Rated G, but read it anyway!
Keywords: M/S friendship, with the seeds of MSR to come... :)
Spoilers? Not really. The Samantha thing is a given. Just a passing allusion to 'The Unnatural.'
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Disclaimer: The characters of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are the property of Ten Thirteen and Fox, and they played hookey and went to this carnival without permission. Please don't put them, or me, back on desk detail. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: A stakeout at a carnival evokes differing childhood reminiscences for Mulder and Scully.
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"Nice work, agents," Marchais was saying, getting ready to dismiss them. Mulder listened without looking, preferring to watch Scully. He had noticed the way her gaze kept wandering off toward the end of the street, to where he could just see the top of the Ferris wheel over the roof of the building on the corner. He decided that they must be loading up the passengers for the next ride; the wheel moved in slow fits and starts, with pauses between the motions. The people at the top this time were making their car sway back and forth while they waited for the ride to begin.
The dark sedan pulled away from the curb, and as it passed Mulder spared a glance for the handcuffed man slouched in the back seat. Lyle Purdy wouldn't be going anywhere near little girls anymore. Mulder tried to let the satisfaction of that fact push down the thought that it didn't help the seven who'd died. It didn't help their grieving parents, their families; it didn't help their shocked, bewildered schoolmates.
It didn't bring Samantha back.
"... and I'll see you all back in DC on Monday morning." At Marchais' words the thirty-eight men and women turned and began making their way out of the Town Hall parking lot, mingling again with the crowds on the street, ordinary and invisible, as they'd been trained to be. One man paused as he went by, and clapped Mulder on the back, saying genially, "Good one, Spooky. You almost took the challenge out of it this time."
Mulder smiled thinly. "I try to keep you on your toes, Shea. Wouldn't want you to think I've lost the edge."
"Wouldn't dream of it," Shea grinned. "You guys need a ride back to the hotel?"
Mulder opened his mouth to say that they had a car, but Scully was already answering. "No thanks," she said. "It's still so early -- we're going to go back to the fair." She made it sound as if it had already been agreed upon, and Mulder knew enough to nod his assent. "That's right," he added.
"Oh, yeah? Well, don't stay too long in the beer tent," Shea laughed, and turned to go. "See you later."
"So long," Mulder called.
Scully linked her arm through his and aimed him back toward the fairgrounds. As they turned the corner by the post office she said, "You know, Mulder, you still haven't explained to me how I got onto this case in the first place. It wasn't so strange for them to borrow you for the profile, but any pathologist could've done the forensic work. They didn't need to reassign me specially."
Mulder's smile was genuine this time. "I just told Marchais we were a package deal. One slightly used profiler. Comes complete with special bonus forensic pathologist. This offer cannot be altered in any way or combined with other coupons, and is not subject to doubling."
Scully glanced up at him with suddenly merry eyes. "What would you know about double coupons?"
"Gotta stretch my poor G-man's salary somehow, Scully. You know about my expensive sunflower-seed habit..."
"It's the least of your many vices," she parried as they cut across the post office parking lot and made their way into the crowd again. "Where do you want to start?"
"This is your game, Scully. Got something special in mind?"
"No. No, not really..." Her arm was still in his, and she squeezed it just a little harder, and took a deep, slow breath, and looked around her. Her smile grew broader, but her eyes were far away. "I haven't been to a fair in... Since I was in college, I guess." She shook her head a little. "I always loved them. My dad had a thing about carnivals. He used to take all of us every time he could find one."
The crowd was milling steadily past them like water around a stone in the creek bed. Mulder put his other hand over Scully's and began leading her toward the fairway.
"I saw so many weird little town fairs that way, Mulder. We moved around so much..."
"Always a new attraction, huh?" He found himself distinctly enjoying the way she'd wrapped her fingers around his forearm.
"Oh, I can't even start to tell you. My mom still tells Bill he's the one who pointed me at a career in pathology. At one place he sneaked me into the tent where they were exhibiting 'human oddities' -- you know, two-headed babies in jars of formaldehyde? That kind of thing?"
Mulder grimaced. "Nice brother. How old were you?"
"Nine, maybe? He thought I'd be scared. I was fascinated." Scully laughed. "He was more grossed out than I was. And he got it good from Dad when I started describing them at the dinner table that night."
Mulder grinned, and shook his head, and Scully asked him, "When was the last time you went to a carnival, Mulder?"
He shrugged noncommittally. "Must've been when I was a kid."
