"I look absolutely ridiculous," Scully said to Mulder's reflection. Her eyes narrowed as she studied herself in the full-length mirror.
"Aw, come on Scully," he soothed, leaning over to speak closer to her ear. "Just think how swank you'll look with the head on that chicken suit."
She huffed and whirled around to face him, sending a few loose yellow feathers flying. She opened her mouth to say something, closed it, opened it again, and finally pushed the oversized chicken head at him. Hard.
"Oof," said Mulder.
"Right," she replied, turning on one three-toed heel and walking out of the motel room.
As she rounded the hallway at a fast waddle, she heard his voice calling after her. "Careful out there, Scully. You're shedding."
Radio off, windows up, conversation non-existent, the agents drove in silence. As thoughtlessly as he normally took the wheel, Mulder had thrown Scully the keys, perhaps as a peace offering. Maybe if he'd done it on his knees, she thought, gripping the wheel.
He broke the silence first. "How many times do I have to say this before you'll believe me? I asked them to send me - there wasn't a suit in my size."
Scully gritted her teeth and glanced in the rear view mirror. The disembodied chicken suit head grinned cheerily at her from the back seat.
Mulder was still speaking, unfortunately. "It's just that they normally hire teenagers..."
"Can we talk about something else?" she snapped, punctuating the question with sudden acceleration.
"Hey, sure. I've been meaning to ask your opinion on these B. anthracis reports..."
"Or how about we just go back to not talking?" Before he could answer, she bore down on the gas again. The chicken head tumbled to the floor, and Mulder was thrown back into his seat.
"Oof," he said.
The unassuming rental car pulled up behind the restaurant and parked near a dumpster. Scully stepped out, squinting in the bright winter light, and surveyed the area. After stepping away from the vehicle, Mulder handed her the cavernous, feathered head. "All yours," he said cheerily. She flashed him a tight, sarcastic smile. His genuine grin faded a bit. "I'll get the rest of it from the trunk."
At that point, the unmarked rear door opened and a figure approached them. "Guess you're our agents. I'm Mark Adams, Chunky Chicken Coop owner."
Scully shook his hand with authority but not without genuine friendliness. "Agent Dana Scully, Mr. Adams. And that..." She turned, to find Mulder tipping backward as he pulled the chicken suit from the trunk, "...that would be Agent Mulder."
Adams put both hands in his pockets and rocked back and forth. "Great, nice to meet you both. Well, we're all set here. Just come on in when you've got your things..." He paused as Mulder scrambled with one free hand to close the trunk. "...together." He stepped back toward the door. "I don't mean to dash off, but we had a minor kitchen fire a minute ago and I'd like to be sure you'll still have a restaurant to stake out."
Scully turned as the door closed again. Mulder had staggered forward with the suit and, with finality, leaned it against the car. They stared in silence at the giant, headless yellow chicken, until it fell suddenly into the dusty gravel.
Mulder sighed, and bent to pick it up. "I swear," said Scully, "if I have to stand around for 4 hours with rocks in my shoes, you're in even worse trouble than you are now."
By way of demonstration, Mulder tipped the suit upside down. No gravel fell to their feet. Leaning the suit more carefully against the car, he stepped forward and put a firm hand on her shoulder. "Scully, I'm surprised at you. You don't have to be a scientist to know that chickens don't wear shoes."
Maybe not, she thought, an hour too late for a snappy retort, but they do carry guns and are fairly indiscriminate about using them.
If she'd expressed the thought aloud, he would've heard her, but so would the other half a dozen agents parked in the nearby van. Instead, she concentrated on breathing the stale air inside the chicken suit.
The radio in her ear crackled to life. "Unit One, come in. This is Unit Two, over."
Scully cleared her throat. "This is Unit One, over."
"Unit One, Unit Three is requesting, er." She squinted at the van, as if that would help to hear them more clearly. Suddenly, Mulder's voice broke in. "This is Unit Three requesting an extra-crispy order of Chicken von Niblets." She could faintly hear the Unit Two guys snorting laughter.
She glanced across the street at the figure sprawled casually across a park bench. He was ostensibly reading a newspaper, but she knew he was almost continually peering over its edge at her.
A mother and two young boys suddenly blocked her view, as they passed by her into the restaurant. "Good afternoon," Scully squawked suddenly, "and welcome to the Chunky Chicken Coop!"
The family looked at her curiously, perhaps at the discontinuity between her adult voice and the ridiculous suit. In her ear, Mulder's own voice had dropped to a deep-throated whisper. "With honey-mustard sauce..."
"Don't miss our special today..." continued Scully.
"...smothered in gravy..."
"...buy two large Cluckalicious Fries..."
