IMTP VS8 Episode 25:


By Vickie Moseley and Susan Proto
Art by


Title: Trolling
Authors: Vickie Moseley & Susan Proto
Completed: Dec. 2000 
Category: Xfile, MSR, MT
Spoilers: None
Summary: The partners investigate a case of a missing child
and run into a couple of obstacles along the way.
Archive: IMTP for the first two weeks, then MTA, the
Garden, the Pyramid, Ephemeral, Gossamer, and any other
site that has received prior written permission.  All
others, please contact the authors.   

Disclaimer: Mulder & Scully as well as all other
recognizable character references belong to Chris Carter,
Ten Thirteen Productions, and Twentieth Century Fox
Television. They are used here without permission. No
copyright infringement is intended. Unrecognized characters
belong to the authors. 

Author's Notes: This was written for I Made This!
Productions as one of the episodes of Virtual Season 8.
IMTP can be found at   

Thanks to Sally B. for the fast beta (and to Dawn for
wanting to beta! Real life is something else, isn't it?
*GRIN* ) and to our artist and trailer maker, Xscout and
Mairead, for making the story visually appealing too!

Feedback: YES!

By Susan Proto and Vickie Moseley


Allegheny National Forest
May 25, 2001
8:35 p.m.

The wind howled through the near leafless trees, tangling
the branches into webs to catch the skittering clouds.  A
moonless night, the stars shone cold above the spider's
lair of tree branches.  A pair of small tents huddled
against a stand of pines, seeking shelter from the wind and
the sounds of the autumn night.

A long figure, moving with exaggerated quiet, moved into
one of the tents. A single flashlight was craftily hidden
under a blanket so that only a small circle of light peered
out into the near pitch-black interior.  Silently, the
figure pulled a small case from backpack and reverently
fingered the clasp that held it shut.

It was forbidden, but so alluring.  The figure, now
leaning over the case and finally illuminated by the spill
of light, smiled a tender smile.  A young girl, no more
than twelve, chewed on her lip and again ran a bitten-
nailed index finger over the glistening plastic surface of
the case.  Her hesitation taking flight, she quickly opened
the clasp and started partaking of the illicit items held

The wind blew a tree branch against the trunk of a nearby
oak and the resulting squeal of wood caused the young girl
to jump, snapping the case shut and hastily shoving it back
in its resting place.  She sat silently, not moving, not
breathing, until she was sure that the sound was only that
of the wind in the trees.

A shadow, silhouetted in the flaming glow of the campfire
outside the tent, appeared before her, large and ominous. 
She froze in her actions, her only movement a quiet
trembling.  She'd seen the shadow the night before, when
everyone was sleeping and she'd awakened by the
unfamiliarity of sleeping in a tent.  Now it was back and
she was certain it meant to do her harm.

She didn't breathe, didn't move except for her silent
quaking.  The shadow loomed larger as it grew closer to the
tent and the girl's trembling took on renewed energy.  Her
thoughts were a tumble of trying to figure out a way to
run, but there was only one way out of the tent and that
was the way the shadow was coming.

Her eyes cast about for any weapon or means of escape.  A
pile of books, forgotten in the corner of a sleeping bag,
attracted her attention.  The first book was too thin to be
an adequate source of protection.  As her eyes focused on
it, she bit her lip in dismay.  The title seemed to
reinforce her fear.  The large letters in the dim light of
the flashlight looked red like blood.

She stifled a scream, fear freezing it in her lungs till
it came out only a moan.  The shadow moved away and she
felt a tear slip down her cheek.

Outside the tent, the stars twinkled above the wooded
campsite.  Pine trees reflected the orange light of center
of the scene, a family huddled against the chill night air
around a burning pit.  The fire crackled merrily as dried
oak and maple limbs gave up their existence to the flames. 
The faces surrounding the fire glistened in shades of amber
and yellow.

"One more s'more, Mom, please?" begged a tow-headed boy of
about 7 years of age.  The unmistakable remnants of
chocolate encircling his lips spoke to the amount of the
sugary confection already consumed.  The boy rubbed his
hands in anticipation and to get some warmth.

"Sorry, Jeffrey, we're out of graham crackers.  Scotty
must have finished them off," replied a weary looking woman
with her gray streaked hair pulled back in a ponytail.  Her
tired expression and tone of voice spoke to the
difficulties of even just one night camping out with small
children.  Almost as an afterthought, she looked around the
campfire.  "Speaking of Scotty, where is he?" 

When no answer was forthcoming from either the boy or the
man currently intent upon placing one more log on the fire,
threatening to topple the base, she kicked a large work
booted foot where it stuck out next to her.  "Jim.  Where's
Scotty?" she repeated, her voice growing more urgent.

Without looking up, the man shrugged one shoulder. 
"Chrissy was taking him to wash up.  They should be back by
now.  I bet they're in the tent."

Sighing, the woman stood up and looked toward the two-room
dome tent across the campsite.  A small florescent lantern
cast eerie shadows on the nylon walls inside the tent.  The
woman shook her head, tucked a strand of hair behind her
ear and walked over to the tent.

"Chrissy?  Are you and Scotty in there?" she asked,
unzipping the outer flap of the tent door.

Inside, Chrissy sat wide-eyed among an assortment of
makeup, lipstick smeared over previously pale lips.  She
wiped hurriedly at her face, smearing make-up with tears to
further add to her garish look.  "Umm, Mom! Hi!" she
squeaked and attempted to stash the make up accessories
behind her.

Too late, the woman had already seen enough.  "Young lady!
What have I told you about getting into my things?  And
where is your baby brother?" the woman demanded, arms
crossed in front of her chest and a scowl on her face.

The girl blinked and looked confused.  "Isn't he out there
with you, Mom? When we came back from the bathrooms, he
said he wanted you.  I came in here by myself."

The woman's anger turned to fire.  Chrissy!  He's a baby! 
You can't just let him wander around the campfire!  He
could fall or pick up something and try to eat it.  How
many times have I told you, you have to watch him
constantly!  Now get out here and help me look!"

The woman and the girl made a quick circle of the small
campsite.  They looked in both tents, under, behind and
inside the family SUV, finally drawing the attention of the
other members of the party.

"Denise?  What's the matter?  What are you looking for?"
asked the man, rising from his crouch near the fire to go
to his wife.  She was looking inside the tents again.

The scowl that had been firmly in place during her search
quickly morphed into frightened anguish.  "Jim?  Jim!" the
woman cried, backing out of the tent and scouring the area
with narrowed eyes.  "Jim!  Scotty's missing!"

As Jim grabbed for the nearest flashlight, Chrissy
remembered the shadow against the tent and started to cry. 
The family immediately started searching the area,
frantically and in all directions at once, organization
fleeing as panic took over.  No one took note of the
rustling of bushes off to the north end of the campsite
just on the edge of the deeper woods.  No one saw the
bright-eyed 2 1/2-year-old, smiling, put his hand in the 
enormous furred paw of an unseen creature, and gleefully 
skip away.

Rip Van Winkle Campgrounds 
Allegheny Forest, New York
May 26

The sheriff's department cruisers were still flashing their
blue and red lights.  Emergency Search and Rescue teams
stood near team leaders who were handing out copies of maps
of the surrounding woods.  Sitting sideways in one of the
cruisers, Denise Lempke wiped her eyes again, and shook her
head at the offer of coffee.

"I know you're scared right now, Mrs. Lempke, but we're
used to having kids wander off around these parts.  They
always turn up, usually not far from where they were to
start with.  He probably just got turned around and cried
himself to sleep under a tree."

That was obviously the wrong thing to say when Denise let
up another anguished wail and Jim shoved the well-meaning
deputy aside to comfort his wife.

"Uh, guess I'll go see what's up with the search," the
deputy muttered sheepishly.  He squared his shoulders and
marched over to a cluster of men just a few feet away.

"How's it goin', Tom?" he asked a tall man with an orange
deer hunting hat perched at a tilt on the back of his head.

"Damned fool city folk!" came the under the breath reply. 
"Well, we picked up a couple of foot prints, but they ran
all over the place last night trying to find the kid in the
dark.  Messed up most of the prints.  There were some
animals prints in the area, too."

"Bears don't come down to the campsites this time of year,
Tom," the deputy said warningly.

"Not unless they're provoked," Tom sneered.

The deputy swallowed and bit his lip.  "Don't be sayin'
that too loud.  The mother is a might skittish."

"I'm not gonna go tellin' them that," Tom said with a
scowl.  "But we need to keep it in mind."

The deputy looked up and around, at the Allegheny
Mountains surrounding him and prodding their tips into the
pink tinged clouds.  Here they were, in one of the most
civilized countries in the world, and yet there were still
plenty of wild things that couldn't be controlled.

He startled when there was a persistent tug on his sleeve.
Looking down, he found a young girl and a younger boy
staring up at him with forlorn expressions marring their
features.  The young girl glanced over at her brother
hesitantly and then slowly handed a children's storybook to
the deputy.

Billy Goat's Gruff.

Act I

J. Edgar Hoover Building 
7:35 a.m. Monday, May 28, 2001 

Mulder tossed his key ring up in the air as he stepped off
the elevator and caught it just as it passed his eye level.
He was in a good mood, it was a beautiful day full of the
promise of spring and he was, for once, well rested and
ready to face the world.

Part of the reason his week was starting on such a high
note, he was certain, was the way he'd spent his weekend. 
It had started on Friday night, and by most bachelors'
standards had been inordinately tame.  Thai food and
watching a rental copy of Ghostbusters.  He knew the movie
by heart, had been an avid Ivan Reitman fan for years, but
it wasn't the movie that had made the night so special.  As
had become the habit of the last several months, Friday
evening was spent with his partner and that made all the

They'd had plenty of time together in their seven plus
years of partnership.  Unfortunately, most of that time was
spent on work -- reading case files, searching through
libraries for leads, writing reports or even just jointly
digging through garbage bins in the hope of retrieving the
one receipt they needed for the most recent expense report.
That had changed not long ago, and now they had a standing
date.  He smirked at that thought as he felt a chill run
through him.  

A date.  A standing date with Scully. Would wonders never

Sure, their "new" relationship wasn't going to break any
land-speed records, but they weren't lovesick teenagers
threatened by the end of the summer.  They were adults,
they had been working together for over seven years.  If it
took them a little longer to reach the next level, so much
the better.  They weren't in a race, for goodness sakes! 
They both seemed to have an unspoken agreement that they
were "in it for the long haul."

