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DAY ONE

The Saab340 was Mulder's least favourite plane.

The commuter workhorse of America had the legroom of a toddlers' tea-party, he thought petulantly as his knees dug into the back of the seat in front of him.

'Mulder!'

'Sorry Scully.'

And they hadn't been able to get seats together. He was stuck next to a fat man in a sweaty suit who was reading Arms & Ammunition. If ever Mulder had seen a guy marked for an appointment in a campus clocktower, this was he. Scully, on the other - even more annoying - hand, was beside a good-looking man of about 50, who had been so courteous to her throughout the flight that Mulder wanted to get up and smack his head with a dinner tray. Right now he was swapping his low-fat spread for Scully's butter. Mulder hoped he died of coronary heart disease. Preferably before they touched down in Juneau.

Mulder sighed at the X File in his lap and tried for the millionth time since take-off to think about a man called Chaney Lumsden who'd apparently disappeared into thin air while caribou hunting with friends. His companions swore blind that Chaney was with them one minute and gone the next, leaving his gun in the snow. At the same time they reported bright lights and hazy vision reminiscent of abduction episodes. Mulder sighed. He couldn't focus; he couldn't stretch; he couldn't even look out the window. The lone gunman beside him had the window seat, although hadn't glanced out of it once. Mulder liked to look out of the window on a flight, but all he could see by peering past the fat man's sweaty head was the tops of snow-covered peaks, brilliant in the low afternoon sunshine.

Mulder heard Scully laugh at something the future dead man said and glared at the very top of her head over the head-rest. When they travelled next to each other she hated flying. She gritted her teeth on take-off and slipped her warm, smooth little hand into his. They had a routine. He'd hold her hand until the Fasten Seatbelt sign flicked off. Then they'd smile at each other to celebrate the fact they were not going to crash on take-off. Now they only had the flight and the landing to get through. Mulder loved that routine. It made him feel that he was useful to her in some small way - that he was a talisman protecting her from death by great steel bird in the sky.

But this time he hadn't been able to hold her hand, and - from what he'd been able to hear over the roar of the engines - she had chatted quite calmly to the clogged-artery guy throughout the experience. Mulder had kept his eyes on the Fasten Seatbelt sign anyway; if they didn't crash on take-off, it would be because he'd concentrated for both of them. It made him feel noble. No, strike that, it made him feel like a martyr. He'd done it for both of them EVEN THOUGH he hadn't been able to hold her hand. He had sneaked a look between the seats to make damned sure that that buttery asswipe hadn't held her hand, but was only slightly mollified by their lack of physical contact. They still had two hours to go before they started their descent.

Scully's neighbour laughed at something she'd said and Mulder wondered at what altitude it became safe to open an airplane door and throw somebody out.

***

Scully was bummed they hadn't been able to sit together. She loved their take-off routine. When they'd first started flying round the country for the X-files, she had been genuinely scared of flying - particularly of take-off - and she still didn't love it. She was tense from the moment the plane started to move until the seatbelt light went out. But on about their fourth or fifth trip together, Mulder had grinned and offered her his hand to hold as they taxied and - after a moment of feminist hesitation - she'd taken it. The dry warmth of his skin had sent a thrill right through her and she'd re-adjusted her hand to fit more fully into his and given him a small, grateful smile.

That moment had stuck in Scully's mind like a burr. It wasn't just that offer of comfort - it represented the fact that even though they were FBI agents and newly-assigned partners, he'd noticed her fear; must've been watching her on their first few flights - and cared enough to want to help.

Of course now the positive reinforcement - which was the opportunity to hold her partner's hand - meant that she anticipated every airplane flight as if it was a birthday. Left alone to make travel plans, she even occasionally made connections where direct flights existed, just to feel his easy protectiveness as she went through the motions of gritting her teeth and holding her breath. Often she gripped him more tightly as mechanical bumps and grinding occurred and he would squeeze her right back and stroke her hand with his thumb and remind her 'Just the landing gear Scully,' and she'd look into his eyes gratefully and hold on tighter.

Oh, she was going to hell, she knew that. But via Mulder, so she was sure things would even out.

As the bore-of-the-century next to her droned on about his reliance on a tennis ball to keep his lily-pond clear of ice all winter, Scully took that first deliberate contact out from her mental box of treasured memories and examined it like a rare jewel. Mulder had never made her feel stupid for being afraid of flying. He just held her hand until they were up, then they shared smiles and went on with their work or their reading or - in Mulder's case - flirting with the stewardesses to get extra snacks. Agent Fox Mulder - anyone's for a funsize bag of pretzels. The thought brought a smile to Scully's face and the old fart next to her beamed as he realised he must've said something very witty and amusing.

Her smile turned to a frown as Mulder banged the back of her seat for about the millionth time. She turned round the side of her seat and glared at him.

'Sorry Scully.'

He didn't look sorry. He looked rather pleased that she'd stopped listening to the lily-pond bore and turned to look at him - even if it was threateningly.

'Mulder, that is SO irritating!'

'I'm all squashed,' he pouted. 'It's all right for you, Scully. You have those TINY LITTLE LEGS,' he added, loudly enough for the guy next to Scully to glance down at her legs.

Scully raised an eyebrow at him, amused and annoyed at the same time. She'd learnt to live with that feeling over the past five years. Amused. Annoyed. Horny. The Holy Trinity of working with Mulder.

She glanced down at his over-long limbs folded almost double, and sighed. He did look uncomfortable.

'Why don't you stretch your legs in the aisle Mulder? That usually works.'

Mulder leaned forward so their heads were almost touching. 'I can't. The attendant hates me already. She tripped on my feet twice, banged my knee with the trolley twice and I ate all her little cheesy nibbles.'

Mulder suddenly pulled his puppy-dog look and Scully braced herself. She sensed a favour about to be asked - and granted, if that look had anything to do with it.

'Can I put my legs on your armrest Scully?'

'What am I supposed to do with my arms?'

'I could put them in the overhead locker if you can't REACH THAT HIGH.'

'Way to sweet-talk me Mulder.'

His expression became soft and his eyes liquid as he turned on the sex appeal.

'Scully, if you let me put my feet on your armrest, I'll be your slave. I'll do your bidding - whatever you ask - for ever and ever amen.'

Scully knew he was joking, but it still made her hot with desire to imagine what services Fox Mulder might be encouraged to perform to keep his word.

'Forever and ever is a long time Mulder.'

'That's why I thought so long and hard about it before I said it, Scully.'

'Fine.' She shifted her arm off the rest and in an instant Mulder's enormous shoes slid past her left arm and waved about like a drowning man as he luxuriated in stretching out his ankles and knees. They actually bumped the seat in front of Scully and the woman sitting there turned to fix her with a glare. 'Sorry', said Scully. Typical. She was always left holding the baby.

'Is he bothering you?' The pond guy looked at her in concern.

Scully rolled her eyes. 'You have no idea...'

***

Mulder felt human again for the first time since they'd got on this nasty little plane. Good old Scully. Stretching out in a Saab was a novelty for him and he wondered if he should always book her the seat in front of him from now on. Then he remembered the take-off ritual and discounted the idea instantly. Cramp was a small price to pay for holding Scully's hand AND getting brownie points for it.

The plane shuddered as if it had hit something thicker than air, and everybody looked up nervously. Scully turned to look at him again and he sat up, letting his feet drop to the floor. 'Turbulence,' he said. It was his knee-jerk reply.

The word was hardly out of his mouth before the plane shuddered again, more violently this time.

'Mulder?!'

'You got your belt on Scully?' He knew she would have - she always did - but it didn't hurt to check. As he spoke he buckled his own belt around his hips.

Arms & Ammo man curled his lip at Mulder's belt. 'You think that bit of nylon's gonna be any use, you got another think comin'.'

Mulder didn't bother answering him. For a second he thought they'd passed through the air pocket. He reached forward and touched Scully's shoulder and she brought her hand up so he could hold it.

Before he could, all hell broke loose.

There was a noise like a locomotive hitting the inside of a tunnel wall and the Saab lurched sickeningly to the left and started to drop out of the sky.

Arms & Ammo almost killed Mulder as he dropped off what was now the ceiling of the plane and cannoned into the people across the aisle,. Most passengers had buckled up but the few who hadn't now became lethal projectiles in the cramped cabin; high speed 180lb flesh-and-blood balloons.

'Head down Scully!'

It was the last thing Special Agent Dana Scully remembered hearing for what seemed like forever and ever amen.

***

When Assistant Director Walter Skinner got the news he felt sick. Physically sick. He hung up the phone and lowered his forehead to his desk, trying to fight the nausea, his mouth filling with saliva and his neck going cold and clammy.

'Sir? I--' Kim stopped in the doorway. Then rushed over. 'Are you all right sir?'

He couldn't speak, mutely nodded his head, feeling that the only thing keeping him connected to the real world was the cool wood under his forehead.

'Shall I get you some water?'

He nodded again, but only to give her something to do so she wouldn't keep asking him questions.

He heard the clink of the glass as it was set down beside his head. He wanted to stay like this for a while, not having to move, but he knew that moving was his job. Doing something was his job. So finally he looked up into Kim's worried face and asked her to get him the FBI jet to Alaska.

***

Mulder woke, still in his seat but no longer in the plane.

When his eyes opened things went from black to white so fast that he had to close them again and try more slowly. Gradually he managed to keep his eyes open, although everything was still white. He realized he was on his back with his legs in the air and immediately thought of the dentist. He turned his head minutely, half-expecting to see a hygienist holding a cup of pink mouthwash out to him. Instead, he saw more white. He turned his head the other way. This was better - this was only MOSTLY white.

Reluctantly his eyes re-learnt to focus, and he finally realized that what he was looking at was the side of a snow-covered mountain. Here and there dark rocky outcrops jutted, but mostly it was just snow.

This was bad. The last time Mulder had seen these mountains, it was from 30,000ft. Now here he was, part of the scenery. He ran his tongue around his dry mouth and tasted blood. A quick tongue-check confirmed all his teeth were still in place. Well, that was a bonus.

Suddenly he felt stupid lying in this position, even though he couldn't see anyone else around. His hands seemed heavy and disobedient but he finally managed to catch the clip on his belt and release it. He rolled sideways off his seat into what used to be the aisle but which was now just snow.

Snow. Why wasn't he cold if there was so much snow? No sooner had he thought it, than it came true. He was bitterly cold. He looked at his hands which he now noticed were swollen and bright red - the first stages of frostbite. He was wearing just his suit pants and his white cotton shirt. No wonder he was cold - he had his sleeves rolled up! He started to laugh at the absurdity of the thought.

He pulled his shirtsleeves down with clumsy fingers, then tucked his hands under his armpits. He was depressed to find that even his armpits were chilly, although warmer than his hands.

He lay on his side in the snow and wondered where Scully was. Where Scully was. Scully. Where was Scully???! He jerked his head out of the powdery whiteness that had no-doubt saved his life, and half-sat up. Nothing. He groaned as he stood, using the seat to lever himself up. A pain low down in his belly kept him bent almost double. But even from that angle, Fox Mulder could see he was quite alone in the middle of white nowhere.

He felt sick. He felt worse than sick. Nausea hit him and he yelled in pain as his hurt abdomen protested the sudden departure of more than his fair share of cheesy nibbles.

He hung over his own vomit, shivering. It occurred to him that getting rid of the only nutrition his body had consumed in the past eight hours was a bad thing to do. But he just couldn't help it. Where was Scully? Where was Scully? Another voice in his head wanted him to face facts and be a man about the possibility - no, the probability - that she was dead. But he shouted that voice down. If he listened to that voice, he was as good as dead himself. Even if he'd heard that voice while watching the Knicks on his couch at home with an open box of Thai food on his chest, he'd still have been as good as dead. But HERE? NOW?

No. He had to - he *needed* to find her. Alive.

