Title: Tam Lin
Summary: When your local young men disappear, only to turn up dead a year later, sometimes it helps to have friends in high places. Myth and murder combine in a remote Scottish village, and Mulder and Scully investigate. The Fairy Queen is out to revenge the loss of her most prized knight, Tam Lin. Mulder believes but Scully's not so sure, until Mulder takes a walk in the woods.
Thanks: To Dasha for wonderful and insightful editing, translation from the original English *g* and providing the page on her web site.
The automatic door squeezed closed behind her with a sigh, as if it were glad to shut out the bitter early evening. Scully found herself standing in a small parking lot with space for six cars and two not very friendly-looking cows.
She pulled her trenchcoat more tightly around her and stamped her feet to try and get some feeling back into her frozen toes. What could be taking Mulder so long, she wondered? He only had to pick up the keys to their car and then they would be warm and cozy as they sped through the countryside, protected from the vicious wind and the equally vicious wildlife.
The door eased open again and Scully turned to see Mulder striding purposefully towards her, a wide grin plastered on his face.
"What took you so long, Mulder?"
"There was some confusion as to which of the cars we were supposed to be taking." Mulder's grin grew impossibly wider and Scully glanced hopefully at the silver two-seater Aston Martin parked directly in front of them. This trip could have its advantages after all.
"Well, don't keep me in suspense. Which one is ours?"
His hand on her back, Mulder ushered her past the gleaming Aston Martin and towards the rear of the parking lot where three vehicles rested side by side, lightly dusted with snow. Mulder pointed to the middle one of the three and then stood back, hands folded across his chest and green eyes twinkling with devilish amusement.
Scully stared at the battered old Land Rover Defender wedged somewhat incongruously between a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow and a classic MG in British Racing Green.
"What the hell is that supposed to be, Mulder?"
"That," explained Mulder, patting the hood and showering his feet with paint flakes and mud as he did so, "is our transport for the day, courtesy of Sir Montague."
"You have to be kidding me." Stepping up to the open window, Scully peered into the gloomy interior and her heart sank as she surveyed the torn leather of the upholstery and the distinct lack of anything approaching a modern convenience. "I thought this friend of yours was supposed to be rich. Couldn't he have sent us his chauffeur or something?" Anything other than this heap of junk, she thought.
"He's not just rich, Scully. His father is the tenth richest man in Britain." Mulder got into the driver's side and reached across to open the door for her. "Besides, the Bentley is only good for crawling through London traffic. In the Scottish Highlands, this is all you'll ever need. So stop whining and get in."
Wiping the snow off the seat with her gloved hand, Scully got in and found a place to rest her feet in between the boxes and tools littering the floor.
"I don't whine," she muttered as she slammed the door shut.
"Of course not." Mulder grinned, and on the fourth attempt the engine coughed into life and they left the small airstrip for the open road.
"So, Mulder. How far is it from here to Sir Montague's pad?" The cold was biting and Scully tried to crank the window up to shut out the worst of it. Unfortunately, the window didn't want to comply and she was left with a gap just large enough for the snow to sneak through and coat the left side of her face with its chill wetness.
The inside of the windshield was starting to mist up and Mulder was trying in vain to locate the heater.
"I think it's about twenty miles. Aha!" Mulder prised open a flap on the dashboard and uncovered the toggle for the heating. He flicked it on and cold air and dust blew straight into Scully's face.
"Great," she muttered. "This is just wonderful, Mulder." At least we'll only have to put up with this for another twenty minutes or so, she mused as they rattled along a fast stretch of paved highway.
The heater gradually warmed up and Scully settled in her seat, turning to look out of the side window.
They had passed through a small village a couple of miles back and it seemed as though civilization had begun and ended there. There was nothing to be discerned except the blackness of the lake -- loch, she reminded herself -- on one side, and the heather-covered mountains on the other. No signs of habitation, any comforting lights, nor pluming smoke from cozy hearthsides. Nothing. Even the moon seemed reluctant to emerge from its hiding place. It peeked out every now and then, only to be blanketed by another fast-moving cloud as the high winds stirred the heavens.
"We might be in for a clear night later, Mulder."
"Mmm," came the only reply. Mulder brought the Land Rover to a halt in a dust patch at the side of the road.
"What's the matter?"
"It's nothing, really. I just thought we should have turned off this road by now. I'll just double check the map." Mulder scrambled over the seat to get in the back of the vehicle and Scully could hear him rummaging through his bags and cursing lightly under his breath.
Great, she thought again. So now we're lost in the middle of nowhere in the freezing cold, night is closing in and Mulder's forgotten the map. Visions of the local sheep farmer grimacing over their frozen bodies as he led his flock to pasture flashed before her eyes and she groaned and leaned her head against the window. Not for the first time she wondered what the hell she was doing here. Surely the war for independence was fought so that England could no longer assert its insidious influence on its colonists? But no, here we are two hundred years later and a phone call from a British peer of the realm to a FBI Director chum and we're three and a half thousand miles from non- fat lattes and the mild elegance of a DC fall.
"Found it," yelled Mulder as he clambered back over the seats and settled down behind the wheel, his coat bunched up around his waist and his hair hanging limply in his eyes. Scully offered up a silent thank you to God. She tried to avoid the temptation to rip Mulder's head from his shoulders and stick it somewhere extremely unpleasant when his elbow connected with her shoulder as he unfolded the map on the dashboard.
She exclaimed her annoyance with an "ow" but Mulder was far too engrossed in the map to notice.
"Scully, have we passed the sign for Stromeferry yet?"
"If you mean the sign that read Stromeferry -- sorry no ferry, then yes, about five minutes ago."
"Oh, good, then that means we must be here," Mulder pointed at a worryingly orange space on the map, "and we need to exit here, so we should be approaching the exit in the next couple of minutes."
Seemingly satisfied that they were indeed in the right place, Mulder started to fold the map back up but Scully stopped him and pointed to the area on the map densely packed with contours.
She might not be able to remember how to tie a sheepshank any more but her summers spent at camp had not been completely wasted. She knew a mountain when she saw one on a map.
"Mulder. Is that what I think it is?"
Mulder shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
"It's um, it's a hill, Scully."
"A rather large hill, wouldn't you say, Mulder?"
"Um, yes, I suppose it could be construed as a rather large hill. Yes."
"And we have to be there," she indicated Carter Hall on the map, "which is on the other side of said hill. Am I right?"
"And would I also be correct when I say that said hill is, let's look on the map here, 2000 feet from sea level to the top?" She looked out at the sea- loch on their left. "And Carterhaugh village is at sea level on the other side. And these tightly packed contours would indicate a gradient of oh, say 1 in 5? How am I doing so far, Mulder?
"2053 feet," mumbled Mulder.
"So it's going to take us a little bit longer than 20 minutes to traverse this 'road', isn't it?"
"I would say so, yes."
"How long, Mulder?"
Mulder stared straight ahead and his hands gripped ever more tightly on the steering wheel.
"An hour, maybe an hour and a half."
"Oh, that's just great. So I've got to sit here in this freezing bucket of ice with a broken window, slowly turning into a snowman and I've got to do it for an hour and a half? This case had better be worth it, Mulder."
"You'll love it when we get there, Scully." Mulder pulled back onto the highway and the reluctant roar of the engine drowned out Scully's muttered expletives.
Two minutes later and they were at the turn off. The vehicle bounced over a cattle grid and as the road narrowed to a single lane, the mountain loomed over them for the first time. Gloomy twilight settled around the Land Rover as they inched their way up the precarious path.
"Mulder -- I know that you went to Oxford with Sir Montague's son, what's his name...?"
"Yes, Simon. I also know that when senior men at the FBI click their fingers, we have to come running. What I don't understand is why you specifically? The fact that you knew Simon twenty years ago at University seems to be rather a tenuous reason to have us fly all this way. Why can't the British police handle this case? I'm sure they are more than capable."
Headlights flooded the interior of the Land Rover with white light from behind and Mulder pulled into the next passing place to allow the vehicle to overtake.
"Can't we talk about this later, Scully? I'm having enough trouble trying to prevent us from plummeting to a watery grave."
Scully looked out over the sheer cliff and down at the loch below, by now illuminated only by the silvery moon. He had a point, but still.
"You keep saying that, Mulder. Every time I ask why you, why this case, you make some excuse not to talk to me. I know there's more to this case than three unsolved murders. What's it all about, Mulder?"
Mulder sighed and put the Land Rover in gear again.
"Fairies," he whispered, and then he winked at her before pulling back onto the path. "I'll tell you more if we live to see the other side of this hill. Okay?"
"Sure, Mulder. Whatever." Fairies? She contemplated his teaser, gripping the sides of her seat as they negotiated hairpin after hairpin until finally they crested the hill and began the equally slow descent.
Two hours after they had left the airstrip, and somewhat ashen-faced, they pulled off the mountain pass. Mulder had seen fit to furnish her with a little bit more information about their whereabouts and Scully now knew that the roller coaster of death they had just traversed was also known as the Pass of the Cattle. An old drover's route, it was the highest road in Britain and had claimed more than its fair share of casualties since it was first hewn out of the bedrock. Laughably, its construction had opened up the Carterhaugh peninsula, previously accessible only by boat, to visitors, though why anyone would want to risk life and limb crossing back and forth was beyond Scully.
Jet lagged, cold, aching, and with a crick in her neck that was going to take some serious massaging to soothe, Scully wanted nothing more than to curl up in a warm bed and sleep. Mulder, however, was as excited as a child on Christmas morning.
"Won't be long now, Scully. Just wait until you see the house. It's four hundred years old and, so the story goes, Mary Queen of Scots once slept there."
"Well it must have a bed then, that's all I care about right now."
"Actually, there are thirty bedrooms, ten of which have four-poster beds. Beds big enough for two, Scully." Mulder leered at her and she swatted him, only half playfully.
"I didn't think that you were impressed with wealth and ostentation, Mulder. You surprise me."
"I take people as I find them, you know that, Scully. There's nothing ostentatious about Carter Hall. Sure it's impressive and looks grand superficially, but the truth is that it's now half- owned by the National Trust for Scotland. Sir Montague is a rich man by anyone's standards, but the days of super-wealthy Barons and landowners lording it over their subjects are long gone. Simon will never own it. Once his father dies the Trust will take full possession. I'm not saying whether it's right or wrong, that's just the way it is."
The road they were travelling along was still single lane but easier to negotiate now that they were following the coast at sea level. There was little to be discerned of their surroundings, as night had cloaked the secrets of the landscape in darkness. The moon had retreated behind the clouds; there would be no clear sky tonight.
"We're here," Mulder announced, and they turned off the road and passed through open wrought iron gates onto a long gravel driveway. A large, whitewashed house loomed out of the darkness, light pouring from its many windows. The drive at the front of the house was littered with cars and people wandering around in evening dress, clinking glasses and laughing.
"What's going on, Mulder?"
"I think I'm starting to realize why Sir Montague told me to go the tradesman's entrance."
They parked up at the rear of the house and Mulder got out and knocked on the door. Before Scully could disentangle herself from the seatbelt, the door opened and Mulder was swallowed into the blackness within.
The seatbelt locked as she struggled with it, forcing her to remain rigid in her seat until Mulder returned, a grin on his face.
"You're going to love this, Scully."
When no answer was forthcoming he continued anyway. "It seems that Sir Montague is entertaining a minor Royal and doesn't want two FBI agents crashing his party."
"Well, where are we going to sleep, Mulder?"
"You'll see." He started the engine again and they continued round the back of the house and down a dirt track. They stopped outside a single story cottage which Scully was sure was picturesque but which was right now just somewhere to sleep, hopefully.
Turning the key in the lock, they entered a small living room decorated simply in white and pastel green.
"Get the bags from the car, Scully. I'll start a fire."
Squashing the urge to hit Mulder hard enough to leave bruises, Scully trudged out to the car and trudged back in with their bags. A door off to the left led to a bedroom and she dumped Mulder's bag in the middle of the bed, fervently hoping that this wasn't the only place to sleep. She crossed the living room where Mulder was seemingly striking his way through an entire box of matches and found another bedroom at the rear of the cottage.
Upon her return Mulder had managed to kindle a small fire in the grate and he sat down on the hearthrug, his back resting against the chair and his legs spread into a vee. "Come here, Scully." He indicated the space between his legs.
Scully moved towards him and then hesitated. "What have you got in mind, Mulder?"
"I just want to ease some of the tension in your shoulders; it's the least I can do after making you endure the journey from hell." He flexed his hands and then patted the floor. "I'm told I'm great with my hands, especially my fingers."
The man was incorrigible, Scully thought. Still, a massage would be so nice. Oh, what the hell. She gave into her body's need and settled between Mulder's legs, her face warmed by the fire and her back by Mulder's clever fingers.
Mulder quickly located the knot in her neck and set to work, his thumbs relieving the ache with every sweep.
"Oh, Mulder," Scully practically purred his name, "just like that, mmm that's wonderful."
"If only you knew how often you've said that to me in my dreams, Scully."
She knew she shouldn't allow him to get away with that comment but the warm fire and the magic of Mulder were luring her towards sleep.
"Muller," she slurred, "you never told me about the fairies."
Mulder pulled her back into his arms so that she was leaning against his chest; it felt too comforting to protest, so she let it slide.
"Tomorrow, Scully. Tomorrow."
Scully awoke to a medley of birdsong and the bleating of sheep. Cautiously, she opened one eye and then the other as she tried to remember where she was. A shaft of autumn sunlight filtered through a gap in the curtains, dust dancing in its rays, and fell on the varnished wooden floor.
Gradually, memories of yesterday seeped into her tired brain and she vaguely recalled drifting towards sleep in Mulder's arms. She couldn't, however, remember getting from the front room to the bedroom, so Mulder had to have carried her here. God, jet lag must have really taken its toll.
She peeked under the bedcovers and was not surprised to find that she was fully clothed. Mulder was ever the gentleman. Even on the occasions he had seen her naked he always said he hadn't really looked. She wasn't bothered about it but Mulder deemed it impropriety to take something that hadn't been freely given. At least, that's what he 'said'.
The aroma of baking bread reached her nostrils and Scully inhaled its rich scent, redolent of childhood Saturday mornings in her mother's kitchen. If she closed her eyes she could picture herself, standing on a chair so that she could reach the table, her face and tiny apron dusted with flour and her hands sticky from kneading the dough. Mom always let her and Melissa make their own mini loaves, and even when they came out hard and burnt, which they almost always did, she ate a slice and told them it was the nicest bread she had ever tasted.
Scully smiled at the memory and wrapped herself more tightly into a ball. She didn't want to have to leave this warm cocoon. Gingerly she slipped her foot out from under the cover and waved it about in the air. Christ, it was cold. She quickly returned her foot to its nest and then realization dawned. Someone must be baking bread in this cottage. What else could account for the smell? But there was only Mulder and he couldn't bake. Could he?
She unfolded her limbs and stretched her tired muscles before throwing the quilt off and stepping out of bed. After pulling a pair of thick socks on she padded down the short corridor to the kitchen. Mulder was standing at the open back door, a steaming mug in his hand. He turned and smiled as she entered the room.
"Great bed-head, Scully."
Scully's hands flew to her hair, which she discovered was plastered to her head on one side and stuck up and curly on the other. Damn. She tried to smooth it down with her hands but her actions had little effect on its unruliness. The damned thing needed washing every morning and fifteen minutes with heated brushes before it stayed straight; she was not going to make much difference to it with her fingers. Mulder was grinning at her but she chose to ignore him.
"Mulder, I may still be jet-lagged, or I may even still be dreaming, but I swear I can smell baking bread. What gives?"
Moving across to the large, red Rayburn that took up almost half the side wall, Mulder opened the oven door.
"Ta da!" With a flourish of his hands he indicated the two pound metal loaf tin nestling on the top shelf. Scully moved in closer to get a better look and, to her amazement, there was indeed a loaf of bread browning nicely in the oven.
Mulder closed the door and she looked at him incredulously. "You baked bread?"
"What do you think?"
She studied him for a moment. "I think you went up to the main house and flattered the cook into giving you a loaf that she had just baked. Then you came back here and warmed it in the oven so that the smell would waft through the cottage and I would think you had made it yourself."
"You know me too well, Scully." Mulder returned to the oven and pulled out the loaf. "Do you want some?"
"Maybe later, I'm going to head for the shower first and make myself look presentable. Why don't you put some coffee on for us and I'll be back in a minute."
"That's a good idea, Scully. Your hair is beginning to scare me."
She picked up a dishcloth and flung it at him before retreating to her bedroom.
Twenty minutes later, and feeling vaguely more human, Scully headed back to the kitchen, which was the warmest room in the cottage, thanks to the Rayburn. A steaming mug of thick, creamy coffee was awaiting her and she took a seat at the scrubbed farmhouse table.
Mulder was hovering near the toaster, slicing doorstop-sized chunks of bread. "To toast, or not to toast, Scully? That is the question."
"To toast, I think."
He popped four hunks of bread into the toaster and, opening a cupboard, produced jam and butter which he placed on the table.
She studied him as he busied himself tidying up while waiting for the toast. The tableau of domesticity before her seemed somewhat at odds with the Mulder she knew and loved. He was obviously enjoying himself, though, and whatever he was thinking about was amusing him because every now and then a smile would play across his lips and he would pause briefly mid-task before continuing.
A knife clattered to the stone floor and he bent down to retrieve it, affording her a great view of his ass. She swallowed hard before speaking. "Nice view, Mulder."
"You like?" He wiggled his ass in the air and an alarmingly girlie-sounding laugh escaped her.
"If I didn't know you so well, Scully, I would have thought that was a giggle."
"Nah, I think I must have swallowed some air, or something, Mulder. It's the shock, you know?"
"That must be it, then." He straightened up and brought the toast over to the table. Scully ignored the temptation of the butter and opted for the strawberry jam. Mulder was not so virtuous and slapped the butter on as though he were plastering a wall.
"I can hear your arteries hardening from here, Mulder."
"I don't care," Mulder spluttered through a mouthful of toast, "I like it."
"So, are you ever going to tell me about those fairies and what they have to do with this case, or do I have to tie you to this table and beat it out of you?"
"Ooh, Scully, you tease." Mulder's eyes flashed at her wickedly and she kicked him under the table.
"Come on, Mulder, give it up."
"Well, you know that three young men have been found murdered over the last week." He took a sip of his coffee.
"Yeah, each of them found naked in the woods with no as yet discernible cause of death."
"Each man, well boy really, had been missing from home for exactly a year to the day when their bodies were found."
"But the autopsies showed that they died on the same day that they were found." Scully opened the file that Mulder passed to her and examined the autopsy reports. "In the case of James MacNaughtie there was no discoloration of his body, indicating that he had been dead less than two hours.
"Exactly. So they must have been held somewhere before being murdered a year after their abduction. But where, and why? Why kidnap someone, hold them for a year without making any ransom demands, and then kill them for no apparent reason? That's before we even get to how they were murdered."
Scully flipped through the file, pausing to read the brief biographical details of the victims. James MacNaughtie, aged 18, lived at home with his parents, went for a walk after dinner and never returned. Cameron MacNeish, aged 24, single, called his girlfriend to tell her to meet him in the pub and didn't show up. Padraig Quinn, aged 22, Irish-born, disappeared from his digs, his landlady reported him missing three days after he was last seen.
"Padraig had only been in Scotland for a week before he disappeared. As far as anyone can tell he had an argument with his girlfriend over the baby she was expecting and ended up in Carterhaugh."
"I think you pronounce his name Porig, Mulder."
"How do you know?"
"I had a Great Uncle Padraig on my mother's side. Do the British police have any ideas as to what happened?"
"Nope. They investigated the disappearances quite thoroughly when they happened and could find no link between the boys, no reason why anyone would want them dead. James was studying for a degree through Open University; Cameron was a fisherman, like his father, and his father before him. Hard working, well liked, saving up to marry his long- term girlfriend. Padraig was young and in love, a little headstrong maybe, but there was nothing in his past or his acquaintances to warrant this."
Scully got up to fetch more coffee. "I take it you have a theory, then?" She handed Mulder his mug and resumed her seat.
"Thanks. It's not my theory, it's Shifty's."
Scully choked on a mouthful of coffee, showering the table with tiny droplets. "Who's Shifty?"
Mulder used the nearby dish cloth to wipe the coffee off the case file before it stained.
"He's the gamekeeper at Carter Hall. He's so- called because he shifts things. If you want something moving, or taking away, then Shifty's your man."
"So what's Shifty's little theory, then?"
"Well, Shifty belongs to a long line of Gamekeepers. He claims he can trace his ancestry back to a Viking warrior who raped and pillaged his way through Scotland back in the days of yore. He says that the boys were killed by a Fairy Queen and her band of renegade fairies in revenge for the loss of their most prized knight, Tam Lin. Stop laughing."
"I, I'm not, honestly." Visions of moustached men in leather and nipple clamps mincing through the forest flashed before Scully's eyes and she bit the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing out loud. "Go on, please, I'm enthralled."
"Tam Lin was a mortal who was kidnapped by the Fairy Queen, turned into an elf, and held for a year before becoming a sacrifice on Halloween. At least, that was what was supposed to happen. However, Tam Lin had a nice little sideline in deflowering virgins who came into the forest and one day he met Janet, the daughter of a rich baron who owned Carter Hall. He impregnated her and when she returned to the forest to tell him about the baby he told her all about his impending doom and begged her to rescue him. The long and the short is that she saved him from the Fairy Queen who wasn't exactly happy about the situation."
"And this would be a true story with documented evidence, I presume?"
Mulder sighed. "Why did I even think you would believe me? The story is documented in an old Scottish ballad."
"Come on, Mulder, that's just folklore. Even you have to admit that's the most far-fetched theory you've ever entertained. Three boys are found dead and you immediately think it's a bunch of fairies out for revenge. Admit it, you're winding me up."
"I will admit that it is something of a long shot."
Scully snorted and coffee came down through her nose.
"However," continued Mulder, ignoring her, "this is not the first time something like this has occurred. Exactly one hundred years ago, four men were found murdered in precisely the same manner as our boys today. They too had been missing for a year and the cause of their death is still unknown. Shifty can remember his father telling him of those murders and how they were similar to ones that had occurred a hundred years previous to that. And Halloween is only three days away. The last body was always found on the day after Halloween."
"So, you believe that once a century, the Fairy Queen kidnaps four young men, holds them for a year and then murders them in chronological order, the last one on Halloween. All because one of her elves escaped her clutches and she was left without a sacrifice for Halloween. Why? Why four boys, why once a century? What does she hope to gain from it? It seems to me that Shifty is more of a natural suspect than a character from an ancient ballad."
"Shifty's theory is that she is trying to find a replacement for Tam Lin. That she takes four boys at a time in the hope that one of them will be suitable for the final sacrifice. I'm only telling you what he has told me so far. We need to talk to him further to find out about the rest of his theory."
"So there's more?"
"Oh, yes. And there is the matter of the fourth boy who is still missing and who, if the pattern of the other murders is to continue, has three days left to live."
"You never told me about a fourth boy."
"Oh, didn't I? I'll tell you about him on the way, then."
"On the way where?"
Mulder closed the case file and pushed back his chair. "Pull your little boots on, Scully. We're going for a walk."
