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.

Scully had been working long enough that the powder in her latex gloves had lost almost all of its effectiveness, and as she pulled the yellow material off she experienced a sensation not unlike peeling her bare legs off of a vinyl seat on a hot and sticky day. She shuddered and quickly went to wash her hands, throwing the gloves into the tiny hazmats bin as she went. 

Death was always ugly. So much of the beauty of the human form came from motion; even the flush on the most emaciated model's cheek was at least an imitation of the flow of blood beneath the skin. Still the heart and lungs, and the imperfections began to matter. The pores of the skin gaped more; the wrinkles spoke of hard wear and loss of elasticity rather than experience and passion for living. Ignore that, and the hungry bacteria surging from the gut, the air, the ground around the body still clamored for attention, bloating the flesh in places, collapsing it in others. 

Waterlogged dead people, in particular, were close to burn victims in sheer unappetizing grotesquerie. Every lesson had to be literally squeezed out of the body. Most clues had disappeared under the relentless erasure of water. Flesh frayed, contents of arteries and intestines washed out…at least this one hadn't had many fish at him. Not many. 

She'd dictated her findings into her trusty little recorder, for whatever good they'd do. Off the one arm they had, she'd managed to salvage a few partial fingerprints. Dismemberment, in this case, had been an investigative aid; the arm had probably tumbled this way and that in the small cave by the shore. If it had been attached to a body, it probably wouldn't have changed position as much, and the outstretched hands would have bashed into the sand over and over again, quickly obliterating any useful prints. 

Scully sighed and rolled her shoulders back, trying to work out the pain caused by too many hours craning down at bad angles. Bar Harbor, not surprisingly, did not have very extensive investigative facilities, and adjustable tables were out of the question. 

So what had all her exacting care told her? She tried to organize a list of important points in her head. It was very important to be ready for Mulder's questions. He thought so damn fast, and if she wasn't going to struggle to keep up she had to be completely in command of her side of the story. 

Caucasian male, mid-twenties (which, of course, only described about 35% of the visitors to the park, she thought darkly). Blond, almost shockingly so, judging by the arm and pubic hair. Even most natural blonds have darker, even brownish, pubic hair, but not this man, which implied that he was very, very fair. On a hunch, she suspected oculocutaneous albinism, probably tyrosine-positive–though that was just a guess; she'd have to confirm it with hairbulb analysis. She'd taken samples from his arm to send down to the lab in Boston, just to make sure. If he had albinism, that would make him easier to identify in some ways, but harder to track–he'd probably had thick sunglasses and lots of protection from the sun, at least if he had any sense, because one of albinism's less pleasant consequences was enhanced vulnerability to sunburn and skin cancer. If he'd gone around the park bundled up, it was unlikely that anyone would remember him very well. 

He'd been taken apart with a hacksaw, she'd concluded after careful inspection. The park officer who'd called in the FBI had been sure it was teeth, which was why it was ostensibly an X File, but the officer had obviously known more about preventing forest fires than about identifying death mechanisms. Couldn't blame her, really. After nearly a day in the water, the edges of the flesh looked pretty ragged. Only the scratches on the bone itself, which the poor ranger couldn't have been expected to examine fully, identified the cutting instrument as a hacksaw. 

Scully realized that her hair was soaked with sweat, from concentrating in the closed, airless little room they'd given her. It had been freezing when she came in, but hours of work had bled heat off of her and into the room. She pulled off the elastic band she'd been using to keep her hair back and shook her head like a dog coming in out of the rain. 

"Do you serve towels with your showers?" 

She started, and opened her eyes to Mulder's shit-eating grin. "I didn't hear you come in," she chided. 

"I'm the strong, silent type." 

Mulder looked like she felt. He had a good day's worth of stubble, except for the patch near his mole where hair wouldn't grow; she'd diagnose it as alopecia from stress if she didn't think he'd take her head off for telling him so. His sweater, the nice new one she'd made him put on a few hours ago, was covered with debris, and his pants were ruined. His greyish trenchcoat hung from him like a loose skin about to fall off; even the drooping belt looked dejected. His eyebrows were bunched and lowered over his eyes, so she knew he had a headache. One pupil was still larger than the other. What was the Bureau thinking, sending him out on a case only a week after he'd had a hole drilled in his head? God, it was like a bad joke: Mulder needs another serial killer case like he needs a hole in the head–oh wait, he has a hole in the head. That butcher–she stopped herself and brought her attention back to the case. 

"I think our victim suffered from albinism, Mulder." She outlined her findings quickly, and he took it in. 

"Do you think that the victim's condition made him stand out to our UNSUB?" she asked when she'd finished the recitation. 

Mulder shook his head uncertainly. "I don't see it yet. You said he might have been particularly dressed up? Unnaturally protected from the natural world? I–" He winced. 

"Let's turn in for the night," Scully said. 


