said shyly. "I hope I’m not intruding." He glanced past her to her parents.
"I'm glad you're here." She squeezed his hand. "Please, come meet Mom and Ahab."
Before he could ask any questions, or even refuse, they were moving in that direction. "Mom, Ahab, I'd like you to meet Agent Mulder." Her father's eyes widened slightly at the name.
Mulder stuck his hand out, "I'm very sorry for your loss, Captain Scully, Mrs. Scully."
The older man took his hand in a firm grip. "Thank you. And thank you for keeping Starbuck safe during all of this."
Mulder nodded unsure what to say. Mrs. Scully took his hand then. She opened her mouth; then seemed unable to speak. Her husband put his arm around her. A tall man with ginger hair broke from the group around the priest and hurried over.
Mrs. Scully forced composure and took the man's hand. "Bill, this is Agent Mulder, the man who protected Dana."
"Agent Mulder." He nodded to Mulder; then turned back to Mrs. Scully. "Let's go back to the house, Mom. You haven't eaten all day."
Mrs. Scully managed a wan smile. "Who's the parent here?"
"He's right, Mom. We should go." Dana looked over at her father for back-up.
Her mother was looking at Mulder. “Would you come back to the house with us, please. There’s plenty of food and I’d like for you to be with us.”
Startled didn’t cover it, but seeing Scully’s nod of encouragement, he relaxed slightly. “Thank you. I’d be honored.”
Dana smiled then and looked up at her father. “Why don’t I ride home with Agent Mulder? It’s easier than giving directions.” Ahab looked back at the young man and nodded, mostly to himself.
“We’ll see you at the house.” He took Maggie’s arm more firmly then, as Bill took her other arm and led her to the car. The rest of the family followed, nodding to Dana.
“Is your mother okay?” he asked once the family was out of hearing.
“She will be. Today was especially hard. Thank you for coming.”
He shrugged. “I wasn’t sure . . . “
She squeezed the hand she realized she was holding again. “I need to get her ashes.”
After a brief word with Father McCue, they were on their way to the Scully home.
At the house there were other family and friends. Mulder was introduced, then tried to remain in the background, though he kept Scully in his sights. He saw her younger brother, Charlie, pass him headed toward the stairs. He had his younger son in his arms and was trying to get the older one to come along. Dana hurried toward him and looked over at Mulder. He joined them.
“Need any help?” Dana asked the younger man.
“I want to get Sam down for a nap. Will, too, but I’m having a little trouble.” He looked harried and the younger boy was starting to cry.
“I don’t need a nap! I’m not a baby,” the older one whined.
“Of course you’re not,” Mulder spoke, causing them all to look at him. “Why don’t you and I go see if there’s a game on?”
Will accepted the reprieve instantly, taking Mulder’s hand. “Come on. There’s a TV back here.” He tugged on the man’s hand.
Mulder nodded, winking at Dana. “We’ll see you guys later.”
Charlie shrugged and took the squirming baby up the stairs. Mulder and Will disappeared into the study.
In less than ten minutes Dana tiptoed into the room to find Will asleep on the couch, his head against Mulder’s leg. Dana grinned.
Mulder shrugged. “I told you I was boring,” he whispered.
“Hardly. Was there a game?”
“No, he just needed to be quiet for a minute.”
“You have many kids?” Her eyebrow went up.
He shook his head, laughing quietly. “I worked with them at Oxford. These two are your younger brother’s, right?”
She nodded. “He and Mary were married their freshman year in college. Charlie just got tenure at OSU in English Literature. Mary’s up for tenure in Nutrition there now.”
“What about Bill?”
“He and Tara have only been married a little over a year, no kids yet. Do you think we can move him?”
Mulder nodded. “He crashed completely.” He lifted the boy into his arms and followed Dana out and to the stairs. Charlie met them at the top of the stairs, his eyes wide.
“How’d you do that? And can you teach me?” Charlie grinned and led them to the bedroom. Mulder lay the boy on the bed and he curled up as Charlie draped an afghan over him.
Dana turned as she heard her name called. “See you in a minute.” Mulder’s eyes followed her out, and Charlie watched him.
“You saved her,” Charlie said quietly.
Mulder looked over startled. “I . . . “
“It’s been hard on her, losing Missy. She only smiles when she looks at you.”
Mulder just blinked at that. Charlie nodded. The younger boy stirred, so Charlie and Mulder tiptoed out into the hall.
“I just want to thank you. I hadn’t seen Missy in years. She never even saw Sam. I tried, but she didn’t want to be part of the family. Dana wouldn’t quit, she never gave up on her. Do you have a sister?”
“Wha-uh, yeah, I did.”
“Did?” Charlie looked up at him, concerned.
“She went missing a long time ago.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t . . . “
Mulder shook his head.
“Does Danes know?”
“Yeah.” He didn’t offer anything more.
“Well, we better get back downstairs. I’m sure Mom needs us to eat again. She seems to think it’s the thing to do.”
Mulder managed a small smile then. “She’s right on some level. Comfort food and all that.
