Highway 50

Somewhere east of Holcomb, Kansas
March 16 11:40pm

"I know you're thinking it, Scully. Just spit it out so we can move on."

Mulder had been prodding her for a comment ever since they left the Holcomb County sheriff's office nearly two hours ago, his eyes straying from the road for a bit longer with each attempt. This time he seemed intent on getting a response even if it took driving the rest of the way to Topeka with his eyes on his passenger.

"All right. I was trying to spare your fragile ego, but since you insist: I told you so. Happy?"

"Delirious." His gaze returned to the road and she could see him frown in the soft glow from the dash lights. "I couldn't wait any longer for the other shoe to drop."

Scully stretched as far as the seat belt would allow and yawned widely. "Mulder, I'm honestly sorry that this didn't turn out the way you hoped but you have to admit that it was quite a long shot." She turned sideways to study him in the darkness.

"What? You think the Northwest has a corner on Big Foot? The witnesses were all reliable and the physical evidence was compelling. I don't call that a long shot."

His voice didn't hold the conviction it had yesterday morning when he had pitched this case to her. In fact, he sounded more sheepish than angry. She really hadn't wanted to rub his nose in it.

"Mulder, we're a hundred miles from nowhere in the middle of Kansas corn country. Nothing but pancake-flat fields for 50 miles in every direction. Big Foot would have to be shorter than *I* am to hide for even a few hours, let alone the ten years claimed by your witnesses. It was inevitable that it would turn out to be exactly what it was: a bored local prankster with an incredibly long attention span."

"Perfect."

Mulder's frown had suddenly become a scowl which seemed to be directed at the road in front of them and Scully turned to see what had provoked his reaction. She spotted the large, wet snowflakes swirling in the headlights and sighed deeply. This had been the trip from hell and it was heading downhill fast.

"Maybe it's just a flurry, Mulder. We'll be in Topeka in a couple of hours and on a plane for home." Almost as soon as the words were out of her mouth, the flurry escalated to a driving sleet storm that hissed against the car windows like blown sand.

"You were saying?" Mulder lifted his foot from the accelerator and tapped the brake lightly to test the road surface. The rear of the car immediately slipped gently to the right and he steered quickly to correct it, reducing his speed to 45. "This should be a lovely drive."

They rode in silence for another twenty minutes while the storm intensified around them. There hadn't been so much as a yard light in the distance for forty miles, not that they could have seen one in this weather. Scully could barely see five feet beyond the headlights and what she saw was less than encouraging. The road was already coated with an icy snow glaze that had forced Mulder to slow even further to stay out of the deep ditches on either side of the two-lane blacktop. They were creeping along at 35 miles per hour. At this rate, they might make it to the airport by tomorrow afternoon.

"We should have stayed in Holcomb overnight." She hated the way that sounded. Like a nagging wife spouting another 'I told you so'.

"I hate to say this, Scully, but..."

A dark form appeared just outside the reach of the headlights and Mulder stomped the brake before his rational brain could warn him about the slick pavement. Whatever the object was, it collided solidly with the right front fender as the car began a series of violent rotations that rendered any attempt at steering totally futile.

Mulder threw his right arm in front of Scully in a protective gesture as the wheels left the pavement with a sickening lurch toward the left side of the road and the blackness beyond.

***

She woke to the relentless patter of ice against the glass. The right side of her head ached and she felt a warm stickiness when she reached up to feel the bump just above her right ear. She couldn't have been unconscious for more than a few seconds because she could still hear the rear wheels spinning. The front of the car was down in the ditch and the rear half of it was suspended in midair. Everything was leaning toward the left and she was hanging from her seatbelt and shoulder harness.

"Mulder, are you okay?" The fact that he hadn't already asked *her* that question told her he wasn't and she reached over to touch his face. He moaned and moved his head slightly.

"No, Mulder. Don't move yet. How do you feel?" The airbags had been activated and she had to push the plastic out of her way to reach the seat belt latch. When it let go, she braced herself against the center console to keep from falling into him.

He hadn't attempted to move again but she could see the confusion on his face as he realized something was very wrong.

"What hurts, Mulder?"

"Are you okay?" He turned his head just enough so that he could see her.

"I think so. I have a bump on my head but otherwise, I'm alright. What about you?"

He sat quietly for a moment and she recognized the look of concentration as he took stock of his condition. "I have a bump on my head, too, but other than that...OW, Shit!" He squeezed his eyes shut and bared his teeth in a tight grimace. She gripped his shoulder while he panted through the pain.

