Old Growth Forest ch1

"God, my head hurts," I groaned as I began to surface from a strange, dark place where there were no dreams. It wasn't just my head that hurt. My whole body hurt and something sharp was pushing into my back. The first thing I saw when I dragged my eyes open was trees; lots and lots of trees.

"What the...?" I muttered as I tried to sit up. The effort doubled the pain in my head, however, so I stayed put. But I needed to find Mulder-he might be hurt. I took several deep cleansing breaths trying to ease the pain in my head.

"Scully?" I was very relieved to hear Mulder's voice calling me.

"Over here," I answered him. Some crunching of leaves and snapping of twigs began and then got louder as he approached me.

"You look as bad as I feel," he observed; his voice much closer now.

Opening one eye, I squinted at him. "Thanks, Mulder."

"Are you okay?" he asked, squatting down beside me.

"My head is pounding and my whole body aches. I feel like I was on the losing side of an argument with a bottle," I winced.

"I know what you mean." Mulder rubbed his temple.

"Where the hell are we?" I asked, still looking over at him with one eye open.

"In the forest," Mulder deduced with his usual brilliance.

"Thanks," I sighed.

"Best I can do," he shrugged. "What's the last thing you remember?"

"Being at the professor's house *and* having a cup of coffee. We should have known better." I shook my head slightly. The motion made me feel queasy.

"He looked so harmless," Mulder grimaced. "But it looks like we were on the right track."

"Yeah, he must have been responsible for those disappearances, but why?" My head hurt too much to think about it.

"I dunno, but at least we know the how." He reached out and brushed a strand of hair off of my face.

"What? Drugging them and depositing them in woods? That doesn't make any sense. If that's all that Dr. Mettler did with them, someone would have turned up by now," I argued.

"Maybe they died of exposure," Mulder countered.

"In the summer?"

"If they were out here for too long," he suggested.

"Exactly how far do you think we are from Madison?" I asked.

"No idea," he shook his head.

"Well, what time is it?"

"My watch is gone and so is my wallet and all of my I.D. I have my Swiss Army knife. At least he left me that."

I felt for my watch and I.D.-nothing. "Great," I sighed.

"I'm starting to feel a bit better now, Scully. How about you?" he asked softly.

"Not yet," I groaned.

"Why do I feel better and not you?" he sounded concerned.

"Your size-your body processed the drug faster," I explained.

"Right," he nodded. "Do you mind if I look around? Maybe I can figure out where we are."

"Go ahead. Talking is making my head hurt, anyway." I closed my eye again. "See if you can find some water too." My mouth was incredibly dry.

"Good idea," he agreed. "I won't be long."

The sound of leaves and twigs signaled his leaving. Soon I couldn't hear him any more. Keeping very still to keep the pain at a minimum, I tried to focus on my breathing. Anything would be better than this throbbing in my head.

I must have fallen asleep or lost consciousness because the next thing I knew, cold water was being splashed on my face. Opening my eyes revealed a very relieved-looking Mulder.

"I couldn't wake you," his voice seemed a bit shaky.

"Just the effects of whatever he gave us, Mulder, don't worry. It'll wear off soon," I tried to reassure him.

"Can you sit up so that you can have a drink?"

Glancing around, I was surprised to find myself lying next to a stream.

"I found some water," he grinned at me.

"How far did you carry me?" I asked in surprise.

"Not far, a few hundred yards, maybe," he shrugged.

"Thank you, Mulder," I smiled up at him.

"It was easier than bringing the mountain to Muhammad," he pointed out with a smile.

Mulder helped me to sit up and then, using his hands, brought me some water. It was cool and refreshing; I felt better almost immediately. Most of my symptoms could have simply been dehydration. When I'd had enough to drink Mulder took off his jacket and balled it up so that I could use it for a pillow.

"Did you find anything?" I asked after he'd eased me onto my back again.


"Nothing?" I asked in surprise.

He shook his head. "I even climbed the biggest tree I could find. I still couldn't see anything but trees."

"I didn't know that Wisconsin was this heavily forested." I was puzzled.

"There is something else bothering me too, Scully," Mulder said, his voice low and even.

"What?" I didn't like the sound of his voice-it scared me.

"There were no tire tracks anywhere near where we woke up and no marks indicating that we were dragged there," he informed me quietly.

"You must have missed them," I said, my tone hopeful. I knew that Mulder never missed things like that.

He shook his head and began to chew on his lip.

"Then how did we get here?" I was beginning to get scared. We had come to Wisconsin to investigate the disappearance of some homeless people and now we were lost.

"I don't have a clue," he admitted. "When I climbed that tree, I couldn't see anything that resembled a road or a telephone pole. All I saw was a wisp of smoke, maybe five miles from here."

"So he dropped us in some remote part of Wisconsin, but there are no roads..." I let my voice trail off.

