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Agent Mulder, may I have a word?

Chapter Text

Special agent Mulder made his way sulkily through the corridors of the Hoover building towards the stairs that would lead him down to his and Scully's basement office. He bypassed the elevators at the end of the hall, ignoring the inquiring gaze of a couple of agents milling by the double doors and turned left towards the stairwell, pushing it open with a little more force then was strictly necessary. The heavy fire door clicked closed behind him and he was immediately grateful for the quiet solitude of the bare concrete construction. The steps of his dress shoes echoed loudly in the confined space as he stomped his was down, slightly favoring his right leg.

These stairs were hardly ever used. Most people preferred the convenience and speed of the elevators but after his meeting with Assistant Director Skinner, Mulder needed to burn off some of his agitation and the stairs had the added benefit of no witnesses.

"Damn him…," the agent muttered to himself as he pushed the door at the bottom open and descended the last few steps into the basement proper. It was noticeably cooler and darker down in this hallway, reflecting Mulder's current mood perfectly. His long fingers reached into his right pants pocket and pulled out his keys, finding the correct one and angrily stabbing it into the keyhole. With a savage twist he unlocked the handle and shoved the door open, not caring that it smacked into the filing cabinet behind it. Mulder shrugged out of his suit jacket and threw it carelessly onto a pile of papers stacked in a corner, knocking some esoteric item to the floor but too preoccupied to care. The young agent paced a small circle around his cramped office, running an agitated hand through his dark hair, the other hand propped against his hip.

"Damn that man…," Mulder said again in exasperation, slightly more loudly this time in the relative security of his office. He huffed in annoyance and slipped around his desk, yanking the chair out from under it and flopping down into it. His hazel green eyes landed on the x-file sitting open on his desk and he could feel his blood pressure climb again as he recalled the meeting he had just had with his boss over this exact file.

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"Is this all you have to go on?" AD Skinner asked as he scrutinized the 302 before him, not even bothering to make eye contact with the younger agent sitting before him. Mulder paused, sensing that this might not be the easy sign off he originally thought it would be. He shifted in his chair and rubbed the palms of his hands on his knees.

"At the moment sir yes, but I believe it's enough to warrant an investigation," he stated calmly as he waited for the larger man to finish reading the paperwork before him. Skinner took one last look before casually tossing the unsigned form back across his desk towards his most troublesome agent.

"Well I don't," he stated firmly as he leaned back in his chair and focused his full attention on the younger man. His reply was so abrupt that Mulder had to take a moment to process a response.

"Sir, I respectfully disagree," He began as his quick mind started building his defense. Skinner interrupted with a snort and the younger agent suspected it wasn't surprise over Mulder disagreeing, but more likely about the 'respectfully' part. He bristled and sat up straighter, readying himself to do verbal battle, once again defending his work.

Skinner had been overseeing the X-files department and it's two agents for little over two years now and in that short time, Mulder and he had butted heads many times. Mulder was the kind of man that didn't take authority over him or the curbing of his actions well. He was passionate and driven and tended to bulldoze over anything that stood in his way and his quest for the truth. Unfortunately that was usually Skinner, the very picture of an immovable object. The Assistant Director was ex-military and respect for authority and discipline were deeply ingrained in him. Everything that Agent Mulder seemed to lack.

Skinner remembered the first time he had ever called Mulder into his office, shortly after being assigned the X-files. Mulder had been stalking a man he claimed was a liver eating, extreme contortionist that was well over 100 years old. Skinner, unsure as to how best to handle the younger agent, had first tried the concerned friend approach, suggesting Mulder should take some time off to reduce the stress he must be under that was causing him to act so inappropriately. Mulder's casual, unconcerned response was clearly an attempt at humoring him and subtly displayed his disregard for Skinner's polite management style. Skinner could see the younger agent had absolutely no fear of him. He had pulled away then and stood up, towering over the seated agent and had walked around his desk. Coming to the decision that he needed to nip this in the bud right now and establish his authority over his agent immediately if he was ever going to have a chance at controlling the younger man, Skinner dropped the buddy-buddy routine and in a firm no nonsense tone of voice, forbade him from going anywhere near the suspect. His approach was direct and to the point and it was the method he decided to adopt from then on with this brilliant but out of control agent.

Mulder had gotten just a hint of what he could expect from his new boss that day with the Cigarette man looming behind him, always in his shadow, but it wasn't till the X-files had been closed and Skinner had put Mulder on wire tap surveillance duty, an assignment generally known as a punishment, that the younger man finally realized what he had gotten into with this ex military assistant director.

It was when Mulder had been called once more into Skinner's office to answer for his desertion of his assignment and actions down in Puerto Rico, that Skinner had been enlightened to the line that the Cigarette man had crossed by illegally wiring tapping Mulder's phone. It was at that moment that Skinner had crossed a line himself, stepping over it to stand with Mulder, leaving the black lunged bastard on the other side. Skinner had chosen to side with Mulder, throwing the Smoking man out of his office.

Both men were aware of the shift that had just occurred and Skinner could tell he had earned the respect Mulder had been withholding since he had started working under him. When the younger agent had quietly asked if he should make the arrests both knew that he had enough evidence for, Skinner calmly ordered him back to the surveillance with the comment that they needed more to go on. The message was plain as day. Mulder was still being punished. Skinner may have chosen to stand with Mulder but he was not going to let the younger agent get away with anything. There would be consequences for his actions. Skinner would stand with him, but he would also stand in front of him when Mulder needed it. This was one of those times.

