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Such devoted sisters

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Bill says it to his sister over the Thanksgiving table while Sam is helping Mrs. Scully clear away the dishes.

"You know, Dana, that partner of yours--I think she's sort of bent."

"Bent?" A furrow appears in the middle of Dana's forehead as she leans forward over her cup of coffee. "You think that Sam is corrupt, Sam Mulder? Why?"

"Well, no. I--" Bill splutters slightly, and as he chooses his next words he turns ever so slightly pink. The Scully complexion betrays you every time. Leaning forward, he lowers his voice, something that Bill doesn't do very often. "I mean, I think she's sort of-- She's a lesbian, Dana, all right?"

"Sam??"

Dana's exclamation of disbelief is loud enough to prompt a muffled reply from behind the kitchen door. "What is it, Dana?"

"Nothing..."

"Yeah," says Bill uncomfortably. "Sam."

"Bill, that's absolutely ridiculous! She--she had boyfriends at Oxford, she talks about them. She goes on dates, she's been on dates. And--"

"And what's she doing spending Thanksgiving with her female partner? Tell me that."

"Where else would she be?"

"Exactly." Bill leans back in his chair and folds his arms across his chest.

Just then Sam comes through the door, apron on and dishtowel over her arm. She makes a grab for Dana's coffee cup before she realizes that it's still half full. "Dana, you done or are you still working on that?"

"No," says Dana, looking into the murky lukewarm depths of the cup. "No, you can take it."

Sam looks between Dana and her brother, reading the strained expressions on their faces. "You sure?"

"Yeah, it's fine."

Silence. Sam gathers up the empty plates of pumpkin pie, piling them into a wobbly stack, and hooks her fingers around the handle of the coffee cup. Then she calls back to the kitchen: "I've got a few more things for the dishwasher, Mrs Scully. I'll be right there."

It's only a few more moments before she follows her own announcement in, impatient as always, and leaves Bill and Dana alone again. Dana raises her gaze to him cautiously, deprived of the prop of the cup and unsure how the intervention will have affected his mood. He says nothing, but there's that hard glint in his eye that comes from sadistic enjoyment, baiting his little sister for the thousandth time since her childhood.

"Just drop it," says Dana wearily.

He holds up his big hands, implicitly disclaiming all responsibility. "I'm just saying, that's all."

"Yes, Bill, I heard you the first time. Let's make an effort to get along this weekend, for mom if for no one else, all right?"

With a hurt look he subsides into his chair, like it was her fault in the first place. Dana sighs and goes to join her mother and Sam in the kitchen.

***

Later that night, Dana is trying to get ready for sleep while Sam sits on the edge of the high four-poster bed, observing her keenly. As a child Dana got used to chasing her siblings out of the room that she and Melissa shared when she wanted some privacy, but she hasn't yet been able to train Sam--who grew up as an only child--out of wandering into her room whenever she wants to talk.

"Dana, what happened after dinner?"

Fresh-faced, Dana turns to her partner, her makeup removed and hair pulled back. "What do you mean, what happened? You were there."

"You know what I mean," says Sam with exaggerated patience. "You and Bill. You were out there talking when I was helping with the dishes."

"Sam, I..."

"I love the fact that you still think I don't notice these things."

Dana has her hand poised over her tub of face cream, but she's not going to be able to put it on until Sam is done. "I don't see any point to involving you in my family issues," she says defensively. "It wouldn't be productive, and it wouldn't solve anything."

And it's none of your business, she nearly adds, but bites her tongue.

"Dana..."

"Sam," she echoes, cutting off the chiding reply. Sam has gotten to her feet, arms folded, once again unfairly using her 5'9" height against her partner. Giving up the fight, Dana takes a seat on the bed, pulling at her foot and coaxing herself cross-legged. "It's Bill," she says. "You know how he is. It's just one of those things."

"He must have had a reason," persists Sam, ever the psychologist.

"He doesn't need a reason, Sam. He's my big brother, OK? That's what they're like."

"Yeah." She pauses. "I guess they are."

Damn. Sam has that look in her eyes again, that fractured, thousand-miles-away look that says she's back in 1973 in a living room in Chilmark, remembering a game of Stratego and Watergate on the TV, and a big brother who wouldn't get another chance to torment his little sister. Damn it.

"Sam," says Dana, too late. "I'm sorry..."

"You still haven't told me what you were talking about," Sam replies after a moment's pause. She is expert at deflecting the occasional probe that Dana tentatively extends into her own psyche.

"And I'm not going to."

Sam's shrug is eloquent, a work of art in itself. "OK. You win. I guess it's bedtime, then. You Scullys sure do get up early."

As she slopes out of the room, it's obvious that this is a ploy. Even the curve of her long, pajama-clad back says that she's just waiting for Dana to relent, to call her back and explain everything. But Dana, Dana knows what's good for her, and she's not budging.