Title: Camping
Authors: Amperage and Livengoo

Summary: Fox Mulder and Dana Scully have survived abductions, serial killers, mutants and aliens but the Partner Cooperation Program Wilderness Encounter may finally do them in. After poison ivy and catfish, who wouldn't long for a nice, safe killer mutant?

Hi folks. Back in the middle of Leap of Faith I got mail from Amperage, I responded with an opening scenario, and we started this ping-pong story. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did. We've left the hand-offs because we thought the style mix was interesting.

Story copyright Amperage and Livengoo, Mulder, Scully, X-Files etc. copyright Chris Carter, Ten-Thirteen, and Fox. No infringement intended, no profit derived, we both really, really love mail and feedback. You can reach livengoo at livengoo@bcvms.bc.edu and Amp at Amperage@aol.com. Thanks for editing and encouragement to Rodent! Here we go, Camping!

The plane smelled like stale motor oil, old pastrami and fear. If Fox Mulder hadn't been wearing headphones he could never have heard anything over the droning roar of the engines in this little, overpowered kite. He swallowed and leaned back, trying to make himself comfortable in spite of the bulk of the parachute weighing him down. Scully was in the back, engaging in animated hand-sign conversation with the jump guide, but Mulder didn't really want to talk with Scully right now. He was too annoyed.

He must have drifted off in daydreams - after all, if he had no nightmares it couldn't be sleep - to see that the oval spots of sunlight slashing through the small ports were shifting across the rough interior of the fuselage, and the guide was checking Scully's chute. He finished and crab-walked his way up to Mulder, to begin pawing over his chute, one last safety check. The headphones in his jump helmet came to life and the guide smiled, his lips coordinating with the words through the earphones.

"Agent Scully says you jumped before, at the Academy!" Mulder had the ominous feeling that everything this man said would have an exclamation point after it. "Well, just don't worry about anything, Agent Mulder!" Yep. "Your basic classes covered all you need to know, and we've got a radio controlled pull up here in case you get too wrapped up in the scenery!" Mulder gave him a slightly queasy smile and tried to ignore the idea of intentionally jumping out of an airplane. Scully was visibly thrilled, reviewing everything, looking over the maps. She could be enthusiastic for both of them.

The nerves got much, much worse as the guide turned and yanked open the sliding door in the side of the fuselage.

Mulder wasn't even aware of it when his hands locked onto the strut next to him. His attention was 100% on the sight of land a long, long, long way down, without the proper, sane, rational presence of a window between him and it. Scully was holding the tether that ran down the length of the plane and practically hopping up and down with her eagerness to do the stupidest thing he knew of outside bungie-jumping. He'd never realized his partner had such a cruel and suicidal streak, and still couldn't quite reconstruct the line of arguments she'd used to get him here. Recruiting Skinner to help had only been the coup de grace. Mulder could still picture clearly the man's evil smile as he wrote this little item into their budget.

"Agent Scully has faithfully accompanied you on bughunt after bughunt, Agent Mulder. I really think you can accommodate her in this request. And it will be good for your partnership. This kind of thing can really build the cooperative skills that keep agents alive in the field. I should think you'd appreciate her concern and inventiveness." The flourish as he'd signed the voucher reflected more pleasure than Mulder thought someone like Skinner could stand.

Oh god. Here it came. The guide was gesturing and that tinny, disembodied voice in his headphones was trying to get him to climb over to that door. Scully was unclipped from the safety rope and ready to launch herself headlong . . . there she went! Mulder felt his stomach drop.

"C'mon Fox! You'll love it!" Exclamation points AND his first name. Mulder wished he was off exchanging fire with some maniac, or fighting alien bounty hunters or anything but this, anything at ALL. "Everyone's nervous at first," the guide had hold of his wrists now, with Mulder facing into the plane. He didn't want to consider how he felt at this point. It wasn't pleasant. "Any concerns?" Mulder started to say that, YES! he had concerns! when the guide . . . let. . . go.

Everythingwentintoawhirlthiswas like a hangover without the headache and everything was spinning! He could see Scully below him, the plane above, the guide's voice in their ears telling them how high they were (he REALLY didn't want to know) and how long until they should pull the ripcords. Mulder was athletic, but this wasn't athletics, this was gravity. It was forever and no time at all before the voice was yelling to PULL! PULL! and he cooperated right away. One moment he was falling, the next his harness slammed him up into the air and he was sitting, drifting, with Scully's chute below.

The guide wished them well, assured them the plane would circle until they were down, and told them he'd see them in a week! Wonderful. At least now he wouldn't have to listen to those damn exclamation points. He sighed mournfully and watched the ground start speeding up as it tried to get him. Bad as jumping was, his Academy experience had taught him that it was much worse when the jump stopped. He watched the trees come up, pulling his guy lines to angle towards the clearing where he was supposed to land. He could see Scully already down and scooping up her chute.

Thenthegroundwasthereandhewasbracedtohitandrolling and suddenly everything was slowing back down to a normal pace. He was down, his legs ached from the impact, but weren't broken. He wobbled to his feet and started gathering his chute before a stray breeze could catch it and pull him off his feet. The guide told them they were "looking good!" Scully waved and the plane took off. Mulder sighed again, chute bundled in his arms, and watched civilization abandon him with a droning retreat.

Scully pulled the helmet off and shook her hair out in a gleaming, red flash. Mulder knew his hair wasn't flashing but was glad to get that implement of torture off his head. Several minutes went by as they wadded their chutes for the helicoptor to come retrieve (couldn't waste taxpayer money on one-shot chutes, he grumbled to himself, only on dropping agents off in nowhere!). Scully finally bounced over, so excited he wasn't sure her heels were hitting the ground.

"That was great! I'd forgotten how much I loved that!" He hadn't realized exclamation points were contagious. Did this mean another month in quarantine? "How can you look so glum, Mulder! That kind of jump is what life is all about." Her smile would have been thrilling under any other circumstances. Right now it just aggravated him.

"Can we get started on this? I'll have an entire week of taped playoffs waiting for me. Do you know how many favors I had to call in to get every ACC game this week taped?

Scully scowled at him. "Mulder, don't you ever think of anything but sports and UFOs?"

"Yes, and I'm missing a great date, a Warren Zevon concert, and a weekend of requited lust so I can hack through the wilderness with a woman who never offered to have my baby. I do, indeed, think of other things besides sports and UFOs. I just wish right now I could do more than just think about all of them!" Oh, no. Now she had HIM doing it. Scully was wearing a look that said she was determined not to rise to the temptation of a fight.

"Mulder, this is a great program." They'd shouldered the minimal survival packs they'd jumped with. She was checking a compass and picking the direction they'd need for the pick-up site. "Dave Corbett and Lucy Chin said this made them better partners than they'd ever been before. Everyone I heard from loved this. They said the Partner Survival Week was the best thing they'd ever done and could put the FBI counselling out of business." She glanced at him, slightly embarassed to mention the FBI shrinks. He'd had a long, and not particularly satisfying relationship with them.

"Look, Scully. You and Skinner ganged up and won. I know all the literature on this. I do have an eidetic memory, it's not like I could really forget about this." Not like he'd ever forget jumping out of airplanes. "Now let's just get this over with." She didn't look happy with him. He wasn't happy with her, either, but he did have to march through wilderness with her for a week. He pulled on all his psych training and self control and mustered a conciliatory gesture. "You want me to break the trail?" This was going to be a long week.

They had slogged through second-growth forest for some time and, frankly, Scully was getting just a little sick of it. She was used to older forests, where the lack of light and the leaching of the soil, both caused by mature trees, kept the underbrush at a minimum. Mulder's face was grim as they struggled through the assorted briars and vines; he was a good trail breaker, instinctively choosing the better path. They'd only had to double back once. Scully concentrated on her feet. These woods had been cut by the National Parks maybe 12 years ago, but somehow no one had bothered to clean up or replant this particular little plot. It was rife with blackberry brambles, trash oaks and other sorts of annoying plants. So intent was she on her trudging feet that she ran into her partner's back.

"What the. . ." she muttered, suddenly realized how tense he was, and brought her comment up short.

"Scully, please don't move," Mulder said in a voice more terrified than she'd ever heard.

Scully nodded, tried to see around her partner.

A very fat snake. Okay. Yeah. She decided she didn't need to see around Mulder that much.

"Back up Scully, okay?"

Scully nodded, forgetting that Mulder couldn't see her. Swallowing, she looked behind her, took a few careful steps, a few more.

Mulder was slow to follow. He hadn't even noticed the little brown thing until his foot had been about to come crashing down on it. What a fucking great time to be without his gun. Oh yeah, Scully. Experience nature. Learn to depend upon your partner and bond. The only damn bonding he wanted to do at this instant was with a T.V. remote or a good one-night stand.

Mulder slowly, carefully, put a foot behind him. The snake, which was in a foul temper, watched the foot. Mulder stood awkwardly, waiting. The snake resumed its regular pissed off expression. Copperheads were. . .evil tempered snakes. If the species ever became extinct, Mulder thought he would probably throw a party. Gee. Just drop them into the woods. Scully knew those woods, to quote her. She'd played in them all her life.

He took another careful step backwards. The snake watched this retreat, no doubt trying to decide whether it was having enough fun or whether it should increase its jolly quotient by striking at the brown hiking boots that had so recently annoyed it. Well there was that. The hiking boots gave him some coverage, but looking at the snake, Mulder had no doubt that it would intentionally strike high. His Levis were stout stuff, but next to worthless against snakebite.

Another step. Hell, where was a blood sucking vampire when you needed one? Kristen would've had a snakebite kit. Mulder swallowed, slowly took another step away. The snake was maybe 3 feet long, so okay. A few more steps and he could panickedly run.

The snake, tired of this new game, eyed the retreating human and turned the other direction. In a few moments it had slithered into the underbrush.

Mulder continued to stand right where he was, breathing heavily. They'd encountered other snakes today, not that he'd even mentioned most of them to Scully. But this was the first one who'd had an active interest in shortening his existence.

After a moment he took a few deep breaths and turned to his partner. "So. This is supposed to help us bond," he said conversationally. "The snake and I felt very close."

Scully gave him a patented woman's expression, the one that said, 'it doesn't matter if it's my fault, I refuse to take the blame.'

Mulder sighed with exasperation and turned again to the job of breaking trail.

It wasn't so much that the trail was really hard to manage, it was more that it was repetitive, uncomfortable, scratchy, and featured none of the amenities of civilization. He made a point of mentioning the snakes he met to Scully, after that, and she made a point of ignoring him. It was petty, but then, most revenge is petty.

Somewhere around 3:00 p.m., as the sky started to darken just a little, Mulder realized that they'd have to find food on their own. Oh, he'd known it intellectually. He wasn't stupid. It was just that the prospect of eating something they scrounged up out of these woods appealed less than eating the leftovers from his refrigerator. And that said a LOT.

"Scully, I don't suppose," twigs across the face, "that we can order out for pizza here. Do you have any ideas for dinner?"

She grinned. "Ready to make camp, Mulder? I have rabbit snares with me, and fishing gear if we can find a river. There was one close to here on the map."

He had an unpleasant premonition of salads and berries. The river was right where he expected it would be. Two hours of sinking to his ankles in mud along the bank, fighting off ticks and mosquitoes, and "fishing" (never his favorite sport, it involved absolutely no strategy, scores, or real players, just tie on a hook and drag it in water) and Mulder slogged back to the camp they'd made. His eidetic memory didn't work as well with trees as with files, but he managed.

Scully couldn't claim to have managed. Her rabbit snares had not lived up to their reputation. Fortunately, she had an excellent guide to wild plants and if hunting wouldn't provide dinner, gathering would. If nothing else, this trip might save Mulder from his bad, dietary habits.

Mulder crossed his fingers, hoping for rabbit or squirrel, but was somehow unsurprised to see his partner with her arms full of rabbit food. It was going to be a long, long week.

The growling of Mulder's stomach woke him even before nightmares could have. That and the feeling that something other than him was moving in his sleeping bag. He almost shrieked and jumped, then he came fully awake. He knew what it was,it was another snake. Not that knowing was all that comforting when you didn't know what KIND of snake.

"Scully . . ." he didn't know why he was hissing. The snake didn't care. Somehow it just seemed right. "Scully, wake up." She was grumbling, ignoring him. Well, so much for that. Mulder slowly, s-l-o-w-l-y, unzipped his sleeping bag. Once it was open as far as he could get it, he carefully, slowly, pulled his legs up. The snake was behind his back, just trying to stay cozy. When he knew he wouldn't get tangled in the bag, he rolled and launched himself away from the bag, winding up rolling over Scully to come up on her other side.

"Mulder, what the hell! "

It was too early in the morning for this. He really missed his couch and his TV. "Sorry, Scully. I just need to get the uninvited guest out of my sleeping bag." He caught his breath, ignoring the LOOK she skewered him with. He sighed and stepped back over her, carefully picked up the bag - it squirmed unpleasantly - and carried it away to shake out in the woods. Snake, big one. He didn't even bother to identify it. There'd be more. When he came back Scully was still trying to perforate him visually.

"Sorry. I just knew somebody at Parris Island who was bitten by a rattler in his sleeping bag. I didn't feel like sharing the experience." He crawled back into the sleeping bag, ruthlessly quashing the urge to tell her exactly what he thought of this little expedition. He'd really welcome a good UFO or monster right now. It might save him from the rest of this week.

Mulder scratched the smelly denim of his jeans yet again. His butt itched mercilessly. Heat rash didn't feel like this. This was an oozy kind of itch. He was hungry and his stomach had apparently caught on to the fact that roots and berries were going to be the featured entree for the next few days and was complaining heavily.

Scully frowned, bit her bottom lip. Her father used to say that it's only the most miserable things that you look back on with fondness. Of course he'd usually said that when the Navy was about to make them move. AGAIN. And Scully didn't quite remember *that* with any fondness. She'd thought it would be good to get out in the wilderness. She'd gone camping before. <<but always with a well-stocked jeep>> And there were no aliens, no critters, no strangeness, just Mulder and her. She looked at her partner's back, frowned again. A new thought had come unbidden into her head and she hoped it wasn't a prophecy. Skinner hadn't even thought about this. Mulder had the annoying ability to come out of a situation injured in some way. They were in the woods, even if she used the emergency radio it would still be thirty minutes before a helicopter could make it to their location. She hoped he broke a leg or something, nothing life threatening. She'd have a horrible time finding a partner if she killed this one.

Mulder scratched his butt again, pulled his boxers away from his skin. "Well," he said, getting Scully's map out of his pocket. "Your river is three miles that way. But the map also says that we can make it to some nice hills in another day if we hike that way. He pointed in the opposite direction. "And there'll be some creeks in the hills."

Scully frowned, thought about it. "I don't care," she said finally.

Mulder considered the availability of food in either direction. That tipped things in the general direction of the river. But rivers attract snakes. Mulder was reminded of a case he'd once investigated in Louisiana that took him into a swamp. He'd watched an anaconda glide across the water and the forestry agent'd only shrugged. "Moccasin" had been the answer. Oh hell. There'd be snakes in the hills too.

