I'm going to be perfectly honest - if I had my way, I wouldn't be posting this. It was written in about 2003, and was one of my early works. Looking back, it's certainly not my best writing, and it's interesting to see how my writing has changed over the years. However, I do keep receiving PMs from people asking how they can get hold of this, and so I suppose I'll make it easier for everyone if I post it on here. That way the entire series is now on here. It did cross my mind to perhaps rewrite this one - until I saw how long it is and I really don't have the time. However for the ones who wanted it, here it is.
TITLE: Melting Snowflakes
AUTHOR: Anna Greenway
RATING: Strong PG-13 to low R, for cannibalism and some bad language
CATEGORY: Friendship, Minor Character Deaths, D/R UST
DISCLAIMER: Not mine. I'm just borrowing them for a bit of fun.
SUMMARY: When a plane of FBI agents crashes in Canada in the middle of winter, the agents on board must come together to fight for their survival.
TIMELINE: I live in an imaginary world where Mulder, Scully, Doggett and Reyes are all friends, and all working happily within the FBI at the same time. A bit of an alternate season nine. I don't think the timeline is important, but if you're curious, then that's where I am.
ARCHIVE: Please let me know.
NOTE: Although this fic features a few minor character deaths and some Doggett/Reyes UST, the story is about the strength of friendship in extreme conditions. A lot of friendship between various characters is covered, but it is the friendship between Doggett, Reyes, Scully and Mulder which is the theme of the story. And a huge thank you to Lisa for betaing this for me!
Reyes POV *
MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, CANADA Airport , 7.11am
"Pick a hand."
I stared at John's hands, stretched out lazily in front of him, clenched in to fists. It took a second for the words to reach my ears, and at least another ten before the message fought its way through my sleepy brain enough to be interpreted.
"What's the catch?" I asked, looking up at his face again. He was slumped in the chair next to me, the past week having taken a heavy toll on him. His posture was mirrored to some extent by the rest of the agents waiting in the room with us. All were exhausted, and had taken to excess amounts of caffeine to keep them awake long enough for the flight back home.
"Catch is, if you pick the hand with the money in it then you get the job of going to buy some coffee."
I had been leaning towards picking his left hand, but I immediately cut the thought off. "You don't think we've had enough already?"
He gave me a look of impatience and held out his fists for me again. "Come on, Monica. Fair deal. You pick the right hand and you have to go. Pick the wrong one and I'll do it. Which hand?"
I wasn't going to back down. Rolling my neck around on the back of the seat, I gave him what I hoped was a pleading, pathetic pout. "What if I don't want coffee?"
But John had taken the same class in stubbornness that I had, and he didn't lower his hands. "Hate to tell you this, but I think you might need it." He looked me up and down with a smirk. First to my feet, which were bare, having taken off my uncomfortable heels about twenty minutes ago. Then he looked up to my badly wrinkled pants, up to my jacket which I was hugging to myself, and then to my hair. He lingered there, making me calculate exactly how long it had been since I had last brushed it.
He was lucky I didn't have any energy left, or I might have hit him. "Thanks, and you don't look so great yourself, by the way."
He didn't even stop to think. "Left or right?"
I paused, knowing that it was unlikely I was going to win this one. I looked between his hands, trying to consider which one to choose. Just when I had raised my hand to point to his left, we were interrupted by Scully and Mulder coming around the corner. They both looked very cheerful, compared to the rest of us. Somehow, they had been given the easiest jobs in the whole task force, and while the rest of us had been interviewing and scouring the country for five days, they had been back in the luxury of the heated office. So while the rest of us were ready to collapse in to a coma any second, they had been talking quietly, looking almost recognisable as their normal selves.
"Take this," said Scully, handing a cup of coffee to each of us.
"Thank you," I said, taking the coffee from her, and beside me John echoed my thanks.
"You're welcome. By the time you two finished arguing we could be back in D.C.," she said, giving us an amused smile. She stepped back and sat herself down in a chair opposite us, Mulder sitting beside her.
I took a sip of the coffee, enjoying the warmth as I swallowed. I sighed and lowered the cup again. "Just tired, that's all." I looked up around the room at the other agents. I had no problems admitting I was tired when I knew that the feelings were shared by everyone else in the room. I then checked my watch. 7.15am. How much longer would we have to wait?
"Won't be long," said Mulder, obviously reading my mind. "They said it was only going to be another few minutes. The weather's clearing now."
I nodded, not exactly convinced. We had been delayed for two hours already.
"Here," John said, and suddenly threw the coin he had been holding across to Scully. She caught it just as it was about to hit her face. "For the coffee," he said, lifting it to his lips again.
Scully pocketed it without question, and then spent a minute or so studying us. She looked at me much the same as John had only a minute before. It was identical except for the look of pity. John hadn't had enough energy to feel sorry for me. Then her eyes crossed to John and after another minute she sighed. "When we get back, we'll give you a lift home, ok?"
John and I both opened our mouths, ready to tell her that it wasn't necessary, but just then a flight attendant came in and announced that it was finally time to go, and before either of us had a chance to say anything, they had stood up, ready to leave.
The jet had been chartered for the use of the FBI. The case had involved a massive search for three men who had murdered a few people in New York. They had been found by the authorities in Canada, and the FBI had brought in a team to help track them down. The remote location to which the three men had escaped meant a few things. First, that the FBI had had to charter its own plane to get everyone out there. And second, that the small town which normally lived in peace was paralysed with fear of a repeat of the attacks. The case became high profile and every available FBI agent and Canadian policeman was brought in to help. It had meant a row of sleepless nights for most of us, especially Skinner and Brad, who as Assistant Directors had spent the whole time in front of the cameras, trying to reassure the people that we were doing everything we could. I say trying to because no one had believed them. No matter how hard we worked, they still thought that we weren't doing enough. Such is the nature of fear.
But now it had ended, and we were flying back to Vancouver, and from there would get a flight back home. John and I were near the front of the plane, me next to the window. Maybe the chair was comfortable, or maybe I was just so tired that anything felt comfortable, but either way, I knew it would be a struggle to say awake till we got home.
It seemed John noticed. "Go to sleep, Monica. We'll wake you when we land."
He was referring to Mulder and Scully. They were sitting across the aisle from us, and it was obvious that they would be awake the whole trip.
"I'd rather have a long sleep later than a short one now," I replied. I looked out the window at the ground. We were ready for take off.
He shrugged and rearranged himself in the seat, leaning back. "I'd rather take both."
He fell asleep in seconds.
I sighed and focused my attention out the window. I don't know how they claimed that the weather had cleared. To me, there was no change. The grey clouds never seemed to end. Each one merged in to the next, forming a huge dark blanket. The wind was lashing out at the ground, throwing around loose pieces of paper and threatening to break all the blades of grass in half. It was not raining or snowing at the moment, but the ground was still soaked from the afternoon, and there was a cold dampness in the air that told me it would not be long before it returned. I did up the last button on my jacket, even managing to feel the cold through the walls of the plane.
It might only be a half hour flight, but it was going to be an exceptionally long half hour.
I turned out to be more right about that than I'd ever imagined.
Everything went fine until we reached the mountains. At first they could only be seen in the distance, but then we started climbing and they came in to full view. So much for the weather being clear. I was glad that they had technology up front, because there was no chance of being able to fly on vision alone. I could not see out the window for the clouds. It had started raining, and as we climbed, I knew it was going to be snowing.
The plane had been silent. Some of the agents were sleeping, and those that weren't had fallen in to silence. Even Mulder and Scully, were being unusually quiet.
With the plane in silence, I could hear everything. Every breath of wind, every bit of rain and every breath that John breathed. At first the wind started to tickle the plane, just a gentle whistle, but it soon became a gale, and I suddenly envied John. He was sleeping through it. Maybe I should have done that, too.
The wind turned to a screech, and I gripped the edge of the seat. Turbulence. Happened all the time. I took a deep breath and glanced across at John. He was still sleeping. I looked up at Mulder. He had his eyes open, but did not look alarmed. His fingers were hovering over Scully's hand, and she seemed to be a little concerned, like me.
The plane dipped. I gripped the seat harder.
John jumped awake. "What the hell was that?"
"I dunno..." I said, locking eyes with him. The plane dipped again and John swore, gripping the edge of the seat like me. Behind us, someone gasped. I think it was Brad. He hated flying.
In a panic, I looked out the window. Before, I could not see the mountains through the clouds. Now, though, I could see the peaks, fading in and out of view. I took another deep breath, but just as my mouth was half open, the plane fell again. This time, an alarm sounded. I glanced across at the others. Mulder's hand was now holding Scully's tight, and even he was starting to look a little concerned now.
The alarm contrasted the screeching of the wind, and my ears were ready to burst.
"It's nothing," John said, "probably happens all the time at this altitude."
I don't know who he was trying to convince. His face had already been pale with tiredness, but now he was white, as were his knuckles, his hands gripping the edge of the seat.
Someone got out of their seat and started to make their way to the front, hanging on to all the seats as they went. It was Brad. It figured. He was the type who hated not knowing what was happening. We all watched him go, but no one stopped him. No one tried to reassure him that it was normal. We all wanted answers just as much as he did.
He had just reached the row in front of us when the plane lurched again. He tried to hang on, but lost his footing and was knocked to the floor. Kim, who was in the aisle seat in front of Mulder, kindly reached down and put a hand under his elbow, helping him up.
"Are you all right, sir?" she shouted, over the alarms and the wind.
He took a deep breath and carefully got to his feet, as if expecting the floor to fall out from under his feet at any second.
"Fine..." he said, nodding. Gripping the back of her seat, he then continued to make his way to the front.
John suddenly leaned over me to look out the window. His eyes went wide and he pointed out a finger to the clouds. "Tell me that's not what I think it is."
I ignored the fact that he was so close to me that I could actually smell him, and looked out the window, my eyes searching for whatever he was looking at.
My heart skipped a beat. It was hard to separate the snow-capped mountains from the white clouds, but after a split second I managed it, and I couldn't believe my eyes. I was sure that we weren't meant to be that close. Not that low to the mountains. The was a forest off to the side, and I could actually see each and every individual branch. We weren't clearing it by much at all. And further ahead, as the forest cleared to long slopes of snow and ice, the peak of the mountain seemed to be in front of us. In front of us, not below us as it should've been.
"John!" I yelled. I started to gasp for breath. Too close... it was all too close and we were too low...
John sat back in his seat and gripped the seat with a renewed determination. I did the same. If we were going to hit, I would have to try and stay in my seat.
"Get down! Everybody hold on!"
Brad. He came back in to view. He was trying to hurry back to his seat, but the plane started to tilt on an angle and he found it impossible to walk. He fell on an angle around Kim's chair again, and didn't bother to get up, instead gripping the first solid thing he could put his hands on.
A split second after we hit. I didn't have time to think. I didn't check if anyone else was all right. All I had time to do was hang on so tight that my fingers were threatening to break and hope that the items falling down from above would all miss my head. Someone screamed - I think it was Kim. The alarms seemed louder than ever. The plane started lifting up again as the pilots tried to clear the ground. I wasn't brave enough to look out the window to see what we were trying to miss. I prepared myself, and then suddenly we were flying up and over whatever it was. The front half of the plane had cleared it. But then there was deafening crack at the rear of the plane, and a screech as it hit what could only be rocks. The front of the plane then slowed and gradually slid past the rocks to the soft snow, where it silently stopped moving.
The lights went out, and then there was silence.
I took a deep breath, breathing in the freezing mountain air. Shit it was cold. I would have preferred to have taken a moment to prepare myself for opening my eyes. I wasn't sure whether I wanted to see what I thought I would see. However, I didn't end up getting a choice. The moment I heard the groans and the screams of the other passengers, it seemed a natural human reaction to look.
And for a glorious, split second, everything seemed normal. The seats in front of me were in place, and those sitting around me appeared to be all right. A second later I realised that that couldn't be right, because there were still screams coming from behind me.
I met John's eyes. He only looked at me long enough to deduct that I was all right, and then turned his attention to the others. Mulder was fine, but seemed to be taking a moment to process what had happened. He was in shock. Scully let her eyes sweep over him to John and I, and then to Skinner and Kim in the row in front, checking they were alive.
"Help, help! I need help!"
I pushed myself out of my seat, right behind John, and we entered the aisle. The plane had crashed in to the snow on an angle, meaning that it was hard to walk. For a few steps I was able to use the seats to help myself walk, but then I saw that the back seats in the plane, where the plane had split in two, were all lying over the floor, and the passengers that had been in them were lying among the rubble, moaning.
"Oh my God," I said. There were that many who appeared to be injured that I didn't know where to start. At my feet, an agent was lying in a ball, hugging his knees. He was not breathing, but taking in very short gasps of air, holding his chest. There didn't appear to be any blood. Next to him, his partner was against the wall, blood freely flowing down the side of his face. He was dead. The eeriest part was that his face was still frozen in to shock, his face preserving the moment when he had realised we were going to crash.
I didn't have time to stare. John had crossed to a woman on the floor, who was lying with a chair across her stomach. She had her face screwed up in pain and was shouting nonsense. It was words, but it was nothing that made sense. She was shaking her head from side to side. I saw John put his hands on the seat, as if to remove it, but then he hesitated, clearly not sure if he should.
Next to the woman was another dead agent. This time, I didn't pause to stare at the look on his face. The screams continued, and I began to work faster. Behind John and the woman, I estimated there to be at least ten more dead agents, and many injured. Those in the rear of the plane, the broken part, had received most of the blow.
Something from my first aid training flashed in to my mind. In a scene of multiple injuries, you should always go for the quiet people first. The wind nearly knocked me off my feet. Part of the plane was open, and the wind was rushing in. The air was so cold to breathe. I quickly scanned the injuries. The chest injury agent who John was sitting with had grown quiet. I didn't like to think what that meant. There appeared to be numerous broken limbs. In fact, the only people who seemed unharmed were ourselves, as we had been lucky enough to be up the front of the plane.
I was going to see if there was anything I could do for the man holding his chest when Scully shouted out.
I slowly turned around, resisting the wind which was threatening to blow me off my feet. My cold feet, I might add.
Scully was walking toward me, Mulder behind her. Scully was only in her shirt, looking like we had just crashed on a tropical island, instead of a snow-covered mountain range. But I didn't question her, there wasn't time. I walked toward her, willing to let her take over the role of doctor. There were reasons I never considered it as a career. My knowledge of medicine was limited, and seeing so many people injured wasn't something I was used to. I had learnt enough only to use first aid, and for making sure I could handle staring at dead bodies during cases. That was the extent of it for me, and I knew that there was little I could do to help these people, our fellow agents.
She didn't even stop to talk to me. She was already kneeling down, examining the man who was holding his chest. She glanced over her shoulder. "Help Holly."
Holly was back up near the front, behind the seats which Mulder and Scully had been sitting in. She was on the floor, leaning against the wall, holding her leg. The door to the pilot's cabin had been opened, and I assumed that that was where Skinner and Brad had disappeared to. Help. Of course, they would be sending out a help signal.
I knelt down beside her and put my hand on her shoulder. She was trying to press down on her leg to stop the blood flow, but she seemed weak with the effort. Tears were appearing in her eyes, but she held them back. Maybe she knew there was no point in crying.
I moved my hands to hers. "I'll do it. You sit back."
She removed her hands without protest and leaned back against the wall. I took the jacket, which at least explained why Scully was without one, and pressed it down hard against the blood. Holly stared vaguely off in the direction of the others. "They're dead, aren't they?"
I wanted to deny it. She was already in enough pain without having to worry about everyone else. But at the same time, there was no point in denying the situation. She wasn't a child. She had a right to know the score.
"Some people are hurt bad," I said weakly. I glanced over at Scully, who was sitting in front of an agent I recognised as Colton. He had blood pouring down his face and all over his left shoulder, but his arm was still strong enough to be strangling Scully's hand. I had learnt to read her face. I knew she wanted to pull away to look at others, but was having trouble with the thought of telling him to let go. He was dying.
I focused my attention back on Holly's leg, lifting up Dana's jacket just a little to check the blood flow underneath. I shouldn't have bothered. I could feel it soaking through. I pressed down harder. "How bad does it hurt?"
But her attention was focused off on Scully still. I looked up to Holly's face, momentarily worried that her lack of response might have been due to her health. Then I looked up to Scully and Colton.
"Help me," he gasped out. Judging by the blood on his head, I guessed he had a head injury and so it was impressive that he was holding her hand with such force.
"You'll be all right, Tom. You're going to be fine! I just have to help some others right now, ok?" Scully said to him. There was no panic in her voice. She said it with the same certainty she'd use as though the sun was going to rise tomorrow. "Please let go, Tom. I'll be right back."
But Tom wouldn't resist. "Kill me..."
"No, no," Scully said quickly, and squeezed his hand even tighter. "You're not going to die. You'll be fine." I noticed Mulder had stepped forward and was now kneeling beside her.
"Kill me..." Colton whispered.
Scully lowered her eyes. I knew that she was caught. She could pull her hand away by force, and that way get to look at the others also injured, but she was worried by the psychological consequences on him if she did. In the end it was Mulder who helped her.
"Relax, Tom," Mulder said, putting his hand on Colton's upper arm. "You'll be fine."
Colton glared at Mulder and loosened his hand on Scully's, allowing her to slip away to the injured woman John was still sitting with.
I looked back to Holly, who was still staring at Colton. The tears in her eyes began to slip out.
"We'll be fine," I said, bringing her attention back to her own leg. She looked down at all the blood and she started to go pale. The blood had soaked through Scully's jacket and was now seeping in between my fingers.
I would have held her hand to calm her, but both my hands were busy. Scully stood up. The woman John had been trying to calm had died. Scully put a hand on John's shoulder briefly before looking around at the others. Most were dead now. Then she looked back to Holly and whispered something to Kim, who was at her side, waiting for some kind of instruction of how she could help.
Kim immediately came over and sat down on the other side of Holly, blocking everyone from view. She slid an arm around Holly's shoulders and held her close. Holly was growing more pale by the second.
Scully rushed past in to the pilot's cabin, presumably to check on the crew. The only thing I could hear now was the wind, interrupted only by short gasps for breath by Holly. Kim didn't bother to say anything to calm her. There was no point in muttering nonsense words. Kim just held her, and slowly that seemed to work.
John came and knelt beside me. With my hands still holding the jacket to Holly's leg, I leant toward him, not wanting Holly to overhear. "How are they?"
He put an arm around me very briefly and squeezed my shoulder as he leant toward my ear. "Most dead, some unconscious."
I nodded and looked back down at my hands. John let his arm fall and brought both his hands around to help. While he peeked beneath the jacket and directed movements to make it sit better, I looked behind his back, over to the hole in the plane. It was freezing out there, but with a little luck, our rescue would be very fast.
Scully, Skinner and Brad emerged from the pilot's cabin.
"Dead," Scully reported, with a disturbing lack of emotion.
Brad made his way past us to stand with Mulder. They were near the opening in the plane, half watching over the unconscious agents on the floor, and half looking out in to the weather, their hair blowing back with the wind, worried about our situation.
"Is the radio working? Did you send a message?" John asked, looking hopefully up at Skinner.
"It's all dead," Skinner said, not meeting John's eyes. "We'll just have to wait for them to find us."
"It'll be fine," I said. "They'll know where we went down. They should be up here in a few hours. We just have to manage until they do."
Mulder turned around, facing us again. "The wind's picking up and the temperature's dropping. It might start snowing soon."
We all looked at each other. My eyes lingered on Scully. Her arms were now around her waist, hugging herself. Now that she had stopped moving, the urgency in assessing everyone's injuries passed, she was realising how cold it was.
John seemed to have a good grip on Holly's leg, so I removed my hands and stood up. "We have to get organised."
"I agree," Mulder said. His quick answer led me to believe that he'd been thinking along the same lines. "We need to find our luggage, and get warm clothing for everyone. And we need to block up this hole, in case a blizzard strikes."
I looked down at the mess of bodies on the floor. John was right. Most were dead, and the few that weren't were unconscious. I hoped that we could just make them hold on till help arrived. But in the meantime, there was still a mess of chairs everywhere, and combined with the bodies, there wasn't much room to move. If we had to survive a few hours, and look after injured agents, we needed to make it as comfortable as possible, and that involved a clean up.
