On the Verge by aka Jake

Title: On the Verge
Author: aka "Jake"
Rating: NC-17 (Language, Adult Themes, Sexual Situations)
Classification: Fill-In-the-Blank for Fight the Future; MSR

Summary: How did Mulder and Scully get off the ice and back to Washington, DC, after escaping from the alien ship in Antarctica?

Disclaimer: These characters belong to Chris Carter, FOX, and 1013 Productions. No copyright infringement intended. Fun, yes. Profit, no.

Beta: Much appreciation goes to xdksfan!


“Mulder, please,” Scully begs.

She wrestles him into a seated position. Unconscious, he is weighty. Unmanageable. She holds him tightly. They’re perched at the edge of a massive crater in an otherwise endless expanse of white.

“You have to wake up.”

Sun on snow blinds her. Cold bites at her nose and cheeks. A bitter wind whips and howls past her ears. She shivers uncontrollably. She has no gloves. No boots either, only oversized socks. She’s wearing what she guesses are Mulder’s parka and snow pants, loose and overly long on her smaller frame. The fabric is soaked through and frigid against her bare skin.

What is this place? How did they get here?

She dimly remembers climbing upward through a tunnel or vent, Mulder urging her along from behind, her arms and legs going numb, her grip and consciousness slipping. Panic had flared in Mulder’s eyes when he kneeled over her and urged, “Breathe in, breathe in…breathe!”

Now she buoys him. Hugs him with all her remaining strength. She presses her face to the crown of his head and rocks him. Tears have frozen on her lashes. Icicles are forming in his hair.

Their bodies are losing heat. It’s only a matter of time before hypothermia sets in. She already feels exhausted and confused. Her teeth chatter. She can’t feel her fingers or toes.   

“Mulder, we’ll die if we stay here.”

“We’ll die,” he thinks he hears Scully say, her voice thick with worry. He fights his way toward consciousness. His head is pounding and he feels chilled to the bone. He’s pretty sure it would be easier to benchpress 300 pounds right now than to open his eyes, and he’s only ever bench-pressed 185. On his best day. This clearly isn’t his best day. With Scully’s words echoing in his brain, he forces his eyes open. He blinks against an intense glare and a flurry of snow.

Scully is sprawled on the ice beside him, one arm hooked around his waist.

“Scully?” Her name turns to steam in the wintry air before the wind snatches it and whisks it away.

She’s passed out, unresponsive.

He struggles to his feet, a seemingly Herculean effort, then bends and hoists her over his shoulder.

Get help, get help, get help thrums through his veins. He starts walking.

The Sno-Cat is out of fuel but it has a portable two-way radio. And the cab will provide protection from the wind, which is picking up, tugging at his hair and blowing right through his vest and shirtsleeves. Snowflakes whirl and needle his exposed skin. His face feels raw, like he shaved with a cheese grater. He’s losing sensation in his hands. He misplaced his gloves somewhere. In the tunnel to the spaceship, he thinks, but isn’t sure. He adjusts his grip on Scully, squints, lowers his head, and forges on. Rescue is an SOS call away, he reminds himself, laboring to remain optimistic. Corbyn Station, the Australian research facility where he spent far too much time and money convincing a staff mechanic to let him take the Sno-Cat…they’ll fly out a rescue helicopter, won’t they? Send EMTs?

The distance to the Sno-Cat seems far greater on the return trek than on the outgoing journey. Adrenaline fueled him then. And hope. But hope is now fading as fast as the Antarctic sun. An ominous overcast is sliding across the sky and he’s traveled only as far as the stoney outcrop. There’s a long way to go yet but as he crests the rise, the Sno-Cat comes into view.

“It’s all downhill from here, Scully,” he says, wondering suddenly if the expression implies things will get better or worse from this point on. It could go either way, he imagines.

He trudges on. There is no other option. He didn’t save Scully from alien monsters and their human conspirators only to watch her die out here of exposure.

One foot in front of the other…left, right, left, right…get her to the Sno-Cat…call for help…save her…don’t think of anything else.

He retraces his previous tracks, which are filling with blowing snow. She moans softly.

“Scully?” He twists but with her upper body draped over his back, he’s unable to see her face. “Scully, are you okay?”

She doesn’t answer. Or move. He briefly considers stopping, putting her down so he can get a better look at her, but decides time is of the essence. They’re only about halfway to the Sno-Cat. Better to keep going. Get her out of the wind before she becomes hypothermic. If she isn’t already.

Not for the first time in their five years together, Mulder finds himself wishing for Scully’s medical knowledge. Or her faith in God’s miracles. But he has neither her skill as a doctor or her belief in the Almighty. God isn’t likely to answer his prayers at this late date in any case, even if he could somehow gain His attention.

“Can’t quit now, Scully,” he mumbles, as much to himself as to her, recalling the words he said to her just days ago in his apartment, before he chased after her into his hallway, wanting more than anything to stop her from walking away, leaving the FBI. Leaving him. She admitted she considered not telling him in person, words that struck him like a punch to the gut. After all they’d been through, all they’d seen. After all he thought they meant to one another.

“You don’t need me, Mulder. You never have,” she said. “I’ve just held you back.”

How could she think that? How could she question how important she is to him?

Desperate for her to understand, he’d confessed the truth: she’d saved him, made him a whole person; he owed her everything and she owed him nothing.

There was so much more he wanted to say, should’ve said, but he was panicking at the thought of losing her. He hoped he sounded sincere. He wasn’t trying to manipulate her into staying. He only wanted her to know how he felt, truly felt, and it poured out of him in a crazy rush of words. Because he needed her, has always needed her.

Then her eyes filled with tears and that shut him up. What was the cause of her sadness, he wonders now. His declaration? Her decision to leave? Pity…or love…or something else entirely, known only to her?

When she then embraced him, a wave of gratitude and relief washed through him. And when she pressed her lips to his forehead, an urge to kiss her, not as her partner or her friend, but as a man, welled up in him, surprising and profound, compelling him to cradle her face in his palms and—

That damned bee! If not for that bee, he would’ve done it. Kissed her the way he’d wanted to, still wants to. Maybe she would’ve kissed him back. Maybe.

And they wouldn’t be here now.

“Hey, Scully, what do you call a yeti with a six-pack?” He waits a beat to give her time to respond…if she’s able. “An abdominal snowman.”

No chuckle. No groan. Silence is her usual reaction to his lame jokes, so not a real indication she didn’t hear him.

“Where do yetis go to dance?” Another pause, shorter this time. “A snowball. I could do this all day.”

Still no response. He plows through the drifts and decides to sing instead of telling jokes.

“It’s a marshmallow world in the winter,” he belts out in his best Dean Martin imitation, “when the snow comes to cover the ground.”

Left, right, left, right.

“It's the time for play,” he croons, “it's a whipped cream day. I wait for it all year round.”

He’s trying to distract himself. Or her, if she can hear him.

He stops singing and asks, “Do you like snow, Scully?”

It’s a legitimate question. He doesn’t know how she feels about snow, their current predicament notwithstanding. There are lots of things he doesn’t know about her, he realizes. Things he probably should know. Things he should’ve asked about years ago. But they don’t talk about their private lives or emotions and, to be honest, the fault is his. Whenever she veers too close to anything personal, he cracks a joke about wanting a peg leg or identifying with Betty Rubble’s bust line. When she tried to tell him how it felt to know she was dying from cancer he said the only time he seriously thought about death was at the Ice Capades.

He clears his throat. Starts another verse. “It’s a yum-yummy world made for sweethearts, take a walk with your favorite g—”

Tears swamp his eyes. He swallows past a lump. What would he be if not for her? What will he become if he loses her now?

“Sorry, Scully, this ain’t no sugar date,” he mutters.

One foot in front of the other…in front of the other…in front of the other….

Incrementally, he closes the distance to the Sno-Cat until it’s only yards away.

Steps away

Within arm’s reach.

At last.


The flurries are quickly turning into a full-fledged storm. He fumbles one-handed for the handle on the passenger side and wrenches the door open. He lifts Scully up into the seat. Broken capillaries crisscross her raw, red cheeks. Her nose and fingertips are candlestick white. His Basic First Aid training was a long time ago but he’s pretty sure these are signs of frostbite. He checks that her legs and arms are safely inside the cab before he closes the door and hurries to the driver’s side, where he hoists himself up behind the steering wheel. The wind tugs at the door when he tries to close it behind him. He pulls harder and it slams shut.

Icy flakes swirl in dervishes beyond the windshield, specters skating across the windblown plane. Sleet taps at the glass, and he has the strange sensation of being inside a reverse snow globe, the ghostly fingers of the storm scratching to get in. His breath rises in great foggy plumes. Almost nothing sifts from Scully’s parted blue lips.

He grabs the radio and hits the on switch.

“Mayday, mayday, mayday. This is Agent Fox Mulder with the FBI calling Corbyn Station, come in. Over.”

The radio crackles but no one answers.

He tries again. “Corbyn Station, this is an emergency. Please, respond. Over.”

“This is Corbyn Station,” a man with a distinctive Australian accent says. “Please, state your emergency. Over.”

“My partner….” He glances at her. Panic crawls up his throat. “She…she’s unconscious. Maybe hypothermic. Requesting air rescue as soon as possible. Over.”

“Copy, Agent Mulder. What is your location? Over.”

He scans the cab for the handwritten note with the coordinates. Finds it. “South 83 degrees latitude. East 63 degrees longitude. We’re sheltering in a Sno-Cat. No fuel. No heat. Over.”

“Copy that. We’ll assemble a response team ASAP. ETA at your location is approximately 15 minutes. What’s your partner’s condition? Is she breathing? Are her clothes dry? If not, is there anything she can change into?”

“She’s breathing but…her clothes are soaked.” He plucks at one sodden sleeve. “And, no, there’s nothing dry to dress her in.” His own clothes are saturated inside and out from sweat and snow, otherwise he’d strip and give her his shirt, vest, and pants. “But…wait, I think…I think I saw an emergency blanket in here somewhere.” He rummages behind the seat and pulls out two folded, aluminized Mylar blankets. “Yes. Yes, there are two. Over.”

“Good. Remove her wet clothing. Do it gently. Jarring movements could trigger irregular heartbeats if her basal temp is below 30C. Don’t rub her skin in an attempt to restore circulation. You could cause more harm than good. Tuck her hands into her armpits and wrap her loosely in the blankets. Use your body to warm her, if at all possible. Lay next to her or put her on your lap, whatever space allows. Over.”

“Understood.” He unfolds the first blanket. It looks desperately inadequate. “Please…hurry.”

“Help is on the way, Agent Mulder. Sit tight. Over and out.”

Relief surges through him but it’s short-lived when Scully moans again. Her lips are chapped and cracked, her breath halting.

He’s reluctant to bare her skin to the frigid interior of the cab but understands that her wet clothing needs to come off.

“I’ll do this as quickly as I can,” he promises, abandoning the radio and reaching for the zipper on her coat.

He unzips her parka — his parka, actually. Thank God he wore layers before heading out. He snakes an arm beneath the coat and around her waist. The bare skin of her back feels icy against his own cold palm. He draws her upper body toward him until she is leaning heavily against his chest. He slips the oversized coat from her shoulders, then gently withdraws her arms one at a time from the sleeves. With a final push, the coat tumbles into the footwell. He drapes the first blanket around her exposed back and shoulders.