Mulder was jiggling his keys as he reached the door to his
office, searching in the blinking light of the almost
deceased fluorescent bulb for the right key, when he
noticed the door was partially open.  He froze in his
tracks.  He remembered distinctly locking the door on
Friday as he left.  Seldom did an open door to his office
on Monday morning bode well for the rest of the day.  

Cautiously, he shoved the door the rest of the way open
with the toe of his foot, all the while pocketing his keys
and reaching for his weapon.  As the door moved out of his
line of vision, he stopped again, this time in surprise.

Scully stood in the middle of the back room, squinting in
the light of the projector and sliding small little squares
in the projector's wheel.

"Am I in the wrong alternate universe?" he asked, shucking
off his jacket and hanging it on his coat tree as he moved
into the room.

Scully looked up at him and smiled.  "Hey!  Have a good
weekend?" she asked playfully as she continued to line up
the slides in the projector.

"Who taught you to use that thing?" Mulder asked, ignoring
her question for one of his own.

"Chuck Burks," she answered without looking up.  "We're
meeting clandestinely every Saturday afternoon.  Next week
he's going to teach me how to split sunflower seeds with my
tongue.  Jealous?" she smirked.

Mulder stared at her for a full moment, then reached out
and poked her in the shoulder.  "OK, who are you and what
have you done with Scully?" he demanded.

"What?  Can't I be in a good mood?" she asked, stopping
her actions to look up at him and put a fist on her hip. 
"I heard you whistling as you came off the elevator," she

"I was not whistling!" he objected.  "I couldn't find a
clean handkerchief this morning.  Now, c'mon, Scully. 
You're never this chipper on a Monday.  And what are you
doing with the slide show?"  

"New case.  Sit down, take a load off," she offered him
the corner of the computer table and moved to the right of
the lighted rectangle on the wall that served as a
makeshift projector screen.  She smiled at him and clicked
the first slide into place with the tiny remote.

"Allegheny National Park, upstate New York," she said as
the wall was filled with a panoramic view of miles of pine
and other trees, limbs naked from the winter.

"Pretty," he commented but she'd already clicked the
remote and a new slide rattled into place.  Two brightly
colored tents stood on opposite sides of a firepit,
recently used.  

"This is the campsite of Jim and Denise Lempke, of Albany.
They and their three children were camping at the park on
Friday of this weekend."

"Kinda cold to be camping up in upstate New York, wasn't
it?" Mulder asked, relaxing into his new role of 'observer'
and reaching into the top desk drawer of the computer table
for one of his many stashes of sunflower seeds.  

"Not really," Scully said with a shake of her head.  "As a
matter of fact, the temperatures didn't go below 40 at
night and it was 63 on Saturday."  She clicked the next
slide, showing a cherub-faced toddler no more than two to
three years old with blond curls and a toothy grin.

"Scotty Lempke, age two years, 8 months, the Lempke's
youngest child.  He wandered off from the campsite sometime
between 7:30 and 8 on Friday evening."

Mulder closed his eyes for a second.  Not another
abduction case.  But if that were the case, why was Scully
the one with the slide show?  She hated abduction cases as
much as he did, more so, if that were possible.  He only
did them out of his own neurotic need to keep looking for
clues to her own abduction, and his sister's.  He shook his
head and looked back at the wall.

The slide had changed again.  This time it was a wooded
area, the tents and campsite far off in the distance. 
Mulder stared at the image.  He looked at the treetops,
searched the ground for scorch marks.  

"Scully.  There doesn't seem to be any evidence of alien
abduction," he said, slowly moving closer to the wall so he
could squint at the blurry images.

"No, there isn't," she agreed.

"So what am I looking for?  For that matter, if this is
just a missing child, why are we even bothering with this? 
Doesn't the New York State Police handle missing children?"

"They do, but Mulder, there is ample reason for us to take
this case.  Look closely at the lower right hand of the
screen.  That muddy area there.  See any impressions?" she

Mulder moved so he could squint in the region she
directed.  He pulled back when he thought he'd found what
she was referencing.  "Footprints," he said, still not sure
of himself.

Smiling in approval, Scully clicked the next slide into
place.  "Here's a closer look," she told him.

Now there was a close up of the footprints.  One set were
obviously the prints of a small child's shoes complete with
a fairly good imprint of Tigger tossing a ball to Piglet. 
The other set were deeper but not that much larger.  The
unusual aspect of the second set, however, was that the
person, or "being" as the case may be, was barefoot and had
only three toes.

Mulder stared at the footprints, chewing first on one side
of his cheek and then the other.  It was several seconds
before he opened his mouth.

"Scully, those woods are pretty secluded.  I mean, sure,
there can be a lot of wild animals--"

"A local zoologist from SUNY in Albany claims those
footprints could not have been made by any animal species
currently known to live in those woods," Scully rattled off
with a tilt of her head that usually indicated she was
ready to beat off any challenges he might launch at her. 
The only problem was, she still hadn't presented a theory
for him to challenge.

"A deformed homeless person?" Mulder offered, feeling
rather meek at how lame it sounded even to his own ears.

Scully snorted and shook her head.

Mulder was getting perturbed.  "OK, what's your big
theory, Agent Scully?" he demanded, crossing his arms over
his chest defensively.

The smile Scully had been presenting all morning faded
just a touch.  She drew in a deep breath and walked back to
the projector, flipping it off and plunging them both in to
relative darkness.  She had walked all the way back into
the front part of the office before she turned to him to

"Mulder, what do you know about trolls?" 

He tossed his head toward the ceiling and stroked his
chin.  "Well, they're a bitch to deal with on Internet
newsgroups," he retorted.

"Not quite the kind I had in mind," she replied.  "Try
again," she challenged.

"OK.  Scandinavian legend speaks of people, woodsfolk, who
roamed the hills doing various nasty deeds.  Trolls are
credited with causing mischief, wrecking outbuildings, even
with stealing children."  He looked at her as the
realization hit him.  "Scully, you aren't seriously
suggesting . . ."  

He let the accusation hang in the air as he hooted with
laughter.  "God, Scully!  That's a good one!  You really
had me going.  I mean, I'm used to some of your tricks by
now, but I never expected this one.  You got me.  You got
me good, G-woman!"

She wasn't smiling.

He swallowed the last chuckle and stared at her.  "You're
serious?" he asked.  Without giving her a chance to answer,
he walked over to stand next to her, invading what little
space was available in the cramped office.

"Scully, look at me and tell me you're proposing that
trolls have stolen that little boy," he said roughly.

She looked up at him, square in the eyes.  "Mulder, I'm
proposing that trolls have stolen that little boy and I
think we're the only ones in the whole Eastern Seaboard who
are going to take the possibility seriously."

He bit his lip.  "You have more to go on than just
footprints," he said hesitantly.

She nodded and handed him the case file.  "Statements,
from both Chrissy Lempke and her brother Jeffrey.  Both
children testify that they saw a 'squat looking man, all
hairy, with big hands and big head' lurking around the
campsite Thursday night.  Chrissy even goes so far as to
say she could 'smell' the man and that he smelled 'bad'."

"Scully," Mulder interrupted, placing a hand on her upper
arm.  "That would support my suggestion of a physically
deformed homeless person," he added gently.

"Mulder, this isn't the first time there have been
sightings of trolls in those woods," Scully exclaimed in a
tone that gave voice to her obvious exasperation at her
partner's disbelief.  She shoved a tidy pile of case files
into his arms.  "Some go back decades.  One of those
sightings has been as recent as four years ago."

He glanced through the files, nodding.  "These are from
our files?" he asked.  She nodded curtly.  "You were
digging for these this morning?  Good grief, Scully, when
did you get up?"

"I was here by 6:30, but Mulder, you're avoiding my point.
I know there are trolls in those woods!"

Mulder licked his lips and moved around her to sit in his
chair and lean back.  "There's a big something you aren't
telling me," he stated and then sat there, waiting for her
to start her story.

"When I was 7, Mom got the chance to fly to Hawaii and
spend a week R&R with Ahab.  Of course, she didn't want to
take us and she couldn't leave us alone in Newport News --
that's where we were living.  So she packed the four of us
up and sent us by train to stay with her elderly aunt who
lived in upstate New York."

"Anywhere near Allegheny National Park?" Mulder offered. 
Scully shot him a wicked look and he determined his best
course was to remain silent during her tale.

She paced as she talked.  "Charlie was 4, Bill was
11 and just as obnoxious as he is now and Missy had
just turned 9.  We were stair steps and very excited to
be on 'our own.'  Aunt Mildred lived . . ."

"Mildred?" he gasped out and quickly realized his error
when her glare cut him short.  "Sorry.  I just never knew
anyone who actually had an Aunt Mildred," he apologized.

"She wasn't my aunt, Mulder.  She was my great-aunt, and a
very lovely woman.  In her own way, she probably would have
liked you, and you know that's a rare trait among most of
my family members," she added pointedly.

"I get along great with your mom," Mulder mumbled.  "It's
just the men . . ."

"May I finish this, please?" she asked sternly.

"Sorry," he muttered dejectedly.  "Please, continue."

"Anyway, Aunt Mildred lived on the edge of the woods.  It
was a really pretty house and a very pretty little plot of
land, with a stream that ran through the back yard, which
was about two acres big.  We used to play in the yard, but
Aunt Millie always warned us not to wander into the woods."

"I'm beginning to see where this is headed," Mulder said,
hoping he'd spoken quietly, so as not to earn her wrath

"Probably.  Billy decided it was too great an opportunity
to pass up, there were these really great woods and trails
all through them.  Deer trails, Aunt Millie called them. 
So, on a regular basis, he would leave the three of us
behind and take off down the paths through the woods,
circling around and coming back into the yard another way. 
Missy wanted to go with him."

"But he said she couldn't because she was a girl?" Mulder
offered.  "Scully, why didn't you just smother him in his
sleep when you had the chance?"

"I've asked myself that question more times than you can
count, Mulder," Scully replied with a shake of her head. 
"And yes, you guessed it.  So of course, Missy went into
the woods after him one of the times he ran off.  And she
didn't come back out.  We waited and waited and waited.  

"Bill came back and when he realized that Missy was in the
woods and probably lost, he went back in to find her.  That
left me and Charlie standing in the back yard, hoping that
both of them would come back soon."

