Her thoughts kept drifting as she held her exhausted partner in her own weak arms. Where were they? At first she thought Alaska, just like last time, but there had been no crater so wide...
More disturbing, though, was what had happened to her between her untimely bee sting in the hallway of Mulder's apartment building and seeing his face before her, close again, and the numbing cold that had been insinuating itself slowly into her, sliding inside, stealing the clinging anxiety that had tried to stay with her. She had to talk to Mulder about what he had just done, or give him a look, or something, to make him know that it was all right-- she still hadn't decided whether... well, anything.
That kiss, or bare lack thereof. After the affirmation that their feelings were mutual, but there had been no love expressed, no love at all, only a desperately clinging fear had been realized...
She pushed away the acid rising in her throat (there was still the taste of jelled sickness and metal inside her, from the cord that Mulder had pulled upward, leaving an invisible hot scar all the way up her insides) and returned to the present. She would never have the opportunity to discuss anything with Mulder if he died in her arms from the cold, colder than the air in the-- place. Mottled green and black, and high-pitched screams that could not be human, those were the only memories she had taken from that nightmarish journey. And the feeling of Mulder's fingers and hands, warm against her chest, as he had tried desperately to restore life to a body so willing to let it go.
She realized, her body stiffening against the cold, that the depression had reclaimed her again, just as after her abduction. She was left bewildered, to try and pick up pieces that didn't fit, no matter what she tried, experiences that would never be linear and coherent and fit into something easy, only alarms and men who had no faces and the disassociation and this time Mulder had come and
his fingers were clenching and unclenching on the ice sheet
Scully bit her lip. This was no time to get emotional. She was wearing nothing but Mulder's coat, her pants, and a pair of woolen socks, and they were stuck on an ice sheet in the middle of nowhere with nothing but pure white (and the crater) as far as the eye could see.
"Mulder." Harsh voice like a Brillo pad, just as scoring as the wind whipping the snow about their bruised faces. She pushed at him unsuccessfully, trying hard to make her pressure felt through the feet of padding surrounding his insensate body.
She leaned down and the skin of her ear caught just the faintest puff of breath from his mouth as she heard
"Did you see it Scully?"
His voice was trembling hard, both with little-boy wonder and the cold. She set her mouth. They would find a way out of here, somehow, whether it involved teleportation or out-of-body experience or just the good old flare he had to have somewhere inside the padded-for-a-pack-trip-to-the-Arctic jacket now wrapped around her.
"Mulder, we have to get out of here before we both freeze to death."
He tried hard to shove himself to a sitting position, and upon succeeding he shaded his eyes and glanced around. The grin plastered on his face and the glazed look in his eye made her fear again that they, too, would be discovered like the Greenland iceman, though she couldn't quite imagine how the future scientists would explain their fantastic, preserving deaths. Hunting imaginary buffalo? Premature Alzheimer's? The sacrifice of the two to save the greater good? Death from spontaneous creation of a large crater beside them in the ground?
"Alone at last, Scully."
Upon sight of Mulder's crooked grin, it was Scully's turn to make a few false starts. Incredibly, more dampness was seeping through the woolen socks wrapped around her small, burning-cold feet, and the wind had even managed to quicken.
"We have to get out of here, Mulder."
His gaze went reflexively back to the crater, as though to a security blanket. He lifted hands already chapped with the cold, their skin red and raw, and rubbed against his eyes. Ice crystals were forming on his long eyelashes.
"Yeah." He stood beside her after his own false starts, surveyed the landscape about them without the slightly delirious air he had taken on earlier. He could vaguely see his own footsteps, but the wind had begun to wipe them away just as clearly as the alien spacecraft had ascended into the shifting clouds. His photographic memory clicked on like a computer and 180-ed the mountains so that he could now see them... ahh. Directly ahead of them, through that small crag, and on to the safety of the fuel-drained snowmobile. Maybe, if it hadn't been looted during the escape of the base crew, there would be a cell phone or something in there. If not, he and Scully could always tell each other ghost stories until their breath had faded from their bodies.
Mulder shuddered, both from the cold and the near-miss Scully had pulled on him back in the ship. What the hell had she been doing? Maybe his shaking fingers hadn't pressed hard enough into her skin to feel her pulse, but what had happened back there?
Scully had set off in the direction to which she had seen his gaze lingering. About ten feet ahead of him she turned and gave him a decidedly cold stare. As he started toward her he noticed that her feet were only covered in white woolen socks.
