Disclaimer: Don’t own’em, never have, never will. I’m just borrowing for a bit. I’ll put’em back when I’m done.

Rating: PG-13

Synopsis: Mulder goes hunting after fairytales again and Scully tags along. It doesn’t turn out the way Mulder hoped it would and things go wrong

J. Edgar Hoover building
Washington, DC

The basement corridor was uncommonly quiet that morning, giving Dana Scully the odd sensation of being alone in the world. That was not a sensation she was used to feeling. She briefly glanced at her watch as she walked briskly toward the office, trying to attribute the silence to the early hour. But, as usual, it was two to eight, giving her just enough time to claim to be early. A smile briefly crossed her lips. Mulder would be there, of course, with some lame excuse about not being able to sleep. He was, in fact, a workaholic and an insomniac and it would surprise her if she came in one morning and found an empty desk without the matching explanation.

Exactly at 07:59 a.m., she pushed the door open and stopped short with surprise written all over her face. “Deja-vu,” she mumbled under her breath, her eyes on Mulder’s empty desk. He wasn’t there, which could mean only one thing. Skimming the surface of the desk, she stopped at a folder lying on the right side, the only type of paper visible in the entire office. There was the matching explanation, she thought. Slightly annoyed already, she crossed the floor and grabbed the folder, flipping it open. It contained a plane ticket and a note. It said: Meet me at the airport, M. With a frown, she flipped the ticket open to determine where they were going this time.

XXX

Dulles International Airport
Washington, DC

Mulder glanced at his watch and looked around once more. It was always a hazard to leave a message for Scully the way he had this morning. Mainly because he wasn’t sure she would even see it. Maybe she was late or maybe she had called in sick, unbeknownst to him. With a sigh, he dug his cell-phone out of his pocket and was in the process of dialling the number for the office when he received a decidedly agitated tap on the back of his right shoulder. He swirled around to face his decidedly unhappy looking partner standing right behind him. He was somewhat surprised by her sudden appearance as he hadn’t even heard her come up behind him.

The look she gave him, a well-known and much loathed look, made him want to run and hide, but instead he smiled broadly at her, maintaining his immaculate facade and not disclosing how nervous she made him when she looked at him like that. Before he could say anything, though, she held up her ticket.

“Canada?” she asked, her tone disclosing her unhappiness much more clearly than her expression did. “Why in God’s name as we going to the North-western Territories, Mulder?”

“Because that’s where our next case is,” he replied, careful not to say too much unless he had to. She could still bail out and he wanted her with him. Their years together had made him realized that it was much more fun to make incredible discoveries when he had someone to share them with.

“What case, Mulder? Why do you keep doing this to me?” she demanded and stuffed the ticket almost angrily into her coat pocket. “It’s cold in Canada. It’s snowing in Canada. It’s damned well freezing in Canada. Do I need to paint you a picture?”

“I know it’s cold, Scully, but this can’t wait. I take it you went home and packed?” he asked, waving at the backpack sitting next to her right foot.

“Yes, I did. Do you think I want to freeze to death in the Canadian wilderness?” she sputtered, unable to retain the emotional storm raging within. With a deep breath, she calmed herself down a little. “All right. So, what is this case about?”

Mulder quickly glanced at his watch once more, and then picked up her backpack, which she immediately made a grab for and held onto. “We’d better check in. It’s getting late,” he replied, bravely avoiding the subject.

“Mulder,” she warned him, well aware that she would not be able to wring it out of him until they were on the plane and there was no way back for her. “What is this case about?”

“Give me your ticket. I’ll check us in,” he said, holding out a hand for her ticket. “I’ll tell you on the plane,” he added when she made no move to comply.

For a moment longer, she considered withholding the ticket until he told her, but then sighed, gave it to him and at the same time released her backpack into his care. There was no sense in arguing with him about it. He wasn’t going to give in. She knew that from experience. Stuffing her hands into the pockets of her coat, she watched him hurry over to the check-in counter with their backpacks and thought of all the possible impossible scenarios he might have dug up. What could be in Canada that fascinated him so much that he just had to chase after it? A couple of things came to mind and none of them made her sigh with relief.

With another heartfelt sigh, she followed Mulder over to the check-in counter and stood by while he got their seat numbers and heard the woman behind the counter tell Mulder they’d better hurry or they would miss their flight.

So they hurried. They made the flight and ended up sitting side by side, her by the window, him by the isle, and neither spoke until the plane was airborne. Scully felt she had given him all the time he might need and eventually turned a little in her seat. “So, Mulder,” she said, with no small amount of satisfaction noting how his shoulders rose at the tone of her voice. A subtle, but to her very noticeable movement. “What’s this case about, then?”