"...and melted butter..."
"...you'll get a large soda for free!"
"Isn't that Clucktacular?!"
The family was openly gaping at her. Perhaps it was somewhat hysterical squeak in her voice near the end. Scully flapped her wings reassuringly as the mother ushered her young into the restaurant. "Enjoy your stay in the Coop!" she called out.
All was silent then, except for the faint sound of wind rushing around inside the chicken suit.
"Unit Two," said Scully. "Please relay the message that Unit Three is a dead man."
"Roger that, Unit One. Over and out." More giggles.
Across the street, Mulder lowered the paper and grinned at her. Even from her distance she could see him mouth the word:
Automatically, Scully lifted up her arm to check her watch. She was wearing it, but it was tough to read under three layers of synthetic feathers. She sighed. She didn't need to know the exact time to be aware that hours had passed. Many, many hours.
Meanwhile, the newspaper across the street sagged lower. Was he sleeping? That would simply not do.
"Unit Three!" she yelled. The paper fluttered suddenly, Mulder's head jerking up and away from his earpiece. "Status report?"
"Uh, everything looks all clear Unit One."
He looked flustered, so she was satisfied. "Roger, Unit Three."
There was a long period of silence, one she expected to be broken by a request for the status of "thighs and legs" or another order of those "bladder-busting" sodas. Instead he crossed his legs over and held the newspaper up again. After a moment, he even turned it right-side up.
Scully smiled to herself as the door to the restaurant opened. She prepared to give her recitation, but stopped when she recognized Mark Adams, the restaurant owner.
"How you holding up, Agent Scully?" A dark-haired, casual man, Adams leaned against the purple plastic fence like he owned the place. Which he did.
"Stakeout work is never pleasant, Mr. Adams," she answered. She could hear herself echoed faintly in her left ear. "Although I'll admit I prefer to bring my own clothes."
Adams chuckled and looked down at the dirt, which he kicked around absentmindedly. "Well, I'm sure I don't need to tell you what I can offer you in the way of food." She smiled and shook her head, before realizing that he couldn't see her expression, and that the slowly swiveling chicken head probably looked absurd. He continued, "I just wanted to relieve a little boredom, and let you know we all really appreciate what you're trying to do here."
He nodded to himself and smiled, then turned back towards the restaurant. "It's just my job," Scully said. He waved back at her and disappeared inside.
Just my job? Scully thought. There's an understatement.
In her ear, Mulder interrupted. "El pollo macho, Scully?"
"Shut up, Unit Three."
"Units One and Three, is this how your people handle every case? Because this is much more entertaining than anything back in Atlanta."
Mulder said, "Unit Two, I am a consummate professional with the utmost respect for Unit One's duty in this case. Which reminds me - where's my damn spicy wings?"
Scully smiled to herself, then frowned, then looked simply blank. No one could see inside the chicken suit, and so she could have just about any expression she wanted without having to explain herself. Except she suddenly didn't know how to feel.
The voices in her ear continued to chatter on, but she tuned them out.
Without discussion, she and Mulder had agreed that the only way to manage their impossible lives was to take each event, each case, each hurdle as a discrete and timeless event. Each had its own rules of conduct, its own tone - this time they'd be merely cordial, the next time flirtatious, after that they'd work brilliantly, before that they would collide from beginning to end. Today was one of their better times - they were joking, laughing with each other. But it spoke nothing about the next case, or the next day, or even the next hour.
They believed if they could encapsulate each crisis, and isolate it from the rest of their lives, they could move from horror to horror with nary an emotional scar. After all the traumatic events of the last six years, Scully found she had more physical scars than emotional ones. Sometimes she'd stare at the ragged, faded wounds and realize she couldn't remember what had caused them.
Occasionally events would arise of such momentous import that the partners couldn't engage in their shared amnesia, and the entirety of their six years would rise up in all its absurd tragedy. Scully knew very well that she responded by walking stony-faced through these mounting crises, summoning the injustices done to her when it served their cause, but without any real emotional force.
She caught Mulder's eye as he peeked over the newspaper. You, she thought at him, you respond with resentfulness. You won me over with that tormented, haunted soul act, but I think you've decided it's gotten old over the years. Now you resent me for being the reason you can't walk away. You're past caring about exposing alien invaders, past picking your sister out of a clone-filled lineup, past identifying another informant in the morgue, but you can't admit you wish you were past me. You can hurt me in any way imaginable and your internal moral-o-meter won't even blip, but tucking that basketball under your arm and strolling out of my life is too much of a ditch even for you. The worst part is that you probably think this constitutes loyalty, that it embodies selflessness, that it makes you less of an asshole. You've been made a whole person all right - out of me.