Mulder tried to straighten up but realized he couldn't without the pain shooting through his guts. Leaning the backs of his legs against the seat for support, he slowly unbuckled his belt with swollen fingers and pushed his pants open. His boxers were soaked with blood. He sagged, almost passing out at the sight. Only the thought that he needed to find Scully kept him conscious. With a heavy, trembling hand he hooked a thumb into the waistband of his shorts and pulled them away from his hips so he could know the worst.

He almost laughed with relief when he saw the jagged cut that ran from his left hip horizontally across his pelvis to his right groin. It oozed dark blood and hurt like hell, but who gave a shit, he thought happily - it was a good couple of inches above his cock. He pulled the sodden shorts out even further, just to confirm all was well, and grinned. Yeah baby!

'Hey!'

Mulder snapped his shorts back in place with a grimace and looked up guiltily. Fifty yards away a man was wading through the snow towards him. Mulder fumbled with his zipper, but his cold cold hands just couldn't grip the damned thing, so he just did up his belt, making himself almost decent. He looked up again and the man was only a few yards off. He was about 50, Mulder guessed, and very stocky but healthy-looking. He wore a plaid shirt and a huge blue sweater over chinos and boots.

'Hi' Mulder's voice sounded weird, even to him. What was the etiquette on greeting a fellow survivor of a plane crash in a snow-bound wilderness where you were almost certainly going to die together?

'Hi.' The man stopped a few feet from Mulder, also looking a little awkward. Then he held out his hand. 'George Black. Out of Lexington.'

Mulder held out his own red hand: 'Fox Mulder. From DC.' George Black saw how swollen his hand was and just touched it gently with his own, then nodded at Mulder's groin, where blood was starting to show through his grey suit pants. 'Trouble down below?' Mulder saw the mixture of concern and humour on his face, and relaxed. He had a hunch George was going to be easy to get along with.

'Thought it was worse than it is,' he said. 'Just a cut hip.'

'Phew!'

'You got that right!'

They both managed weak grins. Mulder wondered: 'You're not a doctor by any chance?'

'You're right, I'm not. Sorry. I'm in horses.'

'I'd settle for a vet.'

'Sorry. Gee. I never realized I was so useless.'

There was a companionable silence and Mulder realized they hadn't spoken about the crash at all. It was hanging between them though. He took the plunge. 'We should try and find the wreckage.'

The two of them looked around automatically as if the wrecked plane may suddenly hover into view like a mirage.

'Where do you think we should look?' George had a soft Kentucky accent that made Mulder think of apple pie on a kitchen window sill. It was a comforting voice, not strident or weak.

Mulder remembered the glimpse he'd caught of the mountains from the plane, the snow already orange in the glow of the sinking sun. Now, with the sun still just over the peaks to his left, Mulder knew the rough direction they'd been flying in. Of course, he had no idea how the plane had banked or spun during their rapid descent, but it was the percentage call to head north. George agreed.

Mulder looked down at the seat. Was there anything he could salvage that might be of use? the box holding the life jacket was still intact and he pulled the jacket free and put it over his head.

'Planning on drowning?'

Mulder grinned: 'It's dayglo orange. Can't hurt. Plus it has a whistle and a flashing light.'

George nodded sombrely. 'I didn't think of that. I left mine behind.'

'How far away?'

'It's not how far, it's how do I find it again. I just got up and walked and walked and walked until I saw you staring into your shorts.' He gave a quick laugh and Mulder shrugged.

'There'll be plenty on the plane,' he said. 'It doesn't matter.' the seat had zip-on covers which Mulder tried to zip off. George had to do it for him. Mulder bound bits of cloth around his hands, and another around his head. He'd read somewhere that 90 per cent of body heat escaped through the head. George did the same.

'Okay,' said Mulder, 'let's go.' His first step away from the seat made him wince.

'You sure you can walk?' George asked. 'It's pretty heavy going.'

Mulder shrugged. 'I'll have to.' It was all he could say, because he knew it was all he could do. He tucked his wrapped hands into his armpits and together he and George Black walked into the white.

***

They made slow progress.

Despite his initial jubilation that he had not removed his pants and seen his dick fall off, Mulder was fast tiring of the cut on his hip. It was just in the worst possible place if you were trying to walk/wade/stagger through three feet of powdery snow. Lifting his legs wasn't too bad, but putting them down and taking his weight on them started the gash protesting, and stretching each leg out behind him and pulling it from the snow was sheer hell. He tried to walk in George's footsteps to lessen the pull of the snow on his legs, but it was hard to take long strides when he was bent almost double. At least the effort had got his blood circulating a little, even if his hands were still red and numb.

'You okay?' George had stopped and was looking back at him, worried. Mulder nodded and closed the gap between them, then stopped, grateful for the rest. George nodded at him and said without inflection: 'Started bleeding again.'

Mulder saw he was right. Dammit! All this movement wasn't giving the injury time to congeal and start to heal. As he'd done three times already in the past hour, Mulder awkwardly scooped snow and packed it into the wound, hoping somehow to numb the pain. He still hadn't been able to do up his zipper but at least it provided easy access to his hip. He hoped the driven snow was as pure as it claimed to be. George must've read his mind because he said dryly: 'don't use the yellow stuff.' Mulder gave him a weak smile, appreciating the attempt at humour, and pushed another handful of snow into his groin. If his dick ever emerged from its winter retreat it would be a miracle.

'You got someone on the plane?'

Mulder nodded. In his head he was all prepared to say 'My FBI partner, Dana Scully. We were on our way to Juneau on a case.' But the moment he opened his mouth, his tongue knotted and his throat ached and his eyes burned so hard that all he could do was nod mutely. George patted his shoulder without embarrassment.

'You?' Mulder made the valiant effort because he and George had to keep each other going. It wasn't a one-way street. He'd learned that from Scully, although his years working alone meant it still didn't come naturally to him sometimes.

George nodded. 'My son, Richie. He's 22.'

'He in horses?' Mulder used the phrase as George had, even though all he knew about horses was that one end bit and the other kicked.

'No, he's a cop.' The pride in George's voice was tangible.

'Good for him.' I only hope we find them both alive. He didn't say it out loud but he knew it was what they were both thinking.

To fill the gap left by the unspoken words, they both looked up to the west where the sun had disappeared 40 minutes ago. The shadows had plunged their world into strange blue-ness and the temperature had plummeted.

'Better get on then,' said Mulder, as if they'd met on a DC street and should really be off to the hypermarket for groceries. Mulder knew that George wouldn't push him, but pushing himself was so hard. He wanted to lie down in the snow and go to sleep. Every time his foot broke a new surface he was reminded of how soft and friendly the snow was. Sure, it was cold, but no colder than he was himself, surely? Just the chance to lie down for a moment, a second, a blink. The idea was so seductive that Mulder scared himself. It would be so easy. Who could blame him? Not George, certainly, who looked beat after only an hour hiking.

Mulder shook his head and groaned as he straightened up and looked around him. They'd lose the light soon. He pointed at a rocky outcrop up ahead. Right now, anything that didn't have snow on it looked good to him. 'Let's head for that outcrop.'

'But what about the plane?'

'If it gets as dark as I think it's going to, it would be dangerous to go on. If we assume we'll have to stop at those rocks, then at least we've got some shelter if it starts to snow, and we can always start moving again if it's light enough to see once the moon's up.'

George nodded. No sulks, no battle for domination. He saw the logic and went with it. For the tenth time since they'd met, Mulder thanked the fates for stranding him with George. Right now he'd take George over Ginger Lynne herself to spend the night with on a mountain. Over anyone, pretty much, apart from Scully.

Thinking his partner's name made him move on, and George moved on with him.

The rocks were overhanging and provided a natural rest. The two men huddled down under the jutting overhang, shoulder to shoulder, their teeth chattering and their breath ragged as the cold air forced its way into them in jerks and gulps.

Although the rock under them was cold, it wasn't covered in snow, so was at least dry. Mulder threw an envious glance at George's sweater. It was big and fluffy and looked hand-knitted and warm as hell. Although he could see that George was still cold, he guessed he was winning in the freeze-your-ass-off-due-to-unsuitable-clothing stakes. He was a palm-frond print away from a fucking Hawaiian shirt, for god's sake!

Once again, as if he'd heard Mulder's thoughts, George Black started to take his jumper off.

'What are you doing?! Are you crazy?'

'Nope.' George smiled at him. 'My wife knitted this for me. But hell, she couldn't follow a pattern to save her life. Look at the size of it. Now you're skinny and I'm what she calls 'chunky' so I reckon between the two of us we're about the size of one Kentucky horseman.' As he spoke, George stretched the neck of the sweater over Mulder's head, then poked his own head through it too.

Mulder laughed - a proper laugh - until he grimaced at the pain in his gut. The neck was huge. their heads didn't even have to touch. He put his right arm through one sleeve and George put his left arm through the other. He started to laugh too. Mulder suddenly felt a lot better; the sweater was a godsend. Plus, he could feel George's side pressing into his ribcage, and warmth seeping into him that way too. He'd once made a crack to Scully about climbing naked into a sleeping bag together being the best way to stay warm. Mulder had thought about that night often, the way she held him and cared for him - and even sang to him. But mostly he thought about climbing naked into a sleeping bag with her and seeing just how hot things could get. Who'd have thought he'd end up testing his theory huddled tight up against a 50-year-old horse farmer with snow in his moustache and a wife who couldn't knit?

If he pulled his knees up tight, he could even stretch the damn thing over them.

Mulder grinned at George as the last of the light left the sky.

'I think I love your wife, George.'

'Thank you son. So do I.'

Then Mulder and George Black leaned into each other and fell asleep.

***

DAY TWO

Mulder woke as dawn broke. He was colder now than he'd ever been in his life, and his stomach growled relentlessly. He tried to reach out to gather snow to put in his mouth, but his right hand was like ice and didn't respond to his commands. He noticed he'd stopped shivering too, which he knew was a sign that his body no longer had the energy to try to keep itself warm. He had to get up and move.

Mulder tried to wriggle out of George's big sweater without disturbing his sleeping companion, but finally he gave up and nudged George. 'George? Hey George, I need to move. I'm dying here.' With a pang, Mulder thought of all the times he'd used that phrase: 'I'm dying here.' He'd never use it again without thinking of what it really meant.

George was silent and Mulder dug him in the ribs again. 'George?!'

Silence.

And Mulder knew suddenly that George Black was dead. He could feel it now; George's body was as cold as the rock under his ass. The man whose head was stuck through the neck of the same sweater as his, had died in the night. Mulder felt a wrench of sadness rip through him. George would never find his son Richie, the cop. He'd never return home to tell his wife how her lousy knitting saved the lives of two men on a freezing mountain-top. George wasn't in horses any more.

Mulder couldn't believe the strength of his feeling for George. 24 hours ago, he hadn't even known the man. Now he was blindsided by an overwhelming sense of loss. He stared out at the grey morning snow, his throat working hard to keep his emotions at bay. Then he wondered why he was bothering, and sobbed loud and long. He realized that he wasn't only crying for George - that he was crying from delayed shock, and from his fear that Scully may be dead - and he cried himself dry without feeling like a baby.

Finally Mulder had to move. No longer concerned about waking George up, he struggled out of the sweater and then pulled it off George's lifeless body. He knew he should strip the other clothes from George to wear himself, but he couldn't bring himself to. Eventually he took the sweater and George's thick socks. It took him over an hour to fumble his own shoes off and put George's socks on. He tried George's heavy boots but they were too small, so he put his own dress shoes back on. He couldn't tie the laces. He put George's boots neatly beside his feet and set off again into the snow, weaker, colder and fainter from hunger and blood loss than he'd been the day before.

***

Four hours later, Mulder stood on a small rise, his distressed breathing filling his ears, and looked down at the wreckage of the plane.

His initial lurch of excitement at seeing it was quickly tempered by the fact that he saw nothing moving. He yelled an inarticulate sound down the mountain but got nothing back - not even an echo.

Forgetting his own leaden feet and numb hands, Mulder half ran, half fell down the other side of the ridge, stumbling and rolling and kicking up powder.

'Scully! Scully!'

