Walking down Scully’s hallway on a Saturday morning with two cups of coffee and a bag of pastries was pretty presumptuous, even for him. Especially, that he had no real reason to be there, no case file, no tabloid article that might be of interest, work-wise naturally. All he had was a hunch, that she would not kick him out and have breakfast with him, before he made his way to visit his mother. He needed it, that one warm memory to tie him through till Monday. Visits to Vineyard always ended in cold silence.
The closer he came to her door, the sweet scent of pancakes grew stronger. Could he be this lucky? He knocked and waited. Definitely pancakes.
He heard Scully yell from somewhere inside the apartment and reached for his key, fumbling a little with shopping, but before he found it, the door swung open and there stood… a man. Mulder froze, dumbfounded. All his nightmares coming to life in a heartbeat. The guy was tall and athletic, curly red hair damp from shower. Oh, and he wore nothing but a towel.
“Can I help you?” The guy asked politely, curious blue eyes taking quick measure of Mulder in return.
“I…” His brain kicked into gear, connecting the dots as if his life depended on it. Scully had a guest, overnight. That’s why she was so happy these few days, she was seeing someone. Ground was slipping from under his feet, heart racing and ears burning, that’s what he got for assuming. He glanced again at the door, grasping for straws, double-checked the number on it. Maybe he got it wrong, maybe he got the wrong apartment.
“Who is it?” A woman spoke, definitely Scully, and a second later there she was, next to the guy in her silk PJ’s. Mulder started to feel sick.
“Mulder.” She beamed at him, happier than he ever saw her and his world started to crumble. She turned to the guy, and noticing his state of undress, slapped his arm lightly, “Jesus, Charlie, go get dressed.”
He yelped, laughing. “What, I though it was mom.” Then a high pitched yell and stomping of little feet made him turn back to the apartment.
“Grandma!” A little girl came running and he caught her expertly, lifting her off the ground and into his arms. She was wearing PJ’s as well, pink, with little unicorns printed all over.
“No sweetie, it’s aunt Dana’s friend.” He said to the girl, who upon seeing Mulder, shyly hid in her dad’s neck.
“I’m sorry,” Scully said, stifling laughter, “my brother always had terrible timing.” She opened the door wide and gestured, smiling brightly, “come on in, we were just about to have breakfast.”
“I…” Mulder tried to speak, cleared his throat, tried again. “I don’t want to intrude.”
“Nonsense,” she pulled him inside and took her cup of coffee, “I wanted you two to meet.”
Mulder followed her to the kitchen, taking in the living room in passing. Usually meticulously tidy, now looking like a scene of a slumber party. The couch was pulled out, pillows on the floor around it. Crayons and sheets of paper littered the coffee table, while plush Marvin the Martian wrestled Duffy Duck in the middle of it.
“They were supposed to stay with mom, but she had some emergency at the community center and called me when I was on my way home, asking to pick them up from the airport.” Scully explained, taking two mugs from the cupboard and filling them with coffee from the paper cups. She handed one to Mulder and suddenly remembered the pancakes, hastily cranking down the burner.
“Oh dear!” She prodded it, not yet burned luckily, and sighed relieved, noticing something else too. She looked at him, adorably embarrassed. “I should probably get dressed.”
Mulder set down the coffee and took the spatula from her. “Go, I’ll keep an eye on this.”
“Thanks,” she whispered, adding something unspoken with one hand sliding down his arm. He realized then, that she was out of her element just as he was. The thought made him smile, she always tried so hard.
Stirring the pancake, a motion caught his eye and he saw the little girl standing 6 feet from him, hugging her toys, and watching him carefully.
“Hi,” he smiled his warmest smile and was struck by the resemblance. Pretty, round face, same bright blue eyes, though her hair was lighter and curlier. Emily, if only an echo. Like that, everything became clear. He knelt on one knee to look less threatening. “What is your name?”
“Claire,” she spoke shyly, hugging her martian tighter.
“Well, Claire, I’m Mulder, you want to see a magic trick?” She nodded and smiled, finally.
Mulder went back to the frying pan and swallowed hard. It was ages since he did this but he told himself it was like riding a bike. He shook the pan a bit, making sure nothing was sticking and held his breath. One, two, three! The pancake leaped into the air, did a perfect backflip to land precisely in the middle of the pan, ready side up and sizzling. The little girl giggled and he smiled at her, 10 points from the judges.
Her dad came into the kitchen, dressed in jeans and a polo shirt, ruffling her hair in passing.
“Sorry about earlier,” he grinned reaching out, “Charlie Scully.”
“Fox Mulder.” They shook hands, the man’s grip firm and friendly.
“I know, Dana spoke about you, she wanted you to have lunch with us.” The kid came back and tugged at his hand, reaching, drawing in one hand. He picked her up and tickled her tummy, “this is Claire.”
“We met already.” Mulder smiled and glanced at the pan, then slipped the pancake of it into a waiting plate, poured the batter for another one, which was probably the full extent of his culinary knowledge, though they didn’t have to know that.
“I drew a spaceship!” Claire grinned, showing him the drawing of a wonky lens-like object with blue and red dots al over it.
“Nice, what planet is it from?” Mulder asked, totally serious.
“Mars!” she declared, showing her mascot, “home of Marvin, the Martian!”
