Disclaimer: Not mine. I'm just playing. I'll put'em back when I'm done.

Rating: PG-13

Synopsis: Sending Mulder to another partner seminar with Scully in tow turns out to be a not so good idea. Trouble just seems to follow him around.

Assistant Director Skinner's Office
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Washington, D.C.

The meeting would not be a success. Scully knew that up front. Although she knew what the meeting would be about, she hadn't told Mulder up front. Because if she had, he would be gone within a second and she would have been left to explain to Skinner why he wasn't there. And she wasn't going to cover for him just because he didn't want to participate in another of these strange partner-courses the Bureau arranged occasionally. So, she had kept her mouth shut about the reason for the meeting, only replying with vague answers when Mulder had asked her. He was annoyed at her for that. She could tell by the way he kept glancing at her, frowning slightly.

When they arrived at Skinner's office, he grabbed her arm. "What is this meeting about, Scully? You know, don't you?" he insisted for the umpteenth time.

Scully was about to say something when the door opened and Skinner stared at them in slight surprise. "There you are. I was beginning to wonder," he said, stepped aside and waved them into the office. Looking once at Scully, he then turned his attention to Mulder. "I take it agent Scully has told you what this is about?"

Mulder scowled at Scully for a second. "No, actually all she told me was that we were going to have a meeting with you this afternoon, sir," he replied, not wanting Scully to get off the hook so easily.

"Well, that's all I told agent Scully, too," Skinner replied evenly, glancing briefly at Scully who managed to abstain from sighing with relief. "Take a seat," Skinner added and sat down behind his desk again.

Mulder dropped down on one chair and Scully took the other. "So, what is this about?" Mulder wanted to know. "I hope it wasn't the last report. I know it was kind of..." he began, but Skinner cut him off.

"No, agent Mulder, it wasn't your last report. Although it was kind of sloppy, there's nothing wrong with it." Folding his hands, Skinner braced himself for the expected reaction Mulder would display when he told him about the reason for this meeting. "The Bureau has, once again, arranged a partner seminar." It was with the greatest trouble that Skinner managed not to smile a little at the groan that escaped Mulder. "As you so conveniently missed the last one, agent Mulder," he went on, staring pointedly at his agent, "I advise you to be there this time."

"It wasn't my fault that we ran into..." Mulder began, but stopped after realizing that it would do him no good to defend that action.

"Mothmen?" Skinner finished for him, the look on his face everything but happy. "No, of course not," he added a little surly. "As it were, agent Mulder, I will not accept another deviation from course this time. No matter what you run into on your way there. Do I make myself clear?"

Making a face, Mulder slumped back in the chair. "Yes, sir. Perfectly clear," he said, his opinion about this coming through loud and clear in the tone of his voice.

"Good. Now, you leave Friday. The seminar will take place over the weekend in San Francisco. Nothing short of an earthquake should stop you from getting there. No other excuses will be accepted," Skinner warned.

Nodding, Mulder glanced at Scully, then back at Skinner.

"Don't worry, sir. We'll get there," Scully assured Skinner and got up after receiving the file Skinner handed her.

"Good. I'm counting on you to make sure he really get's there," he told her, nodding toward Mulder.

"I'll do my best," Scully promised.

Mulder got up, feeling like a little kid again. He really, really didn't want to go to the seminar. They bored the life out of him and he felt completely depleted when he got home. He couldn't imagine anything more stressful. Following Scully out of Skinner's office, he knew his reaction to it was pretty childish, but he just couldn't stop himself from resenting that he would have to spend a weekend in the company of a great many people who didn't like him for one reason or another.


X-Files office

Back in their office, he dropped down on his chair and gave Scully a hurt look. "How could you?" he demanded. "You know how I hate those things."

Scully gazed at him for a moment, then dropped the file on his desk. "I know and that's why I didn't say anything, Mulder. Because you would have ditched me again and left it up to me to explain to Skinner why you weren't at the meeting," she told him, sounding a little miffed. "Besides, these ‘things' aren't that bad. They can be a great deal of fun. And it's not like you're going alone. I'll be there," she added.

"I know," he grumbled. "I know, Scully. I just... I always feel like I need a vacation after a trip to Hell."

