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Furlough (The "I've Got a Theory" Remix)

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Night one.

The hotel is five stories, the tallest in Colorado Springs, and Pike's Peak rises behind it like a northern star. The rental car smells like crayons and probably tastes like them too. Mulder eats his salty sunflower seeds and contemplates whether a peanut butter & Burnt Sienna sandwich would be satisfying or cause sudden death. Solo stakeouts suck.

Day two.

He briefly considers labeling this day one but it sounds counter-productive and would eliminate the little exasperated sigh Scully's sure to make when he narrates his report. Target one, Lt. Col. John Sheppard, U.S. Air Force, departs for a brisk run at 0600. (Scully likes it when he pretends to know how to talk like a military brat, too.) Mulder has to take a leak and has been sitting with his knee at a strange angle for at least four hours, so he jumps out of the Taurus and jogs after Sheppard for a half-mile before taking a detour behind a bush and losing the guy.

Day three.

Mulder knows a little about looking like a screw-up on paper, so he's not surprised when Sheppard's jogging out the front door right on schedule. Mulder tosses the file in the backseat and tugs on his sweatshirt as he slams the car door. If his sources are right, Sheppard's this close to getting his ass canned and Mulder has every intention of being there when it happens, right there to buy the guy a drink and convince him the world would be better off if he came clean about the top-secret research project he's been guarding. Mulder's got a stack of sketchy notes about Sheppard's gig, code named Atlantis, and he's got this theory that it's something the Air Force is trying to build under the ocean, maybe an experimental lab, maybe some kind of weapons repository.

Day four.

The boys FedExed a tiny microtransmitter, so Mulder's got his Nikes on and the bug in his track pants. He pretends to trip over a rock and catches himself on Sheppard's shoulder with a hearty slap. "Just call me twinkle toes," he says, and jogs off. He's breathing hard but could swear Sheppard mutters something angry about bathrobes and how if he goes back too soon he might see something that'd scare even him. Mulder hates it when the supposed tough guys get freaked. Never a good sign.

Day five.

Mulder watches Sheppard head out, head down, feet hitting the ground in a particularly determined or angry manner. Mulder dashes in, rents a room, and makes a beeline for the shower. On the way out he avoids looking at the neatly made bed and snags a miniature bottle of mouthwash off the housekeeping cart.

Day six.

Sheppard wears the same sweatshirt to go running and when he gets back inside answers a phone call. "Detention center for wayward missionaries, what do you want?" he asks, biting off his words. Mulder can faintly hear the woman on the other end, who says the IOA's still dicking around about Atlantis. Some people with normal American names and some others who might be Russian have already been interviewed or will be soon. Sheppard says, "Thanks, Carter," and hangs up. Mulder rewinds his digital recorder a few times and calls Frohike so he can run the details through his software. Sheppard skips his run.

Night six.

Night seven? Counting stops being relevant to his report somewhere around the time he hears Sheppard growl, "I'm going to watch, and then I'm going to fuck you. How's that sound?" McKay, who hasn't said much of anything in the last two days, totally goes for it, just like a typical kinky scientist experimental freak. Mulder cranks back his seat and rests his knee against the steering wheel. Sex is always the best perk of stake-outs.

Day seven.

Mulder wakes up at 5:54 a.m. and the first thing he sees is Sheppard bouncing out of the hotel. It's the only word to describe the weird way he's running, like the wind is pushing at his back, helping him along. Mulder never realized he had so many teeth. A week of sitting in the car, which no longer smells like anything resembling crayons, and Mulder's just about ready to try a more direct approach. Tomorrow he'll invite himself along for the run, maybe, decked out in an Air Force t-shirt and rebellious attitude, and see if they can make friends.

Night seven/eight, but who's counting.

Just as the sun's starting to set over the mountains, after Mulder's listened to the extra hour of Jerry Falwell exclusively available to the residents of Colorado Springs, Sheppard comes out of the hotel again. He's wearing a leather jacket, black regulation pants and boots, like Top Gun got sucked in by the Dark Side. He turns back to wait for someone who must be McKay, a pudgy guy in a blue long-sleeved shirt who struggles to pull his laptop bag over his head without choking himself. Sheppard helps yank the strap into place, straightening McKay's collar and knocking lightly at his chin. McKay laughs and shoves Sheppard away. Mulder's already out of the car, ready to make his move, win them over. Before he's even crossed the street a dark blue sedan plows through the driveway. Sheppard and McKay stand up straight, get serious fast, and climb in without being asked. Mulder groans and gets back in the car, banging his fist on the dashboard and reaching for his cell phone.