[identity profile] discordantwords.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] scully_fest
Title: Stygian (2/2)
Author: [livejournal.com profile] discordantwords
Rating: R-ish for language and a bit of violence
Spoilers: Season 3

Continued from Part 1

*

She dreamed of dinner, one of the last family gatherings, all members of the Scully clan together under one roof. Her mother's cheeks were rosy with mirth, her father with a bellyful of beer, laughing his baritone laugh. As a girl she'd treasured each unexpected, wonderful laugh, she who too frequently mirrored his tendency for seriousness.

Bill had brought a girl home, a pretty little blonde named Tara. A year later he'd marry her, but for the moment she sat shyly at the table, future unseen, unknown.

Missy was unwashed, in one of those messy floral dresses that made their father see red, and she leaned forward in her chair and tried to scare Tara off with stories about her big, bad brother.

Bill was stubbornly ignoring his sister, sitting up ramrod straight, perfect military posture, his voice rising slightly the way it did when he was trying to talk Man To Man with his father. Charlie was piling mashed potatoes on his plate, and she knew before the night was done he'd make a volcano out of potato and gravy, a man might age but he never truly grew up.

She sat there for a moment, the stiff high-backed dining room chair a familiar press against her. Her hands shook, her eyes pooled with tears. Nostalgia and well-being flooded through her and she wanted to speak, wanted to capture this moment and hold it forever, the way she'd once wanted to capture and hold onto her father's infrequent but wonderful laughs.

Melissa would leave, she knew, would vanish from their lives for years, become nothing more than a memory and an occasional scribbled postcard from a new city. The young woman at the table, with her wild hair and mischievous smile gave no hint of her coming transience, of her loosening tethers to her family, to her home.

She sat, rooted to her chair, frozen, watching the family tableau, those that she loved acting out their long ago motions, aching for what was no longer real.

Missy turned to look at her, smiled, touched her hand. "It's okay, he'll get over it eventually. He just really wanted to brag about his daughter the doctor."

Scully opened her mouth, tried to respond, her tongue frozen. "Don't go," she thought but couldn't say. But Missy would go, she'd go off into the world and when she finally came drifting home she would wink out of existence forever. Maybe what she wanted to say instead was "don't come back."

She said nothing, and when she opened her eyes in a stuffy motel room with dated decor, her starched white pillowcase was wet with tears.

*

She was towel-drying her hair when she heard the soft knock on the door. She opened it, unsurprised to see Mulder holding two cups of coffee, looking as though he'd already been awake for hours.

"Are you all right?" he asked her, studying her face, her puffy eyes.

She nodded. "Allergies. I, uh, don't think they've dusted this room since Reagan was in office."

He smiled at her little joke, took a sip of his coffee. "It looks like the Church of Dispelled Illusions has just become the Church of Dispelled Luck."

She cocked her head, waited for him to explain further.

"Police received a panicked phone call from Reverend Paulson this morning. Found Connor Stevens, aka 'Slappy' dead amongst the pews."

"Dead how?"

"Suicide, by all accounts. I was hoping you'd do an autopsy and find out for sure."

She sipped the coffee, nodded. "This is fishy, Mulder."

"The coffee?" He held his hands up, shrugged, made a goofy face.

"He was in such a dark place," her sister had said to her, not long after she'd shut her eyes in the trunk of a madman's car and opened them again in a startlingly bright hospital room.

"It's Mulder," she'd replied. "He's always in a dark place."

He looked at her questioningly, nodding towards her coffee cup.

She blew on it gently, sipped again. "Coffee's fine."

She had been utterly thunderstruck to find her sister at her bedside. Melissa, in a floral dress, with a crystal pendant around her neck, smiling a little smile had been more immediately mystifying than the circumstances which had put her in the hospital to begin with.

"You're back," she'd said, and her voice had rasped out so hoarse and scratchy that she'd frightened herself.

Missy had just kept on smiling. "That's what we should be saying to you."

And she'd looked up and her mother was there too, looking small and tired and relieved, and she'd had a hand clamped on Missy's shoulder like she'd never let her go again.