“That was the easy part,” he says before he carefully hooks an arm around her waist again and lifts, high enough that her hips leave the seat. With his free hand he nudges the snow pants down over her backside. The garment is so big on her, it slides off easily without the need to undo the fastener at the waist. The pants bunch at her knees. He leaves them there while he arranges the blanket beneath her. There’s scant room in the cab for maneuvering. He’s breathing hard from exertion. His own clothes stick to his skin, clammy with sweat. He settles her back into her seat, then whisks the pants from her legs. They join the parka in a heap on the floor.

As instructed, he tucks her hands into her armpits. Her head lolls as he folds the first blanket around her. The jostling doesn’t illicit any reaction from her. He wraps her in the second blanket before attempting to remove her socks. They’re saturated and he has to peel them from her feet. Her toes are colorless and waxy looking. He resists the urge to rub them between his palms. Better to cover them. And her head. He rearranges the blankets as best he can and then pulls her into his lap. He’s shivering violently, he notices, either from cold or from adrenaline. She’s barely shivering at all any more. A symptom, he worries, that can’t be good since it’s too soon for her to have warmed up, even a little.

“Hang on, Scully. Help is on the way.”

Panic hovers in the back of his mind, bringing tears that blur the wintry landscape beyond the windshield. He circles his arms around her. Her face presses cadaver-cold against his neck.

A smell like molasses mixed with WD-40 emanates from her hair and skin. Traces of a greenish oily substance clings to the folds of her ears, mats her lashes, and slicks her cheeks and chin. It must be residue from the liquid in the cryopod. He’s smelled something like it before. On a deepwater dive suit aboard the Piper Maru and later on Bernard Gauthier, the diver.

He rests his chin on the crown of her head and wills her to stay alive.

“Don’t leave me, Scully.”
After a seeming eternity, helicopter lights appear to the east. He’s shivering uncontrollably and she feels like a block of ice in his lap. Snow is falling harder now, reducing visibility even further. The distant outcrop has disappeared behind a veil of flakes that blow horizontally across the ice.

The chopper arrives and settles fifty yards away. Mulder waits until the rescuers jump out before he opens the door of the Sno-Cat. When he does, a blast of wind steals his breath. It’s shocking how quickly the temperature plummets here at the bottom of the world. He hunches protectively around Scully.

Two men hurry toward him. One carries a light-weight basket stretcher under his arm.

“Agent Mulder?” the man with the stretcher shouts to be heard above the wind and the chopper’s spinning rotors. When Mulder nods, he says, “I’m Graeme Walker. This is Mark Thompson. Field medics from Corbyn Research Station.”

They’re dressed in foul-weather gear, their faces concealed behind masks.

Thompson leans into the cab, where Mulder still cradles Scully.

“What’s your partner’s name?” he asks. His eyes are hidden behind goggles.

“Scully. Dana Scully.”

“Dana, my name is Mark.” He talks to her like she’s not unconscious and can hear him. He lifts a corner of the Mylar blanket just enough to get a peek at her face. “I’m here to help you.”

His voice is kind and confident. He reaches for her.

Mulder is loath to release her but he hands her over to the man, trying to jostle her as little as possible. Walker has set the stretcher on the ground. Thompson places Scully gently on top of it and tucks her blankets firmly around her motionless form.

“Hurry, Agent Mulder,” Thompson urges with a wave of one arm. He and Walker each take an end of the stretcher and lift.

Mulder slides out of the driver’s seat. His knees buckle when his feet hit the ground and he nearly falls over before catching hold of the Sno-Cat’s forward track and righting himself.

“You okay, Agent?” Thompson asks. “You need help?”

“I’m fine.”

It’s a lie. He’s never felt more tired. Or cold. Or bruised. He took several hard falls in the alien ship and is feeling the effects. But maybe worse, his head throbs like a son-of-a-bitch where the bullet grazed his temple. Was that just three days ago? Seems more like three years.

Thompson and Walker shuttle Scully to the helicopter. Mulder lurches after them.

The chopper’s rotors churn the snow, making it impossible to see. Mulder raises an arm to protect his face from the whirlwind and stamps his feet to get the blood circulating while Thompson and Walker load Scully into the craft. As soon as they’re in, Mulder places a foot on the boarding step and hauls himself up.

Thompson and Walker slide the stretcher onto a raised platform at one side of the cabin area. The pilot gestures to the empty co-pilot’s seat and Mulder sits, noticing the man is gloveless and missing the tips of three fingers on his left hand. The pilot doesn’t introduce himself but Brigham is embroidered on his flight jacket. Blond, curling whiskers cover the lower half of his face. Above his beard, his skin is dark and creased from a lifetime of exposure to the weather, making it impossible to guess his age.

“Welcome aboard, Agent Mulder,” he says. “Buckle up.”   

Mulder adjusts the safety harness. Thompson hands a folded Mylar blanket over his seat back. “Looks like you could use one of these, too, Agent Mulder.”

The silvery fabric unfurls and Mulder drapes it clumsily over himself. “Thanks.” His teeth chatter. His legs jounce and he finds he can’t hold them still no matter how hard he tries.

“Brigham to Corbyn Base. See you in a few. Out.” The pilot glances back at the crew. “Ready, guys?”

“Almost.” Thompson and Walker are working together to assess Scully’s condition and warm her up. Walker shoves a heat pack under each of her arms and a third at her neck. Thompson adds another layer of blankets. They strap her and the stretcher down, then seat themselves nearby and buckle in. “All set,” Thompson announces.

“Okay, we’re outta here.”

The helicopter lifts. Brigham’s left hand adjusts the collective control while his right works the cyclic. The cockpit dips steeply as they bank to the east. A gust of wind strikes them side on. Mulder is thrown hard against his safety harness. Thompson and Walker keep their eyes locked onto Scully. The chopper yaws and Brigham wrestles with the controls. Mulder feels like he might throw up.

“Seems I took this ride once at Six Flags," he says through gritted teeth.

Brigham grins, displaying a chipped incisor in his friendly smile.

Sleet soon encrusts the canopy. The windshield wipers aren’t fast enough to clear the glass. Mulder wonders how Brigham can see where he’s going.

“If your call had come just a few minutes later, Agent Mulder, we wouldn’t be here,” Thompson says from the back, voiced raised to be heard above the engine and howling wind. “Storm came in fast and it’s a big one. Base is grounding all flights. Driving out to your location on sleds would’ve taken too long. She….” He hesitates, as if trying to gauge whether Mulder can take the truth.

“She…?” Mulder prods.

“She needs medical attention, sooner rather than later.” He leaves it at that.

The lack of detail does little to calm Mulder’s worst fears.

She can’t die. He cannot lose her.


The flight is bumpy but it takes only minutes before lights at the station come into view. Brigham expertly lands the chopper near the station’s main building. Thompson and Walker jump into action. With practiced teamwork, they each take an end of Scully’s stretcher and smoothly maneuver her out of the helicopter. They dash to the entrance, where someone stands holding the door open at the top of a ramp.

Mulder fumbles with his harness, fingers not working. Brigham reaches across and releases him.

“Follow them,” Brigham urges, the engine idling and rotors churning. “I’ve gotta put this baby to bed.”  

“Thanks.” Mulder stumbles from his seat on shaky legs. He grips the seat-back to keep from falling. Manages to climb out of the helicopter without collapsing.  

He staggers after Thompson and Walker, who are disappearing through the entrance of the sprawling, single-story building — Corbyn Station’s primary research facility. Its metal siding is painted bright red, just about the only thing visible through the cloak of blowing snow. An Australian flag lashes atop a nearby pole, frenzied and snapping like a bullwhip. Behind him, the helicopter lifts with a roar and heads to a hulking hanger located only a few hundred yards away, yet through the squall it’s as indiscernible as a ghost.

The person at the door waves him forward. A woman, he realizes as he draws near.

“Hurry, get inside,” she urges. She’s wearing an unzipped parka, looking as though she threw it on in a hurry, never intending to spend long out in the cold. She pulls the door shut behind them both as soon as he crosses the threshold.

The relative silence inside shocks him. For one startled moment he thinks he’s gone deaf. But then muted sounds come to him: the faint hum of air movement through an HVAC system, hushed voices from rooms adjoining the hallway ahead, the muffled thump of wind across the roof.

“My partner…?” He peers down the corridor and sees no sign of Scully.  

“Follow me,” the woman says, “this way.”  

She leads him down the hall. It’s an effort to keep up.

“I’m Arika. Assistant to Dr. Taumata. Everyone calls me Ari.” Her dark eyes are serious but her smile is genuine. She’s young, mid to late twenties, with cornrowed hair. An abundance of skinny braids hang below her shoulders and swing with each step. “You’re American? An FBI agent?”

“Yes. Special Agent Fox Mulder.”

Ari glances his way, a familiar “for real?” look on her face at hearing his first name. It’s brief, quickly replaced with her previous professional demeanor. “And your partner?”

“Special Agent Dana Scully. She’s going to be okay, right?” He’s generally not prone to wishful thinking but right now, any other option is too unacceptable to consider.

“Helen…uh, Dr. Taumata is the best. An expert in cold injuries: hypothermia, frostbite, chilblains, you name it. Gotta be when all your patients live in the Antarctic. Try not to worry.”

Easier said than done. She might as well tell him not to breathe.

“Agent Scully was infected with a virus,” he tells her.

Ari’s dark eyes widen. “What kind of virus?”

How much should he say? How much does he really know?

“I’m not sure.” He hesitates. He knows how crazy it’s going to sound but doesn’t believe he should hide the truth. Not when Scully’s life is at stake. “It may be…uh, extraterrestrial in origin.”

This brings Ari to a standstill. She takes a moment to scrutinize Mulder. Her stare zeros in on the gunshot wound on his left temple.

“What happened there?”

“I was shot. Three days ago.”

“Did you receive treatment?”


“Doesn’t look it.”

“I’m fine. Really. It’s my partner who needs help.”

“Yes, she does. But maybe you do, too. Let’s go see Dr. Taumata, see what she recommends. For both of you.”

Turning on her heel, she continues down the hall without another word. She’s apparently concluded he has suffered brain trauma and is no longer in his right mind. Who could blame her? He knows how ridiculous it can all sound: alien invasion, government conspiracy, black oil, corn crops, bees, viruses…. It’s a lot to take in even when you’ve seen it with your own eyes.

He trails after her, wanting more than anything to find Scully, to know that she’s going to be alright.

The narrow hall leads them past compact labs and offices, the majority crammed with furniture and equipment, researchers sharing desks. The spaces make Mulder’s basement office look palatial in comparison. He’s surprised by the number of people here. Every room is occupied by groups of workers. Mostly men. All ages.

“Are there always this many people here?” he asks.

“No, but it’s the start of our summer season. Lots of new projects gearing up. Researchers come from all over. Not like mid-winter when it’s as quiet as a tomb.”

Personnel in the hallway step aside to make room for him and Ari. They stare openly as he passes. Judging from their expressions, he must look as godawful as he feels. He’s having trouble keeping up with Ari and is about to ask her how much further when she suddenly stops in front of a closed door on the left. The word INFIRMARY is nearly obscured by colorful posters offering a wide variety of safety advice: Chilblains Explained; How to Prevent Hypothermia; Signs and Symptoms of Frostbite. The latter explains that fourth degree frostbite occurs when the tendons and bones freeze. Did Scully get that cold? On a small sign that says Office Hours, someone has crossed out the days and times and scrawled “Open 24/7. Welcome to the Land of the Midnight Sun!”

