Snowed Inn : Winter by Abracadabra

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Snowed Inn by Abracadabra

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Title: Snowed Inn: Winter

Author: Abracadabra

Rating: PG-13; with implied NC-17

Time: Early season 7

Description: First in the Seasons Series. Mulder & Scully travel to a country Inn to help solve a murder.

Author’s Notes: The Inn described in this story does not actually exist. It is a compilation of a few in the same, general vicinity. The Inn Keeper’s family are close friends of mine. All names have been changed to protect those who lead real lives.

Disclaimer: Of course these characters belong to Fox and Chris Carter and 1013 Productions. And, I’m just borrowing them for some gratuitous entertainment value. But, Agents Court and Spark and the merry band of Scouts belong to my strange imagination…

Feedback: I thrive on it; bring it on!

~~~~~

Snowed Inn

By Abracadabra

~~~~~

Basement of the J. Edgar Hoover Building

31 December

4:50P

The wet snow fell heavily outside the window which meant they could see it just before it hit the sidewalk. The sky was overcast and gray making the it look almost dark inside the office of the FBI’s most unwanted. A string of white holiday lights hung on the coat rack and the mistletoe still hung over the archway to the files area.

Mulder sat at the desk, his basketball in his hands, rolling it from side to side, contemplating letting it hit the floor. A few carefully place dribbles, just to break the tension, would do it. Then, he looked across the office at his partner.

Scully was pacing, her heels clacking on the tile floor. Her arms were crossed in front of her and then her hands were on her hips. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Mulder debating; to dribble or not to dribble. She hoped he chose, ‘not to dribble.’ She was in no mood.

They were both waiting for Skinner’s call giving them the ‘all clear’ signal from their last case. Scully wanted to leave; now. It was another one of those holidays where she would be by herself. Somehow, waiting around in the dark office with Mulder wasn’t making it any better. Mulder had asked her twice if she wanted to grab a bite to eat and go to one of the staff parties. She had declined without thinking; or, maybe because she had been thinking.

The phone rang and Mulder bolted, the basketball bouncing to the floor and rolling away to hit the back of Scully’s heels. She stopped it and then kicked it. Mulder admired the turn of her ankle as the toe of her shoe made contact with the ball.

“That was Skinner. We can go.” Mulder made his last statement in a plaintive tone. Scully didn’t miss it, but chose to ignore it; ignore him. She headed for the coat rack and extracted her jacket from among the string of lights. She was already headed out the door when she heard Mulder’s voice call out to her. “Hey! Scully? You’re going to leave without even saying good-bye? What about ‘see you next year, Mulder’?” Mulder approached her and reached out to her with his hand.

She moved a step farther away, but looked him in the eye. “Mulder, I’m sorry. Have a good evening.” She turned to go. “Scully, wait; please.” Mulder grabbed his own jacket and hit the light switch cloaking the office in almost complete darkness. “What’s wrong?” <What did I do this time?>

Scully continued to walk toward the elevator, Mulder not far behind her. “Mulder, I told you; it’s nothing, really. I just need to be by myself. Have a nice New Year’s Eve.” If she thought he was going to leave it there, she was wrong.

“I invited you to have a nice New Year’s Eve with me Scully. I promise I’ll get you home in time for your beauty sleep.” As soon as the last words left his mouth, he realized the error of his ways. Scully rewarded him with a raised brow and icy glare. “That’s all right, Mulder. Since I’ll be by myself, I’m sure to get all the beauty sleep I need.”

She stormed through the parking garage, reached her car and got in. Mulder leaned on the door and ducked his head, tapping on the window. Scully glanced at him, waved and drove off.

Mulder was left to watch her drive away. <Happy New Year, Mulder>

~~~~~

9P; Scully’s Apartment

Brrrrnnnggg

“Hello.”

“Scully? It’s me.”

Scully paced back and forth, not responding for the barest moment. “What do you want, Mulder?”

“Well, I was thinking. Um, uh, I thought you might want to go get a pizza.” Mulder was clearly losing his nerve. Her tone had deflated his enthusiasm. She hadn’t been mean, but she clearly was not even half way as happy to hear his voice as he was to hear hers. He was actually worried about her. Her mood, her behavior since just before Christmas had been strange.

He allowed for the fact that everyone has their days; heck, he sometimes had his weeks or months! The problem was that he had exhausted all of his guesses as to what was wrong. He was almost sure it was him, but, for the life of him, he didn’t know what he had done. All he wanted to do was see her happy again.

“Scully?” Mulder didn’t realize he was holding his breath.

“Where should I meet you, Mulder?” Mulder wasn’t sure he had heard her correctly.

“Mulder? Are you still there?”

“Uh, yes; I mean, yeah; I’ll meet you at West End’s in a half hour.”

9:30P; West End Pizzeria

Scully arrived first; no surprise there. As his lateness slid toward 10 minutes, she started fuming. Mulder lived not 15 minutes from West End’s and he was 10 minutes late. She had already drank her water, his water and half the pitcher. She slammed the menu shut, stood and was halfway out the door when Mulder came strolling in. He reached, his hands on her shoulders. “Scully, the pizza’s that-a-way.” Lightness and jokes; she’d had enough.

“Mulder, you’re late; again.” A simple statement of fact said in such a neutral tone. “C’mon Scully, it wasn’t my fault. Skinner called. Mulder held his hands up in front of him, palms open to her. A plea for understanding. Scully turned around and headed back to the slatted wood booth. Her elbows on the red and white checked tablecloth, head in her hands, Scully sighed. Nothing felt easy right now; especially where Mulder was concerned.

They ordered and ate most of the pizza in silence, an occasional word, a joke or smile from Mulder. Scully finished her pizza and drank another glass of water. She wiped her lips with the napkin and reached into her jacket for her wallet. She laid a ten on the table and stood up to leave. “Scully? Where are you going?” Mulder was definitely concerned. He reached for her hand and sat her back down. “Talk to me, Scully.”

“Mulder, I can’t talk to you.” Words said softly; words that cut to the quick. “If I knew what I’d say, maybe it would be easier. I just can’t be here right now. I need to be by myself. Thanks for asking me out for pizza. Happy New Year.” So many flat sentences that spoke volumes.

As did the fact that as she reached his side of the booth, she placed a hand on his shoulder, leaned down and kissed him on the cheek, touching the spot with her fingers before she walked away.

~~~~~

The Snowflake Inn; Connecticut

1 January

6:15A

The grounds were already covered with several inches of snow and the forecast hinted at ‘possibly another dusting’; New England-speak for, ‘we don’t know, but it looks like it’s going to snow and it could be anywhere from a few flakes to a nor’easter.”

Robin Yarlow, the Innkeeper, had already been in the kitchen for over an hour, busily preparing the morning’s breakfast for her guests. The breakfasts provided at Inns and Bed & Breakfasts (B&Bs) varied. Some tended to provide the typical continental, some type of Danish or sweet roll, coffee and juice and maybe some fruit. Others prepared more elaborate repasts that included a variety of eggs made to order, hash browns or other skillet prepared potato side dishes, waffles, pancakes or French toast, fresh, in-season fruits and refreshments. Robin always chose the latter. While she loved cooking in all of its forms, breakfast was her claim to fame.

Totally self-taught with an eye for the Food Network, she used her kitchen as a testing ground for new and creative breakfast dishes. In the growing circle of repeat guests, her French Toast was legendary. It was also her most involved breakfast menu item. She started with a wonderful challah bread she made herself from scratch. She let it sit for a day to dry it out a bit. Then, she carefully cut thick slabs of the break and slit each one, forming a pocket inside it. Into that pocket, she placed a mixture of cream cheese, cinnamon, raisins, chopped walnuts, sugar and a little cream. In her well-equipped kitchen, she then fired up the large griddle until a few drops of water tossed onto it danced and jumped on the surface, rendering it hot enough for the butter. Once the butter melted on the griddle, she carefully placed the stuffed challah slices down, letting each side brown nicely. She served the slices with a little fresh maple syrup she and Keith purchased on their trips to northern New England.

Robin’s other culinary specialty were her muffin ‘lids’. She and her good friend Nancy had named this delicacy. The ‘lid’ was the muffin top. Robin served her ‘lids’ proudly and used the rest of the muffin to make bread puddings. Needless to say, her guests were well-fed and contented. Keith always marveled at how she managed to be around all of that wonderful food, but not indulge. He did not have her discipline.

She loved her job. In fact, it was much more than that, it was her life’s love. Next to her husband, Keith, and their 5 year old son, Eddie. Robin did a little bit of everything for their Inn. She had been an integral part in the restoration project.

Robin and Keith had come to Connecticut from Long Island. She worked at a local college and Keith attended Law School. Once they found they were going to start a family, they wanted a more stable and calm environment for Eddie grow and thrive. During the summers, Robin had worked for a friend, taking care of his Inn while he and his wife took the summer off. She grew to love the lifestyle; the constant influx of new visitors, providing a safe, homelike and catering atmosphere, the opportunity to learn about other exciting places as each new visitor became a part of the Inn family during their stays.

Through the network of Inn owners in the area, she heard about the upcoming sale of a very old and prestigious Victorian Inn in New England. She and Keith decided to check into it. The location was right; not too far from their family and friends, close enough to the ocean, good skiing, shopping. Keith, a newly-licensed attorney, traveled to Connecticut to check on the deed to the property, find out about the owners, their reasons for selling, the land; generally paving the way legally. Always being one to smell a new deal, or, even the hint of a deal, he also managed to make some strong connections to their new business community.

Upon arriving in their new community, it had been Keith who had set up the Shuttle Inn service. Guests coming from the airport, train or bus stations had to arrange their own transportation to the Snowflake or the other nearby Inns. Since eastern Connecticut was rather rural, this transportation was often hard to come by and/or very costly. Keith worked with the other Inn owners who agreed to purchase a few reconditioned SUVs. They were all taken to the local sign shop who christened them with the Shuttle Inn banner and a new service The Shuttle Inn was a success. Keith loved a good business deal and could usually ‘smell’ them a mile away.

The Snowflake was grand. Located in southeastern Connecticut on five landscaped acres, it was one of the finest examples of Stick Style Victorian architecture. When they first arrived in Laurel Glen, Robin and Keith hired painters with experience restoring Victorians to their earlier, colorful facades. The roof was re-done in red slate tiling. The main body of the Inn was lovingly painted a pale blue. The trim around the full, wrap-around porch, the eaves and the posts were done in a contrasting delft blue. The front door featured a half-moon window and was painted mulberry. A few rush back rocking chairs sat on the porch for three out of four seasons. A quarry slab walkway led visitors to the porch. Native Mountain Laurel bushes, the Connecticut State Flower bracketed the steps to the porch.

The Snowflake was so-named because of its location and the unusual manner in which the five acres of land it sat on seemed to draw snow like a magnet draws metal filings. Set in the well of a deep valley, the snow was drawn into the well. Other properties a mile down the road might come away with nothing more than an inch or two, but the Snowflake would be mysteriously covered. The snow would sit on the boughs of the evergreen trees and rest on the bare branches of the oaks and maples. The long-sleeping mountain laurels would appear to be large, lazy, sleeping polar bears guarding the entryway.

The interior was restored with historic precision to every last detail to reflect the Aesthetic Movement, the Victorian subculture that emphasized art in the interior decor. Robin and Keith were delighted to learn that the Inn was a showpiece for period art, antiques, and art wall coverings of designers Charles Eastlake, Walter Crane and William Morris. Original hand-carved cherry wood fireplace mantels gave the great room a warm and inviting aura.

That inviting aura didn’t last long on the evening of 1 January. A dead body in one’s great room has a way of wreaking havoc. Especially when the eyes are missing.

~~~~~

J. Edgar Hoover Building

Tuesday, 2 January

Basement Office

The tensions of New Year’s Eve seemingly abated, the two Agents were starting the new year in the basement; their basement.

Scully lifted her glasses up with one hand and pinched the bridge of her nose with the fingers of her other hand. Her vision was starting to lose focus and she found herself rereading each page of the casefile at least twice before it sank in.

Her partner appeared to be deep in thought as he poured over his copy of the same casefile. ‘Appeared’ being the operative word here. While the pages were flipped over from one side of the file folder to the other, it looked like the same pages were being turned over…and over…and over. Not to mention the fact that a constant shoe tapping sound emanating from underneath the desk perfectly matched the pencil tapping on top of the desk. A suspiciously rhythmic tapping underneath and on top of the desk…

Scully took the glasses off; signaling she was finished reading for now. She slid the chair back from the table and stretched; hands reaching up, back arching from the chair back. As she repositioned herself, she noticed the cause of the dual tapping. Two thin, almost invisible black wires were coming out of Mulder’s ears and snaked their way behind him. Upon closer inspection, she could just make out a small black ear bud.

Mulder was so lost in his music and possibly the casefile that he did not hear Scully come up behind him. She stood behind him for a few minutes contemplating. Contemplating the myriad possibilities to catch Mulder off guard, she settled on removing the ear buds. She carefully trailed her fingers along the wire leading to his ear. When she was close enough, she quickly jerked the buds free; a small smile turning up the corners of her mouth.

Mulder’s reaction was instantaneous. He reached up behind him and grabbed her wrists, stopping her dead in her tracks. Without turning, he said playfully, “Did you want something, Scully?”

Scully let the wires go and pulled out of his grasp. “You’re no fun, Mulder. You knew I was here the whole time, didn’t you?”

“I’ll never tell.”

“Mulder, what do you think about this case?”

“Well, it’s strange, I’ll give you that. But, we’ve seen this before, Scully.”

~~~~~

Snowflake Inn

1 January

The latest snowstorm had set approximately 6 more inches on the grounds around the Snowflake. The previous foot of snow had been carefully plowed so as not to mar the scenic landscape. The Inn was quiet and still at midnight. The eight guest rooms and suites were all occupied for the holiday season. With the steady snowfall, the guests had hunkered down for the evening, making up for sleep lost with the New Year’s Eve activities.

Eddie Yarlow didn’t always seem to have his parents’ need for sleep. He was becoming quite the little night owl, or, as he liked to refer to himself, ‘a little night wolf”. Eddie loved watching the wolves that sometimes seemed to fly through the yard.

At approximately 1:30 AM, Eddie decided it was time to explore his home a little more. One of his favorite late night pastimes was watching the pattern of the moonlight falling on the steps of the main staircase. Since the overhanging oak and maple tree limbs obscured some of the direct moonlight path, the patterns were ever changing. The moon light entered through the front door and windows, casting artful shadows on the staircase. Eddie loved the shadow play and often told his parents what shapes he had seen, inventing stories about what the magical shapes were doing or saying.

As Eddie walked into the great room from his room on the main level of the Inn, a chill crawled up his spine. Something didn’t feel right to him. When he looked at the front windows, the moonlight was still there. It was also present in the front door window. He walked a little farther into the great room. Before he made it to the stairs, he tripped on the bunched up carpet runner. <That doesn’t go here> After falling onto his knees, he stood back up in that manner that only those already very close to the floor can do. He tried to pull and tug at the runner, but it felt stuck. He smoothed what he could and then continued heading for the stairs, not one to be easily sidetracked from his intended destination.

As Eddie moved closer to the sweeping, curved banister, he almost fell again. And, the chill to his spine dropped several degrees; enough to make him shiver. “Creepy fingers” is what he called this feeling when he told his parents. The feeling had increased in the last week and he didn’t know why or how to explain it to them. Loving Eddie to distraction, they listened intently, asking him questions to help him identify the source of his fears. They attributed his feelings to his predilection for bizarre TV shows and videos. While they carefully screened his viewing material for violence and other inappropriate matter, Eddie also shared Robin’s often-unvoiced sixth sense. Eddie and Robin sometimes watched together and talked afterwards about the possibilities.

Curious more than afraid, he stopped when his barefoot met with resistance. He knelt down and reached out, his eyes finally adjusted to the dim moonlight. His hand rested on something.

~~~~~

J. Edgar Hoover Building

Tuesday, 2 January

Basement Office

“Mulder, we’ve seen what before? Death? Violent death? Bizarre death?”

Scully was pacing in front of the desk, her heels clicking on the tile floor, her arms folded across her chest. Another statement unceremoniously plunked down by Mulder.

Left there to get her attention.

Left there to force her to ask him for more.

More information, more details, more about the ‘leap’ he was about to make.

<Ok, I’ll bite> “Tell me, Mulder.” Scully sat on the edge of her desk, her back to Mulder. She knew he was about to begin the slideshow. He probably liked narrating his slideshows almost as much as moaning to his videos, she thought. She waited in the silence. She pulled her thoughts from the thought of him moaning to his videos. Those thoughts made her; made her seek solace in that blue funk of hers that kept returning.

Mulder didn’t say a word. He glanced over his shoulder observing his partner, her back to him. A tentative peace and return to normalcy; whatever that might be, had settled in.

He stood silently, grabbed the casefile and turned the lights off. Holding the remote, he advanced to the first frame.

Total darkness surrounding the first slide. The blaze from the photographer’s flash, the victim’s face was gruesome. “Mr. Tai Arias, Asian; possibly Asian/Latino, male, age 45, visiting the Snowflake Inn in Connecticut on a business trip. Exporter of special woods, teak, cherry, mosaics. Hired by the Inn owners, husband and wife, Keith and Robin Yarlow, to procure more raw material for their upcoming expansion.”

Slide two bathed in sunshine; the Yarlows smiling for the camera outside their Inn sometime during the past summer. Keith in tan khakis, white Henley, dark tan. Robin with Eddie on her shoulders. Eddie looking generally pleased with being five. Robin chic in red capris, crop top, blackout shades and a sun hat. All three smiling like a family who enjoyed each other’s company.

The third slide clicked majestically into view. The narrator’s monotone caused Scully to glance in his direction as he spoke. “The Snowflake is an 18-room architectural gem, as described in the local Chamber of Commerce brochure. It’s known for its original woodwork and hand-made furnishings.” Scully watched as Mulder shifted his weight from one hip to the other, the projector remote in his right hand. ” The Yarlows made contact with Mr. Arias following an Innkeepers national meeting in San Francisco. He has been supplying them with high quality materials for their expansion.”

Scully walked a little closer to the screen, also known as the wall, and tried to view the victim from different angles. “Mulder, his eyes are completely missing. Ok, this picture isn’t the best, but it’s not hard to see that it looks as if someone very carefully; almost surgically, extracted his eyes.”

Scully turned around and stared at Mulder. “You look puzzled, Scully.”

“I am, Mulder, but I guess the autopsy will provide more information. I am doing the autopsy, right?” Mulder walked around from behind the desk and put his arm around her shoulders, “I thought you’d never ask, Scully.”

Mulder withdrew his arm and walked back to his notes. He advanced to the next slide; another picture of the body taken from a different angle. Now Scully could clearly make out blood on the victim’s neck and on the collar of his white shirt. She moved closer again, trying to make a cursory determination of the cause of the blood.

Mulder had walked closer to her again, looking at what she was scrutinizing. He was standing right behind her and she could feel his presence, his breath on her neck. “What, Mulder?”

He reached one arm forward, over her shoulder, pointing to the image. “Do you see the two entry points, there and there? Now, look at the ragged edging. What do you see?”

Scully moved forward. She needed to have a much closer look and she needed to put some distance between her and her partner’s physical presence. A presence that seemed to create fantastical thoughts in her more and more lately. She needed to keep her edge, so she needed to keep her distance.

“I see what do indeed look like two similar entry points and torn or scraped flesh wounds. And, no, I cannot hypothesize any more without conducting the autopsy.”

“Scully, you can read my mind.” Mulder smiled. “But, doesn’t it look as if someone bit him and then tried to gnaw on him?”

“I’m not biting on this one, Mulder.” The words were out of her mouth just as she realized what she had said. She knew her comment would produce a smart-ass response. True to form, he came up behind her and placed his hands on her shoulders, shaking her slightly in his enthusiasm.

With his mouth close to her neck, he exaggeratedly said, “Scully, ‘I vant to suck your blood.’” Mulder did his best Count Dracula impersonation, creating more reaction than he could ever know.

“Mulder, down boy.” Scully, her face coloring and her heart racing, withdrew from his grasp almost reluctantly. Her resolve wavering, she moved to the other side of the room, the physical distance really not helping much. “Mulder, how was the body discovered?”

He smoothly shifted back into his narrator role, and advanced the slides. The picture of a little boy appeared. He had dark brown wavy hair and dark brown eyes that curved up on the outsides just slightly. He was smiling at the camera.

Mulder continued, “The Yarlows 5 year-old son, Eddie, discovered him. Eddie is described as a very curious child, playful, talkative and outgoing. It seems he and his mother share an interest in, shall we say, things that cannot be easily explained. Eddie wanders around late at night. His latest wandering ended up at Mr. Arias’s body. Eddie told the local Sheriff that he felt ‘creepy fingers’ when he got close to the body. He ran to get his parents who called the Sheriff who notified the Bureau because of Mr. Arias’s international connections.”

Scully looked visibly shaken. “Mulder, how sad for Eddie. He must be traumatized.”

“That’s the strange thing, Scully, his parents say he seems fine. They haven’t noticed any type of new behaviors, nor has he changed his interactions with the Inn’s guests. Even the neighbors are surprised at how he seems to coping with what he saw. His mother believes it may be, in part, due to his willingness to accept that something supernatural was involved.”

Scully remained quiet, but seemed to be formulating a response or a question. She opened her mouth to speak a few times, but then closed it. Mulder, concerned for her, switched off the projector and walked over to her. For a few moments, he did nothing more than look at her, his eyes searching her face for some sign of what she was thinking; feeling.

Finally, not able to maintain the silence, he spoke her name questioningly.

“I’m fine, Mulder, really.”

“No, you’re not, Scully.”

~~~~~

Snowflake Inn

1 January

Robin and Keith were awakened when Eddie climbed onto their 4-poster bed and wedged his way in-between them. Eddie didn’t often visit them in their bed. When Keith attempted to place his arm across Robin’s hip, he bumped into Eddie. He groggily opened his eyes, glancing at the clock on her nightstand, 3:34AM. “Eddie? What’s up, big guy?” Robin, now awakened by the new body in their bed, rolled over. Eddie looked at her, wonder in his eyes. “You have to come with me. Mr. Arias is very dead and he doesn’t have eyes anymore.”

Thinking at first that Eddie was having a waking dream or had fallen asleep leafing through one of his action hero comic books, they smiled at him and hugged him to them. When he repeated his request, they knew something was wrong. Robin threw the comforter back, slipped her feet into her slippers and grabbed her robe. Keith grabbed his sweatshirt and pulled it on over his pajama bottoms. Eddie trailed after them telling them to go into the greatroom.

Keith hit the light switches that turned on the various wall and table top lamps. He noticed the rug runner still bunched. As he drew nearer, Eddie explained that he had tried to straighten it out. Keith smiled, sleep still apparent on his face, and ruffled Eddie’s hair, telling him it was ok.

As they approached the staircase, Robin gasped and shrieked, her hands coming up to her mouth, hoping to not wake the other guests. Keith put out his arm, hoping to keep her and Eddie away from the ghastly sight. “Oh, my, god”, was all he said. He quickly looked around the great room and found a throw to put over Mr. Arias’s now silent form. Robin ushered Eddie back into the greatroom by the fireplace. She sat down with him on the stone ledge, wrapping her arms around him. She wasn’t sure whether she or Eddie was shaking more. She ran her hands up and down his back comforting and drawing comfort.

“Mom, Mr. Arias is really very dead, isn’t he?” He looked up at her, his eyes wide. She kept her arms around him, her hands running through his hair as she spoke. “Yes, Eddie, it looks like he’s dead. Can you tell me what happened when you found him?”

Eddie looked up into the air; he was thinking, forming his thoughts. “I was being a night fox so I wanted to see the moonlight again. I first almost fell on the long rug, but I tried to make it be straight again. Then, I almost fell on top of Mr. Arias because he was dead and he wasn’t moving out of my way. I asked him if he was dead, but he didn’t say he was so I came to ask you and daddy. But, Mom? He doesn’t look like he has any eyes. Did ‘they’ take them?”

Keith was on the phone with the Sheriff’s Office while Robin talked with Eddie. While they waited for Sheriff Madson to arrive, the family of three sat by the fireplace. “Did who take them, Eddie?” Keith asked his son. “The Devil People; they take the eyes you know because they can use them to see things. It makes them stronger.”

Robin smiled at him in spite of the direness of the situation. He had listened to the reports six months ago about a group on the other side of the state calling themselves the Devil’s People. The report claimed that one death had occurred and the victim’s eyes had been completely removed. Actually, Eddie had changed his mind about what happened, claiming that the eyes had actually been eaten out of the dead person’s body.

He let the issue drop after neither of his parents gave voice to his comments. Sometimes Eddie’s imagination took over. If they listened to him intently and silently without adding to his story, the story would die on its own. That was their test for veracity. Eddie wasn’t about to disappoint them with this one.

“Now, Eddie, we don’t even know if those people really are Devil People. It sounds to me like it’s just a regular person who did a bad thing by taking someone else’s life.” Robin explained, but Eddie corrected her, “They took his eyes; not someone else’s life, Mom.”

A fine distinction.

~~~~~

J. Edgar Hoover Building

Tuesday, 2 January

Basement Office

“Scully, you are not ‘fine’; talk to me.”

Mulder, sensing that she needed some space, walked over to and sat on the desk. Knowing that he would not let the matter drop until she convinced him that she was really okay, she approached him.

“Mulder, it’s just that cases where children are involved, even when they are not the indicated victim, are hard for me to deal with. Now, I don’t mean that in the sense of handling the case. They just bring up a lot of stuff for me personally and I think you know that. And, it’s always hard to imagine someone so young, so innocent having to learn about the realities of life in such a grizzly manner.”

Actually, what she told her partner was the truth; at least as it had to do with their current situation. What she could not explain to him was the chaotic nature of her thoughts where he was concerned. Oh, it was true that he would listen to her, support her, comfort her; of that she had no doubt. The problem was, she was on the top of a very high and spiky fence right now, carefully balancing and scared to fall onto either side.

Being around Mulder made it more difficult to balance. The thoughts, heck, the fantasies, caused her to blush at the strangest times. The slightest brush of his hand against hers, the physical proximity of their bodies; all caused her heart to pound. She was making a supreme effort and he wasn’t helping matters by merely existing.

Her contemplations and musings continued when they parted at the end of a long day or a long case. What shook her little corner of the world most wasn’t her growing awareness of the strength of her feelings for him. Yes, that awareness was threatening to push into her conscious behavior. Yes, it was consuming her. What concerned her more was her belief that these surging feelings may be one-sided. Her belief was responsible for carefully constructing thicker walls around her emotions; walls to keep her partner behind.

He seemed satisfied with her explanation. “Scully, if you want me to work this one on my own or with another Agent—”

“No, Mulder, I can handle it. Besides, you’re right, we have seen this before, so at least we have somewhere to begin.” <And, taking on a case will keep my mind occupied. Yeah, right>

“Well, I have our tickets for Connecticut. We fly out first thing in the morning. How about some lunch?”

<Lunch with Mulder prior to possibly several weeks together away…no, bad idea. Go home Scully> “Ah, no thanks, Mulder. I’ve got packing to do and a new pair of boots to buy. I hear the Snowflake didn’t get its name by sitting in a tropical climate. I’ll meet you at the airport.”

“I can pick you up, Scully.” Mulder offered her a ride, now sensing that he hadn’t been told the full story about what was upsetting her. He knew her well enough to believe that there was something more personal going on and, he thought it might have to do with him.

He had noticed the slightest change in her behavior where he was concerned over the last month. She sometimes seemed almost skittish; moving quickly away from him or coming up with any excuse to go pick up a file in another office. Just last week, they had been talking at the desk. He was sitting in the chair and she was leaning over at his side reviewing a file with him. He looked up to say something to her and reached out to brush a strand of hair out of her eyes; something he had done many times. Most of the time, she didn’t respond and some of the times, she made a good-natured wise-crack about the gesture. This time, his hand brushed her forehead and he noticed how warm it was. And that her cheeks were flushed. He thought she was sick, feverish. Or, something else? When he inquired, she stood up quickly and muttered something about having a cold. <Not any cold I know of, Scully> The tension between them was palpable.

“It’s ok, I’ll just meet you there.” She smiled at him, grabbed her coat and her copy of the casefile and left, not even waiting for him.

~~~~~

Mulder’s Apartment

Tuesday Night; 2 January

Mulder was rummaging around his apartment trying to locate his winter gear. While the DC area did indeed get snow, it was usually one of two varieties; the type that came down in large, wet flakes and melted upon contact with the pavement or the type that totally obliterated the city forcing everyone to stay inside unless absolutely necessary.

Mulder was familiar with the Inn scene from his time on Martha’s Vineyard. Since his family had a home there, he had no need to stay at an Inn, but the Vineyard had a thriving Inn culture; especially during the high season on the Cape; Memorial Day through Labor Day. He was looking forward to the quaint lifestyle even though the reason for visiting was far from pleasant.

He was used to short-term living accommodations. God knows he had stayed in every nature of temporary residence from decent hotels to two-bit, flea-bitten drive-up motels. He had even figured out how to fall asleep in strange beds at odd hours. Not that it was always restful sleep.

He went to his computer and pulled up the Inn’s website. He had plans for this place, but he had to know the layout and the options… “Set on 5 acres in a sheltered valley, this 18 room architectural gem offers seven spacious museum-quality guest rooms with private bath, telephone with modem, ceiling fan and central air conditioning. A full five-course breakfast, afternoon and evening refreshments are served at guests’ convenience. Other unique features include in-room fireplaces, in-door and outdoor Jacuzzis, on premises workout room and meeting space. The grounds are surrounded by oak, maple and fir trees. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are popular activities. All wood furnishings and treatments feature hand-wrought work with fine, imported woods.”

The last sentence caught Mulder’s eye in relationship to the case. All of the previous sentences made him smile; grandly.

He was bound to pull Scully out of whatever funk she had settled into.

~~~~~

Scully’s Apartment

Tuesday Night; 2 January

Scully dropped the shopping bag down onto her couch and hung up her coat. Her trip was successful and she now owned a pair of dress boots, as well as, hikers. She went into the kitchen to put together a salad for dinner. After washing and shredding some broadleaf lettuce, she chopped some tomatoes, cucumbers and scallions. She added some red beans and some cubed chicken. She tossed the salad with some yogurt vinaigrette, grabbed an iced tea and headed for her couch. She turned on the evening news and pulled her feet up underneath her.

The news droned on; a mugging here, a fire across town, a school system banning scooters in the building; another day another news broadcast. <Same old, same old; just like the rest of my life>

Scully finished her salad, washed the few dishes and utensils and went in to start packing. She thought back to the two other times she was in a very cold setting. She actually shivered remembering those times.

In Alaska, the worm that invaded the body through the host’s ear. She and Mulder had held guns on each other. Mulder had been locked away, feared to have the worm inside of him. Their first year together as partners. Her awe of his abilities, her burgeoning wonderment of him.

Touching his bare skin, even though it had been purely to test him for the possibility of worm infection, had been electrifying for her. She had allowed her hand to linger as it caressed his upper back and neck. As she prepared to leave the room, satisfied that he was uninfected, he had grabbed her and performed the same check on her. While she willingly submitted herself to him, ostensibly to ensure that she was not infected, either, she found the touch erotic. Her still new partner’s large hands were strong yet delivered a soft and tender touch. <Don’t go down that road, now>

The second venture was not an assignment for them, but they ended up together in Antarctica. “Ended up”. Plain and simple, she was taken, he saved her life. ‘Saved her life’; the man literally went to the ends of the earth for her. Even in the cold, he was there to warm her; keep her safe.

This case was taking them to snowy New England in a rural area where the nearest neighbors were miles away. Yes; they would be busy with the case and might have to make some side trips, but they would be based out of the Inn. Scully only glanced briefly at the brochure Mulder shoved in her face at the office. Mulder’s enthusiasm seemed to know no bounds. The thought of a nice winter holiday at a cozy Inn could be a romantic notion. The problem was it was a romantic notion at the wrong time. Time alone with Mulder in such a romantic setting increased Scully’s anxiety level ten-fold. She did not want to risk making a fool of herself around someone who would not or could not return her carefully tamped down feelings.

She knew in her heart of hearts that although her feelings were for and about Mulder, he was not the cause of the swirl of tangled feelings and jumbled thoughts she was experiencing lately. She doubted he even had any idea that something was wrong. As a matter of fact, he would be very concerned if he thought that he was the cause of any discomfort on her part. That’s just who he is, how he is. And one of the many reasons her feelings for him were bubbling to the surface.

~~~~~

Snowflake Inn

Tuesday, 2 January

Cause and effect; can’t have one with the other. It was truly amazing how quickly the guests were able to pull themselves together, understanding the need to leave. The Yarlows had agreed to pay for all guests as a sign of good customer service.

The morning after discovering Tai Arias’s body, breakfast had been hurried, conversation low and stopped all together when Robin or Keith walked into the room. They usually joined their guests for breakfast and snacks, but they could sense the tension this morning and tactfully made themselves busy elsewhere.

Eddie was allowed to join them, however. He sat in his usual place at the head of the table, booster seat on the ladder-back chair helping him reach the cherrywood table. His appetite was insatiable and he kept himself busy while pretending not to be listening to the guests. To their credit, they gave some of their attention to him, asking him what he was eating, which he found strange since he ate the same thing everyday, and what he was planning to do that day.

He wanted to tell them that he planned on helping the two FBI people who were coming to stay with them. He wanted to tell them that he was going to find the Devil People and make them give back Mr. Arias’s eyes. He didn’t tell them any of that because even at the age of 5, he just knew that there were some things that adults really didn’t get. Oh, they would smile at him and nod, but then they would whisper and say things like, ‘poor kid’ or ‘too young to understand what’s going on’, when Eddie wasn’t poor, he knew his parents had lots of money and he wasn’t too young to understand because he found Mr. Arias.

Knowing that Eddie was entertaining the guests, Robin began filling the dishwasher and tidying up. She knew the other 8 guests would be checking out right after breakfast. Keith was bringing in more wood for the fireplaces and snow plowing the front walkway. It had snowed again last night leaving another 6 inches.

They both knew the Inn was not in need of anymore tidying, neatening or straightening. They were working on little sleep and an extensive case of nervous energy. Their new guests would be checking in later today. The only difference between any other checkin day and today was that the two FBI Agents would be the only guests for the duration. The Bureau had compensated the Inn for all lost bookings. The Yarlows had refunded each guest’s fee, telling them their visits were on the house.

Keith had asked a few questions about who would be coming and what they would be doing. He had been told nothing more than the Agents’ names, that they would need adjacent rooms and that other law enforcement officers would be coming and going as they worked on the case. Keith had gone upstairs to the Inn’s computer area and done some checking of his own. Although his internet research skills were rather remarkable, he was able to access nothing more than what he had already been told.

Eddie helped clear the table, knowing just where to place the plates, bowls, silverware and glasses. Since he couldn’t quite reach all the serving bowls from the table, the guests helped him. Keith processed each bill and helped them load their luggage into the Shuttle Inn van. At around 11A he drove them to the airport. His return trip would bring Mulder and Scully from the airport. Keith was nothing if not a consummate planner.

Robin and Eddie spent the time reading books and watching Toy Story, one of Eddie’s favorites. He recited most parts of the movie by heart, allowing Robin some time to nap while holding him in her arms.

~~~~~

In Flight

Wednesday, 3 January

Mercifully, the flight time was only an hour. Scully decided she’d sleep the entire time. Sleeping blocked thoughts, possible words and eye contact with Mulder. She settled into her seat by the window and propped a pillow up against it. Before the Flight Attendants had even finished the pre-departure instructions, she appeared to be asleep. She was not.

Mulder sat next to Scully and tried to engage her in pre-flight small talk. She smiled at him briefly, nodded her head a few times in response to his attempt at whim and wit, but offered no conversation of her own other than to tell him that she was tired and wanted to sleep. He was puzzled and a bit hurt. It would be hard to help her out of whatever was going on if he couldn’t even get her to talk to him. He decided to leave her to her rest. They’d have plenty of time when they arrived. He grabbed the headset and a magazine and settled in to the flight.

Scully’s analytical mind tried to grasp when these feelings had started in earnest because they had been present on and off for awhile. The first thought that came to mind was that she was finding herself on edge, getting easily angered or frustrated by Mulder more often than usual. She wanted to be short with him, but would not allow herself to do so. She wanted a way to keep the walls firmly between them and, sometimes, her intentions and what actually came out of her mouth didn’t agree with each other.

Last week, Skinner had called them into his office to question the field report she had just submitted for them. At the five-minute mark, just shortly after Skinner had asked Mulder if he seriously believed that Skinner was buying his findings, Mulder turned to Scully. He was seeking her backing, her support. She wasn’t budging.

He had leapt. Again. She had warned him that Skinner wouldn’t accept it. She tried to keep silent, knowing that she could not help him on this one. It would have worked if he hadn’t vocalized his question. “Scully, you thought my theory was sound, right?” Pleading in his voice, almost pouting lips. She glanced over at him; her warning look trying to persuade him to discontinue his line of approach; drop it. When that didn’t work, she simply replied, “Not right, Mulder.”

She looked away, trying to save him some face. Skinner, able to read their situation, dismissed Scully, but asked Mulder to remain behind.

As she replayed that scene in her mind, along with the aftermath, she realized that she had almost hoped he’d push her into responding to Skinner. A sadistic streak? No, she didn’t think that was it. It was more just a symptom of her testing their relationship. And, she was right back to how unfair that was to Mulder who knew nothing of her fears.

She took a moment to appear to be moving in her sleep, adjusting her position slightly so she could glance at him. He appeared oblivious to the world, headset on, eyes closed, body moving. The man rarely sat still. Scully took a deep breath, faced forward, fully awake. She grabbed the flight magazine and began reading about the airline’s newly established routes. She almost hoped Mulder would notice that she was awake.

He did.

~~~~~

The Snowflake Inn

Southeastern Connecticut

Wednesday, 3 January

They stood silently at the Snowflake Inn’s Shuttle Inn pick up site at Bradley International Airport. Scully watched the snow falling. She smiled. She liked this kind of snow; ‘snowglobe snow’. The kind that just seemed to flutter from the sky as it would in those little plastic domes filled with water and glitter or small flecks of white. It was romantic snow. And here she was overheating in her winter gear with luggage all around her. Mulder occupied his time watching the people bustling around them, grabbing luggage off the carousels, bumping, pushing, holding each other.

The Airport was smaller than some they’d been in, more sprawling and low than large and stacked. They didn’t have to wait too long. Keith Yarlow had a small motto, “My guests’ time is the Inn’s livelihood.” That meant he was on time and cheerful when picking up and dropping off guests.

“Agents? I’m Keith Yarlow, at your service!” Mulder warmed to him immediately. Scully smiled, but reserved comment. They started piling their luggage into the back of the SUV. Mulder sat up front with Keith and Scully settled into the backseat behind Keith. They had a 45-minute drive. Scully contented herself to listening to Mulder and Keith chatting. She smiled inwardly thinking about how her partner could be set down in almost any setting with people he’d never met and find something to talk about. Mulder had that rare combination of keen intelligence and sociability.

Mulder was enjoying talking with Keith. If they had to stay in such a close setting with relatively few other people, he needed to be comfortable. They chatted about this and that, nothing significant. Mulder was getting the ‘lay of the land’. He glanced back once or twice, trying to see if Scully was awake. She had been mostly silent since the flight. The first time he turned around, she was looking out of the driver’s side window, so she didn’t see him. The next time he looked, he had the benefit of a dazzling smile in response to his. His heart leapt a bit. <So, she hasn’t closed me out completely>

The conversation seemed to ebb about a quarter of the way into the trip. The scenery was beautiful once they got off the highway. The falling snow had picked up a bit so there was more ‘white’ than gray sky.

They passed open fields for a while. This area of the state was home to many farms; mostly food crops, and tobacco. They were in part of the tri-state’s Tobacco Valley. At this time of year, all that was to be seen was the poles over which hung the white netting in the summer months. As they drove farther away from the airport area, the farm fields gave way to residential neighborhoods surrounded by groves of evergreen trees. Some of the homes still had their holiday lights strung on the outside, making the snow look even more festive.

“I hope you two like the snow,” Keith smiled, looking over at Mulder and then in his rearview mirror at Scully. Scully spoke first, “Actually, Mr. Yarlow—”

“Oh, please, we don’t rest on ceremony with our guests; please call me ‘Keith’.”

“—ok, Keith, I love the snow, but don’t get to see enough of it.”

Keith seemed to like that answer. “Have you ever snowshoed, cross-countried? Either one of you?” An image of Mulder on snowshoes appeared unbidden in Scully’s mind causing her to smile and choke back a snort of laughter. She could just picture his long, gangly legs, boots strapped to the snowshoes, flopping around in the snow. The image brought a another, small giggle from her and Mulder turned around.

“What’s so funny, Scully?” Try as she might, she could not erase the smile from her face and the look on Mulder’s caused her to giggle more. “It’s nothing, Mulder, really.” Mulder looked confused but her laugh was infectious and he ended up smiling with her.

Keith picked up on something between the two Agents. Beyond the fact that they seemed to enjoy each other’s company, he wasn’t quite sure. Mulder seemed very amiable and easy-going. Scully, he thought, is another story. She was nice enough, but seemed more reserved. He wasn’t sure whether that was due to the new surroundings or something more. Keith smiled to himself thinking that Eddie would enjoy having the Agents around.

“So Agent Scully, have you ever snowshoed or skied?”

“I have done both, but I’m not very good. I’m more of a hiker.”

“Well, we have many walking trails around the Inn, even in the winter. We also have horse-drawn carriage rides. Our son, Eddie, loves those. He claims he talks to the horses.”

Although he was anxious to get started on the case, Mulder had wanted to wait until they were settled into the Inn. However, when Keith brought up Eddie, Mulder decided to ask a few questions. “Keith, when we read about the case, there were a few references to Eddie really liking ‘unexplained’ things. Can you tell us a little more about those references?”

Scully shot Mulder a stern look indicating she didn’t want him to pursue the subject now. Keith didn’t seem to mind at all. “Well, Mr. Mulder, it’s no secret anywhere in our little town—and I use the word, ‘town’, very loosely…It’s no secret that our Eddie has a very active imagination. He’s an only child and has always been very content playing on his own. He has a whole set of plastic action figures. I tend to lump them all together because, to be honest, I have no clue who they are as individuals. Anyway, he loves to set them out on the kitchen floor when my wife is baking. He creates all sorts of situations with them and talks to them as if they were real.”

Scully was listening intently. “It sounds to me like he’s a delightful boy, Keith. You and your wife must be very proud of him.” Keith smiled, responding to her via the rearview mirror. “We are. He’s the apple of Robin’s eye. Eddie and Robin share a special sort of bond. I’m sure you’ll notice it right away. Don’t know how proud I am of their interest in almost anything outside the realm of day-to-day fact, though. Robin even told me she believes in witches! Imagine that! Anyway, she and Eddie talk about all sorts of things.”

They had taken the last exit of the interstate and were now on a very hilly, back road. It was like driving through a tunnel of evergreen trees. On either side of the road, the evergreens rose taller and taller, some of them arching over the road. With the snow falling and the snow already on the ground and in the boughs of the trees, it truly was a postcard picture day.

The four-wheel drive Shuttle Inn handled the snow-laden roads well. Keith told them that the land they were now seeing on the left side of the road was part of the Inns’ grounds.

Approximately 5 miles down the road, they turned onto Birch Lane. The Snowflake sat back from the road, its red slate tiled roof almost completely covered. Scully looked around at the white landscape offset by the colorful Inn and the evergreens. <Well, if we have to be on such a gruesome case, at least the setting’s wonderful>

~~~~~

The Snowflake Inn

Wednesday, 3 January

Getting Settled

Robin and Eddie had been busy waiting for the two Agents. Eddie was especially excited to have two real FBI Agents staying at his house. He had told all of the children in his kindergarten class. Aside from not really knowing just what the FBI was, the children did catch his excitement, winding them all up just enough so that their teacher struggled with their lessons. She took their excitement as a teachable moment and they discussed the FBI.

Robin came outside when she heard her husband pull up in the yard. Bundled in her red wool jacket, black leather gloves and stylish black felt hat, Scully could tell that Robin had not always lived in the middle-of-nowhere New England. Robin’s chestnut wavy hair fell around her shoulders and her dark brown eyes were set off by her creamy skin. She smiled at the Agents as she walked over and gave Keith a welcome kiss on the lips that lingered. He smiled at her and briefly touched her face before letting her go.

“Let me help you with your luggage. So nice to meet you both, Agents. Eddie and I have been preparing your rooms and a little early dinner. We figured you might be tired from your flight and want to rest up tonight. We’ve got a fire going in the great room fireplace and can get yours going in your rooms if you’d like, too.”

Robin was full of energy and life, bustling, but with an inner warmth that both Scully and Mulder liked immediately. Mulder could only imagine what Eddie would be like based on his parents who seemed to get a lot out of their life together and each other.

As if sensing himself in Mulder’s thoughts, Eddie came running down the front steps of the Inn. Dressed in a down jacket with such a high fill power that his arms looked as if they were not capable of bending at his sides, he called out, “You’re FBI Agents! I told my class you were really FBI Agents. Do you have badges? Can I see them?”

“Eddie, why don’t you give us all a chance to get inside? Then, I’m sure the Agents would be happy to talk with you. Can you take the nice lady’s bag for her?” Keith tried to steer Eddie off of his direct intercept course with the Agents and was partly successful. Eddie did agree to wait until they were inside, but almost ran straight into Scully. She merely smiled at him and turned him toward his father. The four adults and Eddie went inside.

“This place is really beautiful. The brochures and website don’t do it proper justice.” Mulder told Robin and Keith as he looked around once inside the foyer. Scully raised an eyebrow. She knew Mulder had the brochure, but she wondered when he found time to do research on the web. She was very curious about what he was looking for. Robin took everyone’s coats and gloves, and put them in the closet. Boots were left at the front door and the stocking-footed people headed into the greatroom.

“Eddie, how about if we give a tour?” Keith and his son held hands. “Can I start it this time?” Eddie looked up at Keith. “Sure, let’s get the Snowflake tour going!”

Standing in the main entryway, with the staircase directly in front of them, the greatroom to the left and dining room to the right, Eddie began his tour. “Ok, this is our main staircase that takes you to your rooms that are upstairs. Over here,” he walked into the dining room area, “is where we eat breakfast together. There are enough chairs for all of the visitors, but when they’re not all here, everyone else can eat here. I make breakfast with my mom sometimes, but I eat with everyone. You can sit in here even when it’s not breakfast time if you want to eat or sit at the table.”

The walls were painted in flat finish forest green with cherrywood wainscoting separating the burgundy and forest green striped paper that went to the cherrywood floor edging. All of the furnishings were of the same cherrywood. A few, simple-styled tiffany lamps sat on the sideboard and credenza. The hardwood floors were bare.

Mulder and Scully looked at Eddie and smiled. Mulder turned to Scully and saw genuine amusement and a flicker of something else that resembled serenity. He had not seen that particular look in some time. Scully turned toward him, sensing his eyes on her. Her smile remained and color rose in her cheeks. She looked down and away, but did not lose the look.

Eddie continued. “Right behind here is the kitchen. We all cook in there. My mom makes the best breakfasts of anyone. But she makes me eat some vegetables that I don’t really like. Do you like vegetables, lady?” Eddie turned toward Scully. He had obviously taken a liking to her and the feeling seemed to be mutual. She smiled at him and told him she liked them, too.

The kitchen was the one totally anachronistic room in the Inn. It took up almost the entire back end of the structure. The floor was done in small, light blue and white, tiles. The high traffic areas; near the sink and the large, combination gas/electric chef’s stove and oven, had rubber stand runners to alleviate stress on the legs. The cabinetry was done in white-washed provincial, some of the cabinet fronts made of glass. There was plenty of counter space which facilitated Robin’s baking proclivity. The large windows by the sink and pantry area allowed much natural lighting to enter and provided a beautiful view of the meadow that served as the ‘backyard’. The slanted sky lights were partially covered with sliding snow.

Eddie took Mulder’s hand this time and led both him and Scully into the greatroom. The hardwood floors from the dining room were continued here, but were covered with an assortment of area rugs of varying sizes and textures. All of the seating was overstuffed; couches, love seats and club chairs. The upholstery carried the forest green and burgundy coloration in a muted floral chintz. They were arranged in small conversational groups, a few of which faced the large stone fireplace. The woodworking in the greatroom was all oak and looked as if it had been hand rubbed. More Colonial than Victorian, the window treatments were tabbed curtains with oak wood slatted blinds underneath. Eddie explained that the room was referred to as the ‘greatroom’ because it really was.

“Ok, bud, time to get washed up for dinner. Mom will finish the tour for our guests and let them get settled in a bit.” Keith whisked Eddie off to their living quarters which were entered through a side door from the greatroom.

“Come on upstairs, you two. You look like you’d like a little down time.” Robin preceded them up the staircase. Scully noticed the framed photographs on the wall alongside of her. “Are these all family?” She noticed quite a few shots of Eddie from birth until current time, a wedding picture of Robin and Keith, a few shots of the three of them in the yard at the Inn.

“Most of them are. Family now is the three of us; both sets of grandparents are gone and Keith and I are only-children, but we have some pictures of them here and here. The others are guests. We love adding them to our family wall.”

On the landing of the second floor, Robin pointed out the four guest rooms and private baths and the computer room. Three of the bedrooms were double and one was a suite. Some were carpeted and others were hardwood floors with stenciling. “I don’t know how into period style either of you are, but this Inn is rather eclectic, I’m afraid. Although the overall structure is Victorian, we’ve blended a little colonial, French provincial and contemporary in the rooms. Neither of us could settle on one period we liked best. The eclectic nature of the rooms has kind of become our trademark in the Innkeepers community.”

Robin stopped and blushed. “I’m so sorry; here I am talking on and on and supposedly taking you to your rooms. Where are my manners?” Mulder quickly smiled and assured here that they were enjoying the tour and the history. Before heading to the third floor, Robin took them over to the bay window that faced the back lawn. “If you look off to your right, you’ll see one of our guests’ favorite features; our heated hot tub and deck area. It’s open year round and the slight overhang keeps most of the snow or rain off!”

Robin led them to the third floor where their rooms would be. There were another 4 rooms on the third and final floor. A smaller, back staircase, led to the attic. The four rooms were all doubles with private baths. “We have no other guests right now, so you could really have your pick, but these two are my favorites because of the view and the style of the rooms.” Robin led them to side-side rooms, the bathroom walls the joining wall. Both had very large windows that had window seats and stretched up to the eaves.

The view was indeed glorious; looking out into the valley and into the distant hills. Evergreen trees dotted the landscape in small stands. Scully felt any residual tension leave her. Mulder was already busy looking around.

“Hey, Scully, check this out.” Scully walked into Mulder’s room. “What am I looking at?” While the room was very nicely appointed and furnished, she did not see anything out of the ordinary. “Right here, what do you see?” Scully stood next to Mulder and looked where he pointed. “I see a bureau and I see a color TV. What am I missing, Mulder?” Mulder smiled, “You didn’t miss it, Scully. We have TVs!” Scully rolled her eyes and started walking out of the room while Robin watched the two Agents. <These two must be hiding their relationship for professional reasons>

“Scully? Isn’t that great?” Mulder followed Scully into her room.

“You’ve got one, too.”

“Yes, Mulder, I do. And I have a telephone and a data port. Those are known as ‘modern technological conveniences. Most guest facilities have them today, in the year of our lord, 2001.” She started hanging up some of her clothing and putting items into the bureau. She turned around and pushed him out of the room. “Awww, Scully, you’re no fun.”

Mulder reluctantly allowed her to push him into the hallway. “I think your partner needs some time, Mr. Mulder.” He smiled, “Please, it’s just ‘Mulder’. And, you’re right, we both need some time. Thanks for the lovely tour.” “Well, Mulder, dinner’s in an hour. Hope you both like stew.” With that, Robin went downstairs.

Mulder took 5 minutes to unpack. He went to put his toiletries in the bathroom and momentarily frowned. He hadn’t seen the modern showerhead above the tub. While baths could certainly serve their purpose, he often didn’t fit inside the typical tub and much preferred the efficiency of the shower. He walked back into the room and turned on the TV settling on a basketball game. The ESPN was broadcasting the nationally number one-ranked University of Connecticut’s Women’s team. He perched on the bed to watch.

Scully finished unpacking. She decided she was going to love staying here. It was quiet, private and restful even if their reasons for being here were more urgent and gory. The room was done in pale yellows and white. Very faint yellow and white pinstripe wallpaper with white painted wood trim. Hardwood floors with fluffy, white shag area rugs. The queen size sleigh bed had slatted head and foot boards, distinguishing it from the more traditional and heavy solid wood styles. A large, fluffy floral comforter sat atop the feather bed. The bed had so many overstuffed sleeping and decorative pillows that Scully imagined herself sinking in and never surfacing again. All of the wood was oak. She walked over to the window, staring at the snowy scene beyond. Her thoughts were interrupted by Mulder yelling, “Sink it ‘Svet!”

She knocked on his door. When he didn’t answer, she pushed the door open to find him bouncing on the end of his bed, watching the TV. She walked around to his side, looking at the screen. <That’s Mulder, all sports, any time. Unless it’s ‘all aliens, any time’>

“All right, hoops man, time for dinner.”

“But, Scully, the UConn women are beating Tennessee! It’s a big rivalry.”

Scully looked at the TV screen and then at Mulder. “Ok, you stay and watch. I’m going to have dinner with the Yarlows.”

She turned around and walked out, closing the door behind her. No sooner had she gone halfway to the second floor than Mulder caught up with her. “You wouldn’t have dinner without me, Scully.” Walking behind her down the stairs, he put his hands on her shoulders and followed her to the dining room.

The sounds of silence. The absence of spoken words replaced by silverware against dinnerware, liquid sloshed in glasses, chewing, swallowing, contented sighs. The joys of dinner. Keith had prepared his famous chicken stew with a salad and some crusty sourdough bread. Robin opened a bottle of Liebframilch.

The fire roared in the fireplace and the snow continued to fall. The setting for a warm family dinner. “If you two want to turn in early tonight, don’t worry about us. The third floor’s pretty private and our quarters are on the far back end of the house. There’s an intercom in the room incase you need us for anything. I know you’re going to want to get an early start tomorrow.” Keith sat back, hands across his stomach.

Eddie looked around the table. He had been quiet up until now. “Is the Sheriff and the Deputy coming back tomorrow, Dad?” It was Robin who answered him, “Yes, Eddie; Sheriff Burton and Deputy Blake will be here around 9A. Now, Eddie, you should get ready for your bath.”

Eddie pushed away from the table and walked around to Mulder and Scully. He wedged his way between their two chairs and put a hand on each of their legs. “Mom, I think they ‘are’.” Scully raised and eyebrow and looked at Eddie, “Eddie, what do you think we ‘are’?” She should have seen it coming, but didn’t. Eddie smiled and turned to look at her. “I think you two are married.”

Scully blushed; not sure how to reply. Mulder just smiled at Eddie and asked Eddie why he would say that. Eddie replied, “Because you two look like my mom and dad.” With that statement, he walked off toward their living quarters. Robin mouthed ‘I’m sorry’ at the two Agents.

Before anyone else could say anything, Scully stood. She thanked Robin and Keith for the lovely meal and excused herself. She headed up the stairs taking them two at a time.

Mulder heard drawers opening and closing; rather loudly, as he approached the top of the stairs. Scully’s door was closed. He knocked and got no answer. “Scully, it’s me; please let me come in.” He waited a few seconds and knocked again. Just as his hand was going to the door for the third time, it swung open. “What, Mulder?’ Scully stood at the door, hand on her hip, looking down.

“Scully, what’s wrong? Why did you leave dinner so quickly?” Mulder started to walk into her room. “Don’t, Mulder. I’m going to bed. We’ve got to get an early start.” Mulder thought there might be tears in her eyes, but decided not to ask her about it. “Scully? Please tell me that you’re ok. No; I take that back. Tell me what’s wrong.”

She looked up at him, briefly. “I am ok, Mulder, I am. I just need to sleep. Good night.” Before he could say anything else, she closed the door on him. He stood in the hall, looking at her door, for a few minutes. Looking at the door and knowing that she was far from ‘ok’; at least on this planet.

Scully put on her pajamas, pulled back the comforter and literally climbed ‘into’ the bed. She had never felt such exquisite luxury in a mere bed. The down featherbed and comforter, the assortment of pillows, the moonlight peeking through the haze of the snowy sky all lulled her body and mind into a state of relaxation; almost.

The setting lulled her enough to hear her own thoughts. To hear them asking her just what the problem was, why she left dinner so abruptly over an innocent child’s pronouncement. That was it. It was, on the surface, innocent. She wasn’t sure which shook her more; the fact that Eddie had made the pronouncement after only just meeting her or the fact that it seemed to be so close to the truth.

She knew she was being far from fair with Mulder and wondered just how much more of her mood he would take. She knew he was trying desperately to figure out how to talk to her, how to give her her space and how to help her.

Mulder had stripped down to his boxers and was walking around his room. He was a great investigator, superb profiler, possessed a keen intellect, stellar memory. And, he couldn’t get inside Scully’s head. Oh, he knew enough to figure out that Eddie’s comments had set her on edge and he knew she’d been upset since the case was first assigned to them.

He knew that her ‘I’m fine’, usually meant anything but. <Admit it, Mulder, you’re a chicken sh*t. You should just go over there and talk to her—Yeah, and have my head handed to me; or worse> Mulder decided that his wisest choice right now was to fly under the radar for a while.

Scully nestled down in her bed for a long winter’s nap. Mulder fell asleep to the local Doppler radar predicting more snow for eastern Connecticut. Visions of Scully dancing in his post-Christmas head.

~~~~~

Montville, Connecticut Woods

3 January, 11:21PM

“They’re here, you know. I told you they’d come.”

“Don’t sound so smug and self-righteous. It was a foregone conclusion they’d have to come.”

“One of them is more knowing; dangerous.”

“Tell me another one.”

“I’m serious, Raven. They’ll all come now.”

“Topple your enemy’s heart; topple your enemy. It was said in the before time, it remains so in the present.”

“Don’t go quoting the old times, Hawk. And stop using that damn, stilted language.”

~~~~~

Snowflake Inn

4 January

As he came down the stairs, Mulder heard the sound of voices in the greatroom. He hadn’t intended to oversleep, but he had succumbed to the peace and quiet and the wonderful bed. He had pulled on his navy, long-sleeved Henley and a pair of Levi’s. After the Yarlows had assured him that they expected the Agents to wear their service weapons as part of their jobs, Mulder had slung his holster over his shoulder.

He found Scully talking with two officers. The Yarlows had taken Eddie to school and gone on into town to shop for the day.

Mulder found himself noticing his partner. Scully’s hair looked great. It was a bit longer than usual and she had done something different, although Mulder was hard-pressed to figure out exactly how to describe it. It looked as if she had pulled it into a ponytail and then pulled the ponytail through her hair again, creating a wonderfully stylish look. She was wearing a beige turtleneck sweater and dark brown microfiber stretch pants that fit like a second skin. Her service weapon was strapped around her waist. She saw him out of the corner of her eye and smiled.

“Mulder, this is Sheriff Dan Burton and Deputy—”

“Deputy Barney Fife! I’d know you anywhere.” Mulder smiled, extending his hand. The Deputy scowled.

<Off to another good start, Mulder, my clown>

Sheriff Burton saved the day. “Agent Mulder, this is Deputy Conor Blake. We’re both pleased to meet you and Agent Scully, aren’t we, Conor?’ Deputy Blake relaxed and shook Mulder’s hand. Mulder apologized for getting off on the wrong foot.

Sheriff Dan Burton was about 5′11″ of stocky, country solid frame with a shock of gray-white hair poking out under his Sheriff’s hat. His weathered face spoke of lots of outdoors work earlier in his life and the slight redness in his face told Scully he had probably gone through a short love affair with higher than usual alcohol content.

“Agents, we’re at your disposal. To be honest, we really could use the help. This is a quiet, friendly community. I think the last time we had any real commotion, it was some teens on dirt bikes tearing up the lawns.”

“Sheriff—”

“Please, Agent Scully, call me Dan.”

“Ok, then, Dan, it would be helpful if you can fill us in on anything; no matter how small it may seem, that has been reported since the time the initial reports were filed.”

Mulder motioned for them all to have a seat in the dining room where they could make notes and spread out the paperwork. Robin had left them coffee and muffins. The Deputy reached for a warm muffin as he looked down at his file. He encountered Scully’s hand on the same muffin, causing both of them to stop.

Deputy Conor Blake had moved to Laurel Glen from Philadelphia after his 3 year marriage had folded. While he had loved police work in the metropolitan area, there were just too many reminders there for him. A friend of a friend of someone else’s relative once removed had told him of the Deputy’s post. He took the job thinking it would give him a year or so to develop another life perspective. That was four years ago.

Conor Blake and Mulder were approximately the same height and that was where the similarities began and ended. Conor’s hair was almost black, thick, wavy and hung in a small ponytail at the back of his neck. His piercing blue eyes indicated that he missed nothing. Scully noticed that he had a muscular swimmer’s body. His manner and speech belied the more rugged physique. He was easy-going, but quick on the uptake. He would prove to be an asset to the case.

Mulder, who had been talking with Dan, caught the ‘muffin contact’ out of the corner of his eye. While it most certainly looked innocent to him, he couldn’t take his eyes off of Conor. The man removed his hand from Scully’s quickly enough, but his eyes sought hers. Scully and Conor both glanced at Mulder. A very interesting game of ‘look/don’t look’ ensued for thirty odd seconds and then abruptly ended. Dan was saying Conor’s name over and over again to get his attention.

“Conor? Bring the Agents up to speed on the new information.” Dan looked curiously at the three colleagues. It wasn’t the first time Conor had disrupted a conversation.

“Sure, Dan. I’ll start backwards and bring up back to the scene of the crime. Within the last few days, there’ve been reports of some strange activity out in the Montville Woods. Montville’s south of us on the west-end of the Thames River, about an hour, depending on the route you use. Home of the tribal casinos, big business, lots of activity in the area. A few of the local folk have reported seeing flames in the woods, hearing chanting. No one’s actually seen any people out there. No other unusual activity.”

Dan looked at each of the faces present as he spoke. He and Mulder briefly locked eyes; each searching for something inexplicable in the other. “Day prior to the sightings in the woods, a local Laurel Glen boy found what appears to be one of Mr. Arias’s eyes in a wooded area about 10 minutes from here. We’ve sent the eye on to the medical center in Farmington for positive ID. They’re also doing the official autopsy; much better equipped than we are out here. Now, that brings us right back to the Snowflake, Eddie’s discovery and Mr. Arias’s untimely demise.”

Mulder was the first to speak. “Have either of you talked personally with Eddie?” Dan had indeed met with Eddie as soon as the police had arrived at the Inn. “Yes, yes, I did that first night. Kid was amazingly clear on what he saw, must’ve been running on adrenaline. He told us about his night time wandering and how and where he found Tai’s body. Everything seems by-the-book so far.”

“Mulder, I think I’d like to head up to Farmington and see how they’re doing with both the identification of the eye and the autopsy. I could take the Yarlow’s car.” Mulder was about to tell her that that would be fine; that he would stay here and try to interview some of the neighbors when Dan spoke up. “You don’t want to travel that far in their vehicle; it’s rear wheel drive. The roads are still pretty slick. I’d be glad to drive you there in our 4-wheel drive.”

“Well, if it won’t put you out any? I’ll get my things and be right back down.” Scully went upstairs to get her bag and files. Mulder willed his face to remain neutral. He was not as successful as he’d hoped.

“Be right back.” Mulder told the Sheriff and Deputy and took the stairs two at a time.

Scully’s door was open and she was heading out of her room as Mulder approached. “Scully? Got a minute?”

“Sure; what’s up?” Mulder started to fidget prompting Scully to ask him again, “Mulder? You wanted to talk to me?”

“I don’t think—” Scully raised one eyebrow, on hand on her hip. She pursed her lips. “Mulder, if you’re going to say what I think you’re going to say, don’t say it and we can end this conversation now.”

As she started to walk past him, Mulder stopped her. “Scully, I just think that maybe you should wait for me and we can go together.” He knew he was risking a rash of comments from her, but couldn’t stop himself.

She decided to try the gentle approach. “Mulder, I’m only going to Farmington, I’ve got work to do. You’ve got people to interview. It just makes sense for us to do this work separately in the interest of expediency.” She smiled at him as she touched his hand and then headed downstairs. <Well, when you put it that way, Scully…>

He followed her down the stairs and he and Dan watched her walk out with Conor. “Agent, don’t focus on what you can’t change; not when we got our work cut out for us.”

Dan clapped Mulder on the shoulder, grabbed a muffin for the road. Mulder grabbed his jacket and gloves and followed Dan out.

~~~~~

Montville Grange Hall

4 January; later that day

“Look, our number has grown; it is working. He said it would. It just took more time than we expected.”

“There are only 12 of us; we need 3 more. It is decreed and so is shall be.”

“Hawk, I told you, knock off the jargon! Yeah, we need 3 more, but we’re getting there. The most recent contributor was only across the river. His contribution all the more powerful because of his exotic origins. Face it, Hawk, our numbers are growing.”

Hawk paced, the tension and strength in his body coiled as if waiting to spring. “Look, I know you’re right, Panther, but our timetable dictates faster action. And, we’ve got to act before the local law enforcement gets in the middle. I’ve sent some of the Scouts down to canvass the scene over at the Inn.”

Now it was Panther’s turn to pace. As he walked around the pine table and chairs, his boot

heels pounded on the wood slat flooring, echoing his frustration. “Look, Hawk, I’ll give you the danger of the locals. I’ll even agree that we’ve gotta watch the child. He senses things; don’t know how or why, but he’s dangerous. However, we harm him, we’ll never achieve our ends. Now, if we look at the new kids on the block…”

Hawk agreed. “That’s why I’ve sent the Scouts. I’ve already gotten a prelim report. The two Agents have split up. The woman is with the Deputy heading over to view the autopsy.”

Hawk picked up his cellphone. “Execute the plan. We meet tonight just outside Laurel Glen.”

~~~~~

Snowflake Inn

4 January; evening into night

The activity level at the Inn increased when Robin, Keith and Eddie returned. The Sheriff and Deputy had left not ten minutes earlier. Mulder and Scully were sitting in front of the fireplace comparing notes when Eddie came bounding into the room.

Robin and Keith carried in several bags of groceries and headed for the kitchen. Eddie headed over to Scully, regaling her with the Tales of Kindergarten. Scully pulled him easily onto her lap and pushed back a lock of hair that had fallen across his eyes. She found it hard to resist him. It was just his five-year old cuteness. He was a bright, likeable child. A bright, likeable child that tugged at her heart in a painful manner. Even so, she found she could not get enough of him.

His insights intrigued her when they didn’t scare her. A puzzling situation. “So, FBI Agent Lady, do you want to go for a walk in the snow? It’ll make us really hungry for mom’s roast beast.”

Mulder laughed, “Eddie, don’t you mean, Roast Beef?”

Eddie smiled at Mulder, “No, Mister. I mean Roast Beast just like the Who’s down in Whoville eat. It tastes way better than plain old Roast Beef.”

Scully picked Eddie up as she stood. “Ok, Eddie, let’s go for our walk.”

Mulder went into the kitchen to see if he could help with dinner, although he wasn’t sure what he should be trusted with. He did set a mean table and offered to do so. Keith was putting finishing touches on the bread and vegetables. He offered to help Mulder set the table. They stacked a wooden tray with 5 place settings and headed back into the dining room.

As Keith laid the woven place mats on the cherry table, he regarded Mulder.

“So Agent Mulder—”

“Just ‘Mulder’, is fine, Keith.”

“Ok, so ‘Mulder’, what’s up between you and your partner? Now, I know it’s not really any of my business, I don’t know you two, you’re here on official business and you’re our guests. But, I’ve never been one to say anything other than what I mean. And, well, something’s up; you can feel it.”

<Why the heck is it that everyone around us seems to know there’s something going on and neither one of use can figure it out>

Mulder remained silent; not because he didn’t want to respond—he genuinely liked Keith and did not feel that the man was intruding—but because he really had no clear answer. “Keith, if I knew, I just might tell you. I sure could use an objective opinion. I just seem to say the wrong things and, well…”

Mulder let his response trail there, not sure how to continue. Keith smiled, his head down, still moving around the table placing dinner plates on the place mats. “Mulder, in the best relationships, there are never any easy answers. There are only sincere attempts to understand and persist. It seems to me that you and Agent Scully are dancing around the issues and each other when what you should be doing is talking to each other. Now, if Eddie and I can see it…”

Mulder smiled ruefully and finished setting the table. He made a mental note to find some time to talk with Scully. Although, given her mood prior to the trip and the almost-fool he’d made of himself regarding Conor Blake, he knew he had his work cut out for him.

Scully and Eddie, dressed in their winter finery, walked out the front door hand-in-hand. The snow had started falling again, but it was light and fluffy.

“Agent Lady—”

“Eddie, you can call me Dana. That’s my first name. Ok?”

“Ok, Agent Lady Dana! Have you ever seen them?”

Scully stopped on the steps to the porch, looking at Eddie. “Have I ever seen who, Eddie?” Eddie pulled on her hand, indicating that he wanted to walk and talk. He led her over the gravel driveway area and into the side yard.

Without missing a beat, Eddie replied, “You know, the Scouts. They come here sometimes. Not right here where we are, but right over there.” He pointed towards the woods behind the Inn. Scully unconsciously started walking in that direction, Eddie in tow.

Eddie slowed her down by standing his ground and tugging on her hand. “You can’t go in and see them. They don’t like anyone to do that.” Scully was trying to decide if she was listening to actual fact or the sweet imagination of a 5-year old.

She stooped down to look Eddie in the eye. “Eddie, I don’t know about the Scouts, but if you tell me not to go into the woods, I won’t go. How about if we walk around the Inn a little bit and you can fill me in about the Scouts. How does that sound.” Eddie brightened and smiled. “That sounds very good. Then it’ll be time for dinner.” <What is it with males and food>

Dinner was relatively uneventful; good, home cooking, pleasant company. It remained uneventful until Eddie announced that ‘the Scouts were watching; especially the Agents’. Mulder’s fork froze mid-way to his mouth. Scully’s eyes opened a little wider, questioning.

“Eddie, what did you say?” Robin looked over at Keith and then at Eddie. Eddie appeared to be a little puzzled by the question, his eyebrows furrowing.

“What, mom?”

“Eddie, do you remember telling us something about the ‘Scouts’?”

Eddie shook his head, looking from his parents to the Agents. He could tell that even though he did not recall mentioning any ‘scouts’, they had all heard him.

“It’s ok, son. Maybe we just didn’t hear you right. Why don’t you finish your dinner and we’ll get you ready for bed?” Keith smiled at Eddie and the boy seemed to brighten again.

“Eddie, do you like bedtime stories?” Scully wanted to help Eddie feel a little more comfortable and, truth be told, she really wanted to spend a little more time with him. “Sure I do! It’s almost my favorite thing. Do you like Harry Potter?” Scully smiled at him. “As a matter of fact, I do. Should we read some of the story together?”

Eddie nodded and finished his dinner quickly. Mulder watched the interchange wistfully. He loved seeing Scully with children. He also idly wondered whether Eddie might be a bridge to link them back to one and other.

~~~~~

Snowflake Inn

4 January; Bedtime Stories

Eddie lay on the pillow of his train bed, the small headboard lamp illuminating his face in warm light. Scully was reading from the first Harry Potter book. Although he was actually about 30 pages into the book, he had Scully start from the beginning. He recited the words as she read them, her smile echoing his enjoyment.

After about 10 pages, Eddie’s eyes started closing, but he fought valiantly to try to raise the drooping lids. As he was about to doze off, he started muttering. Scully called his name once or twice, but realized he was falling asleep. As she reached over him to turn off the lamp, she heard him clearly make reference to the Scouts again. And, the fact that they were coming. While she knew that children possessed active imaginations that tended to work on overtime, she also knew that Eddie was different in some way. Now, she wasn’t about to share just how different she believed he might be with Mulder. That would be too personally risky.

As she ran her hand over Eddie’s forehead, gently pushing his hair back from his face, she sensed someone standing at the door. Thinking it might be Mulder, she looked up expectantly. “Agent Scully?” Conor Blake opened the door slowly. Upon seeing Eddie’s now-sleeping form, he motioned for her to come into the hallway.

She closed the door to Eddie’s room and stood in the dark hallway. “Deputy Blake, what can I do for you?” Conor smiled and reminded her of her agreement to call him ‘Conor’. She reminded him to call her ‘Scully’. Name reminders finished, Conor told her he wanted her to come with him.

“Can’t this wait until morning? It’s almost nine and I’m really kind of tired.” Scully had a vision of settling into her tub for a nice bubblebath before sinking into her bed.

“I’m afraid not, Scully. I’ve got the truck running. You’ll be back in no time.” Scully resigned herself to having to go out.

“Maybe we should ask Mulder to join us?” Conor replied, but a little too quickly for Scully’s taste, “Um, no, I don’t think that’ll be necessary.”

They came down the stairs to find Mulder and the Yarlows still at the table having coffee and dessert. “Conor, Scully, why don’t you join us?” Keith offered them both a seat. Mulder’s face clearly said that the better option would be to escort Conor Blake out the door and invite Scully to join them. Mulder did not like Conor, but chalked it up initially to a bit of testosterone-guided, territory-marking, jealousy.

“Actually, Conor’s taking me to see something related to the case. I shouldn’t be gone too long.” Mulder was up in a flash. “What do you need to see tonight?”

Conor stepped toward him, bringing them face-to-face. Closely matched in height, Conor outweighed Mulder by a good 40 pounds. However, although the Agent appeared more wiry, he probably matched the Deputy in strength; mostly likely guided by sheer emotion. “Mulder, it has to do with the autopsies. I thought it might help your investigation if we got this overweigh tonight.” Conor smiled at Scully and allowed some of the smile to fall upon Mulder.

Scully went to get her coat, hat and gloves. Keith motioned to Mulder to come back to the table. Robin had gone to their living quarters to prepare for bed.

“What do you know about Conor, Keith?” Mulder managed to pull himself together, deciding to approach his concerns rationally. Keith ran his hand through his hair, his need for sleep becoming more evident.

“Well, Conor’s a good Deputy, knows his community, efficient. But, something tells me that’s not what you’re really asking me.” He paused, noting that Mulder was watching him intently, waiting for his next words. “Ok, so you are pretty perceptive, Mulder. Conor likes to think of himself in a , how should I describe it, a slightly over-inflated way where women are concerned. Heck, he flirts with Robin all the time and he not only knows she’s married, but that he’d have me to deal with if he tried anything with her.”

Mulder seemed to relax a bit. But it was short-lived with Keith’s next words.

“Now, I don’t judge people on rumors, Mulder, but there’s also been some talk concerning Conor and women.” Before Mulder could move, Keith continued. “Now, don’t get too concerned. Remember I said it’s rumor.” Mulder sat, but just had to know. “What rumors? Has he hurt anyone?”

“No, not that I know of and not that Sheriff Burton could prove.” Thoughts in Mulder’s world were becoming murkier by the moment.

Keith continued, “About 6 months ago, an unmarried couple moved into town. They lived about 5 miles from us in the hill section. Nice couple, in their 30s. Became very active in the local Grange and other Chamber of Commerce activities. She was a WebPages designer, worked out of their home. He taught in Eddie’s school. The Sheriff and Deputy made their usual welcome visit to the newcomers. Conor was fascinated by the woman’s skills with technology, or so he proclaimed. He would visit her several times a week to watch her work”

Mulder looked at Keith questioningly. “Her partner didn’t mind? Call me Neanderthal, but I don’t think I could let a guy do that with Sc—, with my live-in partner.”

Keith smiled. “No, can’t say I’d like it much, either. Their relationship was close, intimate, but also pretty ‘open’. The last anyone saw of her was when her partner went to an open house at the school one night. He claims he kissed her good-bye and she told him Conor was dropping by. When he got home, she was gone. No note, nothing missing, no signs of struggle.”