"I dunno, Scully, but I think we should set up camp here for the night. In the morning, if you're up to it, we should walk towards that smoke I saw," he suggested.

Since I didn't have a better plan, or any plan for that matter, I nodded in agreement.

After Mulder brought me some more water, I felt well enough to stand up. I was a bit shaky at first, but after I walked around for a few minutes, I began to feel more like myself.

"It's going to take forever for you to get anywhere with those on," Mulder nodded towards my shoes.

"I wasn't planning on hiking when I put these on," I informed him haughtily. They were one of my favorite pairs-so what if the heels were four inches high?

"You want to have a go at starting a fire while I get some branches for a lean-to?" he asked, ignoring my comment.

"Can I borrow your knife for a minute before you go?"

Taking it out of his pocket, he tossed it at me. As groggy as I was, I still managed to catch it one-handed. Then I found some dry twigs and branches and Mulder watched intently as I carved a notch into one of them. When I was done I clicked the knife shut and tossed it back to him. He made a point of catching it with one hand. I ignored him and began to work on my fire.

"I'll be looking forward to a nice fire when I get back," he smirked.

"Okay," I answered brightly. I'd show him.

When he disappeared into the trees I gathered some dead grass and leaves. I put some of the grass into the notch that I'd made. Since the wood was so dry, it didn't take long to create enough heat to ignite the grass-maybe ten minutes. Once it was going, I slowly fed bigger and bigger fuel into it. By the time Mulder appeared, dragging several tree branches behind him, I had a nice little fire going.

"Easy when the wood's dry, huh?" he nodded towards my fire.

"Why is it that when I manage to do something, it must be easy ?" I snapped at him.

"I meant compared to that time in Florida, when everything was so wet," he explained, looking hurt by my attack.

"I'm sorry, Mulder. I don't know why I got so defensive." Tears began to well up in my eyes.

Dropping his branches, Mulder knelt down beside me. "We've been through quite a lot, Scully. You're a bit tense, no big deal."

His gentleness made me feel even worse. I felt a tear spill onto my cheek. "We'll get through this, Scully. We always do," he misinterpreted my tears.

I nodded. "I know and I'll try to help instead of bitching."

"Help? You've helped. It would've taken me a lot longer to start a fire and I was an Indian Guide," he grinned.

I knew he was trying to appease me, but it still made me feel better. "Well, let's get that lean-to built before it gets dark," I changed the subject.

"Do you think this might be some elaborate scheme set up by the Bureau to get us some team building skills?" Mulder grinned as he helped me up.

"Yeah, that must be it," I laughed.

Working together, it took no time to construct our crude shelter. As we stood back and took in our work, Mulder took a deep breath.

"Well, Scully, I'm starving. Why don't you build up the fire some more and I'll see if I can catch some fish."

"With what?" I looked at him in surprise.

"I'll carve myself a spear," he informed me.

"A spear?" I laughed, deciding not to make the obvious "Survivor" joke.

"Do you doubt me?" he feigned shock.

"Not at all," I tried to suppress a smile.

After the great white hunter left camp, I tended the fire and then made a bed of sorts in the lean-to. I was just beginning to think that Mulder might have gotten lost when I heard him approaching through the woods. While I'd been waiting for him, I'd built a spit of sorts over the fire in the hope that he would actually catch some fish. I was starving, so when he strode into view carrying three fish, I was overjoyed.

He'd already cleaned them and was pleased with my spit set-up. While he went down to the stream to wash up, I skewered one of the fish and began to rotate it slowly over the fire. When he returned, Mulder said nothing; he just watched intently as I cooked the fish. It took no time at all and when I was done, I gave the fish to him. Judging by the way he'd watched so raptly, I figured he must have been ravenous too.

"I'll wait until the next one is done, Mulder. They cook so fast," I waved him off when he offered me some of his trout.

Then, while I ate mine, he cooked the third. Again, when it was done, he offered some to me. I lied and told him that I'd had enough. I decided that he needed it more than I did, even if I was still a bit hungry.

By the time we were finished, the light was beginning to fade. At the creek we drank our fill and then washed our hands and faces. The cool water on my skin was refreshing. I realized as we walked toward the lean-to that I was feeling much better. The effect of the drug that we'd been given had dissipated.

Before we retired to the lean-to, I carefully banked the fire. I didn't want to start a forest fire, but I didn't want to start a new fire in the morning, either.

As soon as the sun went down, the temperature dropped significantly. Maybe Mulder was right; maybe the victims had died of exposure. But that still didn't explain Dr. Mettler's motives. Why would he deposit people in the wilderness alive, only to have them die later? It made no sense to me.

"Here we are, cold and lost in the forest again, Scully and still no sleeping bag," Mulder chuckled once we'd closed the make-shift door on our shelter.