He knew when, of course; he knew exactly when. It had been at the very end of the summer, only a few days before the start of school. He would turn twelve in a month and a half. He had asked for a ten-speed bike for his birthday, and the way Mom and Dad had exchanged a glance and said "We'll see," made him sure he was getting it. He had taunted his sister with the knowledge.
"I'm getting a bi-ike," he told her at every opportunity, stretching the word into two singsong syllables in the hope of aggravating her even further.
"Am too. I'm getting a bi-ike." It had backfired. She had been so annoyed that she had talked Dad into insisting that Fox take her to the Labor Day carnival with him, and he didn't dare refuse. He moped all the way to the fairgrounds with a jubilant Samantha in tow.
- - -
"Scully, look," he said, stopping suddenly at the sight of the green-and white striped tent to their right. "Calzones. Sausage-and-pepper heroes." He remembered all at once that lunchtime had come and gone during the stakeout, and that he was hungry. "Zeppoles," he added longingly, glancing at the next tent over.
"Mulder!" He looked down to find Scully regarding him with amused astonishment. "It has been a long time since you've been to one of these. Rides first, Mulder. Rides before food. Come on." She tightened her grip on his arm and determinedly impelled him toward the ticket booth.
He took one last wistful look at the food tents as she led him away. "Let's do the nauseating rides first so we can eat sooner, okay?"
"I only go on the nauseating ones."
He could have sworn she sounded smug. "I should have known." The ticket line moved forward. Mulder reached for his wallet.
- - -
Samantha wouldn't go on any of the rides he liked. She wanted to go on the Dragon Wagon, the Strawberry Swirl. She wanted to go on those little boats that didn't go fast enough to suit him. And even though she said she'd go on the bumper cars, when they got to the front of the line they found that she was too short, and the attendant turned them away.
He was beginning to vaguely wonder if even a ten-speed bike was worth all this when Samantha tugged at his arm. "Fox, look! Look at the goldfish. Win me a goldfish, Fox!"
He looked over at the bank of little plastic fish tanks with their brightly colored carrying handles. Their unfortunate inmates swam in aimless circles or simply hovered in the water, awaiting their fates. He thought he could sympathize with them.
"Win your own goldfish," he muttered, and tried to keep walking.
Samantha hung onto his arm and pinched him for added emphasis. "Come on, Fox. Fox, I'm telling!" He bit back his next retort, and sighed, and turned toward the goldfish booth.
- - -
"Come on, Mulder. I know exactly where I want to start." He looked up ahead and decided Scully was heading for the huge ride that loomed over the northernmost end of the fair, up near the corner closest to the train station. The shrieks of its riders were audible from where they stood.
"Know what I like about you, Scully? You never beat around the bush. Nope -- no hesitation at all. You just go right in for the the kill."
"You'll like it, Mulder. All the thrills of a car chase, with a statistically much smaller chance of injury."
" 'Statistically much smaller'? Scully, you're so reassuring!"
"All I meant was that these rides are carefully researched and scientifically designed to produce a specific effect," she returned. "The human body perceives a very real danger due to the extreme speeds, sudden changes of direction, and the resultant vertigo. The conscious mind, however, is assured that there is no actual threat of harm. The thrill of a carnival ride is the result of the discrepancy between the two perceptions."
Mulder, impressed, considered this for a moment. "You know, I have to admit that sometimes the sheer breadth of your knowledge -- "
"Don't. I saw a special on the Discovery Channel."
- - -
Samantha tugged at Fox's t-shirt. "How many tickets do we have left?" she asked around a mouthful of ice cream.
"Six," he said glumly. Even the Ferris wheel would have sufficed by then, but he knew Samantha didn't like heights. She wouldn't even climb up into the tree house in the backyard.
"We can go on the boats again, can't we?"
Fox didn't bother to conceal his disgust. "We already went on those three times, Sam."
Samantha tossed her head, flipping her thick braided ponytail against her back. "You're just mad 'cause you couldn't win a goldfish, Mr. Smarty Pants."
"Shut up, Sam."
"Mr. Smarty Pants Head. Mr. Smarty Pants Head Face."
Fox frowned and said nothing. They walked a little farther along the midway. Evening was falling, and the lights were coming on; Samantha peered at each of the brightly-lit booths as they passed. "I still have some quarters left. We have to win something. Don't we? We have to win something, Fox."
He walked on, thinking. "Sam."
"C'mere." He took her shoulders and steered her toward a bench. "Sit down right here."
The ice cream finished, she crunched on the cone. "Why?"
" 'Cause I'm going on that ride." He pointed, and her eyes widened.
"I'm not going on that!" she exclaimed.