Mulder glanced at her from the corner of his eye, and then sighed. He would have to tell her. He couldn’t very well expect her to co-sign a report on something she knew nothing about. “We’re going to Canada to look for...” he began, but then hesitated.

Scully held up a hand. “No, please, let me guess,” she interrupted. “Could we perchance be on the trail of the ever-elusive... and in my book, none-existent... Bigfoot?” It was a shot in the dark, but she hadn’t spent the past many years with him without learning a little bit about how he thought. And her money was on Bigfoot. Either that or some other kind of forest dwelling, never-before-seen creature, which obviously had a tendency to only show itself when there was heavy snowfall and the wind was strong enough to knock a moose off its feet.

Mulder gave her a surprised look. “You knew?” he asked, aware that she was probably guessing. But she was becoming really good at it and it disturbed him a little at times.

“I didn’t, but you just confirmed it,” she told him, unable to keep the triumphant tone to her voice at bay. “So, what... uhm... scientific evidence do you have of this?”

For a moment, Mulder remained silent. It was a little scary how well she knew him. Usually, he didn’t let people get close enough to get to know him that well. None of his girlfriends had ever known him that well, including Phoebe and Diana. With pursed lips, he reached into his briefcase and produced the case file. Somewhat reluctantly, he handed it over to her.

Scully took it without a word and started flipping through it. She read some of the text, eyed the pictures closely for a few moments, then eventually closed the folder again and leaned back on her seat. With various responses in mind, she opted for the one most likely to get a rise out of her wayward partner. She remained silent and stared ahead of herself with a painfully neutral expression on her face, not at any point disclosing how she might feel about the validity of this case.

For a while after she had closed the folder again, Mulder just sat there, staring at his hands folded in his lap, ready for another earth-shattering verdict from her. But she said nothing. Eventually, he glanced over at her. “Well?” he asked.

Scully glanced back at him. “Well what?” she asked back.

“What do you think?” he wanted to know and shifted a little to get a better look at her.

Scully shrugged. She knew it drove him nuts when she didn’t utter a concise opinion when he asked her questions about cases they were on. Even though she had a very distinct opinion of this case, she wasn’t going to air it until she felt good and ready. And the fact that it made him itchy was just an added bonus.

“That’s all?” he asked, already sounding a little agitated. “You just shrug?”

Scully had to fight a smile threatening to spread over her lips. She figured she was just about the only person in the world right now who could get under his skin. It was a frightful power to have. No matter how much his colleagues scorned him, he brushed it off with no apparent side effect. But when she appeared indifferent to his cause, he took it badly. It made her wonder what exactly he felt where she was concerned. “What do you want me to say? You drag me out to the airport under false pretence and expect me to jump for joy?”

“We’ve done this before,” he claimed and knew he was right. They had done it before. “You’ve never put up a fight before,” he added with an air of surprise and bewilderment.

“We haven’t done it this way before, Mulder. I expect you to damned well tell me what it’s about before you drag me out into the middle of nowhere to look for a frigging unicorn,” she growled. She had promised herself that she wouldn’t get angry. But here she was, fuming with righteous anger.

“We’re not... uh... looking for a unicorn," he said meekly, aware of what a twist this could put on the conversation.

“I know that,” she hissed. “It was a metaphor, Mulder. For Pete’s sake, why do you always have to do it this way, huh? You think I would let you go up there all by yourself if you told me the truth? Have you ever heard of asking nicely?”

He virtually ducked his head at her tone of voice. She wasn’t even looking at him and her voice was low, but it still stung as if she had slapped him. “I’m sorry, okay? I just figured... well... that you wouldn’t bother if I told you straight out what it was about. And I really need you on this case. As on any other case.”

Somewhat mollified by his begging tone of voice and his open admission that he needed her, she almost caved in. But she wasn’t going to make it that easy on him. He would have to make up for this one. Big time. “Yeah, you’re sorry alright,” she grumbled under her breath. “Until the next time you pull one over on me again. I’m telling you, Mulder, this is getting too much.”

“I’ll make it up to you,” he promised and took the file back. “And I’ll fill you in from now on, okay?”

Scowling, she folded her arms over her chest. “You’d better,” she threatened.

XXX

Yellowknife
North-western Territories
Canada

The remainder of their trip was rather uneventful alas a little longer than Scully would have liked and after changing planes in first Toronto and then Edmonton, they arrived in Yellowknife approximately six and a half hours later including the layover time in both airports. Once there, Mulder set about finding a route to the place they needed to go. He had it all planed until the woman behind the car rental desk gave him a strange look when he told her where he wanted to go.

