Title: El Dia Muerta
Summary: Midnight callers, a dead assassin, and things that go 'boo' in the night.
Author's Note: Thanks to MaybeAmanda and addicted2fanfic for the beta. Written for the emuse Beat the Heat Challange.
To learn more about the Day of the Dead see: http://www.azcentral.com/ent/dead/
The altar was not what her aunt had in mind.
"That's a television covered with a shawl," she said.
"It is," Monica grunted. It was, in fact, an ancient, boxy set that she had picked up in college. It's dark, hulking form made a sharp contrast to the white airiness of her apartment. The generously proportioned top was perfect for what she had planned.
Her restless kin sighed. "Couldn't you at least take down the pinwheel?" She asked.
Monica waved her hand as if shooing a particularly tenacious fly. "The pinwheel stays," Monica said. "It's for wind. And before you ask, the rosemary plant stays, too. It's for earth. "
"And what's wrong with tissue paper and -- what did you say the plant was for?"
"For earth, Ta. I know, I know. It isn't real food. I've got granola bars, too."
Monica could hear her snort. "Granola bars! Indeed. I suppose you're going to tell me that they travel well." Monica smiled. Her aunt went on. "I'm not going to even ask if the squirt gun is for water. I don't want to know."
Monica held up the wax candle. "For fire," she said and placed it on the left side of her altar
"The one thing I recognize," came the reply. "One thing! "
"You know, T'a, you are early. You aren't supposed to be here for a couple days."
An answering voice shimmered in Monica's ear. "I know, but I worry. So I came early. So shoot me."
Monica puffed out a short laugh. "Very funny." She moved about the altar, arranging marigolds. They weren't quite right either, but they would do. "Hopefully, not everyone is as particular as you are, Tia," she said under her breath.
"I heard that," said the voice, now coming from the other room.
"I work with what I've got. Stop being so fussy. I bought your favorite wine, didn't I? And T'o Cesar's cigars? *That* cost a pretty penny." Monica muttered.
"Ack!" Said the voice, now closer. "Cesar and those cigars! How they stink! It's a good thing I won't have to be subjected to that."
Monica knelt to arrange the photographs. She carefully wiped a smear from the photo she had of Luke and set it back down. She fussed with Emily, Samantha and her cousin Sofia, in that order, blinking away the moisture in her eyes.
"The children are the hardest," her aunt whispered.
Monica had to agree.
The other groupings of photographs lay waiting. Monica picked each one up solemnly. T'a Marta. Uncle Cesar. Her grandfather on her mother's side. Melissa Scully. William Scully Sr. Teena Mulder. Bill Mulder. Melvin Frohike, John Byers, and Richard Langly shared a spot next to Daniel Vargas, her first boyfriend.
She picked up a photograph of Alex Krycek. She had struggled with the question of whether to include him or not , and had added him at the last minute, out of deference to something she didn't quite understand.
Besides, she reminded herself, it wasn't her place to judge.
She placed the photo with the others, where they formed a watchful ring along the outside edge of the makeshift altar. In the center, Monica placed a black and white newspaper clipping detailing the deaths of Dana Scully and Fox Mulder. Next to the newspaper clipping she set a photograph of baby William, red-faced and wrinkled.
T'a Marta's voice buzzed again in her ear. "Why have you included them? They aren't dead!"
"Are you sure, T'a?"
The phantom voice let out an exasperated breath. "Of course I'm sure!"
"Good," said Monica, rising from her knees. "That's good to know. I had my doubts. But I'm keeping them where they are. Where you can all watch out for them."
The voice sighed again. I don't always understand you, Monica. But I love you even in death.
"I love you, too, T'a."
John didn't understand her either.
"I don't get it. Why cover up the T.V.? You could use a card table or something. What is all this stuff, anyhow?" He gave the altar a cursory glance, not really paying attention.
"Day of the Dead," came the reply from the kitchen.
"Uh-huh. Well, that explains it."
