text file (45k)
Scully does San Antonio;
or, what happens when Scully goes away to a conference for the weekend
and Mulder is left to fend for himself.
SPOILERS: various and sundry
DISCLAIMER: Not mine; the X-Files belong to CC, FOX, etc.
NOTES: A special thank you to my beta UnderMySkinner (X-PhileChick#35) for all her work.
The rhythmic thumping of the basketball against the floor echoed the incessant dripping of the kitchen faucet, the duet parodying an off-balance metronome. But to Mulder, it was a second hand ticking off time. Boredom was too banal a description of his mood; ennui, too dignified. When it came right down to it, the honest word was "lonely."
He missed his partner, plain and simple. Granted, it was a Saturday night, and they rarely spent their weekends together unless on a case, but he always had the umbilicus of the phone to keep them connected. Tonight, he felt that the tether had been severed and he had been left adrift. In reality, he knew he could still call her, but only in an emergency, and short of arguing that his current state of mind was a serious risk to his health or mental stability, he really didn't have any adequate excuses.
But maybe he would call her anyway.
Just the previous afternoon, he had dropped Scully off at the airport to fly to San Antonio for a pathology conference. Their farewell had not been ceremonious: she shot him a quick "thank you" from the curbside and told him she would have her cell phone in case of emergencies but would probably be unavailable for most of the weekend. He had managed to go a full 24 hours after last seeing her without any serious withdrawal symptoms, but like any addict, his fix was over and he was feeling in serious need.
After the angry pounding from his neighbor downstairs overpowered the rhythm of his makeshift metronome, Mulder finally abandoned the basketball and replaced it with his phone. He shuffled the cordless receiver from one palm to the other, unconsciously mimicking his previous juggling of the bumpy leather, as he waffled between resolutions, to call or not.
His hands finally made the decision for him as he absent-mindedly stopped his shuffling and dialed her number instead.
*Maybe this isn't such a good idea. I should hang up.*
*She probably won't answer anyway. I'll just hang up when I get her voicemail.*
*She didn't actually say that I couldn't call her. I--*
"Hello?" But the voice wasn't Scully's. Rather, it was a full octave lower.
"Who is this?" Mulder knew he sounded rather hostile, but he felt completely justified; Scully was as likely to leave her phone randomly lying around as her gun.
"I'm sorry. You're looking for Dana, of course. She ran off to the ladies' room, so I thought I'd answer her phone for her. Can I tell her who called?"
"Yeah. Tell her that her *partner* called."
"Sure.... Oh, wait, here she comes. Just hold on a minute."
Mulder waited impatiently as a muffled sound indicated the phone exchanging hands.
"Mulder? What's up?"
"Who was that?" He still sounded hostile, although he wouldn't yet admit to himself that he was slightly less justified now.
"Oh, that's Rick. Listen, this really isn't a good time to talk. Is it urgent, or can I call you back later?"
"You can call me back--"
"Okay, good. Later."
Mulder heard a dial tone before he was even able to respond.
* * *
"Later" came and went. Mulder waited a full three hours before he tried Scully's cell phone again, and all he got was her voicemail--three times. And a fourth time, after he had called the airline. And again, after he packed his overnight bag. And once more from the airport. He didn't try again from the plane, but by then it was already the middle of the night, and he knew she wouldn't answer it anyway. Later, he could just talk to her in person.
Even for all the lousy motels they had stayed in over the years, Mulder would readily declare that night to be the worst night of his life. In his efforts to catch the first available flight to San Antonio, he had to suffer through five hours in the Atlanta airport waiting for his connection early the next morning. The layover was originally supposed to be three hours, but weather delays turned a mild inconvenience into a restless nightmare of airport hell, alleviated only when his flight finally landed on Texan terra firma.
Although his body begged him to find a hotel room and crash for a few hours, that was not on Mulder's agenda. He had tried in vain the night before to find a room near the convention center, but they were all booked for the weekend. Instead, he rented a car to drive downtown and planned to find an outlying hotel later that evening. But first, his mission was to find Scully.
Even though she hadn't left him the name of her hotel, it wasn't difficult for the federal agent to track down this information. A quick flash of his badge at the front desk of the Menger Hotel easily earned him her room number, and before long he was standing outside that very door.
After a couple of knocks, he waited for the door to open and was soon rewarded with its compliance. However, the woman looking back at him was not a petite redhead but a blonde of medium height, and for a moment he was taken aback.
