Title: Denial is Not a River in Egypt
Summary: Explores the events that might have occurred between Folie a Deux and The End. Mulder and Scully are investigating a series of odd deaths in Devil's Lake, Wisconsin, when evidence begins to point to an unlikely subject; a wolf from American Indian legend.
Disclaimer: Certain characters do not belong to me. Fox and 1013 own them, chains and irons included. For the purposes of this piece of fan fiction, I broke into the safehouse where they were being kept and coerced them - against their will - to perform for my story. Mea Culpa. However, I did return them back the way I found them, more or less. ;^)
Readers Take Note: The science in this story may be fabricated, bent, and twisted from all recognition by the author. If you have a degree in any realm of science that gets touched on, in the course of this story, please refrain from saying out loud, "That's impossible!" or "That can't happen!"
However, Devil's Lake, WI does exist. I've used artistic license on the area because my memories are hazy, and because I want to. Most of what I've written, in one certain instance, may not necessarily happen _there_, but it does happen somewhere in Wisconsin - and in a part of every state in the Union, too. (You'll see what I mean).
This story takes place between Folie a Deux and The End, and while it's an UST story - for the most part - it does lead into both The End and the movie somewhat. I'd like to think that both 'shippers and noromos will like it, but it's obviously a 'shippy story. Read with caution. ;^)
For Ginef, who championed my fall to the Dark Side. If not for her, I wouldn't be having all this angst over the romantic lives of two federal agents. And my eternal thanks to Debby, whose kind words and wonderful feedback helped get this side project of mine off my computer and on to ATXC. <G>
June 12 5:02am
"You're up pretty early, aren't ya?" The local asked the obvious outsider before casting his line into the dark waters. "Don't get many people this early in the morning."
"I like the quiet," the other man said, a somber expression crossing his face. "It's the only way to appreciate the beauty of the lake and the woods without all the tourists, and their pets."
The outsider's gaze swept across the lake, taking in the sight of the treacherous cliff on the other side. The boathouse to the left of it was deserted this early in the morning, as was the shack along the shore to his right, not more than fifty yards away. Other local fishermen had joined in while he fished, their pick-up trucks lining the thin alcove that separated the small mountain from the road following the lake.
"Hmnh. Well, just you watch out for the local spooks. They can be mighty irritable in the morning."
The dark-haired outsider laughed mirthlessly at the older man, both amused and disappointed in the man's belief in ghosts. And the attributing of human traits, on top of that. "I don't believe in the local superstition. If you were smart, you wouldn't either."
"If you'd seen what I seen, you wouldn't be laughin' now. Stay away from the lowland areas...that's where it usually happens."
"What do you mean? What happens?" A puzzled look took over, eyebrows knitting together to shadow his already dark eyes.
"People get hurt. Some have died, though that hasn't happened for awhile. There's a fence around it now, but people still ignore it. I'm telling you this so you won't make the same mistake."
The somber man only smirked. "Thanks for the 'warning'." He tugged his own line in, having been luckless for over an hour. Deciding to check out the wildlife instead, he got in his car and drove to where people had said he could find a large number of deer to photograph, out deep in the borders of the park.
Same day, 6:21am
Pulling his camouflaged hat down even tighter, Jack Terrance flicked his gaze around the area. With a small sigh of relief at the barren surroundings, he grabbed his hunting gear from the back of his beat-up Chevy s-10 and ducked under the barbed wire fence, completely ignoring the "No Trespassing No Poaching" sign posted on the rail.
The more protected the area, the more deer he'd find, so everyone said. And they were right. Deer bred like rats when they had no natural predators around, and after all those bleeding-heart naturalists had gotten this area proclaimed off-limits to both legal and illegal hunting, the deer had turned into more and more of a problem. Not that he minded too much. One less deer wasn't gonna hurt anything, now was it?
Several minutes later, he was still trying to figure out how he'd get the deer carcass past the guards when he spotted it; a beautiful white-tail buck, munching on some grass in the distance. Checking to see which way the wind was blowing, he realized he'd struck on some serendipitous luck....the wind was northeasterly, carrying his scent away from his quarry. Had it been otherwise, he wouldn't have gotten this close from the start.
Carefully ducking lower, he padded his way to the deer, taking advantage of the wind and keeping it in his face. Eyes focused solely on the animal, he didn't even realize that he'd tripped on some log until he was already halfway to the ground. The buck froze at the sound of the hunter's body connecting with dried leaves and twigs on the ground, then fled...giving Jack a reason to swear, other than the fact that he'd done something only a rookie would have done. So caught up in the sheer luck, he'd been too eager for the kill, too - ah well. It was still early yet, and the rangers didn't come around this far into the woods except during hunting season. There'd be another deer soon, either way.
He looked back to see what he'd tripped on, and froze in shock. What he had believed to have been a log was in fact the body of a very dead man, his skin blue with deathly cold. Dark eyes were fixed in a glassy stare, and aside from the camera hanging around his neck, Jack would have assumed the dark-haired man was a fellow hunter.
"Oh, man...." Jack whispered under his breath. "Not another one."
June 13 8:01am J.Edgar Hoover Building District of Columbia
"Brent Resner, age 35. Caucasian male.
"Found in woods surrounding Devil's Lake, Wisconsin on the morning of June 12th, with skin blue in appearance after only - "
Scully started, then continued out loud, "only 15 minutes after estimated death?"
"Go on, it gets better."
She looked up at Mulder, perturbed, then did so. "Cause of death is listed as hypothermia. So. What is this supposed to mean?" She tossed the report back on his desk. Logical reasons for the man's death were already sifting through her mind, ready to come to the defense of science. Mulder was obviously not giving her all the facts, since he was wearing that 'I know more than you do' smirk on his face.
"C'mon, Scully....aren't you even curious how a man in the prime of his life is found frozen? During the middle of June?"
"I admit, I _am_ curious. You're not thinking this man was abducted, though, are you?"
She wasn't surprised by the grimace that crossed his face, as if he continued to pay penance for some horrible crime of his. His behavior, of late, had become as mercurial as Spring in DC. His previous faith had been shaken to the core, his once-assured beliefs now nothing more than tattered threads.
One day he would be his old self; Another, he would be some stranger she didn't know. He looked like Mulder, but the man she saw staring back through his eyes wasn't him. A man who would seek out the logical answer, rather than trust his instincts.
Another part of the change surfaced in his neglect to mention Samantha in several months. What had used to be a common topic was now put on the shelf, not to be touched or dusted off. She idly wondered if this change was permanent, or only the beginning of something much more serious. Regardless, she couldn't decide if she liked the change in him or not.
Mulder continued on. "It does fits with other examples of abductions. Remember that man in Puerto Rico that I'd found stiff in rigor mortis, even though he'd been out of my sight for no more than a few minutes?"
"I thought we'd concluded that the man died of fright."
Mulder tapped his pen lightly on the desk. "Maybe, maybe not. Resner's death is only the latest in a number of unexplained deaths around Devil's Lake, and considering the similarities of the two deaths, I can't ignore it."
"You're ignoring the obvious here, Mulder. The man's death was listed as severe hypothermia, which can be caused by many things. If the lake water was cold enough...."
"If it was the lake, how did he get out in the woods?"
"Maybe he was murdered by drowning, then the body was dumped in the woods."
Mulder shook his head. "The autopsy report showed no water in his lungs."
Scully grimaced. She knew she couldn't argue with him when he held all the facts, but decided to give it one last try. "Wisconsin is also pretty far north. Considering that spring wasn't too long ago, he might have died from exposure - and before you jump down my throat with the time of death, I want to point out that the time mentioned here is only an estimate."
"Fine. I'll concede you that point," he smirked slightly, then continued, "but I checked the weather report for that night. The lowest temperature listed is a balmy 62 degrees F."
She sighed in exasperation. Apparently, the old Mulder had decided to show himself today. She knew that with _him_, there could only be one option to her present dilemma.
"When do we leave?"
12:25pm Pine Trail motel Merrimac, WI
Mulder and Scully pulled into the motel's parking lot, the small row of rooms little more than a dive for people who were low on funds. Aside from the alternating green and orange doors, he found the place quite charming. To Scully, it was another rat trap.
"I'll start getting the bags out of the back while you check-in," Scully was saying as she assigned herself to any other job than that of actually paying for the rooms.
"Don't you want to mingle with the locals?" Mulder grinned incorrigibly as she grabbed the keys from his hand.
He shrugged, used to her temperament about seedy motels. He truly felt for her, but the sad truth was that this place was the best of the lot. With a couple of miniature golf-and-arcades down the street, and some shacks that passed for rental cottages, there wasn't very much to be found. Around here, camping was the way to go.
He headed off to the main office - it was fairly obvious from the neon sign in the front window - and walked in, noticing that if there was an air-conditioner to this place, it certainly wasn't running. An elderly man was behind the desk, doing the crossword puzzle for the day, if the pencil and newspaper in hand were a clue.
"Come on in, don't let in the flies," the white-haired man beckoned the agent forward. "Whatd'ya need?"
"Two single rooms, next to each other if possible."
"You're in luck...just had a vacancy this morning." Mulder didn't doubt it for a second. He handed the man his government credit card after he'd filled out the invoice, and the owner - a Mr. Howard Waverly, if the nameplate was correct - grinned. "I'd guess you're investigatin' the deaths 'round here, huh? Good, good. 'Bout time, really. Folks have been scared outta their wits."
"I can imagine." Mulder shifted on his feet, recalling to mind a certain piece of information that he hadn't told Scully. "I'm curious. I've heard something about a legend in these parts, about a spirit haunting the lake...? What's that about?"
"Oh, you know; it's the usual. Indian stories about wolves and such, burial grounds, and ghosts. One story's about a woman who drowned in the lake; people say they see her still when a fog rolls in. The Indian legend is what has people all riled up, though. Supposedly there's a burial ground near the lake, and the spirit of the wolf protects it from trespassers."
"Has anyone seen the wolf?" His brows furrowed in concern. He'd known of the woman's ghost - amid others - but not that of the Indian burial ground, nor the wolf.
"Not that I know of. Now, the guys down at Gary's Bar n' Grill, they'd know if someone saw it. They're the only ones who go near the place."
"Who are they?"
"Hunters, mostly. They usually have nothing to do with their free time during the off-season, but even they wouldn't be there this early."
"One of those men...he wouldn't be Jack Terrence, would he?"
"Yeah. He's a new guy, just moved up from Lake Geneva. You know him?"
"Only of him. He's the one who found the latest victim."
"Shame about that." The proprietor grimaced. "He's not in any trouble, is he?"
"No, no...but I'd like to have the address of that bar, just in case I need to talk to any of the hunters."
"Of course." Mr. Waverly scribbled some directions down, and handed the piece of paper to Mulder, along with the key. "Enjoy your stay."
"I plan to," Mulder replied, stuffing the note into his suit pocket.
June 14 12:41pm Coroner's Office Baraboo, WI
"Damnedest thing I ever saw," the coroner was saying, his once-groomed greying hair now flying about his head at will. "Blue skin when it's in the sixties? And only after 15 or 20 minutes after death?"
"You're sure about the time of death, Dr. Forrester?" Scully asked while she scanned over the toxicology report. "I know it's hard to determine time of death when the cold might have been what - " She stopped mid-sentence, frowning at the papers in her hand.
"What, Scully?" Mulder hopped off an empty dissection table to peer over her shoulder.
"This is odd....there's no mention of adrenaline, or other factors to suggest a violent death. If the man died of drowning, just the bloodwork alone could have proven it. And here," she pointed to a section lower on the page, "it lists a small amount of an unknown chemical in the man's blood and brain tissue."
"I don't know. The bite he has on his left calf was recent enough to be the cause of death, if we're dealing with some sort of toxin, or virus...."
"Not a retro-virus?"
She sighed loudly, "I have no idea, honestly. The body, however, lacks the same characteristics of the other deaths. No, I think this will end up being a toxin, either from the bite mark or deliberately given in some other way."
Dr. Forrester, who had watching the two in bewilderment, suddenly spoke up. "Are you saying you've seen this somewhere else?"
"Not this exact cause of death, no," Mulder answered, "but something similar."
"I see," the man said, somewhat uncertainly. After explaining that his presence was needed elsewhere, he left the two agents alone for their ruminations.
"So, what do you think, Mulder? Is this still a case of death by aliens, or is this more domestic?"
"Domestic, as in just being an unknown deadly virus?" Mulder grinned slightly. "No, I'm not positive that this man's death was related to other abduction deaths. The bodies here were all found within a two mile radius, and all had bite-marks on some part of their body, whether it was an arm or a leg. I think you're right about the bite- marks being the cause. I'm less sure that it was a toxin, considering it didn't show up as such on the toxicology report."
"Maybe it's something we haven't classified yet."
"Maybe," he nodded slowly, "but it's more likely that the chemical wasn't the cause, if the amount was so small. See if you can find out what it might be in Madison, and I'll talk to the local law enforcement, see if they've got any ideas."
Now that was a smokescreen if she'd ever heard one. "What are you planning to do, Mulder?"
He smirked slightly as he opened the door, "Same thing I always do. Bug the heck out of the locals, irk the sheriff, and basically make myself a pain in the ass."
June 14 12:54pm Baraboo State Police HQ, WI
Mulder let the air-conditioned cool of the Sheriff's office seep into him, a respite from the foolishness of wearing a suit on a very warm day. He knew Scully would give him a severe tongue-lashing for not including the legend as part of the case from the start, but to do that would expose why he'd come out here in the first place. And that was the last thing he needed right now.
Unfortunately, the first thing he needed wasn't any more forthcoming.
Sheriff Norridge shook his head. "No, Agent Mulder. I haven't got any leads at all."
"None?" Mulder gave the man an incredulous look. "Were there footprints, bloodstains, anything to link the crimes?"
"Aside from the bite marks, no. The only human footprints we found were either the victim's or the person who found the body."
Mulder glanced down, then his head came up swiftly, "What about non-human?"
The sheriff shrugged. "Deer tracks, some squirrel and raccoon, and a couple a' dogs from the neighborhood."
Dogs? "What kind of dogs, Sheriff?"
"Don't know, really. One was deep, like a hunting dog's; probably a Brittany Spaniel or a Labrador. The other was too faint, probably washed out by the rains we had a couple nights ago."
"I've already called in a zenobiologist to identify the bite mark, maybe he can take a stab at identifying the dog tracks as well."
"No need for that," the Sheriff replied. "George can tell you what made those tracks."
"And who's George?"
"George Lindell, the local taxidermist. I tried getting him to identify those bite marks, but he swears he's never seen anything like it. The best he could say was that they were 'canine in nature.' "
Mulder sighed. Whether that meant Fido was the terror of the town, or a wolf had settled into the area, there was no way to say for certain. It seemed that the sheriff was holding something back, but he couldn't be sure. Maybe he knew something about the source, or maybe it was his own lack of knowledge that had him on edge?
He blinked, a sudden thought coming to him unbidden. "The victim had a camera, isn't that right?"
"Yeah, he did. Why?"
"Did you develop the film, see if maybe he managed to snap a shot of what may have attacked him?"
"We did. Nothing but a bunch of scenic pictures, and one last one of the area near to where we found him. There was a deer in the background, but the attack must have exposed the film somehow."
His curiosity peaked, Mulder replied, "Why do you say that?"
"The part next to the deer was a kind of smeared white patch, like someone had erased a part of the scenery. We figured it was just the film."
"Would it be all right if I looked at it?"
"Well, we sent it out to be analyzed, but it should be back sometime later today. Do you want me to let you know when it comes in?"
"Yes, please." Mulder smiled, "I'm going out to the crime scene, take a look at it myself."
Norridge nodded, "Sure. I'll call ahead and let 'em know you're coming."
He bobbed his head slightly in acknowledgment, then left the sheriff behind him, his mind trying to sort out the fragmented pieces of this puzzle; animal tracks, bite marks, an unidentified chemical, and now a suspicious photograph.
1:20 p.m. Devil's Lake
With only a little confusion in finding the entrance to the park, Mulder finally pulled up to the crime scene after following the road to its end. Yellow crime tape masked off the entrance that the police and sheriff's crews had made in the barbed wire fence, and after ducking under the tape, he followed the orange markers left to lead the police to the scene. After walking for a few minutes, he found the thoroughly trampled scene, bootmarks of well-meaning officers embedded deep in the mud. Sighing, he continued around the perimeter until he found the evidence of the victim's path through the woods; staggering and panicked, the man must have been heading back to the road, away from whatever might have attacked him. Mulder followed the man's tracks further, trying to see evidence of a dog chasing its prey, or a human hunting down a victim.
He'd been walking for over an hour when he'd come to the end of the trail, and found no trace of beast nor human, aside for the obvious tracks of a deer running across the victim's path. Shaking his head in frustration, Mulder headed back, thinking that he'd come all this way for little more than a possible new virus, or something else that Scully would discover while in Madison.
He glanced back behind him, scanning the ground once again in a futile effort, when he caught a glimmer of white out of the corner of his eye. Spinning, he faced the direction where he'd seen it, only to find more green foliage. He started towards it, when he spotted the paw print in the mud. Kneeling down to get a better view, he saw faint tracks embedded nearby, yet obviously not a raccoon or a squirrel. Canine, definitely...but larger than anything he'd seen before.
Feeling eyes staring at him, he looked up to see nothing but leaves.
He felt caught, exposed - and he didn't feel like sticking around to find out what had made those tracks. Turning back the way he'd come, he started back up the path, realizing belatedly that while he'd followed the trail easily enough, it was partly because it sloped downward, toward a swampy, lowland area of sorts. If the man had been injured, trying to climb out of this lower area would have been close to trying to run up the side of a mountain.
Shuddering with the mental picture, he continued on, never seeing the form that watched him leave.
3:02pm Regional Office Crime lab Madison, WI
With local photographs lining the far wall and curio cabinet knickknacks sitting side-by-side with test tubes and flasks, Scully had expected the person who occupied it to be slightly eccentric, and highly unprofessional. Instead, she found the young woman in charge to be thorough and precise in her calculations, which made the results even more mystifying.
"The chemical is a byproduct? Of what?"
The woman shrugged, dark blonde hair bouncing with movement. "It's definitely organic, that much I know for certain. I was hoping you could tell me what it was, since you're the pathologist. An organ couldn't have produced this, could it?"
"No, it couldn't," Scully answered. "A cell, possibly. I'm not a specialist in microbiology, though. If we're dealing with a mutating virus...." her voice trailed off, a tone of dread evident.
"That's a scary thought, Agent Scully."
"You're not alone," Scully replied, grimacing at the thought of an unknown virus being spread, causing a contagion to rival Ebola's. "Thanks for your help."
"Anytime," the woman smiled. "I'm sorry I couldn't discern more about it. It's unlike anything I've run into before."
Scully's smile drew into a straight line, as she gripped the test results even more tightly in her hands. Unknown in the same way the chimera was? Or maybe this was somehow linked with purity control? Or, she thought darkly, it was all linked together in yet another branch of the twisted root of governmental conspiracy.
Great, now I'm beginning to sound like Mulder. Well, there was a microbiology lab at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, maybe they would-
Her cell phone went off, and she took it out with a practiced ease. "Scully."
"It's me. Guess where I'm at?"
"From the sound of the country-western music in the background, I'd guess a bar," she replied, her voice dark with disapproval.
"Don't sound so enthusiastic. I'm checking out a possible lead." Scully heard a mumbled 'no thanks', then he continued. "Have you found anything?"
"Nothing concrete, so far. I was going to take a sample to the microbiology lab at the university here, see what they turn up."
"The Madison office...?"
Scully grimaced, "The lab technician wasn't sloppy, just out of her field. Outside of knowing it's organic, she hasn't got a clue what is it, or how it got there."
"I see. How long do you think it'll take for the collegians to have a look?"
She sighed. "I don't know. Maybe a few hours, maybe longer. Why?"
"I have a theory, but it's not solid yet." He paused, then asked, "Was the sample run against any animal viruses or diseases?"
"You know, rabies, something like that."
"Are you suggesting that this is a new form of rabies? I thought that would be my line, Mulder."
"Sorry I beat you to it, Scully." He paused, and she was under the impression that he was trying to summon up courage he didn't have.
She closed her eyes, willing the strength to hear what he'd say next. "Should I even ask?"
"Probably not, but it's too late for that; about five years too late, actually. Anyway, the local Indian legend tells of a guardian spirit, in the form of a wolf, that guards an Indian burial ground near the lake. This afternoon I went out to the crime scene, and backtracked the victim's path through the woods. Guess what I found?"
"What? More mothmen?"
"Nothing so insidious as that," he answered, amused. "Canine tracks. Possibly a wolf, but if it is, it's larger than anything I've seen. Maybe three feet tall to the shoulder, or more. I won't know more until I get the zenobiologist in here to examine the bites, and have George take a look at the tracks."
"The local taxidermist. He's out in the woods more than anyone around here, except maybe the hunting enthusiasts."
"So, what are you doing in a bar, again?"
"Investigative-type work, Scully. I'll fill you in later once I've got more."
"Sure. Don't do anything stupid."
"Who, me?" She heard him disconnect the phone, and did the same on her end. The strain of just keeping up with him was wearing her down, and she saw how stressed and strung out he'd become recently. She wondered idly if all this preoccupation with work was somehow connected with his lessened concern for his sister.
