Complimentary Mints - Part 1 (Repost)

Originally Post: June 23, 1997
Reposted: June 23, 2023 

Complimentary Mints
by P.R. Chung

Seated uncomfortably in a plastic chair, the last available seat in the Salt Lake City airport, FBI agent Fox Mulder shook his head and smiled ruefully thinking again of the absurd events of the past six days. It had all been one big fiasco for the ATF and FBI, an embarrassment for the bureau heads and a study in frustration for the hundreds of agents involved in the unified field operation.

Solomon Sloan's reportedly well-armed militia group had held up in their converted summer camp compound straight through the Thanksgiving holiday. Sloan and his group had kept hundreds of ATF and FBI personnel away from their families, showing just enough firepower being managed throughout the compound to lead everyone into believing the validity of their reported stockpile of extensive weapons.

Perhaps moved by the spirit of the holiday or some need for warmth after the power was cut, Solomon and his group surrendered just in time for nearly everyone to miss dinner with the folks.

Shortly after their surrender it was discovered these were the most ill-prepared fundamentalists the government had ever dealt with. They had maintained a standoff with seven ammunition-less guns relayed between coming and going group members who had been eating little more than condiments from the look of the bare cabinets. It wasn’t going to be a decent holiday for anyone, except perhaps Scully.

At least she had gotten a flight out early, Mulder thought while watching the growing number of zombie travelers mulling around the terminal on the eve of Thanksgiving. She would likely make it home to D.C. just in time for dinner with her mother and the rest of the Scully clan.

"Boarding for Castle Air flight 418 to Dulles is now beginning."

Mulder listened to the announcement, waiting for his seating assignment to be called and watching the stream of people lining up for boarding. There was no use in standing and waiting, he didn't feel like it and besides people-watching from a seat was much easier and entertaining.

Looking around the terminal, Mulder spotted Assistant Director Skinner among the crowd of dazed looking holiday travelers. He was mildly surprised and a bit relieved to see a familiar face. Mulder had been surprised that he hadn’t seen more of the agents that had been part of the field op in the airport.

Mulder observed his superior, noting that while everyone around the man seemed flustered and bewildered, Skinner appeared composed but also looked as tired as Mulder felt.

“No reason to be unfriendly,” Mulder murmured to himself and got up to go greet Skinner.

"Sir." Mulder drew Skinner’s attention, seeing a momentary look of surprise pass over his expression that was replaced by… relief? Was Skinner actually relieved to see him, Mulder amusedly thought of the irony. “Are you on this flight?"

Skinner nodded, "Four eighteen, yes. Are you?"

“By the skin of my teeth.”

Skinner nodded scanning the line of boarding passengers. "I’ll be amazed if the weather holds. Do you know if Agent Scully got a flight out?”

"Yes, she got an early flight."

Skinner nodded, pensive.

"The weather wasn't too bad when she left, she probably made it in time. But I’ll be surprised if we make it to D.C without being diverted," Mulder commented gesturing toward the flight information monitors where flight updates were changing to canceled by the second.

"Diverted where though?” Skinner wondered.

----------- X ----------

"Ladies and Gentlemen, due to the inclement weather we will be landing in Wichita..."

A muddled round of jeers rolled through the cabin of the 737. "Connecting flights to your destinations will be arranged weather permitting..."

Mulder leaned toward the aisle, glancing in the direction of Skinner's seat. The AD was coming down the aisle, his jaw set as he met Mulder's inquisitive gaze. "And we have our answer," he grumbled as he passed Mulder, heading to the lavatory.

In Wichita, mass mayhem filled the airport. Luggage and stranded passengers clogged the terminals, restless screaming children clamored while parents tried to soothe or correct them. Crowded lines from at the ticket counters and phone banks where everyone received the news mirrored by the flight status monitors; all flights were canceled. Everything east of the Mississippi was shut down due to the snowstorm. And to the south ice had all but completely shut down Dallas and even Austin airports. No one would be going anywhere for quite some time.

While Skinner tried to locate rooms for the night, Mulder was on his cell phone to his mother, then Scully. His mother was disappointed and sympathetic to her son, wishing him a safe trip and the promise of a postponed Thanksgiving. But all he got from Scully was the greeting of her answering machine. Figuring she was still with her family he decided not to disturb her by trying her cell phone and went to find out how Skinner was doing.