"I was looking for Dana Scully?"
"She's at the conference. I'm not really sure when she'll be back. Should I tell her you stopped by?"
In his haste to get here, Mulder hadn't considered this complication.
"Uh, no. So, she's at the convention center?" The blonde nodded in assent. "I guess I'll just look for her over there."
* * *
The weather that had plagued Mulder's travels apparently followed him there like the (not so) proverbial black cloud. He set out on foot from the hotel toward the convention center, only to have the heavens open and unload their bounty while he was standing outside waiting to cross the street. As bothersome as he found this, it was not enough to deter him from his mission. After all, he had experienced worse things in his life than a little water--or even a lot of it.
It wasn't until he actually arrived at said convention center that the soggy agent realized just what a difficult task lay ahead of him. The building was abuzz with hundreds of people, milling in and out of the dozens of conference rooms that peppered each floor. After ducking into two of these rooms and quickly scanning the heads of those seated there, he soon realized this was a fruitless, and disruptive, venture.
Back on the first floor, Mulder decided to explore a bit. Following the hallway toward the back of the building, he came upon a large exhibit hall with a steady flow of traffic through a single entrance, tended by two security guards who sat in post on either side. Although at first denied entry for his lack of a name badge, Mulder once again flashed his credentials to gain access, explaining merely that he was looking for somebody.
The hall was full of row after row of booths where various vendors peddled their wares or flaunted their facilities. There were publishers, research institutions, equipment manufacturers, privately and publicly funded labs, drug companies (although Mulder wondered at the latter--weren't the clientele of pathologists generally beyond a cure?). It was a veritable smorgasbord of anything that might interest a forensic specialist or medical examiner.
But there was no Scully.
Defeated, exhausted, and unsure where to head next, Mulder wandered back toward the main lobby. He noticed that the traffic had begun to pick up a bit as people were exiting the various side rooms, suggesting that the session was over. Perusing the swirling crowd, his burgeoning hope turned into elation, and then into rage (or perhaps something of a greener shade), as he finally spotted his quarry.
There, standing against a wall, smiling up at a taller man leaning very much into her personal space, was none other than his partner.
The morning session had been a long and tedious one, and Scully was only too grateful when the final speaker brought his paper to a close and she was able to slip out the back during the meager applause. She hoped to find a quiet place to make a call before running off to lunch. This was the first real chance she'd had to call her partner back, and she wanted to take advantage of it before she was swept up into the chaos of the conference once again.
However, as with all good intentions, her plans were soon thwarted, and by the very person that she least wanted to see.
"Dana! I'm so glad I ran into you. I was hoping we'd get a chance to continue our conversation from last night. Are you free for lunch?"
Scully gritted her teeth and put on a fake smile. "Rick. What a surprise. I'm afraid I already have lunch plans. In fact, I should get--"
"Then how about dinner? I saw this great little Italian place on the Riverwalk. I could make reservations."
The flow of traffic around them increased as the bulk of attendees poured out of their various morning sessions and started the inundation of the cafeteria and nearby eateries. In an effort to prevent being trampled—or, if she was lucky, to be swept away by the current--Scully moved away to the side to continue the tiring conversation.
"I'm sorry, but I really don't think that will work. In fact, I'll be rather busy for the rest of the conference, so I think the best way for us to continue our conversation is if you give me your e-mail address so I can contact you later."
"Well, how about right now, actually? I've got a few minutes to spare. I'd really love to hear your thoughts on post-mortem intumescence."
By now he had essentially backed her into a corner, and she was wondering if words alone would be sufficient to effect her escape. This over-solicitous man was swiftly advancing from annoying to overwhelming as he leaned into her space and used his greater bulk as though to entrap her. She mused that although Mulder had done this for years, it had always been a welcome gesture of intimacy rather than intimidation--and what she wouldn't give for him to call her right now and provide a means of egress.
At first, she assumed she had merely imagined it, thinking of him as she was at that very moment, but a quick peek around the figure dominating her vision brought the welcome and surprising manifestation of her would-be excuse.
Her shift in focus caused the tiresome Rick to turn and look at the object of her attention, allowing her enough space to slip past him and thus end the siege. Upon securing her freedom, she gladly proceeded to ignore his very existence.
As she now fully took in Mulder's appearance, her inquiries about his presence were superseded by other concerns. "Mulder, you're soaked! What happened to you?"
