Category: The X-Files
Summery: Season 6 or 7. Mulder and Scully visit Rowlett, Texas to solve a crime concerning spontaneous combustion. Along the way, Mulder gets to thinking about the FBI Picnic and Ball.
A/N: I always try to make the summaries really boring because it seems trite to give away the fun part of the fic. (All my fics are fun because, basically, I wouldn't want to screw with the mythology.) Oh, and I haven't seen much of the sixth season, but I do realize that there was a Season 6 case that mentioned SHC. So sue me.
MULDER AND SCULLY'S OFFICE
J. EDGAR HOOVER BUILDING
Mulder stifled a chuckle as he stared at his computer screen, smiling like a loon. Scully looked up at him, a reluctant look upon her face as she asked, "Mulder, do I even want to know?"
"It's just the description of the FBI Picnic and Ball thing coming up. You know, for a bunch of austere, suit-wearing, no-nonsense federal law enforcement officers, we sure know how to throw a party. You should see the menu they have planned for that afternoon: hamburgers, barbecue, the whole nine yards. And the ball, they've got all sorts of stuff going on: a silent auction, stand-up comedy competition, a dance-off," he said this last item with extra emphasis, giving Scully a grin.
"Mulder, I know that grin, and somehow, I don't see us participating in a dance-off. I can't break dance, and I wasn't aware that you could."
Mulder responded, trying not to laugh, "Scully, you'd better read your e-mail. It's not that kind of dance-off. I doubt the taxpayers would continue to fund us if they found out that this is what we did with their money. It's a partners' dance competition, you know, who can invent the best routine."
Scully's expression changed, but barely, "Nonetheless, Mulder, I still don't see us as the get-down-and-boogey in front of our peers. Why, what are you thinking?"
"Oh, I'm not thinking yet, I'm just entertaining ideas."
"Well, for one, spontaneous human combustion."
"Okay, Mulder, in terms of trains of thought, that goes beyond a derailing."
"It's our next case…"
"And it involves spontaneous human combustion… I'll try to contain my excitement."
"You're a natural at that, as we all know." Before he could catch her sneer, he turned on the slide projectors. "Okay, kiddies, you know what it means went Ranger Fox turns on the projector. It's slide presentation time!" He notices he's disarmed Scully, who has long since given up on stifling a smile.
The first slide comes up, showing a bed with most of the center of the mattress gone due to charring.
"Mulder, there's no person in that picture."
"Well, obviously Scully, she burst into flames."
"Mulder, I've taken the liberty of researching possible X-File themes to better debunk you. Cases of Spontaneous Human Combustion, or SHC as it is sometimes abbreviated, usually cite left body parts and very little damage to the surrounding area. This bed looks like it was nearly consumed and there's no sign of whoever this is, if there was anyone there to start with."
"Scully, why is part of the mattress left? Should that have burned away completely, or the rest of the room?"
"Shouldn't it have? Spontaneous combustion or not, that bed should have burned away. It was a controlled burn, apparently extinguished."
"Bingo. Meet Sherry Atkins, or what's left of her: nothing. Her son, Reece, 28, heard screaming, so he ran and found this fire, so he extinguished it."
"Mulder, screaming has never been a sign of spontaneous human combustion. The victim is found after being alone for hours on end. For whatever reason it seems to strike certain people: alcoholics, smokers, often careless smokers, and the obese. One occurred in the presence of an oxygen machine. That's a lot of fuel to ignore."
"I know the case you speak of. That man was a fireman. Not the kind of guy you'd expect to be the victim of a house fire due to being careless with fire."
"Mulder, I get the cruel irony, too, but come on."
"Three thousand degrees Fahrenheit. Does that figure mean anything to you?"
"The temperature at which human tissue is burned away. Why are you quoting it? It's commonly use to discredit SHC, most notably the test they did with a pig's body. At the 3000-degree mark, it took over five hours for the body to be consumed completely. Should I even bring up the case about the woman who caught fire in the middle of a dance floor. It's a tall tale, by the way."
"So that's why you were so apprehensive about participating in the dance-off."
Scully groaned, looking at her partner lethargically, "Mulder, we've done this a thousand times over. Just tell me where were going and when to be ready," she looked a Mulder with a defeated grimace.
Mulder walked over to Scully, put his hands on her shoulders, and looked into her eyes. Scully smiled, knowing the gesture was for show. She looked him hard in the eyes as he replied, "Tomorrow. Ten o'clock flight into DFW Airport. I'll pick you up at eight o'clock sharp at your apartment. It's less than an hour drive from Dallas into Rowlett, Texas, where the fire took place."
"Okay," she replied simply.
NEARING ROWLETT, TEXAS
True to his claim, it was taking less than an hour to get from the airport into Rowlett. They had spent the first fifteen minutes getting out the airport, and the last thirty discussing the case on the interstate. At the moment, Scully, tired of arguing with her partner about the possibility of Spontaneous Human Combustion (why she tried, she didn't know), lay back in her seat.
Mulder took this opportunity to turn on the radio, immediately getting the announcer of the local Classic Oldies station. "…and next on our line-up is Rowlett's favorite hit. You got it, Three Dog Night's 'Joy to the World.'" Mulder immediately threw a cautious glance and his partner, who was already smiling, avoiding his eyes.
Mulder mouthed the word as soon as Cory Wells sung them, "Jeremiah was a bullfrog…"
He looked away momentarily, looking at Scully to sing the next line, "Was a very good friend of mine…" He repeated the next few lines, nudging her at the beginning of the chorus to join him.
She sung under the music, an embarrassed grin on her face, "But I helped him to drink his wine." They look at each other, saying, "Yes, he always had some mighty fine wine…"
Halfway through the song, Scully then caught Mulder's pensive expression out of the corner of her eye. "Mulder, it's that look again. You're planning something, and it's probably some idea that I don't want to hear…"
"And they call me paranoid…" He rejoined the song, "You know I love the ladies…"
Det. Hartkins of the Rowlett PD showed Mulder and Scully the bedroom where Sherry Atkins allegedly burst into flames. As Mulder talked to the detective, Scully examined the bed, which had a person-sized hole burned deep into the mattress, leaving it somewhat cored. She looked up, "Detective Hartkins, I don't know why type of forensics department you have, but have you taken any samples to be examined for human remains? At the very least, teeth and traces of non-combustible mineral deposits should be present in the ashes."