The A.D. had done well, finding two rooms at a local hotel with an obscure name that promised little more than a bed and shower. At this point in their never-ending journey, which was all either of them needed. The prospect of finding a meal would be next on the list.

Outside, cabs slogged through a slush of snow at the curb, quickly grabbed by desperate travelers. Skinner and Mulder hustled among the crowd, waving for the cabs to no avail until they noticed the one cab sitting at the curb that seemed ignored by or turned away from by every other person.

Both men approached the vehicle, hopeful and eager. Mulder opened the door to speak to the driver and was greeted by a drift of pot smoke and the sound of low based music.

“Where to?” the driver asked, blas√© and blurry eyed.

Mulder glanced back at Skinner who winced. Did they risk it? Did they deal with it? Mulder knew they were both too tired to be choosy at this point in the night. “Tanglewood Inn.” Mulder told the driver.

“Motor Lodge.” The cabbie said.

“What?”

“It’s the Tanglewood Motor Lodge.” He explained.

Mulder nodded anxiously, “Okay, motor lodge.”

“Hop in, fellas, I’ll get you there liceity split.”

Mulder looked back at Skinner, both repeating, “liceity split.” How could they turn down such an efficient offer?

During the drive, the driver introduced himself as Fred, the soul employee of the self-owned Local Motion cab company of Wichita, Kansas proper. His passengers also learned about his native American heritage on his father’s side, a range of career changes that led to self-employment, and his lobbying efforts to legalize marijuana.

Peppered among Fred’s unending dialogue were the affably curious questions about what brought Skinner and Mulder to Wichita. Neither of them admitted they were federal agents, but Skinner did request Fred put out his doobie due to his “asthma.” They wouldn’t likely get a contact high or get enough in their system to fail a random drug test, but their clothes were going to smell of the cabby’s odorous recreational use, not to mention the obvious danger his impairment posed while driving.

Miraculously deposited safely in front of the Tanglewood Motor Lodge, Mulder gave the rundown exterior a sweeping glance, remarking, “I don’t know about you, sir, but I have the munchies.”

Skinner just shook his head, wordless, and started into the lobby. The man was holding it together, but Mulder didn’t know just how much more he could handle before he lost his cool. There was quite a laundry list of scaling annoyances, and some of which Mulder was nearly certain he wasn’t aware of but was certain were contributing to Skinner’s lava dome. Mt. Skinner was building toward an eruption.

The lobby presented a shabby atmosphere, adorned with worn-out, threadbare carpeting and a collection of mismatched furniture showing signs of age. Mulder, however, couldn't help but think that it wasn't all bad, as his eyes caught sight of a sign proudly advertising the availability of pay-per-view movies. Despite having experienced worse conditions before, that small detail offered hope that the night might be bearable.

In the corner, a group of people had congregated around a television, their expressions concerned as they watched the weather report. The map displayed on the screen depicted a winter storm engulfing the mid to eastern two-thirds of the United States.

Meanwhile, those not fixated on the television were on their phones, engaged in conversations with airlines or, from snippets of dialogue Mulder caught, calling other hotels and motels in the area.

Amid the commotion, Skinner and Mulder made their way toward the front desk. The night manager appeared overwhelmed by the surge of people seeking to check-in, multitasking with a phone pressed against his ear and shoulder, desperately informing someone that the hotel was fully booked.

As the night manager hung up and turned to greet the agents, Mulder's cell phone rang. Seeing that it was Scully calling, he motioned to Skinner, and waved his phone briefly, saying, “Scully.”

"You got your turkey stuffed and now you're calling to gloat?" Mulder immediately teased as he answered her call.

"Actually not," she announced. "I haven’t made it back. The weather shut everything down and my plane was diverted."

"Ours too."

"Ours?" Scully wondered.

"Yeah, Skinner and I were on the same flight out of Salt Lake. We're checking into a hotel in Wichita right now."

"Wichita? I'm in Wichita."

Mulder grinned. "No way," he said and laughed. "Have you got a place to stay?"

"Yes, this little rundown place called the Tangle Inn."

“Tanglewood Motor Lodge,” he corrected, emphasizing ‘motor lodge’ a laugh.

"You're here?" she asked in disbelief.

"Sir," Mulder drew Skinner’s attention, putting his cell phone away.

"What is it?" he asked, turning just in time to see agent Scully rounding the corner in the hallway. He frowned looking at Mulder.

