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Vive Ut Vivas

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Sometimes people are the last ones to see what’s right in from of them. Either from fear of the truth or from not believing it could quite be true. But these two are a case to be studied. I’d had a lot of men in my life, but God, they were no Fox Mulder.

I saw how he’d acted when Dana was dying, when hope was only a distant memory to him. I felt the darkness that emanated from him, and if my sister was trapped on a place between life and death, I bet this poor man was likely to be the thing holding her there.

So much to be said to each other. I know my sister more than her own shadow, and Dana was never the best at exposing her emotions to others, especially when they were deep.

“I knew there was a reason to live.” – She said, joking. It’s so good to see my sister smile, even if it’s still a week one. After all we’ve been through these last couple of days, it helps the tension in the room to dissipate a little.

He says his goodbye and touches her hand briefly, but it’s when their eyes meet that I have to hold my breath. There’s so much there: care, affection, hope. I suddenly feel like I’m intruding. It’s not exactly something private, some intimate demonstration of love, but their eye contact shares more than what’s there to be seen. It makes me feel like an outsider just to be around, like they were the only ones in the room and I just entered the wrong place at the wrong time. What was said between them is something I’ll probably never know, but I’m sure they do.

A minute passes by. I notice how Mulder looks nothing of what he looked before; his smile is warm, genuine now, and even Dana shares one or two when he’s around. That is certainly a meaningful exchange.

As soon as the door closes, her mother’s eyes meet hers. She’s noticed it too. If it bothers her, she doesn’t show. A mother always knows – I can almost hear her say. They will save this conversation for later, though: right now Dana is alive and back from the dead, and that’s all that matters after all.

 

 

When I hear the phone ring, I immediately know it’s her. What surprises me is that my sister accepted my invitation to stay with me for the week, after being released from the hospital. You see, she has always had this terrible habit of closing herself after a moment of vulnerability, even if it was just me there, trying to help. I know it started because of our father, when her rebellious side decided she had something to prove to him, to prove her strong. When you grow up in a house of navy men, you learn to be tough. But I guess I dealt with it the light way and she chose the hard one.

Maybe that’s changing too. – I smile to myself. My apartment isn’t exactly as big and cozy as hers, but the two of us have always found comfort in each other’s company. Besides, it will give me just the opportunity I need to have a heart-to-heart conversation with Dana.

 

 

As I expected, she doesn’t let me pick her up at the hospital. I’ll let it pass this time, since I’m more than happy with her presence.

Half an hour has passed by when the doorbell finally rings and I hear the thud of her bags on the other side of the door. I rise from my spot on the couch and go open it for her.

“Mel, I don’t know if you made plans for today, but I can’t stay long. I have to present myself to the FBI as soon as possible so they can evaluate me and decide when I’ll be able to return to work again.” – As if to make her point clear, Dana does that eyebrow thing of hers that really annoys me.

“I know, I know. I’ll not step on your toes, sis, as long as you let me make plans for tomorrow. I missed you. It’s not gonna hurt if you spend some time away from Fox and everything to have some fun with your sister, right? – When the word “Fox” reaches her ears I’m sure she took the bait.

“You know, it’s not like that. We’re just partners. If there’s a reason for my eagerness to go back to work it’s just that I want at least a resemblance of my previous, normal life, that’s all.” – Yeah, right, sweetie. She truly believes that, poor thing.

“And the fact that he’s extremely attractive and obviously crazy about you does nothing to change that point of yours, Dana?” – Her eyes dart away from me for a second, and she tries her hardest to fight back a smile surging in the corners of her mouth. Even if she was successful at that, I know her way too much not to notice her signs: she likes him. She just probably doesn’t know it yet.

I remember when we still lived with mom, back when I was nineteen and she had just turned seventeen. At the time, she was into this guy named Paul, who was one of her friends. Whenever I mentioned him she would smile like a kid in a Christmas shop. Old Dana may hide her smile better, but it’s all the same.

“He’s not…crazy about me, Melissa. He trusts me, and we’re friends. Considering what happened to me, he’s happy to see me well again, and probably relieved too. He has this bad tendency to think everything is his fault.”

