Mad Season Part Two

by Goddess Michele

Title: Mad Season Part 2 of 3

Spoilers: Season nine finale

Beta: nope

Disclaimer: Boring but necessary disclaimer: C.C., Fox and 1013 own them, I'm just borrowing them for fun, not profit, and I promise to return them only slightly bruised, but in that good 'thank you sir and may I have another?' way.

Author's note: Sorry this took so long to post here, and I know many of you have seen the story at Home of The Goddess already, but I still have so much to learn here in cyberland...

Chapter 6: Stop
"Yes it's true that I believe
I'm weaker than I used to be
I wear my heart out on my sleeve
And I forget the rest of me."

"Skinner, hold up!"
Doggett chased after Skinner and caught him at the elevators."What the hell are you doing?" he panted.

"I know where Mulder is," Skinner replied impatiently, stabbing the elevator button repeatedly, then glancing around, looking for stairs. "Skinner, whoa! How do you know?"
"Scully-it was enough. I don't have time for this, John." The elevator door opened, but Doggett held Skinner back, saying, "You better damned well make time, Skinner. What if you were made? Where does that leave us? Never mind you leading them right to him!" Skinner shook him off with a "Dammit, John," saw the fear in those pale blue eyes, and relented. It wasn't just fear there, he decided. At least not any that Doggett felt for himself. There was concern there for Scully, lots of it, but with plenty left over for the Gunmen, for Mulder, even for him, he noted, and it gave him pause. "Okay, okay. Let's rough something out. But while we move." He led Doggett into the elevator.
At the truck, he gave Doggett all the information he had amassed from his brief communications with the Gunmen and with Mulder, the two plane tickets he still held, and half the money he had with him, which was considerable. "I can't take this," Doggett argued.
"You can. You will. You've got mouths to feed now." They shared a tight, unhappy smile.
"How will we find you?" Doggett wanted to know. "Where are you going?" "You know I'm not going to tell you that, John. Suffice to say, I know where I'm going, and I'll find you. Or, if something happens, Richard still has my email address. I don't think it's been compromised, and the net's never far away these days." "Richard?"
Skinner waved a hand back towards the hospital. "Langly," he said. Then he pierced Doggett with a sharp look. "You take care of Scully." His tone indicated that should any more harm come to Dana, super soldiers and aliens would be the least of Doggett's problems. "You know I will."
He did know it.
Without warning, Doggett reached out and hugged Skinner brusquely, let him go just as abruptly, and muttered, almost embarrassed by the show of emotion, "Good luck, my friend." "Marines make their own luck," Skinner replied, not quite growling. "I hear that." With a last hard grin, Doggett turned and loped away, not quite running but certainly not dawdling either. A small part of Skinner wanted to stay. After so long being alone, unable to trust anyone but himself, even these few minutes, frightening as they had been, were enough to cause a pang of longing in him, the desire to end his isolation. He wasn't a gregarious man by nature, and he'd always been comfortable with his own company. But then Mulder had come into his life. Wonderful, brash, talking a mile-a-minute sometimes Mulder, and- "Aw, hell..."
What was he doing just standing here? He jumped into the vehicle, started the engine and threw it into gear. As he made his way back into the regular traffic, he said a quick prayer for his friends, and another one for Mulder. And then he was pawing through the glove box, tossing aside flashlights, sunflower seed packets, and condoms until he found an old road map. The highlighted route on it had faded some, he noticed as he unfolded it, but it was clear enough. "And an acorn..." He snorted laughter, but didn't smile. A drive through restaurant provided him with coffee and a meal of sorts, and as he munched greasy fries, he thought Mulder would approve. Another bitter laugh escaped him. He left Bismarck behind with barely a glance, although he was still desperately worried for Scully, and he hoped that Doggett was doing his best for her. She was the only one hit in this particular skirmish so far, and he was surprised that the rest of them had come through unscathed. Or at least without serious confrontation. He veered northeast, found a secondary road that was achingly familiar, and drove until it started getting dark. The town loomed before him just as quaint and nameless as the last time. He slowed the truck and watched buildings go by, illuminated by street lamps. He recognized them not so much by sight as by memory. Each place seemed to trigger a new vision of his lover so strong that he was shaking physically, and his grip tightened on the wheel...

...Mulder giving a porcelain virgin a critical eye... ...Mulder tossing stuffed animals around in pursuit of the perfect gift for William... ...Mulder scarfing down a cheeseburger in three big bites like he hadn't eaten in a week... ...Mulder, splendidly naked, a bottle of champagne in one hand, a pot of marmalade in the other, and a lecherous grin on his face...