"Always?" she asked, looking surprised. "What do you mean, always? How many times have you participated?"

Blinking, he looked away. "Once," he mumbled.

"Once?" she asked, staring at him with that look he knew so well. "You've participated once and now you know all there is to know about these seminars?" Shaking her head, she sat down on her chair. "Mulder, you're impossible." Thinking things over for a second, she gave him a sharp look. "And don't even try to come up with a way of getting out of this one. Nothing short of a life-threatening disease is going to keep us from going, do you understand me? I don't want any feeble excuses, because it's my behind in a sling if you don't go. You heard Skinner. I'm not about to take the rap for this one."

Looking back at her, he smiled weakly. "And what a fine behind it is," he said.

Scully stared at him for a second, then she sighed and leaned her head back. "Mulder, I swear on everything that is holy to me, I will shoot you in the knee and stuff you in the trunk if you try to ditch me." Raising her head again, she met his eyes. "I'm serious. I know you don't like these seminars. But couldn't you just try to at least go along with it? For me?"

Now she'd gone and done it. Anything else he could worm his way out of. But not when she asked him that. "That's not fair," he growled.

"Please? For me?" She knew exactly what it was doing to him. If there was one thing she had learned about her partner over the past five years, it was that he had trouble denying her anything. She made a point out of never asking him in this manner because she knew he would do it despite his feelings in the matter and it would always end with him being miffed that she had talked him into it. But this time she wasn't going to let him wiggle his way out of it. Not a chance. She hated these seminars as much as he did, but she participated because it was expected of her. Now she expected him to suffer through it with her.

Pursing his lips, Mulder held her stare for a moment, then looked away, grumbling under his breath. He knew he wouldn't get out of this one. No matter what they ran into. He actually wouldn't put it past her to threaten him with a gun if he made any trouble. "Okay, fine. I'll go. But I won't like it," he finally said, meeting her eyes again defiantly.

"That's all I ask," she said, satisfied for the moment. "And I'm going to keep you to your word," she added with a snide grin. "Or else."

"Or else what, agent Scully?" he wanted to know, wondering if she would actually voice the threat openly.

Still grinning, she turned her chair around so she had her back to him. "That's for me to know and you to find out," she said quietly, her tone of voice menacing.


Mulder's residence
Apartment 42
2630 Hegal Place

Friday morning came and Scully still didn't trust her partner to come along quietly. As a matter of fact, she would first be at ease when they had reached the resort outside San Francisco where the seminar was to take place. She parked the car outside his apartment building and honked the horn. It took a moment before he showed up and he didn't look too enthusiastic, but he was there. And that was an improvement. She had already envisioned having to go up there and drag him out of his apartment. She opened the trunk and let him stash his suitcase in it, noting that he wasn't speaking to her.

"We're meeting up with two agents at the airport in San Francisco. We're going to the seminar together from there," she told him as she got back behind the wheel and he got in on the passenger side.

Groaning, Mulder leaned back on the seat. "At least let us drive there alone, Scully. Just you and me? Please?" he begged.

"No, Mulder. The chance of you finding something better to do if we're driving alone is too big. It's only for one weekend. What's the big deal?" she demanded, a little exasperated already.

"The big deal is that I could be at home, doing what I feel like doing. Now I have to spend my weekend with a lot of people who don't like me, doing silly stuff."

She glanced at him, knowing that this wasn't just a general rebellion against having to go by the book. She knew him well enough to realize that he was really unhappy about it. "And you don't do that usually? Silly stuff?" she wanted to know, smiling.

"When I do silly things, Scully, I usually do them by myself or with you. You're the only one I would do silly things around. Do you wanna lose the privilege?" he shot back, folding his arms over his chest.

She almost laughed. He was so funny when he was annoyed. "Oh, I think I want to share that privilege with others. It might also improve on that rather shaky reputation you've got," she told him, not letting herself be persuaded away from the main topic.

"What's my reputation got to do with this?" he grumbled, not looking at her.

Scully kept her eyes on the traffic, smiling to herself. She was not going to be pulled into an argument with him over this one. He was too sharp for her when it came to discussions like that. "Nothing, Mulder. Just promise me that you'll at least try to have some fun?" Glancing over at him, she realized immediately how he would interpret that one. "And don't screw with people's heads. I know how you love to do that."

