Title: All That is Dark and Bright
Author: Malibu Sunset
Email: malibusunset88@gmail.com
Archive Of Our Own: http://archiveofourown.org/users/Malibusunset/pseuds/Malibusunset
Category: MSR, first time, married fic, kid fic, Emily, mytharc
Rating: NC-17 (parts 1 & 2 are PG-13)
Spoilers: Up through Emily (except Emily does not die. Please see author's notes).

Notes: In this story, Emily is not as sick as she is portrayed in canon, and she does not die. I have no medical background and I've taken all sorts of liberties with medical facts for the sake of fiction.

This is a completed, novel-length story, not a WIP.

Thanks: To Steph, my beta, ideas girl, researcher, and brain twin. Your patience is neverending. Thanks for cheering me on and holding my hand whenever things got scary. You rock my world. As always, this isn't my story, it's our story.

To Blue Samutra, my writing confidante and long-distance friend. You set the bar high, chick. Thanks for all the encouragement and cyber hugs.

To Krissie, for all my formatting and technological needs. Thank you for always making time. You're one of the most generous people I know.

To all the NR's - my cup runneth over for each and every one of you. You're my tribe.


Part 1

December 28, 1997

SCULLY

It's the smell of the air she hates more than anything else. That antiseptic hospital air that reeks of bandages, industrial grade cleaning supplies, and hastily wiped bodily fluids. And it's always a few degrees warmer than comfortable. Just enough to make certain the bacteria and viruses and various pathogens are growing and breeding properly. It never used to bother her before her cancer. Now she prefers the smell of a morgue to the smell of a hospital room. At least there are no unmet expectations in a morgue. No well-meaning, doctor who has to look at your chart first to remind himself which blastoma is yours before he tells you it might be a good idea to get your affairs in order. It took metastatic cancer to make her fully realize how few affairs she had to put in order.

The elevator doors to the maternity ward open and it's like stepping onto another planet. The walls are robin's egg blue and decorated with decals of classic Winnie the Pooh characters. A large painted sign tells her she is entering the Hundred Acre Wood. She had made up her mind when she was trying to decide between the floppy dinosaur and the vintage teddy bear in the gift shop that she would not let this get to her. It was Bill and Tara's moment and she would be happy for them.

There's a bouncy Tigger on the wall outside room 11 and she knocks softly before walking in. "Look who's here," her mother says, beaming down at a squirming green flannel bundle. The bundle grunts in response and Dana sees a tiny mottled fist thrust itself out of the blankets.

She smiles and approaches her sister-in-law first. "Hi, how are you feeling?" Dana sets the vase of flowers and the dinosaur down on the bedside table, then bends to embrace her sister-in-law.

Tara pats her arm. "I feel really good, actually. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I think I scared Bill a little though." She chuckles, self-consciously. "He's never heard me say things like that to him."

"Oh, he'll get over it," assures Maggie. "Back when mine were born, they wouldn't even allow the fathers in the delivery room. Thank goodness that's changed."

Dana turns her attention now to the newest Scully. He has a cherub face, long lashes, and a shock of orange-red hair. It would figure that her brother, who never did anything half-assed in his life, would manage to produce a perfect child. Melissa had been the free-spirited, rebellious one, while Charlie was forever the baby. It's up to her now to be the disappointment, she supposes. Barren and married to her job, it's been a number of years since her mother stopped expecting her to call with good news. She survived cancer for Christ's sake. What more can anyone expect from her?

Her family is reluctantly supportive of her desire to adopt Emily. They don't understand where the child came from, nor how she could possibly fit into their lives. The sympathetic doubt is in their eyes every time they look at Dana. But she's not *really* yours, they think. No matter what the science says, she can't really be yours.

She knows her mother loves her, that she means well, and there are times when she doesn't know what she'd do without her. But then she remembers how far she's come since she was her Daddy's pride and joy, Valedictorian of her high school class with scholarship offers from four competitive universities. Sometimes she wonders if her mother even really knows who she is anymore.

When Matthew is placed in her arms, she can't speak for a long minute. It's been forever since she's held a baby this small, probably since her godson was born. She's learned the hard way that the world is a cruel place, but looking down at something so perfect, she can't help but believe in the good for a while. "He's beautiful," she says, and means it so very much.

"He looks just like his daddy," admits Tara.

"Oh he has your nose and mouth," says Maggie. "Nine pounds already! He's going to be a big boy."

Dana gently unwraps a corner of the swaddling and touches a tiny baby foot. "How big was Bill, Mom?"

"Only seven pounds. Melissa and Charlie were the biggest, but that's because I went past my due date with both of them. Charlie was nine days late and it was July! My feet were swollen like balloons." Maggie's hand rests on her daughter's shoulder. "You were the smallest one. You only weighed a little over six pounds. Your father called you his little jellybean. You were the only one of my babies born on your due date."

She smiles up at her mother. "You never told me that."

"I was starting to wonder if this little guy was ever going to arrive," says Tara.

Maggie looks at the baby wistfully. "Oh they all come in their own time."

"Where is Bill anyway?" Dana dips her face to breathe in the fresh baby scent.

"I sent him home to take a shower and a nap," replies Tara. "I had to force him to go. He'd hold that baby all day if I'd let him."

Little Matthew stretches and turns is head, face reddening in a wide toothless yawn, before settling again. Dana thinks that yes, this wouldn't be a bad way to pass the day.

"He likes you," Maggie says, smiling. "He was restless with Grandma."

"What time is it?" asks Tara. "He'll probably want to eat again soon."

Dana sneaks a look at her watch. "Almost three."

Maggie stands next to the rocking chair and runs her fingers over the baby's peachy soft head, unwilling to stray far from her first grandchild. "Are you flying back to DC tomorrow, honey?"

"Um, no, actually." Dana clears her throat. "Our court date has been moved up to a week from Thursday. And Emily's case worker is certain she can get me daily visitation in the meantime, so I'll be staying here a little longer."

