"Mulder? Mulder, you're hurting me. Mulder? Wake up!" His arms loosened slightly and she was able to draw a breath. "Mulder, it's a nightmare, please wake up. I've got you."
The last sentence penetrated wherever he was and he began to shudder. Her fear grew as she realized he was nearly seizing. "Mulder, can you hear me?" She turned his head up toward hers to see into his eyes. His eyes caught and held hers, then spilled over with tears.
She was frightened now. She'd seen his nightmares before, but never one like this. He was awake, but he was still in its grip. It had something to do with her; it was her name he'd been screaming when he grabbed her to him. "Mulder?" Her hand was against his cheek, to offer comfort but also to check for fever. This was not normal and she needed to get him some help. His hand came up and covered hers, his eyes closing.
The sound of a car pulling off the road interrupted her visual scan of him. Help? She started to rise and his grip of her tightened. "Mulder, there's a car. I'm going to get you some help. I'm not leaving, try to relax."
The act of releasing her was more than he could handle, so she slowly rose and kept one hand on him as she called to the driver. It was a sheriff's car and she had to lean against the tree in relief. "Help me! We need some help over here."
The deputy hurried toward them. "Ma'am, you okay?" He was watching her as though he'd asked a truly stupid question, though his eyes kept darting towards the woods.
"I'm fine. My partner - we need to get him some help."
"Partner?" He was on his knees beside the man.
She had pulled out her ID. "I'm special agent Dana Scully, FBI. This is my partner, Fox Mulder. We've got to get him some help. He's had a seizure or something."
"Were you out here all night?" She nodded, "Oh lord. We'll get you some help. Agent Mulder? Do you think you can stand?"
Mulder didn't answer. Scully's arm went under one of his and the deputy took the other side. They walked him to the car and placed him in the backseat. After a moment's hesitation she climbed into the back with him. He hadn't spoken and her fear for his mental state was growing. He had leaned back, his eyes closed, but she could see that he was anything but relaxed, and his grip on her had not loosened.
"Curtis, you out there?" Scully started at the sound of the radio, but Mulder didn't seem to hear.
"I'm on my way in, Patty. You better get the sheriff. I found two people who spend the night in the woods."
"The woods? I'll find Wally." She sounded shaken.
"Deputy - "
"Call me Curtis."
"What is it about these woods?" She looked away from Mulder and quickly back. She'd never seen him in this state. He needed . . . she didn't know what he needed but she'd find it.
"I better let Wally, uh the sheriff, try to explain. Say, were you guys driving a red Taurus?"
"Yes, did you find it?"
"Yeah, they ran it out of gas and left it near town."
She shook her head, kids had done this to them? "Mulder, you doing okay?" He still didn't speak but closed his eyes again when her hand came to his cheek as though to cherish the feel of her. What the hell was going on?"
The deputy pulled into a parking lot and came around to help Mulder out. He was slightly steadier on his feet. The sheriff met them at the door and led them to his office. "Wally Davis, ma'am. Have a seat here on the couch. Patty'll bring you some coffee." The sheriff eyed Mulder. "Curtis, why don't you get Doc Madison over here." Curtis nodded and left the room.
"Could someone please tell me what's going on?"
"Is it true you and your partner slept in the woods outside of town last night?" The sheriff seemed almost awed by this accomplishment.
She nodded, "Our car was stolen."
"No, Mulder thought he saw something in the woods, possibly a fire. We stopped to investigate. When we got back the car was gone. Curtis said you'd found it."
Wally nodded. "I'm awfully sorry. Listen, were you out there all night with him?"
"But you're . . . you feel okay?"
She tried to swallow her annoyance. "I'm fine. I need to know what's happened to Agent Mulder. I need to get him medical treatment."
They both turned at the tap on the door. "May I come in?" The man sounded a little breathless. He'd obviously hurried to get there.
"Doc, yes please." The sheriff stood. "This is Special Agent Scully and her partner Agent Mulder. They had their car stolen and spent the night in the woods."
The doctor was already in front of Mulder, checking the dilation of his eyes, taking his pulse. He looked over at Scully; "You were out there too?"
"Damn it! What's going on!" She would have risen if Mulder hadn't had such a tight hold on her.