“Didn’t they consider that she might have left willingly with him?” Mulder surprised even himself with his question.

“Actually, Mulder, some of the people in town assumed that, but, Conor was still here and more than willing to account for his time with her. He appeared to have nothing to hide.”

“Was the disappearance ever solved; was she found?” Keith stood up, clearly needing to join Robin in bed. “Yes, she was. In the same manner as Mr. Arias.” Keith picked up their coffee mugs and headed for the kitchen; Mulder hot on his trail.

“Were there others?”

“Well, no one else like Mr. Arias, but there were odd comments from other unmarried women for a period of 2 months, then they seemed to stop.” Keith said good night to Mulder and headed for his quarters.

Mulder paced. And paced. And paced. He needed to work off some steam; a lot of steam. He grabbed the keys to the Yarlow’s SUV, threw on his down jacket and leather gloves and quietly headed out.

The fact that he had absolutely no idea where he was going didn’t matter.

“Where are we headed, Conor?” Scully was mildly concerned about the way their vehicle was flying over the icy roads. The earlier snow had let up only to give way to a bout of freezing rain. The roads away from the Inn were hilly and winding with few streetlights to guide them. A fog had settled several feet above the ground painting an eerie view in the headlights.

Conor didn’t answer directly or quickly. Scully glanced over at his face, illuminated by the orange glow of the dashboard lights. His left elbow rested on the window ledge, his fingers on his face. His look was inscrutable. “I think I can show you something you’ll find interesting.” Was all he said. At that point, he placed his left hand on the wheel and his right hand on the shifter console between him and Scully.

Scully’s eyes traveled down to his hand and back out the windshield as she edged closer to the passenger-side door. “I still don’t understand why this couldn’t wait until morning and I really want to know where we’re headed.” A twinge of anger crept into her voice.

Mulder took out his flashlight and focused it on the tracks in the driveway snow. He followed them on foot to the end of the driveway, noting that they veered left onto the main road; leading away from the town.

He ran back to the SUV and gunned the engine, spinning the wheels on the slick and snowy surface. He headed out onto the main road, forcing some particularly graphic words and phrases from his mouth.

Conor’s large, right hand moved to the outside of Scully’s pant leg. “Scully, no need for concern. I just want to show you something that won’t be visible during the light of day.” His hand moved toward her inner thigh.

And that’s when she yelled. “Get your hand off of me, Conor! Stop this truck right now; I’m getting out.” She grabbed his hand and slammed it down on the console. She reached for her seatbelt and the door latch.

The motion caused by his hand hitting the console caught him off guard and caused him to swerve. The truck slid over to the right shoulder of the road, then, as Conor tried to right the spin, it careened across the road into a stand of birch trees.

The headlights canted upward, illuminating the white trunks dashed with birch black spots. The truck leaned toward the driver’s side, tires on the passenger side in the air and spinning.

Scully’s body had been thrown toward the console as she had started to unfasten her seatbelt. She tried to right herself from leaning against Conor who was trying to pull himself up enough to get them out.

Mulder knew he was probably driving faster than road conditions dictated. He could hear the faint pinging of the freezing rain hitting the hood of the SUV. Reminding himself that he would be no good to himself or Scully if he ended up off the side of the road, he slowed; but only a bit.

He patted his side to ensure he had his holster.

Wondering why had hadn’t thought of it earlier, he pulled his cellphone from his pocket and speed dialed Scully.

***

Brrrrnnggg

Scully was dazed, but otherwise uninjured. Try as she might, the angle into which the SUV had settled didn’t allow her to move off of Conor. She reached for her cellphone, realizing that his right hand was coming around her right arm and across her body. She attempted to shrug him off, but his sheer size and the angle of the vehicle made it next to impossible.

“Scully, just relax; I’m trying to get us out of here.” His voice was calm, but held an undercurrent that made the hairs on the back of Scully’s neck stand up.

“Move your arm or lose it, Conor.” Conor backed off, but did not totally remove his arm. Instead, he brought his left arm around her, effectively settling them into each other more.

Mulder held the cellphone to his ear, imploring Scully to answer. “The cellular customer you are trying to reach is not in the service area.” He jabbed the ‘end’ and then ‘send’ buttons. “Dammit, Scully, answer me!”

“Conor, if you let me go, I can answer my phone. We can probably get some help and get out of here in one piece.” Scully’s neck was starting to ache from the strain of trying to hold her head off of Conor’s chest. She let it fall back with a heavy thud. Conor, taking her head on his chest for a step toward acquiescence, brought his left hand to her forehead and stroked her hair back.

She reached for her phone now that her left hand was freed. As soon as she flipped it open and pressed ‘send’, he reached over her and pulled it from her hand. He touched, ‘end’, and ‘power off’ and let it fall to the floor of the truck. His hand moved back over her, pinning her to him.

Mulder finally got through. He could hear voices; could hear Scully. “Scully? Are you all right?” He heard the disconnect and slammed the steering wheel damning Conor Blake.

Scully saw headlights coming their way. By her count, it appeared that 3 vehicles were heading their way. She strained to sit up, but Conor held her to him fast. His chin now rested in her hair and she thought she felt his lips touch her hair, her scalp.

Oblivious to the road conditions, Mulder jammed the gas pedal to the floor, sending the SUV fishtailing. He slowed enough to right his course. He talked to himself as he drove, alternately cursing Conor Blake for having a life on this planet, cursing Scully for going off without him and cursing himself for not demanding that they take him.

He jammed on the ABS, belatedly recalling that nothing other than staying home works when breaking on ice. The truck slid forward about 100 yards before slowing. Mulder drove toward the headlights aimed into the trees sure it had to be Conor’s truck. He also saw the vehicles approaching from the opposite direction. It struck him odd since he had not seen another vehicle the entire time he was on the road.

He jammed the peddle to the metal again.

“They’re here, Scully. They came to us. You’ll see, everything will be fine now.” Conor talked to her soothingly and Scully wanted to vomit. He moved one hand down her arm, her side, to her leg. He touched her as if they had an intimate connection.

Scully focused on getting out. “Who’s coming, Conor? Are they what you wanted to show me?” She tried to regulate her breathing and still her pounding heart. While Conor had done nothing to physically harm her, her skin crawled. If she could get him to talk, she just might be able to grab her phone. She was sure it had been Mulder earlier. Thinking about Mulder made her swallow and emotion welled up in her strongly. Why hadn’t she taken him with them? She knew the answer to that question. She didn’t like the answer. Her stubbornness, her need to prove—to who?—that she was capable, that she didn’t need her partner to do everything with or for her, kept her from thinking clearly about her own safety. She hadn’t allowed her partner to watch her back.

The vehicles surrounded Conor’s truck. Their headlights remained on, 6 doors opened and slammed shut. Four men and two women approached them. Flung the passenger side door of Conor’s vehicle open. One of the women leaned up over the slanted passenger seat and tried to pull Scully toward her. Conor reluctantly released his hold on her and pushed her toward the other woman’s arms. Scully kicked out at the woman, believing that something wasn’t right with the ‘rescuers’.

The woman ignored Scully’s feet and dragged her out of the vehicle. She held on to Scully until Conor emerged. The other five joined them, circling Conor and Scully.

Conor’s arms once more pulled Scully to him from behind. One of the men approached her and walked around her silently. “You were right about the flame, Raven. She will work out just fine, but now is not the time.”

“You can’t be so dang picky, Hawk! He’s got her here, now. It wouldn’t take us long.”

Scully thrashed in Conor’s arms. He pulled her arms up toward his shoulders and held them there. The woman walked toward Scully. She reached out a hand and touched Scully’s face. Scully turned away from her. The woman held up some of Scully’s hair and then let it fall silently back to her shoulder. “She will work out fine, but I want to know more.”

“Raven, will she comply?”

Mulder barreled into the ditch where Conor’s SUV and the other three vehicles were parked. He sized up the situation, trying to see through the blazing headlights just how many people were out there. The odds for him didn’t look good.

But that didn’t stop him.

Flashlight in the left and service weapon in the right hand, Mulder approached silently. If the others had noticed his arrival, they didn’t care. <Probably realize I’m out numbered and out gunned> He circled around behind Conor’s SUV, trying not to slip in the frozen mess beneath his hikers. He slunk alongside the driver’s side, coming up behind Conor, holding Scully.

He saw the three people closest to Scully. At that moment, one of the others who stood farther away, clapped her or his hands once. The effect was instantaneous. All six people and Conor walked toward the sound of the clap.

Scully nearly collapsed from the shock of not being held up.

“Scully!” Mulder whispered loudly. She turned, losing her balance and crumbling down into the rain covered snow and ended up sitting with her back up against the front bumper of the SUV. Mulder came around in front of her, his hands under her arms and brought her to standing.

He held the flashlight up to her at chest level, casting deflected light to her face. “Scully? Talk to me. Did he hurt you?” Mulder now moved the flashlight over her body, wanting to touch her but afraid she’d fall again if he let her arm go.

Scully found her voice. “I’m ok, I think, Mulder. He didn’t hurt me. I — he said he wanted to show me something, but I —” She shook her head and ran one hand through her hair.

“Take me home, Mulder.” Simple request made.

Mulder put an arm around her shoulder and walked them toward the Yarlow’s truck. Simple response.

***

Scully was exhausted, tired and slightly sore. She was experiencing the after effects of the truck’s slide into the ditch and her tense muscles from trying to avoid Conor. She glanced over at Mulder. He looked rumpled; his hair in his eyes, his dark turtleneck collar scrunched. <And, as a matter of fact, you look good enough to…well, you look like a sight for sore eyes, Mulder>

Mulder was thinking; thinking about a lot of things and he didn’t know where to start or whether to voice them. He had been so worried about Scully that he almost ended up in an accident. When he found her, the odds had been stacked against him by sheer numbers. He didn’t realize he had been holding his breath until he saw her alive. His relief was palpable. Then he thought about just how much he hated the Deputy; with a passion. He tried to hold back his anger and disgust, but he knew that Conor had nothing good in mind for Scully.

He badly wanted to talk to her about what had happened, but he couldn’t bring himself to ask her any questions. He knew she was exhausted and was probably doing a number on herself for not letting him come with her and Conor. If this recent situation were the only issue, he’d probably just ask her. Coloring everything was the tenuous nature of their relationship prior. He just didn’t know where to start. So he didn’t.

Scully wondered why Mulder was so quiet; it wasn’t usually like him. She was used to having to tell him she was ‘fine’; even if she wasn’t. She was used to his jokes, his innuendoes, his playful goading. What had happened to her caring, sometimes nosey, partner? She sighed a little louder than normal and looked over at him again. The freezing rain had stopped and even the snow hadn’t returned; for a change. The roads were deserted and silent, the headlights illuminating the tree boughs hanging over the roadway.

Mulder turned to look at her. The corners of Scully’s mouth turned up slightly and she held his gaze. Mulder smiled back at her, “Scully?” Nothing more; her name, his voice. “Mulder?” She echoed him and tilted her head to one side as if studying him. “I—” They both began the same sentence. And neither of them finished it

~~~~~

Bed Time Visions

Snowflake Inn

4 January

When they reached the Inn, Mulder roused Scully who had dozed off. She was groggy and talking nonsense syllables. He walked up behind her when she got out of the truck, putting one hand on her arm. She shook it off and looked at him. “I’m ok, Mulder; can walk on my own.”

Mulder looked like he wanted to say more to her, but didn’t. He followed her inside and up the stairs. As they go to the 3rd floor landing, she said good night to him. Mulder responded in kind, wishing he could follow her into her room.

***

Scully’s Room

Late as it was, Scully decided that she desperately needed a bath to calm her nerves. She suddenly needed to stretch, her arms reaching up over her head, her back arching. She brought her hands down to her lower back as she leaned back. She headed into the bathroom and ran the water.

She walked back into the bedroom to remove her clothing. She unbuttoned her shirt as she walked to the windows to drop the blinds. As she stood at the window, looking out on the full moon bathing the snowy field in a silvery white light, she started. Her breath caught in her chest for a brief moment; not sure what she thought she saw.

At first, she thought it was a result of her tiredness, the evening events, the strangeness of the case, her conflicted emotions where Mulder was concerned. As her hand came up to the cord for the blinds, she froze. She clearly saw what appeared to be fire light in the distant hills beyond the Inn. It wasn’t ‘a fire’, but what appeared to be swatches of firelight moving in ever increasing circles.

Her shirt already unbuttoned and forgotten, she quickly shut off the water on her bath, ran from her room and knocked on Mulder’s door.

***

Mulder’s Room

Mulder stormed and stomped around his room for a few minutes. He was frustrated; frustrated and angry. He was angry at Scully, angry at that damn Conor. Most of all, he was angry at for allowing himself to fall into old patterns. He just wasn’t sure how to convey to Scully how worried he was for her. He just didn’t trust Conor and now how very good reason not to. Ok, so if he were honest with himself, he didn’t trust Conor and he didn’t want him anywhere near Scully.

He knew he was pissing her off; he could read her just as well as she could him. He knew he had to clear his head so he could function properly on this case. He also knew that somewhere nibbling away at him in the back of his mind was her uneasiness around him ever since that day in the office prior to leaving for Connecticut.

He wondered, not for the first time, why the need to figure out the latest turn in their relationship always seemed to coincide with the need to solve a case? No answers forthcoming, Mulder decided to get ready for bed.

He stripped down to his boxers; jeans tossed on the side chair, tee shirt on the bed. He was in the bathroom with the water running when Scully banged on his door.

Thankful they were by themselves and that the Yarlows were floors below them, Scully’s voice was loud. “Mulder! Mulder, open the door.” When she got no answer, she tried the doorknob. It was unlocked and she burst into his room. She quickly noted the strewn clothing and the crack of light coming out of the bathroom. The sound of running water told her she’d found Mulder.

She shoved the door open to an amusing scene. Mulder, clad only in his dark green plaid boxers, <plaid, Mulder?> was holding his toothbrush in front of his face like a microphone, singing Jailhouse Rock. His hips gyrating seductively to unheard music, his bare feet moving on the throw rug in front of the sink and his head thrown back in an absurd parody of Elvis caught Scully off-guard. She laughed, her reason for being there momentarily the farthest thing from her mind.

His eyes glancing into the mirror over the sink, Mulder noticed her before he heard the laugh. He also noticed that her dark green bra coordinated with his boxers quite nicely. He wasn’t quite sure just how to interpret her presence in his bathroom with her shirt open, but hey, who was he to complain? He figured it had nothing to do with mysterious misquote bites since they were all dead or sleeping at this time of the year.

When she laughed, he stopped singing. He really didn’t want to be brought back to reality if he could keep this version of Scully for just a little while longer.

“Scully? To what do I owe this visit to my little night club?” She snapped back into her professional role, suddenly also realizing her shirt was open. She clutched at it, holding it tightly closed in front of her. She then truly took in Mulder’s presence in front of her. It was larger than life. Momentarily flushing, she suggested that he grab his robe and meet her in her room. She had something to show him. <Aww, Scully, you were already showing me plenty…>

Mulder grabbed his robe and went nextdoor to find Scully with the lights out by her window. “Mulder, check this out.” The light of the moon allowed him to see her face and where she pointed. She explained how she saw nothing when she first looked out and then, as she was about to head for the bathroom, she saw the ring of firelight.

Mulder moved closer to Scully, standing to the side and just behind her, to get a better look. She moved slightly forward, quite aware of his body leaning into hers. Trying desperately to break the electrical flow from his body to hers, she asked, “What do you suppose that is Mulder? I mean, who would be out there at this time of night?”

When he didn’t respond right away, Scully turned to look at him. The moonlight coming through the blinds bathed half of his face in an almost eerie glow. His hand was on the window frame as if leaning forward would allow him to learn the motives of who or whatever was outside. “I don’t know exactly what to make of it Scully. The formation of the firelight looks pretty organized; predetermined. The light also appears to be on the same level. So, either everyone out there is the same height or…” Scully looked puzzled, “Or, what, Mulder?”

Before she could get an answer, Mulder had turned and was heading for the door. “Where are you going, Mulder?” <Wherever it is, you’re not ditching me, Mulder> She followed him into his room, watching as he shed his robe and grabbed his jeans. When he was on a mission, nothing short of the devil himself would stop Mulder; and Scully wasn’t even sure the horned red one would have much luck, either. She walked directly in front of him as he pulled his jeans up and together to zip his fly. After several unsuccessful attempts to get his attention, she did the first thing that came to her mind; she grabbed his wrists, hoping to stop him.

She succeeded. “Scull-”

“Mulder, stop! What are you doing? You’re not going out there now, are you?”

Mulder gently took her hands off of his and finished zipping and buttoning his jeans. He finished dressing as he told her that what she saw could be tied in to the murder.

“Then I’m coming with you, Mulder.” Scully ran nextdoor to grab her shoes and followed Mulder downstairs.

~~~~~

Flash Fire

4 January, Middle of the Night

The night was bitterly cold, crisp and clear. The earlier warmth of the day allowed some of the snow to melt, but the quick freeze during the evening created a thin layer of crackly ice-snow over the near foot of snow beneath. Mulder had a much easier time of it, lifting one booted foot and crunching down through the top icy layer into the snow below. Scully played it smart and followed in the footfalls he created, wishing he wouldn’t take such giant steps.

The circle of fire looked more like torches held high in the air as they drew closer. However, what appeared close in her room window was much farther away. They had to traverse a small wooded area before reaching the open meadow. Once in the middle of the woods, they could hear voices that sounded strangely like hoarse whispers; the sound one might make with laryngitis.

Scully couldn’t quite make out the words, or, for that matter, if the sounds were actually words. She caught up to Mulder and grabbed his jacket sleeve to get his attention. “Mulder, can you see what they’re doing?”

They had stopped between a pair of oak tree trunks. Mulder, in his black down jacket, almost blended into the scenery; literally. He motioned for Scully to be quiet and then returned his gaze to the fire show. He then took her hand and pulled her farther off to the side, hopefully out of earshot. Silent woods on a clear, windless night, allowed sound to carry.

“Mulder, you have a theory, don’t you?” He nodded, whispering. “At least a part of a theory, Scully. It looks like cult-like behavior, ritualistic chanting, use of fire, circle formation. But, the words are strange, or at least the words I can make out. I think we need to get out of here.”

Scully sensed a dramatic change in Mulder’s behavior. “Mulder, are you ok?”

At that point, the circle of fire torches was a circle no more. Individual torches flew out in every direction like some bizarre fireworks display; some of them heading toward the woods. “Scully, run!” Mulder grabbed her hand and loped through the snow as fast as he could. Just as they reached the border the woods formed with the backyard area, Scully felt Mulder’s hand yanked from hers. She turned around to find Mulder 10 yards from her, on his back in the snow.

The moonlight shown on his face, highlighting an unbelievable patch of flame atop the snow next to his face. Scully pulled herself to attention, trying to make sense of the facts: Mulder on his back looking dazed. Snow beneath him. Cold snow with a very small circle of fire on top of it…

She filed those facts into her brain in a split second as she dropped down to check on Mulder. She put one hand on his chest and called his name. His lips appeared to form words although she could not hear any sounds. She leaned her ear toward his mouth to try to hear him better. His words were faint, but she turned to him and smiled, “Scully, your hair smells great.”

While she fervently hoped she’d never have to witness it, she swore that Mulder would go to his ultimate end with a joke on his lips. She quickly reached for his wrist, checking is pulse. It was strong. “Mulder, can you sit up?” As she helped him up, she kept one eye on what seemed to be an eternal flame; one that did not change its shape or seem to move with the slight breeze in the woods. She wanted to ask Mulder if he saw it, too, but couldn’t bring herself to do so. As if reading her mind, Mulder looked into her eyes, noting the worry there. “Scully, I really am feeling ok and I did happen to notice the miniature campfire that was next to my face. Got any mini-marshmallows?”

“What happened, Mulder?” Scully asked as she pulled him to his feet. The cold was really starting to get to her and she wanted nothing more than her warm bed. Mulder was a little shaky on his feet, but was able to walk unassisted. Scully took his gloved hand as she helped him up.

When he squeezed it and smiled at her, she let his hand go, blushing. “I’m not totally sure what happened. One minute I was pulling you away from view of the fire circle and the next minute I felt pulled myself. Then, it felt as if the wind were knocked out of me. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”

“Mulder, this isn’t funny! You could have been seriously injured! And that fire is still burning. Let’s just get inside. I don’t know about you, but I’m freezing!” Scully rubbed her hands together and then wrapped her arms around herself. Mulder smiled at her, took her shoulders and before she could stop him, wrapped her in his arms. She struggled to pull away, but he held her to him telling her he was just trying to warm her. In spite of her jumble of feelings, she relaxed a bit. Then, as easily as she had relaxed in his arms, she pulled herself away and started walking back toward the Inn. Mulder shook his head, arms flopping resignedly down by his sides, and followed her.

~~~~~

Meadow behind the Snowflake

4 January, Still Later

The group coalesced, gathering up the fire wands and moved in unison toward the dark shroud. Appendages reached out, snaking their way toward the shroud and pulled it over the group. Smaller fire circles appeared, trailing behind the moving shroud.

Sounds, or maybe words, rose from underneath as the group swirled. To the naked eye, the moonlight bathed the snow in eerie glow showing nothing other than a pristine white landscape that seemed to glow like fire.

~~~~~

The Snowflake, 6:30A

5 January Upstairs

“Aren’t they going to have breakfast with us, Mom?” Eddie kept running toward the stairs and looking back at his mother, eyebrows raised. The unspoken question whether or not he could go upstairs to get Mulder and Scully. Robin smiled at his feeble attempts to seek her permission and walked toward the kitchen. “Eddie, come help me put breakfast out. If they’re hungry, they’ll come downstairs.

Scully was in the bathroom brushing her teeth when she heard the knock on her door. “Mumfp in”, she tried to call out and she rinsed. She shook her hair into place, tied her short wrap robe a little more securely over her undressed body and headed to the door. Mulder was wearing a cheeky smile and…not much else. “Mulder, what are you doing? We’re supposed to be down at breakfast.”

Mulder stood at her door, a towel wrapped around his waist, water dripping on the floor. “My hot water ran out, Scully. Can I use your shower?” Scully, one hand on her hip, eyebrow raised, stared at him; hard. “Mulder, we share the same plumbing. Is that ringing any bells for you?”

Mulder stood his ground, holding the towel loosely. Holding the towel low slung and resting on his hips, his abs wet and defined. “Scully, I’m not playing games here.” He reached for her hand, pulling it off her hip and touched it to his wet, cold skin. Scully had to admit the water was actually cold; and his skin somehow still hot beneath her hand. She pulled her hand away, stepped aside and ushered him into her room, closing the door behind them.

***

The Eyes of a Child

Eddie perched at the top of the third floor landing, having successfully eluded his mother, rested his head in his hands as he saw

Mulder come out of his room. His small mouth opened and he quietly giggled as he noticed that Mulder was wet and almost bare naked.

When he knocked on Scully’s door, Eddie was smiling even more. Eddie was very sure that the two FBI people really liked each other just like his mother and father really liked each other. He knew that sometimes his parents took a shower at the same time so they could save expensive water. Sometimes, his dad came into their bedroom with a towel like Mulder’s and it made his mom very happy because she smiled a lot and then laughed. Eddie wasn’t usually allowed in their room when his mom laughed that way.

Scully didn’t look very happy to see Mulder and she didn’t smile a lot and laugh at him. But, Eddie knew he had to be right because he could ‘feel’ it in his head. He watched them back and forth and back and forth. Mulder was dripping on his mom’s wood floors and she didn’t usually like that, but Eddie knew that his parents liked the FBI people so maybe it was ok to drip on the floors just once. Eddie saw Scully looking at Mulder and how wet he was. It even looked like Mulder almost dropped his towel, but caught it.

Mulder was telling her that he didn’t have anymore hot water and she was getting mad because she didn’t believe him? Sometimes grown ups said silly things when all they had to do was look and they would see the truth.

He could hear them talking to each other, but he was having more fun watching them and feeling that they were close to each other in that special way that grown ups were close to each other had. It made him happy even if Scully didn’t look happy.

He could ‘feel’ her thoughts the most and they felt yellow and red and a little purple to Eddie. The yellow thoughts were the happy ones and Eddie could feel them under the other colors. But, there was definitely more yellow than red (which was ‘mad’) and purple which was something Eddie’s 5 year old vocabulary and experience didn’t have a word for. He knew it was some kind of happy, but it puzzled him. He felt purple from his mom sometimes when she was standing very close to his dad, but he didn’t know what it was with her either.

When Mulder walked into Scully’s room and she closed the door, he felt the red go away and just a little bit of purple on top of the yellow.

***

Upstairs

Scully puttered around her room while Mulder headed into her bathroom. She was about to get dressed, but realized her underwear was in the bathroom; with Mulder.

It still made absolutely no sense at all to her how his hot water could be out and hers would be fine since their bathrooms shared the same plumbing. He insisted she had used up all of his hot water. She gave half a thought to going nextdoor to his room and checking on the state of his hot water. She decided that would be pushing it too far. It sounded more like another excuse to visit her, but it was far easier to give in than to argue with him.

“Scully? Scully, can you come in here?” She could hear his voice over the running water in the shower and she could see the wisps of steam around the crack in the bathroom door. His voice had a tinge of panic in it.

She went to the door and poked her head into the steamy bathroom. “Mulder, what’s the matter?” She could make out movement behind the light-textured fabric curtain and the clear plastic liner; the occasional elbow poking at the liner and curtain. When she got no answer, she moved closer, “Mulder?” She reached her hand up to the curtains, not sure what she planned to actually do. She knew he was breathing because he was moving. A little corner of her mind told her he was up to something; that special corner reserved for MulderBehavior. The rest of her mind was growing increasingly concerned.

As her hand grabbed the curtain and liner behind him, Mulder stilled his movements. He thought he’d heard her call out to him, but wasn’t sure over the sounds of the driving water. Her hand on the curtain startled him. He turned toward her hand and slowly pulled the curtain open a few inches. “Scully?”

Scully froze in her tracks. “Mulder, you asked me to come in here; what’s wrong?” She tried, unsuccessfully, to pull the curtain back closer to the wall. His hand, wet and soapy, held her hand holding the curtain. A bodiless voice said, “I need someone to wash my back, Scully.”

Sputtering and fuming, and, if truth be told, suddenly turned on beyond all reason, Scully tried to pull her hand away from his. He held her to her spot, his face and body still hidden by the curtain. Water was being deflected from his body and the wall and hitting her arm, soaking the sleeve and right front of her robe.

The steam settled around her, momentarily fogging her brain. When her vocal chords once again appeared capable of speech, she cleared her throat and said, “Mulder, you manage to wash your own back every other day of the year.” He still did not release her hand.

“Scully, I’m not asking for much.” Pleading, mischievous, playful. <You’re not asking for much, Mulder? No, nothing more than asking me to touch your very naked, very wet, very hot little body…> Scully’s mind quickly flashed possible ways in which this scenario could work out. That is, when she wasn’t flashing possible views of Mulder’s body.

***

Downstairs

“Mom! Mom! I think the FBI people are getting showered together. Do you think they’re going to have breakfast right after that?” Eddie came bounding into the kitchen, mouth and feet competing for simultaneous movement record.

“Eddie, did you got upstairs after I asked you to wait for them down here?” Robin, pitcher of OJ in one hand and stack of place mats in the other, looked down at Eddie trying not to smile at his enthusiasm. She walked toward the dining room and set the items on the table, continuing her discussion with her son. “Remember how we talked about giving people their private space and time? That it’s not nice to watch people when they don’t know you’re there? Do you remember us talking about those things, Eddie?” Robin looked down at Eddie, questioning with her words and eyes.

He briefly hung his head down, realizing he did indeed remember those conversations; belatedly. Sometimes he thought about how hard it was to keep track of all of the things he was and wasn’t supposed to do or say. There seemed to be so many of them, he couldn’t always remember. He hadn’t intended to take away Scully and Mulder’s private space and time, he just didn’t know he was doing it. Besides, he reasoned, if they didn’t even see him, how could he be taking it away from them? Ok; so his mom was right about him watching them without them knowing he was there, but that was a mistake. He was just having fun watching Mulder all wet with only a towel on and Scully pretending she was mad at him and getting all purple when she pulled him into her room.

He looked at his mom and said, “I didn’t mean to take away their privacy.” When he looked close to tears, Robin leaned back against the kitchen counter and pulled him toward her, holding his hands. “It’s ok Eddie, I’m not mad at you. And, I know there are lots of things for you to try to remember. It’s just that it’s very important for everyone to have private time, ok?” Eddie nodded and then smiled, running out of the kitchen. <Well, so much for that down mood> Robin followed Eddie out of the kitchen, sure she knew what changed his mood so abruptly.

***

Upstairs

Feeling just a little bit outside her comfort realm, but drawn nonetheless, Scully took the bar of soap from Mulder’s outstretched hand. She still hadn’t seen his face. She wasn’t so sure she could actually look him in the face without letting her eyes travel southward.

She had also remained silent, her hands moving automatically. Her left hand pushed the curtains out of her way and then rested on Mulder’s left arm, steadying her. Her right hand held the bar of soap and started drawing lazy circles on Mulder’s back. Her breath caught in her chest at the site of his backside. She wasn’t sure how it was that she was soaping his back since her mind felt completely detached from the rest of her body.

The water from the showerhead hit Mulder’s body and sprayed over her, dousing her and her robe. She realized that her left hand on Mulder’s arm was sliding down to his wrist and her right hand with the soap had come to rest on his hip, dangerously close to creating a situation she couldn’t handle.

Mulder’s behavior only confirmed what she had been thinking all along. Yes; he did invite her in to wash his back, but so far, had been the perfect gentleman. <If you call showing up at my door wet and half-naked and then asking me to wash his back> No comments, no requests of her, not a word from his mouth. The more she analyzed the situation at hand, the angrier she became. She couldn’t figure out what was going on with Mulder or with her.

Not knowing how to gracefully extricate herself, she simply placed the bar of soap in Mulder’s hand and pulled the curtain closed. She grabbed her underwear and stormed out of the bathroom, forcefully pulling the door shut behind her. She dried herself off and quickly got dressed, not wanting to be in the room when Mulder came out.

Mulder wanted to play and Scully was such a fun playmate. Ok, maybe she hadn’t been so much fun in the last month, but he was still on a mission to help her sort through whatever was wrong. Still sure it had to do with him, he thought about lightening things up just a bit.

Of course, she was good at seeing through his little efforts, his jokes. But, for some strange reason even he couldn’t understand, his hot water really did disappear once he was totally wet. He didn’t think Scully would mind if he used her shower.

She appeared at her door in a thin silky pink wrap robe. The early morning light flooding through her windows made her auburn locks look like faint fire around her face. The combination of the pale pink robe and her auburn hair lit a small flame in Mulder that he worked hard to extinguish. The juxtaposition of her warm presence and her not-so-happy-to-see-him look almost made him turn back to finish his cold shower.

She finally relented when he demonstrated that his water really was cold. Again the look on her face changed as he placed her hand on his wet skin. He thought he heard her breath catch in reaction, but she then ushered him unceremoniously into her room and closed the door, dismissing him to her bathroom.

An idea formulated as he was showering. He thought that maybe a little playfulness was called for. Now, in honesty, he knew that Scully was not always quite as openly playful as he was, but he figured he had to help break down whatever barriers were there.

He called out to her, hoping she wouldn’t decide to just ignore him. He didn’t hear an answer and called out yet again. He waited what seemed an eternity and never actually heard her enter the steamy bathroom. Her hand appearing on the shower curtain and liner almost caused him to jump out of his skin. He had expected reticence, not bold behavior. She sounded worried. Attempting to allay her concerns, he quickly told her why he had called.

And, true to form, she could not take his request to wash his back at face value. Well, in hindsight, she probably had taken it at face value, reading his mind. She was ready with a comeback. Had he actually expected anything less from her? He let his mind contemplate the tiled walls and he did not turn around to face her knowing she’d bolt. They had each seen the other naked before, but usually when one or the other was injured; badly. This was different.

What totally surprised him was the silence. After her comment, she said nothing, but her actions spoke to him. The problem was, he was having a hard time understanding the language she was speaking. Her touch on him, her hand holding his arm in place, her other holding the soap and moving it against his skin, was— Was what? The only word that came to mind for Mulder was ‘erotic’. He found himself back to contemplating the tiles on the wall; anything to take him away from where his contemplations were headed. She was circling his back with the bar of soap. Each time she ran the soap over the spot in the very center of his very lower back, he bit his lip and started counting tiles; in fractured English.

Then, she suddenly stopped, her soap filled hand resting on his hip. She transferred the soap to his hand, drew the curtain and slammed the bathroom door. Mulder’s heart was pounding and he knew his shower was quite over.

***

Downstairs

Eddie was pouring syrup on his waffles and chatting away about going to school and hoping he would get to see the Deputy and the Sheriff and go for a walk with Scully when she came downstairs. As if he had already been in the middle of the conversation, he asked her if she would be working on the case to find Mr. Arias’s eyes. She smiled at him, her earlier shower scene with Mulder temporarily forgotten. She told him that yes, she would be working on finding whoever took Mr. Arias’s eyes and sat down to breakfast.

She decided that as of tonight, she would check out the workout room. She’d been enjoying the Yarlow’s good food a little too much. She helped herself to a waffle and some fruit salad. Scully thought that Eddie looked as if he had something else he wanted to say to or ask her. Robin, fortunately, thought the same thing and derailed him first. “Eddie, it might be good time for you to go brush your teeth and wash up before we get you off to school.” Eddie smiled at them both, deciding he would ask Scully about her purple Mulder thoughts later…

“So, how did you sleep, Scully?” Robin sipped her coffee, telling Scully that Keith had gone into town early and would be back to take her and Eddie with him. Before Scully could answer, Mulder appeared behind her, hands on the back of her chair and answered for her, “Well, she looks pretty rested to me.”

He smiled and took a seat across from her, determined to see the look on her face. They were both dressed more professionally today as they would be interviewing people in town. Scully did surprise him by trading her usual black suit for a deep sapphire blue pantsuit with a very silky looking, high neck, white blouse. The suit color drew the blue of her eyes dramatically and he knew his jaw threatened to fall.

Scully had also noticed Mulder’s suit change. He was dressed entirely in dark brown, trousers, boxy jacket, shirt and tie; all monochromatic.

Robin smiled inwardly, observing the Agents observing each other. <More like two high scholars checking each other out>

“Well, you two, Keith’s just pulled up and we’ve got to get Eddie off to school. Dan and Conor should be around within the hour. Don’t worry about the dishes, I’ll get them later. We’ll see you back here for dinner?” Robin grabbed hers and Eddie’s dishes and headed out for the kitchen. Scully kept her head down, studiously avoiding Mulder’s searching eyes. He looked as if he stepped off the cover of GQ and she hoped they’d have to split up today.

Mulder asked her to pass the milk for his coffee and purposely brushed her hand as he took it. He had the decency to look away before she caught the look in his eyes; which just happened to match the look in hers.

Eddie bounded in and ran over to Mulder first. He stood on his toes, trying to reach Mulder’s ear. Mulder obliged him by leaning over, one hand on Eddie’s shoulder. “What’s up, Eddie?” he whispered. Eddie cupped his hand around Mulder’s ear while pointing at Scully, causing her to blush. “She’s thinking purple things about you and your shower.” As quickly as he appeared, his message was delivered and he was on his way over to Scully. Her eyebrows raised, she put down her fork and turned in her chair toward him. He climbed onto her lap, pushed her hair away from her ear and asked her if Mulder’s towel fell off on purpose. Scully drew back, still holding onto Eddie and looked over at Mulder. She looked back at Eddie and was about to say, ‘what?’, when Robin called him from the front door.

After choruses of ‘byes’, the two Agents were alone with each other. Scully got up, carrying her plates into the kitchen. Her back to the entryway and the water running in the sink, she didn’t hear Mulder come in. As she reached to turn the faucet off, he moved in behind her, his hands on either side of the sink, framing her. His voice soft, he leaned closer. “Scully, don’t move; just listen to me. You know I would not push you to do anything you don’t want to do; say anything you don’t want to say? But, Scully, we’ve got to talk about whatever is bothering you because it’s bothering you, me, us. So,” Mulder leaned in closer, his breath on her neck, sending shivers up her spine, “we’re going to be work partners today and tonight, we’re going to talk.” As silently and swiftly as he had appeared behind her, he withdrew. Leaving her strangely winded and feeling as if her stuffing had been batted around. She let out a deep breath she didn’t know she had been holding, hoping to squelch the rising color in her cheeks.

~~~~~

Investigation

Laurel Glen and Montville, Connecticut

5 January

When Scully came into the greatroom, Mulder looked frustrated. This was the same man who not a moment ago was sending shivers down her spine by the kitchen sink. He changed emotions as fast as the rumors about the New England weather.

“Scully, I don’t want Deputy Dawg in here today or any other day!” Mulder was agitated and Scully was puzzled. Her brow furrowed, she tilted her head slightly to one side, trying to figure out what had Mulder so upset. She knew he was prone to a little jealousy where she was concerned, but he seemed disproportionately angry. Especially after their recent interaction in the kitchen.

“Mulder, what are you so upset about—” Before Scully could finish, it was Mulder’s turn to look puzzled.

“What am I upset about? Oh, just a little thing like kidnapping a Federal Agent, intent to harm, unlawful restraint; should I go on, Scully? How can you be so calm about this?” Mulder was working up a full head of steam and was about to blow.

Scully looked genuinely confused and concerned and Mulder noticed; finally. “Scully, you really don’t know what I’m talking about, do you?”

“No, Mulder I don’t. Isn’t it obvious?” She turned to walk away. He placed on hand on her shoulder, turning her to face him.

“Scully, sit down.” They sat facing each other on the sofa in the greatroom. “Listen to me, Scully.” Mulder looked into Scully’s eyes noting her open expression. He realized that she really had no idea what he was about to say. “Deputy Conor Blake abducted you last night right after you read Eddie his bedtime story. I found you with him and several other people in the woods performing some strange ceremony with you as their focal point. Does any of this ring a bell?”

Scully opened her mouth a few times to respond. Mulder could see the processing going on; she was trying hard to make sense of what he told her, to find some frame of reference. Just as he thought she might either remember or understand, she changed direction.

“Mulder, if you don’t like Conor—” She stood up.

Mulder sat her back down. “This has nothing to do with ‘liking’ Conor.” Mulder spat the Deputy’s name from his lips, further convincing Scully of Mulder’s jealousy. “You were taken, Scully. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”

“Mulder, I remember reading to Eddie, I remember Conor coming to tell me he had something to show me and I remember you behaving very territorially about us not taking you, too.”

“Ok, Scully. Let’s go with your version. So, Conor takes you to show you something. Where exactly did you go? What did he show you? When did you return?” Mulder fired the questions at Scully.

Scully could not answer any of Mulder’s questions and that worried her. Her worry was clear in her eyes. She was also getting angrier at Mulder although she could not find a justifiable reason for her anger anymore than she could recall the events Mulder described.

Mulder could see the fear replacing the worry. He slid closer to her, one hand on her leg, the other on her shoulder. “Scully,” Mulder’s voice was soft, low, “I’ll help you remember. In the meantime, I want you to try not to show any reaction to Conor today; don’t tip your hand. It’s obvious that he, they don’t mean for you to remember something that happened.” Mulder realized how the last part of his statement had sounded and quickly tried to allay her questions. “If it helps, you were okay when I found you; a little cold and tired, but you were fully clothed and it did not appear that you had been assaulted.”

Scully visibly relaxed, allowing herself to lean into her partner.

Just then, the doorbell rang.

Both Agents drew upon years of professional training and experience to play their roles for the sake of the investigation. Mulder bit back the bile that rose in his throat when he set eyes on Conor Blake. Conor smiled mellifluously at Mulder, goading him. Mulder vowed to keep his ire in check for the sake of the investigation and Scully. He made no such vow about what might happen after today, out behind some woodshed deep in the woods of Laurel Glen. Just the thought of what he’d like to personally do to Conor sent a thrill through Mulder.

Scully looked up at her partner and gave him the look that said, ‘down, boy’. Mulder smiled at her and they headed for the door.

Scully found it easier to welcome the two since she had the least to go on. “Sheriff, Deputy, please come in. We were just organizing our notes. Can we get you some coffee?” Scully ushered Dan and Conor into the dining room where she and Mulder had set up their files. The four law enforcement officers sat down to get to work.

“Agent Mulder, we heard about the fire show behind the Inn the other night and have been doing a little checking in town.” Sheriff Dan Burton explained that other residents had mentioned seeing ‘fire in the sky’ or ‘little whirls of fire’ near their homes, all after the time of Mulder and Scully’s sighting.

Dan sipped his coffee, setting the mug on the table. He looked toward the window.

“Dan, did any of them mention, um, any ‘strange’ properties to this fire?” Mulder’s question was somewhat tentative in tone, but firm in posture.

“What’re you talking about, Mulder? Fire’s fire, right? Burns hot, causes damage?” Dan tried to hold back a chuckle; and almost succeeded.

Mulder looked from Dan to Scully, deciding how to respond. Scully decided it for him. “Dan, this fire had properties which allowed it to continually burn, even on top of snow. Just before the small whirl of fire appeared alongside Mulder, he was yanked by someone or something unseen and literally thrown several yards.”

Conor chose that moment to join the group. His smug smile spoke volumes before his actual words. “So, Mulder; you got the wind knocked out of you and then found a little campfire blazing on top of the snow?”

“I was there, Conor; I watched Mulder pulled from my side, flung into the air and land on his back. I saw the ‘little campfire’ with my own eyes and felt its heat. I believe all you were asked is if any of the towns folk had similar occurrences.” Scully stood with her arms crossed over her chest, but still had the funny feeling that Conor was looking deep into her soul.

Mulder moved in between them. “All right, it’s obvious we’re the only ones who’ve reported this particular type of fire sighting. Let’s move on to other issues.”

Mulder addressed the issue of the Scouts. “Dan, Eddie’s made several mentions of ‘Scouts’. The last time, he didn’t even remember talking about them when we asked him who they were.” Scully also shared the information about her walk with Eddie and the fact that he showed her where they usually appear.

Dan looked genuinely puzzled, but Conor seemed deep in thought. He stood, walking around the table, talking as he moved. “There were reports around the time of the earlier murder about Scouts. Don’t you remember, Dan?” Conor ran a hand over his long hair, stopped and placed his hands on his hips. “A few of the locals described a group of 3-5 people, all dressed in black with some sort of facial covering, walking through the wooded areas of the valley.”

“Did anyone ever find out who these people are? What about the facial covering?” Scully was listening intently and Mulder was making notes to the file, more than a little suspicious of Conor’s comments. Mulder had seen these people dressed in black when he found Scully.

“We never got conclusive identification on the people. It looked like one of them worked in town at the diner. He goes by the nickname, ‘Raven’. As for the facial covering, well that’s a little more strange. The reports indicated something other than masks or stocking hats. A few people actually said it looked as if the faces had been ‘changed’; whatever that means”. Conor had stopped moving and talking behind Dan’s chair; which was directly across from Scully’s. He looked across at her, his eyes searching hers.

Scully squirmed.

Mulder noticed.

Dan started to speak again, “Oh my god, Conor, how could I have forgotten that? There was all this talk about a cult of dark-clothed outsiders coming into town. Towns folk actually started takin’ sides, too. The face thing was really weird, too. I recall—” Dan stopped talking when he noticed Mulder and Scully’s gazes. Actually, he was noticing Scully most of all.

She appeared uncomfortable, her gaze held above and behind him; where Conor was standing. Mulder’s expression was much more readable; jealousy; anger. Dan had tried to get Mulder to back off at their first meeting, but Dan knew that Mulder was like a dog with a new bone. He was going to chew it until it was either worn out or gone. Dan didn’t believe that Mulder was going to have an easy time chewing this particular bone…

Conor’s face was unreadable to Mulder. Conor’s eyes were very intensely focused on Scully. His gaze was unwavering, but there was something animated about the eyes. And, maybe Mulder was reading much more into Conor’s eyes. Except that the effect on Scully was different. She seemed transfixed.

Mulder called her name softly, questioning. When she didn’t acknowledge him, he touched her hand. It was extremely warm to the touch, although she did not appear feverish. His touch caused a reaction. Conor’s eyes blinked and he back up against the wall. Scully let out a long breath and turned to Mulder. She appeared very confused and disoriented.

Based on what Mulder had witnessed the night before and the fact that Scully seemed to know nothing about it, the look in her eyes worried him. But not more than the look Conor was sending Scully. Mulder moved over to stand next to Conor to catch Scully’s eyes. It worked. She glanced at him and the spell was broken. She looked physically shocked. Conor looked absolutely pissed and started to walk around the table. Mulder, heading in the opposite direction, walked toward Scully, telling her he needed to see her for a moment. Mulder now knew that Conor would probably like to join him out behind that woodshed deep in the woods…

Just out of earshot, Mulder whispered to Scully, “What was going on at that table, Scully? You looked like you were under a spell of some sort.”

Scully leaned in, her voice quiet as well, “Mulder, I can’t explain it and I don’t like what I’m going to say, but I couldn’t look away from him. The minute he looked at me, my eyes were locked. I couldn’t say anything once he moved behind Dan’s chair and looked at me. I was forming words in my mind, but I—”

Mulder was quickly formulating a course of action, or, at least a Plan A. “Scully, do whatever you can to steer clear of Conor. Don’t make eye contact if you can help it. We’ll work this out together once we get on the road. And, just so you know, we are not splitting up today.”

Scully nodded her agreement wondering just how the heck Mulder knew her earlier thoughts about wanting to split up…

Dan and Conor were chatting when Mulder and Scully rejoined them. “So, Dan, what’s our plan of attack for today?” Mulder maintained physical distance between Scully and Conor.

“Well, Mulder, I was thinking that we should pair up and head down to Montville where one of the latest sightings occurred and into town to talk with some of the folks there. I was thinking that I could go with Agent Scully to Montville and you and Conor could head into town. How’s that sound?”

Scully responded. “Actually, Dan, I think we should all go together to both places. We could ride with you two.”

Conor tried to step to Mulder’s side, looking at Scully. Mulder spoke up. “I like that idea. Let’s check out Montville first.”

~~~~~

Montville, Connecticut

Noontime

Mulder and Scully got into the back seat of the Sheriff’s truck, Scully sitting behind Conor. They rode most of the way in silence. The day was bright and sunny. The 40F degree weather helped some of the snow to melt. As they drove away from the Inn, the windshield of the SUV was pelted with falling blobs of snow from the evergreen boughs over hanging the roadway.

All of a sudden, Mulder felt Scully’s hand reach for his. He followed her gaze out his window. They were passing the area where he had found her the night before. She gripped his fingers so tightly that he winced. She removed her hand from his, but looked at him imploringly; questioningly. Knowing they could not talk with Dan and Conor present, he only nodded imperceptibly and smiled. They both understood they would return here on their own later.

The ride finished in silence at the Montville Grange Hall. The four Law Enforcement Agents approached the large wooden structure. A large, hand-painted, sign hung from the cantilevered roof. It read, “Montville Grange Hall. All Welcomed.”

“This place’s not usually staffed during the day, Agents. We asked one of the Grange leaders and a few of the members to meet us here. They’ve prepared a simple lunch for us, too. You know, just your basic ham and cheese sandwiches, some fruit, cookies and something to drink. Their bar’s not open until later, but I don’t suppose you two can drink on duty, huh?” Dan smiled and patted Mulder on the back to emphasize his question.

As they reached the door, Jason Corinthos greeted them. Mulder was instantly on edge. The man looked very familiar, but Mulder couldn’t quite place the face; yet. Dan introduced Jason to the Agents. Conor had said nothing during the entire ride and was still not speaking. He and Jason exchanged telling eye contact, but said nothing.

Jason stood about 5′8″ with sandy hair and blue eyes. He was dressed in black; jeans, turtleneck and leather jacket and gloves. His Harley was parked in the gravel lot to the side of the Hall. He strode forward, his piercing eyes twinkling. “Please everyone, come inside.”

They walked into the large open space where Grange activities were held on the weekends and meetings during the week. Toward the back of the open area was a small dining area which contained about four wooden picnic tables. Jason’s boot heels hit the wood planked floor hard as he walked. Mulder noticed that he moved with purpose and confidence. He also still held the nagging feeling that he knew Jason.

The Agents, Dan and Conor, joined Jason at the table. Mulder made sure that he sat in Scully’s line of vision. A woman and several men, also dressed in black, brought out the lunch items, set them on the table and left again. No introductions were made.

Scully noted the fact that everyone seemed to be dressed alike and spoke to Jason. “Jason, can you tell me if the black clothing is Grange policy?” She helped herself to half of a sandwich and an apple.

Jason smiled at her and then glanced at Conor. “Well, we’re members of the same Club. We tend to share similar taste in clothing.” Scully noted the almost chiseled features and the way his eyes spoke while the rest of his face appeared expressionless.

For the next several minutes, the group talked little and ate more. Mulder broke the feeding frenzy with his questions. “Jason, we’ve heard reports about strange occurrences with fire and a group of people possibly referred to as the Scouts. What can you tell us?”

For just a brief moment, Mulder was sure he was looking at someone he had not yet met. He faced Jason and instinctively knew he had asked Jason the question, but there was something about Jason’s face that appeared exceedingly different than it had moments ago. Mulder glanced at Dan, Conor and Scully to see if they were having the feeling. None of them seemed to notice what Mulder thought he saw.

Jason smiled at Mulder; a very wide smile showing a perfect set of white teeth underneath spare lips. “I’ve heard those same stories, Agent. But, frankly, I’m at a loss to explain the stories. Don’t they sound strange to you? I mean, think about it. Sounds like some kind of cult group. I’ve been here a long time and haven’t found evidence of any cults in this town or in Laurel Glenn.”

“Are you from this area, Jason?”

“Well, actually, I do live in Montville, now. Used to live a little farther north in Willimantic, but the ride got to me. I started out staying at the Snowflake till I found a place here in Montville.”

“What is it that you do; other than the Grange?”

“Well, you saw my bike outside I presume? I run a bike shop in town here with my partner, Zander.”

As the food ran out, the questions increased. Dan spoke next. “Jason, there were reports of fire activity out behind the Grange. Would it be possible for us to explore the area?”

Jason nodded and started to get up. Mulder stopped him. “It’s ok; we can handle it.” He wanted to be able to check out the scene without being distracted by Jason.

As they made their way to the back door, Conor told Dan that he would be staying behind to talk more to Jason.

Dan was not aware that Conor and Jason were already quite well acquainted.

***

The Field

Dan wished he had suggested snowshoes to the well-dressed-for-anything-but-deep-snow Agents. Undaunted, they trudged into the snow in their low boots. They approached a slight hill. Over the top of the rise, they were able to see a small ravine, blanketed in snow and strange formations of gravel.

They moved down the hillside carefully, Dan offering Scully a hand. Mulder looked more closely at the gravel, calling Scully over. He held a handful of gravel, poking and prodding the variously shaped rocks with his gloved fingers. “What do you see, Scully?”

She held his wrist steady and pushed the rocks around herself. “Scorch marks. These rocks have been subjected to high intensity heat.”

Dan wandered around, but found nothing other than the singed gravel.

Mulder dropped several pieces of the gravel in an evidence bag and slipped it into his coat pocket.

They headed back for the Grange Hall.

***

The Grange Hall

“Mulder’s close; he’s going to make me, Raven.”

Jason smiled slyly and confidently. “You worry too much. You said Scully doesn’t recall our little escapade and Mulder doesn’t seem to recognize you. Just do your job with Dan; who, by the way, seems oblivious to everything.”

Conor paced, running his hand through his hair, pain etched in his eyes. “He rescued her! How can he not know?”

“Your face, you idiot! It was changed. What he thinks he saw and what he actually remembers are two different things. Now, either get a grip on yourself or I’m going to have you replaced. We both know you don’t want that to happen, don’t we?”

Conor pulled himself up tall, facing Jason. “I’ll be fine, Raven.”

“See that you are and keep your eyes on Scully.” Jason laughed with that last statement.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to do, but Mulder—”

“Oh, god, Conor, listen to yourself. ‘but Mulder’, ‘Mulder this, Mulder that’. What’s the first rule of this group? ‘Allow nothing to stand in the way of the Vision’s Progress.’ I fail to see what your problem is, Hawk.”

Jason heard voices coming to the back door and signaled to Conor that their discussion was over. “Well, how did you do?” Jason approached Dan.

“Well, the Agents found some gravel that seems to have been subjected to fire, but we had no other luck out there; nothing.”

Conor positioned himself in Scully’s sight line and willed her to look at him. She was unbuttoning her coat and slowly looked up, her fingers forgetting their task, her hands falling to her sides. Her thoughts swirled, her face implacable. She saw fire, bonfires, small rings of fire…and she saw eyes; pair after pair of watchful, disembodied, eyes. Her head swam and she felt herself sway.

Mulder, who had been talking with Dan and Jason, belatedly realized that Scully was not beside him. He spun around to see the eye connection in progress. He rushed to Scully’s side in time to catch her before she fell. Jason looked at Conor and sadly shook his head. Sadly and angrily.

Mulder stood behind Scully, his arms under hers, holding her to him as he backed up to the picnic table. He pulled her down next to him. Her pulse seemed strong and she was breathing. After a few minutes, she shook her head vigorously as if trying to shake away dreams, and stared at Mulder.

“What happened?”

“I was hoping you could tell me that, Scully.”

“I was unbuttoning my coat and I felt drawn to look up. When I did, Conor–. Oh, god, Mulder, it happened again, didn’t it?”

Mulder tried to soothe the anxiety in her voice by speaking softly and quietly to her. “Scully, while it’s still fresh, I want you to focus and try to think about what was in your head when Conor was looking at you. Take a deep breath and try to visualize.”

Scully took a few deep breaths since it felt as if she hadn’t had any new air in the last hour. She went through the paces of what she knew of their day, coming closer to the dreams when she recalled feeling drawn to Conor’s eyes. Something flashed red behind her eyes, no, make that red, yellow, orange. Fire? “Mulder, I think some of it was focused on fire, but I can’t recall anymore.”

“It’s ok, that’s a lot more than you had last time, Scully. Somehow, I’m betting that Jason and Conor are both involved with this group. Conor’s trying to control what you recall. How about if we get you back to the Inn? I can finish the interviews and join you for dinner.”

“Mulder, I’m—well, no, I guess I’m not really ‘fine’, but I’m ok enough to do interviews.”

“No, Scully, I want you to rest, play, do whatever you want back at the Inn. I’ll interview the small group who have similar experiences to us. I’m going to keep Dan and Conor with me.”

“Well, I have wanted to use they gym and maybe the hot tub. I just don’t want you doing all the work without my help, Mulder.”

Mulder patted her hand. “Don’t worry, Scully, I promise to leave you plenty of work.”

As the four Agents drove back to the Inn, Conor inquired about what they’d found. Dan started to share the information when Mulder took over telling Conor they’d really not found anything they could use.

As they pulled up at the Inn, Scully started to get out of the SUV. Mulder touched her arm and told her to get some rest; have some fun. He then leaned in more closely and said, “And tonight, we talk, Scully. Ok?”

Scully nodded.

~~~~~

Snowflake Inn/Laurel Glenn

5 January

Mid-day

The Inn was blissfully quiet and empty. Scully reveled in her time alone. Although, she almost wished Eddie were around. He had a way of brightening any situation and his insights intrigued her; when they weren’t embarrassing her with their often dead-on quality. Sunlight was filtering in through the open curtains and drapes, warming the greatroom and dining room. Scully kicked off her boots at the front entry, hung her coat and headed into the kitchen. She boiled some water for tea, took her mug and went up to her room.

Placing the mug on the nightstand, she removed her jacket. Stretching, she walked over to the window, gazing out into the whiteness outside. She took the mug of tea and sat on the window seat, pulling her knees to her chest. Her gaze was drawn to the area where she had first seen the fire circle and then to the woods where she and Mulder had ventured.

She recalled the night’s activities again and suddenly found herself desperately needing to see the area where the mini-campfire had materialized beside the downed-Mulder. Placing the tea back on the nightstand, Scully quickly changed into her jeans and a sweater. She ran down the stairs quickly, grabbing her jacket, gloves and wool headband. While it had warmed since the day they arrived, the woods tended to be windier. She pulled the wide headband over her head and then placed it back up over her ears and forehead, pulling her hair over it. She patted her side, ensuring her service weapon was there and headed outside.

***

Laurel Glenn

“Let’s start in the local diner, Mulder. I’m sure at this hour of the day, we’re bound to get some good conversation.” Conor smiled from the passenger seat of the SUV and turned slightly to look at Mulder. Dan was about to question Conor’s suggestion, but Mulder beat him to it.

“I thought you two said you had names of possible witnesses? Why aren’t we just going to talk directly to them?” Mulder’s radar was telling all was not as helpful as it seemed in this town. “I mean, why waste our time in the diner?”

“Conor, I’d have to agree with Mulder’s assessment, here. Unless I’m missing something; something you just learned out at the Grange?” Dan drove on, looking over at Conor.

Mulder found himself controlling a very strong urge to have Dan pull over. The scene was vivid in Mulder’s mind. Dan would pull over and let him and Conor out. Dan would drive on into town. Mulder would take, oh, maybe half a dozen steps down the embankment into the snowy woods. Then, he’d sucker punch Conor, once, twice, hell why would he count? He’d probably take a beating himself, he couldn’t lie to himself about that fact, but it would be worth it. Not to mention the verbal beating he’d take from Scully when she found out. All of a sudden, the little white balloon hanging over Mulder’s head, displaying this little scene, vanished with a ‘poof’. End of ride.

Conor attempted to rationalize his suggestion. “Sure, I guess we could go straight to the actual witnesses. I was thinking you might just benefit from some of the local color; might glean a few more details.” He did not turn around this time to face Mulder.

“Thanks for the suggestion, Conor. However, I say we head for the first witness. We’ll see about the diner after we’ve talked to the witnesses.” Dan nodded his agreement.

The SUV took a right onto Main Street and then left onto Sycamore Street, the home of Tonya Draper. The report stated that Tonya had returned home from working third shift and had noticed a strange light across the driveway. It was still dark when she pulled in around 5A, but she was sure she saw what she described as a very small fire blazing on her front lawn. The early morning air had been quite frosty. That fact was not surprising, it was late December. What had surprised her was that it had been snowing quite hard, alternating with freezing rain. Yet the fire burned unabated.

She had contacted Laurel Glenn’s Fire Dispatcher. Although the fire’s size was relatively small, it took one fire fighter almost an hour to douse the flames. Reports had automatically been filed with the Sheriff’s Office and Fire Department.

Mulder had both reports in his hands, along with a picture of Tonya Draper. She was in her early 30s, 5′ 3″, average build. She had glistening green eyes and light ash brown hair that rested just above her shoulders. Conor told Mulder and Dan that he knew Tonya casually from ‘around town’. Mulder asked whether she was single. Conor quickly explained that she was married, but she and her partner lived in different states due to their careers. Mulder made a mental note to investigate other connections between Conor and Tonya give the earlier information Dan had provided about Conor and his rumored attraction to married or otherwise partnered women.

As they pulled into the Draper residence, Tonya was taking the garbage out. She wore jeans that clung to her nicely and a rather fitted, long sleeved sage colored top. Black leather, mid-calf boots completed her outfit. As she reached the garbage cans at the side of her house, she swung her hair back out of her face. She turned at the sound of Dan’s SUV pulling into the driveway.

She approached the driver’s side of the vehicle, Mulder noticing her determined move to stay away from Conor’s side of the truck. “Hello, Dan. What brings you out to my neck of the woods?” She leaned into the open window at Dan’s door, once the truck had stopped. She made a point of looking at the passenger in the backseat while studiously avoiding Conor.

“We’ve got an FBI Agent who wants to talk with you about your fire sighting, Tonya. This here is Agent Mulder. You got time to talk to him for a bit?” Dan gestured with his head toward Mulder in the back seat.

Tonya appraised Mulder quietly, taking her time to look at him from his head to his toes. She scrunched her eyes, one hand over her brow; slightly from the sun and slightly trying to read him. <So, this is what my tax dollars are going toward these days? I’ll gladly up my contribution.> “Sure, I’ve got some time. Why don’t you come in, Agent Mulder?” Tonya purposely left the offer closed to Conor. She didn’t really mind if Dan joined them, but she was hoping he’d see fit to busy himself elsewhere.

Dan took the hint, but Conor was not so easily put off. The pressure placed on him by Jason was weighing heavily and his assignment to stick with Mulder was foremost in his thoughts. “I’d be glad to visit with you, too, Tonya. I haven’t really talked to you in awhile.”

Before Dan could come to the rescue, Tonya looked across at Conor. “You know, Conor, I think I hear your momma calling. Agent Mulder and I need some time to get better acquainted. Dan, why don’t you give us about an hour? I’ll put some coffee on for when you come back.” Tonya had opened the back door, inviting Mulder to join her.

Mulder smiled inwardly, Tonya was one in control person and was also sending vibes his way that could probably be read on satellites far above the earth. He summoned his best professional Agent demeanor and followed her inside.

***

Snowflake Inn

Scully headed straight for the area beyond the woods where the black-clothed figures had first been sighted. No evidence of their presence existed. Any footprints were long since gone due to the cover of new snow and the subsequent warming. She had turned to head back into the woods, intending to follow the path she and Mulder had taken when something caught her attention in the snow. She looked to her right and saw it. Gravel; gravel that looked remarkably like what they had just seen in the ravine behind the Grange. Scully reached into her pocket and pulled out an evidence baggie, pocketing some of the gravel. Her instincts told her that this was a 50-50 proposition. It could be the same singed rock from behind the Grange, but it could also be just gravel which was indigenous to this area of the state.

She then headed into the woods. The sunlight was filtered through the evergreens and stands of birch trees, casting shadows on the snow. The wind blowing through the trees created an eerie whistling sound. The snow beneath her boots alternately crunched where the sun had not yet reached it and smooshed where melting had taken place.

She moved closer to the spot where Mulder had been yanked from her hand and—fell on her ass. She had been moving quickly and had hit a patch of unseen ice. Her right foot struck it first, sliding forward with her already forward motion. Her left foot joined her right and then both feet were airborne. She landed with a thud on her backside, her elbows and forearms breaking her fall somewhat, the wind knocked out of her. The ground beneath her was wet and very cold. She took a breath and rolled onto her hands and knees. That’s when she saw it.

***

Laurel Glenn

“So, Agent Mulder, you want to know what I saw? Or, do you just want to test out how accurately I remember my statement?” Tonya led Mulder into the sunroom and plopped down onto a wicker settee with plush corduroy cushions. She gestured to Mulder to join her and he did. On the one-seater chair directly across from her. She smiled amusedly. <This could be fun, Agent Mulder.>

“Why don’t you tell me what you saw, Ms. Draper.” Mulder grinned, knowing she would see right through his professional demeanor. Tonya Draper was a bluntly mysterious woman and he was enjoying talking with her. He was also quite aware that she was giving him the once over.

A small smile played at the corners of her mouth and then she became serious. “Well, you know the basics. The fact that the fire wouldn’t go out; even with the nasty precipitation literally pelting it, was astonishing to me. I was here by myself; I’m sure Dan’s told you my partner lives in Rhode Island? I really wanted to check this fire out myself, but I had a very bad feeling about doing that, so I called the locals in. That’s about it.” She relaxed into the settee cushions, one arm draped over the back, the other on the arm rest; open and relaxed. Her eyes were sparkling and riveted on Mulder.

Now it was her turn to be surprised by directness. “Tell me what you know about Conor Blake.” Simple; to the point, Mulder.

<He sees it, too> “Well, Conor’s a good Deputy, I guess. Knows his jurisdiction, treats us well, sometimes maybe a little too well, if you catch my meaning?”

“I think I do, but make me sure I do.” Mulder was enjoying talking with Tonya. Being a quick study when it came to personalities, he sized her up pretty fast. Enjoys life immensely, knows what she wants out of it. She carried herself proudly, but not haughtily. Intelligent and street smart. He found himself wondering about her partner that would live so far away. He had also noticed how attractive she was.

“Well, he’s friendly, I’ll give him that, but his type of friendly sends chills down my spine and they’re not ‘good’ chills, you know?” She climbed off of the settee and perched on the arm to Mulder’s chair, bending her knee so her leg hung over him partially. She noticed his aftershave and cologne. Mulder added to his list of Tonya-Qualities: note to self, Tonya Draper is also forward.

Mulder sat back, trying to politely create some distance between them. “Are there others in town who feel the way you do, Ms. Draper?”

“Tonya; please call me Tonya. Oh, yeah, a few other women.” She turned to look at him, her eyes searching his face, focusing on his lips as he spoke, but in no other way touching him.

Mulder started feeling the sun through the thermal glass behind him. He had gotten about as much information out of this interview as he could (or should) and found himself hoping that Dan would show up soon. He wasn’t sure exactly how to extricate himself from his current situation without offending Tonya while maintaining his ethical behavior.

She solved the problem for him. “How about we head into the kitchen and I’ll get that coffee going? Dan and his sidekick should be here any minute now.” <Hell, had it been an hour already>

Mulder waited for her to stand and followed her into the kitchen. She busied herself at the gas range and he sat at the table. She set out milk, sugar, and cinnamon, brushing close as she gathered the coffee condiments. She set 4 mugs on the table and startled Mulder as she whispered into his ear, “How do you take your coffee, Agent?”

Mulder responded by asking where the bathroom was and quickly left the room. Tonya laughed after he had closed the bathroom door. <I love a shy man…>

***

Snowflake Inn

Not six inches from where Scully sat in the snow, a replica of Mulder’s fire sat atop the snow. While she had not been ‘flung’ anywhere, her mind wrapped itself around the similarity in how she had found this fire. She had been moved from one location to the other without consciously choosing to do so. Ok; she knew she was stretching it a bit; she had slipped on ice. She turned around, still on her hands and knees, to look at the area behind her. She ran her gloved hand over the area and…found no ice patch.

She pushed herself from the snow, squatting nearer to the fire. Since she assumed from previous experience that the fire would remain its original size, she drew close to examine it. She first tested the level and intensity of the heat by removing her glove and placing her hand above the flame. She felt no heat, no warmth. She drew her hand closer, now just an inch from the flame. Still no heat.

She backed up and stood. She walked around the flame, needing to see more, but also needing to warm up. She was getting chilled from inactivity. She paused on the other side of the flame and that’s when she felt it. The same pulling she felt when Conor summoned her to look at him. She quickly whirled around, half expecting to see him, but didn’t. She shrugged off the feeling and knelt down again, removing her gloves.

She placed both hands around the flame, over the flame. She then decided to place a finger into the top of the flame. She was only half surprised when she felt nothing.

She slowly moved her whole hand into the flame. Nothing happened.

As she moved the other hand to join it, she saw red. The world around her turned red and orange and yellow. She had an odd sensation of drifting, but could see the woods around her. She could see them more clearly, almost as if they were outlined with a dark marker. In her colored world she felt Conor’s hands on her, searching, holding.

Jason’s laughter did not reach her.

***

Laurel Glenn

Dan pulled up in Tonya’s driveway as Mulder headed back into the kitchen. Tonya was sitting at the table, drinking her coffee. She held the mug to her mouth with both hands and smiled up at Mulder when he sat down. She pushed a mug his way. “You doing ok, Mr. Mulder? You looked a little peaked there for a minute.” She pushed a piece of strawberry pie his way. “Made it myself; it’s a family recipe.”

Mulder thanked her and reached for the plate, his fingers touching hers. She lingered, her eyes connecting with his. He pulled his fingers away with the plate, his eyes holding her gaze. He took a forkful of pie, the look of dessert contentment apparent on his face. “This is good stuff, Tonya. Are your berries home grown?”

Tonya stood up taking her mug to the sink. As she passed him, she leaned down sideways and said, “Yes, Mr. Mulder, my berries certainly are homegrown.”

Mulder choked on his pie.

Just then, Tonya heard the knock on the door and turned around.

“Tonya?” Dan called out to her. “It’s open, Dan, c’mon in.”

Mulder’s eyes wandered around Dan as he walked in, instantly suspicious about Conor’s absence.

Snowflake Inn

“Well, Miss Dana Flame Haired Wonder, you’re learning a little more about us, aren’t you?” Jason spoke without forming words.

He watched her test out the flame, finally putting both hands into it, creating the desired effect. He could tell by the look on her face, in her eyes, that she was truly ‘seeing’ for the first time. Her breathing was panting and shallow, but she would be just fine. The first ‘flame experience’ was the most intense if it caught the initiate unaware.

Conor approached from behind Jason. “Hey, she’s ready!”

Jason put a hand patronizingly on Conor’s shoulder. “You know, Conor, for someone who’s got it in almost every other department, you really need to hire yourself some street smarts. She’s far from ready and might never be. She’s still too damned linked to that smart ass partner of hers and where is he?”

“I’ve kept them apart, that’s what you wanted!” Conor started to whine, then thought better of it.

“I wanted you to keep him in check. He’s with Tonya Draper, right?” Conor nodded. “And how is that a good thing, Conor? Tell me. Make it believable before I have to hurt you.”

Before Conor could reply and before Jason could cuff him, Scully pulled her hands from the flames, stood up and started running back toward the Inn. She looked as if she had seen and been touched by a ghost; and his name wasn’t Casper.

“Well, so much for our new initiate, Jason.” Conor dared to be smug. He dared to be smug, but had the good sense to walk away from Jason as he commented.

***

Laurel Glenn

“Dan, where’s Conor?” Mulder walked over to Dan, his worry etched in his eyes.

“Oh, he had someone he had to meet. Said he’d join us later.” Dan was not concerned with anything other than his coffee.

Mulder was already thanking Tonya for her hospitality and heading for the door. “Dan, we’re out of here. He handed Dan the gloves he’d just removed.

Tonya stood, walking into Mulder’s path. Although her hands remained at her sides, her body left no question about her intentions as she told him to have a good rest of his day; the smile more in her eyes than on her lips.

Mulder drew in a deep breath and exhaled in a whoosh, clearly effected, and then grabbed Dan’s arm, moving him to the SUV.

~~~~~

The Snowflake Inn

4P

Scully needed to think and to work off excess energy. Leaving her snow and dirt covered boots on the back deck, she walked stocking footed into the mud room where she hung her jacket. She went upstairs and changed into her leggings and tee shirt.

She heard a vehicle turning into the long driveway and then the bright sounds of Eddie’s voice. <Where did time go to> As she was tying her sneakers, she heard his running steps on the stairs. He was calling her name as if she might disappear before he saw her. “Agent Lady Dana! Don’t go anywhere right now because I’m coming upstairs to see you.” <And, Eddie, how could I not know that> Scully smiled and sat on her bed, waiting for him to come bounding into the room.

“So, Eddie, how was your day at school?” Eddie ran in and bolted onto Scully’s lap, his hands using her shoulders to keep him from knocking her over. “We did art today and I painted and I painted my hands and I painted my face but we were supposed to paint on paper and I did that too and I used all the colors and—”

Scully laughed so hard she had to hold onto Eddie so he wouldn’t be shaken loose. “Eddie! You can tell me one thing at a time and I’ll be right here to listen. Now, tell me what you painted.”

He settled down, his initial burst of physical and verbal energies reaching a mid-level of intensity. “I painted first some purple things, but probably not the purple things that I saw in your head when Agent Mulder had on only his towel. Then I was painting some fires, but they weren’t purple because fires are red and yellow and orange. Do you want me to tell you when Agent Mulder sees purple things about you, too?” Eddie’s face was alight with excitement and curiosity and he placed his hands on Scully’s face, turning her head so she was looking right at him.

“Your paintings sound very nice, Eddie.” She tried to deflect his question. She was amused when she drew an analogy between the mind of this 5 year old who would not let a subject go when he was interested and that of her 40-something partner who behaved in very similar fashion. She briefly recalled that she and that same partner were supposed to ‘talk’ tonight and a combination thrill of nervousness and raw emotion shot through her.

“But you didn’t tell me if you want me to tell you when Agent Mulder sees purple things about you. Do you?” Scully took a deep breath. <Oh, I’m pretty sure I can tell when Agent Mulder ‘sees purple things about me’, Eddie…> “Well, not right now, Eddie. Maybe tomorrow, how’s that?”

Keith appeared at her door. “Eddie, I thought we told you to wait for Agent Scully to come downstairs?” Eddie quickly climbed off of Scully and walked toward his father. “It’s ok, Keith, I was just getting ready to go work out a bit before dinner. Can I help you both with dinner?”

Keith took Eddie’s hand and bent down to give him a quick kiss on the top of his head. He then ruffled his son’s hair and told him to head downstairs. “Actually, the three of us will be heading out to a school camp out tonight and won’t return until tomorrow after school. They do this once in the winter and once in the fall. They start the kids outside, but then bring them into the gym with their sleeping bags. I use the term ‘sleeping’ bag loosely, however. I’m sure you can imagine a grade school of children trying to all sleep in a gym overnight? They’ll need a vacation for the families after tonight. Anyway, Robin’s preparing something for you and Mulder before we leave.”

“Oh, gosh, no; don’t have her do that! We can fend for ourselves. Enjoy yourselves and we’ll see you tomorrow night.”

Keith headed downstairs and Scully headed for the gym.

She was impressed with the equipment and headed for the treadmill. She had a lot to fuel her run. She planned to run herself right into the ground until she was so physically exhausted, she couldn’t think straight.

There was definitely something very strange going on in both Laurel Glenn and Montville Connecticut. She knew that Conor Blake figured prominently, but she still could not recall what had happened to her the night Mulder claimed he came to rescue her. It wasn’t that she doubted his story, she just could not recall one moment of her night after Conor and her headed out the front door of the Inn.

She hopped on the treadmill and started her walking warm up. She had turned on the CD player and chose something to keep her moving fast. After about 5 minutes of walking, she set her pace at a slow jog. Ten minutes later, she had shortened her strides, almost sprinting. She adjusted the incline to about 5

grade and started sweating.

She thought about the singed gravel at both sites and the appearance of the small fire that gave off no heat. She focused on what she could recall of the visions she had while her hands were inside the fire. She ‘saw’ with more than her own eyes and she ‘saw’ with amazing clarity. Her vision was heightened. What scared her was how to explain what she could not accept and the fact that she sensed both Conor and Jason nearby toward the end of her experience.

Then there was Conor’s uncomfortable hold over her when they were in eye contact. As much as Mulder wanted to help her out, he could not possibly be by her side 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And, until they left Connecticut, she was vulnerable to Conor unless she could figure out what was actually happening.

Leaving the loose ends loosely swirling, she focused on her run.

***

4:15P

Dan dropped Mulder off at the Inn and drove away. Mulder literally ran toward the front door, almost ripping it off its hinges trying to get inside. He saw Robin first. “Where’s Conor?”

No hello; just question. Robin looked surprised, but realized something must be happening about which she was unaware. “He’s not here, Mulder. He hasn’t been here as far as I know. Is something wrong?”

Mulder visibly relaxed and let out his breath in one sweeping whoosh. Robin held the dishtowel she had been using and walked closer to him. She placed on hand on his arm. “Are you ok?”

“I’m sorry, I’m leaving my manners in the dust here, Robin. I’m ok, really. It’s just something from this case and I was worried about Scully.”

“No need to worry, she’s down in the gym, running I think. Look, before you head down there—and I know that’s just where you want to be—Keith, Eddie and I will be gone on a school camp out overnight and won’t be back until tomorrow night. I’ve left some dinner for you two.” Before Mulder could thank her, she finished, “Now, give me your coat and go find your partner.”

Mulder smiled at Robin’s back and shook his head. He then headed down to the gym. Scully was on the other side of the room on the treadmill, facing away from the stairs. He stopped at the bottom, watching her run. She had obviously been running hard and for awhile now by the looks of her. He approached the treadmill, walking around in front of her. He smiled at her. “Hey, Scully, going for a little run? You look like you’re running for dear life.” <Whoops…probably the wrong choice of words by the look on her face>

Scully scowled slightly, but then she smiled. She panted out, “Had to worrkk off some exccccess energy.”

“What happened here today, Scully? You’re not telling me something.”