"Let's take a break first," Scully said, ready to get rid of her backpack for a few minutes. Mulder shrugged. He wasn't tired, but he could use some time to scratch.

He found a nice elm with scratchy bark and put his backside against it. Scully sat on a fallen tree--after having carefully examined it for reptilian inhabitation.

"Drop your pants," she said, after a moment, frowning.

Mulder favored his partner with a look. "Here? Now? Scully, I never knew you cared."

"Shut up and let me see your butt." Scully was in no mood for his humour.

"Women," Mulder complained, unbuttoning his jeans. "All the same. I love how they all tell you they look at a guy's eyes or his shoulders. . .I know they only look at one thing. . ." He dropped the jeans. His boxers felt. . .sticky as he pulled them down.

Scully took a deep breath, expelled it, frowned. "I didn't know you were that allergic to poison ivy."

Mulder turned his head, tried to see.

"You must have used a patch of it as a port-a-potty," Scully told him, digging through her backpack. "And wiped with the leaves."

"I used the leaves I was supposed to," Mulder replied, indignant. He had hadn't he? Right? Oh hell, he'd just grabbed some grass after supper. He wanted to turn around and see what she was getting. Scully'd seen him naked before. Still, you had to keep some privacy in this life.

Scully's hand emerged with a salve tube and a look of triumph.

"You cheated!" Mulder exclaimed, forgetting he was going to maintain some privacy. "You cheated! You brought something from the civilized world."

"Oh shut up. It's going on *your* butt," Scully replied. Mulder's backside was swollen and blistered. He shouldn't be out in the woods. He shouldn't have to put any clothing on his backside. He shouldn't be hiking. She also knew that they weren't going to be picked up for poison ivy unless Mulder experienced respiratory distress after ingesting some of the damn plant. She smeared salve over her hand, "Stand still," she ordered and began rubbing the creamy substance into his skin. "I've been camping since I was four. My mother never went on any Scully trip without salve. She didn't care how woolly and wild we were supposed to get. My brothers have snuck antibiotic cream onto wilderness survival trips." She smeared more salve.

Mulder sighed as the cream took away his itch. "What's in that anyway?"

"Well, what's making you feel better is the hydrocortisone. This is prescription strength. I'm allergic to mosquito bites and I've always figured that going through med school gave me the right not to suffer." Scully grinned. "But just this once, I'll scratch and let you have all of the tube."

"You're so generous, considering you got us into this fine mess."

"Thank you." Scully put the cap back on the tube. "Okay. Let's get to the river."

They made it quickly, picked out a spot several hundred yards away from the water on a high hill. "No skeeters. A nice breeze," Scully said, getting out her rabbit traps and fishing line, as Mulder collapsed onto his sleeping bag, stomach down.

"I don't fish."

"You've never tried."

"And I'd like to keep it that way."

Scully sighed. "I am not going to be the only one responsible for bringing food in." She grabbed her field guide. "You can either hunt for roots and berries or you can fish."

Mulder frowned. "How do you do the fishing thing?"

Scully got the trowel from his pack. "Dig some worms, find a stick and tie the line to it. Bait the hook, throw the line into the water and wait. When you feel a tug, jerk everything onto the bank."

"That's it?"

"That's it. I'll even help you find worms," she promised. Scully thought about warning him that snakes might wind up on the end of his hook, then decided against it.

Mulder considered the fishing line and hook in his hand, got a crafty expression on his face. "If I break a leg, they'll have to let us go back," he said.

Scully took several deep breaths, counted to ten, deep breaths, count to ten again. Having children was going to be a breeze. There was no way they could *ever* be this annoying. "Don't try it," she forced out.

Mulder stared at his partner. "I was only joking," he replied. "Sorry."

Scully shook her head, tried for a light response. "I knew that."

"Really?" Mulder replied. He thought about saying something smug. Nah. Not real wise when your partner's got the hydrocortisone and you've got an itchy butt.

Scully dug the toe of her camping boot into some soft dirt. "See that crumbly stuff on top?" she asked. "That's worm-sign."

Mulder stared at her to be sure she wasn't pulling his leg.

"Dig there and you'll find worms." Scully predicted.

Mulder took up the trowel, which, until recently, had only been part of the potty accessories, and dug in, favoring his partner with a filthy look. He turned over a scoopful, and Scully fell to her knees, digging through the clumps. Eventually she coaxed a long skinny worm out of the dirt, put it in a small ziplock baggy with some dirt. She continued crumbling the clumps. "You have to apply a slow, steady pressure or the worm breaks into pieces," she told him. "Carefully, slowly draw it out." This said she found another worm, pulled it out. "Got the idea now?" she asked standing.

Mulder had the idea, just wasn't sure he was particularly thrilled with it. Scully handed him the ziplock bag. "Leave it open, and make sure the dirt's damp," she informed him.

Scully also hooked up his fishing pole, amazed that he had no idea how a bobber was attached to the monofilament line. "Hook the worm on to it," she said, handing him the long thick pole. "Drop it in the water. When the cork bobs, jerk really fast."

Mulder considered all this, decided that starving wasn't such a bad idea. Then he gave Scully a small smile.

Scully wandered off, field guide in her hands, hoping that he could at least catch some brim, although, at this point, she was just happy he was willing to try.

Okay. Thread the worm. Not so hard after all, except that his fingers were all gooey and sticky afterwards. He solved that prolem by wiping his hands on his jeans, feeling the heat with satisfaction. Throw the hook and cork out into the water. Okay. Done.

Now what?

Now, some voice told him, now you just wait.

Mulder sat carefully on the dirt slope edging up the side of the river and watched the red and white cork lilt, caught up by the slow movement of current. He yawned, scratched his butt. This wasn't too bad. Just sit and watch your cork.

It wasn't true that he'd never gone fishing. He'd simply thought he'd never gone fishing. Mulder remembered now. There'd been grownups and long, limber poles put together on the edge of the swift moving creek. An easy symmetry and parsimony of motion. The weighted line flying and reeling smooth round jigs in the golden afternoon sunlight. The sound, the soft swish of rod tips and cord. Beautiful tufts of feathers as small as his 4-yr old thumbnail. Wicker creels that creaked and scratched and were filled with shining trout. High rubber waders and the warm, curling scent of pipe smoke.

Pipe smoke and being dragged away from the amber light, the soothing sound of water across stone. His jeans pulled down and the embarrassment. A belt being slid out of canvas pants. . .

Mulder pushed the thought away. No. He did not want to remember that. Not today, not ever. It never happened. Right now there was the warm yellow sun and the clean smell of water. Right now there was the gentle droning of the afternoon and the cork going straight down to China. . .What? Straight down to China? Oh Hell. Mulder screeched in alarm and tried to remember what Scully'd said. . .oh yeah. Just jerk like Hell.

The catfish seemed at least as surprised as Mulder, although a great deal less disposed to happiness. Well yeah, if you were going to be someone's supper, you'd be pretty pissed too, Mulder thought, dragging the fish up into the grass while he contemplated the next step in this unfamiliar process.

The fish flopped around angrily a few times, then seemed to calm down. It stared at Mulder with a rather world-weary air, hook dredged in its lip like a half-smoked cigar.

At least he looked pretty damn big. Mulder thought about this current state of events. He could just leave it for Scully to handle, he supposed. Oh hell. He wanted to catch another fish. After all, he had all those damn worms.

How hard could it be after all? Kids caught catfish all the time, right? You just grab the fish and take out the hook. Mulder set his jaw and made a grab for the fat body of the catfish.

It was slimy, icky. He let go. The catfish fell back into the grass and stared reproachfully at him.

Mulder summoned his courage. He'd faced serial killers, UFO's, psychopaths and mutants who ate livers. How the hell hard could this be? It was just one damn catfish. Mulder frowned, reached down and grabbed the fish around the middle. Ugh. Slimy and squishy, but with bones. Now, just grab the hook and. . .

Oh Holy SHIT! FUCKFUCKFUCKfuckfuckfuckfuck!!!!!!!!! Damn it all to HELL!!!! Scully could keep her camping and her bonding and her roots and her nuts and her berries and her rabbit traps and her whole damned tube of fucking hydrocortisone.

Mulder sucked his thumb, amazed at how much pain one little catfish could inflict. What the hell had happened? One minute he was calmly taking the hook out of its fucking lip and the next minute. . .

"What's wrong? What's happening?" Scully was breathless, staring at him worriedly.

Mulder stared at his partner accusingly a second, then decided to take his thumb out of his mouth. "I caught a fish," he said balefully. "I was going to get the hook out of its mouth. And then. . .and then. . ." he held the thumb out.

Scully took his hand in both of hers. "You got finned," she supplied.

Mulder managed a nod. She let go of his hand. He put the thumb back in his mouth. It felt better there.

"Poor thing. It hurts. I know," Scully appeased gently.

Mulder eyed his partner suspiciously. There didn't seem to be *any* sarcasm in her remarks.

"Catfish have poison in their fins," Scully told him. "Your thumb's going to hurt like hell for a while." She smiled, patted his shoulder. "Well, at least we've got a great supper."

Mulder lay on his stomach, eyes closed, moaning in pure pleasure as Scully spread the salve over his butt. Suddenly his eyes opened in shock. "Scully?" He yelped as her hands went. . .personal. He looked over his shoulder. Scully was staring at him surprisedly.

"What?" she asked.

Mulder swallowed, thought about it. He had used poison ivy as toilet paper. He turned his head back to its perusal of the landscape. "Nothing," he muttered. "Nothing. It feels good."

Scully shrugged. She had a pretty good idea of what was bothering him, but had no intentions of letting on. She wasn't the one who'd wiped.

Over in a clear spot, the catfish, minus fins, guts, and head, was roasting. Mulder hadn't helped, but had at least watched as Scully hit its head with a rock to stun it, then split open the gut and extracted all the innards, tossing them into the river. "Where other catfish will have a tasty supper," she told Mulder, quite unnecessarily. She'd cut the head off then - and the head seemed surprised to find itself bodiless - and put a stick through what was left. "We'll have all we can eat and a lot left over. That River cat must run 5 pounds," she informed him. "Good work."

Mulder'd smiled embarrassedly. "I did what you said."

"But you did it," she'd replied, with a grin.

Now, lying on his stomach, Mulder opened his mouth. He didn't want to talk about this, but he did. Everyday he thought "maybe I'll tell Scully, maybe I'll explain." This was so hard. He shut his mouth. Oh never mind. It didn't matter. This wasn't her problem. He shut his eyes, felt Scully pat the skin right above his bottom. "Just leave your pants down for a while." She advised. "Give your butt time to dry out some."

Mulder nodded. This was one of the most embarrassing positions he'd ever been in. Scully went over to the hot coals, checked the fish. Stood, wrinkled her nose. Mulder'd never seen her wrinkle her nose. He smiled. She came back to his spot, sat on her own sleeping bag. "My dad took me camping a lot," she said softly. "It was fun. Even after everybody else got too big, we'd go camping. Just us."

"You still miss him, don't you?" Mulder asked, pulling up his jeans.

Scully nodded.

This wasn't the time. Never mind.

"Did you ever go camping?" Scully asked.

"I think I've already said no," Mulder replied. He grinned, thought up a sarcastic remark. No. Not this time. God this was hard to say. But if he didn't bring it up now he knew he never would. They were here, there wasn't any thing, any case to solve, any thing but the words between them. If he was ever going to talk it had to be now. "He took me fly fishing once."

"Who? Your dad?"

Mulder nodded. "I don't remember much. I was four. . .It was fun at first. I guess I did something stupid. . ."He trailed.

"What?" Scully's voice was soft, trembly.

"It doesn't matter," Mulder dismissed. This was awkward. Never mind. Just never mind.

"No. You brought it up for a reason. It's okay."

Mulder stared across the woods, across the green of trees. "He took me back into the woods and I don't remember what happened next. I know he hit me alot. But I don't remember any of it." He glanced at Scully, felt his face turn red.

She had gotten very still, very quiet.

"Anyway. He never took me back." Mulder strove for a light tone.

"Mulder, it's okay," Scully told him.

Mulder swallowed, closed his eyes. "I didn't even remember that he hit me until last summer. I just woke up one night and thought, 'you know, dad used to beat the snot out of me.' Just like that."

Scully was quiet, absorbing, waiting.

"I get close to remembering it sometimes, but then I run away from those memories. I remember all the times after Sam disappeared. It was like. ..like I deserved it or something."

"Mulder, you never did anything to deserve getting beaten." Scully's voice was calm, assured. "I promise. You never did anything." She put a hand on his back.

Mulder closed his eyes, swallowed. "After Sam was born, things got better. He stopped mostly, except when he got really mad. Everything was okay. She made everything okay. And then I lost her." He couldn't stop it. Not now. Not the way the hurt rolled up out of his gut and overwhelmed him, twisted his face, pushed the snot into his nose, made it impossible to breathe. It hurt. Oh God it hurt so bad. Scully was there, with her hands around his shoulders, putting his face in her lap. He let go of the sob, sounded it, felt another push its way into his chest. His lungs hurt like they were going to explode and his chest was sore, constricting. And the sounds were the sounds of a thing that has been mortally wounded and knows it will never recover. And Scully just held him, just was gentle and strong and accepted all the bad things.

He wasn't sure he was awake even when his eyes opened. He watched the low, red embers blankly, too exhausted to know whether he felt peaceful or simply drained. He might have cried himself to sleep before, but if he had he couldn't remember it, or this placid, still calm.

It wouldn't last. His mind wandered over images, random thoughts right now. Something would kick his attention into ripples again, but not yet. Right now breathing took all the strength he had, and recalling his name took an effort that didn't seem worthwhile. The only thing he wanted to know took no thought at all, it was in the warm presence against his back, slender arms wrapped around him, soft, sleeping breath against his shoulder. If he ever broke the surface of sleep, it barely left a ripple. He sank back under without a trace.

The violent racket of birds at dawn threw him back into the waking world. Scully had rolled over on her other side and was snoring delicately behind him. Mulder raised his head, startled, to see her sleeping bag opened and spread over both of them. What? Oh god. He'd been fishing and thinking and talking. And he was mortified. Horrible enough to even remember these things. He'd had to go talk about them. To Scully.

He slid out from under the sleeping bag, and found his jeans, yanked them on and damn the poison ivy. She was still asleep. Good, he needed to think by himself for a while.

The river swept past its banks under a thick cloud of fog. Herons fished in the grass of a marshy island. Mulder found his way out to a smooth boulder. He was too distracted to worry about his footing, which may have been why he didn't slip. He pulled his legs up and bitterly regretted having just turned himself into a victim. He'd been just Mulder, and that was fine, and why hadn't he been able to leave it there? She'd never be able to look at him again without seeing a bruised, helpless child. He knew. He was trained to look for that himself, to look for the weak spots and flaws that branched from such a shattered beginning. To see that you could not trust a person like that.

