This story is also available at this location on The Archive of Our Own, where all my current stories and comments can be found. I am no longer updating this site.

Mulder was not yet back at the cabin when she arrived. She decided to shower, because she could no longer tell how much of the autopsy odor lingered about her. The ranger hadn't winced or had any obvious reaction, but he'd also driven with the window open. 

She shampooed twice, just to be sure to get at the scent, and sprayed perfume on her wet hair when she got out. she thought. 

When she emerged from the bathroom, Mulder had returned. He was making grilled cheese sandwiches. He handed her a plate and they ate in silence. She was grateful for that, grateful that he felt comfortable enough with her to return to their older patterns. 

After dinner, they moved to the couch by mutual, unspoken consent. The couch itself was a seventies relic, covered with a scratchy brown plaidlike fabric with little pills of material poking up from it every few inches. With a pink acrylic blanket from the linen closet thrown over it, it was a little more comfortable. Scully looked at Mulder, knowing that she needed to reach out to him. Just so that she could say, honestly, that she tried. 

He spoke first. And said something utterly unexpected. 

"It's important to me that you acknowledge the possibility that I have precognitive dreams." 

"Mulder," she said helplessly, then stopped, unsure how to continue. Where did this come from? She took a deep breath to gather her thoughts and began. "I believe that you have a unique ability to extrapolate from minor clues, imperceptible to most observers, and find a pattern where others see only chaos. Or, at times, the reverse. Your ability is so far away from the center of the bell curve that I'm not sure 'intuition' is the proper term. Should I call that 'precognition'? I don't know. Yes, it's extraordinary. Yes, it's predictive. I…I believe in you, and I believe in what you say about our suspect. I can't in good conscience tell you that I believe that your ability is the result of extrasensory perception, and I think you shortchange your own mind when you describe it that way." 

Mulder smiled, with a small sardonic twist to the left side of his mouth. "I'm not entirely sure if I've been insulted, or complimented." 

"Yes," she said, and he smiled at her for real. 

"Why this? Why now?" 

He shrugged. "Because it's been between us, since…since Roche. Because I dreamed about you last night, and–I believe that you're going to be all right." 

Scully turned her head, looking at her nearly black reflection outlined in the glass door. The trees were visible around her half-image, penetrating through it. 

She couldn't tell him everything, not after that. 

The decision was reassuring, in a twisted way. She relaxed and leaned back into the scratchy old couch. "Sometimes I just wish your talent were more in the area of predicting the stock market." 

"Oh, but it is," he said, sounding surprised. "How do you think I afford this wardrobe?" 

Scully shrugged. "I never thought about it. So, you hold a pencil over the financial pages and invest in what you're drawn to?" 

"Not quite. Actually, I wanted to talk to you–a few years back I set up a trust fund for you, in case something happened to me, so you could continue to work on the X Files, unofficially or officially. If you wanted. I guess you could move to Maui, too." 

"How much money are we talking about, Mulder?" She stared at him intently. 

"If you started using it tomorrow, about thirty thousand a year. But it's building principal. Anyway, I just had some of the terms changed–there's a medical emergency clause now. If there's anything that the insurance won't pay for, no matter how experimental or far-away, you can draw on the trust fund. I wanted you to know that you don't have to discount any options." 

Scully's eyes were wide and disbelieving. "I don't know what to say…Mulder, I–" It was too much. She didn't want this solicitude. What could it pay for? Maybe she could have her blood drained somewhere in Mexico and replaced with some street kid's. Surely some mail-order diploma doctor would tell her to do so. 

"I have to do this." He looked away, toward the tiny fire he'd coaxed out of the fireplace. "I have to." 

Scully lowered her head. She couldn't tell him that it was too late, too late by far. Instead, she put a hand on his arm, forcing him to look at her again. "Thank you." 

He shook his head, but she leaned toward him and stilled his head with her other hand. She was kneeling precariously on the sofa and there was a good chance she'd fall into his lap, but it was important to her that he pay attention. 

"It's not your fault and you're not making up for anything you did. Thank you for giving me the options. Thank you for helping me through this. I know it's been hard for us both, and I'm probably not going to be able to say this again. But I want you to know how much it means to me." 