“You jusssttt got. Here. Mulder. No. time. To. Tell. You. Anything yet”

The man could often be one of the most patient people she had ever met; especially where she was concerned. At other times, because of his connection to her, he needed immediate answers, immediate reassurances. “I’m. ok. Fine. Let me. Finish. My run.”

He was being dismissed, but with a smile. That was a good sign. He watched her run for a bit. Her hair was pinned up in some sort of clasp and very wet sweaty tendrils were bouncing around her face. Her tee was soaked right through to her lightweight bra. Mulder told her he’d meet her upstairs. In actuality, he wanted to stay nearby, talk to her, watch her, pull her off the treadmill and give her a real workout. He was also very happy that she could not really read his mind.

~~~~~

The Snowflake Inn

5 January; Evening into Morning

Mulder was in his room, happily watching the Women Huskies play the Lady Friars of Seton Hall. Scully saw his white socks first through the slightly open door. His Levi’s followed the socks and his navy, long-sleeved Henley rose above. Sunflower seed shells were being gathered and tossed into a strategically placed wastebasket by the two seater. Scully wondered why she couldn’t hear the game until she saw his black ear buds and the dangling wires. Who he thought he might be disturbing, she didn’t know.

She walked into her room, wiping her face with a towel and hanging it on the doorknob. As she moved around, she could hear Mulder ‘enjoying’ the game; player’s names called out, critics reviews of various plays; oftentimes with Mulder as the ‘expert’ of the play.

She headed into the bathroom and turned on the shower. What she really wanted was a bath, but she knew they had a long night ahead of them working through what they had discovered today. She was also hungry and realized she had never finished the ham and cheese sandwich back at the Grange. She belatedly remembered (or conveniently forgot?) about the talk Mulder wanted them to have.

She peeled off her leggings and panties and tossed them into the small hamper. She moved the towels to the rack closest to the tub and then removed her tee shirt and bra. She stuck her hand into the pulsing water and got in, drawing the curtain closed.

She had washed her hair and just started to put the shower gel on the body puff when she heard Mulder call out to her. <What is it with him, bathrooms and running water> She didn’t respond right away, figuring he’d realize she was in the shower and wait until she was done.

She was wrong.

“Hey, Scully? You in the shower?”

<No, Mulder, I’m outside building a snowman>

“I mean, I can come back later if you want.”

“Mulder, yes, of course I’m in the shower. Can’t it wait?” Scully called out to him over the spray of water. She massaged the body puff over her arms, shoulders and chest.

Mulder moved closer to the bathroom door. <Deja vu. Think she’d give you a repeat performance>

“Well, Scully, I was thinking we could make good use of our time, maybe we could talk now.” Mulder called into the bathroom.

Scully scrubbed herself a little harder than intended. “Mulder, go finish the game.”

“It’s over, Scully.”

She heard the door creak open.

“Mulder, go back to your room. Now.” Scully stood very still, almost holding her breath. <Would he really stay>

“I’m gone, Scully; I’m leaving.” Mulder felt partially deflated. Another part of him realized he was really pushing things. Friendship didn’t always include visiting each other in the shower. Intellectually, he understood and accepted the situation. He knew Scully well enough to know that his behavior would not sit well. His affective side just wanted to ensure that their relationship was intact. And, he admitted, there was more to it.

Scully could make out the dejected sound in Mulder’s voice. Hell, she wasn’t immune to him! And, that was a good part of the problem right now. She just couldn’t handle how she was feeling with his levels of need.

Scully turned off the water, drew the curtain and grabbed the towel. She stepped out of the shower with one towel wrapped around her body and the other on her hair. After applying some Green Tea moisturizer and matching cologne, she dressed. As she removed the towel from her hair, she hung her head forward slightly and rubbed her hair with the towel. She grabbed her blow dryer, leaning over again. She dried her hair partially, letting it fall in natural waves around her face.

Although she really wanted to spend some quiet time around the Inn, she had decided that one of the things she and Mulder had to do tonight was go back to the site of her abduction. She needed to regain her memory of that night and she hoped that actually being in that location would help.

She pulled on her jeans and a navy chenille cropped sweater. She applied facial moisturizer and a little colored lipgloss.

Feeling more like herself again and quite refreshed, she headed to Mulder’s room. He wasn’t in there. She went downstairs and could hear him in the kitchen. He was moving between the gas range and the refrigerator. Each time he stepped off the rubber floor covering onto the tiles, he gave himself a small shove off, sliding on the tile in his stockinged feet.

She stood at the entryway, a small smile on her lips. “Mulder? Are you making dinner or practicing for one of the new Food Network Entertainment shows?” Mulder stopped dead in his tracks; he had not heard or seen her approach.

“I’m just making us a little dinner. You hungry?” He took the lid off of the soup pot and stirred it with the wooden spoon. Scully watched as he sipped some of the soup off of the spoon, the hot liquid dripping between his lips. The aroma was heavenly. He pulled the oven door open to check on the bread. <Mulder baking bread> Then she remembered that Keith had said that Robin would get some dinner ready. Well, she did like observing a somewhat domesticated Mulder at work.

“I’ll make us a salad.”

“No need, Robin did it already; everything’s in the fridge or I’m heating it now.”

Ten minutes later, they were sitting in the kitchen, deep crockery bowls of soup, warm, crusty sourdough bread and salad before them. They ate for a while in companionable silence; each occasionally glancing at the other.

Scully broke the silence when she asked Mulder about his interviews. Mulder talked about Tonya Draper’s incident. They both noted how similar it was to Mulder’s.

Scully shared her experience out behind the Inn. Mulder grew concerned. “Scully, what were you doing out there by yourself? You’re lucky you weren’t injured or taken again.” His voice was stern.

“Mulder, calm down. It was broad daylight and I had my weapon with me. I managed to obtain more of what I think may be the same gravel. I’ve had samples of each sent on to the labs at the nearby University for testing and comparison. And, I was able to learn more about the properties of the fires. They’re not ‘hot’, Mulder; they give off no heat!” Scully sopped up some of the soup broth with a piece of the sourdough bread. She sipped some white wine.

“What do you mean the fire’s not hot? Is it fire or what?” Mulder was very interested now.

Between bites, Scully told him about placing her hand and then both hands, into the fire. She paused, trying to figure out how to explain the feeling she got in connection to Conor and Jason. She knew it might be an important clue and if anyone could make the connections, Mulder would. She hesitated because she knew he was struggling with his intense dislike for Conor and his professionalism where the case was concerned.

For the moment, she left out her feelings about the connection to Conor and Jason.

Mulder saw her hesitation. “There’s something else you want to tell me? About the fire’s properties?”

She looked directly at him and smiled. <He’s good; very good> “Well, I’m not quite sure how to explain it, Mulder. As I said, I put both hands into the fire and felt nothing. Then—” Before she could finish, Mulder reached across the table and grabbed both of her hands in his. He looked at them closely, palm-sides up and turned over. Scully realized what he was doing, but the touch was no less electric. When he seemed satisfied that she had not been harmed, he looked up at her, but did not release her hands. They sat for a frozen moment, their arms stretched across dinner. Mulder’s thumbs slowly moved over the back of Scully’s hands as he looked at her. His eyes caressed hers softly.

And she broke the connection, gently pulling her hands from his, standing and picking up plates noisily. Mulder picked up his own dishes and followed her to the sink. Before he could say anything, Scully spoke. “Mulder, I want to go out to where you found me. Tonight. I think it might help me remember and I really need to find that night. I think it might provide some important clues, connection.”

Mulder nodded. He went to get their coats. “I’ll go warm up the truck.”

Scully grabbed her gloves and hat and found Mulder’s gloves laying on the table by the door.

The Site

Mulder drove the same route he used to follow Conor and Scully that night. Scully was tense as soon as they backed out of the driveway. She sat very straight and looked out her window.

“Scully, are you sure you want to do this? We could do this during the day.”

Scully turned toward Mulder. “No, I’ll be okay with this. I think the fact that I can’t remember bothers me more than what you tell me happened. Lord knows we’ve each been taken, shot at, almost killed more times than we can count. It’s part of our job description. But, I need a frame of reference, something to make the connection. No, I can do this, Mulder. Thanks for taking me. I don’t think I could have done it alone.”

Mulder smiled by the light of the dashboard. “Scully, you don’t ever have to do it alone.”

Mulder slowed as they reached the area by the side of the road. He downshifted and drove down the embankment, parking the truck near where he had found Scully.

She walked around the front of the truck, looking around with her flashlight. Mulder’s beam crossed hers and shown near her face. She appeared deep in thought, but Mulder wasn’t sure whether she was thinking or remembering. He reached a hand toward her, calling her name in question.

She flinched and drew back, almost falling against the front bumper of the truck. “Don’t touch me!” Her voice loud, she swatted her hand at Mulder’s and backed up more.

“Scully? It’s me, Mulder. Are you ok?”

She looked up into his eyes and started to walk farther away from the truck, from him. She walked backwards, keeping a wary and distrustful eye on him as she moved away. “Don’t you come any closer to me. Get in your truck and leave me alone.” Her voice rose louder still and her eyes flashed. While she was physically facing and looking toward Mulder, he had the distinct feeling that she was not actually ‘seeing’ him, but someone else. She almost seemed to be reliving the night with Conor, but in a role of what she might have done had she not been held captive.

Mulder kept his distance, but followed her. In her current state of mind, he wasn’t sure what she might do or where she might end up. They were still relatively close to the truck, but it was cold and the woods in this area were dense. The half moon didn’t provide much light through the tree tops. It had started snowing lightly again.

“Scully? Tell me whom you’re talking to. Who do you want to get in the truck and leave you alone? Can you tell me so I can help you?” Mulder tried to approach the situation differently, hoping Scully would open up to him. He was more convinced than ever that she was remembering. He didn’t like what she seemed to be remembering…

She stopped, hearing his questions. “I’m talking to Raven and Hawk. I have to leave so they can’t make me…” Her voice trailed off and she started to fall. “Scully!” Mulder covered the distance between them as if it didn’t exist. He caught her before she went down completely, but ended up sitting in the snow with her, her back to him.

As soon as they hit the ground, she seemed to come around. “Mulder?” She turned around to face him. “I was remembering, I think.”

He started to stand them up, suggesting they leave, but she shook her head ‘no’. “Let me tell you while I can remember. I’m afraid it will fade away.”

No longer feeling the cold beneath them, she leaned into him, each of them drawing warmth from the other. “I’ve seen Raven before. I think it’s Jason, the man we met out at the Grange. Conor’s, Conor must be Hawk. There are others, but they’re much fuzzier right now. Conor brought me out here to meet them, to be initiated.” She shuddered and Mulder drew her nearer to him.

“Do you recall what this initiation consisted of?” His question had an effect on her. She pulled out of his arms and stood up slowly, brushing the snow off of herself, moving slowly toward the truck again. “Scully?” Mulder stood and walked toward her, cautiously. He wasn’t sure whether she was remembering like before or just pulling her thoughts together, but he didn’t want to spook her.

She kept walking, but passed the truck. Mulder was genuinely puzzled and curious. He moved quicker to catch up with her. When he reached her, he placed his hands on her shoulders, stopping her in her tracks.

She stopped, but pulled away. “What did you remember? Tell me, Scully. It will help.” He didn’t make any additional attempt to touch her, but stayed close.

“I can’t, Mulder.”

“You ‘can’t’ or you don’t want to?”

She hugged herself, her face full of pain. “It’s nothing, I need to walk.”

“Ok, we’ll walk.” Mulder moved up next to her and let her lead the way. He was well aware that it was far from ‘nothing’, but also knew she’d tell him in her own time; her own way. She headed deeper into the woods. Mulder looked back, marking their location with his sight of the truck.

The snowflakes were light and fluffy and lent a softness to the otherwise tense night. They walked silently for a few minutes and then Scully stopped. “Mulder? I think I remember what actually happened. You’re right, though, I wasn’t assaulted; well I guess it was ‘unwanted sexual touching’, but—”

“But, what? Tell me.”

“But, Conor tried. I remember trying to pull away from him in his truck, we swerved across the road, ended up here, in the ditch with me pinned to him. I tried to call you, but he grabbed the cell. He started to touch me. His hands—, Mulder?” He stood closer, letting her take from him what she needed. She took a deep breath, seeming to gain some small strength from his nearness. Then she continued, “The others came. They surrounded me, held me. Oh, god, what is going on here?” Scully looked at Mulder, realization, shock and fear in her eyes.

Then she took off at a break neck speed into the woods.

Mulder was behind her, keeping her in his sight. “Scully, wait.” He knew by her reaction that this incident had more to it, more on a psychological level. Scully was right; they had both had their share of nasty situations as part of their jobs. The difference was that they were clearer cut in their duration and lasting effect. He knew that there was something deeper going on here. Scully was a strong, independent person. Her usual reaction was not flight.

And, that’s why he was so worried.

They found themselves standing in the middle of a clearing, copses of trees at the periphery. The snow was deeper in here and the moonlight filtered in softly. Scully was breathing heavily from the exertion. Mulder bent over at the waist, his hands on his knees, catching his breath as well. He looked up at Scully, who was smiling at him. “Well, I guess we worked off dinner, huh?”

He smiled at her, but then looked puzzled. “Mulder, it’s ok, I’m ok. I think I’ve got this thing in perspective now. I know something’s going on and I’m not sure exactly what it is, but somehow—don’t laugh, but somehow, there’s a connection to the eyes, Mr. Arias’s eyes and the earlier victim.”

“I’m not laughing, Scully. You should know that about me, of all people, I wouldn’t laugh. Ever.”

She smiled, looked down and then back into his eyes. “I do know that, Mulder. I just have a feeling that this is a cult of some sort. A group that believes that the ‘eyes’ have a power they need. That makes some sort of strange sense to me and I’m sure you can quote me all of the literary citations.” She chuckled. Mulder did, too. “The part I can’t figure out is the strange pull I feel when Conor makes eye contact with me. It’s creepy; frightening. It makes me wonder just what else I’m going to discover about what they may have done to me.”

Mulder listened. It had to be something pretty significant for Scully to admit she was frightened. “How about we figure out how to stay away from Conor and Jason for awhile? We can still talk more about this, but let’s not put you in the situation anymore.”

“Actually, I think I’m talked out on this particular topic right now and staying away from Conor and Jason sounds like a plan.” Scully looked up into the falling snow and held her gloved hands out, palms open to the sky. “It’s snowing, Mulder.”

He laughed. “You’re just noticing? It’s been snowing since we got here. Are you cold?”

“No, actually, I’m not. It’s kind of nice out here.” Scully started walking toward Mulder. “Let’s start heading back, Mulder.” He turned and walked a few steps ahead of her. Scully slowed, bent down and grabbed some wet snow. She quietly formed it into a nice, compact shape—and tossed it at Mulder’s back.

It hit him with a ‘smoosh-thud-plop’ square in the back, leaving a nice, wet, white target on his back. Mulder whirled around, fast, bending and grabbing snow. He didn’t bother shaping it into a ball, he just flung it right back at Scully. She ducked. He missed.

“You are so in trouble, Scully…” Mulder’s eyes took on a devilish and playful look and he charged toward her.

She giggled and turned to run. He grabbed more snow, throwing it toward her again. He hit her shoulder. “You can run, Scully, but you can’t hide.”

She zigged in between the trees and Mulder zagged behind her. She doubled back in the other direction and hid behind a large oak tree. She was trying not to giggle, her gloved hands over her mouth. She peered out from behind the trunk of the tree to see where Mulder had gone. When the coast looked clear, she started to creep out from behind the tree, being careful to not make any sounds in the snow with her boots.

Before she had taken one step, she felt the very wet, very cold, snow on the back of her neck and down her back. Then, she heard Mulder’s laughter. “Tag, you’re it, Scully.” And he took off.

I’m in trouble, Mulder?” She tried to wipe out as much of the cold snow as she could, but didn’t want to lose valuable time. She saw Mulder’s tall, lanky frame darting between the trees ahead of her and followed. “Mulder, when I find you, I won’t be responsible for what happens!”

And she did find him…

When he caught her below the knees and sent her sprawling into the snow, the wind knocked out of her. “OOOF! You don’t play fair, Mulder.”

“I don’t play fair, Scully? Who threw the first snowball?” Mulder pinned her upper arms in the snow, his face close to hers. “Say ‘Uncle’, Scully.” She could feel his breath on her face, the contrast between the cold beneath her and the warmth above her intoxicating.

“Not on your life, Mulder.” She brought her hand up. She waited for the exact right moment. She rubbed snow in his face. The momentary distraction gave her time to get up. She took advantage of his temporary loss of balance and shoved him down into the snow. He landed on his butt. Scully appeared in front of him, holding snow over his head and letting it fall from her hands into his hair. He wrapped his arms around her legs, holding her in place. Not to be outdone, she placed one hand on his head for leverage and balance, lifted one boot and pushed against his solar plexus. That move broke his hold on her. And she ran like a bat out of he!!.

“You realize this is war, Scully?!” She heard Mulder’s voice through the trees. He was up, but still a few paces behind her. She ran around the front of the truck and hid, a small stockpile of snowballs laying on the ground and one in each hand. Mulder started running past her. She pelted him with the snowballs, trying to stifle her laughter.

When he stopped suddenly in his tracks, she headed back in the direction she had just come. When she was sure he was far enough away, she called out to him. “Mulder? What were you saying about a ‘war’?”

Mulder closed the distance between them, partially. He stopped, hands on his hips, smile on his face, breathing hard. “Truce, Scully?”

“Define, ‘truce’, Mulder.” She yelled back.

He started walking toward her. “A mutual agreement to no longer pursue the current course of action.”

“And what would that be?”

Closer. Still.

“You tell me.”

Scully backed up two steps.

Mulder moved forward three.

She picked up the snow first.

He closed the distance next.

She lifted her arm.

He held her arm in place.

His lips found hers; the heat staying the chill of the night.

He brought her arm down to her side and her fingers released what was left of the snow. He brought his gloved hands up to her shoulders, holding her gently. His mind and his body debating which course of action to take. His mind told him they were on tenuous ground for many reasons; not the least of which all that she had recently remembered. His body was telling him to draw her inside his jacket, to wrap his arms around her, to kiss her with such passion that they were both rendered speechless. Both his mind and body agreed that the latter choice was exceedingly favorable…but most likely not the very best option.

Scully had a brief moment of indecision. There were too many things to consider. Too many things she didn’t want to consider. Their current casework was interfering with her other thoughts about and for Mulder. That in and of itself was nothing new. However, the many levels to this case and her involvement were clouding her usual ability to sort things out. She was still experiencing strange sensations from what she remembered about Conor. In fairness, her questions around her relationship with Mulder began long before this case. Now, things were much more complicated.

She gave in to the moment. Heck, whom was she trying to kid? ‘Gave in’? That implied there was actually a choice, actually a negative outcome, response. The only thing she knew at that moment was that she was powerfully drawn to his lips. His hand holding her arm still, his face moving toward her, his eyes barely visible in the diffuse moonlight, were sending signals to some nether realms. When she felt his amazingly warm, firm lips graze hers, she was doubly glad he was holding onto her because most of the bones in her body seemed to liquefy upon contact.

Mulder noticed that Scully didn’t pull away from him and his lips became more insistent. He stepped closer, but did not pull her to him.

Scully felt Mulder close the distance between them and she was sure her heart skipped a few beats and then thudded against her ribs. She drew in a dizzying breath. She parted her lips and—

The sound of black, Bobcat, snowmobiles filled their ears. The sounds grew louder and the headlights were now visible.

While it was not at all unusual for snowmobiles to be out around this area, the fact that it was so late on a weeknight…and the fact that they appeared to be headed straight for the two Agents was cause for some alarm.

Like icy snow thrown on them, Mulder and Scully pulled away from each other, the budding passion of a moment earlier gone, but not forgotten.

“Scully? I think we have a problem.”

“Run, Mulder?”

“Run, Scully!”

Mulder opened the driver’s side door with the keychain remote as the neared the SUV, also opening Scully’s door right afterwards. The headlights were coming toward them at a high rate of speed. Mulder shifted into reverse. The problem was the incline of the ravine. He moved slowly in reverse. When he had put some distance between them and the on-coming Bobcats, he turned up toward the road. Once they hit the blacktop, Mulder floored the gas pedal.

They were both breathing hard. Scully turned around to see the snowmobiles at the roadside, perched like 5 dark, animals upset that their prey had gotten away. The 5 mechanical beasts watched and waited. Knowing where their prey was headed, they waited for reinforcements. The prey could run, but they couldn’t hide.

“Betcha can’t guess who that probably was.”

“Mulder, I don’t think I want to know. How did they know we were there? Ok, that was a silly question.”

They arrived at the Inn and went inside quickly. Although they had not seen anyone following them home, they also realized they hadn’t seen anyone following them to the site.

The Snowflake

Mulder and Scully went through all the rooms on the ground level of the Inn, making sure the windows and were all locked. Satisfied that the Inn was relatively secure, they looked at each other.

Scully yawned and stretched. The evening’s activities had taken their toll on her. “I’m going to head up to bed, Mulder. How about we do a recap with Skinner tomorrow?”

Mulder wasn’t thinking about recapping with Skinner. As tired as he was, he was thinking about Scully and just how close to resolving some things they had come. <If it’s not bees, it’s snowmobiles? At least she didn’t have a physical reaction to the snowmobiles.>

“Sure, we can recap with Skinner.”

Scully didn’t miss the flat response he gave her. “Mulder?” They were standing by the stairs. “What’s wrong?”

“You don’t know?” Mulder asked her, an edge creeping into his voice that he hadn’t known was there. “You can honestly look me in the face, Scully, and tell me you have no idea what’s wrong?”

Scully was taken aback and wondered if maybe sheer exhaustion was setting in for them both. “I’m looking you in the face, Mulder, and I do not have any idea what’s upsetting you. Tell me.” Scully’s voice was calm and tinged with concern.

“You know, I think you were right the first time, Scully. You should go to bed and I’ll do the same.” Mulder searched Scully’s face and then headed upstairs.

Scully’s mouth dropped open. Then she realized Mulder had really walked away from her. She followed him upstairs, still not quite sure what had just happened. She knocked on his door, calling his name.

“I’m in bed, Scully. Talk to me in the morning.” Mulder’s voice was flat.

“Mulder, I am not going away until you tell me what I missed!” Scully wondered how he had gotten ready for bed so fast. “Mulder? If you don’t open this door, I’m coming in there!”

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she wondered whether she would really call his bluff. Or, would he call hers? What would she actually do if he didn’t come to the door, was really in bed? Where would that lead?

Her thoughts returned to the pre-snowmobiles-from-hell kiss. The kiss that most likely was about to become more demanding and passionate. The kiss that made her feel that all was right with the world in general and her and Mulder in particular.

She couldn’t go into his room, not now. “Fine, Mulder, I’ll see you in the morning.” Her decision made, she turned to go to her room.

A door opened and then slammed shut. Scully turned around and saw Mulder storm out of his room. Scully noticed his face; more specifically, his enraged look. She also noticed Mulder’s black knit boxers. <He sure is ready for bed>

“Where do you think you’re going, Scully?” The contrast between the look on his face and the level, deep tone of his voice caused the hairs on the back of Scully’s neck to stand at attention. She regained her composure, her own anger not quite in check. “Where do I think I’m going? To bed, Mulder, as I originally planned. I had no idea what you were talking about downstairs. I tried to find out, you wanted to pout, sulk. Well, have it your way.” She turned away from him and walked calmly into her room.

“Are you sure you want to do that, Scully?”

She paused, turning slightly, in the small hallway between their rooms, taking in the dark hooded eyes, the set of his jaw, the spiked hair. While the remainder of him was all too visible, she willed herself to focus, once again, on his face.

“Am I sure I want to do what, Mulder? Go back to my room? Why would I stay here; you’re not telling me anything. We’re playing a—” She turned toward her room again.

Scully wasn’t sure she remembered how Mulder got from Point A to Point B. From her algebra and geometry, she vaguely recalled that a straight line was the shortest distance between two points. <What a helpful thought that was, too>

“Stay right where you are, Scully.” Mulder’s very warm arms slowly enveloped her from behind. She moved forward, trying to wriggle out of his embrace, attempted to keep a modicum of airspace between them. Even with her jeans and cropped sweater, she could feel the heat radiating from Mulder’s body to hers. He held her fast. She inhaled deeply. She exhaled back into him. His arms crossed just under her chest, her chenille sweater riding up on her abs. He moved one hand to the bare skin above her navel.

“Mulder, let go of me.” Anyone versed in observing human behavior and the way in which body language can either affirm or negate verbal cues would have known that what Scully said was not likely what Scully meant. At the very least, one would have noticed conflicted meaning.

The air around them was charged. Mulder moved to lessen the airspace between them. “I don’t think you really want me to let go.” The same level tone; about an octave deeper than before.

Scully grabbed Mulder’s hands, her fingers slipping beneath his trying to pry his hands away; her fingers now touching her own skin. He just held her tighter. The sensation of his fiery hands on top of hers pressing her own hands to her caused a slight tremor. And, the Inn was not on any known fault lines.

“What I really want, ” pant, breathe, “Mulder, is to know what you got so upset about. If you let me go, we can talk about that.” Scully wasn’t sure Mulder would buy it, but it was worth a try.

She could hear the smile in his response although she could not actually see it. “Your place or mine, Scully?” Mulder moved imperceptibly, his lips closer, “Those are your two choices. Those are your only choices.”

If Scully thought she’d have an unstimulated minute to consider her two choices, she was wrong. Mulder’s lips and nose brushed through her hair on top of her head lighting something akin to those small fires they had both seen inside her.

“My room, Mulder; my room.” She was free. And she wondered if that were truly a good thing… She walked into her room, Mulder following on her heels. The moonlight caused a faint glow on the light colored walls. Scully turned on the overhead light in the closet and then closed the slatted doors. The combination of moonlight through the clouds and the diffused light from the closet gave them just enough to see each other, but not create a harsh setting.

Scully headed for the bed—then thought better of it. She sat sideways in the window seat, assuming that Mulder would pull up the side chair. He did. He turned it, chair back facing Scully, and straddled the seat, his long arms bent at the elbows and perched on the chair back.

Scully’s eyes were drawn to Mulder, sitting so erotically casually, his legs spread, his chest bare. She was sure a small tear in the space/time continuum had just occurred because the room seemed slightly devoid of air. She found it difficult to recall what they were supposed to talk about. Besides, talk is cheap.

Mulder, however, was not about to let the earlier issue drop. “I’ll ask you again, do you really not know what is upsetting me, Scully?” He spoke direct intent that flowed like soft butter.

She turned toward the window, gathering her thoughts and turned back toward him. Pulling her legs in to her chest and wrapping her arms around her legs, she looked into his eyes and spoke softly. “All I know, Mulder, is we came back here, I was tired and wanted to go to bed. You got angry. Help me out here. I want to understand.”

Soft, warm butter, “Think Scully. Think about before we came home, before we had to come home. I could draw you a picture, if that would help.”

Scully’s eyes widened, color rising in her face, as she thought. Mulder stood, lifting one, long leg over the seat, turning the chair around so he could face Scully without the barrier of the chair back. He drew her nearer, his knees bumping the window seat. She moved to the edge so her legs were between his. She was afraid that if she moved any closer, her knees would discover the true extent of the bulging in his cotton knit boxers.

“I think this is where we left off, Scully.” She leaned in toward him, hands on his bare legs, as he placed his hands on her waist.

“Um, Scully.”

“Mulder?”

“Scully, I think we need to get out of here fast.” He let go of her waist and grabbed her hand. “What are you talking about, Mulder?” A quick naked jump into the snow could not have produced a bigger shock to her primed system.

“No time to talk, Scully. I’ve got to get dressed and we have to get out.” Mulder pulled Scully along behind him into his room. It had never occurred to him that he might get dressed faster if he were not holding her hand.

She grabbed his hand with both of hers, stopping him in his tracks. “Fox Mulder, tell me where we’re going and why right this minute!” Hair falling in his face as he suddenly stopped his forward momentum, he looked at her and spilled the words quickly, “Our Bobcat buddies are back with reinforcements. I saw them behind you in the field. Something tells me they weren’t too happy we were out at the site or that we got away. We’ve got to get out now.”

“Get dressed, Mulder.” Scully ran to her room to get her service weapon and flashlight. She ran back to Mulder’s room just as he was coming out. She started heading down the stairs ahead of him when he grabbed her arm and pulled her back. He leaned in quickly and planted a wet, open mouthed kiss, on her surprised lips. “That’s to hold you ‘til later, Scully.” <And now he’s going to expect me to run>

He didn’t give her any options. After the brief, but intense, kiss, he put his thumb to her lip. He then smiled and said, “We’ve got to get out of here.”

***

Heading down the steps at breakneck speed, the Agents could hear the loud roar of the snowmobiles. “Mulder, I think there are more; lots more.”

Mulder, still heading forward, replied, “Lots and lots more, Scully.”

Some of the engines died out as the snowmobiles parked at the various entrances to the Inn. Others continued to circle around, attempting to prevent any escape from the Inn’s grounds.

“Um, Scully? I’m thinking now would be a good time for Plan B.”

“What was Plan A, Mulder?”

They drew back into the shadows, staying out of eyesight and possible gun sites, their own weapons trained on the windows and doors. “Maybe if we stay quiet, they won’t realize we’re here.” Mulder pulled them back into the dark alcove under the stairs in the great room.

“Wishful thinking, Scully.” Mulder pulled her farther back into the shadows just as the voices started calling to them and some kicked at the door. “We know you’re in there. If you come out on your own, this will go down much easier. We need the woman.”

Mulder and Scully said nothing. Scully clutched her weapon with both hands, aiming it at the door which was about to come off of its hinges at any moment.

Mulder found a strange thought running through his head, <why didn’t they just come in the window if they want us that badly?> That thought went unfinished as both the door and two windows crashed open. Still hidden from sight, they listened quietly to the snowmobilers.

“Check upstairs, I’ll get the kitchen. And, Hawk?”

“Yes, Raven?” Conor tried to hide the quaver in his voice.

“Hawk? This is your absolutely last chance. Bring us the flame-haired woman or I cannot be responsible for what the Scouts will do with you.” Jason sneered, knowing that Conor would now be doubly motivated to bring them their new initiate. The one person who could alone further their efforts.

Jason stood in the great room, not realizing just how close Mulder and Scully were. He contemplated the ritual that would occur before she gave her eyes to the Scouts. He knew just how much Conor wanted to play the lead in this show. And, if Conor managed to actually find Scully, Jason would allow him his due. But only his due; which didn’t amount to much, seeing how he’d messed up so many times. Jason planned on enjoying this particular initiate. A lot. The problem was going to be her partner. And that’s why he brought along reinforcements.

***

The Inn suddenly became quite crowded. Scully stepped back into the shadows when she realized that their two weapons would not be effective against the 6 people moving around the ground floor and the probable 3 or 4 who had gone upstairs. She found herself shaking. Her rationale, well-trained mind explained it as the adrenaline rush that prepared most humans for action. She recognized it, understood it, was ready to act and—was scared shitless. Her rational mind, having been taken over by her emotional mind, was telling her to slide right on over to Mulder and hold on like there was no tomorrow. As usual, her rational mind won out.

That, however, did not mean that Mulder’s mind wasn’t making its own decisions. Keeping his weapon in his right hand, finger on the trigger, he reached for Scully’s hand with his left. He gently squeezed it and stepped closer to her.

She drew strength from his touch and his presence; as she always did. She wondered why she hadn’t just told him.

Mulder motioned her back a bit with his hand by nudging her slightly. As he stepped forward to listen to the assailants’ progress, he walked straight into the open arms of two figures clad entirely in black. His hand was twisted from Scully’s. A hand clamped over his mouth, cutting off his objections.

Two similar figures pulled Scully from her hiding place, knocking her weapon to the floor. Both Agents were pushed, pulled and dragged outside into the ink blue night cover that fell over the Inn like a shroud.

Three dark, tall figures held Mulder at bay, although they could not prevent his constant motion and his calling for Scully. The headlights of the black Bobcats parked around them illuminated the scene like bad lighting in Mulder’s favorite B flicks. A tall, well-built, man approached Mulder and motioned for the black clad Scouts holding Scully to bring her closer. When he reached Mulder, the dark figure nodded once to each of the men holding Mulder. They secured him tightly. The others holding Scully dragged her to one side of the tall man so she had a clear view of Mulder’s predicament. The tall man reached for Mulder’s face, running his black gloved hand down his cheek as Mulder twisted his head, trying to avoid the touch. At that point, the tall man brought his knee up sharply into Mulder’s groin, causing him to howl and bend forward.

The tall man laughed sardonically and leaned forward. “Save the drama for your momma, Agent Mulder. The night is young.” Conor Blake turned toward Scully.

Her anger knew no bounds. She twisted and wrenched her body, trying to pull herself free of her captors. When she saw Conor lift his leg, she knew instinctively what was coming and cried out to Mulder. Conor had had the desired effect when he ran his hand down Mulder’s cheek, causing him to turn away, leaving Conor free to move. Even in his pain and anguish, Mulder managed to croak out Scully’s name, telling her he was fine. And she didn’t believe the word when he said it anymore than she knew he believed it when she did.

Similarly dressed from head to toe in black, Jason approached. “Well, Hawk, you have come back to the fold. You have demonstrated the reason we brought you into this group. He clapped Conor on the shoulder and walked slowly around Mulder. “Agent Mulder, we have a little situation here. You can see that, I’m sure. Now, things are rather simple. Give us what we want and you go free.” Jason stood between Mulder and Scully. He reached one hand to Scully’s hair, pushing it away from her face and then returned his gaze to Mulder. “So, what do you say, Mulder? May I call you that? You see, we need the flame haired Agent Scully. We need her eyes and her essence. You, you’re just a means to an end and you’ve helped us so much. We are grateful and wish to show you.” Jason looked to the Scouts holding both Mulder and Scully. The Scouts brought the two Agents close to one and other, but did not let them go. “You can talk to each other, say good-bye; we won’t listen; much.” Jason and the Scouts laughed.

Scully was breathing heavily from the exertion of trying to free herself and Mulder looked worse for the wear and tear. Mulder started to say her name. “Don’t, Mulder. Go; please.” He could feel the effort she was putting into keeping her tone level and her face calm, but he could also see and feel the real message. Their only option for escape required one of them to be free.

Mulder wanted to tell her so much; how he couldn’t bear the thought of leaving her behind, how beautiful she was, how sorry he was for pushing her earlier, how much—how much he loved her and always would.

The words weren’t spoken. She saw and felt them and gave him her own silent words.

Conor walked forward, pushing Mulder back with his hand against Mulder’s chest. Mulder used the momentary movement to lean back, surprising his captors, and bring his leg up with a force borne of sheer anger and ferocity. He kicked Conor squarely in the lower abdomen, his captors actually helping him by providing leverage for his actions. Conor let out a loud, guttural sound that echoed through the night. Jason strode into the fray. “Agent Mulder? Did you not find our offer magnanimous? Was I unclear about what was expected of you?”

Mulder found his voice, “What makes you think that I won’t just come back for her?” He stood still long enough to catch his breath and then gave his captors a run for their money as he yanked his arms and flailed with his legs.

Jason smiled and several small fires appeared in-between and all around Scully’s feet. The flames grew taller as Jason raised his hand to shoulder height. As he moved his hand down again, the flames returned to their original height. Scully stood very still, holding her breath, afraid that any movement would bring her clothing in touch with the flames. While she clearly recalled that her hands had passed into the flame outside the Inn without harm, she had no such empirical proof that the same would be true for clothing. She thanked her lucky stars that the night was calm.

Conor’s voice came from behind Scully. “You see, Mulder, you can come back, but we will decide how this all plays out. Go; while you have the option.”

Mulder’s captors let go of his arms. He ran straight for Scully. And was stopped by Conor and Jason. “Agent, we are not totally without feeling. We know that one little kiss is probably what you were thinking about. We’d like to accommodate you.” Jason stood against Mulder to prevent him from moving forward. Mulder looked at Scully, the fear in her eyes apparent only to him. He watched as Conor walked toward Scully, removing the black facial covering, his long hair spilling out from under the covering. He handed it to one of the Scouts holding Scully.

Mulder saw her fear ratchet up a notch, but he also saw pure venom and anger. She pushed back against the Scouts, trying to distance herself from Conor’s advances. Jason summoned additional Scouts. Mulder had to be restrained.

Conor placed on hand on Scully’s jacket, over her chest, and wrapped his other arm around her waist, pinning her to him. His lips close to her face, he spoke to her. “You cannot imagine the pleasures that await you as our newest and most valuable initiate.” As he brought his face closer, his lips touching hers, she bit him as hard as she could. He yelped loudly, pulled back and slapped her face hard.

“Conor! That’s enough! I said you could enjoy the ritual, but not mess with the initiate.” Jason pulled Conor back away from Scully. Her head hung down and Mulder tried to charge toward her.

Jason told him to leave. When Scully heard Jason telling Mulder to leave, she looked up at him. “Mulder, you’ve got to get away from here. Please? I can’t bear to have you watch— I need you to get help. I need you.” The last three words were said softly and quietly for his ears only.

Mulder turned and ran back toward the Inn.

He stopped and turned when he heard the Bobcats roar. The Scouts took Scully and sat her behind Jason on the lead vehicle. The Scouts mounted and queued up behind Jason. Snow kicking up behind them, they swiveled and turned and roared away into the silent night.

***

The Snowflake Inn

Mulder knew he couldn’t sleep and would not do so until he found Scully, so he paced. He walked through the lower level and then walked the stairs. He walked into his room, lighting on his bed and getting up. He walked into Scully’s room and could see the lights of the Scout’s vehicles pulling away from the Inn through the field.

His plan now formed, he ran out of her room and down the stairs. He grabbed his cellphone and jabbed in Skinner’s home number. “Skinner.” The gruff, sleep-induced voice. “Sir, it’s Agent Mulder and we’ve got a little situation here in Laurel Glenn. I could use some back up.” Skinner, from years of experience in ‘Nam and at the Bureau, was instantly alert, all previous thoughts of sleep banished. “Mulder? What’s happening; what’s wrong? The last time I spoke to Agent Scully, it sounded like you two were on your way to nabbing the head of this cozy little operation.”

“Well, that’s still, um, probably true. Actually, Sir, the head of the operation has Scully.”

“Agent Mulder”, Skinner’s tone took on a much more authoritative tone, “are we dealing with a hostage situation here? Is Agent Scully all right?”

“Yes, Sir, I think she’s all right. Look I can’t cover the details right now, but I would appreciate it if you would make some local Field Agents available to us should the need arise.”

“I’ll have the Boston Field Office put Agents Court and Spark on standby. They can arrive within 3-4 hours. Just contact their A.D. if you want them in. Can you hold your ground, Agent?”

” I’ll have Agent Scully back in no time, but we could use the back up here. I’ll keep you posted, Sir.”

“Do that, Agent. And, Mulder? You make sure you get Agent Scully back.”

***

He left a note for the Yarlows, not sure when he would be back.

He had a plan. If it worked, Scully would come back to the Inn with him before the Yarlow’s returned. He didn’t think past that point. There was no other plan except to bring Scully back.

The SUV took the turn out of the Inn on two wheels. He punched in Sheriff Dan Blake’s number on his cell. “Dan, sorry to bother you at this hour, but I need your help and some resources. Agent Scully’s been taken, Conor and Jason are both involved. I’m heading to the Grange in Montville. Meet me there. And, Dan? Bring lots of help.”

~~~~~

Cave Behind the Grange Hall

Montville, CT

6 January 2A

The engines whining, their ski runners flying over the snow, the Bobcats raced past the Grange Hall and into the field behind it. Scully clung to Jason, almost losing her balance several times during their trip from Laurel Glenn. She had several times considered letting go and making a break for it, but realized the desperation and not the logic in that thought. Had she been alone with Jason, or even one more snowmobile, she would have taken her chances. The fact that there were at least 10 Scouts and 6 Bobcats increased the risk handsomely.

They had arrived at the Site. Scully saw one large bonfire surrounded by rings of smaller fires in the open field. Several torches outlined the mouth of a very large stone structure, one that very much resembled a cave. Jason’s snowmobile headed for the cave while the others circled the fires and parked. The riders dismounted; some following Jason into the cave, the others lit torches and moved around the bonfire.

Jason throttled down, set the brake and helped Scully off the Bobcat. “Ditch the jacket, Agent Scully; it’s much warmer in here. Have a seat over there and don’t consider trying to go anywhere.” Jason met Conor on the other side of the open room. A few of the Scouts, their headgear now removed, joined them. Scully recognized one of the men and the woman who had held her the night Conor took her. She tried to listen to their conversation, hoping to discover the agenda and a possible means of escape.

***

Road Leading to the Grange Hall

Montville, CT

As Mulder approached the Grange, he slowed and turned off the headlights. From his vantage point, he could see the flames in the field behind the Grange. He also noted what seemed to be ‘moving fire’ as he and Scully had seen two nights ago outside the Inn.

He waited impatiently for Dan Burton and back up. Mulder sat fidgeting; fingers drumming the steering wheel. Unable to contain himself any longer, he exited the vehicle and headed for the Grange. Just as he reached the dark building, he heard other vehicles approach and saw the headlights dim.

He waited for Dan to reach him. “Looks like whatever they’re planning, Mulder, it’s about to happen in the field and the cave.” Dan stood in the gravel parking lot, his officers grouped around him. “What cave, Dan?” From Mulder’s vantage point, the cave was not visible. “It’s an old, natural formation from ages ago. Somewhere back in time, a combination of natural erosion and the need for shelter created it. Over the years, it was nothing more than a tourist site, local camping and a hang out. Local teens, um, used it; if you catch my drift. It’s rather large inside.”

“What about entry points?”

“Only one way in and one way out, that I know of. However, I can’t say for certain that they haven’t created or found other entry points.”

Mulder had enough information and needed to act. He and Dan developed a plan of attack and moved out.

***

Cave Behind the Grange Hall

“Conor, let’s get Agent Scully prepared for the festivities.” Jason walked over to Scully and reached for her hair. She jerked her head back, stood and moved away from him. “Ok, Flame, just relax. This will proceed much more smoothly if you cooperate with us. Becoming one with—”

Conor froze, his words coming to an abrupt halt as Jason approached him. “Conor,” Jason smirked, no humor in his words, “you have a short term memory, at best. First of all, she doesn’t become “Flame” until after the initiation ceremony. Second, drop the damn jargon. And, third, get the altar ready.” Jason’s eyes flashed red, yellow and orange at Conor who finally moved with the speed of light.

Jason grabbed Scully’s arm, pulling her toward a large stone structure in the center of the room. “Here, let me help you.” Jason’s hands rested on Scully’s waist as he boosted her up onto the raised platform. “You know, I’ve noticed you’re awfully quiet for someone who usually seems to have so much to say. Care to tell me what’s on your lovely mind?”

Scully said nothing, afraid her words would give away her thoughts, her hopes, her plan for escape. She used her time to visually scan every visible inch of the cave, to listen to all conversations and to try to block out her need to know that Mulder was here or on his way. She had not doubt that her partner was resourceful, as well as, stubborn and persistent. Three great qualities.

“Well, then, we should proceed.” Jason produced two glittering ornamental hair combs and placed one on each side of Scully’s head, pulling her hair back from her face. The red and yellow stones shown brightly in the cave’s firelight. “Are you cold, Dana?” Scully cringed at his familiar use of her given name, but said nothing. “I can fix that. We want you comfortable and warm.”

“Jenara, come in here.” Jason called to one of the women making preparations outside the cave’s entrance. She was also the woman that assisted them earlier. “Yes, Master?” Jason instructed her to cuff Scully to the metal bar protruding from the raised platform. When Jenara completed her task, Jason told her to firmly hold Scully in place.

Jason climbed the two steps that brought him up to Scully’s seated height on the platform. Conor materialized wanting to join in, but was relegated to observing only. Scully lifted her head defiantly and looked him in the face, her hair flowing over her shoulders, reflecting the firelight gloriously. “Oh, I do so wish you would tell me what’s going through that pretty little mind of yours, Dana. But, if you don’t speak now, you will soon. I can promise you that much.”

Jason placed his hands on her shoulders. She gritted her teeth forcing herself to take deep breaths in hopes of stilling her pounding heart. He moved his hands to her legs, rubbing her legs from her knees to her thighs, moving higher with each pass. Scully bit her tongue, afraid she’d drawn her own blood. When his hands reached under her sweater to her bare skin, she yelled loudly and she kicked Jason as hard as she could. She tried to pull herself forward but only succeeded in causing herself pain due to her cuffs.

“Well, Dana, I think you’re warm now and you certainly have ‘spoken’. We can move on to the actual initiation now.”

Jason gave orders to Conor and Jenara who left to make arrangements. Jason then returned to Scully. He came up behind her and combed his fingers through the back of her hair, then down her shoulders and arms. He let his hands rest on her hips. She screamed again.

***

The Plan

It was agreed that Mulder, Dan and two of his officers would approach the cave. The rest of the officers would try to contain the Scouts outside in the field.

As Mulder approached the cave, he heard Scully’s scream and became immediately alarmed. Dan grabbed Mulder’s shoulder and suggested that Mulder hold himself in check. Charging inside the cave without knowing what they were up against could only serve to further endanger Scully.

Mulder slowed his movements and approached the entrance of the cave. When he was half way to the cave’s entrance, he stopped suddenly, holding his hand up behind him to signal Dan and his officers, as well. He watched as Conor and a woman left the cave. Conor started barking orders to the Scouts at the bonfire. He saw them raise a black, velvet draped, platform from the ground near the main fire.

He then saw Jason dragging a cuffed and gagged Scully from the cave. The firelight shown on her and he could see the abject terror in her eyes. Jason looked as if he were enjoying himself immensely. He pulled Scully along as if she were some sort of prize or trophy.

Mulder saw red; and it wasn’t from the firelight. Dan once again touched Mulder’s arm; a gentle reminder that Scully needed his professionalism now. Mulder gathered his wits about him, took a deep breath and moved the group closer to the ceremony.

The other officers fanned out around the fire. The odds changed as more Scouts appeared seemingly from no where. It was almost as if their number doubled with no explicable evidence.

Dan came up to Mulder. “Ok, how about Plan B? They’ve got her pretty well insulated and it looks like we’re going to need to move in fast.”

Mulder was inclined to agree. Aside from the sheer numbers, Mulder saw Jason push Scully toward the velvet-covered platform. He sat her on it and then Jenara produced a pair of rather large sheers. Scully was breathing very hard; he could see her chest rising and falling rapidly. Jenara handed the sheers to Jason who approached Scully. Jason nodded to Jenara and another Scout to hold Scully still. He then began cutting the neckline of her sweater, enlarging it so it hung over her shoulders. The firelight bathed her luminous skin, the contrast of her skin and the navy blue of the sweater striking. Conor approached carrying a jeweled necklace, the stones matching those of the ornamental combs in her hair. He came up behind her and reached around her neck, laying the necklace against her skin. She jumped as if burned. Conor leaned in telling her to relax. “The first touch is the worst, Dana. Once you grow accustomed to the heat, the pain will disperse.” Scully screamed through the gag.

And Mulder decided that plan or no plan, they would have to move.

Jason moved to the head of the platform and began intoning the initiation ceremony. Several things happened simultaneously then. Conor and Jenara removed the cuffs, pulling Scully’s arms over her head and securing her wrists in clamps, Jenara adjusted the necklace, causing the burning reaction once again, the Scouts moved closer, holding their torches close to the platform and Jason rested his fingers on Scully’s forehead. Two other Scouts secured her ankles.

“Dana, I want you to lie very still. I’m going to place the head restraint on you. It will allow us to extract your eyes and your essence as the final part of the ceremony.” As Jason brought the head restraint up from the ground, Scully moved her head from side to side vigorously. “Please don’t make me mess up that beautiful face, Dana. Hold still.” Conor moved forward to hold her chin, but she continued to pull away. As Jason’s hand raised to strike her, Mulder grabbed his hand from behind.

Dan and his officers had managed to quietly ‘remove’ some of the Scouts and replace them. They had provided a black robe and head cover for Mulder, as well. Mulder had worked his way surreptitiously through the Scout throngs until he was behind Jason. From that vantage point, he was able to observe the preparations. He could only imagine the terror Scully was experiencing.

Once he had Jason’s hand, he placed the butt of his gun into Jason’s back. “Federal Agent! Do NOT make me use this, Jason. Although I would like nothing better.” As Mulder held Jason, Dan and his officers infiltrated the ranks of the Scouts, many of whom fled.

Conor was nowhere to be found.

Dan began reading Jason his rights and the officers began removing the Scouts, waiting for State Police back up.

Mulder immediately removed his jacket and covered Scully who was alternating between shivering from the cold and from anticipatory fright. Dan roughly searched Jason’s clothing for the key to the restraints and gave it to Mulder.

Mulder untied the gag from Scully’s mouth and carefully removed it. She gasped for air and said his name quietly, the relief in her eyes overwhelming him. “Scully, it’s ok; you’re ok now. Let me just release the restraints and we’ll get you out of here.” Scully nodded mutely, biting back the tears that threatened to spill from her eyes.

Once she was free of the restraints, Mulder helped her sit up. She reached for the clasp to the necklace, but her fingers could not release it. Mulder’s arms reached behind her and removed it. He let it drop to the ground.

Dan had sent one of the officers back into the cave to look for others and someone had retrieved her jacket. Mulder helped her put it on. She hugged herself trying to warm up. Mulder stepped forward and wrapped his arms around her, feeling her tense body begin to relax against him, her hands against his chest. She drew in a deep, shuddering breath and let it fall from her. She reached up and pulled the combs from her hair, throwing them into the field. She ran her fingers through her hair as if she could rake the touch of the combs from it. She looked up into Mulder’s eyes, searching for him. When he smiled at her and touched her hair, she responded by wrapping her arms around him and holding him tightly to her.

“Scully, tell me what you’re feeling. And, I swear, if you tell me you’re ‘fine’, I won’t be responsible for my—”

“Ok, Mulder; no ‘fine’. I’m not hurt, not injured. Although, if that snake had—”

“Don’t go there, Scully.”

“Mulder, help me down, please.” Mulder placed his hands gently at her waist—and that’s when she flinched and pulled away from him. Her eyes glazed over as she looked at him. “Don’t, don’t touch me…”

Scully slid forward and jumped off the platform walking around the platform as if seeing it for the first time. The bonfire and smaller fires blazed, the sound of fire trucks approaching. Scully hugged herself. Mulder approached her cautiously, worried. “Scully?”

She looked into his eyes. She saw the worry, the concern, the caring and, the love? She let him pull her toward him. She wrapped her arms around him, once again, drawing warmth and comfort. She muttered into his jacket, “Mulder get me out of here, please.”

They walked back to the SUV, Mulder holding Scully close to him.

As Dan paraded Jason to the squad car, Jason smirked. “If you think we give up so easily, think again.”

***

The Snowflake Inn

6 January

4A

Scully realized just how tired she was as she walked inside. She was amazed to find that someone had already been to the Inn and repaired the main door. She belatedly thought about how glad she was that the Yarlows were away until later tonight. She couldn’t bear to think about what would have happened to them had they been here when Jason, Conor and the Scouts showed up. She found herself thinking about Eddie and how much she missed him. She smiled as she thought about his return later tonight.

Mulder came in behind her and they hung up their jackets in the mudroom. “Mulder? Are you going to sleep?” Scully didn’t know what she wanted to do, but didn’t think she could sleep right now since she was still very wound up. “No, Scully, can’t sleep. What do you say I fix us some tea and get a fire; oops, forget the fire. How about tea and couch?”

Scully agreed, saying she just wanted to go upstairs and get out of the clothes she was wearing. Mulder busied himself with the tea. Scully came back downstairs in her leggings, a tee shirt and a pair of fluffy socks. She padded into the greatroom and climbed into the couch waiting for Mulder.

He set the tea mugs on coasters on the coffee table and sat down beside her. For a few minutes, neither of them said anything or touched their tea. Finally, Scully took her mug and sipped the hot liquid, its warmth flowing through her, helping her regain some strength. Mulder followed suit. Scully put her mug down and turned to Mulder, her legs crossed in front of her. “Mulder, where do you suppose Conor’s gone to? I don’t like the thought of him being out there with some of the Scouts having escaped.” Mulder looked up, then at Scully. “We’ll find him; them.”

She looked at him, questioning, asking permission. The unspoken connection between them activated, she moved up next to him and snuggled against him. Mulder held her, more tightly than he needed to, but he didn’t want to let her go. He grabbed the afghan from the back of the couch and pulled it over them.

“Scully, do you want to tell me what happened out there? Are you sure they didn’t hurt you? Maybe you should go to the hospital tomorrow, I mean, today? How about–”

Scully sat up, a small smile on her tired face. “Mulder? The answers are: how about we not talk about it now, yes I’m sure they didn’t hurt me, no I don’t need the hospital and NO MORE questions, ok?”

Mulder laughed and pulled her back against him, enjoying the warmth and security of having her close by. “Ok; no more questions, for now.” Mulder found himself wondering about the nature of this regained connection with Scully. It felt so comfortable, so right, to hold her, for them to comfort each other. He thought about how last night was supposed to be the night they talked about what was going on between them. He would never bring that up now given what had transpired since their interrupted kiss and whatever was about to happen in her room afterwards. He seriously hoped that the current state of being would last until daylight. Although not angry, he didn’t hold out too much false hope knowing that in times of stress or great duress, Scully often allowed herself to draw comfort from him, allowed the mortar from those brick walls to crumble just a bit. He also knew she would revert back to her usually strong and fiercely independent self. He vowed to enjoy their closeness in the moment.

Scully wanted to tell Mulder so much. She couldn’t frame the words to explain her ordeal with Jason and Conor and the Scouts. She didn’t want Mulder’s pity and she didn’t want him to worry needlessly about her. She really wanted to push the thoughts of Jason and Conor’s touches from her mind, but she shivered when the thoughts returned unbidden. She slid in closer to Mulder, her arms around him, feeling his breathing, his heart pounding. She knew Mulder was her treasure in more ways than one. She had never known any friend that would give of himself so unselfishly, asking so little in return. She knew he would move heaven and earth (and a few major planetary bodies) for her whether she asked him to do so or not. She also knew that it was his very intensity that sometimes caused her to pull within herself, fearing that she could not complete him in the way he needed.

“Scully?” Mulder got no answer and realized that Scully had fallen asleep. He moved a little, seeing just how asleep she was. When she did not so much as stir, he decided it would be safe to rearrange their positions, allowing them both a little more comfort. Luckily, the couch was deep enough that two could pretty comfortably lie down side by side. He lifted Scully slightly away from him and pulled his own long legs onto the couch. As he lay on his back, his shoulders and head against the large, soft pillow cushions, he repositioned her against his side, her arms still wrapped around him, her head still on his chest. He drew the afghan over them both and closed his eyes. Mulder found a little bit of heaven. He thought he might sleep like this for a long time.

And that’s when she stirred, moving her leg so it was draped right over his groin.

Mulder was awake; wide awake. He looked down to see if her eyes were open, but she appeared to still be sleeping soundly. He held her a little closer, causing her to readjust her position, turning her hips toward him more, her center squared to his thigh, her leg locking around him snugly. Mulder willed himself to breathe slowly and deeply, thinking about Conor and Jason. He hoped he’d get angry enough at them to take him mind off of his raging hormones; or, at least to redirect their rages elsewhere. He was afraid to ruin the moment.

He attempted to shift himself, thinking it might cause Scully to move again, although he didn’t want to consider how her leg might move. He slid down on the pillow a little more, his pullover riding up. Scully muttered in her sleep. And she moved again. Her hand found his abs and his chest; underneath his shirt. She also readjusted her leg, slightly higher, but just a little heavier, just a little tighter.

The little gray men in Mulder’s headset off the alarms and the color rose in his face. If he didn’t know better, he would have sworn Scully was awake. He decided to test his hypothesis. Scully’s head was on his chest, but high up near his shoulder. He first craned his head downward a bit until he lips were closer to her ear. He lightly blew into it. She moved a little bit and then relaxed against him again. She passed test level 1. He blew in her ear again; a little bit harder for a little bit longer. Her hand instinctively came up to her ear and rubbed at it a bit, smiled, moved and…settled down again. She passed test level 2.

Mulder was trying to decide what test level 3 would be when she started whimpering. Her hand hit his chest and moved as if swatting at him or at something unseen. Her facial features alternated between tortured and scared. She moved her leg off of him and tried to back away, pressing herself into the back of the couch. Mulder sat up, freeing her arm from underneath him. She started swatting and hitting with both hands. He grabbed her wrists so she would not hurt him or herself and called her name softly. She pulled her wrists from his hands and held them away from her, her eyes opening. “Mulder, they hurt! They did this! Make them stop!” Mulder tried to hold her hands, but she pulled her hands free as if in pain.

“Scully, what’s happening? Talk to me, Scully.” She shook herself as if forcing the sleep to drop away. She continued to hold her hands away from her, but looked at Mulder, some of the fear subsiding. She could instantly tell that he had not slept. She took a few breaths and looked at her hands, letting them fall to her lap. “My hands are burned, Mulder.” A simple declaration.

Mulder looked at her closely before responding. She was awake and lucid. And her hands were burned. He could see the reddish blisters forming and the general redness and yellowing of the skin around them. As if she were detached from her own hands, Scully gave her best clinical assessment. “I think it’s just 2nd degree, Mulder, so the pain should subside with treatment. You should probably get the Yarlow’s First Aid Kit.”

“Scully, what’s going on? And when did your hands get burned? I don’t remember seeing any burns last night.”

She raised one eyebrow, carefully considering her words. “Well, I’m not quite sure how to explain it, but the only time I was near any fire prior to the burns was my encounter in the woods behind the Inn. The strange thing is I didn’t feel any heat or pain while my hands were in the flames. But, Mulder? There was something else…”

“Tell me.”

“While my hands were in the flames, I could feel both Jason and Conor. I felt compelled to think about them, find them, be—” She stopped abruptly, looking at Mulder. The worry and concern evident in his eyes. “Scully, we will find Conor and Jason will stay locked up. Now, let’s do something about those burns. However they were inflicted, they have to be treated.”

Scully instructed Mulder how to dress her burns as the first of daylight broke in the kitchen windows. The day promised to be bright and a little warmer than usual. “Mulder, my hands will be fine. Why don’t you get some sleep and then we can talk with Dan and get moving on finding Conor. He probably didn’t go very far.”

“I don’t need any sleep, Scully.” The words were said with a look that said otherwise. “I promise not to go anywhere or do anything until you wake up, Mulder. Now, back to the couch.” She pushed him with her bandaged hands until he went back into the greatroom. He sat down. Scully pushed him down, hands on his shoulders, and then lifted his feet. He helped her draw the afghan over him. “Join me, Scully?”

Hands on her hips, she smiled at him and started to turn away. On her way back to the kitchen, Mulder thought he heard her say, “What, you need a little more excitement in order to sleep?”.

~~~~~

Daytime Activities

6 January

Scully had gone upstairs to wash up and dress for the day and Mulder was sound asleep on the couch. She undid the dressings when she noticed that the pain had abated considerably. She was amazed to find the blisters and redness completely gone. If Mulder had not also seen the burns, she would never have believed they ever existed.

She showered and dressed, pulling on her snug faded Levi’s and a dark green turtleneck. She heard the phone ring and grabbed it before Mulder was awakened. It was Robin. “Robin, hello. How is the camp out going?”

“Well, Scully, it’s going so well, they’ve extended it another night, so I’m afraid we won’t make it back until tomorrow morning sometime. I hope the two of you have enough food. And, what’s this I heard about some excitement while we’ve been gone?” Robin let a little of the concern she was feeling creep into her voice. “Are you and Mulder all right? I hear Dan helped out. He’s a good man. Now, Conor, on the other hand…” She let her thought trail there.

“Hoo, boy, where to start. Well the long and short of it is that Jason is in jail, but Conor got away with some of the Scouts. Mulder and I will gladly fill you in on what we can when you return. We’ve got our work cut out for us today. We’re both fine. Mulder’s asleep. It was a long night to say the least.”

Scully could hear Eddie’s voice pleading in the background, rising above the voices of the other children. “Mom, let me talk to Agent Lady Scully; please!” Scully told Robin she’d love to talk to Eddie. She missed him.

Robin handed the phone to him, reminding him to be quick. “Hi, Agent Lady! I’m camping but inside in the big gym with all the other kids who got to stay outside for awhile last night before they made us come in and play and then go to bed and—” Scully burst out laughing. God, it felt good; very good, to laugh!

“Eddie, I know your mom said to be quick, but you can slow down just a little bit. Now, tell me, what did you do outside last night?” Scully sat down on her bed, looking out into the pink and blue lit field and woods.

“Well, we made a campfire and toasted ‘schmellows so we could put them on top of the chocolate that was on top of the graham crackers. Mom said it was ok that I got gunk on my face, too.”

“You had s’mores. I like s’mores, too, Eddie.”

“Yeah, I had some and then I had lots more. How did you know?” Scully smiled into the phone.

“What did you do besides eating s’mores?”

“Well, everyone else sang some songs, but I was being worried about you and Mr. Mulder because I thought the Scouts were gonna get you, but they didn’t because Mr. Mulder made them go away and the Deputy went far away.” Scully took a deep breath and had to will herself to exhale.

She wanted to ask Eddie more; lots more, but made herself take it one step at a time. “Eddie, did your mom and dad tell you what happened last night?” Eddie shook his head and, with prompting from Robin, then replied that neither parent had told him; he ‘just knew it’.

“Can you tell me where the Deputy went when he went far away?” Scully waited, trying to calm her nerves. The line was silent and she could tell that Eddie was thinking.

“He went somewhere where the Scouts live at night, but he buried himself in there so he thinks no one will see him unless they have the special eyes from the fire. But you know what?”

Scully mentally filed away Eddie’s response, trying to fit it a logical location. Her first thought was the cave. She’d have to share the information with Mulder. She was about to thank Eddie and tell him to have a good time today when he started talking again.

“Nobody dropped any towels again but I think Mr. Mulder really wanted to because he was thinking purple about you when you were in your shower the last time. Mr. Mulder likes purple because he thinks about it a lot. He thinks you’re purple! But I know that you do, too, only sometimes your purple gets all mixed up with the other colors and it doesn’t know how to be purple at the same time and then Mr. Mulder—”

Scully could hear the, ‘but mom’, being stifled as Robin took back the phone. “Scully, I’m so sorry, he’s locked on that color thing, does it with us, too. I try not to encourage it, but he’s got an overactive imagination.”

Scully just laughed, although her face was flushed. Damn, Eddie was more on target than she cared to admit. “I’m not upset, Robin. And, you’re right, he does have an active imagination, but that’s part of what I really enjoy about him. I’m looking forward to seeing you all soon. Now, enjoy your time and don’t worry about us, here. This is more posh than most of the places we ever get to stay and it feels like home.”

They hung up and Scully headed downstairs.

***

Mulder was curled on his side, his face toward the back of the couch and his butt hanging slightly off the couch. He was hugging the pillows, hair falling in his face. Scully watched him sleep. He looked so peaceful, she didn’t want to wake him. She also had so little time to just look at him. His brown hair with the early, wan, sun on it, the chiseled features softened by sleep, his eyelashes laying against his cheeks, his lips bow-like, the bottom lip full. His face alone could hold her captive. But there was so much more to caress with her eyes. And she moved directly to that which was hanging slightly off the couch. The man had one of the best butts she had ever seen and—

“Morning, Scully.” His face was still in the pillows, his eyes still closed. “Been standing there admiring me long?” The man was absolutely infuriating; infuriatingly on target more times than she cared to admit.

She lightly kicked his butt. “Oooo, Scully, do that again.”

“Get up, Mulder, you big faker. I’ve got to tell you about a conversation I had with Eddie about Conor.” She walked away before he could say anything else. She brought them both coffee and some muffins.

“Let me go upstairs and get washed up first, ok?” Mulder folded the afghan over the back of the couch.

He was back in 20 minutes wearing his Levi’s, off white Henley top and wet hair raked to one side. He reached for a mug of coffee and a muffin, consuming the muffin in short order. “So, tell me what Robin and Eddie had to say.” He drank his coffee as Scully relayed what Robin had to say and Eddie’s thoughts on Conor’s whereabouts. She left out Eddie’s more ‘colorful’ discussion of Mulder’s thoughts about her.

Mulder stood up, mug in hand, and walked around. “Sounds like we need to head back out to that cave, Scully. What do you think?”

“I’m thinking the same thing. Why don’t you call Dan for some back up and I’ll grab our things.”

“Scully, give a call to those Agents Skinner had on standby. What were there names? Oh, yeah, Agents Court and Spark. I have a feeling we might need them. They can bunk in on the 2nd floor here.”

***

The Hunt for Conor and the Scouts

Dan and a few officers met them out at the Grange site. Scully hadn’t had a chance to properly thank Dan and his officers for working Mulder to find her and she did so now. He brushed off her thanks saying that it was all in a day’s work and vowing with renewed effort to bring Conor to justice.

***

“Zander, it’s me and you, good man. We can evade capture, but we’re going to have to draw on as much of the power from the recent initiates as we can to do so. I know already that we have some of Flame’s power although the initiation wasn’t completed. Follow me into the Chamber.”

Zander nodded his acknowledgement and followed Conor. Conor led them farther into the cave, following hollowed out wall alcoves lit by smaller torches. After travelling for what seemed like miles to Zander, the entered a large, bare, room also lit with larger torches. In the far corner, a glass case sat in a recess. Zander had never been this far into the cave chambers. As the newest recruit, he was not yet ready for access, but drastic times called for drastic measures. Conor had decided these were drastic times. If they were to hold off Dan, Mulder and the other officers and re-take Flame, they would need the combined strength and visual abilities of the initiates.

The glass case contained the extracted eyes. They were held in individual mahogany boxes with glass liners. Mr. Arias’s eyes were the newest. There was also a box set aside labeled, Dana Scully. It was empty.

The ritual, shared only by the founders and their designees, required the founder to bring the initiates’ eyes in direct contact with their own. When Zander heard what would be required, he bit back the gag that rose in his throat. His every instinct told him to get out now. When he realized that would not be prudent, he thought about telling Conor just how gross the entire ritual was.

Eventually, he followed Conor’s lead.

And both men saw much clearer than they had previously. They saw Flame in the field with her meddling partner and Dan.

Conor wondered if Mulder would like to watch the initiation, maybe even participate. He could tell the man had his boxers in a twist over Flame. And Conor decided he’d really like to show Mulder what it felt like to have his boxers twisted…tightly.

***

“I’m glad to see you two thought ahead. If we’re heading into the cave, we’re going to need some rations; some food. Those caves take all sorts of turns. They’re not overly deep, but they do spread out horizontally for quite a ways. I’d heard rumors about groups using them, but usually, it’s mostly kids tryin’ to sneak a little whiff of the weed or neckin’; you know what I mean?” Dan started pointing to his officers, pairing them up and assigning directions into the cave.

“Dan, I’m giving you the names and numbers of the two Boston Field Agents we have on the way for back up, too. If you need them, you call, ok?” Mulder handed the information to Dan.

Scully and Mulder followed Dan into the cave. Scully started to head left and pointed Mulder to the right. He reached for her index finger as she pointed. Holding on to it, looking her in the eyes, he told her he was going with her. She understood his concern, but told him that it made more sense for each of them, trained Agents, to accompany some of Dan’s officers. Mulder unwillingly relented. He saw the wisdom of her plan, but didn’t want to risk losing her again.

***

“Our Flame shines bright, Zander.”

“Geez, Hawk, Raven’s right; you gotta stop talking like that. No one talks like that except during initiations.”

“But it’s true, she’s coming right to us! Her partner was stupid enough to let her go on without him. I can see his worry for her. The fact that he would actually allow something so precious to slip through his fingers is a sad and stupid thing. It will be so much easier to pluck her from Dan. The man tries, but he’s a buffoon. My only regret is that Mulder might not get to watch what I have in store for Flame.”

“Hawk?”

“Yes, Zander?”

“Shut the fuck up.”

***

Back at the Laurel Glenn Police Station, Jason sat on the cot in his cell, his breakfast tray untouched. He was the only ‘guest’ in the cellblock today. He was rarely spoken to and rarely spoke. He had received only one visitor; someone claiming to be his ‘brother’. The brother said he would return with more of the family.

About an hour later, 4 other ‘family’ members returned with the brother. They were informed that only one visitor at a time was allowed. They decided they didn’t agree with that particular rule and removed the officer.

Jason’s family took him home.

***

Mulder thought they were headed in the wrong direction. They had been walking for almost a half-hour and had seen nothing. He radioed Scully and her team and found they were having equally bad luck. He reminded her to keep in regular touch, or, better yet, keep her line open. She heard the worry in his voice and acquiesced.

Scully’s team proceeded farther into the cave. They reached a fork and she and Dan split the team. She radioed Mulder to let him know. “Scully? Don’t split up. Stick with Dan and his team.”

“Mulder, c’mon, this is silly. Dan’s on radio, too. We’re following the path and I can see a more brightly lit area ahead.”

“Keep talking to me, Scully. What else do you see?”

“Well, right now; not a whole lot other than stone walls, torches and the bright spot ah–”

Silence.

Mulder stopped and then broke off in a run in the opposite direction. “Scully? Are you there? Dan? Dan? Can you raise Scully?”

Dan told Mulder that he’d lost contact with her too. He tried to reach his other officers, but received no answer. Dan was already on his way back toward Scully’s fork. Mulder met him in no time, his adrenaline pumping. Sometimes, his casework seemed to boil down to losing and finding his partner, he sadly reflected.

Mulder made the call for back up himself.

***

The Scout family entered the caves through the rear entrance, quickly reuniting Jason, Conor and Zander. “We’re ready, Raven. She shall be brought into the fold and we shall partake—”

Jason, Zander and the Scouts simultaneously mouthed, “Shut up, Conor!”

Conor, unabashed, but knowing when to call it quits, stood ready to receive his orders. Jason knew that Scully wasn’t far from their location. The Scouts had already spotted the officers in the lead and quietly removed some of them. They were alive, but held outside the cave.

Jason rendered the rest of the officers dazed and confused. When Scully reached them, they appeared to be asleep.

He heard her talking to her partner who was at the southern branch. As he quietly stepped up behind her, he cut her off with a quick hand across her mouth and then and injection behind her ear. He turned the radio off and let it drop to the cave floor. He carried Scully to the chamber and the waiting Scouts.

“Soon, Flame, soon.”

Conor, Zander and some of the other Scouts were waiting inside the Chamber. Now that they had settled on an inside initiation ceremony, they could use the full regalia. Jason turned Scully over to Zander and Jenara, much to Conor’s chagrin. Jason shook his head, looked at Conor and then cuffed him on the side of his head. “Get over it, Hawk, or you’ll have no other part in the ceremony. Now, get out there with some of the Scouts and make sure that only Mulder gets in here and not until I say so. Do you think you can handle that much?”

“You know I can, Raven. It’s just that you promised.”

“Yes, I did. But that was back when you promised not to muck things up. Have you kept your promise Conor? Nope; didn’t think so. Now get outta my sight.”

Conor took the Scouts with him.

***

The Scouts removed Scully’s clothing and outfitted her in the initiate’s regalia. Befitting her new name, she was dressed in flowing red, orange and yellow chiffon that flowed from the small wisps of red lycra loosely referred to as top and bottom. Her hair was once again pulled back in the ornamental combs.

As she was laid out on the velvet covered platform and restrained, she started to come around. She rolled her head lazily from side to side and tugged weakly at the wrist ties. One of the women came over to her, speaking softly and telling her that all would be well in just a short time; that she would be one with the rest of them. The woman then placed the fiery necklace around her neck and laid the stones on Scully’s skin. The burn was quick, but intense.

Although she may have been asleep, Scully’s memory was intact. She knew darn well that ‘becoming one’ also meant becoming very dead. Her fear and anger brought her farther out of her stupor and she struggled harder, screaming Mulder’s name. “Do we have to gag you, Flame?” The woman touched her arm gently, but her words were not.

“You do whatever you have to do, but I won’t lie still and I won’t shut up!” Scully continued to struggle, freeing her left hand from one of the loosely tied restraints. It was obvious someone had misjudged her; her strength and her desire to be elsewhere. That someone would be dealt with severely if Flame escaped from them once again. The woman approached to retie the restraint and was met with a powerful hook to her jaw. With a loud, “Oww”, she backed away from Scully who quickly untied the other wrist restraint. She was leaning forward, attempting to free her ankles when Zander appeared. He pulled her by the shoulders back down to the velvet cover, holding her shoulders firmly to the platform. Her hands till free, she managed to scratch and claw his face before he was able to pull back. She reached farther behind her, aiming lower, hand driving toward Zander’s lower middle section, but Zander remained just out of the ‘touch zone’. “I can see why they call you Flame; you are as intense and unpredictable as any true fire. And, we don’t plan on robbing you of all of your intensity, only that which we truly need.”

***

Scully had managed to free only one ankle and used that foot to push the other Scout out of her way. “I do not want to drug you again, Flame. But, unless you show at least a shred of respect, I shall not hesitate to do so.”

Scully realized that being put to sleep would surely cut in to her plans to escape, or, at least lead Mulder to her. She lay back down and allowed herself to be restrained once again.

At that point, Jason returned. “We’ve dispatched the rest of Dan’s officers. Mulder’s on his own right now and he’s being led here. As soon as he arrives, we begin. Zander, Mulder will be your responsibility. Conor, you will assist me.”

Scully’s eyes were wide with a mixture of incredulity and fright. She wanted to alert her partner, but was afraid she’d be gagged once again. She needed to have some idea when he was actually close enough so that her one chance would do him some good. She was breathing very fast, realizing how close she actually was to whatever Jason and his merry band of idiots had in store for her. She knew where the ceremony would end and she guessed what else might be in the middle, if Conor’s bragging and boasting was any indication.

She also wanted to laugh at the sheer lunatic fantasy of the situation. Here she was in the late ’90s being prepared for a ritual right out of some of Mulder’s worst B-movies. They were even playing dress-up with her and speaking in bad script language.

She willed herself to use her training, to see the possibilities, the next logical step, to watch her partner’s back… She drew in a sharp breath. Her partner. Her partner who wanted to stay with her when they entered the cave. Her partner who didn’t want her and Dan to split up at the fork. Her partner who had been trying to talk to her, touch her for oh so long.

She bit back the tears she knew were being tenuously held just inside her, knowing they would change nothing about her situation and would certainly not help Mulder. Besides, she thought they were probably the after effects of whatever they had used to drug her. <Sure, Scully, see if anyone else will buy that>

She smiled, thinking that she really ought to let Eddie tell her more about Mulder’s purple thoughts and maybe even ask Mulder to show them to her.

***

As Mulder neared the entrance to the fork Scully had taken, he thought he heard voices. He tried to talk with some of the officers, but couldn’t locate any of them. Thinking they may have gotten turned around, he waved his flashlight ahead of and behind him trying to signal them. He got not response. He tried to reach Dan and the other officers on the radio to no avail. <Well, so much for back ups> He hoped that Dan and his officers were all right, but knew his priority had to be his partner.

Realizing he was most likely on his own, he drew his weapon and dropped the flashlight beam to a lower setting. He left the radio in the ‘on’ position, but dropped it into his pants pocket, hoping that if Dan and the other officers were unharmed, they would make use of the signal.

As he moved into the corridor, he saw the blaze of light Scully had referred to and was happy he was closer. His experience also told him that Scully was probably not alone.

His back to the wall of the cave, he moved along quietly, every muscle tensed. He briefly considered the fact that being outnumbered would not help him or Scully. He still felt he had no choice but to move forward…

***

…Right into Zander’s waiting arms and harness. One Scout relieved Mulder of his weapon and flashlight. The other assisted Zander, who had the element of surprise on his side, with the leather harness. It worked similarly to a straightjacket, keeping the person’s arms firmly bound to his body, but was much easier to maneuver with the single straps crossing the upper chest under the arms and the mid-abdomen. “Don’t make us drug you, too, Mulder. We really want you to be able to watch the ceremonies before we dispose of you.”

Mulder, realizing that his struggles were getting him nowhere, held his head defiantly and was sorely tempted to spit on Zander. He added ‘spit on Zander’ to his list, right after ‘take down Conor’. And those two came after, ‘get Scully out safely’.

Mulder was pushed and tugged into the chamber and called out to Scully when he saw her. His first thought was that he was glad she was all right; well, as all right as she could be restrained on an platform covered in black velvet, dressed for the Halloween Ball. The scene smacked of something out of a Saturday matinee; for some sex-starved lecher.

Scully could see that Mulder wasn’t quite able to do anything to change their current situation. His eyes spoke to her, his body coiled tightly waiting for his opportunity. Scully raised an eyebrow at him and smiled; before her attention turned to the Scouts floating around her, coming closer

***

As they walked by her, they lifted one of the gossamer strips of red, orange or yellow fabric, letting it float back down to her body, arranged in a new pattern. Conor positioned himself on her right side, Zander at her left and Jason behind her head.

Jason’s arms rose, signaling silence. He began speaking the chant and the others joined in. Scully had heard just about enough. The situation made her want to laugh hysterically, when she wasn’t seriously contemplating the point at which Jason removed her eyes while she was still alive. That part didn’t make her want to laugh at all.

She could think of nothing of importance to say, so instead she summoned every last bit of her strength and vocal ability and yelled, “H EEEE LL PP!!!!” The sound echoed in the chamber, causing several of the Scouts to cover their ears. While she had the floor, so to speak, she continued to yell, her cries gaining in intensity.

“Stupid, bitch!” Jason climbed onto the platform, his legs straddling her hips, and placed a wide strip of electrical tape over her mouth. He sat back onto her lower abdomen and groin. “Now we’ll see just how much you have to say, Flame. I had so looked forward to hearing your cries and screams for me, too. Well, maybe we’ll remove the tape later.”

Jason walked over to Mulder who had done a fine job of kicking the two Scouts holding him. “Well, Mr. Mulder, she certainly is a feisty one. I hope you get some of that in your direction; at least from time to time.” The Scouts tightened their grip on Mulder’s arms.

Conor and Zander placed their hands on her thighs, massaging and kneading. Jason moved back to his position behind her head and started massaging her forehead, telling her to relax. Which caused Scully to do just the opposite. He ran his hands down over her shoulders to the thin strip of lycra covering her chest and ran his hands lightly at first and then harder, over her.

Mulder called out her name, kicked at the Scouts (who were lost in the promise of the ceremony) and bolted from the room. He pelted down the corridor, back the way he came, hoping that he could locate someone, anyone. <Sure, Mulder, a few people out for a walk happen into the cave and just meet up with you. Well, stranger things had happened; take alien encounters, for just one example.>

As Mulder reached the fork, he traveled in the other direction and came upon a small alcove. He heard the two voices, one female and one male. “Agent Mulder? I’m Agent Mitchell Court and this is Agent Joani Spark from the Boston Field Office. A.D. Skinner said you could use our help?”

Mulder sighed visibly. “Yes; you could say that.” He outlined the situation for them. Although the odds were stacked, he felt much better with two trained Agents by his side.

***

One of the Scouts distributed what appeared to be some capsules to Zander, Conor and Jason, who promptly swallowed them. The Scout then removed the tape from Scully’s mouth. <They don’t actually think I’m going to just lay here and keep quiet, do they?> She promptly started calling to Mulder, Dan and anyone else within a 100-mile radius of the cave.

Her shouts didn’t seem to faze the three men who merely smiled at her. Zander took the opportunity to run his hand across her bare midriff, dipping his index finger into her navel. His boldness inspired Conor, who pushed Zander’s hand away. Conor started exploring the waistband of her lycra bottoms, his fingers pushing beneath it. Scully’s yells for Mulder changed to angered shouts to back off, to no avail.

Jason took the opportunity to get the scalpel, deciding that he would not prolong the ritual any longer than necessary, much as he wanted to enjoy the finer aspects of the new initiate.

Two Scouts approached carrying the head restraint and secured it after several attempts, to Scully. Zander and Conor, who Scully had noted, seemed to be in some drug induced euphoric state, continued to let their hands roam over her body. She noted a sharp contrast between their euphoria and their ability to inflict pain and reviling touching.

Jason began mumbling what sounded like nonsense syllables as he brought the glinting scalpel blade high above Scully’s face. She watched the blade, held in Jason’s two hands now, as it drew nearer. She alternated between closing her eyes tightly to shut out the impending ritual and opening them wide to see what was happening. She was drawing breaths in faster than her body could use them. If she didn’t slow down, she’d hyperventilate and not need to be concerned about whether her eyes were open or closed.

Conor’s hands moved further across her hips, under the lycra and Zander’s hands ventured north.

Jason held the scalpel two inches from the eye openings in the head restraint. Scully screamed, wide-eyed.

And Mulder and the two Field Agents came into the room.

***

“Mr. Mulder; how nice of you to return.” Jason purred, looking at Mulder, but not moving the scalpel from over Scully’s eyes. “I see you found some cohorts. How nice. But, you see, we have a slight problem. If you move toward me, I lower the blade. I can assure you, my aim is true. If you fire your weapon, you’d probably hit me, but then, my hand would lower the blade. Either way you slice it”, Jason grinned at his own attempt at humor, “you lose and we get what we need.”

Mulder said nothing. He reasoned that either Jason had really not noticed the fact that he and the two Agents each had a weapon trained on him or Jason was just downright stupid. Mulder personally liked the latter. He also realized that especially if Jason were incapable of grasping the situation, he could prove more dangerous. Therefore, clear thinking was of the utmost importance.

Court and Spark moved quickly to remove Conor, Zander and Jenara. They were less concerned about the other Scouts as they seemed to magically disappear with the arrival of the big guns. Court’s sheer mass allowed him to easily grab Zander and Jenara while keeping his weapon trained on Jason. Spark cuffed Conor and moved him away from Scully.

The surprise arrival of Dan and a few of his officers, slightly dazed but no worse for the wear and tear, helped rid the chamber of the key players. Once Jason saw that his scalpel arm was not quite a match for three skilled, trained weapons experts, he dropped it.

Smirk in tact, he was cuffed. As Court and Spark read him his right; again, he leaned down close to Scully’s head restraint and whispered, “Do not forget the power of the fire nor the eternal red, yellow and orange. I will find—” Mulder yelled, “Get him out of here!” Jason was led out of the cave, his swagger evident.

Mulder unlocked the head restraint first, allowing Scully to move freely. He then released the wrist and ankle cuffs. She did not move overtly, but he could see her body shaking from head to toes. Her breathing was shallow and he was worried she was going into shock. He took his own jacket and hers and placed them over her body, trying to draw in body heat. She lay there as if frozen.

“Scully? Can you hear me?” Mulder placed his hands on her arms over the jacket covering her. His touch was light, but firm. “Scully?”

Her eyes focused on him, a small smile at the corner of her mouth that surfaced briefly and then disappeared.

She attempted to sit up, leaning forward supported on her forearms. “Take it off my neck, Mulder, please.” She gestured to the necklace with her chin and he removed it. Faint jewel-shaped impressions remained on her skin.

“Let me help you up, Scully.”

“No, don’t. I’m ok, Mulder.” She started to bring her legs over the side of the platform and stopped. Mulder’s instant thought was that she was hurt or about to faint. She smiled. “I was going to say, ‘I’m fine’, but I didn’t. Did you notice, Mulder?” Her hair hanging forward as she moved to an upright position, she looked up at him her blue eyes glittering in the torch light. He could have sworn he saw mischief in the depths of the color blue…

“Yeah, Scully, I did notice. Now, unless you know of a costume ball in the vicinity, let’s say you get out of that outfit and into something a little more befitting an Agent of the FBI.”

“What’s the matter, Mulder, harem outfits are ok for the stars of your videos but not for me?”

Now Mulder knew he had definitely seen mischief there.

“Oh, Scully, they’re fine for you; just fine. It’s just that I’d prefer to be the one who picks it out or off for you.”

<Was he born with a supply of innuendo?>

~~~~~

The Snowflake Inn

6 January

Early Evening

“I hope Agents Court and Spark have a good trip back. Not sure why they didn’t want to stay here. When did Robin say they’d be back, Scully?”