Mulder looked down at himself in surprise, as though this was the first time he had taken notice of his damp suit. He looked back at her and shrugged. "It was raining. I guess I haven't dried out yet." Glancing over her shoulder, he took in the sight of her pesky suitor. "I didn't mean to interrupt your little tete-a-tete." He was dripping with sarcasm.
She played innocent. "Not at all. In fact, I was just going to get a bite to eat. Would you like to join me?"
Without looking back, she grabbed her partner's elbow to pivot him toward the exit. She heard the persistent Rick call out as they left: "I guess I'll catch you later, Dana!"
Once they were safely down the hall, Scully finally asked the other question that had been nagging at her. "Mulder, what are you doing here?"
"Uh, I got called in on a case?"
She gave him her best skeptical look. "You just happened to get a case in the same town as my conference, and you just happened to run into me at the convention center?"
He just shrugged at her again, not very persuasively.
"And what exactly is this case that brings you all the way to San Antonio?"
"An employee at the Alamo reported hearing fiddle music." She sportingly waited for the punchline, and he obliged. "After hours, when he was locking up--alone."
"So, what--you came to ghostbust the spirit of Davy Crockett?"
By now they had exited the building and were standing on the curb waiting for the crosswalk, and attracting stares with their unorthodox conversation topic, as usual. Mulder had turned toward her to reply, his eyes absent-mindedly gazing past her down the street, when his expression suddenly changed. He moved so fast that she didn't understand what had happened until it was over.
And what happened was this: her gallant partner had realized just at the last moment that a bus was headed toward the large puddle (more realistically described as a small lake) skirting the curb. In an act of chivalry, he pushed her behind him just in time, thus taking the brunt of the veritable tsunami cast onto the sidewalk by the bus's mass.
As it became clear to her what had occurred, Scully stepped back to take in the damage. Mulder had indeed succeeded. She had received only a few tiny drops on her pant-legs, whereas he was now drenched from the waist down.
He accepted her pity with a self-deprecating smile, just as the walk signal behind him finally gave them permission to cross, a few moments too late. Scully took his arm and led him across while the opportunity remained.
"Let's stop by your hotel first so you can change. Where are you staying?"
"Actually, I haven't found a room yet. It seems that everything downtown is booked with the conference. I just rented a car and parked by the mall. I figured I'd find a place later."
"Well, I'm not too far away. Let's get your luggage out of the car, and then you can change in my room."
Of course, what she didn't know was that he had been there once today already.
After Mulder changed into dry clothes (and Scully grabbed her umbrella), the pair headed to the Riverwalk for lunch. Fate decided on a restaurant for them as the heavens opened again while they were passing the Rio Rio Cantina. Wisely, they sat inside instead of on the patio.
By the time their entrees arrived, Mulder just couldn't hold back any longer. "So, it sounds like you were pretty busy last night."
Scully dug into her food with genuine gusto as she ignored the sarcasm in his tone. With a talent that her partner had never mastered, she managed to chew discreetly while holding up her end of the conversation. "Half of this weekend is spent networking, and dinner is usually a good opportunity to continue discussions that arise from the various papers. After Dr. Mendenhall's lecture on pituitary deficiencies, I'd been hoping to talk to him about the Samuel Aboah case, and he invited me to dinner. But it turned out he was going with a larger group, and we were seated at a long table, with me, of course, sitting at the opposite end from Dr. Mendenhall. Which is where I met Rick Bowers, who proceeded to talk my ear off all night about his god-awful research on blowflies, and seemingly won't take no for an answer."
Mulder felt slightly appeased now that he understood how "Rick" fit into her life, but he wasn't done yet. "It must have been a pretty late night. Did you all go clubbing together afterward?"
Now she shot him a look, no longer ignoring his tone. "Mulder, I'm sorry I didn't call you back last night, but the restaurant was too loud to hear you, and no, I didn't get back until late. The last thing I wanted was for Rick to follow me back to my hotel and find out where I was staying, so I ended up going out for drinks with some others from our dinner party instead of heading back right away, and then I made a break for it when Rick finally disappeared to the restroom. I might've been stuck having lunch with him, too, if you hadn't shown up when you did."
Having heard about her frustrations with this guy, Mulder felt a little more contrite for his presumptions and attitude. Rather than apologize, however, he decided to change the subject. "So, what's on tap for the rest of the afternoon?"