She paused, and then began again, needing to get it out. "This is probably going to be my last case, Mulder. The tumor–the latest scans suggest that the optic nerve will soon be compromised. I might be allowed to work in the lab for a while–but the field will be out of the question, then." 

Mulder could not speak. He stared at her, trying to memorize her, maybe, absorbing her with his eyes until she could disappear. When he looked at her like that, eyes as hard as stone, she thought that living in his memory might be enough. 

The air changed. It got darker, somehow, or the smell changed, or it began to vibrate in the way that air vibrates between two people who are finally, after a long time, going to take a significant step forward in their relationship. 

Scully leaned toward him, dizzy with the knowledge that this choice was the first serious acknowledgment of her impending death. It was not difficult, after all: no harder than cupping her hand around a candle flame and blowing it out. 

Mulder blinked rapidly, then left his eyes closed as his mouth came closer to hers. His hand brushed her shoulder, tugging her towards him. 

Then he groaned and bolted for the bathroom, pushing Scully aside so that she fell back onto her side of the couch. 

He was already vomiting before he reached the white tile floor. He fell to the floor as soon as he crossed the threshold; the bathroom was so small that he ended up leaning over the toilet, retching helplessly. 

Shocked, Scully followed him, stepping over the worst of the spatters. She wedged herself in the small space between Mulder and the sink and reached around him to feel his forehead. 

He was sweaty, not feverish; his pulse was racing. He was still vomiting, though there was nothing left in his stomach and he was spasming pitifully. 

After five minutes of his hacking, Scully was concerned enough to go to her medical bag. 

"Mulder," she said when she returned, "I have some anti- nausea medication I want you to take." She knelt beside him and ran her hand down his back, from his neck to his sweat-sodden T-shirt. 

"I'll be–ugh–fine," he said, then had to lean his cheek against the toilet seat as the wave of nausea took him again. 

"It's going to make you sleepy, but I think it's worth it to break the cycle," Scully continued, sympathetically. She kept rubbing his back, hoping to relax him. 

Mulder nodded infinitesimally. 

"It's a suppository. I'm sorry." 

He moaned, this time with humiliation. She was embarrassed for him. "It's okay. It will just take a second, and it's the only way to keep it in your body. It's just medicine." 

Mulder snorted against the porcelain; the set of his shoulders communicated clearly that it was easy for her to say that. 

She didn't offer to help him with his pants, even though his fingers were shaking and he had to pause twice as fresh spasms wracked him. It wasn't as if she hadn't seen him naked and helpless before, but usually he'd been unconscious, or at least in shock. 

She inserted the suppository as quickly as possible, and then did help him pull up his boxers and get his pants completely off, leaving them on the bathroom floor as the two of them retreated to his bedroom. The bathroom was so narrow that she had to push him in front of her as they passed the shower. The small size of the cabin was a great help once they'd cleared the bathroom, though, as Mulder only had to stagger a few steps to get onto the bed. 

Scully left him and quickly tried to clean up some of the mess. The worst were the spots of vomit that had landed on the carpet before Mulder had made it to the bathroom. She soaked them in water and cleaned them up as best she could with the thin paper towels provided by the management. The bathroom was slightly easier to clean, though she had no doubt that it still reeked; even she could smell it. 

When she returned to the bedroom, the anti-emetic was already working. Mulder was lying on his back, breathing carefully, but not retching any more. 

"You okay?" she asked quietly. 

"I saw him, how he sees himself." She should have known that it had something to do with the killer. Mulder's brain never really shut off when it had a puzzle, no matter what the distractions. 

Mulder closed his eyes and continued. "He was jacking off." 

Scully raised an eyebrow; so that's what triggered the association. 

"He…oh God, this is so fucked up. He thinks he's a tree– no, not a tree, a weird cross between a tree and a person, the spawn of a dryad or something like that. He looks down and he sees branches and bark and he thinks that his seed is something sacred. He masturbates onto the corpses. He thinks it's some kind of fertilization. He's not very smart, but his delusion is elaborate and complex." 

