From: sister-sue <> Date: Mon, 24 Aug 1998 14:25:29 -0700 (PDT) Subject: Dark Water 1/4
Title: Dark Water Author: Suzanne Schramm E-mail: Rating: PG-13 (language, violence – real and implied) Spoilers: Season 5, Pre “The End” Classification: XRA, UST Summary: Prehistoric insects. Mothmen. Now it’s a publicity-shy tribe of murderers. Just another nice trip to the forest with Mulder.
Disclaimer: If you recognize names in this story chances are they belong to Chris Carter and Ten-Thirteen Productions. Except for Brita filters, Deep Woods Off, L.L. Bean and Kodak; those belong to their respective companies and no infringement (or particular endorsement) was meant in using them.
Dedication: First of all, my heartfelt thanks to everyone who wrote me after my first story and asked for another. This story is for all of you, but especially for Alanna who gave so cheerfully of her time and talent despite the fact that she’s a busy woman. I’ve told her thank you over and over but I don’t think she knows just how much her help has meant to me. Thanks also to Aileen and Rachel for their support and suggestions.
The first few drops were tentative splats.
Then a booming crack of thunder loosened the clouds so the rain fell in a cold stinging deluge. Scully was soaked to the skin almost instantly. Ahead of her on the ridge she could see a cluster of trees. She hurried toward them hoping to find some semblance of cover. She reached the trees but they provided scant protection, she was still pelted by rain.
Scully walked faster, trying to keep warm by moving but after nearly twenty minutes she was shivering so violently she could no longer control her legs. Defeated she sank to the ground and grit her teeth to keep them from chattering.
There were dense bushes to her right. She crawled to them and tried to slide underneath. Brambles pulled at her hair and scratched her face but the dirt was only slightly damp proving her theory that this would provide some shelter from the storm. She pushed forward ignoring the resistance when the brush snagged her clothes. She felt her shirt rip up the back but was determined to get to the small clearing she could see just ahead inside.
A few more inches and she could … fall in. It was cramped but drier and she wearily curled into a fetal position to retain some body heat. Above her she could hear the rain pounding the leaves but only a few drops trickled in to bother her. She could live with that. She hoped.
As her eyes slid shut in exhaustion she saw it all happen again. Mulder, turning to run, his hands thrown up in surprise as he was hit. The sounds of something heavy crashing through the underbrush as his body dropped down the ravine.
“Nooo!” she had screamed but it was too late.
Regret choked her as she recalled her last words to him, spoken in anger and frustration. “Grow up Mulder. We can’t work like this anymore. I can’t work like this.”
She had been lashing out, hoping to hurt him. When Mulder’s eyes had closed momentarily she’d actually been glad she’d succeeded.
“Oh god, Mulder. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it.” she whispered to the darkness as it overwhelmed her.
Four Days Earlier
“The skeletal remains discovered by hikers last week off a remote trail in the Dark Water National Forest have been identified as Jack Fisk. Fisk, 48, disappeared three years ago while working for the Fish & Game Department. An investigation into his death is pending …”
Scully set the news article aside and picked up the photos laying in front of her. The first showed a skeleton lying on its back, half buried under soil and pine needles. The rib cage was visible but the lower portion was still clothed in tattered denim pants.
“Cause of death?” she asked Mulder who was flipping through the post-mortem report.
“He was speared.”
“Speared?” She set the pictures down and looked at Mulder in disbelief.
“Speared.” Mulder slid the report over to her. “They found a bone spear point, a splintered wooden shaft and fragments of rawhide wedged in his spine.”
Scully looked through the autopsy report. “… a foreign object is identified at the T10-T11 level.”
She looked up to meet Mulder’s eyes. “So you think there’s a tribe of Indians running amuck in the Colorado backcountry?”
Mulder’s eyes widened with amusement. “Scully, quick, what else am I thinking?” He fluttered his eyelashes.
She ignored him and looked at the report again.
“Check this out.” Mulder flipped through the photographs before coming up with one that showed an arrowhead against a blue background and a ruler.
“Someone made this. Someone killed Fisk with it. Doesn’t it seem odd to choose such a crude weapon when there are so many more modern ways to kill a man? Think of how much strength it would take to drive that far enough into a man to lodge it in his spine.”
Despite herself, Scully flinched. That had to hurt.
A line in the autopsy report caught her eye. “… there is a fracture of the left mandible probably resulting from a blow beneath the chin.”
“Mulder, did you read that Fisk had his jaw broken? The ME speculates that he was knocked unconscious before he was stabbed.”
“Speared.” Mulder corrected.
“Whatever. Why spear a defenseless man?”
“Survival. Maybe the killer was afraid Fisk would tell others what he had seen.”
“What would he have seen?”
“Jack Fisk believed there were still Indians living in the Dark River National Forest. He spent most of his life trying to prove it.”
“Mulder,” she took a deep breath to steel herself for the coming conversation. “You don’t honestly believe this was the work of Indians.”
“In the early 1900’s in Oroville, California, a man named Ishi came out of the woods. He was the last of the Yahi Indians. They’d been driven back by modern society and had lived on the edges of civilization since the mid-1800’s.”
“Ok, but that was nearly a hundred years ago. Today, there’s no way a group of people could live undetected that long.”
“Aren’t you even curious?”
Scully was silent, considering her options.
“No? What about bringing a killer to justice? Does that interest you?”
She sighed. How did he always manage to twist an argument in his favor?
“I would assume that local law enforcement has everything under control.” It was a last ditch effort.
“As a missing federal employee this was already the FBI’s case.”
Scully shook her head in resignation. Another nice trip to the woods. Any case that involved a forest and Mulder always seemed to end in disaster. Prehistoric insects. Mothmen. And now a publicity-shy tribe of murderers.
“When do we leave?” she asked with all the enthusiasm of a prisoner checking the execution schedule.
“Tomorrow morning, bright and early. We’ll be hiking so pack lightly.” Mulder’s enthusiasm did nothing to inspire her.
“There she is, Isolation Lake.” The pilot called and tipped the plane to give Scully a gut-churning view of the water. Mulder stretched across the aisle to take a look.
“Now wasn’t that worth the trip?” he mockingly chided her.
It was a spectacular vista. The azure water sparkled in the late day sun. The lake was surrounded by a dense carpet of pine and aspen trees that gave way to sheer cliffs at the far end of the water. In the distance majestic rocky peaks rimmed the horizon. It was breathtaking.
And pristine. Scully could see no signs of human habitation. “Where’s the lodge?” she shouted, trying to be heard over the small plane’s engine.
The plane turned abruptly and began a steep descent.
Scully refrained from asking again. This didn’t seem like a good time to be distracting the pilot. The plane leveled off and bounced a few times against the water before the pontoons settled into the waves. The engine cut back to an idle as they glided towards the far shore, losing speed as they gained on a boat dock that she had been unable to see from the air.
She still couldn’t see any buildings.
“Where’s the lodge?” she asked again.
“Lodge? Who told you there was a lodge?” The pilot laughed.
“We were under the impression there was a cabin up here.” Mulder looked as confused as she felt.
“Oh, sure, there’s a cabin. But it’s no resort. ‘Lodge’ to me sounds like you’re expecting indoor plumbing.” He laughed again.
The plane had come alongside the dock and bobbed gently in the water.
“Here’s your stop. Just follow the trail up about 300 yards. Tell Oz I said ‘hi’.”
Scully and Mulder alighted from the plane hauling their gear off with them. They stood and watched as the plane reversed away from the dock and then sped across the lake. It seemed to Scully that the plane took off at the last possible second. She silently hoped that the same pilot didn’t return to take them back.
Behind them footsteps sounded on the dock. They spun around to find a thin man with blond hair assessing them quietly. He was of medium height and looked young despite his beard which was considerably redder than his hair. His eyes lingered on Scully.
“Ranger Osmanski?” Mulder called out.
The man shook his head. “Adam Harper, Fish & Game. You the FBI agents?” His eyes returned to Scully.
“Yes.” Scully said and looked like she was daring him to make something of it.
Harper’s lips twisted into a wry smile. “You’d better hurry if you want to get up to the cabin before we lose the light.” With that he turned abruptly and stalked off into the woods.
Lifting her pack onto one shoulder, Scully started after him at a brisk pace. Determined to keep up she didn’t slow to get a better grip with her other hand on the sleeping bag so it bounced against her shin with every step. Mulder was right behind her, mentally wincing as he watched her struggle. His sleeping bag was lashed to the bottom of his much larger pack but he knew better than to offer to carry something for her.
The trail they were on was uneven with rocks and tree roots. It twisted back and forth up a steep incline. Sunlight filtered through the thick canopy of trees above them but it seemed much darker than it had been when they were on the dock.
The high altitude headache he had been ignoring all day was now pounding unmercifully in the thin mountain air. Mulder was heartened to see the trail leveling off into a clearing. A split-log cabin with a light shining through the window greeted them.
When they reached the porch Harper finally spoke again. “Why don’t you two go on in and drop your stuff? Dinner should be ready in a few minutes. There’s a pump along the west side of the cabin if you want to wash up. We bring the water up from the lake. The outhouse is behind the cabin, about 20 yards down the trail. I’ll be back in a minute.”
With that Harper hurried away from them down the trail he had indicated.
“When ya gotta go …” Mulder said, watching his hastily retreating form. He opened the door and followed Scully inside.
The far wall was taken up by a fireplace. To one side of the fireplace a ladder led up to a concealed loft. To the other side there was a desk with a two-way radio on it. Maps lined most of the walls. Along the left wall there was also a pot-bellied stove with something cooking on it. Next to the stove there were shelves stocked with supplies. A few chairs sat in front of the fireplace. To their right there were two sets of bunkbeds against the wall. One set was neatly made while the other had bare mattresses.
Nodding at the bunkbeds Mulder leaned towards Scully and gave her his best leer. “Scully, I’ve waited six years for this moment – you wanna be on top or bottom?”
Scully slung her sleeping bag onto the bottom bunk of the unoccupied beds. Her backpack dropped to the floor and she flexed her shoulders to relax them. She looked up at Mulder and shook her head as she gave him a small smile.
Mulder set his backpack on the top bunk and smiled at her. “I must be losing those profiling skills. I was sure you’d pick the top.”
“I guess you don’t know me as well as you think, Mulder.”
Just then they heard someone coming down the ladder from the loft. A stocky older man with closely cropped graying hair stepped towards Mulder with his hand outstretched.
