He looked over at her, asleep yet again beside him in a rental car. Very familiar, but all too different this time. He still didn't know how he had let her talk him into this. The last thing he wanted to do was intrude on her family time. Her arguments hadn't really been that compelling - it was the person doing the persuading that was compelling.
He was perfectly capable of spending a couple of weeks alone. Yes, it was his first vacation since his mother had died and he'd learned Samantha's fate - he forced his mind from that line of thought. But it wasn't like he normally spent his time off with his mother anyway. They hadn't been close in years - oh hell, he didn't remember them ever being close. Well, not like Scully was with her mother. They hadn't even been close enough for him to return her call before she could kill herself. He winced at that - another line of thought to avoid. But still, he was capable of being alone, well without Scully anyway. Yeah, that was alone.
She'd seen that. She had to have. Why else would she have been so insistent that he come with her for the first few days of her vacation. Didn't she spend enough time with him? Apparently not and for that he was grateful, though he'd never admit it aloud.
They were closer now - spending personal time together. It had started when she'd rescued him after returning from Africa. She'd begun dropping by his apartment before he returned to work - to drop off a file, bring by his check, whatever - it was to check on him, at least at first. Then she'd quit coming up with excuses and just shown up- sometimes with a movie and a six-pack, sometimes with dinner. She could come empty-handed and be just as welcomed. He figured she knew that, but it probably wouldn't hurt to mention it sometime - when he got the courage.
He remembered his reaction to the news that she was taking two weeks off to visit with her family in California. He thought he'd hidden it pretty well. Actually he probably had from everyone in the world except Dana Scully. You can't hide too many things from your one in five billion. So she had probably felt obligated to invite him along. He'd refused of course - at first. And there was no way he could do the full two weeks. Maybe a long weekend. Whatever, she'd worn him down and now here he was in sunny California letting her catch a few winks as he drove toward her brother's house.
She hated that he knew how uncomfortable she was flying, but he enjoyed giving her this chance to decompress from the tension of a flight whenever possible. He didn't feel like talking right now anyway.
Mrs. Scully knew he was coming, but he was pretty sure Bill didn't. He wasn't going to let Bill get to him. No way would he spoil this time for Scully. And he was finally going to meet the elusive Charlie Scully. If he turned out to be a clone of Bill . . . well it was just for a few days after all.
She stirred beside him, her hand falling out of her lap and onto the console between them. On impulse he lifted her hand gently and placed it on his thigh. He always drew strength from her touch and he was feeling in need of some strength right now. She didn't seem to mind.
They were getting close to the base, he could tell that more from the tenseness in his body than the road signs they were passing. It would be okay. Regardless of Bill, Scully would be there. He might even have fun. Maybe.
She stirred again, her hand lightly gripping his thigh. Now that was a sensation he never got from Scully. Well, not in the flesh anyway. Okay, his body reacted to her - big surprise. She was a beautiful woman. Oh it wasn't that - he saw attractive women all the time, at least on video. This reaction didn't happen anymore from that. The one video Frohike had sent over with the short redhead on it had been destroyed. He still recalled his horror that anyone would see such a video and lust after . . . Frohike had had the good sense not to ask what had happened to the tape.
He was such a fool, falling for his partner. It was too much like one of those romance novels Scully never admitted reading. He'd read a few passages one time when she wasn't around and had actually found himself blushing at the content. Him! But knowing Scully had read the same passage had been very arousing. Why did she read them? For the same reason he watched the videos? Or used to watch them anyway before she'd started coming over. Come to think of it he hadn't noticed a novel around since about that same time.
He turned into the base and easily found the street from the paper Scully had handed him. They'd moved since the last time he'd been here. Bill's promotion had sent them to another area of housing. Mulder shook his head slightly at that. This just wasn't a life style he could understand. There, that was the right number. He pulled up to the front and shut off the car, but made no move to get out. This was a mistake. He knew it was, but he'd allowed her to talk him into it. Would it really have been that bad to be without her for two weeks? Well, that was a no-brainer. He was here wasn't he?
The lack of movement woke her and her hand curled around his thigh before she stretched and finally opened her eyes. He was watching her and she smiled at him. She could see how nervous he was about this. She'd make sure he had a good time, it was important to her.
"Well, we're here." He said unnecessarily.
"Yep. We gonna get out?"
"Guess so." She chuckled at that and opened her door. After a moment he did too and trailed her to the front door. Scully turned to make certain he was behind her, then rang the bell.
Tara opened the door almost immediately. "Dana! Fox! I'm so glad you're here!" She threw her arms around Dana and hugged her. Scully glanced at Mulder then put her own arms around the young woman to return the hug. He grinned at her - this kind of enthusiasm was unfamiliar to her. Then suddenly he found Tara's arms around him and Scully laughed as he received a bear hug from the exuberant woman.
