2 weeks later
J. Edgar Hoover building
Washington D.C.

Scully sat back on her chair and stared at her partner, who was engrossed in reading some kind of report. He hadn't really spoken to her in the week since he had left the hospital. Not that he was rude or ignoring her. He just didn't say much these days. He was preoccupied most of the time, still influenced by the rather heavy antibiotic-treatment the doctor at North-West Georgetown had pulled him through after they had returned from Alaska. His strength was returning, but he still got out of breath easily.

"Mulder?" she asked, hoping that somehow she could entice him to speak to her in more than short sentences.

He looked up, meeting her eyes for a moment. "What?" he asked.

"We need to talk. About what happened in Alaska," she said. She didn't want to confront the subject, but she was tired of this cold front she met every time she tried to talk to him.

"What's there to talk about?" he wanted to know and looked back down at the report.

"There's plenty to talk about, Mulder. I know you're upset with me for taking you out of there, but if we had stayed, you would have died. Is that what you want? Did you go up there to die?" she asked, unable to keep her temper down any longer. It wasn't as if she had hurt him on purpose.

His eyes trailed back to hers and he stared at her for a moment. Then he sighed, pulled his reading glasses off and leaned back on his chair. "No, Scully. I didn't go up there to die. I went up there to find my sister ... The first hard evidence that she is still out there somewhere fell into my hands ... and I went up there to find her. To at least see her once. To know that she was okay. But ..." He trailed off, having to heave a couple of deep breaths to regain the air he had lost at this tirade.

"... I prevented you from doing that by taking you out of there too soon. Isn't that what you're thinking?" she wanted to know, feeling kind of disappointed herself. She had known this was coming, yet she had hoped that he would be more understanding.

"All I'm saying is that if I had gone alone ..." he tried, but she cut him off.

"... you would have died, Mulder. You wouldn't have made it through the night," she said. "Zoltaire wanted to shoot you, Mulder. He didn't give you a chance in hell of surviving. He wanted to put you out of your misery. I convinced him to help me get you to the cabin. And when he wanted to return, I weighed the pros and cons and decided to stay. Mostly because you wouldn't have survived the trip back down the mountain. But also because I hoped you would get better. That you would find your holy grail."

He stared at her, the guilt over blaming this on her suddenly very strong inside her. With an unhappy expression on his face, he dropped his eyes. "I didn't mean to blame you, Scully. I just..." he began, but trailed off, not certain he voice would remain steady enough to continue.

Scully rose and walked up behind him, putting her hands on his shoulders. "I almost lost you up there, Mulder. You were so far gone. You went out into the snow after dark, clad only in a pair of sweat pants, a t-shirt and a woolen blanket. I don't know why. You were probably following a fever fantasy. You very nearly died on me."

He closed his eyes again and raised both hands to cover his face. "I saw Sam," he whispered after a moment. "I saw her. She was eight years old and she ran out into the snow. And they took her away again."

"It wasn't real, Mulder. You were delirious," she said, able to do so with confidence since she knew better.

"And then I saw her again. Later. She was grown-up. She wanted to know what I was doing up there." He chuckled joylessly, thinking that this was also part of his fever dreams. "I could feel her hand on my cheek, Scully," he added and let his hands drop away. For a long moment, he sat still, staring at nothing, feeling the warmth of her hands on his shoulders, then he suddenly realized that Scully had made no comment on what he had just said. Leaning his head back, he looked up at her. "Hell of a fever fantasy, huh?" he asked her and noted the somewhat uncomfortable look on her face. "Scully?"

She released her hold on his shoulders and turned around to face the window. Somehow, she feared he would hate her for not saying this early. "That one was real," she said after a moment.

Mulder sat there for a long moment, unable to move, barely able to draw breath, then he turned his chair around and grabbed her hand. "What?" he asked. "What did you just say?"

