Title: The Devil's Instant
Author: Maria Nicole
Distribution: Sure. If you haven't contacted me about a previous
story, I'd appreciate an e-mail.
Spoiler: Orison, Paper Hearts, Bad Blood, The Beginning
Summary: Post-ep for Orison
Thanks to cofax for marvelous beta :)
The Devil's Instant
Three days after the death of Donnie Pfaster, Mulder found himself
standing in front of his closet, overtaken by a sudden and desperate
wish for a pair of high heeled shoes.
He usually walked into OPR meetings dressed in one of his better suits
and a righteous attitude, armed with the knowledge that the truth
was on his side, armed with the knowledge that Scully had been or
would be testifying on his behalf. Scully, who was his best and truest
weapon with her clear voice, her unshakable science, her squared
shoulders. She had always worn her own armor to those OPR meetings:
a severe black suit, a pair of those high, shapely heels that he'd
heard termed fuck-me shoes, and the expression that dared anyone to
try. The worse the accusation against him or the X-Files, the higher
Those hearings, more often than not, did not go his way after all,
but he had always carried the image of Scully as avenging
angel with him like a talisman, confident that he would win this time.
And if that image was stained somewhat by the wan, uneasy Scully who
had testified after Antartica--no, it was not a good time to think
He wondered which shoes she would wear today, if she would defend
herself with the same cool attitude and the same armor that she'd
used to defend him. He wished that he himself had some equivalent to
Standing in front of his closet, dressed in his most expensive
suit, he felt his mouth go dry. He was her best defense today, and
they had never believed him even when he had been telling the truth.
Walking sockfoot to the bathroom, he stared at his reflection
in the mirror. His own expression seemed sullen instead of forbidding;
if they went by expression alone, they would think he was a
petulant jerk who didn't want to take the time from chasing aliens to
defend his partner. His suit only said that, even if he was the Bureau
pariah, he dressed well. "Don't fucking slouch, at least," he told
Was this how Scully felt when she faced the review panel on
his behalf? Not fired by righteous indignation, but cold, and hollow,
and a little queasy? His palms were sweating, and he dropped them
off the table into his lap.
It was more difficult, then, to watch the axe threatening to fall
on your friend's neck; this, you could not shrug off with an uncaring
attitude and a smart remark.
"Donnie Pfaster was an immediate threat to her--to both of us--and
Agent Scully acted appropriately under the circumstances," he
repeated. Had he said that too often, stressed it so much that it
had lost its emphasis? Did he usually refer to her as Agent Scully at
these meetings or only Scully, and would they notice a difference?
"You both had guns, and he was unarmed, yet he posed an immediate
threat," said Jana Cassidy politely. Was it disbelief he saw in their
eyes, or curiosity?
"He had refused to put his hands up as I had ordered, and
I hadn't yet put handcuffs on him. Scully was close to him, and he
was a physically strong man." His eyes dropped involuntarily to the
panel where they were sitting, Cassidy, Skinner, and four others, to
the photos were scattered in front of them. Even though he'd had
Scully's permission, it had still felt like betrayal when he had
handed these crime scene photos out, the record of the ruined
apartment that none of these people had ever seen, the bruised flesh
that was hidden behind tailored clothes today. "Agent Scully has
always had a good record in terms of hand-to-hand combat, but--he was
a physically strong man. Had he been able to reach her when he moved
towards her, he might have wrested the gun away from her. Yes, he was
an immediate threat."
"So he did make a move towards her?" said Fitzroy.
"Yes, sir, he started to move towards her." He watched them nod,
in belief or only in acknowledgement of his--not quite a lie. Pfaster
had not been secured; he had turned to face Scully. And if he had
not been moving when she had shot him--
"Please tell her that we're ready to hear her side of events now,"
said Cassidy, and he nodded and rose, walking to the door.
Stopping halfway to the door, he turned around. Their expressions
were opaque, and he wanted to plead with them. *Don't hold the fact
that I'm Scully's partner against her. Just this once, please believe
me.* He walked to the table where Cassidy, Skinner, and the others
were sitting instead.
"Agent Mulder, if you have something else to say--" AD Cassidy was
saying, and he shook his head.
"The photos," he said, instead, and started to pick them up, stacking
them quickly. Scully should not have to see herself exposed
mercilessly on film; they belonged in a folder, at least. His eyes
caught bare glimpses against his will.
The extinguished candles in her bathroom (and her apartment had
smelled like cinammon, like vanilla, like flowers).
The shards of glass scattered over her floor (her feet, small and
vulnerable in the slippers she'd been wearing).
The knocked over shelving unit (her voice, calm and even,
relating to the D.C. Homicide detective how she had pulled it over).
The shattered light fixture (the sparks in the air, his own
astonishment, Pfaster falling before him).
The bruising on her back (her shoulders, flinching under his touch as
he had wrapped a blanket around her body).