The closer he got to the wreckage the more he felt panic rising in his chest. The fuselage had split in two and Mulder could see into the passenger cabin, half buried in the snow.

'Scully!!'

He stumbled over a mound in the snow and looked down to find the half-buried body of a woman. There were no legs below the mid-thigh. Mulder gulped back nausea, jamming snow into his own face to keep himself upright. It wasn't the body - it was the thought that this might be how he'd find his partner.

There were more bodies but Mulder didn't check them. He couldn't bear to. Checking them would be admitting that one might be Scully. He was only interested in survivors right now. If he couldn't find survivors, THEN he'd check the bodies.

The plane had broken into three major pieces on impact. The cockpit was twisted and broken off the rest of the fuselage, but close-by. The tail section was nowhere to be seen - Mulder assumed it was back somewhere close to where he and George had hit the ground. They'd been near the back of the plane; that mean that Scully's seat should be close to the ragged edges of the torn passenger cabin ahead of him.

Before he could move, he heard a spitting sound coming from the cockpit. He walked around it, averting his eyes from the bloodied corpses still strapped into the pilots' seats. The back of the cockpit was festooned with cabling, which hissed and sparked in the snow. Mulder was scared the snow might conduct the current towards him, and electrocute him. Then where would Scully be? The draw of the radio still being functional was powerful, and Mulder withdrew only reluctantly, and clambered towards the main passenger cabin.

He clambered over piles of metal and dropped into the dark interior of the cabin.

He could barely see a thing. His eyes adjusted painfully slowly to the darkness, and finally he could see that the seats had concertina'd forward, and were piled high in the interior. Bodies and parts of bodies were strewn around like ticker-tape. Bags spilled open, metal twisted, cabling and headlining hung and sagged. He called her name again and waited to hear a reply. She would be alive. She would hear him. He would find her. Anything else was inconceivable.

Silence.

'SCULLY!' Again he shouted, and in the next silence he became a aware of a high, keening sound which he realized came from his own throat. A sound of madness - of barely holding on. He swallowed it, forcing himself to be quiet.

'Scully?' The longer it went on, the more tenuous his grip on sanity became.

'Scully please! Scully please answer me! Please! SCULLY!!' He bit his lip as tears rolled out of his eyes and he banged them away roughly with his lumpy hands. If he cried he wouldn't be able to see or hear her properly. He stopped crying instantly.

'mm.'

'Scully?!' The noise was tiny but close at hand. Mulder turned towards it and started to tear at the wreckage and seating. It had to be her. He wouldn't let it be anyone else.

For the first time since he was twelve years old, Fox Mulder prayed.

***

Scully heard Mulder call her name as if in a dream. And - like a dream - the noise she made herself seemed to be tiny and feeble in the vast darkness that surrounded her. She was blind and in pain. Tears rushed to her sightless eyes.

Over her head she felt, rather than heard, the sound of metal grating against metal, and heavy things being shifted. Although she could not see, she twisted her face towards the sound, so when what Mulder had considered near-darkness burst through a chink in the wreckage, Scully's eyes were bathed in what seemed to her to be most glorious light.

She was not blind. Relief flooded her. She was trapped; in pain; thirsty; freezing; lost - but not blind. Tears of relief made her vision swim, so when Mulder's silhouette moved into view - haloed in light - she only knew it was him by the feeling in her soul.

'Mulder?'

He reached down into the real darkness he had revealed and touched her face. She heard his voice crack:

'Scully.' he said. 'I found you.'

***

Mulder took the rest of the day to free Scully from the wreckage. His hands warmed slightly and slowly, but warm they did, from the effort he made, and from being sheltered in the passenger cabin out of the wind that rose with every passing hour. With the warmth of returning blood came pain, biting and debilitating, but Mulder welcomed it. He knew it meant he would not lose his hands to frostbite - not today, at least.

The seats had cannoned into each other, trapping her leg between two of them. Even he could tell her ankle was broken. The debonair man who'd been sitting beside Scully was a corpse now, and Mulder felt dull shame for having wished him so in another, more frivolous, universe.

The only breaks he took were to pack snow into hard ice-pellets for Scully to suck to relieve her raging thirst. He also found some airline crackers spilled on the floor, and fed them to her. She made him eat some too.

As it became dark, Mulder pulled her free of the wreckage, his heart wrenching as she shouted in pain and tears squeezed out from under her lashes.

'Scully, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.'

'S'okay Mulder. Thanks.'

He pulled up a length of carpet and wrapped her in it. His hands were working properly at last - it made him feel powerful and optimistic, even though he knew both those feelings were delusional.

'I should put a splint on this, right?'

She peered down her leg. Her trousers had ripped from hem to hip, and she could see her foot twisted at a sickening angle.

She nodded. 'You'll have to get my boot off first.'

It took fifteen minutes to get Scully's boot off. She threw up twice and Mulder held her head while she retched in pain. Then he returned to his task, white-faced, his jaw clenching in queasy determination as he felt her broken bones shift under his fingers.

He used two strips of metal and foam seat cushions to splint Scully's ankle - under her guidance. Then he wrapped her foot in a sweater he found in an intact overhead locker, to keep it warm.

He picked through the cabin then, and found more clothing. He bundled Scully into a second pair of pants, two man's shirts and a parka jacket. The jacket had a fur-lined hood which he pulled up around Scully's face, making her look like a pretty little Inuit.

'Warm.' she smiled.

'Cute.' he replied. He didn't tell her he'd pulled it off a corpse near the front of the cabin.

'What's that smell Mulder?'

He'd been aware of the smell but it hadn't been relevant in his quest for Scully, so he hadn't considered what it might be. It was a sweet, strange, chemical smell.

'I don't know.' He got up and made a thorough search of the cabin and lockers, and brought back armfuls of clothing and a few items of food. Scully smiled at him for the first time as she reached into the food pile. 'Look Mulder - cheesy nibbles. That attendant was holding out on you!'

He smiled, more at her face than the joke. The attendant was dead.

As if she'd caught up with his thoughts, Scully looked around the cabin. 'Is anyone else alive?'

'I didn't see anyone. But in the morning I'll search properly.' He got up.

'Where are you going?' He looked round and saw the fear in her eyes.

'Not far Scully. Going to look for matches or something so we can make a fire.'

'Please don't.'

He stopped, puzzled.

'Please don't leave me.'

'But Scully--'

'Just for tonight Mulder. In the morning it'll be easier to search, and if something happens to you, I'm in a better position to help you, but not now...Please - we've got all these clothes to wear. We can huddle up. We'll be fine for one night.'

The tremor in her voice was a mark of how much she meant it - how much she wanted him to stay. He could also see how much that fear was costing her ego, so he shrugged and raised a suggestive eyebrow 'Huddle up, you say?' He saw relief flood her eyes.

However, standing up in front of her had allowed her to see the blood soaking through his pants.

'Mulder! you're bleeding!'

'I WAS bleeding. It's stopping now.'

'What happened?'

'Didn't you hear? I was in a plane crash.'

Scully didn't laugh. She looked stern. Mulder sighed: Scully was in 'doctor' mode. She shuffled more upright on her butt 'Let me see.'

'It's just a cut Scully. It's fine. I've been putting snow on it.'

'Oh well,' she shot back, 'I don't know why I bothered with seven years of medical school - I'm sure SNOW will cure it!'

She insisted on him dropping his pants down his hips a little so she could examine the cut. Exposing his skin made goosebumps rise across his hip, and Mulder was uncomfortably aware that Scully's fingers were virtually touching the base of his cock as she probed and poked.

'Ow!'

'Does that hurt?'

'No, I just thought I'd say Ow.'

'Sorry Mulder. I needed to see how deep it was. The femoral artery runs close to the surface here. It's not cut, but I want to make sure it's not exposed and vulnerable.' After a minute she nodded. 'It's okay, but you have to be careful Mulder. With the skin breached the artery's far more liable to injury.'

She picked a child's T-shirt off the pile of clothing he'd found. Their eyes met and they silently agreed to say nothing about the two small children who had boarded the Saab just ahead of them. Scully folded it and made a soft pad over the gash. 'Now keep that in place with the waistband of your boxers.'

He nodded and did so, then zipped up, feeling ridiculously pleased that he was able to do so.

He picked a pair of sweatpants off the pile of clothing and pulled them on over his grey Armanis. They were too short, but they were thick and fleece-lined. There were no hats in the pile, so he tied another jumper around his head, and sat down beside her.

'That's an attractive look Mulder.'

'Thanks. I do my best.'

She smiled, happy now he was staying with her.

'Hey Scully, do you think we could actually wear every item of clothing in this pile?'

They amused themselves for an hour, pulling on so many clothes that they were both round and warm but once they stopped moving the effect wore off fast.

'How come I'm still cold?' he whined.

She opened her arms to him and he gratefully moved into her. They sat and shivered together, their heads close.

'I wonder if a Mayday was sent.'

Mulder nodded - he'd been thinking the same thing. 'Things happened really fast, Scully. I don't think we can assume it was. In the morning I'll see if I can get into the cockpit and find a radio.' He left out the bit about the hissing cables. There was no point in them having a row about that now.

She leaned her head on his shoulder and he countered by resting his cheek on her head.

'It finally happened.'

'What?' he asked.

'The plane crash I've been dreading all these years.'

'See what happens when you don't hold my hand?'

'Never again Mulder.'

'Never is a long time Scully.'

She smiled up at him in the darkness: 'That's why I thought long and hard about it before I said it.'

He didn't trust his voice not to shake, so he just pressed his lips into her hair to let her know he'd got the joke.

 

DAY THREE

The next day - against medical advice - Mulder walked the quarter of a mile to an outcrop of rocks from where he hoped to see some sign of civilization. Instead his heart sank as he realized that beyond their mountain were scores of other peaks, stretching for 20 or thirty miles around them.

He hadn't expected to look down and see a McDonald's, but he'd secretly thought he just might see a lodge or a cabin - or a line of rescuers coming for them. Instead, all his arduous walk achieved was to re-open the gash in his hip, and to make him understand with gut-wrenching finality just how hard they were going to be to spot in this vast white wilderness.

He made his way back to Scully who actually cried when he reappeared although she got over it fast when she saw his hip, and spent the rest of the afternoon bumping about the cabin on her ass trying to find a sewing kit so she could stitch him up.

Mulder realized she'd been scared he wasn't going to make it back, so let her bitch at him. When he thought she was ready to take it, he made the joke he'd been saving up about a needle in a haystack.

He was wrong. She wasn't ready.

***

Skinner sat in the light airplane and looked down. It's all he had been doing for the past two days - looking down at white mountain tops and brown rocks until he lost perspective and they became abstract shapes - a modern art of brown and white and white and brown that lost all meaning and form and left him cross-eyed.

Thank god he was only one of six spotters they had on the job, two each in three planes.

Skinner was a patient man. He was sure the rescue teams were professional and knew what they were doing. He knew they had grids and maps and references and cross-references up the ying-yang; he knew he was a cog in a much larger, well-co-ordinated machine that had been set in motion within minutes of the Saab disappearing off the radar.

Still, after two days of looking at peaks and valleys that looked just exactly the same as the peaks and valleys he'd seen before, and after two days of torturing mental images of Mulder and Scully lying dead or dying in a plane that no-one seemed to be able to spot, he found himself wanting to rip off his headphones and bounce around the tiny cabin like a bull in a very small, airborne china shop.

He sighed and rubbed his eyes.

'Anything?' Mark Cox was the Air Rescue spotter in the plane with him. Skinner shook his head.

'We'll find em,' said Cox. 'Sooner or later, we'll find em.'

Skinner said nothing. His jaw was so tight he couldn't speak. That was EXACTLY the kind of unhelpful remark that brought out his inner bull...

***

DAY FOUR

Mulder looked down at the rows of bodies he'd laid out in the snow beside the downed jet. Forty-two. The coincidence wasn't lost on him and he felt a little shiver run over his shoulders that had nothing to do with the weather.