"It's so good to have you here!"
"Thanks, Tara. Hey, are you still holding my mother hostage out here?" They all moved into the living room.
"Yes. It's the only way to get you out here. I may never give her back, it's so wonderful having her here."
"Tara, did I hear - Dana! Fox!" Once again they were both enveloped in hugs. Maybe she was used to this, but his family had never been like this. He'd hugged his own mother, and she usually returned the hug, but this . . .
"Let's get the bags, we'll get you all settled in before Bill comes home." Mrs. Scully moved toward the door.
"I'll get them Mrs. Scully. You visit with Scu, uh, Dana."
"I'll help, then we'll only have to make one trip." Scully joined him on the front step.
Mulder shrugged at Mrs. Scully who smiled indulgently. He had the trunk open and watched her lean in to grab a bag. "Has Tara always been like that around your mother? I mean she's her mother-in-law. The stories you hear . . . "
"Well, Tara's own mother died when she was just a child, so Mom is - "
"Hey, I understand. She's the mother-in-law I would want."
Scully looked up at him and blinked. What had he said? His own eyes widened as he realized what he'd revealed. "Uh, here, I've got that one." He pulled the rest of the luggage out of the trunk and headed back toward the house. What the hell had he been thinking!
He piled the luggage at the bottom of the stairs and held the door open as Scully entered. He didn't look at her, but up the stairs at Tara who was descending with Matthew in her arms.
"Listen, I appreciate the offer, but wouldn't it be better if I got a room - "
"Oh no! You have to stay here. We've got it all worked out. Matthew is moving into our room, Dana will sleep with Mom and you can have Matthew's room. Charlie and Mary are staying next door with Greg and his family."
Too bad Mrs. Scully wasn't taking Matthew's room and I could stay with her. He shook that thought off. Inappropriate. He glanced over at Scully to find her watching him. Oh god, she'd had the same thought - he could see it on her face. Now she was blushing and looked away. Damn!
She turned from him, searching for her composure and focused on Matthew. "Hey big guy. Do you remember me?"
The boy buried his face in his mother's neck. Mrs. Scully tickled him and the laughter erupted from him. Mulder watched this family interaction fascinated. Would it have been like this for him if Samantha had never been - no, don't go there. This wasn't for him, but he could certainly enjoy watching it with her.
Scully looked back at Mulder to see him watching her with delight. She relaxed slightly. He was enjoying himself. "Greg?" She turned toward her mother, "Not Greg Sanders?"
"Yes. He and his family live right over there."
Scully caught Mulder's puzzled expression. "Greg and Charlie were best friends when we were based in Florida. I can't believe he's right here."
Mulder decided to let them visit and picked back up the suitcases. He knew he could figure out the sleeping arrangements. He was still upstairs when he heard the door open downstairs.
"You made it! I'm so glad you decided to come Dana. For a while there I didn't think we were going to talk you into it."
That was a surprise to him. She'd had to be convinced to come? The way she'd talked to him it was a foregone conclusion, and he had to come if he wanted to see her during this time. Well, he better get this over with. Mulder straightened his spine and started down the stairs.
The sound caused Bill to turn and his eyes widened. "What the hell!" He rose to his feet.
Well that settled that, Bill hadn't known he was invited. Great. "Bill, nice to see you again."
Bill opened his mouth, then snapped it shut without speaking. All of the women had gone silent, even Dana. It was Matthew who broke the stand off. "Daddy!" Matthew ran into the room from the back of the house.
"How's my boy?" Bill picked his son up and turned him upside down and around before settling him on his hip.
"Aunt Dana and Unka Fox are here!"
Uncle Fox? Mulder looked over at Scully startled. She looked up at him and shook her head imperceptibly. She hadn't taught him to say that.
"They certainly are." Bill responded impartially.
"I made some ice tea. I'll go get it." Mrs. Scully rose from her seat.
"I'll help you Mom." Scully followed her mother from the room. Bill placed the boy back on the floor and followed them. Tara took the boy's hand and led him upstairs, casting an apologetic look at Mulder.
"What the hell is he doing here?" Bill ignored his mother, cornering Scully. "No one asked me if he could come." The large man loomed over her and attempted to keep his voice down, at least at first. "I don't want that man around my family."
"Bill - "
"No! Look at the record. His sister 'vanishes', his father's murdered, and now his mother offs herself - I want a man like that around my son?" His voice was rising.
"Bill - "
"No! He could be as crazy as the mother, he could - " Scully's hand connected sharply with his face, stunning him into silence.
"Don't you ever - " She heard her mother quick indrawn breath and looked over at the door. Mulder stood frozen in the door, his face white, his jaw clinched so tightly she could see the muscles jumping. He turned without a word and headed out the door. "You bastard!" She hissed at Bill, then ran after him.
He was opening the car door when she caught up. "Don't go, Mulder."
