Scully placed the plate down in front of William who was sat at the kitchen table with his head in his hands. She sat down next to him, her own plate of food in front of her.
“Thanks.” Will muttered. He stared down at the plate but made no move to start eating. That was unusual. He was a fifteen year old boy and to say that he usually inhaled his food would be a polite way to describe it. He’d been acting strange since she’d got in from work.
“Okay, what’s going on?” Scully asked as she picked up her own knife and fork and began eating. She was concerned about her son but she’d also just finished a twelve hour shift at the hospital and was starving and exhausted and not feeling very patient.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean you look guilty as hell. Has something happened?”
“No.” Will answered quickly. Far too quickly to be convincing. “It’s just…I was thinking…” Scully tried not to smile. He was so like Mulder sometimes, he could never commit to keeping his thoughts to himself for long. “I might go fishing with Dad this weekend.” He looked up at her briefly to gauge her reaction but he carried on quickly before she could interject. “I know it’s our weekend but we’ve been talking about going to Butler’s Creek for ages and the weather will be perfect for it this weekend. Next weekend doesn’t look so good…”
“That sounds lovely.” Scully said genuinely.
“You don’t mind?”
“No, of course not. We can switch weekends and you and I can do something fun next weekend.” She hated this was a discussion she had to have. How they had become that family of clichéd separated parents sharing out time with their son, both scared of accidentally ‘stealing’ time from the other and thus giving them ammunition to use. And now Will felt guilty for wanting to spend time with his own father. How had they come to this?
“Are you sure? Dad said we’ll only go if you’re sure you don’t mind.”
“I don’t mind.” She stated firmly. “Go and have fun.” Will smiled and nodded and then at last started eating his food. “Is Dad picking you up?” Scully asked, after a few minutes of quiet chewing.
“Yeah. He’s picking me up early tomorrow and then he can drop me off at school on Monday.” Early for fishing meant early, early. Good luck to Mulder having to deal with a grumpy, sleep-deprived teenager at four am.
“He’s doing good you know?” Will said suddenly. “Like really good. He’s been getting better for ages but these last few weeks it’s like… he’s him again.” She thought briefly about the last few times she’d seen him when he’d been picking up or dropping off Will. He had looked good. Better than she’d seen him look in ages.
“Good. I’m glad he’s good.”
“He misses you.” That made her look up. She hadn’t been expecting him to say that. “I mean he doesn’t always say it but I can tell he does. Do you… do you miss him?” Will asked tentatively. She never wanted him to feel as if he couldn’t speak about his father in front of her. She never wanted to be that kind of parent that couldn’t bear to hear their ex mentioned. And so she tried her best to sound calm as she answered:
“Of course I do.” She saw the hope fill his eyes and suddenly realised what this conversation was really about. She felt a sense of oncoming dread sink deep into her stomach. “But Will that doesn’t mean…”
“Why doesn’t it?” He interrupted her. Scully struggled for a moment to think of what to say and then Will continued before she had the chance. “I understand why we had to leave in the first place, really I do. I get it – we left so he could be better. But he is better now so why can’t we go back and it can be like it was before.”
“There’s so much…” She paused, still unsure of what to say. “There are a lot of different conversations that have to happen before we can even think about doing that.”
“Then start having them!” Will demanded in a raised voice.
Scully was taken aback. He rarely raised his voice. As teenagers go he was definitely more of a sulker than a shouter. Mulder used to tease her about how like her he was in that way. He’d say that if he gave him a corpse and a pair of latex gloves he’d be snapping them on and muttering sure, fine, whatever in no time. Scully put down her fork and leaned across to hold Will’s wrist.
“Will, whether your father and I are together or not it doesn’t change how much we both love you…”
“Don’t do that!” He exclaimed as he shook himself free of her hold. “Don’t make it about me. It’s not about how much you love me, it’s about how much you love each other and refuse to do anything about it!” Thank god he wasn’t around in the nineties if he thought this was bad, Scully thought wryly. The thought left her head quickly when she saw how upset he was. She went to grasp his hand again but he remained resolutely out of her reach. “Do you still love him?!” He demanded of her.
“Yes. Yes, of course I do.” This time she had no claim that are her words sounded calm. There were unfallen tears in her eyes and her voice shook. The idea that Will would think she didn’t…
“Well you might want to tell him that. Because I don’t think he knows it.” Will’s tone of voice had changed. He wasn’t saying these things to hurt her, he was saying them because he believed them to be true. “I don’t think he believes you’re coming back anymore. He thinks you’re happier like this, that you’ve moved on and he’s trying to deal with it.” That feeling in her stomach dropped even lower. She felt as if she might pass out.