No one else was alive, but Mulder knew he hadn't found everyone. He hadn't found George Black's son, Richie, for a start - there was no white man under 30 among the bodies he'd found.

When he got back to her, Scully shyly told him she needed to go to the bathroom. He nodded and walked off to dig her a hole, then helped her to it and left her there. She filled it with snow and he came and carried her back to the broken opening of the cabin to enjoy the weak warmth of the sunlight.

He watched her trying every cell phone he'd managed to find. Some were unbroken but there was no signal on any of them. Several had radios built in, but they heard only static.

'Let me try the cockpit radio Scully.'

'Mulder! No! If one of those cables touches you you could die right in front of me. Do you know how annoyed I'd be with you then?!'

He half-grinned despite himself. 'Jeez Scully. Annoyed with me beyond the grave? That's above and beyond the call of duty, even for you, isn't it?'

In an unthinking blunder, on the first morning, he'd placed her where she had spotted the sparking cockpit - and his plan to crawl in there and save the day had been nipped in the bud. Part of him was relieved, but most of him was just frustrated. By the time the battery died to the point where the cabling was no longer a threat, the radio would probably be dead too.

As if reading his mind, Scully said, 'There's no guarantee the radio would work anyway Mulder. It's just not worth the risk.'

In a sudden and spectacular demonstration of her point, a cable hanging from the cockpit roof suddenly spat a ball of blue flame in a loud crack. They both turned to look at it. Mulder's pupils dilated in fear but he didn't even have time to shout a warning before they were both thrown through the air by a blast as the cockpit disappeared in a ball of flames. Another WHUMP! and the cabin was engulfed too.

Mulder was aware of heat and cold covering him as he lay half-buried in the snow where he'd been thrown, while the flames stung his face. Scully was face-down beside him and he grabbed her by the arms and dragged her backwards away from the wreckage until the only heat he could feel was a log-fire glow. She wriggled in his grip and he pulled her up beside him. They faced the conflagration.

'I guess that smell was jet fuel,' she said. 'The whole area must've been bathed in it.'

'Our food's gone,' said Mulder glumly.

She nodded sympathetically. It had only been crackers and a couple of boxes of chocolates he'd found giftwrapped in a suitcase, but it had been food - and all they'd had.

'Still, it feels good to be warm.'

Hearing his optimistic tone, the gods of the mountains started it snowing and within a half-hour the fire was all but out and hissing under a blanket of fresh snow. Before the last pockets of flames disappeared Mulder waded through pools of ice-melt looking for fuel he could use to keep a controlled fire going, but everything now was charred and destroyed. Finally even the last flames died out and Mulder and Scully - who had thought they had very few resources at their disposal - suddenly saw those resources slashed by 99%. At least they'd worn all the clothes they could find.

'Maybe somebody saw the flames or the smoke.'

'Maybe,' he answered, but without conviction.

They looked around. The cabin which had protected them from the worst of the elements was destroyed and useless. Scully shivered in the still-falling snow.

'Where are we going to sleep Mulder?'

He heard the tremor in her voice and saw her bottom lip quiver. It wasn't like Scully, but he understood. She hated to rely on anyone other than herself, but right now - when she needed to be stronger than ever - her ankle injury meant that she had to rely completely on him. Mulder felt the weight of that responsibility press down on him. Usually they relied on each other, and he knew he could depend on Scully to be as tough - if not tougher - than he was himself. She'd saved his ass so many times it made him feel pathetic when he thought about it. She was always so controlled and smart and sensible, while he was always the one rushing headlong into danger, tripping over himself to invite injury, taking his eye off the ball to look at something shiny...

Looking at her trying to control her trembling lip, he felt a surge of protective love rush through him. He wasn't going to let her down. For once, he'd be strong enough for both of them.

He stood up. His legs were wet up to the knees from wading in the ice-melt, and he cursed his own stupidity. His legs were numb with cold, and drying things out was going to be tough in this environment. He was going to have to get his head out of his ass, and fast, if he was going to get them through this ordeal.

'Where are you going Mulder?'

'I'm going to see what I can salvage.'

'What can I do?'

'You're the brains of the operation Scully. Keep thinking.'

She nodded as he started to walk back to the remains of the plane.

'Mulder?'

He walked backwards to look at her.

'Bloody Mary, with celery please.'

He grinned.

'Ice Scully?'

She shook her head ruefully.

'No ice Mulder.'

***

When Mulder returned to her an hour later, he'd managed to find two packets of chips, a woman's soggy purse and three mini-cans of tomato juice which he waved triumphantly at Scully.

'Bloody Mary, you said, Miss?'

'Virgin, Mulder?'

'No, Scully, it just feels that way after a while.'

They both grinned as he sat down beside her in the bank of snow and snapped open a can of juice for her. She drank half and offered it to him. He shook his head: 'I had plenty to drink. There's a lot of ice melt around.' He didn't tell her that it had tasted of jet fuel. He was sure he'd be okay.

'But this is good for you Mulder.'

He shrugged. 'Finish it Scully. There's two more cans if I want something later.'

She hesitated, then finished the tomato juice. Mulder was pleased. He could get up and move about, but Scully was going to need to take in more calories to keep her warm.

The sun was already dipping in the sky and Mulder emptied the purse into the snow to see what he'd found. There was a wallet with several credit cards inside, and about $60 in cash. There was a small travel pack of tissues; two lipsticks, a comb, a folding hairbrush, a compact mirror, half a pack of mints, a travel toothbrush in a plastic case; a pair of tweezers; a pack of Morleys, and a Zippo lighter.

'Thank god,' said Mulder with feeling, and handed her a lipstick. 'Where would we be without Morning Rose?'

'You can mock, Mulder, but make-up has a very uplifting psychological effect.'

'Really?' he said, twisting the second one out of its tube, 'you think Evening Blush is my colour?'

'I think it would take a lot more than that to make you blush, Mulder.'

'Oh yeah? You'd be surprised Scully.'

She raised an eyebrow at him but he didn't expand.

'Arm wrestle you for the toothbrush Scully?'

'Now that we should share.'

'Isn't that a little...intimate? I don't want your cooties!'

She punched his bicep and he held up his hands in surrender.

He sighed at the arrayed contents. 'This purse is full of girl-stuff. Apart from the lighter and mirror it's all pointless.'

Scully finished applying Morning Rose in the compact mirror and smacked her lips at him. 'Pointless Mulder?'

'Okay, so you'll look gorgeous when we die of hypothermia, but apart from that...'

Scully didn't answer, she was digging in the purse again. Mulder watched her find a concealed zip-up compartment and open it.

'Ah HAH!'

'What?'

She grinned up at him and he didn't like the look on her face. Slowly she withdrew a neat little sewing kit. His eyes widened.

'Aw, no Scully!'

'Drop em Mulder.'

'But it's almost completely healed! I swear!'

'Fine,' she said coolly. 'Show me.'

'Show you what?' he stalled.

'Show me it's completely healed and I'll leave you alone.'

He glared at her for a long moment, then got up and yanked at his belt, muttering under his breath.

'You got something to share with the class, Mulder?'

He pursed his lips sulkily and pushed his bloodied pants and boxers down a little. The T-shirt was soaked through with blood. Scully snorted.

'Oh, I can see it's one hundred per cent better Mulder.' She took a needle out of the kit, threaded it, and held it over the lighter flame. 'Come here and lie down and take it like a man.'

'Are you coming on to me Scully?'

'If it makes you shut up and lie down then, yes, I'm coming on to you Mulder.'

He shut up and lay down.

'If I'm taking it like a man, can I at least have black thread?'

'Don't be silly Mulder. There's nothing wrong with pink thread. Now, lie still.'

'Ow SHIT!'

'Mulder, if you wriggle about I might very well pierce your femoral artery and you'll be dead within a couple of minutes, okay?'

'I don't care. It hurts.'

'On the other hand, Mulder, if you lie still and don't move and don't WHINE, then you'll get a treat.'

'Oh yeah?'

She looked at his suggestive eyebrows and smiled again. He was so easy.

'Yes Mulder. A treat I know you'll enjoy. Okay?'

He nodded and she took another stitch. Mulder bit his lip through that and 22 more. Scully worked quickly and carefully, trying not to hurt him. The skin around the wound was a little warm for her liking, and she laid the back of her hand on his other hip to feel the difference. He twitched under her hand and she bowed her head so he couldn't see the blush rise in her throat. Even covered with drying blood, Mulder with his pants open and his boxers pushed down and his dark hair peeking out at her was a sight for sore eyes.

'You have a little infection Mulder. But nothing bad. Yet.'

He shrugged, just relieved that she'd finished. A bit of infection he could handle himself. He was aware that lying like this, propped on his elbows, with his shirt pushed up and his boxers pushed down was a pretty exposed position, and that Scully was aware of that too. He was expert at spotting her tell-tale blushes. And although he now had a run of bright pink stitches tacked across his groin, her proximity to his near-nakedness lent the situation a certain frisson that he was keen to capitalize on.

'Where's my treat Scully?' His voice was low and husky. He sincerely hoped it didn't involve her pulling his pants up.

She reached into the purse once more and held something out to him.

He looked down in abject disappointment.

'Gum?! You're giving me GUM?!'

'Sure Mulder. I know you must be missing your seeds. I thought it would give your mouth something to do.'

He was appalled. He felt cheated. He felt USED! She read all those things on his face and could barely keep from sniggering.

'You make me lie here so you can stitch me up like a Barbie autopsy, and my TREAT is GUM???!!!'

Now she had to laugh, but he was too outraged to join her.

'But Mulder, it's Juicy Fruit. Your favorite!'

He pulled his boxers up grumpily, wincing as he scraped them over his hip, and got to his feet.

'You should really find some cleaner underpants Mulder, those are covered with blood.'

'Oh, and if I strip a corpse and wear some dead guy's icy boxers, do I get another treat? A fluffy nickel from the bottom of the purse, perhaps? A nice piece of lint?!'

She was laughing so hard now that she actually had to double over. He was so offended!

'What did you expect Mulder? You want me to kiss it better?'

'Yes!'

'Really?!'

'Yeah, damn right. I want you to kiss it better.'

'Okay, come here.'

She was still on her knees, still giggling up at him helplessly.

Now it was his turn: 'Really?!'

'Sure. What kind of doctor would I be if I didn't kiss my patients better?'

Suddenly Mulder thought perhaps he'd better not let Scully kiss it better. The moment she'd agreed to his childish demand, he'd felt his cock come to life. The sight of her down on her knees, inviting him over so she could kiss his hip only worsened things. Opening his pants again right now - in her presence - was probably a very bad idea. He hung his head and looked at his feet.

'It's okay Scully.'

'C'mon Mulder! I said I would and I will.'

He shrugged. 'It's okay. I was just being an idiot. The gum's a good treat.'

She was confused for a moment, maybe a little hurt that he hadn't followed through on the joke with her. He wasn't sulking was he? No, she looked up at him and saw he wasn't sulking. But he was hiding something - the little wrinkle between his eyes told her that. She shrugged.

'Okay Mulder. Your loss.'

She has no idea how true that is, he groaned inwardly.

He did come over though, after he'd finished doing up his belt, and sat down beside her.

'I cut, you choose,' he said as he tore the Juicy Fruit in two and held them up to her.

She chose one and they unwrapped their gum and started to chew.

'Thanks Mulder.'

He nodded. 'Tastes like home,' he said, suddenly wistful. Scully had to swallow a lump in her throat.

'Talking of which, Mulder, where are we going to sleep?'

'Your place or mine Scully?'

'Mulder, I'd rather be here than your place. I'm sure it's more hygienic.'

He got up and fetched a piece of metal from a few yards away. It was about four feet long and a few inches wide. He started digging into the snow bank.

'What are you doing Mulder?'

He grinned at her happily, already starting to warm up from the exercise. 'Being a caveman, Scully.'

***

It took three hours to make a horizontal hole big enough for both of them to crawl into, and they had to finish it by the light of the Zippo - Mulder digging out hard-packed snow and Scully shovelling it away from the entrance. Mulder finished off by digging his metal spade into the snowbank beside the entrance and looping his lifejacket over it. He activated the flashing light on the jacket, then he stood aside and politely motioned for Scully to crawl inside.