Her mother does a poor job at masking her surprise. "Next Thursday? That soon?"

"You're welcome to continue staying with us, if you'd like," offers Tara. "Matthew will sleep in our room for a while, although I can't promise the house will be very quiet."

"Thank you, I appreciate it," replies Dana, "but I've moved my things to a hotel. I think it will be good for me to have a place to take Emily."

Matthew begins to fuss and turn his head. She runs a thumb along his cheek to soothe him and he roots hungrily.

"I think that's my cue," says Tara with a quiet laugh as Dana transfers the baby to her waiting arms. "You can stay if you want to. It doesn't bother me."

"I'd like to, but I have a meeting with Emily's case worker in another hour. I'd better head out, but I'll stop back in tomorrow. Unless you're going home."

Tara is busy adjusting the baby to her breast and doesn't look up. "Wednesday, I think."

Maggie waits patiently until Matthew is nursing and then bends to plant a kiss to her daughter-in-law's cheek and another to the baby's fontanel. "I'm going to go now too, honey, and let you both get your rest. I'll be back in the morning."


The elevator door closes on them before her mother says anything. "I think it's nice that Fox is so supportive of your desire to try and adopt."

Dana stares up at the illuminated numbers counting down their descent. "He knows what it means to me."

"Well it's certainly a big decision."

"What are you trying to say, Mom?"

"Nothing, Sweetheart. I just want you to be sure you've thought this through, that's all. A single woman, taking on the responsibility of a child with special needs...I'm just not sure you realize how this will change your life."

She turns to look at her mother just as the elevator stops and the doors open on the ground floor. "I have thought about it, Mom. And I realize it's not going to be easy, but I know I can do this. Why can't you be happy for me like you are for Bill and Tara?"

"Oh Honey," her mother sighs, following her out of the elevator. They find a place to stand, in a nook by a series of vending machines. "I am happy for you. You're my only daughter and I just want what's best for you, that's all."

She feels the sting of tears and blinks them away through deep breaths. "*This* is what's best for me, Mom. I may not have given birth to her, but Emily is my daughter. And I can give her a good life. It's my only chance to have a child...my child." She loses the battle with her emotions and swipes under her mascaraed eyes with the pads of her fingers. "It's what I want, and it would really mean a lot if you could want it for me too."

Strong arms pull her into a fierce hug and her mother's hands are warm against the back of her hair. "Of course I do. You know I'm here for you and I love you very much. I'll always support your decisions." She is calmed by her mother's touch, by her smell, feeling childlike again.

"Thank you," she whispers to her. "I'm excited and afraid at the same time."

"I know you are. But if anyone can do this, you can. You've always been my strongest child, Dana." Releasing the embrace, the two women make their way slowly out down the hallway of the hospital toward the parking garage, arm in arm. "Do you remember what you used to say to me when you were a little girl and you'd fall and skin your knee?"

She sniffs and shakes her head.

"You used to watch me while I bandaged you up with those curious baby blues, and you'd say to me, 'It's okay Mommy. Don't be sad.'"

A laugh escapes Dana. "My God, I was always getting hurt, wasn't I?"

Her mother smiles. "You were my tomboy and you were so brave." Her hand slips down to grasp her daughter's. "You've always had an inner strength."

She squeezes her mother's hand. "I might know where that came from." Her phone chirps from inside her overcoat and she checks the display window before answering.

"Hey Scully, you still at the hospital?"

"Just leaving now." She checks her watch. "I thought your flight took off two hours ago."

"It did."

"Then why are you still in California?"

His voice has a breeziness about it and she can hear the cracking of sunflower seeds through the phone. She imagines he's wearing his Ray-Bans and looking very West Coast. "I've got some time off coming. Figured I'd stick around here a little longer, see what kind of trouble I can get into."

She glances at her mother who is pretending not to eavesdrop and doing a pretty poor job of it. "I'm not staying at my brother's anymore. I'm at the-"

"Hyatt Regency," he finishes. "Yeah, I couldn't reach you so I called around, starting with the hotels closest to the court house." Her brows rise involuntarily. "This place is way more expensive than our usual haunts, Scully. Did you get a raise I don't know about?"

"You're at the Hyatt now?"

"Fifth floor. I tried to get the room next to yours, but apparently there's an undertakers convention this weekend and the hotel is pretty booked up. But hey, the upside is that the place should be pretty dead."

She can't help but smile. Her mother has taken an unusual interest in her own shoes.

"So I was thinking," he continues, "I could catch up with you after your meeting and we could grab some dinner. If you're not too busy."

"No, I'm not too busy." She nudges some crumbled asphalt with the tip of her boot. "Dinner sounds good. I'll call you later."

By the time the call ends, they've arrived at Tara's car - the one her mother's been driving back and forth to the hospital. Dana searches her coat pocket for the keys to her rental, trying to remember exactly where she parked. "You're sure you'll be okay getting back to Bill's?"

"I lived here for twenty-one years." Maggie smiles, patiently. "I'm sure I can find my way." Her mother places her purse onto the passenger seat. "I'd ask you to dinner, but it sounds like you already have plans."

Dana fingers her keys. "I'm sure I'll see you tomorrow. I'll try and stop by the hospital again."

"So Fox will be staying here a little longer then."

Dana draws a deep breath and nods. "It looks that way."

When she finally looks up, her mother is studying her with a smile hidden behind her eyes. "What, Mom?"

"I didn't say anything."

"You may as well."

"Like I said before, I just think it's nice that Fox came all the way out here to be with you, that's all."

"Mom," she starts, shaking her head, a puff of air leaving her in a quiet rush. "Mulder and I are partners, and there are aspects of Emily's case that could be related to our work back in Washington. It's complicated."

"Okay," her mother says in quiet acceptance, her eyes moving in thought as she studies her daughter. "That explains why he came in the first place. It doesn't explain why he's still here."

