Title: Alligator Moon
Author: jordan and committee
Written: April 1998
Disclaimer: Characters created by Chris Carter and owned by 1013 Productions and Fox.
Category: MSR /MOTW/adventure
Spoilers: assume them all

Summary: A big monster in swamp attacks FBI agents.

thanks again to the many critics who helped make this smoother, and the only places it isn't changed per critique is where two authors disagreed and I had to make a decision


Special Agent Dana Scully, FBI woman, steadied her wrist on the cypress stump and sighted down the barrel of her Sig at the man on the other side of the water. The gun was heavy and cold in her hand. A mosquito was biting the back of her left thigh and she didn't dare swat at it because she might give away her position. The smell of the swamp was like something that had died of a terrible disease.

Scully was tired and hot and hungry, and she wanted desperately to shoot this man.

Three months of investigation. Three long months of leads, interviews, and paperwork, while they compiled a painstakingly thorough case against Edgar Ray Terran. Three long miserable months of talking to coughing old men and smarmy lotharios who stared at her breasts while they talked and women who somehow managed to include the details of each of their last childbirths as part of their replies to simple questions like, "And did you observe Mr. Terran enter the building at that time?" It had all the comic tragedy of a teenager they had once arrested who used a heart to dot the "i" in the word "kill" in her confession.

Disk after disk of reports, until her laptop hard drive was full, and Mulder pissed off all the time once he decided it wasn't an X-file after all, but Skinner adamant that they finish the case they had begun.

She was so damn sick of this. Pull out a gun, Eddie, fire at will, let me end this waste of taxpayer's money once and for all, please God .

But of course he only looked around long and cautiously before turning and slipping back into the woods.

She waited, eyes on her watch because she didn't trust her own sense of time, for ten minutes. Long enough for him to get back to the cabin he thought was so well concealed in the heart of the wetlands of south Texas.

Fucking Texas.

She straightened and slapped at the mosquito, connected, made a dime-sized splat of blood on her dark green pants. Then she put the safety back on the Sig, dipped it into her holster, and called Mulder on her cell phone. "He's on his way."

Squelching through the mud, Scully followed the edge of the water around a curve and then went into the woods, cutting off the escape route in case Terran somehow got away from her partner and tried to double back.

Mulder was the worst part of this case, she thought bitterly, waving away a small crowd of curious gnats. Since the whole Houston case, when he had kissed her in some half-drugged stupor which he pretended not to remember, he had not touched her. Not once. It was a small thing made large by its absence; no more casual touching of her arm or the small of her back or even taking her elbow the way he used to do. The atmosphere between them had reached the last level of tension before it had to erupt in violence. Or in getting the hell away from each other.

They each dealt with it in their own way, of course. She slept a lot. He didn't. But while Mulder prowled around the motel rooms and the late night diners and the fluorescent lit malls, Scully's sleep was filled with dreams. She dreamed of him crashing into her bedroom and wrestling her to the bed and overcoming her anger at him through violent sex. She dreamed of shooting him and then trying to hide his body from Skinner. She dreamed strange dark sick things that woke her in the night feeling like she needed a shower. Or at least a showered.

Please, God, let this be the end of it. Let this be the day we bring Eddie in. We need a rest, Mulder and I; we need some time apart. We need-

In the distance, the sound of a muted gunshot.

Every noise she had not been aware of, the buzzing of insects, the peeping of frogs, the twittering of birds, suddenly came to a stop, filling the woods with ominous silence. A heron flapped overhead, wings making a sound like a flag whipping in the wind.

Scully froze, her hand on the butt of her gun.

Five more shots in rapid succession, popcorn soft in the dead air. A scream. A terrible, high pitched scream that suddenly dropped to a wrenching guttural sob.

Scully began to run. She knew the path; she and Mulder had found the cabin a week ago, and had staked it out each day waiting for Terran to return. Still, she had to duck under low branches and jump over unexpected logs, light and quick as a deer in her motions, but sick and heavy at heart. Mulder, God, please don't let it be Mulder.

Something blew by her, like the vortex of a truck barreling by on a freeway, and she lost her concentration and slipped on a wet patch. She cried out despite herself, and went down, trying to tuck her shoulder and roll but only falling instead on her arm, and twisting it painfully as she tumbled over some broken branches.

Cursing under her breath, she got to her feet and stood shaking from the adrenaline. Her clothes were soaked from her fall.

Footsteps crashed through the leaves and Scully wavered a little dizzily, bringing her gun up at the sound.

Mulder burst through the foliage, his face white, eyes wide with terror. When he saw her she could see the same thing in his face that must be reflected on hers: thank God you're all right.

"You okay?" he asked. Then his face turned even paler, sick looking. "Oh, Scully," he said brokenly, like a child about to cry.

"What? What is it, Mulder?"

He was staring at her clothes and she looked down to realize for the first time that she was drenched in blood, dripping blood from her hands, streaked and mottled in bright arterial red.

"No, no, no," she said hurriedly; "I'm fine. I just slipped. It must be-"

He covered the distance between them in two long strides and grabbed her arm, the sore one, making her gasp in pain as he turned her around. He looked her up and down until he was sure the blood was not hers, and then turned her back and jerked her hard against him, his face hidden in her hair as he took a long shuddering breath. His arms held her in a rough, desperate embrace. And then just as quickly he thrust her away from him.

Dazed, she could only stand looking down at the long patch of blood she had slid in, slowly comprehending the scene.

"Oh, my God," she said. "Mulder. Look."

He was looking. Then he was walking away into the woods, bending over, and she heard him cough a couple of times and then the husky bubbling rasp of his vomit.

Edgar Ray Terran was dead. The wet parts of him seemed to have ended up on Scully, or splattered among the leaves, or in a long furrow filled with blackish blood and gore. There were patches of skin and hair on the tree trunks on the path, and fragments of clothing torn in pieces on the ground. The scene looked like the aftermath of an airplane crash with only one passenger and no plane.

Mulder lurched back to her, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Between the smell of his vomit and the smell of blood like old pennies in the heavy air, Scully had to swallow back the acid taste in her own throat.

Then almost without any thought at all, she had the Sig in her hands and Mulder was holding his automatic in a two handed grip and they were facing away from each other, turning in a slow circle. Whoever or whatever had done this was still out there. Scully felt her back come up warm and solid against his. They stopped for a moment, their breathing exactly in synch.

A loon called, sad and haunted, somewhere in the distance, and a squirrel chattered back, and then the woods came back to life again in sound, deafening after the silence.

Slowly, the agents let their arms drop, though neither holstered their gun.