Scully stumbled after Mulder as they made their way up a small, bleak hill. Bright sunshine bounced off the virginal snow, blinding her with its intensity. She paused to fumble in her backpack for her Ray Bans and when she looked up, Mulder had disappeared from sight. Shit. She followed the huge imprints in the snow his feet had made, at first finding the going easier if she placed her own smaller feet in the holes left by his, rather than forging her own route. Unfortunately, Mulder's stride was so much longer than hers that she ended up practically having to leap from one footprint to the other and she soon gave up trying. The crunch of compacting snow echoed throughout the silence as she waded through its depths, occasionally sinking to the knee, before finally she crested the peak.
Mulder was sitting on a rock, steam rising from the cup he was raising to his lips. "Great view from here, Scully." He held the cup out to her as she approached. "What took you?"
Scully flashed him an evil look, which regrettably he couldn't see because she still had her glasses on. Perching beside him on the rock, she accepted the proffered cup gratefully and took a sip of the hot coffee. The warm liquid slid down her throat and into her stomach and soon she could feel its heat percolating through her veins and out towards her frozen extremities.
She handed the cup back to Mulder and took a moment to properly survey their surroundings. The rock they were resting on was one of many, varying in size and shape, which littered the plateau. The low, autumn sun highlighted the humps and bumps of snow-covered rocks and small hillocks, giving the area a decidedly lunar appearance. Although this particular hill was small in comparison to the background of mountains, it afforded a spectacular view and Scully drank in the grandeur of the snow- capped peaks.
They were looking out across a stretch of cobalt- blue sea towards two islands one behind the other. The fronting island was flat and featureless but the larger one boasted a mountain range that ran its entire length, ridged like a backbone. The numerous peaks stood out sharply against the pale blue sky; the occasional tip swallowed up by the thin strip of flat-bottomed clouds that lay like strands of cotton wool over the gray-blue span of the range.
"What am I looking at, Mulder, do you know?"
Mulder withdrew a small guidebook from the inside pocket of his jacket and perused it carefully before answering. "You're looking at the islands of Raasay and Skye, Scully. Skye is the one with the mountain range, the Cuillins. It says here that Charles Edward Stewart, the Young Pretender to the British throne, escaped to the Isle of Skye, aided by a Jacobite heroine, Flora MacDonald, after he was routed by the Duke of Cumberland at the battle of Culloden in 1745. There's even a song about it, The Skye Boat Song."
Scully interrupted quickly when it looked as though he were about to launch into the song. "That's very interesting, Mulder, I'm sure, and at any other time I would probably be fascinated to hear all about it. However, right now I'm cold, wet and wondering what this hill has to do with that other tale you're so enamored with, Tam Lin."
With the warming effect of the coffee wearing off, Scully shivered in the chill air and for the hundredth time already that day wished she had brought thicker gloves with her. Her fingers were numb beneath the thin wool. Suddenly she felt Mulder's hand on her back, rubbing in circles across her shoulders and down her spine. His touch was unexpected and startled her into speaking without thinking.
"What are you doing, Mulder? I'm not a baby that needs burping you know." The words came out too sharply and without the humor that she had intended.
Mulder snatched his hand away, not looking at her, and began putting the flask back in his backpack. "I'm sorry," he mumbled, " I was just trying to warm you up, you look frozen."
Scully gave herself a mental slap. She had been doing this a lot recently, she knew. Every time Mulder touched her unexpectedly, or did something uncharacteristically nice, she pushed him away. It was getting to be a habit. He always looked stung afterwards, as though she had physically slapped him. The trouble was he had been finding more and more excuses to touch her over the last few months, and sometimes she caught him staring at her across their desks. On more than one occasion she had been in the middle of explaining away this or that ridiculous theory and looked up from her paperwork to find him gazing at her intently enough to burn holes in her forehead. Whenever she asked him what he was doing, he simply shrugged and told her it was nothing.
This didn't happen all that often, and the rest of the time he behaved towards her exactly the same as he always did, peppering his conversation with suggestive remarks cushioned by his quiet affection. At times she wanted to go up to him and scream in his ear "tell me what it is, tell me what you want", but she never did. Maybe she was afraid that one day he would tell her exactly what he wanted and she wouldn't like it; or maybe she would like it too much.
Maybe that was the problem.
Whatever the overall problem was, she knew she had to fix this one here and now or else they would spend the rest of the day tip-toeing around each other with edgy politeness.
She stopped his hand as he was about to zip the pocket of his backpack up, and rested her own hand on the back of his, entwining her gloved fingers through his bare ones. He looked up at her, surprise on his face, his eyes dark and unreadable. "I'm the one who's sorry, Mulder. I didn't mean it to sound like that. I guess I'm just cold and a bit grouchy." She squeezed his hand and smiled hopefully at him. "Forgive me?"
Relief flashed briefly across his face and then was gone, replaced by a warm smile. "There's nothing to forgive. You do look frozen, though. I've got a spare fleece in my bag, if you want it."
She nodded and he reached inside and pulled out a thin, black, polar fleece. She managed to take her coat off and get her arms through the fleece but her fingers were too numb to do up the zipper. Mulder took hold of the fastener and then hesitated. "May I?" She nodded again and he moved in closer, pulling the zipper slowly upwards until the collar encased her neck like a scarf.
Next he picked her jacket off the ground, dusting the snow off, and helped her on with it, zipping that up also and then popping the prestuds closed one by one. The shivers that ran up Scully's spine had little to do with the cold this time. It felt strangely erotic to be dressed by Mulder in this fashion. His fingers lingered a moment longer than necessary as they popped the last button under her chin and they looked at each other for a long second. She could hear his quickened breathing, matching her own for tempo, and their staccato breaths mingled and hung in the air. Mulder was the first to break the spell. He let out a heavy sigh and patted her shoulders. "You're as snug as a bug in a rug now, Scully."
She smiled at his metaphor and the atmosphere between them became palpably more relaxed. She shouldered her pack and then they were on their way, following a path marked only by occasional wooden poles and the odd haphazard stone cairn. Mulder stopped at the first cairn they came to and picked up two rocks, handing one to her and placing the other on top of the pile. "To say, we were here." He grinned as Scully added her rock to the others, causing Mulder's rock to shift and settle in a hollow next to hers.
Scully was intrigued by the practice. "What's the significance of all these cairns, Mulder?"
Mulder consulted his trusty guidebook. "This path is an old coffin route," he explained. "It leads from Carter Hall to the family burial ground just outside Carterhaugh Wood. Coffins used to be carried for miles over these paths, and wherever the coffins were rested, everyone would add a stone to a cairn on the spot."
As they trudged down the hill, Scully tried to focus her mind back on the case, or whatever it was, they were supposed to be investigating. On their way to the hill, Mulder had told her a little about the fourth boy who was still missing. He was a twenty-year-old boat builder, Hamish Campbell, and Mulder was convinced that he would be found dead at midnight on Halloween if they didn't get to him first. Scully was a long way from being convinced that fairies were responsible for the deaths of the boys. However, it could not be denied that the first three young men had been alive for the past year and therefore, there was a good chance that Hamish was still alive and being held somewhere. All they had to do was find him.
And so it was that they were headed towards the cottage of Shifty the gamekeeper, who was staying out in the woods instead of at Carter Hall because it was the middle of the stalking season. Mulder appeared to believe that the man would be able to help them get to the truth in some way. He had definitely swallowed all that bullshit about sacrifices and revenge. Scully was more interested in seeing this man with her own eyes. His name alone gave her enough reason to be suspicious.
After a further half hour of trudging through snow, they came to the edge of Carterhaugh Wood. A rough path wound through the forest densely packed with Scots Pine, Mountain Ash and Hazel. They followed it for a short time before arriving at a clearing, wherein a small, whitewashed cottage nestled, framed by Hawthorn and the thin brown skeletons of rambling roses. Smoke plumed from its single chimney.
At Mulder's knock, the door opened and they were confronted with their first sight of Shifty. Scully was surprised to say the least. Knowing that he earned his name from his removal man abilities she had expected someone young, lean and muscular. The man who waved them into the living area of his two-room home was seventy if he was a day.
"Fox, it's nice to see you again." His rheumy eyes swept the length of Scully's body. "And you've brought the missus, I see. You've done well for yourself."
He held out a gnarled hand to Scully, who grimaced inwardly at his clammy grasp.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Sir."
"Shifty to you, dearie. There's only one Sir around here and he's up in the big house."
She waited for Mulder to correct Shifty's presumption about their relationship, but he merely smiled innocently at her.
"My name is Dana Scully, Sir. Agent Mulder is my partner at the FBI."
"If that's what you want me to believe, dearie, then that's fine with me."
Mulder smirked at Scully. "The trouble is, Shifty, that it's against regulations for partners to get closer than they should, if you know what I mean. So Agent Scully and I have to be careful about what we say and do." He winked at the old man.
Scully thought about how easy it would be to arrange a little accident for Mulder out on the wild hills.
Shifty nodded sagely. "I understand, Fox."
He moved his small frame slowly and with great care as he shuffled towards the range where a battered old kettle was whistling merrily away.
Mulder nodded and motioned Scully to take the seat by the fire. Laying her backpack down she accepted the cracked mug of thick, black tea, resisting the urge to wipe around the rim of it until Shifty turned his back to pour Mulder's cup.
Chairs creaked and the fire crackled as Mulder and Shifty made themselves comfortable.
Scully took a sip of her tea and swallowed the strong liquid gamely. "Shifty, Mulder tells me that you believe the deaths of these three young men to be the work of fairies. That somehow, characters from an old legend are responsible for what is happening. What makes you think that?"
Mulder interjected before Shifty could answer. "I should tell you, Scully, that Shifty isn't the only person around here who believes that."
"He's right, dearie. My father and Sir Montague's grandfather were the ones who found the bodies of two of the boys a hundred years ago. They both could remember their fathers telling them about similar events going back to the time Carter Hall was first built. It is said that Janet, the wee girl in the ballad Tam Lin, was in fact the daughter of the first Lord Montague who came to Carterhaugh in the sixteenth century."
Mulder interrupted again. "So that would make the child she was expecting by Tam Lin an ancestor of the present Sir Montague."
"But, Mulder, if that were the case then it would mean that Sir Montague and his ancestors are part fairy. That's not possible." Scully could hardly believe she was even having this conversation.
"That's what they say, dearie."
Scully shook her head in despair. She felt annoyed with Mulder for humoring the old man like this. It didn't seem fair. And as for Sir Montague - well, insanity was known to run in some upper class families - too much in-breeding.
"I don't mean to be disrespectful, Shifty, but... well, in isolated communities like this one, myths and legends can take on greater significance than they actually deserve. Don't you think..." she didn't get chance to finish her sentence because Shifty's indignant voice cut in.
"You think we're all stupid, don't you? You think that because we live out in the sticks that we're backward or something."
"Well, I'm telling you that the Fairy Queen kidnaps these men in revenge for Janet freeing Tam Lin when he should have been her sacrifice. Now she can't get any rest until she finds a man suitable to replace him." The old man's voice climbed in pitch as he became angrier.
Mulder broke in then, his voice low and soothing.
"What makes you think that, Shifty? Why aren't any of the men she's taken over the years good enough?"
"I don't know the answer to that, Fox. If I did, then maybe I could find a way to stop it happening. Maybe I could find this last wee lad before anything happens to him."
Shifty's shoulders drooped and suddenly he looked old and tired. Mulder set his cup on the hearth and motioned to Scully that they should get moving. "I think we'll go and take a look at the area where they found the bodies ourselves, Shifty. Why don't rest and..."
The door burst open and a young red-faced man crashed in, sweating profusely.
Shifty sat bolt upright in his chair. "Christ, Jimmy, what on earth's the matter?"
"Oh, Shifty, it's terrible. I've found poor Hamish out in the woods. I think he's dead, Shifty."
"What? He can't be. It's not the right time." Shifty looked despairingly at Mulder who put his hand on the old man's shoulder.
"Let's go and take a look, Shifty. Agent Scully is a pathologist. She'll be able to tell us what's happened."
Light snow fell out of a gray and gloomy sky and silence descended as they followed Jimmy to the clearing in the woods where he had found the missing boy.
The young man's body was a pitiful sight, propped up against the trunk of a large oak tree. From a distance he looked as though he were taking an afternoon nap, until upon reaching him she saw his blank wide-eyed stare. That, and the fact that no one in his right mind would take a nap buck naked in the middle of a forest on a day when the temperature was struggling to get above freezing. His body was as white as the snowy ground it rested on, his red hair and bloody wrists a blush of color on an otherwise blank canvas.
Scully knelt beside the body and, leaning forward, habitually checked the pulse in his neck, even though it was obvious to all that the lad was long dead. She gave a cursory, visual examination of the cuts on his wrists, careful not to disturb the body until the police arrived, before turning to Mulder.
"The slicing of his wrists suggests suicide, however the lack of blood at the scene and the way the body is positioned indicates that he died elsewhere and was placed here."
"So you think he was murdered in a way that would make us think it was suicide?"
"No, Mulder. I can't say for certain whether or not he was murdered until I get a good look at him. At this stage, there don't appear to be any signs of a struggle, or any indications that he was held down by someone. We'll have to wait until the autopsy to find out for sure."
Mulder steered her gently away from Shifty and Jimmy who were staring slack-jawed at poor Hamish's damaged corpse. "This just doesn't fit the pattern, Scully. All the other men were murdered. The only thing that is the same here is the location."
"We don't know for sure that the other men were murdered, Mulder. I mean, it's likely, yes, but maybe they were suicides as well and the method just hasn't been detected yet."
Mulder persisted with his argument. "Even if they were suicides, which I very much doubt, they weren't as obvious as this one. And the date is wrong -- the last body was not supposed to be found for another three days. Something must have happened to make the fairies change their plan."
"Or maybe it has nothing to do with fairies at all. Maybe our all-too-human murderer got careless, or maybe Hamish tried to escape and this was his punishment. Maybe he did commit suicide and his captor dumped him because he is of no further use."
Mulder reached out and brushed an errant strand of hair out of her eyes. "Maybe," he whispered as he tucked it behind her ear, "he did commit suicide and the 'fairies' dumped him because he is of no further use." The back of his hand skimmed softly across her cheek and Scully suddenly felt light- headed. "Snow," he explained, and smiled gently.
Scully sighed. "Well, fairies or not, I'll see if I can assist the medical examiner and we'll find out what did cause his death."
"That's a good idea. Why don't you go with the body to Inverness? And while you're there, see if you can take a look at the other bodies as well. You might find something the ME has missed."
They headed back to the others. Shifty was shouting the details of their location into his hand-held radio.
"What will you be doing while I'm gone, Mulder?"
"Searching for Never-Never land, Scully."
"How long before we reach the base, Flight Lieutenant?" Scully's voice sounded eerily disembodied and robotic through the throat mike.
"We're approaching the naval base now, Agent Scully."
Scully held on tightly to her seat as the giant Sea King HAS 5 made its final descent. The helicopter was more normally utilized in anti-submarine search and strike and occasional search and rescue than as transport for visiting US Government Agents. However, Sir Montague knew a man who knew a man. As a result, the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm's finest had waited patiently for her to complete her autopsies after transporting her and the body to Inverness.
Scully smiled gamely at the observer and aircrewman who shared the rear of the helicopter with her as she fought the nausea that threatened to overcome her. At least the flight was marginally less terrifying than the Pass of the Cattle they had crossed yesterday. She let out a long sigh. Was it only yesterday that they had arrived in this strange land-that-time-forgot?
Mulder appeared to be having the time of his life, the occasional dead boy aside. And what was all that hair-moving, whispering and casual brush of her cheek all about? She didn't know whether it was Mulder's escalating boldness or her own arousal at his frequent touches that she found the most disturbing.
There had been a time when they were partners, equals, respectful of each other's boundaries. A time when he would touch her and she wouldn't snap at him. A time when his voice, low and seductive in her ear, hadn't sent tiny shivers rippling throughout her body. A time when she could stand in a forest looking at a dead body and not be thinking about how much she'd like to hear that voice whispering words of love and encouragement instead of death and destruction. If she listened hard enough, she could sometimes hear the words that lay hidden beneath the perfunctoriness of his everyday conversation. Blah, blah, blah ... aliens colonizing the planet, blah, blah, blah ... I want to run my tongue over the entire length of your body, blah, blah, blah ... are you listening to me, Scully?
There had been a time like that. Hadn't there? The cargo door of the helicopter opened and as she made her way to the waiting car, Scully resolved to get things back to the way they should be. Caring, respectful, affectionate, single-minded friends. That's what they should be, what they would be.
Mulder was heating a pan of soup when she returned to the cottage; the smell of tomatoes made her stomach growl and she realized that she hadn't eaten anything since breakfast.
He served the soup up with enormous chunks of bread and silence descended as they hungrily devoured the small meal.
At last Mulder could contain himself no more. "What did the autopsy show, Scully?" he asked through a mouthful of bread.
"The medical examiner was not the most cooperative person I've ever met. He wouldn't let me look at the previous bodies, although he graciously allowed me to view his reports. He appears to have made a thorough and professional job of the autopsies. I have ordered a couple of more obscure tests, but I don't think we're going to find anything."
"What about Hamish. Did the ME let you take a look at him?"
"Yes. He was quite good about that, actually. He allowed me to assist and we were both quite sure of our conclusions. Hamish committed suicide by slashing his wrists with what appears to be a piece of wood. We found splinters of wood in the wound and the irregular nature of the gashes would indicate that he sawed at his wrists rather than slicing them cleanly."
Mulder's face dropped. "Are you sure?"
"I'm quite sure, Mulder. I'm sorry, but Hamish committed suicide. There's no doubt in my mind."
Mulder began to clear the plates away. "I wonder what will happen now that the Fairy Queen no longer has a sacrifice for Halloween?"
"Mulder, the British police are treating these deaths as kidnapping and murder, and now kidnapping and suicide. There's no denying that Hamish and the others were kept somewhere against their will. But there's no evidence whatsoever to support your theory about fairies. It's just a case of trying to find the kidnapper before he strikes again. It could be that he is following the pattern of the murders a hundred years ago in order to confuse. If that is so, then he might well take another victim before Halloween. However, I don't see how we can help any further in this case, unless the British police ask us to assist them in their search."
Scully rose from the table and headed for the door.
"Where are you going?"
"I'm going to get changed and then I'm going to church. I met Hamish's mother at the morgue and they're holding a memorial service for the men this evening." She checked her watch. "In twenty minutes, actually. We got talking and she invited me along, so, that's where I'm going. Do you want to come?"
"I can't. Simon is home for a few days and Sir Montague is holding a small party. I promised we'd go."
"I don't think I feel like a party after today, Mulder. Why don't you go on your own? Besides, I haven't brought anything suitable to wear. Jeans and sweaters you said."
"I mentioned that to Sir Montague, but he's very persistent, Scully, and ..." his voice trailed off, leaving Scully suspicious.
"He's sent over some of his daughter's dresses. They're in your room. He really would like you to go, Scully. Simon would love to meet you."
She really could do without this. "I'll try to make it after the service," she snapped and headed for the shower, muttering under her breath. What was it with men that they had to arrange your schedule all the time? Mulder was always doing it and it damn well drove her crazy at times. She really did not want to meet Sir Montague. He sounded positively fascist the way he snapped his fingers and everyone jumped. And as for Simon, he and Mulder would probably end up reminiscing about their wild oats days at Oxford and she would be forced to listen to endless tales of their macho pursuits.
By the time she arrived at the small Kirk, Scully had managed to work herself up into a taut ball of frustration and anger and it was well into the third hymn before she started to calm down.
Gradually the words of the hymn seeped into her consciousness and peace made a tentative foray into her soul. The hymn was one that had given her great comfort during her cancer and she felt ashamed of her petty behavior earlier. Mulder wanted to share something of his past with her and she had turned on him yet again. She sang the verses softly, reverently, thanking God for every new day and for the endless possibilities of life.
"I fear no foe with Thee at hand to bless; Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness; Where is death's sting? Where, Grave, thy victory? I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
Hold Thou Thy Cross before my closing eyes; Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies; Heav'n's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee; In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me."
Sometimes it was easy to forget the important things in life. Like love, friendship, compassion and tolerance. Scully knew she was as guilty as everybody else when it came to neglecting her friends and their needs. Resolution number two and it wasn't even New Year yet -- she would be nice to Mulder's friends even if it killed her to do so. Yes, she would.
Mulder was nowhere to be seen when she let herself into the cottage. The fire in the grate had died down to glowing embers and the living room seemed quiet and serene in the half-light. Scully crossed to the mantelpiece and poured herself a small glass of whisky from the decanter. She had a feeling she would require a little help to get through the evening.
Her parents had entertained often when dad was home and she and Melissa had watched from the safety of the stairs as the grown-ups chatted and laughed. They both longed for the day when they would be old enough to be allowed downstairs to join the party. In the meantime they had made do with dressing up in their mother's clothes and holding fashion parades in their bedroom. Melissa would lay a blanket on the floor and then they would take it in turns to teeter down the catwalk, small feet dwarfed in their mother's shoes and lipstick smeared halfway up their cheeks. When Melissa approached her teens, Dana became dressmaker's dummy and pincushion for her sister's rags and bin- liners creations. Tears inevitably ensued when Dana wriggled once too often and Melissa slapped her a little too hard.
Her parents' parties had always been warm, informal gatherings, nothing like she was facing tonight. And what if all Brits were like Phoebe Green? Scully shivered unconsciously. It didn't bear thinking about.
A hot shower perked her up somewhat and she dripped her way to the bedroom where there were enough dresses laid on the bed to stock a small boutique. Oh, my Lord, Scully thought, as she checked the designer labels in each and every dress, there must be thousands of dollars worth here. Sir Montague's daughter certainly liked her haute couture.
She picked out a silvery number with thin straps and a low-cut front. A little too low-cut. Scully laughed when she saw herself in the mirror. This dress was Mulder's wet dream, there was no way she could ever wear something like this and get away with it. The fabric was cut so low at the front that it exposed one of her nipples every time she moved. The rest of the dress clung to her like cellophane, and was so see-through she could see the little roses on her cotton panties. Either the panties would have to go or the dress would. It would almost be worth the humiliation to see Mulder's face, but no, this dress was definitely not for her.
She tried on a few more dresses but they either made her look like a tart or a schoolgirl, neither of which would be good images to wear around Mulder.
Finally, she settled on a black dress tinged with silver. It was made up of three diaphanous layers that together were translucent enough to be sexy but not so that you could see underwear or nipples. Tiny silver sequins flecked the chiffon fabric, giving the effect of stars studding a galaxy. The dress molded to her torso but not excessively so and then flared out gently mid-thigh. She adjusted the thin straps and arranged the clinging bodice so that only the slight swell of her breasts showed.
Standing back, Scully appraised herself in the full-length mirror. God, she felt sexy as hell. No wonder women adored Versace. The dress made her feel feminine and powerful. I am woman, hear me roar she thought and then immediately was struck down with self-doubt. Who was she trying to kid? You needed to be strong and confident in your sexuality to carry a dress like this off, not a woman who only got laid when the moon was blue. A tiny war ensued in her head as her insecure side told her she would only make a fool of herself dressed like that. The side empowered by the magic of Versace argued that every woman deserved a change now and then, and if she believed in herself, so would every one else. To wear, to hide in a corner, to wear, to hide in a corner. Goddamnit, she'd faced worse than this on a boring, uneventful day at work. Versace won the battle and Scully headed for the big house, wearing his colors with pride.
