LIMPIAR

Classification: Post-ep for "Agua Mala"
Summary: Some waters can cleanse.

***

She puts the knife to my throat.

The last thing I see before her hand goes over my eyes is her expression of rage.

***

"Mulder!"

Scully's voice awakens me. My head snaps up, reminding my neck of exactly how
bad it feels. "What?"

"We're here." She indicates the shabby trailer. "You're sure you're up to this."

It's almost a challenge. It's certainly not a question.

"Yeah. He's probably very curious as to what happened to the...sea monster." I
fumble with the seat belt for a moment and she watches without comment.
Finally the button gives way and I'm free from the metal prison of our rental car.

...trapped inside the car with nothing but pain and Scully's silence and the
memory of that knife at my throat...

I shake it off and follow my partner to the door of Arthur Dales' trailer.

"Thank God you made it. Come in, come in," he bellows, ushering Scully inside
and letting me fend for myself.

We know that he had been following our progress on police radio; the
paramedics said that it was his call that finally got them to come to the
condominiums. Amidst the fallen branches and puddles of rain water they found
me on my back with Scully's knife to my throat.

***

I am closed off from Scully, severed by the slamming of a door. I hear her
argue with Vincent loudly enough to be heard above the howling wind. "That's
my partner out there!"

I let my body land against the door with a dull thud, knowing that if there's
any way in the world for Scully to get out here, she will. But the door
remains closed.

The pathetic wheezing sound that comes from my constricted throat blends with
the argument on the other side of the door. Finally I hear Scully give
instructions to the men about the equipment she needs to deliver the baby. I
am forgotten. I try to bang on the door with hands shaking from the fever, but
Scully won't hear me.

It's all drowned out by Angela's screams.

Drowned.

I keep expecting to hear the door crashing open and see Scully racing to save
me. That hope dissolves, washed away by the storm and the gun of a madman.
Through the panic and shock I realize that I will have to save myself.

I crawl down the hallway, unable to speak, every intake of breath a shallow,
searing agony, ironic counterpoints to Angela's labor pains.

Get to the car, get to the car, get help.

My knees give out and I end up on my stomach at the doorway. The jamb goes
into my ribs, robbing me of even the tiny breath I had managed to steal.

And a cat is watching me.

***

Scully is outside, getting an update on the Suarez baby. Arthur pulls down the
gauze from around my neck, checking the Hickeys from Hell.

"Oh, yes...my..."

I pull up the gauze before he's really finished, not wanting to explain the
slice at the base of my Adam's apple.

When Scully returns, there's a determination in her stride that rings false
with every footstep. "It's official. Ten pounds, ten ounces of piss and
vinegar. Leroy Walter Villareal Suarez...Junior."

"Oh, no," I groan. Poor kid.

"Oh, yes."

She sits behind me, out of even my peripheral vision. Arthur extols her
virtues while I try to defend myself.

Yes, she told me about the fresh water, even made sure I got out into it.

But I still feel the knife.

***

The cat bathes itself, its paw almost beckoning me. It's clean, free of the
brackish salty water from the sea...

Oh, my God...

From the barricaded room I hear screaming, gunshots, a baby's first wail, and
the sound of Scully yelling for Walter to shoot the sprinklers.

I start to drag myself hand over hand over the insurmountable obstacle of the
doorjamb.

"Let me OUT! Open this damn door NOW!" Scully's voice has that no-nonsense
edge that's so often been directed at me. There is a scuffle and I hear a body
- probably Vincent's - hit the wall with a hard thud.

Just a few inches...clean water...

"MULDER! Get in the rain! Fresh water will kill it!"

I open my mouth to answer, silent as my own goldfish flapping around after
jumping out of the tank.

A few inches more...please...

The door opens with a horrific crash and Scully rushes over to me. Her gloved
hands, slick with the detritus of a newborn baby, take me by the wrists and
haul me outside into the downpour.

"Jesus, Mulder," she mutters under her breath. "I thought you were dead."

I mouth something to her that she interprets as "help me." Close enough.

She pulls out the knife.

***

When her cool, competent hands touch my neck I jump.

"Sorry, Mulder. I just wanted to see how the welts were doing."

