Title: La Llorona (3/12)
Author: phantagrae
Rating: PG (mild language)
Category: Casefile
Spoilers: Not really, but assumes everything through at least Amor Fati.
Summary: Mulder and Scully investigate a series of deaths in Albuquerque, NM.
Feedback: Yes, please. phantagrae@earthlink.net

Archive: Not to Gossamer. I'll submit directly there. Yes to anywhere else. Just let me know, please.

Mulder turned the car north on Rio Grande Boulevard and soon they were immersed in a rural area in the middle of the city. Scully sat back, enjoying the fields and juxtaposition of mansions and tiny homes neighboring each other. In the sunset light, the greens of the fields and trees were electric, the hulking mountain beyond a bold pink. The cloud-laden sky was a watercolor wash of deep blue, rose and a steely blue-gray she could swear she'd never seen before. Breathless and rapt, she devoured the colors, hoping to never forget the picture before her.

"What does 'Sandia' mean?" she asked Mulder quietly, her eyes never leaving the mountain, though the trees occasionally blocked her view. She knew that glorious color would soon fade.

"Watermelon." Mulder smiled at Scully's delight. He loved this town.

"You're kidding." She turned long enough to grin at him, then turned back to her window.

Mulder sat back in his seat, leaned his arm on the car door. That genuine smile had made his whole day and even the ridiculously slow speed limit couldn't bother him.

"Where is our hotel, anyway? Where are we going?"

"We're not going to a hotel. I have a buddy here—Paul C de Baca—whose mother owns a Bed and Breakfast and..."

"NOT one of your Roswell-Alien-Chasing buddies..." she objected.

"...AND they are letting us stay there free," Mulder said, raising his voice slightly, a small laugh escaping his nose.

"Mulder..." Scully warned, her eyebrow rising, almost involuntarily.

"I thought it would be convenient to our investigation, plus it's a little nicer than 'Motel FBI.' Relax, you'll love it."

When she turned back to the window, the color was fading to dusk and she was almost mad at him for stealing her attention. She gave up and looked forward just as the car slowed and Mulder put his blinker on.

As they turned, Scully wasn't quite sure that Mulder had found an actual street. Soon the pavement ended and they were surrounded by huge, ancient cottonwood trees. In the growing darkness, they reminded her of Tolkien's Ents and she made an effort not to look too closely.

"Are you sure...?"

"Don't worry, Scully. I've been here before."

Before he finished speaking, they came to a clearing. A large, two-story adobe house, freshly plastered and painted, sat back from the road. Warm light spilled from the large windows along the entire front of the house.

As she stepped from the car, the spicy perfume of Mexican food welcomed her. Letting Mulder get the bags, she walked up the flagstones to the house, waiting near the front door for him to catch up.

"Go ahead and ring the bell," Mulder urged as he neared.

Scully reached her hand out and the door flew open suddenly, making her jump backward, stepping on Mulder's foot.



"Hey, man, how are you? How was your flight?" The tall young man caught Mulder up in a quick embrace.

"It was fine." Mulder nodded toward Scully as Paul stepped back. "This is my partner, Dana Scully."

"Hi, Dana," Paul said warmly, shaking her hand. "Come in, come in. You guys hungry?"

"For your mom's cooking? Always! Scully, you're gonna love it."

Paul took their bags and deposited them in a corner by the door.

Scully caught Mulder's eye, a bemused expression on her face.

"Zorro?" she whispered.

Mulder's only answer was a shrug and a sheepish grin.

"Páse, páse." An older woman came and gently led Scully through the entry hall. "I'm Paul's mamá, Léna. Are you very hungry? All the food is still warm."

Scully smiled as this warm, bubbly woman with the beautiful Spanish accent turned to kiss Mulder on the cheek, drawing him into a rib-crushing embrace.

"Como está, mi Zorrito?"

"I'm fine, Mrs. C. I'm fine," he replied breathlessly as she released him.

Scully had to laugh at the embarrassed blush on Mulder's cheeks.

They were led to a big dining room where three place settings were arranged at the end of a heavy wooden table.

Mrs. C de Baca brought heaping plates to Mulder and Scully and then returned with a plate for her son and a covered plate. "Warm tortillas," she explained as she placed them in the center. A pitcher of iced tea sat on the table before them and she served each of them a large glass. She stood beside Mulder, her hand absently resting on his shoulder.

"Is there anything else you need, Fox? Dana?"

Scully smiled and shook her head. "It looks and smells wonderful, thank you."

Mulder and Paul talked around mouthfuls of food, catching up, laughing loudly, telling jokes only they understood—the conversation of old friends.

