Conversation Mints (1/3)


Valentine’s Day in Washington D.C. at the FBI. Scully is looking forward to a fancy outing for once with a very prominent doctor, while Skinner has been roped into a mercy date by two longtime friends. Unknowingly, Skinner and Scully are attending the same the event, where each of their dates from hell unexpectedly ditch them and leads to unexpectedly sweet revelations about each other.





Conversation Mints
by PR

February 12th
Washington DC
J. Edgar Hoover Building

Returning from lunch, Agent Dana Scully found her partner exactly as she had left him nearly an hour before. Hunched over their desk, Mulder surveyed the papers spread across it with much of the same intensity he was munching sunflower seeds.

  "Is it too late to withdraw my decision to stay in for lunch?" he asked without looking up at her.

  "Yes," she said bluntly, shutting the door.

  Mulder glanced up, surprised by the tone of her voice.

  Walking to the desk she held up a white paper sack, smiling. "When I saw the turkey, I thought of you."

  "If there's a raspberry iced tea in addition to a sandwich in that bag, I'll disregard that slanderous remark."

"Raspberry iced tea included," she assured sitting the sack in front of him and seating herself. Digging his lunch out, Mulder nodded toward a note lying atop papers she had put aside before lunch.

  "There was a call for you while you were gone," he said. Taking it up, Scully squinted at her partner's hurried writing. "What's this?" Mulder asked pulling a small box of conversation hearts from the bottom of the bag.

  Scully looked up from the note, her brow knitted. "Huh?" He held up the box. "Oh, uh, just something for the weekend."

  "Interesting," he said putting aside the box of hearts.

  "What is?"

  "The fact that a paleo-pagan rite originally meant to drive off wolves and stimulate fertility," he began, unwrapping his sandwich as he spoke. "A festival traditionally involving the slaughter of goats and dogs has been successfully marketed over the centuries as a cloying holiday celebrated with ornate cards, hand dipped chocolates, elaborate flower bouquets and small heart shaped mints emblazoned with innocuous messages of affection."

  Scully looked at him for a moment. "Mulder who called?" He looked at her. "I can't read this."

  "A doctor Farnsworth, he said everything was set at the Alexandria for Saturday night."

  "Hmm," Scully murmured putting the note down to pick up her paperwork.

  Mulder watched her over the sandwich wrapper as he ate.

  She quietly studied the papers in her hands, shifting them one by one until curiosity got the best of Mulder. "Isn't there a Doctor Farnsworth at Quantico?"

  "Yes, there is."

  "Same one?" he asked around a cheek full of turkey, tomato and lettuce.

  "Yes," she sighed.

  Mulder scrutinized the tension in her brow. "This isn't case related, is it?"

  "Hmm?" she looked up now, distracted.

  "That message," he managed before swallowing. Scully blinked at him. "Saturday?"

  "Oh, that," she said turning back to the papers, "no."

  Mulder drew on the iced tea, then asked, "have anything to do with Saturday being St. Valentine's Day?"

  Wordlessly, she dipped her chin.

  Mulder sat back, picking at the lettuce jutting out from the edges of his sandwich. "Will you be celebrating in the traditional manner?"

  Scully's head came up, eyes shut for a long moment.

  "No, I suppose," she answered half glancing his way, sounding exasperated. "No flowers or candy. Just a simple date."

  "At the Alexandria hotel," he added and bit into the sandwich.

  She looked directly at him. "The Alexandria ballroom actually. There's a dinner dance being held by the hotel in conjunction with a local radio station."

  Mulder nodded, grinning to himself. "So, you won't be participating in the erotic Lupercalia rituals involving young men running around in goatskin thongs slapping the proffered genitalia of woman with a blood-stained goat hide smeared with the blood of ritualistically slaughtered goats and dogs?" Scully stared at him. "Because if you are I'm sure Frohike would be a much livelier date than..."

  "No," she interrupted him, "as far as I know those activities aren't on the hotel's schedule of events. " She cocked an eyebrow, "is that what you have planned?"

  "No," he shook his head, "my thong is in the cleaners."

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

  Afternoon sunlight from the window behind his desk fell on Assistant Director Walter Skinner's shoulders, casting his shadow over the report he had been trying to concentrate on for the last twenty minutes. Irritation tugged at his brow and drew downward at the corners of his mouth as his eyes were drawn to the phone with increasing frequency. Lying the report down he hauled in a deep breath. He knew he needed to call now if he was going to call at all, if he was going to call the whole thing off. It wasn't right to do, he shouldn't have agreed in the first place. But how was he supposed to decline? Sitting at the table with her, staring at him forlorn as Robert made the suggestion.

