Conversation Mints 2: Rock Candy (2/3)

After a disastrous Valentine's Day, Scully and Skinner, jilted by their dates, find themselves on a midnight cruise with Skinner's friends. Skinner's drunken longtime friend goes out of control leaving them shipwrecked and stranded on a cold night. Huddled together for warmth with nothing but champagne, Skinner and Scully are forced to confront the awkward encounter months prior that tested their professional boundaries and sparked a hidden flame. As the night deepens and the champagne flows, the question remains: will their rekindled spark survive the harsh reality of morning, or will they be left adrift once again?




"Rock Candy"

by PR Chung

Robert Hunter searched the ballroom curiously as he and his wife returned to their table. "What is taking them so long?" he said bumping into the table before he plopped into his seat.

Janet rolled her eyes. "Who, Walter and Dana?" Before Robert could respond she answered herself, "They’re on the dance floor, dancing."

"Oh, no, I meant Maureen and that doctor fella. They've been gone an awfully long-"

"Give it up, Bob," she sounded disgusted with him, looking for something to wipe up the champagne he had spilt when he bumped the table. "They're not coming back."

Robert looked at her with slightly glazed eyes. "What do you mean?"

"I mean they're not coming back," she told him, snapping up a discarded napkin from across the table. "Those two were just looking for an opportunity to leave together."

"What-- how do you know that?" Robert sounded indignant. "You only just met that doctor, Janet. You can't make snap judgments about people when you only just met them. You're always jumping to these conclusions. Besides, you know, I really don't think Maureen would do something like that."

 "Really?"

 "Yes," he answered and took a swig of his champagne.

 Janet shoved the napkin she'd just unwadded toward him.

 "What, did I dribble?"

  "No! Look at what's written on this, Bob." He took it, glancing at her confused.

 "I hate to say it, but I told you so," she said and took a triumphant sip from her champagne.

* " I didn't know what day it was; you held my hand.
Warm like the month of May it was, and I'll say
it was grand!" *

"Are you sure you never took dance lessons?"

Skinner's question was immediately answered by Scully's heel coming down on his foot.

She bit at her lip, "excuse me."

"I guess I spoke too soon," he chuckled.

"You jinxed yourself," she replied feeling foolish and dizzy. And oddly, there was humming in her ears too now.

Perhaps it was too much to drink or a lack of rest, the past week had been a long one full of overtime and eye-crossing paperwork. But more than likely it was a combination of both drink and fatigue... No, she realized, it was not producing this deep hum, but rather... Skinner.

The man was humming, so low and resonant she could feel it in her chest.

She caught her breath, overwhelmed by a flashback of her and her father. The security of his embrace as he effortlessly swayed with her around the room to her fierce delight; giggles and squeals ensuing.

It was so very odd, an epiphany, that she now recognized the similarities between her father and Skinner; disciplined and driven, no-nonsense and reserved.

She hesitated in step, drawing his attention down on her.

Skinner glanced back in the direction of the table. "Perhaps we should go-"

"Yes, I should go," she interrupted.

He looked at her, finishing what he had been about to say, "back to the table."

"Oh." Scully pursed her mouth.

He looked down then to the right, anywhere but directly at her. "If you're ready, then perhaps we should say our good nights," he announced.

Scully started to nod, but she was just beginning to have a nice time, finally. She felt like kicking herself, giving him the wrong impression by assuming he was ready to leave. No! She didn't want to go, but she didn't want to stay if he wasn't. So, what now did she have to look forward to? A ride home alone in a cab with some taxi driver?

Skinner let out an audible breath looking directly at her. "You came here in Farnsworth's car?"

"Yes."

Skinner nodded and said matter-of-factly, "I’ll drive you home."

************************************

 "...Finally, you make a good suggestion. That would be a decent end to this disastrous evening." Scully and Skinner overheard Janet saying as they walked up to the table.

Seeing the two of them, Janet looked surprised. She tried to hide the napkin with the note written on it, but Skinner had already spotted it unfolded in front of her.

"You're back so soon. We thought you would dance a while longer; it looked like you were having such a wonderful time." Janet tried to sound casual.

"I believe we're going to call it a night, Janet," Skinner said pulling Scully's chair out for her. "Our guests already have, as I know you're aware of."

Janet pursed her lips, looking down at the napkin she held beneath the table.

"Terribly sorry about that, Walter." Robert apologized.

"No need for apology."

"But it is still early," Janet announced glancing at her watch, "it's only ten thirty, Walter. And Robert did just come up with a fabulous way to end this evening in style."

"And what would that be?"