"We should tidy things up. Rearrange a few things." I wasn't about to tell them that I thought we should dump the dead bodies out in to the snow, but I didn't have to. They would figure out what I meant.
"Okay," said Brad. He appeared to have recovered from the shock of our crash and was now resuming the role of leader. "Doggett, Mulder, Monica and me will go over to the rest of the plane and get the warm clothes and other supplies. Scully, you should stay here and watch over our friends here." He waved down at the unconscious bodies on the floor. "When we get back, we'll clean up the mess and uh... then take things from there."
I moved to the door with John, Scully dropping to her knees to take over responsibility of Holly's wound. Brad was working his way in to the snow, jacket flying up in the air behind him, and I was approaching to follow him, but John held a hand out to stop him.
"Wait," he said, and looked down at my feet. "You're not considering going out wearing those, are you?"
I looked down at my feet, spotting my FBI heels. "Good point."
Just then Kim shouted out. "I'll go." She was dressed fairly casually, her background role in the case not demanding the same state of clothing the rest of us had. She was still in jeans and runners, suitable for her hours of walking she had done among the shelves of archives in her background research for the case.
She meant to rise to her feet, but Holly didn't seem to want to let her go. Kim hesitated, but then realised that Holly wanted to tell her something. She let Holly lean forward and whisper something in her ear. When she pulled away, the look on Kim's face was full of concern. However, she covered it extremely fast and got up to catch up to John, who had just followed Mulder and Brad out in to the snow. The second half of the plane wasn't far away. Even though it was a struggle to get through the snow, it would not take long.
I made my way back to Holly, Scully and Skinner, and took over Kim's place. I put an arm around Holly's shoulders, softly rubbing her back, and she rested her head on my shoulder, already weak from the pain and blood loss.
We were considering going out to look for them, when they returned. They had taken longer than we thought they would, but it soon became apparent why.
"Snow's so deep, we couldn't carry everyone's bags across," Brad said, entering with a stack of clothing in his arms. "We went through the bags and picked out the warmest clothing. Hope you don't mind."
Scully looked up. "Under the circumstances, I couldn't care less."
I had to agree. John came in and sat down beside me, putting a stack of clothing on the floor between us. Holly sat herself up and I let go of her. Kim came around Holly's other side, and after glancing at John to see that he wasn't looking, slipped a few tampons in to Holly's hand. Holly looked around, appearing nervous that one of the men would see, and quickly slipped them in to the pocket of her jacket.
My heart went out to her instantly. We had crashed, she had her leg torn open, and now she was unfortunate enough to have yet another thing to worry about. I was lucky. I still had another two weeks.
"Monica, I got these for you," John said. He dumped a sweater, jacket, pants and socks in front of me.
"These aren't mine," I said, picking up the navy blue socks and handing them back to him.
"They're mine," he said. "But you didn't bring any and up here you'll need them." He looked back down to my feet, which would be bare if it weren't for the shoes.
"Got these, too," he said, and nervously pulled out an old pair of running shoes from behind his back.
I took them. I would have smiled if I wasn't sharing the crashed plane with so many dead bodies. Instead I looked up in to his eyes and nodded. I knew that they were his spare pair that he brought along with him for jogging.
He almost smiled in return, but seemed to be held back by the same thing that I was. The situation was too upsetting to smile. I took a deep breath and tried to block out my feelings about the bodies and injured. I could not help anyone if I let myself get upset. If I was going to help Holly, and the unconscious agents across the other side, I would have to defer my emotional reaction until we were back home.
John turned away and pulled off his own jacket, putting on another shirt underneath to defend against the cold. He also put on another pair of pants, and an extra pair of socks. Standing up, I took the clothes he had brought from my bag and started to put on a second layer.
Everyone else did the same. We all looked large. The look was highly unfashionable and made it a little harder to move around, but the temperature was dropping each minute, and if we wanted to survive the freezing temperatures, then it required a certain amount of warmth. Mulder had brought over extra clothes for those who were unconscious, and after reassurances from Dana that we wouldn't hurt them, we put the clothes carefully over them to keep them warm. Kim helped Holly put on a few extra clothes. Holly started apologising for being so much trouble, but Kim told her not to be ridiculous and she stopped after that.
When we finished dressing, we stood around, looking at the dead bodies. Their stares were the worst part for me. I couldn't shake it out of my mind. It was a look I knew I wouldn't be able to forget. When I next slept, it was going to haunt my dreams.
"We have to move them," Brad said, looking down at the dead woman. He was pale, and I knew he was terrified of the idea of having to touch her. I held back, too, with the exact same thought. Only minutes ago they had been ordinary, lively people. They had been sitting on the plane with us, flying over the Rockies to Vancouver, and were relatively happy. They were joking about how tired they were, perhaps going over facts of the case in preparation for their report, but now... now they were lying dead at my feet. The last thing I wanted to do was drag them out in to the snow. I still had a feeling that it would harm them. I felt like I was going to freeze them if I put them out there. I felt disrespectful. Dragging a fellow agent out in to the snow to make more room for me felt selfish. I looked back up to Mulder and Skinner, who were standing with us and were hesitating just the same.
"We have to do it," Skinner said. He looked around at us, looking for support. But none came.
"Rescue shouldn't be long," Brad said quickly. "We can leave them here. No point in putting them out there, they'll just get lost in the snow."
On some level, I agreed with him. But though I didn't want to drag them out, I wasn't sure I could stand having their eyes stare at me for the next few hours. I wanted a chance to look away from them.
There was silence. No one had the courage to come out and make the first step. We all looked at the floor, trying not to look at each other, or at any of the bodies.
Behind me I heard Scully sigh. When I looked at her out of the corner of my eye, I saw her pause with a bandage half wrapped around Holly's leg. She had found a first aid kit in the cabin and had started to clean up the wound. "Kim, can you take over?"
Kim obediently continued to wrap the white strip around Holly's leg, and Dana pushed herself to her feet and walked over to us.
"Come on. Now's not the time to get queasy," she said, walking in to the middle of the circle and kneeling straight down beside the dead woman. "We'll leave them where we can find them."
Still no one moved to help her. It was easier for her. She had years of experience of dealing with dead bodies. I was still in the first thirty seconds of my training.
"They'll be better preserved in the snow," she said. "They'll be in better condition for the families."
That was enough to persuade us. If we were able to see it from a point of view that we were helping, then it was manageable. I glanced across to John. He was taking a deep breath, preparing himself for the task. Mulder's jaw was set, as if he was blocking out everything he was doing. Brad still looked like he was going to throw up any second, but slowly turned away and made his way over to the man who had had the head injury. Skinner followed him. I moved to take the other side of the body to Dana, ready to help her move the woman out of the way.
The altitude was slightly noticeable. Every movement required a little extra effort than it did at home. It was something that became obvious when we started to drag her out.
I didn't look at her. I didn't look at anyone, not even Dana. I fixed my eyes on the plane, and on the snow that I stepped in to. I focused my mind on the snow, and the cold, anything that my mind could access that allowed me to block out the fact that I was dragging a dead FBI agent out in to the snow. If it had been anyone else, I might have been able to deal with it. If it had been a stranger, and not someone who I frequently saw around the Hoover building, I would have had a little more strength. But I knew her. I recognised most of the dead, and it was unbelievably disturbing. But as Dana had said, now wasn't the time to get queasy. It was only her appeal to our FBI strength that kept us going. We all hated it, but none of us wanted to be the one to break down and cry. We all refused to be seen as weak. So instead we slowly moved around, dragging the bodies in silence and lying them out in a straight line in the snow, near the wall to the plane.
When they were all in a straight line, we stopped and paused for breath. There were eleven dead in total, and even as we put them out on the snow, new snow started to fall, lightly covering their faces with snowflakes.
Yet none of us moved. We knew that the snow would soon bury them.
"I feel like we should say something," Skinner said, looking confused as he stared at Colton, the white snow covering the blood on his face.
"Like a prayer?" Mulder asked.
Skinner shrugged. "I just... it doesn't make sense. I mean, to crash and... what do you say?" He trailed off, struggling to find words for the mess of thoughts inside.
"We'll give them a funeral," I said. I didn't want to think about saying goodbye already. "We'll take them back, and do it properly. You don't have to say anything now."
Skinner just stared down at the bodies, now half covered in snow. We were getting covered in it, too.
"Can't hurt, though," Brad muttered, still deathly pale. It amazed me that he was the assistant director and yet he seemed to be the weakest. Brad was a great friend to me, and I wanted to care about him, but I was having enough trouble dealing with my own feelings about the agents lying in front of me.
We stood in silence for a few more minutes. John was at my side, and he started to shiver. Skinner was no longer able to find any words at all. He opened his mouth a few times to try, but every time he failed and shook his head, falling back in to silence again. Dana was the one with the cross around her neck, and if we were going to say anything religious, I thought that she would have been the one to start it. But she stayed silent, looking not at the bodies, but off in to the distance at the hills around us. In some ways, this required more strength than looking at the bodies. The isolation, and freezing temperatures weren't something I wanted to think about. But the more we stood in silence, indulging in each others confusion and emotions, the more likely the prospect of freezing became. John looked across to me, his eyes telling me that he couldn't stand it any longer, and suddenly I felt the urge to say something. It was true that I did not want to say goodbye. I had already told Skinner that we didn't need to say anything yet. But if it helped us get our emotions together, then I would be the first to face it.
So I searched my brain for something to say. "Lord..." I started, taking a deep breath as I considered how long it had been since I'd last said it, "look after them, up there in heaven. And look after our friends inside. Give them the strength to hold on."
It was short and sweet. I could have said plenty more, but I became more and more conscious of the fact that the snow was piling up around us, and I knew I didn't have time for a long speech. I could have asked for strength for ourselves. I wanted to ask for the rescue to be nice and quick. I wanted to ask for the courage to try and explain what had happened to the family and relatives, who we would meet later. But I said nothing. I did not want to trigger any more of an emotional upset than we were already in.
"Amen," John said, which I deeply appreciated. I knew he was not religious, much in the same boat as me. He wanted to run back inside, and not think about the bodies in the snow. But he had stayed, aware that we could not walk off and leave our friends there.
"Amen," Mulder repeated. I noticed that he was holding Scully's hand. She was looking off in to the hills, and I realised with a thud that she must have known one of the agents lying in front of us. I knew them too, of course. But knowing their faces and names was very different from knowing them as friends. I still had a small amount of ability for blocking it out. It made her ability to be the strong one so much more impressive, and I felt guilty for not taking that role myself.
John started to head back inside, and I followed him. A blizzard was approaching, and we could not afford to be caught out in it.
Ironically, John and I were the only ones awake. It seemed odd when only a few hours ago we had been the most exhausted ones in the group. Now everyone was asleep, exhausted from the week and from the crash. John and I had volunteered to the be the ones to stay awake, waiting for the rescue, and keeping an eye on the unconscious agents. Their condition had not improved, and John and I spent most of our time in the entrance to the plane, staring out in to the snow, talking.
"Where the hell are they?" John asked, scanning the snow for the hundredth time.
"They'll be here," I said, rubbing my arms to keep the circulation going in the cold. "They're probably just having trouble getting up here, that's all. They might not be able to use a helicopter. It might be a ground rescue, and in this snow, they could be delayed."
John nodded. "What if they don't get here in time?"
I looked over my shoulder at the unconscious agents on the floor and was lost for words. If help didn't arrive in time, they would die. Then we would move them out in to the snow, and add them on to the row of bodies...
"It's just the weather," I repeated, trying to convince myself. "They'll be here soon."
There was a long pause. I could tell he wasn't convinced, but all we could do was be optimistic. I continued to rub my arms, gazing out in to the darkness, hoping for a sign of a light coming toward us, telling us that rescue would be on the way.
"Are you cold?" he asked, looking at me rubbing my arms.
"A little," I said, automatically. Of course I was cold. We were in the mountains, surrounded by snow, how could I not be?
"Here, maybe I can help," he said, moving toward me.
That woke me up. I dropped my arms, holding his eyes. He didn't look away, and stepped up to me, placing a hand on each my shoulders, softly rubbing and massaging, and then working his way slowly down my arms.
I was about to raise my arms to his waist when there was a cough and the slow thumps of someone trying to walk toward us. I reluctantly dropped my arms, John doing the same, and we turned to see Holly, one hand against he wall, trying to help herself walk.
I silently hurried toward her, careful not to wake all those who were asleep.
"What are you doing?" I whispered, horrified that she was walking on her injured leg. "Did you need anything? We can help."
She still looked pale, and when I put a steadying arm around her waist, she leaned in to me a little too easily.
"Thanks, but I have to empty my bladder, and I don't think you can really help with that, Monica." She even managed an apologetic smile.
I paused, not knowing what to do. I didn't want her to walk on her leg, but I didn't see that we had a choice.
John stepped forward and put himself between Holly and the wall. "Ok, but at least let us help."
She accepted, and leant on us both as we helped her out in to the snow. We sank in to it.
"Just go around the back of the plane," John said. "Scully will murder us if you walk too far."
Holly looked unsure, but I completely understood. Not only did she have to do with it without any facilities, but she was doing it with a sore leg and in front of everyone else. I didn't want to even consider the other problem she had. I felt so sorry for her, and was extremely anxious to help.
"We won't look," I said, taking a quick moment to rub her back. "Just call when you're ready to come back."
It was a long, slow walk around to the back of the plane, and when there was enough privacy, and without the bodies in sight, we withdrew our physical support and left her alone.
We returned to our post, looking out for the rescue. I was starting to get cold, and hoping that someone else would wake soon to take over. I liked being alone with John, and was wondering what would've happened if Holly hadn't interrupted, but I could not feel full happiness. Not with dead agents lying in the snow only a feet away. The thought was ridiculous. I quickly cut the thought off. I had no right to fantasise about my relationship with my partner when I had numerous fellow dead agents lying beside me, and more unconscious inside.
"I don't know how they're managing to sleep," John said, looking around at our friends. We had moved a fair bit of the loose chairs and other junk out in to the snow to make more room, but they were still squashed. The storm had come before we had had time to finish the job. The hole to the entrance to the plane had been partially blocked, but we had left a hole so that John and I could watch both inside and outside of the plane.
That brought the cold in, but they had found a way of defending against it. Brad was wearing an unbelievable amount of clothes, and it looked warm, but he obviously thought warmth was worth the restricted movement. We all knew about Mulder and Scully's relationship, and they did not hesitate to use the body warmth to their advantage. I felt sorry for Dana. She was acting brave, but I knew that it she was very upset underneath. I only needed to see the way Mulder lightly kissed her on the cheek, and the gentle way he hugged her to know that I was not wrong about her knowing one of the agents. Kim had been lying next to Holly, but slept on, not even aware that her friend was no longer beside her. And Skinner was propped up against the wall, sleeping restlessly. Seeing them all, I knew it had been a good idea to watch for the rescue in turns. We did not know how long they would be, and it would be less help to everyone if we were all too exhausted and emotional to help.
Minutes later, Holly called for us. "Agent Reyes!"
By the time we struggled back over to the snow and around the plane, not even pausing to look at the dead bodies, she had already moved a few feet, and looked very embarrassed. She did not meet our eyes as we moved to help her and remained silent all the way back to the plane. We helped her inside, and back to her spot on the floor beside Kim. She closed her eyes, still silent and still without looking at us.
I was not concerned. She was going through a lot, and her silence did not seem out of the ordinary. In fact, I would have been even more surprised if she had been talkative. At the time, it all made complete sense.
I wasn't sure how much time had passed before Kim and Skinner came to take over. It could have been half an hour, or it could have been four or five. Whatever it was, the time dragged. John and I stared out at the snow, listening to every little noise, and thinking that every tiny bit of light just might be the help coming. I began to see things, lights that weren't. I was either that hopeful that my mind was working too hard, or that tired that I was having trouble focusing.
Either way, it came as a relief when Kim suddenly woke and stretched, accidentally stretching in to Skinner behind her, and poking him in the chest, he was soon woken as well. She spent a few minutes trying to remember where she was, and then it all came flooding back and she offered to take over, horrified that we had been left to do the job for so long.
John and I went over to take their spots on the floor, and finally get the sleep that we had been craving for so long. I lay down next to Holly, and John was behind me. When I closed my eyes, I understood John's wondering of how the others were managing to sleep. When my eyes were closed, all I could see was the long row of bodies in the snow. I could see the unconscious agents next to me. I could see the long, quiet stretches of snow, vacant of any rescue. But most of all, I could see the shocked looks of the agents who knew they were about to die, the expression permanently frozen on to their face. I was exhausted, but there was no way I was going to sleep.
I was lying awake, contemplating the cracks in the paintwork on the roof when Kim and Skinner suddenly burst out in a panic.
"Sir," Kim said in an urgent whisper, "I don't think he's breathing."
They both spun around and ran over to the agent, forgetting that they were meant to be silent. They sounded like a herd of elephants. Not that it mattered, as the agent's life was far more important than our sleep, but when John grumpily opened his eyes, a tiny part of me was amused all the same.
I was already on my feet by that stage, and leapt over John to the agent. I did the chest compressions, and Kim began mouth-to-mouth. It was a long, gruelling process. I kept my eyes on his chest, hoping for a sign of breathing, for any sign of life. It seemed hopeless, but we went on, telling ourselves that it would be only the next push of my hands, or the next breath Kim gave, that would bring him back to life.
I was getting sore arms, but there was no way I was going to stop. Kim looked tired, too, but there was a strong determination in her eyes. Each time she came up for air she became more frantic, gasping for breath, and at the same time trying to hold back the tears, and her fear that we were going to lose yet another agent.
We continued until we heard a small voice. "Stop."
It was Scully, and we ignored her. We knew CPR could bring people back for ages after death, and as long as there was a chance, we could not give up.
Scully came around to me and put her hands firmly on my wrists. I tried to throw her off, but she only squeezed even harder.
"What are you doing?" I shouted.
"Monica, you have to stop. He has major head and chest injuries. You can't bring him back, and even if you could there's no hope." She sighed and looked down at his face, and at Kim, who still hadn't stopped breathing for him. "Even if there was a chance, it would be cruel to take it. He'd have extensive brain damage and..." she paused. "This is what's best."
"That's fine," I said angrily, "as long as you're the one to tell his family that we gave up on him." I glared at her, and she loosened her grip and sat back. As Kim and I went on, our movements becoming weak and clumsy, she watched from the side, looking torn between her medical beliefs and her understanding of our feelings.
No one else tried to stop us. Skinner was watching, with the same expression he had worn when we were carrying out the bodies. John and Mulder were watching, with the most distressed looks I had seen them wear for a very long time, and if I wasn't busy trying to bring the agent back to life, I might have been surprised to see that Brad was at the entrance and looking out in to the snow, not paying any attention to what we were doing.
We kept going for a long time. Slowly everyone's interest in watching started to fade, and with it so did my hope that the agent would come back. I did not want to stop. As long as there was hope, we could not stop. But as I became weaker, Scully's statement started to find room in my mind, and horrified though I was at giving up, I was also having a mental image of him in a hospital, as a vegetable.
Kim slowly stopped. The tears which had been sitting peacefully in her eyes had long since started to flow down her face, until she was crying too much to continue. She continued with the erratic CPR, losing her counting until her breaths were completely random, and then with a choke of tears, suddenly pulled away and sat back, breathing heavily.
"I... we can't..." she paused while she drew in a very shaky breath, her eyes still frantically looking around at all of us, searching the watching faces. Then she lost all strength she had left and dissolved in to tears. "Oh my God... this isn't right..."
Skinner was closest, and he slowly pulled her toward him, letting her cry in to his shoulder. He was only barely holding on to his emotions himself.
There was no use in continuing without her, and I too sat back. I put both my hands firmly on the floor and leant over, closing my eyes and trying to find the strength not to cry. I wanted to break down like Kim. I wanted to scream and cry and completely lose all physical control. But instead, for some reason, I settled for refusing to look at anyone.
John put a gentle hand to my back. "Monica, are you all right?"
I couldn't answer. I didn't look at him. I wanted to turn and let him hold me and support me, but I could not do it. Everyone was upset, and I did not want to break down. Someone had to be the strong one. We had to think logically.
"Monica?" he asked, leaning in a little closer.
"Brad, is there any sign of the rescue?" I said, keeping my voice level and emotionless.
