It had been a rough year, to say the least. Mulder could not remember a time in his life where so many shitty things seemed to happen in such a short period of time. The worst of it was, he could feel Scully slipping away from him, little by little. It scared him, to be honest, and he did not behave well when he was scared, which pushed her even further away than she already was. He needed something to bring them back together, to get them on the same page before Skinner took action and tried to send them to another team building seminar. The last thing in the world he wanted to do was attend a team building seminar, and he was fairly certain he was not going to find another pair of mothmen to get them out of it a second time should they be forced to go.
He learned about the study from one of his chats with Karin Berquist, of all people. Though the reclusive and anti-social dog behaviorist put all her energy into canine studies, that was not how she began her career. She told him to look up Arthur Aron’s 36 questions, which he did, and the study of lab-generated intimacy seemed like it would be the perfect tool to strengthen the bonds of his partnership, but first he had to get Scully on board, and that would be no easy task. She wasn’t really talking to him all that much since Phillip Padgett wreaked his havoc on their lives.
Getting her out of the office was essential. He didn’t want to be interrupted by work and he needed her to have her guard down a little. He thought about surprising her at home, but she wasn’t too keen on surprises and treated him with suspicion when he showed up at her door. Of course, every time he had shown up at her door unannounced, he always brought work with him, so she had every right to be suspicious. On Friday night, he took a shot in the dark while she was shutting down her computer for the day.
“You wanna grab a beer with me?” Mulder asked. He had come around to the front of his desk and rocked forward and back against the chair there as he watched her pack up.
“Now?” she answered, zipping up her bag. “I’ve got some things I need to do.”
“Now?” he parroted.
“Yes. I’ll see you Monday.”
“What kind of things?”
He let go of the chair and moved towards her to help her with her overcoat. “Things I could help with?”
“Scully, it’s Friday night. Don’t tell me you’re turning me down for dirty clothes.”
“There’s also some cleaning I need to do and catching up on JAMA.”
“Now I’m hurt.”
“It’s not about you, Mulder.”
The fleeting glance up at him she gave said otherwise and it made him even more determined to get her to come out with him. He had done some asshole things over the years and left her behind at times, chosen other options because he thought they were more important in the moment, but never did he do it because he simply didn’t want to be in a room with her, like she was doing now. It stung.
“Dinner is included,” he said, careful to keep all traces of desperation out of his voice. “My treat of course.”
“Look, I just…”
“...have better things to do?” He swallowed and then nodded, unintentionally playing into her sympathies as he slowly trudged back to his desk. “Some other time then. Have a nice weekend.”
Once he had her on the hook, he sweetened the deal even further by taking her to a bar he’d dropped in on a few times that was by her apartment. It had a relaxed atmosphere, served food, and he’d never seen it busy. They both parked in front of her building and walked the few blocks over to the little hole in the wall. They hung their jackets on a rack by the door and Mulder rolled up his shirtsleeves as he straddled a barstool at the far end of the bar.
At the other end of the bar sat two older men, engrossed in conversation. Behind them, in the middle section of a row of three booths, a man and woman sat together, also engrossed in conversation. At the back near the restrooms, a jukebox played at a pleasant volume, only loud enough to keep the conversations private.
So few and far between were patrons, the bartender had been lounging at his station reading a paperback. He had hopped to attention when the door scraped closed behind them and approached their corner with coasters and napkins at the ready.
“Shiner Bock,” Mulder answered when the kid, probably only just barely able to legally drink himself asked what he would have.
“Same for me,” Scully added. “What are you reading?”
“Um, it’s called Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus,” the young man answered, opening their bottles. “My girlfriend is making me read it.”
Mulder snorted softly. “What was the fight about?”
“She says I don’t listen. Well, she says I listen, but I don’t hear.”
“Could be an epidemic,” Scully said, inspecting a freestanding plastic menu on the countertop in front of her.
Mulder glanced her way and then raised his brows at the bartender. The bartender raised his back as though he understood completely.
“Any advice?” the kid asked.
“She’d probably be the first to tell you that I’m the last person you should ask,” Mulder answered, tipping his head towards Scully as he took his first sip of his beer.
“Relationships are work,” Scully said. “And they take time to cultivate. Take your time and do the work.”
“How long have you guys been together?”
“Seven years,” Mulder answered, just as Scully also replied, “Oh, we’re just…”
“Then you must be doing something right.” The kid glanced between the two of them and then straightened again. “Would you like to order anything?”
“Chicken salad sandwich,” Scully answered.
“Burger, medium rare,” Mulder said. After the kid walked away, Scully gave Mulder a bit of a scowl and he shrugged. “What?” he asked. “You walked into my office March of ‘92. It is now March 26, 1999. Happy late anniversary, honey.” He held his beer out at a slight angle close to hers.
After a few moments, Scully actually picked up her bottle and tapped it against Mulder’s. “I hadn’t even realized it’s been…that long.”
Mulder felt like this was the opening he’d been wanting. He nodded a little and turned towards her on his stool. “It is a long time. And you know, if we go back to what you just said, relationships take time to cultivate.”
“I read this study recently about an experiment a psychologist performed back in the ‘60s where he wanted to see if he could scientifically cultivate relationships within a lab.”
“That sounds absurd.”
“Well, it worked.”
Scully laughed lightly and took a pull from her beer. “Worked how?”
“Their subjects were married within six months.”
“That’s not really proof of anything though.”
“Aren’t you curious how he did it?”
“You haven’t even told me what he did.”
“He developed a series of questions that people answer together and it can instantly bring two strangers into an intimate relationship.”
“Give me an example.”
Mulder took a sip of his beer and then held up a finger. He backed off the barstool and went over to his jacket on the rack. He fished out the paper that was folded in his breast pocket and went back to the bar.
“You have them with you?” Scully asked, raising her brow.
“You want to run our own experiment?” he answered.
“Let me see.” She held out her hand for his paper, but he held it away.
“There are rules. You can’t read them first. We take turns doing the asking, but we both have to answer.”
“Where’s the experiment in it?”
“Either it’s cultivating, or it isn’t.”
“We’re not strangers, though.”
“No, but...how well do we really know each other?”
There was a look of both surprise and agreement in Scully’s eyes. She took a long drink from her bottle and then placed it on the counter with extra care. She wiped her knuckle across her bottom lip and the corner of her mouth.
“You don’t know what these questions are?” she asked.
“Nope. I only read about the study.”
“What if there’s one we don’t want to answer?”
“I’m willing to answer all of them, whether I want to or not.”
“I don’t know if I can promise that, but alright. I’ll play.”
Mulder smiled and unfolded the paper. He grabbed a napkin from the bar and covered the printed list of questions so that they would stay hidden and then he placed the paper between them on the bar.
“Should we flip a coin to see who goes first?” he asked.
