[identity profile] discordantwords.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] xf_is_love
I was hoping to post this earlier today, but life got away from me a bit. A little post-ep for Humbug that I've been toying with the past couple of months.

Title: Nothing Wicked

Author: [livejournal.com profile] discordantwords
Rating: PG
Genre: Gen, Vignette
Warnings: None
Characters: Fox Mulder, Dana Scully

Spoilers: Post-ep for Humbug


"Somehow I doubt that the late, great Hepcat Helm would put his stamp of approval on such an establishment."





She finishes her report in the car as they sit in traffic, makes notes on medical anomalies she wants to research further, does not think about Lanny's sad face under the morgue fluorescents.

There is an accident on the expressway and all around them cars sit still and silent, engines shut off to keep from overheating under the persistent Florida sun. Mulder rolls down the windows and turns the key in the ignition, halting the stream of cool air from the vents. She fans herself with a magazine, feels sweat beading at her hairline.

This is absurd, she thinks, Tampa is less than fifteen miles from Gibsonton. An apocalyptic wasteland of passenger cars lie between them and the airport, and there is no place to go, no convenient exit ramp to take their chances on.

A group of teenagers has abandoned their Jeep and stand on the shoulder, tossing a football amongst themselves.

Mulder fidgets and fusses and makes snide comments. He hits the horn once, twice, three times, leaning on it like a petulant child. Passengers in other cars shift their eyes towards them with dull, overheated annoyance. Eventually he gives a groan of defeat and shuts his eyes.

She looks at him, sprawled back in his seat, head tipped against the window, and finds herself thinking of Chang and Eng, about Eng lying awake in the night bound to his brother's corpse, waiting to die. She wonders at Leonard, what sentience he possessed, if he knew on some level that Lanny was dying, if he sought to escape that fate in the only way he could.

She wonders if he is still out there, still searching for a new brother. She thinks that would make a wonderful campfire story.

They miss their flight.

The sun is starting to sink towards the horizon when the cars in front of them begin shuddering to life, taillights blinking red.

"I may have just discovered religion," Mulder says. "Thank God."

It is dark by the time they get to Tampa. Mulder makes the plane reservations on his cell phone, she checks to make sure the rental paperwork on the car is in order. They share an uninspiring meal in a greasy diner. It is all very normal, very much what she'd imagined field work would be like when she was in the academy, and if she ignores her case notes on circus freaks and Feejee mermaids and spontaneously detaching conjoined twins, she might be able to pretend that she is a very normal, very boring FBI field agent, on very normal, very boring assignment.

"Tomorrow morning," he tells her as they pull into a motel parking lot; a normal motel, bland and utilitarian and nothing at all like poor Mr. Nutt's trailer park. "Flight leaves at eight twenty-two."

There is a travelling carnival set up in the lot behind the motel, lit by floodlights. The moist air carries shrieks and laughter and the clanks and groans of machinery.

She watches the blinking lights on the rides as Mulder exchanges his credit card for two room keys.

"Wanna ride the ferris wheel?" he asks, handing over her key.

"I've had enough spectacle for one trip," she says.

He yawns, nods, puts his key in the door. He cuts a ridiculous figure in his trench coat. There is no breeze in the air. "Good night, Scully."

*

The air conditioner manages a sickly wheeze, stirs the soupy air around without chilling it.

There is a framed painting over the bed, a mermaid sunbathing on a rock pile, her tail arched majestically over her lithe form. There is dust on the picture frame.

"Don't let the Feejee mermaids bite," Scully says, looking up at it.

She takes a cool shower, chases the tension from her shoulders. She dresses again under the mermaid's watchful gaze.

If anyone ever discovered a real mermaid, she suspects it would look less Disney and more P.T. Barnum; all sharp teeth and bad smells.

She is tired but restless, unable to sit still after so many hours confined to the car. The twinkling lights beckon through the thin curtain.

She goes outside, makes her way through damp unmown grass towards the carnival, drawn in like moth to flame.

The smell of popcorn and fried dough hang in the air. Lights, dizzying lights, screams, the creaks and groans of hastily assembled machinery.

The sights and smells are strangely nostalgic, make her feel like a child again, trailing behind her brothers with a wad of cotton candy in her hand.

Mulder is sitting on a bench, eating popcorn from a red striped box, watching the Tilt-a-Whirl tilt and whirl.

She walks up behind him and he begins to speak without turning around, somehow sensing her presence. "Why is it," he says, his voice filled with mock outrage, "that I was never told that you descended from a long line of Scully magicians?"

"Ah," she says, coming around the bench to stand facing him. He tilts his head up at her, grins a little. "My uncle was not a Scully. He was an O'Brien."

