Special Agent Fox Mulder was in the process of filling out the paperwork for an arrest he'd just made. As the head of the FBI's task force on serial killers, he'd been called in to help with the hunt for a killer in the Seattle area.
There hadn't been much doubt of *who* the killer was: after finding Betty, Louis and Miranda Reynolds - a middle-aged couple and their adolescent daughter - slaughtered in their home, the obvious suspect had been Ronald Mikulski, Betty's 23-year-old son from a previous marriage. The young man had a history of anti-social behavior that had erupted in violence more than once before.
The challenge had been in finding him before he killed again. Due to a combination of Mulder's accurate profiling of Ronald and informed guesses as to the kind of place he might choose to hide in; a lot of pavement-pounding by the Seattle police officers and Special Agents Charles Guilbeau and Andrew Chan; and just a bit of good luck, the suspect had been found without any further loss of life.
Now he was being held in a maximum security cell and Mulder, as the officer who'd actually made the arrest, was up to his well-toned ass in paperwork.
Mulder looked up to see a police officer a few years his junior standing on the other side of his desk. The most intriguing thing about the man was the difficulty he presented in being neatly categorized as fitting into any particular ethnic group. He might have been Hispanic or American Indian or Asian American or some combination of all three, probably also with some Anglo mixed in. About the only thing Mulder could have said with a fair amount of certainty was that the man didn't have any African ancestry, but even that was by no means a sure bet.
"Yes?" Mulder replied.
"I'm Lieutenant John Kanin; I've been on leave from the department for the past few weeks."
"Do you have some history with Mikulski? Were you the arresting officer for one of his priors?"
"No, I don't know anything about this case. I wanted to consult with you on a completely different matter," Kanin replied. "You're Special Agent *Fox* Mulder, right? The one who's head of the X-Files division at the bureau?"
Mulder couldn't help the involuntary speeding up of his pulse at the word "X-Files". While he knew the work he did now was important - he'd probably saved a dozen or more lives by catching Mikulski as quickly as he had - given his choice, Mulder would have been back on the X-Files. . .with Scully at his side, of course. All Mulder said, however, was, "Well, I *was* senior agent in that division; but it's been deactivated and now I run the serial killers task force."
"You have a partner, an Agent Dana Scully. Is he one of the gentleman over there?"
Mulder chuckled and shook his head. Since 'Dana' was a gender-neutral name, it wasn't the first time someone had assumed his partner was a man. "Agent Scully is a woman; and, no, she's not here with me on this case."
"After you're finished here, there's something I'd like to talk to you about. From what I've read of your work, it fits the classic definition of an X-File."
"I told you, that division has been deactivated," Mulder replied reluctantly.
"I know," Kanin said quietly. "But you didn't tell me you aren't interested in what I have to say. Let me know when you're done. I'll buy you a beer."
A couple of hours later, when Chan and Guilbeau had gone back to the hotel to get some sleep in preparation for an early morning flight back to the East Coast, Mulder met Kanin at a local tavern. The whole place practically screamed "cop hangout", so both men felt right at home.
"What did you want to consult with me about?" Mulder asked.
"A missing person's case in which I have a very personal interest," Kanin replied.
"A family member?"
"I wanted her to be. She is - or was, I'm not sure which tense is correct - my fiancee. The name I knew her by was Ruby Wilder, but apparently her actual name was Ruby Cates."
"When did she disappear? And how long had you known her before that time?"
"She disappeared about four months ago. We'd known each other for about eight months prior to that point. We first met right around this time last year," Kanin answered.
"Do you think it's possible she was abducted by aliens?" Mulder inquired.
"I don't think aliens are involved," Kanin replied with a sigh, "but, at this point, I'm not willing to rule anything out. Actually, compared to what I'm beginning to suspect, alien abduction would probably strike most people as a saner suggestion."
"What is it you suspect?"
Kanin was quiet for a long moment, then shook his head. "No; if I can convince you to look into this, I don't want you to go into the investigation tainted by my suspicions. I'll tell you what I *know*."
"So, I'm taking it you have a lead of sorts?"
"Yes. For the first couple of months, I couldn't find a single clue. It was not only as if she'd vanished off the face of the earth, but as if she'd never walked it in the first place. I'd always been kind of vaguely aware that Ruby didn't talk much about her past. She'd told me her mother was dead and that her father had remarried and that she didn't get along with his new wife. I'd let it go at that. My own parents are dead and I don't have any siblings, so I figured Ruby and I would build our own family with minimal reliance on our histories. But even with all the resources of a big city police department at my disposal, I couldn't find any record of a Ruby Wilder with the birthdate she'd given me. So I put up flyers, designed a website. . .everything I could think of to try to find her."
"And you finally got a lead?" Mulder asked.
"A few weeks ago," Kanin confirmed. "A man called - he didn't leave his name and when I ran a trace the call turned out to originate from a pay phone at a truck stop - and said he'd picked up a hitchhiker who looked like Ruby right around the time she vanished from my life. He said he'd dropped her off at a place called Wolf Lake. I've spent the last couple of weeks there. It turns out that's where she's from and I'm convinced the clues to what's happened to her can be found there."