  He was a good friend of nearly twenty-five years. But...

  Skinner rubbed his brow hard and threw himself against the seat back of his chair.

  Robert Hunter was a good friend, but this was asking a lot.

  Two weeks ago, Skinner hadn't anticipated lunch turning into a backhanded plea to escort.

  Robert's assistant on a Valentine's outing she would have been attending with her fiancée- now ex-fiancée.

  "It's a real shame Maureen won't be able to go alone with Janet and I," Robert had commented over coffee following a pleasant lunch. There had been a beat, then he had looked at Skinner. "Why don't you take her, Walter?"

  Skinner labored not to spill his coffee. She was sitting right there, looking right at him- a sudden glimmer of optimism in her eyes.

  "If you don't have anything planned, of course, Walter."

  Skinner recalled clearing his throat, stalling to quickly think of a solid excuse.

  "I think that would be marvelous," Robert had said sounding as if it was settled. "Janet was just talking about how long it had been since we had gone out together..." It was true, Skinner couldn't remember the last time he had been out with Robert and his wife. There had been some nice times out with them; dinners out, an occasional show. But those were times when Skinner and Sharon were still together.

  "I wouldn't want to be burden to Mr. Skinner." Lamentably, Maureen had lowered her eyes and sipped at her coffee.

  Robert had looked at him, wariness- pleading even, etched in his eyes. Skinner shook his head pivoting his chair to look out the window of his office fingers pressed against his temple. Robert had asked in such a way that... that it would have made it damn uncomfortable to say no. And then her comment... That had made it even that much worse to lie. And lying would have been exactly what he would have done to say he had other plans. Arbor Day had more meaning to him than did St. Valentine's Day.

  He glanced back at the phone. What would he say two days prior to the date?

  "Damn," he hissed turning back to the window.

  He was in this to the bitter end.

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

February 14th
The Alexandria Hotel
Washington DC

  The party was well underway. The orchestra was warmed up and transitioning into another jazzy sounding dance tune for the applauding and cheering couples filling the Alexandria Hotel's exquisite Delaware Ballroom. The entire ballroom was trimmed in the red and white color scheme of St. Valentine's Day; table clothes, balloons, roses and even the bandstand reflected the festive hues. And if the brilliant and cheerful color scheme didn't put life into the couples in the room then certainly what was being served at the two bars would. But it was going to take a lot more than colorful decor and liquor to make this night anywhere close to appealing for Dana Scully.

  "You know," said Doctor Michael Farnsworth, glancing down at Scully as they stood waiting to enter the ballroom, "I thought the heels would make you a bit taller."

 Scully glanced up at the man who was nearly a half-foot taller than her, even in the three-inch heels she had managed to squeeze her feet into for the evening.

 His tactless utterance was only one of a hand full of signs that the man even knew he was with her. Not only had he been forty-five minutes late picking her up, but he had been using his cell phone more than she had ever seen Mulder use his in the midst of even the most complicated and fast-paced fieldwork cases. And when the man had found the occasion to speak to her, he had done so with an air of arrogance.

 Michael Farnsworth was handsome and intelligent, but that was about it. He had always seemed to be a considerate and polite man, but "seemed" was the key word. Tonight, he'd really shown his true colors; preoccupation with himself, his work and everyone and thing other than his date for the evening, not to mention being completely narcissistic. She didn't believe his car's rear-view mirror had once been directed at traffic behind them during the drive to the hotel, rather it had been angled down to allow the man the ever often glimpse of himself while he talked on the cell phone.

 Looking up into Farnsworth square handsome features that had suddenly twisted gruesomely in appearance to her, Scully thought about just going home and going to sleep, forgetting this night had ever started. There were plenty of cabs out front, she thought while looking up at her so-called date. Getting one would be no problem.

  Taking another step closer to entering the ballroom she opened her mouth to bid farewell, but the sound of his cell phone interrupted her. Without apology to her Farnsworth pulled it from the inside pocket of his tuxedo jacket and answered the call and talked to the caller all the way through the ballroom door. Scully mentally kicked herself the entire way for not just breaking away from him and leaving this poor excuse of a date far behind her.

