any indication, he had to get a handle on his emotions quickly.

Closing his eyes, he receded into himself to consider the situation. While he had always found those little problem-solving strategies taught in training classes to be too stifling when reasoning out in the field, he was thankful for them now. They provided a little distance--something he sorely needed at this point.

He decided to start with his own emotions. Falling in love with Scully was hardly a curse, but he still blamed himself for letting it happen. He felt betrayed by his own emotions. When he and Scully had first started to work together, he had not entertained any ideas about romance. He had little time in his life to begin with. His dedication to his work was legendary and his obsession with finding his sister had always restricted both his ability and desire to make emotional attachments. Not that he was such a prize, he thought cynically to himself. He had little time and less attention to give to any woman foolish enough to get involved with him--a fact he regretted but would not alter. So when Scully had entered his life, he had consciously avoided considering the possibility of romance with his new partner; his intention was to remain happily platonic.

Ah, but the road to hell, he thought to himself. He grimaced at the allusion, wondering how apropos it might be. The thought of Scully in his arms, in his heart, in his soul, was not exactly hell. But there were other considerations. After all, it was not as though he had an open field to play on. While he had come to this stunning, world-altering realization, the world had remained the same for Scully--did the Earth move for you too? he thought wryly. Like last night, he was overwhelmed at the decisions that lay before him.

Scully did not know how he felt...did she? For someone who relied so much on what she saw only with her own eyes, Scully could be mighty intuitive at times. She had known, somehow, about the relationship between B. J. Morrow and Brian Tilman in the Sister slayings. Had put together little scarcely perceptible clues to discover that the detective was pregnant. And then shrugged it off. "A woman senses these things," she had said. She might know.

At that moment, Scully shifted in her sleep, moving away from the window and resting her head on his shoulder. Her left arm crossed her body and came to rest on the armrest between them; her hand was lying lightly on his forearm. He resisted the urge to take her hand or stroke away the hair that had fallen across her eyes. No, he concluded, Scully didn't know. If she *had* known and if she didn't return his feelings, she might have tried to ignore it in order to salvage his ego. But this wasn't the case; he was almost sure of it. Scully did not know because the idea of love between them was not, in her own opinion, and certainly in the FBI's opinion, a possibility. They were assigned to work together. She would have accepted all of his vaguely sexual innuendoes, his teasing of her, as just that--jokes.

If she didn't know, that left him with another decision. What should he do about it? There were few things that he kept from Scully now. She was his most trusted confidant. He wasn't sure whether he *could* keep this from her; he was less sure about whether he wanted to. His reactions to her this morning drove home the point that keeping this secret would be very difficult. Even now, he had trouble concentrating--how had her perfume acquired such power over him? when had her lips become so bewitching?

What if he told her? Simply took her in his arms right now, woke her with kisses and told her how he felt. It would be so easy, and it was so tempting--especially as she sighed in her sleep next to him and snuggled (unconsciously, he knew) a bit closer in the crook of his shoulder. His world had been shattered by his discovery. What would such a revelation do to hers? His head began to spin uncontrollably.

Scully stirred again; he had watched her sleep enough to know that she was waking up. In a few moments, she would be fully conscious and bringing him up-to-date on the case. Not now, he thought. I can't make this decision now. The one thing that Scully would never want is for emotions, mine or hers, to stand in the way of solving a case. And I'm in no condition to decide, he thought. It'll have to wait. Heinlein said it best: Waiting is. And maybe waiting would fill. An image of Gillian Boardman floated in front of him, serene and beautiful; the vision shimmered and was replaced by image of Scully--her beautifully piercing eyes looking into his own, urging him to act carefully. His feelings for her were so precious. He would wait rather than hurt her or reject them. When the case is over, he promised himself...

He turned to look at the woman next to him and was not surprised to find her eyes opening. She quickly drew back from him and reoriented herself in her own seat. At the precise moment when she had regained her composure, Mulder leaned in for the kill.

"You know, I never get tired of sleeping with you," he said, with the best leer he could muster. She rolled her eyes and opened the file in front of her. She quickly began to tick off the relevant points of the case to him, in that incredibly officious way of hers.

You're safe, he thought. Safe for now at least. But he had not a clue which one of them he was talking to.


"Charlie Rengen disappeared in January while hunting on the mountain. His body was found by accident a month after the search had been called off." Scully ticked off the third victim on her list and continued on. "Pat Walland was discovered to have disappeared on February 6th..."

"What do you mean, 'discovered to have disappeared?'" he looked at her clearly for the first time since yesterday.

"There's a small writers' colony on the California side of the mountain. I suppose the writers do not take kindly to being interrupted, because someone went to his cabin to check on him only after he had missed picking up his mail for thirteen days. And since he was not very regular in his habits before that, there's no way to be sure just how long he had been missing."

"Funny, no one checks up on me...I don't think I've gotten my mail for a month." he grinned at her. "Unless that was your *real* reason for coming over this morning--checking up on me?"

She ignored him. "Here's something you might find interesting. Walland was a regular visitor to the colony. He wrote science fiction. Four years ago, he filled out a report on the lights, one of the first on official record. After that, he apparently went back to the colony every winter. Claimed the lights got him in the mood," she glanced over at Mulder. "To write," she finished quickly in response to his raised eyebrow.

His reply was cut off by the soft "boomp" of the seatbelt reminder. Scully stowed the file back in her portfolio and fastened her seatbelt. Mulder reluctantly pulled his legs out of the aisle and sat up straighter to give himself more leg-room. He closed his eyes, but not before he saw Dana grip the armrests on each side of her seat. Ever since her abduction, she seemed to be very nervous about flying. He tried to ignore the tension that taking-off and landing now provoked in her. His concern always warred with his respect for her privacy; she would talk to him when she was ready. When she was ready, he repeated silently to himself.

The landing was quick and uneventful, and getting his and Dana's bags down from the overhead kept him busy while she pulled herself back together. He offered her his hand and she took it gratefully, extricating herself from the window seat.

They retrieved the rest of their luggage quickly and secured their rental car.

"There are no restaurants at the colony, and I'm hungry," Scully told him once they were on the highway. "Do you want to eat in Reno, or should we wait till we hit the lake?"

"I hear Lake Tahoe is beautiful. Just how hungry are you?"

"I think I can live until we get there."

The drive to the lake was uneventful but gorgeous. The heavy powder snow covered everything--the evergreens that peeked out from under the white blanket and the deep blue of the desert sky added to the winter wonderland quality. In Incline Village, they found a microbrewery with a small restaurant attached. The deck of the restaurant extended out over the water, and after a little coaxing, Mulder managed to convince Scully to take their dinners out onto the deck to eat. It was cold, but definitely worth it.

The sun had just touched the peaks of the western mountains when they finished up their meals. She grabbed her portfolio and was starting to stand up when Mulder touched her arm in a lightly restraining movement. She relaxed back into the chair, and Mulder pulled his chair around next to Scully's so they were both facing the sunset. They sat together in silence, watching the skies shift and undulate.

"There are some colors that exist only in sunsets and Maxfield Parrish paintings," Scully said quietly.

Mulder released the breath which hadn't even been aware he was holding in. "I think you're right, Scully. That was..." He felt a tap on the shoulder. A young woman moved around his chair and sat down on a bench opposite them. She pulled something wrapped in a green and black scarf from her bag. Setting it down on the table in front of them, she quietly spread the cloth open. Nestled inside was a deck of tarot cards, lovingly worn at the corners. She turned to look at them.

"I saw you sitting over here and thought you might..." she began.

"We're really in a bit of a hurry," Mulder replied, rising out of his chair.

This time, Scully reached over and pulled him back down. "We'd like that," she said, extending her hand. "I'm Dana, and this is Mulder."

Confused, Mulder sat back down. "Tabitha," the girl offered, shaking hands with Scully and reaching toward him. "An unfortunate name for someone in my line of work, but what can you do?" He took her hand mutely and glanced over at his partner. The corners of Scully's mouth crinkled up and her eyes were dancing. What the hell was she up to? he wondered.

"Whose cards shall I do first?" she asked. "Or should I do a lovers reading?" she smiled guilelessly at them.

"Oh, but we're not..." he began, but by this time, Scully was laughing openly.

"I'll go first," she said, clearing the tears from her laughing eyes and leaning forward to get a look at the cards.

Tabitha picked up the cards and began to shuffle them in a slow and thorough way. She stopped and fanned out the cards in a long arch. She placed one hand on Scully's shoulder and let the other move slowly over the cards. After two passes over the deck, her hand stopped, and she removed a card from the arch. She placed the card solidly in front of Scully on the table and picked up the rest of the deck. "You're a Pisces, right?" Tabitha asked her.

"Yeah," Scully said, looking confused. "How did you..." she glanced over at Mulder who was leaning forward to see the card.

It was the High Priestess. He knew why the dark-haired fortune-teller had come to that conclusion, but it still puzzled him. The first card to be laid down in any tarot spread was the Significator card--one which reflected the inner-most identity of the person for whom the reading was being done. In Mulder's case, that card was the Fool--a card marking an openness to experience, an unconventionality in his approach to life, an air of the unexpected and unusual. But to choose the High Priestess left Mulder doubting the authenticity of Tabitha's gift.

Tabitha began to deal out the cards....the first she laid across Scully's Significator. The next four were laid to the east, south, west, and north of the two in the middle of the table. She uses a Celtic Cross pattern, Mulder noted to himself. She confirmed this by placing four cards in a line to the right of the cross...moving from south to north. Mulder sucked in a sharp breath. The spread in front of him had shocked him. He had no formal training in tarot, but in his very peculiar line of work, he had acquired some pretty strange kinds of knowledge. A cursory appreciation of tarot interpretation was one of them. He looked up at Tabitha and Scully leaning forward over the cards--he no longer doubted the woman's gift. As she began to read the cards, Mulder felt like a trapped animal--all he wanted to do was run away.

Tabitha began to explain the placement and significance of each card to Scully. Mulder could not hear her voice over the sound of blood pounding in his ears, so he concentrated on the spread itself.

The Queen of Swords lay across the High Priestess. The crossing card was one that showed the projected self of the reading's subject--the image or identity that those around saw when looking at her. The Queen of Swords--an intelligent, perceptive, decisive, and highly skilled woman-- seemed entirely appropriate...he would have chosen it as Scully's Significator, himself. Glancing at the card that lay beneath it, Mulder shook his head; it just couldn't be right.

The card to the east reflected the past, and Mulder winced again when he saw the card. The nine of swords in a reversed position spoke of incredible pain, isolation, agony, and--his guilt stabbed at him again--no help in sight. His pain and horror at his inability to find her, to rescue her when she was abducted, slammed into him, bringing tears to his eyes. He quickly wiped them away. Tabitha's hand had come to rest on the card, and Scully's own hand went white at the knuckles as she listened to Tabitha's reading of the card; Mulder reached out and touched her shoulder, giving her a look of sympathy and invitation. She shook the tension off and leaned toward the cards again.

The southern card represented the more recent past. Mulder skimmed quickly over it. The four of swords indicated a period of recovery and healing--something that he was trying to foster for her...always standing near to support her during one of the flashbacks or panic attacks which plagued her since the abduction.

To the west was a card which foretold strong influences in her future--events or people who would shape her destiny, be with her in at decisive crux in her life. Mulder blinked. The Fool stared back at him; he felt as though he were looking in the mirror. The placement of the card bothered him. Hadn't he already influenced her life tremendously? Placing her in danger, getting her kidnapped, shot at, abducted, beaten. It was more influence than he felt comfortable with. Did the placement mean he was to impact her even further? And in the same negative way? He was confused.

A glance at the card to the north made his tightened gut relax a little. The Ace of Cups in the position of possible outcomes made his heart leap a little. Many people took the Lovers card quite seriously, but as any student of tarot knew, it was the Ace of Cups that promised real love. Was it, he asked himself, a genuine possibility, as the cards assured him it was? Could he and Dana...? He looked over at her. Tabitha was explaining the Fool card to her. Love flooded him as he saw her mouth turn up in a small smile at the pleasure of this odd indulgence of hers. What I wouldn't give, he thought to himself...but then he stopped. There was one thing he wouldn't give, wouldn't risk. He would not give up what they had now for only the possibility of what might be. He would do nothing that might drive Scully away from him.

He returned to the cards. At the bottom of the column to the east of the cross was the another card which reflected Dana's self. This card surprised him. The Eight of Cups reflected a change in the person being read...a change in beliefs and in one's own spiritual nature. Was she undergoing this kind of change? He peered at her, trying to see through her, to get inside. This time Scully felt his eyes on her and glanced over at him. She squirmed uncomfortably for a moment under his gaze...he could be so unnerving sometimes, she thought to herself. She looked at him questioningly, but he turned back toward the cards he had been studying.

He grinned at the next card--one which described the environment within which the subject moved. Here, the Seven of Wands, with its implication of powerful and dangerous forces working against her, struck him as ironic. After all, hadn't this been the essence of their relationship together...the two of them against practically the whole world? Or at least the most dangerous parts of it, he thought wryly.

The next card was one which reflected the hopes or fears of the person being read. The Lovers in this position made him very uncomfortable. It was too easy to read at face value...would she hope for or fear becoming his lover? Could her heart ever race like his did when they touched? Did she ever want to yield to him the way that he longed to yield to her? Get a hold of yourself, Mulder, he thought to himself. That's not what the cards mean. Looking back at the Lovers, it struck him that the real meaning was not more comforting. A decision. Her hopes and fears revolved around a decision facing her...or was it her? Everything else about the spread struck him as being about the both of them, and this card made him wonder. Is it her decision or mine, he asked? Does she sense it? Does she fear it? Does she want it? His head began to swim. What am I going to do, he cried to himself.

Finally he turned to the last card--the Ace of Swords. In this position, it reflected the outcome...the future. A new beginning, it promised. A change. Scully's life was about to be dramatically altered by something, and most of the spread pointed a finger directly at him. He was going to change her life in some way. The problem, he thought to himself, is that the cards never tell you enough. What would he do to change her life? Tell her? Keep silent? And what would the change be? Would it be for the better? Or would he have some horrible (more horrible, he thought cynically to himself) effect on her life?

The cards had answered nothing for him...merely reinforced what he already knew. He had to make a decision that would effect both of them in the most intimate ways, and he had to do it alone. His friend, his partner, was the one person he could not ask, could not solicit for her opinions. He felt lost.

Tabitha and Scully were nearing the end of the spread. Suddenly shock ran through him. What if the cards said the same things to Scully? Damn it! he thought, I will not have some inanimate object expressing my love to her. When and if the time comes, it will be me! My arms around her, my eyes lost in hers, my heart pounding with hers, my voice trembling as I say it! He resisted the urge to throw the table back and send the cards flying. His eyes raced across the cards, stopping on the Fool. She didn't know! Neither did Tabitha. His significator was not one that was often used as such. They would not seeing *him* in the Fool, just the qualities with which he identified. To them, it would merely be seen as a card predicting unusual and unexpected twists and turns in the future. The spread would not reveal itself to them in the same way it had to him.

He looked over at Scully. She and Tabitha were chatting animatedly over the spread. When she glanced his way, he breathed a sign of relief. She did not have the look of a woman who had just received a clumsy declaration of love from a friend and partner. She was natural and relaxed, smiling at him like a guilty child, enjoying this indulgence to the hilt.

"How about you?" Tabitha asked, turning toward him and gathering up her cards.

"Not to be disrespectful of your talent, Tabitha, but we really have to go," he said, placing the cordless phone in his pocket and moving his chair back to stand up.. He was not going to risk revealing himself. Tabitha's talent was all too real; his secret could not remain safe through *two*readings.

"Thanks," he said offering her a couple of twenties. "I don't think I've ever seen her this...uh...open to certain kinds of possibilities." He smirked at Scully, who remained unperturbed by his jibe. Tabitha accepted the money graciously. Scully grabbed her portfolio and headed for the door.

As he stood up, his hip caught the table and sent it sideways, spilling the cards directly into the young woman's lap. One card fluttered down to land face-down on the ground. He stooped down to pick it up. "I think this is yours," he said with a grin, offering her the card. She took it and regarded it for a moment.

