Mulder burst into the office. “Diana? You here?”
“I’m here, what’s wrong?” She looked up from the file cabinet.
“Nothing, something’s right for a change. I got a report of activity off the scale. We need to get to Oregon, right away.”
Diana tried to hide her sigh. Okay Fox was younger than her, but sometimes he acted a lot younger. His enthusiasm had lost some of its charm, especially since it was part of her assignment to reel him in.
“Fox, what makes you think Blevins is going to let us go off to watch lights in the sky?”
“The stellar performance I just put in with the VCS.” He grinned at her. “And I’ve already cleared it.”
“You’re kidding.” She gaped at him. Blevins had okayed this? She needed to get word to her people.
“Nope.” He was searching through his desk and not watching her. She sighed again, this passion of his was growing - a lot faster than his passion for her was. They weren’t going to be happy.
“Ahh, here it is.” He pulled something from the bottom drawer. “Our flight is at three. See you at the airport.” He didn’t even look over at her as he exited the office.
Damn it! She didn’t dare call from here. She’d have to hurry.
She made the flight. He’d been pacing impatiently at the gate, then herded her onto the plane.
“What kept you? This is one of the most important trips for the X-Files since we got started.”
“Sorry, but you did spring this on me.” He followed her onto the plane and they took their seats. After they were settled, she turned to him. “Where did you get the tip? Fox, not those weird friends of yours.”
He wouldn’t meet her eyes.
“Oh God, Fox. You’re going to get us fired. No wonder Blevins gave the okay. He probably knows and this is a set up.”
“He doesn’t know about these guys. No one does. That’s the way they want it.”
“So you keep telling me. You don’t even trust me enough - “
“Diana, it’s the way they want it. It’s part of the deal. They’re paranoid. I don’t want to make it worse. As long as their rules don’t compromise me, I’ve got to live by them.”
“Don’t go over it again, Fox. Just tell me what we’re investigating.”
“For the past two nights there has been unprecedented activity over three counties in Oregon. Lights have been reported by upstanding citizens, chased by cops . . . then last night a man showed up just outside of Lone Elder. He was nude, disoriented. I think he was returned.”
“Returned?” Diana stared at him. “You think this man was abducted and then . . .” He was looking at her, those damn beautiful eyes of his. She sighed, he was so frigging sexy. “Fox, don’t get your hopes up.” Or get us killed, she thought.
“Who me?” He grinned, and handed her the file he had amassed, then leaned his seat back and closed his eyes.
She took the information, but since she could watch him unobserved, she seized the opportunity. He was unlike anyone she’d know. Besides being brilliant and an incredible, giving lover, there was no artifice about him. He knew how smart he was, but he didn’t flaunt it, and as for his looks - hell he didn’t even seem to realize.
She knew her own assets, she’d exploited them often enough. It had bothered her that he was younger, but he hadn’t cared, if anything he seemed to appreciate her experience, and not just in bed.
She still remembered how startled he’d been when she invited him back to her place. It was as though it had never crossed his mind that she would want him. The man obviously hadn’t walked through the secretarial pool lately.
As far as she could tell, he’d been ‘faithful’ to her. Of course that implied a level of commitment that she didn’t think he felt. Still it was a start.
Yes, it bothered her that he had never invited her to his place. Oh, she’d seen it. She’d ‘dropped by’ exactly twice and he had gotten her out of there as quickly as possible both times. Hell, she’d never even seen his bedroom.
For now she needed to impede the investigation to the best of her abilities, without compromising herself. She’d thought about missing the flight, but realized as she observed him from a discreet distance, that he would have left without her. So she had finally joined him. It would be better to be on-site and see what was going on.
She smiled as his breathing became deeper, more relaxed. She enjoyed watching him sleep, though she’d had little opportunity. He refused to stay the night at her place. She wasn’t sure why that was, but he was adamant about it - kind, but adamant. So she only got to observe him in situations like this. He was often restless, jerking awake in the car or wherever, as though from a bad dream, but he wouldn’t talk about it.