Another argument starts to leave her mouth, but suddenly she's lost for a response, and it doesn't matter anyway because her family is never going to get it. She hardly does herself. "I have to go, Mom. I'll be late."

Maggie runs one small hand affectionately from Dana's shoulder to her elbow. There are deeper wrinkles etched into her forehead and the grey seems to be creeping in a little more frequently these days. "You know, Dana, it's all right to need people."

"I know that, Mom," she says with a dismissive huff. "We're not...it's not like that between us, that's all."

There's a marked hesitation before her mother finally nods and gets behind the steering wheel of the car. "Try and stop by the hospital tomorrow. Your brother will be sorry he missed you. And give Fox my best."

"Mom," she raises her eyes, "this isn't crazy. I'm doing the right thing; I'm certain of it."

This time there's no hesitation in her mother's response, only the unconditional love she's come to depend on. "I know you are. Go fight for your daughter."

**

She pushes rigatoni around on her plate, lost in thought, before finally giving up on having any kind of appetite. She sets her fork down and settles for a drink of water.

He's studying her, chewing. "So that's all she said - just don't get your hopes up? That's rather fatalistic."

Scully shrugs heavily. "I'm sure she didn't mean it unkindly. But let's face it - my chances aren't great. In fact, they're pretty poor, actually."

"She's not a judge, Scully. She can't possibly know what-"

"Anne has been an adoption case worker for twenty years, Mulder. She knows how these things work. I'm a single woman in a high-risk profession. The chances of me being granted sole custody of Emily are...not great."

"Yeah, but you're her biological mother, for one thing, and you're a doctor. You can manage her condition, make sure she gets the best treatment."

"And I'm hoping that makes a difference. But I'm not sure it'll be enough."

Their waiter approaches, refills their water glasses, and eyes her uneaten pasta. "Is there something wrong, Ma'am? Is it too spicy? "

She shakes her head, apologetically, and returns a weak smile. "No, no, it's fine. I'm just not as hungry as I thought I was."

"Another glass of wine perhaps?"

That's all she needs. More wine on an empty stomach. She'll end up passing out in the cab back to the hotel, or worse yet, crying all over Mulder like a basket case. "Just a cup of coffee, please."

The waiter nods politely and leaves.

"Roberta Sim has a sister who lives in Sacramento," Scully says quietly. "Apparently, she's considering filing for custody of Emily."

There's a pause in Mulder's chewing and he seems to be looking at her more intently than before. "When did you find this out?"

"Just this afternoon." Scully fingers her unused dessert fork absently, not meeting his eyes. "She's, uh, a fourth grade teacher, married with a seven-year-old daughter."

He sighs and pushes his dinner plate away in frustration. "This is crazy, Scully. You're her mother. That has to count for something."

"Yes, well." Her mouth is pursed tightly as she raises and lowers her brows. "Anne suggested that I speak with my attorney about petitioning for permanent visitation instead of custody. I'd get to see Emily on a regular basis, and no reasonable judge would deny it. If I lose a custody battle, I could end up with nothing."

He doesn't reply for a long time, his eyes wandering over her. "So what would you do - move out here?"

She nods slowly. "Yes. I have enough time in to request a transfer. Under the circumstances, I don't think I'd be denied."

The silence grows heavy between them and she can't begin to guess what he's thinking, or maybe she doesn't want to. She drinks her coffee and when the bill comes, he picks it up without their usual tug-of-war. The air is dense with a misty rain when they leave the restaurant, rain-slickened city streets a blur of refracted headlights. He canopies his overcoat above her head as they wait for a cab.


When the elevator stops on her floor, he holds the door half a beat longer than she needs to make her exit. "I think I'll take a bath and go to bed," she says by way of an acceptable excuse, just in case he thinks it might be a good night for one of their mini bar and movie marathons. Truth is, she wouldn't mind his company. But as her gaze drifts over him slouching against the door with his tie loosened and just the hint of five o'clock shadow, she's afraid that wouldn't be all she'd want.

"Night, Scully," he says with soft eyes, and she comes damned near close to pulling him down the hallway with her.


The bath does little to relax her, nor provide distraction from the decisions she has to make in the next few days. She considers calling her mother - it's only a little after nine - but can't bring herself to burden her with one more thing in her daughter's life to worry about. No, let her enjoy this time with Bill and Tara and Matthew.

She thinks about what it might be like to move back to California. Being closer to her brother, getting to watch Matthew grow up. She and her sister-in-law have never been especially close, but she thinks they could be if there weren't so many miles between them. Her mother might even consider moving back west with her.

And there are options besides the Bureau to consider. California has some of the best hospitals in the country. Maybe changing more than just her geography isn't such a bad idea. She could be earning three times her government salary in medicine and not have to risk her life doing it. She could sleep in her own bed for more than three nights out of any given week. The items in her wardrobe would last more than a month before ultimate ruin.

Maybe she'd even meet somebody.

There's a sudden painful twisting in her stomach that must be from having eaten only a few bites at dinner. She's always been good at this - telling herself what she needs to hear.

She releases the knot at the top of her towel and lets it fall to the carpet, then steps bravely in front of the full-length mirror. Her fingers pluck the clips from her hair and damp, russet strands tumble down like a waterfall. She turns in profile and studies her naked body, running her palms down her ribcage, past the dip in her waist.

She's gained back all but ten pounds of what the cancer stole from her. There's a roundness in her hips she hasn't seen in a year and she's filling out her bras again. She could've sworn she caught Mulder staring the other day. It had been at her brother's house, of all places, and she'd been wearing the light grey, v-neck sweater. When she'd looked up from the coffee maker and handed him his mug, his eyes had been nowhere near her face. It certainly wasn't a solitary incident by any means, but it was the first time since her cancer and one of the only times she can remember him blushing over it.