He made a face but didn't comment on it.


J. Edgar Hoover building
Washington, D.C.

Before going to the airport, they had to go by the office to meet with Skinner. Skinner had to admit to himself that he was rather surprised to see Mulder. He had not expected Scully to be able to drag him along. But here he was. "Agent Mulder, agent Scully," he said, nodding. "I just wanted to wish you a good trip and... Mulder? Behave yourself." Mulder made a face, nodded and turned to leave. "And one more thing," Skinner interrupted his departure. "I have a case for you two to begin on when you get back." Handing the file over to Scully, he gave her curt smile. "Take it with you. You might find some time to read it on the way."

They headed back down to the garage, Mulder trailing after Scully with a definite sour look on his face. He had realized that his hurt-little-boy look didn't work on her today, so he didn't even try it. "Scully," he said, his tone of voice indicating his displeasure in all this.

"Mulder, I already told you. We're going and we're going to have fun. Now stop making such a fuzz," she told him before he could get into it again.


Washington International Airport
Washington, D.C.

All the way to the airport and while they checked in, found the plane and got on, Mulder said next to nothing. And that somehow bothered Scully. Because she knew he was saving up for his next attack. Anything to get out of this one. After they were seated, Scully pulled the file out of her briefcase and opened it. It was nothing special, really. Nothing to write home about. Staring at it while the plane taxied out onto the runway, Scully couldn't help but notice that her partner was watching her. After a moment, she turned her head. "What?" She knew what, but she felt she had to give him a break.

"When we get to Frisco, can't we just rent a car and go there on our own?" he asked.

Scully very nearly lost her temper at that one. The fact was that she would prefer that, too, but the chance of him finding something better to do while they were driving out there was too big. "Mulder, would you stop being such a baby? It's not like the Bureau is asking you to give up the next ten years of your life. Would you just go with it?" However much she tried, she couldn't keep the exasperation out of her voice. She was getting pretty fed up with this discussion.

"All right. Fine," he grumbled, folding his arms defensively over his chest and settling back in the seat. "I'll go with it, Scully, but as I said before. I won't like it."

"Then don't," she said, a little put off by all this.

For the next few hours they hardly spoke at all. Scully knew he wouldn't keep this attitude up, but while it lasted, it was pretty uncomfortable. Occasionally, she glanced at him and it was with the upmost control that she managed not to smile. If she started indicating that she thought his reaction was funny, he would get even more miffed and she wasn't about to spend a weekend in the company of a ticked-off partner. Men were such children sometimes, she thought, picked up a magazine and read through it.


San Francisco International Airport
San Francisco

When the plane set down in the San Francisco International Airport, Mulder had basically gotten over the fact that there seemed to be no way to convince Scully to go on a different kind of trip with him. He disliked the idea of the seminar, but one thing she had said made things a bit better. She was going to be there. He wasn't alone in this one with a partner who didn't like him.

With their suitcases in tow, they stepped out into the arrival hall and glanced around. A tall brunette and a smaller, grumpy-looking man stood waiting for them, unmistakable because to his attire. He looked every bit a federal agent with his dull, grey suit, black tie and unapproachable expression.

Scully took the first step and approached the woman who, dressed in black jeans, a light blouse and high top sneakers of Italian design looked as if she was on vacation rather than a seminar. "Agent Teal?" Scully asked.

"Yeah, that's me," the brunette said, smiling broadly. "And this is Pete Cranston."

They shook hands, introducing themselves. Cranston continued to look a bit sour and said fairly little, so Teal took the lead. "Come on. We've got a car waiting downstairs. We're running a little late here."

Down in the garage, Mulder realized why agent Cranston looked so annoyed. He glanced at the row of comfortable-looking rentals they walked past with longing, making it very obvious that they would not be driving one of those. When Cranston realized Mulder had noticed, he leaned a little closer. "We're taking agent Teal's car. She... drove here from New York in that thing." The disapproving tone in the man's voice was lost on Mulder. He really didn't care one way or another. Until he saw Teal's car. He had always believed that people's choice in cars exposed a lot about their character. The black four-wheel drive Range Rover that looked like it had seen its share of driving was what they were heading toward. It wasn't new, but it was well kept. Mulder glanced over at the tall brunette and couldn't help smiling. If she drove a car like that, he was going to like her.

