There were few things in the world that Dana Scully could imagine were more arduous in her the world than family dinner night. Perhaps climbing Mt. Everest in the middle of a howling blizzard would be one. Maybe crawling out of the Amazon rainforest with a broken limb would be another. Even walking single-handedly into the desert with just one canteen of water between you and horrible death under the scorching sun could trump the monthly gathering of the Scully clan at her parent's house in Baltimore to have dinner with her parents.
"I have a bad feeling about this," Dana intoned ominously.
"We could just ditch, right," Melissa asked beside her, looking about as enthusiastic about the whole idea as Dana felt. "I know this great Indian place not far from here, we could get some naan, some curry, have some beer, you could tell me icky stories about cutting up dead people."
"Not over dinner, Missy," Dana laughed. "Though, we could tell Mom I got a flat tire."
"Think she would buy that?"
"Yeah, but Dad wouldn't," Dana realized the fault in her plan. "He'd want to come out and try to fix it for us."
"Right," Melissa mulled over ideas for a moment, watching their parents house for signs of movement. "Perhaps we can tell her we're sick."
"Both of us? That would look suspicious. Remember, we don't live together."
"But we see each other every week. I could have given you a cold."
"No, then Mom will worry," Dana shook her head. "How about we call separately, and I say I'm stuck at work, and you say that a friend just got into a car accident, and you are going to the hospital to check on them."
"Dad checks caller ID, he'd notice it was the same number," Melissa shook her head, setting her earrings to jangle. "Besides, I think Charlie spotted us. The sneak was at the front window."
"Damn it," Dana whispered. "Maybe he doesn't recognize my car?"
"Nope, he's opening the front door," Melissa groaned as on the front porch of the Scully residence a short, fit man with the same sort of red hair of his elder sisters, and Dana's wide, blue eyes stood glaring at them both, arms crossed, in a perfect imitation of their father.
"Busted," Dana slid down behind the wheel, her high heels digging into the carpet on the floorboards.
"I suppose he'll tattle to Mom if we try to bribe him," Melissa laughed, reaching for her purse.
"He always was a whiner," Dana groused, opening her car door, and reluctantly stepping out.
"It's 'cause he's the baby. He was Mom's favorite."
"I heard that," Charlie called from the porch. "Dinner's ready. Mom's been wondering why you two have been sitting out here for ten minutes."
"Private girl talk, Charles, you wouldn't understand." Melissa winked at Dana playfully as the two sisters stepped up the walkway to their younger brother, each taking turns to embrace him tightly.
"That excuse worked when I was six, twenty years later not so much," Charlie teased, as he kept one brotherly arm wrapped around Dana's shoulders. "Some evil boy breaking your heart again?"
"What, you going to go kick his ass for me?" Dana snorted, punching her brother playfully in the arm.
"What, it worked with Eric Martin," Charlie pretended to be hurt.
"Eric Martin was when we were kids, and you did nothing more than kick dirt in his eye."
"Made him cry, didn't it?" Charlie crowed triumphantly as all three wandered through the front door. "Mom, they finally decided to come inside."
"Good. Dinner's ready." Maggie Scully peeked around the door of the kitchen, her blue eyes glancing each daughter up and down before smiling warmly at both. "Couldn't think of a way to get out of it, huh?"
"Missy was voting horrible disease," Dana confessed.
"Dana said she was going to lie about a flat tire," Melissa retorted, grinning at her little sister.
"Wouldn't have worked anyway, I taught both of you how to change tires before I would let you drive," Bill Scully, the elder of his name, came up behind his children, grabbing his taller elder daughter, and shorter younger daughter in each arm, kissing the tops of both red heads. "So what's this you trying to get out of it? Don't you want to come see your father in his old age?"
"Old age my eye," Dana snorted, grinning up at the father she had adored since she was old enough to toddle behind him, his uniform hat hanging askew off her tiny head. "Ahab, you don't fool anyone. You'd get back out there on a ship any day of the week, and whip them all into shape."
"Ahh, but not with this ticker I wouldn't, Starbuck." Bill laughed ruefully. He wasn't a tall man, not nearly as tall as his eldest boy, Bill Junior, but he seemed like a giant to Dana. He still stood with his officer's erect bearing, though his once flat stomach was considerably rounder and his former thick auburn hair was now mostly gone on top, and what was left was dulled to a brassy color. "Besides, you're mother is glad to have me around the house for a change."