...Mulder kissing him, his mouth warm and mobile under his, tasting of beer and pretzels... He discovered he'd pulled into the parking lot of that damned honky-tonk without realizing it. Suddenly he wanted a beer more than anything else in the world. And not just any beer. One of those happy-crappy light beers that Mulder had been drinking that night. He could picture himself just walking into that bar, ordering said beer, finding a barstool to sit on, maybe even the one that Mulder had been sitting on- "Shit, I'm losing it here," he muttered shakily. His doubts regarding his own sanity seemed to have little effect on his current decision making processes, however, and he found himself seated at the bar moments later, unable to recall getting out of the truck or walking the length of the parking lot to enter the softly lit building. The first thing he noticed as he took the only open seat left at the bar (it wasn't Mulder's and he was dimly grateful, thinking that might have unhinged him completely) was the crowd. Much bigger than the night he and Mulder had drank here, and he had to shout his order at the bartender to be heard above the din. Moments later, cold-if-crappy beer in hand, he spun on his seat to look out over the dance floor. Several couples were two stepping across the floor, and he looked for the oldsters who had been dancing here that night. There was no sign of them-just young men and women, studiously dressed in plaid and denim, counting beats to a song about moonlight. He turned back to the bar and sipped at the beer. It was awful, and he drank the whole bottle, still playing those Muldermovies in his head. When the bartender came round to ask him if he wanted another, he was surprised to find his bottle empty, and his eyes watering. He waved the bartender off gruffly, got a sour look for it, and stood up. This was ridiculous, he told himself. Sitting here was not solving anything, and Walter S. Skinner was nothing if not a problem solver. He pushed through the crowd back to the door, ignoring the hectoring voice of his inner drunk, who was suggesting none to subtly that perhaps a few more beers would solve everything. He recognized the voice from far too many porch-and-scotch nights, and ignored it as best he could, knowing it wasn't saying anything helpful. He stepped off of the sidewalk surrounding the bar, not paying much attention to anything except his own inner monologue, and nearly walked into the truck that pulled up in front of him. "What the hell--?" He looked up, startled, and saw a large man in the passenger seat of a rusty pick up giving him a cold calculating look. He backpedaled briefly, nearly stumbled over the curb, then made his way around the front of the truck, which still sat idling where it had stopped. He kept glancing up into the cab, and discovered that the driver was also staring at him as blankly as the passenger. He suddenly felt a chill ripple a scale down his spine and back up again, then hit high C in his head. He risked another glance back as he passed the truck and started moving further into the lot to his own vehicle, and saw that the driver's hands, which previously had been atop the steering wheel, had now disappeared beneath view of the window. Another cold finger traced an icy path along his back, and he sped up a little, thinking, 'My gun. My gun is in the truck.' He'd been paranoid too long to think this was just a couple of guys checking out his ass. He moved quicker still, feeling their eyes boring into his back and willing himself not to look. 'Just play it cool,' he told himself. 'Just going to my truck. Not looking back, not worried. Just an old man out for a cold one'. When he heard the truck doors opening, he gave up the pretense of ignorance, and sprinted for his truck, keeping his head low in an instinctive crouching run that hearkened back to his days in the marines. He heard the men exclaim in surprise, and was keenly aware of the slap of his boots on the pavement, and yet, when the first shot rang out, he wasn't sure he'd heard it until, with a shout of mingled shock and pain, he felt thin heat stitch fire across his arm. He reached the truck and crouched down, keeping the SUV between him and his would-be-assailants. Grimacing, he twisted his arm and saw blood seeping through a rip in his shirt. "Bastards," he hissed, suddenly more angry than scared. He dug into his pocket for keys, and fresh blood spurted. He ignored it, glanced up to look through the windows of the truck as he fumbled with the lock, and saw the two men walking away from their own vehicle, guns drawn. Bright hot anger flared up in him again, making him forget about his arm, and he thought indignantly: What right did these bastards have to come into his life, mess up his home, get him fired, chase the man he loved half way across the continent and, for all he knew, kill him, and-and this is what felt like the ultimate piss off-try to kill him just because he stopped at some crappy honky-tonk for a fucking bottle of Bud-fucking-Light? The rage grew, expanded to include an infamous slurpee cup incident from what felt like a lifetime ago, and Mulder's sad words came back to him, slicing cleanly through his thoughts: "You could die because I love you."