  She surveyed the ballroom once more, then her dress wishing she had cut the tag out of it again, feeling it scratching at her back for the umpteenth time. She had chosen a simple black dress with a high neck and a hemline falling just at the knee. It was too nice, she thought glancing at Farnsworth still talking on the phone, too nice to have been worn for this jerk.

  "Mint?" Scully nearly jumped as a crystal bowl appeared mere inches from her nose, held by an elderly waiter in white tails and a pink bow tie. He smiled at her, his eyes gray and twinkling as he repeated his offer of multicolored conversation hearts, "mint, miss?"

  "No, no thank y-"

  "Michael?" Scully turned toward the loud voice to see an overly made-up young woman bustling her way toward them through the crowd. Her full dark hair bouncing on her bare shoulders, her smile showing too many teeth, her strapless dress too red and threatening exposure at any moment.

  "Mikey!" The woman called out excitedly.

  Farnsworth hesitated in conversation, glancing around.

  He did a double take.

  "Maureen?" he seemed to say to himself clicking off the cell phone, looking completely awe struck.

  "Mikey! M'god!" the woman giggled wildly.

  Scully groaned under her breath, wanting more than ever to leave now.

  "M'god, I can't believe you're here," Maureen kept saying while hugging Farnsworth.

  "You’re not here alone, are you?" he laughed pulling back to look her up and down.

  "On this day, looking like this?" She giggled then waved her hand at him. "No, you’re silly."

  Scully rolled her eyes beginning to step away, bound for the door and the cabs that lay beyond.

  "Oh, Dana," Farnsworth suddenly said, sounding very much like he'd just remembered she was there. "I'd like you to meet a friend of mine." Scully turned back, facing the young woman whose head had the appearance of bobbing side to side of its own volition. Only if there had been a wad of chewing gum in her mouth could this picture have been any more complete. "Dana this is Maureen," he introduced them.

  Maureen flashed her toothy grin, waving at Scully.

  "Hi," the sound of her voice hit the air like that of a terrier with a paw caught in a mousetrap.

  "Nice to meet you," Scully strove for politeness.

  "Where's your date?" Farnsworth asked her glancing around. "You're not here with Richard, are you?"

 Maureen blew her breath out, waving her hand dismissing the suggestion. "No... But I might as well be," she announced looking around, "my boss set me up with this complete stuffed shirt and M'god, he's like talking to a rock or something intimated."

“Intimated?” Scully repeated.

“Yeah, you know, like stiff and serious. Like a table.”

Scully nodded and covered her mouth before the laugh escaped.

  "You and Maureen have a lot in common, Dana," Farnsworth announced, "she works for the justice department."

  "I work for the Solicitor General's office," she said proudly, swaying her head side to side. "What do you do?"

  "I'm an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation."

  Maureen's eyes fluttered wide. "Ouuh, like Jodie Foster in that movie. Ouuh, you must see really gory stuff, like dead people, huh?"

  Scully winced; sure, she felt several IQ points shaved off her average just by hearing that. "Um, yes, especially when you're also a forensic doctor..."

  "You're both? Cool, so you really see a lot of dead people, huh?"

  "This really is not the conversation for Valentine's Day. Let's get a drink before the rock finds
you, Maureen," Farnsworth chuckled taking her by the elbow, starting toward the bar. He threw a glance over his shoulder at Scully, "you coming?"

  She stared at him, a warm flush of anger beginning to fill her cheeks.

  "Come on, Dana," Maureen chirped capturing her arm, guiding her toward the bar with them, "let's get a drink... wow, is that your real color?"

  "Excuse me?"

  "It's really great," Maureen continued, inspecting Scully's hair closely. " I've been thinking about going red. But with my coloring, I'm a winter you see, and I think that would really wash me out. And I'd have to change all my make-up, but that wouldn't be so bad because I just love the way the make-up counter smells..."

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

* "... Skylark, have you anything to say to me...? Won't you tell me where my love can be, is there a meadow in the mist...?" *

  The corners of Walter Skinner's mouth ticked with irritation as he stared into the crowd of cheerful couples scooting around the ballroom. He stood holding two glasses of champagne feeling like a simp for the first time since his junior prom.

  His tuxedo felt too sizes too small as couple after couple passed him standing there alone. Robert and Janet as well had trotted past him twice now, Robert shrugging while Janet smiled and waved to him warily.

