He and Skinner had spent last night in a very nice place. Plenty of room with a nearly four car garage for the horses. He and Skinner had slept in king size beds and because of the propane instead of electricity, they'd done some laundry and had hot showers that morning. Fresh snow had fallen but it wasn't too deep. He would be more than glad to get to a lower altitude so the horses could graze again. That had become a bigger worry than their own food. He gave them the carrots he'd found in the crisper drawer in the kitchen last night in addition to their meager ration of oats but they were carrying a much heavier burden than he was.
Skinner was checking the house one more time for easily carried consumables as Mulder packed and saddled the horses. Finally ready, he pulled the door of the garage open and stopped, reaching for his gun. There in the fresh powder was a footprint that neither he nor Skinner could have made. It was much smaller in a feminine boot; at least that was his first guess. Now, where was she?
Skinner stepped into the garage and started to speak. He stopped and drew his own weapon when he saw Mulder's in his hand. He approached Mulder cautiously and when he was just behind him whispered, "What?"
Mulder pointed to the footprint. "She tried to get rid of her tracks, but she was headed over to that house." He nodded toward a house across the road and down a few yards.
Skinner nodded. "Well, it's another human. What's your plan?"
"Head that way. We need to see if there really are any other humans left."
Skinner winced but couldn't disagree. They stepped back inside and closed the garage again. They headed for the back door of the house and headed out in opposite directions to round the house and try to approach the other place unobserved.
It was Mulder who confronted her first, lowering his gun in the face of her baseball bat. He stayed back, trying to look less intimidating. "I'm Agent Mulder of the FBI. I'm not going to hurt you."
She looked at him with no trust whatsoever. "FBI?"
"Yes," he pulled his shield from the pocket of his jeans. So there had been a reason to keep carrying it.
She jerked when Skinner walked in from the other side and backed further into a corner. "Are you going to hurt me?"
Skinner let his gun down to his side as well. "No, we're not here to hurt you."
She sized the older man up as well. "You FBI too?"
Skinner nodded and pulled out his shield as well.
Slowly she lowered her bat. "What happened?"
No need for further clarification of that question. "Uh, we're not sure," Skinner said quietly.
She obviously didn't believe that.
Mulder drew her attention then, "What's your name?"
"Patti, uh, Patricia Tate."
"Can you tell us what you saw?"
"I, I don't know." She hesitated then looked back and forth between them again. "I really don't . . . I was doing my homework and listening to music to drown the kids out. My stepsister was trying on her Halloween costume and the boys were teasing her. Suddenly everyone else in the room stood up, I just watched them for a minute. I, I realized they were headed outside, so I jerked off my headphones and started shoving on my shoes. Then this light . . . It was unbelievable, I've never seen . . . " She choked up for a moment, then forced herself to look up at them again. "By the time I rushed outside I could see everyone was . . . "
Skinner nodded. Mulder asked, "Did you hear anything, feel anything?"
She looked startled at the question. "Well, I didn't hear, because of the headphones and I had the volume up, but I did feel something, it was like a big truck had gone by or maybe was going by but it took a long time, and the hair stood up on my arms. After the light disappeared, that was gone too."
Mulder nodded. "How old are you?"
She seemed to retreat again, her back rigid. "Why?"
"No good reason."
She again looked between the two of them. "I'm sixteen."
Skinner closed his eyes, shaking his head.
"Are you two gonna rape me?"
"No!" Skinner said immediately, beating Mulder by less than a second.
"No," Mulder repeated, "but we can't leave you here alone."
"They'll be back," she said defiantly.
"I hope so and when
they get here, you can come back. But until then, we can't in good conscience
leave you here alone. There's no one else, we've come from Bellfleur and we
haven't seen a single person until you."
"Are you, are you serious?" Her eyes were huge.
"Look, we're getting ready to move out. Pack some things, essentials only - underwear, socks, your heaviest clothes. If you have ski clothes, put them on now. We'll check your kitchen for things we can transport easily. We want to get over the mountains and down to a warmer altitude as soon as possible."
She nodded at that. "I'm coming back," she said it defiantly; it wasn't a question.