A penguin-suited butler opened the door and led her to the drawing room where people sparkled in small groups as they chatted and sipped champagne. A maid offered her a glass and she accepted as she scanned the throng for a glimpse of Mulder. Small party, my ass, she thought. There had to be a hundred people at least in this room.
Suddenly, a large dark-haired man loomed towards her, his voice booming over the babble of conversation. "My dear, you 'must' be the elusive Agent Scully that Fox has been telling us so much about." A large hairy paw extended and her small hand was swallowed up as it was pumped enthusiastically up and down. "Come in, come in, don't look so frightened. I only eat small children and animals, never beautiful young ladies like you."
Scully laughed and warmed instantly to the huge smiling bear of a man. "It's Dana, please, Sir. And you are?"
He let go of her and steered her into an adjacent room, his hand placed firmly in the center of her back. Scully suppressed the smile that rose unbidden to her lips. How many of Mulder's secrets would unfurl tonight, she wondered.
"I'm the reason you're here, young lady. I'm Sir Montague, but you can call me Monty. Now, have you got enough to drink?"
Scully opened her mouth to answer but never got the chance.
"Peters! Dana here needs some more champagne. Hop to it, lad."
The young waiter smiled nervously at her and filled her glass to the brim with shaky hands. She thanked him and smiled encouragingly. A blush sprang instantly to his face and he tripped over the edge of the Persian rug as he moved backward without looking where he was going. Glasses crashed to the floor spraying droplets of champagne in a thousand directions at once.
Conversation ceased and all eyes swivelled in their direction. Thankfully Scully's dress had escaped the deluge but the same could not be said for the waiter or the Persian rug. The poor boy lay sprawled in a fizzing puddle of champagne and Scully held her breath as she waited for the wrath of Sir Montague to descend.
Instead he bent down and, pulling the boy onto his feet, brushed him down and checked his hands and face for cuts.
"Good grief, boy," he growled, "haven't you ever seen a beautiful woman before? Maria, go and get a mop and clear this mess up, and wipe young Peters down while you're at it."
He patted the boy's head affectionately and people lost interest in the mini-drama. A shiver ran through Scully's body and she had the intense feeling she was being watched. She turned to her right and found that she was indeed being surveyed. Mulder, another man and a woman were standing across the room. It was the man, who had to be Simon, given his likeness to Sir Montague, who was staring at her, mouth agape. Mulder was deep in conversation with the tall brunette at his side, seemingly oblivious to the commotion she had just caused.
Sir Montague headed over to the group and Scully followed. Mulder looked up as they approached. To his credit, his eyes only swept her body once and then fixed firmly on her face. He smiled warmly and it seemed to Scully as though the temperature in the room rose a couple of degrees.
"You made it then, Scully?"
"No, Mulder. I didn't have the time to attend both the church service and this party so I sent along a clone instead. Your task for the evening is to find out whether I'm the real me or not."
Mulder raised his eyebrows, a mischievous grin replacing the smile. "And how do you propose I do that?"
"I'm sure you'll think of something."
"You can count on it." His voice was low and teasing and the smile was broad on his face but the eyes that bored into hers were dark and serious.
Scully's stomach flipped as it was in the habit of doing lately every time he looked at her like that. The situation was not helped any by Mulder's attire this evening. He was very striking in his black tuxedo. He always did wear a suit well and this one was a good cut and looked as though it were tailored for him. His cummerbund was green and gave depth to his eyes. Eyes that were still locked with hers in unspoken communication.
She should say something, anything to break the spell. You look nice, Mulder. Why thank you, Scully. So do you. There, the formalities over and done with. Except that he didn't simply look nice. He looked positively edible. Handsome, brooding, dark, mysterious Mulder. The type of man your mother warned you about. Scully didn't trust her voice to be steady if she spoke, so she remained silent.
In true gallant form, Sir Montague came to her rescue, albeit unwittingly.
"I see you've not lost your touch, eh, Fox?" Sir Montague clapped Mulder so hard on the back that Mulder actually tipped a little forward before regaining his equilibrium. "Dana's a lovely girl."
"She's not my... we're not...." Mulder recovered the power of speech only to lose it again.
"We're just partners, Monty," Scully explained for the second time that day.
"So there's a lucky husband waiting at home then, is there?" Simon pushed forward and shook her hand. "I'm Simon Montague, in case you hadn't guessed."
"Dana Scully. Um, no, there's no one at the moment."
"Well, that's a damn shame, if you ask me." Monty graced her with a grin that went from ear to ear. "I'll leave you young 'uns to chat amongst yourselves. Bairstow's just arrived and I must talk to him about that damned tank of his, tearing up the hillside. What's the world coming to." He disappeared into the crowd, muttering under his breath as he went.
"I'm Julia Stevenson." The dark-haired woman took Scully's hand in a firm handshake. "It's nice to meet you, Dana. Fox has been telling us all about you."
"Has he?" Scully glanced at Mulder who smiled innocently.
"Your work sounds fascinating. I must say I'm not really surprised that Fox has pursued a career in the realm of the unexplained. He always was quite the stargazer at Oxford. I lost count of the times I woke up alone, always to find him lying on the grass in the Quadrangle -- looking up at the stars."
Mulder coughed and choked on his champagne. "I don't think Scully needs to hear about those days, Julia." He looked at Scully. "It was a long time ago."
He spoke the last part softly, almost apologetically and Scully was left wondering at his meaning. Why should it matter to her what happened in his past? And, more to the point, why should it matter to him that it mattered to her? Or maybe that's not what he meant at all.
Julia was certainly the type Mulder seemed to be attracted to. She was tall, dark, not beautiful but elegant and stylish. She had an air of quiet intelligence and sophistication. Warmth and humor shone in her eyes when she was talking about Mulder, so different from Diana and Phoebe in that respect.
She smiled at Scully. "I'm sorry, Dana. It's such a long time since I've seen Fox or Simon. I'm afraid we've all been tripping down memory lane. Fox tells us you're a doctor as well as a FBI Agent. Simon here's a doctor, aren't you darling?"
"Yes, for my sins. It's a thankless task these days."
"Oh, and you love every minute of it, Simon. Why else would you choose to practice in that God- forsaken hell-hole you call home?"
"God has not forsaken the good people of Govan, Julia, that's why he sent me to help them in their hour of need."
Mulder interrupted. "I don't understand, Simon. I thought you were a high-flying Consultant Pediatrician with a practice in Edinburgh that was a licence to print money. That's what you told me last time we spoke."
It was Julia who answered. "That was before Simon discovered his social conscience, Fox. These days he operates from a shabby pre-fab in the poorest suburb of Glasgow. None of his clients can afford to pay him and he's constantly on the scrounge for money and equipment. I hope you two have left your wallets behind, or else you'll leave here considerably poorer than when you came in."
"I don't remember seeing much of a social conscience when you passed oregano off as grass and sold it to half the people in the college. Do you remember, Julia? We had to barricade the door to our staircase to stop the angry mob tearing Simon limb from limb once they discovered his treachery."
Everyone laughed as they recalled the incident.
"I'm a changed man, Mulder, old chap. A changed man."
Scully observed the easy banter between the three old friends. Mulder was slightly flushed, either with champagne, or just from the company. He appeared to have slipped effortlessly back into this old relationship. She had assumed that Mulder had been unhappy at Oxford. He rarely, if ever, talked about his time there and the only person he had ever mentioned before was, of course, Phoebe. Now here he was chatting happily with an old friend and an ex-lover. Julia had her hand on Mulder's arm as she was talking and Mulder was smiling at her affectionately, his eyes locked on hers. Their relationship must have ended amicably, Scully thought. There was no sign of animosity between them.
She drained her glass and tried to look interested. Reminiscences were only ever amusing to those who were involved. The people telling the stories always assumed that everyone listening understood and was a part of it. It could be quite alienating at times. Scully had experienced this time and again throughout her childhood at different schools. Even when she made a few friends they already had a history together and their giggling tales only served to heighten her inner isolation.
She suppressed the nagging inner voice telling her that her feelings had more to do with the way Mulder was gazing at Julia than being left out of a conversation about old times. Mulder could look at other women however he wanted; it had nothing to do with her. Convinced of her own virtue, Scully decided to be pro-active and engage Simon in a discussion about his work in Glasgow. It did sound fascinating after all.
Simon was halfway through telling her about the high rate of malnutrition amongst children of the working class demographic when Scully noticed that Mulder and Julia had disappeared. She smiled politely at Simon as she covertly scrutinized the crowds for a glimpse of them.
"So I think that a radical shake-up of the National Health Service is the only way forward." Simon concluded his mini-rant and Scully sighed inwardly with relief.
"You're quite right I'm sure, Simon." She raised her glass to her lips and then looked at it as though she hadn't realized it was empty.
Simon noticed straight away and offered to fetch her a refill. Scully accepted, grateful for the chance to look around properly for Mulder. He was nowhere to be seen in this room or the drawing room and she wandered out into the hallway, drawn by the elegant strains of Strauss emanating from what was obviously the ballroom.
She spotted Mulder immediately. He looked rather uncomfortable as Julia swung him around the floor in an energetic waltz. His face lit up with a smile when he saw Scully and he waved behind Julia's back. She returned the smile and was about to cross the floor towards Mulder and Julia when Simon appeared with more champagne.
"There you are, Dana. I wondered where you'd disappeared to."
Scully felt instantly guilty for ditching Simon and so she accepted when he asked her to dance. He was an excellent dancer and they whirled gracefully around the dance floor. Scully could feel Mulder's eyes following her without even looking at him. He was holding Julia less tightly now; a Greyhound bus could park quite easily between them.
Simon twirled Scully to the rhythm of the music, and at every turn, Mulder was watching. She felt as though she were dancing with Mulder, not Simon.
The next dance turned out to be one of those godawful partner-swapping affairs. Scully was passed from man to man until she was briefly in Mulder's arms. He held her tightly, his body molded to hers. Blood rushed to her head, leaving her feeling faint. She hoped she wasn't blushing, even as she could feel the heat rising to her face.
He bent his face towards her and for a heart- stopping moment Scully thought he was going to kiss her.
Oh, God. That came straight out of left field. What to say?
"I'm surprised you noticed." No, that was not it. That was not the most appropriate thing she could have said by a long shot, she had to admit.
Mulder appeared unperturbed.
"I noticed," he whispered, before he was whipped into the arms of another woman and Scully was left staring at a sweaty man with stringy hair brushed across his bald head.
Flushed from Mulder's words, the champagne and the dancing, she decided to go outside to let the night air cool her burning cheeks.
The evening was cold but invigorating, and Scully made her way through the garden and down to the private beach.
The night-darkened waves of the Irish Sea dashed against the rocks that littered the shoreline. The sea always exerted a calming influence on her and she returned to it time and again for reassurance and contemplation. That was the worst thing about living in DC. It was too far to go to the beach. The Potomac didn't ever match up to the awesome power of crashing waves. Scully was reminded of the piece of music by Mendelssohn, "Fingal's Cave", which had been inspired by this very sea. She wished that she had brought the CD with her; it would have been quite something to listen to it sitting on a beach not a hundred miles from where it was written. Maybe she could persuade Mulder to detour via the island of Staffa on the way home so that she could see the actual cave that inspired Mendelssohn to create such beautiful music.
The sky flickered brightly and Scully watched in awe as fingers of green light flowed across the heavens, like ripples in silk. The ripples danced and swelled with light, breathing life into the firmament. She had seen the Aurora before on her trips, but she could never grow tired of its magic. Mulder would love to see this again.
Mulder. Now there was the rub. Although they had hardly spoken to each other all evening, Scully sensed that something fundamental had shifted between them. Whenever they were in the same room, he had watched her intently. His attention had aroused her, she had to admit.
Scully was so caught up in thoughts of Mulder that she didn't hear the footsteps approaching and Mulder's low voice made her jump.
"You're going to freeze your ass off out here, Scully. I brought you something to keep you warm." He draped a black velvet jacket over her shoulders, rubbing her arms through the material.
"Where did you get this, Mulder?" Scully hadn't bothered bringing a coat because the house was only a two-minute walk from the cottage.
"I stole it from the cloakroom. No one will miss it. The party's still in full swing." He grinned broadly and Scully felt herself slowly thawing from the warmth of the jacket, or was it from Mulder's arm, which was still slung across her shoulder? It was the jacket, most definitely. "What are you doing out here in the cold, Scully? Simon is missing you in there."
Scully leaned into Mulder's body as he stood next to her and his grip on her shoulder tightened a little. "I'm watching the sky."
Mulder began stroking his hand up and down her arm. The silk lining from the jacket caressed her bare skin; each smooth, sleek glide teasing the tiny hairs on her arm erect. She knew he wasn't just trying to warm her up. They were slowly crossing the boundary into unknown territory. She could stop it now if she wanted; they could turn back without having breached the line.
She didn't want to turn back, though. She wanted to discover what lay in the areas of the Mulder map currently marked 'here be monsters'. Here be pleasure, she hoped. She smiled inwardly and rested her head against Mulder's chest. His body tensed momentarily and it pleased her to know that he was as nervous about this as she was.
"So my little sceptic has finally given in and started looking for UFOs then. Is that what you're telling me, Scully?"
His use of the possessive pronoun made her shiver. "Sorry, Mulder. You'll have to try a lot harder than you have been doing if you want me to believe. I'm talking about the Aurora."
His hand left her shoulder and his fingers tangled in her hair, massaging her scalp in slow circles. God, it felt good.
"How much harder?"
"What?" Waves of calm were washing over her as his fingers continued their ministrations.
"I said, how much harder do I have to try to make you believe?"
The back of his hand caressed the side of her face; graceful fingers tracing the curve of her cheekbone down to the edge of her mouth, brushing across her lower lip.
She let out a small sigh of contentment.
Mulder bent slightly and placed a gentle kiss on the top of her head. "Do you like that?" he whispered into her hair.
Here was the line, Scully realized. Finally, their long journey together had brought them to the brink. There would be no going back. She offered a silent prayer to God, in case he was watching. "God, grant me the strength to do this, and then close your eyes while I do."
"Yes," she answered, and then tilted her head so that her lips brushed his.
The Northern Lights faded into the background as Scully savored the rich, dark-chocolate taste of Mulder for the first time. His lips were soft and pliant; they yielded gently to her tongue's persuasion. The kiss deepened and the heat rose as they hungrily explored each other. Scully was overwhelmed with the urge to climb all over Mulder, to press him down into the sand and devour him. She snaked her arms around his neck, working her fingers through his hair.
Their bodies were tight against each other and Scully rubbed up against his growing hardness. Arousal made her bold and she slid her hand between them, to touch the part of Mulder that had been denied her until now. She traced the outline of his erection through his dress trousers, relishing how hard he was already, for her, because of her. Her actions elicited a deep, throaty moan from Mulder. "Oh, God, Scully."
His hands roamed her body freely, caressing her ass, pressing her into him. If it weren't so damned cold, Scully knew she would take him here, now, on the beach beneath the red-green sky.
They broke apart and stared breathlessly at each other. Scully could see her own desire shining in Mulder's eyes. God, how she wanted him.
She reached up and kissed him gently before taking his hand. "Let's go back to the cottage, Mulder."
The sky blushed a deep red as they walked hand in hand back to the cottage. Scully wanted desperately to run, but that would just seem too eager. They had waited six years, another couple of minutes wouldn't matter; except that she was itching to touch him, to feel his warm skin against hers, his hot mouth all over her body. She quickened the pace and Mulder followed suit, squeezing her hand tightly.
Hurriedly, they made their way through the formal garden towards the side of the house. A few people were chatting in small groups, watching the sky's display. Scully fervently hoped they would make it through the throng without being stopped. Mulder was carrying the stolen jacket in front of him to hide his arousal and Scully couldn't prevent a chuckle from escaping.
"Don't laugh like that, Scully. You'll just make matters worse."
"You like it when I laugh, do you Mulder?"
"I do, actually, and. . ."
"Fox, Dana. So there you are." Julia sashayed towards them, swaying slightly as she did so. "You've been gone for an absolute age. Simon's quite bereft."
Mulder shifted uncomfortably, a thin sheen of sweat beading on his brow, despite the cold. Scully would have to get rid of Julia herself, and the sooner the better.
"Mulder and I were talking, Julia, and he thinks he has discovered a new angle to the case we were investigating. He wants to explore it as quickly as possible. You will excuse us, won't you?"
Julia gave them both a penetrating look, a smile playing at the edges of her mouth. "Yes, of course, my dear. I wouldn't want to stand in the way of your explorations. Have fun." She smiled warmly and then headed for a young blonde girl hovering near the door.
Mulder was open-mouthed. "Christ, Scully. You practically told her what we're going to do."
"I don't think she's all that bothered, Mulder." Scully gestured towards the door where Julia and the blonde were already deep in conversation. "I think she's got other things on her mind this evening, anyway."
Mulder stared at her incomprehensibly. Men could be so dense at times. His brow relaxed and his eyes widened as realization dawned. "You don't mean..."
Scully nodded. "Simon told me." She took Mulder's hand and dragged him down the dirt track towards the cottage. "Come on, Mulder. We were just warming up before. We don't want to lose all that heat now, do we?"
Finally they arrived at the cottage, and after a few fumblings with the key they were inside. It was dark and a little chilly in the living room, the fire having all but gone out. Scully flicked on a table lamp and dim light illuminated the gloom.
Mulder began trying to rekindle the dying embers of the fire and Scully headed for her bedroom.
"Where are you going?" Mulder's question caused her to stop at the closed door.
"I'm just going to slip into something more comfortable." She smiled almost shyly. "Isn't that what people say?"
Mulder didn't smile; he looked deadly serious. What was the matter with him?
"I. . ." He paused, seemingly searching for the right words. "I want you to stay in that dress. Please."
Ah, now she understood. This was too good an opportunity to pass up. "So, Mulder. What exactly is it that you like about this dress?"
Mulder rose from the fireside and crossed the rug towards her, stopping a couple of feet short. "It's not so much the dress, as the woman who's in it."
"Do you like me at other times, or is it solely when I'm wearing this dress? Because you know, Mulder, I don't think Monty's daughter is going to let me keep it."
"I was thinking more along the lines of how much I'd like to take that dress off you."
Mulder bridged the gap between them; Scully could smell his cologne mingled with his rich masculine scent. He placed his left hand on the door frame by the side of her head, effectively pinning her against the door. His body molded to hers, his erection pressing insistently into her belly. Her heart rate tripled and in a single, super-charged heartbeat the mood became serious. The time to stop playing games had arrived. She whispered her reply into his ear.
"Why don't you, then?"
There was nothing soft about the kiss this time. It was fierce and hot, full of need and want and dreams unfulfilled. Their tongues touched and tangled, making them both jump a little as the contact shot electrical waves through their bodies. At least, that's how it felt to Scully; she could almost smell the sparks from the fusion as they burned in the air.
She melted into the kiss, surrendering herself to Mulder's probing tongue -- soft, wet and teasing, provoking her into a fevered response. She was desperate to touch him, any part of him and her hands slid into his hair, tangling in its softness. Her fingers pulled at the short strands, twisting them around and around as she pressed her body into his, not caring that the sounds she was making were practically whimpers. She wanted this, needed it, didn't even want to rationalize it beyond the here and now. Why shouldn't they take pleasure in each other? She deserved to be loved, they both did.
Mulder was mapping her body with his hands, tracing her contours with deft fingers. Normally firm and toned, she rippled under his caresses, becoming fluid and boneless. His thumbs stroked the sensitive swell of her ass, fingers pressing into the curve near her legs, squeezing hard. The material of her dress was so thin it was as though it were not there at all and the shivers coursing through her body brought her skin alive. With her eyes tight shut she concentrated solely on the sensations his touch invoked. Mulder abandoned her mouth, leaving her gasping for air, and moved down to her neck, kissing his way around it until her loud moan told him he had found the right spot just behind her ear. He slid one of the hands clutching her ass lower, pressing into the juncture of her thighs, fingers rubbing along the perineum. Oh, God, it felt unbelievably good.
"Do you like that?" he whispered into her ear.
Oh, God, yeah. She wished only that there were no barrier of clothing, so that she could press back against his fingers as they pushed into her from behind. He would have to be a contortionist to achieve that from this angle, however. She disentangled her fingers from his hair and held his face in her hands. Running her fingers over his full lips, red and swollen from her kisses, she grazed them lightly with her mouth.
"Mulder, let's go over to the fire, get a little more comfortable."
He nodded, unable or afraid to speak. She didn't need words to know what he was feeling. His eyes, as dark and liquid as a pint of Guinness, spoke of his desire for her and she led him over to where the fire was crackling, alive in the grate.
Mulder took his jacket off, throwing it over the arm of the sofa, and pulled his bow tie off, unbuttoning the top of his shirt as he did so. Mimicking his actions of the night before, Scully settled on the rug with her back against the cold leather of the chair making a vee of her own legs.
Mulder nestled between her thighs, his back tight against her chest. His head lolled forward as she ran her fingers across the nape of his neck and under his shirt collar. She used her thumbs to trace arcs up into his hair, enjoying the uncontrolled shivers that rocked his body under her hands. She kissed his sensitive skin, lingering there, marking him.
"Take your shirt off," she requested gently, and with shaky hands he unfastened the rest of the buttons. She slid the shirt down and off, exposing his beautiful back for the first time, at least in this context. Looping her arms around his body, she crossed her hands over his chest and laid her cheek against the smooth, warmth of his back. She held him there, not moving, just listening to his heart as it thumped wildly in her ear; her head rising and falling with every breath he took.
Scully closed her eyes and adjusted her breathing to match his, taking the time to enjoy the intimacy of the moment. Mulder's hands covered hers and she felt tears prick her eyes; she couldn't believe they were doing this, and at the same time couldn't believe that they hadn't already. It felt natural, like they had been touching each other like this for years, and in a way they had. They had been making love with looks and small gestures, touching each other, invading each other's space.
She knew what Mulder's hand on the small of her back meant to him; it meant the same to her. That she was his and he was hers and no one could ever touch her there like he could. And she had wanted the tattoo there to try and claim it back from him, to separate herself from his life, his quest. She did not belong to him; she was her own person. She had not realized at the time that she did not have to lose herself in order to belong; and that as much as he laid claim to her, she could also lay claim to him, if she wanted to. And she did want to; she could see that now.
"Scully?" Mulder unclasped her hands and turned around so that he was on his knees and facing her. "Is anything wrong?"
His brow was furrowed with worry, and confusion. A tear dripped onto the front of her dress and it was only then that she realized she was crying.
She wiped her face with her hands and smiled at him. "Nothing's wrong, Mulder. Nothing at all."
"We don't have to do this, Scully, you know that. If you don't want to, we can stop right here."
"I don't want to stop, Mulder." She moved onto her knees as well and they faced each other. Running her hands through the soft hair on his chest she bent forward and kissed him again, fiercely.
"I want to love you," she whispered as they parted, "and I want you to love me."
"I do, Scully. I love you."
His arms wrapped around her, holding her so tightly to him she could hardly breathe.
"Unless you've developed a sudden interest in necrophilia, you'd better let me go."
He laughed as he pulled back. "Necrophilia doesn't do it for me, Scully. I like my women to tell me if they like what I'm doing to them, and the dead don't moan when I do this . . ." His hands cupped her breasts through her dress and tweaked her left nipple hard between finger and thumb. A jolt of pure pleasure ran down the invisible wire that connected her nipples to her clitoris and she did indeed moan, and loudly.
