Animus Legnius

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TITLE: ‘ANIMUS LIGNEUS’ (Latin: ‘Wooden Heart’)

AUTHOR: XSketch

E-MAIL: sketchney@ntlworld.com

ARCHIVE: Exclusive to IMTP for the first two weeks, and then the kid

is yours to foster, as long as my name, addy and all headers stay

intact and you let me know where to visit 🙂

CATEGORY: Case-file. MSR.

SPOILERS: ‘Detour’. Small references to ‘Milagro’ and events from

IMTP Virtual Seasons 8 through first half of 11.

RATING: PG-13 – some bad words and content

SUMMARY: Hot on the heels of their last case, Mulder and Scully are

sent back to Florida and the woods to investigate when bodies start

turning up encased in the bark of trees.

DISCLAIMER: Maybe in a perfect world, but no, Chris Carter, FOX and

1013 Productions, David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson and Co. own

everything connected to the televised show and Andrew belongs to

Daydreamer – all used here without permission… The rest I dedicate

to the fans – LOL! No copyright infringement intended.

FEEDBACK: Loved, hugged, petted and made into a shrine at

sketchney@ntlworld.com or SketchShipper@hotmail.com. Even flames

will be put to good use – feeding our central heating boiler!!!

DEDICATION: Biggest thanks to the IMTP crew for letting me do this,

Sally for the friendly and super VS beta (down with the dots!), and

Marcella for answering my questions on continuity with her ep – as

well as being fun to chat with 🙂 This is for my younger sister,

Camille, for encouraging me not to give up with it (I know how much

you like to keep an open mind :-))!

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‘Living Nature, not dull Art

Shall plan my ways and rule my heart.’

~Cardinal John Henry Newman, ‘Nature And Art’

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XxXxX

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TEASER

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EDGE OF DESHUI FOREST

8 MILES SOUTH OF TALLAHASEE, FLORIDA

10:27 PM

Sometimes you just know if it’s going to be a beautiful evening or

not. You don’t know how and you don’t know why, but when you look

up at the night sky and feel the moon’s beam raining down on you,

something in your heart tells you that no matter what problems you’re

going through in your personal life, whatever war is starting up

somewhere in the world, as long as you can look up at that silver

saucer of light and feel free, you just do.

Tonight, Judy Gleeson decided, was going to be a beautiful night for

her whether nature liked it or not, otherwise there seemed little

point in carrying on. She’d just had an all-out argument with her

husband, and – whilst she loved the oaf like crazy – she just

couldn’t see any way of repairing things. So, now all she could do

was trundle down this well-trodden but dark track with ‘What next?’

thoughts chasing their way through her head.

That was when she noticed the parked car and the familiar figure

standing beside it.

“Hey!” she called, approaching the bespectacled man. “What you doing

out here at this time?”

Red eyes turned sharply to stare at her and make her stop dead still

where she stood for a moment.

‘It’s just the reflection of the brake lights in his glasses,’ she

told herself, finally continuing in her approach.

Of course, none of the car’s lights were on, but she had needed an

answer and that had been the only one to hand, so…

“You’ve had another argument,” the man stated flatly.

Stopping in front of him, Gleeson gave a confused frown and then

smiled, “Wow! How do you do that? You always know *exactly* what’s

going on with me! You spyin’ on me or somet’ing?”

The short, blond-haired man shook his head and then stretched out a

hand to rest against her chest. “I can feel it – your conflicting

emotions: you love him greatly, but you don’t know how to be with

him anymore, and–” Suddenly he burst into a violent fit of coughs,

all the colour drained from his face and the press of his palm

against her chest increased.

“Oh, my God!” Judy exclaimed, unsure of how to help. “Are you okay?”

“A-A-nother… They keep dying… M-Must h-h-help…”

“What?”

But he didn’t answer, and the last thing Gleeson’s brain registered

was the feel of something penetrating her heart.

XxXxX

SIX WEEKS LATER

“Oh, c’mon Bob! I’m doin’ better than you, and I’m the one carrying

the gear!”

Teddy Lancet stopped in the middle of the dirt track and turned with

hands on hips to stare accusingly at his hiking companion – who was

lagging behind at least thirty feet.

“Hell, what you doin’? Examining every blade of grass as well as the

wildlife?”

“Ha…Ha…” Robert Verrill croaked between laboured breaths. “Yeah

…but I…” Pause and hard swallow. “I…I weigh a-a…uh…a good

fifty pounds…more…and…we h-h-haven’t stopped walking f-for…

*Jesus*…an hour and…and a half or s-so… Can’t we stop j-just a

minute?”

Lancet stood still for a moment, then smiled and moved to where his

friend was now bent over. “Okay – of course! Look, there’s a

little clear patch with a fallen tree to sit on five minutes up the

track. Think you can make it that far?”

A deep, heaving breath was the only response Lancet thought he was

going to get until Bob cleared his throat and gave a small nod of his

head. “S-Sure.”

“All right. Come on.”

Despite the time of year, it had been a perfect day to come out and

explore the large woods – the sun had stayed out and the temperature

had remained fair, leaving little need for the extra layers of

clothing the couple had donned earlier that morning.

The only downfall, of course, had been the sight of the bare, dying

trees. Whilst much of that had to do with the cold and the ensuing

winter period, it saddened the two nature lovers when they remembered

how much forestry had been killed off in the past six months alone by

sporadic bush fires and tainted soil in this particular expanse of

wilderness – the cause of which was still unknown, though many locals

speculated and blamed it on the new development site in nearby

Tallahassee.

Nevertheless, Verrill and Lancet had refused to let that ruin their

hike and nature watch – especially when they had managed to get a

close snapshot of a young deer.

“Who needs those nature programmes when you can come out here and

experience it yourself?” Teddy had whispered. With a large grin

spread across his face, he’d turned his eyes away from the sight of

the doe only long enough to shoot his friend a glance.

Now, as they slowly neared their planned rest area and possible

campsite, something on the horizon stood out like a beacon in the

dark: a tree. But it was in full health – a bright, attractive trunk

topped by a full and lush bush of green leaves.

Approaching even further, they then spotted the human figure that

knelt in front of the oak…completely naked.

“What th–?” Bob coughed.

“Wait here,” Lancet instructed, patting his friend on the back.

“Maybe he needs help.”

Verrill was more puzzled about the tree, but he didn’t argue and

watched as Teddy moved quickly toward the odd set-up.

“Hey! You alright there, buddy?” Lancet called out to the stranger.

The nude man turned to stare at the hiker with what looked like

disgust, then raised to his feet and ran into the woods – somehow

seeming to disappear from vision.

Lancet cocked his head to one side in confusion and kept walking

until he stood in front of the tree.

If the sight of its incredible good health had shocked him, what he

was now being faced with completely knocked the breath from his

lungs. It looked like an intricate sculpture of a woman, but not

carved into the wood. It was as if the woman had been carved out of

a similar wood and then fused to this tree.

“*Wow*!” the last breath whispered as it passed the hiker’s gaping

lips.

He’d seen many beautiful pieces of artwork through the years, but

this was so realistic and eye-catching that it practically hypnotised

him.

At least until the eyes of the wooden sculpture opened.

XxXxX

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ACT ONE

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OFFICE OF WALTER SKINNER

FBI HEADQUARTERS

WASHINGTON, D.C

DECEMBER 12th, 2003

11:13 AM

Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully entered their boss’s office just as

he was finishing his conversation on the phone.

“Okay, and you… What?” Skinner paused and shot a glance over at

the two agents as they moved toward his desk. “How did you–

Actually, maybe I shouldn’t bother asking… Huh? Yes, yes, I’ll

tell them… Oh, I’m sure they will…”

The wry smile that lifted the assistant director’s cheeks made Scully

stop in her tracks and turn to look at Mulder with a raised,

questioning eyebrow. The only answer he could offer, though, was an

unknowing shrug of his shoulders and then the brief, gentle press of

his fingers against her back to encourage her forward.

“You too… I’ll see you next weekend… Bye.”

“Sir?” Mulder queried, sitting down at the same time as his partner.

Skinner put the receiver back in its cradle to end the call. “That

was Andrew,” the older man explained.

“How is he doing?” Scully cut in.

“He’s good, though he seemed more interested about how you two were

keeping after your last adventure than talking about anything else.

Said to tell you to try and be more careful in the future – you’ve

already outlived your nine lives ten times over.”

“Well, tell him we’re trying. We have a warranty out on those lives,

though, so we get a little more flexibility with them,” Mulder joked.

Scully gave a small chuckle, but it lacked humour, and she found

herself looking down at the hands that nervously fidgeted in her

lap. After more than a decade, hospital admittances and brushes with

death had become more a part of their lives than anything else, but

the warranty had started to wear thin – especially since she and her

partner had grown even closer and, ultimately, intimately involved

two years ago – and, God help her, she couldn’t stop wondering when

it would disappear.

There was an awkward moment of silence in the large room as the two

men stared at her, and Mulder was still fighting against the

instinctive urge to reach for one of her hands when Skinner opened

the folder that lay on the desk in front of him.

“Anyway, I know you two should be taking a couple days off to catch

up with some rest, but I’ve got a new case that’s right up your

alley,” he started.

Mulder watched his partner raise her head to attention and then

shifted in his seat so that he was more comfortable and looking back

at his boss.

“Yesterday a body was found in the woods-”

Both Mulder and Scully felt a chill run up their spines.

“-of northern Florida.”

Suddenly they wanted nothing more than to turn their badges in right

now and run as far away from the building as possible. Too many of

their regular hospital visits had been caused by cases in the woods,

and Florida had nothing but bad memories attached to it. They had

tried working there, vacationing there even, but the state didn’t

seem to want them and they were ready to leave well alone if it would

just stop beckoning them.

Scully could almost see in her mind another layer being slowly and

painfully scraped off of their life’s warranty.

“A-a body, sir?” Mulder almost choked, shooting his partner a brief,

awkward glance. “Murdered, I take it?”

Skinner was now the one that looked awkward as he fidgeted with the

case file. “Not exactly…”

“Not meaning to sound…uh…rude, sir, but can’t the county police

or even the Jacksonville field office deal with it?”

Again with the awkward fumbling and silence from the A.D.

“What I think Agent Mulder means is does this really fall under our

jurisdiction?” Dana started, shifting in her own chair.

“Yes, agents, it does – and not just because technically you had the

case first– but I’ll get to that in a minute. It can’t easily be

approached as a murder case because the woman – a Mrs. Judith Gleeson

– was, by all accounts, alive when she was discovered,” Skinner

explained.

“Sir, again please excuse my apparent ignorance, but you’re making no

sense.”

The assistant director gave an understanding nod and then handed both

agents a copy of a photograph from the brown folder. “*That* is how

Mrs. Gleeson was discovered.”

“Oh, my God,” Scully gasped, staring wide-eyed at the picture – a

close-up of the wooden sculpture that Teddy Lancet had found. “This

is a woman? Are you sure it’s not just some young budding artist

using the tree like a–”

“Not unless pieces of art have real, working eyes in them, Agent

Scully,” came Skinner’s agitated reply.

“And she’s *alive*?”

“No… She was when that picture was taken, but… Well, there was no

way of extracting her from the tree, so they chopped it down just

below her feet. As soon as it’d been successfully cut through there

was reportedly a large echoing scream and her eyes just closed.”

“Was there anything else odd about the crime scene?” Mulder asked –

speaking for the first time since he had been handed the photo.

Dana could just imagine their boss developing a nervous twitch any

second now. Not that she could blame him – the whole Florida and

woods combination was still eating away at her, and now she had to

contend with the idea that there might not be scientific rationale

for this. But Mulder’s question hadn’t exactly helped much with that

latter point; wasn’t the image he was looking at odd enough?

“All the trees are dying,” Skinner reported, “because of the winter–”

“Except that one?”

“Yes. The bark was healthy and you could have plucked it straight

from a painting of a summer day.”

