Chiaroscuro

By Seema (seemag1 at yahoo com)


Disclaimer: I have absolutely no desire to make money off characters created and owned by Chris Carter and 1013 Productions.

Author's note: Set during the middle of season eight, set immediately after "Deadalive." Written for Christine's birthday, as requested. Thanks to Jerie for looking it over and also, for suggesting the title.


Monica dreams in shades of silver, white and black. She always has and tonight is no different, except this time she's walking towards a bright light. She reaches out, blinking against the intensity, and in frustration, comes away with nothing. Since childhood, her dreams have been always like this, endless and relentless. She stretches restlessly beneath the covers, rolls onto her side, and comes in contact with an unfamiliar presence. Monica tenses for a moment, and then remembers. She opens her eyes and turns to look at him.

"Hey," John says.

Monica pushes her hair out of her eyes. "How long have you been awake?" She hates the way her voice sounds drugged and scratchy.

"A few hours."

"Hmm. That's no good. You have an early flight back to DC."

Monica props himself up on one arm. The glow from the street lamp outside her window doesn't give enough light to make out more than John's profile. She doesn't particularly care; she has his face memorized by now. Monica reaches out, touches his jaw lightly. She loves tracing that gentle angle, from just below his ear to the tip of his chin.

"You want to talk about what's going on with you? About why you came?" she asks.

"Not especially."

"I'm here."

"I know. You always are."

Monica lies back against the pillows, and stares up at the ceiling. She's wide awake now. "I don't want to worry about you, John."

"I didn't ask you to."

"What do you want me to do?" she attempts to keep her voice even, but realizes she's failing miserably. "You fly all the way down here, show up at my door unannounced, and I'm not even supposed to ask what's the matter?"

John takes a deep breath and then he rolls onto his side, and grabs hold of her hand. "Thanks for letting me in."

"Anytime." She lies stiffly. John's hand is warm around hers, and despite her current frustration with him, Monica really just wants to roll on top of him and cup his face in her hands. She loves the way he holds her, the sure strength in his arms, and God, it's been a long time, six months or so since she last shared a bed with him. "I have Monday off, you know," Monica says. "You should stay." She thinks she really ought to have been more forceful with her wording, but she feels off-kilter, a combination of uncertainty about John's unexplained presence and her own sleepiness.

"I have work to do."

"Take the day off. The X-Files will survive a day without you."

"I need to get back." John sounds determined and when he acts like this, Monica knows there's no swaying him; his focus, his determination, his clear sense of purpose -- these are things she both loves and, alternately, finds infuriating about him. Still, Monica nods, even though she knows he cannot see the action.

"I just wish you'd tell me what was going on," she says finally.

The air conditioning comes on then, a loud racket in the otherwise quiet room. The bed creaks as John shifts position slightly and Monica wonders if he's putting distance between them. It's not enough there's half a country between them, and most of their interaction these days is over email and telephone, but now that he's actually here, in the flesh, he's withdrawn entirely. She feels a flash anger. She hadn't asked him to come; she's the one doing him the favor.

"John?" She doesn't want to sound snappish, but she can't help it. "Talk to me."

John clears his throat. "Mulder's back. From the dead. Don't ask me how to explain it, but he is. He's back. What do you say to that?"

Monica inhales sharply. Of all the things she had expected John to say, the news of Mulder's resurrection was not even on the list. She ponders for a moment.

"Seriously?" she asks finally.

"Seriously. I saw him buried and I saw him alive. Don't ask me to explain it." John glances sideways at her. "You like this kind of stuff. Can you?"

"I don't have an answer for you," Monica says. "Now, if you'd brought me a jar of blood mixed with ashes--"

"Monica."

"Sorry." She bites her lip, finally understanding what John's doing here. "So this changes everything for you, doesn't it?"

"I'm not sure what I should do, what my next move ought to be."

"You could always transfer to New Orleans." More silence and she regrets her words immediately, but she plows ahead, because even when her brain is yelling at her to shut-up, she still keeps on talking; it's a bad habit she means to overcome one of these days. "I mean, if you think it's the end of your involvement on the X-Files. I, we could always use an agent like you down here."

"That's nice of you to say so."

"I mean it."