“Duncan Lake?” she asked and stared at him as he had just claimed to be an alien. “I don’t think you want to drive up there on your own this time of year.”

Mulder made a face. “Look, we’re both adults and we’re both experienced drivers. All we need is a four-wheel drive for about a week,” he tried to convince her, but she looked anything but cooperative.

“What you need, sir, is a guide. There’s snow up there right now. It’s much more advisable to have a guide. And if you’re not interested in being shown around, he can take you up there and pick you up again the week after if that’s what you want. But it’s best if someone knows where you are up there and can get help if necessary,” she insisted, her tone of voice letting him know that there was no room for arguments.

“Is this some kind of law?” Scully broke in. So far, she had kept her mouth shut and waited for Mulder to deal with this, but it was obvious he couldn’t and she didn’t really like the idea of them going up there on their own with nobody around knowing where they were.

“Not a written one, but we strongly advise tourists to go with a guide. The area is treacherous during summer time. During autumn, it doesn’t get better, if you know what I mean,” the woman, identified as Jill Hoover by her name badge, told Scully.

“Well, then we’ll go with a guide,” Scully decided, cutting Mulder off before he could start arguing again.

Miss Hoover nodded with relief painted all over her face and left the desk to find a guide for them.

Mulder gave Scully a scowl. “We don’t need a guide,” he told her firmly.

“Yes, we do,” she argued.

“We’re not tourists,” he insisted. “We’re FBI agents. We can find our way around.”

“You could get lost in a phone booth when it comes to a forest, Mulder. And I have no clue which way to turn. We need a guide. Period,” she decided, a set expression on her face. The fact was that she was rather capable of finding her way in most situations, but that was beside the point right now.

Mulder pursed his lips. He knew she was right. Not about his sense of direction, which he happened to think was top notch, thank you very much, but that they might need someone to know where they were heading. Just in case. Better safe than sorry, he figured. Eventually, he nodded. “Okay, you win,” he grumbled, not wanting to let her know that he did agree.

“This is not a contest, Mulder. This is about being as safe as we can be without having to drag a babysitter around after us,” she replied quietly.

He knew she was getting back at him for dragging her up here without prior notice and he didn’t really mind that she bit back. In fact, he would have been quite disappointed if she hadn’t been decidedly snippy about the whole affair. It wouldn’t have been like her to brush it off and carry on as if nothing had happened. “I hope you brought your mittens,” he said and gave her a grin.

Scully rolled her eyes and refrained from sighing too deeply. “I hope you brought yours. Frostbite is the last thing you want to get if we’re alone up there for a week,” she replied and gave him a sarcastic smile.

XXX

Near Duncan Lake

Their guide, a young man ironically named Stan Winter, drove them as far as he could go and finally brought the four-wheel drive to a stop on the shoulder of the road. Scully looked out at the forest for a long moment and thanked whatever deity would hear her that there at least was no snow out there. Not that this improved matters a lot. It was cold and they were not heading toward a building with heaters and comfort. With an inward sigh, she turned her attention to her partner, who was also staring out at the forest. She could tell he was excited about this.

“I still don’t think this is such a good idea,” Stan said, a concerned expression on his face. “It’s going to get damned cold tonight and if the weather forecast is right, there may even be snow. Are you sure you want to go out there?” he asked and turned his attention to Mulder. He could sense with no great difficulty that this was Mulder’s idea and not Scully’s. Mulder merely nodded. “I could come back tonight and pick you up again. Take you to a motel or something,” he went on.

Scully was about to agree wholeheartedly to that, but Mulder cut her off. “No, just come back next Friday and pick us up again right here. We’ll be waiting,” he said and pushed the door open.

A breeze of cold air hit Scully and a shiver ran through her. Stan glanced at her, noting her reluctance to leave the relative warmth of the car, and gave her a smile. “Are you sure?” he asked her.

This time she sighed out loud. “No, but I follow him where he goes,” she replied, the remark meant to be sarcastic.

“You must really love him,” Stan said, admiration in his voice.

Stunned, Scully turned to face him. “We work together,” she said. “We’re professional partners.” Unwilling to answer any further questions, she slipped out of the car and joined Mulder at the rear to get her backpack. He helped her into it and gave her a crooked grin which made her wonder whether he had heard Stan’s remark. Scully stared at him for a moment and briefly allowed her mind to wander paths it had never taken before. Tightly locked doors started to creak open and she pushed those thoughts aside as quickly as she could. That was dangerous ground and she was unwilling to deal with the consequences of such a mind-trip just yet.

“Ready for our great adventure?” Mulder asked with a smirk.