"I guess that's the end of it," Scully said, looking down at the trench of blood that had been Terran.

Mulder said, "What, are you crazy? We came up here originally to find a shapeshifter, didn't we?"

She pursed her lips and stared into the middle distance, waiting for Mulder to slam dunk another theory through her hoop of logic.

"Well, that's what YOU came up here for, Mulder," she pointed out, "But I don't think even the elusive Eddie Terran can shift his shape much more than he already has."

"Scully, what the hell just happened to him?"

She shrugged. "Frankly, Mulder, I don't care. He's dead, and it's over. Let's just get back to the jeep and get the hell out of here."

"Scully," His voice was softer, concerned, not joking for once. "Something just-EXPLODED this man. Aren't you the least bit curious or concerned about what it was?"

Scanning the woods slowly, her head tracking right to left, Scully said, "Maybe I will be later, but at this exact moment, no, I am not. I just want to get out of here."

"If we go now, we won't be coming back. Once we report Eddie dead, the case really will be over."

"Don't you want it to end?" She asked. "I know you're as sick of it as I am, Mulder. So what's your point?"

"My point is, the reason we got into this thing in the first place is because people reported Eddie Terran as being protected by some sort of shapeshifting thing, and Skinner thought we'd be able to track it down and -"

"And prove it was bullshit. I was there at the meeting, remember? I know what he said."

Mulder shrugged. "Look, Scully, if you want to go back now, be my guest. I just want to look around a little more, okay?"

There was a long, long sigh through the trees, almost as if a storm was coming. All day the sky had been a heavy wool grey, holding heat down on top of them like a blanket, but there had been no sign of rain. And this was not a freshening wind, though it seemed to grow stronger as it swept through the branches. Scully lifted her head, eyes narrowed.

The wind-well, it had to be the wind, didn't it?-was making a sound, a high, keening sound like banshees, like demons. It focused into a single cry, deep, clear, sharp as surgery, and as full of unmistakable intent as the growl of a dog. Impossible to define, because it was like nothing either of them had ever heard before.

For some reason, Scully flashed back to a film she had seen midway through medical school. A mouse, a bowl, an alarm clock. The experimenter put a mouse in a shiny aluminum bowl, steep enough so the mouse couldn't climb or jump out. An old fashioned alarm clock, the kind with clappers that rang like a 1950's telephone, was set to go off at eleven at night, a time when the mouse would normally be foraging. When the alarm went off, making a hellish din against the aluminum bowl, the mouse had scurried around and around in terrified laps, for x amount of time, until it settled down again and crouched trembling, looking up at the camera with wet black eyes.

And that's me now, Scully thought, as the cry reached a crescendo and then ribboned out into a fading undulation of notes, almost flutelike, to blend again with the sigh of the wind. The next scream you hear is going to be mine.

She turned to Mulder. He was looking into the shadows, his eyes searching the path behind them carefully. In a white tee shirt and faded jeans, his tan Doc Martens crusted with mud and leaves, he looked like a teenaged boy, arms and legs a little out of proportion to his height, as if the result of a recent growth spurt. It was that unfinished look that made him so irresistible to women, those big sweet eyes, the vaguely goofy smile. Even Scully had to remind herself from time to time that under that everywhichway hair was an exquisitely brilliant mind, a genius she might not understand but had to ultimately trust. She was trying to trust it now, trying to believe he would not deliberately put them both in the path of unnecessary danger.

"Where did that come from?" he asked.

She shook her head. Everywhere. Nowhere. "From the water?"

"I think it came from behind us, over there." He pointed down the path she had come down when she had been following Terran.

Mulder came to stand close beside her, and she made no effort to move away.

"Listen," he said, "Did you ever hear of the legend of the Windigo?"

In West Virginia, in a town called Dunbar, when she was a girl scout on an overnight hike, they had told stories around the campfire, and she still remembered that one quite clearly. "Some kind of Indian legend about a monster that lives in the woods," she said. "I think Steven King wrote about it in 'Pet Semetary.'"

"Well, I think we just heard it, Scully."

Scully's gaze fastened on his for a second, and then she said, "Well, whatever it was, it wasn't the wind."

"And I think we are in very deep shit here."

From somewhere behind them, in the direction Mulder had pointed in, came a creaking groan, the sound of a tree slowly coming down. It crashed through the woods, and above the roof of the forest there was a whoof of debris, like smoke billowing up from a small explosion. Whatever knocked it down was definitely moving in their direction; something was thrashing the bushes, and birds burst up in a squawking covey. Except for the noise of an engine, it sounded for all the world as if a bulldozer was coming through the woods towards them.

Mulder grabbed Scully's hand and yanked her behind him as he began to run. "The cabin!" he shouted. "We have to try to get to the cabin!"

"Why?"

"You'll see when we get there. Come on!"

With a fresh burst of energy, Scully matched his pace, and would have passed him if she'd known where they were going. As it was, she was as hot on his heels as whatever it was coming down the path seemed to be on theirs; they could actually look over their shoulders and see the saplings coming down in the distance as something bullied its way through the thick woods, gaining on them by the second.


They ran.

If it was alive, it was chasing them; if it was some sort of natural disaster, like a windstorm or an earthquake, it was still only moments from overtaking them. The wolf knows it of the rabbit, the hawk knows it of the dove, the dog knows it of the mailman: whoever chases is predator, and whoever runs is prey. As Scully ducked between trees, her arms out to ward off branches, brushing spiderwebs and Spanish moss out of her way, a blind, unreasoning panic began to seize her.

Before it could take hold, she summoned the last of her courage and reached back to the holster in the small of her back. She tore back the velcro flap, grasped the butt of her weapon and drew it. The motion slowed her, and she let herself come to a full stop, the gun in her hand, to face her pursuer defiantly.

"Scully! No!" Mulder had slid in the leaves like a first base runner and reversed direction to run back to her. He scooped an arm around her waist and dragged her backwards. For one second she saw the shimmer of something in the air, something she could only comprehend as sheer power, and she felt its malevolent intent like foul breath in her face. Then she was being half carried, half pulled by Mulder into a sudden clearing.

They fell together in a tangle of arms and legs, sharp pointy elbows and knees. Scully struggled to a kneeling position quickly, but Mulder put his hand on her arm and said in a surprisingly calm voice, "No, wait."

She stopped, looking around. The woods were still. For a few minutes she waited, concentrating on slowing her breathing. Mulder stared in fascination as her breasts rose and fell like the heaving bosom of a Harlequin heroine.

Then she gave him a "whadda-you-lookin-at" glare and he quickly averted his eyes.

"Mulder..."

He looked past her into the woods. "It's gone," he said.

