Getting Out of the Kitchen|
By Mary Kleinsmith (Buc252@aol.com)
Spoilers: None that I can think of
Summary: When a heat wave hits the east coast, working in the basement isn't always the most comfortable place to be.
Classification: Intense UST
Archive: Yes, anywhere
Disclaimer: Mulder, Scully, and everything related to them belong to Chris Carter (the jerk!) and 10-13, with magic added by David and Gillian. I'm only borrowing them, especially since the fic writers have a better sense of what to do with Mulder and Scully than CC and Company does (despite the fantastic final Mulder/Scully scene they gave us). Still, I'm not making any money on this.
Acknowledgments: Thank you to Sally for an incredibly fast beta, letting me get this "out there" while the heat wave was still a current event.
Author's Notes: Sitting in a 90-degree apartment, this story was pretty hard to resist. Thank you to fellow swelterer Susan for encouraging me in this short piece. The title, for those unfamiliar, makes reference to an old saying, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of of the kitchen."
Feedback: Please, please, please, please, please, please, please?
Getting Out of the Kitchen
By Mary Kleinsmith
God, it was hot. Hotter than hot, and she was more miserable than miserable. How the hell did they expect a person to get any sleep when it didn't get below 80 outside all night and the damn air conditioning in the apartment building had been set to "conservative" levels. 78 degrees wasn't conservative, it was sadistic.
Standing before her open closet, every single article of clothing that caught her eye screamed just how much she'd sweat in that particular outfit. The only relief in sight was the drive to work; her car's air conditioner worked fine. But they wouldn't let her work out of her car, despite how much time she and her partner seemed to spend in it. Nothing had yet struck her fancy when the phone rang.
"Hi, little girl. Can I buy you an ice cream cone?"
She smiled at Mulder's enticing yet humorous drone. "No, but if you have enough ice cubes to fill my bathtub, it might be love."
"Oh, but, Scully, then the cute little pink parts of you would turn into cute little blue parts of you." That was a little over their level of comfort, as far as she was concerned, so she made no response to the innuendo.
"So to what do I owe the pleasure of this call?" she asked, plopping down on her bed in front of the oscillating fan.
"Comparing wardrobe, Scully. The only thing on our agenda for today is backlogged paperwork, right?"
"You know it is, Mulder."
"Well, I have it on good authority that Skinner is out of town, and being that we are going to be alone in the basement - that muggy, humid hole in the ground - I wanted to let you know that I do not intend to spend eight-plus hours in a suit and tie today. I've declared the X-Files Division Dress-Down day, so wear your coolest clothes."
"If the director finds out, he's going to have a cow," she disputed, sighing her wish to wear what she wanted.
"Scully, the entire J Edgar Hoover building is air conditioned except the basement. And while being in the basement makes it cooler than any building without a/c, it'll still be hotter than the rest of the building by far. If nobody is going to see us, what's the harm?"
Agent!Scully argued silently with Frivolous!Scully, while CommonSense!Scully took the latter's side. "Okay, Mulder. I'm sure the guard will just figure we're on our way to the gym, and we don't have to encounter a single other person for the entire day. I'll see you in about an hour."
He couldn't believe she'd agreed to it. Not that he was up to anything more than just trying to stay cool, but he still expected her to insist that they look formal at all times. But there honestly was no point, as far as he could deduce.
Now to find the right thing to wear. His basketball shorts? Nahh, too ugly. His running shorts? They had more holes in them than was prudent, unless you were running alone on a deserted track. What else is in this drawer?
Absolutely not. No speedos in the office, black OR red.
Ah, pay dirt. A pair of denim cutoffs, old but still in good shape. He remembered turning the jeans into shorts after a spill on a case tore open both knees, resulting in cuts and a certain amount of blood that just didn't seem to want to come out. They were in great shape otherwise, so why throw them out? Since then, he hadn't had cause to wear them, but they'd do nicely for today.
Once he was dressed, he knew further contingency measures were called for. From the recesses of his closet he found the never-used cooler that he'd bought back when romantic picnics were something a young and na´ve agent envisioned with the woman he thought was "the one." That was just a few days before she broke his heart, and he hadn't used it since.
