Thinking about it later, they realized that they
were each hauling almost 150 lbs of sled and gear
and an additional 40-50lbs on their backs.
Surprising, Scully had the advantage as long as
they were on the older snowpacks. They found that
most of their pulling power came from their legs
and hips, and with her lower center of gravity,
she managed as easily if not more so than her
physically taller and stronger partner.

That only lasted until they found themselves
floundering in deep fluffy snow and the lifting
power and upper body strength began to play into
things. As a result, they found themselves
packing the sleds with the heavier furs and skins
going to whoever was going to have an easier time
of it. Scully found herself grinning the morning
she watched her partner unthinkingly hand her the
heavier sled...and he did not even think twice
about it.

Chivalry gave way to practicality extremely
quickly.

Their plan had been to go until the first four
food boxes were emptied. With luck, they would
have reached civilization by then. If not, they
would take a couple of days per week to set traps
and hunt to replenish their food stores as they
used them.

Whether because they were using higher fat cuts
of meat, because their activity level was
actually not much higher than they were already
used to, or because of the warmer temperatures,
they found that they did not go through their
foodstores nearly as quickly as they thought they
would.

They were each carrying an estimated 60 pounds of
dried meat-the equivalent of almost double that
in fresh. They had assumed that it would last
them about three weeks give or take. Scully soon
figured that unless something changed, they could
double that estimate. Except for taking time to
forage for more acorns, they actually had little
need to hunt for food at all.

All in all, that was probably a good thing.

They had thought that they had gotten themselves
into good shape over the past five months. Fat
had melted away, cardio had been pushed to the
limit by all the trudging through snow and
muscles were rock solid. Heck, they were
discovering muscles they did not know they had.

Now they were discovering a few more.

They were up by first light and gone an hour
later. In that hour alone, they lowered the sleds
out of trees, lifted, folded and repacked
deer hides, tent hides and fur blankets. Then they
followed up on this with six hours of back-
breaking, mind-numbing, leg burning
uphill/downhill exercise that Scully could only
compare to the Stairmaster from Hell.

Then the work began.

It may have been staying lighter later into the
day, but they needed every second. They would
spend an hour digging into the snow, pitching
their shelter and then covering it with snow.
Then came the hunt for firewood and the back-
breaking, finger cramping task of starting a fire
from scratch with bow and drill, and finally
dinner.

They had been careful with their matches and they
had done well over the last five months. But they
were down to the last few and they had determined
to save those for emergencies. Carrying hot coals
had proved to be an impossible task so they found
themselves doing it the old fashioned way.

Scully swore to put matchbooks in every pocket of
every item of clothing she ever owned from this
point on until she died. Mulder very seriously
suggested sewing some into the liners of their
jackets. She only had to think about the fact it
was her turn to start the fire and she agreed.

For that reason and also not to waste the hard
earned coals, Mulder took to dumping the stew
ingredients into his clay pot turned slow cooker
and burying it in the coals at night. The result
was a cooked stew ready to be placed in the sled
and that only needed reheating for a quick lunch
or dinner. They quickly came to appreciate having
two clay cookers, the second being used to make
their acorn porridge for breakfast.

After dinner came hauling the sleds into the
trees and mandatory sponge baths. There was no
way they could risk sweat rashes or trench
anything at this stage of the game. They had
survived five months with all their toes and
fingers...it would be foolish to do something
stupid now that it was warming up.

Warming up was a relative term of course. It was
still below zero most of the time. Occasionally
though the temperature rose high enough to give
the daytime temperatures a high enough nudge that
the surface of the snow began to get slippery.

It was a good thing for the sleds. The crusts got
harder as the snow compressed. But Scully was
beginning to worry about their feet. It wouldn't
be long before the snow turned slushy on them.
Between the wolf fur and the rabbit socks their
feet were warm enough as long as they were
moving, but they were soaked by the end of the
day. They started stopping in the middle of the
day to dry their feet as much as possible and to
change into dry rabbit socks. Then they spent
twice as long drying both sets of socks and their
boots at night. They also started leaving the
socks off at night to let their feet dry against
the fur blankets as much as possible and they
made a point of washing and drying their feet
again after breakfast.