“You must be Agent Mulder. Tracy Osmanski. Please, just call me Oz.” He shook Mulder’s hand heartily and gave Scully a puzzled look.
“Hello. This is my partner, Agent Scully.”
Oz flashed Scully a patronizing smile but made no move to shake her hand. “Dana Scully?”
“Yes.” Scully said coolly. “Do I know you?” She made no move to shake his hand either.
“No. No, I was expecting a man, that’s all. Dana, that’s a boy’s name, isn’t it?” His smug attitude shocked Mulder but Scully didn’t even blink.
“I always thought Tracy was a girl’s name.” she said smoothly.
“No offense, ma’am.” Oz said in a voice that implied he didn’t much care if she was offended.
“None taken.” Scully’s tone was icy.
The two silently sized each other up.
Mulder was bristling but said nothing. They’d encountered a few chauvinists over the years and Scully had never wanted, or needed, his help in that department. Anything he said or did at this point was likely to draw her wrath anyway.
The door opened and Harper came inside followed by a third man. He was taller than Mulder with dark hair, dark eyes and a permanent tan. The short sleeved shirt he wore was tight around his bulging biceps and left no doubt that his rest of him was just as well defined. At the sight of Scully he broke into a toothy grin.
Scully, still wary from Oz, gave him a cool look and the inevitable eyebrow.
“Hi there, Rick Paxton. Please tell me you’re the FBI.” He extended his hand to Scully first.
“We are. I’m Agent Dana Scully, my partner Fox Mulder.” Paxton clasped her hand with both of his to shake it before he gave Mulder a single quick handshake.
Oz snorted and went to the far end of the cabin to stir whatever was cooking on the stove. Paxton gave him a look usually reserved for gum on the bottom of one’s shoe.
“Agent Scully.” Paxton tried the name and then shook his head. “That sounds so formal out here. May I call you Dana?”
Scully hesitated for a moment and then gave him a small smile. “Of course. Rick?” At his nod of approval she gave him a bigger smile.
Oz stirred their dinner viciously.
“I prefer Mulder.” Mulder spoke up although it didn’t appear Paxton was going to ask.
Paxton glanced in his direction and then turned his attention back to Scully. Mulder waited for her to become offended at the way his eyes swept over her but she said nothing. Scully’s face was as composed as ever but Mulder knew she was assessing him in return.
<Ah, come on, Scully. Don’t tell me you’d fall for that. He’s so …” Mulder wasn’t sure what Paxton was but, given time, he’d come up with something.
“So, Rick,” Mulder spoke up. “It said in the file you worked with Jack Fisk.”
“Yeah,” Paxton grudgingly gave Mulder more than three seconds of attention. “We worked together for years. I should have gone with him the day he disappeared but I was sick so he left me here at the cabin and went out alone.”
“I notice there’s a radio in the corner there. Did he carry a radio with him? Did he ever try to contact you?” Mulder wanted to know.
“He had a radio with him but we never found it or his backpack. I’ll be taking you up there tomorrow, you can look around if you want but we didn’t find anything when we searched the area last week.” Paxton gestured towards the door. “Look, why don’t you two go outside and get washed up? We’ll be eating in a minute, we can talk about all this over dinner.”
“Thanks.” Scully gave him a warm smile and headed for the door. Mulder followed her.
They walked around the corner of the cabin and found the pump where Harper had said it would be. Mulder began to prime the handle to draw up the water.
While he pumped he looked at the horizon above the trees. The last streaks of daylight were coming over the far-off peaks. The temperature had dropped sharply and, despite his long sleeved shirt, he shivered.
“So, what do you think of our gang in there?” Mulder asked as water began to spurt out. He stopped pumping and they both splashed water onto their faces and hands.
“I haven’t decided yet. Oz could use some sensitivity training.” Scully was trying to be diplomatic.
“Welcome to the 90’s.” Mulder muttered.
Scully shook her hands to dry them and Mulder pushed the handle down to turn off the water.
“Rick seems nice enough.” The statement was innocuous but Mulder’s stomach lurched at her soft admission. The sensation was as unwelcome as it was unexpected.
“If you like that smarmy kind of charm.” He tried to keep his tone light but wasn’t sure he succeeded.
“Smarmy? I would hardly characterize being friendly as smarmy.” Scully sounded vaguely defensive. She turned to go back into the cabin and Mulder hurried to catch up.
“Hey, if you like him, I like him.”
Back inside Oz was sullenly eating at the radio table. Harper and Paxton were serving themselves at the stove.
“C’mon over. Help yourself.” Paxton waved them over with his free hand. “There’s bowls and spoons on the shelf there. I hope you like your chili spicy, Harper goes a little crazy with the pepper.” He punched Harper on the arm.
Harper scuttled away and sat in one of the chairs by the fireplace. “It’s not that hot, ignore him.” His voice was apologetic.
“It smells delicious.” Mulder said as he grabbed two bowls off the shelf and handed one to Scully. He already felt a little sorry for Harper. It seemed clear to Mulder that Harper was the butt of more than a few of Paxton’s jokes.
They served themselves and turned, holding their bowls. Three people still standing, two chairs, Mulder felt indecisive. Paxton graciously gestured to the remaining chairs. “Please, sit.”
Paxton pulled one closer for Scully and his hand brushed her elbow to guide her into sitting. Then he stood propped against the fireplace mantle at an angle Mulder knew from experience could give you a tantalizing glimpse of cleavage when she wore shirts with the top button undone – like now.
<Asshole.> Mulder thought as he sat down.
“So, Rick, you knew Fisk a long time?” Mulder asked.
Paxton, his mouth full, nodded but didn’t raise his eyes.
“Then you knew he believed there was a group of Indians living clandestinely in these woods?”
Paxton swallowed and nodded again, this time lifting his head to look at Mulder.
“Yes. I’d even gone with him on what he called ‘fact finding’ expeditions.”
“Did you ever find anything?” Scully asked.
Paxton sighed heavily as he considered the question.
“I don’t know. We found a few artifacts over the years but never anything that pointed conclusively to recent occupation. There were times, though, when I could’ve sworn someone was watching us. You know, that creepy feeling you get? Jack always made a good argument. I’d have to say it’s possible …” Rick shrugged and sighed again.
“Besides Jack, how many people have disappeared up here?” Mulder asked.
Oz spoke from the other side of the room. “We lose a hiker every year or two. Some show up in a couple of days, some we find years later, some we never find. We’ve even had a plane crash up here. We don’t get many hikers compared to other places but no one’s ever seen an Indian.” He rolled his eyes in disbelief and then sneered at Scully. “Or should I say ‘Native American’?”
“How do you explain what happened to Jack? The spear?” Paxton asked Oz and Mulder got the impression this argument was one they’d had before. The two stood glaring at each other until Oz shrugged expansively.
“Not my job. I’ll leave it to the pros here.” He pushed back his chair, grabbed a flashlight and left the cabin, slamming the door behind him.
“Hey,” Paxton gave Scully a smile that would’ve made the Osmond’s jealous. “I want to apologize for Oz. He’s under a lot of pressure. Usually he wouldn’t be this ungracious.”
“Forget it.” Scully shook her head dismissively. Oz wasn’t worth the fuss.
Mulder silently wondered how much pressure a man could be under this far from civilization.
“What about you?” Mulder asked Harper. “Any theories on what happened to Fisk? Do you think there could be Indians hiding out there?”
“I, uh, no. No, I don’t think so. I’ve been up here for a couple of summers now and I’ve never seen anything out there.” Harper glanced at Paxton and then back to Mulder. “I don’t know what happened to Jack but I don’t think it was Indians.”
Paxton chuckled. “You should look harder. They’re out there.”
“Lots of things are ‘out there’.” Mulder intoned solemnly.
Scully gave him an indulgent smile.
Harper stood and took a pack of cigarettes from the mantle. He left the cabin shaking his head.
“Just one big happy family up here, aren’t you?” Mulder asked with a smirk.
“Oh yeah.” Paxton grimaced. “I tell you, when Jack was alive, those were good times. The two of us would spend all summer out on the mountain. We’d get the occasional overnighters up here, you know, people hiking the trail to the glacier, but mostly it was just the three of us, Oz, Jack and myself.”
“What do you do up here?” Scully asked.
“Oz and I are Forest Service. We watch for fires, repair trails, aid hikers. Things like that.” Paxton sat in Harper’s vacant chair, turning it so that it faced Scully. He leaned forward, elbows on his knees.
“And Harper?” Scully leaned a little closer to Paxton as she asked.
“He’s Fish & Game. He replaced Jack, started the summer after he disappeared. I’m not sure what Harper does, he doesn’t really work like Jack did. He’s involved in a project, counting wildlife or some dumbass waste of the taxpayers’ money.”
“No one stays here year-round do they?” Mulder was curious. This was the last place he’d want to spend his winters.
Paxton laughed. “Only if they’ve got a death wish. No, we’re here from April to October. The rest of the year we’re down at the ranger’s station.”
“You said earlier Jack would’ve had a radio with him.” Scully arched her eyebrow and Paxton smiled like she was his star pupil.
<Asshole.> Mulder thought again. What gave this guy the right to flirt with Scully? He pushed back the thought that it only bothered him because Paxton appeared to be meeting with some success for his efforts.
“Yes, he had a radio with him.” Paxton’s features became distant and thoughtful.
“Oz was down the mountain that week. One of the rangers was in the hospital so Oz was filling in. I was sick with the flu when the call came in that there were some missing hikers. Jack left to look for them. He radioed me when he got to the glacier. There were tracks in the snow and he thought they were the hikers’. He was going to go up over the glacier to search for them.”
Paxton shook his head and came back to the present.
“He never checked in again.” Paxton pressed his lips together tightly. He abruptly stood to begin cleaning. He stacked their bowls and began scraping the remnants of the pot into a plastic container.
His back to them, he continued talking, his voice now strained. “I led the search party for Jack. I don’t think there’s been a day that’s gone by that I didn’t wonder what happened. It’s still so hard to believe he’s gone. Hell, we wouldn’t know what had become of him if those hikers hadn’t strayed so far off the trail.”
“What about the people Jack was searching for?” Scully asked gently.
Paxton shook his head and turned back to face them. His eyes glistened but perhaps it was just a trick of the low light in the cabin. “We saw their footprints, and Jack’s, at the glacier. That was all we ever found.”
“Indians?” Mulder asked.
Paxton gave him the beginnings of a smile.