Her hands rise to cup her breasts, feeling the weight of them. She pushes them together and tilts her head, examining herself critically in the mirror. They're not bad. She'd be a disappointment in one of Mulder's videos, but overall, they're decent. Pleasantly round, high and firm, but not unnaturally so. Maybe she'll buy one of those bras that's supposed to seriously amplify your d‚colletage. Mulder would sit across from her in their basement office, completely unaware of what she had on under her prim suit. The idea is both discouraging and a little arousing at the same time.

She jiggles them a little, experimentally. Jack and Ethan had been breast men; Daniel not so much. The night she spent with Ed Jerse, she had barely gotten her pants off before they were sliding against each other with her back pressed to the wall. He pawed at her roughly through her bra and left bite marks on her shoulder. Among other things.

By the time she finally gets into bed, she's not as tired as she thought she would be and she lays there, watching shadows on the walls before giving in and reaching for her phone. He answers on the first ring and there's noise in the background that doesn't sound at all like the TV. "Hey Scully. I thought you were going to call it a day."

"I was...I am. Where are you?"

"In the hotel bar. Why don't you come down?"

"I'm in bed," she says, matter-of-factly.

"So get dressed then. I'll buy you a drink."

"Uh," she hesitates, looking at the clock on her nightstand, then sighs and sits up. A drink doesn't sound half bad. "I'll be down in a few minutes."


Mulder cracks open a peanut shell and empties the contents into his mouth, then adds it to the growing mountain on the table between them. "I'm not saying it doesn't make sense, Scully. I'm just saying that human beings are incredibly complex creatures. I just don't think it's possible to predict what motivates them."

"Well, you've got Maslow's Hierarchy as the obvious theory. Meet the lower level needs before progressing up the pyramid to the emotional and intellectual ones. It's your basic Psych 101." She pokes holes into her lime wedge with a swizzle stick. "Although, psychologists have been challenging the simplicity of Maslow's pyramid for decades."

They've each finished their third drink and it's well past midnight. The piano player packed up almost an hour ago after an impressive repertoire of Billy Joel, James Taylor, and Elton John. His rendition of Just the Way You Are got a standing ovation from the drunk couple two tables over. Well, more of a leaning ovation.

"Yes," Mulder continues, "but I'm saying we know for a fact that human beings are still evolving. We never stop. Wouldn't it be even remotely feasible that over time, we might evolve into creatures that no longer have the same basic needs?" He tugs his slagging tie off completely and drapes it over the chair between them.

She eyeballs him. "Food and water...clothing...shelter - you're trying to say we won't need these things generations from now." Things would go so much more smoothly between them if he didn't have to always be right. Or wait, is that her? She's lost track.

"Of course we will. But I'm saying it *could* be possible for us to *eventually* evolve to the point that those things are less critical to our survival, and other needs such as spiritual and intellectual enlightenment become more important. It's essentially a complete reordering of Maslow's hierarchy."

She folds her arms over her chest and slouches into her chair, frowning tiredly at him. "Thousands and thousands of years, Mulder. And people are still motivated by the same basic things. I mean, sure, maybe we used to be happy with a few root vegetables and some bacteria tainted water and now we want a Big Mac and a milkshake, but it's not all that vastly different in the grand scheme of things."

"Ah, but it could be. You have to wanna see the possibilities, Scully. I don't think you really want to see them."

She indulges him with a trace smile. "I have to admit, that would be some pretty fancy evolving. So then, what - we'd all sit around meditating the day away instead of eating, drinking and -and-"

"Having sex," he finishes, looking pleased with himself.

She lines up peanut shells without making eye contact. "Well, you could argue we've already evolved sexually. Pre-modern man used to mate with as many women as possible in order to keep his genetic lineage going, while women were inclined toward monogamy and pair bonding in order to ensure the survival of offspring. But now... now humans have evolved to the point where sexual activity serves many purposes, not just procreation."

"Ah, so we've somehow managed to evolve ourselves into having more rather than less sex." He's gleaming like a toothpaste ad. "That's rather genius of us, don't you think. Because let's face it, if we evolved ourselves right out of the inclination to have sex, then we'd be a bit screwed, wouldn't we ...pun intended."

"I guess we'd evolve ourselves out of our own existence," she ponders aloud, wondering how far back in the conversation he realized that this would eventually come around to sex.

"Mmm hmmmm." He taps his fingers pensively on the smooth wooden grain of the table. "Well, in my opinion, it would never happen."

"What wouldn't?"

"No sex. It's too huge a motivating factor."

"Oh, but food and water aren't?"

"At the risk of insulting my own gender, Scully, I'm a man. Nine times out of ten, if you ask me whether I'd rather eat dinner or have sex, I'll pass on the steak."

She coughs on the ice cube she's crunching, but recovers quickly. "What makes you think that sentiment applies only to men?" Did she really just say that? Perhaps that third gin and tonic wasn't such a hot idea.

The surprise flashes on his face for a split second before he lowers his eyes and regards her darkly. "Want another drink, Scully?" he teases, jokingly.

She smiles, trying to ignore how the alcohol is making her insides feel all warm and liquidy. "Well, men and women may have evolved," she sighs, "but sadly, Child Protective Services is obviously stuck in the Stone Age. They seem to believe that my marital status has some kind of direct influence on my ability to be a good mother. Honestly, it's beyond frustrating." The latent alcohol has left a sour taste in her mouth and she begins rooting around in the dark corners of her purse for a piece of gum or a mint. "I mean, it's 1998. You'd think that after all this time-"

"We could get married."

She freezes, statuesque, just as her fingernails brush against a roll of Lifesaver mints. She just looks at him for an endless minute, waiting for the inevitable punch line. Three drinks in as many hours means he can't be drunk, so there must be another explanation.

"You're looking at me like it's the craziest idea I've ever had."

She blinks several times. She can't think of a single thing to say. Not one.