  Where had she gone to use the ladies room, Bangladesh? He inwardly fumed while scanning the crowd for Maureen. What was he thinking, he wondered to himself. What more could he have expected other than absolute neglect and clear-cut disinterest from a woman who had only recently been jilted. Not only had she constantly drifted from his side, leaving him talking to strangers he mistook for her, but she was also abrupt in conversation, loud and had apparently taken her recent break personally judging by the amount of make-up she'd applied for the evening.

  He huffed to himself sweeping his eyes over the crowd again, checking the bars, the exits, and feeling like a jerk. He didn't care what Robert and Janet said to change his mind, when and if she ever returned he was taking her home. He vowed to himself and downed one of the two glasses of champagne he had been gripping for the last fifteen minutes.

  "Mint?" Skinner nearly broke the champagne flute on a crystal bowl of conversation heart mints suddenly in front of him. "Excuse me, sir," an elderly waiter in a pink bow tie apologized retracting the bowl.

  Skinner shook his head as the man offered the candies one more time. "No, thank you," he told the man and squinted into the crowd.

  "Looking for someone, sir?" the waiter asked him. "Perhaps I could help..."

  Skinner was already shaking his head. "No, thank you," he said and began to sip from the second glass of champagne, handing the waiter the empty.

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

  The tinkle of laughter and glasses, the pleasant, lilting sound of the orchestra playing and the sight of couples dancing... The sights, the sounds, the wonderful aroma of fresh flowers, scented candles and expensive perfumes and cologne, it was completely enchanting. This wasn't a typical outing for Scully. It was almost perfect, she thought sipping at a second glass of champagne while staring at Farnsworth and Maureen's backs as they chatted at the bar.

  It was almost a perfect evening.

  After a few rhetorical questions had been tossed her way by both, she had been completely cut from their conversation. But she didn't consider it any great loss...

  "Oh, Mikey!" Maureen's shrill laugh shredded the air turning heads from all around and even the orchestra seemed to hesitate at the sound.

  Scully rubbed roughly at her neck, the tag in her collar scratching at her again, but she wasn't entirely certain it was just the tag that was making her skin crawl as she reached for another glass of champagne passing on a waiter's tray. One more glass should deaden her hearing some she justified while scanning the ballroom, developing an excuse to leave.

  She left the curling iron on... No, she had put her hair up...

  She needed to walk... No, she didn't have a dog any more...

  She left the water running. The stove was on. She was missing Justice Files... She had to get up early on a Sunday...? Yes, she had to get up early to go to church with her mother whose car had broken down and if she didn't take her, she wouldn't be able to teach under privileged children how to make...

  Scully glanced at Farnsworth's back wondering if he would even notice if she just left without a word. There would be no amount of grief if she did, she was sure. The story twisted, she cast as the villainous woman dumping her date on St. Valentine's Day. She couldn't just walk out, but she also couldn't stand the idea of the drive back home with Narcissus here ogling himself in the mirror the whole way either. Whatever the excuse it had to get her out of here on her own...

  Almost a perfect evening... If only she could have been here with more of a gentleman. Someone to talk to and be talked to by, someone interesting and interested.

  Sighing, she listened to the tinkle of the piano music and looked into her glass thinking that perhaps Farnsworth would get drunk, and she could take a cab home.

* "... even be glad just to be sad thinking of you. Some others I've seen might never be mean..." *

  Recognizing the song as the singer began to croon, Scully recalled how her father would dance with her to it when she was a girl; her atop his shoes while he would hum and mumble the lyrics, never quite sing. That was all right, she thought remembering the sound of his hum mumbling, so deep and resonant she could have sworn she'd felt it in her toes.

  She looked down to study the tips of her shoes, quietly humming along with the music, feeling a bit relaxed from the first two glasses of bubbly, then remembered the third in her hand. She raised her eyes, ready to take a sip and almost dropped the glass.

* "... it had to be you, wonderful you.... It had to be you..."

  The crowd parted and there stood Assistant Director Walter Skinner across the dance floor surveying the scene carefully, sipping from a glass of champagne.

 

* "... wonderful you..." *

  Scully almost didn't recognize him, so used to seeing him in a suit and tie within the confines of his office. But there was no mistaking his characteristic composure that demanded respect despite the fact he was just standing there... Alone?

 

* "...some others I've seen..." *

  She looked back at Maureen. No, she couldn't have been talking about...

* "... might never be mean. Might never be cross, or try to be boss..." *

  Scully turned back to Skinner and as if sensing someone watching him, he looked directly at her in mid-sip. Their eyes locked. She didn't think he could have looked any more surprised if she had walked in on him in his...