'No sleeping bags Mulder?'

He shrugged. 'I guess it's not my lucky night.'

He followed Scully in. The fit was tight but keeping the hole small meant their bodies would warm it more quickly, he hoped. There was just room for them to lie side by side on their backs, and the roof was low, although once Mulder snapped the Zippo shut, they couldn't even see that much.

'I feel like a fish stick,' Scully giggled, but the sound ended in her teeth chattering and Mulder immediately rolled onto his side and pulled her back close into his chest. After a moment of resistance, she relaxed and let herself be maneuvered against him, so that he was spooning her. Even through the layers of clothing they wore, she could feel the heat of his body seeping into her.

Mulder took his gum out and stuck it on the roof. Scully smiled and did the same. 'Don't forget which is mine, Mulder.'

'Sure Scully. The big bit.'

She elbowed him gently.

In the stillness that now followed the hours of activity, the darkness lent them the courage to talk seriously about their plight.

'What are our options Mulder?'

She felt him shrug against her back, and his breath on her neck when he answered: 'We only have one option Scully. Survive.'

She nodded once and tried to make her tone light.

'I vote we do that then.'

'I second that.'

She put her hands over his and squeezed. He answered by touching her neck with his surprisingly warm lips.

'Goodnight Scully.'

'Night Mulder.' To her complete but lazy amazement, she realized she was actually going to be able to sleep.

***

DAY FIVE

Mulder dreamed that he woke to find Scully frozen solid in his arms, as dead as George Black, and with white ice frosting her opened blue eyes. Her jerked awake and banged his head on the roof of their narrow ice-hole.

'Ow!'

Scully stirred in his arms. 'Mulder?' She rolled over onto her back to look at him rubbing his forehead. 'What happened?'

'Nothing. Just forgot about the roof.'

Mulder helped her out of the hole. She winced as her ankle bumped along the ground, but managed to keep from crying out. When she cried out she saw the guilt and pain in his eyes, and she hated that.

The sun was out, which added to their mutual optimism as they shared a second can of tomato juice and Mulder weighed up the chips.

'Chili and Lime? Or Smoky Bacon?'

'Chili and Lime, Mulder? For breakfast? Are you crazy?'

'You know I am Scully. But I guess Smoky Bacon's the breakfast way to go, right?' He tore open the bag and they shared them, although Mulder was careful to make sure she got the lion's share. He was good at faking how much he was pretending to shovel into his mouth.

'We need to make a fire. Smoke will be seen for miles.'

She nodded her agreement.

He spent the morning taking whatever hadn't burnt already out of the cabin and she piled it into a little pyre. It was a pitiful collection. After several attempts with the Zippo they got it alight and watched it burn out within the hour.

Mulder's morning optimism had gone. 'So much for smoke signals. That wasn't even a dot on an i.'

He glanced at Scully, who looked pensive. 'What's up, brainiac?'

She looked up at him sombrely.

'Mulder, I know what I'm about to suggest is...horrible...'

'Please Scully! Not the Evening Blush! It's just not you!'

She smiled wanly and shook her head. He became serious at her face.

'The human body - if it has enough fat on it - will burn like a candle Mulder. Once it is made to combust, it will burn for hours - sometimes even days...'

He nodded slowly. 'Spontaneous human combustion is thought to be just that - cases where a person has died of asphyxiation in a small fire which has then continued unabated, burning so slowly that it does not spread to surrounding materials, and yet with such heat that the body can be completely consumed, leaving only small piles of ash and bone fragments.'

His explanation, she knew, was only to give himself time to assimilate her suggestion, evaluate it, decide whether it would work and whether he could live with it.

Now he nodded briefly and stood up. 'I'll find someone.' he said tightly.

She captured his hand as he turned away. 'Mulder?'

He looked down at her. 'Survive, Mulder.'

He nodded. He understood.

***

Mulder had dragged the 42 bodies far enough away from the downed jet so that they had not been destroyed by the fire. Fresh snow had turned them into indistinct lumps, for which he was grateful. He started with the biggest lump and dug out Arms & Ammunition. Mulder stood for a moment, his face stony, but his mind whipping through memories like a tight little tornado. The guy had spoken to Mulder. They'd interacted; even if it was only enough to make Mulder think he was an asshole. Mulder felt suddenly sick. He dry-heaved into the snow beside the corpse and was relieved that he didn't have anything left in his stomach to waste.

Survive.

He wasn't alone in this. He had to be strong for Scully. He couldn't fall at the first hurdle. With grim resolve, Mulder realized he couldn't fall at ANY hurdle if he and Scully were to survive to be rescued. Mulder tried not to look at the fat man's face as he turned him onto his stomach; he took him by the ankles and dragged him back to Scully. It took him over an hour and he was exhausted and sweating by the time he got there. He stuffed handfuls of snow into his mouth as he lay beside Scully, his ribs heaving with effort.

'I'm out of shape!' he complained.

'We're at about 12,000 ft Mulder. The air's much thinner. Plus you're hungry and dehydrated.'

He nodded; it made sense. He was a little relieved that there was such a logical explanation to his breathlessness. He sat up slowly to see that Scully was holding the lighter.

'Can you check for more food Mulder?'

He started to open his mouth to tell her he didn't think there was anything left to find, then realized she was giving him permission to leave; that she'd take care of what came next. He hesitated for a moment, the nodded dumbly, got up and walked away.

He took advantage of the enforced absence to make a more thorough search, using bits of metal to dig into the snow around the cabin, and hitting the motherlode in the form of a metal food trolley.

When he got back to Scully there was a thin wisp of smoke rising steadily from the thigh of the dead man. They both ignored it, and he presented Scully with his bounty - a dozen untouched dinner trays, still with their foil wrapping.

'It's all cold Scully, but they only reheat on board, so it should all be cooked and safe to eat!'

Scully, who had just spent an hour holding the flame of the Zippo to the leg of a dead human being to make him burn like a giant candle, felt tears stinging her eyes in gratitude at the sight of the food. Like the dead passengers, it meant survival was extended for the two of them.

'Did you ask for the fish or the steak, Miss?' His tone hid the anxiety in his eyes at her tears.

She brushed the tears away and smiled at Mulder. 'Fish please.'

He handed her a tray and sat down beside her with another. They tore off the foil and ate ravenously. The fish was curling at the edges with dryness and the steak was small and hard as shoe-leather, but they ate as if they were at gourmet night at the Waldorf, delighting in the limp side salads, the marble-sized croquettes, the cold, hard peas and the chocolate pears for dessert. They each saved their cheese slices and crackers for breakfast.

It was night again and the only sound once they'd finished chewing was a faint sputtering which Mulder realized was the fat on the passenger's leg crackling. He only kept his dinner down by sheer force of will: he would NOT lose another calorie in the snow.

This time when they slid into the snow hole, they both immediately rolled onto their sides so Mulder was once again wrapped around Scully's back. He'd taken off George Black's sweater to use as a pillow, to keep their heads off the snow.

'Where did you get this ghastly jumper from Mulder?' Scully smiled. Then she went quiet as she heard his silent struggle. She held his hand to her midriff as he told her about George Black. When he'd finished with how he'd taken the jumper off the dead man's body and set off once more to find her, she rolled over so that she was facing him, even though she couldn't see his face in the dark.

She cupped his cheek in her hand, and felt tears there. She leaned forward and kissed them gently away. 'I'm so sorry Mulder.'

He nodded against her. 'You would've liked him Scully. I liked him, and I don't like anybody!'

They laughed softly and then were still again.

'You like me, don't you Mulder?'

She heard his breath hitch and stop in his throat, then release slowly.

'Yes Scully. I like you.'

He put his arms around her shoulders, and she slid an arm around his waist and pushed her face into his warm chest, and fell asleep with his heart beating against her lips.

Outside the wind went from a bluster to a howling gale. The snow hole was well protected, but the entrance somehow captured the wind and swirled it about them. Mulder woke sometime in the night to find Scully shivering against him. He rolled over gently so that she lay on top of him and no part of her touched the ice cavern and - within 15 minutes he was rewarded by feeling her shaking stop, and the deep rhythm of her breathing resume. He knew he had an erection, but for once he wasn't worried about Scully seeing anything amiss through their combined dozen layers of lumpy clothing. With his back now fully pressed against the ice, Mulder was too cold to sleep, but by his watch it was already 4am, and lying awake with his partner on top of him for the next few hours was going to be no great hardship...

 

DAY SIX

Scully was woken by the blue light of dawn filtering through fresh snow at the entrance to their hole. She was lying fully on top of Mulder, who was asleep beneath her. No wonder she was so much warmer than when she'd gone to sleep last night - but he must be freezing! Still, he was asleep, so she was careful not to wake him by any sudden movement. He needed his strength; she'd seen how he tried to make sure she got the bulk of the chips. Thank goodness he'd found the meals, or by now she'd have had to call him on it, and they'd have had a pointless row. One of many, she smiled to herself. Mulder was always such a challenge - he'd argue black was white just for the fun of it. Then she'd cave in and agree with him and he'd switch sides and come back at her just as strongly, with fresh passion for the opposing view! He drove her crazy. She loved it. She loved him.

She'd known it for a long time - almost from the beginning. But lying here in a narrow ice cave he'd carved with a bit of wrecked airplane, shielded from the worst of the cold by his long, lean body, and looking down into his pale, beautiful face, she felt the love almost overwhelm her. And although they'd been through the crash and their chances of rescue were slim, she knew she'd rather be here with him than safe at home without him. A tear rolled off her nose and plopped onto his chin.

He opened his eyes and blinked at her. 'What's wrong Scully?' His voice still raspy from sleep.

'Nothing.' she said, and meant it.

***

Despite the snow, the dead man was still burning. In fact he was burning more strongly than before, and had created a little pool of ice melt topped with fatty droplets under his left buttock.

'It's working!' she said in a voice of wonder.

'Wasn't it supposed to?' Mulder asked through his cheese and crackers.

'Doesn't mean it was going to!' She was as pleased as punch and Mulder couldn't help grinning at her.

'You go girl!'

They sat and watched the thin but steady line of grey smoke rise from the dead man. It wasn't enough to be seen from any great distance, but it was more than last night, and would only get thicker.

'I wonder if the Girl Scouts of America would give you some kind of badge, Scully...'

'You're sick Mulder.'

'Oh come on Scully. You were a girl scout, right? What badges did you get?'

'Nothing much. Science. Helping others.'

'None of those 'special' girl scout badges?'

'Like what Mulder?'

'You know the kind of thing, Scully, don't play the innocent with me! We guys all knew about the special girl scout badges...'

She looked at him, amused but confused.

'You know, the hot lesbian badge, the head badge...'

Scully looked at him coolly: 'Hot lesbians Mulder?'

'Sure Scully. We guys all knew that when you girls were off at girl scout camp you all had to turn lesbian until you were back among the land of real men!'

'And the head badge?'

'AKA, the BJ badge.'

'Oh. I see. For the benefit of the real men.'

'Now you're getting it.'

'Well, yes, Mulder, you're right, of course. We weren't allowed in the girl scouts unless we promised to get our hot lesbian badges in the first year. Although I didn't have to do anything for my head badge. They gave those out automatically to any girl who'd been to Catholic school.'

Mulder actually choked on his crackers and Scully had to thump his back.

'Jeez, Scully! don't do that to me!'

'You do it to yourself Mulder.'

'Don't remind me,' he sighed and looked so dejected that Scully burst out laughing at him.

'What?!' he said in mock outrage, before joining her in her laughter.

They sat and watched the dead man burn and played word games for most of the day. Mulder suggested yellow-snow hangman but Scully rejected the idea as being too advantageous to him.

They had steak and fish again for supper, but this time Scully had a trifle for dessert. She swopped it for Mulder's chocolate pear - a trade he was only too willing to make - and he spent ages licking out the clear plastic dish, making sure he'd got every last trace of cream out of it. Scully couldn't help staring at his long, strong-looking tongue running round the inside of the dish.