"Let's just consider it objectively for a moment," he presses. "You just told me that you're being discriminated against as an adoptive parent because you're single. And right or wrong, that seems to be the way things work. But we have the ability to change that if you want, Scully. If you could get custody of your daughter, then maybe we should consider it."

Her hand withdraws from the purse, empty. The mint no longer seems to be the most pressing thing on her mind. "Mulder, I..." she shakes her head, her lips forming words that are just out of reach. "We can't just...I mean, it would be..."

A small chuckle escapes him, a hint of recklessness in his eyes. "Brilliant, actually." The palm of his hand comes down onto the tabletop, audibly. "It would be brilliant."

He's lost it. He's gone and lost his marbles this time. She always knew it could happen.

"You're her biological mother, Scully. You're a doctor and you can manage Emily's condition better than anyone. If they want to make an issue out of you being single, then the hell with them - we can fix that."

"It's not something you just fix." Her eyes plead with him and she can't believe they're actually having this conversation. "Marriage is a serious commitment. In this case, not just to me, but to Emily as well. I'm sorry, Mulder, I can't ask you to do that."

"I know that." His tone of voice has a weight to it she's not sure she's ever heard from him before. "Believe me, I know exactly what it would mean. And it seems to me that you're not the one asking, Scully. I am." He shifts in his seat a little and pushes his chair back to stand. "If you want me to do this properly and get down-"

"Oh God, Mulder!" Her hand darts out to touch his forearm as she coaxes him back firmly to his seat. "Please don't...do that." Her cheeks are on fire and her eyes travel the dark room to see if anyone else is watching them. They're the only two left in the bar. "It's a very generous offer," she says, softly, "but I...I'm sorry, Mulder, I can't accept."

He waits several beats before saying anything. The air between them seems to thicken. "Okay." His voice is quiet.

"Mulder, it's just that there's no guarantee that even if we were to get married I'd be granted custody, and I just think that-"

"No, you're right." He nods, emphatically. "You're absolutely right."

She wets her lips, anxiously. "I am?"

"Yeah, of course," he chuffs. "It was just an idea. No big deal." He reaches into his jacket for his wallet and peels off a couple of bills, tossing them onto the table. "It's getting late. I think I'm gonna head up and give that sleep thing another shot." His smile is warm, but she can see something else masked behind his eyes.

They ride up in the elevator in silence, agreeing to meet up for coffee the next morning. When she finally rolls onto the crisp, bleachy sheets of the hotel bed, she tosses and turns for several more restless hours, unable to turn off her brain. The first traces of dawn have just begun to erase the night when Scully finally succumbs to sleep.

December 31, 1997

The sky is a deep cloudless blue, the color of her daughter's eyes. The slight breeze picks up and Scully bends down to zip Emily's jacket, fitting the hood over her flaxen head and tugging the strings on the side. Emily responds with a little nose wrinkle before wiggling out of it again.

"No hood, huh?" Scully smiles. "I don't care for them either." They hold hands, walking the edge of the playground toward a small set of empty swings.

It's their fourth straight day of visits and they seem to like to do this best - go for walks, sometimes along the beach to collect sea shells, sometimes to the playground. The second day they were together, it rained. They stayed in her hotel room, coloring pictures and playing card games. Anne stayed, but she sat in the hotel lobby doing paperwork.

The last two days, she's been allowed to take Emily for the afternoon without Anne hovering. It's unlikely to be proper protocol, but Scully gets the feeling Anne likes her and has the authority to do some rule-bending. She'd love to keep Emily for an overnight, but it's probably out of the question.

She gives Emily a boost onto a black rubber swing seat. "High," begs Emily, and Scully smiles, beginning to push.

"Not too high, Emily. I don't want you to fall."

"Higher," laughs the little girl, leaning into the wind and holding on for dear life. They had the exact same verbal exchange the first day they came to the park.

Emily has been healthy lately. Her coloring is rosy and her appetite good, but Scully knows it could change at any time. Her particular form of anemia is characterized by alternating bouts of illness and good health. In most patients, it's manageable. But Emily's doctors don't understand why her response to conventional medical treatment has been inconsistent and unpredictable. That's because they're looking for answers in all the wrong places. Medical textbooks, journals, and historical cases can only explain just so much. Emily doesn't respond to normal treatment because she isn't a normal little girl.

Scully wants to adopt Emily because she's her daughter and she'd love nothing more than to raise her own child and give her the life she deserves. But that's not the only reason.

As Mulder has wisely pointed out to her, she might be the only chance Emily has to survive. Without effective treatment, Emily's condition will worsen gradually over time and it's entirely possible the child won't survive until adulthood. The knowledge that she and Mulder have about Emily's origins, combined with Scully's medical expertise, could mean the difference between life and death. With or without adoption rights, Scully intends to make it her crusade to find her daughter's cure. However, if she's not Emily's custodial parent, she'll be prohibited from making medical decisions on her behalf, creating one more hurdle.

"Will I go live with you?" Emily's small voice asks, and Scully allows the swing to slow almost to a stop as she sits down on the one beside it. Emily is not looking at her. She is picking at a pink thread on the bottom of her coat, her glossy hair falling into her eyes.

"I don't know," Scully answers honestly. "I would like that very much. But it's not entirely up to me."

"My Aunt Linda might want me to live with her too. I heard Anne tell you."

Scully nods carefully. "How would you feel about that?"

Tiny shoulders lift a little in a shrug. "I only went to her house one time before. She sent me a dress for Christmas, but it's too small."

Scully takes Emily's hand and the girl curls her fingers around hers. "Well, the important thing to remember, I think, is that there are a lot of people who want what's best for you. And no matter what happens, everything is going to be all right."

"What if I get sick again?"

Scully's heart skips a beat. She takes a deep breath and manages a tender smile, the edges of her eyes shiny. "Then we'll find the very best doctors to help you."

"You're a doctor," replies the girl softly. "Can you help me?"