And for a while, it had worked. Missy had gotten an apartment in town, found a job at a coffee shop. They got together on the weekends, spoke about things that were curiously impersonal, like two strangers dancing around each other. She'd rebuffed Missy's attempts to probe deeper, didn't want to risk chinking the stoic professional armor she'd only just begun putting into place.

She'd begun to forego family in place of duty, just as her sister had begun reaching out for family. Was that what Melissa had paid for with her life?

She had been sucked in too quickly. She knew that now. Things had been just a little bit different when she'd woken up in that hospital bed, a subtle change, but there. She'd thought him charming and crazy at first, a wild-eyed man ranting in the rain about aliens. He'd endeared himself to her, became her pet lunatic, and she'd liked him, trusted him, cared for him.

Then they'd been split up, reassigned elsewhere, and she suddenly found herself seeing shadows everywhere, conspiracies in every whispered word, collusion in every shared glance. They'd gravitated to each other, feeding on the paranoia, meeting in dark places, standing too close, whispering urgently. The fact that the idea of extraterrestrials was laughable to her didn't change the fact that something was going on, something was being covered up.

And then... what? Something had happened to her. Something had happened to her, something she still hadn't quite come to terms with, hadn't pursued as well as she should have. But it had meant that she was right to be paranoid, that the work was important, that bailing Mulder out of some asinine off-hours jam was a more viable option than Saturday night dinners at her mom's house.

"Scully," Mulder said, his voice deeper now, concerned. He had lost his jokey demeanor.

She blinked and looked up at him, gave him a noncommittal smile. "I'll get right on that autopsy."

*

The tears had not stopped.

She'd sobbed until her face felt gummy, her sinuses impacted, her throat raw and lips chapped. The sounds coming out of her sounded less like cries and more like staccato hiccups, yet still the tears came.

Slim had not budged from her side, letting her soak his shirt, stroking her back in soothing little circles.

"He," she said. "He--"

"Shh," he told her.

Slappy had sat on a couch next to her and awkwardly patted her back the night that Slim had fallen. He'd mumbled kind nonsense and tucked her into bed when she'd had one too many swigs from the bottle Tony and Sug were passing around the room.

She wondered in a detached way if she'd made these same incoherent babblings that night on the couch, thinking of the way Slim's head had seemed loose and unconnected in her hands.

"He--" she said again.

"I know," Slim told her, and she pulled him closer, smelled the faint but ever present odor of sulfur on his clothes, on his skin. He was warm and solid and whole against her, no breaks, no breaches, only beating heart and lungs that still drew in air.

"He was my friend," she finally managed to choke out, pulling back. "Why would he-- he--"

Slim looked down at her, met her gaze. His face was troubled but his eyes were dry, clear, focused.

She was not sure she liked what she saw in those eyes.

*

The body lay on a gurney, feet hanging over the edge.

"I'm sorry," the coroner told Scully. "He's very tall..."

She'd nodded, donned her scrubs and mask, stood looking down at the still gray features that had once held life. There was a small, neat pucker at his left temple that had been carefully cleaned; the right side of his face was distorted and ruined. His right eye had been reduced to a jellied mash by the bullet's trajectory.

She studied the wound for a moment, thought about the man that she'd seen only the day before putting a gun to his temple and pulling the trigger.

He hadn't seemed like a man in the grips of despair, but that did not necessarily mean much. She knew better than anyone that men could sometimes wear masks.

She went to his hands next, studied the long pale fingers. They had begun to stiffen with rigor mortis and she frowned, turned his hand over, smoothed her latex clad fingertips over his palm.

She stood, stripped off her gloves, reached for her phone.

*

Sug had just opened a can of beer when the pounding began at his door. Sharp, demanding raps. The kind that couldn't be ignored.

He swallowed his first mouthful, went to the door, opened it. He was unsurprised to find Slim on the doorstep, mildly more surprised when the other man shouldered his way inside.

"Sug," Slim said.

Sug backed away from the door, held his hands up in a joking surrender. "Hey buddy, you're looking a little scary there."

"Slappy's dead."

"Shit," Sug said. He shook his head, sat down. "Shit."

Slim sat next to him, quiet and creepy, the way he'd been since stepping out of that coffin.

"He was depressed, you know," Sug said, taking another swallow of beer. "Had been for a while."