"Yeah, we sent chunks of the charred mattress and the ashes down to the lab. We only got ourselves two lab technicians, but they're pretty good, but you don't rush 'em. You'll get your results as soon as they can spit 'em out."
Det. Hartkins was pulled out the room by his shoulder radio, and Mulder leaned down beside his partner, saying, "What are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking that this bed just caught fire and it was put out by Reece Atkins."
"It appears so, but where's Sherry? You're thinking she ran away or something. I'm not saying she didn't, but there's no indication that she did. And if this bed caught fire somehow, why is there just this big hole gone? I'm sure the chemist and physicist in you know that a bed that catches on fire will burn away the sheets first, then start to consume the mattress, which appeared to me to be compressed feathers, which would burn slowly. There's just a hole in this bed…"
"Indicating an extremely centralized, extremely brief and extremely hot fire," admitted Scully, "but that doesn't explain where Mrs. Atkins' teeth are. The enamel in teeth doesn't burn."
"I won't argue that. Though wouldn't a fire hot enough to have this effect on the bed damage the surrounding area?"
Feeling him leading her through her normal thought processes, she replied, "Any object hot enough to this to the mattress would at least warp the ceiling above it. The radiation from it should have peeled the paint off the walls."
"But it didn't. It's almost if the fire was contained in something, like a fire that erupted inside a human body."
"…which is impossible. The fatty tissues inside the human body will burn, but not from the inside out. The fire has to have access to oxygen, especially the fire that did this too the bed. The human trachea is not large enough to transport that much oxygen, especially given its clenching reaction to trauma."
"Could it be done without oxygen?"
Scully smiled evilly, "Mulder, you're gonna have to excuse my self-righteousness for a moment." She clears her throat, and recited, "Chemistry 101. Burning by definition is rapid oxidation, most commonly the reaction of oxygen and hydrocarbons into water and carbon dioxide."
"The sun doesn't use oxygen, does it?"
"The sun doesn't burn, per se, the preexisting energy of the sun causes nuclear fission, transforming two hydrogen atoms into a helium atom, a very exothermic reaction. I'd love to tell the Bureau that a woman underwent a nuclear reaction, effectively destroying her and a good chunk of her bed…"
"Could she have swallowed something radioactive?"
Scully pulls on her hair, "No, Mulder, it just doesn't work like that. I'm gonna have to make you take some remedial chemistry correspondence courses."
Unfazed, Mulder continued, "Well, can you think of a way how she could burn from the inside out?"
Scully sighed, "A human body? No. The way it works, even in SHC cases, is that somehow the body catches fire somewhere and is for whatever reason immobilized. Their clothes catch fire, melting the tissue under them, creating a sort of inside-out candle. But, again, that takes hours. And we're back to bed fires. Looking at this bed, the only way this could happen, modulo a controlled chemical burn, is if you had a tank of compressed oxygen and hydrocarbons, which you somehow lit. And then, to prevent an explosion that would surely level the house, you'd have to have some kind of escape value to keep the reaction from rapid-expanding its container. There is no flammable material strong enough to hold in such enormous amounts of pressured gases."
Conjecturing away, Mulder mentioned, "Some metals are flammable, right?"
"Yeah, but that would leave behind traceable by-products. It also requires ridiculous amounts of heat. However, metallic fires can't be put out with a typical fire extinguisher, which can only handle debris, chemical, and electrical fires. Metallic fires required high-intensity dousing with water for the sole purpose of cutting of the oxygen supply. Not that he could come close enough to that kind of fire to use the extinguisher." She looked up at him, realizing that their typical conversation arc was about to finish. All she needed now was for Mulder to make a dumb joke.
Nonchalantly, Mulder commented, "Don't you just love our job?"
Rubbing her face, she replied almost sarcastically, "Yes, Mulder, it's what gets me out of bed each morning…"
LA QUINTA INN GARLAND
Mulder sat in his room, examining the lab results. Nothing. No human remains were found. The bed seemed to simply have caught fire and burned in an unnatural way. This made no sense, given that the smoke alarm never went off in the Atkins' home. Mulder was thoroughly stumped. The evidence didn't completely support recorded cases of spontaneous combustion, and the scientific evidence had Scully just as baffled.
He grabbed the CD case and pulled it out, The Best of Three Dog Night; the first song was "Joy to the World," so he popped it into his CD player and smiled as the familiar lyrics were sung passionately through his headphones. He looked at the case file again, but nothing popping out to his hidden-detail-oriented mind. As the words "Joy… to the world!" were belted out, he had a sudden image of a man twirling a woman. The man was tall with brown hair and the woman short with red hair. He laughed, but his smiled disappeared.
He restarted the song, standing up and listening to the lyrics, swaying a bit, holding out his arm at one point as if twirling a woman. His hand was not held very high. He started to step around, watching his reflection in the mirror for a moment, then watching his feet as he stepped around, a typical Mulder-pensive look on his face.
He didn't hear the adjoining door open. Scully stopped dead in her tracks, the corners of her mouth slowly curling up. She watched for a moment, noticing the open case file on the bed. Sighing deeply, she went over a tapped her partner on the shoulder. His reaction was something cliché. He threw the headphones off, his reddening face featuring wide eyes, and he spent several seconds regaining his composure.
"Let me guess, this has nothing to do with the case…" she said to break the awkward silence.
"Not a thing, but we're still gonna interview the son this afternoon." After pausing, he mentioned, "You remember how I called you paranoid this afternoon?"
"Oh, no," she groaned, "I remember."
"Well, I do have an idea. We should enter ourselves in the dance-off."
"Oh, brother. Did this just come to you or is there more?"
"I've been toying with the idea all day, but I was inspired." He put the headphones on Scully's ear, her critical eyes still glaring at him. They closed as she heard the song, a grimace on her face.