All those memories flashed through Skinner's mind as he waited for Mulder to make a valid point as to why it was necessary to send two agents to a remote forest in the middle of the pacific northwest. He listened as Mulder made his case about a possible serial killer stalking campers and hikers deep in the forests of Oregon and how the killings were painted with just a shade of the unknown. Strange sounds, lights in the night sky, and sightings of a possible hitherto unknown creature.

Skinner sighed and took off his glasses, rubbing at his eyes as Mulder trailed off, waiting for the older man's reply. It was times like these that Skinner wished Scully was here. The other half of the partnership was more rationally inclined and had a unique way of cutting through all of Agent Mulder's eloquently worded bullshit to get right to the point. She also had a calming affect on both men that had diffused many an argument between the two of them. Too bad she was attending an in town medical conference at the moment.

Both men looked at each other, each silently trying to figure out what was going on in the other's head.

Skinner leaned sideways in his chair and rested his left elbow on the armrest, propping his chin in the palm of his hand. He could still see the bruise on Mulder's right temple just under his hairline and the slight limp as the dark haired agent had entered his office hadn't gone unnoticed either. It had only been four days since Mulder had been released from the hospital after his latest escapade and Skinner was worried that the younger man's lack of self preservation was becoming more and more of an issue that needed to nipped in the bud immediately before Mulder found himself in a situation that no one could save him from. Although he didn't like to admit it, the younger agent had grown on him and he was genuinely fond of the trouble magnet, even if he was making Skinner lose whatever hair he had left at an accelerated rate.

Decision made, Skinner sat straight in his chair and picked up a pen and began making marks on a report he had previously set aside, his body language dismissive.

"Permission denied Agent Mulder. I do not want you pursuing this any further," he said as he made another mark. He didn't have to look up to know that the younger agent was glaring at him in affronted disbelief.

"But sir….," Mulder tried to interject but Skinner cut him off.

"I said no, Agent Mulder. I don't see the need to repeat myself," he stated firmly as he looked up, pinning his subordinate with an uncompromising stare.

"May I ask why?" Mulder countered, a hint of insubordination creeping into his tone. Skinner inwardly steeled himself. 'Here we go," he thought silently to himself.

"Agent Mulder, you were only just released from the hospital a few days ago and have yet to fully recover…," He saw Mulder open his mouth to interrupt but skinner beat him to it.

"…I have spoken to your doctor's so don't give me any of that 'I'm fine' bullshit." He watched as Mulder snapped his mouth shut at the stern tone and looked down at the floor. It was a habit of his that Skinner had picked up early on whenever the younger man was being reprimanded. He tended to break eye contact and look down, momentarily taking a mental step back from the situation to regroup and come up with a better strategy to prove his point. Sometimes it was an act of submission, succeeding the point to the other person. And sometimes….it was just an act.

"I was declared fit for duty," Mulder argued, looking back up and meeting the other's eyes.

"Limited duty," Skinner countered. Mulder shook his head at his boss's continued unreasonableness.

"Okay fine, Limited duty but duty non the less," he argued, gesturing agitatedly with his right hand. "I don’t see what the issue is here…," he began but was cut short by the sound of Skinner slamming the pen he had been holding down onto the desktop, causing a startlingly loud noise.

"The issue Agent is that I have given you a direct order to drop this case and your continuous insubordination is getting on my last nerve," Skinner retorted, the volume of his voice raising even as he tried to control it. Mulder quickly looked down again and Skinner instinctively knew that this time wasn't an act. Mulder was backing down but only just.

"Sir, I believe this case requires further investigation," Mulder replied while he struggled with whether or not to make eye contact. Skinner had this distinctly 'spooky' way of peering right through him that made him nervous and always seemed to put him on the back foot.

"I've already said all I'm going to say about this. This case can be handled by the local authorities," Skinner said more calmly as he returned his attention back to the budget paperwork on his desk, body language and tone dismissing the younger man. "I suggest you find something else to focus your energy on Agent Mulder, before I find something for you." He heard Mulder huff in irritation and stand up, the not so veiled threat of wire tap surveillance enough of a deterrent for the younger man to bite his tongue and back down for now.

Mulder didn't say anything as he left the office, pointedly not closing the door behind him. Skinner kept his eyes on his report till he was sure the other man had gone. He stopped writing and cast a quick glance towards his door before allowing a frustrated sigh to escape. He set his pen down and leaned back in his leather office chair, running a weary hand over his bald head. Why did he ever agree to take on the X-files?

He spotted the unsigned 302 Mulder had left sitting on the other side of his desk. Casting one more quick glance at the open door, he reached over and snagged the file. He re-read the details of the case and snorted at the absurdity of it. He tossed it to the side of his desk on top of an ever growing stack of papers. There was absolutely no way he was going to authorize a 302 to look for…

 

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"...Bigfoot?" Scully asked slowly as she looked up from the x-file she had found Mulder mulling over when she had entered their shared office and cast a disbelieving stare at her taller partner. "You want to go hunting for bigfoot?"

"It isn't actually clear what is doing the killings, only that several people had been found with injuries that could only have been committed by a person, or persons with incredible strength, and that a large unidentified, upright walking creature with an approximate hominid physiology with hair covering it's entire body, has been sighted in the area recently, usually only a day before a body was found," Mulder rattled off as he looked at her from behind his desk, fiddling with a pencil.