Charlie nodded. “Anyway, thank you. You’re good for Dana.” Again Mulder just looked at him. Charlie clapped his shoulder. “Come on.”
Dana had saved a place for him at the table by her side. He slipped into it and took the dish she passed him. “Everything okay?”
“Sure. Just getting to know Charlie a little.” He smiled then.
She knew he was less than comfortable with this large family group, but the fact that he was willing to be there at all warmed her somehow.
There were several conversations going on. He didn’t even try to keep up, not knowing the names or connections; it was enough that she wanted him here. His attention returned when he heard her tell her mother that she was going back to her apartment.
“Dana, are you sure. Why don’t you stay here? We’d love to - “
“Mom, I need to go back to my place, and there’s just no room. I’ll be fine.”
The look on Maggie’s face showed exactly what she believed about that statement. “Your car isn’t even here, Honey. You could . . . “
“I could give her a ride,” Mulder heard himself say.
“That would be great.” Dana smiled over at him. “See, Mom. It’ll be fine.”
Her father’s hand patted her mother’s and he spoke low in her ear. She closed her eyes and allowed his arm to go around her. Mulder saw the tears that formed in Dana’s eyes and tentatively touched her hand. Her fingers closed around his though she didn’t look at him.
After a few minutes, Mary rose and started clearing the table. Dana helped her; then found Mulder where he was trying to be invisible in the living room.
“Were you serious about giving me a ride?”
“Absolutely.” He smiled down at her.
“Thank you. Let me tell the boys bye, and assure Mom and Ahab that I’ll see them tomorrow.” She squeezed his hand and moved away.
He waited for her by the door and shook Charlie’s hand when he walked her out. “Appreciate the help with the kids, Mulder. I hope we see you again soon.”
“Thanks, I’d like that.” His hand rested on Dana’s lower back to walk her to the car and Charlie noted it looked damn natural. He nodded again and slipped back inside to spend a few minutes with Mary before the kids woke up.
He let her into the car, then got in and pulled away. “I really appreciate the ride, Mulder.”
“You know I don’t mind.”
“And it gave you a great excuse to leave.” Her eyebrow was high as he sputtered a response.
“Okay, you have a lot of family,” he conceded. “To get them all at once was a little overwhelming.”
“So Will wasn’t the only one that needed a little time alone to relax.”
He cut his eyes at her but didn’t answer. She changed the subject then and they talked of inconsequential things until they were closer to her apartment. He noted she became more and more quiet. When he pulled into a parking space he realized her hands were clasped in her lap and her knuckles were white.
When his hand covered hers she jerked. “Scully?”
She shook her head.
“Have you been back here since . . . “
“I didn’t realize. Scully, you shouldn’t . . . Let me take you - “
“Mom had the place cleaned. It, it’ll be okay.”
“Scully, really - “ She opened her door and exited. He rushed around the car to meet her.
She stopped and looked up at him. “I have to.”
He searched her eyes, then took her arm and walked with her inside. He took her keys from her when she couldn’t get them in the lock, but he kept quiet.
He stepped inside first, looking around. The place had been cleaned. There was a faint scent of disinfectant in the air. He allowed her inside and she too looked around. She didn’t seem all that relieved.
“I’m okay,” she said, not meeting his eyes.
“Well, I’m convinced.” He looked down at her. “Look, it’s been a very long day. Why don’t you go change into something more comfortable?”
She looked up at him, her eyebrow high.
“You know what I mean. Go get comfortable.”
“I have to pack.”
“Pack?” he asked quickly.
“I’m going to San Francisco in the morning to . . . “
He nodded. “I’d forgotten. Are you going alone?”
“Yes. The boys have to get back and, and Mom wasn’t that pleased with Missy’s cremation. She wanted to bury her here. Ahab and I convinced her that Missy wouldn’t be happy in one place for all . . . “
“I think you’re right.” He squeezed her hand in support. “When is your flight?”
“I fly out at 12:30. I wanted to tell the boys goodbye,” she sighed. “Do, do you have to leave?”
“No. I’ll hang around until you throw me out. Go on.”
She didn’t move. “What if I don’t throw you out?”
“You might find the seat up occasionally,” he said lightly, not wanting to allow himself any false hopes.
“Small price . . . “ She turned then and moved into her bedroom. His mouth had fallen open, but he kept quiet.
He’d been here before of course, but not as a guest. After a couple of minutes, he walked into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. There was half a bottle of wine, so he pulled it out and opened a couple of cabinets to find her wine glasses. Maybe she could relax a little. He poured them both some wine.
He turned immediately and raced back into the living room. She had changed into light flannel drawstring pants and a t-shirt with Pebbles Flintstone on the front. He didn’t even notice as he saw her pale face and trembling body.
“Scully, I’m here. I’m right here.” She threw herself into his arms and they closed around her. “It’s okay. It’s okay.”
“I thought, I thought you’d left.”
He brushed her hair back and pressed his lips against her brow. “I told you I’d be here. I promised.”
“I know. I just . . . I’m sorry.” She started to pull away, but he didn’t release her. Instead he led her to the couch and seated her in the corner.
