“What’ll it be, hon?”
This waitress can’t be for real. She’s a caricature - ambiguously middle-aged, with over-bleached, preposterously voluminous hair piled on top of her head, wide hips, blue eyeshadow, one bad tooth. Hell, she’s even chewing gum, smacking it cheerfully between her tongue and her teeth. She’s unbelievable, is what she is. The whole diner is unbelievable. And true to his affection for unbelievable things, Mulder is absolutely delighted.
They’re somewhere in Texas in the death grip of summer, and it’s hot enough to scald a loon. He’d almost thought it was a mirage at first; the rusting silver rail-car glinting like a beacon just off the sun-baked, dusty road, the comically oversized, hand-painted particle board sign declaring that they’d found Pluto’s Diner, a faded green alien speeding away in his Adamski-type UFO, calling out behind him to anyone that would hear - The Waffles are Out of this WORLD!
Mulder had insisted. Scully had indulged him. She usually did, these days. Perk of their new… arrangement. Oh, but there were so many perks. So instead of their usual bagels-in-the-car-on-the-way-to-the-local-PD breakfast ritual, they’re here, wedged into an old leather-covered booth, sweating in the 8 AM heat. He’s soothed by the gentle murmur of patrons, the clinking of cups, Dolly Parton crooning sweet and sassy on the radio. The warm air smells of burnt coffee and bacon grease, a comforting, cozy smell, a Sunday morning smell. He’s in heaven.
Two grizzled men in flannel laugh and gossip a few booths over. They’d tipped their trucker’s hats to Scully when they’d walked past on their way in, all “ma’am” this and “good morning” that. She’d smiled politely, while Mulder moved his hand from her lower back to her shoulder, making sure they’d seen him do it. That’s right, fellas. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
Mulder grins up at the waitress - Doris, he reads on her nametag - and looks back down at his ratty, laminated menu. “Well, Doris, I guess I’ve got to try the ‘out of this world’ waffles, now, don’t I? And, uh, a side of bacon… and two eggs.”
“How do you want those done, hon?”
“Over easy. Uh, let’s add some hash browns to that, too.”
“Well, now, that’s a man after my own heart.” She winks at him. “Coffee?” she asks, filling the two empty mugs on the table without waiting for an answer.
“Thanks. You got any cream?”
“Oh, I’ve got the cream, sweetie,” she says, pulling a handful of lukewarm pods from her apron and leaning over him to plunk them down in the middle of the table. “You sure you don’t want a little sugar, too?” She’s still bent over him, and he can smell the mint and stale tobacco on her breath.
He balks a little at the overt flirtation, and Doris erupts into thunderous laughter, her giant bosom shaking with mirth in front of his nose. She turns to Scully.
“And what will the little lady be wanting this morning?”
“Toast. Whole wheat, and a side order of fruit, please.”
Doris nods in understanding. “Lookin’ after your figure. I would too, if I had myself a handsome man like your husband.” She winks, and Mulder suppresses a laugh at the poorly-veiled look of exasperation on Scully’s face.
“We’re not married.” She says flatly, and a strange twang of something resonates in Mulder’s stomach.
Doris turns back to Mulder. “Is that so? Well, if you’re in the market for a missus, I’ll happily take up the yoke.”
“We’ll see how good the waffles are,” he smiles, and Doris cackles in delight, swinging her ample hips around and returning to the kitchen.
“You two make a charming couple,” Scully teases, spreading her fingers over her coffee cup, letting the steam slip through the spaces in between. Mulder’s stomach rumbles.
It’s so bright in here. He’s not used to seeing her in such naked, warm, natural light - her skin pinkish in the heat, little damp hairs near her temple. The textures and colours of her that are lost in the night. Her eyes really are very blue.
They sit in silence, nursing their coffees. Mulder peels back the paper from a pod of cream and lets it spill into his cup, watching the stormy billow of white into black.
“Fuck, it’s hot in here,” Scully mutters, shucking off her blazer. He leers at her unabashedly.
“Have I mentioned that I love it when you say ‘fuck’?”
“Language, mister -” calls Doris as she approaches with the food. Three plates and a metal pitcher of imitation maple syrup for Mulder, one small plate full of strawberries, cantaloupe, and barely-toasted bread for Scully, thick-sliced and studded with nuts and seeds. His dad would call it “squirrel bread”. His waffles are obscene, pornographic, pools of melting butter in deep, golden squares.
Doris makes nice with a few more winks, and then returns to her spot behind the counter, staring dreamily at him. He tries not to notice.
“Mulder, that’s all going to catch up with you someday. You’re almost 40, for crying out loud, you can’t eat like you’re 18 forever. Do you have any heart disease in your family?”
“Live fast, die young, Scully.” He tucks into a runny egg, the yolk dribbling down his chin. Scully nibbles at a strawberry.
“And I don’t know how you can eat like that in this heat, either,” she adds.
He glances up, taking a break from demolishing his waffles. The neckline of Scully’s tank top is already damp. He notices the sheen of sweat glowing on her collarbone. Mmm. He knows exactly the noise she’d make if he dragged his tongue along the ridge of it, lapping up the sweet and salt of her. He flashes on last night and shifts in his seat.
Scully filches a slice of bacon off of his plate. He pretends to be outraged, puts on his best southern drawl. “Hey woman, what happened to watchin’ your figure? That’s my meat.”
“You know how big of a fan of your meat I am,” she smiles, and eats the bacon in three bites.
Of all the ridiculous things in the world, he blushes. He’d fucked her stupid last night, and the woman can still make him blush with one dirty little comment. Jesus, Mulder, buddy, you’ve got it bad.
He laughs, gruffly, to cover his embarrassment, and lets his gaze linger on her.
He’s so used to her small, powerful presence, she feels so much a part of his own being, his own personhood, that sometimes he forgets she’s not. Sometimes he forgets that they’re two separate people. And sometimes, like now, he sees her as a stranger might - a mysterious and complex combination of creamy curves and sharp angles. A woman out of a painting, someone who by all means should be smelling roses at a garden gate.
But a stranger wouldn’t ever be able to guess the truth about his scalpel-wielding, gun-slinging, ass-kicking partner. They wouldn’t know about her brilliant, meticulous mind, her tender heart, her giant balls of pure fucking steel. They wouldn’t know about her unwavering loyalty. Her resilience. The sparkle in her eyes when she’s trying not to laugh at one of his dumb jokes. The low growly noise she makes when she comes. All they’d see is a beautiful woman, and even then, they wouldn’t be able to see the half of it.
He should look at her in the light more often.
Scully sips her coffee and runs her fingers over her collarbone, distractedly, as if he’d reached into her subconscious to make her do it.
And it doesn’t hit him hard, not like in the shitty chick flicks she occasionally makes him sit through. It’s not a punch to the stomach, or a dawning of the light, or even a blip on the radar. It’s soft, matter-of-fact, the most natural thing in the world. She meets his eyes, smiles at him over the best waffles he’s ever had, and he knows that she’s it. There will never, ever be anyone else. If he was a different man, and she a different woman, he’d go buy a ring this afternoon. Something simple. Thin. Rose gold, to complement her skin. No diamond.
She slips off one of her pumps, curls her stockinged toes on his knee under the table, and sips her coffee, brighter and more life-giving than the sun.
Maybe he should buy a ring anyway. Scully’s always had a hard time saying no to him, after all.