It was Friday, and Mulder either had a date with Brandy or Sue or both. His day planner was completely empty except for those two names and a doodle of Kersh in a clown hat.
Not that Scully had been looking at his dayplanner, but it was open, and she was sitting at his desk, and things just sort of happened. She wondered who Sue and Brandy were and where he had met them and if they were actually a package deal.
But it was none of her business, so Scully tried to concentrate on the database, where a lot of lime green letters were trying to tell her something. B-R-A-N-D-Y, they seemed to be saying.
Mulder was on a dating rampage, had been for months now, ever since Diana reappeared and she and Spender were assigned the x-files. He was currently out on one of his two-hour lunches, which was the only reason Scully was able to use his computer. If he had been there, he'd be lounging in his chair, feet kicked up on his desk while he networked with the secretarial pool and snapped his gum.
At her own desk, her computer gave a pained rattle and chewed on the hard drive a little. It had been whimpering to itself all week, and today it'd finally had its breakdown. Right in the middle of the report Scully was compiling.
I.S. had sent up some red-headed kid that looked eighteen and spoke a language Scully didn't understand. He was currently assaulting her keyboard with a variety of voodoo curses, but something growled and the fan cut out with a crunch. Scully winced. That didn't sound like something a reboot would fix.
To her right, Mulder oozed into view, looking smug and invincible.
"Ah, Brandy," sighed Mulder, leaning against the edge of his desk and crossing his arms over his chest. Scully still wasn't used to him with his new haircut. It made him look younger, less tired, like some alternate universe Mulder that drove a BMW instead of a dented Jeep Cherokee.
Scully smiled at him. "Making new friends, Mulder?"
He dropped his head and grinned. "It ain't love, but it ain't bad."
"Kersh might disagree. You know how pleased he was after we ran off to Nevada," Scully reminded him. "If he catches you taking two-hour lunches, he'll never let us out of his sight again."
"Scully, Kersh is a man with no love in his soul," Mulder said solemnly. "Now what are you doing here? Trying to hack into my secret stuff? Or are you planning on selling classified manure information to the Russians?"
"My computer is down," she announced, pointing to her desk where the I.S. guy was stripping her mini-tower of all its cords and plugs.
Mulder shook his head. "Now, Scully, I know you're bored with this assignment, but is that any excuse to break your computer?"
Scully gave him a slight push. "Yeah, Mr. Two-Hour Lunch?"
"That reminds me, I forgot to eat," Mulder said, checking his pockets and leaving again.
At Scully's desk, the techie grabbed the CPU and stuck it under his arm. "Hey, this thing is fried. I'm gonna go get you one that works." Giving her a wink, he left for the elevator. Scully went back to her report.
This one struck him as the early type, so he decided to be on time tonight so she'd have nothing to hold over him. Last Friday he'd gone out with a woman with the unlikely name of Ellery who had been the early type, and forty minutes late he'd pissed her off so royally that she'd spent most of the evening complaining about how hungry and how tired she was until he took her home and refused to come in when she invited him for a nightcap. "You're tired," he'd said, not even getting out of the car.
He was tired of being nice, tired of finding new words to describe hair and shoes and wine, tired of pretending he cared where Meg's brother was chief cardiologist or how long Amber's daily commute was. Tonight, he decided, he was going to be an asshole.
Sue was fifteen minutes late.
He didn't recognize her at first, probably because the first time they'd met -- the only other time they'd met -- she'd been wearing a navy polarfleece turtleneck and she'd had her hair back, chin propped on her elbow and a glint in her eye when she'd asked "can I help you?" and she'd called him "sir."
So when the blonde in the green silk shirtdress approached the table he nearly said "yes, I'd like some water, please," before he realized who she was. He slid out his chair and stood.
"Sorry I'm late," she said breathlessly. "Traffic was an ungodly mess. Of course you probably came here in the same traffic I did. But it took me forever to get out of the house and the second I'm heading for the door my mom calls." She sat down.
Mulder chuckled, sitting back down himself. "No problem," he said.
"Now, you want me to call you by your last name, is that it?" she asked, unfolding her napkin and dropping it unceremoniously into her lap.
"Please," he said. "Wouldn't you, if you were me?"
Sue smiled, scrunching her nose. "My parents named me Susan Anthony," she said. "You do the math."
Mulder tried to flag a waitress who was pointedly ignoring him. Resigning himself to another long dinner full of awkward dating silences, he turned back to Sue and managed a smile. "Cruel parents," he said.
"Tell me about it," she said.
The awkward dating silence commenced, and Mulder wracked his brain for things he wasn't already tired of talking about.
"Have you ever blown glass?" Sue asked.
This was definitely something he wasn't tired of talking about, and Mulder shook his head. "You?"
"Nope," she said. "But I just enrolled in a class that starts tomorrow. I'm a little bit terrified."
"Of glass?" Mulder asked.
"Of all that hot," Sue said. "I hate fire."
"And you're taking this course why?"
"Because it's cheaper than buying Christmas presents?" Sue giggled. "No. Because I figure face my fears, right? Face my fears, make some vases, all in one go."
Mulder thought about saying "I hate fire too," but then he'd have to talk about himself and he didn't want to. He was having too much fun listening to Sue giggle.
"You're very brave," he said with mock gravity.
"Positively knightworthy," Sue mimicked his tone with a solemn nod.
The waitress appeared with two menus and a busboy emerged from the dark side of her orbit to pour water from a stainless steel pitcher and light the candle on the table.
"I'm having steak," Sue said decisively, once they'd left. "Something big and bloody."