"Her flight was rerouted here," he explained. “Now it’s a party.”

"Sir," Scully greeted her superior as she walked up to them, appearing less entertained with the situation than Mulder.

"Agent Scully," Skinner said with his customary nod of acknowledgment and sounding jaded.

"Have you gotten your rooms yet?"

"Room," Skinner corrected. "I asked for two to be held on my credit card when I called from the airport, but apparently there was a misunderstanding." Skinner raised his voice as he finished to assure the manager heard him. Scully turned to Mulder grimacing. "A double, right?" he asked the manager firmly.

"Oh, yes," the man assured him and smiled nervously.

"When did you get in?" Mulder asked her.

"About two hours ago. I keep checking on the weather and flights, but it doesn't look like it's going to get any better before it gets worse. Everything's canceled."

Mulder nodded. "I don't think we'll be getting out of here anytime soon."

"They've got pay-per-view, Mulder" Scully said, smiling. "You'll make it."

"All right," Skinner suddenly said from behind them. With the room key gripped in one hand and his carry-on clutched in the other he headed off for the room, leaving Mulder and Scully to trail along in his irritable wake.

Mulder accepted the fact that this stay with Skinner was probably not going to be a pleasant experience. Not only had the man been the co-head of a farcical government operation in the bitter cold of BFE Utah, but he had also now been rerouted into BFE Kansas and was facing an undetermined stay in a low rent hotel.

At least Scully was there, Mulder thankfully thought. Her company would be invaluable during this side-tracking into the ultimate travel nightmare, sharing a room with one’s boss.

Skinner unlocked and opened the door to room 138, started in then stopped abruptly. Mulder stepped around his superior, stopping abruptly as well when seeing the room—and more specifically—very specifically—the bed. The one bed.

Mulder glanced at Skinner who just stood there with frustration tightening every muscle in his face except for his mouth, which had gone sort of slack. This would be interesting, Mulder mused walking the rest of the way in putting his bag down. Was this what sent the man over the edge?

The AD just stood there, forcing Scully to step around him. “Is everything all right—” she broke off, looking at the bed.

"Which side do you want?" Mulder asked with forced innocence as he went to inspect the Magic Fingers machine on the bed stand.

Scully pursed her mouth trying not to smile or worse, laugh. "I thought this was a double room?" she managed to say.

"Double bed," Mulder stated glancing up from the Magic Fingers. "Single room. You know this says it feels like a thousand little fingers caressing your spine?"

Skinner worked his mouth soundlessly a couple of times before he went straight for the phone.

As the AD called the office Mulder picked something up from the pillow. "Complimentary mints," he said turning to Scully, holding it up for her to see. "Place can't be all that bad with this kind of service."

"This is Walter Skinner in room 138," he grumbled into the phone. "I was under the impression this room was a double...

Scully and Mulder exchanged glances; Mulder shrugged one shoulder.

"I… I’d offer to switch, but I only have one bed in my room," she offered, apologetically.

"But we need a double room, not a double bed..." Skinner scornfully informed the person on the other end of the phone line.

"I'm, uh, going to go back to my room now," Scully told them as she backed out the door. "Let you two get settled."

Mulder nodded, popping the mint in his mouth. "Have you eaten yet?" he asked around the confection. Scully shook her head glancing at Skinner with a little grimace.

"You want to grab something in a while, I saw a place across the road?"

"Uh, sure," she answered as Skinner audibly hung up the phone.

"This is it," he announced going to his bag. Opening it he began to rifle through his things. "There's no other rooms available."

Scully was experiencing the growing uneasy feeling that she was about to find herself a buffer zone between these two men. She gave Mulder a cautioning nod of her head before she began to retreat once more. "I'm going now," she announced, backing out the door, shutting it quickly behind herself.

She stood there a second, listening. For what she wasn’t exactly certain, but there was a vague anticipation of… She shook her head. They were grown men; they could figure this out on their own. They didn’t need her mediation.

----------- X ----------

Battling the miserable weather, Mulder and Scully trudged through heavy snow and across the slushy pavement, their clothes, and shoes ill-suited for the conditions. Their travel plans had not included dealing with any of this mess. Their destination, Risky's, a steak and roadhouse establishment, seemed fittingly named after their treacherous journey across the highway. Despite the unfavorable weather and it being the eve of Thanksgiving, the pair were just grateful the place was open.