More silence and then John says, "I don't think I could take the humidity, the heat."

"That's just an excuse. You don't want to leave the X-Files," Monica says. A beat passes and then she says, "I only want what's best for you, John, and if you don't talk to me, I don't know I can help you decide. I do know one thing: you're not the type to run away when things get complicated." Monica sits up, presses her palms to her face. Deep breath, she tells herself, deep breath. She's aware John's watching her. She makes no move to fix the strap of her navy blue nightgown which is slowly falling down her arm, exposing the curve of her breast.

"It's more than that."

"More than what?"

"It's like--" he hesitates. "I spent these past six months in Mulder's shadow. Looking for him, hearing about him, and then finally finding him. I always thought Scully, that she barely tolerated me because she needed my help, because there was no one else who would stand by her. More recently--" he twisted so he was staring at Monica, his face half-covered in shadow "-- I thought we were getting somewhere, past the cordial and the professional and now, Mulder, Mulder's come back from the dead."

Monica resolutely pushes any thought of romantic involvement between Dana Scully and John to the back of her mind. This is professional jealousy, not personal. Or so Monica would like to think. "It's not a competition between you and Mulder, John."

"I didn't say that."

"Not in so many words. You don't want to give up your spot to Mulder, now that he's risen, miraculously and inexplicably, from the dead."

"For the record, I'm not territorial."

Monica ignores his comment. "And you're afraid Scully won't depend on you, won't consider you her partner anymore--"

"It's not like that, Monica." Now John sounds defensive.

"I think it is like that," Monica says flatly. "You like protecting people. You found Scully vulnerable, you wanted to take care of her, and now Mulder's back and you don't need to be that protector anymore." She gets out of bed, and stalks across the hardwood floor to her dresser. She picks up a pack of cigarettes. "I'll be on the balcony." It's a balmy New Orleans night, temperatures about ten degrees above seasonal norms, humid and with just a light breeze. The sky above is clear, plenty of stars dotting the darkness. Monica lights a cigarette. When John shows up next to her, she realizes her hands are shaking.

"I didn't realize what the X-Files meant to me until I saw her -- Scully -- leaning over Mulder in his hospital bed," he says. "And the way she looked at me, and then turned her attention back to him. I just, I just didn't think it was possible to feel any more alone than I did at that particular moment. I can't explain it any better than that."

"I know you," Monica says, placing a sharp stress on the word 'you'. "You never do anything half-assed, you never do anything without investing yourself one hundred percent. That's how you are."

"I don't want to be left behind." The breeze ruffles John's hair, making it stand up on end.

Monica's expression softens as she looks at him. She knows the admission must have been a difficult one for John to make.

"I know that too," she tells him gently.

John leans forward, grips the railing tightly. "And you're right, Monica." He won't look at her. "Scully won't need me anymore." He scoffs. "Truth be told, she's never needed me."

"I don't know whether that's necessarily true, but I wasn't there either." Monica takes another drag on the cigarette. "You can still be needed in other ways, John." She tips her head to the side. "Or maybe it's time you needed someone." Dangerous territory, Monica knows. The last thing one should ever do is talk to a former Marine about need.

John bristles, visibly, at her words. "You know, I don't need this."

Monica feels the heat rising in her face. She stubs her cigarette out and stands up. "Let me remind you, you're the one who showed up on my doorstep, without so much a phone call. Just so we're clear. Maybe I don't need this." Under her breath, Monica mutters, "Whatever this is." Across the road, a light goes on in an apartment, a sole beacon in an otherwise dark building. Monica puts her hand lightly on John's arm. "I'm always happy to see you, John, but not like this. I deserve better." With that, she goes inside. Monica's arms are covered with goose bumps and she hugs herself tightly before crawling back under the covers. It's impossible to get comfortable. She turns on her side and closes her eyes. After a few minutes, she hears John's footsteps.

"Are you sleeping?" he asks softly.

Monica opens her eyes, somewhat irritated. "If I was, you just woke me up."

"I'm sorry." John sits on the side of the bed. He doesn't touch her. "I'm really sorry." Monica reaches over and turns on the bedside lamp; the soft glow casts shadows against the wall. In the light, Monica can clearly see John, and the softness in his eyes, and she feels the distance between them evaporating.