Delicately wiping her mouth, Scully looked at her watch before replying. "Well, I'm giving a paper during the three o'clock session, but until then--"
"Wait a minute, you're giving a paper? Why didn't I know about this?"
She shrugged and averted her eyes to her plate. "I don't know. I guess it just never came up."
"What's it on? Anything I'd understand?"
Pushing some stray grains of rice around on her plate, she answered quietly and quickly without looking up at him. "Actually, it's on the anomalous musculature of Eddie Van Blundht, Sr."
Mulder's face lit up, and even without looking at him, Scully could read his delighted expression through the tone of his voice. "Scully! You're giving a paper on an X-File!"
She rolled her eyes and sighed before finally meeting his enthusiastic gaze. "What else is there for me to talk about? Besides, all paranormal experiences aside, the X-Files have led us to some fascinating scientific discoveries."
But Mulder just couldn't stop grinning.
Scully sighed again and tossed aside her napkin in resignation. "So, what're you doing this afternoon? Chasing down Davy Crockett?"
That defeated his grin.
"Oh, uh, yeah, I should check that out.... Hey, if you don't have plans until three, you wanna join me?"
Scully considered this for a moment, contemplating Mulder's hopeful expression and her options for the afternoon. She had been wanting to explore the exhibit hall, but there was a chance she might run into (or, more accurately, be accosted by) Rick again, and she hadn't seen the Alamo yet, so....
Her decision made, she enjoyed making her partner squirm a bit longer before she replied. "Okay. Lead on, Macduff."
"Mulder, I don't really know what you were expecting to find. It's the middle of the day, and this place is full of tourists. And, according to your source, Davy only performs at night to an audience of one. Where is this source, anyway?"
"Uh...." Mulder made a point of looking around, over her head, at the crowds buzzing through the Alamo, seemingly seeking his source but really just avoiding her eyes. "I don't see him. Maybe he's not working today."
"Didn't you make plans to meet him?"
She sighed heavily in exasperation. "Never mind."
Not bothering to look back and see if he would follow, Scully began to weave her way through the crowd, determined to see the sights while she was there. The old mission-turned-fort was smaller inside than she expected, and while the main hall allowed maneuvering room, the side rooms holding the most interesting historical paraphernalia (maybe even the ghost of Davy Crockett, for all she could tell) were accessible only by waiting in line. Whether due to her anxiety over her upcoming speech or simply her annoyance with Mulder, she didn't have the patience right now to queue up with the herd.
Pausing briefly to listen to the anecdotes of a tour guide, she finally made her way outside. The clouds had relented from their onslaught for the time being, although the air remained thick with moisture. Scully took a moment to admire the architecture, so different from what she was used to in other parts of the country. The haphazard arrangement of off-white stones combined into a rustic yet impressive edifice. Four sculpted columns flanked the front entrance, testifying to the structure's original destiny as a place of sanctuary and worship rather than a fortress and eventually a tomb. The curved peak that capped the wall reminded her slightly of the Spanish missions in California, but there was something distinctive about this place that made it unique to Texas. *The Texians must have thought so, too,* she mused. They had held on to the place with a tenacity worthy of Mulder.
Speaking of Mulder, Scully turned from her inspection to find him standing alongside her, soaking in the sight himself. Their eyes briefly met, and she turned to explore the rest of the grounds, feeling his presence close behind her as she set out.
The stone plaza surrounding the mission held only fragmentary details of the original complex. As she followed the walkway past the historical markers along the side and toward the rear, the stonework yielded to rambling paths shaded by sprawling trees and trimmed with vibrant greenery--an ideal place to stop for an outdoor lunch on a more agreeable day. Meandering further along the trail, Scully soon recognized they were headed in the direction of her hotel, and she stopped to check her watch.
"Do you need to prepare for your talk?"
After looking up at him briefly, Scully glanced at her watch again and considered the time. It was only two o'clock, and while she still had over an hour before she would actually take her place at the podium, the butterflies were starting to take up residence in her stomach.
"Um, the paper's written, and God knows I've rehearsed it enough times to practically have it memorized, but I'd still like to read through it one more time. And I think I want to change into a different suit."
In response to her statement, Mulder took a moment to scan her from head to foot--which drove the swarm of butterflies slightly lower--but he withheld any comments on her appearance.
"Do you mind if I come watch?"
"What?" All thoughts of her presentation flew from her mind as Scully stumbled over his request. Preoccupied as she was with his perusal, she hadn't quite followed his line of thought.