Two store-bought bags of ice, purchased this morning, filled the container, where he added the deli sandwiches, fruit salad, and ice cream suckers he'd picked up on the same trip. Now they'd have no reason to go out into the heat outside the building. He knew that it looked like a picnic, but it was just common sense. The alternative was having something delivered, and given the security at the Hoover building, it just wasn't practical during normal business hours.
Finally ready for work, he picked up his briefcase, the cooler, and locked the door behind him. He may have to spend a miserable day doing paperwork, but at least he'd be comfortable while he did it.
He was amazed at how little attention he'd garnered while walking into the Hoover building in shorts and a muscle shirt, carrying a cooler, but attributed it to the hour. It wasn't even seven-thirty yet, but there was certainly no sleeping in this heat.
He'd even managed to beat Scully here, he noted as he unlocked his office door. The first order of business, even before carrying the cooler inside, was to turn on the fans. At other times, two 17" fans would probably have been overkill for such a small office, but not in this heat wave. They'd gone out at lunch yesterday and bought the inexpensive models when the morning proved to be unbearable, praying that they'd outlast the weather. They'd been lucky to find the ones they had - every store in the city was sold out of any device used for cooling.
His briefcase found its home under the desk and the cooler fit inconspicuously beside it, out of Scully's view. Settling in, his computer had just finished booting up when Scully entered the office.
Mulder knew his chin was quite possibly laying on the desk, and his only thought was that they'd better be damn sure that nobody came down and saw them this way, or the male contingent of the Bureau would be lined up around the block just to get a smile from his striking partner.
She had her hair pulled up into a high pony tail, the kind he'd seen her use before when she was working out. Her perspiring face and lack of makeup only made her look younger and more innocent. Below that, however, she was very obviously all woman. She wore a cropped tank top in the blackest black, which contrasted nicely against her bare, white midriff. Around where her arms met her torso, there was a hint of white that Mulder recognized as an elastic sports bra. Her matching shorts came to mid-thigh, black with white piping around the bottom and where the side slits rose to reveal just a bit more leg. It was reminiscent of the shorts women had worn in the 70's, only not quite so short. He sighed, remembering how his 15-year-old libido had swooned over the 17-year-old girl next door when she'd worn those shorts.
"Mulder, you're staring."
It was enough to bring him out of his reverie. "Sorry," he said simply, embarrassed. "I just don't see you dressed in your workout clothes very often."
"Well, if it would make you feel better, we could go down to the gymnasium for a few falls. Best three out of five?" She smiled wickedly, obviously remembering the last time they'd had to take a refresher course in hand-to-hand combat. Mulder had nearly died of embarrassment after picking himself up off the mat for the umpteenth time, swearing never, ever to underestimate her again.
"I think I'll pass if you don't mind," he said, his attention suddenly turning to the reports in front of him. He had no desire to piss her off, but he also was afraid that she'd change her mind and head home to put on something more businesslike. And at this point, he definitely did not want that.
"So where are we starting?" she asked, taking her own seat. He handed her the file in question.
"Henderson case. I finished the incident report, but we still need to do the expenses."
It had taken every ounce of willpower in her possession not to react when her eyes first fell on her partner. Paperwork may have been on the itinerary today, but she hoped that Mulder was prepared to double check every piece of work she completed, as her concentration was most certainly not going to be on the facts and figures. Just one figure had caught her eye. She'd seen Mulder in gym shorts before, but somehow the cutoffs were different. They had the jean-related benefit of hugging him in all the right places while also having the advantage of showing his legs. Why did the man have to be blessed with the most gorgeous set of legs God had ever bestowed on a human male?
It was no better when he was sitting down, she realized. There was more than enough fabric to the white, oversized tank top, but when Mulder was distracted and unheeding of his appearance, it would bag and gap, giving Scully the most delicious glimpses of a larger area of his chest than she usually got to see. Once she even caught a peek of the rounded form of a very masculine nipple.
Maybe this wasn't such a great idea after all. But she was at work, and they were friends as well as partners. She HAD to regain the control that was faltering. Maybe if she didn't look over there at all, she'd be able to accomplish the task.
