The Darkened Hallway
Six Feet Under fan fiction

Genre: family, drama
Pairing: Federico/Vanessa
Rating: PG (K+) for language
Word Count: somewhat under 2500

Notes: I noticed there wasn't any fic for the Diaz family on this website, and thus felt compelled to write some. I haven't written dialogue in a long time, but I tried to make it as natural as possible; I'm new to these characters and still learning the ropes, so I'm definitely open to concrit! Takes place January 2002.


Sound shakes this house harder, these nights.

Sound like nothing else, not magnified in the sense that the churn of the dishwasher swells to the tumult of waterfalls, the buzz of the television set an electric storm, Vanessa's tirades a declaration of war... but sound as though it became all senses rolled into one singular vastness. The taste of sounds (like kiddie candy), the feel (sticky, inescapable). Four new levels of sound, all demanding more fucking attention.

"Rico, baby, everything okay?" He raises his gaze from the floor and Vanessa's face swims into view, soundless with worry. Misplaced contrition.

"Huh? Oh. Yeah. ...Yeah." He exhales slowly, wraps the house in one more sigh. "Just tired, is all. And I've got a headache." Sucks in air between his teeth, as though he's sucking a lemon (sour). "Long day, y'know?"

Vanessa strokes the nape of his neck, plants a quick kiss on his cheek. "Tell me about it. Augusto's asleep, this one"--she nudges the back of Julio's head with her free hand--"should be asleep."

Julio ducks away from the pressure, but he remains riveted to the screeching cartoon on the television screen; Federico can see the reflections of frenetic colors in his eyes.

"'ey, did you hear Mama? It's way past your bedtime, Julio." The words come out flat, like they're missing the fullness the rest of the house has (or had; Julio's eyes stop reflecting the TV for a moment, as he blinks slowly. The hall light flickers; they'll have to go out and but new lightbulbs soon).

The light goes out.

--Or now. A halfhearted exhalation: "Damn."

"I was waiting for you, Papi," Julio chirps. "I've got something I wanna show you."

Rico and Vanessa exchange glances, not sure at all what they meant to communicate, until Vanessa draws away and clasps her hands together. "Oh! That's right, that's right." As though this explained everything--why she hadn't put him to bed earlier, at least. "Julio... has been working on a-- a book report, for a long time. And his teacher, she loved it so much she gave him a stamp." Vanessa points it out on the cover page of the stack of construction paper and stickers on Julio's lap. "Look, see, right there. Isn't that nice? It's wonderful, baby." This last is directed at Julio, and she hugs his arms tight, kisses him with comic pronouncement on the ear.

Rico grins. "Yeah, yeah. That's uh, that's really great. The pictures on the cover, those're really good. The dog, and the two kids--that's not you and Augusto, is it?" For the sake of the dog, he hopes not. For the sake of this house.

"It's a book report. Those are the brother and sister from the book. And this is a girl." He points at the sister. "I'm not a girl."

Damn. "Rightrightright; I'm just playing with you! And it's time for bed now, ah?" He scoops Julio into his arms--

--and ends up sunk into the couch next to Vanessa, kid in his lap, listening to the television blow raspberries over the roar of its continuous laugh track. He hangs in the stillness of the moment, kisses the top of Julio's head, and drowns his face in his hair.

It--

It was so much more simple like this, just like this. When--when did it get so hard?

...Maybe he should go to the store. Buy some lightbulbs, whatever else they're missing; bag of rice, frozen peas...time. He snorts inwardly; yeah, time would be great. But he doesn't know what the hell they're missing, and--

"Rico."

He shakes his eyes open, tries to keep them open. He wipes his hand down his face, ends with a fist at his mouth to stifle a yawn. He groans. "Should I--should I go to the store, or something?"

Vanessa looks at him inquisitively. "What? --Julio, que sueƱes con los angelitos. Mama loves you." She prods Julio from Rico's lap, and Julio ambles off of his own accord, down their darkened hallway, into the back. Then she turns back to Rico. "What?" she repeats. "You mean right now? Why?"

"Lightbulbs."

