It was a shock for him to see Dana on the other side of the door.
When Margaret called to invite him and his family for Thanksgiving dinner, he wasn’t expecting to find anyone else at the house other than Margaret and maybe one of her friends. He couldn’t remember the last time he had seen Charlie and, since she hadn’t showed up to any family gathering in the past few years, he figured Dana had followed the same path their younger brother had. It wasn’t a secret to anyone that estrangement seemed to run in the Scully family.
But Dana was there, with a warm (although awkward) smile on her face and inviting him in as if they had last spoken two days ago, not four years. They also hugged awkwardly, but they didn’t say anything else other than the usual small talk strangers would have while stuck in an elevator together.
Bill saw him as soon as he entered the living room, the person who was the very reason why his sister had been away from home for so long. Mulder was helping Maggie with bringing food to the table, smiling and making her laugh as she ordered him around. He couldn’t believe how lenient his mother was with him, even after all the mess he had made not only in Dana’s life, but also in the lives of everyone else she had relations with. Maggie had been the one to suffer the most when she realized her daughter had simply vanished, leaving only a note in her wake that said she would be fine and that no one should go looking for her. Even if she didn’t say it, they all knew it was because of Mulder, so it didn’t make any sense to Bill that Maggie didn’t seem to hold any grudges against her daughter’s partner. Maybe she knew details about their story that Bill didn’t because, ultimately, he didn’t know a lot. He didn’t know anything, actually, if he was being honest.
He didn’t know what it was about Mulder that made Dana follow him and keep following him until this very day and, he would guess, until her dying day. It had never been like this with any of the other men in her life, even when she seemed desperately in love with them, so there must be something special about this guy. But whatever this something was, it still eluded him.
For all he knew, all Mulder had ever brought into her life was pain. Even their child had been given away for some reason he still couldn’t understand, and not only because Dana refused to tell him the specifics, but because the very idea that your child might be better off with other parents was just unfathomable to him. How do you just give up your child like that? He couldn’t even have nightmares about one of his kids going missing that it would haunt him for days, so how could they both live with the fact that they had willingly sent their son away? No, not they, she. She had been the one left alone to make that decision all by herself because her precious other half was nowhere to be found and God only knew why. Dana had been very evasive about that topic too, and he hated that his once close sister had become someone he barely recognized.
Their first big fight had happened because of that. He had voiced all of his thoughts to her but using probably more harsh words than he should have. Her answer then had been an angry silence that lasted until she knocked on Maggie’s door two years later during Thanksgiving.
It was on that Thanksgiving that they had their second fight. She had only been in the house for about 15 minutes when she stood up and announced that she had to go. She tried to explain that she had come back to see them because she missed them like crazy, but that she couldn’t stay because it was too dangerous for her to be out for too long. She looked at him quickly and then at Maggie, probably hoping that he wouldn’t have understood that it wasn’t she who was in danger, but the person she had left wherever it was she had come from. He couldn’t remember now exactly what he had said to her then, but it was something so offensive that Dana slapped him on the face and then left, telling Maggie she would call when she could. He did hear about Dana from Maggie a few times, but he had never again heard her voice or seen her face until she was standing right on the other side of the front door tonight. He wouldn’t admit to himself that he had missed her, but he had.
They didn’t exchange many words the entire evening, but it seemed to him that she was okay with his presence, that she had left those troubled times between them in the past.
Not that he hadn’t tried to make conversation his own way, he had, but he had to stop after mentioning he didn’t agree with her living basically in the middle of nowhere with Mulder when she could be living closer to home. He had only stopped speaking because Tara had squeezed his thigh slightly, her unspoken way of telling him he had gone far enough. Out of respect for her and for Maggie, he had then decided to stay quiet for the rest of the evening, refraining from making any mean comments towards Mulder or about how poor he thought most of his sister’s life choices still were. He had settled for observing, then, trying to find out what had made Dana fall so irreversibly head over heels with a guy who seemed to have come out of a very bad science fiction movie.
