The first time he hears someone call Scully baby, they’re in a diner in a torn-cushioned booth the color of a kidney bean. The waitress brings her a piece of pie and pauses before putting the fork down, holds it up to the light, finds some infraction she never actually burdens Scully with.
“Sorry, baby, let me get you a new one,” is all she says.
“You liked that,” Mulder says as Scully folds her hands on the disco-glittered table and smiles at her pie. Like she’s waiting for it to smile back. “I’ve noticed this. You like it when people you don’t even know call you baby and honey.”
She shrugs, doesn’t take her eyes off the pie.
“Don’t you mind it? Find it condescending?"
"I don't think that's how she meant it."
“Presumptuous of what? That you might agree there's enough rudeness and cruelty amongst strangers in the world?"
“What if it’s meant to get a better tip?”
“That’s very cynical, Mulder.” She tends to have a sunnier worldview with a piece of pie in front of her. She licks her lips and he can practically and presciently taste the peach on them though he has no idea what she herself tastes like. He has a sudden urge for her to get whipped cream on her nose.
When the waitress returns with the new fork, she squeezes Scully’s shoulder cap before she goes, as if to prove a point. For all his studying of human (and non-human) behavior, his Oxford degree and his basement full of books, Scully is better at picking up these interpersonal subtleties. How a thing is meant.
The first time he calls her baby himself, they’re in bed and she’s tired and struggling, and it’s meant to convey that she should take as long as she needs, that he’s happy to do this all night if he has to. He doesn’t know why it’s come out of his mouth. He’s learned to call her Dana when he wants a certain kind of emphasis. Other than that, it’s always Scully, or nothing at all – there’s never anyone else he’d be talking to. But this particular bedroom occasion seems to call for something other than the name he uses to tell her he needs her to perform an autopsy, or that he’s angry with her, or even to tell her he loves her.
The second time he calls her baby, it’s more deliberate, experimental, a sexual Frisbee he tosses as she crawls up his body on the couch. She catches it between her teeth and undoes the top button on her shirt with the certainty of someone who knows how things are meant. It goes over so well that he tries other words in similar circumstances – honey, sweetie, once, even tiger. He doesn't know if he's doing it because he likes it or to prove to her she doesn't. It usually makes her smile, but she never outright tells him it pleases her, never calls him anything herself. He can only go by the fact that she keeps coming back, keeps ordering up that pie.
It’s twenty years before she finds occasion to take issue with it.
They’re in the kitchen at work, taking advantage of the third floor’s superior coffee machine. There are four other agents and six different kinds of milk (“milk”), handfuls of number one dad, best grandpa in the world, don’t talk to me until I drink this mugs. He’s talking sports with Skinner, who’s peeling an orange over the trashcan. Scully’s got her back to them – a tight white blouse and a sleek pair of pants he ironed and watched her put on this morning. She’s just moved back in. He’s been shaving every day. He’s been ironing. He’s on his best behavior.
Their cups are both paper, no slogans, no declarations of superiority. They both know better by now than to tempt fate like that. She goes to hand him his cup and folds back the little paper handles first so he can slip his finger through. Later, he'll think it was this gesture, the warmth of it, that loosened his tongue.
“Thank you, baby.” It just comes out. Everything in the room stops – the peeling, Skinner’s Monday morning quarterbacking. The coffee machine makes good on its advertised claim to be conversation-quiet. Conversation? Mulder can practically hear the blood rushing to Scully’s face.
“Anyway,” Skinner finally says and other sounds resume.
“Sorry,” Mulder’s already saying when the elevator doors close. “I’m sorry.”
“You can’t call me that at work, Mulder,” she says anyway. He would give anything to be able to put a slice of pie in front of her.
“I didn’t mean to.”
“Maybe not consciously. But you wanted them to hear it. It was statement of ownership.”
“That’s very cynical of you, Scully.”
The first time she says it back is that night - like a comeback, a handslap, a reminder of the history of patriarchal oppresion in the workplace. Her voice is hoarse and legs splayed the just-sore-enough width of his hips.
“Feels so good,” she says with a slightly pitched eyebrow and in its horizon he sees the resolution of a twenty year old argument. “Baby.”
But if she is trying to make him blush or protest, she fails. He is willing to be owned.
“Don’t think I’m going to tip you any better,” he whispers, and she smiles but doesn’t laugh. She’s already got her eye on the pie.