“Here we are.” Ari opens the door and motions him inside.

Mulder isn’t sure what he was expecting but this wasn’t it. The outer room is more like a walk-in closet than a hospital or clinic reception area. Boxes are stacked everywhere. There are three doors on the back wall, one closed, two open. Beyond the middle door is a tiny exam room. Empty. The door at the far right leads to a treatment area for more serious cases. Ari leads Mulder there. Thompson, Walker, and a woman — presumably Dr. Taumata — are working frantically on Scully, who is lying on a table, wrapped in clean, cotton blankets. The aluminized Mylar blankets from the Sno-Cat are in a pile on the floor.

Walker releases air from a blood pressure cuff strapped around Scully’s right arm. “BP 62 over 44,” he says.

Thompson pulls up Scully’s left eyelid and shines a thin beam of light into her eye. “Left pupil dilated.” He pulls up Scully’s other lid. “Right pupil dilated.”

Dr. Taumata presses her stethoscope to Scully’s chest. “Breathing irregular and shallow. Pulse is erratic.” She shoulders Thompson aside and inserts a thermometer in Scully’s ear. It beeps. She reads the results aloud: “Temp 31.6.”

The number shocks Mulder until he realizes it’s Celsius. He does a quick calculation to Fahrenheit: about 88 degrees. Still not good.  

“PER protocol,” Taumata announces as she places an oxygen mask over Scully’s mouth and nose. “Ari, prepare a warm saline drip. Mark, insert the PIVC. Let’s get this woman’s temperature up. You know the drill.”

Ari shrugs out of her coat. She and Thompson launch into action. Fear closes Mulder’s throat. He tries to speak.

“Is she…is she going to be okay?” he finally manages to ask. The question comes out as little more than a whisper. When he realizes no one has heard him, he clears his throat and practically shouts, “Is she going to be okay?”

“Who is this man?” Taumata asks without so much as a glance his way, her tone conveying her obvious irritation. She’s diminutive, but thickset. Her hair is cropped close to her head in a no-nonsense style. Instead of a doctor’s white coat she wears a yellow and teal sweatshirt with Hockeyroos 1988 printed across the front.

“Agent Mulder. FBI,” Thompson says as he inserts an IV into Scully’s arm. “He made the SOS call.”

“FBI?” Taumata looks directly at Mulder for the first time. She’s clearly not happy with what she sees, though he’s not sure if it’s his mere presence or something else that has her annoyed. “What happened to your head?” She barks the question, chin thrust his way.

His hand lifts automatically to the gunshot wound on his brow. “It’s nothing. How is she? How is Agent Scully?”

Taumata ignores him. “Graeme, please remove Agent Mulder. We’re tight on space here. There’s no room for visitors.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Mulder says, palms raised to ward off Walker’s approach.  

Taumata’s eyes blaze. “Graeme, take him next door. Check his head wound, get him out of those wet clothes, make sure he doesn’t have frostbite. Treat him if he does.”

“Will do, doc.” Half a dozen steps bring Graeme Walker across the room to Mulder’s side.  

“No! I don’t care about myself.” Mulder’s voice is too loud. All heads turn his way. “I only care about her. She’s all that matters.”
“Out. Now!” Taumata returns her attention to Scully. She's done with this discussion.

Walker reaches for Mulder’s elbow. Mulder shakes him off.

“I’m staying!”

“Sorry, Agent Mulder. We have to let Dr. Taumata do her work.” Walker’s voice is calm, persuasive. “Your partner needs immediate medical attention. You need to think about what’s best for her. Come with me. Please.”

Mulder recognizes that Walker is trying to deescalate the situation but after coming all this way, finding Scully, giving her the vaccine, Mulder is not about to let her out of his sight. He doesn’t know these people. They could be working with the very men who kidnapped her. This station isn’t all that far from the ship’s location. They could be colluding with the US Government, with Old Smokey.

“I won’t leave her,” Mulder growls, “I can’t—” The urge to throw a punch is nearly overwhelming but Walker is looking at him with patience and kindness. The others have returned their attention to Scully. She clearly needs their help. Her eyes are sunken, the flesh around them looks bruised. Small blisters stipple her cheeks and ears. She’s as motionless as the corpses she autopsies. Fear tightens his chest, sizzles like an electrical current through his limbs. His fists clench but his rage ebbs. He stands down.

“Just for now,” Walker promises, steering him through the door. “As soon as your partner is stabilized, Dr. Taumata will update you.”

Mulder gives a curt nod and reluctantly turns away, not trusting himself to speak. He feels like he’s failing her.

“After you." Walker points the way to the exam room next door.

Mulder obliges and enters ahead of Walker. When Walker starts to shut the door behind them, Mulder objects.

“Keep it open,” he insists.

“For your privacy—”

“I said keep it open. I want to be able to hear what’s happening in there.” He nods toward the treatment room they just left.

“Suit yourself.” Walker grabs a couple of thick towels from a shelf. “Take off your wet things and dry yourself with these.” He sets the towels on the exam table.

Mulder ignores the towels. “First, tell me about your neighbors.”

“My neighbors?”

“The station. Spitting distance from where you picked me up. Are you working with them?”

“Not likely. We’ve been told to steer clear of that base.”


“You probably know more about it than I do. Word is, it’s a top secret US military research station, off limits.” Walker pulls antiseptic, gauze pads, and tape from a drawer and lines them up on the counter.

“You’ve never been there, never seen it?” Mulder asks.

“No. Brigham…our rescue pilot…did a fly-by once, from a distance. Said it was just a few small igloo-style structures, not much to it.”

“You’d be surprised. He will, too, next time he flies out there.”

“And risk an international incident between the Australian and United States governments? I don’t think so. We like our jobs.”

Mulder is inclined to distrust nearly everything and everybody but his gut is telling him Walker is being truthful. Maybe he really is what he appears and just wants to help.

“Now it’s my turn to ask questions.” Walker approaches and takes a long, close look at the wound on Mulder’s temple. “What happened here?”

“I was shot.”

“I see that. When? Two, maybe three days ago?”

Mulder nods but doesn’t elaborate.

“A close one,” Walker states the obvious. “I’ll clean and bandage it. Here, sit on the exam table and stick this in your mouth.” He holds out a mercury-style thermometer and waits for Mulder to open up. “Under your tongue, please.”

Mulder obliges and is silenced for several minutes. He shivers and wishes someone would turn up the heat. Walker dabs disinfectant on his wound and applies a fresh bandage. It stings but Walker is gentle, methodical.

“There’s a bit of infection setting in. I’ll give you some antibiotics to clear it up. Was an MRI taken?”

Mulder nods, though he doesn’t know if it’s true. He woke up in the hospital with gauze wrapped around his head and Byers telling him a few centimeters to the left and he’d be dead.

Walker relieves him of the thermometer and checks the reading. “A little below normal but you’re not in any danger.” He shakes it out and drops it into a jar of blue liquid. “Now, will you please get out of those wet clothes? I’ll send for something clean and dry for you to change into.”

Mulder unzips his vest, shrugs it off while Walker crosses to a wall phone and punches a number. “Hey, Buzzy, it’s Graeme. Send up a change of clothes, will you? Men’s large.” He turns to Mulder. “What size shoe do you wear?”

Mulder is peeling his sweatshirt off over his head and thinks who the fuck cares. Then realizes his boots are soaked through and a dry pair would be nice, so says “Thirteen” from behind the fabric.

Walker speaks into the phone. “Okay. Okay, great. As soon as you can get it all together. Thanks.”

Walker hangs up as Mulder removes his undershirt.

“Whoa, you have some pretty serious bruising there.” Walker is staring at Mulder’s ribs. “What happened?”

“I dropped in on your neighbors. Literally.”

Walker presses the area gently, eliciting a hiss of pain from Mulder. “I’d like to take some x-rays to rule out any broken bones or fractures.”

“I’m fine.”

“Do you have ‘MD’ on your business card, Agent Mulder?”

Chagrinned, Mulder presents Walker with a ghost of a smile. He bends to remove first one boot, then the other. They don’t come off easily, saturated as they are, sticking to his bare feet.

“No socks?” Walker is clearly surprised.

“I gave them to her.” Mulder tilts his head toward the room on the other side of the wall and wonders how things are going in there. He stands and strips off his pants. More bruises mottle his legs. A particularly large one on his left hip peeks out both above and below his boxer briefs.

“Looks like we’ll be x-raying more than your ribs.” Walker hands one of the towels to Mulder, who wraps it around his shoulders. Gooseflesh stipples his arms and legs.  

“Sit.” Walker pats the exam table before gathering Mulder’s clothes and dumping them onto a chair.

Mulder does as he’s told. The fight has gone out of him. The strain of the last three days is catching up. It’s a struggle to move, stay awake, breathe.

As if reading his mind, Walker asks, “When was the last time you slept?”


“Funny. For real, when did you last get some sleep?”

Mulder thinks back. A couple of trips to Dallas and the long flight to Antarctica. “I really don’t know,” he says honestly.

“Okay. What about food, when did you last eat?”

“I had a bag of peanuts on the plane.”

“Well, I suggest when we’re done here, you get some food into you and then you sleep for a few hours.”

As if sleeping is as easy as that. He isn’t going to close his eyes until he knows Scully will recover.

Walker unfolds another towel and drapes it over Mulder’s knees. Mulder welcomes its warmth.

“Hands out, palms up.” Walker demonstrates. Mulder follows suit. “What brought you and your partner to the Antarctic?” He turns Mulder’s hands over to inspect the backs. “Unless it’s classified and you have to kill me if you tell me.” He’s smiling when he says this. He squeezes Mulder’s fingers. “Can you feel that?”


Walker snags a wheeled stool, positions it in front of Mulder’s feet, and sits. “Surely, not sightseeing.” Walker is back on the subject of why Mulder and Scully are here.

Mulder decides to give him at least part of the picture. Without any sugarcoating. “My partner was kidnapped from my apartment hallway and brought here against her will. I was shot trying to stop it.”

Walker’s prodding stops. He stares up at Mulder. “Jesus!” He gathers his wits quickly. Standing, he says, “No sign of frostbite. You’re very lucky, Agent Mulder.”

That’s not how Mulder would describe his situation but he is grateful he’ll be keeping all his fingers and toes. The pilot’s missing fingertips come to mind.

A knock on the doorframe interrupts them.

“The clothes you asked for,” says a young woman with the palest eyebrows and eyelashes Mulder has ever seen. The hair on her head is died bright blue. She smiles at him and lifts a pair of boots from the top of the pile. “Got lucky and found you some thirteens.”

Walker takes the clothes from her. “Thanks, Buzzy. Appreciate it.”

This is clearly a dismissal but she flashes Mulder another wide grin before backing out the door and disappearing.  

“Okay, let’s take those x-rays now,” Walker says and points Mulder to the door.

Buzzy included a razor, toothbrush, and paste in the pile of borrowed clothing she’d gathered for Mulder. Bless the little blue-haired angel’s heart. After a hot, albeit far-too-brief shower and shave, Mulder feels reborn. The station’s strict water conservation rules kept his cleanup to under three minutes but he’s grateful for everything, especially the change of clothes. Sweatshirt, jeans, thermals, even the underwear smelled of sweet-scented detergent, a far cry from the rank, sweat-soaked garments he arrived in. And it felt heavenly to slip his feet into warm, dry socks. Bonus: the boots actually fit. Walker explained that all the clothes came from former researchers who left them behind when they went back home, not wanting to pay freight costs for things they’d likely never use again. Everything was washed and put into storage for future researchers, should they neglect to pack what they needed or ended up damaging what they did bring.  