He was barely listening to the conversation that was now going on in the Scully’s living room, but it was all so lively and the atmosphere so cozy that he could almost believe this was the most perfect family, that everyone here fit in just right. Even Mulder.
As an observer, he found himself impressed with the way Mulder and Dana interacted with one another, their never-ending back-and-forth banter, their needlessness for words most of the time, the way they seemed to know exactly what the other was thinking just by a slight brush of a pinky on the back of a hand. He wondered if they did that on a daily basis or if it was all just for show. How many couples had he seen throughout his life who said words of love in front of other people but that deep down couldn’t tolerate each other? He knew Dana was loyal and that, although she wasn’t one to show her feelings often, when she loved someone, she loved them with her whole heart. And she loved Mulder, that was very clear to him. It had been very clear to him even before it was clear to her, in fact. But he didn’t know Mulder, not really. All he knew about the guy was that Dana was always caught up in the aftermath of whatever it was that happened to him and far too often to Bill’s liking. But who was Mulder, really? Was the person Bill saw in front of him the same person he really was on the inside or was this funny, laid-back persona he presented to the world just a character? How did he act when no one was around? Did he even love Dana too or was he just used to having her following him around? Maybe he had her wrapped so tightly around his finger she couldn’t see the truth.
The Dana inside his head let out a mocking laugh, while the Dana that was sitting just across from him let out a hearty and genuine laugh, bringing him out of his own head and back to the Scully household. He had promised not to say anything, but he needed to at least try and pretend to be present. He felt Tara squeeze his hand slightly and he smiled at her, not really sure why she was looking at him as if she were holding back her own laugh.
“All I’m saying,” he heard Mulder say to his entire audience, his eyes jumping from one member to the other but making Bill feel like he was the real intended target of his sentence “is that you could call Father McCue or whoever you wanted to call right now, and I would happily seal the deal without even blinking.”
Bill watched as Mulder looked at Dana out of the corner of his eye and he caught her smirk as she looked back at him. For about five seconds, they had some sort of private conversation only with their eyes before Dana cracked up again and the whole family was sent once more into a giggle fit. Bill realized even his usually moody teenager was laughing along.
It took them all a while to recover, but then the conversation went into a different direction, picking up from a topic to which Bill had also not been paying attention, so he looked to his side and found his youngest boy cuddling up to him, rubbing his eyes as if he were trying hard to keep them open. He tugged the boy’s hand softly and decided it was time to put him to bed. No one seemed to be missing him in this conversation anyway.
It took him about twenty minutes to convince Scott he had to brush his teeth and then another ten minutes to tuck him into bed. He was getting too old to be a father, but he was glad God had surprised him and Tara with a child when they thought that all she was going through was just the beginning of menopause. He smiled as he watched Scott fall deep asleep and then tiptoed his way out of the room some ten minutes later. He heard Maggie’s voice downstairs as soon as he closed the door behind him.
“Are you sure you don’t want to stay the night? There is still a vacant room.”
“No, Mrs. Scully, we are not that far from here, despite what Bill thinks. I just have to find a way of waking sleeping beauty here. I shouldn’t have let her drink that much wine.”
Bill heard his mother chuckle and then the sound of her steps walking towards the kitchen. He decided to go help her, but when he reached the top of the stairs and then looked down, what he saw made him stop.
Mulder was trying to wake Dana, but in such a tender way that Bill’s heart softened a little, even without his permission.
He heard Mulder say, his voice just the perfect tone not to startle Dana, but loud enough that Bill could hear from where he was.
Mulder brushed a strand of Dana’s long hair away from her face and then tucked it behind her ear; he waited for a few seconds before calling again.
There was still no movement from her, and Bill saw Mulder’s mouth turn into a smile as he analyzed Dana’s face, his fingers stroking her jawline slowly, with so much care that suddenly all of Bill’s previous unspoken questions were answered by just that gesture.
Bill still heard Mulder’s voice, but it was lower this time. It was also the first time Bill had ever heard Mulder call his sister by her given name.