She held out the card to him--the Fool. "Actually," she said with a sly smile, "I don't believe it is. I've always used the Moon as my significator. Must be yours..." She gathered the cards together and quickly wrapped them back up in her scarf. He watched her back retreat into the darkness as she descended to the beach.

"Hurry up, Mulder!" Scully called from inside. "We still have to get checked in at the colony."

The image of the High Priestess card flashed before him. Everything else Tabitha had done and said had been right on the money. Could she have been wrong about this? What could it possibly mean? he wondered.

"Sorry," he called back to her. He picked up the table and set it upright again. "I'm right behind you!"

The moments after they both got in the car were tense for no reason which Scully could understand. In fact, the whole day confused her. Something had been bothering Mulder for a while now. But they had both been so wary of each other's pain lately, she felt that confronting him would be a mistake. He had had the decency not to push her about the abduction; she didn't want to push him about whatever was bothering him.

But today had been downright strange. Taking a day off, which is what it looked as though he had planned to do this morning, was *not* Mulder's style. He didn't have much of an outside life--neither do you, Dana Scully, she retorted--but in all the time they'd worked together, he'd *never* taken a vacation--recovery time, yes--but not even a long weekend for himself. When she showed up at his apartment, worried and exasperated, he'd behaved, well, strangely. She smiled to herself. Stranger than usual, anyway. He'd been his own teasing, cynical self...except...what was it? she struggled.

Her mind raced over the whole day, looking for actual physical proof to back up her feelings of uneasiness. He hasn't really made eye-contact with you all day, has he? some part of her realized. That was it! For some reason, he had been avoiding their, well, intimacy. Scully had long ago realized that there was something in the way that they looked at each other when they talked. When they were working on a case, rapid-firing facts back and forth, it was always while looking at each other, locked together in their intellectual struggle...and then it would happen. They would suddenly see (in each other's eyes? through each other's eyes?) the truth, the answer they were searching for. Mulder and she had always shared more eye-contact with each other than anybody else would feel comfortable with.

It was part of their relationship which she really treasured. There were many things that she never had to find the words to tell him...he just seems to know, she thought. And that was why this disturbed her. If he had been trying to avoid looking at her all day, chances were good he was trying to cover up something--to keep something from me, she thought with frustration. What the hell is it?

She knew about his guilt and fear over losing her--first to the dissolution of their team and then in her abduction. This could be a flare-up of that, but it didn't make sense to her. Why get this upset about it suddenly? She tried to think back over the last few days, trying to discover something she might have said or done to upset him; she could remember nothing. Damn it! she thought. He *would* have to be the one with the psychological training. It was frustrating, at times, to be able to heal only the outside of a person. She decided to try to distract him. Maybe if she could get his mind on the case, she be able to get him to really talk to her.

"They've found," she said, reopening her file "all but one of the bodies. They were sent down to Reno for autopsies. Nothing really surprising in the cause of death..."


"Yeah, except that four of the bodies had suffered burns, slight ones, on the hands and faces. And there was evidence that they survived out there for far longer than they should have. The one really odd thing..." she looked over at him. He had a grin on his face as he waited for her to say it. "According to the anaylsis of their stomach contents, they had all eaten protein...pine nuts and meat, rabbit, maybe...just a few hours before they died."

"Why is that odd?"

"Well, one of the men had broken both legs...skiing probably."

"How do you catch a rabbit with broken legs?" he asked.

"Sounds like a riddle..."

"Aren't they all?" he said, smiling at her.

"There's more though." She looked back down at the file. "The ski run that he disappeared off of is three and a half miles away from where they found this body. If he did take a header while skiing and broke both of his legs..."

"Then how did he manage to catch a rabbit *and* go three miles over six foot deep snow?" he finished for her.

"Good question," she said, taking a slightly teasing tone with him.

"Too bad this wasn't 'Final Jeopardy,'" he said, grinning at her, "I could have won a bundle."

They registered at the front desk and got their cabin number, keys, and directions. "Everything that you requested is there," the clerk informed Scully.

"What, don't tell me. You had an entire laboratory set up, just in case," he said.

"You'll see, " she promised.

They arrived at the cabin and quickly unloaded the car. Mulder dropeed his bags inside the front door and went back to close up the car while Scully took her stuff right into the bedroom. When he returned, she was moving about the kitchen, checking cabinets and drawers for supplies. He caught a glimpse inside the refridgerator when she opened; it contained enough food for a month. Grabbing his bags, he headed into the other room. He came back out a moment later, still clutching his bags and looking around the room in confusion. Scully grinned but quickly turned her back to him to hide it.

"Uh, Scully?"

"Yes?" she said innocently, trying to keep the amusement out of her voice. "What is it now, Mulder?"

"Where's the other room?"

"What other room?"

"MY room!" he said with exasperation.

She turned to face him, her hands on her hips. "Well, there is no other room," she told him. She was just barely keeping her laughter under control. "So..."

"Got it," he interrupted her. "The couch it is," he concluded. He started to set his bags down.

"Mulder, how long, exactly, is that couch?"

"I don't know. Five feet? Maybe five and a half?"

"And how long, exactly, are you?"

"Ah, Scully, I didn't know you cared," he said, smirking at her.

She blushed automatically but ignored the obvious innuendo. "You are over six feet tall. That couch is simpy not big enough for you."

"I've slept on smaller," he began.

"But there's no reason to sleep on the couch," she finished. "Unless my math skills have completely failed me, there are *two* beds in the bedroom. I get one, and you get one. Or have you suddenly decided you're sick of the sight of me, and *cannot* share a room with me?"

"I don't know, Scully," he said. "There's no TV in there and you know how hard it is for me to go to sleep without one. Too many nights in motel rooms. It's ruined my sleeping habits forever."

"Uh-huh. And tell me Special Agent Mulder, have you seen a TV since you entered the premises?"

He looked around wildly. She was right; there was no TV. Damn it! he thought. There went that excuse. "Okay, I give up. But chances are you'll kick me right back out here when you hear how I snore." He walked back into the bedroom and began to unpack a bit.

Damn it! he thought again. I'm trying to get my hormones under control and Scully's got us shacking up together. Resignedly, he finished his unpacking. Scully probably wears long flannel nightgowns to bed, he comforted himself.

Once he finished, he headed out to the kitchen where Scully was putting a teakettle on to boil. The kitchen, he noted, was well stocked--plenty of food and other necessary supplies. It was odd, Scully putting them up here in this cabin. But he trusted her judgement implicitly. Besides, it would be a good base of operations; they were as close to the sites of the disappearances as they could get and would have the time and ability to investigate this thing quietly. As much as Mulder wanted the truth, he knew that sending a community into a hysterical tailspin was not the wisest choice.

Scully disappeared into the bedroom, and he heard the bathroom door close. He glanced at his watch. It was nearly one o'clock in the Eastern Time Zone, and he was getting a little tired. Sneaking into the bedroom and retrieving his sweats and T-shirt, he checked the bathroom door. It closed securely, and he could hear water running on the other side. He quickly returned to the living room and shucked his clothes off as fast as he could, pulling on his sweats and breathing a sigh of relief when he saw the door still closed. He grabbed a book from out of his suitcase and plopped down in a chair to reconsider Jung.

He was so involved in the book that he did not hear the door open. Scully hurried out of the bedroom and headed for the kitchen.

"Would you like coffee or tea?" she asked.

"Black tea, if there is any...can't stand the herbal stuff," he answered without looking up.

Scully poured the water and stood at the counter, absentmindly dunking the tea bags in and out of the hot water in their mugs. She looked over at him. He looks so relaxed, she thought. Her general affection for him bubbled up. His short, tousled hair, his old sweats and t-shirt, his legs thrown over the arm of the chair. He looked so much younger and happier than he had in a long while. Maybe whatever was bothering him has stopped, she thought.

"Cream or sugar?" she asked.

"Both," he said.

She quickly finished the tea and moved into the living room. She looked over his shoulder at the book he was reading. Good stuff. Moving around toward the couch opposite him, she offered him the mug. "Here you go."

Mulder looked up at the proffered tea. What he saw on the other side of the cup made him drop his eyes quickly to the book again. It didn't do any good however. The image of Scully still played before his eyes. She was wearing a set of royal blue silk pajamas with short sleeves and boxer-type shorts. Her robe--gold, green, and blue--was wrapped chastely about her. Her hair was brushed out and smooth and her makeup was gone. This lack did nothing to diminish the beauty of her eyes, but the color of her lips had caught his attention. They were a light pink/peach color, like the inside of a seashell. He had seen her without her makeup before, but always when something was horribly wrong with her--in her hospital bed after the abduction. These natural, heathly colors were a lovely variation on the woman.

Scully handed him the tea. She sat down and leaned forward, her elbows on her knees and her mug cupped in her hands. She watched him, wondering if she should broach the subject with him."What?" he said, without looking up.

"Uh, oh..." she stammered, surprised by his inquiry. Pull yourself together, Dana, she told herself. "I was just..."

He put his book down and pulled his legs off of the chair. He put the mug down on the table and sat back, looking intently at her. "You just what?" he said quietly.

This was already difficult, she thought. But that quiet, serious tone of his was making it harder. "I was just wondering if something was wrong," she finished lamely.

"Is there something wrong?" he asked. Stupid, he thought, I was stupid to think could hide anything from her.

She steeled herself. "You've been acting a little oddly today, and I just wanted to know why. Have I said something..."

"No!" he told her. "It's not you, Scully, it's me." He paused, trying to decide what it was safe to tell her. "I've just been thinking..."

It sounded like an opening; she jumped on it. "What?"

"Sometimes, I feel like our...uh...partnership...I've never told you what it means to me..." he started.

"You don't have to..."

"Yes, Scully, I do. You see, when they took you away from me, first the Cancer Man and then the...."

"Go on."

"Scully, I haven't been close to anyone in a very long time. I realize that most of it is my fault, but it's a lot easier to go without friends than to risk losing them when you start talking about aliens and man-sized flukes. I do," he said, looking up at her, "realize exactly how crazy I sound sometimes." Their eyes locked and she smiled. "You are the first person that I've been able to share any real part of myself with since...well, longer ago than I care to remember."

Scully say very still, never taking her eyes off him.

"When they took you, my world fell apart. In one stroke, they took everything that mattered to me--my best friend, my partner, my..." his voice trailed off.

"Your reason for going on?" she concluded.

"Yes," he said, gratefully. He looked up at her. She still looked calm and beautiful. "How...?"

"How did I know? Come on, Mulder, you're a smart man. Do you think that this is still just your quest...the X-files, I mean? I have seen enough in the last two years to make it clear to me that there's a lot out there that I don't understand. I don't like not understanding...it's the scientist in me. While we each have different ways of looking at all of this, we are still looking for these things together. You want to believe...so do I, just in different ways. But I think that...well...we *need* each other. If we're going to find the truth, I think it's going to have to be together...we need each other to keep a straight and clear view of things. We both have a tendancy to..."

"To ignore what we don't expect to see?" he asked with a smile.

"Stop interrupting me," she growled lightly at him. "Mulder, when I got your message that night...when you had run off without me, I realized that without you, I couldn't go on. If you were gone, there was just no reason...no way...for me to continue looking for the answers *we* wanted." She set her coffee cup down on the table and stood up. His eyes were, once again, focussed on the floor in front of him. She moved to the spot he was looking at and crouched down to intersect with his eyes.

"I realized that night how much you meant to me."

His eyes dropped again, avoiding her gaze. She grabbed his rough chin and pulled his head up until he was looking at her again. "It's okay for us to care about each other," she said clearly. "And I do. You are the most important person in my life, and I was stupid for waiting until you had run away to realize it. And I guess I was even more stupid to wait until now to tell you. I'm sorry, Mulder." Her head dropped until her forehead came to rest on his rough chin.

He held very still, savoring the touch of her. It was not everything that he wanted, everything he needed, but it was a start. "Scully...Dana....I'm sorry, too. I should have told you. You mean so much to me, I don't even have the words to express it." He kissed her lightly on the forehead. "You have to forgive me if I'm not good at this...it's been a long time since I've cared about anybody." There were tears in his eyes.

She shifted a bit and looked up at him. Her eyes were full too. They were so close...he wanted desperately to hold her, to kiss away her tears. No, he thought. Don't push. She's given you more tonight than you could really have hoped for. "Thank you," he said, very quietly.

There was a pause and then he broke it. Reaching down, he hooked an arm under her legs and wrapped the other around her back. Standing up quickly, he lifted her with ease--for someone so beautifully rounded, she's so light, he thought--and tossed her up a little. When her full weight came back down, she was nestled comfortably in his arms. Without a hint of self-consciousness, she wrapped her arms around his neck, looking a little surprised.

"I don't know about you, but I was exhausted when we got here and this completely drained me." She grinned in agreement. He carried her into the bedroom and placed her lightly on her bed. Her hand still lay on his shoulder. He grabbed it and gave it a gentle squeeze. Then quick as lightening, he was up and crossing the room to his own bed. He sat down on the edge of the bed and took his shoes off. She slid her robe off and left it in a heap on the floor. Then she settled back into the pillows and turned off the lamp. Mulder took off his shirt and tossed it lightly onto his suitcase, then got in the bed. Scully's eyes were still open, looking blankly at the ceiling.

He closed his own eyes and burrowed into the bed a little. After a few more moments, he risked a glance her way. In the moonlight, he could see that her eyes had closed and she had turned on her side, facing toward him. Quietly, he rolled to face her and propped himself up on one elbow. She remained still. He held himself in that position, watching her fall asleep. It was more than an hour before he was willing to give up the sight of her--her beautiful face, lovely hair, and ivory neck framed so strikingly by the white of the sheets. Exhaustion finally won, and he drifted off to sleep. The image of her, however, did not leave him for an instant...

The sound of the door closing in the other room woke her up. She lay very still and savored the smell coming from the kitchen--french toast and coffee. She listened to the sounds of Mulder clanking around in the kitchen for a moment, then rolled quietly out of bed. Mulder? Cooking? This I gotta see, she thought. The floor was cold against her bare feet but they afforded her the silence she wanted. Quietly she padded over to the bedroom door and looked around the door jamb into the kitchen.

Mulder stood in front of the stove, wearing his sweat pants and his top-siders, poking at the contents of a skillet. Not noticing her standing in the doorway, he moved about the kitchen--checking the coffee, finding a couple of plates, searching for syrup. She watched him in a detached way--without his shirt and completely unconscious of his movements, Mulder was very attractive, she thought. Wonder why I had never noticed it before. He served up the french toast, grabbed both coffee cups, and turned around to put everything on the table. Seeing her standing in the doorway, he smiled. Feeling like a guilty child, Scully smiled back and retreated into the bedroom to grab her robe.

Pulling on the robe, she returned and sat down at the table. "Since when can you cook, Mulder?" she said, unable to wipe the smile off her face. She picked up a fork and poked at the food experimentally. "Is it safe?"

"A lot safer than most of the stuff we eat in all those fast-food restaurants I force us to go to," he rejoined, grabbing the syrup off the counter. "All the same, you might need some of this." She took the syrup and settled down to the meal.

Something has changed, she thought to herself. This time, she did not need to look far for proof. Every time Mulder looked up at her from his breakfast, he smiled at her. Not a smirk, not a grin...an honest-to-god smile. Whatever had been there before--the clouds gathered constantly on his brow--was gone. Not completely, but it wasn't quite the thunderstorm that had been brewing there yesterday. He was happy, happier than she had ever seen him.

"So who was at the door?" Scully managed to say between bites of the surprisingly good french toast.

"Brady," he said. "I gather he owns both the ski resort and the colony." She nodded at him. "He came to tell us that he's closing both, until this case is solved. Feels that disappearing guests might not be the kind of draw he's looking for, I guess. He wanted to assure us that he was evacuating the mountain today, so hopefully we won't lose anyone else."

"Awfully responsible of him...he'll lose a lot of money, especially if this thing ends up as 'solved' as some of our other cases."