"No way," he muttered through clenched teeth as he wrenched open the door and jumped inside the truck, "no fucking way." The engine roared to life, and the two men suddenly turned on him and opened fire. He flinched when a bullet ricocheted and cracked the windshield, but his foot tromped on the accelerator almost gleefully as he drove the Blazer over the meridian and directly at one of the shooters. The man barely leapt aside in time, and Skinner didn't slow down. He kept the pedal to the floor and targeted the truck the two men had been sitting in. The second shooter was between him and the truck, and he wasn't as lucky as the first man. Fleeing the obviously insane driver of the black Blazer currently bearing down on him, he stumbled, and the fender of said insanity-mobile knocked him up and over the hood of his own truck with a shout and a dry snapping sound, like twigs in winter, followed by a scream of pain that was drowned out by the shriek of crashing steel as Skinner smashed into the side of the other truck, crimping in the door and shoving it over several feet, producing another desperate cry from the man on the other side of it. Skinner shifted the truck into reverse, made the tires squeal as he turned his vehicle around and sighted on the first man again. Conveniently the first man was either a) as stupid as his partner or b) an anomaly amongst their enemies-a man with compassion. He had abandoned his gunplay with Skinner for the moment in favor of racing back to his truck to aid his fallen companion. As soon as the man ducked around the far side of the truck, Skinner pulled up behind them, gun clutched tightly in hand, and jumped out of his vehicle. The first shooter brought his gun up as Skinner stepped forward, and didn't have a chance. A shot high in the shoulder knocked him back, and knocked the gun from his hand. He fell back, on top of the obviously broken legs of the second man, who emitted a thin glassy shriek, and then appeared to faint, his head hitting the pavement with a dull thud. Two steps forward, and Skinner kicked the gun away from where the man had dropped it. Another two steps, and he was within reach of the hood of their truck. He looked down at the two fallen men, one of them cradling his arm, the other nearly unconscious, legs stuck out at unnatural angles. No small part of him wanted to put his gun to both their stupid brains and pull the trigger. He blinked sweat from his eyes and turned with an effort to the truck. Finding the latch was easy, and the hood sprang open. He had to glance away from his assailants for a moment, but his gun never wavered. He dug deep into the engine, found something vital, and yanked. Wires snapped and sparks flew. Tiny burns peppered his fingers and he didn't notice. He held the hot part tight in one fist, and glared at the fallen men. Again, the urge came over him to finish it-destroy them the way they were trying to destroy him, destroy his life. He squelched it firmly with a warm thought of his lover, and waved the gun menacingly. "Hear this," he said, finding an old Assistant Director in a Conference Voice, booming and confident. "If I so much as think you might be sniffing in the general direction of my tail, even if it's my imagination, I'll be back. And I will finish you. Do you understand me?" Groans in response.
"You assholes in the sticks never change." He walked away in disgust, got back in his truck, drove slowly away, listening for damage. But his vehicle had come away pretty much none the worse for it, save for the need for some serious repainting...and the starring of the windshield, which he supposed could have been worse. "Yeah, Walter, it could have been your head." He didn't know if talking to himself was a good thing or not, but the thought made him feel better anyway, and he opted to go with it. A twinge in his arm, and he remembered the wound, mostly forgotten in the adreneline rush of his anger. The bleeding had slowed to a sludgy trickle, and he hoped it wasn't any worse than it looked. But he definitely wanted to put some miles between him and the rats before stopping, so he reached into the back seat, found his bag, and in the front pouch of the military looking rucksack, he discovered an economy size bottle of Advil-a hold out from his meeting days on the X-Files. That thought made him smile as he fumbled open the childproof cap ("Fox-proof" he remembered Mulder growling one day) and dry swallowed three. He hoped that would hold him until he could find a place that felt far enough away. He knew he had to think; he had to get organized, figure out a plan. But for now he was content to put space behind him.