He shook his head, not bothering to speak. "Mulder, please!" She had hold of his arm.
"Scully, I don't belong here."
"You belong with me. Please, Mulder."
"I can't stay here."
"Okay then, let me get our bags."
"What? No! Scully stay here. It's your family."
"You're my family too, Mulder. I know I forced you to come out here with me, but that's because I wanted you here. I wanted you to meet Charlie, spend time with . . . " She shook her head. "I'm sorry, Mulder."
"None of this is your fault, Scully. Just go back inside and - "
"No. I won't stay here without you."
"Scully, that's not necessary. I'm a big boy now." She ignored him and walked around the car to open the passenger door. "Scully."
"I won't stay here without you."
He'd seen that stubborn set of her shoulders before. But how could he stay here? Bill's feelings were out in the open now. His presence would spoil things for everyone. She opened the car door, watching him. She'd do this; she would walk away with him. He felt . . . warm. He felt like a part of this, like a part of him belonged. He slammed the car door and glared at her.
She relaxed perceptibly. "I can't promise Bill will . . . behave, but the rest of us want you here very much."
"This is a mistake, Scully." She'd come around the car now and took his hand.
"Like you've never made one before - right? Come on, Mom and Tara worked hard on this dinner." He closed his eyes and allowed her to tug him back toward the house.
She opened the door and led him in. There was no one in the living room so they continued on to the kitchen. Mrs. Scully looked up and after an instant of relief smiled at them both. "Good, you two can set the table for me. The dishes are in that cabinet."
Scully turned toward that side of the kitchen, but Mrs. Scully touched Mulder's arm. "Fox, I haven't had a chance to say anything to you about your mother. I was so sorry to hear about her passing."
Mulder nodded, his eyes suddenly moist, not quite trusting his voice. She squeezed his hand and then patted him on the shoulder and turned him toward the cabinet. Scully turned away but not before he saw the compassion in her eyes. At least the female Scullys were nice people.
Scully handed him the dishes and Mrs. Scully turned back. "Oh, Matthew wants his special plate. It's there in the drain."
"What is this?" Scully looked at the plate and smiled.
"Oh, this is a special plate Matthew made at pre-school. He made it in honor of everyone coming to visit. See, it's the whole family - the three in the middle are Matthew, Bill and Tara. I understand this one up here is me, the one in the other corner is Grandpa Summerlin, Tara's father. Down here is Charlie, Mary and the boys and over here are you and Fox."
"Me?" Mulder looked up startled.
"Yes. Tara's been coaching him on the names, but he hasn't gotten the difference between Charlie and Mary and Dana and Fox. Well, he isn't three yet."
"That must thrill your son."
"I don't think he knew about it until a few minutes ago, when Matthew called you Uncle Fox." She turned back to the stove. "Oh, and if you help with the clean up, make sure Matthew's plate doesn't go in the dishwasher."
"I promise, Mom." Scully took a handful of silverware and headed into the dining room. Mulder put the dishes on the table. "Hand me those glasses, please Unka Fox."
"Why would Tara do that?"
"To make you more comfortable, Mulder. She's been looking forward to this so much. She loves family."
He handed her the glasses and they continued in silence. After a few minutes she left him to go look for napkins. Immediately Bill appeared at the door and Mulder realized he'd been waiting.
"Look, Mulder, I was out of line - "
"Bill, let's just make this as comfortable as possible for the ladies." Bill nodded and turned back toward the staircase.
Dinner was actually pleasant. Mulder sat between Scully and Tara and things were kept light because Matthew was with them at the table.
It was an early evening in deference to the jet lag and Mulder found himself alone in the nursery. Tara meant well and part of him was grateful she'd put him in here instead of Scully. This would be too much for her. It was nearly too much for him.
They'd shoved the crib to one side and moved in a folding bed. He didn't remember having stuffed animals as a kid. Samantha had them, but she was a girl. He got ready for bed and stretched out on the cot. The light came from a lamp that looked like a red and blue train with a face on it. He knew a moment of relief that it wasn't Barney and tried to read.
He did doze for a while, but woke and finally, after tossing and turning, rose and redressed to head downstairs. He was surprised to see the TV on, muted. While he stood there Bill emerged from the kitchen carrying a drink. He too stopped when he spotted Mulder standing there. He sighed, "Want a drink?"
"That'd be good." Bill nodded and returned to the kitchen. Mulder followed.
"There's a game on. You watch basketball?"
"Yeah." Mulder almost smiled. "I'm a Knicks fan."
"Figures. Here." He chuckled then and they returned to the living room and TV. They watched in silence until the next time out.
"Mulder . . . I, I suppose you know I wasn't aware you were coming." Mulder nodded, but didn't offer a comment. "I don't understand your relationship with my sister. It doesn't seem to make either of you happy. In fact I'd say it's been destructive, at least to her." He didn't sound accusing, just matter of fact.