Mulder stood in the middle of the clearing with his head tipped back, gazing in awe at the stars. It almost felt like drowning, so infinite and dizzying the view above him.
It wasn’t stargazing that had compelled him out of doors. It was annoyance. There wasn’t a single person inside the cabin he wanted to be around at the moment.
Paxton and Scully had sat by the fire chatting quietly but Mulder declined to join them. He had sat listening for a short time but had felt excluded as their eyes flirted with each other. The man seemed to find every excuse to touch his partner. Worse, Scully appeared to be flattered by the attention.
Oz had huffed and stomped around for a while before he retreated up to the loft.
Harper laid on his top bunk engrossed in a paperback.
Mulder had risen about ten minutes ago and stepped outside. Despite the light coming from the cabin window it was black as pitch. He stepped forward blindly, hoping that the ground wasn’t too uneven. When he was far enough away that the cabin’s generator was only a soft hum he stopped.
He’d been alone with his thoughts for a few minutes when he was caught in the beam of a flashlight. He heard footsteps behind him, too heavy to be Scully’s so he felt disinclined to turn around. When the person was a few feet away they switched off the light.
“You forget how many stars there are in the city, don’t you?” Harper asked from behind him.
Mulder nodded and then realized that Harper probably couldn’t see him, as dark as it was.
“Yes. You do forget.”
A companionable silence stretched between them for a few minutes and then Harper cleared his throat softly.
“So, tell me, did you really come all this way because you think Indians killed Fisk?”
Mulder could hear the incredulity in Harper’s voice.
“I always go for the most extreme possibility as an explanation.”
“I bet that goes over real well with your partner.”
Mulder grinned into the night.
“She acts put out, but I think she secretly enjoys it. She usually gets to take me down a peg or two before I can prove any of my theories.”
Harper gave a soft laugh.
“I take it you two aren’t an item.”
Mulder shook his head. “No. Strictly professional.”
“Still,” Harper paused for a second or two before continuing, “I’d warn her off Paxton, if you can. I’ve heard stories and he’s something of a heartbreaker in these parts.”
“Scully can handle herself. Trust me, she’s the last person you want to underestimate. We should be warning Paxton.”
“You speaking from experience?”
“No, just from observation.”
Harper switched on a flashlight and started down the trail towards the outhouse.
<Nervous stomach?> Mulder wondered with a smirk.
“Well, you two be careful up there tomorrow. Don’t mess with Paxton, the guy’s got a mean streak in him.” Harper called to him.
<That I can believe.>
Mulder turned and used the light coming from the cabin window as a beacon to guide him back.
With the wind whipping hair loose from her ponytail Scully stood looking over the view catching her breath. Her shoulders ached from the weight of her backpack and her legs felt a little shaky. <I thought I was in shape until today.> she mused ruefully.
They had been hiking for nearly three hours, it had taken two hours just to reach the top of the glacier. It was vast, occupying two-thirds of a huge bowl on the mountain. The ice came nearly to the top of the ridge they were now standing on. Paxton had told her that during the early parts of the year the glacier extended over the ridge but since it was late summer they had scrabbled and climbed the last 20 feet or so to the top.
Scully turned to view the back side of the mountain. She could see a glimmer of water on the far side of the valley below them, the small lake that was their final destination.
She could see the occasional faint outline of the trail leading down otherwise she could easily have believed that no one had ever stood here before. As far as the eye could see there was nothing but mountains. No smog hung in the air, it was the complete opposite of a summer in D.C. The air was clear and crisp.
And thin. She tried hard not to gasp, she didn’t want Paxton thinking her soft. Mulder, she noted with a small degree of satisfaction, was having the same problem. <Not so macho now, are you?>
That morning in a move that had made her want to roll her eyes, Mulder had insisted on helping to pack in the supplies they would need for the next couple of days. He and Paxton had faced off for a few seconds before Paxton had shrugged and given Mulder at least 20 pounds more to carry.
Paxton stood a few feet away, surveying the view. When he felt her gaze upon him he turned his head and flashed her a smile that made her toes curl.
He was handsome. And he had that vague aura of a bad boy that appealed to her long suppressed reckless side. Judging by his frequent looks in her direction the attraction certainly seemed mutual.
His eyes caught hers and she felt herself grow hotter, thankful that hike had already caused her pale complexion to flush so he wouldn’t know the effect that look was giving her. She gave him a shy smile and bent to get her canteen off her backpack.
The water was delicious and cold. The difference between it and the water she usually drank made her decide she should invest in one of those Brita filters when she got home. She tilted her head forward and pressed the cool canteen against the back of her neck where the backpack had been rubbing. <Ahhh, wonderful.> she thought with a sigh.
She could still feel Paxton’s eyes on her. Unwilling to be caught looking at him again she glanced over at Mulder. He was standing with his back to both of them. His pack was off and the back of his shirt was soaked with sweat.
Scully’s forehead furrowed as she tried to guess what was up with her partner. Last night he’d been curt, today he was moody and distant, speaking in monosyllables.
“We should get going.” Paxton gently brushed her arm and she blushed again. Mulder’s occasional invasions of her personal space could do the same thing to her. Scully had sometimes wondered if it was the long, dry spell in her social life or just Mulder himself causing the flutters in her stomach. It was a relief to know that another man could have the same effect.
“It’s a long hike down and we still need to make camp.” Paxton extended his hand to help her up. She took the proffered hand and smiled at him.
“What’s that?” Mulder pointed far off across the valley.
“What?” Paxton walked closer to Mulder to see where he was pointing.
“Down there, past the lake, there’s something shining.”
Paxton squinted and looked harder.
“Oh, that. Probably the plane. We had a plane crash up here about five years ago. It blew up when it crashed, all three people on board died. There wasn’t much left to the plane, the biggest piece still around is one of the wings that was sheared off, I bet that’s what you’re seeing. Good eye, Agent Mulder.” Paxton clapped him on the back.
Scully saw Mulder’s jaw flex and wondered again at his animosity towards Paxton. <What’s eating him?> She lifted her pack, her shoulders complaining loudly as she put it back on, and then followed Paxton down the trail.
As soon as the tent was up and dinner had been started Mulder began to feel restless. Paxton seemed to have stepped up his seduction of Scully entirely for Mulder’s benefit. He couldn’t explain how, but he knew that Paxton was doing it not only because he found Scully attractive but also because he knew it bothered Mulder. The man was grating on his nerves and Mulder needed to put some distance between them before he said, or did, something rash.
They were camped in a small clearing by the lake with high bluffs behind them. Mulder announced he was going to answer nature’s call and walked away fast. He’d scrambled up a rock slide and was now nearly to the top of the bluff. He calculated they must be near the downed airplane and wanted to try and catch another glimpse of it.
Standing on the edge of the cliff and looking around he could see nothing but trees and the lake. He could see the smoke from their campfire below him but it was growing too dark to see Scully and Paxton. Mulder swatted at the mosquitos that were swarming around him. Deep Woods Off was not working.
Mulder turned, startled, at the sound from behind him.
Nothing. His eyes scanned the trees but he could detect no movement or sound from within. Uneasy he turned in a slow circle but could see no one. The flesh on his arms goosepimpled and he was absolutely certain that someone was watching him. He loosened the strap on his holster.
“Hello?” he called out.
Quickly he retraced his trail back towards camp, unable to shake the feeling that he was being followed.
He could smell their fire and hear the low hum of voices through the trees before he came into sight of camp. And then he stopped, incredulous.
Scully and Paxton were sitting on a log by the fire, close together, their heads nearly touching as they held hands.
Mulder’s chest squeezed painfully.
No, wait, they weren’t holding hands. Paxton was cupping her right hand, turning it slightly to look at it.
<Good looking and he reads palms?>
Scully bit her lip as Paxton squeezed below her thumb.
<Sliver.> Mulder thought. <Since when does Scully need help with a sliver?>
Schooling his features to remain expressionless, Mulder stepped into the clearing and walked towards them.
They both looked up at the same time. Scully looked startled to see him and, he hoped, just the tiniest bit guilty as she pulled her hand away. Paxton looked smug.
“Did you get lost?” Paxton asked snidely.
“No.” Mulder tried not to scowl. “Where exactly did Fisk think the Indians lived?” Mulder turned to scan the trees.
“In the summer Jack thought they stayed close to the lake here, why? Did you see something?” Paxton stood and his right hand rested on the gun clipped to his belt.
“No. I heard someone. I think we’re being watched.” Mulder scanned the tops of the trees but it was too dark to see the cliff he’d been standing on.
“What did you hear?” Scully asked.
“A crunchy noise. Like someone stepped on a twig.”
“Could it have been an animal?” Scully’s voice was skeptical.
Paxton shrugged but continued to regard the trees. They all were quiet, listening, but the only crackle they heard was from the fire. Even so, Mulder could barely suppress the shudder that ran up his spine.
Someone was out there.
Paxton had claimed it was a three-man tent but Scully decided he was being optimistic. Their three sleeping bags overlapped, barely fitting inside.
“You get any closer and I’m reporting you for sexual harassment.” Mulder had deadpanned while they were unrolling their bedding.
Caught off-guard at the sudden return of his dry sense of humor and thankful that he was no longer being petulant, Scully had burst into a laugh. Mulder had grinned with delight and they had sat for a moment smiling at each other. Then Paxton lifted the flap on the tent and the mood was broken.
“Why don’t we take turns getting ready for bed?” Paxton had smiled at her. “Ladies first?”
Without a word Mulder had left the tent.
<Why does he dislike Rick so much?> Scully wondered again. <He’s jealous.> The thought was dismissed as quickly as it had entered her mind. <Talk about extreme possibilities.>
She hurried to change.
Outside the tent Mulder stood scanning the darkness.
His ears strained but all he could hear was the soft chirps of insects. The lake lapping gently against the shore. Paxton’s sudden sharp intake of breath.
Mulder moved swiftly to see what had alarmed Paxton and froze.
The lantern inside the tent had caused the light-colored cloth to become nearly opaque. It was a double delight. Not only could he see Scully’s hazy figure moving inside but her shadow was also cast against the tent. He had turned just in time to see her finish taking her shirt up over her head and then work to disentagle her arms from the sleeves.
As his blood rushed southward Mulder tore his eyes away. “We shouldn’t be watching her.” His voice was suddenly hoarse.
“Then don’t look.” Paxton answered him. And then softer, “Good God.”
Mulder’s eyes strayed of their own accord as Scully finished taking off her bra.
