Rating: PG 13
Timeline: Late Season Seven.
Beta thanks to wonderful Sallie.
Summary: A moment in time helps Scully make a fateful decision.
Light, fluffy fun with just a touch of angst. Sallie safe. Written for the BtS vacation challenge. Notes at the end
"Are you sure you want to do this?" I asked him in a voice laced with boredom. It was a ploy that never worked, but one I'd always used, just in case he stopped someday and listened to the tone.
"Absolutely, Scully. Did you know it was once used as a hideout for Jesse James and his gang?"
"No, Mulder, I didn't," I said, taking a swig from my water bottle.
Great, I thought. Meramec Caverns. We were on our way to Meramec Caverns in a bureau car.
This was what Mulder and I did for vacation--tacked side trips on at the end of cases. I'd argued in the past that any time spend in the vicinity of a case does not constitute 'rest and relaxation,' but Mulder tended to be persistent about it anyway.
We were coming off a case in St. Louis, and Mulder had decided to take this side trip into Missouri. Meramec Caverns was a boyhood vacation spot and he was apparently feeling nostalgic. We didn't have to be back in D.C. until Monday morning, the perfect excuse it seemed, to recapture the joy of youthful spelunking.
Truthfully, it was a beautiful day; bright sunshine reflected off the fluorescent stripes on the blacktopped highway and we passed field after field of green corn just starting to mature. The sky was impossibly blue, its perfection marred only by the rapidly expanding trails from two jet planes. Perfect driving weather.
"Here," he said, reaching inside his suit coat and pulling out a folded square of paper, "read this to me."
I unfolded the paper to find it was a computer printout from the Meramec Caverns website. Gracing the top of the page was a photograph of the cave entrance flanked by park rangers sporting toothy grins. Atypically attractive tourists were depicted between the rangers, and appeared to be enthralled by them and the many wonders Meramec had to offer.
Mulder was trying to make me feel involved in the process so I'd be as enthused as he was about the trip. He didn't realize, of course, that this was as enthused as I was likely to get.
"Beneath the fertile rolling hills of the Meramec Valley, lies a complex of mineral formations and color as rare and unique as they are beautiful," I began. "These jewels of nature which took thousands of years to grow, are preserved in the spectacular sights of Meramec Caverns.
"Guided tours by trained rangers are conducted along well-lighted walkways. All cavern facilities are accessible to the disabled. Learn how Mother Nature built an ancient limestone "Wine Table" and an entire 7-story mansion... all underground. On tour you will see both the rarest and largest cave formations in the world
"Meramec Caverns is the largest commercial cave in the state of Missouri. Missouri is also known as the Cave state, hosting home to more than 6,000 surveyed caves. Meramec Caverns is open year round and offers a fun, affordable vacation for all its visitors.
"Nestled agelessly among the lush foothills of Missouri's rolling Ozark's, these magnificent caverns chronicle over 400-million years of history including: The formation of caves and stalactites, fossils and limestone, Indians of Missouri, European miners and explorers, dramas of the Civil War, train robberies and great escapes, ballroom dances around the 1900's, the Great Depression, World War II, Hollywood movies, and the list goes on."
Yes, it does, I thought, but didn't comment.
There was a crude map at the bottom, showing several routes to the cave, including one along old Route 66.
"Sounds great, doesn't it?"
I glanced over at his profile and wondered if his eagerness for this venture was to convince me or himself. Our case had been a harrowing one, involving a small missing child named Ryan Clark. Initial reports had indicated he'd been a kidnapped by a stranger, but the longer we worked the case, the more likely it seemed the parents were involved.
Ryan's tiny body had finally turned up in an old quarry, and the parents fled. Mulder, myself, and field agents from the local FBI office had finally caught up with them inside a vast state park. They'd taken refuge in a rocky outcropping and steadfastly refused to give up. Mulder spent hours in negotiations, pleading with them to come out. In spite of it all, Mr. Clark shot his wife and then himself.
Though he hadn't said much about it since, I knew Mulder was deeply affected by the deaths. Children in particular seemed to haunt him, more so since we'd worked the Amber Lynn LaPierre case. Samantha was never far from his mind, and he'd yet to share his deepest thoughts on Amber's case with me. I was frankly worried about him too, so I was only putting up a token resistance to the cave trip.
Mulder chose that moment to turn my way and gift me with a brilliant smile, as if he knew what I was thinking. "Whatcha lookin' at Scully?"
I was suddenly struck by the handsome beauty I saw in his face, and it caused a tiny flutter of anticipation in my stomach.
"Take your sunglasses off, Mulder."
"Yes. Take them off."
The smile was replaced with gentle puzzlement and a hint of concern at the earnest tone I used. He obliged me by removing them and then turning his face toward mine again. Eyes now exposed, I probed their depths, looking for something I knew instinctively was there.
Mulder's expression softened a little, as he met me halfway, revealing a clarity and openness that dwelt deep within him. It was a part of himself he rarely showed to anyone, but I'd come to know it well.
In that instant of vulnerability something passed between us--an intangible process that no one else would have seen or recognized, even if they had been with us in the car. Though it lasted only a second or two, I knew it would change our relationship in a fundament way.
Mulder sensed it too, tilting his head to one side in a kind of curious awe.
We stared at each other for so long, neither of us noticed that the car had begun to stray into the next lane. A loud honk brought our attention back to the road, and Mulder jerked the car back over into our lane.
Just then, a blue information sign displaying the food and accommodations available at the next exit caught my eye. Taco Bell, McDonald's and Wendy's could be had, as well as KFC. Just below those names was a small white square with block letters painted in red. 'Fiesta Motel,' it proclaimed.
I knew that kind of motel--small, dank rooms, chipped green tile in the bathrooms, and the sheets so stiff they could be used to cut meat. The kind of motel where the rooms were paid for by the hour, and women shed velvet tears over illicit love.
It was perfect.
"Pull over at the next exit, Mulder."
"Pull over. I want to stay at the Fiesta Motel."
"Are you tired? You can sleep on the way, Scully. If we stop, we won't make the last tour," he said, missing the point entirely. Mulder was a brilliant profiler, but he was also a man. Sometimes it was best to use the direct approach with such creatures.
With great deliberation I screwed the lid onto my water bottle and set it down on the floor. I then unbuckled my seatbelt and lifted the armrest that separated us. With as much dignity as I could muster, I shimmied over next to him and leaned up until my mouth was nearly touching his ear.
"I'm not tired, Mulder."
I said it in a low, and what I hoped, was a seductive voice. To cement the point, I reached down and placed my hand on his thigh
Mulder blinked twice and then swerved the car so hard toward the exit that I nearly fell over backwards. I hung onto his shoulders and just managed to keep from ending up on my ass. My water bottle, however, wasn't as lucky. I heard it hit the floor with a thud and watched as it rolled under the front seat.
"Good man," I whispered when I'd regained my equilibrium, "but what about Jesse James and the gang?"
Never taking his eyes off the ramp, or his foot off the gas, he said, "Let them get their own girl."
Thanks to Foxsong for giving me the excuse to use my Gothic name.
Fic challenge elements: A vacation story, any fandom, any genre (and of course,
any rating). Story to include: a map, water (in any shape, form, or location), and a camera or photograph."
The real Meramec Caverns website:
If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to philiater
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