Let Fire Cleanse what Rain Cannot

“Let Fire Cleanse What Rain Cannot”

Summary:  When Mulder journeys so deeply into a killer’s mind, Scully and Skinner are there to bring him back.  But not even the rains of a violent storm are enough to wash away the damage that’s been done.

Rating: R – for language, violence, and implied sexual deviance

Let Fire Cleanse What Rain Cannot

by Daydreamer

A hand rested on her shoulder, firm and comforting.  She looked up into warm brown eyes that tried to hide behind steel-rimmed glasses and smiled.  “Thank you for coming, Walter,” she said softly.

“How is he?”  Skinner nodded at the man who sat in the interrogation room, hunched over a table filled with files and photos.  Evidence bags littered one side of the table and they could see where Mulder had pulled out a baseball cap, a yellow and blue geometric patterned scarf, and a necklace.  A straight razor, the kind the killer had used on all his victims, rested by his right elbow.

“Exhausted,” Scully said with a sigh, as she looked back through the window.  A cup sat at Mulder’s side, and as  they watched he lifted it, drank, and grimaced.  “He’s living on coffee,” she said, as she pointed to the cup.  “We’ve been here four days and I don’t think he’s slept more than a couple of hours.”

Skinner looked at his watch.  “I was on a late flight.  It’s nearly eleven now — why are you two still here?”

Scully shrugged.  “I just got back from the autopsy on the Wilmington girl.”  She looked up to see Skinner’s lifted eyebrow and nodded.  “Same as the others.”  Again, she turned to stare at Mulder through the window.  “He wasn’t at the motel, so I came back here.”

“Is he eating?” Skinner asked.

She shook her head.  “He plays with his food, trying to convince me he’s eating it, but I know nothing is going down.  He’s quick to insist that I eat, but he’s exempted himself from that requirement this go round.”  She looked back at the AD for a moment, noting the wet coat, the  streaked glasses, the drops of water that dotted his head.

“Still raining?” she asked, as she passed over a handful of paper towels.

Skinner nodded.  “Pouring.  Another front is on the way; they expect a short respite tomorrow, then at least two more days of this deluge.”  He wiped his face, then his glasses and shed the coat, hanging it over a chair to drip dry.  “All right,” the AD said, rolling his shoulders as he stared through the window at his agent, “tell me what happened with that debacle yesterday.”

Scully sighed again.  “Golson wasn’t listening to Mulder.  It didn’t matter what he said, what he did, the man just tuned him out.”  She shook her head and glanced at Skinner.  “And you know how that goes.  When the leader shows derision, the rest of the troops aren’t far behind.  We couldn’t get any help.”

“But Mulder had an outline — he developed a profile and even had a possible location for the kills identified, didn’t he?” Skinner asked.

Scully nodded.  “Yeah.  Fat lot of good it did.  After I finished the autopsies on the last two vics … what we already knew was confirmed — the killer used a razor,” she pointed at the one on the table in front of Mulder, “and his victims slowly bled to death.  There wasn’t enough blood at the scenes for the actual kill to have occurred there.  They were nothing more than dump sites.”

“And?” Skinner prompted.

“Mulder found a connection — all the girls had gone to the same elementary school.”

“But these were young women — all over eighteen.”

“Yeah,” Scully agreed, “but the connection was there.  It was the first thing Mulder insisted on when we got here –the background on the victims didn’t go back far enough.  Once the additional information began to come in, the connection was obvious.”

“So why exactly do we have another dead body and no clue as to who the perp is?”

“Because Golson is an asshole,” Scully said succinctly.  “Mulder told him to stake out the school — he was sure the perp was using it for his killing ground.  But instead, Golson leads a raid, charging in with a full SWAT team and searching the building room by room.”  She snorted in disgust.  “They found the kill site — the boy’s locker room in the gym — but Mulder is sure the perp’s been  warned off now, and since we’ve had the school under surveillance the last day and a half, and we have a new body within in the past ten hours, I have to agree with him.”  She shook her head again.  “All the raid did was  force the killer to find a new kill site.  Golson hasn’t done anything to actually find the man or determine who

the next victim will be.”  She slammed her hand on the wall.  “We’d be done if that jerk had just listened to Mulder!  This would all be over!”

