Date: January 24, 2004
Title: Mending Fences
Feedback: always welcome
Distribution: Ephemeral, Gossamer, Enigmatic Dr., or if you've archived me before, yes; if you haven't, please just let me know and leave headers, email addy, etc. attached. Thanks!
Spoilers: PMP, Bad Blood
Summary: A Wild and Woolly Weekend in Waco with Mulder and Scully
Disclaimer: Mulder and Scully aren't mine. They mostly belong to David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, but Chris Carter created them, and Ten Thirteen and FOX own the rights. I mean no infringement, and I'm not making any profit from them.
Thanks to Carol for beta services, hand-holding and buttkicking as the situation warrants! A few author's notes at the end.
Mulder sat at his desk with his feet up, sleeves pushed to his elbows, when Scully entered the office.
"Good morning," he said, and accepted the cup of coffee she handed him with a smile. "What, no bagel?"
"Oddly enough, they were out," Scully said. "Can you believe it?" She put her coffee down and hung up her coat.
"Well, we can risk the cafeteria upstairs," Mulder suggested. "We have to go see the big guy anyway."
Scully raised her eyebrows. "What did you do, Mulder?"
Mulder frowned. "Why do you always think it's me? It could be you."
Scully's expression didn't change, but somehow her eyebrows now indicated denial. How did she do that?
"Okay, okay," muttered Mulder. He took a sip of coffee as he shrugged on his jacket. The coffee splashed and narrowly missed his tie.
Not that anyone would have noticed, Scully thought. It was an odd pattern of brown and blue splotches, a bit like mold in a Petrie dish.
She looked longingly at her own coffee cup as Mulder ushered her out of the office.
Scully glanced at AD Skinner as she entered the office ahead of Mulder. His expression was no more grim than usual.
"Sit down, Agents," Skinner said. "I have an opportunity for you to represent the FBI on an important assignment."
Scully wouldn't look at Mulder. She could hear him shift in his chair and to forestall him, she asked, "What kind of opportunity, Sir?"
"The FBI is starting a new program of citizen outreach," Skinner explained. "Especially in communities where our presence has historically been, shall we say, strained."
"How does this concern the X-Files, Sir?" Mulder asked. His tone was carefully neutral, which usually was a bad sign.
In her mind's eye, Scully had an image of Skinner and Mulder squaring off in a boxing ring. No, that didn't seem quite right. She imagined them on a tennis court instead. Though they both looked good in tennis whites, it still didn't seem right.
Chess. No, too static for them. Skinner would probably shoot Mulder for jiggling his leg.
Poker. That was more like it. Both were good at maintaining poker faces when the occasion warranted. She imagined Mulder in cowboy garb and Skinner in a card sharp's suit. And who was she in this scenario? The scantily-clad saloon hostess, leaning over their shoulders to replenish their glasses?
Hell no. She would be right there at the table with them, knowing when to fold and when to hold with the best of them. She shook her head slightly. <This is what comes of no coffee before meetings>, she thought.
"I still don't understand how we fit into this program," Mulder was saying.
"Let's just say it's a chance to redeem yourselves in the eyes of the FBI, and Texas," Skinner said.
"I can't believe you're still holding what happened in Cheney against us," Mulder muttered.
Skinner just stared at him over his steepled fingers, the reflection on his glasses making his expression even less readable.
Scully glanced at Mulder's face, just as stony as Skinner's. Yes, they'd both make great poker players, she thought, except for the fact that the house always won.
Somewhere she'd lost the entire thread of the conversation, only now alerted to this fact by Mulder's tone, which was not pleased.
"C'mon, Scully, guess we've got some packing to do," Mulder said abruptly. Without further discussion, he got up and strode out of Skinner's office.
Scully caught up with him in the hall. "Mulder, what was that all about?"
He stopped in the middle of the crowded hallway and looked at her. "Scully! Weren't you paying attention?" he asked in a low voice as people brushed past them. He grinned. "We have a weekend in Waco, all expenses paid, courtesy of the F-B-I."
"Not more exsanguinations," Scully groaned.
"Do you really think Skinner'd send us out for that?" Mulder asked. "Nope, it's more of a PR trip. We're going to be representatives at a Town Hall meeting."
"Somehow that's more unbelievable than exsanguinations," Scully muttered as they moved toward the elevator.
"I heard that, Scully. Don't sell yourself short. You're a fine representative of the best the FBI has to offer."
"Thank you, Mulder," Scully said, surprised. "You are too, you know."
Mulder shrugged. "Somehow I doubt that I'm what the FBI had in mind when they started the program. But you know what they say: if you can't be a good example, you can be a horrible warning."
"In that case," Scully said, "they should send Tom Colton instead."