It was obsessive. And it was absolutely
essential.

For the rest of it, they found that they were
wearing less clothes than they expected. Except
for snowy days or cold evenings, they found
themselves working with fox hoods down and the
rabbit hoods in their packs. By the end of March,
their attire was down to shirt and vest with
rabbit fur headbands to protect their ears. Even
then they found themselves leaving the vests
unlaced at the sides. It was rapidly getting to
the point where as long as they were moving, they
needed little more than the deerhide undershirts
to cut the wind.

Of course, once they stopped, everything had to
go back on again.

By the end of March, it was fairly clear that
they were so far from civilization it was not
funny. Mulder muttered something about ending
up in Canada and after one quick snort of
laughter, Scully realized that he probably wasn't
joking. Their extreme isolation, the climate and
the environment. All of it pointed to a national
park. A very large national park.

Glacier National Park was over one million acres
of primitive backcountry and was only three
states away from where they had been kidnapped.

All in all, they could very easily end up in
Canada.

They also had no idea that the road they were on
was a fire access road that had been cut into the
forest the summer before during a particularly
bad fire season. The road was unserviced and the
forest service was actually letting nature
reclaim it. Corman had been using it to try and
keep himself unnoticed. The road itself appeared
on no maps, was not part of the backcountry ski
trail system and they had no idea that they were
lost in the most remote part of the park and
actually heading deeper into it.

Corman had gained access to the fire line by
virtue of an old logging spur that had
intersected with the dirt track. Unfortunately,
the clear-cut sides of the logging road had
looked like open meadow and the agents hadn't
even known they were walking past the road which
had brought them there. They had followed the
obvious unnaturally straight line cut through the
trees and instead of heading toward civilization,
walked directly away from it.

Five weeks and 497 km after they left their
campsite, Mulder and Scully stepped out onto a
deserted but plowed road and stopped dead. In
disbelief they stared at the evidence of
civilization at their feet and wondered what in
the hell they were supposed to do now.

"Left or right Scully?"

His partner took one look at him and started to
laugh.

***************************

Deputy Todd Perkins was bored. Not only was he
working night shift in a sleepy map dot of a
town, but it was a Monday night. Tuesday night
was movie night and Wednesday was wing night
over at Bob's Tavern. Thursday was payday
for everyone working at the plant and Friday
...well, Friday was Friday. But nothing ever
happened on a Monday.

He had checked.

For the last ten years, according to Miller's Gap
crime statistics, the only thing that had ever
happened on a Monday night was the time Fred
Durst's cattle had broken through the fence and
ended up tromping through Edna Crane's vegetable
garden. Even then Edna wasn't threatening to
shoot Fred, she was threatening to shoot George
and Daisy.

If Todd remembered correctly, a large chunk of
George ended up in Edna's freezer courtesy of a
contrite Fred who, now that his wife was gone,
had been actively trying to get Edna into bed for
almost two years. In terms of relative
priorities, George never had a chance.

Too far from the highway to be a good gas stop,
too poor to be picturesque and too far from the
plant to be a favored bedroom community, Miller's
Gap eked out a living by catering to the summer
tourist crowd which consisted mainly of back
roads campers and week-end cottagers from the
city. Considering that Miller's Gap was a good
four hour's drive from the city limits, most of
the cottagers had inherited their property or
bought it in anticipation of future retirement.

Miller's Gap had a summer week-end population of
about 4000 and a week-day and wintertime
population of 350. And since the cottagers
considered themselves to be locals, albeit locals
who socialized in a completely different social
strata and community network than the local
locals, they stayed home and refinished the back
deck instead of heading for the bar on Monday
nights.

So nothing much happened on a Monday.