"I'm thankful that neither one of us is injured, Mulder," I pointed out.

"I am too, Scully. I was really worried about you earlier," he confessed.

"I'm fine now, Mulder. Completely over it, I think. Just-" I put my hand to my mouth to stifle a yawn. "Just bone tired."

"I'm wiped, too," he yawned as well.

In the growing darkness, I could barely make out his form, but I saw him sit down on our pine-bough bed.

"More comfortable than a futon," he laughed. "See for yourself."

"Let me get my shoes and nylons off first." After toeing off my shoes, I quickly shimmied out of my nylons. "What should I do with these?"

"Your shoes?" he asked.

"No, the nylons. I'm not planning to put them back on," I clarified.

"Keep them," he said quickly. "You never know what we might be able to use them for."

"Right," I agreed, joining him on the boughs. We had no idea how long it might be until we found civilization again.

"Just like my tie," he added as I slipped my jacket off. "I'm not planning on wearing it, but it might come in useful."

As I settled onto my side, I was surprised to feel Mulder cover me with his jacket.

"Mulder, I'll be okay. Won't you need your jacket?" I protested.

"I'm hot-blooded, I'll be fine," he assured me. "Besides, I was planning to cozy up to you."

"Let's spread my jacket out over the pine needles. It won't be as good as a pillow, but at least we won't lose an eye," I suggested.

Mulder chuckled as he helped me smooth out my jacket. Soon we were settled into the pine bed again.

"Smells like you," Mulder noted.


"Your jacket smells like you. It's nice," he explained.

"Oh-thanks." I had no idea that Mulder knew what I smelled like.

As we lay there, I realized that was he right. He was hot-blooded. Even though we weren't touching, I could feel the heat radiating off of his body.

"You *are* warm," I mumbled sleepily.

He stirred and moved closer to me; spooning up against me and draping his arm over my waist.

"Is that better?" he asked.

"Much," I sighed before I knew what I was saying.

"Mmm," was all he said, his breathing already beginning to slow.

He must have thought I was referring to his body heat and not the feeling of his well-muscled frame pressed against me. Any other time it would have kept me up all night, but I was so exhausted that I fell asleep almost instantly.

When I woke in the morning, Mulder was gone. I could hear the fire crackling outside. It reminded me of camping, which immediately made me think of what I disliked about it-peeing outside. But my bladder had no concern for my squeamishness. I could only hope that we wouldn't be camping for too long.

I was back tending the fire when Mulder reappeared-with fish; five fish.

"Five?" I chuckled.

"I was still hungry when all of the fish was gone last night and I think that you were too," he explained as he prepared one of the fish.

"I was fine," I brushed off his comment.

"Scully, I know that you let me have all of that fish even though you were still hungry. Don't deny it," he challenged me.

"I'm not denying it. I said I was fine. I didn't say I was full, but I knew that I wasn't going to starve, either. You need more calories than I do. That's all there is to it," I shrugged.

"Most people would only think of themselves, Scully," he pointed out.

"I was thinking about myself," I grinned. "If I didn't give you enough to eat, you wouldn't have had the strength to catch these fish."

This time when all of the fish was gone, I felt full and Mulder insisted that he was too. Although I'd been very hungry, I hoped that we would be able to expand our diet soon. Fish three times a day was not something that I looked forward to. I prayed that I would have a choice.

Before we began our journey, we made sure that the fire was out, dousing it with sand and what little water we could carry in our hands. It took a while, but we couldn't risk leaving live embers.

When we were finally satisfied that it was out, we started our hike towards the smoke that Mulder had seen. The ground was fairly even and firm, so it was easier going in my heels than I had anticipated. Mulder still got ahead of me, but he kept stopping and waiting for me.

Once when I'd lost him, I was surprised to hear his voice overhead.

"Hey, Scully!"

"See anything?" I asked when I spied him in a tree.

"Just that smoke-and we're getting closer. It looks like whoever it is might be camping next to this stream, too."

While I waited for him to climb down, I took the opportunity to get a drink of water.

"How close are we?" I asked when he'd reached the ground again.

"Halfway, maybe," he said apologetically.

"It's not your fault, Mulder. It's mine; damn shoes."

"Neither of us knew what we were getting into," he countered.

"I guess," I sighed. "I don't know why I wear these ridiculous shoes anyway." Well, I did know, but I wouldn't admit why to Mulder. I'm sure he would have found it quite amusing that I was trying to appear leggier.

"I like them," Mulder said, looking at my feet. "But I like those ones with the strap across the heel better."

"Yeah?" I chuckled.

He cleared his throat and fidgeted nervously.

"I think they would've been even less practical," I pointed out, grinning at him.

"Probably," he agreed, not meeting my eyes. "Ready to go?"