'Wish we had some coffee.'

His words brought her back to the present and she nodded. 'I feel a bit shaky, maybe it's caffeine withdrawal.'

'Oh sure. Nothing to do with sitting with your ass in a snowdrift 24-7!'

'At least our bedroom's warmer. That was a good call Mulder.'

He nodded, pleased that his idea worked and had been so well received.

'Shall we retire Scully?'

She glanced at her watch. It was 7.30. She smiled and nodded. There was nothing to do out here anyway. They might as well get somewhere a bit warmer and sleep.

This time Mulder started tugging his clothes off at the entrance to the ice hole.

'What are you doing Mulder?'

By way of answer he laid his clothing all over the narrow floor of the cave. 'Lying on the ice is a no-no. Every time my face or hand touches it, I wake up, don't you?'

'Hmm. But you made a good mattress last night!'

'Anything I can do to be of service!'

He was down to his shirt and suit pants now, and the ice hole looked very snug. Scully stared at him - in a couple of short days bundled up in all the clothes they could find, she'd forgotten how slim and athletic he was. It made her acutely aware of the rotund figure she cut herself, wearing more clothes than she probably actually possessed back home.

They snuggled into the cave. The clothing on the floor and up the walls made it much warmer, but they still instantly took up the positions they had the night before, face to face with their arms around each other.

With the dead man burning more brightly outside, Scully realized she could actually see Mulder a little tonight. They were both painted a dull orange. The half-shadow accentuated the curve of his lips and the size of his nose! She giggled.

'What's funny Agent Scully?'

Him saying Agent Scully all of a sudden only added to her hilarity. 'You've got a big nose, Agent Mulder!'

He touched it, looking a little hurt. 'I know. It's always been big. You think I should get a nose job?'

'No!' She hadn't meant it to sound quite so vehement and he looked surprised at her.

'I just mean, I think it suits your face.'

'I have a big face too?'

This time they both laughed.

'You have a beautiful face Mulder.'

Oh shit. Where the hell had THAT come from? There was an awkward silence, then he shifted and propped his cheek on his hand.

'That's the Evening Blush talking Scully.' He smiled with his lips, but she could see his eyes were serious - and nervous.

His nerves gave her sudden courage. Before she could change her mind, she leaned in and kissed him gently on the lips. Then she drew back again and looked at him. His eyes bored into hers and his lips parted very gently, and he ran the tip of his tongue across his lips, tasting her.

It was nothing - it was everything, and Scully felt suddenly dizzy with desire for him. She could feel her breathing become fast and shallow in an instant, and her nipples ached to be touched.

'I--'

He stopped her words with his mouth, pressing, tasting, parting and finally invading her with his tongue. She felt heat flood her sex as he groaned into her mouth.

'Ssscullee.'

She nipped his bottom lip in reply and she felt his hips buck. There was no going back now. She slipped a hand down between them and gasped as she touched the heat of him through his pants.

She raised her eyes to his face and felt another thrill pass through her. After five years she figured she knew every one of Fox Mulder's facial expressions - er, make that every two. But this was a new, very welcome, addition to his repertoire. Desire. It burned from his eyes, and parted his lips, and made his face young and fierce and so beautiful she wanted to cry.

She was suddenly frantic to see him; to touch his skin. With shaking hands she pulled open his belt, then started on his suit pants, mindful of his stitches.

He started to pluck at the zipper on the parka that topped her layers but she laughed and looked at him. 'Quit it Mulder. That's gonna take all night!'

'But we have all night Scully!'

But she was blunt with desire for her target and pushed his hands away, muttering: 'Yeah, later. I have to do THIS now.'

He saw the determination on her face, the flush on her throat and the fire in her eyes - and grinned his concession. Her little pink tongue flicked over her parted lips, unconsciously wetting them in readiness. In readiness for him, he realized. Mulder groaned and started to lose control, his hips fucking the air, his still-trapped cock straining for her touch.

'Scully. Please. Oh god Scully!'

She slid her hand into his boxers but he was too hard to withdraw through the fly. She did her best though, tugging at him gently, twisting, turning...

'Oh god. Oh god. Scully don't! I'm gonna...'

He reached down roughly and shoved his boxers down, freeing his cock.

She was so stunned at the sight of it that she just stared, her hand now slack on Mulder's bare hip. Gotta love that big nose, Dana, she thought to herself in amazement.

'Scully?' His voice was strangled, his eyes pleading, his breath shallow and fast.

She realized she'd left him hanging and he was desperate for her to touch him again. His own hand squeezed the base of his cock in a delaying tactic, but his hips had other ideas, and kept pulsing for release.

She didn't touch him again. She didn't move her hand from his hip. Instead she used it to press him onto his back as she lowered her lips to his cock. A low whine escaped his throat. An inch from the dark, taut head, Scully looked up and met Mulder's eyes. She saw madness there, waiting in the wings for her to falter and withdraw, so it could rush out and take centre stage. Mulder was hanging on by a thread. Never looking away from his eyes for a second, Scully closed the distance between her lips and his cock, opened wide - and slid onto him.

He came instantly. A white-hot explosion in her mouth and a cry of ecstasy that sounded like he'd been shot. His body arced under her, lifting her weight on his hips, before crashing down again, shuddering and convulsing. His cries came on every jagged exhalation, each one growing fainter, fading to hitching sobs of homecoming.

Finally quiet, he opened his eyes and looked down at her again. tears in his lashes.

'Scully.'

The word was a prayer on his lips and she felt heat pricking the backs of her own eyes at the sound of it.

His cock was still hard in her mouth. She had swallowed a lot of his cum but some had overflowed down his shaft. Trembling, she slowly withdrew, licking it as she went. Mulder watched her, holding his breath at the sight of Dana Scully cleaning his cock with her beautiful mouth. When her lips finally lost contact with the tip, a string of cum still connected her to him for a moment and he groaned and spasmed and came again at the sight, a jet of white arcing gracefully onto his ribs.

'Jesus Mulder.' her tone was soft and reverential as she watched his cock twitch in the aftermath.

'Scully.' he started, then stopped. A million possible words swirled through his mind, a billion combinations, a trillion emotions. Finally he settled on: 'Thank you.'

She slid up his body 'Thank YOU Mulder.'

He looked down at her quizzically and a slow, wicked smile spread across Scully's face.

'It was good for me too Mulder.'

He looked confused - his natural state, she smiled inwardly.

'You...um, you mean...you...um...?'

She nodded, shy but proud and excited. 'Yep. And I didn't even have to get all naked and cold!'

He grinned in amazement. 'Really?'

She nodded, hardly able to believe it herself. She'd come like a train the moment he burst into her mouth, sucking him, attaching herself to him, swallowing him down as she rode out the twin storms of their orgasms.

He looked suddenly smug. 'Then my work here is done.' he proclaimed grandly.

She laughed; she loved his absurdity at the oddest moments.

Now he was looking at her like a little kid - sort of proud and abashed at the same time.

'Plus, Scully, I think I set some sort of record. I mean, if I'd only lasted a few minutes I'd be embarrassed now, but lasting less than a second, I mean - that's so bad it's almost good, right?'

'Right Mulder,' she laughed. 'You win! Next time let's see if I can get past your head before you blow.'

'You joke, Scully, but this is a subject worthy of scientific investigation. And YOU, my dear doctor, are lucky enough to be on the team from the get-go.' He took a pen from his pocket and sat up, lifting Scully with him.

'What the hell are you doing Mulder?'

He said nothing, but leaned down and drew a thin blue horizontal biro line around the head of his softening cock. Then he tucked it away in his boxers, lay back, put his pen back in his pocket and hugged Scully close to him. 'There,' he said. 'We'll make a mark each time to see how far you can get down it before the moment of truth Scully.'

They dissolved in helpless giggles and in the middle of them Mulder's mouth found hers and they kissed and laughed so hard that for a while they forgot they were in a hole made of ice while a fat man's body burned outside so maybe - just maybe - they would be rescued and not have to die of cold and hunger in the Alaskan snow.

 

DAY SEVEN

 

Mulder woke first and Scully woke when he started unzipping her parka.

'Mulder?'

'Hey Scully.'

'What are you doing?'

'Taking all your clothes off. I thought if I started now I'd have you naked by nightfall.'

'Why?'

'So I can give you a bubble-bath Scully. Why'dya think?'

She grinned and let him get on with it - only moving when he needed her co-operation to get something over her head or down her arms or off her hips.

'This is one of my fantasies you know, Scully.'

'Really Mulder?'

'Yep. Sex with a Russian doll.'

She laughed and he tingled with the joy of hearing that sound - especially when he'd been the cause of it.

'What are your other fantasies Mulder?'

'I only have one other.'

'Which is?'

'Loving you.'

She fell silent and turned away. One minute he was a goofy kid, teasing her, the next he was carving truth into her heart and soul with simple words. She felt the heat of those words warming her, radiating up in a blush that made her hot. He watched, fascinated, as it happened.

Scully looked at him finally. His eyes were hopeful and a little frightened, his hands stilled on the buttons of a cardigan. She was scared. She knew because she was always scared - had always been scared of this. She knew what she should say, what would be sensible to say, what would be for the best for them and the X-files. But with Mulder lying beside her, halfway through one fantasy, it would have taken an act of god to stop her fulfilling his other.

'I love you Mulder. I've loved you forever.'

He released a long breath. He lay his head gently on her breast and she placed a tender hand on his hair, holding him there, feeling his relief and his love even through all the layers she still had left on her.

Finally, he lifted his head, kissed her gently, and gave her a dazzling smile. 'One fantasy at a time Scully. You know men can't multi-task.'

He started again in earnest. The cardigan; the polo-neck; the plaid shirt - all the time with Scully getting smaller and smaller beneath his hands. Scully smiled and watched him bend to his work with enthusiasm, looking up at her now and then with a new light in his eyes that she knew was just for her; just for them.

As he got down to the last few layers, Scully stopped giggling and felt herself getting turned on as she felt his hands getting close to her skin. She was also getting nervous. She had pleasured Mulder last night, but that was easy. Guys were easy to turn on; it was easy to make them come - as Mulder had amply demonstrated. Now she knew it was her turn. She wanted it to be perfect, but experience and common sense told her it was unlikely to be on their first time - or even on their first hundred times...

'Nervous?'

Dammit! How did he do that? She almost denied it, then shrugged. 'Yes.'

'Me too.'

His words relaxed her a little. This wasn't only happening to her...

He peeled her torn blouse back from her shoulders and stopped breathing at the sight of her breasts in a small pink bra. The look of wonder and lust on his face made her sex twitch and flood, and suddenly what was left of her nerves was replaced by sharp desire.

'Oh, Scully.' He pulled one strap down and exposed her breast, then covered the nipple with his hot mouth, sucking and rolling it between his teeth, and she pulled his head to her and let out a cry of excitement as his hand found her other nipple through the lace of her bra. She pushed his head over and felt him clamp down there, his strong tongue teasing her to sharp peaks of sensation. She controlled him; she lifted his head again and felt her nipple stretch upwards before he released her and obeyed her urging to the other breast, making it hard when she pressed him to her, and delicate when she pushed him away a little.

His hand was suddenly in her panties and she yelped in excitement as he ran slick fingers up and down her folds, just barely touching her clit each time, and she whimpered and felt her juices soaking her again. Riding that wave, Mulder slid two long fingers into her. He didn't shove them in and out, just moved them gently, as if exploring - an advance party reconnoitering uncharted territory. At the same time his thumb pressed on her clit and her hips rose desperately, forcing his fingers deeper as she moaned like a whore.

'Mulder!' she gasped. 'Please! I want you inside me.'

He groaned at the words and grabbed blindly at his own clothing, never taking his mouth from first one nipple, then the other.

Scully looked down to see him again, excited almost to climax by the prospect. He pushed her legs apart now, his cock in his hand as he forced it down towards her. He looked up at her and she could only nod and pant 'Go!' and then he was in her and her eyes widened in shock at the feeling of him stretching her.