"Your paper--do you mind if I come?"
"Oh, um...." She cleared her throat in an effort to retrieve her professional persona and shove aside the inappropriate thoughts that had flooded her mind. "No, I don't mind. But are you sure you want to sit through that? There'll be four papers in that session, all of them full of medical jargon."
"Well, I'll try not to snore too loudly, then."
The corners of her mouth mirrored his own smirk as she turned away and stepped off in the direction of her hotel, making no objections to his pursuit.
They had spent only half an hour in her room, Mulder taking the opportunity to sprawl on the bed and catch a little shut-eye while Scully looked over her paper once more. He woke to find her changing and quietly watched through squinted eyes, announcing himself only when he saw her second-guess her choice of a blue blouse and reach for a white one instead.
"Stick with the blue one. It brings out your eyes."
Much to his delight, she had complied, and she now stood before the small audience in her blue shirt, black suit, and three-inch heels, concluding her lecture with the same clarity of thought and speech that she had been exhibiting for the last 25 minutes.
As Scully indicated her completion and stepped back from the podium, Mulder beamed in pride at the animated applause. He stopped short of standing and whooping (knowing that she would refuse to speak to him for the remainder of the weekend, and beyond), but clapped rather loudly nonetheless. Even though he wasn't a veteran of this conference like his partner, he noted that this reception was much different from the tired applause for the two previous papers, which had droned on endlessly and put the less-anal half of the audience to sleep.
After a brief question-and-answer period, Scully resumed her seat at the head table adjacent to the podium, and Mulder settled in for one last paper before the session would finally be over. While he checked his watch again and stifled a yawn, Dr. Heinrich Schmidt was introduced to deliver his paper on the use of aromatoids to enable cell differentiation.
Expecting to be bored to tears, Mulder was surprised as Dr. Schmidt began to discuss cancer cells and the theoretical possibility of their use to regrow healthy tissue. Even though Mulder didn't understand half of the scientific jargon, he caught enough to recognize the parallels with Leonard Betts. Lost in thought as his mind raced with possibilities, his attention was brought back to the podium when the crowd began to applaud. He quickly shot a look over at his partner, wondering if she had made the same connections he did and would bring up the Betts case during the Q&A.
The first question was from the audience, a man asking something about phenylacetate, but the doctor's answer was followed by a protracted silence. Mulder shot another glance at Scully, who was discreetly checking her watch, and he feared that the session would end without anyone addressing the most significant implications of Dr. Schmidt's paper.
Scully's head lifted just in time to see her partner rise from his seat, and her face fell reciprocally. Mulder knew that she thought he was about to embarrass her, but the question had to be asked.
"Dr. Schmidt, if a person's cancer cells had found a way to differentiate themselves naturally, do you think it would be possible for those cells to enable the regeneration of body parts?"
You could hear a pin drop as all eyes were riveted to Mulder--all except Scully's, which were glued to the pages in front of her.
The presenter audibly drew in a breath, pulling the attention back to himself, and then launched into his response with obvious excitement. "Yes, actually. There have been some promising experiments with salamanders...."
The doctor's answer turned into a five-minute diatribe on the similarities between cancer cells and fibroblasts, and the crowd had somewhat dwindled by the time the chairperson interrupted and led them in final applause for the paper before dismissing the remainder of the audience.
As people began to get up from their chairs, a couple of them drifted toward Scully, clearly interested in conversing with her further about her paper; but Mulder was prevented from joining them as he was accosted by Dr. Schmidt, still bubbling with excitement at Mulder's question. Almost 15 minutes later, Scully gracefully interrupted and suggested that they should get going.
Dr. Schmidt looked at his watch. "Oh dear. I was supposed to meet a colleague ten minutes ago. If you'll excuse me."
The partners refrained from conversation until the older man had left the room. Then Mulder let out a breath of relief. "Thanks. I had no idea what I was getting myself into."
Scully smiled up at him. "Asking a scientist about their research can be a dangerous thing. If you ask the right question, they can go on for hours."
"You were great, by the way. It was by far the most interesting paper, and I see that you even had a few admirers."
Scully shyly dropped her eyes, an innocent and girlish gesture that Mulder enjoyed immensely. "Thanks."
Kindly changing the subject, he spared her further embarrassment. "So, what's next on the agenda?"