The doctor rose and put his hands on her shoulders. "Sorry, I know you've been through a lot. It's just none of us have ever seen anyone not affected by the woods, and you look fine."
"You mean his reaction is the normal one?"
"As far as there is one. Look, this isn't scientific, but those woods are . . . " He looked over at the sheriff who shrugged, "cursed. No one goes there, day or night. Never have, not since before anyone we know was born.""Cursed?"
"Look, I know it doesn't - "
"For the sake of argument, let's go with it. What do we do for him?" He was still nearly comatose and didn't seem to be hearing this. If anyone would be paying attention it would be him at this point.
"We need to get him to talk. This is psychological. If he holds true to the rest of the people that have spent any time there, he's seen his worst fear come true. It's not a dream exactly, he experienced it. He had all of the smells, sounds, and feelings - whatever it would take to make the experience completely real. It affects the person strongly, and believe me, no one forgets it."
Wally placed his hand on Doc's shoulder as though for support. Scully watched them, then asked, "You've been through this?"
"Yeah. I survived, we all do - we've got the scars to prove it."
She closed her eyes; just what Mulder needed, another psychological scar. "Mulder? I need you to listen to me. This man has been through what happened to you. You need to talk to me, tell me what you saw."
He hadn't released her, but now drew her closer and touched his face to her shoulder. She looked over at the other men at a loss.
"Are you two . . . I mean . . . " The sheriff wasn't sure how to ask the next question.
"We're partners. We have been for years."
"Just partners." It wasn't really a question so she didn't bother to respond. Besides she was tired of explaining to the world that they weren't . . . It's not like there was anyone else for either one of them. She knew that now, after New Years. It had probably looked like a casual kiss to anyone observing, but it had taken seven years to get there. It had been sealing a bond; the fact that they hadn't discussed it was just them. She knew she'd do anything for him and he'd already done everything, given everything to her.
Now he was hurting again and she had to make it better, whatever it took.
"Agent Scully, it looks like whatever this fear is, it includes you. Do you know what his fear might be? Has something happened is the past that might still be on his mind?"
She wanted laugh and cry at the same time. Something in Mulder's past . . . oh yeah. She was rubbing his arms, trying to get him to feel her presence. "Mulder, these men say you experienced something like a dream last night. Something that didn't really happen. I need to know what it was so that I can help you. Was it . . . was it Samantha?"
After a moment he shook his head. "Not . . . not Samantha." Words! He'd finally spoken; the relief made her weak.
"What was it Mulder? I'm right here."
He shuddered again, but not so violently. "You."
"Me?" She glanced over at the other two men but they were looking at each other. They obviously had gotten something from what he'd said - something she wasn't getting yet.
"Agent Scully, maybe we should talk." The doctor rose from his chair.
"No!" He pulled her closer to him, away from the man.
"Mulder, it's okay. Maybe I should talk to the doctor for a minute. You're safe now."
"Not me, you."
"Mulder, tell me what you experienced. Talk to me." There were tears in her eyes now.
He brushed a tear from her cheek but shook his head. "Then I'll be right outside the door. I'm not leaving." He didn't release her hand until distance forced him. The sheriff moved closer in case he needed him, but the trembling remained small. Mulder didn't meet the man's eyes.
Once out in the hall, Scully turned to the doctor. "This is far enough. How do I help him?"
"I don't know your relationship to that man, and it doesn't matter. It's none of my business. But I'm certain what he saw was your death. That's his greatest fear, losing you."
"You can't - "
"I've experienced this. I've worked with others that have as well. After awhile you . . . you learn."
"I need to get him to DC. He needs treatment." She had to avoid what he was inferring. He didn't know them, he was only guessing. Mulder cared for her, maybe more than she realized, but she refused to get into it with this stranger.
"Obviously we're not going to hold you, but we do have the expertise in this area, if you'd like to stay. We have a new motel near here; we would be close if you need any help. I admit I'd like you to stay for a couple of days. You've been unaffected, that's unprecedented. On the other hand, he's as bad as I've ever seen. I'd hate for you to be alone in the car with him if he did start seizing."
"I'm a medical doctor - "
"Good. He may need you."