"Where are you hurt?"

"My left leg." He reached down trying to feel the damage but his fingers encountered metal and plastic jammed against his knee. The barrier obscured everything below. "I'm trapped."

"What?" She moved closer to him and ran her hand carefully along his body until she found the metal cocooning his left leg. "Can you feel anything?" She reached up to check the pulse point in his neck and found his heart racing.

"Yeah, my ankle feels like it's bent backward and ... FUCK!" His face twisted again and he pressed his head against the side window. "It hurts like a son of a bitch."

Swearing was so unlike him that this burst of colorful language kicked her alarm up several notches. He must be in some serious pain. And she couldn't reach the injury to assess its gravity which frightened her even more. "Can you feel any bleeding, Mulder?"

"I'm not sure. Feels kinda warm but it's hard to sort out." His voice was tight with pain and she could see his growing pallor even in the dim light.

"Can you lean back? Move very slowly, Mulder. If anything else starts to hurt, just stop."

He pushed back from the steering wheel, raising his head from the side window as he gradually relaxed back into the seat. Now she could see the blood on the side of his face coming from the cut over his left eye. He was beginning to perspire and it certainly wasn't from the temperature in the car which had begun to cool rapidly. As if to confirm her thoughts, he shivered and pulled his topcoat closer.

"So now what?" Mulder's question was a good one. They hadn't been able to get a signal on their cell phones since they left Holcomb and they hadn't seen another vehicle for a long time. In this storm, anyone with sense had abandoned the roads for the nearest warm shelter.

"I'm going to get my bag out of the trunk and make you as comfortable as I can, then I'm going for help." She pulled the keys from the ignition and pushed against her door. To her relief, it opened. The car was angled down and to the left which made keeping the door open a bit of an effort, and the ground was an unknown distance below her. She held the door and reached her foot into the darkness, relieved to find it only a foot further than it would normally have been. She eased out of the car and released the door slowly so that it wouldn't slam shut and potentially jam.

The ground was a crunchy layer of frozen slush over soft March mud. She picked her way to the back of the car and found the trunk lid almost at the level of her shoulders. The trunk light came on when she opened the lid and revealed that everything inside was now jammed against the far wall out of her reach. She would have to climb into the trunk to get at any of it. As she considered the logistics, Mulder's sudden cry of pain sent her scrambling back into the car.

"Mulder, what's wrong!" He was curled over the steering wheel again, panting rapidly.

Between the tightly gritted teeth and the gasps of pain, it was hard to understand what he was saying. "Car moved..." was all that she could hear clearly. Her movements must have shifted the car enough to worsen the position of his leg.

"God, Mulder, I'm sorry. Can I do anything?" She was stroking his arm and shoulder in helpless horror at the pain she had caused, however inadvertently. She needed to get a good look at him, but their flashlights were in the trunk. Suddenly she thought of the dome light and reached up to find the switch. It came on with a click, flooding the interior with soft light, making her squint for a moment.

"Mulder, can you sit back and let me look at you?" She pulled gently on his shoulder and he released his grip on the steering wheel. His face was bathed in perspiration and deathly pale. Shock. She gripped his wrist gently and was deeply frightened by the rapid, thready pulse she found. He had to be losing blood somewhere at an alarming rate. Pain alone wouldn't account for this.

"Mulder, listen to me. You're in shock and I'm afraid it's from blood loss. Do you feel any pain in your abdomen or chest?" She palpated his belly as gently as she could and watched his face for any sign of discomfort. There was no reaction.

"No, I don't hurt anywhere but my leg." He looked at her and tried for a smile. "That's quite enough, however."

She touched his face, brushing away tears she was sure he wasn't aware of. He must be in terrible pain and her throat ached with tears of her own. "I think your leg is bleeding, Mulder. I can't let that continue but the only alternative I have is a tourniquet."

They were both well aware of the danger a tourniquet could pose, but there seemed to be no choice. Mulder nodded and began to remove his tie but she stopped him. "Your tie won't be enough. I need your belt." She reached for the buckle and began to undo it.

"Agent Scully, your timing sucks."

He had actually managed a leer and it made her want to cry. She returned his smile instead and forced a lightness into her voice.

"In your dreams, Mulder." She pulled the belt free and reached between his thighs to get it around his left leg. It was such an intimate position that even the circumstances couldn't erase her embarrassment. Mulder seemed to forget his pain for a moment as he watched her with undisguised amusement.