"So…Bigfoot," she stated as she looked at the file again. She just knew that it had been a bad omen when the head speaker of her conference had come down with a bad case of food poisoning, causing the abrupt cancellation of the rest of the conference. She should have just gone home and enjoyed the next three days off but had decided to stop by the Hoover building to check up on her partner. It had only been four days since he had been released from the hospital following their last case. Scully suppressed a shudder, recalling the…

"Sasquatch," Mulder interrupted as he leaned back in his chair and propped his feet onto his desk, crossing his ankles.

"What?" Scully questioned, brought back to the present by Mulder's teasing tone.

"The correct term is Sasquatch," he explained as he smiled at her. "The Native Americans have stories spanning thousands of years referring to a large hairy wild man that roams the woods, foraging at night and only communicating through grunts and whistles. Some tribes even believe the sasquatch has the ability to turn invisible, which could account as to why no one has ever been able to get more than a glimpse of the creature before it 'vanishes' into the forest, barring a few instances of course."

"Did you know some tribes have been known to guard visiting women when a sasquatch has been spotted on their land, believing the creature to see the human female as a potential mate?" Scully retorted back, just as deadpan.

"I did," Mulder responded, pleased. While for the most part Scully didn't believe in any of the things they investigated, she respected the work and his own belief enough to make the effort. Scully ducked her head slightly, fighting her own smile that threatened to show whenever she happened to surprise Mulder. He always looked at her so fondly in those moments…

Scully cleared her throat and handed the file back to her partner who took it and flipped through a couple pages.

"I've got to admit Mulder, I'm surprised Skinner signed off on this one," she commented as she reached down and picked up her purse, looking through it for her phone. She was going to have to call her Mother to watch Queequeg again if they were gong to be headed out of town. She didn't see Mulder's slight hesitation.

"Well, regardless of the validity of a potential cryptic creature perpetrating these atrocities, Skinner realizes that people are being murdered and that someone needs to stop it." It was a truth hidden in a lie, and Mulder felt like a heel for doing that to her. Skinner had agreed that it should be looked into, just not by the F.B.I. He didn't look at her as he stood up and walked over to his discarded suit jacket, slipping it on.

"Good enough for me," Scully replied as she stood up, phone in hand ready to dial up her Mother. "So when do we leave?"

 

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Mulder locked the rental car before hurrying around it to follow Scully up the steps of the police station and out of the cold drizzle that seemed a permanent fixture of the northwestern United States. The two agents shook out their coats as the desk sergeant on duty eyed them curiously.

"Can I help you," she inquired as she took in their professional suits and demeanor. The tall lanky man stepped forward and reached into his dark over coat, pulling out a small leather wallet that he flipped open to reveal a Federal badge and ID.

"Yes, I'm Agent Mulder with the Federal Bureau of investigation, this is my partner Agent Scully," he said, introducing the smaller red head beside him. "We're looking for Chief Fuller? We spoke over the phone, he should be expecting us.

So these were the two F.B.I agents Carl had been talking about. The desk sergeant nodded and directed them to a cramped but organized office towards the back of the station. The agents found Chief of police Carl Fuller sitting behind a mound of paper work doing his best to whittle down the stack before him.

"Chief Fuller?" Mulder inquired as they entered the wooden paneled office. The other man looked up and took the two agents in at a glance.

"Agent Mulder isn't it?" the older man said with a smile as he stood up and stepped around the desk to shake hands with the two agents. Mulder was surprised by the man's height. He must have been a good three inches taller than himself and he found it a bit disconcerting to have to look up to meet his gaze. This must be how Scully felt.

"Yes sir, and this is my partner Agent Scully."

"Hello agents and welcome," the chief said as he took Scully's hand in greeting. While his handshake had been firm with Mulder, the larger man was much more gentle with the other agent.

"Thank you sir," Scully said as he released her hand and gestured them both into the mismatched set of chairs in front of his desk. As both agents took their seats, Chief Fuller made his way back around his desk and sat down, moving the stack of papers he had valiantly been trying to get through to the side.

"I must say, while I appreciate the assistance, I'm a little surprised that the F.B.I. would be interested in this," He stated as he ran a hand through his salt and pepper hair.

"Normally we would leave it to the local law enforcement such as yourself chief, if it weren't for the more unusual instances coinciding with the deaths," Mulder explained. Fuller looked at him, puzzled.

"You mean…the sightings?" he asked almost as if he was sure he must be mistaken. When Mulder nodded his head in the affirmative, Fuller shook his own in disbelief. "Agent Mulder, those are just rumors, stories fabricated by intoxicated locals with too much free time and not enough good sense. Surely your not suggesting these people had been killed by bigfoot are you?"

Mulder opened his mouth to respond but Scully quickly intervened.

"Sir, we are not suggesting anything, but neither are we disregarding any possible evidence, sensible or not, that may help discover the identity of the killer." Fuller looked between the two agents before nodding his agreement, impressed.

"I'm sorry agents, you're right. I guess I've been strung just a tad bit tight since these killings had started. I really do appreciate the help and I'll do whatever I can to help you in your investigation."

Mulder was impressed himself. Usually when they made contact with the local law enforcement, they were closeminded and territorial. Chief Fuller was not only welcoming, but despite his reservations over Mulder's interest in the more outlandish rumors surrounding these cases, he had quickly put his trust in the two agents.

"Thank you Chief, you can start by letting Agent Scully look at one of the victims," Mulder responded.