She sighed and opened the file. Might as well know as much as possible.
They were met at the airport by two men and a woman, all very anxious to meet ‘Agent Mulder’ and wary of her. No doubt they’d been sent by those friends that he refused to discuss.
When they got back, she’d have to make a serious attempt to locate them. Obviously their activities had stepped up.
After introductions, they were led to a motel chain they knew well and checked in. The man that had been ‘returned’ was being held for observation. This trio had an opinion on that too, which Fox seemed to share.
Since that avenue was closed, they investigated the site where he had appeared. The woman, Lisa, had been nearby and actually seen him before officials had herded him off.
Diana made a note to check with her people about that. Lisa had gotten close enough to see the bruises on the man’s body.
Ed, the leader of the group, turned to Mulder. “The moon is two days past full, so there’s plenty of light. That’s got the government people concerned I think. They had roadblocks out last night. Fortunately they’re not from around here and didn’t know all of the accesses. I sure hope you see something tonight.”
”Me too. What time should we be out here?”
“It’ll be full dark by 8:30.”
“What about those roadblocks?” Mulder asked.
“We’ll get you in, don’t worry. We’ll meet you at the diner at 7:30 and drive you out here ourselves.”
“We appreciate this.” Mulder shook his hand.
They smiled and nodded at him, their looks at her were more guarded, though Mulder didn’t appear to notice.
He managed to keep his cool in front of the others, but Diana could feel his excitement. She knew what his hope was, that his sister would be one of those returned. He’d never mentioned the sister to her, but she knew the story and had read the file. The sister was the real reason he’d even joined the Bureau - the final deal-maker when he’d been recruited.
Diana had no doubt that whoever had made that decision was no longer around to enjoy the fruits of civil service.
She’d hoped he would open up to her, talk about his sister, but he held that close to his chest. He didn’t trust her enough. The saving grace was she knew he trusted her as much as he could trust anyone. He didn’t talk about his childhood either, but it had obviously been difficult for him. She didn’t blame him for not trusting. She’d be here when he got ready.
They ate an early dinner to compensate for the lunch served on the plane, then he took a run, trying to work off excess energy until time to meet Ed. The man was practically crackling with anticipation.
They met Ed at the diner as arranged and he drove through the country to get them in place. Lisa joined them there, as well as several other people. They settled in to wait, with Mulder listening to their tales of encounters.
Diana kept quiet, observing. Mulder was grinning like an idiot. Well, most of the stories were absurd, but she knew him. Eventually he’d check every one of them out. He never forgot anything. It was like working with a damn sponge at times.
As it got dark, the level of tension went up. She thought Mulder might implode but frankly she hoped nothing happened and they could get back to the motel. It was a nice warm night, but her idea of fun did not include sitting in the woods with a bunch of lunatics and bugs.
Mulder looked over at her suddenly. “My watch just stopped.” Before she could respond, there were lights in the sky and a . . . a hum.
Ed and Mulder were on their feet, running toward a light deeper in the woods. Diana was up then too, chasing them. By the time she caught up with them, they were kneeling beside a man.
“Diana, check him out.” Mulder rose.
“Where are you going?”
“It’s still happening. I’m going to follow the light. Diana, get evidence off the man. You know what to do.”
She nodded and he took off again. Diana looked over at Ed, then focused her attention on the comatose man. She knew there was no stopping Mulder for now.
Mulder was running through the trees. He’d seen the light stab down in several locations, but continue on. Then suddenly whatever held the light was directly over him. Whatever it was, it was large enough to obscure the stars. He stood staring up at it for a long moment, a feeling of weightlessness tugging at him. Then the light stabbed down at him, blinding him.
He woke disoriented. He was on the ground, what the . . . something was on top of him. He reached down and touched flesh. He carefully sat up and looked at the . . . the young woman lying partially atop him.
He had enough light to see that she was nude and had strangely shaped bruises on her body, like the man that had been returned the night before as well as the man he’d left with Diana. Her hair was long, half way down her back, but spilling around her now.