"Was he," Slim said, his voice carrying only mild interest.

"Yeah. Real bad."

"You know, for a while I thought Dee wanted me dead for my money."

Sug paused in the middle of raising the can to his lips. "Come again?"

"Dee. I thought she cut the wire."

"I thought it was all an act," Sug said.

Slim gave him a sideways glance, smiled with ill humor. "Cut the crap, Sug."

"All right, so you really are Jesus Christ, and you've come back from the dead. Great. So Dee doesn't get your money."

"I don't believe that any more."

"Good."

"It wasn't Dee."

"You're not making sense, buddy," he said, with a flare of panic.

"Must we keep up the act?"

"Act?" Sug asked, but he choked on the word.

"If I die, Dee gets my money. If Dee dies, all of the money goes to the church. You know that, Sug, you were the witness when I signed my will."

"I'm not following."

"You're following," Slim said. "You just don't want to."

Sug stood up, dropped his beer on the ground. It foamed across the cracked linoleum.

"How long were you going to wait before you did her in too? Were you going to make it look like a suicide, the way you did with Slappy?" Slim laughed, advanced towards him. Backlit by the sun he seemed impossibly tall, monstrous.

"Slim, you have to understand. Paulson, he--"

"I understand," Slim said. "I understand everything now."

His hands were hot on Sug's neck. He could smell his own burning flesh, hear the sizzle as his hairs ignited.

He screamed.

*

"It's not a suicide, Mulder," she said.

"How can you tell?"

"There's no gunpowder residue on his hands. This was staged."

"More illusion?"

She shook her head, looked back at the corpse on the gurney. "I think this one's staying dead, Mulder."

"I think I should go have a talk with Reverend Paulson."

She thought about the way that Slim had looked into Paulson's eyes, the eerie intensity to his gaze. "Be careful."

He laughed, his voice tinny and faraway on the phone. "Aren't I always?"

She sighed, pulled the cap from her head. It didn't tie together, it didn't make sense.

"You don't think she'd be tempted by revenge?" Slim had asked her, the heat rising from his skin in a wave. "Against those who did the deed, and against the one who benefitted from it?"

He had upset her. His words had struck a nerve, the core of something she feared but could not express.

But he hadn't only been speaking to her, had he?

"I died for your sins," he'd said to the reverend, his words heavy with the weight of additional meaning. He was not just quoting scripture, he was sending a message.

But vengeance was only appropriate if there had been wrongdoing. And if it had all been an act...

"The act," she murmured, and shrugged out of her autopsy gown. She grabbed her keys, bolted for the rental car.

*

Dee sat and chewed on her lip, listening to the murmur of the crowd on the other side of the curtain. Ticket sales were up up up, soaring, skyrocketing since the accident, and she wondered how much of it was from people hoping to see a replay of Slim's gory demise.

She felt sick, nausea churning her stomach, her head fuzzy and swimmy. How Slim could go on with the show after Slappy... it was inconceivable to her, just as it was inconceivable that she might step out onto the stage in her sequins and frills and smile as though nothing was wrong.

Sug was late. It was unlike him, the man was usually so prompt you could set a watch by him. Slim was late, Tony was late. Their absence made her restless, fidgety. She stood, smoothed her skirt, paced across the floor. The crowd sounded restless, excited. She did not think she could bear looking out across all of those faces without seeing Slappy standing by the door.

She heard Tony's heavy footsteps before he appeared in the doorway, looking sweaty and pale and unhappy.

"Tony," she said. "What--"

"I'm sorry, Dee," he said. "But it's gotta be this way."

He stepped forward and she was, for the first time, suddenly conscious of how large he was contrasted with her small frame. Then his hands were around her throat, squeezing the breath from her lungs.

*

Her phone chirped as she eased onto the highway and she grabbed it, already guessing what she was going to hear.

"Paulson's dead," Mulder said when she answered. "So is Tommy Sugar, better known in these circles as 'Sug.'"

"How did they die?"

"Strangulation," he said. "But Scully, it looks like they've been burned. I need you to take a look at the bodies."

"I'm not at the morgue," she said.

He seemed startled and hesitated before asking, "Where are you?"

"On my way to Slim Silverman's afternoon performance."