The place wasn’t exactly packed, but busy and lively enough to create a moderate level of noise. The crack of billiard balls colliding and the friendly banter from a dart game blended with the twang of a country song playing on the jukebox in one corner.

Taking their seats in the center of the dining area, which doubled as the bar, Mulder and Scully paid little attention to the curious gazes they received upon entering the establishment. As they glanced around, both recognized faces from the inn, fellow stranded travelers who seemed cautious, fatigued, and guarded.

A woman in an apron came over from the bar, greeting them as she handed out menus. "Eve’nin'," she said, "how you doin’?"

"Fine, thank you," Scully answered noticing Mulder's gaze fluxing between the menu and a woman seated at the bar.

"Can I get you something to drink?" the waitress asked and pulled a note pad from her apron pocket as if expecting a huge order. Scully found it amusing considering there were only the two of them.

"I'll have a beer," Mulder said, surprising Scully.

"Well, what kind, hon," the waitress asked. "We've got lots of it and all different kinds."

"Heineken."

"Are you sure?" The waitress asked him.

Mulder chuckled. “Pretty sure. Do people send their beer back often around here?”

“You’d be surprised what people do around here.” She said sounding tired and disgusted as she turned to Scully. "What about you?"

"I'll have a root beer."

The waitress shook her head. "Nope, no root beer. It’s either coke or Dr. Pepper."

Scully hesitated, taken aback, then, "Uh’ll have coke then," she decided.

"You two know what you want to eat?"

Mulder also hesitated, looking at Scully, concerned for what kind of response ordering food would bring from the woman. "What's the special?" he asked.

"We've got a six-once steak with two side orders of either confetti rice, corn, mash potatoes, country fries or okra." Mulder grimaced at the last side item which did not go unnoticed by the woman. She paused looking at him scornfully, finishing with, "and Texas toast.”

He looked at her with deliberate seriousness. "Texas toast. We're not in Kansas anymore?" The waitress stared back at him with a barely contained tolerance that reminded him of… “Are you married or dating – and the reason I ask is not based on my interest, but that I think you would get along with a friend of ours.” Mulder told the woman with a brief nod to Scully. “In fact, he’ll be joining us shortly—”

Scully jutted her jaw, looking at him urgently, and mouthing, “stop.”

“I’m married, thank you.” She interrupted him, unamused, and looked at Scully. “Rice?”

"Yes, please." Scully answered.

The woman scribbled on her pad, then shot Mulder a daring glare, "and how ‘bout you, Toto?"

“Yes, thanks.”

As the waitress turned and marched away from the table Scully leaned forward, addressing Mulder. “You know, if our food isn’t tainted after the way you irritated her, I will be amazed.”

“I am not taking responsibility for the food here being tainted.”

 “Mulder,” Scully began, almost pleading, “don’t start pushing buttons when Skinner gets here.”

“What?” He laughed in disbelief.

“You know what I mean.” she declared. “I’m tired—we’re all tired, and… you know what I mean.”

“But then may I ask, what is the purpose of buttons if not to push them, Scully?” he questioned. “Testing human nature— the essential boundaries of the psychological predisposition and acceptance of humor in its purest form – mockery and chiding-- that exposes a level of intellect and comprehension upon which comrade is established and solidifies a quintessential depth of understanding.”

Scully looked back at him, she was too tired for this. “Are you stoned?”

He laughed. “That,” he answered with a defined nod, “is not outside the realm of possibilities.”

“What?” Scully confusedly began to question him and was distracted by Skinner walking up to the table.

"Have you ordered yet?" he wondered taking his coat off.

"Yes, unfortunately," Scully answered.

"Unfortunately?" Skinner questioned the statement as he sat down. "Is there a problem?"

"You'll see," Mulder said seeing the waitress heading back with their drinks.

Noticing a third person now at the table the waitress hesitated an instant before continuing over to them, looking troubled. "One more, huh?" she grumbled, sitting the drinks down hard and pulling out her pad again. "Would you like something to drink?" She asked Skinner.

Anticipating the worst, Scully began toying with the straw in her drink while Mulder just put his forehead in his hand. She knew Skinner wasn’t going to be in any mood for antics, and she anticipated the worst out of Mulder who seemed to be in one of his own moods. Everyone was in a mood.

"What's on tap?" Skinner asked casually, as if he hadn't heard the woman's tone at all.