Scully indulged in gazing first at one face and then the other as she vaguely followed their conversation.

Mulder's face was so familiar to her. For the past several years she had seen it almost every day under almost every condition imaginable, physical and emotional. She knew the curves and angles of his jaw, the lines that had begun to appear on his forehead and at the corners of his eyes, the sculpted curl of his ears, the endearingly uneven nose, the shifting hazel of his eyes, and that mouth...

He laughed out loud at something Paul had just said and she smiled at the toothy grin he so rarely displayed.

As she sipped her tea she shifted her gaze to the exotic dark mocha of Paul C de Baca's face. His forehead was high and smooth, his eyes unfathomably dark, his teeth even and white in his constantly smiling mouth. She couldn't tell if he was older or younger than Mulder, but his longish raven-black hair showed no signs of the silver threads beginning to appear on Mulder's head.

He didn't seem like many of Mulder's other friends. If this guy was some sort of expert in some weird paranormal field, it didn't show. He was charming, intelligent, articulate.

Scully sat back in her chair as she nibbled on the last of her tortilla and again her eyes moved back and forth between the two men.

At some point she imagined that being with Mulder and his hazel eyes was somehow inevitable. She didn't know why, but she knew it seemed right.

So much had happened in her relationship with Mulder in the last year or two. They had become so close and yet had been tested.

Neither she nor Mulder had ever really shown more than the mildest signs of jealousy over each other. It was more a sense of territoriality or protective proprietary feelings. They were used to watching each other's backs, staving off physical danger. It was only natural to feel protective of each other's emotions as well.

We almost kissed that day in his hallway, she thought wistfully, letting her eyes linger on Mulder's full lips. Had he meant all those words he had spoken in the hallway? But that moment had been interrupted by much more than just that damn virus-carrying bee. Diana Fowley's presence had forced Scully to examine her feelings for Mulder, but also to wonder how Mulder really felt about her. She'd never felt as threatened by anyone as she had by Diana. She had felt jealous and insecure and territorial. And foolish.

They'd recently shared another moment in his hallway.

"You were my constant, my touchstone."

"And you are mine."

Not quite a declaration of love, but still a reassurance of their meaning to each other.

But now, in a place and time like this, so far from the high drama that had ruled their lives in those days, she wondered about all the other possibilities of their lives and their relationship.

If it weren't for their work together and their shared experiences of fear and grief and trust, would they have even been friends?

In any case, they were indeed bound by many things and she found that she did indeed love him, but she wasn't always sure how she loved him. Their relationship was both all-consuming and frustratingly idle. He had not tried to kiss her since that unfortunate moment in the hallway and she had not mentioned it again. And his drug-or-head-injury-induced declaration of love in Bermuda didn't count.

So, every now and then she wondered, especially in a moment like this when she found herself looking at other men, if she was simply limiting herself, if there was someone out there beyond the confines of that basement office, someone out in the world who was better for her than Fox Mulder.

She didn't know Paul at all, yet his easy manner and magazine-model good looks made her dream of another world, a normal world, where she led a normal life, had a normal husband, became a normal wife. A world where she practiced medicine and made babies and grew old in a rocking chair.

Once upon a time she had dated ordinary men. Once upon a time she had taken for granted that she would achieve that normal life, even though there had always been a tiny voice whispering in her ear that she was not destined for that. She knew that her choice of a career in the FBI would always make her life unusual.

But then she met Fox Mulder and the words "unusual" and "normal" took on new meaning.

She had finished eating and now her moody contemplation and pleasantly full stomach conspired to make her drowsy. Her eyelids were slipping downward when Mrs. C de Baca came bustling in with a coffeepot and three small desert plates on a tray.

"Café?" she offered. "Flan?"

"None for me, thanks," Scully said as she tried to hide a massive, unladylike yawn.

"Oh, Scully!" Mulder exclaimed. "You have to try the flan!" He quickly scooped up a small spoonful and held it out to her. "It's great...come on."

Scully accepted the bite of creamy caramel-flavored custard.

"Mmm..." She nodded her approval at Mrs. C de Baca, but then struggled to fight down another yawn.

"Paulo, why don't you show Fox and Miss Scully to their rooms?" Mrs. C de Baca smiled at Scully. "I'm sure they're very tired."

Mulder took a quick swallow of tea to wash down the bite he'd been chewing.

"You go ahead, Scully," he said, indicating his plate. "I'm not quite done here—and I still have to eat two plates of flan. I never let Mrs. C's cooking go to waste!" He smiled and winked at the older woman, whose flattered blush was evident on her tanned cheek.

