After admitting that he was absolutely exhausted and not up to taking the wheel, Scully took it upon herself to drive Mulder and herself home from the airport. She had even offered to carry his suitcase for him as the two of them had made their way across the parking lot, the late evening air nipping at their faces and promising the shiver of frost in the morning. They now sat in companionable silence in the car, both quietly chewing over their completed case and wondering where the next one would take them when it arrived.
Without quite knowing why, she glanced over at Mulder in the passenger seat. He did look tired. His scarf was bunched around his neck and his chin was nestled within its cashmere folds. He had his arms crossed in front of himself and he seemed to be hunching into his coat. Scully chewed her lip as she entertained the idea of telling him to sit up or his seatbelt wouldn’t help him if they got into a crash, but she figured he didn’t need the lecture. Even if it did come from a caring place.
Instead, something else came out of her mouth before she was ready.
"Mulder, what are you doing for Thanksgiving?"
She felt him tense, both at the sudden sound of her voice and - she suspected - the question that came out unprompted. She glanced at him and saw he was smiling sardonically, fully recovered from his perplexity.
Mulder made a face as if he were going through his mental calendar.
"Uhhh, that’s next Thursday, right? Thursday, Thursday, Thursday…..eh, probably what I do on the weekends. Sleep. Scrounge up food. Go for a run. Ignore the chores I need to take care of. Ache for the next time I can see my puny little partner take a shot at some zombies…"
Scully chuffed softly despite herself and let her eyes drift momentarily from the windshield to glance at him again. He was still smiling at her.
"Mulder…" The word denoted a reprimand, but she allowed her smile to color the tone. He gave his own chuckle in response, settling back against his seat.
"I don’t know, Scully. Might watch the Macy’s parade….check out the game. Nothing special."
There was a pregnant pause and Scully could have sworn she felt the swollen, trembling “why do you ask?” that she was certain was clenched in his teeth behind his lips. She had opened the gate; time to let the flood waters out.
"How would you like to spend it with me?"
This time Mulder took more time to recover from his surprise. She would have found it amusing if her chest hadn’t been playing a percussion rendition beneath her ribcage.
"I though you were spending Thanksgiving at Maggie’s."
Mulder was intelligent enough not to answer immediately, and she felt the tension rise in the car. She hadn’t looked at him again, but she knew by instinct that he wasn’t watching her anymore. In fact he had probably tightened his crossed arms and was staring at his knees, his jaw working and a serious expression on his face. Suddenly Scully felt silly.
"Bill won’t be there." She said helpfully, hating herself for the tender, almost pleading note in her voice. She heard him release a whistling breath through his nose.
"Scully, if you’re doing this because you don’t want me alone on Thursday -"
"Of course I’m doing this because I don’t want you alone." She insisted, and mentally she took pleasure in the fact that she had managed to make Mulder display surprise three times in less than five minutes, "I don’t like the idea of you vegging out on the couch in sweats while I’m in a warm house with friends and family worrying about you vegging out on the couch in sweats."
The statement had been meant to make him smile and lighten the mood in the car, but it only served to make Mulder more serious. She heard him sniff and shift in his seat.
"I hate to sound prideful, but it sounds like charity."
It was Scully’s first instinct to bristle at his statement, but she tampered it back, instead readjusting her grip on the steering wheel to realign her focus. Yes, it sounded like charity, and she was aware of the fact, but that honestly was not why she had asked him. So much had changed recently in their partnership and a development in their personal relationship had aligned as a result. Mulder was no longer just a coworker and a friend - he had ceased being that years ago. Now he was someone Scully cared deeply and intensely for, even if she was hesitant to acknowledge it. True, she didn’t want him alone during a day meant for family, but for reasons she wasn’t quite prepared to admit, she just wanted him around when they weren’t working.
"It’s not intended to be." She responded to his lastest statement, mostly succeeding in keeping a defensive tone out of her voice, "I just thought it could be nice. Mom adores you, she’d be so happy to have you."
The snort that Mulder gave out grated on Scully’s nerves.
"Your mother does not adore me, Scully." The chuckle in his voice was mirthless.
"She likes you, Mulder, and she’d love for you to be there."
Already Scully was beginning to regret suggesting the idea to him, but she bit back a further retort. She knew it was hard on him; for all his quips and his cavalier attitude, she was aware of a part of Mulder that quietly desired a feeling of belonging and family during this time of year. It was somehow made worse by the fact that he had no idea how willing she was to offer that to him. He only saw it as a favor or an act of pity, and it served as a reminder of the false actions people had used against him in his life and all he had lost. It was no wonder he was defensive.
The mournful concept moved her and like the initial question that had opened this discussion, the next words passed from Scully’s lips before she realized the thought had entered her head.
"And I’d love for you to be there, too." Her voice came out gently, startling her and she half hoped that Mulder hadn’t caught her confession. She knew that he had heard when the bubble of discomfort and tension seemed to burst and leak away, leaving a different kind of simmering sensation in the humid air of their vehicle.
She waited for a quip but she only felt him turn to her again.
"Okay." His voice was soft and Scully was glad they had stopped at a red light because she couldn’t have prevented looking at him in surprise if she had tried.
"O…okay?" She stammered, repeating him. He was smiling again, and something akin to gratitude and hesitant eagerness was alight in his hazel eyes.
"Okay." Mulder’s smile was shy and she could have sworn he was shaking slightly. Before she could even respond the vulnerability vanished and was replaced with the usual Mulder glimmer of humor and self-deprecation.
"Though you’ll have to tell me what kind of dish to bring - I doubt the Scully family will appreciate Mulder Mac n Cheese."
Scully found that her hands had tightened on the steering wheel once more, but this time it was to hold back a giggle of relief and happiness.