Despite her earlier misgivings, Scully found that being comfortable, once decorum was re-established, also made them productive; their reports were being emailed to Skinner's office with a rare frequency. At noon, Mulder had surprised her with the lunch he'd packed, and they'd spent an hour discussing anything except work. Unfortunately, they always seemed to find themselves back on the subject of the weather.
"Is your church air conditioned, Scully? If it is, I may even consider converting," he said, eliciting a chuckle from her.
"I'm not sure if it's a/c or just all the stone, but it is unusually cool most of the time. Think they'd mind if I started sleeping in a pew?"
"If they don't, ask them if I can have the one behind you."
"You know what they say, Mulder. Be careful what you wish for - you may just get it. Father McCue has been badgering me to bring you to church for awhile now. Ever since he met you at the hospital a few years ago. He says the Church would 'ease the pain in your soul.'"
"Perhaps, but going there just to keep cool doesn't seem to be the best way to heaven," he smiled gently, trying not to remember the time when he'd met the Holy man. She'd been dying of cancer, and it had been the darkest time in his life.
"Maybe, but as Mom says, there are many roads to God." She could tell he was getting uncomfortable with the serious nature of the talk, so she stood to clean up the debris from her lunch. "Mulder, that was delicious - I really appreciate your thinking of it." Paper plates and plastic forks found there way into the trash with the Saran wrap in which the sandwiches had been wrapped and the watermelon seeds which were the only remnants of the melon salad.
"Thank Silva's Deli. Thank God they open early." He paused for a moment, until she was no longer bent over the trash can. "However, there is one more thing that DIDN'T come from Silva's."
"What?" He had that look in his eyes. The roguish, devilish look that usually meant she was either going to want to hug him or kill him very, very soon.
"Well, in the spirit of keeping cool, how would you like . . ." he bent under the desk to the cooler and came out with both hands full. "Haagen-Dazs ice cream suckers!"
Haagen-Dazs? He'd brought her the most decadent, delicious ice cream on the planet? Okay, she was impressed. But her conscience was still there. "Oh, Mulder. Those are delicious, but do you know how many grams of fat one of those has?"
"Oh, c'mon, Scully. If you can't splurge when it's almost 100 degrees outside, when CAN you splurge?" His argument was being wasted, really. She had no intention of letting that delicious piece of confection out of her sight; she just wanted to impress on him the facts so this didn't become a frequent thing. Otherwise, she'd end up having to wear a shirt Mulder's size instead of her own.
When she didn't answer him, he must have presumed she was serious. "Well, if you really don't want it . . ."
"I didn't say that," she said, making a grab for the thing. Mulder playfully held it up, out of reach of her five-foot-two frame, but Scully wasn't letting this one get away. Leaping like the Bull's star forward, she came down with the ice cream in her hands, unfortunately landing on Mulder's sneaker-clad foot.
"Arrggghh," he groaned, falling into a chair while she tried to keep from falling into his lap. At just that moment, a sound drew their attention.
"Excuse me. I don't mean to interrupt, but you had an extraordinary amount of mail today and the mail clerk asked me to bring it down to you." The speaker offered Scully the stack of envelopes, which she took in the hand that wasn't holding the ice cream.
"Thank you," Scully said, noticing that the woman's eyes had followed the sweet treat. She wished she could remember her name. And then, Mulder surprised her.
"We really appreciate it, Molly," he said, drawing the courier's attention. "Would you like one?"
"You'd give me one of those?" she looked at the ice cream Mulder was holding out to her with big, round eyes, and Scully realized how her partner had instantly charmed the girl.
"Sure, but you have to promise not to tell. I don't have enough for the whole building. As far as the rest of the building knows, we're just down here doing paperwork." It was the truth, after all, except for their little break for lunch and the liberty they'd taken with the dress code.
"No problem, Agent Mulder. Who would I tell?" With that, Mulder handed her the sucker and she left with a smile and a "have a nice day" as she tore off the wrapper.
She should have known that it would get out. And even if it had, for the most part, Scully didn't care. But for one very unfortunate bit of information to which neither of them had been privy. They'd gone back to the reports, working as smoothly as ever, when a firm knock came on the doorframe.