  She caught her breath, struck by the sudden flash of him standing before her in a Wichita motel wearing only briefs... and tendrils of shave cream.

  Guilt, chagrin, countless- nameless emotions plundered her composure, forcing her eyes down. Four months, Damn it. She cursed herself. Four months of laboring to free herself of completely improper and entirely wrong... fantasies.

  No, hopes. Yes, hopes. Not daydreams or the occasionally sordid fantasy, but rather hopes of those professional nods of acknowledgment at the elevator or in the halls turning more poignant, tender even. Hopes that something touching and encouraging would come across in those potent shafts of scrutiny trained on her from behind a sprawling desk...

  Four months... spent freeing herself of the memory of her superior standing before her in a Wichita motel room clad in briefs... and shave cream... streaming down into wispy graying chest hair-

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

* "...some others I've seen..." *

  "She hasn't come back yet?"

  Skinner looked up at Robert and Janet who had come off the dance floor, looking at him like some stray puppy they'd just come across in the middle of the road.

  "No."

  Robert glanced around, uneasy. "Uh...Well, Walter, why don't we go back to the table and Janet can check for her in the bathroom?"

  "That's... that's a good idea," Janet agreed glancing nervously at Skinner. "I'll just go do that."

* "... might never be mean. Might never be cross, or try to be boss..." *

  Skinner straightened suddenly; eyes fixed across the room.

  Was...? Is that...? He looked again, surprised, and still uncertain. Is that Scully? He wondered again, straining to see through the shifting dance floor crowd. Yes, and she looked... Well, she didn't look like the polished, buttoned-down, no-nonsense agent he dealt with on a near daily basis. She looked like... She looked beautiful, he realized and felt a catch in his chest as the vaguest fragment of a vision from a cold Thanksgiving night returned to him.

  Robert and Janet followed his line of sight.

  "Have you spotted her?" Robert asked, still straining to see what Skinner was looking at so fixedly.

  "Yes-" he broke off. Wrong person, he realized. "No," he corrected, his voice thick.

  They turned back to him, perplexed.

* "... but they wouldn't do. For nobody else gave me a thrill..." *

  Without explanation, Skinner cleared his throat and bowed his head as he stepped away from them, "excuse me."

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

  "Agent Scully!"

  She jumped, sloshing champagne on her wrist.

  "Wow, hot, but jumpy."

  Hair slicked back and freshly shaved, Melvin Frohike decked out in a black tuxedo with a jaunty red bow tie had appeared out of nowhere. He stood gazing flirtatiously at her, the woman on his arm pouting.

  "Frohike... what a surprise." Scully laughed nervously noticing Skinner making his way across the dance floor heading directly for her.

  Oh god, she thought shaking the tickling liquid off her wrist, seeing it had hit her flared skirt as well.

  "Allow me," Frohike said pulling a handkerchief from his tux pocket with a flourish of his wrist.

  "You didn't do that for me in the car, Melvin," his date remarked wiping lightly at her lips.

  He gave her an ashamed glance. "Sorry, doll. Forgot I had it until just now."

  "Scully."

  She jerked at the well-known orotund voice to her left, more champagne sloshing from her glass and onto the AD's pants... more directly, his crotch.

  Scully's hand went to her mouth, her eyes to his pants.

  Skinner took a step back looking down at himself, arms held up and out at his sides.

  "Sir, I..." She didn't know what to say, horrified by what she had just done and completely taken by the smell of his cologne wafting her way. "I... What a surprise to see you."

  "I was just about to say the same..." he muttered glancing around for something to wipe himself off with.

  She glanced at the handkerchief and started to offer it. Frohike cleared his throat loudly
drawing attention to himself purposefully. When she looked at him, he shook his head. Obviously, the handkerchief was no longer available for clean ups... or perhaps just clean ups in certain areas.

  "Oh, uh," she handed the handkerchief back to him, "thank you-"

  "Oh, there you are," Scully heard Maureen's shrill voice sound behind her. Turning, she saw Maureen looking at Skinner, grinning sheepishly. "I couldn't find you anywhere, Wally." She glanced at Scully then Skinner, chirping, "hey you two must know each other, huh?"

  Skinner looked up from his saturated slacks, his brow creased with vexation.

  Scully could feel the tension radiating off the AD like heat ripples off an asphalt road.