"Coors Light, Bud, Bud Light-"

"Coors," he answered before she finished.

"I said Coors Light is what we have, do you want a bottle?"

Mulder coughed, lamely disguising his laugh.

Skinner was silent for a second or two as he studied the sour expression on the woman's face, then said firmly, "No. I'll have the light."

"Anything to eat, our special's a six-once steak with the choice of two side orders of either confetti rice, corn, mash potatoes, country fries, or okra," she paused, looking at Mulder. "And Texas toast."

"What's the chance of getting a baked potato?"

"Bad," she flatly answered Skinner.

Mulder and Scully looked at each other, wide eyed.

Skinner took a breath. Mulder and Scully held their breath.

Then, "All right, " Skinner told the waitress, repositioning himself in the chair. "The steak with just the toast."

"Just the toast?"

"Just the toast."

"Just the toast it is," she agreed and turned to walk away.

Silence settled over the table, filled by the sound of the juke box playing and the folks carrying on in the bar. Each of them internally processing the day, the week, and the present. Grateful that they had found a place that was open late on Thanksgiving Eve, but the unspoken question still stood as for where in the days to come they would be.

Mulder gave thought to an insightful commentary their current situation but decided to take a draw on his hard-won beer instead and check out the woman at the bar once again. Scully stirred the ice around in her drink, praying for peace and tranquility in the unforeseeable future, be it the next few minutes, hours, or days. As for Skinner, his equanimity was at premium.

Their meals were, after the problematic interaction with the waitress, served hot and consumable. Although, Scully did give her food a modicum of extra attention before digging in after Mulder’s taunting of the underserving waitress. When all was said and done, they shared companionable moments of small talk about the weather and their chances of getting a flight back to D.C., and eventually, it was agreed that their meals weren't, as Skinner had appropriately stated, "anything to write home about.”

Scully agreed, but Mulder had wolfed his food down too quickly to have noticed the lackluster quality of the cuisine, besides, he'd been preoccupied by the glances the young woman at the bar had started throwing his way. She couldn't have been alone, he had thought. Not the way she looked. She wasn't stunning, but she wasn't plain either. Dressed casually in sweater and slacks, with dark short hair and huge brown eyes cradled in generous lashes, she had a striking air about her.

Mulder had surveyed the bar and saw no one who seemed to be with her. She was seated next to two trucker types, but they were apparently too deeply involved in their own conversation to have noticed the lovely lady seated near them.

"I think I'd like another soda," Scully commented glancing around for the testy waitress. "If she ever comes back around..."

Mulder heard opportunity knocking and jumped for it. "I'll take care of it," he said standing. "Would you like another beer, sir?" he asked Skinner.

Skinner started to say no, he wanted to go back to the room and just forget the whole day- the last six of them. But then thinking of the last six days... "Yes," he answered, then changed his mind, "no, a bourbon."

Mulder headed to the bar as the jukebox began choking out another country song.

*"There was a time, I could drink my fears away,

drown out all the heartaches that hurt me night and day..."*

Silence fell over the table. Scully toyed with the straw in her empty glass, glancing at the AD who seemed to be studying the place in a discriminating fashion, his gaze returning to the dart game.

"Do you play?" Scully asked him.

He looked at her, as if taken off guard by her observing him. "I used to," he said and looked toward the bar. Mulder had saddled up there next to the young woman he'd been watching through dinner. So much for those drinks, he thought off handily.

"I threw darts a few times in college," Scully offered conversationally. "I think almost anyone who's stepped inside a typical college bar has."

*"They knew my name at every bar in town,

and they knew all of the reasons why I was coming 'round..."*

“That sounds about right," Skinner responded to Scully, sounding distracted.

She turned to see what he was looking at, finding Mulder talking to the young woman he'd been surreptitiously ogling all through dinner. So much for the drinks, she thought and started to turn back and inadvertently locked gazes with a grizzled looking man at the end of the bar, who grinned dumbly back at her. She closed her eyes, turning the rest of the way back to the table before opening them again to see their waitress had returned.

"You folks want another round?" she asked, the smell of cigarette smoke clinging to her, which likely accounted for her sounding more pleasant than she had the entire night.

"Uh," both said in unison glancing toward the bar.

"No, not for me," Skinner finally said, and was handing the woman a credit card. “Everything at the table goes on this,” he instructed, carefully adding, “but not the bar.”