Chapter 7-You Won't Be Mine
"Take yourself out to the curb
Sit and wait;
A fool for life
It's almost like a disease
I know soon you will be
Over the lies, you'll be strong
You'll be rich in love and you will carry on..."

Skinner munched thoughtfully on sunflower seeds and watched bugs bat lightly on the windshield in the twilight. He spit shells out the side window, decided that sunflower seeds definitely tasted far better lingering on Mulderkisses than they did in reality, and dumped the remaining seeds from his hand onto the ground as well.

He turned the key and the truck lurched to unhappy life with a grumble and a whine of protest.

He'd driven the Blazer hard, and he knew it, but as far as he was concerned, there wasn't any choice. Even now, he wondered if he'd been followed. If there were more of them out there. He hadn't seen anyone suspicious since he'd eluded his enemies back in that parking lot a million miles away (or so it felt). In fact, since he'd left the main roads and stuck to the secondary roads, he'd hardly seen anyone at all.

And now here he was, a blur of hours and miles later, just shy of the Canadian border, feeling achy and dirty and worn. And he knew he had a while to go yet before he could rest. But as he shifted the truck into gear and tried to ignore the throbbing in his hurt arm, he glanced off into the distance at the mountains, now stained red with the last of the setting sun, and he felt something like hope warm in his heart. Something told him that Mulder had made it at least this far. If he'd been a sentimentalist, he might have said he could feel; sense; taste the warm essence of his lover. Instead, he spat out the window, trying to rid his mouth of the sunflower seed taste, and wondered briefly if Mulder had left cologne in the glove box or something. What was it again that he wore? Something earthy and spicy that would have smelled like a car deodorizer on him, but on Mulder...

When he realized that none of this was bringing him closer to the spicy, earthy lover in question, he hit the gas with another groan of protest from both man and vehicle, and drove down the dirt track and across the border, avoiding the larger points of entry thanks to well marked maps and the stamina of the SUV.

He'd been driving on autopilot, and he knew it. Speeding and grinding gears and not stopping until the truck was gasping for fuel and the wound in his arm was crying for attention. Even then, it was just enough to fill up the gas tank, pay for it-scaring the bejeezus out of the clerk when he tossed crumpled bills at him, clapped a hand back over his bloody arm, and demand the restroom key.

Discovering a clean shallow wound didn't ease the pain, but a few more painkillers at least kept the worst of it down to a dull throb. More coffee, to keep himself focused, and he entertained himself with imaginary Mulderlectures on everything from E.B.Es to his own personal hygiene.

At the last gas station, he'd spent long minutes consulting his map. He had no intention of going through the customs point of entry if he could possibly avoid it, sure that 'they' would be monitoring them.

It took too long for him to pick out what he hoped was a safe route, and he recognized that he was reaching the end of his figurative rope. He knew that somewhere else, men and women, children, hell, even house pets, were living their lives happily, working their jobs busily, eating and drinking and screwing, completely oblivious to one Walter Skinner and his desperate cross-country search for his lover; blissfully ignorant of aliens, X-Files and super soldiers. It wasn't fair, and he ached with envy. And then, when he'd nearly decided to stop right where he was, to give it all up as a lost cause, he heard Mulder's voice, clear as if the man was sitting right next to him:

"Come on, big guy, let's dance."

And he knew there'd been no going back after all.

As late evening dwindled down into the darkness of night, Skinner felt something in his ears pop as the altitude increased, and when he opened the truck's windows, he felt a cool breeze coming off of the mountains. Both of these things simultaneously annoyed him and filled him with hope. Neither one washed away his fatigue; although the wind helped keep him awake, as did the loud rock music he found on the radio.

The back roads he'd left behind were freeways to the ones he traveled now, and in places, he feared for the axles of his truck, but as each mile went by, he felt more and more hopeful that no one would be following. And when full darkness fell, and with it a light drizzling rain, he was even more pleased, knowing it would only hide his route further.

Driving through the night, he found his mind fragmenting, not in a collapsing way, but more in a multitasking way. He had concerns for his arm, which ached well beyond what was in essence just a flesh wound. ("Just a flesh wound," Mulder jeered at him in his head in a bad Monty Python accent). He wondered if Mulder could have found the old place just from the memory of one talk a lifetime ago. He wondered if he could. He tried to remember if the generator worked last time he was there. He had a miserable thought of a pile of rubble and his lover lying dead in the middle of it, and banished it immediately with a warm memory of pet names shared. He thought if this ended well, he would let Mulder call him any damn thing he wanted. He tried to remember if there were any all night grocery stores in these mountains. He wondered if there were bears.

The first flush of dawn brought him, exhausted, to Banff. He drove through mist shrouded deserted streets, listening to an early morning gospel show-the only thing the radio would broadcast besides static--and peering into the gloom, looking for signs of life.