"Apology accepted," she says finally.

"I don't want to think I made a mistake coming down here." John reaches out, draws a line with his finger down her waist, and then stops at her hip. "I just needed to go somewhere, think things through, talk to someone. You--" he shakes his head, and she notes his lips are pressed straight into a thin line "-- you came to mind first. So--" his lips turn up into the familiar tentative and lopsided grin -- "I found myself taking a cab to Dulles, getting on the last flight to New Orleans..." his voice drifts off, rather self-consciously.

Monica says nothing. When she had opened the door a few hours previously to see John standing there, slightly slouched-shouldered, in his leather jacket and jeans, she had pressed her hand flat against the door jamb and sucked in a deep breath. Then she'd stepped aside, her voice too scratchy with exhaustion after a long day at work to say much more than, "Let me get you something to eat." She had figured then, they'd talk later, in the morning, but that was before John revealed he was taking the first flight back to DC. In other words, his impromptu trip to New Orleans would span less than 12 hours. Now, she looks back at John. His hand is warm and secure on her hip and she admits, she likes his touch -- always has.

"You're right," John says now. "I owe you more than this."

Monica laughs. "Yeah," she answers, "yeah, a hell of a lot more." She pauses. "So, what are you going to do?"

John tips his head to the side, considering. "Going back, finishing what I started."

"On the X-Files, you mean?"

"Yeah."

Monica laughs again, this time softly. "You know, John, in a million years, I never thought you'd be happy chasing after ghosts and goblins and other things that go bump in the night. It's so not you."

"The X-Files are more your thing, aren't they? Making sense of the inexplicable? Putting the pieces together to form answers to questions we've never faced before?"

She smiles. "I admit I find it fascinating, but I think it's good for you, John. You've never particularly understood where I'm coming from, but maybe now--"

"I still got a long way to go before I'm going to accept your visions, Monica."

"That's fine." Monica lays her hand softly on his thigh. "I think you're doing the right thing, John. I won't lie. It'd be good to have you in New Orleans, but I think going back to DC is what you need to do. I think you're going to be okay. You always are."

She can see the tension in John's shoulders dissipate. His hand on her hip is light, but still comforting. She moves to the right, making more room for him. He hesitates only for a second before he lies down next to her, his arm draped across her stomach. "I can't explain the stuff I've seen, like a slug thing some people worshipped as a god, or the monster that sucks away your disease, or that thing in the T tunnels in Boston, and then there's Mulder," John says, a note of awe underlying his tone. "I mean, you were there when we found Mulder. You saw that he was dead, you saw what I saw, and--"

"And yet--"

"He's alive." John twists slightly so that he's looking at her. "How do you explain that?"

"I can't," Monica answers. "It just is."

"And you accept it."

"As a miracle, yes, I do." Monica bites her lip. "They do exist, John."

John takes a deep breath. Outside, Monica hears a car squealing around the corner, and the hum of the air conditioner is loud and obnoxious. She shifts position again, wrapping herself around John.

"For what it's worth," she says, "I'm glad you came."

"Seriously?"

"Even if your motives weren't entirely altruistic." Monica puts her hand to his face. She loves the way his skin feels beneath her fingertips, the faint stubble across his jaw scratching against her palm. "You can't run away, John, just because things are changing. It's against your nature."

"Maybe it's a matter of distance, perspective, putting things into order, figuring where I fit."

"It could be that too." Monica closes her eyes for a moment. What does it matter, she thinks, other than John is here? Monica admits she feels a certain amount of comfort, of pride, in the fact of every other person in the world, he thought of her first. "Or maybe you needed a connection of your own, figure out who you fit with." Monica raises herself up on one arm and looks down at John. His gaze back is direct, unflinching and clear. She smiles. "Get some sleep," she says. "You have an early flight." With that, she leans over and switches off the lamp.

"You said you have Monday off?"

"Yeah." Monica, for a second, holds her breath.

"I'll change the flight to Monday evening."

She lets him spoon his lanky body around hers, fitting nicely against her. When she falls back asleep, she once again dreams in silver, white and black, but this time, the light streams all around her.

the end

My other fanfic is found at my website, seema org. Feedback always welcome. Thank you for reading!