“I guess they must have some other case to work on, but I’m glad they came. The Yarlows should be back sometime after dinner tonight. I’ll be glad to see them, have some normalcy back in this place. Ok; I take that back; you and I will probably never see ‘normalcy’, Mulder. How about we just go for regular?” Scully hung up her jacket and headed for the stairs. Mulder was behind her when she nearly fell. He caught her from behind, putting one finger to her lips. “And, Scully? Do not, I repeat, do not, tell me you’re fine! You’re exhausted, plain and simple and I’m going to take care of you.”

<Dear god, no> “Mulder, you’re right; I’m not ‘fine’. But I’m just tired. I can get myself ready for bed.” She started up the stairs.

And Mulder was behind her like glue. “Sorry, Scully, as ranking Agent, I’m watching your back, pulling rank and whatever other cliche you can think of.”

Scully sighed and allowed him to follow her upstairs. “Ok, Mulder, this is where we part company. I’m going to take a bath. Now, hear me and hear me good. I’m going into that bathroom by myself and unless you hear me scream for help, you are not coming in there for any reason. Do you understand that Mulder? Think about your answer carefully, Mulder, because you’re going to have to stick with it later.”

Mulder turned her around to look at him and held her hand. She looked down at her hand in his and back up at him, one eyebrow raised. “I understand, Scully.” He squeezed her hand gently. “I understand that I’m just so happy that you’re safe.” He stepped a little closer. “And you’ll have to understand that I’m not leaving this spot until you come out of that bathroom.” He let her hand go and sat down on the floor just outside the door to her room.

Scully shook her head, walked into her room. And closed the door. She did leave it unlocked.

***

“Agent Lady Scully! Mr. Agent Mulder! It’s me, Eddie and we’re home from camping! Where are you?” Eddie literally bounded into the Inn, his sneakered feet slowing down only when Keith grabbed the back of his down jacket. “Eddie? Running inside? Where’s your good ‘inside’ behavior?”

“It’s here, Dad, but I just forgot about it again. Can I go upstairs and see if they’re there?”

Robin followed Keith in, both of them carrying backpacks. “Eddie, let’s get your back pack and jacket off and then we’ll find Scully and Mulder.” While Robin busied herself with the camping gear, Keith went to make some hot cocoa.

He found Mulder and Scully had already beat him to it. “Keith! How good to see you. We’ve got some hot cocoa for all of us.” Scully poured the cocoa into a thermos dispenser and set it on the tray with the mugs and the mini-marshmallows.

She was heading out of the kitchen when Eddie came into the greatroom. He looked tired, but had an ear-ear smile on his face and was walking along, swinging his arms at his sides. “So Agent Lady Dana, should we have our talk again like we were having the other night when I was at my camp out in the gym?” He placed his 5-year old hands on his hips and looked up at her. She wished someone would take the tray because she was afraid she’d drop it…

She and Keith set the tray on the coffee table and everyone sat down. Eddie climbed onto Scully’s lap and reached for a mug of cocoa. He grabbed a handful of mini-marshmallows and ate a few. He then held his hand over the mug and opened his fingers, allowing the marshmallows to plop into the cocoa. When he reached for another handful, Robin stopped him, “Whoa there, boy. It’s getting late and you’ve already had dinner. Finish what you have first and we’ll see about more later.”

Eddie drank some of his cocoa, put the mug down and leaned back against Scully. She held him around his waist, her chin on his head.

Mulder smiled at the site and then turned to Robin and Keith. He briefly outlined what had happened, filtering out that which was confidential and that which should be kept from little pictures with big ears. Scully listened in and watched the shocked expressions on Robin and Keith’s faces. Eddie just nodded occasionally in that very adult way that seemed to come naturally to him even at the age of five.

At one point, he looked at Mulder and said, “I know that you said that Jason is in the jail, but he wants to go somewhere else. And he wants Agent Lady Dana to go with him.” He then returned to nodding.

Scully looked to Robin, Keith and Mulder, questions in her eyes. The Yarlows took it in stride; they were used to Eddie’s little visions. Mulder was hoping Eddie was wrong.

Robin noticed that Eddie was starting to drift off in Scully’s lap. “Ok, big guy, time for bed.”

Robin put his mug on the tray and moved him off of Scully’s lap. “Can they read to me, mom?” Eddie pointed to Mulder and Scully. Mulder mouthed, ‘me?’, and smiled. Robin told Eddie that first she’d get him washed and dressed in his pjs and Mulder and Scully could come up afterwards. Eddie clapped his hands and then followed her upstairs.

“Well, you two, I know you must be exhausted and I know I am. We’ll see you in the morning. We’ll probably be up and out pretty early, so feel free to sleep in. You got a hectic day planned again?” Keith carried the tray into the kitchen. When he returned, Mulder said, “Actually, some loose ends to tie up, as well as, rounding up the rest of Jason’s brood. Now there’s one man I’d like to—”

“Mulder.” Raised eyebrow. Check.

“Yeah, Scully?” Slight smirk. Checkmate.

Keith smiled and shook his head, “This is where I exit stage left.”

“Good night, Keith.”

***

Robin tucked Eddie in and left the small nightstand light on. He decided to sit back up and wait for Mulder and Scully. They thought they would be reading to him. He decided he wanted to talk to them about the colors he had been seeing while he was away.

Some of those colors had to do with Jason, Conor, Zander and the Scouts. Those colors were dark and evil. Some of the colors had to do with his two favorite new friends. He knew instinctively that Mulder would accept what he had to share much more readily than Scully. The funny thing to Eddie was that both of the Agents were seeing the same colors when they looked at each other. The other funny thing was that Scully was trying very hard not to see those colors. For example, she would try to make purple go away by covering it over with lots of other colors. Eddie thought that the funny thing was that even when she tried to make the purple go away, it would sneak back in. Mulder, on the other hand, didn’t try to make his purple go away. Eddie was a little worried that Mulder might run out of purple if he didn’t stop using so much of it when he was with Scully; or even not with her!

“Hey, Eddie, what do you want us to read to you tonight?” Mulder sat down on one side of the bed and reached into Eddie’s bookshelf, leafing through the titles, “Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel”, “Charlotte’s Web”, “A Wrinkle in Time”—“A Wrinkle in Time”? “Hey, Eddie, how about if we read this book?” Mulder remembered the Madeleine L’Engle book as one of his favorites from his childhood. He often wondered whether his love of x-files type cases stemmed from that book. Eddie, the wisdom of a 5-year old showing in his eyes, just smiled and shook his head ‘no’.

Scully sat down on the other side of the bed. “So, what’ll it be tonight, Eddie?”

Eddie held Scully’s hand and then Mulder’s. “I want to tell you about my colors and Jason.” Eddie figured he’d start on more neutral ground. He didn’t want to scare Scully.

Mulder asked him to tell them what he saw. “Jason is the reddest. He’s very, very hot red and he has some dark colors under him. Conor and Zander have some of Jason’s red, but they have more orange now. They’re just growing reds.”

“What do you think that means, Eddie?” Mulder leaned over him, bending down a little to meet his eyes. Eddie smiled at Mulder sweetly. “You don’t know?” Mulder shook his head ‘no’. “It means that Jason is very bad and Agent Lady Dana shouldn’t ever go near him again because he wants to do bad things to her.” Eddie looked visibly shaken and the Agents were worried that he was working himself up.

“It’s ok, Eddie. Why don’t you let us read something fun to you?” Scully kissed his hair and smiled at him.

Eddie told them he really didn’t want a book and then continued with his color story. “Agent Lady Dana, are you all done mixing up your purple with your other colors?”

<Oh, dear god; not again…> “What, Eddie?” Scully was visibly embarrassed, her face crimson.

Mulder remained silent initially, but could not keep his smile from widening. “Scully, I think you heard Eddie’s question. Why don’t you answer him?”

Scully shot him a glare that could have wilted stone. “Eddie, why do you think I’m mixing up my purple?” She thought Eddie might move off of the topic a little faster if she played along.

Eddie thought otherwise and so, it seemed, did Mulder. He leaned over Eddie a little more and placed his hand on Scully’s. “So, Scully, tell me about your purple.”

Eddie looked up at both Agents and smiled.

If Scully had been alone with Mulder, she was sure he’d be missing a body part or two by now. She was glad Eddie didn’t mention anything about the ‘red’ she was exuding at the moment. Unfortunately, she was unable to live out her fantasy at the moment. “I think we should talk about something else.”

“Nah, Scully… Eddie asked you an important question and I really liked his question. As a matter of fact, I’m sure I’d really like your answer just as much.”

Scully felt her skin tingle as she looked into his eyes. She willed herself to sit up and glance away.

Eddie could sense her discomfort. And the purple that was oozing out of Mulder. And the purple that was getting mixed into Scully’s other colors when she looked at Mulder.

“I’m tired, Agent Lady Dana. Can I go to sleep now?” Both Mulder and Scully looked at Eddie who did not seem in the least tired. And who seemed to have been forgotten in the last round of color roulette. “Sure, Eddie.” Mulder leaned over and kissed the top of Eddie’s head. Scully did the same.

As they were leaving Eddie’s room, Eddie called after them, “Sweet purple dreams.” When they turned around, Eddie was sound asleep.

***

Mulder and Scully headed upstairs. “How about we sleep in tomorrow a bit, Mulder? I know we’ve got some loose ends and some dreaded paperwork, but it’ll keep. “

“I say that’s a great idea. But, Scully, I still want to hear about your purple thoughts. I’d give much more than a penny for them.”

They reached the third floor landing and Scully headed straight for her door. “‘Night, Mulder.”

“Scully?” Mulder held out his arm toward her. “Can I ask you something?”

Scully turned around to face him and looked at his outstretched arm. She smiled and extended her hand, lacing her fingers with his. For some reason, it just felt right. “Yes, you can ask me something, Mulder.”

Mulder pulled her a little closer to him and leaned toward her ear. She felt the temperature rise… “Scully?” he whispered in her ear, “are you feeling purple right now?”

Scully untwined her fingers from Mulder’s and let his hand drop. She leaned toward him, her face right in front of his, lips almost touching, “Go to bed, Mulder. Your bed!”

Scully turned and walked away.

~~~~~

The Snowflake Inn

7 January

Early Morning

Scully rolled over and burrowed into the featherbed and down comforter a little more deeply. The sky outside was overcast; gray and cloudy. The rain began to fall, hitting the windowpanes with a light drumming sound. She pulled the comforter up under her chin and closed her eyes again.

She could hear the faint sounds of the Yarlows getting ready to leave, but their third floor suite was really nice and secluded. She reveled in the solitude.

***

Mulder had slept like a downed alien spacecraft. The featherbed supported him and the comforter cocooned him. He heard the rain hitting the windows and watched the tree limbs swaying in the wind. He was playing the scenes from the case in his head, piecing together all they’d found out so far and what was left to tackle. He wondered about the ultimate effect on Scully. He thought through her experiences, being literally yanked in and out of the fire, so to speak. He was still worried about her, but knew better than to just jump in and try to fix things or take care of her.

But, damn it, that’s just what he wanted to do right now. He had a game plan… He wanted to go nextdoor. He wouldn’t knock on the door; nope, wouldn’t give her the chance to tell him to go away (and he was sure that’s exactly what she’d say). He’d open the door slowly, peeking in to see if she was sleeping. He hoped she’d be asleep; what he had in mind would be so much more fun…

He’d approach her bed; she’d be lying on her side facing away from the door. He’d watch her sleep for a few moments, enjoying the soft breaths he’d imagine he could hear, seeing her curvaceous form under the comforter. But only for a few moments…

He’d move to the bed and slowly pull back the comforter, seeing that she decided to sleep only in her panties and camisole. He’d be able to feel the heat from her warm body wrapped in the down bed linens. He’d sit on the bed first, his hips sinking into the featherbed, rolling her a little closer, his knee touching her back, and run his finger along the curving lines of her body. Just enough for her to feel his presence, but not enough to wake her; yet. Then, he’d lean down, move the hair from her ear and lightly blow in her ear. He’d watch her squirm when he did it again. He’d lick her earlobe with the tip of his tongue and then blow on it lightly. He’d hear he soft sigh that would carry just a hint of the arousal he hoped she’d be feeling.

Her body heat. Warm bed. His own heat.

Only then would he slide into bed, wearing only his boxers, and spoon against her.

He’d touch her everywhere, unable to stop himself; along her arm, over her abs, along her hip, down her leg… But it would be slow; oh, so, slow. And light; he’s touching, he’s not touching.

And she’d stir under his touch.

And she’d roll on her back, one arm falling around his shoulder, the other going to the pillow behind her head; so open, so inviting.

He’d gaze upon her. Face peaceful, but sensual. Her lips would part just slightly. Just a hint of the beautiful white teeth evident.

Her softly round abdomen just rising and falling with sleep breathing. When he pulled the comforter down to her waist, her body contact with the cooler room air would be obvious through her camisole. Clinging here. Draping there.

She’d open her eyes and she’d say, ‘Mulder…’ The sound of his name would flow through him. Its effect would be burning fluid giving rise to his passion and—

And then, realistically, she’d probably invoke the names of rather powerful deities to banish him from her sight for the rest of his natural and unnatural life.

Mulder rolled onto his side and pulled the comforter over him, trying to figure out what to do with his current state of arousal. He spent the next several minutes trying to find a comfortable position…

***

Scully opened her eyes and watched the rain play against the windowpanes. It looked like the rain could possible banish all of the snow. She liked the feel and the sound of the rain, lulling, cleansing, reviving and rhythmic.

She slowly sat up in bed and stretched. She hadn’t felt this rested in a long time. She propped the pillows against the headboard, leaned back and pulled her knees to her chest. She listened to the quiet. She thought about Mulder. He had a way of entering her thoughts when she was thinking about anything but him, when she was angry with him, heck, he entered her thoughts a lot.

She put the thoughts away, suddenly deciding to get in a quick workout. She wanted an excuse to check out the sauna.

***

Scully spent about an hour on the treadmill running hard. After cooling down, she headed into the locker room area. The small room was actually beautifully and functionally laid-out and decorated.

The walls were cedarwood creating a warm feel. The floor in the changing and shower area was tile, but Scully noted that no expense had been spared; the floors were heated beneath her feet. The shower had a glass enclosed door and was rather spacious considering the overall size of the locker room

The steam sauna was in a separate area, also cedarwood. There were three seating levels or benches inside and a supply of plush terry cloth towels. Different sized terry cloth pillows were also laying here and there on the wood plank benches. The lighting was subdued.

Scully stripped her shorts, tee shirt and undergarments off and jumped into the shower. She had forgotten to bring her shower gel and shampoo downstairs with her, but there were small sample size products on the shower stall shelf. The clean, clear scent of citrus with a hint of musk invaded her senses. While not a scent she would have chosen, she was surprised at just how much she liked it. It smelled even better when she applied it to her hair.

She found herself both refreshed from the citrus and wrapped up into the musky undertones. She was enveloped in both from head to toe.

She stepped out, towel drying her hair and wrapping it up in a towel. She wrapped another bathsheet towel around her body and headed for the sauna.

***

Mulder couldn’t fall back to sleep so he got up and showered. He grabbed his sweats and a tee.

He knocked on Scully’s door and got no answer. Feeling the hairs on the back of his neck stand up, he slowly opened the door, calling her name.

She wasn’t there.

He noticed that her running shoes were no longer by her bed. And he thought she might have gone to the gym. <Well, I could certainly use a workout myself>

***

Scully loved the feeling of the warm cedarwood floor beneath her bare feet. Wiggling her toes and pressing them firmly into the warm wood, she grabbed a terrycloth pillow and made her way up to the second seating level. She removed the towel from her hair, loosely pulling her hair up on top of her head with a scrunchie. Since she hadn’t dried it with her brush, it was wavy and full. She set the pillow down behind her, brought her legs up and laid back, closing her eyes. The steam filled the room, adding a moist, foggy, haze that settled on the cedarwood and on Scully. She felt herself drifting off to sleep as the warmth pervaded the room.

She started to dream.

Unlike most of her dreams, this one did not begin slowly. It seemed to fast forward right into the middle of— The middle of what? Flashes of brightly colored images and equally vivid sensations: Her arms wrapped around her partner’s neck. His body pressed unbelievably close to hers. Not sure if they’re both clothed or not. Pure sensation as his lips part hers. Her hand moving to his butt. Oh, she is at least partially clothed. His hand under her blouse. No longer standing up. Where are we? No apartment either have ever seen before. It’s incredibly warm. He’s incredibly warm? Make that ‘hot’. Now neither have clothing on. Bodies are slippery. Where are we? Breathing hard. Her feet, where? His shoulders? Slippery bodies…

Scully awoke with a start. And sat up abruptly. She let out a loud ‘whoosh’ and shook her head to try to clear it. It had gotten very warm in the sauna and Scully was hard pressed to tell whether it was the steam or the red color rising in her face. Also unlike many of her other dreams, Scully remembered this one in every graphic disjointed (double-jointed?) detail. Her eyes were very wide open as she recalled the touch, the taste, the feel of her very well put together partner. Her breathing didn’t slow when she recalled what he was doing to her. Heck, what she was doing right back to him.

She took a few deep, calming breaths, lay back down on her side, her back to the door, and curled up. This time, she kept her eyes open. The images didn’t go away…

***

Mulder did some lifting. He was amazed at the amount and variety of equipment. He wanted to work through his sets quickly to get both the cardio and muscle pumping benefits.

He grabbed a 100-lb. Barbell set and carried it over to the bench. He positioned the bar in the overhead rack and laid down on his back, his shoes on the end of the bench. He reached up and hefted the bar down to his chest. He took a deep breath and extended his arms up, contracting his pecs and exhaling. He worked his way through one set of 12 reps, then rested. He completed one more set and then set the bar back in the over-the-bench rack. Next he moved to the seated row, setting his weight on 150 lbs. He grabbed the v-bar, his feet braced on the footpads, and pulled. After his second set of rows, he was sweating hard. He finished up with several sets of preacher and hammer curls and triceps extensions, his muscles now gleaming. He walked around the small gym, slowing his breathing, and then headed for the shower. The lifting had relieved some of the tension of the last several days.

He set the showerhead on what he referred to as, ‘driving pins and needles’ and let it hammer on his back and then his chest. He readjusted the showerhead and the water drenched his hair. He grabbed a bar of ‘guest’ soap and lathered up his body. As he washed his lower body, he had a sudden instant replay of Scully washing his back. He decided that a few extra minutes with the soap on his hands and the water pounding on him was in order. And he thought the lifting had relieved all of his tension…

Mulder grabbed the towel, just lightly drying off, leaving his hair without touch up. He wrapped the towel around his waist and headed for the sauna.

When he approached the sauna, he realized that Scully was indeed inside. The window in the door was so fogged he could barely make out her prone form inside.

He knocked to let her know he was coming in and then pulled the door open. The heat inside quickly enveloped him as he walked to the benches.

***

Although she willed herself not to fall asleep, she had started drifting, the heat working its magic on her.

Somehow, he was back in her dreams again. She could not figure out where they were this time, either, not at first.

She heard the muffled ‘dream knock’ on the door and heard someone enter a room that she was in. As often happens in a dream, she was able to hear sounds that did not exist and see things she would not normally be able to see due to her position in waking life. And she ‘heard’ this person’s bare feet on the cedarwood and saw that it was Mulder; although she was facing away from the door.’

This dream seemed to be proceeding in a much more orderly fashion. She noticed that Mulder was wet; no, make that, damp. His hair was hanging in his face, but starting to twist and curl slightly in the humid air of the sauna. He took one of the terrycloth pillows and laid it on the bench directly below her, lying on his back, hands behind his head. He bent his knees, his feet on the bench, the flap of the towel threatening to fall open. He called her name softly.

“Scully?”

“Wha—huh?” Scully realized she was not alone in the sauna and snapped out of her reverie. She sat up turning to face the door…

Her feet landing on Mulder’s chest on the bench below her. “Mulder!”

“Nice, feet, Scully.” He just looked at them, her toes touching his chest. He laid still, his hands still behind his head, the picture of composure and leisure. A man partaking of the benefits of the sauna with his partner.

“When did you come in here, Mulder?” Scully was trying to shake the feeling of disorientation that comes with an abrupt rise from the daydream-state. As she looked down, she took in the full sight of her partner lying below her. She attempted to draw her feet back up, but realized it would take some fancy maneuvering. If she simply drew her legs up, the towel would reveal too much of her. If she tried to slide sideways on the cedarwood bench, the towel would slide, requiring her to hold the towel with one hand and push herself with the other. She was both too hot and too tired to make either attempt.

So, she observed.

Mulder completely relaxed below her, his bare chest and abs, his muscled arms bent at the elbows, his hands behind his head. The towel at his waist, but not so high that she couldn’t see his navel; or the way the towel clung to his hips… Or climbed up his thighs, ready to fall open, ready to reveal what she saw was not truly hidden even now. His knees bent, his feet on the bench, his legs slightly spread to keep him balanced.

To keep her off balance.

~~~~~

He took his hands from behind his head and held her ankles, swinging them playfully, just to the side a bit so he could sit up.

He sat up, his legs crossed in front of him, facing her on the bench above him. Her feet dangling between him and her bench. He placed his hands on her towel-covered lap, his chin on her knees. “So, Scully, what’re ya doin’?”

<Oh, god, the look on his face> After searching for her vocal chords, Scully replied, “Mulder, what does it look like I’m doing?”

<His chin on my knees> “The sauna feels great, doesn’t it, Scully?”

<His hands on my thighs. Oh, god; again> “Cat got your tongue, Scully?”

<His voice tinged with innuendo, question and…> “Earth to Scully.”

Mulder removed his hands, his chin. And he knelt in front of her, reaching toward her and placing his arms along her legs, his hands on her hips.

“Mulder, I don’t think you should—” Scully tried, unsuccessfully, to back away, succeeding only in hitting her mid-back into the edge of the bench directly above her.

He reached farther toward her, gently pulling her toward the edge of her own bench. She had to grab for her towel; the upper end to keep it from falling open or off entirely and the lower end because as she was pulled forward, the towel slid further up the back of her thighs.

Scully found herself sitting at the edge of the bench, her partner’s hands on the bench on either side of her legs, his upper-body insinuated between her knees. Their faces met eye to eye.

“You don’t think I should what, Scully?” Mulder wasn’t touching her. Well, not exactly, if you didn’t count the fact that his very naked upper-body was between her knees.

Scully opened her mouth a few times to respond, but found it next to impossible. She inwardly chastised herself, realizing that she allowed herself to be rendered speechless in his presence. That thought spurred her forward. She placed her hands on his shoulders and pushed him back far enough so she could try to move to one side or the other. “I don’t think you should be doing this, Mulder.”

“Doing what, Scully?” Mulder followed her. “I want to talk to you,

Scully. There are a lot of things we haven’t talked about. It’s private here, it’s quiet, we have the time. I have you back.”

Scully took a deep breath. His eyes reflected his sincerity and he was right about them not having talked. And it was private…very private. She also knew he held himself responsible for her capture.

And she didn’t know if she was capable of mere ‘talking’ where her partner was concerned. Her partner in nothing but a snugly wrapped towel who looked good enough to eat. Her face blushed crimson. And he saw it. But thankfully, made no comment about it.

“So, Scully, where were we?”

<Mulder never misses a beat; tenacious S.O.B.> “You wanted to talk, Mulder.”

Mulder hoisted himself up on to her bench and sat down next to her, facing her and the back wall of the sauna, his legs hanging over the back edge of her bench. He looked into her eyes, his right hand on her left leg. Scully looked at him and then looked at his hand. The heel of his hand rested on her very warm thigh, his fingers on the towel covering her upper thigh.

“Yeah, Scully. I wanted to know what’s been going on inside that very beautiful head of yours.” The fingers of his left hand reached across and fingered a curl that hung on her forehead; the steam bringing out more ringlets in her hair. He twirled the ringlet around his finger and let it go, trailing his finger down the bridge of her nose, to her lips and her chin.

The heat made all movements slow and fluid. “I don’t believe there’s anything going on right now, Mulder. I think it was just a bad case of mixed signals, miscommunication, missed opportunities.”

“Related to what? To who?”

Scully wondered just how to explain to him the thoughts that constantly swirled around in her mind, the day-in/day-out assault on her senses he produced. She wondered how to explain the fact that somewhere along the line of their partnership, she had fallen truly, madly and deeply in love with her partner and that she was terrified that he did not share her obsession. That was really it in a nutshell, she thought.

She wasn’t unobservant. She knew he cared about her. She also guessed that she might be the object of a few lustful fantasies. If his 6 years of innuendo counted for anything, he’d probably ‘done her’ fantastically in every which way. But she wanted more than that and wasn’t sure if that fit into his grand plan. And Mulder was often a man with a plan. Even if the plan changed frequently.

Mulder moved a little closer to her. She could feel his thigh pressing up against hers. He was leaning forward, his breath touching her lips, invading her senses.

“Mulder, it all comes down to the fact that it’s not always easy for two friends to always be in synch where their feelings are concerned. I know that you care about me, that you would do anything for me; you already have in more ways than I can count; more ways than I can thank you for.”

“I also know how anything more could ruin our partnership and I wouldn’t want to jeopardize that which is so ultimately important to you; to us. And, well, there are also your feelings for me to consider. And I know that we’re probably in different places, that you don’t see me in that way and—” Scully trailed off, wondering where all of that had come from, not sure where to go next.

Mulder’s head was spinning. The heat was starting to get to him even though he had turned it down quite a bit when he came in. The sealed room held the existing heat well.

The jumble in his head came from the fact that Scully actually seemed to be telling him that she had definite feelings for him and that she didn’t believe they were reciprocated. This was most assuredly not what he thought she was about to tell him. Oh, sure, he was happier than a MUFON member who just proved the existence of little gray men, but he always imagined that it would be his feelings that were not returned.

This was getting confusing, even for his eidetic memory. He decided that the time for talking was now at an end. What Scully needed was an answer. One she could wrap herself around. Heck, she could wrap herself around him and vice versa.

“So, Scully, if I understand what you’re telling me,” Mulder used his best counselor tone, paraphrasing his partner, “is that you don’t think I feel the same way about you as you do about me. Is that a fair assessment?”

Scully nodded and breathed deeply. Mulder’s face was so close to hers that she felt as if her breath was being drawn from her; deeply and slowly.

“Well, I can clear up all of this confusion for you right now, if that’s what you want, if that’s what would erase lingering questions. How about it, Scully.” Her name on his lips was but a whisper.

And it sent a lightening speed shiver through her body. She realized she needed to answer him and she managed to nod, her eyes moving between his dark hazel eyes and his very moist, full lips. That was all Mulder needed to hear; the nod would do quite nicely. He closed the mere inches left between them and licked her lips. “Am I starting to answer your doubts, Scully?”

<Damn the man could be maddeningly erotic>

He reached for her scrunchie and pulled it from her hair, releasing a coppery mass of damp waves and ringlets. He ran his fingers through her hair, almost arranging the curls, a look of loving concentration on his face. His fingers on her scalp relaxed her enormously—

Until his tongue parted her lips and he kissed her deeply, his hands never leaving her scalp. The combination of the scalp massage and his mouth probing hers tripped inner circuits that fired and misfired sending exhilarating and soothing pulses through her simultaneously.

Scully leaned in closer still, her hand landing on the very obvious rise in Mulder’s towel. He called to her with a sharp intake of breath and placed his larger hand over hers, pressing her hand to his penis.

Mulder’s hips shifted. He pulled Scully’s towel open, letting it pool around her waist. Although it was very warm in the room, she felt a chill touch her bare skin.

Mulder noticed the chill, his hands rapidly moving to warm her…

Mulder tossed the terrycloth pillow to Scully’s right and backed her down so her head was resting on it. “Mulder, don’t…”

Mulder stopped, poised above her. Had he heard her correctly?

Scully looked up at him; wisps and curls of steam fog hanging in the air around them. She wondered why he stopped. Then she remembered her words, ‘Mulder, don’t’. He thought she wanted him to stop. When in actuality, that was the farthest thing from her mind.

“Mulder, I was about to—awwh, he!!, get down here, Mulder.” Scully pulled Mulder on top of her, her hands yanking his towel away and flinging it as far as her leverage would allow.

Mulder straddled her hips, holding her hands to the bench on either side of her body. He kissed her mouth quickly, three times in succession. “Those are good luck kisses, Scully. They come in ‘threes’.”

“Good luck, Mulder? Do we need it? Is there something I should know?” Scully took in the sight of her partner his muscles tensed to hold his weight off of her. She could see the strength in his shoulders and his biceps, the line of his abs, the coiled tightness of his hips and thighs. Her eyes drifted lower, following the line of dark hair, and it took her breath away.

Mulder noticed the path of her eyes. “All in good time, Scully, all in good time. Right now, I have to answer your questions.”

“No you don’t. I take them back. Don’t make me beg you, Mulder.” Scully tried to free her hands from Mulder’s, but he had her pinned. She was about to plead and beg and cajole.

“Now, seeing you ‘beg me for it’ would be a huge turn-on,” Mulder glanced downward, “but you wanted to know about the reason for the good luck kisses. The first is for good luck against those bizarre Scouts and their fearless cough asshole cough.” Mulder leaned down and demonstrated a ‘real’ good luck kiss, parting Scully’s lips.

“The second is for a quick final resolution to this case.” He leaned over again, parted her lips and slid his tongue along her teeth. Each time he leaned in to kiss her, his erection pressed into her sending hot sensations deep into her gut.

“The third is for us; for what’s about to happen, for what may happen, for…”

“Mulder,” Scully’s yanked her hands free, almost toppling Mulder, and pulled his head to hers, “do I have to tell you to shut up? Or maybe I could ‘make’ you shut up. Kiss me, damnit!”

Mulder kissed her, exploring the inside of her mouth and she matched his pace thrust and foil. Although a bit awkwardly, they managed to roll over and sit up so that Scully was on top, but with her back to Mulder. She leaned against his chest, her head lying back next to his. He reached one arm around her just above her chest. His other hand, on her cheek, turned her face toward his and he kissed her again.

She gasped, feeling his obvious arousal against her ass. She did not believe it would be possible for her to be any wetter than she was right now. Mulder pulled her back against him again and brought both of his hands over her breasts and nipples, pinching and then massaging them.

In response, Scully pressed her hips back against him, wriggling to find just the right combination to produce a reaction from Mulder. She was not disappointed when he growled and then nipped at her neck.

His hands moved on her abs, crisscrossing their way lower. One hand snaked around her waist, holding her firmly against his cock, while the other ventured directly to her clit, pinching and pulling it between his two fingers and then deeper into her, producing a reaction of his own.

With both hands teasing and driving into her now, the room was filled with steamy fog and breathless sounds.

Mulder felt Scully’s ass as she rocked into him with enough intensity to make him wonder about cedarwood splinters in his ass. She briefly wondered about the potential soreness tomorrow and then decided it would be the sweetest pain she’d ever experienced.

But, she wasn’t done with Mulder…

She moved off of his lap and moved to the bench below him. <I think I’ll send a thank you to the clever designer who placed these benches just the right distance from each other>

She ran her hands along his thighs, reaching toward his hips, inching him forward. She knelt below him, between his legs. Her hand danced on his inner thighs, moving closer and closer to his cock. When she reached her destination, she held him with a firm grip. While one hand held his cock, the other cupped his sac and she looked in his eyes and whispered, “Do you know just how good you feel in my hands, Mulder?”

He responded, but she could not quite decipher the unintelligible sounds he expected to pass off as words.

“And do you know how much I’m enjoying doing this to you?” Her hands moved along the length and then her fingers explored the head, producing more unintelligible, but highly erotic and primal sounds straight to her very core.

She brought her mouth to his cock and licked and nipped it lightly at first and then much rougher. His hands grabbed her shoulders, her arms, her hair, holding her to him.

His hips bucked, almost knocking Scully backward off her bench, but since they were somewhat joined, she was able to hold on more tightly. She pinched and grabbed his cock as he flexed the muscles tighter. She knew he was about to go over the edge. “Scuulllleee…up here.” Mulder’s quaking muscles were arguing with him, but he forced them to move so he could throw one of the remaining towels down on his bench.

He grabbed Scully’s arms, pulling her upward so forcefully that she was sure she was about to be propelled to the bench above Mulder. She recalled some medical school training that indicated that the heady combination of testosterone and adrenaline, fueled by unadulterated animal lust could produce superhuman strength… She had her empirical evidence right in front of her; or, under her as the case was about to be.

Time had run out on foreplay. Mulder guided Scully’s very wet center directly over his penis and held her there, just hovering. “Mulder…,” Scully breathed his name, “are you really going to make me beg?” She didn’t wait for him to answer and instead took matters in to her own hands and very wet and pulsing body.

As they lay sweaty, breathing hard and clutching each other, Mulder whispered in her ear, “Scully, you didn’t tell me about all of the benefits of the sauna.”

Although no longer joined, Scully rubbed against Mulder’s cock, pressing just enough to elicit a sultry smile from him. “There are probably a few benefits I failed to mention, Mulder.”

~~~~~

7 January; Still

Almost Lunch time

As they walked through the workout room in their towels, both appeared lost in their own thoughts. Scully reached for Mulder’s hand and he stopped and turned toward her.

The air outside of the sauna felt much cooler. Mulder pulled her toward him, wrapping himself around her and kissed the top of her head. His hands ran over the towel, his hands seeking.

Scully whispered into his chest, “Mulder, I think we need to get upstairs and get dressed. The Yarlow’s should be back any time now. Something tells me that our current ‘look’ might be a little more than Robin or Keith want to show Eddie.”

In response, his hands reached a little lower and pressed her against him. “You’re right, Scully. I guess we can wait a bit longer. But, this,” he kissed her forehead as he held her, “can’t.”

“What, another forehead kiss, Mulder?”

“No, we seem to have our share of those. I meant, ‘wait for the next time and the next creative location when I [edit] you.” He kissed her quickly, grabbed her hand and led her upstairs.

Scully found her shower very empty. She could hear Mulder’s shower on the joining wall and she imagined what it would be like to be in there with him. She quickly rinsed off and grabbed her terry robe. A look of pure mischief on her face, she literally ran into his room and bathroom. “Mulder?”

Mulder wasn’t sure he trusted his ears. But, the rest of him believed what he heard. The sound of her voice, in his bathroom, went directly southward. “Scully? Is something wrong?” He couldn’t believe that she was actually here; not after the last two shower visits.

She approached the curtain and pulled it back slightly. “Nope; nothing wrong, Mulder,” she announced as she dropped her robe, “just thought you might want help washing your back.”

“Watching or washing my back, Scully? I mean, you can do either, do both, do—”

“Give me the soap, Mulder. And stop talking or I may have to make sure you did a good job with the rest of your body.”

“How much talking do I have to keep doing to let you check on the rest of my body, Scully?”

***

As they headed down the stairs, they could hear the hustle and bustle of lunchtime. “Mom, can I go get them? Please? I have lots and lots of things to tell them.” Eddie helped Keith carry the platter of sandwiches to the table in the dining room. “Why don’t you wait just a few minutes, Eddie. They might be getting a late start today. They’ve been very busy, you know.”

Scully held back a laugh and Mulder bit his lip as they came into the foyer. Keith didn’t know just how ‘busy’ they’d been.

“Agent Lady Dana and Mr. Mulder! You’re not busy now, right? We can eat sandwiches and I can tell you about camping for two days and—” Eddie took their hands and walked to the table with them, indicating where they should sit and placing himself in between the two Agents.

Robin walked in with the pitcher of lemonade and some iced tea. She set it down and stopped to look over at Mulder and Scully. She smiled thinking that they both looked very happy and she was almost sure that this ‘happy’ had nothing to do with the almost complete resolution of their case. Mulder looked like the cat that ate the canary (and she wondered if Scully’s middle name began with a ‘C’). Scully was glowing and even with Eddie between them, Robin could feel their connection. She also prayed that Eddie might wait on the color monologue she was sure was moments away from beginning.

Sandwiches chosen, the room was silent as everyone ate. Eddie kept glancing back and forth between the two Agents as he bit his sandwich and chewed. Scully noticed his glances and smiled down at him.

As soon as everyone had finished the sandwiches, Eddie asked about dessert. He begged Robin to make them s’mores so they could all eat them together. Using a small saucepan and their indoor grill, she warmed the chocolate squares. Eddie arranged the graham crackers on a paper towel. The marshmallows were a little trickier, but using their shish kabob skewers, Keith was able to hold them just above the grill and warm them. Not exactly the outdoor variety, but close enough.

They sat at the kitchen table to eat the s’mores. The result for everyone was sticky fingers and chocolate covered faces. Eddie wore his especially well. He climbed onto Scully’s lap, kneeling to face her. “Do you like these Agent Lady?” He put his forehead to hers, his chocolate covered face touching hers. She started laughing causing Eddie to lose his balance and reach for Scully’s hair with his marshmallow and chocolate-covered hands. The two of them became connected, bringing peals of laughter from everyone.

Scully couldn’t remember the last time she had such a fun meal. Robin lifted Eddie off of Scully’s lap and took him to the sink to wash his hands. Keith got up to help her.

Mulder moved over next to Scully and started licking her face and pulling on her hair, causing the marshmallow to stick to even more strands. “Mulder…,” smiling and whining, Scully swatted at his hands and pushed his face away, “not here.” He pulled her hair away from her ear and with spotted chocolate lips, he whispered, “just tell me where, Scully; just tell me where.” Before he pulled away, he nipped at her earlobe.

Eddie came back to the table, now free of marshmallow and chocolate. He stood in front of Mulder and Scully and smiled at them looking much older than his 5 years. “Mom, Agent Lady Dana has got s’mores all over her face and in her hair and so does Mr. Mulder and he’s messing up her hair with his hands.” Coming from another child’s mouth, the words would have had the distinct ring of tattling, the ‘nah-nah’ quality. Eddie’s words stated fact with wonder; and mischief and fascination. He appeared to be trying to ‘figure them out’. Scully was sure he’d be able to do so if not for his limited life experience. And even that was a big ‘if’…

“Eddie, it’s time to go to your play group and Mom and me have to get into town.” Keith called to Eddie from their apartment. Eddie called back a quick ‘okay’, but sounded anything but. Scully tried to help. “Eddie, your play group sounds like fun! I bet you have a lot of friends there, don’t you?”

Eddie smiled at her and nodded affirmatively. “But I want to play with you and Mr. Mulder. Mr. Mulder wants to play with you, too.” <He’s doing it again; reading those ‘colors’ of his. And, I’m going to kill Mulder if he doesn’t learn how to block his purple thoughts> Scully shot Mulder a glare and scowl that would have burned him to a crisp; if he had any intention of letting her get to him… And Eddie got a blazing hint of chartreuse from Mulder. Eddie looked just the slightest bit puzzled as he tried to decipher ‘chartreuse’.

“We’ll be here, later tonight, Eddie. Go have some fun and we’ll see you after dinner.” Mulder tried to focus his attention elsewhere, not quite sure what had set his partner off and not quite sure he wanted to find out.

Robin, Eddie and Keith headed out for the SUV and drove away.

Mulder could see that Scully was no longer in a very good mood and he was sure he had something to do with it, although exactly what remained a mystery. To his credit, he did come up with two possibilities; one he had control over and one he knew he didn’t. The current ‘style’ of his partner’s hair was just very possibly his doing. He imagined she was not happy about having to find a way to remove the sticky marshmallow. Of course, he thought about offering his services to that end, but smartly refrained. The other possibility was directly connected to Eddie.

Mulder had given quite a bit of thought to Eddie’s seeming ability to ‘read’ him and Scully so well. It wasn’t unheard of for people to be connected and be able to read each other. Heck, he and Scully did that all the time with each other. It came from their closeness, their relationship and probably more that Scully wouldn’t acknowledge. However, with Eddie, it bordered on a 6th sense of sorts, for lack of a better name.

The fact that Eddie seemed to always zone in with astounding clarity on those times that either of them was thinking passionately about the other was truly a gift. Mulder wanted to laugh at the irony that a 5 year old child was receiving signals from two grown adults who couldn’t seem to get it together enough to read their own signal; let alone each other’s. And that, he correctly surmised, was what had Scully in a snit; again. Along with the fact that she assumed Mulder was enjoying the situation.

Well, on that particular count, she was undeniably right! He liked the way the whole issue seemed to set her off balance. An off balance Scully was, well, just fun; to be with, to tease, to watch become more and more flustered. Was he cruel? Sadistic? Mean? In Mulder’s humble opinion, the answers were; no, no and no again. He just loved the slight tension it produced and the resulting sniping. ScullySniping was sometimes as much fun as their banter; only the intensity of the interaction was different.

He realized suddenly that she was talking to him. “Huh? What? Scully?”

Scully tried not to laugh, but it was hard when Mulder went off somewhere deep inside himself and was so far gone that the outside world almost ceased to exist for him.

“Mulder, I was telling you I’m heading upstairs to get the rest of the s’mores out of my hair and off my face. I’m going to get changed and then we can head out to meet up with Dan. Are you going to sit here daydreaming or get ready yourself?” She nudged his shoulder and headed for the stairs.

Mulder noticed that her mood had shifted and he smiled. He caught up with her shadowing her like a second skin up the stairs. She swatted at him without turning around. “Gee, Scully, your hair smells good enough to eat.”

She ran all the way up to the third floor and into her room, shutting the door behind her. Mulder’s long legs allowed him to arrive only seconds after Scully. He burst into her room and found her laughing so hard she fell across the width of the bed. He plopped down next to her, playfully pulling her s’mores hair toward his mouth. “I want some more s’mores, Scully.” Mulder grabbed her in a bear hug and rolled them both over until she was on his other side.

“Mulder, that was poor, even for you the feeble pun master. Now, get off of me and let me go clean up or we’ll never get out of here.” She tried to disengage his arms, but he held her fast.

His face against her neck and ear, he muttered, “Why do we need to get out of here, Scully?” Her neck and ear blazed under his husky monotone. He rolled her closer to him and her leg rested on his hip, her foot hooking around his ass. She was breathing heavily, licking her lips which all of a sudden felt very dry. “Don’t hog all the chocolate, didn’t your mom teach you to share?” The next time her tongue was on her lips, his tongue met hers. It traced the shape of her lips, ran against her teeth, pushed into her mouth. She held very still, only the pounding of her heart and her ragged breathing belaying her arousal. He held her mesmerized.

She was working her magic on him as well in very obvious ways. As her head tilted back and to the side and his lips joined hers, she tightened her arms around him. Her effect on him was thick and hard and long and pressed hotly between them. The rain continued to beat against the windows and on the roof. She deepened their kiss and Mulder’s hands reached into her hair—and got stuck. He laughed open mouthed into her mouth and she playfully pushed him away, removing her leg from his hip.

Her face was flushed and her lips were as swollen as his. She could not totally hold back her responding laughter when she told him he was a real bucket of snow on their passion. His response was to grab her leg and drag her back toward him, firmly re-wrapping her leg around his hip. It was obvious at that point that no snow had reached his body… or hers. She rocked her hips forward, pressing into his groin, her steady rhythm matching the now driving rain. The addition of the lightening and pursuant thunder claps were not enough to interrupt the grappling-teenagers scene playing out on Scully’s down comforter.

“Mulder, we have to meet Dan in an hour.”

“His office is only 10 minutes from here.”

“I have to wash my hair.”

“Not now, Scully; buy a hat.”

Still lying sideways where they had both fallen onto the bed, they vied for control. Scully pushed her weight against Mulder, rolling him onto his back as she lay on top of him, her legs on either side of his hips. She kissed his face, nipped at his nose, his chin, his neck and…

He rolled her off of him until he was over her, lapping at her neck, wet-kissing her earlobes and tonguing inside her ear.

Scully got the upper hand, so to speak, when she rolled back on top of Mulder, her hand wedged between them, pressing into him. “godScullyohgodScully, I…” Mulder’s head lolled back hanging slightly off the other side of the bed and Scully worked her way up, trailing her lips in tiny kisses along his neck, stopping at his Adam’s Apple. His hands moved as fast as storm lightening to her behind, sliding her against him, up and down, down slowly and right back up. “Mulder, please, do, do love me.”

“Always do love you, Scully.”

The storm raged outside the windows overlooking the fields behind the Inn as the storm raged inside, on the bed. Clothing flew. Arms and legs tangled and meshed. Mulder’s lips covered every inch of Scully’s skin before she had a chance to likewise claim his; claim him.

And they both realized they might be just a little bit late for their meeting with Dan…

Laurel Glenn Sheriff’s Office

7 January, 2P

Sycamore Street’s double-wide path wound its way through the heart of Laurel Glenn from one end to the other. The on-going rainstorm left scattered mounds of snow in a variety of shapes dotting the sidewalks and grassy lots between the various businesses. Although still early, the individual street lamps shown brightly in the gray, overcast afternoon.

The rain hit and pinged off of the green and white striped aluminum awning in front of Sita’s Bakery. A small line had formed inside for the homemade apple turnovers; Sita’s own recipe. Even in the middle of a weekday afternoon, the scent of apples and cinnamon mixed with the yeasty turnover dough would draw townsfolk and visitors alike.

The only other sign of activity was the forming queue of yellow school buses that pulled into the semi-circle driveway of the elementary school.

Dan’s office had the distinct look and feel of The Wild, Wild, West meets NYPD Blue. Set in the small downtown area in a typical New England low brick structure, it was the hub of public safety and information for the borough. Also housed in the Town Hall building were the Assessor’s Office, the Creative Arts Council and the Board of Education Offices.

Parking the SUV in the lot directly behind the Town Hall, Mulder and Scully made a mad dash for the front doors. The glass case on the wall in the lobby directed them to the 2nd floor.

Although sworn to protect the inhabitants of a much smaller area, Scully was surprised at the actual number of uniformed officers working in the spacious department. She smiled at the quaint feel yet oddly conflicting styles; the low wooden gated ‘fence’ separating visitors from the very large and modern reception counter. She could almost hear the click of James West’s and Artemus Gordon’s boot heels as they swung open the gate and walked through.

The counter, although already brightly lit with the overhead florescents, also held a big city dome shaded, library lamp. The officer behind the counter greeted them both. “You must be Agents Mulder and Scully. Dan’s been expecting you. I’ll let him know you’re here.”

Mulder winked at Scully and watched the color creep into her cheeks at the officer’s mention that Dan had ‘been’ expecting them. <Heck, we’re only a half-hour late…> Scully’s eyebrow raised in response to Mulder’s wink.

“Scully, Mulder, welcome to our humble little station. Sorry to drag you out on such a gloomy day in our fair town. C’mon back to my office.” He ushered them down a few hallways to the back of the complex. Again, Scully noted the contrasts; standard issue wooden desks; two set facing each other <just how is it that every other office in this world is set up one employee; one desk?>, domed shaded, library lamps on each desk, mismatched filing cabinets, beautiful oak paneled walls and modern tiled floors. She noted the nameplates on the desks, Sheriff Daniel Burton, Deputy Conor Blake. A shiver ran down her spine and her eyes glazed over as she read Conor’s name.

Mulder, who had his back to her while listening to Dan talk about their staff, felt her shiver. He tuned Dan out momentarily and turned around to his partner. “Scully?” His voice was barely audible. Without turning around herself, she responded simply by grasping his fingers and then letting them go. The almost imperceptible connection was not lost on Dan, but he said nothing.

“We’re still holding everyone here until a court date can be set or there’s room to transfer them up to Hartford. I thought the two of you might want to question them. You know, I’m still kicking myself for not seeing Conor’s involvement. Should’ve picked up on the signs along the way.” Dan stood with his hands on his hips, one foot forward, head tilted to one side.

“Dan, Conor’s involvement was probably nothing you could have seen. How many reports have we all read of the serial murderer who was ‘the nice guy nextdoor’, ‘the civic-minded neighbor’? He did a good job for you; what else did you have to go on?” Mulder posed the question partly as a statement, partly in an effort to gather more information before talking to Conor.

“Well, you know, I was thinking about his commitments outside of work. Obviously, his personal time is just that and I’ve told you about my suspicions where women living alone came into play, but we tend to be a close knit community here. Oh, yeah, we share the typical small town gossip profile pretty neatly, too. But, that’s sort of what I mean. For a community who seems to know each other’s private lives so well, there was little talk about Conor.”

The two Agents suggested they get started and followed Dan down to the cellblock in the basement. Scully leaned against the back wall of the elevator, mentally gathering her strength to see her former captives.

The cellblock area looked like a barred convention of the Scouts. Two rows of cells facing each other housed Jason, Conor, Zander, Jenara and several others. When Dan ushered Mulder and Scully into the walkway between the cells, the chants began. Scully instantly recognized the chants from the night in the cave. She tamped down her reaction and focused on her partner’s back. Dan stopped in front of Jason’s cell. “Which of this brood you want to talk to first?”

Mulder looked back at Scully and then turned to Dan indicating that they’d start with Jason.

Dan got them set up in the questioning room and told them he’d be right outside if they needed anything. Jason’s cuffed hands were secured to a bolt in the metal table. He rested his elbows on the table, jean clad legs spread, smirk on face, blue eyes squinting. Scully and Mulder sat next to each other across from Jason.

Since eyewitness account did not seem to be in question with the back up of Field Agents Court and Spark, this round of questioning was to attempt to gather background or motivational evidence.

“So, Jason, care to tell us exactly how you got mixed up in this ‘organization’, for lack of a better word?” Mulder decided that he would handle most of the questions and Scully didn’t appear to object.

Jason held back a laugh, looked up at the barred window well and said, “You wanted to say, ‘cult’, didn’t you Agent Mulder? You Fibbies just love jumping on the cult thing. Oh yeah, look at Waco and the other groups you’ve really helped save in the name of justice.”

“Jason, we’re not here to debate with you the merits or lack thereof of the Bureau’s work. Just answer the question, please.” Scully apparently was not willing to sit back and let her partner do all of the questioning.

Jason immediately turned his body toward her. She drew in a deep breath and held it as his eyes burned in to her from head to toes. “It’s always nice to hear from you, Flame. So, you want to know how I got involved with the Scouts? Is that what you want, Flame? Let me hear you say the words.”

Scully clenched her jaw, maintaining level eye contact with Jason. Mulder watched them both. While he knew Scully could handle herself, he had also seen evidence of the after effects of her contact with the Scouts and especially with Jason and Conor. He was willing to stand back, but only temporarily.

“Agent Scully, to you, Jason. Answer the question or not, it’s your choice.”

Jason’s blue eyes twinkled. “It’s really very simple. The Scouts stay with me because of what I provide them. I provide what they want, leadership, power, communion and love. Can you say you have all of that Fla—, Agent Scully? How about you Agent Mulder?’” Jason sat back, smug satisfaction apparent on his face and the set of his body.

Mulder stood, signaling the end of their conversation. Dan came in and escorted Jason out. As Jason reached the door, he stopped and turned back around. He looked at Scully, still seated. He caught her eyes and, as much as she tried to pull herself from his gaze, she found she could not. Before Mulder could catch he, Jason mouthed silently, “We’ll be back, Flame.”

Scully went pale and was thankful she had not been standing. “Scully, what just happened?” He knelt down in front of her and held one of her hands. He was seriously worried. “What? Oh, nothing, Mulder. Are they going to bring Conor in next?”

Mulder looked puzzled. “Scully? Are you sure you’re ok with this? I can talk to Conor, you don’t have to.” Scully looked up at Mulder and smiled wistfully. How could she ever question the feelings she had for this man or that he had for her? She could strangle him sometimes, and he could smother her, but most of the time, he was just the best thing since sliced bread.

“How about a compromise? I take a 5 minute break and then we both talk to Conor?” Scully stood, pulling her black sweater down on the hips of her tan wool pants. As she headed toward the door, Mulder stopped her. He leaned back against the door to the room and reached up closing the blinds.

“C’mere.” Mulder crooked his finger, motioning Scully to him.

“Mulder.” Scully smiled, almost shyly, but approached her partner.

“Don’t be too long, Scully. The sooner we get out of here, the sooner I can show you what I have planned for you.” He leaned in close to her face as he spoke and then stepped aside and opened the door. Leaving one very hot and extremely bothered partner on her way to the restroom.

***

Conor loomed larger than life when Dan escorted him into the room. The chair appeared quite small under his bulk and muscle. He sneered openly at Mulder and smiled lasciviously at Scully. “So good to see you both. Glad you came to visit me. I understand you have some questions for me about my involvement with the Scouts?”

Mulder smirked at Conor’s attempt to take control of the interrogation. He leaned forward, slamming his palms down on the table, and looked Conor square in the eyes. Mulder’s voice was low and commanding, the fury barely disguised. “You don’t seem to be in any position Officer Blake”, Mulder spat the title, “to run this particular show. Answer the question or don’t; it’s your choice. But, that’s about the only thing that’s your choice right now.”

Mulder unfolded his full height, taking no small delight in towering over Conor who gazed up at him, the bemused look on his face further angering Mulder. Scully touched her partner’s pant leg lightly, but said nothing. She glanced toward the door, ensuring the blinds had remained closed. Mulder rarely allowed his anger to be this visible, but when he did, she knew that it could escalate quickly.

“Agent Mulder, are you enjoying this show of bravado? Is it impressing the flame-haired Agent Scully?” Conor tried to look around Mulder to see if he was having a reaction on Scully. She studiously avoided making eye contact having much too recently become reacquainted with the effect Conor and Jason still seemed to have on her.

“Should I assume that you won’t be sharing any information with us, Conor?” The tension in Mulder’s body was palpable and showed no signs of abating. It was obvious that he was looking for the excuse; any excuse, to take Conor down. Mulder could feel the urge in every molecule of his being.

“You can assume any little thing you want. Myself, I’m just enjoying being back in her company. She probably feels pretty comfortable right now, comfortable and safe. You offer her some modicum of comfort? Maybe a little protection, maybe a little something extra? Maybe—”

Conor literally did not know what hit him. Scully watched the scene play out with an expression somewhere between startled amusement and fearful support. Watching Conor’s smile broaden and his body take on the air of alpha male extraordinaire infuriated Mulder; and Conor knew it would. He goaded Mulder and Mulder rose to the occasion, literally.

He reached across the narrow metal table and grabbed the collar of Conor’s shirt with both hands, yanking Conor to his feet, his cuffed hands still chained to the table and pulling up violently. Mulder drew back his right fist with such force that Scully swore she could hear the slight ‘shwoosh’ of air as he moved. His legs slightly separated for balance, his hips turned into the draw back and twisted forward again as he worked into the swing. His face full of unbridled rage, Mulder let his fist fly, connecting with Conor’s left jaw. Mulder then abruptly let go of Conor’s collar and shoved him back into his seat.

Conor’s smile never left his bloodied face as he stared Mulder in the eyes. “Proud man, big man, showing Agent Scully what you’re made of. You know Agent, sometimes things don’t go the way you want them to.” Conor spat on the floor and then turned his gaze on Scully.

Realizing what he intended, she got up and asked Dan to remove Conor. If Dan had any clue as to what had just transpired, he chose to completely ignore it. Conor did not even bother to try to complain to Dan as he was taken back to his cell.

Mulder walked off his anger. Scully leaned back on the edge of the table, her feet crossed at the ankles, arms crossed in front of her. She remained quiet, watching her partner pace. She knew he’d talk to her when he was ready.

“I shouldn’t have let him get to me, Scully. I knew exactly what he was doing and I let him do it. I just looked at him and saw red; no pun intended. He was making reference to you and well, I just couldn’t stop myself.” Mulder’s anger diminished some, but the fury was being held just beneath the surface.

Scully walked over to him as he stood facing the window well. She didn’t touch him, but stood there, her presence supporting him. “Mulder?” When he didn’t answer her, she slowly turned toward the door and started walking.

He followed her out.

Mulder put the key in the ignition and sat back, a huge sigh escaping him. “You know, Scully, it just keeps getting stranger and more weird. Just when I think we’ve met the strangest people or seen the most bizarre cases, we find another. Or maybe they find us. Do you ever wonder how we each ended up where we are?”

Scully smiled, still looking out the windshield. She then turned to Mulder and took one of his hands from the steering wheel, placing it on the console between them. “Mulder I think we found our way to the X Files and I think you know that; it’s no secret. I think Conor’s just gotten to you and I can understand why.” She squeezed his fingers and, as if by itself, her thumb traced a path across his palm.

That got his attention.

He looked over at her, his face unreadable until his eyes focused on her. She blushed and licked her lower lip, withdrawing her hand from his. “Maybe we should head back, Mulder. Robin and Keith mentioned something about wanting to take us to a tavern in town tonight.”

Mulder smiled slightly. “Thanks, Scully.” Mulder turned to start the SUV and they were on their way back to the Inn. “And Scully”, Mulder glanced over at her, “I got the message.”

Scully felt the heat and color rise on her chest, neck and face. Things seemed to be escalating and she wasn’t sure how comfortable she was. And that wasn’t exactly right either. She admitted she was happy with the additional closeness. She realized that it hadn’t changed their effectiveness as a work team. But, this significant change in their intimacy both exhilarated her and shook her to her core. Mulder seemed to accept the change much quicker and more easily than she did. <The man leaps first, looks later. I look and look…and look and then take small steps, slowly> That fundamental difference was both what attracted her to him and scared her. She was sometimes afraid that she was losing herself in him. She had never met any man who could have the effect on her that he did. His simple declaration, ‘I got the message’, was enough to topple her. And when she fell, she fell hard, causing her to worry about her ability to keep a clear head. <Face it, Scully; you’re out of practice separating personal and professional> The problem was that although she’d been in other relationships, they had not held the intensity of this one.

She found herself wondering with rapt curiosity exactly what ‘message’ Mulder had gotten. She didn’t ask because she knew it was her thumb across his palm and, more to the point, Mulder’s ‘reading’ of her ‘action’. He was very good at reading… She swallowed audibly and shifted in her seat, reaching up to hold onto the handle over her window.

Snowflake Inn

7 January

5P

“Eddie, Melissa is going to stay with you tonight while Dad and I go out with Agents Mulder and Scully. We want you to listen to her and go to bed when she tells you, ok?” Eddie smiled at Melissa. She was by far his favorite babysitter because he thought she was ‘way cool’. She was a graduate student at the nearby university and Eddie liked hearing about her classes and projects. He even knew that she would be ‘graduating’. He wasn’t exactly sure what ‘graduating’ meant, but he knew it had something to do with college and with Melissa not having to go there anymore. He could also tell that she would be happy after she graduated.

“Did you bring your boyfriend this time?” Eddie kept looking behind Melissa toward the front door. “No, he couldn’t come, Eddie. He was busy, but he said to tell you ‘hello’.”

“Helloooo Melissa’s boyfriend!” Eddie yelled loudly, hoping Melissa’ boyfriend would hear him even though he was out of state. Robin and Melissa simultaneously covered their ears.

“Melissa, we may be out quite late. Feel free to fall asleep here tonight, okay?” Robin left Eddie and Melissa to make themselves some dinner. Eddie got to choose his dinner whenever Melissa sat for him. Tonight, he wanted macaroni and cheese and hamburgers and chocolate cake. They set out for the kitchen.

Robin and Keith had decided that Mulder and Scully needed a night out, away from their case. The Inn owners had taken a real liking to their law enforcement guests and were looking forward to spending some time with them. Robin had noticed the recent change in their relationship. She guessed that something had happened while she, Keith and Eddie were away. All she knew was that it was for the positive. While she didn’t know their personal history, she could tell that there was quite a history there. She liked Scully. The woman was very bright and independent, as well as, warm and caring. She liked the way Scully behaved around Eddie and she could tell that Scully very much wanted her own child. Mulder, where to begin with Mulder, Robin thought. Another very intelligent person, that was for sure. He was quick on the uptake and had a fine sense of perspective and curiosity. Sometimes, however, she sensed that for all of his intelligence, he was somewhat clueless about the interpersonal machinations of his relationship with Scully. She sensed that he was carrying some sort of baggage that refused to be stowed away in the overhead compartment of his life.

The two of them together just felt ‘right’ to Robin, but she knew they had to get there on their own. Hence, her little plan for some downtime for them. Keith had smiled and shaken his head when she shared her plan and her thoughts about the Agents’ relationship. He also knew better than to tell his partner to forget about an idea once she latched onto it. Besides, Keith knew that if Eddie was also involved, he didn’t stand a ghost of a chance to change anyone’s mind.

And, Eddie was deeply involved. He accepted the fact that his son had an uncanny ability or gift, as his wife liked to refer to Eddie’s ability to sense that which tended to fall outside the realm of mere fact. He also knew that Eddie had taken an extreme liking to the two Agents; especially Scully. He treated them as his beloved project—and began spouting his color language. Eddie was guileless in his approach and Keith loved him for it. While Keith himself could not lay claim to any genetic contribution, he secretly thanked his lucky stars that he and Robin had found each other and that their love had created Eddie.

***

Mulder shoved his arms through the sleeves of his blue flannel shirt and buttoned it. He tucked it into his black chinos and buckled the leather belt. He hadn’t had a hair cut in about a month and the front of his hair was starting to hang in his eyes. He pushed it off to the side and decided he was set to go. He was looking forward to actually going out for reasons other than investigation. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a beer with some friends; or with Scully.

***

Scully couldn’t decide what to wear. It wasn’t as if she had a closetful from which to choose, but Robin had told her to feel free to peruse her closet. Scully found a gorgeous teal cashmere sweater. Its capped sleeves and U-shaped neck highlighted the contrast between the jewel-like color of the sweater and the translucence of Scully’s skin. The sweater was very fitted and met her black stretch pants a few inches above the low-riding waist, revealing just a bit of her navel. She leaned over and shook her hair, standing upright then to let it fall into place. Since she knew they’d probably be in a darkened room, she applied just a bit more than her usual make-up. She outlined her lower lip in a new shade of brown/red and then filled in both lips with a glossy cherry red. She was surprised it looked so well with her more coppery red hair. The saleswoman had not been wrong. After applying a second coat of mascara, she looked in the mirror. She was set to go.

***

Scully was on her way downstairs when Mulder appeared behind her. She realized she must have been lost in her thoughts to not have heard his door open, but the soft soles of his shoes let him approach her silently. Actually, she caught his scent before she heard him; a slightly musky combination of cinnamon and something else she couldn’t place. Whatever it was called, it was invading her senses with its headiness. He called to her and stopped somewhere between the third and second floor landings.

The lighting was dim in the stairwell, and it danced off of his partner’s hair and she turned to him. He looked down on her; her eyes glistening, her shiny red lips quirking up in the faintest smile at him; for him. “You look gorgeous, Scully.” He watched her blush and then came down to her step. Placing his hands on her shoulders, he ran them down over her bare arms, holding her wrists.

“We really should get going, Mulder.” She didn’t pull away and found she couldn’t look away. The words conveyed only what they ‘ought’ to be doing; most likely not what she wanted to be doing.

Mulder was still somewhat in awe about the change in their relationship. He amended that thought; it was more like an augmentation to what already existed between them, an enhancement. He knew the foundation had always been there, but this new level of connection made him swell with emotions that seemed to threaten his ability to think logically. He wasn’t complaining. He was wondering how secure in this new level Scully actually was. He would occasionally see signs of what he interpreted as retreat; not total, but partial. Almost as if she were still trying to figure out if this is truly what she wanted. He had been very pleased that she did not seem to regret their ‘connectedness’ in the sauna. He was very sure he regretted not one steamy, foggy moment…

As he looked at his partner on the stairs, he felt familiar stirrings; again. The sweater was the cause—oh, and the fact that she filled out that sweater in the most alluring ways. It was peach fuzz soft under his hands. The softness of the cashmere over the well-toned muscles of her shoulders was a contrast in texture and sensuality. The scoop neck showing plenty of cleavage and her visible navel sent out a few minor shock waves directly to his overactive mind. And that sweater held her curves just as nicely as the pants that were nicely draped and hugged her hips.

He honestly could not remember the last relationship that shared this combination of lust and love and caring; so intermingled that he almost could not tell where one feeling began and the other left off.

“Mulder?” Scully waved her hand in front of her partner’s face. His eyes were looking in her direction, but they appeared to be looking through, not at, her. He shook his head as if clearing the cobwebs, and smiled at her. “C’mon, Scully, let’s not keep the Yarlows waiting! I’m dying to go out for a few brewskis.”

Mulder leaned forward and kissed her. Scully swatted him on the arm and ran down the stairs ahead of him.

***

<I can feel her, but he’s there, too.>

<It’s of no consequence. I am still connected to her and my plans …>

<Did you forget where we are right now? Your plans?>

***

“Scully, my sweater looks great on you. Maybe you should just keep it.” Robin had pulled Scully aside and whispered to her. “I couldn’t do that, but thanks for lending it to me. I think Mulder really likes it, too.”

The four adults got their jackets and gloves. Melissa came in with Eddie. Introductions were made. Mulder smiled at her and Eddie. Eddie glanced from Mulder to Melissa and back again. Melissa smiled and stammered, “Uh, um, hello, Agent Mulder, you’re very, I mean, it’s very nice to meet you.” Her face glowed red right to her dark brown, chin length wavy hair. Mulder reached out to shake her hand, “It’s nice to meet you, too, Melissa. I know Eddie was very happy about having you come stay with him.” She looked down at his hand and up at his eyes, finally placing her hand in his. <Let go of his hand, now, Melissa. Do not make a scene. Stop thinking about how warm and firm his hand is>

Melissa’s tongue seemed to be stuck in her mouth and her vocal chords refused to respond. Scully came to her rescue. “Well, Melissa, it was nice meeting you. Enjoy your evening with Eddie and we’ll see you later.” Scully smiled at Melissa and leaned down to say goodnight to Eddie. Eddie wrapped his arms around Scully’s neck and gave her a kiss on the cheek. He whispered, “Agent Mulder is thinking lots of thoughts about you and tonight. And they’re—”

Robin walked over, “Ok, Eddie, time to go with Melissa. We’ll never get out of here tonight at this rate!”

Melissa reached up distractedly to pull her 3/4 length black sweater closed over her white, button-down shirt. <It’s getting warm in here and I’m tugging on my sweater?> It took her several minutes to notice that Eddie was tugging on her hand as she watched Mulder pull on his black leather jacket and then help Scully with her navy wool jacket. <Have to turn down the heat in here…>

“Melissa? Melissa? Can we go make macaroni and cheese now?” Eddie started dragging Melissa toward the kitchen. When they reached the kitchen, Eddie looked at her and said, “I think you have more purple than Agent Mulder. You should give some of yours to Agent Lady Dana.”

“Eddie, are you going to start telling me about my colors again?” She laughed and pulled out the box of Smartfood Cheesy Macaroni. “I just think that you have lots of purple because you already have some for your boyfriend and now you have some for Agent Mulder, so maybe you could give some to—”

“Let’s make dinner, Eddie.” Melissa made an unusual amount of noise while taking the pot to the sink to fill it with water. Eddie enjoyed helping make dinner although he wondered what had gotten into Melissa who was behaving strangely. His mind tried to wrap itself around the fact that many older people tended to have very funny or strange thinking. They all had colors in their heads, but they had different colors at different times. Sometimes those colors matched each other like when his mom and dad were together. They almost always had the same colors at the same time. Agent Lady Dana and Mr. Mulder had some of the same colors but not always at the same time and not always the same colors without other colors hiding them. He could usually see Melissa’s colors pretty well. When she smiled at him and played with him, she was thinking banana yellow; like the sun when it wasn’t too hot, happy yellow. When she talked about her boyfriend, the yellow was brighter and then she got purple, too. Eddie decided that older people did lots of purple thinking about each other. And, he wished he could truly figure out what purple meant.

~~~~~

Willi Pub Brewery Willimantic, CT

7 January Evening

“We’re going to take you two to one of the small eastern Connecticut cities. It’s currently undergoing some revitalization. The town itself is very mixed; students at the local state universities, one about a mile from the Pub and, the larger, State, flagship university only 7 miles up the road.

“You’re going to love the bridge we’re coming to! Willimantic is known as the Thread City and the Frog is a beloved ‘city creature’. Now, the Thread City name comes from its early textile mills heritage during the Revolutionary War. The frogs became the symbol of this town because of the legend of a frog fight in 1754 that frightened Windham, (Willimantic is a section of larger Windham), residents who feared that the town was being attacked by Indians or that judgment day had arrived. It is told that Colonel Eliphalet Dyer raised a local regiment to fight in the French and Indian War. Those left behind felt vulnerable to attack. The Windhamites worst fears seemed realized during a steamy-hot June night when unearthly screams emanated from the darkness. Old men and young boys grabbed muskets and fired blindly into the night. Some believed that the Day of Judgment had arrived, and gave prayer. Others hid under their beds. The awful truth was revealed at dawn. Several hundred dead and dying bullfrogs were discovered in a dried-up millpond, two miles east of the village center. They had fought to the death in futile attempts to find moisture in the drought-ridden pond. Windham became forever known as the scene of the “Battle of the Frogs.”