Scully made a face. “Let’s just go out there and see what we can find,” she replied, then suddenly thought of something. “Oh, and Mulder, I hope for your sake that you know how to build a fire,” she added and almost relished the somewhat stunned expression that slipped over his face. With his fear of fire, she knew he had no clue how to start a fire and had probably not even thought about that before leaving Washington. Turning to fully face him, she propped her hands on her hips and gave him a glare. “Don’t tell me you don’t even have matches on you,” she warned him.

The surprise was still there, but it had more or less been replaced by a scowl. He was on to her. “Now, what would I be doing with matches, Scully? I don’t smoke,” he told her in a slightly aggressive tone of voice.

“Neither do I. But I did have the sense to pack some,” she countered instantly, triumphant in her knowledge that she had pulled one over on him.

Stan Winter watched them banter for a moment, then shook his head. In his humble opinion, it was obvious to anybody that these two were in love. He would have thought they were married, too, considering the way they talked to each other. “Well, I’ll be back Friday, then. The two-way radio I gave you is long range and you should be able to reach me if you don’t go too far up,” he said.

“We’ll stick to the trail,” Mulder promised.

Scully gave him a sour glance. She hadn’t known him for this long without learning how to read the subtle tones to his voice and he certainly didn’t sound like he had any intention of sticking to the trail. But Stan seemed to believe him.

“Well, happy hiking, then. See you in seven days,” he said, got back into the car after Mulder had slammed the trunk lid shut and drove off.

It was first then that it really dawned on Scully what they were in the process of doing and she had major second thoughts. In fact, if she’d had the two-way radio on her, she would have called Stan back right that instant and gone back home.

Mulder pulled a completely new compass out of his pocket and turned it back and forth a few times, then focussed on the forest ahead of them. “Well, Scully, I think we should start walking. According to the map there’s a cabin... that way,” he said, pointing somewhat vaguely into the forest.

Scully grabbed the map out of his hand and stared at it for a second. Then she looked up at the sky. “No, we go that way,” she said and pointed to the left of the direction he had indicated. “Otherwise we’ll end up back down in town,” she added and smiled sweetly at him. “Besides, that’s where the trail is,” she went on and nodded toward the obvious beginning of the trail.

Mulder raised an eyebrow. “You see why I need you on this trip?” he asked.

“Yeah, you’d go missing in a phone booth,” she shot back, re-adjusted her backpack and started walking.

With a somewhat puzzled smile on his lips, Mulder watched her walk ahead of him for a moment. Then he grinned and followed her.

XXX

On the trail

They walked rather quickly at first, but slowed down after some time while still making good speed. Scully was getting fairly hot with her weather proofed gear on and figured her concern about getting cold was unfounded for now. It was chilly, but it sure wasn’t cold enough for snow, she figured. The weather forecast had been wrong.

“So, what do you think we’ll find up here?” she asked after they had both remained silent for a good long time.

“Bigfoot,” Mulder replied. He had his thumps hooked into the shoulder straps of his backpack and had been keeping his eyes on the trail. “That’s what I think we’ll find up there. If we’re lucky. Don’t you think it’s exciting to go looking for a species nobody thinks exists?”

Scully smiled. “Not nobody. There is actually a surprisingly high number of people out there who believe in Bigfoot. Personally I can’t say that I give the notion much credit, but then again... I’ve seen stranger things over the past many years.”

Mulder stopped so abruptly that she bumped into him. Turning to face her, he gave her a mock-surprised look. “Scully, are you becoming a believer here?” he asked and shuddered theatrically. “You’re giving me goose bumps.”

She looked up into his eyes for a moment, then made a face. “That’s not all I’ll give you if you don’t start moving again,” she warned him.

He grinned broadly and picked up his pace again. The friendly banter between them was something he couldn’t imagine being without. Although he hadn’t allowed himself to give the whole situation deeper thought, he couldn’t get the thought out of his head that maybe they were moving up to the next level. He would never voice such thoughts out loud, considering that Scully probably didn’t think of it that way at all, but it had been nagging him for a while and he knew himself well enough to realize that he would try to find an answer to that question. Even if he did it subconsciously.

Just before dusk, they reached a clearing and the promised cabin. Scully was overly delighted to find that not only did it have a door and two beds, it also had a well-stocked fireplace, a well-stocked pantry of dried and canned food, and access to water inside. It was obvious that this trail was used by hikers a lot. She just figured they used it in the summer time and not when there was snow on the horizon. There was even an outhouse and although she couldn’t claim to be a fan of such facilities, it was better than nothing. After a few tries, she managed to get a roaring fire going in the fireplace and relished the waves of heat radiating out into the one big room that made out the cabin.

