Once every couple of months, Mulder humors his mother and meets her for dinner. He feels guilty for putting her off as much as he does, especially with Samantha and his father gone, but the guilt he feels following every cancelation always wains in the aftermath of what always turns out to be a torturously long conversation about any and all things non-consequential — gardening, real-estate, and wine tastings … meaningful conversations of merit always monopolized and downgraded to match her level of comfort with little thought given to what he wished or wished not to discuss.
Sadly, this is what he has come to expect from his mother.
The only difference being that dinner tonight started with a lecture. His mother usually reserves those for when the food arrives, but tonight he made the mistake of underestimating traffic. That in combination with the parking being particularly egregious resulted in him being 20 minutes late to a dinner that he had already canceled on three separate occasions. Admittedly, this had not been the best way to start off the evening.
He had anticipated her being irritated when he arrived but had not expected her to be quite so crass.
"It's no wonder I don't have any grandchildren. You should never keep a lady waiting, Fox. It's poor form, even for you. I raised you better," she said to him by way of greeting.
He had known then that it was going to be a long evening but still did his best to bite his tongue, nod, smile, and comment appropriately in all the right places.
When the time finally came for them to part ways, he walked her to her car, opened her door, and kissed her on the cheek as he bid her goodbye. She offered to drop him off at his car, but he declined, opting instead to take advantage of the cool evening air. Her words from earlier still echoing in his mind.
"The work you do is dangerous Fox, and there's no need for it. I have yet to understand why you refuse to take the path so generously laid out in front you. You went to Oxford for Christ's sake."
Following his father's death, conversations pertaining to his future have come up more and more frequently. She doesn't get it. She never has and likely never will. People handle grief in different ways. Mulder has always wanted answers. His mother, on the other hand, has only ever wanted to forget.
As he watches her pull off onto the side street and drive away, he cannot help but feel relieved that it is over, which in turn, makes him feel guilty. As much as she grades on his nerves, she is still his mother, and a son shouldn't avoid and dread seeing his own mother. Especially when she is all he has left.
Walking down the street with his hands buried deep in his pockets, he is so caught up in his own thoughts that he doesn't notice the woman hastily exiting the building along side him until it's too late to avoid her.
Despite being caught off guard, he somehow manages to get his hands out of his pockets in time to steady her before she loses her balance.
"Shit," he exclaims.
"I'm sorry, I didn't see you … Are you—"
When the woman turns to face him more directly, he's immediately stunned into silence.
As he looks her over to ensure that she is unharmed, he immediately becomes acutely aware of two things.
One, she has been crying.
Two, her breasts are much larger than he thought they were.
Trying not to focus too much on the latter of the two observations, he shifts his focus to her bloodshot eyes and smeared makeup.
"Scully … what are you—What's wrong? Are you OK," he asks, struggling to find words.
The surprise of her sudden appearance in combination with the shock of seeing her dressed for a night out has nearly rendered him speechless, making the interaction all that much more awkward.
She makes a noise that he quickly identifies as being one of annoyance as she takes a step back and ties her coat more tightly around her body in an attempt to cover up and downplay the revealing dress she is wearing, but it's too late. While he may have refrained from staring, he certainly noticed.
"I'm fine," she says, but her tone, body language, and reluctance to meet his eyes suggest that she is anything but.
"You don't look fine," he says cautiously, unsure of how wise it will be to draw attention to fact that her makeup is smeared. "Where is your car?"
Her eyes roam the length of the street and sidewalk as if she's looking for someone.
"I didn't drive. I've called a cab."
"A cab? To take you home? That's going to cost at least 40 bucks from here, if not more … Common, my car is just down the—"
"Mulder it's fine I—"
The man comes out of nowhere.
Mulder starts to move aside until he sees the look on Scully's face. He's not sure what has transpired between the two of them, but it's quite clear that this piece of shit, whoever he is, is the reason for Scully's swift and tearful exit and that's all he needs to know.
