Title: It's Hard To Be Thankful
Keywords: Family, Challengefic
Spoilers: season nine; X-Files: I Want To Believe
Disclaimer: if you recognize a character, it was created by Chris Carter. Otherwise...
Summary: Thanksgiving is supposed to be one word, but what if you've given and are having a hard time being thankful?
Thanksgiving Day 2010
Skinner handed Maggie Scully a stack of plates as they set the table for Thanksgiving. He smiled at her, thinking that he could see something of her daughter in her, in the straight spine and the determined set of her mouth. "Thanks again for inviting me, Mrs. Scully."
Maggie returned his smile. "You're very welcome. I'm sorry that I've put you to work, though. Dana and Fox were supposed to be here an hour ago, but..." Maggie trailed off with a shrug. "Apparently the traffic is pretty heavy as you drive north today."
"Probably more people are driving this year because they're not pleased with the options of being groped or x-rayed at the airport," Skinner replied, thinking of what a big deal they were making of it on the news.
"That's probably true." Maggie placed a folded napkin by each plate. "I appreciate your help, in any case."
He nodded, and carefully laid out the forks and knives. Being invited to Maggie Scully's for dinner had come as a surprise three Thanksgivings ago, but the woman had insisted once she heard that he was going to be alone for the holiday. She'd said something about it being an honor after he helped saved her pseudo-son-in-law earlier that year at the risk of his own life, and she wouldn't hear his protests that he had simply done what any old friend might. Now the invitation was less a surprise than a habit.
Maggie sighed, bringing Skinner back to the present. He glanced at her, and she made a face. "Don't mind me. I was just thinking about how I can't get Dana to invite that agent she'd been friends with after Fox left. They had seemed close, at least as far as Dana's friendships with women ever were."
"Monica Reyes?" Skinner asked, and she nodded.
"That's the one."
"I wasn't aware that the two kept in touch after Mulder's trial," Skinner said carefully.
Neither Mulder or Scully had ever mentioned Doggett or Reyes to him or asked about them either, so he had been under the impression that they'd ceased communication. Maggie hadn't mentioned them last year, or the year before, but this was the first time he'd been the only one there with her, so maybe she'd just bottled her feelings on the matter up before now.
"Oh, they did for a while..." Maggie trailed off and picked up a glass only to set it down again. "But once Monica had her first baby, they stopped talking very much. I think it's been hard on Dana, knowing that her friend has the family she never will."
"First?" Skinner asked, wondering suddenly if he should have kept in touch with his other agents. They'd been decent, hard-working people, but they hadn't shared a bond with him in the way that Mulder and Scully did. Maybe it was true, the squeaky wheels were the ones to get all the attention.
"Yes, she has two little girls, Abby and Melinda. She met another agent the year after Fox's trial, and they had a whirlwind romance from the way Dana tells it. Last I heard her husband, Todd, was hoping to convince her to try 'just one more time' for a boy. It would be nice to have them here considering that Todd has lost both parents, and Monica's family lives in Mexico, still."
"Oh." Maggie had offered him the information to explain why her daughter was uncomfortable around her erstwhile friend, but he couldn't help wonder what had happened to John Doggett. Was he alone with his ghosts this Thanksgiving?
As if reading his mind, Maggie went on, "I think Monica's falling head over heels with someone else disappointed Dana's friend John, but he eventually got back together with his estranged wife. I would have asked her to invite him too, but it seems that they, unlike Monica and her husband, have family in the area."
"That's good," Skinner murmured, happy to banish the image of the man sitting alone at a table with only a Hungry Man turkey dinner and football for company.
"My son Bill will be here, soon, though, so she's not going to be able to hide from everyone who has a family," Maggie said with a vehemence that made Skinner look up. Bill and his family hadn't made it last year, and he hadn't noticed any undue friction between the siblings the year before that. "I just hope she'll be able to put aside her envy long enough to enjoy the meal."
The thought of Scully being envious of anyone struck him as strange. But on the other hand, giving up her son was probably a wound that never fully healed. Skinner had never dared to ask, but he occasionally found himself wondering if she would have given the boy up if she'd known that her reunion with Mulder would be only seven weeks away. In his heart he was pretty sure that the answer was no, which probably made things all the worse for her.