"But they didn't," Mulder continued.

"No, and it was starting to get dark."  Her lips started
to tremble at the memory, but she swallowed visibly and
took a breath before starting off again.  "So I went in and
told Aunt Millie, who was just about ready to call us all
for supper."

Mulder could see how the memory was difficult for her and
it squeezed his heart.  He stood up and walked to the front
of his desk, where he could be closer as she paced. 
Finally, she stopped just in front of him.

"Aunt Millie called the neighbors and they searched and
searched.  They found Bill, he was cold and scared and had
gotten turned around in the woods.  But they didn't find
Missy.  Finally, about midnight, Aunt Millie made the three
of us go to bed."  

She stopped a moment and Mulder was sure he saw tears
glistening in her eyes.  "When I woke up, I was so sure I
would look over and see her in the bed next to me, but I
was alone in the room and I just cried and cried."

Mulder put his arms around her for a second, but she
pulled away and stood in the middle of the room.  "Scully,"
he said tenderly.  "I'm really sorry.  But how does this
prove the existence of trolls?"

She wiped at her eye and looked at him.  "Because Missy
told me she saw them.  She hid from them.  That's why the
neighbors didn't find her.  She was hiding.  She came back
the next morning."

"Scully," Mulder said, biding his time to find the right
words.  "Isn't it possible that Missy saw the neighbors
looking for her and thought they were trolls?"

Scully nodded, pursing her lips.  It was an expression
Mulder had seen a thousand times, and every time he wished
he had a flak jacket or a sturdy wooden structure to hide

"Mulder, my sister described the trolls perfectly.  And
for your information, she saw these beings not after it got
dark, but in bright daylight!  They were foraging or
something, not five feet from where she was crouched behind
a bush.  

"She told me they were about five feet tall, the tallest,
and the shortest were about three and a half feet tall. 
They walked upright on two legs, they were covered with
brown fur, and they had big noses that hung down over their

"They had long arms that hung down by their knees.  And
they had tails, Mulder.  Now, do you think that describes
any neighbors of my aunt?  For that matter, does it
describe any creature you've heard of in the woods of
upstate New York?"

Mulder nodded, realizing it was foolish to continue his
arguments.  She was not to be dissuaded.  "Well, Scully,
when do we leave?  And are you going to requisition the
really big Billy Goat, or am I?"

Rip Van Winkle Campgrounds 
Allegheny Forest, New York 
Late Afternoon

"Scully!" he called after her as he climbed out of the
rental.  "C'mon, Scully, you can't give me the silent
treatment forever!"

She turned around and sent a piercing glare that
immediately shot that theory down.

As she resumed walking toward the throng of people that
had gathered at the campsite, Mulder tried his best to
prove his innocence.  

"Look, you can't blame me for this one.  You just can't. 
I kept my mouth shut the entire time you presented the case
to Skinner, didn't I?"

"And that, Agent Mulder," began Scully in a tone that was
dripping with venom, "was the problem."

"See?" he responded with a smile, "I knew you couldn't
ignore me forever."

"Mulder!" came out Scully's exasperated reply.  "You could
have backed me up!"

"Scully, I did," he responded, but with a great deal less
confidence than he would have liked.

"How, Mulder?  How did standing in Skinner's office with
what appeared to have been a sudden case of elective
muteness 'back me up'?"

"Look, he asked you questions about your theory, and I
allowed you to answer them."

"But you didn't support me, Mulder," came a frustrated

"Of course I supported you, Scully.  I agreed that
everything you proposed was within the realm of extreme

"And then you promptly started laughing.  Hysterically,"
Scully reminded in a monotone.

"I did not!" retorted Mulder, "Skinner started laughing
first, and _then_ I got hysterical."

Scully stopped so suddenly Mulder practically ran right
into her back.  She said in a low, hurt voice, "Mulder, in
the years I've worked with you, I've never laughed at your

"What?" replied her incredulous partner.  "Scully, you
have to know how much I respect you, don't you?  But you
are apparently beginning to suffer from what my Uncle
Benjamin called 'senior moments.'   I've lost count over
the number of times you've practically keeled over laughing
at one of my leaps."

"Yeah, well, maybe, but..."

"But, what?" he replied softly.

"But did you have to do it in front of Skinner?"

"I'm sorry about that, Scully.  Really, I am.  It was a
knee-jerk reaction, and once I started, I just couldn't
stop.  You're right," he soothed, "that was pretty shitty
of me.  I'm sorry, partner."

He placed his index finger under her chin and gently
lifted her face up till her eyes met his.  "I really am
sorry, Scully."

She looked at him and realized that as much as she had a
right to stay angry, she couldn't.  She managed to contain
her smile; she wasn't about to let him off the hook
completely, at least not yet.

She nodded slightly and the two of them headed over to the

They were immediately inundated with questions from a loud
and pushy group of television, radio, and newspaper
reporters.  The barrage of questions ranged from asking the
duo to identify themselves to what new information could
they provide.

Both agents repeated over and over again 'no comment' and
continued walking until they arrived at the small conclave
of sheriffs' cars that formed a barrier against the media
blitz that stood within yards of them.

"Can I help you?" asked the officer in charge.

Both agents quickly and efficiently pulled out their
identification.  Mulder purposely remained quiet.  This was
his partner's case; she was going to take the lead in this
one.  Scully picked up on Mulder's intent immediately and
introduced herself and her partner.  

"FBI?" remarked the sheriff.  "What the hell is the FBI
doing out here in the Allegheny Mountains?"

"We received word, Sheriff, that there might me some
unexplained phenomena that led to this little boy's

"Unexplained phenomena?  What kind of unexplained
phenomena are you talking about?  I'm sorry, Ma'am, but the
only thing we're looking at is the probability that little
Scotty Lempke was nabbed by a renegade bear that smelled
the food at the campsite and decided to go for the full,
five course buffet, ya know?"

"Can you explain the footprints, Sheriff...?" Scully

"Brennan.  Sorry about that.  The name is Tom Brennan. 
This is my deputy, Jerry Springer."

At that the agents did a double take, to which the deputy
replied, "Please.  Get it out of your system now so we can
get on with our work."

"Look, I'm one to talk," responded Mulder.  "My first name
is Fox."

"You're kidding?" Deputy Springer commented.

Mulder shook his head, and there seemed to be an
instantaneous camaraderie between the two men.  Meanwhile,
Scully cleared her throat.

"Oh, sorry, um you were saying Agent Scully?  Something
about footprints? What footprints?" asked Sheriff Brennan.

"The ones in these photos," Scully replied as she opened
her briefcase and pulled out the images she'd shown Mulder
back in the basement.  

"Oh, well, they must be bear prints, Agent Scully,"
offered Deputy Springer.

Scully shook her head and offered the testimony of her
SUNY at Albany expert.  "No, they're definitely not bear
prints, Deputy."

"Well, if they're not bear prints, then what are they?"
asked an exasperated sheriff.  "Those pain in the ass media
people aren't going to leave until they've gotten some
answers, and they're not above making it up if they have

"Well," began Scully tentatively, "there's quite a few
legends about these mountains."

"Sure there are; I mean we've got local lore that can
compete with the best of them," agreed Brennan.

"Has there ever been any substantiation of the lore?  Any
eyewitness testimony?" asked Scully.

"You mean proof?"  Scully nodded.  "Agent Scully, proof of

"Of the legends, the folk tales, the local lore," answered
Scully with as much professionalism as she could muster. 
Even she knew she was in, as much as she hated to say it,
"alien territory."

"Oh, Christ Almighty!  You are not thinking this was some
kind of 'troll kidnapping,' are you?'' guffawed the deputy. 
"Sheriff, she thinks it was some kind of troll that stole
away that kid!"  He then turned to the FBI agent and asked,
"Lady, where the hell do you get your theories from?"

Mulder placed his hand on the small of Scully's back and
as he led her away from the laughter that soon erupted,
said, "If you don't mind, we're going to take a look around
at the physical evidence.  We would also like the
opportunity to meet with the parents as soon as possible."

"Sure, sure," laughed the sheriff, who was now wiping
tears from his eyes.  "Whatever."

Mulder could feel the tension in Scully's body as he led
her away, and as he leaned down he whispered gently into
her ear, "Well, Scully, welcome to my world."

The two agents walked across the campsite area towards a
cordoned off area.  Mulder pointed to the left and the pair
soon found themselves peering down on the footprints that
had engaged Scully's attention in the first place.

"Damn, Scully, this sucker is big."  Mulder bent down to
get a closer look, while Scully  held onto Mulder's
shoulder for leverage and leaned down for a better view.

"He's not very tall," she observed, "he is heavy.  Very

"What makes you say that?" asked a new voice.

Not missing a beat, Scully went on to explain, "Well, look
at the distance between the footprints.  There's very
little; the strides are rather short, but the imprint in
the ground is extremely deep.  That suggests the UNSUB is a
rather short, stout figure."

"UNSUB?" echoed the as yet to be identified voice.

"Unknown Subject," explained Mulder, who then asked, "And
you are?"

"Oh, Carla Pulowski," she replied extending her hand to
the two, now upright agents.  "The sheriff's department
seems to believe it's a bear.  Damnedest bear tracks I've
ever seen if it is."

"You don't work for the sheriff's department, Ms.
Pulowski?" asked Scully with a tinge of suspiciousness.

"I work out of a county office," was her quick reply.

"County?" echoed both agents in a murmur.

"I assume you guys aren't locals, or I would have
recognized you," deflected Pulowski.

"We're out of D.C.," confirmed Mulder.  He introduced both
himself and his partner.

"The Bureau?"  Upon seeing their affirming nod, Pulowski
quickly asked, "Why the hell is the Bureau involving itself
in a case of a lost child?  Seems to be a little out of
your jurisdiction, doesn't it?" she countered. 

Suddenly the trio heard a loud muttering of expletives and
Carla Pulowski immediately reacted by turning her head
toward the noisemaker.

"God damn it, Pulowski!  Why the hell aren't you behind
the tape along with all of your other hyperactive pain in
the ass media assholes?"

"Media?" asked Scully with some exasperation.

"Tom," began Carla, "I want to get the facts on this case,
so I came right to a reliable source.  Who could be more
reliable than agents from the FBI?"

"Media?" repeated Scully.  "We were talking with you under
false pretenses.  You have no right to print anything we
told you."

