A White Sport Coat (And A Pink Carnation)

By aka Jake

Rating: G
Classification: Post-Ep for “Fallen Angel”

Summary: Following the abduction of Max Fenig from a warehouse on the Lake Michigan waterfront, recently-paired partners Fox Mulder and Dana Scully learn a little more about each other, both professionally and personally, bringing them a step or two closer.

Disclaimer: The characters Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are the property of Chris Carter, FOX and 1013 Productions. No copyright infringement intended. This is for fun, not profit.  

BETA: Special thanks to xdksfan!


TOWNSEND, WI
NOVEMBER 21, 1993

Wreckage of an alien spacecraft? Fugitive EBE? Air Force personnel with what Mulder calls “close encounter mortalities”? He claims to have a stack of X-Files that describe radiation burns similar to those recorded in Hiroshima at Ground Zero. He also claims the highly classified report of a downed Libyan fighter jet with a nuclear warhead is nothing but an orchestrated lie. It’s not atypical for their first two months as partners, but it is a lot for Scully to wrap her head around. She’s still trying to make sense of the work. And figure him out.

Mulder’s right ankle is injured, leaving him unable to drive, so Scully slips behind the wheel of their rental car. A twist of the key and the engine roars to life. She adjusts the driver’s seat and mirrors while he eases glumly into the passenger seat. As soon as he’s buckled in, she steers them away from their hotel and heads for the nearest hospital. Max Fenig’s airstream shrinks in the rearview mirror like a fading dream.

“You okay?” she asks.

He grunts and scowls, clearly not in the mood to talk.

Twenty silent minutes later, they’re at the ER. While Mulder undergoes x-rays, Scully makes the call she’s been dreading. Section Chief McGrath’s secretary transfers her to the SC himself, who is livid. In no uncertain terms, he tells her he plans to shut down the X-Files and fire Mulder. She doesn’t argue the point but does get him to agree to postpone Mulder’s hearing until they can return to Washington.

She understands his exasperation. Earlier, she’d ripped into Mulder herself. I don't understand you, Mulder. Why you're always defying protocol. Ignoring jurisdiction. She’d been tasked with hauling his ass back to DC. It made her feel like a goddamn babysitter, not his partner, and it pissed her off.

Then there was this wild goose chase of Mulder’s, which he neglected to tell her about in his hurry to run off to Wisconsin. If he’d been assigned the investigation of the Townsend evacuation, she was unaware of it. She’d seen no 302 requesting the case or its associated travel expenses. It’s likely she’ll have to testify to this lack of knowledge at tomorrow’s inquiry, making Mulder appear even more of a loose cannon than usual.

Her indignation evaporated, however, the moment she saw him limp out of the warehouse at the Lake Michigan waterfront behind Colonel Henderson…under arrest. It took a serious apology, which felt a lot like groveling, along with a smile so fake it made her face ache, to get Henderson to relent and release Mulder. As for Mulder, he remained willfully belligerent the entire time, not at all helping his own cause.

Now Scully is dead tired. She could use a shower and a change of clothes. Not to mention something to eat. She hasn’t slept in more than 36 hours, having spent last night at County Hospital helping Dr. Oppenheim treat burn victims brought in by Henderson. They lost all but two, who are still in critical condition and on their way to John's Hopkins.

She wanders over to the vending machines, where she selects a soda and a pack of red Twizzlers. The cold fizz of the cola slakes her thirst and provides a needed jolt of caffeine. The fruity taste and almost plastic texture of the candy reminds her of Saturday afternoons at the cinema with her siblings when they were kids. Back when life was simple and seeped with joy. She returns to her seat to wait. Mulder’s been in with the docs for nearly an hour.
    
Her last Twizzler is almost gone when Mulder finally reappears, balanced on crutches.

“Save any for me?” he asks, his expression sour.

She offers him the last piece. He takes and eats it but looks as if he finds no pleasure in its faux strawberry sweetness.

“What’s the verdict?” she asks, pointing to the foot he keeps carefully elevated a few inches above the floor.