Monica came out into the main room holding two bottles of beer. "It's traditionally celebrated November first and second, to honor the dead. The children come first, beginning . . . "
John waved a hand. "I know. I've heard of it. I'm just sort surprised that you'd be into it."
She laughed. "Are you kidding? Communing with the spirits of our dearly departed? How could I not be into it?"
The ghost of a smile played over his lips. "You've gotta point there."
"So, ready?" She asked.
"For basketball? Always. But I was wondering how we would watch the game, seeing as how your television doesn't seem to be available."
Monica lifted her eyebrows. "Come with me," she said, and led him to the back of the apartment. "Voila!" She said as she opened the door to a small room. The table in the corner held a lamp with a green and blue stained glass shade. The lamp was switched on against the gloom of the afternoon, and emitted a soft, warm light that spilled over the arm of the nearby sofa.
"You have another T.V.," John was surprised. "And an, umm, den?"
Monica shrugged. "You could call it that."
"What do you call it?"
"The extra room," she said and sat on the sofa.
John sat down next to her.
T'a Marta flew through the apartment. "Dios Mio! Monica! You have intruders in your bathroom!"
Monica sat up in bed and blinked in confusion.
"Monica! Get up! You have. . ."
". . .intruders in the bathroom," Monica mumbled. Dark hair falling in her face, she pushed back the covers, fumbled on her night stand for her gun. As she shrugged into her robe, one sleeve caught on the hand of the glow-in-the-dark plastic skeleton that hung next to her night stand. Annoyed, Monica swatted it away. Its bones clacked as it wobbled in the air.
She scrutinized the bathroom door. It was closed. The bath was off of her bedroom, and she rarely, if ever, shut the door. There was a thin strip of light leaking from underneath. Monica frowned and leaned closer to listen to the mumble of voices from the other side. Male voices. Several of them. Taking a breath, Monica readied her weapon and pushed the door open with a decisive bang.
"Hey! Watch it, will ya'?" A short man in a fur vest glared at her. "And you won't be needing the gun. Put it away. You're making Langly nervous."
Still holding her weapon in front of her, Monica stared, mouth slightly agape. "You're dead," she sputtered.
Frohike snorted. "Yeah, well, we aren't the only dead people here, are we?"
Monica continued to stare. "But . . . that's not the same thing. I can't see them. Her. Whatever. And besides, that's family."
"So, it's different," she said lamely.
"Different how?" Langly's voice came out muffled. He had squatted down and had his head stuffed inside the cupboard below the sink. "You sure have a lot of batteries in here."
"Hey! That's private. Get out of there!" Monica pushed her way past Frohike and Byers. She slammed the cupboard door closed, scowling. "Didn't anyone ever tell you it was rude to go through people's drawers and things?"
"That was a cupboard, not a drawer," Langly pointed out prissily. "And I'm dead, so. . ."
"So what? Rules don't apply to you any more?" Monica demanded.
Langly shrugged and pulled his long hair back. "What ya' gonna do? Tell my mom? She's dead, too."
Monica pursed her lips. "Good. I'll ask T'a Marta to have a couple words with her."
Langly stood up straight, startled. "Okay, just wait. I don't think that there's any reason to . . . "
Byers quickly stepped in front of Langly. "Fascinating as this conversation is, we didn't just drop by for a chat. We have some information for you, Agent Reyes."
"Well, for Skinner, actually, and for Mrs. Scully." Byers said, somewhat apologetically.
Monica furrowed her brow. "Why come to me?"
"Not everyone is, uh, amenable to speaking with us."
"We almost got through to Mrs. Scully," Langly chimed in. "But then someone came to the door . . . "
"I see. So what are these messages?"
Frohike propelled himself forward off the counter on which he had been leaning. "Mulder and Scully are stuck on an island. Mrs. Scully needs to know that Scully is ok, but will be incommunicado for a time."
Monica narrowed her eyes at him. "Stuck on an island? How? Why? Incommunicado?"
Frohike waved his hand. "All good questions, but not easy to answer. I don't want to tell you exactly where they are. Not that we don't trust you, understand. It's just in case . . . well, just in case."
"Why are you so concerned about Mrs. Scully?"