"Agent Scully, I never gave you any false information.  I
told you I worked out of a county office.  That is no lie. 
My newspaper's office is right smack dab in the middle of
Allegheny County.  I never said I was a law enforcement

"But that's what you implied," Scully argued.

"No, Ma'am, that's what you assumed," retorted Pulowski.

"Carla," interrupted Tom, "the pissing contest can stop
right now.  You lost, understand?  You know you had no
business crossing over the rope, so anything that was said
is not open for publication at this time."

"But the public has a right--"

"Ms. Pulowski," Mulder cut her off quickly, "before you
even hint that the public has a right to be privy to
information about this case, I hope you'll keep in mind
that this is a 2-year-old boy that's gone missing.  

"Now, we may not know exactly who," and then looking at
Scully, he added, "or what, took him, but the fact of the
matter is, there's a child's life at stake.  I strongly
urge you to reconsider printing any information that might
give the advantage to the UNSUB and lessen the chances of
us finding that small child alive."

Pulowski appeared to think Mulder's words over and, after
a few moments, replied that she would hold off for now. 
"I'll keep a lid on the information for forty-eight hours,
Agent Mulder.  But after that, unless you can provide me
with solid proof that it would be detrimental to the boy's
safety for us to go public, I will write and publish the

Mulder made eye contact with both Scully and Brennan, and
noted that they were all willing to agree to Pulowski's
proposal.  "Very well, Ms. Pulowski."

"Pulowski, no Ms., just Pulowski."

Mulder and Scully couldn't help but smile slightly at the
little bit of familiarity they just heard.

May 29, 2001 1:44 a.m.

She was already in bed, undressed, when she heard the key
in the lock.  God, she hated these late nights.  But she
hated the hiding even more.  She hoped no one saw him when
he was standing outside the motel room door.  She glanced
at the clock on the bedside table.  It changed to 1:45 a.m.
as she watched.  Small chance they would be discovered at
this hour.

He didn't even speak as he came into the room.  She
blinked when he turned on the light in the bathroom.  At
least he wasn't so inconsiderate as to turn on the bedside
lamp.  Obviously the last time, when she'd yelled at him,
had taught him some manners.  She'd have to remember that,
for future reference.  Like when she got up to go to the
bathroom after him in the middle of the night.

But right at that moment, she couldn't be mad at him.  She
watched in rapt amusement as he struggled with his holster,
placed it with the gun still encased in the top drawer of
the nightstand.  Then her arousal increased exponentially
as he slowly did a strip tease in front of her.  He wasn't
looking at her directly, but she knew, she just knew it was
all for her benefit.  And she was benefiting greatly.

When he was completely undressed, she pulled back the
covers as an invitation to join her.  She almost laughed at
his boyishly charming blush as he crawled happily across
the sheets to wrestle her into his arms.  Her giggles soon
turned to amorous moans as he started kissing her head to

Some time later, he was lying on his back as she was
snuggled in the crook of his arm.  His left hand was
stroking her hair and she could tell he wouldn't be awake
for very long.  Still, as tired as she knew he had to be,
she had an equal need for information about the case. 
She'd let him sleep a little later in the morning, but now,
she had him right where she wanted him.

"What took you so long?" she asked, idly drawing circles
on his bare chest.

"Hmm," he moaned sleepily.  

"You said you'd be here by midnight.  It's after 2.  What
took so long?"

"The mother is an idiot," he said and punctuated the
sentence with a huge yawn that threatened to dislodge her
from her comfortable embrace.

"She's a mother.  She's worried."

"The kid's back.  What's to worry?" he asked, turning so
that they were lying face to face.

She was quiet for a moment.  "Was anything wrong with
him?" she asked, fearful for the first time since she'd
heard about this case.

He shook his head and kissed her on the nose.  "Not a damn
thing.  We had him checked out over at the hospital.  The
head of Peds says there is absolutely nothing wrong with
that kid.  Nothing that a good bath wouldn't cure, that is."

She bit her lip.  "But he was missing for three days. 
Could they get anything out of him?"

He chuckled.  "Yeah.  He wants to watch Thomas the Tank
Engine when he gets home.  Face it, he's a baby.  He
doesn't know what happened, and it obvious it wasn't bad. 
So it's best to close this case and go on to the next one."

"But the mother doesn't think so?" she asked, worrying her

He shook his head in mild disgust.  "She's spouting all
this stupid stuff about him not acting right.  Hell, the
kid just spent three days in the woods.  I wouldn't act
right after that.  I don't act right after I spend one
night in the woods," he added and kissed her on the crown
of her head. She punched him lightly on the shoulder.

"But she says there's something strange going on?"

He flipped onto his back.  "Yup."

"What do the others think?" she asked, moving his arm to
snuggle up into her former position.  It was warmer, with
her bare shoulders outside of the covers.

"Those damn fools for brains?  What do you think!  They
believe the mother!  Think they want to go crawling in the
woods!  Damn if I'm spending another night in the goddamn

"They believe her?  Why?"

"How the hell should I know?  Now, if you don't mind, I do
have to get up early.  Unless you can think of something
more productive to do, I'm going to sleep!"

2:55 a.m. 

She pulled her ever-present laptop onto the bed with her
while her partner slept fitfully.   It amazed her how he
could go for weeks on but a few hours sleep when he was on
a case and still manage to function.   

She moved as quietly as she could so as not to awaken him
as she hooked up her computer and got down to business. 
She couldn't help but wonder what was with the crackpots
they called law enforcement nowadays.  A child had been
missing and everyone seemed to simply be wringing their
hands but not doing a whole helluva a lot about it.

Well, she was going to do something about it and if it
meant running over a few cops in the interim, then so be
it.  She was damned if she was going to let some egos get
in the way of finding out what happened to that child.

And if she were to get a little credit for doing her part,
well so be that, too.  It wasn't very often, but sometimes
it did get to her that she appeared as nothing more than a
shadow to his work.  Sure, she always signed her name to
her reports, but it seemed no one ever knew just how much
of the legwork she accomplished to help crack these cases.  

Hell, she wasn't even allowed to let anyone know they were
sharing the same bed.  She thought that was perhaps the
most difficult part of their relationship to deal with; its
clandestine nature took a lot of energy.

"Mmm, you okay?" he mumbled sleepily to her.

"I'm fine.  Go back to sleep," she replied.  She gently
moved an unruly lock of his hair that had a habit of
falling into his eyes, smiled momentarily, and then
refocused her energies onto her screen.

She went to her favorite search engine and typed in a
name.  She had no idea if anything whatsoever would show
up, but she figured she had nothing to lose.  She only had
to wait but a few seconds before several hits came up.

As she scanned the proposed sites, she was amazed at the
number of stories this guy was involved in.  He didn't seem
like the type; he was quiet and somewhat unassuming. 
Granted, he wasn't bad looking, but he was certainly no GQ

The eyes were too small and the nose was too damn big.

She clicked on one of the twenty plus sites that popped up
and watched it download immediately.  She thanked her lucky
stars for cable modems; in her job she needed access to
information fast, and this sucker did the deed for her
quite nicely.

As she scanned the first article, and then a second, and a
third, until she'd read almost all of the stories that were
posted on that guy, she realized this guy was no ordinary

He wasn't any ordinary fibbie either; Spooky Mulder had a
reputation to fit his unusual nickname, and Carla Pulowski
was going to get to the reason he and his partner were
involving themselves in a simple case of a lost child in
the wild woods of the Allegheny Forest.  And why were they
sticking around when the lost boy had been found more than
seven hours ago?

She reached over to her jacket pocket and pulled out her
cell phone.  She then brought up her address book on her
laptop and found the name that she'd relied upon so often
in the past.  She dialed the Maryland number.  She then
brought the cellular into the bathroom and closed the door,
while she waited for someone to pick up on the other end.

"This better be one helluva tip, or your ass is grass,"
mumbled the sleepy voice.

"Oh, c'mon J.J., don't even tell me you were asleep
already," teased Carla.

"Shit, Carla, what the hell time is it?" responded a now
more awake J.J. Jackson, reporter for the Maryland Sun

"It's nighttime," she replied quickly, "Now listen to me! 
I need to know the scoop on some DC fibbies."

"Carla, that's not my beat," she whined, "I've got to get
some sleep."

"Yeah, yeah, I know, but listen, I gotta feeling you'll
know the one I'm talking about," she pleaded.

"Carla," she warned in a pseudo-annoyed tone.  She never
could stay angry with Carla Pulowski, her best friend since
the sixth grade and co-captain of the cheerleading squad at
Allegheny High.  When Carla decided to stay in Allegheny
and Janie Jackson left for college at American University,
they both thought their friendship would have ended. 

Instead, it thrived.

Jackson worked for a small paper in Arlington, which was
close enough to the D.C. area to get all the political
she ever needed.  At least that's the way Carla perceived
it.  Whenever something big in Washington was going down,
J.J. knew to expect a phone call from her very own personal
upstate New York leach.

Of course, she didn't really see her that way, except
perhaps at three o'clock in the morning.  

"Who?" she asked succinctly.

"Mulder, Special Agent Fox Mulder, otherwise known as--."

"--Spooky," Jackson completed for her.

"So you do know who he is!" Carla practically squealed.

"Yeah, I know him.  In fact, I got to interview him and
Mrs. Spooky after a Maryland serial murderer was caught
because of his profiling and her forensics skills."

"You're kidding?" Carla asked amazed.

"No, really, I interviewed them."

"She's known as Mrs. Spooky?" Carla countered.

"Oh.  Yeah.  That's because they usually investigate this
paranormal shit.  The amazing thing is that their solve
rate is supposedly one of the highest in the Bureau.  Look,
I just work for a dinky little local paper, but even I know
where Mulder and Scully go, something weird is going on. 
Okay," J.J. continued, "I'll bite.  Why'd ya wanna know?"

"We've got a little boy, a 3-year-old, missing in the
forest, and guess who showed up this afternoon to add their
two cents?"

"You're kidding," she replied with a hint of awe.  "Must
be one helluva weird case for Mr. and Mrs. Spooky to be on
the job."

"That's just it, J.J.," she answered, "it seems to be a
run of the mill child wanders off and gets lost scenario. 
Well, other than the fact there're the mother of all mother
animal tracks next to the campsite where the kid was
staying with his family.  Tom thinks they're bear tracks,
but they're the wrong shape."