"Agents." Oh, my God. It's Skinner! I thought he was on vacation.
Mulder's face must have worn the same shocked expression as her own. "Take it easy, agents - you look like you've seen a ghost!"
"Ummm," Mulder stuttered. "I'd been told you were on vacation, Sir. I just didn't expect to see you here."
"Obviously," Skinner said, taking in the two agents. "I'd planned to visit friends in New York, but it's even hotter there than it is here, and there was no way I was going to get on a stifling plane in that heat. So I postponed my time off."
Neither agent responded with more than a simple nodding of his or her head. What was there to say? They'd been caught.
"Did I miss an agency directive, Mulder?" The question took them both off guard.
"You get the memos before I do, Sir. Fact is, you usually write them. Of what directive do you speak?"
"The dress code. Both you and Agent Scully haven't just broken it, you've shattered it into a thousand pieces. You're the department head, so I expect an explanation from you."
Scully tried very hard not to blush, at the same time feeling guiltily grateful that their boss's attention was on Mulder and not her.
"We had no case we were actively investigating, Sir. And since eight hours of paperwork is hard enough, let alone doing it in a non-air conditioned office in 95 degree temperatures, I ordered Scully to wear something that would assure she would keep cool, and made the same decision for myself."
"And what if a case HAD come up, Agent Mulder?" Skinner asked, and Scully wasn't sure if she saw a slight twitch of amusement in the otherwise somber features.
"We both carry spare bags in our cars in case we need to travel on a moment's notice. A suit for each of us is less than a ten-minute walk away." She'd forgotten about the bags, but trust Mulder to have all the angles covered. Skinner gave a sigh.
"Well, there's not a lot of point in sending you out to change or home this late in the day. Stay down here and out of sight, and tomorrow, if you're still working on the reports you owe me, I at least expect to see your legs," he looked to Mulder, " and your abs," he looked to Scully, "covered." He turned to leave, but recanted for one more point. "And the next time you bring Haagen-Dazs into the building, I expect you to at least have one for me, too."
After he'd left, Scully examined the clock. "It's only 1:30. He could have easily made us change."
"I know. Imagine that - Skinner has a heart." Mulder smiled warmly, knowing that the man was not the slave driver they kidded about his being. "He had to say something, Scully, otherwise he'd get into trouble himself. But he basically gave us the okay as long as we're discreet. Don't forget, he said he didn't want to SEE us - not that we couldn't wear those things. We just have to be sure that when he sees us, we're okay."
Back to work again, but an hour later their comparing of notes was interrupted by the rarely-used loudspeakers, booming throughout the building.
"In accordance with the federal government's decision, made thirty minutes ago, to try to help the power company through this crisis, the air conditioning units in all federal buildings will be turned off effective immediately, and lasting until the end of the business day. Should the excessive heat continue tomorrow, the air conditioning will be run in two-hour cycles, on from 8:00 to 10:00, off from 10:00 to 12:00, and so on, for the rest of the business day. All air conditioning will be turned off completely from 5:00 pm until 8:00 am. We appreciate that this will be uncomfortable, but the power company expects that there will be widespread blackouts if the power consumption is not curtailed. Thank you for abiding by this new directive."
There was silence in the office, while Scully and Mulder simply stared at each other. Finally, Mulder spoke. "Do you realize that our office just went from being the hottest room in the building to probably being the coolest? At least the basement will keep the temperature from climbing like it will on the upper floors."
"Think that we're about to become very popular?" Scully questioned, realizing what would happen as soon as people started to think.
"It's very likely. Let's make an agreement right now. This office is for me and you. Nobody comes in and takes over our space. There are other areas on this floor they can use if they want, but not this one."
"That sounds rather cruel," Scully commented with a whisper.
"They could have given us a nice office on an air-conditioned floor years ago, especially after this one burned down, but did they? No. We're finally getting rewarded for our patience."
"You're right, of course." She shut the door and locked it with a sardonic grin; anybody coming in here would have to get permission first.
Their minds attuned to one another, they stifled their respective smiles as they tried to ignore their recent arrival. Having a third occupant in the small office made for cramped, hot quarters, but it wasn't like they could turn him down.
