Over the past hour, her yawns have grown increasingly more dramatic. It’s not intentional, and it’s definitely not a hint, but after three straight weeks without a day off, Scully is desperate for the weekend.
At eight o’clock, Mulder finally notices. She hasn’t even closed her mouth when he says, “Closing time?”
He checks his watch. “Shit,” he says. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to keep you so late.”
“It’s fine.” And it mostly is. She’s still got the whole weekend ahead of her.
Mulder stands up and stretches, then grabs his coat from the back of his chair. “Are you just gonna head home?”
"We could get dinner," she suggests, zipping up her briefcase.
"Sure. I'll buy you a half-smoke."
She grimaces at the thought. "Mulder, when is the last time you ate a vegetable?"
He reaches into his coat pocket and comes up with a sunflower seed. He holds it out to her like it proves a point. “Plant,” he says.
Briefly, Scully closes her eyes. When she opens them again, he’s gnawing at his sunflower seed and grinning at her. She ignores him and says, “There’s that good Thai place in Dupont.”
Mulder shoulders his bag and follows her to the door, his hand hovering at the small of her back. “I’ll call it in on the way. The usual? And can we take it to your place? I don’t think I have any clean plates.”
“I was thinking we could eat at the restaurant.” He looks at her skeptically and she adds, “Like normal people.”
“Since when have we been normal people, Scully?”
“It might be nice.”
“What if someone sees us?”
She rolls her eyes. “Mulder, I’ve eaten dinner with you in public all over the country.”
“Yeah, but in Nebraska no one cares what we do.”
“No one cares what we do here, either. Besides, the District is big enough. It’s not like Skinner is going to show up at that Thai place.”
Surprisingly, he doesn’t put up more of a fight. “Yeah, you’re probably right,” he says, and as she dies of shock, he gives her shoulder a quick squeeze and walks past her, toward the elevator.
“I’m always right,” she mutters under her breath as she follows him down the hall.
By the time they get to Siam Thai, it’s eight-thirty and the place is packed. The hostess recognizes Scully and frowns. “I’m so sorry, but we didn’t get your order—“
“Actually, we’re eating in,” she says, feeling unaccountably brave.
The hostess brightens, her eyes sliding over to appraise Mulder. She nods approvingly. “Of course. Two?”
Scully nods, and the woman leads them to the last two-top. Mulder scans the room and takes the seat facing the door. She tries to imagine a version of their lives where they don’t practice vigilance everywhere they go, but she comes up blank.
After the first glass of wine they both loosen up. Scully alternates bites of papaya salad with an impressively dirty story Charlie told her about a cousin’s bachelor party. She doesn’t usually get to make Mulder laugh, and she likes it.
“I bet I’d get along with Charlie,” he says.
“Better than you do with Bill, anyway.”
Mulder puts his hand to his heart, mock offended. “Come on, I’m growing on him.”
The last time they’d interacted, Bill, Tara, and Matthew had shown up at her apartment with Maggie, bright and early on the Saturday after Scully’s birthday. They’d been in town and wanted to surprise her - there was a cake and everything - and then Mulder opened the door.
When she got out of bed to find out why there was so much yelling, she’d found Bill mid-diatribe, Tara covering Matthew’s innocent ears, Maggie smiling knowingly - God, the humiliation - and Mulder bleary-eyed and bemused in a pair of boxers and a T-shirt. Scully had told Bill to take a walk, and when he returned he’d cooled down to somewhere near absolute zero. Afterwards the six of them endured a pot of coffee, Scully’s birthday cake, and an extremely chilly conversation. It was not the best birthday she’d ever had.
She is pretty sure that Mulder is not growing on Bill.
“Well, it’s not up to Bill,” she says now. “He didn’t get a say in my boyfriends when I was sixteen, and he certainly doesn’t get one now.”
“Scully,” Mulder says, sounding far too pleased, “am I your boyfriend?”
She blushes furiously and starts to stammer out a retort, but Mulder reaches across the table to take her hand. He opens his mouth - and that’s when they hear a familiar voice.
Scully freezes. Mulder’s eyes are huge as he slowly slides his hand back.
“Mulder, tell me that’s not—“
He shakes his head ever so slightly.