He withdrew a few inches and pushed in again and she realized he hadn't even finished yet. Christ! he was going to choke her! The third thrust squeezed a cry from her and she felt his balls against her and knew he was finally all in - Mulder's big cock was inside her - and that thought alone sent her rocketing over the edge and she felt the waves of her orgasm clutching him even more tightly, and him plunging into those waves with a cry, too excited by her climax to stay still - his sudden hard pounding making her come again, screaming this time at the sensory overload of her orgasms and the feel of his cock in her, now searing her belly as he cried out his own release, jerking frantically as he finished spurting into her.

He withdrew slowly, leaving an aching gap that she longed him to fill immediately once more. He kissed her eyes, then her mouth, then the tongue she poked lazily at him.

'Don't get a nose job Mulder.'

'Why Scully?'

She raised her eyebrows at him. 'It's like an early warning system.'

'I'm sorry Scully. Did I hurt you?'

'You... surprised me, let's put it like that.'

'I was trying to go slow. Then you came so quickly--'

'I thought that was how you liked your sex, Mulder?!'

'Touche Scully!' He grinned at her. 'I got a little carried away.'

'Yes, well, that makes two of us. Between us we've now spent a total of about 25 seconds actually having sex before orgasm.'

'We're crap,' he said mournfully, and she started to laugh.

They lay, entwined, still flushed. Slowly their breathing calmed down.

'Can I borrow your pen Mulder?'

'Gonna go for a new record Scully?' he grinned.

She made her face stern and held out her impatient hand for the pen.

He handed it to her with a puzzled look. Lying on her back, Scully felt about her own bare midriff with a little doctorly frown on her face, pressing and prodding the white flesh of her own abdomen. Mulder watched her, confused again.

'What are you doing?'

She ignored him. Finally she found the place and dipped her head and drew a short blue line in the middle of her abdomen, just above her navel, then handed the pen back to him with a sexy little smile.

A wide grin spread slowly across his face, then he propped himself on one elbow and pushed her blouse aside once more to write next to the blue line. She craned to see what he was doing but his head blocked her view.

When he finished and put the pen away, she looked down at herself and shrieked with outraged laughter.

***

They lay in each others arms until the cold found them again. He helped her dress first - all the layers - before pulling on his own odd assortment.

They broke through the fresh snow at the entrance and Mulder helped her out into dull greyness.

The man was still burning, and a respectable column of smoke now rose from his body. And that wasn't all...

'Damn that smells good.'

Mulder looked at Scully a little guiltily, but he saw from the look on her face that she agreed with him.

'Do you think you could eat someone Mulder?'

He looked at her, carefully expressionless. 'I'd like to have the chance Scully.'

She blushed fiercely as a little ball of fire licked her belly. God! She'd only just come - twice - and she was already hot for him again. Her voice cracked.

'What's for breakfast Mulder?'

He left a long silence, which didn't help her state of mind.

'How does cheese and crackers sound?'

'Sounds about right.'

'I'll have to dig about for some more food today.'

She nodded; he made it sound casual, as if he was sure to find some, but the thought that today could be the last time they ate before they were rescued made her momentarily dizzy with fear.

They sat next to the fire, which is what they'd decided to call it, and looked at the column of dark grey smoke rising into the clearing sky.

'How high do you think it's going?' She asked.

He squinted up into the pale blue air. 'Maybe a hundred feet?'

'Do you think that's enough?' She knew neither of them could know the answer to that; she just wanted to hear something optimistic.

He looked round at the jutting rockfaces. They were on a plain of snow, and the cliffs were far enough away not to hide the smoke, should someone be passing overhead. He nodded.

'Yeah, I think so Scully. I think we've given ourselves the best possible chance of rescue.'

***

The search was called off at dusk on day seven.

Skinner shouted; Skinner ranted; he threatened and pleaded and - when none of it made any difference - he went to the men's room and took an angry piss and cried against the peeling eggshell paint of the cramped cubicle.

 

DAY ELEVEN

 

Mulder was sick.

Scully was so scared that she yelled at him when he couldn't get out of the ice-cave. Yelled and shoved him, trying to get him motivated, trying to shame him into health.

He'd been quiet for a few days. He hadn't joked around with her, just plodded about, digging for food in the hard-packed snow, sitting down often, falling asleep as soon as they went to what they now regarded as their 'bed'.

All her insecurities had kicked in. He'd tired of her so soon! He'd broken his long sex drought with a flurry of outrageous activity, and was now satisfied. She felt ill at the thought.

Then, when she'd reached for him last night, hoping to provoke a confrontation about it, he'd yelped in pain and - finally - by the light of the Zippo she'd discovered the pus oozing between the little pink stitches she'd thought were so amusing just a week earlier: the dark, bloody flesh swollen tight and painfully hot around them.

Now he lay shivering beside her and she wanted to kill herself. She'd been distracted. First by the glory of their sex, then by the joy of being even closer than they were before. She'd thought they were as close as two people could be, but she'd been wrong. Fox Mulder had peaks and troughs as many and varied as the mountains they were lost in, and she'd become addicted to their exploration. And when she wasn't exploring his body or his mind, he was putting on crampons and ropes and scaling her heights and descending into her depths, wanting to know, questing, probing, teasing, empathizing.

Love was the drug and Scully was high.

High and stupid, she thought guiltily now.

The fact that they were lost and likely to starve or freeze to death quite soon just hadn't seemed that big a problem any more. Mulder had found a few more things to eat under the snow. Two more meals, which they'd made last, a few packs of crackers and a salami which neither of them liked but which was fatty enough to satisfy their hunger even in small doses.

Then she had been distracted by his distance. His wan smile, his quick, sombre glances when he'd thought she wasn't looking, his constant frown which spoke to her of regret, of boredom, of hoping he could get out of this once they were back in DC. At night he'd kissed her carefully and turned away before she could touch him.

Yesterday he had dragged a fourth body back to the ice cave. This time it had almost killed him, and it was only as she watched him panting and retching next to the dead fat woman, that the first vague stirring of unease had entered her mind that this may not be about her.

But it wasn't until last night that she'd known for sure.

What a fool she was! What a self-absorbed, stupid fool! Mulder was dying in front of her and she'd been indulging in silly schoolgirl tantrums.

'Mulder?'

Now he opened his eyes with difficulty and looked at her, curled into a ball, shivering.

'Cold Scully.' He could barely speak through the chattering of his teeth.

'I know Mulder.' She stroked his forehead, feeling the clammy sweat there making him even colder. 'I know,' she repeated, uselessly.

***

DAY THIRTEEN

He had made her a crutch from a twisted piece of metal wrapped in clothing. She could only make short journeys, but she only had a short journey to make.

She came back into the cave and fed him the meat. He registered no surprise, but didn't want to eat, so she made him, watching him chew and swallow, and then feeding him the next piece, urging him on like a toddler. 'Just a little bit Mulder. If you're going to fight the infection, you have to be stronger than this. Just three more, then no more. Just two more tiny bits, okay?'

She nodded, silenced by tears, and lay down next to him, kissing his face gently all over as he shuddered in her hands.

The cold was a blanket of death over both of them that she could not throw off.

She realized now that Mulder's constant activity had kept him warm, and that he had warmed her and the ice-cave in turn. Now neither of them were active. And it seemed that they would never be warm again.

***

DAY FIFTEEN

Scully lay beside Mulder and prayed.

He was still now. Had been through delirium which she had welcomed because he was barely conscious of where he was or what was happening. She wished that for herself.

But now he was still again - no longer even shivering - and she knew it was only a matter of time.

She hadn't looked at his wound for two days. There was no point. She knew what she would see - a discolored, distorted outrage on his previously smooth hip, just inches from the beautiful cock he'd used so well on her. They'd built on their 25 seconds appreciably before he got sick. Even now she could smile at that. She knew he would too - if he could understand what she was saying to him any more. But there was only blank non-comprehension in his dull green eyes when they were open now, and words came out of his mouth that made no sense to her. Strangely, he did not speak of the X-files. She thought he'd rave of Samantha, Krycek, shapeshifters, oil and cancer - but the nightmares that had plagued him all his life seemed to have stepped back from him out of respect for his imminent death.

'Real estate.' he whispered.

'All the little boats in a row.'

'Long and perfect into the basket.'

Scully could have continued to eat. To drink. To live.

But she didn't see the point.

So instead she opened the layers over his chest so she could touch his skin with hers once more, then curled around her partner and waited to die.

***

Skinner saw the column of smoke as the plane turned round to abandon the search for the day. He only had enough money left for two more days plane hire. After that he'd be wiped out. Fuck it. He didn't spend his money on anything interesting anyway. Mulder and Scully were the most interesting things in his life - they were worth the investment.

Even dead, they were worth it. He owed it to them. The FBI owed it to them, but the FBI accountants didn't see it like that. The FBI accountants in fact felt that Mulder and Scully were a very poor investment indeed.

Fuck em.

Skinner saw the smoke and made a sound so small and squeaky that no one even heard him, and the plane continued to bank away. He squeaked again, and turned and grabbed Mark Cox by the shoulder and dragged him and pointed and finally got out 'Smoke!!'

They changed direction and flew low over the wrecked plane and took a bearing.

Skinner's inner bull pawed the ground in frustration as they headed back to base camp for the chopper.

***

The helicopter pilot didn't want to go out at night so Skinner paid him double, hearing his credit card creaking under the strain and not giving a single shit about it.

***

Skinner was concerned that they wouldn't be able to spot the crash site in the dark but - right where the plane should be - a white strobe light flashed steadily, guiding the chopper down...

Gasping in the thin air, Skinner staggered to the still-flashing life-jacket hung carelessly on a strip of metal about four-feet long that someone had dug into the snow bank. Someone had been here. Someone had made this signal for rescuers to follow. He was so close!

'Mulder!! Scully!!' His voice echoed. If they were here, they'd hear it. He and Mark Cox stood still, listening.

Nothing. Snow was falling now, making every outline round and soft.

Skinner tried again, sweeping the crash site with the powerful beam from his flashlight. No movement, no sound.

'There's the fire.'

He turned to see what Cox was pointing his beam at. Just a few feet away a pile of four bodies burned quietly. That was why this place smelled like good barbecue. His stomach rolled over and he swallowed hard.

'Someone stacked em up,' added Cox.

'Then they must still be alive! The fire's still burning!'

Cox shrugged. 'Maybe. But a body can burn like that for days.' He sighed. 'Let's start by the cabin,' he said, and Skinner heard the pity in his voice. It made him want to roar in fury at the unfairness of it all, and he turned away, reluctant to leave this point where someone who had survived the crash had hung a bit of dayglo plastic in the vague hope that it might save them. Well, it had certainly helped guide them here tonight. It hung there on its post like a marker. A grave marker...

Cox had already started to walk to the cabin when Skinner yelled him back. He was already digging in the snow around the marker, scooping great handfuls of it, randomly seeking something - he knew not what.

Cox thought he'd lost it. He stood for a moment, uncertain of whether to talk or just pull the FBI man away.

'Here! HERE!' Skinner was breathless and suddenly Cox saw the ground open up and a hole reveal itself under the freshly fallen snow.

Skinner felt the man drop to his knees beside him and together they cleared the entrance to the ice-hole. By the periperal light of their torch beams, he could see dark shapes inside. Human shapes. He reached in and gripped cloth and pulled back with all his strength.

The body slid from the ice-hole with surprising ease.

'Agent Scully!' He played the light across her face and saw her eyes flicker under the lids. 'She's alive.' It was not a shout of triumph, but a tight, tentative statement which allowed for the fact that she may not be for much longer, even though he noted that her lips were a strangely healthy rose pink.

'Jesus.' Cox breathed - astonished. Then he was galvanized - running back to the chopper to get the emergency rescue kit and to have the pilot radio for hospital care at their destination.