Mulder had settled down on the bed furthest from the fire and watched it almost suspiciously for a while. “It looks nice,” he said after a moment.

Scully, who was sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the fireplace, glanced back at him. “It is nice,” she agreed and turned around a little to better face him. “Where does this fear of fire come from?” she wanted to know and couldn’t help wondering if he would tell her or not. “I mean, I have a great deal of respect for this element, but I wouldn’t say I’m afraid of it.”

Mulder looked past her at the flickering flames for a moment. “I can’t remember what incident might have invoked that fear. All I know is that my ‘respect’ goes a little deeper than yours,” he said and focused on her. “I’m not afraid of that,” he added and waved a hand toward the fire. “I just don’t like it when it’s out of control.”

Unable not to, Scully smiled at that comment. “Nobody likes fire out of control,” she claimed.

“Not true. Pyromaniacs do,” he replied instantly and moved closer to the fireplace. He eventually sat down beside her on the floor. “There’s something... alive about it,” he added with obvious unease.

“It is alive. In a sense. But it’s not a conscious thing. I mean, it’s not like it decides it wants to burn down a house,” she theorised, well aware that he knew that, too.

“Just seems like it’s got a life of its own sometimes,” he stated. “As it were, I am not going to worry about staying warm as long as you’re around to build the fire,” he added and gave her a crooked grin.

That made her chuckle out loud. “Well, G-man, let’s get some sleep. I think we should set out early tomorrow so we can reach the next cabin on the trail before it gets dark,” she said and rose. “Need a hand?” she asked and reached her right one out to him.

Mulder gave it a strange look, then glanced up at her. “I may be older than you, but I’m not that old,” he said and got up without her support.

XXX

First campsite
The following morning

With the rays of the early morning sun came the first, frail twitters of birds. A light mist clung to the ground and small, isolated banks of fog hung close to the damp earth of the small clearing the cabin stood in. Scully stood just outside the door, clad in hiking-boots, ski socks, jeans and a big, warm sweater over her long-sleeved turtleneck sweater. She had her hands wrapped around a steaming cup of coffee and just stood there and watched the sun come up and heard the forest come to life around her. And it made her smile. Maybe it hadn’t been such a bad idea to come here after all, she mussed.

Just then she heard the door click open and shut again and knew that her partner was up, too. He stepped up behind her, once again completely ignoring her personal space by standing so close to her, that she could feel the heat radiating off him. “What are you doing out here?” he asked and glanced around.

“Just enjoying the morning. What about you? You were sound asleep not five minutes ago,” she claimed, not bothering to look back.

With a hearty yawn, he ran both hands through his hair and then placed them on her shoulders. “Well, with that smell of coffee, who can sleep?” he replied. “And your moseying about. You’re not exactly quiet in the morning, are you?”

Scully felt the need to jab a elbow into his ribs, but couldn’t be bothered when it came down to it. “I do not make noise in the morning. And what’s wrong with my coffee?” she demanded in a huffy tone of voice.

Mulder gave her shoulders a squeeze. “Shhh,” he shushed her. “Enjoy the morning. In a minute it’ll be over,” he added in a whisper.

Although his words made her role her eyes, she couldn’t be bothered to reply in kind. It was still too early for that kind of verbal banter. Instead she ignored his personal space and leaned back against him. His response to that was neither hesitation nor surprise. He simply slipped his arms around her and rested his chin on the top of her head and they just stood like that for a while, enjoying the sounds of the wildlife out there and the fresh smells of a forest in the early morning.

XXX

Back on the trail

An hour later, they were back on the trail, walking with good speed and enjoying the suddenly mild autumn weather. The sun was warm on their backs, the wind was meek and they both felt like nothing could go wrong on a day like that.

“Now, is this something or what?” Mulder asked and came to a stop to take a deep breath of the fresh air. “If for nothing else, we’ve had some time away from the city,” he added and glanced over his shoulder at Scully, who had come to a stop right behind him.

“That’s for sure. And for that reason alone I forgive you,” she replied and gave him a crooked smile.

Smirking, he started walking again. “Why, that’s so sweet of you,” he said in a mocking tone of voice.

Scully merely continued to smile and walked on behind him.

Despite the fact that they made good speed, it started to get dark before they were even close to the next campsite. Mulder blamed himself. They had stopped for too long to have lunch in the form of sandwiches on a small rise, which had given them a perfect view of the surrounding forest. On top of everything, heavy rain clouds were pulling over the sky, blocking out any light they might have received from the moon or the stars.

XXX

Later that day

Just before the last rays of the sun disappeared, Mulder stopped to take another look at the map. “I don’t get it,” he said, sounding a little confused. “According to this damned map we should have been there by now.”