"How about you, hon?" the waitress asked Scully.

She hesitated, looking between Mulder and the grizzled man still smiling at her from the bar, then at Skinner who was pulling his wallet out. She wanted to go also, and although she felt uncomfortable about leaving Mulder here, she knew she could take care of himself. Plus, she'd just be a hindrance to his current endeavor at the bar if she did stay. "No, thank you," she decided.

While they waited, plans were put in order. “We’ll let Mulder know we’re leaving,” Skinner said.

Scully made a silent face, glancing toward the bar that Skinner noticed. He considered the reaction a second, glancing at Mulder chatting and laughing with the woman at the bar. “On second thought,” he said, “I’ll let him know now, you wait on the check and my credit card.”

“Yes,” Scully almost too quickly agreed to this decision. “I’ll… I’ll wait for the check, sir.”

Skinner made his way into the bar, approaching Mulder from behind, seeing the young woman lightly laughing and patted his arm. Skinner stepped up to them catching Mulder’s attention. He nodded to the woman in brief apology before he addressed Mulder, “We’re headed out. Dinner is on the bureau card.”

“Sir, thank you. Are your sure you and Scully won’t join me and…” he looked at the young woman, “ah, Wendy, right?” She nodded and smiled. “Yeah, okay, Wendy this is Walter Skinner – excuse me, Assistant Director Walter Skinner.”

“Oh wow, so nice to meet you, Walter.” Wendy said, reaching out to shake his hand. “Fox told me about everything you all have been through trying to travel in this weather, and I’m so sorry. You should join us and try to relax some.”

“Thank you, no, it has been a long day. I will be relaxing at the hotel.”

Mulder wasn’t paying attention to his superior and Wendy, and instead was looking around the bar and then toward the restaurant, asking Skinner, “where is Scully?”

“She’s waiting for the check.” Skinner informed him.

“All right… all right.” Mulder murmured, seeing her across the room talking with the waitress at the table.

“Mulder,” Skinner caught his attention again, “don’t stay too long, could be an early day tomorrow.”

“Understood, sir.”

----------- X ----------

Scully awoke to the sound of a television playing somewhere nearby. Groggily she glanced toward the television set in her room seeing it wasn't on, then was confused she could see it, and realized the lights were still on. She had to think for an instant about where she was. Sitting up she felt thirsty, and cold. The heat was on but in her state of undress it wasn't making much of a difference in the drafty room. Even if she'd been willing to wear her overly worn pajamas to bed, she didn't think they would have made much of a difference. Looking at the garments lying beside her travel bag she considered wearing them despite having worn them for the past six days without the opportunity to wash them once.

Still opposed to the idea, she got out of bed and went to the bathroom where she drank three glasses of water before she realized plain old water just wasn't going to do the trick.

There was a vending room just on the other side of the lobby, she remembered while looking at herself in the mirror. Leaving her room just for a drink didn't seem worth the trouble of dressing and undressing. She glanced at the reflection of her coat hanging in the closet alcove and she thought how easy it would be to just throw it on, hurry there and back. But how lazy could a person get...?

To hell with it, she decided and took the robe off. It was late and she was tired and thirsty, she justified pulling the coat on, the sheer lining chilling her bare skin.

Getting the stubborn room door open she hurried for the vending room. Coming down the hallway toward the lobby she noticed a man in a t-shirt and sweats asleep on the tacky vinyl sofa, his feet propped up on the imitation wood grain coffee table. Reaching the lobby, she realized it was AD Skinner.

She hesitated, wondering why he was here and not in the room. Judging by the magazine open across his lap he'd fallen asleep reading, but still why out here? This was undoubtedly to do with sharing the room with Mulder. Had he been pestering Skinner like she'd suspected he might? She wondered then began wrestling with whether to wake him. He couldn't be very comfortable or warm out here in this drafty lobby, she knew she wasn't. Every little chilly draft kept finding its way up under her coat.

"Sir," she gently said, sitting on the edge of the coffee table, taking the magazine from his lap. The motion of the magazine seemed to rouse him more than her words, startling him. He looked at her, then around the lobby a bit confused. "Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you," she said quietly.

He straightened up on the sofa, "what time is it?"

"After midnight," she answered, hesitating before she ventured where he wouldn't, "why are you out here?"

He looked at her. "I felt like taking a walk," he answered vaguely, sounding aggravated by the question, or more so having to answer such a question. "Why are you out here?" he countered.