Skinner rested his hand on her shoulder again, waiting patiently while she drew several deep breaths.  “I’m sorry I couldn’t come sooner.”  He clenched his teeth and gritted out, “But I can assure you that Golson not listening to Mulder will *not* be a problem any more.”

Scully nodded shortly and raised a hand to cover the AD’s for a moment.  “He’s taking this really hard.  Based on when the different victims went to that school, it looks like they were all about eight years old when they came in contact with the perp.  Information has been slow to comein, but it looks like at least two of the women have been in therapy to help deal with childhood molestation.”  She released Skinner and reached out and touched the glass.

“Mulder is convinced the perp is the molester.”

Skinner took his hand from Scully’s shoulder and pinched the bridge of his nose.  “Does he have any idea what triggered the guy’s need to track these women down now — all these years later?”

She shrugged.  “He probably does.  He’s been really –deep — into this one.  I don’t understand half of what he says, but he seems to be able to draw some coherent ideas out of his ramblings.”

“Does Mulder have any idea why the perp has been so active lately?  Four kills in the last five months,

and then three in the last four days.  What’s his take on that?”

“The rain,” Scully said.  “Mulder says he kills in the rain to wash it away.”

“It?  What it?”

She shrugged.  “Who knows?  The blood?  The evidence? Sin or evil?  I don’t know.”  She shook her head.  “Only Mulder seems to have any idea of why the rain is so important.”

“Did anyone check Mulder’s theory?  Has it really only rained four times in the last five months?”

Scully nodded.  “I called Danny and had him run it.  No one around here was going to help.  But he confirms —  until this current storm, it’s basically been no rain –well, no heavy rains.  But when it did rain, he killed.”

“The initial trigger?”

“They closed the school permanently in June.  They built a new one on the other side of town.”

Skinner stared at the man at the table a bit longer, then shook himself.  “Let’s go talk to him, shall we?”

Scully nodded and moved to the door as Skinner grabbed his coat and followed.  A few steps down the corridor and they were at the interrogation room door.  Skinner opened it and entered, not surprised when Mulder didn’t even lift his head at the intrusion.  He had printouts spread before him and had highlighted several names on the papers.  His lips moved but no sound emerged.  As Skinner watched, Scully stepped forward, then knelt beside Mulder.

“Hey,” she said softly.

There was no response.

“Mulder?” Scully called, her hand reaching out to gently cup his cheek.  His head turned slowly and glazed eyes cleared as he looked down at her.  A slow smile spread lazily across his lips.  “You with me?” Scully asked  quietly.

“Hey, Scully,” Mulder replied, leaning into her touch.  “Where’ve you been?”  He turned his head and nuzzled her hand, then leaned down and gently kissed her cheek.  “I missed you.”

Scully placed a hand on the table and rose to her feet, letting her hand drift around to the back of Mulder’s  head, her fingers carding through the silky hair there.

“The AD is here,” she said softly, shifting her body so that Mulder would see Skinner when he looked up.

Mulder blinked twice, then nodded.  “Hey, Walter,” he said, “you should have been here yesterday.”

Skinner stepped around the table to stand on Mulder’s other side.  He reached out and touched the younger man’s shoulder.

“So I heard.  Golson giving you a hard time?”

Mulder shrugged.  “No more than most, I suppose.”

“But it screwed the case, didn’t it?”

Mulder shrugged again.  “No way to know.  Can’t measure a negative.  Can’t know what might have happened if we’d done it my way.  Can’t be sure that anything different would have occurred.”

Skinner tightened his grip on Mulder’s shoulder and then let go as the cataract of words stopped.  “You know, don’t you?” Skinner asked gently.

Mulder shook his head, then nodded.  He folded his arms on the table and let his forehead fall to rest on them.  “We’d have had him, I’m sure of it.  Theresa Wilmington did not have to die.”

“It’s not your fault,” Skinner said, even as Scully wrapped her arms around Mulder and whispered the same words into his ear.

“I can’t fix what’s happened, Mulder,” Skinner said softly, “but I can make sure it won’t happen again.”  He waited until his agent lifted his head.  “Do you have anything we can go on?”