"A red herring," he says. "Your mother's brother?"

She nods, and he scoots over on the bench to make room for her. She helps herself to a handful of his popcorn, chews slowly, the taste salty on her tongue.

"We should check out the funhouse."

"Don't you mean the Tabernacle of Terror?" she asks, raising an eyebrow.

He looks to his left and she follows his gaze to the gaudy structure, the front façade painted in a disturbing theme of fanged clowns. They have been crafted by a mediocre artist and their proportions are off, eyes askew, maniacal grins uneven, red noses lumpy and disfigured.

"Somehow I doubt that the late, great Hepcat Helm would put his stamp of approval on such an establishment," he says.

"Hmm," she agrees.

He looks at her and she knows he wants to ask, wants to know why she is there, why she is sitting primly on a bench next to him in the sluggish heat of a Florida night instead of retiring to bed with a book or whatever dull things he must imagine she does when she leaves his side.

His questions are written all over his face, in the cock of his head, in his eyes as they flick over her face. There is concern there, poorly masked at times, concern that had not existed in any real sense until she'd opened her eyes in a hospital bed with a three month gap in her memory.

"So why are you sitting here?" she asks him, before he can speak. "Haven't you seen enough sideshows for one trip?"

He smiles, looks away from her into the crowd, doesn't speak.

"Ah," she says. "I should have known."

He looks back at her, eyebrows raised.

"Scully."

"No, it all makes sense now."

He crosses his arms, waits for her to explain.

"Ray Bradbury," she says. "Magic and mystery and travelling carnivals. The eternal struggle between good and evil."

He smiles, this one genuine, a little surprised. He does not answer her, does not have to.

They sit, side by side, not quite touching. All around there are shrieks of joy and laughter, the heady aroma of popcorn and cotton candy.

"I think," she says, standing and stretching, feeling her vertebrae pop. "That it's time for bed."

He blinks up at her, the ghost of a smirk tugging on his lips, and she rolls her eyes.

"I see," he says. "So you show up, eat all of my popcorn, and then vanish into the night."

She leans over, looks into his popcorn box. "Beware the autumn people," she says, and smiles.

She does not say goodnight before turning back towards the motel, the same way they do not say goodbye on the phone.

*

In the morning she hoists her neatly packed suitcase and joins him in the parking lot. He is wearing his sunglasses and trench coat and is squinting across the lawn at the carnival, now sadly diminished in the cold light of day. Empty popcorn boxes drift against a chain link fence.

Any lingering magic or mystery has vanished with the cover of night.

They drop off the rental car and board the shuttle to the airport. Their driver is bald, with teeth that seem much too large for his mouth, and he grins at her as she climbs the steps. For a moment she is back in Gibsonton, every face a curiosity.

She blinks, clears her head, smiles politely. The small bus is already crowded, and she slips into an aisle seat next to a tired-looking woman clutching a briefcase and an oversized purse.

"Tell me," Mulder says as he settles into the seat directly behind the driver, leaning over the railing to peer at the man with interest. "Have you done much circus work in your life?"




END

Date: 2014-10-16 01:41 am (UTC)
lanalucy: (K L happy)
From: [personal profile] lanalucy
What a lovely little moment. Very Mulder and Scully. :)

Date: 2014-10-16 06:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] seren-ccd.livejournal.com
Oh, this is brilliant! Humbug is my favorite episode of all time and this is the perfect coda for it. I love the Bradbury reference. Just fantastic!

Date: 2014-10-16 06:12 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] zinnia03.livejournal.com
You had me at the reference to Ray Bradbury. Lovely little vignette!

Date: 2014-10-16 07:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alwaysashipper.livejournal.com
Loved it! Feels very genuine, and original. Thank you :)

Date: 2014-10-18 08:58 pm (UTC)
juniperphoenix: Fire in the shape of a bird (Scully)
From: [personal profile] juniperphoenix
This is wonderful! It's such an atmospheric piece. The weariness and humid heat are palpable. It seems right, too, that they have to go through this slow transition back to the mundane world after that case rather than being able to return immediately to DC.

Date: 2014-10-31 09:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] badforthefish.livejournal.com
I really enjoyed that. Your writing is gorgeous, as always. I loved the reflective atmosphere and the back and forth between M&S. Having only read Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles back when the dinosaurs roamed the Earth, I'm afraid the 'Something Wicked' reference went over my head until I Wikipedia'd it.

Great exchange about the 'Tabernacle of Terror'. This cracked me up. Hepcat Helm would have definitely disapproved.
I have a nitpick but it maybe my French ear finding this weird. Can a nose be 'disfigured'? I thought this verb only worked used in relation to a whole face when referring to people.

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