"Going out on the boat," Robert answered, delighted with his idea.

Skinner looked skeptical. "Don't you think it's too late to be doing that?"

"It's never too late to take the boat out." Robert scoffed.

"What kind of a boat is it?" Scully asked, her attitude shifting from doleful to enthusiastic interest. Little did she know how Robert loved to talk about this boat.

"A thirty-four-footer," he said with a gleam in his eye, "an aft cabin. It's the greatest thing having the topside just off the bridge, none of that running up and down the stairs. I feel like I'm navigating my living room around the lake..."

"Yes, well," Janet interrupted, laying a hand on his arm, knowing how he could go on and on about it if he was allowed to. She turned to Scully, "You'll see for yourself, Dana, as long as you two join us. I think a little jaunt across the lake would be a nice conclusion to the evening."

"What lake?" Scully wondered.

"Triadelphia," Skinner told her, “About an hour's drive."

"Come on," Robert said to Skinner, "it's not that long to drive up there."

Skinner considered this. "It’s about forty minutes."

"What do you say?" Janet pressed.

Skinner considered Robert a moment. Could he handle the boat? Was there too much of a glint in his eyes? Perhaps too much flush to his face? Had he had too much to drink? There was no question of how much was "too much" when going out on the water, but he had been out there with Robert when almost a half case of beer would go in an afternoon and the man stayed as straight as a post.

Skinner glanced at Scully, better judgment shaking its head at Robert's boating idea, but then there was her. Her evening had gone about as well as his, and it looked like this idea had brightened her sprits. Honestly, he thought, the suggestion did sound tempting, but he would have rather it been his boat alone to invite her out on a midnight cruise. His imagination drifted on a lazy wave of whiskey… Surrounded by water, there would be clever conversation motivating a casual closeness, then the furtive brushing of arms and hands, caresses passed over contours and curves accentuated by the clinging style of her dress...

Okay, he stopped the line of thought; perhaps it was best to be with others... "Would you like to?" he asked Scully, his mouth dry.

It looked as though she thought about it for a nano-second before the smile crossed her mouth. "Yes," she answered, first looking at him and then the Hunters, "I would love to."

***************** ****************

"Um, how long, exactly have you been... boating?" Scully asked Robert with visible discomfort. She was a tad suspicious it hadn't been long, and that in conjunction with his drinking was not giving her slightest sense of serenity. She had kept the drinking to a minimum but still felt like a Beck song was playing on repeat in her head.

"Oh, gosh, nearly twenty years now- whoops!" Robert interrupted himself, side stepping the liquor sloshing from his glass.

Aside from the fact that she didn't believe she had ever actually heard a person use the term 'whoops' until now, Scully now chalked up Robert's ineptitude to too much drinking. She glanced over at Skinner who was already standing up to address his inebriated friend at the helm.

"Robert, maybe we should take it back in now," Skinner suggested smoothly.

"Her, Walter," the man corrected, "a person always refers to the ship as her.'"

"Yes, well, this is still just a boat, dear," Janet told her husband brashly, not exactly straight herself. "And it's time to take it back in."

Again, Scully found herself just beginning to have a good time when it had to end. It was for the best, though, without a doubt. They had been out on Triadelphia for a little over an hour and perhaps drinking far too much on top of what had already been consumed at the hotel. Especially Janet and Robert; her comments to her husband had become increasingly curt and indiscreet while he had become more unstable on his feet and less accepting about what she had to say to him. Scully had the same uneasy feeling she'd gotten when watching 'Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf' the first time and actually the second time as well. Unfortunately, she found herself cast in the film this time, and knowing the potential ugliness about to erupt before her.

This was all rather unfortunate because aside from Robert and Janet's increasing disrespect for each other, Scully was enjoying Skinner's company very much. His conversation had been charming, much like that he had shared with her at the hotel, as well as a casualness to his manner that had closed a great deal of space between them on the deck. But he seemed distracted, directing an air of reserve toward the Hunters, which made her suspect that he regretted coming out on the boat; that he had considered the issue of how much everyone had drank and the possible dangers of going out on the lake afterward.

"Janet, please," Robert called back at her, combative, "don't say it's just a boat. She's the most- whoa!"

The craft lurched abruptly, knocking Janet to the floor, and nearly sent Skinner over the side. Scully's heart jumped into her throat. "That's it," she heard Skinner growl under his breath as he righted himself.

"Okay, that's it," Janet repeated sharply.

"We need to slow down," Scully told the man as she moved from her seat next to him at the controls.

"When the hell did they put that buoy there?" Robert wondered to himself, heedless of Scully's instruction to slow down.