"There's not going to be a performance, Scully," he said. "Neighbors report seeing Slim enter Tommy Sugar's home this morning. He's on video at the church as well. He hasn't made any attempt to cover his tracks."

"Why would he kill them?" she asked, the same questions she'd been asking herself since standing over Slappy's corpse.

"I think he believes it," Mulder murmured.

She tucked the phone against her shoulder, stepped on the gas.

"I think he believes he rose from the dead," he said.

"And this is what, revenge?"

"Revenge for letting him die." She heard him rustling on the other end of the line. "Scully, you've got to get to his wife. She's not safe."

"I'm on it," she said, and hung up. Her tires kicked up gravel as she swung into the parking lot.

*

Dee beat her hands against Tony's meaty forearms, shadows dancing in the edges of her vision. He was sweating, his tongue sticking out just slightly in the corner of his mouth. She was aware of his every breath, of her every motion. She wondered how Slim felt before he died, if he cherished every last fleeting second. She wondered if he'd thought of her.

She saw motion, thought for a brief moment that it was Slim come to rescue her at last, but the figure approaching was small, female, crowned by bright hair. The FBI agent.

She stopped struggling, sagged in his arms. He staggered at the unexpected shift of weight, turned at the sound of footsteps behind him.

*

"Step away from her," Scully said, holding her gun on Tony.

He spared her a glance, went on squeezing Dee's throat. The other woman had gone slack in his arms, her eyes glassy and accepting.

She fired.

Tony dropped like a sack of grain, his jaw clacking against the wood floor. He never made a sound.

From the other side of the curtain, she could hear the audience begin to stir, the excited and uneasy babbling that followed the sound of the gunshot.

Slim burst through the curtains, his face white.

"Dee," he said.

She crawled to him and he fell to his knees before her, gathering her up into his arms. She wept and he rocked her, gently, slowly, stroking her back.

Scully looked away, bent to feel for a pulse in Tony's meaty neck.

"Don't bother," Slim said. "He's dead."

She glanced sharply over at him, where he sat, rocking his wife. He met her gaze evenly, shook his head.

"I can feel it," he said. His eyes were wet, tears streaming freely down his cheeks.

She looked away, back to the corpse. A little nugget of lead, smaller than her pinkie finger, all it took to stop a heart, to end a life. A piece of lead the same size had removed her sister from the world.

She heard Mulder's heavy footsteps in the hall, approaching at a run. He'd heard the shot, of course, and when he burst through the door with his trench coat flapping around him his eyes locked on hers with relief.

"He was in the act of strangling Mrs. Silverman," she said, straightening up, holstering her weapon.

Mulder nodded, looked over at Slim and Dee.

"Slim," he said. "Step over here, please."

*

He was sweating, looking flushed and feverish beneath his pressed black jacket. The doves in their cages fluttered and fussed with nervous coos.

"End of the line," he said. A trickle of rust-colored sweat ran from his hairline down the side of his face. He touched it with his fingertip, sighed.

"I don't understand," Dee said, trembling. She felt a terrible mounting sense of dread.

"Yeah you do," he said.

"You died," she blurted. "I held your pieces together, but-- but--"

"I had to know," he said. "I made a deal. I had to know who."

"Tony? Sug?"

"Not Slappy," he said, his face melting into such tenderness she thought she could cry. Blood wept gently from his hairline. "And not you."

"Slim," the FBI agent said again, his voice louder this time. He had drawn his gun.

Slim stood up, wiped his brow, pulled on his top hat. "Time to get the show on the road."

"Will I see you again?" Dee asked, her lip trembling. She touched his cheek. "You know, after?"

He smiled back, a sad strained expression. He took her hand in his, pulled her close, kissed her on the forehead. "I don't think so, buttercup. Not where I'm going."

"You--"

"It was worth it," he said, and turned away, brushed past the curtain onto the stage, leaving her with the ghost of his embrace and the smell of copper and sulfur in the air.

"Slim, stop right there," Mulder said.

Slim turned around, waved, flitted from sight. Mulder went after him at a run.

She heard the crowd, heard his booming voice announcing that all was fine, the show must go on, heard the slight tremble in his confident tone. She held her head and wept as she heard his hands and feet on the ladder, heard Mulder yelling for him to get down.