"What is it you want me to do, Kanin?"
"I want you to come with me to Wolf Lake, Agent Mulder. All I'm asking is that you spend, say, 72 hours investigating this case. At the end of that time, if we haven't found Ruby, I'll tell you my suspicions and you can tell me if you think I should continue an investigation along those lines or whether I should check into the nearest mental hospital."
Mulder was quiet for a long moment. Technically speaking, running off to investigate a missing persons case - even at the request of a local law enforcement officer - was far from his proscribed duties as a profiler and head of a task force dedicated to pursuing serial killers. But it wouldn't be the first time he'd strayed from his assigned duties and getting his butt chewed out by his superiors didn't worry him much. As a matter of actual fact, his record had been so stellar lately that a little side trip would probably merit no more than a bit of eye rolling from Skinner.
Professionally, there was
no problem. But he'd been looking forward to getting home to his beautiful wife
and beloved toddler daughter no later than tomorrow evening. Melissa was at such
a delightful stage, learning a new word or skill almost daily, that he hated to
be away from her even a few days longer than he absolutely had to. And Scully. .
.well, he'd *always* hated to be separated from Scully. Shit, wasn't it supposed
to only be women who suffered from these sort of conflicted emotions when it
came to choosing between challenging work assignments and extra time at home?
Still, the chance to investigate an X-File - an actual, honest-to-God X-File - again, was simply too tempting to resist. He rationalized it by telling himself that when he'd left for the Pacific Northwest, both he and Scully had assumed it would take him at least a week to find the killer. The fact that he'd accomplished that task within a couple of days meant that he had, in effect, another three days to work before he was gone any longer than she'd expected him to be away in the first place.
"You've got your 72 hours," Mulder finally said. "I'll leave for Wolf Lake with you first thing tomorrow morning. However, I'll be on a flight back to the East Coast three days later - no exceptions."
"Fair enough," Kanin replied. "I'll meet you at your hotel at 6 a.m.; that way, we can beat the traffic, be out there by the time the businesses are starting to open up for the day."
"See you then," Mulder agreed.
By late afternoon of the following day, Mulder was beginning to share Kanin's suspicions that something extremely weird was going on in Wolf Lake. The local sheriff wasn't just uncooperative with representatives of the Seattle police force and the FBI, he was downright hostile. The whole town seemed to be hiding something. Strangely enough, despite his own interest in aliens, Mulder didn't think what was going on was unearthly in a literal sense, though it quite well might be in a figurative one.
"We found this locket in the woods," Mulder was telling the sheriff. "It's identical to one Kanin says Ruby always wore. There's some sort of residue on it, looks like blood, but I don't know if it's animal or human. Could you get someone to analyze it for us?"
"We don't have anyone qualifed to do that sort of work," the sheriff replied.
"Actually, if you have microscope and laboratory I can use, I'm fully qualified to do the analysis myself," a cool voice said from just behind Mulder's shoulder.
"Scully?!" Mulder said, turning with amazement and delight to see his wife standing beside him. "What are you doing here?"
Rather than answering Mulder directly, Scully turned to John Kanin. "Lieutenant Kanin? I'm Special Agent Dana Scully, Mulder's" she paused for the briefest of moments, then said, "partner."
Kanin immediately put out a hand and said, "Pleased to meet you, Agent Scully. I was hoping you'd be able to join us on this investigation. I've read a lot about the kind of work you and Agent Mulder do and we definitely need someone who can provide us with an objective, scientific viewpoint."
"We still don't have a laboratory that's able to provide you with what you need," Sheriff Donner muttered.
"Any sort of laboratory would do," Scully replied. "Even the facilities of a high school science classroom should be sufficient."
"Come on then, let's head out to the high school," Kanin replied.
From the way Scully's blue eyes were snapping fire, Mulder had the feeling he was in trouble. He even, now that he took a moment to consider things, had a pretty good idea why. "You lead the way to the high school," Mulder told Kanin. "Scully and I will follow you."
He opened the door of the car he'd rented in Seattle and held it for Scully, then went around and climbed into the driver's seat. Mulder kept Kanin's motorcycle in sight, but directed the focus of his attention toward a conversation with his wife. "Uh, Scully, am I off base in assuming you're mad at me?"
"No, Mulder. You're right on target."
"Why?" Scully gave a huge sigh. "Mulder, somehow I think I've mentioned this before; several times, as a matter of fact. However, since it's apparently slipped your allegedly genius-level of mind, I'll remind you: I don't like being ditched."
"Scully, I didn't ditch you! We're not even working in the same division any more!"
"That's right, Mulder. You work on the serial killers task force now, don't you? Except this case isn't about a serial killer, is it? It's about a woman who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. It's about a town that seems to be hiding a dark secret. In other words, Mulder, It. Is. an. X-File. And the X-Files are supposed to be something we do together or not at all! Isn't that what we agreed on shortly after we got married? Or was that pretty speech of yours - Remember, the one that went something along the lines of "I don't want to do the X-Files without you, Scully. I don't even think I *could* do it without you." just telling me what you thought I wanted to hear? All shadow but no substance?"