"Oh, you're too easy, Scully. And way too overdressed." Mulder slid a hand around to her back and eased the zipper down. The thin straps of her dress fell limply down her arms and he peeled them the rest of the way down, slipping her arms out as he did. With the zipper undone, the dress glided off her small frame and bunched around her knees. Mulder bent his head to her right breast and sucked the nipple into his mouth while rubbing his thumb over the left one. Scully went into sensory overload. Mulder's mouth was hot, his lips moist and firm as they sucked at her. He changed tack and his tongue lapped gently, teasing her lightly, until she was pushing herself into his face, silently begging for his mouth again.
He looked up at her, his mouth wet and inviting. "You taste salty. Can you taste it on me?" He plunged his tongue into her mouth and she sucked on it but couldn't taste anything except the remnants of champagne that lingered there.
"No, Mulder, I can't."
"Maybe if we tried the other breast."
He lavished the same attention on the previously neglected breast and Scully was growing hotter by the second. Her heart was pounding a mambo rhythm in her chest, just below where Mulder was making her feel so good. He kissed her again and this time she swore she could taste the salty tang of her own skin on his tongue. It only made her hungry for him, to savor his lush flesh as he was doing hers.
Pushing him back onto the rug, she stepped out of the dress and stood over him, naked except for her panties. She felt bold at that moment; the evidence of Mulder's arousal was tenting his trousers most alluringly and she kicked her heels off and straddled his calves. He tried to reach up towards her but she shoved him back down again. She wanted to enjoy this moment, to create a memory that would last forever for them both. Slowly, she undid the cummerbund, tossing it casually to one side. Next came the hook and eye, which was fiddly but she managed to undo it and reach the zipper. Mulder was breathing hard, his chest rising and falling at an alarming rate.
The zipper got stuck halfway down and it took her a long minute to get the material out so that it could do its job and glide down to the end. By now, Mulder was laughing so hard that she was bobbing up and down on his legs, her breasts wobbling most unattractively in the air.
"Stop laughing, Mulder. This is supposed to be sexy."
"It is, Scully. It is, honestly."
He stopped laughing when she slipped her hand in the waistband of his boxers and ran her nails lightly down the length of his erection. He stopped laughing and let out a loud moan instead. That was much better, Scully thought, and eased his trousers and shorts down in one go. His penis sprung free and pointed proudly at her.
"Oh, my," she remarked out loud, and then ran her tongue over the smooth tip.
Mulder hissed as he sucked in air and she swirled her tongue harder, pressing it into the little slit at the head, lapping up the fluid that was already gathering there.
"You taste salty, as well. Do you want to taste yourself on me?" Her voice came out lower than usual, and Mulder's eyes closed as she dragged her body up over his. They both groaned as they made contact for the first time and Scully settled herself on Mulder's erection as she leant forward to kiss him.
She planted her hands on either side of his head and rubbed herself along his shaft as they kissed. The friction created was wonderful and her clitoris throbbed, flooding her with moisture as her body pulsed at high octave. It was too much, she had to have him inside her now; she couldn't wait any longer.
She removed her panties and settled back over him. As she rested astride him she became aware of how quiet it was. The only sounds were those of the crackling fire and their own labored breathing. An irrational fear overtook her. So many lines had been crossed tonight but this was the ultimate one, the one that would change everything.
Mulder looked at her, his brow furrowed, and his eyes. . . His eyes seemed huge, the pupils so large the black almost eclipsed the green. She was surprised to see her own fear mirrored in his face. He felt it too then, the enormity of what they were about to do. They were on the threshold between what they were and what they could be. It felt to Scully as though the universe had finally expanded to its limit and was pushing vainly at the edges of space. In that moment, time stood still.
"Scully. . . I. . ."
Holding his cock steady, she lowered herself onto him, gasping at the brief stab of pain as her body resisted the invasion. She paused for a second and then continued her journey, sinking slowly to the base.
"Oh. . ." little staccato breaths escaped her as his cock filled her completely. She couldn't tear her eyes away from his. Warm fingers of firelight flickered across his face and she watched, enthralled, as the fear melted away and something else burned in his eyes - passion, wonder and, yes, love.
She squeezed her internal muscles tightly around his cock and held him there, neither of them moving.
Mulder brushed his hands over her belly, trailing his fingers lightly down over her damp curls, to where they were joined. His thumb stroked her clit and she cried out, the pleasure was so sharp.
She reached down and guided his fingers around her sensitive clit, never quite touching it.
"Like this?" His thumb moved in small circles, around and around, and the heat rose between her legs and began to spread throughout her body. She started to move then, slowly at first, and then faster as they fell into a rhythm.
"Oh, god, Mulder, Mulder." She called his name loudly and over and over again as his cock pressed against a pleasure point inside her with every thrust.
She was close to the edge, poised on the brink.
Mulder's hand was a blur as it rubbed her clit. Oh, sweet, sweet pressure. Sometimes the moment just before, when she was on the verge but not quite, was the most pleasurable part of all. She wanted it to last forever. And then it was there, and she was falling. Oh God, oh God, oh God. Warmth radiated from her toes, travelling through every nerve, muscle and sinew, until it exploded in her head. Scully felt as though a surge of electricity had jolted her body, even her hair and her teeth felt the buzz.
She slowed her rhythm as her orgasm drained her of energy, forgetting for a moment that Mulder was not yet sated.
"God, Scully." Mulder's awed voice brought her further back to earth and she began to move again, sliding his cock almost out of her before taking it back in again. It felt exquisite to her over- sensitized flesh and she worked quickly to bring back the rhythm they had established before. As Mulder's breathing quickened, she took her cue to speed up. Mulder was uttering inanities, nonsense words strung together by her name. She could feel another climax building as she rode him and she urged him to let go, to let it all out.
"Oh, Scully." He thrust up into her as he came, his warm semen flooding her. Her vagina contracted wildly as her orgasm overcame her, her internal muscles doing the job that nature had intended as they tightened around his cock, making sure that not all of his seed spilled back out. That was a cruel irony, not lost on Scully, but she didn't want to think about that right now. Not when Mulder was pulling her to him, holding her tightly. His cock slipped out as she curved against his sweaty body.
"I love you, Scully," he whispered into her hair.
"I know you do," she replied, and let the rhythm of his heart lull her away as it thrummed against her ear.
Scully woke shivering; her back was cold where it was exposed to the chill air, and yet her front was warm and cozy. It took her a few seconds to realize that Mulder had stolen half of the comforter, and only the parts of her body that were snuggled against him were covered. She tried to sneak some of the blanket back but he groaned and wrapped himself more tightly into a ball, taking even more of the covers with him. "Blanket thief," she whispered into his back as she molded her body to his to appropriate some of his body heat.
How long had it been since she had woken up in bed next to the warm body of another, her nose buried in his sweet-smelling skin? Far, far too long. And now, finally, here she was next to Mulder, the smell of sex on their bodies, the hot, sultry taste of him on her bruised lips. She had thought it would be awkward for them, the morning after. What do you say to your closest friend when you awaken naked in his arms, clammy bodies stuck together as a result of your exertions?
It had not been awkward at all. The cold had stirred them at the same time; the fire having long since died out. They had looked at each other in the dim light and smiled. Finally.
And now she knew that Mulder had a secret smile, a heart-stopping, knee-trembling, oh-brother of a smile that was both loving and lascivious at the same time. A smile that held a secret shared between two people. Scully wondered if she had one too, and realized that she did because she could feel the curve of it on her face right at this moment.
And who wouldn't have, after experiencing what he had done when they had stumbled into her bed in the early hours? Her heartbeat quickened at the memory of his tongue's eager explorations of her most intimate places. She sighed aloud and Mulder stirred and stretched an arm out, catching her squarely in the nose.
"Ow!" She pushed the offending arm away.
He was fully awake now and smiling esoterically again. "Morning, Scully."
"You want to be more careful where you put your hands, Mulder." She regretted the choice of words immediately, as Mulder's eyes sparkled with mischief. She made a mental note to think carefully before speaking in future, otherwise they would never be able to have a civilized conversation again.
Mulder pulled the covers off them both, exposing her to the cool air and his heated gaze.
"So, where would you like me to put my hands, then?"
"Mulder, we don't have time for this. We're supposed to be meeting the local detective at twelve noon and it's..." Scully reached across to the bedside table to pick up her watch. "Shit... it's eleven o'clock already, Mulder. We have to get dressed."
Mulder moved a little closer and took her watch out of her hand, turning it face down on the table.
"We still have an hour," he whispered suggestively.
Scully was determined to stand firm. "No, Mulder. We have work to do. We can't abandon our obligations just because we did... what we did... last night."
Mulder pinned her arms above her head and settled himself on her midriff, his cock stiff and warm and tempting as it rested on her stomach.
"You mean what we did as in, had sex, made love, did the wild thing, fucked like bunnies...?"
"I prefer to use the term made love, but yes, all of the above." Scully tried to wriggle out of Mulder's grasp but it was useless, he was far too heavy.
"I prefer the term fucked like bunnies, myself... it has prolific connotations that I like the sound of."
"I mean it, Mulder," Scully murmured as his hot mouth descended on hers.
"So do I," replied Mulder, and any further words of protestation were captured and silenced by his lips as they closed around hers.
. . .
The grandfather clock struck half past the noon hour as they were ushered into the drawing room of Monty's house by Maria, the young maid.
The room was still littered with empty wineglasses and the multi-colored detritus of spent party poppers. Two maids and a houseboy were fluttering about, collecting bottles here, dirty plates there, carefully sweeping around the comatose body of a reveler who hadn't made it to one of the bedrooms.
Scully tapped the sole of her shoe repeatedly on the wooden floor. She hated being late for appointments; she was never too early, never late, always on time. One night with Mulder and her standards were already slipping.
"I hate being late, Mulder. It's so rude."
Mulder shuffled and grinned. "You only have yourself to blame, Scully. You could have stopped me if you had really wanted."
Scully moved a step closer to him in order to refute that remark but Monty's booming baritone interrupted them.
"Mulder, old chap, and how are you this fine morning? And Dana..." he let out an exaggerated sigh. "My, you were a sight for an old man's sore eyes last night, my dear. If only I were twenty years younger." He puffed his chest out proudly. "Mind you, youth isn't everything, you know. I could show these young 'uns a thing or two. Isn't that right, Mulder?"
"I'm quite sure you could, Monty."
Monty steered them through to the kitchen, where an enormous pot of tea sat in the middle of a huge, scrubbed farmhouse table. A small, thin, wizened old woman was hovering over the stove, spooning batter onto the griddle.
"Are you hungry, by any chance? You both look as though you could do with a good feed." Monty motioned them to take seats at the table, and poured three large mugs of steaming tea.
Mulder took his cup, blowing the steam off the top before laying it on the table. "I've just eaten, actually, Monty. But I don't think Scully has had her fill just yet. I don't know where she puts it all. You wouldn't think she had such an enormous appetite looking at her, would you?"
She glared at Mulder as Monty passed her a mug of tea. How could the bastard keep such a straight face? And didn't the British ever drink coffee? She would give Mulder's right arm for a cup of creamy Java right now. Then again, without his right arm he wouldn't be able to...
The cook placed a plate of Scotch pancakes in front of her and just the smell of them made Scully's stomach growl. She was ravenous. She hadn't eaten anything since the soup of the previous evening, and, if she remembered correctly, sex always made her hungry in the morning. She knew that Mulder hadn't eaten either, but he would have to suffer now for his lewd remark by not getting any breakfast. She tucked into the pancakes with vigor, and even treated herself to a spoonful of maple syrup. No doubt she would work off the calories later.
Monty explained to them that the policeman, Detective Sergeant Mackenzie, had come and gone, called out to a new spot in the forest where one of his constables had found a bloodied piece of wood.
"DS Mackenzie is willing to accept any help you can offer him so that he can solve this case before any other poor sods go missing. Of course, he's wasting his time."
Scully looked questioningly at Monty. "Why do you say that?"
"Because, my dear, these murders are nothing that any mere mortal man can do anything about."
"Don't tell me you believe in fairies as well, Monty?"
Mulder interjected. "I told you he did, Scully. Monty's grandfather, along with Shifty's father, found a couple of the young men a hundred years ago."
"It's true, my dear. The legend of Tam Lin is taken very seriously in these parts. His blood flows strongly through the veins of the Montagues."
Scully resisted the urge to roll her eyes. No wonder Mulder had been friends with Simon and has family.
"Are you familiar with the ballad of Tam Lin, Dana? Monty asked.
"I'm not, to be honest, Monty. Mulder only told me about it yesterday morning, and so much has happened since then that I really haven't been able to find the time."
"Well, I could tell you all about it, but I know a man who weaves a far better story than I ever could." Monty glanced at his watch. "Let me see... it's nearly one o'clock, he'll probably be in the pub right now."
Scully was intrigued, "Who will?"
"Shifty. He's a bard. He has a wonderful gift for bringing the old tales alive. If we buy him a good whisky, we can probably persuade him to tell you the tale."
Scully could see the afternoon sliding away once they all got in the pub and the whisky flowed. Still, there were worse things she could be doing, she reasoned. She smiled and nodded. "That sounds great, Monty."
Monty pushed back his chair and rose from the table. "The pub it is, then."
Mulder drained his cup, "I think I might just take a look at the crime scene again before I join you in the pub. I want to talk to DS Mackenzie, anyway."
Mulder and Monty headed for the back door.
"I guess we'll see you in the pub in a short while then, Monty," Scully said as she reluctantly left the rest of the pancakes on her plate and followed them into the courtyard.
Mulder stopped walking and turned towards her. "There's no need for you to come too, Scully. I only want a quick briefing from DS Mackenzie and then I'll be back."
"Don't you want me to take a look at the piece of wood they have found? I should be able to give you some idea as to whether it's the same piece Hamish used to cut his wrists."
"There's no need, I'll bring it back with me and you can look at it then. I'll be quicker if I go on my own. I'll be back soon."
"But Mulder..." Scully called after him but it was pointless. Mulder was already striding down the path towards the hill they had climbed yesterday, heading towards Carterhaugh Wood.
Scully sighed with exasperation. Some things never changed. It wasn't as though she had been that far behind him yesterday. She couldn't help it if took her twice as long, and twice as much effort to keep up with his colossal strides. She was in better shape than he was, damn him; she had to be if she didn't want to lag behind.
"Don't bother about him, Dana. It's not that he doesn't care, he just doesn't think about others when his head is full of his own ideas. He was like that when he was a young man."
"I'm fully cognizant with Mulder's preoccupations, Monty, believe me. After six years, there isn't much about him that doesn't annoy me."
Monty placed his arm around her shoulder and they walked to the front of the house and down the long driveway towards the road.
"Still, as long as he's good in bed, eh, Dana? You can forgive a lot for a good lover. Am I right?"
Scully laughed. "I'm sure I don't know what you mean, Monty."
. . .
The Carterhaugh Inn was only a short walk from Carter Hall and they were soon ensconced within the small whitewashed building. The inn was set on one side of the road that divided the hills from the sea. Scully looked out of the window and out towards Skye as she waited for Monty and Shifty to return with the drinks. There was a large, gray object cruising down the channel that looked remarkably like a battleship. Scully shielded her eyes against the glare of the midday sun and squinted at the object. It was indeed a ship, some kind of Destroyer judging by the array of electronic equipment cluttering the masts.
Bill had owned hundreds of model ships when he was younger, all carefully constructed and lovingly hand-painted. He had bored her to tears more often than she cared to remember with the different types and names. It was funny, the kind of things that she could remember. Sometimes, she could hardly remember Melissa's face, or that of her father, and yet she could recognize a British destroyer even though she had only ever seen a toy model twenty- five years ago. Of course, there were also times when the faces of her father and Melissa haunted her dreams with their clarity.
She missed Melissa with a deep ache right now; missed having her on the other end of the phone line, coaxing the details of last night's encounter out of her. Scully never kissed and told, always kept her private life private, but Missy could always somehow tell from Scully's tone of voice that something monumental had happened.
Scully sighed. She could imagine Missy's reaction when she told her. She would laugh and say, "What took you so long?" It just didn't seem that long. A lifetime could be lived in a heartbeat, and that is how the past six years sometimes seemed to Scully.
"Here we are, then." Monty placed the drinks on the rickety wooden table and pushed an unbelievably large whisky in her direction.
"A coffee would be just fine, Monty. I..."
"You can't drink coffee in a Scottish inn, Dana. It's just not cricket. When in Rome, and all that."
Scully went to take a sip of the whisky but Monty stopped her.
"Swirl it around in the glass first, and then put your nose in and inhale deeply."
Scully did as he instructed and the strength of the whisky made her eyes water and her nose burn. She looked at Monty who was smiling.
"Now take a sip and tell me what you can taste."
Scully swirled the dark liquid around her mouth, and tried not to cough when she swallowed it. "It tastes like iodine."
"That's the peat. Lagavulin is distilled on the Isle of Islay and the spring water they use in the process runs through peaty soil, giving the whiskies of Islay a very distinctive flavor."
"She's a game lass, isn't she, Shifty?" Monty raised his glass in a toast. " Slainte mhath! Good health!"
"Slainte." Shifty nodded at Scully. "So, ye want to know the story of Tam Lin, eh, dearie?"
Scully was beginning to wonder whether she did. This was Mulder's pet theory, not hers. Trust him to leave her in the middle of a Scottish pub accompanied only by a crazy, though endearing peer of the realm, and a frankly weird old man who was already three sheets to the wind if his glazed eyes were anything to go by.
Shifty thumped his fist on the table, making Scully jump.
"Landlord!" he shouted. "My stool, please."
A tall, bony man hurried out from behind the bar, carrying a battered three-legged stool covered with torn red velvet. He set the stool down next to the back wall of the pub, and Shifty settled himself onto it, pipe in one hand, pint in the other.
Murmurs rippled through the small crowd of drinkers and all eyes fixed on Shifty.
He took a sip of his pint, a deep puff from his pipe, and after a long exhale of smoke, he began. His voice was low, whispering the tale to his eager audience, and everyone had to lean in close to hear the words of the ballad.
"O I forbid you, maidens a', That wear gowd on your hair, To come or gae by Carterhaugh, For young Tam Lin is there.
There's nane that gaes by Carterhaugh But they leave him a wad, Either their rings, or green mantles, Or else their maidenhead."
Scully could hardly make a single word out. Shifty's accent was strong before, but now that he was in storytelling mode it had grown thick and guttural.
Shifty continued weaving the tale.
"Janet has kilted her green kirtle A little aboon her knee, And she has broded her yellow hair A little aboon her bree, And she's awa to Carterhaugh As fast as she can hie.
When she came to carterhaugh Tam Lin was at the well, And there she fand his steed standing, But away was himsel.
She had na pu'd a double rose, A rose but only twa, Till upon then started young Tam Lin, Says, Lady, thou's pu nae mae."
Scully turned to Monty, who was smiling and mouthing the words silently to himself, along with the rest of the audience it would seem.
"I don't understand a word of it, Monty. What's he saying?"
"He's telling how the Lord's daughter, Janet, my ancestor, was out walking in Carterhaugh Woods one day when she came upon Tam Lin at the well with his horse. Tam Lin vanished, only to reappear when Janet plucked a double rose. Plucking the rose is symbolic; it is, in fact, Tam Lin who does the plucking when he takes Janet's virginity and impregnates her. He was quite a rascal was old Tam Lin. He demanded sex from all the girls who crossed his path."
Monty emitted a deep-throated laugh, causing the drinkers nearest him to turn and glare.
Scully smiled. "He sounds like a guy I used to know in high school, Brian "The Toad" Snode. He used to hang outside the locker rooms and wouldn't let you pass without giving him a kiss."
Scully shivered at the memory. "It was the only way he could get any action, I guess."
Monty grinned. "And did it work? Did he always get a kiss?"
"He did for a while, until my friend Louise pretended to seduce him in the locker room, and I sneaked in and stole his pants and underwear. We hoisted them up the flagpole, and he never hung outside the locker room again."
Shifty had obviously reached an intriguing part of the tale, because his voice grew softer, and people leaned in closer to better catch his words.
Scully looked enquiringly at Monty.
"Janet asks Tam Lin whether he has always been an elf or whether he has ever been mortal. He was captured by the Fairy Queen, and may be sacrificed to hell on Halloween as part of the tithe the fairies must pay to stay on the land. Janet can rescue him, but she has to undertake a trial first."
"And what would that involve?" Scully was curious as to how the tale ended, despite not believing a word of it. She still couldn't see the connection between the tale and recent events.
Before Monty could answer, the door opened and a gray-haired man in a tatty old suit walked in accompanied by a young uniformed police officer. The older man headed over to Monty, who introduced him to Scully.
"Dana, this is DS Mackenzie. He's leading the inquiry into the murders."
Mackenzie shook Scully's hand warmly. "Call me Bill. I'm pleased to meet you, Dana. Monty was telling me all about you and your partner this morning." He scanned the crowd briefly. "Is he here? I'd be interested to hear your opinion on this case. I believe explaining the unexplained is what you are good at."
Scully frowned. "Isn't Mulder with you? He left a while ago to visit the crime scene."
Mackenzie shook his head. "I haven't seen him. Mind you, we weren't in the woods for long; our men didn't find any other evidence. It's as though the body just appeared out of thin air."
Monty grinned at the DS. "Or from another world we can't see, but which exists in parallel to ours."
Mackenzie sighed and raised his eyebrows at Scully. "You're the scientist aren't you, Dana? Tell him there are no such things as fairies."
"It's pointless, Bill. Mulder is exactly the same. The more you try to reason with him, the wilder his theories become." She glanced out of the window. "I wonder where he is?"
The police officer left to give a talk on community safety to the local primary school, and Bill settled down next to Monty. More drinks arrived and soon the two of them were involved in an animated discussion about fairies, tithes and parallel universes. Scully had heard similar arguments too many times before, indeed had participated in such discussions, and her mind soon wandered to thoughts of Mulder.
She wondered whether he would come straight back when he realized the others had gone, or whether he would poke around a little first. Whatever he did, she hoped he wouldn't be too much longer. It would be getting dark in an hour or so, and he didn't know the hills well enough to be out on them at nightfall. Plus, she had a few things in mind for later on, and she didn't like to be kept waiting.
She allowed herself to drift away into memories of the previous evening, and Shifty's voice and even Monty's baritone faded into the background.
. . .
Scully awoke with a start, and opened her eyes to find herself staring straight into Monty's avuncular face.
"I was going to say you were away with the fairies, but seeing as you don't believe in them..." Monty grinned at her. "Did you have pleasant dreams?"
Scully looked around her; the pub was almost empty. Shifty was sprawled across a bench, snoring softly. The only other sign of life came from the Landlord, who was absentmindedly wiping glasses as he gazed into the distance. Scully wondered what he was dreaming about.
Something else was missing, though. She wrinkled her nose as she tried to think what it was. Mulder.
She sat up straight. "Where's Mulder?"
Monty placed his hand on her elbow and eased her out of the chair. "He's probably at the cottage now, making you something nice for dinner. That's where I'm going to take you right now."
Scully wasn't convinced. Mulder had said he would come straight to the pub. She looked at her wrist where her watch should have been. Damn, it was still face down on the bedside table.