“What are you thinking?” Scully quizzed, looking at her partner and

almost seeing the cogs turning in his head as he concentrated on the

photograph he held in his grasp.

He tore his eyes away from it long enough to glance at her with a

raised eyebrow and smirk, “Well, that’s just taking the term ‘tree

hugger’ a little too far, don’t you think, Scully?” before returning

to his visual examination. “I…I don’t know, but… But you said

something about this already being our case?” he sighed hesitantly,

turning his attention on Skinner.

“Two hikers found the ‘body’. They reported they spotted a naked man

kneeling in front of the tree before they saw ‘it’. Before he ran

away they got a look at his face and the description given to the

sketch artist was run through our databases. It matched one Jeffrey

Mark Glaser – a young tech-head you worked with in Leon County nearly

six years ago. He disappeared then and was presumed dead…until

now,” the A.D replied.

“The Moth Men,” Mulder told his partner. “Jeremiah Bullfrog.”

“Look, this case was supposed to have been forwarded to Deputy

Director Kersh, but somehow wound up on Kim’s desk early this morning

– whether accidentally or on purpose, I don’t know. But sooner or

later he’s gonna get a whiff of this and demand a rational resolution

to the case before getting into why he didn’t receive the file,”

Skinner grumbled, closing the folder and handing it over to Scully –

not noticing the smile of recognition and memory that had appeared

on her face after her partner’s last comment.

“Ah! Our speciality has always been the rational explanation!”

Mulder remarked, dryly.

“Whatever. Seats have been booked for you on the flight out in just

over an hour, so you’d better get going and get me those answers

before the hounds come knocking.”

“Yes, sir,” both agents replied in unison, raising to their feet and

then quickly leaving the office.

* * *

The journey down to the basement was quiet – the only form of

communication between them being brief, furtive glances and the touch

of clasping hands in the otherwise empty elevator.

It wasn’t until the office door swung shut behind Dana that Mulder

piped up, “So, are you thinking what I’m thinking, Scully?”

“You mean that maybe we should break a law or something in Florida so

that they’ll never let us back?”

“Nah-huh… Although, now you mention it, there is one law I wouldn’t

mind breaking with you–”

“Mulder!”

“What?” The smirk riddled with wanton mischief remained on his face

as he stood by one of the filing cabinets behind his desk and waggled

his eyebrows at her. “I don’t know what conclusion you could

possibly have believed my suggestion to mean-” *wink* “-but, anyway,

what I was thinking is that it’s Friday and maybe I should call to

make an advanced order on the pizza.”

“Mulder, Skinner’s booked us on a flight in an hour. And what about

the case? You can’t seriously tell me that you, Fox ‘Spooky’ Mulder,

are passing up the chance to investigate a perfect x-file?

Especially one snatched from under Kersh’s nose and with hints of the

Moth Men attached to it?” she snorted, resting her hands on her hips.

“Not four days ago you were released from hospital…and…” He

paused and stared at her through half-lowered lids as a sheepish

blush spread across his concerned features. “And I’m not even

sure you’re strong enough to be back at work yet – Doctor Jacobs said

you should at least keep your feet up for a week.”

“You know he said no such thing,” she countered. Mulder could be far

too overprotective sometimes, but his show of sincere worry touched

at the core of her heart and made her add with a small smile of

reassurance, “but thank you for putting my health before the work.

I’m fine – *really* – thanks to you and your twisted mind. I’ve

rested, and now I’m ready to work again.”

He didn’t look convinced, but then let out a sigh and continued to

worm his way out of travelling to Florida. “Yeah, but it’s almost

Christmas, Scully, and I haven’t even gotten yo–” He quickly cut

himself off. There was no way he was about to let her know he hadn’t

even bought her Christmas gift yet if he still valued his life!

There had to be another way to twist her around his finger… “I’ll

let you pick the movie…”

‘Look away!’ the voice in her head cried. He was looking at her with

those pleading puppy-dog eyes again and she knew she would do

anything he asked of her when he did that. He looked so innocent,

young, sexy–

“Mulder, no!” she spluttered, breaking eye contact for a second so

she could regain control of her senses. “We’re working – we’ve got

work to do – and as tired as we both are…as much as we both hate

it, we can’t just pick and choose which case we do or don’t

investigate depending on where it is!”

He shrugged dismissively and then turned away to thumb through the

files in the open drawer. “Why the hell not?”

There was a deep sigh from Scully as she opened the file Skinner had

handed them and stared again at the image of the woman merged with

the oak tree. “I just don’t see how it’s possible – firstly how she

got like that and secondly how she was still alive when she was

found.”

“Jeff Glaser was the last person we saw on a case that centred around

beings that were fighting back against development in the local area

of the forest,” Mulder muttered – half to himself as if to refresh

his memory. He scanned down the contents of the old x-file he had

just pulled from the cabinet. “He was never found… None of his

bank, social security, medical records etc. have been accessed this

whole time…four, five, si–” He cut himself off and looked up at

her. “That’s six years, Scully, of missing time. The second

assailant was never found either… What if–” He got that far-

off look in his eyes and expression on his face that she knew meant

his brain was concocting a theory – his initial dismissal of the case

and their shared hatred of some of the contributing factors seemingly

forgotten.

“What is it?” Dana quietly asked, stepping closer to him. “Have you

got a theory?”

There was a pause as he contemplated her question and the folder he

held in his hands, then shook his head, closed the file and stared

down at her. “No,” he half-smiled. “Not yet – especially not until

we’ve been to the crime scene.”

Scully returned the smile and gave an agreeing nod of her head.

“We’d better go catch that flight, then. I see an autopsy in my

future!”

“I was kinda hoping I would be there somewhere,” he replied,

sheepishly.

“You are, Mulder – always and forever,” she sighed, reaching for one

of his hands. “But priorities first.”

XxXxX

DESHUI FOREST

LEON COUNTY, FLORIDA

As the afternoon wore on, bringing light rain to the woods, Mulder

stepped out of the silver Taurus, opened up his umbrella and

approached the group of law enforcement officers that were still

scouring the area for clues. After touchdown at the airport a couple

hours ago he had driven his partner direct to the county morgue where

an autopsy bay had been prepared for her to examine the victim’s

body, and he hadn’t seen or heard from her since, so he had to

confess that he was feeling a little alone.

He glanced up briefly at the bare branches that hung above him and

then looked back down as he heard a voice call out, “You the fella

from the Bureau?”

Mulder pulled his ID from the pocket of his trenchcoat and watched as

a medium-built man in his early forties walked briskly toward him.

“Yeah – Special Agent Fox Mulder,” he replied.

“You alone?”

“My partner’s conducting an autopsy on Ms. Gleeson, but she should be

finished soon. Who are you?”

“Right. Oh, sorry, I’m Sheriff Crowley.” The uniformed man

outstretched a hand and shook Mulder’s. “Deputy took the call and

came out to investigate,” he explained as they both approached the

stump of the tree that had been cut down last night. “Found only two

sets o’ footprints – one being Teddy’s, the hiker what found her –

meaning the killer must have done her in elsewhere and then carried

her here.”

“Mm…” Mulder grumbled with a shake of his head as he crouched down

and examined the wet soil in front of the stump. “We don’t actually

know yet if there is a responsible assailant that caused this.”

“Did you see the pi’tures, Agent?” the sheriff scoffed. “Did you

even bother to take the time to read the report? We got a

description of the nut – it’s just a matter of finding him, and I

*will* find him. You’re just here to explain it all so we don’t

look silly, remember!?”

Knowing he and his partner had to tread exceptionally carefully with

this one because it hadn’t even meant to be their case, Mulder held

back the sharp rebuke he had wanted to give and looked up at Crowley

as he pulled a pair of latex gloves from the pocket of his suit

jacket. “I thought I was here to find evidence,” he eventually

retorted calmly, plucking two small flowers from where they grew out

of the base of the tree remains. He put one in an evidence bag and

the other carefully into the inside pocket of his black overcoat.

“Besides, maybe you didn’t read your own file properly, Sheriff, but

Ms. Gleeson has been missing since the end of October. If she was

‘done in’ – as you put it – here, any sign of struggle would have

disappeared by now.”

Crowley looked speechless as he frowned down at the agent.

Eventually he opened his mouth to respond, but that was when Mulder’s

cell phone chirped to life.

“Mulder.”

“Mulder, it’s me.”

“Hey! What you got?” he smiled at the sound of his partner’s voice

sighing at the other end of the line as he raised to his feet.

“I think you should really get here and take a look for yourself.”

Mulder frowned slightly and glanced down at his watch. “Sure. I’ll

be there with you in about half an hour.” He disconnected the line

and stared at the sheriff – handing over the evidence bag.

“What’s this?” Crowley huffed.

“Probably nothing,” the agent replied with a shrug, turning to walk

away. “But if I’m gonna explain any of this, I’d like to know I’ve

covered all my bases. Find out what that is and if it should even be

growing here – I don’t see it anywhere else.”

With that he made his way to the parked rental – eager to see his

partner again and desperate to get the case wrapped up as soon as

possible so that they could get the hell out of Florida before it

dealt them another bad hand.

* * *

For a moment the sheriff remained where he stood – watching as Mulder

ducked under the yellow police tape that cordoned off the area and

then drive away – until finally turning to the officer that waited

behind him.

“Widen the search!” he ordered with a snarl, thrusting the piece of

evidence into the unsuspecting officer’s hands. “And get that to

Thomkins at his lab – tell him Agent Mulder from the FBI wants an

identification on what that is. I don’t know who that jackass thinks

he is, but I’ll get my answers or at least gather as many clues as I

can to pass off as answers – even if we have to comb through the

whole damn forest!”

XxXxX

COUNTY MORGUE

5:07 PM

“Hey! How’s the slicing and dicing?” Mulder called to his partner as

he passed through the set of double doors.

Scully – dressed in her familiar scrubs – turned to watch him

approach as her hands folded across her chest. “Not so much ‘slicing

and dicing’, I’m afraid, as maybe ‘chomping and chiselling’ with a

chainsaw,” she said with a yawn.

“Now there’s a sight I wish I’d been here to behold – my little red-

haired partner wielding a large power tool…”

“Oh, I didn’t do it,” she smiled slyly, looking up at him as he

stopped right in front of her. “I had to call for some professional

help, and a young, muscular, handsome man came and did it for me.”

“You temptress, you,” Mulder breathed against her ear as he bent down

slightly. “Was he good?”

“Very.”

“Hmmm… That reminds me…” He paused, shot a cautious glance over

his shoulder to check the room was empty, then turned back and placed

a warm and tender kiss on her lips as he withdrew the small, still

perfectly intact flower from his coat pocket. “I brought you a gift.”

Opening the eyes that had slipped shut during the too-brief kiss,

Dana carefully took the offered item and stared at it. “What is it?”

“I don’t know – other than ‘a flower’, of course. I bagged another

one that was growing with it from the stump of your tree over there

and gave it to the sheriff – who, I have to warn, is *far* from

likely to be our friend any time soon… Seems to be under the

impression we’re just here to be used as a scapegoat if they don’t

get a rational explanation. But, anyway, I saw it and thought of

you – I know I still haven’t properly made up to you for when that

freaky stalker guy sent you a bunch of flowers and you were a little

pissed to discover they weren’t from me.”

He trailed off as she stretched up to give him a peck on the cheek

and whispered against his skin with a smile, “You’ve more than made

up for that, but thank you.”

A smile rested on his face also as he gave a nod and then watched her

turn away to place the flower down on one of the metal worktops.

“So, you said you had something to show me?”