In the dark, the town took on a ghostly aura. He saw cars, but parked, not moving. He saw the flickering streetlamps, pale and indistinct as the rain faded and the day tried to take over in it's place. He saw storefronts, some with lit signs, but none with more light inside. He wasn't sure what time it was, although his body was telling him it was quitting time.

Brighter light to his left, a bank of sodium arc lights illuminating a large parking lot. A bright red sign proclaimed "Safeway",which sounded good to him.

He brought the truck to a stuttering halt in a spot near the door of the large grocery store. He saw no signs of life within the glass walls of the supermarket, but assumed tiredly that they had to open sometime.

Scrubbing a hand over his face, he glanced at himself in the rear view mirror, and was almost shocked by his haggard appearance. Almost. He wished for a razor, a bath, hell, why not wish to be back home while he was at it, and the sound of his own tired laugh made him grimace.

He leaned back in the seat, thinking he would just close his eyes for a moment, and then get out and check the doors of the store, to find out what time they opened.

He was asleep an instant later.

Chapter 8: Crutch
"Man I feel like hell so come on over
Be a love machine and I could be your friend Ain't no shame
Feel strong for one another
Make a real true colour come end to end..."

"Hey! Hey, wake up!"

The voice was reedy and annoying.

"Mulder?" Skinner tried to turn away, got caught up in something, and opened his eyes with a groan.

"What are you? Lost? Homeless or something?"

It wasn't Mulder. Skinner readjusted his glasses, which had slipped nearly off and focused through a sweaty headache on a Japanese man reaching through the open driver's side window and shaking his shoulder.

"Oh, hell," he groaned.

"Nope; Alberta," the man quipped sarcastically. He glanced at the front of the truck then back at Skinner. "You're a long way from home, buddy."

It took Skinner a moment to realize that the man had read his licence plate-stolen or not, it was still out of province.

"You have no idea..." Skinner replied, grating the words out, his throat dry, his tongue thick.

"Anyway," he man said, "the boss says you can't stay here-it looks bad, you know?"

The last of his post-sleep fog lifted, and Skinner realized that it was daylight, warm, and the man shaking him awake and looking alternately amused and aggravated was wearing a grocer's apron.

"I came to-to buy-uh-stuff..." he explained, feeling foolish.

"Yeah, right." Now the man was giving him a critical 'are you drunk?' look.

"No. Really." Skinner unhooked his seatbelt and worked the door lock. He didn't bother to warn the grocery clerk, just opened the door, and only a frog-like hop to one side saved the clerk from getting knocked on his ass.

"Hey, watch it! That shit's not funny."

"I didn't mean it to be." Skinner's voice was gruff and humourless, despite the fact that, as the scene played out, he knew his lover would have been laughing himself to tears over the utter ridiculousness of the situation.

He spared not another glance at the clerk, simply walked towards the store. He could feel the joints in his knees and ankles crackling unhappily, and he vowed he would not spend another night sleeping in the cab of his truck, even if he lived to be a hundred, and the only other option was sleeping with Melvin Frohike.

He found a cart outside the door and took it inside with him, then came to a halt. He stared, bemused, as other shoppers found all that they needed up and down the brightly lit aisles, and wondered briefly just what the hell he was doing. He didn't even know if Mulder was alive. Didn't know if he was going to find the man at the end of this strange journey. Didn't even care to venture a guess as to the condition of a cabin he hadn't seen in more than thirty years. So what was he doing in a grocery store?

"Hey, we all gotta eat, right?" his voice was low, but loud enough to garner him a look from an old woman pushing her cart full of cookies and cat food past him.

Once again relying on his instincts, which had served him well so far, he set off down the dry goods aisle...

Too much time and money later, he was slamming the back of the truck shut after loading in the last bag of groceries.

He'd gone heavy on non-perishables, and spent an inordinate amount of time in the health and beauty aisle, stocking up on everything from painkillers and bandages to vitamins and cough syrup. Walter Skinner was nothing if not a good Eagle Scout.

He wasn't sure what to expect, but he wanted to be prepared for any potentiality. His mind skittered nervously around a dead Mulder picture in his head, and he mentally shied away from it with a wince.

"One last go for daddy, okay?" He adopted a wheedling tone and even patted the dash as he sat down and turned the key in the ignition. Gears ground and nothing else happened.

He slammed a hand down on the steering wheel. "Come on, you fucker! I haven't got time for this shit!" His voice was low but fierce.

The truck started at once, apparently preferring the direct approach.

He made his way out of town.