"I was going to get a soda," she said glancing in the direction of the vending room.

Skinner stood and stretched a bit. "I'll go with you."

“Oh,” Scully reacted, not expecting that. “All... right.” She agreed, gathering her coat a bit tighter.

The pair headed to the vending room, where Scully quickly made her selection, finally getting the root beer she’d been craving, and followed Skinner out of the drafty room. She impatiently popped the top on the can just as the heavy door nearly hit her as it swung shut behind her. She was just about to take a sip from the can when she was suddenly pulled awkwardly backward. Looking back, she realized she was caught, the door was shut on the tail of her coat.

She turned as best she could, trying to pull free, then to open the door that was quite solidly jammed. She looked around seeing that Skinner had already started down the hall without her. She pulled on the coat, and tried the door again, and the all the while a certain undefined level of horror was beginning to build within her about this situation. Did she call him back to help, did she let him go, and hope that he totally forgot about her, and some stranger would thankfully come along to hel—

“Agent Scully?” She nearly jumped at the sound of his voice at her side. “Is there a problem?”

"Uh," she laughed, embarrassed, "my coat's caught in the door."

“What?”

“I’m stuck,” she explained.

Reaching around her he tried the door with increasing amounts of force, finding it jammed as well. "Take it off and I can get in here better."

Scully froze, mortified by his instruction.

"I, uh, I- I can't, sir," she faltered.

“What?”

“All my clothes are dirty, and…” She dropped her head in disgrace. “Just understand that I can’t.”

He looked inquisitively at her a moment before understanding washed over his ridged features.

Scully sipped at her root beer, thoroughly humiliated. She heard him exhale and didn’t know what to expect. How could she explain herself? What must he think of her?

“Stay… still,” he said, and uncomfortably maneuvered around her as best as he could, pushing the door a couple more times but couldn't get any leverage from the position he was working from. “It’s not budging.” He declared and stepped back. He looked around the hall and toward the lobby, thinking.

He could get the night manager, but he wouldn't be able to do much more than he could which wasn't much with Scully in the way. And he didn't need to see the man's face when Scully said for the second time, she wouldn't be able to take the coat off... But she was going to have to take the damned thing off, the thought harassed him.

Resigned to the awkward fact of the situation Skinner exhaled hard. "Here," he said taking his glasses off and handing them to her, "hold these."

Scully did as he said, taking his glasses from him, taken off guard and not knowing what the man had in mind until she looked around saw him take a step back and began pulling his tee shirt off. This isn’t happening, Scully thought, speechless. Why is this happening?

Skinner handed the shirt to her, taking his glasses back. "Get out of the coat and put this on," he told her brusquely, turning his back to her.

A whole new sensation of chagrin swept through her as she put her drink on the floor and unbuttoned the coat. All she wanted was a soda, not much to ask for. Neither was a clean change of sleep ware either, she agonized stepping out the coat into the chilly air.

Keeping an eye on the hall and awkwardly searching for something to preoccupy his attention, Skinner inadvertently caught sight of their reflection in the glass of the fire hose case on the wall.

Struck, he found himself respecting dominant curves and swells cast in the glass that proclaimed the statement "for emergency use only." A disturbing sense of exuberance promptly struck him, followed sluggishly by a more rational awareness of station that made him look away from the... illuminating reflection. He looked away, taking a deep settling breath to recenter his thoughts.

"Okay," Scully said as she checked the length of the tee shirt. With the sleeves nearly to her elbows and the tail falling just above her knees she was nearly lost in the black shirt that had been almost too tight on him.

Hesitantly, he turned back to the door and agent Scully. After a couple of hardy shoves, he got the vending room door open, and her coat fell to the floor.

"You don't mind if I wait to give you this back until I get in my room?" she asked, referring to the shirt and already knowing the answer.

He nodded wearily and they started toward Scully's room, hearing spectral voices and televisions through the hall and feeling a draft biting at them along the short distance. He really didn't care if he got the t-shirt back if he just got out of this suggestive state of appearance. Strolling around a hotel bare chested with a subordinate who as well was barely covered wasn't something he wanted to make a habit of doing.