The sun burned hot and unclouded by the time it didn't hurt so much to breathe. He let his head hang and considered the rest of a week of trying to avoid what he'd said, playing all the sympathetic, understanding things she might say so that it wouldn't feel so bad. A deep, deep breath. Another. He'd have to leave here sometime. He felt like the ground was a long way down when he stood up. He felt strange and hollow, an observer instead of someone who was here, now. When he turned around and saw Scully on the bank she looked a long way off.

He managed the trip back to the bank the way he'd managed the one out. Small jumps, rock to rock. He was thankful not to slip, but not in any particularly vivid way.

"Hi." She was standing now, dusting herself off. She held out some fish like a peace offering. "I figured you'd be hungry, and you earned it, after the way you caught it." Analyzing her was going to make him miserable. He pulled himself up like he had strings on his collarbones, and followed her, munching on the fish. He supposed it tasted very good, but it didn't seem very important.

Scully had rolled up the sleeping bags and doused the fire already. Mulder strapped his sleeping bag back onto his pack and checked his compass and map. The pick up was still several days march, but if they chose well they could be there in three days instead of four.

"Scully," his voice sounded flat and quiet even to himself. He mustered a smile to offset it. "Here, this looks like the best route on the map. Did you ever . . . do you remember any of this land from when you and your dad were here?"

She leaned past him and shook her head. "We stuck to the mountains, mostly, or else all the way to the coast. Dad liked salt water or mountains better than swampy land." She turned back to pick up her pack. He took advantage of her turned back to scratch his poison ivy. Somehow, he just didn't want even that little vulnerability seen right now. He shouldered his own pack, fixed the direction in his head and started.

They marched along without speaking, following the course that Scully had suggested. Mulder's feet hurt in his hiking boots, and he was sure Scully was getting a blister on her right heel, but he didn't say anything. He stopped every few hours, let her slather more cream onto his butt, but he didn't talk about it. He was supposed to be her partner, damn it. Not her patient.

They made good time, without the talking. Scully watched her partner's back, frowned. She knew just exactly what was bothering him, and she thought it was completely and utterly stupid. At their next break, she started up a conversation. Well, actually it was a monologue.

"My mom was a career Officer's Wife." She told Mulder's bared backside, which was actually looking a little better, despite the tight bluejeans chafing it. "When dad made Captain, she was in charge of the OW's under his command. There was this one lady, Sarah. She graduated from some Seven Sister's school, Radcliffe maybe, I forget. Her husband was from an long, long line of career officers. Sarah was so pretty. . ." Scully's voice trailed as she remembered the long blonde hair and the deep green eyes. "Sarah and my mom were pretty close. But every so often Sarah would come over and . . ." Scully paused. Her hand trembled. "There'd be a bruise or a black eye. . ." She put the cap back on the cream. "I'm done," she said. ". . .and Sarah would never say anything. Mom would ask her and Sarah would just say she'd done it gardening or playing tennis or jogging." Mulder pulled up his boxers. Then his jeans. He did not move.

"We all knew what was happening, but we couldn't do anything. One day Sarah came in and she had a broken arm and that afternoon she told Mom all about it. She thought. . .I don't know what she thought. She knew she didn't deserve it. But she didn't want to admit that she, Sarah Guilford, with a 3.8 GPA from Radcliffe, was being beaten by her husband like some drunken Seaman's wife. I think the way he treated her too--like she was just. . .I think she said he called her a 'stupid bitch'. She cried on Mom's shoulder for a couple of hours and after that we only saw Sarah when she and her husband had to show up at functions.

She wouldn't talk to mom anymore. We lost a friend because Sarah couldn't admit that she'd been hit. I had a Lutheran minister friend tell me once that after a parishioner admits a weakness, a lot of times he loses that person to another church. They don't want to see him, knowing that he knows."

Scully stared at the tube of hydrocortisone. "I knew five days into our partnership that you'd probably been beaten within an inch of your life several times."

Mulder had been staring out at the forest, refusing to look at his partner, now he turned to stare at her accusingly.

"There are certain personality traits inherent in someone who's been abused. You know that better than I do, that's what you were trained to do." Scully stared at him. "I was talking about my new partner to a friend who got her master's in psych. She works on genome projects now--long story--but after a few minutes she was asking *me* questions. And she told me what she thought. I dismissed it. But then, when you were shot, and I had to call your parents. . ." Scully's voice trailed. "After you got out I spent several days thinking about it." She looked up. "I don't want to lose you, Mulder. Not because of this. Not because of something that you really did need to tell me. Not because of something I already knew."

She sat and watched him watch her. Scully couldn't remember a time she'd ever seen the wheels in his head move so fast, or had less idea what direction they were turning. She swallowed the lump in her throat and waited, remembering Sarah and hoping he knew himself better than that. She didn't know she was holding her breath until the corner of his mouth turned up in a faint grin.

"I can't afford to dump you. You've got the cortisone cream." He scratched idly.

"Stop that. You don't want an infection." Which seemed to bring another hurt to mind, as he ruefully held out a thumb streaked with purple and looking sore as hell. She scowled at the fin-infected digit. "Why didn't you tell me about this before? For pity's sake, did you think they were going to pick us up for a finned thumb?" She went to work cleaning it up, and disinfecting the nasty little wound. Mulder, true to form, complained about the little thing more than he would have about broken bones or bullet wounds. She finished swabbing it with iodine and bandaging it. "Now," she looked up to drive her orders home, "you tell me if it starts hurting or itching again. That's a nasty little infection you've got started there."

Mulder was watching her with a wistful smile. He shook his head. "If I didn't let the combined forces of the evil alien empire, FBI, cigarette lobby and your neat-freak habits drive a wedge between us, Scully, I would have to have been really stupid to let myself do it. And if anyone ever asks I will deny everything. Now can we get out of here? I've had enough bonding and soul-searching to last me at least several years."

She felt that big smile she was sure made her look like a chipmunk grow on her face. His smile was almost as big, but he'd never look anything like a chipmunk.

He took the path a bit more slowly after that, letting her favor her blistered heel, and stopped to pitch camp late in the afternoon. He hadn't been much more talkative than this morning, but that hadn't seemed to matter much, either. And no snakes! Scully scratched a bite in the middle of her back and reflected that this little junket might just work after all. Mulder was gathering firewood, being very, very careful to avoid hairy vines and trefoil leaves. As he dropped the last armload where she had dug a small fire pit, he paused and looked up.

"You know, it's getting awfully dark." He sounded worried. "And I'd be the first to admit I'm not an outdoorsman, but is it going to rain on us?"

Scully stopped with the leftover fish half unwrapped. She'd been watching her feet or him all day, not the sky. She really didn't want to look at the sky, but she slowly raised her eyes. Directly overhead was clear, lovely, but upriver sky-blue-pink sunset clouds edged a boiling mass of black.

"Mulder, would you go down and check the river? See if it looks, I don't know, higher."

He looked at her like she was crazy, but went. About half an hour later he came back.

"If by higher, you mean it's covering tree roots it wasn't covering before, I'd say that it is definitely getting higher." His voice was dry and sarcastic again. At least he was back to normal. He picked up his pack and handed hers to her.

"Maybe we should have headed for the hills." He shouldered his pack.

"Where are you thinking of going?"

"I have no idea. I just know if the river is getting higher I'd like to follow it's example. And we may find some trees for a little cover."

"Mulder, trees attract lightning."

"And open ground attracts floods. And I will probably attract both, which would get us out of here much faster than even I would like." He was heading to their left.

"What do you plan to do? Walk all night? We won't hit the hills for hours."

"Scully, if it starts raining on us do you think we're going to get any sleep anyway? We might as well get some use out of being cold and wet and uncomfortable. Oh, and itchy too." Yes, he was certainly back to normal. And as stubborn as ever, she sighed and shouldered her pack, keeping close so she couldn't lose sight of him in the deepening gloom.

She was right. They didn't hit the hills for hours. Sometime around 11:00 pm by the lighted dial of her watch they were pulling themselves up muddy hillsides, through a torrential downpour, covered with mud and leaves from slipping and falling. It was pitch black except when there was lightning. Scully's blister had long since burst, but was hard to notice in the general discomfort of being soaked, cold, rubbed raw by pack straps on wet cloth, hungry and tired. She was hoping Mulder would slip and fall into a stream and drown a little so she could call the pick-up crew in with all honesty. Then he came to a stop.

"What?!" She had to scream to be heard over the rain and thunder. Or maybe she just wanted to scream at him on general principles. This storm had to be his fault. Mulder attracted stuff like this.

"Do you smell something?" She could hear him, and was about to blow his ears off when she realized she did smell something. Corn, maybe. And potatoes. And something sweet and something sour. Mulder set off with seeming purpose but no particular direction that made any sense. After he'd doubled back twice she was ready to drown him herself. He suddenly paused and nodded, chose a direction and marched. All Scully could do was follow, until she could catch up enough to skin him alive with the fish scaler on her Swiss Army knife.

He'd stopped again, a flash of lightning showed him grinning through water, and nodding. He grabbed her wrist and pulled, leading her into a thick cloud of that nasty odor he'd picked up on.

"What are you doing, Mulder!?" Lightning flashed again, showing a little, dilapidated shack.

"Finding us a dry place to spend the night." He put his hands flat and searched in the dark until he found the door, and ducked in fast. She followed, lost in the pitch black interior. His maglight made her jump, as it shone around the warm, stuffy, redolent interior. Rain drummed on a tin roof.

She shook her finger at the light. "Hah. And you picked on me for bringing something from the outside world."

"Yeah, but I never claimed to want to play by the rules. I'm *supposed* to cheat." The light was reflected off shiny, copper tubing and flasks.

"Mulder, is that what I think it is?"

"If you think it's a still, yes."

She giggled, rapidly proceeding into hysterical whoops of laughter that almost competed with the rain. "But why, Prohibition was repealed! Do they think Eliott Ness is still looking for them?"

She could see his grin in the faint light reflected from the still. "Wrong cops, Agent Scully. These people are probably ducking the IRS, and state licensing authorities. The FBI, CIA, and all the rest of the alphabet soup are small potatoes compared to them. Or they would be if you were making a tidy little profit on an enterprise like this." He leaned down to look at the final collection beaker in the process, pulled it out and took a hefty sip, coughing a little. "Whew, that's a respectable brew!"

"Mulderrrrr! You don't know what's in that! They could have spiked it with anything, it could be poisonous for all you know." She'd grabbed the beaker out of his hands and was staring at it, wondering what it might contain.

"You're really out of date. They're competing with the liquor industry, they don't have to put in turpentine to stretch it, and they can't afford to poison their customers. That stuff is just very pure grain alcohol. I might get a hangover, but nothing worse."

"Please leave it alone. Hiking in rain and mud is bad enough without you having a hangover. And what if our moonshiner shows up to check his still?"

"In this rain? You've got to be kidding. We're the only people stupid enough to be out in this. At least it's dry in here, and the still keeps it warm." He spread his sleeping bag out to dry, then found a cot against the wall. "Just like I figured. Probably uses it to sleep it off when he samples too much of his own goods." Mulder looked at her, and she could hear the wheels in his head. This time she knew exactly what direction they were turning in.

"You can have it. It's too small to share. And I did get us into this." She sounded contrite. Just a little, but contrite. He relented.

"That's okay. One of us might as well be comfortable, and with my poison ivy I know it won't be me." He clicked off the light, borrowed the tube of cream and she settled down on the cot, thankful to be dry and warm.

"Goodnight, Mulder."

He chuckled. "G'night, John-boy." She snorted and went to sleep.

She woke once that night, woke and heard the sounds of someone walking the floor. She knew it must be Mulder and listened to the foot steps, trying to gauge his mood. She found nothing but comfort in his pace, however, and fell back asleep.

"Hey." The voice was gentle. Scully moaned. Why did men always have to want leave before the alarm clock went off? She always had to pick the early-risers to fall in love with, didn't she?

"Scully, wake up." Stronger and a shake on her shoulder. Mulder. Scully opened her eyes with a start, sat up.

"What?" she demanded. There was enough light for her to see the outline of her partner and the outline of that damn still.

"We need to get a move on," he said gently.

"You sound just like my father. . .we're on vacation and what does he want to do? Get up at 4 in the morning so we can drive all day in a cramped station wagon. . ." Scully groaned.

Mulder grinned. "I'm not the one who thought this would be 'wonderful experience.' Look, we've got a problem."

Scully considered this. "So?"

"So, I went back down to the stream we crossed last night. It's a river now. I went the other way." He held up a small sodden piece of paper that had once been a map. "It's flooding rapidly. Even if we do get across that one. . ." He trailed.

Scully let this fact penetrate her sleep sedated brain, even as she reflected on the fact that Mulder was soaking wet. "And it's still raining," she added unhappily.

"I think we better get a move on unless we want to be stuck for several days."

"I've always got the radio."

"Yeah, and that's a nice idea, but first they have to find us--which is easy to do in a city, but its harder to triangulate off a signal with two helicopters--and those helicopters won't want to go flying around in this muck. And those same flying machines don't have anyplace to land anymore, so the Search and Rescue boys won't come down."

Scully swallowed.

"Now we do have another option." Mulder looked around him.

"We can stay here?" Scully asked.

He nodded.

"Warm, dry, reasonably safe," Scully said. "High ground."

"Good supply of booze. . ."

Scully frowned. "What are we going to do for food?" She asked.

Mulder shrugged. "If we wait a bit we can just throw our fishing line out the door."

"Okay. What do you want to do?"

"Pretend I'm wigging out, have you call for pick up and spend the next three days in a psych hospital, trying to convince a beautiful Swedish psychiatrist named Ingrid of my need for sex therapy."

"I wanted to know what you wanted to do, not about your sick fantasies." Scully replied.

"I vote we stay here. It's warm and dry and not going to flood. We don't know *what* the weather's going to do. They're not going to expect us to make the end of the trail if all the trails have raging torrents intersecting them at some point. We can mangle his still and get clean."

Scully nodded. A bath, clean socks and. . .well, she had to admit it. . .the smell of old cortisone cream mixed with Mulder's sweat was about to drive her up a wall. "Why'd you wake me then?"

"It's your decision too, not just mine because I couldn't sleep."

"How much sleep did you get?"

"Enough." He dismissed.

"That's about how much I thought." Scully stood and stretched, grabbed for her sleeping bag and mummied herself inside. "You'll get better sleep on the cot."

"Uh. . ." The light was rapidly getting better. She could see the embarrassment on his face as he held up the cortisone cream.

Scully sat inside the door, wrapped in her sleeping bag, watching the rain. Mulder was crashed, head pillowed in his arms, mouth open. She put her knees up, made a cradle of her arms, put her head on the cradle. Thought about how things had gone so far.