"Let's just leave welt enough alone," I murmur. Arthur laughs but Scully is
pensive, watching me with her Professional face on. She leans over, studies
her pants leg, and brushes away a fleck of blood with her fingernail.

My blood? Angela's? Vincent's?

There's not a mark on Scully.

Not a mark, except for that distant, haunted look in her eyes. It arrived
there when Arthur started in on how she'd brought a new life into the world.
Just that one glance over my shoulder at her and I could see the wall come up.

It's not Arthur's fault; he doesn't know. And I'll be damned if I'm going to
tell him, because that will somehow lessen Scully, implying that she can't
"take it."

She sips her scotch without any outer appearance of distaste. I take a long
whiff of mine, conjuring up memories of my father that I'd just as soon be
without. When Arthur excuses himself for a moment, I nudge Scully with my shoulder.

"I know you want to hit the road. We'll say our good-byes and head out to the airport."

"No rush, Mulder. Power lines are down and nothing's getting in or out until
God knows when. We'll probably be spending the night at the airport - in
chairs, if we're lucky. Don't scratch," she adds when she gets a glimpse of my
fingers trailing around the upper edge of the gauze wrapping.

"I wasn't scratching. I was..."

"Scratching. I can pick up some calamine lotion on the way to the hotel; it'll
lessen the itching from the suckers."

"That's not what itches," I comment more harshly than I intended, my finger
poised in the center of my neck.

Scully sighs and turns away.

***

"Mulder, can you breathe?"

I feel the cool, healing waters on my neck, feel the boiling of my blood
subside, and I know that in just a second, just a second...

She is rummaging around in her pocket, pulling out a pen and unscrewing the
body from the tip. I grab her arm, shaking my head wildly. I don't need this, Scully.

"Mulder, I'm sorry," she whispers. "Lie still for me."

A flash of lightning illuminates the knife's blade. It's a flaming sword,
weeping rain over me on its descent. I struggle against it and manage to take
in a tiny amount of air. Did you see that, Scully?

"Lie still!" She pins my body by straddling me. In this sick, twisted version
of a long-treasured fantasy, Scully leans forward and holds the point of the
knife over my windpipe.

I can hear the cat crying in the bushes.

All I can see is Scully's laser-sharp gaze until she passes her hand over my eyes.

The wail gets louder and higher in pitch, like a siren.

"Don't look, Mulder."

Siren.

Cold, weeping steel makes its way into my flesh, but it doesn't hurt as much
as I expected. Scully's hand is jerked away from me and I hear voices.

"FREEZE!"

"Get away from him. Sir! Sir, are you all right?"

I open my eyes and see Scully wriggling in the grasp of an astonished
paramedic. "I'm his doctor, dammit, and he needs a tracheotomy NOW!"

I sit up, wheezing but able to breathe. "It's okay, it's okay," I croak, hand
to my throat.

The paramedic lets go of Scully and joins his partner to have a look at me.
"Whistling Jesus, what the hell is THAT?"

"Long story." Scully pushes them aside and checks the oozing lesions by the
bizarre flashing light of the ambulance. "Swelling's gone down and you don't
feel feverish. Can you breathe?"

I nod, my hands still around my throat.

The knife falls into a puddle of blood-tinted mud.

Scully's fingers are cold and they provide no comfort when she pulls my hands
away to see the damage.

"It's superficial. Press on it to stop the bleeding." She rises and follows
one paramedic into the condo, offering information about the new baby. The
other one remains, staring open-mouthed at my inexplicable wounds.

My fingers are stained red with my blood. I let the falling rain wash them,
keeping my hands wet until the pads of my fingers shrivel.

Superficial.

I can't take my eyes off of the knife.

***

Arthur is talking to Scully and me, but the words are unclear. I feel like a
character in a Charlie Brown cartoon, where the adults' voices are just muted
brass instruments without articulation. I nod, a million miles away, and I can
see that Scully is somewhere even more remote.

Eventually Arthur gets the hint. He straightens his body with effort and looks
out the window. "You know, I wonder if my neighbors are okay. I should
probably check on them. Mind if I wander off for a bit?"

"I'll come with you. Someone might need a doctor," Scully begins, getting out
of her seat as if desperate to leave the room.