While Mulder was cleaning up, Walker developed his x-rays.

“Good news,” Walker says to Mulder now, pointing to the pictures clipped to the light wall in the exam room. “No broken bones or fractures. Just deep bruising.” The images show Mulder’s ribs, spine, and the long bones of his legs are all whole despite the beating he took. “Still, injuries like this can hurt like a son-of-a-bitch. You want something for the pain?”

“No, I’m okay. Thanks.” Mulder is eager finish up here and visit Scully. “Can I see her now?”

Walker flicks off the light wall and the x-rays go dark. “Sorry, no. I know it’s hard to wait, but there’s nothing you can do for her right now except stay out of the way. Dr. Taumata will talk to you as soon as she’s able.”

“Isn’t it taking a long time? Shouldn’t Scully…Agent Scully…have improved by now?”

“It’s only been an hour.”

Mulder wonders how that can be possible. It feels like it’s been days.

Walker collects Mulder’s wet clothes. “I’ll get these cleaned and dried for you.”

“Wait….” Mulder suddenly remembers Scully’s cross, recovered from the transport unit on the ship. “There’s something in my vest I need.”

Walker passes him the vest and Mulder digs into the righthand pocket. His fingers graze Scully’s necklace. He palms it and tucks it away in his pants pocket.

“Are you sure we can’t just take a peek?” he asks as they walk past the treatment room, where the door is now shut. This adds to his worry.

“Soon. For now, go to the cafeteria and get something to eat and drink. Doctor’s orders.”

Mulder knows he should refuel but his appetite left him the minute Scully collapsed outside his apartment.

“I’ll accompany you as far as the laundry,” Walker offers. “This way."

A pervasive odor of fryolator oil, grilled onions, and burnt coffee hits Mulder even before he opens the door to the cafeteria. Stepping inside, he’s assaulted by a cacophony of clanking dishes and genial chatter. The room is the largest he’s seen so far at the station. More colorful, too, with a tropical-themed mural on two walls. About twenty laminate tables fill the space in front of a food counter, some pushed together to accommodate larger groups. The diners are all dressed much like he is in sweatshirts and jeans. Many wear hats although the room is comfortably warm. A welcome change from the rest of the station.

Mulder approaches the service counter and scans the whiteboard menu. Lighter fare includes soups, burgers, meat pies, a long list of beers. For heartier appetites: roast lamb, steak and chips, chicken parm, the list goes on and on. And then there are the desserts, most of which he doesn’t recognize. Stickjaw Toffees? Cherry Ripe? Pineapple Lumps? It’s an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord, courtesy of the Australian government.

“What’ll it be?” asks the young man behind the counter. Dreadlocks spill from his knit hat. Piercings ornament his ears, nose, and lower lip. His name tag says “Spike.”

“What do you recommend?”

“Chili and cornbread are the best you’ll find anywhere south of Tierra del Fuego.”

Mulder wonders how many times a day the kid repeats that line. “Sure. And the largest cup of coffee you have.”

“I’ll bring a pot to your table. Food’ll be up in a few minutes. Sit anywhere you like.”

The cafeteria is crowded, nearly every table occupied. He spots Brigham, the pilot, sitting alone in one corner, his back to the wall. Brigham sees Mulder, too, and waves him over.

“How’s your lady friend?” he asks when Mulder arrives.

Mulder shrugs and sits. “Don’t know. Taumata kicked me out.”

Brigham chuckles, the deep laugh of a barrel-chested man. “No worries, she’ll be right mate. Helen Taumata has the personality of a pit bull but she’s good at what she does. None better. Saved many a frozen fuck, including my own sorry, cold ass. Couldn’t save all of me but I lived to tell the tale.” He holds up his hand and wiggles what’s left of his amputated fingers.

“That’s…reassuring.” Mulder pictures Scully’s petite hands with her pretty manicured nails, snapping on latex and holding a scalpel, squeezing the trigger of her SIG, fighting off Donnie Pfaster so that her fingers didn’t end up in his freezer next to his peas and carrots. Bile rides up the back of his throat. “You been working at Corbyn Station long?”

“Five years. Summers only.”

“And the rest of the year?”

“Sailing, snorkeling, surfing. Anything that puts me out in the fucking heat.” That explains Brigham’s darkly tanned face.

Spike delivers Mulder’s food and, as promised, sets a full carafe of coffee on the table between the two men. While Brigham helps himself to a refill, Mulder digs into his bowl of chili and is pleasantly surprised by how good it tastes. He’s hungrier than he realized. He takes a huge bite of cornbread and washes it down with a slug of coffee. The caffeine rushes to his head, dulling his headache and promising a much-needed jolt of energy.

“Thanks again for the lift,” he says between bites.

Brigham waves off Mulder’s gratitude. “All in a day’s work.”

Mulder slathers butter on his cornbread. “Assuming my partner is able, how soon can we fly out?”

“That’s up to Mother Nature. No transportation — of any kind — until the weather improves.”

As if on cue, a particularly intense gust of wind batters the outer wall and thumps loudly across the roof. A few diners look up from their food in surprise. Beyond the room’s one window is nothing but white.

“Maybe tomorrow?” Mulder asks.

“Possibly. Or maybe two or three days. Katabatic winds are notoriously hard to predict. All I know is visibility is currently less than 30 meters, windspeed is topping 55 knots, and the temp is -73C. That’s what’s known as Weather Condition 1 down here. You, her, me, everybody, we’re all stuck here for now.” Brigham’s plate is empty except for a few cooling French fries but he seems in no hurry to leave. “There’s plenty to do to pass the time, if you’re interested. The station has a gym, pingpong, arcade games, movie nights."

“Movie nights? Anything good playing?”

“‘The Thing.’”

“You’re kidding.”

“Not a John Carpenter fan?”

“I’m not a shape-shifting aliens in the Antarctic fan. At least, not this week.”

“Huh. Don’t know what you’re missing.”

Mulder’s chili is nearly gone already. He considers ordering another bowlful. Or a piece of Cherry Ripe, whatever the hell that is. But first he wants to find out what if anything Brigham knows about Old Smokey’s venture at South 83 degrees latitude, East 63 degrees longitude.

“Rumor has it you’ve flown over the station where you picked me up.”

Brigham’s genial expression evaporates. He sets down his coffee cup and crosses his arms. “The trouble with fucking rumors is most are bullshit.”

“You’re saying you haven’t seen that base?”

“It’s officially off limits, Agent Mulder.”

“Maybe, but I’ve gone places I shouldn’t. Ignored ‘no trespassing’ signs.”

“Maybe you’re in a better position to disregard the rules.”

Mulder nods. “How about I tell you what I saw there.” Poker-faced, Brigham doesn’t encourage or discourage Mulder in any way. Mulder takes it as silent consent to continue. “You ever visit Wolfe Creek Crater?”

“Sure, as a boy.”

“That’s what you’ll see if you fly over that station now.”

“A 900-meter crater? How the fuck is that possible?”

“The base that was there when you did or did not fly over it was just the tip of an iceberg. An iceberg of unnatural origins.”


“The station was sitting on top of a ship buried beneath the ice.”

“Ship? What kind of ship?”

“Nothing you’d sail in around Sydney Harbour.”

“Fuck me, I don’t believe it.”

“I was there. Inside it. It’s where I found my partner, held captive in some sort of cryopod, along with thousands, maybe tens of thousands of other captives, some looking like they’d been there since the Ice Age.”

“For what purpose?”

Mulder hesitates. How much of the truth would Brigham believe? He decides to find out.

“Alien colonization.”

He expects Brigham to laugh or dismiss the idea but instead the pilot uncrosses his arms and leans his elbows on the table. Deadly serious, he asks, “And how exactly did the crater get there?”

“The ship took off, flew away, leaving a big ol’ hole in the ground. It’s there. Fly out after the storm ends and see it for yourself.”

Brigham pours himself another cup of coffee. Fills Mulder’s, too.

“As crazy as that sounds,” Brigham says at length, “and it does sound fucking crazy, I’ve seen something, too. Something that makes me believe there might be a kernel of truth to what you’re saying.”

“What did you see?”

Brigham glances around and lowers his voice. “About a month ago, a cargo copter crashed, halfway between this station and that one. No distress call, no warning. It was a picture-perfect day with clear skies, no wind. A Corbyn researcher out on the ice witnessed the crash from about a thousand meters away and called it in. I flew out with a rescue team. Tried to raise the pilot on the radio on the way there. No response. Took us only minutes to arrive. But we weren’t the first on the scene.”

“Who got there before you?”

“Two choppers, brand new, no logos, no identifying marks of any kind. They had to have come from the other station, given how quickly they arrived at the crash site. Half a dozen crew wearing full cold-weather hazmat gear were offloading containers from the downed chopper.”

“What kind of containers?”

“Metallic tubes, about a meter long, 15 or 16 centimeters across. Smooth. No labels, though given the precautions, I’d guess they contained something dangerous.”

Black oil, Mulder is certain, carrying the alien virus.

“What about the pilot?” he asks. “Did he make it?”

“Not sure. Two men loaded him into some sort of translucent stretcher, for want of a better term, with a lid, like a see-through coffin. Nothing I’ve ever seen before.”

Like the container on the ship where Mulder found Scully’s clothes and necklace. “He might not have been dead.”

“Funny you say that. I swear I saw him moving inside that thing before they loaded him into their chopper. Everything about this so-called rescue seemed off but what really struck me as odd was this one guy who wasn’t wearing protective gear like the others, just a regular parka. He seemed to be in charge though he didn’t say much, just stood there watching everything happen, smoking one cigarette after the next.”

“I know that man. He was on the ship. He’s responsible for Agent Scully's abduction.”

“He directed one of his men our way. Guy came over, armed with an M16. Aimed it at us and demanded we leave immediately. Said the area was under strict quarantine and we were in grave danger. Strict quarantine, grave danger…his exact words. Who the hell talks that way?”

There is more Mulder wants to ask but is interrupted by the arrival of Dr. Taumata.

“G’day, Brig,” Taumata says to the pilot.

“Helen.” He nods.

Mulder stands, hoping he’ll finally be allowed to see Scully. “How is she?”

“Walk with me, Agent Mulder.” Taumata heads for the exit.

Mulder hurries after her. “Is she okay? She’s alive, right? Isn’t she?” His voice rises with every word. Passersby turn to stare.

Taumata stops and lightly grips his upper arm, halting him, too. “Yes, she’s alive. Her temperature is back up, her heart rate is regular. She’s regained consciousness.”

Mulder bends, braces himself, palms to thighs. Sucking in a lungful of air, he tries to slow his breathing, calm his racing heart. Taumata’s hand drops away and Mulder stands upright again.

“Thank you,” he says, never more relieved.

“Thanks go to you in large part, Agent Mulder. Your quick action likely saved her life. Her condition was unquestionably serious but we were able to stabilize her with passive external warming. We administered humidified oxygen and warm intravenous fluids. Her core body temp still isn’t where we want it but is continuing to rise.”

He’s heard enough and wants to see Scully. Without waiting for Taumata’s permission, he abandons her and jogs toward the infirmary.

