She'd been very quiet for a very long time now, Fox Mulder thought,
glancing briefly, guardedly, at his partner from behind the duck-blind of
Around them, the diner clattered and murmured, full of truckers and cotton-aproned waitresses, the tink of spoons on coffee cups, the shuffle of feet on dusty linoleum, the conversation of the couple in the adjoining booth, arguing over where exactly they'd taken the wrong turn, and where they were at the moment. Trucks grumbled past on the interstate, or hissed their brakes as they pulled in... laughter carried from other tables, and the faint strains of country-western music from the overhead music system. Around the two figures, incongruous in their business suits, however, the puddle of silence was almost tangible.
Granted, Scully was never a great talker during long car trips... but more often than not, the silence was a companionable, friendly sort of hush. Mulder had never felt entirely comfortable with people who needed to fill every silence with words, or music... and Scully appreciated that. She would lean back into the corner and sleep, or pore over case files, giving them each the space they needed.
This afternoon, this evening, though, she'd been decidedly pensive. No, not pensive... preoccupied. Mulder caught the distinct feeling that there was something building under that silence... and it triggered a restlessness in him. He knew his partner... her rhythms, her aura, the feel of her presence. It was when she was quiet, too, that he felt he knew her best of all... the way she breathed, or shifted position, or brushed away a lock of hair. Today, every subtle cue, every current that carried to him spoke of muffled conflict... confusion.
The waitress came and went, taking their order in subdued tones, as though the silence was contagious, and removed the laminated menus, leaving the two exposed fully across the plastic tabletop. Scully, whose blue-eyed gaze had focused entirely on the battered menu moments before, turned her eyes to the window. Mulder followed her gaze, watching the clouds inch across the autumn sunset, then tilted his head, tapping the back of his partner's hand lightly, offering a half-smile when she blinked him, almost startled by the tactile intrusion on her thoughts.
"Hey." he said softly. Brilliant conversation-starter from an Oxford- educated psychologist, Mulder.
"Hey." she replied.
Oh, this conversation's going to take off real fast...
"I'd offer you a penny for your thoughts, Scully, but the smallest change I've got is a dime." He fished the coin out, examining it, then glancing at her with eyebrow quirked. "Think you can give me ten cents' worth?" That drew a faint smile, and Scully extended her hand, accepting the token.
"No, but I can probably give you change." Their orders arrived at that moment, but Scully continued to examine the coin as Mulder had before her... as though there was some answer in the profile of Roosevelt that could bring out the words, or the answers, they were both seeking. As her partner applied himself to his chicken-fried steak, Scully sighed, set the dime aside, and glanced out the window again. "I've just been thinking, Mulder. That's all."
"About the case." It was a statement, not a question... he didn't have to see her nod. Since they'd crossed the town line of Home, Pennsylvania, leaving behind the Peacock "family" and their secrets - both buried and unburied there hadn't been a question in his mind that the case they'd left behind had not left Scully. She'd been startlingly honest with him about how the disfigured infant corpse had affected her... about her fears for her own future, about hopes and dreams that might never materialize.
It had been a revelation to him that Scully wanted to be a mother... he'd never really considered it before. Never looked at her that way. But then, he'd never imagined Skinner, their Assistant Director, to be a family man... until his wife had materialized one day out of the blue. Is that how it would be with Scully? Would he, one day, happen into the office... and have that news broken to him? He could almost hear her... see her smile, wating for him as he came through the door.
"Mulder?" she'd say, her blue eyes shining, her face radiant... glowing. "You're going to be an uncle." An uncle. Uncle Fox. Little hands to caress, little feet to tickle, bedtime stories to read, and Scully would be happy.... It wasn't bad, as far as daydreams went... it was logical, at least... but still... well, no, he wouldn't go into that. Not this evening.
"Sort of." Scully was poking at her own dinner, the meatloaf special, now... poking at it without any real indication that she planned to eat. "Thinking more about... what we talked about. Before. That's all." She chuckled, a barely audible laugh that was anything but amused. "Wondering... thinking... daydreaming, I guess. Trying to muffle that clock of mine. Once you listen to it... the ticking gets louder. I'm surprised you can't hear it by now, Mulder. It'll drive one of us crazy... me, listening to it... or you, listening to me."
"The tell-tale biological clock, huh?" Mulder mopped up a puddle of gravy with a biskit. "Maybe you should invest in digital." He waited a moment. "Maybe you should talk about it. Can't drive me crazy, Scully... according to half the Bureau, I'm already there."
Scully smiled... a lopsided smile... and picked at her meal, not answering.