She missed Mulder's look of gratified surprise as the elevator doors opened.
Back in the office, Mulder's spirits sank again. He pecked half-heartedly at his computer as Scully packed up her briefcase.
"Mulder, what's wrong?" she asked.
"What, you can see through my game face?" he asked. "I don't look like a team player?"
"I get the feeling that you see this as another jag-off assignment," she said.
"Well, I had plans this weekend," Mulder said.
"Since when do you have plans for the weekend?" Scully asked.
"Didn't you have plans for the weekend?" Mulder asked a trifle plaintively.
"No more than usual," she said. "Seriously, if this had been an X-File, there'd have been no hesitation on your part, weekend or no. Am I right?"
Mulder didn't want to admit it, but Scully had nailed it. He stuck his lower lip out just slightly and went back to his keyboard.
Scully had to hide a smile. Sometimes he was so transparent. She knew as well as he did that it was his birthday soon. She had planned a little celebration but it would keep. Instead, she got on line and did a little research on Waco.
The flight was uneventful. Mulder passed the time by regaling Scully with information he'd gleaned from the in-flight magazine and his own extraordinary capacity for knowing all kinds of facts about anything and everything.
She neglected to tell him that she'd done a little research of her own; she enjoyed listening to him relate his discoveries and his own pithy observations.
She learned that Waco was home to the largest regional park in Texas, complete with a zoo; that there was a Lake Waco and a water park; that the city was home to a lyric opera company as well as the Dr. Pepper Museum.
"Don't suppose we'd have time to tour the museum," Mulder said wistfully as they began the descent into Waco Regional Airport.
"I didn't know you liked Dr. Pepper," Scully said.
"I never said I did. But isn't it every kid's dream to be a Pepper?" he deadpanned.
Thanks to Mulder, the Dr. Pepper jingle stayed in Scully's head until they landed.
They passed under a huge Texas flag as they approached the baggage claim. A large sign near the baggage carrousel announced a "Wild About Waco" photography contest. Scully stopped to look at some of the entries. Waco was nothing like what she thought it would be: it was much greener and hillier than she expected.
She got their luggage, expecting Mulder to be at her elbow. But he was still over at the Lariat Car Rental desk, waiting to talk to the one clerk there.
As Scully joined him, she heard the clerk say, "All we have left is a Ranger. I hope that's okay."
Mulder and Scully exchanged looks. Mulder had a big grin on his face. Things were looking up already.
"We'll fit right in, Scully," he said with glee. "All we need now are ten-gallon hats. Well, maybe five gallons for you."
Scully made a face at him. Still, happy Mulder was easier to deal with than morose Mulder. He might level zingers at her, but not at the general populace.
"What's on the agenda?" Mulder asked as they traveled along.
"I think there's a packet for us at the motel," Scully replied.
"Which is what and where?"
"The Old Main Lodge," Scully said. "Fourth Street at I-35, according to the map."
They arrived there in due course, and it was a pleasant surprise to discover that the Old Main Lodge appeared to be a cut above most of their usual accommodations. The lobby was what Scully would have deemed typical Texas, or at least Old West. Antique guns and knives were displayed in cases around the lobby. A pair of longhorns hung behind the registration desk. Rustic furniture, made of leather and cowhide, even some that appeared to be made of antlers -- was grouped around the large stone fireplace.
"'I use antlers in all of my decorating,'" Mulder sang softly in her ear. He loved the look of surprise on her face.
"Then you'll fit right in here, Gaston," she returned smoothly, and led the way to the reception desk.
It was a disappointment to find that they didn't have connecting rooms. They didn't even have adjoining rooms, but at least they were on the same floor.
Mulder walked Scully to her room, carrying her suitcase. He followed her in and deposited her bag as she took off her coat. Then he came up behind her, put his hands on her shoulders, and kissed her just behind the ear.
"Alone at last," he murmured, kissing her neck.
Scully closed her eyes but turned toward him. "Mulder," she started to say.
"We're not exactly on a case, you know," he said.
"But we are representing the FBI. And, as such, we need to maintain appearances."
Mulder's face fell. "No fooling around?"
"No fooling around," Scully said firmly, though her heart wasn't in it.
The phone rang, startling them both.
"See?" Scully said. "The eyes of Texas are upon us."
"It's probably just Skinner, checking up on me by checking up on you," Mulder smirked.
It was the front desk. There was someone waiting for them in the lobby.
They'd barely stepped back into the lobby when a young woman walked up to them and said with a soft Texas drawl, "Hi, you must be the agents? I'm Virginia Clifton." She shook both their hands.
"Good detective work, Ms. Clifton," Mulder said. "How'd you pick us out?"