AD Skinner appears next to their table. His eyes land on the bottle of wine, now mostly empty, and stay there just long enough that they know he knows they know exactly what he’s assuming.
“Enjoying your Friday evening?” he asks. Sternly.
Scully feels an unpleasant kind of nostalgia. Something like when the principal caught her smoking behind the bleachers. She says, “We’re just, uh, working on a case.“
This is clearly not true. There are no files, no pen and paper, and perhaps most importantly, there is the bottle of wine. Skinner says, “I’m sure. Forget it. The less I know the better."
Scully puts her chopsticks down. She is too tipsy to practice restraint; just tipsy enough to want to hold the line. The FBI shouldn’t get to control every aspect of her life. “You know,” she says, “it’s not technically against Bureau policy.”
It would not be possible for Skinner’s eyebrows to go any higher. “What’s not against Bureau policy, Agent Scully?”
From across the table, Mulder’s glare is searing. No, she is not actually tipsy enough for this. She shakes her head. “Nothing. Never mind.”
Skinner narrows his eyes at them one more time, then returns to the host stand.
“Smooth,” Mulder remarks. “There was nothing suspicious about that interaction.”
“Mulder, I’m sure he already knows.”
And that’s when Skinner reappears with the hostess. And a chair. “What do I know, Agent Scully?”
“Jesus,” says Mulder.
“Sir, we wouldn’t want to keep you,” she says. “I’m sure you have places to be—“
“Not at all,” he says grandly, and that’s when Scully realizes that Skinner is enjoying torturing them. “So, tell me about this case you’re working on.”
Mulder and Scully exchange a brief terrified look across the table. She wouldn’t mind if the Flukeman appeared right about now. An hour ago she would’ve said that nothing was worse than the Flukeman, but just at this moment she’s reevaluating a lot of things about her life.
“Um,” Mulder says, and she wills him to keep going; it won’t be the first time that his encyclopedic knowledge of weird shit has saved them.
Alcohol has evidently slowed his response time. “There’s a poltergeist,” Scully says helpfully, hoping it doesn’t sound like a question.
“Right,” Mulder says, and the hesitation disappears. “There’s a town in the Ozarks where there’s been a series of deaths - hikers, drifters, that sort of thing, all outsiders - and the locals are blaming it on the ghosts of miners, claiming that the hikers are disturbing their restless spirits.”
You’ve got to be kidding. She knows all about this case.
Skinner leans back in his chair. “Interesting. And who do you think is really responsible?”
Mulder’s lips twist into a grin. “You don’t think it’s mining ghosts?”
The waitress comes by to take Skinner’s order - oh my God, he’s actually staying for dinner, she thinks - and Mulder continues, “Maybe not. But the really weird thing is, there are no marks on the bodies and nothing comes up on the tox screens. The victims are all healthy young men, and they appear to have just dropped dead.”
He is completely misrepresenting this case. When he’d showed it to her last week, Scully had dismissed it out of hand. It is clearly not an X-file.
“Sir, Agent Mulder is being a little overenthusiastic,” she interrupts, and Mulder gives her a wounded look. “The men all died of exposure.”
Mulder addresses Skinner, not her. “The first three men were found last summer, when the temperature at night was in the seventies.”
“The coroner concluded—“
“Like you can trust small-town coroners!”
Skinner is watching them, his eyes darting back and forth like he’s watching a tennis match. He nods thoughtfully. “Either way, you should probably go check things out.”
“That’s what I said.” It’s incredible, the way Mulder manages to sound both petulant and triumphant.
But Scully really does not want to go to Missouri, and she knows how to play ball. “Sir, with the recent scrutiny on the budget, do you really think this is the best use of the Bureau’s resources?”
“I trust your judgement,” Skinner says. “Unless you have something more pressing…?”
Mulder shakes his head. “We can head out tomorrow.”
Thin-lipped, Scully glares at him until his smile fades. So much for the weekend.
With that decided, Skinner makes quick work of his pad thai, and Mulder and Scully finish their meals in resentful silence. “This place is good,” Skinner says, crumpling his napkin on top of his dinner plate. “I’d never been here before.”
So of course he’d show up the one night they decided to eat in. “How did you hear about it, sir?” she asks politely.
“Oh, Agent Mulder recommended it a while back.”
