BEASTMASTER

Disclaimer:

the characters in this story are copyright to Chris Carter and 1013 Productions and have been used without permission. This story may be taken from this site, so long as it is not done so for any monetary gain, and so long as it remains intact with the author's name.

I'm not sure how to rate this for content. There is no sex and no romance. There is quite a bit of violence both to people and animals. There is also some nudity.

Be warned. ;)


This story first appeared on the X-Files.creative newsgroup in about mid-1995. Its sequel, Hunter's Moon, is now also available on this website.

BEASTMASTER

 Mulder stared over Scully's shoulder at the pictures she was viewing. Other women had pictures on their walls. They kept pictures of family or movie stars or beefcake. HIS partner liked pictures of bloodstained corpses. Well, perhaps "liked" was a little unfair. For Scully, bloodstained corpses went with the territory.

 Scully pointed to the hole in the middle of the man's chest, "The bullet came from a deer rifle. It was a nice clean shot, the bullet entered the chest, passing just lateral to the sternum, through the t4-t5 intercostal space, entered the pericardium and..."

"That's good, Scully," Mulder interrupted her just as she was getting warmed up, "I can read the coroner's report later." Much later, he thought, possibly never. The concept of a nice clean shot that blew someone's heart to mince set Mulder up for a bad case of cognitive dissonance.

Scully plucked the pictures back down from her board. There were seven of them. Seven dead naked people, all lying in the forest, all shot by deer hunters. He might have enjoyed the pictures for their...art, if the people hadn't been quite so dead. Two of the victims were, or at least, had been, beautiful young women. Their bodies lay on scattered autumn leaves in bright fall sun. One of them was a redhead, the russet flame of her hair spread across mossy rock. Her eyes were closed in her scratched, battered face.

"So aside from the artwork, why exactly do we have these pictures?"

"Because they're part of the files, Mulder."

"Well why do we want these files?"

"Because Skinner wants us to work on them."

"There's nothing to work on."

"We've got seven dead people here."

"We've also got seven police reports outlining the facts. These people were shot by accident. They were running round in the forest during deer season. They might as well have painted targets on their chests. It was a shame, Scully, but if people are going to behave like idiots then bad things are going to happen to them."

Scully waited a moment for him to finish. She focussed on one of the pictures above his desk and then let a little silence follow Mulder's ranting.

"Skinner wants us to follow it up."

"There's nothing to follow."

"He says it's an X File Mulder."

Mulder snorted.

"Something happened to those people."

"Yeah. They got shot."

"Before they got shot. Mulder they were running around naked in the forest. That isn't normal."

Mulder grinned, "You lead a very sheltered life, don't you."

Scully ignored it, "Skinner wants us to go out and talk to one of the hunters."

"Bradley?"

Scully checked her notes, "That's right. How did you know?"

"This isn't an X File Scully, this is a foriegner."

"A what?"

"It's a favour for the boss. Bradley and Skinner served together in VietNam. Bradley probably just wants to clear his conscience."

"Skinner wants us to talk to Bradley," insisted Scully.

Mulder shrugged and reached for his coat. He couldn't be bothered going to argue with Skinner. He didn't stand a chance of winning an argument with Scully. The woman was intractable. Wherever possible he avoided conflict with her, this time he couldn't cut and run. The sooner they got this over with, the sooner he could get on with some real work.

Bradley's house was one of those big rambling federation style places with an eagle by the front door. The garden was neat as a pin, every autumn leaf had been blown away by one of those reverse vacuum cleaners. There were two cars in the garage, a wood panelled station wagon and a four wheel drive which had a gun rack in the back and plenty of mud on its nearly new hide.

They rang the bell and the door was opened by a woman in her early forties. She had red hair that was shot with grey and a pretty face. The house smelled of apple pie and the woman had a friendly smile, even for these two strangers who might have been trying to sell her xenophobic religions, for all she knew.

They flipped out their ID tags with practised ease, "Mrs Bradley, I'm Agent Mulder, this is Agent Scully, we're here to see your husband."

"Oh," she said, "You're from the FBI," she would have used the same tone of voice if they'd come to repair the plumbing.

"FBI?" Mulder and Scully heard an awed whisper from somewhere behind the woman.

"Come in. Craig's in his study," she stepped aside and Mulder caught a glimpse of a twelve year old boy standing in one of the doorways. The boy gaped at them as they filed past. Mulder shot him a wink but he was too awed to return it.

Bradley's study was all mahogany and leather. And deer. Above the bookcases, above the window, above the door. Just about every vertical space above eye level had a mounted stag's head upon it. Gleaming glass eyes followed them as they moved into the room, reflecting little amber Mulders and Scullies within their depths. The antlers of the deer bracketed the ceiling, seeming to hold it above them. Bradley smiled at his wife as she ushered the agents in, and closed the door as she left. They introduced themselves and he indicated that they should sit.

On the walls below the deer there were pictures. Hunting pictures. And guns, locked, Mulder noted, onto a display rack. There were army pictures too, and a couple of wedding photos. Bradley and his American Beauty wife. Bradley and his best man. Mulder frowned at that photo. There was something familiar about the best man.

"Thank you for coming, Agent Mulder, Agent Scully..."

"I'm Scully."

"Oh, sorry."

Mulder turned his gaze back to Bradley. He was a fit, intelligent looking man who looked as if he had recently undergone emotional ruin. His face was haggard and his clothes fitted him a little loosely, as though he had suddenly lost a bit of weight.

"I wasn't sure if Walter was going to listen to me on this. I don't usually like to ask favours, but something really needs to be done."

"Mr Bradley, you shot a man, I understand how distressing that can be, but it was an accident..."