“She’s crazy about Looney Tunes.” Charlie turned to the girl and tickled her again, doing a pretty good Bugs Bunny impression, “Eee.. what’s cookin’ Doc?” She laughed and tried to escape his arms.
“Yeah, how’s the cookin’ Doc.” Scully appeared, looking over his shoulder.
“All good.” Mulder laughed, moving the spatula out of her reach.
“Show aunt Dana the magic trick!” Claire chimed in.
“Yeah, show Dana the magic trick, Mulder.” Charlie grinned, bouncing the little girl.
“What magic trick?” Scully sounded genuinely curious so there was no going back.
Offering a little prayer to the cooking gods, Mulder checked the pancake, stirred it a little and felt his own hands shake. This was the real deal, he rocked the cake back and forth and went for the gold. Claire gasped when the pancake went airborne and clapped her hands once it landed safely in the pan; Scully laughed with her.
“Okay, I think you got this.” She patted his back and Mulder, for once, felt like a gold medalist.
“Now that’s real skill,” Charlie teased before turning to his little girl. “What is this? Why aren’t you dressed young lady? Look, I’m dressed, aunt Dana is dressed, and you?”
“I like my pj’s.” She said, defiant. The crease between her eyebrows was apparently part of Scully family genetic makeup.
“C'mon, let’s find you something we’ll both like instead.” He said and took her out of the kitchen. Passing Scully, he whispered something into her ear, earning a cluck of her tongue and an elbow below the ribs.
Claire helped her dad make the bed, though her attempts at starting a pillow fight were thwarted.
Scully busied herself around the kitchen, making fresh coffee and toast, setting the table. The cutlery clinked, the plates clanked, the refrigerator doors slammed. Sometimes she stopped beside him, sipping coffee he brought, smiling.
His sweatshirt gone in the heat of battle was replaced by a sensible apron. Mulder was slipping the last pancake off the pan, when Scully appeared again, raw bacon in hands.
“You can burn this,” she joked but her next words were sincere. “Thanks for helping me.”
“Don’t thank me,” he said taking the bacon and cranking the burner to max, “it’s me who’s crashing the party.”
“Right, you wanted something,” she leaned on the counter, finishing her coffee.
“It’s nothing, don’t worry about it.”
“Positive.” The doorbell rang.
“Right on time.” Scully grinned and followed her brother to the door.
Mulder stayed in the kitchen, trying to make sense of his feelings. This was a different Scully, one he only saw glimpses of. She was always composed, professional, rarely showing her playful side. She tolerated his jokes, even made fun of him from time to time, but this undiluted happiness, her care for the ones she loved, it disarmed him. He watched the family reunion like Scrooge looking in through the window on Christmas Eve. Maggie hugging both her kids, kissing her granddaughter’s cheeks, until she saw the piece that didn’t fit.
“Fox!” She said, surprised and, to his surprise, delighted. He earned a hug as well. “It’s good to see you again.”
“Hi mrs Scully,” he gave back the hug, if awkwardly.
“Oh, she roped you into cooking, let me.” Maggie tried to bump him out of his post by the pan, but he didn’t budge.
“It’s okay, I got this.” Mulder chuckled.
“He can do magic tricks, Grandma.” Claire piped up making Charlie and Scully laugh.
“Come on mom, sit down,” Charlie pulled her away, “let the man finish what he started.”
Maggie took the head of the table, with Dana on her right and Charlie on her left, Claire beside him, sipping her orange juice.
“I’m so sorry I couldn’t pick you up yesterday.”
“It’s okay, Dana gave us a proper welcome.”
“I’ll say this again, you can stay if you want.”
“Dana, there’s more than enough room at my house,” Maggie scolded, “and besides, they’re staying the week and you’ve got a job.”
“She could take the time off.” Mulder chimed in, from his spot by the stove.
“Mulder!” Scully protested, her contrary side rearing it’s pretty head.
“Just saying.” He shrugged, flipping the bacon with a pair of tongs.
“Anyway,” Charlie laughed and poured the coffee. “We’re here, ready to go sightseeing and do all the tourist stuff we always laughed about.”
“You have a list?” Scully laughed, taking the full mug.
“Sure I do,” he replied, unfazed, “I’ll show you later.”
“I’ve never really went sightseeing, since we moved here.” She admitted, sheepishly.
“You didn’t?” Mulder sounded surprised, she knew so much about the city.
“I mean, we’ve been to the Smithsonian a few times, but I never seen the museum itself for example. I’ve seen the Washington Monument and all the other memorials, but I’ve never been to the botanic gardens or the Air and Space Museum.”
“You’ve got so much catching up to do, dear sister.” Charlie looked up, and grinned at Mulder, “and you, are going with us. I’m not taking no for an answer.”
Mulder laughed, moving the bacon to a plate laid out with paper napkins and sitting down next to Scully.
“If there’s something life has taught me, it’s that there’s no point in arguing with the Scullys.”
“You got that right.”
“What? We argue all the time.”
“Hush,” Charlie said, taking the bacon. “So we do the standard tour from Monday and do the…”
“Museum?” Scully filled the blank he made cautiously.
“The Air and Space Museum today.” He turned to Claire, placing a couple of pancakes on her plate. “You’ll see real space ships.”
“From Mars?” Everyone laughed,
“We’ll see sweetie, we’ll see.” Charlie kissed the top of her head warmly.