“Sprain.”

“Bad?”

“Type 1, whatever the hell that means. Can we go?”

She nods, satisfied he has no broken bones and only a mild sprain, though she’s sure it hurts like a son-of-a-bitch. She’s also sure he won’t rest it for three weeks as is generally recommended. The number one thing she’s learned about Mulder since being partnered with him is that he’s not good with rules.

Back in the car, she navigates them out of the parking garage. “You hungry?”

He shakes his head no.

“They give you anything for pain?”

“Couple of Tylenol. I’m okay.”

She turns onto the main road. Traffic is sparse. The sun set while they were inside, making it seem as if time is playing tricks on them.

“What happened to you in that warehouse, Mulder? What happened to Max?”

“I’d rather not to talk about it.”

“McGrath is going to ask at tomorrow’s—”

“Not…right now.”

Fine. Maybe he’ll be more forthcoming on the plane.

Route 64 unspools behind them. Night has reduced their world to the inside of the car and the white stripes on the road ahead, set aglow beneath their headlights. Darkened farm fields surround them for miles. It’s a 45-minute drive to the airport. She flicks on the radio to fill the silence. An oldie from the 50s blasts out of the speakers. Doo-wop and saxophone. She lowers the volume and is about to change the station when he says, “Leave it there. Please.”

She’s not particularly fond of early rock and roll, preferring the music of her own generation. By the time she navigates onto I-141, she’s beyond curious why Mulder finds the Platters, Clovers, or Flamingos appealing. When Marty Robbins comes on, Mulder reaches out to turn up the volume.

A white sport coat and a pink carnation, I’m all dressed up for the dance…

“This is a good one,” he murmurs and seems to relax in his seat for the first time since she sprang him from the make-shift brig at Operation Falcon field headquarters. A slight smile plays on his lips. The dash lights cast a warm glow across his face, highlighting his profile, his long lashes. For a moment, he looks boyish and almost carefree.  

…to the prom with me, you'd go. Now, you've changed your mind, it seems. Someone else will hold my dreams. A white sport coat and a pink carnation…

He hums softly along with the chorus. When the song ends, he turns the volume back down. “Sorry,” he apologizes. His former unease seems to have evaporated. Finally.

“It’s okay.” She’s relieved to see his mood lift. “This music is a little before your time. What’s the, uh…appeal?”

He gives her a shy, sidelong glance and hesitates before answering. Patti Page starts singing “Changing Partners.”

“Um…my parents used to play this kind of music when I was a kid. Before Samantha was taken.” Mulder rubs his palms over his denim-clad thighs. Nervous. Or just twitchy with pent up energy. He stares through the windshield at nothing but his past. “They had one of those big hi-fis in the living room, like everyone used to have.”

She remembers a radio in her parents’ kitchen but no hi-fi. Maybe it was a rich family thing.

“They’d host parties on Saturday nights a couple of times every month,” he continues. “Cocktail parties, you know? With hors d’oeuvres. Celery stuffed with pimiento cheese, fondu, those beet-dyed eggs topped with fried Spam because meat in a can was all the rage.” He chuffs a laugh.

“Stuff we wouldn’t touch today.”

“True, but as a kid…I loved it.” He nods at the long-ago memory. “My parents and their friends would dress up. Dad in a sport coat and tie, Mom looking like Jackie Kennedy in one of her dozens of pastel dresses — sky blue, pistachio, purple — and pearls, of course.”

“Of course.” Honestly, Scully can’t relate. Her mother’s best dresses were worn to church, not parties. At home, she always had an apron tied around her waist.

“And Mom’s hair! Backcombed into a giant, sprayed bouffant, not a strand out of place. She wore red lipstick that left pink stains on her cigarettes and martini glasses. She was quite the looker in her youth. She laughed a lot back then and I thought she was the most glamorous woman in the world.” His smile is radiant, his gaze soft and faraway. “They’d drink and dance, everyone would, in the living room as if they were at some club, the music blaring. It was amazing. Sam and I were sent off to bed before the guests arrived, but we’d sneak out of our rooms to watch from behind the upstairs hall bannister.”