Which is why when he noticed two vagrants camping
in the day park he actually bothered to stop.
Then he noticed other things. Like their
weathered features, the leather clothing and the
sleds that seemed to be packed with furs. He did
not see two FBI agents. He did not even see that
they were sober and not making any threatening
moves. Nor did he see that they were actually
starting to smile.

Deputy Perkins saw two scruffy, lank-haired
criminals, probably native trappers from their
outfits,with a shit load of illegal furs. He
saw that he was twenty feet from his truck and
that there were two of them. He saw broad
shoulders on a man six inches taller than him
and well used leather leggings that clung to
well defined thighs. He saw lean waists, bladed
cheekbones and glittering eyes.

Then he saw the knives.

*********************************

Scully stared at the ceiling tiles.

"Not quite how you pictured our triumphant
return, huh Scully?"

She sighed and rolled over on her side, eyeing
the lanky form of her partner stretched out on
the cot on the other side of the room.

"Do you ever wonder whether or not our luck is an
X-File, Mulder?"

He grinned and was about to reply when they heard
the rattle and bang of the front door and then
voices and footsteps echoing in the hall. Both
agents rolled to their feet and were standing
when the Sheriff flipped on the lights and moved
toward the jail cell door.

Dark adjusted eyes that were finding the
fluorescent lights to be unexpectedly painful
after six months of natural light squinted
against tears before widening as they recognized
the bulky form standing at the Sheriff's elbow.
Both agents stiffened reflexively and they
watched Assistant Director Skinner slowly move
his eyes from one to the other, his face rapidly
losing all expression. Behind the mask, Skinner
battled a swelling sense of disbelief as he
absorbed their appearance.

Mulder's hair actually fell to his shoulders for
the first time in probably two decades-if ever-
and Skinner noted a surprising breadth of muscle
across upper arms and chest. The agent had been a
gangly tangle of skinny arms and legs hidden
beneath white shirts and tailored suit jackets
for so long that Skinner had failed to notice the
changes as he matured. Now, non-essential body
fat pared away and wearing only supple leather
leggings that hugged muscled runner's legs, the
newly revealed strength of body combined with his
graceful movement and restless air to give him a
dangerously feral look more suited to his animal
namesake than Special Agent Mulder, FBI.

But if Mulder looked dangerous, his partner
looked deadly. Icy blue eyes roved constantly,
not really looking, but scanning. Her body was
held with almost unnatural poise and the coiled
energy was more sensed than seen, explosive
potential waiting to detonate into motion. Her
hair flowed in a wild tumble down bare shoulders
that curved with a wiry ripple of muscle that ran
down her upper arms and forearms and across her
chest. A white fur brassiere of some lace up
variety left cleavage and ridged abdomen
aggressively exposed while her grayish brown
leather leggings clung to thigh and calf.

Both agents stood in bare feet, barely clothed in
outfits that would have done a costume designer
from Xena:Warrior Princess proud. Their bodies
bore the visible marks of weather and strenuous
labor and they should have looked silly. They
should have looked incongruous. They sure as hell
did not look like FBI agents. But instead of
looking like the shattered survivors of six
months of purgatory, they looked blindingly
alive, lethally primed and absurdly healthy.

They *were* being rescued, right?

Unlike his two wayward investigators who,
unbeknownst to him, were viewing their current
situation with nothing more than mild aggravation
and some rueful amusement, Skinner found himself
battling a torrent of emotions that snapped
frighteningly into focus when he saw the blue
marks from someone's fingers clearly imprinted on
Scully's right shoulder.

"Why are they in the same cell together?"

Mulder, who had been shifting bare feet self-
consciously, froze and regarded his boss warily.
Scully just narrowed cold eyes and smiled. The
sheriff, not being in possession of similar
survival instincts, said nothing about the agents
refusing to be separated. A fact which Skinner
would have believed instantly considering it was
both true and typical. Instead, the man wrinkled
his nose and explained about wanting to limit
both the smell and any possible flea or lice
infestation.