He understood the reason why he had called her that way when he saw Dana open her eyes slowly, as if she weren’t sure if she should be opening them but opening them anyway because it was Mulder calling. For most people, the use of a given name was just the regular protocol; for them, it meant intimacy, it was what called them back to reality. Their first names were more special to them than to the average person.
If anyone asked, he would deny it, but Bill smiled in spite of himself.
He couldn’t hear what they were saying now, but Dana gave Mulder a quick peck on the lips and then got up, tripping on her own feet and almost falling as she tried to walk in her still sleep-drunk state. But she didn’t fall because as soon as Mulder realized what was happening, his hand went straight to her side, supporting her so she could find her balance again. It was such a simple action, but it made something click inside Bill’s mind so that this much was suddenly clear to him: Dana had sacrificed a lot for Mulder, but the opposite was probably also true. No matter what happened, they always had each other to fall back on and to prevent the other from falling - the perfect support system composed of only two people. This was pure, mutual love at its finest, there was no denying it. He knew it because, in that sense, he and Tara were just the same.
Bill watched as Dana started walking towards the kitchen, probably going after Maggie to say goodbye. He decided to go after her before she could leave. He owed her at least an apology.
Mulder looked up as he heard the creaking of the stairs, just now realizing he had company. He nodded slightly and uncomfortably, and Bill really couldn’t blame him. Mulder was probably expecting one of Bill’s petty tantrums or a long speech about how he had ruined his sister’s life – in short, Bill’s usual way of dealing with him. But, this time, there would be none of that talk.
He nodded as he passed, even risking a smile that didn’t get too wide for his lips weren’t used to doing that around him. His intention was really to go find Dana before she left and then help Maggie out if she hadn’t finished it all by herself by now, but as he took a few steps towards the kitchen, he realized his sister wasn’t the only one who deserved an apology. He made his decision as he stopped and turned back, and he could swear he could almost see Mulder rolling his eyes internally. Bill knew that he was thinking he was about to hear the same old speech again.
“I never understood why she did all she did for you,” Bill said, knowing immediately he had started out the same way he always did, “But I’ve been watching you all night,” he continued, “and the way you look at her…” he paused a little, searching for the right words, “It is as if she were your own heart on the outside of your chest.”
Mulder opened his mouth to say something, but the voice he really heard was Dana’s.
“He does look at me that way, doesn’t he?”
She nudged Mulder’s shoulder with her own as she joined them. He hadn’t even heard her come back in.
Mulder looked at her then, a soft smile on his lips as he spoke and, although his answer was apparently to Bill, his eyes were completely focused on Dana.
“Well, that’s because she IS my own heart on the outside of my chest.”
Bill wanted to slap himself on the face as the word ‘adorable’ came up in his brain uninvited. He almost chuckled at his own thoughts, but he still had more to say. He cleared his throat and they both looked at him again.
“I never understood, but I think I do now.” Bill looked at Dana before continuing, “It still doesn’t mean I agree with all your life choices, but I also recognize I don’t know your story and I don’t know if I wouldn’t have done the same if I were in your shoes. I’m glad you showed up today and I’m sorry for all the times I hurt you with my words.”
He saw Dana’s eyes water and he had to look at his feet because he felt his own eyes watering too. He only looked up again when Dana touched his face and then wrapped him in a hug so tight it reminded him of when they were kids and life was less complicated, back when neither of them had let the world corrupt them.
“I always knew you would come around one day, even if it took forever.” She chuckled and he couldn’t help laughing along. “I love you, big brother, even when you’re being a pain in the ass.”
“I love you, too, little sister, even when you’re trying your hardest to drive me crazy.”
He pressed his lips to her cheek and then let her go, watching as a smile took over her face. A smile of relief, he recognized.
Bill looked at Mulder then and was surprised to find him smiling along. Maybe he wasn’t such a bad guy, after all. Maybe all Bill held all this time were pointless childish grudges that didn’t belong in his life anymore.
Bill extended his hand to shake Mulder’s, realizing it was the first time he did it willingly.