Scully stepped up beside him and squinted at the map. “We shouldn’t have had lunch for that long,” she said, voicing his thoughts of earlier. “Maybe we took a wrong turn somewhere,” she then suggested and glanced up at Mulder.

Mulder tapped the map. “There’s only one trail,” he said and looked down at the obvious trail they were on. “How could we take a wrong turn away from the trail if we’re still on it?”

“Maybe there are other trails that are not on the map,” Scully hinted.

“You’ve got an answer for everything, don’t you?” he replied. Tapping the map again, he indicated where they had been. “That’s were we were. There’s a ravine all along this trail,” he said and waved out to the side where the edge of the ravine was very obvious. “There’s the ravine,” he said needlessly.

Scully looked up at him, wondering why this posed as such a great problem to him, and then she sighed. “Let’s just push on, then. We ought to get there in a little while. It’s no big deal,” she claimed.

“No big deal?” Mulder asked, a look of surprise on his face. Waving toward the sky, he indicated the dense cloud cover. “In about thirty minutes time, the sun’s gone completely, Scully. The sky’s covered. It’ll be completely dark.”

She still failed to see what the problem really was and it made her slightly uneasy that he was responding to this situation that way. “Mulder, we have our flashlights. Okay, so we won’t get there as quickly as we might like to, but we will get there,” she insisted. “What’s the problem?” she then wanted to know.

For a long moment, he just stood there, eyes on the map, a scowl on his face, then he sighed. “Okay, let’s get moving. Maybe we can make it before it gets too dark,” he finally said, folded up the map and stuffed it into his pocket.

Before Scully could say another word, he started moving again and she had to hurry to keep up with him. And through it all she still failed to understand why he was reacting this way. It wasn’t like him. Realization of what the reason could be made her quicken her step to get up beside him. “What aren’t you telling me?” she demanded.

Mulder plodded on, eyes on the ever-darkening trail, and tried to come up with a way to tell her what he knew without upsetting her too much. She should have read the whole report, he thought. “It’s just...” he began, but trailed off again. How could he tell her without risking the full fury of her wrath? He had once again withheld information from her. And that even after he had promised to fill her in.

“Just what?” Scully asked, a slight tone of warning in her voice.

“Well, the reason for that I got Skinner to accept this as an actual case is because seven hikers have vanished up here. All presumed to have been taken by whatever is lurking out there,” he rattled off, afraid to do this the nice way.

As if she had hit an invisible brick wall, Scully stopped. Mulder did, too, well aware that he was facing one hell of a shitstorm when she let lose. “Vanished?” she asked, her tone full of disbelief. “You knew about this the whole time and you didn’t bother to tell me?”

“It’s in the report. You should have read the whole thing,” he tried to defend himself, knowing it was a futile act.

“Oh no,” she sputtered. “You do not pin this on me. Not a chance, mister. You should have told me. You give me no notice, no warning. And now you spring this on me? Even after you promised to fill me in? What the hell is the matter with you, Mulder?” She was angry. And she was afraid, too. To be hiking through a pitch-dark forest in the middle of nowhere, Canada, and know that there was an animal out there grabbing hikers and doing God-knew-what to them made her skin crawl. It very much reminded her of that detour they had done a while back. That case about the invisible moth men. “I knew this was a bad idea. I knew it,” she huffed. “I should have stayed at home. But no, I have to go running after you wherever the hell you choose to go,” she went on, turned and started marching up the trail.

Mulder swallowed hard. He knew he’d had this coming, but having her this angry with him made him very uncomfortable. “Scully, wait up,” he called and hurried after her. “I know you’re pissed and you’ve got every reason to be, but...” he tried, but she cut him off by turning around and starting back toward him, her anger almost visible in the darkness.

“Pissed? You think I’m only pissed? I’ll tell you what I am. I’m...” she started while taking another step toward him and disappeared.

Mulder stopped short, dumbfounded by the fact that she had simply vanished into thin air right in front of him. But then he heard the sound of branches breaking and her yelping and then something hit the ground somewhere beneath in the ravine with a crash and the terrible truth of what had just happened dawned on him. “Oh shit,” he snapped and, waving his flashlight back and forth over the ground, searched for the place where she had disappeared. There was a rift in the ground and when he stepped closer, he could see into the ravine from there. It was more or less a straight fall. One she could have avoided if she hadn’t been so angry with him. “Scully?” he called, afraid that he wouldn’t get an answer. And he didn’t get one. Cold sweat broke out all over his body at the thought of what her silence could mean. “SCULLY?” he called louder and stepped closer to the edge of the rift while shining his flashlight down through the thicket she had crashed through. “Can you hear me?” Nothing but silence answered him. “Oh shit,” he then repeated. Waving his flashlight around almost erratically, he searched for a way down while stepping back from the rift. He didn't want to end up down there beside her, unable to move or do anything to help her. That would really be a joke, he thought.