"I was thinking some kind of swing dance thing," he admitted enthusiastically. Scully groaned in reply. "What, you don't like the idea?" he asked.
"No, I do like it. I think it's hilarious. But that means you're gonna find some way to convince me to do it."
"Okay, I just have a few ideas. Work with me for a second." Her eyes practically rolled out of her head, but she gives him a look of consent.
"Melissa dragged me to a swing dance class once. They said that it's ideal for partners to be about the same height," she mentioned.
"What a dumb rule. I'm glad the FBI doesn't subscribe to it. We'd be kept on different sides of the building." With this, he grabbed her wrist and pulled her to the middle of the room. "Okay, start by putting your hands on my shoulders." Without waiting, he put them there for her, and then put his right hand on the small of her back.
Continuing his spiel with almost objective detachment, he began, "For the first line, I'm gonna lean you back a bit. Maybe mouth the words." Scully allowed him to lean her back as he leaned forward. "Try putting your right leg out beside my left one," he mused.
She does so and almost falls back, but Mulder's hand pulls her back up. She let go, but Mulder gently grabbed her wrists again and put them behind his neck. "Interlace them, that'll give you more support." Doing so brought her a few inches closer to him, but he seemed oblivious. She looked away, trying to avoid eye contact. He leaned forward and she leaned back quickly, her leg instinctively kicking forward to counterbalance. She would have been a goner, but between the death grip her hands had on each other and Mulder's single hand behind her back, she was completely supported.
"Exactly," he complimented, unaware of her increased heart rate, for more than one reason. "And on the duh-dun-duh part, we're erect ourselves." Scully quickly straightened her curled lips as he switched hands. "Then, I'll lean back and you forward."
He took a step back, support his weight on his left leg, and pulling her forward his right hand, which was at the middle of her back. She sashayed her hair out of her face and asked, "Why do you get to use your leg to support yourself, but I gotta kick?"
His left foot hopped in place. The jump had done nothing to Mulder but cause his hand to apply a bit more pressure to her back, which she easily counterbalance, but the reactive force of him landing caused her to fall into his shoulder. She let go of his neck, but his hand remained as he stood back up, and Scully didn't move away. "That's why," he replied, smiling, "I outweigh you by, what? Fifty, maybe sixty pounds?" She could have moved away right then, but she had looked into his eyes, seeing the eagerness, and she allowed him a few more minutes.
"For the next part, I'm envisioning something like this," Scully smiled at him using the word 'envisioning,' but she found herself being pulled forward and spun by Mulder. When the move was done, she found they'd switched places.
"Under the rainbow," she commented breathily.
"That's what Missy used to call it. It's probably got some real name like 'underarm cross.'"
"The line's pretty long; if we get good at this, we could try to do two of those."
"We could…" she admitted.
"Anyway, for the last line, 'I helped him to drink his wine,' are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
She tilted her head, "You want to dip me, don't you?"
"It's corny imagery, I know, but don't you think…"
"You know how to do it? Because my dad…" She was cut off by Mulder dipping her perfectly, spinning almost a half turn, before returning her to her place.
"My mum taught me when I was ten or eleven…"
"I'm still reluctant. It seems kinda fun so far, but…" Damn those eager eyes. She reluctantly said, "Just show me the chorus."
For the chorus, Mulder had an in-place spin in mind. He spun her twice, and she almost fell over, but recovered. For the second line of the chorus, he had an elaborate move where they turned in opposite directions only to catch each other's hands on the last beat.
"It's kind of complicated… We'll have to practice it." The future tense 'will' rather than the conditional tense 'would' was not lost to Scully's ears. She still gave him the rest of the chorus, but he didn't had a move for "Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea,"
She mindlessly moved her hands in front of her like a swimming fish and regretted it immediately. Mulder instantly suggested that they "swim" past one another twice during the line.
"Mulder, I'm not doing that in front of my peers. I still have some respect, you know?"
"Even after working with 'Spooky' Mulder?"
"We're not having this conversation again."
"Well, if it means anything, I have enough respect for you for the whole Bureau."
A long silence followed as Scully's cheeks reddened. The sincere compliment had hit her at the same time as her thinking of a good excuse for them to not enter the dance-off. But her partner's usual tactlessness disappeared just in time for her to decide for herself that she would compete with him in this thing. He was just too earnest of a man.
"And the last line," she said, masking her enthusiasm with critique, as if she were judging him and he had two more minutes to tip the scales in his favor.
"Um, it's nothing big, just getting us back into position." He extended his hand, holding hers and pulling her toward him. His hand landed squarely on her back and her hands behind his neck, but their abdomens seceded to inertia and collided with each other.
"We'll work that out."
"Yeah, we will," she replied, almost casually.
But the use of the future tense hadn't escape Mulder, either.
A knock at the hotel door alerted the agents. After separating quickly, Mulder walked to the door as Scully sat down on his bed. She quickly thought better of it and power-walked over to the door as Mulder opened it to reveal Det. Hartkins. "It's Reece, the son, we found him in the living room. Or what's left of him."
"What happened?" Scully asked, dreading the answer.
"There was a fire in the living room. It got most of him, but there's a leg and some flesh. You'd better come check."
The scene hit Mulder hard. It looked much more like a SHC case then the mother had. DNA results had reached the scene shortly after, which was "miraculously fast," according to Det. Hartkins. They were a perfect match to Reece. The armchair that he was sitting in was almost gone. The floor experienced some blackening, and paint was peeling off the wall around the burn side. There was extensive soot damage to the surrounding area.
Scully was quick to show off the carton of cigarettes she found on the floor. An empty whiskey bottle was found under the remains of the armchair. She came up with her theory immediately: Reece, mourning his mother's death, dropped a cigarette into his whiskey, which caught fire. He dropped it on himself, lighting his clothes on fire. The pain was so great, he passed out and his body burned away until the fire department came.
Mulder didn't have to voice his theory. Det. Hartkins was the one to poke a hole in her conjectures. "That's what I wanna believe, too, Miss Scully, but the fire department didn't come. We found 'im like this."