She nodded and moved to pull off the sheet that had been covering

what remained of Judith Gleeson’s body. “Through all the years I’ve

worked with you, Mulder – all the cases we’ve investigated – I’ve

seen things that I could never have imagined seeing… Things that

have made me question my beliefs and science, defied explanation –

men made invisible by a djinn; bigfoot-like creatures that live in a

beautiful, hyper-sensitive land of their own; genetic mutants;

parallel universes and heaven only knows what else,” she said,

looking at him, a little flustered. “But *this*? Pardon the pun,

but this really has me stumped. First off, we took a core sample

from the tree to see if we could learn why the tree hasn’t gone

through the seasonal change, but as soon as we took it red blood

flowed out of the cavity.”

“Did you get a sample?”

“I sent the blood straight to Quantico to get a DNA test done. The

core sample was taken away to be looked at by a local botanist. But

that’s not all. Take a look here.” Scully lowered her gaze as, with

a scalpel, she carefully lifted a layer of the wood – revealing the

bare body tissue underneath. “I thought that somehow the bark had

grown over her – encasing her within the tree – but on closer

examination it turned out that the bark *is* her skin.”

“Wh-at?” Mulder spluttered awkwardly.

“What I mean is that the whole dermal surface of Mrs. Gleeson’s body

has somehow had its composition changed so that it’s now the bark.”

“She *became* the tree?”

Scully paused, embarrassed, and then came her reluctant admission.

‘Technically, yes, but even more so than that – and hold your hat,

Mulder, ’cause this is where the ride’ll hit its highest peak for

you. My handsome chainsaw professional–”

“Who was well protected, I take it?”

“–cut through the trunk as close to the front of the body as

possible… At least, that’s what we’d hoped to do, but her chest was

completely exposed – her ribcage was missing…”

“Why? If Glaser did do this, why take the time to cut open–”

“It wasn’t cut away – there are signs that a strong corrosive agent

was used, but delicately so as not to damage the organs within…

From what I can determine, though, it was done to create an access

path.”

Mulder cocked his head to the side and leaned back against one of the

unused gurneys as he placed a hand against his mouth in thought.

“A path to the heart, to be more precise,” Scully continued.

“Originally she may have been impaled on a branch, but further ones

have grown inside – blocking off the arteries and dissipating through

the chambers…” Scully paused and moved to the set of scales on her

left. “This is what was left.”

Her partner approached and stared over her shoulder at the object in

the tray. “It’s wooden.”

“Almost completely. It’s as if – and everything else I’ve said up to

this point has sounded pretty foolish, so I guess it won’t really

matter if I put this idea forward – the tree was sucking the life out

of her and leaving a hollow wooden casing behind!”

“That may not be as foolish as you think,” he commented.

“Mulder?” Scully frowned and stared at him intently as her hands

rested against her hips.

“You’re sure there’s no scientific basis you can think of right now?”

“Are you trying to rub it in that I can’t think of a rational

explanation to argue back with?”

There was a brief pause – as if he was contemplating the right answer

to give – and then he smirked, “I’m in no doubt that you’ll manage to

find a way to debunk my theory somehow, but no – I just wanted to

know in case it helped.”

“I…” Scully shrugged and glanced over at the entombed corpse.

“There’s a form of sulphus polypore fungus that primarily grows on

this type of tree – it’s called, uh, Bracket Fungus. It causes rot

in the heart of the trees… It’s a pretty big leap, but I guess it

could be possible this tree is using a similar–”

“Have you ever heard of Backster’s Theory, Scully?”

“You mean the lie-detector expert? It’s a controversial and well-

debated subject amongst some scientists – specifically biologists for

obvious reasons… But as nice and poetic as it is, Mulder, it’s

nothing but a fantasy out of a Disney film, and I don’t see how it

links to this? Don’t tell me you think the tree killed her?! I–”

She stared at the serious expression on his face. Of course that was

exactly what he was thinking! After all these years, how could she

question that certainty? “Why do you ask?” she sighed, lowering her

head far enough for her chin to rest against the top of her chest.

“Cleve Backster believed and experimented to prove that plants have

feelings just the same as we humans. What if – after being attacked

by the Moth Men – Glaser managed to tune into those feelings?”

“I was wrong: You don’t wanna talk about Disney. You’d rather quote

from ‘Fern Gully’.”

“Huh?”

“Mulder, I’ll concede to the fact that I can’t come up with a solid

answer to explain how this could have happened, but please don’t ask

me to believe that the trees were crying out to Jeff Glaser – who, by

the way, I’m not completely convinced is really still alive.”

“On my way to the crime scene – after booking us in at the motel and

questioning the hiker that found her – I spoke on the phone to a

local ecologist. Apparently there has been a continual deterioration

of the habitat due to an abnormally high number of temperate changes

in the area and an equally high concentrate of sulphates found in the

soil.”

Daylight was burning, she’d been trapped in here trying to conduct a

seemingly impossible and inconclusive autopsy for the last two hours,

and right now the only thing she was certain of was how wonderful the

thought of taking a scalding hot bubble bath was.

That was the only excuse she could think of to rationalise her

annoyance at Mulder’s standard knack of reeling off wild theories he

knew she would never believe – not until he’d convinced her

otherwise, anyway. And yet–

“I’m still failing to see your point,” she grumbled, snapping off her

pair of latex gloves.

“My point is the Moth Men killed to protect their natural habitat.

Glaser could be doing the same but going up a notch by…I don’t know

…performing some kind of sacrifice to help replenish the trees?

Using them as a substitute life resource?”

“‘Them’? We’ve only found one!”

“But I get the feeling more will turn up. There’s something just too

ritualistic for it to be the only one.”

“Okay, okay. So, how exactly are ‘they’ being used?”

Mulder looked over at the body on the gurney behind his partner, then

at the wooden heart on the scales, and then back at Scully’s

impatient expression. “Through the heart. You said yourself it was

as if ‘the tree were sucking the life out of her’. The heart is

considered worldwide in almost all cultures – as well as in the

obvious biological and scientific capacity – as the symbol of life,

love, faith, rebirth, fate… There are some cynics that believe

emotions such as anger, grief, guilt, pain, love, happiness etcetera

are just a series of electrical impulses our senses send to the

brain, which in turn tell us what we are feeling…” He towered over

her, and as his soft, hazel eyes gazed down upon her one of his warm

hands lifted to cup her cheek – slowly stroking his thumb across the

smooth skin.

They both knew it was dangerous for them to be this close in a place

where somebody might walk in at any second, but it felt so right.

“But then there are the rest of us that know – have been gifted with

the knowledge – that the heart is what keeps tabs on all of those

feelings and lets us know when they’re real. It’s the keeper of our

soul – when somebody else is not holding onto it for us, that is, or

we’re not holding theirs.”

Scully flushed at the sentiment of his words and the deep, quiet

growl of his voice, but then set her jaw and shook her head as he

reluctantly lowered his hand. “I know what you’re saying, Mulder,

but I also know that just because something looks as if it explains

what happened, doesn’t always mean to say it actually does. I said

that it looked as if the tree was doing that because there was no

other way to describe it… There’s no way to describe *any* of this,

though. We have no MO – no understanding at all why, let alone *how*

– and we don’t have a definitive suspect. You keep mentioning the

Moth Men, but as I recall you saying just this morning yourself,

Mulder, that was six years ago. *Six*. Neither hide nor hair has

been reported of the one that got away since–”

“Yes it has – in the mountains ba–”

His voice cut off abruptly as she raised her palm to face him and

turned her head away. That was *definitely* one she didn’t want to

remember in too much of a hurry, and he damn well knew it. “Just…

They only turned out to be mushrooms in the end, but… Just don’t

even think about mentioning that…”

He grimaced, awkwardly lowering his head and guiltily – regretfully –

mumbling, “Sorry.”

“But, anyway, likewise for Jeff Glaser,” Dana continued, silently

accepting his apology. “So why do you think either of them would

wait until now to do any of this?”

“Maybe Glaser was evolving.”

“Into what?”

Mulder opened his mouth to reply, but then shut it again – unable to

argue anymore with a theory even he wasn’t a hundred percent

convinced of. “He was seen in front of the tree completely naked,”

he offered.

“Yes. But he was seen on the day she was found. Mrs. Gleeson went

missing six weeks earlier, and for some reason – despite the very

alive state she seemed to be in before the tree was cut down – from

looking at the state of desiccation and decomposition evident in the

rest of her body, I’d have to say she’s been like that since she

disappeared. Why risk being caught by going back to see his

handiwork while undressed?”

There was an uncomfortable moment of silence as Dana rubbed her

temples and Mulder paced the room. They had performed this

perfunctory dance of ‘Suggestion and Rebuttal’ nearly every time

they’d been assigned a case – it was just what they did…What made

their partnership tick. Yet this one time – possibly the first time

since the giant mushroom encounter in 1999 – they didn’t like it or

know how to get through it. The reason? They didn’t trust their own

beliefs about the situation.

“I’m gonna go question Mister Gleeson,” Mulder eventually said,

glancing down at his watch. “You wanna come?”

“Sure,” came the reply he had hoped for. “As long as you buy me

dinner after.”

“Deal.”

XxXxX

LODGEPOLE TRAIL

6:21 PM

Kia Philips sat alone in her house and wept. Her boyfriend, who had

died in a car crash three days ago, had been buried earlier today,

and right now all the love and other emotions she had always held so

dear were homeless because her heart couldn’t think up a reason to

keep beating. It was that simple, and she knew that no amount of

crying would mend anything – wouldn’t bring her Ben back – but she

didn’t know what else to do.

Suddenly there was the sound of someone knocking at the front door.

She contemplated ignoring it, but then swiped at the tears that hung

from her eyelashes like leaves on a branch and opened the door to

reveal the bespectacled figure that stood outside.

“Kia Philips?” the gentleman’s soft voice asked.

“Y-Yes…”

“Hi. I’ve heard that you recently lost someone – a loved one. I’m a

bereavement counsellor from the sheriff’s department assigned to help

you through this difficult time.”

Normally she would have said ‘no’ and slammed the door in his face,

or at least have stopped to question further this complete stranger.

But the rational thinking person she had once been had died the same

day as her boyfriend, leaving her lost in the desert of Loneliness

and desperate for somebody to talk to – share her pain with. So, Kia

took a step back to clear the doorway and let the visitor enter.

“Please, come in,” she sniffed, “Mister…?”

“Glaser,” he smiled with a grateful nod of his head. “But you can

call me Jeff.”

XxXxX

========

ACT TWO

========

GLEESON RESIDENCE

LEON COUNTY, NORTH FLORIDA

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 12th 2003

6:24 PM

“I don’t know what I can tell ya that I ain’t already told Sheriff

Crowley,” Gene Gleeson grumbled, ambling to sit opposite the two FBI

agents that had not long ago shown up. “I mean, we had a fight and

she rushed out… I figured she’d gone visited her sister on the

coast to clear her head when I didn’t hear from her – Beth ain’t got

a phone, see, and I weren’t about to go chase after her…not with

the mood she were in! When a month went by I thought I’d give her

one more before I went there… I didn’t ever think that…”

“What was the argument about, Mister Gleeson?”

The bereaved man snapped his head up to stare at the woman that had

asked the question and his brow furrowed. “Mind yer own damn

business!” he snarled before he had a chance to consider his words

more carefully. “You never had a disagreement that didn’t mean much,

ma’am? It was an argument – a few angry words that build up every

now and then no matter how much you love the other person – and it’s

personal! Want me to ask you somet’ing private and see how you like

it? Nah, I didn’t think so! Besides, why’s that important? You

should be out there finding the bastard that done that to my wife,

not interrogating me like– Hey, wait a minute…” A shaky finger

raised to point accusingly at Scully. “You think *I* done that? You

really think I could possibly do that to her? We had problems, but I

never lay a hand on her pretty little body – not violently, anyhow –

let alone think about killin’ her!”

“No, we’re not accusing you, so why don’t you just calm down,” Mulder

started, quickly raising to his feet to stand protectively in front

of Scully and slapping the outstretched arm away.

Gleeson turned his angry gaze on the tall FBI agent and then sat down

– the frown never leaving his weary face.