"Y'all look like city folk," she explained, smiling. "And Eastern city folk at that."
"I see by my outfit that I'm not a cowboy," Mulder said with a grin at Scully.
"What can we do for you, Ms. Clifton?" Scully asked, to forestall Mulder's next comment.
"Please, call me Ginny. I'm here to help y'all out. You get settled in okay?"
"Yes, thanks. We were told there'd be a packet of information at the desk."
"I thought I'd just run it over myself and make sure everything's okay," Ginny said. "I'm on the committee that's in charge of this town meeting."
"Just tell us where to go, and we'll show up," Mulder said a trifle ungraciously. Scully gave him a look and he amended his words, saying, "I mean, do we need to know anything in advance?"
"Not really, you could just show up, I guess, but that didn't seem very friendly to me. We asked you to come, the least we can do is show you around a little."
"That's very kind of you," Scully said, "but really, we don't expect it. We're used to fending for ourselves."
"Well, the committee was hoping you'd join us tonight for our regular social. It'll give you a chance to meet the others in an informal setting," Ginny said.
"Thank you, we'd love to," Scully said. She could feel the unhappy vibes from Mulder but she persevered. "Where and what time should we meet you?"
"I'll come back and get you in about an hour. Is that okay?"
"We'll see you then," Scully said firmly, and gave Mulder a nudge with her elbow. He parroted grudgingly, "We'll see you then."
"Don't dress up," Ginny said, eyeing their dark suits. "But you might want a sweater or light jacket. Sometimes the breeze on the river can be chilly."
"This sounds suspiciously like the wine and cheese reception for the team-building seminar," Mulder said as they waited for the elevator back to their rooms.
"Come on, Mulder. We're supposed to play nice this weekend. If you won't do it for Skinner, won't you do it for me?" Scully put her hand on his tie and ran her fingers down its silken length as they waited for the elevator.
"You're not playing fair, Scully," Mulder said, watching the progress of her fingers as they stroked the silken fabric up and down.
Scully merely smiled.
The evening wasn't starting out all that well for Mulder. He'd already tried to talk Scully into buying matching hats and Western shirts "to fit in better." But Scully decreed that jeans were too casual. He'd had to settle for a pair of dress slacks and a pullover sweater, and Scully did the same. They were probably still too "citified" but it couldn't be helped.
Ginny had been wearing dress slacks before, but now she wore a denim skirt with a cotton sweater. Mulder nudged Scully, barely keeping from saying, "I told you so."
"We're a little early, so we'll take the scenic route," Ginny said as they walked out to the parking lot. Mulder was disappointed to see that Ginny didn't drive a pickup truck, just an ordinary car. "You can see the suspension bridge over that way? That's the Brazos River. It runs through the heart of town."
"D'you suppose she sells real estate for a living?" Mulder whispered softly to Scully.
Scully frowned at him said out loud, "Is doing this sort of thing a full-time job for you, Ginny?"
"Oh no," she replied, turning onto a broad, tree-lined street. "This is strictly volunteer. I'm a veterinarian."
Mulder perked up at that. "Really? Large animal or small animal?"
"We do some of both at the clinic, though mostly they're family pets," she explained. "Does either of you have a pet?"
Mulder and Scully exchanged looks. "Well, I used to have a dog," Scully said, "but he met with an untimely death."
"I'm sorry to hear that. Was he hit by a car?"
"No, he was eaten by an alligator," Scully said, and only belatedly realized how odd that sounded.
Ginny merely said, "I wouldn't have thought that would be an issue in Washington, DC. How `bout you, Mr. Mulder? Got any pets?"
"Just Mulder, okay? Wanna take a guess?"
Ginny narrowed her eyes in the rear view mirror. "Well, you don't look like a dog person -- "
Scully couldn't help but roll her eyes toward him at that.
"-- or a cat person, really. Probably not hamsters or anything like that...I'd say, if you have anything, you have fish."
"On the nose, Dr. Clifton," Scully said.
"I had pets growing up," Mulder said a little defensively. "You try having a pet in an apartment."
"I did, Mulder," Scully reminded him.
"And look how that turned out," Mulder pointed out.
Scully thought it wiser not to continue the argument. Ginny Clifton wondered what she'd gotten herself into. Mulder just pouted. Some weekend this was turning out to be.
Ginny took them the long way around the city, giving them a good tour. She took them past several points of interest, telling them a bit of the history of the city as she drove. Scully gave Mulder points for not interrupting or showing off what they already knew about Baylor University, the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame, or the Brazos River.
They ended up back near the river, not far from their motel. She led the way to a broad promenade along the river, eventually ending up at a wooden dock that proclaimed itself the home of the "Brazos Belle."