"Agent Mulder, I have shot men before and not been the least bit distressed by it. I served my time in Nam and I did a damn good job for my country. When I shot THIS man, let me assure you, Agent Mulder, it was NOT an accident. When I aim at something I shoot it, and when I shoot, I shoot to kill. The man I killed was my best friend."

Bradley reached the picture of himself and his best man down from the bookshelf and handed it across to Mulder and Scully.

"That's him. Harry Yip."

Mulder recognised him. That was the picture Scully had been looking at. That was the one Scully had described as "a good clean shot". Mulder decided it would have been tasteless to compliment Bradley on his aim.

There was a tremor in Bradley's voice, "We went to college together, we served together, we were best men at each other's weddings, he's my son's godfather. Harry wasn't just my friend, he was my BEST friend. Do you understand."

"I understand you're under an enormous amount of emotional stress," said Mulder quietly, "And if you need to just talk, I can listen."

Bradley nodded, "That's what Walt said. I have to tell someone and he said you'd understand."

Mulder turned to his partner, "Agent Scully, would you mind leaving the room, please?"

Bradley frowned, "Don't you two work as a team?"

Scully nodded.

"Well then you'll both want to hear this. I know it's pretty weird stuff, but its nothing offensive...not that I suppose you haven't seen stuff that would make my hair curl, Agent Scully. I mean, it's not so much bad as just...unbelievable."

Mulder rocked back in his chair and Scully settled herself back down. Mulder thought Skinner must have sent him there in his guise as mild mannered psychologist, which was why he had wanted to send Scully out of the room. Let the guy open up and cry a little for his lost friend. Let him get over his guilt and on with his life. It was an accident, after all.

Bradley walked over to his gun rack. He ran his finger along the gleaming barrel of the deer rifle.

"Agent Mulder, when I came back from Nam I was a changed man. Oh, I used to like hunting a bit before, it was more of an excuse to go out for the weekend with the guys, you know... Well Nam changed me. I like guns. I'm not a rabid, baccy-chawin' redneck shooter. I'm a responsible gun owner and I love to hunt. I like to take my son into wild places and teach him how to track, how to understand his prey, and how to use a gun. Properly, Agent Mulder. Let me stress that."

He turned back to the photo with Yip in it, "Now Harry, he was changed by Nam, too. I came back loving guns. Guns saved my life, saved his too, I might add, but he came back hating them. Hated guns, hated killing things. He became a vegetarian, a real greenie."

"And he was still your best friend," said Scully dubiously.

"Well our friendship could go deeper than that, Agent Scully. You know at my wedding reception I had the services of one of the best vegetarian chefs in town, because I wanted Harry to be happy. I know it probably sounds odd to you, but just as much as I could understand his need to protect wild things, he could understand that I needed to hunt. He got into Native religions, said he was deer people tribe and I was wolf people tribe. Said there was a place for all of us, and some of us had to hunt and some had to be sacrificed."

Mulder was beginning to get interested, "So you're saying it was some kind of tribal destiny for you to sacrifice him."

Bradley frowned, "Of course not. I don't believe that crap. Harry believed it, and I respected his beliefs, but nothing will convince me that I had some sort of destiny to kill my best friend. Agent Mulder...you don't look as though you spend a lot of your time hunting."

Mulder shook his head.

"Agent Scully...?" he only said it to be polite.

"Not since I was a kid."

Bradley looked a little surprised, "Well when you hunt an animal as much as I have, you learn to know it. I mean REALLY know it. Not just its tracks and spoor, but the way it moves, they way it thinks. Other people might mistake a human for a deer, but I never would, because I know how a deer moves and how it sounds. I even know how a deer smells. What I shot in the woods wasn't Harry Yip. It was a deer. It only became Harry."

Scully drove. Mulder sat beside her, deep in thought as he committed each page of the file to the vault of his memory. Somehow Mulder owned the case now, and it was Scully who felt dubious about it. She was prepared to believe that Yip and the people with him had eaten some hallucinogenic fungi, whether deliberately or by accident, and decided to all dance nekkid in the moonlight. She was quite prepared to believe that one of them had brought along a new designer drug to share as party favours around the campfire. She was not prepared to believe in the were-deer or whatever it was that Mulder was now looking for in the file.

"They all say it," Mulder concluded after a while.

"Say what?"

"That they shot deer."

"Well wouldn't you?"

"No, Scully. The most usual response is to blame the other person. I'd expect the shooters to say they thought it was a deer, and anyway, what was that idiot doing out there acting like a deer? But they ALL say that what they shot was a deer, and that they couldn't believe their eyes when they came up to make the bag. Even this one," he held up one of the photos Scully had been looking at.

Not all of the kills had been clean as Bradley's. This man had been gut shot, he would have screamed going down. He might have taken up to a minute to die, the witnesses weren't sure. They were sure he didn't scream though.

"Did you read this, Scully?"

"Of course I read it."

"Then you would have read what the witness said. About the sound he made."

The witness had taken his girlfriend out shooting. She was inexperienced, and had gut shot what both of them swore was a deer. She heard him make what she described as a "terrible noise".

"You've gut shot him," the boyfriend had said, "I've heard deer make that noise before. We better hurry and finish him."

"Mulder have you heard the noise deer make?"

"Something like a cow or a bull."

"Right. A bellowing noise. Not an impossible sound for a human being to make, in fact I've heard women in labour that sounded a lot like cows. Or deer."

"He wasn't in labour, Scully, he was dying, and dying men don't do barnyard impressions. Something happened."

"I'm going to do a full blood workup on the bodies as soon as we get there Mulder. You'll find your answers."

Details on the exact locations of the shootings were vague. Mulder and Scully had to stop at the ranger station and find Rowan Hanna, the ranger who had been first official as all of the shootings. Hanna was tall and fit and young and good looking, and when he took off his hat, completely bald. He grinned at Scully's reaction. He had seen her looking.