Grateful for the reprieve, she responded decisively: "Dinner."
On their walk back to the hotel, Scully explained to Mulder how the evenings were usually spent at this conference. The attendees were on their own for dinner, but starting around 7:00 and running late into the night were various receptions sponsored by the drug companies, usually lavish and fancy affairs, no expense spared.
Mulder took this opportunity to ask a question that had been puzzling him. "So, what's with the drug companies? That doesn't seem like something pathologists would need."
Scully pulled out her room key as they stepped off the elevator on her floor. "Actually, many medical examiners and coroners are practicing physicians, especially in the smaller communities where one person does double duty. And it's really more than just a pathology conference, as you can tell by some of the papers this afternoon. I just refer to it that way since that's my main area of interest."
She looked up at him with her hand resting on her door handle. "What?"
"What about your roommate? Won't she be here changing for dinner?"
"Sharon?" Scully paused for a moment, not sure how he knew about her roommate, but then mentally shrugged it off, assuming that she had mentioned something earlier when they stopped by the room. "No, she checked out this afternoon. Her husband was leaving for a business trip, so she had to get home to watch the kids."
"Oh." Mulder followed her through the doorway as she inserted the key and led the way into the room. His suitcase was still sitting on the bed by the window, and he just now realized that he had been too tired earlier to consider he might be getting in someone else's way. His body automatically following his line of sight, he let gravity take hold and carry him down to the mattress.
"So, how come I've never heard of her?"
Scully was hanging up her jacket in the closet. "I don't know. We're not really that close. We went to med school together and happened to meet up here the first year I attended the conference. As you may have noticed, there aren't many women here, and it's cheaper to share a room with someone, so we just kind of set up a standing arrangement. But it's the only time I ever see her."
Mulder had let his eyes drift closed while she talked, but he glanced over as she finished, becoming a little more alert as he noticed the dress she was pulling out of the closet.
"Is that what you're wearing?"
Scully frowned and held up the silky black dress by its thin straps. "Well, yeah. Why? Is there something wrong with it?"
Mulder realized that she had misunderstood his reaction and jumped in to correct that. "God, no. It's just that...well...wow."
Mulder gleefully noticed that the girlish look was back. Suddenly he was feeling very alert and was definitely looking forward to the remainder of the evening.
* * *
As they left the hotel and headed for the Riverwalk, the humidity clung to them like a damp suit, although the storm clouds had passed and stars were beginning to peek out in the indigo sky. Mulder indulgently let his hand rest on his partner's lower back while he escorted her through the moderate crowds, his thumb stroking across the silky fabric every now and then of its own accord.
After they passed a couple of Tex-Mex places that seemed a little too casual for their current attire, he spotted a classy Italian restaurant with a small patio overhead where a few couples were dining outdoors by candlelight. With a slight pressure on Scully's back, he guided her toward the doorway and looked down at her in question. She seemed pleased with the choice and preceded him inside.
They were seated at the last available table on the patio, from which perch they had a clear view of the river below and the gentle buzz of the crowds. The river was lined on both sides with restaurants and bars, and small clusters of people were seated at tables, standing in groups, or ambling up and down the sidewalks. The entire atmosphere was bubbling with companionship and vitality.
The pair's conversation remained light while the waiter filled their wine glasses and left with their orders. Scully sipped from her glass, watching a group of twenty-somethings laughing their way down the opposing sidewalk. Mulder's eyes, however, were fixed on her as he watched the burgundy liquid disappear through her ruby lips. Then the glass lowered and the lips parted.
"So, Mulder, are you going to tell me why you're really here?"
His eyes rose from her lips to see her now watching him. He drank from his own glass to hide his momentary panic.
"I told you about the case."
"And we both know it's bogus."
He set his glass back down and raised his eyes to hers while he considered his answer. There was a challenge in her sure gaze, and he decided to risk the truth. "Do I really need a reason?"
Her lips curled up slightly in a coy smile. "No."
It was a good thing that most of the conference attendees were on foot because the three major drug companies hosting receptions that night had gone all out with open bars, in obvious competition with one another. First stopping by the Pinck Pharmaceuticals reception out of curiosity, Mulder and Scully opted to spend their time enjoying the fruits of a less-questionable company.