Situating himself to stand slightly in front of her, Mulder gives the man a pointed glance.
"Oh, and who might you be," the man asks running his hands through his hair in what appears to be an attempt to calm himself. His rolled up sleeves and partially undone buttons give him an air of casualness that his body language does not portray.
"Fox Mulder. I'm her partner, and she'll be leaving with me."
To his surprise, Scully does not object.
Although the man is clearly perturbed and a bit flustered, he doesn't make a scene. Instead, he walks away shaking his head and mumbling under his breath as he makes his way back into the building.
"Scully, what did he do," Mulder asks, turning to face her.
"It's nothing Mulder. I just want to go home."
He wants to argue with her because clearly whatever happened was a far cry from nothing.
Dana Scully making a tearful exit and hailing a 40 dollar cab is the exact opposite of nothing, but the uneasiness radiating off of her keeps him from pressing her any further, at least for the time being. Because if there is one that is abundantly clear, it's how uncomfortable and embarrassed she is by the fact that he happened upon what has clearly been an unsuccessful romantic evening.
The fact that she has not mentioned seeing anyone actually surprises him. Scully has always made it a point to set boundaries and tell him when he is interfering with her life outside of work, which makes the situation he has happened upon all that much more curious.
Although it's not necessarily any of his business, the fact that she exited a private, high-end building filled with condominiums makes him a bit uneasy.
Leaving a restaurant under duress is one thing, leaving private residence is another. One does not have to be a profiler to come up with any number of troubling scenarios as to why a woman would leave a man's residence in tears.
"What are you doing on the outskirts of D.C. on a Friday night Mulder," she asks breaking their silence as they reach his car.
"Having a very uncomfortable dinner with my mother. I would like to say that she was in rare form tonight, but that would be a lie."
Despite her state of duress, she manages to snort back a laugh as she waits for him to unlock the doors.
"Sounds like we are both batting a thousand tonight then."
"Why Scully, did you just make a baseball referenced joke?"
Although he's not looking at her directly, he can sense her soft smile in the darkness of his car.
Turning up the heat, he pulls out of the parking lot thankful that he has least managed to get a smile out of her.
Just as he is mulling over what to say next to break the ice, he hears a rumble.
"Scully … was that your stomach?"
Sighing and shifting uncomfortably she confirms what he already suspects.
"I left before we ate."
"Wow. That bad huh?"
"Yes. That bad."
"You have nothing to apologize for. Thank you for driving me. I know it's a bit out of your way."
Knowing now what he needs to do, he changes his course, turning onto the next side street and looping back around.
"Mulder what are you—"
"I know I can be an ass sometimes, but I'm not taking my partner home with an empty stomach and makeup smeared all over her face from crying."
"Mulder, I would really prefer to just—"
"Greek or Italian?"
"Greek … or Italian?"
Letting out an exasperated huff of air, she relents.
When they enter the restaurant, Scully immediately excuses herself and disappears into the bathroom.
Unsure of what she will want to eat or drink, he orders them both water and waits. Just when he is about to check to make sure that she hasn't bailed on him and called a cab, she reappears.
"Sorry … I needed to freshen up a bit."
"I'm just glad you didn't bail on me and call a cab," he says with a chuckle.
"Fortunately for you, I'm too hungry to bail," she replies.
Her tone is serious, but there is an edge of playfulness to it that he appreciates.
In the two years that they have been partnered, they have seen and experienced a lot together. They may not always see eye to eye, but he would like to think that they have grown closer. He has certainly grown to respect and appreciate her, and he would like to think that she has done the same — at least on some level.
"I wouldn't put myself on the line for anybody but you …"
"Have you ever been here before," she asks as she begins the flip through the menu.
"Nope. First time."
After he asks, he internally winces as he recognizes the potential implications of his question.
You wine and dine dates, not partners.