Scully's fingers curled up into her palm, making a fist that itched to smack him once. Just once. If only she could give him one good smack and wipe that smirk off his face, make those eyes focus on her instead of wandering off into his own Mulderworld where she was something impersonal, a convenience or an annoyance, a nurse to pass the scalpel to the surgeon, a Watson to cast a shadow in Holmes' brilliance, just ONCE you son of a bitch when I'm not in one of those hospital gowns with no makeup on or bleeding from the nose, LOOK AT ME!

Mulder blinked and turned his head to look at her.

"What the hell was that?" he asked.

She looked back at him for a moment and then sighed. "I'm thinking it was a very large animal."

Logic sounded so pitiful and strange in this primal place, where clearly madness and magic held sway. Still, she had to try. "Maybe something from a zoo?"

"Yeah, a zoo," Mulder said. "Maybe the famous Texas Jurassic Park zoo."

Taking her bearings, Scully saw that they had fallen into the edge of a clearing maybe a quarter of an acre in diameter, in the center of which stood Terran's cabin. It was a pathetic structure, the size of a Sears backyard shed, just some clapboards nailed to a frame with a crudely shingled roof. It looked like something the Unibomber might call home.

In the "yard" around it were dozens of black oil drums with sealed lids.

Mulder got up and offered his hand, and she took it to pull herself up, thinking, Oh, now we're touching again, are we? But as soon as she was up, he drew away again. Scully felt a brief surge of resentment, but she pushed it down; there were more important things to worry about at the moment.

"Okay, I'll ask," she said. "How did you know we'd be safe here?"

"A hunch," Mulder said. "Look."

She followed his pointing finger down; at first all she saw was dirty, fallen leaves, a patch of wild mushrooms growing from a rotting branch. Then she began to discern a pattern, a white marking. Once she saw it, it was obvious. There was a long white stripe of powdery substance, like a line draw between the yard of the cabin and the woods.

"I saw it earlier," he told her. "I think it's some kind of boundary line. It goes all the way around the house, in a perfect circle."

"But what is it?"

"I think it's salt," Mulder said. "I think it's something like a charmed circle, something that wards off evil."

Scully bent again, peering down at the white substance. "It's crystalline," she said thoughtfully, hesitant to touch it. "Salt, you say?"

"Well, it stands to reason. Some people believe salt wards off harm. Like a snake circle."

She turned her face up to his. "A what?"

"Haven't you ever heard that snakes won't cross a circle of salt?"

Scully stood up, dusting her hands. "Mulder, that's...that's ridiculous. A snake crawls over the desert sands, which are full of salt, and they live in salt rock areas of the Southwest. In the Great Salt Flats of Utah snakes are one of the most successful animals to survive under those harsh saline conditions."

Mulder made a sound that meant, I hear you, no comment, and wandered away from her, to the barrels. He pried at the lid of one without much success. "Damn," he muttered. "What do you think he has in these things?"

"Forty thieves?"

Mulder looked at her blankly. It was all right for HIM to try to be funny. Fine. She looked around the yard for some sort of tool to help him pry up the lid. Nothing.

"Have you been inside the cabin?" she asked.

"Yeah. Nothing in there but some more of these barrels, some supplies, and a bed. I didn't look around long, though. You called just after I got here."

Of mutual accord, they both started to walk towards the cabin. Halfway there, they stopped and looked at each other, then turned back to stare into the woods again.

Absolute silence had fallen.

You can smell it, Scully thought, fighting down another rush of panic. Something old, old, old, the way old dogs take on a certain small. That's what makes the animals go quiet. They can smell it coming.

Something suddenly stung Scully's ankle, and she yelped, startling Mulder so badly he jerked his whole body back from her. She swatted at it; her ankle was bare between the cuff of her pants and her low rise boots. She had stepped too close to a fire ant bed, and they were starting to swarm up her foot.

Swearing, she kicked the boot off and hopped backwards awkwardly, trying to brush them off, keep her balance, and watch the woods all at the same time. Mulder grabbed her elbow to keep her upright, and bent to swipe at her pants leg.

The wind was picking up again. It started as a pattering among the treetops, just leaves tapping against each other, almost like raindrops. Then it swelled, swaying the branches lower and lower still, until at ground level saplings began to twitch and shudder violently.

Mulder backed up, and Scully hopped after him, until they came to the wall of the cabin. She supported herself there with one hand, the other still brushing the few remaining ants away. It was like being touched with a lit match each place they bit.

What happened next was too strange for Scully to believe, even though she was looking right at it. It might have been a tornado, or a hurricane, or the biggest dust devil anyone had ever laid eyes on. The wind was circling the house, blasting leaves up in the air like a weedeater, making an increasingly loud whining noise. It moved in a circular motion, following the salt trail around the clearing, faster and faster, creating a vortex so intense that Scully felt the hair lifting from her head.

It swept around and around the house, until there was a solid mass of leaves fluttering wildly in the air. If not for the noise, it would have been a fascinating physical phenomenon. But that shrieking-! It was visceral, connecting directly to the most primitive part of the brain, deeper, something recognized at a cellular level. Scully could feel it shaking in her bones and screaming in her blood. She fell against Mulder, and he put his arms around her.

A few loose shingles from the roof of the cabin actually did fly up into oblivion, but then as abruptly as it had come, it was gone again.

The leaves fell back down, and within the space of a single moment, everything was exactly as it had been before.

Well, almost everything.

"Oh, shit," Mulder said, releasing her to stride forward and drop to his knees. "Look at this, Scully. Look."

She limped after him and saw what he was looking at.

The salt circle was gone.


The cabin smelled so bad Scully's eyes stung when she first entered it. She stood in the doorway for a moment, putting her boot back on, while Mulder poked around. There was an old Coleman lantern, a filthy pile of crumpled paper plates and old beer cans, a few torn girly magazines.

"All the comforts of home," he murmured.

Scully grunted as she tried to force up the lid of one of the oil barrels. "We need to get a look at what's in these drums," she said.

"Ten to one it's the loot he's been stashing from the mail robberies."

"I don't doubt it, but we can't prove anything until we get some evidence."

Actually, they had enough evidence to convict Edgar Ray Terran several times over. He had been a forger and a thief, sending fake civil service exams scores out so that he could get jobs under false identities at post offices around the country, each time disappearing after a major theft. They estimated that he had stolen almost a million dollars over a period of three years.

The problem was his elusiveness. He seemed to be capable of vanishing into thin air, and he was rumored to have the ability to shapeshift, which was what pulled Mulder into the case originally.