But it wasn't his mere presence that was amusing them. Continuing to work in their comfortable summer clothes, Scully tried not to let out a giggle as the dress-code-abiding Skinner shed first his jacket, then his tie.
Unbeknownst to Skinner, whose attention was fixated on his own paperwork, Mulder typed on his own keyboard.
Think we should remind him that he's breaking the dress code?
The instant message popped silently onto Scully's screen.
Not if you value your life or your career.
I almost feel bad for him. Want to bet how long it'll be before the dress shirt goes?
No bet on that. But I'll bet you $5 that it's unbuttoned within a half hour.
Nah. If he goes that far, he'll take it off entirely and just wear the T-shirt. So are we on? $5?
$5 is nothing - it's only money. How about something a little more fun. When I win, we leave here tonight, stop to pick up supplies, and spend the evening at the beach.
Okay, but who says you'll win. If I win, we head for the air conditioned comfort of a movie theater and a restaurant.
If Skinner noticed the distinct rhythm to their typing - first one then the other, never at the same time - he didn't let on as he wiped the dripping perspiration from his bald plate once again. Rising for a break, Mulder asked, "I'm headed for the soda machine. Anybody else care for a cold drink?"
"Anything as long as it's diet," Scully said, sliding a dollar bill to him across the desk.
Skinner looked up gratefully as he dug a similar bill from his wallet. "Anything cold, Agent. Thanks."
"Sure you don't have a preference, Sir? You really look like you could use it."
"Cola, Mulder. Happy?" Mulder tried not to laugh as the man looked up at him. Skinner's glasses were fogging over from the heat coming off his body.
"Good choice," the agent said as he left the office. It never occurred to him to worry that Scully would cheat on their bet by telling Skinner. It was just not in her to do it - he knew her at least that well.
Returning as quickly as he could, he resisted holding the ice-cold can to his face or his neck. That would help temporarily, but it would also warm the soda just that much faster. He handed Scully her can first, then gave the Pepsi to Skinner, who smiled gratefully. A smile from Skinner - would wonders never cease?
What came next surprised him even more. "Agents, I want to express my appreciation for your letting me work in here. It's like an oven upstairs. I know it's not exactly your idea of a good time."
"It's no problem, Sir," Scully said, remaining the more diplomatic of the pair. "We don't mind your being here at all."
"Besides," Mulder added with a grin, "now, when we inevitably disagree on how to write things up, you can serve as tie breaker." He feared the ribbing would fall on deaf ears, and was pleasantly surprised when Skinner chuckled back.
"I don't know, Mulder. I'm not sure you'd like the way I'd vote most of the time." As he said it, he held the can to his forehead, basking in it's cooling influence. Not wanting it to get warm, though, he quickly lowered it and popped the top . . .
. . . and jumped a mile into the air when the soda spurted out all over him. His shirt took the brunt of it, and Mulder smiled to himself, thinking that the director would HAVE to remove the dirty shirt now. Victory was within his grasp - he could almost feel Scully sitting close beside him in the movie theater.
"Damn!" Skinner exclaimed, grabbing for the tissues that Scully handed him, trying to mop up the worst of the mess. He unbuttoned the outer dress shirt, blotting the smaller stain on his undershirt.
And then, he retook his seat. Mulder's face fell in disappointment. Fifteen minutes left, and Scully was winning. Well, an evening at beach, watching the sunset, wasn't that bad a prospect.
The seated Skinner didn't go back to his paperwork. He was busy studying his favorite pair of agents. "Listen," he said finally. "I know I gave you a hard time earlier about the dress code, and I'm sorry. While I agree 100% that decorum must be maintained and that the codes of conduct are important, letting the rules slide on occasion is the least compensation we can make after making you slave away down here in the basement, with no real amenities. You two deserve better. I guess I didn't realize until this afternoon just how uncomfortable it is down here.
"You should be here in the winter," Mulder said, not to make him feel guilty but to agree with the man. "I've been known to need an ice scraper to remove the pen from Scully's fingers." It was an exaggeration and they both knew it, but it didn't matter.