"No," Brad said, not turning to look at me, just as I hadn't turned to look at him. "They must be held back by the weather."
I nodded and when I finally had found some control, I looked back up and sighed. "We'd better take him outside, then."
No one moved to help me. They were all still stunned over what had happened. Except for John, who was looking at me with a lot of concern. Either way, it was just under a minute before anyone moved to help. I had put myself behind his head, and hooked my hands under his armpits and started to try and drag him towards the entrance.
Slowly, Mulder came forward and took one of the man's arms, and then John moved forward to help, and when we reached the entrance, Scully came forward as well.
As a team, Mulder, John, Dana and I dragged the agent out in to the snow, and added him on to the end of the line.
Now there were only eight of us left alive, and two left unconscious. But as I put the body down and let go of him, I scanned the trees and sky with a lot less confidence and hope. Even if we were rescued right at that moment, I would not be happy. I felt drained. All I could hope for was that the rescue came before there was any more trouble.
We all crowded back in to the plane. Kim had stopped crying and was now leaning against the wall. She was staring in to space, not focusing, but she looked much better. Skinner was next to her, also looking a lot calmer. Brad had not moved from his post as lookout, and the rest of us slowly found spots around the plane. It was interesting, because no one wanted to sleep any more. We sat down, ready for another few long hours of waiting, watching the unconscious agents, praying that they would wake up.
Suddenly, I noticed that Holly was no longer around. "Where's Holly?"
Everyone started looking around, worried.
"She didn't come past here," Brad said, and then started scanning the ground outside anyway.
I revolved on the spot. She wasn't in the main part of the plane, and that meant that she must have been in the pilot's cabin. Unless she had disappeared in to thin air, of course, but I reminded myself that this wasn't an X-File.
The door to the pilot's cabin was closed, and I approached it, knocking softly on the door. "Holly, are you in there?"
There was no reply, and I glanced back at John. He came and stood next to me. "Holly, are you all right?"
Still there was no reply. Something sank in my stomach. I knocked again. "Holly, I'm coming in, ok?"
Not hearing a reply, I carefully turned the handle and pushed the door open a little, peeking around the corner. I had not seen the cabin yet, but it was a mess. Most of the glass was smashed, and a lot of the equipment was broken, too. Now I understood exactly why we had not been able to send a distress call.
Holly was sitting in one of the chairs, staring at the snow through the gap where the windows had been, and not at all concerned that the temperature was enough to freeze her. I pulled my coat tighter around myself, and glanced back at John. He hung back, nodding to me that the situation was best left to me.
I shut the door and approached the chair, trying to stop shivering.
"Holly?" I said softly, putting a hand on her shoulder.
She turned to look at me, which was at least a sign that she knew I was there. But she did not reply, and turned back to stare back at the snow in a daze.
I quickly surveyed the situation. She was not shivering. She did not appear to be affected at all by the cold. Either she did not notice it, or was so numbed that she could no longer feel it. I glanced down at her leg. It was still bandaged, and there did not appear to be any new blood that I could see. That was a good sign. One less thing to worry about. I wanted to move her to the warm part of the plane, to raise her temperature, but she did not appear to be in any state to want to move, and so I set about trying to comfort her, for whatever problem was bothering her.
And it wasn't that easy. The day had gone so fast, that there was a choice of a hundred events that could have triggered such an emotional shutdown.
I knelt by her chair, trying to avoid all the broken glass on the floor. I put one hand on her arm and one on her knee. "What's wrong?"
She moved her mouth, but struggled to find any words.
I decided to start at the beginning. "How's your leg?"
"Agent Scully says I should be fine," she said, sounding like a tape recorder reciting a fact. It wasn't very helpful. I knew what Scully thought because I had been there at the time. What worried me was what Holly thought and felt, not what Scully's professional opinion was.
"It must hurt like hell," I said, with an effort to sound casual. "That happened to me, out here, I'd probably still be screaming." I gave her a small smile, and was very relieved when she gave me a tiny one in return.
"It hurts less now. I'm fine, thanks to everyone's help."
I accepted that, and gave her arm a small squeeze. "That's good."
I watched as her eyes left me and drifted out in to the snow again, returning to her dazed state. If her physical condition was not the problem, then it must have been everything else. It did not seem as though she was going to open up without an invitation, so I set out to draw her out. But doing that involved guessing what part of our situation was bothering her.
I took a guess. "It's hard to believe, isn't it? That in this modern world, our plane could crash. I thought that only happened in the movies."
"I wish it did," she muttered.
"I know," I whispered. "It shouldn't have happened. And when we get out, people are going to say that it was good that not everyone died." I paused, trying to find words for how I felt. "It doesn't make sense."
She sighed and looked back to me, and I knew that I had hit the problem. It was guilt. Guilt that we had survived, that we had been the lucky ones to be up the front of the plane. It was all too random. We could search for reasons of why we survived when the others didn't, only to find that there aren't any. It was all chance. We weren't any better than those that had died. We did not deserve life more. We had just been lucky enough to get the front seats.
"A part of me thinks that I'd rather be out there in the snow." She frowned, as if considering the idea. "It'd be easier. Maybe we're not lucky at all."
There was nothing I could say. I agreed whole heartedly.
"We'll get interviewed, I suppose. The families will want to talk with us. They'll want to know about the last moments before they died." Tears appeared in her eyes. "And I just don't know... what the hell I'm supposed to say. I mean, what do we say, Monica? We can tell them what they want to hear, that it was very quick, and they weren't in very much pain. But it's all lies. Who's going to want to hear the truth? Are Tom Colton's family going to want to hear about how he wanted us to kill him? About how he was screaming, and in so much pain? And those faces... they're not going to want to hear about those faces, about how shocked and horrified everyone was. I don't know what we can say to them."
"You're not alone, Holly," I said. "We'll all work that out together, when the time comes."
She shook her head, quickly dismissing the idea. Then she started to cry. "I wish I was dead, Monica."
I stared at her, and in a flash, I got up from the floor and perched on the edge of the chair. I slid an arm around her shoulders and one around her waist, and brought her in to cry on my shoulder.
We sat together, holding each other for five to ten minutes. I tried to be strong for her and reassure her that we would be fine, but I found it hard when I believed a lot of what she had said. I tried not to cry, but I could not stop a few tears from escaping.
There was a soft knock at the door and Dana's voice sounded through. "Is everything ok?"
Holly started to pull away, Dana's voice pulling her back out of her thoughts and in to the real world.
"We're fine," she called, before I could even open my mouth.
We both got up from the chair, ready to go back to the main part of the plane and join the others. But before we reached the door, I took Holly's arm and turned her around.
"Look, let's not worry about any of that right now. For now, we just all have to stick together until help comes, and then after we'll all work it out together."
She nodded and smiled, and she looked much happier than she had when I'd first entered. I only wished I could convince myself as much as I had her.
When we rejoined the group things started to go slowly again. The two unconscious agents were still unconscious, Holly was fine, and now we had nothing to do but wait. Mulder and Scully had taken over from Brad as the ones to stay awake and keep a lookout for the rescue. They were sitting in the doorway, talking quietly and holding each other to defend against the cold.
Holly sat down with Kim and Skinner, and I moved over the other side to sit on a pile of clothes with John. He looked awful. When I sat down, he reached over and took my hand gently in his own. He did not do it because he thought I was upset, or because he was upset himself, just because he was feeling what everyone else was. We were feeling the guilt of survival, and the stress of the wait for a rescue. It was for mutual comfort, a sign that we were still together.
We did not want to sleep, but we were both so exhausted that we had no choice. We lay down next to each other, and let go of each others hands, but instead we were facing each other, and he put a hand on my waist, and I put one on his and we closed our eyes with the comfort of knowing that we were not alone in our thoughts.
"Monica! Agent Reyes, wake up!"
Scully was shaking my shoulder. I groggily opened my eyes and saw her kneeling over me with an expression of urgency that was either due to excitement or disaster. I hoped it was excitement. I wanted it to be rescue, not another death.
I sat up quickly, glancing at the unconscious agents. They looked fine. No one was crowding around them in a panic.
"What is it?" I asked.
I waited as she reached over me and shook John awake as well. We let go of each other and waited for the explanation.
"Holly," Scully said, getting to her feet. "She's gone."
For a second I thought she meant dead, but then I saw the way Skinner, Kim, Mulder and Brad were all putting one extra clothes and I realised that she meant missing.
We jumped to our feet. I did not bother to put on any extra clothes. I had never taken any of them off. I was ready to go.
"What do you mean 'gone'? How can she have disappeared?" John shouted, hurrying to the door, me behind him.
"I thought you were awake, watching for the rescue? Didn't you try to stop her?" I said, turning to Mulder and Scully.
Scully dropped her eyes and rushed past, outside, leading the search. I took that to mean that they had not stopped her. It was as if they had not even seen her go. They must have fallen asleep. I could not blame them, because I knew how tired they felt. I also knew by the look on their faces exactly how guilty they were feeling. But that did not stop me from being angry with them, even though I tried to control it.
Brad was turning around in the snow, looking for any sign of what direction she had gone in. The sky was black. We could hardly see. There was also an icy wind that was almost slicing in to us. I kept running my hands over my arms as I walked, trying to keep the circulation going.
"She's crazy!" exclaimed Brad suddenly. He turned to Scully. "Are you sure she was all right? Why would anyone walk out in to this?"
Scully did not answer, and was white with panic.
"Maybe she just went to nature's bathroom," Kim suggested. "She'll probably be back in a few minutes."
"She's been gone for longer than that," Mulder said, with almost the same level of panic as Scully. I could tell they were feeling guilty, and were praying that there was a simple explanation for Holly's disappearance. If there was one, I was not seeing it.
"Tracks," John said, pointing to the snow. "Do those tracks belong to anyone here? Did anyone go off in that direction during the night?"
Everyone shook their heads.
"Then that's our path," I said, and before any of them could reply I had rushed past and started following the tracks. I heard Scully, John and Mulder all quickly follow, while Skinner, Kim and Brad hesitated. I don't know why, but they caught up a few minutes later.
"She can't have gone far," Scully said, going halfway between a walk and a run. The snow made it hard. We wanted to sprint, but it was too dangerous and too much of a struggle. "Her leg must still hurt. She wouldn't have made it very far without help."
"What's she doing, anyway?" said John. "You don't think she plans on walking out of here, do you?"
"If she did, the sensible thing to do would have been to wait for sunrise," I said. "And she wouldn't have slipped away without telling us if that's what her plan was."
"Then what's she doing?" John asked.
I did not answer. I had an idea what I thought she was doing. There was only one explanation of why she would have gone off in to the night without telling us. I thought back to her emotional breakdown a few hours before, and her statement that she wished she was dead. But she couldn't have... I thought that had been an expression of her feelings. I had not thought she was seriously considering the idea.
Or maybe she hadn't. Maybe she had not cheered up like I thought she had. Maybe she wanted some time alone, and had simply wandered off without thinking. But that did not fit, either. If she wanted time alone, she could have sat outside. In this weather, you do not go hike across a mountain in freezing temperatures just to think.
Kim, Skinner and Brad caught up to us, and Skinner pushed a pair of sunglasses in to my hands. I had no idea where they got them from, but I was too worried about Holly to consider it.
"Sun will rise soon," Skinner said. "These are for when it does."
I remembered something about snow blindness, and I understood why.
Kim started to push past John and I to the front of the group. We were approaching the end of some rocks, and then the tracks would head downhill and over a long flat snow-covered plain. And the tracks did not seem to stop. They stretched on and on in to the distance. I started to wonder how long Mulder and Scully had been asleep to allow Holly to get so far unnoticed.
No one spoke for a further five minutes, until we reached the end of the rocks and we looked out over the next plain, and the long trails that stretched over it.
We all stopped, gazing out at the tracks. Holly had got very far, and I could guess that her mental state was not too stable at the time. In the temperatures we were feeling, I felt my chest tighten with dread. We had been walking for ten minutes at a fast pace. Holly would have only been going a quarter of our speed, and that meant at least 40 minutes of walking for her. And still the tracks stretched over the horizon.
I looked around at the others. John had stopped beside me and was now looking away from the tracks. He, too, knew what it meant. Scully seemed to have gone an even whiter shade of white. Mulder looked much the same. In fact, the only one of us who didn't seem to know was Kim. She walked straight on, continuing to follow the tracks in the snow.
"What are you waiting for?" she said, giving us a puzzled look as she went past.
We watched her go for a few seconds. We did not know for sure, but we could guess what she was going to find. In these temperatures, with Holly's physical weakness, long exposure and since none of us were sure how long she had been gone, it was probable that she would have stopped and collapsed. Whether she was still breathing as she lay in the snow, none of us wanted to think about.
Mulder took a step forward and began to walk down the hill. "She can't go alone."
Scully nodded and followed, and the rest of us automatically joined them a little later. Maybe Holly was fine, but in my heart, I did not believe it. I had a feeling, and it was not a good one. But just for once in my life, I was praying that I would be one hundred percent, completely wrong.
We stumbled through the snow for another twenty minutes. I had put the sunglasses on, as a precaution. I had my mind on so many other things that sunrise could sneak up without me noticing, so I put them on while I still remembered. It made it a little hard to see in the low light, but my mind was focused on other things.
Suddenly Kim stopped, and pointed. "Oh my God..." And just as suddenly as she stopped, she broke in to a run. We followed her. It wasn't until we were much closer, and approaching the edge of the next hill until I saw what she was seeing. Up ahead, Holly was lying in the snow, as a small patch of black clothing against the white.
Kim was the first to reach her. She threw herself down in to the snow beside Holly and put her hands on her shoulders, trying to turn her over on to her back.
"Holly! Holly, are you ok?"
We arrived, but all stood in a circle around them. None of us were sure what to do.
Kim continued to push and pull, and finally managed to partially turn Holly over. Her chest and face were now exposed. Just as we had feared, Holly was dead. She was staring up in to the sky. Like the other bodies lying back up at the plane, her expression was not blank. It was one of heartbreaking sadness. There was a silence. As Kim realised that Holly was dead, she drew her hands away, afraid to touch her dead friend. She gasped and threw herself backwards, scrambling to get away from the body.
John and I were behind her, and as if we were sharing our thoughts, we both moved forward at exactly the same time and knelt either side of her.
She was still crawling back, but I put my arms around her, holding her firmly against me. She continued to stare at the body and was struggling to find her breath.
"Kim!" John said, running his hand down her hair, while I tried to hold her still. "Kim, calm down. Calm down, Kim. It's okay."
But that was a mistake. It only made her more hysterical as she turned on him. "Okay? How the hell is it okay? Don't you see her?" She glared at him with such fury that John withdrew his arms, lowered his eyes, and after a second, moved away completely.
I chose not to risk using words. There was nothing I could say. All I could do was try to stop her moving. I held her with the tightest grip that I dared use, and after a minute of wriggling she gave up and went limp in my arms. She did not tear her eyes away from Holly. She was whimpering, making noises as though she wanted to cry, but was still too shocked to find the tears to do so. I rocked her in my arms, and made shushing noises in her ear.
While I held Kim, John had managed to make himself useful and had covered Holly with one of his jackets, so that Kim could no longer stare at the expression on her friend's face. It was only after he'd done this that Kim started to calm down.
Brad had moved away, and was surveying the surrounding terrain. I found it hard to believe that he could actually find that interesting. It was more likely that he could not stand the sight of Holly dead, or of Kim being so upset. Scully was looking at the body with a shocked face. Mulder, too, seemed incapable of movement. It was Skinner who moved to comfort her; he had an arm around Scully's shoulders.
It was at least five minutes before Kim had calmed down enough for us to consider our next move. She went quiet, had long stopped struggling against me, but seemed to have completely shut down. She was staring in to space, not focusing on anything.
"Come on," I said, "Let's get up. It's cold."
She did not move, and I looked to the others for help. She was half on top of me, and I would need help pulling her up. John moved forward to help. He had more confidence now that she had lost all her anger.
He took an arm and lifted her up a little. I stood up with her, and we both held her up.
She was weaker than I thought. Her own feet did not even want to support her, but after some encouraging words from both John and I, she managed to support a part of her weight. John and I still supported her a little.
"Are we going to take her back?" Mulder asked, coming out of his shock and looking down at Holly's body beneath the coat.
"Yes," I said, purely because I knew Kim would lose control if we didn't.
No one raised any protests. Brad came back from elsewhere and mechanically lifted Holly. He lifted her in to his arms, refusing the help of anyone else, and started to lead us back to the plane.
I would have preferred that the body be carried behind us, so that Kim did not have to see Holly being brought back. But Brad had not thought of it, and was so much in his own world that I could not risk stopping him. He was a fair bit ahead of us, and the fact that he was carrying a body didn't even slow him down. At one stage, Skinner and Mulder offered to help, but he refused and ended up carrying her all the way back by himself.
Although we had allowed Kim to see Holly being carried back, I still wanted to prevent her from seeing Holly being added to the line of the dead. There was no good it would do. So nodding at John behind her back, we steered her straight toward the plane, leaving Brad to take care of the body, unseen by Kim.
It was a relief to get back in to the plane. It was freezing cold out in the exposed areas, and the plane offered some shelter. While we were walking back, the sun had begun to rise, but it did not offer any warmth. The snow was still all we felt.
Kim still had not said a word, and we settled her down against one of the walls of the plane.
I knelt by her side, squeezing her shoulder. "Are you cold?"
She did not answer. She was still too numbed by the shock to find any words. I felt her forehead and that confirmed my suspicions. She was cold, and it wouldn't help her state of mind. I wanted to put some more clothes around her, or a blanket over her, but there wasn't anything useful around, and I sure didn't want to leave her side.
"Thank God they're alive," said John suddenly, looking down at the unconscious agents.
We had left them unattended. It was such a stupid mistake. We had been so worried about Holly that we had lost all sense and ran off without leaving someone to look after them. In our rush to save Holly, we had further risked the lives of the dying agents. And what if the rescue had came during our absence? We should have been more prepared. We should have left someone behind. Scully would have been the logical choice, as the doctor in the group. But she had been so panic-stricken that she had not noticed Holly slip away that she would not have been in condition to do the job anyway. Even if we had thought of it she would have refused. And did it really make any difference if someone else had supervised? There was little we could do for them, besides keeping them warm. And if something happened, then it would be another case of wondering even if we should risk trying to resuscitate them.
Brad cut the thought off as he strolled in, with an air of coming back from a family picnic. His manner was frighteningly casual. He walked in, found a corner away from everyone else and sat down, drawing his knees up to his chest and put his head against the wall, prepared for a sleep.
"Someone had better keep their eyes open for the rescue," he said, and then closed his eyes, obviously not considering that he himself could do the job.
"I'll do it," I said. I was going to be awake because of Kim anyway.
"No," Scully said, moving to sit beside us near the door with Mulder. "We'll do it."
I shared a doubtful look with John. They had been awake for quite a while already and it would be best if we all got equal amounts of rest. And not only that, but after their failure at noticing Holly's absence, I was uncomfortable about them doing the job anyway.
"You sleep," I said. "John and I will take care of it."
"No," she said, very firmly. "I'm going to do it, and I'm going to do it right."
Now it made sense. She wanted to show that they were still capable of doing the job properly, that they could be relied upon. She wanted to make up for her mistake, and though nothing could ever make it up for the loss of Holly, she wanted to feel like she was doing something to help. She was being torn apart by guilt.
Not waiting for an answer, they both started staring out in to the snow, with ten times the determination and concentration they had shown hours before. It was slightly alarming, but it did have one good outcome - it comforted Kim to know that they weren't going to make the same mistake again.
It comforted Kim, but I could tell that John and I were only more worried. We appreciated that they knew they had made a mistake, but they were our friends, and I was worried about how much they blamed themselves. It was too deep. Too powerful. And the worst part was, it wasn't completely true.
"Don't blame yourself," I said, turning away from Kim to face Scully and Mulder. "It wasn't all your fault."
Dana immediately opened her mouth to argue, but John cut her off.
"There were seven of us here," he said. "We all share the blame equally. You weren't the only ones who didn't notice she'd gone."
"You weren't meant to notice," Mulder said. He was staring out in to the snow, not being able to bring himself to look at us. "It was your turn to sleep."