Skinner's voice was biting.

"These agents have survived a serial killer and
six months in the bush in a Northern Wyoming
winter and you were worried about a smell?"

The sheriff paled as one word struck him. He
stammered,"Agents? They really are..." His face
whitened further as certain comments he had made
to both of them came back to him.

Skinner's upper lip curled and the sheriff
hastily fumbled for the keys and unlocked the
door. Scully actually sauntered through the open
door with feline disdain and Skinner felt his
face pulling into a frown as he contemplated the
scenarios that might have prompted her attitude.
Not to mention those of the obviously defensive
sheriff and her partner. Mulder paused as he came
abreast of the man and stared down at him with a
profiler's darkness in his eyes.

Skinner felt his breathing tighten as the paunchy
man whitened still further and leaned back
slightly as the taller man leaned in. What the
hell was going on here? Mulder intimidated people
with the power of his mind or his status as an
agent of the FBI. He did not intimidate people
physically. At least, this was the first time
Skinner had seen him try. Except for his height,
Mulder just wasn't that scary.

At least, he didn't used to be.

"Thanks for the hospitality."

There was more than silence in the chill depths
of that voice. Sheriff Rawlins broke into an
unattractive sweat and then his head jerked as
Scully chuckled softly. He seemed to shrink as
he met her eyes. Skinner flinched at the contempt
she did not bother to hide and her voice held an
arctic amusement that flayed as it burned.

"Come on Fox, leave the rabbit alone."

Mulder bared his teeth in a lupine grin, then
padded over to her. "I'm not hungry, anyway."

Skinner actually found himself holding his breath
as their eyes met and the hallway seemed to shrink.
Jesus. Who the hell were these people and what had
they done with his agents? Christ, they were toying
with the officious fool.

Then both agents dismissed the sheriff with
insulting totality and headed for the door.
Skinner found himself focusing briefly on the
unexpected sight of a circular tattoo on Scully's
lower back before it was hidden by the palm of
Mulder's hand. He had forgotten about that. The
sight sent a visceral and totally unanticipated
and almost inappropriate response zinging through
his body.

He wasn't sure why it startled him so much.
Well, maybe he did. It seemed so shockingly out
of place for Scully. Out of character. And all
the times he had seen Mulder put his hand to her
back, her partner had been touching that
tattoo...and Skinner suddenly had to wonder if he
had known it was there.

Was it getting hot in here?

If he had thought the energy that had burned
between them before was intense, this was almost
inconceivably incandescent. It was as if the fire
burning beneath the surface was sucking all the
oxygen from the room and he found himself
literally battling a psychosomatic instinct to
hyperventilate. Jesus Christ. Was this the result
of six months of fighting for their lives? Or had
this always existed?

Was this what really lived hidden beneath suits
and civilized protocols?

Holy Mother of God.

This was what the Consortium had being playing
games with?

The blind eyed sheriff stared in horror as
the burly ex-marine started to laugh wildly.

Both agents strode through the station with
unnerving silence. They paused by a table
where a twitching deputy was piling several
unidentifiable objects. Skinner watched uneasily
as the agents pulled on leather shirts and knee
high moccasins. Two of the items turned out to be
packs and both agents appeared satisfied that
everything was present although Scully was
frowning over a broken lace on one of her boots.

Instead of knotting it, she nonchalantly
drew one of the largest hunting knives Skinner
had ever seen and cut a length of lace from a
ball Mulder pulled from one of the packs. Then
she calmly relaced her boot. Considering how
completely she was ignoring everyone from the
Deputy to the Sheriff, Skinner had the definite
suspicion that she had flashed the knife on
purpose.

On the other hand, both agents were standing with
packs shouldered before Sheriff Rawlins returned
with their weapons and clips. Turning towards
them with guns in hand, Skinner paused as his
agents' bizarre attire hit him all over again.
Scully was wearing some sort of leather jacket
that looked vaguely like a tribute to Daniel
Boone. In fact, if he ignored the modern style of
the knife sheathed at her side, she could have
walked right out of the pages of that novel.