<Topless. Oh sweet heavens, Scully’s naked in there.>
Her pert breasts bobbed as she stretched forward to her backpack.
Trying not to groan, Mulder turned his back as Paxton whistled low.
“Incredible. You must be the king of self-control.”
<You have no idea.>
“Or you’re gay.”
“Turn around.” Mulder ordered in a low voice that brooked no disagreement. “Now. Give her some privacy.”
With a chuckle Paxton turned to face the fire with Mulder.
“You’re just being pissy because I’ve gotten further in one day than you ever have.”
“Paxton, you prick …”
Mulder was interrupted by the slide of the tent’s zipper. They both turned as Scully emerged wearing thermal underwear and her jacket. The tight fitting garment clung to her legs leaving as little to the imagination as the tent had. Despite the jacket Mulder’s exceptional memory supplied the rest of the picture.
<No bra. She’s not wearing a bra.>
Irritated at the sudden reappearance of his adolescence Mulder let it slide when Paxton gestured to the tent and said again, “Ladies first.”
Mulder ducked inside and sat, indecisive. <You have nothing to be ashamed of. Hell, it’s not like she’s never seen you in the buff before.> Mulder stripped his shirt off and looked at the tent wall. He could see his own shadow. <They’re not watching. Paxton wouldn’t dare let her know what just happened.> He hurried anyway as he changed into his sweat pants and long-sleeved t-shirt.
He opened the tent and, sure enough, Scully and Paxton were sitting with their backs to him by the fire.
“Next.” Mulder started to walk to the fire. As Paxton passed him he said low, “No peeking, you pervert.”
“You’re not my type.” Mulder hissed and then crossed to stand just behind Scully.
She poked at the fire with a stick. The embers glowed hotly. She prodded again and they exploded, shooting sparks up into the night.
“Mulder, what’s going on?”
“What’s between you and Paxton? I get the feeling there’s some animosity.”
She turned around to look at him. With her back to the fire he couldn’t see her features, just the corona of her hair backlit against the campfire.
Mulder feigned a yawn.
“Hey, I told you last night. If you like him, I like him.”
She didn’t answer him and for a minute or two they didn’t move, each trying to read the other in the darkness without success.
Mulder started speaking before he had time to consider his words.
“It’s just that I’ve never seen you behave this unprofessionally before. No, that’s not true. I’m forgetting Ed Jerse, aren’t I?”
Scully flinched but said nothing.
<Asshole. You asshole, why’d you go and say that?> But Mulder couldn’t bring himself to apologize. He couldn’t even think of a good way to start.
Scully finally spoke, her voice concise and devoid of emotion. “I have never behaved unprofessionally while on assignment. What I do in my personal time is just that, personal.”
She rose and her voice dropped to become husky. Mulder knew that the change was from disdain and not desire. “And, Mulder, you are the last person on earth to be giving a lecture on proper conduct.”
Behind him Mulder heard Paxton step out of the tent. He could sense the man gloating from ten feet away.
“Excuse me.” Scully took care not to touch Mulder as she walked past him to the tent.
Scully laid with her back to Mulder. She was exhausted but too miserable to sleep.
<What the hell am I doing here?> she wondered as she stared, unblinking, into the darkness. <Chasing phantoms, again. What the hell have I been thinking all these years?>
An aching emptiness took up residence in her chest and she closed her eyes against the sudden tears that stung them.
This was exactly why she kept people at arm’s length. The better a person knows you, the easier it is for them to hurt you.
Mulder accusing her of unprofessional behavior. If it hadn’t stung so much she would’ve laughed. Scully mentally reviewed the case thus far, trying to see what he was basing this accusation on.
Nothing. There was nothing she had done. How dare he say that!
She had been civil to Oz despite his sexist comments. She had ignored Harper’s long puzzled looks in her direction. She may have smiled at Paxton but she certainly wasn’t flirting with him despite his obvious interest in her.
Righteous indignation replaced the hollow feeling inside her.
If anyone was acting unprofessional here it was Mulder. He had dragged her out into the middle of BFE (again) on a trumped-up case. Upon arriving he had become sulky. He was cold to Paxton, the one person who seemed friendly to his theory.
No sooner had they made camp tonight than he’d wandered off and ditched her.
And now for reasons she couldn’t even fathom he’d gone right for the jugular, saying words he’d known would hurt worse than a slap across the face.
God, the man could try the patience of a saint!
Scully thought back on all the times she had defended Mulder. To their colleagues. To complete strangers. To Skinner. Even her own family.
She could still hear Bill’s angry voice when he had confronted her about her cancer. He’d questioned why she continued to work, to take huge risks when she obviously had so little time left.
She’d had no answer and had attempted to deflect his questions until he struck at the same nerve Mulder had just hit, accusing her of not being responsible.
She had told him that she was responsible to what was important to her.
Unerringly Bill had focused in on exactly what mattered to her. “To what? To who? This guy Mulder? Well, where is he, Dana? Where is he through all this?”
She’d ended the conversation, unable to admit to Bill, and to herself, that Mulder was off on another Quixotic quest.
And yet, he had been there when it counted most.
Scully remembered waking after she had been taken to Georgetown Medical Center to see Mulder out in the hallway. She remembered how tender he had been with her, holding her hand, brushing her hair back, kissing her cheek. It was hard to reconcile her brooding, vindictive partner with the man who had relentlessly pursued a cure for her cancer. The man whose attentions had been turned solely to her. It would have been exhilarating if she hadn’t been dying. For once, she had been the focus of the singleminded doggedness he usually reserved for his missing sister.
What had brought them to this point? So close and yet so far. The few inches between them could well have been miles. She listened, easily discerning Mulder’s breathing from Paxton’s. After all these years she could identify his footsteps, his touch, his smell and sometimes even his thoughts without having to look at him.
Mulder’s breaths were steady but not deep enough that he was really asleep. He laid stiff and silent. She could feel the anger radiating from him. Next to her Paxton shifted so that he was facing her. She heard his lips smack faintly as they parted and a wave of warmth flooded through her.
“Dana, you asleep?” Paxton whispered.
“Almost.” She replied softly.
“Are you warm enough? I have an extra blanket, you might want to take it. When the wind comes up off the lake it gets a lot colder.”
Behind her she sensed Mulder tensing up even more and anger flooded through her again. What the hell was his problem?
“All right.” She sat up and felt Paxton’s hand brush her breast. She gasped.
“Sorry.” Paxton sounded mortified. “I didn’t mean, I, uh, I can’t see you. I’m sorry.” he stammered. Scully found it endearing and she actually giggled.
“It’s ok. You just startled me.” She reached forward in the dark and touched his arm as he continued to sputter an apology. “Really, don’t worry about it.”
Paxton placed his hand on top of hers and then traced lightly up her arm until he reached her shoulder. Scully shivered.
“See, you are cold.” His voice was pitched low and intimate and her hand tightened instinctively on his arm.
“Here.” He placed the blanket on her lap with his other hand. “You should put it inside the bag with you, you’ll stay warmer that way.”
He released her shoulder and his hand drifted lightly through the ends of her hair before he pulled away completely. She let go of his arm and began to stuff the blanket into the sleeping bag with her.
“Thank you.” she whispered.
“Anytime.” She smiled until she heard Mulder shuffle his bag closer to the tent wall, away from her.
“Good night, Dana.” Paxton said softly.
“Good night, Rick.”
Scully laid back down. The blanket made her sleeping bag seem even snugger and she burrowed down into it. She could smell the faintest trace of Paxton’s aftershave on the blanket.
Her thoughts were far from Paxton as she finally fell asleep.
Mulder’s mood had not improved the next morning.
He’d been unable to sleep and blamed it on the chill seeping in through the tent where he had been pressed against it. He also faulted the uneven, rocky ground beneath him. He steadfastly refused to think about why slumber had really eluded him.
For several long, cold hours Mulder had tortured himself by replaying Scully’s girlish laugh while Paxton pretended to apologize for touching her. Where he touched her, Mulder tried hard not to consider. He hadn’t believed for a second that the contact had been accidental and he was incredulous that Scully did.
When he had finally decided to give up trying to sleep it was beginning to grow light. He’d been able to see Scully’s hair peeking out the top of her bag. The rest of her was tucked securely inside. Paxton, he noted with disgust, was sleeping on his side facing Scully with one hand lying possessively on her bag. He wasn’t touching her but Mulder still had the urge to fling his hand back where it belonged.
Outside the tent Mulder had hurried to dress, glancing around him and wondering if he was putting on a striptease for the Indians. Just thinking about stripteases reminded him of last night and he felt guilty all over again for watching Scully undress.
Once he was dressed Mulder set out for the rock slide he had climbed the previous night. Perhaps with the sun now coming up he’d be able to see the plane crash site. According to Paxton it was close to where the hikers last week had stumbled across Fisk.
Once he reached the cliff he looked out over the valley. Other than the sparkle of water, he could see nothing shiny. Mulder sat down and set the binoculars to his side. He saw smoke coming up through the trees and could see movement down at the campsite. He picked up the binoculars and focused in.
Paxton was rummaging through Mulder’s backpack. Mulder stood up, angry and then relaxed as he saw that Paxton was only taking out some of the supplies he had helped carry in.
Scully came out of the tent and Paxton straightened up. He said something to Scully that made her smile. Whatever she replied to him made him throw back his head and laugh.
<Oh, come on! She’s not that funny. Especially not in the morning.>
Scully’s hair was pulled back in a ponytail again but wisps of hair had escaped. Mulder found that look especially sexy on her, it always made him want to brush a strand back for her. The few times he’d been bold enough to touch Scully’s hair had only whetted his appetite for more. Unfortunately they only occurred under dire circumstances.
Paxton reached forward and tucked some hair behind her ear. To his delight, Scully looked startled and stepped back.
“You see there, you bastard. You’re pushing your luck.” Mulder gloated.
Scully looked around. He could read her lips as she asked, “Where’s Mulder?”
Paxton shrugged. After Scully re-entered the tent he looked up towards the cliff. He gave a slight nod and smiled.
<He must see the glint off the binoculars. What are you up to, Paxton? Sonofabitch. No wonder Harper can’t stand you.>
Mulder stepped back from the edge, intending to return to camp. He glanced over at the woods to his left, where the sound had come from last night.
Without hesitation he turned and walked into the trees. It was cooler inside. Sunlight was just starting to filter through the trees. Mulder kept his eyes on the ground, searching. About ten feet in there was a small patch of damp earth and Mulder found what he was looking for.