Pushing the truck higher and higher into the mountains, he dug into the one bag he'd kept in the front with him. He found bottled water, which he used to wash down the two Slim Jims and small tub of blueberries he was calling breakfast.

The sun was at it's zenith when he reached Bow Falls, and even with the windows open and the air conditioner cranked on high, he felt warm and sweaty, and it became apparent that his last shower had been some days ago. He remembered running water in the old cabin back in the day, but now, he wasn't sure if-

He slammed on the brakes and the truck stalled, throwing him forward, then lurching him back as the seat belt held tight.

His eyes were wide and frightened as he clawed off the belt and scrambled out of the truck. He stumbled, caught himself and ran to the car parked haphazardly in the visitor parking spaces below the Falls.

The first thing that had caught his eye had been the plates. The car was a rental, and from the U.S. Not necessarily all that odd-it was summer after all, and he was smack in the middle of one of Canada's largest tourist attractions, but--

The angle of the car was wrong, too. Not within the lines painted on the asphault to designate space. Rather, the car looked like it had rolled into the space rather than been driven, and it appeared to have fallen asleep rather than parked, looking too tired to travel further. This too was not completely out of the ordinary, although it was odder than an out-of-country licence.

It was the bear that had caught Skinner's eye and thrown him into a panic and out of the truck.

A chocolate brown teddy bear peered glassy eyed from the back window of the car, a horribly tacky red and green bow tie around it's neck.

A spur-of-the-moment post-Christmas gift, and they'd laughed at it at the time; he'd been almost embarrassed by his own sentimentality; Mulder was amused that the tasteless Christmas coloured tie was simply shades of grey to him.

And then he'd taken the damned thing on a trip with him. Just a weekend workshop that he'd been asked to give a lecture at. Skinner had been unable to go with him-swamped with work as usual, but-

"If I have this guy with me, I'll know you're not far away," Mulder had said then, almost defiantly, as if daring Skinner to make fun of him. Skinner had just nodded solemnly, letting Mulder have this sappy moment, knowing how few and far between they were.

Now Skinner felt tears threatening at this first real hard evidence that his cross country chase was not in vain.

He moved around to the driver's side of the car, noticed a fine layer of dust on the vehicle, and wondered how far behind he was.

He was expecting to have to pick the lock, and was surprised to find it unnecessary.

With a trembling hand, he yanked open the door.

The interior of the car smelled hot and musty with disuse, but beneath that he caught the faintest whiff of something else-spicy and earthy and-

"Aspen." He didn't notice that he was speaking aloud. "That's the name of it-Aspen..."

A bag of sunflower seeds was spilled across the front seat, and blood was drying on the steering wheel in two hand-shaped smears.

A groan tumbled from Skinner's mouth and he felt a jolt of bladder-loosening fear. He touched the steering wheel lightly, drew his hand back as though it were hot, and looked in the back seat instead.

A few minutes later he was back at the truck, struggling to hold onto several items in one hand while opening the back with the other.

Once the truck was open, he set the contents of the car into the back one by one, almost reverently.

Scully's jacket was first, then Mulder's the brown and black leather contrasting and complimenting one another. Then he laid a grey v-neck sweater over them. He looped the gold necklace twice around the teddy bear's neck and placed two watches in its lap.

A shaky sigh, and he locked up the truck.

Moving once again on instinct, trying to think like his lover would (and ignore the visions of a wounded delirious Mulder wandering aimlessly through the woods), he began climbing towards the falls. He felt time slip-he remembered coming up here alone last time, so full of self doubt and despair that he'd thought himself lost forever. And Mulder had come for him...

"Get a little, give a little," he muttered to himself. He wouldn't let Mulder down.

The wound in his arm throbbed in time with his heart beat as he climbed the steps to the top of the falls.

Another of those queer dj vu flashes hit him when he saw the large rock overlooking the falls, and he could almost see them-him and Mulder, sitting together there. Like ghosts...

The place was deserted, and aside from intermittent bird song and the annoying hum of insects, he heard nothing. Perhaps Mulder hadn't come up here, but he felt strongly that he had, and if his lover had taught him nothing else, he'd at least learned from the man to trust his feelings.

Whether he'd been here or not, the fact was, he wasn't here now, and that left him with one last hope-that Mulder had found the cabin buried in the forest further up the mountain. The one he'd told him about that day with the chipmunks...