“Just start,” she answered. “Before I change my mind.”
“Number one. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?”
“That’s easy,” she said, immediately after Mulder finished the question. “Eleanor Roosevelt.”
“Oh, come on.”
“You said once that you’d try to live in her body as a day, she can’t also be your answer for dinner guest.”
“Last I checked, there were no rules in this questionnaire.”
“Well, there is one rule, complete honesty.”
“And that is my honest answer. Eleanor Roosevelt.”
“She was an amazing woman with an amazing life and I’d like to know more about her from her own mouth. I would love to know how she accomplished all she did. I think she’d be just about the most fascinating dinner guest I could ever hope for.”
“And what would be your answer?”
“The King, of course.”
“I guess I should’ve expected that. Why, though? Why Elvis and why not...why not George Hale?”
“George Hale? Because I’m having a dinner party, not an astronomy symposium.”
“He’s got to be a better conversationalist though.”
Mulder made a noise of disagreement with his beer at his lips and shook his head. “I beg to differ. Elvis would have stories . Why would I pick George Hale?”
“Wouldn’t you want someone more...intellectually stimulating?”
“I mean, it’s dinner, not a life partner.”
“Oh.” Scully ducked her head a little and hid a smile in her beer.
“Nothing. That’s just...good to know.”
He passed the paper her way. “Your turn.”
“Two. Would you like to be famous? In what way?”
Mulder screwed up his face a little. “No. But, I think the better question is, if I had to be famous for something, what would it be?”
“What would it be then?”
“When I was a kid, I wanted to be a pro baseball player. I wanted to play for the Yankees and I wanted to hold records and be in the baseball hall of fame.”
“Did you ever try to pursue it?”
“Nah. It was just a dream. It sort of died on the vine before I was even out of Little League.”
“You played Little League?”
“West Tisbury Diamondback, second baseman, number 14.”
Scully smiled as though she was picturing it. “How old were you?”
“Six. Six, I think, when I started. I was nine when I quit.”
“Why? You seem to really love it. Even still.”
“Things were already kind of rocky at home by then. It was just better if I...you know.”
“So what about you?”
“No aspirations for fame.”
“But, if you had to be famous for something, what would it be?”
Scully took a few moments to think. She started to answer, then hesitated, and started again after another few moments. “I’d like to discover something,” she said. “Be the first to...find a cure for something or...just something in that arena.”
Mulder got quiet and scratched at the label on his bottle. “Like a cure for cancer?” he asked.
“There’s still time.”
“No. I can’t imagine being locked in a lab somewhere running endless amounts of tests. No.”
He wanted to tell her that at least she’d be safe, but he knew she’d find it patronizing. Truthfully, he couldn’t imagine Scully spending her days in a lab any more than she could. But, really, he just didn’t want to imagine her anywhere but his side.
“Right. Three. Before making a phone call, do you ever rehearse what you're going to say? Why?”
“Not now,” she answered. “I don’t have time to think when I make a call, usually.”
“You said not now, was there ever?”
A smile bloomed on Scully’s face and the apples of her cheeks turned a rosy hue. “There was one time, I was about twelve or so, and I kind of had my first crush.”
Mulder smiled as Scully was momentarily lost in the joy of her memory. She laughed to herself for a few moments and tucked her hair back over her ears. It was possibly the cutest thing he’d ever seen her do.
“I was sort of a tomboy growing up, you know?” she continued. “So, I really didn’t...I wanted him to see me as more than the girl he rode his bike to the beach with. And Melissa was the girliest girl I knew. Plus, she’d already had at least five or six boyfriends that I knew of, so I went to her for help.”
“What was this kid’s name?”
“I’m guessing you called Mikey in a Cyrano-like scenario.”
“That is exactly what I did.”
“And what happened?”
“Crashed and burned. He kept asking me why I was being so weird and I was so mortified by the whole experience I cried into my pillow for the next week and refused to ride bikes with him again.”
“That is so sad.”
“It’s a good memory, though.” Scully flashed a smile at Mulder. “Missy felt terrible about it and it brought us closer.”
“I’m glad you have that.”
“Me too. So, do you rehearse your calls?”
“When I was with the VCU, sometimes I found it easier to work off a script if I had to make difficult calls. You know, if I had to question a grieving widow about her husband’s murder or a parent who just lost a child. I found that...it didn’t really work though. People are more responsive to authenticity.”
“I’ve always thought you were good with people.”
“You have?” He paused with his nearly empty beer close to his mouth, genuinely surprised.
“Being good with people is not something I’ve ever been accused of.”
“You don’t give yourself enough credit.”
Mulder put his beer down and his brows came together. He knew his shortcomings. He had issues with authority. He had no patience for arrogance or incompetence. He was sometimes unduly antagonistic with suspects. He truly didn’t understand how Scully could sit there and say he was good with people.
“You should see the look on your face right now,” Scully said.
“I’m just a little...are you joking?”
“Are you really unaware of how compassionate you are?”
A lull in the conversation followed. Mulder stared at Scully and she stared at her beer. They’d only made it through three questions and already she’d shocked him, and it was such an innocuous question at that. He suddenly wished he’d read through all the questions so he could see what else might be coming.
“Number four,” Scully said, turning the paper towards her with her fingertips and breaking the silence. “What would constitute a perfect day for you?”
Mulder blinked and cleared his head. “Uh. Um, I think, probably waking up to a sunny day, not too hot, maybe going for a nice run and finding a pick up game of basketball. Ordering a really good pizza and watching the Yankees win the world series. No, being at the game behind home plate. That would be the perfect day.”
“I think the same as you, I’d like to wake up with the sun shining and a nice breeze. I’d probably go to the beach and then have someone take me out in a sailboat for awhile. I want to eat some really good seafood, sit in front of a bonfire for a bit, then end the day with a bubble bath and a glass of wine.”
“That sounds really nice.”
“You want another beer?” he asked, noticing she was running low as he finished his.
Mulder held up his beer bottle to get the bartender’s attention and then flashed two fingers at him. The kid came back with two more beers and took their empty bottles away.
“Food should be ready in about five minutes or so,” the kid said.
“Do you have any chips or pretzels?” Scully asked.
“Getting comfortable?” Mulder asked her.
“We’re only on question five and I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’m not getting any laundry done tonight,” she answered, and then thanked the kid when he slid a bowl of pretzels onto the bar between them. “Besides, if you’re buying, I might as well take advantage.”
Mulder chuckled and slid the paper back in his direction as she munched on a pretzel. He then let out a full laugh when he read the next question and looked at her with a wide smile.
“When did you last sing to yourself?” he asked. “To someone else?”
“You already know the answer to that question.”
“Yeah, but I want to hear you answer anyway. And I don’t know when the last time you sang to yourself was.”
“I don’t sing. I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. The last time I was forced-”
“No one forced you. I made a very polite request which you were kind enough to comply with.”