Scully got the key from her coat pocket and put it in the lock, and he thought he was free. As soon as she got that door open, he was going back to the room, maybe he’d even get lucky, and Mulder wouldn't be there yet. The bothersome agent hadn't come back yet by the time Skinner could stand the confines of the room no longer and had to stretch his legs. He was surprised he'd fallen asleep so easily, he'd only sat down for a moment and then he was awakened by...

The sight of Scully shoving the door with a demure amount of force and working with the key cut off his thought. Now what, he wondered hearing the muffled sound of a television in the hall.

"This door," she declared, annoyed. "What is it with doors tonight?"

"Let me see," he said stepping up to try it just as someone rounded the corner in the hall, the person stopped abruptly drawing his attention.

Scully saw Skinner look and turned to see Mulder in the hall. He was gawking at the two of them, his expression shifting between awestruck abashment and total amusement.

"Mulder?" Scully said, startled and sounding randomly guilty.

The muffled sound of group laughter wafted into the hall from the unseen television.

An insipid grin formed on Mulder's lips finally as he started walking toward his scantily clad partner and superior. "I thought I was having all the fun across the road..." he said with the slightest of slurs. "Weird weather we're having?"

"Mulder, we- I, my coat," Scully tried to get an explanation out, breaking off the stammering as Mulder raised his hand dismissing the scene.

"Don't mind me," he said staggering a bit past them, "I'm just passing through... or maybe out... Wake me when we get to DC."

"Mulder?" Scully called to him, aggravated by his insinuation.

He kept going, shaking his head to himself as he said, "Cause I know this is the weirdest dream I've ever had…” he laughed, and drifted into half-hearted singing, “Mama told me not to come…"

Behind her, Skinner let out an intolerant breath that grazed her neck. This was an assumption of the worst kind, and this was one of those times that nothing was going to sound truthful or let alone believable.

"Forget it, Scully," he told her, shoving the obstinate door open with more force than warranted. The door swung wide open and slammed against the wall with a loud sound that made Scully flinch. "Sorry," Skinner apologized, but his voice lacked sincerity as he gestured for her to go in and followed. He tossed her coat across a chair back as he shut the door and checked the wall for damage.

Scully went straight into the bathroom. Shutting the door, she double-checked to make sure her robe was there before pulling off the T-shirt, she didn't need to find herself in another situation. It was enough that they'd been caught by, of all the people, Mulder in the hallway.

But caught, she thought pulling the shirt over her head. Caught doing what? Nothing in the least was going on to dictate the slightest bit of guilt or embarrassment. So why did she feel both in varying degrees of intensity? She wondered about it, catching the slight scent of a discreet cologne on the garment, and paused.

Unsteadily, she was suddenly aware of the fact that she was wearing a man’s T-shirt and now enjoying the heady hint of cologne on it. But this wasn't just any man and therein lied an unsettling concern for her sudden twinge of... exhilaration.

Pulling the shirt off quickly and putting her robe on, she dismissed the base thoughts, recognizing their reasons for surfacing. She was only human and a definite lack of intimacy in her life as of late couldn't help but create certain notions toward even...

"Sir," Scully said coming out of the bathroom, appearing to extend the shirt from herself as far as possible when handing it to him. "Thank you," she told him feeling secretly guilty and uncomfortable at the same instance.

Taking the shirt, he just looked at it for an instant. Scully could have sworn she saw a hint of a smile on his lips before he took his glasses off and pulled the shirt back on.

"Next time you go to the vending room, agent Scully," Skinner began, moving to the door, putting his glasses on, "try to dress more appropriately."

She started to apologize but enough was said and done, and it was better left alone.

"Good night, sir," Scully hastily said, nearly leaping at the door to let him out.

Jerking on the stubborn door she noticed him eyeing her incredulously and knew how frantic to open the door she must have appeared. She stopped, laughing at herself. "What is it with the doors tonight?" she asked herself.

"Must be the weather," he offered with a hint of astute awareness in his tone and opened the door with less zeal than she had employed.

Stepping into the hall he hesitated before closing the door, looking at her reflectively. "Good night, Dana," he at last said quietly and shut the door.

----------- X ----------

Continued in Part 2: Brief Encounters


* No infringement is intended. The characters Dana Scully, Walter Skinner, Fox Mulder and the Lone Gunmen as well as all other characters established previous to this story and used here are the creation of Chris Carter and are retained by 1013 Productions and Fox Television.

Popular posts from this blog

Complimentary Mints: Part 2 - Brief Encounters

Skinner's Briefs: Still alive and kicking