Despite himself, Skinner found himself approaching the rock, his heart and lungs not-so-subtly reminding him that he wasn't twenty anymore, and he'd do well to take a minute before heading back down to the parking lot.

The sun flashed off the side of the rock, and he remembered seeing initials carved there last time-some couple who had decided to declare their love in granite sometime between the time Skinner had first discovered this place after the war, and the last time, when he and Mulder had been here. He gave the side of the rock a closer look, thinking only of seeing if more initials had been added. And then he was teary eyed again, and he wondered just when it was that he'd lost control of his emotions. Deciding that it didn't matter at this point, he brushed his fingers lightly over the recently carved addition.

FWM + WSS

Crying openly and not giving a damn, he found the sharp rock that had been used to carve those letters. He grasped it tightly, and dug into the face of the boulder.

When he was done, he dropped the stone, turned abruptly and made for the stairs, leaving behind a declaration, and a promise...

FWM + WSS
FOREVER

Chapter 9: Bent
Shouldn't be so complicated
Just hold me and then
Just hold me again...
Can you help me I'm bent...

He drove along the highway until it became a grid road, and then traveled that until it became a dirt track. He forced the SUV over rough grass and weeds sprouting up in the middle of the path, and fir and other trees slapped their branches against the windows as he passed them.

He tried to imagine Mulder walking this way. He supposed that on the one hand, maneuvering the increasingly narrow path on foot would probably be easier, but it was still a few miles, and it appeared that Mulder had been injured somehow.

He knew he was keeping a sharp eye out for his lover's body as well as any wildlife that might choose to be on the same path as he was on. He hated himself for it, but couldn't stop doing it.

He stopped the truck with a rattling jerk at the site of a large pine that had fallen across the road.

"Dammit!" He jumped from the truck and approached the blockage, feeling frustrated and again coming perilously close to the end of his endurance.

Kicking at the tree failed to hurt it at all. Hitting it accomplished much the same thing, with the addition of driving splinters into his knuckles. A little more reckless swearing on his part, and then he was peering more closely at the base of the tree.

The break was fresh. Sap still oozed in places, shining in the late afternoon sun. And was that paint, stuck in two or three places there in the rings? He peered closer, decided that's exactly what it was, and felt relief work its way up his spine like a mad pianist.

Suddenly, as though he were standing in the middle of the scene, he could see Mulder, clear as day, backing some sort of vehicle-he couldn't imagine it, but he knew there had to be one-backing it up into this tree, forcing the old pine into it's current blockade occupation. Determined that no one would follow him, determined to make it...

He couldn't decide whether to cheer or curse. The choice was made for him when on his second examination of the tree he found more of those red stains like the ones on the steering wheel of the last vehicle.

"Aw, hell..." A brief touch and his finger came away wet, but from sap rather than blood. The trail was old, but not too old.

"And it's only getting older," he told himself as he made his way back to the truck. He thought he couldn't be more than a mile away from Dirk's old cabin now, and that, along with realizing that the reason Mulder had blocked the road might very well still exist, made the decision to walk all that much easier to make.

He went back to the truck, found his rucksack, and dumped the clothes and odds and ends from the house out in the back. Then he took a few minutes to go through all the things he'd bought, trying to judge their merit vs. their weight, and how much he could leave for now. As far as he was concerned, he would be coming back to drag away the tree and bring his truck in, but for now, it was best left as was, and he wanted to make sure he had everything he needed. More concern for Mulder and his potential injuries caused him to stock up on the medicinal end of things. He didn't think about the condoms and lubricant that he shoved into the bulging bag at the end, he just did it.

Adjusting the pack on his back, he found it not too heavy, but knew he wouldn't want to do a thirty k in it either. His marine days were far behind him, he had to admit. But he wasn't so out of shape for an old paper pusher, either. Making sure the truck was secure, he pocketed the keys and walked around the fallen pine.

The sun beat down on him, but this far up the mountain, the air was crisp and cool, and the sweat he generated dried quickly. He pushed as hard as he could, taking sips of water from one of the bottles he'd bought, concentrating now on just putting one foot in front of the other, not letting himself worry about what might be behind him, or worse, what might lay ahead.

Less than an hour later, he came to a clearing, and a queer sense of dj vu stopped him in his tracks. It was impossible to pinpoint where it had come from.

The clearing, which had been large and bare when he'd climbed up here in another lifetime, was now overrun with berry bushes and creeping weeds of all shapes and sizes. There was still gravel where a large yard had been cleared, but dandelions covered most of it, their seed motes flitting around in the breeze.