"I certainly hope so," Mulder said quietly.
She just looked at him for a long minute, then took a deep breath and headed for her room. When she had left them alone Mulder and Skinner exchanged glances, then both headed for the kitchen to see what they could find.
Their ideas of what to take had changed over the last couple of days. This time Mulder was looking for first aid, vitamins and medicines of any kind while Skinner looked for dry goods, noodles, beans and all the protein he could find. He was delighted to find carrots and apples for the horses.
When she returned with her duffle bag, they were ready. "Can you ride?"
"Not very well. I've been on a horse, like at birthday parties . . . "
"That's okay," Mulder nearly chuckled. "We got about four days more experience than you." He looked over at Skinner. "She can ride with me to start out."
Skinner nodded. That put more weight on Mulder's horse, but they'd manage. They had no choice.
She didn't have much to say and Mulder didn't have a clue what to say to a teenage girl who had just lost her whole family and everyone she knew. She was stiff at first and afraid to get too close, but after nearly losing her balance she held on tighter around his waist and eventually rested her head against his back.
They stopped for lunch and to give the horses a break in a grassy area with no snow, then continued on. She climbed back on Mulder's horse without asking and no one argued.
Shortly after that the wind began to pick up, gusting strongly. Skinner moved closer to Mulder so they could hear each other. "That's gotta be a storm coming. I think we better look for a place quick."
Patti sat up at that. "I think there's a neighborhood not that far ahead. I've been over here with a friend; she was dating a guy from a different high school. There're big houses."
"Anything between here and there?" Mulder asked. She shook her head. "Sounds like our kind of place then. Let's pick up the pace a little."
It was sleeting by the time they saw the houses. Skinner pointed and Mulder nodded, conversation wasn't possible, and followed him into the neighborhood. The first house they came to was a large post and beam log cabin with a three car garage. Skinner wasted no time getting inside and opening the garage for them.
Exhausted, they unloaded the horses and began grooming them.
"I'm cold!" Patti complained.
"I lit the wood stove, it won't be long, but the horses come first," Skinner said not stopping his grooming.
"Why?" she was pouting now.
"Because otherwise we'd be a couple of miles from your house instead of nearly thirty. Hand me that blanket." She did as he bade, slightly chastened.
Mulder finished adjusting the blanket on his two horses and turned toward the door to the kitchen. "I'll get some water for them. Patti?"
"Uh, I could start dinner for us."
"That would be a big help. Find out what they have in cans and we'll cook it on the woodstove."
She nodded and hurried off, obviously glad to get away from them. Mulder and Skinner exchanged glances with Mulder grinning. Skinner rolled his eyes and turned back to his horse.
She had found a couple of cans of some hearty soup and a pot and had the soup heating on the woodstove. She smiled tentatively when they joined her and they thanked her for going ahead with the meal. Who knew how long they'd be together, they might as well be friendly.
They ate around the stove, letting the heat relax their muscles. "No hot showers," Skinner sighed, "but at least we can heat some water and wash up. There is running water?"
"So far there is," Patti said looking up, frightened suddenly. "Are we not going to have running water?"
"Let's not worry about it now," Skinner said soothingly. "Mulder and I are going to check the house for anything else we can use." Wind howled around the house then and Patti looked up shivering.
"I'm not sure we're going to be leaving here anytime soon," Mulder offered glumly.
Skinner met his eyes and nodded.
They were there for four days. Mulder was more than grateful for the wood that had already been split. They slept in the main room, the only real privacy was in the bathrooms, and they were cool enough not to want to stay there very long.
Patti kept her distance, listening to them, but not offering much.
When the weather finally cleared, they were on their way, starting out at first light. They had no idea how long they had between storms. Both men were lamenting the loss of the weather satellites they had grown so accustomed to.
At least they were heading out of the mountains now. They were sticking to the highways for the large part of each day, heading off on an exit when it was time to settle for the night.
This wasn't their best accommodation so far, but at least they were inside. Skinner pulled the well-worn map out of his pack and spread it on the table. "90 heads south in a few miles. I'm thinking we should stay with it. We've been able to find shelter for us and the horses, and in this part of the country the people seem to understand alternate heating. We won't find that in cities."