He shuffled drunkenly toward her as he registered that, impossibly, the snow was coming down harder. Scully only in socks. Scully trapped inside a green dome with God-knew-what coursing through her veins. Scully lying insensate in his hallway, while he allowed those faux paramedics to go through the motions and take her away from him--
He stumbled slightly on the cold ground and her tiny hands reached out for his own. He interlaced their fingers. Her skin was only slightly colder than his own.
"Your feet okay?"
He thought he had imagined the slight, blink-and-it's-gone smile on her face. "I'm afraid a few toes may come off if I try this much longer."
He nodded, forcing his own feet to keep going though all he wanted to do was fall face-down onto the ice sheet and mull over the great black hulking shape in the sky, think of the unholy alliance that had been formed somehow between the chainsmokers of the Consortium and the screaming aliens who tormented him, taking away everything he loved and giving nothing in return.
"Just tell me when it gets to be too much, okay. I don't have too much energy and I don't want to waste it."
Scully nodded slightly, trying to conserve her own heat. Her fingers were so frozen that she barely registered the presence of Mulder's comforting grip. Like her father on that one camping trip when she'd--
Father figure. Jack Willis. Her conversation with Ed Jerse in the bar came rushing back. Always someone she respected, someone she trusted. Literally stronger than her.
But her love for Mulder was that of a friend. A very dear friend, one who didn't want to see him hurt, or in the deep melancholia that seemed to follow him around after the inevitable dead-ending of all his leads, from all the sources who were vague and incomprehensible shadow.
He was safe, he was her personal safety measure. They were so different and strange and wonderful together and they were best friends. It was her own choice to be uncomfortable around him, because--
Her brain was rambling and her feet were now tapered blocks of ice. She ground her teeth into her lip for another minute, concentrating on the sensation of deadened nerve endings before she finally applied what she hoped was pressure to their intertwined fingers.
Mulder came to a dead stop, and she could see the wheels turning in his head as he turned to look at her. He started and his hand came up to brush her eyebrow lightly. "Got a little snow there," he said, trying to sound lighthearted, letting his fingertips glide over the curves of her face.
Too reminiscent of the look on his face as he had leaned down, allowing his lips to brush her own... "Mulder--"
Somehow he sensed where her thoughts were going and shook his head. "Later, okay... I'm gonna lean down and you're gonna ride piggyback, it's the easiest way and we can conserve a little heat that way."
Scully bit her lip and colored a little, adding to the redness windburnt into her skin. He looked a little ridiculous, bent over like that. Biting back her laughter, she climbed on. Again, memories of her father came rushing back to her. Her head so high she could touch the tops of the doorjambs if she wanted, taller than Bill, her mother laughing delightedly while wiping flour from her fingers--
flour like the snow sifting through the air around them, something she'd never had while at the base in California with her father.
The doctor inside Scully realized that she was trying to deal with the mental anguish, but that was no comfort. She tightened her grip, her arms snaked underneath his own and clasped somewhere around the top of his chest.
Mulder clamped down tightly on a moan. The mountain seemed to be getting farther away, and his steps had slowed down since he had taken Scully on as an added weight. Why had he not gone into the Army? Oh, yeah, that scholarship to Oxford. Stupid him.
Suddenly there was a puff of hot breath at his ear, as though the angels had taken pity on him and decided to deliver him from this icy hell. Or perhaps it was just his partner.
"Mulder? Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yeah," he puffed. "Never been better."
"I can get down if you want--"
"And get your toes amputated?" puff "I don't want--" puff "another partner this late in the game," puff, "gotta train them all over again--" puff "to like sunflower seeds and orange spray paint."
Her laughter delighted him as much as it frightened him. The delirium was getting to her. What had been in the serum he had injected into her with so much faith?
"I'm sure you could sweet-talk Diana into it." Her teeth were chattering, and the serious edge on her voice was only barely hiding the cheerful banter behind it.
"Never could--" puff "get her to like- seeds."
Another light laugh, and Mulder could imagine his partner shaking her head, her hair waving slightly beneath his own fur hood. Ahh, what he wouldn't give to have that fur ruff protecting his face from the bitter cold just then.
After about ten minutes more of his puffing and her contemplative silence, he felt the soft skin of her face press against his ear. Suddenly an overwhelming drowsiness threatened to overtake him. The excitement and adrenalin running him since the fantastic sight of the black ship running off to its home was beginning to wear off and he again wanted to think about what he had seen and experienced for the past hundred hours, since Scully's fall in his hallway to waking up in the hospital to the tremendous explosion rocking him as Well-Manicured Man became ashes polluting cars a few years in the future to the snowmobile that they had yet to reach.