Shit! Scully sounded like she was on the verge of tears now. Angry Scully, Mulder could deal with. But a hurt Scully? One who felt - albeit not completely without reason, as Mulder reluctantly admitted to himself - that her husband and betrayed a promise he'd made to her? Mulder couldn't handle that. "Okay, Scully. You're right. You're completely, absolutely, 100 percent right. This is an X-File and I shouldn't have gone chasing off to investigate it without consulting you first. You've got a right to be royally pissed off at me. I apologize. But can we save the recriminations for later? We're almost to the high school and I want to see what we can find out from the locket."
"Certainly, Mulder. I'm sure Lieutenant Kanin doesn't want to watch us bicker with each other."
"Who's going to bicker? Basically, you're going to chew my ass out and I'm going to grovel for forgiveness. But can I ask one totally unrelated question before we team up with Kanin again?"
"I guess so."
"Where's Melissa?' "She's with my mother, of course. I asked Mom if she could handle watching her overnight for a couple of days, and she didn't seem to think it would be a problem. Tara also said she'd take her for a few hours if Mom needed a bit of a break."
Mulder nodded and they pulled into the high school parking lot.
Once Scully had completed her analysis, she told Kanin and Mulder, "The residue on that pendant is a mixture of both human and animal blood. The human blood is female; I can't give you much more information than that without a sophisticated DNA workup."
"What about the other blood? Can you tell what kind of animal it came from?" Kanin inquired.
"It's canine," Scully said slowly. "Could be wolf, dog, coyote. . .again, without access to a fully-equipped crime lab, I can't give you a definitive analysis."
"Are you thinking Ruby might have been attacked by wolves?" Mulder asked Kanin. "I'm assuming, given the name of the town, that they have them in these parts."
"My thoughts are running somewhere in that vicinity," Kanin agreed. "Come on, I'll take the two of you to dinner and fill you both in on what I've found so far."
As the three law enforcement officials settled down at a table in a corner of the local diner, Kanin smiled at the teenage waitress. "Hello, Sophia. These are Agents Mulder and Scully, with the FBI."
Sophia was quiet for a moment, then she nodded. "I know. My father told me you'd called in the feds."
"Her father?" Scully inquired as soon as Sophia had handed them their menus and murmured that she'd be back in a moment.
"The sheriff," Kanin answered. "This is a small town and you'll find that everybody knows everybody else; in fact, in most cases they're related to each other in some fashion."
As Mulder and Scully ate, Kanin filled them in on what he knew. That the woman he'd known as Ruby Wilder was really Ruby Cates and she'd grown up in Wolf Lake. At first, the townspeople had been reluctant to admit any knowledge of her, but he'd eventually pieced it together. He'd even spoken with Ruby's father, stepmother and half-brother, who formed one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in town. He'd also discovered that Ruby had had a twin sister, who'd died when they were both seventeen.
"Does this jibe with what she'd told you before?" Mulder asked.
"It does and it doesn't," Kanin admitted. "I can see that, other than giving me a false last name, Ruby was pretty careful never to actually lie to me. She just sort of said things in a way to leave them open to misinterpretation. For instance, take the bit about her mother's death and her father's remarriage. The way she talked about it, she made it sound as if she was grown - or nearly so - when her stepmother entered her life. But Ruby is only 28 and her half-brother is already old enough to drive. That means she couldn't have been more than 12 when he was born, so not more than 10 or 11 when her father and stepmother married."
"She never mentioned having a brother?" Scully inquired.
Kanin shook his head. "Neither him nor her deceased twin sister. Again, she didn't actually ever *lie* about it; she just never mentioned siblings, so I assumed she didn't have any."
"This reminds me of a case Scully and I investigated several years ago, down in Arkansas," Mulder said. "A small town where they don't like outsiders. It turned out the townspeople were involved in a sort of. . .cult, I'd guess you'd call it. One where the punishment for sin was, quite literally, death. Are you thinking along similar lines? That Ruby was being punished for leaving the clan, getting romantically involved with an outsider? That maybe she wasn't just hiking in the woods and ran into a pack of hungry wolves, but more like she might have been deliberately sacrificed to them in some sort of cultic ritual?"
"That's one possibility I've considered, yes," Kanin replied.
Scully had been quiet during this discussion, but now she said, "Kanin, I don't mean to be rude, but if Mulder and I are going to look at this objectively, I need to ask you some rather personal questions."
"You said Ruby was your fiancee. Was that an official relationship? Had you bought a ring and set a date? Made any kind of annoucement?"
"No," Kanin answered. "We'd been dating for about eight months and living together for nearly half that time, but I'd only asked her to marry me a few hours before she was abducted."
"Abducted?" Scully asked, one eyebrow slightly arched.
Kanin shrugged. "I don't believe she left Seattle voluntarily. I'd prefer to believe she's been kidnapped rather than killed."
"Had the two of you had any kind of argument in the days or hours before she left?"
"Of course not!" Kanin replied. "I'd just asked her to marry me and she'd just accepted. We were deliriously happy!"