"Yeah," Mulder said, using the last bite of toast to sop up the syrup on his plate. "Seemed like a good man." He got up and put his plate in the sink, turning on the water to wash up.

"I'll do that, Mulder," she told him. "You better grab a shower...if I go first, I might not leave you any hot water."

"Who said I was going to leave *you* any?" Mulder responded with his grin and headed for the bathroom.

Mulder showered quickly. Standing in front of the mirror, he took a look at himself. Certainly better than yesterday, he thought. He smiled again.Last night had been, well, wonderful. It had been a relief to be able to tell her, if not all of what he felt, at least a bit of it. When he had woken up this morning, fresh from a disturbingly intimate dream of her, he had felt...alive. He jumped out of bed, barely able to contain himself, eager to make breakfast, start a fire in the fireplace, anything that might please her. His response this morning, he reflected dispassionately, was that of a lover after a long and satisfying night--not that of a friend who had admitted a platonic affection for his partner. He grinned at himself around the toothbrush in his mouth. All things come, he thought... Yeah, but you hate waiting, a voice inside reminded him.

The sheriff picked them up a half hour later and drove them to them to where the first body had been found. Not only had each of the bodies turned up miles from the areas where they had originally disappeared, but there was no evidence to suggest how they had gotten there. Snow had covered any possible tracks. Scully combed each site thoroughly--it had been weeks but one never knew. The sheriff's department had done an excellent job she noted to herself; she found nothing new, and the reports filed by the investigating officers had been thorough and complete. At dinnertime, they returned to the cabin.

Mulder ducked into the kitchen to make Scully and Sheriff Chandler coffee. In their time together on the X-files, he had found it effective to let Scully "loosen up" anyone he was going to ask what he knew were "spooky" questions. Sure enough, they were talking seriously but amiably about the case when he returned.

"Most of the people around here are really scared," he was saying. "When you live up in these mountains, losing people is something you just have to accept. People do stupid things, storms sweep in without warning. You just can't control Mother Nature. But losing one person every two or three winters is one thing...we've lost six people here in the last two months. This is more than Mother Nature at work."

Mulder jumped on this. "What is it then?"

"Well, I suspected that we might have a couple of crackpots up here...like those two in Montana a few years ago...kidnapping people for sport or something. But here's been no evidence of foul play. And I have personally searched every cabin on both sides of this mountain--nothing. If the weather was warmer, I'd consider the idea that any kidnappers might be camping. But we've been pounded by storm after storm. Anybody not smart enough to be indoors would freeze solid."

"Wallard reported some strange phenomenon in this area a few years ago," Mulder pressed. "Do you think there's any connection?"

"That 'phenomenon,' as you call it, is nothing but a light show--I don't see how the two *could* be related."

"You've seen it?" Scully asked, leaning forward to grab her notebook.

"Sure, everybody around here has. It happens about one night out of three."

"Really?" breathed Mulder quietly. "What does it look like?"

"I guess the best way of describing it is like fireworks. The lights are all different colors, not bright colors like you get on the Fourth, but really light colors. Kinda pale. And instead of going straight up and exploding, they sorta...uh..."

"Yes?" Scully and Mulder said in one voice.

"Well, they just float around. There will be two or three, real small, just flying zig-zag around the peak of the mountain. Sometimes they break apart and fly back together. Then they'll just stop and float slowly to the ground."

"Anything else you can tell us?" he said.

"You know, we were talking about this the other day at the ranger station. Since they started a few years ago, there have been more of them, and they happen more often. I don't know what it means or what's causing them...Wallard was pretty interested in them, though. He might have taken some notes on them. You'll have to move fast though. Since word of his death got out, there have been quite a few people who have tried to collect his personal belongings 'for the family.'" He snorted. "Buncha damned thieves trying to get their hands on his last book, I'd guess. But someone official will probably claim them pretty soon. Why don't you come down to the office tomorrow to take a look? It'd better be early 'cause there's a storm heading in in the afternoon."

"Any reason to be concerned?" Scully asked.

"Nah, it's not Donner-party serious. I don't think anyone will have to resort to eating anyone else."

"Don't even say it," Scully said quickly to Mulder. He looked innocently at her and shrugged his shoulders, grinning a little.

"Gotta keep you on your toes," he said mischievously.

Scully decided not to risk Mulder's cooking twice in the same day and went to work on Chicken Parmesan. Mulder sat at the table with maps of the area, comparing the sites.

"The problem is, we don't know exactly *where* they each disappeared--no witnesses." Mulder rubbed his head in frustration. "I thought we might try looking at their last known locations tomorrow. Maybe we'll pick up something that Chandler's men missed."

"Sounds reasonable," Scully agreed. "Better get that stuff off the table...here comes dinner."

Mulder quickly cleared the table and rummaged around in the cupboards while Scully served up the chicken.

"Ah, hah!" Mulder's head popped up from behind a cupboard door, grinning from ear to ear. In his hand was a bottle of red wine. He grabbed a couple of wineglasses from over the breakfast bar. He poured them each a glass and sat down at the table.

"I never would have thought wine was your style, Mulder," Scully remarked lightly.

"There's a lot you don't know about me," he said intensely.

"And here I thought I had you all figured out." She smiled."I have a few secrets yet," he said quietly. "A man's gotta have some mystery, right? It's what keeps the women flocking about me." They both laughed.

"Right, Mulder. I can hear them beating down the door as we speak."

"Tonight, I only have eyes for you," he said, keeping up their light banter. He raised his glass. "To the most beautiful partner I've ever had."

"What? Krychek wasn't beautiful?"

"He could never compare to you in blue silk pjs."

"And you know this for a fact? We gotta talk, Mulder," she grinned impishly at him.

"Yeah, we should do that," he said lowly. There was a pause. "Do you ever think about it, Scully?"

"Did I miss something? What are we talking about?"

"Dating...love...marriage...kids...house in the suburbs...you know, *real* life." He heard himself speaking from a distance, wondering what the hell possessed him and how he could stop it.

Her eyes clouded over. "Yes, I do."

"And....?" he probed.

"Look, Mulder, can you see me like that? Two kids, hubby in civil service, little white house, a dog, and PTA meetings? Not really my style..." she looked up at him with a challenge in her eyes, "...wouldn't you say?"

"I don't know...you might get tired of all this. Granted, our present surroundings aren't bad, but stakeouts and burgers aren't particularly fulfilling."

"Do you think that I would find that kind of life more fulfilling?" She gazed steadily at him.

"I don't know...maybe with the right person..." he picked up his class and watched the wine in it move in gentle circles.

"Look, Mulder, I don't understand. What is this all about?"He looked up at her. Her eyes were flames. He hesitated, and then the words poured out of him. "I know it's silly, especially after all the close calls we've had in the past. But has it ever occurred to you that even if Skinner, Cancer Man, aliens, flukes, and mutants haven't been able to tear us part, there's one thing that might?"


"Love," he said miserably. "If you or I were to fall in love with someone, what would that do to us? We both said it last night. The X-files belong to both of us--without the other, what would happen? How could I continue to search without you? Isn't it obvious? I don't want to lose you."

"Nothing says that I will fall in love with someone."

"Come on, Scully. You can't really believe that. It's the nature of the human animal...we tend to pair up."

"Okay, I guess the thought had crossed my mind--especially after you told me what happened in California."

"That wasn't love...I didn't love her," he said quickly. "I thought I had lost you...I needed..."

"I know." He looked up at her. She *did* know.

She reached out and took his hand. "What makes you think that if I fell in love, you would lose me? Does love mean you have to give up everything else in life?"

"Dana," he said softly, "are you saying that if you loved someone, you could give only part of yourself to him? If you loved a man, wouldn't you want to give him everything?" He watched her closely, his heart pounding.

"I don't know," she told him, trying to hide the tremor in her voice. "It's been a very long time since..." she lost her voice.

"Would you?" he questioned her intensely. "Would you give him everything?"

Her head came up, and he could see the turmoil in her eyes. "Not if it meant losing you, Mulder," she finally said, her eyes swimming with tears.

"God, I'm sorry," he groaned. "I never meant to make you cry." He went over her side of the table and crouched down next to her. "I wasn't thinking. It was stupid of me to put you through this."

She looked down at him, wiping the tears from the corner of her eyes. "And you, Mulder? What about you?" She managed to smile. "What's going to happen when some "hot babe" snatches you up as her very own?"

He locked eyes with her. "That's not likely to happen," irony dripped off his words. "But even if. I could never give all of myself to some woman," he stated clearly.

"Somehow, that just doesn't strike me as true, Mulder. I always thought that if you did really love someone, you would give her everything. You don't strike me as the type to hold back."

I'm not, he thought to himself. I've already given everything...you just don't know it. "Scully, I'd have to hold something back."


"Because there is a part of me that will never belong to anyone but you," he said slowly. This time the pause lasted for what seemed like days. Unable to stand it any longer, he stood up quickly and grabbed the plate from in front of her. "My turn doing the dishes," he said.

He quickly cleared the table, avoiding looking at her. You said too damned much, he cursed himself. You've ruined it. He filled the sink and buried his hands in the water. He tried to focus on the dishes, but he couldn't. He waited for some kind of response from her.

Finally, he heard her chair move and her feet on the floor, moving towards him. She stopped behind him, and he tensed. He suddenly felt her hands slide forward and wrap around his waist. She hugged him tightly for a moment, and he leaned back into her, enjoying her touch. She released him and moved along side of him to dry the dishes.

"Come on, Mulder. Let's finish these things so I can clobber up at chess." She grinned up at him.

"Don't bet on it!" was his swift rejoinder.

The game had been intense and difficult--having never played chess with Mulder, Scully was surprised at just how good he was. She had been a member of the chess club in high-school and had won several tournaments in college. She loved the game, but it was hard to find opponents worth the time lately. That Mulder could match her move for move had delighted her; it never occurred to her that someone as...well...haphazard as Mulder could compete with her in such a meticulous game.

Not to belittle Mulder's playing, her mind had not, near the end, been on the game. The events of the last two days distracted her. Her final rally in the last four moves had not been enough. Mulder had check-mated her, and she conceded graciously.

He went to bed early while she stayed up reading. Her clipping service had delivered a packet of articles on a variety of medical procedures and breakthroughs before she left yesterday. She tried to stay on top of things professionally but considering her career choice, it wasn't easy. This case had allowed for a lot more free time than usual, and she wanted to take advantage of it. But she gave up after a brief struggle; she was still too distracted. Sighing, she put the clippings aside and went into the bedroom to change into her pajamas.

When she came out, a quick look assured her that Mulder was sound asleep. She got into her bed and settled down to sleep. After a few minutes of tossing and turning, Scully regretted the fact that these cabins had no TV--if nothing else, an infomercial was always guaranteed to put her sleep.

She looked over at Mulder. Her thrashing about had not effected her partner. He lay peacefully on his stomach, clutching a pillow under his head. She pulled herself up to a sitting position and turned to face him. In sleep, Mulder's face relaxed into that of a little boy--the one he had been before Samantha had disappeared. His childhood had stopped at that moment, she knew.Sometimes it was difficult to remember, between all his jokes and teasing, that he was so unhappy, so tortured. It was always there, though, deep in his eyes. There had been times in the last two years when she had feared for his sanity; her sister had said that her disappearance had driven him right to the edge--she did not doubt it. His relief, unuttered but tangible, at her return had spoken volumes. She questioned at times whether their quest for the truth helped to heal him or merely kept the wound open--it was just so hard to tell with him.

Which was why their time in the cabin puzzled her so much. In their time together, the affection they felt for each other had, for the most part, been unspoken--just understood in the way they dealt with each other. But now, twice in thirty-six hours, they had expressed their feelings for each other--things that had remained unsaid for months, possibly years. Why? What was going on?

In a way, it was good to tell him how she felt, to leave it there openly in front of him, to say all the things that she had not trusted her voice to say when he woke up in the hospital bed that day. It seemed to be cathartic for him as well. He had smiled more, laughed more with her in two days than in the last three years.

A movement at the window caught her eye, and she bolted to the floor between the beds. If someone was moving around out there, she didn't want him to know she was awake. She watched the window. This time, the motion at the window was clear--and it reminded her of something. She moved slowly across the bedroom floor toward Mulder, never taking her eyes off the window. When her back connected with his bed, she turned around and shook him gently.

His eyes opened immediately and slowly brought her into focus. She was kneeling at the side of the bed, and her breathing was short and ragged. "If you were cold, Scully..." he began in his normal teasing way, his voice husky with sleep. He saw the flash across the window over her shoulder and in an instant he was out of the bed and on the floor next to her. Motioning to her, he grabbed his gun off the nightstand, and they circled the room, moving towards the window from opposite sides. The next flash made the connection for her--it looked like headlights from a distant car moving across the window.

They each reached the window at the same time and cautiously moved the curtains aside to look. Nothing. The white snow lay undisturbed in all directions in the clearing in which the cabin sat. "Headlights?" Scully asked in a nearly silent voice. Mulder shook his head. "No road," he mouthed at her. They looked out again, trying to catch sight of the movement again. A change in the light made them look toward the night sky. High above the trees, an orange light moved erratically. They both gasped and fell to the floor to get a better look. At that moment, the light began to fall quickly toward them. With alarming speed, it plummeted down into the clearing. Their eyes remained locked on it as it came down. It fell until it was on a level with their eyes. There it stopped and held for an instant before swirling around through the clearing--around and up and over the little cabin.

Without a word, they both bolted toward opposite sides of the room, ravaging through suitcases for clothes. Quickly, they stripped down and began to pile clothes on. Each grabbed their hiking boots and pulled them on along with their jackets. Scully was slightly behind Mulder in the race to the door because she had to grab her gun. When she got there, Mulder was cautiously opening the door and taking a look out. The orange fireball continued to zig-zag its way around the cabin. Mulder moved silently out the door, Scully at his heels. As they both stepped out into the moonlight, the orange light slowed and came to a lightly bobbling halt in front of them. Scully gasped as a second blue fireball came winging its way into the clearing to stop next to the orange one in front of them.

They remained transfixed for a moment, unable to take their eyes off of the two visitors. The fireballs, small enough for Scully to hold in her hands, began to swirl around each other, their colors mixing in a hypnotizing pattern. Mulder took a step toward them and the two lights retreated a few feet into the clearing. He took a second step and the fireballs moved away again. This time Scully moved forward, her hand outstretched. The third step they took together, mutely reaching toward the lights that lay just out of reach. A inhuman whoop resounded through the clearing, breaking their focus. The lights suddenly took off, moving away at an incredible speed away from Scully and Mulder. A sound to their right, up the hill toward the tree line had them both moving, struggling up the hill and into the trees.

Whatever it was was gone before they reached the top; they stood at the crest of the hill, breathing heavily and listening to the darkness of the forest around them.

Scully waited to catch her breath and then plowed back down the hill. Mulder scrambled after her. She went back into the cabin and opened the closet door. The skis inside were much taller than her and unwieldy. She struggled with them for a moment and then turned back to Mulder.

"Would you like to help?" she asked in an exasperated tone.

"No," he responded. "Leave the skis in there. You don't need them."


"But, nothing, Scully. If you think I'm going to let you go out there on skis, at night, you'd better think again. What could we possibly accomplish?"

"We can follow.."

"Follow something that moves that fast, that obviously knows the mountain better than we do, at night? It's asking for trouble. Whatever it was, it's gone now. If it left tracks, they will be there in the morning--there's no snow forecast for tonight. We'll go look first thing in the morning, I promise."

Scully slumped a little. "All right, Mulder." She closed the closet and came to sit next to him on the couch. She knew he was right, but her frustration bit at her. "So what now? More chess?"

"Why don't you try to get some sleep, Scully?"

"Sleep? After that? I am *not* going back in that bedroom alone--and since one of us should really stay awake in case whatever it was comes back, I don't think sleep is an option."

"Look, we both have a lot to do tomorrow. If both of us don't get a little sleep tonight, we're going to be in real trouble." Mulder stood up and went into the kitchen, yawning. He returned with a glass of milk which he offered her. "Drink this and let's see what we can do to get you to go to sleep."