"Dr. Scully, I believe you're blushing."

She looped the belt through the buckle and regarded him with mock irritation. "Mulder, I need your tie." And with that, she pulled the loosened knot and slipped it from his collar. As she rolled it into a tight ball, she explained what she had in mind.

"The belt alone won't be enough to stop the bleeding. I'm going to place the tie against the pressure point on your leg and tighten the belt against it. It's going to hurt, Mulder, but I don't see that we have any options." She felt along the inside of his thigh for the spot she was looking for and placed the wadded tie against it. "You'll have to hold the belt tight, Mulder. The holes aren't close enough to allow me to use the buckle. Are you ready?"

Their eyes met and he nodded. As she pulled the belt firmly against his leg, Mulder gasped in pain and pressed his head back against the seat, eyes closed tightly. Scully held the belt tight against his leg while he got himself under control. When he relaxed slightly and opened his eyes, she took his hand and placed in on the belt.

"Hold on to it, Mulder. Keep an eye on your watch and loosen the belt for one minute out of every fifteen. Be sure you pull it back tightly each time, no matter how much it hurts." She cupped his chin with her icy fingers and looked into his eyes. "This is very important, Mulder. If you don't tighten it enough, you could bleed to death before I get back. But if you don't loosen it, you could lose your leg."

He managed an honest grin. "C'mon Scully, don't sugarcoat it. Give it to me straight."

His attempt at levity put a lump in her throat that kept her silent for a long moment. Between the cold and the bleeding, he really *could* die before she got back with help and he knew it as well as she did. Suddenly their earlier mutual irritation made her heart ache with regret.

"Mulder, I'm sorry for what I said about the case. You were..."

He interrupted her with a smile, placing his fingers gently over her lips. "Scully, lighten up. I'm not gonna die. You need to be more concerned about yourself walking around out there in the dark with Big Foot."

His eyes were glassy with pain and shock but his grin was intact. It only tightened her throat further and she sniffled softly.

"I'll be back soon," she whispered, then got out of the car before she could change her mind. She closed the door softly to avoid jarring him again and turned to look down the road. Nothing but damp darkness in both directions. There was nothing the way they had come, so she headed to her left.

The sleet had stopped at some point, she realized, but the wind was still strong. She had chosen low-heeled shoes this morning, but they weren't meant for hiking and provided little traction in the slushy mess that marked her path. As she walked, she kept glancing over her shoulder toward the car receding in the distance. The headlights were buried in the ditch but she could see the soft glow from the dome light for quite some time before it all faded into the black night.

***

Mulder watched her until she disappeared into the darkness. When he could no longer make out her form, a feeling of loneliness washed over him with an intensity that surprised him and he felt his throat close.

*Big tough FBI agent. Sitting here in the dark sniffling over being alone.* He swiped angrily at his cheeks but the movement jarred his leg sending white hot flashes of pain from his ankle to his hip. *Nice move, Mulder. Now you have something to cry about.*

The pain was making him feel sick and he breathed deeply against the nausea. He couldn't remember anything hurting quite this badly before. It was fascinating, in a way. A new experience, he chuckled sadly to himself. Another wave of nausea washed over him and he reached for the button that controlled the window, wondering idly how long the battery would hold out with the lights burning. Maybe he should lower the window and leave it down. He certainly didn't want to puke in his lap, but the cold blasting in through the open window would worsen the shock.

The sickness suddenly became insistent and he pushed the button. The window hummed obediently down and he hung his head over the side of the car and tossed every cookie he'd ever eaten.

Each retching gasp jarred his leg, and the shooting agony made him retch again. Some part of his brain wondered if he still had the belt pulled tight enough, but his entire attention was devoted to keeping the contents of his stomach out of his lap and the leg would have to take care of itself for a few more minutes. When the spasms eased, he spit a few times and collapsed back against the seat, gasping in pain and exhaustion.

*Don't pass out, Mulder. Check the belt.* He raised the window against the cold and looked at his watch. Scully had left only fifteen minutes ago and he was already on the thin edge of consciousness. The belt was still as tight as he could pull it but it was time to ease it off for a minute, per Scully's instructions. He braced himself for the pain and loosened the tourniquet.

If he had thought it hurt before, these new sensations gave a whole new meaning to the word. As the blood rushed back into his lower leg, he couldn't hold back a full throated scream. He forced himself to breathe slowly, counting the seconds until he could tighten the belt again. When the minute was up, he pulled the belt tight, sending a fresh flare of pain all the way to his belly.