Frohike looked at her. "What? Why shouldn't we be? We're nice guys."
"It just seems a lot of trouble to go through . . . all this, for that. And not just a bit out of character."
Frohike pursed his lips. "Well, Scully really, really wants her mom to know she's okay. And frankly, we can't get any peace until Mrs. Scully gets some. Why, I don't know . . . " he shrugged.
Byers continued. "We seem to be on a linked frequency with not only Mrs. Scully, but Mulder, too, and Scully herself."
"And don't forget the big guy," said Langly.
Byers nodded. "Yes. And Skinner."
Monica sighed slightly. "All right. All right. I can let Mrs. Scully know. What else?"
"The big guy," said Langly again.
"Skinner. What about him?"
"We've got inside information for him," said Byers. "It should go a long way to helping him retain his position at the Bureau, which we've come to understand is in jeopardy."
Monica nodded soberly. "Yeah, they're putting the screws to him pretty bad."
"We've got some coordinates for him. 14.82 degrees north and 89.15 degrees west."
"Where is that? Why is it important?"
"We aren't quite sure of the significance," Byers said. "Just that it will help him, and you and Agent Doggett, too. Maybe everyone."
"It's somewhere in Honduras," Langly said. "We're thinking that you should probably go with him."
Monica blinked. "Go with him?"
"When he goes to investigate. The coordinates," said Frokike.
"He has to go there? In person?"
"We're pretty sure."
"And I have to go with him because . . . ?"
"Well, you speak the language, for one thing," Frohike gave her a half smile. "And he might need help."
"What am I supposed to tell John about all this?"
Langly shrugged, inspected the shower curtain, and peeked behind it. "You'll think of something."
"What did they want?" The voice was a tickle in her ear.
"Just to give me some information."
Monica felt the air quiver. "Two of them looked shifty," her aunt said. "And the other one, the one in the suit? His eyes were too big. I was worried."
This produced a short laugh from Monica. "It's okay, T'a, they're friends."
Monica slipped back into bed. It was all right for ghosts to be gallivanting around in the middle of the night, but she had to things to do the next day, and needed her sleep.
The edge of the bed shifted under an infinitesimal weight. ". . .so, while it was gratifying to see the old bastard lying at the bottom of the stairs, I wasn't surprised that the fall didn't actually kill him. I should have put a bullet through his skull. Marita was livid," the bed shifted again. "Are you listening to me at all?"
Monica cautiously cracked one eye and froze. A figure in black leather was rising to a standing position only two feet from where she lay.
"What are you doing here?" Monica kept her voice as level as possible.
"Trying to wake you up. You know, you sleep like the dead," he laughed.
Monica stared at him. "Good Lord." His face glowed slightly green in the watery light from the skeleton.
"Geez, lighten up. And call me Alex. Lord's just too formal under the circumstances."
Monica sat up. "T'a?" she called.
"She's gone -- went to see someone named Arturo. I think. She gave me the evil eye on her way out, if that makes you feel any better," Krycek strolled around the room, glancing behind doors and peering into dark corners.
"Yeah, some kind of emergency, I guess," he tweaked the curtain at the window slightly and squinted through the opening. "Look, we need --"
"What kind of emergency? Is someone hurt?" A thought occurred to her. "Oh, God, did someone die?"
Krycek sighed. "Nah, some kid fell off her bike. Can we get back to why I'm here?"
"Why *are* you here?"
"To make sure you got the three goon boys message loud and clear."
"The coordinates?" She asked cautiously.
Krycek nodded shortly. "Right. And I need to tell you to check out the Mayan ruins in Copan. It's important."
"Why didn't the Gunmen tell me all this?"
Krycek shrugged. "Who knows how these things work? I'm just the messenger."
"Why you? I don't understand."
"You've got my picture out there. Why did you put it up?" His eyes glittered eerily in the dark of her bedroom.
Monica shook her head. "It seemed like the thing to do."
"See? There you go."
"There goes what? I. . . None of you people should be here tonight. Tonight is for the children tomorrow, that's when you come. No adults until November second. Those are the rules."