But long hours of careful investigation had shown that he had only been very adept at makeup and altering his facial hair and voice modulation, really amazing tricks, but tricks just the same..

When he had been confronted for questioning, he had managed to get away, fleeing into this remote swampy area between Texas and Louisiana, where he had originally come from, and no one had been able to follow him after that. Local authorities had caught glimpses of him in the tiny towns, buying supplies at rural stores, but he had always managed to evade them. A canine search team had been flown in, but the dogs had disappeared within a couple of hours, their baying simply cut off in mid-howl. After that, a serious manhunt had been mounted, but the isolation of the thousands of acres of protected wetlands had made it a waste of money and manhours.

It had been at that point that Skinner had allowed Mulder to take the case, but by the time Mulder figured out that Terran was only using local legends and rumors to create his own smokescreen, he and Scully were so deep into the paperwork they couldn't back out. Skinner simply refused to let them quit, pointing out that all they really had to do was arrest their suspect and bring him in.

So it had been one hot steamy trek after another along the state line, with Mulder in his no- touching-though-I-remember-nothing-about-any- kiss funk, and Scully's teeth so on edge she felt like biting him just to relieve the itch, until they finally started getting some solid leads. And then they had begun to spot Eddie, using high powered binoculars, shadowy as Bigfoot slipping through the woods, around the quicksand, over the cottonmouth nests.

Their last bit of patience had been rewarded when Mulder figured out that Eddie was stocking supplies somewhere in the woods, always carrying sacks or full backpacks in and coming out empty handed. Until today, now that Scully thought of it. Today he had been empty handed when she saw him headed for his cabin.

That had to mean something, though she couldn't decide what.

Mulder was squatting by the lantern, lighting it. Even in the daylight it was dark in the cabin, and the light helped, if only to illuminate the filth.

"There's enough oil here to last a couple of days," he observed. "And all these supplies he was bringing in could last a month."

Scully examined them idly, big empty burlap bags from the stores, unmarked, though they knew the contents because they had every receipt in their possession as part of the investigation. "Mulder, you don't think we're going to be stuck here, do you?"

"No. I'm just happy to see that if we can't get out tonight we won't be stuck in the dark."

Mulder was not fond of total darkness. And being in the woods at night with that thing out there was not a happy thought for either of them.

Scully said, "What are you doing?"

He was on his hands and knees, pulling ziploc bags from under the bed. "God, there must be a hundred of these things under here," he said, his voice muffled. "Eddie must have been planning to hide out here for a good long while, and then in time, when things had cooled down, to slip out of the country with the money."

Scully picked up one of the bags and held it up to examine it, frowning. "Drugs?"

"Check it out."

She opened it and studied the contents, pressing it through the plastic between her thumb and forefinger. "I think it's cocaine, Mulder."

She took the baggie to the door and held it up to the light. Actually, it could have been anything.. She put her finger in her mouth to wet it and dipped it in the bag, licked experimentally. There was always a sure way to find out if it was coke. A tiny taste would put her tongue to sleep.

Mulder was watching her with a strange look.

"What is it?"

"I think it's..." She tasted it again. "It's sugar, Mulder."

He looked totally nonplused. "Sugar?"

"Do you think maybe he was using it to cut drugs?"

They looked at each other a moment, then both shook their heads. "You use baking powder to cut cocaine," Mulder pointed out. "Not that he doesn't seem to have plenty of that on the inventory, too."

Scully stared up and to the right for a moment, her eyes glazed over thoughtfully. "Multhur," she said.

"What?"

She spied a stack of plastic jugs filled with water, went to get one. After peeling off the plastic safety ring, she popped the top and drank from it. Deeply.

Then she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and said, "It ith coke."

"Really?" Mulder took the baggie from her and frowned down at it. "What the hell would he be doing that for? The dumbest street buyer would know by a taste this wasn't straight. What a stupid thing to do."

"Well, thit," Scully said, making faces as she moved her tongue around in her mouth, trying to regain sensation. It would last no more than half an hour or so, as delicate a taste as she had taken, but it was a maddening feeling.

"The circle is gone," Mulder pointed out. "I sure wish I knew what it was made of. Could it have been sugar?"

He went back outside and Scully followed him. To her dismay, she realized that they had only an hour or two of daylight left. The grey sky was finally clearing, replaced by high scudding clouds, and already the mosquitoes were increasing.

"What differinth doth it make?" she asked. "We jutht need to get the hell out of here."

"With that thing out there? We'd never make it."

"But Eddith been out here for almotht a month, and it never got him."

"Until today," Mulder reminded her.

She nodded. "Whath differenth about thith day?" She glared at him. "Thtop lauthing at me."

"I'm sorry," he said, trying not to smile. "You sound like Daffy Duck."

She worked her tongue for a few more minutes, making hissing noises as a tingling itch told her sensation was returning. "Focus, Mulder," she said, successfully.

"Okay, but you're not going to like it." He glanced up at the sky. "Isn't this the night of a full moon?"

Scully searched the skies. "I don't know. Is it?" Then she looked back at him, and for the first time in a long time, laughed out loud. "Oh, Mulder. You don't think that thing is a - a WEREwind, do you?"

He looked injured. "Let's hear YOUR theory," he said.

Scully shook her head. "I won't even try to explain it."

"Well, will you try to help me get one of these barrels open?"

She went through her pockets and found her Swiss Army Knife. As a child, her older brother had always insisted she carry one, and if he asked her for it and she didn't have it somewhere on her, he would punch her in the arm. Hard.

"Try thith," she said, handing it over. She worked her tongue again and said, "I mean, this."

Mulder's eyebrows shot up. "Scully, you've been holding out on me."

Truer words were never spoken, she thought, watching him work the blades until he found the broad flat head of the can opener.

"Ah," he said happily.

It broke the blade, but Mulder did manage to pry up a corner of the lid far enough to get his fingers under it. From there it was just a matter of working it off.

The drum was filled to its uppermost capacity with sugar. Pure white crystal sugar.

Scully hung her head. "Well, now it all makes sense," she said. "NOT."

Mulder was pushing the barrel onto its side, spilling the contents. She watched as he put both hands on the side and pushed it.

"Wanna give me a hand here?"

She went to stand beside him. "What are we doing?"

"I want to make another circle around the cabin."

"Why?"

"It seemed to work last time. And why else would he have a whole drum of the stuff out here?"

No point in arguing with him. Scully put her hands beside his and shoved. The drum was incredibly heavy, and only rolled easily when they had about half the contents emptied. Mulder scooped handfuls of sugar from the pile and carried them about ten feet away from the cabin, trying to lay a strip around their perimeter to resemble the one they had found earlier around the clearing.