Based on her expression, she has undoubtedly come to the same conclusion. Fortunately, she doesn't appear to be offended. If she is, she has at least had the grace to hide it well.
"No. I'm good."
She has yet to remove her coat, and he has a pretty good idea as to why.
Although he did not get the opportunity to fully appreciate what she was wearing when he bumped into her earlier, he saw enough to get a general idea. The plunging neckline she is sporting is much more risqué than anything he has ever seen her wear before. The black sheer-like material clung to her tightly in some areas while hanging loosely in others, revealing her curves quite nicely.
Scully has apparently been hiding quite a bit in those loose fitting pantsuits. While he has always made it a point to remain respectful, he is still a man. He still sees her — all of her.
When the bread arrives he cannot help but chuckle at the look of pure elation that crosses her features. The basket barely hits the table before she grabs a piece and places it on her plate. It occurs to him that it's quite possible that she has not eaten since lunch, and it's well past 8:00 now.
Braving a more serious conversation, he tries again to get her to open up to him.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
Sighing, she stops chewing for a minute and looks up to meet his eyes.
Mulder is not hungry, but he grabs a piece of bread to keep her from feeling guilty about eating all of it. He has apparently done a poor job of hiding his disappointment at her reluctance to open up to him because within a few seconds she is taking a deep breath and speaking again.
"A friend set us up. We've been out a few times and have always had a good time, so when he offered to cook me dinner, I accepted."
Nodding, Mulder waits for her continue.
"But he apparently had more than dinner in mind tonight."
"Did he touch you," Mulder asks before he can stop himself.
It's a highly personal question, but the mere thought of someone touching her without her consent makes his blood boil, especially in light of her abduction and everything else she has been through this year.
The wave of protectiveness and fury he initially felt, however, dissipates quickly and is replaced by guilt as he watches her struggle to determine just how much she is going to disclose. He's clearly made her uncomfortable by asking her something so specific.
"He … He was just … very forward."
"I take it that you asked him to stop?"
She doesn't reply with words, but she doesn't have to. The pointed glance she offers him is enough.
"I take it that he didn't?"
"Mulder … I really don't want to talk about it. I left. I won't be seeing him again. End of story."
He wants to press her for details, but more than anything he just wants the pummel Mr. Run-My-Hands-Through-My-Hair Causal.
Reining in his fury, he keeps his voice as level as possible.
"Well, order whatever you want. Tonight is on me."
"Mulder, that's not necessary."
"I'll give you a call the next time I have dinner with my mother, and you can buy me a couple of drinks."
"Hmmm … that bad huh?"
"Yes. That bad."
"No need to be sorry. It's just the way things are."
When the waiter returns, Scully orders chicken tortellini. Mulder, on the other hand, settles for a small salad, not because he is hungry, but because he does not want her to feel uncomfortable eating alone.
"Are you still cold," he asks, trying desperately to keep his voice casual and passive.
He knows he is playing with fire, but the discomfort she is displaying is almost comical. It's clear from the redness in her cheeks that she has more than warmed up since their arrival. In fact, she appears to be uncomfortably warm. Her coat remaining on has absolutely nothing to do with the temperature in the room and they both know it.
Giving him a pointed look of warning, she returns her attention to her bread, picking at it nervously.
While he would certainly enjoy teasing her about this under more normal circumstances, he doubts that tonight is the time to push the envelope. On some level, he can understand why she is reluctant to remove it. He has never seen her in anything remotely revealing. She has always made it point to dress professionally and modestly for work — excessively so, and given what she has clearly been hiding under those loosely fitting pantsuits, he cannot say that he blames her.
Being a female in a male-dominated field is undoubtedly challenging. Although she could clearly use her sex appeal to turn heads and get a leg up, she doesn't. It is one of the many things that he has always respected and appreciated about her. Scully is a woman of integrity. She is a professional, which is why running into her on the street dressed so scantly had come as such a surprise.
