By quarter of two Charlie noticed that Dana couldn't keep her eyes away from the window, watching. He finally approached her, "He said he'd come."
She blushed slightly at being caught. "I know. This isn't a mistake is it? I mean - "
"It's not a mistake. Relax. It's Christmas and you need him here.”
Need? Before she could ask what he meant by that, a cry from one of the boys pulled him away. By the time things had settled down again, she had moved from the window. Charlie watched Bill playing on the floor with Matt. There would not be a scene when Mulder arrived; he would not allow his big brother to cause Dana that kind of grief. Not today.
Charlie was in the chair, reading the directions for one of Will's toys, when the doorbell rang. Bill rose from the floor, but Dana flew past them both. “I'll get it.”
Charlie glanced at his watch, 2:15. Apparently Mulder was anxious to see her too. When the man stepped inside, Charlie saw Bill stiffen and take a step in that direction.
“What's that son of a bitch doing here?”
Charlie's hand closed around his bicep. Bill looked down at him, his eyes narrowed. “You knew?”
“Come with me.”
“After I throw that - “
“Now.” Charlie was slightly shorter and a good deal lighter, but his grip tightened and he pulled Bill farther into the room. “Don't cause a scene.”
“How could she invite that - “
“She didn't. Mom did.”
Bill's eyes closed for an instant, shaking his head. “Why would she do that?”
“He's a friend of Dana's, a very good friend. And he was alone for Christmas.”
“He should be. Everyone he touches - “
“Bill, I'm not asking you to adopt him. He's here to eat dinner with us, that's all.”
“You don't know what happened last night.”
“Actually, you don't know what happened. They worked last night. By the time they were through, it was late, very late. Too late for her to head home and still get here on time. She crashed on his couch. It was innocent.”
“You believe that? Listen, I don't want him here.”
“I know that. Just be civil to the man. If you can't do it for Dana, or Mom, then do it for the kids, Will, Sam, Matt . . . and Emily.”
Bill drew back at the name. No one ever spoke of the little girl.
“Come on, Bill. You know better than I do how hard this time of year is for her. Don't make it worse. It's just one meal.”
Bill seemed to deflate slightly. The mention of Emily had unnerved him. After a moment he nodded stiffly.
“Thank you.” Charlie said and released his arm. Bill immediately started toward the couple and Charlie fell in behind him.
Dana looked up and instinctively stepped in front of Mulder. Bill felt a stab of regret that his sister felt the need to actively protect the man. He stuck out his hand, “Mulder.”
Charlie saw the dark haired man's shoulders relax.
They shook hands, “Thank you for having me.”
Bill didn't respond to that, glancing down at Dana. They were saved further conversation by Tara's call. “Bill, would you please come get Matt?”
“'Cuse me.” He made a hasty exit and Charlie couldn't help but smile.
Charlie stepped closer, “Dana? You gonna introduce us?”
“Oh,” she smiled, “Mulder, this is the man we've hired to play Charlie.”
Charlie's arm stopped in mid reach. “What?”
Mulder grinned and his face colored slightly. “Old joke. I've given Scully, uh Dana, some grief about your existence. It's taken a while to meet you.”
Charlie grinned. “Yeah, I guess it has. But I didn't realize my existence was in question.” They shook hands. “It is good to finally meet the man who watches my sister's . . . back.”
Scully groaned at the blatant innuendo and tugged at Mulder's arm. “I don't want you near either of my brothers, ever.”
Both men chuckled at that. She turned away and almost ran into her mother's neighbor. “Audra, hi. I'd like you to meet Fox Mulder.” She raised her voice for the elderly woman.
Audra leaned on her cane and gave Mulder the once over. And then again, appraising his body thoroughly. “So this is your friend?”
“We, uh, we work together. We're partners.”
“Partners?” The woman sniffed, “I never thought you were a fool Dana Scully.”
Scully stood there, struck dumb as the woman hobbled off after one more glance at Mulder's 'package'. Mulder's eyes followed the older woman until he saw Charlie leaning helplessly against the end of the couch, shaking with silent laughter. Mulder's face colored but he kept quiet.