"We shouldn't have been sleeping," I said. "We all knew she was upset by the accident. It wasn't that you did not notice her leave, but that we... or I, didn't see how hurt she was." My memory brought up a line that she had said. "You know what she said to me? She said 'I wish I was dead'. It's my fault, not yours. If I had my brain switched on I would have realised that it was serious."
Scully let out a small, disbelieving laugh. "Monica, out of all of us here, you are the one who is least at fault. We all knew what she was feeling, but you were the only one who made any effort to help her. The rest of us just sat here, believing some irrational hope that she would be fine until we were rescued. I mean... we have thirteen dead bodies out there, eleven of which died in the crash. It was stupidity to think that we could postpone the affects of that. We should have all made an effort, Monica, not just you."
I was numbed by her statement. I tried to find some words, but there weren't any. We agreed that we should have all talked to her more. In fact, we should have all talked to each other more. But I rejected everything about that I was exempt from blame. She had told me what she was thinking. She could not have put it plainer. But I only hugged her. I should have talked to her, told her that we all felt the same.
I looked around at all their faces. Mulder was looking depressed, and was looking out in to the snow in deep thought. Scully had grown quiet, but was still looking at me, waiting for a reaction. John, too, looked at me with an expression of sadness.
"She's right, Monica," he said. "When Holly disappeared in to that pilot's cabin, we shouldn't have made you go in alone. We should've all talked about it."
I shook my head. "It doesn't matter. The fact is, she told me what she was thinking, and I didn't do enough."
John left Kim's side and came around to me, putting an arm around my shoulders. Skinner went to sit beside Kim, not wanting to leave her alone. I let myself enjoy John's comfort, and leant in to him.
"You say you didn't do enough, but we didn't do anything at all," Scully said softly, letting the tears appear in her eyes.
This time it was Brad who spoke. He opened in his eyes and glared over at us. "If I said that it was all your faults, and you were all equally incompetent, would you shut up and let me sleep?"
Kim came out of her silence and spun around to glare at Brad and started shouting at him at the top of her voice. "How can you say that? How the hell can you be so insensitive? Doesn't it mean anything to you? Don't you realise what we've done? It doesn't bother you that she was so upset that she walked off on an injured leg in to the middle of nowhere to die? What kind of insensitive wart are you?"
I knew Brad well enough to know that he would take that. And sure enough, he sat up and glared back at her just as fiercely. "You're all making it in to something so much bigger than it is. She was upset and Agent Reyes tried to help, but she refused it. It was her choice to walk out there. She would have known the consequences. And ask yourself... don't you find it odd that no one was awake when she left? How long do you think she waited for the opportunity? You're all acting like she was two years old. She knew what she was doing. It was suicide. It was her choice, and there was nothing any of us could have done."
For a second, Kim looked as though she was going to leap forward and slap him across the face. I wouldn't have blamed her if she did. But then she got control of herself and looked away from him, perhaps realising that there was no point. We were stuck in the plane together, and the wait for the rescue would only be more painful if we fought. Skinner took her hand and squeezed it, but he did not look at Brad either. John and I were the only ones who did. We glared at him.
I looked back to Scully and Mulder. They both were slowly regaining their colour, but they still looked very ill. The temperature outside did not seem to be rising, and so I was beginning to get worried about them. It would only be a matter of time before their emotional upset took a physical toll. The rescue could come in minutes, or it could be up to another twenty-four hours. But whatever it was, I wasn't going to sit back and risk it. And with the tension in our shelter rising, I wanted some time to myself, and this was the perfect excuse.
"I'm going to get some more supplies," I said, and got to my feet, heading out in the snow.
"I'll help," said John behind me, and followed me out.
Together, we walked out of the front half of the plane, and over to the next section which housed our baggage. It wasn't a beautiful morning. It was cloudy, with a cold breeze. I was wearing two layers of clothes, but I still felt like I was wearing only a t-
shirt. We stumbled through the snow, our energy gone from the hike to find Holly, and climbed in to the gap from where the plane split to get inside.
"What are we here for?" John asked. I smiled. He had wanted an excuse to get away, just like me.
"Mulder, Scully and Kim are looking pale. I thought we'd get some more clothes for them." I turned my attention to the pile of bags, strewn across the floor from when the men had searched through them before. I recognised Scully's bag as the dark brown one, and I grabbed it, pulling it toward me and zipping it open.
John shrugged and went for Mulder's, opening it and searching through for the warmest clothes that were left. I went through Dana's, but she did not have anything suitable left. There was underwear, a few pairs of black pants, and a blouse or two, but nothing that would help her with the temperatures outside. The only warm clothes she had were those she was already wearing. The woman certainly travelled light.
So I put it aside and dug through the rubble for my own bag. I was the opposite. I packed for all weather. It was something that had brought a few jokes from John, but now, it had finally become worthwhile.
I dug out a spare black coat. It would be a little big for her, but it would keep her warm. It was funny that she was a doctor but had the least sense for warmth among us all. She was so upset over Holly that she was not thinking logically. I threw the jacket over my shoulder while I put my bag away and found Kim's. On the scale of packed clothing, she was halfway between Dana and I. She obviously hadn't needed all the professional clothes that we had, but she still had packed enough for the stay. But she had packed for comfort, not looks, and consequently had a few warm jumpers that I seized.
"Monica," said John suddenly, "Do you realise how long it's been?"
I was holding a pile of Kim's clothing, trying to decide which would be best for her. "How long it's been since what?"
"How long we've been here. You know, without a rescue."
I looked up. He was leaning against a wall that somehow had escaped damage, but he was looking at me with worry in his eyes. Every few seconds he glanced nervously down at the coat in his hands, and then out to the snow, searching for the planes and people that still hadn't arrived.
"It might be more dangerous than we thought," I said. It was an automatic response. "We don't know exactly where we are. We might be very hard to get to up here. We've just got to give them time."
"But even if they couldn't manage a land rescue, wouldn't you think that they would have contacted us somehow, from the air? They'd know what the weather's like up here. They would've dropped supplies for us while we wait, and maybe a radio or something that would allow us to communicate with them."
"It'd take time to organise that," I said. "We just have to be patient."
"That's my point," he said. "We've been here close to twenty-four hours already. How patient do they expect us to be?"
I sank to the floor, sitting on someone's bag without even realising it. It was soft, though, so at least I didn't break anything. John came and sat next to me, also not realising what we were sitting on.
"John, they have to be doing something. For now, we just wait. They know we're here."
"Do they?" he asked. His voice was more urgent now, like he was approaching the point.
"Of course they do. This is the modern world. They would've been tracking us from the moment we had problems."
He didn't reply.
I studied him, and pondered the thought. What if they didn't know? Did that even make sense? It was true that they might have dropped supplies. We had not seen even one single plane since our crash. But it could easily be explained. They might have attempted a land rescue, and found out that they couldn't make it. They might be waiting for good weather. There might be a storm coming that they were waiting to pass first. Or they might be thinking we were dead. What were the odds of anyone surviving the accident? But they were sure to check anyway. They would look for survivors as soon as possible, however doubtful they would be about it. And that was what scared me, the fact that there was some sense in what John was saying.
"It just doesn't make sense to me," he said. "It doesn't make sense that we haven't seen anyone. Not a single sign since we've been up here. We're FBI agents, Monica. We're trained to figure out puzzles like this. And the only thing that makes sense is that they don't know at all."
"A plane full of FBI agents will be missed, John. They would know we're missing by now and they'll be looking."
"Granted," he said. "But have you looked around? These mountains go on forever. How long do you think it'll take for them to find us? If at all?"
"They'll know the flight route we were planning to take. They'll fly along that line. It won't take long."
"But if that was the case, they would have found us by now, right?" He looked at me anxiously. I had no idea what to say. He could be right, but the thought was too terrifying that I wanted him to be wrong. He had to be wrong. It was easier for him to be wrong, than for us to consider what it might mean for us to be alone in the mountains with no training.
"Look, let's just hold on a little longer," I said, trying to draw up confidence. "It'll be some simple error somewhere. They'll find us, and when they do we'll be able to ask them what took so long, and then hit them for it. But for now, we just wait, ok? It's too early to assume that they don't know. It's only twenty-four hours. We should wait at least two or three days before concluding that."
He shrugged and looked down at his shoes. "Okay then. I'll wait as long as it's a possibility. But let's not pretend, ok?"
I settled a hand on his knee, and he held it. "We'll be fine." As soon as I said it, a lump formed in my throat. I had said the same thing to Holly.
"As long as we stick together, we will be," he said. He squeezed my hand and then got to his feet. "And that means we'd better get these clothes to the others before they freeze."
I nodded and got to my feet, and we walked back to our friends. It was good to have a few minutes alone with John, but now he had given me another thing to worry about. And when I had to be strong for our friends, I only hoped that I could keep my concern from showing.
I put John's thought out of my mind as much as I could. We walked back in to the plane, and I straight away knelt in front of Scully. She was gazing out in to the snow, which wasn't surprising. But as soon as I put my jacket in her lap she woke up and started to argue in her normal Dana Scully fashion.
"I'm fine, Monica," she said, with a tone like she was telling off a child for doing something wrong.
"I know," I said. "But I want to make sure you stay that way, and since your jacket isn't exactly wearable at the moment..." I held mine out for her and she reluctantly took it, glancing over at her own jacket, covered with Holly's blood.
"Thanks," she said.
I went and gave Kim the extra clothes I brought for her, and then I felt the need to duck outside. We had been in the wild for twenty-
four hours, and things had been so hectic that I hadn't thought about it until now, when my bladder was threatening to explode.
The moment I decided to leave lead to the birth of one of the most amazing things about our stay in the mountains. It was a strange consequence of Holly's death, but the fact that none of us thought it was strange really showed how bad we were all feeling about it.
I announced that I would be right back, and went out in to the snow, intending to make my way to behind the plane, which had become our unofficial area for doing it. But as soon as I took my first step in the snow, I heard someone speak behind me.
"I need some fresh air, I think." I looked over my shoulder, and saw Dana making her way to her feet and following me out. She was convincing. It was an Oscar performance. Anyone who wasn't thinking would have actually thought it was a coincidence. She did not explain it to me. We didn't exchange any words. But she didn't have to. I knew why she was doing it, and I didn't mind. In her place, I probably would be doing the same thing. I looked down at the snow as I made my way through it, and Dana moved off near the second half of the plane. She couldn't get a view of me from there, but it allowed her to watch me for most of the way there.
It felt like I was in school again, when the teachers used to tell us to take a friend to the bathroom with us. Back then, it had been for safety reasons, but I suppose it was for the same reasons now. We hadn't expected Holly to walk off like she did. There was no way I would have ever thought or believed that she would have done it. But she did. Dana wasn't watching me because she was expecting me to lose control, just because she cared. And even if she thought the chances were only one in a billion, she was still more comfortable making sure. I didn't mind because I understood her feelings about losing Holly. We were both feeling the same guilt. She didn't get in the way. She didn't watch me so obviously or openly that I was uncomfortable. She simply watched me disappear from behind the plane, and then waited for me to reappear. And when we returned to the plane, none of the others even questioned it. They had seen through Scully's lie, of course, but they reacted to it exactly the same as me. Under the circumstances, it was a completely logical and normal thing to do.
THE SECOND NIGHT
The remainder of the day went very slow. The seven of us sat in the plane, no one saying very much. The little talk there was was about our rescue. John and I hadn't shared our thoughts on the subject of them not knowing, but as time went on we continued to glance at each other more frequently, sharing the worry.
Kim had calmed down, even though she was still very upset. She spent most of the afternoon sitting with Skinner's arm around her. At one stage, she even started to talk about it all. She talked about Holly, and the friendship the two had shared. We let her talk. It broke the silence, and it helped her. It helped us, too. We didn't know Holly as well as Kim, and so we couldn't contribute as much, but it encouraged her all the same. She went through every little detail, as though determined not to forget anything. When she finished, she lapsed back in to her silence, staring at the wall and wondering aloud when the rescue would come, because Holly's body would be too cold out in the snow.
Brad had been silent in the corner for most of the afternoon. I didn't know why. It seemed like he was going between sleeping and sulking. I don't know why. It was probably guilt, like the rest of us. I guessed he felt guilt over our situation, and not being able to prevent the deaths of so many agents.
He did have one useful moment, though. Just before sunset, he announced that he was hungry and went on a mission to find food and water. It was extraordinary that we hadn't done anything about it sooner. I think we had all thought about food, but it had seemed like such an insignificant thing. It would have been selfish to announce that I was having hunger pains when there were so many dead agents out in the snow, two unconscious inside, and a few friends of mine having emotional breakdowns. It seemed best to wait.
Anyway, Brad did manage to find a few useful things. We didn't have any food with us, but we had a few bottles of water. They were nearly empty from our two days already, but he found a lot of spare parts lying around the place, and constructed a complicated system for melting snow, which then filtered down in to the bottles, filling them up with water. It was a boring job, because it meant that someone had to sit there with the bottle and look after the whole process, but it was something that Brad enjoyed doing. He liked being productive, and for a while on the mountain, he took it on as his job. We couldn't do anything about the food, but that wasn't our biggest problem. Yet. Water would be enough for now.
John was very helpful. He had noticed the sad feeling in the air and made a courageous effort to change it. He was twisting a bottle of water around in his fingers and he suddenly put it down and sighed.
"You know, when we get out of here, I'm not going to ever see snow again. I've had enough of it. I'm going to get myself one of those open fires, and I'm going to sit in front of it all night."
I smiled at the thought of John in front of a warm fire. "Can I join you?"
"Sure," he said. "We'll lie there until we dehydrate from the heat. I'm sick of this cold."
"John," said Scully, "a few hours of that and you'd be dreaming of snow like this."
John screwed up his nose, trying to picture it. "Maybe. But I'd like the chance to get sick of it. I want to thaw myself out."
Dana yawned. "I guess you have a point. At the moment, what I want most is warmth. A nice warm blanket." She was hugging herself in my jacket. Mulder took advantage of the opportunity to slip an arm around her shoulders and pull her to lean against him.
"I'd like a pack of cards," said Mulder. "Something to pass the time while we wait for these idiots to rescue us."
"Radio for me," said Skinner. "That way I could personally tell them to get off their butts and hurry up."
"I'd like..." I paused, searching for something that I wanted. The first thing that came to mind was to have the others alive with us. But that would be bringing the conversation down in to that depressing territory again, so I searched for something normal. "I'd like some coffee. I can't believe it's been so long since I last had one."
"Yeah," said John dully, "That must be a record for you."
I smiled back at him, and lightly nudged him with my shoulder.
We all turned to Kim. She looked around at all of us and then took a deep breath. I could tell she was feeling the temptation to say that she wanted Holly back, but I was praying that she would have the strength to hold on. I didn't care what she said, as long as it wasn't depressing. It was important for all of us to have a few minutes to act normal, and think about insignificant things that we were missing.
"I'd like..." and she paused, with her mouth half open. Suddenly she closed it again, deciding that whatever she was going to say wasn't right. Then she took a slow breath and started again. "I want a smoke."
We all looked at her.
"I didn't know you smoked..." said Skinner. He looked very confused, trying to figure how his secretary was a smoker without him ever noticing.
Kim solved that one. "I don't. I just feel like one."
I wasn't sure how serious she was, but I was hoping she didn't figure out that there were a few packets of cigarettes among the luggage of the dead.
That only left Brad to say what he wanted. He didn't hesitate. "I'd like a beer."
It was worse than Kim, but nowhere near as unexpected. I knew Brad. The wait would be killing him inside. He wasn't a man to sit around and wait for someone else to come to his rescue. He looked at the bottle of water in his hand with disgust, hating it for not being the alcohol that could drain him of all sense and of the weight of our wait.
John and Dana were both resisting the urge to glare and roll their eyes at him, but I saw it anyway. It was shock for them that an Assistant Director of the FBI was wishing for alcohol because he was impatient. John had already had a bad opinion of Brad, and it hadn't done anything to improve the situation between them.
I don't know whether it was a coincidence or not, but John suddenly announced that he had to go outside and got to his feet, to struggle out in the cold and darkness to pee.
We all watched him go. As soon as John disappeared out of sight around the plane, Mulder pulled away from Scully. "I'll be right back."
None of us were surprised. I knew Mulder was feeling just as much guilt as Scully was, even though he had been a little better at hiding it. And if it hadn't been Mulder to follow, it would have been someone else. Probably me or Skinner. When John returned, Mulder came back with an extra pair of socks and jacket from his luggage, pretending that that had been his mission all along. We weren't fooled, but we understood.
We lost another agent in the morning. John and I were on the watch for the rescue, and the others were all making an attempt at sleep. Some successfully, others not. Kim fell asleep fast, exhausted from the previous day's events. So did Mulder. Scully and Skinner were awake most of the night, and Brad was pretending that he was asleep, but I knew better.
It was a good thing Dana was awake, or we might have never known. She was gazing over at the agents, lost in thought, when suddenly she jerked up in to a sitting position and stared at them more intently.
"Is something wrong?" I asked, keeping my voice low so as not to wake any of the sleepers.
She kept her eyes on the older agent, on his chest. I don't know how she knew that something was about to go wrong, because it all looked normal to me.
She crawled away from Mulder and over to the agent and she put a few fingers to his neck, checking his pulse.
Then she looked back across to me and John. "He's going."
We made our way over to her. I sat on the other side of him and put a hand on his shoulder. I wasn't going to let anyone die alone. It wouldn't have made much difference to him, being unconscious, but I felt better doing it.
"What's his name?" asked John.
"Chris," said Dana.
John looked down at him. I knew what he was thinking. We were about to lose another agent. When would it stop?
"Is there anything we can do?" I asked. "There must be a way... to somehow keep him alive until they get here."
Scully shook her head and reached down to hold Chris' hand. "He has internal injuries. I don't think there's anything we can do."
We didn't find any words after that. We all wanted to say something. We all knew it wasn't fair. The only good thing was that he was unconscious, and wouldn't be feeling any pain. It would have been worse if he was lying there screaming at us. I wouldn't like to see the look in his eyes when he realised he was going to die. I had seen that look in Colton's eyes, and it was something that I never wanted to witness again. I was glad that he was unconscious. We sat with him, all holding him, and it wasn't long before his breathing started becoming noticeably irregular and shallow.
Unlike last time, none of us cried. By now, we had seen enough of death to have developed an ability to deal with it. John had tears in his eyes, but I knew he wouldn't cry. We had exhausted ourselves over the deaths of those right after the crash, and then our long CPR to the dying agent later on, and then Holly. It was becoming a painful routine. It made us all sad, but we did not let each other cry. Maybe it was easier that we had been expecting it. We knew the unconscious agents did not have a good chance unless the rescue came fast. We knew all along it had been a possibility. Holly's death was tearing us apart because it was sudden and preventable. But the agent in our arms wasn't preventable. We had done what very little we could, and we had had a few days to prepare ourselves for the worst.
So we didn't cry, and when he stopped breathing, and Dana confirmed him dead, we didn't waste time in taking him outside. I took the feet, Dana and John at the other end, and we lifted him and carried him out.
My suspicions about Brad were confirmed when I glanced at him. He had his eyes open, and was watching us with a sad expression. It was then that I realised how bad he was hurting. Up until then, he seemed unaffected by everything that was happening. But that, combined with his desire for alcohol was beginning to show me in to his real state of mind.
I tried to meet his eyes, so that I could give him some kind of indication that I understood how he was feeling, but he looked away and closed his eyes, refusing to look at me.
We put the body down in the snow and quickly turned back to go inside. It was snowing outside, and I was too cold to spend time saying any goodbyes. We hurried back in to the shelter of the plane and settled ourselves back down. John and I continued to gaze out in the falling snow. He took my hand, and in his grip I felt the tension within him. I looked in to his eyes and saw the same thing. With each passing minute, he was becoming more sure that they did not know where we were.
I squeezed his hand. "They'll come."
He didn't answer. He only glanced at the last unconscious agent across the floor and then tightened his grip on my hand.
THE THIRD NIGHT
By late afternoon everyone was growing restless. Sitting in the plane all day and night, waiting, was eating away at us. It was our third night approaching, and we were beginning to run out of excuses of why they were taking so long to rescue us.
We hadn't talked about it until then. We had all been wanting to believe that there was a simple error. But we knew now that something had gone very wrong.
It started when Kim suddenly jumped to her feet, giving a sigh of frustration at the lack of planes or help. "I'm going for a walk. Anyone want to come?"