“Shut up, Mulder. You answer.”
“I sang in the shower this morning. A very soulful rendition of Heartbreak Hotel that would make angels weep.”
Scully rolled her eyes. “I’m sure.”
“And I don’t remember the last time I sang to someone. But, if we’re ever lost in the woods again, I want you to know I’d happily sing you to sleep and I’ll even take requests.”
“That is exactly why we’re never going into the woods ever again. Question six. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you choose?”
“Hm. Hm.” While Mulder was thinking about the question, their food was brought out. They took a pause to arrange their plates and then he returned to his thoughts. “So the problem is, this question assumes that there will be a decline both physically and mentally. I’m not even actually really worried about either.”
“Oh yeah, I plan to be as handsome and brilliant at 90 as I am today.”
Scully, about to take a bite of her sandwich, burst out laughing and had to put the sandwich back down. “That’s assuming you’re handsome and brilliant,” she said, wiping her greasy fingers with a napkin.
“You have to pick one.”
“I think I would go with the body.”
“I don’t believe that for a second.”
“Don’t you remember that time on the Ardent? If that’s what it feels like to be physically old, I’m choosing the body.”
“Damn, I’d forgotten about that.”
“Looks like you’re losing the brains already.”
“Har har.” He gave her a fake glare before turning his attention to the next question. He pursed his lips and glanced at Scully as she finally took a bite of her dinner. “Um. Number seven. Do you...do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?”
“Ah, but I don’t die, remember?”
Mulder looked down at his burger. “You don’t have to answer this one.”
“I think we’ve both come too close to death not to think about it.”
“Yeah, but it’s not something I like to think about.”
“Facing your own mortality is-”
“You, dying,” he interrupted. “I don’t want to think about that.”
Scully wiped her fingers off with another napkin and then she turned herself towards Mulder and put a hand on his knee. “I plan on going in my sleep, peacefully, a long time from now.”
“You can’t plan on that.”
“Don’t get maudlin on me. Not when we’re having such a nice time.”
“You’re having a nice time?”
“I have free dinner, drinks, and good conversation. I’m having a nice time, so tell me how you think you’ll die.”
Mulder laughed and she squeezed his knee before returning to her sandwich. “I don’t know, but I’d like it to be the same as you.”
“You might want to think about that the next time you jump onto a moving train.”
“That’s why I need to keep my 30 year old brain intact to stop me from doing stupid things.”
“Hasn’t stopped you yet.”
“Touché.” He lifted his beer at her in salute and then took a drink.
“Number eight. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common. Oh, I like this one.”
“I certainly didn’t think we had anything in common when we first met.”
“Well, we were both FBI agents.” She smiled at him as she brought her sandwich up to her mouth.
“Let me think.” He ate his burger, chewing slowly and washing down each bite with a sip of beer. He watched Scully nibble on a slice of pickle that was laid out behind her sandwich.
“Tick tock, Mulder.”
“Okay, we are both FBI agents.”
“We both like the same beer. And we both prefer music over talk radio.”
“I don’t, actually.”
“I prefer that it keeps you occupied on long car rides. You get antsy when we listen to talk radio.”
“I didn’t know that. I thought that...I didn’t know you were being deferential.”
“It’s to save my sanity as much as yours.”
“We can listen to talk radio if you want.”
“Then I’d just miss out on your enthusiastic air guitar solos.”
Mulder actually felt himself blush at that. Scully never seemed to pay that close attention to him, whether she was driving or engrossed in a casefile.
“My turn,” she said. “We both prefer driving over flying. I think we are both good at what we do. And we have both lost loved ones because of it.”
“I wish we didn’t have that in common.”
“I do too.”
Mulder nodded softly before he moved to the next question. “Nine. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?”
“That’s difficult. I have a lot I’m grateful for.”
He left her to ponder while he ate his burger. He was already low on his second beer, but he didn’t want another quite yet. He didn’t intend to get drunk, and he didn’t want her to be either.
“That I’m here,” Scully blurted suddenly. “I am most grateful, above everything else, that I’m still here.”
“We can name that as another thing we have in common, because that’s my answer too.” He looked at her hand where it rested on the bar and wanted to cover it with his, but he didn’t.
“10,” she said. “If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?”
“I wish I’d had parents that talked more. To me and to each other. You know, when it wasn’t silent, it was loud. I never knew which was worse.”
“It was always loud at my house. I used to wish for silences. I wouldn’t trade that chaos now for anything, but I used to back then. I guess I would’ve liked to have had my dad around a little more, but sometimes it was confusing when he was home.”
“My mother was a fairly typical woman of her time. She was devoted to her church, her husband, and her children, in that order. Most of the time, we saw her as a very capable, strong woman, until Ahab came home, and it was like he was the king and we were all his subjects. It was easier adjusting to new schools and new neighborhoods than it was adjusting to a mom who suddenly answered all questions with ‘go ask your father.’ And while she was strict, she still never ran as tight of ship as Ahab. Rules changed, bedtimes changed, everything changed in the weeks he’d be there.
“At first, when he’d come home, we were all pretty reverent. Happy to see him, excited he was home, but the novelty wore off pretty quickly. The thing is, he was used to sailors who snapped to attention when all he had to do was walk by. He wasn’t accustomed to rowdy children who were different each time he returned. He loved us, of course, and we loved him, but I don’t know that we ever really knew each other.”
“That’s the most I’ve ever heard you talk about your father.”
“That’s probably the most I’ve ever really talked about it.”
“What would you change then?”
Scully tilted her head and squinted her eyes closed for a bit. “I think what I want, or what I would’ve wanted, is for my mother not to have made him so mythical. And I would’ve liked for Ahab to have acknowledged her more as an equal partner. Or even have acknowledged that she did more than he did.”
“They were happy though, weren’t they?”
“I think so.”
“Well, I think that counts for something.” Mulder paused and snorted when he read the next question. “Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.”
“This is a question that would probably be easier to answer if we were strangers.”
“Why do you say that?”
“I feel like I’d just be boring you with things you already know.”
“We could skip it, if you really wanted to.”
“It feels a little redundant, don’t you think?”
“Okay. Well, go ahead with the next one then.”
“12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained one quality or ability, what would it be?”
“Easy. I’ve always wanted to be able to be invisible at will so I can get into any place at any time.”
“I think they mean real ability though.”
“Why isn’t invisibility a real ability?”
“Because people can’t be invisible.”
“Oh, you really want to debate that?”
“Okay, okay. Then I want the ability to know all languages.”
“I guess that would be kind of cool. Not as cool as invisibility, but still.” He leaned over to bump his shoulder with hers and she rolled her eyes. “13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?”
“I wouldn’t want to know the future, I know that much.”