  "Anywhere was right where you left me fifteen minutes ago," he barked at her as Scully snatched a handful of cocktail napkins from the bar, handing them to him brusquely.

  "I'm sorry," Maureen apologized, throwing her hair back over her shoulder.

  Farnsworth turned from the bar serving Skinner with a circumspect stare as the man wiped at his crotch with a wad of rapidly disintegrating cocktail napkins.

  "She said she tried to find you," the man brazenly told Skinner.

  "Bad juju," Frohike remarked to his date, then to Scully, "later, FBI."

  As sudden as he had appeared he vanished into the crowd, whisking his date along with him.

  Skinner looked up at Farnsworth hard. "Who are you?"

  Scully could feel the tension pressing in on them like a storm front ready to break.

  "Uh," she intervened to make introductions, "Doctor Michael Farnsworth, Assistant Director of the FBI, Walter Skinner..."

  "Walter," Scully turned, seeing a sophisticated looking woman coming through the press of dancers, a man with graying hair following her closely. They both appeared apprehensive as they eyed both Skinner and Maureen. "We thought you had gone when we lost sight of you."

  "Not yet," Skinner said in a low tone that was no less than threatening.

  "Actually, we were just making introductions," Maureen piped up, "I guess we'll have to do it all over again. Robert and Janet Hunter this is Doctor Michael Farnsworth and Diane Scully,"

  "Dana," she corrected and smiled at the Hunters.

  "Oh, geez, I'm sorry," Maureen giggled, "I'm just awful with names."

  Silence passed between the newly formed group, no one knowing what to say, just looking at each other with insipid smiles- all except for Skinner. His face was granite.

  "Uh," Robert uttered, his eyes darting around the ballroom searching for some pleasantness to stifle the tension, "do you have a table yet?" he asked Farnsworth and Scully.

  "No, we haven't gotten one yet," Farnsworth answered.

  "Oh, it's going to be hard to get one now," Maureen announced.

  "Well, why don't you two join us at ours?" Robert suggested smiling broadly until Janet demurely caught him in the ribs with her elbow.

  "Oh, yes, you must," Maureen insisted.

  Scully inwardly groaned. It was bad enough to have met this person, but did she have to get stuck at the same table with her all evening? Not to mention it was more than obvious whom she was here with. She glanced at Skinner, his face was granite with eyes narrowed and darting anywhere but at Maureen.

  Had he asked her? She wondered. She didn't seem like his type at all...

  Before anyone could answer there was a muffled trilling from Farnsworth's jacket. He excused himself to take the call, a surprising move to Scully. He hadn't found it necessary to excuse himself to her to take calls the entire night.

  While Farnsworth took the call, Mrs. Hunter turned to Scully. "You're one of Walter's agents, aren't you?" she asked.

  "Yes," she answered, glancing at him. "I am under his direction at the bureau."

  He looked at her and she was certain his expression softened some.

  "Ugh," Farnsworth grunted jabbing a finger at the keypad of his cell phone, irritated. "I have to find a public phone," he announced to the others, "the battery in this has run down."

  "Not surprising." Scully murmured to herself and sipped from what champagne she had left.

  "Dana, why don't you go ahead with everyone, and I'll join you at the table as soon as I find a phone."

  Before Scully could say a word, Maureen spoke, "Oh, I know where the phones are. They're right by the bathrooms. I'll show you and then I can show you back to our table."

  There was a beat.

  Scully and Skinner looked at their dates, dubious.

  This had "ditch" written all over it.

  "Don't get lost again," Janet laughed and tugged at her husband's arm. "We'll see you at the table."

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

  Through the press of swaying, gliding dancers, Scully and Skinner followed Robert and Janet toward one of the elegantly set tables bordering the dance floor. Staggered four deep with low-light lamp centerpieces, the tables were invitations for tired couples to rest a moment among the charming ambiance created by the glitter and sparkle of the ballroom, the lilting swinging chords rippling from the orchestra.

  Distracted by this ambiance, Scully didn't notice the tipsy couple tripping toward her until the last second. She tried to sidestep them, but they bumped into her despite the move, knocking her into Skinner.

  Which startled her more she wasn't sure; the shock of being knocked off balance in her three-inch heels or the shear strength of Skinner's save.

  Without apology, the clumsy couple trotted off back across the dance floor.

  "Thank..." Scully started to say but breaking off when she felt herself being lifted. As if dealing with the lightness of a doll, Skinner righted her at his side. "Thank you," she managed finally, finding him placing her hand into the crook of his elbow.