"So, agent Teal, where are you from in New York?" Scully asked as they stashed their things in the back of the Range Rover.

"The City itself," Teal replied, giving her a crooked grin. "And stop calling me agent Teal. My name's Jennifer. Or Jenny. Or whatever odd cut-off you can get out of my name," she added. Glancing at the two men, she inspected their differing height. "I think you better sit up front, agent Mulder. You're too long-legged to sit in the back," she said, smiling.

Mulder merely nodded. That suited him fine.

They all got in and Teal put the Rover in gear, almost caressing the steering wheel. "Ready?" she asked and didn't wait for an answer.

The Rover was one of the smoothest cars Mulder had ever had the pleasure of driving in and he started to think that this might not be such a bad thing after all.

"This car is very cramped," Cranston complained, shifting around a bit to get more comfortable.

Scully glanced at him, but ignored the obvious annoyance he was displaying. "So, have you ever participated in a seminar like this, agen... I mean, Jennifer?" she asked their driver.

Teal grinned. "Yeah, a couple. I always get a lot of fun out of it."

"Where's your partner?" Mulder wanted to know after a moment.

Teal, keeping her eyes on the traffic, looked serious all of a sudden. "I'm between partners at the moment," she replied cryptically.

Cranston had his arms folded over his chest, still looking slightly annoyed at the whole thing. "She used to be partners with Jimmy Fulks," he inserted.

Mulder glanced back at Scully, who was sitting behind Teal's seat. They had both heard of the stake-out which had ended with Jimmy Fulks' death. They had also heard that it was supposed to be his partner's fault that he had died.

"The brass thought it would be a good idea that I participated in a seminar for partners, seeing as I just got my partner killed," Teal said, shocking everybody somewhat by her frankness.

"Did you?" Mulder wanted to know, tactful as ever.

"No, but that's beyond the point, isn't it?" Teal asked, sending him an amused glance. "When the brass decides that I did, that's the way things are. The truth, as such, is a creature of perception. It depends on how you look at it." Shrugging it off, she grinned.

Mulder stared at this woman and wondered where the hell she came from. She didn't seem too upset about losing her partner. "What happened? I mean, the Bureau grapevine isn't known for accuracy."

Scully almost told him to stop asking questions. She knew from experience that he liked to mess people up mentally if he could get away with it and she was somehow afraid that this was another of these incidents. But she kept her tongue, giving him a sharp glance when he looked back at her for a moment.

"We got teamed up two months ago. He hated my guts and I didn't like him any better. We ended up having an argument on a stake-out – not a good thing – and he walked off, stepping right out in front of an oncoming truck. I heard the collision, but had my back to the scene. I never saw it coming," Teal explained, her tone of voice as devoid of emotion as her expression. "Fulks was a fool. He let his anger get the better of him and if there's one thing that's stupid when you're in a heavily trafficked area, it's walking out into the street without looking. The bosses blamed it on me. I was his partner. I was supposed to have watched his back. Personally, I don't know what they expected me to do. Tie him down so he doesn't get himself wasted because of stupidity?"

"Ah, so it was Fulks' own fault?" Mulder asked.

"Kinda. He let his temper get the better of him and that got him killed. Not me," Teal replied. "Anyway, what's the deal with you two? Why are you going? From what I hear, you two are stuck together like glue."

Scully made a face. It wasn't the first time she had heard that one. "Because our supervisor thinks that we need to work on our communications skills," she said, cutting Mulder off before he could make some obscene remark to that one.

Teal glanced in the rear-view mirror and grinned. "Really? You seem to have wordless communication going right now."

"See?" Mulder said to Scully, halfway turning in his seat. "That's what I keep saying. We don't need..." he began, but Scully cut him off.

"Mulder," she almost snapped. "Forget it. We are going. End of story." She knew where this was heading and she didn't like it. Glancing at the rear-view mirror, she caught Teal's eyes and attempted strongly to communicate her need for help here.

Teal got the message. Reaching over, she patted Mulder's knee. "You'll have tons of fun at this seminar. I think we can make them re-arrange certain parts of their schedule. Don't you?" she said and winked at him.