"What time is it, Monty?"
"It's five o'clock, dear. Time for tea."
Should she be worried? It wasn't as if Mulder couldn't take care of himself, but still, mountains were very unforgiving if you made a mistake.
"Aren't you worried about where he is, Monty? I'm sure he would have come straight to the pub, like he promised."
"Why don't you wait until we get back to the cottage, and you can know for sure whether he is there or not. I wouldn't worry if I were you; he's a grown man, he can take care of himself."
Monty ushered Scully out of the pub and into the dark night. There was no moon, and the sky was ink-black. The Milky Way was spread out above them as they walked back down the road but Scully barely gave it a glance.
She was fairly certain that Mulder would not be in the cottage when she got back. There was no reason for him not to have turned up at the pub; he had wanted to talk to DS Mackenzie as much as the DS had wanted to talk to him. He wouldn't have passed up the opportunity, she was sure.
Doubt and uncertainty gnawed at her stomach as she followed the beam of her flashlight back to the cottage. She quickened her pace. The sooner she was back, the sooner she would know for sure.
End chapter seven
It seemed as though the walk back to the cottage took forever. Scully was practically running by the time they arrived at the front gate to Carter Hall.
The cottage was in total darkness as they approached, the beam of the flashlight bouncing off whitewashed walls and black-hole windows. Scully inserted her key and her heart sank as she opened the door to a cold and silent living room.
She dumped her keys on the wooden sideboard and ignored them as they skidded off the edge and clattered to the hard floor.
She moved swiftly through the small cottage, doors banging behind her as she abandoned one empty room for the next. She knew Mulder wasn't going to be in any of the rooms; there was no reason for the entire cottage to be in darkness, and he would surely have come out by now to see what all the noise was. She kept looking nevertheless. Maybe he had a migraine or something and needed to lie down. She didn't think he ever got migraines, at least ones not brought on by psychosis, but there was a first time for everything. Wasn't there?
Despondent, she returned to the living room, where Monty was waiting.
"Try not to worry, Dana. If Mulder was able to get a signal up on the hill he might have telephoned the house and left a message for you there. And what about your cellphone? You can leave messages on that can't you?"
God, her cellphone. She'd become so used to not using it since arriving that she hadn't even given it a second thought.
She ran into her bedroom and rummaged in her suitcase until she found it. She switched it on and appraised the blank screen.
Monty moved so that he was looking over her shoulder. "Is there a message?"
"I can't tell. You need a signal to be able to access any messages. I forgot about that."
"Well, why don't we head over to the house and see if he has called there. If he hasn't, we can drive up to McLeod's Point where you can get a signal."
Scully grabbed her fleece and jacket and they headed out into the dark. She had a feeling this was going to be a long night.
Mulder had not left any messages at the house, as far as they could tell, and now they were heading towards McLeod's Point in the old Landrover. Peters was at the wheel, and Scully hoped he wasn't as easily distracted today as he had been at the party. Dropping glasses was one thing; driving off a cliff quite another.
They drove the four miles in silence. God, she hoped there was a message, hoped that he was sitting in Shifty's cottage having been caught out by the fading light. She would kill him, of course, for being stupid enough to go out into the woods ill-prepared and making her worry like this. What if he said he was injured? What if he was lying somewhere in pain while she had been sleeping off a large whisky in the pub?
She tapped Monty on the shoulder. "How much longer until we reach McLeod's Point, Monty?"
"We're here now, dear," Monty replied and Peters brought the Landrover to rest at the side of the road.
Scully leapt out and switched the phone on again. The signal indicator blinked proudly at her, but there was no message envelope. She dialed Mulder's number and heard only the recording informing her that the person she was trying to reach was unavailable.
She snapped the phone shut in frustration and turned to Monty, shaking her head at his enquiring look.
"I think we need to call for help, Monty. It's late, it's cold, he's been gone for nearly five hours when he should have been back a long time ago."
She handed the phone to Monty. "Call the emergency services and whoever else deals with these situations. Tell them we have a Federal officer missing and we need to coordinate a search and rescue. Maybe we should get a team together of our own and head out to the crime scene. Can you organize some of your staff into a search party?"
"I'll call the emergency services and they will contact the ARCC, that's the Aeronautical Rescue Co-ordination Centre. They deal with all Search and Rescue situations. I will certainly get as many people as I can together for a search party, but we must wait until the officers arrive from ARCC Kinloss. If we rush off into the night looking for Mulder, it will only result in them having to look for us when we get lost. And if they're looking for us, they're not concentrating their efforts on finding Mulder. And Dana..."
He looked her in the eye and smiled slightly. "Don't rub the RAF up the wrong way, will you? You're not in charge over here and they don't like being told what to do. Just a piece of advice from a friend."
"I appreciate what you are saying, Monty. But my only consideration is to find Mulder before he freezes to death. I'll do whatever it takes to make sure that happens."
Monty smiled again and rubbed her shoulder. "I'll go and do the necessary, dear."
Soon, Scully could hear him barking orders into the phone. She stared out over the dark expanse of sea.
Pinpricks of light flickered along the coastline of Skye, the many lighthouses flashing their danger signs. If she watched for long enough, Scully knew that she would be able to tell the individual lighthouses from the length of time between each rotation. She looked behind her at the black mass of hills barely discernible from the night sky. Mulder was out there somewhere. There was no comforting light to warn him of danger and gently guide him to safer waters. He was in trouble; of that she was certain.
Panic welled inside her. What if he was dead? The thought popped into her head and lodged itself there. Would she know? She had known when her father had died. Her bond with Mulder was different to what she'd had with her father, but it was strong nevertheless. She had accepted his death in New Mexico; had felt the heat from the boxcar and known without a doubt that he was dead. There was no way he could have survived such a ferocious fire. And then she had dreamt about him so vividly that she had woken convinced that he was still alive. She couldn't explain it, and would never admit it to Mulder, but deep inside she had felt his presence, not as a spirit or as a memory, but his vitality, his life force, his chi, as Melissa would have called it.
This morning, when she had woken next to him, she had felt as though the final connection had been made. All the little threads that held their lives together had been gathered up and pulled tight. Surely she would have felt the loss if the bond had broken. She would feel the emptiness.
She didn't feel anything right now. She couldn't decide whether that was a good thing or a bad thing.
She jumped when Monty tapped her on the shoulder and handed back her phone.
"I've alerted the emergency services and the local Mountain Rescue Team is assembling in Fort William, so they should be here within a couple of hours."
Scully stared at Monty. "A couple of hours? That's far too long. The temperature is already dangerously low. If he's injured and exposed, hypothermia will be taking a hold, and once that happens..." God, Scully didn't even want to think about it.
"The ARCC has its own MRT and a Sea King helicopter carrying them here from RAF Kinloss will probably be airborne by the time we get back to the house."
Scully headed back to the Landrover. "Well, let's get back and organize our own crew. That way we can be ready to go to Carterhaugh Wood when the RAF arrives."
She might only be a civilian in this country, but there was no way she was just going to sit around like a panicking relative or loved one, waiting and hoping. She had to do something to find Mulder and she didn't care how many burly RAF officers she pissed off in the process.
Monty continued to make calls and by the time they arrived back at the house the driveway was already cluttered with vehicles.
DS Mackenzie met them as they pulled up behind the other vehicles.
He nodded at Monty. "Dana, it's nice to see you again, although not under these circumstances, of course."
"How did you get here so quickly, Bill? I would have thought you'd be back in Kyle of Lochalsh by now, eating your dinner." "I should be by rights, only Mrs MacPherson wanted a chat, and you know what she's like when she gets going. I'd only got halfway up the pass before I got the call about Mulder."
He turned towards Scully. "So, you definitely think something has happened to him, then?"
"It must have. He's been gone far too long and he didn't take any equipment with him. I think he had his flashlight and that's about it."
They walked towards the large playing field at the side of the house. The headlights of two four-wheel drive vehicles illuminated a group of five people poring over a map that was spread out on the hood of a pickup truck.
Mackenzie continued to question Scully as they approached the men. "And he's usually quite good at calling and letting you know where he is, I take it?"
Scully hesitated. "Um, well, he doesn't always call." Make that he doesn't always call and when he does he never gives a straight answer to her questions, she thought. "But he's never been in a situation like this before. There's nowhere for him to go, nothing for him to do. He was supposed to meet you and then come to the pub. I can't think of any reason why those plans should have changed. It's not even as though he might have bumped into Shifty and got talking about old times. Shifty was in the pub with us the whole time."
They arrived beside the pickup truck and Monty clapped a couple of the men on the back and proceeded to go over the map with them.
Mackenzie looked puzzled. "The fact that he was on his way to the crime scene has been niggling at me for some time. You see, there's only one route he would have followed to the woods, and my men and I used it to on the way back to the pub. I can't understand why we didn't meet on the path."
Scully's reply was drowned out by the noise of the huge Westland Sea King helicopter as it loomed out of the darkness and landed on the twenty-five yard line.
The cargo door opened and a stream of jump-suited RAF aircrew poured out. A tall, lean figure strode over to the group.
Mackenzie looked at Scully and raised his eyebrows. "The ego has landed," he muttered. He grinned and held out his hand. "Flight Lieutenant Henderson. A pleasure, as always."
"Save it for someone who cares, Mackenzie," came the reply in a decidedly female voice. The officer removed her helmet to reveal a strong, angular face. Her dark hair was arranged neatly in a French braid. She was very striking, and her height gave her an imposing manner; her height, and the fact that she was glowering at everyone in range of her blue eyes.
Undeterred by her dismissive remark, Mackenzie smiled and waved Scully forward.
"Dana Scully, meet Flight Lieutenant Jane Henderson. She's the officer who will be coordinating the search for Agent Mulder. Henderson... Agent Scully."
Henderson nodded curtly. "Miss Scully." Scully smiled thinly.
"It's Dr. Scully, actually, Flight Lieutenant, and now that you are here I think we should get this show on the road." Henderson ignored her and addressed Monty.
"I have thirty aircrew who will form the core of the mountain rescue team. One team will go directly to the area where Agent Mulder was supposed to be heading. The other teams will divide up the map of the surrounding area between them. I will take my pilot, winchman and winch operator and we will use the helicopter's night vision goggles and infrared camera to explore the area from the air. If he's out there then the camera will identify his heat source and we can either collect him ourselves if it is safe to do so, or direct the nearest ground crew to his position."
"I have a small group of volunteers," Monty told Henderson. "They're experienced at search and rescue, and they all know the hills like the back of their hands."
"I don't want a bunch of civilians out there, Monty. They'll only do something stupid and then we'll have lots of casualties and not just the one."
Henderson started to move towards her aircrew, who were drinking tea helpfully provided by the cook from Carter Hall. Scully moved in front of her.
"Flight Lieutenant. I really think I ought to go with the team headed for the crime scene. I've been to the area already and I know the route Mulder would have taken. I..."
Henderson sighed and fixed her with a glare. "Why is it that other people always seem to know how to do my job better than I do? I just said I don't want any civilians getting lost on the hills."
Scully raised herself up as best she could on her walking boots, cursing the fact that she wasn't wearing her heels today. "I'm an officer with the FBI. I have been involved with search and rescue operations before. I know what I am doing and I would like the opportunity to help find my partner. Now if you won't assign me to the team, I will organize my own search party. I would much rather work with your crew and share our knowledge, but I am quite capable of working by myself if I have to."
Henderson waved her hand dismissively. "Monty. Assign one of your volunteers to each of my teams, but tell them they had better not get in the way or else I shall instruct my men to leave them behind and we won't bother coming to the rescue." With that she was off to brief her crew.
Scully had the distinct impression that the woman wasn't joking. God, if this was what the rescue team was like she'd hate to have the RAF as an enemy.
Monty headed over with a map and coordinates and a radio.
"I told you not to rub anyone up the wrong way. I'm glad I don't have to sit in that helicopter with her. She frightens me and I fought in the Falklands war, you know." He gave Scully a pat on the back. "Keep close to the others in your team. They know what they are doing. And try not to worry, my dear. If he's out there, we'll find him."
Yes, but in what condition, thought Scully but she didn't say anything to Monty.
"I'll be fine, Monty. I just need to be doing something."
"I know, dear. I know. Good luck!"
Scully joined her team members who were thankfully more welcoming than Henderson had been, and soon they were on the path that led to Carterhaugh Wood. Scully realised, as they rounded the back of the house, that she was in the very spot where she had last seen Mulder. She looked at her watch. It was six thirty. Five and a half hours since she had he had walked down this path. She hoped it wouldn't be another five and a half hours before they found him.
Scully and her team followed the path diligently. When they stopped to rest at a stone cairn, Scully was reminded of Mulder's description of the route as a coffin route. That was something she didn't want to think about too closely.
The Sea King buzzed overhead occasionally as they continued down the path. As they approached the clearing in the woods where they had found Hamish's body, Scully's heartbeat quickened. All of the other bodies had been found in this vicinity. Panic welled inside her and she swallowed hard to prevent it overwhelming her. Huge tree trunks materialised out of the darkness and then were swallowed back into the night as she swept the area with her flashlight. The tension mounted as the search continued. Each indistinct shape was a body, Mulder's body, until the beam identified it as just another bolder, another dense shrub.
If this were a movie, she would find a piece of torn cloth fastened to a briar, or maybe a trail of sunflower seeds. Of course, this was the real world and it was dark and freezing and God, was that a snowflake that just landed on the tip of her nose? Another one caught in her eyelash and she blinked it away. Snow was the last thing they needed right now.
Jameson, the team leader, approached her. "Henderson's just been on the radio. The helicopter has spotted a heat source half a mile north of our location. It's in dense woodland so the helicopter can't get close enough to send down the winchman. I'm going to take one of my men to check it out."
"Is the heat source moving?"
"It hasn't moved in the time the helicopter has been observing it." Scully shouldered her backpack. "I'm coming with you."
Jameson shook his head. "I need as many people to remain searching here as possible. It might be nothing and we can't afford to waste time having everyone haring off."
"Well, then take me and leave the other man here in my place. If it is Mulder then I want to be there. I want to see him for myself."
Jameson pondered her proposal for a moment and then rolled his eyes and sighed. "Henderson will have my guts for garters for taking you with me."
Scully offered up a shrug and a small smile. Jameson sighed again, and radioed his intentions to Henderson. Scully tried not to smile as the Flight Lieutenant's voice crackled loudly through the radio. Jameson somehow managed to placate her and he led Scully deeper into the wood.
Jamesons's radio crackled into life again as they neared the area identified by Henderson as containing the heat source. Her voice, sounding eerily disembodied through the radio, directed them straight to the spot.
There was a small thicket of shrubs and brambles and Scully shone her flashlight into its depths. Two rheumy old eyes blinked back at her. It was Shifty.
"What the hell are you doing out here, Shifty?" Exasperation and disappointment made her words sound harsher than she had intended, and Shifty flinched at her austerity.
She reached out a hand to help him up. "I'm sorry. It's just. We're looking for Mulder, he's missing, and I thought, I hoped..."
Shifty brushed some stray twigs from his tattered tweed jacket. "I know he's missing. I heard some of the locals talking about it. That's why I came straight here."
"Why? What's so special about here?"
"This is their area, the fairies. It's where they live, where they go about their business. I thought if I stayed here long enough I might see them."
Scully felt suddenly exhausted. It had been an incredibly long day, and the last thing she wanted was another pointless discussion about fairies with Shifty.
She took his arm and led him towards Jameson, who was relaying the latest events to Henderson. "You can't sit out here on a night like this, Shifty. We have to get you home."
The old man shuffled between them as they slowly made their way northwards a little further, towards his home. "I knew it was futile to come out here tonight, but I couldn't just sit at home and do nothing."
Scully was loath to humor him, but she was curious about what had led him to sit in the middle of a thicket in the dark. "Why is it futile, Shifty? And what were you hoping would happen?"
"I was hoping I might catch a glimpse of one of the fairies. I've seen them before you know, dearie. They don't come out very often, but with tomorrow being such an important day, I thought there might be more activity than usual. I thought that one of them might get careless. Here we are, then."
They had reached the tiny cottage and Scully's last remaining hope that Mulder was completely safe was shattered when they entered the cold, damp living room. No one was inside. Jameson busied himself building a fire and Scully settled Shifty into his favorite chair, covering his frail body with a thick woollen blanket.
"Why is tomorrow so important, Shifty?" she asked as she tucked the edges around him.
"You know why. Tomorrow is Halloween. The night when the Fairy Queen makes her final sacrifice. You won't find Fox until tomorrow night. I'm only worried that we'll be too late."
Scully soothed the old man's brow, brushing the few stray locks from his face. "I don't understand what you're saying, Shifty. What does this have to do with Mulder's disappearance?"
Shifty closed his eyes for a long minute, and at first Scully thought he had fallen asleep. Just as she was about to signal to Jameson that they should get back to the others, Shifty spoke.
"The Fairy Queen has captured Fox. Hamish must have escaped or killed himself and she was without a sacrifice for Halloween. Now she has Fox."
He yawned, his mouth wide and gummy. Scully glanced briefly at Jameson, who swirled his finger in a circle next to his head, as if to say the old man was crazy.
"It'll be up to you to rescue him, dearie. You'll have to undertake the trial as Janet did. If you don't, then I'm afraid the next time you see Fox he will be like all the others were."
Scully was about to question him further, but his eyes slipped shut and he began snoring softly through his open mouth.
She turned to Jameson. "What did you make of all that?"
Jameson shrugged. "I think he's just a crazy, lonely old man. We have to get back to the others and continue the search. There's still a lot of ground to cover and no time to waste."
Reluctantly, Scully left Shifty to his slumbers and headed back to the search party with Jameson. The snow began to fall more heavily and Shifty's words played over and over in her head as she stumbled through the semi-darkness. She had no idea what Shifty was talking ahout when he mentioned a trial. She couldn't recall hearing that part of the ballad; she must have either been asleep or talking.
None of this was helping to find Mulder, though. Shifty had been a distraction and Scully could feel the hours and minutes slipping away as they walked. She only hoped that Mulder had found some kind of shelter. She didn't want to ponder his chances of surviving a night in the open in this weather.
As they returned to the clearing, the snow began to fall more heavily and soon the beam from Scully's flashlight barely picked out Jameson's shape ahead of her as they stumbled along the path. It wasn't until she bumped heavily into the back of him that she realized he had stopped walking.
They both pitched forward slightly and she grabbed onto his arm to prevent him from tumbling to the ground.
"Shhh..." he whispered.
"What is it?" she asked as Jameson switched off his flashlight and then did the same to hers, plunging them into total darkness. Scully's heart was pounding so hard she could hear every beat as it split the silence.
"I thought I heard something." Jameson pressed his mouth so close to her ear his breath tickled the delicate hairs and Scully felt an insane desire to laugh. Oh, yeah, she thought, laughing now would be good. What could be more appropriate? Here she was in the middle of the woods, at night, in a snowstorm, blind as the proverbial bat, crouching on the ground listening for who knows what. Yes, it was a very good time to start laughing. She knew it was only the tension that was making her feel this way. Every nerve in her body was alert and strained; her brain was so full of conflicting emotions it was starting to hurt when she tried to think logically. But that only made her feel angry with herself. Now was not the time to start losing it, she needed to be strong and clear-headed. Mulder needed her to be strong.
She mentally forced all the negative thoughts down, hiding them away in the area of her brain reserved especially for these occasions. The swirling emotions were more difficult to quiet but with a little effort they too were locked away and the key thrown into the nearest bush.
She shut her eyes and concentrated on her surroundings. She heard it, then, a noise that sounded remarkably like a groan. It came again, this time more loudly and she was able to fix its location just off to the left of them.
She tugged on Jameson's sleeve to get his attention. "What do you think, Jameson? Does it sound human to you?"
She could make out Jameson's nod now that her eyes were adjusted to the gloom. "Let's check it out."
They switched their flashlights back on and carefully made their way towards the source of the groaning. The noise was quite loud now and more easily identifiable as human. Scully's heart was in her throat as they approached. Please God, let it be Mulder. It had to be. Who else would be out here in the dark? He sounded in a great deal of pain but at least that meant he was still alive.
A few seconds later and Jameson's flashlight picked out the shape of a man sprawled on his stomach at the bottom of a small gully.
"Mulder!" Scully cried out his name as she scrambled down the slippery slope of the ravine. When she reached the bottom the light illuminated the body more clearly and her heart sank. Mulder had been wearing jeans and a Gortex jacket when he left that afternoon. This man was wearing a dark green flying suit. It was one of the RAF crew from their search party. She gently pushed the hair back from his face and forced a smile while her insides twisted into a painful coil.
It turned out that the crewman had tripped over a broken tree branch and tumbled into the gully. Scully had examined his injuries briefly, and apart from what looked like a broken leg and wrist he was none the worse for his adventure.
Now, as she sat on a rock on the hillside waiting for the helicopter to pick the man up, her shoulders drooped and her body felt tired and limp. The disappointment she had felt when she realized that the body was not Mulder's turned to frustration and anger. Anger at the poor RAF guy for not being Mulder, anger at Mulder for still being missing after all these hours, anger at herself for her weakness. Tears pricked her eyes and she blinked them away.
She felt so helpless and she hated the feeling.
Looking at her watch she realized that it was nearly ten o'clock, nine hours since she'd last seen Mulder. She couldn't pretend to herself that things were all right because they clearly were not. She was fearful, now. Fearful that they were searching for a corpse.
The worst thing about being a doctor was that no one could soothe your fears with words of reassurance. She knew from her own experience that the words of doctors carried great weight with relatives, they believed everything a doctor told them. At medical school it had always surprised her and moved her when she saw such trust in the eyes of a mother or father. She held their hands and told them that the doctors were doing the best they could, and that she was sure everything would be fine, even as she knew their son or daughter was being pumped full of adrenaline in a desperate bid to bring them back from death.
But who reassured the doctor? She knew what the chances of surviving a night exposed to the elements were, even for a fit, healthy person. An injured person who couldn't move around and generate body heat was in even greater danger.
She could hear the helicopter before its beam appeared over the side of the hill and she ran across as the winchman was lowered down. She helped Jameson fasten the stretcher to the winch and watched as it was hauled up into the body of the Sea King.
The winchman dropped back down and Jameson motioned for her to get aboard. "Come on, Dana," he shouted.
"What's going on? What about the search?" She had to shout so loud, the noise of the helicopter was deafening.
"Henderson's called off the search for tonight. We'll resume again at daybreak."
Scully was aghast. "You can't call off the search now. We need to find Mulder as soon as possible. He won't..." survive, she thought, but couldn't bring herself to say the word.
Jameson gently maneuvered her towards the winch. "It's too dangerous, Dana. We've already had one casualty; we can't risk anyone else getting hurt. Besides, the helicopter shouldn't be flying in these conditions. Henderson's pushing it to the limit as it is."
Scully had no choice but to allow herself to be attached to the winch and taken up into the helicopter. She was seething with anger. Surely Henderson didn't have to pull everybody off the search? She would have to talk to her when they got back to Carter Hall.
Henderson was waiting with the rest of her crew when the helicopter landed on the playing field. Scully marched up to her. She was aware that her anger and frustration were bubbling dangerously close to the surface but she didn't care.
"What the hell are you doing, Henderson? You can't call everybody off now, we've hardly even begun searching."
Henderson's face set like a mask. "Dr. Scully. I realize that you are tired and worried about your partner, so I will forgive your rudeness..."