  She looked at him, a little surprised and plaintive. Why couldn't she have been with someone like him this evening? She abstractly questioned. Despite the hard nails exterior that sent people scattering out of his way, kept people at a distance and respectful of his authority, there was no question he was courteous, thoughtful, a real gentleman that would be genuinely interested in talking, listening, and making the evening special. Why couldn't he be just some... some stranger, just a handsome, unfamiliar face in the crowd? Why did he have to be her superior?

  Saying nothing, he only nodded with his eyes fixed straight ahead.

Self-conscious she turned her eyes ahead, putting away wishful thoughts of four months’ past.

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

  Seated, the quartet ordered another round of drinks, Skinner substituting bourbon for the champagne he'd become tired of tasting all night. As a matter of fact, the champagne in conjunction with Maureen's notably nonpartisan and unpleasant company, a rather bitter taste had settled in his mouth. He had tried to blame Robert then Maureen, then only himself. He knew it wasn't going to work out from the beginning. It wasn't pessimism, just basic realism. She wasn't his type in the slightest and he should have said no.

  But he hadn't. Why the hell hadn't he? He reprimanded himself as he searched the ballroom. Loneliness? Boredom? Foolish hopes born of ennui? The foolish hope she could have been someone like...

  He edged his eyes back to the table, to Scully. The amber light of the table lamp was casting her warm features in delicate shadow and glinted in her eyes like tiny stars giving them a teary appearance.

  Yes, someone like her. Making a night like this worthwhile. Make everything seem worthwhile again, having a conversation laden with intelligence. Touch with responsiveness and warmth. A shared gaze taken with interest and desire.

  Something immaterial seized up inside him, capturing a beat of his heart.

  Not her, he reminded himself, just not her…

 He shut his eyes. She was not an... option.

  "So, are you and Walter together much?" Janet suddenly asked, breaking the silence as their drinks were brought to the table.

  It seemed to catch both Scully and Skinner somewhat off guard, perhaps it was the phrasing or the timing of the question.

  "At times," Scully answered controlling her surprise.

  "It depends on the case or assignment," Skinner added with a cocked brow and sipped at his drink.

  Especially when it came to the X-Files, Scully mused. His intervention had been required more than a few times, more often than for any normal cases or assignments.

  "Oh," Janet responded to their seemingly dead-end replies.

  Silence descended on them once again.

* "... Just you know why. Why you and I will by

and by know true love ways..." *

  It was Robert's turn to break the silence, suddenly clearing his throat with a distinct level of uneasiness.

  "Well," he said standing, "I don't know about anyone else, but I think I would like to dance."

  Janet hesitated a moment then took his hand, standing. She turned to Scully and Skinner. "Why don't you join us?"

  Exchanging apprehensive side glances, neither hesitated in begging off from the suggestion.

  Reticent, Scully shook her head.

  "I think we should wait," Skinner told them.

  "Maureen knows where the table is," Janet gently urged.

  "I think it would be best to wait." Scully agreed with the AD.

  Robert and Janet nodded, moving onto the dance floor.

* "... sometimes we'll sigh. Sometimes we'll cry.

And we'll know why, just you and I..." *

  Sipping champagne and bourbon, they quietly waited, listening to swaying lyrics accompanied by the winsome orchestra strings, their attention purposely kept on the smooth flow of couples across the dance floor, gliding to-and-fro, smiling and looking very much in love.

  Skinner straightened in his chair, turning from the dance floor.

  "When I was a boy," he said unexpectedly, "my cousin refused to take the dancing lessons my aunt was insistent on, unless I took them with him."

  Scully looked at him, a bit awed by this sudden and uncharacteristic personal disclosure.

  He continued matter-of-factly, not looking at her. "My aunt talked my mother into making me go. My aunt, Beluah, she and my uncle had the money for... frivolous things like dance lessons, but even though my father had a good job and worked hard, it was going to be a stretch for me to go to these lessons. So, it was understood, once I was in, I was in to stay, getting our money's worth." He paused looking at his glass, memories grazing the furrow of his brow, haunting his brown eyes. "In a week, my cousin and I were enrolled at Arthur Murray, tuition paid, and the day before our first lesson..." Skinner paused again and Scully braced herself for what she didn't know, he sounded so somber. But looking into his drink, the corners of the man's mouth began to curl up. "The day before our first lesson my cousin, Lawrence, fell out of a tree and broke both his legs."