"I need to call our supervisor." He nodded and returned to the office. She pulled out her cell phone and dialed the familiar number.
"Sir, Agent Scully."
"I thought you'd be in the office this morning."
"Yes sir, we'd planned to be. Our car was stolen last night and Agent Mulder was injured in the process." Well, it wasn't exactly a lie.
"Was he badly hurt?"
"I, uh . . . I really don't think he should make the drive. A couple of days rest would - "
"You have to make that call Scully. Do you need anything?"
"No, no sir."
"Were you injured?"
"I'm fine, sir. I'll be in touch."
"Let me know if the situation changes."
She sighed after disconnecting the call and returned to the room. He drew his first full breath when he saw her return.
"Mulder, you need to eat something. We're going to stay here tonight. I want you to feel more yourself before you go back to work." She glanced over at the doctor who nodded at her. "Would you like a sedative Mulder? Maybe get some - "
"No! I don't want to sleep." She resumed her seat beside him.
"We still don't know about you, Miss Scully. If we could find out what kept you from experiencing the curse . . ."
She looked over at Mulder as his fingers explored her neck, coming to rest on the tiny scar covering her implant. His index finger caressed it lightly. Her eyes widened, the implant? Would that have blocked what they were calling the curse? And Mulder had made the connection, even in as much pain as he was in now, his brain was still checking facts, working on his intuition. She gave him a small smile, acknowledging his idea.
"Maybe I just felt safe." She was looking at Mulder, communicating with him as he had with her. He shook his head. "Look I'd like to help you, but my partner is my top priority. I think I'll check us in to that motel you mentioned. I think he'll be more relaxed there. Do you know if our things are still in the car?"
"Yes. It doesn't look like anything was taken. If there's anything we can do, please . . . "
She nodded and rose to her feet turning toward Mulder. The doctor opened his mouth, but the sheriff put his hand on his arm and he kept quiet. Mulder rose as well and was steadier on his feet. She was encouraged - if only he would talk to her.
He refused to wait in the car while she checked in. They both entered his room, since they had no connecting rooms. "Mulder, I'm going to see if I can get a pizza delivered. Why don't you take a shower? It should help relax you."
He nodded and reluctantly left her side. After the door was closed she called for the food then pulled some clean clothes from his suitcase. He hadn't bothered to lock the bathroom door, so she tapped and when there was no answer let herself in and left the clothes, taking the used ones out.
When he emerged, toweling his hair, he met her eyes. "Thanks."
"Feel any better?" He shrugged. "I could use a shower too. Will you be okay?"
"Scully I won't bother . . . " He looked away.
"You want me to shower here?" He opened his mouth but no words came. "It's against Bureau policy, but I don't suppose anyone would find out." He looked up at her. "You better be on your best behavior." She made her tone light and he managed to smile at her. She turned and placed her suitcase on the other bed to withdraw what she needed, then with one more glance at him entered the bathroom. He noted there was no sound of a lock being engaged and felt the relief at her trust.
The pizza had arrived by the time she emerged, but he had waited for her. "Come on Mulder, we both need some nourishment. Dive in." She coaxed him to eat a little, though not as much as she hoped. "I think you need to relax a little Mulder. Why don't you stretch out here for a little while."
"Scully - "
"I'll be over here on the computer. Please, Mulder."
He gave in, she was right anyway. And if she was going to be right here maybe he could relax a little. He lay down on the bed and she draped a blanket over him, then brushed his hair off of his forehead. "Try to sleep."
He did finally drift off and she caught up on emails and asked the guys to check into rumors on the area. She hadn't been able to find anything herself and they certainly had more access than she did from here.
She looked up as he stirred. He was getting restless. She flipped off the laptop and rose. She'd only taken a step when he jerked upright. "Scully!"
"I'm here. I'm right here, Mulder." She sat beside him on the bed, her hand on his chest to calm him, but also to check his heart rate. His hand came up and covered hers.
"Let me see your back."
"What? My back?"
"Please." It was only a whisper.
Well, there was no harm in it. She pulled her t-shirt from her jeans as she turned her back to him.