“Dana, I had boyfriends who cared less for me than he does for you. Mom had to drive him out of the hospital and take him to a restaurant to be sure he would even eat.” – she rolls her eyes at my comment, like she usually does when she wants to avoid talking about something.

“Look, I’m not trying to fight here. I just found you two… intriguing.” – I pose the devilish smile I can get. She can’t help but smile after that.

We stop talking about her partner as Dana guides herself through my place, looking around. She takes her time and then comes back to the couch, where I languidly rest while I wait for her little tour to end.

The floor of the apartment was an old-fashioned parquet with a blend of deep homely browns that contrasted with creamy-colored walls, on which lots of photographs were hanged: there were ones of me, Dana, mom and dad, my brothers and the closest of my friends. On top of the fireplace, a delicate painting catches her attention – it was a landscape: the coastline jagged, covered by inlets where the water laid still. In the orange-kissed sky, the last vestiges of daylight contrasted with the growing black of cliffs, jagged and folded, shrinking into the distance. Bursting through the large windows made of glass, she saw shafts of light streaming through the gaps in the linen curtains.

It’s the first time Dana comes to visit me here. It’s been a long time since I stayed in a place for more than one or two months, and after a while, she stopped coming to me and I started going to her place instead. It felt easier for us to spend time together.

When Dana’s finished, she sits next to me on the couch and rests her head on my shoulder. We stay this way for some time, in a quiet, yet comfortable silence. Her hair mingles with mine, leaving a delicious orange sent that probably came from her shampoo.

“Hmm.” – I hear her sigh on my side.

“Dana, can I ask you another thing? And please promise you’ll be honest with me.”

“Fine.” – She complies, defeated. I feel her tiny hand resting on mine, and we interlace our fingers.

“What made you come back? I mean, from the coma?” – I say barely above a whisper, choosing the words carefully.

She takes her time to answer, the thin lines of her forehead contorted in concentration. Finally, she speaks.

“I don’t know. At least, not with certitude.” – I release my breath, and when I’m about to disentangle with her, she holds me where I am. – “The truth is, I’m having a hard time figuring out what was part of my imagination and what was real. The things I’ve heard and seen during my state of coma, it’s all messed up, Mel. When I listened to Mulder’s voice calling me back, I…” – she sighs and holds back whatever she was about to say.

“Dana, please… don’t. Don’t close yourself now. I’m with you, and I believe that, if you decided to come here, at least some part of you wants me to help you heal.” – I take a strand of her beautiful hair and put it behind her ear, making her look at me. – “We’re sisters and I almost lost you. Please just let us be like we used to, we used to tell each other everything.” – When she meets my gaze, her eyes finally give in, and all the emotions she’s sinking down finally subside into quiet tears.

Chapter Text


Prologue

 

I remember a time when I was only 5 years old. It was an ordinary day of summer, and mom had decided to take her children for a picnic in the park not far away from our house. She had little pots of everything with too much sugar and more packaging than the space-shuttle. Dad had been away on the sea for a long period of time, and even under the naïve perceptions of myself as a kid, it was possible to see how much she missed him. I don’t know if the picnic was an attempt of cheering the mood more for herself or for us. I should’ve been worried, but instead I just gave her my best smile and pulled out the fresh baked baguettes with brie and cranberry.

The air was warm that day, the beams of sunlight glowed on my skin. Melissa liked to sit close to the flowers and inspect them, under the freshly cut green grass. Charlie and Bill would start fighting with each other any time soon; it was sort of their motto. And that was my cue to go get and adventure by myself.

Looking back today, I wonder how could I and Melissa get along so well together. We were opposites in everything: she was the model, girly girl, who loved dresses, flowers, dolls and the piano lessons mom made sure we attended to. I was never that way. I loved dogs, sports and comfortable pants. I would only come inside home when mom called me with that tone of threat, which is the reason to my abundancy of freckles, due to hours and hours under the sun, climbing trees, running and playing around.

I was the tough child, I guess. Mel was the soft, popular one. That hasn’t changed much now that we’re adults. I still don’t go very well with softness; I keep it under tons of labored layers, deep inside.