Which lead into her next disturbing thought; What was his focus now, if it wasn't Samantha? She wasn't sure if she wanted to know the answer to that question. His seeking the truth of the government conspiracy seemed an almost hopeless task, and if he planned to take it down, he'd need more allies than he presently had. The parallel to Ahab and his search for the white whale echoed through her mind once again, as did the ending to the sad tale.
3:05pm Gary's Bar 'n Grill
"You're that FBI agent, right?" Jack Terrance asked, taking in the sight of the grim-faced, suit-wearing man in front of him. Pulling his Army jacket closed, as if to conceal something, he fixed a bleary- eyed stare at the agent. He'd earlier tried to pull dirty brown hair into a ponytail, but the ragged mess could not, and would not, be contained. He glanced down the bar to see if anyone was watching him and the G-man, concerned about what people might start saying.
"I'm Special Agent Fox Mulder, of the FBI. Mr. Terrence, I'd like to ask you a few questions - "
"I've given my statement to the police, already."
Mulder slid into the seat next to Jack's, "I'm aware of that. Are you aware of the other so-called 'frozen' deaths that occurred in this area?"
"Have you wondered what might be causing these deaths? Or, maybe you already know, and haven't shared with the police."
"What are you saying, Agent Mulder?" Jack tamped out the stub of his cigarette, and lit a new one. Taking a draw, he continued. "Are you implying that I know what happened? Because if you are, you're wrong."
Mulder shook his head, a mild grin on his face. "I just want to know what's been going on here, Mr. Terrance. People don't die from hypothermia in June, unless you happen to live a lot farther north than we are right now."
The hunter thought about this for awhile, then said, "Well, from what I can remember....when the deaths started, it was early March. The police thought the death had just been a careless hunter who'd stayed out all night to get a jump on the kill. The temperature had dropped really low that night, so no one thought anything of it - except for the bite mark on his arm, of course. The rangers kept people from that area for awhile afterwards, however, especially since that area had always been a popular spot for poaching."
"This area...this was north of where you found the body, correct?"
Jack nodded. "The others were found in different directions; one was east, one was west. After the third death, that's when the fence went up."
"And no one thought to question the bite marks?"
He shrugged. "Don't ask me. After the second, they told everyone to keep their pets indoors, and all dogs found in the area of the woods would be shot. They killed a lot of strays around that time, and a coyote or two."
Mulder sighed, wondering how crazy this might sound. Then again, it might sound perfectly normal to a man willing to hunt in a potentially fatal part of the woods. "Have you ever seen a wolf in this area?"
"Me? No....I suppose they might be around, but they stay away from people. Coyotes are actually more likely, but in the UP they did import some wolves to pare down the deer population. I guess it's possible that a few might have made their way down here."
Giving him a puzzled look, Mulder said, "I'm sorry-the UP?"
"That's the Upper Penisula. Or northern Michigan. I forgot, you're not exactly from around here."
Mulder smiled bitterly. "Not exactly. How many wolves would you consider `a few?'"
"A pack, probably. Then again, it's unlikely that a pack of wolves would go unnoticed here."
"Not exactly unnoticed, I'd say," Mulder breathed, glancing around the bar, "considering the deaths."
"I thought the bodies were found frozen," the man stated, giving him a puzzled look.
He brushed the comment aside. "I've heard that there's a local legend, about some wolf - ?"
"Ah, so that's where you're going with this," Jack replied, grinning at him incredulously. "You think the spooks got 'em?"
Mulder shrugged noncommittally. "I'm just trying to get all the facts."
"There are no facts where that old Indian tale's concerned. It's mumbo jumbo. Betty here," he pointed the bartender, "she's the one who knows all that stuff."
"What're you raving about now?" Betty came over at hearing her name, cinching the apron up a little tighter around her already-ample waist. Hair that was just a little too blond brushed up against her shoulders, and the lanky condition of the curl suggested she'd be needing another perm soon. "Still going on about finding that tourist in the woods?"
"I'm just telling the agent here about the legends, but told him he really ought to talk to you. Besides, you're the only one who's interested in it."
"People like to talk, what can I say? A bartender finds out the most interesting things when people are drunk." She gave Jack a sly look. "And that includes you, too."
Jack's face blanched, then he mumbled something about needing to use the restroom, and left. Betty chuckled once he was out of earshot, then said, "He's so gullible."
"So, Betty - ?"
"Mercer. Elizabeth Mercer, if you want to get formal, but I prefer Betty. It fits me well. How about you?"
He began to pull out his badge. "I'm Fox Mulder, of the FBI - "
She made a face. "Fox? Your parents weren't hippies, were they?"
He chuckled sardonically at that, trying to picture his mother and father driving a VW with flowers in their hair, listening to folk music. "No, far from it. Anyway, about this legend...."
"Yeah. Well, the way I hear it is like this. When the local Indian tribe lived in this area, a couple hundred or so years ago, they set their burial site right where those deaths have been happening. Since it's within the boundaries of the state park, there's no threat of development...so no one really goes out there. Can't camp, can't hunt, can't build. Why bother?" She spread her hands out wide, in a gesture of disinterest. "Then, the deer realize that the woods inside the park boundaries are safe, and they start to multiply...and boy, do they ever! So much so that even the local hunters decide to bend the rules a little and go out there."
"The same area as the burial site. But, what about the legend?"
"I'm getting to that. Well, the Indians had placed a guardian to watch over the site, so the stories go, and set him there for all eternity. It's supposedly the spirit of the wolf, the essence of the hunting spirit that the Indian tribe would invoke. They felt that there was no stronger presence than the wolf, so their ancestors would be at peace.
"If anyone was to violate the area, or invoke the spirit's wrath for any reason, then the wolf would act."
"In what way? What would it do?"
"I don't know, really....the person who told me said something about the spirit-realm being cold, and that the wolf needed the warmth of its victims, but," she shrugged, "it wasn't specific on the how."
It would explain the bite marks quite well, though. However, not the chemical found in each victim's body. "Was there anything else?"
"Not that I can remember. I'm sorry."
"Here, let me give you the number where I'll be staying. If you think of anything else, call me." He scribbled the motel number and extension on the back of a cocktail napkin, as well as his cell phone number, just in case.
Betty nodded, tucking the napkin into a pocket. He pushed away from the bar and headed out the door, back to the police station to check out that photo the dead man had taken.
4:56pm UW-Madison Microbiology Wing
After looking into microscopes for what seemed like hours, Dana Scully headed back to her waiting rental car, rubbing weary eyes as she did so. Preliminary theories included everything from a harmless unknown product, to a potential hidden virus. They were continuing to run tests as she left, but only one thing was certain; No one had a clue what it was.
She'd just sat down in the Buick's driver seat when her cell phone went off.
"It's me. Have you found out anything?"
"Aside from the fact that the vending machine in the microbiology wing needs more Doritos, I'd have to say no."
"Nacho or Ranch?"
She grinned in spite of herself. "Both. Mulder, I'm heading back. I don't feel like sticking around until who-knows-when. If they find out more, they can always contact one of us. And on that topic, did you have better luck with the wolves?"
"Not yet. I happen to be looking at a photo right now, though, that was the last picture in the last victim's roll of film. Guess what's on it?"
"Don't leave me in suspense. What?"
"A photographic representation of an ephemeral specter."
Scully blinked. "You mean a ghost, right?"
"Well, if you want to put it _that_ way, yeah."
"Was it of a wolf?"
"I can't tell. To be honest, it's a little blurry. Unfortunately, Nature Nick here wasn't a professional photographer - and saying that he was an amateur is being kind. Anyway, I want you to look at it and give me your opinion."
He was asking for her opinion? "Mulder, I can give it to you right now. I think you're putting hope in something that will prove to be false. I know that...recent revelations have shaken you, but - "
"I'm being objective, Scully," He interrupted, seeing where she was going with this. "I'm following through with the evidence I have. I'm not fabricating this in my mind." He then explained that he was heading back to the site before it got too dark, to see if he could uncover any new evidence. However, she knew him well enough to suspect that his true motive was in hoping to spot the wolf. "Be careful, Mulder. If there is a wolf in those woods...well, it doesn't care if you're a FBI agent or not. You understand?"
"Yeah, I realize that. How long will it take you to get here? About an hour?"
"I'll be lucky, if that. Rush hour traffic's already started, so I'm thinking closer to an hour and a half."
"I'll be waiting at the motel, then."
"OK. See you later."
Mulder turned his cell phone off, and threw it into the passenger seat of the borrowed car - the sheriff's car, to be exact. When Scully headed off with the rental, he quickly realized that he'd been stranded. Agreeing to pay for any gas he used, Mulder was allowed to use Norridge's sedan until Scully came back. If this had been DC, New York, or any other large town, it would have been unlikely, if not unthinkable, to have a law enforcement agent let you borrow his car. Just another plus for that small-town atmosphere.
He couldn't shed the feeling that something was out there, something that he'd missed. And he didn't usually miss much. Tightening his jaw in frustration, Mulder slid into the driver's seat and headed out to Devil's Lake.
Ten minutes later, he was passing through the gate of the park and onto the tree-shrouded road leading into the park itself. He was waved through the pay booth, and headed out to the site with no little trepidation. The sun was lowering into the green hills bordering the lake, glinting brightly off the light stone of the cliff on the far side. The road naturally followed the curvature of the lake, and he had to fight the inclination to watch the sailboats bobbing out in the distance, to be absorbed into the deceptive tranquillity of the place.
Another few minutes had him pulling off the main road and onto a gravel backroad used primarily by the park staff. Shortly, he was at the yellow-taped site, everything looking the same as it had earlier.
Mulder got out of the car, dressed in clothes that he felt were more in keeping with a walk through the forest than a suit and tie. It being a pleasant June day, he'd opted for a black T-shirt and jeans, with sneakers. Digging into the pile on the backseat, he pulled out a flashlight, a backpack and a light jacket; after that little jaunt in the woods some time ago had turned into an over-nighter, he had no desire to be caught like that again. He made sure the med kit, compass, and lighter were all there. Overkill, to be sure - it was probably 75F, if not more, but he still tied the jacket around his waist. The gun holster went on next, and he felt a little better with his gun strapped securely against his ribs.
It took him the better part of an hour to get back to the same place as before, the sun's light more of a shadow than earlier. He could see the clouds through the canopy above, and saw that their white pallor had changed to a pale yellow tinged with pink. He could still see well enough, or so he believed, and searched around for the clue he knew was eluding him.
No footprints aside from his and the victim's. He tried to find evidence of blood loss, but the damp ground had probably soaked up whatever blood had been spilled. He checked the plants nearby, looking for blood spattered onto leaves, or any forensic evidence that he could bring back to Scully as a sort of peace offering.
He smiled at the thought of that, wondering why he would consider it a peace offering. Was he feeling guilty about dragging her along once again, only to move on without her? He had always rationalized his actions in the past, with anything from risk factors, to needing to do it on his own and for his own reasons as the cause. What rationalizations did he have to offer this time?
That small admittance of wrongdoing began to eat away at him, detracting him away from his task at hand. He was almost in a haze of reflection when he felt the hairs on the back of his neck spike upwards. His muscles automatically tensed, he reached for his gun - and felt the ground hit his face as he slammed into it. The heavy weight thrown into him leapt off, and he desperately tried to lift his head, to see where his assailant had gone.
He hadn't gone far. Mulder's eyes fixed onto the largest white wolf he had ever seen, probably the largest he'd ever see in his lifetime. He quelled the voice inside that warned against his life being too much longer, and lifted himself from the ground as slowly as he could. The wolf's fur would have gleamed in the sunlight, had it been strong enough. Now, the fading sun gave the wolf a dappled orange-grey coat, and the wolf in turn cocked its head in contemplation of the strange being who had entered its territory.
"I hope you don't mind that my name's actually Fox," he mumbled as he got up on his knees, his hand moving towards his gun. The wolf merely stared.
"Right. I didn't think that would persuade you." He drew the gun ever so slowly, but he needn't have worried. The animal didn't move an inch. He was beginning to think that the wolf wasn't planning to attack him - in fact, he would swear that the wolf appeared to be as curious about him as he was about it.
"If it isn't too impolite, may I ask what you happen to be? If you're a standard, albeit large, wolf, then I'm feeling really stupid right about now. If not, though....then from what I understand, you should know why I'm here."
The wolf continued to stare.
"OK. I'm going to back up right now, and leave. That's what you want, isn't it? To protect your territory?" God, I'm trying to psyche out a wolf, he thought grimly. If this creature was what he thought it was, then it should realize his intentions and let him leave. Or so he hoped. He gently stood up, and belatedly realized that was a mistake.
The wolf reacted as any of its species would, spirit or no. He could only reflect later that when the wolf had initially jumped him, he had been squatting down. On his knees, he wasn't much larger. At his true height, however, he was perceived as a much greater threat.
He barely saw the wolf move, and by the time he trained his gun on the animal, it was on him. He fired once, twice, then screamed in pain as the wolf's jaws dug into his forearm, causing him to drop his gun. He fell back on his knees from the additional weight the animal had put on him, scrambling for the gun on the ground nearby. The wolf loosened his grip on Mulder's arm, and he reached for it and swung around, only to see that the wolf had vanished.
Dizzy from the sudden rush of adrenaline, he carefully scanned the forest, searching for any sign of the wolf. He thought he caught a flash of near-white light through the bushes to his left, but never saw any sight of the wolf itself.
The adrenaline tapered off as his heartbeat slowly dropped back to normal, allowing the pain from where the wolf had bitten him. The marks were the same as the other victims, he noted with interest even as he scrambled to his feet, and felt himself sway nauseatingly as he did so. Blearily remembering the backpack, he unzipped it and opened the med pack inside, looking for bandages and gauze. He tried not to think about the toxin, and about what might be happening to him right now. First off, he had to make sure not to bleed to death. Scully would be proud.
Thankfully, the bite hadn't opened any arteries, but the blood seeping out wasn't anything to enjoy, either. He thought about creating a tourniquet for his arm, but grimaced as he noticed his lack of forethought. There was nothing he could use as a tourniquet, and, he realized with horror, he didn't have his cell phone. He'd left it right where he'd put it...on the seat of the car.
He understood now, sadly, that he hadn't really believed the wolf would attack him. Convinced of its spiritual nature, he'd thought that he could rely on it being simply paranormal, rather than another false facet of a government conspiracy. Was Scully right, then? Was this a situation where again he'd put his faith into something, only to watch it fail?
Too many questions were rolling around in his head. If he lived to the next day, he'd think about them then. Putting the matter firmly out of mind, he continued to bandage his arm as best he could, and make his way out of the woods as fast as possible.
6:33pm Pine Trail motel Merrimac, WI
Scully pulled into the motel at last, hoping for a relaxing shower and a hot meal. If Mulder was smart, he'd have something waiting for her in his room. And she knew him well enough to know that he'd know better than to make her go out somewhere for food after driving an hour and a half through rush hour traffic, confusing back roads, and suffering through the poor local radio selection. Needless to say, one light rock and ten country-western stations were not her idea of a balanced selection of music.
She knocked on his door, and received no answer. Thinking that he might be out getting said food right now, she let it slide from thought and headed for her room, and the heavenly shower that beckoned.
"Halfway there. Just a little farther," he cheered his weary legs on, holding his injured arm protectively against his chest. A breeze sifted through the trees, and he shivered. Must be getting colder, he thought. Thankful that he hadn't been completely brainless, he unknotted the jacket and carefully tugged it on, leaving one arm of the jacket dangling, unused.
A few more minutes passed by, and the cold feeling hadn't subsided. His hands felt like ice, numb and sluggish to move. He lifted his left hand to his face and pressed it against his cheek, shivering both from dread and the cold sensation it produced. His feet were numb already, and the numbness was continuing up his legs, and into his knees.
He tried to bolster his spirits, telling himself he'd made it through worse before. His near-death at the Arctic circle, the boxcar fire, getting shot in the leg by an escaping kidnapper...all these sprang to mind as he plodded on. Unfortunately, he couldn't help noticing that he was going through the same symptoms that he'd had after being abandoned in that frozen wasteland. He recognized it for what it was, and it only kept him more resolute in reaching the car alive.
Scully smiled blissfully as she let the spray from the shower nozzle beat into her, its heavy presence an indulgence away from her water conservation-conscious landlord. No toxins, no monsters, no ghosts, and blessedly, no government conspiracies. It was just her, the water, and her own tranquil thoughts.
Which were turning anything but tranquil at the moment. She still hadn't heard Mulder pounding at her door, though she doubted whether she could have heard him over the noise of the shower. She tried pushing thoughts of him from her mind, but found that the harder she tried, the more persistent the thoughts became. She sighed in irritation, and allowed the ideas to wash over her, hoping that in the process they'd be no more harmful than the water hitting her skin.
He'd told her that he was going back to the crime scene, but it shouldn't have taken him this long in getting back. Maybe he'd found something, and was over at the state HQ getting it checked out? Maybe he hadn't found anything, but went back to the HQ, anyway? Or maybe he was out foraging for food like she'd initially thought, and had heard the shower on when he'd come back?
Or maybe he'd been attacked while he was out there, and was at this moment lying in a pool of his own blood, praying that she would find him before he died. Or just as bad; maybe this wolf of his had attacked him, and instead of losing blood, he was losing the body heat necessary for staying alive. Shuddering from the concept, she tried to purge the thought from her head. With little success.
Dana, you're worrying over nothing, she heard her mother's voice say. You always imagine the worst.
With Mulder, the worst is usually what happens, she retorted back to herself. However, the comforting assurances of her reasonable side won over her emotions, and she continued to relax in a modicum of peace.
7:01pm Devils Lake
Where the hell is it? Mulder swore to himself, searching for signs of the crime scene. The sun had gone past the horizon and the sky was turning from orange to violet. He had his flashlight in one hand, but he could no longer feel it. His legs were rubbery, barely holding his weight as he stumbled over the smallest rock or root, his conscious mind clouded from the pain and the distraction of being so, so cold.
He gulped cool air into aching lungs, shuddering as the air blasted back out of his lungs not much warmer than when it had gone in.
Run, you sorry sonofabitch. Run, because if you stop, you won't get back up again.
His body shuddered uncontrollably, trying in a vain attempt to generate heat. His eyes scanned the ground ahead, looking for those damned little flags they put up along the perimeter of the scene. His sluggish heart almost stopped at the thought of his wandering away from the path unknowingly, so foggy in mind and spirit that he hadn't noticed the direction his feet were taking.
A glimpse of orange cheered his soul far greater than any Knicks victory had ever done. He spotted a second flag, then a third, and knew his salvation was not far away. He attempted to run faster, but knew as his legs started to buckle that it wasn't meant to be. Slowing himself slightly, he focused his mind on the precious cell phone waiting patiently on the passenger seat of the car; His link with the one person he believed capable of saving him. Someone who deserves better than me, he thought with no small amount of reproach for his rash actions. I wouldn't blame her if she left me to die out here.
But he knew she wouldn't do that. And knowing that he hadn't always been able to do the same for her burned his heart with a heatless fire.
After a minute of stumbling and near-tripping over roots and felled trees, his eyes fixed on the sight of the non-descript car, appearing to him as his chariot of salvation and safety. In there lay the cell phone, and the all-important heating system.
He nearly slammed into the side of the car, so focused on walking that he'd almost forgotten how to stop. After a quick scramble with numb fingers for the keys, he was inside.
Pain seeped in everywhere as he sat down, the residual warmth of the leather seats taking the form of liquid fire as it soaked into his skin. A furtive look into the rearview mirror showed that his lips were turning blue, and he lunged for the cell phone, assured that it wouldn't be long now.
The muffled sound of a cell phone's ring issued from the attach^ bag Scully had brought with her. Maybe if it hadn't been tucked away, she could have heard it over the din of the roaring water. As it was, she had no idea that the faint sound she thought she'd heard was her cell phone going off, and at the end of that call was a desperate partner praying that she'd answer.
"Damn it, Scully, pick up the phone!" he mumbled through cold, trembling lips. The heater was doing little good, he found to his regret, and had decided to get at least to the park's main station for help. He knew the bulk of the staff left after six, but surely there had to be someone there.
As he drove, though, he could tell that the running had done more than get him to the car faster. The body heat he'd generated kept his blood warm and pumping, but now that he was sitting down, he could feel his heartbeat slowing, his arms and legs turning into permanent icicles. Thank God no one was on the road. He doubted that he could hit the brakes in time to slow the vehicle down to a saner limit than the 55mph he was cruising at now, through roads meant only for 30.
He dialed 911, but an automated voice came on the line, informing him to finish dialing the desired number or hang up. OK, no 911. What was the number to the State Police HQ? His brain, desperate for the all too little oxygen in his blood, racked furiously for the answer. Where's that great memory now? Photographic, yet not always phonetic.
458-8689? Or was it 8986? He tried the first. No answer. He tried the second next, and got the police HQ's voice mail system.
"If you know your party's extension, please dial it at any time. If you have a complaint concerning a domestic dispute, press 1. If you have an emergency to report, please hang up and dial 458-6427. If you need to speak with an operator, press zero."
Zero, or try the other number? Zero, he confirmed grimly. If he was going to die, he'd prefer that it wouldn't happen while being routed through some unfeeling answering machine.