"Mulder, I know what you're thinking, but according to the theory of SHC, the fire is supposed to do minimal damage to surrounding area because the body is the only flammable thing in the area or because its not the surround media which causes the fire, but the body itself. This armchair is gone. Something had to put out this fire."
"There's no evidence of smoldering," Mulder noticed, "is there any chance that there was just no more oxygen. There aren't any windows open."
"It seems unlikely that this place is so airtight that that would occur, but it's not impossible. There would be an air pressure difference. If so, the fire was obviously starved long enough to go out."
"Yet there's obviously enough oxygen for us to be breathing."
Saying it to sound obvious, she states, "Opening the door would let it in and regulate it quickly, but that's still almost ridiculous."
"Well, I guess that frees up our afternoon,"
She lightly chastised him, "Mulder, that's terrible." She examined the room and stated, "I'm going to have a look around, if that's okay with you."
"It's not like I'm gonna send you to do any autopsy."
"You're awful, you know that?"
She went into the next room. Det. Hartkins watched her walk away then turned to Mulder, asking with pure curiosity, "How do ya do that?"
"What?" Mulder replied, clueless.
"Your partner, Scully, she seems to be a pretty strong-willed, no-nonsense woman."
"You're an impeccable judge of character."
"I guess," he replied unassuredly, "I'm scared half the time she's gonna castrate you for the lip you give her. All you two do is argue. How do you stand each other? 'Cause for whatever reason, your aggressions just melt away when you're done talking."
Mulder gives him a wide grin, "I really don't know. We're just like that. We love the intellectual battle. As for not jumping each other's throats afterwards, we're really good friends."
"Doesn't the aggression or the tension build up?"
Letting out a laughing sigh, Mulder nodded, "Oh, it does. We have ways to relieve it. For her, it's long baths. For me, it's jogging or basketball, or things I shall not mention."
Det. Hartkins gives him a friendly laugh, "I get it. Neither of you are married, then."
"No," Mulder replied flatly.
"I guess that makes sense. No wedding bands. Plus, a male and a female, field agents, working together… on traveling cases. That's a lot of trust to ask from a spouse, especially since she's so attractive, if you hadn't noticed."
"I'm not allowed to notice. But, you know, the first time you meet someone, what's the first thing you notice?"
Det. Hartkins smiled and ribbed Mulder, before sobering up and he looked around the room.
ROWLETT POLICE DEPT FORESENICS LAB
Mulder and Scully entered the room, where a female lab technician, tall with curly black hair was bearing into the microscope.
Scully cleared her throat, "Excuse me, we're the agents from the FBI. You wanted to see us?"
"Hi, I'm Anjeli Truman. I, uh, did a test on some of the victim's blood, the son's, and the blood-alcohol level was off the charts. Also, we ran the cushion, found significant traces of alcohol."
"You think the alcohol was an accelerant?" Scully inquired.
"Yeah, but the cigarette wasn't the source of the fire. They recovered the bottom half of the glass he drank from. Not traces of a cigarette; and cigarettes leave plenty of trace. In fact, we found it in a melted ashtray, but barely any trace of tobacco leaves. It was a finished cigarette."
"What was the cause of the fire, then?"
"No clue," the woman replied. "There wasn't any trace of cigarette on the cushion, but that could just be a fluke, but, again, they found it in the ashtray. As for Sherry Atkins, there's no evidence of her or an accelerant, unless it was the untraceable accelerant."
She and Scully shared a quick laugh.
"You want to let me in on this little joke of yours, ladies?"
Scully turned to him, "Hydrogen. It catches on fire, but it leaves no trace but water, which is easily overlooked. But it's lighter than air, so it floats. The only way to douse something would be for it to be in liquid form. You set the fumes on fire and you have yourself and untraceable burning, except it won't work because liquid hydrogen is too cold to let any sort of fire near it."
"I can see how that's hilarious," Mulder commented dryly. "If you're willing to be open-minded, I have a theory about the Atkinses…"
"Spontaneous human combustion?" Anjeli guessed.
"Down, boy," Scully joked, putting one hand to restrain Mulder, unnecessarily.
"Don't worry," the lab tech assured, "I'm married. In fact, Mr. Truman's still working on the ashes from the mother as we speak, if they are her ashes."
For once, the details of the case weren't what piqued Mulder's attention, "You work with the guy you're married to?"
She smiled, "More like I married the guy I work with. It's not too difficult, but you gotta make sure he doesn't try to 'talk privately with him' in the office." Scully almost laughed at that suggestion. Anjeli walked over to the other side of the room and started to look through some vials.
"You looked like you were taking her suggestion to heart," Mulder whispered to his partner as he leaned forward.
"I'm not afraid to hit you, Mulder," she replied, as cold as she was dry.
"Down, girl," he commented, walking forward, leaving the red-faced Scully half-fuming.
Anjeli returned, using an eyedropper to prepare a slide for the microscope, saying, "I'm willing to believe that spontaneous human combustion is possible. I don't believe any of the reports so far, but they human body is far complex enough to produce some kind of incendiary action. Conditions usually aren't right."
Scully countered, "Well, if they were, wouldn't we catch on fire more often?"
Anjeli mused, "Well, let's think like Darwin. Genetic flaws that cause us to burst into flames wouldn't cause the gene to survive very long."
"Yeah, but people are born with long-dead genetic flaws all the time," Mulder pointed out.
"Anyone whose body had that flaw would likely die in the womb during development. Embryonic fluids would prevent it from catching on fire. It'd simply be a stillborn child." Scully stated in her normal skeptic tone of voice.
"If the genetic characteristics caused the reaction constantly in the body," he countered. "Some people are prone to heart attacks, but it requires special conditions to set them off: high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, and so on. I mean, a mother and child, both who disappear when a fire breaks out in the room they're in?"
"Sorry, Miss Scully, but I have to agree with your partner. I'm not saying it's what killed Reese Atkins, but what he's talking about it theoretically possible."
"Anyway, Mulder, these deaths were very different. He did die by fire. We still have established where his mother went. There was a strange lack of evidence placing Mrs. Atkins at the scene."