Oh God. She presses her mouth to the cool silk of her daughters head. "Yes," she promises, and means it from the bottom of her heart. "I'm going to do everything I can."

There are other children on the playground now, shrieking and laughing on the jungle gym. Normal, healthy children without a care in the world, and she thinks this is what it will be like for Emily soon. This is what it will be like if she has anything to do with it.

"How about some lunch," she suggests. "I'm getting hungry. Are you?"

Their arms swing together as they make their way over the grass toward the sidewalk, small purple sneakers working to keep up. "I like cheeseburgers," says the little girl and Scully feigns an exaggerated look of surprise.

"You're kidding! You do? Well, I like cheeseburgers too."

Emily giggles.

"I'll bet we can find some cheeseburgers around here, don't you think?"

January 2, 1998

"I'm thinking of heading back," he says, emptying a second creamer into his mug and stirring. The coffee is the color of those cellophane wrapped caramels her father used to love, the ones that got stuck in your teeth for hours.

"To D.C.?" Her own cup is poised in front of her mouth. She deposits it back onto the table, untouched. "Is there a case?"

He nods. "In Baltimore County. Just came across Skinner's desk yesterday. Two college students."

"An X File?"

"Probably not. The last victim, Leah Carson James, is the granddaughter of a senator."

"Phillip Carson? The one who's been in the media for supporting the new landfill bill?"

Their waitress returns and Mulder orders a stack of pancakes, while Scully opts for a poached egg and English muffin. She wants to ask the girl why she isn't in school because she can't be a day over sixteen. The heart tattoo on her thin wrist tells them that there is or was a man in her life named Kyle.

"One and the same," Mulder answers, motioning for a refill of coffee. "Senator Carson's not the most popular man on the planet."

"What about the other victim?"

He shakes his head. "No connection yet."

She studies him for a moment. "It sounds like a high profile homicide investigation, Mulder. Not an X-File."

"You're probably right," he agrees, matter-of-factly. "But there's a shortage of man power with the holidays." He takes a drink of coffee. "Natalie Powers is putting together a task force. She said she could use my help, if I'm interested."

"You talked to her already?" The forced nonchalance is just about killing her.

"Yeah."

Scully knows Natalie. She's nice. She's young and reasonably attractive. She's young and attractive and nice. She probably has cellulite in places you can't see.

"When will you go?"

"Tomorrow maybe. Or Wednesday. I haven't decided yet."

"My hearing's been pushed to next Monday," she says, casually.

He looks surprised. "When did you find that out?"

"Just this morning. I called to tell my attorney that I'm definitely pursuing custody. Helena wants the weekend to prepare."

"Were you going to say something?"

"I am saying something. I've been thinking about it, but I just decided for sure last night."

He nods slowly and swallows. "That's, uh, that's great news, Scully. I'm happy for you. I think you have a really good shot." They both know he's lying.

"Thanks. So, um, I was going to ask you about being a character witness for me, but-"

"Well I can fly back out," he interrupts. "That is, if I do decide to go home between now and then. I can always fly back out for the hearing Monday. It would be no problem."

She offers him a grateful, slightly timid smile. "I'd appreciate it."

"Of course. I wouldn't miss it."

Their food arrives and they eat breakfast quietly, Scully interjecting inane questions about the Leah Carson James case and Mulder answering politely with what little he knows. Who else is on the task force, what they know about the other victim, Senator Carson's politics, whether Natalie Powers contacted Mulder or he called her. She did.

When the check comes, they split the bill. Mulder asks where she's headed next and she says she plans to stop by her brother's and see the baby. She'll be taking Emily to the park later and wonders if he'd like to join them. He says he's planning to drive down the coast this afternoon, but if he's back in time, he'd like to.

She thinks back on yesterday's visit, remembering how while she was on the phone with her mother, Mulder and Emily traded silly faces and Mulder used magic markers to draw on his hands. By the time she got off the phone, Mulder had put together an entire puppet show with his fingers. She had watched without them knowing. Emily laughed harder than she'd ever seen her before.

"Well, call and let me know then," she says, fussing with her jacket. "Emily will want to see you before you leave for D.C."

He nods with a side smile, green marker smears still on his hands. "I owe her an ice cream." He lost at Go Fish.

In the parking lot, they hit the highway going in opposite directions.

January 3, 1998

It's warm enough to be outside in just shirt sleeves two days after New Years in Southern California. She had forgotten what this was like - day after day of unyielding sunshine. It seems like a gift now, but she wonders how long before she'd take it for granted again. She doesn't remember even noticing the weather much when she was growing up, other than her mother's watchful eye on the storm report when her father was at sea.

She's wearing a pair of khakis, a navy blue fitted, long-sleeved tee shirt, and tennis shoes. She fits some cash and her cell phone into her pocket, leaving her jacket and purse in her hotel room. Anne is on her way over to drop off Emily. Scully makes her way to the elevator and then to Mulder's room on the floor above hers. The plan is to go for ice cream on the board walk. He's scheduled on an early morning flight back to D.C. tomorrow.

She wishes he would stay in California with her, but she won't say that. It's just not the sort of thing they do.

Mulder's wearing Converse, worn jeans, and his signature grey tee shirt (does he buy those in bulk?) when he answers the door, a toothbrush swishing around in his mouth. "Shorry," he froths, swinging the door wide so she can walk under his arm. "I'm late."

"It's okay. Emily had a doctor's appointment this morning. They won't be here for another twenty minutes."

She listens to his oral hygiene routine and considers when it became acceptable for them to do these things in front of each other. "Everything okay?" he asks, between spits. They draw the line at undressing. Well, mostly.

"As far as I know it was just a check-up. Her counts have been all right." Genuine relief flashes on his face and she loves him for it. He closes the bathroom door and she can hear him using the toilet. Even that's not weird anymore. She used to run water when he was sitting on the other side of the bathroom door waiting for her because, honestly, who needs to listen to someone else pee. But somewhere along the line that stopped mattering too. Probably about the time he was helping her to the toilet so she could vomit.