*And I get to do this every fifteen minutes.* He leaned back against the seat and closed his eyes.

***

The darkness was so complete that she kept losing her balance. It was like walking with her eyes closed and the knifing wind wasn't helping. The wind chill had to be subzero.

Scully checked her watch and wondered how Mulder was doing with the tourniquet. She knew what it was going to feel like when he loosened it and her stomach twisted at the thought. He could easily pass out and bleed to death. The panic began to gather again and she pushed it back. This was the only course of action that held any hope, but that didn't make leaving him alone any easier.

The two of them had been bristling at each other over everything for the past month and it had begun to wear on her nerves. This case had been the last straw, stretching her tolerance well past the point of no return. She was testing *his* patience as well, she knew. It had almost seemed to her that he had cooked up this preposterous investigation solely to aggravate her but she knew there had to have been enough evidence to gain Skinner's grudging approval or they wouldn't be here now.

God, what she wouldn't give to be safe at home knowing Mulder was tucked away in his apartment doing whatever it was he did to pass the hours when he wasn't at work. She loved the man with an intensity she had never known, despite the infuriating relationship they had subjected one another to lately. Maybe their mutual frustration was reaching critical mass. They had long ago acknowledged that there was more between them than friendship, but it was with the understanding that nothing would come of it. Not now. It was simply a fact of life that they would deal with sometime in the future. They rarely took into account the fact that the future might never come. Unfortunately, it took situations such as the one they were currently in to remind them that life can be very short. They would be very close for a few weeks after the current crisis was over, then the walls would return as they always did.

She was so immersed in her thoughts that she almost missed it. The air had cleared considerably when the sleet ended and she could see much farther into the darkness. Off to her left, she could make out a flickering light that looked like a candle flame being tossed gently by room air currents but it was much too far away to be a candle. She looked for a way to cross the ditch as she continued to walk along the road. Thirty feet ahead of her on the left she spotted a concrete culvert that supported a driveway and she moved toward it with as much speed as the slick pavement would allow.

***

"Dammit!" He dropped the teakettle back onto the burner, splashing hot water from the spout over the hot surface in a hissing puddle. The pot holder was the one with a hole in it and he thought he had shoved it far back in the drawer to avoid using it. He hadn't seen which one he'd picked up in the near darkness and burned the crap out of his hand as a result. He picked up the kerosene lamp from the kitchen table and held it in one hand while he rummaged through the drawer with the other. Just as his fingers closed over an intact pot holder, he heard it. An unearthly howl that sent a chill down his spine and stopped his heart.

He stood frozen for several seconds, then headed for the rifle rack. It wouldn't get away this time.

***

Mulder forced his eyes open and peered blearily at the face of his watch. He knew there was something he needed to do but his pain-fogged brain refused to supply the information. He knew he was in the car but he couldn't recall where the car was or why he was in it. There was a mass of pain where his left leg should be and his chest was burning. The rest of him was numb with a deep cold that had him trembling.

Where the hell was Scully? *She'll come. She always does.* Scully would fix whatever was wrong. He just had to wait here until she found him.

He never saw the dark form that staggered past the car along the route his partner had taken, its snout raised toward her trailing scent.

***

The light in the distance seemed no closer despite the fact that she had been heading steadily toward it for nearly thirty minutes. For a brief terrifying moment, she wondered if it might be a trick of her imagination but she pushed that thought away. If it wasn't what she thought, then she and Mulder would both die out here and that wasn't going to happen.

She had stopped shivering and that concerned her. The cold was dangerous, especially with the wind and dampness added into the mix. She had to keep moving but she was so sleepy that it was difficult to keep her eyes open. A bone-deep weariness was overtaking her limbs, making her want to simply sit down and give up. But Mulder needed her and that was enough to keep her going. She forced herself to step up the pace, ignoring the scream of exhausted muscles as she fixed her gaze on the glowing light ahead.

The silence was shattered by a sound that stopped her in her tracks. It was coming from somewhere behind her, a flesh- crawling wail that evoked every monster image from every B- movie she had ever seen. It was unlike anything she had ever heard and she thought immediately of Mulder's creature. How ironic it would be if he was right after all and the object of his search ended up being proven by virtue of her own death at its hands. Knowing the futility of trying to run in her current condition didn't halt the adrenaline rush that pushed her forward into the dark, away from the direction of the scream.