“Intensive lobbying by local politicians and a college professor who wrote a book recounting the frog fight and other Connecticut folklore, prompted state transportation officials to hire an architect for the downtown bridge project and include money for the frogs. Each frog weighs more than 2,000 pounds and sits on a concrete pillar, shaped like a spool of thread to symbolize when cotton sewing thread was manufactured in the municipality known as “Thread City.”

“They’re pretty wild and, at night, rather spooky. The light posts shed an eerie glow on the bronze colored eyes.”

Keith told Robin to turn at the next intersection. She was the designated driver for the evening.

Mulder and Scully sat in the back seat. Scully’s hands rested in her lap. At one point, Mulder had reached over and tried to hold her hand. She pulled it back from him without looking his way. He hadn’t wanted to ask her what was wrong with Robin and Keith present and he couldn’t get her to make eye contact to ask her in that manner, so he let it go. She was listening and interacting, but seemed to be studiously avoiding Mulder.

“We’re taking you to a place we love to go with friends. Actually, a lot of the Laurel Glen and Montville natives spend some time at this Pub. It’s called, The Willi Pub Brewery on Main Street. It’s got live entertainment, the best pub food and its own microbrewery. Used to be the town Post Office. The owners refurbished the interior, green patterned floors, copper trim and tin ceilings. All of the food items are named for local artisans, locales or establishments.” Robin smiled at Keith, “We might want to let them relax a little before we get there. If you tell them anymore, the only thing they’ll be missing will be the actual food and drink.”

As they came up Main Street, the quaint street lamps ushered them past a variety of small retail operations and family businesses. “Hey, interesting name for a hotel.” Mulder commented as they passed the Hotel Hooker with it’s cinderblock facade, wood balcony and green and pink striped cafe-like umbrellas that remained outside even in the dead of winter. Keith laughed. “Actually it’s named for Samuel T. Hooker and it’s actually a ‘hotel’ for those without a place to call home. Unfortunately for the residents, its name causes quite the stereotype of those residents.”

They fell silent. Mulder unclasped his seat belt and slid over a little closer to Scully. Robin, glancing up into the rearview mirror and sensing that they wanted to talk about something, popped in a CD. The upbeat music filled the vehicle. “Scully”, Mulder spoke softly, “what’s the matter? Why did you pull away from me?”

***

“Dan? Dan, where the hell’d you move Jason to?”

“What?! I didn’t move him anywhere. Don’t tell me—”

“I’m only tellin’ you what I saw when I went down to the cellblock. He’s gone, but Conor and Zander are still there, sleeping soundly.”

Heading to the elevator, Dan asked how the officer knew Conor and Zander were asleep. The officer shrugged, “it looks like they’re laying there, blankets covering them.”

“D’ya actually talk to them?”

“Um, that would be a negative.”

“Shit.”

***

Scully wasn’t sure how to respond to Mulder’s questions because she honestly had no idea what the matter was or why she had pulled away. She remembered his hand on hers and then a compelling urge to withdraw. “I don’t know, Mulder. I didn’t want to pull away from you. I saw red when you touched me.”

Scully’s voice wavered and the sound scared even her. Mulder tried to piece things together. At her words, he was hurt. Until he realized she might actually be talking about ‘seeing’ red literally. He laid one hand on her thigh and when she didn’t pull away, he leaned a little closer and kissed her cheek. “We’ll figure it out, Scully, I promise we will.” She smiled at him, glad she could genuinely return his feelings.

The Pub Brewery was a little farther up on their right; a large white stone structure with tall, rectangular windows framed in dark green wood circling the entire building. The old Post Office sign remained on the outside of the establishment, complete with a ‘postmark stamp’.

Robin parked around back and the four walked to the Main Street entrance. The high ceilings, paddle fans spinning and loud music lent a bright note to their earlier conversation. They waited for a table for four in the non-smoking section of the Pub. Keith ushered them to the coatcheck room and they were shown to a table.

The seating was intimate; small square wood tables with glass tops, glass globe candles in the center. The room was lined with large palms and fichus and the windows reached almost to the ceilings. In one corner of the large Pub, a glass partition allowed patrons to see the huge, brass brewery.

They settled on ordering 4 different appetizers and a couple of pitchers of two different local brews. Robin chose the parmesan potato skins and fried mozzarella sticks with marinara. Keith selected the bacon wrapped sea scallops with a side of horseradish remoulade. They asked Scully for her choice, but she suggested Mulder choose. After spending what seemed like hours reviewing the same 12 appetizer choices (3 already chosen), he selected the oyster stuffed mushroom caps. “You’ll really like these, Scully. I hear they have special properties,” he whispered in her ear. She blushed. “I bet they do, Mulder; I bet they do.”

Mulder poured all around and the server delivered Robin’s club soda with a twist of lime. They lifted their frosty mugs and glass in a toast to newfound friends and a quick end to the case. After a quick gulp, Mulder reached over to wipe the foam from Scully’s upper lip. His touch drew a smile from her. He took his foam-covered index finger and brought it to her lips, parting them slightly. It was as if they existed in their own little corner of the world. Their eyes locked as he slid the finger between her lips, the foam evaporating with the heat of the contact. She kissed his finger as he withdrew it and he lightly touched it to the tip of her nose. Keith and Robin, who were ‘otherwise occupied’, smiled at each other as they listened to the pre-band sound system.

The local band had finished setting up and the manager shut off the sound system. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to present to you MassConnFusion! They got their start in our neck of the woods years ago and we’re lucky enough to have them return even though they’ve got their own label now. So, on with the show.”

They started with a nice ballad; their usual, blend of rock and dance music waiting until the crowds picked up, and Keith escorted Robin to the small dancefloor. Mulder slid his chair closer to Scully and picked up a warm, butter slicked stuffed mushroom cap. He opened his mouth, his tongue touching his bottom lip, and placed the oyster stuffed cap in his mouth. Scully noticed how his eyelashes fluttered and his eyes closed as he bit into it. She found her own lips parted and her eyes following Mulder’s movements.

He pulled on the arm of her chair, turning it slightly toward him. She thought she was holding her breath, but then it came out in a soft ‘whoosh’. With his thumb on her chin, his eyes intent on her face, he brought another mushroom cap to her lips and said, “open your mouth for me, Scully.”

Scully felt the bottom of her stomach drop as she watched his face and heard what he said. Oh, the request was logical enough, but the beer was already having an effect on her half empty stomach and the sight of her partner with the small, oyster filled cap in his fingers was turning her to mush. It never ceased to amaze her how Mulder’s voice, alone, could have this effect on her. Her eyes were involuntarily drawn to his mouth. <Get a grip, Scully>

His eyes were focused on her lips as she parted them to accept the offer. His fingers lingered on her lips, the butter causing them to slide, and she licked them; tasting the combination of salty butter, the heady mushroom and his skin. Mulder slowly pulled his fingers from her lips and replaced them with his lips, taking her by surprise. She swallowed the small morsel in one surprising gulp, glad she hadn’t also choked. Something told her that the Heimlich performed right now would most assuredly change the prevailing mood.

Her hands gripped the arms of her chair as he held her face. He tilted her head back, his tongue probing her mouth. She was melting, being swallowed in and by his lips and then she pulled back, gasping for breath, her eyes wide. “I’ll be right back, Mulder.” Scully pushed her chair back and walked away. Leaving a very puzzled and breathless Mulder…

***

“That’s not Zander and that lump of bedding isn’t Conor! You bungling— Get on the horn and get reinforcements. Call Agents Mulder and Scully, too. Have Burt bring the truck around. We’re outta here.”

***

<Now, Flame, listen to me. Even though your initiation is not yet complete, you are closer to us than you imagine. He is not what he appears to be. He will betray the love you think exists. It is only me and the Scouts who truly love you>

“Took you all long enough to get back here.”

“Disappearing from the county lock up takes some practice, you know.”

“Oh, shut up with the excuses.”

“How do you know she’ll believe you?”

“She is attracted to me; to us. This will test her readiness and strength and let us move forward.”

***

“Neither one of them answers their cellphones and the Yarlow’s babysitter said they’re out. I forgot where she said they went; sorry.”

***

“Her partner is still in the way.”

“Things are not always as they appear, as they seem, as they look, as they—”

“Conor?”

“I know, ‘shut up’”

“No, Conor, shove the damn Thesaurus up you’re ass”

***

Mulder debated whether to go after Scully. He knew it was a 50-50 proposition. He could just as easily help the situation as make it worse. He decided to go with his gut and he headed for the restroom.

He knocked on the door, hoping to determine if there were other women inside. No one answered; not even Scully. He called out to her. The answer came quickly, “Go away, Mulder.” He shoved the door open, the force of his weight unintentionally slamming it into the wood paneled walls. “Scully, don’t do this. I need to know what’s going on here. If you’re having second thoughts about me; us.” Scully leaned against the sink, her hand behind her for support. Mulder couldn’t decide if she was angry or hurt. Her eyes were cold, but she also looked as if she’d been crying. “There can’t be ‘second thoughts’ without the first thoughts, Mulder.” Now Mulder was thoroughly and entirely confused. All he could manage in response was a ‘what?’ They looked at each other without saying anything. Mulder recovered his ability to piece things together. “Are you saying that there hasn’t been anything between us Scully? Is that it?” Mulder switched over from ‘concerned’ to ‘angry’ in a flash. Scully saw the emotion flow over his face and the sudden change in his eyes. As she focused directly on his face, his eyes, something inside of her broke. She released her hands from the sink and slowly walked toward him. “I don’t know what I’m saying, Mulder; truly I don’t. I’m sorry…so sorry.”

Her voice trailed off and she turned away from him, unwilling to allow the tears to flow in his presence. She felt so damned out of control and what was worse, she could not figure out why. Recently, she felt that her feelings were being manipulated, but she realized that was probably just an over rationalization for her uncertainty about her relationship with Mulder. And the last thing she was willing to do was tell Mulder that she did not feel as if her feelings were her own.

What she did know was that the last thing she wanted to do was hurt him. <Like he’s hurting you, Flame>

“Mulder? I’ll be all right; we’ll be all right. Just give me a few minutes.”

Mulder looked at his partner warily. The recent rollercoaster ride was tearing him up when it wasn’t confusing him. He thought something else was going on here, but couldn’t quite figure it out—and she wasn’t helping him. The real possibility that she had no idea what was happening also crossed his mind. While he knew that Scully could erect walls around her innerself faster than most people, he also knew her to be sincere. She would not intentionally mislead him if she had information that could help either of them.

He summoned a smile for her and told her he’d see her back at the table. Seeing his smile brought one to her face, as well. She took a tentative step toward him, but he had already turned toward the door.

The woman who walked into the restroom looked at Mulder strangely, stepped back outside to check the sign on the door and then politely asked him to leave. Scully smiled at Mulder and apologized to the woman.

***

Mulder sat down and watched Robin and Keith dancing. They moved to the hallmark MassConnFusion dance beat, like two people very much in love who had grown used to each other’s patterns and rhythms; meshing together as two individuals who shared a soul. Their smiles and laughter evident.

He wished Scully would come back, he wanted to hold her in his arms, to make right whatever was bothering her. Her behavior was odd and he could not stop puzzling over what might be the cause. He suspected her contact with and abductions by the Scouts; Jason and Conor in particular, but he wasn’t sure. He also knew that if he posed that question, she would most certainly deny any influence by them.

If she had just completely pulled away after their time in the sauna, he would be upset, but would understand more clearly. While he might wonder how he’d misread her signals—and she had sent out some very strong signals—he would honor her change of heart. He just felt that they had come so far in there stop and start dance of a relationship. He didn’t want to go back now.

And, try as he might, he could not readily pull his mind back from the many ‘instant replays’ of the sauna. It was as if he had been allowed to live many of his Scully fantasies all in one short morning. He shifted and squirmed in his chair, the hard wood beneath him doing nothing to help the tightness in his formerly loose chinos… Oh, he knew he loved her, but what he was feeling now was unadulterated lust, pure and simple.

He willed his mind, if not his body, back to the current situation. The fact that she seemed to want to be close and then pulled away confused him. He needed some time to talk with her. He needed her to open up to him. Maybe this setting would help; the music, the people all-around, might prove just public enough to let them talk. It sounded strange even as he thought about it, but also made some sort of weird sense.

He filled another mug of beer and sat back watching the dancefloor as more and more people ventured out. This band seemed to be able to appeal to a wide audience. He noticed that there were quite a few college students, as well as, people his age and older. He took another gulp of beer and turned to see if Scully was coming back.

And that’s when Tonya walked up to the table and sat down in Scully’s chair.

***

“Agent Mulder, so nice to see you again.” She smiled dazzlingly as she pulled her chair closer and leaned over to be heard above the music. Mulder was leaning back in his chair, long legs stretched out wide in front of him. He nearly choked on his beer as Tonya pulled her chair closer still and sat with her legs in between his.

As she leaned forward, resting her elbows on her bare thighs below her short black leather skirt, Mulder got quite the view of her very nice chest in her tight black, low cut sweater, a simple seed pearl strand choker around her neck.

“Uh, nice to see, talk to you, Tonya. Where’s your partner? He here with you somewhere?” Mulder looked around almost frantically, hitting her legs with his as she slid up straight in his chair. “Oh, well, he and I aren’t partners anymore. It was too much with him working and living most of the week in Rhode Island and me being here.”

Mulder started to yell to be heard, but Tonya rested a hand on his chinos and leaned toward him. “Maybe you could move to Rhode Island”, Mulder offered. Tonya giggled and smiled. She rested a hand on his.

Scully walked toward their table. She was feeling considerably better. She was able to shake off the strange thoughts that invaded her own and travel back to that place in her where she and Mulder were very real and very together. She intended to tell him…and show him.

She wound her way through the growing crowds, heading for their table, the music making her want to dance with Mulder. And stopped in her tracks.

Tonya took Mulder’s wrist, removing the mug of beer and setting it on the table. She took his other hand and pulled him to his feet. Her strength and the few beers he’d had set him off balance, his arm reaching around her shoulder as he stood.

Scully watched them move to the dance floor, Tonya’s arms circling Mulder’s waist. Scully’s hands reached toward her own head, trying to dislodge the now-returned thoughts, <Flame, he betrays you> She physically tried to push them from her head.

Mulder’s hands were on Tonya’s shoulders, but he kept as much distance between them as he could. Scully felt her face grow hotter by the moment and extremely ungracious thoughts swam in her head. She was confused as hell. Ever since their very enjoyable time in the sauna, she felt pulled back and forth; toward Mulder and then almost pushed away. She could tell it wasn’t his doing. And she did not feel in control of her own actions. The thoughts had momentarily abated.

All she knew was that she had an extremely strong attraction to Mulder, to be near him, with him and then—she’d experience an equally strong need to pull back. She knew she was probably driving Mulder crazy and the man had the patience of a saint around her.

She had started to have the feeling of having to pull back when she left for the restroom. She had intended to come back and explain to him what was going on; or at least to let him know that she had no idea, that it wasn’t his doing. She wanted to assuage his all-to-ready guilt. As she approached the table, she saw the woman sitting in her chair and leaning very close to Mulder. Logically, she knew that the music level made it a necessity. As someone who had just recently demonstrated her feelings for him, Scully hated the idea. Still, she had bitten back her anger, fully intending to go to the table and join them—When she saw the woman touch Mulder and go to the dancefloor with him. And her partner didn’t appear to mind. Heck, he hadn’t even turned around to look for her.

Scully realized she was now seething.

Robin and Keith came back to the table. Keith poured Robin another soda and he had another beer. They both noticed Scully standing by the table. “Scully? Are you all right?” Robin stood up and touched Scully’s arm. Scully shook her head, as if clearing her mind, and smiled, “Yeah, I guess so.” Robin glanced over at Keith who pulled out Scully’s chair for her. The music was now a little softer, a somewhat, slower dance number, a cover for Chicago’s ‘Color My World’. Scully sat down and then looked out onto the dancefloor.

The yet unnamed woman was resting her head on Mulder’s chest, her black leather boots adding 3 inches to her 5′3″. Her arms slid up over his shoulders, back down his arms and around to his back. Mulder made an effort to create some space between them, but she held on tightly.

Robin followed Scully’s gaze and nudged Keith to turn around. Keith smiled and they both turned back to Scully.

“That’s Tonya Draper, Scully.” Light came to Scully’s eyes. She recognized the name as one of the witnesses Mulder had gone to interview for their case. “She’s just a friendly sort; I wouldn’t pay her much attention if you’re—”

“I’m ‘not’ paying her much attention.” With that declaration, Scully picked up her mug of beer and downed almost the entire contents in one long gulp. Somewhere deep inside, Scully’s ability to clearly analyze a given set of facts tried to take over. She trusted Mulder, she trusted their feelings for each other, she knew who the woman was and she knew that she could trust Mulder. Somewhere also deep inside, and right next to her ability to analyze facts, a slightly more emotional response took over guided in some small way by her empty stomach and the beer.

She stood up and walked directly to Mulder. He faced her over Tonya’s head that was still resting on his chest. When he saw Scully, he gently pushed Tonya back away from him and tried to dislodge himself long enough to talk to Scully.

Tonya looked up at Mulder, clearly puzzled, and then attempted to touch his face. Mulder caught her wrist and brought her hand back down to her side. Scully walked over to Mulder and smiled at Tonya. “Ms. Draper, I believe? I’m Agent Scully, Agent Mulder’s partner. How very nice to meet you.”

Scully’s words were the very epitome of cordiality. And Mulder could hear the sarcasm dripping thickly. <ScullyAnger or ScullyJealousy?> Mulder fought his first impulse to smile at Scully. Tonya smiled at Scully. “Why hello, Agent Scully, I’ve heard a lot about you.” Mulder wondered where.

The two women appraised each other frankly. Tonya had not broken her contact with Mulder. While his hands were by his sides, Tonya still had one of her hands resting on Mulder’s hip, possession being nine tenths of some law. Mulder seemed to have lost the capacity to converse and that glaring state of affairs angered Scully even more. “Mulder?”

Both women looked at him. And he looked back and forth from his fiery red haired partner and hopefully on-going lover and friend to the woman with the glistening green eyes and light ash brown hair. Tonya smiled at Scully, “You don’t mind if Agent Mulder and I finish our dance, do you?” Scully looked at Mulder who attempted to answer the question. Tonya took Scully’s silence as tacit approval and pushed Mulder farther onto the dancefloor. Scully could tell that he was trying to dislodge himself, but also didn’t want to be rude. He sought out Scully’s eyes, but she turned on her heel and headed out of the Pub, grabbing her jacket from the coatcheck room.

She wasn’t sure exactly where she was going since she didn’t have the keys to the SUV and she certainly didn’t know the town. She just knew she was furious; at Mulder, at Tonya and at herself. She was angry at her own insecurity, believing that one beautiful woman dancing with Mulder could change the way she knew he felt about her. But sometimes, just sometimes, she wished he’d understand the way she felt, and not assume she could handle anything and everything where her feelings were concerned. Visions of Phoebe and Diana swirled in her red thoughts.

She found herself walking around the corner into the parking lot. She was vaguely aware that she was walking by herself in the dark without her weapon in an unfamiliar town and while she wasn’t afraid, she also knew this was not the smartest choice. She ended up by the Yarlow’s SUV and leaned against it, exhausted all of a sudden. And, if truth be told, slightly drunk. This was definitely not turning out to be the evening she expected or badly wanted. She was breathing very hard, furious at herself, although her clouded mind couldn’t quite figure out why. Furious with Mulder. The man didn’t think! They were supposed to be working on their relationship and he had the sheer gall to let whoever the heck this woman is lure him away. And suddenly, she realized, that’s why she was furious with herself. She hadn’t let him explain, she had acted upon what she saw, drawing conclusions, making assumptions. But damnit, Mulder could be such a woman magnet and he seemed to play his role so well; too well. She chastised herself yet again. He had never given her any reason to doubt his feelings toward her.

And that didn’t change one bit her level of anger and frustration right here, right now.

Inside, Robin insinuated herself between Mulder and Tonya in the guise of ‘cutting in’ for a dance. Keith picked up the recently unpartnered Tonya and escorted her to the bar.

“Mulder, I think Agent and Woman Scully could use you right about now. She took off out of here in quite a hurry.” Mulder thanked Robin, took the keys she gave him, grabbed his jacket and took off outside.

“Scully! Sccullleee!” Mulder first looked up and down the relatively deserted Main Street and then started walking. He rounded the corner, calling her name again, and headed for the parking lot. He planned to take the SUV to look for her.

And then he saw her standing with her back to him up against the front grill of the vehicle. He could see that her head hung down and her arms were crossed over her chest. “Scully?” Mulder walked toward the vehicle. “Go away, Mulder.” Her voice was low and threatening.

“Scully, listen to me.”

“You have nothing to say that I care to hear. Leave me alone.” Scully started walking toward the street. Mulder followed her, trying to grab her arm.

She turned and yelled at and jerked away from him. “Just keep your hands off of me, Mulder.” Scully headed left out of the parking lot, passing now closed local family businesses. She broke out into a run.

She was at a loss for where her real anger stopped and this ‘other’ anger took over. All she knew for certain was that Mulder was toying with her and that the feelings she thought were there were mere apparitions of a more solid relationship. Where these feelings had suddenly come from she still didn’t know, but they seemed to get in the way of her earlier feelings for him.

Her head was starting to hurt from the constant invasion and subsequent withdrawal of the outside thoughts. She wondered how on earth she let herself become so intimate with this man who wanted to use her up and move on.

She heard him call to her, try to stop her, so she just picked up her pace. She and Mulder had done their fair share of running, but she knew that his longer strides could overtake her in no time. Right now, he just seemed to be pacing her, keeping her in his sights.

Mulder was thoroughly confused, angry, hurt and gasping for breath. It wasn’t every night after a few beers that he decided to chase his partner across town in casual wear.

Main Street headed downhill toward the local movie theaters, a small park-like, grassy area with benches in front of the church and just before the theater parking lot. Scully was getting winded, her breathing hard and fast.

***

<Let your anger flare and ignite, Flame. He will hurt you. We will make it better>

***

And she knew Mulder was right on her heels. She had to keep going and she tried to pick up her pace again. They had hit an area of sidewalk that hadn’t been salted well enough and were moving into sheer ice. As Scully attempted to move farther away from Mulder, she started sliding, teetering and trying to regain her balance. Mulder had stopped just short of the ice patch and reached forward to try to break Scully’s fall.

He managed to catch her arm, lifting her to standing. He held her arm to steady her. She muttered ‘thank you’ and then pulled her arm free, creating more distance between them. She started to turn away, intent on moving again.

“Scully, damnit, just talk to me. You can’t run from me forever.” Mulder reached out to Scully and she whirled around, yanking her arm free, her tone biting. “Oh, so this is about you, is it, Mulder? Just what is it you want? Or, should I ask who is it you want?” With both hands, Scully raked her hair out of her face, catching her breath, her anger running on high.

Realizing that matching her anger wasn’t getting him anywhere, Mulder just stopped. He looked at her, the hurt in his eyes evident. He refused to say another word; the ball was in her court. He would listen, he would talk, he would understand, but he needed something from her to listen to, to talk about, to try to understand. And she wasn’t helping him out.

The screeching of tires on pavement caused them both to turn toward the street. It happened in freeze frames; Mulder closing the distance between him and Scully, Scully grabbing his hand, pulling him farther away from the on-coming black truck, the four large figures, faces hooded, dressed in black head to toe, jumping out; three of them pushing and pulling Mulder toward the vehicle while the fourth wrapped his arms around Scully pulling her away from the others.

As they held his arms behind him quickly tying his wrists, they duct taped him; a large silver swath of stickiness covering his lips and extending on either side of his mouth. His struggles increased ten fold as he watched who he assumed to be another Scout holding a knife to Scully’s throat. His eyes were wild with rage.

Scully held fearfully still, worried that even her ragged breathing would allow the knife point to cut her. Her lungs started to hurt from the strain of holding her breath.

“We won’t harm you, Flame; just hold still. This knife is more for your partner’s benefit.” Scully tried to pull her head back from the blade, leaning farther into her captor, while she watched Mulder. In the span of very few seconds, she replayed her flight from the Pub, her jealousy—yes; that was exactly what it was—, Mulder’s attempts to reach her and her crazed inability or unwillingness to talk to him. Her eyes pleaded with him, worried for him, loved him.

She wanted to say something, anything and all she could do was mouth his name, followed by ‘I love you’. His eyes smiled at her as the syringe was positioned. The neckline of his jacket and flannel shirt were roughly pulled toward his shoulder, his head yanked in the other direction and the needle plunged into his skin. Scully could see the worry in his eyes as he simultaneously tried to see what his captors were doing and to watch her. Within minutes, Mulder’s eyes looped and then glazed over. Not giving a damn what happened to the blade poised at her throat, Scully screamed his name as the three Scouts loaded him into the truck.

“Leave now. We have much we need to do to prepare him; to prepare for you. We will come for you later. And, Flame? We know you are resourceful and we know you believe that your partner cares for you. We ask that you focus on keeping yourself alive and forget anything else.”

The Scout turned Scully’s head toward him as he spoke. “Do you understand, Flame?” He held her chin in his hand, keeping her eyes to his even as she fought for control. When she tried to close her eyes, the blade reappeared. “We want and need you, Flame, but make no mistake; if you prove to be more trouble than necessary or allowable, we will free you from our misery. Do we have your complete understanding?”

Scully’s glare was blinding, and she refused to nod in acquiescence. Again, the question was posed, the Scout’s voice lower, his lips close to her face. “Do you understand me, Flame?” Scully’s first impulse was to spit in his face. Something deep inside warned her to bite back this option and nod. The sooner she was released, the sooner she could find Mulder. Satisfied she understood, the Scout released her. “Leave us.”

***

Scully didn’t need to be told twice. Adrenaline pumping, she literally flew back up Main Street to the Pub. She remembered the license plate of the truck. Robin and Keith were still inside talking with Tonya when Scully flew into the Pub. “I’ve got a situation I need to take care of. Mulder’s in trouble. I need to get out of here, contact the Boston Field Agents.” Scully was breathing hard and the words came out in short, exacting, bursts.

“Are you all right, Scully? What can we do?” Tonya spoke up, surprising all of them. “Robin and Keith can ride back to Laurel Glenn with me. You can take their vehicle if that’s all right with them. And, Agent Scully? If you need anything at all, if I can help, I’m at your disposal.”

Robin and Keith smiled. They knew Tonya to be a good community member even if some of the women disliked the fact that she turned men’s heads wherever she went. Robin understood Scully’s initial anger and jealousy and had silently blamed Tonya for Scully’s upset. Tonya had just redeemed herself in the Yarlow’s eyes. And, by the looks of things, also in Scully’s. “Thank you very much, Tonya. I should be all set, but I’m going to give you all the information I have so you can keep an eye out. We’re talking about a black, late model, Dodge Dakotah Quad Cab pick-up. It’s a custom design; has flared fenders and dual chrome exhaust headers, chrome front grille, blacked out windows, Connecticut license marker SG 1016. I’m thinking it’s from an older vehicle given that the plate is the older blue with white lettering and the letter/number sequence is rather old. I wish I could tell your more about the driver and occupants, but all were roughly 6 feet, all dressed in black head to toe. Of course, I’d say without a doubt that I’d heard the voices before. I don’t believe Jason was there, but I’d guess that Conor was holding me and Zander may have been one of those holding Mulder. I also need to get to Dan.”

Robin tossed the spare set of keys to Scully who took off. As she pulled out of the parking lot, she called Dan. He informed her of the jailbreak and she filled him in on Mulder’s abduction. Her next call was much more difficult.

~~~~~

“Sir? I’m very sorry to bother you so late at night, but I’ve got a situation here and need Agents Court and Spark back here right away.”

“Agent, tell me exactly what happened and when.” Skinner rolled over on his side and shook off the night’s sleep quickly, his training taking over. “Agent?” He sat up, the blanket still over his legs, bare feet on the carpet. “Talk to me, Agent.” He made his way out of bed, the cordless phone tucked between his ear and his shoulder as he tossed the blankets aside.

“I’m here, Sir. I need to run a Connecticut marker, SG 1016, late model Dodge Dakotah. That’s the vehicle they used to abduct Mulder. It headed south on Main Street, Willimantic, also known as Route 32.”

Scully was on that very route. She believed that they were headed back to Montville to the caves behind the Grange. “It’s me that they want and they’ve taken Mulder to that end.”

Scully was at least thankful that the route she traveled; especially at this late hour, was free of traffic. Country back roads seemed to all have ‘no passing’ zones exactly when behind a line of vehicles doing the speed limit. She was able to make good time.

Skinner, not missing a beat and knowing exactly where Scully was going; literally and figuratively, continued, “And, Agent Scully, you will not proceed on your own. Agents Court and Spark should be there very quickly. They can catch a business shuttle and be there inside of an hour or two.”

“I do not want to hear that that will not be soon enough. If they have taken Mulder to lure you, they’re not about to kill him.” Skinner had pulled his sweats on over his boxers and headed into the small kitchen to put on some coffee. His night of sleep was now at an end.

Scully turned right over the Frog Bridge, following Route 32 through North Windham. “I do know that, Sir, but I still feel time is of the essence here. Have Court and Spark meet me at the Montville Grange. If I’m not there, have them go to the Snowflake.”

“Agent? You’re not listening to me.” Skinner sighed with exasperation. He hadn’t even had need for his glasses yet and he still found himself pinching the bridge of his nose; most likely a physical manifestation of the frustration he experienced when trying to convince this particular Agent partnership to work by the book.

What would make him think that she would heed his warnings where her partner was concerned? While it was true that he could usually count on Scully to follow direct orders much more often than Mulder, the fact was that where each other was concerned, they could be equally counted upon to follow their own inner guidance system, regardless of Bureau practice or anything as mundane as legalities. “Just promise me you’ll be careful and you’ll keep me posted.” Skinner took a sip of the piping hot coffee, willing the caffeine to do its job. He had a feeling it was going to be a very long couple of days.

“That I can do, Sir.” Scully pressed ‘end’ before her supervisor could provide any more ‘friendly advice’.

***

The black pick up swerved into the Grange parking lot and sped up on the gravel between the lot and the field behind the hall, spewing gravel out from under the rear wheels as it rocked into the field. Conor knew that Jason would probably smack him upside the head for his macho display of driving, but he felt a strange urge to defy Jason when Mulder was around.

Mulder was wedged between the two Scouts in the back of the cab. As they neared the cave’s entrance, Conor set his foot down hard on the breaks, eliciting a low, but audible string of curses from Jason. And a smile from Conor.

“He’s starting to come around. Should we give him another dose?”

Jason turned around to look at Mulder. “Give him half a dose this time. I’m not sure which will be more effective when Flame arrives; seeing her partner totally drugged or seeing him conscious but out of it. Either way, I’m betting she’s on her way right now.”

The other Scouts briefly debated which Flame might prefer. They decided that while Flame might prefer him awake and alert, they would personally have more fun putting him through their paces. Jason shut them up with a look.

Conor downshifted and then shifted into neutral, setting the parking break. With the headlights extinguished, one would be hard pressed to find the truck visually in the blackness of the night without a moon. But hiding in plain sight was exactly what the Scouts wanted.

Mulder would serve as a well-baited lure for Flame. Conor had no doubt she would swoop in and offer to trade herself for her partner. And while that particular exchange was what the Scouts originally had in mind, their plan had changed. Both Agents would prove very useful, not to mention tying up those nasty loose ends.

Conor especially liked the Initiations. He was trying hard to redeem himself so that Jason would allow him his usual role with Flame’s ceremony. What would make it even more exciting would be allowing Flame and her partner to observe each other’s ceremony. Conor could think of nothing better than seeing the look in her partner’s eyes and watching him squirm when Conor had his time with Flame.

He didn’t especially like the idea of emotionally hurting Flame when the other Scouts had their time with Mulder, but some things just had a price he’d have to pay. He played out the possible scenarios in his head not sure whether he’d actually enjoy any one of them more than the other. Heck, maybe they could use all of the possibilities and really draw it out for good measure.

Conor allowed himself one last visionary thought. He pictured himself with Flame, her soft skin, beautiful body close to him. The two of them positioned so she could readily see her partner. Jenara and Zander would be with Mulder, keeping him in restraints, but also positioning him in such a way that he could see Flame. Jenara and Zander would share Mulder with each other; but Conor would share Flame with no one; unless Jason interceded… Conor was grinning snidely and felt his face flush.

Mulder’s head moved languorously from side to side. His eyes came open in the dark, helping him adjust to his surroundings. He still felt groggy, as if he’d been asleep for a long, long time. His body ached from the position he was laying in and the tight quarters. The duct tape had been removed from his mouth, but his hands were still tied tightly behind him, his shoulder joints screaming at him from the awkward angle.

He tried to still his slow movements, hoping to make his captors think he was still under while he assessed the situation. His first thoughts went to Scully, hoping that she’d call for back up and wait for them before coming for him. As soon as the thought surfaced, he knew she would not wait. He almost smiled at that thought because in that way, they were both very much alike. Yes; he’d go through the rudimentary levels of notification, but, in the end, he’d take matters into his own hands where his partner was concerned. They had both been exceedingly lucky with each other…and Mulder planned to keep it that way.

He remembered the look on her face as the Scout held the knife to her throat. Mulder had not been concerned that the knife would be used; they both knew it was meant more to keep him in line. However, that had not stopped him from being extremely worried about what would happen should Jason and his merry band of idiots; dangerous idiots, get their hands on her again. Her face, her eyes, had said so much to him in those few moments. Unbidden memories of too many past moments when one or the other was injured, held captive, hurt, played in his mind. He didn’t want to think what would happen when each of their ‘9 lives’ were up.

She had looked at him in those final few moments before he was drugged and she had mouthed, ‘Mulder, I love you’. <And I do love you, too, Scully> That had been his last thought as they pulled his clothing aside to inject him. The fact that he was not particularly fond of needles was only enhanced by the fact that they held it close to his face. He had looked away. As the lazy haze of drugged sleep started to take him over, he could hear Scully yell his name. It was a gut-wrenching sound to his ears; to his very being.

Conor approached and Mulder tried not to so much as breathe. “Looks like he may have just been stirring; no signs of life right now.” Conor pocketed the syringe. “Zander, get a couple of Scouts and come help me lift him. He’s gonna be dead weight.”

“Get out of the way, Conor, you wuss. Ever heard of the firefighter’s carry? And you, a former Deputy; geez!” Zander walked over to the door and tugged on Mulder, pulling him toward the door. Mulder willed himself to let all of his weight settle as Zander boosted him up and over his shoulder, Mulder’s head hanging near Zander’s back. Mulder allowed his arms to hang down, his hands reaching almost to the ground. What he really wanted to do as he hung close to Zander’s butt was bite him hard. He now knew they were back at the caves behind the Montville Grange Hall.

***

Field Agents Court and Spark met Dan and a few of his officers on Route 32 just outside Montville. “It’s good to see you two again, although I wish it weren’t for such dire circumstances.” Dan smiled sadly at Agents Mitchell Court and Joani Spark. “First names, all around?” The two Agents nodded their agreement.

“Look, Dan, Joani here has a specialty investigating cases that have a paranormal feel to them. Can’t say we always see eye to eye on these matters, but time and time again, she’s proven her worth and experience.”

Joani took over. “When I was with Mulder in the caves, I could tell that something else other than your garden variety ritualistic behavior was going on. Jason Morgan seemed to be the focal point for ‘sending’. And Agent Scully is his target. Now, I can’t tell you exactly how he’s doing it, but I could tell that unless Agent Scully works hard on blocking it, Jason’s going to be able to get to her. Ok, that’s not very scientific or logical, but it’s what I’m feeling. Mitch has filled me in on what everyone knows of this case and I get the feeling these Scouts think that Agent Scully is their ultimate acquisition. It’s also classic cult behavior to use a close relationship to attract who they need.”

Dan had been nodding, following Joani’s assessment. At her last statement, he smiled and then frowned.

Although Mulder hadn’t said anything to him, it was obvious to Dan from the few interactions with the two Agents that there was something indeed special between them. He wasn’t sure that either one of them actually realized that fact, but it was written all over their faces and spoken in their words to each other.

Jason had indeed picked a most excellent hostage when he took Mulder. And, although the reports weren’t confirmed, Dan had no doubt that Jason, Conor and Zander were behind the abduction.

“Mitch and I are going to try to reach Agent Scully. Skinner told our A.D. that she’s probably on her way to the site now. My bet is that she’s already out there, so time is of the essence.”

Dan told everyone to hang on and floored the gas pedal, causing the SUV whose expertise was torque not instant horsepower, to jump and buck.

***

“Scully.”

“Agent Scully, Field Agent Mitchell Court here. We’re on our way with Dan and his officers. Give us your location.”

“I’m right behind the Dakatoh out by the caves. Where are you?”

“We’re about 5 miles from you. Hang on and wait for us. Agent Scully? Hello? Are you there?”

“What’s up, Joani?”

“I think she hung up. I have a feeling about this…”

“Yeah?”

“Yes; number one: she’s not going to wait for us at all, number two: she had no intention of waiting…”

“You have a number three; I know you Joani. Out with it.”

“There’s trouble; deep trouble brewing at those caves and—”

“Don’t say it, ‘and you can feel it. I know, I know.”

Scully flipped her phone closed and paced back and forth. She had already gone over every inch of the truck and found no evidence. Scully wasn’t even sure what she was looking for. She knew they had Mulder. She just needed to use her time wisely, waiting for Dan and the two Field Agents.

But, she didn’t know if she would wait much longer. She was worried about the drug they’d given Mulder. His unique brain chemistry made drug administration tricky. There were a host of possible drugs he could have been given to induce the sleep state. She just prayed that someone had a medical or pharmacology background. <Right…the only expertise in this group was inane nastiness, brutish displays and delusional fantasy fueled by a misguided over abundance of hormones.>

Mulder’s fear of needles had been obvious to her when they prepared to inject him. She smiled sadly; he was such a study in contrasts. A very strong, fierce man, who often wore his emotions on his sleeve, but couldn’t always figure out how to talk about them <as if I’ve cornered the market on expressing my own>, was not afraid to help someone out for no other reason than the fact that they appeared to need his help, and… he was afraid of needles.

She wasn’t sure where that particular fear came from. His fear of fire was explainable and she had marveled at how it did nothing to hold him back, once again, from helping unselfishly. Her mind started to travel down its own Mulderhighway once again. Try as she might, she found herself thinking again about his contrasts, his ability to both infuriate her and send her heart leaping and crashing and leaping again. Her self-discipline, and maybe her ability to deny her feelings, kicking in, she shelved that line of thinking in favor of finding him.

She hoped he had understood what she now believed was happening to her. When her head was ‘clear’, her feelings were clear. When who or whatever was feeding her negative thoughts about Mulder, she could not get past them.

She had only just recently pieced together what might be happening. She realized that Mulder would look at her strangely if he knew what she believed. Her beliefs were in no way grounded in anything remotely resembling science. But her beliefs were the only things that helped her frame what might be happening.

She knew that her relationship; rather this stage of her relationship, with Mulder was new. The very ‘newness’ made it somewhat tentative for her. But, she also knew that without a doubt, it was real. She was only timid in her approach, not about whether the feelings existed for her—or for him.

She suddenly found tears on her cheeks and berated herself silently. Emotionality was one of the reasons she had tried to steer clear of any relationship of a personal nature with Mulder. She had worked too hard for too long to be recognized for her ability to be logical, methodical, to play with the big boys, and she wasn’t about to lose her ground for anyone or anything. She knew there had to be a way to separate her personal and professional.

Which took her thoughts right back to Mulder and the fact that her backup had not yet arrived. She headed for the caves after leaving a large note on the steering wheel of the Dakotah.

***

Mulder was set down unceremoniously on the ground in the lit chamber of the cave. There was a lot of activity going on around him; preparation for the return of ‘Flame’. Thinking that he was still unconscious from the drug, they had only chained the rope around his wrists to a ground eye hook. However, after lying there for about 15 minutes, Zander and Conor had returned. They unhooked his wrists from the eye hook and took hold of his shoulders and ankles. He was moved to a padded, 45 degree, slantboard off to the side of the velvet covered platform.

His arms were brought up over his head, the ropes being exchanged for metal cuffs, and chained to the apex of the board high above his head. They had not allowed for any slack in the chain and his shoulder joints were wrenched and rotated upward at a potentially painful angle. Metal body band clamps were closed over his chest, his thighs and his ankles. His feet were set on the padded footrest at the bottom of the board. <Yup, feeling comfy right now> It was becoming harder to feign unconsciousness and he was afraid that those near him would notice his eyelid movements and his regular breathing.

He listened intently, hoping to discover more about the Scouts’ plans. And they did not disappoint him. Scully, unfortunately, figured quite prominently in those plans.

He certainly hoped that she had figured out what they were doing to prepare her mentally. When he heard their explanation, it certainly explained a lot to him about her recent behavior. The constant shifts in her feelings for him, her moods rapidly changing. He knew she’d never accept the fact that she’d been maneuvered in this manner; she’d struggle to find some rational explanation, even if it meant admitting that she was downright scared of their relationship.

The graphic detail description of how they planned to extract Scully’s eyes set him on edge and he found himself clenching his jaw so hard that it hurt. He was having a hard time both cringing and continuing his unconscious charade; especially when they explained that the extraction would take place while Scully was awake and held in place by the archaic head restraint. Mulder reflected that if the situation weren’t so dire, it would be laughable. The scene was worse than a poorly written script. And even worse, still, than some of the really bad B-movies he watched.

If that had not been tortuous enough, Conor’s leering boasts about what he planned to do to her prior to the eyes extraction made him sick; as if he’d been kicked in the stomach, and extremely angry. His insides felt as if someone were gnawing at them. Conor’s proud details of where he would touch Scully and the reactions he claimed he would elicit from her made his stomach lurch. The fact that he could ‘see’ and ‘feel’ Scully in his mind made Conor’s descriptions all the more graphic and Mulder found himself trying to focus on ‘professional’ Scully instead. As Conor continued his detailed litany, Mulder grew angrier.

He tried hard to contain that anger and let them believe he was still out. However, as Conor grew even more graphic with his ‘plans’, Mulder lost it; badly. His eyes flew open and he screamed, ‘You’re a fuckin’ dead man, Conor!’

Conor did only two things in response. He laughed; his features growing more malevolent in the process. Then he brought the slant board up so it was almost perpendicular to the floor and he punched Mulder in the gut; hard. Mulder’s face contorted, his eyes scrunching shut tightly, his lips drawing back, his mouth set in a grimace of agony. Just for good measure, Conor slammed into him again; even lower.

Mulder’s natural reaction was to try to double over; to protect his midsection and sensitive groin and to control the raging pain. But, the restraints prevented him from doing anything more than wriggling. Blood trickled from his mouth as his head hung forward. He passed out. <Scull…>

***

Scully heard Mulder’s anguished cry following his threat to Conor. She was also sure she ‘felt’ him call to her although his thoughts were faint. Somehow, she just knew he was hurt. His ache was her ache; a deep physical and soulful pain.

She drew her service weapon and proceeded more quickly through the tunnels in the cave. Every fiber of her deeply focused on her mission, she moved quickly, the adrenaline pumping her muscles. Her movements on autopilot, Scully’s thoughts reached forward. <Mulder, hang on. Listen to me, Mulder; pay attention, focus. I’m coming to get you, so you damn well better hang on for me, Mulder. Don’t you dare let them get to you. Wait for me>

***

“Mitch, Joani, over here.” Dan pulled the note off the steering wheel.

“Oh, sh*t, she didn’t wait.” Mitch drew his revolver and set off on point toward the caves.

“Did you really expect her to? I know for a fact that I wouldn’t have waited if it were you in there, Mitch.”

Mitch didn’t reply and Joani, Dan and his officers followed him into the caves.

***

<That’s right, Flame; keep coming. We’re waiting for you>

<Don’t think about ‘him’. He is not worthy of your concerns; your feelings. You belong to us; with us. We will love you as one of us>

***

The words slammed into Scully’s head full force causing her to stop in her tracks. Closing her eyes against them, she willed herself to focus on Mulder’s last cry, on him. If she were to succeed against the Scouts, if she were to get Mulder out of their hands, she would need to behave as if she believed in the mind control and fight hard against it.

What little Scully had read about it or seen in their previous cases, she knew it for a powerful force. She also knew that if she were to hope to combat the intrusion, bracing her thoughts and focusing them in one direction would be the key.

She could clearly hear the words that entered her mind. They were really very simple, very basic. At their face value, she put no stock in them. Therefore, there was something stronger at work behind the actual words. What that was, she had no way of knowing. So, Scully did not waste her time trying to further discover the mechanism, only how to stay ahead of it.

<I’m right here, Scully. Listen to me. Love me> She focused on Mulder and let her mind flow through free association. Pushing aside the reality image of Mulder in agony, she saw a series of images, in no special order, beginning at their beginning:

Sitting at his desk, his head bent over the slides lightbox, his wire rim glasses on; pulling down the neck of his while pullover, his skin warm and feverish under her touch, locked in the storage room at the Arctic station; being held against him as he helped her ‘learn’ to hit a baseball, watching him fall through the floor in the apartment above Harry Weems’; kissing his bandaged head after telling him of Diana Fowley’s death; dancing with him, held firmly at the small of her back, as Cher sang; listening to him tell her he loved her after theoretically returning from the 1920’s; trying to avoid his questioning look when Phillip Padgett said, ‘Agent Scully is already in love’.

So many moments in time with her partner. Just how long had she been in love with him? Scully knew it had taken time to develop, in part due to her unwillingness to accept that it could happen, to allow her love for him to find its rightful place alongside the other facets of their relationship; the friendship, the trust, the challenge of thought, their Bureau partnership.

It was working! The single-minded focus as she continued through the tunnels helped block the Scouts.

She felt her cell vibrate. She ducked into an alcove, afraid that her voice would echo in the open tunnel area.

“Scully.”

“Agent? Where are you?” A.D. Skinner allowed some concern to seep into his terse questions.

Scully relayed the information, letting him know that the Field Agents and Dan were not far behind her.

“They shouldn’t be ‘behind’ you at all, Agent. I’m ordering you to wait for their back up.”

“But, Sir, Mulder…”

“No buts. I’m ordering you to wait right where you are. Am I understood?”

Scully pulled the phone away from her ear briefly, taking a deep breath, and then put it back to her ear. “Sir, I’ll do my best.”

Skinner drew in a deep breath. Scully could visualize him trying to figure out how else to convey his message to her. She knew he was aware that she would press on, knowing full well that he would not be able to grant her permission to do so. Her response was her way of formally acknowledging him and letting him know that she was about to set off on her own; again.

She had to admire her supervisor. While she and Mulder both had entertained Skinner’s duplicitous role early on, they had both come to rely on him now. Scully had always sensed that the A.D. had a ‘soft spot’ for her and Mulder; although, to be honest, ‘soft’ and ‘Skinner’ were somewhat juxtaposed… Oh, she could easily see the layer right beneath the surface that he sometimes let slip when he asked a question that could be considered just on the edge of caring concern. But she also knew she’d be hard pressed to ever show proof undeniable of that side to her boss.

Therefore, Scully knew that she needed to provide enough information to allow him to do his job; his reporting, but keep his name clear and protect the Bureau. She could almost hear him say through clenched jaw, ‘If it looks bad for the Bureau, then it’s bad for the FBI.” One of these days, he was going to ‘clench’ himself right into an orthodontic…

The next call was from Joani. She wanted to know exactly which way Scully had entered the caves, letting Scully know they were now right behind her.

***

Still 7 January

Meanwhile, The Snowflake Inn

Robin and Keith had tried calling Scully on her cellphone, but the line was busy each time they tried. “She’ll call us, Robin, if she needs anything. I’m worried, too, but they’re both strong, they’re competent and, I believe someone I know and love recently told me that they’re, so; what was the word she used, ‘linked’; that’s it; they’re so linked that they watch over each other even when they don’t know they’re doing it. So, take a deep breath and let them do what they do best.”

Keith reached over and placed a comforting hand on his wife’s thigh. “Besides, they’ve got Dan and his officers and the two Field Agents right behind them.”

Robin glanced over at him and smiled. “Well, Mr. Yarlow, you seem to have an inexhaustible supply of the right words. And, maybe when we get home, you can show me that inexhaustible supply of the right moves you have…” She smiled a little more wistfully at her partner.

Melissa had been watching the Return to Me when she heard Eddie cry out. She muted the volume just as she got to the part where the actor who struck an amazing resemblance to Agent Mulder was talking to his dog.

She jumped up off the couch and quickly made her way into Eddie’s room. By the time she reached him, he was sitting up in his train bed, he sweaty face bathed in the small bedside lamp he had turned on. “Eddie? What’s wrong?” Melissa sat on the edge of his bed and reached out to brush the damp locks from his forehead.

“I saw them and they’re red and black and the colors are mixing up all over them.”

Melissa moved closer to him and he reached out for her, hugging her around the waist. “I’m scared, Melissa, but I’m not scared for me. It’s Agent Lady Dana and Mr. Mulder. They’re in really bad trouble. You have to believe me!”

Eddie had worked himself into a fever pitch and he clung to Melissa; his words fast and furious against her sweater. Melissa knew how important Eddie’s ‘people colors’ were to him.

She also knew just how close he was to Mulder and Scully. Once his parents had left with the two Agents, Eddie has proceeded to tell Melissa all about Mulder and Scully. He had explained that FBI Agents got to wear special guns that were made specially for them by the head FBI guy. What seemed to impress Eddie much more than the special guns was his theory about the partnership.

He explained to Melissa in his most 5-year old grown up voice, hands gesturing for emphasis, that they went to FBI School. FBI School ‘teached’ them how to look at backs while helping each other get the bad guys while working together all the time. Melissa smiled at him, her dark eyes sparkling. Eddie then explained how he might be another partner with them when he got older. He was going to ask them to wait for him so he could get the bad guys with them after he went to FBI School.

She held Eddie to her, rubbing her fingers through his hair and patting his back. “It’s ok Eddie. I bet you also know that they’re very good Agents and they’ll do the best they can to help keep each other safe.” He nodded against her chest, his small body relaxing against her. “Mom says they have a special connection. They just better make sure that it’s turned on.”

“Hello? Melissa? We’re home.” Robin and Keith made their way to their quarters behind the kitchen. They found Melissa with Eddie. She looked up at his parents, the concern plainly visible in her eyes. “Eddie; your mom and dad are here, now.”

***

Very Late Night, My-oh-my-is-it-still 7 January, Still the Snowflake Inn

Eddie slowly disengaged himself from Melissa and looked toward his parents. “Mom, don’t you feel the dangerous colors, too? Aren’t they in trouble? How are we going to fix it?”

Keith looked from his son to his wife and back to his son. The communication had been transmitted from one to the other wordlessly. It had taken Keith some time to grow accustomed to the fact that their often silent sharing was very real. While Keith occasionally experienced ‘gut’ feelings, he was an outsider to the foreknowledge, clairvoyance or precognition or any of the myriad experiences his wife and son lived. He had learned to trust in their views, even if he could not understand or explain them.

Robin exchanged glances with Keith, trying to decide how to respond to their son with truth and 5 year old depth. Keith nodded to his wife, a smile in his eyes. “Eddie, I truly believe that our friends will be okay.”

“But mom, the Scouts are—”

“Eddie, you know how strong our friends are, don’t you?” When Eddie nodded, Robin continued. “Well, I think we can help them be even stronger by thinking positive thoughts to them and for them. Can you help me do that for them?”

Eddie nodded through sleepy eyes, his lids once again growing heavy. “Mom, I’ll send them every single positive thought I have and I won’t run out either. But the colors are still very dark and I want them to be happy yellow and even purple again.”

Robin gently laid Eddie back down on his pillow and pulled his blanket up to his chest. “Melissa is going to sit with you for a little while, Eddie, while your dad and I get ready for bed. How’s that?”

Eddie nodded and Melissa sat on his bright green chair by his train bed, the knees of her long legs coming up to her chest in his little chair. She placed her hand on his as he started falling asleep again. “Melissa?” Eddie’s eyes were almost totally. Closed and his words very soft. “Mr. Mulder could use lots of happy yellow. Can you make your purple for him go and be yellow just for now?”

Melissa blushed from her neckline up to her scalp. She would have blushed further, but she ran out of skin…

Eddie scrunched his little eyelids closed tightly, conjuring positive thoughts and happy colors and the faces of Agent Lady Dana and Mr. Mulder. When his hand relaxed beneath Melissa’s, she knew he was sleeping again.

For now.

***

Mulder starting coming around, the blood dry and caked on his chin and lips. He swallowed dryly, a metallic, bitter taste on his tongue His eyes sought to focus, to move, but his head hurt with the effort. A strange vision floated through his mind. He remembered when he had briefly played with 35mm photography. He had owned a very basic Leica manual 35mm SLR and had purchased quite a few lenses and lens filters. One of his favorites was the ‘fuzzy focus’ which amounted to what looked like Vaseline or petroleum jelly around the edges. It rendered any photo hazy and blurred around the periphery. Right now, the ‘fuzzy focus’ lens cover was firmly screwed onto his vision. He seemed to be seeing lots of Scouts; lots and lots of Scouts.

Conor reached for him and Jason slapped Conor’s hand back. “Who gave you permission, Hawk? You’re in bad need of a manners refresher course. And I know just how much you liked the last refresher I had to allow Zander to give you.”

Jason stepped closer to Mulder, a one-sided smile forming, his blue-green eyes alight with mischief. Initially, he simply stared at Mulder, wondering just what it was Flame saw in this excuse for a man. From Jason’s point-of-view, Mulder was weak of spirit and much too soft when it came to his actions toward Flame. It was a myth that men could not tell if another man was considered good looking to women.

Jason scrutinized Mulder, trying hard to see exactly what Flame might see in this man. He took in the individual features of Mulder’s face. Jason thought that Mulder’s nose was much too big for his face. When he reflected upon Flame’s sensuality, he could not understand how she might find her partner’s mouth interesting. It was almost feminine in its shape and his lips were much too puffy and pouty. While Mulder’s body was lean, Jason noted that he would never hold up as a Scout; he had no driving, surging energy or muscle.

Mulder was a lightweight and he and the Scouts would be doing Flame a favor by initiating her. She had true fire and spirit and a deep sensuality that her partner would never fathom. Jason found his face heating up and his body quickening at the mere thought of how well Flame would ‘fit in’.

Jason was not above the fantasies Conor had been so pridefully boasting about earlier. The Scouts’ higher goals and aspirations led them to seek membership in a higher reality through the initiation of members with special qualities.

Since it was well known that the eyes are the windows of the world, they sought those beings who would add unique windows through exceptional qualities. Flame’s intellect and her curiosity, rational thinking, analytical and problem solving expertise combined with a warmth and caring were by far the best opportunity they had to achieve their ultimate goals. However, it did not hurt that she was also beautiful and in possession of an erotic quality that the Scouts unanimously decided had to be sampled prior to the extraction of her eyes. Jason would be the first, and possibly the only, Scout to sample those qualities.

Jason grabbed Mulder by the hair and jerked his head upright. “So, Agent Mulder, you return to us. Can you feel her? Do you realize just how close Flame is to us, now? We knew she’d come after you, although I fail to completely understand why. Can you tell me that? Can you?”

Mulder fought to close his eyes tighter, to will Jason and his misguided followers away. He scrunched his eyes closed and then reopened them. They were still there…

Conor slapped Mulder across the face hard. “Raven asked you a question! That means you answer.”

<God, it’s not bad enough I’m out of commission, I have to listen to this drivel from a real slimebucket.>

“My answer is ‘none of the above’.” Mulder managed to mutter. And Conor cuffed him again.

“Enough, idiot! He has to be able to talk to Flame. Now, back away.”

Jason’s eyes were smiling when he calmly reexplained that he needed to know why Mulder would draw Flame to him. His gaze never wavered from Mulder’s face. When the required answer was not forthcoming, Jason made a fist. Instead of swinging, he drew his fist back and connected with Mulder’s gut— hard. Jason glared at Mulder, but did not move, his fist never leaving the Agent’s body. He watched with excitement as Mulder’s body realized what was happening. He sucked in a deep breath, only heightening the now excruciatingly visceral pain. Jason’s fist turned slowly, and his body weight pushed downward; harder.

Mulder’s eyes rolled back into his head and he passed out; again. <Scully…help…mmhh>

***

Scully actually considered, briefly, waiting for Dan, Joani and Mitchell. She considered it very briefly. And then charged on ahead; solo. She knew she’d have the back up she needed soon enough.

Soon enough…for what? Hopefully, to get Mulder out of there in one piece. She did not delude herself into thinking that Jason or any of the others were merely allowing Mulder to hang out with them until she showed up. She had witnessed first hand their ability to inflict pain. She had also seen the derision and spite they showed her partner. In their minds, Mulder stood in between the Scouts and who they wanted; her.

She had heard Mulder’s cry the first time. After that, it was eerily quiet except for the occasional voice. She could hear primarily Mulder and Jason exchanging words. While she couldn’t hear complete sentences, she could tell by both tones that ‘goading’ and ‘sarcastic’ would describe them. Jason’s voice was interestingly grating; rippling sandpaper. The cadence of the words and the ‘discussion’ told Scully he was asking Mulder questions. Mulder’s responses were sarcastic, his voice low and controlled. If she were there, she would see the non-verbal efforts of his control attempts; the furtive and glaring look in his hazel eyes and the plastered smile on his lips; a study in mismatched verbal and non-verbal communication, his head held high to effect power. The exchange continued for some time and then turned one-sided.

The last words were Jason’s. She strained to hear Mulder, but there was nothing; no words, no cries, no sound. Until she felt the plea slam into her, ‘…help me’. The anguished tone undid her.

That’s what frightened her most. That’s what prompted her to move in.

***

“Clean him up; make sure he looks presentable. As presentable as he can given his condition. Get rid of his jacket, his belt. I want him ‘ready’ for Jenara and Zander.” Jason’s clipped tone told the Scouts that he was in his business mode. Business mode meant duties assigned from the top, Scouts doing his bidding without question. Those few who were ignorant enough to question learned quick enough the error of their ways.

Several Scouts came over to the still unconscious Mulder. The restraints were briefly loosened to facilitate removal of his jacket and belt. A few of the female Scouts could be heard assessing Mulder’s attributes. Jason decided to let it slip this time in exchange for their efficiency. He intervened only when one of the newest members mistook a rather prominent part of Mulder’s anatomy for his belt. Said member was officially removed from preparation duty and assigned to prepare the velvet-covered platform.

Jenara would be the only female allowed to worship at Mulder’s altar.

***

Making sure her cellphone was still set to ‘vibrate’, she checked her service weapon. Physically ready, she took two deep breaths and tried to still her pounding heart. She decided on a personal mantra to help block the intrusive thoughts she didn’t want to believe could exist, but knew all too well from personal experience did. She closed her eyes momentarily, focusing inward, and repeated her simple, one-word safeguard, ‘Mulder’. Occasionally, she was sure she heard his voice in her head, her name an answer to her mantra.

Thusly ‘armed’, she approached the large room where the Scouts held Mulder.

~~~~~

Dan and his officers rounded the turn in the tunnel slightly ahead of Agents Court and Spark. Dan motioned for his officers to hold their positions and moved back to Mitch and Joani. Leaning in close and whispering, Dan told them that he could see the light of the cave open area and could hear voices. He did not see any sign of Scully, but assumed she was entering from another direction and did not want to give away her location.

Dan and the Agents decided to cover what appeared to be the two main entrances to the large room. The approach and subsequent raid had to be different this time. Not one Scout could be allowed her or his freedom.

***

Conor’s mind worked overtime to find a way to redeem himself in Jason’s eyes. He knew that over the course of Flame’s initiation plans he had let himself be ruled not by the overarching principles of the Scouts but by his interest; he11, his lust for her. Jason had spoken to him a few times early in his membership with the Scouts about learning to let his ‘uppermost head’ rule his behavior rather than, as Jason had referred to it, ‘his lower head’. For the most part, Conor grasped Jason’s meaning.

Conor was not truly unintelligent. He made his was through the Police Academy all those years ago and had done well for himself prior to arriving in Laurel Glenn after his divorce. He genuinely liked his work as Dan’s Deputy. Meeting Jason had been happenstance. A case Dan had assigned to him while busy with too much administrivia, Conor had risen to the occasion with a fervor.

The fact that Jason had appealed to Conor’s deep-seated need for connection, power and, truth be told, a baser reality, opened the door to Conor’s own initiation. He had been able to keep his involvement with the Scouts discrete. What he found more and more difficult was keeping the awakening his initiation had caused in check.

The connection he had forged and now relished was born of a deep emotional, psychological and purely physical experience. The intrusion of the other Scouts’ thoughts into his, the melding of his very soul with theirs and the endless stream of their hands connecting with his flesh was one of the headiest rushes he had ever experienced. The extreme flush that suffused him during those memories never seemed to abate.

He wanted all of that experience for Flame. He knew they were already connected in a rudimentary fashion through their shared thoughts. She had ignored their existence initially, moving on to feeling the thoughts, but doubting their reality and finally, to the futility of trying to block them by focusing on her partner.

Conor knew that the physical connection would seal their bond. Her physical beauty was overwhelming for him. The flush rose in him once again as he ‘felt’ his hands on her porcelain skin, warm and pliant to his touch, exploring every inch of her with his hands, his mouth, his own body.

And these thoughts were exactly what led Jason to tell him to think more with his ‘uppermost head’.

He vowed to reign in what he knew to be his pure lust for Flame just enough so he could prove to Jason his worthiness for his role at the initiation.

And he had an idea.

***

“Dan, Agent Scully… Can you hear me?… Dan?”

Scully switched the radio off and then back on, hoping she could recycle the channels.

“Agents Court and Spark, this is Agent Scully….”

“Damnit!”

Scully shoved the radio into her jacket pocket and grabbed her cellphone.

“Hello.”

***

High Over Southern Connecticut, Still 7 January

“Sir? I’ve lost my backup. I’m in the caves, very close to where they’re holding Mulder.”

“What happened, Agent?” Skinner was 10 minutes outside of Hartford, Connecticut, about to land at Bradley International Airport. Knowing he would not be able to sleep or do much else until he ascertained his Agents’ safety, he had quickly booked himself a red-eye flight. He had a rental car waiting for him at the airfield.

“I don’t know, Sir. They were all just about the enter the caves just a short time ago. I’m outside the entrance to the main room. I believe Agent Mulder is unconscious again. I was waiting for them.”

<Thank God for small favors> “It’s too strange that they’ve all gone silent. Maintain your position until you hear from me. I should be there shortly, but will call ahead to get you some backup for the State Police Barracks. They’re closer to you.”

Skinner’s concern for his Agents and the others now involved was making him more frustrated by the minute. He willed the plane to pick up speed, knowing his thought was irrational and derived from too little sleep and yet another out-of-his-control situation.

“Scully, you did say you’d wait for back-up?” He replayed her last sentence, ‘I was waiting for them’, wondering; no, ‘knowing’, the implications of her phrasing. And also, knowing, once again that unless he had her forcibly restrained or yanked from the site, she would pursue her own agenda. And the top item of business on that agenda was her partner.

Silence.

<Why am I even asking?> Skinner attempted to settle into the seat back, but his restless movements seemed to have top priority. He forced his head to rest against the pillow top and pushed his hips firmly back into the cushion, squirming to get comfortable. It wasn’t working. He didn’t want to take the time to recline the seat because he was so exhausted, he was afraid he’d doze. So, he returned to his search for comfort.

“I really need to get going, Sir. I’ll see you when you get here.” She thought better of severing the connection before hearing her superior’s response. That had worked once, but she didn’t want to tempt fate a second time.

Tension returned, Scully heard the pithy response she knew came once again through tight lips, “Fine, Agent; keep me apprised.”

***

Joani and Mitch were in a tunnel parallel to Dan and his officers and in constant radio contact. All were very close to the main Scouts area and just north of Scully’s location.

As Joani approached the faint light at the end of their tunnel, she felt the air above her head ‘whoosh’. She ducked instinctively, realizing it was probably a bat. Mitch closed the distance between him and his partner, swatting at the air above him. Bats were not his favorite creature.

They entered what appeared to be a small anteroom just outside the larger initiation cavern. The small area reminded Mitch of the old train roundhouses; large structures with train-sized portals around the periphery. Locomotives could enter from all directions for servicing and then depart again. Several archways led to other tunnels; the archway directly in front of them leading to a smaller ‘hallway’ and into the main cavern.

***

Dan and his officers encountered a large group of bats in their tunnel, the sound of flailing arms almost louder than that of the batwings. “What the fuckin!?” One of the officers gasped, clearly caught off guard.

Dan motioned them on toward the open area ahead, hearing commotion.

***

Together, Joani and Mitch and Dan and his officers entered the anteroom area from different archways, still glancing surreptitiously ceilingward. The bats had disappeared as suddenly as they had appeared.

The Law enforcement officials all gathered in the center of the room, allowing Dan to plan and direct their efforts. As Dan began running down a checklist of what information they had, a hollow ‘thud’.

Mitch spun around just in time to see what appeared to be a rock face door slam shut from the top of one of the archways. The group’s attention turned toward his cry of alarm. As they wheeled around, the slamming doors sealed off all other archways. They fanned out, knowing their exit had most likely been denied.

“All right everyone, let’s regroup.” Dan marshaled the Agents and officers. He pulled his radio and cellphone out of his pocket. He decided to try Scully first on the cellphone. While his phone had worked earlier, it was now in a ‘no service’ area. He put the radio away realizing that even if it worked, his officers were here with him.

“Well, anyone else have any bright ideas?” Dan looked to Agents Court and Spark. They had each tried their cellphones. Although they were exactly the same, for some reason, Joani’s had a faint signal. She walked around hoping to find something stronger. Dialing Scully, Joani mentally kept her fingers crossed.

“Scully.”

“Scully? This is Joani. We need your help.”

“Hello? I can barely hear whoever this is. Can you speak up?”

Joani repeated her request a little louder. She gave Scully their location relative to where she believed Scully to be.

She didn’t hear Scully’s last words. A fine cloud misted from the ceiling slowly shrouding the Agents and officers. As if in a choreographed parody of a dream ballet, hands came up to throats, eyes opened wide and then closed, bodies moved in slow motion, knees buckling, hitting the cave floor.

***

Skinner’s plane had landed just as the rock face doors were closing in around the Agents and officers. A rental car was specially ordered and waiting for him on the tarmac to expedite his trip to Laurel Glenn and on to the Montville Grange.

With Scully’s directions via cellphone while on route, he would make good time to the caves behind the Montville Grange.

The Yarlows had been kind enough to set up a room for him and Keith had met Skinner en route to take his luggage to the Inn.

Eddie had awakened and was now constantly talking about and making pleas for the safety of Agent Lady Dana and Mr. Mulder. He told his parents and Melissa about Mr. Mulder’s dark, dark colors and place and that he was scared for him. He also explained that Agent Lady Dana’s color was growing darker, too because of the bad colors of the Scouts.

Skinner stopped along route 32 to meet up with the State Police Officers from the Colchester Barracks, bringing them up to date.

Although back up was in place, the A.D. was clearly worried. He had not been able to raise Scully, Court or Spark since he landed.

Conveying the sense of urgency to the Staties following him, Skinner put the rental car through its paces.

***

Jason watched the events in the roundhouse cave unfold via the video cams he had installed in the last week. He knew the law enforcement agents would sleep through the night.

His brief stint in the University of Connecticut’s premier School of Pharmacology had served him well. The fact that he left the program in the third of the required six years didn’t matter. All it meant to him was no piece of paper showing his graduation and no white pharmacist’s coat. He preferred black leather and jeans.

And his special knowledge of drug behavior came in handy even without the certificate of diploma.

He raised the rock face doors to allow the mist to evaporate.

***

Knowing her boss was on his way; most likely with back up considering she could not count on Agents Court and Spark or Dan and his officers, Scully moved on. She had tried unsuccessfully to gain access to the roundhouse, sure that her back up was locked inside.

Assessing the bleak situation, she approached the large cavern. And immediately saw Mulder still secured to the slantboard. Brows furrowed and lips pursed, she scanned the area which seemed oddly devoid of Scouts. <Mulder?>

***

Mulder was slowly coming back to the land of the conscious. He felt the loosening of the restraints and his body sagged. Once again, he decided to stay under their radar, keeping his body still, gathering as much information as he could.

He resisted the urge to grit his teeth as he felt the hands removing his jacket, fumbling with his belt and—moving lower. One of the Scouts held his slender hips to the slantboard and another pressed (her?) hand along the length of him, seeking to outline the shape beneath his fly.

His nerve endings were working just fine and he willed himself to turn his thoughts inward. The voices around him were now definitely female. He couldn’t decide whether to laugh or be flattered as they discussed and debated his body as if one of them could come out the winner.

“…correlation between the size of his nose, the length of his fingers and…”

“There’s no truth to that. Jason’s hands and nose aren’t that big, but he’s…”

“Yeah, but this one’s got the butt, too.” Mulder felt hands sliding between him and the slantboard. Yelling was his first choice of response; reaction. His wonderful memory disabused him of that choice since the thought of Jason’s fist in his gut was not a pleasant option.

Slowing his breathing and keeping his eyes closed, he pictured Scully again. Mulder was almost grateful the Scouts were ‘busy’ elsewhere or they would have seen the small smile threatening to overtake him as a vision of Scully floated into his mind. Unfortunately, the particular vision he had chosen was their visit to that sauna at the Snowflake.

He was literally playing right into the Scouts searching and probing hands. He quickly pictured the Cigarette Smoking Bastard…and was sure the probing Scouts would find nothing to play with…

And, luckily, Jason and Conor called to them. They were needed for preparations in the small room behind the cavern.

***

Scully watched the Scouts walk away, trailing their hands along her partner’s body. She shivered and sucked in a deep breath. Without thinking, she called out softly, “Mulder.” She was very surprised to see one eyelid rise and his mouth quirk into a playful smile. “Scully.” His voice was but a whisper and somewhat hoarse, but covered her like honey.

“Don’t move, Mulder.”

“Not going anywhere, Scully.”

Scanning the area around Mulder, she moved in cautiously, her weapon drawn. Scully held the weapon pointing up when she neared him, her other hand automatically brushing the hair from his eyes. His eyes registered the concern in hers and for a moment, they held each other’s gaze, no words, no movement.

Coming back from her slip into Mulder, her hands began to work at the restraints, tugging at what felt like reinforced steel although it was very thin. She fingered the locking mechanism, noting an oddly shaped keyhole, but could not work it free. Focused deeply on her task, she turned to go in search of the key. She felt Mulder’s hand on her wrist, holding her in place. Scully engaged the safety and holstered her gun.

Scully bit her lower lip, noting how Mulder’s playful smile had changed to a fleeting grimace she was sure he didn’t want her to see. “Mulder; you’re hurt.” Scully did a body check, her hands starting with his scalp and moving quickly, clinically, over his body. When she reached his lower abs, his eyes scrunched tightly shut and he bit his lip to keep from crying out. “I’m so sorry, Mulder; I have to look.” She slid his blue chamois shirt up and away from the sensitive area. The deep purple and red bruising had angrily flowered over his midsection. Scully tried very hard to compose herself and hang onto her professional detachment, but she felt as if someone had punched her; much as she realized had been done to her partner, the love of her life. “God, Mulder. You could have internal bleeding. Does it hurt anywhere inside? Are you…?”

The female Scouts had left his arms free, knowing he could not remove the restraints. He was thankful for very small favors. He held Scully’s hands, a sad small smile touching his lips. “Scully? Did I ever tell you how you tend to ramble when you’re concerned?”

“Mulder, stop it. You’re hurt; it’s not funny.”

“No, it’s not, but you are.” He tried to pull her toward him, but the angle of his shoulders under the restraints made it difficult. Flustered, Scully laced her fingers with his, whispering his name in mock admonition for his comment about her.

“Scully, you wouldn’t deny a restrained man who’s been punched in the gut and drugged, would you?”

“Mulder, we’ve got to get you out of here.”

“We will; after you kiss me.”

Their fingers intertwined still, she leaned in to him wondering what she was doing when time could be a precious commodity about to run out. “I want you, Scully. Would you deny an injured man?”

She leaned in, her head slanting to adjust to his. His lips beneath hers sent a sizzling jolt straight through her, threatening to render her senseless. <One touch of his lips…and I’m falling…>

Their sensibilities otherwise occupied, Conor slipped up behind Scully, grabbing her wrists tightly behind her with one hand and relieving her of her gun with his other. Her gasp froze in her throat. In one fluid motion, he handed the gun off to Jenara who handed him the syringe. Jenara stood between Scully and Mulder while Zander readjusted Mulder’s restraints, clamping him in place.

Conor held Scully from behind, one arm snugly around her waist and the other between her chest and her shoulders. “Jenara; now.”

“Noooooo.” Mulder’s voice pierced the hustle and bustle of Scout activity.

Scully struggled in futility as Jenara stabbed the needle into her neck. Scully tried to look around Jenara’s face to see Mulder, but her view remained blocked. Mulder was sure she would loose consciousness as he had, but she remained fully awake.

When Jenara moved from her position between the two Agents, Mulder began to understand why she did not react as he had.

Her eyes were vacant although she looked directly at him. “Scully!”

Conor and Zander smiled as Jason approached. “Well, Flame, for the third time, you are with us. We have something we’d like you to do, Flame.” Jason nodded imperceptibly toward Conor who gripped Scully’s hip.

Scully oriented her body toward Jason, Conor easing on his grip. Jason’s voice was pitched low, his eyes trying to hold Scully’s gaze which wavered. “Walk over to Agent Mulder please. Slap him, Flame; slap his face.”

Mulder held his breath, his body tensed with fear for her; anger at them and the absurdity of their situation. She approached him and, for a fleeting second, he saw confusion in her eyes. Then her right had rose, swung and slapped him across the cheek.

“Very good, Flame; very good. All right Conor, prepare her and be back here in five minutes. If you’re not back with her in five; you are gone.”

***

Skinner saw the Dakatoh in the field, pulling around it, kicking up dust behind him as he slammed the breaks. The State Police pulled their vehicle up alongside.

Shoving the door to his rental car wide, Skinner pushed himself up and out. The area outside the caves was dark, the cold biting and the snow had just begun to fall. The caves loomed ominously just ahead, faint echoes of light emanating from the large entrance.

<The cellular customer you are trying to reach is unavailable at the moment>

“Damn!”

“Mr. Skinner?”

Skinner re-pocketed his cell phone knowing in his gut that his inability to reach Scully was a bad sign; not one, but probably two, Agents down. He was equally unsuccessful trying to reach the Field Agents or local law enforcement he knew were here.

His tan snow jacket flapped in the cold night wind. It seemed to have turned suddenly colder; a strange sign… He motioned to the Staties as he headed inside the caves. From Scully’s earlier descriptions, he chose the correct tunnel.

He could hear the simultaneous un-holstering and c*cking of weapons around him as he drew his own weapon. Flashlights also appeared sending oblong circles of light intersecting one and other and playing along the rock face.

“Let’s get moving everyone. I don’t know if these Scouts are armed, but they should be considered dangerous. They have two; possibly more, Agents and law enforcement officials. I want them alive, but defend yourselves if need be.” Skinner moved them on.

Not long after they encountered the roundhouse archways; the doors no longer visible. Low moaning seemed to be emanating from inside, drawing the A.D. and Staties inside. Agent Joani Court had managed to half crawl and half slither her way toward one of the archways as the door slid upward. Her eyes tried hard to focus in the dim light and suddenly squinted closed as the roving flashlight beams crisscrossed over her. “Who’s there?” Her hand came up to her brow to block some of the light and allow her to decide whether they were friend or foe.