She wanders around his hotel room. A pair of Levis with a frayed knee, belt still attached, are flung over a chair. His charcoal suit, still encased in drycleaning plastic, hangs over the closet door with the paper slip stapled to the bag. She can tell which side of the king-sized bed he slept on because there's an indentation where his head must've been and an avalanche of books and disheveled newspapers on the opposite side. It doesn't even look like the sheets were turned down. It would be like him to fall asleep on top, book overturned on his chest and glasses perched on the end of his nose.

A half-full tumbler of clear liquid has left a ring on the nightstand and she lifts the glass to smell it, curious. Just water. When Mulder drinks with any seriousness, he does it in bars. His apartment fridge is usually stocked with decent beer and they drink it together on occasion. There are a few bottles of harder stuff in one of his kitchen cupboards, but she's never seen him drink any of it. The only reason she knows it's there is because she emptied his dishwasher once when he had the flu.

The pad of hotel stationary by the phone has a hodgepodge of notes in Mulder scrawl on it, even messier than usual. Delt Phi Eps, Dec. 28, lunch w/ roommate Heather Boyce. Anthro honors. They're not the sort of things Mulder would usually pick to focus on. She's used to reading notes like spontaneous human combustion, Mole People 1956, Berwyn Mountains UFO crash, multiple abductees, alien-human hybrid. This just looks like ...a case.

"Her sorority sister was the last person to see her alive. Three days after Christmas." His voice behind her is startling and she jumps. "Leah went back to campus before the start of the new semester to get some research done on her anthropology project."

Scully places the pad of paper back down onto the nightstand. She thinks about asking again what the draw is here for him, why he's bothering to fly back for this. "Is there a boyfriend?" she asks instead, non-plussed.

"Nobody regular. A guy from home she saw once in a while, but his alibi checks out."

Her next question was going to be how he got all the case information so quickly, but there's a fax cover sheet teetering on a stack of books at the edge of the bed. Fourteen pages, faxed at 10:39 last night by Special Agent Natalie Powers.

"No prints at the scene," he says, watching her eyes scan the bed, "and some personal things were missing from her room."

Scully frowns. "Like what?"

"Photos, jewelry, some clothing."

"Similar M.O. to the first killing?"

"Yes. Well, in that they were both found strangled in their beds. No connection between the victims that we know of, and they attended small, private colleges twenty-five miles apart." He transfers his wallet and keys from the pocket of the unworn jeans to the ones he has on. Sits on the bed and secures his weapon into an ankle holster.

She hasn't bothered to bring hers today, hasn't in fact been carrying it the entire time she's been in California. It just feels weird to be swinging on playgrounds and eating hot dogs on the boardwalk with her Sig strapped on. Emily thinks she's a doctor. Doctors don't carry guns. If she's granted custody, they'll eventually have to get more specific about what it is she does for a living.

When her cell phone rings, she starts searching frantically about his room, looking for where she left her purse before she remembers that she stuffed the phone into the pocket of her pants. He grins at her and she shrugs back at him and answers.

His face changes expression, his smile dissolving, as he watches her navigate the call. She breaks eye contact with him the moment she feels the sting behind her eyes and the lump form in her throat. "I understand," she tells her attorney. "No, I know...I know. Do you need me to come in today or..." She sits down on his bed and feels the weight of a pile of books slide into her back side. "Okay, that's fine. Thank you for letting me know."

When she tucks her phone away, he's watching her with concern. "What is it? Is it Emily? Is she-"

"No, Emily's fine. That was my attorney. Roberta Sims' sister has filed for custody."

He doesn't have to ask her what that means for her case because they both know. He immediately crosses to sit with her on the edge of the bed, their thighs touching.

"My case was weak to begin with," she admits, "but now..."

"Scully..." he palms the back of her head and coaxes it gently down onto his shoulder. She can tell he's looking for something to say to her and coming up empty and she finds herself wanting to reassure him for some unknown reason. If she says a word, though, she'll cry and so she just sighs against his arm.

"Is there anything else we can do...did she say? I mean, you're her mother. That has to count for something."

"I don't know," she sniffles. "I've still got a shot and I'm not giving up, but short of praying for a miracle, I can't tell you."

"That might be your department," he mumbles with his mouth pressed hotly to her hair.

She wants to stay right there and not move, for days perhaps. Until the hearing. Until someone tells her if she can be a mother or not. "We have to go," she says instead. "Anne and Emily will be downstairs in the lobby soon." She pulls her head from him and swipes two fingers underneath her eyes, then examines them for evidence of mascara. "Am I a mess?"

He shakes his head no and his eyes scan her face thoughtfully. They sit there for a long moment, then he squeezes her hand and sighs. "Remember the other night," he says quietly, "in the hotel bar?"

"Yeah." Her voice is cautious. How can she not remember that? In fact, she's found herself waking up in the middle of the night remembering it.

"Well I know you said no, and I think I understand why, but..." He pauses and she can feel heat flood to her cheeks. She's suddenly aware that they're holding hands and his thumb is stroking hers. "Just think about it, Scully. I know you think it's crazy. And I know there are no guarantees... about custody, but if it could help you get your daughter..."

Her mouth goes dry and her lips part as she draws shallow breaths.

"We could do it, Scully. People get married for a lot of reasons. Why is this one any less meaningful? This little girl should be with you and if there's anything we can do to make that happen, then I don't see why we shouldn't do it."

She sucks in a quick breath at his sudden, unexpected proposal and bites down on her bottom lip, feeling the tears threaten.

"I know this is nothing like what you expected for your life," he continues, "and I realize we could do this and still not get her, but it's the best chance we've got. And if we have to appeal, then we will. We'll get the best attorneys and we'll appeal it. Hell, we'll appeal it so many times the courts will beg us to take Emily and move as far away from California as possible."