“Were you ever caught spying?”

“Of course. But it trained us to be more stealthy.” He gives her a playful look. “Good practice for FBI surveillance work.”

“Or sneaking past the military.” She hopes that didn't sound snarky.

“Everyone has to start somewhere.” He shrugs. “Anyway, that’s why I like this music, Scully. It reminds me of a time when life wasn’t so complicated. When my family was still a family.” His smile falters, then fades altogether. “After Sam disappeared, the parties stopped. Mom and Dad got divorced. I have no idea what happened to the hi-fi.”

“And the records?”

“I kept a few.”   

She appreciates his willingness to share these memories. She thinks she understands him a little better.

“You could totally rock a white sport coat, Mulder,” she tells him, meaning it.

His smile returns and he aims it directly at her. “You’d look pretty ginchy yourself, Scully, in a ponytail and poodle skirt.”

Now she smiles, too. “You’re right, I would.”


MULDER’S APARTMENT
TWO DAYS LATER

Mulder is snoozing on his couch with the TV on when he thinks he hears a knock on his door. He checks his watch. 8:40 PM. Must be the televi--

Nope, definitely a knock. He hauls his ass off the couch, hops over to the set on his one good leg, and shuts it off.

“Coming!” he yells as he grabs his crutches from where they lean against the wall. A few seconds later, he opens the door to find-- “Scully?”

She startles at the sight of him and he wonders if it’s his clothes. He’s dressed in sweats with holes in the knees and a faded Iggy and the Stooges t-shirt. It’s wrinkled but clean. Her gaze drops to his bare feet. Actually, to the one wrapped in an ACE bandage. She asks, “Can I come in?”

“Uh…sure.” He stands back and she walks carefully around him. She’s wearing jeans, a camel-colored sweater, a tailored brown leather jacket, and bright white sneakers. He doesn’t recall ever seeing her dressed so casually before.

He shuts the door and trails her to his living room where she stands for a moment beside the coffee table. Hanging from her shoulder is that big briefcase/purse thing she always brings to the office that reminds him of a schoolgirl book bag, which is kind of a turn-on, especially when the strap crosses from shoulder to hip between her breasts, which he most certainly shouldn’t be looking at, but does. Surreptitiously, he hopes. Anyway, her eyes travel to his desk, the couch, the fish tank.

“Everything okay, Scully?”

“I've never been in your apartment before,” she says.

“Oh. Right. The cleaning lady comes in June.” Does the place smell bad? He takes a little sniff. Seems fine. “Sit down.” He gestures toward the couch. “Can I...can I take your coat?”

“No, I can’t stay.”

She came all this way but can’t stay? That’s…weird. Isn’t it?

“Okay.” He balances on his crutches, feeling off balance in a non-physical sense. “Was there something you wanted to see me about?”

“I just wanted to make sure your ankle is okay.” She turns to face him.

“It’s fine.”

“You’re keeping it iced? Elevated?”

“Yes, doc.”

A blush creeps up her cheeks. “Is there anything you need?”

“Not really. But, uh, thanks for asking.”

He wonders why she didn't just call. She’s looking more uncomfortable by the minute, which is making him feel uncomfortable, too.

“Is there anything else?” he asks.

“Yes. I-I want to apologize.”

Were they arguing? And if so, why hadn’t he noticed? “For what?”

“I was feeling put out in Wisconsin and took it out on you. I’m sorry.”

She’s apologizing? But…he had been the asshole, to her and everyone else in Townsend. That entire reclamation effort ticked him off, from the military’s lies to Colonel Henderson’s shitty attitude to McGrath’s fucking hearing. Mulder hadn’t held back. He let them all know exactly how he felt. Scully ended up treading water in the wake of his ill humor. As seemed the case too often. Regret washes over him.

“No, I should be apologizing,” he says.

“N—”

“Yes.”

“Fine, we’ll apologize to each other.”