“Agent Court? It’s me, A.D. Skinner from the D.C. Office. What happened here?” Skinner squatted down and extended a hand toward Joani who tried to sit up. “We were very close to catching up with Agent Scully when we came upon this place. Once we were all inside, Dan was outlining a plan of attack. And that’s when the doors came crashing down. Shortly afterwards, some sort of mist settled over us and that’s all I remembered until hearing you.”

The others were rousing slowly and the Staties provided assistance.

“All right everyone; listen up.” Skinner’s voice echoed and boomed in the roundhouse; his presence commanding. “We know this group is not above the use of pharmaceuticals and force. They definitely have Agent Mulder and it appears mostly likely, Agent Scully. She was their intended target. You will proceed with all due caution and I don’t have to tell you your first goal is the safe return of the Agents.”

Just as they headed for the archways, the bats pitched and dived, wings nicking the tall gray hats of the Staties’ uniforms and catching in almost everyone else’s hair…

***

Conor dragged a very confused looking and obstinate Scully away from Mulder. Conor kept muttering something about how the drug should have taken total effect by now as he tugged and pulled Scully. She seemed to be resisting his efforts to separate her from her partner and Conor was stymied. “We need to give her another injection, Raven.” Jason adamantly shook his head telling Conor they would risk killing her if they increased the dosage.

Like Jason, he could not fathom what she saw in him. “Flame, listen to my voice and come with me.”

“Scully! Look at me. Ignore him. Look at me.” Even as his spoken words trailed off the essence of them remained in her and she willed herself to fight whatever was happening in her drugged mind. She remembered the syringe and struggled to recall whether she had actually hit Mulder or somehow had a waking dream about doing it. She winced at the memory/dream. She sought out the portion of her brain that might contain a modicum of her original self, trying to think through what she might have been given. Her attempts got her no farther than a mental brick wall.

Scully knew from past experience that no good would come of Conor pulling her toward him. In that particular direction lay only danger. Her face mask like, she sought out Mulder’s eyes wanting desperately to reestablish her link to him. She intuitively understood that whatever was administered rendered her highly susceptible to suggestion. If that were the case then she could be just as susceptible to Mulder’s suggestion.

While allowing herself to think this through was satisfying, she also knew that it would not erase the effects of the drug. She struggled to find a way out of her situation. And that’s when she heard Mulder call to her. <Damn! I’m supposed to be here to rescue him>

And somewhere deep inside her drug-fogged, yet curiously functioning brain, lay the kernel of an idea, a plan. She caught Mulder’s eyes watching hers. And she very slowly backed toward Conor. <Watching your back, Scully, but be careful.>

***

The bat colony materialized in groups so large that the flashlight beams were almost totally overwhelmed. They initially flew back and forth between the walls, their radar judging and marking the distance. Ten to twelve creatures maintained the beeline path while another few dozen dipped and plunged at the tunnel occupants. Bizarre bat behavior, to be sure.

Skinner tried to stand to ascertain exactly what was happening, but felt the sharp slap of a wing hit the top of his head. The strength of the force knocked his glasses from their perch and almost sent him to his knees. “What the hell is going on here”, he called out loudly to no one in particular.

He heard the frightened and panicked cries from the other officers. From his peripheral vision, he saw the hand of one of Dan’s officers lifting ceilingward, his service weapon c*cked. Skinner reached out and grabbed the man’s wrist admonishing him. “You fire in here and you risk bringing this place down around us; not to mention alerting whoever’s got Scully and Mulder. Holster it and don’t let me see it again until you’re given the word.”

The bats now formed a low hanging black cloud, pressing everyone close to the floor. Skinner had a momentary MulderMoment when he started thinking the bats had been sent to delay them. He began to try out any of a number of more rational reasons for their arrival just as the team was ready to move out.

Unfortunately, he could not find any other reason for the peculiar behavior that kept them pinned. And away from Scully and her partner.

Skinner realized that flailing arms achieved nothing more than new waves of frenetic bats, so he grudgingly resigned himself to prostrating his muscular bulk to the cave floor.

***

Scully was watching her back; making sure she gave Conor just enough physical contact to let him feel he now had the upperhand. Jason reminded Conor that he had only five minutes to prepare her for the ceremony. Scully tried to suppress and shudder that threatened to coarse through her. She kept her eyes riveted on her partner for as long as she could; gaining new strength from his direct gaze that seemed to look deep within her. The gaze that spoke silent volumes to her, made promises to her, willed her on.

He watched as Conor turned her toward the back of the cavern. <Mulder…>

“It won’t be long now, Agent Mulder. We’re going to give you a front row seat.” Zander motioned to the other Scouts. The slantboard was wheeled over to the velvet-covered platform and positioned to face the head of the platform.

“Flame, let me tell you a little bit about this very special initiation. We’ve decided to use the High Ceremony instead of what we began with you earlier. That means that all of the other Scouts will be sequestered except for me and Jason. Well, that is, after Jenara has properly introduced herself to your partner. He’ll be able to watch as Jason and I help you to partake of our special powers.”

As Conor prattled on, Scully stole furtive glances in and around him and the room they were in. She knew it had to be here somewhere.

Jenara approached Mulder from behind the slantboard. She paused until she noted Jason’s nod, the smile on her face widening, her eyes glistening.

Her time with the Scouts up until this moment prepared her for this one eventuality. Through Jason’s careful tutelage, Jenara’s self-confidence blossomed. She was a living example of the ‘this town’s so small that everyone knows everyone’ adage.

At the age of 18, she held her first job, deftly working the early morning rush at Sita’s Bakery. While most of the customers lined up solely for Sita’s wares, many of the men lined up for Jenara’s friendly, but biting wit that she doled out without extra charge and extra change.

It was over a bag of warm turnovers that she met Zander Smith. His hand rested on hers, sending a series of small shivers up her arm. And then his older sister’s hand on his arm broke the connection. Tonya Draper had escorted her baby brother away from Jenara. At least for the day.

Zander returned again…and again, to sample Sita’s muffins, special eclairs and just about anything else he could name just to talk to Jenara. Zander’s jealousy almost got the best of him one fine morning when he noticed Jason spending a little extra time chatting over his black coffee and plain bagel. Jason viewed breakfast as a simple necessity and his choice of food brooked no frills.

Jenara was feeling particularly bored with her young life and Jason was recruiting. While Zander was already among his ranks, Jason preferred to ‘scout’ out his own new initiates.

Jenera left the bakery and picked up her friend on the way home. Conor had been spending more and more time with Jenara, despite their age difference, ever since he moved into town after his divorce.

One thing the male Scouts seemed to have in common was a keen sense that Jenara was true Scout material. She floated effortlessly into their ranks and learned quickly.

Three years later, she rose to the lofty position of Initiation Ceremony Primary Female. She considered herself truly blessed to serve as Primary Female for one Fox Mulder.

“Well, Agent Mulder, it looks like it’s my turn to spend some time with you. I can certainly promise you an adventure. All that’s required of you is that you let yourself go and enjoy the sensations. The sensations are important. They’re intended to warm you at first and then, if I do my job correctly…to totally overwhelm and subsume you.”

“They begin at the top; my fingers touching you.” She had started to massage his temples with her thumbs as she spoke, moving her palms over his eyes, closing them. Mulder tried to turn his head from side to side, avoiding her touches. “I bet this restraint must be hurting your head. Would you like me to remove it?” Jenara looked to Jason who again nodded and she unlocked the band around Mulder’s head. The relief that washed over him was palpable.

***

Her eyes moved quickly over the walls around her, glancing toward the rocky concave ceiling and the doorway to another open cavern. The torchlight momentarily caught a piece of metal high over the doorway. Scattered on the floor just outside the doorway were what appeared to be either cartoon-like swords or…machetes. Scully could not tell which, but given the Scouts’ proclivity for all things bizarre, it could just as easily be either.

Conor spun her around to face him, his hands on her arms, running up and down the soft cashmere of her sweater. The sounds emanating from his mouth were foreign to her except for the lascivious manner in which he uttered her name. She shivered.

And he misinterpreted her response, his hands travelling with painstaking care from her arms to her abdomen and toward her neck; exploring every inch along the way. Wanting to pull back, but knowing she needed to buy a little more of his confidence, Scully attempted to divert his attention. Looking at his face, his eyes and finally to his hair, her right hand made its way to his forehead.

He tipped his head back and breathed deeply into the sensation of Flame’s hands touching him. His own hands fell to his sides. Realizing she was no longer feeling the full effect of the drug, she grew bolder. <Idiots can’t even get their drug-induced stupor right…> She worked her hand down his arms and took one of his hands in hers, just hoping he would not feel the need to reconnect with her body or grab her other hand.

Conor smiled at her, feeling his arousal peak. He would allow her to believe she was guiding the preparation phase of her initiation. But he could only allow so much when his own need for her was so great. He immediately stepped closer to her, his fingers tightening around hers. He willed himself to stop, to at least take it slower, but his ‘lower head’ was thinking for him now and he knew Jason would be watching the clock.

Unsure of whether the rapidly vanishing drug-induced state allowed for speech, Scully chose her words and sounds cautiously. She clearly saw where he was headed and knew she had to change the pace of her plan. She backed away from his approaching groin, smiling coquetishly at him and pulled on his hand, leading him. She mouthed his name and moaned before moving him forward toward the doorway.

He breathed in short panting puffs, his body quaking slightly with the effort of restraining himself. She turned away from him as she led him, occasionally turning back to smile and wet her lips. Conor was in Flame Heaven.

~~~~~

The Snowflake Inn

7 January

Wee hours of the morning

Robin had come in to check on Eddie and found Melissa stretched out alongside him on the bed. Her son had finally managed to fall asleep.

She smiled at them. Melissa really cared about Eddie and treated him like her younger brother. Robin knew (from personal experience) that Melissa could not be comfortable in her current position and that she would awaken with stiff muscles. She gently nudged her, trying not to wake her son in the process.

“He’s fine, Melissa. Why don’t you move into the guest quarters now and get some real sleep.” Melissa responded to Robin’s whispered words, rubbing her eyes and stretching, hands on the small of her back. She nodded and smile sleepily at Robin and headed for the guest quarters.

Robin reached down to touch Eddie’s face and kissed his forehead. As her hand touched his cheek, she felt the heat of his skin against her palm. While she knew he tended to ‘sleep warm’, the intensity of the heat unnerved her. She felt the hairs on the back of her neck prickling.

She pushed the talk button on the intercom over Eddie’s bed, asking her husband to join her right away. Keith padded into the room, the hems of his pajama bottoms dragging on the floor. “What’s the matter, hon?”

“Eddie’s burning up; feel.”

Keith hitched up his pj’s and sat on the edge of his son’s bed, feeling the same heat Robin had. He shook Eddie awake gently. “Mom and I are sorry to wake you up, guy, but you feel like you’re very hot. Are you doing ok?” Eddie looked at both of his parents, his eyes struggling to remain open, his lips parted slightly. He climbed into his father’s lap, resting his head on his chest. Robin sat in Eddie’s bedside chair, rubbing his back.

Murmuring into Keith’s chest, Eddie asked them a question. Not sure what their son was mumbling about, Robin leaned in a little bit closer. Eddie sat bolt upright suddenly, almost backing into his mother’s body as she leaned in toward him. She managed to grab onto his shoulders, holding him in place and soothing him. “What’s wrong, Eddie?”

“Lotsa stuff, Mom; lotsa stuff.”

His eyes took on a far off look. “Tell me what you’re seeing, Eddie.”

“Lotsa bad stuff. There are a lot of bats near the Sheriff and Agent Lady Dana isn’t happy and Mr. Mulder is not happy, too. I think they don’t have enough people to help them get back to happy.”

Keith looked at his wife as he held their son in his arms. Eddie’s ‘visions’ had just become much more specific. Keith wasn’t sure whether that was a good thing or not. And, by the look on his wife and son’s faces, they weren’t sure, either.

~~~~~

Jenara saw Mulder’s face relax and that’s when she decided to up the ante. He was ready for the next phase. Jason watching her watch Mulder made her heart pound. She moved her hands down to his shoulders and then his chest, but soon decided that while hand-to-body sensations were important, other parts of her body needed to participate.

She moved closer to his face, her tongue lapping at his neck. The sensation of his skin sent little waves and tingles through her. A slight cloud passed over her eyes, however, as Mulder pulled his head away from her touch.

She paused, then, thinking he may need some time to warm to her approach. When he moved his head farther away from her, she smiled at his playful behavior.

And she used her lips to nibble his earlobe, while her tongue entered his ear, swirling and teasing.

He clamped his teeth together, tightening his jaw.

Following her own agenda, she next climbed up onto the step stool to place her mouth over his, her hot breath flowing into his mouth.

Mulder was twisting and squirming in a futile effort to pull away from her touches and teases. “Allow yourself to flow with the sensations Agent Mulder; Fox. Oooh, I like that, ‘Fox’… You’d actually be surprised at just how your body is already enjoying what I’m doing though you try to pretend you’re not. I may not be Flame, but, believe me, I’ve been taught by the best the Scouts have to offer and can promise you so much more than she will ever give you.” Her warm breath in his ear, over his face, repulsed him.

And he cursed his body for betraying him even though he knew he had little control of this situation.

<Schuuulee…>

***

Conor could not believe his eyes; or his senses, for that matter! Flame, His Flame, had actually decided to let him in. Well, he certainly hoped that would be the case in more ways than one, but he would settle for her acceptance initially. He noticed that the effects of the drug had worn off almost completely, but didn’t want to give her more. First of all, she was more than compliant and more importantly, she would enjoy what he had planned so much more if she were totally aware of the joys her body were experiencing.

He wanted to move the preparations along more quickly; Jason was sure to arrive any minute, but he also relished the slow, delicious pace she was setting for them. He marveled at what her take-charge behavior was doing to him. His mind was clouded by a haze of want and desire. Heck, it was more base than that; he was being ruled by sheer hormonal sensory overload.

He was also becoming more excited by the minute knowing that while he and Flame came closer to the inevitable, Jenara was leading Flame’s partner down the path of no return. Once all four of them were in the same room, the level of arousal and ensuing pleasure… He was doing it again; sugar coating. The level of arousal would lead straight to animalistic rutting. He wouldn’t even pretend to call it lovemaking; there were no individual emotions involved here.

There was a higher plane of existence involved where all behavior and thoughts joined the Scouts together. The method of achieving that connection began in the most primal, the basest, the more fundamental method of furthering the species.

Conor snapped from his reverie as Flame stepped closer to him. How had they reached the doorway so quickly? He couldn’t remember their passage. Still holding his hand, she placed her other hand on his shoulder and flicked her tongue over his lips chastely. He briefly wondered how ‘chaste’ and her tonguing his lips could exist in the same sentence. He gave up on the puzzle, giving himself over to her presence and his bodily response.

As his head lolled back, the groan escaping from deep within him, Scully reached up to the hook by the side of the archway and pocketed the glinting metal that hung there. She let go of Conor’s shoulder, still holding his hand. She sat back on her heels, extending her hand behind her, and grabbed the machete. <What do they need these for?> Knowing she did not truly want to know the answer to that question, she grasped the handle firmly.

Conor’s breathing was coming faster and faster. Scully’s eyes checked his body to ensure his reactions would be slowed. As she scanned downward and saw the evidence of his desire for her, she decided the time had come.

With deadly accuracy, efficient speed and precision skill, she wrenched her hand free of his and spun him away from her. His dulled reflexes allowed the force of her spin to propel him against the rock wall, his head snapping back. While she had in no way injured him, he was somewhat stunned.

Scully was smart enough to know that bad asses in the throws of primal lust do not so easily take to having their manhood challenged. His formerly aroused state moved over a notch toward ‘very angry’. “So help me, Conor, if you take so much as one step toward me, you will regret it.” Her voice low and commanding, she had her cuffs out. “Turn around and face the wall, your hands behind you.”

Conor smirked and moved forward. “Flame, if you wanted to play rough, all you had to do was beg me.”

“Shut up, scumbag! You have one more chance.” Scully earned her Scout given name as she re-pocketed the cuffs, grabbed the shaft of the machete with both hands to steady herself and whirled back. As she swung around, her upper-body away from Conor and her hip toward him, she roundhouse kicked him in the chest, the sheer power of her glutes and quads propelling the stunned Hawk back against the rock wall with a force that surprised the hell out of him.

“Your hands behind you now! You do not want to feel my boot against your lower back.” Her voice was carefully controlled fury. While her brain barked orders to scream, she did not want to bring Jason or any of the other Scouts to them.

Conor took one step backward toward her.

And she swung the flat side of the blade against the back of his Achilles tendons and then quickly against the back of his knees, causing him to drop to his knees and then, face down.

Yanking the cuffs from her pocket again, she sat down hard on his backside, straddling his hips. “Your hands, now, asshole. You know I won’t hesitate to use the machete again, or, any of my other techniques.” Conor’s hands grudgingly came up behind him. As he tried to buck up beneath her, she slammed his head down into the cave floor. “You don’t even want to think about getting up until I’m long gone.”

His head turned to the side, flush with the dirt floor, Conor smiled again. Although he did not attempt to rise, he started grinding his lower body into the floor and then up against her, giving Scully a ride she had no intention of taking or letting him enjoy at her expense. Disgustedly, she jumped off of him and grabbed the machete.

As she walked from the room, Conor called out to her. “Flame? I’ll concede your strength; that’s one of the things that makes you so attractive to us; to me. But do not delude yourself into thinking that you and your pretty boy partner will make it away from us. And, when you’re brought back, we’ll do things my way.”

“Only if ‘your way’ is defined by a life sentence, you creep.” Not sure why she even bothered, Scully made her way back to the main cavern, back to Mulder.

***

As if following the same mysterious signal that drew the colony, the bats flew helter-skelter out of the roundhouse area, dipping and diving as they fled. Having been assaulted erratically for the better part of 15 minutes, none of the Officers and Agents relished sitting up. Hands were removed from heads, hair rearranged, dirt wiped from clothing.

Joani spat dirt from her mouth as she shoved Mitch off of her. She wasn’t quite sure when it had happened, but he ended up covering his body with hers. While certainly appropriate partner behavior when threatened by gunfire or other life-threatening situation, she wasn’t so sure of his motives with mere bats. She smiled wryly; her partner loved playing Big Brother Protector and no matter how hard she tried, she could not budge him from that particular need of his.

He reached out his hand to help her to standing and she playfully slapped it away. “For crying out loud, Mitch, it was a few bats! What would you have done if a clip of an automatic had been fired; dig me a grave?” While she smiled as she said it, she winced when she saw the look on his face. She had nicked (another) little bit of his armor. Joani patted her partner’s shoulder and then took him by the jacket sleeve and headed for Skinner who was rounding up the no worse for wear and tear back up. The State Police had called in for pick up vehicles and were heading out to the main entrance, ready to process the perps.

“All right, as we started to do before, take the tunnels leading directly into the center chamber. Remember that we have no idea where Scully and Mulder are, together or apart, injured or not. I want those Agents out of there in one piece and I sorely want each and every one of those sorry excuses for human beings.” Skinner and Dan paired up the teams and sent them along, Skinner on point and Dan bringing up the rear.

Skinner, Joani, Mitch and two of Dan’s officers arrived at the main cavern area first. Skinner held his palm up in front of him to stop the team and waved them back out of the shadow creating torchlight. Weapons drawn, they all flattened themselves against the outer walls, trying to determine who was where.

Dan’s team was in similar position on the other side of the cavern, in eyesight of Skinner who would signal them to move when the time came.

***

Sensing the time had come for final preparations and that Jenara had earned her right for a private moment with Agent Mulder, Jason moved to the back room to bring out the special instrument to be used for the extraction of Flame’s beautiful sapphire eyes.

Jenara, who could not stop herself from smiling out of pure, unadulterated attraction and bursting joy for what she was about to do, unbuttoned Mulder’s fly, her hands slipping inside the waistband of his black chinos. She stood straddling the slantboard, her feet on either side of Mulder’s.

As her hand slid under the waistband of his boxers, her head dipped toward him. She kissed his abdomen, her tongue slipping out to follow her hand.

“Touch him again, Bitch and you’ll regret the first day you used your hands. Now, back away slowly.” Scully gave Jenara two seconds to act. When it appeared that Jenara did not take her threat seriously enough, Scully grabbed Jenara’s hair in her fist and yanked her head back. Jenara squealed and sat down hard…on Mulder’s feet. Still brandishing her machete, the fire in her eyes, the color in her cheeks and the tousled hair making her look for all the world like some fantastical creature, Scully used her foot to shove Jenara to the ground.

Mulder’s look spoke volumes and their eyes locked momentarily. Attempting to take advantage of the brief respite, Jenara grabbed for Scully’s ankle. <Pesky bitch> Scully’s professionalism forced her to shake Jenara off as she would a dog playing at her pants leg. Jenara landed on the dirt floor with a resounding thud/thump.

As Jason reentered the room from the back, Conor appeared, his cuffed arms still behind him. Neither Raven nor Hawk were in any particular hurry since they were c*ck sure they could most easily overpower Flame.

Scully tossed Skinner the key to Mulder’s restraints. More wound up than she would have expected, Scully adopted a spread leg stance, knees bent, and held the machete like a baseball bat. Her past encounters with the Scouts told her that for every one she saw, there could be many more. Her breath came in heaving gasps, finally slowing to near normal.

When it became clear that the Scouts were no longer a threat, she held the machete down by her side; not yet willing to let it go. Skinner’s hand on her shoulder put her into at ease position once again.

Mulder needed some help after being restrained for so long. Joani and Mitch pulled the unlocked bands from him and made sure he was able to stand without assistance. He thanked them and waved them off. Scully was facing Skinner and Dan, the machete still held firmly in one hand, hanging by her side now. She momentarily watched as they cuffed the Scouts, reading them their rights; yet again.

She moved to her partner, worried eyes raking over him, over his body. She placed her hand where each of the restraints had lain, assuring him and her that he was indeed doing all right. He reached up and ran one hand through his own hair and then surprised her by doing the same with her hair, pushing it back along the side of her head. A faint smile crossed her lips, but she then turned away from him.

Mulder could see his partner tense as both Jason and Conor tried to make eye contact with her. Eternally grateful for her intervention and, as usual, worried about her, he came up behind her, not caring who saw what. He reached down to her wrist and gently squeezed it, helping her to release the death grip on the shaft of the machete. He held each of her hands in his, drawing her back against him.

“Mulder; don’t, I’m ok.” She pulled forward, stepping out of his warmth, away from his touch. She did not turn to face him; merely stood her ground watching the last of the reading of the rights and the gathering of errant Scouts.

He stood his ground behind her as well, allowing her time to catch her breath, process the very long night.

“Agents?” Skinner, now sure that the Scouts had been rounded up and were headed for the waiting Staties, approached Scully first. His head dipped forward, the concern in his warm brown eyes evident. “Agent Scully; you are to be commended. You did a fine job, here.” Her only response was a simple nod. The A.D. straightened, sensing she needed her space, and addressed himself to Mulder who had not moved from his position. “Agent Mulder, how are you doing?”

Scully’s partner tossed his head comically, partially shaking off the muscle stiffness and quirks and partially in playfulness. “Well, Sir, aside from my body’s betrayal, I’d say I’m just about as fine as anyone could be who was about to be inducted into the Scout Pack from Hell.”

“Well, Agent, it’s good to see you haven’t lost your wit.” Turning to look at them both, Skinner ordered them to go back to the Yarlow’s and sleep for at least a day before filing any reports. The Staties would assist local law enforcement in processing the Scouts over for Federal custody.

He also told them that in light of the extreme circumstances, they would not be expected to report back to D.C. for another week. He had placed them on paid leave. “There’s only one condition to your leave time. I want you both debriefed by EAP at the local field office. I’ll see you back at the Inn tomorrow. I’ll be there just overnight and then fly back to Washington.”

Both Agents nodded and their boss departed.

“Mulder?” Scully turned slowly around to face her partner. It was clear that her earlier adrenaline rush was losing steam. Her eyes searched his, reflecting in them the worry she felt.

“What is it, Scully?” He asked the simple question, but did not move to touch her again. He wanted to give her some of the strength and comfort he was sure she sought, but knew it had to be on her grounds, on her time.

She looked down and then back up at him, feeling the emotion rise in her when she recognized the overwhelming warmth in his face for her. “What if Skinner and Dan hadn’t made it here? What if I hadn’t been able to get away from Conor? What if Jenara…” Her shoulders sagged and still he held his ground. “Hold me, Mulder.”

Mulder was both surprised and pleased with his partner’s need for his support. Often one to turn inward when traumatized, shutting him out or pushing his comfort away, she was actually allowing him to comfort her. He could not truly know the depth of the mind connection Jason had employed; he did not know the mechanism, but his beliefs allowed for the existence of mind control. He had observed enough of his partner’s extreme shifts in behavior, her puzzled looks in seemingly routine situations. The one nagging question that Mulder could not stop asking himself was if this was truly the end of the mind control for Scully…

She walked into his waiting arms, her palms flat against his chest, trying to burrow herself into him. He wrapped his arms around her, one hand massaging her back, feeling the tension let go. “Scully, there are no ‘what if’s’ right now. We’re both ok and the Scouts are going away for a long time to come.”

Her hands moved from his chest and around his waist, her hands then sliding over his backside trying to move closer to him. He mimicked her hold on him, his hands running over her backside and along her back. They came to rest on her shoulder blades, pressing her to him gently but with affirming pressure. He mouthed into her hair, “Let’s get out of here, Scully.”

~~~~~

Snowflake Inn

8 January

Eddie had drifted in and out of sleep over the last few hours, Keith and Robin taking turns sleeping with him. As Robin was ready to let Keith take over, Eddie stirred. Fearful that he might have another feverish episode, she sat him up against her. “Shhh, Eddie, it’s ok; mommy’s here.”

He surprised her with his smiles and laughter. She pushed his hair from his forehead, tilting his head up so she could see his face. “Mom, they’re ok! Agent Lady Dana and Mr. Mulder beat the Scouts and they’re yellow again, but they’re really yellow with lots of tired gray around them. I think they’re gonna sleep here for a long time and I won’t even wake them up. And I think that now that the Scouts won’t hurt Agent Lady Dana, Mr. Mulder is going to have lots of his purple saved up and…”

Robin laughed at him and pushed him back, his head landing on his pillow. “Eddie, what is it with you and your purple?” She smiled and looked out his window where the snow was coming down much ore heavily. <Another heavy storm on the way; sigh> “Now, not another colorful word out of you, Mister Ed. I want you asleep and I don’t want you awake early; got it?”

Keith had heard the exchange and reached for his wife’s hand, pulling her up from the train bed and their son. “Let’s go see if we can work out some of this tension now that we know Eddie’s not troubled and the Agents are safe.”

“Shouldn’t we wait up, see if they need anything?”

“I think all they’ll need is sleep and each other and not necessarily in that order. Coming, Mrs. Yarlow?”

“Before or after you, Mr. Yarlow?”

****

Joani and Mitch offered to drive Mulder and Scully back to the Inn. Mitch drove slowly, the tires crunching over the snow covered gravel of the Grange parking lot. Pulling out onto the main road, the headlights caught the steady pattern of white against the black of the country night. Joani settled back in the seat, wanting nothing more than to fall asleep. However, over the two years she and Mitch had traveled together as partners, they had an unspoken agreement to do their best to stay awake to keep the driver awake and alert. It was so late that she had to resort to learned techniques to keep them both awake. She went through her mental checklist; first trying to open her eyelids as wide as she could. She thought this trick sometimes worked because it allowed more light to hit her. Next, she tried pinching the web of skin between her thumb and index finger. She reasoned that that little bit of uncomfortable pain would pique her senses. Whether there was any proof that these techniques worked, she didn’t really care. They were working for her which meant she was able to keep her partner on the road.

Sensing their need for some quiet, uneventful time, Joani and Mitch turned on NPR, sending the strains of early morning mellow jazz through the rental car. The snow was falling quite heavily; the soft, thick flakes that give New England its Currier and Ives look.

Scully leaned against the passenger side door, watching the flakes floating to the ground. When Mulder called to her, she did not turn, but let her left hand reach for his across the seat. He touched her finger tips lightly and then grabbed her hand. “Scully, I need to ask you something.”

She turned to her partner, her eyes adjusting to the dark. She squeezed his hand. “Ask way, Mulder.”

“Are you tired, Scully?”

She was sure she would laugh, but she refrained. With mirthful, but restrained giggles, she assured him she was quite tired. “Mulder, why do you want to know?” She knew her partner well enough to know that seemingly simple questions were usually anything but. Hidden agendas and games dotted his coterie of questions.

He slid himself a little closer to her and when their thighs were touching, he lifted her left leg over his right. “Because, Scully…” His thumb moved back and forth across her palm.

“Mulder? C’mere.” He experienced a warm rush at her breathy words.

As he leaned down toward her, she whispered, “We’re in someone else’s car, Mulder. And besides, you just went through a rather exhausting and harrowing experience.”

His non-verbal response sent shivers down her spine. He chuffed hot breath into her ear. His verbal and physical responses included whispering that it was only his mind that was exhausted and his physical response included taking her palm and placing it firmly in his lap, his hand never leaving hers, covering hers.

Scully’s heart thudded against her chest as she felt the warm swelling beneath her hand. She leaned toward him, her head down and reminded him that there were two Agents in the front seat. “Is that fact turning you on as much as it is me, Scully?”

She swatted his jacket playfully. And, she wasn’t sure if it was the extreme adrenaline crash after the many hours of being on high alert, the loveliness of the snow falling all around them, the heat of her partner’s body filling her senses or all of the above. She was sure of only one fact; she was incredibly turned on.

And she had proof undeniable that Mulder was, too.

Mulder heard Joani’s voice after the second time she called to them. “Do either of you want some coffee? We’re going to pull in to the Store 24 up ahead. We need something to finish this drive and Mitch wants to grab a bite.”

Scully answered for them. “We’re fine, Joani. Take your time.”

A strange commercial oasis in the middle of the countryside, the bright lights of the Store 24 building drew them. A few other night owls were parked in the lot. Mitch backed into the side lot and left the engine running as he and his partner walked inside.

“So Scully, what do you think? Those two partner partners?” Mulder turned her and pulled her into his lap, straddling him. She started to protest, explaining that they were in a very well lit parking lot close to the windows of a brightly-lit store front with people coming and going. Mulder’s hands underneath her jacket, traveled along the soft fuzz of the cashmere sweater sent skittering chills through her. With each protest from his partner’s mouth, he moved one of his hands onto her skin, changing its location. His hands were melting her skin.

“Muhhlder…what are…you doing…to…me” She moved on his lap, her body agreeing to participate in what her mind half-heartedly denied.

Mulder watched her face intently, his hands pushing her sweater upward, his palms brushing oh so lightly over her bra and then slowly running his fingers back over her abdomen. “Let me see, what am I doing to you? Is that what you want to know, Scully?”

“Uh, huh.”

“Well, right now, I’m holding you on my lap and I’m pressing myself against your body. And my hands are rubbing—”

Scully placed a hand on either side of his face and brought her own face close to him. “Mulder stop talking and kiss me. Please…” He liked the almost plaintive sound of her voice as she said, ‘please’ and he quick-kissed and close-mouthed kissed her several times making her whimper. “Mulder, kiss me.” Her voice barely a whisper; a sigh, “Open your mouth and really kiss me; please.”

***

“Wait, Mitch, let’s stay here and finish our coffee.”

“It’s three A. M, Joani and I’d love some sleep.”

She pulled her partner back into the store and nodded toward the car. “Do you think you could manage another 15 minutes, Mitch? And also manage to not see what you’re seeing?”

Smiling at him, she took her crumb cake and held it to his mouth. Mitch’s love of convenience store, plastic wrapped sweets was legendary. He took the crumb cake from Joani taking a rather large bite. “Hey, this isn’t Hostess, but it’s good; really good!” “Nothing gets past you, G-Man. It’s made locally; it’s from Sita’s in town. I’ll get you some more coffee to wash it down.”

***

Only to happy to comply with his partner’s order, Mulder’s tongue lapped at her lips, parting them and plunging further. Her tongue dueled with his and she pulled away, catching her breath. He leaned in again and wet the tip of her nose with his tongue and retreated, his mouth open, holding his position, but not touching her, his breathing ragged. She moved to him, trying to capture his lips with hers and he pushed her back, holding her away from him by her shoulders. His sultry smile created a cascade of sensations in her.

Scully pushed his hands off of her shoulders and he put them back. Their mutual arousal became tinged with a mischievous undercurrent. Each time Scully thrust her face toward her partner, capturing his lips with hers, he nibbled at her or licked her face. As his hands tangled in her hair, she turned her head, trying to lap as his forearms. They laughed, collapsing against one and other in a heap of playful, lustful, exhaustion.

Scully pulled her sweater down and slid off of his lap, shaking, breathing so hard she thought she may hyperventilate. She looked over at Mulder the look in his eyes telling her that he was also aroused. Moving them back into the reality of life in the Store 24 parking lot, Scully mused, “I wonder of Mitch and Joani got lost in there.”

“Don’t think so; it appears Mitch has a sugar addiction, but it looks like they’ll be out in no time.” Mulder let his earlier mood flow into dry sarcasm.

“You doing ok, Scully? I mean really ok?” Mulder squeezed her hand in his.

She sighed, fingering her hair back away from her face. “I’m feeling…pretty fine right now, Mulder; pretty fine, but I could sleep for days and days.”

The overhead light came on as Court and Spark got back into the car. The ‘door ajar’ binging sound and the lights were jarring against the previous darkness and silence of the backseat. Mitch started the car, trying not to allow the Sita’s Banana MoonPie to fall out of his mouth. “Care to share that with everyone, Mitch?” Joani pulled the snack from her partner’s mouth and put it back into the bag. “If you eat the Moon Pie, you’ll be awake all night between the coffee, the crumbcake, and the twinkies (which were not made at Sita’s).”

“Yeah, but at least I won’t fall asleep in the car like someone else I know usually does.”

“Mitch Court, you know that’s patently not true!”

“Mulder? I think the answer to your question is probably right; they are partner partners.”

~~~~~

The Snowflake Inn

8 January, 3:30A

“Are you two sure you won’t stay the night? It seems such a waste to drive all the way back to Boston tonight in the snow.” Scully tried to get them to come inside to rest a bit, but they would have none of it.

“Really, we’re fine. We’re used to driving all over New England like this. Actually, Joani usually begs me to take cases that are far away just so we can drive for hours and hours along endless highways in awful weather and—”

<thwack!>

Joani punched Mitch’s jacket arm; hard. “Let’s get going, liar. We’ve got endless highways to cover between here and Boston.” She wished Mulder and Scully well and pushed her partner toward the door.

Scully couldn’t help stifling a yawn, her whole body arching back, her arms bending and reaching toward her head. Mulder was just about to comment when the infamous eyebrow shot up at him. “Don’t even think it, Mulder. You look as tired as I feel.” Mulder’s eyes were soft, his lids at half mast and he wore his exhaustion like a fine patina. They had both been awake for over 24 hours and while the situation wasn’t unheard of, the experiences in that time period had worked their strain on them both.

“Let’s get upstairs before we wake Skinner. I’m sure he must’ve gotten here already, unless he stopped along the way for a little—”

“Mulder, shut up; let’s get upstairs.”

She headed for the stairs, but he walked to the side of the banister, resting his hand on hers, looking into her eyes.

“You know, Scully, I don’t think I ever properly thanked your for getting me out of there. I’m not sure what would have happened if you—”

“Mulder, don’t say it. I was lucky that Conor allowed himself to be led. Besides, Skinner and Dan and the State Police were right there when we needed them.”

Mulder shook his head and laughed. “Just can’t take the compliment, the credit, can you, Scully?” Not waiting for her to answer, his lips formed a slight smirk as he headed for the stairs.

When he realized she wasn’t right behind him, he stopped, one foot on the stair, and turned to her. “Scully? You coming?’

She stared at him, through him. Mulder couldn’t read her; wasn’t sure whether he had just said something to upset her or if she were merely thinking about what he had said. It seemed as if the light had just gone out of her eyes.

He had a momentary twinge when he noticed how similar her stare looked to the look on her face when they had drugged her. He placed his hand on her shoulder and bent down to peer into her eyes. “Scully, tell me what’s going on.”

Scully opened her mouth to answer her partner…and spiraled away from in slow motion, hitting her head against the banister post. Mulder lunged for her, managing to grab her before her head hit the floor, sinking to the stairs, holding her. He yelled for Robin and Keith and Skinner, hoping he didn’t also wake Eddie.

Sleeping on the couch, Melissa heard him first. She grabbed her robe where she had tossed it earlier. She had intended to use one of the guestrooms, but stopped to finish watching Return to Me. She had fallen asleep before she made it upstairs.

“Mr. Mulder! What happened?” Melissa was already on her way to the phone on the end table as Mulder explained and needlessly told her to call 9-1-1. “Is she breathing?”

Mulder had checked her airway, her breathing. While her airway didn’t seem obstructed, her breathing was shallow and she did not respond to his voice or his touch.

“She was talking with me one minute and then blank the next.” The events of the very long night dropped over Mulder like a dark shroud as he held her tightly to him, rocking her.

Melissa tried to get him to lay her down, but he would not release her from his arms. Instead, she sat next to him on the stairs to wait for the ambulance. Rubbing her eyes and pushing her hair from her face, she touched his forearm. “She’s going to be ok, Mr. Mulder.” Mulder turned to look at her and she pushed her glasses further onto the bridge of her nose nervously, a slight blush creeping from her neck to her cheeks. “Thank you, Melissa.”

Robin and Keith had come from their quarters as the sirens wailed and the ambulance pulled into the Inn’s driveway. Skinner was close on their heels coming down the stairs, pulling his knee length, flannel robe closed over his boxers. His face mirrored the worry, the fear in Mulder’s eyes. Lord knew, his two Agents, these two Agents had seen more than their share, heck anyone’s share of partner-grief.

“Oh my God; what happened?” Robin’s hand went to her mouth as she knelt down next to Scully’s limp body. Keith went to the door to direct the EMTs, very glad that somehow Curious Eddie had not awaken. Seeing his two favorite friends now would surely upset him.

The EMTs locked the wheels on the stretcher as they pulled up and asked Melissa to move out of their way. After checking Scully’s vitals, they lifted her onto the stretcher, covering her and strapping her in. They started an IV of Ringer’s Lactate and placed an oxygen mask over her mouth and nose.

Mulder raked his hand through his hair, his anguish palpable to Melissa, the Yarlows and his boss. He hovered around the EMTs simultaneously trying to stay out of their way and to see and touch his partner. He wondered, not for the first time, and, given their profession, probably not the last, why the emotions washed over him so hard when she was hurt. His educational background and training gave him his answer; his defenses were down leaving him vulnerable. His character, his essence supplied the underlying cause; he hurt deeply for her because she was part of him; his life, his soul. He knew that she would warn him to push aside the guilt that had managed to push itself to the forefront.

The Scouts had played their first hand with Scully while he was off interviewing Tonya Draper. He was abducted by them to draw Scully to them. She was drugged and held because she came to save his sorry ass. No matter how he sliced it, her current condition was his fault. As the guilt threatened to render him frozen, he was sure he heard her voice in his head, somehow knowing what he would be feeling, thinking, ‘Mulder, not everything’s about you.’

And she was right, he needed to pull himself out of that early stage of despair into which he tended to sink and take charge.

Skinner stood next to Mulder, one hand firmly resting on his Agent’s shoulder. “Scully’s going to be fine, Mulder; you know that. She’s strong and she’s tough.” Mulder nodded almost imperceptibly and followed Scully’s stretcher. Skinner did not add, ‘…and she’s been through so many other situations…’

Skinner padded barefoot into the greatroom locating the phone. He needed to call in to say he would not be arriving back in Washington as early as he thought.

“Will she be all right?” Mulder grabbed his jacket and Scully’s and followed the stretcher. “Mulder; call us and let us know what’s happening or if you need anything; anything at all.” Mulder thanked the Yarlows and Melissa as he headed for the ambulance.

The EMTs made a half-hearted effort to stop him from riding with his partner, but Mulder prevailed.

“What’s wrong with her?” One EMT monitored Scully’s heartbeat.

***

Eddie stirred as if he were slowly pushing his way through a field of mists. His eyes tried to focus in the dark, trying to orient him, trying to make youthful sense of what had awaken him. He couldn’t answer that specific question with the resources currently available to him.

What he did learn very fast as his body started shaking off the vestiges of his deep sleep, was that Agent Lady Dana was in bad trouble again and Mr. Mulder was very, very sad. Agent Lady Dana was going for a ride in the big white van with the red cross on it and the blue letters that spelled either ‘emergency’ or ‘hospital’. Eddie was never quite sure which van said what. His mom had told him that the van was like a small hospital and had all of the hospital things in it. Even if it did, he didn’t want Agent Lady Dana to be in the van hospital.

He needed to ask his mom and dad why Agent Lady Dana was in trouble and how she was going to get out of her trouble. He wasn’t seeing any nice colors right now and he just knew that wasn’t a good thing.

Melissa had decided to check on Eddie and she stood in his doorway, trying to see if he was still sleeping. She mentally ‘jumped’ when she realized that she and Eddie were looking right at each other across the dark room. Flipping the wall switch for his small bedside lamp, she called his name. He smiled in return, but it was not his usual ‘whole face’ smile. Melissa waited a few seconds before speaking, sitting in front of him in his red chair.

“Ok, Eddie, I know you want to ask me some questions about Agents Scully and Mulder.”

Fear, anxiety and fleeting happiness slid across his face as he tried to figure out what to ask first. He had so many questions and he didn’t know which one was the most important. His dad usually helped him when his thinking was happening too fast. When that happened, his words were usually too fast and too mixed up and sometimes adults couldn’t answer all of his questions at the same time. His dad told him he should think all of his thoughts and then ‘prior-ties’. He never really said the word the way his dad did, but he understood that it meant to find out which question was the first most important one and then the next and the next until all of his questions were done.

Melissa could see the little wheels turning in Eddie’s head as he tried to figure out what to ask her first. Knowing how upsetting the situation was to him, she gave him an answer instead. “Eddie, the ambulance came and took Agent Scully to the hospital so they can figure out what happened and make her better. Agent Mulder went with her to make sure she’s not alone.”

“If I go right now, too, then they won’t be all alone either.” Eddie tossed his blankets back and pulled on the bottoms of his flannel pajamas. Melissa knelt down in front of him. “Eddie, your mom and dad are worried, too, and it would be really nice for you to be here to help them. You know that Mr. Mulder will call and tell us when it’s ok to visit Agent Scully, right?” Eddie nodded, the tears threatening to fall. “But maybe I can make her better if I’m right near her?”

Fear, anxiety and fleeting happiness slid across his face as he tried to figure out what to ask first. He had so many questions and he didn’t know which one was the most important. His dad usually helped him when his thinking was happening too fast. When that happened, his words were usually too fast and too mixed up and sometimes adults couldn’t answer all of his questions at the same time. His dad told him he should think all of his thoughts and then ‘prior-ties’. He never really said the word the way his dad did, but he understood that it meant to find out which question was the first most important one and then the next and the next until all of his questions were done.

Melissa could see the little wheels turning in Eddie’s head as he tried to figure out what to ask her first. Knowing how upsetting the situation was to him, she gave him an answer instead. “Eddie, the ambulance came and took Agent Scully to the hospital so they can figure out what happened and make her better. Agent Mulder went with her to make sure she’s not alone.”

“If I go right now, too, then they won’t be all alone either.” Eddie tossed his blankets back and pulled on the bottoms of his flannel pajamas. Melissa knelt down in front of him. “Eddie, your mom and dad are worried, too, and it would be really nice for you to be here to help them. You know that Mr. Mulder will call and tell us when it’s ok to visit Agent Scully, right?” Eddie nodded, the tears threatening to fall. “But maybe I can make her better if I’m right near her?”

Melissa smiled; Eddie was very perceptive and intuitively understood how having good friends and family nearby lent support that medical knowledge could not. “You know, I bet you’re right. But right now, we need to let the doctors figure out what will make her better the fastest. Then, I’m sure you can go see her if she doesn’t come back here right away. How’s that sound?”

Eddie got out of bed and started walking toward the door. Melissa looked puzzled. “Where’re you going, Eddie?”

Without turning around, Eddie explained to Melissa that he knew she wanted some hot cocoa.

****

Willard-Cybulski Correctional Institution, Enfield, Connecticut

8 January; 5A

Brrrrng, brrrrng

“Upstairs station.”

<Lloyd; Bernie here. They’re bringing in some weird group of men and one woman right now.>

“What’s so weird about this group? Ain’t they all just a bit weird to be brought in here?”

<Well, I heard on the dispatch that this crew nabbed two Bureau Agents. The ‘Scouts’, as they refer to themselves, were already jailed down in Laurel Glenn for allegedly removing the eyes of an Asian businessman and attempting to initiate the female Agent>

“Oh, that’s all…? Did you actually say, ‘initiate’?”

<Well, no, actually it’s not all. They then supposedly drugged and abducted her partner, forcing her to come rescue him. Yeah, I said ‘initiate’; you know, like those cults do? I hear the ‘initiation’ they had planned could’ve made a Playboy centerfold or maybe even, ‘BDSM Monthly’>

“Hey, they’re bringing them through processing now.”

<Ok; I’ll catch you on break later. This story ought to make my fucking night>

***

Jenara was sent over to the Women’s Facilities to be processed. As Women’s Warden Denise Gill logged her into the system and printed her, Jenara smiled. She smiled on her walk to the showers where she was told to strip her clothing and wipe the smile off her face. Proud in her nakedness, Jenara lifted her head high and spread her arms as the harsh spray pelted her skin with needle precision. And yet she smiled. Even as the Warden Gill explained that she was not being given admittance to the local country club, Jenara smiled. She knew two things the Warden could not know. She knew the power and love of her Scout brothers and she knew in her mind’s eye that the male FBI Agent would feel wonderful underneath his clothing. She could ‘see’ what lay beneath those layers and she could ‘feel’ the heat of him under her hands, under her, inside her…

With Jason’s silent instruction, Conor, Zander and the dozen other male Scouts moved through the custody routine in utter silence. Eyes trained directly in front of them, closed lips, expressionless faces, quiet minds. Jason was proud of his Scouts. They would bide their time. He was not so proud of the overzealous Hawk. Hawk’s hormones had ruled him once again and Flame had been lost to them. Jason’s esteem for Flame had risen. It was clear that she was a true force; one with which to be reckoned. She had Hawk eating right out her hand. And she had gotten away. Jason smiled Jenara’s smile, then. Flame may have succeeded in getting away and taking her partner with her, but she was not truly free. He doubted she would ever experience freedom from the Scout World.

As if on cue, all of the male Scouts joined Jason in his smile.

***

Hartford Hospital

Hartford, Connecticut

8 January, 5A

Scully had been brought in to Emergency and whisked into a curtained bay. Mulder held her hand until he was asked to move aside while the nurses connected the heart monitor leads, inserted a new IV and changed the oxygen mask to a nose insert feed. He occupied his time by folding and refolding Scully’s pants and Robin’s cashmere sweater. His fingers lingered on the soft fabric he had touched what seemed like years ago. He brought the sweater to his face and breathed in her scent. The scent, the soft fabric threatened to undo his carefully guarded resolve to remain strong for her.

Skinner, who had dressed and driven his rental car to the hospital, headed in to Emergency. “Mulder, why don’t you go do the admitting paperwork and I’ll stay here with Scully.” Mulder put her clothing on the chair and walked over to her bedside. He couldn’t understand why she hadn’t yet awakened. She had been just fine, <I’m fine, Mulder> not two minutes before falling. He racked his brain trying to figure out what could have happened. And he remembered the unfocused gaze he had seen. But heck, they had both been tired; no, make that, exhausted. <Oh, God, those damn Scouts…> He refused to let that thought derail him.

He held her hand and leaned over the bedrail telling her that he was going to check her in <Yeah, Scully, you’re getting the special upgrade> and he’d be right back. He told her that Skinner was there with her and kissed her forehead. She felt very warm beneath his lips, feverish.

Skinner stood by Scully’s bedside, his dark brown barn jacket open, his hands by his sides. “Agent? I know you probably can hear me. I want you to get better and I want you to do it now.” The A.D. gazed at her, his face softening and then he shored up his stoicness. “You get better for yourself and you get better for Mulder. Because, Scully,” he leaned in a little closer, “if you don’t, I may have to put him out of my misery. You know how unbearable he gets when you’re in the hospital.” Skinner squeezed her hand gently and sat down in a chair alongside her bed, waiting for Mulder to return.

“I’ll stay with her, Sir; why don’t you go back to the Inn and get some rest.” Mulder sat down on the other side of Scully’s bed.

Skinner shook his head in mock disbelief, amazed as always at how Mulder could fail to see his own need for sleep. He knew from experience that his Agent managed on very little restful sleep and still, somehow, managed to function well. But, that was under ‘normal’ circumstances; whatever they might be for a man like Fox Mulder. He was clearly driven by an inner guide that drew together a wealth of knowledge and mixed it, oftentimes haphazardly to the untrained eye, with heavy doses of emotion, guilt and a belief system that would try the most open-minded. What Walter Skinner admired most about this Special Agent was his unswerving dedication to his partner; to anyone who was in need. He also knew that unless directly ordered to leave, he would not be able to budge Mulder from his partner’s side.

“Look, Agent, I’m not going to enter into a game of who needs more sleep with you; we both due. However, the fact of the matter is that you and Agent Scully had already been on the go for close to 24 hours when the sh*t hit the fan, so to speak. The intensity of the situation for you both was excessive. If you do not voluntarily get some rest, I’ll make it a direct order. I’m sure your good judgment will prevail. Don’t prove me wrong.”

Before Mulder could respond, Dr. Sandra ‘Sunny’ Karhu walked in with Scully’s medical chart. “So, what do we have here?” She smiled brightly, professionally, introducing herself to Mulder and Skinner. In spite of the dire situation, it was obvious to both men that Dr. ‘Sunny’ earned her name from her disposition.

Mulder provided a brief description of the events leading up to Scully’s fall. “Hmm, I see. Well, as was noted by the EMTs, her vitals remain strong. I’ve ordered a CT scan and MRI just to rule out any anomalies, but her case is frankly puzzling me.”

Mulder’s eyes darted worriedly from the doctor’s face to Scully’s and back again. “Why?”

Dr. Karhu smiled wanly, pushing her Dharma spiky hair behind her ear absentmindedly. Her slim, 5′ 8″ frame contained carefully held in check energy. She loved to tackle a case head on and get to the end result; sending her patients back to family and friends.

She chose her words carefully, “Well, Agent Mulder, A.D. Skinner, Agent Scully seems to be healthy and shows no outward signs of coma state. That should be good news; except she’s not awake. I’m hoping the MRI or CT Scan will tell us why. Frankly, she seems to be hovering somewhere between wakefulness and coma. I know, I know; not at all a medical diagnosis, is it? Let me just say that I’m confident we’ll find some answers. In the meantime, I’m going to send her down for the tests and then have her sent on upstairs. The tests should take awhile, so I suggest the two of you get some rest. We have a family and friends lounge down the hall. I’ll buzz you in there as soon as her tests are completed.” She started to shake their hands again, but stopped, pulling her hand back, a look of confusion or thoughtfulness in her eyes. “Tell me something; prior to the fall, did Agent Scully exhibit and strange behavior or go through any stressful incidents?”

Mulder almost choked in way of response. Skinner reflexively clapped him on the back. “Well, Doctor,” Skinner began for the sputtering Mulder, “the Agents have been on a case that seems to defy usual causes. They were each held captive and drugged. We don’t know the exact drug, but both appeared to have some sedative effect and Agent Scully’s also seemed to, um, uh, allow others to guide her behavior.”

Mulder had regained his faculties sufficiently to assist his boss. “Actually Doctor, some cult held us and their leaders have been planting thoughts and ideas in Scully’s head.” Dr. ‘Sunny’ looked skeptical, but had long ago learned that even in modern medical science, miracles and strange circumstances often took over. “I’ll keep that information in mind while running the tests. Her earlier tox screens showed no trace pharmaceuticals.”

The doctor briefly touched Scully’s hand and then signaled to the orderlies to transfer her to Radiology. Skinner headed down the hall to the lounge, knowing he really need to get some rest; especially if he had the daunting responsibility of getting Mulder to do the same.

As the orderlies came in, Mulder leaned over the bedrail, touching Scully’s cheek and forehead. He lightly kissed her; once in each spot. Whispering in her ear, he told her he’d be waiting for her and that he loved her. <Love you back, Mulder>

***

The orderlies wheeled the gurney into the MRI room and transferred Scully onto the table. Dr. Karhu and the technicians checked vitals again and secured her in place. Dr. Sunny, as she allowed the staff to call her, placed the focusing unit over Scully’s face and head, positioning her gently, speaking reassuringly to her as she did so.

“I’ll be monitoring the test from inside the booth over there Agent Scully. I know you know all about this test, but I also know just how different the experience is from this side; as the patient. I know that right now, you don’t seem to be capable of vocal speech, but I want you to let me know if you are uncomfortable in the slightest. I’ll be watching you closely, looking for facial signs; looking at your hands, keeping a close watch on you. We’ll figure this out and have you up and about in no time. Just relax now and we’ll begin.”

The orderlies departed with the gurney and the doctor and technicians moved into the glass walled booth. “Agent Scully? This is Dr. Karhu again. We’re about to start the test. The table will slide into the tunnel slowly. You’ll hear the initial, softer drumming sounds for approximately 15 seconds. I’d like you to try to relax and lay as still as possible.”

The table slid on its track, moving the motionless Dana Scully inside the MRI doughnut. And the ‘drumming’ kicked in; soft at first.

“Are you doing all right in there, Agent? The next round will be a little longer and louder. Remember that you can ‘tell’ me to stop if you need to.” Dr. Karhu noted that Scully’s eyelids fluttered slightly; briefly opening and closing again. <Good sign; responsiveness> “I saw you open your eyes, Agent Scully. I want to see if you’re responding to me or it’s just an involuntary reflex. If you’re responding directly to my voice, please open them one more time for me now.” The doctor waited, realizing she was holding her breath. As she released it, she clearly saw Scully’s eyes open, remain open and then, close once again. “Very good, Agent Scully! I’m going to continue the test now.”

<So cold. So stark. Lab coats moving around me, over me. Mulder? Where are you? I can hear them, can’t speak, can’t tell them to stop.

Bats. Caves. Swirls of wings; of mist, of Fire; Flame; me?

Go away! Not me; not fine; need to stop them!

Hands touching; probing, joining. Mouths tasting skin tasting me tasting them tasting… Nooooooo!>

“Doctor? Her heart rate has just increased significantly and her eyes are wide open.”

“Hold on the test for a second, but don’t pull her out of the tunnel yet. Agent? Can you hear me?”

The sounds of silence proved momentarily deafening to the doctor and the technicians inside the booth. And then the silence was pierced by a small voice.

“Yes.”

A small cheer rose in the booth. “Agent Scully; are you all right?”

The Technicians monitoring her vitals nodded to the doctor letting her know that she was indeed ‘all right’ as far as their medical indicators were concerned.

“I’m…I’m fine. Please finish the test.” Scully closed her eyes again as the drumming turned to series after series of loud banging alternating with high-pitched squealing.

***

<…Mulder? Where are you?…>

Her voice slammed into his head as he settled into the recliner in the Family and Friends Lounge. He sat up so fast that he almost threw himself out of the chair. Skinner startled and called Mulder’s name.

“Bad dream, Sir; I’m fine”

The irony of his statement was lost on neither man. And A.D. Skinner seriously doubted that all it was was a ‘bad dream’ and that Mulder was ‘fine’. He knew that until Scully was ‘fine’, Mulder would be anything but. He had observed many examples over their years together of just how connected his two [very] Special Agents were. The connection ran so deep that they would often finish sentences for one and other or act in concert with nothing more than a look passing between them. Skinner had also, sadly, watched each of them pull the other through some harrowing experiences over the years with seemingly nothing more than hand holding by each other’s bedsides. A small, sad, smile tugged at his lips as he wondered whether fate had joined them together seven long years ago.

“She’s fine, Sir.” Mulder stood, shaking the not-so-restful sleep from his body and mind. “What?” Mulder’s simple statement intruded upon Skinner’s reverie. “We have to get to Radiology; she’s awake.” Mulder was already on his way to the door, leaving Skinner, yet again, to simply follow. <And I thought I was running this show>

***

The Snowflake Inn

8 January, 5A

Any semblance of sleeping long vanished as the Yarlows and Melissa made breakfast. While the night and early morning’s activities had taken their toll, they rallied for the new day and news about Agent Scully.

Melissa had requested a day off from her part-time job, deciding that she preferred to stay close to Eddie until things worked themselves out. And she knew they would, somehow. Maybe it was merely knowing and being close to Eddie or maybe it was the sense she had of the two FBI Agents. Whatever it was, she was hopeful.

His mug of hot cocoa almost spilling over into his Cocoa Krispies, Eddie jumped up out of his booster seat. “Agent Lady Dana is talking! She’s lying down in a big machine, but she’s talking! We have to go visit her.” With his last statement, Eddie headed out of the kitchen.

“Whoa, Mr. Ed, hold it right there.” Keith pulled Eddie back toward him by the back of flannel pjs as Eddie passed by his chair. “Where do you think you’re going?” Keith knew the answer to his question, but needed to slow his determined son down just a bit.

Eddie almost stopped in front of his dad’s chair with resignation in every inch of his small frame. As if explaining patiently to another child, Eddie told his parents and Melissa that he was going to get dressed so he could go to the hospital and see the Agents. His parents had no doubt that if Eddie could reach the pedals and see over the dashboard, he’d have marched himself right to the SUV to drive himself to Hartford; regardless of whether the rest of them joined him.

“Come back here and finish your breakfast and then I’ll call the hospital to check on her, Eddie. Then we’ll figure out whether we can go. Okay?”

Eddie seriously considered his mother’s statements. He nodded once, returned to his seat, and ate his cereal in such a hurry that Melissa had to stifle a laugh. Krispies, milk and now-cool cocoa splashed and flew. “All done! Time to call the hospital!” Forgoing his manners, Eddie wiped his chocolate covered mouth with his pj sleeve, jumped down from his booster seat once again and brought the portable phone to Robin. He leaned against the kitchen table, looking expectantly at his mother.

***

The cellblock line-up was all-Scouts, all the time on Ward 9B. Jason and Conor faced each other across the narrow walkway, and Zander ‘roomed’ next to Conor. Other Scouts flanked Jason’s cell.

Jason held his hand up; quieting his prison-mates. “It didn’t work.” He looked directly at Conor. “Explain yourself. You were given the vial, the syringe and the time with Flame. How did you manage to muck up yet another attempt with her?” Jason’s voice grew dark and his eyes took on an almost obsidian glare.

Conor’s six foot frame seemed to collapse within itself as the color rose in his dark-complected skin. “I gave her the dose, I know I did! I sent her the power thoughts and she exhibited the tell-tale stare.”

Jason snickered; a most unpleasant site for the Scouts within his field of vision. “Is there an ice cube’s chance in Hell, Hawk, that she could have played you? I want you to think very carefully.” The sarcasm in his tone scared Conor shitless. He was suddenly very grateful he was behind bars; at least physically. He knew better than to assume he was safe from the collective Scout mind.

Jason closed his eyes and slowed his breathing. His thoughtwaves were honed to a single frequency and multiple directions. His silence signaled the other Scouts to free their minds; to become receptive. As Jason connected with each mind; reaching across to the Women’s Section to Jenara, he fed them the picture of Flame. Flame submissive to their bidding, Flame allowing them to enter her; her mind, her body. They directed their thoughts to her, mentally shoving with each individual’s contribution.

They needed her awake and healthy. Her stuporous state would not allow them access.

***

Skinner stopped Mulder before he was too far down the hall. “Mulder, we need to stop and get a bite to eat before we go see Scully. Neither of us has eaten since yesterday. I don’t need to remind you about staying strong.” Skinner shook his head as Mulder appeared to pay him no mind. The A.D. reached out one hand and stopped Mulder. “Food; now.”

“That’s where I was headed, Sir. Some coffee would be good.”

Skinner grabbed a tray and set it on the shelf on the food line. He pushed up the sleeves on his cream colored, v-neck sweater and then pushed the tray along. He grabbed a half cantaloupe, some rye toast, juice and coffee, black. When he arrived at the cashier, he noticed that Mulder wasn’t behind him. Resignedly, Skinner paid for his breakfast and sat by the courtyard window. He focused on nothing but his melon, the toast, the coffee and the quiet. The cafeteria at this time of morning was relatively empty with the shift changes. Even if Mulder refused to acknowledge his own need for a break, Skinner knew he needed to be rejuvenated for his subordinates.

On the way out, he grabbed a large coffee and a bagel for Mulder. He’d make him eat it if he had to liquefy it and feed it to him intravenously.

***

Dr. Sunny Karhu took the films from the MRI into the testing area. The Technicians removed the restraints and helped Scully sit up. She shook off the vestiges of…vestiges of whatever brought her for testing?

“I’m Dr. Karhu, Agent Scully. How’re you feeling?”

“Ummm, a little tired, a little confused…um, uh, but I think ok. What, how—?”

The doctor placed a reassuring hand on Scully’s shoulder and moved a few feet away to the lighted wall area, clipping the MRI films into place. “We’ll get to the ‘how did I get here’ part in a few. Let’s look at your head first. I understand from your boss that you’re also a medical doctor? Good; that’ll make this explanation a little easier to take.”

Scully became more alert instantly. She focused on ‘make this explanation a little easier to take’, not liking the sound of that and making her think of Mulder. Just as she wondered where he was, wishing he were with her, she heard his voice. The voice that said, ‘if you don’t give me access, I’ll take it anyway’. He barged into the booth, casually pushing aside the Technicians who attempted to tell him he couldn’t enter. Mulder stopped when he saw her sitting on the MRI table. Through the glass, their eyes met and held each other, simultaneous smiles curling the corners of their mouths.

Dr. Karhu took in the situation quickly and motioned Mulder in to join them. “Your partner, I take it? Pleased to meet you.”

Back to the business at hand, three sets of eyes focused on the series of cranial pictures; ‘slices’ of Scully’s brain rotated on every possible axis.

Scully found her voice first. “Doctor, I’m not sure what the problem is; the films look unremarkable to me. Am I missing something?”

Mulder stood behind Scully, his hands on her shoulders absentmindedly massaging them with his fingers.

The doctor frowned briefly, looking puzzled. “No, you’re not missing anything Agent. That’s just it; they are unremarkable and I’m sure the CT Scan would say the same thing. What concerns me is your blood work combined with these findings.”

Mulder felt Scully tense beneath his hands at the doctor’s mention of her blood work.

“We found extremely high levels of a neurotransmitter enzyme that now seems to be laying dormant in the pineal area. While that in and of itself wouldn’t concern me, the fact that it seemed to be ‘switched’ on when you fell, puzzles me. I am not aware of any substance that can be ‘switched on and off’ in this manner.”

“Can’t you just flush it from her system? Switch it off completely?” Mulder needed some answers; needed them for himself and for his partner. He had come around to sit next to Scully, sensing that she needed his closeness, knowing he needed hers. Too familiar with hospitals, too familiar with the ‘unknown’ variables. Too familiar with one of them comforting the other.

Scully saw the consternation in her doctor’s eyes; a feeling she was not all together happy about, but realistic enough to know that somehow the answers would be forthcoming. “What can I expect when or if they’re switched back on? Will I pass out again?” A small attempt at humor brought a smile to everyone’s faces, “I mean I can’t have Mulder there every minute incase I fall again.” The smile in his eyes and on his face made her lame comment worth the effort.

The doctor removed the films from the lightbox and crossed her arms, films hanging down in one hand. “I’m not sure what to tell you. From the levels we read right after your fall to know, it looks as if it may be leaving your system. Since we don’t have a sample of whatever you were injected with, we can’t be certain. Besides, by your own reports, that drug seemed to wear off quickly. And that only adds to the mystery of what that was. So, I’d say we just wait and see. You’re not in any type of life-threatening situation and you report feeling fine.”

Mulder groaned loudly and exaggeratedly hung his head. Scully punched him in the arm. “I’ll leave you two to talk and then you can be discharged. Good luck, Agents and let me know if you experience anymore symptoms, Agent Scully.”

Scully hopped down from the table and headed for the door. She felt a tugging on the back of her hospital gown the Velcro closure strips almost pulling apart. Mulder spun her around and into his arms, enfolding her in his strength and warmth. “Mulder,” she murmured against him, “you haven’t slept or eaten, have you?”

“I can answer that question Agent Scully.” Both Agents visibly jumped as Walter Skinner strode into the room, coffee and bagel held out in front of him in one large hand, body posture commanding. “No, Agent Mulder has not listened to his superior’s advice in any manner, shape or form. As of now, he will be taking this food from me, going to the lounge and waiting for you there. Do you think he’s understanding now?”

Scully giggled and Mulder blanched. He looked to his partner and to his boss, seeming to decide that eating and resting even for a few brief moments would be preferable to a more severe tongue lashing from A.D. Skinner.

Once he had left, Skinner’s demeanor eased a bit. “I heard most of what the doctor said through the booth,” he motioned with his head, “How are you really doing?” Scully smiled at him. For all of his brusqueness and often terse and laconic manner, her boss really cared about her and it warmed her. “I am really doing very well. I’m also exceedingly tired and quite hungry.”

Taking two steps back and reaching down behind the counter area near the door, Skinner produced some lemon yogurt, a bagel and some tea. He set them down on the counter, smiled at her and walked out.

Scully stood, small hands on her hips, just watching him leave.

~~~~~

The Snowflake Inn

8 January, mid-day

The Snowflake’s kitchen was a flurry of fast-paced activity. Once Robin had found out that Scully was being released, she, Keith and Melissa; and, oh yes, Eddie, had set about preparing a welcome home feast for the Agents and their boss.

Eddie was very curious about Mr. Skinner. Melissa had explained to him as she helped him dress in his denim overalls and train-print turtleneck, that the Assistant Director had come to help rescue Scully and Mulder. Eddie summed up all of her careful explanation with the statement/question, ‘so he’s the big head of the FBI and tells them what to do’. Somehow, between the way he said it and with what Melissa had seen and heard, she guessed that the last part of Eddie’s statement was only partially accurate. She also knew that Mr. Skinner was in for quite a lot of questions from overactive imagination Eddie.

The Yarlows pulled together a deli platter of luncheon meats and made some tuna and chicken salads. Eddie ‘artfully’ arranged his favorite, homemade tollhouse cookies in a basket and insisted they be placed on the table with the meal. Robin agreed after exacting a promise that he would not touch them until after eating his lunch.

Keith sliced the homemade and still warm wheat bread and grabbed some rolls from Sita’s they had picked up yesterday. After Melissa finished setting the table, she brought out pitchers of iced tea and lemonade.

Preparations were just being finished when Skinner’s rental car pulled into the driveway. Mulder, as usual, was trying to help Scully from the vehicle. “Mulder,” she whispered and smiled through gritted teeth, “if I have to tell you one more time that I can walk on my own, you’re going to lose those hands and possibly a few of the essential body parts.” Skinner walked on ahead, not wanting to be in the midst of Scully’s Mulder-directed fury.

He tamped the snow off of his hiking boots as he knocked and opened the front door. As he stepped over the threshold, he was greeted by a 5-year old force. Eddie came bounding up to him and stopped abruptly at Skinner thigh height. His little hands on his hips, he leaned his head back so he could see Skinner’s face. For once, Eddie was silent, his lips opened in a small ‘o’ and his eyes wide.

Skinner clearly towered above him, the bulk of his brown barn jacket over his natural size creating a larger than life appearance. His hands at his sides were almost as large as Eddie’s head. A spark of light in the A.D.‘s brown velvet eyes appeared and Eddie smiled up at him. His momentary speechlessness at an end, Eddie tried to peer around Skinner. As Eddie looked to the right and left of his trunk-like thighs, Skinner also looked from side-side. He realized that Eddie was looking for Mulder and Scully. He bent down slowly and smiled at Eddie. In a mock conspiratorial voice he said, “They’re on their way in and Agent Scully is looking forward to seeing you.” Before he could stand back up, Eddie jumped up. His hands grabbed on to Skinner’s neck and he wrapped his legs around his midsection. “Yipee! Agent Lady Dana is ok!”

Skinner’s arms instinctively held on to Eddie, whose sneakered feet found their way inside his jacket. Their two faces were quite the study in contrast except for the fact that they both looked exceedingly happy.

Across the room, Melissa had once again frozen in place. She wondered if there was some special requirement about the physical attributes for men employed by the Bureau…

Skinner, with Eddie still firmly attached, moved away from the door as Mulder and Scully came walking in. Mulder took in the sight of the burly A.D. with a five year old Eddie clinging to him and stifled a guffaw. When Eddie saw Scully, he reached out for and climbed onto her. Skinner removed his jacket to give himself something to do and draw attention away from himself.

“Agent Lady Dana, are you really ok now?

Scully walked into the greatroom and sat down with Eddie in the club chair. It felt good to be back at the Inn, surrounded by friendly faces. “Eddie, I’m really ‘ok’ now. And how are you doing?” Eddie couldn’t seem to decide whether to stay in Scully’s lap and tell her what he’d been doing or get up and show her. His need to move won as he climbed off her lap and grabbed her hand. As Mulder, Skinner, Melissa and the Yarlows sat down, Eddie pulled Scully into the kitchen to show her the preparations that had been made for her return.

Melissa sat in stunned silence, happy that most of the attention seemed to be focused on the two Agents and their boss. Having Mulder here again seemed to foster a perpetual blush in her fair skin. And her boss, although quite different in appearance and demeanor was no slouch in the looks department. When the occasional question about her academics came her way, she willed herself to try to keep her hands in her lap instead of nervously touching her hair and her glasses. However, if anyone noticed her nervousness, they were thankfully too professional and polite to mention it. She stammered a few brief responses and then muttered something about making sure lunch was all set—although it had long been ready.

Mulder got up, ostensibly, to look for Scully when what he really needed was to be reassured that she was really here with him. He found her in the kitchen, talking to Eddie who was perched on the counter facing her. Her back to Mulder, the sun shining in on them both, he watched the animated exchange. Eddie spotted him and called Mulder over to them. At the sound of his name, Scully turned around gracing Mulder with a sleepy, but beautiful smile. “Mr. Mulder? Were there really bats in those caves? Did they fly around really fast because I didn’t think bats flied fast because they have little bodies, but big wings that are bigger than their bodies.”

Mulder walked over to Eddie and explained that he hadn’t actually seen the bats, but that maybe Mr. Skinner could answer Eddie’s questions. Scully pulled Eddie off the counter and before his feet had made firm floor contact, he was off in search of Skinner.

“Scully, you’re sleep walking. What do you say we excuse ourselves and get some sleep? I don’t think anyone except Eddie will miss us.” Mulder smiled at her expectantly.

“Well, Mulder, I think a certain college student slash babysitter would miss your presence. I think Melissa definitely has the hots for you.”

Mulder blushed and smiled sheepishly before trying to carefully explain to Scully how she had just misread Melissa’s facial expressions.

“I think not, Mulder. She gets flustered and tongue-tied around you. When she first shook your hand, she forgot to let go… Classic signs, I’d say.”

“And, Agent Scully, I wonder how you’re the expert on her behavior? Are you speaking from personal experience?” Mulder walked toward her, backing Scully into the counter. She looked into his eyes, seeing the same tired look she knew was in her own face. He!!, it went way beyond tired and surpassed exhaustion. Thinking she was smoothly changing the subject and slipping past him, Scully told Mulder she agreed about skipping lunch and heading upstairs.

His response reminded her of his ability to be singly focused. And his hand on her arm brooked no slipping past him. “You didn’t answer my question, Scully.”

“No, I didn’t, Mulder.” She decided that a direct response was the best as she quickly ducked under his arm and walked quickly out of the kitchen. They found Eddie and the four adults at the dining room table talking and eating. “We wondered if the two of you planned on making an appearance.” Skinner stood to offer them a chair, but they motioned him back down. “I think I’m going to get some sleep. The last 24 hours have finally caught up with me and I’m so tired I can’t think straight.” Scully headed for the stairs with Mulder not far behind her. “Where are you going, Mulder?”

“Uh, well, Sir, since I was there, too, I’m a little tired and think I’ll turn in, too. See you all in the morning.”

“Mr. Mulder? You do realize it’s only one o’clock today, don’t you? Are you two planning on sleeping right through without any dinner?” Mulder caught the teasing tone in Keith’s voice and noticed the expectant eyes all focused on him. Even Eddie seemed curious although he wasn’t quite sure what the adults were teasing Mr. Mulder about. Eddie looked back and forth at the adults around him. He started seeing his colors again. Sometimes they just surprised him and sometimes he could make himself see them.

Melissa hit him with a blast of purple and, as far as he could tell, it was not aimed at her boyfriend in New York.

His parents were just very happy yellow, probably because Agent Lady Dana and Mr. Mulder were safe.

Eddie was the most happy about the two Agents colors which really seemed to match each other this time; very bright…purple. He thought it might be helpful to let Mr. Mulder know that. “Mr. Mulder, even though it’s one o’clock today and you’re going to have breakfast in the morning, I know that you’re thinking purple at Agent Lady Dana right now. And even way upstairs she’s thinking purple about you, too.”

Everyone laughed at Eddie’s pronouncements and Mulder headed upstairs.

~~~~~

By the time Mulder made it upstairs, Scully was asleep curled up on the comforter; only her shoes removed. She was curled up on her side, her knees drawn to her chest. Mulder pulled another blanket out of the closet and placed it over her. He walked over to her window, looking out into the field beyond the Inn, noting that the sky had clouded over and the end to the snow was nowhere in sight. He pulled the blinds closed to darken the room. For a few brief moments, he watched her sleep; she seemed so peaceful and, he hoped fervently, free of Scout thought control.

He sat on the window seat, lost in his thoughts about what Dr. Karhu had told them about the neurotransmitter enzyme possibly being switched back on. He knew he could not control the enzyme’s behavior, but that he would find a way to stay close by without angering Scully. He would have to find a way to observe and care for her without hovering and being overprotective. His fiercely independent partner would serve him his own head on a sliver platter (or in a paperbag) if she perceived him trying to protect her.

Mulder couldn’t help his feelings. Part and parcel of his love of her, his love for her and being in love with her, meant keeping her safe, regardless of the fact that he knew she could do that for herself quite nicely. His time in the caves held captive by the idiot Scouts brought up unpleasant memories of times past when he and his partner were separated from each other. The pain was no less intense knowing she was physically close by. Sometimes, their emotional connection made the situation harder since they experienced each other’s torment. But, it also served to link them and connect them in more ways than most partners who had been together longer could say.

Mulder’s head drooped down onto his chest a few times, waking him, telling him he needed to get some sleep, too. He got up and walked over to Scully, touching the backs of his fingers to her forehead. “Sleep well, partner.” He leaned down and kissed her once on the forehead and then on her lips.

Mulder headed for his room, stripped to his boxers and was asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.

Scully woke many hours later, pulling off her jeans and sweater and snuggling under the comforter. She had been dreaming; the images gauzy and fleeting played like so many flimsy slides held for a few seconds and then set free to float away. It didn’t surprise her that she dreamed about her time with the Scouts. She understood that her dreams often represented that which was foremost in her mind. She even expected those dreams to be frightening; violent.

What she did not expect was to see Mulder’s face in place of Jason’s, Conor’s and Zander’s. The panic she felt from the filmy images was magnified when her partner’s face was part of those images. Even asleep, she fought, telling herself that she was only dreaming in that strange way one is sometimes able to do. When she would convince her dreaming self that what she saw was not real, she would briefly awaken. After a few moments catching her breath, she would drift off again, hoping to slip into more comforting sleep.

Only to return to her partner’s face attached to one of the Scouts. The scenes escalated, moving past what had actually taken place.

Conor/Mulder got to finish what he wanted to do to her, Jason/Mulder took her to the velvet platform with her partner still restrained on the slantboard, watching what was being done to her. The previously gauzy images became more substantial…and so did her ability to experience the sensations physically.

Willing herself to awaken, Scully sat up in bed with a start, shaking and panting. She pulled the down comforter around her, looking wildly around her room, orienting herself. The room was totally dark and she looked to the digital clock on the nightstand. 11:21PM. She had been asleep almost ten hours.