Vanessa raises her eyebrows again, unconsciously smoothes her pants. Her mouth forms a small 'oh'. "We need a lot of things, baby. Just go in the morning, or something. You stayed at work late tonight, so you don't need to be in right away tomorrow, right? Because I need to be at the hospital by seven, and someone needs to get the kids ready for school. Julio has a field trip, so he needs to bring one of those emergency card things, with phone numbers. And Augusto is going to day care, like usual, so--

"...You are so out of it, Rico--are you paying attention? did you hear what I said? are you sure you're okay?"

"Jesus, Vanessa! I--" His teeth clench, and his lips harden, flatline. Deep breath. "It's late, I'm tired, and that's it. Okay? And what kind of 'a lot of things' are we talking, here?"

Vanessa raises her hands in surrender. "Hey, I'm just trying to help out, here. You just wanna sit here, that's fine, because you know what? I came home his afternoon with the boys, and we-didn't-have-anything-to-cook. All this shit"--she makes a grand sweep of the family room with her arm--"was lying around like, like big plastic confetti, and--and so I took the kids to McDonald's, and they had Kid's Meals, and they played in that play place there." There's an edge of tired hysteria to her voice. She stands, kicks an assortment of plastic cars and action figures toward the TV, which is still churning churning churning out sound. "Do you want something to eat?" she asks, abruptly.

"...Ah, no. No, that's okay." Rico rises, too.

"Well, good, 'cause all we have is Fruity Pebbles and string beans and--and I don't know what you'd do with those!"

Rico can't resist a bemused chuckle. Were they that pathetic? Were they always that pathetic, and he just hadn't noticed it? "Vanessa, Vanessa," he whispers into her ear, hugging her tight. They rock back and forth, languid, and the tip tap tap of his shoes keeps time like a grandfather clock.

The pendulum swings back and forth, and he peppers her neck and shoulders with feather-kisses. He walks her slowly backwards toward the kitchen, like they're wading through water--or quicksand. "Want some tea? I can make you some tea. ...We do still have tea, right?" They extract themselves from one another, and Rico busies himself with the cupboards. Where the hell did they even keep the tea kettle?

"It's in the sink, Rico. It's not washed." Vanessa sits, elbow propped up on the table, head cradled in her hand.

"Oh. Well, uh. I could wash it, or not--or I could just forget about that. What was in it before? tea? It doesn't need to be washed, right? Yeah, it's probably fine, so I'll just--"

"Rico!" Vanessa snaps. "Stop it. Just stop doing that--that nursemaid thing."

Rico stares at her in mild disbelief. "What? What 'nursemaid thing'? I'm just trying to-- Okay. Okay, fine. You're the one who started it, all right?"

"I was trying to make you feel better. I was trying to make you feel better, and it didn't work, okay? And now you're just, I don't know, pretending, pretending like everything's okay, and it doesn't work like that! We're running in circles, Rico. Maybe we should just go to bed."

"Yeah."--which comes out unintentionally crisp. "Yeah, maybe."

"Can you take care of the kids tomorrow morning?"

Rico slides into the chair opposite Vanessa. Sucks in more air. "I can't. Mr. Bulaski's got a viewing at ten, and I haven't even started prepping the body yet."

"Well, that were you doing all day, then? Lots of dead people in January, or what?"

Rico looks her straight in the eyes. "...Uh. Yeah, actually."

He brings a hand to his face, kneads his brow. "But that's not the point. There's just all this extra shit that comes with being a partner, you know? You've got to--you've got to talk to the bereaved, let 'em know that you're going to do this and this, or that and that. And what're you supposed to say? You get to the third family of the day, and you what, just say the same thing over again? I don't know, Vanessa--I just don't know. And then, Mr. Bulaski, I was supposed to do him up tonight, but I couldn't. I--"

Vanessa reaches over and grasps his hand in hers. "It's okay, baby. Is... Mr. Bulaski, is he that bad?"

"No! No. Died in his sleep; the family brought him over the very same day, even. Even David could probably do him up, no problem. Easy shit. But I... I had to come home. I had to."

Vanessa rises from her chair and circles around Rico, wraps her arms around him so that their cheeks brush against one another. "So have David do him, then! It's a partnership, right? You don't need to do all of the embalming work, you know."

But that's the part I enjoy, Vanessa.

And she senses this, changes her tune. "Or Nate, what is Nate doing? He can talk to the families, and you can do his share of the embalming; he wasn't ever trained in that, was he?"

He doesn't answer; he doesn't know.