 

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Skinner closed his office door behind him after thanking his secretary Kim for bringing him lunch. It wasn't part of her job description but whenever she went out for herself, she would sometimes bring something back for him. He smiled as he sat the roast beef sandwich down on his desk. Why couldn't all the people he worked with be as thoughtful and reliable as his secretary.

He sat down in his chair and unwrapped his sandwich and took a bite, surprised at the savory flavor and taking a mental note to ask Kim where she had got it. As he ate, his eyes wandered over his desk, eyeing all the different reports that needed his approval, signature, or corrections. He loved his job, he really did but sometimes all the paperwork was just a bit too much.

His eyes landed on one report sticking out at an angle from his otherwise straight pile. He recognized it as Mulder's 302 he had brought to him just the other day. Figures. Even Mulder's reports couldn't fall in line.

Skinner placed the last bite of his sandwich down and pulled at the corner of the report, yanking it swiftly and cleanly out from the stack it hand been sandwiched in with such skill that the reports on top hardly moved, like a magician pulling a table cloth cleanly out from under a full dinner setting. He opened it up and went over the details again. He had to admit it was an intriguing case, even if he didn't agree with Mulder's opinions as to the possible identities of the killers. If Mulder had approached him with this case with a little more plausibility and hadn't just had a stay in the hospital, Skinner may had begrudgingly signed off on the 302. Maybe he could make a compromise. Perhaps he could set up a long distance communication between the local force and the F.B.I and Mulder could assist the investigation from right here in D.C.

Deciding he should bring the suggestion to the agent in question, Skinner buzzed the intercom on his desk.

"Kim, could you get me Agent Mulder please," he asked as he picked up the last of his lunch and placed it in his mouth, chewing slowly to savor every last bit of it. Less than a minute later Kim's voice came back over the intercom speaker.

"I'm sorry sir but Agent Mulder doesn't appear to be in the building, he never signed in this morning." Skinner swallowed hard and the bite of sandwich went down his throat with some difficulty. Skinner coughed a few times but didn't choke thankfully.

Okay, no need to get suspicious. Mulder had just been in the hospital. Maybe he was having a bit of a relapse and had taken a sick day.

"Did he call?" He questioned, already anticipating what her answer would be but secretly hoping against it anyways.

"It doesn't appear so sir, HR has not indicated a request for sick leave." Alright, maybe he just forgot. He had suffered a slight concussion recently after all.

"Try Agent Scully please," he requested. Maybe she would know where her partner was. Skinner picked up a pencil and leaned back in his chair, idly twirling the pencil between his fingers, the knot of unease growing in his stomach.

"I'm sorry sir but Agent Scully didn't sign in this morning either," the voice said sympathetically. The pencil in Skinner's hand snapped in two, the broken piece falling to the desk to land on the open x-file.

"I'm going to kill him…," the AD muttered between gritted teeth. He knew without a shadow of a doubt where his walkabout agent was and apparently, he had dragged Scully right behind him.

"I'm really going to kill him…,"

"Sir?" The voice of his secretary startled him out of his furious haze. "Would you like me to try his cell phone?"

"No, thank you Kim, that won't be necessary," he said far more calmly than he actually felt. Whatever he had to say to Agent Mulder was going to be said to his face. "Kim, I need you to book me a flight…"

Chapter Text

 

 

"So what do you think?" Mulder asked as he leaned over Scully's shoulder.

She stepped away from the mutilated body on the slab before her, gently forcing her larger partner to back up as she peeled the blue surgical gloves from her slender hands with a snap.

"Based on the injuries and evidence of predatory predation marks on the body, I would say that this person at least, was a victim of some sort of animal attack," she explained as she walked over to the small sink against the wall and washed her hands.

"Predation by what?" Mulder asked as he placed his hands on his hips, pushing his jacket back as he gazed down at the torn body of one recently deceased, Mr. Stanton.

Scully dried her hands with a paper towel and tossed the wadded ball into a wastebasket before turning back towards her partner. An autopsy had already been preformed so Scully had simply read the report and had only donned the surgical gloves to clear up a few odd entries on the report that she needed to visually clarify herself.

"I'm not exactly sure Mulder," she confessed as she stood beside him, gazing down at the body, the antiseptic white lights of the coroner's examination room painting the corpse in a paler complexion then normal. "The left arm had been pulled from the socket with such force that it had nearly taken the shoulder blade with it and I found evidence of compression damage done to the tissue by what appears to be an animal with at least some molar like teeth, although much larger than you would expect from the indigenous wildlife."

"Would you say…ape like?" Mulder questioned, already sure of what her answer would be.

Scully rested one hand on the hip of her cream skirted suit and looked at her partner with just a hint of exasperation.

"Yes Mulder, I would say ape like but it's far more likely that this was done by a larger than average bear with excessively worn down back molars," she explained as she gestured towards the body laying on the slab. "Which also would indicate an older individual and could explain the large size of the bite marks since older animals tend to be at their maximum growth."

Mulder nodded his head thoughtfully as he absorbed her rational explanation of the facts.

"But you do agree the bite marks look like they could have been from an animal with a predominantly primate physiology?" he clarified and Scully began to wonder why she even bothered since he had already made up his mind. She decided to try anyways.

"Mulder, there are no species of primate anywhere in the world, let alone the forests of north America, that have teeth large enough to match those marks that were found on the body," she remarked patiently.