“It may not be something I like or want to hear. I think I would like to know where…” She stopped suddenly and sucked in her breath. He put a hand on her back and leaned forward to look at her. “I would like to know the truth of where Emily came from.”
“I’d like to know the truth about what happened to my sister.”
“Then again, Mulder, we may not like what we hear.”
He rubbed her back for a moment in a circle and then dropped his hand. She gave him a small smile and looked at the paper.
“14,” she said. Is there something that you've dreamt of doing for a long time? Why haven't you done it?”
“I did the thing I dreamed of doing a few years back.”
“What was it?”
“When did you visit Graceland?”
“Uh…” He gave her a sheepish look. “You were in Philly.”
“Ah. Well, lately I’ve been thinking about taking a cooking class or dance lessons-”
“Dance lessons! What kind of dance lessons?”
“Any kind. Or a painting class. Something that would put me in the world of other people doing normal things. As to why I haven’t done it, who has the time?”
Mulder was already racking his brain. It was too bad she didn’t mention wanting to learn baseball. He could teach her how to hit and they’d probably both have a lot of fun with it. She deserved some fun in her life. He looked over at her and saw she had a smear of mayonnaise on her cheek. Without thinking, he reached over and thumbed it off. It brought back memories of eating ribs and barbecue sauce on the corner of her mouth. She looked at him then like she was looking at him now, like a mixture of amusement and shyness, but she hadn’t pulled away then and she didn’t pull away now. He thought again about how grateful he was that she was still there beside him.
“Have you had enough?” Scully asked.
“It’s your turn to ask.”
“Oh. 15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?”
“Making it through the academy. In some ways, it was harder than med school.”
“Mentally. Emotionally. I was one of only four women in my class. Two dropped out.”
“I never knew that.”
“Yeah, but I had the best shot out of all of them. That sure pissed some of those guys off.”
Mulder laughed and unconsciously rubbed the bullet wound in his shoulder.
“What’s your biggest accomplishment?” she asked.
“I don’t know.”
“What about the monograph that put away Monte Propps? That had to be pretty satisfying, all that hard work and putting away a serial killer in the end?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“It wasn’t satisfying?”
“I’d feel better about it if he hadn’t murdered 13 people first.”
“But your work stopped him from murdering even more. And it brought closure to the victim’s families. That has to mean something.”
“Alright, then that’s my biggest accomplishment.”
“It’s not about what I think though, Mulder, you’re supposed to tell me.”
He couldn’t tell her, though. He couldn’t sit there and tell her that his greatest accomplishment was that he hadn’t succeeded in pushing her away. So he just shrugged and agreed that Monte Propps was his greatest accomplishment and had to look away because he could tell she didn’t believe him.
“16,” she said, quietly. “What do you value most in a friendship?”
“Loyalty,” he said.
“Honesty,” she countered, giving him a raised eyebrow, which he ignored.
“Number 17. What is your most treasured memory?”
For a moment or two, Scully looked like she was going to call him out on the change of subject, but she relaxed the tight expression on her face and her eyes moved up in thought. “My parents woke us up early one morning, before the sun was even up, put us in the station wagon and told us to just go back to sleep, we were going to visit a cousin of ours or something. Turns out they were surprising us with a day at Disneyland. Pulling into that parking lot I felt like I’d never been so excited for something in my life.”
“I guess a kid never forgets his first trip to Disneyland.”
“Did you ever go?”
“No. We didn’t really do the family vacation thing. Summer’s on the island, that was it. Not that I’m complaining. I had a lot of fun back then.” He paused for a second. “Actually, I’m going to say that my most treasured memory involved summer vacation. I had my first kiss and the first time I held hands with a girl on the same day.”
“What was her name?”
“Jenny. Jenny Johnson. Her family lived on the island year round. She had a sister Samantha’s age. Becky, I think. Or Betsy? That I can’t remember, but she and Sam used to play together. I had to watch Sam, Jenny had to watch her sister as well, so we ended up spending a lot of time together. We got permission to take the girls to a carnival that was in town one day and, I took my chances and kissed her when we were on this haunted house ride. Well, first I put my arm around her when she screamed, because I’m smooth like that.”
Scully laughed out loud against her beer bottle and stopped just before she took a drink. “A real Don Juan at--how old were you?”
“Twelve. Keep going, I want the full story.”
“Well, it was the kind of ride where things pop out at you and stuff and at first it was a lot of surprise, but then it was just kind of silly, so we were laughing and just before the ride ended, I could kind of see in the dark that we were headed for the doors, and I just...leaned in and kissed her.”
“And then we were temporarily blinded by the sun, but when she blinked at me, she looked like the happiest anyone had ever looked to me. She grabbed my hand when we got out of the ride and we pretty much spent the rest of the day like that.”
“That isn’t really what I expected you to say.”
“What did you expect?”
“I don’t know, but not a sweet little summer romance.”
“Little is right. By the next day, all Sam could talk about was Fox and Jenny sittin’ in a tree, and I got pissed, and then Jenny got pissed that I was pissed and accused me of being embarrassed of dating an islander--I didn’t even know we were dating or what dating really was, and it that was pretty much the end of that. But, that day at the carnival. It was perfect.”
“I guess that’s a good segue into number 18. What is your most terrible memory?”
“Ah, well. I’m going to have to be predictable here and say the night Samantha...well…”
“Yeah. And I’ll say when I found out Melissa…”
“Kind of a shitty thing to have in common.”
“You’re empty,” Mulder said, nodding at Scully’s beer as she tipped her head back and drained the rest. “Another round?”
“If you change your mind, say the word.”
“You’ll be the first to know.”
“19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?”
Scully went quiet, her thumb circling the lip of her empty beer bottle. Her gaze seemed to lack direction, like she was staring at nothing. The silence was so prolonged, Mulder became attuned to the jukebox again. Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams was playing.
“Bet you wish you had that third beer,” he said, uncomfortable with the stall in conversation.
A small smile lifted the corners of Scully’s lips, but she still didn’t say anything.
“You don’t have to answer this one if you don’t want to,” Mulder said.
“I’ll answer. I’m just forming my thoughts.”
“Take your time.”
Another bout of silence passed and finally Scully sighed. “When I thought that I was going to die, when the cancer...when I thought I wouldn’t make it out of the hospital, I tried to make peace with the things I would never do. I didn’t want to leave this world with regrets. So, I...I wrote letters. To my mother. To my brothers. To...you. And then I realized how unfair that was, how selfish it was to write the things down I could never say, but not let you do the same. So, I tore them all up.”
His curiosity was instantly piqued. “What did they say?”
“Maybe if there’s a question in there about things unsaid, I’ll tell you. But, to answer this question, when I found out I was in remission, that I was going to be fine, I told myself it was a second chance at some of those things I’d always wanted to do. It’s been, what, two years? I don’t think I’ve done any of them.”
“Let’s change that. Let’s do something on your list.”