How long had it taken him to hike from the broken craft to that convenient vent? He was too tired to think. The angel puffs of Scully's breaths against the side of his face were just too lulling. Her feet, previously crossed snugly over his navel, were beginning to hang loosely at his sides.
"Scully," he said, his voice tired. He wanted nothing other than to bundle down and sleep off this fear and anger and anxiety hanging over him. With his part-- oh, he had forgotten. If she hadn't been lying about handing in her resignation, and she never seemed to lie to him, she was no longer his partner, no longer really an FBI agent. Just a woman with whom he had previously experienced a work relationship.
But earlier, hadn't she--
He shook his head, giving up on retrieving the memory, and inadvertently woke the slumbering woman on his back. He heard her yawn and felt her arms tighten around him.
"How much longer?" Her voice was harsh with unuse.
"Don't know." Suddenly the cold was settling into his own bones and he was on the Vineyard in the wintertime, and Samantha was laughing and shouting on his back and they were going to make snow angels again, and... he slowly let it drift away. Wouldn't do him any good to dwell on it now, though his dreams would be haunted with images of Sam trapped inside another green capsule, her lips trying desperately to move around the hard yellow crusted tube reaching inside her mouth, the cord wrapped around her small insides, her tiny fists beating at the glass, with him only feet away and choosing Scully, fighting for his partner, and--
He hooked his arms under her legs. "Just a little longer," he said, as though trying to convince himself.
Her eyes closed.
Suddenly there was a cold hand on her face and she just wanted five more minutes, she mumbled, just five more minutes and a cup of coffee and she'd be okay just five more minutes and why was it so cold in her apartment
She gasped as her blue eyes met Mulder's hazel ones. The smile on his face was very slight. His shoulders were drooping slightly and she could guess at how tired he was... though from Bureau reports he would've gladly been this tired if he'd carried her back from Skyland Mountain and Duane Barry with only his mortal strength.
After reassuring herself that she was indeed with Mulder she looked around. There was a snowmobile. That maybe wouldn't take them too much longer to get to.
"Not too much longer, Dana, come on." He offered her his hand.
As she stood she was suddenly aware of her heartbeat, of her blood rushing around through her chest. She tried to walk on her own but after about five minutes of feeling rocks so sharp they could cut her poking through her socks, she found herself climbing back on Mulder as he let out a soft sigh. She sensed that now his center of balance was off but she really just wanted to get to somewhere safe and away from all the blasted snow...
She had to focus on something. Mulder was going as fast as she could and there was no way for her to help except for to stay quiet and keep his back warm, but she really had to ask him, before they were back in Washington and behind their glass walls.
"I never knew you felt that way, Mulder."
The pause in his steps and the inevitable shudder traveled through his partner's body as she clung to him. For an irrational second he thought of putting her down on the ice and leaving her there, instead of dealing with that impulsive gesture... But he never could. There was always the chance that some more torch-wielding soldiers had been left behind to get rid of any observers (namely themselves), and he would never leave her to die that way. But a deep enduring ache numbing his chest reminded him of his vow to never tell her the things that had come out only under the duress of having her leave him... and the breaking of that vow, that was so like a freedom.
He knew she didn't need his protection. Even his presence beside her hospital beds was something of a formality. She was the stronger one, both of them knew that. He was the damaged goods, the space case, the crazy one to her rationality and logical thinking. But he had pulled her down into his little world, along with the government conspiracies and informants and his tiredneighbors. So many times, she had nearly become another casualty to his quest...
There was the case before his mother had her stroke, the one where Scully had gone crazy from the television signals. The police thought they had found her body. His shock, anger, grief, self-condemnation, had all grown as he had approached the window, and with every new word describing the condition of her lifeless body he had flinched and curled deeper into his hole. The whole of his being had been consumed with keeping his psyche from fully crumbling-- and as the doctor moved the blinds, he had been met with a heinous sight, but not that of his partner's dead body. In that moment he had sworn to himself that no matter what it took, he would never be in that position again, whether it was later her cancer or the psycho of the week that had put her there. Never. Even if his eyes were kept blind by his own hand, by the bullets of his own gun.
He returned to the present, his arms hooked beneath his partner's legs (she would always be his partner, mentally, whether she was a G-woman or not), shifted her weight on his back. "Guess I hid it a little too well, then, didn't I?"
She wished she could see his eyes. But that thought was swept away with another rush of snow onto both of their faces, the slight cough coming from her transportation.