"Don't those usually mean to take caution?" Skinner called out as he helped Janet steady herself.

"Robert, slow down, now," Scully sounded breathless, alarmed as she insisted, straining to see ahead.

"Oh, come on, we're hardly moving at all," he dismissed her, pushing the throttle forward. The increased speed pushed Scully and knocked Skinner and Janet off balance. "Now, we're moving," he called out and laughed as Janet fell back onto the bench seat.

"Slow it down, Robert," Skinner snapped back at him.

"Oh, keep your pants on. I've got it under control."

"Slow down," Scully told him urgently, latching onto the console, "this is dangerous. Please, slow it down."

"Would you for once listen, Robert," Janet shouted, trying to get back up from the bench seat. "You never listen to anyone..."

"All right," Robert called out, craning his head back to look at her. "I have had just about enough of that kind of thing out you tonight."

"And what kind of thing is that, the truth?"

"Robert," Scully pointed, urging him to turn back to watch the water.

He waved her back like a pesky insect, focusing again on Janet. "No, this barking. You've been yapping at me since we stepped foot on this deck."

"Robert, please focus and slow this thing down," Scully tried again, deciding to simply take the controls away from him.

"What? What? It's all right, Dana..." he refused to let her.

"I haven't been barking at you," Janet barked back at him.

"And you wonder why I never let you get one of those little Yorkies- it's because you already sound like one!"

Janet's mouth went slack. "What?"

"Yap, yap, yap! Yap, yap-"

"Knock it off," Skinner boomed marching over to Robert and Scully, "stop this nonsense and slow this thing-"

"Look out!" Scully shouted, grabbing the controls, knocking Robert off balance and out of the way.

Dead ahead, illuminated in the headlight, a cluster of rocks jutted out from a small island in the water.

"Hold on," she yelled cranking the wheel hard, pulling back on the throttle.

Her attempt was futile. The mid-sized motorboat’s starboard side smashed against the knot of rocks, throwing everyone to the deck. Chairs skittered across the deck and toppled over with the champagne bottles that were rolling around and clattering against each other.

The sound of rushing water was immediate.

"We crashed," Robert said, sounding and looking stunned.

"Is anyone hurt?" Scully groaned lifting herself up from the deck.

"No," Skinner and Janet replied, Robert just stared into space.

"Scully, are you all right?" Skinner asked.

"yes, fine," she answered looking at Robert. "Are you hurt?"

He didn't answer. Instead, he just repeated, stunned, "we crashed."

"Someone get on the radio for help," Janet instructed as she pulled herself up from the floor and onto the bench seat once again.

Robert didn't move from his cross-legged position on the deck.

Disgusted, Scully huffed at the man's inaction and crawled to the radio. "Mayday, mayday," she called out to anyone who was listening, "this is the Trivial Pursuit, we are taking on water..."

"Where are the vests?" Skinner questioned looking around the deck, throwing open cabinets and lockers. "Janet, is there a raft?"

"Here, I'm sitting on the locker," Janet announced moving to open the locker which doubled as a seat.

"Mayday, mayday," Scully continued, slapping at the radio, "this is the Trivial Pursuit, Triadelphia lake- Damnit!"

"What is it?" Skinner asked pausing from lugging out the raft long enough to look back at her.

"The radio is out!"

"The batteries..." Robert muttered and started crawling toward the cabin hatch. Opening the door, he looked down into the cabin, seeing water gushing throughout. "She's going down..."

"Vests, are there life vests?" Skinner asked again as he wrestled the life raft out of the storage locker.

"Here," Scully called out over the sound of rushing water, holding up the vests.

"We should have been wearing these to start with," Skinner grumbled grabbing one to hand to Janet then another for himself.

"Too late now to worry about what we should have been doing," Scully yelled purposely in Robert's direction.

Robert Hunter looked around them, stilled stunned, “we crashed.”

************************************

Water lapped against the rocks, Scully shivered, and Skinner fumed as he listened to the Hunters arguing in circles around the rocks he and Scully were marooned on. Sometimes closer, sometimes farther away, but none the same they were still going in circles in what had turned out to be a two-man raft.

Everything had happened so quickly that Skinner never had the opportunity to consider options, let alone argue for Scully to have taken the second spot in the raft with Janet. Instead, Robert and Janet had jammed themselves into the tiny dinghy, promising to send help back as soon as they got to shore.

"...it's all your fault, showing off like some teenager," Janet's shrill voice drifted out of the darkness.

"I was only trying to have some fun. Now, please, shut the hell up before I..."