The man before her shrugged. "Well, I've never been one much for following the rules myself." He moved and began fading into the murkiest corner of her room. "Maybe it's a time zone thing."
She ignored the knocking and buried her head under her feather pillow. If she couldn't hear it, it would go away. That was the theory, anyhow.
The knocker was persistent. The echo of fist falls bounced down the short hall to her bedroom and snuck beneath her pillow and rattled in her ears.
Grumbling, Monica sat up. "I'm not playing anymore tonight! Whoever's ghost you are go away!" She yelled.
There was something in the muffled response that was familiar, and it drew her to the front door. The main living space smelled of the flowers that lay on the altar, and of the incense she had lit earlier.
"Hey, Monica. I'm sorry. I know it's late and that this is awkward, but," he paused, then shrugged. "I need to talk to someone."
Monica pulled the door open more fully. John Doggett slipped in, hair askew, shirt-tail hanging below a hastily donned, old college sweatshirt.
"Something wrong?" she asked.
"You put his picture on your altar, didn't you? I didn't notice it at first," he scanned the room behind her and came to rest on the boxy television. "Luke. He's up there, isn't he?"
"Yes," she said softly.
John's jaw jutted and he nodded. "Thought so." He stood in front of her, arms swinging slightly at his sides, looking as if he didn't know what to do next, anguish coming off him in waves. He blinked.
Monica stepped back. "Why don't you come in and sit down?" She tilted her head toward the couch and tugged gently on his arm.
"Yeah," he said, and lurched forward.
She sat next to him carefully, not knowing if she should speak.
"He came to me tonight," John said abruptly.
"I don't under . . . Oh." She thought back on her various visitations.
"I'm . . . "
"At first, I was mad. I thought it was some sort of trick. A game someone was playing. I kept looking for hidden projectors, microphones. Stuff like that." He moved restlessly next to her. "Then, after I couldn't find anything, I thought of you." He looked at her, eyes wide and bright. "Luke just kept standing there, until I went and sat down on the bed."
"I didn't know, John. I had no idea this would happen."
He shook his head. "I'm not blaming you. I've had some time to calm down. I was pretty shook up before. The car ride over gave me time to think."
Monica waited for him to continue. He didn't. Silence permeated the air around them.
Finally, she twisted on the couch to face him and asked gently, "What happened? After you sat down on the bed, what happened?"
A muted sigh escaped John's lips. "He walked over to me and touched my face, real gentle he touched me here." John brought his left hand up and rested it on his cheekbone. "That's all. Then, it was all over." His voice was rough.
"I don't know what to say, I'm sorry . . . "
"No," he interrupted her. "No, don't be sorry. It's okay. I was confused at first. I thought maybe I was hallucinating, but his fingers were so soft, so warm. I could . . . he smelled just like he used to. Little boy sweat, sand, the sun. After he left, I just sat there and cried like a baby."
"It's okay. I think maybe I needed that. It was good to remember, even if it hurt." John stood up and shook himself and blew out a breath. He walked over to the makeshift altar.
Not knowing what to say, Monica walked over to the television and stood beside him. "I had some visitations myself tonight."
"Oh?" He asked.
"Yeah. Weird visitations, not like yours. I"ll tell you about them, but later, not tonight."
"I read up on this stuff, after the game the other day." He ran a finger along the edge of the altar. "I get the candle, but, what's the pinwheel for?"
Monica laughed, touched. "Wind. And the squirt gun represents water."
"Somehow, I don't think that's traditional," his voice was lighter.
"Ah, no. Not in the strictest sense."
A hush draped itself over the room again.
"Monica?" John asked finally.
"I just wanted to say thanks," he paused. "For Luke, for everything." "I didn't mean for anything to happen, John," she replied gently.
"I know. I meant what I said, you don't have to be sorry. It was a good thing in the end. This was the best Halloween I've had in years." His hand brushed hers and he clasped it lightly. "Next year, though, warn me ahead of time, okay?"
Thanks for reading. Feedback is good.