She knew more now than she'd known, there was that. She wasn't quite sure what she had planned to get out of this trip. It wasn't like they had any trouble with their partnership, or that they didn't trust one another. But there were times when Mulder pissed her off. His need to protect her, to not let her share the risks. She sighed, looked out at the rain. She supposed she'd just wanted to show off a little. Look Mulder, you're a cruddy woodsman. I'm damn good at this. She wondered if it was a little childish.

Well, leaving her melodramatic messages on e-mail was a little childish too, she supposed.

The program required at least one of them to write about what had happened, how they had grown. It was confidential, not to be part of any report to any bosses. Just a short entry. Scully didn't feel like telling anyone about Mulder's revelation. There was nothing on his personnel file about the abuse, and the report on Samantha didn't mention any of this either.

Some things bugged her about it, like seeing Sarah had bugged her. That tone that abuse survivors got sometimes. "Well, that time was bad and I know I didn't deserve it, but he got better. 'only when he was really mad.' And then I did something and it was my fault." No wonder his entire life was wrapped up in his sister's disappearance. She wanted to say something, explain what her feelings were, how it got her mad at the people who'd hurt him. Scully stretched her legs back out, glanced over at Mulder, who was curled up on his side under the sleeping bag, mouth open slightly, fingers twisted in the edges of thick blue material.

Mulder stirred. Scully smiled. "I miss anything?" he asked groggily.

"Oh a little bearded guy came by a couple of hours ago with a checklist, but he already had two FBI agents for the ark."

Mulder grinned. "How's your heel?"

"It's okay. It doesn't hurt as long as I stay bare foot." Scully considered the small foot in front of her, toe nails painted in Seaside nacre.

Mulder nodded.

"How do you feel?" Scully asked.

"Better." Mulder admitted. "I'd feel pretty good if I drank some of that tonic."

"Mulder," she warned.

"Yes ma'am." He grinned. He got up, put his clothes on, considered the amalgamation of copper tubing and boilers. "We can cannibalize this," he commented. "Build a fire and have it heat water for us."

Scully nodded.

"I want to know where the potatoes are," Mulder said tolerantly. "Unless he just brings them in when he's ready to make a batch of rotgut vodka."

Scully considered the small cabin. "You have to have someplace cool and dark," she said. "You need a bed of pine straw or hay. I have heard that if you live where the ground doesn't freeze--and it doesn't here--that you can just leave the potatoes in the ground. But I don't think our moonshiner grew his potatoes here."

"No. Probably not." Mulder looked around. "If he didn't leave anything we're going to have to go back to the roots and berries system of edibles."

"I tell you what. You fix the still and get a fire going. I'll scout around and find potatoes."

"Excuse me?" Mulder stared at his partner, slightly outraged.

"I have no idea how any of that works. I'd only be in the way." Scully excused.

"You can be my gofer."

"And we can both be hungry."

They stared a moment. Mulder gave in first.

"Okay," he said resigned. "You'd probably pull the wrong wire anyway."

The rain was annoying, miserable, and thoroughly depressing. Scully squished around the back side of the cabin. She found a stack of firewood, thoroughly covered by a heavy plastic tarp. She found a small out building, wondered why Mulder hadn't found it early this morning. A sack of potatoes, all competing to be the first to win a spot as Audrey in the next community theatre production of Little Shop of Horrors, sat in back. Food. Scully took the tails of her shirt out of her jeans and made a large cache.

A potato fell out of her pack. Plop into the mud. Shit. She leaned down to pick it up. Stood back up. Frowned.

"Our local dispenser of homemade happiness has a side business." Scully informed her partner, returning from the sodden great outdoors.

"Oh?" Mulder had found several pots and had the still simplified considerably.

"Mhm." She put the potatoes in a pot.

"Well?" Mulder asked. "Serial killing?"

"I hope you're joking," Scully said, sitting on the cot.

Mulder looked up, favored his partner with a fake smile.

"Apparently, our absentee host is also a farmer."

"Oh, he grows his own potatoes?" Mulder asked, digging out ashes from the small firepit.

"No. Marijuana. And he's very accomplished at it too. There's about a half-acre of Cannabis, nice tall plants, very healthy and green, disease and pest free."

Mulder gave a half-shrug. "Sounds like a very successful small businessman. Branching out into other fields."

He pulled a tube out. "Okay. The water heats up, we turn a spigot. . .hot water."

Scully considered her partner as he got off the floor, sat beside her on the cot. "You promise. This isn't some TimAllen rig that's going to explode?"

"No TimAllen rig." Mulder held his left hand up.

"You put your right hand up to swear an oath." Scully replied, eyes going heavenward.

"Oh. Sorry. I got kicked out of boy scouts." He grinned.


Mulder was trying to hum and shave at the same time. Scully smiled vengefully as he nicked himself - again - and stopped to curse.

"_What_ are you humming?"

"Hm? Oh, _Gridlock_ - what, you've never heard of Warren Zevon? Shame on you, Scully." His voice was thin as he stretched his chin to shave under his jaw. "That's a modern classic! It's practically in the Smithsonian Library Classics Collection." He winced at another nick.

"You'll be in the Smithsonian if you keep cutting your throat. You're not supposed to have that razor anyway."

He paused and gave her a mild look. "It's hard enough to shave without a mirror or shaving cream. Comments from the peanut gallery don't help."

She glared balefully. "If you weren't humming the most paranoid rock around I might not make comments."

He negotiated the tricky spot right under his lower lip. "Do you always get this surly when it rains?"

"Mulder, if I was surly you wouldn't have had the first bath." She glared at his clean, wet clothes, laid out over the disabled still. He was sleek, as damp as his laundry, and smelling faintly of the moonshine she'd made him use in lieu of soap.

"And a tragic waste of fine rotgut that was, too." He shook his head mournfully at her. "You know, there's plenty of hot water and moonshine left," he lifted a suggestive eyebrow. "Want to get naked with me, Scully?" He grinned. The sleeping bag across his lap was small concession to modesty. She hoped his butt and his thumb stung from the alcohol.

"I think I'll wait until you go catch dinner."

The fishing line was coiled on top of her pack. God, a fish and potato dinner would taste great! And her skin was crawling with the desire to get clean, if only he'd hurry up. She didn't know why he was even trying to dry his clothes. It was still pouring and he was just going to get soaked again.

Mulder smothered a grin and pulled down an almost-dry pair of boxers. The potatoes smelled wonderful, he was clean and nearly dry, it was raining and there was whiskey in a bottle he didn't think she'd seen. God was in his heaven and all was right with the world. If he had to be out in the woods, this was as good as it could get. He even felt good enough to go try to find something animal to eat, in addition to the mineral that was potatoes (he'd never been able to think of potatoes as vegetable, and after days of Scully's rabbit food that was just as well).

His blue jeans weren't dry, but they were manageable. He could almost see Scully's mouth watering with anticipation of that bath, and he took his time pulling his socks and boots on. Revenge was sweet. He was reaching for his shirt when something caught his attention, something that shouldn't have been there.

"Scully, do you hear that?" His voice was soft, and his eyes were wide, as if they could help him hear better.

"Mulder, don't try to pull any of that spooky shit on . . ." wait a minute. Rain didn't go 'whumpa-whumpa-boom-boom' and it didn't go 'swoosh'. Cars did that.

Mulder was in motion. He grabbed sleeping bags, packs, Scully and her shoes and bolted out the door, shirt flapping.

They were behind the smaller shed thirty seconds later when a big, fancy, four-wheel drive Jeep Cherokee pulled in by the shack. The open door spilled very loud music - maybe Mariah Carey, Mulder didn't follow pop much - and three big guys who looked like _Field and Stream_ poster boys climbed out.

"Think we could hitch a ride to Kentucky Fried?" murmured Mulder, peering through rain and buttoning his shirt. Scully was too busy getting her boots on to do more than glare at him.

The three bruisers headed for the shack, joking and bitching about the rain. Mulder took a deep breath and pulled Scully back towards the woods. They were pretty much under cover, and they both held their breath. It didn't take long.

"FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCK-Goddamn-thoughtless-hostile- vicious-ape-raping-mother-fucking-son-of-a-BITCH!!!!!"

"There goes K-Fry."

"Ah GAWWWWD! Some mother-fucker FUBARed my still!!!!

A second voice chimed in. "Jeeeezus! The fuckers did laundry in the hooch!"

"I told you that was a bad idea." Scully gave him a toxic look.

The boiling potatoes went flying out the door, Mulder winced. They were followed by the driver, a barrel-chested guy in plaid.

"You fucking bastards! I know you're still around here! Son of a BITCH!" The guy was scrabbling through the back of the jeep. They couldn't see him clearly, but both FBI agents definitely heard it when a shotgun was cocked.

"I think NOW would be a very good time to leave," Scully was backing into the woods steadily. For once, Mulder didn't argue. He got a good grip on the packs and bags and followed.

The shotgun blast probably wasn't nearly as close as it sounded, but both of them ducked like mad. Scully grabbed her pack and ran, just like she'd learned at Quantico, bent low and quiet. Mulder was right behind her, and the second blast didn't encourage them to slow down.

They could hear the other two now, spreading out and calling to each other. The sound of pump actions and shots punctuated the steady clatter of rain and distant thunder. Mulder thought of the coppermouth, and decided he was never going *anywhere* without his Glock again.

Scully pulled up, panting slightly, grabbed her sleeping bag from him and wadded it into her pack. They didn't dare leave anything behind to tell the Snopes's (go read Faulkner, who says you don't get eddicated on the net.) which way they'd gone. Hope and pray the guys were just weekend warriors who'd never hunted for real before.

"Why the hell did you bring our sleeping bags?"

"Because the choppers won't come in with this rain, in these hills, and if it gets cold we'll need 'em." He was hissing back. Scully hated it when he made sense under pressure. She looked him over, fully expecting some damage, somewhere.

"You hurt anywhere, Mulder?"

"Why? Should I be?"

"Well, you do have a propensity for getting yourself damaged."

"Can we discuss my propensities some other time?" Mulder's attention was directed back towards the shack as he shoved what he was carrying into his backpack. What was missing? Damn, no maglight. Had the cortisone, but no light, no spare clothes, no razor. He sighed.

"What do you have?" he looked at Scully.

""My clothes, my sleeping bag, fishing line, snares, and the radio."

He let his breath out with relief and wiped the rain out of his eyes - for all the good it would do.

"Do you think they've given up?" Scully sounded very pessimistic.

"Do you? Look, we've got a choice. We can find a place, run up the radio and wait, or we can keep moving. The choppers'll have trouble triangulating if we're moving, we need to get someplace safe if we want to signal for help." He grinned ruefully. "I wish I'd boosted their Jeep."

"Dream on. Let's move." She shivered.

"Umm. Do you have the map?" Scully Looked at him. Oooh, yes. Bonding. He could feel himself bonding right now.

"Mulderrrr. If we don't have a *map* how do we know where to go?" He remembered studying rhetorical form at Oxford. No one had ever, to his knowledge, framed the rhetorical question quite so well.

"Mulder, did you do this on purpose?"

"Hold it. *How* could I have planned this?"

"You said they wouldn't be back for a while. You were so sure there wasn't enough booze to be worth coming out for." Her voice had that purr he'd learned to beware.

Mulder was beginning to wish the snake had just bit him and got it over with fast.

Mulder stared at his partner. One thing he liked a great deal about Scully: she didn't do that irrational woman thing very often--the one where no matter who's wrong or who's right, the woman is the one who wins. He had the sense however, that he was about to get a full taste of the experience in a few minutes. He'd heard that there were a couple of ways to deal with this, but that no man had ever come up with a *good* way, probably because one didn't exist. Mulder took a deep breath, shrugged. "Okay." He said quietly. "My fault. We broke into a moonshiner's cabin. I thought he wouldn't try to come down in all this mess, but apparently he thought this was a wonderful opportunity to try out the mudgrips on his brand new Grand Cherokee with the custom paint job and the leather interior. So now we're stuck out in the woods."

"And you got a bath and I didn't."

"And I got a bath and you didn't," he agreed passively.

Scully's brow narrowed. She took several deep breaths. What was this? He was giving in? Just like that? No fight? No argument? This was annoying. She was pissed and she wanted to fight and he was just standing there saying that yeah, it was all his fault, even when it really wasn't and. . .ugggggghhhhh. Scully stared at the rain drenched figure of Fox Mulder, getting madder and madder, looking more and more like an angry little wet hen. Mulder was watching her, trying to figure out what she would do next. Nervously, he put his thumb in his mouth and sucked.

The image of Mulder, hair plastered to his head, rain dripping off his eyebrows, clothes soaked and clinging to his skin, the laces of his hiking boots lying limpid in the mud, clutching a sleeping bag in one hand, while he sucked his thumb was beyond explanation. Scully shook her head, tried to restrain the hysterical laughter boiling up in her. She grabbed his wrist, pulled his thumb out of his mouth. "That's only going to make it worse," she said. "At least we rescued the cortisone."

"I'd be going back, extras from Deliverance or no if we hadn't," Mulder replied, relaxing.

That got Scully to thinking. "If the local Yahoo brigade can make it back here, why can't the government?" she asked craftily. "After all, all they had was a four wheel drive. The army has Hum- V's."

"Well, they probably could. . .if they knew where the road was."

"I do have a partner with an eidetic memory."

"Must be nice. What's he like?"

"Can you remember where we were?"

"I can remember where we were, all the lines to The Day the Music Died, and every single MASH episode," Mulder replied. "But your uncle and mine thinks there are no roads back here. Even if they knew where the cabin was, they wouldn't know where to find the road."

"But there has to *be* some kind of trail."

Mulder shrugged. "We can try."

They hiked a couple of hours, up into the hills, just to be sure that Bubba and his merry band of line dancers from hell didn't find them. Scully grabbed the radio out of her backpack, put the antenna up as she had been instructed. She flicked the little switch that turned their underrated ham-wannabe on and bathed the radio in a gentle green LCD warmth.

Okay. She tried the switch again.

Mulder grimaced, grabbed the small radio out of her hands, flicked the switch several times as though repetition would make it work.

"Oh shit." Scully breathed as the little embers of hope were dropped into buckets of the damn rain. "Oh shitohshitohshitohshit."

Mudler turned the small radio over in his hand, opened the battery compartment, saw something. "FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCK!!!" he shouted, face contorting in rage.

"What?" Scully asked, almost frightened.

"The damn fucking cheapskates. . ." Mulder pulled the little lithium battery back out, showed his partner. "They must have used this damn thing on every single fucking 'bonding' pair they've dumping in this back 40 of Gehenna. It's probably been dropped and immersed and thrown and God only knows what else. And then we come along and have to run like hell, and it's not very well protected and the soldering on the battery terminals just came loose. The little wires just broke off.

"The wire is probably like 28 gauge, very thin. To fix it, we'd have to strip the plastic off the wire--not fun or easy with the tools we've got because the wire is a few strands of copper each about as thick as a strand of hair--and then hold each bit of metal to a terminal. But look at this." He held out the radio, fingered the two terminal wires, each about as long as the nail on his index finger. "We don't have enough wire to do that."