Skinner couldn't make out what the threat had been. He didn't strain to hear the rest either, he'd heard enough.

"At least he said please," Scully murmured over her arm that was propped atop her knees.

"We should have confiscated that raft."

She looked at Skinner. "It was their boat."

"It was also their fault it sank." He reminded her, watching her take her vest off.

"So, by default," she paused, shivering as she padded the rocks with the vest, "we should have commandeered their life raft?"

Skinner released a breath of resignation, watching her make a seat of the life vest, looking very much like she knew what she was doing.

She did to a certain degree; she had been here before-- not here, of course -- but in this situation, with Mulder when he had been chasing the legend of Big Blue in Georgia. Their boat had sunk thanks to her unpolished navigational skills, and they ended up marooned on a rock in the freezing cold- but only a few feet from shore as it turned out. Only, that was not the case this time. She squinted into the darkness; she and Skinner were very much "out there." At least this bunch of rocks was more actually a tiny island, unlike what she and Mulder had been stuck on.

Scully reseated herself on her on the life vest, and Skinner didn't think what she had done was such a bad idea. It wasn't as though the vests were offering them any warmth, he thought, taking off his own vest. Perhaps if the things were dry, if he and Scully were dry... But they weren't. They were soaked and the wind was beginning to blow. At least there were a couple of frail bushy saplings clinging to a sparse covering of soil, angling steeply toward the water just behind the more even area where he and Scully were hunkered down on. If they were lucky, these puny things would offer some obstruction to the wind.

Taking off the vest, Skinner was eyeing the paltry landscape of their unfamiliar environment when he caught sight of Scully leaning forward as if she was about to tumble back into the water.

"Hey," he called out, moving to grab her. She sat back up before he could catch her arm, holding up a bottle of champagne she'd retrieved from a cooler bobbing in the water. It was only one of the many things from the boat that were floating around the area.

He eyed it, saying after a moment, "you didn't happen to see a space heater floating by?"

"At least there's this," she responded to the sarcastic remark.

He plopped down heavily; feeling excessively disgusted with the situation as he again heard the sound of the Hunters fighting in the distance.

"They're over there now," Scully jabbed her thumb to the left.

Skinner grunted, taking the champagne from her. "We should have taken the raft," he grumbled uncorking the bottle and offering Scully the first drink.

She looked at the bottle, considering the absurd politeness of his offer of the first drink. "We should have gone home," she corrected him sourly, taking the bottle.

He glanced at her and nodded, looking out into the darkness, listening to the vague arguing in the distance. "We should have never left home..."

************************************

Still wet, but warmer by the time they had polished off half the bottle, Skinner's attitude had improved significantly. "Sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip..." the Assistant Director recited while waiting his turn at the champagne.

Scully didn't bat an eye, only passed him the bottle picking up where he had left off. "A trip that started from this tropic port, aboard this tiny ship..."

"The weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was tossed..."

"If not for the courage of the fearless crew the minnow would be lost..."

"The minnow would be lost," they said in unison.

After a long pause, Scully wondered, "what's the rest?"

Skinner thought about it a beat, hummed to himself a bit before shaking his head.

"I think we missed an entire verse," she announced, taking the champagne back.

"Hmm," he murmured.

Only the sound of water lapping against the rocks and the faint hint of arguing from somewhere in the darkness filled the space between the two of them.

"They're over there now," Skinner motioned straight ahead.

Scully listened for a moment, catching only the slightest hint of bickering. She shook her head, wasn't this the perfect end to an even more perfect evening? She thought hunching her shoulders forward, tucking her legs up closer to her chest. It had looked fairly hopeful there for a while at the hotel, perhaps the start of a harmlessly romantic evening with a man who was interesting and polite, and sensual.

Then, for a while, before the Hunters began biting at each other, there had been several moments when she and Skinner had made seemingly unbreakable eye contact. Their gazes locked and she had been certain that her eyes confessed a universe of sensations she was finally feeling again.

Scully edged her eyes sideways to look at Skinner. He now looked as miserable as she felt, his jaw held tightly; maybe to keep his teeth from chattering, but more than likely because he was burned up over this whole fiasco. She had pressed her chin into her arms to keep her teeth from chattering, but the effort was beginning to fail.

Warm socks. She could have been curled up on the sofa with big, thick, warm socks on, watching a movie and drinking something other than champagne. Warm socks...Yes, that was the primary thought on her mind now, she mused glancing down at her bare feet and legs, replacing all the slightest of whimsical, romantic notions contrived by champagne under star lit skies.