"I know I shouldn't tell you this," Maggie said, looking guilty, "but she and Fox have tried for another baby the last couple of years, which is why I worry about her. They didn't dare to try again for the longest while, but then she started working with sick children...needless to say it hasn't worked out for them, and the more that time passes, the more she feels like it's probably too late, even if William wasn't a singular miracle."
"That's rough," Skinner replied, because there wasn't much else to say. He would have bet money that the agents he'd helped flee the country never would have wanted to have another baby, but even he'd seen the change in them a couple of winters ago when he first spent time with them since the trial. Rather than being depressed, and in Mulder's case nearly unhinged, they seemed more or less content - except for the hole in their lives that they apparently couldn't fill.
"I suggested adoption, and Dana laughed it off, saying no one would give a baby to someone who'd given one up. I showed her all sorts of stories about people adopting years after giving their own babies up, but she looked at me like I'd tried to prove that Santa existed by showing her movies with him in it."
"Well, we all know she has a mind of her own."
"Do we ever."
A moment later there was a sharp knock at the door, and then the doorknob turned, so Skinner assumed that knocking had only been an act of politeness, not a request for admittance. When the door opened, he saw Mulder and Scully for the first time since the Thanksgiving before.
He was pleased to see that Scully had put on a bit of weight, which made her look healthy rather than matronly, and that Mulder had apparently gotten over his beard phase. Both were red-cheeked from the cold, and they seemed happy. It made it hard to reconcile their appearance with Maggie's conviction that they were bitterly unhappy about not having a child in their lives.
That all changed when Bill Jr and his family arrived, though. Twelve-year-old Matthew (almost thirteen, he told anyone who would listen) had thrown his arms around Scully not two seconds after pulling off his coat, and she'd stiffly returned the hug with a strained smile. And she flatly refused to hold Megan, Bill and Tara's eighteen-month-old daughter. "Come on, Dana," Bill cajoled. "She has hardly ever seen you," he said, pushing the girl towards her.
Scully took a step back, and said, "I have to help Mom, Bill" before fleeing to the kitchen.
Skinner caught the sad look on Mulder's face, and thought about what Maggie had told him earlier. Of the two, Mulder seemed to be bearing up under the disappointment a little better.
"I want to sit next to Aunt Dana," Matthew declared as they went to the table. The boy obviously adored his aunt, and though she probably did her best to hide her misgivings, they showed through a little, if people took the time to look.
Despite Scully's discomfort, she and Mulder did an admirable job entertaining her nephew. He paid rapt attention to their every word, and Skinner wished that Scully could appreciate having someone look up to her that way. It was just the wrong someone, he decided.
"So then what happened?" Matthew asked eagerly as he listened to Mulder tell a story.
"Then I called up the publisher and insisted that he include color photos, or I was going to see a lawyer about breach of contract."
"It's so cool that you're getting a book published," Matthew enthused. "Did it take you long to write it?"
"No, not really. Your aunt got sick of looking at my clippings last year and said that I should finally write the book, or throw everything away. I chose to write the book. Once I got started, it almost wrote itself."
"You really said that?" Matthew asked Scully.
"I really did," she said, sounding tired.
"I can't imagine my mom saying anything like that to my dad," Matthew said, practically bouncing in his seat. "Can you send me a copy when your book comes out?"
"Matthew, it's not polite to ask for gifts," Bill said firmly.
His son looked crestfallen. "Oh, sorry."
"No, it's fine. I'll send you a signed copy," Mulder told him.
"Cool!" Megan chose that moment to show off a new skill by climbing out of her high chair, and onto her older brother's lap. "Hey, how did she do that?" he asked as she crawled across him, and onto Scully.
Scully froze, until the baby lost her balance and nearly fell. Then her arms moved mechanically, catching her before she tumbled backwards off her lap. A moment later Tara got up and gathered her daughter up.
"Jesus, Dana, I thought you were going to let her fall onto the floor," her brother complained. "What's your problem?"
"My problem? I'm not the one who didn't make sure she was strapped in," Scully retorted.
"Fine, I'll make sure she doesn't get loose again," Bill muttered as he took the girl from his wife. "Come on, Monkey, back in your seat."
Megan reacted to having her freedom taken away by screaming angrily. She almost drowned out the sound of a telephone, but Maggie's hearing must have been good, because she'd gotten up to get it before anyone else seemed to hear it.