He gave them a map with all seven shootings marked on it. They had hired a robust four wheel drive with long legs and chunky tyres and roo bars and running boards. It looked indestructible and Scully drove it like it was a tank.

"I think you're on a power trip with this car," said Mulder.

"I think I'm in love with it. Can you imagine taking this thing through peak hour? Imagine the RESPECT you'd get...move over driver, this car's got SCRATCHES and it's not afraid of a few more."

Mulder laughed and the car ground its way through forest. It was mid afternoon and they'd packed sandwiches and a thermos, they were unlikely to get back to their motel at a reasonable hour so they'd come prepared.

"Pull over here," Mulder instructed. There was a flattened patch where other cars had parked, probably police, ambulances and the goodly ranger Hanna. There were still one or two curls of yellow police tape around the trees and Mulder had no trouble locating the spot where the first shooting had occurred.

"Ngan Yip," he said, looking at a spot on the ground that looked no different to other spots to Scully.

"Harry's wife."

"She was shot at six fifteen a.m.," he checked his map, "Now this is where Harry and his friends were camping. According to forensics, their campfire would have died at about midnight, and an evening meal was prepared on it. They had their dinner but they didn't wash up afterwards, Scully."

"If they took hallucinogenics with their meal, they wouldn't have felt like doing the domestic duties."

The forest around them was still. The autumn sunshine was bright, and the air was crisp and cold. Mulder and Scully were wearing quilted jackets, bright orange-red, with F.B.I. on the back. The colour was supposed to be good for forests, apparently hunters could see it, but deer couldn't. A slight breeze stirred the mostly bare branches of the trees about them, and from somewhere far away they could hear the lonely sound of a single bird. Then there was another sound, something totally alien and it made Scully jump until she realised it was just her cellular phone, muffled because it was inside her jacket.

She took the call, Mulder watched as her expression went from curiosity to anger. She tried pleading and arguing, and eventually capitulated. She returned the phone to its pocket with an exasperated sigh.

"What is it?"

"Horley at the morgue."

"I thought you had that booked for tomorrow."

"I do, but one of the families wants to take the body tomorrow."

"Did you tell them that wasn't possible?"

"No, Mulder. Horley told me I could have the morgue for tonight as well as tomorrow, though."

Mulder nodded, "Do it."

"What about you?"

"I'll stay here."

"Mulder, I won't be back before dark."

He shook his head, "Don't drive in the forest after dark Scully. It's dangerous. Leave me the food and we'll meet back here in the morning."

"What? It's not safe for me to drive in the forest after dark, but you're ok to wander about all night?"

"I'm not going to break an axle in a pothole."

"Hey, if you don't like the way I drive..."

Mulder was already dragging a sturdy plastic box containing sandwiches and thermos out of the car, "Scully, I love the way you drive," he tucked a blanket on top of the box, and shoved a torch down the side, "But the thought of you driving in the forest after dark just keeps me awake nights," he placed the box at the base of a large tree and escorted Scully to the driver's side door of the car.

"You realise I'm doing this under protest, Mulder."

"The scariest thing out here is hunters, Scully, and they've had such a bad rep since these shootings, even the deer aren't worried. Go. Get the blood analyses done. Meet me back here in the morning."

"Is there anything you think you'll need in the morning?"

"Breakfast."

He watched for a moment as she drove away, but was engrossed in the story written in the leaves on the ground before even the sound of her engine had faded. There was something here that had been missed. It seemed such a simple thing. Seven people, involved in the green movement and Native American spiritual beliefs, for some reason decided they were deer and ran about the forest until they got themselves shot. It was stupid, but simple. Except that there was something wrong with the equation. He looked at the map in his mind's eye. Marked upon it were eight sites, the seven shootings and the campsite of Yip and his friends. Mulder studied the map, seeing it clearly in his mind. Ngan had been the first one shot, and yet this site was second furthest from Yip's camp. She had run nearly thirty miles through rough, hilly, almost trackless forest, at night, in order to be shot at dawn. It wasn't impossible, she might have had ten hours to do it, but it was more likely that she would have fallen down and broken a limb. Her body had been scratched and bruised, but nothing was broken.

Tommy Ayres, on the other hand, was the last one to die. He had been within a few hundred yards of the campsite. There was something odd. Mulder could see the map again, he drew concentric rings around the campsite. It didn't work at all for him. Instead he drew a straight line going from each shooting site, until it intersected with all the others. That was interesting. What if the happy campers hadn't been sitting around their campfire eating magic mushrooms, but taken...abducted...to some other place and changed there.

Mulder could see the plot lines on the map in his mind. The new point, the Mulder point, was closest to where Ngan Yip had died. It made sense. She was first to go, she had been closest. He began walking in the direction he saw. He could get there and back before dark.

It was a cabin. Mulder was almost on top of it before he saw it. There was no sound from within, and no vehicles parked nearby, though he saw tyre tracks. His hand slipped into the front of his jacket for his gun, and at that moment someone put a yoke on him. He grabbed the attacker's elbow ineffectively with his left hand, his right trapped under the jacket. He tried to force his attacker backwards, stomping his feet and kicking before his air was choked off. Instead he felt the wasp sting of a hypodermic behind his right ear and a numbing heaviness flowed through his limbs. His consciousness faded as he lay there with autumn leaves in his mouth.

The light hurt Mulder's eyes and he was cold. The muscles in his neck ached, and he could feel the pinpoint of pain, probably a bruise, where the hypodermic had stuck into him. He was sitting up and his hands were tied to the back of the chair he was in. His head had drooped down, which was what made his neck hurt. Despite the light he tried to focus his eyes. He could see his feet. He wondered at that, tendrils of cobweb still floating about his mind. He could see his feet. He was sure he had put on shoes before he went out this morning. He wondered if he'd kicked them off during the fight. And his sox too...