But they were definitely not from Indians unless they were being outfitted by L.L. Bean. The logo was clear and recognizable on one of the prints.
Mulder stood up and turned in a slow circle. He couldn’t see which direction they had come from or where they had gone. Leaves and pine needles surrounded the footsteps, hiding any clues. When he stood and faced the cliff he could quite clearly see where he had been standing last night.
Judging by the deeper toe imprints whoever it was had hunkered down to watch him.
After one last wary look around, Mulder headed back to camp.
Scully was trying hard not to laugh. It was difficult with Mulder behind her cursing softly as his boots made squishy sounds with each step.
They’d been hiking for half an hour now, following the swift moving mountain stream that fed the lake they were camped by. At one point the narrow trail had crossed the water. The stream was only about five feet wide and there was a log across it. Paxton had gone first and then stood on a rock a couple of feet from the opposite bank to help them since the log was covered with dew soaked moss.
Mulder refused Paxton’s help and had slipped, arms windmilling wildly, falling into the cold water.
She had managed to keep a straight face while Paxton guffawed. Mulder sprang up immediately, soaked from the waist down and fought the current to the other side.
His face dark with anger and embarrassment, Mulder had assured her in clipped tones that he was fine. Knowing that his pride was hurt more than anything else she had fixed Paxton with a warning glare. Paxton had stopped laughing immediately, contenting himself with the occasional snicker as they continued hiking.
The sound of a miserable Mulder behind her cheered her immeasurably. It seemed a fitting punishment for his behavior on this case. If he had just accepted Paxton’s hand he wouldn’t be in this mess. Now maybe he’d think twice before taking off into the great outdoors.
She was so caught up in her gloating that she failed to notice Paxton holding back a branch for her. When she didn’t put her hand out to hold it for Mulder it sprang backwards, striking him in the stomach.
“Oh! Mulder, I’m sorry.” She couldn’t help the laugh.
Mulder glowered at her as he pushed past the tree branch. “Laugh it up, Scully. I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself.”
<Would enjoying myself be considered unprofessional?> She glared back at him.
His eyes narrowed. Sometimes their knack for unspoken communication wasn’t a good thing.
“Let’s keep going.” His voice was tight.
Scully turned to continue. Paxton stood a few feet away, watching them. “You ok?” he asked her.
“Fine.” she said icily.
Paxton nodded. “We’re almost there. The trail’s going to get steeper in a minute. If you listen you can hear the waterfall.”
They all were silent for a moment. In the distance they could hear the rumble of falling water.
“Why didn’t we camp here?” Mulder grumbled.
Paxton spread his arms to indicate the rocky landscape around them. “It’s not flat enough to pitch a tent. The best place for miles around is down by the lake.”
Without further conversation they all turned and continued up the trail. The closer they came to the waterfall, the more washed out the trail became.
“I thought you repaired trails.” Mulder said after they’d had to leap over a two foot missing section.
“Are you volunteering, Agent Mulder?” Paxton shot back.
“How did Oz put it? Oh, yeah, ‘not my job’.”
“Not many people come out this far. The ones who do are pretty rugged hikers, not the type to complain over a little rut in the trail. It’s not a high priority on this side of the glacier.” Paxton had to raise his voice to be heard over the rushing water as they reached the base of the falls.
Looking up Mulder saw that it was actually a double waterfall. The water cut through a chasm at the top of the cliff, falling about twenty feet onto a small ledge. From there the water spilled over, dropping another forty feet or so to where they now stood. Over the eons the water had carved out the narrow canyon they were in, no more than thirty feet across at it’s widest point. Everything was covered in moss and wet from the mist generated by the waterfall. A lone pine tree clung tenacious to the sheer rock, growing out on a weird angle about three feet from the top of the cliff.
Paxton pointed to the top of the falls. “They found Jack about fifteen yards back from the edge up there. We’ll have to hike around, when you’re ready.”
Mulder was more than ready. Standing in the cool damp air with his clammy jeans on was not doing anything for him. He’d never be dry again at this rate.
The hike to the top of the falls took another half hour. They’d had to walk out of the small canyon and then clamber up the edge of the cliff where it narrowed to about eight feet high. They walked along the cliff back to the falls.
Looking down it seemed much higher than it had from the ground. The ledge separating the falls was about six feet by three feet, most of it taken up by a deep pool of water that fed the second fall. Mulder could see rocks in the pool but the water churned too much to see the bottom. He wondered how deep it was.
They stood and admired the view for a few minutes. Besides the waterfall you could see across the valley to where they had hiked over the glacier the previous day. The lake looked a lot closer than the hour hike to get here had made it seem. Not only could Mulder see the wing of the downed plane gleaming between the trees but he could also make out the blackened outline of the fuselage. They’d hiked right past it on the way to the falls, it looked to be maybe twenty feet from the trail in a low lying area.
“Could we stop by the plane on the way back?”
Paxton shrugged. “It’s your party.”
Turning away from the edge Mulder followed Paxton and Scully into the trees.
It wasn’t hard to guess where Fisk had been found. Bright orange plastic ribbon cordoned off the site. Mulder knelt down to take a closer look, reaching over the ribbon to experimentally touch the ground.
The radio clipped to Paxton’s waist squawked, startling him. Paxton answered but couldn’t make out anything through the static.
“I’m going to see if I can get better reception out of the trees.” he said and left them alone.
Behind him he heard Scully give out a put upon sigh. He ignored her and traced the outline where Fisk’s skull had rested.
Scully sighed again.
“What?” he asked.
“What?” she returned sharply.
He turned his head to look at her.
“Something bothering you, Scully?”
“Yes, Mulder, as a matter of fact. This whole trip is bothering me. Talk about wasting the taxpayer’s money, why are we here? What is it you hope to find? You wanted to look at a hole in the ground? I thought the crime scene photos captured it beautifully.”
“There’s something off about this, Scully.”
“What?” she looked down at him, her face pinched with ire.
“This.” Mulder motioned at the hole in front of him. “It’s bothering me, why was Fisk all the way over here? Why was there no mention of the hikers he was trying to rescue in our case file? Who were they? And the plane. The plane means something.”
Mulder rubbed his jaw, trying to organize his thoughts. There was something niggling at the back of his mind but he couldn’t figure out what.
“Mulder, don’t you ever get tired of running off on tangents? Doesn’t the paranoia wear you down? It’s wearing me down.” Her voice was spiteful.
“Are you sure it’s not chasing after Paxton that’s wearing you down?” His temper snapped. What the hell had started this tirade?
“Oh, god, here we go.” She threw her hands up. “What is your problem with him? He’s the only person up here who thinks you’re right about the Indians and you can’t say one nice word to him.”
“He’s grating on my nerves.”
“Why? Because he likes me?”
“Scully, you couldn’t be that lucky.”
She flushed and gasped. He felt smug, mission accomplished. It wasn’t very often anyone could rattle Scully. <That’s twice in as many days.>
Scully recovered quickly. “Grow up Mulder. We can’t work like this. I can’t work like this.” Her voice shook with anger.
He blanched, knowing he’d gone too far. <Why> he wondered, <Why do I always push her away?>
Paxton came back his eyes darting from Mulder to Scully, curious as to why they were practically seething at each other.
“Hey, that was Oz on the horn. There’s a big storm headed this way. We need to get back to camp.”
“Go ahead.” Mulder spoke. “I’ll catch up with you.”
“Look, Mulder, we can come back to the plane after the storm passes.” Paxton said.
“I’ll be right behind you. Go on.”
Her jaw clenched Scully turned away. “Let’s go, Rick.”
Mulder stood, staring at the ground without really seeing it, listening to them pick their way out of the trees. A few minutes later the silence was overwhelming and he issued his own put out sigh.
Tensing he reached for his gun.
“Don’t shoot, Mulder.”
Astounded Mulder watched Harper approach him through the trees.
“For what it’s worth, you’re right. There’s more here than meets the eye.”
“What?” Mulder’s heart rate had tripled in the last few seconds and he took a deep breath to calm himself.
“You.” Mulder accused. “It was you watching me last night.”
Harper nodded. “Guilty.”
“Why? If you wanted to tag along why didn’t you just say so? Three’s a crowd on this trip but four could’ve evened it out.”
“Paxton.” Harper sneered.
“Yeah, well, I would’ve come with you if I’d known there was an alternate tour. What an asshole.”
“That’s not the half of it, Mulder.”
Harper reached into his back pocket and pulled out his credentials. “My name’s Adam Harper but I’m not Fish & Game, I’m with the Treasury Department.”
“Paxton forget to file last year?”
Harper grinned. “That’s the IRS. But you could say he has some undeclared money.”
Mulder grinned back. “Oh, please, tell me you’re looking to arrest him.”
“I’m getting closer. I’m still missing a key piece of evidence.”
“About ten million dollars, give or take a few thousand.”
Mulder burst into a laugh as the niggling thought that had been teasing him came to him at last.
“It’s the plane! That’s what was bothering me. I remember that story. They robbed the mint and were flying the money out of state. I thought the money burned when the plane exploded.”
Harper nodded. “So did we, until three years ago when some of it turned up in a small Colorado town. Apparently the plane didn’t burn when it crashed. From what we’ve pieced together Fisk and Paxton arrived to check for survivors after the plane disappeared from radar. When they got here two of the men were dead but one was still alive. They killed him, set the plane on fire and hid the money.”
“How did you figure that out?”
“Fisk’s ex-wife. When we traced the bills back to Fisk’s bank account his ex-wife was more than willing to give him up. Paxton and Fisk were waiting for the statute of limitations to expire on the robbery but I guess Fisk got greedy and started sneaking the money out a couple thousand at a time. We confronted him and he agreed to give up the money for a lighter sentence.”
“So the two missing hikers …”
“Were Treasury agents escorting Fisk to the stash. The last contact we had with them the money had been moved and Fisk was going crazy. That’s when he admitted he had a partner. Until then we weren’t sure, he was pretty mum on that account. Probably scared shitless of Paxton. I came up here to see if I could find the money and his accomplice. My guess is that Paxton caught on to what was happening, moved the money and killed all three of them. I think he speared Fisk just for the sheer irony of it.”
“Shit. I knew that guy was trouble.” Mulder would have felt more vindicated if Scully wasn’t with Paxton at that very moment.
“I think I know where the money is.” Harper’s voice hummed with excitement. “But I need help.”
Mulder followed Harper out of the trees to the edge of the waterfall. Harper pointed down at the first fall’s pool.