"Well, something's got the fibbies' attention, Carla.  If
they're involved, then it's definitely not a run of the
mill little boy lost in the woods case," informed J.J.

"That's what I wanted to hear.  I guess I'll have my work
cut out for me then," Carla said.

"Carla, listen to me.  Think before you get yourself mixed
up in this.  When these two are involved in a case, it
usually means some really weird shit is going down."

"Jane Marie Jackson, you know damn well I can take care of
myself," she retorted haughtily.

"Yeah, I know you can," J.J. appeased, but then added
softly, "under normal circumstances.  I'm telling you
Carla, Mulder and Scully never involve themselves in the
mundane."  When she heard her friend sigh in response, she
knew she wasn't going to convince Carla otherwise.  So,
with a heavy sigh of her own, she said, "Just be careful,
kiddo, okay?"

When the alarm rang, Tom tried his best to muffle the
noise with a pillow over his head and a plea to his lover
to 'hit the damn snooze.'  Unfortunately, his pleas were
being ignored, and he finally had to come up for air to do
it himself.

As he reached over across the bed, he realized he was
lying in bed alone, and apparently it was for quite some
time, as the sheets were cold.  He turned the alarm off and
sat up in bed.  Tom scanned the room to look for signs
Carla was nearby, but any and all proof of her presence
last night had vanished.  

He noted her clothes were gone as well as her own personal
security blanket, the laptop.  Tom checked the time once
more and realized since it was only 6 a.m. now, Carla must
have left a whole lot earlier.  The only things he couldn't
figure out were where and why. 

He got out of bed, went into the bathroom to take a leak,
and found his first clue as to what the hell was going on
with his girlfriend.  There were some notes scribbled on
toilet paper.  "The woman doesn't know when the hell to
quit," he muttered aloud.  

"Spooky.  Mr. and Mrs. Spooky."  He shook his head and
tried to figure out what the hell it meant, but he didn't
have a clue.  The only thing he did know was that it left
him with a bad feeling.

A real bad feeling.

Act II

Allegheny National Forest 6:15 a.m.

Scully pulled the backpack out of the trunk of the car and
tossed it to her partner.

"Hey, how come I get the one with the tent?" he asked,
with a devilish twinkle in his eye.  "I thought this was
the new millennium, where men were to be cherished and put
on pedestals."

She tried to hold back the smirk that threatened to break
out on her face.  "I do put you on a pedestal, Mulder.  But
I want you to feel 'manly.'"

He grinned at that.  "Oh, if this is for my ego's benefit,
then I guess I can't complain."  He checked his own holster
and ankle holster.

"You still think this might be a bear?" Scully asked as
she tightened the straps on her own backpack, which hung
heavy with provisions.

"I don't know what it was, Scully, but I'm not going into
any forest without a couple of extra clips and a box of
waterproof matches," he said then grinned at her with an
added wink.

She sighed and dug a small map out of her back pocket.  He
watched her turning it around, trying to orient it to their
location of the parking lot when he finally couldn't stand
it any longer.  

He reached into one of the pockets of his jacket and
pulled out a small electronic device with a gray green
screen.  He handed it to her with both hands as if it were
of great importance.

"What's this?" she asked, looking at the device

"A pocket GPS.  The guys got it for me for my birthday."

"I don't remember you mentioning that they bought you a
GPS device, Mulder," Scully replied with a raised eyebrow.

"They don't know they gave it to me, yet.  You know how
bad Frohike is about taking inventory," he answered with
another grin.

"You seem to be in a good mood today, Mulder."

"Why not?  The missing child was returned to his family
yesterday, the worse thing wrong with him was a tear in his
Blue's Clues overalls.  We're just trying to figure out
what happened.  Why shouldn't I be in a good mood?"

"The fact that the mother called us not two hours after
her son was returned and claimed that the boy was not her
son doesn't bother you at all?" she asked sullenly as she
booted up the GPS and used it with the map to determine
their location.

"Scully, the woman has been through hell the last couple
of days.  The kid is a toddler, sure he's probably acting
out now that he's back home.  This was a traumatic
experience.  I'm not discounting that.  But it's nothing a
couple of counseling sessions won't overcome.  And besides,
Scully, she was a bit of an interview hog," he added.

His partner turned on him, outrage on her face.  "Are you
implying that she's doing this because of the publicity? 
Fox Mulder, of all the inconsiderate, insensitive,
absolutely unimaginable . . ."

Mulder realized immediately that he'd said the wrong
thing.  "Scully, calm down.  I mean, I don't think she's
the type to make a guest shot on Springer, but face it. 
The press was all over her when she stood outside the
hospital and announced that the baby in her husband's arms
was not her child."

"She was hysterical!  She had to be sedated, Mulder!"

"You believe her," he said, hands on his hips.

Scully stared off to the treetops, squaring her jaw. 
Finally, when she thought she was calm enough to speak
without ripping her partner's head off, she looked at him. 
"She is the boy's mother.  A mother would know her own

Mulder closed his eyes when he figured out exactly what
she was saying, and what he had done.  Of course a mother
would know her own child.  Hadn't Scully known Emily was
hers, even before she had any proof, any evidence to
support that knowledge?  And he was as much as questioning
how that could happen.  He knew he had major fences to mend
and fast.

"Scully," he said gently.  "I'm not really doubting her. 
I'm just saying that the suggestion that her son was
'exchanged' with a 'changeling' is a little far fetched. 
She could be experiencing some serious psychological
effects of the disappearance.  It's not unheard of.  She
could be feeling guilty that the boy wandered off to begin
with.  And the kid seems perfectly healthy.  I mean, the
father suspects nothing."

"So you're saying we just pack up, go home, ignore the
mother's charges and close the case?" she asked, now
putting her hands on her hips.  She had that tilt to her
head.  She was thinking about where she could put the
bullet so that blood didn't splatter on her white parka
with the fake fur trim, he could tell by just looking at

He was trying to mend the fence and the tear just kept
getting wider.  What was he doing wrong?  Oh, he
remembered.  He was still talking.  That had to be it!

"I'm not saying any such thing.  We're in the woods,
Scully.  Let's take a walk.  Lead on, MacDuff!"

They searched the camping area for a few minutes before
heading out into the meadow where the prints were found. 
Scully knelt down and poked at the footprint with one
gloved finger.  Slowly, she rose and shielded her eyes with
her hand as she stared into the woods.

"The prints end here, but would indicate they headed into
that stand of oak over there."

"That's an oak tree?" Mulder asked, then shrugged and
grinned boyishly at her raised eyebrow.  "Well, let's head
that way."

Scully stood still even though her partner was already
making his way toward the bare oak trees.  When he finally
noticed she hadn't moved he turned and then came back
toward her.

"Scully?  What did I do now?  I'm walking, I'm not
talking, what?"

Scully was shaking her head, her lips pursed.  

"Scully, cut me some slack, huh?  I know I can be an
insensitive slob . . ."

"All true, but not what's the problem," Scully said, her
forehead crinkling in concentration.  "Aunt Millie said
trolls were masters of mischief.  I doubt sincerely they
would leave a trail to follow."

Mulder bit his lower lip.  "Trolls again," he muttered,
but glanced up quickly, afraid his partner would have
overheard.  He was in enough trouble already.  "OK, then
what do we do?  Go the opposite direction?"

She took that under consideration for a moment, then shook
her head.  "No, they'd think of that."

Mulder rolled his eyes in exasperation, but kept quiet.

Suddenly, her expression brightened.  "We go this way,"
she said firmly and started off in a direction
perpendicular to the trees and to the left.

Mulder sighed, shifted the pack on his back until the tent
pole no longer dug into his right kidney, and started off
after her.

5:45 p.m.

The sun had decided it had spent enough time out in the
open and was currently hiding behind very dark and heavy
clouds.  The wind had picked up and now was blowing the
fake fur trim of Scully's coat into her eyes with annoying

"Scully, I think the temperature is dropping," Mulder
commented, the first words he'd spoken since they'd stopped
for lunch.  In complete innocence, he'd made a casual
reference to 'goat's milk cheese' on his sandwich and she
had refused to speak to him for the ensuing three hours.

"I suppose you want to go back," she growled, stopping
long enough to glare back at him where he stood near a
towering pine.

He sighed again, something he'd been doing all day long.
"I'm not saying that, Scully.  And would you please try to
be less argumentative?  I'm just saying, maybe we should
look for some shelter.  It's getting dark, there's a storm
coming up and we're too far back in the woods to get all
the way to the car.  I'm just saying let's hole up here

She blinked and sighed herself.  Why was she so short-
tempered?  Surely not because they were on opposite sides. 
That was the norm, not the exception.  Was it because this
time she wanted him to believe her outlandish theory
instead of the other way around?  She couldn't be positive
of anything.  Even the old stories that Aunt Millie had
spun by the dinner table during their stay with her had
seemed unbelievable at the time.  

It was only months later, when Missy woke her up with a
nightmare and the two girls lay on their beds, shivering in
the cold winter night that the whole story had been
revealed.  In the cold and the dark, with the branches of
the maple tree scratching a rhythm against the roof, trolls
and all they entailed had seemed more real than her cotton
sheets and wool blankets that she huddled under for
protection.  Even now, standing in the middle of a forest
with an impending storm, she couldn't help feeling like
they were being watched.

"OK, we set up camp," she said, struggling to keep any
trace of animosity out of her voice.  She wasn't mad at
Mulder.  He wasn't doing anything that he didn't usually
do.  As a matter of fact, she'd noticed his silence during
the long afternoon.  She knew he was trying to keep from
getting on her last raw nerve and she smiled inwardly.  

An attentive and considerate Mulder.  Would wonders never
cease?  But she berated herself for such thinking.  Mulder
was frequently surprising her with his tenderness and his
devotion to her.  She needed to focus on those moments more
often, instead of all the times she was ready to fill him
full of lead.

"There's a group of smaller pines over there.  We could
use them as a windbreak.  I'll get the tent out if you'll
sweep the area.  I hate waking up with branches in my back."

Scully nodded and set about her task.  In a little under a
half an hour, the tent was up.  Just as the first raindrops
started to fall.  They quickly moved into the tent, a three-
man dome and started setting up their sleeping bags.

"Hey, Scully.  It's raining.  We have sleeping bags,"
Mulder said with a suggestive leer and she couldn't help
but laugh.