Mulder's voice was slipping between the dry tones of a lecturing academic and the haziness of a man wakened too quickly from a dream. Some of it, Scully thought, was the drug; the rest was pure Mulder. 

She sat down on the bed and smoothed his hair where it was standing on end. "I want you to take off that shirt–it's soaked– and get under the covers." 

"You're not listening," he said, a hurt little boy. 

"I am and I believe you, but you need to rest." 

"I can see what he sees. I don't think he bathes–trees don't bathe–that's something we can use." His voice was getting lower. He did raise his arms to let her pull the T-shirt off, which she counted as extreme cooperation. Scully took the extra blanket from under the bed and put it on him, rather than trying to extract the covers from underneath his bulk. 

She sat on the edge of the bed, waiting for him to sleep. When he was still, she left him and went to reexamine the pictures. It was something to do; maybe it would give her an insight. 

Several hours later, Mulder plodded out of his bedroom. He'd thrown on a clean shirt and a pair of jogging pants, but he looked as if he could still use a shower. 

He sat down at the small kitchen table across from Scully and glanced at the autopsy reports strewn across it. 

They stared at each other for a minute; then Mulder caved in and began to talk. 

"Don't tell, Scully. After last time–lithium was the least psychoactive substance they wanted to give me." 

She shook her head. "This isn't healthy. You can't keep doing this. You're not able to distinguish reality from what you envision. Just days ago you had a hole put in your head on the off chance that you'd remember something from your childhood. I don't know, maybe you thought fresh air would do your brain good." Fighting dirty. "I, I don't know whether you're psychic or psychotic." 

"Why do you have to choose?" he said, trying to smile. 

She looked out the window, over his shoulder. The sun was going down, and they had a glorious view. The sky was cloudy enough near the horizon to turn the air a lovely, delicate pink, against which the sun was a blazing orange ball. 

"They really did give us the cabin with the best view," Mulder said, following her gaze, trying to distract her. She was pleased that he was capable of noticing. 

"Can't you just be the victims for a while?" she asked hopelessly. "Just to give yourself a break?" 

He shook his head, smiling ruefully. "It doesn't work like that, you know better. Anyway, the victims here are opportunistic– three men, all white but that's not surprising given the demographics of the park's visitors, ranging in age from twenties to forties–he's not interested in the standard indicators of victimhood. If you want, I'll try to have nightmares about the last things they saw–the knife, the hammer, the indifferent trees against the evening sky–but I don't think it will help much." 

Scully dipped her head, acknowledging that there was no way to get him to change his methods at this late date. She picked up one of the autopsy photos that she'd wanted to show him. She had to demonstrate to him that worrying about his mental health didn't amount to a lack of trust. 

"The man on the Bubble," she said. "There was dirt on his hands. The funeral director's report didn't note anything unusual about it, but I took another look, and there were fragments of mussel shells and sand in it. I think the dirt came from the shore, maybe very close to the water–there isn't really very much 'beach'-type sand here, it's mostly rocks. The victim was clutching the ground violently, as evidenced by the abrasions on his hands, in which sand and shell fragments are also embedded. I think he was killed elsewhere and brought to the site. By contrast, Victim 3 has some defense wounds on his hands and upper arms, and there's also dirt under his nails, but that dirt is consistent with the soil found at the site; it has some shell fragments, but no more than you'd expect from soil within walking distance of the ocean. I believe that the third victim was killed where he was found. There was a blood-soaked patch of soil near the cairn; he could just have been dismembered there, but I think that's where he died." 

Mulder stared at the photo. 

"Usually they move from opportunity to planned killings," he said. "I think…he killed the first two because they triggered some reaction in him. Then he moved them to places that would make a point, places that people like to visit. The next one, I think he just waited for. He knew that someone worth killing would come along if he waited long enough. Somebody who was polluting the land just by standing on it." 

"But most visitors to the park are more ecologically conscious than the average American. It doesn't make sense–seeing this sunset–" she waved a hand at it–"must do more to make people appreciate the wonders of the natural world than leaving it isolated." 