Did that rodent pouch actually have feet and head
still attached?

Mulder's knife was strapped to his left upper
thigh -which made sense as he did not appear to
be possessed of pouch or pockets at the moment.
Instead of a jacket he wore a leather shirt under
a white fur vest and between the laces and the
agent's height, Skinner couldn't decide if he
looked more like a Viking or a Celt.

Skinner eyed the snowshoes strapped to their
backs. They did realize that the car was right
outside didn't they? Then he caught the
mischievous glint in their eyes and it struck him
that they were putting on a show. For him? They
were waiting patiently for his reaction.

He couldn't help it.

The grin he had been holding back, the one that
had tried to start the moment he had got the call
from ATF that someone had run the serial numbers
on their weapons was accompanied by a caroling
inner shout...

theyarealive!theyarealive!theyarealive!

... and exploded across his face.

They were alive.

First Mulder, then Scully responded and the
deputies were treated to the sight of three
federal agents grinning at each other like
delighted idiots. Then the assistant director
tossed over weapons and clips. He probably should
not have done it. Considering their rather
confused status right now, he should have kept
guns and ammo-especially since it was obvious
that both weapons had been fired and the third
weapon, the one Mulder dropped into Scully's
pack, had probably belonged to Corman. But he
would be damned if they walked out of here as
anything other than fully recognized agents of
the FBI.

Even if they did look like escapees from Clan of
the Cave Bear.

"What about the rest of it?"

Skinner jerked his head and stared blankly at the
deputy glaring sullenly at the former jailbirds.
The rest? How much stuff did they have? A curious
glance just garnered him a couple of shrugs and
he sighed.

The "rest" turned out to be enough fur to pack
the trunk of the Taurus. Skinner considered the
bindings on the sleds contemplatively as he
watched Scully finger the contents of one of the
stick boxes that made up the bottom layer of
their sleds. Finally she hesitated, then drew out
another of those animal pouches. Sudden movement
near her shoulder caught Skinner off guard and he
realized that Mulder too, must have been watching
his partner because he took the pouch from her
hands, replaced it in the box and after brushing
her hands aside and throwing in a few items from
a box on the other sled, slung it into the
backseat of the car. Skinner winced thinking of
the damage deposit, then remembered the furs in
the trunk and realized that it was probably a
lost cause anyway.

At least neither agent seemed to be scratching.

Scully hadn't moved, nor had her expression
changed. But when Mulder came back and simply
said,"Decide later", she astonished Skinner by
standing up and, without even a glance in her
AD's direction, wrapped her arms around Mulder's
waist. At that moment, Skinner determined to have
an agent sent over from the field office to
arrange to have all of this stuff shipped to
Washington. If Mulder and Scully wanted to burn
it all later at some celebratory bonfire that was
their choice. He would be damned if he would let
some stranger destroy something his agents had
obviously invested hundreds of hours of work and
energy into. The thought alone of how they had
acquired that bearskin made his blood run cold.

If the accountants wanted to squawk he would be
more then happy to...discuss the matter with
them.

Without further discussion, Scully climbed into
the back seat with the snowshoes and packs,
leaving the front seat for Mulder. Skinner headed
for the field office. About ten minutes down the
highway, the AD was fiddling with the buttons to
the heaters. He hadn't noticed anything wrong
with it earlier, but he had been so focused on
getting to his missing agents-to make sure that
it really was them-that he probably wouldn't have
noticed if the car even had a heater. Now, with
his two passengers sweating uncomfortably into
furs and leathers, the car was warm enough that
the windows were beginning to fog up.

