Title: The Woods
Summary: A dark night through the forest.
Note: Thanks to Zoot for her beta reading and wuv. :-)
//Star light, star bright. First star I see tonight.//
He moves so quickly it's hard to keep up.
His strides are long, measured, and there is no hesitation in his step, not even over the treacherous patches of ice that stand in his way. He gives no thought to the dangers -- to falling, to breaking the ice or to failure. For, now, as always, there is only Mulder. Mulder and his goal -- bleak snow and black ice be damned.
This is why, tonight, I follow him willingly.
Through dark woods that have only stars to light them.
//I wish I may, I wish I might...//
It's two days after Christmas and a little girl is missing. Seven years old and stolen from her bed in the middle of the night, cruel hands snatching away the blankets, tearing her out from beneath their warmth. Tearing her away from her security, her loved ones, and forcing her into a world that little children should never, ever, know.
Leaving behind a frost-covered teddy bear, abandoned on the front lawn, as our only witness to the crime.
We arrived at midnight, as per Kersh's orders.
An hour later, Mulder had already flipped through the ransom note, all twelve pages of it, without reading a word. Didn't speak to the sobbing parents, and barely acknowledged the sheriff's rundown of the abduction. He simply took off, out the front door and into the night. Into the woods behind the house.
Beckoning me, wordlessly, to follow.
"Watch that sinkhole," Mulder says now, pointing to a harmless looking patch of snow right in front of me.
I can't see what he's talking about, but I take a giant leap over it anyway, taking him at his word. Believe it or not, I trust his intuition.
Most of the time.
Moving quickly, we continue our trek through the forest. Snow-covered woods underneath a star lit sky are supposed to be beautiful, but Mulder doesn't slow down to sightsee. He plows ahead, driven ... relentless. Pulled by forces I tend to avoid. Forces I tend to disavow.
Most of the time.
My breath is now a frozen mist as we cut through yet another long, twisted stretch of trees. My toes grow numb, painfully swollen within my boots, and my heels are starting to burn. Tickling needle pricks of pain crawl up my legs, making me wince with every step, but I bite it down and keep the pace.
Mulder's wearing just his dress shoes, so I have no excuse to lag behind.
"What are we looking for?" I ask, fighting past branches that claw at my coat and face.
He shrugs, but doesn't slow down. "We'll know when we see it."
Oh, *we'll* know when we see it? No, I don't think so.
*He'll* know when he sees it -- he always does. This is the work Mulder does best, what everyone thinks he was born to do. Mulder's supposed to be the master profiler, a finder of lost children and vanquisher of evil souls. But to do this, he must become his prey, and take the long walk through their cold and twisted minds. Turn himself into them.
He has to lose himself within their darkness -- bury himself within their ice. It's a terrible journey he must take, through woods even more forbidding than the ones we're in, but I have no doubts that he can do it.
Because I've seen him do it, more than once.
And, my God, how he hates it.
The woods are so dark by now, I can barely see a few feet in front of myself, but I focus on Mulder's back and continue the chase without question.
No matter where it may lead.
"There," he finally says, pausing, pointing toward a dark patch in the distance.
I see nothing unusual -- just more woods, but he's running now, and I follow.
When we get there I see he's found a dead briar patch; a loose pile of sharp, spiked bushes jutting up from the snow. I look up at him questioningly, but he's already pulled off his gloves, and begun to dig. Frantically.
Silently, I pull off my own gloves, and together, we tear away at the thorns. Barehanded.
Soon, Mulder's hands are bleeding, cut by the thorns, but he doesn't stop. Mindlessly, he rips and tears at the sharp brush, and I try to help, but my hands are growing numb, and I flinch at each sharp stab that digs into my fingers and palms.
It hurts ... it hurts like hell, and, unlike Mulder, I cannot ignore the pain.
Suddenly, I hear Mulder exhale, with a sharp hiss, and I quickly look down at the now bare ground.
It is there that I see it.
//Starlight, star bright. First star I see tonight.//
It's a hand. A perfect, tiny hand with five blue fingers curling up from beneath the snow, splayed out as in offering. A little palm facing up toward the stars above us, greeting angels as they fly overhead...
As one angel to another.
//I wish I may, I wish I might...//
Slowly, I kneel and brush a bit of ice and dirt away from where the head should be. "My God," I whisper, as our little girl's face peers up at us with sightless milk and coal eyes. "But who ..."
"One of the parents," he says. His voice is as pitiless, as cold, as the snow between my fingers.
He walks away without another word and I feel the blood drain from my face. For a long moment, I am breathless -- speechless. I have no idea how he knew. I don't ask how he knew.
Because I really don't want to know how he knew.
I rise, stiffly, and turn around to look for him. A small distance away, I see his unmistakable outline, even through the near pitch black of the forest.
To some, he might have melted into these woods, become one with their darkness, but I can still see him. See Mulder, the man, and not the darkness he might have become.
I walk up to him, and put a hand on his arm. Feel him tremble at my touch.
He turns around, shivering, the fear in his eyes visible, even in starlight. "I think I'm lost, Scully," he whispers. "Do you know how to get back? I don't think I know how to get back from here. It's so dark and I..."
His voice trails off as I tighten my grip on his arm.
"No, Mulder, you're not lost," I reply quietly, taking his hand.
Slowly, I pull him away with me. Pull him away from the darkness, the thorns and the ice. "I know the way back from here."