Mulder pulls up short at the door to the treatment room where Scully is asleep in bed. A tube loops from an oxygen tank to her nose. An IV bag hangs on a nearby pole. She’s wearing an oversized hospital gown that makes her appear even smaller than she is. There are dark circles beneath her eyes and she’s nearly as pale as the bedsheets. The sight takes him back to the Trinity Hospital Emergency Medical Unit, when she was dying of cancer.

This past year was hard on them both but most especially on Scully. Her cancer, Emily, Ruskin Dam…any of these trials could’ve crushed the spirit of someone with less fortitude or faith. While the disease she was given and the heartbreak she endured at the death of her child whittled away at her physical size, she remained indomitable, saving his ass multiple times over the past few months, from mothmen in Florida, a killer AI in Virginia, and a brain-sucking insect-monster in Illinois. As always, her strength, confidence, and fearlessness awed him. He has come to rely on these assets. On her, as both a partner and a friend. She truly is his one in five billion.   

He takes a deep breath and crosses the room to stand beside her. Gently, he brushes aside a loose strand of hair at her temple. She’s been cleaned up, her hair rinsed, her body washed, the oily substance is gone. He regrets the loss of trace evidence but is so goddamn glad to see her. She stirs and wakens.

“Hey,” he says softly.

Her brow furrows when her focus slides to the fresh bandage at his hairline.

“Mulder, what happened?” She reaches for his hand, grasps his fingers. “Are you okay?”

“Am I okay?” Smiling, he lifts her hand to his lips and places a soft kiss on her knuckles. Her skin is warm. Praise Jesus. “Scully, you’re the one lying in a hospital bed.”

“But you…?” Her words trail off as she glances around the room. He does the same.

Ari is busy organizing the contents of a cupboard. She offers them a quick smile.

Scully clings to his hand, tightening her grip. “Mulder, I…I don’t know what happened to me.”

“We don’t need to talk about that right now. But I do have something for you.” He digs into his pocket and pulls out her necklace. The cross dangles from its chain, catching the light.

She takes it from him, unfastens the clasp, and hooks it around her neck. “This is getting to be a bad habit.” She frowns as she fingers the small cross.

“Our own post-abduction tradition,” he jokes, making her bristle. She’s never liked the term. He leans in and softly kisses her forehead, wanting to erase the unease he sees there.

“I see you found your way, Agent Mulder,” Dr. Taumata says as she enters the room. She is slightly out of breath. If she’s surprised by his show of affection toward Scully, she doesn’t let on. “Ms. Scully, are you hungry?”

“Yes. To be honest, I’m famished. Mulder, have you eaten?”

He nods. “I can recommend the chili.”

Taumata checks Scully’s vitals on the patient monitor beside to the bed. “Let’s start you with something hot and sweet to drink, followed by fruit and bread. The complex carbohydrates will provide quick calories. If you’re still hungry after that, Ms. Scully, you can eat whatever you like.”

Ari volunteers to order the food and leaves the room. Mulder snags a nearby chair and moves it close to Scully’s bed. As he starts to sit, Taumata warns, “Don’t make yourself too comfortable, Mr. Mulder. Your partner needs her rest.”

“I want him to stay,” Scully says, once again reaching for his hand.

He takes it, grateful to be with her, relieved she’s alive. Delighted she wants him to stay.

“In that case, maybe he can answer some questions,” Taumata says. “Mr. Mulder, I’ve already asked your partner about her experience but understandably she doesn’t recall much of what happened to her. I’m hoping you can fill in the blanks and provide information that could be helpful to her treatment and recovery.”

“Fire away.” Mulder sits and gives Scully’s hand a reassuring squeeze.

“Ms. Scully presented with cardiac arrhythmia and arrest soon after she arrived. We used a defibrillator to restore a rhythm. During the process, I noticed bruising at her sternum, as if someone had recently performed CPR on her. Was that you?”

Horrified by the possibility he might have injured Scully, he gives a hesitant nod. “I…I didn’t break anything, did I?”

Taumata smiles. “No. You did fine. I just wanted to confirm what happened for our records.”

“Can we have access to those records?” Mulder asks. “Any evidence we can bring back to DC could be helpful to our case.”

“Of course. Would the samples I took be of help, too?”

“Samples?” Mulder feels a surge of hope. Maybe all trace evidence wasn’t lost after all.

“Blood samples primarily,” Taumata says. "Ari mentioned to me that you said Ms. Scully had been exposed to a virus. An ‘extraterrestrial’ virus. Did she hear you correctly?”

“It’s a … complicated story, and we’re still piecing together the details, but, yes, Agent Scully was infected with a virus, the origin of which—”

“Is up for debate,” Scully interrupts. It’s clear she wants him to say no more on the subject.

He’s about to risk angering her when a fit of coughing overtakes her. She struggles to catch her breath. Taumata is immediately attentive, raising the head of the bed until Scully is sitting upright. After a couple of minutes, Scully’s cough subsides.

“Lean forward,” Taumata says, placing the diaphragm of her stethoscope to Scully’s back. “Take a deep breath. Another."

“I’m okay,” Scully insists when Taumata finishes.

“You have fluid in your lungs,” Taumata says.

Mulder supplies the likely explanation. “She was submerged in a liquid-filled tank when I found her.”

“Submerged? Completely?” Taumata looks skeptical.

Mulder nods. “There was a…a flexible hose-like structure inserted into her throat.”

Now Scully’s expression registers disbelief. “A ventilator tube?”

“It looked more…biological than mechanical.”

“Mulder, I don’t have to tell you how unlikely that is.”

“Unlikely or not, Mr. Mulder’s account may explain the substance we found on your skin and hair when you were brought in. It was oleaginous. Smelled like a combination of honey and burnt engine oil. I took samples of it, too.” Taumata turns to Mulder. “Where exactly did you find her?”

Will she believe him if he tells her the truth, that Scully was held captive on an alien ship full of long-clawed spacelings gestating in the bellies of their human hosts?

“I’m not at liberty to say,” he says at length, falling back on an FBI protocol he usually ignores. Scully lets out a sigh of what can only be relief. “Our investigation is ongoing.”

“I’d like to get out of here,” Scully says, pushing back her bedcovers.

“I don’t recommend that, Ms. Scully. Your condition—”

“I don’t care. I want to leave. Mulder, can we please go?”

“Scully, I think you should listen to your doctor.”

“I want to go home.”

“I know. So do I. But we’re grounded here until this storm lets up.”

“Storm…?” Her expression of disappointment is replaced by one of resignation when she clearly recognizes the sound of wind over the roof. “Okay, but I don’t want to stay here in this room, in this bed.”       

Mulder turns to Taumata. “Is there someplace private where Agent Scully and I can debrief?”

“I prefer she stay right here where I can monitor her. If pneumonia develops—”

“I’m a medical doctor,” Scully interrupts. “I can monitor myself.”

“Dr. Scully,” Taumata says, using Scully’s title now that she’s been made aware of it, “we both know doctors are notorious for disregarding their own symptoms."

“I’ll keep an eye on her,” Mulder says before Scully’s obvious indignation turns into a full-blown argument. “I promise I’ll reach out for help if anything happens.”

“I strongly urge you to reconsider that idea,” Taumata says.

“Doctor, I’m hungry and tired,” Scully says. “I’ll sleep much better in a real bed than I will in this one.”

Taumata briefly considers Scully’s words before striking a bargain. “How about you eat here and, if your condition continues to improve, we’ll find you a room. And I’ll rely on Mr. Mulder to keep his word and let me know if your condition worsens in any way.”     

“Her welfare is my only concern.” Mulder tags Scully’s arm, giving it a light caress.

Taumata takes in the gesture. She nods. A smile plays on her lips. “I’m inclined to believe you, Agent Mulder."

The only thing familiar is Mulder. Not this strange place. Nor these people. Scully doesn’t know how she got here. Or what happened to her. The mystery bedevils her. She is reminded of waking up in other hospitals, of other moments of her life unaccounted for. Lost time on Skyland Mountain. At Ruskin Dam. But then, as now, Mulder is beside her and his presence steadies her and keeps her panic at bay.

“This is it.” Mulder stops at a door marked 17, inserts a key into the lock. A turn of the knob and he swings the door inward. “After you.”

She hesitates at the threshold. The room is dark and chilly. Goosebumps rise on her arms although she is dressed warmly. Borrowed clothes, too big, are an improvement over the hospital gown she left behind in the infirmary, where she finished a hearty meal of fruit and bread and soup and even a plate of fried chicken wings, which she would never touch back home, but she wanted to prove to Dr. Taumata, and to herself, that she is better, well enough to be set free.

The food now sits uneasily in her stomach. Her fists are buried deep inside the sleeves of her sweatshirt and she hugs herself to hide her shivering.

“Still cold?” There is concern in Mulder’s eyes. He watches her intently.

There are times like now when she wants to hide from his scrutiny. For his sake as well as her own. He sees too much, this man, her partner. A profiler by profession and by instinct. She wants him to think she’s unshaken by this latest ordeal. But she knows he can see through pretense almost as if he’s telepathic.

“I’ll get the light,” he says. Stepping past her, he flips a switch.

A dim desk lamp blinks to life, revealing a combination bedroom and study space. It reminds her of the dorm rooms at med school. Bare bones furniture of scuffed wood, mismatched chair and desk, a bureau with too few drawers, a narrow bed pushed into one corner. Posters of Sydney Harbour decorate the walls, along with scientific charts, photos of ice fields and emperor penguins, newspaper clippings, a windchill chart. A framed 3X5 photo of a tanned young woman with a smiling baby graces the nightstand. Someone moved out to temporarily make room for her and Mulder. She is grateful to this stranger.

“Scully, look! It rained sleeping bags,” Mulder says, bringing back memories of their night together in Florida’s Apilachacola National Forest. Grinning, he grabs one of the two rolled bags from the bed and pulls at the laces that keep it bundled. It unfurls with a shake and he works the zipper until it opens into a makeshift blanket, which he drapes around her shoulders.


“A little.”

He wraps his arms around her then, too, adding his body heat to the mix. “How about now?” he asks, his chin resting on the crown of her head.

She relaxes into his embrace. Breathes in his familiar scent. Feels the steady beat of his heart against her cheek. She is reminded of the last time they stood like this. In the hallway outside his apartment.

My God, she’d gone there to tell him she was quitting.  

“I owe you an apology, Mulder,” she says to his chest, her words muffled against his sweatshirt.

“For what?”

“Resigning. Leaving the FBI. The X-Files.”

Leaving you.

“Scully…there’s nothing to apologize for."

She draws back to look up into his sad eyes. “Yes, there is. You never quit. No matter how difficult things get, you keep forging ahead. It’s not in your nature to give up.”

“Don’t be so sure.” He tightens his hold on her. “I quit the FBI once. Wrote out a letter of resignation and handed it in to Skinner.”

“When was that?”

“When you were missing. Uh, the first time.”

“Well. You obviously changed your mind.”

“Only because Skinner made a compelling argument. And you were returned.” His chin is again propped on her head and she can feel the slide of his Adam’s apple against her brow. “We can all reach a breaking point, Scully.”

She leans into him, grateful for his presence, the solid feel of him. Wind rattles across the roof. A storm rages outside, trapping them here. But a storm is raging inside her, too, and she is caught between the desire to know the truth of what happened to her and wanting to avoid an argument with Mulder. For surely, there will be a difference of opinion if he ignores the science. Does she dare ask him for the details of how they got here and why?