"Yes! I finally get those cabinets fixed and my car's never run better." Maggie teased, as she carried platters out to the dining room table. Fried chicken, Charlie's favorite. Dana glanced at her little brother.
"I got here first, it was my call," he winked. "Hey, Missy, want to help me with Mom in the kitchen." He gave the eldest Scully daughter a pointed look and a jerk of the head towards the kitchen door. It didn't take an idiot to realize what he was about, and Melissa glanced sideways at her younger sister and father.
"Sure," she smiled brightly at her brother, following close behind him, and immediately leaning over to whisper furtively in his ear. Dana watched them with a bemused frown, before turning on her father in confusion.
"My birthday was two months ago, so they can't be planning my present."
Bill chuckled, as he pulled out his traditional seat at the well worn, Scully family dinner table. "No, but your brother is about as good at intrigue as the US Army."
"Must be why he decided to go into Naval ops then," Dana teased, settling beside him and curling her legs onto the rungs of the chair. "What's up, Ahab? Why did you need to get me alone?"
"Nothing, nothing," he pulled an unconcerned face, but Dana didn't buy it. She was an old hat at reading her father, and she prodded his arm gently with one finger.
"Spill it, Ahab." She already had a feeling what this would be about. It was the same argument they had every time she came over for dinner, and it was the reason Dana would rather put hot pokers into her own eyes than spend time with the family she loved and adored.
"How is work?" Her father mumbled, not meeting her eyes.
"Work is fine," she replied evenly, feeling as she did so the walls slam down between her and the man she adored. "I suppose that there isn't much trouble I can get into cutting up dead bodies all day." She tried to lighten her father's mood, remind him that she hadn't completely forsaken medicine all together.
"I hear you're amazing at it."
"Hear," she felt her face tighten as she sat up erect, her face flushing. "Dad, why are you snooping..."
"I'm not," he replied defensively. "I just have connections, that's all. You can't get to be a rear admiral, Starbuck, without having a few friends in high places in government."
"So you can spy on your daughter in the FBI?" She blazed at him.
"I'm not spying," he insisted, "I'm just checking in on you."
"Something you can do with a phone call, Dad, if you would ever talk me about it," she murmured through clenched teeth. "Or is it too much to recognize I have a career that you don't approve of?"
Bill now began to flush himself, whether with guilt or anger, it was hard to tell. "Dana, I'm just making sure you are doing all right. I'm your father…of course I care."
"As always," Dana murmured, her anger fading as her shoulders slumped. The same old argument every time, the same old disappointments. Her father had never and would never accept her career in the FBI. He would rather she have been a doctor, safe in a hospital somewhere, not out in the streets, waving a gun or doing something else dangerous and potentially stupid.
"Starbuck!" He sighed through his pet name for her. "Look, your mother says you are going to Washington on Monday. Something about a new assignment?"
"Yeah," Dana shook herself and plastered on reassuring brightness. "Section Chief Blevin wants me in on a special assignment."
"Don't know what it is?" He at least sounded more interested than he normally did. Dana realized he too was trying his best to make an effort.
"No... no, I guess I find out on Monday."
"Well, I hope it's local. With Missy running off half the time to go 'find herself'," Bill emphasized the 'find herself' with the annoying hand ellipses, "Your mother's getting lonely. There's just Charlie around for company anymore, and that's only till he's finished up with the training he's getting at Annapolis."
"I can't believe they are letting him be a Navy spy." Dana snorted, giggling conspiratorial with her father.
"Shows you what sort of people they are letting into the joint now at days."
"I heard that," Charlie backed out of the kitchen with two bowels in hand and spoons balanced in between. "If they'd let a shrimp the size of Dana into the FBI to shoot a gun, they'll let me into Navy intelligence."
"Watch it pal, or that Navy intelligence might just end up with a bullet or two from that service pistol of mine," Dana warned playfully. "And I learned how to fire a weapon from a Naval officer. I know what I'm doing."
"I'd listen to your sister, Charles, don't cross a woman with a weapon." Bill warned ominously.
"As usual, always taking her side," Charlie complained loudly.