"Here we are," Ginny said, and waved to a small group of people waiting to board what looked like a paddlewheel boat.
"We're going on a cruise?" Mulder asked. "I left my Dramamine at home." He was only half-kidding.
"Behave," Scully warned him softly.
They got in line to board the boat. It was taking a long time and they could soon see why. Many couples were having their pictures taken with the captain, who stood at the top of the gangway under the arch that led to the "Brazos Belle."
As they approached the top of the gangway, both Mulder and Scully did a double take. The Captain was an imposing man in dress whites. He had broad shoulders and burly arms. The twinkle lights festooning the dock and the boat glinted on his wire-rimmed glasses. And when he took his hat off and held it against his side, the same lights glinted off his shiny bald head.
"Do you suppose Skinner is here to spy on us, or does he have a twin brother?" Mulder asked.
They heard him bark an order to a crew person nearby. He even sounded like Skinner.
"Hi Captain Jacobs," Ginny said as they got nearer.
"Good evening to you, Dr. Clifton," Captain Jacobs boomed out. "Pleasure to welcome you aboard."
Ginny introduced Mulder and Scully to the captain. "FBI, hah?" he bellowed, and several heads turned. "Hope you're better behaved than that bunch of Texas Rangers last week," he added.
"Worse than Marines, are they?" Mulder said with a wink at Scully, who rolled her eyes.
"Let me just say they're better off on horseback than on deck," the Captain said. "We get all kinds, even FBI agents," he said without cracking a smile.
"Head `em up, move `em out, Mulder," Scully said, nudging him along.
"Wait Scully, we have to get our picture taken. We have to prove to Skinner we were here." He gestured Ginny over to be in the picture too.
"Say `reticulan,'" Mulder cracked as the flashbulb went off.
The Citizens Committee had a small private upper deck reserved for them, separate from the general public. The night was mild and calm. It had to be at least 20 degrees warmer than DC in October.
Ginny introduced them to the other committee members who greeted them cordially. Scully made most of the small talk while Mulder stuck close to her side and tried to look interested, answering only when a direct question was asked him. One of the committee members was a physician and cornered Scully for a detailed medical discussion and Mulder excused himself to check out the buffet table inside.
Ginny met him there. "Are you enjoying yourself, Agent Mulder?"
"Did you ever have one of those days when everything seems to converge?" Mulder asked. "One thing leads to another, and then you're no longer where you thought you were going to be?"
Ginny smiled a little uncertainly. "I don't know. You mean, like all the traffic lights going red when you're late?"
"Yeah," said Mulder. "Something like that."
When he went back out on deck, Scully was talking -- or being talked to -- by a very intense looking man. He couldn't see her face, but she was backed up against the railing and this guy was standing closer than he liked to see.
"We're as interested as the FBI in normalizing relationships," he said earnestly to Scully as Mulder approached. "We don't want to be known as `Whacko' or for the fact that the Branch Davidians made their headquarters here. We have a well-known University, and the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame, too."
"I understand," Scully said faintly as she began to edge toward Mulder.
"Not to mention the Dr. Pepper Museum," Mulder said.
"Exactly," the man said, barely acknowledging Mulder's presence. "As I was saying --"
"See many cattle mutilations in these parts?" Mulder interrupted.
Thrown off track, the man said, "Huh?"
"How about exsanguinations?"
"Exsanguinations. You know, the draining of blood..."
The man went a little pale and excused himself.
Ginny came up behind them. "What did you say to Carl? He looks like he saw a ghost."
"I was just asking him what y'all did for fun around here," Mulder drawled.
"You guys aren't like regular FBI agents, are you?" Ginny asked.
"Sure we are. Wanna see my badge?" Mulder started to reach into his pocket.
"Mulder," Scully said. He shrugged and withdrew his hand.
"No offense," Ginny said. "But does the FBI usually concern itself with cattle mutilations and such?"
"Our division does, much to my regret," Scully said. "Go ahead, Mulder, tell her what we do."
"You make it sound like crap," he muttered out of the corner of his mouth. Aloud he said, "We're in charge of unsolved cases. A lot of them have their origins in unexplained happenings, among them things like cattle mutilations or exsanguinations, goat suckers, sewer mutants, various phenomena..."
"Well," Ginny said, unfazed, "we do get the occasional cow-tipping incident. This is a college town, you know."
By the time Ginny took them back to their motel, Mulder knew he was in hot water. Even though Scully hadn't said anything in front of Ginny, he knew he was in for it.
Scully didn't say anything in the elevator up to their floor. She turned toward her room with hardly a glance at Mulder to see if he followed her. He did, of course, wanting to get the tongue-lashing over with. It was better than the silent treatment any day.