"Sir, I'm sorry to disturb you, but Dr. Madison suggested that my partner and I come to talk to you about the wooded area west of town. Do you mind if we come in?" Scully had her ID out and was lightly touching Mulder's arm with her free hand.
The elderly gentleman allowed them into his living room. "What is it you want to know." He motioned to the couch and leaning heavily on his cane made his way to his own chair.
"We've heard some stories about things that happen in those woods. The sheriff and the doctor both thought you might be able to give us some insight."
"Insight." The old man chuckled. "Yes, I guess I could do that. You want to know about the curse."
"Well . . ." Scully looked away, over toward Mulder.
"You don't believe in curses, Missy? Your friend here does." Both FBI agents glanced over at him. "He's seen what happens out there. It's happened to him."
"What? What's happened to me?" Mulder finally spoke.
"You saw the thing that you fear most in this world. You lived it, didn't you? That's why you're here. She hasn't been out there or she'd believe in curses too."
"But I was there. I spent the night out there with Agent Mulder. I didn't witness anything except the physical reaction my partner had to a dream."
"It's not a dream, Missy. Are you telling me you spent the night in the woods west of town?" Scully nodded. "Well, that's hard to believe. No ones been out there and not seen, not since before my Daddy was born."
"Do you know what happened out there? Why it's cursed?" This from Mulder, ignoring the look Scully shot him.
"Yeah, Son, I do. My granddaddy told me when I was just a boy. He was there you see. He was just a kid himself only about ten or eleven, but back then that was a man - at least he was expected to do a man's work. There were Indians out there, what you call native Americans these days. The town had set aside that land for 'em rather than send them off to the reservation that the government set up. Well, a couple of the men in town got greedy, decided that land was better than what they had and was bein' wasted on red men. Way my granddaddy told it, they tried to run 'em off but they wouldn't go. So the men that wanted the land trumped up some story and riled everybody up. A crowd of them went out there, mostly drunk, and things got out of control. The townspeople killed them, all of them, even the little ones, younger than granddaddy was then. He was in his nineties when he told me about it - you could see it haunted him still. Then the land was divvied up, but no one could stay on it. It wasn't ghosts mind you, it was fear. The two men that led the raid went mad overnight when they stayed on the land. Found 'em wandering around lost, no more than a hundred yards from their homes, hair turned all white.
"No one's spent any time in those woods without having the same reaction ever since. No one owns the land any more, no taxes are paid on it. It just lies there waitin' to scare whoever steps on it. Used to, the kids in town would dare each other to go out there. Never to spend the night, even the kids won't do that, just to walk on it. I hear that's even tapered off now. The parents of this here generation did that; they keep a closer eye on their own kids. The fear's too deep, you don't forget it. I know, I went out there. That's the reason my granddaddy told me the story to try to bring me out of my fear."
The old man looked down at his hands. "I'm sorry for you, son." He glanced over at Scully and back at Mulder. "I can pretty much guess what you saw. I hope it fades in time."
"Do any of these - visions - ever come true?"
The elderly man looked over at him and smiled. "You know, you're the first person I've spoken to about this smart enough to ask that question. No son, you're not seeing the future. This is your fear, not a, what's the word, a premonition."
He watched the younger man relax slightly, and the woman lightly touch his leg. "I wouldn't worry, son. She's not going to leave you." Mulder looked up startled then over at her. She could feel the heat in her face.
"Uh, thank you, Mr. Wells." Mulder rose and she was right beside him.
The older man struggled to his own feet and Mulder took his arm. "I don't know why she didn't see it, but you should count your blessings she's here to help you through it."
"I do every day." Both men were looking at her now.
"Mulder, come on. We need to get back to DC." He nodded and shook Mr. Wells' hand solemnly.
Once in the car she started the engine and back out. Mr. Wells' waved from the porch and went back inside. "Mulder, this is something we can check. If there was a massacre here we can - "
"Scully, let it go." She looked at him startled. "This is an X-File I don't want to look at any more closely than I have. I wish I couldn't even remember it. Let it go, Scully. And maybe I can too." She probed his eyes for a moment and then reluctantly nodded.
He faced forward then as she pulled onto the rural road from the driveway and his hand lightly rested on her thigh. She smiled but made no comment as she headed for DC.