“Maybe he’s right.” Scully said slowly and very quietly as if she didn’t want to hear herself say the words. “Maybe I am happier like this and I have moved on.”
“No you haven’t.” And again he was so like Mulder – so very certain of things he could not know for sure. “You’ve been on one date in what? Two years.”
“The number of dates I go on doesn’t determine whether I’ve moved on or not.” But Will ploughed on as if she hadn’t spoken at all. Another pure Mulder trait.
“…and that one was a disaster. You were upset for a week afterwards.”
She didn’t say anything. There was not much to say, he wasn’t wrong. The date itself had been far from a disaster. The guy worked at the hospital and she had been genuinely flattered when he’d asked her – he was a little younger than her, quite handsome and intelligent. On the date she’d learnt that it was the kind of intelligence that made someone interesting, not arrogant and that he was warm and funny too. They’d gone back to his place afterwards because she’d wanted to and because she was desperate to prove to herself that she could do it. She could date.
He’d poured her a glass of wine, sat on the couch next to her and kissed her. It wasn’t that he had been misreading the signals, he hadn’t. But the moment his lips touched hers she knew it was a mistake. A big, ugly mistake. She was out of the door in under a minute; her jacket hung off of one shoulder, her shoes still undone and a very confused man in her wake.
Scully had sat crying in her car for the best part of an hour before she began to drive. She was halfway to the house before she realised where she was going. Their house, the one in which she’d taken their son and moved out of almost two years previously. She’d sat at the end of the gravel road willing herself the courage to go and knock on the door. But it hadn’t come and she’d ended up driving back without even leaving the car. That had been two months ago and she hadn’t really felt like herself since.
“I’m sorry.” Will said at last, after they had sat in uncomfortable silence for several moments. “That was a horrible thing to say.” He had that kicked puppy dog look that Mulder had perfected early in their partnership. She found it had the same effect as it always had.
“No. It was an honest thing to say.” This time Will let her take his hand from across the table. He squeezed it in reassurance and apology, just as Mulder would have done. She wanted to cry.
“I’m just scared.” Will confessed quietly. “If he thinks you’re not coming back and he carries on getting better, you know working out and getting out more… well… it’s just he’s not bad looking – for his age and he’s quite charming when he wants to be and women like that.” Scully gave a small smile to that apt description. She wanted to ask how much her son knew of what women liked and how he knew it. She resisted. “Sooner or later he’s going to meet someone and he’s going to go for it because he’ll think that there’s nothing to lose. And yeah selfishly I don’t want that to happen. But I don’t think you want that to happen either.”
That feeling in her stomach was dropping again. Dropping and expanding and filling all of the available space within her. She didn’t say anything. She couldn’t deny it without lying to her son and she didn’t want to do that. After a moment Will dropped her hand and picked up his fork. His last statement hung in the air around them as they began eating again.
She stood as she saw Skinner making his way through the crowded restaurant. They embraced as he reached her and then took their seats across from one and another.
“Sorry I’m late, traffic across town was interesting.” Skinner explained.
“Don’t worry, I’ve only just got here. Arlene not with you?” Skinner’s former secretary had finally become his partner in the strictly non-professional sense of the word. They had taken even longer than she and Mulder had to cross that line. Scully liked Arlene; she was smart and capable and made Skinner happier that she had ever seen him. Mulder had always teased her that their former boss had a thing for her and now he had ended up with a woman even Scully could see bore more than a slight resemblance to herself.
“No, her sister’s in town. They’ve gone to the theatre.”
“I’m sorry – if you already had plans you should have said.” Their dinner had been a last minute arrangement. Scully had rung earlier that morning after Will had left with Mulder. It was only after she was faced with a whole weekend in front her without work or her son that she realised just how few friends she had. Ellen was out of town and every time she had seen the Gunmen since the separation it had felt oddly like a betrayal to Mulder. She guessed they felt the same way as they tended to be more awkward with her than ever. That had left Skinner, a much more neutral friend. And he had certainly become that since they’d left the bureau.
“No, no, I was thrilled to get your call.” Scully smiled. She couldn’t really see him as the theatre type though no doubt he would have gone if she hadn’t called. It would have made Arlene happy and he seemed to be very good at that.
“How is everything? How’s work?.. Thank you.” Scully asked as the waiter passed them their menus and filled their water glasses.
“Things are good. Work is… pretty much the same as always. I think I’m getting too old for it though.” Her eyes widened. The FBI without A.D. Skinner seemed impossible to her. If ever there was a man that was the job. Mulder was never the job, he was the obsession, and the job gave him access to further it. But Skinner, Skinner was the job. Still if anything could change that it was the love of the right woman.