He eased himself out from under her and carefully rolled her onto her back, then checked her for obvious injuries. No broken bones, no lumps on her head. The bruises were all over her body, but nothing marred her pale face. She was older than he had first thought, a woman, not a girl and he had to force himself to remain professional as he studied her body. He needed to get her help.
Without warning she stirred and opened her eyes. She looked around wildly, terrified. “It’s okay.” He spoke softly but she jerked violently, fear and horror obvious in her face. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. I’ll get you some help, just let me . . . “
She cowered from him, unable to make it to her feet. Then she was trying to scramble back to the tree. Either she hadn’t noticed her nudity, or it wasn’t her first concern.
“Listen,” he held out his hand, trying to sound reassuring, calming, “I’m Special Agent Fox Mulder. I’m here to help you. Here - “ He slipped off his suit coat and held it out to her. She didn’t seem to understand the gesture, so he wrapped it gently around her. “I’m Mulder, can you tell me your name?”
If she understood she didn’t speak. He was beginning to suspect that her trauma was such that she couldn’t. He realized she was shivering and it wasn’t because of the cold. He moved closer to her slowly, his hands still out. He sat beside her and gently pulled her to him, letting his arms go around her.
She looked up as though trying to read his face. Whatever she saw did seem to reassure her and she allowed it. He cuddled her to him, finally taking her into his lap. She buried her face in his chest.
“Hey, it’s okay. Just relax.” He rocked her, murmuring to her until he felt her go limp against him and heard her breathing even out and become regular.
He looked around, but the others hadn’t caught up with him yet. Well, they weren’t in danger from exposure. It was a nice night; he’d just rather spend it inside.
She grew restless in her sleep. His arms tightened around her giving her security and he made comforting sounds. Her hands clutched his shirt. He had to smile, she didn’t know him, but she seemed to trust him. Of course, he thought depreciatingly, he was the only one here.
He cuddled her closer, she felt good in his arms and she seemed to want to be there.
He finally grew drowsy himself. They were sure taking their time. This woman was in no shape to walk, and no way in hell would he leave her. He made himself comfortable and drifted off himself.
When he woke the sun was rising and she was still against him. In the daylight he could see that she was a redhead and had a beautiful complexion. Okay, what the hell had happened to everyone else? He gently placed her on the ground and moved behind a tree to relieve himself. He was just zipping up when he heard her cry out, “Mul!”
He hurried back to her side. “I’m right here. I was just . . . I’m sorry. Don’t be scared.”
Seeing him looming over her made her shrink back, so he dropped to his knees and held out his hands. “It’s okay. It’s me, Mulder. Can you tell me your name?”
She didn’t try to respond but her hand reached out to touch his chest, almost as though making sure he was real or solid. He smiled then, “Yeah, that’s where you slept.”
The woman seemed to blush slightly, but that was probably his imagination.
“Do you think you can walk? We need to find the others.”
Fear returned to her eyes then.
“It’s okay, they’re friends of mine. We just need to find them and get you to a hospital to get checked out.”
She cringed then and moaned slightly.
“Hey, it’s okay. I’m not going to let anyone hurt you. We need to find out who you are and get you back to your family. I’m not going to leave you alone. I’ll be there with you.”
She was watching his eyes, reading his face. Again she seemed reassured by him. He rose slowly, so as not to frighten her again and held out his hands. After a moment she took them and let him lift her to her feet. She wasn’t entirely steady and he tightened his grip. His coat fell open and he saw her body before she clutched it back around her.
She was more aware today, at least of her nudity. But he had stopped, frozen. The bruises were gone. His face must have changed because hers grew worried and she reached out to touch him.
“May I . . . may I look at you. I’m sorry, but I need to see, I need to see your body.”
She looked puzzled, but she didn’t move away. He carefully and slowly opened his coat. She watched him watching her and kept quiet. The glance had been right, the bruises were gone. Her skin was unmarred and healthy looking.