She hasn’t always wanted to confront the truth. I don’t share those memories, she’d told Penny Northern, I can’t hear this right now. Only a year and a half ago.

Yet she’s seen so much since then. Things even science couldn’t adequately explain.

She’s also learned she doesn’t like being kept in the dark or blindsided after the fact. Why didn’t you tell me, Mulder, she asked after learning about the loss of her ova. At a custody hearing, of all places, petitioning to adopt Emily. His reply: I thought I was protecting you.

Well, she doesn’t need coddling. She needs facts.

“I want to know what happened to me,” she says now, trying to put as much conviction into her voice as she can manage.

“Are you sure?” His tone is measured.

“Yes. I’m sure.”

“Okay. But it’s a rather long story.”

“Then let’s get comfortable.” She steps away from him to toe off her borrowed sneakers.

He follows her lead and sits in the desk chair to unlace his boots. No sooner has he pulled them from his feet when she warns, “Heads up!” and tosses him the second sleeping bag, still tightly rolled. He catches it and smiles. There are several pillows on the bed, which she piles against the headboard for them both. While he works on opening the second sleeping bag, she settles into the bed and covers herself with the first.

“Here,” Mulder soon says and spreads another down-filled layer over her. She appreciates the added warmth. She scoots close to the wall to make room for him. He lowers himself onto the bed and stretches out next to her, slowly, carefully, like he’s afraid of crowding her.

Or…he’s hurt.

“Everything okay?” she asks.

“Fine. It’s been a rough few days.” His movements stop and he looks at her apologetically. “Not that it’s been a cakewalk for you.”

“What happened to me doesn’t negate what you’ve been through.” She’s only beginning to understand all he’s done on her behalf. “Tell me everything, Mulder.” You don’t need to protect me, she thinks but doesn’t say.

He is on his back beside her, head propped by pillows, eyes focused on the ceiling. She is on her side, cocooned in the scant space between him and the wall. She repositions the sleeping bags to cover him, too. Her fingers inadvertently graze the skin of his neck, making him gasp.

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, Scully, and under other circumstances I probably wouldn’t, but please keep your cold hands to yourself,” he says, smiling.  

“I can’t believe you’re saying it either.” She gives him a playful poke in the side. This elicits a yelp of pain. Real pain. He’s not playacting. “What is it, Mulder?”

“Nothing. Just a bruise.”

“Let me see.”

“No, I—”

“Let me see!” she says more firmly, pushing off their covers and tugging at his sweatshirt.

To her surprise, he gives in to her, sits up, and draws the shirt off over his head. His thermal undershirt nearly goes with it, giving her a clear view of his blackened ribs.

“Mulder…this isn’t nothing.” She presses as gently as possible along his bones, feeling for breaks.

“Stop.” He leans away. “I’ve had x-rays. No breaks, no fractures. Your fingers are are like icicles.” He traps them between his own warm palms, putting an end to her probing.

“Okay,” she relents though she remains concerned.   

He releases her hands and tugs his undershirt back into place before lying down again. She lies down, too, facing him, her head resting in the hollow between his chest and shoulder. His pulse thrums steadily beneath her ear. She places her open palm on his chest, which rises and falls in a steady rhythm. He covers her hand with his own.

“I want to know how you got those bruises, Mulder. And that wound on your forehead. Tell me everything. And start at the beginning.”

“The very beginning?” He shakes his head as if what she’s asking is impossible. “Let’s start with the last thing you remember before I found you on the ship and we’ll go from there.”

She’s not sure what he means about a ship but puts that question aside for now and thinks back.

“I remember stopping by your apartment.” A surge of guilt heats her face. Her reasons for going there seem unfair now. No, worse than that. Disloyal. Unconscionable. “You followed me into the hall.”


He’d told her he owed her everything and she owed him nothing. She was fairly certain he was going to kiss her.

She doesn’t say any of that aloud. Instead, she says, “I was stung. By a bee. I remember pain in my chest. A funny taste in the back of my throat.”

“You collapsed. I called 911. But my call was intercepted and you never made it to the hospital. You were brought here.”

“Were you brought here with me?”

“No. I was shot in the head, woke up in a hospital, and then came looking for you.”

“Shot? Mulder—”

“It’s okay. I survived. Obviously.”

“Obviously. Then what? How did you know where to find me? Did Kurtzweil tell you where I was?”

“No. Kurtzweil’s dead. I got your location from his killer. Along with the vaccine to save you. I don’t know the man’s name but you and I had met him before.”

“When? Where?

“Three years ago. At Victor Klemper’s orchid house.”

She remembers the well-dressed gentleman with a British accent. “Mulder, that man is interested only in helping himself and his coconspirators. He said as much when he approached me at your father’s funeral.”

“That man gave up his life so that I could find and save you.”

“He’s dead, too?”

“Along with his driver.”

How close had Mulder come to dying, too? To save her. She swallows her feelings of alarm to ask her next question.

“He gave you a…a vaccine?”

He smiles. “I’m getting to that.”

Mulder continues his account, describing his frantic search for her, his surprise at finding a base camp at the coordinates he’d been given, which gave way to anger when he spotted Old Smokey boarding a Sno-Cat outside a scattering of above-ground structures. Mulder must’ve pulled a lot of strings to get from DC to Antarctica in two days. Scully is sure he’s skipping details, likely editing what he says for her sake, to keep her from worrying. Or maybe he’s simply tired. When was the last time he slept? Exhaustion is etched into his face yet his eyes burn with an eagerness to tell her what he’s seen.

“At the time, Scully, I had no idea what was under those structures.”

“What was under them?”

“A ship. Bigger than the Astrodome. Designed to warehouse human captives, thousands of them, maybe tens of thousands. I know…I know it sounds impossible,” he says when she shakes her head, “but hear me out.”

“Okay. I’m listening. But back up. How did you get inside?”

“Let’s just say I slipped in through a back door.” He rubs his bruised ribs. “I wasn’t prepared for what I found, Scully. Some of the people in the pods looked like…cave men. I think…I think that ship was there for a very long time, maybe since before the last Ice Age.”


“I’m telling you what I saw."

“Okay, for arguments sake, let’s say there was a ship—”

“There was a ship.”

“How? Or why?”

“To house human hosts and propagate new aliens. Each human had an alien growing inside it.”

“You could see them? These ‘hosts’ were transparent?”

“You saw that infected body in Dallas. You saw what his tissue looked like.”

Yes, she had. It was gelatinous and translucent, with the bones and organs fully visible beneath the dermis and subcutaneous tissue. But…. “There was no alien growing inside the body I examined.”

“I’ve wondered about that. Maybe the men in Dallas died before the transformation could take place. Or conditions weren’t right. Or…. I don’t know how it works, Scully, but I know what I saw on that ship.”

She wants to believe him. She knows he’s not a madman. He intuits things she doesn’t. He’s been right often enough to have earned the benefit of the doubt. And yet….

As usual, he strives to convince her. “There’s precedence for this in nature, isn’t there? Aren’t there insects that lay their eggs inside other insect hosts?”

“Parasitoid wasps lay eggs on or in the bodies of other arthropods, sooner or later causing the death of the hosts. But the aliens you describe didn’t lay eggs in human hosts, Mulder. If what we’ve been told in the past is true, those people were infected with a virus but…viruses don’t grow into multi-celled organisms.”

“These do. I witnessed newborn aliens coming to life. They birthed themselves by clawing their way out of their living hosts. They were fully formed, able to stand up on two legs and chase after us. They would’ve killed us if we hadn’t escaped.”

“I’m sorry, Mulder, but it all sounds more like science fiction than fact. Without proof, OPR won’t believe any of it.”

“But we have proof, Scully. We have records of our medical conditions. And the samples Dr. Taumata collected from you. Run tests on those samples when we get back to DC. You were infected with that virus. You can identify it. If…if the DNA or proteins or whatever aren’t from this world, you’ll have your scientific proof, proof that the virus is extraterrestrial. They’ll have to believe us.”

She’s not so sure. But she’s too tired to argue with him. She changes the subject instead.

“Do you have a plan for getting us home?”

“Not a finely detailed plan, no. I’m hoping Skinner will help us." He cups her jaw and runs his thumb feather-light across her cheek.

He looks like he wants to kiss her, like he did in his hallway. But he yawns and his hand drops away.

“Sorry, Scully. I can’t keep my eyes open.”

“You sleep, Mulder.”

His eyes slowly close and a contented sigh hums in his throat.

After a moment, he mumbles, “Hey, Scully? What do you get if you cross a yeti with Dracula?”

“I don’t know, Mulder. What do you get?”


She suppresses a groan but can’t help smiling. His breathing grows steady and deep as he drifts off.

She thinks back to his hallway, her last true memory. If he were to try kissing her again, would she kiss him back?

The answer is yes. She no longer wants to quit the FBI or give up the X-Files. She certainly doesn’t want to leave him.

She fingers the cross at her neck. Returned to her by him twice. She leans over and kisses him lightly on the lips. He stirs and turns to her in his sleep. His arms encircle her and he draws her closer, but doesn’t wake.

“Thank you, Mulder,” she whispers. For the first time since regaining consciousness in the infirmary, she feels warm and safe. She snuggles against him and closes her eyes. “For everything.”

Mulder isn’t certain what wakes him. Maybe someone in the hall was on their way to the toilet and closed a door of a nearby room. Or maybe Scully mumbled in her sleep. Or sighed. Or called out. Maybe there was no noise at all and it was the profound silence that pulled him from his dreams.

Dreams of kissing Scully. Making love to her. Watching her orgasm beneath him. None of which has ever happened despite being on his wish list seemingly forever. He wants to fall back to sleep, pick up where he left off, until she shifts beside him. Tucked against his side, her head pillowed by his shoulder, she’s exactly where he wants her to be. Reality, it turns out, is every bit as perfect as his subconscious.

Gale force winds no longer drum the roof. Dim light glows between the slats of the small window’s half-closed blinds as the Antarctic sun struggles to pierce the early morning overcast. Shadows play across Scully’s face, reminding Mulder of the mottled way her skin looked behind the cryopod’s frosted glass, submerged in its icy, viridescent liquid. The memory makes his breath hitch, his stomach roll. But her eyes are closed, her features untroubled. No horrified, glassy stare. No lips stretched pale and taught around some sort of perverted funis. She sleeps peacefully, her breath warming his neck.        

His fears dissipate like fog at sunrise. She’s here beside him. Alive. Safe. He found her. It’s miraculous, really. The enormity of it isn’t lost on him and he’s grateful beyond reckoning. His life will never be the same, he’s certain.

But what of her? Is she changed by this experience, too? In the same ways he is?

He hopes so.

With her, he’s not a lonely outcast, not some crazy FBI laughing stock. He’s somebody worthy. Her respect and friendship are proof of it. With her, he’s strong and confident, able to forge ahead. And when he does falter, which is often, she’s the refuge he returns to again and again. His heart balances on her trust, loyalty, honesty, and faith — the cornerstones of her spirit. He wants her by his side always.

He loves her.

And he wants her to know it.


He considers himself a brave man, generally speaking, able to face government conspirators, alien invaders, and inhuman monsters without flinching, but fear can overtake him when it comes to Scully. How might she react to a romantic overture from him? For five years, he’s been her professional partner, a good friend. Yet his feelings for her have grown. He wants more than friendship now and if her reaction to Eddie Van Blundht’s “Fox Mulder” impersonation is any indication, she could feel the same and be attracted to him, too.