***

Shotgun in hand, Paul Hendrick ran to his pickup and started the engine. The sound had come from the highway a good mile and half away down his private road. He sped off to meet it with his headlights off to avoid giving away his position. Barely halfway to the main road, he discovered that the sleet storm had done a lot more than take out the power and the telephone. The surface was slick and dangerous in the dark and he flipped on the headlights just in time to see a woman ahead of him, less than 100 feet from his front bumper. She was shielding her face from the sudden glare, slightly off to the left of dead center. He applied the brakes in a pumping panic as the rear of the truck passed the front and he headed toward her in a skid.

***

Scully was shocked senseless by the sudden glare of light that assaulted her eyes. With no chance to adjust to the brightness, she was blinded and threw her arms over her face as she realized that the lights were speeding directly toward her. At the last possible second, she threw herself to her right and rolled into the darkness.

***

The pickup slid to a stop and stalled, sitting sideways in the road. "Jesus!" His adrenaline level had already been dizzying with the thought of the quarry he was after, but the sight of a human in his headlights had kicked it over into heart- hammering panic. He sat for a full minute, gasping and gripping the wheel with white-knuckled terror. When his legs stopped shaking, he got out of the truck, flashlight in hand.

He didn't think he had hit her but as he swept the roadway with the light and didn't find her standing there, his stomach did a slow roll. What the hell was she doing out here? He walked slowly back toward where she had been standing, shining his light alternately to the right and left of the road. He spotted a huddled form about twenty feet to his right and sprinted to her side.

She lay in a boneless heap but it didn't look as if he had actually hit her. Even if he had, moving her would pose much less risk than leaving her in the cold mud, exposed to the creature he had been after when she materialized out of the dark. He tucked the flashlight in his waistband and gathered her into his arms.

***

The first sensation she acknowledged was warmth, followed immediately by panic. The memory of headlights bearing down on her, blinding her, made her sit bolt upright with a muffled cry of alarm.

"Take it easy, Miss. You're okay, you're safe."

She turned in the direction of the voice and saw a tall, rugged-looking man in his late thirties. He wore a red plaid flannel shirt and a look of grave concern as he reached out to steady her. "What are you doing out here? You scared the shit out of me."

Her mind was fuzzy with cold and exhaustion and she couldn't pull her thoughts together for a moment. Then the image of Mulder trapped in the car blazed to life and her eyes went wide with panic.

"What time is it? How long have I been here? My partner is hurt. We've got to help him."

The words tumbled over one another in a rush and she could see the man's confusion. She forced herself to calm down.

"It's a little after 2 am. You've been here for about twenty minutes." He sat on the edge of the bed and handed her a glass of water. "Calm down and tell me where he is."

She gulped gratefully from the glass, coughing softly as she handed it back to him. "We slid into a ditch about two miles from here. He's trapped in the car. His leg is pinned. We need the paramedics and probably some heavy equipment to cut him out of the car. How long will it take them to get here?" She pushed him aside and got unsteadily to her feet. "Where's your phone?"

"The phone and the power both went out an hour ago. Storm took down the lines, I expect. I'm all the help you're likely to see until tomorrow morning."

Too much time had already passed and she pushed down her rising panic. "Do you have any tools to get him out of the car?"

"Yeah, I have something that might work."

***

"Mulder? Mulder, can you hear me?" Scully's fingers pressed against his wrist told her he was still alive but he was totally unresponsive and his skin was like ice. She pinched his earlobe hard, eliciting only a weak moan deep in his throat.

"Miss, I think I can pull it out of the ditch. Taking the weight off the front end might free his leg."

"You might also do him more harm."

"What else would you suggest we do?" He crossed his arms over his chest and regarded her calmly. There really wasn't any choice but he needed her to agree with his assessment.

He was right. Mulder was beyond any pain that might be caused by the car's movement and there was no question that he needed to get somewhere warm where she could treat his injuries. "All right. Just be careful."

He would rather she got out of the car but he didn't have the energy to argue with her. As she settled herself next to her friend, he hooked up the towing chain and got his truck lined up. When he was ready, he called to her. "Hang on. This might take a couple of tries." He put the truck in gear and began to pull.

When the chain drew taut and the pulling began in earnest, Scully held tight to Mulder's shoulders to keep him as still as possible. She held her breath as the car began to inch slowly backward. There was an awful moment when the motion stopped and the car seemed poised to plunge back into the ditch. The thought of what that would do to Mulder's already- damaged leg made her stomach turn over, but the moment passed quickly and the car was soon on level pavement.