“Maybe none of it was as important as I thought it was, if I haven’t done them yet. Or maybe I just didn’t learn the lesson. No, I don’t think I would change anything about the way I’m living now. I’m happy enough with...everything.”
It was the ‘happy enough’ that struck Mulder. He had a notion that there might be one or two things she would change that she was holding back on, but he wasn’t going to push. It was a difficult question to answer and he was struggling himself to come up with something to say.
“All that really matters is whether or not I was a good person,” Scully continued. “Right? To...to God, to those left behind. That’s what’s going to matter in the end. Not whether or not I...I don’t know, walked the great wall of China or something.”
“Is that on your list?”
“No.” Scully laughed. “I was trying to think of a common bucket list item for most people.”
“I feel like the most common bucket list item would be jumping out of an airplane.”
“Okay, then. Is that really going to matter down the line?”
“Probably not. But, you’ll have a good story for the grandkids.”
As soon as he said it, Mulder felt like an ass. He meant it as a figure of speech, but he realized too late that it would bring up some unpleasant truths. Scully would never have grandkids - unless by some miracle. And she didn’t even know the whole story. He rubbed the back of his head uncomfortably.
“Uh, I think I’d do some things differently,” he said.
“Get out of the office more. Do something fun on a Saturday night that doesn’t involve the gunmen starting arguments in internet chat rooms.”
“Is that what you guys do on the weekend?”
“Not every weekend.”
“Mulder, that’s just sad.”
“And what’re you doing on a Saturday night, Miss Scully? Laundry?”
“Alright, we both need lives.”
“I’d toast to that, but I’m out of beer, and I need to hit the head anyway.” He slid off the barstool and looked to the kid who was filling a drink order at the other end of the bar.
“You want me to order you another?”
“No, I’m good. Be right back.”
Mulder quickly used the restroom and stared at his reflection in the spotted, foggy mirror as he washed his hands. This was the most he’d ever really talked with Scully and he was enjoying himself. He wondered if he could find a way to make it a regular thing. Maybe then his Saturday nights wouldn’t feel so empty.
When he came back to the bar, he slowed his step. The remnants of their food had been taken away and there was a glass of iced tea in front of his seat. Scully looked like she was nursing a diet Coke.
“Didn’t want you to get parched,” she said, as he took a seat.
“So. Number 20. What does friendship mean to you?”
Mulder squeezed the wedge of lemon perched on the side of his glass into his tea. He thought about the gunmen, who he spent Saturday nights with or came to for help with technological problems, but didn’t confide all that much in. He thought about passing friendships he’d had in school or in the early days of work, people he went out for occasional beers with, but never saw outside the bullpen. And he thought about Scully, who he felt knew him inside and out and never held things he might have said in the heat of the moment against him, and ordered him iced tea because he might get thirsty.
“I guess it means everything to me,” he said. “I don’t know what I would do without…” He stopped short of specifying Scully by name, but by that point he was only thinking about his relationship with her. “Without someone to talk to,” he finished.
“Someone to rely on,” she said.
“Exactly. What about you?”
“That’s my answer. It means someone to rely on. I think everyone needs that in their life.”
“Agreed. 21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?”
Scully snorted and spoke into her glass. “Not nearly enough as I’d like.”
“Both.” She sighed. “No, that’s not true. There is love in my life, though I’ll admit I could do better at it. And affection...is something I think I’ve always struggled with. I don’t dislike it, I’ve just never been very comfortable with it either.”
“So, you could use more love and try harder with affection?”
“Maybe. But, I think to answer the question I’d have to say, it probably doesn’t play as significant a role as it could, or even should.”
“Why is it interesting?”
“Because I feel like you have so many people in your life that love you.”
“Who, my mother? My brothers?”
“Hey, that’s three more than I’ve got.”
“Mulder, I lo...I think you’re wrong about that.”
“We’re off track. You haven’t answered yet.”
“I’m a big fan of love and affection. When it’s in my life, I think it’s pretty great. I wish it didn’t come and go so easily, because it’s hard not to have it. Sometimes I think I need it as much as I want it.”
“Maybe you’ll find it once you start living it up on Saturday nights.”
“Maybe you will too.”
“22. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.”
“You are unbelievably smart.”
“I like how gentle you are.”
“When you deal with people in difficult situations. We discussed it however many questions ago. You’re very gentle and I like that about you. I’ve appreciated it in my own difficult situations.”
“Oh.” Mulder blinked. It gave him a warm feeling to know he’d done something Scully appreciated. “Um. You are the most dependable person I know.”
“You are the most passionate person I know.”
“Is that just codeword for stubborn?”
Mulder grinned. “What are we at, three? You are more warm than I think you give yourself credit for.”
Scully scrunched her face as though she disagreed.
“See,” he said.
“I think you always do things with the best of intentions.”
“You don’t take shit from anyone, especially me.”
“You…” She closed her eyes and her brows came together.
“Uh oh, I only have three good qualities?”
“I just want to phrase this right. You have an ability to empathize at will.”
“I’ll have to ponder that one later. Last one? I don’t know if I would call it stamina, but for all that you’ve endured, you get back up, you keep fighting, you’re still here, and you’re stronger every time. Resilience, maybe, but it’s more than that. It’s...you’re just incredible, Scully, you really are.”
Scully’s eyes grew glassy and wet. “Dammit, Mulder,” she muttered, wiping her knuckles across her lashes.
“If the next question is what are negative qualities your partner possesses, I’ll start with unable to take a compliment, how about that?”
In response, Scully gave Mulder’s bicep a shove and he laughed as he pretended to slip off his barstool. She wiped her eyes again and then took a drink.
“I admire your ability to be free with your feelings,” she said. “Next question.”
Not that free, Mulder thought, looking at the paper. “Number 23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people's?”
“Close-ish. Not very warm, but warm enough. I don’t think my childhood was more or less happy than anyone else’s. It was sufficient for me, maybe not so much for Charlie or Melissa.”
“What about Bill Jr.?”
“He thrived on routine and order, as you can imagine.” She smiled and then laughed softly. “He would probably say it was idyllic.”
“I’m going to have to say my childhood was less than idyllic, not warm and not close. I don’t think that will come as a surprise to you.”
“Was it always like that though? Even before your sister was…”
“It was tumultuous. I didn’t really know it at the time, I just thought everyone had parents who yelled at each other when they were together, or dads who worked all the time and hit them when they weren’t home when the streetlights came on. It took me a long time to realize it wasn’t great.”
Scully reached over and covered Mulder’s hand with hers, giving it a squeeze. “I’m sorry that you went through that.”
“I made peace with that a long time ago.”
She nodded and withdrew her hand. “Oh, nice follow up question. 24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?”