We all wanted to go, but someone had to stay with the unconscious agent. Brad volunteered, and the rest of us followed Kim outside.
It had stopped snowing around midday, and this meant that the snow was soft, and I sank in to it up to my waist.
"Crap," said John. He'd just hit a deep part and was looking down at himself. "I don't think this is going to work."
"We need some snow shoes," said Mulder, who was taking Dana's hand and pulling her back to safety of the hard snow around the plane.
"Yeah," said John, "Well you run down and buy some, and I'll wait here."
I smiled and held out a hand to John, helping him back to steady ground.
"Why don't we make some?" said Skinner.
We all looked around at him. It was a nice thought, but I had no idea how. "With what?"
Skinner shrugged and his eyes fell on the scrap pieces of seats and cushions that were partially sticking out of the snow. We had pulled them out after the plane first crashed, to give us room inside.
Mulder smiled and hurried over to the first one he saw. He knelt down and started brushing off the snow which had accumulated on top. When it was exposed, he nodded back up at Skinner. "You're not as stupid as you look, Skinman."
Skinner ignored him. Maybe he was used to comments like that from Mulder. "I'll find us some rope or string."
They worked for close to an hour, until we had several pairs of snow shoes. They were roughly cut, but they were effective. The cushions were the shoes, and the string helped to keep them on. The job finished, we started to go on the walk with Kim.
There were mountains all around us. I had no idea where Kim wanted to go. "Did you have somewhere specific in mind?"
"No, just to take a look around. If we can recognise something about the area then we might be able to figure out where we are."
We went in to the opposite direction to where we had found Holly. We knew what was down there, so there was no point in hiking it again. Instead, Kim led us up the side of a hill near where our plane had crashed. It was a gradual climb, but it was exhausting. We climbed and climbed, but Kim didn't stop. I didn't want to be the one to say something, but thankfully, I didn't have to.
"You know," said Mulder, stopping to catch his breath. "You said walk, not mountain climb."
"The higher we go, the better view we'll get," said Kim. But she smiled at the looks on our faces and quickly turned to continue.
John turned to look at me, shaking his head. "Monica, if she ever asks us on a walk again, do me a favour and make sure I say no, ok?"
I smiled at him and took a step in the direction of Kim. She was already far ahead of us. It was exhausting, but I could see how worthwhile it would be. There were no trees this high in the mountains. We had crashed very high up, and if we only climbed a bit higher, we would have an uninterrupted view of our surroundings. "Not tired, are you?"
John frowned at me. I grinned. I'd caught him off guard.
"Come on, Mulder," called Scully, putting her hands on her hips. She was halfway between us and Kim and was giving us a look of fake confusion. "If you don't mind, I'd like to get back before it gets dark."
Mulder gave her a look, and Dana waited for him, struggling to hold back a smile.
John and I followed them. It was tiring, but it would be worthwhile, and I was impressed by Kim's attitude. She seemed to be dealing with Holly's death much better than she had the day before. I think she thought that it was better to do something about our situation instead of sit around and wait. She was full of determination again. Of course, she had to be, or she wouldn't have the guts to drag John and Mulder all the way up a mountain peak.
We collapsed when we got to the top. We spent a few minutes wishing that we had brought some water with us and resting in the snow before we turned our thoughts to the issue of why we'd climbed. Mulder ate some snow, but Scully warned him not to have very much of it, and that left us to lie around until we regained our strength. Even Kim was tired, although she was looking around as she caught her breath, not thinking that it was a waste of time.
John was still grumpy. He looked around at the endless mountains in every direction and then looked back at Kim. "We're in the middle of nowhere."
"No we're not," said Kim.
"How do you figure that?"
"Because we weren't on the plane long before we crashed. We can't be too far in," she said, but as she looked out at the horizon, she wasn't too sure.
Dana had thought of another problem. "They have a lot of area to search. I mean, look out there! What do you think the odds are of them finding us? Especially when the plane is white. How are they going to see it when we're surrounded by snow?"
We hadn't thought of that, but understandably, since we hadn't seen or heard of anyone. "We haven't even seen any planes fly over. If they're looking, they're not searching our area."
I didn't realise what I'd said until Scully suddenly turned and gave me a thoughtful look. "What do you mean 'if'?"
I looked to John, but he was no help. Maybe the time had come to confess.
"They should have known our flight route," I said. "They should be able to pinpoint where we were when we went down. If they knew about the crash, we should've been found by now. Or at least seen something."
Kim spun around. A lot of the strength seemed to evaporate from her face. "But you're FBI agents! Don't you think they'd notice? Don't you think you'll be missed?"
"Kim's right," said Skinner. "Even if they didn't know that we went down, they would have figured it out. They knew we were planning to fly there, and they would have realised we never made it to Vancouver. We still should have seen something of the search by now. Something must have gone wrong."
John spoke up. "What if we're not where we should be? Wouldn't that explain why we haven't seen anything?"
"That's impossible," said Mulder.
"What about the storm?" said John. "Maybe they went off course for a while. We might be nowhere near where they think we are. They're probably miles off searching elsewhere."
No one knew what to say. After a few minutes, Kim decided to fill the silence. "But even if that were true, they'll still find us. When they don't find us out wherever they think we are, they'll start looking up here, won't they? We just have to be patient."
"It could be days," said Skinner. "Or weeks. Look out there! As Scully said, that's a lot of country to search. How long before they give up? They'll already think we died in the crash."
"They'd look anyway, just in case," said Scully. "But even so, they would have given up by now. They won't expect us to survive the freezing temperatures up here. Or the hunger. I mean, even if they considered the extreme possibility that we survived, they'll think we'll die of other causes before they get to us."
"Thanks, Scully. I feel really reassured now," muttered Mulder.
"Sorry, Mulder, but it's the truth."
"So let's assume that's all true. Where does that leave us?" I asked. "What do you want to do?"
"We can't hike out," said Mulder. "Not as long as that agent is unconscious down in the plane. We can't leave him."
"We could if we split up. A group could stay and look after him and another group could hike out to get help," said Skinner.
Scully shook her head. "Let's not hike anywhere until we're absolutely sure that it's necessary. That hike will take days, and I don't want anyone spending nights out there if they don't have to."
"So you want to wait?" asked John. "Just to make sure?"
Kim looked doubtfully at Scully. "And how long will that be? How long do we have to wait? Until we go insane? Until we starve?"
Scully held up a hand to stop her, which was a good thing, because I knew Kim was on the verge of saying 'until we end up like Holly'. "Let's just stay for a few more days. Then if we've still seen no sign of them, we consider other possibilities."
"You took your time," complained Brad when we returned a few hours later. "I was beginning to think you'd fallen off a cliff somewhere."
"We went further than we were planning to," I said, which was partially true. We hadn't been planning to hike up there. It was Kim's idea, but she had not informed us of her plan until we were halfway there.
He shrugged. I don't think he would have cared if we had fallen off a cliff.
"What's the hurry, anyway? We didn't miss anything, did we?" I asked. I walked past him and in to the plane. For once, I liked the thought of sitting and doing nothing. I was exhausted from the mountain climb, and now all I wanted to do was rest, and maybe sleep.
He spun around. Even with his ruffled clothes and tired eyes, he still looked like he had fallen back in to his role as AD. "You did, actually. While you were all out sightseeing I managed to find a radio among the luggage. Caught some interesting news reports."
"A radio?" repeated Mulder. He was halfway to sitting down and had been ignoring Brad when he suddenly stopped moving. Scully rolled her eyes at his hunched over stance and impatiently grabbed his arm and pulled him down.
"Yeah, a radio," Brad said. "Found it in one of the bags. Don't know why they brought it along, but it's useful."
I looked back to Brad. "Are you going to tell us what you heard?"
He hesitated. He was so proud of himself for finding it that he was enjoying holding the power of the news reports over us. He wanted to rub it in that he had been the only one who had thought of looking for a radio in the luggage.
I locked eyes with him, staring at him until he gave in. Then he sighed and sat down next to me.
"We're on the news about every half hour. But it's all the same story. They know we're gone, but they can't find us. Wherever they're looking, it's not around here. It's all chaos, of course. I think there's some who are worried."
I'd been expecting that part, but there was still some other details which I knew he was concealing. I could see it on his face.
Mulder had noticed that, too, and he got straight to the point. "They don't think we're alive, do they?"
Brad sighed and took a few seconds before responding. "They've called in a lot of experts. Some think there's no chance, and even the ones who do have hope think that two or three maximum could have survived, and with serious injuries. They keep reminding everyone that it's been three days now, and that even if someone did survive, the injuries together with the lack of food and freezing temperatures doesn't give them a good chance."
"I guess they weren't counting on us landing on the angle we did," said John. "It was luck that we hit here. Anywhere else and we wouldn't be sitting here right now."
"It was extraordinary that the front half was relatively undamaged," said Scully. "We should've been the first to go. We would've been if it hadn't been for the back scraping those rocks."
I looked down at the floor, my thoughts drifting to Holly. She had thought the same thing. It was only luck that we survived. There was no reason that we had survived when the others hadn't. If we had arranged ourselves differently, if we had taken different seats then we wouldn't be the ones having the discussion. It would have been other agents, who were instead lying out there in the snow, waiting for the rescue to come so we could give them a proper funeral.
"But they haven't given up yet, right?" asked Kim, looking hopefully at Brad. "Even if they think that, they must still be searching."
"Yeah, they're searching," replied Brad, but he lacked the positive tone that Kim had.
Brad was intelligent. He didn't need to have been on the mountains with us to work out that the chances of them finding us were small. If the plane was white, in white snow, it would be hard to see from the air, and it would be next to impossible if they were looking in the wrong area.
Kim looked around at us all. Everyone except herself was looking grim, and not holding much hope that we would be found. I didn't know exactly how long it would be before they gave up on us, but I knew they would become less enthusiastic with every hour that passed.
It was a strange reversal. Before it had been us reassuring Kim with the positive attitude, but now she was doing the same to us. She observed us all for a moment and then sat up straight and started talking. "You could at least try and be positive. Giving up is only going to kill us faster. And now we have a radio we know what they're doing, so we don't need to worry any more. We won't need to guess." She took the small radio from Brad and turned it over in her hands. "If we check quickly every hour, we should be able to keep up-to-date without draining the batteries. So all we have to do is listen for planes and keep ourselves warm, and we'll be out of here soon." She looked around at all of our faces and then added, "Just imagine their faces when they see that we're alive. Think of your friends and family. They'll be so relieved to see you alive. What would they say if they knew you were going to give up on them?"
I didn't look at her. All I could think of was the faces of the family who would be told that their son or daughter hadn't made it. My parents would be full of tears of happiness, but I agreed with what Holly had said. The thought of facing the relatives of the others was terrifying. At the moment, they would be holding on to hope, believing that maybe their son or daughter had survived, and when we returned, we would have to watch them collapse in to tears when they discovered the truth.
"Monica? Are you all right?"
That was Kim, confused by the fact that everyone was looking reassured except me. I had an 'I'm fine' on the tip of my tongue when I suddenly bit it back. They were in the same position, and maybe the thought had also crossed their minds. But on the other hand, I didn't want to bring the topic up when Kim had just made such an effort to cheer everyone up.
I was about to let the 'I'm fine' escape when John took my hesitation as a no. "Don't worry, Monica. I can't imagine your parents giving up on you. We'll be found soon and then we can go back home." He paused and then gave a small smile. "Unless you'd rather stay up here, of course. Most people pay a fortune for a camping trip like this."
"Yes, I'm sure we'll be rescued soon," I said, even though I didn't believe it. But John was still looking at me worriedly, and when I glanced up I saw that everyone else was, too. It looked like I was going to have to tell them. Brad would be the only one who would think it was ridiculous, and I could deal with him if I had to. "I just thought of something Holly said."
"What's that?" asked John.
"When I was talking to her, she was worried about having to talk to everyone else. You know, the families of those who... didn't make it." I raised my hand and pointed at the wall behind Mulder and Scully. On the other side of that wall was the row of the dead. "She was worried about what they'll say, that they'll ask us about the details of when it happened. I mean, I can understand what she meant. At the moment, they'll all be letting themselves hope that they made it. But we're the ones who are going to have to tell them that they didn't. Then they're going to ask questions about it."
"If they do, then we'll answer them," said John. "Don't worry about it."
"Do you think so?" I said, turning to face him. I knew he'd answered without really thinking about it. "Would you tell them the truth or what they want to hear? Can you imagine having to describe to their families about the last moments? All they're going to want to hear is that it was quick and painless. And for a few, that'll be true. But what about the others? Can you imagine sitting down with one of their families and having to explain that they were covered in blood and screaming in pain? Would you tell them that they asked us to kill them? And what about the agent we lost the other night? Would you tell his family that we gave up on the CPR because we thought he was better dead? What if we'd been wrong? He could've come back to life maybe only a few minutes later and been all right. And what about Holly? What on earth are we going to say about that?"
I'd talked them all in to silence. As I predicted, they were no longer happy. Maybe they had already thought about it, or maybe they hadn't, but either way I could tell they were seeing my point. And although I felt guilty about mentioning some of it, especially Holly, I felt better having said it. That had been the mistake we'd made with Holly. We hadn't brought it all out in to the open when we should have.
"We just tell the truth," said Brad. "They have a right to know, no matter how bad it is."
Scully sighed and shook her head. She had tears in her eyes. "That's all very well, but you weren't the one who was responsible for all that. I agree with Monica. It's easier said than done."
Brad just blankly stared at her. "What do you mean? It wasn't your fault. We did the best we could. It's the fault of the pilots and those who were flying at the time. That's why we're here."
"It's got nothing to do with the pilots!" said Scully loudly. "It's not the pilots fault that Holly wandered off, and it was my decision to let that agent die. I mean, I doubt the agent had a chance at survival. We can't be blamed for that. But you're right, Monica. I can't see how we can possibly explain what happened to Holly."
When I looked at Kim, I instantly regretted bringing the topic up. She was going pale and I could see some tears appearing. I'd obviously misjudged. I'd thought she was dealing with Holly's death well, but it turned out that her positive attitude that afternoon was only due to her strong efforts to cover up the pain she was feeling. And now we'd only made it worse. I can't believe I hadn't realised it earlier.
I pushed myself up from between John and Brad and went to sit next to her on one of the cushions from the wrecked seats of the plane. I put an arm around her shoulders. Dana came and sat on her other side, looking like she was feeling just as guilty as me for bringing the topic up.
"Sorry," she said.
A few tense moments passed while we waited for some kind of response from Kim. Then suddenly, she started drawing in deep breaths, trying to stop herself from crying. She looked back up at us and appeared like she was gaining control. I continued to rub her back. But just as suddenly as she had started crying, she suddenly spun out and lost all control.
"I'm just so... so damn pissed off!" she shouted. She threw my arm off, pushed Scully back, and struggled to her feet. Then she started pacing the floor, walking round and round between us, waving her arms furiously as she shouted. "I can't believe that we did that! I can't believe we stuffed up so fucking bad! What kind of friend am I to do that? How the hell could we just sit there and ignore her? I'm supposed to be her friend. I mean, I was! I've met her family before, you know, and now I'm going to have to go and tell them that I didn't even notice that she was upset, or that she walked out in the mountains and froze. I'm such an idiot! My God, why the hell was I asleep? I should have stayed awake! How the hell could we be so fucking stupid?"
Dana had got to her feet and crossed to stand next to her. "Kim," she said, but Kim spun around from next to Mulder's feet and pushed her away.
"And DON'T say that it wasn't my fault, that I'm imagining things or just being stupid. I'm the one who knew her best. I should've known. You're all standing there going on about how it was all your fault, but how can it be when you hardly knew her? When you only exchange a few words with her every year no one can blame you for not knowing what she was about to do. But I can! I'm the one who knew her. There's no excuse for me. And I am SO - FUCKING - STUPID!"
She had the radio Brad had found still in her hand and suddenly she threw it across the room, narrowly missing Skinner's head. Luckily he ducked out of the way just in time.
"Kim, calm down -" said Scully again, but again Kim cut her off, refusing to listen.
"Just FUCK OFF!" And then she spun around and ran outside in to the deep snow, the icy wind and the black night.
"What the hell just happened?" said John. He started to get to his feet, but I was a few steps ahead of him. I picked up a small packet of tissues I had dug out of my luggage earlier, slipped them in to my pocket and then hurried outside. I didn't wait for any of the others, I just hurried straight out in to the snow and the darkness to find her. I didn't have a plan. I just knew that she was angry enough that it could be a while before she stopped walking. Sitting around and waiting for her return wasn't an option.
I didn't have to look far. She was trampling her way through the snow in the exact same direction that Holly had taken. I don't think it was deliberate. The path was downhill, and it was natural to take the easy walk when she wasn't thinking clearly.
I hurried off to follow her, trying to catch up. The night was oddly still and silent, and I could her crying as she walked. I could also hear a few people behind me. I glanced over my shoulder and saw Scully, Mulder, John and Skinner following. Brad was staying with the unconscious agent, which was good, because I doubt he would have been any help if he had come with us.
"Kim!" I called. "Kim, wait!"
She didn't turn around or give any indication that she had heard. She kept walking, hitting the edge of the flat and starting to go downhill.
"I got deja vu," said Mulder, as we all continued to stumble down the hill, very slowly catching up to her. It was amazing how energetic Kim was when she was angry.
"Yeah, and of the worst kind," added John.
"She'll be fine," said Scully.
I admired her confidence. Personally, even when we did catch up to her I had no idea of what we could do. She had to calm down eventually, but I was wondering how many miles we'd cover before that happened. In the meantime, I was hoping she was watching where she was walking. We didn't know the country very well, and it would be easy to slip on some rocks... or worse.
"Fine? What makes you think that?" asked Mulder. "Scully, does she look like she's fine to you?"
Scully glanced up at Kim, who we could still hear crying, but was still angry enough to have not slowed down at all. "Not really. But at least this way we know what she's thinking. I'd prefer to see her like this than to have her bottle up her emotions like she must have been doing this afternoon."
"She's never going to believe that it wasn't her fault," said Skinner. "What are we going to do?"
"Stop her to start with," said John. "She keeps going like she is and we won't have to worry about rescue 'cause we'll have hiked all the way to Peru before she stops."
"Don't worry, she can't keep this pace up for long. We'll catch her soon," I said.
"Can't wait," said John. "Good luck calming her down, Monica."
"Let's just be glad she's not armed," said Scully, which was an interesting positive spin on the situation.
It was just around fifteen minutes before anything happened. Then slowly, Kim's anger started to dissolve further in to tears and her walking became slow and clumsy. She did not stop completely, but she had slowed enough to allow us to finally catch up.
I deliberately didn't call out her name as we approached, because that might have set her off again. So instead we slowly came up around her. I approached her on her left, Skinner and Scully were on her right, and John and Mulder were following cautiously from behind.
She did not stop walking. We didn't try to stop her. For a few moments, we didn't even say anything. We just walked with her, and let her quietly cry. Then slowly, her pace became slower and slower until she finally stopped. She crossed her arms over her chest and looked down at the ground.
Kim sniffed. "Can't I get any peace out here?"
I knew that she didn't mean it angrily, and I was instantly relieved. If I thought about it, I could even say that there was a hint of a smile in there somewhere.
"Are you kidding?" joked Skinner. "Probably no one for a hundred miles in every direction. How much more peace do you want?"
She didn't smile or laugh, but she didn't say anything, which was still an improvement. At least she wasn't shouting at us.
John and Mulder came around so that we were all standing in a rough circle.
"I want to thank you, by the way," said Mulder, smiling. "For a second there I was worried you were gonna walk us up that mountain again."
I had trouble holding back a smile of my own with that one.
"If I did, would you have left me alone?" Kim mumbled, still not looking at us.
Mulder wasn't sure of how he should reply, so John stepped in. "Of course not. It's a beautiful night even down here. Imagine the view we'd get from up there."
Kim gave the slightest nod. "Yeah, I suppose it would be nice."
At least we'd finally got a response out of her, and now that she seemed comfortable with our presence, I knew we could carefully approach the subject of what had happened.
I slid my hand in to my pocket and pulled out the pack of tissues. I pulled a few out and slowly reached out, holding them out for her. She unfolded her arms and took them.