Arthur looks at her with such intensity that I get a glimpse of what he must
have been at the height of his investigative powers. "I'll tell you what - if
I need your help, I'll give you a holler."

Scully doesn't like the answer because it traps her here with me. She sets her
mouth in a grim line and takes her seat again, wrapping her arms around
herself to ward off a nonexistent chill.

The damp wind blows through the trailer when Arthur opens the door, and the
smell lingers when we're left alone in his dingy living room. It's wet and
noxious, salty, like the smell of blood.

"He shouldn't be out there in that wind," Scully remarks, rising once more. I
get up and stand between her and the door, blocking her exit.

"Don't do this, Scully. Just stop."

She fixes me with that Caribbean-blue stare. "Get the hell out of my way, Mulder."

"You almost got me out of your way permanently this evening."

I didn't mean to say that, but my heart is pounding, my neck throbs savagely,
and I can't think when she's looking at me like that.

A beat passes, silent save for the wind whipping the debris against the metal
foundation of the trailer.

"Is that what this little display of...of...'machismo' is about, Mulder?
Because I didn't kick the gun out of a lunatic's hand so that I could rush off
and save you?" She squeezes her small frame past me before I can stop her.
Over her shoulder, she calls, "If it is, then we have nothing to say to each other."

"I understand the gun, Scully," I call to her retreating form. "What I don't
get is the knife."

***

I lie in an ignominious heap, resting my head on a rock with the paramedic's
jacket as an entirely inadequate pillow. The rainwater has dissolved the
tentacles that were embedded in my neck; I feel the gelatinous mass dripping
out of me.

I hear the wheels of a gurney and the melodious voice of Angela telling
everyone around her that she's sick and tired of the lousy service the city
gives. She's louder than her newborn baby, who is plenty loud on his own.
Walter, who is holding the baby, gets into the back of the ambulance. He's the
only person who looks happy right now.

"You okay?" I hear Scully ask. "Does it hurt?"

"It hurts so good" is my reply, but it falls flat.

She opens a medical kit from the county fire department and shines a light
into the inflamed holes. "Looks as if there's nothing left of
the...whatever-it-was. You're lucky. It killed Vincent, too."

I'm luckier than Vincent. Big deal.

Scully doesn't meet my eyes. "I'll let you ride with them to the hospital,"
she tells me in a flat tone, "while I check on transportation back to D.C."

"Actually, we were wondering if you could bring him in yourself," Angela's
paramedic suggests. "We're a little crowded back here already and he doesn't
seem to be in distress." He shuts the door and I wince at the familiar sound
of being cut off.

She looks at the departing vehicle with such regret that I wish I'd told her
to go with them and leave me here. The lights of the ambulance recede into the
distance along with the tinny wail of the siren. Only when we are completely
alone does she turn back to me.

"Come on, Mulder. Let's take you to the hospital and get those wounds cleaned
up." She offers me a hand, the same hand that wielded the knife, but I refuse
it, choosing to haul myself to vertical via rocks and palm branches and
anything but that cold, wet hand.

"Hey, Scully."

She turns around. "What?"

I hold out the knife to her. "I think this is yours."

***

Scully turns around as if hearing a gunshot. She stalks back into the trailer,
pushing her way past me to stand in the middle of the living room with her
fists balled up on her hips and her eyes glowing with icy rage.

"I was trying to save your goddamned LIFE, Mulder!"

"A little late in the game, don't you think?"

We stare at each other, breathing too fast.

"I don't have to listen to this," she hisses.

"Just like you didn't listen to me out in the hallway, when I was choking to
death, when you were busy with the Mother of the Year in there..."

"Not to mention the psycho who was pointing a gun to my head!" She paces in
small circles, then looks me right in the eye. "If he'd killed me, we'd BOTH
have died. Who wins then, Mulder? Who wins?"

I'm not letting her off that easily. "Where was the Dana Scully who'd have
kicked the gun out of a perp's hand and run to save her partner?"

"Where was the Fox Mulder who was WORTH saving?"

That takes my breath away more completely than any sea monster.

Worth saving.

Scully's hand is over her mouth, her eyes softening with horror and regret.
"Oh, Mulder," she whispers, coming toward me with her hand outstretched. "Oh,
Mulder, I'm sorry..."