Tucking her legs up closer to her chest she tried not to shiver.

"How did you end up with Farnsworth?" Skinner asked unexpectedly as he handed over the champagne to take off his tux jacket.

Scully opened and closed her mouth a couple of times, completely taken aback by first, the question, and then the reason for him to be taking his jacket off.

She stole a glance as he peeled the jacket off, exposing the white damp tux shirt clinging to his well-defined chest and muscular arms.

"You know I could ask the same of you about Maureen," she turned the table as he moved close to her, lowering the jacket over her shoulders. The garment was wet but held an odd warmth from his body heat, a strange sensation but l it was better than just the sleeveless dress.

"Fair," Skinner said settling back down, "but I asked first."

"Mulder was right," she muttered and took a draw on the champagne bottle, "Frohike probably would have been a more interesting date. Goat skins and all."

"He asked you out?" Skinner sounded confused.

She laughed. "No. No, I was referring to something Mulder said about the true meaning of Valentine’s Day. Fertility rites and young men dancing around in goat skin thongs chasing off wolves and taking young women..." she hesitated, feeling his stare. She looked at him, the picture of naiveté. "The erotic ancient Roman ritual of Lupercalia."

Skinner turned to look out into the darkness. "Why am I not surprised."

"Because," she said wriggling, trying to reposition the label in her dress, "we've come to expect such eccentricities."

"Thongs?" He said quite suddenly.

"Excuse me?"

"What's the point?"

Catching on, Scully shrugged. "No panty lines," she enlightened him, indifferently.

"If panty lines are the greatest problem in a person's life, then they're doing pretty well."

She thought about his observation for a while before agreeing with a nod, handing over the champagne. "Panty lines and what check design to choose."

She sighed and hung her head, a misty pool of champagne clouding her thoughts, allowing the oddest of things to mingle in her mind. Erotic, ancient rituals conducted by firm, toned men frolicking around bon fires, trim silhouettes broken only by the unfinished edges of their loin cloths. Moving from among the fervent revelry, conspicuous by confident mannerisms and prepossessing stature, a man drew her attention, demanded it.

Harsh shadows cast by savage fires guarded his face and strengthened the bold contours of his athletic frame as he moved toward her in this notably unique notion. As he came to her, waves of knowledge washed over her, understanding that he would take her, consume her in a blaze of glorious pleasure.

She wanted to make light of the dark, see beyond the severe shadows, see this man's identity. But, sight unseen, she knew who approached her within the safety of this private vision. A sensual man who she only recently realized as one who stirred her like no other.

With incomparable light allowed by her resignation, Walter Skinner stepped into the light of the fires, studying her with wanton intent gleaming in his dark eyes. His bare chest heaving and covered in a glistening layer of perspiration, his arms held at his sides as though with the last threads of control. She traced the trim contour of his stomach, her eyes tracing the line of his hips as it dipped into the band of a lean pair of briefs--

Wait-- What?

That's enough. Scully shook her head, blinking her eyes several times. There was just something very wrong about envisioning your superior in his... Wait a minute, she didn't have to Invision Skinner in his briefs, she had been there, done that. Well, not exactly done that... oh, but...

"The mate was a mighty sailing man, the skipper brave and sure," she suddenly broke into song, drawing only peripheral attention from Skinner. "Five passengers set sail that day for a three-hour tour, a three-hour tour..."

Her rendition of the theme song faded as she wriggled against the distraction of the label in her dress; the weight of Skinner jacket had pressed it into her back, and it was driving her nuts.

"What's wrong?" Skinner wondered, watching her squirm.

"No, it's the label in my dress."

He watched her fidget for a minute or two before reaching out to lift the jacket away from her back. "Just pull the thing out, would you?" he instructed, faintly annoyed.

"I would if I could, but I can't reach it."

He let out an exasperated breath. "Where is it?" he asked, hooking his fingers in the collar of the dress, pulling it away from her neck.

Scully jumped at both the abrupt move and the cold of his fingers against her skin.

"Sorry," he apologized pulling his hands back to rub them together and breath on them, all the time his eyes fixed on the fall of her neck and the tendrils of damp hair dangling from her once tidy hairstyle.

"Where is it?" he asked again, reaching into the collar with warmed fingers.

His fingers brushing against the back of her neck set every nerve ablaze. "Uh," she was feeling lightheaded as she reached around her back to point, "it's about here."

Skinner stared down at the area she was pointing at. It was a great deal lower than he had assumed it would be. This label wasn't coming out by simply reaching down the collar... Unzipping was going to be required.