Skinner reached back into the hole and pulled out Fox Mulder. It could have been anyone, but once he'd found Scully he would've put what little money he had left on the other person in that hole being Mulder. It just figured.

Mulder looked dead. His lips were blue, his eyes sunken. The skin seemed to have tightened on his already thin face, and he looked all nose and cheekbones. There were dark bruises under his eyes.

'Mulder?' Skinner hung over him, shaking him.

Cox skidded back alongside him. More experienced in the conditions, he pulled off his glove and simply shoved his fingers deep into Mulder's mouth. 'He's still warm.' he said. 'Let's get them out of here.'

'What about anyone else?' Skinner hated to ask, but had to.

'The whole rescue and recovery operation will start again in the morning. But we haven't got any more room on the chopper tonight. Anyway, if we don't get these two out of here right now, we can kiss them goodbye.'

Skinner nodded curtly. He had what he'd come for.

***

It took three hours to get Mulder and Scully to the hospital in Juneau, by which time Scully was conscious enough to be a pain in the ass about Mulder, even though the paramedics insisted he was hanging in there. She kept yelling about antibiotics and stitches. They nodded and told her soothingly that it would all be taken care of but she kept popping out of unconsciousness to remind them to do this or that or the other.

One rolled his eyes at Skinner but he could only shrug. No wonder Mulder always tried to hide the fact he'd been hurt from her.

Once she saw Mulder going through to the OR, and she could not harangue anyone about him, Scully collapsed back on her gurney and allowed an IV to be inserted in preparation for her own op to re-set the bones in her ankle.

When she was wheeled away, Skinner went to get coffee. Lots of it.

***

Two hours later, a nurse came to find him. That in itself was a concern. The look on her face was another.

'What is it?' he said, his voice shaking. He'd thought the ordeal was over; apparently he'd been wrong.

He followed the nurse to the two-bed ward where Mulder and Scully lay side-by-side. Skinner was instantly relieved: he'd thought they might be taking him to the morgue.

'Is he okay?'

A doctor looked up and came over, holding out his hand. 'I'm Dr Cousins, Mr Skinner.'

'Hi.' Skinner was taut, he didn't want pleasantries, he wanted to know what the hell was so wrong.

Dr Cousins led him over to Mulder's bed. 'Agent Mulder should be okay. He has a serious infection, and the beginnings of gangrene, but with a bit of luck he'll come through it with nothing but a scar to add to what looks like an already impressive collection.'

Without warning he exposed Mulder's hip and Skinner almost gagged at the swollen, discolored wound that ran from Mulder's left hip to his right groin. Even cleaned up and re-stitched it was shocking.

'Don't worry Mr Skinner. Now that he's on a course of antibiotics, it looks worse than it is. Agent Scully's ankle was quite badly crushed and has required some major reconstruction, and of course, both of them are suffering from exposure and dehydration

Skinner relaxed, but Dr Cousins still looked a little nervous. 'Er, Mr Cox told me a little about you Mr Skinner. And your agents. He said something about their research into unexplained phenomena? Something called the X Files?' Again Skinner just nodded. What the hell was his point?

Dr Cousins dropped his voice and gave a little smile. 'I myself am a believer in such phenomena, Mr Skinner. Things that go bump in the night. Of course, as a man of science, I don't like to discuss it openly, but with you... I'm sure you know what I mean. That's why I took note of certain... anomalies... in this case.'

'What anomalies would those be?'

'During the examination of Agents Mulder and Scully, we found a couple of things that were a little... odd. Given the nature of their work, I thought they might be relevant, or that you might be able to shed some light on them?'

Dr Cousins held out a kidney bowl containing some bits of pink thread. 'For a start, Agent Mulder's wound was stitched well - presumably by Agent Scully - but, here's the thing, with pink thread.'

'They were in a plane crash, Dr Cousins. I'm sure that's all they had.'

'Actually a little sewing kit was found in Agent Scully's pocket. With plenty of black thread.'

Skinner found it vaguely amusing but nothing more. 'I don't think it's relevant.'

Dr Cousins looked disappointed. Then brightened hopefully. 'You haven't seen the really weird bit yet.'

He led Skinner to Scully's bed and - before Skinner could protest - exposed her stomach, pointing at her navel. 'Look!'

Skinner bent over and looked at the blue ink above Scully's navel. For a second he was stunned into silence.

'What do you think it means Mr Skinner?'

He looked at Skinner, who was turning red. For a moment Dr Cousins thought it might be fury, then he realized the man was trying very hard not to laugh.

Skinner wanted to explain, but he just couldn't. He could barely breathe, let alone explain...

Next to a thin blue horizontal line were words in a hand Skinner recognized from a hundred X Files reports and 302 requests: 'Fox Mulder Woz Here'.

Dr Cousins looked mightily disappointed, so the AD tried hard to be professional, almost choking on his words.

'I appreciate your interest Dr Cousins, but I don't think it's anything to do with the paranormal.' Although, he thought to himself, if that mark was an accurate indicator of just where Fox Mulder Woz, then it could hardly be termed completely 'normal', so maybe 'para' WAS justified.

The thought made him start to choke all over again and nurses started giving him funny looks.

Dr Cousins crossed his arms, miffed. Skinner finally pulled himself together and forced a straight face.

'I'm sorry Dr Cousins. There's no X File here.'

Then he left as quickly as possible and laughed all the way back to his motel.

***

The first weekend they were both healthy enough to travel - but before they were passed fit to return to work - Mulder and Scully took a road trip to Kentucky.

It had taken very little research to find the home of Mrs George Black, although Mulder was surprised to find that she lived in a townhouse in Lexington, not the horse farm he'd been expecting.

He knocked, a neatly wrapped package under his arm which contained the freshly-laundered sweater.

Eileen Black was about 60 - small and sparkly and surprisingly chipper for someone who'd just lost her husband in a plane crash. She invited them in, apparently ignorant of why they might be there.

Scully could see Mulder was nervous as hell, and not a little emotional at being here, so she made small talk with Eileen, admiring her nick-nacks which were all horse-related.

Finally Mulder told his story. As he spoke, Eileen Black did not collapse and weep as they'd expected. Instead she got calmer and calmer and listened more intently with every passing second.

When Mulder haltingly told her how her husband had died beside him, and how he'd taken his sweater - and how without it, he'd have died too, Eileen put a hand on his knee to stop him.

'Are you sure it was my husband, Mr Mulder?'

A horrible fear rushed through Mulder that he might have the wrong person, the wrong address - that he might be telling his sorry tale to some other Eileen Black whose husband George had just been killed on the interstate.

As he hesitated, Scully handed Eileen a photograph from the mantlepiece. She nodded and showed it to Mulder. 'That's my husband Mr Mulder.'

Relief flooded Mulder. The George Black in this photo was a little younger, and smiling in bright sunlight as he held the bridle of a fine-looking horse. But it was definitely the right George Black.

'That's him, ma'am.'

She nodded slowly. 'George was killed in a plane crash,' she said.

'Yes, ma'am, that's why I'm here.'

'Ten years ago, Mr Mulder. He and my son, Richie. On their way to Alaska to visit George's sister, Leonie.'

Mulder and Scully were speechless.

'I knew he was dead before I even knew the plane had crashed. I woke up and saw him and Richie standing at the end of the bed. Just smiling at me, and I knew something terrible had happened. They never found Richie's body. But about a year later some climbers found George. He was under a rocky overhang, with his boots sat by his side and his socks gone.'

Mulder and Scully looked at each other in shock. Eileen Black went on. 'When I heard that, I was so mad at him! I remember thinking, why would he take his socks and boots off in the middle of a snowfield?! Doesn't the man have the sense he was born with?! I was so mad!'

She smiled into the distance, remembering how cross George had made her - a year after he'd died.

'But I guess I can't be mad at him about that any more, huh?' she said softly.

Without a word, Mulder handed her the package and watched as she opened it. She looked down at the sweater for a long moment, then raised her eyes to Mulder and Scully. To their surprise she looked mischievious - her eyes dancing. 'I never could knit worth a damn! George only wore it to make me happy.' She stroked the side of her face with the sweater. 'It's nice to have it back,' she smiled, then folded it neatly into her lap and looked up. 'Now, can I get you two more coffee?'

They both shook their heads dumbly. Then Mulder spoke.

'Mrs Black..? Do you think...?' he started hesitantly, then continued in a rush: 'Could I have a picture of George?'

She nodded and immediately handed him the one of George with the horse.

'I didn't mean one that's obviously so special to you, I just --'

She shushed him with a flap of the sweater. 'He'd like you to have that one. You can't see his beer belly in it! The horse won a big race at Churchill Downs that day, and George was like a bike with two bells!'

Mulder nodded, gazing at the picture, then got up suddenly. His throat had ached shut and he couldn't speak. Scully had to say their goodbyes for them. But at the door, Eileen Black suddenly embraced him like a son, and he felt tears spill from his eyes as he rested his cheek on her grey head. Scully sniffed hard, but couldn't help her own tears from falling.

'I'm glad you met him, Mr Mulder. And I'm glad he shared his sweater so you're here now.'

She stepped back from him and used the sweater sleeve to wipe his tears away.

'Don't be sad! It's a wonderful thing that happened!'

Mulder nodded. 'It was,' he said. 'He was a great guy.'

'Wasn't he just? I was lucky to have him and Richie as long as I did.'

'Mrs Black? The last thing George said to me was that he loved you.'

For the first time, SHE looked surprised. 'He did?'

Mulder nodded.

Eileen Black spoke slowly: 'Well that's a first for George. Never liked to say it. Man's man, you see? I mean, I knew - I always knew - but I never heard him say it.'

And then tears did shine in Eileen Black's eyes, and she wiped them away with the same wet sleeve she'd used on Mulder's.

'Thank you Mr Mulder. Miss Scully'

Eileen Black stood and waved from the porch as they drove away from the neat little house in silence.

A quarter of a mile up the road, Mulder suddenly pulled over.

'Did you forget something Mulder?'

'Yes,' he said, turning to her. 'I love you Scully.'

They held each other for a very long time before heading back to DC.

***

Mulder and Scully returned to the Hoover Building three weeks later. Mulder was surprised to find several people shaking his hand or clapping his shoulder as he passed them in the corridor. Apparently a brush with death was only acknowledged if it was via a completely mundane and understandable method. Shape-shifting aliens didn't count. Still, it was nice to know not everyone wanted him gone. Although he did note that nobody from Accounts had rolled out the red carpet...

Scully was already in, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and raring to go.

Skinner called them to his office to welcome them back officially, but really he just wanted to see them. Wanted to see how they looked together. He'd never mentioned the writing on Scully's stomach to anyone, but he thought of it often and it never failed to bring a silly grin to his face.

But the two of them were the same as always. No chink in their armor. Nothing that would have told him that they were lovers. If he hadn't known, he never would have suspected a thing.

Walter Skinner frowned. Could he be mistaken? He was not generally a busybody but he was burning to know...

He went through the motions, asking after their health, bringing them up to date with Bureau business, telling them Chaney Lumsden had been found dead in a ravine where his drunken hunting pals had failed to spot him, and handing them a new file to work on.

As they got up to leave, Mulder cleared his throat.

'Sir, we want to thank you for coming to find us. We know it was at your own expense, and we're sorry it cost you. But we really appreciate it.'

Skinner was staggered. Mulder rarely said thank you or sorry, so this double whammy left him almost speechless. And he could see the guy meant it too - it wasn't something Scully had prodded him into, which was usually the way these things went with them.

He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes ruefully, then slowly replaced his glasses - the better to see them with - and looked up at them with a carefully blank expression on his face.

'Yeah. For the next year or so I guess my credit card bill's gonna come stamped with: 'Fox Mulder Woz Here'.

They froze.

Exchanged infinitesimal eye-widening glances.

Froze some more.

Then Skinner pulled some random paperwork towards him and waved them away. 'That'll be all, Agents.'

The door closed behind them and Assistant Director Skinner had to cover his mouth with his hand to keep them from hearing the laughter rip out of him.

Fuck the credit card bill.

It was worth every last cent.