The lights were dim in the large ballroom, adding to the warm atmosphere that was already heated from the eddying of bodies across the dance floor and between tables bubbling with conversation. The percentage of women had greatly increased since that afternoon, attesting to the number of wives and significant others that had come along to join in the evening festivities, so the aura was much less that of an academic conference and much more like a formal event. From snippets of dialogue that drifted from the tables, however, it was clear that many of these conversations were overflowing from discussions held earlier in the day.
The pair of agents stood off to the side in a quiet corner and took in the sights while they nursed their drinks. The silence between them was comfortable yet electric as they stood close, not quite touching, but feeling the heat radiating from each other.
Mulder had just drained his glass and was setting it aside on a tray when he was surprised by Scully's firm grip on his arm.
"Oh, God, not again. C'mon."
It took a moment for him to realize what was happening as she dragged him into the middle of the dance floor and pressed in close to his body.
"I don't care what excuse you have to make up, just don't let him cut in."
At first, Mulder didn't understand what she was talking about. But as they fell into step with the music, he looked around and finally spotted her pursuer. It was Rick.
The unwelcome suitor was standing on the fringes of the swaying crowd, looking directly at them. Mulder kept them positioned so that Scully's back was to Rick, affording himself a clear view of the man. He appeared to be weighing whether or not he should try to cut in on their dance, so Mulder pulled her in tighter and stared him down, sending his best testosterone-laden vibes. To his credit, Rick seemed to take the hint and moved away.
As Mulder's grip relaxed, Scully realized that the imminent danger had passed and sighed in relief. "Thanks." As she released the tension, she melted in his arms and, to his surprise and pleasure, rested her head on his chest. He indulgently let his cheek settle against her silky crown, and they swayed gently, drifted aimlessly to the rhythm of the music.
* * *
It was almost midnight when they finally left the reception. The crowds had dwindled and the bartenders showed signs of closing up soon, so it seemed a good time to call it a night. The partners held hands and were both a little giddy from multiple drinks as they meandered down the sidewalk toward the Menger Hotel. Scully had yielded her room key to Mulder since she had no pockets and decided not to carry a purse, so he did the honors and opened the door after escorting her to her room. It wasn't until they stood blinking at each other on either side of the threshold that he realized:
"I never got a room."
This thought sobered them both a little.
"Oh. Well, I guess you can stay here. I mean, I have an extra bed, and my roommate's gone."
"Are you sure? I mean, if you'd rather be alone...you know, I don't want to impose...."
Scully sighed, apparently annoyed with his chivalrous indecision, and took hold of his arm to pull him inside. "C'mon, Mulder. It's not like we've never shared a room before."
"I know, but...."
She shot him a questioning look, and he just shrugged in lieu of completing his sentence. But she knew what he meant. They had never shared a room under these circumstances before.
There was a moment of awkwardness as they stood facing each other. A good three feet separated them, but that failed to diminish the electricity crackling between them. Scully finally snapped the tension.
"Uh, I'll go get ready for bed. You can have the bathroom when I'm done."
"Okay." Scully took a deep breath and nodded slightly as if talking herself into moving. A moment later, the bathroom door closed behind her.
Mulder stood there regarding both beds before he slowly began to undress. They'd had a wonderful time together tonight, from dinner to dancing to perhaps one too many drinks. Even though he'd been graced with a rare glimpse of the warm, sensuous woman that resided beneath the tailored suits, the fact remained, this was his partner. Could he make any presumptions about where the night could lead, or would he only be risking sexual harassment charges?
Stripping down to his boxers, he decided on the safer route until Scully emerged from the bathroom and gave him a clue what to expect. Removing his suitcase from the bed, he pulled back the covers and stretched out with the remote, not quite in the bed yet, just on top of it. He felt that the gesture left the sleeping arrangements open-ended enough that they could still be changed.
On the other side of the bathroom door, Scully tried to even out her breathing as she washed off her make-up and contemplated what would happen when she stepped back into the room. She had removed the dress and donned a robe, wearing beneath it only her lacy undergarments. She had considered changing into her pajamas, but she knew they were anything but seductive and would send a clear message that the evening was over. The robe at least left her the option of removing it in the room or grabbing her pajamas and retreating back to the bathroom. She had no idea what might happen between the two of them tonight, but she finally took a deep breath and opened the door, deciding that she'd stalled long enough.
The sight before her both answered her questions and warmed her heart. Across the room lay her partner, sprawled out on his bed in nothing but his boxers, one arm draped across his stomach and the other resting by his side, holding the remote. He was fast asleep.