"Okay. So... you want to have children someday. That's not so unusual. It's... it's a human urge. To procreate. The world must be peopled, and all that. Heck, Scully... I want to have a family, too. I told you that." He dropped his voice, chewing pensively. "Nice little house in the suburbs... two cats in the yard, life used to be so hard... You know. It's kind of the same thing... I don't know if I'll ever find that 'special someone,' either. I've thought about it... settling down... but the way things are..." He shrugged helplessly. "Look at it this way... at least you have options."
"Options." She was making fork-tracks in her mashed potatoes, and the smile she didn't turn to him had a cynical twist.
"Yes, options. If you wanted to take them." Mulder speared another piece of steak, considering it. "Better than mine, really. I mean, they don't have 'wife-and-family' banks for single men who want to be fathers." There was a long silence, and the music on the speakers overhead shifted to a country remake of Frank Sinatra's "My Way." Mulder shuddered, and gulped coffee.
"And you wouldn't think any less of me, if I took that option?" Scully said at last, looking directly at him. Her voice was very quiet... almost worried. Mulder paused. It mattered to her. What he thought. This was a day for surprises, then... that Scully would actually worry about his thoughts, his opinions, in a matter like this... "It's... it's crossed my mind, Mulder. That option. It has. I've always know that a woman doesn't need to be married to raise a child, these days... but..."
"But you worry about doing it for yourself?" Mulder tilted his head to the side, his eyes softening, and smiled. Sometimes, he could barely contain the wash of affection he felt for his partner... his friend. His best friend. Scully just made it so easy, sometimes... "Scully, I promise you. Nothing you do... no choice you make... would ever make me thing any less of you." The sound of that... the sentiment... rattled him a bit, and he dug into his meal again. "For one thing," he continued. "It's your body. It's the nineties. Your choice. For another... you're my partner. You're my friend. It wouldn't be the easiest choice to make... or to follow through with... but if you decide to make it, you know where I'll be."
He'd meant it to sound reassuring... but from the odd expression that flickered across Scully's face, from the way she turned back to her meatloaf, and began to eat, Mulder wondered if he'd said entirely the wrong thing... overstepped his bounds. Touchy subject... what was it his mother had always said? Three things never to discuss in mixed company... politics, religion, or sex. Or alien abductions, but he'd added that one himself.
Well, if Scully was bothered by it, she'd tell him. She was a mature woman... she was his partner. And she didn't tend to keep that sort of thing to herself.
"Would you help me, Mulder?" she asked. Her tone was business-as- usual, utterly neutral, as though she'd asked for his opinion on what to put into their official report. She was still looking at her plate, speaking down to her meatloaf. "If I made that choice... to raise a child alone... would you help me?"
It was a test. It had to be a test... of his commitment to what he'd said, of his friendship. Mulder considered the question briefly, not pausing in his chewing.
"If you wanted my help... sure. You know I'd be there for you, Scully. I don't know how great a lamaze partner I'd be, and I'd need a refresher course in diaper-changing, but... hey, I can put together a crib as good as anyone, and my babysitting rates are pretty reasonable." He grinned. "I draw the line at potty-training, though."
Scully's returning gaze was serious, however.
"No, Mulder." she said quietly. "I mean... if I wanted to become a mother... would you help me?"
This time he choked on his steak, catching the full impact of the subtle emphasis of her words. Scully continued eating, glancing back at her partner implacably.
"You mean..." He was stumbling for words, and probably red in the face. The couple at the booth behind them had hushed, and two truckers at the nearby counter half-turned. He took a long sip of water, cleared his throat, and stared at Scully. "That. Help... like that, you mean." He took a deep breath. "Oh."
"You were the one who brought it up, Mulder." she said, as calmly as though they were discussing a new theory of evolution, or extraterrestrial presence. No, no... she'd be more heated about aliens. "You said, I think, 'find yourself a genetically perfect man and start popping out little...' whatevers. And you said yourself that your family hasn't got a history of birth defects, or genetic impurities."
"I remember. I remember." Mulder took another steadying breath, setting aside his silverware. His appetite, for some reason, had vanished entirely.
"So I'm asking you... as my partner, as my friend. If I wanted to become pregnant... would you be willing to help me?"
Nothing like putting a guy on the spot, Scully... Mulder ran a hand through his hair, brow creasing, and glanced around. There really was no easy way to say it...
"Uh... no." He tried to make it soft, as kind as he could manage, not looking directly at her. "I... well... no, I couldn't, Scully. I'm... I'm sorry. Any other way... I'll be there. But I... no."
Silence again, and he could feel her eyes on him, detect the surprise... the hurt. She hadn't expected that answer.
"I see." she said at last, setting aside her own fork... but the tone was low, dangerously so. "Would you mind telling me... why not?"
"Scully, I really don't think..."
