It was just beginning to get dark and they still had hours to drive to get back to DC. Scully was already dozing or maybe it was just his stimulating company. He should let her rest, they had been up late the night before but at least they'd been able to file a report that Skinner would accept.
She looked so peaceful, even comfortable over there. He wanted to take some credit for that but he knew better. He'd lived in fear for weeks after New Years, though he'd tried not to show it. She hadn't acted uncomfortable; in fact she had acted like nothing had happened at all. Well, that wasn't exactly great as far as he was concerned but it was better than the alternative. Maybe.
The flash of light caught his eye. He slowed, what had that been? There were no clouds, so it wasn't lightening. He pulled off to the side of the road. The change in tempo roused her and she sat up. "Mulder?"
"Oh, sorry. I saw something just over there in those trees." He pointed past her into the woods. "I thought I'd check it out. You can wait here."
"Wait a minute, what did you see?"
"Something fell out of the sky - looked like it was on fire."
"Mulder . . . "
He managed to hide the flinch at her tone. "I'll just be a second."
"Yeah." She was unbuckling her seat belt.
"You don't have to - "
"Maybe I can speed this along. Come on." He flashed a grin at her and she rolled her eyes. He could be such a . . . a man sometimes.
It was dark enough under the trees to use his flashlight. She followed him closely for a few minutes before speaking. "Mulder, how far away was this?"
"I'm not sure. I thought we'd be there by now." He stopped and turned 360 degrees shining the light in all directions.
"Are you sure you saw something? Maybe it was headlights from another car."
"There hasn't been another car for at least twenty minutes in either direction. And this came down out of the sky."
She looked up and quietly made the same observation that he had. No clouds, nothing in the sky. She sniffed the air.
"What are you doing?"
"Checking for fire. Mulder, whatever you saw is gone now. Come on." She turned and headed back the way they had come. He reluctantly followed her back to the road. She was using her own flashlight now and was slightly ahead of him as she moved out of the woods. She stopped suddenly and he had to dance around her to keep from bowling her over.
"What the . . .?"
"Mulder . . . where's the car?" His head whipped around and he scanned the road. "Tell me you didn't leave the keys in the car."
He immediately began patting his pockets while she watched him, her eyes narrowed. He pulled the keys from his pants pocket. "Here, not that it does us much good."
She shook her head and once again scanned the road. She sighed, "Okay, I was asleep, how far to the next town?"
He looked at her and away, "Seventeen miles."
"Seventeen?" She said something else too but too low for him to hear it. Just as well. She pulled her phone out - no service. He followed suit with the same results. She closed her eyes momentarily.
"Look. Why don't you wait here? I'll find the nearest working phone and get us some help." He needed to make amends, whatever he could do . . .
"You expect me to just stay here? Out here in the woods in the dark, and just wait for you?"
"Uh, well . . . Scully, I'm sorry. What do you want me to do?"
She looked around gauging their options. "It's dark, let's wait here and flag down the next car." She headed toward a large tree and settled in at the base. "You keep watch."
"Scully, I told you, I haven't seen a car in either direction for ages."
"Then you better stay awake so you don't miss the next one." She shifted around trying to get comfortable.
He walked over to her, "Scully, I'm sorry."
She took a deep breath, "You didn't steal the car Mulder. Okay, you stopped to see something I didn't see - you owe me."
He breathed a small sigh of relief and gave her a lopsided grin. "I'll pay."
"Damn straight you will." She leaned back against the tree. She was being more mellow than usual, but they had done a great job on the last case, working together without nearly the acrimony they had experienced on some cases. Yes, she was cutting him a hell of a lot of slack, but . . .
"A little." He sat beside her and drew her close to him.
At her glare he shrugged, "combat conditions, shared body heat, remember?"
"Tell me you didn't plan this."
"Why Scully - I'm shocked that you would - "
"Shut up Mulder." She relaxed against his chest as he grinned down at her. She'd forgive him, she always did whether he deserved it or not. What had he seen? He tried to get a clear picture in his mind; it couldn't have just vanished.
He woke and after a second remembered why he was asleep outside. But Scully wasn't there. That brought him fully awake and he looked around. It was beginning to be light enough to see. He hoped he hadn't slept through any cars driving past, especially now that she had to know he'd fallen asleep too.
"Mulder? Over here."
He relaxed slightly at the sound of her voice and rose. "Scully?"
"Maybe this is what you saw last night." He joined her as she pointed to an object on the ground. The metal casing was charred in a pattern that he immediately thought of as reentry burns from one of the Apollo missions. Something about the object looked alien in design, and immediately the thought became a certainty of danger. She squatted down to get a closer look at it.
"Scully, don't get too - " then the light blinded him and he had the sensation of flying until he was slammed into the ground and the sound caught up with him. Then it all winked out as he lost consciousness.
He opened his eyes to see the trees over him, what the . . . A groan escaped him as he tried to move. Scully had been showing him . . . Scully! At that he pushed himself to his feet. He was moving toward where he'd last seen . . . there, on the ground! He knelt beside her, his hand caressing her face. "Scully? Can you hear me?" No response. He didn't realize his hand had begun to shake as his fingers moved to her throat searching for a pulse. "Scully?" Then his hand was on her breast, his search for a heartbeat now overshadowing everything else on the planet.
"Scully!" He moved her slightly to begin CPR when he realized his hand was moist - blood? He rolled her carefully to one side - her back . . . her back was a bloody mess, where his hand always rested wasn't even there. "Scully!" His voice echoed back to him from the woods as he gathered her against him realization dawning that she was gone, really gone. She'd been between him and the explosion. Her body had saved him. Oh god no! No, her life shouldn't be in danger again. This was his fault, he'd stopped to look for something that he had no business investigating, he'd allowed the car to be taken. And she'd died for him? He couldn't live with that. He was supposed to protect her. Her tiny body wasn't meant to . . . His fault; her death was his fault. He crushed her against his chest and felt his mind break in two.