As a side effect, the smell that the Sheriff had
mentioned was making itself noticed. It wasn't
precisely unpleasant, the AD told himself, just
strong. Very strong. Most predominant was the
heavy odor of woodsmoke. Beneath that was the
light scent of leather mixed with pungent human
musk. Not a rancid or oily smell it was cut with
the woodsy odor of pine and the tang of human
sweat. Except for the woodsmoke, it was a clean
animal smell like you would expect from a horse
blanket or animal den.

Considering that they had just spent six months
without soap and deodorant, Skinner was surprised
that it wasn't actually that repellent. He still
remembered staying upwind of the scouting parties
getting back to base in-country. Back then, he
hadn't known which was worse, the smell, the heat
or the lice.

Skinner eyed the side of Mulder's head
speculatively, then made a quick executive
decision and headed for the nearest Wal-Mart.
Neither agent had spoken a word since they had
gotten into the car. A quick sideways glance
showed only patiently calm faces and a quick
glance at Scully's eyes in the rearview mirror
showed him an expression he hadn't seen in
over twenty years.

It was the expression you saw when a group of
soldiers had been with each other so long that
all the small talk had been talked out and all
that was left was silence. Everyone knew what had
to be done, so there was no need to talk about
it. That was how you could always tell the
newbies. They talked. God how they talked. Until
they lived past the first six months.

They eventually shut up.

One way or the other.

Most people talk to fill the emptiness. Mulder
and Scully had already gone past that. It was one
of the things that unnerved people who spent time
in their company when they were not concentrating
on being sociable.

But this was a whole other category of
speechlessness.

He was actually looking forward to seeing the
effect they had on the Hoover Building. He rather
wondered if he should bring popcorn. Then again,
when they found out about the invasion of their
offices, he might need body armor.

Mulder and Scully silently followed him into the
store and waited patiently as he came to a halt
beside the cash machine. It was Tuesday. It would
be at least Thursday before they got back to
Washington. Way too late for them to get anything
sorted out at the bank. Pulling his daily cash
limit from his card he handed each of them $200
and then gave his Bureau credit card to Scully.

He shrugged awkwardly when she raised a curious
eyebrow.

"We may be here a couple days. Use the card to
get anything you need. The money is for food and
incidentals. Your accounts are all frozen and it
may be a few days before you can get any money
advanced. If you need any more, let me know."

Both agents thanked him quietly, frowns creeping
over their faces in tandem. As they stood there
lost in contemplation, Skinner realized that this
was probably the first time they had really
started to consider the difficulties with picking
up their old lives.

He knew from experience that it wasn't the big
changes that threw you. It was small things.
Things like car keys and credit cards and having
enough money in your pocket to buy pizza. It was
realizing that you did not even know if you had
apartments and personal possessions to go back
to. He cursed as he thought about the fact that
he should have told them about that stuff first
off.

"There's no food in the fridge, and the cleaning
lady only comes in to dust once a week, but your
places are waiting for you. We put your cars in
storage and Mulder, your fish tank is at my
place. They are all alive."

He carefully did not look at the agents as he
spoke, keeping his voice casual. Even so, he
heard the tiny indrawn breath from Scully's
direction and felt more than saw Mulder touch
her shoulder. A rustle of leather as they moved
apart and her voice came across extremely
controlled and quiet as she simply said,"Thank-
you, Sir". Skinner caught the bob of Mulder's
adam's apple as the agent swallowed sharply and
then nodded in agreement.

They stood like that for another long moment
until the doors slammed open and a family of five
crashed through them, the kids hollering
something about Breakfast Burritos. All three FBI
agents started momentarily, then they all
laughed. At themselves, at the situation, but
mostly just for being alive.

Skinner hesitated then offered his calling card
to Scully if she wanted to call her mother. He
was startled when she hesitated.

"Does she know?"

Skinner just shook his head.

Scully drew in a deep breath. "Then I'll wait
until I get back to the motel, Sir."

He was about to protest when he realized what
Mulder had probably already known since he did
not seem surprised in the least. She was going to
need time and privacy for the call itself, and
probably afterwards. Hell. It was only 5am back
in Washington. He should have remembered
that.