A black Tracker sat parked in the far corner of the lot, nestled under a large elm tree, which nearly obscured it from view. What he could see of it, though, looked worn and damaged. He could clearly see large dents in the bumper just above the Alberta license plates.

In what might have been a psychic flashback moment, he wondered with a mean grin what the tourists who had been admiring the Falls thought when they'd come back to the parking lot and found their car gone. Some small leftover FBI agent in him shook a by-the-book finger at him for finding the situation amusing, and he hushed it with a silent promise to return the car...sometime.

The cabin looked bigger, somehow. Maybe it was the large generator, now sitting idle on one side of the building. Or the rail along the porch, which he didn't remember ever seeing. Itseemed the far side of the cabin had been added onto as well; the beams on the small room looked newer-less gray and worn than the rest of the building. He wasn't sure what he'd been expecting, but he knew it wasn't this: the cabin looked well maintained, homey even. His mind reeled for a moment, and all he could do was stand and stare.

A mosquito buzzed by his left ear, emitting its eye-watering hum, and that seemed to break the spell. He slapped idly at it and got his feet moving again. Each step got easier, and he took the porch steps two at a time.

At the front door he stopped again, this time, not from surprise, but for caution's sake. He reached behind him, and pulled his gun. He'd clipped the holster to the back loop of his jeans, not so much from habit, as he used to, back in the day, wear it in a shoulder holster, or on the side. No, the back holster was a hold out from Marine days, when it was best to have two guns-one the Vietnamese could take from you, and one they couldn't see.

He checked the load, made sure the safety was off and tried the doorknob. Locked. He wasn't surprised, but it frustrated him just the same, made him turn the knob violently once or twice. He heard a sly shuffling sound from inside the cabin and froze. He strained to listen, but the sound didn't repeat, and he went back to tugging futilely at the doorknob for a moment more. Then switching the gun to his other hand, glad to know he could still aim fairly well with his weak hand if he had to, and reached into his pocket for his keys.

Attached to the ring was a small pocketknife with several different attachments. It took him a moment to extrude the right tool, but once the thin steel shaft was out of the casing, he jammed it into the lock with a vengeance, nearly snapping it off in the lock. He jiggled the lock, swore a little, and heard another soft sound from inside.

He swore a little more, and the lock gave. He turned both makeshift key and knob at the same time, and nearly fell into the room.

Jumping back, he took up his shooter's stance in the doorway, and peered forward intently, pushing the door open slowly.

The room was gloomy, but not dark. The last of the afternoon sun was pushing through blinds over the windows in the living room, and somewhere in the back a light was burning, but in a flickering, hazy way that suggested a lantern to Skinner, rather than electric light.

With great deliberation, Skinner entered the room gun first. He didn't have to see the person to know he wasn't alone. He could sense the presence of someone else immediately, and his gun wavered back and forth for a moment.

The sounds he'd heard outside were repeated, and he turned in the direction he thought they'd come from. He saw what looked like movement from the hall at the back of the cabin, and he remembered that the short hallway led to bedrooms in the back.

"Stop right there!" His voice sounded strained and too loud. "Identify yourself." When there was no answer, he called out again. "I said identify yourself!"

"Walter?" The voice was low and raspy, as if an asthmatic was talking through a bag of flour, and he almost didn't hear it. Almost...

"Puppy?"

A figure stepped out of the darkness.

At first, all Skinner saw was the gun. An old shotgun, sawed off and aimed at his chest. As he watched, though, the gun drooped and then rose, then fell again, as if whoever was holding it was too weak to keep it aimed.

The hands holding the gun were pale and ghostly in the half-light of the room, and here and there dark smudges that might have been gunpowder or might have been blood splotched the fingers. While the gun may have been swaying, the finger on the trigger never wavered from its place.

Another step forward.

Skinner made some small noise-part fear, part hurt-as he recognized the man.

His left cheek was torn open, and Skinner knew exactly how that had happened. As soon as he realized that the wounds were from an abduction that had been rudely interrupted, he knew that the bloody tears on the face were going to be the least of the injuries.

As if in response to that thought, his wide eyes took in the torso, covered with a torn and bloody white t-shirt, and the jeans, caked with mud and blood, and torn at both knees.

"Oh, God..." His voice squeaked out of him.

"Alex said you'd come." Fox Mulder crumpled to the floor at his feet.

Coming soon: Part three.


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