Smoke! There was smoke coming from that cabin! Someone had survived. It had to be her. It had to be! He turned to the younger man that had been assigned to accompany him. "See? Someoneís there. Come on!"
They trudged through the drifts of snow with renewed energy. Mulder reached the cabin first with Eric on his heels. The padlock hasp had been knocked loose, probably kicked. Mulder noted the trampled snow around the door as he shoved it open.
He took in the cabin with one glance. There was almost no furniture, a large fireplace, and a futon in front of it to capture the most heat. He watched Skinner raise his head from the blankets and watched as Skinner unwrapped himself from around Scullyís body. The joy on Mulderís face drained. He was overjoyed that she was alive, he was damn it! But what was he seeing? He knew why she was lying nude in Skinnerís arms. He knew what was going on. But his gut was wrenched at the sight regardless.
Skinner followed his thoughts perfectly and opened his mouth to speak. She beat him to it. "Mulder! You did find us! Walter, you were right."
Walter? Well sure, when youíre pressed up against each other, naked, caressing each other, running your hands over each other. . . He controlled his shudder as he watched her wrap herself in a blanket to come toward him. She covered herself for him. He should be moving to her. He needed to show her how happy he was. He had to push this idiocy on his part aside. With effort he got his feet moving and was able to meet her halfway. He managed to put his arms around her and quickly let go, ostensibly to move her back to the fire.
She accepted that though Skinner saw the confusion on her face. His immediate impulse was to strangle Mulder. Wasnít what was going on here obvious? Was he that blind, that jealous, where she was concerned?
The younger man stepped forward. "Iím Eric Stevens. Do you need medical assistance?"
Skinner shook his hand, "Walter Skinner." He nodded toward Scully, "Dana Scully. Weíre fine, just a little frostbite."
Mulder should have asked that. Skinnerís anger rose. Couldnít the fool see what he was doing to her with his distance? Sheíd gone so quiet and her eyes were down, not looking at anyone in the room. Was she embarrassed? Embarrassed that sheíd done everything necessary to stay alive? That sheíd stayed alive for him? Maybe he should strangle him.
Eric began unloading the backpack he wore, pulling out clothing and warm outerwear. That reminded Mulder of the supplies in his own backpack. The first aid kit didnít appear necessary, but the coffee should be appreciated.
He poured a cup for Scully, which she took with murmured thanks, not meeting his eyes. He couldnít look at Skinner, but thrust the cup toward him. Skinner managed not to throw the hot liquid back in his face.
Scully gathered up the set of clothing meant for her. Heíd known her size and brought what she needed. As she headed toward the bedroom Skinner put out his hand and stopped her. Mulder stiffened at his gesture.
"Itís too cold in there, Scully. Weíll step outside."
"No Walter. Itíll only take me a minute. Iíll be okay."
"Are you sure?"
She nodded, giving him a small smile that didnít look quite genuine.
As soon as the door closed he turned on Mulder, fury snapping in his eyes. The fact that he was wearing only a blanket not diminishing his dignity at all.
"What the hell is wrong with you, Mulder? Sheís been through hell and you come in here with an attitude? She, hell, we were barely alive when we got here. We kept each other alive. Nothing happened between us. I shouldnít have to tell you that.
Mulderís face had gone white, but now flushed red. He said nothing, though his hands kept becoming fists. His reaction was confusing him more than he wanted to admit. He turned away, not able to face Skinner.
When the door opened Scully emerged fully clothed. Before Mulder could speak, Skinner was beside her.
"Iím fine, Walter. Itís. . . invigorating in there."
"Great, just what I need Ė invigoration." At that she smiled, the first one Mulder had seen since heíd come in here and made a fool of himself. It was directed toward Skinner and his heart clutched.
Skinner gathered up the clothing brought for him and headed into the other room. Mulder took a step toward Scully, but stopped looking over at Eric.
"Uh, Iíll try and raise the team. Iíll be right outside." Eric made a hasty retreat from the cabin.
Now he approached her. "Scully?"
"Yes, Mulder." Still not looking at him, staring at her boots.
ĎScully, I. . . I. . . damn, Iím sorry. Iíve been up for over 36 hours trying to get them to come up here and look for you. When I saw the smoke from your fire I was afraid I was dreaming. Then I walked in and saw. . . "
"What did you see, Mulder?"
"You! You, alive and. . . and lying in another manís arms." He dropped his head, he couldnít face her.
"Did you see us doing anything, other than surviving?"
"No." Heíd never felt so stupid, so thick.
"Then why would you assume such a thing? Walter saved my life. I wouldnít have made it to this cabin, much less gotten a fire started or been able to keep it going. Then I saved his life after he got the wood to keep us alive. If you want an apology for that. . . "
"I. . ." he shook his head, there was no answer to that, other than his own stupidity.
He jumped as the door opened and Skinner rejoined them.
"Invigorating?" She looked over at him.
"Yeah. Very. Whereís Stevens?í
"He went out to raise the rescue team." Mulder motioned towards the door.
"Good, I want out of here and Iím sure Dana does too."
Mulderís eyes narrowed, Skinner had done that on purpose. Dana, heíd called her Dana to get to him. And of course it had worked. He said nothing, he could only make it worse.
Stevens stuck his head in the door. Seeing that Skinner was back he came on in. "The helicopterís on the way."
"Did they find anyone else?"
"Well they, uh," he glanced at Scully. "Theyíve recovered six bodies so far. In the remains of the building."