"Please don't patronize me. It's imperative that we find Mulder tonight. Prolonged exposure to severe cold will result in hypothermia, and frostbite. Mulder has been out there for nearly ten hours now. His core body temperature may be dangerously low. I strongly recommend that we return to the woods and resume the search."
"I'm not going to argue with you about it, Dr. Scully. I will not risk my men and my helicopter in weather like this. It is standard procedure for a search to be called off in such conditions. I'm assuming you don't want to be responsible for anyone else getting hurt tonight? The hard fact is that there is nothing more to be done until the morning. You have to accept that."
"We'll be back at daybreak. I suggest you get some sleep so that you will be fresh in the morning. Fatigue makes people careless, and I have no room for people who are a danger to themselves and my men on my team. You got it?"
Scully could only nod; she didn't trust herself to speak. Deep down she knew Henderson was right, but there was no way she was going to acknowledge that fact.
Henderson started to walk back to the Sea King, and then stopped and turned towards Scully.
"Oh, and Dana, I haven't lost one yet this year, and I don't intend to start now." Her mouth twisted into what could possibly have been a small smile and then she clambered aboard the helicopter and was gone into the night.
Scully stared after her for a long time, not moving until she felt Monty's arm around her shoulders. She allowed him to lead her into the house.
Scully woke to the sound of a cock crowing. Her back ached, her neck felt stiff, and the left side of her face was cold and numb. She opened her eyes and found herself staring down the kitchen table. No wonder her face was numb, she must have fallen asleep at the table while the others were talking.
Gingerly, she sat up, rubbing her cheek in an attempt to get the blood flowing back to the spot. A quick look around told her that she was alone, but she could hear the soft whisper of voices close by. There was no mirror in the kitchen in which to check her appearance, so she smoothed the wrinkles out of her combat trousers and flattened her hair down as best she could with her hands as she had done only two mornings ago. Mulder had laughed at her bed-head then, standing at the back door looking handsome and devilish, or was that devilishly handsome? Either description would have applied.
God, Mulder. Scully glanced at her watch, it was seven o'clock but still fairly dark outside. Eighteen hours now since Mulder was last seen. Twenty hours since he pulled her seductively down the bed and they had made love for the third time. Christ, they hadn't even been in this country three whole days yet. How can so much happen in such a short space of time? And how unspeakably cruel was it that she and Mulder had finally crossed the last barrier, only to lose each other, perhaps forever?
No, she wouldn't think like that, she couldn't allow such thoughts to cloud her heart and her mind. She gave herself a mental shake, took a deep breath and walked out of the kitchen towards the sound of the voices.
Monty was holding counsel in the drawing room with DS Bill Mackenzie and a couple of men Scully recognized as volunteers from the search last night. Large red circles decorated the map they were gathered around. Monty looked up as she approached, his kindly face grave and drawn. Scully could see large, black circles around his eyes and none of the men looked as though they had slept at all last night.
"Dana, my dear. Come on in, come on in. We're just plotting our offensive for the day."
"I'm sorry, Monty. I didn't mean to fall asleep. How long have I been out?"
"Only a couple of hours, dear. You dropped off just as Jimmy here was telling us for the third time how he climbed the Inaccessible Pinnacle twice in one day, and how his rope nearly snapped on the second climb and he thought he would plunge to his certain death."
Scully managed a small smile, which quickly faded when she saw the concerned look that passed between Mackenzie and Monty.
"What? What is it?"
It was Monty who finally spoke. "Dana, Bill here thinks that we ought to consider other possibilities regarding Mulder's disappearance."
"What other possibilities?" Even as she spoke the words, Scully knew the answer. It was something she had been putting off thinking about because the ramifications were too horrible to contemplate if it were true.
Bill coughed to clear this throat. "So far Mulder's disappearance has been treated like a search and rescue operation. It has been assumed that he is lost or injured in the woods or out on the hills. The search has been conducted accordingly. However, given the circumstances at the moment, circumstances which in fact you were here to look into, it is entirely possible that another fate has befallen Mulder. Now, this is only a possibility, because quite frankly it doesn't follow the pattern..."
Monty interrupted. "What Bill is trying to say, and may actually get around to saying before nightfall, is that whomever kidnapped and murdered the four boys may have taken Mulder."
"That is correct," Bill continued. "Now, as I was saying, it doesn't follow the pattern of the other kidnappings because they all happened a year ago, but obviously, the murders of those kidnapped men were very recent, with poor Hamish being found by your good selves only two days ago. Now, obviously, the murderer is still around, or was up until two days ago, so it is a possibility that he has kidnapped Mulder, although as I said, it doesn't follow the pattern..."
Scully was finding it difficult to concentrate on Bill's ramblings. It didn't matter that she was hardly listening, though. She knew where all this was leading. If the kidnapper had some kind of plan for his last victim, and that plan had been thwarted by Hamish's suicide, then he would need a replacement, and quickly. Whatever he had planned for the final victim would happen tonight. But if this was indeed what had happened to Mulder, then Scully didn't like the chances of finding him. The British police had not been able to find the other victims, and they'd had a year in which to look. This time, they only had one day.
Scully realized that Monty was speaking.
"...and we'll have plenty of people out searching. Simon had to rush back to Glasgow yesterday for an emergency, but he'll be back later and he's bringing some friends with him. If Mulder's out there, we'll find him, Dana."
Scully smiled, although inside she felt like crying. It was an impossible situation. Mulder was either injured and hypothermic by now, or he was being held against his will and a potential murder victim. Whichever scenario was the correct one, time was of the essence.
"Let's get going, then. Which area of the map have you assigned to me?"
Monty folded the map up and tucked it into his back pocket. "Henderson's got all the details. She's out on the playing field now, scaring the crap out of the volunteers."
Monty and Bill guffawed as they walked out of the room. "But can you imagine what she's like in bed?" Bill lowered his voice and spoke gruffly. "Put it here, now. No, not like that, like that. Now, when I say so, you can start to move." Bill laughed hard at his own joke.
Monty cast an apologetic look at Scully, who suddenly felt a pang of sympathy for Henderson. Why did all men assume that because a woman was strong and capable and forthright in her profession, she was bossy in bed? She might well be, but it wasn't a given.
People talked about her in the same way, Scully knew. She had seen the looks Mulder got from other men often enough. She would be putting forth her side of the argument, or giving someone an order, and the men would look at each other knowingly. She'd heard the words 'bossy bitch' whispered non- too subtly on many occasions. Mulder would get sympathetic glances, as though they felt sorry for him for having to put up with her, and God help the poor guy if he was screwing her as well, he must be some kind of masochist. Scully had heard all this and more. Whatever politicians said, there was still no equality in the workplace. Things might be more equal in terms of opportunity, and even pay, but not in the minds of a lot of people.
At least Mulder was not like that. He had always treated her with respect, arguing with her as he would with anyone, never one to pull his punches because she was a woman. Even on that very first day in the basement, his disdain had been for what he thought she stood for, not for who she was.
Scully prided herself on her independence, on her ability to make her own way through life, relying on nothing and nobody. She was her own woman, and always had been. But she couldn't imagine her life without Mulder in it. Not now, not after everything they had been through, all that they meant to each other. Making love hadn't changed that, nor even strengthened it. They didn't need sex to affirm their commitment to each other. It was a wonderful direction for their relationship to turn in, but it didn't alter the way things already were, and would be even if they never had sex again.
Mulder wasn't always very expressive emotionally; sometimes she put up with a lot without getting thanks or acknowledgment. But there had been occasions when he was more demonstrative than she; times when he had told her what she was to him, that she was his one in five billion, how she made him a whole person. She never said anything like that to him; expressing her deepest emotions didn't come easily to her.
She could see why Mulder thought she made him a whole person. They complemented each other well; she prevented him from slipping completely into fantasyland, and he helped keep her mind open. Together they could see the whole picture, and not just subjective parts.
She would never meet anyone else quite like Mulder. And she didn't think that anyone would be able to get so deep inside her, as he had. As the song said, he was under her skin, deep in the heart of her, never to be erased.
He wasn't her life, and yet he was. She liked to think that she could manage perfectly well without him, that if for whatever reason, it was all over tomorrow and they went their separate ways, she would have a good life, enjoy a fruitful career. She was more than capable of that. The fact was she didn't want to. She liked things as they were, enjoyed her life and everything in it. There were things she would change, of course, Melissa and Emily for a start, and it would be nice to have the choice as to whether to have a family or not. But on the whole, her life was good, and it was good with Mulder in it. She didn't want that to change.
She didn't want to lose him; didn't want to face the prospect of life without him.
She headed out to the playing field with renewed determination, and she even managed a smile when Henderson glowered at her and ordered her around like she was a fifth grade pupil on a field trip.
By mid-afternoon she was exhausted. Together, the search and rescue teams had covered the range of hills in closest proximity to the woods, and Henderson had ordered the helicopter to cover a wider circle. The search of the woods had been meticulous and thorough. No stone had literally been left unturned, and yet there was no sign of Mulder, no sign that he had ever even been in the woods.
Scully was back at Carter Hall with Monty and some of the other searchers. They were having a short break before heading out to a different search area.
Scully sipped her coffee as some more volunteers trooped through to the kitchen.
A loud voice broke through the rabble. "Dana! There you are. How are you holding up, my dear?"
It was Simon. Scully made to get up as he approached but he waved her to sit back down.
"Don't get up, Dana, you look absolutely jiggered."
Scully smiled. "I've had better days, Simon, it has to be said. It was nothing too serious in Glasgow, I hope?"
Simon sighed as he took a seat next to Scully. "A nasty business I'm afraid, Dana; a six year old girl with Leukemia, Sarah Miles. We've been waiting for a bone marrow donor for some time now, but with no luck. Still, she's in a better place now. At least, that's what I tell myself. It's not much comfort to her mum and dad, though."
"No, it's not. Nothing can prepare you for the loss of your child." Her voice cracked and Simon looked at her with concern.
"Dana, I... I'm sorry. Have you? I didn't know, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything."
"It's okay. Why would you know? It's fine, honestly."
"Mulder never mentioned a child. Did it happen very recently?"
"Nearly a year ago, and Mulder wouldn't mention it. It's not something I talk about very often. I had a daughter, Emily. She was only with me for a short time, but that time was precious, and something I will always be grateful for."
"That's a good way to look at it. Is it not better to have known her and loved her, if only for a short time, than never to have known her at all?"
Hearing Simon unknowingly echo Mulder's own words at Emily's bedside made something snap inside Scully, and a sob escaped her, followed closely by another one. She swallowed them back down. Now was not the time, now was not the time, she repeated to herself.
Simon put his arm around her and pulled her in to his chest. Hot tears welled and burned rivulets down her cheeks. Try as she might, she couldn't stop them, and soon Simon's jacket was shiny and wet with tears.
After a minute or so she pulled away. "I'm sorry. I'm just tired, and worried about Mulder, and..."
"You don't have to justify yourself to me, Dana. Tears are allowed, you know. Even Monty has been known to shed the odd one or two while watching 'It's a Wonderful Life'. He always claims that he has something in his eye, of course, but we know."
Scully laughed and snuffled the rest of the tears away. "I can't imagine Monty crying at old films somehow."
"Well, don't tell him I told you this, but he cries at 'The Sound of Music' every single time. And he's banned from watching 'The Elephant Man' because we can never hear the film over his damn sniffles."
Scully laughed again and Simon patted her back. "I know it's trite to say this, Dana, but I'm sure Mulder will be all right. I just have a feeling. He's tougher than he looks, isn't he? Quite a few chaps found that out at University, believe me. He was never one to shy away from a fight if it was to defend his honor, or that of someone else. Always the gentleman was old Mulder."
"I wish I could be so confident, Simon. It's just been so long, and if he has been kidnapped, then time is fast running out, I'm afraid. When we find him, he'll be dead."
Shifty appeared then, in the doorway. "That's what you should be worrying about, dearie. You can get Fox back if you want, but you have to be willing to believe."
"Shifty, I don't think Dana needs to hear your wild theories right now."
The old man continued regardless. "Fox knew. He believed, and if you want to save him, so must you."
Scully rubbed her aching temples. She wished briefly that Shifty would disappear. He was starting to irritate her with all this nonsense. "How can I believe you, Shifty? It's just ridiculous. There are no such things as fairies. Tam Lin is just a ballad, a folktale, invented to entertain people on cold, dark nights when there's nothing to do except drink and scare each other. I can't possibly believe it. I'm sorry."
"You're not as sorry as Fox will be tonight. I'll be out there, waiting, and if you've got any sense you will be too."
"Shifty, the police are going to set up a surveillance operation tonight, in order to try and catch the kidnapper. If there's anyone at all out there, they will find him. I'll be helping them out."
The old man spat in a gesture of disgust. "Pah! The police couldn't organize a piss-up in a brewery. They won't be in the right place. I will be, though. I'll be where I was last night when you found me."
Shifty walked across to the back door and opened it. "Fox believed. Why can't you? You're his only hope, Dana." The door slammed shut behind him.
Scully looked at Simon and shrugged. Shifty seemed so serious. He clearly believed what he was saying, and Mulder and Monty were happy to go along with him. So why wasn't she? Because it just so plainly wasn't true. How could it be? But then, what if she was Mulder's only hope, and she ignored him? What then? Damn! It was like giving up chocolate for Lent. She always managed fine until someone mentioned it, or waved it in front of her face, and then she couldn't get it out of her mind. Shifty's comments were going to niggle at her, she could tell.
"What's the plan now, Dana? Back out for another go?"
"The search has been widened now, and we all have new areas to cover. The police are setting up a surveillance operation, as I said, and if nothing has been found by tonight, then the operation kicks in and we'll take it from there."
"Once more unto the breach, dear friends, as they say."
"I thought that was just a myth, that the English quoted Shakespeare all the time."
Simon laughed. "Well, despite my accent, I'm not English, I'm a Scot, and don't you forget it." He grinned broadly. "Would ye rather I quoted Rabbie Burns at ye, wee lassie?
'Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie, O, what a panic's in thy breastie! Thou need na start awa sae hasty, Wi' bickering brattle! I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee, Wi' murd'ring prattle!'"
Scully laughed again. "Um, funnily enough, I actually studied that poem in high school. It's a classic, you know."
"Well who would have thought young Rabbie's mouse would have made it all the way to America? You surprise me."
"I can also quote 'my love is like a red, red rose', and everyone knows 'Auld Lang Syne', don't they?"
"You're quite right, of course. I'll tell you what we'll do to get us through the rest of the afternoon. I'll quote you lines from obscure British poems, and you can astound me with your vast and insuperable intelligence. How does that sound?"
Simon held the door open for her, and Scully stepped out into the afternoon chill. "It sounds pretty good to me, Simon. Let's go."
By the time the Police had everyone in place, and the surveillance operation was underway, Scully's nerves were so frayed she felt sure she was going to snap. Indeed, two RAF men had already borne the brunt of her frustrations when they got in her way earlier on, not to mention the poor Capercaillie which had dared to challenge her intrusion into its nest.
As she sat in the darkness, she couldn't get Shifty's words out of her head. She was Mulder's only hope. What if he died and it was her fault? She had begged him to let her save him in the past, which fortunately hadn't been necessary. Could she let him down now, when he needed her most? But if she went to Shifty, and something happened here, then she would be too far away to do anything about it.
She peered at her watch, trying to read the dial in the dark. It was nine thirty. Maybe she could go and check on Shifty and be back in time for anything that went down here?
She told Mackenzie where she was going, and taking her flashlight and a radio, she set off to find Shifty's hiding place in the woods. Thankfully, he wasn't too far away, and it wasn't long before she located him tucked away in the same copse he was in the previous night.
He smiled at her gummily. "I knew you'd come, dearie. You'd better settle in, there's a lot you need to know and very little time left."
Shifty unfolded another blanket and Scully squeezed through the bushes and sat down on it. She couldn't quite believe she was doing this. Still, it wouldn't hurt to hear him out, now would it?
Shifty whispered into her ear. "You'd better switch the torch off, dearie. We don't want them to see us before we're ready."
Scully turned off the flashlight and they sat in the dark. This would be creepy if it weren't so ridiculous, she thought. She wanted to laugh and cry, but she did neither. She sat quietly, listening to the night noises and waiting for Shifty to tell her his plan.
The night was as black as pitch. No moonlight or starlight penetrated the thick canopy of trees. Somewhere close by an owl hooted, making Scully jump. She pulled her jacket more tightly around her. The middle of autumn in Scotland was not the best of times to be sitting in a thicket in the middle of a wood. The bush next to her rustled and a small, indistinct animal rushed past to Scully's right as she sat cross-legged on the blanket.
Shifty was as still as a statue next to her. He hadn't spoken a word since Scully had sat down. She was desperate to ask him some questions, but she sensed that this was his show, and he would run it the way he wanted. She waited as patiently as she could.
She could recall another night spent huddled in the woods. That time there was no crazy old man sitting next to her, just crazy old Mulder. It sounded perverse to say it, but even though they were lost in the woods and in fear of their lives, that night had been one of the best nights of her partnership with Mulder. They had been through a myriad different nights together, some ordinary, some exciting, some downright boring, but that night had been special.
It was not long after her cancer had gone into remission, and she had been full of a renewed sense of hope. Sitting in that forest in Florida, Mulder cradled in her lap, she had felt close to God, to nature. She had felt truly alive for the first time in a long time. She'd only been half-joking when she'd made the crack about the sleeping bags. If Mulder had shown the slightest bit of interest that night things might have been very different.
Then again, she couldn't be sure to what extent her simple relief at being alive had clouded her judgment.
In the first couple of months after her cancer had gone, she had felt an intense need to connect, with friends, family, Mulder. She had slowly woven the web of her life back together again, throwing out strands, hoping they would catch in the familiar places.
If she were honest with herself, sex with Mulder at that time would have been another way of connecting her to life, another silken thread affirming her existence. It would have been a comfort fuck, in a way, never to be repeated.
She was glad they had waited. The threads of her life were stronger now, and she felt that there was a future to be forged, if they wanted to. If it wasn't already too late.
The sound of Shifty's voice was unexpected and for a moment Scully didn't know where she was.
"What is it?" she whispered.
"You have to believe, if you are to save him. Do you believe, Dana?"
"Believe in what? I don't know what you think is going to happen. I don't know what you want me to do."
"You heard the ballad, back in the pub. You know what you have to do."
Scully was beginning to get cramp in her right leg, so she stretched it out, flexing her toes to stop the pins and needles.
"Shifty, I, um, I didn't hear the end of the ballad. Bill Mackenzie arrived and then, I, well, I fell asleep, I think."
Shifty sighed, and then Scully felt his hand on her knee. She resisted the urge to pull her leg away.
"When the Fairy Queen captured Fox, she would have put him under a spell. When you see him, he might look the same but inside he will already have begun the change."
"What change?" Scully asked.
"The change from a mortal into an elf. His sacrifice at midnight will complete the process. If you don't undergo the trial, the Fox you know will be dead."
Scully shivered as much from Shifty's words as from the cold.
"I think it's time you told me all about the trial. If I have to do something to save him, then I want to be prepared."
There was the sound of a zipper opening, and for one long second Scully wondered just how much she was going to regret sitting alone in the dark with this strange old man. She wished she had her gun with her. The only weapon she had was her flashlight. She tightened her grip on its handle.
There then followed a hissing noise like air escaping a vacuum. Scully's heart started to beat faster. What was Shifty up to?
His hand groped for hers in the darkness, and when he found it he turned it palm upwards. Scully felt something warm against her skin; she recognized it for what it was and closed her fingers around it.
"That'll warm you up, dearie."
"Thanks, Shifty." Scully raised the plastic cup to her lips and drank the hot tea.
"Now drink that and relax for a bit. There's only a couple of hours left, and much that you need to know."
Scully pursed her lips and blew across the surface of the tea. Steam dissipated into the cold air.
"Tell me about Janet, Shifty."
Scully heard the scrape of a match and then in the resulting yellow light she watched as Shifty lit his pipe. His eyes were closed and his face was drawn and tense as he gummily sucked on the tip. It took three matches before the pipe was properly lit and Shifty exhaled a long plume of smoke. The smell was comforting somehow to Scully, reminding her of her father's late-night poker games with his navy buddies. The air in the dining room would be thick with smoke. Occasionally, she would sneak downstairs and her father would let her sit on his knee and shuffle the pack with her clumsy, childish hands. It was never long before her mother came in and hauled her off to bed, silently admonishing her father with a steely glare. Daddy would bow his head and look suitably chagrined, but he would smile and wink at her when her mother's back was turned.
"As you know," Shifty began, "Janet meets up with Tam Lin for the second time at the well. She wants to confront him about the pregnancy. He tells her that the Fairy Queen has transformed him into an elf, and he will be sacrificed at midnight on Halloween as part of the tithe the fairies must pay to stay in the land."
Scully remembered this part of the tale from the pub. She was impatient for Shifty to get to the point about the trial. Time was marching on, and the time left to find Mulder safe and well diminishing with each second that ticked away. She drummed her fingers on her jeans and tried to be patient.
"Tam Lin tells Janet that if she will undergo a trial, then he will be changed into a mortal again and free of the Fairy Queen's spell. The trial is not an easy one, and Janet will need all her strength to get through it and rescue Tam Lin. But above all, above everything else she must endure, she must believe, and she must love Tam Lin unconditionally, otherwise it will all be for naught. Only someone who loves Tam Lin can save him."
Scully could guess where this was leading, and why Shifty thought she was the only one who could save Mulder. At least it made a change from the handsome Prince rescuing the hapless maiden. The ballad of Tam Lin was fairly modern in outlook for an old folktale.
"But what does she actually have to do, Shifty? What does she have to go through?"
"The Queen and the rest of the fairies travel on horseback through the woods towards the place of sacrifice. Tam Lin is at the rear on a white horse. Janet must drag him from his horse and hold on to him while the Fairy Queen transforms him into various beasts, then plunge him into a well when he turns into fire. When he is his own self again, she must cover him with her green cloak and he will be free."
Apart from the obvious problems with this scenario, notably its implausibility, Scully could also see a couple of practical problems, and she voiced these to Shifty.
"Shifty, I'm wearing a blue Gortex jacket, not a green cloak, and I don't think there's a well in the vicinity, not one that I've noticed anyway."
"I thought about that," the old man said proudly.
There followed the sound of the zipper again and then Shifty's voice in the darkness.
"Shine your torch here briefly and you'll see."
Scully flicked the flashlight on, making sure she pointed it at the ground to absorb some of the light. Even so, the brightness made her eyes hurt after so long in the dark.
She examined the items Shifty was holding. He had a tattered green woolen blanket and a large bottle of Highland Spring mineral water.
Scully felt like crying. The hopelessness of the situation hit her full force.
Shifty actually thought that Mulder was going to appear in the woods on a horse and she was going to save him with nothing more than an old blanket, a bottle of water and her love. Fat tears slid hotly down her cheeks and she let them fall and stain the pale wool of the blanket.
Shifty reached across and took one of her hands in his, stroking her cold skin with his callused thumb.
"I know what you think of me, Dana. I know you think I'm a silly old man, and that I'm crazy for believing what I do."
Scully felt the heat rise to her cheeks at his words. Shifty was right. She did think he was crazy and it embarrassed her to hear Shifty voice her opinions of him.