"If you're worried about what I'll think about the dress, I've already seen it and happen to approve. There's no need for you to be uncomfortably warm on my account."
Taking a sip of water, she studies his face. Looking for a punchline or some sign that he is being anything other than genuine. When she appears to find whatever it is that she's looking for, she sighs.
"This is not something that I would normally wear … Melissa picked it out … She was ... always on my case about being too uptight. I bought it a year ago, but this is the first time I've worn it … It just felt like it was time to wear it." she confesses.
The mere mention of her sister's name provokes an emotional response that is quickly swallowed away when she reaches for the ties of her coat. Shifting in her seat, she lets it fall off of her shoulders and into the seat behind her.
Mulder had intended to make her more comfortable by encouraging her to make herself more comfortable, but so far removing her coat has only served to make them both more uncomfortable. Fighting to keep his eyes level with hers, he gives her an encouraging smile and takes another piece of bread. He has always thought that she was an attractive woman, but tonight she's not just attractive — she's beautiful … stunningly so.
Her hair, which is typically only curled lightly at the ends, is styled with larger curls, giving it more of a wavy flow that makes it look a good one to two inches shorter. Although he isn't sure if her makeup is darker due to her earlier tears or if she has intentionally crafted it that way, he likes it. The smokey darkness makes the color of her eyes look several shades lighter, giving them a glow that would make the shallows of the Caribbean envious.
"You're staring," she says, raising her brow.
He wants to tell her what he really thinks of date-night-Scully, but thinks better of it, choosing instead words that are more becoming of a partner speaking to a partner.
"I'm sorry … It's just … You look really nice Scully."
Silence falls between them when the salads arrive, but the blush in her cheeks remains as they each busy themselves with utensils and the task of pouring their dressing.
Mulder starts to worry that even nice had crossed a line when she begins to fidget and play with her food.
"Mulder … do you think that I gave him the wrong idea by wearing this," she asks quietly.
God. Surely she did not think that she had asked for whatever had happened between them. He certainly hopes that whatever look crossed his face as he watched her remove her coat did not add to whatever convictions she previously held.
"Scully, what you wear, revealing or not, does not give anyone the right to make assumptions. I have little doubt that he appreciated your … ensemble …," he says choosing his words carefully as he runs his eyes over her, "but appreciating and touching are two entirely different things."
"I just …"
"Look. I don't know what happened. I can imagine, but ultimately, it doesn't matter, because whatever it was … if it's not something you wanted then he had no right — period."
"I was just … I was just trying to loosen up a bit. My abduction and … Melissa … have each caused me looking at things a bit differently than I did before. I enjoy the work we do. I wouldn't trade it to go back to medicine, but that doesn't mean that I don't recognize that there is more to life than working. I just … wanted to try."
"There's nothing wrong with that Scully."
"But tonight made me realize that maybe working all the time isn't all that bad after all."
Now Mulder really wants to know exactly what happened, but he has asked twice already. Would asking a third time make him just as insistent and forceful as the asshole she was with earlier? Probably.
One thing is for certain, that man, whoever he is, better hope that Mulder never sees him again.
"Do you think that I'm frigid?"
She would wait until he had taken a drink of water to ask him that question.
Clearing his throat, he looks across the table at her and studies her for a moment in an attempt to read her. The insecurity and nervousness he sees behind her eyes and in her body language surprises him.
Scully has never crossed him as being someone with underlying insecurities. In the field, she is fearless and relentless, digging in her heels and taking command of each and every space she occupies. But right now, sitting in a fancy restaurant looking as stunning as he has ever seen her — she's unsure of herself.
He wants to tell her that she is absolutely gorgeous.
He wants to tell her that ice cannot scientifically encapsulate fire.
But he says neither of these things, stopping himself short of saying the words — not because he doesn't believe them, but because of what they might imply.