Scully quietly walked over to his side and pulled the covers over him. He didn't even twitch when she slipped the remote from his slackened grip and extinguished the TV. Stroking his face as she looked down at him with a mixture of fondness and disappointment, she kissed his cheek before retreating to her own side of the room.
"Maybe next time, Mulder."
Scully was absorbed with her menu when she felt a hand come to rest on her shoulder.
"Were you able to--oh." She stopped mid-sentence as she looked up at her visitor. It wasn't Mulder.
"Are you ready to order, Senorita?"
"Um, no, not yet, thanks. I'm waiting for a friend."
"Just call me when you are ready." There was a rush of cool air through the thin fabric of her blouse as the warm hand finally departed with its owner. Scully turned her gaze back to her menu, but she was still a bit dazed by the awkwardness of what had just happened and so was startled by the sound of Mulder's voice.
"What's with Don Juan?"
"What?" She looked up as he took a seat across the table.
"The waiter. It looked like he couldn't keep his hands off you."
She closed up the menu and offered it to him. "I don't know. I guess he was just being friendly."
"Yeah, I'll say," he chuffed out, flipping through the laminated pages more forcefully than necessary.
"So," she proceeded to change the subject, "any luck?"
"Yeah, I was able to change the ticket, but I couldn't get adjoining seats. We'll have to wait until we get on the plane and see if someone will trade with one of us."
Scully hummed noncommittally in response and gave Mulder a moment to decide on his lunch, letting her eyes scan the room while she waited. The airport restaurant was only moderately busy, but the majority of patrons seemed to be other conference attendees also grabbing a bite to eat before catching their flights.
The conference wasn't officially over until that afternoon, but it was winding down, and many others like herself had chosen to depart earlier in the day. That morning, she had set off for one last session while Mulder still quietly snored; but she'd left him a note that she would return in time to drive back to the airport with him before his 1:00 flight, even though hers didn't leave until 3:00. She was grateful he'd been able to get a seat on her flight to keep her company for the rest of the day. But the unspoken question lingered: Would they ever discuss what had almost happened between them last night?
Tossing down the menu, Mulder opened his mouth to speak but halted when his eyes settled on something beyond her, causing his expression to shift. When the warmth settled on her shoulder again, Scully didn't have to ask what was bothering him.
"I see your friend has arrived. May I take your order, Senorita?"
Scully avoided making eye contact with the tall Latino while she rattled off her order. Her partner, on the other hand, did his best to stare the man down. She could only surmise that the waiter wasn't the least bit intimidated because the hand didn't lift until he reached out to take the menu before turning to leave.
But her discomfort was quickly forgotten as she looked up at her partner. She wasn't used to seeing him look quite so...well, possessive, and she couldn't suppress the smile that it provoked. Here was Mr. Touchy-Feely bristling at someone else treating her just as he had been doing for years.
Scully was caught when his eyes finally left the retreating waiter and squinted at her in suspicion. "What?"
"Nothing." Trying her best to stifle her amusement and look innocent, she grabbed for her water glass to provide a quick cover.
But as she sipped, the smile easily faded, driven away by sobering thoughts of reality. The magic from last night was already gone, here in the midst of lingering doctors and echoing announcements of final boarding calls. Soon they would board their own flight, straight back to the status quo.
She sighed internally at the thought. She knew that once they returned to Washington, it would be business as usual. Work would demand their attention, and they would easily fall back into the same old routine.
Everything would be exactly the same as when they had left.
"So," Mulder interrupted her thoughts with his hushed tone, leaning across the table conspiratorially, "when do I get to see you in that dress again?"
Well, maybe not *everything.*
Notes: I guess this story is a bit Mary Sue, if that can apply to settings as well as characters. No, I'm not a pathologist, but I did attend an academic conference in my own field down in San Antonio last November. You can tell where my mind really was since I left with two pages of notes for this story.... The structure of the Scully's conference is similar to my own, but many of the details are adapted to what I imagine a medical conference might be like.
San Antonio was a great city for a conference, but the weather really was as I described it. I didn't get splashed like Mulder, but I did get rather wet walking around, even with my umbrella. But the rain relented during the evenings, so we got to sit outdoors along the Riverwalk. That's a great place for dining and nightlife--every city should have one.
Oh, and the thing with the waiter actually happened. I think my friend was purposely calling him over just to keep herself amused as he kept touching me. So, it seems that the natives are *very* friendly.