"Even if this could keep us safe for now," Scully said, "How are we going to get out of here?"

"I don't know. But this might buy us some time."

Despite her incredulity, Scully helped him, and for the next half hour they concentrated on making a ring of sugar in the grass.

When they were finished, Mulder inspected it, adding a little here and there until he was satisfied.

"Do you really think that's going to keep us safe?" Scully asked.

He shrugged. "All we can do is hope."


The red evening sky faded to purple, and a slow hot moon swung up over the trees and hung on the horizon, sizzling with light.

Scully and Mulder stayed outside as long as they could, but eventually the mosquitoes threatened to exsanguinate them, so they went inside and lit the Coleman. There was no place to sit but on the bed, so they sat together, side by side.

Things chattered and grumbled in the woods, and from time to time something fell on the roof of the cabin with a loud crack. The low flicker of the lantern made the cabin spookier than full dark. The cabin door had a strong thick latch on it, and the windows had been boarded over and nailed shut from the inside.

Not a good sign.

The night grew louder, crickets chirping, bullfrogs croaking, night birds giving sudden loud, piercing cries. Somewhere in the distance came the deep bellowing grunt of an alligator.

"This sucks," Scully said, scratching at the ant bites on her ankle.

Mulder lay back on the bed. "Come on," he said. "We may as well try to get some rest."

She hesitated, then lay stiffly beside him. Inches apart, they may as well have been in different countries.

Finally Mulder said, "Did I ever tell you why I hate the full moon?"

I can probably tell YOU, she thought, but she said, "No. Why do you hate the full moon, Mulder?"

"When I was a boy, ten or eleven, I used to have a recurring nightmare. I dreamed that the moon was full-it always started like that, with a full moon." He was quiet for a minute, and Scully's interest was piqued. Mulder's voice grew softer, more thoughtful. "Or maybe I only had this dream when the moon was full, come to think of it."

"The dream?" she prompted.

"I dreamed that I woke up in the morning, and went down the hall to the kitchen, where my parents were eating breakfast, and they had both turned into alligators in the night."

Scully smiled, though there was an ache in his voice that found its echo in her heart.

He said, "The boy came to collect for the paper, and he was an alligator, too. I went outside and all the people in the street were alligators, driving cars, watering their lawns. Everyone was an alligator. And wherever I went, they all looked at me like I was something that would be good to eat."

"Sounds scary," Scully said.

"You have no idea. I mean, it really doesn't sound all that scary just telling you about it. But you see, everyone in the world was an alien but me. And that made me the alien. Do you see what I mean?"

She nodded silently. It was not a surprising dream, coming from him.

"But the scariest part is yet to come," he said.

She turned her head to look at him.

He said, "I ran home from school, where everyone had turned into an alligator, of course, and ran to Sam's room. She was still in bed asleep. She was curled up on her side, under the blankets, facing away from me. I went to her very slowly, terrified, and reached down to put my hand on her shoulder to wake her up. "

Scully felt some of the contagion of his boyhood anxiety in the pit of her stomach. She wanted to put her hand on his arm, or his shoulder, or somewhere, but she didn't know if he would push it away.

"Don't keep me in suspense," she said. "Was she or wasn't she?"

He sighed. "I don't know. I always woke up just at that point. "

"Dammit, Mulder..."

"Don't you see, it was worse that way. I could never tell if I could trust one person in this world or not, if I was the only one left. I know I told you the rest of it, how sometimes I'd wake up and hear my father eating those sunflower seeds, the most comforting sound in the world. 'Cause alligators can't crunch sunflower seeds. They have the wrong kind of teeth for it." He turned to her, smiling, though his eyes were sad, and made crunching motions with his jaw. "So I knew it had to be him, the non-alligator version, and things were all right."

God, if only she could lean over him, smooth that hair back over his forehead, put her lips to his skin just there, above his eyes. Tuck him in at night, and be there when he woke up. But whatever had damaged him in the first place damaged him still; he had always drawn away from her, turned her most serious moments into a joke, only taken her seriously when she was ill. Now she understood why. Because of that damn full moon, and the possibility that she might some day turn into an alligator. He could not bring himself to ever look at her fully in case she, too, on closer inspection, turned out to be one of Them.

"Mulder," she began softly.

He stared up at the ceiling, lost in his own thoughts.

"I wish now we'd got dinner back in that little town," he said. "I'm starving."

Scully's voice was weary. "Me, too," she said.

"Did you-"

Something boomed against the side of the house so hard it shook the frame. Mulder and Scully both sat bolt upright on the bed.

"What the hell-" Mulder reached for his gun, which he had put on the floor beside the bed. Scully already had hers in her hand.

Something slid against the side of the house, slowly, slowly, like a giant snake. They could feel it pushing along the clapboards, hear the hiss as it passed behind them, around, to the side, and finally...to the door.

Scully remembered a fragment of Sandburg poetry, something about the wind rubbing around the house like a big animal. That was exactly what it sounded like. Whatever it was, it was impossible to believe that it wasn't sentient, didn't know they were in there, didn't want them.

The door rattled gently. Something began to snuffle under it, like a big dog. But there was a mumbling, grunting voice under the snuffling sounds, not quite human, but definitely not animal, either.

It was the Windigo. And it wanted in.


Okay, Scully thought, NOW I'm scared.

The thing snuffling and mumbling at the crack under the door seemed to push its whole weight against the flimsy cabin. They could hear shingles being peeled back overhead from the sheer force of the wind. The latch rattled wildly as it struggled to hold, and above everything else was that persistent, agonized shrieking.

Mulder rolled off the bed onto the floor. He flailed around underneath and came up with one of the plastic bags. Crawling across the cabin floor, he held one end of the bag in his teeth and used his free hand to peel the bag open. Then he shook the contents out under the crack at the bottom of the door.

Scully could see the powdery substance being sucked through the narrow opening as if a giant vacuum cleaner was on the other side.

Over the din of the banging door latch and the howling wind she shouted, "What are you doing?"

"I think it's hungry!" Mulder shouted back.

Scully had her hands over her ears, but she risked taking them away when she realized the wind was dying down. Mulder stretched his arm out and waggled his fingers at her for more, and she bent over the edge of the mattress and seized another of the baggies to throw to him.

He pushed his back against the door, legs drawn up in front of him, and poured the powder out on the floor. Again it was sucked up instantly, but this time as soon as it was gone, the wind was stilled.