He doesn't want to say anything that would imply that only he sees her in the physical sense. Not to say that he hasn't taken notice in the years that they have worked together, but thinking about it and vocalizing it are two entirely different things. He cherishes their friendship and the last thing he wants to do is say something that would create an awkward tension between them in the future.
Scully has worked hard to build a reputation in man's world, and while her work ethic and professionalism have not gone unnoticed, neither has her physique. Despite the less than flattering pantsuits she wears, she has not gone unnoticed. He sees the longing stares and hears the whispers in the hallways as she sways past, and he knows that she does too.
The last thing he wants is to be misconstrued as being one of those guys.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have put you on the spot like that," she says nervously.
Dammit. He's been quiet too long.
Snapping out of his rumination, he quickly works to gather his thoughts and put them into words. Giving her a reassuring smile, he tells her what he should have told her earlier.
"No. You didn't. Not really. I just … I don't want to say anything that would offend you or make you uncomfortable, so I was trying to choose my words carefully," he says, studying her expression for a moment before continuing.
"You're a beautiful woman Scully — distractingly so …"
To this she blushes, letting her eyes drift down to her plate.
"Some people can't handle disinterest … it's easier to make the rejection about you than it is to acknowledge that there is nothing alluring about them. Calling you frigid is an out for them … it says nothing about you and everything about them."
Before she can reply the food arrives, but Scully is not looking down at her food, she is looking at him. The intensity of her gaze causes butterflies to form in his stomach and sends shivers down his spine.
She has given him a lot of looks over the past two years, but this one is new.
This look isn't Scully at all — it's Dana.
"Did you pick that up in one of your psychology courses at Oxford," she asks, giving him a soft smile of appreciation as she grabs her fork and begins to eat her pasta.
"Well, I suppose it depends on who you ask. If you ask my mother, my time at Oxford was wasted, given that I'm working for the federal government and not raking in millions with the silver spoon I was given as a child."
"Ah. Was that the topic of tonight's dinner?"
"Among other things."
"Well, apparently I am incapable of having any type of meaningful relationship since I work constantly and am always late for dinner. She also made a snide comment about giving up on grandchildren that I chose to ignore."
"And she wonders why I cancel," he says with a laugh.
"I'm sorry that it's like that. I can't imagine not having my mom to talk too."
"I'm used to it."
"That almost makes it worse."
"How's the food," he asks, gesturing to the bowl in front of her in an attempt to drift conversation away from his mother.
"It's really good. Thank you. Thank you for bringing me here."
The rest of their conversation flows freely. He is actually quite amazed at how at ease he is with her and even more amazed that they have managed to talk for nearly an hour without mentioning any of their active cases. In fact, work hardly comes up at all, which is first. They talk all the time, but never about themselves, their families, or their lives outside of work. It's wonderful. He cannot remember the last time he enjoyed himself so immensely.
After she finishes eating, he picks up the tab and escorts her out the car, this time opening the door for her.
As they get settled into the car and pull out into traffic, she turns to him and studies him as if she seeing him for the first time. Although he's not looking at her, he can feel the intensity of her gaze.
"Thank you again for tonight. It was … nice," she says finally after a few moments of silence.
"I enjoyed it too. I think we both needed to get a bad taste out of our mouth."
As soon as he says it, he inwardly cringes at his word choice.
Smooth Mulder, he thinks.
"Yeah," she says quietly.
"I'm sorry Scully, that was a poor word choice … I didn't mean it—"
"I know you didn't. It's fine."
The ease and weightlessness of their earlier conversation disappears. It's as if a spell has been broken, and he feels absolutely terrible. He's about to resort to turning on the radio when she begins to speak.
"He … He kissed me, which was ok at first … but when I tried to pull back to cool things off a bit he kept pushing … to the point where I slapped him. I've never slapped a man before, but I slapped him."
Until this very moment, Mulder had not realized how much the visual of another man having his hands on Scully actually bothered him — more than bothered him. The mere thought of it steals his grip on the wheel to the point of whitening his knuckles. Although she still has not specifically told him what exactly he did, he knows it had to have been rather egregious for her to resort to slapping him.