Mulder sat back and sipped his iced tea. He pulled an ice cube into his mouth with his tongue and rolled it back and forth for a few moments before crunching down on it and shattering it into tiny pieces. When he was finished, he sucked in his bottom lip and scraped his teeth across it.
“It’s complicated,” he said. “I wish it weren’t. I think I’ve done a lot in my life to try to...to please her somehow, to make her proud, to protect her, to just...I don’t know. I’m not even sure she appreciates it, but I’ll do it anyway because she’s my mom. I don’t know if what I’ve done for her is out of love or obligation.”
“Sometimes it can feel like that same thing.”
“That’s for damn sure.” Mulder pulled another piece of ice into his mouth.
“I don’t think my mother and I understand each other very well. I know she wanted a different life for me, but also wanted me to forge my own path. I think she also thought at some point it would merge with her own ideals. She makes me feel guilty a lot for not being as present as she’d like me to be. I think our relationship is more about her than it is about me. I suppose that’s fine, but I’d also say she doesn’t know me as well as she thinks she does.”
“Would you like it to be better?”
“Does it sound awful to say that I don’t think I need it to be?”
“Not if that’s the truth.”
“I don’t need it to be.”
“Okay then. Make three true "we" statements each. For instance, "we are both in this room feeling..."
“That’s kind of a weird question. Okay, we are both FBI agents.”
“Oh, come on!”
“We eat together quite often, but it’s been a long time since we’ve had dinner together, if you know what I mean.”
“And, we haven’t talked like this in a long time.”
“Have we ever?”
“There were some times back in the early days of our partnership where we dug a little deeper. Never to this extent, but we’ve had some moments.”
“We should do this more often. That’s my first we statement, by the way, and a general comment. We should do this more often. We make a great team. And we both enjoy the same beer.”
“26. Complete this sentence, "I wish I had someone with whom I could share..."
“Huh. I don’t know that there’s a lot I don’t share with you.”
“Well, that isn’t the question.”
“I know, but what I’m saying is...I mean, I don’t really feel like I’m not sharing something. If there’s something I want to share, I share it with you.”
“There’s got to be something though.” She shook her head dismissively. “You share your slideshows and your theories and your strange depth of knowledge, but not…”
“I don’t know, life things. What are life things that people share? Intimate things. Their...toothbrushes, their inner demons, their beds, their hopes for the future.”
“Is that your answer? Is that what you want to share with someone?”
“Of course I do, but at the same time, absolutely not.”
“I think we’ve shared some hopes with each other, and definitely demons. As for toothbrushes and beds, just say the word.”
“Are you telling me that you feel fulfilled right now?”
Mulder was momentarily tongue-tied and stuttered out an answer. “I don’t think I can say I feel unfulfilled Are there things I want? Sure. Intimate things? Yeah. I think that desiring emotional or even physical intimacy is a different question from what would I like to share with someone?”
“I think it’s the same.”
“And I would argue that saying I want someone to share a meal with at the end of every day is completely separate from saying I wish I had someone to hold me every night. Both answers imply a desire for intimacy, but a meal is a shared experience and the other is somewhat selfish. So, personally, I don’t interpret the question in that way, but if you want to qualify it and remove ‘share’ from the equation, I wish I had someone with whom I could spend a night with and would still be there in the morning. Absolutely.”
An extended silence followed, one in which Mulder could feel the tips of his ears burning with embarrassment. He never intended to lay the burden of his ache for intimacy at her feet. Not like that. And now it was out in the ether and he couldn’t take it back. Sure, he could make a self-deprecating joke about it, but then it might devalue the whole purpose of the questionnaire. He wished he could tell what she was thinking, but her face was shadowed, her expression hidden by the angle of her chin, down and away.
“Alright,” Scully finally said. “You make a valid point. But, I would like to add that I believe the examples you’ve given can also be a shared experience. You can want someone to share a night with, and then wake up and share the morning as well.”
“Then the most basic answer would always be that you want someone to share your life with.”
“That’s true, but...”
“And I also think in order to be shared, it has to be reciprocated as well. You have to give of yourself, but you have to be willing to receive as well.”
“I suppose if you’re not willing to open yourself up like that, it wouldn’t be a whole life, it would be half a life.”
“I didn’t say I was unwilling.”
“Well, I didn’t either.” She hesitated on her next breath and then laughed a little. “And I honestly don’t even know what the point is that we’re trying to make anymore.”
Mulder sighed silently in relief that the tension he felt was bubbling had burst with her laughter and then hesitantly turned the paper towards him. “Uh, number 27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.”
“I’m sure you already know this, but I don’t open up very often. And I don’t do need very well.”
“I know tonight is an anomaly. That we probably won’t discuss it in the morning, or ever again. It doesn’t have to be that way though.”
She shifted in her seat and tucked her hair back over her ear. “Just answer the question.”
“I’d need her to know that I can be a bit of a stubborn asshole. And that sometimes I am blinded by need and I don’t make the best decisions.”
“28. Tell your partner what you like about them: be honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you've just met.”
“That implies I wasn’t being honest the last time I answered the question.”
“Maybe for strangers they could only answer more superficially until they got to know each other.”
“What, things like, I like your eyes or your hair or the way the top of your nose moves when you speak?”
Scully reached up and touched the bridge of her nose between her brows almost self-consciously and then brought her hand down just as quickly and wrapped it around her glass. “I think we can skip this one, unless you feel like there’s something you left out.”
“I do like more than three things about you, Scully.” He smiled and leaned into her teasingly. “But, if your quota was met earlier we can move on.”
“I do happen to like that stubbornness of yours. Just so you know.”
“You do?” He leaned back and scrutinized her, genuinely surprised. “Why?”
“You don’t give up easily, whether it’s on cases or on people. It’s that steadfast determination that gets you results where others may not.”
“I might have to remind you of this the next time you tell me to let something go. 29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.”
“I was quite bookish in school.”
Scully gave Mulder a flash of a scowl. “I won an award for a state science fair when I was in sixth grade, of which I was very proud of, but you know, other kids don’t really appreciate that kind of thing.”
“Kids are jerks.”
“No one would’ve ever had to know, but the principal read it over the PA in our morning announcements and well...it was bad enough that attention was called to it, but for the rest of the school year, this kid, Stevie, would salute me every time I walked into class and called me Dr. Nerd.”
“Uh, not to diminish your feelings, but Stevie’s the one who should be embarrassed. That’s the lamest nickname anyone has ever come up with in the history of nicknames.”
“Any nickname earned, however lame, can seem like the worst insult in the world when you’re ten.”
“True. I bet you can rest assured that Stevie hasn’t gone on to much success in life.”
“Well, contrary to what you might believe, I was not always as agile and suave as I am today.”
“Oh, is that what I believe?”