Mulder nodded.  “It’s simple, really.  The women all attended Florence Nightingale Elementary School between 1985 and 1989.”

“You think it’s someone who worked there during those years?”  Skinner asked.

Mulder shook his head.  “I already checked.  No one stands out as a possible.  There’s no one employee who was employed for those years only.  Of course, it could still be an employee, but I’m leaning more towards an outsider who had access.  A counselor, or volunteer …”

“Maybe a substitute teacher?” Scully offered and Mulder nodded.

“Harder to get records on things like that,” he said.  “I’m not even sure if we’ll be able to get an accurate volunteer list, though I did ask that Golson get some people on it.”  He gave a little snort and added, “Not that he would necessarily do something I asked.”

“I’ll check it out, Mulder,” Skinner said reassuringly.”I’ll make sure it’s being looked into.”  He pulled a

chair around, then sat next to his agent.  “Do you have anything else for me?”

“The women have been killed in alphabetical order.”

“Excuse me?” Scully looked at Mulder in disbelief.

“Amanda Bradford, Patty Abbott, Lucinda Welles?”

“Amanda Bradford, first letter A.  Patty Abbott, second letter in Abbott — B.  Lucinda Welles, third letter C.”

Scully was nodding.  “Wendy Dawson, fourth letter D.  Alice Jones, fifth letter E.”

“Yvonne McCaffrey, Theresa Wilmington,” Skinner said, counting on his fingers as he spoke.  He looked up at Mulder.  “You know who’s next,” he said, unable to keep the surprise from his voice.

Mulder shook his head.  “I have it narrowed down to five.  Rebekkah Goldblum, Lizabeth Hampton, Andrea Stalmich, Tressa Maravich, and Lateefah Jackson.”

He lifted his hand and scrubbed at his face.  “And that’s just if he sticks to the same four year period

he’s followed so far.”

“Why would he change now?” Skinner asked.

“We’ve made him change his MO.  He can’t use the school for his kill site anymore.  I just don’t know what else he’ll change.”  Mulder rubbed his face again, squeezing his temples between his thumb and fingers.

“Does your head hurt?” Scully asked quickly and he nodded.

“Let’s go eat something, Mulder,” she urged quietly, “and then we can lie down and sleep.”  She ran her hand up and down his arm, soothing him with firm strokes.  “You need to sleep.”

He shook his head, then stared across the room, his gaze slowly losing focus.  “He’s broken.  There are only pieces  left of something that once was whole.  Broken.  Like me.  I close my eyes and sometimes I can almost put the pieces back together to form one whole me.  Sometimes.  Sometimes I can.”

Scully closed her eyes in pain at his words, but continued to rub his arm.  He was growing cold.  Opening her eyes again, she stared up at Skinner as he wrapped his coat around Mulder.

Mulder was staring up at the ceiling.  “He wants it to be over.  He can stare at the ceiling for hours and pray that the next moment will not come.  Or the moment after  that.”  He began to rock, a slow, back and forth movement of his torso only, while his eyes remained fixed on the ceiling tiles.  “But it always comes and I just lie there, staring.  Staring at shadows.  Shadows on the ceiling that never change.  Lines and circles in the dust that have been there for as long as my memories.”  He shifted his head and looked toward Scully, looking more *through* her than *at* her.  “There’s nothing there.  Nothing that I can’t  close my eyes and see in every detail.  But I keep staring. It’s all I have left.”

“Not you, Mulder,” Scully murmured quietly.  “This is not about you.”

For a second his eyes caught hers and locked, boring deep into her soul before the glazed look took over again.  “It’s always about me, Scully,” he said softly, with a slow, sad smile.

“I stare to get away, but sounds from the world — outside  sounds that have lost any meaning or context make their way into the stillness of my mind and linger longer than they should.  I listen to them sometimes.  I forget myself and I listen to the sounds and see the pictures they loosen from me cast on the bare walls of my mind.  I listen and the pain starts all over again.”

Scully looked up at Skinner, pleading with her eyes, and the AD bent down, grasping Mulder’s shoulder.  “Enough, Mulder,” he said firmly.  “You’ve done enough.  You need to rest now.”