"There's no way to fix it?" Scully asked, even though she already knew the answer.

"If we had the maglite. . .maybe we could cannibalize the wire from it. . .but we don't have any other electronics. . .If I were dry and had something besides a pocketknife. . .let's just say neither one of us is nicknamed Scotty." Mulder put the battery pack back into the radio gently, and handed it to Scully. "I don't know. Maybe I can cannibalize something from the radio itself. . ." He wiped his face free of rain. "Right now, I think we'd be better off going back and trying to find Bubba's road."

"Bubba's Cherokee looked like it had been through some serious mud."

Mulder shrugged. "I don't know. It's the only thing I can think of."

"They'll expect us to call tonight," Scully said. "We're supposed to call in if there's a natural disaster or anything like that--this much rain *has* to qualify."

"Even if they do get worried, they won't know where to look. We could be anywhere."

"But they will be *looking*," she insisted.

"Okay." Mulder straightened his shoulders. Why hadn't the damn snake just bit him. It must have known.

They decided to set up camp, wait on the Rowdy boys to calm down. They threw one sleeping bag over two conviently low-lying limbs. It was a kind of a tent. Not perfect, and not perfectly dry, but the rain wasn't beating down on them. They spread the other sleeping bag down on the ground as a surface. "This must be some kind of record or something," Scully commented. "My mother's worried sick." She peered out from her huddled place next to Mulder.

"She's sitting by the phone and your brothers are flying in," Mulder predicted.

"They're on ships in the middle of the ocean," Scully reminded him.

"You didn't see the way they looked at me Christmas. They're here, even if they had to go AWOL and swim 500 miles in frigid, shark-infested waters. Doesn't matter that I was a victim in this one. Doesn't matter that I protested strongly and was forced by Skinner and you to come. Doesn't matter that I've never been camping and you're the big outdoors woman. They're coming and they've hired a guy named Guido to hold me down."

"They wouldn't need a guy named Guido to beat you up," Scully replied without thinking. She felt Mulder shift, knew he was smiling.

"So what's Melissa doing," she asked, drawing her knees to her chin, wrapping her arms around her legs.

"Melissa is gazing deep into a crystal and trying to see our auras. Unfortunately, what she perceives as our auras is really a diet coke can on her coffee table as seen through the imperfect optics."

Scully chuckled. "Be careful. She might hear you when she's in an OBE."

"Skinner is upset." Scully decided to throw her two bits in. "He's bitching at everyone to find us and he's already trying to figure out how he's going to explain yet *another* medical bill to the auditors."

Mulder made an anguished sound. "He even had statistics last time. . .My yearly average on medical bills is higher than a normal agent's five year average. And this year, well. . ." He trailed. "I think we're single handedly bankrupting our insurance."

"Well, being your partner has at least given me a whole new perspective on healthcare from the one I got as a resident. We could begin a business as patient consultants. Tell hospitals the things we hate."

"There's a thought. They could start with banning perky nurses."

"The ones that come in cheerful when you're sure that if you have to spend another 5 minutes without any more morphine that you're going to. . .explode?"

"And then tell you that your shot isn't scheduled for another 4 hours, but if you're that much of a wimp, they could move it ahead a couple of hours."

"And then you find out you *could* have had a shot." Scully moaned. "What about the LPN's who come in at 5 in the morning to take your vitals or blood?"

"And then try to make intelligent conversation?" Mulder nodded. "Well, at least you have one advantage over me."

"What's that?"

"The damn hospital gowns are too short for me."

Scully started laughing uncontrollably. She lay back on the sleeping bag, great gusts of laughter undoing her completely.

Mulder stared at his partner. When she finally lay, arms wrapped around her stomach, making soft little "ohs" and "oh mys" he leaned over her. "I take it the stress has finally gotten to be too much and *you're* going to be the one trying to convince Dr. Ingrid of your need for a tall, well-proportioned, blonde orderly."

"No." Scully gulped air for a moment. "No, Mulder. I think the hospital gown situation is. . .intentional . . .the female staff . . .God Mulder, when you take your first tottering steps down the hall, there's so much drool they have to post flood warnings. There are probably lotteries to decide who gets to give you a bath."

Mulder's face flamed. He closed his eyes.

"I mean, these women see men everyday. But Mulder, they very rarely see. . .I mean. . .they do have hormones." Scully sighed. "I'm sorry. It just. . .you didn't know?"

Mulder swallowed. "No, but I do now."


"I'll try and take it as a compliment."

There were advantages to having an insomniac for a partner. It meant at least one of them got enough sleep. Or, Scully would have gotten enough sleep if she hadn't been cold, wet, hungry, smelly, certain she had ticks, and hiccuping from laughing too hard. Which was how she wound up taking first watch while Mulder curled up and tossed and turned.

The sleeping bag over their heads was drenched through and dribbling rain from the middle. Right down Scully' s back. She was beginning to wonder if maybe they shouldn't go back and boost the Cherokee, like Mulder had suggested. If she wasn't sure he'd get shot doing it she wouldn't have hesitated.

The wind was picking up and her ears were popping with air pressure changes. She couldn't imagine why this storm hadn't blown over yet, but it was howling over their heads. She couldn't even hear Mulder now, and was surprised to realize he was awake. He leaned in to shout in her ear.

"You know, I don't think this is any normal storm."

"Mulder, I don't want to hear about this being something aliens or secret government installations are causing."

"No, no. I think it's a hurricane! Don't you remember, there was a big tropical storm blowing off the Florida coast when we left. They thought it would blow out to sea, but if it came up the coast it could easily blow inland!"

"You have a very nasty mind. How do we get out of it if it is a hurricane?"

She felt him shake his head. The only time she was seeing anything now was when lightning flashed. "We don't. We're on high ground now, if we go down we'll run into flooding!"

"What about the Yahoo Brigade? Think there's any chance they've left?" She knew it wasn't likely, but maybe, just maybe. She felt him shake his head again. Finally, she just curled up on the lee side of him, with the second sleeping bag wrapped around them, and pretended to sleep.

Morning came in a lurid display of green sky. Mulder was working the side of his thumb where the catfish had gotten him and watching the sky as though it were a personal enemy. It responded by dumping more water on them. Scully yanked his thumb back out of his mouth, feeling like the mothers she'd seen at the Sutton Pig, er, Sutton Place Gourmet Market, with their six year-olds.

"I bet my fish will die before we get back." He was pulling together his water-logged pack.

"Didn't you get somebody to feed them? Mulder!"

"I put food in for them! And I hired the kid down the hall to feed them twice, but we're going to be out here until the next fiscal year if this keeps up. You should have let me boost the Jeep."

They'd have shot you. Or, with your luck, the Jeep would have stalled and gotten us caught in a flashflood."

"It wasn't my luck that got us out here." But he made sure he said that too quietly to carry over the wind. At this point his luck would get him skinned alive if he said something like that.

Scully had her pack up, it felt like double the normal weight for the water in it, but they couldn't afford to leave anything behind. He took point this time, heading up the mountain for higher ground. The rain blew in their faces and ran down their backs, plastering leaves and grit down their collars. Scully could feel more grit in her boots, along with that squelchy feeling of wet socks in wet boots. If she didn't wind up with systemic athlete's foot from

this it would be a small miracle.

Mulder was having nostalgic longings for his ties. He never, ever thought he'd reach a point where he WANTED to knot a piece of silk rope around his neck instead of wearing an open necked shirt. He supposed there was a first time for everything. He did wish there hadn't been a first time for camping, but knew better than to let the words pass his lips. He was just keeping count now, relying on that good, old photographic memory to bank credit for when he wanted a really, really BIG favor from Scully. Except that, in his experience, the credit rates on that kind of arrangement with the Women's Bank of Favors were extremely unfavorable.

Foraging and fishing were out of the question. By the time noon had arrived - a determination made by stomach since wristwatches were contraband and sunlight was not an option at present - they felt like they'd been swimming up-mountain instead of climbing. Scully was fantasizing pizza. Mulder wanted ribs and cole slaw but would have settled for girl-scout cookies. And beer, oh yes, beer.

Scully was just calling up the memory of cafe mocha with chocolate cake on the side when she realized they had company. She elbowed Mulder.

"What, what? Another snake?" He was looking around so fast the water was flying off his hair.

"Look!" She pointed, and grabbed his hand to get him up and out of there, NOW!

"A bear! A little one." He smiled. The bears must have been heading for dryer

ground, just like the humans were. This little one looked like a cub he'd seen in the Washington Zoo, not quite small, maybe more of a teenage bear. Scully was yanking on his elbow, hard. Wait a minute. He hadn't just seen the bear, he'd read the placque and it had said . . .

"Oh shit!" Where was this thing's mother!? Scully was racing the opposite direction and he took off after her. He could just see the look on Skinner's face if he filed an insurance claim for bear attack!

Scully hit the top of a slope and lost her footing in the mud, sliding like the stuntmen for Romancing the Stone. Mulder chanced a glance back and took a flying dive after her. Momma bear wasn't close, but she was there and traveling about thirty mph from the looks of her. He just hoped she had better things to do with her time than go tumblingandrollingandcrashingdownthisdamnbighill! He slammed up against something that crashed and broke, then there was dark and still and *whump* he hit and knocked the wind out of himself.

Scully didn't keep her feet either. She went flying in a perfectly beautiful fall like she'd learned skiing, an absolutely dead-limp roll. When she came to a stop half-way down a steep grade, it was in a whole thicket of brambles. She was certain every inch of her had got up close and personal with some thorn or stick, and was beginning to seriously consider cancelling her National Parks Club membership.

"Mulderrrr! Mulder!" Where was he? She could really use a hand getting out of these stickers. "Mulderrr!"

She thought she could hear him, faintly, cursing, off down-slope a little way, but couldn't quite make him out. She straggled down towards the faint sounds of Mulder working through every oath he'd ever learned in England or America or from Sex-Pistols concerts. She should have been seeing him by now . . .

"Scullyyyy! If you ever, ever want to go camping again just shoot me right there! It'd be easier than this! Your brothers can beat me up, I'll read crystals with Melissa, but I'm never going fucking camping again!" Where was that coming from? It was about then she saw the dark smudge where the ground stopped and . . . well, thin air started. Scully flopped on the ground and slithered to the edge of the hole, looking down. All of a sudden Mulder was much louder and much more pissed-sounding. She could just make out the pale smudge down there that had to be Mulder. "Mulder! Are you hurt?"

"No, I'm not hurt! I'm furious! How am I gonna get out of here!"

"But you're alright?" How had he done this? What did he have, a homing instinct for this kind of thing?

"No I'm not alright! I'm stuck in a damn mineshaft because you and Skinner thought it would be a good idea to go tromping through the woods and I WANT A RAISE! They don't pay me enough for this!"

Scully flopped over on her back and let the rain fall onto her face.

Scully rolled back over, stared down the hole at her partner. This was worse than anything else that had happened to them. No matter what, it had been mostly a matter of sitting and waiting, of hiking and climbing. She'd had complete confidence that they would be found, that there would be Hot Chocolate with marshmallows. That she would be able to curl up in a hot steaming tub. That there would be an electric blanket with her name on it. Now, staring down that hole at Mulder's face she wondered if she was just deceiving herself. Well, maybe not. Maybe she would get back. She had no idea if Mulder was going to make it out. "Are you sure that you're okay?" she asked before she started trying to make plans.

"Yeah. I'm fine. . ." He trailed.

"What? Mulder, please tell me what."

"I think I'm going to have a black eye. It feels really sore. I landed on the knot of a rope."

Scully's heart did flipflops. He wasn't stuck in the air shaft of a mine whose entrance had probably collapsed years ago. There was a rope. Oh thank you God. I'll go to Mass. I'll say some Hail Marys. I'll take back that smart remark I made last Christmas about it taking two sources of DNA to make a baby and God always plays by his own rules, if you can't believe that you can't believe anything. She closed her eyes, drained, put her head against the wet, smelly ground and started crying.

"Scully?" Mulder's voice was alarmed. "Scully?"

Slowly, Dana Scully swallowed up her tears. "I'm okay." She hiccupped. "I'm really okay. I just. . .Mulder, what did I get us into?"

She saw his begrimed face staring up at her, saw something trickling down his face--it might have been mud, but Scully knew it was smudgy blood. She saw his reassuring smile.

"You *thought* you were getting us into a great adventure, a little fun out in the woods," Mulder replied. "Are you sure you're okay?"

"Yeah." Scully swallowed. It wasn't far down the air shaft. <<Didn't those things have sheds?>> Scully looked around, saw a glint. The shed blew over in a gust of wind or a tornado or something. And then it rotted away. So how stable was the rope? Scully swallowed. "Mulder, try out the rope."

"It's new rope."


"I said, it's new rope."

Scully frowned. "Mulder the mine's been closed down for years."

His answer was not unreassuring. "Kids on camping trips. No real caves close. They have to make do."

"With a hole in the ground? Here? In nowhere?"

"Billy Bo Bob no-Brainer gets around back here pretty well." Mulder reminded her.

Oh yeah. Scully reminded herself to talk to the US Forestry service and the National Parks people. "Look around. Maybe they left something useful."

Mulder did so. Moved out of sight. "An empty Mounds bar wrapper," he said, coming back into view. "If I had my flashlight, I'd look down into the tunnels."

It took several tries, but eventually Mulder tossed high enough and Scully got the rope. She levered it around two old trees, began pulling. Slow Scully, slow. Pull hard. Pull and pull and pull. . .and careful, The rope is muddy and slippery. Scully had felt a sudden lurch in her throat as she contemplated what would happen if the rope slid out of her hands. Mulder would land on his feet. He would break something or sprain something. They would have absolutely no mobility. Mulder would be in pain. Stop it, she commanded herself. That isn't going to happen. And then suddenly the weight was off her rope. She looked to the hole, saw two filthy arms struggling on the slippery edges of the hole. Scully dropped her rope, ran to him, grabbed his arms, helped him pull out of the hole.

"I thought. . .I thought. . ," Mulder said for both of them, huffing and puffing as they lay together on the sodden ground. "I don't know what I thought," he said finally. "My butt really, really itches now."

In spite of everything, in spite of this disaster nearly taking on fatal proportions, in spite of the damn rain and the Yahoos and the snakes and the mine shaft and the mud, Scully amazed herself by putting herself against Mulder's chest, closing her eyes and laughing.

They made it to a spot in view of the cabin, sat and contemplated. The Cherokee was still there. "I want that damn Cherokee," Mulder said. "There has *got* to be some way we can get back to civilization."

Scully frowned. What Mulder was ignoring completely was a short, balding, potbellied, Deliverance-extra wannabe, who sat on a stool in his cammo rain poncho, a mason jar filled with rotgut at his feet. This little man had the shotgun.

"I'd rather be hungry, wet, miserable, blistered, and have five different fungal infections than you shot and killed. I mean, how would I explain it to Skinner?"