The Inn was totally still and quiet around her which made her breathing sound loud to her own ears. She tried closing her eyes, but the images returned. She tried telling herself that this was perfectly natural and would subside over time. And she was very scared and could not stop the rising panic she felt.

***

“Hey, Lloyd, wanna check on that Scout bunch down in 9A? I can see some activity on the vidcam.”

<Got it covered, on my way>

‘Flame is seeing the images; is accepting her partner’s face in place of ours. She’s fighting it, but we are succeeding whenever she closes her eyes.’

<They’re all standing at the bars; looks as if they’re just staring. I can’t get them to respond to me, can’t move them back to their cots>

“Ok, I’ll send someone down there. Better head back to your post, man.”

***

Mulder shifted in his sleep, settling farther into the featherbed. He woke suddenly feeling anxious. He reached for the remote, turning off another M*A*S*H* re-run. He let the quiet wash over him and tried to go back to sleep. When his eyes closed, but sleep did not return, he lay on his back looking at the ceiling and then out the window. He had left the blinds open, wanting to watch the snowfall. At some point, the wind had picked up, whipping the snow into a swirling, driving frenzy. The skies had completely clouded over all but blotting out the full moon. As the clouds shifted by, slivers of moonlight filtered through the slats of the open blinds.

Mulder thought he heard a knock on his door and sat up. The knock came again, louder, followed by Scully’s voice calling his name. He sat up at the edge of the bed. “Scully?”

She walked softly into his room, her short robe over her bra and panties, her hair falling in soft waves just at her shoulders.

Mulder was instantly worried and walked over to her. He pushed her hair back from her eyes asking her what was wrong. “Mulder? I need to sleep, but I don’t want to be alone.” Mulder walked behind her to close the door and pulled her back to his chest, wrapping his arms around her. She drew in strength from the rise and fall of his chest, from his breath in her hair, from the feel of his body against hers and she let herself relax into him.

Scully was so tired even after ten hours of sleep. She was sure she could sleep simply leaning back against her partner. His lips at her ear, he suggested they get into bed. He was quite surprised when she untied her robe, tossed it to the foot of the bed, and stood before him in her underwear. He climbed into bed and extended his hand to her. Lying on his side, he propped his head on his hand, turning toward her as she lay on her back.

Mulder pulled the comforter over them both, resting his arm over her on top of the covering. “Scully, tell me what’s wrong. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled to have you in bed with me, but this doesn’t happen very often; no, strike that, this hasn’t happened yet at all.” She chuckled. The man could turn serious or maudlin into comedic with one wry statement. And that was one of the reasons she had come to him. If she were to delve deeper in examining those reasons, she’d probably be forced to admit that she gained perspective, strength, solitude and peace from her partner. The last eight or nine days had been topsy-turvy and he had remained her anchor.

He had told her he felt the same way about her. And, once again, she puzzled over why it had taken them all these years; these long years, to discover together what they had each seemed to know inherently all along; they were in love with each other. Oh, she could fall back on the damn Bureau policies, but she knew that was just a scapegoat for her other, stupidly more pressing excuse; she was scared of possible rejection.

Well, the rejection hadn’t happened and right now all she knew was that she could relax and just be herself; even though what brought her to his bed was a case of panic.

“Scully? You still awake?” Mulder leaned over her, looking into her eyes where the moonlight bathed her face. “Oh, um, sorry, Mulder. What did you say?”

“I just wanted to know what’s wrong.”

She let out a long breath she wasn’t even aware she had been holding. Snuggling in closer to Mulder, she told him about her dreams, but hesitated when she came to the part where his face replaced the Scouts’ faces. When she stopped, he pursued. “Those dreams are scary, I’m sure, Scully, but there’s something else you’re not saying. Tell me.” She rolled away from him, onto her side and he moved closer, holding her to him, sensing her need for his nearness.

“I don’t think I can talk about all of it, Mulder; not now.” Her foot nudged his and she slid her foot between his, the feel of his skin against hers literally from head to toe. “Ok, Scully, your choice. Make a promise though. If whatever it is happens again, you’ll think about telling me so you can get it off your chest and, I’m guessing, out of your head.”

She nodded. “Ow!” She nodded bumping her head into his chin. They both laughed, feeling some of the gravity of her dreams wash away. “The snow’s really beautiful, isn’t it Mulder?”

“Yeah, Scully, but it’s got nothing on you.” She smiled, drawing his arm over her tighter and closer. “You can sweet talk me anytime, G-Man.” Mulder bent his knees a little more, pulling her into his torso, while he brushed the hair back from her ear. “You want sweet talk, Agent Scully? I’ve got plenty more where that came from.” The whisper of his breath swirled into her ear right before his lips kissed her earlobe. And right before she was sure she had a slight core meltdown.

She squirmed back against him, wiggling her hips into his groin as she asked, “Oh, tell me more, Muuulder.” The sleep-hazed, throaty sound of his name from her lips had a strong effect on Mulder. He let the deep sensual comfort of the night settle in around them; the snow, the moonlight, the featherbed and down comforter and…the rounded and firm softness of Scully in his arms. He let himself slip into the moment, focusing totally on the sensations languorously rolling over and through him.

“Well, Scully, I could tell you just how wonderful it is to hold you against my body, to feel your warm, soft skin, to breathe in your perfume blended with that special Scully-scent or I could just show you.” Mulder rolled her to face him, her foot sliding along his leg, moving up to his hip. “That would be a nice example of feeling your warm, soft skin, Scully.” He leaned in to kiss her neck. “And that would be a very good example of just how good you smell.”

“And this…” He pulled her on top of him. “…Would be a sublime example of how wonderful it is to hold you against my body, partner.” Scully pulled the blanket up over her back, cocooning them both. For several minutes, she just lay there letting her weight sink into him, feeling their rhythmic breathing synchronize, feeling her heart begin to race as she felt the one, true example of just how wonderful he thought holding her body against his actually was…

Scully pressed her hips into him, her legs sliding apart to straddle him. Pulled between their deep need for sound sleep and their deeper need for each other, both started dozing; Scully with her head nestled in Mulder’s neck and Mulder with his cheek lying against her hair. Settling into the first sleep layer, their bodies shifted in stops and starts; Scully’s lips moving against her partner’s neck, his response his hands roaming along her back and hips. A few more moments slowing into sleep followed by shifting hips; moving in counterpoint with an earthy rhythm. Drawing the two bodies deeper into each other and…deep into sleep.

Deep into REM sleep. Down; spiraling down, spinning farther into, farther away from. Mulder. Reality. Safety. ‘No! Not Mulder. Must get away, get out.’

Hands again; many hands pulling clothing, touching…Mulder. ‘I’m coming to save you, Mulder’ Many hands, her mouth. Stuck; can’t move. Her mouth on Mulder. ‘Schuuuleee’.

‘Be there, Mulder, I’ll be there.’ Can’t move; held, too many hands, holdingtouchingtouching hurting.

“No! No!” Scully’s firm words reverberated against Mulder’s flesh. “Scully, wake up, c’mon Scully.” He spoke in calm, assured, sleep induced tones. Her hands flailed against nothingness, waving in the air, falling into the bedding. Mulder managed to grab hold of her wrists and gently roll her off of him, trying to quiet her nightmare.

Her movement stilled, but the facial contortions told him she had not yet surfaced from whatever inner turmoil was playing itself inside her sleep. He pulled her body to his, murmuring her name mixed in with meaningless sounds, stroking her skin, soothing her with his lips in her hair, softly on her face.

Moving with what she knew was dream-like quality, she saw Jason, Conor and Zander floating toward her, their arms outstretched, sneering smiles plastered to their expressionless faces. Scully’s eyes were drawn downward, toward their bare feet. She felt the breath leave her as they walked through small fires. Conor slow motion leaned over, reaching for one of the small fires, and held it in the palm of his outstretched hand.

As they neared her dream self, they surrounded her, Conor directly in front of her. As the flame that would not die was brought up to her face as Jason and Zander held and pushed her toward it, Scully screamed, her body taut and her hands desperately pushing at and slapping at Mulder.

Mulder shifted gears quickly; worried that she would fall off the bed. Avoiding most of her hits, he rolled her onto her back and straddled her hips, being careful not to put his weight on her. Sensing his proximity, she was unable to discriminate between the man coming toward her with fire in his hand and her partner trying to soothe her.

She heard his voice coming from somewhere above her, orienting her, pulling her back from the visions that did not want to abate. She could see her face inside the flames as clearly as she could see her partner above her. “Mulder, the fires are all around me. Please, Mulder, make them stop…” Her plaintive tone tugged at his heart. Her eyes were now open, but seemed to be looking through him.

Mulder knew no other way to pull her from the dream. He had tried the soft touch; verbally and physically, he had held her, talked to her. He briefly considered just letting her ride it out, exhausting herself into sleep, but he didn’t think that path would lead her to freedom either. The dream seemed to be holding her prisoner. And he knew exactly who she was seeing and what she was experiencing.

His voice firm and commanding, he called her name several times, pulling her up from the bed until she was sitting in his lap. He continued calling to her until she started turning to him and her movements slowed, finally ceasing.

Scully clung to Mulder, her arms wrapped around his neck, her face against his shoulder. Her breathing hitched and caught, half sobs forming and dissipating. The warmth of skin on skin helped her disconnect from the dream world. “Scully? Are you all right?”

“Mmm, Mulder, all right.” Mulder turned his head, trying to see her face. Her breathing had returned to normal and then slowed. While her arms remained around his neck, her ‘death grip’ was gone.

Scully was sound asleep once again. Mulder felt as if he were part of a sleep deprivation experiment. His concern for Scully’s returning dreams would not allow him to completely relax even though the feel of her beside him, nestled in his arms was one of the most comforting feelings he had ever experienced. He laid her down on her back, gently removing her arms from him. He pulled the blankets up over them as he lay down next to her.

As he stared up at the ceiling, he listened to his partner’s soft breathing, matching his to hers automatically. Scully rolled onto her side, instinctively seeking him. Her leg moved between his as her arm snaked across his chest.

~~~~~

Early Morning, 9 January

Downstairs

Skinner pulled the knit wool cap from his head and shook the snow out of it. He couldn’t recall the last time he had shoveled snow. Keith insisted that they had a service that would come with just a call, but Skinner needed the physical activity. Keith joined him with Eddie in tow.

Eddie pulled on his red, Helly Hansen ski jacket, his navy blue stocking cap, gloves and boots. He bounded out the front door, double-footed jumping down the steps, dragging his orange plastic shovel which clunked down the steps behind him.

Skinner had grabbed his midnight blue anorak and pulled it on over his black turtleneck sweater. The snow had stopped and the sun was doing its best to warm the air. He worked his leather gloves over his large hands and headed out.

Melissa and Robin began putting away the breakfast items, glad that the men had already done the dishes and put them away. Melissa wandered back into the greatroom to grab the last of the jam and butter containers from the coffee table and found herself staring out the main windows. Eddie was alternately climbing up and jumping down from each and every snow mound while his father and A.D. Skinner cleared the driveway. Eddie’s personal mission seemed to include redepositing the shoveled snow to its original site (or a reasonable facsimile thereof).

Eddie’s babysitter once again found herself open mouthed watching Skinner shovel. The anorak hit him mid-hip, just grazing his faded, close-fitting jeans. Each time he leaned over with the shovel, she could see his shoulders and arms pumping, even through the fabric. The man was obviously quite physically fit… As he bent his knees to exert the push action for the shovel, she noticed just how strong his lower body muscles really were. And the glass jam container slipped from her grasp, luckily landing on the club chair to her right.

“Melissa? Everything ok?” Robin had come up behind her and was watching her with a bemused expression on her face. Melissa was like the daughter she never had and a younger friend. She had met her boyfriend several times, as well. Robin also recognized the signs of full-tilt lust in Melissa’s awed expression. <Discovering the joys of older men in the prime of their virility…>

Melissa started at Robin’s voice, her eyes like those of a deer caught in the headlights. “I was just, um, making sure, um that Eddie didn’t unzip his jacket again.”

Robin just smiled, nodded and took the butter dish from Melissa and picked up the jam container from the club chair.

***

Outside In

Eddie, Keith and Skinner brought a wave of brisk snow-cold air inside as they returned from their shoveling. Red cheeks and runny eyes greeted Robin and Melissa. “It’s gorgeous out there; we should all get outside for a bit today.” Keith grabbed everyone’s outer-ware and headed for the mud room.

“Well, I need to do a debriefing with Mulder and Scully, but I’m sure there’ll be some time for us to all get out. Have they awaken?”

“I could go get them for you Mr. Skinner.” Eddie was halfway to the stairs before Melissa stopped him. “Hold it, Eddie. I think they’ll come downstairs when they wake up. Remember that they were awake for almost a full day. They’re probably very tired.”

Eddie looked at Melissa, knowing she was correct, but also looked to the stairs knowing that he really wanted to see his friends. He was seeing only lots of yellow and purple from both of them and that, in turn, made him very happy. His body physically displayed his emotional indecision as he seemed to lurch back and forth between the stairs and the greatroom. Finally, Robin made the decision for him. “How about if you do some reading with Melissa until they wake up?”

With an exaggerated shrug of his small shoulders, he sighed and walked hand in hand with Melissa.

“So, Mr. Skinner…”

“Please, Walter.”

“So, Walter, what will happen with Jason and his Scouts?”

“Well, my last information is that they’ve been remanded to the Minimum Security Facility in Enfield. They’re refusing legal counsel; won’t even take a PD. Most at least agree to the Public Defender, but they’re just so damn sure of themselves. We’ll probably go pay them all a visit in the next day.”

“I’ll just be glad knowing that they’re put away for a long time. When I think of what Scully, and Mulder, of course, had to go through, well, it makes me shudder.” Robin wrapped her arms around herself unconsciously as she spoke. “If it hadn’t been for you, Dan and Agents Court and Spark, well…”

Skinner leaned forward in the club chair, long legs spread, elbows resting on his thighs. “It’s all in the line of duty. Now, I know that probably sounds rather cruel and heartless. Don’t get me wrong, this case is particularly nasty in more ways than one. While they’re outward behavior is almost laughable in its comedic quality, what they allegedly already did to Mr. Arias and the others and what they came very close to doing to both Agents is downright scary. I’m just saying that Mulder and Scully know what they’ve signed on for and they take their jobs seriously; do it very well. They’re two of the best I have or have ever had!”

The discussion continued in amiable tones and turned to the more mundane topics of living in Laurel Glenn, raising children and life in general. Both Robin and Keith found Skinner very easy to talk to and a very willing conversationalist.

***

9:30A

Upstairs

The morning sun filtered in through the slats in the window blinds. The day was clear and exceedingly bright as the sun reflected off of the newly fallen snow.

Scully couldn’t remember the last time she had slept, really slept. Her lips moved in early-waking-stage sounds; feeling warm skin against them. Warm Mulder skin. Her eyes fluttered open to find her lips moving lightly against Mulder’s upper back, her left arm under her head and her right arm draped lazily under his right arm and resting on his chest.

His breathing was still deep and slow, indicating that he was still sound asleep. She wriggled her body against him, shifting position slightly and moved her toes shamelessly up and down the back of his calf, causing him to sleepily move his top leg forward.

She followed his leg with her foot, her touch becoming a little more insistent. She pushed the comforter back to the foot of the bed.

Gently disengaging her right arm from his chest, she moved slowly, kissing her way down his back. When Scully reached the dip in Mulder’s lower back, she touched it with the tip of her tongue; enough to cause him to stir, but not quite enough to wake him. She slid lower still, slipping her hand underneath the waistband of his soft knit boxers. She gently nudged him, rolling him toward his stomach. Surprised that he had not yet awaken, she grew bolder, using both hands to slide his boxers carefully over his hips, her chin resting on his hip, taking in the view…

<Mmmmm…either the air in here is a little chilly or you’re downright happy I’m here, Mulder…>

Laying one cheek against his hip, she kissed the swell of his ass and ran her thumbs over him in small circles. Her warm breath against him, followed by the caress of her lips, finally awakened him.

“What’re ya doin’ down there, Scully?” She could hear the sleep-arousal in his voice through his playful, lazy tone. Not one to let a question go unanswered, she ran her tongue along the line between his cheeks, parting them slightly with her hands.

“Scully?”

Her right hand moved up over his hip, her fingers ‘walking’ their way forward to his lower abdomen, as she rested her head on his waist. Her position allowed his hand to trail back, his fingers working their way into her hair, their touch on her scalp ensuring that she was quite awake.

She still did not speak.

His hips shifted in anticipation as her hands slid further forward still.

She could feel the taut muscles beneath her hand as she traced a line from his navel downward. “I believe I asked you a question, Agent Scully.” Mulder was now fully awake. Scully used her hands on his hips to roll him onto his back, positioning herself on her knees between his legs. “And good morning to you, too, Agent Mulder, and Mulder, Jr.” She smiled up at him, her eyes dark sapphires, before she greeted Mulder, Jr. properly.

Mulder couldn’t really think of a better way to start the day and was having a difficult time thinking of much other than his partner’s mouth attached to his fully awake erection, wet and warm, her teeth grazing him. He uttered her name in sheer surprise as his eyes rolled back and his hips lifted toward her.

“God, Scully.”

At the sound of his voice, she paused, her lips leaving him momentarily, eliciting a deep groan, “Don’t stop, Scully, please don’t stop” alternating with, “You’re killing me, Scully.”

Her mouth left him just long enough to let him know she had just begun, had no intention of stopping and every intention of ‘killing’ him.

Resuming her earlier position, one hand on his hip, she reached down to cup her partner’s sacs. “Scuuhhlleeee…” Mulder, his muscles almost unresponsive and moving of their own accord simultaneously, lifted up off the pillow enough to grab his partner under her arms, disengaging her mouth from him. “Up here, Scully, now.”

Unwilling to give up her control over exactly how Mulder greeted the new day, Scully quickly kissed him, but moved away before his tongue gained access to her mouth. “Uh, unh, partner”, she whispered, “not yet…” Rolling them both onto their sides, she reached for him again, feeling the warm wetness from her mouth, sliding it over him as she relentlessly slid her palm over his length, moving slowly and then faster, her thumb flicking lightly over the sensitive head each time.

***

Downstairs

“Are we done with my reading, yet, Melissa?”

“I thought you liked this book, Eddie? Do you want to choose another one?”

Eddie shook his head, “No, I don’t want another book or this book or any books. I want to see Agent Lady Dana and Mr. Mulder—” He stopped speaking and smiled slowly causing the hairs on Melissa’s arms to stand as if chilled.

“Eddie?”

“There sure is a lot of purple upstairs in Mr. Mulder’s room right now. Maybe we should go visit them.” Eddie jumped up, unable to contain his energy any longer.

“Um, Eddie, I think we should still wait for them down here. We don’t have to read anymore, but maybe we could do something else; go outside, watch a movie?”

He stopped and looked seriously at her, his hands on his hips. “Melissa, will you answer something if ask something?”

She nodded, smiling, but not quite sure what was about to come out of his mouth.

“Why do grown ups think purple at each other and why don’t all grown ups think purple and how come sometimes only one does when another one doesn’t and…”

“Whoa, Eddie! I thought you had one question!”

“Well, I did, but then I had more.”

She asked Eddie to sit back down, stalling for a little more time to figure out just how to respond to him with enough information to ‘answer’ him in a way a five year old could understand.

“Well, let’s see. Sometimes, adults; grown ups, really really like each other. They want to be close to each other and they want the other person to know just how good they feel. So, they show each other how good they feel.”

“Oh, gross! Do you mean like the stuff my mom and dad do; hugging and kissing stuff? That kind of feeling good?”

Melissa laughed at the simplistic accuracy of his response. “Yes, Eddie, that’s what I mean.”

“I hope that Agent Lady Dana doesn’t mind that stuff because I think that’s what they’re doing to each other right now.”

***

Upstairs

She pulled away from him again, climbing out of bed and pulling her short robe over her. “Hey, where do you think you’re going?” Mulder leaned on his elbows, watching Scully walk over to the window, her robe gently flowing around her untied. “Oh, I just thought I’d check out the beautiful scenery, Mulder. You should see it, too, it really is gorgeous.”

His erection aching with need, he rose and walked up behind her. “Ok, Scully, the scenery’s beautiful, gorgeous. And, so are you.” He wrapped his arms around her from behind, pressing his himself into her for emphasis.

Before the connection even had time to register, Mulder slid her silk robe off and tossed it onto the chair, spun her around and sat her on the window seat. Seeing the words start to form, he placed his index finger on her lips and shook his head. Still standing in front of her, he reached behind and unclasped her bra, sending it the way of her robe. Her head tilted up to watch him as his hands found her breasts and he gently rolled and pinched her nipples some more. Scully tried to grip the window seat cushions as her breath left her.

“But, Mulder, I … was…waking you…up”.

“I’m fully awake in every way, Scully; thank you very much.”

He knelt between her legs, his hands never leaving her. As his fingers continued to play across her breasts, his lips found hers. He continued to knead and massage her chest, drawing deep sighs of contentment mixed with something quite primal.

Somewhere from within the depths of the sensations their lips and tongues were creating, Scully gave voice to her feelings for the man, her partner, doing glorious things to her body. “Mulder” He wrapped his arms around her and deepened their kiss. She placed her hands on his upper arms, attempting to pull back just long enough to gasp for air and tell him what she was feeling. Gasping as well, Mulder drew back, his eyes searching her face. “Mulder, I do love you, you know.”

One of his slow, lazy smiles spread across his entire face. “I do know, Scully. I do love you, too.”

And then there were no more words; no more intelligible speech, although sounds existed abundantly.

Mulder’s hands were everywhere at once; touching, and teasing. He looked up once to see the sunlight playing in Scully’s hair and over her skin, watching her eyes fight to stay open. The sight of her overwhelmed him and he caught her eye, winking at her. She looked briefly puzzled, then giggled, until…

Mulder’s hands moved to her thighs, moving her legs farther apart. His fingers danced over the fabric of her panties as she shifted and squirmed. “Muhhldderrrr…”

The panties joined the other clothing on the chair. Mulder leaned toward her and lowered himself, resting one hand on each of her knees. “Scully? I just want to make sure that you’re awake; I mean ‘really’ awake.” Before she could reply, she felt his fingers and his tongue exploring; lapping at her, lightly licking her clit, probing her heated core. She leaned back, her feet suddenly in Mulder’s hands.

Scully’s body tingled, a series of small explosions working their way from her center outward. Her arms almost gave out from under her, but her partner helped by sliding her down onto her back, allowing them both a much ‘better’ angle. He continued to use his lips and tongue on her with a finesse that caused Scully to give silent thanks to the many packages of sunflower seeds his tongue practiced on…

Not wanting to give her too much time to come down, Mulder shifted their positions until he was on his knees in the window seat with Scully astride him. They clung to each other, bodies still quaking and sliding against each other. Scully held his head in her hands and looked into his eyes as his hands rested on her ass. As if in slowmotion, she slanted her head, tipping his in the other direction and licked his lips, parting them. Their tongues dueled briefly, flicking across each other, tasting, teasing. Their lips finally touching, she deepened the kiss. As their bodies began to writhe together, Mulder reached between them, his thumb rubbing rhythmically over her clit; lightly, then harder. In the confined space of the window seat, Scully’s back hit against the wall as Mulder thrust into her, moving deeper and faster. “Sorry, Scully.” Maneuvering as one, Mulder slid back against the window wall, pulling Scully onto his lap, never losing their connection. “Mulder, fuck me…now; hard.”

Mulder’s thumb and forefinger held her hips in place, briefly, maddeningly stilling them both and then began to drive into her, faster, applying pressure.

What seemed like mere seconds later, both sat spent and curled into one and other. “Mulder, I don’t think our legs are going to ever work again unless we stand up now.”

“You ok, Scully?”

“Oh, much better than ok, Mulder; much, much better.”

“We’re awake now, aren’t we?” Mulder pinched himself and as Scully stood, pinched her ass, too. “Ouch! We’re very awake, Mulder.”

“Race you to the shower, Scully.” “We’re showering separately, Mulder, or Skinner’ll never see us. We are still working; you do remember that, don’t you?”

“Awww, you’re no fun, Scully.”

“Later, Mulder. You know what they say about all play and no work.”

Scully slipped the robe over her, gathered her undergarments and left.

~~~~~

Lunch Debriefing; Noontime

Eddie was waiting semi-patiently at the bottom of the stairs. He hoped that Mulder and Scully would come downstairs before his parents took him out for the day. Mr. Skinner was going to have a big meeting with them and Eddie couldn’t attend. He tried to tell them that he would be quiet and that he really needed to be there and that he could help them see if there were any other Scouts around that they hadn’t found.

He put up a good fight, but, in the end, his parents won. They promised to wait to leave until the Agents came downstairs and then they were off.

Melissa gathered her things, waiting in the greatroom for her sister to pick her up. She was heading to New York to visit her boyfriend for a long weekend. She and Skinner talked about her graduate program and what she wanted to do when she left school. She amazed herself by answering his questions in mostly full sentences.

“Eddie!” Scully sat down on the stairs behind Eddie, pulling him up to face her. “It’s so good to see you again. So, tell me, what have you been up to lately?”

Eddie’s smile could have lit a small town on a dark night. His arms went around her neck and he whispered in her ear, “You have lots and lots of purple for Mr. Mulder; don’t you?” Then he looked up at Mulder standing above them. “He’s got lots for you, too.” Eddie disengaged himself from Scully and ran to get his jacket. “We’re going to the park for sledding and then we’re going to have something to eat at Papa Gino’s and then we’re going to the library for book night and then we’re coming home and then—” Keith interrupted the runaway train also known as EddieSpeak. “Let’s go, Mr. Ed.”

Mulder and Scully nodded at Skinner and then walked over to Melissa. “We’re sorry we didn’t get to spend anymore time with you, Melissa. It’s very obvious that Eddie adores you.” Scully shook her hand. As Mulder moved to do the same, she inwardly cursed herself for bushing again. Scully tried to hide her amusement so she wouldn’t further embarrass Melissa.

The Yarlows bid everyone good-bye as Melissa’s younger sister drove up. The Inn was quiet; too quiet, promising more serious conversation.

The trio pulled up chairs in the kitchen, Skinner bringing a pot of coffee to the table. Robin had left them some sandwiches that they both set upon instantly. “My, we seem to have quite the appetite.” Skinner looked up from the files he was going through, one eyebrow raised. “Well, Sir, it’s over 24 hours since we last ate.” “Smooth, Scully, very smooth.” Mulder mumbled, his mouth full of sandwich.

“All right, you two, let’s get started and see what we can piece together before we pay a visit to our favorite hoodlums. While you eat, I’ll run down the facts and information; you can fill in wherever needed.”

Scully placed her sandwich down, her hands shaking in her lap. Swallowing hard, she excused herself and left the room. Skinner looked up, puzzled. “Is Scully all right?” “I think so, but I’ll go get her.”

Scully was pacing back and forth in the dining room, her arms across her chest. Her look of consternation told Mulder all he needed to know. “Scully, look, this won’t take long; Skinner just needs the basics. It’s not as if there aren’t enough witnesses or history on these guys.”

She stopped, head down, back to him. “No, it’s not that Mulder. I can handle going through the facts. I want these idiots put away for as long as possible. It’s a connection; I think I have an idea about this neurotransmitter enzyme and the dreams I was having last night.” She whirled around and started pacing again. Until she ran into the wall known as Mulder.

“Tell me about it, Scully.” He held her arms, his eyes imploring her to look up at him. “No, better still, let’s go talk to Skinner about it, ok?”

As the two Agents joined him back in the kitchen, Skinner slid a file folder to each of them. “All right, here’s the information on each of the main characters; Jason, Conor, Zander and Jenara. Now, we know Zander’s got a local connection, younger brother to Tonya Draper. I’ve done some background checking and no one can pull up anything on Tonya, so we think she was out of the loop on her brother’s activities.”

Mulder noticed Scully’s discomfiture at the mere mention of Tonya’s name, but Scully also recalled Tonya’s sincere offer to assist her in finding Mulder. Skinner continued.

“All of the men in this loosely called organization seem to come from backgrounds with relationship issues; divorce, feelings of rejection from the family of origin or connections to the wrong people in their formative years. Now, before either of you voices it, let me say I know that’s very stereotypical and that lots of kids today come from similar homes and do just fine. You’d be right in that assessment. I share that only as an indicator of their commonalties. You can see from the file, how they each connected.”

“What’s most interesting is Jason’s background in pharmacology and pharmaceuticals. We had a team out in the field behind the Inn and at the caves, collecting trace evidence from the small fires.” Before Skinner could continue, Scully chimed in.

“Sir, I think you’re going to find a connection between what I believe to be a hybrid chemical biological foundation to the supposedly ‘eternal’ flame that doesn’t burn and the neurotransmitter enzyme they injected me with.”

Her partner and her boss both knew that if Scully posed a scientific connection, it was not to be taken lightly. “Go on, Scully.”

Scully stood, almost as if she needed the movement to process her thoughts. “Well, I see from the file that they found a nanocyte polymer with both a carbon and chlorophyll base in the fire debris at both sites. The enzyme Dr. Karhu found in my blood work also contained the same base, although configured somewhat differently.” She took a deep breath and noted with amusement that two sets of eyes were focused directly on her.

“Here’s the part I think you may find hard to swallow; at least coming from me…”

She paused, watching them both. When it became clear she still had their rapt attention, she continued. “I believe the fire isn’t really fire in its truest sense; there was obviously no heat involved. However, it holds some of fire’s other qualities.” She took one more deep breath, as if shoring up her own courage to put forth her beliefs.

“I believe that the ‘fire’ was actually a first dose of the enzyme, preparing my body and my mind for what was to follow. The part that I cannot figure out with any rationality is exactly how the Scouts seemed to be sending me thoughts. The properties of this enzyme do allow it to act on the brain and there is a suggestion of it working on the pathways that might foster suggestibility, but, beyond that…”

Mulder finished for her, “Beyond that, Agent Scully can’t say that the Scouts were practicing mind control because she has no evidence to support that notion. Am I right, Scully?” Mulder’s hazel eyes looked up at his partner and then across to the A.D. A golf tournament could not have been quieter.

Mulder didn’t wait for confirmation, but instead, stood himself and sat on the edge of the table, his hands clasped in his lap. Scully sat down next to Skinner sensing that Mulder ‘had the floor’. “What Agent Scully probably isn’t aware of is the Sendon-Miller experiments conducted 20 years ago in Geneva.” Scully raised one eyebrow, but said nothing. She knew from experience that once Mulder began his monologue, it rarely included outside intervention.

“The Seldon-Miller experiments were unique in many ways, but predominantly for their testing group which included 250 participants evenly divided between men and women. Women tend to be left out of most experiments, developmental theory constructs, etc. The subjects were divided into same sex and opposite sex pairs. One third of the pairs was designated the control group. The other two groups of pairs all tested significantly high on the Perry PSI Scale; meaning that they had extraordinarily high ability as demonstrated on the tests of card reading. The experiment asked one member of the pair to ‘send’ a sentence related to a picture they were shown to their partner in a walled-in, soundproof booth. The person receiving the sentence tested out without any score on the Perry.”

Mulder paused to catch his breath, but before he could continue, Scully finished, surprising him and amusing Skinner. Lord knew this pair often surprised him, but he found it priceless when they surprised each other. He often saw them as two different sides to the same person. “What the S-M, as they were jokingly referred to when they were first published, experiments postulated and offered ‘evidence’ of the ability of someone possession a high psionic rating to transmit information to someone without a psionic rating. Hypothetically, it is plausible that this person could also ‘send’ enough information to make the receiver actually believe what was being sent, even if it contradicted her or his current beliefs. What Agent Mulder hasn’t told you is that it does not prove the ability to control another’s behavior.” Scully rested her hands on the open folder and watched Mulder.

He smiled and nodded in his partner’s direction. “That’s right again, Scully; it doesn’t prove it. But I would ask you to think about what you experienced and then tell me the other explanation. I don’t think—”

“Ok, that’s enough information. I think we can all agree that there is some reliable connection between the fire and the enzyme, as well as, Jason and possibly the others’ ability to send thoughts. I think tomorrow we go and talk with the Scouts before they start jury selection. I’ve arranged for us to meet with them privately.”

“I’m going to give Dr. Karhu a call and see if we can get over to talk with her this afternoon, Mulder.”

“Sounds good to me. Do you want to join us, Sir?” Skinner looked at them and seemed to sense they could use some more time alone. “How about if I meet you in town for some dinner later? Any suggestions?”

Mulder suggested they meet at Sita’s and gave Skinner directions.

~~~~~

Hartford Hospital

2:30P

Dr. Sunny Karhu met the Agents in her office on the 12th floor. Given her warm personality, neither Agent would have predicted the gunmetal gray and brushed chrome furnishings set off by touches of off-white and fake plants. She motioned them to a black leather couch and pulled up a matching chair to join them.

“How have you been doing Agent?” She leaned forward, her hands on her crossed legs.

“I’ve been doing just fine.” Scully smiled. And Mulder looked at her out of the corner of his eye. He did not look away until she clarified. “Well, I did have a couple of unsettling dreams, but that must be usual.”

The doctor looked at both Agents, noting the implied connection and deep understanding. “Tell me about these dreams and we’ll decide if they’re ‘usual’.”

Mulder was secretly pleased at the way Dr. Karhu handled the situation. She very tactfully told Scully that there might be cause for concern, not letting her off the hook.

Scully explained the second dream with Conor approaching her with the fire in his hands as the others prepared her to become part of the fire as the doctor nodded attentively. “Any others?”

Fidgeting Scully drew the doctor’s attention. “There’s another you haven’t told me about. Is it painful?”

Scully looked at her hands before glancing over at her partner. She hadn’t told him the full contents and she knew he had known all along. “Well, um, it was a dream version of what they had done to me and some things I think would have happened if I hadn’t gotten away and…”

“And?” Mulder’s voice soft and low.

“I can’t, Mulder.” Scully stood up to walk out, but Mulder blocked her exit. “Look, let me leave. If this is so uncomfortable for you to say with me here, I’ll leave; no problem. Scully? I’m serious…it’s ok.”

She squeezed his hands in hers and returned, telling the doctor about how Mulder’s face had appeared in place of the other Scouts. Dr. Karhu nodded, understanding Scully’s reluctance to speak with her partner present.

“As I said earlier, I do feel the dreams are pretty natural given your circumstances, but I’m also inclined to believe that more is at work here.”

Scully shared her findings and beliefs regarding the fire and the neurotransmitter enzyme. The doctor’s face displayed nothing other contemplation. Finally, after what seemed like a long time, she told Scully that she thought her information made scientific sense.

“Well, then I guess my next question would be how to get rid of the enzyme and their hold on me?” Scully’s face belied her cool exterior, her fears plainly written there.

“I can’t tell you that, Agent. I can tell you that as soon as you can put more distance; physically and emotionally, between you and these, um, people, the better. Since we’ve already seen the levels dropping, I know they’ll continue to drop. Now, I suggest you get out of here and go find that wonderful partner of yours. I wouldn’t let him get too far.”

Scully felt the heat and color rise in her face as she thanked the doctor and left the office in search of Mulder.

She found him in the visitor’s lounge standing in front of the wall mounted TV. Yet another basketball game on the screen and Mulder’s rapt attention allowing her to sneak up on him. She tapped his left shoulder, appearing in front of him on his right. A slow smile appeared on his lips and Scully couldn’t resist the urge to kiss that mouth. Mulder had no time to consider is suddenly publicly demonstrative partner and…frankly didn’t care to. “You do things to me, Scully; you know that?” He leaned in to whisper to her. “Now, let’s get out of here. We told Skinner we’d meet him at Sita’s and we’ve still got a drive ahead of us.”

“Mulder, it’s only about forty minutes back to Laurel Glen; what’s the rush?”

“I don’t know, Scully, I just figured seeing we spend so much time in hospitals, you wouldn’t want to linger any longer than absolutely necessary. Besides, I think we’ve exhausted all the sights.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that, G-Man… Care to follow me? Want to explore?”

<Scully wants to explore with me?> Taking Mulder by the hand she wandered to the farthest corner of the 12th floor. As they moved away from the doctor’s office, Mulder noticed the ‘Pardon Us While We Improve’ signs, indicating an under-construction section of the floor. He looked questioningly at his partner who ignored him and kept moving.

When they reached a dark hallway, Mulder insisted that she tell him where they were going. Scully indicated the Service elevator. Mulder indicated his complete confusion…followed by a light bulb turning on over his head.

“I want to explore you, Mulder.” Simple, to the point, direct, Scully. And Mulder didn’t need to think twice about her request.

As soon as the doors opened, he whirled her around into the car, pushing her back into the call button panel, his finger stabbing the button for the basement. As the doors whooshed closed, Mulder got down to business. Their hands came up to each other’s faces, grabbing at hair, twisting, turning. Mulder lodged his knee between Scully’s legs, holding her in place against the wall.

Nipping, licking, teasing and sucking, they explored each other’s mouths. So focused and consumed were they that they never heard the ding of the car reaching its destination or the sliding of the door as it opened or the sound of the laundry cart entering or the sound of the workers voices, “Ah, que lindos; guapos! Son muy jovenes.” “I believe this is your stop, Senor, y tu esposa?”

The Agents came up for air when they realized they had been mistaken for husband and wife. They exited, holding hands; their laughter filling the elevator and the basement hallway.

~~~~~

Sita’s Bakery

Laurel Glenn, 5P

The regular after weekday work crowd shuffled in and out. The windchime over the door tinkled and chimed every time the door opened musically announcing arriving and departing customers and townfolk.

Sita was lucky to find new help on such short notice since Jenara had been imprisoned. She was still struggling with Jenara’s role in the Scout Cave Incident, as the case was being referred to in town. The Bakery owner considered herself a damn fine judge of character and her pride was hurt and her dander up over Jenara’s deception. Sita let herself wallow for all of about ten minutes the day she heard she would be out of the best counter help she’d had in a long time; heck, since she’d worked the counter herself!

During the eleventh minute, she found her new counter person. The woman strode to the counter purposefully, her bootheels firmly thumping against the ashwood flooring, her black leather pants, black vee-neck sweater and leather jacket making her look much taller than her 5′3″. When she approached Sita, her brushed her ash brown hair from her collar and stared at the counter woman from glittering green eyes. “I’d like a dozen of your best rolls; warm if you still have any, please.”

Sita had smiled at this woman, appreciating her manner and air of confidence. She also figured her customer for a real lady’s man. “Haven’t seen you in here before; new to town?”

Tonya smiled, “Actually, I’ve been in here quite a bit, but there was another woman behind the counter. My baby brother had the hots for her.”

Sita’s face fell, but she held her tongue. Without preamble and without prior knowledge from her own brain, Sita asked Tonya Draper if she wanted a job working the counter.

Tonya smiled with the depth of a woman who knows what she wants and she laughed. “I sure would love the job, ‘working’ the counter, as you so subtly put it, um, Sita, I presume?”

And with that, a wonderful relationship began.

Tonya noticed the customer standing over by the door, alternately checking his watch and the door. She knew the door checking was winning out over the watch. The man was a bit older than she usually liked them, but he was also much more drop dead handsome than she was used to at his age. She half-heartedly chatted with the customers as her attention was diverted to a full body scan. His dark brown and graying hair wrapped around his head like a wide headband that left the top of his head balding. The small wire rim glasses perched on a much too cute nose, magnifying mid-size, chocolate brown eyes. His face was an overall picture of somewhere between rugged and handsome, his mouth as he pursed his lips in the early signs of frustration of someone he was supposed to meet sent her mind wandering. She guessed at the things his mouth could do. She paused briefly, realizing she was probably giving away the farm at the register and concentrated on her paid job.

Meanwhile, the man turned to face the door, as if his physical attention to it could will his companion to arrive faster. She nearly dropped the change in her hand when she saw the firm rounded ass in the tight faded jeans. She willed herself to talk to her customer when she found her jaw go slack at the expanse of his shoulders and back as it narrowed to his hips and strong thighs.

When she looked back up, he had ushered two companions to a table.

“What took you two so long?”

“Long? It’s just five, Sir.” Scully slid into the cloth-covered booth followed by Mulder. Skinner sat across from them. His shoulders dropped as he let out a deep sigh. “Guess I’m just tired. So, how’d things go with the doctor, Scully?”

Before she could answer, Tonya appeared at their table. “Are you—” She stopped mid-question, noticing just who the good looking man’s companions were. “Well, hello Agent Scully, Agent Mulder. I’m so glad you two are in one piece.”

Skinner looked over at his Agents, his eyes asking the question, “Oh, um, sorry! Tonya Draper, this is A.D. Skinner, our boss.” Mulder smiled at the flush in Skinner’s face and the mirthful look in Tonya’s eyes.

“Nice to meet you, uh, um…?”

“Skinner’s fine, Ms. Draper.”

“Oh, no, make that Tonya, please.”

Scully and Mulder looked at each other and then at their boss and Tonya Draper. A somewhat charged ping pong match had begun. The feeling that they could slide under the booth and go unnoticed amused them.

“Would you like to join us, Tonya? Don’t know when you get off shift, but maybe you could grab some dinner with us?” Scully decided to do her boss a favor since his attraction to Sita’s counter person was so obvious.

Looking as if she’d just won the Connecticut lotto, Tonya explained that her shift would end in 15 minutes and she’d join them. She took their order and walked away.

Speaking through a clenched jaw as he leaned down and closer to Scully Skinner explained that he didn’t need her to tend to his social life and that they had work to do.

“She’s a real looker, Sir. Bet she makes a mean burger and—” Mulder’s laughter was contagious and Scully joined him, only causing Skinner to turn the brightest shade of red.

Pulling her apron from her waist, Tonya smoothed her denim skirt over her hips and tugged her cropped green top down a bit. She brought their orders to the table, setting down Mulder’s cheeseburger platter and iced tea, Scully’s chicken Caesar salad and club soda and Skinner’s French dip sandwich, fries and vanilla milkshake before she sat down next to Skinner, nudging him over a bit with her hip.

<Well, that should prove to Scully that Tonya’s interested in men; not me>

The meal passed in pleasant conversation with Tonya helping herself to Skinner’s fries. The first time her hands with the red lacquered nails snagged a few fries from his plate, Skinner stopped chewing and raised an eyebrow in her direction.

Appearing as if she had waited for everyone to have dinner in their mouths, Tonya asked her question, “So, all, what do you think will happen to my baby brother?” The Agents and their A.D. wore the looks of those totally submerged beginning to spout air bubbles on the surface.

“You don’t know who he is, do you? Oh my God, I’m sorry. I just assumed. Oh, he doesn’t have my last name.” Tonya pulled away from Skinner and made as if to stand. He grabbed her wrist, asking her to stay. “We don’t choose our relatives and he hasn’t yet stood trial.”

At Tonya’s mention of Zander’s name, Scully blanched and dropped her fork into her dish. Three heads turned toward her. “Scully?” “I’m fine, Mulder.”

Mulder looked as if he wanted to ask Tonya at least a thousand questions, but Skinner’s warning look silenced him. As a back up, Scully’s hand on his thigh confirmed it.

“There really isn’t anything we can tell you, Tonya. Now, maybe we should drop this line of conversation and move onto something more, upbeat?” Skinner resumed eating his fries.

Tonya, feeling as if she had just put a major damper on dinner, slid out of the booth before anyone could stop her. “Look, I should be getting home. I have the early morning shift tomorrow. Thanks for letting me join you and Agent Scully, I’m sorry about bringing up Zander.”

Skinner slid over to join Tonya. “Look, at least let me drive you home.” Mulder looked at Scully and smiled, but carefully hid his gleeful look from his boss. Scully just shrugged.

“It’s ok, I have my car.”

“Well, leave it and let me drive you home. I’d really like to.”

Skinner left a few bills on the table to cover everyone’s dinner and a nice tip and escorted Tonya out. Just before he opened the door for her, he reminded Mulder and Scully that they had an appointment in Enfield in the morning.

“The guy really knows how to put a damper on the evening, doesn’t he, Scully?”

“How about if we order a piece of Chocolate Silk Seduction Pie and split it, Mulder?”

“Chocolate Silk Seduction, Scully?”

“Chocolate Silk Seduction, Mulder.”

“Oh, waitress!”

Mulder moved over to Skinner’s vacated seat while they waited for their pie and coffee.

“So…”

“Soooo, Mulder.”

“You know, I’m looking forward to getting back to our basement office. This place is really beautiful, quaint and the Inn is gorgeous, but it seems we never really get to enjoy the truly nice places because of not-so-nice cases.”

“I know what you mean, Scully.” Mulder placed his hand over hers. “You don’t think Skinner would let us stay on after we tied things up tomorrow, do you? I mean, we could tell him that we need some time off; we both have enough of it.”

Scully looked down at Mulder’s thumb as it lightly brushed over the back of her hand and she smiled. “What reason were you planning on giving him?”

“Oh, I don’t know, ” their heads leaning across the table, Mulder continued, “maybe the truth. Maybe that we need a little more time to further explore a new ‘case’.”

“What new case is that, Mulder?”

The waitstaff arrived, setting down the pie, the mugs of coffee and two forks. When she realized that neither customer was going to acknowledge her, she smiled and silently slipped away.

“Mulder? The new case?”

“Pie first; feed me, woman.”

Scully let the tines of the fork slowly sink into the Silk Seduction, easily slicing off a piece. She pushed the fork into the raspberry coulis and used her finger to plop some whipped cream onto the morsel. Holding the fork up at mouth level, their eyes locked. Mulder’s mouth opened in anticipation and Scully’s unconsciously mimicked his. She brought the fork to his mouth as if moving through honey, but stopped just as the tip of the tines touched his lower lip.

Mulder gently grasped her wrist and flicked the tip of his tongue to the whipped cream, eliciting a small whimper from his partner. He then brought her hand closer to his mouth, letting his lips close on the chocolate, melting it with his heat, their eyes never leaving one and other. His lips slid from the fork as he took it from Scully’s hand.

“My turn, Scully.”

Mulder repeated her actions with his teaspoon, setting the fork down. He gathered more raspberry sauce, some of it dripping off the spoon, and brought the pie to her mouth. Neither noticed how quiet it had become around them or Sita’s beaming face behind the counter.

The spoon touched Scully’s lips, the raspberry pooled at the tip and she lapped at it. Her lips coated with raspberry and smudges of chocolate, she nibbled at the pie. Mulder whispered her name, more a deep groan than a word.

As they drew closer, Scully guided the spoon into her waiting mouth. As Mulder drew the spoon back, she took both of his hands in hers, resting them on the table. Surprising her with his very public display or partnerly behavior, Mulder lapped at the raspberry and chocolate on her lower lip.

Color deeper than the sauce on her lips stained her cheeks as the reality of their location dawned on her. She reluctantly withdrew, sliding back into her seat, still holding his hands.

Time seemed to resume around them as customers continued eating and Sita good-naturedly admonished her staff to ‘hop to’.

“You were going to tell me about a certain case, Mulder?” Scully let go of his hand to grab a napkin.

Mulder’s eyes sought hers, not wishing to break the earlier spell. “Well, Agent Scully, this case concerns two professional partners who have worked together for a very long time.”

“How long, Mulder?” Scully’s breathing started returning to ‘somewhat’ normal.

“Long enough. And now it seems that their relationship is changing.”

“So, what makes that a case?”

“Well, it is in the early, tentative stages and could probably use some more exploration and research. See, one partner is pretty emotionally messed up; tends to over-dramatize, takes drastic leaps often based on nothing more than a gut instinct and unscientific beliefs and really really wants his partner to be with him. The other partner is…”

“The other partner is, ” Scully took over, “carrying her own emotional baggage and has not totally learned how to either stow it or check it, tends to sometimes be ploddingly factual—”

“Sometimes?”

“Shut up, Mulder, I’m telling part of this case file. Tends to sometimes be ploddingly factual and is known for occasionally ignoring that which stares her in the face. She’s also trying to figure out exactly where their relationship is headed, but is just the slightest bit fearful of what she may discover.”

“Well, it sounds to me as if they need some help, but the real question is, are we qualified for this case, Agent?”

They slid out of the booth, taking the check to the register to pay. “I’m not sure, Agent, but I certainly think we could try to help.”

~~~~~

Willard-Cybulski Correctional Institution, Enfield, Connecticut

10 January, 10A

Mulder noticed that Scully had been silent since they crossed the town line from Windsor into Enfield. The highway miles to Route 190, the main artery through town, passed endlessly. As if sensing the proximity of the Scouts, Scully seemed to pull into herself as they turned left onto Taylor Road, leading straight to the Correctional facility. The landscape was dotted with the occasional industry, a few small neighborhoods and open areas of pine trees. The facility sat down a slight hill to the right, the area cyclone fenced, stark brick and severe turrets.

As Skinner pulled the vehicle up to the security gate, Scully stared out of her window. Skinner waved his badge and the written release for visitation at the guard in the booth and they drove on.

The three Agents stopped at the security post at the main doors and were escorted to the Briefing Room where they were relieved of their weapons. Skinner walked over to the main office where he talked with the Executive Administrator in preparation for their visit.

Scully remained withdrawn, arms crossed in front of her, pacing. Mulder called to her several times with no response. Finally, he stood directly in her pacing path, hands on her arms stopping her forward momentum. “Scully, stop; talk to me.”

The look of frustration and ‘edge’ in her eyes gave Mulder pause. “Let’s just get this taken care of, Mulder, all right?”

“Scully, Skinner and I can take care of this. Why don’t you—”

“Why don’t I what, Mulder? Last time I looked, I was assigned to this case with you. Last time I looked, I was also directly involved and, the last time I looked, I helped save your butt. Now, let’s just get down to business.”

A gale force blast could not have hit Mulder harder as he recoiled, hands dropping from his partner’s arms. “Scully, you know what I meant; I wasn’t implying anything else.”

Skinner walked in at that moment handing them their prison passes, leading them out. Scully followed him without a backward glance. “We’ve gotten special permission to meet with all of the prisoners at once. I prefer to lead the questioning Agents.”

“Um, that’s fine with us; uh, me, Sir.” Mulder trailed behind Scully unsure of her current mood since he could not see her face.

The Agents approached the room on its one-way mirrored wall side, stopping to check the set up. They stared into the off-white room’s painted cinderblock walls and tiled floor, the only ‘color’ in the room the institutional gray tables and chairs featuring the floor and table top cuff bolts. Several guards began to escort the Scouts into the room; the men from one side and Jenara from the other. All wore the standard-issue gray jumpsuit, hands cuffed in front of them.

Mulder felt Scully physically tense before him and Skinner as the prisoners approached the tables and chairs. The guards fastened their cuffs to the table and sat each person down. Conor stared directly at the one-way mirror window, seemingly singling Scully out; an ever-widening smile breaking out across his face.

Imperceptibly, Scully shivered and backed into Mulder. Upon contact, she drew herself up to full height and moved toward the room door. “Are we going in or what?”

“Scully? I need a word with you, now.” Skinner indicated the seating area behind their current location. His lips pursed, his eyes intent, he expressed his concerns about her welfare upon entering the interrogation room. Before she could protest, he continued, “Look, I’m well aware of your expertise and the fact that you are a primary investigator and witness. However, you have also been drugged and for lack of a better word, influenced by these people.” He nodded his head toward the room.

“I want you to seriously consider what you are about to do and make your decision wisely. Mulder and I are perfectly capable of—”

“With all due respect, Sir, I have the most direct experience with them, and, while I can appreciate your concern for me, unless you’re ordering me to stay away from this interrogation, I plan on attending.” Meeting her boss’s eyes and challenging him, she saw the ever changing emotions. “You are free to join us, Scully, but I will reserve the right to remove you if things get out of hand. Do I make myself clear?”

“Perfectly.”

By the time they rejoined Mulder, all of the Scouts were seated facing the one-way window. Scully tamped down the fleeting pictures flitting across her mind’s eye. She knew where the images were originating and from whom. She focused on Mulder, for whom she now felt very sorry. She had totally misread his earlier concern for her and behaved poorly. Knowing she had little time, she moved next to Mulder, their arms touching lightly. Barely turning her head toward him, she whispered that she was really ok and that she was sorry for her earlier tirade. True to form, Mulder merely smiled and shook his head letting her know that he understood.

She knew that the mind-picture of his slow smile would go a long way toward warding off further Scout intrusion.

“Flame, do you really think that a mere official pantsuit and professionally upswept hair style will make you immune to us? They won’t you know; anymore than keeping us behind bars. I believe you were experiencing our effects outside the one-way over there?” Jason nodded toward the window, watching Scully’s reaction.

Which gave away none of her trepidation as she stared them down defiantly. “Jenara, what do you think of Mr. Mulder’s Fibbie suit?” Jenara was as happy to see Mulder as Jason was Scully. “Mr. Mulder can start out wearing anything his little heart desires. It’s what happens after I remove the clothing that really counts.”

“All right; that’s about enough.” Skinner introduced himself to everyone and explained the purpose of their visit.

Jason, as self-appointed spokesScout, reminded Skinner that his Agents had gleaned very little from visiting with them at the local jail the last time. He did not understand just what Skinner intended to gain this time. “You are aware that we do not have to answer any of your questions?”

His two subordinates noted the neck muscles moving as the jaw clenched in response to Jason’s arrogance. “I am quite aware that you have chosen to represent yourselves and no matter what I think of that option, you have agreed to meet with us. If you have changed your mind, you’re free to leave. Otherwise, we are expecting cooperation.”

“In exchange for what, Fibbie?” Zander had remained decidedly disinterested until this point. His interest obviously piqued, he continued, “You here to broker some kind of deal? Get us out of here a little early for good behavior? Maybe post us bond?”

Before Skinner could reply, Scully was on her feet, facing the quartet. She slammed her palms down onto the metal table, the force jarring the furniture and the Scouts. “You are here on a capitol offense charge; there is no bail. You sorry bastards ought to be sent to the chair rather than taking up costly cell space. Now, either answer the damn questions or rot in hell.” Although the words had ended, she remained in place, her eyes alternately meeting and locking with each of the prisoners in turn.

Skinner and Mulder stood stock still, waiting for whatever was coming next. They both noticed four sets of eyes trained on Scully, noticed her back up slightly, only to return to her former position.

She had surprised herself with her actions, but learned something from them. Letting her anger toward the Scouts and their activities surface helped block them from her mind. Oh, she was not about to use this method alone; she could not afford the rage it produced in her. However, she willingly added it to her small, but effective, arsenal of counter procedures, her first and most natural, focusing on her feelings for her partner. Anger, expressed appropriately and for the purposes of dealing with the catalyzing situation, could be justified, but she was not about to allow it to interfere with her professionalism. She was a little surprised, but nonetheless grateful, that neither her partner nor her boss had deemed it necessary to step in.

The Scouts, for their part, were the quietest she had ever seen them; other than when they were attempting their parlor trick of thought-sending, that is. Scully ‘felt’ their focused attempt at sending following her comments. The momentary force of four minds against hers was briefly painful; the jumble of blurred, but understandable, images raged against her barriers. But her own anger at them, at their behavior and what they had put her and her partner through seemed to block further transmission. If anger worked, anger was what they were going to get.

Scully announced that she didn’t feel she was needed here any longer and strode confidently toward the door. Mulder smirked inwardly as he noticed the dissipation of testosterone and deflating of egos as Scully left. Jenara looked as if she had just been ‘disconnected’.

“Mulder, I think I can handle this group. Why don’t the two of you go and grab some lunch and pick me up here in a few hours.”

Mulder didn’t need to be told twice, although admittedly torn between wanting to beat the crap out of them where they say and going to his partner. Assuming the reaction the former choice would bring from his boss, he went with the latter.

***

“Mulder, McDonald’s? Skinner gives us a couple of hours for lunch and you chose McDonald’s? Besides, I don’t think he was in the mood for burgers today.” Scully left her seatbelt fastened, hoping she could mentally send a picture to him conveying her distaste for his taste in eating establishments.

“I don’t know the area and this seems to be as good a place as the next, Scully. And just when did you ask him about what he wants for lunch?”

“When has ‘not knowing the area’ ever stopped you from finding something before? Besides, there are shops and eateries all around us, Mulder, unless you’ve just been implanted with a fast food magnet?”

“Ok, Scully, I’m looking and it looks like there’s a place called Ruby Tuesday’s across at the mall. Shall we?”

“We shall, Mulder.”

***

“Well, it looks as if there’s plenty to bring them to trial and, most likely, they should be sentenced to several consecutive life terms. You two bring me any food or am I supposed to starve until we get back to the Inn?” Mulder laughed at the shift from life sentences to life sustenance as he pulled out of the Correctional Facility. Scully turned to the backseat and handed Skinner a turkey sandwich, some chips and a soda. “We didn’t forget you, Sir.”

He smiled gratefully and unwrapped the sandwich. Between bites, he told the Agents that he’d be flying out right before dinner. Kersh had called him back in immediately. “I want to see you both back in D.C. the day after tomorrow. We have a meeting in my office at 1PM on the 12th.”

Mulder and Scully smiled at each other, but Mulder’s smile was short lived. “And Agent Scully, make sure you get Mulder there on time.”

~~~~~

The Snowflake Inn

10 January, 4P

Keith had offered to drive Skinner back to Bradley International Airport. Robin and Eddie made sure that he would not fly empty-handed or hungry.

“Mr. Skinner? Do you like Tollhouse Cookies? Those are really chocolate chip cookies, but they used to be made at a tollhouse and I don’t know what that is, but they make good cookies and I think you’ll like them.” Eddie brought a brown paper lunch bag festooned with lots of bright stickers over to Skinner, bringing a smile to the A.D.‘s face.

“Thanks, Eddie, I’m sure I’ll love them.” Robin packed a bag of sandwiches and fruit and Skinner wondered idly if they had moved Connecticut much farther north and thereby hours farther away from D.C. since he had arrived in New England.

Skinner thanked Robin and Keith for the use of their Inn, their home and their hospitality as he grabbed for his luggage. Eddie, hefting the bag of cookies and the bags of fruit and sandwiches, headed for the front door. Knowing she’d get a million reasons why he should, Robin merely reached over and grabbed Eddie’s jacket for him. The day had turned warmer, melting some of the snow, the sun glaringly bright. A 55-degree day in January in New England was a treat!

They all followed Keith and Skinner out to the SUV, chatting amiably. Eddie decided that it was time for the vehicles to be washed since they had turned ‘winter white’; totally covered in road salt. When Robin said it would have to wait, Mulder suggested that he and Scully take one of the vehicles into town and get it washed.

Eddie volunteered to help them, but Robin wanted him to stay around the Inn since he had started sniffling and she didn’t want him coming down with a cold. After half-hearted protests, he headed back in with Robin.

“We’ll have dinner ready for you when you return.”

“Oh, Robin, please don’t go to any trouble on our behalf. We can grab something in town.” Scully had genuinely enjoyed their company, but didn’t want to put Robin out anymore than she had already.

“No trouble; consider it a celebration dinner.”

***

“So, where’s this car wash, Mulder?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I figured they had to have one; every town does.”

“The obligatory town carwash? Is that your theory?”

“Something like that.”

Scully sighed, feeling relaxed, truly relaxed, for the first time in days. Leaning against her arm, she watched the trees along the roadside, the melting snow heavy on their boughs. The roads were wet and shiny and the air was clear and bright.

At the first signs of civilization, Scully noticed a few strip malls and a few gas stations with carwashes attached. She indicated the ‘Wash ‘n Drive’ on the right and Mulder swung in. It seemed that most of the town had the same idea given the weather conditions.

They found an open ‘do-it-yourself’ bay on the far end, noticing that there were no cars waiting at that end. “Mulder, why don’t we just go through the drive-through?”

Judging my Mulder’s look as he prepared to respond, Scully guessed that this was one of Mulder’s few ‘guy things’. “They just don’t completely clean the vehicle, Scully and you pay so much more.”

She shook her head, smiling. “Okay, Mulder. It’s been a while since I’ve washed my own car, so maybe you’ll have to show me how to ‘completely clean’ this vehicle.”

“Scully, I think you’re making fun of me.”

“Not at all, Mulder; not at all,” her giggles belying her comment.

Mulder pulled into the bay and left the CD player on high volume. “Music, too, Mulder? I guess I have quite a bit to learn about washing the car, don’t I? Any special type of music or can a novice make a selection?”

“You better watch your comments, Scully; they could come back to haunt you later.” He shot her a glance over his shoulder as he went to deposit the coins in the slot. Scully found a Beatles CD in the glove compartment and started the player. Making sure all of the windows were closed, she exited the vehicle and found Mulder with the water wand in his hand.

Saluting him, she asked, “Reporting for car washing detail, Sir, what should I do first?”

Mulder aimed the rubber-gripped wand around as if he were directing traffic. “Well, first we’ll soap the vehicle and it looks like it’s going to take two soap cycles.”

He depressed the ‘soap’ button and aimed the wand high overhead, coating the dark vehicle in white suds. Scully was moving around on the other side of the vehicle, her slightly off-tune singing voice joining the Beatles, “ooh, I need your love babe, guess you know it’s true, love you everyday day, girl…”

Mulder shot the soap spray high into the air sending it up and over the roof. “Pay attention over there, woman, and learn how to properly wash a car.”

Scully yelled back to be heard over the music and the sounds of the washing wand. “Hey! Don’t get soap on me, Mulder.” The spray of bubbles hit her again.

She peered through the soapy windows to locate him…and headed around the vehicle, ducking below the windows, to come up behind him. Sometimes ‘lack of height’ had its advantages… She avoided the pools of water and soap thinking that slipping on the concrete might give away her plan.

Mulder continued happily alternating spraying and sponging the vehicle. Scully approached from behind. Mulder started to call her name and wondered why she hadn’t answered him. As he stood on his toes to try to see her over the roof, she grabbed the arm holding the wand, trying to wrest it from his grasp.

His loud, ‘hey!’, made her laugh, which also caused her to lose her hold on him. Quickly catching on to her plan, Mulder spun around, sending soap flying everywhere. “Mulder, it’s my turn; give me the wand!”

Mulder slid back against the SUV, lowering the wand and covering Scully in soap suds. “Muullderrr! You are so in trouble now.”

“Sorry, Scully, ” his laughter a mock apology, “I slipped; not my fault.”

Scully reached back to the control panel and pressed, ‘rinse’, clearing the soap from the wand and switching it over to clear water.

“Mulder, give me the wand, it’s my turn. Besides, we have to get the soap rinsed off.”

“I’m not giving you the wand, it’s too dangerous.”

“For who, Mulder?”

Scully charged at him, lunging for the wand, but he held it above his head, raining down on them. Her height in deck shoes was a supreme disadvantage this time…

Mulder was now covered in soap as well from leaning against the vehicle. Scully jumped several times, trying to use her weight on the downward force to dislodge the wand from his hand. Hanging on to his arm, she tugged and pulled.

Her third attempt was successful. “Scully, we need to rinse the car off, remember? Now, just aim at the roof to start, then the soap will flow down and off the vehicle. There’s a logical order to this, you know.”

Scully mock-bowed, at least starting to aim at the roof… Mulder walked around the vehicle to direct the flow of the water. <And I’ve had just about enough of his ‘directions’>

The wand began to follow his directions, just a little behind where Mulder pointed, ensuring that he would get soaked. “Scully, you’re not paying attention.”

<Oh yes I am, Mulder; I’m paying very close attention…>

“Sorry, Mulder; I’ll try to listen better, oh Master of all Washed Vehicles.”

“You’re mocking me again, Scully. I don’t take lightly to mocking.”

“Oh, I’m afraid now, Mulder. Just remember who has the water right now.”

Scully turned to drop another two coins in the slot…and never saw Mulder come up in front of her and yank the wand from her.

Rather than make a show of rinsing the vehicle, he held the wand over her head, letting the mist flow down over her. She ducked and ran around the vehicle. “Mulder!!! It’s cold out here when you’re wet.”

“Shoulda thought of that earlier, Scully, when you got me covered in soap.”

“Me!?! Who aimed that darn thing at me over the roof?”

No longer caring about getting any wetter, Scully slipped and slid right into Mulder, causing him to bounce into the wall of the bay, the wand falling at their feet. “Look at us, Mulder!”

“I’m looking, Scully. You look pretty wet. And good enough to eat, all covered in soap suds.”

He pulled her toward him and kissed her full on the mouth. Their very wet clothed bodies pressed against each other, a slight ‘squooshing’ sound bringing giggles and laughter to their kiss.

Scully slid her wet hands up under Mulder’s sweater, laying them against his abs. “Mmmm, you feel nice and warm, Muhhlder.”

He drew back and looked down at her, “And you, Scully, are so very wet and so very gorgeous.” His soapy hands wound their way into her wet hair, bringing their faces close together once more.

She hungrily deepened their kiss, occasionally pulling back to lap at the water on his face. “Mulder, I’m starting to shiver and we don’t have any dry clothes in the car.”

“I know; me, too, Scully. Do you think if we stay here kissing long enough, we’ll just air dry?”

“Don’t think so, Mulder. Maybe we should get back and dry off.”

“Or if we got into the car and stripped, we could warm each other quite nicely, Scully.”

She leaned in to lap at his neck, his chin, his lips. Mulder’s tongue joined his partner’s as they shivered in each other’s arms. “Don’t think that particular plan is going to work, either, Mulder… We need to leave.”

“Don’t wanna leave. Wanna stay right here, kissing you, Scully…”

~~~~~

The Snowflake Inn

10 January, 6P

“Hey, Mom, Agent Lady Dana and Mr. Mulder are all wet and all purple. I think they got washed with the truck and I still see some white spots on the truck because I think they forgot to finish washing it.” Eddie was at the greatroom window watching the two Agents walk toward the porch.

As they reached for the door latch, Eddie pulled it open. “You’re all wet!”

“People tell me that all the time, Eddie.” Mulder smiled at him, starting to remove his hiking boots as Scully removed her deck shoes. Robin was prepared with several large bath towels.

“You two must be freezing. I’m not going to even ask what happened, but dinner will be ready in about a forty five minutes, so if you want to get upstairs and get warmed up, we’ll be ready for you.”

Eddie offered to help them, but Robin told him she needed more help in the kitchen. They both toweled the excess moisture from their hair and handed Robin their water logged outwear.

“Race you, Scully.” Mulder bounded up the stairs two at a time. Scully chose to walk behind him, her clothing weighing her down.

Scully opened her door and found Mulder right on her heels. “Where’re you going, Mulder? Last time I looked, your room was over there.” She pushed him back out into the hall. “I figured you might need some help with those wet clothes, Scully.” Mulder looked at her wet sweater hanging almost to the knees of her pasted on jeans. “It just looks rather heavy.”

She shivered, but wasn’t sure which was having more of an effect, the extremely wet sweater against her chest or the tone in her partner’s voice. She looked up into sparkling, hazel, eyes and a smile somewhere between serious and playful with a definite touch of sensuality.

Reading her non-verbals, Mulder backed her into her room, hands on her shoulders. He bent down to grab the hem of her sweater and pulled it upward, her arms extending over her head to help him. Her flesh pebbled against the air temperature and her wet bra.

“Your turn, Mulder.” She sat him down on the bedside chair, standing between his legs. As she bent forward to remove his sweater, his hands came up to her [edit]s, cupping them and kissing her forehead.

Scully breathed in deeply, weak in the knees. “Mulder, we have to get downstairs.”

A silent compromise reached in the interest of time, they moved to the bathroom where each Agent finished removing her/his own wet clothing. Their clothing deposited in the bathtub, Mulder reached behind him to grab a bathsheet, his eyes never leaving his partner’s body.

“Turn around, Scully.” She faced the sink level mirror in front of her as Mulder moved into position directly behind her, towel open in front of him. Her eyes locked with his through the looking glass as he draped the bathsheet over her shoulders, covering her breasts with the additional terrycloth. “You’re cold, Scully. Let me warm you up.”

The combination of the textured fabric, her chilled skin and his large hands warmed and relaxed her, her head lying back against his chest. He moved the towel down along her arms, lifting them to rub along her sides and across her abdomen, her hips settling back into him.

She pulled the towel ends from his hands, reaching them around behind them to his ass, rubbing, messaging, warming him.

In silence, Mulder supported them both against the wall, the mirror reflecting their shared comfort and an underlying current. Scully tilted her head upward, “Mulder, we really have to get dressed and go down to dinner.”

“I don’t think Robin and Keith would mind if we didn’t join them.”

~~~~~

“They might understand, but Eddie wouldn’t. Besides, I don’t know how much more purple the poor child can handle without understanding what it means.” He leaned his head down, as his hand came up to tilt her face toward him just a little bit more. “I wonder how much ‘this’ will add to our purple quota, Scully?”

The rise and fall of Scully’s breasts was only rivaled by the southward blood flow to Mulder’s groin.

***

The five adults and Eddie sat down to a dinner of roast beef, baked potatoes, corn on the cob (Eddie’s year round favorite vegetable) and tossed salad. From his vantage point at the head of the table directly opposite his mother, Eddie observed the grown ups. He was getting distracted, his attention torn between his corn on the cob and the colors swirling around the table. He took a few bites of corn, chomping his way down the ear and back up, and then he’d stop and focus on either his parents or the Agents.

The colors were swirling around the dinner table making it hard to enjoy the food. As much as he enjoyed seeing everybody’s colors, he really wanted to eat his dinner; especially his corn on the cob. “I was really hoping that everyone would make sure their colors are quiet when we’re eating. I can’t have any fun.” He looked from his parents to the Agents one by one, setting his corn down on the edge of the plate. Appearing for all the world as if he were about to make a announcement, he looked to Scully last. “Agent Lady Dana, your purple keeps getting bigger and bigger and it gets very very loud when you’re by yourself with Mr. Mulder.

Scully thought about how color stained her face was and she was sure it was far from purple. “And, Mr. Mulder, you’re just purple all the time. Oh, sometimes it goes under the other colors, but lots of times it’s just purple all the time.”

Now it was Mulder’s turn to try to duck the obvious. “I have an idea.” All four adults looked at Eddie expectantly and then to each other. All were silently afraid of what he was about to say. Eddie turned to his parents. “You said it’s good to tell the truth, right?”

Robin and Keith both nodded; still not sure where this was going. Mulder swallowed; suddenly seeing exactly into which tunnel Eddie’s train of thought was heading…

“Ok everybody; this will be fun! First we do this, then we can eat.” The adults looked at one and other; again, and then back at Eddie. “Eddie, we really should finish dinner. Your friends are tired and have to fly home tomorrow. How about if we save this for another time?”

Eddie actually appeared to consider Keith’s suggestion; for approximately 10 seconds… Never missing his original beat, the sage 5-year old began.

“Ok; I’m going to start with you, Mr. Mulder, because you’re bigger and you have the most purple. You have to be honest and talk about your purple. Then, I think it will be more quiet and we can eat.”

“Oh, Eddie, that’s not very fair to Mr. Mulder, is it? He’s probably very hungry like me, your dad and Agent Scully. How about if—”

“So, Mr. Mulder…”

Mulder visibly squirmed and shifted in his seat; a 5-year old had the heat turned up and it was solely on him. He looked to Scully to help him out, but she looked more nervous than him.

Suddenly, Scully started coughing, hacking and wheezing, her eyes tearing. Eddie jumped down and ran over to her, his question to Mulder history. “Agent Lady Dana, are you ok?”

Between bouts of coughing, she managed to croak out, “I’m…really ok…Eddie.” Mulder handed her a glass of water while Eddie looked on with concern.

Robin caught on almost immediately, Keith not far behind. As the coughs subsided, Scully placed a hand over her chest and drank some more water. Eddie asked her again if she was alright. She smiled at him, nodding her head. His return smile warmed her heart and he returned to his chair to finish eating; the earlier conversation seemingly forgotten.

Mulder looked questioningly at Scully who assured him she was just fine. Dinner ended peaceably, conversation turning to the Agents return to Washington and the Yarlows’ request that they all stay in touch. Eddie invited them to come visit whenever they wanted.

“Eddie, it’s time for bed; you have a big day at school tomorrow. Since you’ll probably be gone by the time your friends get up to leave, you’ll need to say your good-byes now.”

After explaining that he would be making them each a special bag with sandwiches and Toll House cookies as he had done for Skinner, Eddie climbed up onto Scully’s lap. He held her face in his small hands and touched his nose to hers. Although Mulder couldn’t quite make out the entire conversation, he heard enough to know that Scully’s coughing jag had not fooled Eddie in the slightest… Scully gave him a squeeze and a kiss and set him down.

Mulder held his hand out to Eddie who ‘high-fived’ and shook it, his hand losing itself in Mulder’s. Ruffling Eddie’s hair, Mulder wished him good night.

The Agents stood, stretching; the sign of their comfort with their friends and…a long case that had taken it’s toll. “Now, you two head for bed. Mulder and I are going to take care of cleaning up; our way of saying thanks for your kindness, your home; we insist! Besides, although I’m sure I need the sleep, I’m way too wound up to lay down right now.”

Keith stood with his arm around his wife’s waist, her head leaning on his shoulder. It was obvious just how tired the Yarlows were. As they headed for their quarters, Mulder and Scully started clearing the table.

“You know, Scully, I could get used to this.”

“What, Mulder; clearing the table?”

“No, I mean having more downtime.”

“Was that what we were doing here; having ‘down time’?” Scully smiled as she placed the dishes in the dishwasher.

“No, you know what I mean, doing things that are more, well, I guess more ‘homelike’, for lack of a better term.” Mulder called out to her as he headed back for the dining room.

Scully wrapped the roast beef in tinfoil, setting it on the counter. “I guess I do know what you mean. Sometimes I feel as if I miss out on the small rituals of daily routine. Cleaning up after dinner, sitting down relaxing, talking.”

Mulder placed the rest of the salad into a Tupperware bowl and set it and the wrapped roastbeef into the refrigerator. “How about if we finish the evening properly then; a little liqueur by the fire?”

“Sounds good to me.”

She stopped on her way to get the liqueur, Mulder noting her hesitation. “What’s the matter?” She paused as she opened the liquor cabinet. “Well, nothing’s actually wrong, it’s just that I can’t help but wonder if the Scouts are really down for the count. They seem to have what you’d call an uncanny ability to resurface.”

Mulder closed the refrigerator door and turned toward his partner, thinking about the truth behind her words. “Are you feeling any of the thought intrusion? Is that what’s bothering you?”

“No, I haven’t felt any of that since we were in Enfield. I don’t know, maybe I’m just being paranoid over nothing.”

In two long strides, Mulder was in front of her, his hands on her shoulders. A quick kiss to the top of her head brought a smile to her face. “I’m the paranoid one, remember? Let’s try to put them out of our minds, ok?”

“Done.”

***

Mulder sat on the brick ledge, stacking the logs in the hearth when Scully walked in carrying a small silver tray, two small crystal glasses filled with crushed ice and a bottle of Sabra. She was especially fond of the chocolate orange liqueur in the Jeannie-shaped bottle. It would make a nice dessert. She hoped that Mulder would like it as well.

She set the tray down on the coffee table and pulled the cushions and pillows from the couch and chair down in front of the fireplace, arranging them for support and comfort. She placed a few of them against the brick ledge as well.

Kicking off her shoes, she saw that Mulder had started quite the nice fire. “So, Scully, what did you bring us to drink? Don’t think I’ve had this before.”

“It’s Sabra, Mulder, very nice combination of dark chocolate and orange.” Mulder wrinkled his nose and pulled back playfully. “Not exactly what I had in mind.”

They say crossed legged facing each other, cushions around them. “Mulder, you have to give it a try; just taste it, sip it. The crushed ice dilutes it a bit.” She handed him a glass, the fire crackling and bouncing light off of the dark liquid as Mulder swirled it in the glass. He sniffed it, smiling. <Well, he likes the smell; that’s a start>

When Mulder didn’t taste it, Scully took the glass from his hand. She leaned forward and motioned him to do the same. “Taste this little bit.” She dipped her index finger into her glass, coating it with the Sabra, and brought it to her partner’s lips. Holding onto his shoulder with her other hand, she ran her finger along his lips, smiling when his tongue automatically licked her finger; tasting the liqueur. As Scully started to withdraw her finger, he grabbed her hand, sucking her finger into his mouth and sliding it back out.

“You know, this is really good stuff.” His voice husky and low, the firelight reflecting in his eyes, Scully’s lips parted forming a small ‘O’. Locating her own voice, a soft whisper, she suggested he sip some from the glass and handed it back to him, pulling back and away from Mulder.