"Thanks," she said. She paused with them in her hands then said, "You must think I'm crazy."
"Not at all," I said. "Holly was your friend. It's not crazy for you to be upset."
"I think we understand how you feel, Kim," said Dana. "Unfortunately regret is a part of life. There's always things that you wish you did differently. I can't possibly tell you how much I regret that I wasn't awake at the time. I don't think I'm the only one who feels that way. But at the same time, I don't think there's anything that I, or we, can do about it. I wish I could go back and stop her from walking out. But the bottom line is I didn't."
"I know there's nothing I can do," said Kim. "I know that the wise thing to do would be to move on and make sure that it never happens again. But I don't care. I can't just move on from something like that. She was such a beautiful, caring person. I just can't believe..." she drifted off, letting some new tears fall down her face.
John nodded and looked sadly over at Kim. "When things like this happen, I don't think you move on, but you don't let it ruin you, either. It hurts, but with some good friends to help, you slowly learn to cope. You don't forget, but you learn to live with it." John's eyes slowly moved to mine as he spoke. I don't know if anyone else was aware of it, but I knew he was thinking of Luke's death, and of the beginnings of our friendship through my efforts to help.
"You're not alone with this, Kim," said Skinner.
Kim was still crying, but it wasn't hysterical crying like it was before. The tears were just slowly flowing down, and she stared at the tissues in her hands.
Then she raised her head and gave us a tiny smile. She wiped her eyes and then looked over her shoulder, as if realising for the first time how far we had walked. "Wow... how could you have followed me all the way down here?"
"It was your idea," said John, snapping back to his usual self. But he gave her a smile, reassuring her that he wasn't serious.
"I can't believe how far we've come," she said. Her eyes were searching all the surroundings, looking for something she could recognise. Then she gave us a guilty smile. "Sorry to drag you all the way down here."
Dana smiled at her. "It was actually a nice walk."
Kim's expression softened. "Well... thank you. I uh... I appreciate it. Thanks."
"We're your friends," said Skinner. "We're just glad you're all right."
She gave another guilty-looking smile and looked down.
I moved to stand in front of her. "Try not to look so guilty. It was our choice to follow you, you didn't force us."
This time she gave me a real smile and I moved forward and gave her a quick hug and a kiss. "We love you, Kim. Don't ever think you're alone."
"Thank you, Monica," she said, now smiling widely.
Skinner put an arm around her shoulders. "We'd better get back so we can get some sleep. If that rescue comes in the morning I want to be awake enough to see it."
We turned and started walking back up the hill. It was a much slower trip this time, but it was infinitely more relaxing. I actually had time to enjoy the scenery. It was an odd feeling, because I knew that Kim wasn't the only one who was feeling better. We had brought everything out in to the open, and it had not been a mistake. When I looked around at everyone, I could feel the emotions in the air. We had achieved something. Out of the tragedy of Holly's death had come some good, and it came in the form of a bond between us.
In a way, the night reminded me of the time I spent with John after Luke's death. There were certainly some similarities. Kim, like John, was feeling a lot of guilt, guilt over the fact that she didn't think she had done enough. In Kim's case, it wasn't a family member she had lost, but she had been close enough to Holly that she was still devastated. With John, I had stayed with him all night. Not in a sexual way, but just as friends. We did the same with Kim. We set up a comfortable spot for her, with cushions spread out and then we covered her with a coat and an emergency blanket that Brad had found somewhere in the plane. Skinner stretched out next to her on one side, and I stayed on her other. We let her cry, because she needed to, but it wasn't long before she had run out of tears, and then she fell asleep.
In the morning, there was still no sign of the rescue, which left us wondering exactly how far off course we had flown before the crash. Brad had rescued the radio from where Kim had thrown it, and we were pleased to hear that it still worked. After we all woke, and we had shared around some of the bottled water, we turned our attention to it, and started searching for a news report.
It didn't take us long. The reception wasn't too good, and there were parts of it which were fuzzy, but we got the main bits. We all sat silent, all listening for every little detail.
"And now, we are in to the fourth day of the search for the missing plane of FBI agents that crashed in the Rockies. Despite the best efforts of US and Canadian search parties, authorities are still unable to track down the plane. The FBI's Deputy Director Alvin Kersh, however, remains confident that they will be found, and that there will be a full inquiry in to the causes of the accident. In the meantime, we pray to God that any survivors will be able to hold on and will soon be reunited with their friends and family." The news reader took a deep breath. "And now to the weather. Jim, I hear that it's not looking good for any survivors who might be stuck up there..."
"No, it isn't. I'm afraid we only have more bad news. A series of low pressure belts are resulting in the coldest winter we have seen for nearly a decade. Temperatures in the mountains are reaching some record lows, and unfortunately the forecast doesn't look too good, either, with meteorologists predicting blizzards and strong winds over the next couple of days. Let's hope that anyone up there has some warm blankets..."
The weatherman went on to talk about the highs and lows for each city, and we turned the radio off.
"I hate to sound pessimistic, but that doesn't sound too good," said John. He was sitting next to me, frowning at the radio.
"Hopefully they'll find us before those blizzards strike," I said. "They won't be able to find us in that kind of weather. They'll put the search on hold." I was also wondering whether we would be able to survive a blizzard. If the temperature dropped any further, things would be dangerous. They were already dangerous, but any lower and we would be looking death in the face.
A few people nodded that they agreed, but it was Brad's reaction that caught my eye. Annoying though Brad sometimes was, I was beginning to feel a little worried about him. I wasn't completely sure if leaving him alone for so much of the previous day had been such a good idea. First when we hiked up the mountain, and then when we had chased after Kim. He was becoming increasingly withdrawn. I made up my mind that I would make more of an effort, and from the deep and thoughtful look on his face, now seemed like a good time to start.
"Brad, what are you thinking?"
He looked up slowly, like he'd forgotten that he wasn't alone. He shrugged and then looked back down at the radio, avoiding my eyes. "If you're right, and they stop the search for the weather, what makes you think they'll resume it? I mean, assuming we survive the weather ourselves. They already think we're dead. A few days of blizzards and they'll give up completely."
"I doubt it," said Scully. "Even if they think there's no hope they'll continue until they find the plane."
Brad gave Scully a doubtful look. "This search must be costing millions. And how much country do they have to search? If we haven't even seen a plane then they must be miles away. How long do you think it will take for them to figure out where we are? In fact, why would they even bother searching up here? They have no reason to. They'll only keep looking in the area that we should have been at the time. And as each day passes, the cost is going to rise. There has to be a point where they think the chances of finding anyone are too slim to justify the expense."
"This is only the fourth day, Brad. That point is a long way off," I said.
"Really? To me, it seems like it'll be just like anything else. When you get a missing persons case, you look at all the clues and try and figure it out. Sometimes you find them, sometimes you don't. But if a few days pass and you're still no closer to finding them, then you start to wonder if there's anything more you can do. And sooner or later, you have to tell the family that you're giving up, because there's honestly nothing more you can do. It doesn't mean that there's no chance they're alive, just that the chances are so slim that the FBI can't justify the expense of having you there any longer."
"You're so damn cheerful, Follmer," said John. "But in case you haven't noticed, this isn't your everyday missing persons case. This is the disappearance of a whole task force. This is going to leave a gaping hole in the FBI that won't be forgotten too easily."
"So what are you planning to do? You going to sit though this blizzard and just hope that someone is going to realise that just maybe the pilot decided to fly off course for a bit of fun? And how would you do that? We've got a good supply of water, but it'll take more than that to keep you alive until that moment comes."
"Even if you're right, what are you planning to do? You stand a better chance in here than out there trying to hike out," said Mulder. "You go out there and you're dead."
"Maybe it's worth the risk. Stay in here and you die slower," replied Brad.
I don't know how we suddenly got on to the subject of our own deaths, but it wasn't something that I was interested in discussing. In my opinion, we would be fine as long as we stayed together. Food was an issue, but we could survive for quite a while on water. When the time came, we would think of something. But whatever we did, I was sure that giving up and being certain of death wasn't an option.
I was considering giving my opinion when we were interrupted by the death of the last unconscious agent. It was sad because he had survived for so long and now he was dying. We didn't spend much time dwelling on it. Scully said there was nothing we could do, and a group of us got up to take him outside, on to the end of the line. We said a quick goodbye and then went back inside.
Brad still hadn't given up. "Now you don't have an excuse any more. There's nothing keeping you here."
"Brad," I said, "giving up hope is not going to achieve anything."
"Why are you afraid of the truth, Monica?" He turned and looked around at all of us. "All of you. You sit there praying for a miracle. Read the signs. Accepting the truth is the only way you can possibly get out of here. Sitting there in your little world of denial might feel nice for a while, but sometime you're going to have to accept it, and starvation is your deadline. Get out of here while you still have a chance."
We all stood there, no one saying anything.
He shrugged. "Have it your way. I'm going to go pack."
He turned around and walked back outside, heading over to the other half of the plane to collect his things.
"Pack? Is he joking? He's actually going to leave?"
Kim watched Brad disappear with an expression of pure confusion. No one else looked as though they knew what had happened, either. They obviously didn't know Brad like I did.
"Well he can't do that," said Scully, starting to hurry after him. "We have to stop him."
"No, Dana," I said, and reached forward and took her arm. "Let me do it."
She seemed a little puzzled and after a minute I worked out that she didn't know about my relationship with Brad. She might have guessed that I knew him as a friend, through the way we called each other by our first names, but obviously she hadn't worked out exactly how close we had been, or how well I knew him.
She slowly drew back. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah," I said, without hesitating. I put on my sunglasses and hurried out in to the morning to go after him. By the look of the sky, the weather report sounded pretty accurate. The clouds were so thick that I knew we were going to get snow sometime. I just hoped it wouldn't be any time soon.
I found him going through his bag, pulling out items that he thought unnecessary and packing in a few others, like a bottle of water and a few more clothes he had borrowed from the bags of dead agents.
I leaned against the wall, trying to ignore the cold. It was odd, because I thought I would get used to it, but I was still shivering every time I walked outside.
"You can't go, Brad."
He let out a small laugh. "You going to try and stop me?"
I grinned. "Of course not. I'm here to help you pack."
His head snapped up at me, but then he saw my smile and he realised I was kidding. I went and sat down next to his bag. "You can't be serious about this."
"I told you. I honestly don't think we have a choice. They're not going to find us, Monica. Best we can do is risk it out there while we still have the strength."
"You'll never make it, Brad. Not in this weather. And not alone."
"We're at the start of winter. It's only going to get colder. Best to go now."
"Brad, listen to yourself! This is crazy. You'll freeze to death out there. If you came up that mountain with us yesterday you'd know what I mean. Civilisation isn't just over the next hill. It's not a one day hike. There's mountains as far as you can see."
"I don't care," he said. "I'll figure something out. I'd prefer to take my chances out there than stay here. It's certain death, Monica. You're the one who's crazy."
"We can make it," I said. "If we block up the hole in the plane we should be able to keep warm enough to survive the blizzards. As for the rescue, we don't know for sure. We're only guessing based on a few news reports. There's nothing that says we're doomed."
"You have nothing to eat."
I hesitated. That was one problem, but it was still wiser to stay than to leave. "We have water. We'll be okay until the blizzards pass, and then we can reassess the situation. Anyway, you won't have any food either."
"I'll be out before that becomes a problem."
"You're weak already! Brad, when was the last time you climbed a mountain? Or even went hiking? This isn't a hike you can do on an empty stomach. All it will take will be a sudden change in the weather and you'll be stuck, out there, with no shelter. You can't just run off in to that. Situations like this, you have to think before you act. You're being irrational. Running away isn't going to solve your problems."
"Problems? The only problem I have is how to get out of here."
I crossed my arms and took a few moments to look at him. "You forget how well I know you." I paused. He didn't look up at me, and that was a sign that I was right. He wasn't fine. "I know you're not all right. None of us are. There's fifteen dead agents lying outside in the snow. Fifteen people that we all know. But running out in to a blizzard on a blind hope that you'll make it out isn't going to change that."
He was turning over a pair of black socks in his hands, thinking. After a minute or two he threw them down on top of the bag and turned around, sighing.
His voice dropped, as if he was terrified of what he was going to say. "I gotta get out of here. I can't stand seeing them any more. Those bodies, all lined up. I'm not going to hang around to watch anyone else die. Especially you. If I go now, and make it out, I can alert them to where we are, and then I'll bring them to rescue you."
I smiled sadly. "If you had my best interests at heart, you'd stay. I don't want to lose anyone else, either, Brad. And that includes you. I don't want to see you go off on a suicide mission. Nor does anyone else. Think of your parents, Brad. Everyone is going to be worried sick about you."
"Parents?" He laughed. "I haven't seen my parents in over two years, Monica. They moved back to London, and they never really bothered to keep in touch. My sister fell in love with some businessman from Ireland and she left to go and marry him. They got angry when I supported her. She threw away her whole career. Don't know if they'll ever get over it. I don't think they care, any more."
"There's a good reason not to go. You can't die without making up with them."
He shrugged. "Life's not a fairy tale, Monica. Leaving is a risk I'm willing to take."
I stood up and looked hard in to his eyes. "Then at least think it through. Give it another day or two. Let the blizzards pass, and then we'll think about it. We could leave as a group. We'll stand a much better chance that way."
He stopped and looked at me. "Do you really want me to stay?"
It was a question he shouldn't have needed to ask, and as answer, I reached forward and took his hand.
He looked down at our hands and thought for a long moment. Then he squeezed my hand and nodded.
"Maybe just a little longer. But as soon as this weather clears I'm out."
"Deal," I said and gave him a smile. In our situation, a lot could happen in twenty-four hours. I knew I couldn't talk him out of leaving, but asking him to wait a little longer was a start. In the meantime, I was going to pay closer attention to him. Brad was upset, but he also wasn't very good with dealing with his emotions, and I was the only friend he had up here.
I was surprised when he let go of my hand and gave me a hug, but I hugged him back, hoping that he knew I was there for him, and understood.
I pulled away a little, but Brad didn't let go. He let his hands fall to my waist and then he glanced in to my eyes and started to lean in.
Alarm bells went off. I was so shocked and surprised that it took me a second or two to move back. His lips had been about to touch mine, but then he stopped, realising that I wasn't going to be a willing participant. He dropped his hands from me and took a step back, looking at the floor.
I couldn't stand the silence, so I searched for something to say. "I love you, Brad, but our relationship isn't like that any more." He looked so depressed that I was starting to feel mountains of guilt piling up within me. "I'm sorry."
He gave a depressed shrug. "No, it's my fault. I should have known."
By the tone in his voice, I knew that he didn't believe what he had said, and was far away from understanding why I'd pulled away. I tried to meet his eyes, and give reassurance that I was still there for him, but he wouldn't look at me. I was going to reach for his hand when he took another step back and turned around back to his bag.
"Come on. You wanted to block up that hole."
Mulder had already made a start to blocking up the gap in the plane. He used anything he could find. Bags and chairs made up most of it. When Brad and I left the plane, I went to help Mulder, but Brad disappeared around the side of the plane to the row of bodies.
I kept an eye on him. He knelt beside one of the men and was scraping snow away from his face with a gentleness that showed me exactly how upset he was about the deaths. A part of me felt like going over to him, but I knew that it was important for him to have these few moments by himself. I didn't want to interrupt. So instead, I made sure to keep an eye on him, looking around every minute or two to see that he was still there.
"Is he all right?" asked John.
Things were definitely bad if John was concerned about Brad.
I hesitated. "I think he will be. I persuaded him to stay a little longer until the bad weather passes. He just needs to sort some things out."
Kim came up and stood next to us. "Monica, we caught another news report while you were over there. Maybe it won't be a good idea to tell him, but you should know that they've put the search on hold."
It was strange that the news didn't upset me. I'd been expecting that to happen, and we had prepared, so it wasn't a big deal. But she was right about not telling Brad.
Brad sat with the agent for over twenty minutes. I hoped that he was making progress and somehow working through his feelings, but I wasn't too sure. Either way, because I had rejected him, I was pretty sure I wouldn't be welcome if I went over there. So we worked on, blocking up holes and smashed windows and doing a general clean up. We didn't know how long the blizzard was going to last, so we were preparing for the worst. We moved out a lot more junk, leaving a lot more space inside and we spread out cushions on the floor. Kim disappeared over to the other half of the plane for a few minutes and came back with her arms full of coats that she had scrounged. She wanted to use them as blankets. I wasn't sure about using the clothes of our dead friends, but everyone else seemed comfortable with it, and I considered that if I died, I would want my friends to use anything of mine they could if it ensured their survival. It was easily justified.
With all our preparation, it turned out Dana was still miles ahead of all of us. I was wondering where she was when she appeared with a square, metal box in her hands.
John gave her a questioning look. "What's that for?"
Dana hesitated. She looked a little embarrassed. "Well, I doubt you'll want to go around the back of the plane when there's a blizzard out there. Might be a little uncomfortable."
Mulder stopped and took the box from her hands. "Smile, John. It's the modern chamber pot."
John turned back to Dana. "You've got to be kidding."
She shrugged and smiled. "Just in case."
"I can handle peeing in to the snow, but using that is crossing a line."
"What are you worried about?" asked Mulder. "It's easy for you. Scully, Kim and Monica are the ones who should be complaining."
John looked up at me, looking for my opinion.
"He does have a point," I looked at our new chamber pot in Mulder's hands. "It would have to be an absolute emergency."
"As much as the idea makes me cringe," said Kim, "it's probably better to have thought of it now than to realise later."
"I guess I see your point," said John, but he was still staring at the pot with fear.
Scully put her hand on his shoulder. "Relax, John. No worse than a bedpan in hospital."
I quickly glanced off at the rows of bodies again to check Brad was still there. I scanned up and down the whole row, but he was nowhere to be seen. In the two minutes we had spent looking at the chamber pot, he'd disappeared without me noticing.
"Brad's gone," I said.
John looked around, but he wasn't concerned. "Probably just relieving himself out there while he still can."
But true to our routine since Holly's death, Skinner moved past to go and wait for him. "I'll go check."
Skinner was level with the second last body on the row when the silence was broken by a gunshot.
I froze. A gunshot... but there was only one reason why Brad would fire...
Skinner started to run, but the snow was so deep that he was stumbling. I ran after him, yelling and screaming as I went.
"Brad! Brad, are you ok?"
In my head, I already knew the answer to the question, but I was still praying that I was wrong. Maybe it was a wild animal. Maybe it was self defence. But then he would have replied by now to reassure us that he was fine.
Skinner rounded the end of the plane and disappeared. When he didn't call out to us, I knew something was wrong. I continued to hurry, the others not far behind me, and after a few long seconds I turned the corner and saw Skinner, kneeling beside Brad on the ground.
"Brad?" I called. I wanted to hurry to Skinner's side, but I stopped halfway. Brad wasn't alive. The shot hadn't been in self defence, it had been in self pity. Now, his head was covered in blood, and the gun was lying under his dead hand on the snow.
"Brad!" I collapsed on to the snow beside Skinner and put my hands on Brad's shoulders.
I couldn't believe it. He had actually done it. But it didn't make sense. He had been recovering, not going... but may be he wasn't, and I had left him alone... I should have gone up to him... I should have been there...
"Monica." John was at my side. I could faintly feel his arm around me, but it made no difference. Brad was dead. He had killed himself. It had happened with Holly, and it had happened again. Something had gone wrong. I'd rejected him when he needed me most... why had I pulled away?
"Brad..." I could feel the tears forming in my eyes, but I didn't try to stop them. "My God, Brad, what the hell did you do?"
"Monica." John tried to pull me around to face him, but I didn't care. Brad had shot himself. I hadn't been there. I should have known...
"Monica, look at me."
The pleading tone in his voice finally broke through and I slowly turned to look at him. I searched his eyes for some kind of reason, or explanation... some kind of reassurance that it wasn't my fault, because I couldn't have possibly known...
John put his hands on my shoulders and looked in to my eyes. "He's gone..."
I'd worked that part out.
"...and it wasn't your fault. Don't blame yourself."
"We couldn't have known. You were watching him the whole time. He knew we were there for him."
I could feel the tears start to fall down my face. Suddenly I had nothing to say. I went numb. All I could do was cry. I turned away from John to look back at Brad. Dana crossed to his other side and picked up his gun. Then she looked at me, worried. I ignored her. Why were they worried about me? Brad was dead. They should have been bothered by that.