She felt Mulder shift. "Gee. It's not like you have to get sentimental or anything."

"Let's just go back up the hill and hope they go away."

"They're probably stuck out here like we are. Came up to get a load of hooch, discovered our damage, decided to fix it and now can't get out," Mulder hissed.

"If they can't get out, then we can't get out," Scully reminded Mulder.

"It was just a theory."

They sat a time longer. Scully finally got up, walked off, felt Mulder fall into line, following her.

The camping bags were wet, sodden, miserable. Still. They set up their tent configuration, curled up against each other and tried to sleep.

He was kicking out in his sleep. Scully frowned, moved away. In the darkness she could not see his face. She could hear though.

Moans, gentle little moans, the moans of a small child, of an infant. She reached over, felt in the black velvet darkness, the cloying darkness. Her hand brushed his ear, his cheek. Mulder jerked away. Scully sat up, felt her way, sat beside him, grabbed his shoulder. He did not wake. The moans were louder, more painful. She heard a choking intake of breath and it occured to Scully that her partner was crying in his sleep. She sat beside him, hands on him, one hand on his shoulder, one hand running through his hair.

"Why did they take her?" The question was soft, broken. Scully started. She hadn't known he was awake.

"I don't know," she answered simply, not sure where in his mind he was.

"I think I'm lying sometimes."

"Oh?" Neutral. Neutral.

"I don't remember it the same way. I remember it different."

"That's normal."

"Everybody says that. Maybe they're lying."

"Why would they lie?"

"I don't know."

"They're not," Scully assured her partner. He was not fully lucid and she was now certain that she wanted it that way. "You go back to sleep. The bad dream is over and I'm here."

"I let her go."

"No you didn't. You were a little boy and it was a big ship, and even all the forces of the FBI couldn't have rescued her."

"I could have traded places."

"They didn't want to." This was like arguing with a five year old. "Now go back to sleep, and stop being silly. You would have saved her if you could."

"My butt itches."

"Okay. Roll over. I'll put some cream on it and while I'm doing that, you go back to sleep. If you're not asleep when I'm done, I'll tell Melissa what you said about her reading auras."

"All right."

Scully found the cream, spread it over her partner. At some point, she wasn't clear on when, she realized something. Something that seemed like a miracle. There wasn't any rain. She didn't hear any rain.

Heaven is relative. For Scully, sleeping without the rain, curled up in Mulder's lap, had become the span and breadth of heaven. To be dry was beyond imagining, this was good enough.

He sat watching the skies. He'd done so for years, but couldn't remember ever hoping to see stars, and only stars. He hadn't seen them yet. Hadn't seen UFOs or strange lights either, he thought with a wry grin. He could feel the water-logged ground under the sleeping bag. It was cold, and slimey, and wet denim snagged where the poison ivy had scabbed on his butt. He wrinkled his nose, then leaned past Scully to drop the cortisone back in his pack. Small victories. At least she was mostly off the ground, snuggled up along his legs and belly, dry as she was going to get. He stroked her hair and drew a breath to dilute the tight feeling of affection, and loss, and sadness that had woken him.

He . . .wasn't exactly sorry Scully had dragged him out here. Oh, he would have been much happier if he didn't have poison ivy and wasn't half- drowned, but that wasn't her fault. She loved being outside. The basement of the Hoover Building was his den, his territory. Small wonder she'd wanted to drag them out somewhere that was hers, or that didn't belong to either of them. She really was good at this. He grinned in the dark. She hadn't fallen down mine shafts or grabbed catfish fins or any of his other (understandable) errors. And she'd been ungrudging in getting him back out of it all. Like always.

His legs were falling asleep, pins and needles. And he hadn't seen stars yet. He hoped he was wrong. Maybe it was just a really bad storm. If it was a hurricane it could start again in a few hours, even as far inland as this. His memory gave him a picture of Baltimore in . . .1974? With Hurricane Agnes. The rain and wind had raged for days, and the eye of the storm had just been a respite. Buildings were lifted and put down on houses behind them. A lot-load of Porsches scattered like jelly-beans downstream. They were expected at the pickup in a day, with two days beyond to give them time to take it slow. If this was a hurricane the rescue crews would be overwhelmed trying to help the people they knew how to find. Finding him and Scully would not be a first priority. They couldn't sit and wait, it wouldn't kill them but he had no intention of eating another weeks' worth of shrubbery so they could wait. They had to find a way out of here on their own.

A surge of desire for that Cherokee ran through him. He could just feel the leather seats, hear the radio cranked up loud, smell the fast food he'd eat tooling along at thirty miles per hour over the speed limit, protected by the fuzz-buster he was sure that Jeep had. Scully shifted, one hip digging into his groin. He gasped, cringed, and moved her to one side, wondering if she was telepathic. He had no doubt at all what she'd think of him sneaking down there in the dead of night to hotwire that Jeep.

It was so still. Scully was a large, warm bundle. Mainly soft, with a few exceptions. One of which was digging under his ribs. He wrapped his arms around her until he could settle her comfortably for them both. She wasn't fighting him and he was careful not to hold her too tight. He wasn't the only one with nightmares these days. The X-Files had done that to her, left her with that. He didn't think he felt guilty about that. She'd chosen to stay with the X-Files and he had too much respect for her ability to make her own decisions to permit guilt. But regret, ah, that he felt at moments. Moments like this when it would be so nice not to pretend he didn't love to watch her or want to spend time with her. Time not being FBI. Of course, a black eye and bruised ribs and poison ivy, let's not keep count of the aches and pains, did a lot to defuse his desires. He grinned again. Damn good thing they weren't sleeping with a sword between them like medieval knight and lady. He'd probably amputate something. He'd never run up this kind of medical expense before Scully. Reggie Pardue had never given him so much rope. Oh, she'd love it if he told her she was responsible for him getting so dinged up. She'd dent his fenders for him.

He drifted, half-asleep, enjoying the quiet until dawn. The rain had held off for four hours now, though the sky was still an ominous green shade. Scully's elbow in his ribs woke him very effectively, when she rolled off to sit up.

"Oooh. I keep forgetting you're a pathologist, until you do something like that." She looked slightly happier. "Did you sleep well?"

"It's not raining! Do you think it's over? Will it be clear this afternoon?"

She had to be joking. He looked at the sky and considered the weather forecast he'd seen several days before. "I hope so. Do you know if that's a normal color? I always thought it was a bad sign that the sky was that kind of green."

"Well, we always stayed in then. Daddy used to tell us "red sky in morning, sailor take warning," but we never had one for a green sky." She sighed and shook her head. "It's probably a bad sign, but I can hope."

"Scully, I wanted to talk to you about that." He fussed with the packs, feeling her watching him. "You know, even if this is just a bad storm I don't think the rescue crews can really find us. They don't have a radio to home on, and we had to leave the usual paths. I can't remember anything close to here on the map that would help." He chewed on his lower lip, watching her and judging her mood. She was just watching him back.

"We can head back for low ground, and try to get to the pick up zone by going upstream, but I think you were right when you said the feeder streams would cut us off. I recall the map as showing too many little streams that won't be little now. And if it's a hurricane and the rain starts again it's going to get worse." She was frowning suspiciously at him. She didn't like the idea of it starting again.

"Now, we can try to go overland. Maybe we can make a town or something. I remember a town that ought to be about thirty miles to the north, and there should be roads around it." He took a breath, about to pitch his favorite. "Or we can go and try to steal that Cherokee." That was it. He was getting the Look. "No, really, listen. We're pros, FBI agents. They're rednecks with rotgut. We'll scout carefully. There was enough moonshine left that they should be good and drunk. If they're not, fine. We'll start on foot. We'll try to make for the highway and town. But if they're passed out we can get the car." He leaned forward, eyes glowing with enthusiasm, and took her hands. "Civilization, Scully. Pizza. Hamburgers, warm baths, dry beds! If they're drunk it's at our fingertips."

"We've already been through this. They have a Jeep. They also have guns. And if they can't get out what makes you think we can? Even with the Cherokee?"

"Desperation. They've been sitting in a nice, warm, snug shack. You and I have been sitting out here getting chased by bears and drowned. That's a whole 'nother world of motivation, Scully. Do you really want to sit out here until Skinner comes to fetch us? Do you have a better idea?"

"Just remember, Mulder. If you get shot you go into the hospital. If that happens they'll put you into a hospital gown." She was wavering if that was the best she could do.

"Look, I'm open to suggestions UFO rescue, rafts, your brothers bringing their ships upstream, anything. Do you have a better idea? Because if you don't I've got a Jeep to hotwire."

They got close to the camp, in view of everything. And then Scully heard her partner swearing. "Shitshitshitshitshit."

"What?" she asked.

Mulder frowned. Then. "Never mind. I couldn't see the Cherokee."

"Hmm?" Scully asked. Mulder pointed it out to her. "It must have *just* penetrated their backwoods skulls that it's been raining too much. So they tried to get out."

"And they're stuck. What makes you think we'll fare any better?"

Mulder shrugged. "Look. Even if we do get stuck somewhere. That Jeep has a CB and a Cellular. The Cellular probably doesn't work. Now the FCC says that a CB can't be more than 5 watts strong."

Scully moaned. No reception.

"But, most electronically advanced Yahoos have things called linears. Illegal but readily available. Linears boost the power to oh, depending, from 50 to 500 watts."

"Excuse me?"

"We may be able to pick up someone in Fiji."

Scully blinked. "There's an emergency band on CB's, isn't there?"

"Mhm." Mulder was nodding.

Scully considered. "I can see the usenet group now. Alt.sex.mulder, available for postings by health-care workers who have seen Agent Fox Mulder in a hospital gown and want to talk about their lust."

"Which would you rather? A minor gunshot wound, or sitting out here in the mud a few more days?"

Scully thought about it. "Which one of us gets shot?"

"Does that matter?"

Scully blinked innocently. "I don't mind if *you* get shot."

Mulder rubbed his good eye. The other was swelling famously. In another couple of hours it would be closed. "Let's dump everything but mementos."

"Mementos?" Scully asked, staring at their backpacks.

Mulder nodded, dug through her pack for the radio. "I want to be able to shake this in the faces of our hosts," he said, giving the radio to Scully. He pulled the cream from his own pack. Scully smiled. "Can't forget that," she said, grin spreading across her face. She really did do the best chipmunk impersonation, Mulder reflected, wondering just exactly how it would feel to have Scully rip his cahones out--which she would most certainly do if he implied she looked like a chipmunk when she was happy.

There was no drunken sentry--apparently these refugees from the North Carolina State Fair were all inside.

"Ready?" Mulder asked.

Scully nodded and they skirted forest as long as they could, then they were in the open and no one saw them and. . .the damn doors were locked. Retreat. Re-fucking-treat. Oh shit oh shit oh shit.

They knelt in the bushes at the edge of camp. Scully stared at the damn jeep, a thin red haze of anger threatening to overwhelm her completely. Fuck it. Fuck it. They were so close. So close, but so damn fucking far.

"We can break a window," Mulder suggested. He knelt beside her, panting, looking like he might start to cry hysterically at any time.

"No. That'll bring the whole Yahoo brigade down in force." Scully replied. Something hit her. A friend in college with an old wagoneer. She was a ditz, always locking her car keys in. They'd gotten in. . .

Scully grinned. Mulder stared at his partner, alarmed. Scully didn't look like a chipmunk. She looked like the Grinch who stole Christmas. The smile seemed to curl around her face, go into frivolous loops. Scully darted out of their hiding place. She was at the gate, push down and. . .oh yes. Oh God thank you. twenty four Hail Mary's and she'd do all the stations and. . .Scully climbed over the seats, watching as Mulder came behind her, shut the gate. She hit the automatic door locks. Oh shit. She was in the driver's side. Oh fuck, ohfuck, oh. . .never mind. There was a key ring. And a key already in the ignition.

Mulder got in as she turned the engine over. She sat on the edge of the seat to hit the gas. Long legged men. Everytime Mulder used her car he left the seat to where she couldn't touch the gas pedals, felt like a kid playing in the family Buick. . .At the firing of a gas-combustion engine, the shack came alive. Scully put the Cherokee into reverse, began turning. Gas Scully, Gas.

Someone stood in the door. There were shots. Mulder put his head down.

Out of reverse, into Overdrive. Where was the damn 4 wheel drive? Well, they were moving. That was the important thing. They were moving. A shot went through the back window. Then another. The glass shattered. Keep driving Scully. Just keep fucking driving.

She almost lost it as they hit the bend and the rear end slued sideways through the mud, gouging rooster-tails of mud along the sides. Mulder was up on his seat now, kneeling to scream out the shattered back windows.

"Eat shit, you cock-suckers! Your asses'll go down for the count and we're OUTTA here! Fucking termites!" She wanted to grab him and slam him into his seat like a damned five-year old, but her hands on the wheel were the only thing keeping her on the seat and off the floor. "Whew! If I'd known this I'd have stolen a car before!" He was kneeling there, howling like the crowd in triple-sudden-death overtime with the score even and the ball in the best shooter's hands.

And that was when Scully hit the edge of the world, the pool of water that should have had a sign on it that said "here be monsters." She could see the other side, but the great inland sea ate their velocity and all of a sudden all she could see was the bottom of the dashboard as she slid off that seat and landed on the floor. The Cherokee stalled out and skidded and Mulder went flying. Then they came to a stop and Scully just held still for a minute, waiting to see if they'd sink.

"Mulder, do Cherokees float?"

"Depends, do they have water wings?" his voice was muffled. She'd look in a minute. If he was telling jokes again he couldn't be hurt that badly. Yet. She poked her head out from under the dash to see long legs, tangled over the gear shift and not a break on them. A little further out and she could see him curled, for the most part, under the glove compartment, scowling and checking his head for injuries. She swallowed convulsively and promised to add a few Our Fathers for getting away with the Jeep and not a single bleeding injury or broken bone in sight. Mulder almost kicked her in head trying to get out from under there. Clearly no one had planned this vehicle with that particular position in mind. Scully sniffled, tried to hold it, sniffled again and buried her face on the seat, tears of laughter and relief shaking her shoulders.

"Scully," he had no idea what he looked like or he'd never have sounded so worried. "Scully, you okay? You aren't hurt are you? Did the glass . . . " His hand was on her shoulder, trying to roll her back, and she doubled up there, under the wheel, by the pedals, sobbing with laughter.

A crack of thunder overhead and a splatter of rain only made her laugh harder, and her ribs were hurting and her nose was running and her throat ached she laughed so hard. She was panting by the time she got control of it. Looking up at Mulder's quizzical expression almost set her off again, but she managed to choke it into a few chuckles as she wiped her nose and eyes.

"Mulder, do you realize we just committed larceny? Auto theft?"

"Yeah! It was great!" His eyes were shining and his smile lit his whole face up. If Skinner could have seen Fox Mulder just then, exulting in his newly begun criminal career, he'd have had him behind bars for life. Scully drew a breath and climbed back into the driver's seat. Mulder eyed her.