Mulder stared at her for a moment, then he returned her grin. "Sure," he replied.

Cranston made a face again, not at all happy about all these seemingly unprofessional people he was going to spend the next few days with. Glancing over at Scully, he had already decided that she was the one who was the most professional. "Have you ever been to one of these seminars?" he asked.

"Only to one," Scully replied, watching Mulder intently for a moment. It seemed that Teal had managed to convince him that he could create havoc at this seminar and that would make him go along with it. She had already decided to have a lengthy chat with Teal to find out how better to handle Mulder. Smiling to herself, she turned her attention to Cranston. "Have you?"

"Yes, several. I find them quite educational. They teach you ethics as well as higher skills in co-operation. Communication is the key to it all. It's something of a letdown that my partner couldn't come. She was so looking forward to it," he told her.

Mulder rolled his eyes, very nearly unable to comment on that one. He hated these overzealous agents, who would do anything to please the administration. Glancing at Teal, he saw no indication of disapproval on her face. But, then again, he didn't see her nodding in agreement, either.


Golden Gate National Recreation Area

The trip toward the resort where the seminar was to take place was rather uneventful. Teal turned out to be a lot of fun and Mulder had decided by the time they reached the outskirts of Frisco that he was going to enjoy this trip, no matter what. If for nothing other than to make Scully feel better. She was a bit grumpy and he couldn't really blame her. His attitude had not been the best. The only thing that bothered him was that agents like Teal and Scully were rare. Most of them resembled Cranston and he couldn't stand the man already. It bugged him to know that he had to spend his weekend in the company of people like him. But the fact that Scully was there helped a whole lot. And Teal was going to make things even easier. He was sure they could have fun together.

The resort turned out to be located in a beautiful scenery. The buildings were neat and everything was tidy. Mulder was actually surprised to find that Scully's room was right next to his. After they had settled in, they went over to the cafeteria located in a low building near the motel where they were supposed to spend the next few days. The first hour was spent with being introduced to the others.

Scully met old colleagues, Cranston found other like-minded souls and quickly detached himself from the people he would have to drive home with again and even Teal managed to find a few friendly faces, who welcomed her back into their ranks.

The only one who went rather unnoticed by the main population of the thirty agents assembled was Mulder. He sat back on a chair and watched the humdrum of people with no wish to join in. He really didn't like these seminars. Mainly because he felt it was a waste of time and, a reason he did not acknowledge willingly, because he felt out of place. Heaving a deep breath, he folded his arms over his chest and attempted to look indifferent.

Five minutes later, Scully turned up in front of him. "Come on, Mulder. Join this rabble," she said, her face a little flushed.

"That's okay, Scully, you don't have to pay attention to me," he replied, attempting to make a joke. It came out differently, though.

Scully sat down beside him, her hands folded. "What's up? Is it because you don't feel you fit in here?" she wanted to know.

"It's not important, Scully. Go join your friends," he told her, giving her a grin to take whatever edge of his words there might be.

"There's a few people here I want you to meet, Mulder. Don't be this way. Come on," she said, gently took his arm and more or less forced him to his feet. "You'll like them. I promise," she added.

"It's not so much a question of whether I will like them, Scully. I doubt they will like me," he replied, but let her pull him along toward a small cluster of people.

"This is my partner, special agent Fox Mulder," she introduced him to the group of three men and two women. "This is Tina Wilder, John Buddenbaum, Frank Hastings, Susan Neusiedler and George Harrodes."

Mulder shook hands with all of them, wondering when the taunting would start. He smiled and exchanged pleasantries with them, laughed at their jokes and told a few of his own, constantly watching his step so Scully wouldn't have anything to be embarrassed about. It actually surprised him a little that he was willing to go to such an extent to keep things calm.

As the day progressed, he found that it was actually rather easy to talk to these people and he attributed that to the fact that they were Scully's friends. None of them actually seemed to either know or care about his reputation.

At the dinner table, Tina Wilder, a beautiful brunette with an ample shape which he thought should be forbidden because it was distracting, leaned closer to him. "Did you know that Dana and George had something going a while back?" she almost whispered, conspiratorially glancing over at Scully, who was engrossed in a conversation with said George Harrodes.