"No, Mulder.  It doesn't count," she replied, digging into
her pack and coming up with some plastic-wrapped sandwiches
and a thermos of coffee. "Coffee's still warm.  Want some?"

"I'm freezing.  Sure, hit me," Mulder said, holding out
his collapsible cup from his own pack.  "I didn't mean that
literally," he added.  

She could tell he was still treading lightly around her. 
"Mulder, I'm not mad at you," she told him firmly.

"But I've said some pretty stupid things today, Scully.  I
mean doubting Mrs. Lempke and . . . well, bringing up stuff
that should be left alone . . ."

"Mulder," she said, glaring at him.

"Yeah, Scully?" he answered hesitantly.

"I'm forgiving you.  Don't blow it."

"Sorry.  Right.  Forgiveness accepted."  He smiled that
smile which never failed to melt her heart and dug in his
pack a little farther.  "Hey, the flashlights don't get hot
enough to roast marshmallows, but we can still eat the
Hershey bars," he said as he produced two large brown and
silver wrapped bars with a flourish. 

"Mulder, I just remembered why I always manage to forgive
you," Scully said with a smile as she gratefully accepted
one of the bars.

The storm raged around them, but the trees did their job
and kept the wind from taking the tent away. After a while,
the early morning and the long walk started to take their
toll on both agents.  By mutual agreement, the flashlights
were extinguished and they snuggled into their respective
sleeping bags to fall almost immediately asleep.

Only to be awoken hours later by an ear-shattering scream.

Scully immediately grabbed for her light and shone it
toward her partner, who was mimicking her actions.  

"That wasn't you?" they both asked in unison when another
piercing howl tore through the night.

"Mulder, how could it be me?" she demanded, but he shut
her up with a hand in the air.  "It was outside the tent,"
she whispered, but he wasn't listening to her.  He was
pulling on his boots and coat.

"Mulder, what are you doing?" she hissed in lowered tones.

"I'm going to find out who's out there," he replied,
clipping his holster to his hip and checking his ankle

"I'm coming with you," she said evenly, pulling on her

"Good.  I couldn't figure out a 'manly' way to ask," he
replied with a grin as he unzipped the tent and made his
way out the opening.

The rain had stopped but it was a moonless night.  Their
flashlights barely made a dent in the gloom of the
overhanging trees, still dripping with water.  With a nod
of his head, he directed them just outside and to the right
of the tent.  She followed, shining the light to the sides
while he shone his directly in front.  After a few feet,
his flashlight went out.

"Goddamnit!" he muttered.  She reached over and started
to hand him her light when her pant leg got caught on a
branch and she had to stop to tug it free.

Mulder kept walking in the same direction he'd been
headed.  "Mulder, wait up.  Wait till I can get some light-

The splash surprised both of them, Mulder more so than
Scully.  One minute he'd been walking on solid ground, the
next minute he was over the side of a bank and into a
stream running rapidly with freshly melted ice and cold

"Mulder!" Scully yelled and finally got her pants leg free.
She shone the light in front of her and had no trouble
seeing that they had strayed right next to a small stream,
now flooded with the rains.  Mulder had slipped off the
bank in the darkness and was now floundering to pull
himself up out of the water, using a tree root for

She dropped the flashlight to the ground, illuminating the
air directly above where Mulder was splashing and casting
him in shadows.

"Mulder, grab my arm," she called to him.

"No way, Scully.  I'll pull you in," he warned.

"Mulder, just take my damned arm," she ordered and this
time he grabbed on and she was able to leverage them both
up and Mulder onto the bank where he lay on his back,
gasping and sputtering from the cold and the wet.

"You're soaked," she observed.

Even in the dim light of the flashlight she could make out
his look of total derision.  "Come on, we have to get you
back to the tent."

"Sc-sc-scully, one word about hy-hy-hyp-pothermia and I'm
st-st-stuff-ing you in my sl-sl-sleeping bag!" he
stuttered.  "In p-p-pieces!"

Scully ignored him and wrapped her arm around him as they
walked both to steady him because of his now constant
shivering, and to try and provide some warmth.  After a few
minutes, she knew something was wrong.

"Mulder, where's the tent?" she asked, when they made
their way back to the little stand of trees that has served
as their windbreak.

"Mayb-b-be we g-g-ot turned ar-r-round," he suggested, his
voice shaking so badly she could barely make out what he
was saying.

"No, I remember those trees.  And that big maple over
there," she assured him, shining her light up toward the
trees.  "And look, there's the indentation on the ground."

Sure enough, the grass, though winter weary, was flattened
in the shape of the bottom of their tent.

"So where . . ."

"Sc-sc-scully.  Shine th-th-that light up-" a spasm of
shivers stopped him from speaking but he was able to wave
his hand in the general direction of above their heads.  

Their tent fluttered in the light breeze, caught in the
branches of a tall oak, about fifty feet off the ground.

"Then where are our packs and sleeping bags?" Scully
demanded and let go of Mulder, who dropped to the ground
like a frozen sack of peas.

"Ohmigod," she exclaimed as she found items of their
belongings scattered among the undergrowth and hanging from
the tree limbs.  Most of Mulder's clothing appeared to be
hanging higher than either of them could reach.  One pair
of gray boxers teased her about thirty feet from the ground.

About fifteen minutes later, she managed to retrieve one
sleeping bag and her own sweat suit.  She quickly spread
out the sleeping bag and pointed to it.  Mulder stared at
it forlornly.

"Strip and get in there.  Now!"

"Honey, I have a headache," he whispered hoarsely.

"Mulder, so help me God, if you don't get out of those wet
clothes and get in that sleeping bag, I will take your own
gun and shoot you where you sit!"

"They're both wet.  Probably won't fire," he whispered
back.  Now, she was getting seriously worried.  He'd
stopped shivering and appeared lethargic and sleepy.  Even
in her own warm coat she could tell the temperature hovered
near the freezing mark, maybe below.

"Mulder, c'mon, I'll help you," she told him, changing her
tone to one of calm reassurance.  If he were slipping into
shock, screaming at him would do no good.  She struggled
with him, noting with concern that he was attempting to
help, but weak as a kitten and really no help at all. 
Finally, she had him tucked in the sleeping bag.

"You've been waiting three years to get back at me," he
whispered in her ear after she'd donned her extra clothing
and pulled him into her lap with her parka covering them

It took her a minute to understand what he was saying. 
She had vague recollections of mere seconds of
consciousness on the ice flow in Antarctica.  One of the
nurses at McMurdo Station had confided in her that it was
quite a shock to the hospital staff when she was found nude
under the oversized ski pants and coat she was sporting
when she'd been rescued.  

Equally puzzling was her partner's condition of no coat or
protective outerwear and no socks, just boots on his feet. 
Scully had refused to give an explanation that the nurse
would accept.

"Just don't quit breathing on me, Mulder, and we'll be
fine," she told him as she hugged him close.  Another nice
night, camping out in the forest, she told herself with
sarcastic disgust.  "And don't expect me to sing, this

"I learned my lesson on that one," he whispered just
before his breathing evened out and he let out a soft snore.

Scully woke up with a sore butt and an armful of partner. 
It might have been a pleasant experience, if the sounds
that greeted her had been the birds chirping or even the
traffic outside her bedroom window.  Instead, it was the
very labored breathing of her partner, who had grown much
warmer during the night.  

Tentatively, she put her hand against his forehead.  No,
warm was the wrong word.  Hot.  His forehead was definitely
hot.  Scully cursed their luck under her breath and tried
to figure out how she was going to get him back to
civilization.  And that's when she heard the other noise. 
It sounded like someone snoring.

She looked down at her partner.  No, his breathing was
labored, but this snore was not from him.  It was farther
away and seemed to be coming from another stand of trees
not far from where they were sitting.  

Scully looked around at the tattered remains of their
campsite and suddenly saw red.  Someone had been following
them, that same someone had very likely trashed their
belongings and that someone was unlucky enough to still be
in the vicinity.  Gently laying Mulder on the ground, she
checked her weapon and got up to do a little reconnaissance.


6:15 a.m.

"Sonofabitch!  What the hell have you done?"

Carla Pulowski awoke with a violent start and found
herself looking down the barrel of a Smith and Wesson 9-mm.

"Jesus H. Christ, Agent Scully, put that damn gun down!
You wanna kill somebody?"

Scully hesitated just long enough to give Carla pause to
think that perhaps the federal agent was angry enough to do
just that.  

"C'mon, Agent, put that thing away.  I'm not going
anywhere," the reporter pleaded mildly.  

Scully lowered the weapon, but she did not put it away. 


"Talk.  What the hell kind of shit did you pull on us last
night?  Do you realize because of your stupid antics to
*make* a story, Mulder's probably developed pneumonia?"
informed Scully.

"Look," Pulowski began, "I didn't do anything to give
Agent Mulder pneumonia.  I didn't do anything more than
follow you guys around.  I wanna know what happened to that
little boy, too, you know."

"Bullshit," Scully retorted.  "That's bullshit and you
know it!  You were the cause for our belongings finding
their way up in the damn trees.  Our tent was destroyed by
you, all because you wanted to break the big story!  Damn
you, Pulowski, you really screwed us over!"

"For crying out loud, I didn't do anything!  I told you; I
just followed you.  I followed and saw you get your pants
caught in the damn tree limbs.  I heard the splash the same
time you did when Agent Mulder fell into that melting
spring.  I heard him say that he didn't want to pull you
in, and I heard you basically tell him to cut the crap and
you pulled him out.

"I followed you back to the site, and I watched you
practically carry your partner back there. "

Scully relaxed her shooting arm totally and then put the
gun back in her holster.  "Damn it, Pulowski, if you were
right behind us during the entire walk back, why the hell
didn't you offer to help.  My partner was really hurting."

"Because I didn't want to become part of the story.  Look
I really didn't have anything to do with it.  I saw the
disarray the same time you did.  I didn't have anything to
do with it, Agent Scully.  Not a damn thing, but I want to
know as much as you do who the hell did that to your site,"
Pulowski concluded.

"Not who, what," Scully muttered under her breath.

"Excuse me?" 

"Nothing," Scully replied quickly.

"Agent Scully, assuming you believe that I did not wreck
your campsite last night, just who do you think did?" 