The man (whose name she still didn't know) came around to the driver's side of the car and pulled on the door. It opened about halfway before coming up against the bent fender with a screech of bare metal. "How is he?"

Scully ignored him while she reached below to explore Mulder's leg. There was now room between his leg and the crushed metal, enough that she could slip her hand underneath. She had tightened the tourniquet before they moved the car, so the blood that now flowed over her fingers was a fraction of what it would have been but it was still much too heavy. She turned to address their rescuer.

"He's bleeding. I think the being pinned was actually holding back the worst of it but now we have to get him out of here fast."

Extracting Mulder from the car proved to be easier than either of them had expected. After a few minutes work with a vice- like tool the man said he had made to help string fence wire, the metal was bent back out of the way and Mulder was free. Getting him into the back of the pickup was another matter since he was still unconscious and unable to help, but fifteen minutes later he was stretched out on the same bed Scully had awakened in earlier.

Scully surveyed the damage by the light of four kerosene lamps the man had collected from different parts of the house. Mulder's leg had not been bent backward, but the break was a bad one from what she could see. The bleeding was coming from a deep gash rather than a protruding bone as she had feared. She was able to slow it to a trickle with a pressure bandage but he had already lost far too much. As she worked with clean towels and antiseptic which the man brought to her, Mulder began to come around.

"Scully?" He opened his eyes and found her face. The sight of her relaxed him for a second until the pain registered, then his eyes clamped shut and he stifled a scream as both hands grabbed the sheet on either side of his body and clenched into tight fists. She could see another scream building and reached for her medical bag. She had wanted to wait with the pain shot until his body temperature had returned to normal but there was no way she could allow him to suffer like this.

The man watched from a discreet distance while she injected the medicine into her partner's right hip. They had removed his clothes as soon as they got him in the bed and he was covered with every blanket in the house. When she had arranged the covers over him again, leaving only his injured leg exposed, the man approached her hesitantly.

"Can I do anything? I'm likely to pass out at the sight of blood but I'd be glad to try."

Scully glanced up at him and smiled faintly. "I don't even know your name. I'm Dana Scully and my partner's name is Mulder." She held out her hand. "You saved our lives."

He shook her hand briefly and blushed furiously at her gratitude. "I'm Paul Hendrick, the guy who almost ran you over. If I hadn't been barreling down the road after Big Foot..."

Her startled expression stopped him in mid sentence and he was fumbling for a way to backtrack when she interrupted him.

"Is that what I heard? That ungodly scream?"

Since it seemed she wasn't going to think him an idiot, he decided to press on. "Yeah, that's what I think. I've heard it only a few times in the ten years I've lived here but the locals seem to believe it's none other than the big guy himself. I've lost a dozen cows over the past few years, mutilated beyond belief, and I figured I owed him a load of buckshot at the very least. That's where I was heading when I nearly killed you." He looked miserably embarrassed.

Scully stroked her partner's forehead, responding to Paul without looking up. "You may find this hard to believe, but Mulder and I were in Holcomb searching for Big Foot ourselves, just before we came here." The Demerol had hit Mulder like a truck in his weakened state and he was out cold. For that, she was grateful. She would have had to sit on him otherwise.

"No SHIT!"

His startled exclamation made her look up quickly to assess his meaning but she relaxed when she saw the same boyish excitement Mulder would be displaying if he knew what was going on. He was going to be furious when he found out what he had missed.

"What do you two do for a living? National Geographic or something?"

"More like 'National Enquirer'. We're with the FBI. Mulder is my partner."

"NO SHIT!" This time his meaning was plain. "The FBI looks for Big Foot?"

"Not exactly. Mulder heads a special division at the Bureau that deals with paranormal phenomena."

Her tone must have revealed more of her opinion than she thought. "You sound as if you don't quite buy into his ideas."

"I'm a scientist, a medical doctor. We balance each other." Strangely enough, she hadn't thought of their partnership in that way for a long time and she suddenly realized how true a statement she had just made. Mulder balanced *her* as much as she did him.

Whatever comment Paul had been about to make was erased by a guttural howl that seemed to shake the windows. Whatever had made that sound was very nearby.

"Jesus Christ! I've never heard it this close before!" His eyes were wide with shock as he rushed to retrieve the shotgun he had left on the kitchen table.