"Okay," she managed.
"Later," he repeated, sounding almost reassured, already setting off again, shifting her weight ever so often.
Scully didn't allow herself to think. She focused her eyes on the Snow Cat that kept approaching from the distance and shied away whenever she sensed a potentially disturbing thought coming her way. They would have plenty of time to talk under the shelter. Plenty of time to die, too.
Scully had fallen asleep again by the time he had reached the overly large hunk of metal that was their only chance of survival. He relaxed his grip on her legs and she slid down, and as he propped her against the side he drew a hand across his forehead, praying silently that some earthbound angel had filled the tank with gasoline and left directions as to how to get back... he didn't feel as though he would ever be able to wake up again, once he fell asleep...
Scully's blue eyes opened to whiteness that was nearly blinding. Her heart began to pound. Somehow they had gotten trapped in a snowdrift, but she didn't feel like she was dead or dying of hypothermia, and there was the unmistakable smell of gasoline and oil and metal. Her hand opened and brushed against a piece of paper... on a rough-hewn seat. She glanced down at the coordinates, there was the little GPS device, on her other side there was the warmth that was sleeping Mulder. The blood rush to her brain startled her a little more awake and she looked around again before focusing on her sleeping seatmate.
Her rough voice trailed off as the meaning of the coordinates finally sunk in. Wow. Antarctica. The hall of Mulder's Arlington apartment building was a long way from the biggest glacier known to mankind.
She sat up straighter, shaking herself mentally. All she wanted to do was fall asleep until she could assimilate this better, but the Snow Cat wasn't too much warmer than outside and this was only a temporary respite if they were going to need to hike somewhere else.
While shaking his arm she looked around again. Keys were still in the ignition. She supposed he had run out of gas, but that meant the fuel indicator was broken because it was a little before the dreaded "E." A dusty, oil-stained cloth on the dashboard, and then Mulder's groan stopped all further explorations.
"We're not out of danger yet, are we." He rubbed his head with a red hand, squinting about them at the dimming cabin.
"No, and I seem to have somehow lost my cell phone... along with my blouse, jacket, bra, shoes..."
"I didn't quite have enough time for all those," he said sheepishly. Suddenly his eyes widened, though, and he patted a few assorted pockets before he came to a realization. "Reach into your right coat pocket," he said, and she sensed a breath of prayer in his voice. Her blistered fingertips found the gold chain with no trouble, however, and she hooked it around her neck and clasped it before she spoke again.
"Well, Mulder, we have keys, we've got gas, let's hit some snow."
"What?" he said incredulously, leaning over her to see the stubborn indicator. He hesitantly tapped it with his knuckles a few times, then harder, his expression brightening as the needle refused to move. "Oh God thank you," he said as he slid over into the driver's seat and cranked the engine. The growl of the motor was like the sound of trumpets from heaven.
She wanted to continue their conversation, but his reluctance to speak and the persistence of the engine's whine made it all too easy to let her resolve drop. They sat close to each other but didn't quite touch, and Scully wondered about whether she would ever have the opportunity again to talk to him. After all, Skinner had no reason not to honor her resignation, and she hadn't been lying to Mulder when she had told him of her lack of excitement about typical field agent duty... pursuing human petty criminals didn't even approach the scientific wonderland that was the X-Files-- even if those precious papers were now ash in a landfill, thanks to a certain tar-infested archnemesis.
She finally found her voice after listening to Mulder extol whatever green agent had refilled the Snow Cat, thinking that it belonged to the igloo base, and leaving them some way to leave the nightmare. "How long did it take you to get here?"
"Way too long," he said, glancing at her, his eyes burning in remembered pain before settling upon her face. After a narrow second he turned his gaze back to the endless snow before him. She looked like hell, but she was alive.
She mentally computed for a few minutes. They had some hours left together, before she would hand in what she was sure would be her last report to the FBI, before she could get one last slam on record. She wanted AD Cassidy to know what her very department had helped end, the partnership and relationship that had taken the Bureau farther from its cloak of ignorance than anyone had dreamed possible.
But maybe whatever had happened out there in the past hours would change her mind, somehow. Skinner, at least, would try and talk her out of her decision, just as Mulder had-- albeit without the emotionally verbal outpourings her partner had subjected her to. Then she could make her final decision, as to whether these really would be her last hours with her former partner.
"Tell me what happened, Mulder."
He smiled, and kept his hand on the wheel, and launched into another of his wildly unscientific explanations, perhaps the last one she would ever hear pouring from his lips. She missed it already.