He had to go pretty far up the trail to find a way down and it was still steep enough to give him the willies when he climbed down, holding onto tree trunks and branches for support. In his mind it took forever to reach the bottom of the ravine and the darkness was virtually complete down there. With shaking hands, his pulse thumping away in his throat, and the flashlight clamped between his teeth, he struggled down the steep incline until he reached the bottom. Once there, he took a second to find his bearings, then started back toward the place where Scully had fallen.

“SCULLY?” he called again, hoping that she was aware enough to answer him. The underbrush was pretty dense in the ravine, making it difficult for him to follow the edge to be able to find his way back to where she had hit the ground. But he managed and eventually, something brightly yellow caught in the ray of the flashlight, identifying her jacket. He pushed the last few feet through branches and vines and dropped down on his knees beside her. She was unconscious, but still breathing. Running the flashlight over her, he searched for any obvious injuries, but didn’t get further than her waist because she suddenly groaned and moved.

“Oh,” she moaned and turned her head a little before opening her eyes. Blinking, she looked up at him.

“Are you okay?” he asked, unable to keep the relief out of his voice. He had feared the worst.

She assessed her situation for a moment, taking in all the aches she could feel and found that she was basically just one big bruise. “I don’t know,” she admitted and raised her head off the ground. In the process, she shifted her body a little and that caused her to let out a yelp of pain and grab for her right leg. “My leg,” she groaned.

Mulder shone the flashlight in that general direction and the breath caught in his throat when he thereby illuminated her right leg. It was twisted out to one side, probably broken. “Oh shit.”

Scully raised her head again and, gritting her teeth, eyed her leg for a moment. “You’re gonna have to set it for me,” she pressed out and let her head drop again.

If she had dropped a ten ton bolder on top of him he couldn’t have been more surprised. Even though he knew how serious a fracture like that could be, it hadn’t occurred to him that she might ask him to do that. “What?” he asked and glanced back at her twisted leg. It looked like the leg of a rag doll. “You can’t be serious, Scully. I have no idea how to set a broken leg,” he said and turned back to face her.

Scully breathed in a few times to steady herself. The initial shock of the fall had definitely worn off and she felt the throb of her leg with every ounce of her being. Swallowing hard, she briefly closed her eyes, then focused on her partner. “It might not be broken. But if it is and you don’t set it, there are two ways this can go. Scenario one,” she stated, her voice wavering with the effort she put into speaking normally, “you don’t set it, I survive, but I will never be able to walk properly again. Scenario two, I get blood poisoning and die or I die of shock.” The increasingly ashen complexion of her partner made her consider that now wasn’t the time for morbid details. “If you don’t set it, you can’t move me. If you don’t move me, I die,” she added despite her mental concern and then took a moment to regain her breath. “I’ll guide you through it. I’ll tell you what to do. First thing you have to do is check for fractures. Check if it’s a compound fracture?”

He swallowed and glanced back down at her leg. “Compound fracture?” he asked. He knew what it meant, but he couldn’t think straight.

Scully wasn’t in the mood to be civil. “Is the bone sticking out?” she hissed. “Is there blood?”

Decidedly nervous, he cleared his throat and moved closer to her twisted leg. “Uhm... none that I can see,” he said, shining the flashlight over the knee-area. “And there doesn’t seem to be anything sticking out anywhere,” he added.

“Feel it,” she commanded.

Mulder glanced at her, aware that this was going to hurt her, and then he sighed. “Okay,” he said and reluctantly reached out to touch her leg. He felt lightly over it, searching for anything abnormal apart from the fact that the lower part of her leg was definitely twisted in a wrong direction. She hissed only once when he touched her. “No, doesn’t feel like it to me,” he said after a moment. He wasn’t quite sure, though. His hand was shaking pretty badly by the time he pulled it back and his fingers felt numb either from the strain of the climb to the bottom of the ravine or from the cold, which was beginning to make itself known by seeping through his clothes.

Scully eyed him for a moment, actually managing to briefly forget her pain. It would seem that he was in deeper shock than she was. “Just take it easy,” she advised him. “This is what I need you to do. Put one hand on my knee and with the other you grab my ankle. Use your instincts when you move it back into place. You’ll know when it feels right. Once you’ve done that, you need to splint it. Find some branches or whatever and tie them evenly around my leg as far up as you can. The joint must be kept steady.”

“Can we take one thing at a time?” he asked, nervously licking his lips.