Mulder leaned back against a sparse metal desk situated across from the mortuary slap and leaned his weight on his hands behind him as he regarded his partner.

"Scully have you ever heard of Gigantopithecus?" He didn't wait for a response. "It was a primate that supposedly went extinct as recently as 100,000 years ago that stood up to ten feet tall and weighed up to 1,100lbs."

Scully crossed her arms. She could just hear'the quotation marks around the word supposedly in Mulder's voice.

"Are you suggesting an individual from an extinct species of ape has somehow survived and escaped human detection, living in the forests of the north American continent, and is responsible for the attacks?"

"I'm simply offering a plausible theory for the unidentifiable marks found on the victims body," he said innocently as he shrugged his shoulders at her.

"Mulder, you and I have very different definitions of the word 'plausible'," she replied as she arched an eyebrow at him.

Mulder smiled, taking the jibe in the good nature that it was intended and pushed away from the table, walking towards the stainless steel door of the coroner's examination room, holding it open.

"Come on Scully, the Chief has arranged for us to interview some of the witnesses."

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"If I hear one more, "...and the forest went quiet," cliché, I'm going to take my gun out and shoot someone," Mulder deadpanned as he ran a weary hand over his face.

Scully spared him a sympathetic look before placing a Styrofoam cup of coffee down on the table before him, taking the chair across from him in the now empty interview room. He took it gratefully.

For three hours straight he and Scully had sat through multiple stories from witnesses who had been in the area when a person had been attacked, all claiming to have seen, or heard something in the woods that defied explanation. This would have been helpful, except each story differed so wildly as to be almost useless. One person claimed they saw a bipedal creature with blackish hair, while another claimed it was completely white and ran on all fours. Another person swore they saw a flash of bright light, followed immediately by whoops and whistles deep in the forest, while yet another person claimed a small tree was thrown at them by a creature that was there one moment, then gone the next as if it had vanished into thin air.

"Well from my experience, sudden silence usually indicates a predator in the area so it does help to lend some credence to their stories," she offered as she took a sip of her own drink.

"Yes but none of the stories match, casting more darkness on this case rather than illumination. I'm starting to think these people didn't see as much as they claimed to have and have simply filled in the blanks with the popular bigfoot mythology perpetuated today by Hollywood and fiction writers," Mulder complained as he leaned back in his chair. "They were all a little too detailed you know?" He paused for a moment, mentally recalling and scrutinizing each interview. "All except for one though," he said thoughtfully.

"Whose?" Scully asked, warming her hands on the small cup she held.

"Frank Morrison," Mulder supplied, leaning forward to flip through a small notebook he had used to jot down the main points of each eyewitness report. "He didn't claim to have seen a creature, only that he had heard something large moving through the woods, had smelled a foul odor, and had rocks thrown at him."

"And that makes his story more credible because?" Scully prompted.

"Because he doesn't appear to have any preconceived notion as to what was in the woods with him and he mentioned things in his recollection that none of the others did, the smell, the rock throwing. All details that are consistent with more reliable sasquatch encounters, details known mostly to the small community of researchers interested in this phenomenon and the rare few that have actually encountered this creature." Mulder explained as he flipped the notebook closed and pushed it to the side.

"So because his description was the most vague, it's the most believable?"

"It's the lack of embellishment that makes this more credible. Morrison is reporting just the facts, nothing else," Mulder pointed out before the interview room door was pushed open and Chief Fuller entered, carrying his own cup of precious warm liquid in this cold area of the northwest, as well as a folded map under his left arm.

"The jury is still out on the 'believable' part if you ask me," he said as he walked over to the two seated agents and sat his coffee down on the table top.

"Do you have any new information?" Mulder asked hopefully, pushing his own cup to the side as the larger police officer placed the map he'd been carrying on the table and began to unfold it.

"Unfortunately no, but I thought I would help give you a visual of the attack sites as well as the approximate locations of these supposed sightings that you've just been listening to," the large man explained as he finished flattening the map across the table, moving his cup to one corner to help anchor it.

"All the bodies had been found here, in this section of the state park," Fuller explained as he pointed to several small crudely hand drawn circles in red.

Mulder leaned over the map and took in the details, mentally mapping the red circles in his head. The circles, although some distance apart on the map, appeared to be clustered loosely around one area of the park. He pointed a long finger down onto the map.

"What's located in this part of the park Chief?" he questioned, briefly making eye contact with the older man.

"There? That's all old growth forest," the Chief supplied as he leaned over his map, encircling a large area with his finger, indicating the extent of the forest in question. "Huge old trees but not much else. Most people head to the falls down by the east," Fuller explained. "Rent canoes and the like. Which is why it's so damn peculiar that the attacks are clustered in that area."

"So your saying this is the oldest part of the forest?" Mulder asked as he studied the map.

"Yes, but why would that be of any relevance?" Fuller asked as he watched the two agents briefly share a look, curious as to what they were saying to each other without having to actually vocalize it.

"A previous case we had worked on was in a similar geographical location also with unexplained attacks," Mulder supplied as he pushed his chair back and stood up, reaching behind him for the suit jacket he had laid on the back of his chair.

Fuller straightened up to his full height and took a step towards the dark haired agent as he put on his coat, noticing Agent Scully take her partner's cue and also stand.

"You think this is the same thing?" he asked, silently hoping these two odd agents held the answers he needed to shed some light on this frustrating case.

"No, this is something different," Mulder said as he glanced back down at the map.