Scully glanced down at him for a second, seeing the confusion so obvious in his eyes. "She was there. When you ran off, delirious from the fever, I found you outside, but I couldn't carry you or drag you back. I thought we would die. And then she turned up. Out of nowhere. She helped me get you back to the cabin. She stayed the night. And she left again in the morning." Reaching into the pocket of her jacket, she retrieved the brow paper bag with the remains of the tea. "If she hadn't given me this, I would have thought I had imagined it. But she left it behind. This is my only proof that she was ever there, Mulder."

He stared at the bag in her hand, crumbled up as it was, then reached out and took it. There was nothing spectacular about it, nothing special. And he would never know if it was really his sister who had handed this bag to Scully. Looking up at her again, he tried to make sense of it all and couldn't. "Why didn't you tell me?" he asked wearily.

Scully turned back to face him, looking pained. "Because I doubted it myself, Mulder. If you had not mentioned seeing her, I don't think I would have told you. Because I wasn't certain it even happened. Being locked up in a cabin in a raging snowstorm does strange things to a person's imagination. I ... didn't want you to get your hopes up if it wasn't real."

Looking back down at the paper bag, he frowned. "And this makes it real? This bag? And my fever fantasies?"

"I don't know," she said with a sigh and walked back to her desk. "I don't know anything any more," she confessed. "She said you shouldn't come looking for her. You wouldn't find her. But she said she would contact you if and when she could."

He shook his head, no longer able to follow this particular conversation with any hope of understanding it. "I don't get it, Scully. I don't understand. Why would she turn up and then leave again? Why won't she come back?"

She heard the tears in his voice and when she turned around once more to face him, she found him staring at the paper bag in his hand with tears cruising down his face. It tore at her heart to see him this sad and she felt tears sting her own eyes.

"She said she couldn't explain. She didn't give me a reason, Mulder. I asked her. But she either couldn't or wouldn't tell me. I'm not even sure it was her, Mulder. I overheard her talking to you and I assumed it was her. She pretended to be nobody else. But I'm not sure."

"It was her," he whispered and closed his fingers over the bag. "She looked just like my mother when she was young. I remember thinking it was my mother at first."

Scully returned to his side and squatted down next to his chair, putting a hand on his arm. "Mulder, I'm certain she will contact you if she can. But something gave me the feeling that she didn't feel safe in the cabin. She left pretty quickly."

"What does it matter now? There was so much I wanted to say to her. I just wanted her to come back to us, but it's obvious she doesn't want to." Letting his head drop, he fought against the tears and lost. They ran freely.

Scully pulled out a handkerchief and wiped the tears away. "She'll come back to you if she can," she told him. "I'm certain of that."

He nodded but said nothing. What could he say? His sister had once again denounced him. He knew now that the first one he had met, the one the Cancerman had allowed him to meet, wasn't his sister. She looked nothing like their mother. He also knew that this one was Samantha and that she had chosen to leave him behind before he had a chance to truly realize it was her. The only thing about this that made up for the pain was that she was out there, alive and probably well. It only hurt like hell that she didn't want to meet him. That she would remain as elusive as ever.

Scully brushed her fingers through his hair, eying him closely for a moment, then returned to her desk. There was nothing more she could say. He would get over this as well. She knew he would. But it still made her furious that anybody would put him in a painful situation like this. She wanted to yell at somebody for this. She wanted to kick the shit out of somebody to make up for the feeling of inadequacy she felt right now. If only she had tried harder to make Samantha stay. If Samantha had only come to Anchorage with them. If only. But that was all wishful thinking. And her partner and friend was suffering because of it. And that made her furious.

X X X

One month later

Mulder had regained his strength fully and was back to taking daily runs and swimming whenever he could. The incident from Alaska was buried deep in his subconscious mind and he and Scully were back to normal. He knew he could not take this out on her. It wasn't her fault. She had done the right thing by saving his life. The only thing that cut him to the bone was that there had been no word from Samantha. And he was beginning to doubt that it had been her at all. Yet the little brown paper bag, crumbled up and still containing the remains of the tea leaves, lay on a shelve next to her picture. And there it would remain together with all the other knick-knacks which at one point or another had reminded him of his sister.

The End