"Scully," carefully neutral voice. "Why don't you let me drive?" He looked wistfully at the keys. Scully turned to him slowly, deliberately, watched him a moment.


"Please? I wouldn't even have to fiddle with the seat. . . " Her eyes narrowed dangerously and he decided that dirt driving could wait. A quick scan of the interior showed the fuzz buster, the cellular, the collection of Clint Black and NWA CDs and, at long last, the CB. And Mulder stopped.

Scully was watching him. Alright, just call out. And say what? The first thing the emergency rescue teams would do is call the FBI and ask about Agents Mulder and Scully. Agent Spooky Mulder of the X-Files and aliens and who knows what else. "Hello, this is Agent Fox Mulder, on Walkabout at the insistence of my partner. Please come pick us up before the rednecks get us?" Yeah. Right. Die now or die later. Scully was tapping on the wheel, making impatient little noises. Okay, flip it on. Static. Hesitate again. "This is Agent Fox Mulder calling Search and Rescue. I know you have a little hurricane going on, but we have a real situation here. We are stranded with moonshiners, we are unarmed, we have poison ivy, we have boosted a Jeep, and the water's rising. Not to mention there are probably snakes." Sure. Spooky Mulder's scared of snakes. He's hallucinating moonshiners. He's finally gone and bought a one-way ticket to the space station.

Too many late nights on the couch and reruns of Deliverance. He could see it now. They'd tell him to wait then come out with a long-sleeve jacket when the water dropped. Of course, that was if Scully didn't kill him first for stalling. Okay, right, how's "This is Agent Fox Mulder, please pick us up before we starve to death and my partner's mom has a stroke?" Nope.

When she snatched the handset from him and used it herself he breathed a sigh of relief. She'd give him The Look, but he wouldn't have to admit out loud he didn't think they'd believe him. Besides, rescue crews loved her. He knew for a fact that her name and phone number were considered hard currency by paramedics, and that ambulance crews clipped her picture from the Washington Post. She was fussing with the CB, looking for the proper signal.

He looked around, relieved to be out of the rain and not on the spot. And something caught his eye. What was it? He vaguely registered Scully arguing with someone, yelling that , yes, indeed, being trapped on high ground with a Cherokee could still count as an emergency and that they needed pickup. The other voice kept nattering about people with REAL problems and telling her to suck it up. He shuddered, briefly imagining the fate of that man if he ever met Dana Katherine Scully, MD, Special Agent, hacked off.

Wait a second, there it was again. Up the hill. Mulder might be tired and hungry and itchy, but he wasn't hallucinating and he could only remember one forest creature colored plaid. He whirled and threw himself over Scully, shoving her under the dash again and cringing across both seats as the shotgun blast ripped out the back side windows, scattering the interior with a hail of safety glass.

"Fuck!' He climbed down on top of Scully, who was screaming at him to get off of her, and another blast blew into the Jeep. Thank god the knuckle-dragging cousin-lover was to the rear on the passenger side! Mulder arched back around the driver's seat and twisted the ignition key, yelling at Scully to get the clutch and the gas.

God, he didn't want to do this! He peeked up just high enough to see over the dashboard as the engine roared and he screamed at Scully to get them moving, put the thing in first, yell for the gas, and steer! Through Loch Ness, the monster here was wearing plaid and in hot pursuit. The Jeep jerked and jumped as Scully worked the gas, and his knees were shoving her into the well, but he wasn't about to stop and move over. Dodge the fallen tree on the other side, rocking up over a bank on the left, and on with shots going over the roof and god only knew where! Why the gas tank wasn't holed was beyond him.

There! There! It wasn't a road, but it was clear ground. Mulder gritted his teeth and wrenched the wheel over and the four-wheel drive kicked in and they were away! Up that fucking mountainside and away! Just like the ads during the Superbowl. He found a nice spot well up and away from their friend and pulled himself up onto the seat and shook. Scully crawled out, nursing bruised ribs and glaring evilly. He thought about mentioning that if she'd let him drive when he asked that backwoods entrepreneur would never have caught up to them. Then he decided there were easier ways to die than that.

Scully had settled into the passenger seat and was nursing bruises and her temper. They should have predicted it. They hadn't gotten very far before they stalled, and the Cherokee was an expensive car. Even a normal, well-adjusted person might lose it and follow a car thief, and no one would consider moonshiners normal or well-adjusted. Of course, no one would consider Mulder normal or well-adjusted either. And she wasn't feeling that well-adjusted herself, right now. "Mulder, why did you pull off the road?" "Because I'm willing to bet my entire video collection that the river rose and we're surrounded by water. If we kept on the road we'd be easy to follow, and get stuck when the road went snorkeling." Scully thought about that. Thought about rivers, and high ground, and the fact that they were now essentially stuck on an island with three rednecks. Three rednecks who might be justifiably chewing re-bar that their Cherokee had been boosted. She dove for the CB where it dangled on its cord.

Scully considered the handset. "This is Agent Dana Scully again," she said patiently, waited for the inevitable response from Search and Rescue.

"Agent Scully. I repeat, we will get to you as soon as we possibly can, but right now. . ."

"No. You listen to me." Scully's voice was low and cold. "We stumbled over four men who were engaged in both the cultivation of marijuana and the illegal distillation of alcohol. They took shots at us and for the past two days we have been avoiding them. Currently we have their Cherokee and have attempted to find some place of safety. However, due to the rain, there aren't many places we could go. We were dropped here on the assumption that NO ONE else would be here and that most certainly no one was involved in large scale illegal commerce. We do not have guns, nor do we have any means of defense. If they find us, they will kill us. So you get someone in here and you retrieve us or I'm going on every channel I can find any traffic on and I'm going to tell everyone how we're being pursued by a bunch of redneck yahoos with 12 gauge shotguns and how we can't escape because of the rain, and I'm going to throw in the fact that my partner has a black eye, several contusions and had an allergic reaction to poison ivy severe enough that had we been home he would have been hospitalized. I'm going to tell them that I'm 5'1" and that I weigh next to nothing. If our names aren't spread across the paper in the morning the American Media system isn't the exploitative medium I think it is."

There was a long pause. "Do you have your coordinates?" a tired voice asked.

The Guard promised a helicopter by that night and told them to keep their CB on channel 34. It wasn't good, but it was a damn sight better than anything else. Mulder found the remote for the multi-CD player and flipped through music until he hit the Kentucky Headhunters.

"Appropriate," he said as waves of "Walk Softly on This Heart of Mine" began to fill the Jeep's interior. Scully laided the back seat flat, giving them a large open, carpeted area. She lay down on her back, edged over when Mulder joined her.

"I don't like Country music usually," Scully told him, listening to the guitar and drums and Ricky Phelps. "But right now. . ." she trailed. Mulder was humming along. Scully put her head on his chest. "You listen to this stuff?"

Mulder shrugged.

Scully closed her eyes. Mulder's hand snaked around, went across her chest, clutched her shoulder. Scully put her hand on his.

"Agents Scully and Mulder?"

Mulder opened his eyes wearily. Scully was still asleep, mouth slightly open. She'd curled herself around him, one leg thrown over his body, one arm thrown over his chest, one arm tangled in his hair.

He stretched up between the front seats, snaked an arm to the front, grabbed around. . . Handset. "This is Agent Mulder." He said wearily. The clear sky was passing. It was beginning to rain again.

"It's good to hear your voice again."

It was Skinner. Mulder sat up quickly, hit his head against the roof of the Cherokee. Scully groaned as she shifted. "Wha. . ." she moaned.

"Director Skinner," Mulder said loudly.

Scully woke at completely at these two words.

"Agent Mulder, tell me something," the dry, emotionless voice droned.

"Yes sir."

"This program has dropped over 80 agents into the woods. None of these agents have ever discovered moonshiners or been trapped by a hurricane. You arranged this, didn't you?"

It took Mulder a moment to realize that Assistant Director Skinner was teasing him. He was aware of Scully beside him, leaning against the door, hand over her mouth as she attempted to stifle her giggles.

"Agent Mulder, is your partner in pain?"

"No sir. She's laughing," Mulder explained tiredly.

"Well, ask her when she plans on regaining control."

Mulder rolled his eyes, stared at his partner. Scully grabbed the handset. "Director Skinner."

"Dana?" Mrs. Scully.

"Mom?" Scully's voice was amazed. Imagine, they have devices that can transmit the sound of another person's voice across miles of space. Wow.

"Dana honey, are you all right?"

"Mom I'm fine. I have a blister, I'm tired, I'm wet, I'm hungry, and I smell bad, but other than that I'm okay."

"How's Fox?"

"*Mulder's* okay. He's got a real bad case of poison ivy, and some bruises and a catfish finned him. How are you?"

"We're fine. Everyone's been worried, honey."

Scully's turn to roll her eyes. "Mothers" she enunciated silently. "I'm sure. It's not like we could call in."

"They told me. Listen, I have to hand off now."

"All right. Love you."

"Love you too baby. Tell Mulder I love him too."

Scully shook her head in exasperation. "I will Mom."

"Agent Scully? This is Sargeant Patterson. We've got a Hum-V headed for your location and it should arrive sometime in the next hour or so."

The blanket was dry, warm and most importantly, didn't smell. Scully curled under it, head against Mulder's shoulder.

Mulder was talking to a Parks Ranger who'd come out with the Guardsmen assigned to this small rescue effort. ". . .pretty heavy flooding. . .a few people dumb enough to try to drive their cars. . .mostly rain. . .we've known there were a few people cultivating pot, but we didn't think anything was going on here."

Mulder nodded, shifted in his seat again. His butt itched like hell. "Stop it," Scully whispered fiercely, "Its finally scabbing. Don't open anything up."

Mulder frowned at her. "It itches."

"Well, yeah." Scully frowned back. "You need more cream. But unless you want to drop your pants. . .just endure and sit still."

She got a deep, resigned, intended-to-produce sympathy sigh.

An hour and a half later, Cpl. Anna Russell pulled the Hummer out onto pavement. Pavement. Cars and houses and electricty and baths and cocoa. Scully sighed.

Pavement. Fast food and warm clothes, and remote controls and fast food. Dry apartments and hamburgers and pizza and the feel of a hot shower steaming and raining and washing away tension and the smell of sweat.

Hot Chocolate with whipped cream. Electric blankets and fluffy chenille robes. Clean hair and make-up. Chinese food with extra MSG, fuck her health. Dry and warm and curled into a nest on the couch, Mel Gibson or Brad Pitt in the VCR. Hagen-Dass. No. Wait. Ben and Jerry's. No. Blue Bell, cookie and cream and a spoon. A whole gallon to herself.

Scully closed her eyes. Let the purr of all-terrain tires take her into a deep sleep.

Mulder drowsed, cheek against his partner's filthy hair. It was all over and they were going home and tonight he'd curl up on the couch and watch some porn and eat pizza. He'd drink a lot of beer and leave the cans lying around the living room for Scully to find the next morning and give him that frown about. In the morning he'd put on his shorts and his running shoes and go jogging.

He'd told his partner the truth and she'd accepted it. But now they were home. He'd made her go into therapy once. She would, if she felt it necessary, return the favor, he knew that. But the idea of sitting down in front of someone he didn't know and saying "My dad beat the living shit out of me because I lost my sister." No. Not in this universe anyway. And the next time they had a case where there might be child abuse, she was going to be. . .unbearable. She'd treat him like he was fragile, like he might break open and shatter at any time. <<Yeah right. Like you didn't do that to Scully>>. He was glad he'd told her all the same. Glad he'd explained why sometimes it was like he was waiting for the next blow. Why he'd been so capable of repressing his sister's abduction.

They passed a small store. Civilization. Mulder smiled, closed his eyes.

He felt a hand on his shoulder. "We're at the Lawrenston General Hospital." Scully's voice was soft. "They want to check us over first." Mulder nodded, shed his blanket. Scully went over, started talking to someone in a suit. Probably the local resident Agent.

He couldn't see all that well out of his left eye, the blackened one. Mulder stumbled, followed his partner and the guy in the suit into a crowded waiting room.

They sat, as far away from anyone else as they could. "I'm Shawn Martin."

Martin looked so comfortable in his suit and his smooth face and his clean hair and he didn't itch in unmentionable places. His partner hadn't drug him to the back ends of nowhere and made him eat roots and berries. He hadn't been chased by Drunken Redneck Yahoos. He didn't have poison ivy on his butt. He didn't have a partner who thought the woods were "fun." Mulder contemplated his last visit to the woods. Hey. There was something positive. No green bugs. No trips to the CDC for thirty days in the Submarine-- no wait. That had been USAMRIDD's isolation tank.

"Hey," Mulder spoke up. Scully eyed him skeptically. "I just thought of something."

"What? That at least the doctors and nurses won't be wearing space suits?" his partner asked.

Mulder was crushed. "You're no fun."

"I've lived with you too long."

Scully insisted, so they took Mulder in first. Hospitals. He was totally ambivalent about this one. They weren't going to set bones or remove bullets or lock him up or any of the other nasty things he associated with hospitals. On the other hand, they didn't look like they were going to get him a shower and shave either.

They didn't even give him a too-short hospital gown. No, this time it was one of those dreadful paper robes that crinkled and gapped. Not to mention itched on his poison-ivy afflicted butt. The vinyl couch was chilly through the thin, paper sheet, the light was making his tired eyes ache, and he was all too aware of smelling like sweat, and mud, and old cortisone cream, and unwashed FBI agent. If he'd had his Glock he'd have threatened his way into a shower.

Of course, if he'd had his Glock he'd never have had to back down from Bubba and company, never have spent two nights in rain and mud, explored the interesting character of mine shafts or any number of other fascinating ways to waste time. He wouldn't even go to the men's room without his Glock after this.

A knock at the door sent him scrabbling for that paper sheet that always folded itself into the smallest possible origami configuration just when you needed it. A pretty nurse poked her head around the door and gave him the patented perky-nurse smile. He noted it for future reference if anyone ever asked HIM how to reform the health care system. <<Can the smiles! Just the facts, ma'am.>>

"And how are we doing? You just take it easy and Dr. Kolomaga will be with you in just a minute." Grubby as he was, he was still sure she checked his legs out. He was going to get Scully for this.

Dr. Kolomaga was, thankfully, small, pudgy, professional, and male. The standard probing and prodding that made them have to hunt him down for his FBI physicals didn't gain any charm this time around, but at least the nurse was busy elsewhere.

"Dr. Kolomaga," he winced, as the little sadist tried to dislocate his catfish-finned thumb. "All I really need is a shower, a batch of cortisone cream, a pizza and a basketball game on TV. You really don't have to *ouch*" Mulder yanked his thumb away and suppressed the urge to use his self-defense training.

"Agent Scully said you'd be difficult. If you just relax and cooperate the way she did we can get this over with and get you on your way." Mulder sighed and considered giving Scully's e-mail address to Frohike.

"Can I at least get a shower here?"