After a salad-lunch with Brandy and six years with a yogurt-eating partner, Mulder found himself suspiciously turned on by Sue's carnivorous display. He examined the menu. "There's a nice porterhouse," he said.
She folded her menu and looked at him. "You do this often?"
"Talk girls into eating large slabs of cow? Not as often as I'd like," Mulder smiled. He felt like he was on vacation for the first time in years.
"Date," she said. "You're very good at it. The way you came into the shop, and everything. You operate like you're on a mission."
"You saw my bike," he said. "That thing needs serious help."
"Yes," she nodded. "But that ridiculous conversation we had about hydraulic brakes -- you don't know a thing about hydraulic brakes."
Mulder pretended to be offended by the accusation. "I do so!"
"You haven't been on a bike..." she squinted at him like she was sizing him up. "Since you were twelve, am I right?"
"More like twenty," Mulder said. "I had that bike in college. Flew the damned thing across the ocean and back."
"Magic bike," she said. "Don't see many of those anymore."
"Anyway," she said. "I could tell."
"And how could you tell?"
She threw him a sly look and tapped the menu. "What are you having?"
"Squid-ink linguini with tomatoes and scallops," he read.
The superhuman waitress must have heard, because she materialized at his side and slid the menu from his hands. Mulder ordered a bottle of wine by pointing to a long French name he couldn't read, two thirds of the way up the price list, and with a nod that was practically a curtsey the waitress pivoted on her toes and headed for the kitchen.
"Now tell me how you knew I hadn't ridden in a while," Mulder met Sue's eyes, cocking his head to the side.
"Your thigh muscles are the wrong shape," she said with a smirk.
Mulder just stared at her, the pretty blonde woman with the green eyes who was rubbing her hands together like she knew she'd won, and he couldn't think of a thing to say.
The food was good, and the wine was excellent, but neither of them mentioned it because there wasn't time in between conversations about the Starr Report and swing dancing and whether the dinosaurs were really birds.
When the check came, Sue's gold card hit the table first.
"Oh, come on," Mulder said. "It's on me."
"No," Sue said. "It's on me. And here's why."
Mulder drained the last of his coffee. "Tell me why."
"You're a guy. A guy guy," she began.
"I resent that!" Mulder grinned.
Sue shook her head. "You'd never let a girl buy you dinner. So you'll feel like you owe me. And you'll make sure you get the next one. Which means..." she lowered her eyes, allowing for the dramatic pause, "...there will be a next one."
Mulder slipped his card back into his wallet. "Sneaky," he said.
The busboy refilled their coffees even though it was almost eleven at night and the crowd had thinned and the restaurant was close to closing. Mulder, feeling more relaxed and more wired than he had in weeks, sank back into his chair and sat there, comfortable and sated, until the waitress came and took the check, along with a gold AMEX reading "Susan Anthony."
It was sleeting when they went outside. Sue hopped from foot to foot and Mulder, with gloved hands, pulled her scarf a little more tightly around her neck and stuffed it into the collar of her jacket. He allowed the back of a finger to graze her chin as he pulled away, and, like a cat, she dipped her head toward his hand and rubbed her cheek there.
"Where did you park?" he asked.
"About a block and a half east," she said. "You?"
"I'm in the alley," he said. "How about I walk you to your car and then you drive me back to mine?"
"Sounds fair," she said, and with a shuffling pace they crossed at the crosswalk.
"You grow up here?" Sue peered out from under the hood of her nylon anorak. Mulder shook his head.
"New England," he said.
"You miss it?"
"I get up there a fair amount for work," he said, and then added, "I do miss it."
Sue stopped shuffling, paused under a streetlight and looked at him. "You like your job a lot, don't you," she said.
Without thinking, Mulder said, "Couldn't imagine doing anything else." Then he remembered Kersh, and Diana, and the fact that the X-Files were gone, and he opened his mouth to qualify his statement, but Sue was licking her lips and her eyes sparkled and he forgot what the question was.
"Good to hear," Sue said. "I'm sick of malcontents. They've always got one eye on the door as if there's someplace else they're sure they'd rather be."
Her ears were pink in the cold and Mulder felt cold hard drops of rain on his forehead, his cheek, his neck. Sue was younger than he was, but here she looked golden and radiant and timeless and Mulder just wanted to look at her. He'd been searching for something, all these weeks and months since Diana had betrayed him, had taken his job and his passion and his history and had left him with a bullpen desk and a stapler with his name on it. He'd gone out, gotten around, gotten laid several times a week in varying positions in varying apartments around the city, woken up to wash his face in only-slightly-varying bathrooms that all smelled of the same sort of fruity soap. They'd all offered him wine, whiskey, gin, sat him down on leather couches with acid jazz on the stereo and trotted off to reapply their lipstick while he tried to make sense of their subscriptions to the New Republic and Maxim. But Sue, blinking up at him and walking backwards like a tour guide, had worn a nylon anorak to a four-star restaurant because she'd heard it was going to rain.
"Come here," Mulder said, reaching out an arm and waving at her. "Come here."
Her nose met his chin and he tipped her head up and kissed her, exhaling, enjoying the warm tickle of her breath on his cheek, the taste of coffee and wine on her tongue. Her elbows were close to her chest and her hands were on his shoulders as if she weren't sure whether to pull him closer or push him away.
He brushed her hair off her forehead, tucked it under her hood and kissed her again, gently. "When do I get to see you again?" he asked.
"Tomorrow," she said. "I'd take you biking but it's going to rain again. All weekend, says the Weather Channel. Want to come over? After my class, I mean."
He smiled. "More than anything," he said.
Taking her hand in his, and sliding, finally, out of the glow of the streetlamp, they turned the corner to go find her car.