“No, because when you move my leg, I’m likely to pass out,” she countered immediately.

With his eyes glued to her leg, he wondered if he would be able to pull this one off. He had been up against the weirdest things in the world, but the thought of having to cause Scully pain made him queasy. “Oh shit,” he mumbled again.

Scully could tell that this wasn’t something he wanted to do. And she wasn’t particularly fond of the idea either. But she knew what the result was if her leg wasn’t set. Feeling odd about it since she felt she was the one who needed the comfort, she grabbed his left hand. “You’ll do fine, Mulder. But you have to do this. The longer you wait, the worse the trauma to my leg is going to get,” she told him as calmly as she was able to.

He took a moment to compose himself and his old rational self finally broke through the cloud of panic which had swept him when he had realized she’d fallen. Then he nodded. “Yeah, of course. I’m sorry, Scully. I feel responsible,” he finally said and gave her a crooked smile.

Glad that he was back on track, she sighed and closed her eyes for a moment. “You’re not. I lost my temper. I should have looked where I was going,” she replied and then finally released his arm. “Let’s do this before it gets too bad,” she added with a shaking voice, steeling herself against the pain.

“Right,” he said. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry if I hurt you,” he added, placed his left hand on her knee and grabbed her ankle with his right. He knew that doing this slowly would hurt her even more, so he decided to get it over with as quickly as possible. When he started moving her leg, he was rather surprised that all she uttered was a repressed sigh before she passed out. He was certain that he himself would have screamed his head off if he had been in the same situation. But, then again, she always had been the more controlled one. Keeping his mind in a clinical mode, he pushed her leg back into place and could almost feel the bone ends meet. Although it was hard to feel through the fabric of her jeans, he searched for the fracture and couldn’t feel it. Hopefully that meant that everything was in the right place.

Feeling decidedly unhappy about the whole thing, he wiped the back of one hand over his lips. “Branches,” he mumbled to himself and looked around. Fortunately, there were plenty of those around. And he had some nylon rope in his backpack, too. With that in mind, he pulled his Swiss Army knife from one pocket and went in search of the right length of branches to use as splints.

Five branches and a coil of nylon rope later, he leaned back a little to eye his handiwork critically. He didn’t know if it was good enough, but it would have to do until she came around again and told him one or the other. With a sigh, he rose to his feet and arched his back. On his knees, he had been leaning over her for whatever length of time it had taken to cut and break the branches into the right size and then tie it all down and it had taken its toll on him. Glancing around him, he figured he wasn’t done straining his back, though. There was no way they could stay in this ravine, so he would have to find a way to get Scully to the next campsite. He had no idea how far away it was or how he was going to get her out of the ravine, though. With a sigh, he hunkered down next to her to take a moment to think things through while looking around him in the pitch-dark night with the light of the flashlight roaming over the surrounding area.

“Shit,” he mumbled after a bit and rose again. He couldn’t carry her and the backpacks and he had no intention of trying to find his way back to the backpacks after having carried her for heaven knew how far. The chance that he wouldn’t find them again was too big and he just knew he’d be too tired. “Guess I’d better rig up a stretcher somehow,” he went on. He wasn’t in the habit of talking to himself aloud, but the situation wasn’t quite ordinary.

Using his imagination to come up with a plan, he eventually managed to put together a usable stretcher made of branches from the surrounding trees. He used the rest of the nylon rope to tie them together and to make a harness he could use to pull the whole contraption. With some effort, he managed to get Scully onto it and used her sleeping bag to cover her with so she wouldn’t get cold. It wasn’t exactly warm and the more the night progressed, the colder it got. His breath accumulated in front of his face in a cloud of vapor every time he exhaled.

He arranged it so that her backpack served as support for her injured leg and then he set out, dragging the stretcher behind him as he went. It was tough going and he soon felt fatigue sneaking up on him. But he didn’t allow himself to stop and rest for a bit. He was afraid he might not be able to start again if he did.

The further he walked, the more difficult it became to pull the stretcher and sweat was virtually pouring off him despite the rising chill. It was pretty cold by then and he wondered how far he had gone when he suddenly broke through the trees and the thicket and found himself in the clearing of the next campsite. Stunned, he came to a stop and blinked wearily up at a now clear, star filled sky. It took him a moment to realize that the reason for that it had been so difficult to pull the stretcher had been because he was going up hill. With all his concentration on avoiding getting tangled in the thicket and just moving on, he hadn’t noticed that small detail. And apparently the ravine ended up at the campsite.

Grateful for small favors, he pushed on and could finally drop his burden outside the cabin, which would serve as their shelter until he could get help for Scully.

XXX