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IV. The Pathetic Fallacy 

In springtime, Acadia is underappreciated. The air bites sharply, to be sure, but there are methods of protection. The sunlight comes through the leaves and dapples the ground. Streams swollen to bursting rush down the mountains, gleaming like glass where the light hits them, rounding brown boulders and feeding the trees' roots as they wake from winter. 

The trails are so nearly empty that each person might possess the park, ruler alone of this ungovernable wilderness. Or, if assistance is needed, the rangers have so little else to do that they are perfectly attentive, and again the visitor is king or queen. 

Mulder had to leave. He didn't say so, but she could tell that he had to run, to get away from her for just a little while, trying to get used to this latest betrayal. That's how he'd remember her–always leaving him, even when he was the one running away. She didn't try to stop him. His hand, remarkably, was undamaged, though it would ache for a few days. 

Scully was engrossed in the autopsy photos, trying to understand the common thread, when she was startled by a thump against the picture window. 

She shot to her feet, grabbing her gun out of the holster on the table, and aimed with a perfect two-handed grip directly at a highly dazed owl, who was flapping weakly on the rough planks of the deck. 

Scully froze, then laughed ruefully at herself. She watched the owl struggle to right itself and fly woozily back into the night. 

It was an easy mistake for the owl to make, she thought. The room was almost as dark inside as the forest outside. A few electric sconces put precisely defined cones of light onto the brownish walls. Her laptop screen glowed blue, a shade oddly technological among the simpler furnishings of the cabin. 

Through the window, she could see the black outlines of trees, swaying gently in the wind. Between their branches, stars winked out and reappeared. 

She could not hear them whispering; the glass insulated her, just as the cancer kept her from smelling the wet life rising from the ground. If there was a message in the silent, sterile beauty of the leaves, she could not comprehend it. 

Her fingers traced the swirls of the imitation wood table. Manufactured design masquerading as reality–wouldn't it be better to be honest about it, if real wood was too expensive? The photos pulsed in front of her eyes. Each was incomplete, showing only one angle or even one object. Even when she autopsied these bodies, they refused to yield up their greatest secrets. 

Angrily, she turned the pictures face down. Her inefficacy on this case was no greater than usual, after all. When was the last time her work had solved a case? She saw her own precise handwriting on the backs of the Polaroids, noting date, time and position, and it seemed worthless. 

They were dead, she was dying, and the forest didn't give a damn. The forest would be here forever, and that didn't matter either. 

She recognized the signs of depression; she'd have to be an idiot not to, inasmuch as her doctors constantly reminded her about the importance of monitoring her mental state. But whenever she tried to move out of depression, the only emotion she could feel was a deep and overpowering rage. It burned in her throat, in her stomach, collected at the inside of her elbows and on the soles of her feet. It dripped from the ends of her hair and floated on her exhalations. It made her want to kill someone–anyone–someone in particular–and so she had to go back to the dullness of not caring. 

Scully gave up on the photos and stared out the window. In the darkness, the trees looked perfect. 

When Mulder came back, he'd exhausted himself physically. Mentally, he'd managed to convince himself that her impending death was a matter of her failure of faith, and he was spoiling for a fight. 

He came out of the shower, hair still dripping because they'd only been provided two towels, and started talking. "The Gunmen have a line on a new treatment in Canada. It's experimental, derived from the bulbs of some rare orchids…they think it could really mean something." 

She shoved the pictures she'd been toying with back into their folder. The corners stuck out, but she didn't take the time she normally would have to align them all. "I've seen the reports on that, Mulder. It doesn't even work in white mice." 

He took two steps forward, and they were almost touching. "The medical establishment doesn't want people to believe that cancer could be cured using natural methods." 

"That's ridiculous, Mulder." She kept her voice even with an effort. She knew he'd hate the lecture, but it was the only way she could keep from breaking down. "Even if you accepted that hundreds of dedicated researchers were willing to violate their oaths, it's still true that scientists can get as much funding for researching drugs like taxol, derived from plants, as for researching purely synthetic drugs." 

"So you're not even going to check it out?" 

"I did check it out," she said, impatience seeping into her voice. "But I'm not going to spend a substantial fraction of my remaining life visiting out-of-the-way places on the chance that one of them might have a miracle. I have just as good a chance of going into spontaneous remission in D.C., more if you consider the stress." 