"I, I don't..." she stammered.
"It's all right. I don't blame you in the slightest." Shifty gave her hand a gentle squeeze.
"I know that what I am asking you to believe sounds like the ramblings of a crazy man. I can't change the facts of the matter to be more palatable to you. I can't offer you any proof. I only ask you to have faith in me. Or if not in me, then in Mulder. He was willing to believe. Ask yourself what he would be doing now if the roles were reversed."
Scully didn't have to think too hard about that one. Mulder would be willing to give anything a try, the more abstract and fantastical the better. She had been willing to trust him before. When she was dying of cancer, when there was no hope left she had trusted him to replace the chip in her neck. She would perhaps never know whether the chip had saved her, but she was walking around with a piece of metal in her neck even now because Mulder believed that it would.
On the very first day they met, Mulder had talked about turning to the fantastic when science and conventional thinking have failed to provide answers. She had not believed him then, but a lot had happened in six years and if there was one thing she did have, it was the strength of Mulder's beliefs.
Maybe she should harness some of that strength now. It couldn't hurt. She should check on the progress of Mackenzie and the rest of the team, though, and let them know that she would be staying with Shifty for a while.
She switched the radio on and soon ascertained that all was quiet in Bill's area of the woods. The surveillance team had nothing to report, but they were happy that all potentialities were covered. Mackenzie promised to alert her the second anything happened and Scully left the radio on but the volume low.
A brief glance at her watch told her it was 10:45. Just over an hour to go until midnight.
Shifty was rummaging in his bag again. This time he produced a very small oil lamp and lit the wick. The light emitted was minimal, but less intrusive than her flashlight. Scully switched it off and appraised Shifty in the faint yellow light.
His thin face looked tired and worn-out, but his eyes were bright as he watched her watch him. Scully wanted to squirm in his gaze but she forced her body to stay still. She couldn't bear to sit here in silence; the quiet allowed for too much contemplation. Conversation was needed, she decided.
"So, Shifty. Why exactly do you believe that Tam Lin is a true tale, rather than a folktale? You said last night that you'd seen the fairies. I'd love to hear more about that."
The old man smiled and re-lit his pipe.
"I've known about the fairies and Tam Lin all my life. Like I think I already told you, my father and Sir Montague's grandfather found four murdered boys a hundred years ago, and the tales of previous murders have been passed from generation to generation. Sir Montague does have an ancestor called Janet on whom the legend is based. She did get pregnant before she was married, and although in the ballad it is implied that Janet and Tam Lin live happily ever after, in reality they didn't and she brought the baby up with the help of her family. Sir Montague is a direct descendant."
"Okay, so I can understand that the ballad of Tam Lin is based on a true story. I can understand that Janet became pregnant and was abandoned by the father. But for the sake of argument, Shifty, don't you think that maybe she made up the tale of Tam Lin in order to cover up the fact that she had slept with someone, maybe a boy her family would know? Maybe she was scared that they would think badly of her so she made up a fantastic tale that would somehow justify her behavior. Or, if Janet was forced into having sex against her will, then she could have invented the story as a way of coping with having been raped."
Scully was quite pleased with the latter explanation. The more she thought about it, the more plausible it seemed. She had read many case studies of women who convinced themselves that their rapes had not happened, or that their babies were conceived in more pleasant circumstances. For some women, it was the only way they could cope with carrying a child that was a result of rape; it was the only way they could feel any kind of love for the child.
Some women had also reported imagining other scenarios while they were being raped. Some imagined it was a lover making love to them. Scully thought it quite conceivable that a girl of Janet's age and innocence would use her imagination to cope with being raped, and would convince herself of the truth of her invention.
"That's a reasonable conclusion to make," Shifty retorted, "but there are other things that may make you think differently. Janet wasn't the only girl to see Tam Lin, nor was she the only one who ended up with child. As the ballad says, he was a wee rascal, and he took the innocence of quite a few girls around here. And then, of course, is the fact that I know the fairies exist because I've seen them."
There was such pride in Shifty's voice as he told her that Scully hadn't the heart to argue with him, so she let him tell his tale without interruption.
"I think it must be a gift," Shifty told her. "Only a few people have ever seen them. My father was one, and his father. I was brought up with the tale of Tam Lin, and others that are similar, like Thomas Rhymer. My mammy would read them to me on cold, dark nights and I would lie awake for hours afterwards, watching for the fairies. On my tenth birthday my da came into my room and told me to get dressed because he had something to show me. He brought me into the woods and we waited in this exact spot. Nothing happened that night, but he kept bringing me back until one night I saw them.
"I thought they'd be wee tiny things, no bigger than my own child's hand, but they were quite tall. Not as tall as an adult, but at least as tall as I was then. They were all dressed in green, except for one fairy at the front of the group who was dressed in red. My da told me she was the leader, the Queen of the Fairies and very special. I was lucky to see her that night.
"They didn't look at us or speak, and I remember asking my da why they ignored us. I thought they'd be scared. He said it was because they didn't really exist in our time, they were in another dimension and couldn't see us, but if we were to speak and to reach out towards them, a door would open between the worlds and they would know.
"Next time we went out I wanted to speak to them. I wanted so badly to talk to them and touch them but my da said that bad things could happen if I did that. The Fairy Queen doesn't like people interfering and she turns people into elves if they cross her."
Scully had a feeling that Shifty had wanted so badly to believe that he had convinced himself that he had seen the fairies. She often wondered that about Mulder and Samantha. Scully didn't doubt that Mulder's sister had been abducted, and that he witnessed at least part of what happened, but sometimes she felt that believing that aliens had taken Samantha was easier than accepting that she had been kidnapped and probably murdered by someone all too human.
It was this blurring of fantasy and reality that was evident in Janet's tale in Tam Lin, and in Shifty's tale of his childhood encounters with fairies.
There was something else niggling at Scully, which she hoped Shifty would answer for her.
"Why does the Fairy Queen kidnap and murder these men, Shifty? If she wants a sacrifice in revenge for Tam Lin then surely she's already achieved that. Why does she keep coming back for more men to kill?"
Shifty sucked on his pipe, his brow furrowed in concentration.
"I've thought a lot about this, Dana. I don't know for sure why she wants the men, and I don't know why it's only every hundred years. I can only speculate, if you want to hear that?"
"Of course," Scully replied as she glanced again at her watch. Half an hour until midnight. Her stomach flipped and the hairs on her arm stood up. The anticipation and uncertainty were starting to get to her. Her body began to shiver and she couldn't seem to stop the tremors.
"Here, wear this, it'll warm you up and you'll have it handy for later." Shifty draped the woolen blanket around Scully's shoulders and she pulled it tight. She drank some more tea, warming her hands around the plastic cup. After a minute or two the shivers subsided and she started to warm up a little.
"My theory is that the Queen wants a worthy adversary. I think she can only be free of Tam Lin and all that his loss represents if someone fights her for him and the Queen wins. She was beaten by Janet and she has been spoiling for a fight ever since. No one has ever challenged her before, so each of the men has died and the Queen is still not free. That's why you must make sure that you win the battle tonight, Dana. Everything will be lost if you don't, including Mulder."
"I'm still not exactly sure what you want me to do, Shifty. Tell me what to do."
Scully didn't feel like going to battle. She felt defeated and resigned. The closer the deadline of midnight was, the tenser she became. She felt like a guitar string wound to its limit. One turn of the screw too much and she would snap.
It was her resignation that made her go along with Shifty's plan, and listen to his instructions carefully. When a person has nothing left to lose, they have everything to gain.
Midnight approached, and in the final few minutes silence descended between Scully and Shifty. Even the woods were quiet, the only sound their fluttery uneven breathing.
Scully went over Shifty's instructions in her head. When the fairies appeared she must let three groups go by and when she sees Mulder she must pull him from his white horse, and hold on to him while he changes into a lion, a serpent, a water snake and then fire. If she makes it as far as the fire stage, then in the absence of a convenient well she must dowse Mulder with the Highland Spring. Then she had to cover his naked body with her green blanket and all would be well. This plan would be perfect, she thought, if the fairies actually appeared. Scully wouldn't be holding her breath for that eventuality, though.
A small laugh escaped her. She couldn't help it. Adrenaline was making her feel giddy, as though she'd drunk one too many lattes.
Shifty shushed her and silence reigned once again.
With a minute to go, Shifty turned off the oil lamp and they were once again plunged into darkness.
Scully's heartbeat was out of control now, its rhythm wild and untamed. She strained to distinguish shapes in the dark, and nearly gasped when a pinprick of light came into view, seemingly suspended in air as it bobbed across her line of sight like a will-o'-the-wisp. The light was so dim she could only make out shapes and not features, but the light was definitely attached to something fairly large, and after a black gap there was another light, and then another.
The procession, if that's what it was, was some way in the distance, out of the clearing and behind another row of trees. Scully peered into the darkness trying to turn the shapes into something she could recognize, human beings, animals or maybe even children. Not fairies, she thought; definitely not fairies. They couldn't be. Come to think of it, Scully wondered if she would recognize them as fairies, even if they were. From what Shifty had said, the fairies he had supposedly seen were more human in their appearance, not the delicate hovering creatures with paper-thin wings she remembered from childhood fairy tales.
Maybe it was swamp gas. Except there was no swamp in the woods, and swamp gas didn't have a definite shape and make rustling noises as it brushed against the branches of trees.
Scully made to move a little closer to get a better view, but Shifty held her back.
"Not yet," he murmured.
The lights bobbed along from right to left and after the third light had come more clearly into her field of vision there was another gap and then a fourth. This one was slightly larger than the rest and more discernible as a lantern. The lantern swayed to its own beat, and as it drew closer, it cast an eerie glow on its surroundings.
Scully could do nothing but stare as the light illuminated the white head and flowing mane of a horse. This could not be happening, she thought. She had been willing to go along with Shifty, but she had never really truly believed a word of what he had said until now. She tried to see whether the horse had a rider or not. The lantern didn't pick out the rest of the horse, just its head and the tops of its powerful front legs.
Suddenly, Shifty's arm was on hers, dragging her to her feet.
"Now," he whispered and he must have flicked her flashlight on because all at once there was light where there had been darkness and there was a dazed-looking Mulder sitting atop the horse.
"Mulder!" she cried. "Oh, my God, Mulder!" She ran towards him, crashing through bushes, heedless of spiny branches that scratched her face, and whipped into her eyes.
"Dana, don't forget what you have to do," Shifty shouted after her.
Scully didn't take much notice, though. All she could think about was that Mulder was here, he was alive and she had to reach him.
The horse reared up as she advanced and for an awful moment she thought it would throw Mulder and he would be trampled. He was holding onto the reigns with one hand and grasping the lantern on a wooden pole with the other, but he was making no attempt to stay on the horse. It was as though his mind was elsewhere.
She slowed her approach, talking nonsense to the horse in an effort to calm it with her voice. Her tactics appeared to have the desired effect and she reached Mulder and tried to pull him from the horse. The horse was large, Mulder was uncooperative, and she struggled. She couldn't really see what Mulder was wearing, but he didn't seem to have any trousers or socks on. There was no clothing for her to grab a hold of and pull on.
"Mulder, help me, please. It's me, Scully. You have to help me. I can't get you down on my own."
She could hear other horses now, their whinnying cutting through the air. There were voices and the sounds of feet crunching on snow and dead branches.
"Mulder, please." She was frantic now as the voices came closer. Shifty's voice rose above the rest urging her to hurry. I'm trying, I'm trying, she screamed silently.
In desperation she wrapped her hands round Mulder's bare calf and pulled with all the strength she could muster. She hoped fervently that if he fell off the horse he wouldn't bang his head on the ground. Oh, God, that would be too awful to think about. The horse began to shy away and Mulder slumped forward just enough for her to grab an arm as well as a leg and she pulled him from his perch as carefully as she could.
She wasn't careful enough, however. His weight was too great for her to bear and she crumpled under the strain. They both hit the ground hard, Mulder on top of Scully and she felt sick as the wind was knocked out of her. Her head snapped against the cold earth, the snow at least forming some kind of cushion, but not much, and the world faded to black.
When she came to, Mulder was still half on top of her and she had to gasp for every breath. She managed to roll them both over and when she opened her eyes she was shocked at what she saw.
It was Mulder, and then it wasn't Mulder. She watched in horror as he became each of the animals that Shifty had foretold. It was like seeing the Seraphim again, only more frightening because this was Mulder and this could not be happening.
The lion's face was terrifying, his mouth wide in an angry roar, his dark eyes wild. Every nerve in Scully's body was telling her to run. Her muscles were tensed, her mind alert. She could jump up now and be away before the animal could react. But it was no animal, she told herself. It was Mulder, and somehow she was being tricked into thinking she was seeing something she wasn't.
She resolved to hold on to Mulder no matter what happened, but as the lion disappeared only to be replaced by a hissing serpent and then a water snake, it was hard to fight her body and her mind when all they wanted to do was flee.
Mulder was shaking violently beneath her and she closed her eyes as she straddled him, pinning his arms to the ground. It was like riding a rodeo bull and it took everything she had to hold on.
She could hear the babble of voices much louder now. They were all around her. Hands reached out to touch her; she could feel small fingers closing around her wrists, trying to loosen her grasp on Mulder. She kept her eyes tight shut. If she didn't see it, it wasn't happening. Holding on to Mulder was all that mattered.
And then Mulder was still, and everything went quiet. She smelled smoke and when she opened her eyes it seemed as though fire was surrounding them, although she couldn't understand why as there was so much snow and everything was wet.
The flames leapt high into the air, eating the tree branches above them. The night was filled with the crackle and hiss of burning wood. She felt around for the water bottle but couldn't find it. Fingers of fire curled into Mulder's hair, setting it alight and Scully frantically scooped up handfuls of snow and dampened his hair before the fire could do any serious damage.
There was no movement beneath her and she placed her finger on Mulder's neck, feeling for his pulse. There was nothing.
"Please don't die, Mulder," she begged him, her voice a mere whisper. "I love you. Don't die."
She coughed and choked as acrid smoke filled her lungs and then darkness descended again.
"Welcome back, Dana."
Monty's kindly voice was the first thing Scully heard when she drifted back to consciousness. She wondered what he was doing in this part of the woods. He should have been with Bill Mackenzie, waiting for the kidnapper. Shifty must have brought him, she supposed. There was no need for the others to keep the surveillance going now that Mulder had been found.
Then the image of Mulder's cold, naked body came into her mind and she remembered taking his pulse and finding nothing. Oh, God. Mulder?
"Mulder!" She sat up quickly and groaned from the severe pain in her head. She tried to open her eyes but just the merest glimpse of harsh white light brought fresh pain and she closed them again. She felt warm hands on her shoulders, gently persuading her to lie back down. She acquiesced, purely because lying down seemed to ease the pain in her head.
"It's all right, Dana. It's me, Monty. Mulder's fine. He's a bit shaken and a little sore but he's fine. Simon is with him."
Scully felt sleep beckoning her again, but she didn't want to fall asleep again out here in the cold woods. She needed to get to a hospital. Mulder needed checking out by a Doctor. She wasn't in any condition to examine him herself.
"Monty, we must get to the hospital. Mulder, he might be hurt, he needs examining."
"You are in hospital, Dana, both of you. You're in Inverness and you're both fine."
She felt his hand on her forehead, and strong fingers caressed her brow, brushing her hair away from her face.
A different voice this time, with an unfamiliar accent. "I'm Doctor Begum. I want you to open your eyes for me, Dana."
Scully groaned. "It hurts to open my eyes."
"I'll dim the lights and then you can open them. You've been unconscious for quite a while. I need to make sure everything is okay."
Scully heard the flick of the light switch and cautiously opened her eyes. The doctor waited for her to become accustomed to the brightness and then turned the lights up again so he could examine her.
"You've suffered a concussion, Agent Scully, and I want you to stay here for a few hours so that we can keep an eye on you," he told her, "but if everything stays as it is now, I don't see any reason why you can't go home this afternoon."
Scully thanked the doctor and after he left, Monty moved forward and perched on the bed next to her.
"Where's Mulder, Monty? I want to see him."
"He's just down the hall. He had a concussion, like you did, but otherwise he's fine. He looked a lot worse than he was. I'm sure you'll be able to see him in a wee while."
"But, I checked his pulse. I thought he was dead." Her voice broke into a sob on the last word and Monty put his arms around her and let her cry into his shirt. The relief she felt was overwhelming, and after the tension of the last two days she gave into her emotions and let it all flood out.
Monty held her and rubbed her back until her tears dried up. She felt safe and relaxed for the first time in what felt like forever.
Then suddenly she was full of questions.
"Is Shifty okay? What about the woods? Was there any sign of the, the..." The what? Fairies? Scully realized she never had actually seen Mulder's abductors. There had been lights, she could remember that much. And she recalled hands touching her, pulling at her clothes, but her eyes had been shut so that she wouldn't be scared of what was happening to Mulder and abandon him.
She had no idea about who was responsible for what had happened.
"When we found you there was no indication that anyone else had been there. Shifty was raving on about the fairies and horses and something about the woods being on fire, but there was no scorching, no sign of fire at all, just you and Mulder lying together under a wet blanket."
"That, that's just not possible. There must have been some clue. Mulder didn't just turn up by accident. I...I saw, things." But what? What had she actually seen? Mulder turning into a lion and a snake? She felt sure that she had witnessed that, but how could she have? There were just so many questions and no straightforward answers. Scully could see the irony in that-- wasn't that the story of her life?
"Does Mulder remember anything?" she asked Monty.
"Not really. He's very confused at the moment and still a bit groggy. He said he can remember you sitting on top of him at one point, but he thought he was having one of his usual dreams."
Scully laughed. "Trust Mulder to think that."
Simon entered her room at that point. He came across and took her hand, placing a kiss on her palm.
"How are you feeling, Dana? It's good to see you back with us."
"I'm fine, thank you, Simon. How's Mulder?"
"He's doing great. Doctor Begum says you can both leave together later on today, but we'll have to keep an eye on you for a while and make sure you don't black out again."
"Well, that's easily solved," boomed Monty, "you can both stay over at the house tonight. There's a bit of a Ceilidh happening down at the pub later on, and if you're up to it, we'd love to see you both down there."
"That does sound wonderful, Monty. I'll definitely be there if my headache has cleared by then." The painkillers given to her by the doctor were already having an effect, and Scully was starting to feel more human again. All she wanted now was to see Mulder.
Doctor Begum popped his head round the door to check that everything was all right.
"Is there any chance I can see Mulder? I really want to talk to him." And make sure he really is back, she thought. Until she had seen him with her own eyes she wouldn't truly believe that he was one hundred percent okay.
"Okay, you can see him for a short while, but I don't want either of you getting excited. I want only peace and serenity for you two; otherwise you'll be spending the night in here. Am I clear?"
Scully nodded. "Quite clear, Doctor."
She swung her legs over the bed and climbed out.
She was wearing one of those awful gaping hospital gowns, and she felt around the back to make sure it was tied tightly. She didn't want to put on a show for Monty and Simon, as nice as they were.
The clothes she had been wearing yesterday were in an overnight bag on a chair near the bed. There was a fresher looking pile of clothes next to them and Scully looked at Monty questioningly.
"I pulled some things from your drawers at the cottage, my dear. I hope that's all right. I didn't think you'd want to come home dressed in those things." He gestured towards the overnight bag. "They're pretty filthy."
"Of course I don't mind." Scully shuffled across and unfolded a clean pair of jeans. Monty pulled the curtain around her bed to allow her to dress in privacy.
"How long do you think it will be exactly before I can leave, Monty?" Scully winced as she bent down to pull the jeans up her legs. Her back and shoulders hurt like hell. She must have had some battle with Mulder trying to get him off that damned horse. Two vivid purple bruises decorated her upper thigh, and Scully was sure there must be one or two more on her body. She'd have to thoroughly check herself over when she could finally have a bath and clean herself up.
"They'll want to get rid of you as soon as poss, my dear. There's a shortage of beds, don't you know, and as soon as you're well enough to shout at a nurse they kick you out. It's not their fault, of course, just too many sick people and too little money. Are you decent yet?"
"In a minute." Scully pulled her sweater on and the swept the curtain back. She grinned at Monty. "I'm ready now."
Monty wrapped her arm around his and escorted her out of her room. "Then I shall take you to see poor Mulder, and then Simon and I must be off. We've got a Ceilidh to prepare for. My wine cellar always gets a battering when it's party time. I'll send someone to pick you up later."
Simon opened the door to Mulder's room. "Mulder, old chap, there's someone here wants to see you." He ushered her into the room and then closed the door softly behind her.
Scully was alone at last with Mulder.
He was sitting up in the bed, his arm hooked up to an IV.
He smiled, his eyes shining with warmth. "Hey, you."
Scully resisted the urge to run across the room and throw herself in his arms.
"Hey, yourself." She moved so that she was sitting on the bed, and took his hand, her fingers playing over his warm skin.
"How are you feeling? You look much better than you did last night."
"Never mind about that. Come here." Mulder held his arms out and Scully let him envelop her. "I missed you," he whispered into her hair, and hugged her even more tightly.
Scully pressed her palms against his back, delighting in the solid feel of his body beneath her fingers. She could hear the steady thrumming of his heart, feel its pulse beneath her hands.
He had been dead last night, she was sure of it. There had been silence where now there was his heartbeat and the sound of his gentle breathing. There had been stillness where now there was rhythm and movement. The last time she had seen him, he had been a dead weight, now his body responded to her touch, and when they kissed, she couldn't remember ever having felt so alive.
"I missed you, too," she said when they stopped kissing. "I thought you were dead. What happened, Mulder? Where were you all that time?"
"At lot of it is a blur, to be honest, Scully. I can remember some things and not others. I have no idea how I got here, for instance. The first thing I knew was when I woke up to find the doctor poking me all over."
Scully kicked her shoes off and pulled the edge of the blanket up. She gestured Mulder to move across the bed.
"Make room for a little one, Mulder. I want to be comfortable for this conversation."
Mulder grinned broadly and scooted across the small bed.
"Ooh, Scully, are you sure? What if the nurses come in and catch us? I don't think they take too kindly to people messing up their sheets."
Scully wriggled until she was comfortable, which was no mean feat in so small a bed. Mulder's body was tight against hers, and his arm snaked around her shoulder and held her to him.
"Sorry to disappoint you, but we're not going to be messing up these sheets." She placed her emphasis on the word 'these' and Mulder caught the hint.
"Do you know, Scully, I'm feeling better already. What time will be getting out of here?"
"Soon, Mulder, soon. Have some patience. Now I want to know what happened. How did you end up naked on a horse in the middle of the woods?"
Mulder's brow creased as though remembering the details was difficult for him.
"I don't really know what happened, Scully. One minute I was walking along the path, heading towards the clearing, and the next I was hugging the ground. I was pretty close to Mackenzie and the others because I could hear them talking, but that's all I remember until I woke up to darkness."
"There must have been some kind of trip wire across the path. Whoever kidnapped you must have set a trap. I wonder why they took you and not any of the others who were already there?" Scully had been wondering about that for some time. Why had Mulder been the target and not any of the dozens of other people who had been out on the hill that day?
"I guess it must have been a trap, though I don't know why I was chosen. Maybe I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, or maybe I was the only one alone. Who knows?"
"So when you woke up you were completely in the dark?"
