Title: La Llorona (10/12)
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.


Scully's voice.

"Mulder, where are you?!"

He stumbled southward along the bank toward the sound of her voice, but as soon as he could make out her form, silhouetted against the headlights of a vehicle, he collapsed to his knees, tears of relief springing to his eyes.

"Scully..." he gasped, folding down on himself. His body shivered and trembled uncontrollably.

She saw him come forward and fall to his knees and she ran to him. What had happened to him?

"Mulder, are you all right?" she asked him. She lifted his face into the light from Paul's truck. "Are you hurt?"

He said nothing, but clutched at her shoulders and buried his face in the crook of her neck.

She turned toward the pickup to find Paul coming down. "Help me get him in the truck!" she called.

Together they half-carried him back up to the parking area and Scully climbed into the cab, helping Paul maneuver Mulder in after her.

"Hang on a second," Paul said, trotting toward the back of the truck. He grabbed a woolen blanket from within the camper shell and brought it around to where Scully had cradled Mulder's head against her shoulder. Paul helped her drape the blanket over Mulder's wet clothes, then ran around to the driver's side and got in.

"Do we need to take him to a hospital?" Paul asked, putting the truck in reverse and pulling back out to the road.

"No!" Mulder rasped, lifting his head. "No hospital."

"Let's just get back to the house," Scully answered quietly, pressing Mulder's head back down to her shoulder. "We'll get him cleaned up and I'll take a look at him."

They drove back through the last intermittent sprinkles of rain. Tremors of fear still rolled through his body and he crushed himself against Scully to try to make them stop. He kept his left arm wrapped tightly across his aching chest, unsure if the pain there was physical or emotional.

At last the house appeared before them and Paul came to a stop directly in front of the door.

He came around and helped Mulder out, Scully sliding down to take her place at his side.

Paul hurried ahead and opened the door. "Mam !" he called, striding back through the kitchen. He motioned for Scully to follow.

Mrs. C de Baca came out of the family's private rooms and gasped at Mulder's wet, shivering form.

"Ay, Dios mío!" she exclaimed, taking Mulder's other side and leading him back further into the house. "Pobrecíto," she said under her breath, feeling his forehead and continuing to mutter assurances and endearments in quiet Spanish.

"I think we need to get him into a warm bath," Scully said, squeezing his arm as they followed the woman.

Mrs. C led them back to a large bathroom. The walls and floors were tiled in blues and greens and a large claw-footed tub sat in the middle of the far end. She turned the knobs on the tub and tested the water with her hands until she was satisfied with the temperature.

Mulder watched her actions with trepidation, holding the blanket tightly around himself. Paul had followed them back and there was suddenly a crowd in there with him. He stole a glance at Scully, his hazel eyes pleading with her while he tried to hold himself together.

"Paulo," Mrs. C began quietly, "why don't you help Fox while Dana and I go find him some warm clothes?" She moved toward the door and motioned for Scully to follow her.

"Um..." Mulder couldn't think of a way to say it, so he just shook his head. "Scully?" God, he hated the whine in his voice.

"I'll help him," Scully said firmly. "I need to examine him anyway." She kept her eyes on Mulder's, reassuring him.

Mrs. C looked surprised for a moment, trying not to be embarrassed in her apparently old-fashioned thinking.

"She's a doctor, Mam ," Paul responded, rescuing everyone. "I'll get you some clothes, buddy." He took his mother's arm and led her out, leaving the partners alone.

No sooner had the door closed than Mulder spoke.

"I'm gonna be sick." He tossed off the blanket and banged the toilet lid and seat up, bending forward to retch into the bowl. Nothing but a small amount of bile was left to come up, but it burned his throat for good measure. He slid to his knees, resting his forehead on his arm on the edge of the toilet bowl.

Scully found a glass on the counter, filled it with cool water and held it out to him, studying his tight, pained face as he filled his mouth, swished and spit into the toilet.

The tub was full and Scully turned off the taps. "Come on, Mulder. You should go ahead and get in. Do you need help or can you manage?" She closed the toilet and flushed it.

He didn't answer, but stood and started peeling off his sweatshirt, wincing as he tried to lift his left arm.

"Mulder!" Scully helped pull the sweatshirt over his head. "What is this?"

His sweatshirt and tee shirt were blackened and scorched where they covered his breastbone.

Mulder looked down at it and gasped, momentarily reliving the burning touch of those icy claws.

"Scully..." His voice sounded flat and far away in his own ears and spots danced before his eyes. He reached a suddenly numb hand out, trying to find her.

His face paled and he swayed on his feet. Scully grabbed him firmly by his upper arms.

"Sit down, Mulder," she said, steering him to sit on the closed toilet. "Put your head down." She bent him forward, rubbing his back as he gulped air to clear his head.

He soon straightened up, a bit of color back in his cheeks.

"Does it hurt?" Scully asked, gingerly lifting his shirt up so she could see his chest.

"Yeah," Mulder answered, trying to rub at it. Scully brushed his hands away.

The skin beneath the scorched shirt was an angry red and the hair on his chest gave off a singed odor.

Scully gently pulled the shirt all the way off to get a better look. She then ran her hands all over his upper body, checking for any other injuries. She inspected the welts and scratches on Mulder's face, was satisfied that they weren't that bad, then found herself concentrating on his left shoulder. She had noticed him rubbing it earlier and had seen the pain in his face when he moved it.

"Does your shoulder hurt?" she asked quietly as she bent to look closely at the reddish marks that were becoming more evident.

Mulder nodded, but didn't answer. He was trying to keep his teeth from chattering. The bathroom was steamy and warm, but his wet hair was dripping down his back and he was still wearing his cold, wet jeans. A shiver broke over his body and he wrapped his arms around himself.