"This is a hospital. You want a shower, check in or go to a hotel. Hm. You've been scratching this. And how did you get that black eye?"

"Fell down a mine shaft." A Look. God, he could have been Skinner's short, fat brother. They had identical disbelief/annoyance looks. Mulder shuddered at the notion of aliens cloning endless variations on A.D. Skinner. Fifteen minutes later the little troll had harpooned him with antibiotics, cortisone, scribbled prescriptions for pills of antibiotics, cortisone, and muscle relaxants, given him a tube of cream, and finally cut him loose. Scully, of course, hadn't needed much prodding, or prescriptions that would make her dopey or sick to her stomach. She was long since finished and just killing time.

"All done? Cheer up, Mulder! How often do you get to go to the emergency room and get out the same day?" Perky-nurse smiles were catching.

"Have some sympathy." He rubbed his punctured hip. "Oh, that's right, all your patients are already dead."

"Mulder, quit whining. It just isn't that bad. It's not nearly as bad as a visit to the GYN." He just looked at her. Complete vapor lock. He tried, he really did, but there wasn't anything he could say to that. She smiled, luxuriating in the last word, and lead the way to their ride.

Agent Martin had arranged for hotel rooms and offered to drive them. They sat in the back out of respect for a clean person's sense of smell, and drifted off to sleep until he pulled into the local motor court. Scully wondered briefly if male FBI agents took a special class in how to find lousy motor courts. Mulder, of course, would have been valedictorian in that class but Martin was no slouch to judge from the horseshoe layout and peeling paint.

"Sorry about the accommodations, every other place is already taken. Most everyone's been evacuated from the flood zone and they're looking at using the school for emergency overflow. We got you two a room with official pull." Ah, that explained it. Maybe it was just Mulder's effect.

"This will be fine, Agent Martin. So long as they have showers, TVs, and beds I'm sure we'll manage." Mulder would have settled for the doghouses at Heritage, USA (they did have hot and cold running water, after all. Come to think of it, the doghouses at Heritage had gold-plated taps. Maybe he should have held out? Nah.). The Happy Cavalier Motor Lodge would do just fine.

They had to share a room, FBI pull only went so far in an emergency, but after sharing a Cherokee, and a shack, and everything else, that was no problem. Scully managed to browbeat Mulder into letting her have the shower first. He sat on the floor to avoid shedding mud on the beds and watched TV, hypnotized by ESPN.

Scully didn't even bother to take her clothes off. She got in the shower and stood there, fully dressed, under hot, hot water, luxuriating in clean water and soap and those cute little bottles of pseudo-designer shampoo they'd shanghaied from the hotel manager. Leave a few for Mulder and use the rest to get clean! Clean! Clean! Gradually, deliciously, she peeled off shoes and socks and flannel shirt and undershirt and chinos and underwear and bra and oh, my, just stood there letting the clean, hot water and soap wash off sweat and oil and mud and every other nasty thing until all that was left was just Dana Katherine Scully, herself and nothing else. And put the plug in the tub and fill it with hot water and drop in more soap and then, oooh, just like making wine. Step around squelching her clothes clean with her feet. One rinse, two, until the water stayed clean, at long last. She shut the water off at last, and hung her clothes over towel rods, to drip, drip, drip onto the floor. The bath sheet may have been the finest piece of clothing she'd worn in a week. She padded out, enjoying the way her clean hair felt clinging to her neck, to find Fox Mulder dozing, cross-legged, on the floor.

He barely batted an eye at her when she woke him up.

"Shower's all yours, partner. Look out for the water on the floor." God, if Mulder didn't notice she was standing there dressed in a towel he MUST be exhausted. He dragged himself to the bathroom and gave a glazed look to laundry hanging on the walls. It was a good idea, he copied it. He stood there, feeling really silly, but enjoying the water and watching the run-off go from brown to yellow to clear. The trail of grit in the tub was gratifying because he knew it was no longer on him. it was excruciatingly good to peel off those clothes, peel off the jeans and shorts, until he could let the almost-painfully hot water run over his poison ivy. God, it itched! He scratched idly, grinning at what he could imagine Scully saying. He almost drifted to sleep there and then, snapping awake before running out of hot water. His clothes went over the chairs in the bedroom, and he was asleep almost before he hit the bed.

Hunger finally woke Dana Scully somewhere around 1:00 the following afternoon. No one had phoned or shot at them, no panics, no nightmares, just a mattress, clean sheets, clean hair, and her. She thought she was in heaven for a moment, until her mosquito bites kicked in. She was pretty sure there weren't any mosquitoes in heaven. Mulder was still out like a light. She had a feeling he hadn't slept so long without anesthetics in years. The TV set wasn't even on, miracles did happen. She just lay there for a bit and breathed, enjoying the feel of the clean cloth on her clean skin. Then Mulder grumbled something about french toast in his sleep, and she decided to get the upper ground and be dressed before him.

Her clothes were still damp, but after the last several days that had become a relative classification. She shivered when she pulled them on, but the clean, soapy smell of them made up for a lot. She could hear the rain outside anyway, and figured she wouldn't have stayed dry in any case. Lord, her stomach was singing opera now. She could hear a bass rumble demanding food, right now. Mulder's sleep was about to be sacrificed to the greater good of lunch.

Scully tiptoed over and leaned down to look at him. She wondered why guys got the best eyelashes. It wasn't fair. She'd need a transplant to get lashes that thick. Her hair must have tickled him because he was out of bed and rolling in the next moment, saying something incoherent involving snakes or poison ivy. The look on his face would have been worth thousands in blackmail if only she'd had a camera.

"C'mon, Mulder, time to be up. For once I'm the one starving to death." He was scrubbing his face, trying to shake off whatever he'd been dreaming about and figure out where he was.

Mulder blinked, or rather he blinked his left eye and tried to blink his right eye--it was hard to when that eye was stuck in Clint Eastwood squint. He stared at her a moment, took a deep breath. "Thank God. I thought it was a dream or something," he said. "What time is it?"

Scully considered the little Radio-Clock between the two beds. "1:20."

"In the afternoon?"

Scully nodded. No. The sun was shining at 1:20 AM. It was the end of time.

"I'm starving." Mulder got up and streaked to the restroom. Scully heard the toilet flush a few moments later. She sat on the edge of the bed, and began flicking through channels. Pictures of the flooding. Pictures of the coast where clean-up was going on. With a frown, she flipped channels, collapsed against the bed. Nothing, nothing nothing. QVC. . .no thank you, she did not need an amysthet brooch in the shape of a cat. Nothing, nothing. PBS. Ernie and Fred were rearranging cookies on a plate.

"I think that might be too advanced for you."

Scully looked up at her rumpled partner, standing in his boxers with a new tube of hydrocortisone.

She frowned, held out a hand. "Weren't there any nurses who volunteered to come over and do this?" she asked as Mulder grabbed the remote, slung himself over a bed.

"Well, there were, but I couldn't deprive you of this bonding experience."

"I'll bond something," Scully replied, rubbing a generous portion of cream into his skin.

He hit the channel numbers for ESPN. Soccer. Oh great, watch a bunch of men try to kill each other with cleats. And the scoring action just made everything worth while. Scully sighed.

"We don't have any money," Mulder commented as she finished.

"Yeah we do. Albert gave me 50 bucks. There's a Pizza Hut next door," Scully replied with a smile. "And he said that if we get anyone to call him he'll verify that we're agents and that our Amex numbers are good."

Mulder nodded, got off the bed, grabbed his Levi's.

"Pizza Hut?" he asked. "As in real live food?"

Scully grinned and nodded.

The waitress was small and perky. She was probably going to school to be a nurse, Mulder decided as they were seated. "We want a large pizza, whatever you have that has everything on it."

"And Extra cheese," Scully added.

"And whatever beer you have. Two?" He considered Scully who shook her head. "One pitcher of beer."

"I want a pitcher of diet coke."

"Also, two orders of breadsticks."

"And the salad bar."

"And the salad bar."

The little waitress just stared at them, eyes widening.

So that's a large super supreme. Do you want pan, hand- tossed or thin?"

Mulder shrugged.


The waitress got out her pad, filled out the order, then read it back.

"If you have any pizzas ready that you haven't sold, we'll take them instead."

The blonde blinked her eyes. "No sir. Sorry." She considered the pair. "We're ya'll stuck by the flooding?"

"How'd you guess?"

"I dunno." The girl shrugged and wandered away. "I'll bring ya'll your drinks and salad plates," she promised.

"What a perceptive young woman." Mulder snorted, watching the waitress's butt, small under skin tight Cavarrici shorts, as it moved away.

"Possibly the product of a genetic experiment," Scully teased.

"I'd like the left-overs if she is." Mulder grinned.

Scully laid her head against the plastic tablecloth. "I can't believe it's all over," she moaned. "And we're in a pizza parlor, waiting on an airhead to bring us our drinks. I'm clean and I slept in a real bed. And I can't smell the mix of your sweat and hydrocortisone cream. Tomorrow we'll be home. I never thought I'd say this, but I'm looking forward to my suits."

"I thought the cortisone added a certain bouquet."

Scully shifted her head to glare at Mulder. "Only if you like stink-weed or vinegar."

The waitress came, set down their pitchers, small plates.

"Lettuce." Scully teased, getting up. "and carrots and celery. Rabbit food, Mulder. Rabbit food."

"Oh shut up." Mulder pushed out of the booth.

What happened next was only later reconstructed. At the time, all Mulder knew was that his left leg went out from under him with a plastic feeling sliiiddddddeeee, stopping only when it hit something hard and wooden. And then he was staring at the ceiling tiles and Oh shit it hurt. Oh shit. Oh shit ohshitohshit. Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck it hurt.

Agent Fox Mulder, having hiked 9 miles through heavy underbrush, escaped armed moonshiners, been rescued from the air hole of a mine shaft and finally having committed grand theft of an automobile, suffered a simple fracture of his left tibia when he slipped on a package of crackers in a Pizza Hut.

"Well. It lives." The voice was soft. Mulder moaned, stared at the ceiling tiles. They'd been chasing an alien. No, that wasn't it. They'd found a genetic mutant and . . .No. that wasn't it either. Okay, there was a secret government conspiracy and . . .Mulder closed his eyes. Oh shit, he remembered now. Felled by lethal saltines. They needed warning labels on those things, really they did. He'd been shot at by yahoos, chased down a mountain by a bear, finned by a catfish, threatened by a copperhead, and inflamed by a patch of poison ivy. But no. He had to slip on a plastic package the size of a condom wrapper.

"How are you feeling?" Scully's face swam into view. She had make-up on. And a blouse. And her hair was curled.

Mulder realized he was wearing a hospital gown. It probably didn't even cover his navel. He was going to hurt Scully when they let him out.

"How bad is it?" he moaned, getting his bearings, moving his head. Oh shit. Bad move there Muld. The world turned into a Monet for just a second.

"Not too bad. They're going to let you go in the morning."

Mulder nodded. Slowly, licked his lips.

He heard a door whoosh. Smelled something. His nose twitched. That was pizza. He would swear that was pizza. Pizzapizzapizza.

"He awake yet?" Wait a minute. He knew that voice. That was Margaret Scully.

His Scully looked up. "Yeah, but he's probably nauseous."

Pizzapizzapizza. Pepperoni and Italian sausage and Canadian bacon and mushrooms and black olives and even, if his nose wasn't hallucinating, jalapenos. Oh God. Pizza.

"I want some pizza and if you tell her to go away I will reach up there, grab your ears, pull you to me and they'll be making a Silence of the Lambs II," Mulder told his partner, quite seriously.

Scully blinked, glanced from Mulder to her mother. "He's hungry," she said.

The tooth-ache nasty - and regrettably familiar - sound of rubber crutch tips was loud on marble. It was early enough that the FBI offices were almost abandoned and that was just fine with Fox Mulder. The last thing he wanted was to meet anyone on the way in. When you broke a bone everyone, but everyone, solicitously asked you how it happened. And he just didn't want to go into that right now.

He sagged onto the rests on his crutches and pushed the down button. The elevator, largely unwanted at this time of morning, arrived in no time at all. He leaned gratefully against the wall, let the toe of his cast rest on the floor, and pushed the B-for-basement button that marked the address of his home away from home. A smooth trip, no evil doers and no fellow passengers asking how he got hurt. Fine. When the doors slid open he hopped out as quickly as he could manage. He knew from experience that the FBI elevator doors would close and only re-open on contact with something, something like a broken leg. He'd only needed to experience that particular treat once to learn to get out fast on his floor.

Threading his way between the full file boxes along the hall wasn't so bad. Someone had put a homemade poster on the X-Files office door, a saltine package with the international circle-bar for "NO" made out in red tape. He left it there. His desk was easier to get behind than it looked. He'd had enough broken bones to have long-since made sure of that. He settled back happily, adjusting his Glock to a more comfortable fit. He'd practically slept with that thing since they'd let him out of the hospital. Not that he needed it, just on general principles after the havoc wrought by not having it in reach.

He'd missed his office. His apartment was small, cramped and got on his nerves after a few hours on the couch. When you couldn't leave easily you suddenly wanted to clean, or run, or do anything but sit and watch TV. Even having Scully visit every evening hadn't helped that. In fact, it was nice to be here alone. She'd been so nice and solicitous that he couldn't bring himself to entertain the snit he wanted to be in with her. Of course, she should be nice. This was all her fault.

Worst of all, Skinner had dropped by. Mulder figured he just had to see this for himself, how anyone could get out of that hell-trip and then break a leg at Pizza Hut. He'd grinned at the cast Scully and her mom had signed, and taken the liberty of signing off himself. Mulder glanced at his ankle and cringed. He'd signed in permanent ink or the thing would have been washed off by now.

Files had piled up on his desk, mostly just routine paperwork and follow-ups. A few looked marginally interesting. More were over on Scully's desk, since he wasn't even expected back for another two days, but what he had kept him busy for a while. Eventually he turned and flipped on his computer, savoring the high, artificial whine of it that sounded nothing at all like birdsong or water. His e-mail was crammed with get-well messages from people he barely knew - notably the Partner Program idiots - and the occasional saltine comment. Frohike sent one noting that the government was well aware of the hazard-potential of food packaging and got too many "subsidies" from the cellophane industry to regulate it. Mulder forwarded that one to Scully and a friend over at FDA, and opened a new file.

"The Partner Survival Week Program was extremely educational. I have never seen so many opportunities to eliminate one's partner. I feel certain that the fact that both of us survived must support the reputation of this program.

Successful negotiation of a number of hazards, as detailed in our police complaints (attached, App. A), our hospital records (attached, App. B), and in our debriefing (attached, App. C), honed our survival and unarmed combat skills. I sincerely hope that the program organizers will sample the region we covered, and that they enjoy similarly edifying experiences. If given the chance, however, I will gladly hunt serial killers, bank robbers, and liver-eating mutants before ever taking a "nice" camping trip again.

Sincerely, F. Mulder Supervisor, The X-Files

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