“Memories are dangerous things,” Mulder mumbled, his head falling forward until his chin nearly rested on his chest.  He shivered in the stale air of the small room, and Scully pulled Skinner’s coat around him more tightly.  “They linger at the edge of each thought, waiting for me  and when I’m least ready, when I’m in my weakest state  they … they creep up on me.  They creep up on me when  I’m not ready for it and they fill me with …”  He shook his head.  “They’re very dangerous things — memories.”

“This is not about you, Mulder,” Scully said again, shaking him gently.  “This is not about you.”

“It’s the same, Scully,” Mulder whispered.  “Me, him, it’s all the same inside.  I can lie there, shattered and without hope, without possibility, and all I have left are memories.  He’s the same way.  Without the memories, we could become numb.  We could cease to feel.  Without them we could be completely alone.”

“Oh, Mulder,” Scully said sadly, her hand cupping his cheek and pulling him around to look at her.  “Do you really want to be alone?”

He drew a shaky breath and shook his head.  “I’m not.  I’m  not alone anymore.”  His hand trembled as he reached out to stroke her hair.  “But he is.  Singular and separate from the world around him.  He wants it to be over.  But the memories are there and he can’t get away from them.  Even the storm is not enough to wash him clean.”  Mulder shivered violently and collapsed against Scully.  She held him

tightly, stroking his back, murmuring soft nonsense in his ear until he calmed and pulled back slowly.

“He has a love affair with blades — anything sharp.”  Mulder reached out and lifted the razor, turning it in his hand so the light from the overhead glinted off the blade.  “It draws his attention, makes him — makes him hard.  For him, the penetration of the blade is better than sex.  Penetration — the blade sinks in …”  He drew the blade straight across his arm, staring mesmerized as the blood welled up.  He ignored Scully’s soft cry of alarm, disregarded Skinner’s quick grasp of his hand, didn’t see the razor being pulled from his grip and dropped onto the table.  “The blood flows, he gets his release, and through it all, he’s the one in control.”

Scully ripped his shirt mercilessly, exposing the cut across his forearm.  Skinner shed his tie without thinking and handed it over, even as he moved to the door and barked at the agent passing by, “Get me a first aid kit, a hot cup of coffee and several blankets.  NOW!”

Mulder’s eyes were haunted as he lifted them to stare at Scully.  His teeth were chattering and his skin was ice cold.  “He’s into self-mutilation — or he was.  He’s probably been seen by a local psychiatrist or psychologist, maybe even done a spell as an in-patient.”

Scully wrapped the tie around the wound, pulling it tight as she shook her head.  “Oh, Mulder,” she murmured, “why do you *do* this to yourself?”

“Stitches?” Skinner asked cautiously.

She shook her head.  “I can close it with steri-strips,” she said, still applying pressure to the wound.  “Mulder,” she called softly, “are you with us?”

He was staring at her, but his eyes were vacant and held no clue as to what was going on in his mind.

There was a knock on the door and Skinner went back, opened it, and took the items he had requested.

“Get a basin of warm water,” he ordered, before turning quickly and kicking the door shut.  He placed the coffee on the table, the first aid kit next to it, then dropped a blanket over Mulder’s shoulders, adding it to the coat already wrapped around him.

Another knock signaled the arrival of the water, and Skinner watched in silence as Scully washed Mulder’s arm then coated the wound with antibiotic ointment and neatly applied the steri-strips.  She bandaged the whole thing, wrapping a layer of gauze around it and taping it closed.  Once finished, she rocked back on her heels for a moment, assessing her partner.

“Mulder?” she asked cautiously, brushing back the wayward strand of hair that consistently fell over his eyes.

He looked up, his gaze clear, then stared at his arm.  “I’m sorry,” he mumbled.

Skinner shook his head and pushed the coffee forward.  “Are you still cold?”

Mulder shrugged, but lifted the warm liquid and drank gratefully.  His other hand clutched Skinner’s coat and the blanket about him.