"Ah, it's so nice to have you back with us, Fox."

Mulder lifted his head trying to orient it towards the voice. He noticed that he was barefoot all the way up. He tried to work the crick out of his neck. He focussed on a gleam on one wall. A deer stared back at him, and he was disoriented, thinking he was back in Bradley's house. This deer had the hide attached to the head, though.

"Over here, Fox," and a laugh. He seemed to enjoy using Mulder's name. Mulder focussed on him.

The voice belonged to a very large, heavyset man who stood leaning against a table that looked as if it belonged in Scully's laboratory, not here in a rustic little cabin in the middle of the forest. Mulder had to talk to this man, though it was going to be an effort to maintain his dignity, considering he was sitting there stark naked and covered in goose pimples from the cold.

"Look, if I have to dress to thrill, you could at least turn the heating up."

"Don't worry, Fox, you'll feel more comfortable later."

"Like Harry Yip?"

The man just laughed and turned his back on Mulder. He was fiddling with things on the table. Mulder looked around. His clothes were in a heap on the floor. He went over the files of the shooting victims, there was nothing about any of them having been raped. He shivered and wondered if anyone had bothered to look. On one corner of the table he could see a pile of his things, gun, I.D., cellular phone.

"What are you doing?"

"You know what I'm doing."

"You could tell me."

"As if you needed to be told."

"Would I be asking otherwise?"

"You Fibbers are just full of questions, aren't you?"

"Are we?"

"Questions and conspiracies, Fox. As if you didn't know."

"I'd just like to know why you killed Harry Yip and the people with him."

"I didn't kill them Fox. You know who killed them, it was hunters. They were shot by hunters. Look about you, there are no guns here. I'm a scientist, not a hunter."

"But you did something to them. You changed them somehow so that they would be killed. They thought they were deer."

"That's as much as you can know, Fox. There's so much that's important going on, and we don't want Fibbers involved."

"We're already involved. You know my partner's a pathologist. She's going to find whatever it was you injected into those people."

It was a desperate attempt to stall him, or get some kind of rise out of him, and the minute he said it, Mulder knew it was wrong. He blamed it on the traces of knockout drug that must have still been floating about in his brain.

"Your partner, Fox? Tell me about her. Is she a fox too? Is she a real vixen?" the man laughed again, "Does she have red hair?"

Mulder shut his eyes, feeling as if he had betrayed Scully by trying to use her to protect himself. He should have said nothing. He was feeling colder now, the muscles in his arms and legs were beginning to shudder and he bit down on his lower lip to stop his teeth from chattering. He tried to steady his breathing.

The man came back towards him, he was holding a large hypo filled with slightly greasy looking golden fluid. He smiled at Mulder.

"Oh, I'm going to enjoy this."

"I'm glad one of us is," muttered Mulder. His teeth had begun to chatter, though it wasn't entirely due to the cold.

The man put his hand on top of Mulder's head, "Now normally, I give this injection at the base of the spine, Fox, and I have to admit, there's some temptation there. I would like to be able to say to people "I gave it to a Fibber in the ass". But I'm not going to Fox. You know why?"

"You're going to tell me?"

"I'm going to tell you, Fox. I'm going to stick this in your neck, because that will hurt you much, MUCH more than in the ass. And I want to destroy you conspirators, but I want to hurt you first."

His hand made a fist in Mulder's hair, grabbing it tight and pulling his head forward until his chin rested on his chest, making prominent the bony ridges and spaces of his cervical vertebrae. It was hard for Mulder to swallow but at least it stopped his teeth from chattering.

"Oh, and Fox, I'm sorry I don't have any foxes for you. Only deer. Now hold real still. I've got to get into the sub arachnoid space with this, and if you move it could cause damage."

The hypodermic bit into him and from somewhere Mulder could hear a muffled wailing sound. It took him a little while to realise that he was making the noise himself.

Scully forced herself to take a break. She knew, in the long run, that it was worth it. She could get a lot more useful hours out of herself when she took breaks, giving herself time to let her mind wander, brace herself with hot coffee and a snack. She tried dialling Mulder, but there was no answer. Usually a message came up when he was out of range or had the phone turned off, but this time it just rang until it rang out. Scully didn't understand why he would do that, unless he had decided to leave the phone with the sandwich box for some inexplicable reason. Scully did not question. The facts spoke for themselves, the things Mulder did were not always entirely rational. He had the simple luck to involve himself with people who were mostly prepared to spend a lot of their time looking out for him though.

She finished the rest of her coffee and dragged on a new pair of rubber gloves. Inside the cold room, the fifth body lay naked before her. Each of the first four had contained traces of what Scully grudgingly had to admit was alien material in their cerebrospinal fluid. It wasn't the hallucinogenic drug that she had hoped for, neither, she would have to disappoint Mulder, was it quite alien enough for his tastes. The material was not human, but it was certainly mammalian.

It was also certainly artificially induced into the bodies. Amongst the scratches and bruises that covered them, Scully had located a large bruise and injection site at the base of each spine.

She laid open the skull of the fifth victim, once again making slides of the brain's tissues. None of the others had shown permanent alteration, just the presence of the alien substance. As she worked, a part of Scully's mind chased down a trail that seemed relevant. Something about changing the behaviour of untrained flatworms by feeding them the minced up bodies of trained flatworms. Then there were the fungi that could infect insects and change their behaviour, leading normally arid dwelling infected spiders to water, because the fungi needed water as part of their life cycle. There was something there, and Scully would track it down.

It was late when Scully finally finished. The hypo marks and foreign substance were present in each body. Whatever it was had caused temporary alteration in the brain chemistry. She thought that, because as far as she could tell, there was no permanent change in the structures of the brain. She would send the samples off for further analysis, though. She packaged the samples and left them with the security guard at the front desk.