"Here, I'll call him." She drifts away, retrieves the telephone. He'd stop her, but what's the worst that can happen, really? Muted electronic beeps parade around the kitchen as Vanessa dials the number.

"Hey! Nate, this is Vanessa. I'm really sorry to be calling so late, but it's really important. Oh yeah, no, everything's fine! It's just--I have to be at the hospital by seven tomorrow, and Rico needs to get the kids ready for school, and normally I'd ask Angelica, but she's got this role in some crime show or something, and it'd just be this once, you know it would, so... I was wondering, could you get David to prep Mr..."

"Bulaski," Federico sighs. He didn't think she was going to call Nate; he can only imagine what kind of stir this was going to cause in the neurotic Fisher house. Nate, taking things into his own hands, David being volunteered without his consent. He's going to walk in tomorrow morning, and they're still going to be 'discussing' this, he knows.

"Mr. Bulaski? He'll be in right after he drops of Julio and Augusto, to take over." Vanessa nods, nods again, punctuates these with small noises of affirmation. "Oh, thank you so much, Nate. Thanks for understanding. Mmkay, so I'll see you later, then. Bye." She clicks the receiver down. "Nate said yes."

Nate said yes, and David doesn't have a choice. But then, neither does he. What else could they have done? What else could he have possibly done? Dropped Julio off at school an hour and a half early, and taken Augusto to the Fisher's with him? Wasn't happening, no way. But if they only ever have one choice per problem, then why did it feel so damn complicated?

(Them sitting on the couch, just the three of them. The sounds are just the same as now, just as complex, as full, but they're folded, layered. You can walk between the sounds and make sense of everything, one step at a time.) Two years ago today, life was easier. He and Vanessa still had that shit apartment, but they still had time to cook. Julio didn't have field trips--didn't have school, even. Mr. F was still alive. He only had to worry about feeding and bedding one--

No. Nononono. He saw where this was going, and it was not--it would not be better without his baby boy. It had nothing to do with having two kids, two kids was the reason it was all worthwhile it was not better without no no no no--it was, it was just--everything was so--

He chokes on a sob, covers his face with his hands.

The windows creak as a winter night's breeze batters against them.

The water drum makes a wet, drooping sound as and air bubble forces its way to the surface.

For a moment, the world flattens out into nothing (a simple nothing). Then it twists.

Vanessa's voice mixes in with everything else. She's back leaning against his chair, arms draped over him. She bends down so her neck eases against his shoulder, chin resting on his collarbone. "Tell me what's wrong, baby. Rico. Rico, you need to tell me what's going on. You're scaring me."

He can only give her a still-quivering, "I don't know."

This is the sound of things falling apart.

"Marrying... marrying you used to be the happiest day of my life."

Vanessa nods, brow creased with apprehension.

"And then... then it was the day Julio was born. He--he was so small, remember? So fucking perfect."

Vanessa nods again, relaxes somewhat.

"And, and now--the happiest day of my life was the day Augusto was born. Because he was perfect, too, and I can remember the way he felt in my hands, and just... hearing him cry was the sweetest sound in the world. Because that day, that day was the first day I was married to the most wonderful woman in the world"--he kisses her hand, like he did on that day--"had the two most beautiful sons in the world. And I--it just felt. So--good."

(Remembering it now, it feels like Vanessa's breath against his wrists whispers, This isn't gonna last.)

"And I--I just don't know where that went."

Vanessa draws in a shuddering breath, like fissures are cracking in it just as sure as they're cracking in this safe envelope of sound (their home). "It didn't go anywhere, baby. You're right; it's late, we're tired. We should just go to sleep, and everything will be good. David's taking care of Mr. Bulaski, you can get the kids ready. I'll swing by the store after I pick them up this afternoon, buy groceries."

"And lightbulbs."

"And lightbulbs. What kind?"

"Whatever lasts the longest." He moves to stand, and Vanessa releases him.

"How about whatever shines the brightest, mm?" One last kiss, before they move towards the bedroom.

That's what we chose before, baby girl. "Nah, let's try something new. It doesn't need to be that bright, I just needs to"--he hisses, kicks a pyramid of Lego bricks to the side--"be there."

They walk down the darkened hallway together.


end.

23-24 June 2009

Constructive criticism is much appreciated and will be put to good use!