He saw the lights of the station ahead as his beacon of hope. Only a little farther....
"Baraboo Sheriff's Department. May I help you?" A young, affected female voice answered.
"Yes, please. My name is Special Agent Fox Mulder, badge number JT100-"
The voice turned bitter. "Jason, is that you cranking me again?"
Oh God, not now, not me, please...."I assure you, ma'am, this is no crank call. My name is Fox Mulder, and I'm with the FBI. I have an emergency situation at Devil's Lake. I need an ambulance sent to the main station immediately, and I need someone sent to the Pine Trail motel, to contact - "
"Lord, Jason, you're such a spasz. Pine Trail motel, huh? Nice." Click.
Nonononono this isn't happening to me **
Then he realized with a sort of joyous wonder that he'd finally arrived at his destination, the main station. He blared the horn, expecting to grab the attention of the assistant inside. The way his luck was running, he should have known better.
Christ, is everyone this incompetent after six o'clock? He thought disgustedly, trying not to think about the amount of time that had passed. He attempted to climb out of the car, but his legs gave him a stubborn 'no'. He grabbed his gun and fired a couple of shots into the air, thinking that maybe where a horn hadn't been sufficient, a few gunshots would do the trick. The lack of any reaction told him that either the attendant was deaf, or not there.
He tried calling Scully again, but no such luck. Driving to the motel was a quicker trip than the HQ, and probably safer in the long run, given the operator's lack of professionalism. He could be there in a couple of minutes.
But are those minutes that I have? he relented. He couldn't stop the tremors racking his body, or the icy tendrils running from his legs and arms into his chest, seizing his heart in its chill grip. He had to try; to drive and hope he didn't kill someone other than himself in the process. He threw the car into drive again and headed out of the park, the only option left to him.
Scully was toweling her hair dry when she heard the screech of tires and brakes, and saw the headlights through the crack of the motel room's draperies. Curious and wary, she heard the blaring of a car's horn as she pulled the drapes apart, to watch as a familiar form stumbled out of the car, and onto the pavement.
"Oh my God. Mulder!" She flew out of the room, little caring or remembering that she was only half-dressed. She knelt to help him up, and inhaled sharply as her hand touched ice cold flesh. Then, she noticed the blood-soaked bandage on his arm, and knew everything she needed to know. There was little doubt that she'd find a bite mark underneath.
People were coming out of their adjacent rooms now, wondering what all the noise was about. The sight of a barely clothed woman cradling a trembling, wounded man sent everyone into stunned shock.
"Get an ambulance, an EMT unit, now! This man is dying!" One middle-aged man leapt back into his room, having more mental fortitude than those who continued to stare. She staggered to her feet, trying to pull Mulder up with her, when thankfully two of those closest to her found the presence of mind to help. Supporting his weight, the younger blond man and a young brunette helped Scully bring Mulder inside, and laid him on her bed.
Scully turned to the woman, and gave her strict instructions to find the manager of the motel and get as many blankets as possible, stressing electric blankets as ideal. To the man, she ordered that he start filling up the tub with hot water, as hot as he could manage. Watching in satisfaction as her orders were followed, she turned back to Mulder, smoothing his hair back in a gesture to calm both his and her nerves.
"Scully, if I'd known you'd be wearing that for me, I'd have gotten here a whole lot sooner," Mulder managed out through chattering teeth.
Not bothering to cinch up the now-askew top, she replied, "Mulder, you need to take it easy. You're going into shock. A hot water bath should help warm you up until the EMT's get here."
"No, you don't understand," he tried to sit up, but her firm hand kept him in place.
"What I understand is that you need to rest!" She retorted with more vehemence than she felt. "I'm the doctor, remember?"
"The adrenaline is what's kept me from dying, Scully. I know it is. When I was running to the car, I could feel it holding the toxin back. When I sat down, it...got worse."
She frowned in thought, "Mulder, you aren't strong enough to walk, let alone run. What are you proposing on doing?"
"I don't know." He winced as the tremors increased in volume. After several long seconds of it crescending, his body suddenly froze in mid-tremor.
"Mulder," she breathed, her heart in her throat. He still wasn't moving. "Don't do this..." ...To me, she finished silently, checking to see if he still had a pulse. She felt only a little relief at detecting his very faint, slow heartbeat. Slow? The fact dawned on her. If he'd gone into shock, his pulse would be rapid and thready, not laboriously slow. What was going on?
His eyes opened after what seemed like an eternity for her, but she felt her stomach turn to lead at the statement that barely made it past his lips. "I can't feel anything, Scully."
"Can you feel this?" She put her hand on his face, and he shook his head almost imperceptibly. She moved down his arms, his chest, to his legs, and the reaction was the same: nothing.
"I'm so cold."
"I know," she replied in a shaky voice, cursing herself for starting to lose her own presence of mind. "Is that tub full yet?" she yelled.
The man answered, "Almost."
"Well, it'll have to be enough. Help me bring him inside, um...."
"Roy," the man supplied.
"Yes, thank you, Roy," she sighed gratefully as he relieved part of her burden. When they entered the bathroom, she noticed that the mugginess still lingered, smelling like the shampoo and soap she'd used. The irony struck her full in the face; the horrible thoughts she had entertained in this little room had become a reality - and within the same place, no less. Pushing her own morose thoughts aside, she proceeded to strip Mulder's clothes off, with a decided clinical attitude.
"Scully, we're moving a little fast, wouldn't you say?" He said under his breath as she started to reach for the zipper to his jeans. When she gave him her patented look of death, he fell silent.
"What the hell's going on with that ambulance? Roy, could you...?"
"I'm on it." And he thankfully left.
"Just hang on, Mulder," She pleaded as she finished the job, and practically dragged him into the tub. "The ambulance is coming, I can only hope. What happened to that woman?" As she looked back into the room, Mulder's eyes focused on her face. So full of worry, and pain....pain that he had caused, once again.
"You'll soon be rid of me for good, Scully, and then you can get that life you've been wanting," he tried to smirk, but the horror that flashed across her face made him instantly regret those words.
"Don't even talk like that. You'll be fine."
"Then why am I still so cold?"
Cold? "This water's far from cold, Mulder. Can't you feel it?" He shook his head, and her heart sunk further. Total lack of distinguishing hot from cold...."You need to get to a hospital, now."
"I'm not arguing," he murmured faintly.
"Dammit, Mulder!" Tears were in her eyes, and he suddenly felt ashamed at being the cause of those tears. "You're dying, and you're making jokes?"
The look on his face stifled the next comment out of her mouth. Behind the glib comments and brave facade, the man was terrified. Of dying, and of having her here to see it, live through it once again. In her panic, she hadn't recognized his jokes for what they were; and in his eyes she saw his concern for her.
The looks that passed between them gave the apologies and reconciliation in mere seconds, the considerations and feelings shared between them needing no words.
She leaned over to smooth back his damp hair, forgetting her own towel-dried mess of auburn. "You'll be fine," she repeated almost as a mantra, ignoring the blue tinge of his skin, his lack of sensitivity to heat, and the smirk that graced his face as he heard her words.
'Fine.' Of course, Scully. Just tell me to live and I'll live, he wanted to quip out loud, but didn't dare. He almost felt, at that moment, she could countermand death where he was concerned. An angel of life fighting against the harbinger of death.
She leaned over and kissed him gently on the forehead, like he had done for her a long time ago, it seemed. To his own surprise, it lent him an opportunity he couldn't afford to miss; a view like no other, where Scully was the main attraction. And an attraction it was. Peeking down her shirt was such a debased thing for him to do, but it was his natural reaction to such a circumstance. He respected her like no other, but denying himself of her splendid, um, curvature wasn't something he planned on doing.
The smell in the tiny room was intoxicating; she was intoxicating. The heavy, perfumed air enveloped him like a blanket, and he felt his heart thudding in his chest with desire, almost painfully so. His fantasies were taking root, urged on by the sight he beheld. Ah, Scully, if you only knew....
Suddenly, his skin felt like a million needles, and a sweet pain filled his entire body. The water was boiling, scalding; he was screaming before he realized his mouth was open, trying to get out of the water as fast he could, but only succeeding in soaking Scully.
"What? What is it?" She yelped, panicking at the sight before fully understanding.
Mr. Waverly came in just then, having dropped off the blankets on the bed. "What's this?" His puzzled look settled on Mulder. "Janie said you were near death, but you don't look near dead to me."
Before he could say another word, Mulder began to shake once again. The water was more agony than anything, and he had to get out. Leaning heavily on Scully and the old man, he climbed out of the tub and into a waiting towel - and admired how the water had increased the attractive qualities of Scully's shirt.
His heart continued to thud hard in his chest, leading him to think that ogling Scully was more beneficial than he'd originally designed. Scully, however, was convinced otherwise, just now comprehending his turnaround. "The hot water must have done it, Mulder. Water has always been the key for warming up hypothermia victims, since it's an excellent - "
"Scully, please," he interrupted, wanting to correct her hypothesis. "I don't think it was the water."
His eyes flicked over to the old man, who was watching with interest. And more than a little understanding. "You know, don't you?" Mulder uttered in wonder.
"Well," the man shuffled nervously, obviously trying not to look at Scully. "Yeah."
"What?" Scully was getting irritated, now.
"A hunter stumbled on it by accident, o'course. You know what kinds of magazines they have. I guess he figured that was the best way fer him to go, after he figured what had happened. They don't tell anyone about the attacks that the hunters have survived, because if they told the sheriff they'd been poaching," Waverly threw his hands up in surrender, "they'd wish they were dead."
"What are you talking about? No one's survived the attacks," Scully replied.
"You're wrong about that, ma'am, but that's only cause you wouldn't know. Not many do. I know only because I hear just about everything."
Scully's eyes tore away from the old man, to focus on Mulder. "What did you mean by, 'you know'? What's going on?" Her panic had quelled enough for her to grow suspicious.
"If I live through this, I'll tell you."
She gave him a look, then frowned. "Where is that ambulance? I need to call the hospital, and - " She then realized that she didn't know where that was. "Where's the nearest hospital?"
"Portage. About twenty, twenty-five minutes from here."
"A half hour?!" She blurted out in near disgust. "What about Baraboo?"
"We have a clinic, Agent Scully. A town of 9,000 doesn't warrant a whole hospital like what you're talking about."
"What's the number for the hospital in Portage? I need to find out if they have helicopters for emergency situations."
The old man stood there for a second, stunned in spite of himself, then said, "It's on the phone."
"In a second, Mulder." Dialing out, dialing out...now where are the instructions?, she muttered inwardly.
"Scully, do you know how long it's been?"
"I don't know....fifteen minutes, or more. Probably more." Ah, here it is. One, then the number.
"It's been five."
Her finger stopped on the first button, and rested there. "What?"
"Well, six, really."
She looked at him, incredulous and speechless. Six minutes? That was all?
She continued to stare at him blankly, until she noticed in a haze of slow recognition that his shuddering had become steadily worse, and Scully distractedly hung up the phone, making a grab for more blankets. Waverly grimaced behind her, and with a more resolute look on his face, walked over to the TV and turned it on.
"Could you turn the TV off?" She managed to ask after her initial shock had lessened, not comprehending his lack of sensitivity. He only responded by changing the channel to one that Mulder was very familiar with; and had, in fact, been hoping to watch later that night.
It was then that she made the connection. "I don't think it was the water." _Those_ kinds of magazines. The adult channel that now blared out at her. And a quick look down at her own shirt, clinging and very see-through at that moment. "Ohmygod."
Her face turned an unflattering shade of red. She tried plucking the offending garment away from her skin, but it would only return to its former position. "I, uh, I need to change into something else. Excuse me." She grabbed the nearest pair of pants and shirt she found, and to her credit, sauntered into the bathroom with more grace than one would have expected someone to have at that moment.
"I'm a dead man," Mulder sighed.
He was really enjoying the movie he was watching, when Scully stepped meekly out of the bathroom. He glanced over to appraise the new, drier Scully, and had to admit that he found her no less appealing. She must have also grabbed something else, he surmised, since the evidence he had before his eyes was unmistakable. He was an expert at that sort of thing, he had to confess.
She watched him watching the show, noticing for the first time that the tremors had stopped, although his skin was still a touch too blue for her comfort. She walked over and sat on the edge of the bed, feeling his forehead with the back of her hand, then his cheek. Still too cold. She couldn't comprehend the internal damage that might have been wrought, to nerves, organs, brain tissue.....not that the show he watched wouldn't do the same to the last on her list.
"Mulder, I know that this is highly unusual," she paused, thinking the rest of her sentence through. "But, I think that I've figured out what's going on, medically. When the body gets aroused - "
"You're not giving me the facts of life, are you?"
She sighed, exasperated. "Can I explain this, please?"
"Go for it, but I think I know where you're going with this. I know what happens, the same as you. The heart beats faster, the body's temperature rises..."
"Blood vessels and capillaries widen, to prepare for the sudden rush of blood to the skin. Adrenaline and hormones are released, the body's energy level rises, and I don't need to illustrate further, really," she said, gesturing to the screen, "since it's all being done for you. I guess I can fathom how it works."
He grinned wickedly. "You realize what this means, don't you? The official treatment list will read, 'subject should get lots of bed rest, and unlimited access to the Playboy channel.'"
She smirked in spite of herself. "In that case, your videotape library would become a pharmacy."
His playful demeanor deepened, as he flashed a coy smile and replied, "All I need is you and a sleeping bag, Scully, to generate body heat."
She rolled her eyes, hiding a sudden smile. "Only when they rain from above."
"I can arrange that."
She looked at him sharply, hearing a seriousness creep in at the edges of his wordplay. Then, just as quickly, the flirting resumed. "Did y'know that pink bunny slippers are a fetish of mine?" Mulder deadpanned perfectly, and this time, she couldn't help chuckling.
"No, seriously. I could never resist a woman in bunny slippers. You own a pair, don't you?" he grinned charmingly, and she sighed.
"Never have, Mulder. My loss, I suppose."
The sound of sirens in the distance grabbed her attention, and she looked at her watch for the time. Not quite ten minutes. Good time for an ambulance out here, but it had felt like a half hour to her. She glanced back up to see Mulder watching her again, and she felt her ears and cheeks burn in a confusing mixture of embarrassment and excitement. "Time to go."
"You...you are going with me, aren't you?" He mumbled, sounding like a lost little boy. "To the hospital?"
"Of course. Did you think I wasn't?" she replied, puzzled.
He attempted a shrug. "It's just that, the way my luck's been running....first the cell phone, then the sheriff's department, and then the park service..."
"What? Was something wrong with your phone?"
He turned his head back towards the TV, not wanting to bring it up. "Not exactly."
It wasn't hard to see what he was alluding to, knowing him as well as she did. "You were calling me?" she asked quietly, her voice sounding thick. He didn't look at her, not wanting to confirm or deny the statement. His actions were confirmation enough for her, though. "My God, you were. And I thought I heard something, but I wasn't sure - " she grimaced self-consciously. "I should have known."
Now he turned back, eyes fixed on hers. "How? You're not a psychic, Scully. To be honest, if there's any blame to be dealt, it's on me." He watched her expression change into one of disbelief and denial- -one he was used to seeing - but ignored it. He wasn't going to let her, of all people, feel self-reproach because of his actions. "This isn't your fault."
The sirens were louder now, growing to deafening proportions. Her lips drew into a thin line, and she shook her head. "No, it is. If I had been listening - "
"Damn it, Scully," he breathed, feeling the energy levels dip again. Fighting with Scully was draining him, and distracting his attention away from the visual concept that was keeping his heart rate up. The return of the uncontrollable shaking was annoying him more than anything right now, and all he wanted to do was sleep. So cold, but so very, very tired. "Can't we do this later?"
She noticed his heavy eyelids, and a dull ache settled in her chest. "Sure, of course. The ambulance is almost here, Mulder. Hey, you wouldn't want to be rude by being asleep when they come in, would you?" She smiled wanly, attempting to grab his attention.
"That _would_ be rude of me, wouldn't it?" He gave a ghost of a smile back, his words sluggish to her ears.
"Just watch your show. I'll be right back," she patted his arm lightly, and pushed herself off the bed. She hardly felt herself move to the doorway and open the door, allowing the sirens' wail to penetrate her skin and eardrums. Red and blue lights painted an eerie scene as the ambulance pulled up, and two men scrambled from the back of the vehicle. She jogged over in a daze, her training and experience kicking in from sheer habit.
"I'm Special Agent Dana Scully, of the FBI." She flashed her badge, and explained that she was a medical doctor. The next sentence was laced with steel. "The man in there is my partner, and he's not going to die."
The two men glanced at each other, and the one closest to her soothingly replied with affirmative words, seeing what Scully at that moment could not: A woman on the verge of hysterics.
In a whirlwind of motion, the EMT unit had Mulder secured tightly to a collapsible gurney, and wheeled him into the back of the ambulance. Before the EMTs could blink, she was inside with him, trying to keep him from falling asleep.
"Mulder, it's me. We're heading for the hospital now, but I need for you to stay awake just a little longer."
"Tired..." He moaned, closing his eyes in respite.
"No, don't do that. I need you to look at me. Look at me," she repeated with more volume, when he didn't open his eyes. "Mulder!"
The EMT who had tried to console her earlier was putting an epinephrine IV into her unconscious partner's arm. The adrenaline would wake him up, or so she hoped. Several breathless moments passed before it had the desired effect.
A dreary, despondent sound came from Mulder's lips, but it was the most pleasant sound she could have heard. "Mulder, wake up."
He couldn't deny her when she was in her commanding mode. "Ehh. I'm up."
"You can't go to sleep. If you do, you might die."
'Might', in Scully's vocabulary, meant 'will'. He gave a pale copy of a grin and said, "Okay, I won't."
She smiled a smile that quickened his heartbeat, and that action in turn caused a tingling sensation to run up and down his arms and legs. In a rush of awareness, he realized he didn't need movies, or magazines to keep him alive. Not even a sleeping bag falling from the sky.
All he needed was for Scully to smile at him like this, and he was alive.
7:51pm Columbia County Hospital Portage, WI
They had Mulder on an epinephrine drip, along with a mixed dosage of lutinizing hormones and ACTH, hoping to cover both bases with his recovery. The chart at the edge of his bed was calling it anaphylactic shock, but it was more of a conciliatory guess than a true diagnosis. The doctors here, besides Scully, were at a loss to explain how a virus could have caused such a reaction to his autonomic system.
While science worked its miracles on Mulder, Scully sat in a chair facing his bed and watched him sleep. She had to confess to his merit, he hadn't drifted back into unconsciousness after the injection had woken him up. She wondered, though; What had sustained him the whole drive to the hospital? They'd pulled into the emergency entrance in record time, and while he wasn't much better than before, he certainly wasn't worse.
His face was pallid now; a ghostly specter dressed in hospital blue. In time, his face would regain the healthy glow it normally had, but seeing him so vulnerable and weak had forced Dana Scully to understand how close it'd truly been.
Death was a common enemy of hers of late; for her father, her sister, and herself. Her sanity had frayed slightly when Emily had entered and exited her life faster than a heartbeat. Thinking back on it now, the ache of the girl's death was no less real; and yet, no less surreal, either. Now Mulder had lain in its path once again, and had survived. Barely.
She wondered whether her reaction to Mulder's near-death was a sign of her growing confusion where he was concerned. She didn't want to think about it, but she found herself doing it anyway, delving into the pain in a way she knew Mulder himself would relish.
They were partners; good partners. Naturally, she'd be terrified of the thought of his death. As she examined it, however, she realized that it was more than that. Was she supposed to feel that losing him would be like losing part of her soul, part of what made her complete? Did she want him to have that power over her, to make her feel so vulnerable? It was part of what made them such good partners, she knew for a fact, and yet....it might be the same element to cause one or both of their deaths, someday.
She couldn't deny what had brought back his sense of hot and cold in the hotel bathroom, and heat rose in her face rather quickly at the thought of it. She'd been so caught up with concern for Mulder, she'd left none for herself. When she had realized what was going on, it took all her composure to grab her clothes and walk into the bathroom without dying of embarrassment. After she went in, she didn't know if she could make herself go back out there and face him. With that one act, he'd crossed the invisible line she'd drawn between them.
There was a comfort in not having to view Mulder as a potential boyfriend constantly, knowing that she could look like crap and he wouldn't care. Now, everything was different. He wasn't just Mulder anymore, but rather a man with desires that no longer were vague and distant.
Sure, they had flirted in the past...but not like tonight. The innuendoes were less subtle; more daring. Scully didn't know if she liked that, if she liked where this new direction was taking them. She'd dated co-workers before with little success, and truly didn't want to jeopardize the strong friendship she and Mulder had created. Her own feelings were so jumbled that she couldn't trust them with any clarity. With her rational mind firmly in place, she declared his overtures, and her comebacks, mere delusions of her imagination. It never happened.
The sound of the door opening jarred her away from inner reflection, and towards the scraping noise of the sheriff's boots on the sterile floor.
"I just came by to see how he's doing," Norridge said, his hands on his hips in a relaxed, authoritative way. "Is he - ?"
"He should make it through the night," Scully replied wearily. "He's made it past the truly active stage of the virus. Now all we have to do is wait for the body to heal itself."