Mulder still made no comment. He was in this man's home. "I don't want her hurt anymore. And it just . . . it seems to me that destruction follows you around wherever you go. Your family's gone, I don't want to lose anymore of mine to you. You understand that, don't you?"
"Bill, I won't be here long. I'm only here because Scully, Dana, asked me. I'll try to stay out of your way, but I'm here because she wanted me."
"She worries about you too much. She puts you ahead of herself."
"I don't ask for that."
"You don't have to. She thinks she loves you." That knocked the wind out of him. Where was Bill getting this? "Why did your mother kill herself?" Mulder blinked at the sudden change in subject. After a long moment he picked up his glass and took a drink.
"She was ill. She didn't want useless chemo and she couldn't get well, so she . . . "
"I didn't know. I'm sorry."
They both fell silent again. Bill reached for the remote. "Don't hurt her anymore." Then he turned back to the game. Mulder sighed quietly and remained until the game ended. He said a quick goodnight and headed upstairs. He hesitated on the bottom step when he spotted Scully sitting at the top. He glanced back over at Bill but he seemed absorbed in the TV. He moved on up and took her arm, pulling her to her feet. She'd been crying. He glanced downstairs one more time and then drew her into the nursery with him.
"I'm sorry my family - "
"No. Not your family, Bill. I can handle him, Scully. I'm here to be with you. He's just a hazard in the road I need to try to avoid."
"And I keep putting him in your way."
"You can't pick your relatives, Scully. Just relax. Think about how wonderful your mother is and I'm looking forward to meeting this phantom brother of yours."
She smiled then and leaned against him, allowing his arm to go around her.
He woke when she moved atop him. Oh shit! They'd fallen asleep. Great, he couldn't sleep alone in such a small bed, but the two of them had slept like babies. She moved again and his arm tightened around her - mostly to keep her from falling but partially to hold her more firmly against the one part of him that wasn't reticent about showing his desire for her.
Her eyes flew open and she looked up into his semi-amused eyes. "Oh my god."
"It's okay, we just slept." He allowed her to pull away from him then.
"But I was supposed to be sleeping with Mom." She stood then and moved toward the door. "I better get dressed, get downstairs."
"Yeah, we both should." She was already out the door.
She dressed quickly and hurried down to the kitchen. Her mother was alone there and looked up. "Sleep well?"
Scully blushed, "Where's Bill?"
"Out back, cleaning the grill. He doesn't know."
"There's nothing to know. Nothing happened." She glanced around defensively.
"What?" Her eyes opened wider.
"I personally think it would do both of you a world of good." Mrs. Scully turned toward the refrigerator, dismissing her daughter.
Scully stood there, staring at her mother, mouth open. That's when Mulder entered the kitchen. One look at her face and he was at her side. "Scully?"
She shook her head, later. What was going on?
Everyone but Mulder was in the backyard when the doorbell rang. He glanced at the backdoor, but decided to go ahead and answer it. The man at the door had to be Charlie Scully; there was no other possibility. Seeing Scully's features on this man was fascinating. He was probably 5'10", red hair, though not as red as hers, with the same blue eyes. The smile was hers too. He stuck out his hand, "Mulder, not Fox, right?"
Mulder grinned and took the younger ma's hand. "Right. Come on in."
"This is my wife, Mary and my boys, Will and Sam."
"Nice to meet you. Everyone's out back." They headed in that direction, the boys racing ahead.
Charlie stopped and let Mary move ahead. He turned to Mulder, "Is Bill behaving?" Mulder blinked but didn't respond. "Dana and I don't see each other much, but we talk often. I'm glad you agreed to come. I'm confident she wouldn't be here otherwise. And I've been wanting to meet you forever."
Something about him made Mulder want to throw his arms around the man. An excellent way to scare the hell out of him no doubt. They continued on out the backdoor. Scully was already moving toward the house and threw her arms around the younger man as they emerged. Charlie reciprocated, spinning her around. Then Charlie leaned down to whisper in her ear; "He's perfect for you. Quit doubting yourself."
Mulder knew those words weren't for his ears and he moved away in a sort of daze. Quit doubting herself? That sent him reeling down thought pathways better explored alone.
He jumped when Scully sat down beside him. "Well? What do you think of Charlie?"
"The truth?" That dimmed her smile a little, "I think I'm in love with him." Everyone turned to look at them as she burst out laughing. Mrs. Scully relaxed; maybe they were finally ready to be honest with each other. Bill's eyes narrowed, but he'd made a promise to his wife and mother, he turned away. Charlie looked over at Mary and nodded, she smiled back at him, then leaned over and gave him a kiss.
Scully leaned back against Mulder, who easily rested his arm around her shoulder. Maybe he could stay a little longer.