Mary came out of the kitchen then and the sight of her husband's laughter caused a smile on her face as she joined them. Charlie straightened up and put his arm around the smiling woman. “This is my wife, Mary. Mary, this is Fox Mulder.”
Mary's smile widened and she held out her hand, “Mulder, it's good to finally meet you.”
Before he could respond, a young boy skidded to a stop in front of him. “Are you really Mulder?”
“Uh, yes.” He glanced at Charlie.
“This is my son, Sam. He's named after Mary's father.”
“Pleased to meet you Sam.”
Sam nodded, his eyes wide. “Hey Will!”
Mary flinched, “They are never going to get poor little Matt down for a nap.” She muttered.
Will trotted in from the kitchen, “Yeah?”
Will stopped and looked up at the man, his mouth falling open slightly. “For real?”
“And this is my older son, Will. He's named after my father.”
“Hi.” Mulder said more than a little uncertainly.
“Did you really chase a giant worm into the sewers?” Will asked.
Mulder and Scully both turned to look at Charlie, who shrugged. “Uh, yeah. I did.”
“Was it as big as me?” Sam asked quickly.
Scully sank onto the couch and let her face drop into her hands, shaking her head.
“Actually he was as big as me.” Mulder replied.
“No way!” The boys exchanged glances. “Hey, did you bring your gun?”
“No.” Mulder glanced over at Charlie again. “I didn't realize how much I'd need it.”
Charlie grinned at him unapologetically.
“Hey, come see the game we got - “
“Hold it guys. He's not going off with you until he gets to tell your grandmother hello.” Charlie laid a calming hand on Sam's shoulder.
“Oh, okay. She's in the kitchen. Come on.” Each boy took a hand and tugged him in that direction. Scully rose from the couch.
“Just what have you told those boys?” She asked her little brother, as Mary waited.
“Only the 'G-rated' version of what you've told me.”
Her eyebrow rose, but she held her tongue, for now.
The three of them were back quickly and Will looked up at his mother. “Can I sit next to Mulder at lunch?”
“Will, we've already had this conversation. You and Sam are going to sit with Matt in the kitchen. It's just for the meal itself - “
“Mom, I'm old enough to sit at the grown up's table.”
Charlie shook his head, “You're old enough, there's just not room. We can't ask Mrs. Connelly to sit in the kitchen.” Will sighed and gave up. Charlie looked over at Mulder. “You're sitting between her and Dana.” He stepped closer and dropped his voice. “So if someone grabs you under the table, pretend it's Dana.” He winked at Mulder's expression and stepped back as Scully moved closer, eyes narrowed.
“Now can he see our game?” Sam asked.
“Sure, go ahead.”
Mulder followed the boys to the TV where the video game had been set up and took a chair. Scully watched him for a moment, then turned to Charlie. “Could you try to behave?”
“Moi?” Charlie asked innocently and she turned away to follow Mary into the kitchen. Charlie noticed Bill return to the downstairs, apparently Matt had finally fallen asleep. Bill headed straight for the liquor cabinet and poured himself a generous Scotch.
Charlie moved over to him, “A little early isn't it?”
Bill glanced over at him, but didn't respond, taking his glass to another part of the room. Charlie sighed, and joined the boys and Mulder at the TV.
When Scully came out of the kitchen with a tray of cheese, she moved over to them as well.
“See? We can't get past this point.” Will complained to Mulder.
Mulder leaned forward, “See that rock wall, click on the stones near the bottom.”
Will did as he suggested and a key appeared. “Hey! How did you know that?”
“Just try it.” Mulder offered.
Scully leaned over the back of the chair. “How did you know that?” She whispered.
“Langly downloaded it a few months ago.”
Her eyes widened, “You're a federal agent.”
“He wasn't using it for commercial purposes.” Mulder grinned and she rolled her eyes.