Scully gave a groan of relief when the noise stopped. She went to Mulder and crouched down beside him. His hair was sticking up and he looked like he hadn't slept weeks, eyes shadowed, cheeks hollow. He took a long deep breath and let it out in a sigh, grinning up at her. When he smiled there was that old spark in his eye, the Mulder she had known long ago, the one that had won her heart for all time. It was a surprise and a relief to see him again, after all the barriers they'd so carefully constructed between them.

"Mulder," she said, "What the hell WAS that thing?"

"I thought we agreed. It's the Windigo."

"I only said I'd heard of it before. I didn't say-" She stopped, wrapping her arms around herself. "Okay. Let's look at this logically."

"Great idea."

"Be serious. All I remember about the Windigo is that it was always cold and always hungry."

An odd look crossed Mulder's face, a flash of pain. "It's that damn Alligator Moon," he muttered.

"What?"

He shook his head and she could feel him pulling away from her as he got to his feet, some kind of thing he did without making any physical gestures, just a withdrawal of attention. She felt a sudden pang of loneliness for the Mulder that had only a moment ago been so tantalizingly near, her old friend, the man she trusted with her very soul. Now the stranger was back, distrustful, wary.

In desperation, she said, "Tell me about the Windigo, Mulder. What is it supposed to be?"

He went to the wooden shelves and began to run his hands along them, feeling for something in the dim light. "There must be a tool around here somewhere to open those barrels. I'm guessing a tire iron or something. You know, one of those things you stick in a jack to make it go up and down?"

"Mulder..."

"It's the wind, Scully," he said, not looking at her as he continued his careful search, inch by inch, of the cabin. "Some northern Indian tribes, including the Ojibwa, believed that the wind is a living entity. It can never get warm, and it can never get enough to eat, so it howls and sighs all the time in rage and frustration."

He found a broom in the corner, held it out to look at it, started to put it back, and and then held it out again, scowling. "What's this thing for?"

"It's a broom," Scully said helpfully.

"Does it look to you like Eddie did much cleaning up?"

"Focus, Mulder. The Windigo?"

"The Indians believed that all the frustration drove the Windigo insane, so it would come around in the form of a little breeze, and whisper in someone's ear, and drive him mad. That was how they explained insanity." He glanced at her over his shoulder, only half joking when he added, "Sounds crazy, huh?"

"Not so crazy," she said. "Look at El Nino. Look at the Santa Ana in California. They blame that for all kinds of eruptions of violence, and I believe some studies show that when the Santa Ana is blowing, there really has been a marked increase in bizarre behavior recorded."

"Well, there you go." Mulder put the broomstick between the lid and the rim of one of the barrels and pushed forward. The lid popped off neatly.

Scully gave an exclamation of surprised pleasure, and Mulder gave her a triumphant smile. She got up and went to stand beside him as they both looked in the barrel.

"Well, it's white," she said.

Mulder wet his finger in his mouth and stuck it into the powder, then pulled it out and held it up to the lambent light of the Coleman lantern. He looked at Scully and she shook her head. "Oh, no. I tasted it last time. It's your turn."

Making a face, he put his finger in his mouth and held it there a moment. Then he pulled it out and looked up thoughtfully.

"Hmm."

"Speak to me, Mulder."

He bent over the barrel, frowning down at the contents. "It's sugar, Scully. Pure sugar."

His stomach gave a sudden rumble as if to confirm the fact, and they exhanged a sympathetic look. Scully licked her finger and took a taste. It really was sugar, pure, without the faintly bitter aftertaste she'd noticed before, before her tongue had begun to go numb. Her own stomach gave a little kick in response, and she was uncomfortably reminded that she hadn't eaten anything since lunch almost two days ago.

Mulder was working on the next drum. He pulled the lid off and let it slide to the floor with a loud clatter. "Well, shit," he said.

Even in the lamplight, Scully could tell it wasn't sugar. It didn't have the crystalline reflective quality. "Cocaine," she said flatly.

"And a hell of a lot of it," Mulder muttered. He blew lightly on the surface, and powder flew up. They both drew back, but some of the powder clung to the edge of the rim, and Scully reached inside her breast pocket and pulled out her glasses. Nearsighted as she was, she was generally a little shy about wearing them around Mulder, though she liked it when he wore his.

Now she looked closely at the powder and said, "Mulder, this isn't cocaine."

"What?"

She licked her finger, picked up some powder, tasted it. "This is baking powder."

"Well...that does make sense."

"It does?"

"If this next drum has cocaine in it, yes, I think it does."

She watched him pry up the lid of the next drum to reveal its contents.

They looked at each other, sighed together, and then both wet their fingers in their mouths and dipped them in. This time Mulder took as small a lick at his finger as she took at hers.

Their reactions were immediate. Scully coughed and Mulder turned his head and spat on the floor. "Jeez!" The stuff was bitter enough to bring tears to their eyes. Scully licked her lips and wiped at her mouth.

"Tastes pretty damn pure to me," Mulder said.

Already Scully could feel the deadening spot on her tongue, but this time it was just a mild tingling at the tip.

"I think we hit the motherlode," she said.


An hour later, Mulder and Scully sat on the bed again, side by side, leaning back against the wall as a sort of compromise instead of lying all the way down. The six drums in the room had all been pried open. Three of them were what seemed to be pure cocaine, two were sugar, one was baking powder.

Hot as it was in the cabin, neither of them suggested opening the door. Mulder had taken off his shirt and was just in his tee shirt, and Scully had taken off her suit jacket and was still sweltering in her cotton jaquard blouse.

Daylight was still hours away. Scully thought they were possibly experiencing the longest night in the world. Even the lumpy bed at the motel they had been staying at seemed like a beckoning paradise compared to this, and she would have traded her car for a cool shower and a chicken salad sandwich.

Worst of all, Mulder had retreated inside himself again. She knew he needed the distance because here they were again on a bed, side by side, and the Houston kiss loomed large over them whenever this kind of silence fell.

"Okay," Mulder said suddenly, and she jerked to attention and gave him a startled glance. "Here's what I think."

She turned to him, her eyebrow up.

He said, "I think that Eddie figured out how to use the Windigo as sort of a watchdog. He must have been feeding it sugar to keep it quiet. It worked when he had the sugar circle around the cabin-and that MUST have been sugar when we first got here. The Windigo quit chasing us the minute it got the sugar, right?"

"But why did it kill Eddie?"

"Wait, I'm coming to that." Mulder scootched down on the bed more comfortably and stared up at the ceiling. "Okay. We know the thing likes sugar and when it gets fed it shuts up for awhile. I'm figuring about eight hours. That's how long it was between the first attack and the second. If I'm right, it should come again at just about daybreak."

"Something to look forward to," Scully muttered darkly.