"I'm not trying to argue with you, Mulder. Really. It's just that after that entire 'I'll be there for you' spiel... I guess I expected a different response. A maybe, at least." There was anger in there, too... coming to the surface quickly. She'd been thinking about this for quite some time, then.... before he'd brought up 'other options,' maybe before the car drive from Home... maybe before the case had crossed their desks. Her eyes flashed, almost snapping sparks, and he had to remind himself not to think how beautiful she always looked when she was angry with him. "It's not as if I'm asking you to marry me, or help me raise the little 'ubers,' as you put it. It's not as if I'm even asking you to sleep with me, dammit!"
Again the couple at the next booth fell silent, and Mulder waited until their conversation began to hum once more before responding, catching her eye. "Scully. I don't think we should talk about this right now. Not here, at least." Her hand jerked away from him as he tried to reach out to her, to take the sting out of the words belatedly.
"You're right." She gathered her purse, and rose with as much speed as her dignity would allow. "I'll wait for you in the car."
She was gone before Mulder could respond, her steps clicking angrily into the diner-muddle. Mulder sat for a moment longer at the table, head resting in his hand, until he noticed one of the truckers leaning across from the countertop.
"Son," said the man, with the wink of one who's been there and back with a bottle of whiskey. "You could do a sight worse than that there, you know."
I know. Mulder thought, staring at the man's flannel-clad back as it turned away from him. And maybe, maybe that's the trouble.
He let her drive. It was the wisest thing... aside from the headache that had started inexplicably when he'd stepped out of the diner, he knew that driving would give Scully back some of the control she seemed to think she'd lost. They didn't speak as they turned onto the highway... or for some miles after that. When it became clear that she was still waiting for his answer and intractable in her train of thought, Mulder sighed.
You're an idiot, Mulder. You couldn't just look at it as a chance to do both of you a little good. A lot good, if you played your cards right. Any other beautiful woman could come along and ask for a 'favor' like that... you'd have booked two nights in a suite, in a heartbeat. He put a hand to his temples, trying to massage the ache away. Any other beautiful woman, sure. But this is Scully. He managed a glance at her out of the corner of his eye, then closed his eyes briefly.
"I didn't mean to hurt you, Scully." he said at last. "That's the last thing I wanted to do... especially in this situation. I hope you know that."
"Good intentions die hard." she said, every syllable exact, and she would not look at him.
"They do." he agreed, feeling the stirrings of irritation within himself, but forcing them down. You don't want to fight with her over this, Mulder... you'd never win, anyhow... "I just want you to know that it's not about you, Scully... it's not."
"What the hell is it about, then, Mulder?" Her eyes flashed, and she shot a brief glance at him. Another advantage to letting her drive, Mulder noted. He wouldn't have to bear the full attention of her wounded pride. "I thought... all that talk about options, and being there, and support... was that all lip service, Mulder? Didn't you think I was serious?"
"Yes! No... I don't... Scully, that was before you were talking about bringing me into the equation... literally!" He squeezed his eyes shut a moment, cursing inwardly, not wanting to enter into the inevitable... "There's just a difference, Scully, between 'support' and ... well... that!"
"What's the difference, Mulder? Explain that to me. Can you?"
"It's just... just that... just that I'd feel a lot better with this if someone else were the... donor." It was a limping excuse for an excuse... even to him, and he winced. he winced again as Scully wrenched the car to the left, accelerating past the laboring semi with more speed than was strictly necessary.
"You'd feel better? YOU would feel better? I can't believe you said that, Mulder... for what, ten minutes of effort..."
Low blow, Scully... But he dug into his resolve, and refused to rise to her lure. "If you wanted to enjoy it a bit, we could double that time... maybe." He smirked at her, but the humor fell flat. "Okay. Fine. We'll talk about it. I do this under protest, however." She did not reply. "I mean, Scully, speaking purely scientifically... if genetics are what you're worried about... you can do better! The clinics, they keep medical histories, and records, and..."
She'd slowed now, to the speed limit... physical listening, Mulder thought. Honest listening. And suddenly, the silence was between them again, thick as cotton wool.
"And it's a stranger, Mulder." There was something muted, almost strangled, in that statement... the anger was bleeding away as quickly as it had surfaced. She kept her eyes on the road. "And... it's a stranger. Yes, it could be safer that way... more scientific... but someday, when my child wants to know who her daddy is... Mulder, what would I tell her?"
The quiet was more potent than her anger... and Mulder felt something ache in him that was certainly not his head... not cerebral in the least. If she'd taken that approach from the start...
"You'd think of something." He reached out to her, and this time, she let him caress her arm, a companionable gesture... but she still did not look at him, or smile. Instead, in a voice that was surprisingly small, she answered.