"But you have an idea?" Fuller prompted, placing his large hands on his hips, staring Mulder in the eyes and forcing him to maintain eye contact, not challenging, but not backing down either.

"None that haven't already crossed your mind chief," Scully interjected quickly before Mulder could respond. She walked around the table to stand beside her partner and Fuller got the impression it was a subconscious response on her part, an obvious act of support for her partner, but possibly an act of restraint also, ready to keep the other agent from saying something he shouldn't. He was starting to get the feeling she had to play both rolls quite often for her to be able to do it so naturally.

"If you have the time Cheif, I'd like to see the area of the attacks in person," Mulder requested.

"I'm afraid it's a bit too late in the day for that," Fuller began, momentarily backing down from whatever secrets the other two were deciding to keep to themselves for the time being. He trusted them, but he didn't like being kept in the dark. "It'll be hard enough to navigate that area without it being dark on top of it."

"It's only four o'clock…," Mulder observed as he glanced at his wrist watch.

"You'd be surprised how fast the dark creeps up on you out there Agent Mulder," Fuller began as he started to fold up the map. "There aren't any roads up there, only an old park ranger trail that you 'might' be able to get a jeep through if you're determined enough, but even if you did, you'd have at least an hour's hike to the closest attack sight." He finished folding the map and tucked it under one arm. "I'll take you out first thing in the morning," he added as he nodded good day and turned to exit.

"Just a moment Chief," Mulder called out as he walked over to the older man. "If it's alright with you I'd like to study that map a bit longer." He held out a hand.

"Mulder…?" Scully questioned, a hint of suspicious warning creeping into her tone.

"Just so I can get a clearer picture of the crime scenes. Hopefully connect some dots while I'm at it until we can actually get out there," Mulder elaborated as he addressed the other man.

Fuller had the impression that the explanation, while addressed to him, was really meant for the agent's petite partner. Curious dynamic these two had…

"Well I don't see what harm can come from it," he sighed as he handed over the marked up map, watching as Mulder took it and placed the neatly folded paper into the inner pocket of his suit jacket. "I'll meet you two around eight tomorrow morning in front of the station, if that's convenient for you?"

"Thank you Chief Fuller, that would be fine," Scully said as she smiled briefly at him before fixing her gaze on her taller partner.

Fuller could tell she wanted to have a few words with the other agent, preferably in private, and decided to make a hasty exit. He hadn't been married for fifteen years without picking up at least 'some' of the social cues given by the female of the species.

"Agents," he said simply as he walked through the doorway, leaving the two F.B.I. agents to hash out whatever it was they needed to hash out.

"Mulder, I'm going to assume you meant what you said about studying the map and not that you're planning on going out into the forest at night to look for this thing," Scully said sternly as she crossed her arms and stared hard at him.

"It's a well known fact that the best time to search for a bigfoot is during nightfall…," he began but Scully cut him off.

"Mulder, you just got out of the hospital. I don't think you're up to hiking around a forest in the middle of the day, let alone in the middle of the night with no trails or person to guide you," she explained in all seriousness, hoping she was making her concern for his well being quite clear.

"Relax Scully, I'm not that stupid, no matter what Skinner might say," Mulder mumbled testily, somewhat put out by her lack of faith in his abilities and her slightly rebuking tone of voice.

"I wasn't implying that you were," she replied back just as testily, a little put out herself now at his petulant response to her concern. Why was it that whenever she expressed worry over him he turned into a defensive jerk, tossing her concern right back in her face.

Mulder, sensing he had somehow pissed her off, decided to make peace before they actually got into an argument. Despite his inherit love for debate, he never liked arguing with her.

"Look, I appreciate your concern but I'm fine. While I do want to visit the area in question, I fully grasp the logic of waiting until daylight to do so," he said as he moved to the wooden door of the interview room and held it open for her, hoping she would take the cue and drop this line of conversation so they could move on to more important issues.

Scully arched an eyebrow at him and his boyish smile, but walked toward the door he held, feeling him place a hand lightly on her lower back to help gently guide her through as she passed. Even though he could be a real ass sometimes, it was little gestures like this that showed he could be a true gentleman as well.

"Let's go get settled in our motel, then we can go get something to eat, my treat," he added as they made their way through the cramped hallways of the old but clean police station.

"Alright Mulder but promise me you won't do anything that will make me regret not sedating you and tossing you in the nearest hospital," Scully quipped as she pulled on the heavy glass door of the station and held it open for him this time.

"Scouts honor," Mulder answered as he held up three fingers, thumb and pinky crossed, as he passed her and out into the cool afternoon.

Chapter Text

 

"Damn it," Mulder muttered to himself as he fumbled with the map, trying to fold it open to the section he needed one handedly as he tried to shine his flashlight on it. Quickly giving up, he pinned his heavy duty flashlight between his shoulder and chin, freeing up his other hand to wrestle the map into submission. He finally succeeded and centered his light on the red circles, mentally placing his location and the distance to the closest crime scene.

It didn't seem too far…

Mulder looked up from the map and directed his light towards the trees, taking note of how it only penetrated a couple dozen feet before being completely consumed by the darkness. The sounds of insects was deafening and the trees creaked and moaned in the cool wind. The overall vibe was definitely earie and Mulder momentarily debated whether or not he should continue with his plan. 