"I didn't say you were. You're gonna stay right here. That ride costs six tickets, and I have six tickets. I can go on one real ride tonight if I want to."
Samantha pouted a little. "But Dad said I have to stay with you."
"I'll be right there. It'll only take a couple of minutes. Look, the line isn't even long." He sighed. "Come on, Sam. I said I'll be right back."
"Okay," she said reluctantly. She crossed and uncrossed her ankles a few times, looking down at them.
"Great. I'll see you in a minute," Fox said, turning, and sprinted eagerly toward the ride.
- - -
"Scully, we've done the Zipper, the Pharaoh's Fury, the Thousand-and-One Nights, the Spyder -- twice -- and the Tilt-a-Whirl."
"I know. Don't you wish there was a roller coaster?"
"I wish," he groaned, laughing despite himself, "there was dinner!"
Scully stopped, turning to him. "Oh, Mulder, I'm sorry." She grinned. "I guess I was just carried away. It's been such a long time since I got to do this." He felt her hand on his arm again. "You wanted sausage and peppers, right?"
"I think so. If my body will believe my mind and agree there's no real danger after all those rides, anyway." He paused in front of a small tent. "Hey, Scully, look. They brought St. Rocco to see his own festival. Think he goes on the rides?"
She peered past him at the elaborate half-scale statue of the Catholic saint. St. Rocco's painted plaster eyes gazed reverently up toward the peak of the tent. Offerings of paper money were pinned to the folds of his dark red robe. A nondescript grey dog crouched among the votive candles flickering at his feet, its expression almost humanly pious.
"How do you suppose St. Rocco got a festival?" Mulder wondered aloud. "Is he the patron saint of roller coasters?"
" 'Saint Rocco is the patron saint of contagious diseases, physicians, surgeons, cattle, prisoners, and Istanbul,' " Scully read aloud from the placard at the tent's entrance.
Mulder whistled slowly. "He's a versatile guy."
" 'In the fourteenth century he miraculously healed victims of the Black Plague. He caught the disease as well, but he was found and fed first by a dog, and then by its owner.' " She glanced at Mulder. "I guess that explains Fido there. ... 'Once he recovered, he continued to perform healing miracles for the rest of his life.' "
"Huh," Mulder mused. "I've felt a certain affinity for St. Christopher, myself, ever since they dumped him. No, really, Scully," he continued at her chuckle. "What kind of a world is it where even saints don't have any job security?"
- - -
Fox bounded off the ride and jogged up the midway, feeling the flush of exhilaration still on his cheeks. "Sam, it was great!" he called as he came closer. "Sam?" When the crowd parted before him he saw that the bench was empty and Samantha was gone.
- - -
"Want another one?" Mulder asked as they meandered up the midway, holding the grease-spotted paper bag of zeppoles out to Scully.
"I shouldn't," she said as she reached inside and took one. She held the little sugar-coated dumpling between her thumb and forefinger and nibbled delicately at it.
"You're welcome." Mulder took the last zeppole and popped it into his mouth whole. He stopped, looking thoughtfully up and down the long row of game booths festooned with prizes.
Scully wandered a few steps ahead and then turned back toward him. "What is it?"
"We ought to try to win something." Mulder crumpled up the now-empty paper bag and dropped it into a trash can. He licked the last of the powdered sugar from his fingertips. "Not much of a carnival if we don't at least try to win something." They made their way slowly along the aisle.
- - -
Fox had received the usual admonishment just before they'd left for the fair. "Keep an eye on your sister, Fox," his father had said. Fox knew it so well, had heard it so many times, that he mentally recited it by heart as his father spoke. "Don't let her go wandering off anywhere by herself. Things can happen to a little girl."
Things. No one had ever told him what things, but their mystery had only made them all the more ominous. Now the things took dark and menacing shape in the back of his mind. He broke from his fast walk into a trot, constantly scanning the crowd for a glimpse of Samantha.
- - -
"I can't believe you couldn't hit a single thing," Scully teased thirty minutes later.
"Target-shooting was your idea, remember?" Mulder kicked at a paper cup on the ground. "You weren't exactly Annie Oakley back there, either."
"Those little plastic guns are useless. I could have hit 'em with my Sig."
Mulder looked up and smiled. "Skinner would expect that of me, but you'd have a hard time explaining yourself." He stopped suddenly and caught her arm. "Scully, wait. Look."
He led her by her elbow across to a booth. "Basketball, Scully. This is it. This is the one I'm gonna win." He pulled a dollar out of his pocket and held it out to the attendant. "You remember Fox Mantle? Prepare to meet Fox Jordan."