"Do you think it's possible she might have phoned someone here in Wolf Lake - her father or a friend - and told them about the engagement?" Mulder asked. "That she was abducted because she'd gone beyond merely leaving town, but was actually planning a permanent relationship with an outsider?"
"That's what I'm thinking, yes." Kanin said.
When Kanin went to the front counter to pay the bill, Scully said in a low voice, "Mulder, I think we have to be willing to consider some alternative scenarios, rather than just accept everything Kanin says at face value."
"What do you mean?" Mulder asked. "Well, we've only got his word for it that Ruby was excited about the idea of marrying him. Maybe the truth was something quite different. Maybe Ruby wanted to break up with him, but he was being difficult about it. He could be right that the people here in Wolf Lake are keeping their knowledge of her whereabouts a secret from him, but maybe, from their viewpoint, they're protecting her."
"Protecting her from what, Scully?"
"From him. Come on, Mulder, we've both been around long enough to know that not everybody with a badge is a card-carrying good guy. Maybe Kanin became obsessed and enraged at her refusal to marry him and began stalking her. Running back home - to a town where her father is a wealthy, respected man - might have been the only way she could feel safe from a man who, as he's said himself, has all the resources of a big-city police department to aid him in his search for her."
"That still doesn't explain why she lied to him about her background in the first place," Mulder pointed out.
Scully shrugged. "Maybe she was unhappy here but, once she became involved with Kanin, felt like she'd jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire."
"It's an idea," Mulder admitted. "The two of us can pay a private visit to Sheriff Donner, without Kanin tagging along, first thing in the morning."
Kanin returned and the three of them walked the few short blocks to the hotel - the only one in town - where they were all staying.
As they entered their room, Mulder said, "You're sharing with me? You've been so angry that I wasn't sure whether or not I'd merit sleeping in the same bed with you."
Scully huffed. "We're married, Mulder. Getting a separate room would have been immature and melodramatic. But don't even *think* you're going to get lucky tonight, because you're not. We'll be sleeping together only in the literal sense of the words."
"Scully, I got lucky nearly nine years ago, when you first walked into my life," Mulder said in a soft, serious tone. "Everything since that point has just been icing on the cake."
A few minutes later, as they lay beside each other in bed, Mulder said, "Scully? You know what I said earlier, about being lucky just to have you in my life?"
"Yeah?" "If you're not too tired, I want to. . .expand on that theme a little bit."
"Okay," she said, but with a marked lack of enthusiasm in her voice.
"Do you remember, a couple of years ago - about six months before we got married - how I ended up in a mental hospital, suffering from severe headaches and auditory hallucinations?"
"Do you remember I told you, afterwards, how I'd had some sort of. . .vision. . .of another life, where I chose a different path?"
"Yeah." "I don't know whether that was just a dream, or whether it was a drug-induced hallucination or whether it was some sort of hypnotic state induced by Spender Senior or what. How it came to be in my head isn't really the point. The point is, in the vision, I had everything I thought I'd ever wanted: Samantha was back, Deep Throat was alive, I had a wife and kids and professional acclaim. . .all the ingredients for a happy life. There was only one catch: to have everything I *wanted* I had to give up the one thing I *needed*; I didn't have you, Scully. And that's why I turned away from the possibility of living that life. Because I knew that, no matter how much I had by objective standards, if I didn't have you in my life, it would be empty and lonely and totally devoid of meaning or true happiness."
"Well, I'm glad you feel that way, Mulder. But, really, I'd hope you would. For God's sake, I'm your wife and the mother of your child!"
Mulder smiled softly into the darkness. "But you weren't, Scully. Not then. I agree, choosing the life we have *now* over the possibility of any other kind of life is an absolute no-brainer. However, that wasn't the choice I was being offered; at least, I didn't think it was. This was when you were deeply into your 'rebuffing Mulder at every turn' phase. Not long after I'd asked you to marry me and had you turn it into a joke, told you I loved you and heard you reply 'Oh, brother!'. I'd pretty much accepted the idea that you weren't going to acquiesce to my attempts to turn our relationship from a friendship into a romance. And, even though it wasn't everything I would have liked from you, if it was all I could have. . .I realized it would suffice. That I might always feel a bit of aching hunger if you were never anything more than my friend, but that I could survive. And, without you in my life at all, I would have died. It's that simple."
For a long time, there was only silence from the other side of the bed. Finally, Scully said, "You don't fight fair, Mulder."
"What do you mean?" "I mean, I was royally pissed off at you and you even agreed I had every right to be. But then you go and say something so breathtakingly sweet that I can't stay mad."
"You're not mad at me any more?"
Sliding over to her husband's side of the bed, Scully kissed him gently on the mouth. Then she pillowed her head on his chest and whispered. "No. But I *am* tired. It's well after midnight by East Coast time. Good night, Fox."
"Good night, Dana. I love you."
"I love you, too."