Skinner looked at Scully.  “Will you be all right here for a minute?” he asked.  When she nodded, he said, “I want to go speak to Golson again.  We need to get people out looking at medical records — see if we can’t find someone who was hospitalized for cutting.  And I want all of those women Mulder identified put under guard.”  He reached the door and rubbed his face, then stepped back to the table and scooped the razor up.  Mulder was staring quietly into the inky blackness of his coffee inbetween sips, and he missed the silent exchange between his partner and his boss.  Skinner’s eyebrow raised in question as he held the razor, and Scully nodded once.  Blade still in hand, Skinner stepped back to the door.  “I’ll be back as quickly as I can, and then I’ll go with you to the hotel.”

****************

Skinner surprised himself by falling asleep almost as soon as he hit the bed at midnight, but wasn’t surprised to find himself awake three hours later. He tossed and turned for three-quarters of an hour before giving up and rising.

Slipping into his clothes, he spread the files he’d brought with him across the bed, then frowned as he looked at them.  There was something they were missing — someone who  consistently had access to these women when they were children at the school.

He walked to the sink and lifted the ice bucket, then pocketed his key card and stepped out.  The motel Mulder had chosen was like so many of his low budget choices.  It was an older, traditional motel — three long, low buildings spread out in a U-shaped court, parking at the door for each room.  A narrow, covered concrete walkway provided some protection from the pouring rain, but Skinner still wished he’d thrown his coat on before he’d stepped out.

He was debating going back for it when a sound caught his attention and he looked out into the darkened parking lot.  There, almost in the center of the court, stood Mulder.   Bare-chested and barefoot, he stood with his head lifted to the rain and his arms lifted to the sky.  As Skinner  watched, he shivered violently in the cold air.

“Fuck,” Skinner muttered under his breath as he dropped the ice bucket and darted out onto the asphalt, into the rain.  He stopped a few feet away, the cold rain soaking through his hastily thrown on clothes, and called, “Mulder?  Talk to me, please.”

It took a moment, but Skinner could see when his words reached the younger man.  Mulder’s arms came down and wrapped around his chest, and he blinked owlishly, clearing the water from his eyes before he looked at  Skinner.  “Hey, Walter,” he said softly, a puzzled look crossing his face as he looked around and shivered again. ” ‘m cold.”

“I know,” Skinner said, reaching out to take Mulder’s arm and lead him back toward the rooms.  “What were you doing out here?”

Mulder shrugged then said, “I wanted to know what it was like for him — to be in the rain.”

Skinner knocked on the door, listening in almost amusement as Scully awoke, then cursed, “Shit!”  The door flew open and she stood there dressed in nothing but an oversized T-shirt.

“Loose something?” Skinner asked wryly, leading Mulder into the room and letting Scully take over pulling him toward  the bed.  He went straight to the bathroom and gathered towels, keeping one for himself and passing the rest to  Scully.

“You’re freezing, Mulder,” Scully said, as she rubbed his chest briskly with the rough terrycloth.  “He’s freezing,” she repeated, looking up at Skinner.

“Hot shower,” the AD said, as he tossed his towel aside.  “Make it a quick one.  I’m going back to my room and change.”

“He’s a cop,” Mulder said, as Scully pulled him to his feet.

“What?” Skinner halted at the door and turned to look incredulously at his agent.

“The killer — he’s a cop.”  Mulder lifted a hand and pushed his dripping hair back from his face.  “Probably decorated.  All this time, he’s been trying to repent, to make amends for what he did to those girls, but it’s caught up to him.  The rain is to wash it away — wash his guilt away.  He knows crime scenes, knows we won’t  be able to get anything from a site in this rain.  Kill ’em in the showers at the gym — everything washes away.  Dump ’em in the rain — everything washes away.”  He  shook his head.  “Hmmmmm, try DARE officers.  See who  worked that school from ’85 to ’89.”

“Why’s he doing this now?” Scully asked softly.  “Just because the school closed?”

Mulder shrugged.  “Maybe.  The school closing may have brought it all back for him.  Or maybe he’s in a different position, a more high profile job and the guilt is more than he can take.  Even the way he kills them, letting  them bleed to death — it’s another form of washing away the sin, washing away the guilt.”  Mulder shivered again, and added, “He wants to wash it all away.”

Skinner nodded and Scully said, “Shower,” tugging at Mulder’s arm gently.  He shuddered again, but followed  her without saying anything further.