The chafing of her wrists (the bloodied cloth that had tied them; the
bloodied rag that had been in her mouth; the blood on her face as she
had walked out of her bedroom with a gun in her hand).
"Agent Mulder," said Cassidy, and he saw that she was handing
him a neat stack of photos. Glancing up, he realized that the others
at the table had collected the photos silently and efficiently,
passing them to him. "You'll keep these near in case we should
need them for reference," she said, and he understood that they
were letting him take them away with him. He nodded at her, at all of
them, in real gratitude.
Her head was bowed, her hands twisted together on her lap.
"They're ready for you," he said. He watched her square her
shoulders, take a breath, and rise.
Very high heels, he saw, with a deep welling of relief; she would fight
for herself. He had entertained thoughts, during these past few days
of stilted words and awkward silences, that she would walk into this
meeting and hand over her badge and gun.
"All right," she said, and started to walk past him. Stoic as always,
she didn't even ask how it was going. And he could hardly say that
he thought they believed his version of events, not right outside the
room. He tapped her shoulder, instead, to bring her face up to meet
When she flinched beneath his tap, he didn't know if he had hit
another healing bruise or if she simply did not want him to touch
her. He backed away a step. "Good luck," he said, trying to convey
all the messages he wanted to with his voice. *It's going okay, just
stick to the story, don't start with ideas about God or the devil.*
"I'll be waiting right here."
"No," she said, her bruised eyes finally meeting his. "Mulder, I--
please don't wait right outside. I'll come down to the office, but--
whether it goes well or badly, I can't--please don't wait outside."
He masked his hurt swiftly, automatically. "Okay. But come down. And--
Because her ban on his presence was for when she came out of the
office, he stayed to watch her walk inside, to listen to her heels
click quickly and confidently on the tile floor.
Two hours later, he heard her measured footsteps approach his door.
He had spent more time than he was willing to admit calculating the
angle of the door. Not closed, so that she would knock and have to
be admitted, but it somehow hadn't seemed right to have it wide open
either. The half-closed door would give them both a moment to compose
But as she swung it open so very slowly, he wanted to jump out of
his chair, run over, and wrench it from her grasp so he could see
her face more quickly.
Her face, when she stepped in the office and halted near the door,
was strained and pale, but it had been like that for three days now.
"Mandatory counseling sessions, and desk duty for a month minimum,
field approval ultimately at the therapist's discretion."
He closed his eyes in relief. No censure, no trial, no end to the
X-Files or their partnership. "Good," he said softly in relief.
"Was it?" asked Scully, and moved to sit in the chair across from the
desk, on the edge of the seat.
"It was a good decision."
"And based on a lie," she said quietly, and then half-turned to
look over her shoulder at the door. He got up hastily and went over
to close it completely.
"Not a lie," he said, as the door clicked close. "He was a dangerous
man, who had broken out of prison once. A clever man. I hadn't yet
secured him, and so he was still a threat to both of us."
She shook her head sharply. Standing, he could see the strands of
her hair move and settle. He knew that she still had a hell of a bump
on the back of her head from where Pfaster had thrown her against the
wall. "If not a lie, it wasn't the whole truth. He may have still been
a threat, but he wasn't an immediate one." She sounded angry, and he
did not know if it was at herself, the situation, or him. He knew that
she was deeply troubled at their carefully worded, shaded version of
events, and perhaps she was angry at him for going along with it
so easily, for wanting her to go along with it as well.
Instead of sitting behind his desk, he leaned against the front of the
desk, settling his hip against it and crossing his arms. "They made
the right decision."
Her eyes met his, unflinching and angry. "They may have. I didn't."
And then her eyes darted away to travel over his desk, the poster
behind it. "Whatever prompted me to...shoot him."
He swallowed, wishing suddenly that he was behind his desk. "Fear,"
he said. "Adrenaline."
"You're so sure that's all it was," she said softly.
"What are the other choices? I may not be up on theology, but I don't
think God's will would push you into doing something that causes such
trouble to your conscience. And as for the other--no. Not you."
Her head was tilted downward again, and he could only see her hair.
Her hands were stilled on her lap, but clenched together, the tendons
of her wrist pronounced. "Orison said that the devil was always looking
for his instant, and that that instant was our eternity. Is it so
impossible to believe that a person in a state of stress, or anger, or
hatred, would maybe be open to--to evil?"
"I won't believe that."
"Free will," he snapped, and then reined his temper in, and repeated
it more softly. "Free will, Scully. Your religion believes in it. The
good and the evil that we let in our lives are our choices."
"And this makes you feel better?" Her eyes met his, sudden and searing.
"To know that your partner is capable of--what I did?"
It made him feel ill, in fact. "Under great duress--which you were
under--I think we're capable of a lot of things."
"That doesn't excuse pulling the--"
"It doesn't mean you'll do it again. It doesn't mean you're a bad
person for doing what you did."
