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Mulder considered the park. He'd wandered past the parking lot and onto the rocks facing the sea after Scully disappeared. She'd find him when she wanted to leave. 

He was struck by the varieties of grey–in Washington, grey came in shades from concrete to gum. Here there was infinite variety. The sun picked out round bumps and jutting arms, warming the stones and making the individual dots of pink and white within the grey sparkle. 

The cliffsides were rifled like the pages of a poorly-cut book on the landward side. In some places, the rock was so broken that he could stand on twenty tiny peaks at once, hoping that his boots would hold up. In other places, the rock was divided into car-size cubes and trapezoids. 

Because of the rock's crystalline properties, it was easy to find nearly-sheer drops only feet from the well-worn, perfectly safe trail. There were many narrow crevices where the water had penetrated deep into the rock. 

Mulder walked toward one outcropping, intending to look out at the sea, and suddenly found that the path was blocked by a gap in the rock that was invisible from even feet away. He was lucky he'd been walking slowly enough to notice. He looked down into the shadowed, wet crevice. The white foam where the sea met the rocks in an unending battle was visible, and there were clumps of algae. 

There was also motion, a hundred feet below him–human figures, bending over the dank green masses on the shark-toothed shore. He squinted and decided that they must be Japanese visitors, collecting kelp pods to eat as a delicacy. He remembered kelp from the shores of his childhood, salty and shiny, gelid green or rusted red, some kinds as delicately lacy as a fan and other kinds dotted with hollow pods that would snap open and release the scent of the sea. 

There were birds below him, floating in the water. Every few minutes, a duck would spot something edible in the water and a whole flock would dive down at once, turning into blurry white lines in the water and then returning en masse to the surface, sated. 

There was a crack! a few hundred feet to his left, and he spun around, nearly losing his footing on the rock. He regained his balance in time to focus on the herring gull swooping to eat fragments of sea urchin. It had dropped the green, spiny ball from a height of several dozen feet to crack the shell and get at the tasty flesh inside. He grinned at the bird, wishing it well in the Darwinian struggle. His own feet crackled over remnants of past such meals. 

Mulder frowned, realizing he'd lost focus. He could feel the profile crawling around in the back of his head, but he couldn't quite articulate it. 

Was this a long-term consequence of his recent impromptu surgery, he wondered, subtle damage to the linguistic centers of the brain that would make communication even more difficult for him? Usually he could spit out letter-perfect profiles while simultaneously knotting his tie. It was his gift to be fluidly, expressively snide and patronizing about his specialty, even though he was unable to communicate anything else without a thousand false starts. If that facility were gone, how would he maintain the mystique that offset his obvious instability? 

God only knew what Scully would say if he told her this fear. Probably remind him that he was lucky to be alive, and then turn around and patronize him for not realizing that the brain tissue 'that quack,' as she called him, had penetrated was not generally associated with any linguistic processing functions in any reported research. As if that would reassure him. 

She'd told him that the areas potentially damaged were some of the ones suspected to affect visual memory, which might explain the hallucinations/memories/whatever he'd recovered, and in particular might explain how he appeared in them full-grown. Spot damage to those portions of the frontal lobe could produce flashes of memory, or what seemed to be memory, and would certainly be conducive–Scully-speak again–to conflation of one memory with another, or a memory with a wish or a dream. 

There was nothing to be done about it now, anyway, and so he wished she'd stop harping on it. She was the one who thought that time was a universal invariant; what did she expect him to do? 

Apparently not, if he wasn't going to be able to produce a profile that would enable them to get back to D.C. and let Smokey the Bear take care of catching the bad guy. 

He knelt and picked up a handful of pebbles, pink feldspar and sparkling quartz intermixed with greyish shells. They ran through his fingers and left no trace behind. 

Their killer wanted this tracklessness–wanted to leave no mark on the land. Wanted to turn the tables, mark the people instead. He put the bodies on the landmarks, carrion in the midst of stunning beauty–to show how people were corrupt and corrupting? To warn them away? 

The symbolism was crude and at the same time inarticulate. It couldn't be long until he became completely irrational, but that wasn't as helpful out in the wilderness as it would have been in the middle of a city. Even an irrational person can get along fine if he only encounters one person at a time, and kills that person to boot. 

Mulder rose and turned away from the ocean. Picking his way over the rocks, he returned to the path and then crossed the access road, into the forest proper. 

The park had thousands of colors of green. There was the dry, mint green of desiccated moss on the rocks. There was the living, but somehow unhealthy, deep and velvety green of the living moss near it. The trees were green and fresh. In some places, the grass was also young and bright green; in others, the grass was green right where it emerged from the ground, but straw-white after about half an inch, as if Mother Nature had her hair frosted by an over- zealous hairdresser. Small ferns emerging from the ground were green; the epicytes that hung from dying trees like fairy hair were a light, minty green. 

There were other colors, too: Rocks of uniform gray, or black where they had been exposed to water, or rich brown. Tree trunks were gray, and where a limb had broken off recently, he could see a shocking contrast where the inner wood of the tree, vibrant orange- brown, met the gray of the bark. There were also white birches, their pallor constantly interrupted with round black spots where branches might have grown, or patches where a layer of bark had come off, revealing a gray layer beneath. The soil was black and soggy with water, sprinkled with fragments of leaves. Acadia wore a coat of many colors, as spring worked its alchemy on the detritus of the last season. 

