AD Skinner’s Office
Skinner sat back in his chair and looked across the table and the two agents that were sitting on the other side. Neither of them seemed particularly happy with the assignment he had just finished explaining to them but he sure as hell wasn't about to back down and let them refuse.
It's almost as if they thought they got to pick and choose the cases they worked on. Hell, it usually was that way with these two, but this time he was going to stand firm. This case was a joint national effort between the FBI and the ATF and there was no way Skinner wasn't going to have his best agents leading the charge on behalf of the FBI.
“Sir, I can’t go undercover.” Her voice was usually so sure, so the undercurrent of hesitation troubled him.
“Do you care to let me know why?” Skinned picked up the pen he had just dropped and started to write notes, like her reason wasn't going to affect his assignment.
The two agents looked at each other and suddenly it was as if he was no longer in the room. Their silent communication always annoyed him. He knew partners who worked in the field like these two did, usually developed some subconscious way of communicating. Frowns, eyebrows, body language. A quick, simple, and discrete way of sharing information, thoughts, preferences when interrogating witnesses, or in meetings with larger task forces. He remembered that connection. He missed it.
“I wasn't planning on telling anyone yet...of course, he knows,” she said and nodded her head towards her partner who was looking everywhere but at Skinner. “I’m six weeks pregnant.”
Skinner's pen stopped moving and he looked up at them both. She sat ramrod straight in her chair and Skinner had to put effort into not letting his eyes wander down to her belly as if suddenly it would be round and she would be ready to pop. Her partner shifted in his chair, pinched his bottom lip and his eyes stared at something on the floor.
“I’m still cleared for active field duty. But this assignment sounds like it's going to last weeks, possibly months?” She glanced at her partner and their eyes connected. Skinner watched his encouragement get absorbed by her and she turned back to face forward again. “I can't put this baby at risk.”
“Right.” Skinner sat back in his chair and held his pen in front of himself, fingers pinching either end. “I see.”
His eyes moved between them, the unspoken question hovering between them. He’d never ask it though. Not only was it none of his business, but it was a HR investigation waiting to happen. She noticed his unease though. Of course she did, she was the better investigator of the two. She smiled and shook her head. She looked at her partner who had a slight blush on his cheeks and looked out the window just beyond Skinner’s head.
“I’m sorry for springing this on you sir, like I said I wasn't planning to tell anyone until at least after the first trimester.”
“I only found out last week,” her, until now, silent partner said as if it absolved him from all blame.
“Ok, well this is about the only reason that works for refusal of this assignment.” Skinner gathered up the pages from his desk and shuffled them together. “That will be all.”
They both looked chastised as they stood in unison. As they were leaving the room, Skinner reached over for his phone and pressed the intercom button to reach Kim in the other room.
“Get Agents Mulder and Scully up here please.”
Skinner saw the door close across the room and sighed. Damn.
That was an unexpected spanner in his plan. Mulder and Scully had been on the list of possible agents that would suit this assignment but Jones and Murphy had done the undercover married thing before and it went really well. Mulder and Scully had been working together for over 3 years, and their partnership was never stronger, but it took a certain type of partnership to survive an assignment like this. He wasn't sure if they would survive it or it would destroy them.
His phone buzzed so he reached over to press the intercom button, knowing it would be Kim with an update on Mulder and Scully's arrival.
“Sir, Mulder and Scully are in the field. They will report in when they return to the office.”
“When did they say that would be?”
“Mulder estimated their return would be within the hour.”
“Thank you, Kim.”
Skinner turned off the intercom, sat back in his chair and pinched the bridge of his nose. He could already feel a headache forming. He would have to go through the whole case again, convince them it was the best course of action.
He imagined Mulder would put up a fight because he hated general assignment when there was no x-file element. Scully would put up a fight because an undercover assignment where they had to pose as a married couple would only fuel the gossip fire that was burning about the two of them already.
Skinner was definitely sympathetic to that issue but not so much that he would reassign cases or prevent them from working particular angles. So both of their arguments would fall on deaf ears. Now all he needed was a strong cup of coffee to bolster himself up to bother listening to them, else he would just send them the case file, email them instructions and be done with it.
He smiled at that thought. He’d turn off his phone. Go home for the evening. Open that bottle of whiskey that he brought back from Scotland last month. Yeah, that was a damn site more appealing evening than sitting here, waiting for the duo to come into his office and argue.
But the whiskey would have to wait. The coffee would have to do. Skinner stood and stretched his back, then walked across to the door that opened up where Kim was sitting.
“Sir?” She said as she looked up from her typing. “Can I get you anything?”
“I’m just grabbing a coffee.”
“I can get that for you, sir.”
“No, that's fine, I need to dust off the cobwebs.” Kim nodded and got back to her typing. “Can I get you anything kim?”
She smiled and shook her head. “No, thanks.”