The blood curdling screams cut off any attempt on Scully's
attempt to answer.  Without hesitation, both women ran
quickly back to the agents' campsite.  Scully looked over
to where their sleeping bag was, and discovered it to be
missing.  There was no sight of Mulder, anywhere.

"I have to go find my partner."

"Okay, let me gather my gear, and we'll get going,"
responded Pulowski.


"No?  Whadda ya mean, no?" asked the incredulous reporter.
"Agent Scully, this is a big story and I'm not about to
lose it."

"Ms. Pulowski, please.  I have no idea who," and after a
moment's hesitation she added, "or what, has taken my
partner.  All I know is the man was on the verge of
developing full-blown pneumonia.  He was in no condition to
travel, and if I hadn't discovered you here, I would have
gone off on my own to find help.  He couldn't breathe while
at full rest, much less walk and breathe at the same time.

"I've got to go find him as soon as possible.  But I need
backup.  Ms. Pulowski, Carla, please.  I need you to go
find the sheriff as quickly as possible so they can notify
the EMS.  Please, Carla.  My partner needs your help.  I
need your help," repeated Scully in a small, but forceful

Carla Pulowski knew she was probably walking away from the
biggest story of her career, and it was all because Mrs.
Spooky pleaded for her help.  The reporter nodded her head
slightly and gathered back up her supplies.  She marveled
as she started back to the original campsite where all the
media and spectators were still keeping vigil.

Pulowski wondered just when the hell had she'd become an
adult and learned how to behave maturely.  It was certainly
a new feeling; and one that she prayed didn't turn around
and bite her in the ass later on.

7:15 a.m.

Mulder woke up and immediately decided it was the wrong
thing to do.  His chest hurt, his head hurt and he felt
like at any minute, he was going to start tossing his
cookies.  But he hadn't had any cookies, not since the
night before when he'd had the sandwich and coffee with
Scully.  The memory of the food was enough to turn his
stomach all the way over and he rolled to his hands and
knees as the retching took control of his body.

It took a long time for it to be over, or so it seemed. 
When he could finally look around, Mulder realized a very
vital piece of information.  He was alone.  Scully was no
where to be found.

He looked up at the trees, seeing his clothing flapping in
the light morning breeze.  Then he saw the shredded remains
of their tent, also making an interesting flag imitation in
the nearest oak tree.  Without a second thought, he grabbed
his still damp clothing and pulled them on, shucking the
sleeping bag that had been his only protection against the
chill morning air.  A wave of dizziness washed over him as
he stood, but one thought steadied him.  He had to find

He heard a scream and headed in that direction.

The scream had faded and he had no way to know where it
had come from.  He was just wandering, not really knowing
where he was going.  He looked at the path ahead of him for
some sign that Scully had taken that route, but all he
could see was a blurry vision of dancing dried leaves and
dead stalks of weeds.  He wiped the sweat off his forehead
as it threatened to drip into his eyes.  

He hadn't gone far when he saw the entrance to a cave.  It
was in the side of a hill, hidden almost by dead bushes and
a fallen pine tree.  For some reason known only to his
fevered mind, Mulder was convinced he would find his
partner somewhere in that cave.  Without a second thought,
he scrambled over the dried foliage and entered its

7:35 a.m.

The cave was dark, but not as cold as the wind outside. 
Mulder's fever had been kept at bay with the strong morning
breeze, but in the still air of the cave, it seemed to
smother him.  He pulled at his damp coat, drawing it off
his arms and dropping it to the floor of the cave.

There was a light toward the back of the cave and Mulder
headed in that direction, stumbling on stalagmite and
banging his head on stalactites from the low ceiling. 
Moisture from the ceiling of the cave dripped on his head
and mingled with the sweat on his face and ran down to
sting his eyes.  The light wavered, but he kept moving
closer.  Now he could hear noises, grunts and growls and
animal sounds from beyond a narrow opening in the room of
the cave.  Suddenly, a distinctly human voice echoed off
the rock walls.

"I wanna 'nana!"

Mulder may not have understood the significance of that
statement, but he definitely recognized the voice as that
of a small child, more than likely a small missing boy by
the name of Scotty Lempke.  He crouched down on his hands
and knees to get a better look into the opening and almost
fell forward in astonishment at the sight before him.

It looked like a small, one room house.  A table set
against the far wall, crude dishes and eating utensils in
place around it.  A small cooking fire was in an
indentation in the stone wall, almost like a fireplace or
hearth.  No smoke filled the room, it disappeared up a
crack in the wall.

Other pieces of furniture, fashioned from split logs and
rough-hewn tree stumps were arranged around the room and
mats of straw were situated along another wall.  Four mats,
from what Mulder could see in the dim light of the

That was incredible enough, but what caught Mulder's eye
and caused his breath to still in his lungs was the
creatures in the room.  Two of them, about five feet in
height, covered in long fur.  Their faces were turned away
from the opening he was looking through, but in profile,
Mulder could see noses that would give his own a run for
its money.  Upon closer inspection, the paws, or hands of
the creatures were graced with three fingers and an
opposable thumb.  The feet had three toes.

"Trolls!" Mulder hissed and it was just enough to disturb
the phlegm in his throat and lungs.  He immediately started
to cough.  The taller of the two creatures spun on its heel
and stormed toward the opening, grabbing Mulder by his
shirt collar and dragging him in the room.

"Graahhhhh!" growled the creature.  Mulder couldn't stop
coughing long enough to protect himself and the creature
took full advantage of the situation.  It tossed the agent
like so much laundry on to one of the straw mats and then
towered over him.  "Grahhhh!" it reiterated.

"He wants to know who you are," came a soft voice and
Mulder searched the room for the source.  A girl, probably
no more than eight or nine, stood next to the smaller of
the two creatures and held a young boy by the hand.  The
little boy was wide-eyed and trembling, but the little girl
showed no fear, whatsoever.

"I'm Special Agent Fox Mulder with the FBI," came the
reply, and not quite as confident as Mulder would have
liked.  "I'm seeking the whereabouts of Scotty Lempke."

At the sound of his name, the little boy grinned.  "Scott-
ie, Scott-ie," he sang and clapped.  "Me Scott-ie!" he
added gleefully.  The little girl hushed him.

The smaller creature placed a protective hand on the
Scotty's shoulder and growled something to the girl.  She
nodded and turned to Mulder.

"Why do you want him?  He's safe here."

"His parents are worried about him," Mulder stated,
looking first at the child and then at the two creatures. 
"His mother wants him home."

There was grumbling and growling from both creatures at
once and the little girl looked anxiously from one to
another.  At first, Mulder assumed she was frightened of
their anger, but then she growled in reply to some noise
they made and they almost seemed to be conferring.  Finally
she smiled at them and turned to Mulder again.

"They weren't very good parents.  They left him wandering
in the woods.  He could have been eaten by the bears.  We
are taking good care of him.  He likes it here.  We'll keep

Mulder dropped his jaw in utter astonishment.  "It doesn't
work that way! You can't just 'take' a child away from his

"Humans do it every day," the little girl answered with
narrowed eyes.  "Even when the children don't want to go."

Mulder wasn't real sure what she was talking about, but
was wise enough to realize he was setting his foot on a
landmine.  "He's only 2.  How can he know where he wants
to go?"

The little girl looked down at Scotty and smiled.  She
grumbled a few noises and the tiny boy grinned at here. 
Still smiling, he looked directly at Mulder.  "Wanna stay! 
Scotty stay here!"  

Mulder knew when he was fighting a losing battle.  He
looked at the smaller of the two creatures, the one he now
assumed to be female, if this was indeed a family unit. 
"What would you do if a human came and took your child?" he
asked her/it.

The little girl frowned, but translated Mulder's words
into growls.  The creature shied back, clutching Scotty to
her.  She growled loudly toward Mulder and shook her fist.

"Well, that's exactly how his mother feels," Mulder
assured her, not giving the little girl a chance to
translate.  "And what about your child?  The one you left
in this one's place?"

The small creature looked over at the larger one and then
lifted her head and howled.  The larger creature seemed to
be shaking his head and grumbling toward the floor.

"You can't keep both of them," the little girl explained.

"I think this is a pretty bad system, if you ask me,"
Mulder said to the smaller creature.  "Do you really want
your child raised by a species who can't be trusted to
watch their children?"

As the little girl translated, obviously with some
reluctance, the small creature's howling grew louder and
more plaintive.  The larger creature covered his ears.  The
little girl just stood there and glared at Mulder.

"I think we should exchange them back.  Everyone gets what
they started with," Mulder suggested.  The little girl said
nothing.  Mulder looked at her and restated his comment. 
"We put things back the way they are.  Tell them.  Tell
them what I just said."

"I like Scotty," she said defiantly.

Mulder felt that foot on the landmine getting heavier and
heavier.  "But he doesn't belong here," he reasoned.

"Neither did I, at first," she told him, crossing her arms
over her small body.  "And I won't go back!"

Now it was starting to come to Mulder, the understanding
that had been eluding him since he first set foot in the
cave.  The little girl was human, he was sure of that. 
She'd had a home, a family.  But for some reason he didn't
know, other humans had taken her from that home, not
trolls.  And somehow, she ended up here, with these 
creatures.  It was obvious that she'd found a home here.

But that wasn't the case with Scotty.  Scotty had to go
back to his real family.

"Look, I really think the best thing for everyone is to
just put the boy back with his family and for you to take
your, uh, child back with you.  I know they let him wander
off, but it was an accident," Mulder assured them.

At the little girl's translation, the larger creature let
out a loud roar that told Mulder exactly what they thought
of such "accidents."  But Mulder could sense the smaller
creature was softening up to the idea.  

Grumblings and growlings went back and forth for several
minutes.  The little girl made no attempt to translate, it
was not for Mulder's ears apparently.  Scotty gave up any
pretense of following the ranting of the adults, including
Mulder, and went off to forage around the cooking fire,
coming back with an apple in his chubby little fist. 
Finally, the smaller creature wiped at its eye with one
furry hand and nodded to the other creature.  

Mulder was hauled up by his collar and dragged through the
cave, knocked and bumped countless times before he was
thrown several feet through the air to land in a heap away
from the mouth of the cave.

7:30 a.m.

Scully stopped and worked on controlling her breathing. 
If she were to be of any help to Mulder, she had to get
herself calmed down and make a plan.  That's what Scully
did best.  Make a plan.