"I've called a courier," she explained, "They won't be here till about 7 a.m., but they will have F.B.I. identification. Don't give it to anyone else."

"My shift changes at six," said the guard.

"Well make sure your replacement knows."

The guard nodded, putting the package on the corner of his desk, and Scully left. An hour later the guard did his round, he drank some coffee and ate a snack. He returned to the front desk and sat down again. There was something different, but it didn't quite register that the package on the corner was a little different to the one Scully had given him. When the laboratory in Washington opened it, they would be confused, and at first accuse Scully of having a sick sense of humour. The new package contained the heart of a fox.

Scully went to the motel room. The muscles in her back and neck were cramped up. She'd spent half the day in the car, and the other half (plus half the night) hunched over a bunch of dead people. She was grateful at least that they hadn't been full autopsies, and very grateful that she could order pizza and sit in a hot tub till it arrived.

She ate the pizza and tried calling Mulder again. Still nothing. A flutter of nerves flipped through her stomach. It wasn't like him and she knew it. Still, she tried to console herself, telling herself that Mulder was probably dancing naked through the forest, trying to get inside the heads of the people whose heads she...had just been...inside.

It was getting light now and he was still running. He didn't know why he was running, only that he had to because he was so frightened. His long legs carried him easily through the forest, though sometimes he landed on a stick or sharp stone, and it hurt him. He didn't know why it hurt him, only that it did.

He had been confused when he started running. There were loud noises and bad smells. Fearful beings had lunged at him and he broke away, stronger than them. Faster than them. Using his speed to put distance between them. Listening for them. They were hard to smell. He could smell nothing. It didn't matter though, he was travelling too fast for it to matter. As long as he could run he knew he would be safe.

Scully had packed a hearty breakfast. She imagined they might be out all day, with Mulder wanting to visit all the shooting sites as well as the spot where Yip and the others had camped, so she had dropped into a 24 hour supermarket on her way, and bought up big on eggs and bacon. She'd also bought sunflower seeds for Mulder, of course, and bread, chocolate, chestnuts and marshmallows. If they were going to eat by campfire, they might as well enjoy it. Besides, she felt a little guilty at having spent the night in a comfy bed, while Mulder camped out with his boots on and only a blanket between him and the cold earth.

She stopped at the ranger's station on the way through. Hanna's words made steamy puffs in the air and he wore a knitted beanie pulled down on his dome.

"Agent Scully. Good morning. Where's Agent Mulder?"

"We had to split up, he camped in the forest last night."

Hanna repressed a shudder, "Hang on," he went inside and returned with a thermos, "You might need this to thaw him out. Hot milk coffee with sugar."

"Thanks."

"No worries. Just drop the thermos in on your way back."

"That should be some time this afternoon."

Scully arrived at the site where she'd dropped Mulder off. There was no sign of him.

"MULDER!" her breath hung like mist in the still air, but the only reply was a squirrel that sat in its tree chattering abuse at her.

She went to the box that had contained their sandwiches, it was still under the tree where she had seen Mulder put it the day before. She put it into the open back of the car and studied its contents. No leaf or dirt clung to the blanket, as she might have expected if Mulder had used it. The sandwiches were untouched, as was the still slightly warm coffee in the thermos. She could feel the sweat beginning to break out under her armpits and across her forehead, her stomach gave a little lurch and her heart began to hammer.

There was nothing to be gained by panicking. She picked up her cellular phone and auto dialled his number. If he was nearby she should be able to hear it ringing, the forest was so quiet. There was no sound though, except for the ring tone that came through her own phone. She began walking at random through the wood, calling his number over and over again, her mind in a haze as images of Mulder kept inserting themselves over the bodies she had worked on the day before. She didn't want to see it, but it kept being there, mocking her. Mulder gut shot and bellowing like a stricken animal. Mulder shot through the chest, his heart pulped to hamburger. Mulder toe tagged, lying on the slab while she sawed through the top of his skull.

She was yelling his name and ploughing through the forest like a lost child. She was angry at herself for her lack of discipline. The panic had really set in, and she'd flattened the battery of her phone, trying to get through to him. She should have put this battery in the recharger last night and used the spare. She should have brought both with her. Now the phone was useless, a mockery. It made her think of the Sylvester the cat cartoon where he was locked in the house with nothing to eat except canned food...and no can opener.

Scully trudged back to where she had parked the car. It was just as well she hadn't got lost in her stupid panic. Finding Mulder would mean using her head, acting with some discipline. She was a fully trained F.B.I. agent, and she wasn't going to lose her head. Now that the initial panic was over she knew she would be all right. The shock of losing Mulder had caused it. Now she was going to find him.

She forced herself to drink some of the coffee Hanna had given her, and then ate a piece of bread. She really wasn't hungry, but she knew she wouldn't be able to operate properly without some food. Her best course of action, she decided, would be to go back to the ranger station and see what help she could get searching the forest. Mulder was lost but Scully would find him.

The sun was warm on his skin now, shadows bright and hard. His legs ached, but he was afraid to stop running. He knew there was something wrong with the way he was moving, and it had taken him a long time to figure it out. He simply didn't have enough legs. Well, he did have the right number, but two of them didn't reach the ground. He didn't understand it. The two limbs that simply hung were not much use at all. They helped a little bit with the running, but it would have been much better if he could have put them on the ground and run with them.

He stopped by a stream and drank cold water, all the time looking and listening. At one stage he had heard something nearly as large as himself crashing about the forest and he took off blindly. He leapt rocks and fallen logs, at one stage catching his foot on a tree root and smacking his knee into another one as he went down. He uttered a grunt of pain and ran on. Far behind him he could hear noises that frightened him.