She took the milk and drained the glass. Mulder is only logical at the most aggravating moments, she thought to herself. He sat down next to her and turned to rest his back against the arm of the couch. He moved one of his legs around behind Scully on the couch and pulled her toward him until he had easy access to her back. Then his fingers went to work on her neck, massaging the tension out of her. She relaxed against him, and he reached between them to get to her shoulder blades. With every movement of his fingers, she relaxed a little more. A few minutes more and her head dropped back onto his shoulder. He stopped massaging her and leaned forward to look at her eyes--they were closed. She moved a little to one side, and he wrapped an arm around her to hold her in place so she wouldn't slide onto the floor. With the other arm, he grabbed the lap blanket off the back of the couch and draped it across both of them.

Now he was effectively trapped. He didn't want to move for fear of waking her--not the only reason, he noted wryly to himself. Luckily, the Jung he had been reading yesterday still lay on the coffee table. He grabbed it and opened it, trying to ignore the armful of woman in front of him. After a little struggle, he managed to lose himself in the book.

Several hours later, he decided that his turn at watch was over. Putting the book down and moving his legs to hold her in place, he stretched and yawned. He did not want to wake her up. He gathered her back up in his arms and watched her face as she slept. This is becoming a regular hobby, he thought to himself. He was fascinated by her face in sleep. It was as though she were a different person entirely when she slept. During the day, her face was always so animated...her eyes, her mouth never stopped moving. He loved every little expression he had seen, sometimes despite what she was saying or doing--which was so often in conflict to him. Her ability to see differently, to understand deeply--he treasured these in her.

But in sleep, with her face still, she struck him as a delicate, haunting portrait--one by Reynolds or Titian. It amazed him that these two distinct elements existed in this one woman.

He argued with himself over waking her. All he wanted to do was to fall asleep himself, holding her against him. But he knew that Scully would have his guts for garters if he did. Not because she would react badly to waking up in that situation--her actions in the last two days had dissolved the last shreds of the unspoken prohibition against touching that had existed between them for so long. No, it was the unprofessionalism of falling asleep at his post that would anger her. The danger, if there had been any to begin with, was well passed, he thought. But convincing Scully of that was another matter. He reconciled himself to having to wake her.


"Mulder?" she responded sleepily, without opening her eyes.

"Change of the guard," he told her. "My turn to catch a few."

Her eyes opened, but she did not move. He waited while she blinked herself to consciousness and waited for her usual recoil from him. It never came. Instead, she looked over at the clock and then up at him.

"You let me sleep too long," she complained. "It's only three hours until sunrise."

"S'okay. I already got about an hour or so before the lights woke us. I'll be fine," he assured her. She sat up, and he stretched again. "Wake me up just before sunrise." He headed for the bedroom.

"Wait," she said sharply. "I'd prefer not to have us in separate rooms..." she began.

"Care to join me?" he leered slightly at her, too tired to do it really effectively. He saw real concern in her face and stopped. "Hold on a minute." He disappeared into the bedroom and re-emerged carrying a wad of bedclothes. With these, he made himself a bed in front of the fireplace and stretched out on it. "Better?" he asked.

"Better," she said with a grin. She picked up the articles she had been working on earlier and attacked them with renewed vigor. When she looked up five minutes later, he was sound asleep, wrapped in a tangle of sheets and blankets.

Scully, freshly showered and warmly dressed, had some eggs and coffee ready when she woke him up a few hours later. They scarfed down the food, and Mulder dressed quickly. The first order of business was to explore the crest of the hill they had climbed last night. It was easier in the daylight, and Scully silently blessed Mulder's cooler head last night--they had been lucky neither of them were injured in their first scramble up the hill.

They had made a real mess of things last night. There were footprints, but some of them had been obscured by their own handiwork. Nevertheless, they did find clean prints both approaching and then retreating from the edge of the cliff.

"Whoever was here, was here for a while," Scully said.

"Watching us?"

"That would be my guess." She shivered inwardly at the thought.

"Come look at these," Mulder beckoned her to the footprints about thirty feet away from the cliff. "The track leading toward the cabin is deep. The one running away is so much lighter...just barely there. What do you make of that?"

Scully crouched down to examine the prints--Mulder was right. "If our suspect came up slowly, he would sink deeper into the snow than he would when he was running away."

"But look at how shallow these are," he said, gesturing to the second set. "He must have weighed about fifty pounds soaking wet to make these, even if he was running."

"Hmmmm," she responded in the back of her throat. She examined one of the shallow prints closely. "Mulder," she said, looking up at him, "whoever made these prints wasn't wearing *shoes*."


"You heard me. He wasn't exactly barefoot either...rough moccasins, I'd say."

"He must be missing all his toes, then. Wouldn't any time at all in moccasins in this snow lead to severe frostbite?"

"Yeah. Maybe he didn't have far to go though." They locked glances and pulled out their guns simultaneously. Following the footprints, they trudged heavily through the snow. The footprints went on and on. After a mile, they both stopped to rest, breathing loudly.

"Mulder, look at this." Scully was crouched near a fallen tree. He walked around behind her and saw the blue cloth, half buried in the snow. She began to dig, and he moved to help her, nearly tripping over a shoe similarly buried in the snow. He bent down to examine it. They both gasped at the same time and backed away from the body that lay, half-excavated, in front of them.

"Todd Weston?" Mulder asked. She nodded mutely. "Let's get back and get a team up here." She took his offered hand and stood up. Sheriff Chandler was approaching from the direction of the cabin.

"I think we found the sixth victim," Scully began. Chandler looked at the body and radioed for his team.

"I came up to the cabin to find you. Followed your tracks up here. Damn it! Thought maybe that you were just going for a walk...shoulda known better. He," Chandler paused, "he was a friend of the family."

"I'm sorry," Scully moved to comfort the man , but he waved her off.

"I came up here 'cause I got bad news. Last night, a young woman, Stacy Pollus, disappeared off the mountain...if we don't find her before ten o'clock tonight, she won't survive the night--the storm is moving in and without shelter, she'll end up just like him."

Scully retrieved some of her equipment from the cabin and rushed back to the site. As much faith as she had in the sheriff's department, she still was not about to pass up the opportunity to examine and document one of the sites first-hand. She was soon joined by several officers, and they set about extricating and examining the body.

Knowing things were in Scully's capable hands, Mulder accompanied the sheriff back to the station. "Were there any reports of the lights last night?"" Mulder asked.

"We get those things so often, no one thinks to report it any more," Chandler said. "I can ask around though. You still think there is some kind of connection?"

"I'm not willing to dismiss it yet."

"Most of us have always regarded them as harmless, even entertaining sometimes. Me and the kids used to go up on the roof to watch them during the summer. It was like having some sort of laser show going on up on the mountain."

"Only closer," Mulder pointed out.

"What do you mean?"

Mulder described the encounter that he and Scully had had with the miniature fireballs the night before.

Chandler was quiet a moment. "Never heard of them coming that close..." He shifted uncomfortably on his side of the truck's bench. "In fact, I never thought they'd be that small. They've always seemed so, I don't know...awesome?"

They arrived at the station, and Mulder climbed out of the truck. "They were," he grinned.

It took them quite a while to find the journals among Wallard's effects. But what Mulder found was astounding.

"He had more than a passing interest in these things," Mulder said, looking up at the sheriff. "These notebooks represent three years worth of study on the lights...where and when they appeared, duration, patterns, everything. Did anyone know he was working on this?"

"He never mentioned it to me. I don't remember him talking about them at all, after that first year."

"Can I take this for now?"

"Sure." A crackle came from the radio at sheriff's hip. "'Scuse me a minute." Mulder nodded at him and returned to the file. "Come in, Brad..."

"Nothing!" Chandler was fuming. "Six hours and we can't find anything!" Mulder was silent. "I'm open to suggestions at this point, Mr. Mulder." Chandler struggled to control his frustration.

"I think we may want to check in with Scully. She may have found something that might help us locate the girl."

Scully watched Mulder struggle up the hill carrying two sets of skis. "Skiing holiday, Mulder?" He dumped the skis at her feet.

"I thought we might pick up where we left off this morning...the trail?"

"Well, we are almost done here." She deposited herself on a log and started unlacing her boots. "What did you find in the journals? Anything?"

He dropped down next to her and yanked her hiking boot off. "Wallard kept detailed records on the lights we saw last night--including records of two other disappearances in the past three years. He felt they were connected as well."

"And I suppose you feel justified by his speculations." She grinned down at the top of his head. He moved over and grabbed the other boot.

"That 'close encounter' last night, Scully? He had been having those on a regular basis for several years. The last one was two nights before he disappeared." He yanked again and this time went over backwards into the snow.

Scully chuckled at him, lying there on his back, clutching her boot. "There goes your career as a valet."

He affected a hurt look. "The thanks I get for being a gentleman...." He took advantage of his position to take his own boots off. "Did you turn up anything here?"

"It's all the same. He's been dead for days, best as I can tell without an autopsy. he was not injured in any way...cause of death is probably exposure, like the others. But there are no signs of how he got here. According to Chandler, he always wore a class ring and a set of dog tags...both were gone." She stood up and offered him a hand.

"Is it possible that something or someone found the body before we did?" He took her hand and hoisted himself up off the snow. "Took the dog tags and the ring and failed to report finding the body?"

"If someone did, they left no trace. Of course it did snow several nights ago. That's why we found the body covered. But we did not find any suspicious fibers or other evidence at the scene." She snapped her boots into the skis. "However, we did find some evidence of our visitor last night--a scrap of leather...hide, actually...in one of the footprints about fifty feet that way. Whoever it was was definitely wearing some kind of moccasins. But I'd have to say homemade. Ready?"

Mulder wobbled a little on the skis, trying to cover the fact that this was definitely not a preferred mode of transportation. "Ready," he said, grabbing the poles and nearly falling over backward again.

Scully turned her back quickly to hide her laughing. "Come on, then."

It took him a while, but soon he was gliding not quite comfortably along next to her. Scully had evidently spent some time on skis. Her legs and arms moved beautifully in synchronicity. She had a grace that he had never noticed before. He grinned to himself at the thought of Scully as a snow bunny. His amusement almost cost him another fall and reminded him to keep his mind on the skiing. Scully was being damned distracting though.

The trail appeared to go on and on. Suddenly, it forked. The deeper trail broke off and headed up the mountain while the lighter running trail continued across the mountain. They stopped, and Mulder used the break to try to catch his breath. Scully pulled her backpack off and rummaged in it for a map. She sat down on a fallen tree at the side of the trail and consulted the map.

"Which way, Admiral Byrd?"

"Well, the area up there," she said pointing to the trail that disappeared over a ridge further up the mountain, "appears to be largely unexplored. And that way leads into a meadow." She stopped and looked at him. "I think we ought to follow the lower trail...I think....that it might..."

"It might what?"

She shrugged. "I just have a feeling..." she dropped her eyes, a little embarrassed.

The High Priestess card flashed before his eyes. "A feeling?" he teased her. "And I suppose we should just follow your *feelings*, huh? How terribly unscientific, *Doctor* Scully."

She grinned at him. "Since when has logic or science been high on your list of reasons for doing anything?" She folded the map back up, put it in the backpack and stood up. "It is my considered, unscientific opinion we should go this way." Without looking back, she picked up her stride and was off.

"I love a dominant woman," Mulder quipped, and after an unsteady start he caught up to Scully.

It was a struggle to get to the top of the little rise, but the view alone was worth it. Below them the meadow opened up, a sheet of white surrounded by a tall fence of closely gathered pine trees. The afternoon sun beat down on the snow, giving everything a sparkling quality. All of this was framed by the blue sky above, giving the whole scene a picture postcard beauty. They stood at the top of the hill, a little stunned by the scene below them.

Scully snapped out of it first, running her eyes discerningly over the landscape. "Mulder, do you see that?" She pointed at one of the edges of the meadow.

He squinted at the area she indicated. The glare of the sun off the snow made it difficult to see. "It looks like a second trail...somebody on skis."

"And look there." She pointed ahead on the trail they had followed into the meadow. It became deeper as it moved into the meadow; whoever it was had slowed to a walk. But more importantly, the original trail moved to parallel the tracks left by the skis. "Wasn't Stacy Pollus on skis when she disappeared?"

"There were no sightings of her *on* the skis, but they were missing from her parents' home."

Without a word they both dropped into the meadow, following the foot trail as it moved toward the other. "It looks like he stopped here," Mulder said, bringing himself to a dangerous stop. Scully continued to glide toward the second trail. She pulled up short and bent down to look at the ski trail.

"How heavy is Stacy?" she asked him.

"About 110," he supplied.

"I'd have to say that this trail was left by someone weighing between 100 and 115...it may be hers."

"I'd say that was a damned good *feeling* you had back there, Scully." He squinted further up the trail. "This one stops again up there." He moved gracelessly toward the spot. Here the tracks not only paused but there was trampling all around.

Scully moved further up her trail. Hers paused as well. "Assuming that these were made at the same time, I'd have to say that she was completely unaware that she was being watched. She never looks off the trail. But why would she stop here?" Mulder watched her move on. "And after she stops, she starts moving again, but very slowly."

"This one does the same thing...I'd say whoever it was was following her."

They followed each trail as they began to rise out of the meadow. As they reached the edge of the meadow, the two trails were less than ten feet away. "She still doesn't seem to be aware that there's someone else here, but how could she not be considering how close they were?"

"That's assuming that they were here at the same time." Mulder reminded her.

"But look," she said, turning around and gesturing at the two trails behind them. "Every time she pauses or stops, so does the other trail..."

They started to move on again up the rise at the other side of the meadow, Scully leading the way. She reached the top and stopped short, whirling around toward him. But it was too late. He moved past her, and she shot an arm out to try to pull him back from the edge. He teetered for an instant, his eyes taking in the forty foot drop in below them, the skis lying at the bottom, the blue of the lake in the distance. He regained his balance and turned to thank Scully when the snow underneath them gave way and they began to fall...

Scully regained consciousness first and her first thought was confusion. It was dark. Not like night-time...something else. Her eyes moved toward the only source of light, to the right and above her. She moved herself underneath the light to try to identify the source--and found herself looking up as if from the bottom of the well at a tiny patch of blue sky far above. She was underground, far underground.

She suppressed her initial panic and looked wildly around for Mulder. He lay on his side fifteen feet away. His leg was at an angle she didn't like. She stood up, and her head made sharp contact with a wooden beam behind and above her. Her sharp cry of pain echoed around her, and Mulder began to stir. Rubbing the back of her head, she carefully made her way to his side, avoiding the puddle formed by the snowmelt which dripped down the shaft.

Kneeling down, she ran her hand along his leg. Her hand stopped; there it was. She grimaced and moved herself up to sit next to his shoulder. Reaching across him, she pulled him toward her. As he woke up, his body convulsed in pain, and Scully saw her initial confusion reflected in his eyes.

"Urrrggh," he growled. "My leg!" He started to sit up so he could reach down toward, and she moved quickly to stop him.

"Lay still, Mulder, or you'll be sorry."

He collapsed back, this time coming to rest partially in her lap.

"It's broken, and I need to get a good look at it to see just how bad it is."

Mulder looked around. "Where are we?"

"I think we're in a mine, judging by the timbers." She gestured at the six inch wooden beams lining the walls and ceilings. "An abandoned one, I'd guess, considering how old these things look."

"How did we get here?"

"I don't know. I don't think we could have survived a fall down that shaft."

"And I'm not really in any condition to have travelled very far." He looked up at her with his customary grin.

"Let me get a look at that," she said, standing up and dumping him unceremoniously out of her lap.

"Ow! Is your bedside manner always so bad when you work underground?"

Ignoring him, she crouched beside his leg. "I can't see anything in this light."

Mulder reached into his pocket and pulled out a small flashlight. "How's this?"

She took it. "Do you always carry a flashlight?"

"I like to be prepared for every contingency."

"Every contingency?" she asked with a grin, bending down at his side again.