The idea that anyone would disrespect her in that way, pushing her boundaries to point the where she felt like she had to physically attack them to make them stop, makes his blood boil.
"I immediately felt bad for hitting him. I think he was just as shocked as I was that I did."
"Then he got mad … really mad. Said that he had heard that I was frigid, but never imagined that I would be frozen … I made my exit shortly after that."
"Sounds to me like he got exactly what he deserved."
To this, she says nothing, clearly still uncomfortable with the fact that she resorted to striking him.
"Name? Date of birth? Social security number?"
Cutting her eyes at him, she snorts and then relaxes her head back against the headrest.
"Trust me. He's not worth it."
"No, but you are."
Although it's dark and his eyes are predominately on the road, he can see her head turn in his peripheral vision. First to study him and then to look away, suddenly finding something very interesting along with a route that she travels almost daily.
Fearing he has already said too much, he refrains from making any further comment.
When they reach her apartment, he pulls into an open spot and moves to get out when she places her hand over his and stops him.
"Did you mean what you said earlier?"
Mulder isn't sure if she's referring to his comment about her being worth the effort or the fact that he referred to her has being distractingly beautiful, but since the answer would be the same either way, he doesn't bother to ask her for clarification.
"I meant everything I said."
Nodding, she shifts uncomfortably, removing her hand from his and placing it in her lap.
"It's just … no-one has ever really said anything like that to me, not in that context anyway."
"I'm not sure what you mean."
"There has … always been an agenda," she says, refusing to meet his eyes.
He can only assume that she is referring to intimacy. Is it really possible that there has never been a figure in her life that told her that she was absolutely stunning? Has every guy she has ever been with actually been that shallow? Only appreciating her body in the biblical sense?
"Men can be assholes. I would know."
To this, she laughs … genuinely laughs.
"You're not an asshole Mulder. Well, at least not most of the time. Only when you are ditching me, ignoring hard science, and disregarding protocols that could put us both out of a job."
"All in a day's work."
Snorting, she shakes her head from side to side and looks up to meet his eyes.
"I'll walk you up," he says, reaching for her hand and giving a squeeze. He walks around the car with a purpose, intending to open her door for her, but by the time he reaches the other side, she has already gotten out.
Mulder half expects her to insist that she is fine and to bid him farewell on the street, but to his surprise she says nothing, walking alongside him in silence as he opens the door to her building.
When they reach her door, Mulder feels a twinge of nervousness. It's just them. Mulder and Scully, yet it's not. He can tell that she feels it too by the way she shifts nervously on her feet as she digs for her keys.
"Would you like to come in," she offers.
Swallowing the lump in this throat, he politely declines.
"No, I should go, it's late, and I promised the gunmen I would meet them for an early breakfast."
"Always," he says with a smile.
"Ok … Well. Thanks again for tonight. It was nice."
"Yes. It was."
For a moment they both just stand there, gazing into each other's eyes.
"Well. I guess I'll see you Monday," she says finally, putting her key in the lock and turning it.
He starts to walk away, but stops himself short, turning back to face her and catching her before she makes it fully inside.
Moving to stand directly in front of her, he reaches for her hand and takes it in his.
"Never let someone treat you any less than what you are worth."
Although she's fighting it, he can see the tears working to form in her eyes.
"And what might that be," she asks quietly.
"Whatever it is … I can't afford it."
Giving her a gentle smile he raises her hand to his lips, kisses it, and then turns to walk away.
"You might could if you tried."
With that, she gives him a soft, appreciative smile and then disappears behind her door, leaving him to stand in the hallway with a slack jaw.
Come Monday, neither of them speaks of their impromptu date.
Little do they know that years later, they will each refer to this night as being a pivot point in their relationship — a time where she first saw Fox, and he first saw Dana.