Rowan Hanna studied the map on the wall of his office. It was an awfully large forest. He indicated a small area, slightly to the right of centre, "Well this is where the shootings occurred."

"I've got the map you gave us yesterday with the places marked where the shootings happened and where the victims were camped. What I want to do is go out and check each of those sites. There's a chance Mulder decided to walk to one of those places and just got benighted."

"You mean got lost on the way back," suggested Hanna, "After all, you've got the map."

"Mulder doesn't get lost," said Scully.

Hanna indicated other points on the map, "We've got ranger stations here and here," he said, "I can get Tony and Justin to cover their areas. Talk to any hunters they come across. Just get them to be extra careful," his eyes locked with Scully's, "Because whatever happened to those other people might have happened to your partner."

Scully nodded. Now that she had some back up she needed to move. She was half way to the door when Hanna called to her.

"Agent Scully, you might need this," he handed her a large well stocked first aid kit, "I hope you won't, though."

"Thanks," said Scully.

He was so hungry it made his stomach cramp. He had tried eating grass, but it was awkward crawling about the ground and he couldn't chew it properly. Besides, it didn't taste good. It didn't taste like he knew it was supposed to. He tried eating the bark off trees. First it made his teeth hurt to bite it off, and then it made his mouth hurt, sticking into him. Finally it made him feel ill, and he lay on the ground arched around his stomach, vomiting and feeling wretched. When he was finally able to get up again, he felt weak and dizzy. It was hard for him to run. He found a spot in the warm sunlight where he lay down to rest. In the distance he could hear the drone of an engine, but it was far away.

It was late afternoon. Scully stopped her car at the site of the seventh shooting. It wasn't far from the spot where the victims had camped. She hadn't visited there yet. She had visited each of the shooting sites, though. She had meticulously gone over every inch of ground looking for some clue that Mulder had been there that day. Hoping to find that she was one jump behind his search, but there was nothing. No indication at all that he had been there, and she knew Mulder wouldn't just leave her like that. In her heart she knew he would have been at the first site that morning if he could have. Only something stopped him. It took an awful lot to stop Mulder.

She went back to the car and took out the thermos. There was one cup of coffee left, and one stale sandwich from yesterday. She nibbled the sandwich and sipped the coffee. It was no longer hot, but warm enough to be comforting. She planned her next move. She was not far from the victims' campsite, but at least an hours' drive from the ranger station. It would be dark soon.

She thought about Mulder spending the previous night in the dark. She wondered for the millionth time that day what had happened to him. Had he been hunted or ambushed? Had he fought and struggled or been cracked across the head, all unknowing? It was possible he was already lying dead, his body covered with autumn leaves by shooters too appalled at their deed to admit it.

Scully shut her eyes against the thought, "I'm going to find you, Mulder, and you're going to be all right," she promised.

The sun had all but vanished from the sky when Scully got back behind the wheel. She had decided to spend the night at the victims' campsite. Others might have called it tempting fate, Scully called it good sense. She had seen pictures of the site, there was a spot she could park, and a good clear spot for a campfire. She would have one of those instant soups and make more coffee for the thermos. She would wind herself up in the blanket and sleep on the back seat of the car.Scully drove slowly towards the campsite, aware, in the gloom, of the twists and turns the road took. She flipped the headlights on, but they seemed only to increase the depth of shadows around her. The car had driving lights as well, and she took her eyes off the road for a moment while she scanned the dashboard for the switch to the driving lights. They came on and red eyes flared back at her from the road. She thought for a second it was a deer, paralysed with panic by the sight of the lights, and as she swerved, a moment too late, she realised that it was Mulder standing there in the glare of her high beams, mesmerised by them.

She stamped so heavily on the brake of the car, it turned her ankle, and she must have shut her eyes when she hit him but that didn't shut out the sound of the thud he made against the bull bar. The car stalled as she dragged on the handbrake and leapt out all the time screaming his name.

He looked crumpled and very still on the road, somewhere it registered in the back of her mind that he had been caught as the others had, his body was naked and battered as theirs had been. She put her hands on him, on his shoulder, on his head, now whispering his name, "Mulder...Mulder...God, I'm sorry...Mulder..."

He began to rouse, blinking. He looked vaguely around and then focussed on her.

Scully had seen Mulder look frightened before. She had, on many occasions, seen him afraid for other people. She had seen him fear for his own life, she had seen him afraid for her but he had never been afraid OF her. Until now.

He hadn't got up yet, he was still too dazed. She could see that the impact of the accident had dislocated his left shoulder, too, and he was undoubtedly in shock. But already he had begun to move away from her, pushing himself across the unmade road with his feet, his mouth stretched into a gape of fear.

"Mulder it's me, it's me, it's Scully," nothing seemed to make a difference. Though it was possible he became even more frightened when she spoke.

"Mulder, you're hurt. I can help. You know I can help. Trust me Mulder."

Trust her. That was a joke. The man who's personal credo was trust no one DID trust her. Emphasis on past tense. It was kind of a betrayal of trust, running over him as she just had.

"Mulder, let me help you," she reached out a hand and he rolled away from it and got unsteadily to his feet. Her hand locked itself around his wrist and she heard him bellow with pain as she dragged on his arm, putting pressure on the damaged shoulder joint. Despite the pain she knew he would pull free from her within seconds, there was only one course of action. She grabbed the handcuff out of her pocket and snapped one end of it tight around his wrist. The other end she locked onto the car's bull bar. Then she leapt back out of reach.

Mulder dragged on the arm and tried to escape. He bellowed in rage and fear and pain. He was, Scully noted, indeed making barnyard noises.

Within minutes he began to quieten down, not, Scully imagined, because he felt calmer, but more likely because he was in so much pain that he was too sick to do much else. If she had known more about his condition, she would have realised that exhaustion and hunger also had a great deal to do with his need for rest.