Not long after we were on our way again, Mulder disappeared ahead of me. I couldn't help wondering why Mulder noticed my shoes. I had no idea that he paid any attention to anything that I wore.

Soon the trees began to thin out somewhat and the stream widened into a pool. As I looked at the shimmering water, I didn't notice some bushes that were growing quite close to my chosen path until one of them scraped against my leg.

"Damn," I muttered as I bent to examine the scratches. It was then that I realized just what I'd brushed up against, and squealed with delight.

"Mulder!" I yelled as loud as I could, but he didn't respond. I ran as best I could on my heels and called him again. Then I heard him running back towards me.

"I'm okay," I called. "I found something."

He appeared from around a bend in the creek about 20 yards in front of me.

"What?" he panted. "What did you find?"

"Raspberries," I grinned and then took his hand to lead him back to the patch I'd found.

"I walked right by here and never noticed them," Mulder shook his head when I showed him the bushes.

"Scratched my leg." I pointed to my calf.

"Now aren't you glad that you're wearing a skirt," he grinned, his mouth already full of raspberries.

Although we had no idea what time it was, we decided to call our berry feast lunch and we took a breather. I made no mention of the fact that my feet were throbbing. Looking back, I realized that I should have put my nylons back on this morning because my shoes were rubbing my feet raw. I would've liked nothing better than to soak my aching feet in the cool water of the stream, but I knew I would never be able to get my shoes back on if I took them off now.

When we were under way again, I was waiting for Mulder to get ahead of me, because all of this water that I was drinking was going right through me. For some reason, though, he never got very far in front of me. If I slowed down, he would keep pace with me.

"What are you doing, Mulder?" I finally had to ask.

"What do you mean?" He was the picture of innocence.

"All morning you were way ahead of me and now, all of a sudden, you are stuck to me like glue."

"Are you trying to get rid of me?" He looked puzzled.

"As a matter of fact, I am," I told him honestly.

I had to chuckle at the look of hurt and confusion on his face, which only added to his dismay.

"I was hoping for a bit of privacy," I tried to explain delicately.

He looked confused for a minute, but then his eyes widened in realization. "Sorry," he mumbled and I noticed that his ears had turned a little pink before he strode off.

It took me no time to catch up to him. Apparently he'd only walked 100 yards ahead and then stopped to wait.

"Why did you wait for me?" I asked once we were walking again.

"I realized when you called me earlier that it was probably a bad idea to get separated," he explained.

"Did I scare you," I asked in surprise.

"A bit, but that's okay. We should stay together from now on," he suggested.

"Stupid shoes," I muttered, making Mulder chuckle.

It seemed like forever until Mulder said that we should be getting close. Right about that time, I began to hear an occasional noise in the woods, like someone was following me. When I stopped to listen, I heard nothing. Mulder shrugged it off as an echo, but that didn't satisfy me. If it was an echo, why hadn't I heard it all along?

Before long, we could actually smell the smoke and some meat cooking. We also heard muted voices, but we couldn't make out what they were saying. As we rounded another bend in the stream, the trees thinned out revealing the most incredible thing I'd ever seen. It was the most stunningly realistic recreation of a Native American village I thought possible. Mulder and I stood stock still and stared.

There were several large wigwams supported by sturdy poles and covered in birch bark. Several fires were actually burning; Mulder must have seen the large one that seemed to be the center of the encampment. There were several women tending the various fires, all dressed in deer-skins. Some older women were sitting on the ground occupied with needlework while simultaneously watching the children who were running about the camp. One of these women spotted us and spoke a few sharp words that I didn't understand. All of the activity stopped, save the children dashing towards their mothers.

I was about to suggest to Mulder that we introduce ourselves and tell them that we were lost when I felt something brushing against my hair. Gasping, I turned to see what it was. I was shocked to see a young Native American man pulling his hand away.

It was hard to judge his age, but I would have guessed that he was in his early twenties. He wore nothing but a breech-cloth, not even shoes. Nothing adorned his head and he wore no jewelry. His red-brown skin highlighted his lean, muscled body. His hair and eyes gleamed black.

"Fox Mulder." Mulder held out his hand.

The young man ignored him and reached towards my hair again. I let him touch it. At first he rubbed it between his fingers, but then he suddenly gave it a sharp tug.

"Ow," I complained.

He stepped back, looking shocked until Mulder began to laugh. The young man relaxed.

"I take it he's never seen red hair before, Scully," Mulder chuckled.

"Never?" I couldn't believe it.

"I don't think he speaks English," Mulder said in a low voice. "Fox Mulder," he repeated, tapping his chest. "Dana Scully," he said pointing to me.

"Day-na," the young man repeated.

"Fox," Mulder said, indicating himself again.

"Day-na," he repeated, ignoring Mulder. He took me by the hand and led me towards the center of the village. All I could do was shrug at Mulder over my shoulder.

End chapter 1