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Thankful

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Maggie greets them at the door, apron-clad, the smell of pumpkin pie and the sound of the first football game wafting out onto the porch.  “Hello, dear,” she says, kissing Scully on the cheek. “Fox,” she adds, with a nod in his direction. Normally Mulder would warrant a hug - at least, he thinks so, based on previous encounters with Scully’s mom - but he’s carrying a container of brussels sprouts with a pie stacked on top, so he is not particularly huggable.

“Happy Thanksgiving,” Scully says brightly, and Maggie beams at her before turning back toward the kitchen.

A half-second later, a very small child comes barreling toward them, crashing into Scully’s legs and wrapping his arms around her ankles with a screech that sounds vaguely like “Aunt Dana!”

She crouches down to his level and pulls him into a hug. “Hi, Matty. You’re so big!”

Tara follows her son onto the porch. She’s pregnant again, and he sees the way Scully’s gaze drops to her belly for just a second, sees how her bright-eyed expression briefly falters. It tears at him, but there’s nothing he can do.

“Big and energetic,” Tara says, giving Scully a quick hug and taking the food out of Mulder’s hands. She rests a hand on her belly. “I can hardly keep up with him these days.”

Scully’s smile looks more like a grimace.

“Let’s go see if your mom needs help in the kitchen,” Mulder says, guiding Scully inside with his hand at the small of her back. It’s something he’s done unconsciously since the beginning - that’s how he thinks of it, since the beginning, like it’s something grand, even biblical - but lately he’s become aware of how possessive it looks.

He’s also become aware that he is totally comfortable with that. Not that he’s delusional enough to think that Scully belongs to him - but if other people get that impression, well, that’s not a tragedy.

Maggie immediately shoos them back out of the kitchen, insisting that everything is under control. Tara says, “I think Bill is watching football, Fox, if you want to join him,” to which Mulder gives a noncommittal grunt.

“Why don’t you go put your things upstairs?” Maggie calls from the kitchen. “Dana, I put the air mattress up in your room for Fox. I’m sorry about the cramped quarters, but with everyone here…”

“It’s fine, Mom,” Scully says. “We’re only an hour from the District anyway, Mulder can always go home if he doesn’t want to sleep on the air mattress—“

“Not if he’s been drinking,” Maggie says sharply.

Scully shrugs at Mulder. “Bill’s here, so I’m drinking,” he says low, and Scully elbows him but doesn’t argue.

They both pick up their duffel bags and he follows her up the stairs. “It’s really a guest bedroom,” Scully says, but Mulder disagrees. There is so much of her in this room.

The furniture looks a lot like what she has in D.C., all wood and warmth. On the dresser there are pictures of all the Scullys in various combinations: Scully and her dad in dress clothes, Scully and her brothers in matching and obviously homemade pumpkin costumes, a teenaged Scully with Melissa and her mom in pajamas on Christmas morning. It even smells like her: whatever perfume she wears, the same laundry detergent.

All he says is, “It’s nice.” Scully drops her bag on the bed and he adds, “Are you sure it’s okay if I stay here?”

“What do you mean?” She’s digging through her bag looking for something, not really looking at him.

“I don’t want to give your mom the wrong idea,” he says.

When she turns around she has a photo album in her hand. She raises her eyebrows at him. “The wrong idea?”

That catches him off guard. “Uh. Just that - we - uh.”

She looks at him expectantly. You’d think she’d cut him some slack - it’s a holiday, for fuck’s sake - but no such luck.

“Sharing a room,” he says, like that clarifies anything.

“Mulder, we’ve shared a room before,” she points out. “Plenty of times.”

This is true, of course. Intentionally or not, they’ve spent the night in the same room eleven times (not that he’s keeping count), usually because one of them has fallen asleep in a pile of paperwork in some podunk motel, sometimes because one of them is hospitalized and the other can’t work up the strength to go home. (Once, notably, because of a cow. This is Mulder’s favorite, because it’s the only time they spent the night in the same bed.)

“I don’t think my mom has the wrong impression about anything,” Scully says slowly, and he has absolutely no idea how he’s supposed to interpret that, no sir, and then she continues, “She set up the air mattress for you.”

“Right,” he says, and finally puts his bag down. “Thanks for letting me…”

Her eyes are almost soft. “Of course.”


The Scullys gather around the table, and Mulder wonders if Maggie said something to Bill, because he’s uncharacteristically civil throughout the meal. Sure, he flinches whenever Mulder says Scully, and he makes one under-the-breath remark about how strange it is to invite one’s co-workers to Thanksgiving, but he doesn’t say anything overtly hostile.

“Pass the butter,” Bill says to Mulder - no eye contact - and it almost sounds like a request rather than a command. Almost.

Mulder downs a few glasses of wine to ensure that he’s too drunk to drive home; Scully follows suit. Tara conspicuously drinks only water, and every time the bottle goes around she comments on it: “Oh, I wish I could, but this little guy…” And then Bill pats her belly and chuckles, and then Scully takes another drink.

Mulder has spent a lot of years envying Scully’s family, but it occurs to him that they, too, are awful in their own way. Every unhappy family, he thinks grimly.

But it’s not the worst way to spend an evening, not with Scully next to him, occasionally touching her foot to his under the table. He can’t bring himself to believe that she’s playing footsie with him - it’s probably accidental, even if it’s happened about a dozen times - but a man can dream.

After pie they retreat to the living room for coffee - “I’ll pass,” says Tara, sweetly - and the end of a football game that Mulder emphatically does not care about. But he gets to sit next to Scully on the couch, and he gets to feel like a normal person for half an hour, and that’s worth a lot of awkward dinners with Bill Scully.

When everyone else goes to bed Scully clinks her mostly empty wine glass against his. “Happy Thanksgiving,” she says, and finishes the rest in one long swallow. He watches her throat work.

He thinks about kissing her, here on the couch in her mother’s dimly lit living room.

“Happy Thanksgiving, Scully,” he says instead.

Finally they, too, retreat to their beds. Scully gets ready in the bathroom then comes to bed in her usual pajama uniform - a matched set with a button-up shirt, hardly less formal than what she wears to work - with her hair pulled back, face scrubbed clean. He’s already tucked in on the air mattress and he watches her pull the covers up to her chin and snuggle into the pillows.

“Night,” she yawns.

The bedroom isn’t all that big, so their beds are just a foot apart. “Feels like a sleepover,” he muses. He’d be thrilled to stay up all night braiding her hair. That’s what girls do at sleepovers, right?

“Did you go to a lot of those, Mulder?” He can’t see her face, but from the amusement in her voice, he knows exactly what it looks like.

“Truth or dare, Scully,” he says, not expecting a response.

There’s a long pause.

“Truth,” she says, finally.

Yeah, he hadn’t planned for this. Something innocent, he thinks. It’s too late for dark confessions. He takes a seasonal approach. “What are you thankful for?” Mulder says, injecting just enough cynicism to keep up appearances.

She doesn’t sink to it. Instead she’s quiet again for a minute, and now he really doesn’t know what her face looks like, and he wishes he did.

“I’m thankful you came,” she says, so quiet he can barely hear it.

Across the space between their beds, Scully reaches out her hand. He takes it and holds it, and this is what he’s thankful for: her small hands, the world.