When they got to her door, she turned to him. "Good night, Mulder."
"Can't I come in for a minute?" he asked.
Scully sighed. "Mulder, I thought we already discussed this. And I'm tired. It's been a long day, and a long evening."
"I'll say," Mulder said feelingly.
"You didn't help matters any," Scully said. "I thought you were going to play nice."
"I was playing nice," Mulder insisted. "But that guy was hitting on you, Scully. Would you rather I decked him? I didn't want to get thrown off the boat."
"I can take care of myself, Mulder. I appreciate the thought, but your behavior doesn't fit in with our brief for the weekend. Do I need to remind you that we are not on vacation? We're here to represent the FBI for community outreach."
"Well, if they send Monster Boy to do the job, what do they expect?" Mulder asked.
So far their conversation was being conducted in fierce whispers outside Scully's door, but both stopped when someone else's door opened down the hall. Scully swiped her key card through the slot and they entered her room.
Scully felt a little bad for Mulder but she wouldn't let that stop her. "You don't have to live up to the reputation, Mulder," she said. "Maybe they -- Skinner -- doesn't always see you as Monster Boy."
"It's a tough choice, Scully, but I think I'd rather be building a tower of office furniture right about now," Mulder groaned, falling back on Scully's bed. "Maybe they should have sent Tom Colton. And Peyton Ritter, too. We'd sure look good by comparison."
"Are you going to keep this up all weekend?" Scully asked.
"Ooh Scully, are you coming on to me?" Mulder propped himself up on one elbow.
Scully stood looking at him, hands on hips. She wasn't giving in. "To be honest with you, I'm worried about how the meeting is going to go tomorrow with you in this mood."
"You know what it's going to be like, Scully. Community outreach is just like the X-Files in the mainstream FBI. The citizens don't really want to be reached for. They'd rather we just do our jobs and not screw up their lives. Except of course for the ones who want to blame us for everything that happens."
"That may be true in the main, Mulder. But it's part of the job. You want the X-Files to be validated in the eyes of the FBI. Skinner and his superiors want the FBI's mission to be validated in the eyes of the citizens it's sworn to protect."
Mulder stared at her. "You're damned good at toeing the party line, Scully. Do you really believe all that shit about community outreach?"
"Don't you? Don't you want to see our work as important and valuable, not just to us, but to the world? It's not just about goat suckers or sewer mutants. It's about what causes these phenomena to exist."
"Wow, Scully, I just got very turned on," Mulder joked. Then all at once he relented. "I told you that you're a good representative of the FBI. If you can make what we do sound noble, there's no stopping you." He smiled. "I promise, I'll play nice tomorrow."
Scully relented a little and smiled back. "Thank you, Mulder."
He stayed where he was, waiting to see what Scully would do next. When she didn't move, he reluctantly got up and trudged to the door. He turned to Scully and said, "But I still think it sucks."
"Mulder --" Scully started to say, but he was already out the door.
When the phone rang the next morning, Scully thought it was her alarm but it didn't stop when she hit the snooze button. Finally she realized and fumbled for the handset.
"Agent Scully? It's Ginny Clifton? I'm sorry to tell you, but the town hall meeting's been canceled."
"Really? Is everything okay?" Scully asked, trying to see what time it was. Too early, that's what time it was.
"It's the darnedest thing. It's a couple of things, actually. None of them alone would have mattered, but it's one of those convergence things like Agent Mulder was talking about before."
"Oh really," Scully said, her mind racing. She didn't remember the specific conversation, but it sounded like one of Mulder's pet theories. Could he have -- ? No, he wouldn't have even if he could. He'd complain bitterly, in fact he already had. He might try to find a legitimate way out, but he'd never do anything himself...
"Agent Scully? You still there?" Ginny asked.
"Yes, I'm sorry," Scully said. "You were saying?"
"The committee chair's been called out of town on a family emergency, and the moderator has laryngitis. Got a little carried away at the Little League finals this week, I guess. Then we found out the hall has an infestation of praying mantis --"
"Praying mantis. See, there was a science fair there last weekend, and I guess one of the exhibits got left behind or something --"
"But they're harmless."
"Yeah, but there are a lot, and we don't want to exterminate `em. It's gonna take a while to round `em up. I've got a call in to a bug wrangler from Fort Worth --"
It was a very good thing that Scully was talking over the phone rather than in person, because she was having a hard time keeping a straight face.
"...we could've gotten another hall, and replaced the folks, but the committee decided it would be better to postpone the whole thing."
"I understand," Scully said faintly.
"But since you're here, I hate to see you left on your own. I don't have to meet the bug guy until this afternoon, so maybe you and your partner would like to come out to the ranch for lunch? I know you could change your flight and get home earlier, and if you decide to do that, I understand, but I hope you'll accept my invitation."