He fished around in his pocket for a moment. "Wanna check?" he said, offering her his well-worn wallet.

She ignored the wallet. "I'll trust you on this one, Mulder." She turned on the flashlight and ran her hand up his leg again, finding the break easily. "Here, hold this for a minute." She handed him back the flashlight and grabbed her backpack which sat a few feet away. Digging through it, she found her pocketknife and went to work on Mulder's jeans, splitting them open to uncover his broken leg.

She examined his leg in a detached way, suppressing her own anxiety. It looked like a clean break of the fibula, and thankfully, one she felt she could set. It was not going to be a lot of fun for Mulder, though.

She rummaged through her backpack again, hoping she had remembered to pack some aspirin. She found it and offered Mulder some tablets. "I think you're going to need these." She dropped them into his hand and walked over to where water dripped to the floor. She stood patiently collecting the drops in her hands until she had enough for Mulder to take the aspirin.

She knelt down next to him again and held the water up to his lips. He popped the aspirin into his mouth and accepted the water from his partner's hands. He knew what was coming.

She helped him move up to a sitting position and then dragged him over to rest against one of the walls of the mine. Then she sat down at his feet and pulled his leg onto her lap. She looked up at him, trying to figure out how best to do this.

"It's okay, Scully. I know this isn't going to be pleasant. Let's just get it over with."

"Your legs are so long. I can't reach get any leverage because I can't reach the wall behind you. What am I going to push against?"

He thought for a moment and then pulled her foot toward him and started to undo the laces of her hiking boots.

"What are you doing?"

"Trust me." He removed her boot and pulled her foot to rest up against his hip. "Is that enough leverage?" he asked her with grin.

She pushed experimentally against his hip. "I think it'll work, but you better hold my foot so it doesn't slip." She offered him her other foot. "I should probably use both...I don't want to have to do this twice."

He removed her other boot and placed her left foot on top of her right one. "How's that?"

"Fine." She looked up at him. "Are you ready?" He nodded. "Okay, on three." She hooked an arm around his leg, putting his foot under her arm. "One..." She wrapped her hands around his calf and gauged the break. "Two..." She yanked hard and twisted his leg just a bit. "Three..." she said, under her breath, looking up to see if he was okay.

"What happened to three?" he asked, grinning weakly at her and his joke. She looked blankly at him. "What? You don't like Mad Max movies?"

"Sorry, I had to do it when your muscles were relaxed...I thought you might tense up if I waited til three..." She looked apologetically at him. "I think we got it, though." She ran her fingers gently up his leg. "We need to brace it though."

She looked around. There was nothing really suitable. Well, at least they could bind it. That would provide a little bit of support. She searched through her bag--nothing. She looked over at Mulder who had leaned back against the wall and was gritting his teeth at the pain.

"Take off your shirt, Mulder," she told him.

Mulder looked up at her. She was removing her jacket and sweater. "Gee, Scully, I'm not sure I'm ready for this..." he said in his teasing way.

"I thought you believed in being prepared," she shot back.

"Well, I do. But there are some things that you can never prepare yourself for." He leered at her.

Scully's hands faltered at the buttons of her shirt--something in Mulder's tone had inspired a bit of modesty in her that she thought she'd left behind long ago. She briefly considered turning her back to take the cotton shirt off, but that, she decided, would just give him more to tease her about. She decided to bite the bullet and do it. After giving Mulder her best withering look, she removed her shirt in her best business-like manner.

He tried not to watch her, busying himself with trying to get out of his own jacket. But he could not keep his eyes off her. When she shrugged the cotton blouse off, the last of his will crumbled. His eyes took in the soft ivory of her skin, the sensuous satin of her bra, the roundness of her breasts, the curve of her waist. She pulled her sweater back on, breaking his reverie. He dropped his eyes quickly, blushing hotly at the images that still filled his head.

She sat down at his feet and began to pull the shirt into long strips. He finally managed to get out of the jacket and took his sweater and shirt off, handing her the striped shirt. The pain had weakened him; just removing the clothes had exhausted him. He leaned back against the wall, closing his eyes and trying to recover a little.

Scully looked up at him and chided herself. Any first-year intern knew how pain could affect a patient. Mulder was so weak he couldn't even redress himself properly. She scooted herself up toward him and grabbed the sweater. "Come on, Mulder. You'll freeze." She pulled the sweater over his head and guided his arms through. She reached over to grab her backpack. "Here, lay down for a little while." She pulled something silver out of the backpack and put the backpack under his head. She opened the blanket and spread it over him. It was hardly big enough to cover him, as lanky as he was, but she did the best she could.

"Boy, you really are prepared," he grinned weakly up at her."My mother was always on the cautious side--never let me go skiing without..." He was already drifting off.

She put her hiking boots on and retrieved the flashlight to do a little exploring. The floor was covered with footprints--she cursed herself for moving around so carelessly; she had obliterated a lot of prints. There appeared to be three or four sets of identifiable prints. She recognized the mocassined feet from the snow trail; she had expected that somehow. The others appeared to be recent...silver rush miners had not worn Reeboks.

She looked back at Mulder, lying on the ground. She was torn between wanting to follow some of the prints and not wishing to leave her partner alone. She decided to limit herself--ten minutes and she'd come right back.

She considered the prints again. Unfortunately there appeared to be no pattern to them--nothing to give her a hint as to the way out. She and Mulder were apparently at some central point in the mine; four tunnels branched off from here. She decided to follow the prints that led into the widest tunnel. She kept the flashlight off for as long as there was the slightest bit of light to guide her. After that she used the flashlight, moving quickly to cover as much ground as possible--who knew how long the battery would hold out?

She'd gone about half a mile when she reached another air shaft leading to the surface. Looking up, she gauged the height of the shaft. It was definitely longer than the first--she'd been going deeper into the mountain. She still had a few more minutes, so she decided to explore one of the side tunnels. Two hundred feet in, the tunnel stopped--boards blocked access to debris from a minor cave-in. The boards were old but unrotted. After a few minutes working with her pocketknife, Scully managed to free one of the boards from the timbers it was nailed to. If she could find a way to break it, she could make a splint for Mulder's leg.

Once she entered the main tunnel again, she turned off the flashlight--feeling her way along the left hand wall--there had been no tunnels branching off on that side so she felt safe. After a few minutes, her eyes made out the light from the first shaft ahead of her, and soon she saw Mulder's body huddled under the heat blanket. He hadn't moved in the time she'd been gone.

I can't explore every damned corner of this place, she thought to herself. There must be a better way to figure this out. She picked up both their backpacks and searched them. She found some assorted items that might be useful...and cursed herself for her healthy eating habits as she pulled two candy bars from Mulder's pack--her rule against between-meal snacking was not paying off right now.

Her search did not turn up the one thing she wanted; neither one of them smoked so there were no matches, no lighters. If she had a flame, she might at least be able to figure out where the entrance to the mine was by seeing which way the air moved through the mine.

Not that, if she found the entrance, it would do her a lot of good. Mulder was unable to travel over even ground--plowing through the snow was out of the question. She didn't want to leave him alone while she went for help. In a fit of inspiration, she pulled out the map they had been following earlier; if she could figure out just how far the mine was from the cabin, or any other vestige of civilization, she might feel better about leaving him. If it was close, she might be able to get help before nightfall. Assuming, of course, that you can find your way out of the mine, she thought.

She scanned the map over and over. There were no mines marked on it. She had no idea where they were. "Damn it!" Her voice rang through the mine, her frustration echoing down miles of tunnels.

Mulder's eyes opened. He saw his partner sitting a few feet away, anger clouding her face. "What's wrong, Scully? Aside from the fact that we're lost, cold, and have no food?"

She looked over at him. How he could manage humor in the face of all this was beyond her, but it did much to endear him to her. "No food? Oh, and I suppose you conveniently forgot about the candy bars you stashed in your backpack..." she retorted, moving over to check his leg.

He winced in pain a little as she unwrapped the leg. She went to work on the board she had brought back, managing to salvage two long pieces. She fashioned a splint and bound his leg back up. She wasn't pleased with it, but it would probably keep the leg immobile until she could get him to a hospital.

"Well, Mulder, how's that?"

He ran his hand of the splint appreciatively. "You would have made a great Dr. Quinn," he told her. His look became serious. "Any ideas on how to get out of this one?" he asked her.

"I've done a little bit of exploring. Didn't turn up anything. I have no idea which way the entrance is from here and no brilliant thoughts on how to find it."

"I don't think climbing out of the shaft is an option, either."

She glanced up. "I used to be quite a gymnast when I was twelve, but I don't think those braces would *hold* a twelve year old, let alone an adult. I'd say that one's out to."

Mulder reached into his pocket, pulling out his portable phone--it was smashed. "I was afraid of that. Well, I guess there will be no calvary."

"Well, maybe I should go back to looking for a way out. There's got to be one somewhere. I thought I might try that way." She pointed to the tunnel opposite the one she'd already explored. "Maybe I'll have better luck there." She paused. "By the way, our little moccasined friend has been here."

"You saw him?"

"No, his footprints are all over the place."

At that moment, something in the second tunnel caught Mulder's attention--shadows. "Scully..." he whispered at her, pointing over her shoulder. She turned around, drawing her gun out of instinct. There was light streaming from the tunnel. She barely had time to register the little fireballs--suddenly, she and Mulder were surrounded by them. A dozen of the lights which had visited them at the cabin moved about the small cavern. They moved toward the first tunnel, and Mulder barely noticed the pain from his leg as he turned to watch them.

They were all different colors and moved around each other in little indescribable orbits, reminding Mulder of the fanciful screen saver he'd seen on Scully's computer. Scully moved toward them. They squirmed further away from her but continued their little dance. For several minutes they played in the entrance to the large tunnel. Working up her courage, Scully reached out and lightly touched one. She regretted it immediately--it burned. She pulled her hand back, wringing it in pain. The lights coalesced into a single ball of brilliance and then broke apart and went speeding down the tunnel away from them.

Scully turned to Mulder. He was still mesmerized by the lights rushing away from them. Behind him, on the ground, was a stone. It hadn't been there before. But what sat on the stone chilled the heat in her hand--chunks of cooked meat and pinenuts. She gestured wordlessly at it.

Mulder turned to see what she was pointing at. He looked back at her, confusion and frustration written across his face. "What the hell is going on?"

Scully walked over to examine the rock and its contents. A quick sniff confirmed that the meat was definitely rabbit. She'd eaten enough on hunting trips with her father and brothers to recognize its distinctive smell. The pinenuts beside it were also roasted. She turned back to Mulder.

"Maybe this is supposed to be dinner?" she said.

"Assuming it wasn't this that killed the other victims..."

"The toxicology reports came back clean. It wasn't their diet that killed them." Scully shifted uncomfortably. "Other victims..." she repeated quietly. "Meaning we've joined that group?" She raised an eyebrow at her partner.

"I'd say that's a pretty safe assumption, wouldn't you?"

"It's beginning to look that way, but a victim to what?" She glanced around. "The only danger we appear to be in is due to exposure."

He locked eyes with her in their old habit. "Come on, Scully, even you have got to believe that there's something going on here beside us being lost. How did we get lost in the first place?" he challenged her, feeling the strength that he had lost beginning to build back up in him.

"We could have fallen down the hill and crawled into here..." she began, a little defensively, standing up.

He gestured to his leg. "Scully, how far do you think I would have gotten on this leg? We're pretty deep into the mountain. I doubt I could have made it this far." He looked up at her. She was visibly shaken. "I suppose you could have dragged me here..."

She cut him off with a shake of her head. "There are no marks to indicate anything having been dragged into this cavern, certainly nothing as big as you." She looked down the diminutive length of her body. "And I think it's pretty obvious that I couldn't have carried you, certainly not without remembering."

She knelt down and examined the ground again. Her finger traced the outline of a footprint. She stood up again and surveyed the cavern in the dim light, moving toward where she had found Mulder when she woke up. "This set," she gestured to a set of prints a few feet away, "and that set," this time gesturing to where she herself had woken up, "are deeper than the rest."

"Our mocassined friend again?" Mulder asked. She nodded. "He carried us here," he said slowly. "Why?" He shook his head. "Why bring us here?"

"Good question." She glanced down the tunnel into which the lights had disappeared. She sat down, heavily. "And the lights? What are they?"

"They appear to be controlled by some intelligence," Mulder began.

She cut him off. "Or they have intelligence of their own." She looked back up at him. "They seemed..." she paused, surprised to hear herself saying the words, "...I don't know, friendly?"

Mulder reached over and grabbed her hand, pulling it out into the light. The burn showed an angry red on her hand. "Friendly?" he argued, "That doesn't look like a mark of friendship to me. How bad is it?"

She pulled her hand away and moved over to the small pool of water in the ground. "It's not too bad," she lied. Her distraction had kept the pain at bay. Now that Mulder had called attention to it, her hand began to throb painfully. She dipped her hand into the water to cool it. A moment later, she whirled on Mulder, realization written across her face.

"Burns!" she said sharply.

"Burns?" Mulder's brow crinkled in confusion. Then it dawned on him. "All the victims had light burns on their hands," he said slowly. "That means..."

"That means you're right!" she finished for him. "There is a connection between the lights and the disappearances. They all came in contact with the lights." She smiled sarcastically at him. "I guess that makes you feel better, huh?"

He pulled his leg painfully up toward him. "Oh, yeah...I feel great," he said, wincing with the pain. She moved her hand to help him. The pain in his leg had settled down into a dull throb which her ministrations could do little to help. "Trapped in a mine in freezing weather with a broken leg and a sarcastic partner. Boy, I really know how to live." He grinned at her.

"With a storm coming on," she said, her humor vanishing. "And we're not the only ones lost," she reminded him. She stood up again, peering into the darkness of each of the tunnels. "He was following her..."


"If he was following her, he might have seen her fall over the same cliff we did. Her skis were at the bottom."

"Or he might have pushed her..." Mulder pointed out.

"There was no evidence that he was close enough to push her," she said, with more feeling than she had intended. "Their tracks never converged."

"That's because they both stopped at the edge, the same one that disappeared out from under us," he reminded her. "Who knows how much more of that edge disappeared since last night. He was certainly close enough to have pushed her."

"He didn't," she responded forcefully.

Mulder looked up at her. "What do you base that on?"

She colored a little. "I just don't think he did. Or have you cornered the market on hunches?"

He shrugged. "No. Sorry, Scully. I suppose if I'm going to insist on believing in flying saucers and ghosts, I should certainly believe in something as old and venerable as 'women's intuition.'" His eyes danced with the chuckle he was suppressing.

"Anyway," she said, pulling herself up to her full height, "the point is that he might have brought her in here as well." She looked at him uncertainly.

"It's okay, Scully. I'll be fine." He pulled his coat away from his hip to expose his gun. "You go look." He picked up the flashlight from the ground and tossed it to her. "Just don't go too far, okay?"

She stood her ground. "I don't want to leave you alone. We don't know..."

"Come on, Scully. I've got my gun and..."

"And your gun probably won't have the least effect on the lights." She held her burned hand out. "We know they are dangerous."

He grinned at her. "Yeah, but I'm smart enough not to try to pet them."

She walked right into it; she always did. Scully sometimes wondered if Mulder was an insomniac solely because he stayed up late concocting these set-ups. Sure, Dana, she thought, now who's paranoid?

She knew better than to argue with him. It never did any good. "All right. Fifteen minutes and then I'll turn around and come back." He nodded at her and watched her disappear down one of the passages.

He clasped his hands above his head and stretched, trying to ignore the stab of pain that ran up his leg. The most annoying thing about finding himself in this position was his inability to get around, to help Scully. He hated being powerless--always had.

He was glad to be alone for a minute, to not have her hovering over him, forcing him to hide the extent of his physical agony from her. It gave him new insight on how she must have felt recently. In the last few months, he had rarely let Scully out of his sight. He had never approached her directly, never prodded her to talk about what had happened, what she remembered. But he still watched her like a hawk, always standing like some kind of twisted guardian angel--ready to protect her from the dangers he constantly pulled her into. Her actions the night that he ran off to the frozen wastelands had proven to him that he could not convince her to let him fight some of his battles alone. Of course, as she had pointed out the other night, they were no longer merely his battles--they were theirs.