Mulder sighed. "Agreed."
"We've only been on the road a couple of weeks, Mulder. We're making good time for not having the kind of transportation we're used to."
There was a grocery and a butcher shop on the block, a pharmacy one block over. Scully had no problem taking a couple of carts and filling them to the brim. After unloading them and leaving Frohike to do his magic with the fresh meat - she didn't ask - she headed back out for another load.
Langly offered to finish up at the pharmacy, but Scully refused to allow them to separate. She was the only one armed, not that it would help against the light. Where was everyone else? Surely someone else had stayed inside.
After several loads it was too dark to continue so Scully called a halt. It didn't look like they were fighting anyone else for the supplies, so they agreed.
Suddenly exhausted, she allowed them to talk her into taking Byers' bed and getting some rest. They continued storing the supplies they had gathered and eventually Byers and Langly had taken some time to sleep as well, leaving Frohike as guard.
The next morning only brought more questions. No one was in evidence and they returned to their scavenging for supplies. It was eerie seeing no one on the street or in any store.
When they returned to their building late that afternoon Byers took Scully aside. "Look, why don't you stay here with Frohike. Langly and I can make the next trip. We haven't seen anyone."
"I can - "
"I think you're about to collapse again, if you want the truth."
She tried to stare him down, but she was the one who dropped her eyes first.
"You told Mulder you'd see a doctor."
"Know where I could find one?" she asked bitterly.
"So you'll have to take care of yourself. We can handle this part. Go lie down. When Mulder gets home he'll skin us alive if we haven't taken care of you."
She gave him a tired smile but couldn't dispute his words. She gave in and laid down on her borrowed bed. When Mulder gets home . . . she should be out there looking for him. She knew where he was headed, but he knew where she was too. Practically it would be better to wait here, but how did she do that?
She was startled when Byers tapped on the door and stuck his head inside. "I thought you were going for more supplies," she said sitting up.
"We did. We've been gone about three hours. Are you okay?"
She was stunned, she'd just laid down a moment ago. "Uh, yes, I'm fine. I guess I'm not sleeping well."
"That's understandable, but we are . . . concerned."
"Thank you," she said simply and started to rise. A wave of dizziness struck her and Byers had hold of her arm immediately. He didn't speak but his eyes showed how worried he was.
She pulled away gently, not wanting to hurt his feelings. "John, I'm fine."
He looked down at her without speaking. She blushed and turned away. "Maybe the, the chip is reacting to what's happening."
"So you do think it's . . . aliens?"
She made a harsh sound and looked back up at him. "Do I have a choice?"
"No, I guess not," he sighed. "Come on, you need to eat."
She preceded him from the room and found the other two at the table, but waiting for her. "Thank you," she looked over at Frohike. "How did you do this?"
"Sterno, but that won't last long."
She looked up to find the others watching her, as though waiting for instructions. She closed her eyes for a moment, then sighed. "Go ahead and eat before it gets cold."
They did, not bothering to ask if she had any ideas for now.
When they were through they didn't rush to leave the table. Scully leaned back and looked at each of the men. "We can't stay here."
Frohike and Byers were silent, but Langly leaned forward. "Leave? Where would we go?"
"I, I don't know. We need to think about it, but how can we stay here? The power may not ever come back on, that means no heat, no cooking, Langly, no water! "
He blinked at that; stuff like that had never occurred to him.
"We, we need to calm down. We need to be rational about this," Byers' voice was steady. "Right now we all need to get some rest. We'll think better in the morning, clearer. Scully, go on."
Silently she nodded and rose from the table. She needed some time alone.
// He was screaming her name, terrified for her and she couldn't make him hear her. He was searching but he didn't get any closer. She felt heavy, slow, unable to reach him. What was wrong with her? He needed her and she was useless. Why had she ever allowed him to leave her? His voice was cracking and moving farther away. Mulder!
It changed then, he was watching her, his eyes scanning her body, showing his concern and his love. "You have to stay safe. I'm coming but you have to stay safe, because I'm not there to cover your back. Please, Scully, be safe. //