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He’s staring out the window into the grungy hotel courtyard when he hears the knock at the door. Mulder frowns and, against all recommendation, tucks his gun into the waistband of his boxers. He approaches the door as though it may be on fire. “Hello?” he calls.
“Mulder, it’s me.”

He puts his gun on top of the microwave, unfastens the three locks to admit Scully. “What’s up, buttercup?”

She’s snapping a pink card against her palm, scowling as she passes beneath his arm. “Brunch,” she says.

Mulder shuts the door before following her to the bed. She’s hunched there like a tiny storm cell, glowering, gathering steam. He decides against a romantic overture, though it’s been a week since she last spent the night and he wants to...to lick her.

“Brunch?” he repeats.

She holds the card out. “Sergeant Duthie has accepted an invitation on our behalf.”

Mulder, baffled, takes it from her. The card is flamingo pink, ornamented with two palm trees and two gold-rimmed champagne glasses. In careful gold calligraphy, it invites them to join Steve and Edy for BRUNCH AND BUBBLY! at 10:30.

His jaw drops. “You cannot possibly be serious.”

She snatches it back from him. “Serious as hantavirus. I hope you brought something in a nice madras.”

He sits next to her on the bed, stunned. “Why has Sergeant Duthie done this to us? We were helpful, Scully. You rendered medical aid. You did a late night autopsy out of the goodness of your heart.”

Scully, prim, tucks the card into her jacket pocket. “I did a late night autopsy because you’re bossy and demanding, but that isn’t the point.”

“Do we have to go?” he asks, like she’s his mother.

Scully glares at him. “’Do we have to go?’” she mimics in a falsetto. “Of course we have to go, we’ll look awful if we don’t. The tabloid headlines will practically write themselves. FBI SNUBS LOCAL NEIGHBORHOOD COUPLE. You wanted to go charging around on camera talking about fear monsters for the noble cause of cryptozoology and look where it got us.”

He sighs. “Well, of everyone we encountered on that little goose chase, they’re not awful. I wouldn’t want to have brunch at the crack house.”

She chews the inside of her cheek, stewing. “I can’t believe this.”

Mulder thumps her back in a comradely manner. “The food will probably be decent, right? Probably good coffee, too. Not to mention the bubbly!”

Scully scrunches her nose, pressing her hand to her eyes. “Mulder, I swear to God…”

The event begins to take shape in his mind, Steve and Edy’s tidy home with little morsels on trays. He tries to remember the campy snacks his mother ordered for her bridge club. Lots of puff pastry and ornamental parsley.

Scully gets to her feet. “Well, shower and iron your seersucker suit,” she says gloomily. “I’ll call a cab.”

“It’ll be fun,” he says, excited as always by any novel experience. He considers too that Scully needs to be socialized more often, and it’s not like he takes her on real dates. This will be good for her. He will make her enjoy herself, he decides.

“Oh, I can’t wait for you to get halfway through your third mimosa and start dispensing relationship advice,” Scully says. “Between Edy and Hollman, maybe you should quit the FBI and start a romance column.”

“I get no kick from champaaaaaagne,” he croons.

“Mulder.”

“Mere alcohol doesn't thrill me at all…”

“MULDER.”

“So tell me why should it be true, that I get a kick out of you?”

His gun falls off the microwave when she slams the door.

***

The driver takes them to a decrepit looking stucco building to procure a hostess gift from what he assures them is the best bakery within 20 miles. Dubious, Mulder and Scully follow him inside. Behind the ancient formica counter, a withered old woman brandishing an immense wooden spoon speaks loudly with the cabbie for several moments in an unknown tongue. He points at his fares, gesturing broadly.

Mulder tries to look respectable, the kind of person who deserves only the finest. He nudges Scully, who offers a vague wave at the proprietress.

The old woman considers them for a moment, then chooses several items from her display case. She secures them in a tidy parcel, which she passes to Scully, who accepts it like an IED.

The woman beckons Mulder down to her and when he obliges, bent nearly double, she pinches his cheek and whacks his arm in a loving manner with the spoon.

Scully, delighted, pays and tips her generously before they get back on their way.

***

The cab stops in front of Steve and Edy’s house. Mulder, who feels this is all becoming a splendid adventure, praises the cabbie for his excellent service. He leaves an extra five on the front seat before they get out.

Scully holds the bakery box with a mournful air. “Well,” she says. “Here we are.”

Mulder opens the gate in the chain link fence, striding along the walkway to the house. He is already on the porch, examining the empty birdcage, when she trudges up.

He chucks her under the chin. “Smile pretty.”

Her nostrils flare, but there is no other response.

Mulder knocks at the door, and is greeted almost immediately by Edy. She is wearing tropical print harem pants, a purple tunic, and a white turban ornamented with a tremendous topaz brooch and a single peacock feather. She squeals delightedly and flings her arms around him.