“I was also ten in my story and I was at a birthday party at a skating rink for arguably the prettiest girl in school, but I was a pretty lousy skater. I made it one round around the rink, mostly holding on to the side, and when I let go and tried to participate in the skate chain, I went ass over elbows in front of the entire class, but all I cared about was that I’d just ate shit in front of Cindy Palmer.”
Scully started laughing before he’d even made it to the punchline, like she might know what was coming. She made a sympathetic noise over her chuckles. “That’s terrible,” she stuttered and giggled at the same time. “I’m so sorry.”
“Childhood is rough. The smallest things seem like the end of the world.”
“That they do.”
“Lay the next one on me, Dr. Nerd.”
Scully gave Mulder a soft kick on the shin with the side of her foot. “When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?”
“Few weeks ago when you went to get cleaned up after…” He gestured to his chest. “Padgett.”
“That would be my answer for both parts of that question.”
“I don’t have a real hang-up about crying in front of people. I can’t really remember the last time, but I’m sure it was you.”
“Fair enough. 31. Tell your partner something that you like about them already. Oh come on, we’ve answered this about six times.”
“Skip it. Number 32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?”
“Death of a child.”
“I was gonna say nothing is too serious, but I’m going to agree with you there.”
“Number 33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven't you told them yet?”
“Yeah, this one might be a little…”
“I think I need a minute.”
“Take your time.”
The first thing that came to Mulder’s mind was that he would tell Scully how much she meant to him, but it conjured up memories from his hallway and really he’d already said what he’d needed her to hear. He could reiterate it right here, right now, but it didn’t feel like the right time, to say it only because he was being prompted by a silly questionnaire. If she were a stranger, he would answer honestly, that he had communicated those things one time, he just wished it wasn’t one of those things they didn’t talk about. He chose a different option instead, one that was still truthful, but felt less necessary for him.
“I would want to tell my mother that I’m sorry I couldn’t do more for her,” he said. “Couldn’t find my sister and couldn’t make her happy. As to why I haven’t already told her, well there’s a big part of me that knows it isn’t my fault and that I’ve done everything I could.”
“It isn’t your fault. You have done everything you could, more than enough, Mulder.”
“Logically, yes, I know that. And I shouldn’t have to apologize for it, but I still feel compelled.”
Scully curled her hand over Mulder’s forearm and let it rest there for a few quiet moments. He gave her an appreciative smile and then put his hand over hers. He expected her to pull away, but she didn’t. They stayed like that until the loud scrape of a barstool across the floor broke the solace. He reached for his iced tea and she leaned back on her stool.
“I can’t answer the question,” Scully said, her voice almost at a whisper. “There are reasons that...I just can’t.”
Mulder shrugged. “You don’t need to explain it. It’s just a silly questionnaire.”
She looked down and plucked at the skin next to her thumbnail. “It’s not silly and I should...I lack the courage to...it’s because I lack courage that I can’t answer.”
“You can have half a point for answering the second part of the question.”
She looked up at him and there was pain in her eyes. He couldn’t tell if her anguish was from not being able to answer, or what she would answer if she could. He reached over and swept his hand up and down her back a few times.
“You’re the most courageous person I know,” he said. “That won’t change.”
“Yet I can’t even answer a simple question.”
“It’s not that simple. Let’s just do the next one, we’re almost done. Number 34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be and why?”
“I want you to know that I want to answer it, Mulder. I do.”
“Answer it when it’s the right time, Scully. You’re gonna be around a long time.”
In the silence that followed the deep and uncertain breath Scully took, Mulder changed the format of the questionnaire and just answered.
“Well, since it says I’ve already gotten my fish to safety,” he said. “I think I’d have to rescue my lamp.”
Scully cleared her throat. “Your lamp?”
“My Saturn lamp. My grandfather - my mother’s father, the only grandparent I ever met - got it for me when I was about four or five. It was my nightlight when I was a kid.”
“That’s adorable, Mulder.”
“I mean, I think the couch is pretty unreasonable and I can get a basketball anywhere.”
“No, it’s a good choice. I’d take a photo album I have that was given to me by my grandmother.”
“Mom’s side or dad’s side?”
“Also pretty irreplaceable.”
“We went out of order, so go ahead with the next one.”
Scully hesitated when she turned the paper closer and there was a slight hitch in her breath. “I think we’ve already answered this as well,” she answered, and then pushed the paper over to Mulder.
“35. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why? I guess in my case missing might as well be dead and even if your sister hadn’t-”
“I wasn’t going to answer with Melissa,” she interrupted. “It was awful, yes. It’s one of the worst things I’ve been through. But, it’s not the worst thing.”
Mulder puzzled over her answer for a moment and almost had to ask if she was referring to her father or mother, but it dawned on him suddenly and he pressed his lips together in a tight line. The death of a child is a very serious thing. He never really knew the true extent of her feelings about Emily because she wouldn’t share them, but he knew she was mired in silent grief for some time. There had been a real lack of joy in her in the months that followed, one he thought had never really returned.
“It never occurred to me,” Mulder said. “To think that…”
“I didn’t think it would. Actually, it didn’t occur to me either until just now.”
“I don’t think I ever told you how sorry I was.”
“It isn’t you who should be sorry. And you were right, it was never meant to be.”
“I shouldn’t have-”
“No. You were right. It doesn’t mean I didn’t want her, wouldn’t have gladly taken her, quit the FBI, moved to a tiny town somewhere in the hopes that no one could get to her, but the circumstances were what they were. Even if there was a way to treat her, the price would have been too great, I think, and it would’ve just been buying a piece of time. I’ve been trying to accept that as fact. Some days I can, some days I can’t.”
“Grief doesn’t really follow a strict timeline.”
“Sometimes I’m not even sure what I’m grieving; if it’s for her or the idea of her. The loss of what I don’t have.”
“Maybe it’s both. Do you want…”
“A child? I’m not even sure. I know I’m angry that the choice was taken away from me, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to explore my options or if I’ll ever be. On the other hand, I can hear it ticking.”
“Are we talking about the proverbial biological clock here?”
“Tick. Tick. Tick. Sometimes faintly, sometimes loudly, reminding me that I’m not getting any younger.”
“Well, if you ever do decide to explore those options, I’ll help you in whatever way I can.”
Scully tipped her head and gazed at him sideways. “I’ll remember that,” she said. “If I ever reach a conclusion.”
Part of him felt this conversation was an opening to come clean about the full truth of her missing ova, but he wasn’t going to do that to her if she hadn’t even decided she wanted a child. He didn’t want to hurt her unnecessarily further if the verdict was still out. It was a burden he’d held for such a long time and he wasn’t keen on making it hers as well, even if it was technically her burden. He would rather carry that cross for her and never let her know he was carrying it if he didn’t have to.
“So,” she said, sitting up taller and shaking off the melancholy that had settled momentarily on her shoulders. “We went out of order again kind of. Go ahead with the last one.”