I saw John and Dana exchange a look, but I didn't care. Brad had committed suicide.
"Come on," said John. He was pulling on my arm, trying to get me to stand up. I didn't move. I'd forgotten how to work my muscles. Even if I'd remembered, I wasn't interested in going anywhere.
Scully gave Brad's gun to Skinner, then came and took my other arm. "Can you stand?"
They were both lifting me up, and I didn't have much of a choice but to stand on my feet. I tried to fight the numbness, the shock, to find my voice. "What are we going to do?"
John gave a slight shrug. "There's a blizzard coming. We'd better take him back and then finish blocking up that hole."
I wasn't in a mood to argue. John put his arm around me and started to lead me back to the plane. The others stayed behind to take care of the body. I hoped this blizzard was going to be an extremely short one. I'd had two of my friends die already... and if we hadn't followed Kim we would have lost her, too. The isolation was killing us. We had to get out of here. Soon.
John led me to sit down on a cushion, and then he sat facing me, taking my hands in own. He was searching my eyes, like he was looking for me to give some kind of reaction, but all I could feel was numbness. Brad had killed himself, and the way I saw it, it could have been my fault. I wanted to cry, but I was too shocked. I didn't know how to do anything except stare. John understood. He held my hands, softly rubbing them, until the other four returned.
They all looked at me sympathetically, but Dana was the only one who said anything. The second she came in, she crossed to kneel beside me and John.
"I'm so sorry, Monica," she said, squeezing my shoulder. "I know he was your friend."
I was still turning the whole event over my head, searching for something that I missed, something that I should have done differently. The obvious thing was to have kissed him. Maybe that was just a simple comfort thing he had needed. Maybe I had misinterpreted, and it might not have meant anything more than friendship.
After another second, another thought hit. Brad's gun. We'd been here four days and he had still been wearing it. I hadn't even thought about it. I had pulled my own off on the first night when I went to sleep. It was still lying in the corner of the plane somewhere. If Brad hadn't had his gun, it might not have prevented him thinking about killing himself, but it would have bought us enough time to realise what he was thinking, and to stop him. With a gun, it was all so sudden, but if he hadn't had it, he would have been spending time looking for another method, and in that time we could have stopped him.
I sat up straight and looked at John and Dana. "The guns. We have to get rid of them." I looked up at Skinner and Mulder, too. Kim, as a secretary, wasn't armed. "Everyone has to give them up. We can put them away somewhere until the rescue."
While they caught up with what I was thinking, I got to my feet and went on a hunt for my own. I wasn't going to leave it lying around. I found it hidden underneath a few coats and then I turned back to the first person I saw, Skinner.
I held out my hand. "Come on. No risks. We should have done this ages ago."
He took off his gun, still in its holster, and handed it to me. "It's just dead weight at the moment, anyway."
Mulder didn't hesitate. He was finishing up the hole in the plane. He had left a tiny gap for us to still walk through, but he had a few objects lying aside that we could use to fill it up in a hurry. I took his gun and then I held out a hand toward John and Dana.
They didn't appear convinced that it was a good idea, but they pulled them out anyway, like they didn't want to argue with me. I took them and then I marched in to the pilot's cabin, dumping them safely in a corner on the floor.
"We leave them there until the rescue," I said. "We only touch them in an emergency, and only if everyone else knows about it first."
John and Dana exchanged another one of those worried looks. I don't know why. There was no one there that we couldn't trust, and I couldn't see any situation where we would need the guns. It was just a precaution.
Now that I had stood up, and was being active, I didn't feel like sitting back down. To sit back down was to let it all overwhelm me, and that wasn't something I wanted to happen. I didn't want to be useless. So I looked around at the floor of the plane. It had been cleaned up a lot. We had coats, cushions, the radio, our new chamber pot, and a few bottles ready to collect water in, but there was still more we could do. If I brought our bags over from the plane, we would have constant access to them. We hadn't brought them over earlier only because of a lack of space. Once everyone was lying down, there wasn't enough room to store everyone's bags as well. But now there were fewer people, we should be able to manage it.
"I'm going to bring over our bags," I said. I walked straight past John and Dana, who were still looking at me like I'd just said something insane instead of something completely logical, and I went straight out in to the snow.
The temperature was dropping. Even as I walked through the snow, I could feel my clothes getting wet. It had even soaked through my shoes, to numb my feet. Thank God the second half of the plane was only a very short walk. Any further and I would have frostbite.
I located my own bag, and then I went for Dana's. I glanced around at Kim's, but I already had enough to carry. I was about to hoist my bag over my shoulder when something in the corner caught my eye. Packets of cigarettes. I had quit nearly a year ago, but the idea was suddenly tempting. With all that had happened, I could really use one. Even Kim had said it, after Holly's death. She had said she felt like a smoke. Under the circumstances, I had a right. Sixteen were dead now. Sixteen all lined up carefully in the snow. And yet we were still stuck up a mountain, with a blizzard approaching and no sign of a rescue. No one could blame me for having a quick smoke.
Brad had tried to kiss me in the same spot I was standing, less than half an hour ago. I'd known he was upset, he wanted to leave, and I thought I'd stopped him. My God, if I'd only kissed him... then he would have known for sure that I cared, and maybe he wouldn't have done it. Or I should have pulled him away from the bodies when he was sitting there. Even if he had tried to push me away, even though I knew I wouldn't have been welcome, I should have done it anyway.
A smoke. Smoke. Maybe not a bad idea.
A small voice in the back of my mind was telling me it was wrong, but I ignored it. I reached for the pack, opened it, and pulled one out. Then I looked around me for a lighter. There had to be one around somewhere...
I was holding the smoke in my mouth, to free my hands for the search, when someone decided to interrupt.
"Monica, with all the trouble you went to when you quit, it would be crazy to pick it up again now."
Dana. And there was that word. Crazy.
In the split second in which I turned around, she had snatched away the packet, whipped the cigarette out of my mouth and thrown it up the opposite end of the plane.
"Doing that is only going to increase your problems, not get rid of them," she said.
Again, before I could say anything, she had taken hold of my arm and was pulling me down to sit on someone's bag... no idea whose... hopefully someone who wasn't going to complain.
"Monica, we know you're upset. You have every right to be. We know you were his friend. No one is going to criticise you if you let go for a bit. You're allowed to be upset."
I didn't know what to say. I wanted to talk about it, but that would involve explaining our past relationship to her. She only knew we were friends, she had no idea about the rest of it. John did, but I could see the look on his face if I told him Brad had tried to kiss me. And Skinner was an Assistant Director, if I admitted anything in front of him, it could lead to trouble, and that wasn't something I wanted to deal with at the moment.
Dana reached and pulled something out of her pocket. A photo. She handed it to me. "Mulder found this in Follmer's wallet."
She didn't need to say anything more. It was a photo of me and Brad, of him holding me. It didn't speak friendship, either. I never knew Brad had had kept that photo. I had no idea. It had been taken years ago, in New York, during the height of our relationship. In the photo, we were both smiling. How things changed. Now he was lying dead in the snow, having killed himself, and I was left to wonder if I'd ever get out, or be able to smile again.
So Dana knew. She put her hand on my knee. "Talk to me."
I found myself talking. "I told you before that I'd convinced Brad not to leave. It took a while, but he finally agreed. I knew he was feeling a bit depressed, so I tried to tell him I was there for him. I mean, I hugged him, he hugged me back, it was no big deal."
Dana nodded. "But something happened, right?"
I hesitated. I was still trying to make sense of it. "He tried to kiss me. I pulled back. I think he was hurt that I'd rejected him. That's when he left and walked over to the bodies. I know he was feeling depressed before that... but I just can't help thinking, that maybe..." I drifted off and sighed.
"You think you might have triggered it."
The surprising thing was, she didn't seem surprised at all. In the last five minutes Dana had found out that I had been in a relationship with Brad Follmer, and that he had tried to kiss me before his death, and she was looking at me as though she had expected it all along.
She thought about it for a moment for responding, and for that I was grateful. "I doubt it. I think he was thinking about it long before you chased after him today. In fact, I think he might have even thought about it when we were up the mountain with Kim. It was probably being left alone that did it. I don't think it's all our fault, though. After all, he volunteered. He wanted to stay, and none of us are mind readers, we couldn't have known how he was feeling."
"We still had warning, though. We knew today how he felt."
"I think he probably already had his mind made up by then. He wasn't stupid, Monica. He would have been fully aware of the consequences of that hike he was planning. He would have known the chances of getting out right now are less than one in a thousand. He just wanted to get away. He just couldn't handle things here. Running away from it was the only way he could think of dealing with it. He preferred the possibility of dying to staying here. He even told us that."
"But then I convinced him to stay. Or at least I thought I did."
Dana gave me a sad smile. "He stayed for you. He couldn't say no to you. But he wasn't convinced by anything you said. He still wanted to go, he still wanted to get away, he just couldn't say no to you asking him to stay."
"But even if he was determined, there must have been something I could have done. If I'd kissed him, maybe he would have realised that I was there for him. He would have known that he could lean on me, and maybe we could have talked the whole thing out."
Dana looked doubtful. "You'd already tried to talk the whole thing out. He'd made it quite clear that he wasn't interested in talking it out. And think about it, Monica. Do you honestly believe he would have stopped at a kiss?"
The Brad I knew wouldn't have, but that wasn't the point. If I had known that going through with it would have stopped him committing suicide...
"Pointless thinking about it," said Dana. "We wouldn't have let you go through with it, anyway."
"How would you have known?"
Dana gave me a guilty looking smile. "We uh... we were watching the whole time, in case you needed some help talking him out of it."
"We?" I felt the panic rise. Maybe John did know after all. "Does John know?"
"No. Luckily." She gave me a smile. "He was inside blocking up the hole with Mulder. Kim is the only other one who saw."
So that's why she wasn't surprised. She had known the whole time what had happened. That was probably why she had followed me here. She would have told John to give her a minute. Now, John would be sitting back inside, worrying. And probably wondering, too.
"We did all we could for him, Monica. We all tried to talk to him, but he wouldn't respond. We couldn't have done anything more. You could have offered as much support as you wanted, but if he didn't want to accept it, then there's nothing you could have done. And you weren't the only one who tried. Skinner and Mulder both tried to talk to him while you were asleep last night with Kim. He wouldn't open up to them, either."
I felt my stomach lighten. I wanted to believe her. Everything she said made a little sense. "Do you really believe that? Do you really think there wasn't a choice?"
"Yes," she said, without hesitating. "I don't think there's any reason for you to blame yourself." She waited a second and squeezed my knee. "Ok?"
"Yeah," I whispered. "Okay then."
She smiled and then looked outside. Snow was beginning to fall, and the wind was picking up, whistling through the plane.
"Come on," she said. She picked up her bag, as well as Kim's. "I think that blizzard is finally about to hit."
I picked up my own bag, rescuing John's along the way, and together we walked back to the plane, to sit and idly wait for the blizzard to end.
The second I put a foot in the door John helped me in, taking his bag from me and putting it down in the corner, and then helping me with my own. He put a hand on my back and gently nudged me in the direction of a series of cushions against the wall. I sat down, sighing at the thought of another long wait. I seriously hoped that it would be worthwhile. Hopefully the rescue would pick up where it left off, and we would be rescued. But then there was the food issue. I blocked that thought out. My head was going to explode. All I could think about was Brad, and him lying in the snow. I felt a little better after having talked with Dana. She had helped me lose a lot of the guilt, but I still felt sad by the whole thing. Whether it had been my fault or not, I had still lost a good friend.
Mulder had brought over his and Skinner's bags earlier, they were forming a part of the wall in the plane, but weren't so deeply in that they weren't easily accessed. They could get to them if they needed to. Mulder and Skinner both gave me sympathetic, but awkward, looks, and turned their attention to blocking up the remaining small gap.
John had taken my hands and was rubbing them. I was so cold, but John soon brought them back to life so I could feel them again.
Kim seemed to have noticed the same thing about Scully. She was thanking her for bringing her bag over when she suddenly paused, her eyes on Scully's face and hands. Then she reached out and put the back of her hand to Scully's forehead. "You're freezing!" She glanced across at me. "You two shouldn't have stayed out that long if that's how cold it is out there."
Kim reached forward toward my jacket that Scully was still wearing. "It's covered in snow. Here, change it for one of mine."
Dana didn't complain. She did exactly as Kim said, and a minute later had hung my jacket over a discarded plane seat to dry, and put on one of Kim's.
"What about you, Monica?" asked John, removing his hands from mine, and up to lightly touch my face. "You cold?"
I was more numb than cold. It was a mental numb, though. I still hadn't got my mind off Brad. Knowing John was concerned, I took a second to consider it. Now that he mentioned it, I was a little chilly. But given that we were in a blizzard, that was to be expected.
"No more than I should be," I replied.
"Well your jacket's wet, anyway," he said, opening his bag and searching through it. He pulled out a warm black coat of his own and held it out for me. "Put this on. Damp clothes can't be good news, probably best to avoid it if we can."
I shrugged and started unbuttoning my coat. John put it aside and then held open his jacket for me to slide my arms into. It was so soft and warm, and smelt of John. Nothing could have been more comfortable. And just to complete the sensation, he then sat right beside me, reaching for my hand and giving it a little squeeze. It was just to let me know that he was there for me, and I appreciated it.
Mulder finished blocking up the hole, and though there were some tiny gaps in the new wall, I could tell it would hold fine, and should be successful in blocking out most of the cold, snow and wind. He then came and sat opposite me beside Scully. Kim sat on her other side, with Skinner on some cushions in the middle.
After four days, we were all far from looking like our usual selves. One of the most obvious differences was that Scully wasn't wearing make-up. It wasn't because she didn't have any with her, just that she had never bothered to put it on. Make-up had become one of those small insignificant things that didn't matter any more. Kim and I hadn't bothered with it, either. We'd all brushed our hair once or twice, but only to keep it manageable, and that was the only part of our physical appearance that we were thinking about.
We weren't looking very professional, either. We were all still wearing several layers of clothes, and had thrown aside most of our proper, professional clothes in favour of the more comfortable worn-
in type. We weren't trying to make a fashion statement. Clothes became shared around. If someone was lacking warm clothing in their bag, it was borrowed from someone else. It didn't matter. I didn't care if someone was wearing half the clothes from my bag. I was glad that I had something to keep them warm. It was dangerously cold, and we had to look after each other in any and every way we could.
It also became apparent that none of us had taken a shower in four days. The smell was slightly noticeable, but I was surprised that I didn't care. It was a different world. In the FBI, I might have cared if someone next to me smelt. But up here, it didn't matter, because we were all equal. We all smelt a little. I understood it completely.
The most amazing thing was that in the four days we had spent on the mountain, my love of them had doubled. It was like I had never truly known them before. But the threat of death constantly over our heads had led to an amazing bond between us all. I didn't care if they stank. I didn't care if they hadn't looked at themselves in the mirror for four days. In our four days on the mountain, our friendship had grown twice as much as it had in all the time we'd worked together. Personal differences no longer mattered. It didn't matter who believed in aliens and who didn't. We were all on the same side now. We had all experienced the same pain. We all knew what each other were feeling. And it was the sense of this bond, or friendship, that allowed me to be honest about everything I was feeling about Brad.
Kim was the one who brought it up. We'd been sitting without talking for around five minutes, listening to the wind and snow outside when she decided that she couldn't stand the silence any longer. Her tired eyes met mine and she lazily said, "You must have known Follmer for a long time."
It was curiosity, as well as an opportunity for me to talk about him as much as I liked. It was an invitation to vent, and to lean on them. And I didn't hesitate. "Not that long. It would be about five years now."
"You met him in New York, right?" asked Mulder.
"Yeah, we worked a few cases together. We became friends." I stopped there. I knew Mulder, Scully and John knew about my relationship with Brad, but I didn't know if Kim and Skinner knew. Kim might have put the pieces together when she saw Brad try to kiss me, but all the same, I wasn't sure how much I should admit to.
It soon became clear that Kim knew. "How long were you together?"
I instantly glanced across to Skinner, but he didn't seem to be surprised by the question. He only looked back at me, wondering what the hell was going on, until a piece clicked in to place and he shook his head. "You've got nothing to worry about, Reyes. I can honestly tell you that I have no interest in making an issue out of it. The point where it would have mattered is long gone."
I felt John softly rub his thumb over mine and I was encouraged to go on. "We were together for about two years. Then I broke it off and transferred to New Orleans. I think I realised that it wasn't going to work out."
There was a few moments of thoughtful silence before Kim spoke again. "What was he like? I mean, I've never had much contact with him. He never even knew my name until all this happened."
"He was... passionate." It was the only word I could find to sum up Brad, but as soon as I saw Kim's look, I knew she had misinterpreted. "No, not like that. Well, I mean, that too. But just in general. If he had a goal, then he would achieve it. He would work hard until he got what he wanted. He was the same with cases. He wasn't afraid of the tough ones. He took anything and put everything in to trying to solve it." I paused. "He was never lazy with his job."
Skinner had been listening thoughtfully, and he nodded when I finished. "I haven't known him as long as long as you have, but from what I know of him, I agree. He was a good agent. He was a good leader."
Kim looked puzzled. "But he couldn't have been perfect or you wouldn't have broken up, right?"
I gave a slight nod. "He had an ego to match. It wasn't a problem much at the start. We still had a lot of good times together." I couldn't help smiling with the memory of some of them, and from the look on Dana and Kim's faces, they knew very well what I meant. "But as time went on, we started having less time together. I think the problem was he never really understood me. After a year, or eighteen months, things started to crumble."
I was trying to find words to describe what went wrong, but Dana ended up doing it for me. "Mind-blowing sex won't hold a relationship together forever. Unless there's something else there, it can never last. And if he never truly understood you..." she trailed off.
"Yeah, but I don't regret it. We were still good friends. He wasn't a bad person." I paused. I was frustrated, trying to get them to understand. I didn't want to sum up Brad's existence by being an egotistical ladder climber and a good fuck. He was so much more than that. "He was... he was a good friend. He was always there if you needed him. He was always willing to help you with a case, even when he had never been assigned to it. He had some faults, but everyone does. I think that overall... he was a fairly decent person."
I was feeling the heaviness come over me again, and as if sensing it, John held my hand tighter.
"We're not saying he was a bad person, Monica," said John. "Everyone has a good side. He was an Assistant Director of the FBI. He must have been doing something right."
I nodded, but I suddenly had trouble finding any words. Memories of Brad, and of our time together, were flashing through my mind. Happy memories, sad memories... all the times we fought, and then made up... all the long hours we spent on cases together...
And then I couldn't hold back any longer. A small tear escaped, flowing down my cheek and I stared down at John's hand, holding mine. He glanced up at me, and seeing me start to cry, he let go of my hand and turned around so he was sitting in front of me. Then he held out his arms and slowly drew me in to them, holding me, and letting me cry in to his shoulder.
"Let it out, Mon. Let it out." He softly rubbed my back. I continued to cry, clinging to him with my arms around his waist. And I don't know exactly how long it was we stayed like that, but I know that we were the last to lie down and go to sleep, and even when we did, I was still in his arms.
In John's arms, the blizzard was hardly noticeable. I was so warm that I felt like I could have stayed there forever, rescue or not. As fate would have it, it didn't turn out that way.
I was the last to wake. When I opened my eyes, the first thing I saw was John peacefully gazing at me. I made no effort to move. Behind John I could hear the other four were already awake, and were whispering to each other about the weather, and other such topics.
"How do you feel?" John whispered.
I had trouble with an answer. It was another day stuck on the mountain. Brad was still gone. But at the same time, there was something comforting about John, and I didn't feel quite as bad as the night before.
"A little better," I said, truthfully.
He nodded and then he gave me an apologetic look. I knew he was going to get up before the words even left his mouth. "I gotta go pee. I'll be right back."
When I followed him with my eyes, I saw that there was again a gap in our wall. The blizzard must have stopped sometime during the night. Or maybe morning. I had no idea what time it was. Skinner followed John out.
I slowly sat up, pulling my coat around me to defend against the chill. Dana came and pushed a bottle of water into my hands.
"Have a drink," she said. "You haven't had any water for nearly twenty-four hours."