"I could use some sleep," she conceded, for once letting him use her as an excuse without protest. "Pickled corpses aren't my favorite." 

"Yeah, it's pretty ripe, isn't it?" 

Scully looked at him uncomprehendingly. 

"The smell, Scully?" 

She shook her head. "I–" 

Mulder just looked at her, and it made her want to cry. She focused on cleaning up, sealing the body parts into their separate bags, tagging and labeling everything for future reference. So that it could be used at the killer's trial, if necessary. Or in case someone else had to take over. 

He was still standing there, watching. She could feel his gaze on her skin. 

"I've been expecting this for a while, Mulder. My doctor said that the olfactory nerve was unlikely to survive much longer. I suppose I just didn't notice. It shouldn't impair my ability to do the job." 

She did not look up to judge his reaction. 

She let Mulder drive, even though she could tell that he had to struggle to keep his attention on the road. The night was completely black; there was no artificial light at all but their brights as they drove down the darkened state road. The woods on either side of the road soaked up the headlights after only a few feet. It was like driving through a trench. Mulder had found the one non-static-filled radio station. "I'm married to a waitress and I don't even know her name," the radio sang, and she couldn't even force herself to smirk along with Mulder. 

Scully stared out at the window, into the darkness, wondering if death would look like the cool Maine night. Sometimes she thought that she could feel it moving in her body, growing cell by cell. 

Mulder spoke in half-sentences as he drove, telling her what he'd found while she'd been slicing and dicing. He'd taken a look at Bubble Rock. No signs of struggle, further evidence for his conviction that the killings were done elsewhere and then the bodies were moved to prominent tourist spots. 

Langbein had wanted to clear away the police tape so that tourists could return to the Rock. He'd already had three Representatives' offices call and ask why their constituents couldn't see the wonders of America preserved with those same constituents' hard-earned tax dollars. 

Mulder had told them it was fine, let the tourists scramble over the site and Thunder Hole as well to their hearts' content, because he didn't think there was much more to be learned from the sites, and there were plenty of photographs. The setup at Bubble Rock was rather simple: Dead body, left to be found. Minimal planning, zero trace evidence. Rock and tree trunks didn't take footprints very well, let alone fingerprints, and if their UNSUB was some sort of mountaineer type living lightly on the land he wouldn't leave many traces at the best of times. 

As they pulled up the twisting gravel driveway leading to their cabin, Scully reflected that it was a sign of Mulder's trust in her that he'd let her hear him thinking out loud. At least there was some trust left between them, however fragile, however limited to the professional. 

Mulder had found them a cabin at the top of one of the bigger hills, at a place called the Blue Moon. It was the off season, so even though the cabins didn't have a government rate, they'd still be able to avoid a fight with Accounting. It had two real bedrooms as well as a minuscule bathroom and a main room that served as a kitchenette and living room. One wall of the main room was taken up with sliding glass doors and a huge picture window; Scully gathered from the promotional literature left on the kitchenette table that the sunset from this cabin was remarkable. 

Then she went into her bedroom; Mulder had already chosen the one on the left. She wearily removed her suit and hose. The hose stuck to her feet unpleasantly. Just another rough day. 

Mercifully, she slept almost as soon as her head hit the pillow. 

Scully woke with the dawn. The bed was positioned so that the first rays of the sun came through the high window, which she hadn't even noticed last night, and hit her pillow. Scully rubbed at her eyes and checked her watch. It was not yet six. Following the next step of her morning routine, she checked the pillowcase– still pristine and slightly stiff, the cheap hotel cotton blend smelling of pink soap. 

She laid back and tried to rest, but it was hopeless, so after a few minutes she got up and put on her robe. She didn't hear Mulder moving around. As quietly as she could, she opened her bedroom door and entered the main room. 

Mulder was outside, leaning on the wooden railing that circled the deck, looking out over the darkened treetops. He was facing west, where the stars were still visible. He didn't turn, and she thought that she hadn't made enough sound to travel through the glass doors.

His hands were braced on the railing, as taut as if he were about to swing over and throw himself to the ground below. But his eyes were on the stars. His long, brown-furred legs were bare, though he had a green sweatshirt on. She could see the faint steam from his breath rise over his head and dissipate. 

Making a decision, she picked up a blanket from the couch and walked over to the door. She slid it open, then shook out the blanket as she walked onto the deck. The weathered wood was cold against her feet. 

Scully wrapped the blanket around Mulder's hips. She would have put it around his shoulders, but the blanket wasn't big enough and neither was she. He didn't react until she put her hand on his right arm–it was cold, too cold–and moved it to hold the blanket up. 

"My sister's blood cries out to me from the ground," he said, as if he were reading a far-off sign. 

Scully wanted to cry. It was too early for this. And too late. 

"You're not God, Mulder. You aren't responsible for what you can't know, what you couldn't have done anything about." 