Mulder said something over the mic, but she tuned him out. Stop making jokes, she thought. I deserve to be angry with you, and it's for your own good that I'm thinking these thoughts now that we're not alone.
Out of the corner of her eye, a battered blue station wagon rolled into the parking lot.
When you told me to go be a doctor, she continued, was that just an attempt to coerce me into taking the first step away from this journey to nowhere? Because you couldn't do it yourself? Did you want me to leave or --
She was suddenly aware of several things simultaneously. Mulder, dropping the newspaper. The doors of the van, sliding open in many places at once - moon-suited agents pouring out like deranged, armed clowns in a circus. The target of their alarm was first walking, then running into the restaurant, his eyes wild with desire. Scully, who had still not disengaged her thoughts from their accusatory introspection, dove automatically for the madman. He howled with surprise at her impact, but managed in those few airborne seconds to open his deadly package and spill its lethal toxin on Scully. She had time to inhale for an involuntary scream of terror before their bodies hit the dusty ground, and her head rebounded inside the suit sending everything into the black.
"Agents, I will never be happier to approve a ridiculous expense reimbursement as I will be for one Chunky Chicken Coop uniform, retrofitted to meet Level Four Contamination guidelines." Scully smiled and looked down; Mulder simply looked calmly ahead. "See you Monday," Skinner added curtly, and walked out of the hospital room.
"How's your head?" Mulder asked.
"Been better. When do we cash in our frequent hospital miles? I hear they have great ICUs in Honolulu."
He expelled air by way of laughing. "You ready for the wrap-up?"
"One Victor Weiss, bad guy du jour, caught red-headed and yellow-feathered by none other than our own Special Agent Chicken Little while trying to dose his fourth fast-food poultry joint with the anthrax bacterium. Seems Mr. Weiss took umbrage at sacrificing our feathered friends for food..."
Scully raised an eyebrow, although it hurt her head. "Agent Chicken Little?"
"...but had no such qualms about knocking off anything with two legs and ten toes. At one point he was active in PETA but eventually they found him to be a few eggs shy of a dozen. Who're the flowers from?"
Scully blinked in surprise and read the card. "Oh, Mark Adams. The restaurant guy."
Mulder grunted. "Nice arrangement. Anyway, no chance Weiss would've been flying the coop on this one - our plucky Unit Two crew found a one pound bag of anthrax spores in his home and other container in his car - enough to take out a small city." He looked up from his notes at her. "It takes a tough man to make a tender terrorist."
Scully sat more upright in the hospital bed. "Can you do that spontaneously or have you been practicing since I got here? Which reminds me, where were you earlier?"
Mulder crossed his legs and folded his arms. "In CDC quarantine."
If she'd been attached to a heart monitor, it would have begun beeping furiously. Instead, the low drone of the nearby television continued unfazed; the only increase in volume was in Scully's head - the sound of blood rushing. "Anthrax infection requires direct contact with the spores, Mulder. You were well outside its range on the bench..."
She snapped her mouth closed. She had only seen him rising from his seat, but she could clearly imagine him running forward, pulling away from the CDC Unit Two agents as they scrambled to restrain him. They must have succeeded or he'd be dead, but apparently he'd come close enough to require the standard 24-hour quarantine.
Instead of acknowledging that he'd risked his life to rush to her, he snapped. "While we're engaging in this little performance review, might I ask what was going through your mind while our suspect sauntered casually from his car to the restaurant? I was all the way across the street and I could see he was our man, and that he wasn't carrying a Mickey Mouse lunch box."
I liked the joking "us" better, she thought wearily. She tried diversion. "Speaking of our man, what happened to him?"
Mulder answered tonelessly. "He's dead, of course. And you didn't answer my question."
"You weren't asking a question - you were having a tantrum. And you already own the rest of my life - you're not entitled to my private thoughts." And she turned her head to the wall to indicate she had nothing else to add.
When she turned back around, he was gone.
Skinner met with them separately on Monday; she had no reason to see Mulder unless she chose to do so. Scully finally relented not out of any particular desire to resume arguing, but because there was one case-related issue left unresolved.
"Aren't you heading home? It's late."
He looked up from the desk. For a second, he seemed ready to answer her, but then his expression changed. "Why are you still in the bullpen?" he asked. "Why haven't you moved back down here?"
She sighed. "This has always been your space."
"Mmm," he answered inscrutably.
She let the uncomfortable silence drag on. Finally, she crossed from the doorway to the desk and placed a small, steaming bag on the edge. "Here's your order, sir," said Scully, and walked out.
Mulder stared back at her in surprise, the smell of hot chicken filling the room.