The female FBI agent, Scully, the one who had saved her life, crouched in front of her, gently took her hand away from her face.

"Dee," she said. "Tell me what happened."

She looked at her, at her serious concerned face, and she started to laugh. And on the other side of the curtain she heard the crowd gasp and cheer and then the thud, that terrible familiar sound she'd lived through once before, and someone started to scream and the tears came, hot and mean, the kind of tears you could choke on, the kind of hurt that can't be soothed away.

Scully stayed crouched, looking at her as if she already knew what had happened, what kind of exchange had just gone down.

She looked away, could not meet her eyes. On the other side of the curtain, the crowd burbled and murmured with growing excitement and confusion.

"It's over," Dee said, and buried her head in her hands.

*

Scully propped her suitcase open on the motel bed and packed quickly, neatly. Her motions were mechanical and well-practiced, her thoughts troubled.

She sighed a little when she heard Mulder's soft knock on the door, was unsurprised to see him frowning as he entered.

"It's too neat," he said, sitting down on the bed.

She glanced down at her suitcase, sorted and folded and compartmentalized, but knew that wasn't what he meant.

"Mulder," she said, and he looked up. "You, more than anyone, should know how powerful beliefs can be."

"So that's it, then?" He scowled, stood up, paced to the window. "Slim Silverman nearly dies in an accident, somehow convinces himself that he's returned from the dead, murders the men responsible for nearly killing him and then, what? Decides his mission is over and kills himself?"

"What's the alternative?" she asked gently, abandoning her packing to stand next to him at the window. A gray drizzle pattered against the glass, the cars only dim shapes in thick fog. "He sold his soul to the devil?"

The corner of Mulder's lip turned up and she knew she had him, he'd believe in just about anything so long as God or the devil didn't enter the equation.

He was right, of course. It was too neat. They could practically present their reports to Skinner tied up in with a little bow. A gift for you, Assistant Director, the first and only case with a definitive resolution you're likely to get from us all year.

But there was something...

"What if he was telling the truth?" she mused.

He looked at her, his brow slightly furrowed, caught like a deer in the headlights between being overly gentle or overly dismissive. She watched him hesitate, saw the needle swing over the line into dismissive and was almost relieved, if he'd been gentle, if he'd been tender the way he sometimes could be, the way he'd been in the hospital room immediately after Melissa's death, she might have crumpled, might have lost her strength and resolve and done something foolish, something dangerous, something irrevocable like kissing him. Sometimes it seemed like that might be the only salve for the horrible injuries the outside world kept inflicting on them, like they might be able to reach out to each other and breathe for each other and somehow stay afloat amidst all the blood and tears.

"You can't be serious," he said, his voice rising a little bit, more incredulous than the situation called for.

She smiled, felt the pieces click back into place, old familiar roles adopted, old familiar patterns reversed and repeated. She knew him well, and he knew her. It's why they worked so well together.

He shook his head, raised his eyebrows. "Slim Silverman sells his soul to the devil in return for a few days back on earth, to take revenge on those who wronged him and ensure his wife's safety," he said, his voice flat.

"It would be quite a story," she murmured.

He gave her that look again, probing, slightly concerned, slightly confused. He always did look just a little bit wounded when she believed in something he didn't.

"Come on," she said, turning away. "I don't want us to miss our flight."

"Scully?"

She sighed, turned back. He remained by the window, looking uncomfortable and out of his element, his eyes fixed on her. The irritating incredulous look was gone from his face.

"What Slim said, about your sister--"

"Mulder--"

He shook his head. "If any of what he said was true, any of it at all--"

Tears threatened. She held her hand up in a weak protest. "Mulder."

"It would take a certain type of person to do what he claims to have done, Scully. And I don't believe that Melissa ever had that kind of ugliness in her."

She shut her eyes, steadied herself. Missy had worn crystals, preached love and forgiveness, enjoyed shots of tequila on a Friday night and a midday mug of hot tea. She'd fed stray cats but never had a pet of her own, laughed it off as a pathological fear of commitment. She could get angry, great emotional squalls that were over as soon as they began, but never held grudges.