He cleared his throat, no longer feeling the cold. "You'll have to unzip this some before I can reach that- it- the label."

"And-- it's just too cold for that," Scully gibbered, yanking the jacket back up around herself, refusing to open the door to a dangerous opportunity created of champagne and completed by poor judgment.

Skinner sat back down hearing what he thought were the Hunters bickering in the distance. He shook his head reaching for the champagne. "I think we're going to be here a while," he declared before taking a swig with all the verve of a rummy slogging through a dark alley.

"I think I would have complained a half hour ago."

He looked at her, eyes a little glassy. "What's the difference between now and then?"

"I could feel my feet then," she said and tucked her nose back down behind her arms that she had propped atop her knees.

Skinner glanced at her feet seeing she had lost her shoes somewhere during this misadventure. Attractive, yes, but they hadn't been much to start with, yet they would have still offered some protection against the cold.

His eyes drifted from her bare feet up the measure of her legs; full, well-turned calves curving into smooth thighs partially bared by the hiking of her skirt. Hastily he looked away, refusing a reply to reawakening desires he thought he'd put behind him months ago.

Taking a gulp of crisp air, he straightened himself, denying time to those thoughts. "Here," he said handing her the champagne bottle then moved to take his jacket from around her shoulders, "let's try something..."

"What...?" Scully asked, her voice raspy.

"Put the jacket over your legs and feet," he told her doing so.

"But what about...?"

She saw that he was attempting to be suave, even debonair, but there was an embarrassing amount of awkwardness to his actions caused by alcohol.

"Shh," he hushed her, scooting around behind her back.

Oh no, this is it, she thought feeling his arms coming around her from behind, how could she resist this? It didn't matter how she did it, she just had to. She had to keep in mind how insane this situation was that they were in; the cold air, their wet clothes, her bare feet, no real hope of being pulled off this rock for who knew how long - maybe not until morning - and none of it mattered for the moment. Only his touch, the warmth of his body, meager as it was through her wet dress, still she could feel him against her.

She shivered.

"You're still shivering," he said, pulling her closer against his chest. "Better?"

She swallowed, grasping at the last threads of a steady voice. "I... I can't complain."

"Good."

They sat like that for a very long time, very quiet, very still. Scully listened to the even sound of his breath feeling his chest rise and fall against her back, enjoying the closeness and relishing the warmth.

"You never answered my question," he said close to her ear.

Scully hesitated, affected by his breath grazing her neck. "You didn't answer mine, either."

"Again, I asked you first."

She thought about it for a moment, how had she ended up with Farnsworth? No, she didn't want to think about that right now. All she wanted to do was enjoy this moment because God knew it was the best part of the whole evening so far... so far.

"He asked me out, and I said 'yes,' and that is, as you put it, how I 'ended up' with him."

Skinner looked thoughtful, then, "So, any man asks you out and you just say yes?"

Scully twisted, glancing back at him. What he had said and what he was fishing for were two very different things.

"And Maureen?"

Her turn had put them even closer to one another. Her eyes were clear, spellbinding. And despite all they had been through wearing at her appearance, she looked radiant, truly beautiful and sensual beyond measure. His breath was captured, his chest constricted, his thoughts cluttered by judicious reasoning battling against instinct and indiscriminate want.

"I was cornered." Skinner confessed, his eyes darting away from hers. "It was an unavoidable arrangement."

Scully felt the muscles in his arms bunching up; his whole body was tensing against her. Was this line of questioning making him uncomfortable? Perhaps he didn't want to think about Maureen as much as she didn't want to think about Farnsworth.

"So you didn't ask her...?"

He was already shaking his head, frowning hard. "No," he declared, "never in a million years," he paused, thinking for a moment. "She offered nothing of interest to me."

"She’s attractive," Scully observed, feeling like fishing herself now.

 He shrugged. "In her own way.”

“Oh, come on—”

“No,” he interrupted her, “All women are attractive in their own way. So, Farnsworth,” he shifted,” He’s no Quasimodo, I noticed."

"Beauty is skin deep," she declared. "Not really my taste, anyway."

"Intelligent, though, I’m sure."

Scully shook her head. "Pedantic."

Skinner chewed on that one for a moment, amused. "Pedantic, huh?"

"Yes, very," she said beginning to giggle.

Skinner was chuckling, too. "Then why would you go out with him?"

Scully's giggles drifted away, and she answered, turning her eyes up to his again. “I was bored,” She admitted.

He looked at her, considering her an instant before a wholly hopeless impulse overwhelmed him shifting his focus from her watchful eyes to her lips.