"I see–just another one of Mulder's crackpot ideas, right?" 

She stood up, unable to be so close to him. Outside, the trees murmured unceasingly. Birds and insects were eating; roots were sucking up water and feeding new leaves, preparing for the new season. 

"I appreciate your concern," she said, in the flat, bored tone that branded her a liar, "but I have to be sensible. And your suggestion just isn't sensible." 

He was silent for so long that she almost caved in and turned to look at him. 

When he did speak, the anger in his voice startled her enough to make her spin around. "The sad thing, Scully, is that I picked you for this. I looked around the world to choose the one person whose opinion really mattered to me and picked someone who will never, ever approve of what I do." 

Scully gaped at him, not understanding the sudden transformation. Her regrets surged, and she used them to feed her own anger. "Mulder, no one could approve of what you've been doing lately! Is it so surprising that I find it hard to trust your judgment when you just put two holes in your skull and your dura mater, for God's sake, you let a complete stranger–" 

His voice was rising with hers. "What, you would have done it for me if I'd asked?" 

"Of course not, because it was idiotic! I don't expect you to listen to me any more, but–" 

"Oh, I listen, believe me. I go to you for support and you do exactly what I expect, you don't give it to me. I guess it's a good thing I picked Mom for a partner; if I'd tried Dad he would have beaten on me and traded away the one thing that mattered to me–" 

"At least that explains something about Krycek," she said nastily. 

His head rocked to the side as if she'd physically hit him. 

"Forgive me, Mulder, if I need some distance from what you've become. It's–it's a little hard for me to deal with the fact that you let this quack stick an icepick in your head. I mean, your brain was fine until you chose to have that done. You leave me behind to do this makework, that has nothing to do with the present, and then you expect things to pick up just where they left off. Well, it won't work, not any more, because one of these days you'll come back and I'll be gone. Gone." 

She wanted to say more, but he was already crying. She felt the familiar emotions rise, in a familiar order: guilt, resentment, shame, sadness. 

"I don't want to be your mother, Mulder. I wish I knew how to be your friend. But I don't even understand how to be your partner any more." 

She pushed past him and went into her bedroom. She laid on the bed, trying to cry, willing the tears to come. But they stubbornly refused. 

The worst of it was, she wasn't crying precisely because he was so right. The therapist crap about wanting his respect was ridiculous. The relationship was exactly the opposite. 

That's why she didn't want him to see her weakness; if she weren't strong she might lose the power to evaluate him. She'd set herself up as bearing the Scully stamp of approval, and the one certain thing about it was that nothing Mulder would ever earn that mark. That was the standard of judgment, wasn't it? 

He'd let her do it–encouraged it, really. But she'd gone along willingly enough, wanting some power in this strange relationship where he was always, uncannily, right and there was never enough evidence to prove anything to the outside world and he was just too damn smart. To keep on top, or to keep even, she had to be able to judge him. 

Not a very pretty picture of herself. 

Well, fine. She'd been a bitch in life, and she was going to be a bitch in death, too. She was too busy dying to change. No going gentle into that good night for her, and no carefully maintained dignity, either. She was going to go messily, kicking and screaming and bleeding from her nose until everyone turned away, ashamed to look. If dying was an art, she was going to do it resoundingly, unhesitatingly badly. They might remember her, that way. 

Eventually, the soft sounds from the main room stopped. She heard Mulder enter his room–changing, she thought with the certainty their years together had given her–and then the sliding glass doors opened and he left to go out again. Maybe he could run away from some of the anger and the pain. 

But no, she'd still be here when he got back. 

They did not speak until the next morning at the rangers' station, when they had to put on the appearance of Agents in Charge. Even then, it was more that Scully would answer one question, and then Mulder would field the next. 

Finally, Mulder announced that he needed some peace and quiet, and Scully went out to the parking lot with the rangers. One of them, a tallish blond, offered her a cigarette, and she almost took it. She felt the desire for the nicotine rush as if she'd never given it up, sweet and seductive in her blood, and she had her hand out–thinking, – when she realized that this was the same funeral urge she'd felt two nights earlier with Mulder, and refused to avoid being so predictable. 