"Well, maybe she spontaneously combusted… work with me here," he threw in as Scully's eyes started to roll, "But she somehow got out of the house, screaming. She left a fire on her bed with dug deep into the mattress while she was lying on it, making the fire erupted from her back or something, or maybe from her front, as fire would tend to do, and she turned over, scorching her bed. She got and ran out of the house in a panic. Her son ran in, seeing the fire, and put it out."
"It's kind of far-fetched, Mulder."
"What about the dad? Is he alive?"
Anjeli replied, "Nope, he died… of a heart attack, ironically. Harry Atkins. I did his blood work two months ago to make sure the missus hadn't poisoned him to commit insurance fraud."
"Two months after her husband dies, she dies. Then their son dies the day after his mother died traumatically."
"We haven't proved her death yet, Mulder," Scully replied.
"We haven't disproved it either. Stress is an indicator of SHC, too."
"Well, Mrs. Truman, please call us if you find anything else, we're going to review the details of the case and see if we can make heads or tails of this situation."
Scully was the first to leave and Mulder followed her, his hand on the small of her back, but at the door, he turned and whispered to Anjeli, "You'll have to excuse her behavior. She has problems with repressed sexual emotions."
He received a sharp slap to the arm and he winked knowingly at Anjeli, who just shook her head.
Mulder drove toward the hotel as Scully revealed the lab results, alternating between nodding and shaking her head.
"Looks like this case has got you in a bind," Mulder says, looking over at Scully's facial movements.
"Mulder, when we get a freaky case and your theories or my theories more or less pan out, it makes me feel we're making progress. But this case is just one loop after another. We've got Sherry's death, which we can't figure out if it happened or not, then we have the son dying of what really appears to be spontaneous human combustion when it's his mother we came to investigate for it and found the scene out of the Twilight Zone."
On cue, Mulder started humming the theme to The Twilight Zone.
Scully turned on the radio to drown him out, only to hear, "…all the boys and girls/Joy to fishes in the deep blue sea…"
"The locals are really crazy about this song, aren't they?" Scully commented.
"Yeah, but you can't complain can you? It's catchy."
Scully's cell rang, interrupting the conversation. "Scully,"
"What?" she said, incredulous. She turned to Mulder, "Anjeli did a test on Reece Atkins's foot. She found a natural accelerant in his dermal tissue."
"So, he did catch fire? As in real spontaneous combustion?"
Mulder made a sharp U-turn, and started to head back, "Okay, Scully, I've gotta see this for myself. It's crazy enough when I'm right, but when's there's medical proof, geez, what luck!"
ROWLETT POLICE DEPARTMENT
Mulder and Scully arrived at the scene only to find a fire truck parked askew in front of the building.
To an officer that approached them, Scully asked, "What happened?"
"Fire in the forensics lab."
"Oh my god. Are the technicians alright?"
"We sent Anjeli to the ICU. She had severe burns on both of her hand and some mild ones on her face…"
"The accelerant in the foot. Must have combusted." Mulder stated as he looked at Scully.
Scully reviewed the final details of the case file in the car. "Any evidence of the chemical in that body is gone. The foot apparently burned up in the lab fire. There's a daughter, but blood tests show she isn't Harry's daughter." Mulder caught the tone in her voice, but chose to ignore it.
"Anyway," she continued, "there's no way any part of Sherry was in her bed. They're gonna do a search for her. It's entirely possible that she may have the genes, too."
Scully was jerked from her monologue by Mulder slamming on the brakes. She looked at the reason for his panic and saw it. A person, consumed in flames was running into the middle of the road. He or she (it was impossible to tell) fell to the ground, inhuman screams coming from his or her throat.
Mulder opened the door, but grimaces and closed it. Right as he did, a loud popping sound, the front tires, dropped the front of the car. A crack went through the windshield. Scully, feeling the heat, "She's burning really hot; we got to get out of here."
They both opened their doors and ran from the scene, eyes watering, hair curling, and faces reddening. The sound of the gas tank exploding knocked the two agents to the ground. Mulder tried to cover Scully's petite body, was it was needless. The explosion was small. They turned around, feeling the radiating heat dissipating.
Upon closer examination of the scene, the found nothing but part of the person's, most likely Sherry's, foot and a pile of ashes. Mulder pointed toward the ground, "There's those teeth you were looking for."
OFFICE OF A.D. SKINNER
J. EDGAR HOOVER FBI HEADQUARTERS
A.D. Skinner had been quiet for almost fifteen minutes, reading over the case write-up. Mulder and Scully sat in excruciating silence, waiting for their boss to comment. "Well, Agents, I must say I'm a bit perplexed. There was no proof?"
"Anjeli Truman's report of the chemical found in Reece Atkins's foot was destroyed in the fire, both the hard and the digital copy. Sherry Atkins's foot was transported in an incombustible container to the FBI lab. They found what they think to be the remnants of the chemical in her foot."
Mulder picked up after her, "Our best guess is that it was a genetic anomaly. Both Harry and Sherry Atkins had it, and they passed it along to their son. It required several characteristics, namely high levels of stress, alcohol in the blood, and a weakened immune system, likely from smoking. Ironically, the cigarettes don't appear to be the source of the flame. Rather some internal combustion, possibly gastric acid or even the electrolytes in the blood could have triggered it."
Skinner shook his head, "A documented case of spontaneous human combustion. Sounds like something out of the Twilight Zone." The agents didn't miss a beat by singing, "Doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo," in unison.
"We're gonna have a field day with this," Skinner added.
"We're sorry there's not more proof," Scully apologized.
"Don't apologize, Agent Scully. You two did excellent work. I've very impressed and so will my superiors when I relate the case."
"Well, thank you, sir," Mulder said with intentional courtesy.
"That'll be all, Agents. Good work." As his agents exited the room, "Oh, can I expect to see you two at the picnic and ball this weekend?"
"You bet your loafers we will. We've even got a surprise for you," Mulder stated with mirth in his voice.
Skinner would normally discount this to Mulder's typical goofiness, but seeing the grin on Scully's face alerted him. "Oh, brother. I'm dreading it already," he replied, a casual smile on his face.