"Thank you, Ginny," Scully said. "I'll let Mulder know. I'm sure he'll agree."
She fell back on her bed and gave in to the laughter.
Still giggling, she called Mulder.
"H'lo?" he said in his raspy, pre-coffee voice.
"Mulder, want to go to a praying mantis round up?"
"Scully? Is that you? What are you talking about?" She heard the rustle of bedclothes as he sat up, wide awake.
Scully told him the story, adding, "You didn't have anything to do with this, did you?"
"How could you say such a thing? You know how I feel about bugs, especially praying mantis. I told you about my insect epiphany."
"Yes, I remember, girly scream and all," Scully said.
"I did not --" Mulder protested.
"Okay, Mulder, I believe you. Get those long legs of yours moving. I'll let you drive the Ranger." She hung up on his sputtering reply.
It was a pleasant drive out past the suburbs through the rolling countryside outside of Waco proper. Homes gave way to wide vistas of yellow-green hills dotted with trees along the river bottoms. Before long they turned down a narrow paved road which spread out to a gravel driveway.
Ginny met them on the drive. "I'm glad you came out early," she said. "I'll show you around the place before lunch." She nodded approvingly at their jeans and sturdy shoes.
Ginny Clifton's spread wasn't big by Texas standards, but to two city folk it was big enough. The house was low and rambling with a porch all along the front. Outbuildings of various sizes ranged behind the house, and several large pastures surrounded it all. The day was overcast, but still warm by their standards.
They ended at the corral near the house. A horse ambled up to greet Ginny and she scratched his nose, offering him some horse nuts from her pocket.
"You don't run this place all by yourself, and the clinic too, do you?" Scully asked.
Ginny laughed. "No, I'm not that crazy. I have a staff for the practice, and my husband and kids help a lot. They're off on a fishing trip this weekend, though. Sorry they're not here to meet you."
The horse nudged Mulder's shoulder in a friendly way.
"Are you a horse person?" Ginny asked. "Spooky's really taken with you."
"His name is Spooky?" Mulder asked. "We have something in common then. I used to ride, but it's been a while." He scratched Spooky's nose and the horse ducked his head closer.
"Spooky's really a gentle horse. He's just called that because he was born on Halloween."
"He's got a birthday coming up," Mulder remarked, refraining from mentioning that he did, too. Spooky whickered softly and blew air through his lips. Mulder took a treat from Ginny and held it in his palm for the horse.
"He really seems to like you," Scully remarked.
Mulder was aware of Scully's eyes on him. He'd never mentioned this part of his early life, and he liked that she was seeing a part of him she hadn't seen before. A normal part, one he had good memories of.
"Do you have time for a ride?" Ginny asked. "Lunch'll keep."
"I don't want to put you to any trouble," he said, but he thought how nice it would be to show off to Scully a little.
"It's no trouble," Ginny said. "How about you, Dana? Do you ride?"
"I'm afraid not," said Scully. I'll just admire from here."
That decided Mulder.
He impressed Ginny by saddling Spooky himself. He impressed himself by getting into the saddle on the first try, swinging his leg over like a pro.
"How do I look, little lady?" he grinned at Scully.
"Tall in the saddle," she said.
"You have a nice seat, Agent Mulder," Ginny said admiringly. Scully snickered just a little.
He clucked his tongue and Spooky ambled along. Mulder held the reins loosely in one hand, resting his other on his hip. He remembered the easy rhythm of riding, how good it felt.
"If you've got the feel for it, go ahead and let `im go a bit," Ginny called encouragingly.
Scully sat perched on the top of the fence. Mulder gently pressed his heels against the horse's sides and he sped up. He was really feeling the rhythm now, and wondered if he could talk Scully into taking up horseback riding. He imagined a ride along a beach somewhere, or along the riding trails of the regional parks in Virginia.
At that moment, another of what Mulder might call a "convergence of events" occurred.
The wind picked up a little just as Mulder urged Spooky into a faster gait. Scully was enthralled by the sight of Mulder's effortless form, and Ginny was keeping an eye on her guest, too. No one noticed the old pickup truck coming up the drive.
As it stopped in the drive, the truck stalled and backfired. Simultaneously, the wind blew a flutter of leaves into the corral, right in front of Spooky's face. Neither event alone would have been enough to cause a problem, but at the sound of the backfire, Mulder tensed and Spooky sensed it. The leaves blowing across the horse's line of sight startled him and he shied.
Fortunately, Mulder had a good grip on the reins, which kept Spooky from bolting. But he reared up anyway.
For a moment, Mulder saw nothing but sky.
Then he saw stars.
Then he saw nothing.