There were ways to stop her from following him into the kind of trouble he seemed to constantly gravitate towards. But that would require him to separate himself from her entirely. It was selfish and irresponsible of him, he realized--but the thought of not having Scully at his side was painful.

Not that his small, dynamic partner needed his protection anyway. She's pulled your fat out of the fire more often than you've returned the favor, he noted cynically to himself. It's nothing but arrogance to think that you *can* protect her. If anything, it was disrespectful of him to treat her the way he did, watching her every movement as though she were a half-witted two-year old.

The only problem was that, try as he might, he simply couldn't stop it. And falling in love with her had only made matters worse. It was a constant fight now--his respect for her versus his fear that he might lose her again.

He looked up. The light coming down the shaft was quickly fading. In a few minutes, it would be gone entirely. Frustrated at his inability to move about, Mulder scanned the cavern. His eyes stopped on the pieces of board Scully had left, useless and broken, a few feet away. Using his arms to pull himself across the ground, he moved, slowly and painfully, over to the small pile and went to work.

When Scully reached the fifth air shaft in the new tunnel, it became obvious that she was moving toward the entrance--the shafts were growing shorter and shorter. However, the light was failing; soon the sun would set, leaving them with only the flashlight. She had to go back.

Moving quickly to save battery power, Scully picked her way through the tunnels to the cavern where Mulder waited. She was only a little surprised at what she found there--Mulder was leaning over a small pile of wood and working furiously. It seemed to be paying off; a thin trail of smoke rose from the wood.

Mulder hardly seemed to notice the flashlight that was trained on him. His intensity blocked out everything but the task at hand. Scully smiled to herself; for all their differences, she and Mulder still had an awful lot in common. Without a word, she charged down the tunnel she had explored earlier. Reaching her destination, she placed the flashlight on the ground, its beam hitting the ceiling and diffusing a little light throughout the tunnel. She attacked the boards she had found earlier, managing to remove all but one of them. Grabbing as many as she could carry, she picked up the flashlight and raced back to where she had left Mulder.

When she reentered the cavern, she found her partner sitting back against the wall of the cave, feeding small splinters into the little fire he had made. She dumped the wood onto the ground next to him. He looked up at her, his face glowing, whether from the tiny fire or a sense of pride she could not tell.

"I'd say you've earned your merit badge for today, Mulder," she said, enjoying the happiness which he projected while tending his growing fire.

"It's nice to know I didn't waste all the years I spent in the boy scouts...never could understand why I had to learn to do this when there were lighters and matches everywhere." He chuckled to himself. "Guess I should call Jim's father and thank him when we get back."

"Gave your scoutmaster hell, did you, Mulder?" She grinned at him. "Who would have guessed you had problems with authority..." She quickly retrieved the rest of the wood and returned to the cavern.

The last of the light coming down the shaft had disappeared. The cavern was lit only by the small fire that Mulder continued to work on. Cold air and an occasional flurry of light powered snow swirled down and into the cavern, threatening to extinguish his efforts. She grabbed a scrap of cloth left from her earlier bandaging and wrapped it around a long piece of wood. Igniting her makeshift torch off of Mulder's fire, she stepped into one of the smaller tunnels which branched off here.

The torch flickered dangerously. She shook her head and moved into the other unexplored tunnel, holding the torch up to let the wind act on it. The flame burned steadily.

"I think we'd better move into this tunnel, Mulder," she advised. "I think we'll do a whole lot better this evening away from the shaft and the wind."

"Okay," he said, gathering up their meager supplies into the backpacks. "I think you'll have to schlep the luggage though."

Scully grabbed a couple of boards from next to Mulder and broke them cross her knee into small pieces. These she arranged carefully twenty-five feet into the side tunnel and ignited with the torch. The firelight showed the tunnel's end another ten feet beyond. Good, she thought to herself. This ought to keep things a little warmer.

Next Scully helped Mulder to his feet and supported him as he limped painfully into the tunnel. It was an awkward affair--Scully suspected that Mulder would probably do better on his own using the wall rather than trying to lean on someone a foot shorter. But she appreciated his pretence of accepting help from her. She settled him uncomfortably against a wall near the fire and quickly retrieved the rest of their belongings, including the gifted food on its oddly concave rock.

"Now all we need is marshmallows," he said, admiring their little camp.

She smiled and went to work reheating the food over the small fire. A glance at the surprising large pile of wood reassured her about tonight--the fire would last a good while. Mulder pulled out the can of Coke and one of the candy bars he had packed in his backpack.

"Not a bad little dinner," he commented, as Scully divided up the meat and nuts into three portions. Half of it she wrapped up in an evidence bag, presenting Mulder with slightly over half of what remained. He groused a little, urging her to divide the food a little more evenly.

"I don't need as much as you do," she told him. "I don't usually eat heavily at night." She pushed his offering back at him. "Now eat, Mulder, or I break the other leg."

He grinned at her and quickly finished off his little dinner, rubbing his stomach appreciatively. "Mmmm! First, Chicken Parmesan and now this. I think you went into the wrong line of business, Scully. Cooking is your true calling." He didn't move quickly enough to avoid the swinging backpack.

He grabbed the backpack and tussled with her a little until the pain in his leg gave him a twinge. His wince prompted her to prescribe two more aspirin, which he washed down with the Coke. She knew he must be in agony; her inability to alleviate his pain ate away at her.

She cleaned up a little as he tended the fire. Next she went to work on his leg, checking her own handiwork from earlier--he was doing better than she had expected. She rebound the leg and covered him with the blanket, finally settling herself next to him against the wall.

She pulled her knees up to her chest and hugged them against her. Mulder watched the firelight play off of the soft curves of her face and the bright reflection of her hair. His physical response to her beauty, her vulnerability, upset him. He was ashamed of himself for his earlier lustful lapse and for the fact that he could not banish the image of Scully's half-clad body from his mind.

After all, he was not some pre-pubescent boy; Mulder had had his share of experience with women, though never had he felt like this about any of the women who had shared his bed. His physical desire for her made him feel as though he was cheapening their bond, and certainly his love for her. He looked away. It was more, though, he realized, than physical desire. More than anything, he wanted to touch her, to be as close as possible to her, to finally open up all the frightened and lonely emptinesses that haunted him ceaselessly. She was the only person who had ever been close to him without scaring him. She accepted him and cared for him. He wanted to tell her, to show her, all that she had come to mean to him--and all that he was willing to give her in return.

He glanced back over at her; her chin was resting on her knees, her eyes focused on the fire. He knew she was working, trying to find a solution to the problem at hand. Her brow crinkled, and she began to rock back and forth a little. He reached out and touched her shoulder, breaking her train of thought.

"Scully, I'm exhausted. I think we better get some sleep."

She nodded in agreement and started to arrange herself on the floor.

"Scully," he started to protest. It was stupid and silly for her to sleep apart from him--there was only one blanket and anyone who had ever taken survival training knew that sharing warmth was of paramount importance. He geared himself up for the fight that was coming.

"You can't..." he began, pulling the blanket away from himself a little.

"You're right, Mulder," she cut him off and moved toward him. "How are we going to do this?" He thought for a moment and then slid down to lie on his back.

He moved the blanket aside and reached up to pull her gently down toward him. Instinctively, she figured it out and moved to lie on the crook of his arm, the warmth and softness of her body pressing against his side, inspiring more of the damned images and feelings he had been fighting. He pulled her close to him and covered them both with the blanket, pulling a backpack under his head.

She burrowed against him a little and closed her eyes. "I'll never complain about a lumpy hotel mattress ever again," she murmured against his chest.

The caffeine and pain made sleep elusive for Mulder, but Scully dropped off almost immediately. He lie there, feeling her pressed into him, and enjoyed the sensation. He could get used to this. In her sleep, she moved her leg up across his left one, tangling them both up together. The fantasy of spending his usually sleepless nights just holding her, feeling the warmth and security of her body against his, watching and feeling her breathing moving gently through her--he wondered whether he could ever tire of such sublime comfort.

He alternated between looking at the fire and her. He knew when she entered REM sleep; he watched with fascination as her eyes moved, taking in images unseen by his own. It was only when her body began to move that he realized the nature of the dream. Her thrashing became pronounced enough that he considered waking her to free her from the nightmare.

"No!" The scream ripped out of her throat, and she recoiled sharply from him. Her eyes were opened, but he knew she saw nothing but her dream. He pulled her back down toward him, and she struggled feebly against him. "Mulder?!" she cried out. He stroked her hair, trying to calm her. "Mulder?" she repeated quietly, "they're hurting..." Her voice drifted off as his insistent cooing and touching began to break through her dream. Finally she relaxed back against him. "Mulder," she murmured once more, falling into a more peaceful dream.

He held her gently. "It's okay, Dana. It's alright. I'll never let them hurt you again," he whispered into her hair. "They're not going to take you away from me again," he said with finality. A few minutes later, his own eyes closed and for the first night in months, his own nightmares left him unmolested.

At the edge of the darkness, a third pair of eyes continued to watch for a few minutes and then retreated further into the darkness of the mine.

Mulder woke to the sound of crying. In the absolute darkness of the mine, he reached down to gently touch Scully's head where it rested lightly on his chest. Another nightmare? He began to stroke her hair as he had last night. "Scully? What is it?"

She stirred a bit but did not answer him.

Concerned, he pulled her up the length of his body until her face was a few unseen inches from his own. Trying not to surprise or perhaps (in the darkness) hurt her, he ran his hand slowly up her neck to her face. Carefully he brushed his thumb across her cheek to wipe away the tears he knew must be there--her face was dry.

"Mulder?" he heard her say, sleepiness evident in her voice.

He held her a little closer. "What's the matter, Dana?" he asked, his voice tinged with concern. "Why are you...?"

They both heard the sob this time. Scully rolled to her feet in a single smooth motion. It took her a moment to orient herself in the darkness. She heard Mulder moving around below her and felt him press her gun into her hand. She took it and the flashlight and began to move down the tunnel toward the junction they had left last night.

Mulder cursed at himself and, in the light of Scully's quickly retreating flashlight, found the remains of the fire. Pulling himself to a sitting position, he went to work nursing the few tiny embers back into flame.

Scully moved cautiously down the tunnel, turning off the flashlight before she reached the junction. The light in the cavern was low, but she could distinguish rough shapes. Huddled against the far wall was a woman. Her body was contorted into a tight ball, and the only movement she made was an occasional shaking of her small frame. Her hands covered her face; she was unaware of any other presence in the tunnels.

Scanning the cavern quickly, Scully pocketed her gun and went to the girl. Crouching next to her, Scully lightly touched the shoulder of the sobbing teenager.

Movement exploded from the girl as she threw herself in terror across the cavern and away from Scully, coming to rest against the far wall. The poor girl looked up at her with fear.

"It's all right!" Scully tried to reassure her. She approached her slowly. "I don't want to hurt you," she told her.

Released from her initial surprise and fear, the young woman began to sob again, falling forward onto her knees and cradling her head on her forearms. Scully kneeled down next to her quivering form and wrapped her arms around the teenager in an attempt to calm her.

"It's okay, Mulder!" she called down the tunnel to her partner. "I think we've found Stacy." The young woman nodded her head mutely, trying to stifle her sobs.

Scully stood up, pulling the girl up with her. She wrapped an arm securely around Stacy's waist and helped her walk back to their camp.

He watched his partner leading the girl towards the fire that he had managed to build back up. Scully settled Stacy next to Mulder. She looked tired and ragged. Mulder reached out and touched the girl's hand--it was ice-cold. He grabbed the blanket off his lap and wrapped her in it, tucking it tightly around her shivering form.

Scully busied herself with examining the teenager for frostbite, while Mulder went to work rubbing her limbs back to life. Scully caught her partner's eye over the girl's head and nodded. Grimly, he bent back to his task.

"Stacy?" Scully smiled down at her, trying to put the girl at ease.

The teenager looked up at her, wiping the tears away from her face with the back of her hand. "Yeah?"

"The whole mountain's looking for you. What happened?"

Stacy looked at her in confusion. "What happened...?" she repeated slowly, as if the words made no sense.

"It's okay, Stacy," Mulder told her. "You're in shock." He began to rub her arms and hands. "Can you answer some questions?" He looked up at her with what he hoped was an encouraging smile.

She warmed to him immediately. "Yes," she answered quietly in a slightly croaking tone.

Scully smiled a little at the girl's reaction to her partner. She wondered if he was conscious of his ability to charm women; she doubted it. "You're frozen right through," Scully said. "How long have you been in here?"

"It seems like forever," Stacy said. "I'm just not sure."

Mulder leaned toward her. "You disappeared about thirty-six hours ago. Was it day or night when you woke up here in the mine?" he asked, trying to narrow it down.

"Day...yesterday," she told him, pulling the blanket even tighter around her.

"How did you get here?"

"I don't know," she said slowly. "I was out skiing...my boyfriend and I broke up last weekend," she said pointedly, glancing over at Mulder. "I just had to get out of the house...away from my parents, and I mean, he just kept calling." She shifted uncomfortably. "I grabbed my skis and headed for the meadow."

He smiled at her. "I know how it is...sometimes you just need to be alone. I get like that a lot." He glanced up at Scully who gave him a small grin. "What happened when you got to the meadow?"

"The meadow..." she started slowly, as if she was having trouble remembering. "I was skiing across the meadow...and then I saw the lights."

"Was it the first time you saw them?" he pushed.

"Nah, I see 'em all the time, but..."


"This time they were so close, and there were so many of them..." her voice trailed off. "It was like watching all these fairies. You know, like Tinkerbell?" He smiled at her. "They were so cool!"

"Then what happened?"

"I don't know. That's the last thing I remember. I woke up in here. I just wandered around for so long. But my head hurt so bad and I just..." she buried her head in her hands.

Scully kneeled behind her and gently probed Stacy's scalp. The teenager flinched away from her at first, but Mulder intervened. "It's okay. Agent Scully is a doctor," he told her, placing a hand on her shoulder in reassurance. "Let her look," he said firmly.

Scully located the nasty goose-egg on Stacy head and checked the girl for concussion. "I think you may have rattled your brains around pretty well, but they're all still there," she assured her.

"You've been looking for me?"

"Since yesterday," he told her. "The whole sheriff's department has been combing the mountain for you. You had a lot of people really worried. Your parents will be relieved to hear you're all right."

"Now that you've found me, what next?" She glanced meaningfully over at Mulder's bandaged leg. "Banged up as you look, I don't think you can cover much ground on skis--if we had 'em." Her color was beginning to return a little.

"He's not exactly great on skis when he's in good condition," Scully said, grinning at her partner.

Mulder waggled his finger at Scully in reproach. "Don't worry, Stacy...we'll figure something out. You just scoot a little closer to the fire and get warm."

Stacy moved toward the fire, while Mulder pulled himself back as well as he could. A quick movement of his head, and Scully was at his side.

"It's a good question, you know. What are we going to do?"

Scully bit her lip lightly. "I think the first thing we need to do is find the way out." She stood up. "Look, Mulder, I'm gonna do some more exploring. I think I was on my way to finding the entrance yesterday."

"Okay." He handed her a pencil and the empty Coke can. "Bring back some water if you can. I don't think we want to risk dehydration."

She nodded quietly, taking the pencil and can. "If I haven't found it in two hours, I'll be back."

"And if you do find it?"

"I'll try to figure out where on the mountain we are."

"All right." He flashed her with his "be careful" look and then turned to Stacy. She had laid down and, wrapped in a tight ball, was sleeping. Mulder rummaged through Scully's backpack for last night's leftovers and quickly divided them into three parts. "Here," he said, handing his partner a portion in the evidence bag. "Don't be gone too long."

"I won't. Take care of her." He nodded, and she set off.

Quickly and methodically, Scully worked her way toward what she knew must be the entrance. As she moved along, the air shafts became shorter, and the air flowed more briskly around her. After an hour and twenty minutes, she began to glimpse the literal light at the end of the tunnel. Picking up her pace, she quickly emerged from the mine and stood blinking in the early-morning sunshine.