Mulder stayed inside, studying the map, for almost fifteen minutes, and then emerged and announced that the next body would be found at–maybe even killed at–Jordan Pond, a large, placid pond at the bottom of several of the moderate-sized mountains. He seemed almost glad to see her there among the tall khaki-clad men, so the two of them went to Jordan Pond House, a visitor center with the usual overpriced snacks and souvenirs, to survey the layout and see if Mulder could get a more specific location before the next victim announced him or herself. 

They looked for the locally famous Jordan Pond House popovers, touted by the park brochure, but it was too early in the season and the kitchen was closed. Mulder settled for maple sugar candy and Scully stuck to pretzels. They wandered through the public areas, looking for good places to leave a body. As usual, they made up by discussing the case. Mulder's theory was that the killer wouldn't break in anywhere, because he wouldn't want to be surrounded by evidence of civilization for the length of time necessary for a serious penetration into the House, so they scouted the perimeter. 

When he was convinced he'd found the best places, they left the walkways of the House and went back into the sunlight. The day was bright and clear; the grass was stiff and vibrant under their feet. They drifted back behind the House, where various hiking trails converged so that weary travelers could find a parking lot and a drink. 

The lawn turned into forest easily, Scully thought. There was definitely a line between the two, but there was interaction– bushes, greedy grasping branches, hard grey roots venturing into lawnmower territory. 

Mulder was not getting the appropriate vibes, so they went back to the House, climbing the back stairs to a patio where, in season, the tables would doubtless be packed as families took breaks and young people sucked down a few beers. Right now, the umbrellas for the tables were furled, and the white plastic chairs were all stacked against one wall. Scully was glad that there weren't many people here. It would complicate the investigation, and give the UNSUB too many targets. 

And she didn't like the idea of sharing all this with a thousand others. In the sunlight, near the well-tended walks and trails by Jordan Pond, she liked the park much better. It seemed more organized down here than it did at the top of the mountains. But from the rangers' descriptions, at season's height Acadia had more campers than trees. That lovely access road with all its breathtaking views of the ocean could get pretty boring, if you were parked in the same spot for an hour because of a traffic jam. 

Mulder motioned her over to the low brick wall protecting them from falling off the patio. He was looking down at the ground they'd recently traversed. Scully hurried over. 

"I'm never having children." Mulder stared down at the picnic area beneath them, where two toddlers, hair blond as cornsilk, gamboled under their parents' watchful eyes. 

Well, goody. What was there to do with a Mulder revelation? So rare, so unexpected. Was this some sort of peace offering, telling her his personal secrets? She did what she did best–she probed for what lay beneath. "Because they'd get in the way of your search for the truth?" 

He grimaced. "Because I couldn't trust myself with them." His arms were braced against the railing. Veins stood out in from his forearms with the strain he was putting on them, as if he were trying to push the iron bars over. "Because I was raised by a man for whom love had a leather edge and a buckle, and a woman who was a ghost town all by herself." 

"But you know that was wrong. You'd make an excellent parent, if you allowed yourself." 

He looked up at her; his face was suddenly drawn and vicious. "On what evidence do you base that, Scully? On my stellar behavior when dealing with you?" 

She took a step backwards, but he continued. "You may find it hard to remember that I have a psychology degree, but I don't. Surely it hasn't escaped your attention that we have a bit of a, what do they call it these days, co-dependency? Look, now I'm hurting you. My words, my meaning, my existence–it all hurts, doesn't it? And tomorrow I'll be very very sorry and take such good care of you and need you so much you'll say it doesn't really matter, not in light of what we have. 

"What I don't entirely understand is where you learned your part. My guess is that it has something to do with Daddy being gone all the time, and how he really liked the boys better when he was home–not that anyone would ever be so crude as to admit that, but I bet you knew it anyway. You crave the approval you don't think you deserve, isn't that right? And cleaning up after the messes I make shows the world that Dana Scully can hold it all together, just like she did when Mom was mooning after Daddy and the boys were off being irresponsible, because boys don't need to worry about keeping the family together, and Melissa was sneaking the sailors in through her window. Am I getting close, or do you want to talk about death next?" 

Scully turned away, wrapping her arms around herself to stop the shaking. 

"See," he said, just loud enough for her to hear as she walked away, "I know exactly what I'm doing. That doesn't mean I can stop it." 