In the dawn light she was beautiful and in spite of himself, he felt a stirring in his groin. She must have seen something; because she pulled the coat closed again, but didn’t pull away. He met her eyes; pretty sure it was him blushing now. “Thank you.”
She still didn’t attempt to speak. The only word she’d tried to say was his name, but she wasn’t afraid of him. For some reason that was giving him an absurd amount of pleasure.
“Come on. I ran from that direction last night.” He put his arm around her and she didn’t pull away. She was barefoot, so the going was slow, but he could hear traffic. He hadn’t seen a road last night; maybe he wasn’t going in exactly the same direction.
They came to a two lane road and almost immediately a truck stopped for them.
“You guys look like you need some help. I’m Carl.”
“Yes sir.” Mulder pulled out his ID. “Could you take us into Lone Elder?”
“Lone Elder? Mr. Mu . . .Mulder,” He looked at the ID again, “that’s twenty-five miles from here.”
“Yeah.” The man pointed to the west. “That way. It’s in the next county. You’re in Bull Mountain. I wasn’t headed that way.”
“Right. Is there a diner or something close by?”
“Sure, there’s Hall’s Diner just over there. But she’s not exactly dressed for it.”
“That’ll be our first priority.” He sounded dangerous then, but smiled a little, and helped her into the truck.
Carl’s smile dimmed, slightly afraid of the man suddenly.
At the diner he led her to the ladies room and waited outside for her, then took her to a back booth and seated her. The few workmen in for an early breakfast gave them strange looks but kept quiet. He turned toward the counter to get them some coffee but she grabbed his hand.
“It’s okay. I’m not leaving. Let me just get us some coffee, okay?”
She didn’t nod, but she let go of his hand. He got the coffee and a couple of sausage biscuits and returned to the booth. “Think you can eat this?”
He unwrapped the food and set it and the coffee before her. She picked up the mug with both hands as though to warm them, but didn’t bring the beverage to her lips. It was as though she didn’t know what to do with it.
“Do you, would you like something else?” He watched her process that question, but she only looked confused. “How about some hot tea?”
Her eyes lit up at that suggestion and he smiled. They were a beautiful blue.
“I’ll get it for you.” He squeezed her hand and rose from the booth again. He ordered the tea and took it to the table with him. She smiled at him then, as he dipped the tea bag into the hot water. He caught his breath, she was lovely. Okay, he’d just slept with her in his arms out in the woods all night and he’d seen her nude body a couple of times, but this felt different.
She hesitated, then reached for a sugar packet. She tentatively gave it a taste and her eyes widened, as though in surprise, then she smiled again. He actually chuckled.
“I’d sure like to know your name.”
She ignored that, savoring her tea.
“I need to call my partner. See about getting you examined.”
She looked up at him trustingly and he smiled, for some reason in no hurry to contact anyone.
After she finished the tea, he forced himself to his feet again. “I’m going right over there to use the pay phone. You’ll be able to see me.”
Her smile slipped but she didn’t protest. He took some coins from his pocket and kept an eye on her as he dialed.
“Fox! Where the hell are you? What happened!”
“I don’t know. I wound up in Bull Mountain. Don’t ask me how. I was following the lights. I lost consciousness and came to with another returnee. I’ve got her with me.”
“Is she okay?”
“Getting there. How many were returned last night?”
“Fox - “
“Just a number.”
“Five, six with your woman.”
“Did you see them?”
“Three of them. I can’t get near them now.”
“What about their injuries?”
“Covered in bruises, but I saw no wounds.”
“Okay. Can you pick us up?” He gave her directions to the diner. “And could you bring some clothes for her?”
“She was nude.” It wasn’t a question.
“She’s wearing my coat, but she needs a little more and some shoes.”
“We’ll be taking her to the hospital, right?” There was silence on the other end. “Fox? She needs to be examined.”
“Just get over here. Don’t tell anyone.”
He heard her sigh, but she didn’t disagree. He hung up then and returned to the table.
“My partner is on her way. We’ll get you some clothes, then see what happens.”