"But I do know. Somewhere, if I could only remember. I can remember every stupid thing Professor Greeley ever said, even though I already knew it was mostly wrong, but I can't remember what happened to her." Now he took the blanket, pulling away from her hands, wrapping it around himself to give himself its fragile protection. 

Scully shivered, hugging herself. "You'll never fix the present by rediscovering the past." 

"Says the woman who refuses to live in either." 

She fell silent. That wasn't exactly fair, but it wasn't wrong. Her breath barely created any fog; even the air knew that she was half a ghost already. 

"You know, the operative assumption at VCU is that I did her- -in both senses of the word, Scully–annd repressed it, and the guilt is what makes me so good at what I do." 

"I can't believe they would say something so unprofessional, Mulder." 

"She's a case study. One of Patterson's games. You show up for training and you get all the facts and you're asked for a profile. You're specifically asked if the brother could have done it. You know what the correct answer is? 'Cannot be excluded.' Everyone there thinks I 'cannot be excluded.'" 

Scully reached out and put her hand on his shoulder. She could feel the bones, burning through the sweatshirt. 

He half-turned and flicked his eyes down her body. She would have found it insulting in anyone else, but she knew by now that she'd made different rules for Mulder, and in any event he was only evaluating how much weight she'd lost recently. "Let's play a game." 

She waited apprehensively, letting her hand fall to her side. 

"I'll tell you things about the body on Bubble Rock, and each time you get the meaning right that's one lecture of yours I'll sit still for." 

Scully rubbed at her eyes. "Do we have to do this?" 

"Why, Scully, whatever happened to that ambition of yours? Don't you want to know how it's done, how the sibyl reads the bones?" 

She didn't like the fey, mocking tone in his voice. It was a little too thin and strained; he was trying too hard to be Fox Mulder, the unaffected, the blank wall that absorbed everything and admitted nothing. 

"What did you find?" she asked, resigned. 

"Our first victim's a simple beating death–a sharp blow to the back of the head with your standard blunt object. From the dirt and bark fragments embedded in the wound, even Doc Holliday the local sawbones was able to discern that the instrument of death was most likely a big branch. With me so far?" 

She'd examined the wound herself. It had required considerable force; depressed skull fractures aren't easy to create. She scowled at him. He knew she'd seen it. If she humored him too much, he'd sense it and get even more resentful. 

"So, a wagonload of happy campers hikes up the hill to the famous Bubble Rock, and they find themselves staring at the dead man's face. Eyes open, face slack." He paused. "Comments?" 

God, how she hated this. 

She didn't expect him to know science, actually it was better when he didn't try, and she'd even let that silly lecture on 'punctual' equilibrium slide. She closed her eyes, imagining the photos of the scene, trying to compare it with others. 

Her eyes snapped open and she looked up at him defiantly. "He didn't know the victim. Didn't need to cover the face or close the eyes to apologize or depersonalize–the victim was already just a symbol to the killer." 

Mulder mock-applauded, letting the blanket slide from his shoulders. "We'll make a profiler of you yet." 

Scully opened her mouth to point out that she probably wouldn't have too much time to become comfortable with the skills, but bit the comment back. That was too cruel, even for this game. 

"So how's the man look to you, all curled up on the Rock. Remind you of anything?" He stared fixedly into the distance. His eyes didn't follow the birds that soared in the near-darkness, still searching for dinner. 

She frowned. 

"Here's a hint: What did the killer do? What did he need to have happen to make the scene right?" 

Again, the black-and-white photographs rose from her memory. The balled-up corpse, staring eyes and trailing hands, perched like a thrill-seeking contortionist on top of that rock. The sun coming over his uncaring shoulder, but he'd never be sunburnt again. 

The rock on top of the mountain. The man on top of the rock. 

"He's–formed into the shape of the rock. Before rigor set in, probably right after the murder, the killer arranged the body into the shape of the rock," she said wonderingly. The real world was fading, the photographs taking on an increasing reality. "That's what had to happen–he needed a symbol." 

She tried to focus on Mulder. A few blinks, and the blurriness cleared. Some color leached back into the world: midnight green trees, lightening sky as blue as absinthe, Mulder's bark-colored hair. 

Mulder turned and smiled at her, pleased; it was heartbreakingly genuine. The storm had broken, and he was ready to forget it had ever happened. 

She had an insight: He thought she was water, through which he could rage without leaving marks. This, in its way, was his testament to her strength, the strength he believed he saw in her. For her own sake, she tried to believe it as well. 

Mulder stretched, letting the blanket fall to the wooden planks beneath him, and turned to go back into the cabin. 

"Ready for breakfast?" she asked, bending to pick up the blanket. She shook it, raining fragments of leaves and twigs onto the deck, and refolded it. 

She let him wave her through the door, holding the blanket in front of her like a shield.

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