“AY-gent Mulder,” Edy gushes. “Well don’t you look mighty handsome. And Agent Scully, child, you did NOT have to bring a GIFT.”

Mulder extricates himself from Edy’s grasp. “Thanks, uh, for having us. It wasn’t necessary.”

“No,” Scully pipes up. “It really wasn’t.”

Edy waves her elegant hand. “It is absolutely our pleasure. Now come on in.” She swans into the kitchen, leaving them stranded in the living room. The house smells gloriously of food.

Scully shuts the door with her hip. “Um,” she says.

Mulder directs his attention to a collection of ceramic animals on a shelf. A little seal balances a ball on its snout, so shiny it looks like hard candy.

Steve emerges from the hallway, dapper in a crisp button down. “I heard her fussing from the bathroom,” he says. “She changed her outfit five times.”

“Well, it’s certainly nice to feel wanted,” Mulder observes. He looks at the vase of flowers on the table, the bright cloth beneath it. The sweet domesticity tugs at him.

“We brought this,” Scully says, nearly shoving the box into Steve’s hands.

Steve takes it, smiling. “Well, isn’t that mighty nice of you? You went to Sofia, that place is real good. Bulgarian.” He places the box on the table. “Go on and take a seat, just going to help out in the kitchen.”

They sit across from one another at the table after he disappears from view. Mulder rubs his arm. “I think the bakery lady left a mark.”

“You’re probably betrothed now.” Scully toys with a crystal salt shaker. “Some old Bulgarian custom.”

“Jealous?”

She offers a moue of disdain.

Edy emerges from the kitchen with a bar cart. As predicted, there are flutes of mimosas on the top of it, and a whole pitcher besides. The rest is loaded with food. “TaDAAAAA!” Edy sings, with a grand flourish.

“Edy, this is too much,” Mulder says, rubbing his hands together. Even Scully looks impressed.

“She’s been busy all morning,” Steve says proudly, hands on her shoulders.

Edy beams, hands them each a plate of Eggs Benedict. “I make that Hollandaise myself,” she says, taking her seat as the peacock feather sways. “Grow the lemons out back, too. All this out back.” She surveys her table, a presiding empress.

Steve unloads the rest of the cart, plates of fruit and tiny tomato sandwiches and cheese straws. A mound of home fries glossy with butter and fragrant with browned onions.

“Don’t forget the bubbly,” Edy says, scandalized. “We need a toast.”

Steve dutifully passes them each a mimosa before sitting down.

Edy lifts her glass. “Well, I will just say thank you to our new friends from the FBI who are doing their best to keep us safe even with a bunch of skanky-ass crackheads running around, may they rest in peace. Amen.”

Scully is staring at the table, chewing hard on her bottom lip to keep from laughing.

Mulder doesn’t dare try to catch her eye. “Uh, amen,” he says, and takes a sip of his drink. He blinks; Edy has a heavy pour.

“I squeezed that juice myself too,” Edy says.

Steve rolls his eyes. “You sound like the Little Red Hen, you gonna let us eat or what?”

“I told you he disrespects me,” she mutters into her glass.

Scully has recovered herself and is cutting into her egg, which spills golden yolk onto her plate. She removes a wedge of the sandwich with surgical precision and puts it into her mouth, wary. Her face brightens as she chews. “Edy, this is delicious.”

Mulder is proud of Edy.

“My Granny Minerva taught me to cook,” she says. “I grew up with her mostly, in the Lowcountry.”

Mulder perks up. “Oh, did you? My grandparents had a place in Hilton Head.”

Edy snorts. “Mmmhmmm, I bet they did. I bet you’re a trust fund baby to the cradle, you have pretty hands.”

Scully laughs around a chunk of watermelon, sputters and coughs. She presses a cloth napkin to her mouth, blushing pink as the fruit.

“You okay?” Steve asks, his brow furrowed. “You need a drink?”

Scully, still magenta, shakes her head and gulps half of her mimosa. “I’m fine,” she manages. Mouths “pretty hands” to Mulder.

Mulder scowls at her.

“ANNNyway,” Edy continues. “I lived with Granny and I learned all her secrets.” She gestures at the tomato sandwich on Mulder’s plate. “The trick is you pat the tomatoes dry first, did you know that, Hilton Head?”

Steve refills his glass. “She lived with Granny Minerva because her mama was a runaround.”

Edy whips her head around. “I have TOLD you not to disrespect my mama.”

Steve purses his lips but says no more.

Mulder applies himself to his Eggs Benedict, which is rich and delicious and speaks highly of Granny Minerva. Scully is nibbling a cheese straw with interest.

Edy props her chin in her palm, tapping her cheek with her fingers. “The FBI, now what is that like to do? It seems real scary to me.” She looks at Mulder through her extravagant lashes.”Real daaaangerous,” she purrs.