And then there was that near miss of a kiss in his hallway. He’s pretty damn certain she was about to reciprocate.

“Scully?” he whispers. She doesn’t stir. He clears his throat and tries again, more firmly. “Scully?”

"Hm?” she hums without opening her eyes.

He runs a finger across her cheek. “You awake?”

“M’now.” Her eyes open, unfocused, but without a hint of irritation at being roused from a deep sleep. Her pupils, liquid black and unfathomable, are so enlarged they threaten to eclipse the thin corona of her pale irises. Her gaze is like a celestial event.

She studies him while he studies her. Her wind-scoured cheeks look raw and painful. Her lips are badly chapped, the lower one cracked. Her hair is wild with untamed curls. Without make-up, she appears exposed and vulnerable. And yet to him, she’s beautiful. So much so, it makes his heart beat double-time. His eyes burn.

“You okay, Mulder?” Concern creases her brow. She reaches out and brooms his hair away from the gunshot wound at his temple.

“I’m fine.” To keep from crying, he traces the line of her jaw with one finger. Fits the pad of his thumb into the well between her lower lip and chin. Her skin is warm. He wants to kiss her there.  

“Did you have a nightmare?” she asks.

“No. Good dream.”


“Yes. I, uh…we were kissing.” Admitting it unnerves him.

“We kissed?” Her lips curve upward. “That sounds…nice, actually.”

“Does it?” He blinks in surprise. “I mean, yes, it does. It was.”

Her gaze flickers to his mouth but she makes no further comment.

He decides to act without overthinking it, without questioning the wisdom or ramifications of what he’s about to do. Letting his heart take the lead, he leans in until his mouth is millimeters from hers. He expects her to draw back but she doesn’t, so he presses his lips softly to hers.

Kissing those lips, even in their tattered state, sends sparks of electricity to his fingers and toes. And a rush of blood to his cock. An overreaction, he thinks, to such a chaste kiss.

If it feels this good kissing her, what would going further feel like?

He very much wants to find out.        

But he’s getting ahead of himself. A single kiss may be the entire extent to their…this…whatever this is. He ends their kiss and draws back. Scanning her expression, he nervously tries to gauge her reaction.

Her response both surprises and pleases him. She doesn’t rebuke or rebuff him. She isn’t angry or even visibly shocked. She’s smiling. Her lips are parted, her cheeks flushed. There’s an eager anticipation in her eyes.

She actually wants this? She wants him?  

As if reading his mind, which at this exceptional moment he’s entirely ready to believe is possible, she initiates a second kiss and he couldn’t be more grateful. He draws her to him until their bodies are pressed together from breastbone to hips. She slides one leg over his.

Her tongue darts across his lower lip. When she nips at him, he opens his mouth to let her tongue swirl over his. She probes, then retreats, allowing him to do the same to her. Eager to take a turn, he plunges into her mouth. The moist heave of her tongue, the arched roof of her mouth, her slippery inner cheek…he’s charting new territory. She sucks on his tongue and stills his exploration, which unexpectedly ratchets up his desire.    

Palming the slope of her hip, his splayed fingers gently squeeze and relax, assessing the pliancy of her flesh while testing the extent of her tolerance. She allows it.

Emboldened, he slides his hand to the indentation at her waist. She nibbles at his chin and neck, licks the hollow below his earlobe, traces a wet line up and around the folds of his ear.

The gentleman inside him says to pause and ask permission before going further but his caveman side urges him to plow ahead, apologize later if need be. He settles on a middle ground. He’ll proceed slowly, gently, to allow her ample opportunity to object and call a halt to any unwelcome advances.   

Cradling her cheek in his hand, he peppers her face with tender kisses. Brow, eyelids, nose, and lips. Her fingers fumble at the hem of his shirt and crawl up his bare stomach and chest. Her hands are no longer cold. She sweeps his ribs with her palm. Crushes her mouth to his. Her nails scuff the hair on his chest, graze his right nipple. He gasps with pleasure.

“Sorry.” She withdraws her hand. “I forgot…I didn’t mean to hurt you."

“What?” He has no idea what she’s talking about.

“Your bruises. I’ll…I’ll avoid touching you there.”

Oh, that. He’d forgotten all about his black-and-blues. “Please, don’t avoid touching me anywhere.”

“You’re sure?” She doesn’t look convinced.

He steers her hand back beneath his shirt. “I’m sure.” He chuffs a laugh.

Her touch is now so tentative, it tickles and makes him squirm.

“You don’t need to be gentle. In fact, I’d prefer it if you weren’t.”

“Okay.” Her hand wanders lower, pausing just below his navel and above the waistband of his jeans. She scrapes through the hair there. Kneads his skin.

“Much better,” he grunts. His cock, rock hard, aches for her fingers to keep going.  

Cupping her breast through the thick fabric of her sweatshirt, he discovers she’s not wearing a bra, which delights him no end. He wishes he’d noticed earlier and blames his fatigue and the oversized clothes she was given. She moans when he squeezes her breast. He’s thrilled when she pushes against his palm.

Without warning, she sits up and yanks her sweatshirt and turtleneck up and over her head in one fluid motion. Static electricity upends her hair, giving her a decidedly sexy, tousled look. She tosses the garments to the floor then readjusts the sleeveless tee she was wearing underneath. He watches her bare midriff disappear behind the thin, white cotton, and is momentarily disappointed. But his mood lifts when he sees her nipples shadowing the fabric.

When she notices him staring, she plucks at his shirtsleeve.    

“You, too. Take this off.”

Now he is sitting up, tugging his own shirt over his head. He frees himself just in time to see Scully removing her tee. Naked from the waist up, she looks stunning. Her skin is no longer cadaver white. A pink flush paints her belly and neck. And her breasts jiggle in the most appealing way when she lobs her shirt across the room. However, her beauty is marred by a fist-sized bruise between her breasts, caused by his attempt at CPR, and there are patchy red marks on her chest where Taumata applied defibrillator paddles.

“Oh no…,” he moans, pointing, unable to say more.  

She glances down. Prods the marks with her fingertips. “It’s nothing. Just erythema from the electrodes. It’s common and, honestly, could’ve been a lot worse.”

“Does it hurt? Should you…we…not…?”

“It's a little tender but a small price to pay to be here now.”

He can’t let his thoughts wander down that dark path of “what if.” Struggling to stay in the moment, he swallows past a lump in his throat and tells himself to breathe. In. Out. Slowly.  

She must see his unease because she scoots closer and, palms to his chest, nudges him to lie down. He complies, though his worries refuse to subside. As soon as he’s stretched out on his back, she climbs on top of him. Her knees hug his hips. Given her position over him, she can’t miss his erection. She’s practically sitting on it and her weight, slight as it is, adds gratifying pressure.

It’s all he can do not to grind against her.

Her focus flits across his torso. Now she’s inventorying his bruises, which appear blacker in the room’s dim light.

“I’m okay, Scully.”

She nods, then paints his skin with the heat of her palms. Her touch is light, barely there. She bends to plant kisses on his chest. Her tongue circles his left nipple. Then his right. She nibbles at it.

“Scully, aaah!” he sighs.  

He wants to feel more of her, so he takes hold of her upper arms and draws her down onto him until her breasts are pressing against his chest and her lips are within his reach. “I want—”

She suddenly hugs him with such fierceness, his heart swells with love. Her affection fills every empty corner inside him.

“What do you want?” she mumbles into curve of his neck.

There are many things he wants, things he has pursued his entire adult life, but topping his list is…

You…I want you, if you’ll have me.”

“There’s nothing I’d like more.” She shifts off him, unfastens her jeans, and shimmies out of them, taking her thermal under-drawers and panties with them. She keeps her socks on, which he finds adorable.

He reaches for his fly, but she stills his hands with her own.

“Let me.” She licks her lips and he finds himself doing the same. She nudges his hands out of her way, releases the button at his fly, and draws his zipper down.

His cock twitches beneath her touch. Pleasure shoots through him when she wriggles her fingers beneath the waistband of his boxer briefs and takes hold of his cock.

A guttural groan…moan…grunt punches from his throat, making her smile. She presses her lips to his while giving him a squeeze.

“Your pants need to come off,” she murmurs against his mouth.

His response comes out sounding like he’s being strangled. “You’ll…you’ll have to…to let go.” It’s the last thing he wants. Her touch feels so damn good.

She releases him. He raises his hips and shoves his jeans and boxers down to his knees. She takes over from there, tugging the garments from his legs. He, too, is left wearing only his socks.

She grins as she blankets his body with her own. Her legs bracket his thighs, her pubic bone presses blissfully against his erection. “You ready?” she asks.

Me? Isn’t it obvious?” He gently thrusts against her, relishing the feel of her.           

She chuckles and leans in to kiss him while his weather-roughened hands explore the satiny warmth of her back, the smooth curve of her ass, the dip and rise of her spine. He pets her shoulder blades, caresses her slender neck, strokes her silky hair. Plowing his fingers into her curls, he grips her scalp and plunders her mouth with his tongue. She writhes against him. Her thighs squeeze his flanks. She presses her breasts and belly hard against his torso.

She is velvet and warmth, desire and delight.

Should they discuss what’s happening? Analyze this newfound intimacy as if it’s one of their X-Files?

Don’t spoil it, he warns himself.

Then it occurs to him he might at the very least ask what she wants.

Reluctantly, he breaks their kiss. “Do you need me to…?” He taps her hip. Licks his lips. He would love to taste her down there.

She shakes her head. “I’m fine. Ready.”

Good, he thinks, but could use a little more information about how to proceed. He wants to please her, not just himself. “Okay. Top or…uh…bottom?”

“Bottom. This time.”

This time? Does that mean there’ll be a next time?

He hopes with all his heart it’s true.

They switch places, their movements somehow both clumsy and quick, until she is lying beneath him. Cool air and excitement raise gooseflesh across his shoulders and back. Her  fingernails dig at the nape of his neck, spiral into his hair. She draws his face to hers while he settles between her parted thighs and upraised knees. Her springy thatch of pubic hair cushions his cock, which jerks with weighty impatience. Her slick folds wet his balls with her damp heat.

His senses are on full alert; his reasoning dulled beyond all logical thinking. He smells her, has smelled her all night. A fresh, honeyed sweetness, now imbued with something more, a pervasive, penetrating aroma that makes his cock strain and his balls ache, an animal scent that floods his sinuses and stirs thrilling circles inside his gut. He imagines burying his nose in the piquant vee of her legs. Inhaling deeply. Lapping her folds and tasting her savory, salty juices.

“Am I going about this right?” He chuckles, nervous. “I’m a little out of practice and I seem to have misplaced my instruction manual.”

“The mechanics are pretty basic, Mulder. Insert tab A into slot B. Or slot C. Or D. But for now, let’s go with B.”

“You make me very happy to be tab A.”

She nods her approval. “Speaking of which…” She reaches between them and takes hold of him, making him groan with pleasure.

Unable to wait for her to guide him to her, he thrusts too soon, a little off center and awkward. A slight adjustment of his angle and he glides into her. She is all liquid heat and divine pressure. He can scarcely believe this is really happening.

She moans, wraps her arms around his neck and pulls him down onto her. He worries he’s too heavy. She won’t be able to breathe, trapped beneath him. But she pins him to her with a tight embrace and kisses him with obvious fervor.