The next morning, Mulder awoke just a dawn was beginning turn the eastern sky from black to pink. After a quick trip to the bathroom, he yanked on sweatpants and put on his running shoes. He turned to the bed and noted with amusement that Scully had rolled over into the space that was still warm from his body heat. Leaning down to brush his wife's soft cheek with a kiss, he murmured, "Hey, gorgeous, I'm going out for a run. Want to join me?"
Scully smiled into Mulder's eyes. During the first year of their marriage they'd often run together, but she'd given up such vigorous exercise early in her pregnancy. Mulder ran almost daily and she realized he'd have to scale back his pace quite a bit for her to keep up with him. Still, she recognized the invitation for the peace offering it was and nodded. "Sure. Just let me go brush my teeth."
Mulder and Scully took in a good bit of Wolf Lake while they jogged through the town. When Mulder could tell his wife was beginning to get winded, he gradually slowed to a walk and headed back toward the motel.
"After we shower, we can go by the sheriff's office, talk to Donner privately. Then we're supposed to meet Kanin for breakfast," Mulder said. He pulled his sweaty t-shirt over his head and added, "You can have the first shower."
"We could share," Scully pointed out, as she stood in the bathroom door.
"That depends." "Depends on what?"
"On whether or not you're still tired," he said with a smile.
She flashed him a grin and jerked her head toward the shower stall. "Get over here, Mulder."
Mulder grinned back and quickly finished undressing, then followed his wife into the shower. Scully was already standing under the spray and he stepped in behind her, soaping up his big hands and running them down her back and bottom. Then he let his hands stray around front, sliding them up to cup her breasts while he pulled her back tightly against his chest.
"Mmm! That feels so good," Scully murmured. She wiggled her bottom against him a bit, feeling the length and rigidity of his cock as she did so.
Mulder leaned over her shoulder and caught her mouth in a slow, deep kiss. "Pretty nice piece of ass," he whispered in her ear when they finally came up for breath.
"You talking about a baseball bat, Mulder?'
"That's not a baseball bat, I'm just happy to see you."
She laughed and kissed him again, then asked "How did you want to. . .?"
"Can you bend over, grab onto the soap dish for support and brace your other hand against the tile over the faucets?"
"Mmmhmm," Scully murmured as she complied with his request; then "Aaah!" as he entered her. Mulder kept up a slow, steady pace and Scully found that the tactile sensations of the warm water caressing her from the front, while her husband caressed her from behind, lead to a build-up of enormous pleasure that soon exploded between her legs.
As soon as she'd stop quivering, Mulder gave a few more vigorous thrusts and came with a whisper of her name.
Mulder held the door open for Scully, then escorted her into the sheriff's office with a gentle touch on the small of her back.
"You two again?" Donner asked. "Where's the third musketeer?"
"We're meeting him for breakfast in a few minutes," Scully replied. "We wanted to ask you a few questions without Kanin present."
"Go ahead," Donner muttered unenthusiastically.
"What you have to understand, Sheriff Donner, is that Kanin has a personal stake in this case, but we don't. To us, it's just another missing persons case, similar in many ways to dozens we've investigated in the past. What I'm wondering is if maybe you're deliberately hiding your knowledge of Ruby's whereabouts from Kanin because she's *asked* you not to tell him where she is," Scully said.
"Ruby's an adult," Mulder pointed out, "and Kanin's not even related to her. If you know where she is and could let us speak with her, ascertain that she's not being held against her will or anything of that nature, then - from our point of view - the case would be closed. As a missing person, she'd be found. If she chooses not to speak with Kanin or let him know where she is, that's a personal problem between the two of them; it's not a crime."
Donner was quiet for a long moment. Twice he seemed about to speak and then reconsidered. He was obviously engaged in a furious mental debate.
Finally, he said, "Well, we are thinking along somewhat similar lines, agents. By Kanin's own admission, Ruby never told him her real last name or much about her past. What that says to me is that she wanted the option to walk out of the relationship whenever she felt like it, without leaving him any way to contact her; and I'd assume she had her reasons for doing that. However, to the best of my knowledge, she hasn't returned to Wolf Lake. I can tell you honestly that I haven't seen her in over a year, and this is a pretty small town; if she was back, I think I would have seen her. Now, it's true that I haven't cooperated with Kanin as much as I could have but, as you say, he has a personal interest in this case. If he wants to find Ruby and she doesn't want him finding her, I'd be inclined to help her rather than him. She's got the right to leave her boyfriend if she wants to. As you said, that's a personal problem between the two of them, not a crime."
"If she left voluntarily," Mulder replied, as he and Scully turned and walked out.
Later that day, Mulder, Scully and Kanin took a turn through the local cemetery.
"I thought this was interesting," Kanin said, "look how many girls have died in their teens. Ruby's sister is among them."
"The teenage years are notoriously high-risk," Scully pointed out. "Kids overdose on drugs, die in car crashes due to a lack of driving experience or commit suicide because a romance fizzled. Still, I have to admit, this seems like an unusually high number of teen deaths for a town this small."
"Not only that, but the vast majority of the deaths are female," Mulder said. "It's actually boys who are slightly more likely to die in their teens due to accidents or drug overdoses, but only a handful of males buried here died as teens."