She stepped away from the table and the noise, and proceeded to have a brief conversation while Megan's parents tried to stem her howling. Her granddaughter had finally quieted a moment before she stepped back towards the table, phone still held to her ear.
"Okay, I'll be sure to tell them. Love you," Maggie said, hanging up the phone. She looked over the table with a bright smile. "Charlie sends his love, and asked me to tell everyone that he and Anne are expecting a baby in June."
"Aww," Tara said, and Bill made similar happy noises, but none of the other adults said anything. Scully scowled unhappily.
"Dana, don't look like that," he mother admonished. "He's your brother. You should be happy for him."
"Excuse me," Scully said abruptly before getting to her feet and walking out of the room.
Everyone stared for a moment, and before he quite thought it through, Skinner followed her. Scully was pulling plastic containers out from a cabinet, and she slammed them onto the counter just as Skinner walked into the room.
Looking up at him, she laughed. "You got here early, I'm sure my mother tried to convince you that I'm practically a basket case, but I'm not."
"I know you're not," Skinner said quietly.
"Do you?" she challenged, waving the spoon for mash potatoes at him. "Or are you just humoring me? My mother is under the impression that I've been horribly traumatized not only by guilt over having given William up, but because Mulder and I haven't been able to have another baby. But it's not like that," she concluded while scooping potatoes into a container. She'd passed him another, and he was trying to get the leftover green beans into it without making a mess.
Skinner didn't say anything, thinking about her reaction to her niece and nephew. She must have seen his look, because she smirked. "It's not like this every day. I work with children, for God's sake. Most days I'm able to be around other people's children without dwelling on how much I wish I had a baby, how much I wish that I'd never given William away...but the holidays bring out the worst in me. You can understand that, can't you?"
"Yes," he said softly. "Sharon and I... we wanted a baby too. It just never worked out for us, either."
"But it got better, right?" Scully asked expectantly. "Most of the time, anyway?"
"Most of the time," he agreed. Most men his age were looking forward to grandchildren, so it would be stupid to long for a child, but once in a while he saw a man and his son at the park, or a man pushing his daughter in a grocery cart... and it brought back everything he'd felt the day that a doctor had told him and Sharon that there was no hope. "And besides, looking after green agents is sort of like being a father anyway."
Scully smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes. "Just so long as you don't have any designs on my mother. I don't think I could call you Dad."
"Perish the thought." If it had been anyone else, he would have said that her mother was a very nice woman but they weren't well-matched, but he knew that she'd only been being sarcastic.
"You believe me, don't you?" Her hands were now busily separating white and dark meat into two gallon sized ziplock bags. "That I'm not on edge like my mother apparently thinks? That I'm not going to go to pieces every time I see a baby that I can't take home with me?"
"I believe you. She's just worried about you. That's what mothers do."
"Believe me, I know," Scully said with enough heat to surprise him. "I've never stopped worrying about him, not since the day he was born. And now that he's out of reach... it's hard to trust that his other family will keep him safe. It's hard to be, to be thankful that someone else is looking after him. So yes, I know how mothers worry."
Skinner looked at her, seeing the same firm set of her mouth that he'd noticed on Maggie earlier, and felt a pang of sad regret for her. As much as she protested otherwise, she'd given away more than she intended to the day she signed the adoption papers. He could only hope that she'd have a relationship with her son when he was grown. At least she might have that, he thought soberly, which was more than he or Sharon ever would. Sick of feeling sorry for them all, he drained the gravy boat into yet another plastic container and wondered where the containers had all come from.
"Here," Scully said, handing him a stack of desert plates and a fistful of forks. "It's time for pie."
Skinner followed her back into the dinning room, watching nervously as she balanced a pie in each hand. Everyone else noticed, and exclaimed over how good the homemade pies Maggie had slaved over looked. Even Skinner could tell that they were trying too hard. The conversation that had gone on in their absence had surely been a lively one.
Just after he decided that this holiday wouldn't make anyone's top-ten list, Skinner noticed something. Both Mulder and Scully had finished their slices of pie, and they were holding hands - not under the table like they were hiding something, but openly.
Maggie might have been convinced that her daughter was hopelessly unhappy, and it was obvious that not all of Scully's dreams had come true, but he thought there just might have something she was thankful for after all.
End Note: This fic was written for the Thanksgiving 2010 Thankful Angstful Challenge <--go here to read other fics for the challenge.
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