Hesitantly at first then with more urgency they began to move together, bridging the distance between their lips...

* "...if I fall shy at all..." *

Scully's smooth brow creased as she looked into his eyes intently. "I hear music..." she told him.

Skinner listened, brows furrowing.

* "... com'on, baby, finish what ya' started..." *

 "So… do... I," he slowly replied, puzzled.

* "... I'm incomplete!" *

It was then that the lights hit them.

They jerked away from one another, Scully sucking in a startled breath sure her heart had stopped. “Oh," she gasped, looking as though someone had slapped her.

Skinner appeared more vexed than anything, cursing under his breath.

"Hey!" A voice from out of the light just over the blast of music. "Did we interrupt anything out there?!"

"No," Scully yelped, getting to her feet hurriedly, "no, not at all."

* "... right on time you will arrive..." *

"Hey, man, turn down the music!" The man shouted back at someone aboard the party barge as the spotlight was angled away from Scully and Skinner.

Scully, no longer blinded by the searchlight, could see a sea of smirking faces surrounding a man standing at the rail of a bobbing party barge.

"Did the Hunters send you?" She called back.

The man frowned around a half grin, "Hunters?" he called back. "As in head or deer?"

The insipid remark received a meager round of laughter from the curious partygoers crowding the rail to peer at the stranded couple on the tiny island.

"Smart-ass," Scully heard Skinner say as he rose to his feet.

"Maybe duck hunters?" the man continued to joke.

"Son of a-"

"No," she broke Skinner off, "a man and woman, in a raft? Have you seen them?"

He shook his head. "Never seen them. What happened, everyone go for a swim and forget to lower the ladder?"

"Our boat sank," Skinner told him, sounding annoyed by the almost casual chitchat being exchanged.

"Man, ain't that the damnedest thing," he declared and began motioning them toward the boat, "well, com'on, we'll take a look for those Hunters and get you to the shore."

********************************

It was a party but no one on board was decked out like Scully and Skinner had once been. Now, though, even street bums would have looked formal next to them. Scully felt bad enough knowing she looked like a drowned rat, Skinner was looking pretty rough around the edges too, but hearing someone in the crowd declare, "oh my gawd, look at them," made it that much worse,

Once they were on board the barge, Greg, the smart-ass as Skinner had dubbed him, found Scully a pair of tennis shoes then began cruising the immediate area for the Hunters. But after half an hour and no sign of the bickering rafters, Skinner and Scully were taken into Deer Point. It was a small marina town with only a bar still open for business.

Looking like something the cat drug in, the two trudged into the bar heading straight for the phone in the back the bartender had pointed to when asked. Needless to say, they drew more than a few stares as they wound their way through the tables toward the bar.

Scully went into the ladies’ room while Skinner phoned for a cab. After trying to pull together the lose strains of hair and straightening various ruffled areas of her person, she started to go back out but stopped, looking at herself in the smudged mirror over a dingey sink. Her hands started to tremble as her heart began to thunderously pound in her chest as she thought about what had nearly come to pass out in the lake.

They had been so close... they shouldn't have been that close, but they had been. So close to crossing a boundary set by their place, their working relationship to one another. But this wasn't work and it wasn't fair that concern about work, their status and position to one another should intrude on the near most perfect moment- She closed her eyes, pressing out the alcoholic fog still clouding her mind.

She breathed deeply, looking into the mirror again to wipe at the smudged mascara beneath her eyes. She looked terrible and tired; no man in his right mind would be interested in her in good light... Who gave a damn?

"They don't come out this far," was the first thing Skinner said to her when she came back from the bathroom. "None of the cab companies will come out this far, this time of night."

"None?"

He shook his head. "I just called the five listed in this thing," he jabbed at the shredded excuse for a phone book dangling by a cable under the phone.

"Are there any shuttles or..."

"We would have needed a reservation. We wouldn't get any one out here on such short notice... shit."

They stood silent, thinking around the sound of glasses clanking, the jukebox blasting from bad speakers and people with curious stares passing them in hall for the bathroom.

* "... the old man is down the road..." *

Skinner vaguely recognized the sound of John Fogerty's voice rattling out of the speakers before Scully reached for the phone.

"Who are you calling?"

She hesitated, glancing at him briefly then away. She didn't really know what else to do at this point. Calling her mother was out of the question; having the woman get out of bed and drive all the way to nowhere wasn't something Scully had ever asked of her and wasn't about to do now.

"I'm calling Mulder," she reluctantly told Skinner, almost deciding to do so at the same moment.

Skinner tensed immediately.

Scully glared at him. "Well?"