DANA SCULLY'S APARTMENT
Both quietly whispered, "One-two-three-four" under their breaths as they ran through the routine in Scully's apartment.
"And make sweet love to you," Mulder softly sang as he dipped Scully, who sighed disapprovingly.
"Sorry…" he stated.
"No, not that. When they're singing about wine, the dip seems okay, but for the 'sweet love' part, it's almost anticlimactic. I think we could change it up a bit to, you know, ruffle a few feathers."
Mulder stared incredulously at his partner for a moment, before asking, "Who are you, and what have you done with my partner. And how often can you come back?"
"You're saying you like 'Wild Woman Dana' more than FBI Agent Scully?"
"Not so much better. I need FBI Agent Scully to discredit my theories when we're on a case. We can't have Wild Woman Dana thinking about ruffling feathers when I need an autopsy done, now can we? But for this, I'm kind of fond of Wild Woman Dana. So, Wild Woman, wha'cha got in mind to 'ruffle some feathers…'?"
Scully just smiled evilly.
Scully slipped the white sweater jacket off her arms, leaving her only in the long, navy blue sundress. "Gee, this is the warmest DC March I've felt in a while," she commented to her partner, who was removing his own leather jacket, leaving him a gray short-sleeve polo shirt and jeans.
"You're telling me," he replied. Arms now free, he pulled the top bun off his hamburger and poured an inordinate amount of ketchup on his patty. Scully was about to comment, but when he reached for the mustard, she instead decided to pick up her own barbecue beef sandwich and took a careful bite out of it. Not careful enough, apparently, because Mulder had already reached over with the napkin to wipe her face.
"I don't know how you can eat those messy things," he commented. On cue, a sand dollar-sized tricolor blob of mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard landed on his paper plate. She took the napkin out of his hand and cleaned herself off, then picked up the sandwich, realizing she'd be as dirty in a few seconds anyway.
Mulder put his glass to his lips again, drinking the last of the iced tea in his glass and taking an ice cube into his mouth, which he crunches loudly and begins to suck on. By the third cube, Scully was fighting a headache. She looked up, her face covered in barbecue sauce, and asked, "I'm going to refill my drink. You want some more?"
Mulder wiped his face and quickly got up, grabbing both their glasses, "I'll get 'em. You clean yourself up. Barbecue sauce makes you look twenty-five years younger."
She smirks at him after doing the math in her head, and pulling out another napkin, "Ice tea, unsweetened."
"Iced tea, you know what that means."
"Just get the drinks, Mulder."
Kimberly plopped down beside Scully, who turned to face her, "Hey, Kimberly, what's up?"
"Well, Dana, you sure got Walter worked up. He's been edgy all week, ever since you and Mulder visited him."
"We told him we had a surprise for the FBI at the ball thing tonight."
"Well, you really threw him through a loop. You don't realize sometimes he thinks of you as a couple of naughty children. He's actually dreading you'll embarrass him somehow. He doesn't know how, but he has a lot of faith in Agent Mulder."
"Don't we all?" she said, taking another bite of her sandwich.
"You're not going to tell me what the surprise is, are you?"
"You can wait and see just like everyone else, Kim."
"Okay, but understand I'm taking this personally."
Mulder filled both cups with ice then, put one under the unsweetened tea dispenser, and filled it. As he filled his own, under the sweetened tea dispenser, Agent Dale Roberts, nudged him, asking, "Yo, Mulder, man, who's the hot chick you brought?"
Mulder's brow furrowed, understanding the question, but wondering why Agent Roberts hadn't recognized her, "Roberts, that's Scully."
"Really? 'Cause the Scully I know is tightly-wound and über-professional."
"Well, the Scully you know is your colleague. You'll find Miss Dana Scully has many facets. Like, you know that Rose is Rose comic?" Roberts gave him an odd look, "The one with the mom who has a biker chick alter ego?"
"Oh, I know what you're talking about. So Scully has an alter ego? And this is it?"
"Oh, this is just 'Dana,' your typical thirty-something woman. You've probably never met Wild Woman Dana."
"And you have? She sounds, uh…"
"Yeah, she's pretty fun, but don't go spreading rumors about us."
"Not that you would be able to find out with so many circling around already."
"Granted. Especially after tonight."
"What happens tonight?"
"I'm not sure, but I have an idea. It'll be a surprise for all of us."
Agent Roberts is left speechless. I wonder…
THE WATERGATE HOTEL
Scully smoothed her dress as she waited for Mulder to return from the coat check. She adjusted the spaghetti straps of her calf-length gown, dark aquamarine. It had a pleated skirt will little flare but a lot of give, and few people knew exactly why. Only she and Mulder knew why the dress required spaghetti straps, and many would soon find out after they unveiled their routine. Scully breathed in and out.
A tuxedoed Mulder tapped her on the shoulder, comforting, "Hey, relax, Scully. We'll be fine."
"I guess it's too late to back out?"
"Then, we're not," she replied with forced determine.
"That's the spirit," he replied calmly. Scully didn't understand how he did it. Regardless, she found herself taking Mulder's arm as the two walked into the banquet hall. They navigated their way through the tables until they found Table 11, where Skinner, his date, Kimberly, her husband, Agent Roberts, andtheIrish-AmericanAgent Fiona Graham.
Skinner didn't take his eyes off his agents and they noticed his scrutiny. "Sir, is nice to see you tonight," Scully began, pretending not to notice.
"Yeah, we hoped you make it," Mulder state genially.
"I check the roster of events tonight. Agents Mulder and Scully have entered themselves in the dance-off, it appears."
"Looks like we're busted, Scully," Mulder quipped.
As the night progressed, through dinner, Skinner barely took his eyes off his agents, much to the chagrin of his date, a woman with honey-colored hair, who looked at least ten years his junior. He distracted himself with his date for the course of the meal, sating her. Maybe his secretary was right about him thinking of them as children. They were both adults, overly driven at times, but extremely skilled in their own way, and he felt the need to let them go, but often regretted when he ceased to keep a close eye on them. If only Agent Mulder weren't so unpredictable.
Except that was one of his talents.