I took the bottle from her and sleepily started to remove the lid. I took a few sips, and when the cool water touched my tongue I realised she had been right. I hadn't even known.
As I drank, I noticed that Dana's eyes hadn't left me. I wished she'd smile. I knew that look on her face. It was of concern, and of holding something back. I wondered exactly what it was the others had been talking about while I had been asleep. The investigator in me started to look around. One. The blizzard had stopped. Two. No one was looking happy about it. Three. Kim was holding our radio. Four. Dana had a hand on my shoulder, which was probably unrelated, but had me thinking anyway. Her expression was grim.
John and Skinner came back in, and the second they were in they started roughly blocking up the hole again. Five.
I screwed the lid back on the bottle. Five points. And they weren't that hard to put together. "Are they predicting more blizzards?"
Dana looked over her shoulder, exchanging looks with John and Mulder. John shrugged and came to sit back down beside me. "Kim and Skinner caught another weather report. Search is still on hold, and they're predicting blizzards on and off for the next three days."
That explained why everyone was looking so grim. We were stuck here for another few days. But it wasn't that in itself that was worrying them, it was the consequences.
I took a deep breath, trying to temporarily block Brad from my mind. "Another three days. That'll mean at least seven days up here." I looked to Dana, who still had her hand on my shoulder. "We have water, but... can we survive that long?"
She was the doctor. She was the only one who would know. She didn't meet my eyes, but bit her bottom lip and looked down. That was answer enough.
John sat down on my other side, his hair ruffled and still looking tired. "We don't have much of a choice. Blizzards. We won't be able to hike out of here, and they won't be able to get up here. All we can do is wait."
Mulder was leaning against the wall next to Kim. "Even if we do survive another three days with no food, there's no guarantee that rescue will come after that, and we'd probably be too weak to attempt a hike out."
"So what are you suggesting?" Skinner asked. "Just give up? After all we've survived so far?"
Mulder's voice was monotone and he looked down at his knees. "I'm not suggesting anything."
Dana let her hand fall from my shoulder, and she took a deep breath, first looking at me, then at John, and then around to Mulder, Skinner and Kim. When she started talking, she refused to meet anyone's eyes, and she spoke in barely more than a whisper. "There is a way we can make it." She paused. "But you're not going to like it."
Kim rolled her eyes. "Well that would be a change. Personally, Dana, I don't think things can get any worse. If you know a way of getting out of here, just spit it out. I'm in a mood for bad news."
Mulder was sitting next to Kim, and he reached down and gave Kim's knee a quick squeeze. It was that movement alone that confirmed my suspicions.
"Oh, God." Dana's eyes snapped up at me, but all I could do was stare. I started to feel sick. "Tell me that's not what you're thinking."
"If you've got a better idea, I'd love to hear it," she said.
"Are you going to let us in on the secret, here?" Skinner asked, looking at me, Dana and Mulder and wondering what the hell was going on.
I couldn't stop myself. "Don't ask. You're better off not knowing."
John was looking at me questioningly, but I ignored him. I wasn't going to be the one to break it to them.
"Dana?" John asked, giving her a look of impatience.
She kept her mouth shut, and Mulder sighed and took over. "You must have heard the stories, the similar situations in history. No one likes doing it. But when it's life or death..."
That was all it took for Skinner, Kim and John to catch on.
"You're talking cannibalism," said John. He looked back to Dana. "Is that what you're thinking?"
Dana nodded. She glanced in to his eyes and then looked back to Mulder. "As a suggestion."
"Do you really think it's necessary?" Kim asked, throwing a panicked look at Scully. "Do you really think it's come to that?"
"You heard the radio," said Mulder. "They've called off the search, and we have every reason to believe that that weather report is true. Three more days of blizzards. We can't hike out in to that now. Even if the weather was clear, we can't hike out on no food. Not after four days. And from now on, we'll only get weaker. We haven't seen a single plane since our crash. I don't think they know where we are. Even if the weather clears after another three days, we're going to be too weak to walk out, and I don't believe the chances of them finding us right then are high enough for us to risk death, because honestly, I don't have that much faith in them."
"But so what?" yelled Kim. "Those aren't just random people out there. We know them! You've worked with them! And now you're just going to cut them up and make a feast out of it?"
"It wouldn't be like that," said Dana firmly. "I'm just talking bare minimum. As much as we need to survive, and no more than that."
"But they're your friends!" she yelled. "How would you explain it to their families? 'Sorry, but I needed a snack?' Think about it! It's ridiculous! And who are you going to start with? Holly? Follmer?"
My stomach lurched.
Before I could respond, Dana took my hand and John sat up to glare at Kim.
"What are you trying to do?" John shouted. "This is a game of life of death, Kim. Yes it's horrifying, but unless you want to join them out there then you have no choice. I don't like the thought of it, and neither do Scully and Mulder, but between that and starving to death..."
"No one said anything about Holly or Follmer," Scully said gently. "And people will understand. It's been done before."
"And does that mean it's right?" said Kim, glaring back at her.
"If I died," said Mulder slowly, "I'd have nothing against anyone here using me to stay alive. If it was the difference between keeping any of you alive, or having you starve to death, then I'd want you to do it."
"I agree," said Dana.
Kim shook her head, still stunned. "But we have a break in the weather. What if you started, and the rescue showed up? What if you're wrong?"
"You saw yourself how remote it is out here. You saw how far these mountains stretch," said Mulder. "And you were the one who found that weather report. We all heard it. Blizzards for days with the search called off."
Kim spent a minute in silence, thinking it over. Then she looked fiercely back at Mulder and Scully. "I can't stop you doing it, but I'm not having any part in it, and I'm not going to support you if something goes wrong."
There was another short silence and then John turned to me. "Monica? What do you think?"
My mind was still back on Kim asking if we were going to eat Follmer first. The thought of cutting up someone I knew, and eating them, was horrifying. Every part of my civilised mind was telling me that it was wrong, yet my stomach hurt from lack of food, and I knew that we were all weak since the plane crash. I hated it, but I had to agree with Mulder. I couldn't see that rescue was likely. Even if they were searching in the right spot, they wouldn't resume until after the blizzards stopped, and I didn't even know if we could survive that long.
"I don't want to die," I said. "And I don't want to lose anyone else."
John nodded and then looked across at Skinner. "What about you?"
"I... I don't know. If I had to, maybe. But I don't know."
There was a familiar whistle of the wind picking up. The next blizzards would be soon approaching.
"If we're going to do this, we'd better do it fast. We can't do it while it's snowing," said Mulder. He looked to Scully and John for support.
"Who'll do it?" asked John. He'd looked back down at the floor with a frown.
Scully sighed. "I will. It makes sense if I do it."
Mulder reached for his bag and dug out a knife. He unfolded it and handed it to her. She hesitated for a moment before putting her hand around it and getting to her feet.
"Stay here," she said. "No point in seeing it if you don't have to."
I appreciated the fact that she was trying to protect us against having to see the horror of cutting up an agent, but she was also our friend, and I did not want her to have to do it alone. Even if she was a doctor and had cut up hundreds of bodies before. This was different. Kim was still refusing to look at us, and Dana was going to need all of our support. Even with all the logical arguments in the world that stated why we were doing the right thing, it did not make it an easy thing to do.
"No," I said, pushing myself to my feet. "You can't go by yourself."
I went to follow her, but Mulder held out a hand and took my elbow, stopping me. "Let me go. You already have enough to deal with."
I was going to object, but then I considered that he was probably right. Brad would be lying out there in the snow, and I wasn't sure I was ready to see that. I had cried on John's shoulder last night, but I was still a long way from accepting what had happened. Mulder was very close to Scully. They would be able to handle it together.
Mulder was still looking at me, worried that I was going to object his hint that I was emotionally weak. But I didn't. Faking strength would only lead to more trouble later on, and if I had been in the place of Mulder, I would have done the same thing. Accepting their friendship was the best thing to do. They knew Brad was my friend. I'd told them all about it the night before. And to be honest, watching Scully cutting up a body wasn't on my dream list of things to see, anyway. If Mulder wanted to go, he could go.
"Sure," I said, and went to resume my place beside John.
Kim had crossed her arms across her chest, and wouldn't meet my eyes. Skinner was looking from her to me, and then he shook his head and distracted himself by digging through his bag for a new pair of socks.
John took my hand, but this time it was more for his own comfort. I could feel him shaking slightly. "Tell me we're doing the right thing."
Again, I went through all the facts. Logically, we were doing the right thing. Emotionally, we couldn't have done anything more destructive. But this was our lives we were talking about. I didn't want to die. I didn't want anyone else to die. Rescue wasn't going to come any time soon.
"I believe we don't have a choice."
Ninety-six hours ago, we had been on the plane, heading back to Vancouver in the storm. Everyone had been tired, but they were alive. Just under twenty-four hours ago, we had hit a death toll of sixteen. And now, in the beginnings of our fifth day trapped on the mountain, we were about to resort to cannibalism to survive.
My head was still spinning. This couldn't be happening. I was so glad that I was not Mulder or Scully. They were the ones who were actually going to have to make the cut. They were the ones who would have to peel back the clothing and put the knife in. I didn't envy them.
Things just kept getting worse. First to crash at all, then to lose Holly, then Brad, and now so soon after Brad's death I was going to have to eat one of the other agents to survive. I felt sick already.
We sat fidgeting. John and I kept exchanging looks, knowing each other's pain. Kim had stopped refusing to look at me, but now she wouldn't look away, so it wasn't much of an improvement. She made me feel like a criminal, and I had to look to John again for silent confirmation that we were doing the right thing.
John had turned an interesting shade of grey, and he didn't seem sure any more. I chose a spare cushion on the floor to look at. I didn't want to stare at the entrance, waiting. I would be able to hear them.
I thought they were going to bring it inside, but after ten minutes Mulder leaned in and looked at me. "Scully says you can come out now."
I didn't want to. All my enthusiasm for going outside had disappeared. I had a choice. I could go outside, and try to bring myself to do it out there in front of the bodies, or I could stay inside and attempt it with Kim's eyes boring in to me.
I quietly got to my feet and walked over to Mulder. He met at the entrance and nodded at me. He looked ill. I reached down and gave his hand a brief squeeze on the way past.
I heard a shuffle of feet behind me. John was following.
The wind had picked up, but it was not yet snowing. I held John's coat tight around me, but it was like it wasn't even there. My hair was whipping my face, and it stung my eyes. I tried to blink through it all to see Scully standing over beside the wall of the plane, her head lowered.
I was so relieved to see the bodies were covered in snow that I almost smiled. Of course, the blizzard had buried them. There was only one that wasn't, in the middle... a male lying on his stomach. I saw a tear in the clothing, and I looked away. I hadn't eaten in four days yet I still felt like I was going to vomit.
I chanced looking at Scully again. She had raised her head, taken a deep breath and was now holding out something in her head. It was only a small lump, but I knew that it was human flesh.
My feet wouldn't move. Suddenly I agreed with Kim. To say it was right was one thing, but to bring myself to do it was entirely different.
Mulder walked around me, up to Scully, and took the piece. He then walked a little away across the snow, and with his back to us, raised it to his mouth.
My gaze fell to the body in the snow. I knew that if I died, I would want them to do it. But that agent hadn't had a choice. His family weren't getting a choice. Was it right for us to assume that solving our hunger was more important than returning the body intact? Maybe we could try surviving on water alone. The rescue would show up after the blizzards stopped.
John was next to take a piece. He'd come prepared. He had a bottle of water in his hand, and he quickly stuffed the piece in his mouth, and immediately washed it down with a few huge gulps of water.
John took a few deep breaths and leant back against the plane next to Scully. He held the bottle of water out for me.
"Stop thinking, Monica," said Scully. "Push it all out of your mind. Don't think about it. Just swallow."
She held a small piece for me. I reached forward and took it. It was like a rock. The body had frozen through. Even with the knife, it was still impressive that she had been able to cut it. It was a tiny piece, I could probably swallow it whole. But no matter how I looked at it, I couldn't blank out the fact that it was a part of a person. It had been part of an FBI agent...
"If you can't do it for yourself, then do it for us," said John. He pointed down to the line of the dead. "Sixteen dead already. We couldn't stand losing you as well."
Mulder had returned and he joined our little circle too. "Two seconds and it'll all be over."
Drawing on their strength, I threw the piece in to my mouth, pushed it to the back, and then raised the bottle of water and drank, washing it down my throat in one swallow.
Immediately I started coughing. It felt like there was a lump in my throat, even though I knew it was clear. My whole mouth was frozen, and the cold swept through my whole body.
Scully took the bottle of water from my hand and then started thumping me on the back.
I nodded and my coughing started to slow. Then I stood up again, recovering from the lack of oxygen.
It was strange. I had swallowed, but my stomach didn't feel full.
John had thought of another problem. "What about the others? What are we going to do?"
I thought of Kim and Skinner. Skinner we could probably persuade, but Kim could be a problem. Maybe after another day she would give in. She couldn't hold on much longer on an empty stomach. She had to give in.
"Kim's already shown us how stubborn she can be," said Mulder, obviously referring to her hike up the mountain. "Maybe if we give her a little more time, maybe until this next short blizzard passes, and then we'll try again to persuade her."
"What about Skinner?" I asked.
"Skinner would have come out if he was ready to do it now," said Scully. "I agree with Mulder. This blizzard is coming fast. Let's just wait until it passes, and then we'll talk to them again. They should be okay until then."
John nodded and gazed around at the sky and the building clouds. The wind still seemed to be getting stronger. I couldn't get my eyes off the bodies on the ground. They were covered with snow. Another blizzard and we would have trouble finding them. Scully and Mulder had already had to dig around for the first body. And Brad. My eyes went down the end of the line. Under the last mound of snow would be Brad. Kim had to be wrong. There was no way we would touch Brad. He would be going home intact. But that meant that I thought Brad was more important than the other agents. Just because I had known him better, it didn't mean that he was more worth saving.
I'd had enough of the talk about what we were doing, and I found myself fighting the wind to reach the end of the line. I knelt down in the snow, and I reached out with my bare hands and started to dig. I could still see Brad's face in my mind, covered with blood. It had all been so sudden, and I had never even said goodbye. He deserved more than that. Maybe it hadn't been my fault, but he at least deserved a goodbye.
My hands were so cold that they were past numb, but I still continued to scrape away the snow. Eventually I saw some hair, and then I was brushing away blood-stained snow from his face. Over his nose, across his eyes, and down past his neck and chin.
I put my hand on his shoulder, needing to touch him. I didn't need to look over my shoulder to know that Mulder, Scully and Doggett would be watching me. That was their problem. I didn't feel like crying over Brad. I had already done that. I just wanted to look at him. I wanted to think and remember. Eating another agent was a necessity, but I still felt like a monster or some kind. I felt different now. I had done something that most people never have to do. From now on, the world was divided in to two groups: those who had done it, and those who hadn't. Brad belonged to the other world, or the other group which would freak at what we had done. But I didn't want to lose touch with that world. I wanted to think, and remember everything that we had been, and every moment we had together. Especially the good ones.
My intention had been to say goodbye, but now that I had uncovered his face, I couldn't find any words. There was still so much blood. He was almost unrecognisable. And despite my new depth of friendship with the three people watching me, I couldn't bring myself to say anything when they were watching. So I squeezed Brad's shoulder, and then pulled back, scraping a bit of the snow back on top of him.
"Are you all right?" asked John. He'd appeared at my side and put a hand to my back.
"I'm fine," I said. It wasn't a lie. I was fine, I had just needed a few minutes with Brad. I was grateful that they had allowed it, and that they had not interfered, and now that I had said my mental goodbye, I let him lead me back to the plane. Halfway there, Dana and Mulder joined us, Dana also putting an arm around me. God help us if I we lost anyone else. I was only beginning to get to know Skinner and Kim, but if something happened to John, Scully or Mulder, I wasn't sure I would be able to pull myself back up again. But as long as we were together, I could relax. And, hopefully, we would not have to part until the rescue came.
THE FIFTH NIGHT
"It's getting dark."
John. With an understatement worthy of the record books. It already was dark. I knew he was next to me, but only because I was partially leaning against him. It was for warmth. The air had gone beyond cold. Freezing didn't seem to describe it, either. It was closer to a word like deadly. We'd sat separately for several hours, shivering, before John had suggested I move closer.
I tried to make out the others. I remembered Dana and Mulder were sitting opposite us, also huddling together. I hadn't heard any noise, so I assumed they hadn't moved. Kim was half buried under a huge pile of blankets and clothing. We all were, but the difference with her was that she actually looked warm and comfortable. I hadn't heard her speak for quite a while, and I had a feeling she had fallen asleep. Skinner was also under a lot of coats and clothing, and although he was still awake, he had been very quiet since our decisive actions of that morning. Neither Kim or Skinner had said much to us. We'd made an effort to get them talking, but they were far away in thought and weren't too keen on participating.
"Doesn't anyone have a light?" I asked. I leant out of John's arms and started to feel around the floor. We'd had them the other nights, but where they were now was a mystery.
Or so I thought. A light snapped on, blasting away in to my eyes. I blinked several times. "Cut it out, Mulder, you're going to blind me."
He pointed it away at the wall beside me and I waited a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the brightness of the room.
"We should be quiet," said Dana, lowering her voice to a near whisper. "Kim's asleep."
I looked across to Kim, who had her eyes closed and mouth open slightly.
"How does she manage to look so warm?" asked John, glaring across at her with envy.
"That's what I'd like to know," said Mulder. "Must be all that anger radiating around her. A pocket of heat."
Scully smiled and gently swatted his arm. "It's all the blankets, actually."
I felt John slide his arms around my waist and pull me up against him, until I was almost in his lap. "What about body heat? Shouldn't that keep us warm?"
"It would work better if you were lying down." Then she suddenly detached herself from Mulder and crawled over to us. She pulled the coats off that we had been using as blankets and then took a step back. "Come on, lie down. You'll be much warmer that way."
I went to move forward and get up, but John still had his arms firmly around me and wouldn't let me move.
"My butt's gone to sleep. I ain't going anywhere."
I was surprised when Dana smiled, and then gave him a lethal look which I think must be restricted to doctors dealing with uncooperative patients. "Then you'd better move now before I un-
numb it for you."
John stared at her, obviously trying to figure out what she had in mind and debating whether he wanted to risk it.
"You'd better listen to her, Doggett. I don't like the sound of that," said Mulder, who threw Scully a smirk anyway.
John loosened his grip on me with a sigh and I crawled out of his arms, twisting myself around until I was lying down in front of Scully, but parallel to the wall of the plane. John moved and stretched out next to me, not wasting any time in putting an arm around my waist and pulling me back in to his arms. I rolled over so I was facing him and then put my arms around him.
Dana was still smiling, but for a very different reason, which I had no trouble figuring, but for which John was still looking puzzled. She quickly cleared her throat and then started putting the coats over us. She did a thorough job. She tucked one around our legs and feet, one around our waists and gently put another one up to our necks, until just our faces were exposed. Then she started randomly piling other clothing on top, until I suddenly understood exactly how Kim looked so comfortable, and why she was asleep.
Mulder was looking at us with the same envious look he'd used for Kim seconds before. "Scully, maybe we should do that, too. It's only going to get colder in here and I don't want to take any chances."
Dana shrugged and picked up the coats, then she came and situated herself behind me. Mulder was close on her other side, and together they started putting the jackets and clothing over themselves.
Dana was close enough to me that there would be an advantage of heat, but there was also another problem. "Dana, maybe you should move over a bit. I don't want to roll over in the middle of the night and squash you."
She actually laughed. "I doubt you will. And if you do, I'm not worried. As long as I can breathe, I'm happy. Don't take this the wrong way, but at the moment, the closer together we all are, the better off we'll be."
John pulled me closer and I wriggled in, accepting his warmth. I'd shut my eyes and my mind was beginning to blur when Mulder brought me back to full consciousness with a whispered 'goodnight' and turned off the flashlight, setting it down on the floor next to him.
"Goodnight," said John.
"Sweet dreams," I said, and then realised that in our current situation there wasn't much chance of it.
I was regretting saying it when Dana said something even better.
"I have to say, with all the sleepovers I went to as a child, this one beats them all, hands down."
I didn't have the energy to ask. But when I'd shut my eyes, and was listening to the silence, I was beginning to see what she meant. And when I'd thought about it a little more, I even began to find myself agreeing with her.