Skinner ducked back into his room, retrieving the forgotten ice bucket on his way and quickly changed.  Several phone calls later, he’d awakened SAC Golson who had been quite unhappy to be called at 4:15 in the morning.  It had made Skinner smile.  The local Police Chief had been awakened  as well, and Skinner had assurances that the names of all officers who had regular contact with the school during the specified years would be available within the next hour.

He grabbed his umbrella and coat, then braved the rain  to dash down to the coffee shop that sat next to the motel.

Five minutes later, he had three large hot coffees and three cinnamon rolls and was out in the rain again.  When  he got back to Mulder and Scully’s room, Scully was dressed  and Mulder was sitting on the bed, putting on his socks.

Both took the coffee gratefully but Mulder had to be urged  to eat his roll.  He obediently downed half of it before  he mutinied.

“No more,” he said firmly.  “I’ll just get sick.”

Skinner nodded his acceptance, then asked, “Are we ready, then?”

The trip to the local police station was made in silence.  Skinner was gratified to see that, while clearly annoyed at having been so summarily summoned in the wee hours,  Golson had, at least, shown up as ordered.  Other agents  milled about the conference room and police officers  mingled amongst them.

As Skinner started to step into the room, the Police Chief  halted him.  “Assistant Director Skinner?” the man called.  “I have the information you requested.”  He passed the file over with a frown.  “I have to tell you, I don’t like this insinuation that one of my men is responsible for these — atrocities.”

Skinner nodded.  “I understand your feelings completely, Chief,” he said, “but I’m sure you agree we can’t afford not to check out all possibilities.”  Skinner’s finger  ran down the list of names.  It was short — just three people.  “Where are these officers now?” he asked.

“Brancuzzi quit the force about ten years ago.  Flores transferred upstate.”

“That just leaves Henderson.”

The Chief nodded.  “He’s one of my best officers — highly decorated.  He’s a detective now — been working this case  nonstop since it first popped.”

Mulder was bouncing on the toes of his feet.  “Where is  he now?” he demanded.

The Police Chief looked at him coolly, vestiges of Golsos attitude still in the air, until Skinner cleared his throat meaningfully.  “Henderson’s on guard duty with one of the girls.”  He opened a small notebook and scanned the pages, then said, “He and his partner are watching Lateefah  Jackson.”

“Fuck!” Mulder exclaimed, already moving for the door, Scully in his wake.

“Get your people moving, Chief,” Skinner ordered.  “Your man Henderson is most likely our perp and you’ve just handed him his next victim.  Tell ’em to come in silent — no lights, no sirens — until we assess the situation.”

He whirled and raced after his agents.

When they pulled up across from the Jackson house, it was obvious that they were too late.  Henderson’s partner was slumped over the wheel of their car, dead from a stab wound to the heart.  “I’ll call it in,” Skinner said sadly, pulling his cell phone.  “In the meantime, we wait for the locals.  We’ll assess the situation and go in in force.”

He stepped to the side to make his call, then turned back when Scully called, “No, Mulder!”

Looking up, he was in time to see his agent sprinting across the street, up the yard and through the front door of Lateefah Jackson’s house.  Scully was already moving,  racing behind him, her gun drawn, and he pulled his own weapon and followed, mumbling “Oh, fuck!” before yelling into the phone, “Get backup out here NOW!  It’s going down — I repeat, it is going down NOW!”

When he reached the door, Mulder stood in the hallway, motioning for him and Scully to keep back.  He was staring into a room and as Skinner paused, catching his breath, he could hear Henderson.

“You don’t understand,” Henderson said, his voice totally controlled.  “No one can understand.  What I did — what I did to these girls.”

Skinner eased down the hall and peered over Mulder’s shoulder.  Henderson’s arm was wrapped around the woman’s throat, the knife pressed hard against the carotid.  His eyes were haunted as he murmured, “I was supposed to protect them.”

“I understand,” Mulder said, taking a step forward into the bathroom.

Skinner reached out and nudged him, moving him slightly to the right and against the tub so that he had a clear sight on Henderson.  His weapon was up, aimed and ready.  All that was needed was to get the woman out of the way.

“No on can understand,” Henderson said, spitting the words out from between clenched teeth.  “It was my job to protect them.  I failed.  I couldn’t even protect them from myself.”