She walked back to the site where she and Mulder had
slept.   She took an extra moment or two and surveyed the
area.  There had to be a clue somewhere.  She bent down
next to the sleeping bag she had wrapped Mulder up in last

Footprints.  Mulder's?  No, there were others.  Strange
footprints, similar to the ones that were by the Lempke's
campsite, but smaller.  Scully imagined that just as Scotty
was led away from his campsite, somehow, so was Mulder.  

"Oh, Mulder, what have you gotten yourself into now?" she
whispered to the wind.

7:55 a.m.

Carla's legs ached as she pushed herself through the
forest brush that tried to impede her progress.  She knew
she had to find Tom, though in truth she felt some
trepidation at seeing him.  He was not going to be happy
that she'd ditched him, but Carla figured that if they were
going to have a future together he was going to have to get
used to it.  She was a reporter and the story always came

Except this time.

Why except this time?

Carla tried to figure out what it was about Agents Scully
and Mulder that caused her to throw away possibly the
biggest story of her career.  She couldn't put her finger
on it, only that Mulder was most likely in some kind of
trouble and it was up to her and his partner to help him.

As she moved on Carla thought she heard something, given
the nature of the story she'd been following, it made her
just a bit nervous.  However, when she heard shouts of 
"Springer, where the hell does the damn trail lead?" the
reporter let out a sigh of relief.

"Tom!  Tom, over here!" Carla called out.  Suddenly she
felt herself surrounded by a multitude of people, including
the entire Lempke family.

"Where the hell have you been, Pulowski?" demanded Tom.

"I'm fine, Tom," she responded, knowing full well that was
the intent of the tirade.  That was confirmed when she saw
him let out a sigh and his face relaxed somewhat.  "But I
think Agent Mulder is in trouble," she added.

"Agent Mulder?  Damn fool!  And what about his partner,
damn fool number two?  Where the hell are they, Carla?" he
asked more annoyed than ever, having been reminded of the
reason he was stuck out in the damp, cold, raw forest at
the crack of dawn.

"They'd set up camp about two, maybe three miles from
here.  Then he fell in a stream, but their campsite was
wrecked--" she started to explain.

"--Wrecked?  By who?" asked Deputy Springer.

"More like, by what, Jerry," she answered.  "I can only
imagine what caused the havoc back there.  Everything was
strewn about and mostly hanging from tree limb.  High up in
the trees, I might add.  I don't think an ordinary 'who'
could have done that kind of damage."

"Yeah, right," interjected Tom, "so why aren't they with

"Agent Mulder is missing."

"Oh, shit!" shouted Tom.  "Damn it! I want this case to be
over, do you hear me?''  Tom Brennan was a picture of
frustration.  He looked quickly over at the Lempke family
who had insisted upon following the sheriff and his men
into the forest to search for the missing people, as well
hopefully find the child they claim was truly their own.

As much as Brennan tried to talk them out of it, the
entire family decided it was their right to traipse into
the woods right along the law enforcement officers.  

"Carla, where have you been?  And what the hell are you
running from?" he asked angrily.

"I'm sorry, Tom.  I woke up this morning to find Agent
Scully's gun pointed directly between my eyes--"

"What?" Tom practically squeaked.  He may have been
ticked off with Carla for ditching him, but he certainly
didn't want to hear she was in harm's way at the hands of a
damn fool fibbie.

"Tom, forget it.  She thought I was the reason behind
their site being messed up, and she was worried about Agent
Mulder being sick and all."


"Tom, c'mon," Carla responded exasperated, "I'll explain
on the way.  Scully and Mulder need our help.  Let's just
go already."

Tom tried to get more of an explanation out of his secret
love, but she would have none of it and took him by the
hand to lead him and the rest of the search party to where
Carla had last seen both agents.  

It pissed Tom Brennan off to no end.  But not half as much
as when Mr. Lempke poked him in the shoulder and admitted
sheepishly, that little Scotty had already gone running off
down the path in the same direction Carla had just come.

7:40 a.m.

Scully followed the footprints all the way down a beaten
path into rocky area.  She found herself staring at a
cavern opening.  She stooped down and walked inside all the
while listening intently for any signs of life.  Backing
away from the cavern, she looked to the surrounding
hillside.  All appeared silent, but she tentatively called
out her partner's name.  When she heard no answer, she
stepped outside again and tried calling to him again.

"Mulder?  Mulder, answer me!" she called a little more

"Boo-boo," called out a young voice that seemed to be
coming from behind a battered yew bush.  

"Scotty?" responded Scully hopefully. 

"Me Scotty!" the child shouted back happily.

"Where are you, sweetheart?"

"Scotty here.  Him gots boo-boo," said the rather forlorn
little voice.

"Keep talking to me, Scotty, so I can find you," Scully

The child complied and the anxious agent was able to find
the toddler and her partner in a matter of seconds.  When
she came upon them, her heart did a flip at the picture
before her.

Little Scotty Lempke sat by her partner's prone body, and
patted the injured man's hand in an attempt to offer some
comfort.  Scully moved in a quick, but fluid motion to her
partner, as she didn't want to startle the child.

"Hi, Scotty," she said with a smile.  "Thank you for
watching my friend."

"Boo-boos," the toddler announced, pointing to various
bruises already forming on Mulder's cheek.

"Yes, I see," she replied, and she really did see. 
Mulder's forehead had a nice little gash that was bleeding
profusely.  It didn't cause her all that much concern, as
Scully knew head wounds tended to bleed more than others.

What did cause her to worry was his glistening skin, moist
from fever, as well as the barking cough that he emitted
every few seconds.  

Not to mention the slightly odd angle his shoulder
appeared to be in.  

"Mulder, talk to me partner," she urged.

He opened his eyes briefly, saw it was his partner, and
managed something akin to a grin.  "Hey Scully, you were
right," he rasped out.

"What was I right about, Mulder?"

"The trolls.  There be trolls in these here woods, Scully.
You were right," he rasped out between the hacking coughs.

"Oh, Mulder," she sighed as she wiped his perspiring face,
"you've got a case of bronchitis if ever I've seen one. 
It's the fever, Mulder.  Scotty is here, safe and sound."

"I'm tellin' you, Scully, I saw trolls!  I talked to 'em. 
Well, not exactly talked, they growled and I listened, but
the little girl, she understood what they said.  They were
just taking care of him Scully, but I convinced 'em to
bring him back."  He would have continued but wracking
coughs were making it difficult to speak.

"Mulder, we'll deal with all this later.  Right now, we
have to get you somewhere warm.  Carla was going off to get

On cue, the entire posse, including the Lempke family,
surrounded the three.  Denise Lempke took one look at the
small child still crouched beside the fallen agent and
immediately scooped him up into her arms.

"Scotty!  Oh, Scotty, don't ever scare Mama like that
again!" she cried as tears streamed down her face.  

Tom Brennan looked around him at the scene.  Silently, he
counted heads.  Yup, he had the same number he started
with, plus two more.  He didn't care if the fibbie himself
was a changeling, as far as Brennan was concerned, the case
was now closed!


Mulder's Apartment 
Hegel Street Alexandria, VA

"I don' wanna," he complained.

"Mulder, you have to eat something, and the warmth will
make your chest feel better.  Try some, please?"

"Scully, it hurts."

"I know, you have a big boo-boo, Mulder," she teased,
borrowing a phrase from little Scotty Lempke,  "but you
need some nourishment to get better.  Now, stop giving me
an argument about this, Fox Mulder, and open your damn

"Gee, Florence Nightingale, your bedside manner leaves a
lot left to be desired."

"Oh shut up, Mulder, and open wide," she said with a smile.

She knew how uncomfortable he was, but Scully also knew
that with a little time and TLC, this too would pass.  The
shoulder separation was a mild one for a change, and though
bronchitis was a pain, it wasn't life threatening if he
took care of himself.  He was home now, and that's exactly
what he was going to do, even if she had to kill him to
make him do it.

They'd finished their report in Allegheny in record time,
mostly because Sheriff Tom Brennan wanted all paperwork
finished as soon as possible.  The lack of hard evidence of
the so-called "troll perpetrators" left the agents little
choice but to close the case with the return of the
"real" Scotty Lempke.  

Brennan hadn't argued with the parents' assertions that
the toddler found with Mulder was indeed the real Scotty. 
The fact that Denise Lempke insisted the child was wearing
a different shirt from the one that she'd put on the
changeling that morning didn't hold that much water for the
sheriff.  The purported changeling had disappeared, so
there was no hard proof that there'd ever been more than
one Scotty Lempke.

Brennan had demanded that the agents sign off on the
report his deputy wrote up and then bid them a not so fond
adieu.  He was obviously eager to get his piece of the
world back on an even keel, and Brennan felt that the
sooner he could get the fibbies on their way back to DC,
the sooner his life could get back to normal.  

And that meant he could finally take the time to give a
certain wayward reporter a piece of his mind, as well as
other parts of his body.  He'd made an important decision
that day.  

Life was too short, and it was time to bring their
relationship out into the open.  He didn't like not knowing
where Carla was, or whether or not she was safe.  Life
sometimes has a way of biting you in the ass if you're not
careful, and sometimes it does even when you're too

Tom Brennan had decided he was ready for the world to know
about him and Carla Pulowski.  Whether the world would
survive no longer mattered; the risk was well worth it.

The agents had received a warmer farewell from Carla, who
had the most lopsided smile as she said goodbye.  Scully
wasn't sure what that was all about, but for some reason
Mulder seemed to understand, though he was hard pressed to
put that understanding into words.  All he could say was
she reminded him of someone, but he wasn't sure of whom.

Of course, she'd no sooner said goodbye than she'd taken
off again, much to the alarm of Sheriff Brennan.  Both
Scully and Mulder wondered if there were other reasons that
Brennan went ballistic when he'd learned that Pulowski had
ditched them all, especially when he'd lamented, "Not
again, damn it!"

So now, as Scully fed her bedridden partner his chicken
soup and endeavored to make him all better, another partner
was traipsing about the woods looking for a clue to a
mystery unsolved.  

And just as she was about to call it a day, Carla Pulowski
looked toward the small beaten path to find two small
figures holding hands and skipping along in their slightly
awkward, plodding manner.  One fur-covered hand clutched
tightly to a smooth skinned hand of about the same size,
just a touch smaller.

"Oh, my," whispered an awestruck Pulowski, "oh, my."

The end