“I’m sure you’re not.” Scully replied and the two shared a smile.
“How about you? How’s the hospital?”
“Yeah good. Busy, but good.”
“He’s good.” She thought briefly back to the conversation they had had the night before and how decidedly not-good that had been. But generally her statement was true. “He’s fishing this weekend with Mulder. They’ve gone to Butler’s Creek.”
“It’s perfect weather for it.”
“So I understand.”
“I never had Mulder pegged for a fishing guy? You sure it’s not some ruse to go Sasquatching or something?” Skinner said with more than a little affection in his voice. Scully smiled at the thought of how happy it would have made Mulder to hear Skinner use the term sasquatching correctly in a sentence. And then she suddenly felt emotional, as she always seemed to do when she thought about Mulder these days.
“I’m impressed.” She praised, trying her best cover the wobble in her voice. “But no, I think they’ve actually gone fishing. They’ve been a few times recently – it seems to be their new hobby.” The waiter came over to take their orders.
“It’s good.” Skinner said as he handed his menu back to the waiter. “For Mulder I mean – to have a new, un-obsessive hobby.” Scully nodded as she took a mouthful of water. “He seems to be doing better recently.”
“You’ve seen him recently?”
“Yeah, a couple of weeks ago. He called me up and we went for a beer.” Scully nodded again. Reaching out to his friends was definitely a good sign for Mulder. The worse he was doing the more insular he became. Will was obviously right that he was going out more which was good too, he’d spent too long locked up in that house. Her mind wandered to what Will had said about Mulder meeting someone.
“What did you talk about?” She asked before she could stop herself. She saw the surprise register of Skinner’s face and the accompanying discomfort. Her cheeks coloured instantly. “I’m sorry, that was totally inappropriate. Please forget I asked that.” She reached for her water again just for something to do. She suddenly wanted to be anywhere but there and she wondered why she had called him in the first place.
“No, it’s fine, don’t worry about it.” Skinner reassured her. “We just talked about general stuff really. You know, work and Arlene and what he’s been doing with Will and around the house.” She obviously looked slightly confused by that and he clarified: “He’s been fixing up a few bits. I wouldn’t exactly call it renovating but he’s been smartening it up a bit.”
“Oh.” Was all she said.
She wouldn’t know, she hadn’t been near the house in almost two years. When she dropped Will off there she always parked at the end of the dirt track and Will walked the rest of the way. It was not that she didn’t want to see Mulder; she saw him plenty when he dropped off Will at hers and they still attended Will’s parents’ evenings and other school things together. But for some reason she could not bring herself to see the house. The house where they’d raised their son, where they’d lived and been so happy for so many years. Sitting in the middle of this restaurant she had a sudden and surprising yearning to see the house again. She wanted to see what improvements he’d made. There had been plenty to do, even before she had left, but she had always been busy with work and Mulder had been less and less inclined to do anything.
“Are you okay?” Skinner asked kindly.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m just… I’m fine.” He didn’t believe her, that much was clear but he did not challenge her and then they were interrupted by the waiter brining over their drinks. “Did you talk about his therapy?” Scully asked when they were alone again. She had no idea why she was asking these questions, only that she couldn’t stop.
“Erm no, not really.” She could tell she was making Skinner really quite uncomfortable now. He clearly did not want to betray a confidence but he was also her friend and he wanted to reassure her. She was aware that she was a bad friend for even putting him in this situation. She felt slightly ashamed. “But it’s clearly helping him. A lot actually. And that can only be a good thing, right?”
“Yeah, of course, yeah.” Scully agreed quickly.
“Maybe you should talk to him.” She looked up from the table. “I mean he mentioned that you haven’t spoken much, not recently anyway. Maybe you should call him sometime and talk. I think he’d like that.”
It was true they hadn’t spoken much in the last few months, at least not about anything that strayed too far from the subject of their son. In the first few months of their separation nearly all of their communication had come in the form of drunk and accusatory phone calls on his end and worried texts and voicemails on hers. Her leaving him had not worked like she’d hoped it would, not at first. Somehow, although it hadn’t seemed possible at the time, it had only made him worse and then there had been no one there to make sure his basic needs were at least partially met. She had lived in constant worry that the next phone call she received would be from the hospital or the mortuary.
His phone calls and her worry had both receded gradually over time as he had started to get the help he needed. Now their communication, although limited, was always healthy, pleasant even. But it was also distant, as if they both had so much they wanted to say but neither could bring themselves to say it.
She missed him. Right down to her bones. She missed him.
“I’m not sure I’d know what to say.” She answered Skinner, her voice quiet and hoarse.
“I’m not sure that matters.”