“This doesn’t have to end badly,” Mulder said, inching forward again.

“Stay back!” Henderson ordered, his voice rising for the first time.  “I have to do this.”

“No — you don’t,” Mulder said quietly.  “You hurt this girl once — you didn’t protect her.  You can protect

her now.”  He reached out slowly.  “Let her go.”

Henderson’s right arm tightened on the woman’s throat, but his left hand darted upward to press against his temple.  “You’re confusing me,” he said plaintively.

“It’s not me that’s confusing,” Mulder said, his voice low and hypnotic.  “It’s the memories.  The memories are always there, aren’t they?  No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, they’re always there.”

Henderson gulped, an audible sound, and nodded.

“I can close my eyes,” Mulder murmured, “and I can still see it …”

“What do you see?” Henderson asked, his arm loosening fractionally.

“My failure,” Mulder said softly.  “I watched them take her.  I was supposed to protect her, I was supposed to keep her safe, and I just let her go.”

Henderson’s eyes were wide as he stared at Mulder, and Skinner was poised, ready, waiting.  Henderson’s arm loosened again, and the woman looked at him, her eyes filled with tears and silent pleading.  “Just wait,” he whispered, praying she heard him, praying she knew the words were for her. ‘And be *quiet,*’ he added to himself. ‘Don’t attract his attention.’  Thank goodness Lateefah Jackson didn’t seem to be a whimperer.

“You understand,” Henderson said, “you know it can’t go on.”

“I know it was *my* failure,” Mulder said softly, shaking his head.  “It wasn’t her fault.  She’s not the one responsible.”  He shook himself and seemed to refocus  on the man before him.  “She was no more responsible than Lateefah was.”

Henderson’s arm loosened again, the knife dropping away from the woman’s neck to dangle from his hand.

“But if they’re gone — if they’re not always there to remind me — maybe I can sleep again.  Maybe I can still live.”

“I know three things,” Mulder said firmly.  “Just three things …”

Skinner nodded at the woman, bobbing his head three short times and hoped it was understanding he saw dawn in her eyes.

“One,” Mulder began, “it is never the victim’s fault.”

He drew a deep breath and inched forward again.

Henderson was totally focused on Mulder, seemingly  oblivious to Skinner in the doorway.  Behind him, Skinner could hear locals arriving and Scully corralling them in the living room.

“Two, we can’t change the past.  Nothing we do now will ever erase something that has already happened.”

Skinner nodded at the woman again and watched as her body tensed.

“And three …” Mulder leapt forward, yanking the woman from Henderson’s grasp and toppling backward into the  tub.

Skinner’s bullet took Henderson between the eyes and the man fell without a sound.  Vacant eyes that still showed surprise stared up at him when the AD moved to check the body.  He turned and pulled the woman from Mulder’s grasp bundling her into the arms of a cop who was waiting in  the hall, then edged aside as Scully scooted in.

“What part of ‘we wait’ didn’t you understand, Agent  Mulder?” Skinner asked wryly, as he loomed over the man in the tub.

Mulder lay sprawled on his back, his ears still ringing  and his head aching.  “Sorry, Sir,” the younger man said,  not quite able to manage a true contriteness, but making a passable effort.

“I’m sure,” Skinner said, nodding.  “Just rest,” he added with a wave, “the paramedics will be in to look at you shortly.”  He stepped around Scully and back out into the living room.

“I feel dirty,” Mulder said absently as he ran a hand through his hair, “like I won’t ever get clean again.”

“Then let’s go back to the motel.  We can take a shower,” Scully suggested, as she helped him to his feet.

“It’s not enough,” Mulder said sadly.  “He waited for the rains, waited for the storms to come and it wasn’t enough to wash it clean.  There’s not enough water to wash this away.”

“Then come outside with me,” Scully said softly, taking his hand.  “The rain has stopped.  Come walk with me in the sun.”  She pulled him to his feet and led him out the door, away from death and destruction and into the purity of a new day.  Out where the sun shone brightly  for the first time in over a week.  “Let the sun burn it away,” she murmured, as she watched him turn his face upward, eyes closed to the brightness, but a soft smile on his lips.

“Let fire cleanse what rain cannot.”

End

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