“I think he’s got the money in there.”
“In the water?” Mulder looked at the pool incredulous. “But wouldn’t the money get ruined?”
“Watertight suitcases. We know Fisk bought some five years ago.” Harper smiled. “I just need someone to help pull me back up.”
He walked over to a tree and tied off the rope at his waist to it. Mulder put his hand on his arm to stop him.
“Why don’t you let me go? I’m already wet.” He gestured at the jeans clinging tightly to his legs.
Harper agreed and Mulder was soon rapelling over the edge. As he came to the pool he hesitated to put his full weight down, unsure how deep the water was. He slowly eased down and didn’t touch bottom until the water was nearly to his waist.
Cold. It was very, very cold. His legs were already turning numb as he slowly felt his way across the front of the waterfall. He bumped into a few rocks but found nothing else. Looking up at Harper he shook his head. Harper’s disappointment was obvious.
Mulder started to walk back towards the rope when he tripped. Instinctively he fell towards the cliff wall, not wanting to end up going over the second waterfall.
But nothing stopped his fall and he stumbled through the water into a small cave.
“Harper!” Mulder shouted as he slid back through the fall. “Harper, throw me a flashlight.
Harper dropped one down. Mulder turned it on and went back behind the waterfall. The crashing water echoed loudly in then small enclosed area. He shivered, freezing, and shone the light around. The cave seemed to go back at least ten feet.
Mulder walked to the far end and saw that the cave curved into a small chamber. Ducking his head he stepped inside. Two skeletons were stretched across the narrow room. At their feet were three metal briefcases.
Mulder stooped to open the top case. It clicked open revealing row upon row of neatly stacked hundred dollar bills. He shut the case, latched it and carried it back out of the cave.
Harper’s smile nearly split his face. “Fantastic!” he called down.
“I found your friends and there are two more cases where that came from.” Mulder yelled to be heard over the water.
Harper must have understood him for his face clouded. “Come on up.” We need to document the scene and get forensics in there. But first let’s get Paxton taken care of.”
Mulder tied the suitcase to the end of the rope and started to climb back up. It was hard going since the rope was nylon and soaked with water. Harper pulled from his end and at last Mulder reached the top.
Harper wasted no time in loosening the rope and opening the case. Whistling low at the money inside he looked up to flash Mulder a huge grin. “Looks like I might get that promotion yet.”
“If you’ve put up with Paxton for the last two summers I’d say you more than deserve it.”
Harper snickered. “You want to help me arrest him?”
“I thought you’d never ask.”
Scully stood on the trail, scanning the rapidly darkening horizon.
<Where the hell is he?>
Paxton reached over and touched her shoulder. “Hey, are you all right? You seem a little out of sorts.”
She turned her head to look at him. “I’m fine.” she lied.
He looked unconvinced. “Is it Mulder? It seemed like you two were fighting when I came back earlier.”
She sighed, this was not something she wanted to talk about, especially to Paxton.
“No.” she hesitated and then decided she did want to talk about it. “Yes. Mulder has a way of getting fixated on the details and losing sight of the bigger picture.”
“Take this case, for instance. He was the one who wanted to come out here. And now he’s off sulking somewhere because I asked him what in god’s name he expected to find.”
Paxton’s hand, which had been a comforting weight on her shoulder, moved to lightly rub her back.
“I get the feeling he doesn’t appreciate you.”
“No, that’s not it. Mulder does, he just has a hard time showing it.”
Paxton’s hands both rested on her shoulders and he gave her a light squeeze.
Scully sighed. <How long has it been since a man’s touched you like this?>
He began to massage her shoulders lightly and she leaned her head forward, closing her eyes and melting into Paxton’s light, sure touch.
<Too long. It’s been too long.> Part of her hoped Mulder would come along and find them like this.
<Couldn’t get that lucky, huh, Mulder?>
Apparently she could because Mulder’s voice called out. “Get away from her, Paxton.”
Paxton’s hands stilled on her but didn’t move away. She opened her eyes and swung her head to see Mulder. He stood about ten feet away with his weapon drawn. Even more amazing, Harper stood next to him with his gun aimed directly at them.
“What the hell?” she barely got the words out before Paxton moved. In one smooth motion Paxton grabbed her gun from it’s holster and pulled her close against him, turning them so she stood blocking Mulder and Harper’s aim.
Paxton held the gun under her chin, forcing her head back. It pushed into her throat and she had to open her mouth to gasp for air.
“Put your guns down.” Paxton ordered, clicking off the safety on her gun.
Scully swallowed hard, her eyes searching out Mulder’s.
<What’s going on here?>
“Do it!” Paxton grabbed her hair and yanked her head back further so that all she saw was the sky darkening above them. She let out an involuntary cry at the sudden pain.
“Very good, Agent Mulder. Now kick it down the ravine there.”
Scully heard the gun scuttle across the ground.
“I knew I could count on you where Dana’s concerned. Throw it down, Harper.” The gun pressed painfully under her chin, Scully closed her eyes and tried to take a deep breath.
“You won’t get away with it this time, Paxton. They’re on to you. All we needed was the money. I’ll bet your fingerprints are all over those suitcases.”
The shot echoed loud in her ears. Scully’s heart stuttered and then beat painfully in her chest as she realized that she was still alive. Paxton let go of her hair but still held her against him.
Harper lay twitching on the ground. Mulder stood with his hands raised, watching them intently.
“Your turn, Mulder.” Paxton spoke softly.
Time slowed down. Scully pushed herself back against Paxton, trying to throw his aim off. Mulder turned to run for the ravine where his weapon was. The shot was even more deafening than the first. Mulder’s arms went up in surprise as he was hit and dropped over the edge. She could hear the sounds of his body crashing through the underbrush on it’s way down the ravine.
“Nooo!” she screamed and swung her elbow back catching Paxton right in the solar plexus.
He grunted and doubled over. She raised her elbow hard and caught him on the chin. He went down onto his knees and pointed the gun unsteadily at her. She kicked him hard across the throat and he flopped sideways firing off a round as he fell. It missed and Paxton tried weakly to get up.
Instinctively Scully’s hand grabbed at her holster until she realized that Paxton had her gun. She settled for kicking him again and this time he remained still. She pried the gun from his hand and grabbed the radio off his belt.
“This is Special Agent Dana Scully calling Ranger Osmanski. Oz can you read me?”
Nothing but static.
She tried twice more but no one came back to her increasingly frantic calls.
Scully ran to Harper. His eyes were open and staring. The bullet had gone right through his throat. She closed his eyes and scrambled to the edge of the ravine.
“Mulder?” She could barely squeeze the words past the ache in her throat, it was closing off.
“Mulder, answer me!”
No sound. She looked down, far off at the bottom she could see his blue jacket through the underbrush. It was too steep, she’d never have enough time to inch her way down to Mulder before Paxton recovered.
Behind her she heard Paxton groan. She whirled on him, pointing the gun but he didn’t move.
<You need to get into a clearing and radio Oz again. Get help.>
Scully took the rope attached to Harper’s belt and tied Paxton’s wrists behind his back. She walked to the edge of the ravine and looked down again.
Mulder had not moved. The ache in her throat spread out through her whole body.
<Not like this. Please, God.>
Paxton moaned again, only this time he moved. His fingers flexed and then he lay quiet.
Scully raced down the trail towards their tent. It was in a clearing, surely she’d get better reception there.
As soon as she reached the meadow she tried the two-way radio again. After three attempts she nearly wept with relief when Oz answered her.
She never thought she’d ever be glad to hear that voice.
“Yes. I need help up here. Paxton just killed Harper and Agent Mulder.”
“Could you repeat that please?”
“Paxton. He’s killed Agent Mulder and Harper. I have him restrained but I need backup, NOW!”
“Agent Scully, there’s a storm coming in. I can try to get a helicopter up there but it’s going to be a few hours. Can you hold out that long?”
“Just get here as soon as you can.”
“Hang tight. Over.”
Scully hurried back down the trail. She stopped short when she got to Harper’s body.
Paxton was gone. So was Harper’s gun.
Breathing heavily she swung in a slow circle, gun at the ready.
<Dammit! How did he get loose?>
The silver suitcase that Mulder and Harper had brought back with them was also missing.
The wind picked up and the clouds rumbled ominously. Scully looked down the ravine again, her eyes straining in the rapidly decreasing daylight. She could barely see Mulder’s jacket, he was still there. Still not moving. She felt her legs tremble and she sank to her knees.
<Shock. I’m in shock. I need to breathe.>
She bent over, her forehead pressed to the ground and took a few deep breaths. She pushed away thoughts of Mulder and what had happened. He wouldn’t want her to fall apart now. Later. Grieving Mulder was a luxury that would have to wait.
Still bent over, breathing deeply, she forced herself to think logically.
<Where would Paxton go? I would have seen him on the trail if he’d gone to the tent, right? Or would he have gone through the trees? The suitcase is the key here. Where did it come from? The plane? Is that where Mulder met up with Harper? What the hell is going on here?>
Scully stood and checked down the ravine.
“Mulder?” she called expecting only silence.
Her eyes closed briefly and then she turned in the general direction of the plane. God help Paxton when she found him.
The first few drops were tentative splats.
Then a booming crack of thunder loosened the clouds so the rain fell in a cold stinging deluge. Scully was soaked to the skin almost instantly.
The plane was nowhere in sight. She refused to admit she was lost.
Ahead of her on the ridge she could see a cluster of trees. She hurried towards them hoping to find some semblance of cover. She reached the trees but they provided scant protection, she was still pelted by rain.
Scully walked faster, trying to keep warm by moving but after nearly twenty minutes she was shivering so violently she could no longer control her legs. Defeated she sank to the ground and grit her teeth to keep them from chattering.
There were dense bushes to her right. She crawled to them and tried to slide underneath. Brambles pulled at her hair and scratched her face but the dirt was only slightly damp proving her theory that this would provide some shelter from the storm. She pushed forward ignoring the resistance when the brush snagged her clothes. She felt her shirt rip up the back but was determined to get to the small clearing she could see just ahead.
A few more inches and she could … fall in. It was cramped but drier and she wearily curled into a fetal position to retain some body heat. Above her she could hear the rain pounding the leaves but only a few drops trickled in to bother her. She could live with that, she hoped.
As her eyes slid shut in exhaustion she saw it all happen again. Mulder, turning to run, his hands thrown up in surprise as he was hit. The sounds of his body crashing through the underbrush as it dropped down the ravine.