Scully's concerned face swam into view. "Mulder, are you okay?"
He sat up gingerly. Nothing was broken, as near as he could tell. "Other than maybe having a terminal case of humiliation, I'm good."
He felt something tickling the back of his head and turned slowly to see Spooky looming over him, snuffling his hair.
"Can you get up?"
"Yeah," he said.
"Just stay put for a moment while I check you over," Scully said. She knelt in the dirt and carefully checked his head and neck for injuries while Spooky hovered nearby. Mulder knew he was fine, but he wasn't going to pass up a chance for Scully to touch him.
"Is he okay?" Ginny asked from somewhere above them.
"I'm fine," Mulder said. "How's the horse?"
"He's okay. He's never done that before," Ginny said. "I'm sure sorry."
"Don't worry about it," Mulder said. "Nothing's injured but my pride." With Scully's help, he stood up slowly. Spooky snuffled at his shoulder.
"Looks like Spooky's sorry, too. No hard feelings, fella," Mulder said. "But I think I'm done riding for the day."
"This really is the last place I thought I'd be spending the weekend," Mulder complained.
"Better to be safe than sorry," Scully said. "As soon as we get the results, I'm sure they'll release you."
"Yeah yeah yeah," Mulder muttered. "Guess we won't be flying home tonight though, huh?"
"Even if they don't want to keep you for observation, we probably should wait until tomorrow to be sure," Scully said. "And though I know how hard-headed you are, I wanted to make sure our host was reassured."
Ginny had reluctantly left them at the hospital to go meet the bug wrangler at the airport. She promised to call later to see how Mulder was doing.
"We do seem to find adventure wherever we go," Mulder observed.
"But at least this time, it didn't involve vampires or cattle exsanguinations," Scully said.
"Spoilsport," said Mulder.
"So what does one do in Waco for excitement on a Saturday night?" Mulder asked. He'd been released with no more than what the doctor said was a "hitch in his git-along," due to landing on his ass. They'd gone back to the motel to make sure they still had rooms and to freshen up. Now the long evening stretched before them. Mulder had some ideas about how he'd like to spend it, but he was curious to see what Scully had in mind.
"There's something I think you'll enjoy," Scully said mysteriously.
"What?" Mulder asked.
"You'll see when we get there."
He was further mystified when they turned into the main drive for Baylor University. They parked and walked through the campus, quiet on a Saturday save for a small group of students singing Christmas carols on the green.
It seemed odd to see them dressed in hats and scarves, singing holiday tunes in October. Then they noticed the lights and cameras. As they watched, the carolers stopped in mid-song and listened to instructions from the director. One of the singers took his woolly hat off and fanned himself with it.
"Merry Christmas," Scully murmured.
"Think they take requests?" Mulder wondered.
"I've got something a little more seasonal for you," Scully said, and she led the way into a nearby building.
Mulder noticed the sign at the door: "Frankenstein: Myth and Reality."
"Cool, Scully," he breathed.
"The original Monster Boy, Mulder," Scully said.
Mulder smiled and took her hand in his.
They spent a couple of hours wandering through the exhibit, which covered everything from the original novel to the many films made of the story. There was even enough scientific research to please Scully, all about cell regeneration and genetics.
One group of pictures in particular caught their attention: The Great Mutato, flanked by his father/creator and his half-brother.
"Wonder whatever happened to him?" Scully said.
"I have it on good authority that he's producing records in Nashville," Mulder said.
"You're not serious," Scully said.
Mulder shrugged. "It could happen. Anything could happen."
As they left the exhibit, Scully asked, "Do you still want to visit the Dr. Pepper museum? They might still be open."
"Naw, we can save that for the next trip," Mulder said, swinging Scully's arm along with his. It was almost full dark now. He wondered if he could talk her into going back to the motel pretty soon.
"Hungry?" Scully asked.
"Sure," said Mulder. "Barbecue?" They had to eat, after all. Maybe they could get takeout.
But Scully evidently still had other ideas. "Let's break tradition," she said. "Barbecue in Texas is just so ordinary."
Scully with a plan was an intriguing prospect, and Mulder decided he'd go along with whatever she had in mind.
She pulled into the parking lot for the Summer Palace Chinese Buffet. Ginny had recommended the place to her when she'd found they'd be staying the night in Waco.
"Ooh, Scully, you know what I like," said Mulder.
The meal was delicious. Scully pointed out the barbecued pork to Mulder. "See?" she said. "The best of both worlds."
"Yee haw, Scully," Mulder grinned.
As was their tradition, they traded fortunes at the end of their meal.
Scully's read: "Your present plans are going to succeed."
Mulder's read: "There is a prospect of a thrilling time ahead for you."