  Scully put her hand over her mouth, shocked.

  He looked back at her, and she could have sworn the man was trying not to laugh.

  "And... you had to finish out the lessons your parents paid for without him?" She ask, realizing the humor in his otherwise terrible story.

  He nodded his head firmly, then chuckled.

  "Yeah, I finished the lessons. In fact, I went on to win first place in the beginner’s class at the regional competitions."

  "I imagine that made your parents very proud."

  "It did. My mother especially."

  Scully laughed quietly at the odd tale he'd just shared with her, feeling it fit to share her own memory of dancing with him, although not quite as entertaining.

  "I never took dance lessons. I guess I was always so much of a tom-boy my parents never considered it," she laughed to herself. "I remember, though, that my father would dance with me... The times that he was home... He would, um, get me to stand on the tops of his shoes and dance around with me. " She brought her arms up and out to her sides enough to imitate her father's stance. "I was only five or six at the time..." she smiled at the memory, tilting her head aside slightly. "I remember looking down at my feet, seeing how tiny they were on top of his..."

  "Excuse me," the mint offering waiter had suddenly appeared at the table.

  Thinking he was there to offer mint hearts once again; they began to beg off.

  "Are you Mr. Skitter?" he asked.

  "Skinner," he corrected the mispronunciation.

  The man looked at a piece of paper in his quivering hand. "This is for you, sir."

  Skinner took it, seeing it was merely a cocktail napkin with his name miserably misspelled on the top fold.

  "Agent Scully," she turned seeing Frohike coming up to her, disquiet coloring his morose features, his date tagging along and looking fatigued. "I bear bad news."

  Frowning, Scully glanced at Skinner who was studying the scribble across the napkin. "What is it?"

  "That Doc pretty-boy you came with just left with some Lancôme queen."

  Scully looked away; lips pursed with an instance of indignation.

  "Apparently," Skinner said looking up at them as he wadded the napkin, "the Lancôme queen wasn't feeling well and took a ride home with him."

  Skinner tossed the napkin onto the table, pulling a few bills from his pocket looking at the mint waiter. "Thank you for delivering that."

  "Thank you, sir," the waiter replied taking the money. "Mint?"

  Scully full out laughed, and even Skinner nearly smirked.

  "No but thank you again."

  Nodding cordially, he left them.

  Frohike looked at them, his full mouth drawn down at the corners. "If you ask me-"

  "Thank you, Frohike." Scully realized she had sounded sharp. "No, really," she softened her tone, smiling thinly, "thank you."

  Taking the hint, Frohike nodded mirroring her smile as he walked away.

  Scully looked at her champagne flute, rolling it back and forth in her palms. Who had she been trying to fool? Emergency? Emergency in his pants was more like it. She knew Farnsworth wouldn't be coming back. She was a trained observer and it had been plain as day that he had more interest in Maureen than her.

  Skinner pulled on his bourbon, letting the strong liquid slowly whirl over his tongue and roll down the back of his throat. He had known and wasn't disappointed. Actually, relief seemed to be the governing sensation at the moment.

  Yes, relief. Scully realized this had replaced disappointment. Out and out relief to be rid of the narcissist. No, excuses. No white lies to excuse herself from the evening. He had done it for her.

  The torturous aspect of driving her home was fully taken from his hands, Skinner inwardly reveled.

  Fine...

 ... and well...

  Scully and Skinner glanced at one another, and at once turned back to the inspection of their drinks.

  Those two deserved each other's company.

  "Well," Skinner said after a long weighty moment, "it looks like you're stuck with me."

  Scully looked up at him and he cleared his throat, glancing at the dance floor and back, "would you like to dance?"

  Scully hesitated. "Um."

  He looked as though he was debating whether or not to repeat himself. Decision made, he stood and extended his hand to her, "I'd like to be able to tell my mother her money is still going to good use."

  Stunned with mutinous delight, she hesitated still, mouth hanging slightly open with a smile.

  He looked at her, half-baked impatience on his face. "I don't get an opportunity to do this often."

  Amused and taken aback by the peculiarity of the moment, Scully stood and took his hand.

  "But I'm sorry," he said causing her to hesitate, "I'm afraid this just isn't the occasion for you to stand on top of my shoes."

  Scully looked at him, surprised to see him smile. A true smile.

  He looked like a different man. A stranger even… 

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