His attention shifts to the magnificent friction of her taut walls upon his shaft. He prays it feels as satisfying to her as it does to him. She appears to be enjoying herself, murmuring encouragement, bewitching him with groping fingers, biting and nipping and spreading her legs impossibly wide.

As wonderful as this is, it strikes him that having sex seems a cart-before-the-horse kind of thing. They’ve never been on a single date, at least not in any widely understood definition of the term. He’d like to think that chasing after liver-eating mutants and flukemen carries an element of romance, but he suspects she's more of a traditionalist, who would prefer to be wooed with flowers, candlelit dinners, and holding hands.

He's thinking too much, he chides himself, and tries to focus.

“Everything good?” His words are raw with need. He doesn’t recognize his own voice. He props himself on his forearms.

“Mmm.” Her tongue assails his lips, his mouth.

He lifts his hips, sliding nearly out of her, then pumps steadily forward again. She hums beneath him, her eyes locked on his, her lower lip caught between her teeth.

He shifts his weight onto one arm, freeing the other to explore her body. He finds her bare breast, which he clutches and pinches. Her nipple hardens. He rolls it between his thumb and middle finger. When she moans, he kneads and tugs at it.

“Oh, yes. S’good.” Her words vibrate against the skin of his neck. She wraps her legs around his waist; her heels find purchase on his lower back.

She thrusts her hips up. He shoves more deeply into her. Again. And again. He keeps at it until she is whimpering. Panting. He’s breathing hard, too. Sweat slicks his back and drips from his chin.

“Mulder—” She sucks in air, fills her lungs, holds her breath. Her eyes squeeze shut. She throws back her head and arches her body. “Ahh…!” she puffs through clenched teeth.

Her fingers dig into his shoulders. Every muscle in her tenses. She doesn’t move. And then, she’s keening his name, coming beneath him.

She’s gorgeous, with her face contorted in ecstasy, caused by him. He pushes as far and hard as possible into her. He feels the muscles in her abdomen convulse beneath him. Her inner walls flutter with contractions. A delightful wash of fluid oozes from her opening onto his balls.

Then her body goes slack and she sucks in another deep breath. When she opens her eyes, they’re bright with tears.

“Oh, Mulder.”

Her arms enfold him and she grips him so tightly he collapses down onto her. She feels small and breakable beneath him, he’s afraid he’s crushing her, but her skin is ablaze and, with her cheek pressed to his, she whispers, “Your turn.” The words swirl warmly into his ear canal, galvanizing his arousal. Her generosity unravels all his rational thought. He finds himself on fire in the coldest place on earth.

Enraptured, he starts pumping again. Although he’s imagined making love to Scully countless times in the past, none of his fantasies came close to reality. Her scent, her softness, the small sounds of encouragement she’s making — he never wants it to end. But his heart is near to bursting, from exertion and from his overwhelming love for her. A little longer, he urges himself. He tries to hold off, hoping to make her come again, but it soon becomes impossible. His balls tighten. He is on the edge.

When he tumbles over the precipice, it feels like free-fall. His stomach somersaults as he comes. An intense sensation. Not entirely unlike when he dropped into the ice crevasse. Or slid into the bowels of the ship. Or spilled off its sides in an avalanche of snow. But more consequential than any of those things. It’s more like when he found her at last, pulled her from the icy cryopod, and heard her gasp for air. He growls her name as he empties into her.  

As his spasms of pleasure recede, the fullness in his heart balloons. He waits until his erection starts to flag before reluctantly pulling out. Immediately, he grieves the loss of contact. When he rolls off her, he leaves a sticky trail of ejaculate across her thigh.

Scully appears boneless and sated against the pillows. “Very impressive, G-Man.”

Pride swells in his chest. For years, all he has wanted is to impress Scully.

“I think you earned top honors.” He sits up, peels off his socks and hands one to her for cleanup. He swabs his own lap. “Sorry about the mess.”

“I’m not.” She uses the sock, folds it in on itself after she’s done, and then hands it back to him.

He tosses both across the room.   

She settles once again into the space nearest the wall while he retrieves the sleeping bags from where they fell to the floor. He lies down next to her and covers them both before hugging her to his chest.

“Does this have to end when we return home?” he asks, tracing small hearts on her arm.

“I don’t see why it should. As long as we’re discrete.”

Did she just say yes to an ongoing intimate relationship with him?

“I can be discrete.”

Her brow arches. “Can you? It’s not your strong suit, Mulder.”

“I can keep a secret when it’s in my best interest. Or yours.”

Mulder expects an argument that doesn’t materialize. He wonders briefly where Scully — his Scully — has gone. The woman who’s shared his office for five years, who questions everything from his hunches, theories, and wild goose chases to Einstein's Twin Paradox. Maybe sex with her FBI partner is exempt from her exhaustive list of things that require rebuttals, the exception that proves the rule that every rule has an exception. He decides not to challenge it. It’s to his benefit, after all, that she’s okay with continuing their intimacy after they wave goodbye to Antarctica.

“What about you, Scully? If somebody asks about us, do you plan to lie? Lying’s not your strong suit.”

“I think I’ve proven I can lie when I need to. Our unauthorized surveillance of Tooms? The whereabouts of the digital tape containing top secret files from the DOD? Your alleged self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head?”

“Clearly, I’ve been a bad influence on you.”

“Don’t take too much credit. I was an excellent liar long before I met you.”

“Really? I’d love to hear more about that.”

“Maybe some other time.”

She cuddles against him, her head resting on his chest once again, her ear over his heart. Does he dare confess his feelings for her? He desperately wants to let her know he loves her.



It takes him a moment to gather his courage.

He clears his throat. Feels embarrassed by his sudden shyness. Clears his throat again.  

“I love you,” he admits.

There, it’s out. Now she knows. Will she recoil in horror? Tell him she doesn’t feel the same? Dismiss what just happened as a lapse in judgement?

“I…I love you, too, Mulder. I think I have for some time. But I—”

“Shh, don’t question it. It’s not one of my crackpot theories you have to disprove.”

This makes her laugh.

He smiles, too, but his grin soon disintegrates. He’s so damn thankful for her presence in his life, for her admission of love, he fears he’s going to cry. Unable to restrain his emotions, he wraps his arms around her and presses his face to the crown of her head. A hot tear slips down his cheek into her hair. “Don’t ever go missing again,” he whispers.

She kisses his chest, his neck, his chin. “I’ll do my best,” she promises.

10:55 AM

While Scully is checking in with Taumata and collecting the doctor’s notes and samples, Mulder is in the station’s radio room, patched through to Skinner’s phone.

“Did you find her?” Skinner asks, concern evident in his voice.

“Yes. She’s okay.”

“Good. I’ll want the details when you get back.”

Mulder is certain he won’t be divulging all the details. “Of course, sir.”

“You are coming back, right?”

“That depends.”

“On what?”

“Transportation. We could use a ride, sir.” Mulder stares out the window at the clear blue sky. No sign of the storm remains.

“Sorry, I can’t help with that.”

“Sir? I was hoping, with your influence—“

“I’ve already put in a request. Twice. It’s been denied both times. Questions are being asked, Agent Mulder. Like why you and Agent Scully are even in Antarctica. After Dallas, the FBI is running out of patience.”

“Those questions will be answered. We have proof.”

“Until that proof is in the hands of the OPR Committee, there’s nothing I can do for you. Find another way.”

Mulder huffs in frustration. “It’s not like I can hail a cab, sir. I could try standing by the side of the road with my thumb out but the nearest road is across the Drake Passage somewhere in southern Chile.”

“I’m sure you’ll think of something. Call me when you get back to DC.” Skinner ends the call.

“Son of a b—”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, Agent Mulder,” says Brigham from the open door, “but I may be able to help. I’ve got a pick-up at McMurdo Station later this afternoon, some scientific instruments and a couple of scientists from the Byrd Polar Research Center. I’d be happy to take you and Agent Scully along. You’d get a ride off ice a lot quicker from there than here. They have sea and air transport options that we don’t.”

“If it’s no trouble, Scully and I would be grateful.”

“No trouble at all. Maybe we can take a peek at that crater you say is out there.” Brigham smiles. “We leave at 1300 hours.”

Mulder boards the helicopter behind Scully. She takes the co-pilot seat next to Brigham. Mulder settles in the back. Brigham hands them each ANR headsets so they can talk and hear over the noise of the rotors.

Brigham radios the station and then takes to the air. The ride is a lot smoother than the day of their rescue. Visibility is better, too. Mulder peers out the side window to watch Corbyn Station grow small beneath them. He contacted McMurdo Station an hour ago to secure passage on a ship that’ll ferry them to Punta Arenas, where they’ll take a small plane to El Tepual International Airport and finally home from there on a commercial airline. Assuming the FBI doesn’t revoke his Bureau credit card. The entire trip will take a couple of days and he’s looking forward to sleeping the entire way. Physically, he’s both spent and sated. What began as a painful journey certainly ended with a euphoric high.

Scully is chatting politely with Brigham when she suddenly gasps. “Oh my God! Mulder…?” She twists to look at him, eyes wide.

“Fuck me,” Brigham says, “you weren’t kidding about that crater, Agent Mulder.”

If Mulder were an I-told-you-so kind of guy, he’d be crowing big time. But the expressions on their faces are vindication enough.

Ahead, the giant hole left behind by the spaceship grows larger and larger until it’s even bigger than Mulder remembered. Prevailing winds have coated one side of the basin with fresh snow. The rest remains a dark scar in the otherwise white landscape.

Brigham steers the helicopter around the perimeter, close to the rim, and then dips down inside the bowl. There’s no sign of the alien craft that until yesterday lay hidden there. But lodged in the frozen ground is recognizable debris from the former station’s upper structures. No doubt, all of it will soon be cleared away or left inside the crater and covered over, burying the truth once again. Mulder wishes he’d thought to borrow a camera from the station to take pictures before all the evidence disappears.      

“Seen enough?” Brigham asks. “Sorry, but I’m on a pretty tight schedule.”

“The sooner we leave, the sooner we’ll be home,” Scully says.

Mulder has seen enough, too. More than enough. As hard as he might try, he’ll never get the image of Scully trapped inside that icy cryopod out of his head. But she’s here now, right in front of him, alive and well, if not completely unscathed, and he couldn’t be more pleased to have her back.

He leans forward in his seat and reaches for her. She hooks her finger around his. Brigham glances at their linked hands and chuckles. Her cheeks flush a pretty pink.

“We’ve been through a lot,” she explains.

“I’m not judging.” Brigham is grinning. “Honestly, I knew the moment I saw the two of you, you had something going on."

“Was that before or after I regained consciousness?" Scully asks. She gives Mulder an encouraging smile before releasing his hand.

“Before,” Brigham says without hesitation. “Long before.”

The pilot isn’t wrong, Mulder thinks.

“Hey, Scully, where does the Abominable Snowman keep his money?” Mulder asks.

She raises an eyebrow in response.

“In a snowbank,” he says.

She doesn’t laugh. Brigham groans.

“Are all his jokes that bad?” Brigham asks Scully.

“I’ve told him to stop telling jokes about Abominable Snowmen,” she says, “Yeti continues.”

Mulder barks a laugh, elated that Scully is alive and here with him. He feels optimistic for the first time in a long while. Finding her, he has found his future. Found their future together. They are on the verge of something remarkable and despite their current location, he feels on top of the world.


(Originally posted April 17, 2023; new ending added December 30, 2023)


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