Scully’s lower lip is back between her teeth.

Mulder chases a potato around his plate with his fork. “Well, uh, it depends, I guess. I mean sometimes, sure, it’s pretty dangerous I guess, depending, but we have a lot of training and all and there’s paperwork mostly too, which is only dangerous if you get the math wrong and there’s an audit, haha, so…” he trails off.

“Agent Mulder just doesn’t want you to feel concerned,” Scully interjects smoothly. “Situations like the one you experienced are exactly what we’ve been trained to do, so there’s no need to be worried. We go through a pretty extensive program in the Academy.” She spears a slice of kiwi and pops it into her mouth.

Mulder could kiss her, right in front of Steve and Edy and God and everybody. Haul the camera crew back for all he cares. But he knows better. She’ll get there on her own.

Edy fans herself. “I just can’t imagine. We are too glad you were here.”

“Baby, they brought dessert from Sofia,” Steve says. “Wasn’t that nice?”

She claps her hands happily. “Ooohhh, that little old Bulgarian lady runs that place.”

“She hit me with a spoon,” Mulder says, pointing at his arm. “About took my cheek off too.”

“That means she likes you,” Steve tells him.

“Giiirrrl, you better watch out,” Edy warns Scully, with a knowing expression. “She’ll snap him right up.”

Scully looks alarmed. “Pardon?”

Edy smirks. “You may have trained at the A-cad-emy, but I studied theater and I can read all kinds of things in people.”

Scully’s face has gone from alarm to panic, and Mulder knows she is trying to recall every word, every movement the cameramen may have captured.

“Theater?” he asks, to divert her. “You’re an actress, Edy?”

Steve puts his head in his hands. “Lord help us.”

She gets to her feet, arms held out like a goddess on a Grecian urn. “My sister Veronica and I did this double act and my husband, Charlie, traveled around with us. Now for the last number - “

“Chicago!” Mulder exclaims, then is embarrassed.

They all look at him in surprise.

“You like musicals, Agent Mulder?” Edy asks, practically glowing. “What’s your favorite?”

“Yes, Agent Mulder, what’s your favorite?” Scully asks, eyes dancing.

He draws little squiggles in the remains of his Hollandaise sauce. “Oh, just, my mom used to take us to shows, you know, when I was a kid.”

“But your favorite,” Scully insists, because she is mean.

“Chicago’s good,” he mumbles. He will never tell her the real answer, which is My Fair Lady.

“Honey, Chicago is the BEST.” Edy goes to a bookshelf and removes a large album.

“Ohhhh, no!” Steve asserts. “Didn’t I already tell you nobody wants to see your ass? Now go on and put that back.”

Edy glides back haughtily, places the book on the table, oriented towards Mulder. She opens it to a page with a glossy 8x10 of her as Velma Kelly, in all her black sequined bodysuited glory.

“Wow,” Mulder says, feeling sympathetic pain as he looks at the bodysuit.

“Virgin Indian hair on that wig,” Edy says, tapping the photo. She stares at Scully.

Scully leans forward to examine the photo. “You look really nice.”

Edy turns a few pages to another picture. She is luxuriating in a claw foot tub, one leg draped over the edge. The bubbly water is at a strategic depth between her legs. Mulder feels as though he should avert his eyes, but gazes on.

“Now these,” Edy says, “are from some modeling I did for a boudoir photographer.”

Steve groans. “Baby, why?”

“It is called art,” she snaps. “Now Agent Scully, girl to girl, you understand this. Sometimes you just want a record of you at your best, you want to share that with your man.”

Scully smiles blankly. “Mm.”

Mulder studies the picture with renewed interest. “A boudoir photographer?” he asks.

Edy favors Scully with a sly glance. “See that’s what I thought. It’s very tasteful, isn’t it?” She turns the page, displaying herself in a ruffled white corset, heeled white ankle boots, and a lace parasol. “It’s very elegant.”

It is, strangely enough. Mulder assumes there must be boudoir photographers in DC. He can import one, if necessary. From the edge of his peripheral vision, he sees Scully studiously peeling a grape.

“I think it’s time for dessert,” Steve says. “Honey, go put those pictures back so they don’t get ruined.”

Edy, looking triumphant, gives Mulder a saucy wink before sashaying back to the bookshelf.

“Lord,” Steve mumbles. He opens the bakery box, then smiles. “You tell her you were coming here?” he asks. “You got all my favorites.”

“I think the cabbie must have,” Scully says, abandoning her grape. “They were talking for a bit, but we didn’t know what they were saying. We never even mentioned your names, I guess he knew the address.”

“Musta been Anzhelo,” Edy says, settling on Steve’s lap. “That’s her grandson, he helps me with my garden a little bit. That boy is always hustling.”