I want her to touch me, to make it all go away, but...but...

Worth saving. I hear it echoing off the walls of my cranium.

"Leave me alone, Scully." I turn my back on her, but she strides in front of
me, looking up into my lowered face.

"Mulder, I'm so sorry...I didn't mean..."

"Just stop. Stop." I warn her off with my raised arms, wishing I had a
titanium wall to put between her peacock-blue gaze and myself.

She has her fist over her mouth as if trying to capture the words and stuff
them back whence they came. Her entire body is shaking; her shoulders slump in
a way I've never seen, not even when she faced a horrific death by cancer.
This time, it's her own soul that's eating away at her.

I take in a deep breath, step over to her, and put my hand on her shoulder. "Scully?"

***

"Mulder?"

I look up from the emergency room bed where I sit with my legs dangling over
the edge, bare from where the flimsy paper gown doesn't reach far enough.
Scully takes a look at the damage, nodding her approval of the doctor's repair
work. She takes a roll of gauze and starts toward me, a length of the material
heading toward my throat.

I grab her wrist. "I'll do it," I grumble.

"Don't be silly, Mulder. You can't see to do this properly." At the first
touch of the bandage to my neck I flinch violently.

Scully keeps working despite my physical interruption. "Sit still, Mulder. I'm
not going to strangle you."

"Hmmph."

For an instant she freezes in place, then she goes back into doctor mode and
finishes the job. When she ties the knot at the back of my neck her hand
lingers in my hair. It's just for a moment, but I know that touch. It's an
apology of sorts, usually enough to make me smile or reach to hug her.

But not today.

I slide my fingers under the top edge of the bandage, folding it down and away
from my sore jaw.

Scully's fingers leave me and she folds her arms in front of her. There is no
expression on her pale face.

"If you want to sign the papers, you can get your stuff and we can go. We'd
probably better check in with Dales."

"Yeah. The paramedic who stayed with me," - and I feel Scully flinch when I
say it - "said it was Dales who kept calling them until they agreed to put us
at the top of the list. Guess they're pretty pissed that it's only a routine
birth and some guy with holes in his neck."

Scully just nods. "I'll have the orderly help you with your clothes," she says
after a few moments of silence.

Dozens of times she's been the one to hand me my pants, grinning at my
discomfort at having to put them on under cover of my hospital gown.

But not today.

She's always been there to hold my hand and interpret the doctor's
instructions into simple English.

But not today.

Maybe never again.

***

Scully freezes at my touch, tensing up like a cat ready to spring. I wish she
would; I wish she'd claw at me and knock me over and tell me what a worthless
piece of shit I am in the several languages I know she can speak.

Worth saving.

I wish she could make me suffer only a tenth of what she has gone through so
that I could grasp the merest edge of what has brought her to the decision
that I'm beyond redemption.

What she does instead makes me want to die.

She walks away.

I stand stock-still with my hand frozen in place, my palm still registering
her warmth. "Scully," I manage to whisper past the lump in my throat. "Scully?"

When she finally, finally faces me, I understand the meaning of the word
"despair" for the first time in my life.

Scully has left me, as surely as if she had gotten in the car and driven away,
as surely as she let that door close between us.

Oh, my God, she's going to leave me and I don't know what my life will be like
without her.

I won't have a life without her.

Her mouth opens and she struggles to form words. She's on the verge of tears,
holding them back by the same sheer force of will that kept her alive for one
more day and one more day when the cancer had reduced her to a translucent
shell. Her first broken words are poison to me.

"I don't know why I did it."

I stare at her.

Scully continues in a dark monotone that frightens me more than weeping or
shouting ever could. "I could have disarmed Vincent. I've gotten away from
people more heavily armed than he was, and Angela's baby was going to be born
with or without me. I just..." She shrugs helplessly, a gesture that tears at
my soul. "I just put you out of my mind."

I can't think when she's saying these things with those enormous, pleading
eyes filling with tears. "Did you *want* me to die?" I manage to ask.

"NO!" Her voice is high and strained and she starts to move toward me. Then,
more softly: "No, oh, God, never that..."

"You said I wasn't worth..."

That is all it takes and she crosses to me, wrapping her arms around my waist.
"Mulder, I 'm so sorry..."