"Oh, Mulder, I'm sorry," Scully said. "I'll let you get in the bath now, but I want to give you a quick once-over when you're finished, just to make sure you're all right." She stopped and stared at him a moment.

"Do you have any other injuries?" She lifted his chin so she could see his eyes.

"No, I don't think so," he answered. He wanted to get out of his pants, but not while Scully was there. "Go on. I'll be fine."

To prove it to both of them he got to his feet. He placed one booted foot on the toilet and bent to untie the laces. He tried to discreetly suck in air when the edges of his vision began to go gray again. His heart was pounding in his burning chest, but he was determined to ignore it until Scully left.

Suddenly everything looked wrong. The blue and green tiles were tilting to an impossible angle.

"Mulder!" Scully gasped, grabbing at his right arm to keep him upright. His weight was too much for her and he slid down to the floor.

"Let me help you," Scully said quietly. She knelt and quickly untied his bootlaces, working the boots off and peeling off his socks.

"I'll manage, Scully. I'm fine." His voice was thick and rougher than he would have liked. He cleared his throat and turned toward her. "Go on. I'm going to get in the tub before the water gets cold."

She cocked her head to one side and looked hard at him. She knew something wasn't quite right, but she didn't get the feeling he was hiding any injuries from her, so she decided to give him what he wanted. With a gentle hand she smoothed his damp hair back from his forehead.

"Call me if you need me. I'll be right outside."

He nodded and watched her leave, then used the tub and sink to steady himself as he climbed to his feet. He unbuckled his belt and unbuttoned his jeans. They were soaked from the rain and difficult to peel off, but he managed to get out of them without passing out.

He climbed into the tub, his skin prickling into gooseflesh at the change in temperature. After a moment he settled back, letting his shoulders slip under the water. The heat aggravated his burned chest a little, but it wasn't unbearable, and it felt good on his sore shoulder. At last he slid down a little further, dipping his chilled scalp then his face under the surface. He held his breath and let the heat melt the ice from his body.

The mud was soft beneath her feet and squelched between her toes as she took tentative steps into the cool water. It felt good on her hot skin. If she went out just a little further she might be able to see...just a few more steps. The water wasn't deep.

She dropped suddenly as her right foot found no bottom, her dress floating up around her waist. She flailed her limbs as she tried to find solid ground beneath her feet, but the dress tangled her arms. She had learned to swim earlier this summer, but she wasn't very good at it yet.

The current was pulling her faster and she couldn't keep her head out of the water. A shadow loomed above her and she managed to look up to see the bridge getting nearer. The current pulled her closer and closer to the big concrete pilings of the bridge. She struggled desperately, but she wasn't strong enough.

"Mommy! Mommy!" she screamed, water filling her mouth.

The current slammed her into the piling and she went under.

Mulder yanked himself up, choking and sputtering as he coughed up water from his windpipe.

"Mulder!" Scully called, knocking hard on the door. "Mulder, I'm coming in!"

He couldn't stop coughing long enough to answer before she came in, a worried frown creasing her brow.

"Are you okay?" she said, hurrying to his side to help steady him.

He nodded, trying to catch his breath.

"She drowned," he gasped at last. "She went in the river and...and..." He could still feel her fear and it was all he could do to keep from crying. He pulled his legs up to his chest and wrapped his arms around his knees.

"Who drowned, Mulder?" Scully asked quietly, smoothing his dripping hair away from his face.

"A little girl," he muttered at his knees. "A little girl...she...she ..." He shook his head. She wasn't one of La Llorona's victims, that much he knew. He could almost see her face, though he knew it was impossible.

Scully didn't know what to say. She drew in a breath and released it. "Did you fall asleep in the tub?"

"No. I saw her...I saw her in the water..."

"Are you ready to get out of the tub?" she prompted, choosing to ignore his attempts to explain.

He shook his head slowly, then looked up. A showerhead arced down above him, the curtain on its oval bar gathered beside it.

"I need to take a shower."

"Mulder, you've been soaking in a bath." Scully looked at him quizzically.

He shook his head more vigorously. "I need to take a shower." He didn't want to sit in the deep water of the tub any more. He looked her in the eye. "I'll be done in five minutes." She held his gaze for a moment, pursing her lips. What could it hurt?

"Okay. I'm leaving some clothes for you here." She turned and left him alone again.

He leaned forward and released the drain stopper and pulled the curtain around the tub, shivering though the water wasn't cold. He quickly got the shower going and washed himself.

When he emerged from the bathroom Scully and Paul were waiting for him in the hall. He tried to avoid looking in their eyes, but he couldn't slip past them.

"How ya doin', Fox?" Paul asked. He looked embarrassed, his hands crammed deep into his pockets.

"I'm fine," Mulder answered, bobbing his head, finally looking at Paul to keep from looking at Scully. She was staring at him with her doctor's eye and it was making him squirm. Was she mad at him for going out in the rain, for getting hurt?

"Um..." Paul began, "I was wondering if you felt up to climbing the stairs, or if you wanted to just crash out in my room."

"No, I'm fine. I'll go upstairs." Even as he said the words, he could feel the hairs on his arms prickle up at the thought of walking outside in the dark, but he swallowed hard, brushing his hands over his arms as he crossed them over his chest, suppressing the urge to shiver.

Paul nodded. "Okay. Well, good night, then." He gave Mulder's arm a squeeze and shouldered past him. "Good night, Dana."

Scully nodded at Paul, her lips pressed together in a hint of a polite smile. She took Mulder's elbow and walked him toward the front door.

Part Eleven