"Everyone," Mrs. Scully came out to the living room, "dinner is ready. Come on in and find your seat. Fox, you remember Father McCue. This is Sister Lillian." Mulder shook hands with a middle-aged woman with the brightest smile he had ever seen. Then he found his seat, as Charlie had said, between Audra and Scully. Bill joined the assembled and immediately downed his glass of wine and refilled it. Mrs. Scully watched him but said nothing.
Bill was on the other side of Audra with Father McCue at the head of the table. Tara was across from Bill, then Charlie, Mary and Lillian, with Mrs. Scully at the other end. Mulder realized he had been insulated from Bill to the best of Scully's abilities.
Charlie kept the conversation lively with stories of his students and had Mulder recalling stories from Oxford as well. Bill was quiet and Mulder knew he was on at least his third glass of wine.
“You know, Mom, you've got five doctors sitting around this table. Not bad.” Charlie commented.
“Five?” Lillian asked.
“Well, Dana obviously. Mulder's got a Ph.D. in psychology, I have one in English Lit, Mary in nutrition and Father McCue in theology.”
Mrs. Scully smiled, “Impressive. Of course, I also have a penchance for naval officers.”
“Don't worry about it Mom. That wouldn't impress Charles.” Bill commented, his tone hostile.
Charlie looked over at Mary and rolled his eyes, but kept quiet.
“Well, I'm very glad to have all of you here.” Mrs. Scully looked around the room.
“We're not all here.” Bill's voice was hard now and cold. “Melissa.” His look settled on Mulder. Dana's hand came to rest on Mulder's knee and it helped more than he could have imagined.
“Bill.” Father McCue turned to him, but Mrs. Scully spoke first.
“She's here in our hearts, Bill, just like your father is.” That stopped him for a moment. “This is a wonderful time for family.”
“Family.” Bill repeated, “Mulder, why aren't you with your family on this festive holiday?”
“Uh,” Mulder was caught off guard by the direct remark. “My mother went down to North Carolina to visit her cousin. She's been ill and Mom wanted to spend some time with her.”
“And that was more important than spending Christmas with her only child?”
Mulder felt Scully's hand again. “Christmas isn't a really big deal for Mom, Bill. She's Jewish.”
Mulder shrugged, “Half. We never practiced. In fact we usually did have a tree. Dad was Methodist I think. There were a couple of years when we didn't have trees . . . “
Scully's hand squeezed his knee lightly. They'd never talked about this. Samantha had been taken at Thanksgiving. That Christmas . . .
“If your mother's Jewish, then you are, right? You're whatever your mother is?”
Mulder faced Bill, “Then you are a very lucky man.” He turned and nodded to a very surprised Mrs. Scully.
“Here, here.” Father McCue said, raising his glass. “To Maggie Scully, our hostess and friend.”
Mrs. Scully's face colored slightly as they toasted her, except for Bill, who once again had suffered an end run around his comments.
“Now,” Mrs. Scully rose from the table, “let's have our dessert in front of the fire.” The others rose as well and Bill hurried out of the room. Mulder followed a step behind Scully, and she hesitated at the door, surveying the room and its decorations.
“Hey, aren't you gonna kiss her?” Will looked up at them.
Mulder glanced up and spotted the mistletoe hanging in the doorway. Scully blushed slightly, and Mulder, aware of everyone's eyes, brushed a quick kiss on her cheek.
“Come on Mulder, I kiss her better than that. No wonder she was asleep on your couch.” Charlie muttered to him.
The look Scully shot him was withering, but Charlie only grinned. Mulder met his eyes for an instant, then suddenly she was in his arms and his lips had taken possession of hers. She couldn't have pulled away even if she had wanted to. In fact she was, on some level, aware that he was supporting her.
He kept his hand on her when they finally broke apart, steadying her. Charlie was grinning ear to ear. Audra sniffed again, “I knew they didn't just 'work' together.” No one noticed Bill had returned from the bathroom.
His outrage overtook him at the sight. Before anyone could move he was beside Mulder and jerked him around. “I have one question for you.”
“Bill - “ Charlie started, but it was too late.
“Were you Emily's father?”
Maggie gasped, but Mulder stiffened then turned to look down at Scully. Her face was ashen.