"Yes. I didn't know how long I had been unconscious, or whether it was day or night. The air had a damp, earthy smell. I could taste it. The ground I was sitting on and the wall behind me felt moist and slimy. My hands were tied behind my back, but I was able to feel around me and although the ground seemed solid, parts of it flaked away when I scraped it with my fingernails.
"I decided that I was in some kind of cave or pothole in the ground, but there was no light at all so it must have been pretty deep within the earth."
Scully tried to imagine waking up to complete darkness, with no idea where she was or who had put her there. Mulder must have been pretty confused and scared.
"Did you see anyone at all?"
"To be honest, I think I must have been drugged or something, because walking along the path, to waking up here in the hospital seems to have taken no time at all, and yet Simon told me that I was gone for nearly two days. It didn't seem like that long, but like I said, it's all very confused and hazy in my mind."
Scully laid her head on Mulder's chest. "I thought I'd lost you for good this time. The police were convinced you'd been kidnapped by a murderer. Shifty was convinced that the Fairy Queen was responsible. Either way it looked pretty bad. I...I was sure we would only find your body."
The memory of searching for Mulder in the middle of the first cold night made her shiver. Every bush was potentially hiding his body; every indistinct shape could have been him. There had been a few occasions when she had been frightened to direct the flashlight onto a shape, certain it would be the one, that this time it would be his lifeless body.
Mulder stroked her hair, curling strands of it around his fingers. It felt heavenly and Scully sighed with pleasure and more than a little relief, that he was here to do a simple thing like run his fingers through her hair.
"What did you believe, Scully? Did you believe the police, or Shifty?"
"I don't know. Most of the time you were gone I believed you were the victim of a serial murderer. And in the cold light of day that still seems the most plausible explanation."
"But you wondered, didn't you?" Mulder whispered into her hair.
Scully wondered how to put into words what she had felt, what she had seen? It seemed ridiculous now.
"In the middle of the night, sitting in the woods with Shifty, yes, I guess I was willing to believe it could be fairies. When I saw the lights moving through the woods and you on a horse just as Shifty had predicted, well, then I believed. And, I...there were other things..."
Scully sighed deeply. "I don't know, Mulder. I thought I saw you change into other things, into animals, but now I can't be sure. I was really wired, it was dark, and I'd already blacked out once. Maybe I was just dreaming it all."
Mulder yawned. "I don't think we'll ever know for sure, Scully."
No, Scully thought, but she wished there were more resolution to the story. Their entire trip to Scotland felt like a dream that she would surely wake up from soon. Maybe Shifty would be able to throw some more light on what had happened earlier.
She pulled the blanket up under Mulder's chin and climbed out of the bed. She placed a soft kiss on his lips. Mulder's eyes were already slipping closed.
"You're safe now, that's all that matters. Get some rest and I'll be back later."
Mulder smiled sleepily and waved a half-hearted goodbye.
As she left Mulder's room she noticed a dirty green blanket on the floor. It must have slipped off the end of the bed. She picked it up and examined it. It was the blanket Shifty had given her earlier that night. It was still slightly damp, and blackened in some parts with soil. It smelled, too, like soot. Scully brought the blanket to her nose and inhaled. The blanket smelled of smoke; there was no mistaking the scent.
She turned to mention it to Mulder, but he was already asleep.
Curiouser and curiouser, she thought, as she tucked the blanket under her arm and tiptoed out of the room.
It was mid-afternoon by the time they left the hospital, Doctor Begum having insisted they remain under observation for at least twelve hours. Scully had slept for a good deal of the time, her lack of sleep over the last two days finally catching up with her. In fact, now that she thought about it, the night before Mulder disappeared hadn't involved much sleeping either. She grinned at the memory, and at the prospect of a repeat performance, or two. She hadn't really given much thought to what would happen now that they had crossed this line in their relationship. Events had moved too quickly and in other directions since that night and she hadn't had time for contemplation.
Mulder nudged her with his foot. He was strapped into the seat opposite her in the helicopter. Monty had sent his private helicopter and pilot this time and it was a more pleasant experience than being entombed in the Sea King Has 5 had been.
"What are you grinning at?" Mulder asked.
"Nothing. I was just. Nothing. I'm just glad you're here, that we're both alive to see another day, that's all."
Mulder smirked. "I see. For a minute there I thought you were thinking of other things. I know I am."
Scully groaned. "Is this the kind of innuendo I'm going to have to put with from now on, Mulder?"
"Scully, you've always had to put up with innuendo from me, nothing's changed there."
She couldn't deny the truth of that statement, Scully thought. Nothing seemed to have changed, except that now her fantasies about Mulder were in glorious 3D Technicolor, instead of plain old black and white.
The journey from Inverness to Carter Hall was brief and they were soon being welcomed into Monty's home by Maria, the maid.
"Sir Montague and Simon are down at the pub, "she informed them, "but Shifty is in the drawing room. He wants to see ye, Miss Scully, if ye're up to it."
"Of course," Scully replied, "I have a few things I want to talk to him about as well."
Scully followed Mulder into the drawing room, where Shifty was sitting in a wing-backed chair so huge it almost swallowed up his meager frame. He beamed as they approached.
"Fox, Dana! It's so good to see you both safe and well. Pull up a chair, pull up a chair."
Mulder and Scully sank into two chairs almost as large as the one devouring Shifty. Scully thought she could easily live in a chair like this one. All she needed was a roaring fire, a good book and a bottle of wine and she'd never have to move again.
"Well? Did you see them? What did you think?" Shifty's eyes were bright; his voice pitched high with excitement.
Scully didn't want to have to disappoint him, but she couldn't lie and pretend she had seen something she had not.
"We didn't see anything, Shifty. At least, Mulder didn't, and I, well, I only saw fragments, and I can't be sure about what was real and what I imagined or dreamt."
Shifty's brow furrowed. "But you must have seen the Fairy Queen. She was right there. She touched you; I saw it. I thought she was going to kill you."
Scully recalled the terrifying moment she had felt hands touching her, trying to pull her off Mulder. And Shifty was telling her that they were the Fairy Queen's hands she had felt?
"I'm sorry, Shifty. I think I felt something, but my eyes were closed. I didn't see her."
Shifty had a far away look in his eyes as he remembered. "She was so beautiful," he sighed.
"What did she look like, Shifty?" Mulder asked eagerly.
"She was small but she exuded immense power. She was just as I saw her all those years ago with my father. She had something I can only describe as an aura surrounding her. Like light, like all the colors of the rainbow.
"It glowed so fiercely when she was fighting with you, Dana. Then when you put the fire out with snow, the aura faded, and so did she until there was nothing but deathly quiet and darkness."
"You saw the fire? Monty said there was no sign of any fire." If Shifty saw the fire, Scully reasoned, then there must be a trace of it out there somewhere.
"I saw it, Dana. Mulder was alight and you put out the flames with snow. I ran over to you and you were both so still, lying together with the blanket covering you."
The blanket! Scully realized it was in the overnight bag along with her other clothes. Maria had taken them from her before ushering her into the drawing room. They were most likely already in the laundry. Damn it! She had wanted to show it to Shifty and ask him what he thought about the smoky smell of the blanket. If there had been a fire, as Shifty insisted, then the smoke could easily be explained. If, on the other hand, Monty was right, then she didn't know what had happened to the blanket for it to be in such a state.
Shify was still speaking, she realized.
"And I've been back out to the site myself, and Monty is right, there is no trace of the fire. But I know it happened. I saw it."
"Then how can you explain it?" Mulder was fascinated by this tale, Scully could tell. His eyes were shining as brightly as Shifty's.
"Well, obviously, when Dana touched you and the world of the fairies and our world came together, we must have been in their world rather than ours..."
"So if there is any fire damage, it will be in their version of the forest." Mulder finished Shifty's train of thought for him.
"Exactly," said Shifty, triumphantly. "We'll never find any trace of what happened out in Carterhaugh Woods, because nothing took place in our woods, only in theirs."
Scully felt as though she should put a stop to this fantasizing before Mulder and Shifty got carried away and the whole of the last few days got blamed on UFOs and visiting aliens.
"You know," whispered Mulder, as he leaned in closer to Shifty, "there is a theory that fairy tales, particularly tales of abduction by fairies, like in Tam Lin, were simply a way for our ancestors to explain what we now know to be alien abductions. I..."
Mulder didn't get to finish his sentence because Scully placed her hand on his shoulder and whispered to him. "Maria said that Monty has prepared the Queen Victoria suite for us, Mulder. I don't know about you, but I'm about ready for a nap before the Ceilidh tonight. Do you want to show me which room it is?"
Mulder looked at her, and for a split second Scully could see him weighing the potential conversation with Shifty against the promise that lay hidden behind her words. It pleased her more than she would ever admit to anyone that it was only a very brief battle Mulder fought, and that she was the undoubted victor as he rose from his chair.
"We'll talk about this later, Shifty."
Shifty tapped the old tobacco out of his pipe and replaced it with fresh from a battered silver tin.
"Aye, laddie. No doubt we will."
Mulder led the way as they ascended the sweeping staircase in search of their suite of rooms. Scully watched as he strode purposefully down the long hallway. Her heart fluttered with excitement, and the sheer joy of having him back. Mulder paused outside a large oak door and turned to her smiling.
"This is the room, Scully."
She returned his smile and took his hand, squeezing it gently as she opened the door and led him inside.
Scully stretched and yawned as she blinked awake from a brief nap. Mulder breathed steadily beside her. She was still so tired, even after a long sleep in the hospital and a nap this afternoon. They both were exhausted, and soon they had to face the Ceilidh at the pub. Scully would rather stay snuggled under the bed clothes, warm and safe and protected. But Monty had gone to a lot of trouble, and it would be unfair not to show up, particularly after all he had done for them since their arrival.
She and Mulder were heading back to DC tomorrow, and she wasn't looking forward to the long flight.
Mulder sighed in his sleep and rolled over. She studied his face, so relaxed in sleep. She thanked God again for his safe return. Whatever may or may not have happened out in Carterhaugh woods, Scully was sure of one thing; if Shifty hadn't convinced her to keep watch with him, Mulder would be dead right now.
It was a horrible thought, and Scully's flesh came up in goosebumps. But it was true, and Mulder knew it too. That was why they had made love earlier, even though they were tired and hardly had the energy; because they could, when they so nearly might never have again.
When they had first climbed into the huge bed, she had lain cocooned in his arms for a long time, enjoying the silence, and the smell and feel of him, clean and soft from the shower. Physical closeness was not a new thing to them; there had been countless occasions in the past when they had comforted each other, as friends do. What was different this time, though, was the knowledge that she could kiss the bare skin of his arm as it held her, if she wanted to. So she had, and Mulder had sighed, and that had led to her placing another kiss on the back of his hand. Then she had felt the warmth of his breath on her ear as he kissed the side of her cheek. She'd sighed, then, and twisted around in his arms until she was facing him.
His eyes had grown huge and dark again, and she kissed his lips gently. His grip on her tightened; she could feel his fingers splayed across her bare back. It had taken no effort at all to swing her leg over his and reach down to guide him inside her.
They had made love slowly, concentrating purely on touching each other's bodies; hands and mouths explored warm, lush flesh. Their actions had been an affirmation that they were alive and together and able to do this whenever they wanted in the future.
One of his hands had played with her hair; the other had been between her legs, stroking her clitoris as he began to push more urgently inside her. She'd been close, so close. "Don't stop," she'd begged him, and he'd increased the pressure slightly and that was all it took for the warm vibrations of orgasm to spread through her body.
They had fallen asleep almost right away afterwards, hardly even bothering to clean themselves up; they could take showers again later.
Now, as the evening sun bathed the room in its warm glow, Scully decided a shower would be just the thing to wake her up and get her in the mood for the Ceilidh. She padded into the bathroom, and stood for a long time under the spray, enjoying the feel of the droplets as they played over her skin. She was careful not to get her hair wet; there was no way she had the energy to style it again. A good brush through and some hairspray would have to suffice tonight.
When she emerged from the shower a while later, Mulder was up and clad in a white terrycloth bathrobe.
"Maria stopped by while you were in the shower. Monty's sent us these." He indicated the bed.
Scully stared at the garments laid out on the coverlet.
"No way, Mulder. There's no way I'm wearing that."
Mulder had a huge grin on his face and she knew the battle was lost before it had begun.
"Come on, Scully. All the cool kids are wearing them."
"Mulder, you are not, nor have you ever been a 'cool kid', and I'll just look ridiculous."
"I bet you don't. I bet you'll look pretty hot."
"I'll only be hot because I'll be roasting to death in all this clothing."
"It's November in Scotland. This kind of clothing was made to cope with a Scottish winter. Besides, if I can wear one..."
Scully decided to make a deal. "Okay. If you go and get dressed up, and if you don't look too ridiculous, then I may, MAY, wear mine."
Mulder picked up his kilt and various accessories and trundled off to the bathroom.
Ten minutes later the bathroom door opened, and Mulder emerged. "Prepare to be dazzled, Scully."
Scully looked Mulder up and down as he stood grinning in front of her. She had no idea how he managed to look so good in that ridiculous outfit, but he did.
He had absolutely everything on; every accessory was neatly arranged, from the sporran to the dagger attached to his thick socks. Scully wondered just how much protection the sporran would provide. It hung neatly over the pelvic area, but didn't look as though it would stand up to a well-placed dagger or sword. The green plaid kilt fit him perfectly, and just showed enough of his knees. Mulder had knobby knees; Scully had never really noticed before. The black jacket fit neatly at his slender waist and Scully had to admit that he looked pretty damned fine.
Why was it, she wondered, that men always looked better in skirts than women did? Not always, perhaps, but often. She'd seen many a man over the years with legs that she would kill for. Once, when she was a medical student and doing a rotation in the local ER, she had met a prostitute called Carly who claimed to have been beaten up by a client. The police had been surprisingly sympathetic, given Carly's occupation, and had assigned her a female detective to talk to and two female doctors to examine her. She was a stunning girl, with a long face, high cheekbones and a lean, muscular body. Scully had thought at the time how easily Carly could have been a model or an actress.
It had been a surprise, then, when they had coaxed Carly into getting undressed and discovered she was a man. Carly was really Carl; and from what they had learned afterwards, she had never had any hormone treatment or surgery. That was just the way she was built. Scully had never taken anything at face value since that day.
Mulder wasn't quite that nice-looking, but he did look good in a skirt; there was no denying it.
"Well? What do you think, Scully? Do I pass?"
"Yes, you pass, Mulder. You look very...authentic."
"Like a true Scotsman, eh? I bet you didn't know I have Scottish blood in me, did you?"
"No, I didn't. And just how true a Scotsman are you being tonight?"
She moved forward so that she was standing in front of him, invading his personal space.
"I don't know what you mean, Scully." Mulder raised his eyebrows and tried to look innocent.
"You know exactly what I mean, Mulder. Come on, show me."
"I'll show you, if you wear your dress."
Scully conceded defeat, and changed into the dress. It was similar to Mulder's kilt and jacket outfit, but all in one piece, with a tartan scarf that draped from shoulder to waist. Thankfully, thick woolen socks and daggers were not de rigeur for the ladies, so Scully pulled on a pair of black stockings and some black chunky-heeled shoes.
When she was dressed, she looked at Mulder, expecting to see him grinning. He wasn't. He was smiling, but it was a warm appreciative smile, not a mocking one.
"You look fabulous, Scully."
"I do not. I look like some kind of national doll. I feel stupid."
"I just bet you were one of those kids who always went to fancy dress parties in jeans and a t-shirt rather than a costume, weren't you?"
"So what if I was?"
"Well, you may have felt stupid dressing up in silly clothes, but you would have stood out more in your plain clothes, and people would notice you a lot more, which is the opposite of what you hope to achieve. So if you go to the Ceilidh tonight dressed in your power suit, people are going to stare at you a whole lot more than they will with you dressed like that. That's what I think, anyway," he grinned. "Besides, I think you look sexy."
Scully laughed. He had a point about standing out more if she didn't wear this dress. Ah, bugger it, as the Scots would say.
"Come on, then, Mulder. It's time for you to keep your side of the bargain. What's under the kilt?"
Mulder looked at his watch and sighed. "I'll have to tell you later, Scully. Right now, we're late for the party."
Mulder moved towards the door. As he went to open it, he turned his back to Scully, and she took the opportunity to lift up the back of his kilt.
Scully giggled, she couldn't help it. "You devil!"
Mulder laughed. "You know me, Scully. I don't do things by halves."
She pulled the door closed quietly, and they set off towards the pub, Scully walking a few steps behind Mulder so that she could enjoy the view as he walked in his kilt. She only hoped, for the sake of the locals and the innocent, that there wasn't a strong wind that night.
The plangent strains of a fiddle played on the evening air as they approached the Carterhaugh Inn. The sky was black already, and the three-quarter moon was huge and bright. Mulder reached out and stopped Scully before she could enter the pub.
He took her hand and together they crossed the street.
"Look at that Scully," he said, and pointed at the moon.
"It's the moon, Mulder."
"Yes, but there's something about it tonight that you won't see often. Can you see on the left, near the edge? It looks as though part of the moon is projecting into space."
Scully studied the moon, and Mulder was right. A small semi-circle of light appeared to be detached from the rest of the moon and hanging in the blackness.
"It's known as the Jeweled Handle. It's really the sun catching the peaks which border the Bay of Rainbows. That's the wall, if you like, of the Bay, which you can see projecting into the darkness. It only lasts a few hours and so it's not often that you get to see it."
"It's very beautiful," Scully whispered.
Mulder turned to her. "Yes, it is. Scully, I just wanted to say, before we go inside, that I'm glad we came here, and I don't regret anything that's happened. It's been a pretty horrible time for both of us, but there have also been some wonderful things as well, things that I never dared hope would happen. And, well...I'm glad, that's all. I wouldn't change a thing."
Scully smiled. "Except for the naked-on-a-horse thing."
Mulder put his arm around her and they entered the pub. "Yes, except for that."
"And the lion and the snake and..."
"Shut up, Scully."
"Just remember that you've got nothing on under that kilt. You're way more vulnerable than I am right now."
"Well, if something untoward happens to me, I won't be the only one losing out, now will I?"
"Mulder! Dana!" Monty's voice pierced the babble of conversation in the pub and the sea of people parted as he made his way towards them. "And don't you two look just splendid. Dana, I don't think my old heart can take much more of you. You look delicious, as always."
Monty clapped Mulder on the back, and kissed both of Scully's cheeks theatrically.
"Speaking of appetizers, I bet you're both so hungry, your stomachs think your throats have been cut. Come over here, there's plenty of food, and anything you want to drink. It's all on me tonight."
Scully walked arm in arm with Monty across the pub floor to where Simon and Bill and a whole host of vaguely familiar faces were sitting.
"That's very generous of you, Monty," Scully said.
"Nonsense, dear girl. I'll find a way to claim it back on expenses, don't you worry. That's the advantage of having an accountant in the family. The only advantage, actually."
"You are awful, Monty."
"Yes, but you like me. Bill! Simon! Look who's here."
Bill and Simon shuffled up the leather bench and made room for Scully and Mulder to sit down. Scully recognized quite a few of the faces from the search for Mulder and she nodded at them when they nodded at her. Julia was sitting a couple of people further up the table, the young blonde girl they had seen at the party draped on her arm.
She waved at Scully. "Dana! How lovely to see you, and Fox! My, my, you do look handsome in that kilt. Almost makes me wish I could turn the clock back twenty years."
Mulder leaned across the two men next to him and kissed Julia on the cheek.
"I'm sure your friend would have something to say about that, Julia."
"Well, I did say 'almost'."
Mulder turned back to Scully. He looked weary. "I don't know about you, Scully, but I'm tired already."
"It has been a long day, and neither of us has slept much. We'll just stay a while and then go and get some sleep in that fabulous bed."
A quartet of musicians was tuning up in the corner of the pub and Monty introduced them as the "Celtic Crosses". Mulder groaned at the name, and Scully had to nudge him with her elbow.
The quartet consisted of two fiddlers, a woman with a flute and a guy with a trapezium-shaped banjo. Scully recognized it as an autoharp. Sister Mary Catherine had played one in assembly at the school Scully had attended in San Diego.
A young red-headed girl stood up to join them, and sang in a high, clear voice.
Scully relaxed against the red leather back of the bench and listened.
"Oh the summer time is coming And the trees are sweetly blooming And the wild mountain thyme Rolls around the purple heather Will ye go, lassie, go?
"I would build my love a tower By yon pure crystal fountain And around it I would place All the flowers of the mountain Will ye go, lassie, go?
"And we'll all go together To pull wild mountain thyme All around the blooming heather Will ye go, lassie, go?"
The girl's voice quivered and soared on the high notes and Scully found the song entrancing. Scotland was stunning in the fall, but she would dearly love to come back here in the summer, when the hills were purple with heather and the mountain peaks touched the blue heavens.
Mulder's hand snaked into hers, and she squeezed it gently.
Monty and Shifty brought a huge tray of whiskies over and set them on the table. Monty handed a drink to everybody and stood at the head of the table.
"First of all, I'd like to extend a hearty welcome back to Mulder. You had us worried there for a bit, old chap, although Bill here was ready to move in on young Dana if you didn't make it back."
Bill protested his innocence and everyone laughed.
"Seriously, though," Monty continued, "Everyone's glad that you're back, and we're mightily pleased you didn't end up like those other poor lads, God rest their souls."
There was a murmur of agreement from around the table.
"A toast is required, I think," Monty said, and raised his glass in the air. "Guma fada beo thu is ceo as ur taigh, which roughly translates as 'long may you live and may there be smoke from your house'."
Laughter pealed again, and Scully realized that the rest of the pubgoers were watching them, and smiling.
"Have a safe trip home, you two, and good health. Slainte mhath!"
Scully raised her own glass to Monty's. "Slainte!"
The 'Celtic Crosses' struck up a reel, and people got up to dance on the old wooden floor.
Mulder tipped his glass towards Scully's and they met in a satisfying clink.
"To life and love and friendship, Scully."
Mulder had his secret smile plastered on his face. She felt her own smile widen into a grin. "To life and love and friendship."
I have to say that this has been a wonderful experience for me. If you can cope with the pressure, then I would recommend writing a WIP to everybody.
I have gotten to know some truly fabulous people and it's all because of this story.
I'm not going to write copious amounts here, but I would just like to thank the following people for their help during the writing of this story:
EbXphile and Sue Pyper for reading through various chapters and giving me very helpful comments and advice, all of which has been greatly appreciated.
Jean Robinson for early formatting advice and pointing out a few Briticisms. But mostly for instigating the cult of the kilt, which, I think, has helped make people more interested in reading my story, and for which I am eternally grateful. Oh, yeah, and which has been a lot of fun as well *g*
Everybody who has sent feedback, encouragement and stalks over the last five months. Some of you are far too kind, some of you are far too evil, but you have all been wonderful, and I have loved reading everything.
If anyone is interested in learning more about the ballad of Tam Lin, then Abigail runs a very informative web site. You can find it here:
Finally, there aren't words to say how much Dasha has done for me over the many months I have been writing this. Not only is she a wonderful beta reader, but also a fantastic friend. I'm very grateful for all her help, for the page on her web site and for all the announcements she has made about the story so that people have been aware of its existence.
This one is for you, Dasha, with much love and gratitude from me.
Pequod, July 2000.
Feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
All parts of the story can be found at http://members.nerve.com/pequod/index.html