Lost, confused, I push her away gently, just enough so that we can look at one
another, but without losing physical contact. "Don't be sorry. This didn't
happen overnight, Scully. We didn't get to this place just because you didn't
feel like exploring sea monsters with me."

"No. No, we didn't," she mumbles, staring at her muddy shoes.

I sit on my heels in front of her so that I can look up into her face. "What
happened, Scully?"

She runs her hand through her unkempt hair. "ALL of it happened, Mulder. We
lost our credibility and our work, I lost my self-respect, I lost YOUR respect..."

"Never," I hear myself saying. Then I think of Diana.

I don't have to say it; Scully knows what I'm thinking and she nods sagely.
"But that's not the worst. There were those skeletons, Mulder..."

It takes a moment for the reference to hit me and when it does, I want to sink
into the floor.

Betsy Weinsider's back yard.

The babies.

Scully is breathing quickly as she keeps talking. "Emily hadn't been dead for
a year, Mulder, and you got your jollies putting me in that yard, digging up
all those babies, ALL THOSE BABIES, and you never said a word..."

"Ah, Scully..." I take hold of her hands, pressing them to my lips; she does
not resist as she continues her torrent of words.

"Not a word, ever, not so much as 'if it's not going to be too hard on you,
Scully,' or 'do you want someone else to do this for you, Scully,'
or...or...I'd have settled for 'fuck off and do your job even if it hurts,
Scully,' *anything* to acknowledge what that did to me." She takes in a huge,
sobbing breath. "I don't know if I can forgive you for that, Mulder. What I do
I know is that I'll never forget."

I'd endure a thousand tentacles just to have her take back that last sentence.

God knows they'd have the same effect on my breathing. I can't get enough air
to make my voice work. "...sorry..." is all that comes out, and that's a pale
shadow of what I want to tell her.

She's crying openly now, the hot tears landing on our joined fingers. "And
this baby of Angela's, the baby she didn't really want...it was so easy for
her, Mulder. It was as if God was laughing at me."

"No..."

"Dammit, Mulder, let me finish." The ire is gone from her voice despite the
harsh words. "Somewhere inside me, I thought that if I just did this one
thing, if I delivered this baby, that it would all be over; I'd have lost a
child, investigated lost children, and finally closed the chapter by bringing
a new child into the world."

"And having Vincent point a gun at you gave you 'permission' to focus on Angela?"

Scully nods, her face transfixed by grief.

"The moment we killed that creature, Mulder, I was...filled...with you. I had
to get to you, had to tell you how to save yourself, and nothing else
mattered. You have to believe that."

I turn my head, remembering the knife.

Scully continues. "I saw you struggling for breath and I went to open your
airway, but...you were staring at me with such..." She shakes her head,
tearing up again. "...such hatred, and I knew you'd never forgive me for
leaving you out there alone..."

"No, Scully." I almost laugh with relief. "The rain had started to kill the
creature and I was *getting* my breath back, but I couldn't tell you. I was
trying to get you not to cut me open. *You* were the one who looked angry.
For one second I thought you were going to...finish the job. I would have
deserved it...for a lot of reasons."

"Mulder!"

Her anguished cry brings me to my knees. I entwine her in my arms, my head
pressed into the curve of her waist. It's my turn for tears. "Scully, I'm so
sorry, so sorry."

She supports my head, stroking my hair. "Ssh, Mulder, don't do this..." It's
not enough to stop the flood. Scully holds me closer. "Stop crying, Mulder. NO
more salt water."

In spite of myself I chuckle, wiping my eyes with the back of my sleeve. I
look up at her through a haze of bitter tears and I see the most beautiful
thing in the world.

Her smile.

Noah couldn't have been happier to see the first rainbow than I am to see
forgiveness in Dana Scully's eyes.

We've wept together.

And now we are clean.

***

END

Author's notes:

There would be no story were it not for the tireless beta reading of Kelly
Shuford and Jordan, who keep me busy, keep me out of trouble, and keep me
thinking clearly about what I want to say. I love you guys, you know that.

"Limpiar" is the Spanish verb for "to clean."

Answering feedback will keep my fingers out of the chocolate...Marguerite@operamail.com.
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