“We’re just trying to find out what led up to your wife’s

disappearance.” Mulder paused and then pulled a small photograph

from the inside pocket of his coat. “Do you recognise this man at

all?” he asked, showing it to Gleeson.

“Well, yeah, of course. That’s Jeff. Why?”

“How do you know Jeff?” Scully queried.

“He’s been our marriage counsellor for a while now… Well, rather he

counselled Judy – said she needed to speak to someone privately and

he’d help her. Didn’t, though, did he? No wonder he didn’t

charge…”

Both agents glanced at each other.

“Was there anything *odd* about him?” Mulder quizzed, turning back to

face the younger man. “Anything you thought didn’t seem quite right?”

“You mean other than that creepy, soul-piercing stare of his and his

lack of professionalism? Not really… Seemed like a fairly quiet

guy that just wanted to help folk.” Gene paused a second as

realisation dawned. “Had a…a strange, like, obsession with the

woods, though – said we were all like trees… That the healing of…

uh…The healing of our hearts could be the, uh, key to rebirth, or

somet’ing along those lines… I…I didn’t–”

The voice cut off as Mulder unexpectedly turned and quickly left the

house – slamming the front door shut behind him.

“I… I’m sorry, Mister Gleeson,” Scully apologised, a little

distantly, staring with concern at the front exit. “Th-thank you for

your time… We’ll be in contact if we learn anything…”

She was just about to leave the house also when Gleeson suddenly

asked, “You think Jeff done it, don’t ya?”

“We’re investigating all possibilities.”

“Steer well clear – you and Fox don’t wanna run into him… He’ll

break you and then kill the both of you… He has to – you have

exactly what he needs.”

“Excuse me?” Scully choked, quickly turning on her heels to stare at

the man who still sat in his chair with his head lowered a fraction.

“What did you say?”

“I didn’t say anything,” Gleeson snapped, staring up at her. “But

I’ll tell ya somet’ing now: you’d better find that son of a bitch

and make him pay for what he done to Judy before I do!”

“No… You sa–” Her words trailed off as she continued to stare at

the man – thinking over the words she had heard him say – then shook

her head and left the house.

XxXxX

Glaser stood over Kia Philips’s motionless body with his head facing

the ceiling – eyes unseeing, mouth open – as one extra-long, extended

arm which resembled the bough of a tree hung down as far as the floor

and penetrated her chest.

XxXxX

“What’s going on with you, Mulder?”

The car door swung open and Dana stared in at her partner, who sat

behind the wheel.

“What’s wrong?” She tried to keep her tone gentle, but couldn’t

avoid the hint of irritation that crept in.

“Nothing,” Mulder quietly replied, not looking at her. “Just need to

rest and think a bit. Let’s just go to the motel.”

“Mulder, you’ve been acting strange ever since Skinner handed us this

case! I mean, even your argument for your theory – which, in the

absence of a scientific answer, I was ready to consider – lacked the

usual fire and conviction I’ve always come to expect from you. What

is it?”

He refused to look at her or answer. Instead he put the car into

gear and drove them to the nearby motel.

XxXxX

“Sheriff? We found another one!”

The voice was distant…distorted…and yet it still echoed in his

mind like a toll bell. It was the FBI’s fault, of course. He’d been

assured that Alvin Kersh would be the guy to contact to get logical

explanations that could be signed off on… Even if it meant fixing

them. Yet instead he’d been sent a couple of agents that not only

weren’t intimidated by him or giving any answers that he couldn’t

figure out himself with his squad of officers: they seemed to be

examining all possible avenues of investigation. He’d received a

call from the man (Mod–…Mol–… He couldn’t remember the name)

fifteen minutes ago saying that he and his partner were just arriving

at Gene Gleeson’s place to ask some questions. What the hell did

they expect to gain there?

Crowley let out a deep sigh, stamped his cigarette out and then moved

in the direction the voice had called from.

He really did need an explanation soon, but he didn’t realise just

how much until he saw what the search team member showed him – which

was enough to drive him crazy…

It was his father, who had been missing since last November.

XxXxX

THE MOTHER COMFORT MOTEL

TALLAHASEE, FLORIDA

‘You never had a disagreement that didn’t mean much?’ Gleeson had

asked her, and the only answer she could have given was ‘Of course!’

– God only knew how many of the things she and Mulder had shared over

the years.

But they hadn’t had a serious argument or disagreement, yet the

silence that had lasted between them during the car ride had been so

awkward and cold that a casual observer would have thought they were

enemies in a war. Even odder still was his eagerness to be alone in

his room on their arrival, and if that wasn’t enough to set alarm

bells ringing, she didn’t know what was.

Alone in her own cabin, Scully lay down on the bed, desperate for a

little sleep to rest her still recuperating body. But she was far

too agitated and hungry to completely relax. So, as she tossed and

turned, she tried to recall the events of the day, trying to think if

there had been anything that could have triggered his unexplainable

mood. Everything from waking together at his apartment right up to

arriving in Skinner’s office. It was the case – it had to be. Why

had he been so eager to avoid it? Not even the fact that it was here

in Florida could be blamed – he’d never have ignored an x-file for

that reason. They’d been separate when he’d visited the crime scene,

so she wondered if Ken Crowley had said something to annoy him, but

it was what Gleeson had said not forty-five minutes ago that seemed

to have lit the fuse… Why didn’t she know how to extinguish it?

Thoughts still wandering aimlessly around in her head, Dana let her

eyes fall on the flower he’d given her earlier that now lay on the

bedside cabinet. She picked it up. As impossible as it was, it

actually looked as if it had grown more.

She sighed and let her eyes slip shut as she took a deep sniff of its

sweet aroma and then carefully put it back down. Maybe they both

just needed some rest… Maybe–

‘He’ll break you and then kill the both of you… He has to – you

have exactly what he needs.’

She bolted upright – her head turning frantically left and right as

she did a visual check of the dimly-lit room. If the words said to

her were haunting her even a fraction of what Gleeson’s words had

done to Mulder, then she knew he needed help.

She was about to put on some clean clothes and sneak over to his

cabin when a quiet rap at the door came and the familiar smell of

cooked cheese filled the air.

XxXxX

J. EDGAR HOOVER BUILDING

WASHINGTON, D.C

As darkness enveloped the large building and only the sound of

silence echoed down many of the halls, Assistant Director Walter

Skinner couldn’t help but ask himself as to why he was still here at

work. Yet at the same time he just couldn’t pull himself away from

the research material he had managed to find on his laptop after

receiving a progress report on the phone just under an hour ago from

Agent Scully: websites about forests across the globe and the

unexplained phenomena connected to some of them.

He thought he’d found the perfect page that connected to something

she had mentioned during their brief conversation and was waiting for

it to load when a figure slowly entered his office.

“Assistant Director?”

clip_image004

“Sir…” Skinner started – quickly turning off his computer and

lowering the monitor – as Alvin Kersh approached.

“Busy, I see,” the standing figure scowled, idly tapping his fingers

on the corner of the wooden desk.

“I was just sorting some case and expense reports – making sure

everything’s in line…or at least making it easier for Accounting to

understand some of my agents’ spending necessities.”

“Which neatly brings me onto two agents in particular. Are you aware

of a case file that was sent to me but somehow did not make it to my

desk?” A pause before, “Because I just received a call from a

sheriff in Florida I’ve never heard of complaining about two agents I

apparently sent down there.”

Skinner’s mouth opened to speak, but he faltered. He had no reason

to and certainly didn’t want to have to explain himself to Kersh, but

at the same time he knew he had broken Bureau policy by intercepting

and then acting upon a file not intended for him, and in his high

position of authority that could only spell Trouble with a capital T

if Kersh went ahead and put in a complaint to the Powers-That-Be.

“Where are Agents Scully and Mulder, Assistant Director?”

“You know the answer already to that one, I think,” Walter snapped,

standing up. “Yes, they’re in Florida. The file was accidentally

delivered to my secretary’s desk and I opened it this morning before

realising it was intended for you. But no matter what you may think,

Mulder and Scully are the best agents for this case because of their

expertise and familiarity with the suspect from a previous

investigation. That’s why I assigned it to them instead of passing

it to you after realising the courier’s mistake.”

“How do you know what I’m thinking?” came Kersh’s cold retort. “I

may well have taken the same action and re-directed it down to the

basement office.”

Skinner fought against the anger that was swiftly rising within him

because he knew that if he didn’t he would strike out with a clenched

fist any second now. The deputy director hated and had no interest

whatsoever in the X-Files and the exemplorary work Mulder and Scully

did…For that matter, he didn’t even have the right to act as if he

had any sort of power over the three of them…Yet still he went

ahead with his mind games – over-estimating his position and power by

hanging the threat of reporting them over their heads. And like

dogs, they obeyed, because sometimes the seemingly empty threats were

the most dangerous ones.

“There is no x-file in Florida – the killer has been ID’d. The only

mystery is where on earth he is. But let them look for whatever they

think they’re after – saves me the trouble of assigning it to

someone… We’ll talk this out when they return,” Kersh continued.

“But, Assistant Director, you might like to warn your precious agents

that if I get so much as a whiff of a wild theory that could cast the

Bureau in a ridiculous light, I’ll make sure I’m there to watch the

director himself kick you all out of your jobs.”

If the tall, balding man had found it difficult to control his anger

before, now he was literally ready to burst at the seams as he

watched the smug visitor turn and leave the office.

For a long moment Skinner stood still in the silent room – waiting in

case Kersh should come back – then quickly moved back to his desk and

laptop to re-find the information that could help his agents ASAP.

XxXxX

Ken Crowley stared wide-eyed at the most inconceivable thing he could

ever have imagined seeing. Judith Gleeson’s murder had shocked him

and he had sworn he would stop the crazy SOB that had done that to

her, but now it was personal, and what he was far from understanding

(if he had even understood anything about the other find) was why

this tree was completely the opposite to the healthy one that had

been found yesterday afternoon.

He lowered his head and closed his wet eyes. Having not known where

his father had disappeared to over the last thirteen months, the

sheriff had always suspected that sooner or later the older man would

turn up dead, so in some respects he had already mourned that loss,

but this… This was just…

Suddenly the radio on his belt-clip crackled to life, interrupting

his thoughts.

“Sheriff? Sheriff Crowley?” called the voice over the walkie-

talkie. “Sheriff, it’s Deputy Friedman… You there? Over.”

“Receiving you loud and clear, Deputy,” Crowley replied, clearing his

throat quickly as he snatched up the radio in one of his shaking

hands. “What you got? Over.”

There was a short pause of unnerving silence and then, “We think we

found another body, sir, ’bout quarter mile east of where you are…

But…”

“But what, Deputy? Over.”

“…This one don’t look like she were shocked when whatever happened

happened. She’s actually smiling. Over.”

The sheriff moved closer to the tree in front of him and studied the

surprised expression on his father’s face until something occurred to

him. “Deputy, are her eyes open? Over.”

“Yes, sir,” came the shaky response. “She’s staring right at me now

and I wish she’d stop ‘cos it’s scaring the living crap outta me!”

Crowley swiftly turned to face one of the officers that were with

him. “Get those two agents from the FBI here now – I want ’em to see

this and where Deputy F–”

“Sheriff Crowley!” a new voice suddenly rasped out, followed by the

sound of snapping twigs as a short, uniformed woman crashed through

the brush.

“Not another one!?”

“Call just came through that the suspect was sighted at Miss

Philips’s place not ten minutes ago!” the officer panted with a shake

of her head.

“All right!” Crowley exclaimed – clapping his hands together after

clipping the short-wave radio back onto his belt. “Now *that’s* the

break I was talking about! I want two cars there *now* and to use

whatever force necessary. We’re gonna catch this sick son of a

bitch! Owens, you still get me a hold of those agents! The rest of

you, keep searchin’!”