Skinner went to the break room on the 5th floor. They always had the Kenyan roast he preferred and usually some of the nicer cookies too. He took the stairs, preferring to prolong the excursion and was delighted to find the breakroom deserted. He cleaned out the coffee machine and brewed a fresh pot then hunted through the press for the cookies he knew would be there before he took the elevator back to his floor. Back in his office he dropped a couple of chocolate chip cookies wrapped in a napkin on Kim's desk
“You can wrap up there Kim, and go home.”
“Oh? You don't need me to wait for Agents Scully and Mulder?”
“No, that's fine.” Skinner held back the roll of his eyes, though it took a gargantuan effort. “They can find their own way to the door. You can go on home.”
A little over an hour had passed since Kim reported Mulder and Scully would return and with every additional passing moment he got more annoyed. Mulder making him wait, even just a little longer than expected, was his exertion of power. Skinner decided, a long time ago, it was in his best interest to never react to these power plays when it came to Mulder. And besides, when Scully was part of the summons, they would never be too late. She hated being late. As if on cue there was a knock on the door and Skinner knew it was Scully who had knocked rather than Mulder.
The door opened and Scully walked in with Mulder hot on her heels. They took their customary seats and Skinner wondered if they planned it. To always sit in the same seats.
“You rang?” Mulder said in his best Lurch impression.
“How is the case you’re working on going?”
They both looked at each other and Skinner tamped down a spike of annoyance at the silent communication. God he really needed that whiskey.
“It's progressing,” Mulder said, while at the same time Scully spoke.
“It's a dead end.”
Skinner held back his smile. Maybe the silent communication wasn't all it was cracked up to be. “Care to explain?”
“The witnesses have recanted, the evidence is not stacking up under scrutiny, the circumstances of the reported event cannot be corroborated,” Scully said.
Then Mulder added “We’re looking into witness tampering.”
Skinner frowned. “I need you to close that case and file your report by the end of day today.”
“Today sir?” Scully said and her eyes subtly went to the clock over the door. It was well past quitting time.
“Why the rush?” Mulder asked.
“I have an assignment.”
“We’re not on general assignment.”
“You are when I need you to be.” Skinner opened the folder on his desk and handed them each a page. He gave them a moment to read it and as soon as Mulder's eyes lifted from the page, he knew he would finish first so he was waiting for him, Skinner started his practiced speech. “The Altar of Ephesians has been operating out of Arizona for nearly ten years. The last three of those years they have been under surveillance by the ATF and for the last year, the FBI.”
“This case…” Mulder said as he shifted on his chair, clearly uneasy. He glanced at Scully who was still reading the page. “I understood it was being assigned to Agents Jones and Murphy?”
Skinner frowned and tried not to think about how he knew that when the discussion was held only this morning and only three other people were in the room at the time.
“No, it's not,” he said without offering up any further explanation. “It's being assigned to both of you.”
“Sir,” Scully spoke and both men turned to her. “This is an undercover case, with the likelihood of it lasting weeks, maybe months.”
“We can't abandon the x-files for that long.”
Mulder's eyes shot up. That was his line. He looked at Skinner who looked equally as surprised that it came from her.
“This case is a priority.”
“Yes, sir, but-”
“Priority.” Skinner spoke as if that ended the argument. “We have three missing women, two men, and four kids under seven. Each of them was last seen visiting the camp.” Skinner picked up a page from his desk and passed it to Mulder. “ATF has recorded they have amassed an arsenal to rival a small country, with purchasing increasing in the last year or so.”
“When does this assignment take effect?” Scully asked and Skinner realised she was resigned to accepting this case. That would help him immensely. Mulder would go where she went.
“Your flights are booked to Arizona in the morning. Where you will work with an ATF team for a week on your undercover profiles. Two ATF agents will also be undercover with you.”
“Sir-” Mulder started. He clearly wasn't done arguing.
“Share your updated undercover protocol files, I’ll be sure your next of kin are informed.” Skinner shuffled all the pages together and slipped them into the folder then held it out. This time Scully took it as she stood. Mulder watched for a moment then stood too. They both walked out of the room and Skinner sat back in his chair.
That went way better than he expected. Maybe they hadn't read the whole page. The part about them being a married couple. Skinner decided that was their own fault and his mind wandered back to that bottle of whiskey at home. He rolled down his sleeves as he stood, took his jacket off the back of his chair and slipped it on then snatched his keys from the centre drawer of his desk and hurried home to salve that craving.
Southwest Airlines 455...somewhere over New Mexico
Scully stretched her legs out in front of her and rolled her ankles to encourage the blood flow. Mulder looked down at her moving legs and curled his lips in a wave of jealousy. His knees were pressed into the back of the seat in front of him. Not only was the legroom reduced from the seat being reclined, but he had the middle seat and the middle aged lady sitting in the aisle didn't look like she would appreciate his manspreading so he had turned his legs towards Scully and had his knees protruding into her space instead. Not that she minded. She seemed to be happy with the space she had. Comfortable even.