He can live with that and nods in agreement. She visibly relaxes.

“I didn’t get fired,” he says.

“I noticed. And the X-Files didn’t get shut down. Why do you suppose that is?”

“I have no idea.”

She pins him with a concerned stare. “Max is gone?”

“Yes.”

“What happened to him?”

How can he possibly explain Max Fenig’s abduction? Or the unseen force that struck and catapulted Mulder across the warehouse like he was a rag doll? He opts to answer with a shrug.

“Did you really write an article for Omni about the Gulf Breeze sightings?” she asks, unbelieving.

He wants to shrug again, but fesses up. “Yes.” The word escapes his lungs like a sigh of resignation. “What can I say? No one knows UFO hotspots like M.F. Luder.”

“Hm. I brought you something,” she says suddenly and he welcomes the change of subject. She unzips her bag and paws into its depths. Then with great care, she withdraws a pink boutonniere — a perfect carnation with a pearl-tipped pin impaled through its stem.

He couldn’t have been more surprised — or delighted — if she’d conjured a live rabbit or flapping dove.

“That’s for me?”

There’s a mischievous gleam to her eyes. “Any chance you own a white sport coat?”

“Sorry, no.” It shocks him how much he regrets not having something he never thought he wanted. “I could put on a gray or black one.”

“No need.” She steps closer and pins the flower to his t-shirt, more or less where his lapel would be. Then she stands back to admire it.

“What, no poodle skirt and bobby socks in that bag for you, Scully?”

“Afraid not, but…” She glances around the room. Targets his desk. “How about this?” She pilfers a rubberband from a tray beside his computer. With one quick motion that seems like a magic trick, she sweeps her hair up off her neck, twists it into a high ponytail, and fastens it in place with the elastic.

Just like that, she’s transformed and his outlook feels forever changed. “See, you are the ginchiest!”

The compliment makes her laugh, a goofy giggling sound he’s never heard pass her lips nor ever expected to.

He hobbles over to his stereo and props his crutches against the wall. After a quick search through his shelf of albums, he selects a record and pulls it from its sleeve. On the label is his mother’s signature, claiming it as hers. “Teena Kuipers” it says in her curving script. She’d been only 18 when she bought it and wrote her name on it. Still a year away from meeting his dad. Two years from becoming a mom. Not for the first time, he wonders what she was like as a teen or as a child growing up. She never talks about those early years. The only glimpse he’s had of her life before everything went to hell was at those home parties, where she flirted and danced like she had all the time in the world to be happy.

Mulder places the record carefully on the turntable. A moment later, the dulcet tones of the steel guitar in Santo and Johnny’s “Sleepwalk” fill the apartment.

“Dance with me?” He strikes a pose.

“You shouldn’t put pressure on that ankle.”

“Then hold me up.”

She hesitates a beat, then relents without further argument. She shrugs off her bag and slips into his arms. Contentment settles comfortably in his chest. They shuffle to the music, growing incrementally closer until his chin is resting on the crown of her head. They’ve reached some sort of equilibrium, their differences of opinion forgotten for the time being.

“Enigmatic Doctor Scully,” he sighs into her hair. She smells of hope and possibility. Her hand in his palm is a whisper of a promise. The music flows, ethereal in its way, seemingly too perfect for this world, and making him feel like he is sleepwalking into wakefulness. He’s glad she was assigned to watch over him. It’s something else he never thought he wanted, yet just this minute realizes how very, very much he does.

Soon, she’ll head home, but for now, he wants this moment to go on and on forever.


END


Author’s Notes: When the pandemic started, I found myself needing an emotional escape. I began listening to 50s music, though it’s a little before my time. Upbeat and carefree for the most part, it provided a much-needed respite. Which got me thinking about the type of music Mulder might listen to to help him cope with the stresses of his life. Might he be attracted to the music his parents played on the hi-fi they must surely have owned back when he was young, before Samantha was taken, when his life was still innocent and safe and full of promise?

(Posted November 22, 2023)


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