One more long stare at his father’s closed eyes before he turned to

help the rest of the search party.

XxXxX

CABIN 4

THE MOTHER COMFORT MOTEL

7:38 PM

Mulder glanced down at the boxed pizza in his hands as he stood in

the centre of his partner’s cabin, waiting for her to shut the door.

“I’ve been thinking,” he almost whispered as Scully stepped in front

of him. “I think you’d be safer if you went back to D.C…”

Dana’s eyebrows raised and she stared at him intently – trying to

gauge how much he was just kidding around.

“You just can’t seem to grasp the concept of our ‘No Ditching’ rule,

can you?” She smiled, but when not even a flicker of amusement

flashed in his eyes the smile quickly faded. She reached out with

one of her hands and lightly clasped his left arm in her grip to lead

him to the bed. “You’re not kidding, are you? Mulder? What. Is.

It? I don’t understand what’s going on with you today! We’ve found

one body and to our knowledge there’s only one killer… There’s no

excuse to think we’re in danger–”

“Yet,” he cut in, bitterly. “This is Florida, Scully – last time I

checked anything can happen here!”

“*We* have been through a lot worse… Even when you were possessed

by the Devil and a danger to me as well as yourself we still fought

against it and won… *Together*,” Scully said quietly but

insistently, sitting down on the edge of the mattress beside him and

pulling the box from his hands to put it behind them. “Something’s

been eating at you and something Gleeson said took the final bite.

I’m not going anywhere without you anyway, but I most certainly am

not disappearing without an explanation as to what’s wrong and why I

would be safer back home. Come on… No secrets and no ditching,

remember?”

“Phillip Padgett,” Mulder choked out, staring down at the floor.

It took a moment for the name to ring a bell, but when it did all

Scully could do was frown in confusion. “What?”

“It’s obvious that the heart is what seems most appealing for some

reason to Glaser as opposed to the whole body… Don’t ask me why or

how I can be so certain about that, but it’s one of the few things I

am sure of here after what you showed me at the morgue. Up until we

visited Gleeson’s place I didn’t think… Well, other than the

slightly egotistical fear that I couldn’t come up with much of an

explanation to dazzle you with, I didn’t think it was bothering me as

much as it obviously was…but when Gleeson said about the healing of

hearts I just got the image in my head of your bloodied body lying

motionlessly on my apartment floor and I had to get out of there.”

“Oh, Mulder,” she whispered, wrapping her arms around him and hugging

his trembling body tightly against her.

“I don’t know what it is, but there’s this voice in me that keeps

saying I should keep my faith in us but we’re not safe all the time

we’re together here…”

‘He’ll break you and then kill the both of you.’ Still the words

wouldn’t leave her alone! Was it exactly like the voice that was

trying to direct him?

“Maybe we’re just trying to solve this case far too quickly – we’ve

only been here six hours and yet it feels as if we should have

finished up and returned home ages ago. Maybe we’re tired, or we

need to approach this differently… Or the past couple of months are

catching us up. With the finding of your mother’s journal, and –

more recently – the case in Cleveland, something has to eventually

give and I fully understand…” Dana paused at the painful memories

that had been dealt out to them this year and then tried to inject

some indignation into her slightly choked voice as she finished, with

a pout, “Or maybe you’re conveniently going down with that flu you

always manage to catch and use to get out of coming to my mother’s

house for the family Christmas dinner?”

“I wouldn’t dare! This coming from the woman that was desperate to

do this case ’cause she knew it was my turn to pick the movie!” he

smiled, nuzzling her before lifting his head so that he could stare

into the depths of her eyes. “I love you, Scully, with every part of

my being, but if Glaser’s exploiting the love people had in their

hearts to use as a life preserver for dying trees I can’t risk

leaving you here where you’ll be in danger like this. I–”

“You know, in these heels I’m pretty sure I could kick little Jeff

Glaser into his own tree and then out again…” Their lips tenderly

brushed together – preparing to go much deeper. “…Besides, again I

hasten to remind you that only one body has been–”

*Riiiiiiiiiiiinnggggggg*

The trill of Mulder’s cellular phone cut Scully off in mid-sentence

and made them both let out a mournful groan simultaneously – knowing

that with their luck the call was far from likely to be about the

case’s near end.

He didn’t answer it straight away, though. Instead he continued to

stare at her for a few long, precious seconds – his eyes trying to

tell her all that his soul still wanted to say but his mouth just

couldn’t put into words.

As if in response her hold on his hand tightened and she gave a

slight nod before he reluctantly reached for his phone,

“Mulder.”

As he listened to the voice at the other end of the line telling him

about the two extra bodies that had been found in the woods Scully’s

own phone buzzed to life – alarming them both.

“It can’t be the lab already…” she frowned before raising to her

feet and stepping to the other side of the room so that they didn’t

intrude on each others’ conversations too much. “Scully.”

“Agent Scully, it’s A.D Skinner. I just tried to get through to

Mulder, but the line seems to be busy…”

“Yes, sir. He literally got a call himself at the same time you must

have been trying to dial his number,” Dana explained, glancing over

at where her partner still sat on the bed listening to what he was

being told. “Was it Mulder you specifically wanted to talk to, sir?

Be–”

“No, no, no – that won’t be necessary… I’m sure you can fill him in

on what I tell you.” Skinner paused, and it gave Scully the chance

to catch Mulder’s voice ending his call with a “We’ll be there in

fifteen minutes.” “I’ve been doing some reading on the internet,”

the A.D’s voice finally continued, “and I found a newspaper story

documenting a string of murders that happened in a British forest

just over seventy years ago. I don’t think it can help you much, but

it rang a familiar chord with something you mentioned when we last

spoke, so I thought I’d let you know about it.”

“Yes, sir – go ahead.”

“It happened at the same time of year as this case… In the space of

a month seven newly-wed couples within a five mile radius of the

woodlands in Stubhampton, Dorset, were found murdered in their beds…

their hearts ripped from their chests and nowhere to be found. The

killer – a, uh, Brian Roberts – was apprehended whilst in the process

of breaking into the house of his next planned victims…” There was

a pause on the line and the distant, barely audible sound of clicking

(the A.D, Scully guessed, tapping the mouse buttons to scroll down

the web page) before his deep voice continued, “Now, this doesn’t go

into too many specifics after the guy got captured – leaving me to

question the legitimacy of the tale – but it does mention that after

being questioned Roberts led the police into the woods and to

fourteen separate trees that each had a couple of roots or so growing

into something that lay on the ground… A clump of wood shaped

exactly like a heart… Roberts is recorded as saying that he was

‘doing God’s work’ – giving back to the earth what we had taken away

for housing developments. ‘Taking life to give life…'”

Skinner’s voice faded away for a couple of seconds as another washed

over her senses and echoed in her brain. *He has to – you have

exactly what he needs.* She shuddered before the real world returned

and the voice from the phone continued.

“He was institutionalised, still swearing that he had done it for the

good of the planet, but he died there two weeks later… This doesn’t

say how. The difference to your case is the trees were all dead when

they were found.”

Dana smiled, shot her partner – who now stood patiently behind her

with raised eyebrows – a glance and then chuckled quietly, “Of

course, not too long ago I would have laughed that off as a piece of

local folklore – an old wives’ tale – and maybe I’d still be tempted

to do that now…” Suddenly the seriousness returned to her voice

and a confused, uncomfortable expression tugged at her face. “But

I’ve seen the body… I conducted an autopsy (if that’s what you

could have called it) on her and there’s no way that I can see to

explain how Glaser did what he did.” As her level of irritation

heightened Scully began to nervously pace the room. “I mean, not

only was the body encased, the actual heart – like in your story –

has been turned into wood.”

“What if your suspect somehow heard this folklore and – delusional

after what he encountered the last time you saw him – tried to do the

same?” Skinner tried to theorise, not too successfully.

“That still doesn’t explain the condition of those hearts in your

story or that of Ms. Gleeson’s body or that of the tree *or* how she

was technically still alive!” the female agent argued, waving a hand

dismissively in the air.

“Fossilization?”

“I could run that by Mulder because I don’t care how much he laughs

in my face, sir–”

“Liar,” her partner mumbled quickly with a smile as he moved toward

the room’s exit.

“–But I can’t even begin to tell you how scientifically incorrect

and even impossible that thought is – I mean, even more so, possibly,

than Mulder’s proposed theory…”

That earned her a mock hurt look from the man preparing to leave.

“…It’s true that there’s a slight similarity in the way the other

organs have been preserved, but I don’t think I can emphasise how

long the list of contradictions would be… Can you hold on for a

second, please, sir?” She paused and covered the mouthpiece on her

phone as she frowned at Mulder. “Where are you going?”

“Got a call from the deputy… They found another two bodies in the

forest… Same MO, but their condition is slightly different to Mrs.

Gleeson,” Mulder explained – his hand still resting on the door

handle.

“And when exactly did you decide we weren’t partners working on this

case together, *Agent* Mulder?”

His hand lifted away from the handle, but then faltered.

“We can do this, Mulder, but *together*, remember?” she whispered

softly.

He nodded with a smile, then crossed his arms over his chest and

rested against the wall facing her as she finished her conversation

with their boss.

“Look, sir, I need to get going – more bodies have been found…but

there’s something I need to know: You assigned us this case because

you knew it was an x-file. Why are you now trying to come up with a

conclusion that any other agent in the Bureau could have delivered

without even coming down here?” she said into her phone.

Skinner let out a small chuckle. “You’ve certainly come a long way,

Agent Scully,” he noted with a smile.

“Well, I’ve been taught well – if not maybe brainwashed – by a very

good, albeit eccentrically paranoid mentor, haven’t I, sir?”

The assistant director nodded to himself – he could just see in his

head the flame-haired agent smiling over at her partner, who was most

certainly standing beside her. But soon the seriousness of the

situation returned and he shifted uncomfortably in his chair as he

told her, “Deputy Director Kersh knows about our interception of his

file.”

What could she say? For that matter, what could she do? Yet again

she stared at Mulder – as if gaining strength just from the sight of

him – and then sighed, “Okay. I’ve really gotta go now, sir. We’ll

be back in D.C as soon as we’ve wrapped this up.”

Mulder watched her disconnect the line and pocket the cellular before

asking, “What did Skinman want?”

“I’ll tell you in the car,” she said. “Come on, let’s go.”

They both left the cabin – the cooling pizza forgotten and neither

noticing that the petals on the flower had fully bloomed.

XxXxX

RESIDENCE OF KIA PHILIPS

LODGEPOLE TRAIL

7:49 PM

Silence.

Seconds of silence and stillness passed before frantically flashing

red and blue lights lit the darkness that enveloped the house. Not

long after that the building was filled with chaos as police officers

kicked down the front and back doors and stormed the rooms in search

of Jeff Glaser.

Nothing turned up…

…At least not until they found the lifeless body of Kia Philips

that lay on the living room floor – her chest open to expose the

large knot of wood that rested where her heart should be.

XxXxX

DESHUI FOREST

“Oh, my God.”

Scully – with a gloved hand holding onto her flashlight – approached

the smiling wooden figure that stared back at her with human eyes.

She had told her partner at the county morgue that none of their

cases in the past really matched up to the bizarreness of this one.

Having just seen the state of the sheriff’s father ten minutes ago

and now this, the observation was only made more true.

Of course, Mulder in his own way felt the same thing and was even

beginning to have more faith in his theory – which had evolved

somewhat – thanks to the story Scully had passed onto him on the car

journey here.

“Do you know who she is?” he asked the sheriff, crouching down to see

the full cluster of flowers similar to the one he had given Scully

– though larger and more recognisable – growing from the base of the

tree.

“Never seen her before in my life, and we pretty much all know each

other in this little area – you know, quiet community an’ all…”

Crowley shot a nervous glance over at his deputy before looking back

down at the FBI agent.

“Hmm. What about your father? Is there any reason why he would be

out here?”