Scully didn't know where to go. The rangers had finally gotten hold of the Mt. Desert Island Search and Rescue, a group of about thirty volunteers, to search the various trails–always in pairs or threes, never alone, in the hopes that they'd be safer that way. Armed and nervous, they were crawling up and down the mountains, looking for trouble. She didn't want to go out with them; she didn't know enough about what she was doing to leave the trail, as might become necessary. They were taking Mulder's word that the killer was too disorganized to behave normally for any extended period of time, and so they were checking the ID of anyone they found and engaging in conversation, giving friendly warnings about the danger of the trails at this time of year. 

That was the kind of routine hackwork that she liked least about being a field agent, and in this case it was local law enforcement's job and she wasn't going to join them. But she certainly didn't want to stay with Mulder. She'd walked down the access road from Jordan Pond House back towards the ranger station rather than be with him, hand on her gun the entire time in case she was surprised. The risk of becoming the killer's next target seemed less important, when she started walking, than the risk that she'd blow Mulder's fucking head off if she had to look at him again. 

As she calmed down, she remembered the dangers of solo adventuring more clearly, but it was too late–going back would be just as dangerous, since she was just as alone no matter which direction she walked, and anyway Mulder probably had gone on without her. He'd have to take the car all the way around in the other direction, miles of miles of driving, because the Park Loop Road was one-way only by Jordan Pond House. She realized she felt some satisfaction from the idea that he'd have to circle the entire park without her. Let him worry, if he cared to. 

She felt so useless. Mulder might complain about the indignity of being assigned to tracking a killer on an extended spree, not even a proper serial murderer in his expert opinion, but at least the magic word 'profiler' got him plenty of attention and even respect from the rangers. She was doing little more than improving upon the undertaker's skills. If there had been useful evidence to find, she was confident that she could have found it, but there was nothing there. She wanted to be back in the city, any city, where everything had a meaning and a purpose and evidence actually led somewhere. 

The sun was high overhead, and she didn't have sunglasses, so every time she emerged from under the shade of the trees she winced. And then scanned the area, nervously, in case someone had watched her momentary lapse. In the shade, it was about ten degrees cooler than under direct sunlight. The grass was lush and green by the roadside, except for brown patches near the trees where lack of sun–or something else–was inhibiting spring's rebirth. She was inured to the goiters and galls scattered through the trees; even the warts and boils on the new spring leaves failed to surprise her. They were unattractive, but meaningless. The sun made patterns on the ground and the grass like fine lace. 

Even this walk was make-work for herself, her observations so banal as to bore even her. Unless she took up a second career as a tree surgeon, Acadia embodied everything in which she had neither competence nor interest. 

It was enough to make her wish for a new body to examine, though that would undoubtedly prove as frustrating as the last few. Coming to Acadia had been a bit of genius on the killer's part, genius that he was probably too whacked-out to appreciate: With no home, no job, and no contacts with the human world except for his victims, gathering information about him was singularly useless. If she'd found some pollen or soil or lichen that only grew in one place in the park on the corpses, they might have a breakthrough, but so far she'd gathered nothing of the sort. And Acadia's resident botanist was on safari in Africa, address unknown, so more subtle tracking was impossible. 

There was a crack from somewhere within the forest, probably about twenty feet away from the road. Scully froze in her steps and slowly, carefully, pulled her gun from underneath her jacket, turning so that it would not be visible from the trees. She was standing in the sunlight, a perfect target but for the fact that the killer didn't seem enamored of distance weapons. The real problem was that she couldn't see into the relative darkness of the forest. 

"Is someone there?" she called. 

She squinted and tried to see further into the trees. A dark face leered out at her–then resolved into a part of a tree trunk, a scar from a long-lost branch. 

Scully remembered to breathe. "Are you lost? Do you need help?" She called louder this time. 

A bird cooed and fell silent. 

"If anyone is there, please come out." Her voice sounded frightened. She was vaguely ashamed of the weakness. 

Slowly, she began to back away from the forest, gun still clutched firmly in her right hand, half-raised to fend off a sudden attack. No movement caught her eye. And surely the debris on the forest floor would make some noise if a person were truly walking there. 

She glanced down at her feet just in time to avoid falling on her ass when she reached the curb. She dared a glance down the road to see if any cars were coming. There was nothing, and so she walked into the road. 

Scully walked in the center of the road all the way back to the rangers' station. No cars passed her way. 