"He's not a utilitarian, Scully," Mulder said tolerantly. Then a wave of thought, almost a shudder, passed over him, and he spoke again, in the dead tones of a recitation. "These houses of the dead. They breathe still, but they are dying, dying with every tainted step and every piece of trash tossed over a careless shoulder. Ah, Scully," and he came back to her, shaking his head, "I almost wish that multiple murderers were smarter. Bad prose and I think I'm losing IQ points just sharing his head." Then his face slackened again and he was gone. 

"How much more of this can you take?" she asked, reaching out for his hands. 

He jerked away, and his eyes were as brown as woodchips, and less alive. 

She waited, and after a few minutes he was coherent again, and she put him back to bed. 

Scully woke slowly. There was a noise, scratching at the edge of her consciousness. Constant, rising and falling, low and pained and very close by. 

Mulder was sobbing uncontrollably. He was trying to muffle the noise in his pillow, but he had to breathe and when he raised his head to gulp air she could hear him clearly. 

He sounded as if he'd been going for a while–too tired to continue, but too tired to stop. 

She put her feet down on the cold floor and opened her bedroom door. It was pitch black in the cabin; a sliver of moon provided the only light. Two steps took her past the bathroom door and into his bedroom. 

She heard him roll away from her as she entered. She put her hand out, grateful that the small size of the room precluded the presence of any treacherous furniture, and leaned onto the bed, reaching until she found his shoulder. 

Scully knelt on the bed. "Mulder, don't. It's okay." He was rigid as steel under her hand. He didn't respond at all. 

She lay down in the darkness and put one hand on Mulder's waist. She couldn't get the other under his body, so she rested it on his neck, trying to stroke away some of the tension. "Shh, shh. It's okay. I'm here." 

He rolled around in her arms so that they were facing each other. She couldn't see him, but she was so aware of every inch of him that she could have described his expression, as if she were sensing him by infrared. 

Mulder choked out something–it might have been her name, but he was too upset to be coherent–and crushed her to him. She felt his nose at her throat, forcing her to tilt her head up as he pressed against her. Her nightgown was quickly soaked with his tears. 

She talked in nonsense phrases as he quieted, running her hands up and down his back until he was no longer shaking. 

Scully had almost fallen back to sleep when his voice, wrapped in darkness, came from below her chin. 

"I dreamed about the trees…They were bleeding, and the blood was so red…They'd been slit open with blue knives. There were red knives sticking out of them too, but they were old, and the blood on them had turned black and begun to flake off…Blue knives everywhere, and you weren't there…" 

"It was just a dream, Mulder," she whispered. "I'm right here." 

He took a deep, ragged breath. "Yeah," he said wryly. "Uh, Scully?" 


"Can I ask a, a favor?" 

"What is it?" 

"I just…I want to hear your heartbeat." 

Scully's hands stilled. "All right," she said in a small voice. 

He sighed and slid further down, pressing his ear into her chest right over her heart. His hands pulled her closer to his body, so close that it hurt. They were each lying on their sides, bent towards one another so that their knees were brushing. Tentatively, Scully moved her hands to his head, running them lightly over his hair. She could feel her heart pounding and wondered how he heard it. There was a wet patch growing on her nightgown where he was drooling, just a little. 

She fell asleep that way, and woke to the shrill of a cellphone. 

Scully blinked, unsurprised that she didn't recognize the room but a little more confused by the whining, unfamiliar ring of the phone. She snagged the phone from the floor by the side of the bed–it was Mulder's phone, that's why she didn't recognize the tone of the ring–and spoke into it: "Scully." 

"Agent Scully? I thought this was Agent Mulder's number?" She vaguely recognized the voice of the head of Acadia's park service– Langbein, that was his name. 

"Is there something you need to tell us?" 

"There's been another body found, near the top of Mt. Sargent." 

Scully arranged to meet them at the bottom of the trail leading up the mountain in an hour, and went to look for Mulder. 

He wasn't in the cabin. She assumed that he'd gone running, so she showered quickly and when she got out, he'd returned. She told him about the latest victim and then toasted some English muffins while he showered.

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