This was mainly the reason I feared so badly to come here and stay with my sister. She has always had this thing of hers that somehow goes straight into your heart and sees everything. I’m a private, reserved person, and I like keeping my feelings only to myself. But that never really worked with Mel. Let’s say she would be very good at interrogations.

 

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After what felt like an eternity, my tears, which eventually turned into little sobs, finally went away. At some point, Melissa’s tightened her hold on me; there wasn’t much else she could do about the whole situation for now. I ran my fingers through her knuckles, and she released me slowly.

“I guess I’ll be going, Mel.” – I feel terrible for leaving her after such an intimate moment, and especially because I know she’ll have a lot of other questions for me now.

“Work stuff you said, right?” – She sounds discouraged, but not mad, at the very least.

“Yes. Skinner had called me in the morning and he’s expecting me at the Bureau. So… I’d better be on my way.” – I rise from the couch and start to collect my things, stuffing them in my purse. It feels weird, not having my badge with me.

I say goodbye to my sister without turning to look back at her. If I did that, she would find her way into convincing me to stay. Even so, I can still feel her eyes burning on me, absorbing each detail, each movement I do. I close the door quietly and follow my way down the stairs of her building.

 

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FBI headquarters  - 3:00 p.m.

 

There is a feeling: it starts when you enter a place you’ve already been a thousand times before, and yet, when you look around, you feel like it’s not the same, even though nothing’s really changed. You try desperately to find out what is different, but the only thing you find is a bitter taste in the back of your mouth, a feeling of intrusion, as if you were the wrong peace of a puzzle, trying to fit in.

I enter through the front door, the big cement columns threatening to smash my tiny figure as I pass them to go through the metal detector machine.

As the elevator doors open, I feel a sense of relief as I notice it’s empty. I am aware that my abduction has made me quite a popular person in the bureau, as if being part of the X Files division hadn’t already granted me that. Mulder talked with me about how a few people, whose existence he’s never known before, had stopped him at the corridor to ask if Mrs. Spooky had been taken by his fellow aliens, or simply to know what really happened to me.

Being a woman in a field that is predominantly occupied by men has taught me that the standards are never equal when it comes to gender difference. I had to work harder than most of my male colleagues at Quantico to stand out, and now as an agent, I feel more than grateful to be Mulder’s partner, because, unlike the others, he treats me like an equal, recognizing my work as an agent without making me feel less capable due to being a woman, and protecting me when it’s needed without making me feel like I couldn’t handle myself.

The problem in that is that it often makes me forget how mean the rest of the bureau can be. I realize I wasn’t that lucky when the elevator doors open again, now in Skinner’s office floor, and I see a very crowded hall ready to swallow me up.

The loud noise of my high heels coming in contact with the floor fill my ears and I feel my body threatening to throw up all the remnants of the cheap lunch I had back at the hospital. I walk silently, looking straight away and trying my best to avoid the curious eyes that follow me. I hear whispers too, but my ears don’t register any words being said. My mind is way too busy fighting to keep me standing and moving forward. Thank God Skinner’s office is not so far from the elevator itself, and I get there quickly enough.

Arlene’s attention is instantly drawn to the creaking door as I open it, increasing considerably as she recognizes my singular figure entering the precinct. She tries her best to be discreet, though. She even gives me a little smile, embarrassed with the whole situation.

“Agent Scully, you can go inside. Mr. Skinner is already waiting for you.” – with that, she returns to typing in her computer.

Skinner is indeed expecting me as I walk to a chair in his conference table. Different from the others, he doesn’t show any sign of curiosity or pity. I feel immensely thankful for that, so I give him a smile. I’m well aware that the evaluation is merely standard procedure, not to mention that it’s just me and Skinner there, but, still, the knot in my stomach doesn’t subside a bit. I guess after all that’s happened, my mind had gotten a little susceptible to Mulder’s paranoia of breaking The X-Files division, and shutting our careers down along with that. Let’s not think about that right now, Dana. I turn the focus of my mind on taking long, deep breaths.