Steve puts a golden pastry oozing honey onto his plate. He cuts off a morsel with his fork and feeds it to his lady, who giggles.

Mulder smiles at them. “This, uh, this has been really wonderful, but we have to go get our stuff together for the flight home.”

Edy pouts. “Well, that’s a shame. You oughtta stay another day or so, we could show you around town. We know everybody.”

Steve moves on to a dense wedge of chocolate cake. “Lots of walnuts in this, you got any allergies?”

Scully holds up a hand. “No, thank you, I’m qui-“

“She’s gotta keep her cute figure for that boudoir photographer,” Edy says. She licks honey off of her fingers.

“Can we help you tidy up?” Scully asks, as though Edy hasn’t spoken.

“I got it,” Steve says. “That’s our system. You go on back to your hotel, I’ll call Anzhelo.” He pats Edy on the side, and she gets up so he can head to the phone.

“Where’s the restroom, please?” Scully asks.

Steve sprawls on the red velvet sofa, pointing her down the hall. He picks up the receiver and starts dialing.

Mulder watches Scully disappear around the corner, wondering if he would like to thank Edy or strangle her.

“He'll be here in just a few,” Steve says from the couch. “I called him on his cell phone, how times change.”

“You tell her not to worry,” Edy says with a wink, resting her hand on Mulder’s shoulder. “The cameras don’t get everything.”

Mulder adopts what he hopes is a confused expression and shrugs. He busies himself stacking plates, pausing to take a swipe of chocolate frosting with his finger. He downs the rest of his second mimosa, considers a third.

Scully emerges then, her hair smoothed and her lipstick freshened. “Again, thank you both for the hospitality.”

“You better call us when you’re in town again,” Edy says, wagging a stern finger. “I will hold you to that, Agents.”

There is a honk outside. “Oh, that’s our cue,” Mulder says, rising. He reaches for the small of Scully’s back but it feels conspicuous now. He converts the motion to a wave.

Edy follows them to the door, blowing kisses all the way.

They climb into the waiting cab. “You like my grandmother's baking?” Anzhelo asks, peeling away from the curb.

“Phenomenal,” Scully says, because she is kind. “We’re stuffed.”

Anzhelo smiles proudly in the rear view.

Mulder slumps against the door. “I feel like one of those big snakes after it eats a whole wildebeest. I need to sleep off all that food.”

“I was a little ambitious myself,” Scully says. She sits up straighter, eyes wide. “Oh, Mulder. Oh shit. You know Bill watches Cops?”

Of course he does, of course. Mulder makes a noise of dismay, unable to address this news on so full a stomach and so heavy a head.

“Mulder, he’s going to see every terrible minute and just snap,” she moans. “Werewolves!”

Mulder, buzzy, imagines Bill and Tara on the couch, eating Corn Nuts, when his sister appears onscreen. He imagines Bill leaping to his feet in outrage, scattering a plate of Li’l Smokies cooked in grape jelly. He starts laughing.

Scully punches him in the arm. “It’s not funny, Mulder!”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he pleads, holding up his hands in defense. He is still laughing.

“Oh my god, the Wasp Man! Mulder did you say anything awful when you were unattended?”

Tears are running down his face at this point. It’s all so ridiculous. Bill in his base housing, finding out that his sister was two hours away chasing invisible monsters and crackheads without even calling. Mulder thinks he may, if suitably provoked, let him know what else his sister has been doing.

He smiles darkly to himself.

Scully punches his arm again, harder, and he stops laughing.

“Ow,” he says, sulky. “It’s nothing he doesn’t know.”

She hides her face in her hands. “I could just die.”

Mulder draws her onto her side, curled with her glossy head in his lap. He strokes her smooth pixie cap of hair, the color of autumn in New England.

“I hate you,” she mumbles into his thigh.

He traces her ear. “I know,” he soothes.

“So much.”

“Yes.”

“And you can stop thinking about boudoir photographers, because it’s not happening.” She traces little shapes on his knees.

“Mmm,” he says, non-committal. Mulder pets her until they pull up at the hotel, and he has to get to his wallet. He pays Anzhelo and sends regards to his grandmother, to Steve and Edy.

They clamber out, Scully blinking in the vivid sunlight. Anzhelo waves from the window as he drives off.

“You ready to go home?” Mulder asks.

She looks up at him. “No photographer,” she says again. “But.”

He’s intrigued. “But?”

“My room has a corner tub. It’s not, uh, a claw foot or anything, but it’s pretty roomy.” Scully looks shy as she takes his hand. “This is still weird,” she confesses.

“Yeah. But it’s, I think it’s good weird, right?”

“Yeah.” She smiles, squeezes his fingers.

He kisses her in the bright LA sunshine, in front of the bellhop and the taxis and God and everybody. She doesn’t pull away, puts her arms around him in fact, and still the world turns and turns and turns.