"I see. There's some questions I'd like to ask you, outside. I'll be in the lounge down the hall when you're ready."
"I'll be there in a minute, Sheriff," she smiled wanly, turning back to watch Mulder as the man slipped out the doorway. Rising from the chair, she walked over to his side and slowly sat on the edge of his bed. She took his right hand in hers, careful to make sure she didn't move his injured arm too much. With her free hand, she brushed away the hair falling across his forehead, in a continuance from before.
She couldn't honestly say later on why she did what she did next, but for her it had felt right. The closeness they shared made it seem almost expected; fait accompli*. And in this instance, she let those jumbled feelings in her heart win over her head.
Leaning over with an awkwardness that came more from imbalance than inexperience, she let her lips rest on his ever so briefly, the touch lighter than the spring wind on the petals of a daffodil. She half-expected Mulder to wake up and expose her for the hypocrite she was, but his eyes remained shut and all stayed as before.
Scully, however, felt an irrational urgency to leave. Her rational mind had taken over again, and she was now paying the penalty of going against it. What an idiot she was; Had she thought that he'd wake up, ala Sleeping Beauty? Chastising herself as she walked down the hall, she didn't hear the mumbled sound coming from the bed she'd just left, nor see the source of the noise fall back into the bottomless depths of sleep once again.
"All right, Sheriff. You wanted to ask me some questions?"
Norridge turned to see a very tired and weary Agent Scully approach, her features sunken in grief and anxiety. Not knowing what might be causing the latter, he gestured to a nearby sofa and she dropped into it in a heap.
"My officers got you something to eat, since you had said something earlier about having expected your partner to pick up dinner," he held out a white bag from a local diner, along with a cup of coffee, and she accepted it gratefully. Looking into the bag, she found a chicken sandwich and a bag of Ranch-flavored Doritos. Smiling at the irony, she put the bag aside as the sheriff eased into a nearby chair.
"You can eat first, Agent Scully. I'm not in that much of a hurry."
"That's all right, Sheriff. I'd rather get our business out of the way."
Sighing, he began. "Agent Scully, I've been in charge of these investigations from the beginning, back when they started a couple years ago - "
"Wait a minute," Scully interrupted. "This has been going on for _years_?"
"Yes, ma'am. I thought you and Agent Mulder knew this. I assumed it's why the FBI got involved."
"Not entirely," Scully replied. "But go on."
Giving her an odd look, he continued. "Well, back when it started, it was kept more or less under wraps, since no real cause of death could be established. To save the families unnecessary grief, we listed the cases as either accidental deaths, so the families could collect life insurance benefits, or death from hypothermia, which _is_ partially true. Back then, the victims were mostly hunters, but after some months the incidents decreased to almost zero. In fact, until a few months ago, we hadn't had any problems."
"Yes, but you also had to section off the area in order to do it. It was only a matter of time until someone broke the boundary. And from what I've heard, it seems that the hunters found a way to counteract the virus."
"That's what I was trying to ask you. How did Agent Mulder survive? And what the heck is this virus?"
"The virus...is hard to explain. How Mulder survived is almost as hard to explain," she replied, color rising in her face.
"Try me, Agent Scully."
She sighed. "The virus may or may not be a biological agent. All that the labwork has proven is that it's organic, and previously unknown. It's most likely that we're dealing with a new type of animal virus, similar to rabies or anthrax."
"But this isn't either of them, is it?"
"Not exactly, no. The last time I saw something like this was - " She cut herself off as the thought hit her. Why hadn't she seen this sooner? "Sheriff, how far is Delta Glen from here?"
"Delta Glen? What, you mean that Church of the Red Museum place? Jeez, I don't know. It's not far from Green Bay, so maybe four hours. Why?"
"Do you remember the tainted beef scare from two, almost three years ago?"
"Yes, ma'am. Wait a second, are you saying - ?"
She stopped his sentence mid-stride. "I don't know what I'm saying, yet. I apologize, Sheriff, but if you don't have any pressing questions for me right now, I'd like to get back to work."
"You'll need a ride back to your room. When did you want to leave?"
This stopped her short. The situation was tearing her in two directions; empathic concern wanted her to stay with Mulder, but her rational and intellectual mind wanted to pursue this new lead. Thankfully, there was a compromise. "I just need to grab my purse, and we can go. Your men won't need to bring me back, however, since I can just drive the rental car back to the hospital. All I need to do is grab the files and casework in my motel room."
"Are you planning to stay the night?" He gave her an incredulous look.
She gave him a pale smile. "Probably not, but I'll work better this way."
Norridge nodded, a small glimmer of comprehension in his eyes. "I think so, too, Agent Scully. It's not easy working alone, when you've had a partner for awhile. And the closer the partners, the harder it becomes." He grimaced in reflection, then the moment was broken by a page over the intercom system.
"Let's go, Sheriff," Scully prompted, and Norridge agreed.
After working in the lobby for several hours, it was a relief for Scully to collapse in her motel bed around 2 in the morning. Only a handful of hours later, she was back at the hospital to check on his progress.
The floor was quiet for 8:30 in the morning, the clicking echo of her shoes causing her nerves to fray. Her attach^ case thumped occasionally against her leg as she walked, creating an odd rhythm that rumbled down the hallway.
She found his room easily, and walked in to find him still asleep. That was fine; she didn't really expect him to be awake, anyway.
Having already called the CDC and sent a sample of the virus to them, she focused on getting the chart on Mulder's bloodwork and comparing it to the last victim's toxicology report. She wasn't sure of what she'd find, but she would expect to see the same chemical residue found in Resner's postmortem. The notion that the growth hormone had gone from the cows and humans in Delta Glen, to a lone wolf haunting the area around Devil's Lake wasn't something she could ignore. However, she didn't have a theory on how the wolf had gotten to the area in the first place, nor how it could have been infected and survived. Had the virus mutated into something else; something that, while having a shorter lifespan, could actually be transmutable from animal to animal, or animal to human? Or had this been engineered as an off-shoot of 'purity control'?
Thinking of topics such as these created a headache for her, but not out of incomprehension. It was the reasoning of it, and the unanswered questions frustrating her to the point of a migraine. Why do this? Why create a virus that can kill people? she thought to herself, trying to rub away the tension in her forehead with her fingers. I'm sure if Mulder were awake, he could tell me, she almost smirked, glancing over to the resting figure on the bed.
His color had improved, thankfully. He no longer looked like a man near death, and the light coming through the window only helped give the illusion of perfect health. Maybe if she squinted enough, the tubes and IV would disappear, and he'd look like he was only sleeping.
The nurse came in then to check on him, and gave a glare of disapproval at the sight of Scully sitting in the chair with files spread on the table in disarray. "You did go home and get some sleep, didn't you?"
"Yes, Alice. Isn't your shift almost over, though?"
"From 9 to 9....yep," the nurse replied, checking the IV drip and Mulder's charts. "I admit, I'm surprised at the leniency you've been given."
"I wouldn't think they'd have a problem with keeping a MD in his room," Scully answered.
"Hmm," Alice nearly grunted, focusing on the chart in front of her. Young and thin, she nevertheless was already starting to get the personality of Nurse Rachet. "So, what's the prognosis, Dr. Scully?"
"He'll be fine. He should be coming off the IV today, since the bloodwork last night showed that the virus is no longer active."
"Yeah. It doesn't even show up on the one taken this morning," the nurse held out the chart for Scully's benefit. She nearly snatched it from the young woman's hand when she fully understood what the nurse was saying. As she looked at the chart, she found that Alice was right. Not only was the virus not active, there wasn't evidence of the dead virus anywhere in Mulder's blood. It had just disappeared without a trace.
Which left her wondering over the sample she'd sent to the CDC. Did the virus decompose completely in a certain environment? Or did it have a built-in self destruct, not only wiping out its victim, but all traces of itself as well?
She handed the chart back to the nurse and swiftly gathered the files in her attach^ case. In a matter of minutes, she was in the parking lot and heading for her car.
8:53am Coroner's Office
Pushing her way through red tape and well-meaning staff, Scully finally entered into the lab, its equipment limited but serviceable. The only thing she was concerned about, however, was the large metallic cylinder sitting in the corner of the room.
Quickly snapping on gloves and throwing on a lab coat, she opened the chrome cylinder to reveal the preserved test tubes inside. Picking out the one labeled "Resner, Brent", she carried it over to the other side of the lab, in the hopes of confirming or disproving the theory now running through her head.
An hour and a half later, and she had her proof - or rather, lack of it. The unknown chemical found in Resner's toxicology was gone completely, and she was willing to bet that the CDC would be calling her to tell her the same. In a bizarre twist of normal conspiracy protocol, the evidence had destroyed itself.
She leaned into the lab table and sighed, letting the breath out as slowly as possible, imagining the exhaled air as if it was her sanity drifting away.
The trip back to the hospital went by fast, and soon she was in Mulder's room once again. It didn't look as if anything had been changed, and she was grateful for that. Disappearing evidence was all she could have handled at that moment, without adding more oddities to the mix.
She was putting down the attach^ case on a table in the corner, when she heard her name spoken, almost too softly to be anything but a whisper.
She turned to see Mulder watching her, and smiled. "So, you're finally awake, huh?"
"I'm beginning to think that they should have a frequent convalescent plan for us. For every three days we spend in a hospital, we should get the next two free."
"It would never work, Mulder. They'd go bankrupt."
He cracked a smile, the sight pushing away any lingering doubts Scully might have had about his health. He moved over to make room for her on the bed, and she sat down without hesitation; He didn't know what had run through her head last night, and she was determined to have it stay that way.
"How are you feeling?" she asked to change the subject, of topic and mind.
"Like I just finished last in a 26-mile marathon. Look," he began, then paused, obviously trying to form the words. "I want to apologize for anything I did that made you uncomfortable. I know it's not....I mean, it's not what - "
"It's okay, Mulder. I know what you're trying to say." She had an obligation to deny it, as much as he did. "It's in the past. All that matters is that you're alive and well."
She squeezed his hand as if to assure him that no harm was done, although that was far from the case. She'd thought that she could just block out the event, deny it ever happened...but her mind wouldn't let it go. What does he think of when he looks at me? Am I a human being, or an object?
He nodded back, not really trusting himself with words at that moment. After a long silence, he got back to business. "So, did you find out what it is? The toxin?"
She grimaced, then admitted, "No, not precisely. It's organic, but I won't be able to find out more until we find the source of the contagion...or in other words, your wolf."
"I don't follow."
"The virus is gone, Mulder. Completely gone. There should still be some evidence of the dead virus in your blood, but it's as if it was never there to begin with. And all the samples in the lab, too. It's as if it never existed."
Mulder closed his eyes, looking like a man who'd lost a fight he didn't know he'd been fighting. "I'm so tired of the games, Scully. Every time I think I've got proof, it slips away. I must be some sort of cosmic joke - and my self-deception is the punchline."
"I wouldn't say that," she replied, watching him carefully. "You've always been strong in your beliefs."
"And where has it gotten me, Scully?" It looked as if he might say more, then pulled back at the last and merely watched for her response.
Not knowing what to say, she replied, "I need for you to put aside those thoughts, Mulder, and focus on this case. Self-defeatism isn't helping me, here."
He laughed, the sound bitter and sardonic. "You think I like turning myself into a punching bag?"
"Actually, I think you revel in it."
He snapped to attention at her serious tone. "Now, look - "
"No, _you_ look. We have people dying because of something out there, be it wolf or government project, and all you can focus on is yourself. Or am I wrong? Maybe all this talk does lead back into the virus somehow..."
"You don't understand," he cut her off. "What good is finding the truth, when truth is subjective?"
"Subjective?" She echoed incredulously, stunned to hear that from him, of all people.
"We could say the wolf is the source of the contagion, but how did it get that way? Let's suppose that a wolf got it from eating dead cattle in the fields of Delta Glen, then that wolf gave birth to a litter - before it died - with the virus in them, but only one is born with some sort of resistance to the virus. How can I prove that? I can't, so it's only my opinion based on certain facts. It could just as easily be a project that got loose, or a wolf released just for this purpose. Or it could even be a manifestation, and the virus an ectoplasmic reaction that disappears like its original host."
"Ectoplasmic reaction? This isn't 'Ghostbusters', Mulder."
"I know, but that's not my point. My point is this; We can't bring in any suspects in this case. There is no prosecution, for wolf or government. There is no justice to be done."
If Scully had thought she knew the depths of Mulder's despair, she had been very thoroughly mistaken. "Why bother then, Mulder? Why'd we come out here?"
Admitting it to himself had been easy. Admitting it to Scully was a different matter entirely. He even toyed with the idea of not telling her, but realized how the futile the effort would be. He sighed in resignation. "I thought...I'd hoped that this case would help me focus. After everything that's happened recently, Scully, I don't know what to believe anymore...but this was something that I believed was paranormal in of itself, with no ties to any conspiracy. But as you can see, it appears to be the same crap we run into, day after day. Conspiracy, government agendas, fake aliens....where will it end?"
"What about Samantha? Are you giving up on her, too?"
The reaction was not what she expected. He laughed.
"What?" She felt her irritation rise, and saw the look of comprehension on Mulder's face. The fact that he had suddenly fallen silent, and had begun to find a particular part of his blanket utterly fascinating was all the indication she needed.
He knew something about Samantha.
And then, it all clicked together. Of course he'd known. He hadn't mentioned her in months, hadn't even looked into her case file, because...
"Mulder, you know what happened to her, don't you?"
"I, uh...damn. I guess I didn't tell you, huh?" He tried to look sheepish, but she wasn't in the mood to pity him.
"No, you apparently didn't. What?" she asked flatly.
He sighed deeply, his expression turning grim as his mind went back to the past. "When you were in the hospital, for the cancer, the Smoking Man tried to...entice me with an offer. As an incentive, he arranged for me to see Samantha.
"I know what you're going to say, but it was her. I know it was. And she told me to stay out of her life, that she had a family of her own..." He trailed off, not knowing if he could say the rest out loud. After taking a deep breath, he went on. "She told me...she told me that the Smoking Man was her father."
A look of disbelief crossed Scully's face, but Mulder pressed on. "I had suspected that my father wasn't really my father, but to hear the words coming from her mouth; I couldn't disprove it. And it made me wonder about my life, and whether my career had all been a sham."
"Mulder, you can't think that - "
"Can't I?" They looked at each other for a long while, neither of them saying a word. She didn't, because the words she wanted to say to him wouldn't be pleasant ones, in the least. He didn't, because he was afraid of saying something that would set off the temper he could clearly see displayed on her face.
Finally, Scully broke the silence. "I guess there's nothing left to say, then. If you're determined to be this way, I can't stop you. However, I will finish investigating this case. I'm willing to bet that I know what's causing the deaths, and that the wolf is the key. I don't really care about the whys at this point; just the hows and whats should serve me fine."
Scully grabbed her attach^ case off the table and headed for the doorway, but paused when Mulder asked, "Are you going out there alone?"
"If I have to, yes. But I don't. I'm going to talk with the sheriff and hope that he, or someone else, can track the wolf back to its den. If it even has one."
"I'm hoping that it doesn't." He offered a small, conciliatory smile, and she mimicked it wanly, more for his sake than hers.
"I'll be back to see you in a little while, and we can talk some more about this, okay?" He nodded, and she turned and left.
Scully barely heard the clicking of her heels echoing off the walls of the hallway, as her mind tried to absorb everything Mulder had just said. Samantha was alive and well, and he hadn't told her about it? Bastard. Son of a **
She caught herself before she went any further, realizing that the insults she was heaping on Mulder's head were probably part and parcel to his depressed state. The part about not knowing his father she had unwillingly been a party to, when she'd driven him up to his mother's house and waited patiently in the foyer. She'd heard the yelling and screamed accusations, then the scariest moment....Mulder's cold phrase, "How far back did it go?" and the sound of a hard slap. She had used all of her self-control to keep from opening the door and barging in.
Instead, she had stood there, dumbfounded as his mother commented, "You're bleeding, Fox," before leaving the room. Her concern rooted in his well-being, she'd gone in expecting to find him standing there, but the partly jarred window and sound of tires screeching on pavement were enough to tell her where he went.
She had the nagging feeling that there was something he had left out, however, and she planned to drag it out of him when she came back.
He watched her leave the room, a familiar ache echoing through him at the thought of her putting distance between them on purpose. His remorse didn't overshadow his growing curiosity over her determined behavior, however; his thoughts drifting over to the ideas and feelings that her remarks had awakened in him.
Feelings that had lain dormant for quite some time, he noted. Where had that passion in her come from, he had wondered, until he recognized it as the passion that he'd lost. The angst and pain involved in holding onto the truth, no matter the cost, charged too steep a price, and he'd run out of cash long ago. Had that passion moved into a body where the rent was just cheaper? And if so, could Scully extend him a line of credit...?
Or maybe, he reflected, he just wanted her to extend something a little more meaningful than that.
What that meaningful something could be haunted his thoughts for an indeterminate amount of time. The attraction he'd felt for her no more than a few hours ago hadn't been an isolated case, and the realization of what his actions might have cost reverberated loudly in his head.
What an idiot you are, Fox. Did you really think she'd like your come-ons? Why didn't you just ask her to crawl under the sheets with you? He thought disgustedly.
He'd long ago come to the understanding that he had stronger feelings for her than was proper by government standards, and also knew that the feeling wasn't entirely mutual. Not that she was a cold fish by any means, but his flirtatious remarks ended on her barbed spike of a tongue, more often than not.
True, when they'd been in Florida, she'd shown a happier, more seductive side of her personality than he'd ever seen - but with recent events, that side had pulled back defensively. And he wasn't about to push in where he wasn't wanted.
He had to admit, though, that he was sure Scully would knock him into next Thursday for what he'd done, and to receive a forgive- and-forget rebuff was not...right. Where had that Irish temper gone to? Had he humiliated her so badly, that she was more ashamed than angry? He felt bile rise in his throat at the thought of causing her that much anguish.
Boy, I _am_ a piece of scum, aren't I?
He had to admit, he had no redeeming qualities to offer on his behalf. Unless, Scully was one of those rare women who want a relationship with a porno-watching, phone-sex-aholic with nothing better to do on a free weekend than bug her constantly...when he wasn't hunting after the non-existent proof of extraterrestial life, that is. Yeah, quite a catch.
He could have gone on longer with his self-degradation, but the nurse came in with his meds. In a short matter of time, he found himself growing drowsy from the medication and thinking about the last things Scully had said. His defeatist attitude, going after the wolf, and her plans on coming back....his mind caught weakly on the middle idea. Going after the wolf? Was she craz? Having someone go with her was fine and all, but-
He stopped himself, realizing in sudden fascination what his next observation was. But what if the wolf had actually been for real...? A genuine paranormal case?
He tried to move, but his arms wouldn't listen to his mind's commands, and his eyelids drooped heavily. Fighting futilely against the powerful medication, he was pulled into a dreamless slumber, where all thoughts of Scully were washed away.
10:49am Sheriff's Office Baraboo, WI
It didn't take Scully long to find out Mulder's original plans from Sheriff Norridge, and contact the taxidermist, George Lindell. She didn't have a choice, really, since the expert that Mulder had called in still hadn't shown up. Considering her luck so far, she was running par for the course.
George Lindell turned out to be a towering, middle-aged man who reeked faintly of formaldehyde. His thinning brown hair was combed self-consciously over the top of his head. Circular glasses rested uncomfortably on the bridge of his nose, and his clothing reminded Scully of the hunting outfits those gaming and fishing show hosts tend to wear, bright orange vest and all.
Thankfully, the weather was warm enough that George didn't have to wear all his gear; Olive army pants, dark green T-shirt and the vest were all he dared to put on in the increasing heat of the day. For her, jeans and a blue v-neck was ample coverage, along with a sensible pair of sneakers. Standing outside his place of business, the passersby must have wondered at the sight of a tall man in army green standing next to a woman who, at the moment, looked more like a tourist than an FBI agent.
"So, you're the female FBI agent I've been hearing about," George was saying, pushing his glasses higher up the bridge of his nose. "Is what you're wearing standard FBI gear for trail walking?"
"I don't understand."
"We're going after a wolf, Agent Scully." His tone was patronizing, at best. "Sheriff Norridge wanted me to see that tourist's body, to identify the bite marks, but I don't need to see it. The hunters' scars told me all I needed to know - and considering the old boy's size, I don't want to signal our approach by dressing like neon signs."
"That's an interesting way to put it, considering that vest you're wearing, George."
"Oh, this?" He plucked at the orange headache. "This is my lucky vest! Now, I'm not dumb enough to wear this in the forest; 'course not. You, however," he placed his meaty hands on hips, "are going to need an improvement."
"Improvement? I don't think that's - "
George sauntered back into his store regardless of her pleas, and came out a few minutes later with something olive green and smelling faintly of mold. "Here we go."
It was something best left for the scrap pile; An old army jacket that must have served a man in Vietnam or Korea well. For Scully, it was - at best - unhygienic.
"I don't think this is really necessary...."
"Well, okay...but all I have left is a jumpsuit that'll be way too big for you. And, if you ignore the fact that it still has some stubborn bloodstains on it - "
"This is fine. It's perfect," Scully hurriedly put the jacket on, trying not to sneeze as dust flew off. "Let's go."
"Thought you'd never ask."