As Scully rose from the table, Mulder grasped her wrist for a moment.

"I'd like to stop by and talk to you for a bit before you turn in, okay?"

"Okay, but I'm tired and I'd like to get a good night's sleep, so don't be long." She pulled her hand away, wishing in this moment that his words meant something more, but knowing better.

Scully met Paul at the front door and began to pick out her bags, only to have him insist on carrying them for her.

"Your rooms have an outside entrance, around the side of the house," he said as he opened the door and waited for her to go through.

As she stepped outside Scully was surprised at how the weather had changed in such a short time. The wind grabbed her as she stepped out, whipping her hair into her face.

"Smells like rain," Paul said as he crunched along the pea gravel path toward the side of the house.

Scully could only smell his cologne, carried to her on the wind—a quiet, manly scent that triggered vague yearning memories. Perhaps some old boyfriend had worn that scent, perhaps she had daydreamed of some perfect man while sniffing samples at the cologne counter. One part of her mind wondered at the physiological, psychological, and primitive attractions of particular scents. The rest of her mind told her to shut up and inhale.

They passed through a gate into a beautiful walled patio, furnished with wrought iron tables and chairs. They rounded the corner of the house where rough-hewn wooden stairs climbed up to a covered veranda that ran the length of the back of the house. As they ascended she caught the spicy wet-earth smell of the coming rain.

"Here it is!" Paul opened a thick wooden door to an inviting room. The large dark vigas that supported the roof of the veranda continued into the room, giving the low ceiling an added weight.

"How old is this house?" she asked as she entered the room behind him.

"105 years! Can you believe that?" He smiled with pride, craning his neck to look at the ceiling.

Scully looked at his Adam's apple, his chin, his mouth, so different from Mulder's, then slowly turned her eyes to follow his gaze to the ceiling. "Those beams do look rather old. Are they original?"

"Most of the vigas are original," he began. Raising his hand to indicate one side of the ceiling, he continued, "But these three over here are only about 30 years old. My father did some work on the roof and had to replace them. An old adobe house like this needs lots of maintenance, so who knows how much of it is still actually 105 years old. Maybe the only part that is that old is the ground underneath!" His warm laughter filled the room with the bright resonance of mud and wood.

"So," Paul continued as he began putting Scully's bags near the old wooden wardrobe that served as a closet, "Fox really believes this case involves La Llorona. I knew he'd be interested, but I wasn't sure he'd be able to convince the FBI to back it as a legitimate investigation."

"What?" Scully said, genuinely surprised. Suddenly everything else was pushed from her mind.

"You know," he continued, unaware of the change in her demeanor as he moved to casually glance out at the night, "my mamá agrees with him. She's told me those old ghost stories ever since I was a little boy." He turned back toward her and shrugged. "I was never quite sure if I believed them, because my father said they were just legends, but you know Fox..." He finally noticed the pinched vertical line that had appeared between her brows.

"I'm sorry, Paul," Scully began, shaking her head as if that would enable her to understand what he had just said. "I'm not sure I know what you're referring to." She stood stiffly, trying not to be angry.

"Well..." Paul feared he had breached some policy of national security and decided it was time to leave. "Fox is next door—you can get to his room through this door here, or by the door just to the left out on the veranda."

"Thanks," she said, almost too shortly, then cleared her throat and deliberately changed her tone as she changed the subject.

"Thanks, Paul. Um...do you really think it's going to rain tonight?"

Paul stepped out the door, accepting her subtle offer to end their conversation on a better note, and leaned over the edge of the veranda, searching the sky.

Scully joined him in examining the dark clouds that blotted out much of the moonlight.

"Think so...don't you smell it? Oh...look there...lightening."

Suddenly, thunder slapped the air so hard Scully thought the roof was coming down on her head and she ducked involuntarily.

"Whoa!!!" Paul said, laughing out loud again. "That was close! Are you okay?" He took her by the shoulders and righted her, giving her a little shake.

"Hey, Paul, unhand my partner!" Mulder announced with a smile as he sauntered down the veranda toward them. "Man! That thunder almost knocked me down the stairs!" His eyes locked with Scully's with a teasing question.

Scully offered Mulder a noncommittal grin and turned back to Paul.

"Well, thanks again. I think I'll turn in before it starts to rain." She quirked an eyebrow at Mulder and slipped back into her room, shutting the door behind her.

Mulder stared after her a moment not sure what to make of that eyebrow, but another loud thunderclap broke the spell, making him jump.

Paul and Mulder looked at each other for a second and then began to laugh.

"Come on, Zorro, your room is right here," Paul said, still chuckling as he unlocked Mulder's door.

Part Four