She lay the map over a rock and scanned the area, trying to pinpoint her location. With everything she could see covered in snow, it was difficult, but she finally managed to figure it out-- they were about six miles from their own cabin which lay over the crest of the mountain. Folding the map back up, she sat down on the rock and stretched a little in the warming sunshine. She had a little time before she had to turn back so she sat there, absorbing the sun.

Mulder stewed in his frustration. He felt utterly helpless, completely useless. Bending over the fire again, he added one of the few remaining pieces of wood and checked on Stacy. She was warmer to the touch now and her color was healthier than earlier. He slipped his hands under the blanket and checked her feet--still ice-cold. If we don't get her to a hospital soon, she'll probably lose some of her toes, he thought ruefully.

Scully plunged back into the mine, following the sketches she had made on the way out. A sound caught her ear as she passed a side tunnel which she hadn't bothered to explore earlier, bringing her up short. She stood still, listening carefully--something or someone was moving around. Pocketing the map and drawing her gun, Scully slowly made her way down the third tunnel. She could see almost nothing--she found her way by listening and keeping one hand in solid contact with the left wall of the tunnel. The darkness began to lift into the grayness that she now associated with air shafts.

She slowed. The sounds began to clarify themselves in her mind--rock striking rock and a soft foot-fall. She paused, peering ahead trying to make out any movement. She could see nothing. She moved silently on, gun at ready.

She stepped into the junction without a sound, scanning the cavern quickly. There he was. In one corner crouched a man working at something she could not see. Her eyes took in everything all at once--Mulder's skis leaning against the wall, a small glittering pile of jewelry, two dead, skinned rabbits next to the man and another pile of pinenuts on the other side. Her light gasp of realization caught his attention and he sprang up from the small fire he'd been tending. She had only an instant to take him in--the rough moccasins; the makeshift hide garment; the wild, unkempt hair; his surprised look--and then she was surrounded by the lights.

When she came to, she had a splitting headache, and her gun was gone. It took her a moment to get her bearings. She was at another junction, bathed in the bright sunshine pouring down the shaft from the noon-day sun. She quickly checked herself for injury; finding none, she stood up and searched the walls of the cavern--there it was, one of the marks she had made in her earlier exploration to keep herself from getting lost. Pulling out her map, she quickly oriented herself and began to run back to the same camp where Mulder and Stacy waited.

Mulder heard her long before he saw her. She was moving quickly and making a lot of racket--something was wrong! The beam from the flashlight bounced off the walls of the cavern; he grabbed his own gun and pulled himself quickly and painfully around to the other side of fire in preparation. She burst around the corner, looking wild-eyed. Seeing him waiting, she pulled up so short that she stumbled and fell in a heap on the ground next to him.

Her breath was coming in ragged gasps, and she struggled to force words out between them.


"Who? Our friend with the strange footwear?" She nodded.

"In...mine...found...entrance," she managed to get out.

"Where is he? What was he doing?"


"Come on, just catch your breath, and we'll try this again." He pulled her into a sitting position facing him and waited for her breathing to return to normal.

She pulled herself together and started again. "I found the entrance, and I found him," she began and then realized that Mulder was not listening to her. He was looking over her shoulder. She whirled around to follow the direction of his gaze.

There, in the mouth of the tunnel, stood a wild-haired, moccasined figure.

Scully felt Mulder reach down between them for his gun. She grabbed his wrist to stop him.

"Wait," she whispered, turning slowly to face the intruder.

The figure stood in sharp silhouette in the light pouring in from the main tunnel. In his hands was a flat, fibrous disk covered with cooked meat, pinenuts, and something green. Watching them both closely, he approached. Mulder tensed, preparing for some sort of attack. Scully felt the change in her partner's posture and squeezed his wrist, trying to get him to back down.

The man crouched down, setting the food on the ground three feet away from Scully and then quickly retreating to the other side of the fire, where he sat and watched them with intensity.

The three remained locked with a kind of paralysis, studying each other.

Scully broke the tension. Managing a weak smile, she slowly reached toward the food he had put in front of her. Taking a piece of still-warm meat, she tore a section off and handed it to Mulder, never taking her eyes off the figure on the other side of the fire. She sniffed at it appreciatively and began to eat, exaggerating her enjoyment of the food for the benefit of their visitor.

Mulder caught on and emulated his partner's behavior. He didn't know exactly what Scully had in mind but, as always, he trusted her. Moving aside a portion for the sleeping teenager, they ate the remainder slowly, using the time to study the man.

He was wearing the same rough tunic and moccasins that Scully had seen when she encountered him earlier. Now, though, he was also wearing a pair of leather leggings which reflected the unfinished quality of the tunic. The rough design of his clothing reminded her a little of Native American costumes--minus any of the fine workmanship or style of such clothing.

His hair was long and dark and obviously hadn't been cut or combed for years. It tangled around his face, partly obscuring his features. His fingernails were long and dirty, and his hands were covered with callouses. His arms and calves were scarred savagely in several places. It was obvious that he had been out in the wilderness for a very long time.

Mulder watched the man move toward the fire to stoke up the flame a little and warm himself. His movements were swift, economical, and, well, very much like those of an animal.

He moved back away from the fire and brushed the hair away from his face. Both agents studied his face for a moment.

"Mulder?" Scully breathed quietly. The intruder's head jerked up at the sound of her voice, but he remained where he was, watching her closely. She smiled at him. "I'm Dana," she said, trying to keep her voice level and friendly.

He looked confused. She tried again. "Thanks for the food. I was fine, but if Mulder here doesn't eat every few minutes, he gets a little cranky."

"Thanks, Scully. I..." Mulder began, trying to maintain the lightness in her tone.

"Ssss...kuuuuh," the man attempted from between cracked, chapped lips.

"Scully," Dana repeated for him. "I'm Dana Scully, and this is Mulder."


"Scully," she repeated again, her brow crinkling in confusion.

"Sss..kuuhh..lee," he concluded, grinning in triumph.

"Mulder, I don't think he speaks English," she said, turning to her partner.

Mulder locked eyes with her. "Scully, your name is not English."

"Well, yeah, but he doesn't seem to understand anything I've said."

"I think you're right about that, but I don't think that's the problem.

"What do you mean?"

"I get the feeling he hasn't spoken any language for a long time."

"You might be right, Mulder, but how long can he have been out here? Mulder, how old would you say he is?" They both studied him for a moment. He crouched on the other side of the fire and rocked silently back and forth and watched her expectantly.

"Okay, Scully, I'm confused. With all those scars, I'd have to say he's older than Methuselah."

"Yeah, but look at that face."

"I know, he looks about sixteen. But he can't possibly be that young. Can he?"

They looked at each other a moment. Then, once again it happened. "Mulder, he's a wild child."

"You think he's a modern day Mowgli?" Mulder said with his trademark blend of sarcasm and smile. "Raised by wolves?" He paused. "In this area, I'd have to say deer or coyotes."

"I'm not sure..."

"There *is* at least one scientifically documented case--in France at the beginning of this century. I'm not sure that's really enough evidence though, Scully, to jump to *that* conclusion."


"I'm going to have to talk to Skinner...I think you're starting to slip," Mulder teased.

"It would," she said, in that serious tone of hers, "explain both his age and how long he's been out here."

"And his inability to speak. In none of the wild-child cases were any of the subjects able to learn a language, though some of them did develop other ways of communicating--forms of sign language and such."

"So you think he could be one?"

"I don't know...how could he survive this kind of weather for so many years? I mean, I realize that in the case of the Wolf-Boy in France, the doctor did comment on the child's ability to withstand cold and heat. But look at those moccasins...how could he manage to avoid frostbite wearing those things?"

"When I found him in one of the other tunnels, he had a fire going. Also, he was using tools. I'd say he's both bright and adaptable. He must have discovered more mechanical ways to protect himself from the environment--after all, he's been on his own much longer than any case I've ever heard of. He's obviously had a little longer to work some of these things out."

"Granted, but I'm still not sure I believe that's all there is to it," Mulder said with a shrug.

"Wait a minute. Fox Mulder doesn't *believe*? I'm going to have to put in for a psychological evaluation when we get back. I'd swear I'm hallucinating."

"You're always welcome on my couch, Scully. No charge. It's not leather, but it'll do." He raised an eyebrow suggestively. "It's been a while since I've done any psychoanalysis, but for you..."

She elbowed him in the ribs and glanced over at their visitor. He was still crouched down watching the two of them and becoming more and more puzzled by their interaction.

"I'll take that as a no, then," Mulder said, rubbing his stomach where she'd hit him. He smiled to himself. He wondered if the best way to keep his new secret from his partner might not be by hiding it in plain sight. Considering our track record, she might get a little suspicious if I *stopped* flirting with her, he thought to himself.

"So what now?" Scully said. "We may have solved the mystery of how we got here, but we still need to figure out a way to get back to civilization. Any ideas?"

"Do you think he'd be willing to help us?"

"I don't think asking him would work," she said sarcastically. "Maybe if we could find a way to make him understand what it is we want..."

Mulder had noticed that Stacy had started to stir and moved over to check on her. The teenager sat up and stretched, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. She smiled at Mulder and turned to see if Scully was around--if the coast was clear, she might...

Then her eyes came to rest on their visitor. She threw herself toward Mulder as the scream began to rise up out of her throat.

At the sound of her scream, the wild-child sprang up and clenched his fists at his side. Mulder had only a moment to see his anger and then he and Stacy were lost in the lights.

For Scully, the moment took on a movie-like quality--time slowed, and she was able to see, distinctly, everything that happened nearly simultaneously. She had not been prepared for Stacy's wakening, though she knew the girl was already emotionally over-wrought and would probably be hysterical at the sight of their new friend--the scream had not taken her by surprise but it had a dramatic effect on the wild-child. He was on his feet instantly and stood before Scully with his eyes closed and his fists trembling from the muscular tension. The lights appeared around him, reminding Scully of some of the aura photographs that Mulder had shown her. Then they moved to surround her partner and the hysterical teenager.

She watched their reaction. Stacy's voice died away immediately and both their bodies relaxed. Scully identified the vacant look on their faces; they were both under some kind of hypnotic spell, an obvious effect of the lights. Everything came together in her head.

"Please," she said in a quiet voice, holding herself still in her attempt to intercede. "She's just scared..."

He turned to look at her, anger and confusion written across his face. She was not afraid, though. Bowing her head a little in what she knew was a common deferring posture in many mammal species, she kept her voice calm, "Let them go...it's all right."

She looked up through the hair that had fallen over her eyes. His body was relaxing, and his hands were now open and hanging loosely at his sides. Glancing over at her partner and Stacy, she saw the lights fade away; their bodies collapsed against each other as they both lost consciousness.

Coming out of her supplicating posture, she looked back up at him. He had resumed his crouching position, watching her closely. Slowly, so not to surprise him a second time, she moved to where Mulder and Stacy were tangled together in a heap and shook her partner back to consciousness.

Mulder woke to find himself disoriented and in a slightly embarrassing position. With the help of his partner, he managed to disengage himself. "What happened?"

"What do you remember?"

"She screamed, and then I saw the lights."

"Mulder," she said lowly and with as little emotion as possible, "he's the one controlling them."

Her partner looked up at her and then over at the young man. "Are you sure? How could he be controlling them--through artificial means?"

"I think he has...uh, I think the term is 'pyrokinetic' powers. And they appear to have a hypnotic quality to them. Which explains..."

"Which explains how several experienced mountaineers could get lost and die of exposure," he finished for her. "It all makes sense now. They were lured up onto the mountain and probably into this same mine by the lights. But why? Do you think this is something he *intended* to do?"

"I'm not sure. It's possible that they were attracted by the lights without his knowledge."

"But what kept them from coming back? They weren't all injured, and surely some of them must have recognized the dangers of hypothermia and frostbite in this weather."

Scully bit her lips in frustration. For some reason, she couldn't believe that the man had intended to hurt anyone; he just didn't *seem* malicious. The idea that he might have either caused or consciously contributed to their deaths upset her.

"Mulder, I don't think *he* did anything to hurt them. Why would he want to? He appears to have everything he needs up here already." A memory of what she saw in the other tunnel made her pause. "I think he has been keeping the jewelry and other articles missing off the bodies of the victims."

"Do you think he would have killed the others to get them?" Mulder asked, never taking him eyes off the man.

"I doubt it. There were no indications that any of them died of anything but exposure. He didn't murder any of them. I'm not sure he intended any of them any harm..."

"He certainly may have caused them harm, intentional or not." He swung around to look at her. "We've got to get out of here. The question is, will he let us go or not? He's been feeding us--is this a kidnapping or simply some kind of mountain altruism?" He paused. "What do you think, Scully? Is he going to let us just walk out of here?"

"There's one way to find out." She stood up, squared her shoulders, and began to walk quickly toward the tunnel opening. Mulder reached out a hand to stop her but he was not quick enough. Scully evaded him and continued.

This time, Mulder watched as the lights appeared around the man and then swarmed over toward Scully, forming a grid in the mouth of the tunnel in front of her. He waited for her to stop, expecting frustration and anger on her face when she turned to look at him. But she continued on. For a moment, Mulder wondered what the hell she was doing, strolling idly into a wall of fire, and then he realized what was happening--she was hypnotized, unaware of the danger she was walking right into. With a rush of adrenalin, he pushed himself up, ignoring the sickening sound his leg made and the pain that threatened to overcome him, and threw himself forward toward her. He tackled her roughly and rolled back down to the ground with her under him, away from the wall of flame. The pain was excruciating, and he thanked the gods for the blessed numbness of unconsciousness that he could feel rapidly descending on him.

Scully regained consciousness first and found herself trapped under Mulder's unmoving body. Marshalling all her strength, she rolled to her left, taking him with her. Freed from his weight, she scanned the cavern for their visitor--he was gone. Stacy lay in a corner shaking hysterically, her eyes glazed over and unseeing. Scully knelt at her partner's side. The leg was broken again, this time with the bone nearly breaking the skin. It would be impossible to set again--she had to get help immediately for both Stacy and Mulder's sakes.

But how? she thought grimly. My partner's incapacitated and Stacy's, well, not doing much better. Scully moved over to where Stacy lay. It was going to take teamwork she knew, and Stacy seemed to be in slightly better shape than Mulder.

"Stacy?" Scully shook the teenager by the shoulder. "Stacy, I need you to snap out of this. I need your help if we're going to get out of this." Stacy remained unresponsive. Scully shook harder. "Stacy!" she yelled in the girl's face. "Stacy, look at me! Now!"

Slowly the teenager's eyes began to focus on her face. Another good shake and Stacy was blinking away her shock. "I... he...."

"Stacy," Scully said in her calmest voice, "where did he go? Did you see him leave?"

She nodded at Scully. "He...made the lights go away" she said in confusion, the truth beginning to dawn on her. Looking at Scully, she pointed to the entrance. "And then he went out."

"Did he go left or right?" Scully pressed.

"Uh, right, I think."

Toward the entrance of the mine, Scully concluded as sat back against the smooth wall of the tunnel to think for a moment. Somehow, she had to get out of the mine without "Mowgli" knowing. For all they knew, he was watching them now.

After a moment, she turned back to Stacy. "Stacy, I need you to do something. We need to get Mulder to a hospital soon. He's in a lot of pain." She smiled encouragingly at the teen. "Will you help me?"

Stacy nodded, sniffed, and sat up. "What do you want me to do?" she said with a soberness that surprised Scully.

"We need to distract the man who was here. He's not dangerous, but he doesn't want to let us go either. I need you to keep him busy while I get help. I don't think it will take much to keep him occupied...just talking to him seemed to have some effect." She took Stacy by the hand and, grabbing her backpack, led her out to the cavern. "I think I know where he went."

Scully was not comfortable with what she was about to do, with what she was asking Stacy to do, but she could see no way around it. Mulder was unable to walk, and Stacy's frostbite was already terribly dangerous; no, she was the only one who could go. She was worried about having Stacy distract their captor; the girl was not doing better emotionally than she was doing physically, but there was simply not another choice. Mulder would be--she shuddered at the thought--incapacitated by the pain that awaited him when he woke up. She had to get them out of there *now*.