"So what do you want to bet that the drums in the yard are full of sugar?"

"Why sugar? Why not cocaine?"

"Well, in that one drum there's probably a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of the stuff, if you stretch it with baking powder and sell it retail. I don't see how our Eddie could have gotten much more than that. And I think the reason these drums are inside is because the coke was the most valuable, and he wanted it inside and safe."

"At least that's a theory we'll be able to test as soon as it gets light."

Mulder nodded absently. "Anyway, suppose Eddie knew about the Windigo, knew how to appease it with sugar. So he brings his stash out here in the woods, a little at a time, over the years, and packs in enough sugar to get the Windigo to hang around, and he protects himself by feeding it on a regular basis. That explains all those sacks of sugar he was packing in. And we know he was using the baking powder to cut the cocaine, or at least that's a safe assumption."

"Okay," Scully said, "But why did it-"

"Kill Eddie? My guess is that it isn't a thinking creature, but just a spirit, like the Indians thought, capable of only hunger and frustration. It protected its source, a man at the cabin who fed it. I was at the cabin, so Eddie was then the intruder."

Scully sat up on her elbows abruptly and looked down at him, her eyes wide. "Oh my God, Mulder. All these bags of sugar and cocaine mixed together- He wasn't feeding it. He was drugging it! He's been using some of the coke to keep the Windigo passive so he could keep coming up here and building his stash."

Mulder smiled at her. "Who's a clever squirrel? That's just what I was thinking. So now we've got something just a tad worse than a Windigo with a sugar jones on our hands."

Scully stared at the door as if the creature stood just outside it. "Oh no."

"We've got a REALLY crazy wind out there," Mulder said. "And what it needs now isn't food, but a fix."

Scully fell back on the bed with a groan. If this was going to go on much longer the Windigo wouldn't need to whisper in her ear to make her go crazy. She already had a good head start on it.


On the bed again.

Scully's watch was clearly broken, or else telling time in another dimension where five minutes there equaled an hour here. A spider had begun to crawl across the ceiling in slow motion, and she entertained herself with thoughts of how fast she could get off the bed should it happen to drop on her face.

Mulder had his hands behind his head, his left elbow about an inch from her ear. She decided that if he poked her with it one more time, this was the arm she was going to rip off to kill the spider with.

Their plan-well, actually, Mulder's plan- was simple. When daylight came and the Windigo returned, they were going to empty all the baggies out and let it get as high as it wanted, and then if that wasn't enough, just walk back through the woods, along the path, leaving all the barrels at the cabin open so it could stay busy while they were escaping and hopefully leave them alone.

Simple.

Unless the theory was wrong. Unless it came again in the night, like the wolf came to the three little pigs, to huff and puff and blow their house down. Unless -

"Can't sleep?" Mulder asked.

"No," she said, in a small voice.

He turned to her, propping himself up on his elbow. "So how to you explain it, Scully?" he asked.

Was his voice angry, challenging, hurt? Scully closed her eyes and said, "How do I explain what?"

"This thing outside. The Windigo. The dust devil. Whatever the hell it is. How do you fit it in your cosmology? How does your religion account for it? How are you going to explain it to yourself later when you're writing the report on this?"

Scully opened her eyes to look at him. "How come I always have to write up the report?"

He wiggled a little to shake the bed. "Answer me."

"I'm just going to say that Edgar Ray Terran fell into a swamp and drowned," she said. Her lower lip came out a little, like a child's, in a stubborn pout. "That's all. I don't see why we even have to mention the drugs."

"Okay, that's the story you're going to give Skinner, but what are you going to tell YOURSELF, Scully?"

She sighed. "I don't know. I can't explain that thing. But-" she met his eyes resolutely, "That doesn't mean it can't be explained by the laws of physics. Just because we don't understand things doesn't mean they don't have an explanation, Mulder. I personally can't tell you how a car engine works, but in the absence of a good explanation I don't believe that the spirit of Henry Ford somehow twirls those rotor things or whatever to make it go. I trust that there is a physical explanation for it, and I honestly believe that there's a physical explanation for this Windigo thing, too."

"Such as?"

"I don't KNOW!" she snapped. "Maybe there's a slipstream created by the physical configuration of the forest. Maybe there's - "

"Oh, bullshit," Mulder said wearily, flopping back onto the mattress. "You just close your mind and that's that."

"I close MY mind?" The heat and hunger had worn down Scully's patience. "What the hell are you talking about, Mulder? You...you...search for the most irrational, ridiculous, illogical theory for every event that-"

"And I'm more often right than wrong, aren't I?" Mulder rolled over again and put his hand on her arm. "Aren't I?"

As if suddenly aware that he had touched her, he looked at his own hand guiltily, and tried to withdraw it as unobtrusively but as swiftly as possible. The gesture was pathetically obvious, and Scully's temper seized the kindling to feed itself with.

"And what the hell is THAT about?" she demanded. "Ever since Houston, it's like I'm some kind of leper, like I've got some kind of disease you're afraid you'll contract if you even stand too close to me. I am NOT contagious, Mulder."

"I'm sorry," he muttered. But she could feel him flying away from her at a million miles an hour, disconnecting, going somewhere safe and locking the door behind him.

"Damn you," she said softly. "I wish it had never happened too, Mulder. I wish we'd never gone to Houston. Believe me, if there was any way I could do it, I 'd un-kiss you and take it all back."

Mulder was silent for a few long moments. She could feel his body, tense and uncomfortable, breathing beside hers. "I wish you could, too," he said.

She looked at him, unsure how hurt to be by his words. His voice sounded odd, but not angry.

She said, "You wish what?"

"I wish you could un-kiss me. I wish I could un-kiss you. Then maybe I could forget about it and get some sleep and think about something else."

More moments passed. The spider paused two thirds of the way across the ceiling as if listening to see what they would say next.

Scully said, "Well, why can't you?"

"Why can't I what?"

"What you said. Un-kiss me."

Mulder's hair made a scratching sound as he turned his head on the sugar sack pillow to look at her. "What?"

It was a little hard to breathe, probably because of the heat in the tightly enclosed cabin. Oxygen seemed to be running low.

Scully said, "It's what we both want, isn't it?"

Mulder was half sitting up, supporting his weight on one arm. Scully was looking at his tee shirt, at the shadowy wall beyond him, at the oil drums. Anywhere but at his face, at his mouth.

"You know," he said, "That might work."

Her eyes flickered over his, hardly long enough to see them staring at her. "Think so?"

"We can try."