"Also, look how far back the pattern of teen deaths go," Kanin added. "All the way to the last decade of the 1800s.Although people generally died earlier a hundred years ago than they do now, that usually meant either succumbing to a childhood disease prior to adolescence or dying of something like a heart attack or pneumonia in what we would now consider to be early middle age. Don't tell me that back in the early 1900s, these teenagers were dying in car wrecks or overdosing on heroin!"
"So you're thinking something along the lines of virgin sacrifices to wolf gods, I'm taking it?" Mulder inquired.
"Did you get any kind of official explanation from Sheriff Donner as to the high number of Wolf Lake girls who died in their teens?" Scully asked.
"From Donner, no," Kanin replied. "There's an old guy named Sherman Blackstone, though. Teaches at the high school and seems to consider himself kind of the local historian. He claims it's due to inbreeding; that the town is so isolated that people tend to marry their cousins and stuff like that, leading to an increase in hereditary diseases."
"That's possible," Scully agreed. "Cystic fibrosis, for example, is an inherited disease that's more common in females than males; most people who are born with it usually die in their teens or early 20s."
"Yeah, but if these girls died of CF or something similar, why not just come out and *say* that?" Mulder inquired.
"I want you two to come out to the lake with me tonight," Kanin said. "I think the clue to what's going on in this town will be found there."
Before heading out to the lake, Mulder, Scully and Kanin met at the diner. Sophia was once again their waitress.
Sherman Blackstone also dropped by and Kanin introduced them. "Fox, eh?" Blackstone inquired on being introduced to Mulder. "Generally speaking, a fox doesn't fare well when it goes up against wolves. The intelligent fox will make a strategic retreat out of wolf territory." With that cryptic remark he left there table.
Mulder sighed and shook his head. "Why is it that every time we meet one of these mystical, Native American types they feel absolutely compelled to comment on my given name?"
Just as they were finishing their dinner, a band began to play in the adjoining bar. Mulder also noticed a certain muddled feeling, as if he'd drunk a bit too much - which was impossible, since he'd had only a single beer with his meal. "Dance with me, Scully," he said, standing up and extending his hand.
Scully was mildly surprised. She enjoyed dancing with her husband, but it wasn't the sort of thing they normally did in the middle of a case. But the music was beguiling and she had an odd feeling that something was subtly out of kilter. She stood up and moved into his arms.
After paying the tab, Kanin took his beer and moved into the bar area. He was surprised at the grace with which the partners danced with each other. Both agents wore wedding rings and it occurred to him, for the first time, that perhaps they were married. Had he not been so obsessed with his personal quest, he might have noticed the clues earlier. That slight hesitation when Scully had introduced herself, for example. As if she had been deciding whether to introduce herself as partner or wife? And the way they touched - it had neither the impersonality of business colleagues nor the slightly guilty passion of two people involved in an illicit affair - it was more in the nature of two people who touched each other frequently and felt they had every right to do so.
When the song ended, Mulder backed Scully up until she was leaning against the wall in a dark corner of the bar. He kissed her then, slowly but thoroughly. When they came up for air he nibbled lightly on her ear and whispered, "Let's go back to our hotel room."
"Mulder," Scully murmured, "we're supposed to go out to the lake with Kanin."
"We can go to the lake later," he replied. "Don't you want to make love with me?"
Of course she did, Scully thought woozily. Mulder was resting his weight against her now and the fact that they had all these damned layers of clothes between their bodies was really beginning to irritate her. Still, she struggled to clear her head. "Mulder, are we drunk?"
"I don't think so, Scully," he replied. "All I had was one beer and you just had a soft drink. Besides, are you implying that I'd have to be drunk to want to make love to my beautiful wife?"
"No," Scully replied, the sound breaking off into a soft moan as Mulder traced his tongue along her neck. She was still hazily aware that she and Mulder were losing focus of their investigation, but she just couldn't think coherently any more. Not with her husband's big hands roaming over her body and the evidence of his arousal pressing rock hard against her belly.
The next thing Scully knew, she and Mulder were in bed together, naked, and he was inside her . She blinked her eyes to try to clear her head. She had no memory of reaching the hotel room or taking off their clothes but, obviously, they had done so. He was on top of her and was driving deep with each thrust. He wasn't usually quite this. . .forceful. . .but it didn't hurt. Felt good, actually. She opened her mouth to tell him so but, instead, let out an animalistic howl of satisfaction.
Mulder smiled at her and she drew her fingernails down his back as she felt herself tense up. She didn't often climax while in the missionary position, but this time she did, just as he spurted within her.
When Scully woke up again, Mulder was rolling her onto her stomach and trying to push her knees up under her. Wants to enter me from behind, she thought hazily, lifting herself up onto her elbows and knees to comply. He slid in easily - the part of her mind that was still capable of semi-coherent thought assumed it must be because she was still wet from their previous encounter - and reached around to fondle her breasts for a few minutes. Then he slid his hands back down to her hips and held her steady while he pumped in and out.
Just as he was nearing his climax he slid one hand to the front of her thighs and spread them slightly, then tweaked the bundle of nerves just above where they were joined. Once again Scully heard herself emit a sound more like a howl than her usual soft moan and bucked up against him, hearing an answering howl in her ear as he joined her.