“Nooo!” she had screamed but it was too late.
Regret choked her as she recalled her last words to him, spoken in anger and frustration. “Grow up Mulder. We can’t work like this anymore. I can’t work like this.”
She had been lashing out, hoping to hurt him. When Mulder’s eyes had closed momentarily she’d actually been glad she’d succeeded.
“Oh, god, Mulder. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it.” she whispered to the darkness as it overwhelmed her.
Scully awoke with a start, frantically reaching for her gun, as icy fingers closed around her ankle and tugged.
“Scully?!” Mulder’s voice was bewildered, overjoyed.
“Mulder?!” Her startled cry matched his.
Scully backed out of the bushes as fast as she could, her heart racing. Clear of the tangle she took in the sight of her partner.
His hair was wet, scratches covered most of his face but she could discern no critical injury. Her hands pulled open his jacket and she gave his chest a cursory look. His t-shirt was filthy and torn but there were no bullet holes, no blood. He was covered in mud, soaked to the skin but he was fine. He was alive. Even disheveled, he had never looked more handsome.
“How?” she sputtered.
Mulder pushed the damp hair back from her forehead.
“He missed. I tripped. I think I hit my head on the way down. The next thing I knew it was raining and I was collecting water at the bottom of the ravine.”
His eyes darkened and his hands tenderly brushed a strand of hair behind her ear.
“I went back to camp and found Paxton’s backback gone. I figured Paxton must have taken you with him to retrieve the money. So I went back to the waterfall. The rope was tied to the tree but Paxton was long gone and so was the cash. It was raining and I hadn’t passed him on the trail so I decided he must have gone to hide in the plane. That’s when I saw your foot. I thought he’d killed you and hid you in the bushes.”
Mulder’s hand traced her cheek.
“It’s nice to be wrong once in a while.” he said softly.
She turned her head slightly and kissed his palm, thrilled at the way his fingers tightened on her face.
“I thought you were dead, too.” she whispered.
She met his gaze. For a moment they locked eyes and the tension always waiting beneath the surface flared up between them. Mulder’s eyes darkened further. Neither dared to cross the line, hesitant of the outcome. They both smiled shyly, recognizing the uncertainty in each other. Scully looked away first.
She cleared her throat. “Cash? Money? Is that what’s in the briefcase?”
“Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.”
“What happened here, Mulder?”
“Harper was Treasury, following a lead on ten million stolen from the Denver mint five years ago. I remember reading about it in the papers. The robbers were flying the money out of state. Since the plane was burned to a crisp and all three thiefs were identified it was assumed the money went up in flames with them.”
“Paxton and Fisk found it first.”
“Yep. They set the plane on fire after killing the lone survivor and hid the money. Then they each double crossed the other. Fisk turned state’s evidence and Paxton hid the money.”
“Which you and Harper found.”
“Do you think he’s at the crash site?”
“That’s where I would have headed when the weather turned rough. It’d provide some shelter.”
“I was able to get Oz on the radio, help should be coming now that the storm’s passed.” Her forehead furrowed as she thought.
“We can’t be too far behind Paxton if he went to the camp and then to get the money. I had to go there to get the radio to work. Paxton was gone when I came back. Remind me to take a refresher course in knot tying when we get home.”
Mulder moved to stand up. Scully touched his arm and he stilled.
“Wait.” she told him and gently traced the cut above Mulder’s left eyebrow. “Does this hurt?”
Her touch was soft, soothing, and Mulder closed his eyes at the sensation. He shook his head. “No.” he whispered.
“Do you feel dizzy? Nauseated? You must have hit your head pretty hard on the way down to be out that long.”
“I’m ok. You know I have a thick skull.”
She smiled at him, her hand still caressing his brow. Mulder closed his eyes again, leaning forward slightly into her touch. He felt like a cat, he wanted to arch against her hand and purr.
“Well, isn’t this a Kodak moment?” Paxton sneered from behind Scully.
Mulder’s eyes flew open and he saw Paxton standing a few feet away with his gun leveled at the back of Scully’s head. Her eyes went wide and Mulder saw the fear in their blue depths for a split second. Then she blinked and her usual composed mask fell into place.
“Stand up slowly. Both of you. Hands behind your head.”
Paxton yanked Scully’s gun from her holster and tucked it in his waistband.
“Turn around, Dana.”
Scully turned to face Paxton, her eyes blazing. Paxton’s lips twisted into an imitation of a smile at her defiant posture.
“Mulder, I’m afraid I don’t really have much use for you. Dana, on the other hand has some ammends to make, don’t you?”
Scully said nothing. She stood with her spine straight, hands clasped loosely on the back of her neck, waiting.
“I wonder if you two would mind throwing me a retirement party? After all, today I’m giving notice, as it were.” Paxton laughed at his own joke.
Mulder’s eyes darted around. Paxton had the only weapon. He was pointing it at Scully but if Mulder moved quickly maybe he could bring him down before Paxton could get off a shot.
Paxton took two steps forward, pressing the gun directly between Scully’s breasts. “Are you sure you want to risk it, Mulder?”
Mulder said nothing, his anxiety building.
Paxton held out a pair of handcuffs to Scully. “I really owe Harper. A gun, handcuffs, who know he’d be so useful? Maybe I was too hasty in shooting him. Cuff Mulder to that tree.” He gestured with the gun, his eyes cold.
Neither of them moved. Paxton shifted his aim to Mulder. “Go on, Dana, do it.”
His jaw tight with frustration Mulder allowed her to chain his wrists to the tree. He gave an experimental yank after the steel clicked shut but the tree was tall and solid, he could see no way to escape. The look Paxton was giving Scully made his stomach lurch and fear gripped him.
Scully stood next to him her hands clenched at her sides, her eyes wary.
“You act so cold, Dana, but I don’t think you really are. I’ve been watching the two of you and I’m certain your supervisor wouldn’t approve of just how closely you’re working together.”
“You’re wrong.” Mulder said, feeling helpless and hating Paxton all the more for it.
“Am I? Anyway, I wasn’t talking to you, Mulder. I was talking to Dana.” He stepped closer and tilted Scully’s chin up with the gun.
“Tell me I’m wrong. Tell me you don’t care about him.” He slid the gun across her cheek in an almost caress.
“He’s my partner.” Scully’s voice was steady.
Paxton’s smiled. “That’s not what I asked you.”
Scully shook her head. Paxton turned slightly and lifted the gun so it pointed directly at Mulder’s temple.
“What’s he worth to you?” His tone was conversational but the implications sent a chill through Scully. She fought to keep her face calm.
“Don’t do this.”
“No. Don’t avoid the question. What’s he worth to you?” His eyes trailed across her chest and Scully looked away.
She swallowed hard. “What do you want?”
Paxton gave a low chuckle and cocked the gun. His aim didn’t waver from Mulder’s head. “You admit you’d do anything to save him?”
“Yes.” She met his gaze again.
“Scully, don’t! He’s going to kill us anyway.” Mulder couldn’t disguise the anguish in his voice.
Paxton smiled at him. “Not you, Mulder. I won’t hurt you if she behaves. I’ll just leave you cuffed to the tree here. Maybe someone will find you, maybe they won’t. You could get lucky.”
“You sick bastard.” Mulder could barely spit the words out. He tried to catch Scully’s eyes but she refused to look at him, keeping her gaze fixed on Paxton.
“Give him the key, Rick. Put it in his pocket. Put it somewhere he’ll have to work to get it. You can’t leave him like this. Please.” Her voice broke on the last word.
Paxton pursed his lips and considered. “You’d have to make it worth my while.”
Scully didn’t hesitate. “Ok.”
“Scully, don’t do this.” Mulder twisted his wrists ineffectually and Scully finally looked at him.
“Don’t.” He pleaded softly with her. Her eyes grew wet and Mulder blinked away his own tears. She looked at the ground and bit her lip.
Paxton stepped away from him. “Why don’t you give him the key?” He dangled it in front of Scully.
She reached to take the key but Paxton held it higher.
“The deal is, he gets the key and you don’t fight me. If you do, I’ll shoot him in the knee when I leave him here. Do you understand?”
The blood pounded through Mulder’s head, literally causing him to see red for a moment. “If you hurt her, you son of a bitch, you’d better kill me or I swear to God I’ll make you pay …”
His voice failed him as he watched Scully accept the key.
“Put it deep in his pocket. It wouldn’t do if he got loose before we were done having fun.”
Her hands were trembling as she pushed the key into Mulder’s front pants pocket. Scully rested her head for the briefest of moments against his shoulder in a gesture he recognized immediately as an apology, an expression of affection and a farewell.
“Scully,” he could barely get the word out, his throat closed off.
She turned away from him and faced Paxton, her shoulders squared. Mulder closed his eyes. A cold sweat broke out across his forehead. Taking a deep breath he re-opened his eyes to see Paxton’s triumphant grin.
“Tell me really, Mulder, you never got a piece of this?”
Mulder bit back his reply, unwilling to give Paxton the satisfaction. While Paxton looked at Scully again Mulder shifted, trying to reach his pocket but the tree was too wide. He could hook his thumb in the pocket but he could get no further than that.
Holding the gun down at his side Paxton used the other hand to beckon to Scully.
She stepped towards him without hesitation.
Mulder’s head dropped forward, resting against the tree. His whole body ached from his trip down the ravine but it was nothing compared to the anguish he felt now. He shook with anger and frustration. His mind raced as he cursed Paxton and made inventive promises to God. He tried again to reach his pocket.
Scully’s mind was racing, too. She stood close enough to Paxton to feel the heat coming off him. Her gun was still tucked in his waistband and she considered how best to grab it. Perhaps she could distract him …
“Oh no, I don’t think so.” Paxton said in a menacing voice as he watched her eyes. He took her gun out, checked the safety and then tossed it far behind her into the trees.
Disappointment flooded through her.
Paxton stepped back. “You look a little cold in all those wet clothes, Dana. Maybe you should take them off.”
Behind her she heard Mulder rattle the handcuffs again. She couldn’t stop the flush that spread across her cheeks. She unbuttoned her shirt slowly, trying to buy some time to think. She remembered the Swiss Army knife in Paxton’s back pocket. She’d noticed it that morning when she had walked behind him. Scully didn’t want to think about how she’d actually been checking him out.
<It’s me.> she thought as she slid her shirt off. <I’m a psycho magnet. This is why I quit dating.>
Paxton nodded his approval. “Isn’t that better?”