"I hope she isn't right..," he said quietly to himself as he scanned the forest, looking for a place were the trees thinned and would make hiking easier. His ankle still twinged when he walked and the prospect of stumbling around fallen trees and hidden dips in the dark was a bit worrisome. Not to mention what Scully would say if she found out.  

After having dinner at a quaint local restaurant, the two agents had returned to their lodge themed motel and parted ways for the evening, each retiring  to their respective rooms. Mulder had waited about an hour, studying the map just like he had told the chief and Scully he would do, before changing out of his suit into jeans and a warm sweater, switching out his polished dress shoes for sturdy hiking boots, and topping off his outfit with a blue waterproof jacket. 

He had holstered his gun in the back waistband of his jeans, leaving his badge and ID on the wooden night stand beside the bed, and had quietly snuck out of his room and to the car.  

Thirty minutes later found him standing at the edge of the ranger's jeep trail Chief Fuller had told them about. It really was a miracle the SUV they had rented at the airport had even made it this far up the rugged trail.

"Well, I'm already here," he told himself as he patted himself down to make sure he had his gun, his compass, and his cell phone. As a precaution, he took out a small battery powered lantern from the back hatch storage compartment and turned it on, placing it on the roof of the SUV to act as a beacon to help guide him back to the vehicle. Satisfied that he was ready, Mulder chose a path that seemed the least overgrown and carefully pushed his way through into the darkness, leaving the SUV behind.

His plan was simple. Hike to the closest accessible crime scene and see if he could hear anything like what the witnesses had described or maybe even catch a glimpse of the creature he thought was responsible for the attacks. While he could have waited until morning and gone out with Scully and the Chief, Mulder knew his best chance would be at nightfall. While he was being flippant at the time, he hadn't been lying when he had told Scully the best time to search for bigfoot was at night. And there was little doubt in his mind that it indeed was a Sasquatch responsible for the attacks.

This particular area was also where Morrison had had his sighting.

For several minutes Mulder carefully picked his way over the uneven ground, keeping a close eye on his compass to ensure he was making a relatively straight line towards the first attack site. The leaves rustled and the incessant buzzing of insects created a white noise affect that helped to ease some of the tension he felt about being out in wilderness alone. Despite what his partner might say, Mulder wasn't stupid. He was aware that what he was doing was potentially dangerous, but the need to discover the truth of what was really out there, tangible proof that he could actually grab a hold onto, outweighed any inherent caution he had.

It had been close to an hour since he had first entered the woods and he knew he must be very close to the site of the attack. When another fifteen minutes had passed and he had yet to come across the yellow caution tape Chief Fuller mentioned had been used to cordon off the area, Mulder began to suspect he had made a wrong turn somewhere.

He stopped and pulled out his compass again, checking his heading. The compass appeared to still read true, as it wasn't spinning rapidly in circles nor was it flipping between the two poles. Perhaps he had simply missed the site in the darkness. Deciding to backtrack a bit to see if he really had passed it, Mulder turned around.

It was at this moment that the inevitable happened. The toe of Mulder's right boot caught on the edge of something he hadn't seen in the darkness and he was unable to stop his forward momentum. He fell hard into a tree trunk, scraping the side of his face on the rough bark, before sliding off to fall face down on the ground. The force was enough to momentarily knock the wind out of him and send something flying off into the underbrush. He lay there for a minute, groaning as he tried to catch his breath.

Finally his diaphragm kicked back in and he was able to breath, pushing himself up slowly to his hands and knees.

"Damn it," he wheezed as he leaned forward and reached out for the flashlight he had dropped, sitting back on his haunches as he twisted around behind him to shine his light on what had tripped him up.

It was a tree stump. But it wasn't a normal stump you'd expect to find left behind by a rotted tree that had fallen over. This one had been cut.

Mulder panned his light around and picked out more and more cut tree stumps. It was quickly becoming obvious that someone had been out here harvesting timber, more than likely illegally as this was a protected forest, land belonging to the federal government. Logging was prohibited here. It appeared as if  one out of every three trees had been cut down, leaving enough standing so it wouldn't be obvious from the air that some had been cut down.

Mulder slowly stood and brushed the dried leaves absentmindedly from his jacket and knees as his light illuminated the desecration. His quick mind immediately began to make connections between the destruction of the forest and the recent attacks, noting the trees had been cut down not that long ago, the sap still drying on the one currently caught in his beam. It was too much of a coincidence to not be connected somehow.

As he contemplated his burgeoning theory, the more primitive part of his brain suddenly kicked in and Mulder became aware that the ever present background cacophony of insects which had surrounded him this whole time, had stopped. The woods had gone silent…

Mulder's eyes widened as the hair on the back of his neck stood up. He got the unpleasant feeling that he was being watched. 

"Oh shit…," he muttered as he fumbled the back of his jacket up and pulled out his gun, clicking the safety off but holding it down to his side, not quite sure if there was really any danger or if his mind was over reacting just like the witnesses he had complained to Scully about.

He raised his light and scanned the forest before him, straining his ears to pick out the slightest sound that would prove something was here with him. The silence was absolutely deafening.

Common sense and self preservation finally made their tardy appearance and Mulder quickly turned back the way he had come and began making his way back to where he suspected he left the SUV. He had come out here to find something but when faced with the actual possibility of coming face to face with a monster capable of ripping a man's arm out his socket in the middle of a darkened forest, Mulder couldn't help kicking himself for his stupid impulsiveness.

He made his way as quickly and quietly as he could, all senses on alert. The silence followed him. 