The local police were waiting for them at the site. Barricades and cars blocked off the road for the locals who might decide to get too close, but all it produced was frustration for George Lindell.
"Get those things outta the road! How's a person supposed to drive when you block it off?"
"That's the whole point, George," a police officer was saying as he took away two of the barricades, while another cop drove his vehicle off to the side. George only shook his head.
"He's right, you know," Scully said quietly, unnerved by the presence of a gun rack directly behind her head.
"Eh. They're just trying to show off. This is guaranteed to create more interest, rather than discourage it."
She couldn't argue with him there. The campers nearest to the site were checking on what all the commotion was about, while police officers assured them solemnly that nothing was out of the ordinary.
Nothing out of the ordinary, huh? Scully almost snickered at the thought. She wondered what those officers would consider normal. She'd almost hit three abnormally large raccoons when driving back and forth from her motel room to the hospital, and had seen several others dashing across people's lawns. Maybe that bovine growth hormone works on more than just cows?
She shook her head to clear away the silly thought. It was probably nothing more than the indigenous species. Dammit, Mulder was rubbing off on her, wasn't he?
They pulled up to the site, and Scully got her first glimpse of the crime scene that Mulder had originally come out to investigate. Seeing the way that the cops were milling around the site, she understood now why he'd gone deeper into the forest. Still, he should have known better.
Norridge, and the rangers who'd come out as well, made sure that everyone had radios and survival equipment, just in case. Lindell was unofficially the leader of the hunt, but everyone deferred to Scully in terms of procedure.
Lindell recommended that their group spread out and fan the woods, hoping to herd the wolf into a lowland area he saw on his terrain map. "I want everyone to head towards this spot when one of us sees the wolf. Make sure to give your location so we know where you're coming from. And I'll repeat this again; Do not, under any circumstances, approach the wolf. Wolves won't normally attack humans, but they will if they feel threatened or provoked. And even though we haven't seen more than one, I think it's better to assume that he isn't alone."
"I agree," Scully added. "We don't need heroics. Keep your eyes and ears open, and always have your firearm drawn. We'd rather capture the wolf alive, but in the event that someone's life is at stake, I want no hesitations. Any questions?"
The group was silent. Lindell hefted his tranquilizer gun across his shoulder, and said, "Let's go then."
Scully paired up with George, as the others were grouped into twos and took off along the perimeter. Lindell, as the one with the most experience, had been given the most likely route where they'd find the wolf.
Following the path that both Resner and Mulder had taken, Scully tried not to think about what Mulder must have gone through. Against her will, the image of him stumbling across roots and trying to stay upright burned in her mind. She inhaled sharply when she spotted blood on the leaves of a low hanging branch, knowing for certain that it was Mulder's.
Things could have taken a horrible turn, she noticed as they walked the trail. To the side was a large root that, if Mulder had not been paying attention, would have at least twisted his ankle, if not broken it. His footprints were on the other side, where he appeared to have leaned into the trunk of the tree before pushing off. Lindell's whispered notes and observations about the tracks her partner had left didn't help things, either.
"I'm surprised he made it to the car, Agent Scully. This isn't exactly a hop, skip and a jump away," he was saying after a half hour of walking.
"He must be a big fellow, or else he wouldn't have survived. Is he pretty tall?"
"Yeah, I guess so."
"Not surprised, really. His shoe size, and the depressions in the soil...probably what, 6'1", 180 pounds?"
"I honestly couldn't say."
Lindell watched her for a moment, then nodded absently. She was staring at another bloodstained leaf, frowning as if the leaf had been a party to Mulder's pain and suffering. He may not have been the most sensitive of men, but he quickly realized that her partner wasn't the proper subject to talk about at this moment.
"So, do you go hiking much?"
Mulder gradually awoke from his drug-enforced sleep, blinking puffy eyes and wondering why his mouth felt like someone had stuffed cotton balls into it. He blearily looked around, half-expecting to see Scully sitting in the room's only chair.
When he saw that she wasn't, he looked out the doorway, to see if he could spot a nurse nearby. He found to his surprise that the IV's were gone, and the monitors had been wheeled out of the room. He was just about to leave his bed when a nurse came in.
"Now what do you think you're doing?" she scolded him, a sour expression crossing her face. "No one said you could leave."
"I wasn't going to," he lied. He grinned what he thought was his most charming grin, but it had no effect on the older woman. "I'd like to know when I'll be able to leave, though."
"When the doctor says you can, and not before." She glanced at his chart, then went about taking his temperature, his pulse, and another few ounces of his blood.
"I thought I was free of the virus," he asked her, worried that Scully hadn't told him everything.
"Oh, you are, as far as we can tell. This is just to make sure it's gone."
"But you do need me around for the test results? I mean, I feel fine."
"That's what they all say. You've been on your back all day, of course you feel fine. Standing up is another story."
"If I can prove to you that I'm all right, will you call the doctor over and have him release me?"
She considered this, then shrugged. "Sure, why not? If you fall, it's not my loss. Just hold onto the bedrail before you decide to go ice-skating."
"Ha ha." He tried lowering the rail himself, but it was obviously designed for the sole purpose of keeping its occupants in - and preventing them from getting themselves out. After a fearsome struggle, the rail was finally lowered, and Mulder swung his legs over the side.
"Remember, it's your fault - not mine - if you fall."
"Right, right. Trust me, I'm fine."
"Of course you are."
He gave her a mild threatening look, then hopped onto his feet. As he slightly wavered, yet didn't topple, his glare turned into a triumphant smirk. "See?"
"Okay." As he started to move forward, he realized this wasn't as easy as he'd thought. He considered getting back into bed, then remembered where Scully said she was going. And what she was going to face.
I'm not going to let her down this time, he silently vowed. She needs me, and - He paused and swallowed, emotions coming like a tidal wave he couldn't stand against.
And I need her.
The revelation wasn't a new one, but the emotions associated with it were. Trying to focus, Mulder put aside those reflections temporarily and took one tentative step, then two. Elated that he was still upright, he continued on until he reached the end of the bed. Letting go of the rail, he walked to the wall and back, and from window to hallway. He could feel his strength returning as he continued to walk, and gave a knowing look to the nurse. She only shrugged, not willing to admit out loud that she'd been had.
"I'll go get the doctor."
Ten minutes later, Mulder's doctor confirmed his recovery. "Under normal circumstances, I'd keep you here for observation. But, I honestly can't make you stay if you're determined to leave."
Mulder had known that as well, but he'd wanted to ease the doctor's conscience a little by proving his health. Scully had the foresight last night to bring a change of clothes, so he wasn't walking out naked; although he was sure that Scully wouldn't be thrilled to see him out of the hospital so early. No, thrilled wasn't the word at all - more like frothing mad.
After filling forms and calling for a rental car, he tried Scully's cell phone. No luck. She'd turned it off, with the understanding that the only person who'd call her was lying in the hospital, asleep.
Damn it all, she knows better than that, he admonished. He had been guilty in the past of the same thing, but still, that was the past. They were both wiser, especially after what had happened recently.
And that was when it truly hit him. Her cell phone might not be off solely because of him. It might also be turned off in order to keep a certain wolf from being spooked off, or attacking.Mulder felt like punching his fist through the wall. Where was that damned rental?
"The scouting party to our left spotted something they believe to be our wolf," Lindell told Scully as he listened to the walkie- talkie. "Do you have its position? Over."
"Yes. It's heading to the southwest, and it looks like it'll cross your path. I can't tell for sure if this is the animal we're looking for, but whatever it is, it's big. Over."
Scully grabbed her own radio. "What did it look like?"
"It's white - almost shining, really. I saw it out of the corner of my eye, so I can't guess how big it might be. I just know it wasn't a coyote, a deer, or a raccoon. Over."
It had to be the same one. "Don't approach it, whatever you do."
"Don't worry, I don't plan to."
Lindell called the others to tell him of the sighting, and coordinated the plan to trap it. The scouting party who'd spotted it continued to make its way deeper into the forest, but in such a way as to make the wolf head for the lowland area. Since the area seemed to be its destination, it wasn't a hard task. Circling around the wolf, without it trying to bolt, was the tricky part.
Route 136 Outside of Baraboo
Mulder was driving a little too far over his comfort zone for speeding, knowing full well that any policemen in the area had cause for pulling him over right now. He saw the Circus World Museum to his left, and knew the turn-off was getting close.
He had no way of knowing, though, that just about every policeman in the immediate area was combing through the same area of forest as his partner was. In his mind, she had gone out there all alone, with no protection...and by doing so had put herself into the same dangerous situation that he had.
C'mon, Scully, you know better than that, he silently berated her. If he'd known that she had berated him the same way, only several minutes before, he might have laughed. In his current presence of mind, however, the only thing that could have lightened his spirit was some sign that she was safe and unharmed.
The whisper just barely reached her ears. She turned to see George motioning her down, and instinctively obeyed. She continued to watch him, but saw that he was not giving in kind.
Following his gaze, her eyes scoured the surrounding trees and shrubs. She almost gave up until a flash of white grabbed her attention, and she strained to focus on the mysterious object. A few seconds later, and it was confirmed; the wolf had crossed their path. She glanced back to George, and he motioned her to come back to where he crouched.
"Aren't we going to follow it?" she asked, wondering why he was hanging back.
"We will. I just want to get a feel for the direction he's going, and figure out where the wind's coming from. We need to make sure we're downwind from him, or else he'll bolt."
"I didn't think wolves were the kind to run away."
"In a pack, no. But alone?" He shook his head. "It won't fight unless we make it fight."
"It's already attacked countless people. What makes you think it won't attack us?"
He pulled the trank gun off his shoulder, then shrugged. "Just instinct, common sense, and knowledge about wolf behavior."
"That's all I need." He adjusted the strap holding his glasses tight against his face, and started forward. "Keep behind me at all times, and stop when I stop. Don't talk unless I speak first, or for an emergency." He flicked a gaze back to see her nod, and he nodded back.
Where did all these cops come from? was Mulder's first thought. His second was, Oh my God, I'm too late.
Not bothering to have them remove the barricades, he parked on the side of the road and made his way to the barrier. "I'm Agent Mulder, from the FBI. I need to speak to either Sheriff Norridge or Agent Scully." He held out his badge for the officer to see.
The younger man glanced at the milling crowd, and motioned Mulder forward. As soon as they were a good distance from the crowd, the officer spoke. "We're supposed to be keeping it low profile, Agent Mulder."
"You're doing a hell of job right now, I'd say," he commented sourly, scrutinizing the chaos of police cars and law enforcement. Was that an ambulance over there?
Seeing where he was staring, the officer replied self-consciously, "That's just in case, Agent Mulder. Nothing's happened so far."
"Who's in charge?"
"That'd be Ranger Schultz over there," the young man pointed at an older woman, with more grey in her hair than brown. Dressed in uniform, she looked more like a tour guide than a person of authority. Once she spoke, however, there was no longer any doubt.
"You must be the other FBI agent," she said confidently, her handshake solid and strong. She must work out, he mused, noticing that the short greying hair made her seem older than she really was. "I don't think you're supposed to be out of the hospital."
"You'd be amazed at what hospital food can do for you," he dead-panned, then turned serious. "I need to talk to my partner."
"I'm afraid I can't do that. They just radioed in, saying that they needed us to maintain radio silence until further notice."
"Any reason why?"
"Right now, their group is the closest to the wolf - and without knowing how close they are, I don't want to jeopardize their safety."
He frowned in thought. "When you said `they', what did you mean?"
"She's with George Lindell, someone who knows his way around animals. He's planning on taking the wolf down, alive."
He got only minor comfort from the fact that she wasn't alone. "I'm going out there, too."
She sounded so much like Scully at that moment, he almost grinned. "I'll need a radio, and a map of the area. I'll also need you to tell me what path they took, and their last known location."
"You'll never catch up to them, Agent Mulder. They've got almost a hour's head start on you."
"Then I shouldn't be wasting any more time, should I?"
Another ranger, Potowski, ran him through the same drill they'd given everyone else, although Mulder was only half-listening. He was ready and impatient to go, but Schultz wouldn't let him leave until he'd been briefed.
"They're going to try and circle him in, so that George can trank him. You need to stay behind the circle, or else you'll risk spooking the wolf into doing something we'd rather not have. Do you understand?"
"Perfectly. Now can I go?"
Potowski glanced at Schultz, who then nodded. "Sure. You're on a different freq than everyone else, so we'll be able to talk to you without disturbing the others."
" - and I won't radio back unless I'm sure that the area is clear. Right." He tugged a light camo jacket over the grey T-shirt that Scully had left for him at the hospital, and checked his holster strap. Seeing that his gun was secured tightly in its holster, he slung the radio's strap over and across his shoulder and slid his cell phone into a front pocket of the jacket. Thankfully, no one saw what he was doing, and Mulder headed out on the same path that he had traveled only yesterday, hoping that events would turn out in their favor this time.
Scully wouldn't have even noticed the slight tap on her shoulder, if she hadn't been waiting for it. She glanced at George, to find his gaze locked on their quarry. She followed his line of sight, until she saw what he was seeing. The white blur of the wolf had stopped.
Her gaze flicked up to his face, and noticed that he was already aiming the wolf into his crosshairs. His finger moved almost imperceptibly on the trigger, and the firing sound was a whisper compared to her own sidearm, but the wolf jolted forward faster than anything she'd seen. Was it spooked, or did George hit it?
He looked down at her, his expression grim. She lifted a questioning eyebrow at him, and he shrugged. "I don't know if I got him. I was sure that I did, but he shouldn't have been able to bolt off so fast. We'll know soon enough, though."
"Can you track him?"
He looked offended, then grinned. "Oh, that's right. You don't know about me."
"I guess not."
"Well, I'm not one to really crow about my own skills, but you can ask the rangers when we get back. That's all I gonna say about it."
She shrugged her shoulders, not caring one way or the other. As long as he could get the job done, that's all she expected from him. "So, are we going to follow?"
"Of course." They started walking again, but George continued to talk as they went. "This one...This is not typical. Almost sly, really. Wolves don't usually think on their own, so I wasn't expecting this. It's almost as if he's leading us somewhere - "
Scully grabbed for the map of the area, her thinking matching his. "The lower area. Is he still heading that way?"
"Yep. See there? The way the land's sloping, I'd say we're on the edge of it."
"But why lead us back to his lair? Shouldn't he be trying to lead us away?"
He shook his head distractedly. "Normally, yes. But we might have gotten this all wrong. He might've been leading the other people, too."
His expression darkened. "Death pretty much tops the list, wouldn't you say?"
"You're saying that the wolf is leading us to our deaths? But whatever for? Not for food, obviously, since deer seem to be more like pests than anything else. What are you implying?"
"I don't know. I just know that this isn't typical behavior."
She sighed, not knowing what else it could be. It might be pointless, too, if George had managed to tranquilize the beast.
Scully let her mind wander to her partner, lying in a hospital bed right now. He'd come here thinking that something supernatural was going on, and all he'd found was an abnormal wolf carrying some sort of virus. She grimaced inwardly, thinking she should have just let the local authorities take care of catching the wolf, and stayed with Mulder. She was sure that when he woke up, he'd be worried about her. But, a phone call from him was the last thing she needed at the moment; Hence, the turned-off cell phone.
Taking the phone from her pocket, she examined it in a way that she hadn't really thought to, before. This small piece of plastic, metal, circuitry and wiring made it possible for her to connect with Mulder nearly anywhere in the US, or even the planet. I could dial up his number and he'd answer, she mused. I could tell him I'm fine, and that we're close to solving the case. The prospect of adding to her already outrageous phone bill was dulled by the satisfaction and comfort she'd have of hearing her partner's voice. With a start, she realized that her earlier altruism had been false. She didn't want to call him for his sake; she wanted to call him for her own.
Her nervousness and agitation had only increased with the wolf running off from the trank shot...and now the ground was sloping obviously, drawing them deeper to the spot where the wolf supposedly lived. Recognizing that she was regarding her cell phone as a release valve for all her present anxieties, she consciously decided to not call Mulder. He would hear the tension in her voice, and know it for what it was. Heaping that anxiety and fear on him, for no reason, was not an option for her. He had plenty of his own problems to work out without throwing him some of her own. Plus, she didn't want him to think she was weak, that she couldn't handle this by herself. She was far from being a green field agent; Several years with Mulder had taught her survival skills that weren't taught at the Academy.
However, she refused to recognize the cold fact that, whenever she didn't live up to her own expectations, she felt like she was letting Mulder down. It didn't matter that Mulder had never chastised her for a lack of skill on her part; she had reprimanded herself enough for the both of them. To her mind, the main reason Mulder was in the hospital was that she didn't answer her cell phone. Mulder had been nearly killed by Modell because she let him go after him alone. She hadn't put up good enough of a fight with Donnie Pfaster to keep him at bay; If she'd just gotten to her gun fast enough, Duane Barry might have been nothing more than a footnote in Mulder's files. Her own list of failings went on and on.
No, it wasn't a good idea to call him now. She could prove to him, and herself, that she was capable of doing this alone. She had to. She did, however, turn the cell phone on, since George hadn't enforced the silence again. Too many years of similar cases prevented her from doing any less.
The heat had continued to rise, turning the jacket Mulder wore into a makeshift sauna. He almost took it off and wrapped the arms around his waist, but thought better of it. With his cell phone in one of the front pockets, all it would take was one slip or misstep, and his phone would possibly be slamming into the side of one of the ever- present maple or elm trees. Having lost plenty of cell phones in the past, he had no desire to put another in the path of destruction.
He'd abandoned his dead run into a fast-paced jog, figuring that he must be closing in on them by now. He hadn't heard anything over the walkie-talkie, but then again, his frequency was with the home base, not the rest of the group. Grabbing the receiver, he tried to raise someone on the other end.
"This is Mulder. Is anyone there?" Silence answered him. He repeated the message, and after a long pause, a male voice responded.
"I copy, Agent Mulder. Sorry about that. We just had Lindell and Agent Scully report back. They apparently found and shot the wolf, but it still hasn't slowed down. They're continuing their pursuit, but we've stopped our radio silence. You can change your freq to the first setting on the dial."
"Thanks." He turned the dial to the line indicated, and called into the device. "Scully, are you there?"
After a long second, he heard Scully's voice say, "Mulder?! What the hell are you doing here?"
"I didn't get to finish my chat with White Fang. Guess it wasn't love at first bite, huh?"
"You know what I mean, Mulder. You were supposed to stay in the hospital for further tests. We still don't what the long term effects might be. What if - "
"Scully, I'm fine. And you know as well as I do that no hospital can force me to stay for treatment." He paused, then continued quietly, "If it helps, the doctor checked me out before I left. He wasn't happy about it, either, but the fact that I walked out of the hospital must count for something, right?"
"That's a lie, Mulder. Patients have to leave in a wheelchair, to prevent them from suing the hospital if they slip and fall."
The tone in her voice was lighter, but he could still feel the glowering disapproval as if he were only ten feet away, not hundreds. "Still, not even an "E" for effort?"
This time, he heard her chuckle softly. "That's debatable."
"So, I heard you whacked the wolf - and it's still going?"
"'Tranked' is the term they use, Mulder. And yes, we're still tracking it."
"Where are you on the map?"
"There's a low-lying area; it's G3 and F14 on the terrain map they gave us. Do you see it?"
It took some time for him to find the map and unfold it. "Yeah. Looks like you're north-northeast from me. I'm heading along the same trail I took last time. If you don't move, I can be there in about ten minutes."
Another pause. "Did you get there right after we left?"
His thumb froze on the call button, embarrassed to admit that he'd been running for most of the way. But what else could he say, that the rangers couldn't disprove?
"Mulder? Are you there?"
"Scully, I'm switching to the cell phone."
"Okay," her voice sounding more confused than conciliatory. This line was open to all of the scouting party, and he didn't want to broadcast something like this to the ends of the forest.He pressed her speed dial number, and she answered swiftly. "All right, what's this about?"
"It's nothing, really. I didn't get here right after you did. I just ran most of the way here." He tried to sound matter-of-fact, hoping that Scully would glaze over what he'd said. He should have known better.
"Mulder, why?" Tenderness and confusion were mixed together in that phrase. He could feel his insides twist in self-disgust; She was probably thinking that he had a screw loose. Wouldn't be the first time. Still, he felt he needed to explain his actions.
He started to slow his jog into a fast walk. "Scully, when I couldn't reach you on your cell phone, I figured that..." All of a sudden, this was becoming very hard for him to admit. He chastised himself for his weakness, then went on. "I figured that you were probably hurt somewhere, waiting for help to come. I mean, I knew that you'd only shut off the phone, but I didn't - I couldn't know that for sure.
"You know our track record, Scully," His voice turned more intimate. "We've already been to hell and back several times; more times than most people will in their lives, let alone five years. I couldn't stay behind knowing what might happen to you, so..."
"You ran...the whole way?"
"Well, not from the hospital. I didn't eat my Wheaties this morning," he joked faintly, trying to lighten the deepening mood.
The pause on the other end filled him with a dread and trepidation he usually felt when Scully was in danger. He decided not to prod her on; he wasn't sure he wanted to know what she'd say. He was about to change the subject when he heard her reply.