“Cramped Mulder?” she said with a smile when she noticed he was shifting on his seat again, pressing his ass back further in an effort to give his legs more room.
“I feel like one of those snakes crammed into a can.”
“You have about 2 hours left before you can pop.”
“I dunno if I can take it, Scully,” he uttered through gritted teeth, earning him a suspicious glare from the aisle lady.
Usually on these flights, even if he was super cramped, they could pass the time discussing the case, preparing lines of inquiry, or swapping theories. Well he would share theories and she would shoot them down.
But this flight was full. Jam packed. Even the overhead storage was full, resulting in them having to store their carry-on under the seats in front of them, which added to the cramped conditions he was suffering from right now. He rolled his body towards her and pressed his head into the cushion.
“What do you think about Skinner?” he asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
“What do you mean?” Scully smiled. “Like as a boyfriend?” The way he spoke and how he phrased it reminded her of the midnight chats she shared with Melissa in high school. “Hey Dana, what do you think of Robbie Henshaw?”
“What?” Mulder lifted his head and frowned, making her laugh. “No!”
“I was kidding Mulder.” She waved her hand at him and looked out the window at the Rockies whizzing by below. “What about Skinner?”
“Assigning us this case, just after the mess with the Senators. You think he’s trying to get us to keep a low profile as it were?”
“You don't trust Skinner?”
“No, I do!” Mulder closed his eyes and she could see him picking his next words very carefully. “I just get the feeling that he’s hiding something.”
“Yeah, that's not new,” Mulder said with an exaggerated roll of his eyes. “Doesn't mean he’s not hiding something.”
“If Skinner has an ulterior motive for assigning us this case, it will come to light.” She sounded so confident Mulder basked in the wave of it for a moment.
“Have you read the case file?” he asked though his eyes moved away from her and out the window instead. He knew she read the casefile. She probably read it more than he. That wasn't really what he was asking. He was asking her what she thought about being married to him for the duration of this case.
Scully looked around. The plane was full. The passengers in front of them had earphones in, but there was no guarantee they were listening to anything. The lady beside Mulder was reading though Scully hadn't noticed her turn a page in a while. The mother and child behind them probably couldn't care less about them as they shared an excited delight of the flight experience.
She tipped her head towards him and lowered her voice as much as she could and still be heard. “I think it will be interesting to see what the ATF are thinking about in terms of the undercover profiles.”
Mulder smiled. That was a strange way to put it, he thought. Classic Scully. “I wonder who the other married couple will be.”
“I wonder how long we’ll be in Arizona.”
“Did you read up on the church?”
“Church?” Scully looked at him sideways as she scoffed the word out. “I wouldn't use that word.”
“Yes I did read up on them.”
“Intelligence reports that Polygamy is rampant.”
“You think the ATF will assign you multiple wives?”
“God, I hope not.” Mulder winced as if that was the worst thing that could happen. “I’ll have enough trouble getting you to love, honour, and obey me.”
“Obey?” Scully lifted one eyebrow.
“Hey now, you read the fact sheet.” Mulder leaned in a little closer, placed his head on her headrest before he whispered. “One of the main principles of teaching in the church is that wives submit to their husbands as to the lord.”
“Mulder that bible verse is always touted when men try to hold court over women. But there are numerous other verses in the old and new text stating that men should submit to their wives.”
“I’m an advocate for equal opportunity submissiveness, Scully,” he said with a smile and he waggled his eyebrows.
“Shut up, Mulder.” She pushed him away with her shoulder and tried not to react to his chuckling as he resettled in his own seat.
She hoped he would not be as playful as this throughout the case. He should take it more seriously. Working with the ATF, representing Skinner, the bureau, was an important task but clearly he didn't think it was something they should be wasting their time on. She knew he resented being taken away from the X-files but he had to understand, working cases like this every now and then curried favour for them, for the X-files and would inevitably give them more freedom in the long run. She didn't want him to throw that away by making snarky comments in front of the ATF teams who had been working on this for years.
She also didn't want to spend a second more than was necessary married to Mulder.
If he took it seriously. If he put his mind to solving the case, studying the evidence and profiling what was necessary, she was sure they could wrap this up relatively quickly. If he just continued to make jokes about her having to obey him...
Scully looked over at him as he winced and moved his legs again. Obey him? She could barely put up with him most of the time. She let her eyes roam back out to the window. The window she had offered him when they boarded the plane. But no, his ubiquitous chivalrous nature insisted she take it and he sat next to the stranger. So now his passive complaining was his way of showing her exactly how chivalrous he had been.
Look Scully, look how uncomfortable I am for you. Look!
Scully looked down at her legs and stretched them out again as she rolled her ankles in the ample space of her footwell. Sometimes being small had its advantages.