“Agent, as I’ve already told you I haven’t seen my father since last

year – since my mother walked out on him for a younger man!”

“Agent Mulder?” Before Scully had a chance to say anything a police

officer approached the group – gesturing toward Mulder. “I have a

call from Professor Thomkins for you.”

The male agent took the proffered phone from the rookie cop, but a

puzzled frown spread across his forehead as he answered, “Yeah.

Mulder.”

“Is that Agent Mulder from the FBI?” an old, gravely voice coughed

down the line.

“Speaking.”

“I was told you were sending me a flower to be identified? Well, I

don’t know how you do things in Jacksonville or whatever office

you’re from, but next time could you maybe try sending me something

that I can look at?”

“What are you talking about?”

“‘Talking about’?” the professor choked. “Unless there’s been a

mistake, the evidence bag that turned up on my desk had compost in

it!”

Mulder glanced up at Scully, who was still examining the victim, and

then back at the bunch of flowers. The small one he had given her

was still very much intact the last time he had seen it at the

motel. How could the one that had been safely kept in a bag have

disintegrated so quickly? He guessed it probably wasn’t important,

and yet he just had to know…

“Is there *anything* there that can be analysed?”

“There is a petal–”

Reaching for one of the flowers in front of him, Mulder gave a slight

nod and stared at it. “Is it possible that it’s from a rose?” he

asked directly.

Scully tore her eyes away from the ones that were staring back at her

from the tree and frowned with confusion at her partner.

“The shape is similar, but it’s much too small and – apart from the

fact that they do not flower this time of year – I was told you

picked this from a tree.” The professor paused, and then chuckled

softly, “I don’t know how much you know about plants, Agent Mulder,

but I would’ve at least thought you clever enough to know that roses

grow on bushes, not trees.”

“I know…I know… But we’ve got more – larger – flowers growing out

of another tree and they look *exactly* like roses,” Mulder explained.

“Where are you again?”

The professor waited for an answer, but Mulder had already

disconnected the line and raised back up to his feet.

“Sheriff, you mentioned that a sighting of the suspect had been

made?” he started, staring intently at Crowley.

“Yeah, at Kia Philips’s place – poor woman…only lost her boyfriend

the other day. Anyway, I sent a couple o’ cars there to flush him

out,” came the irritated reply. “They should be calling in soon with

their progress.”

“Scully, can I have a quick word?” Mulder asked the woman beside him.

She nodded and he wrapped an arm around her shoulders as they stepped

out of earshot.

“Mulder, I think Crowley’s withholding something. He seems more

angered by the sight of this woman than the discovery of his own

father,” Scully muttered, staring at the lean figure that towered

over her.

“Mm.”

“And now I think you’re withholding something from me.”

“No, I’m not – I think you’re right. I think he knows who that woman

is, I think he knows more about Glaser than he’s letting on, and I

think he’s made a connection between the victims that I’ve only just

latched onto: Gleeson, Crowley Senior and Philips – if she’s dead –

had each lost someone dear to them in some way – their hearts were

vulnerable. That’s how Glaser chooses them. But I can’t explain why

Crowley, who obviously wants to stop the killings, won’t work with

us… I mean, we’ve got three known victims, possibly four, and God

knows how many more could be hidden out in those woods, but what is

the good sheriff’s primary aim? To make sure we cover up anything

that can’t be explained.”

“No wonder he contacted Kersh.”

“Yeah… Look, I want you to stay here and see if there’s any way of

getting her out of there without chopping down that tree,” Mulder

sighed, glancing briefly over his shoulder. “We can solve this…”

“Mulder, how can we solve this? We have no answers, no– The only

thing we have are theories that have no place in reality. It’s bad

enough Kersh knows we’re here, but we go back with wild theories of

trees with some form of PMS and Glaser trying to comfort them, we’ll

have more than our jobs to be afraid for!”

“So…so what? You think we should just cover it up? There are

roses – flowers that symbolise eternal and true love – growing out of

that tree just as there were out of the tree Judith Gleeson was cut

from… Trees that should be dead are seemingly living off the

emotions in peoples’ hearts… W-what basis do you see for reality in

any of that?”

Scully reached for his right hand and squeezed it to try and calm

him. “I don’t, and you know that. Your theory is the only one that

works from what little I’ve seen and heard, but… Maybe it should be

enough just to find Jeff – whether he did any of this or not. We

just…” With a sigh she shook her head. “Where will you be?”

“I’m going to go check out where Glaser’s been seen. I’ll contact

the guys on the way to see what they can pull up on Jeffrey Mark

Glaser and Sheriff Crowley.”

She gave a nod – knowing it was the best move to make if they wanted

to finish the case – but the fear still tinged her voice as she

whispered, “Be careful.”

For a heartbeat or two their eyes locked and their bodies were

paralysed – as if their souls were desperately and tightly clinging

onto each other. Eventually, though, he nodded back and waggled his

eyebrows at her, smirking, “When ain’t I?”

The two of them turned back to face the sheriff.

“Anything you, maybe, wanna let me in on?” Crowley snapped. “You

know, like what you were sent here to do – give some answers!?”

“Maybe,” Mulder retorted – barely keeping tabs on his temper for the

second time today. “But, first, can you take me to where the

suspect’s been seen?”

Crowley shifted his gaze from one agent to the other and then to

Deputy Friedman before snapping at Mulder, “Now, you listen–”

“No, Sheriff, maybe you need to stop and listen to us,” Scully

suddenly cut in, stepping in front of her partner – whose eyes

briefly flicked down to look at her in surprise. “I have performed

an autopsy today and gathered evidence that has been sent for further

analysis. Agent Mulder has interrogated a couple of people, come up

with a theory to work with and discovered evidence as well… We were

assigned this case due to what has turned out to be an administrative

mistake straight after our last one; we flew straight out, reading

the file on our way… We haven’t eaten-”

‘Except for a bag of sunflower seeds,’ Mulder quietly smiled to

himself.

“-haven’t stopped looking for answers all day, so why don’t you calm

down and give us a break?”

Silence filled with tension descended upon the group that stood by

the tree staring in complete shock at the short, red-haired woman.

“I…uh…I’m sorry…” Crowley apologised with an awkward shrug of

his shoulders. “I just… This has all been like something outta the

Twilight Zone or somet’ing, you know, and I just found my dad… What

am I supposed to do but wanna get this sick bastard locked up as soon

as possible?” He shrugged again and then turned to stare at the odd

tree.

Deputy David Friedman cautiously stepped toward his boss and friend.

“How ’bout I take Agent Mulder so you can keep an eye on things

here?” he offered.

Crowley didn’t want to show his weakness…show that he was anything

other than the stern sheriff everybody respected him as. But as he

tried to pull the pieces of the puzzle together in his head, he

realised he didn’t have much of a choice. “Yeah,” he muttered with a

cough. “Thanks, Deputy.”

Friedman moved toward where his patrol car was parked out on the

road, gesturing for Mulder to follow.

“You go girl!” the tall agent smiled against his partner’s ear as he

turned to leave also. “I’ll see you at the motel in an hour, but try

not to beat the poor sheriff up anymore in the meantime… At least,

not *too* much.”

XxXxX

Eyes stared out from between the trees at Kia Philips’s house; red

eyes that showed nothing but pain.

But then they snapped shut and Glaser dropped to the ground, coughing

violently and clutching at his chest with stiffening arms. He had

come here hoping to help replenish the life that was slowly draining

out of him, but he had made a mistake – a miscalculation – and the

bereaved woman had turned out to not have anything of use in her

heart… If only it hadn’t taken up so much of his energy to kill

her…

It had been six weeks since the last time he had killed someone and

the seizures had begun to worsen. He knew it wasn’t going to be long

before the stiffness and lifelessness became permanent, but it was

just so difficult to find people that had enough true love in their

hearts worth spilling to heal the earth.

The forest was dying. He was dying. But…

Twelve minutes passed before his muscles relaxed and his eyes opened

to stare at the canopy of bare, skeletal, wooden claws that rattled

with the wind above him. He had to stop the seizures before they

killed him for good, but time was running short and he didn’t know

how much longer he could keep this up.

Suddenly, as he shakily raised to his feet, Glaser felt something

tug at his chest. A feeling – a vibe – that something was near…

A source of life and hope.

Maybe he didn’t have to keep it up for much longer after all…

XxXxX

PATROL CAR #25

EN ROUTE TO LODGEPOLE TRAIL

“You’ll have to forgive Ken – gets so quiet ’round this area

sometimes it’s easy to forget there’s such evil out there, and he

don’t like not bein’ able to figure stuff out. Guess it don’t help

none finding his papa dead like that,” Friedman sighed, idly drumming

his fingers on the steering wheel.

Mulder, in the front passenger seat, gave a nod of his head, but was

more interested in reaching for his phone to call the Lone Gunmen…

until he realised that he couldn’t pick up a signal.

“*Dammit!*” he growled under his breath, switching the useless thing

off and jamming it back into his pocket. After phoning the guys he

had hoped to call Scully to check she was okay. He was a little

dubious about leaving her alone with the sheriff who had done nothing

but raise their suspicions so far, but now the both of them were

stranded apart.

“No signal,” the deputy stated flatly without question. “Middle o’

nowhere, and the trees don’t help much.”

“I had a little trouble on the way here, but it was alright earlier,”

Mulder retorted.

“Different time, different weather – the slightest little thing can

cut you off.” Friedman paused for what seemed like an eternity to

Mulder before finishing (with a shrug of his shoulders), “Guess it’s

like life, really… Though you and Agent Scully are a lot different

to anyone else I ever met…”

“That’s one way of putting it.” Suddenly, Mulder turned his head to

stare at the uniformed man – fully catching on to what had been said.

“Wha–”

“But I gotta know, does she love you as much as you love her, d’you

think?”

XxXxX

Dana Scully’s small, prophylactic covered hands examined the wooden

surface of the victim and the tree. She only occasionally moved away

to either jot down notes in her writing pad or reach for her penlight

and shine it in the helpless eyes that watched her every move –

checking that the woman was still responsive.

So deeply occupied was she with her examination that she didn’t hear

the sheriff behind her ordering his men to spread the word that the

search should be suspended until tomorrow morning… Nor did she turn

or sense his approaching presence until his voice started, “Agent

Scully, can I ask ya somet’ing?”

XxXxX

“What did you just say?” Mulder asked harshly – a mixture of

surprise, confusion, irritation and realisation dawning on his face

as he stared wide-eyed at the deputy.

Scully had been right. They needed to stick together – splitting

people up was what the Moth Men needed to do and thrived on. He had

learnt that on their last visit to the area, but…but…

“It’s a simple enough question, I guess,” Friedman shrugged,

continuing to manoeuvre the car along the dark and deserted road.

“She’s pretty closed off and I was wondering if maybe she just don’t

like expressing her feelings so much – you know, hides ’em behind a

wall that she rarely lets down… Or she don’t feel the same way –

maybe tells you one thing but thinks another…”

The FBI agent was ready to just strike out a fist before asking any

further questions of the driver, but instead he found himself

shifting uncomfortably in his seat and remaining silent, and he just

didn’t know why, dammit! He knew Scully. He knew what she felt for

him – what they had together – and had no reason to doubt that

certainty. But for no conceivable reason this man’s words were

unnerving him…

Seeing he had succeeded with what he had set out to do, Friedman

smiled and turned the wheel to steer the vehicle off the road –

increasing the pressure of his foot on the gas pedal – and into the

brush, pointing out, “Whilst you… You show it all and it’s not hard

to see how strong and true your love for her is. You could give

rebirth to a whole forest with that! You keep your feelings near the

surface and that’s exactly what we need.”

Mulder tore himself out of his disturbed reverie as the car drove

over the bumpy ground and turned to see the driver’s seat beside him

empty. A fraction of a second later he snapped his head round to see

the approaching tree.

And then there was nothing to see but darkness.