She didn't know what else to say, honestly. She could have gone on a tirade about his lack of faith in her ability to take care of herself; She could have lectured him about the foolishness of running for nearly an hour after everything that had happened to him; She could have pointed out that she hadn't gone into the woods, alone, like he had done...but she did none of those things.
Who else would have done this for her? Left a relatively comfortable bed - after nearly dying the previous night - just for a tenuous belief that she might be hurt, without even a shred of evidence pointing in that direction?
Scully couldn't remember ever thanking him for that - for all the times he'd sacrificed something for her. Or someone. If it ever came down to catching the suspect or saving her, he would save her every time. When he ditched her, as he did often, it was never with the idea that she wasn't important; in fact, it almost scared her to think that she might be so important to him, that he wouldn't risk her safety...even for something that she considered trivial.
She would often wonder after such a situation; Does he trust me with his life, but not with my own? She was aware that he knew if his life was on the line, she wouldn't consider her own before plunging in to save him. As he would do for her.
He just didn't understand that she might hold the same opinion of him. That she didn't trust him to save himself.
The question jarred her from her reflective state. "Hmm?"
"Why are you thanking me?" He sounded confused, wary.
"I don't know. I just thought it was about time I did. For everything."
The sound he made wasn't reassuring. "You don't have to thank me for anything."
"Just say `You're welcome, Scully'."
He sighed. "You're welcome, Scully."
She smiled into the phone. Looking around to see if she could spot Mulder yet, she nearly started when Lindell tapped her on the shoulder.
"We need to reestablish radio silence. The tracks are only a couple minutes old, and from the way they're spaced, I'd say the old boy's finally slowing down."
She nodded in understanding, then told Mulder. "Should I join you?" he asked, and Scully in turn asked Lindell.
George shook his head. "Tell him to stay back. We don't want to spook `im any further than we have to."
She relayed the comment back to Mulder, and he wasn't happy. Still, he agreed to stay back while they closed in. "If I hear any trouble, though, I'm coming to join you."
"I wouldn't want it any other way, Mulder." She could almost see the smile that was likely gracing his face.
He disconnected the line with more than a little hesitance, not wanting to sever his link with Scully. His eyes scanned the surrounding area for any glimpse of movement, but saw none. They must have been moving while Scully and I talked, the fact absorbed slowly into his brain. I'm probably still five minutes away from them.
Five minutes. He looked at the map again, guesstimating the distance with his eyes. Maybe a half-mile. If he ran, he could be there in two minutes, maybe two and a half.
I don't want to be five minutes away when something happens to them, he decided firmly. And he began to run.
Grabbing the trunks of young trees for support, Lindell and Scully made their way down the steep hill, looking for any signs of the wolf. Scanning through the trees and brush, Scully spotted a glimpse of something grey, and grabbed hold of Lindell's shirt sleeve. When he turned to ask why, she merely pointed off to the right, and down.
Not far from the base of the hill, the land swelled into what seemed at first to be a natural occurrence: a moss-covered boulder protruding from the slope. But as they looked closer, Scully saw what it truly was - an old bunker of some sort, covered in grass and moss.
Someone had tried to hide it by sloping the hill over it, but years of rainfall and erosion had revealed more than it could hide by moss. No doubt, fifty years ago, someone could have mistaken it for an Indian burial mound - if such had existed in Wisconsin. She had heard of mounds in Ohio, but never here. Never in this area.
Which means that this was put here, for the express purpose of deceiving people, Scully admitted to herself hesitantly. There's a man- made structure here, but for what purpose? Determined to find out, she headed for the greyish mound.
Lindell made several faces and slight motions with his hand, but she was entranced by the structure. Why here, of all places? Is this where the wolf had decided to make his home? She heard the sound of footfalls from behind, and realized that Lindell had joined her.
His words were the slightest whisper above the sound of the wind. "What are you doing?"
"Looks like a possible den, you think?" Scully pointed at the bunker.
"Possibly, yes. But I doubt that a wounded animal would lead us back to its den. What if there are others?"
"I thought there was just the one," she frowned.
"That's from what we've seen. True, there probably is just one, but I wouldn't tempt fate by sticking my head in the hornet's nest, so to speak."
He had a point, she admitted. However, she knew that she needed to find out why this structure was here. "You don't have to go with me, George. I'll go in and check it out, and you can cover me out here."
"I don't like this. If anyone should go in there, it should be me."
"You don't think I can handle myself?"
"No, ma'am. I just happen to be the one with the trank gun." He hefted the rifle in emphasis.
She mollified him with a smile, and continued down the wooded hill.
Only a minute later, Scully and Lindell rounded the edge of the bunker to find that his concerns about the bunker being used by the wolf were moot. The door was shut.
As Lindell wandered off to the edges of the small clearing, Scully investigated the hinges of the door. While the door itself was rusted and pitted from the weather, the hinges were clean and oiled, indicating that someone had used the place earlier than fifty years ago. The original lock had long ago rusted out, and finding that no other lock had been put in its place, she pushed the door open.
It groaned in slight protest, but moved easily enough. Aside from the hinges, however, it looked like nothing had touched this place. Dust was evenly settled on the concrete floor, retreating only for the lichen that grew out of the cracks. Cobwebs hung from the ceiling, although they, too, were long abandoned. She almost sneezed from the dust that had kicked up when she opened the door, and strained to see inside the darkened interior.
Nothing but an old military bunker, as far as she could tell. She fumbled for the small flashlight that Lindell had given to her, and flicked it on. She walked deeper into the bunker, her eyes adjusting as they depended more and more on the flashlight for illumination.
Water damage had obliterated most of the markings on the walls, but she could make out labels for some of the pipes that ran along the ceiling and wall to her right. Main gas valve, level 5. Water line, sections 2,3, and 6. Hazard-do not touch. Core coolant piping-Do Not Close.
Core coolant..? She stopped, the implications running through her head faster than she could review them. Nuclear testing? Out here? But then, she realized, this land was more isolated fifty years ago than it was today. And with all the lakes in this area, they would never have a problem with water. But why label one pipe "water", and the other, "core coolant"? Was it just a precaution?
That sounds like something Mulder would enjoy wrapping his brain around, she mused silently. The flashlight revealed more of the corridor, the tunnel angling upward slightly and bending around a corner. Classic tactical strategy, in case the bunker was ever attacked; Make your enemies fight for the high ground, and at the same time create an ideal situation for ambush. Were they expecting to be attacked, then? By whom?
How far back did this complex go, she wondered. All the way into the hillside, or even beneath it? Was she on level 5, or level 1? She figured that she'd only spent a minute here, but knew it was time to get Mulder to help her investigate.
Scully thumbed on her cell phone and pressed his speed dial number, grimacing when she received a `no carrier' signal. She was too deep into the bunker to use her cell phone. She was about to turn around when she heard the sound of a man screaming. Not even thinking twice, she pulled out her gun and ran back out of the complex.
George considered himself a cautious man; he wouldn't chase after prey like the younger men would. If he nailed an animal with his tranquilizer gun, then he knew it was only a matter of time before he caught up with it. The glimpse of white that he found in the bushes nearby seemed to support his philosophy pretty well, and so sure was he that the wolf had finally given up that he didn't even bother to call Agent Scully.
His surprise, then, when the white object actually moved towards him could not have been more total. He barely had enough time to scream before the wolf attacked, landing solidly on his chest and sinking its fangs into the soft flesh of the man's neck. Only the sound of a gun firing kept the wolf from crushing Lindell's throat. Sensing that it was being outnumbered, it fled back into the woods. In a matter of seconds, it was gone.
Scully ran out to find the wolf on top of Lindell, but before she could aim, the loud noise of a gun firing echoed in her eardrums, and she watched the creature run back under the bushes. It didn't take her long to figure out who had fired the gun.
"Mulder, how on Earth - "
"Scully, are you all right?" He interrupted her, scanning for any signs that she might have been hurt. His face was flushed and he was breathing heavily. He'd been running again, she noted sourly.
"I'm okay. But I don't think George is." She grabbed Mulder by the arm and lead him over to Lindell. She took a look at the man's neck, and frowned. Missed the jugular, thankfully, but he was still bleeding badly. Lindell's eyes came back into focus, and he looked up at the two agents bending over him. He tried to speak, but Scully shushed him.
"Don't try to talk; that'll only make it worse." George nodded slightly, wincing in pain.
"Will he be all right?"
Scully sighed heavily. "If we can get him to the ambulance fast enough, yes. It looks like the fang marks only did tissue damage, but considering the virus..."
"I get the picture." All too clearly, he amended to himself. He got on the walkie talkie while Scully bandaged Lindell as best as she could with the medical supplies they'd brought. Lindell was already upright when Mulder finished speaking with the EMTs. "They're going to meet us halfway," Mulder explained to the unbalanced taxidermist. "All we have to do is keep your adrenaline level up until we reach them. That means we're going to have to run. Can you do that?"
He shrugged, indicating that he really had no options at this point. It was either run, or die. As they started back towards the hill, Mulder's eyes were drawn to the bunker, its door now wide open. "Scully, what's that?"
"It's an old, abandoned military complex, I think. I was hoping you could take a look at it, but I guess that'll have to wait for later."
Obviously torn, he gazed at the bunker while Scully and Lindell struggled up the hill. She looked back and saw him walk towards the complex, ignoring her and the wounded man at her side. "Mulder, what are you doing?"
"Go on, I'll catch up. I just want to see inside."
Frustrated, she spun back around and headed up the hill. The only thing she was torn about, at that moment, was how badly Mulder was going to feel her wrath after this.
Mulder wondered idly if he should be the poster boy for flashlight companies everywhere, considering he never seemed to run across a situation that didn't need one. If he had been a Boy Scout in his youth, he could have claimed the early training had prepared him well enough for these moments. Unfortunately, it was the former reason that had him reaching for the flashlight in his coat pocket. He mused that having a complex brightly lit would be a novel change, if only to spare him the money it cost to replace batteries.
He passed by the same pipes and markings Scully had, noting the same things. He'd like to say that nuclear testing was the main reason for the bunker's existence, but his instincts told him it was wishful thinking. He knew what this facility was, and why it was out here. It only made sense, considering what else they'd found in this area; Purity control, and the `growth hormone' that they'd found in Delta Glen, amid others.
Was this their base of operations, then? Or merely an old military bunker, like Scully had said? He went around the bend and saw that the hallway leveled off, then ended at a doorway. Unlike the one outside, this door was almost new; Made of thick metal, it screamed of security and things hidden away from prying eyes. A metal plate was on the opposite side of the doorjamb, with a keyhole in the middle; something to keep snooping people like him from punching buttons or swiping key cards for entry. No doubt there was something more secure than a keyhole underneath the plating, but the method was enough to leave him stymied. He looked around for any other signs - footprints in the dust, anything - that showed a recent visit to this place, but nothing appeared.
He wasn't about to give up until he heard Scully cry out his name, and he froze in terror. Wasting no time, he bolted out of the tunnel, giving no thought to what the bunker might hold. What did it matter if Scully was in trouble?
"Scully!" His eyes scoured the hillside, but he couldn't see them. Where was she?
He called her name again, his voice rising in fear. "Scully, where are you?"
No answer. Then, he looked farther up the hill, and found her and Lindell. They'd reached the top while he had been down in the bunker, and now Scully was standing there, not moving. He wondered for a brief moment why she was so still, until it hit him with enough force to make sandbags feel light in comparison. Apparently, the wolf had no plans to let them go just yet.
"Scully, get down on your knees!" It was almost eerie. The creature had been toying with them all along, leading them deeper into the forest, into its territory. And here he stood, at the bottom of the hill. He'd never reach Scully in time if the wolf attacked.
She risked a glance back at Mulder, and his heart clenched at the sight of fear on her face. He watched as she followed his advice, and was relieved when nothing appeared to happen.
His mind worked furiously, trying to come up with a plan. They needed to capture the wolf, but not at the expense of anyone's life. He needed to flank it, but with the hill impeding his progress he didn't know if circling the animal would work. One thing was sure; Standing here wasn't helping Scully at all.
And that was when Scully decided to take matters into her own hands.
She wasn't entirely sure that what she was about to do was rational; or even sane, for that matter. However, Scully remembered what Mulder had said about how the wolf hadn't attacked him when he'd been kneeling on the ground. When he'd shouted his advice up at her, she'd been already convinced. All she did was the next logical step.
Keeping her eyes on the wolf - a very large one, she couldn't help noticing - Scully leaned forward to rest her elbows on the ground, then gestured Lindell to do the same. He looked at her quizzically for only a moment, then followed. The wolf only watched patiently, giving Scully the impression that it was trying to figure out what these crazy humans were doing. Right now, she didn't blame it for its' confusion.
With a deep sigh, she relaxed her body, letting her elbows shift outward. Soon, her weight was solely on the ground, with Lindell next to her in the same position. This unfortunately wasn't doing him any good, considering the thing he needed most right now was movement.
She tried willing the wolf away, but it continued to sit on its haunches, waiting. She started to wonder if playing dead hadn't been a good idea after all.
And that's when she heard the noise.
Mulder was not one to sit around and do nothing, so he slowly climbed the slope, circling away from Scully and Lindell. He watched her drop from sight, and had a brief moment of panic before his mind fully registered what she had done; One of the classic dog tricks of all time...'play dead'.
Despite the circumstances, he had to grin. This would buy him enough time to think of something. Something clever, ingenious; something that was guaranteed to work.
The wolf's ears perked up, and its head swiveled to the source of the sound. Scully's stomach clenched in panic, wondering if there were more wolves in the woods. When the noise repeated itself, however, she had to force herself from groaning out loud.
Mulder, apparently, had taken it upon himself to distract the wolf by imitating an animal. Which animal, out of all the animals on Earth, he was trying to sound like....that was what had her baffled. Maybe a goose crossed with a dog? The wolf didn't seem to know, either. It just sat there, waiting.
Its waiting soon ended. A rustle that Scully could barely detect grabbed the wolf's attention violently. It leaned in the direction of the sound before dashing after it, slipping easily into the dark foliage around Scully and Lindell. Her relief at the wolf's disappearance was short-lived, however, as she realized Mulder was now the one in danger.
She eased her gun out of its holster, urging Lindell to stay where he was. A glance at him told her he was already starting to show symptoms, by rubbing his arms for warmth. The fact that he knew what was happening to him didn't stop the terror from reaching his eyes. Or maybe that was the point - that he _did_ know what would happen.
Giving him a look of reassurance, she followed after the wolf.
His lungs burned with every intake of air, his knees jolted and shook with every rock and protruding tree root. It was only a matter of time before the wolf would catch up to him, but every second he had was another second Scully could get away.
He had to admit, the plan wasn't clever or ingenious in the slightest. If he lived through this, he'd be able to chalk this up as a success. If not, then the point was pretty moot, wasn't it?
Still, he had his gun. And a crazy notion that maybe he'd been right in the first place.
Something had been nagging him for several hours, ever since he'd seen the wolf for the first time. He'd completely discarded it out of his own despair, but now it grabbed his attention. His mind had been grasping for any and all solutions, and his brain had spit this out from the file cabinet of his mind.
It was a case from the first year he and Scully had worked together. One of their first UFO cases, in fact...with a boy named Kevin whose sister had been taken away, with a crime scene that was eerily similar to this present one; the woods, a lake, hills....and a white- grey wolf leading them to the body of a murder victim.
True, there had been other wolves when he'd arrived, and he had fired his gun in the air to scatter them, but he couldn't ignore the coincidence. Another wolf leading them to evidence they could not have found on their own - the bunker, in this case. And the virus that it carried was a harbinger to a project that had roots in this region, if not in this area.
There was also the fact that he'd fired at the wolf twice, and it showed no signs of injury. The first time, he'd had doubts whether the bullet had hit its target, but he was considered an expert marksman at the FBI. He knew that he had hit the wolf the second time. It was as if...
...As if the wolf were nothing more than vapor.
He shook his head, to clear roiling thoughts. He didn't know what to believe, anymore. Was it aliens, or paranormal phenomena, or a government project that was responsible for the deaths around Devil's Lake? Or maybe it was as simple as a new strain of virus, as Scully had surmised.
Mulder forced his train of thought from the never-ending circle of possibilities, to focus on the trail in front of him. According to the map, the land started to swell upwards ahead, giving him the high ground. And if Potowski had been right about the other groups out there...
He checked the frequency of the handset, and yelled into the receiver, "This is Agent Mulder. Is anyone hearing me?"
A young male voice answered. "This is Baker. What's going on?"
"I need assistance. My partner and I found the wolf, and now it's chasing me. Find G3 and F14 on the map...there's an area just below and east of it that turns into a hill. Where are you from there?"
"We're east of it. But Howard's group should be just south of you. Howard?"
The silence was broken by a deep, masculine voice. "Coteus, here. I heard. How close are you to the hill, Agent Mulder?"
"I can see it. Hold on - "
Both Coteus and Baker waited patiently, expecting Mulder's voice to come back on at any second. When the seconds turned into a minute, and Mulder didn't reply, Coteus turned to his patrol group.
"Sounds like he might be in trouble. Let's move."
"Hold on - "
Mulder started to pivot towards the rustling sound he'd heard, when something heavy and solid flew into his side, knocking him flat. The receiver skipped across the hard dirt path, and the back of his head connected with a tree root poking up from the ground. He saw swirls of white light through the treetops, having only enough time to realize what had hit him, before he fell unconscious.
Her voice was growing hoarse from yelling, but she didn't stop calling her partner's name. He hadn't responded yet, and while that wasn't a bad sign - in of itself - she would have rather had the peace of mind knowing Mulder was all right.
She wasn't about to get that reassurance. As she came around a bend in the trail, Scully found her partner lying unconscious, with their quarry lying on top of him.
It took all her self restraint not to make a move at the wolf, not knowing whether the action would put Mulder in more danger. Although, she had to admit the wolf could possibly injure or kill Mulder before she could aim and fire. Her fingers shifted along the grip of her gun, trying to keep them from stiffening. The last thing she needed was her trigger finger to lock up.
"Mulder, can you hear me?" She tried to call out to him softly, but her voice carried farther than she expected. The wolf's ears flattened, and she nearly jumped back.
Please, get off Mulder and leave us alone, she pleaded with the creature silently. Slowly, she aimed the gun at the wolf, and was amazed at its lack of a response. It didn't matter, though; the angle was all wrong. Unless she managed to move five feet to the left or right, her shot would most likely go through the wolf and into Mulder, killing him. A sour taste grew in her mouth, and she tried to swallow it away. She might be able to lure it away, but it probably meant that she would end up like Mulder in front of her...but without a partner to back her up.
Sighing as lightly as she dared, she watched the wolf, waiting for an opening - any opening. Her feet shifted to the left, trying to get the best angle to shoot. Now she wished that she'd grabbed George's rifle before she had headed out after Mulder.
The wolf continued to watch her patiently, as if it was waiting for her. Waiting for what, however, was the question. Scully could hear the sound of her heart thudding in her chest, squashing down the panic threatening to overwhelm her. Her gaze fixed on the wolf's eyes, a golden-brown that seemed to belie its obvious murderous nature. There seemed to be a wisdom that she couldn't describe, almost as if the wolf knew who she was...but that was impossible. Wasn't it?
And suddenly, the panic was gone. In its place was a peace that she couldn't describe, and could barely fathom. She stared at the wolf in curious wonder, her mind pondering things that should not - could not - be possible.
The sound of dead leaves being crunched underfoot shook her out of her calm state, and she watched as the wolf bolted into the forest. Detached from her own concerns, she barely flinched as she heard a rifle fire twice, and could see through the trees that the bullets had hit its mark. The only thing missing was the stream of red blood that should have been coming from the wolf.
She resisted the temptation to rub her eyes, knowing and yet disbelieving what her eyes were showing her. If she wasn't mistaken, that fluid coming out of it was, was...green. And foaming.
Her gaze flicked down to Mulder, lying blissfully unaware. She crossed the short distance in seconds, hoping that he'd just been knocked out cold.
"Mulder? Mulder, wake up," she shook him lightly, but got no response. Growing more worried by the moment, she lifted his head up from the ground as far as she dared, and sighed in relief when her hand showed no blood. If his head had connected with a rock, rather than a tree root, she would have been calling the EMTs over. As it was, she hoped that at worst he'd have a concussion. If he was lucky, then he'd only have a nasty bruise and a splitting headache.
Scully finally saw the ones who had fired at the wolf, and observed as two of the group dashed after the fleeing animal. A warning caught in her throat as a tall man in tan police gear towered over her.
"Yes?" She replied tiredly, not really up to answering anyone's questions, at the moment.
"I'm Officer Howard Coteus. Is this Agent Mulder?"
She nodded, then added, "I think you should call off your men, Officer Coteus."
"Oh? How's that?"
Before she could reply, the officer's radio squawked. "Howard?"
"Yeah?" the tall man answered.
"We can't find it. It's like it just disappeared - vanished."
"Nothing just vanishes, John. Keep looking."
The man at the other end replied affirmatively. Coteus turned back to Scully. "You were saying something about calling them off?"
She took a second to answer, changing her original response. "This wolf is more dangerous than we originally assumed. We're going to need more manpower and resources than we presently have. Plus, we have two wounded people to get out of the woods."
"Two?" the officer said, stunned. "George...?"
She only grimaced. "He's back along the deer trail."
Saying nothing, the officer motioned to the others nearest to him and headed for where she'd left George, leaving her alone with Mulder.