“Too soon for a hug?” Mulder said as he shook his hand.
Bill couldn’t help chuckling. The guy was really growing on him, he had to admit. Maybe one day he would even come to like him. They didn’t hug, though. It was indeed too soon.
“Does that mean we have your blessing?” Dana asked, just a little after she saw that both Bill’s and Mulder’s hands were back at their sides.
Bill was confused.
“Blessing for what, exactly?”
Dana tried not to show, but she was holding back a laugh, he was certain of it.
“You really weren’t listening, were you?” She continued.
He shrugged, realizing just now that he had probably been the reason behind the laughter that had ensued previously at the table.
“Scully, I think we should go. Aren’t you just dying to get some sleep?”
Mulder’s question was sudden, and Bill noticed he had gone a brighter shade of red. Dana raised an eyebrow as she looked at him, amused. Now Bill was curious.
“Sleep can wait,” she said, a smirk playing on her lips, “I think you should tell him.”
Bill would feel sorry for the guy if this whole situation weren’t too suspicious.
“I… uh…” Mulder looked at his feet before he continued “Tara asked why Scully, I mean, Dana and I have never gotten officially married, and I said that it was because we never got your blessing, that we couldn’t just get married without asking you if you agreed.” He looked up at Bill again, one of his eyes almost closed, as if he were afraid of being beaten up right there. It reminded Bill of his other son, Matthew, when he did something he wasn’t supposed to do and was expecting some kind of punishment. “It sounded better in my head and it seemed really funny when I said it. It doesn’t sound so funny now,” Mulder finally finished.
Bill wanted to laugh, but he was too used to annoying Mulder to let it go now.
“Word to the wise, Mr. Mulder, you don’t have to tell me everything like you’re confessing to your priest just because we’re trying to be friendly. You could have stopped at ‘blessing’ and it would have been better.”
Mulder just nodded, as if he were truly embarrassed, but that didn’t stop him from replying.
“If you think your sister would have let me get away with not telling you everything, then you two should talk more often.”
Bill nodded and chuckled because he knew Mulder was right. Dana could really be a brat when she wanted to. God knows how many times she had made him confess things he really shouldn’t be confessing in his adolescence.
He realized now he had gotten things all wrong from the start. Dana was the one who had Mulder wrapped around her finger, not the other way around.
He patted Mulder’s shoulder, much to the other man’s surprise.
“I know it was only a joke, but if you do decide to get married eventually, you have my blessing.”
Dana had a different look on her face now and he realized he had surprised even her.
“Thank you,” she mouthed, and he wasn’t sure if she was thanking him for the blessing or for trying to make friends with Mulder.
Bill just nodded.
“Now you drive safe, okay?”
Both Mulder and Dana nodded and Bill decided it was time to finally do what he had intended to do when he left Scott in his room a lifetime ago, but when he turned towards the kitchen, Maggie was at the door, the lights behind her turned off, and the smile she had on her face told him she had been listening for a while. He recognized her approval all over her face.
He smiled back at her and then turned towards the stairs again, finding Tara looking down at him also with a smile on her face. Had everyone been listening to everything? If he had known, he might have called the neighbors to join in. In other occasions, he would have felt really annoyed, but this time he was only glad he had made everyone happy for once.
When he joined Tara and then looked back down, Dana and Mulder were at the door, saying their goodbyes to Maggie.
“Dana!” He called.
She looked up at him.
“Don’t be a stranger, okay?”
She smiled and then nodded.
“You too, Mr. Mulder.”
He saw Mulder nod with a suspicious smile. He knew it would take some time for both of them to get used to this new friendly relationship, but he hoped one day it wouldn’t be this awkward. Maybe he should start by calling him ‘Mulder’ instead of “Mr. Mulder” all the time.
He watched them both go and then followed Tara into their assigned bedroom. Maybe he desperately needed some sleep and was delirious for acting like he did tonight, but delirious or not, he felt at peace like he hadn’t felt in years.
Just like Dana, he had finally put the past where it belonged.