“Fine.” He hissed, aggravation flooding him. "Go ahead."

Who else? He thought. Who else could possibly round out the chaos that was this evening?

************************************

"Where are you?" Scully asked her partner after finally having to call him on the cell phone when there was no answer at his apartment.

Skinner listened, catching sight of possible trouble coming down the hall as Scully talked to Mulder; a wobbling man with alcohol reddened eyes, leering at Scully.

* "... he bring a strong man to his begging knees.
He make the young girl's mama cry..." *

"I need you to pick us up... Lake Triadelphia... with Skinner," she said into the phone sounding more irritated by the second. "Triadelphia, yes, with Skinner."

"Just tell him to stop asking questions," Skinner growled watching the man weave his way closer.

"Mulder, will you come out and get us or not? Skinner tried the cab companies and none of them will come out this far this time of night--"

"Skinner?"

Both Scully and the Assistant Director turned to look at the inebriated man now standing directly behind them now.

"Do I know you" Skinner asked him.

The man threw his head back and then forward in an exaggerated nod. "No, man, but I know you- Free Bird, man!"

"What?"

"Sweet home Alabam-"

"That's Skynyrd!" Skinner blasted at the drunk.

"No, Mulder, we haven't been to a concert..."

"Baba Ban, Baba Ban," the man began to whine as he air guitared around the narrow hallway.

"Mulder, will you just... Yes, a bar in a place called Deer Point... I don't know what the name is- It's the only place open... Oh, all right," she turned back to Skinner, "what's the name of this place?"

"Baba Ban, Baba Ban, Sweet home Alabama!" The drunk kept repeating.

"Two Bucks," Skinner told her through gritted teeth.

"Sweet home Alabama..."

"It's called Two Bucks... It's doesn't matter," she told Mulder again, "it's the only place open around here..."

"Sweet home Alabama..."

"Will you shut up?!"

The drunk froze, blinking at the petite yet loud and demanding red head glaring back at him from the phone.

Even Skinner took a step back from her after that outburst.

"No, not you," she snapped into the phone, "never mind who, just get out here... how long then?"

"Man," the drunk said to Skinner, "she must still be upset about the crash." With that said, he wandered off down the hall to the bathroom, dejected.

Skinner shook his head. "Jesus, what decade is he living in?"

Scully hung up the phone, taking a deep breath.

"How long will he be?"

She looked at Skinner as if she had forgotten he was there with her. "Uh, about twenty minutes."

"That soon? Where was he?"

"He wouldn't say."

Skinner looked into the bar, inspecting the patrons. His jaw ground as he glanced around for a secluded seat, but there were none to be seen. The place was small, and even with just a few people inside, it looked and sounded more crowded. There were no secluded booths or tables; everything was out in the open, so there would be no quietly disappearing into the woodwork until Mulder got there.

There were a couple of places at the bar, toward the end. It looked better than a table out in the middle of everything to Skinner.

"Come on," he grumbled taking Scully's arm, "let's try to fit in."

The bartender raised up from where he had been resting on the bar, talking to a woman, and gave Skinner and Scully a circumspect glance as he started over to them.

"Can I get you two something?"

"Coffee, please." Skinner said.

 Scully nodded. "I'll have the same, please."

The bartender just looked at them for a second, then said, "I'll have to make a pot."

Skinner nodded. "Sounds good."

"Are you sure that's what you want, just coffee?"

Scully looked at the man in disbelief, feeling a certain sense of deja vu. "Yes, we'll wait, thank you."

"Where skies are so blue..." the drunk came singing out of the hallway into the bar.

"At least he remembered a couple more lyrics," Skinner observed.

"Hey there."

Scully turned looking directly into the face of another man she had seen at the other end of the bar when they sat down. His gaunt features were split by a crooked smile. Her first instinct was to turn away, dispatching him with a concise rejection but she and Skinner were going to be here for a while after all.

"Hi," she tried for her best polite voice.

Skinner's attention was already on the man. He didn't like the looks of him, he didn't like the looks of anyone in the place, but this guy was talking to Scully which put him that much lower on the popularity list.

"They've got a good jukebox in this joint," the man told her, looking her up and down, "and you look like you were born to dance. How about it?"

"No, but thank you," Scully begged off the ungainly invitation.

The man looked at Skinner, sizing him up. "Okay for now," he told Scully, grinning. "But I'll get me a dance before this night is over."

"Sure, you will," she said when he was out of ear shot, "just not with me."

"I can't take you anywhere, can I?" Skinner off handily teased. 

                                                              ************************************

To be Continued... 

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