She looked up at him then, briefly, panicky, as he lowered his face to hers. She closed her eyes just as his lips brushed hers in a gentle kiss. Her fists clenched on either side of her, but she didn't react in any other way. Mulder raised his head to look at her. His eyes looked heavy, drowsy. His mouth glowed as if he had been rubbing it with his hand.

Scully looked down. The blouse over her breasts was moving in a tiny jittering dance in time with her heartbeat.

Mulder said softly, "Well, was it good for you?"

The music to Traci Braxton's "Unbreak My Heart" had begun to play in Scully's head. Fortunately, she couldn't remember any of the words other than those in the Title. She swallowed and said, "I've had better."

"Maybe it didn't take. You try."

"Mulder..."

"Think of it as science, Scully."

Although that made absolutely no sense at all, Scully reached up and put her hand on the back of his neck, letting her fingers slide up into his hair. She pulled his head down gently.

Whoever had designed the explosion of matter that would spin itself into galaxies, whoever had divided the seconds from the centuries and separated the soul out of the ashes, had before the beginning of time drawn the perfect curve of her mouth to fit exactly into the recess of his, waiting for this moment, this exact moment in time, to come.

Something of that sensation of eternity, of fate, of the shifting of things in the universe to lock into place with a satisfying click, passed through them.

As an un-kiss, it was something of a failure. But neither seemed to notice. Scully slipped her left arm around his waist, and he put his right arm around her shoulders to draw her against him as tightly as he could, their bodies, sweating through their clothes, finding perfect places to fit against each other. He rolled on top of her and she opened her legs so they fit together there as well, moving against each other without even being aware they were doing it. Scully's breath came in a whimper, and his came in a groan, the kiss lengthening, hardening, going beyond anything either of them even remotely imagined in dreams or fantasies. The bed shuddered underneath them, the walls shook, the door rattled. The earth moved.

Then they were both sitting up, gasping for breath, pushing away from each other and falling off opposite sides of the bed as they realized that the Windigo was back. This time the howling went from a whine to a demonic scream in the space of half a minute, and the cabin vibrated as if they were caught in the path of a freight train.

Bouncing around, Scully found a baggie and tried to rip it open, though she spilled most of the contents on herself. Mulder had better luck, and he scrambled across the floor to the door and shoved the open sack underneath. There was a snarl like someone ripping a sheet in half, and Scully slid another of the baggies across the plywood floor to him. He scattered the powder under the crack of the door with badly shaking hands.

"Get the real stuff!" Mulder shouted. He pointed at the drums. "Let's give it what it wants!"

Scully managed to hold herself upright by leaning against the wildly trembling wall as she made her way to the drums. She scooped out handfuls of the cocaine, but as soon as she started for the door, they spilled.

Mulder got up and staggered across the room to her. "The whole thing!" he shouted, over the shrieking. "Help me!"

Scully seized the rim of the drum and tried to shove it over, but it was too heavy. Mulder gestured for her to get behind it and push. When she did, they managed to tip it at a forty five degree angle and roll it on its lower edge to the door.

"How are we going to get it out there?" Scully asked.

"We're going to have to open the door."

"Mulder! No!"

But Mulder was already pulling at the latch. Scully thought of Terran lying in a bloody streak in the woods. She grabbed Mulder's hands and stopped him.

They looked at each other. "What if you're wrong?" she asked. "What if it doesn't work?"

"You have to trust me," he told her. His hands had stopped under hers, and it was clear he wouldn't do it unless she let him.

"Yes or no?" he demanded.

There was no point in answering; they could no longer hear each other above the sound of the wind. After a long moment of searching his eyes, Scully suddenly stepped back, spreading her hands in an obvious gesture: she was letting go, putting her faith in him.

Mulder jerked the latch up out of its cage and kicked the door as hard as he could. He fell forward as Scully fell back, and the door flew outward and was ripped completely from its hinges.

Then the door, the drum, and Mulder were all sucked into the howling dawn sky.


The sound of the rising wind woke Scully.

Louder, louder.

She groaned and opened her eyes to blinding daylight. She sat up, looking around. The sound was the wind, but it was a wind generated by helicopter blades.

She leaped to her feet, stood swaying dizzily for a moment, and then lurched outside. A blue police helicopter was landing in the clearing, men jumping out and running in all directions, holding assault rifles.

She saw Mulder's body, sock-footed, crumpled by the oil drums in front of the cabin. She cried out and ran to him, praying he wasn't dead.

"Mulder!" She pulled the upper half of his body up into her arms. He felt loose and heavy, which was good; he was still alive.

Under any other circumstances Scully would have laughed out loud when she saw his face. It was so covered with white powder he looked like a mime. She brushed at his cheeks, her breath coming in short sobs.

And then, incredibly, Walter Skinner was striding across the clearing towards them as the police formed a semi-circle around the two agents.

"Scully." He managed to convey a world of relief in the single word. "Are you all right?" He scowled down at Mulder, whose eyes had slitted open and were staring, glazed, into space. "What happened to him?"

"It's a long story, sir," she said. "Can you help me get him up?"

Two officers took Mulder's arms and dragged him into a standing position, though Mulder's legs were rubbery and his head hung down as if too heavy for his neck.

"Is he all right?" Skinner asked, taking Scully's arm. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine, sir," she said. "But I think we'd better get Mulder to a hospital as soon as we can."

They made their way back to the helicopter, Skinner holding Scully upright, staring at her in undisguised concern. Nearby, an oil drum lay on its side, dented in, scoured out. Scully glanced at it and shivered as they climbed into the helicopter.

Scully says, "How did you find us, sir?"

Skinner's voice was gruff with repressed emotion. "When no one could reach you two, we knew you were in some kind of trouble. The officers found your jeep in the woods last night, but we had to wait until morning to launch a rescue mission."

"But I still don't see how you ever found us in-"

Skinner looked down and she followed his gaze. As they lifted off, she got a panoramic view of the steaming, primeval swamps, dull green in the cloudy grey morning. In the distance, she saw treetops bent down as if a jumbo jet had crashed through them, though the trees weren't burned, just broken. It was like a giant line pointing directly through the woods from where the jeep had been parked to the cabin.

"You want to tell me what happened there?" Skinner asked.

She turned her eyes towards him wearily. "The drums in the cabin are full of cocaine, sir," she said. "Mulder and I made a drug bust. Enough coke to supply a small country."

Skinner was staring down at Mulder, but all he said was, "Good work." He gave Scully's shoulder a slight squeeze and said quietly, "Don't worry about it just now, Agent Scully. I'm sure you can explain it all in your report."

Scully leaned back and closed her eyes, resting her hand on Mulder's knee and sighing plaintively. "How come I always have to write the report?" she asked.

 

The End

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