She'd been extinguished from the world too early, just one more good person in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"What's been done to you," he said quietly, "was done by men. Not gods, not fate, but men. And none of it was your fault."

Scully opened her eyes, saw only Mulder. He was watching her closely, his brow furrowed, looking poised either to gather her up in his arms or flee. She felt her own face relax, nodded once, almost smiled.

He smiled back, a sad dark quirk of his mouth, chose flight. "We're going to have to stay another night if we don't hurry."

"I'm right behind you," she said, turning towards her suitcase.

He left quietly.

She looked down at her belongings, neatly folded, and let the sobs come. Once, twice, her shoulders shook and she clamped her hand to her mouth. Then she shut her eyes, took a deep breath.

I love my family, she thought. But I serve my country. In my own weird way.

When she opened them again, she was composed. She shut her suitcase, went to the door. The sky was still gray, but the drizzle had faded, the fog seemed to be lifting. Mulder was pulling the rental car around.


End

Date: 2014-02-18 03:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] maybe-amanda.livejournal.com
This is excellent. That is all.

Date: 2014-02-19 06:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] estella-c.livejournal.com
Interesting idea, strong prose, the fortitude to put it all together. Well done.

Date: 2014-02-19 09:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] estella-c.livejournal.com
I particularly like your title and your (all s's) choice of names. That may sound frivolous, but I think the ability to choose both is an unusual knack and signals a special talent.

Date: 2014-02-20 02:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tri-sbr.livejournal.com
I liked this very much. I thought the underlying tension in Scully and Mulder individually and as a pair was very well done. Scully is so clearly trying to keep her emotions over Melissa's recent death in check and Mulder is trying to walk the fine line between wanting to be there for her and letting her maintain the stoicism she relies on. And Scully watches him walk that line. The descriptions of this (and of Mulder's facial expressions throughout the story) are great:

"He looked at her, his brow slightly furrowed, caught like a deer in the headlights between being overly gentle or overly dismissive. She watched him hesitate, saw the needle swing over the line into dismissive and was almost relieved..."

I also liked that, even though this is an instance where Scully seems inclined to believe the more out-there explanation and Mulder is not so sure, he isn't nasty to her about it (unlike in some of the episodes). Instead, his response is tempered and is actually kind of comforting to her:

"She smiled, felt the pieces click back into place, old familiar roles adopted, old familiar patterns reversed and repeated. She knew him well, and he knew her. It's why they worked so well together."

I also really liked the connection Scully finds between herself and her dad - the 'I love my family but I serve my country' thing. And that also connects to the memory earlier in the story of Scully telling her Mom she needs to find answers after Melissa's funeral and her mom responding "You are just like your father." Nice.

I think you really captured the dynamic of M&S during this period and gave them a case that was more than just a case for them. Lovely work; thank you for sharing.

Date: 2014-02-21 12:19 am (UTC)
ext_10173: (xf | scully fog)
From: [identity profile] erries.livejournal.com
I really enjoyed this. Great casefile and fresh insight into what Scully was thinking right after Melissa's death. Also it was strangely refreshing for me to read a fic in which M&S do *not* predictably tumble into bed for once. ;) Thanks for sharing!

Date: 2014-02-26 02:42 am (UTC)
wendelah1: (Deeper into darkness)
From: [personal profile] wendelah1
I wanted to wait to comment until I had the time to say something more substantial, then I got sick, and now my husband has pneumonia. So.

I think you wove the two stories you were telling together very effectively. Your original characters were well-drawn and compelling. Your writing has a cinematic quality to it: it reads almost as though it was meant to be filmed, and unfolds like an episode of the series. This was fresh original work, and very well-crafted.

My favorite passage was the dream at the top of this section and my favorite lines were these:

Scully opened her mouth, tried to respond, her tongue frozen. "Don't go," she thought but couldn't say. But Missy would go, she'd go off into the world and when she finally came drifting home she would wink out of existence forever. Maybe what she wanted to say instead was "don't come back."


I was happy to see [livejournal.com profile] scully_fest netted us not one but two stories where Melissa made an appearance. She is underutilized in fanfic, imho.

Like you, I look to fanfiction to provide more of what I loved on screen. This fit the bill.

Excellent work. Sorry to be so generic.

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