Mulder had not returned to the rangers' station. Scully sat there for a few hours, listening to the search and rescue teams check in every fifteen minutes. The rangers had taken the opportunity of a park-wide search to have the teams look for roads in bad condition, so most of what she heard was about routine maintenance. A carriage road hard-hit by spring runoff here, a wooden footbridge rotting there. Some trails too slippery to traverse because of water on the lichen or a remaining layer of ice. It was, she concluded, pretty boring to be a park ranger. 

Finally, one of the rangers took pity on her. It was the man who'd shown them to Thunder Hole on the first day; he offered Scully a ride back to the cabin. Ranger Gephardt, that was his name. She was grateful that his uniform included a nametag; she should have tried to remember the name, because it wasn't as if she was going to run out of storage space in the time she had remaining, but by the same token learning new information was seeming less and less important to her these days. The price was that she had to answer Gephardt's questions about the glamor and glory of the FBI; Scully trotted out the raid on the militia and the Flukeman, as two ends of the spectrum of danger and excitement, and was rewarded by the fact that the ranger's excitement made him hit the gas hard, so the trip took only ten minutes. She thanked him and went straight into the shower. 

Miracle of miracles, Mulder had returned when she got out. As she dried off, she could hear the familiar rise and fall of his voice as he was being denied something by the person on the other end of the cellphone. 

Scully leant against the bathroom door, trying to decide whether to face him or not. 

"Hey, Scully," he called, rapping his knuckles on the other side–it sounded as if he was hitting right by her face, and she reared away. "Are you okay?" 

Oh good, she thought, relieved. We're just going to ignore it. "I'm fine, Mulder." 

There was a brief silence. She heard him moving away, giving her space to emerge. "The rangers are hopeless. Forty people isn't enough–a hundred would be a minimum. With forty, he can just keep moving around. He won't even need to get off of the trails to evade them. He'll hit the Precipice next, after Jordan Pond. I think that he'd prefer to have a victim present him or herself to him–it will be fate, if he just stumbles into the next one. I'm going to Jordan Pond–those rangers have no idea how to approach him, and they'll just scare him away." 

Mulder's voice came through the door muffled, and Scully had to strain to understand him. 

"Hold on," she called out. "I'll be ready in a minute." Her hair would look bad, but she wasn't dressing up for anyone in particular. 

"It's all right," he said, and she heard him slide the glass doors open, "you just wait here and see if Boston comes up with anything on the semen or the trace evidence." 

"Wait!" she yelled. The door clunked into the frame, and she heard the key turning in the lock. 

Scully ripped the towel from her head and tossed it on the floor, opening the bathroom door just in time to see Mulder leave the deck. She searched frantically for her shoes, shoving them on without socks, and ran outside. He was starting the car; he couldn't avoid seeing her in the rear view mirror, but he didn't stop. 

Scully watched the car pull away, feeling sick to her stomach. She trudged back up the wooden deck that ran around the side of the cabin and went back inside. Methodically, she dressed. 

This was a regular case. He needed her. 

This was a regular ditch. He'd never admit his need, not that way. He was still angry or afraid of her anger, and he didn't want to deal with it until they'd caught the madman. 

This was worse than a regular ditch, because it was about the cancer. It was about losing her vision, maybe her mind, and he was taking away the last thing–the only thing–she had. 

Fuck this, she thought, and pulled out her cellphone. 

He picked up on the third ring. "Ranger Langbein?" 

"Agent Scully?" 

She was impressed. He'd only known her for a few days. "Agent Mulder took the car to get another look at Jordan Pond, but I just realized that I need to examine some of the sites again. In particular, I'd like to get a look at the Precipice. Is there any way you can send someone to take me into the park?" 

He cleared his throat. "I'd be happy to drive you there. You're at the Blue Moon?" 

"Yes." She looked out the huge glass panes that showed her the ocean of forest. Last year, maybe, she could have had a very nice vacation here, full of color and life. Never noticing the imperfections that were normal parts of life. 

"I'll be there in fifteen minutes." 

"Thank you," she replied, a little dazed–she'd almost forgotten about him, right there on the phone–and hung up. 

Scully sank into the folding chair with its back almost touching the refrigerator and looked out into the sunset. Above the dark green of the massed trees, the sky was pink. Distant clouds drifted near the horizon, fluffy and outlined with orange where their tops hit the sunlight. Higher above, the sky was still blue, darkening slowly into cobalt as the sun faded away. 

I'm coming for you, she thought. This is not yours to own or to deny me.

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