“Okay, final question. Share a personal problem and ask your partner's advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.”
“Well, I can’t seem to get my laundry done when I need it because my partner is always keeping me out nights.”
“Send it out to a service. That’s what I do.”
She smiled. “Just give me a minute, I’ll think of something.”
“Maybe you’re lucky enough to be problem-free. Laundry aside.”
“The only pressing issue I can really think of is how to tell my brother I’d rather not visit for the 4th of July. He’s been sort of pestering me to come out, but if I decide to take a vacation this summer, I’d rather do something relaxing.”
“Like going to Maine?”
“It’s Stephen King territory, Scully, you should’ve known you’d find a possessed doll up there the minute you set foot in the state.”
“Does that mean I’d have better or worse chances of an x-file finding me on a tiny island somewhere in the Caribbean.”
“That probably depends on how close to the Bermuda Triangle you plan to be. But, a tropical island? Really?”
“Might be nice to lay in a hammock and read a book or two.”
“You mean highlight your latest edition of JAMA.”
“At least I’d be on a beach while I’m at it.”
“Blame it on me. Even if you didn’t, I’m sure Bill would do it for you, so just give him the satisfaction of being right as you let him down easy.”
“I’m not gonna blame you to spare his feelings. You don’t deserve that.”
“I guess you can go with the truth then. Just tell him you need a break. You’re using up your days off for some much needed alone time.”
“That’s probably all I can do, but I know he won’t understand.”
“Then that’s his problem.”
“And now I’m supposed to ask you how I feel about this dilemma?”
“Still on the fence, I’d say. You’re gonna want more time to mull it over and probably put it off a bit longer.”
“Here’s my problem. I want to ask my partner if she’d entertain the idea of coming into the office tomorrow morning, not all day or anything, just for a little while. But, I know she has all that laundry to do that she could send out, and curling up in the titillating world of JAMA, and I certainly don’t want to take that away from her.”
“See, big problem,” he said.
“I need more information. Why do you want your partner to come in tomorrow? What could you possibly want to do in the office on a Saturday when we don’t have something taking us out of town?”
“I ordered some Roswell newspaper volumes from archives about a month ago and they finally came in.”
“Newspapers. From Roswell.”
“The 1940s. Wouldn’t it be fun to peruse old-timey articles about mysterious lights in the sky and government cover-ups?”
Scully groaned again.
“Any advice for this problem of mine?”
“Yes. Don’t ask.”
“I hear it’s going to rain tomorrow.”
“So she won’t be missing anything by staying indoors. What if I offered to buy her lunch?”
“Not good enough.”
“Snacks from the vending machine every hour?”
“Your problem is going to wear a hole in your pocket.”
“Is now a good time to reflect on how I’m feeling?”
“There’s an air of desperation about you. You’re still wondering how best to wear me down, and you know it’s only a matter of time before I say yes, but you’ll still be wondering if I’ll show up until I walk in tomorrow morning.”
“Does that mean my problem is solved?”
“It means you’ll have to wait to find out until tomorrow morning.”
“I guess that’s better than nothing.”
“There’s something else on this paper.” Scully furrowed her brow and pushed the paper towards Mulder while keeping her fingers on it. “Instructions.”
“You’ve reached the end of the questions. The final task is to stare silently into your partner’s eyes for four minutes. It’s important to finish with this step. Some people have described this step as thrilling and terrifying. Good luck.”
“You’ve got to me kidding me.”
“We don’t have to.”
“You know I’m not going to leave something half-assed.”
“I just thought it was fun questions.”
Scully sighed and then downed the rest of her watery Diet Coke. She dropped the glass down on the bar with more force than necessary and turned on the stool to face Mulder.
“Got a timer on your watch?” she asked.
He did as she asked and then laid his arm down on the bar so she could see it. She grabbed his wrist and after a glance, let him go and rested her arm in front of his, glancing her fingers off of his as she pulled away.
“Ready?” he asked.
Mulder only glanced down to start the timer and then he met her gaze. It was awkward at first, with her looking so defiant and both unaccustomed to really looking that purposefully at each other when they weren’t debating a casefile. Her face finally softened a bit and she gave a small tilt of her head as though she was trying to read something off of him. He hoped she couldn’t read his thoughts in that moment, that was for sure.
Just before she tilted her head, her eyelids dropped in a half-blink and then opened again and he saw in her what he felt like he was on the verge of really seeing in his hallway two years ago, but had tamped down. He envisioned himself rising from his stool, kicking it out of the way, taking her face in his hands, pushing his fingers through her hair, and kissing her for all he was worth, once and for all. He felt his lips part in anticipation, licked them closed, and swallowed.
Suddenly, Scully’s eyes turned glassy and she looked away, pulling back from him with a slight slump, but he reached out and touched her arm, laying his hand down over hers and she blinked back up at him. She looked terrified, but he dipped his head a little and tried to tell her it was alright by widening his eyes just a little and nodding. He understood. This was not a game. He wanted her to know he was sincere and grateful that she did this with him. He cherished her answers. He cherished that she listened. Above all, he simply cherished all of her.
Four minutes could feel like a lifetime. By the time Mulder’s watch went off, Scully looked a little less afraid, but she quickly averted her eyes again at the sound of the beep and pulled her hand out from under his. He didn’t turn away though, and blindly silenced his watch. She stared at the rows of alcohol above the back of the bar until he cleared his throat and swiveled forward in his seat.
“So, we should do this more often,” he said.
“Yeah,” she answered, with a slight scoff. She turned her head towards him though, smiled softly, and then looked down at her lap. “I did have a nice time.”
“I’m glad. Let me get the check and we’ll get out of here.”
He helped her into her coat after he’d paid and then slung his own over his shoulder. Twilight had set in and the streets were quiet. They stopped under a street lamp in front of her apartment, near her car. She crossed her arms over her chest and looked down at her feet for a few moments.
“Thank you for dinner,” she said.
“Don’t forget, my offer for breakfast, snacks, and lunch still stands.”
“It’s possible I won’t turn it down. It’s also possible I will.”
“I know, you’re always trying to keep me guessing.”
“Keeps you on your toes, doesn’t it?”
Scully smiled and he realized he’d seen her smile more tonight than he had in years. It looked good on her. On impulse, he leaned down and brushed his lips against her cheek, nearly catching the corner of her smile. Her eyes followed his retreat and the slight upturn of her lips was still in place.
“What was that for?” she asked.
“Just because. I’ll see you tomorrow. Or Monday.”
“What if I were to want something from the deli on 13th and E?”
“I’ll add it to the things to consider.”
Mulder turned and took a few steps on his tip-toes towards his car. He heard Scully chuckle and he gave her one last glance over his shoulder. He made a promise to himself in that moment to surprise her with something fun, something she’d least expect. He didn’t know what it was yet, but he’d think of something.