Mulder did not sit by the car but lay there in an unnatural sort of half crouch. He was panting and shivering and covered with sweat. Scully spoke to him quietly, as if she really was trying to calm a trapped animal. She got the blanket out of the back of the car and walked slowly towards him.

"Mulder, I know this is probably hard for you to understand, but you've been given a drug. We're not entirely sure what it is, but we do know that it's come from an animal, and it can cross the blood-brain barrier. Do you understand what I'm saying? The effects of the drug are altering the way you think. I believe it will wear off in time though. I think the others were all killed before it got a chance to wear off. I guess you're just better at surviving than they were. Probably something to do with your natural paranoia," she crouched down beside him on the compacted earth of the road. She wanted to get the blanket around him, or he was going to be dead from hypothermia by morning, but she was almost afraid to touch him, lest he begin thrashing about again. She could see him following her with his eyes. They were almost slitted shut, but she could see them move as the car's headlights reflected off them.

She braced herself, "C'mon, nature boy," he didn't pull away but shuddered beneath her touch as she wrapped the blanket around him. She managed to get some of it between him and the road, and she could hear him grunt with fear, and probably pain as she was careless with his arm. The whole situation made her feel helpless. She sat behind him in the dirt and wrapped her arms around him, tight. After a while she felt the tension drain out of him. She must have dozed herself, because she came to with a start, suddenly aware of the fact that if she didn't turn off the car's headlights she was going to flatten two batteries in one day.

She lay Mulder gently on the ground, tucking the blanket round him. In the pocket of her jacket was a thermal beanie which she dragged onto his head. She tried to make him comfortable. It was difficult with his hand cuffed to the car, but she wasn't going to risk uncuffing him. If the effects of whatever it was hadn't worn off yet, he would take off back into the forest, and she risked losing him for good.

She switched the headlights off and got food out of the box. She didn't want to make a campfire, it was too late, she was too tired. She broke some pieces off the chocolate and held them in her mouth till they melted. She finished eating and packed the food back into the box. She hoped she would be sharing breakfast with Mulder. A day late but the sweeter for it. She would light a campfire for them to sit beside and make fresh coffee. All she had to do was get through the night.

Despite her down vest and thermal pants, Scully was not going to be warm enough to sleep without the blanket. Mulder was going to really need a bit of shared body heat to get through the night, too. Scully crawled in under the blanket with him. She unzipped her jacket and tried to wrap it around him. She was hard up against his back with her left arm snaking under his armpit, the front flap of her jacket, and two corners of the blanket held tight in her fist, up under his chin. His legs stuck out of the blanket. She couldn't do anything about that, the blanket just wasn't long enough to cover all of him stretched out like that. Her face was pressed into the back of his neck, and her right arm was scrunched under her, pressed into the ground which, she now realised, wasn't so much earth, as millions of very sharp stones. It was going to be a long night.

Scully was paralysed. She had run over Mulder four or five times during the night, and at some stage someone must have broken her back, because now she was paralysed. There was a grey wash over the sky. Something was vibrating, and a little voice said her name, "S-S-S-S-Scully?"

She tried to move. Her back wasn't quite as broken as she had first thought, but the pins and needles in her right arm were going to play her merry hell in a little while.

"Mulder?" he was shaking like a leaf, he was so cold.

"God, I'm glad it's you."

She crawled out of the tangle of blanket and he rolled onto his back, grunting with pain as the handcuff caught him.

She had the key in her pocket, "Let me get that."

"Scully, the next time you decide on something kinky like this, do you think we could discuss it first?"

She unlocked the half that was around the bull bar first, gently lowering his arm to the ground. It really hurt him. She took the cuff off his wrist.

"Sorry, Mulder, I was desperate for your company."

The wrist was bruised and cut, the shoulder looked bad. Mulder looked greyish, though it could have been the dirt. Scully's fingers probed gently around the joint, feeling the stretched tendons, "Subluxation," she muttered.

"How far is the nearest hospital?"

"Ranger station is an hour's drive on these roads, hospital's probably another hour."

"Helicopter?"

"My cellular's out. We'd still have to get back to the ranger station. I could do it here, Mulder."

"Don't I need anaesthetic? Muscle relaxant?"

"First aid kit's got aspirin."

"So does my bathroom cupboard."

"I'll be quick."

"I'm not sure about this, Scully."

"Well, okay, if you want to spend two hours getting to the hospital, then probably another three hours sitting round their emergency room waiting for admission. After that they want a full history and explanation of what happened, they'd get you into theatre...maybe around three this afternoon. You have a general anaesthetic, that's say two days in hospital..."

"Okay, Scully. You win."

She positioned him flat on his back, just his left arm and legs from the knees down sticking out from under the blanket. She sat beside him on the ground, taking off her left shoe and carefully inserting her foot into his armpit. Mulder watched, a look of extreme suspicion on his face. She took his left hand in her right, and locked his left elbow with hers.

"Now just relax, Mulder."

"Scully I think I've changed my...uuuuh!"

"Sorry, what was that?"

He lay there panting for a moment, and his face had gone a deeper shade of grey. "Could I have about nine of those aspirin, please?"

Mulder sat leaning against the wheel of the car, the blanket wrapped around him and a cup of hot, sweet coffee in his right hand. His left shoulder had been bound and the arm was in a sling, tucked out of sight under the blanket. He said it was the warmest part of him.

Scully was a few feet away, crouched by a crackling fire. The smell of bacon and eggs rose into the still air. Mulder thought he could probably eat about half a pig, though he felt pretty full with just the coffee inside him. Scully brought the food to him, and sat beside him, the two of them ate together.

"You going to let me look at your feet?" she said finally.

"You can look, but you can't touch."