The night passed in a kaleidoscope of vivid dreams and sexual frenzy, it being difficult to tell which experiences were real and which were hallucinatory. Finally, around noon, Mulder woke up with a clear but throbbing head. It was like the hangover from hell. He glanced at the shaft of bright sunshine streaming in through the gap in the curtains, then at Scully beside him in bed. There were sticky spots on the sheets and -holy shit, was that blood?
"Scully, wake up," he said, shaking her shoulder.
"No more, Mulder," she murmured. "I'm starting to get sore."
"Scully, what the hell happened last night?"
Scully blinked and sat up in bed, pushing the tousled hair out of her eyes with one hand. She looked at the stricken face of her husband. "I think we must have been drugged. Probably so we wouldn't make it out to the lake."
Mulder dismissed the lake with a wave of his hand. "Yeah, we were probably drugged, but that's not what I mean. What did I. . .do to you?" He was beginning to feel like he might be sick, and he didn't think it was entirely the result of whatever drug he'd ingested. He was wondering if he'd forced himself on his wife in a way that she found unacceptable and which had drawn blood as a consequence. Early in their marriage, he'd once suggested experimenting with anal sex and she'd vigorously opposed the idea; since it hadn't really been that big a deal with him - and as it had been about the only form of sex play she'd refused to try - he'd never brought it up again. But he had a hazy memory of pushing her onto her elbows and knees the previous night.
"We made love, Mulder. A lot. Or maybe only a couple of times and the other times were dreams; I'm not sure," she replied.
"Scully, there's blood on the sheets! Did I. . .hurt you?"
A memory flashed through Scully's mind and she shook her head. "I don't think that's my blood, Mulder, I think it's yours. Turn around for a minute and let me look at your back."
Mulder complied and heard Scully draw in a sharp breath. "What, sweetheart?" he asked.
"I really did a number on your back, Fox. Clawed it up pretty bad. I'm sorry."
Mulder turned to face he and shook his head with a smile. "It's okay, Dana. I don't even remember and it doesn't hurt. But you said you were sore?"
"Just a tiny bit," she said with a smile and a shrug of her shoulders. "Let's go take a warm bath. It will ease the kinks in my muscles and I can wash the scratches on your back."
"Good idea," Mulder said, "then we need to find Kanin."
They found Kanin about an hour later, sitting on a bench in the small town's only park. "Were you guys drugged, too?" he asked.
"Seems likely," Mulder responded. "Do you know what it was?"
"Probably peyote," Kanin said. "They hit me with it once before. You'd think I would have learned."
"Peyote laced with viagra," Mulder muttered.
"That could have just been hallucinations. Along with the psychedelic frogs and flying furniture, I had some very vivid fantasies of Ruby, but I'm pretty sure that's all they were; there's certainly no physical evidence that she was actually in my room last night. In any case, you two are married, right?"
"Yes, Lieutenant Kanin," Scully said softly. "I wasn't sure if you were aware of that."
Kanin shrugged. "You act married."
"So what's our next step?" Scully asked, trying to turn the conversation away from the personal relationship she shared with her partner.
"Well, I suggest we avoid the diner and lay low for the rest of the day," Kanin answered. "We need to get some food in our stomachs, but let's stick to mass-produced, pre-packaged stuff from the grocery store. Then we'd better get out to the lake early - before they expect us to - in order to avoid another trap."
"Fine," Mulder agreed. "But tonight's your last chance. The original agreement I made with you remains in force. I told you I'd give you three days and this is the third one. First thing tomorrow morning, Scully and I are on a plane headed east. Back to our daughter, our home and our normal lives."
"Listen, I'm going to go ahead and tell you what it is I suspect, crazy though it may seen," Kanin said.
"Virgins sacrificed to appease wolf gods wasn't crazy enough?" Scully inquired skeptically.
"I don't think Ruby was sacrificed to the wolves. I think she was turned into a wolf."
"The ability to take the form of an animal - to become a shapeshifter- is central to many Native American beliefs," Mulder pointed out.
"But Mulder, with the exception of Sherman Blackstone, the people in this town aren't Native Americans," Scully replied.
"Jesus was a Jew," Mulder answered with a shrug, "but most of His current followers aren't Semitic. Maybe this isolated town was a rare instance of the Native American culture triumphing over that of the European settlers who came later."
Scully sighed and rolled her eyes. Kanin was relieved to note, however, that neither of the agents suggested he check himself into the nearest mental hospital for observation.
Hours later, just as the sun began to set, the trio of law enforcement officers hunkered down beside a boulder in a forest glade near the edge of the lake. "You sure you don't want anything to drink?" Mulder asked his wife as he sipped at the canned iced tea he'd brought with him.
"I'm sure, Mulder," she replied with a sigh. "No matter how big a believer in equal rights I am, that doesn't change the fact that peeing in the woods is damned sight more complicated for me than it is for you or Kanin."
Kanin chuckled softly at that. The evening wore on, dusk slowly giving way to complete night. A full moon lent brightness to the scene, however.