"This is a fine time to manifest a multiple-personality disorder," she deadpanned.
"Watch this." Mulder stood back a few feet from the booth for effect and hefted the ball with one hand. "First shot, Scully. Watch." The basketball arced through the air and dropped neatly through the hoop.
"Whaddya want?" the attendant asked, gesturing toward the stack of stuffed toys in the corner of the booth.
"Let the lady choose," Mulder said with what he hoped would come across as gallantry. He was rewarded by Scully's arm finding its way through his again.
"I don't know. Any -- oh -- wait. That one. Yes, that one!" She laughed aloud as she took the neon-green plush toy alien, and promptly waggled it in Mulder's face.
"They're grey, Scully," Mulder laughed. "We've been through this before!"
- - -
Fox saw Samantha on the midway. She was at one of the game booths, her back to him; he spotted the bright yellow-and-red striped shirt, the long braided ponytail. Fox pushed through the crowd toward her.
He came up behind her, watching the way she studied the flotilla of rubber ducks bobbing past her at the front of the booth. Her right hand was poised to pluck one from the water. She shifted her weight slowly from one foot to the other, deliberating.
At length she reached out, decisively seized one of the ducks, and handed it to the attendant. Fox could feel her anticipation in the way she bounced up and down on the balls of her feet, watching the man turn the duck over to read the code on the bottom. He plunked the duck back down into the water tank and pulled a little cellophane packet out of a bin. Samantha took it eagerly and tugged at the seam of the wrapper to claim her prize.
"Sam," he said. She whirled around, beaming, holding the prize out to him. He saw that it was a plastic coin purse in the shape of some fanciful animal.
"I won, Fox! I won!" she cried happily. He decided not to tell her that everybody won on the ducks.
He took her just a little roughly by the arm. "Come on, Sam. We're going home." She walked unresisting beside him, turning the little purse over and over in her hands, enthralled. "I can't believe you took off like that. Didn't I tell you to stay right there?" he snapped at her. "What's the matter with you? Dad would've killed me if I'd lost you."
She lifted one small shoulder indifferently, too absorbed in her prize to look up. "I knew you'd find me," she said.
- - -
"This was so much fun, Mulder," Scully said as they made their way toward the exit nearest the street where they'd parked the rental car. "Thanks for humoring me."
"No, it's okay, Scully. No humoring involved. We needed something after that case." They had to pass by the bandstand to go out, and as they came closer Mulder recognized the music. "Scully, listen. We were missing the best part!" He veered to the left toward the bandstand and Scully followed.
"An Elvis impersonator?" she said, standing on tiptoe to see over the people in front of her. "Mulder, they must have known you'd be here."
" '...and lead me anywhere, oh let me be -- your teddy bear,' " Mulder sang along happily. "He's pretty good, isn't he?" He looked down at Scully and his smile widened when she nodded and laughed.
They applauded along with the rest of the audience when the song ended. Scully tucked the plush toy under one arm to free her hands to clap. An announcer came to the side of the stage. "One more, ladies and gentlemen?" he asked, and the crowd whooped.
"Yeah! More!" Mulder shouted along with them. He heard Scully laugh again beside him.
"Okay!" The announcer waved expansively toward the singer in the white sequined suit. "Give it up for our own 'Bowser' Gavin!"
Mulder elbowed Scully and leaned toward her. "That's worse than 'Spooky'," he said as the song began.
"Wise men say... only fools rush in..." The crowd grew quiet, listening. "But I can't help... falling in love... with... you." Mulder found himself swaying gently from side to side in time with the music. He glanced over at Scully and saw her doing the same.
Mulder looked at her more carefully. Her eyes were on the singer onstage, a faraway smile on her face. The carnival lights played in little colored highlights across her hair. Her arms hung loosely down in front of her, her fingers laced together, the plush toy resting in her joined hands.
"Like the river flows... surely to the sea..." It seemed the most natural thing in the world for him to reach over and put his arm around her shoulders, and the way she leaned into him made him think she felt that way too. "Darling, so it goes... some things... were meant to be..."
Neither of them spoke as the song ended. Just as Mulder was wondering whether he should take his arm off Scully's shoulders, he felt one of hers slip around his waist.
They turned together and began to walk slowly toward the exit and the street beyond.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Author's note: The real-life St. Rocco Festival takes place every June in beautiful downtown Oyster Bay, NY. And you can say "Hi" to Bowser behind the counter at Snouder's Drug Store in Oyster Bay!