"Either way, I really like these," said Mulder.
Once again, Scully just smiled mysteriously.
They'd dawdled over dinner, but it was still fairly early in the evening when they were done. Too early for the next activity Scully had in mind.
"You know, we're not on assignment any more," Mulder said hopefully.
"I know," Scully said. "But I want to make sure you don't have a concussion, so I need to keep you awake for a while."
"I can think of a couple of ways we can keep each other awake," Mulder suggested hopefully.
Scully didn't reply. "Let's go get a coffee," she said.
"That wasn't one of them, Scully," Mulder complained.
Scully seemed to know where she was going, navigating the streets like it was home. They ended up at a coffee house in an older shopping district near the campus. There were a lot of students there, and the atmosphere was lively.
They drank hot chocolate and ate cookies, enjoying the anonymity being in a strange town brought them. Mulder thought they got a couple of sidelong looks, but he figured it was because Scully looked like a student in her jeans and sweater, and he looked like a professor. He liked that thought. He certainly liked seeing Scully like this, so carefree. He guessed he owed old Spooky a thank you.
All at once the place began to clear out. Scully took Mulder's hand and led him out as well.
They walked half a block down to an old movie theater, where there was already a line forming. The marquee read: "Double Feature: Frankenstein and Young Frankenstein, Limited Engagement."
"You really know how to show a guy a good time," Mulder said.
"I didn't want you to think I'd forgotten your birthday," she said. "And all these things just seemed to fall into place."
"I guess we gotta catch a break once in a while," Mulder remarked.
"I'm just glad you didn't break anything important," Scully replied, and gave him a swift kiss on the cheek, surprising him so much that he didn't have a chance to react.
They entered the theater, already half-full, and headed for the back row. A lot of people evidently had the same idea; there were very few seats left in the back.
A smattering of people came in wearing Halloween costumes, some referencing the movies they were about to see.
Scully looked over at Mulder. He was watching the crowd, a big grin on his face. It made her smile too, knowing that she'd managed to surprise Mulder.
They held hands during the first feature. By the second feature, Mulder had his arm around Scully's shoulders, and by the time Inga invited Baron Fronkensteen for a roll in the hay, they were kissing, oblivious to everyone around them.
"Come in, Agents," Skinner said at his door. Mulder still limped a little, but as he'd proved to Scully the night before, it wasn't bothering him too much. Scully repressed the urge to call him "Hop-a-Long," at least in public.
"I got an email from the Citizen's Committee in Waco," Skinner said.
Mulder tensed beside her and drew breath to speak. She waited, ready to jump in if necessary.
Skinner didn't give either of them a chance. "I understand the actual meeting was postponed, but you made such a good impression you've been asked back. Good work, Agents. It's just the kind of thing the Bureau wants." He looked as surprised to be saying it as they did to be hearing it.
"Thank you, Sir," Scully spoke for both of them, since it appeared Mulder had been rendered temporarily speechless.
"It may be that other assignments of this nature will occur in future," Skinner went on. "I hope I can call on you again."
Now it looked like Mulder was ready to say his piece and Scully stepped in before he could undo all the good. "If I may say so, Sir, it wouldn't be fair to the other agents if you didn't allow them to share in the opportunity, too."
"Uh huh." Skinner didn't look like he believed her, but he didn't argue. "Do you have any suggestions as to who I might send?"
"How about Peyton Ritter and Tom Colton?" Mulder suggested, wearing his best poker face.
Author's notes: This was a Waco Weekend challenge fic that was actually due on Mulder's birthday, hence the action takes place during that time. Here are the elements I used from the list:
A crusty, rustic riverboat captain
A leather couch -- not Mulder's usual one A Texas Ranger -- historical or real live A really big Texas flag
Furniture made with longhorn horns or deer antlers A paddleboat
An antique gun
A nice veterinarian (not allowed to die!) The Branch Davidians
Though I set the story somewhere around S6, I also used a few events that were happening in Waco last fall: there really was a Frankenstein exhibit at Baylor University. There was also a "Wild About Waco" photo contest. The Baylor University music department tapes a Christmas program that I actually saw on my local public station. The carolers did look a bit warm in their woollies!
And yes, the Dr. Pepper Museum is in Waco, along with the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, among other interesting destinations.
Since I haven't yet had the good fortune to visit Waco, I may have gotten some appearances and locations a little wrong, so please forgive any oversights on my part. It was fun to learn a little bit about Waco as I researched locations for this story. I hope I do get to visit there some day. It looks like a very nice place. I know some nice people live there!
Thanks to the Enigmatic Dr. for issuing the challenge. I'm sorry it took so long to finish!
Feedback is better late than never, too <g>. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading!
If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to ML
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