"Well, at least this afternoon you can finally say that you have the most comfortable office in the building. It's 4:00, and I'm calling it a day - I suggest you two do the same. I'm sure you can find some better way to spend a summer's evening." And picking up his jacket, his tie, and the shoes neither agent realized he'd taken off, he bid them goodnight and left the office. The cola and sweat-stained dress shirt unbuttoned but still firmly in place.
Returning the empty containers and soda cans to the cooler, Scully glanced at her watch. They were sure to be treated to a lovely sunset in just a few minutes. She loved the feeling of the sand between her toes, and wondered if Mulder did the same. Probably, since the first thing he'd done when they arrived at the beach was to shed the sneakers and socks he'd worn at the office. The second thing he'd done was notice that there wasn't anybody else on the beach as far as the eye could see.
"Scully, what is this place?"
"Well, technically, it's a private beach, but I went to school with the owner's daughter. We had great summers on this beach, and our parents didn't have to worry about their little girls being picked up by any Tom, Dick, or Harry who happened along. The only people on this beach were those we invited here."
"And where are they now? Your friend and her parents, not those you invited," he stipulated.
"Annie's parents passed away in a car accident a few years ago, but she still owns the place. She's a doctor, too, but with a much busier practice than mine, so she doesn't get out here that often. Such a shame . . ."
"Maybe you should drag her out here for some R&R." He leaned back on the arms propped behind him and, closing his eyes, tipped his head back. "God knows, it feels good to me."
"Better than a movie and dinner in a restaurant?"
"There's no comparison, especially now that it's cooled off a bit." He chuckled. "Who'd have ever thought I'd be calling 85 degrees 'cool.'"
"But are you disappointed you didn't get a big meal?"
"Dinner was perfect, Scully. It was too hot to eat anything heavy anyway." He remembered the single stop she'd made between work and the beach - a wonderful Italian take out place where she picked up the most wonderful antipasto he'd ever had. "I wouldn't have changed a thing. Remind me to thank Skinner for keeping his shirt on!"
Scully laughed aloud at that. "Poor Skinner. Just when he thinks he may have you figured out, that one will REALLY spook him!" She realized that it was becoming more difficult to see her partner half-lying in the sand beside her. "Ooh, it's almost time." Rolling onto her stomach, she concentrated all her attention on the distant horizon.
Imitating her position, he was drawn to the beauty of the pink and red hues as the sun slowly dipped out of sight, a faint light finally the only remaining sign that it was ever there at all. Or, perhaps, it wasn't the sun's remnants, but the foretelling of the moon that let him continue to see the beach, and the sand, and Scully.
Suddenly, she was on her feet, and Mulder knew his face showed his disappointment that she was ready to leave so soon. "You must be tired," he commented.
"Not a bit, actually. I'll be right back." She walked towards a collection of large rocks near the water's edge, and he realized that they had been out here for several hours, drinking water or soda the entire time. You didn't need to be a rocket scientist to figure out what the purpose of her walk was. He was just grateful she wasn't ready to leave yet.
Seconds passed, and then minutes, but there was no sign of her return. He was beginning to worry when a loud splash from the vicinity of the rocks drew his attention, and he rose to his feet for a clearer look. What was that?
The shadows made it impossible to see, but he thought perhaps it was a large flying fish or even an otter. But it could easily be something more dangerous - something against which Scully could not protect herself in her current situation. He drew up short at the water's edge when he realized it was no otter. Long, thin limbs belonging to neither sea creature nor fish, but to a much more sophisticated form of swimmer.
"Mulder, it's beautiful out here. Come on in!" His body wanted to surge into the surf, but his mind kept his composure.
"I didn't have a chance to grab my suit before I left the apartment this morning," he said, knowing she could hear his even tone, the beach was so quiet. He wondered briefly if she'd mind his getting her car seats wet should he wear the cutoffs into the water.
"Neither did I," Scully said, smiling as she rose from the water enough for him to see the now-sparkling moonlight reflecting off her bare shoulders. She laughed at his shocked expression. "It's the ONLY way to enjoy a swim in the ocean," she added as he moved for the cover of the rocks. His cutoffs and the tank top found a resting place beside the crop top and shorts as he made his way to join her in the rolling surf. Maybe 95 degree days weren't so bad after all.