XxXxX

========

ACT THREE

========

LEON COUNTY, FLORIDA

8:58 PM

Dana Scully stared at the looming figure in front of her – her right

hand reaching back to rest on her gun in case she should need to

quickly draw it. Her primary concern had been about how on earth

they were going to help this woman, but as she looked round at the

departing law enforcement officers she felt Mulder’s panic surging

through her veins.

“Sheriff?” she asked hesitantly.

“I know what you probably think o’ me, but I just wanna solve this

like y’all… But d’you think we really can? D’you think we can help

her?” Crowley paused and pointed at the tree behind Scully.

Her hand moved away from the gun and she took a deep breath. Maybe

she’d just read the guy wrong – let Mulder’s paranoia get the better

of her again. That didn’t mean to say she had a good answer to give

him, though. Of course she wanted to believe there was a way to help

this woman, but in reality she couldn’t see how it could be

accomplished. So, sighing with defeat, she pulled off her latex

gloves and moved away from the tree she’d been examining. “Maybe we

can’t help her, but we can stop anybody else turning up the same way.”

Crowley remained silent – nervously and almost guiltily staring down

at his feet.

Oh yeah, he was definitely hiding something – of that the FBI agent

was certain. But how to–?

“I should o’ kept an eye on that bastard from the moment Gene Gleeson

first called me to check the guy wasn’t a crank. If I had, maybe

Judy would still–… Oh heck, who am I tryin’ to kid? There’s no

‘maybe’ about it: Judy would still be alive… And Kia Philips,

too… I would o’ been too late to save my dad, but at least I would

have protected a couple… Could have done my damn job… Just goes

to show how loopy he must have been in the head for him to kill his

sister, though…”

An owl flew low overhead, but it went unnoticed as Scully stared with

disbelief at the taller man. There *had* been something, but why on

earth had he kept quiet this long? “Sister?” she eventually managed

to croak.

“I did a little background check on Glaser after Gene came to me

asking if he were okay to trust as a marriage counsellor… Read his

file and there were a recent picture of him and his sister…

Her…” A hand raised to point at where Scully had just been yet

again.

Finally! At last something she could say they definitely had an

answer to, and yet at the same time all it did was raise more

questions: why would Glaser kill his own sister? Why did she look so

happy? Mulder had mentioned that the connection between all the

other cases was the fact that each had had their hearts broken in

some way or another, so how did this woman fit into that pattern?

W-H-Y? It should have been an easy enough question to figure out,

but the only answer that came to mind was the usual patronising one

of ‘Because you’re not supposed to know.’

“You can’t blame yourself, Sheriff,” Dana slowly remarked, moving

past the uniformed man. “By the looks of it, Jeff Glaser is a man on

a mission, and no amount of close surveillance would have stopped

him. For now, though, I’m going back to the motel. We’ll see you

early in the morning.”

“Wh-what about her?”

She glanced over her shoulder in the direction of where he still

pointed and shrugged, “By the looks of it she’s been like that and

coped for quite a while… One more night won’t hurt.”

It was a reply that had even surprised her, but there it was and

Crowley seemed to accept it as he muttered, “G’ night, Agent. Thanks

for helping out on this – and please pass that on to your partner…

It’s greatly appreciated.”

“I will.”

XxXxX

“Never doubt what you have together. Never doubt that she loves you

so much it hurts her to know she’ll never be able to let you know

just how much that is.”

It was the sound of his own voice that beckoned him back to

consciousness, but not a word had passed his lips… It had come from

in his head – not imaginary, but as if a part of his psyche was

trying to nurse the rest of his body.

Mulder kept his eyes shut for a moment longer – the feel of warm

blood trickling down his forehead being his only connection to

reality – as he tried to recall the events that had led him to this

point… He drew a complete blank, though, so he opened the heavy

lids and looked around the dark area that surrounded him.

He appeared to be underground…in a hole similar to the one he and

Scully had fallen into on their last trip here to seek out the Moth

Men. …And he was tied to a chair by vines.

“Very tasteful,” he grunted in disgust, staring at the damp that

oozed from the soil walls and sniffing in the smell of…decaying

flesh.

It wasn’t long after that he realised he wasn’t alone.

“Scully?”

A figure stepped out of the shadows, but it wasn’t his partner as he

had hoped.

“She’ll be along soon,” Jeff Glaser said, smiling weakly.

XxXxX

THE MOTHER COMFORT MOTEL

9:57 PM

“Mulder?”

After waiting a whole half-hour in her cabin for Mulder to show up,

Scully found herself standing outside his room tapping at the door –

only to receive no sign of him there either. Even her call to his

cell phone had only returned the hauntingly familiar refusal of ‘The

cell phone customer cannot be reached at this time’.

Something had to be wrong… They’d made a deal to meet back here…

She tried to tell herself that maybe the capture of Glaser had taken

longer or he had had to stay at the house for some reason, but the

worry that had been eating away at her since the visit to Gleeson’s

house wouldn’t let her be.

“Dammit. Where are you?”

She wandered back to her own room to wait there. And then an idea

kicked in. She quickly reached for her phone again and dialled the

number for the Gunmen’s office.

XxXxX

OFFICES OF THE LONE GUNMEN

WASHINGTON, D.C

It wasn’t often he got the place to himself, but tonight Langly had

dragged Byers out on some governmental surveillance heist, so poor

Frohike – currently going down with a case of the Flu – was left

alone to keep an eye on the equipment…and maybe play a little D&D…

Not that he minded as such (maybe later he’d have a good look at

those videos Mulder had given him), but he couldn’t deny the fact

that he felt a little too lonely…

Thank God for the ringing phone!

“The Lone Gunman.”

“Frohike, it’s Scully.” the agent’s voice replied.

“What can I do for the lovely Agent Scully on this fine night? You

and Mulder having a nice break?”

There was a nervous pause on the line, and then, “We’re in Florida on

another case… I was kinda hoping you knew that – meaning I probably

now know the answer to the question I phoned to ask…”

He could hear the anguish in her voice and it immediately put his

protective streak into overdrive. “What’s happened?”

“Has he not called you at all tonight?” Scully’s voice hitched.

“No… Last time I heard from him was Monday. What’s happened?”

“We were sent to investigate unexplained murders where the victims

were turned into wooden sculptures… To cut a long story short, the

suspect was seen at a nearby house and Mulder went with the deputy to

check it out – he told me he’d call you to see if you could pull up

any information on our suspect, Jeff Glaser… Are you sure he hasn’t

called?”

“Nada. I’ve been here all night and you’re the first person to call

– aren’t I the lucky one?” He softly chuckled, hoping to ease her

worry.

A sigh escaped from her down the line, but that was the only response

she gave.

“Is there anything I can do this end?” he queried.

“No… He’ll turn up eventually, probably with another pizza that can

be left to go cold, but…but if you do hear anything can you please

just…just tell him I’m waiting, and then call me. Please?”

“Sure thing.”

Before he had the chance to say anything more the line disconnected.

XxXxX

UNKNOWN LOCATION

Mulder stared at the familiar face that looked back at him with red

eyes. Sure, he’d had his theories and he’d been certain Glaser was

behind the murders, but it still shocked him to see the man that he

had thought dead six long years ago.

“You leave her alone,” he growled through clenched teeth – struggling

against the restraint that held him to the chair. “You want what

I’ve got in my heart, fine – take it – but let her go!”

Glaser slowly shook his head and stepped toward the seated FBI agent

with a wry smile on his pale face as he coughed, “You’re no good

without her here too. Haven’t you figured it out *yet*?”

A momentary pause for thought as Mulder considered the voice in his

head that had been telling him to never doubt the love he and Scully

shared. He still didn’t know what it meant, though – he’d never

doubted her, so why–

“It’s all to do with survival of the fittest – separating the

stronger one from the rest.” Glaser had intended to say more, but

his body was wracked by another fit of coughs.

Mulder frowned in confusion. “I’m not the str–”

“No, you’re not – which is the point! But she’ll be here soon, and

then you can both be reborn.”

“Reborn? You mean turned into one of those trees? Why’d you do it,

Jeff? I heard the story about the guy that did it to give back what

humans had taken from nature – is that it? It’s admirable, Jeff, but

killing people won’t help this forest – it’s dying and no matter how

many bodies you tally up you can’t change that… Maybe in a perfect

world, but not this one!”

“This isn’t just about the forest!” Glaser snorted. “Look at me!!!

You left me here to die… I was trapped in a hole like this, but I

couldn’t move… All there was was stiffness and death. But somehow

I came back to being – perhaps by the one that attacked me – and now

the only way I can stay alive is if the trees live… Every time

another dies, part of me dies with it, so I have to compensate by

taking the life from others… You’re next.”

XxXxX

The Taurus – driven by Scully – sped along the road, trying to

retrace the journey Mulder would have taken. Waiting around wasn’t

going to find him, and if something was wrong she needed to attend to

him immediately, so this was her last hope of action.

XxXxX

COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT

LEON COUNTY, FLORIDA

10:02 PM

A couple banks of fluorescent strip lights flickered to life slowly

as Sheriff Crowley entered the quiet office and shut the door behind

him with a sigh.

He tended to live here these days – working on whatever he could

even, when there was no crime to fight – simply because there was

nothing else to do…to go home to: no loved one, no family… It was

what made him angry when he saw couples arguing. Sometimes he just

wanted to go up to them and show them pictures of murder scenes to

make them realise what they had whilst it lasted.

Now it was time to rest, though. After a long day filled with images

he wanted nothing more than to forget, he needed a good sleep. So,

he had just stopped by here to put the case file in his desk and

check everything was in order. But on his way to the wooden desk at

the far end of the room he saw something through the corner of his

eye laying on Deputy Friedman’s desk.

On closer inspection he found several candid Polaroid images of Kia

Philips at her boyfriend’s funeral earlier today, a copy of Philips’s

address written on a scrap of paper, and a sketched map that led to

an unrecognisable place in the heart of the forest.

“What the hell…?”

XxXxX

Scully stopped the car behind the one that had crashed into a tree,

then quickly got out and rushed to the passenger side of the police

vehicle – only to find no sign of the deputy or Mulder. Just a small

splatter of blood on the dashboard.

“Mulder!” she called out, lifting her head to stare into the darkness

that surrounded her. “*Mulder!*”

Only silence answered.

She should get back in the car and carry on along the road – see if

he turned up further along the way. But something was telling her he

was here – very close.

And then, for no reason other than it felt *the* thing to do, she

turned right and quickly ran into the brush with her gun drawn.

XxXxX

UNKNOWN LOCATION – UNDERGROUND

“So, how do you do it?” Mulder pressed, never averting his eyes away

from the threatening figure that loomed over him. “You take their

lives to feed the trees and yourself… But how do you get them in

the trees like that?”

Glaser struck out an arm and hit Mulder across the face with such

force the agent and the chair toppled backwards. “Always with the

damn questions!” he yelled.

Silence for a moment as Mulder tried to regain control of his

senses. “You said I’m next,” his voice rasped groggily – blood now

pouring from his cut lower lip as well as his forehead. “That’s

nice, but at least give me an idea of how it works!”

“It’s all to do with putting a tear in the heart so you can suck the

life out of it… And I don’t mean a physical tear… Through the

emotional barrier… Break the person and then the emotions are there

to suck out like a straw.”

Still laying on his back, Mulder couldn’t see the distant look or

smile on Glaser’s face, but he could hear the pride in his voice and

it made the agent realise just how much Glaser really did need to be

in an institution.

Suddenly, he was pulled upright again and found himself staring once

more into the bespectacled man’s red, piercing eyes.

“I’ll break you with the knowledge that I’m gonna kill her, and then

I’ll make her watch me kill you… That should split her open a bit!”

Glaser informed Mulder with a wide, manic smile.

“You touch her and I’ll kill you!” Mulder snapped. “Is that how you

used the deputy, then? Access to people that could then be swept

under the carpet, like you used him to get me away from Scully?”