Then she was gone.

Skinner blinked. One minute she was standing
there. The next minute she had handed Mulder the
credit card and was gone. Mulder just started to
whistle tunelessly as he grabbed a cart and
headed for the clothing section. For lack of
anything better to do, Skinner followed him.

Two pairs of jeans, two black sweaters and a t-
shirt were swiftly joined by a six-pack of socks
and three pairs of boxers. Skinner then watched
enthralled as Mulder ignored the stunned (and
interested)looks from the sales ladies in women's
wear and rapidly added jeans, sweaters, t-shirt,
bras, socks and a triple pack of Hanes Her Way
underwear for his partner. Skinner noted that he
added an extra t-shirt that was both oversized
and too long and he realized that he now knew
what Scully would be sleeping in.

What a bizarre day this was turning out to be.

And if Mulder was doing the shopping, where was
Scully?

Looking at his watch he realized that they had
barely been in the store fifteen minutes and
Mulder was already headed for the sundries
section. Hell. Who said that men did not know how
to shop?

Skinner was frankly beginning to enjoy himself.
The incongruity of Mulder's wild man appearance
clashed with the domestic picture he did not even
know he was making. Did Mulder even realize that
he was talking to himself? It was an unusual peek
into a partnership that had always fascinated
him.

Soap, shampoo, a fluffy bath sponge, moisturizer,
deodorants, toothbrushes, toothpaste, blue and
pink packages of disposable razors, his and hers
shaving creams and a box of Tampax all ended up
in the cart in less than five minutes. It was
when Mulder paused to search for a particular
brand of shampoo that Skinner realized that he
was actually making choices not just pulling the
first thing off the shelf that he saw.

Eidetic memory, Skinner remembered. Scanning the
choices in the cart he wondered how many of the
choices he was making for his partner were brands
she preferred. Probably all of them, he thought
ruefully.

Two pairs of black Brooks sneakers and two black
duffel bags later, Mulder was pushing the cart
through the checkout and Scully was walking
toward them juggling three large bags from
McDonald's and a cardboard tray of coffee.

Mulder's eyes lit up.

"Caffeine!"

Skinner considered the likely effects of a
caffeine high on a man who had been clean for six
months. He almost groaned. Scully was looking
over the contents of the cart when Skinner heard
her laugh.

"Jesus Mulder. We're going to look like the
Bobbsey Twins."

The agent protested,"Hey, I got your sweaters
in different colors and the ivory one even has a
cable pattern."

Scully placed a hand solemnly over her heart,"I
stand corrected. Ya did good Mulder. Here's your
reward."

Mulder all but drooled as she handed him the food
sacks and then she was swiftly dividing the
contents of the cart and efficiently packing them
into the appropriate duffel after the girl rang
them through. Skinner barely even glanced at the
total before signing the slip and replacing the
card into his wallet.

He was more interested in watching his agents
eat.

In the most co-ordinated food ballet he had ever
seen, they handed bags and tray back and forth as
they shouldered duffel bags and headed for the
car. Between the checkout and the parking lot,
they had eaten four breakfast burritos between
them.

They weren't pigs about it. They were just very
efficient. And hungry. Mulder handed his boss an
egg McMuffin as soon as he was behind the wheel
and then Skinner watched in disbelief as they
proceeded to polish off eight more Breakfast
Burritos, four egg McMuffins, six hash browns and
two cups of coffee. That was when Skinner
realized that the remaining egg McMuffin, six
Burritos, and two hash browns were for him. When
he told the agents faintly that he wasn't hungry,
they ate those too.

They pulled up to the field office before he
found out if they were hungry enough to start
chewing on the upholstery. He thought at first
that maybe they had gone hungry for two or three
days but Mulder remarked casually that they had
eaten before they got arrested.

So that was just breakfast.

He fiddled with the air vents as the windows
starting fogging up again.