“Wait right here.” He squeezed her hand and returned to the kitchen. When he returned with the glasses of wine, her face colored beautifully. “Here, take a sip. Just to relax you.”
“You’re not trying to get me drunk?”
“Not tonight.” He winked at her. “Are you all packed?”
She nodded and took a sip, then looked over at the spot on the floor where she had seen Missy that evening. “I . . . I didn’t expect . . . I work with - “
“Scully, this is personal. I’m not sure staying here tonight is a good idea.”
“I’ve been staying over at Mom’s since . . . since I got back. This is my apartment, my home. I need to be able to live here. I need to be able to sleep again. I can’t . . . “
“Give yourself a break. You’ve never had to deal with anything like this. Go on, drink your wine.”
She settled in against his side, making herself comfortable. He glanced down at her and saw that her t-shirt had a v-neck and she wasn’t wearing . . . He forced himself to look away. He was here to support her, not as a pervert.
“How do you deal with it?” she asked into his chest.
“Sometimes you can’t. If the case is about kids, I have problems. But I try to distance myself. It’s like you doing an autopsy. You can’t let yourself get too close. It’s why you don’t work on family or friends.”
She nodded and took another sip. He took a drink as well. They sat in silence then. He could feel her relaxing; at least the tension in her shoulders was easing. He took the glass from her hand when it tipped. He smiled down at her as she cuddled in.
“Scully, Baby you should go to bed.”
“Right.” He grinned. He stood and slipped his arm under her knees and behind her back, then carried her into the bedroom. She hadn’t been sleeping, so the wine had hit her harder than he had expected.
He got her tucked in. She burrowed into her pillow, murmuring something about iced tea. He grinned, and slipped out of her room, leaving the door open.
He tidied up the wine and glasses. She seemed to be sleeping well now. Maybe he’d hang out for a little while, make sure she was out for the count. He returned to the living room and turned the TV on low. It wasn’t that late. He could stay here for an hour or so, then head home.
She had the Sci Fi channel so he tuned into some cheesy monster flick half way through and settled back. He jerked wide awake when he heard her scream and was at her door before he realized he had moved.
She was sitting up in bed, clutching the sheets with white knuckles. Tears streamed down her face.
“Scully, Scully it’s okay. It was just a dream. You’re safe.”
“She was, she was there on the floor. She wanted to know why I let her . . . She was bleeding and - “
“Don’t. It was a dream. Melissa wouldn’t blame you. You know that. She knew you loved her.”
She shook her head.
“It’s true. You were the one that kept in touch; that forced her to remember she had a family. She came to you - “
“And it got her killed.”
He hesitated at that. “But you didn’t kill her, Scully. And there was nothing you could have done differently.”
“I can see her, see the blood . . . “
He pulled her against him then. “I know. Does this happen every night?”
She started to pull away, but his arms tightened. “Please - “
“Yes, please. Please let me help you.” His fingers under her chin tipped her face toward him. She tried to evade him. “What?”
“I’m a damn pathologist. I can’t even . . . “
“Cut yourself some slack. This is not pathology; this is your life, your family. When’s the last time you slept through the night? Come on, Scully, talk to me.”
She slumped against him and murmured something he couldn’t understand.
“At your lake house.”
He blinked at that. “What, what was different there?”
“Nothing. Don’t - “
“Okay, this is gonna sound really arrogant but, was it me?”
“Mulder, you - “
“May I stay here tonight?” he interrupted her gently.
“I can’t ask . . . “
“Then just answer. May I stay here?”
She looked down at her hands, but gave the tiniest of nods.
“Thank you.” He tilted her head back up toward him again. “Thank you.” He settled her back in the bed. “I’ll be right back.” He kissed her forehead and headed to the bathroom. She watched him until he was out of sight, then she closed her eyes.
He returned shortly, wearing his t-shirt and boxers. “You’re on my side.” He grinned at her.
“This isn’t right. I shouldn’t use you like this.” She seemed to be studying the far corner of the room.
“It’s time for me to confess something, Scully. I haven’t slept through the night since then either.”
She looked up at him startled. He shrugged. “I . . . I have nightmares most nights. It’s why I understand what’s happening with you. When we were in Quonochontaug, you were there, in my arms.”
“You don’t have to - “
“Scully, it’s the truth.”
She finally met his eyes and believed him. She scooted over to make room and he joined her in the bed. “Turn over.”
She obeyed him, turning her back to him as he spooned around her. Between the wine and the comfort of his body, she fell asleep quickly.
It was surprisingly easy to get ready around each other the next morning. She made coffee while he showered and he cleaned up while she dressed. It was as though they had lived together for years.
He didn’t leave until she did, loading her roll-around into the trunk of her car. She carefully placed the urn holding Missy’s ashes on the floor of the front seat.
“Will you call me when you get there?” he asked softly. “I need to know you made it safely.”
She looked surprised, but pleased. “I will. And thank you for . . . “
“I needed a good night’s sleep too, Scully. Thank you.”
She nodded, her throat suddenly tight, and got in her car. He stood watching as she drove off.