Both men took a step toward her, but Skinner was closer. He put an arm around her and she leaned against him. "Oh Walter, you were right. They didnít even have a chance to get out."
"But I was also right about him looking for you. I just needed to stay close by." He dropped his voice and whispered in her ear, "Obviously a little too close for him, but heíll get over it."
"Do I even want him to?"
Skinnerís look of surprise didnít escape him. Mulder watched this interchange with a lowness of spirit he hadnít felt in years.
They heard the helicopter approaching. Apparently live rescues took precedence. When it landed the ranger that had given Mulder so much trouble was out first. He hurried over to where the four of them were waiting.
"Doug Martin. Itís very good to see you. Well Mulder, you were right. I guess I owe you an apology." Without waiting for a response, he took Scullyís arm. "Weíll get you back to civilization. Theyíll want to observe you overnight, then you can head home."
"Weíre fine, Walter made sure of that." They headed toward the Ďcopter.
"I need to know who owns this place. I owe him a lot."
"Iím sure we can get that information for you sir."
Mulder was the last to board the helicopter, deep inside of himself. He sat silently, staring out the window. Doug glanced at him several times but kept quiet. He didnít know what had happened, but heíd be questioning Stevens as soon as possible.
His office didnít feel the same. It had been his before her, why couldnít it feel like his now? Sheíd be back on duty in a couple of days. He hadnít heard sheíd requested a transfer but itís what he expected.
He hadnít gotten much done since he got back. Self-flagellation took a hell of a lot of energy.
He looked up startled when the door opened, no one had knocked. Skinner stood before him, but he didnít rise.
"Iíll tell you something, Mulder. Something you donít deserve to know. It didnít do my ego a lot of good to have that woman naked against me and have her talking about you. Especially now that I see how little you deserve it." Skinner turned and walked away.
She talked about him? Belatedly he rose and chased after Skinner into the hall. "Sir! Please."
Skinner stopped and turned to him, waiting. Finally he spoke, "What Mulder? What is it you want from me?"
"I donít know. I think itís too late to want anything."
Skinner looked away and sighed. "Itís not too late, Mulder. Youíve screwed up big time, but sheís used to that. At least she should be by now. I wouldnít waste any more time though. You better get over there." Mulder barely hesitated, then turned. "Mulder. . . " He stopped and looked back. "I wonít help you on this again; I shouldnít have this time. If you canít deserve her, I will try."
Mulder nodded, he wasnít going to let that happened without a fight. If Skinner was right and he had one shot left, heíd take it. Nothing was right without her.
She opened the door, surprised. He hadnít called or been by to see her since they got home. "Mulder? I wasnít expecting you."
"I know. Can I come in?"
"Of course." She moved to allow him entry.
He hadnít seen her since she was released from the hospital. She looked great, her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, no makeup Ė of course she didnít need it. She had on jeans and big sweater with a very deep v-neck.
She was waiting for him to speak, what should he say? "You look good. New jeans?" Damn, was that the best he could do?
"Uh no, I lost some weight on the mountain. I can get in them again."
He didnít have a comeback for that. If he hadnít left her behind when he took off with the prisoners none of this would have happened.
"You want some tea?"
"Uh, yeah, thatíd be great."
"Okay, have a seat. Iíll be right back."
She headed into the kitchen. Sheíd told Walter not to do this. If Mulder wanted to be around her, he shouldnít need encouragement. Except, she sighed, this was Mulder. With the social skills of a doorknob.
When she handed him his tea she said again, "I wasnít expecting you. . . "
As he said, "I should have been here sooner."
She laughed, but he looked more uncomfortable than ever. "Mulder, relax. Itís me, it's Scully. Okay?"
"Scully, Iím afraid of you." He blurted out. She drew back.
"Yes. Of the way you make me feel. I feel things when Iím with you Iíve never felt before. When I walked in and saw you like that, in Skinnerís arms. . . I . . . it almost drove me mad."
"But Mulder. . . "
"I know. I have no right." He sank down further into the couch. She ignored that.
"What if it had been Phoebe or Diana?"
"Iíd have taken a good look, probably congratulated Skinner later on copping a great feel. But it was you. Skinner had saved your life and all I could think was that I wanted to kill him."
"Mulder. . . "
"I had to tell you that, before you transfer out."
"Transfer? Iím not transferring anywhere. Iíll be back at work on Monday. I should already be back, but Walt. . . Skinner refused my request."
"He takes better care of you than I do." She ducked down to see into his eyes, her own beginning to twinkle. Mulder was truly jealous of Skinner. Thatís what was wrong with him. Was Mulder truly just a Y chromosome walking around, like all the rest of them?
"Mulder stop it. No one takes care of me except me. Yes, Skinner saved my life, but then I turned around and saved his. Weíre even. Then you came and saved us both, just like Skinner said you would. He knew youíd never leave me up there to die. He knew you better than you know yourself. He said you would move heaven and earth to find me, that heíd seen you do it. He said all he had to do was stay close and heíd be rescued too. And you came for me, just like he said, just like youíve always done. Just like I count on you doing. Do you want the job anymore?"
"Is it an option?"
"The way I see it, itís the only option. I donít want to be lost if youíre not going to be looking for me."
"So we should only be lost together?"
She smiled and held out her hand to him. He grasped it as though it would keep him alive.
"So, youíd congratulate Skinner on copping a feel, huh?" The sheepish grin on his face said it all.