He could still smell the ocean, salty and true through the mossy scent of ferns and the odor of balsam. It had been a cold spring, and not very much was growing yet, but he could smell the new life just under the surface. 

There were very few insects, not at all as the tourist brochure had promised for summer visitors. Occasionally, he could hear birds: the soft hooting of an owl, the tap-tap-tap of a woodpecker, or other, less identifiable noises. Leaves laced through his field of vision, spiky and round and everything in between, strung on branches that grasped higher towards heaven than he aspired. 

Mulder could feel the weight of the forest, pressing in on him even when he was so close to other people. The forest had swallowed him; if Scully began to look for him, as she would undoubtedly do in a minute or two, she would have no idea where to start. He was insulated, protected, alone. He could stay here forever, with the trees. They made no demands of him. They were tall and strong. Maybe he could learn how to be like them. 

Mulder shook his head, confused. He stared down at his hands- -familiar hands, though he could barelyy feel them now and he didn't think it was entirely the cold that was to blame. These thoughts didn't feel like his own. If they were his own, there'd be more guilt for considering laying down his burden and hiding from the rest of the world. 

This peace wasn't for him; it was the killer's. Always remember who is doing the hunting, Patterson had said. It's harder than just existing. Any fool can learn to be someone else, he'd lectured, but the real trick is to be both of you at the same time. 

He emerged from the woods and paused on the grassy strip dividing trees from concrete to look both ways before he crossed back to the trail by the shore. He strongly wished for more assistance. This wasn't a case that required his special talents; what they needed was forty or fifty more rangers and a good manhunt. 

As if God heard and wanted to punish him for his presumption, just then he felt it. It was as if colored filters had snapped down over his eyes. The world twisted and shuddered under his feet. He spun around, gripped by the certainty that if he left his back to the forest it would eat him alive. The sky became white and featureless; the trees began to dance, swaying back and forth as if following the rhythm of an unheard waltz. Their branches smoothed and grew liquid and graceful, black against the contrasting sky. 

He sank to his knees, trying to understand what had gone wrong. 

His head felt heavy, fuzzy. It was so hard to think when the trees weren't helping him. How had he ever made it this far, without them? He wanted to weep with gratitude, but he was so lonely when they stopped talking. How had he gotten so far away from them? He'd have to get back. He rose carefully into a crouch, looking in every direction to make sure that he was safe. 

Across the concrete scar, a young tree waved reassuringly. So much filth around him, filth and corruption; he felt again unworthy, and so grateful, to have been chosen from all the meat in the world to join with them. 

He was on his hands and knees, watching the white sunlight sprinkled on the loam, highlighting random places. There, a rock shone, bright as a diamond; here, a patch of moss glowed, green velvet. The face of the last intruder he'd punished shone from the tree's whorled bark like an object lesson. Moaning with relief, he crawled toward the welcoming tree and buried his face in her beckoning, tattooed lap. 

And came back, feeling his face sting where the bark had scratched him. Mulder wiped at the dirt and bark fragments without much hope, trying to make himself minimally presentable. No one was yelling for help for the crazy man, which meant that his performance had probably gone unobserved. He remembered the handkerchief he'd been carrying around for Scully, and used it to wipe off the worst of the grime from his face and hands. The knees of his pants were a total loss, still wet from the surf and now saturated with mud; he'd even managed to generate a tear on that stumble. 

He was standing, but he leaned against the tree for support, ignoring the damage to his sweater. 


Would he have been so monstrous as to understand the killer if his life had not changed irrevocably when he was twelve? Or was the insight into the death-drive a part of him anyway? After all, he'd planned his first murder when he was seven–his first-grade teacher, the one who always singled him out for special attention because he was so 


, thus ensuring that all the other kids would hate him–and, looking back, it really would have worked, except that, in retrospect, he hadn't been quite coordinated enough at seven to make the door close at just the right time. He'd all but profiled his baseball coach at ten, figuring out what to say to the sadistic bastard to make things a little easier for the team–already, then, he had learned how to irritate adults and draw their fire away from the more vulnerable kids who didn't understand the dynamics of human suffering. Maybe Samantha was just one more excuse, and he was always destined to live in dangerous thoughts, to understand the evil and damaged half-people whose mission was to make life on earth as hellish for others as it was for them. 

He didn't want to do this anymore. He'd thought that the X Files would protect him. He should have known better. There was no protection for what he was; even if he quit the FBI and became a hermit, he'd still see the murders when he looked around. Hell, they'd probably be drawn to him, because being completely understood by another human being is a dream that few have fulfilled. 

He looked around again. No faces in the treetrunks, not at the moment. He'd learned very little from the episode; the killer didn't seem to plan very far in advance. The forest, with all its presence, felt empty of humans. The man they were looking for had not stayed to watch the ants scurry, so to speak. What was the need to watch meat stumble around? 

"Well, that was pleasant," he informed the forest, and went to look for Scully.

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