“Were you!” Bill's voice rose.
Mulder still didn't face him, causing Scully to look up and meet his eyes. “Only in my heart.”
Scully's eyes widened and her mouth fell open but she didn't speak.
Charlie and Father McCue each took one of Bill's arms and forcibly escorted him from the room. Mulder's arm went around Scully and he led her to a wingback chair at the fireplace.
He knelt beside her. “Scully, do you want me to leave?”
“No. Please.” Her hand grasped his. He looked up as Mary joined them. She handed him a brandy snifter.
”Have her drink this.”
He nodded and took the liquor from her, then pressed it into Scully's hands.
Scully watched him as he moved her hands, bringing the crystal to her lips. She took a sip and coughed lightly. The others had stepped away, giving them space.
“Did you mean that?” The words were only a breath.
“I thought you knew.”
The shake of her head was almost imperceptible.
“Scully, your mom wants to talk to you.”
He managed a slight smile then, “Like you could get rid of me.” He rose then and took the empty snifter from her hand. Maggie moved quickly to her side and he moved to the dining room to get rid of the glass. Charlie joined him there.
“Is she okay?” Charlie asked immediately.
“He caught her off guard. Where is he now?”
“Father McCue has him. I think your comment sobered him up though.” Both men looked over at Scully as she spoke with her mother.
Things finally calmed, but the gathering was more subdued. Scully refused dessert or coffee, sitting quietly with Mulder leaning against her knee. Bill and Father McCue did not return.
After a little while, Scully's hand came to rest on his shoulder. “Mulder, I'm tired. Could you drive me home?”
“Of course.” He rose to his feet.
“Charlie, how long will you be here?” She looked up at her brother.
“We leave the morning of the 28th.”
She nodded. “I'll see you tomorrow then.”
"What about us getting together for dinner tomorrow night, just the four of us. I think I can convince Mom to keep the boys."
Scully glanced up at Mulder, "Well I - "
"Sounds like fun to me." He looked over at Charlie and felt Scully relax.
"I could fix us something - "
"Nope, no fixing, no cleaning up. Let's go out and just visit." Charlie interrupted. Mary nodded her agreement.
Scully smiled, "Okay. We'll work out the details tomorrow, when I pick up my car."
They made their goodbyes. Bill and Father McCue had not reappeared and Tara started to apologize again, but Scully stopped her, kissing her cheek and moving on. She promised her mother she would see her the next day as well and finally slipped her arms into the coat Mulder held for her. Even through the coat, she could feel his hand on her back and appreciated it.
He opened the car door for her and she looked up a little surprised. "Hey, I have manners; I just don't get to show them off often."
She ducked her head and made herself comfortable in his car. When he got in she had her head back and her eyes closed. He opened his mouth to ask how she was doing, but closed it instead. He already knew what she would say.
He pulled away from the house.
When he parked in front of her apartment, she didn't stir. He reached a finger over and caressed her cheek. She leaned into it and opened her eyes.
"Um. Come on in."
He didn't even hesitate, opening his door and following her inside. Once inside though he seemed uncertain. "Scully, you should get some sleep. I'll call - "
"You don't have to leave. You didn't get much sleep last night either."
"True, but I'm used to that." He was watching her; did she not want him to leave? Did she not want to be alone? Did she want to talk more about what he had said? "Listen, why don't you stretch out. I can . . . watch the last of the game." He finally improvised.
"Well you don't get the Spice Channel."
She rolled her eyes, then sighed.
"This hasn't been the merriest of Christmases for you, has it? I mean, what happened out at that house, then pissing Bill off, then really pissing Bill off." He shook his head. "Go on. I'll make myself at home if you don't mind. And if I get sleepy I'll come crawl in the bed with you.
"You know, if the game isn't real exciting, you could just join me now."
He stopped, the words penetrating his brain on some new level. His mouth seemed to form the word 'what', but no sound emerged. His eyes seemed to search her face and whatever he saw there relaxed him. She smiled as a look of delighted awe came over his face.
She took his hand and led him toward her bedroom. It was going to be a Merry Christmas after all.