“You know,” Scully says and sips on her cherry milkshake, “this is the first time in… too long, that I haven’t felt watched.”
Mulder leers at her below his relaxed brow, over-the-top lecherous as always, but smiles softly. “I’m watching you.”
“I know. And you know what I mean.”
She gazes out the window, regarding the parking lot as if it is the sea. They are in a roadside diner somewhere in Texas. It’s been a long time since they wore their old clothes and their old names, but they are more themselves than ever.
She smells Mulder’s warmth, lounging across from him in the vinyl booth. It’s laundry day. He bought himself some Old Spice in Nebraska, told her he couldn’t let himself go lest his woman trade him in for a younger and freer model.
Scully thinks it’s probably November. It’s probably November of the year 2002. Time used to be so important to her. The weeks of pregnancy, the months of widowhood, the hours of emptiness after she was all alone. The minutes of reclaimed ecstacy in the back of an Explorer.
It doesn’t really matter anymore, time doesn’t, not as much as direction. North. Due north of here. Somewhere in the same direction as the truck that passes them by - somewhere out there, their son is seventeen months old.
Her hair is short and blonde and soft. She touches the back of her neck, fingers teasing the close crop. She imagines her cervical spine holding up her skull. She’ll probably ask for a scalp massage later, in their little den of a motel room.
“Do you?” she asks. Mulder looks up from his plate of hashbrowns.
“Do I what?”
Mulder takes a thoughtful bite and scratches his bearded face. “Only by you, in the shower. Did you ever wonder why I take so long in the shower?”
She smiles at him and steals the crispiest bit of potato from his plate. It’s salty, and she’s not done having her daily treats.
“I felt for so long,” she says and stops, slurping her milkshake. “That… Mulder, we used to live in a panopticon. You realize that, right?”
He nods. They talk, these days, about all the things they never talked about back when they looked like themselves. How they felt, what they thought. All the things they never said. Mulder takes a gulp of his coffee, and a droplet sits cheerfully in his mustache. She wipes it away and he puckers up to kiss her fingers, too late.
“I never remember how the ancient saying goes,” he says, “is it ‘you’re not paranoid if they’re really out to get you’?”
“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not,” she helps.
“Ah, of course.”
“Do you think we were foolish?” Scully rubs her temples and tucks her hands in the billowy sleeves of her flannel shirt.
“To think we were free?” Mulder asks. When she nods he makes that face, the goofy thinking face with the frog-like mouth. She wishes she could see his soft cheeks bunch up, the mole she knows so well. He used to be so young.
He exhales. “No. I don’t think so. We were free because we were together. Eight years, Scully.”
“Ten years, now.”
They sit in silence as their coffees are refilled by a waiter, watching trucks carrying goods across the country pull in and pull out of the parking lot. Once she stood in an empty lot like this and heard–
Scully laughs. “Hey,” she says, “here’s something I don’t think I ever told you.”
“Oooo,” Mulder explaims with his boyish charm turned up to 11.
“A man showed up once, while you were gone-”
“Gone-gone, or just missing? I don't mean to be a party-pooper here but that could basically be any time since you’ve known me, so let’s be specific.”
“After Will was born,” she says with a sad smile and thinks for a second about the absurdity and logic of his request for clarification. Gone-gone is something completely different.
“Okay then,” he says and Scully sees, very clearly, the blanket of darkness cover his face.
“Anyway, yet another of those faceless, nameless men we know so well, showed up and tried to blackmail me. Or something, I don’t remember. He said he knew my real hair color.”
Mulder cracks a grin. “Hundred bucks he didn’t think the red was natural. I, obviously, know better.”
“Anyway,” Scully continues, “he tried to psyche me out. Told me he’d seen, and I quote, ‘one lonely night’ – you and me, together. Can you believe that crap?”
Mulder, brow furrowed, takes a sip of his cooling coffee. He mouths something to himself, screws up his face in concentration.
His face is full of mirth when he looks up at her. “One lonely night. Hmm. I mean,” he says, “this might be an obvious question but… which one?”
“My point exactly!”
Mulder cracks up, wheezing while laughing, and she follows him into the cloud of delight, reaching for his hands. They squeeze each other’s fingers, so beloved and familiar, for a long time.
Scully leans forward and beckons Mulder with one finger. She balances on her elbows across the Formica table and mumbles in his ear: “Do you think it was the time in the Queen Anne chair?”
He chuckles and shivers a little at her hot, cherry-scented breath hitting his face. “Again, which one?”
“Good point,” she says and rocks back.
“I’d say - and I have no control over this - but if I had my wish,” Mulder muses, “I hope it was the time in front of your bay window. Remember how the June air felt on your skin?”
He licks his lips. She mirrors him. A rush of memory floods her brain, trailing her spine into the bowl of her pelvis. “I do remember.”
“It was one of my best performances of that season.” Mulder’s pupils, staring at her, widen.
“I would agree with that,” Scully breathes. She remembers him behind her, large hand on the back of her thigh, holding her steady as she propped them both up with her hands against the cold window panes. The smell of magnolias outside. The smell of them inside their secret lair. Silence as they moved together.
He takes her hand. “A one-of-a-kind experience.”
She nods. “Priceless.”
“Not to toot my own horn,” Mulder says in his low, breathy voice reserved for the most lighthearted of serious come-ons, “but I think I have one more of those in me.”
Scully fishes some money out of her shirt pocket and in the process, sneakily, undoes a button. She lets her fingers play at her throat, past the gleaming delicate gold of her necklace, where she scratches gently with a short but manicured nail across the soft skin of her breast.
“As an experimentalist,” she says and gets up, tossing the money on the table, “I’m ready to administer the treatment.”
She takes him by the hand and leads him outside into the night. How many cameras are out there, she doesn’t know. She doesn’t care.