“That’s one way of putting it… But you should be careful with him –

he’s a little insane… Obsessed with trees…”

“Oh, and of course you’re not, I take it?”

“I need them to live! He used me to help the trees…but I wanted

them to help me!”

Another fit of coughs, and Mulder watched in shock as Glaser’s right

arm morphed into the long bough of a tree.

XxXxX

FBI HEADQUARTERS

10:13 PM

Walter Skinner was just turning his office lights off on his way out

when the phone rang. He was tempted to ignore it, but instead he

moved back to the desk and picked up the receiver.

“Skinner.”

“Walter, call an ambulance for where Mulder and Scully are!” a small

voice urgently panted down the line.

“Andrew?”

The other end hung up.

XxXxX

“*MULDER!*”

Dana stood still – flashlight in one hand, gun in the other – and

struggled to listen for his reply over the jack-hammering of her

heart.

He was here. She didn’t know how and she didn’t know why, but she

knew without a doubt he was *here*, but she couldn’t see him.

“Mulder!”

* * *

He heard her voice desperately calling out his name above where he

sat and he didn’t know what tore at his heart more: the fact that he

would never see her again if he didn’t call back, or the knowledge of

what would happen to her if he did.

“I told you she’d be here soon,” Glaser croaked, glancing over his

shoulder at the hole in the ceiling. “Call her.”

Mulder kept his mouth shut and shook his head in denial.

“Call her!”

Still Mulder refused to do as he was ordered, and yet again he was

struck in the face.

‘I tried, Scully…I swear I didn’t ditch you this time…’ Mulder’s

thoughts were disjointed as he made the silent apology – hoping that

in some way she would hear him and believe him. They managed to stay

intact enough, though, for him to whisper the hauntingly familiar

“I’m so sorry.”

“Call her or I’ll go up there and kill her!!!”

Before the agent could shout back, his partner jumped down through

the opening in the ceiling and aimed her gun at Glaser.

“Let him go, Jeffrey – it’s over,” Scully barked – staring with a

little disbelief at Glaser and then at her partner. She did a quick

visual sweep over his body, checking to see if he was okay.

“It’s never over,” Glaser replied, grabbing a tight hold on Mulder

and stepping behind him so that the female agent couldn’t get a clear

shot. “I tried to help them so it wouldn’t be that way, but the

soil’s bad… Judy Gleeson was a success, but you cut her down. I

bet you cut Aimee down too, didn’t you? You can’t stand the thought

of success…”

clip_image006

“How did you do it? How did they get like that?”

“I didn’t do it… I killed them but…but the trees…they…” His

words trailed off as he felt the beginnings of yet another seizure

build up within him. He had to get this done and soon, but the

coughing fit was already taking him over. Instinctively his hold on

Mulder increased – causing the agent to wince in pain.

“Mul–”

“Scully, get out of here or he’ll kill you!” Mulder cried out.

“What?” She frowned in confusion – desperate for some sort of

explanation as to what was happening here – but then shook her head

and tried to gain a better aim on Glaser. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“You don’t understand, Scully… He needs to break you so that he can

then kill you and turn you into another of those trees!” The pain

increased in his shoulder as Glaser’s grasp tightened. “He’ll kill

me ’cause he thinks that’ll break you! *Go!*”

The phrase she could have sworn she’d heard Gleeson say, despite his

refusal, earlier came back, but this time it repeated itself in her

own voice.

‘Steer well clear – you and Fox don’t wanna run into him… He’ll

break you and then kill the both of you… He has to – you have

exactly what he needs.’

They hadn’t steered clear, though, and they had to face this. But

she wasn’t going to leave her partner… It wasn’t about their ‘no

ditching’ rule – it was about the fact that she wasn’t about to turn

her back on the man she loved…her everything.

“Jesus, Scully… Don’t let him break you!” Mulder cried out over the

noise of Glaser’s continuous coughing. “Whatever happens, remember

that I love you with every part of my body and soul – not only my

heart!!!”

Catching a breath, Glaser lowered his right hand down to press

against Mulder’s chest. “You’ll…both be…successes…” he gasped.

The next thing Scully knew Mulder’s upper body slumped forward and,

aim clear, she took her shot at Glaser – hitting him in the centre of

the chest.

“Tsk, tsk, tsk… Really, that’s no way to make friends!”

Before Dana had a chance to move to Mulder, she turned to see Deputy

Friedman standing behind her – aiming his own weapon at her.

“And my plan was going so well,” he sighed with a shake of his head.

“Wh–” She stared in confusion at the taller man, but then turned

back to face her partner – desperate to tend to him.

“How do you think you got this case? I met you both briefly the last

time you were here – I was one of the cops looking for Michael

Asekoff. Wasn’t hard to see how much you two cared for each other

even back then. So when I finally found Jeff I knew the perfect

couple we could use to help save this forest… Anyway, I made sure

the file got delivered to the wrong desk. Pretty good, huh? At

least, it was, but now you gone an’ ruined it by killin’ Jeff… I

guess that makes you useless too!”

Scully’s head snapped round. “You were *using* Jeff?”

“I was looking for one of the Moth Men, but he was even better! You

don’t see: I’ve watched this forest die because of the stupid ways of

mankind. This was a perfect way to give something back! Jeff needed

to do it to save himself, but I forced him to sacrifice for the

trees.”

“‘Taking life to give life’,” she murmured, repeating the words from

Skinner’s story.

“Exactly!!! So quick, but sadly I now must kill you.”

Scully turned back to face her partner with bleary eyes as Friedman

steadied his aim and rested his finger against the trigger. Her lip

trembled violently as she whispered, “I lov–”

*BANG!*

The shot was immediately followed by the dull thud of a body dropping

like a sack of potatoes to the ground.

“Now that’s definitely not the way to make friends!” came Crowley’s

distant voice.

Eyes fluttered open and Dana nervously glanced over her shoulder to

see the body of David Friedman crumpled lifelessly on the floor and

the sheriff standing with a smoking gun in his hand at the entrance

to the cavern.

“You okay?” he asked, jumping down.

But Scully had blocked everything out… The only thing she cared

about right now was getting to her partner.

“…Mul-der?” she whispered, kneeling down in front of him as Crowley

moved to untie the agent. “Mulder…it’s me…” A shaky hand

outstretched to search for a pulse whilst the other moved to where a

splinter of wood stuck out of his chest. The words ‘just one more

chance’ echoed in her head and she knew that that wish had been

answered far too many times now for God to rush to her aid. What was

it Skinner had said earlier? ‘You’ve already outlived your nine

lives ten times over’? But… ‘But God, please, no… Don’t…

Please, jus– Let him live… Please…’ “Please,” her tear-

choked voice whispered as her quivering lips pressed against his

cheek. “Mul–”

Beat.

Beat.

It was only a heartbeat, but under the press of her fingertips it

felt like the most glorious thing to her.

“Oh, my God!” she gasped in exultation, wrapping her arms around his

body and holding him against her.

“…I’ve got a…grasp of the…ow…’no ditching’ rule…Scully,”

Mulder whispered against her ear – wincing as the branch dropped out

of his chest. “But I wish you’d…ow…wish you’d listen…to me…

ev’ry now and then…”

A relieved breath of laughter escaped her and she tightened the

embrace as his own arms weakly snaked up to hold her. “Oh, God,

Mulder, I thought– I lo–”

“Holy crap!”

Crowley’s exclamation made her jump and she lifted her head to look

at where the sheriff was pointing – at the wooden corpse of Jeffrey

Mark Glaser.

“Please tell me you got an explanation for *that*!?”

“Sometimes…” She paused and pressed another kiss against her

partner’s cheek. “Sometimes it’s best not to question.”

Though she was tempted to ask a lot of questions when the sound of

the ambulance’s siren filled the air shortly after.

XxXxX

========

EPILOGUE

========

GEORGETOWN, WASHINGTON D.C

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 17th 2003

‘Case File #X1109172427

‘Much remains unexplained about this case – the condition

of the victims, what transformation Jeffrey Glaser did in

fact go through and how he killed his victims, to name but a

few things that both Jeffrey Glaser and David Friedman will

take to their graves. But whilst we stand in the shadow that

bears no knowledge, we still strive to find answers with

evidence collected from the crime scenes that has been sent

for further analysis. Closer inspection of the blood sample

collected showed it to be riddled with forms of altered

diatoms – usually the sign of a drowning victim – whilst

early PCR and DNA tests match it to that of Judith Gleeson.

Examinations of the core sample are yet to turn up anything

abnormal.’

Dana Scully paused her typing and glanced down with a smile at the

slumbering figure that lay beside her on the bed. Somehow the wood

that had been pierced into his body had done barely more than tear

his pectoral muscle and put another dent in his ego. The wound had

been stitched and he had been kept overnight at the hospital (much to

his usual reluctance) but that had been all. After what she’d seen,

it didn’t make much sense, but it didn’t really matter – all she

could do was thank God yet again that he was okay… The warranty was

still intact.

“How?” she had asked at the hospital – tightly clasping his hand in

hers as she sat on the edge of the bed.

“You’re not the only one who has a wall around your heart…” came

his wry smile. “You’re the only one allowed past mine, though, so

I’m guessing the guard stopped Jeff entering!”

She smiled at the memory and the sincerity she had seen on his face,

and then sighed as she continued to type up her report.

‘To date no record of a ‘Missing Persons’ report ever being

filed on Aimee Lynne Gleeson has been found, nor is it known

for how long she was in the condition she was found. She is

another who will take her answers to the grave, however – two

days after her brother died, Aimee’s eyes slipped shut and

the tree she was joined to has since shown rapid signs of

necrosis.’

A brief meeting with Skinner on Monday had revealed that Kersh had

backed down with his hollow threats…And they were being granted two

weeks vacation time for some much-needed R&R.

“Finally, some rest!” Mulder had joked (wincing at the pain his soft

chuckle cost him).

Both agents had quickly agreed that they wouldn’t be going away

anywhere, though – home was definitely the safer option.

‘Whilst Agent Mulder’s theory that Glaser was using the

emotions in people’s hearts to survive and give health to the

forest cannot be substantiated in the realms of science, it

is the only plausible one, and makes us realise that

sometimes the human soul presents us with things that go

beyond that boundary… Things that call out to us to direct

us safely on this rocky path of Life – a sign, a warning…a

revelation.’

Her head turned to stare at the rose that stood healthy and proud in

the glass vase on the bedside cabinet. It had grown even more – a

little each day – and it had become the symbol of their

relationship…proving that no matter what they went through, they

would always come out the other end stronger than ever as long as

they were together.

clip_image007

Suddenly, an arm reached out to block her access to the laptop’s

keyboard and the mattress moved as Mulder snuggled closer against her

warm body.

“…No work…” he slurred, never opening his eyes. “…Supposed to

be helping me heal…”

Another smile tugged at her features as she glanced down at the white

bandaging that covered his chest (‘another scar to take note of,’ her

mind heeded), and then knocked his hand away.

“Just a second,” she assured. “I get this done now and we’ll have

nothing to worry about for the next two weeks.”

‘Unless any other evidence turns up to encourage further

investigation, X-File case number X1109172427 is closed.’

She was about to close the notebook when she suddenly paused – her

thin fingers hovering over the keyboard, eager to write more.

Another glance at the flower in the vase, and then – just above the

last sentence she had written – Scully added:

‘An old proverb states ‘Food nourishes the body, but flowers

heal the soul’. Perhaps, as Jeffrey Glaser believed, it

should be added that the human heart can give life to

anything – even Nature.’

========

THE END

========

*************************************************

‘Only love can break a heart,

Only love can mend it again.’

~Gene Pitney: ‘Only Love Can Break A Heart’ (1962)

*************************************************

PLEASE send any feedback to sketchney@ntlworld.com – my life is in

your hands!

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