Scully had instinctively bent to cover her partner's defenseless form with her own body. When she found her voice, she called out to their host. "Can it get in here?"

"Christ, I hope not." He came back to the bedroom and eyed the windows nervously. "It's never come near the house before. I don't know what to expect."

They waited in silence for long minutes. Scully had just begun to wonder if they had imagined the whole thing when something heavy hit the cabin on the other side of the wall, not five feet from where she sat. Scully nearly jumped out of her skin. The booming crash forced a yelp from Paul and he almost dropped his shotgun.

"What the hell *is* that?!" The racket outside hadn't roused Mulder but the alarm in Scully's voice was making him frown and move restlessly on the bed.

"Have you got another shotgun?" Both she and Mulder had left their weapons in the trunk of the car and she needed a gun in her hand at this moment.

"Sure, I'll get it." He disappeared into the hall and came back a few seconds later holding out a second shotgun.

"It's loaded," he supplied but she checked anyway. His eyes were darting nervously around the room as the silence began to grow once again.

Mulder had finally managed to surface and his eyes blearily searched for Scully. When he found her, he reached up to touch her arm and she jumped violently once again. "Scully, what's going on?" His voice was barely more than a husky whisper but the concern on his face was crystal clear and all for her.

Before she could answer, a series of huffing grunts penetrated the cabin walls and sent chills down her spine.

Mulder's eyes widened briefly then narrowed in concentration. He regarded her with something close to amusement as he raised his eyebrows. "Big Foot?" He was fully awake now, despite the heavy dose of Demerol which was keeping the pain down to a manageable level for the moment.

Scully shot him a glance before resuming her tense scan of the walls. "Maybe. Got any suggestions as to how we can send him on his way?"

He looked from Scully to the stranger standing at the foot of his bed and frowned. "What are the shotguns for? Big Foot is a vegetarian."

The stranger threw him a look and snorted. "Tell that to my cows."

Scully put her hand in Mulder's as much for her comfort as his. She squeezed his fingers gently. "I don't know about its eating habits, Mulder, but whatever it is that's out there seems to want something in here. I would prefer not to find out the hard way what that might be."

Several minutes passed without incident. Even the wind grew silent and they were beginning to relax when the lights suddenly came on and made them all jump. Mulder's jump was followed immediately by a soft groan and Scully turned her attention to him. Paul Hendrick moved quickly to the kitchen, calling over his shoulder as he went, "I'm going to turn on the outside lights. It might scare him away."

Mulder grabbed Scully's arm and squeezed. "Scully, you *have* to try to get a look at it. Please."

The look in his eyes was as close to pleading as she had ever seen. "All right, Mulder, if you promise to stay quiet." She patted his hand and followed Hendrick into the kitchen. She found him at the back door with his hand hovering over a bank of switches.

"Paul, wait. Let's see if we can get a look at this thing." He turned to gape at her.

"Are you crazy? All I want to do is get it the hell out of here."

"How much light will there be?"

"There's mercury vapor lights all around the perimeter. I put them in so I could work at night but it's so damn expensive I rarely use them. It's like daytime when they're all on."

Scully peered through the window into the darkness. "Give me a minute out there before you turn on the lights. I want to see what we've been hearing."

His expression spoke volumes. "What if it comes after you?"

She smiled reassuringly. "Then I use this." She held up the shotgun he had given her.

"You're sure?" When she nodded, he put the shotgun down on the countertop and moved back to the light switches. He placed his right hand on the switches and raised his left so he could see the second hand on his watch. "I'll give you sixty seconds from the time you walk out that door."

She checked her shotgun one more time to assure herself that it was fully loaded, then walked to the door. She paused for a moment with her hand on the knob. "Sixty seconds, Paul." She turned the knob and walked out into the darkness.

***

The air hadn't warmed a bit. As she stepped into the predawn darkness and moved out from under the porch roof, Scully felt the chill wrap around her like an icy blanket. Even without the wind, it felt frigid. Holding the shotgun pointed in front of her like a talisman, she headed to her right intending to circle the cabin.

She had taken fewer than a half dozen steps away from the porch when she heard soft grunts from somewhere off to her left. As she swung the shotgun toward the sound, something loomed out of the darkness, a huge shadowy figure rushing toward her at a dead run. It sounded heavy and fast. The grunting became loud and rough and she squeezed the trigger three times, blinding herself with the muzzle flash as the shape reached her and everything went black.