"I shot an unarmed man, in violation of the laws that I've been sworn
to uphold and the tenets of my religion," she said carefully, and the
words sounded somehow practiced to him, as if she'd said them before
to the mirror, to convince herself of what she'd done, or in
preparation for confession to a priest. "That doesn't make me a *good*
He moved to the filing cabinets swiftly, noting how she shrunk back
in her chair as he passed. The file that he drew out was not the
original, of course, but he had made a decent reconstruction of it.
She flinched away again when he dropped it in her lap, refusing to
touch it and closing her eyes. "Showing me pictures of Donnie Pfaster's
victims isn't going to convince me that what I did was necessary,
Mulder. He may have deserved to die, but not at my hands."
"That isn't what these pictures are of," he rasped. The folder was
starting to slide off her lap, and he crouched down by her, pinning
the folder to her knees with one hand, thumbing it open. The photos
on the top of the file were slick beneath his hand; his thumb came to
rest on the cloth of her black skirt. When she opened her eyes
and looked down, he felt a tremor run through her knee.
"John Lee Roche," he said. "I let him go free as surely as Orison did
Pfaster. I let a killer loose, and I thought about it first for a good
long time. I did it against the advice of my partner and the orders of
my boss, and I went alone with a killer, and then, despite the fact
that I knew he could fuck with my mind while I was sleeping, I slept
in his presence. She nearly died because of that. Does that make me
a bad person in your estimation, Scully? If your God was judging me,
would I be damned for eternity?"
"You got a warrant from a judge first, and you had properly secured
the prisoner. You didn't have any way of knowing what he could do
while you slept."
He pressed harder on her knee. "Don't make excuses for me. You didn't
at the time."
Her hands released their strict hold on each other and came to rest on
the file. "It's not the same situation."
"How about Ronnie Strickland, then?"
"Ronald Levell Strickland. I had a gun and a stake. He had fake
"You were drugged."
"You think the chloral hydrate in my system did more to me than
adrenaline did to you?"
"Don't make excuses for me either." He was somehow relieved
when she gathered the contents of Roche's file together, though,
and closed the folder on them. It was at least movement, when she
had been so still and silent for three days. He left his hand on
her knee, rubbing his thumb absently against the hem of her skirt
and the smooth, slippery nylon of her pantyhose.
"You never answered my original question," he said after a moment.
"We both know I screwed up, both times, and that if anyone had made
the least effort, I'd be out of the Bureau on my ass. If not worse.
Do you think I'm a bad person, Scully?"
Her head shake was miniscule.
"Then--go to your priest, or your therapist. Pray to your
God for forgiveness. But don't write yourself off as an agent *or* a
person. Don't let Pfaster do that to you, too." He realized that he
had clasped her hand during that speech, had woven his fingers through
his. Her nails were still chipped, the one on her fourth finger
pared down to the quick. God, her beautiful, graceful hands; the rush
of rage that went through him was almost overwhelming. He was not
at all sorry that Pfaster was dead.
"I hate that what I did in that one moment has such consequences," she
said. "And I'm sorry, Mulder--I saw your face after I shot him, and
I'm sorry. You deserve a partner whom you can trust."
"I do trust you, Scully. Of course I do." He squeezed her hand for
emphasis. "You deserve a partner who you can trust, too, and instead
you have someone who's pointed a gun at you." His legs were getting
sore, and he shifted to a kneeling position, which brought their
faces to the same height. He could smell the faint scent of mint
toothpaste on her breath, and understood in a flash of intuition that
she had stopped on her way to his office to vomit.
"You've never pulled the trigger," she said softly, but her hand was
pliant and warm in his.
"Tell me something honestly? Your first thought, when you
saw what I'd done--what were you thinking?"
He didn't speak immediately. "When I was driving over," he finally
responded, and met her eyes so that she would know that his pause
had not been to construct a lie, "I had plenty of time to construct
scenarios--what might have happened to you, what might be happening,
what he might do when I came in. And I'd planned what I would do if
he had hurt you. If he had--" he choked to a halt, and let his
eyes drop to her hand, wrapped in his. "He wouldn't have walked out of
that apartment alive, unarmed or not. And my first thought was--
surprise. Because I hadn't expected you to do that. I'd thought--I'd
thought it would be me."
"But it wasn't," she whispered. He was surprised when she tilted
forward, resting her head on his shoulder. He wrapped his free arm
around her lightly, gently, hoping to avoid the bruises. "Oh, God,
this isn't going to be easy to live with."
"But you're going to live," he said, muffled, into her hair. "And--
shit, Scully, I'm unbelievably grateful for that."
"Those poor women." He felt her start to shake under his arm, a fine
tremor. "What he did to them..."
He moved his hand up to smooth her hair, careful to avoid the bump.
"It'll be all right," he said.
"It won't for them."
"His actions hurt a lot of good people," he said. "And Scully--if
you're grieving for those people--that includes you." Her trembling
was growing steadily stronger. "That includes you," he repeated,
and held her as she shook, and shook, and did not cry.
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