He only meant to pop in for a second, meet the
local SAC and then explain that he would be back
once his agents had a chance to clean up. The
smell wasn't bad, but it was still...a smell. If
he had been thinking at all he would have used
his cell phone. They were ten feet into the doors
when alarms were suddenly screaming their
electronic heads off and agents were slamming
into the foyer, weapons drawn.

Skinner had his own weapon half out before he
realized the muzzles were all pointing behind
him. He turned to see Mulder and Scully with
their hands in the air, expressions of surprise
and resignation on their faces. Skinner's own
surprise lasted until he got a good look at them.

His first thought was "Oh shit, I forget about
the knives."

His second,"Oh fuck. They went into Wal-Mart like
that."

Well, hell. They were lucky nobody called the
cops. That would have been cute. Not out of jail
45 minutes and the local SAC would have been
bailing all three of them out.

He was so used to thinking about his agents as
being armed and their whole attire was so bizarre
that the knives just sort of ...blended. They
were so unselfconscious he had never even
noticed.

From the looks on their faces, neither had they.

Luckily the SAC knew his face and had a sense of
humor. He also had a camera. Turns out he even
had the sleds to use as a backdrop. The local PD
had unilaterally decided that they wanted
everything to do with the FBI as far away from
them as it could get and had dropped off the
whole kit and caboodle about fifteen minutes
prior.

The local agents were familiar with Wyoming
winters and were inclined to be amazed and
admiring. One of the security guards was an avid
hunter and the look on his face when he saw the
bearskin sent shivers down the AD's spine. The
look when he found out that Scully had shot it
with a 9mm told him more adequately than words
just how close his agent had come.

Knowing that the reaction from their colleagues
in Washington was more likely to be disdain for
getting themselves captured in the first place
than admiration for their survival skills,
Skinner wandered off to talk with the SAC while
they enjoyed their 15 seconds of fame.

SAC Rivers just grinned as a lab tech rushed by
carry a handful of film.

"His wife teaches social anthropology at the
college down the street. Five gets you ten she
wants pictures of *everything*."

He was right.

There was a regular photo op going on in the
parking lot. Mulder was lounging good-naturedly
against one of the sleds. The bearskin had been
hauled from the trunk of the car and thrown back
on top. Scully was talking seriously to a young
woman who was probably the lab tech's wife. The
contents of the second sled were being spread out
across the pavement by a handful of chattering
teenagers who were probably students.

Anything to get out of class, he supposed.

Except that they seemed genuinely impressed.
Items that looked like nothing to him...a bone of
some kind, those snowshoes, each engendered a
hurried round of whispers and serious study while
the lab tech took rolls and rolls of pictures.

They were seeing history come to life, he
realized. This wasn't a textbook picture. This
wasn't two hundred years ago. This was two people
who had reinvented Native American tools for a
specific purpose. The odd thought occurred to him
that maybe the differences between what the
natives had created with time and resources
compared to what his agents had created in need
could actually tell the students something about
the people they could no longer interview.

Then he saw something that truly illustrated the
demands the last six months had made on their
bodies. They were not showing off. In fact, they
did it so casually that he got the feeling it was
something they had done many times before.

Whoever had unloaded the sleds had done a good
job of placing them out of the way. But with the
contents of the second sled spread out like sales
items at a bazaar, the car that pulled into the
parking lot was forced to a stop. Before the
driver could decide to back out and go in the
other entrance, Mulder and Scully each casually
grabbed an end of the bearskin covered sled and
lifted it out of the way.

No one spoke for a long moment.

The lab tech snapped several hurried pictures.

Then Scully went back to her conversation like
nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Which
is when Skinner realized that for them, nothing
had.

"It took four agents to get that off the truck.
Partly it's a question of balance, but it's
heavier than they think."

Skinner turned to see the SAC watching the two
agents soberly.

"They don't know their own strength yet."

Skinner just shook his head.

"You have no idea."