“Agent, Scully, it’s a relief to see you well.” – Skinner is sincere in his words, as he looks straight into my eyes to show me he means it. – “I hope you understand the need of this procedure. You were under a highly stressful situation and that requires a bureau evaluation, to make sure you’re ready to go back to field”.

“Thank you, Sir, I understand. I just want to go back to work as soon as I can.” – And forget this nightmare, I think to myself. For a moment, I wish Mulder could be here. His crack jokes and sassy faces would certainly help lighten the mood.

I remember Mulder with that thought, how he was worried with me coming back so soon, how he couldn’t help himself in hiding his desire to have my company back, despite that. My memory traces the lines of our office: the dusty shells of stuff Mulder makes sure to keep there, his table, his geek poster I came to like with time, the silly green alien key chain he bought me last summer, while lecturing me about how aliens are actually grey. It gives my heart some comfort to remember something so familiar to me.

“Good to hear that, agent. So, let’s begin, shall we?”

Thereby, Skinner starts to present me a series of routine questions, then about standard FBI procedure, and, finally, questions with, I suppose, a more psychological approach. Turns out it’s not that bad, after all. I feel relieved.

After I give my last answer, he pauses, closing his eyes for a bit. He uses the tips of his long fingers to massage his temples, and then takes a deep breath.

“If you allow me, Dana, I’d like to talk to you, off the record.”

I realize I won’t escape personal interrogations today, so I give him a week nod.

“Listen… Your test shows no reason to keep you away from work. That said, I’m letting you know you can return to work any time.”

“I see a ‘but’ coming” – I attempt to make a joke, but he doesn’t alter his serious face.

“Well, yes, indeed. As your boss, I’ll tag along with the evaluation, but as your friend, I’d like to advise you to go home, Dana. You’ll continue to be paid normally even if you take some more time off, and you really should do that. Go be with your family, go rest and give your body and soul time to heal. Trust me, I know the feeling. Your strength is increasing and your body seems better, so it feels like you’re ready to go back to action, but these wounds, Dana, they’re bigger than they look. They can threaten to unsettle your spirit in the most inconvenient of times, and I wouldn’t forgive myself if that caused another risk to your life, or to agent Mulder.”

He was probably right; I knew it in my heart. But how could I tell him that taking time was consuming me, that it was making me mourn over and over again all the things I lost during my abduction? I could no longer rest unless I was under the effect of my sleeping pills, or drowsy due to my strong medication, because when their effect passed away, all I could see in my mind was the same nightmare over and over again. I must've let out something, because when I turned my eyes back to Skinner’s, he had a bigger frown on his face.

“Don’t fight me on this, Dana. You’re the bravest agent I know, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need help.” – He waited for a response, so I opened my mouth in an attempt of an answer.

“Sir, I appreciate your concern, but I really need to work.” – I sigh – “I need something to focus my mind on. I’ll be careful, plus, Mulder will be there to help me.” – I try to give him my best sad-puppy face. It seems to work.

“That’s not the answer I hoped for.” – Now it’s his turn to sigh. – “But I know you well enough to understand that trying to convince you otherwise won’t make any difference.”

“Thank you for understanding that, Sir.” – As I rise from my seat, he speaks once again.

“Agent, as you’re released to come back to work, I want you to be aware that, due to the circumstances of your case, you’ll have to go through periodic psychological counseling. That is not negotiable, agent Scully, but don’t worry, everything you say during session will remain private, these routine sessions are just to make sure you recover from your experience.”

I nod to him and find my way to the door, but he calls my name when I’m about to leave the room.

“Just one more thing, Dana.” – I turn to him. – “As you return, if you feel like you can’t stand a situation, anytime, my offer stands. Promise me you’ll accept help from the ones closer to you.”

From all the times Mulder and I had to count on Skinner’s assistance, I’ve learned to trust him and to believe in the fact that he really cares for us both, but now, from the way he says this words and the look on his face, I feel like this is more than just concern for me. It feels personal, and I’m inclined to conclude that he’s had his amount of trauma too.

“I promise.” – I tell him and leave, there’s a basement I have to go to.