She said nothing, every muscle tensed.
“Now your jeans.”
They were wet and she had to take her boots off before she could peel them down her legs. Scully fought the urge to cross her arms in front of her.
Mulder was raging silently at Paxton in his head. Scully seemed so small standing next to him in just her underwear. The sight of her stockinged feet on the cold wet ground was enough to undo the last reserves of his composure. He bit his lip to keep from cursing Paxton out loud, knowing that he was deriving sick pleasure from Mulder’s reactions.
Paxton’s eyes raked over Scully’s body. She picked a tree just behind him and focused on it instead of him as she willed herself not to shake. He reached forward and took her wrist, pulling her up against him.
“You know, if you just relaxed a little, you’d probably really enjoy this.” Paxton mumured into her hair.
“I’ll find you, Paxton.” Mulder called out hoarsely. “I’ll hunt you down and I’ll kill you. I swear it.”
Paxton chuckled against her neck and Scully swallowed back the bile that had risen to her throat.
“Don’t fight me.” Paxton whispered.
She shook her head mutely.
Then his lips closed over hers roughly. Scully automatically put her hands against his shoulders to push him away. She forced herself to relax into his kiss and tried not to gag when his tongue invaded her mouth.
She slid her hands down to his waist and then circled them around his lower back. She paused, not wanting to alert him to what she meant to do.
Paxton moved to her neck leaving a trail of saliva across her jaw in the process. He twisted her hair roughly around one hand, pulling her head back and moved to kiss the swell of one breast above her bra. With the other hand he squeezed the other breast painfully.
Scully slid her hand over his butt, feeling the bulge of the knife. She moved her hand into his pocket and slowly slid the knife out. She fumbled the knife between both hands trying to find the grooves to pull a blade out.
She heard Mulder stop moving and knew that he was watching and, no doubt, hoping as hard as she was.
There! She felt something give but as she pulled it out all the way she realized it was the screwdriver, not a blade.
Paxton pulled away slightly looking down on her. She froze, waiting.
“What are you doing?”
“What?” Her voice was failing her again.
<Stab him. Use the screwdriver. You’re only going to get one chance. You just need to stun him long enought to get the gun.>
She wouldn’t be able to do more than scratch him from this position. Scully started to move her arms just as Paxton reached back and grasped her wrist.
The game was up.
Lifting her knee Scully tried to aim for his crotch as he twisted her arm to make her drop the knife. She missed and caught him mid thigh. She slid her leg around his and tried to trip him but he was too heavy.
Her free arm swung around and she struck at his throat. Paxton’s eyes narrowed.
Scully saw his fist out of the corner of her eye but didn’t have enough time to react. The first blow glanced off her jaw, causing her to bite her tongue and stunning her. The second went directly to her stomach and she dropped to her knees, the knife forgotten, panting for air.
“What did I tell you?” Paxton screamed at her. He grabbed her hair again and forced her to look up. “I said I’d shoot him and by god, I will. Are you happy now?”
He raised the gun aiming for Mulder. Scully threw herself forward into his legs. He staggered back, pulling her with him since he still held her hair. Enraged he swung the gun down towards her.
“NO!” Mulder yelled, the handcuffs slicing into his wrists as he came around the tree hoping to distract Paxton.
Paxton finished his downswing with the gun striking Scully across the temple. He released her hair as she crumpled to the ground and looked over at Mulder.
“Did you really think I’d shoot her? I still have big plans for the little lady.”
“I will kill you.” Mulder spoke each word distinctly.
Paxton raised the gun again. “So, where do you want it, Mulder. I can’t kill you, I promised. But I’ll let you choose which knee.” His finger tightened on the trigger.
Scully let out a groan and tried to raise herself up. Paxton kicked her once in the ribs and she stopped moving.
After that Mulder wasn’t sure what happened. He saw a flash of movement from the trees behind Paxton and watched as Paxton sank to the ground, dropping his gun and reaching to grab at his back.
Paxton fell foward onto his face and Mulder stood in amazement. There were two arrows in his back.
Through the trees Mulder saw three men approaching. He tensed, ready for anything.
<Holy shit, the Indians!>
They were all dressed in buck skin and stood regarding him with the same curiosity.
“Hello.” Mulder gasped out.
The oldest one spoke but Mulder couldn’t understand a word. One of the others knelt by Paxton and checked his pulse. He spoke tersely in the same unidentifable language.
Scully moaned lightly on the ground and the man kneeling by Paxton lifted her shirt from where it lay discarded and gently draped it across her back.
As one they all turned and disappeared into the trees.
Scully slowly pushed herself into a seated position. She took in the sight of Paxton and then swiveled her head, wide eyed, to Mulder. When she saw him still standing he saw the relief pass over her.
“You want to help me out here?” he asked her, shaking his wrists at her.
“Mulder, what happened?” she asked as she rose to walk over to him, pulling her shirt on as she went.
She opened her mouth to argue with him and then decided against it. She reached into his pocket and pulled out the key.
“Really?” her tone was skeptical as she unlocked his wrist.
“Scully, do you see a bow and arrows on me? Where else would they have come from?” His hands free once more Mulder gestured around. He took the key from her and unlocked his other wrist.
“Mulder, you’re bleeding.” Scully turned his wrist over in her hands, her eyebrows drawn together in alarm at the bruising that was already apparent.
“So are you.” Mulder husked, his other hand gently wiping the blood off her split lip.
“I’m fine.” she said and then laughed, shaking her head. “Really. I’ve had better days but this could’ve been much worse.” Her voice trailed off and she fought not to start shaking again.
Mulder regarded her silently, his hand reaching to brush the hair out of her eyes. His eyes searched hers, trying to gauge how she was doing.
Overwhelmed, afraid that if she broke down now she’d never be able to face him again, Scully pulled away.
“I’m fine.” she said thickly.
Mulder nodded, he didn’t believe her but knew not to push the issue.
“What about Paxton?” Mulder moved away from her and knelt next to Paxton. He had a pulse.
“Is he alive?” Scully asked, buttoning her shirt quickly.
“Yes. I think these arrows must be tipped with some kind of anesthetic.”
“Well, let’s cuff him and save the arrows. For once I think you’re going to have proof.”
The arrows hadn’t gone in more than half an inch. Not caring if it was best to leave them in place Mulder pulled them out. A small amount of blood seeped through the back of his shirt.
<Good. May you bleed to death.>
Mulder yanked Paxton’s hands behind his back and cuffed them. Tightly. Paxton gave a low groan and shuddered.
<I hope that hurts, asshole.>
Scully picked up her jeans and shimmied into them. Mulder blushed and looked away. It shouldn’t have been a turn-on, watching his filthy, waterlogged partner struggle into her clothes but it was.
“And you thought this was a wasted trip.” he told her as he listened to her slide the zipper up.
Scully sat to pull her boots on. He turned back around to smile at her. They both looked skyward as they caught the far off sound of a helicopter approaching.
“After we get Paxton booked and all the paperwork taken care of we should come back and look for the Indians.”
She cocked her brow. “What do you mean ‘we’ white man?”
Two Days Later
Scully turned off the kitchen light. Her apartment was thrown into shadows as she walked back towards her bedroom. She began to loosen the belt on her bathrobe when she heard the knock on the door.
At nearly midnight it could be no one else. While she had flown directly home Mulder had stayed in Colorado, helping to finish up Harper’s investigation. He was supposed to have come back late tonight.
She retied her robe and walked back to the front door, flipping the light back on as she went past. When she opened the door Mulder gave her a sheepish grin.
“Your light was on when I drove past …” He cleared his throat.
<That’s it, admit you drive past sometimes just to see if she’s home.>
“Were you asleep?”
“No. I was just getting ready for bed.”
His eyes traveled briefly over her before returning to her face.
“Is this a bad time? I could just call you tomorrow.”
“You’re here now, come on in.” She held the door open wider and he came in.
She shut the door and turned around. Mulder stood with his hands in his pockets. He regarded her intently as she walked over to the couch and sat down..
“How are you feeling?” He watched her closely as he joined her on the couch.
“I’m all right. You’re face looks better.” Her hand fluttered between them as she talked, as if she meant to touch him but then thought better of it.
He nodded solemnly and looked down, tracing a line on her couch with his finger.
“Was that all? You could have just called to ask how I was, or waited until Monday.”
“Yes.” Mulder gave a grudging nod. “But I wanted to talk to you away from work. I wanted to apologize and I wanted to thank you. On a personal level.”
His hand slid over to grasp hers. She returned the light pressure.
“You don’t need to.”
“Yes, Scully, I do. He lifted his face and met her eyes. “I said things to you that I didn’t mean. I was being petty. You were right, I was jealous.”
Her heart constricted in her chest. She looked away and he gave her hand another squeeze.
<Not now. Mulder, I’m not ready for The Talk.>
He kept going, sparing her having to answer.
“I wanted to thank you, too. When Paxton, when he was, well, I think you went above the call of duty there.”
“Mulder.” She found her voice. “Can you honestly say that if our places had been reversed you wouldn’t have done the same thing?”
She looked him in the eye and he nodded his agreement.
<All that and more, Scully.>
She smiled. “I’d do it all over again. Don’t you remember I told you were the only one I’d put myself on the line for?”
“I’d no idea you meant it so literally.”
They both looked down at their intertwined hands. The contact between them was slight but every one of their senses was on alert. The awareness between them was palpable.
Mulder lifted her hand to his lips and pressed a gentle kiss across her fingers. He released her hand and stood up.
“Anyway, that was all I wanted to say.”
She looked up at him and he could see the disappointment and the gratitude in her eyes. He held out his hand and pulled her up when she took it.
Wrapping his arms lightly around her he rested his chin on top of her head. For a moment they swayed, almost dancing, intoxicated in each other’s proximity.
“Good night, Scully.” he murmured into her hair.
He pulled back slightly and kissed her forehead, squeezing her shoulders lightly before stepping away.
“Good night, Mulder.” She said softly and moved to open the door for him.
Outside his car he looked to her windows before he got in. The lights were out already and he tried not to think of her lying in bed. If he was a bolder man he could probably be there with her right now.
Mulder thought about it often and he was certain Scully had considered it as well. But could a relationship like their’s, built on trust and professionalism, survive the tangle of emotions sexual intimacy brought with it?
He thought it could. And he vowed to find out.
Author’s Notes: There is no Dark Water National Forest, it’s entirely a product of my imagination. There is a White Water National Forest in Colorado but no inference should be made that they are the same place.
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