Every minute that passed, heightened his anxiety as he tried to focus on not getting lost. He had taken a pretty direct path west so as long as he kept the needle of his compass pointing to the east, he should be able to find his way back easily. His flashlight made a constant rotation between his footing, the compass, and the surrounding woods as he skidded down dips and climbed over fallen logs. His ankle was beginning to complain loudly now and Mulder prayed it wouldn't give out on him.

A loud knock off in the distance stopped him in is tracks. It had sounded like wood on wood, like someone had taken a baseball bat and had slammed it against a tree.

Mulder whirled around in a circle, gun and flashlight raised as he tried to pinpoint where the knock had originated. The silence had followed him for so long at this point that to finally hear something almost came as a relief, or it would have if he hadn't been overcome with instant trepidation that whatever had been in the woods watching him had finally caught up 

"Hello?" Mulder reluctantly called out, eyes straining to see through the trees. He waited but there was no response. "I'm a federal Agent and I'm armed…" he called out again, assuming that if it was a person out there they would make their presence known in order to not be accidentally shot.

The sound of something being flung through the trees startled him and he swung his light in that direction just in time to see a small object bounce and then roll across the ground, just a few feet to his left. He stared at it in surprise for a moment before the significance of the object dawned on him and he turned around and began hiking again with a little more alacrity than before.

Someone, or something had thrown a rock at him. A pretty good size one at that.

He quickly pushed his way through the forest, no longer willing to look for whatever this thing was, keeping the beam of his light fixed firmly in the direction he needed to go. He must be close to the car by now…

Another rock exploded into the underbrush to his right and Mulder lost the fight against the animalistic panic that had been trying to take hold since the forest had gone quiet.

He ran. He crashed through the foliage, snapping branches as he barreled through. If something was chasing him, he couldn't hear it over the noise he was making.

 He slid down a small slope before leaping up and over a fallen log. The drop was more than he expected and his ankle gave out on impact, causing him to tumble to his hands and knees, fingers buried deep in the dead leaves, flashlight lost to the underbrush. He quickly pushed himself back to his feet and started running as fast as his injury would allow. He wasn't feeling any pain in it but later, after the adrenaline wore off he would be in a world of discomfort. 

Not able to see more than a few feet in front of him, Mulder was no longer sure if he was running in the right direction. He pushed branches aside blindly, desperately searching for anything that would indicate he was heading towards the car.

A tiny white light peeked through the trees off to his left and Mulder bolted for it, thanking his past self profusely for having the foresight to leave the lantern on.

He crashed through the last remaining trees and out onto the rutted dirt trail, the SUV parked along the side of the road where he had left it. He ran to the driver's side door and yanked it open, throwing himself into the cab and slamming the door behind him. He smashed the automatic lock button on the side door panel before frantically searching his pockets for the keys.

"Come on, come on!" he yelled to himself as he dug his hand in his coat pocket. Where were the damn keys!? This kind of bullshit only happened in bad horror movies…!

His fingers touched smooth metal and he yanked the keys out of his jean's pocket, slamming the key home in the ignition. 

"Christ!" Mulder shouted as a rock bounced off the hood of the SUV. He wasted no time and slammed the car into reverse, the tail lights bathing the edge of the forest in a sinister red glow as he twisted the car around. The lantern tumbled off the roof and rolled down the windshield, disappearing over the edge of the hood with the force of his maneuvers. He threw the gear into drive and floored the gas pedal, the rear end of the vehicle fishtailing for a moment before the tires finally found traction in a spray of dirt and rocks.

Mulder accelerated down the dirt trail and didn't let up on the gas until his tires bounced onto asphalt and he could see the light's from the small town glowing not to far off in the distance.

Realizing the need to calm down before he got himself in an accident, the rattled agent pulled the SUV into the parking lot of a well lit gas station and turned the engine off, griping the wheel with both hands as he forced his heart rate to slow along with his breathing.

"I wonder what Scully will say about this," he muttered to himself before letting out a bark of laughter, the relief of finally being safe and the knowledge he had absolutely no intention of ever telling her, helped  him to finally release the last of his tension. He ran a hand over his face, his fingertips ghosting over the scrape near his hairline he had gotten when he had tripped, knowing he would have to come up with some mundane explanation as to how he got it when he saw her again.

Shaking his head ruefully, Mulder reached into his coat pocket for his phone. Not finding it, he checked the seat beside him. When that also failed to produce the missing device, he leaned across the front seat to feel around the floor board of the passenger foot well, hoping it had fallen somewhere down there.

"Oh no…," he mumbled with a hint of foreboding as he twisted around in his seat to lean over the back and search the backseats.

"Oh no…," he repeated in horrified disbelief, coming to the realization that he must have lost his phone out in the forest, most likely when he had tripped the first time. This first revelation brought on a more pressing one. He had left the map out there as well.

"Oh no…," he muttered miserably. How was he going to explain all this? He was supposed to return that map to chief Fuller. The cell phone was government property and would need to be accounted for.

Mulder slammed his hand down hard on the steering wheel in frustrated anger, causing the older woman who had pulled into the spot beside him to look at him with the righteous disapproval that only the elderly could pull off. He fumed at himself for a few minutes, mentally reproaching himself for his stupidity before sighing in defeat and turning the car back on. What was done, is done.

"I'll think of something tomorrow," he told himself as he reversed out and pointed the SUV in the direction of the Motel He and Scully were staying at.