"They need treatment," his feet looked as though they had been pummelled by thugs wielding chains, and nail-spiked wood.

"Thanks for breakfast, Scully."

"Do you remember eating at all?"

"Oh yes. Did you know the human body is not equipped to digest grass?"

"I'd been told."

"I have first hand experience."

He ate about half a slice of bacon, and a bite of egg and bread. That was all. Scully cleared her plate, then turned her attention to his feet. She cleaned them and wiped them with antiseptic.

"How much do you remember?"

"Everything."

There were some deep cuts, but none were very long. She probed them.

"They used material from an animal, Mulder. I need to check your lumbar spine for the injection site."

Mulder pointed to his neck. "He got me here."

Scully ran a gentle finger over the bruise. "Interesting. It could account for you being able to metabolise the substance so quickly, too. I wonder why he changed the site."

Mulder hunched under the blanket.

"Did he tell you why Mulder?"

"Sadism."

Scully said nothing for a little while. She put a couple of stitches into the deeper cuts in his feet, swabbing them with disinfectant, picking out tiny grains of dirt.

"What were you, Mulder?" she said finally, "What made you run?"

"Fear, mostly."

"But why did you run? What were you?"

"There was just...something else in charge. It's not that easy to put into words, because I wasn't thinking with words. It was very primitive. I was some kind of animal. A deer, I think."

She gently bound his feet with gauze.

"Come on, into the car."

"That would involve standing up."

"Unless you've figured out how to fly."

"I don't want to use my feet. I suppose being carried is out of the question."

He put his arm around her shoulder and she let him lean on her to the car door. Mulder, she thought, I would carry you to the ends of the earth if I could. It was a brief struggle, getting up into the car, but he sat there quietly, looking tired and sick and a little bit silly with the beanie still dragged down on his head.

Scully doused the fire and packed the car. "Motel. Wash. Rest," she said, getting into the car.

Mulder shook his head, "The cabin. I know how to get there."

"It will still be there tomorrow, Mulder, and you'll be more capable of dealing with it."

She might have won the argument, except that a moment later they saw a car coming in the opposite direction, it was the Ranger. He pulled up and wound down his window.

"Agent Scully, good to see you. I was getting worried. Agent Mulder, I'm really glad you're okay."

"Yeah, me too," Hanna missed the irony in his tone.

"Well now that we can call off the search, it will be more people to spare for fighting the fire."

Mulder suddenly lunged across Scully, nearly out the window at Hanna, "What fire? WHAT FIRE?"

Hanna looked slightly dazed and took a moment to find his words, "Up...in the forest. A cabin."

"What cabin?" Mulder demanded.

"Well, I don't know. Apparently it was an illegal installation. Could have been bootleggers, from what I've heard, a still gone wrong and blown up. Could have even been some kind of drug set up. Chemicals or something. I've got to get over there and help out," Hanna didn't wait for any more of Mulder's demands, he just drove off.

"Now, Scully."

She said nothing, simply turned the car around and followed the direction Hanna had taken.

There was nothing to be done to save the house. In fact, no attempt was made to stop the blaze. It had been an illegal building, and it was better off gone. The rangers and a small fire fighting unit stood around ready to stop the fire getting into the forest.

Mulder took an overall from the back of the fire fighters' truck and put it on, his left arm tucked inside. He found a pair of spare boots, too, and slipped them over his battered feet. The overall made him itch where it wasn't polite to scratch, and the boots would normally have been way too big, but they were a snug fit over his swollen, bandaged feet. He walked slowly and painfully to the building. It had caved in on itself, and was only smouldering in places now. Two of the firefighters trod carefully about the rubble, dousing hot spots with retardant chemicals. Mulder could see that nothing was left. There was shattered glass and the remains of chemical containers in the ruin, but Mulder knew it would be nothing significant. He saw the charcoal remains of the chair he had been tied to. He looked for his clothes in the corner, they were mostly ashes.

He knew the place would be clean. They would find nothing. The glass would be untainted by chemical residue, and he could see that one of the chemical containers had "Sodium Chloride" written on it. Table salt.

"Agent Mulder, there's something you need to see," Hanna stood beside him and indicated a spot amongst the trees where Scully and another ranger were standing.

At first it just looked like a dirty old rag and a bunch of sticks lying on the autumn leaves, but then Mulder realised it was the deer's hide that he had seen in the cabin.

"There's something under it, Mulder," warned Scully. She grabbed the deer by one antler and drew it back. Under it lay a dead fox. The fox had been shot cleanly through the head, and then someone had played with it. Its rictus had been pulled into a gaping grin. Its chest had been cut open and then stapled back together again, so that it looked more or less intact. It was wearing Mulder's gun holster and his gun. Between its front paws lay his F.B.I. badge and cellular phone. The breakfast moved queasily on Mulder's stomach and he took a few unsteady steps away from the others so that he could lean against a tree and throw up.

It came to nothing. Mulder leaned his head against the door pillar of the car. Scully watched him out of the corner of her eye. Ash and soot from the burning cabin had added to the filth and grime on his face. She wasn't sure where the circles under his eyes ended and the beard began. At some stage during the morning he had lost or rid himself of the hat, and his hair stood up in greasy, sullen spikes.

He needed to be clean and rested and fed and cared for. He needed to know that not everybody was out to get him. Despite the threat implied in the fox, there were people he could trust, and she was one of them. She wanted to tell him, but he was too deeply bound within some dark place in his own mind. She wanted to release him, see the catharsis of tears, but there didn't seem room.

"Mulder," she said, "I'm on your side," she half hoped for some wise crack about her running into him with the car, but the seconds dragged by and he said nothing. She watched the pattern of light and shade flicker over his face as they drove through the trees, and after a while she wasn't even sure he had heard her.

THE END

the sequel to this story is called Hunter's moon

*:)

amanda