For one, it’s the first Thanksgiving without her father, which was bound to be strange. They’ve usually had mismatched Thanksgivings anyway, with Melissa almost consistently on the move and Charlie’s estrangement, but she and Bill were usually regular occurrences. This year, the number stays balanced with Melissa making an appearance instead of Captain Scully. Bill had planned to spend Thanksgiving with his girlfriend’s family - he’s told them of his plans to propose to her soon - but ended up flying in when he got the news of her return.
Which is another thing that makes this awkward. It’s the first holiday since her abduction.
Scully has consistently felt a little awkward since she’s woken up. Everyone has been treating her like she might break. Her mother, who had never been one to coddle when they were kids, has been reacting much in the same way she did when Charlie was recovering from his hospital stay from pneumonia when he was seven - hovering and piling on blankets. Bill, always a gentle teaser, has been unusually nice to her. Melissa’s the only one who’s vaguely normal - but then again, Melissa has always had a laid-back way about her. (Your partner’s crazy, she’d thrown out one day on the couch. I think he likes you. Scully had rolled her eyes. Mulder? Missy had grinned. I’m serious, she’d insisted. You should’ve seen him when you were under - he was such a mess. She hadn’t believed it until she’d read the report.)
By desert, she is feeling on-edge and like she wants to punch someone - which wasn’t an altogether unusual occurrence at holidays when they were kids. Her mother asks Bill to drop her off - she doesn’t want Scully driving and had sent Bill to pick her up. “I can call a cab,” Scully says firmly. She can’t stand much more of this hovering.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Dana, that’s too much money,” her mother says firmly.
“I’ll call Mulder, then.” She has no idea where that sentiment came from, but she thinks she likes the idea. They’ve barely talked since she came back.
“Fox?” Maggie is trying to hide her enthusiasm poorly. She likes her partner, that much is clear. “You don’t think it’ll be out of his way?”
“He won’t have plans,” she says, remembering the way he’d flinched when she’d asked him about the holiday last year. His sister was taken only a few days after Thanksgiving.
Bill is scowling. “Your partner at the FBI?”
“Yes,” Scully says, feeling like a specimen under a microscope.
“Isn’t he the one who got you taken in the first place?”
“No,” she snaps, pushing past her older brother to the landline in the hall. She doesn’t blame Mulder, has told him so a couple times, in fact, over the phone in the middle of the night when she couldn’t sleep. Our sleeping schedules are finally aligned, she’d said into the speaker one night, and he’d laughed quietly.
“Fox was a great help while Dana was missing,” she hears her mother explaining.
“He’s a little out there, but he’s a good guy,” Melissa adds. A good description of Mulder for someone who doesn’t really know him.
Mulder has no problem with driving out to Baltimore to get her. She endures another hour of her family’s hovering and meets him out at the curb, not wanting to complicate things by introducing him to Bill.
“Hi, Scully,” he says when she climbs in the car. “Have a good holiday?”
“Remind me to never get taken again,” she jokes, and immediately regrets it when she sees him wince. She rushes to explain. “What I mean is my family’s been hovering. It’s been driving me crazy.”
“I’m not going to let you get taken again,” he says softly.
She twists the hem of her sweater in her hands. She wants it all to go away, this cloud hanging over them all. She wants things to go back to normal. She wants her family to be her family and Mulder to be her dorky, bossy, eccentric partner. She doesn’t remember anything from those two months, is left with jumpiness and overwhelming fatigue at times, but not much past that. It was a lot worse after the Jack and Barnett incidents right on top of each other - she’d had nightmares that she’d successfully hid from Mulder for months. This is a completely different feeling, this hollowness inside her.
She changes the subject. “Overall, it was okay. It was strange not to have my father there.”
He doesn’t say anything, but she senses he understands what she means on a personal scale. She flips on the radio and they drive with classic rock filling the car for almost half an hour before she sees a sign for Waffle House. “Have you eaten dinner, Mulder?”
He’s surprised by the question. “A sandwich,” he says. “Why?”
She points, fingers smudging the glass. “Waffle House.”
Mulder raises an eyebrow as he takes the exit. “I thought you didn’t appreciate greasy stuff, Scully.”
“I like waffles,” she says, shrugging, in an attempt to make him laugh. Mostly, she just wants to eat with him, even if it’s in a grease-soaked chain diner. She’s missed the meals they used to share before the X-Files were closed.
She orders a plain waffle and coffee. He orders three pecan waffles that he perpetually drowns in syrup, making the table sticky to the touch. They talk about an X-File he’s been reviewing while she’s been recovering, something about a series of “serial hauntings” (as he calls them), arguing for the better part of 45 minutes. When Scully’s in the middle of insisting that even if spirits could linger on the earth after death, that there’s no clear proof that their hauntings would be so mechanized and consistent, he suddenly says, “I missed you,” and immediately looks away, like he regrets saying it out loud.
I missed you, too, she would say, if she thought it would go over without being awkward. She smooths the wrinkled plastic of the menu with her palm, fingers getting stuck to the table.
“I’m sorry, Scully. I didn’t meant to make you uncomfortable.”
She clears her throat. “You didn’t.” Her coffee cup has grown chilled in her hands. She yawns before she can help it.
Mulder looks down at his watch. “It’s late,” he says in a rush. “I should get you home, you must be exhausted.”
“You don’t have to…” she tries. “I’m fine.”
“You need rest,” he says stubbornly, scooping up the check and heading to the counter.
They drive home in silence. Scully stares at the headlights, determined not to fall asleep.
He grimaces a little as they turn onto her street, and she realizes all at once. “Mulder, you haven’t been back here… since, have you?” she asks quietly. She suddenly realizes that Mulder must’ve gotten her message, screams recorded on his answering machine forever.
He parks in front of her apartment complex, Barry’s window gaping at them like a monster. “No,” he says hoarsely.
Her mother had cleaned the apartment, pulled the yellow Crime Scene tape away from her door. She can’t imagine what that must’ve been like, shards of her former life. Mulder had walked through the glass and blood like he was parting the ocean. He’d come, but he’d come too late.
“Was it…” she starts, a sentence she won’t finish. She wants to know what it was like, she doesn’t want to know anything.
“Bad,” he says. “I thought you were going to die, Scully.”
She remembers that heart-stopping moment when he was shot, blood smeared on the cross and on her hands and her jacket. She’d thought it was all useless if she couldn’t save just one person. She’d wanted to handcuff herself to Mulder after he was shot, thought if I’d been a better partner… If he is anything like her, if his feelings go as deep as hers do, it must’ve been hell for him. Melissa says they’d found him asleep in the chair by her bed, fingers curled around her stiff hand. Maggie had sent him home, and three hours later, she’d woken up.
“Melissa said you were a mess,” she says instead.
“I was ready to give it all up,” he says. “I didn’t think you were coming back.”
She looks at him until he finally looks back at her. She grabs a handful of his shirt, leans over the console and kisses him. It’s fitting that it starts in this car. Could be love, he’d said. I should’ve brought him iced tea, she thinks.
“I’m alive,” she says against his mouth.
“I know,” he whispers back. “I know.”