***

Through a Demerol haze, Mulder listened to the conversation in the kitchen. The words floated to him down the hall: Scully's soft voice followed by the stranger's increasingly alarmed one. He couldn't make out what Scully was telling the man but he assumed she was doing as Mulder had asked. He wanted her to make the guy wait until she could position herself at one of the windows. That way, she could get a glimpse of their visitor when it fled the lights. He grinned as he pictured his skeptical partner having to admit to him that there was in fact a Big Foot.

Three shotgun blasts from *outside* the cabin drove him bolt upright for a split second before the pain flattened him and took his breath away. He was still screaming her name when the darkness pulled him under.

***

Paul Hendrick had counted fourteen seconds on his watch when the blasts from the woman's shotgun sent a spasm of shock down his back. He threw the main, flooding the grounds with light as he sprinted for the door with the screams of her partner echoing around him.

***

St.John's Hospital
Topeka, Kansas
March 17 6:20 pm

An insistent beeping drew him up from soft darkness. He could see light though his closed lids and he lingered there for a moment to get his bearings. The familiar antiseptic scent told him he was in a hospital and he opened his eyes.

"Mulder? Welcome back, partner."

He turned toward her voice.

"You've been unconscious for close to fifteen hours, Mulder. How do you feel?"

He took stock before he answered: IV's in both hands, left leg in a cast suspended above the bed in a sling, monitor leads everywhere and the ever-popular Foley catheter. "Almost as good as I look. And you?"

"I have two bumps on the head now, one courtesy of our nocturnal visitor."

It came back to him in a flood of sensation and he gripped her hand tightly. "Scully, you went outside! What the hell were you thinking?" The adrenaline rush produced a marked increase in the pace of beeps coming from his heart monitor.

"I was doing what you asked me to, Mulder, getting a good look at your creature."

"Jesus, Scully! You *know* I didn't mean for you to go outside with it! Are you alright?"

"I'm fine, Mulder. Really. You, on the other hand, have multiple fractures of the tibia and fibula complicated by hypovolemic shock and hypothermia. Your blood volume is back to normal as is your body temperature, but it was touch and go there for a few hours." Her voice was light but the pain showed in her eyes.

"I'm sorry, Scully." He grasped her hand gently and squeezed her fingers. "What did you see?"

"Not much." He rolled his eyes at that and she bit her lip to hold in the smile. "Honestly, Mulder, I didn't see much of anything. It all happened so fast that I barely had time to focus before it smacked me in the head and knocked me out."

"You fired at it. Did you hit it?" The memory of those seconds after the shotgun blasts brought back the blind terror and he shuddered.

"I don't know, Mulder. I doubt it. When Hendrick came out to get me, it was gone. In those few seconds it had managed to move out of sight which would seem to preclude any serious injury."

Mulder locked his gaze with hers. "What do you think it was?"

"I know what you want to hear, Mulder. I wish I had an answer for you, but I didn't see enough to make an identification."

He fixed her with that intense hazel gaze. "I didn't ask you for a positive ID, Scully. What do you *think* it was?"

She considered her answer carefully. The past twenty-four hours could easily have ended very differently and the worst case potential sent another chill down her back. It was time for a little stroll into the realm of extreme possibilities.

"I saw a very large, very blurry biped with a hell of a reach. It knocked the shotgun out of my hands from a good six feet away. That's all I remember until I woke up in Hendrick's living room with paramedics looming over me." She smiled mysteriously. "But I did take the time to do a little evidence gathering before we were transported here."

His eyes widened. "Evidence?"

"I prevailed upon the professional courtesy of the local sheriff's department. There are three casts of footprints and a swatch of coarse brown hair on the way to the gunmen as we speak."

Mulder's smile was blinding. "You sent it to the *guys*? Scully, I don't know what to say." His eyes were shining with gratitude and affection that bathed her in a warmth she hadn't felt in a very long time.

"You owe me one, partner. Just remember that."

His smile slid into the familiar leer and he winked slyly. "I know that. I'm just waiting for you to let me pay off."

She blushed in spite of her best efforts. It took everything she had to suppress the grin that tickled the corners of her mouth. "I'll think of something appropriate when you get out of here. Now get some rest. You're going to need your strength." She leaned close to his face and brushed her lips against his before he could react. When she stood up, his shocked delight made her chuckle.

Utterly pleased with herself, Scully turned on her heel and strode out of the room leaving him to stare after her with his mouth hanging open.

***

The End

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