Momentarily forgetting about the unraveling secret between Mulder and Scully, Skinner was almost caught off-guard when the emcee called them to the stage. He clapped with the rest of the room, opening his mouth, but couldn't think of anything to say. The others at the table wished the couple luck.
Everyone paid attention to Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, who stood facing one another, two feet apart, not touching, just taking deep breaths. But no had such rapt attention as did Assistant Director Skinner. He rubbed his chin nervously. The two were spontaneous at times, but the fact that they were admitting to it really was eating at him.
But a grin didn't elude even his face when the intro to Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World," started to play over the PA. Relaxing a tad, he laid back in his chair as Scully wrapped her hands around Mulder's neck and Mulder took hold of Scully's back with his left hand. A little atypical, but not disagreeable.
"Jeremiah was a bullfrog," croaked the singer.
Mouthing the words with meaning, Mulder leaned forward in an unusually fluid motion as Scully leaned back, matching him exactly, her foot perilously kicked forward, but she gave no indication of fear of unbalance.
"Was a very good friend of mine,"
The scene reversed, will Scully leaning into Mulder.
"Never understood a single word he said,"
The agents performed two, quick, precise underarm turns, with Scully ending up in Mulder's grasp just in time for…
"But I helped him to drink his wine,"
Mulder dipped Scully, and pulled her back up as both mouthed with the lyrics, "And he always had some mighty fine wine,"
There were a few lighthearted murmurs.
"Singing, Joy… to the world,"
Scully spun two full turns quickly under the guide of Mulder's outstretched hand.
"All the boys and girls,"
Scully did a clockwise-turning grapevine step, grabbing Mulder's hand after he completed his counterclockwise turn, hand outstretched.
"Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea,"
The two "swam" past one another, crossing twice, oblivious to the chuckles from the crowd.
"Joy to you and me,"
Mulder grabbed his partner's hand and pulled her forward. She halted before him, her hands behind his neck and his behind her back, in a reflection from the start of the song.
"If I were the king of the world,"
Again silently singing along, Mulder leaned forward to Scully lean back.
"I tell you what I'd do,"
Scully mimicked her partner's previous step.
"I'd throw away the cars and the bars and the war,"
The two underarms turns were so well-repeated that few noticed how the agents grasped one another's hands instead of forming the closed-style dance position they'd done for the dip. For a moment, they stared deeply into each other eyes, humorous anticipation bursting out of both pairs.
"And make sweet love to you,"
Skinner coughed into his wine glass. The entire crowd was suddenly struck dumb as, instead of dipping his partner, Mulder simply held his arms downwardly taut. Scully had pushed up with her own strong arms, leaning into Mulder's chest, shoulders shifting with the tempo, wiggling her way down. When she reached the ground, she playfully pushed away, but caught her partner's right hand for the refrain.
"Sing it now! Joy… to the world,"
Mulder and Scully didn't give the crowd time to react to the surprise move, going directly into the spins, following the chorus through.
"All the boys and girls,
Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea,
Joy to you and me,"
During the electric piano solo, the two formally dressed agents performed a few tame, improvised moves. This left time for the body press to sink in. But not that much time.
"You know I love the ladies,"
Mulder pressed forward, using his free hand to stroke Scully's cheek and brush her hair behind her ear as he mouthed the words.
"I love to have my fun,"
Scully leaned into Mulder, mouthing the words. No one missed her hips wagging rhythmically as she did.
"I'm a high night flyer and a rainbow rider,"
Mulder and Scully did the two underarm turns flawlessly, not that anyone noticed, anticipating the next line.
"A straight-shooting son-of-a-gun,"
Mulder again dipped Scully, and few realized the return of the former move until moments later.
"I said a straight-shooting son-of-a-gun,"
The agents released their grasp on one another, and Scully leaned in as Mulder leaned back and spun so that Scully was chasing him. He took two playful steps and raised his arm behind him.
"Joy… to the world,"
Scully had grasped his outstretched hand and was now doing her rapid spins as Mulder spun back around to support her. The move was seamless, many noticed.
"All the boys and girls,
Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea,
Joy to you and me,"
They performed the same chorus once more. Skinner had settled into his seat, almost smiling, the worst over. He thought.
"Joy… to the world,
All the boys and girls,
Joy to the world,
Joy to you and me,"
During the quick two last lines, Mulder and Scully pulled another trick out of the proverbial hat. On the third line, they snaked back and forth, reverse mirroring one another, within inches of each other's torsos. For the last line, Mulder leaned back as Scully slid down his body, her arm trailing across his chest, his hand lightly touching her. If not for the bright lights, they would have caught a glimpse of Skinner almost falling out of his seat.
As the chorus blared on a few times more, Mulder and Scully improvised the rest. It was a conglomerate of different dance styles: in-place spins, underarms turns, brief almost-grinding, the arm-wrapping sweetheart move, where Scully had to pry herself away from Mulder's embrace after six measures wrapped in his arms.
As the chorus started again for the fourth time, starting to fade, but not completely away, they faced the crowd, side-by-side and holding hands regally. Mulder and Scully bowed and curtsied, respectively, with perfect grace.
As the song faded to nothing, they walked back to their seats, arm in arm. Mulder leaned over and whispered to Scully, "I didn't realize we'd put that arm linger in there."
"I didn't realize we'd but that cheek brush in there,"
"What a coincidence,"
"Am I talking to Wild Woman Dana again?"
"Count yourself lucky,"
"Oh, I do,"
Mulder spun Scully once more and seated her into her chair and sat down at himself.
There was a moment of silence before Scully asked, her voice laced with mirth, "So, sir, what did you think?"
Skinner was silent for a moment, "As your friend, I think that was outstanding. I had no idea either of you had so much grace. But as your boss, I wish to warn you that if an investigation into a violation of Mandate 8901 is started, you will be getting as much hell from me as I will from my supervisors."
"We'd expect nothing less, sir."
Agent Roberts leaned in to talk to Mulder, "That's was exceptionally well-done. How much did you practice?"
He exchanged glances, "Well, it only took us a session or two to throw it together, but we've been practicing three or four hours a night for the last four days after work."