Scully fell asleep, her head pillowed on her husband's thighs as he sat cross-legged on the ground. After a long time, the voices of teenagers could be heard coming up the trail. They gathered in a circle around one particular girl. Kanin started when he realized it was Sophia. If they tried to hurt her, he and the agents would have to intervene, even if it meant giving up on his chances of finding Ruby.
Mulder gently stroked Scully's cheek to waken her and gestured for her to watch the scene unfolding in front of them. The three officials kept their eyes trained on Sophia as the others gathered around her. They didn't seem to be hurting her. They chanted or sang something in unison in an unfamiliar language. Then a boy Kanin realized was Ruby's half-brother, Lance, handed Sophia a cup. Sophia brought it to her lips, hesitated, seemed about on the verge of pouring its contents out - then chugged it down.
At that moment, the moon came out from behind the clouds and a shaft of its light settled directly on Sophia. And she began to. . .transform. Mulder, Scully and Kanin watched in wonder as she slowly turned from a girl into a wolf. The other teens shifted their own shapes as well. The large gray wolf who had been Lance sniffed the air for a moment and lifted his head to howl. Then he led the entire pack toward the trees which hid the intruders from their view.
"They know we're here," Mulder said quietly. "They've caught our scent."
"We can't outrun then," Kanin said.
"We've got our guns," Scully pointed out. "Let's hope they retain enough language skills and logic, even as wolves, to realize that we will shoot to kill and leave us alone."
"We can't kill and entire pack of wolves with three handguns," Mulder said.
"Yeah, but we can kill several of them," Scully replied. "Hopefully they care enough about each other not to risk it."
"Lance, Sophia, the rest of you," Kanin yelled out. "Stop. Go away. We're armed and we will shoot to kill."
Just as the wolves lowered into a pouncing position and Mulder and Scully aimed their guns at the eyes they could see glowing in the darkness, a large white wolf bounded in between the humans and the wolves. She backed up toward Kanin, growling low in her throat at the other wolves.
"Ruby?" Kanin asked, burying his free hand in the soft, thick fur on her back. There was a moment of absolute stillness and absolute quiet. Then the other wolves, led by Lance, turned and ran off in the other direction, toward the shore of the lake. And the wolf beside Kanin reversed the transformation they had seen a few minutes earlier, becoming the girl Mulder and Scully had - up 'til now -seen only in photographs.
"Ruby!" Kanin whispered. "It *is* you!"
"Yes, John. It's me. Now you know what I could never tell you before. I'm a shapeshifter."
"You could have told me, Ruby."
Ruby gave a small smile. "Judging by the relatively calm way you're taking this, I guess I underestimated you."
Kanin shrugged. "I've been in Wolf Lake a few weeks now. Maybe if you'd told me back when we were in Seattle I wouldn't have believed it."
Mulder and Scully looked at each other. This conversation was one that really should take place in private. "Well, it looks like your missing person case is solved," Mulder said. "Thank you for your help, agents," Kanin replied. "But I think I can handle it from here on out. The fox - and his mate - can go back to their own lair."
Mulder stifled a groan at yet another play on his name. Looking at Ruby, he said, "I've got one question before we go. Why have so many girls - including your sister - died in their teens here?"
Ruby sighed and her eyes filled up with tears. "The transformation process is. . .more difficult for women than it is for men. Nobody knows why. Over the years, a number of girls have died during their first attempt. My sister was among them. There have been a few, rare occasions when boys died, but it's far more common among girls."
"If girls know they run an increased risk of dying during the process, why do they do it at all?" Scully asked. "From what I just witnessed, the shape shifting doesn't seem to be involuntary. It's not like getting a period or growing breasts. Why not just abstain?"
Ruby gave a bittersweet laugh. "In the rest of America, teens know they can die from drinking or driving or having unprotected sex. . .but they sometimes do it any way, don't they? Teens in Wolf Lake become shape shifters for the same reasons other teens become sexually active at an early age or experiment with drugs; a combination of peer pressure and the inability of teens to believe in their own mortality."
Mulder and Scully nodded, then entwined their fingers and made their way back to their parked vehicle.
The next morning, in two adjoining seats on an nearly empty jet headed east, Mulder and Scully began a familiar argument. "Scully, how can you possibly say those people weren't shapeshifters! We saw them change from humans to wolves with our own eyes!"
"Mulder, we were drugged! Who knows how long that peyote stayed in our system! If you're going to believe that we really saw people transform into wolves, you might as well believe that we had Elvis outside our hotel room window, serenading us with "Love Me Tender"!"
"You mean he wasn't?" Mulder countered.
Scully sighed and shook her head, but then relented with a smile. "Look, Mulder, we learned a long time ago that the two of us can see the same thing and draw different conclusions from it. Let's just leave it at that, shall we? I'm anxious to get home and see Melissa again, get back to our normal lives."
"Sounds good to me," Mulder agreed. "Besides," he added with a wicked grin, leaning close to whisper in his wife's ear, "the scratches on my back are almost healed up. I think I've regained my stamina enough for a rematch."
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