As they moved through the mine, Scully pointed out the marks that she had made to guide herself back to their camp--Stacy might have to follow them later. Scully located the side tunnel she had first found the wild-child and pulled Stacy back to give her instructions. The teenager was supposed to keep him occupied while she made a run for the cabin--her cellular phone would have help on the way faster than trying to reach the forestry station, she decided.

"Are you sure you can do this?" she asked Stacy. "Because I'll understand..."

"Look," Stacy responded, "there isn't another way, is there?" Scully shook her head. "Then I'll do it. Just don't make us wait too long, okay?" she pleaded with a slight smile. "Hurry back!"

"I will," Scully promised and watched the teenager disappear down the side tunnel. She waited for a moment, biting her lip in frustration. Stacy's voice began to echo back down the passageway- -she was informing "Mowgli" of his wardrobe's shortcomings and suggesting interesting ways of using flora to accessorize. Scully grinned and stole quietly out of the mine.

When Mulder awoke, the rush of pain was almost enough to render him unconscious again. He struggled against it and won; his vision became clearer and his breathing steadier. "Scully?" He gritted his teeth and rolled onto his other side. "Stacy?" He was alone. Glaring around the camp, he reasoned with himself. Aside from the dirt and rocks he had kicked up when he threw himself at Scully, there were no signs of struggle. Wherever his partner and Stacy had wandered off to, they had obviously done it with little or no encouragement from their visitor--their kidnapper. He was sure of it now. The man *was* responsible for the disappearances; he had used his pyrokinetic powers to lure the others here. But why? What could he possibly want from them? He obviously had food, shelter, and warmth. What else could he need?

Mulder's eyes scanned the cavern as though an answer might lurk in the corners. Where the hell had Scully gone with Stacy? He hated being left alone. Then it hit him--loneliness! Up in the wilderness for all these years, a wild-child would have to learn how to provide for all of his own needs...even the human need for companionship. He would not have understood the danger he had brought upon those he abducted...why they, so unused to the cold, would have each slowly succumbed to exposure. Scully was right. He had not intended them any harm. Mulder was excited by his conclusions, but he had no one to share them with.

Where the hell is that woman? he fumed to himself.

The moment Scully cleared the mouth of the mine, she began to move quickly, not an easy thing in deep snow. It was six miles to the cabin, with the peak of the mountain between her and it. She tried not to let it daunt her.

It was only a matter of time before their captor discovered her disappearance. What would his reaction be? Anger at those who remained? Scully shivered at the thought of Stacy or Mulder, injured as her partner was, at the mercy of his anger. More likely, she thought to herself, he'll simply come after me. Hardly more comforting. Scully began to move faster.

Somehow, Stacy held her fear in check. She had kept his attention for the better part of an hour by babbling on about the things she knew best--clothes, shopping, boys. But the strain was beginning to show. She was having a hard time concentrating, the cold and exhaustion wearing her down. He had lost interest now and was moving about the cavern, making preparation for dinner. He was reasonably friendly, Stacy thought to herself, offering her scraps of not-yet-cooked meat as he stripped them off the rabbit he was butchering with a flint knife. Only the knowledge that he wouldn't let them go kept her fear at the forefront. She knew she and Mulder were in a lot of trouble...she'd been a candy-striper at the local hospital for two months last fall--she knew what frostbite looked like. It was sweet of the both of them to try to hide it from her, but she knew better. And Mulder. He was in a bad way. If they didn't get out of here soon...

Stacy looked at the light coming down the shaft--it was getting dark. She wondered how far Scully had gotten. Once it got dark, the temperature would drop like a rock. The mine was no warmer but at least they had a fire. Unprotected and trying to cross the mountain, Scully might not last very long...

Mulder added the very last of the wood to the fire, cursing himself for being unable to do anything more constructive than waste the last of their fuel. He looked down at his leg as though it had betrayed him. The pain was spreading throughout his body, and he was growing weaker by the second. His only comfort was that Scully had been gone a long time. Maybe she had figured a way to get them out of here.

But where was Stacy? He knew his partner would not have taken the teenager across the mountain to try to reach help. It was surprising that the poor girl could even stand with her feet in the condition they were. And she wouldn't have wandered far from the fire by herself, he was sure of that.

He was getting colder, despite the increased heat the fire was giving off. The blanket was on the other side of the fire, by where Stacy had been sleeping. He tried to sit up, pushing himself off of the ground with his arms. The pain threatened to overcome him again; he stopped halfway up, with his weight on his elbows behind him. He relaxed for a moment, trying to gather the strength to drag himself to the other side of the fire.

Gritting his teeth against the pain, he began to make his way around the fire, stopping after each small movement to rest.

Stacy began to get nervous. It was obvious that he was putting the last touches on their supper. If he went back to their camp, he would discover that Scully was missing. The teenager wandered around the cavern, wracking her brain for some way of keeping him there. She brushed against the collection of shiny baubles he kept on a rock in the corner and was utterly unprepared for his reaction.

Without looking at her, he jumped across the room and, slapping her out of his way, grabbed the necklace and ring that had fallen to the ground. Stacy lay stunned on the ground, looking up at him and gingerly touching her cut lip. She backed away from him and stood up, watching him as he returned to the fire after casting a glowering look her way. Her eyes widened in realization. Subtly, she aligned herself with the jewelry on the rock directly between her and the door and waited. After he had collected the food together on a rock and was in the process of lifting it, she dashed toward the glittering pile and snatched a large portion of it; she didn't turn back to see his reaction--she knew she'd be too terrified to do what she decided must be done. She threw a couple of rings over her shoulder and heard him scamper after them as she plunged into the darkness of the mine.

Mulder heard movement in the cavern and stopped to listen. The heavy footfall stopped at the entrance of their side tunnel and in the weak light of the fire, Mulder saw the wild-child carrying the unmoving form of Stacy over his shoulder. He dumped her unceremoniously at Mulder's feet and scanned the cavern for Scully. Mulder watched the rage build in the man's face and moved to try to protect Stacy from the violence he knew was coming. But the blows never came. The wild-child lifted his face to the unseen stars above and howled in anger. Then with a final warning look at Mulder and Stacy, he ran with animal-grace in pursuit of the missing agent.

Mulder grabbed Stacy by the shoulders and pulled her up toward him. Panicking, he searched for a pulse; there it was--slight but steady--under his fingers. Making a final push toward the blanket which lay a few feet away, Mulder managed to snag it and pulled it over the two of them. Then, with an eye on the dying fire, he began to pray...

Scully was at the crest of the mountain when she heard it--the same animal whoop that she and Mulder had followed up the hill from the cabin. Looking behind her, toward the distant mine, she could just make him out standing in silhouette, the light framing his body. The lights began to shoot move around in a search pattern. He hadn't seen her yet, but it was only a matter of time. Looking down toward the cabin, she decided a run across the open areas would not be successful. Instead, she headed toward the tree-line to her right, moving quickly but awkwardly through the snow.

She had reached the trees when the lights crested the mountains. She didn't slow down, but could see them, out of the corner of her eye, hovering around the peak. At the sound of another howl, she looked over her shoulder to see him standing on top of a large outcropping near the peak. The lights began to roam the area in a search for her. She froze. He knew this area better than her; he would find her if she didn't do something drastic.

Checking her pockets, she satisfied herself of the contents and unzipped the jacket. Steeling herself, she took a final look at the wild-child, standing in the mountain moonlight and made a run for the cabin across the open meadow. His howl informed her she had been spotted, and she pushed herself harder. Moving and breathing heavily in the snow-silence, she shucked her jacket and left it behind on the snow. The lights were beginning to surround her. She changed directions without breaking stride, altering her course slightly. A glance ahead told her that the edge of the meadow was still over a hundred yards away.

Scully pushed on, closing her eyes against the lights that were converging on her. She could not hear him, but she knew he was after her. She kept running. When she judged that the edge of the meadow was a few more feet, she sneaked a peak--it would do no good to come this far and render herself unconscious by running into a tree. The trees loomed in front of Scully like a cliff, and standing between her and their darkness, was her pursuer. The lights sparked up behind him, highlighting the anger written on his face. Dana shivered as the lights surrounded her.

Stacy had not regained consciousness yet, and Mulder began to fear a head wound. He could not examine her effectively in the dim light of the dying embers, so he ran his fingers along her scalp. There it was, a goose-egg the size of, well, a goose-egg. Mulder moved away from her for a moment to try to stoke up a little more warmth from the quickly disappearing fire. Again he heard movement in the main tunnel and pushed himself protectively in front of Stacy. A single fireball lighting his way, the wild-child swung into view; this time, it was Scully's body draped across his shoulders. He threw her with great force at Mulder who reached out for her and rolled with her limp body to try to minimize the impact. Their captor favored them with a final look of disgust and stalked out of the room.

In the darkness, Mulder brushed his hand across her face, moving the hair out of the way and feeling her breath across his fingers. He sighed in relief. Cradling her body against him and trying to ignore the excruciating pain in his leg, he buried his face in her hair and began to murmur her name over and over in a desperate rhythm.

"I'm sorry, Mulder," her voice as husky as his own. "I tried..." Her voice dropped off and her body relaxed into unconsciousness against his.

A Long Epilogue

Scully awoke to the familiar smell of hospital antiseptic. Fumbling with the controls, she brought the hospital bed up to a sitting position. Stacy was asleep in the bed next to her, and Mulder was sitting in the bed opposite her, watching her closely. He reached for the crutches at the side of his bed and managed to pull himself to his feet. She didn't even attempt to hide her amusement as he hobbled over and perched himself on a corner of her bed.

"What did you have to do to get yourself put in the same room?" she asked, smiling up at him.

"He put up a bigger stink than I've ever had the misfortune to witness," chimed in a nurse entering the room. "And I thought we had agreed that you'd stay on your own bed," she confronted him with her hands planted firmly on her hips.

Scully waggled her finger at him. "Bad Mulder. Naughty Mulder," she told him in mock reproach.

"How about a compromise?" Mulder motioned toward a wheelchair on the other side of the room.

"All right. But only because I don't want to get into it with you again." She moved the wheelchair next to the bed and helped Mulder into it. "How do you put up with this man?" she asked Scully.

"It's not easy," she agreed, "but he does have *some* redeeming qualities."

He grinned at his partner. "Ganging up on a poor sick boy..."

The nurse gave him a final withering look and disappeared out of the room, leaving the two talking quietly.

"What happened, Mulder? The last thing I remember was running from Mowgli..."

"They found your jacket this morning; you'd left the map in the pocket with the mine clearly marked on it. Sheriff Chandler found the mine entrance and had his men search the mine until they found us."

"And Mowgli?"

"They found a camp of sorts in one of the tunnels, along with some of the articles missing off the victims."

"Did they..."

"No. It's been about nine hours since they found us there's no sign of him yet. Chandler's men completely swept the accessible parts of the mine. He's gone, Scully."

She was quiet for a moment. "I guess that's preferable."

"To what?"

"To another wild-child lying face down in a pool of blood." She looked meaningfully at him. He took her hand and nodded mutely.

Scully glanced over at Stacy lying peacefully in the bed next to hers. "How is she?"

"She lost part of one of her toes. The doctors said that she was really lucky not to have lost more. She has a mild concussion. Otherwise, she's doing really well. I'm sure she'll be up and chasing boys pretty quickly."

Scully smiled. "Chasing you, you mean."

"Well, Stacy appears to be rather fickle in her affections," Mulder gestured at the roses on the teenager's bedside table. "Those are from her 'ex'-boyfriend, and she was making eyes at one of the interns a couple of hours ago. I am apparently yesterday's news," he concluded with a grin.

"Skinner approved this?" Scully whirled on Mulder as he hobbled toward where she stood in the cabin doorway.

"Well, officially the only thing he approved was our time off for recovery," Mulder defended himself. "But the cabin was rented for the entire month and, thanks to your foresight, there's enough food in that fridge to last almost that long. We might as well use these resources rather than let them go to waste. I mean, our clothes and luggage are still here. The only logical thing to do is to rest up here." He flashed her a conspiratory smile.

Scully knew when she was outmatched. "Slow down or you'll kill yourself on those crutches," she warned him. She took off her coat and set to work on starting a fire. Mulder trundled in and, after a brief struggle with the door, collapsed onto the couch.

"Can I help?"

"No, I've got it." Scully glanced over her shoulder at him. "Get comfortable, and I'll get us some lunch in a minute."

Mulder settled back onto the couch and watched his partner kneeling on the floor in front of the fireplace. She moved quickly and confidently about the task at hand. Soon she had the fire going and headed for the kitchen. His eyes followed her. Now that they were safe and warm again, all the things that he had been trying to ignore were back.

He had a decision to make, and he realized that, by bringing Scully back up here, he had made it. Now if he could just work up the courage to start.

Scully finished up the sandwiches and grabbed plates for the cupboards and Cokes from the fridge. She plopped his sandwiches and soda in front of him on the coffee table and took a spot opposite him on the couch.

After a moment, he realized that she was staring at him, waiting for some kind of response. He panicked for a moment, fumbling to find something to say. "So what do you think happened to him?"


"Yeah. He hasn't turned up; no one's even been able to track him. He can't have just disappeared."

"I don't think it matters much," she said around a mouthful of sandwich.

"What if he kidnaps more people?"

"I don't think he will."

"Why not?"

"I don't know. Just a hunch, I guess."

"Based on?"

Scully's brow wrinkled a moment as she tried to sift through her feelings. "Why do you think he kidnapped people, Mulder?"

"He was lonely," Mulder said tentatively.

"I think so too. He wanted some human contact."

"Yeah, but he kept making the same mistake--thinking that they could survive what was, for him, a normal environment."

"Exactly. I don't think he ever meant to hurt them or us. He just didn't understand that the rest of us weren't as tough as him."

"So why should he stop now? Do you think he figured out that we aren't all Tarzans?"

She shrugged. "I'm not sure he knows that now, but I don't think he's going to be too interested in other humans for a long time."


"Until now, he's had his own world, separate from ours. One that he controlled. But when Chandler found the mine and searched it, our world invaded Mowgli's. He lost what little comfort he had--a place that was his, out of the snow and the wind, where he could light a fire and look at trinkets he had managed to swipe. We took that away from him."

"He did cause the deaths of at least six people, Scully. He's not quite the harmless waif that you make him out to be."

"He didn't kill them; he provided us with everything that he himself needed to survive. In his own possessive way, he was kind. But I think that's all over now. I don't think the rest of humanity will ever see Mowgli again. I think he's done with us. We destroyed his world; why would he ever want contact with any of us again?"

Mulder sat back and thought about this for a moment. "I think you're right, Scully." He grabbed Scully cellular of the table and dialed a number. Scully smiled as she listened to him convince Chandler to call off the search for their wild-child.

"Skinner will have both our butts for this one, Mulder," she said as he put the phone down.

"I'll just tell him it was *your* idea," he shot back with a smile.

He had fought her and won but not without concessions. She was letting him make dinner on the condition that he did something simple and he let her help him. He was thankful in a way because it meant he could let his attention wander a little. The tarot spread that Tabitha had done continued to haunt him. He had made his decision and he knew it might change everything between them. He hoped that Tabitha's reading had been as true as it seemed. The High Priestess that she had chosen as Scully's signifier gave him hope--it was a card of great power and reflected, above all, a woman unafraid of anything. He was counting on it.

He proudly set the chicken stir fry bottle of white wine in front of her. It took him a moment to get settled into his chair--a broken leg was a lot more inconvenient than he had ever imagined.

He poured the wine and collected himself. He looked up at his partner. Scully looked beautiful in a forest-green sweater and her hair hanging loose and a little unkempt around her face. She picked up her glass and smiled softly at him. His doubts vanished. He reached across table and took her hand. Her fingers curved gently, naturally, around his.

"Dana, there is something I've wanted to tell you, for a very long time."

The End

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