"I don't want to have to think of something, Mulder. I don't want to have to explain science, and biological clocks, and a single woman's fears, to a child... my child. I want to be able to tell her that Daddy was... is... someone that her mommy trusted... and cared for... and chose to help make her. Someone that she... loved... in a way."
The impact was akin to the blow of a hammer, though the words were said softly, the heavy aftermath settling into Mulder until he had to close his eyes against them, and turn away. Too close, too close, too damned close to home, Scully... He hadn't been shielded against them with humor, or sly words... the admission had been naked, honest. No wonder she couldn't understand.
"Then..." Don't say it, don't say it, don't say it, Mulder... Don't be an idiot three times over... "Then maybe... maybe you do understand why I can't say yes."
"No." And she shook her head softly, red hair deep auburn in the dimness. "No, Mulder... I honestly don't understand. Please..." She paused, choked a bit, then continued. "Please ... try... to explain. It would... help."
She's hurting, you bastard... couldn't you have just let her stay angry with you? Wouldn't that have been easier? No... no. If he'd meant anything of what he'd said in the diner... if he deserved any of what she'd admitted to him... she deserved something from him, at least.
"I can't say yes..." he started, then faltered, his voice dropping into its softest tones. "Scully.. I can't say yes because before, when you wanted to have a child, when you asked me to help you... when you asked for my support... then, it wasn't a part of me that you were talking about." He held his eyes closed... he didn't want to look at her, couldn't look at her, if he was going to get it out.
"You... we.. talked about hopes. Dreams. When I told you about that little house, out of the city... that home... I wasn't talking about an empty house... or a home for two people. I... I want a family, too... I want to make children, and watch them grow, and be born, and grow some more... and I want to be part of that, Scully. If I help you... " He broke off, fighting the words, and losing. "If I give you a child... then that baby is half of me, too. And I wouldn't be able... I couldn't... just step back from that, and give it up, give it away. It wouldn't be just your child anymore, or your choice... don't you see? It would be our child, yours and mine. Our baby, Dana." There was more... don't say it don't say it don't say it... "And... and I just don't know if you'd want to share that... if you should share that... with me."
He ended in half a whisper... the statement fading into the sounds of the tires on the road, and of other cars hissing past. Mulder opened his eyes, and forced himself to stare straight ahead, not looking into the silence beside him. You bastard. You selfish bastard. You couldn't have made something up... lied to her, given her some palatable excuse... no, you owed her the truth, and never-you-mind if she chokes on it.
She did choke on it. He heard the sound, stifled, muffled, and had to turn to face it... the sound that was half a sob, vocalizing what he'd felt inside, saying it. Scully, feeling his eyes on her, half-turned then... and there were tears, welling in her eyes, but unshed... despite the odd half-smile that was on her face.
"Mulder... what makes you think that I wouldn't... want...to share?" And she laughed... that was the sound, a mixture of a laugh and a sob, and she wiped quickly at the single tear that leaked out. "I thought... I thought that I was trying to make it easier on you... absolving you of responsibility. I did." And she did laugh now... at herself, shaking her head. "And I was so angry with you..." As Mulder found himself beginning to chuckle, then chortle, along with her, he felt his partner's hand on his arm. "Mulder, if I wasn't driving right now, I really could hug you." She took the hand away, dabbing once more at the corners of her eyes. "But... would you promise me something, Mulder?"
He didn't need to answer... the full impact of his attention on her was enough.
"Would you... at least... think about it?" It was a tentative question now... unsure of itself. "I don't... I really don't think I'm ready... for that... yet. I didn't know for sure, even back in the diner... even back, with the Peacocks. It was a 'someday,' that's all, something to fall back on. But when you said no..."
"That 'someday' started to fall apart, a bit." Mulder looked at his hands, then out at the road, then finally to his partner. "I'll... promise. To think about it, Scully. And when... if... you decide you really want to talk about it... I'll be here." On impulse, he reached out, brushed the hair back from her face, a brief caress, then squeezed her shoulder as their eyes met, and settled into his side of the seat again.
The silence fell again... a comfortable hush, this time... and Mulder closed his eyes, relaxing, as it welcomed him in. He felt Dana's rhythms fall back into their normal daily flow... her breathing easy, her mind clear. It had better be, Mulder thought. She'd certainly given him enough to think about... emptying herself to him like that. And now, he did have thinking to do... just like he'd promised.
About Mother's Day, for instance.
She'd kill me...
He smirked, cracking his eyes to glance at his partner. After all this talk, she owed him a bit of indulgence... amusement. Maybe something else, too... but that would wait. He drew a breath, closing his eyes again, and decided not to break the comfortable silence with a chuckle.