"No, really?" Mulder replied in an equally low tone of voice, feeling the spikes of jealousy. He wouldn't show it, though. Not yet, anyway. "But that's against Bureau policy," he added sarcastically.

"Yeah, I know. But they weren't partners. That makes a difference. Besides, it was George who was nuts about her. Dana is something of an Ice Queen. She doesn't let anybody get to her." Wilder grinned. "Except you. You've got quite an impact on the poor woman."

Mulder raised an eyebrow, feeling the jealousy die a quick death. "Is that so? I had no idea," he lied, smirking.

Still grinning, she jabbed an elbow into his ribs. "Mr. Modesty," she said.

New nickname, he thought, grinning back at her. That one he could definitely live with. "Ah well, we all try to behave, don't we?"

Susan Neusiedler dropped down on the empty chair next to Mulder, looking bored. She was tall, powerfully built with a set of shoulders that belittled most men in the room. Her grey eyes were so light, they almost looked white and that gave her stare something special. "So, what do you think of this seminar, agent Mulder?" she asked, her tone as bored as her expression.

"I'm generally against them," he confessed. "But this could turn out to be fun."

Glancing at him, Neusiedler didn't even blink. "I hope so. These seminars always bore me to death," she replied.

"Agent Neusiedler is known to hate these things," Wilder inserted.

"Yeah, and she does her best to make everybody else feel that way, too," John Buddenbaum said, stretching his long legs out under the table. "So, how come Dana's working with you?"

Mulder sensed an oncoming storm here and figured he better try to pacify the man before he started harassing him. "She was assigned to work with me," he replied, sounding slightly indifferent.

"Really? I wouldn't think that the X-Files craved that much attention. They're trash, after all."

Neusiedler glared at him. "Why don't you just can it, John? Nobody gives a hoot about your opinions after all. It's not like your duties fall outside the yawn-category," she growled at him, her grey eyes flashing with anger. Glancing at Mulder, who had an indifferent look plastered all over his face, she smiled. "I bet the X-Files must be very interesting to work with. More interesting than all the crap that you always dig up," she added, sending Buddenbaum another sharp glance.

Mulder was utterly taken by surprise. He wasn't used to people standing up for him. Especially not people he didn't know. "Hey, that's okay. Everybody is entitled to an opinion," he tried to soothe them.

Wilder leaned in again, her eyes on Buddenbaum. "Agent Buddenbaum shouldn't be entitled to an opinion. He's got grass growing out of his ears," she said, grinning viciously.

Frank Hastings, the oldest of the lot, put his elbows on the table, looked from one to the other and sighed. "When are you going to learn that offending other people doesn't get you anywhere, John?" he wanted to know, looking utterly annoyed. "You're attitude reminds me of when my kids were in kindergarten. It's amazing how cruel kids can be. But it's even more amazing how some kids never grow out of their cruelty," he added. Having said his piece, he leaned back again to finish his meal.

John Buddenbaum had nothing further to add to the conversation and withdrew as soon as it was possible. Hastings clapped Mulder on the back, a quiet kind of smile on his lips. "Forget about John. He's got a corncob up his ass about anybody who doesn't go by the book," he volunteered.

Mulder found that he liked all of them. With the exception of Buddenbaum, that was. "That's okay," he assured the older man. "I'm used to it."

"Yeah, I guess you are," Hastings grinned. "Well, I'm gonna turn in. We've got a long day ahead of us tomorrow. See you at breakfast." With that, he stuffed his hands into his pockets and wandered off.

Scully turned up next to Mulder, smiling. "So, how do you like them so far?"

"They're okay," he confessed. "Apart from Buddenbaum. He doesn't seem to like me," he added thoughtfully.

"You were very tactful about that one. I noticed," she said. "Besides, John doesn't like most people. Don' t take it personally."

"Oh, I don't. You know that," he replied. "I'm gonna go for a run. You wanna come?" For some reason he couldn't really explain, he always asked her and she always turned him down.

Scully smiled. "Sure," she replied, upsetting the balance.

"Wow, Scully. What's this? Change of plans?" he wanted to know, looking as surprised as he felt.

"No, call it a change of tactics. Besides, I need to move a little. We've been sitting down virtually since this morning," she replied, smiling sweetly at him. "I'll meet you outside in ten minutes, okay?"