The men who had answered Mulder's call helped George Lindell walk back to where they hoped to run into the EMTs. Mulder still hadn't woken up, and every minute that he stayed unconscious was another minute that ate away at Scully.
It was a tortuous decision to make, whether to leave Mulder lying there or risk carrying him out of the woods. Coteus only had three other men with him, and two of them were helping George. Scully had winced openly when he had hinted at doing a rescue-carry. Slinging someone with a possible head trauma over one's shoulder wasn't something she would ever recommend - especially when it was her partner.
In the end, they called to the EMTs and found out that they'd brought a stretcher with them. Telling Coteus that Mulder needed it more than George did - in fact, George shouldn't be resting at all - she sent him out to get it, and his remaining officer went with him.
Leaving her alone with an unconscious Mulder, and her jumbled thoughts.
"Hey," she said softly, knowing that he couldn't hear her. "I could get to like this. No arguing, no outlandish theories..." No leering jokes, no more ditching...and no more gentle looks of concern. No more smiles and chuckles at her attempts at jokes, or her latest theory.
No more Mulder.
She swallowed, feeling a lump in her throat. She spoke again, this time her voice shaking. "I saw something, Mulder. Something I don't understand. I need you to..." She trailed off, not really knowing where that thought was leading. Did she really want an explanation? Or did she already know what it was, and simply wanted him to confirm it? Or maybe she was just hoping against hope that this topic of conversation would jar him awake.
"I need you," she whispered, not fully realizing what she was saying. "I need you here, with me. I can't do this without you. I just can't."
She drew her knees up and hugged them, resting her chin on top and staring at her partner as if her wishes alone could stir him awake.
Scully watched him like that until her legs started to cramp up, and she slid her legs down to the ground in defeat. Already several minutes had gone by, and no sight of Coteus. She slowly realized that she was sweating in her loaned Army jacket, and she shrugged out of it. Almost as a habit, she draped it over Mulder's torso; his own jacket being used to support his neck on the hard packed dirt.
Her fingers lingered as she tucked the jacket up higher, letting her hand rest along the length of his jaw. She could feel his pulse underneath her fingertips, a reassuring rhythm that eased her anxiety somewhat. Letting her fingers drift upward, she calmed unruly hair, allowing the action to soothe her fears.
Careful there, Dana. Remember what happened the last time you did this, her mind cautioned. She smiled faintly, a thought coming to her, unbidden. What the hell, might as well try it.
"Mulder, if you wake up right now, I'll give you something more substantial to think about than what's underneath my shirt."
A second passed, then two. Nothing.
She sighed, not really thinking it would work. Then suddenly, she heard a soft moan coming from him. Great. A desperate plea for help gets nothing, but a sexual innuendo...
"Mulder? Mulder, can you hear me?"
His face screwed up and his eyes tightened in pain. He started to move his head upwards before she could put her hands on his shoulders to hold him down. The sudden movement caused him to swear softly and drop his head back on his makeshift pillow.
She called his name again, quietly, and his eyes focused on her.
"Are you...okay?" he asked her.
"I'm fine, Mulder. Not a scratch."
"That's strange, 'cause I could've sworn you were in trouble. That you needed me," his words were slurred, but the intent was deadly serious.
Scully wasn't sure how to answer that. Her mouth began to form hasty words, but she stopped herself. Instead, she simply replied, "I did."
He took a moment to take that in, watching his partner with a cautious eye. "Everything's all right, then? Where's - "
"George? A couple officers are helping him back to the ambulance, and two other policemen are coming back with a stretcher for you. You probably have a mild concussion."
"Feels like it, at least." A wave of nausea hit him, and it took everything in his power not to upheave the contents of his stomach. "So, did you find the wolf?"
"Yes," she replied, glancing at the dirt at her feet. "But we didn't catch it. It's still out there."
He sighed, wishing that he could sit up, and knowing the pain he'd have if he did. "It's just a wolf, Scully. The local authorities will find it soon enough - in fact, we should call Animal Services out to - "
"Mulder," she interrupted. "It isn't that simple, anymore."
"What do you mean?"
She paused, not truly believing that she, of all people, would be saying this. "The wolf isn't normal. In fact, I think it's related to something we've seen before...back when you'd thought you had found your sister."
His eyes widened as he understood what she was saying. "The retro-virus."
"Yes, but it's more than just that. Mulder, I watched as they shot it, and instead of blood there was some sort of green ichor - and it reacted with the outside air. Where else have we seen this?"
She saw full comprehension dawn in his eyes, as well as more than a little skepticism. "That was a hoax, Scully...a trick. They're still trying to fool us, even though we're wise to their game - "
"Mulder, I'm starting to think that the only people fooling us, is ourselves." Her expression brooked no argument. "You pursued this case because you felt that something supernatural was going on out here, not that the government was covering up alien abductions. People were dying, and no one had an explanation why. You took this case with little more than that, hoping to regain some of your faith.
"But you haven't, Mulder...in fact, you're more biased and rigid than I've ever seen you before. And it scares me, because I don't know why."
"Scully, I've just come to my senses, that's all. There are no aliens."
"And where did you hear this from, Mulder?
He frowned at her. "What do you mean, where did I hear this? You were there, you heard what Kritchgau said."
"Yes, I was...but I'm not inclined to trust his word on this. Not any longer."
He looked at her as if he'd never seen her before. "What changed your mind?"
"I can no longer trust anything the government tells me, and I realized that Kritchgau was part of that government...part of that agenda. For all we know, someone may have given him disinformation without his knowledge, and he turned to us believing that what he told us was the truth. He didn't realize that the same government we distrust was also the one supplying him with his information. All they had to do was give him enough of the truth so that we would believe.
"And in addition, too much has happened since then that can't be explained. My recollections during the hypno-regression, your lack of a memory after hopping on that truck heading outward from Wiekamp Air Force base, Cassandra Spender's disappearance....do you truly believe this is all about the government, and nothing else? My God, Mulder, I never thought I'd be saying this...but can't you accept that there might be another explanation?"
"Such as what?"
"Such as the possibility that you were right all along, and that they managed to neutralize your actions by using you against yourself. They let you have enough information to hang yourself with, while all they needed to do was sit back and watch."
He almost shook his head in disbelief, then thought better of it. "Scully - "
"Mulder, can you honestly tell me that you haven't started to have doubts about what Kritchgau told you?"
"I-I don't know," he said slowly, to collect his thoughts. "Scully, did I tell you where I'd found the cure for your cancer?"
"I don't think so."
"It was in a sub-basement in the Pentagon. The god-damn Pentagon!" He started losing focus on Scully's face, and realized that he was beginning to succumb to unconsciousness. Nevertheless, he pressed on. "I gained access to it with Ostelhoff's card. With that card, I had access to everything the government has been trying to hide from us.
"Kritchgau told me that I'd find your cure in there, and the Smoking Man somehow knew what I'd found. At first I didn't think I had anything, but then he told me it was there...and it was the microchip. It was stuck to the bottom of the tube," he started to chuckle ruefully, feeling too light-headed for his own good. He had the dim feeling that he shouldn't be mentioning this, but he continued on, regardless.
"Our government did this to you, Scully. The fact that I found the chip in the Pentagon proves that much, at least. That, and the fact that the Smoking Man tried to get me to join him. He promised me that if I did, he would give me my sister back, and cure your cancer. How could he give me these things if our government wasn't the one in control?"
She gazed at him, stunned. "Is that what you meant when you told me about a deal - about the deal you almost took?" Her voice shook with emotion.
He knew now that he'd said too much. Scared that she might back away, he said nothing, hoping his silence might read as a denial.
No such luck. "You were willing to sacrifice your career for _his_ vague promises?"
Again, he said nothing. He didn't have to, really. She could read it easily in his eyes. "Mulder, why? For yourself? For your sister?"
"No," he replied haltingly, pained to admit it out loud. "She had already told me to stay out of her life when he gave me the proposition."
Understanding dawned in her eyes, and across her face. "You were going to take the deal to save my life."
"I couldn't let you die, Scully," he replied, his voice filled with pain and anguish. "Not when I was the cause of it all..." his words softened in embarrassment and shame.
"Don't say that."
"Why? It's the truth."
She shook her head. "It isn't. You didn't cause any of this. You can't think that way, either, because that's exactly what they want you to believe - that if you continue on pursuing the X-files, more bad things will happen. But the thing is, Mulder; it doesn't matter. When my sister was shot, you were believed to be dead. The X-files were shut down. Eliminating me would have accomplished nothing, unless they believed that I was also a threat."
He closed his eyes, trying to deny it - not wanting to believe that there was nothing he could do to prevent the men behind this all from hurting Scully again. "You wouldn't have had all this crap happen to you, if it wasn't for my persistence in finding the truth."
"Maybe," she allowed, "but not everything that's happened to me has been bad."
"Oh yeah? Name one."
She looked at him nervously, as if trying to come to a decision that wasn't one she was prepared to make. Within a few seconds, however, the nervous look turned resolute.
"I met you."
Special Agent Fox Mulder, a man who prided himself on his pithy retorts and rapier wit, fell silent. He couldn't think of a thing to say. His mind was everywhere and nowhere, all at once.
He stopped, not even knowing what he himself was about to express. What do I want to tell her?
And suddenly, he knew exactly what he wanted to say. He opened his mouth to speak, but he paused when his vision weakened even further, and a darkness clouded his thoughts. No...
He valiantly struggled for consciousness, and even prevailed for a moment, but it was for naught. Before he knew he'd lost, he'd slipped under a sheet of darkness; encasing him in an innocent oblivion of the world around him.
She shook him gently, but it was no use. He'd lost consciousness again; and from what she could gather from his reaction, it wasn't voluntary. Not a good sign.
Pushing away the panic that came almost reflexively now, she turned to look for signs of the officers approach. Her eyes hadn't been searching long when she spotted them, carrying a large white stretcher. She waved them over, and soon they were heading out of the woods, and away from the mysterious wolf.
George Lindell had been loaded into the waiting ambulance, and shipped off to the county hospital. Scully would have had Mulder in that ambulance, too, but there wasn't room enough for him. So, she was forced to rely on Mulder's rental car, and a police escort.
He'd come in and out of consciousness the whole way back, and now it seemed that he was rejoining the land of the living. He groaned with discomfort when she tried to fit him into the backseat of the rental, and she stopped. If he was going to be conscious for a while, the least he could do would be to help settle himself into the back of the car.
"Scully...are you there?"
"Yes, I'm here. I'm trying to get you in the backseat. Could you give me a little help, here?"
"Sure..." he slurred, and soon he was lying down, with his legs drawn up uncomfortably. Scully started to pull away, but he caught her arm.
The recent past came whirling through his mind, the lingering doubts and newer revelations battling against the new truths he clung to. And in the center of this whirlwind was the person whose arm he grasped onto as if it were a lifeline.
He swallowed painfully, knowing that if not for the woman before him, he wouldn't be alive right now. The specter of his near- death by the hands of August Bremer - or whoever he was - still permeated his mind, filling it with dark thoughts and nightmarish fear. While waiting for the bullet to shatter the back of his head, he'd been surprised at the strong regret he'd had for never telling Scully how he felt.
The words he had tried to say earlier came back to him now, urging him to finish what he had started in the forest. However, his mind stalled the words. Now was not the time, some deep instinctual part of his brain informed him. Not now, but soon.
He let go of her arm, persuaded by the internal voice he heard. He didn't offer an explanation why he'd grabbed her arm, and she didn't ask for one. She looked at him searchingly, trying to find a hint of his thoughts, but his face was stone. Sighing, she closed the car door.
After getting checked out by the resident on duty, Scully drove Mulder back to the motel. A simple concussion was the final diagnosis, and bedrest the prescribed treatment, by both the resident and Scully. Mulder didn't like it - especially since so many questions were still left unanswered - but when Scully held the car keys, he didn't have much choice.
She stayed in his room for a short while, to make sure that he didn't try to work on the case. As he finally drifted off after dinner, she sat at the motel room's table, pouring over her notes, and her own conflicting emotions.
She looked up from her notes to watch him, his unlined face peaceful in slumber. Her mind tumbled across the odd moment when he'd grabbed her arm, intent on saying or doing something before he pulled back. Several things of what he might have planned to do or say sprang to mind, but one idea came up repeatedly...one that she wasn't prepared to deal with at the moment. Not now, but maybe sometime soon.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the trilling of a cell phone; Mulder's, from the sound of it. It managed to wake him up, and he grabbed it before she had the chance to get up.
"Mulder," he stated sleepily, ignoring the pounding headache he still had.
"Agent Mulder? This is Betty Mercer. You wanted me to call you in case I found out anything else? Well, I just realized that if you want to find out more about the local Indian legend, you really ought to talk to John Kilbourne. He's the shaman for the tribe of Winnebago around here. You want his number?"
"Uh, sure," Mulder replied, as coherent as he could possibly be at that moment. He grabbed a piece of paper and pen, jotting down the number she gave him. He thanked her profusely before hanging up, slowly realizing what a serendipitous bit of luck this was. He explained the conversation to Scully, who unfortunately put a damper on his enthusiasm.
"I don't see what good talking to a shaman will do now," she said, trying to convince him with rational and objective thinking. "We already know the legend is bogus. What do you hope to find?"
"For one, to verify that this legend isn't from their tribe, or another one in the area. Second, I figure that if anyone would know what was truly in those woods, it would be them."
"Based on what?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. A hunch?"
She strongly resisted the urge to smile. Could the old Mulder truly be back? Or, maybe this was merely an evolved Mulder, one that had accepted the possibility of both the normal and paranormal? Or course, she could say the same thing about herself. While she didn't believe whole-heartedly in the existence of extra-terrestrials, it wasn't something that she could disprove. So much had happened, she couldn't dismiss it out of hand like she would have a couple years earlier.
Mulder was already dialing the man's number, and had gotten him on the other end before Scully could chide him about calling so late. John Kilbourne, however, turned out to be an understanding soul, and agreed to meet Mulder the next morning. With more information written on the slip of paper, Mulder hung up the phone, triumphant as one could be in his condition.
"I want to go with you."
Mulder paused, his cell phone half-way to the night stand. "With me? Where, to meet Kilbourne?"
"Scully, you'd be bored."
"You might be surprised," she replied, taken aback by her own answer.
He watched her, as if gauging her mood, then let out the breath he'd been holding with a short sigh. "Okay, sure. Meet me outside at eight. We'll get some breakfast, then head on out."
She nodded, walking back to her chair at the table. When she looked back, he had a puzzled look on his face.
"Scully, what are you doing?"
"Well, it's just that...wouldn't you be more comfortable in your own room?"
It wasn't a suggestion for her to leave; she knew him well enough to know that. Apparently, he was still trying to pay penance for his earlier remarks, from the last time they were alone in a motel room. She gave him a wan smile at his attempt to alleviate her nonexistent discomfort.
"I'm fine where I am, Mulder. Go back to sleep."
His gaze was still wary, as he tried to figure out this woman sitting at the table of his motel room. Had he been more awake, he would have pursued it further...but his mind called him back to sleep, and he followed, too tired to argue.
John Kilbourne's residence 10:05 am
The house they pulled up to suggested nothing toward a shaman living there. Built in the forties, its military-issue architecture gave one the feeling they'd entered an area that, somehow, had managed to hold onto a sliver of time. A tall, middle-aged man opened the front door and came out onto the porch, his long black hair pulled back into a ponytail. His heritage was easily seen even from a distance; tanned skin, prominent cheekbones and nose told the agents all they needed to know.
"John Kilbourne?" Mulder asked as they approached the porch.
"That's me. You must be Fox Mulder. And pardon me for bringing it up, but I don't recall you mentioning that someone would be coming with you." The man's deep voice resonated across the distance, as his hand gestured toward Scully.
"I'm Agent Dana Scully, his partner," she said as she flashed her badge. "We've got questions that we hope you can answer for us."
"Come inside," he waved them forward, glancing past them once to something behind them. Suppressing the urge to turn and look, Mulder and Scully followed the man into his home, both of them wondering at his sudden odd behavior.
"Is something wrong?" Scully asked first. "Was there someone watching us?"
"I don't know, for sure. It felt as if someone was watching the two of you, but it didn't..." he trailed off, shaking his head. "It sounds odd, but it didn't feel right."
Mulder gave a dubious glance to Scully. "Is this some kind of clairvoyance, Mr. Kilbourne?"
"No, just instinct. Everyone has it, but not everyone listens to what it tells you. But, you folks didn't come here to hear me talk about that."
Taking the cue, Mulder spoke up. "We've heard about a legend that's apparently from this area...specifically about the lake. Do you know something about a wolf, and a burial mound?"
"Oh, that." Kilbourne's voice was flat, humorless. "I've heard about it, but it isn't a legend from our people, or from the Fox, or any of the other people who lived in this area."
"The Fox?" Mulder couldn't help but reply.
Kilbourne smiled, as if he knew the agent would ask about that. "The Fox were another tribe of people that lived here several years ago. They, unlike the Winnebago, immigrated here from the East - immigration being the polite way to put it. They basically tried to annihilate my people and the others living here at the time, to make room for themselves. Two rivers east and southeast of us still bear their name, although the people have since moved on.
"But to answer your real question, there are many legends about wolves as spirit guides and protectors. They are intelligent creatures highly admired by my people, and they are usually held in high respect...but not where we bury our dead. Regardless, the so-called legend started up sometime around when the first killing happened. No one knows where it began, and it's stuck so stubbornly that people choose to believe it, even when we've denounced it."
"That's what I thought," Mulder replied, nodding his head absently. "But, there aren't any other rumors or stories linked to that area, are there?"
Kilbourne looked thoughtful for a long moment. "As a boy, I remember being told to stay away from the area. The old shaman would tell us that an unspeakable evil dwelled there, and if we went there, we would die. A couple of young men from the tribe chose to disbelieve him, and we never saw one of them again. The police would dismiss his disappearance as a run-away, but I knew better."
"Do you know who the other young man was?"
The man smiled. "He was me, Agent Mulder. I have the scars to show for it."
"Scars?" Scully interjected.
"One behind my ear, and one across my stomach."
"Could I see them, Mr. Kilbourne? I'm a medical doctor."
He shrugged, tugging his shirt from his jeans to let her see the scar. A small raised scar above his navel was clearly visible, running up vertically for an inch and a half, or so. Not unlike the scar seen on Duane Barry. She motioned Mulder over to take a look, while she checked behind his ear.
She shouldn't have been surprised, but she found herself gasping, nevertheless. A right-angled scar, identical to the ones Mulder had shown her years ago, when he said he'd seen the same scar on Max Fenig. The only conclusion she could draw was the one she didn't want to accept.
Mulder was gazing at her now, having seen the scars for himself. Had this man been abducted, and experimented on? Had he been tagged and processed, like Duane Barry, and Max?
"Could I check the back of your neck, Mr. Kilbourne?" Scully asked.
"Why?" He asked as he tucked his shirt back in.
"Because I believe there may be a scar there, too."
His eyes widened at her words. "You know what these scars are, don't you?"
"I can't say for certain - "
"Don't give me that. I can see it in your eyes. You _know_."
Scully looked at Mulder helplessly, and he said, "We've met people with similar scars, who claim to have been abducted by aliens."
Kilbourne stared at Mulder, stunned beyond words. After several seconds, he finally found his voice. "Go ahead and check."
She pulled his ponytail aside, searching along his hairline for the scar she knew too well - and not finding it. She told Mulder and Kilbourne, and the latter sagged slightly with relief.
"It must be only on the women abductees," Scully commented, trying to avoid Mulder's eyes.
"So, what does this mean?" Kilbourne was saying.
Mulder frowned in thought. "The area you were told to avoid was probably an installation of some kind. Sir, do you remember what you saw, what you felt...anything?"
"I remember seeing men with guns, dressed in military-style uniforms...but I couldn't say what branch of the armed forces they were from. And there was a tall fence, with barbed wire on top, but I never got farther than that. The last thing I remember is seeing that fence, and then the next thing I knew, I was in a hospital with these scars."
"I'm surprised you remember that much," Mulder said.
"I didn't recall it consciously, at first. It came to me in dreams; in bits and pieces, before I could put it together, to make some sense of it all."
"Do you think you could lead us back to where you saw the fence?"
He shook his head. "I tried, once. I couldn't remember...although it's more than that. It's almost as if the information were simply gone, erased."
Mulder knew that feeling well. He still couldn't recall several things from over the years he and Scully had worked together, including the more recent past.
The shaman continued. "I assumed it was a military thing, someplace where they were doing maneuvers, or something top-secret. Back when this happened, this area was all farmland and woods; remote and sparsely populated. It wasn't hard to understand why the military chose this area for a base."
Mulder stared at the man, all the puzzle-pieces beginning to snap together. A base, but it was also a bunker...something that could be hidden by the trees and undergrowth, never to be seen by prying eyes.
He shook the thought away, not wanting to believe what his instincts told him.
This was probably one of _his_ installations, where they did the tests. They needed a base of operations, considering all the experimentation going on in the area, and all the sightings that had happened in Wisconsin, alone...
The Fox, who eliminated all who stood in the way of their colonization...
And with a sickening feeling, he knew. He knew in that spooky way of his that his father had worked at this base, had overseen some horrible part of the Project. And if what Krycek told him was true, that the colonization was happening...