Mulder makes his who, me? face at her and mouths, “I forgot.”
“Anyway, I’ll pick up the tab on my way out. I’ll see you both when you get back.” And then he just stands up and leaves, as though everything that just happened was totally normal and fine.
There’s a few inches of wine left in the bottle, and Scully chugs it.
Mulder lets out a low whistle. “I didn’t know you had it in you, Scully.”
“I went to a state school, Mulder.” She puts the bottle down and gathers up her things. As they exit, the hostess waving to them on their way out, she says, “You realize we’ll have to go to Missouri now.”
“I hear it’s nice this time of year.”
“Mulder, I haven’t had a day off in three weeks. I’ve spent more nights in motels than I have in my own bed. And I’m one diner meal away from a heart attack.”
He shrugs at her. “What else is new?”
“Mulder,” she complains.
“I saved us from Skinner. And we got a free dinner.”
Mulder stumbles over a crack in the sidewalk and she stifles a giggle. “I don’t think either of us can drive,” she says.
“Your place isn’t far. I’ll walk you home.” He puts his arm around her shoulder, and she’s glad for the warmth. The nights are still cool, and she’s not dressed for a long walk in this weather.
Still, she can’t let him think that he’s won. “If you think I’m going to invite you in—“
“Aw, come on, Scully.”
She continues, “Since I’ll be spending the rest of my weekend with you. In Missouri.”
“You were gonna spend it with me anyway.”
“No, I was going to do laundry and run errands and maybe, I don’t know, call my mother.”
“Like a normal person,” he says, wistfully. Scully winces. She’d forgotten that he no longer has a mother to call.
She nudges him. “But I would have spent the rest of the weekend with you.”
Mulder leans over to drop a kiss on the top of her head, and she slides her arm under his coat, her thumb through his belt loop.
He says, “Missouri won’t be so bad. We’ll be up in the mountains.”
“Yeah, I’m sure the Motel Seven will have a scenic view.”
“Maybe we can find somewhere nicer to stay.” He gives her shoulders a squeeze and teases, “You know, if you’re really concerned about budget cuts, we could share a room.”
“You want us to have a romantic weekend away while we investigate a dozen murders?”
He raises an eyebrow. “Now they’re murders? You told Skinner they died of exposure.”
“Well, they certainly didn’t die of ghosts.”
“You’re awfully skeptical for someone who was once shot by a ghost.”
“I wasn’t shot by a ghost, Mulder, I was shot by you, and in any case we weren’t actually shot—“
“You can’t tell me you don’t believe in ghosts.”
“That’s not the point.”
He laughs and tugs her closer. She wraps both arms around him.
“Scully,” he says into her hair, “we definitely have to go to Missouri. Maybe it won’t be a ghost and you can finally prove me wrong.”
She rests her cheek against his chest and breathes him in. “You’re wrong at least half the time.”
“I am not,” he says, with absolutely no conviction.
Mulder pulls his coat all the way around her and she snuggles closer. Around them the city does its nighttime things: the honking cabs and speeding ambulances and people laughing and tripping over the cobblestones on P Street.
And somewhere, probably, there are ghosts, doing whatever ghosts do. If a ghost murders someone right here in Georgetown, maybe they won’t have to go to Missouri tomorrow.
“Hey Scully,” he says after a moment.
“We survived our first date.”
She groans. “Oh, no. We can’t count this. No. We can have a do-over.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” he says thoughtfully. “This seems perfect. We had Asian food, we tricked Skinner, and then we argued about ghosts.”
“And then you went home alone.” She steps out of his arms and takes his hand instead, and they continue on down the street.
“Nooo. And then I walked you up to your apartment and seduced you.”
“Oh, of course. Your charms are irresistible.”
He gives her an extremely goofy smile. She loves this, she loves him. “Yeah?”
“Yeah.” In the shadows between streetlights, she kisses him. “Unfortunately, I don’t usually sleep with a guy on the first date.”
His eyes go big for a second until he realizes she’s joking.
“Had you,” she says lightly.
Mulder shakes his head and plays along. “You did not.”
They walk up the steps to her building and Mulder holds the door open for her, like always. In the elevator she turns to him and clarifies, “Had you big time.”
And they go home, together.