Agent Graham nudged her date, "Hey, Dale, c'mon, we're up,"
Mulder stated to Roberts, "You didn't tell us you entered."
"Neither did you. Scared?"
Scully leaned over into her partner's lap (Skinner visibly turned away) to say to Roberts, "Bring it on."
As he got up, he told Mulder within Scully's earshot, "Tell Wild Woman Dana it was nice to meet her."
Mulder and Scully turned their chairs around to watch what Roberts and Graham had in store.
An unfamiliar song came over the speakers. It sounded like a pop song, but there was a strange under-melody that sounded almost… Irish. The two of them broke into parallel Irish step-dancing before taking each other's hands in formal dance position and prancing in a circle around the dance floor, stopping every few measures to separate so that one or both could demonstrate a complicated routine.
Mulder and Scully's faces dropped in awe. The competition was a lot stiffer than they had expected.
WATERGATE HOTEL PARKING LOT
Mulder walked Scully to his car. He was looking at his newly-won watch for coming in second place after Robert and Graham's Riverdance-esque performance.
"Well, we put out a first-class effort. You mad we didn't win?"
"Mulder, it was a lot of fun. I mean, we had a kick-ass routine, don't get me wrong, but Irish step-dancing is very difficult. Melissa took a class once and she said it was extremely difficult. She didn't sign up for continued lessons because it takes years of practice and dedication."
"Wow, I never thought I'd live to see the day you put the term 'kick-ass' in a sentence. Still…"
"Mulder, I'm not going to lie to you. I saw the first place trophies. You know I'm a sucker for etched glass sculptures."
"Well, maybe next year. We all know Graham is taking a year off in a few months."
"Sounds like fun,"
"Where's your prize?"
Scully fished the gaudy charm bracelet out of her purse. She attempted to put on the multi-colored, jeweled bracelet, but was unsuccessful; she asked as much to herself as Mulder, "How do you do this?"
Mulder took the bracelet and responded, "Read through the Sky Mall catalog next time I drag to you to the far corners of the US in an airplane. There's this overpriced stick that allows you to put on bracelets with one hand. Otherwise, it takes two." He snapped the bracelet on, twisting her wrist to examine it. "You know, it does look kind of tacky, but you do realize this wasn't cheap?"
"If these are real semi-precious jewels, I know,"
"You should wear it to work,"
"Won't it be less effective if I pull out my gun with this precious artifact from the jewelry box of Elizabeth Taylor dangling on my wrist?"
"Scully, if you can take out bad guys with the heels you wear, I wouldn't be worried about a little bracelet."
Scully laughed, "Point taken."
He opened the car door for her. She thanked him, adding, "You're sure in a gentlemanly mood lately."
Getting in the other side, he commented, "Remember how you gave me that speech on the way to Nevada using that brilliant driving metaphor?"
"Are you making fun of me?"
"A little, but it made sense. I mean, I'm a thirty-eight-year old man, no kids, no wife, no girlfriend, and an apartment that was the quintessential bachelor bad until it was mysteriously redecorated. Scully, I hear my biological clock ticking. I didn't know that happened to guys."
"Mulder, it could be mine you hear."
"Scully, I've always heard yours. It's getting pretty loud." His partner doesn't know how to respond to that. "It's just, for last ten years, I've focused on government conspiracies and proving the existence of extraterrestrial life and hoping to find Samantha. I guess I never stopped to figure out whether 'normal life' as you define it, just happens or whether you got to actively work on it."
"I think it's a little bit of both. Maybe choices and opportunities are just dropped in our faces and it's all a matter of recognizing them and helping the pieces to fall into place. Sometimes it just looks you in the face and you wait for it to look back," she said, studying his expression until he met her glance.
"You're so smart sometimes."
"Just sometimes, Mulder?"
"Well, a lot of the time. You sometimes make some pretty stupid choices."
Bellicosely, she replied, "Oh, yeah, when is this?"
"Usually after I make a really foolish one myself, and you have to come to my rescue. Sorry about that."
"No, Mulder, well, yeah. What you said is true. But, uh," she hesitated for a moment, "you make good choices, too. When it comes to you saving me, when neither one of us is to blame, you know how to make good decisions. Almost balances out, right?"
After a moment of silence with his hand on her shoulder, he replied, "Yeah. Well, let's get you home, little lady."
"Okay," she quietly replied.
Mulder drove out of the parking lot and entered the dark street. "Though, I know this gal named Wild Woman Dana, and I don't think she'd mind painting the town red."
"I have mass tomorrow."
"I'll tell her you said that,"
"I'll tell her myself. I think I see her right now, a tenth of a mile up, hitchhiking."
After a brief moment, he asked, "You wanna pick her up?"
CREEDOG T. VANDREY
A/N: I would like to thank Three Dog Night for having no idea that I used their song and all their lyrics in my fanfic. I would also like to thank Lyrics on Demand for having a lengthened version of the song and the official Three Dog Night site for having all the correct words. Please don't report me.This is not a songfic!
I'm already predicting requests to do sequels, where my stories drop off. I don't think you understand the idea about drop-offs. For example, people were asking me what happened after the end of "Empathy." Nothing happened at the end of "Empathy." Mulder and Scully continued to work on the X-Files. It was just a case you never saw. That's it. Deal with it. I hang on to ever pickup line Mulder tells Scully, too, but I respect their (or CC's) decision not to express their undying love for each other and meet in a fiery kiss every time something traumatic happens. That's not to say I don't respect the thousands (oh, believe me, there are) of MSR writers out there. I am addicted to your work, but it's not my work. As a writer, I pick my projects. Some tragically are left in the "Unpublished" file of my hard drive forever. It's just the way it goes. I'm not often inspired to write mushies or fluffies. If you want to expand on my idea, go ahead. If it's a direct tie-in, tell me and tell your readers such. This is fanfiction, for goodness sake. We're taking the original ideas of others and make them our own.
(Sonriso) - Very philosophical, Mr. Creedog. Am I allowed to write stories? 'Cause I do a pretty mean fluffy. As mean as fluffies can get; I mean, their fluffies.