TITLE: In Life
AUTHOR: winter baby
FANDOM: The X-Files
SUMMARY: Everybody dies but not everybody lives.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Response to Maidenjedi's Six Feet Under challenge (#1), posted at the Harem. OK, so I cheated a little. My other woman isn't exactly at a funeral, but close enough.
+  In Life  +
The funeral parlor is stuffy, with furniture resembling those from her childhood, the ones at her grandmother's house that she wasn't allowed to touch.
She assumes all that stiff furnishing is supposed to give this place an air of seriousness, to keep the restless children calm and less fidgety at their great-grandfather's funeral, though they probably end up running around anyway.
That's what she sees when she looks into the funeral parlor. Mothers and fathers with their kids, mourning the loss of some beloved (or maybe not so beloved, but rich) old relative, as the minister reads the sermon and close friends get up to say a few touching sentiments.
Alex would have hated this, but it's not as if he has a say anymore.
It's early still. Nobody's here except the workers who are arranging the flowers and lining up the folding chairs. The casket hasn't been brought up yet. The front of the room is empty, like a stage before a play, because although all the props are set up, there is no body.
Good. This makes it a whole lot easier.
She quietly walks down the empty hall, opening each door until she finds the staircase that leads down to the basement, where the bodies are kept. No one wants to see death, even in a funeral home, so they keep it locked up, hidden deep down in the earth and out of sight.
She doesn't mind death. It's always been with her, following her.
In the sterile basement, she finds Alex's body, laid out on a cold metal slab, clean and pale. His hair is brushed back, not the way he used to wear it, but she supposes that nobody told the mortician how Alex would have wanted to look in death.
That was supposed to be her job, but she came too late.
She doesn't know who brought Alex in or arranged to have him buried. He wasn't exactly the most loved person, and she can't think of anyone who would go through all this trouble for him, other than herself. And she would have, if she'd only known.
But Alex disappeared from her life, and she hadn't heard from him or about him until two days ago, when an anonymous letter was slipped under her door, informing her that Alex was dead and to be buried, here, at this time.
She suspects it's a trap, to draw her out into the open, but that doesn't make sense. They know where she lives, so whatever they want they could just take. Besides, she's washed up. Useless now. She has no more secrets left to sell, no more loyalties left to betray.
She doubts that this funeral is out of good will on anybody's part, but she can't think of any other explanation. Best not to question it, she tells herself. Just be glad you get to see him one last time.
She stands next to his body, which is dressed in a cheap gray suit from god knows where. He looks awkward in it, as if they stapled it onto him. She smoothes out the wrinkles and tries not to notice that there's no heartbeat under all that clothing.
She doesn't find any noticeable wounds on him, which might tell her how exactly he ended up in this state. It could've been a million ways, but they're all easily covered up with make up.
His face is calm, almost serene. If she didn't know better, she would have thought that he was sleeping. But then, she's always known too much.
She won't attend the funeral. She's not sure who will show up but she can guess, and there are certain people she wants to avoid.
She did want to see Alex once more though, to touch his face again, even if it were cold and still, devoid of the life that drew her to him once, years ago when they were young and stupid enough to believe that they could win.
She knows now, like she knows so many other things, that no one wins. Betrayals and spilt blood and Alex lying there so lifeless have taught her too much, and she's learned too fast.
In the blink of an eye she went from being young and ambitious to old and lovelorn, sneaking into funeral homes to steal one last look at the man she couldn't quite bring herself to love.
She looks down at him, and brushes his hair back the way he would have wanted it, and readjusts his horrendous suit, and leans in to press her lips softly against his.
This is the last time, she tells herself as she backs away, that she lets Alex make her feel this way. The last time she cries over him, or risks exposure for him.
As she races up the stairs and out of the basement, she knows that's not true. Alex may be dead but he's far from gone, and she'll end up cleaning his messes or making excuses for him, just to maintain his memory.
Like she did in life. Except this time she's certain she'll never see him again.
The sidewalk outside is bright and loud, and unbearably clear. She's almost run down by a jeep as she crosses the street, while the driver yells obscenities that she barely hears. Three teenage boys chase each other down on skateboards, and swerve out of her way when she fails to avoid them. Women with shopping bags, businessmen with cell phones, and that little girl by the hot dog cart with her green balloon. They're all alive, existing in a world where death is hidden away in a basement and only looked at when there's a will to be read.
She's locked out of that world, because death follows her wherever she goes, or maybe it's Alex. Either way, she's not alive the way those people are.
It's enough to make her cry.
Neither seems sufficient, on a day like this.
[ end ]
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