He grabbed Scully's arm, partly for her attention, and partly to try and keep himself upright.
"Mulder, what's wrong?" She looked at him, clearly alarmed.
"I need to sit down."
What he should have asked for, he thought with some regret, was a strong drink. The realization of what his name meant, that it would be connected with something so horrible...and the idea that his father was directly involved as well was not something that could be dealt with sober.
Scully handed him a glass of water, while their host watched, both confused and sympathetic. "Mulder, you need to tell me what's going on. Are you all right?" She felt his forehead and then his cheek, expecting a fever but finding none. He drew her hand away from his face, and continued to hold onto it as he spoke.
"I'm fine, Scully. But I can't talk about this right now," he said, his voice a near-whisper.
"Okay." She let her hand linger in his for a moment longer, then pulled it away. "Are we done here, then?"
"For now, yeah," he replied, taking a swallow from the glass. The cold water numbed his throat, and he wished it could do the same for his heart. "Could you drive?"
"Sure." She took the keys from him, and gave him a look that asked when he was going to follow her. He answered with a look that said he needed another minute. Her lips drew back in a line - a smile that didn't quite make it all the way - and left.
He sighed deeply, the initial revulsion dulling into an ache. What had his father been thinking of? How could his mother approve? Then again, it didn't seem like she ever had much of a say at home, so he shouldn't - couldn't, really - expect anything different. He drank the rest of the water, and shuffled into the kitchen.
John Kilbourne was there, in an attempt to give the agent some privacy. "Are you feeling better?"
Mulder nodded to placate the man, not really in the mood to speak. He felt betrayed by the man he had called Dad; The reasons why he'd always been emotionally distant suddenly became more ominous, more personal. He wondered now if his father had hated him from birth, giving him a name that inspired the man's contempt.
It was as if someone threw ice down his back; What if his father had known about the affair his mother had, and even knew that **
He didn't want to think about that...he _couldn't_. The whole idea of his childhood resting on lies was bad enough. He didn't need more angst over something he couldn't prove with any verification.
He handed the shaman his empty glass, thanked him for the information and his hospitality, and left to join Scully in the car. She started up the engine and pulled away from the residence, and he was glad to see the house in the rear view mirror.
Kilbourne watched them leave, the rented sedan pulling out into traffic and back the way they'd come. He was about to let go of the curtain, when his eye caught a flash of white in the woods, and his gaze turned into a stare.
Anyone else would have shrugged and walked away, but he hadn't been named as shaman for nothing. His patience was limitless, and continued to stare until he saw the wolf.
And saw it staring back at him.
He blinked, and the wolf was gone. Knowing now what he had sensed earlier, he sighed in gratitude. The agents would be well-taken care of, if the white wolf watched over them.
"Okay, so now where are we heading? Back to the motel?"
"Yeah," he rasped, "but only to change clothes. I need to see that bunker again."
"Mulder, they've probably closed that whole area off due to the wolf. And I don't think you're up to another hike in the woods."
"I'm feeling great, really."
His flat tone carried no reassurance. She nearly stopped the car right there and then, to demand that he tell her what was going on in his head. Instead, she replied, "Really. So, that's not counting the fact that you nearly collapsed in John Kilbourne's home, or the fact that yesterday you had a concussion serious enough that you continually lost consciousness, or that you had nearly died the day before that, due to some unknown virus that may or may not be extra-terrestrial. You know, I'm sure that mental hospital in Chicago would love to have you back."
He grinned in spite of himself. "Not until they fumigate the place, they won't."
She pressed on, before she started to reminisce about the hospital...and a moment therein that would lead her back into thoughts from last night.
"Are you ready to tell me what happened back there?"
He didn't respond right away, and at first she thought he was giving her the silent treatment. But, eventually he did open up and explain, with a bleak despair that tore at her. Every glance she stole revealed nothing of his face; He wouldn't look at her at all.
By the time he finished telling her everything, they had arrived at the motel. She parked the car and turned to him, planning to give some words of comfort and support. She didn't expect to see him with tears in his eyes, looking out the window of the car as if searching for solace in the view outside.
Her throat tightened in sympathetic sorrow. "Mulder, I..."
"I'll meet you outside in a couple minutes." He fled from the car and reached into his pocket for his room key, his hand shaking visibly as he put it into the lock. He didn't even look back as he shut the door behind him.
She spent only a few seconds in the car, trying to assemble some composure, herself. Not sure what to do, she decided to at least change into something more casual and do as he asked.
Five minutes had gone past since the two he had requested, and Scully wasn't waiting any longer. When she received no answer after knocking on his door, she tried turning the doorknob. Surprisingly, it was unlocked.
Fearing everything from foul play to a relapse of his concussion - or worse, the virus - she entered in cautiously. His suit lay on the bed, and his suitcase appeared to have been rummaged through.
"Mulder?" She called softly. "Are you okay?"
His muffled voice came from the other side of the bed, although she couldn't see him. She walked around to find him with his head resting on his knees, drawn up into a defensive ball. He had put on jeans and an undershirt, but hadn't managed to finish getting dressed.
"I said go away, Scully." In response, she knelt down on the floor to join him.
"No, I won't. Look at me." He hesitated, then did as she asked. Tears streaked his face, although he seemed to be gaining some strength from her presence.
"I'm sorry. I didn't want to involve you in this..."
"I _am_ involved, Mulder," she paused, catching herself before she added more; How his pain was hers, how she couldn't bear to see him like this, how she wanted desperately to know what to say or do that would alleviate the pain. "I know you feel betrayed, and isolated, but you know that you can trust me...that I'm here for you."
His gaze pierced something inside her. "I know. I didn't expect it to affect me like this. I mean, I knew that my father was involved in this project, somehow....but I don't think it hit me fully until I saw something that he'd personally been a part of. He helped the government experiment on innocent human beings here, performing who-knows- what on people who didn't understand why this was happening to them. And that this was likely connected to your abduction...God, did he know about that, too?"
"You can't dwell on things that you can neither prove, nor disprove."
"I know that, but this isn't something I can toss aside." He combed his hair back with his fingers, the motion more out of anxiety than true need. "Did my father give me that name because it was the name of the installation, or because of what it connoted, or even out of spite for a child that he knew wasn't his own?"
"Mulder," she breathed out in horror, never comprehending his thoughts had turned that terrible direction. "Please don't do this to yourself."
"How much of this darkness lives in me, Scully? Am I capable of doing the same things he has?"
She rested her hands on either side of his face and looked deeply into his eyes. "You are a good man, Mulder, and will always be a good man. If you get into trouble or make someone angry, it's never with an evil thought or intention. Your heart is always in the right place, and come Hell or high water, you'll always stand your ground. I've never known nor admired someone so impassioned about his work and his beliefs as I do you...and that's why it hurts me to see you doubting yourself."
They gazed at each other for a long while, not daring to say the words that clung desperately to their lips. Eventually, Scully drew him into an embrace, wrapping her arms around his shoulders and letting him lean into her heavily. He wept, and she shared the sadness with him, taking the sorrow in as her own. Rocking him gently, she smoothed his hair and whispered calming words, allowing tears to roll down her own cheeks.
It had seemed like hours had passed, but it was in reality only several minutes when Mulder felt Scully pull away, and it took everything in his power to do the same.
"Do you still want to check out the bunker?"
Distantly, he recognized that she was talking to him. "Yeah, I still want to check it out. Let's go."
Eternally grateful that she had brought the subject up, he watched as she left the room and headed back to the car, giving him time to compose himself and finish getting dressed. Vowing that he would always remember Scully's words, and return it in kind someday, he grabbed the shirt he'd been planning to wear and threw it on over his head.
The familiar sight of the police barricade greeted Mulder and Scully, and for once, they had arrived there together. An unusual event for them, on this case. However, it appeared that everything was going on as normal - for them - when they were allowed past the barricade and drove up to the site. Explaining that they weren't planning on heading out too far in the forest, Mulder soothed the nerves of the person on duty, and he and Scully headed out to the bunker.
Knowing where they were going helped the time pass, both of them feeling more at ease with their partner by their side.
"You know, Mulder, if you get yourself injured again, I'm not gonna bail you out," she was saying as they neared the bunker, grabbing onto the nearby branches for balance as the ground sloped downward.
"I rarely ever seek out getting injured, Scully, but I'll keep that in mind," he replied sarcastically.
"Just warning you, that's all. You may enjoy having me as a nursemaid, but I certainly don't like it."
"What, not even the sponge bath?" Dangerous territory, but the look on Scully's face was worth the risk.
Reddening to her roots, she took a few seconds to compose herself, then replied, "That isn't a moment I remember, but I don't think that with you, it'd be all that memorable."
"Anytime. Look, there it is," she pointed to the grey hump of concrete jutting from the side of the hill, looking as undisturbed as before.
He nodded, and they cautiously made their way down the hill, eyes and ears alert for any sign of the wolf. With no small amount of relief, they reached the entrance of the bunker with no hint of the wolf's presence. The door still remained open from when Mulder had been there, and with flashlights ready, they entered the darkness.
Having already seen the markings along the ceiling and wall, Mulder instead focused on the other clues his senses were giving him. The damp air felt clammy against his skin, and he felt the dry warm breeze from outside lessen as they turned the corner. Again, the door stood there, as impenetrable as ever.
"Now what?" Scully asked quietly, and he grinned.
"Never leave home without it," he said as he pulled out his standard issue "speed" lock pick. He let the pick do its work on the keyhole of the panel, and after he heard that satisfying snap of success, pulled the panel open to reveal a keypad.
"What, no card access? I'm disappointed," Mulder muttered as he stared at the numbers before him.
"Mulder, we're never going to figure out the access code. Let's go."
"Wait. I want to try something." He reached toward the keypad, but his partner's grip on his arm stopped him.
"We have no way of knowing if this is set up to an alarm system or not. We might have already triggered it. I think we'd better go."
"You might be right, but if we've already set off an alarm, then there's no reason to stop now." He shrugged his arm out of her now- loose grip, and tried the first combination of numbers he thought of - Napier's constant.
No such luck. The codes probably had changed every day, but if his father truly had worked here, he might have had a code that he would easily remember. His father's birthday? He tried it, with no success. His mother's? He discarded it as unlikely, but tried it anyway - no luck. Samantha's...? He tried that as well, and again, nothing happened.
Then, with the desperation of a last ditch effort, he tried one last combination...and in a moment that would forever seem like magic to him, the door hissed open.
Stunned beyond words, he turned to see Scully's face. She stared back in disbelief, and breathed out one word; "How?"
"My birthday," he answered, his heart both breaking and soaring at the same time. His father had worked here; his belief was validated. But it was his birthday, not Samantha's, that was the code. Why?
He couldn't think about that now. Shunting all thoughts aside, he entered into the complex beyond, followed closely by Scully.
It soon became clear that the facility had been abandoned. Leaving the lights off, they crept down the hallway with flashlights leading the way, and saw nor heard a sign of anyone. A quick look into an unlocked room showed it to be stripped clean, with no indication that it had ever been used.
The walls of the hallway, as well as the rooms, were stainless steel. The hallway floor was still poured concrete, but for all the few rooms they could actually enter, it appeared that the flooring's main task was sterility. Mulder might have missed it entirely, if Scully hadn't remarked that it reminded her of a hospital surgery room.
Despite all this, nothing they could see pointed toward anything solid. Nothing had been left behind, and for Mulder, it struck him odd that someone would go to all the trouble of keeping the power on, when there was nothing here.
Or maybe that was the key. Maybe this facility had been used, but some event in the past - the recent past, if his hunch was right - had caused it to be shut down. Not permanently, though.
The place was as silent as a tomb; and in a way, it was. Preserved for its owner, it only awaited a purpose. What that purpose was, however, Mulder could only speculate. All he knew for certain was that his father had worked here, for some part of the Project. He tried to stay away from any assumptions, but again he couldn't escape the feeling that he knew what this place was. A place where the experiments were done, where people had been tested on and injected with purity control. Maybe even some cloning experiments, or tests on alien/human hybrids.
His mind flashed back to the corpses he'd seen in the boxcar in New Mexico, his original assumption far off the mark. Then, he'd thought they were aliens captured and used for tests, but now he knew it for what it had to be; human DNA hybridized with alien DNA. Why do such a thing, though...that was the question he couldn't answer.
He glanced at Scully, seeing that she was deep in thought as well. Belatedly, he realized the stupidity of bringing her here, a place that would only resurface unwanted memories; It resembled the train car a little too well, where Scully said they had done the tests on her. Torn between a need to protect her, and to let her face the demons she needed to exorcise, his gaze kept flicking back to her.
This behavior didn't go unnoticed. "Mulder, what's wrong?"
A too-innocent look crossed his face, but her answering glare of disbelief was met by one of consternation. If she was going to be stubborn, so be it. "Does this seem familiar to you? And I don't mean medically, either."
She prevailed in her attempt to hold back a sigh, and replied, "You mean from when I was taken. Actually, nothing here has triggered my memories in that way. It isn't anything that I haven't seen before - consciously, that is."
He gave her a tight-lipped smile, relieved. He was just about to suggest that they head deeper into the complex when a faint sound reached his ears. Scully heard it too, since she instantly shut off her flashlight. Doing the same, the hallway fell into an impenetrable darkness, and he tried to remember desperately which of the doors they'd passed had been unlocked.
Before he could do that, however, he found out what had been making the sound. The distinctive clicking of claws on the pavement, and the heavy panting made it clear what was there.
"Scully, get behind me." He pointed his flashlight in the direction and waited to flick it on, hoping to blind the creature temporarily. If what Scully had told him was true, then shooting it wouldn't do any good - in fact, it would probably kill the both of them. But, if he could stun it enough so that Scully could run for it...
She must have realized what was going on, since she suddenly grabbed his arm. "Mulder..."
"I know," he whispered back, and turned on the flashlight.
The beam struck the wolf full in the face, but it didn't even flinch. And with a deepening dread, he saw that the wolf wasn't more than 10 feet from the both of them, blocking the way out.
"Scully, run for it. I'll keep it from following."
"No, I'm not leaving you behind."
"Dammit, Scully! Just do it, before he makes the decision for us."
She was about to protest again, when the wolf moved. But, to their utter surprise, it didn't attack. Instead, it moved to the side, almost as if waiting for them to walk past.
"What the hell...?" was all Mulder managed to say before the wolf trotted back the way it came in, stopped, and looked over its shoulder.
"My God, Mulder. It wants us to follow it outside."
"Yeah. Well, considering that it hasn't already jumped us, I'm hoping that's a good sign." Gesturing her forward, he let the wolf lead the way.
They had just started to see daylight filtering in, when they heard the shouts of men coming from outside. Thinking for a second that maybe the officers had decided to come after them regardless, they didn't think much of it until the very faint telltale sound of several automatic weapons being readied registered in their ears.
Glancing at Mulder, Scully pulled out her gun and saw that he'd done the same. He nodded his head at the doorway, and with his back to the wall, slid cautiously towards the exit.
Mimicking his action on the opposite wall, she looked out to see no sign of anyone...but that didn't mean anything. Another shout, well in the distance, and she noticed Mulder's expression of relief. If they moved fast, they might be able to escape. Might, of course, was the operative word.
Running into the forest as fast as they could, Scully had little time to notice that there were no signs of the wolf anywhere. Only when they heard a distant cry of alarm, and gunfire, did she think about it...and then afterwards, tried to push the wondering thought away.
It was an unbelievable mess, Sheriff Norridge admitted as he pulled up to the scene. White vans were everywhere, it seemed, with no markings or identification to give him a hint as to where they'd come from. Men in uniforms surrounded the area, holding back the local law enforcement from the taped off area, and sending wave after wave of their own men into the woods.
"What's going on, here?" He demanded, seeking out the one in charge of all this. Had the FBI agents called in these goons? He spotted Schultz over with the rest of the crowd, and she didn't look happy.
"We've been shut out, Sheriff," Schultz replied to his question, a mixture of sadness and anger crossing her face.
He grimaced. "I'm sorry, Annie. I guess I should have known better. Who's the skinny fella over there?" He gestured at the youngish man clutching at his case, glasses perched nervously on the bridge of his nose.
She shrugged. "Says he's the zenobiologist that the FBI asked for, but he couldn't get in contact with them. Apparently, his plane was delayed, and he missed his connecting flights. He only showed up two hours ago."
"Great." This was not what he needed. "Do you know who's in charge of this little outfit?"
"I can't say for sure, but that guy there has been giving most of the orders," she pointed at a man who looked like the oldest one there, his grey suit standing out against all the black uniforms.
"I think I ought to have a little talk with him, then."
"Don't bother, Sheriff. I've already tried. They won't let anyone near him, let alone you or your men. One of his underlings brushed me off, said everything was under control, and that I shouldn't worry," she shook her head in disgust. "Stinkin' feds."
He nodded to appease her, though internally he couldn't agree. If these were their guys, why weren't they here, too?
As if in answer to his question, the two agents appeared from the forest...followed by four black-uniformed men pointing automatic weapons at their backs. What on earth - ?
"Agent Mulder? Agent Scully?" He walked past the unspoken barricade and approached them, not caring one way or the other what the uniformed men might do. He needed answers, and he figured that at least they might be forthcoming.
"Sheriff Norridge, I presume?" He spun to find the older man approaching. "May I talk to you in private?"
"What for? There's nothing you can't say to me that the agents shouldn't hear."
The ashen-faced man merely gave him a conciliatory smile. "They already know enough as it is. Come with me, Sheriff." His tone brooked no argument, and Norridge found himself following the man away from the two FBI agents.
The armed men who escorted Mulder and Scully had thankfully not found them anywhere near the bunker, but if _they_ were here, then the game was up. Mulder didn't recognize the man in grey, but that didn't matter; it could be any one of several associates that they would later deny had ever existed. They would eventually know who broke into the bunker, and who knew the access code. And this time, it might have cost Mulder everything. The X-Files, his job,...and possibly Scully.
The last wasn't something he wanted to think about. He shoved it into the darkest corner of his mind, the one where he kept all his horrible thoughts, and prayed to a God he didn't believe in that it would never happen again.
The military men escorted them past the crime scene tape and the white vans, letting them go once they neared where all the other law enforcement officers waited. They handed the agents their weapons, and marched back to the white vans.
Schultz frowned at the sight of them. "Looks like your people finally showed up, Agent Mulder. They had guys with gas masks and biohazard suits go in the woods, so I guess this thing must be airborne, huh?"
"These aren't our 'people'," Mulder replied. "They work for a different kind of government than I do."
"What are you talking about? The government's the government. We all work under it; You, me, and Norridge, plus everyone else here."
"These people are here to hush everyone up, to keep you from telling anyone the truth. Just wait. Norridge will come back with some story that barely resembles the truth, and yet he'll be forced to verify it, because if he doesn't..." Mulder left the sentence hanging, letting Schultz fill in the blank. "I've seen men die because of what they know."
"And you, Agent Mulder? If you know so much, why aren't you dead?"
"Don't think I haven't thought about it. I've heard that it's because of my notoriety, but I doubt it's the main reason. If I ever find out for sure, I'll let you know," he added sardonically.
She smirked back, not really buying Mulder's story. Turning back to join the crowd, he caught a glimpse of Norridge through the white vans, and wondered how long her skepticism would last. He turned to walk back to the car, but stopped short at the abrupt noise of a cell phone ringing. He reflexively searched for his own phone, before understanding that the sound was coming from Scully, not him.
She answered it, and his gaze wandered around while she talked, watching the men in uniforms hustle about the area. Did these men know what they were handling? Did they go to sleep convinced that they were in the right, never questioning the work they did, or the government they trusted? Would they look back on their lives and be proud, or ashamed?
While Mulder's attention was elsewhere, Scully heard an earful from Skinner. With no evidence to present, and nothing worthwhile to show for their efforts besides the discovery of another aspect of the conspiracy, he was most definitely not pleased. And on top of that, the CIA was crawling down his back; although for what, he wouldn't say. Not wanting to bring any sensitive subjects up over a cell line, she left his comments opaque. In light of these new events, however, he make it clear that he wanted the both of them back immediately. Giving him an affirmative answer, she sighed lightly and pressed the end button.
His attention was grabbed by the characteristic sound of a cell phone being turned off, and his gaze rested on Scully. "Anything important?"
"That was Skinner. He just called us back."
He gave a short laugh, the effort having no amusement in it. "Why am I not surprised?"
Scully glanced at him, clearly troubled. "Something big has happened, Mulder. He wouldn't tell me over the phone, but it sounds like something has him very concerned. All he would tell me was that the CIA was involved, and that he needed us to come back, ASAP."
"CIA? Why would he need us for that?"
"I don't know, but the sooner we head back, the sooner we'll find out. Let's get back to the motel and pack." Without more than a cursory gaze at him, she headed back over to the rental car.
Giving the scene one last glance, he sighed in resignation. No doubt the evidence was being erased right now, as usual. He wished that there was some proof left of what had happened here, something credible to hand the CDC or Skinner himself...but he might as well have been wishing for aliens to buzz the Capitol building.
He headed back to the car, hoping - as always - that the next case they investigated would lead them to the truth. And maybe, he thought with a longing that surprised him, a more personal and private truth between him and the woman he followed.