“But Scully, it’s more fun if you let me taste it on your skin.” Mulder changed positions, kneeling closer to her and then sitting back on his heels. He watched the flames spark and leap behind the mesh screen. He watched his partner. The light and shadow play alternately bathed and shrouded Scully, but always casting her in soft tones, warming her. “Come here.”

“No, Mulder.”

“‘No, Mulder’? That’s not the correct answer.” Mulder leaned forward, hands on the floor in front of him, bringing his face inches from hers. “Let me try that one more time. Come here, Scully.”

“Mulder,” she whispered, “the Yarlows are asleep right out behind the kitchen and that includes Eddie.”

Scully took a few sips of her liqueur and set the glass down on the tray. “More?” Mulder filled both of their glasses, the warmth of the sweet and bitter liquid coating his throat as it heated his stomach. “It’ll make you forget about the Yarlows.” He planted a Sabra kiss on Scully’s forehead. And she drew away from him again.

“Mulder, I’m serious.”

“No more than me.” He waited a few beats, hopefully allowing his words and meaning to sink in. Even in the subdued lighting, Mulder could see the effect his words had on his partner’s face. “All we have to do is be really quiet.”

“Well, what did you have in mind?” She noticed the slow, sultry smile that turned up the corners on his face and knew she had her answer. “Let me move the Sabra out of the way.” On her knees, she lifted the tray from the floor and set it on the end table next to the couch. She then pushed the coffee table closer to the couch. Just as she was about to turn around again, she felt Mulder behind her, warm breath on her neck.

Placing his hands on her hips, he leaned into her, gently pressing her body into the coffee table. A hazy ‘mmm’ was her first response, followed immediately by, ‘Muhhlder’. Placing two fingers over her lips, he reminded her of their agreement to be really quiet. She nodded against his fingers.

Before she had a chance to react, Mulder turned her head to the side, kissing her deeply, while guiding her hips back against him. The dual sensations threatened to overwhelm her senses and she purred into his mouth. His grasp on her tightening as the kiss turned more frenetic, he pulled back just enough to remind her again about the need for silence.

And he tested her ability to maintain that silence as he bent her forward over the coffee table. One hand held her shoulder and the other moved under her trailing over her shirt as his lower body pushed and rocked gently against her.

Scully gripped the table edge, trying to gain purchase against the smooth surface. As she lifted herself onto her elbows, Mulder released her shoulder, both hands against her hips, under her shirt, in her hair, touching and teasing. “Mulder!”

As soon as his name passed her lips, he unzipped her jeans, sliding his hand into her panties, his fingers finding her moist center. “Oh, God, Mulder!”

His hand came around to her mouth, momentarily covering it as he growled into her ear, “Scully, you’re not doing such a great job of being quiet.” To punctuate his warning, he thrust two fingers into her, slowly sliding them in and out as his mouth descended on her neck, nipping and sucking, then blowing lightly over her wet skin.

Scully summoned whatever strength she retained and lifted herself from her bent over position and pushed back into her partner…sending him backwards into the pillows, his hands bracing his fall. Looking quite disheveled and glorious as the light danced on the ceiling, on the walls and on her, Scully crawled toward Mulder, licking her lips.

Mulder adjusted his position, his jeans becoming rather constricting. “Don’t move, Mulder and don’t make a sound.” Crawling between his legs, she pushed them apart farther, running her hands over his denim-clad legs from his calves to his inner thighs. Giving him as little chance to catch his breath as he had her, she first brushed her fingers, then placed her palm over him, smiling a smile Mulder was sure he would categorize as devilish and replay for some time to come.

As she made quick work of unfastening his jeans, she leaned in to taste his lips. Mulder lifted his hips enough to assist her, deepening their kiss.

She settled on top of him, their bodies sliding, the friction resulting in some not-so-silent moans and whimpers and calls to various deities. “Shhh…Scully.” Mulder’s hands framed her face, bringing it closer to his, seeking the taste of the liqueur on her lips, in her mouth. He whispered, “what did you call this liqueur?” “Why?” she breathed against his lips. “Because it tastes very good on you, but I think I’ve used it all up…”

“You say the most arousing things, Mulder.” Scully tugged on his arms, rolling him over on top of her, settling them into the cushions in front of the fire outside the kitchen that was outside the Yarlows’ quarters.

“Mom,” a small fist rubbed at sleepy eyes, “I can’t sleep because of all the purple.”

~~~Time to Stoke the Fire~~~


From: “nja ***” <>

Date: Sat, 01 Mar 2003 20:55:11 -0500

Subject: She Wears it Well by abracadabra, 1/7

Source: direct

Title: She Wears It Well

Author: abracadabra

Rating: R/NC-17

Keywords: MSR, Clothing

Spoilers: Season 7. For the purposes of this story, nothing else follows Season 7.

Summary: Seasons Series — Snowed Inn Universe. They’re in a close, intimate relationship. A little window-shopping in Boston. You don’t have to have read Snowed Inn to ‘get’ this one.

Thanks: Kim and Denise, the daredevil smut duo of betas! Or is that, dare devil duo of smut betas? At any rate, I know I couldn’t do it without either one of them. Thanks!! Also, thank you to Traci for her read-through.

Disclaimer: Ok, they’re not mine…These characters actually do belong to Chris Carter (but I like to play with them), 1013 Productions (I won’t tell anyone I’m borrowing them) and Fox Studios (no comment).

Notes: 2nd annual Boston work-conference smut…The Plaza Shops exist. The clothing displayed in the windows in March agreed to be featured here. The interior of one shop was changed to suit the writer’s needs. The writer received no bonuses or sales incentives to feature the names of the shops here. <g>

Archive: Anywhere with headers intact. Please notify me.

Feedback: Please, please?

Websites: http://www.geocities.com/spookys_girl2000/index.html

http://www.geocities.com/mesmerizememulder/

Date: 3 March 02

~~~~~

She Wears It Well

By abracadabra

Collage by Spooky’s Girl

~~~~~

Copley Plaza Shops

Boston, Massachusetts

3 March 2002

Sunday Afternoon

“Let’s start at the other end.”

“We’re already right here. What’s wrong with starting here?”

“Because I parked the car in this garage and we should work our way back to the car.”

Scully’s eyes rolled for the third time in so many minutes, but this time she also shook her head in reaction to just one more of her partner’s endearing, if annoying habits. For someone who was so open to extreme possibilities, he was very set in his way over the more mundane aspects of every day life.

“Fine, Mulder, we’ll start at the other end, but,” she decided to play along, “Where exactly is the other end?” Facing him, hands on her hips, she tried to hide the impatient smile she knew he’d use to his advantage.

“Well, we’re at the Sheraton, so the ‘other end’, Scully, is down by the Marriott shops.” He extended his hand to her, lacing his fingers with hers, and headed past the Hynes Convention Center.

As they drew closer to the Boston Tapestry wall, Mulder veered to the left, heedless of the fact that he still had Scully in tow and that she had no idea he planned to deviate from their original path. Before she could inquire as to their destination, she found herself up against the waist-height brass rail with her partner’s hands framing her from behind.

“What are we doing here, Mulder?” When she tried to turn to look at him, his hand gently guided her eyes back to the large granite wall in front of them.

“We’re checking out this sculpture. I’m betting you didn’t know that it’s supposed to be the view of Boston from the 52nd floor of the Pru.” He had dropped into his didactic voice, one she had learned to both love and hate, depending on the circumstances.

“The Prudential Tower was the first true skyscraper in Boston and Alfred M. Duca dedicated this tapestry in 1965.”

He couldn’t stand still. Mulder gestured and punctuated his sentences with his arms…and his hips.

Scully was used to his verbal and non-verbal communication; he was one of the most kinesthetic people she’d ever known. But while his arm movements in public weren’t very out of the ordinary, the occasional swaying of his hips against hers was attention getting.

For her. And, by the feel of things, for him, as well.

“Mulder? Maybe we should head for the shops?” She turned in his direction as he wrapped his arms around her in a close approximation of a bear hug and kissed her cheek. “Whatever you say, Boss.”

She wasn’t sure if she was relieved or disappointed about the loss of the physical connection.

As they moved away from the artwork, the shops surrounded them on three sides and Scully’s steps slowed. She was glad that her partner also seemed to enjoy window and ‘real’ shopping almost as much as she did. Since neither of them ever seemed to have the time, when they did, it became an event.

Just one more ‘normal people’ thing they occasionally got to do. In her mind, what made it even better was that they shared these normal things on a much more personal level.

And with Mulder, there was always a good chance that ‘personal’ involved getting naked. She could only hope.

~~~~~

She saw it before he did. The Body Shop. Tugging on his hand, she veered left toward the dark green painted wood-framed windows with the yellow lettering. One glance at him told her this was not what Mulder had in mind when he suggested they should walk through the plaza.

“Scully,” half-whining, half-imploring, “What’s in there that you need?”

“I don’t ‘need’ anything, but there’s something I definitely want.”

“Me?”

“Peppermint Foot Cream, Mulder.”

She watched as he seemed to process the information. And his next words told her he had reached his own conclusions about its usefulness. “Is it edible?”

Carrying the small brown handle bag, she led Mulder back out into the plaza, ignoring his question.

“Are you enjoying yourself, Scully?” He knew he didn’t really need to ask the question. The carefree smile on her face and the gleam in her eyes told him all he needed to know. ‘Happiness’ for him was often defined simply by being in her presence, no matter where they were.

Her sight now focused on Anne Taylor across the walkway, she murmured and nodded. He followed, hoping they weren’t going inside. ‘Anne Taylor’ looked rather sedate although Scully saw something she obviously liked. Pointing to the knee length black sleeveless shift with the stark white armhole and neckline border, she asked, “What do you think of this one, Mulder?” He watched her head tilt to one side as she moved to view it from another angle. It looked exactly the same to him from any angle. Boring. He’d never met any woman who wore as much black as the love of his life.

“It’s ok, Scully. But don’t you have enough black clothing? Don’t you want something a little more colorful for spring?”

She laughed; her hands on her hips and, without facing him, replied, “What are you, the new spring colors campaign? Black and white are crisp and sharp and…”

“What about soft and warm?” He offered. He could picture her in the dress on the mannequin, her hair pulled back and up, a pair of those impossibly high black pumps, a string of pearls at her throat her translucent skin matching the luster of the pearls. She’d look stunning. But, he tried to picture the same dress in a pastel color.

~~~~~

He was pulled from his mental meanderings as she reversed direction, heading farther down the concourse. Stopping two doors down at a place Mulder had never heard of. ‘Arden B.” Oh, this place looked like it had possibilities and his mental meanderings returned. This time with a vengeance.

But he was rudely interrupted when she was on the move again. “Where are we going? Don’t you want to check out these windows?” His tone neutral, he hoped she wouldn’t sense his interest.

No such luck.

“See something you like, Agent Mulder?” The quirky upturn of her lips made it harder for him to retain his mock-detached look.

With practiced nonchalance, he draped an arm around her shoulder, drawing her closer as he pointed to the white, headless plastic forms, all sporting throw back 70s outfits.

“I was just picturing you as a flower child or disco queen.” His eyes had wandered over the 7 dress forms and settled on the one to his right. The one dressed in very low slung hip hugger, bell-bottom jeans and the gauzy white peasant blouse with the cleavage-baring neckline.

He felt her fist connect with his biceps as she ‘explained’ that she would never have been a ‘disco queen’ although the image of flower child held a certain appeal.

She gazed up at him trying to follow his eyes to see which outfit held his attention. “What is it about that one that you like?”

“Where do you want me to start? Maybe the hip-hugging jeans?”

“They’re called, ‘hip-huggers’.”

“Like I said, ‘hip-hugging’ jeans, or the low-cut, tummy-baring top? Need I go on?” His arm around her shoulder grew tighter as he nudged her hip with his in demonstrated emphasis.

Moving him from his obvious fixation, Scully posed a question, “Did you have a guitar, Mulder?”

He noticed that she’d turned to look up at him, amusement flickering in her eyes. “Maybe you were into the Retro 70s movement as a teen? And that guitar had a peace sign strap?” She prompted.

“Do I look like I was ever a hippie?” was his answer, a matching twinkle in his own eyes.

Her questions had only temporarily derailed the images percolating in his head as he looked at the mannequin.

<<Scully with wildly flowing copper waves, a daisy chain loosely tilting in her hair…the peasant blouse in white with a drawstring at the cap sleeves and neckline causing them to pucker and cinch over her rounded shoulders and bra-free breasts…her nipples proudly pushing against the white cotton>>

His mind’s eye continued its journey to <<her taut, porcelain-skinned abs — not the washboard abs of the 90s, but the trim, but softly rounded abs of the 70s — the ‘let it all hang out’ era…her belly button peaking above the hip hugging jeans that cling to her in all their faded glory…the line of her legs to the frayed hems that drag on the ground leaving her toes exposed>>

Her elbow lightly jabbing him in the ribs got his attention. “Mulder?”

“Huh? What?”

“Where were you just now?”

Leaning down to plant a kiss in her hair, the images continued.

<<Slowly and dexterously unbuttoning the top two buttons of her fly…finding she wasn’t wearing any bikini panties…pulling her closer to him, his hands losing themselves in her glorious tresses as he seals her mouth with his…spinning her around her back to him…he slips one hand over her shoulder and into the top of her blouse, the sleeve falling off her shoulder…feeling the weight of her head as it falls back against his chest when he pinches first one nipple, then the other…his other hand trying to slip inside her jeans…hearing her sharp intake of breath as his fingers gain access, stroking her, finding her very…wet…>>

“Mulder!”

Her look of concern and his flushed face were a matched set. He actually burst out laughing — busted as he was.

“I’m ok, Scully. I was just thinking about you.” At her puzzled look, he leaned in, the tip of his tongue wetting her bottom lip.

“Mulder? Do you have a fever?” All she knew was that her core temperature had suddenly shot up a few degrees and his cheeks reflected how she now felt.

~~~~~

Part 2.

They continued past the other shops and specialty carts, one or the other occasionally stopping to ask the cost of an item or to show something to the other.

It was Scully’s turn to be dragged off course and she found herself staring up at the white oval sign with the dark blue lettering announcing the ‘Speedo Authentic Fitness’ shop. Attempting to pull her firmly rooted partner across the concourse wasn’t working.

“Oh no you don’t, Mulder. I thought we’d been through this speedo phase and decided—”

He cut her off with, “You didn’t like my red speedo? I heard that the clerical pool was placing bets on who would be lucky enough to see me in it.” His smugness was exceeded only by his accuracy.

There had been quite the wagering pool at the time — and only she herself had had the pleasure of seeing him in the infamous speedos. But only because he’d later insisted on wearing them the first time they’d gone swimming together.

“As ‘hot’? As I’m sure you thought you looked, I prefer to leave a little something to the imagination.” She let his hand go, but he was right behind her, crowding her, running right into her. Showing her evidence of what she wanted ‘left to the imagination’.

“You’re downright incorrigible, Mulder.”

Not missing a beat, he replied, “And you’re downright hot, Agent Scully.”

~~~~~

Efficiently extricating herself, she moved them back toward the center gallery where the four walkways converged and then split to direct the flow of visitors to hotels or main streets outside the shopping galleries.

“I’m getting hungry, Scully,” Mulder stated as he brought her hand to his sweater, “So hungry that you can ‘feel’ my stomach grumbling.”

“I can’t feel anything but your shirt, Mulder, but if you’re hungry, we can get something to eat.” She pulled her hand away after patting his stomach for good measure. She headed straight ahead and left toward the California Pizza Kitchen.

While he headed straight ahead and right toward The Sweet Factory.

“That is dessert, not lunch.” Trying to steer him back across the tiled walk wasn’t working. Not when his attention was focused on the plate glass floor to ceiling windows that clearly displayed the plexi-glass candy dispensers. Row upon colorful row of Jelly Bellies, gumdrops, and assorted gummy animals interspersed with milk and dark chocolate bark, bridge mix and sundry enrobed goodies. Any child’s dream.

Squinting her eyes, debating, she nonetheless followed him on his quest for a sugar high. He moved to the back wall, taking a clear and blue striped plastic bag from the stack. Before she could ask him what he had selected, she saw the blue scoop digging in to the multi-colored gummy bears. “Those won’t fill you up.”

The hands on her hips told him exactly what she thought of his choice, but that wasn’t about to stop him from filling the bag. “Have you ever tried them?” Thankfully, the tiny shop was empty except for the sales staff at the front, allowing him to bring a few chewy and sticky candies to her mouth. “Open up, Scully.”

His eyes fixed intently on her mouth; his fingers poised centimeters from her lips. When he saw that she wasn’t listening very well, his other hand grasped her wrist, the half-full bag dangling from his hand.

Her smirk evident, she nonetheless opened her mouth as she fixed him with her stare. The tiny moist shapes stuck to his fingers, making it difficult for him to place them in her mouth. But, calling upon years of teamwork, she decided to help him accomplish his goal and pursed her lips over his fingers, drawing them and the confection into her mouth.

Totally lost in the sensation of her tongue caressing his fingers, Mulder let go of the blue striped bag, spilling its contents on the shiny floor. That action, however, attracted much less attention than his moan as she sucked his fingers further into her mouth.

Both Agents decided they had probably created enough of a public stir and quickly exited the store. Doing his civic duty, Mulder stopped on the way out to leave a twenty with the sales staff for the downed gummies.

“Still hungry, partner?” Scully shot him a glance that told him she was as effected by the little scene in the candy store as he was. Their afternoon browsing the shops was developing into an exercise in self-restraint.

“I think I can wait till dinner, Mulder, but I do want to get something to drink.”

Now carrying the Body Shop brown handle bag and his Sweet Shop striped bag, Mulder placed his left hand on her right shoulder, guiding her up the steps to the over-the-street enclosed walkway to the Marriott Gallery of Shops.

“I’ll buy you a lemonade from the lounge.”

~~~~~

Iced tea and lemonade in hand, they proceeded to the escalator taking them up to the Gallery. As Scully wandered over to the Tiffany display windows sipping on her tart drink, Mulder gravitated to the windows on the right. Glancing around to locate his partner, he spied her at the slate gray facade with the small square viewing windows. Wondering for all of about ten seconds whether it would be rude to call to her across the mauve marble concourse, he simple spoke her name. It was enough to get her attention without attracting others.

She turned to see him standing at the large storefront windows with the large read lettering above. “‘Bally’s’, Mulder?”

She was eyeing the Armani Exchange next door knowing just how well her partner filled out a suit. How much she’d love to help him try something on. Like a fine pair of lightweight worsted wool, flat front trousers that would drape and hug him in all the right places….

She wondered what caught his eye until she saw the slight leering expression. She blinked several times as she pushed her navy velvet headband back from her forehead. “What’re you looking at?” As if she didn’t already know.

“What do you think of the two women’s suits, Scully?” He’d already drained his iced tea and walked to the trash receptacle with feigned casualness. He turned to watch her as she checked out the two different female dress forms. Arms crossed in front of her chest, the clear plastic lemonade cup in her right hand, her weight shifted to one hip. Her navy slacks falling quite nicely over her hips. His eyes traveled upward to the white, long-sleeved angora sweater that hugged her like a second skin, the kitteny furriness floating over her curves.

Aware of his presence, that he was looking her over from head to toe, she could feel his gaze. And didn’t mind it one bit. Reveled in the sheer heat of it. She was sure he was checking to see if she’d choose the same suit he had.

“You chose the red leather, didn’t you, Mulder?” Seamlessly, she unfolded her arms to hand him her now empty cup before he’d even reached her side.

He just shook his head, amused at just how often they operated without words, and deposited it after his own.

“Just look at it, Scully. It’s you.”

“It’s not ‘me’, Mulder. It’s the wrong shade of red for my hair; much too lipstick red.”

He moved behind her and wrapped both arms around her once again, loosely holding her to him. “Oh, I don’t know. You wear most clothing well.”

Her head butting him in the chin as she looked up, she asked, “Just ‘most’, Mulder? What don’t I wear well?”

But he was already elsewhere, his partner’s face superimposing itself on the white glossy mannequin. The lifeless limbs suffused with flesh and blood. “I take it back, Scully, you wear everything and nothing with equal aplomb.”

~~~~~

His whispered words seemed to drift over her and she was curious over his mood. He’d been lighthearted and playful, but also with an undercurrent. Something a bit…more serious? More sensual? Her thoughts were interrupted when she felt his thumb and forefinger on her earlobe.

“The red leather suit, for instance,” his lips were close enough, but not quite, touching the shell of her ear, “would fit you like a calfskin glove. But I’d remove the jacket.”

She squirmed involuntarily, leaning back into him.

“The matching red tee would stretch over you, but you’d have to be braless.”

At that, she twisted slightly, her right brow arching upward. “Really, Mulder. Where would I go without a bra under that shirt? It’s extremely sheer.”

Turning her back to face the window and resuming his earlier position, he told her, “Exactly.”

She briefly recalled there were people milling around them, but she noticed they seemed to be paying them very little attention. Which was a good thing, because she seemed to have very little attention to pay them, either, since Mulder’s words were having quite the effect on her. Had he just said that he wanted to see her in a bright red, sheer, stretch shirt with no bra underneath? Her nipples tightened in affirmation.

And he noted the response to his words through the thin fluffy, knit of her sweater. “Does that turn you on as much as it does me, Scully?”

In a hushed tone that barely qualified as anything much more than a breathy sigh, she told him it did, her hands clutching his forearms as they enveloped her.

“It would be tucked into the buttery soft and skin tight leather pants that sit right here,” his hand traveled to just below her navel, “and hugged you right about here.” The same hand smoothed over her hip and followed the line of her outer thigh.

“Mulder, you do see the other people all around us, don’t you? I mean, you’re aware that we’re not in some time warp that has suspended us from reality?” His chuckle sent a warm breath through her hair and tickled her neck.

“Of course I see them, Scully. But I also see that leather.”

“Leather fetish? I never knew.”

“There’s probably a not a lot you don’t know,” he purred.

She was intrigued and finding it more difficult to keep up her end of this strange conversation. “Like what?”

“Like the fact that I’ve always wondered what you’d look like in really spiky heels — and leather with maybe a pair of handcuffs.”

“You’ve seen me with handcuffs.”

“Don’t interrupt me; this is my fantasy. With handcuffs and maybe a whip.”

“A whip, Mulder?”

“A whip, Scully.”

~~~~~

She was intrigued; intrigued and rather hot and just a little wet and by the somewhat obvious and insistent feel of Imagination Mulder behind her, he was equally hot.

The arched eyebrow accompanied her smirk. “What do I do with my toys?”

“Oh, this is where it gets good. First you cuff my hands behind my back.”

“You let me?” Her surprise evident.

“I do.”

The strolling senior couple regarded what appeared to be a pair of starry-eyed lovers with tolerant amusement.

Only momentarily distracted, Scully asked, “What does all this have to do with that rather conservative looking red suit?”

Repositioning himself against her ass and lower back, the subtle sway of his hips wasn’t lost on her as he switched to her other ear and spoke, “That’s just it, Scully; it only looks conservative. But, when you stop and really think about it, red is anything but sedate and conservative. It’s more the cut of the suit juxtaposed with the color. Think about it, red is volatility, it’s Mars, the Red Planet.”

The slightest quirk of her eyebrow and she was trying to set him back on course; moving him toward making his point. If there was a point to be made.

“The Red Planet, very seductive in its heat.”

“I wouldn’t call temperature ranges from -67 to 80 degrees ‘seductive’.”

“Just go with me on this one, Scully.”

“It’s not working for me. Mars was named for the Roman God of War. How does that connect back to ‘seductive’ and red leather?” She eyed him suspiciously. “Make it good, Mulder, or we’re moving on to the next shop.”

“Ah, but you’re forgetting one little known fact, partner. Mars was first named for Ares, the Greek god of agriculture. Planting, fertility. Now do you see where I’m going with this?”

‘Oh, yes’, she thought. ‘I see’ very well. “You came up with all of this because of the suit in the window?”

Just as suddenly as his narration had begun, it ended and he moved away from her, causing her to nearly topple from the sudden lack of support. He crossed to the shop windows, moving to one side of the display, his hip leaning into the cinnamon granite wall and out of the main path of passers-by.

The object of all his attention seemed just a bit startled by his departure and also a little bothered. Hot and bothered. He decided he liked that look on her very much. Hot and bothered Scully was a lot of fun to play with.

~~~~~

Part 3.

With the crook of his finger, he beckoned her, noticing that she fought a losing battle to maintain a neutral expression. She seemed to be enjoying herself just as much as he was — except he was willing to admit it. He smiled as she appeared in front of him, resting her back against the window and hooking her booted heel over the low brass rail. Her hands lay on her thighs.

“You were saying, Mulder?”

“I can say it better if you stand over here, closer to me.”

“Try harder — I’m staying right here.”

“You’re no fun.”

Her arms crossed in front of her.

And he capitulated.

“Ok. So I’m cuffed, my hands behind my back. You walk around me and I can see how your ass moves beneath the tight leather, your legs looking long and shapely as you strut with impudence in those sexy heels.” He paused; raking a hand through his hair, his eyes intently focused on her.

Taking in his pose, arms crossed, one hip jutting away from the wall, as his shoulder supported him against the cool marble. She noted the slight downward tilt of his head, how his hair fell over his forehead, making it appear as if he were looking up at her from eyes that held a secret between him and her. A very provocative secret. One she wanted him to finish sharing with her.

And she stepped a little closer, no longer needing to actually ‘see’ the particular red outfit that had started him down this sex-fantasy road.

“Tell me more.” The want and need in her voice softly spoken but clearly communicated.

The distance between them less than one foot, neither touching, gazes locked.

“I watch your eyes as—”

“I’m wearing that and you’re ‘watching my eyes’? You’re losing your touch, G-Man.”

Taking another step toward her, his hands by his sides and then in his pockets, she can see his breath catch in his chest beneath the tan ribbed cotton knit crew neck.

“Don’t think so, Scully. I watch your eyes as you draw closer. While the ever-darkening crystal blue is enticing, the hard points of your nipples so clearly defined beneath the very thin and stretchy red tee are what really catch my attention. Especially because they’re now level with my eyes.”

He watches her lips part and her tongue slip out to wet the lower. Hears her faint attempt to make him believe she isn’t just as aroused as he is when she tells him to ‘do go on’.

He complies and continues.

~~~~~

“Since I’m cuffed, I can’t do what I’d really like to do, so I go for door #2, Vanna.”

“Vanna?” The question is barely audible.

Ignoring her jab, he steps back and she follows.

“Maybe we should move this elsewhere, Mulder.” Her furtive glances reveal only that no one seems to be paying them much attention.

He shakes his head, telling her ‘here is just fine’.

“Since you’re already right in my face, your spiked heel between my legs on the chair—” His eyes light up his recitation.

“When did that happen, Mulder?” The amused glint in her eyes elicits a grin from him.

“You’re interrupting me again. This is my story, remember?”

“How could I forget?” Arms crossed in front of her once again, her chin jutting forward, she challenges him to continue.

“Annyyway, your spiked heel is between my legs, the pointed toe of the shoe rather close to my very obvious erection…”

He notes that she follows his word to his fly.

“…So very close to my erection that I squirm. You lean one hand on my shoulder and my lips latch onto your nipple, right through the thin fabric, my teeth then gently tugging…”

“I think we should get going, Mulder.” She’s panting and draws her arms up higher where she knows the evidence of just how much she’s getting into his story is blatant. <What a pair we are> she thinks.

In a movement best described as a quiet and smooth flurry, he grasps one wrist away from her, draws her very close and brushes her fingers against the rather tented front of his trousers.

A small smirk appears as she cops a brief feel and then turns to walk away.

~~~~~

In the direction of one of his favorite shops, or rather, catalogues. Victoria’s Secret. Classy women models showing off Secret Scully Clothes. Oh yes, since they’d been able to explore the more intimate side of their relationship, he’d showered her with some very nice little lingerie gifts. Well, they ended up being gifts for him too….

So, he followed her without protest.

But she was moving away toward the Newsstand. He had to divert her. Not wanting to actually break out into a run, he did a combination fast walk/shuffle that had him by her side just in time to reach for her hand and nudge her left. Out of the wide archway of the magazine and newspaper emporium.

“Mulder, I wanted to pick up a magazine.” Releasing his hand, she started to turn. Only to find his arm around her shoulders whisking her back toward the cream colored windows.

“I’ll buy you any magazines you want later. Besides, why would you need reading material when you have me by your side? For a whole weekend?” The mischievous gleam in his eyes hadn’t really dissuaded her.

“Exactly. However, since you’re being so nice, I’ll indulge you one more time.” Truth be told, she wasn’t sure just how much longer she could indulge him. The man had more capacity to spin creative fantasies than anyone she’d ever known. He was the poster child for the phrase, ‘think outside the box’. He is his very own new paradigm….

And he was turning her on, ratcheting up her arousal. With his voice. With his story-telling. And with his touches. Touches that were growing publicly bolder.

He was standing behind her, his hands on her shoulders, almost an arm’s length away. But she could still feel his presence. She waited; knowing the next narration was about to begin. Theater of the Mind. Mulder’s Mind. With a decidedly sexy slant.

“You’d wear that, wouldn’t you, Scully?”

Hmm. A new style. Of fantasy. Of clothing.

She tilted her head to one side, considering, evaluating. “I would.” The tawny chestnut satin with just the barest hint of gold shimmer. Classy. The drape of the very low cascading neckline that would pool between her breasts, the barely there spaghetti straps.

“Why?” She heard the genuine inquiry and imagined his serious, considering face.

He was considering the very tailored waist on those tap pants. With the mid-thigh to nearly-waist slit. Just enough slit to show plenty of her firm, translucent skin.

But, before she could formulate her answer, he supplied it. “Because it’s functional as well as sexy. You would wear the top under a suit, maybe. And those short, slit boxers, well,” he moved a few steps closer, needing to touch, to connect, “you’d probably wear them under your suit skirt in the warmer weather. Without any pantyhose or nylons.”

His voice had that low, dusky quality that she associated with a rather turned on Mulder. “Why wouldn’t I wear any pantyhose or nylons?”

She’d started whispering. He found it rather telling. She was losing control as quickly as he was. He hoped there weren’t many other shop windows between here and the hotel. Any hotel.

“Because you’d know I wanted easy access.”

Oh. Well, who was she to deny him access — any kind of access?

Scully considered the possibility of a direct correlation between his physical proximity to her and the rise in her core body temperature. She determined it was a positive correlation, a direct one-one correspondence. If he drew any closer, she had the distinct impression that spontaneous combustion would be a serious consideration. She wondered idly how many actual, documented cases of such a phenomenon existed.

Well, there was always a first time for everything.

She’d barely realized he was talking to her. “What?”

“I said, wouldn’t you want to give me access?” He was actually leering. Not that she hadn’t seen him leer before, but coupled with the fact that he was also sporting quite the fashionable wood, the look took on new dimensions.

“Maybe we should try another shop….” Tugging at his hand wasn’t working. She was dealing with Hooked on an Idea Mulder. A rather dangerous, in a most exciting way, version of Forming an Idea Mulder.

~~~~~

Their hands clasped, he headed for the entryway, walking into the mauve carpeted display area. “You need to have that outfit from the window, Scully.” A statement of fact, plain and simple.

She turned to gaze up at him amidst the clothes hangers artfully arranged around them. “I don’t think I’m going to ask you why I need it because it’s rather obvious. But really, Mulder, you don’t have to.”

She knew he didn’t have to, that he wanted to and she was touched. While she sometimes felt slightly embarrassed by the various and sundry gifts he bought her, she had to admit his taste was impeccable. And, that they were often items she might not buy for herself even though she might covet them. Like the tap pants and camisole in the window.

Taking her elbow and guiding her to the wall display, they passed the myriad satins and silks in tasteful gem colors and spring pastels and shaded neutrals, each rounder holding some of the sleekest and most sophisticatedly sexy lingerie he’d seen. Outside the catalogue. He was planning on seeing it very soon on Scully. Woman of many subtly striking moods and looks. All of them devastatingly beautiful.

She watched as he surveyed the upper rack where the camisoles hung by color and size, his arms crossed, his face a study in concentration. He drew the mere slip of tawny satin from the bar. Holding it up in front of her by the taupe rayon padded hangar arm, he angled it this way and that, the fabric shimmering and slinking in the artificial lighting, finally deciding it was exactly the right size.

She took it from him, smiling at his uncanny ability that really wasn’t so uncanny since she knew he’d checked her lingerie drawer.

Seeing her small smile, he surmised he’d chosen correctly and bent toward the lower rack to find the camisole’s mate. After handing it to her, he spun her in the direction of the sales desk.

When the saleswoman asked Scully if she wanted to take the two-piece set, Mulder shook his head. “She’d like to try them on first.”

Scully knew that tone. Gently imperative. Meant to charm. “That’s all right,” she told him, turning to the woman, “I’ll just have them wrapped.”

One glance at his face told her that was the wrong answer. And that he had something else in mind entirely. That he didn’t really need to know whether the fit would be right because he already knew that, as she did.

Smiling at the solicitous saleswoman, Mulder sidled up to his partner, leaning close enough for her to hear his sotto voce imploring her to try it on for him.

Victoria’s Secret Sales Associate Vivian suddenly discovered a smudge on her black patent pumps in need of close observation.

Mulder noted that Scully’s protestations were rather weak, telling him that she just needed a good reason to try on that which she already knew would fit her perfectly.

He decided to give her that reason. Thankful that most of the Sunday shoppers had decided they were not in dire need of sensual little nothings, he took a step closer to his partner. A step close enough to let her experience the nicely formed ridge in his chocolate wool trousers. Pressed insistently into the softness of her belly. Discreetly, of course.

“Is that a good enough reason, Scully?”

Her pursed lips and raised brow her failing attempt at rebuke; she drew in a sharp breath and stepped away from him. Taking the garments, she asked Vivian the way to the dressing rooms. Mulder followed like a feline on a catnip trail.

He was sure he heard her mutter, “That’s your reason for almost everything,” but didn’t bother asking for confirmation.

Leaving him with the blue-striped candy bag, and the bag containing her foot creme, she watched him fold himself into the pastel brocade side chair just outside the slatted swinging doors to the changing area. The chair barely contained his lanky frame.

Dropping the small brown bag, he set the candy down in his lap, allowing the plastic covered gummies to serve as camouflage. His hands clasped and resting on the bag wedged the small, soft gel snack animals between the heat of his hands and the pulsing heat in his pants, creating a merging of multi-colored confection bears.

Meanwhile…

~~~~~

Part 4.

Scully turned around in the soothingly decorated dressing room, the piped in Euro-New Wave music floating through the speakers. The eggshell watered silk wall covering was edged with alabaster wainscoting and served as a backdrop for the gilt-edged floor to ceiling mirrors on two walls. A low, wide tapestry upholstered bench seat lined the third wall. Soft light emanated from the upturned frosted fixtures, giving a somewhat rosy and suffused glow to the room. This wasn’t a dressing room, she mused, it was a fancy boudoir. A fantasy boudoir.

Hanging the two items on the wall hooks, she stepped out of her boots, setting them aside, her socks pooling around her slim ankles. Unzipping them, she let the navy-lined slacks slide from her hips. She folded the pants, placing them on the bench cushions. Scully took a rare minute of self-inspection, her hands on her hips. Seeing herself…. Trying to see herself as he saw her; especially this afternoon. She studied the way the soft sweater clung to her curves, the baby fine ribbing at her waist ending several inches above the slight dip in the waist band of her panties. The length of her legs as they flowed to her…tweed socks.

And she shook her head, laughing.

Time to try on Mulder’s outfit. She shook her head at her own manner of thinking about the set.

Unclipping the tap pants from the hanger, she bent down, lifting one foot and then the other, drawing the satin up her legs and over her hips. She turned in profile, noting how the tailored slits draped on her upper thigh, almost reaching the covered elastic waist and definitely showing her panty line. She smoothed her hands over them and then crossed her arms at her waist, grasping the ribbed edge of her sweater.

Mulder was restless and the lack of foot-tapping music wasn’t helping. He had an itch that needed to be scratched. A Scully Itch.

Dropping the bag of gummy bears into the chair and setting the other on the floor, he looked around, noting that Vivian and the other Sales Associates were discussing the latest in cleavage producing bras at the desk. His luck held out as he also noted that he and Scully appeared to be the only late afternoon customers.

He approached the swinging slatted doors and pushed them open, feeling somewhat like a cowboy in the Old West entering a Saloon. Only the Barmaid wasn’t decked out in billowing skirts and a bustier.

Letting the doors flop back toward one another silently, on well-oiled hinges, he turned right and headed to the changing room on the end. As he drew closer, he could see her arms over her head, the angora wrapped around her and she pulled the top off. She was a vision. But for some reason, he felt like he was intruding and stepped back, out of what would be her line of vision.

That didn’t mean he hadn’t noticed the slim sweep of her skin below her bra strap and over her ribs to her tiny waist and then to the swell of her hips as the deep cocoa of the bottoms fell against her. He paused his image replay right there knowing that he wasn’t sure how much more restraint he had left in him.

The sweater joined her slacks in an airy heap before she unclasped her bra. She needed to see the full effect…. Dropping the straps from her shoulders, she tossed the garment onto the bench and reached for the camisole.

Mulder thought that this afternoon hadn’t been about window shopping, really. And he could appreciate the art of fancy shopping just like the next person. But this had been something else. Downtime with Scully. With a woman who met him on so many levels and drove him nearly out of his mind with want and love and desire and…lust.

That familiar stirring in his loins was back. Probably had never gone away.

Sure he’d given her enough time to finish dressing, he called out to her, “Scully, you decent?”

Her tone playfully chastising, she whispered, “Mulder, what are you doing in here?”

“I think you already know the answer, so get your cute little butt out here and let me see you model my purchase.” One hip thrust to the side, he leaned against the alabaster walls in the hallway right outside her changing room, his face a picture of rapt attention.

She’d removed the headband when the velvet caught in the sweater.

It looked like bedroom hair to Mulder. He loved Scully bedroom hair. Soft, waves-tossed.

The sight of her body in that nearly not-there outfit took his breath away and sent all the blood from his formerly thinking brain straight to his groin. Mulder, Jr. wanted in on this party.

Finding some semblance of his voice, he instructed her to turn around for him, noting the heated flush that rose from where the satin pooled in her cleavage up her neck and across her face. It made her eyes sparkle. Dangerously.

The view from the rear was alluring. The way her hair fell between her shoulder blades the soft creamy color of her skin exposed by the low back of the camisole. The fall of the pants over her ass stopping just below where her thighs joined her hips.

“Turn again, Scully.” His voice this time was barely audible, flowing over her like molasses, coating her as she felt the warmth settle low in her belly.

She swept her hair off her shoulders unconsciously, her arms hanging by her sides looking for all the world as if she had no idea what to do with them. “What do you think?”

Her words drifted to him although they’d been spoken nearly as quietly as his.

“I think that your nipples are just begging to be touched. By me.”

When had he closed the distance between them, she wondered. And when had she backed into the alcove formed by the three-way mirror behind her? And while she was mentally posing questions, when had his thumb started massaging her nipple through the fluttery fabric?

~~~~~

He braced himself with one arm above her head, leaning into the mirror. This would not have been happening several months ago. This closeness, this comfort with their intimacy that allowed them to give in to a whim. To be turned on. To turn each other on to such a state that their surroundings became secondary. Or only serving to heighten their experience.

Sure, one might say that this was his game, but her eyes told him all he needed to know. She was on his team, front and center.

She took his breath away — at once stunningly provocative and enticingly innocent. All wrapped up in shimmery satin decorating silky skin.

His index and middle fingers tilted her chin up as he gazed down into the depths of her eyes. Their connection and the seductive smile curling her lips told him what he wanted to know.

Allowing his hand to slide down the mirror, he bent toward her. Slowly. He’d tried before, but couldn’t really express exactly what it was about closing that short distance from separate to together that was so alluring. How her eyes flitted from his eyes to his lips and back again several times. How she parted her lips barely enough to allow the tip of her tongue to trace the arc of her lower lip and even when her tongue retreated her lips remained poised in invitation. An invitation to brush her lips with his.

Time returned to its usual pace.

She felt the electric zing when the soft/firm touch of him grazed her mouth. And when his bent knee parted her thighs, her socks slid on the carpeting. But it was the touch of his thumb on her already aching nipples that caused her to moan.

She seemed to do a lot of moaning around him lately. And groaning and whimpering. She was a virtual symphony of previously unplayed sounds.

Her hands reached for the neckline of his pullover, seeking to deepen their lip lock. It was his turn to groan when he felt her arch in his hands that cupped her breasts.

Overwhelming sensation. Frenzied sparks against languid waves.

And a slight recollection that they weren’t exactly in the privacy of either apartment…. Mulder’s lips slipped off hers with nearly the same touch he’d used to greet her. The breath of his whisper did nothing to staunch the wetness she was beginning to feel.

“God, Scully. I really love how this fits you.”

They both laughed.

“Mulder, we need to get out of here. Now.”

He responded to the urgency in her tone, feeling the same urgency straining in his trousers. Forcing himself to step back from her, his eyes raked over her one final time before he turned.

His parting words, tossed her way over his shoulder, had her quirking an eyebrow at him…as she grinned.

“Love the socks, Scully. They turn me on.”

~~~~~

Folding her bra in with the matching lingerie set, Scully slid her headband back into her hair and headed out to the sales desk. She caught site of Mulder who was already completing the sale, his credit card in Vivian’s hand. The small bag of candy somehow managed to look both cute and absurd in his hand.

Her bemused grin went unnoticed. But the fact that Mulder’s nose wasn’t the only part of his body in sharp profile as she approached the counter was very noticeable.

She hoped Vivian was as skilled with the credit card purchases as she’d been with ushering her to the dressing room.

The polished Sales Associate didn’t even bat an eyelash at the customer’s bra neatly tucked in between the camisole and tap pants. But Mulder noticed the hardened buds that formed two small points in the soft fluff of her sweater. <Sweet Jesus, Scully>

Neither noticed the Saleswomen’s knowing smiles as they left the shop, the tall handsome man carrying the glossy pink handle bag and the blue and white striped Sweet Factory bag of gummies.

~~~~~

The Marriott Hotel

Later Sunday Afternoon

When Scully shook her head indicating that no, she did not need to get a magazine from The Newsstand, Mulder looked relieved. He’d remembered how he’d wanted to divert her from her errand in order to get to Victoria’s Secret and felt it only fair to offer to stop there now. He wasn’t quite sure where they were headed, but he knew it had to be close by and it had to be now.

The fact that the little red-haired minx next to him kept butting her hip into him wasn’t helping him one little bit. To top it off, he was making a valiant effort to keep his eyes averted from her rather perky breasts in that much too soft and thin white sweater. They jiggled with her movements. In a most titillating and tantalizing manner…. He wanted to back her into the granite Plaza walls and nuzzle his face against her until she dropped the shopping bag and begged him to unzip her pants. Then he’d drop his bags and lap at her through the sweater while his fingers made a beeline for the sure-to-be wet crotch of her panties.

“Mulder? Hello? Mulder?” It took him several seconds to register the fact that she had stopped moving and was trying to get his attention. Already at the escalator threshold, he skidded to a halt.

“Sorry, Scully. What were you saying?” He felt as if he’d just run a marathon…sprinting.

She read him well, knew he was experiencing that same heady rush of adrenaline. Heart pounding, breath coming in short pants, skin flushed, certain anatomical locations on full alert. “I was just asking you how far away the car was, but I think I remember. It’s way too far.”

Focusing on the fine art of conversation, he raked his hand through his hair and then crossed his arms over his chest. “Forget the car, Scully. If I remember correctly, the Marriott’s right down the escalator. What do you think the chances are of them having a room?”

She could tell he liked the hotel idea. It wasn’t so much the rather leering smile on his face or the glint in his eyes as much as the way he stepped just a bit closer to her. So she could feel his tightly coiled energy full force. Oh, she’d like to harness some of that energy. Cradle it right between her legs.

“We’re never going to know until we get down there. Move it, Mulder.” Walking ahead of him, she stepped onto the moving stairway, the large plate glass window in front of them providing a view of the city was entirely lost on them.

He was in a hurry. The fact that he tried his best to join her on her moving step was the dead giveaway. Realizing it would be almost physically impossible, he settled for invading her space from the step above, his hands on her shoulders, the now combined into one bag bouncing in her hand.

She glanced up and back, knowing he’d read her eyebrow raise correctly, making it unnecessary for her to verbally tell him to relax. She softened her expression with a small smile.

Mulder spotted the sign for the hotel lounge to the left as they disembarked, guiding her through the crowd at the coffee bar. “I don’t see the Registration Desk.”

“It’s down one more floor. This way.” She was pretty sure that had there been fewer people milling around, he might have broken out into a run, tugging her along behind him, his longer legs striving to make short work of the distance between them and release.

“Mulder, slow down, the escalator to the lobby is right here.” In his haste, they’d nearly overshot it. This time, he stood next to her, needing the contact, his arm tightly around her waist.

It felt divine, but was not enough. Turning into him, she hooked her index finger in his back belt loop, bringing their bodies closer. Knowing that if she let her hand drop just a little, it would rest on his ass. That would be dangerous. That would be wonderful. Maybe they should pick up the pace a little.

Luckily, they were two of only five people standing along the velvet stanchions and they were called quickly.

“We’d like a room, please.”

“Do you have reservations?” The Clerk smiled, all business.

“Uh, no, we don’t.” Scully could hear the small tinge of tension creeping into Mulder’s voice.

“Do you want one or two rooms, Sir?”

Scully decided to assist her partner, cover his back. And what a fine back it was, she mused from her position. “That would be one room, please. Make it a single. One night.” She concluded, deftly anticipating the Reservationist’s questions and facilitating their checkin.

Mulder reached for his credit card, handing Scully the Victoria’s Secret bag in the process. Setting the card on the counter, he moved her in front of him, on arm wrapped around her waist again.

Gritting her teeth, she stifled what would have been a rather embarrassing whimper. If she’d thought he was aroused before, she hadn’t seen anything yet. Insistent and hard, she felt the ridge of him pressing into her hip and lower back and the slight shift of his hips as his body sought the contact almost of its own accord.

Trying to extricate herself wasn’t a possibility given his iron-clad grip on her.

“That will be $172.50, Mr. Mulder.”

Barely listening and waiting for the slip to sign, he bent to Scully’s ear. “Maybe we should register as Mr. and Mrs. Fletcher.”

She would have pushed him away if he barest touch of his lips on the shell of her ear didn’t feel so damn hot.

Scully caught the carefully hidden lip curl of the woman behind the counter as the new guests turned toward the elevators — with no luggage save two shopping bags.

~~~~~

Part 5.

Oooafff… The wind was literally knocked out of her once the doors whoosed closed. Using the momentum of their forward movement and his hold on her, Mulder swung Scully around in front of him as he hit the back wall of the elevator.

Then he remembered neither of them had punched in the ‘27’ for their floor. He splurged, surprised that the hotel had an open suite. An upgrade. Gratis. Such extravagance. She had but scant seconds to contemplate how much she loved him for it.

Only because he had bent her back, one hand cradling her skull, the other caressing her cheek, his fingers alternating between her ear and her hair, as his mouth devoured her.

Although she still gripped the Body Shop bag, he had dropped his larger one unceremoniously at their feet.

The twin sensations of the friction of the fluffy fibers against her bare breasts and her partner’s hard as nails erection pushing into her belly had her breathless.

The Peppermint Foot Cream rolled on the floor as shopping bag met floor and all bets were off.

Mulder mock-yelped into her mouth when her hands gained purchase on his ass, trying to meld their lower bodies. “Scully, God.Gotta….”

“Shut up, Mulder. I need your mouth.”

Always or almost always the obedient partner, he lapped at her upper lip before crushing her to him and reversing their positions.

Her back against the wall, he lifted her bent leg, trying to wrap it around his hip, opening her, allowing him to thrust against her.

Scully wasn’t quite sure what to do with her hands. There were just too many parts of this extremely horny man to touch and grope and…. She registered the feeling of his hot palm up under her sweater, covering her breast, his fingers plucking at her nipple.

The ‘ding’ notifying them that they had reached their destination seemed to have little effect.

Trying to either raise her or lower himself, Mulder humped her as if they were in the backseat of his high school car. He was starving. She was his nourishment and he couldn’t get enough.

As always, she sounded the voice of reason. Even if that ‘reason’ was far less coherent than usual. “Muhl…Mulder,” the second time was the charm, “room; get to…our room, please….”

God she loved the look on his face at the height of passion. Unsated passion. A wonderful combination of eyes burning fever bright around darkened and dilated pupils, lips swollen, imminently kissable, his skin flushed. And, her eyes moving lower, his ramrod erection pulsing against the trousers.

Summoning some unknown reserve for intelligible speech, he asked, “Scully, would you laugh if I started singing ‘Love in an Elevator’?”

~~~~~

She was wearing him like a second skin. Or at least he was attempting to cover every available inch of her with his body. While they walked down the hall to their suite.

His behavior made walking imminently difficult and incredibly arousing. And certainly gave a new meaning to the term, ‘partnership’. The phrase ‘joined at the hip’ also came to mind, except she hoped he’d wait for the door to close behind them before he tried that maneuver. Oh, how she wanted to be joined, her hips to his.

“Mulder, you’re going to trip me.” Pulling her into a bear hug from behind, he lapped at her ear, his tongue first laving her lobe and then darting inside.

“You want me to stop, Scully?”

“What are my other choices?” She tried to turn around to face him, but his rather solid presence didn’t allow for more than a hair’s breadth between them.

“Well, I could bend over you a little more and then pull you into me.”

“We’ve already tried that particular move. Be more creative.” Her slight laugh could be felt by both and belied her monotone delivery.

She could see their suite straight ahead.

“Well, Ms. Smarty Pants, have we tried this?” He knew she was about to nod when his hand pushed her sweater up high enough to allow him access, but when his knuckles rubbed her low on the front of her pants he knew he’d won some points for creativity.

“Ahhh….Oh, Mulder. Damnit!”

“I take it you liked my manly demonstration of creative moves?”

~~~~~

One of them had to get the door open. Fast. Scully had the key card in her hand, but couldn’t seem to decide how to insert it. When she managed to locate the slot and leaned forward to slide the card, Mulder’s tongue found the little spot behind her ear he loved to taste.

“Ahhh. Mmmmm.”

The key dropped to the carpet.

Untangling herself from her partner, his hand leaving a warm trail from her breast to her hip, Scully plucked the card from the carpet and slid it quickly in, then out before Mulder had a chance to reattach himself to her.

The green light in the sliver door handle blinked and Scully depressed it, swinging the door open. She felt Mulder’s arm up over her shoulder, ensuring that the door swung open far enough for both of them to enter. He succeeded in shoving it hard enough to slam into the wall inside.

Barely noticing, Scully turned toward her partner, allowing herself to be backed into the set of rooms.

Lit only by the late afternoon sun streaming in through the large floor to ceiling windows, the long hall entryway was bathed in shadows and natural light. Here and there, the rays glanced off the mirrored closet doors to Mulder’s right.

Scully let the Body Shop bag drop once again and then removed the matte pink bag from her partner’s hand, letting it, too fall by their feet.

~~~~~

Ever the sensible one, she steadied herself, her palms resting on his chest, catching her breath. “Mulder?” Her eyes sought his, the question there mirroring the one in her voice. What she saw in his eyes said plenty. Charged heat. Barely restrained arousal. Desire. Intense desire.

<She wants words?> He found himself smirking — just slightly. She really was amazing. She was just as blown away by the afternoon as he was and he was sure she wanted much more, too. He watched as her chest rose and fell beneath the garment that hugged and caressed her, yet also cast a most alluring veil over her very ripe breasts.

He wanted to touch her there. Hell, he wanted to touch her everywhere. But, obviously quite satisfied with his (lack of) response, she moved first. Her hands had somehow managed to pull the hem of his top from his waistband and then find their way to his small nipples. As soon as he had managed to process that little bit of sensory overload, her nimble fingers were making hasty work of his belt.

He found himself wondering just when that had happened. And realized it was probably just before he found his trousers pooled at his ankles. Not to mention Scully’s barely there nails trailing up along the length of him through the silk of his boxers.

Barely there nails changed to her very adept and warm hand cupping his sack as if she were testing its weight. And while his breath came in ever quickening pants, she first traced the silk covered steel of him and then somehow managed to sneak past the waistband to find him hot and throbbing and ready.

“What do you think you’re doing, Scully?” His words sounded as breathless as she felt and she wasn’t sure if she could form a coherent answer.

It wasn’t solely about the control, although she acknowledged the heady feeling it gave her when she had it. It was also about watching him at her mercy, vulnerable, wanting. Wanting her. Her touch drawing him deeper into the spiraling depths of his arousal.

Focusing again, Scully’s soft honeyed voice told him, “I’m having a little clothing fantasy of my own.”

“Oh yeah?” Barely a hoarse squeak. He glanced down to see her hand inside his boxers, to feel her doing the most incredibly and maddeningly arousing little stroke and thumb routine.

Man, she had him. She had him good.

There was something about the wicked little grin on her face, pinning him with her gaze, while she held fast to one of his most sensitive parts of his anatomy — and one of his favorite parts, too.

“Oh yeah. It’s really very simple,” she continued as she slowly began to slide the fluid silk down over his hips, “me…you. You without your pants.” She paused, her eyes trailing down over his thighs, somewhat knobby knees, muscled calves and slender ankles.

“Well, part of this vision has been realized — and to finish it off — you without your boxers.” Now squatting at his feet, dusky blue eyes flitted up to his face; once they passed his rather prominently jutting erection.

It made her more than a little breathless.

~~~~~

He understood what she wanted, but the feel of her fingers circling his ankles and probing his calves left his mind confused. It seemed that the somewhat chilled air of the suite was warring with the inferno originating somewhere north of his thighs and south of his navel.

She was waging this war, but was definitely on the side of turning the inferno into a full-blown conflagration. On her knees, she reached back to pull off her ankle boots and socks, aware that Mulder’s eyes were tracking her every movement.

As she grasped his thighs coming to a standing position, he wrested control from her, seizing her by her upper arms, nearly dragging her to her feet. Wedging his now throbbing and twitching length between them.

Scully’s breath was knocked from her in a panting whoosh as his mouth descended over her, warm firm lips, hot questing tongue, sharp nipping teeth. Her arms remained pinned by her sides as he held her in place, her swollen lips crushing his, being crushed by his in return.

The war had shape shifted. It was now a tsunami.

His movements frenetically graceless, due in no small part to the clothing encumbrance at his ankles, he backed her into the mirrored closet doors, the waning sunlight reflecting in shattering images.

Both sought to free him from the tangled clothing, Mulder toeing off his Cole-Haan loafers as he tried to step out of his boxers/trousers jumble and Scully trying to hook the items with her toes to push them away.

Neither accomplished much.

As the partners, now greedy with a shopping afternoon of barely contained and restrained lust, simultaneously bent to dislodge the offending fabric, their heads butted.

But their laughter lessened the impact as Mulder succeeded in stepping out of the leg holes and tossing the clothes across the room. Forgotten.

“Scully, you’re not naked….”

~~~~~

Her bemused smirk lasted only long enough for the man wearing only his crew neck sweater, wool socks and a rather imposing hard-on to walk into her, once again pinning her to the glass. Before the words could leave her mouth, his large hands pawed at her sweater, shoving upward, exposing her breasts. Consumed with desire bordering on hunger, he bent forward and lapped at her nipples, their color darkening as they hardened under his ministrations. His thumbs drew lazy circles on the outside of her breasts as his mouth teased first one, then the other, tight, hard peak.

Tingling sparks danced down his scalp as she clutched at his hair, holding fast and then releasing him.

“Still not naked enough,” he slipped her nipple from his mouth, his words feeling like vibrations against her. Not waiting for the response he knew probably wasn’t coming, he brought his face up to hers, planting butterfly kisses on her eyelids, nose and chin.

As he made quick work of the fastener and zipper on her slacks, her fingers dug into the arms of his sweater, trying to tug it from his body. When that tactic proved fruitless she bent forward, her arms threading through his to snag the hem of the garment. The fact that Mulder’s hands were intent on freeing her from her slacks stifled her efforts.

So she made a nearly conscious decision to go with the flow, the chilled air following her slacks down her quickly becoming bare thighs and calves, raising gooseflesh in their path. Had he stopped there, she might have renewed her efforts. But when his index fingers traced an simultaneous path around her waist and under the elastic waistband of her panties where it rode the swell of her ass, she arched forward.

‘Mission accomplished’, his smoky gaze and rather hungry grin a dead giveaway to his thought.

The textured fibers of his pullover created a delicious friction as it rubbed and teased her aching breasts, her nipples seeking the soft/rough contact. She needed his mouth on her. On her turgid peaks. On her already sensitized skin. Anywhere. On her mouth. Now.

But no matter how she tried to get her point across, he seemed intent on kneading her ass, his hands warm and firm and oh… oh so insistently probing. She couldn’t decide. She wanted both. She had to tell him.

“Mulder.”

It wasn’t working. It could have been his warm breath in her ear or possibly his socks-covered toes tickling her ankle. More than likely, it was his very naked leg bent at the knee and wedged between hers while he tried to slide her satin panties down her body.

“Mulder.”

He sighed. The woman did things to him when his name came from her lips with that tone. The one he wasn’t sure just how to describe except in terms of the devastatingly erotic effect it had on him.

“Scully.”

The only response she required. Other than his teeth now nipping at her lips before his tongue followed the line of her jaw and…he was quick. She seemed to be automatically stepping out of her panties while he suckled her nipples, pausing only long enough to move from one to the other.

“Gonna fall, Mulder.”

Her words registered somewhere in his Scully-fogged brain and he grabbed her hips, steadying her, his lips refusing to part with the objects of their attention. He couldn’t be in two places at one time.

Or maybe he could.

~~~~~

Part 6.

He eased them both to the floor; him on his knees, his sexy partner sliding down into a semi-squat, her spread bent legs framing his thighs, snaring him. He drew back just enough to freeze-frame the picture before him. Locks of auburn hair scrunched and mussed around her on the mirror, her hands gripping the shoulders of his pullover. The depth of the blue of her eyes focused on his mouth, her own lips moist from where her tongue bathed them. Angora sweater bunched up under her arms…he made a mental note to remove it…it broke up the expanse of her creamy skin. And the way her ass rested on her heels…his eyes drawing down over her very alert breasts, down to her parted legs, to the heat of her.

She felt him inch closer. And closer still until his knees connected with the backs of her thighs where they met her behind. She felt him touch her…everywhere, but mostly where the now throbbing and pulsing hardness of him bobbed between them. Oh god, if he moved just a little bit lower…. What to touch first.

Almost always practical, she used her hold on his sweater to direct him down to her, her mouth open, trying to tell him what she craved. Damn him, but he wanted to play. She wanted to taste him.

Her mouth opened wider on a surprised ‘Oh, Mulder’, as he let one hand slip from her hip along the crease of her parted thigh and directly to her apex. ‘Wonderful’ couldn’t begin to cover the sensations of his searing kiss and the heel of his hand setting up a rhythm just above where she really, really, most definitely had to have him the most.

“Mmm…”

“You’ve got to articulate more clearly, Scully. Really.”

In spite of herself, she grinned. And laced her fingers into his hair, pulling his face close once again and then feinted to one side and bit his earlobe. Rather hard.

She was good; he’d give her that. But he bet she didn’t expect him to stroke her and slide his middle finger deep inside her.

Her knees were going weak for the second time, but what he was doing to her. Well. Two could play at this seduction and she was beginning to think she’d never get him where she wanted him.

He wasn’t exactly sure which happened first. Her small, warm hand grasping him, stroking him from root to tip. Landing on his ass, her hand on his chest or was her hand on his chest right before he landed on his ass? And she was still working him… And his finger was still wet with her though no longer inside her.

On her knees between his legs, she watched the look on his face change from arousal to surprise to arousal to…well, it stayed there. And he called her ‘mercurial’….

As he came up onto his elbows, she saw the glint in his eyes that said ‘as much as this is turning me on, this isn’t where it ends’.

She liked that. She liked him.

She loved holding him.

Especially when he was still half-dressed and she had the upper hand, so to speak. He’d gotten to visualize his fantasies regarding her. So, here was one of hers. Her partner rather sexily posed; sprawled in front of her, his bangs hanging on his forehead, eyes that crossover shade of mocha/gold/olive, face flushed. Top teeth nipping bottom lip. Oh…that mouth…. Upper body covered, but the neckline of his crewneck pullover rakishly skewed to one side, the hem just grazing the dark thatch of his groin. Long legs, bare, slim feet. Yet, her eyes skimmed it all zeroing in on what she crawled forward to reclaim.

He was hard. So hard and throbbing.

Her firm grip on him followed by her tongue flicking once, twice, under the ridge and then across the head almost sent him down onto his back. But not before he sat up, roughly pulling her toward him and toppling them both down, disengaging her hold on him. His lips nibbled her chin and bussed her nose and then went in for the kill, parting hers with heat and liquid fire.

He felt her response clear to his toes. She curled those toes with her passion.

His hands were all over her, but mostly under her sweater, holding her, his thumbs keeping time with the movement of his tongue in her mouth. But her last item of clothing was in his way.

He was having only marginal success removing the barrier between them. He’d almost succeeded in freeing one of her arms from the soft wool, but she didn’t seem to want to let go of him. And when he managed to release her fingers from his hair, there was the little problem of neither of them being willing to relinquish their kiss.

His hands were still all over her, but were spending too much time with her sweater. She decided it had to go; understood that was ultimately what he’d probably been trying to do. It was just that the taste of his lips was a sensation she simply fell into. And didn’t see any reason to stop just yet.

“Scully,” he breathlessly gasped, “sweater.”

Panting, she righted herself, drawing him with her. On her knees once again she crossed her arms, her fingers at the hem of her top and drew it over her head.

For his part Mulder enjoyed the slight bounce to her breasts and the way her abs stretched taut as the garment was removed. The waning sunlight caught the fragments of red fire created by the static electricity of wool and strands of hair.

“What’re you doing?” He watched his favorite G-Woman with barely disguised amusement as she folded the sweater and turned toward the upholstered bench across from them.

In response, she began to walk on her knees away from him. “I paid good money for this Mulder, and if you think I—”

She’d always known that part of his charm was his wickedly playful way. She had barely crawled a few feet when she felt his body behind her, enfolding her, covering her. All at once he’d pulled her to him, his hands covering her breasts, her ass in his lap. His hot hard length wedged between them. Equally hot and very wet mouth sucking on her neck just below her ear.

“You were saying, Scully?” His arms swept upward underneath her arms as he breathed the question into her ear.

Rising slightly she arched forward, the feel of his hands sweeping from her hips to her breasts just a precursor for the exquisite tease of his fingers mischievously tweaking her nipples.

The sweater dropped unceremoniously from her hand.

Rocking back into him, she elicited a raw moan from her sexy G-Man.

“I was saying— OhgodMulder.”

“Say that again.” His fingers raked her hair back as his open mouth attached itself to her neck over her pulse point alternately lapping at her and sucking.

What he was doing to her created a very heady sensation. Her heart beat faster almost as if he were causing the blood to pump harder, quicker. She needed to kiss that mouth.

But oh what his thumb was doing between her legs. Maybe that kiss could wait.

Kissing Scully’s skin was always erotic. Talk about erogenous zones. Was there any inch of her that didn’t turn her on? This was one of his favorites because if seemed to arouse her everywhere.

And she was like just so much slick heat; especially where his thumb touched her. His other hand moving downward, he drew lazy circles on her inner thigh, lightly blowing in her ear as her legs spread wider for him. “God Scully, you’re so fucking gorgeous.”

Twisting her upper body to one side, seeking his lips, her head fell back against his shoulder. “Show me Mulder.” Her tongue entered his mouth without invitation as she felt his two fingers slip into her. She felt the palm of his left hand sweep up to her face, guiding her to him, sealing her in their kiss.

She wasn’t sure to whom to attribute the moans, but she knew without a doubt that she was the one who couldn’t sit still. The slight prickling of the hair on his thighs beneath her, the soft cotton of his shirt sliding up and down against her back. And the more she moved, the deeper his fingers penetrated her and the harder he seemed to grow between them.

His hand cupped her chin, attempting to separate their mouths, to give them two seconds to restore their oxygen supply. They both gasped, but he wondered whether it was from the lack of air or from how heated he was feeling. Both. Yes.

Scully had a way of getting to him. Big time. Whether it was her slow smile, the bright blue of her eyes when she looked deep into his or the sometimes dizzying mix of wit, wisdom and love in her words, he wasn’t sure. Probably all of the above. But when it was combined with her uncanny ability to turn him into one big sexual being, well, he knew why he’d been head over heels for this woman for such a long time.

The sensuous weight of her in his lap as she writhed and ground into him had him thrusting in response from behind while he thumbed her clit from in front sandwiching her to him. Their bodies felt as if they were on fire, her skin flushed and warm with the slick sheen of sweat causing their lower bodies to slip and slide creating a titillating friction between them.

He smiled as he felt her hand join his between her legs, melding him to her, increasing his pace. “You like that, Scully?”

Her answer floated to his ears as a combination of a purr couched in a jagged growl ending with his name. He set up a steady rhythm, his palm flat against her belly; his other hand guided by her as he worked her sex. She was so close.

“Yessss, God, yes Muhhll….” The insistent pumping of his fingers and the way he circled her bundle of nerves then swept his thumb lightly over it was about to send her sailing into a glittering oblivion. She clutched the back of his hand so tightly to her, she was sure she’d leave marks. She barely registered the heat of his other hand low on her abdomen, one digit tracing the edge of her navel and then dipping into it.

She threw her other arm behind her, fingers curling around the back of his neck as she felt the shuddering wave build and then crash over her. “Oooo…uhh…ahh…Mulderholdme.”

Music to his ears — as she clenched down on his fingers with her inner muscles and gripped his thighs with her own. Her panting sounds pushed him nearly to his limit as he withdrew his fingers and held her to him tightly — one arm now across her chest, the other around her hips. Easing her down as they both breathed like a couple of steam engines.

“You doing ok, Scully?”

“Mmmm. Very, Mulder. More than ok.” Sweeping her hair back from her face, she turned in his arms. “And you…?” Her gaze turned downward between them as she shifted, causing him to release her.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

Before replying she scanned his face — the high color in his cheeks, the tousled and damp hair across his brow and the deep dark of his eyes, she grinned.

My fantasy has yet to be fulfilled partner.”

Once again on her knees in front of him, she smiled down at the quite hefty erection straining toward her. Placing her hands on his quads, she bent toward him and laved him with her tongue from base to head, swirling her way to the top.

His groan/moan erupted from him, his eyes slamming shut, catching him by surprise. “Scully!” But she had already moved. When his eyes reopened she was on all fours, heading toward the bed. Feeling quite animalistic he followed her — neatly and efficiently grasping her hips and flipping her over onto her back at the foot of the bed.

She lay unceremoniously spread before him, her hair fanned on the beige carpeting, her chest rising and falling as if she’d just run a marathon. He was awed by just how devastatingly wicked and sinful she looked lying there and quickly knelt between her legs, his hands pinning hers by her head.

“Going someplace?”

She watched him above her, bending his elbows, drawing within inches of her face, his words hot puffs of air over his lips, her eyes, causing them to flutter. His pullover hung over her nipples and brushed her throbbing buds with agonizing feather-like touches.

Choosing to ignore his question in favor of getting him to part with his shirt, she lifted her head from the floor bringing her lips to his. “Mulder, your shirt?” Her laughter rippled between them.

Now it was his turn to laugh. How had it remained on for so long? Did he care? Letting go of her wrists, he sat back on his feet and removed the crewneck top, tossing it aside.

“All gone,” he gritted out as he felt her toes flexing on his leg. “C’mere, Scully.”

“Mulder!” Her laughter negated any chance at indignation she might have had as she felt his hands on her ankles, trying to drag her toward him. “I’m going to have rug burn. I don’t think you want to be responsible for keeping me off my back for the next several days….”

~~~~~

Part 7.

Her laughter ceased when she found herself literally butted up against his knees, her feet hooked on either side of his hips. The backs of his knuckles trailing along the inside of her thighs higher and higher had her shivering in anticipation, goosebumps covering her flesh.

“No rug burn Scully.” He loved the way her eyes grazed over him so intently, how they seemed to focus on his face and then…just a little bit south. “See something you like Scully?” Knowing how much she loved to watch him touch himself, he released one of her ankles watching her face as her eyes followed his hand.

The anticipation was going to kill her. Sure, it would be a glorious death, but she had so many more ways she wanted to touch him, to explore the possible ways they could join. She actually felt the heat deep in her center as his right hand clasped his cock, as his breath hitched right along with hers, his fist now traveling the length of him.

“Jesus, Mulder.” She licked her lips as he fondled the head, spreading the drops of precum along the ridge. Rising up onto her elbows, she scooted herself farther forward, using the leverage in her arms and upper body to lift her ass onto his thighs.

Continuing to stroke himself, he asked her haltingly, “Is this what you want?”

“Mulder, please. I don’t know about you, but this afternoon almost puts our seven years of foreplay to shame.”

Not missing a beat, keeping up the steady up, down that would soon threaten to undo him, he held her with his gaze from beneath half-lidded eyes.

“Then what are we waiting for, Scully?”

Lightening. The man had the reflexes of…well…a fox. She was bent nearly in half, her knees wide, her ankles resting on his shoulders as he knelt over her. Holding her hips steady, his hands registered as pliant and firm grips, his thumbs moving relentlessly over her hipbones.

His name had barely left her lips when he felt her hand on him, guiding him to her slick folds, teasing herself, teasing him. Like a finely synchronized dance, he drew her hips to him as he thrust forward and her hands covered his. Intensely connected.

At the first touch of him nudging inside, she simultaneously drew in a deep breath and spread her bent legs farther, anticipating the rush she’d come to expect from this moment. It was the same but always different, always like a new first time. And, as he was wont to do, he teased them both, rising up on his knees slight to push forward and then settling back down to hold at her very wet and pulsing opening. Digging her nails into his hands did nothing. Unless she counted the smug grin on his very lustful face. God how she loved that look.

“Damnit, Mulder. Move that fine ass of yours.” She directed through clenched teeth.

“Only if you ease up on the death grip on my hands. I need them to fire my weapon.”

“The only weapon I want to see you firing right now doesn’t need your…hands.” To emphasize her point, she tugged on his hands that held her hips and lifted herself up to him yet again.

Who said the third time had to be the charm? Taking her not so subtle hint, he drove into her in one steady glide, contracting his glutes, his hands sliding to hers to lift her closer still.

She didn’t know what to do with her hands. Briefly rising to her elbows again, she watched, slack-jawed as his length disappeared inside her and then pulled out again to repeat the delicious motion. But she couldn’t stay there and lay back down, her head turning from side to side on the carpeting, her arms extended behind her, reaching…for what she didn’t know.

Letting go of her legs, Mulder leaned forward to grip her waist, pumping steadily, picking up speed to match her moans and the way she chanted his name.

The sunset outside the picture windows behind her had nothing on the beauty of her face as she rode him closer to her release. Her hands clenched and unclenched on air and then she moved them closer to her body, trying to gain purchase on the low pile of the rug.

“Scully, you ok?” He knew how odd that might sound given how blissful she looked, but the way her back was sliding on the carpet; he really did consider her earlier comment about rug burn.

“S’ok Mulder, don’t stop.”

Oh, he wasn’t about to stop when they were both so near the finish line and he felt so fucking unbelievable. On his elbows and knees now, he slipped his hands under her shoulders, needing and wanting to touch more of her, hold her close and…deepen his angle.

In response, she wrapped her legs higher on his hips and reached up to tangle her hands in his hair. Bringing her lips close to his ear, she whispered, “You’re…putting…the lotion…on my back…G-Man.” Her tongue followed her words into his ear.

“Of course….” Watching her face, he knew that she was about to climax again, his own not far behind her. His fingers brushing her cheekbones as he turned her to him, he sealed his lips over hers.

“God, Mulder.” She now gripped his shoulders; her fingers clutching him as her heels dug into his hips. “Up” Her eyes briefly opened, silently, wildly directing him.

As magically as it usually happened, he looked into her eyes, reading her intention and lifted her to him as he pulled back on his knees, his ass once again resting on his heels. With Scully wrapped around him in his lap. Her arms wrapped around his neck and she squeezed her thighs around him, lifting up just enough to slide down over him. Setting a slow, grinding, swiveling pace with her hips.

Driving him to distraction. Deliriously, dangerously delicious distraction. But also frustratingly, erotically agonizing. He set up a forward and back rocking motion, but didn’t have enough leverage to thrust.

And damn he needed to thrust into her. To bury himself into her with ravishing force. The throbbing ache he felt, had been feeling since his first images of her as a hippie, needed resolution. ‘Resolution’, hell — his entire body felt like every nerve-ending was firing double-time. He was talking about mind-blowing orgasm. With the woman of his waking dreams.

Trying to get her attention…well, he knew he had her full attention…but he wanted to put himself back in the driver’s seat, so to speak… Cupping her ass cheeks, he kneaded them, rocking as he held her still. Nope, this wasn’t helping… Her moaning and murmuring and the feel of her breasts pressed to him were making him forget his own name. Or was it her name?

“Schulleee. Scully. Stop.”

That got her attention. What was he saying? Her hips had a mind of their own and her walls contracted, teasing and gripping him tighter. Jesus, it felt like he’d started a fire inside her. and she didn’t want anyone putting it out. Then why was he stopping? And did he think that the way he was grabbing her ass was going to get her to stop? He was so deep inside her he could be a part of her own body.

Continuing to undulate, she asked him why and then told him ‘no’.

But Mulder hadn’t gotten where he was in life by taking ‘no’ for an answer. Ensuring that their connection wouldn’t be lost, he held her tighter, noting that she responded in kind by attaching herself to him with more tenacity.

And that’s when he performed one of his less graceful, but nonetheless successful, maneuvers, landing him on his butt, his back to the bed. With Scully still very much in his lap, cradled between his torso and his bent legs.

She couldn’t stop wriggling and wiggling, meeting his upward thrusts, her hands on his shoulders. Riding him.

Leaning back, her hair falling around his knees, she reached behind her, her nails trailing down the backs of his thighs. Eliciting a rather heated string of slurred commands and name calling from him. “Mulder. Let. Go,” was her response. As she found his sac nestled between his legs and stroked lightly across the skin, feeling him drawing up tighter.

“Awww, Scully.” His palms flat on the floor, elbows bent, he surged forward and up into her. “Come with me partner…”

Forcing herself to lift her head to look at him, she watched him. The sweat gleaming on his chest, dampening his hair, dotting his forehead, mouth open as his breathing grew more ragged. Following the line of dark hair from his chest downward…as their flesh slapped together.

He watched her. Her eyes like midnight, teeth grazing her bottom lip, her breasts…oh, god, he had to touch her. Opposites attracting, his palms covered them, squeezing, kneading, then pinching and twisting her nipples. The somewhat intelligible sounds she made between hitching breaths nearly finished him off right then and there.

Feeling the pinching and twisting on her hard points…followed by the hand that slid down her belly and busied itself between her slick folds… “I am…I…” Stretching long and taut, jangling bright white lights zinged behind her eyelids as her heart raced.

As he hammered her his hands roved from her breasts to her face, to her hips, settling there, driving into her…“Scully!”

~~~~~

His hand tugged at the hem until the spread slid from the bed and covered them. The lack of clothing, physical exertion and sunlight combined with the efficient air conditioner made them seek the heat of each other…with a little help.

“Mulder?”

“Mmmm…Scully?”

“When did you get so interested in women’s fashions?”

Pulling the quilted paisley bed covering a little higher, she snuggled against his side, twining her leg with his, her palm on his chest. His heartbeat had steadied some and felt warm beneath her cheek. Warm and steady. Hot and sexy. God, she loved this man!

“I’m interested in many diverse topics, Scully. I’m quite well educated.”

“And equally smug about it.”

He smoothed the hair back from her face, kissing her damp locks, kissing her forehead, tilting her face to kiss her lips.

“I’m not smug. I’m just right.”

“That you are Mulder.”

~~~~~

Finis

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