She releases a half laugh, half sob at that and shakes her amazed head at him.

"You're not a quitter, Scully. You've never quit on anything before in your life. Don't quit on this."

She contemplates, drawing quick air through her parted lips and trying to keep everything in focus through the tears.

"Just think about it, Scully, that's all I'm saying." He catches her eyes and holds them. "The offer is on the table."

"Okay," she whispers, not even believing what's coming out of her mouth. "I'll think about it."

Mulder sits stoic and speechless for a dozen heartbeats, then he laughs.

"What's so funny?" She frowns at him, childlike.

"People would call you Mrs. Spooky," he says, still chuckling.

The corners of her mouth lift like the air in the room. "They already do. Can you imagine what Skinner would say?"

"We'd make a lot of people in the betting pool a lot of money."

She eyes him warily. "You don't really believe that, do you? That people bet real money on whether you and I- if we..."

His smile is devious. "Well, I don't think getting married is what they're betting on us doing, but yes from what I've heard, money is on the table."

She shakes her head, blinking slowly. "People are so strange."

He snorts again. "Yeah, everyone else is strange. We're perfectly normal."

"Well, I was." She flicks his knee. "Until I got mixed up with you."

"If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

Her phone rings again. "Shoot, that's got to be Anne." She digs the phone from her pocket. "Hello. This is Dana Scully."

"Hi Dana, it's Anne. We're downstairs in the lobby by the big fish tank."

"Okay, we're on our way down."

"You can keep Emily until five today, if you'd like. I have another meeting across town and I can pick her up on my way back through. Unless you have other plans."

Scully makes eye contact with Mulder and smiles. "No. No other plans. That sounds great."

January 4, 1998 Very, very, very early.

He had said goodnight to her in the elevator earlier, just like any other night. "See ya tomorrow, Scully." As if they hadn't been discussing legally binding themselves to one another for the rest of their lives.

She climbs into bed at half past midnight and huffs extra loudly, pulling the covers all the way over her head. Of all the impulsive, ludicrous, ill-conceived things they've done together, and there have been plenty, this one would take the cake. Getting married. Husband and wife, til death do they part, forever and ever, forsaking all others-

Forsaking all others. Forsaking all others.

She doesn't have the nerve to ask him, but the question has been rattling around in her brain since he first mentioned the idea in the bar days ago. Exactly what kind of arrangement does he have in mind? A real marriage? Or one on paper only? They're both still young. What if he meets someone else that he wants to date? What then? Would it be, "Hey Scully, we're almost out of milk and I've got a hot date tonight so don't wait up?"

Combining bank accounts? Spending weekends and holidays together? Buying a house? Would they do all of those things? Could they still work together or would they be split up?

Would they share household chores, would he call her if he's going to be late, would they buy furniture together, would they send out joint Christmas cards, would they do each other's laundry? My God, would they sleep together? In the same bed? Would they have sex?

She rolls over and stuffs her face into the pillow at the thought.

It's not a bad thought. It's actually a very, very good thought and this is what scares her. What if she wants it and he doesn't? It's not as if sex with Mulder hasn't crossed her mind before. Plenty of times.

An embarrassing number of times.

There is definitely an attraction there, and unless she's completely forgotten how a man looks at a woman, then she's pretty certain the attraction is mutual. But what if she's wrong and Mulder has a more open relationship in mind? Certainly this won't be a traditional arrangement by any means, but she still doesn't think she could be married to him and accept him dating other women.

Wait - does Mulder even date? She thinks he did at one point. If the rumors are true, then he apparently dated a few women within the Bureau before she started on the X Files. Some even say he was a bit of a player in the early days and she doesn't doubt it. She doesn't think there's been anyone in a while, unless she's far less observant than she gives herself credit for. His porn collection, which he makes no real effort to hide, would support the hypothesis that he's getting about as much as she is.

Perhaps even less, she thinks, her fingers slipping around to that serpent on her back that is a constant reminder of the restless, well-veiled spirit of defiance lurking just below her surface.

She tosses and turns for what feels like forever, sometimes hovering just above the surface of sleep, unable to give herself over to it. Her fitful mind drifts and floats, clinging to her anxiety like a life preserver until she throws the bedcovers aside in frustration.

Staggering out of bed, she switches on a bedside lamp and pulls a six dollar mineral water from the mini bar fridge. Standing in front of the window, overlooking the unquiet city at night, she stares out at the spectrum of lights and shivers. The jade glow of the alarm clock tells her it's almost 2 a.m. She wonders if he's still awake.


Teetering in her thoughts outside his room door, it's the middle of the night and just six hours since they said good night. When he opens the door to her, he looks like he's been sleeping, of all things. He's rumply and bleery-eyed and shirtless. And shirtless. Her brain seems to be skipping on that like a scratchy old 45.

"What's the matter, Scully? Why aren't you asleep?" The warmth of slumber wafts off him as he stands there in his green plaid flannel pajama pants, and she suddenly just wants to turn three circles and curl up in a ball on top of him like a cat.

"I'm sorry, I thought you might still be awake. I guess I didn't realize how late it was," which is a lie. She looks down at her slippered feet and tugs the sides of her robe closed around her. "I um, I'll just catch you in the morning." She waves her hand nonspecifically through the air and turns to go.

"Hey," he says, his touch suddenly at her elbow, stopping her. "Are you all right? What's going on, Scully?"

She swallows hard and then looks up into his sleepy, concerned eyes. "Okay," she says quietly, trying to sound confident. "I've thought about it and ...yes."

It takes several beats before the fog clears from his eyes and she can see realization set in. He tugs her out of the bright hallway and into the room and they just stand there looking at each other for several halting moments. The room is shadowy and cool and the white noise hum of the central fan disguises the rush of her breathing, which sounds like a hurricane inside her head. The TV is miraculously dark and silent.

He finds his voice first. "So that's a yes to um... you-you mean you want to, um-"

"I'll marry you," she huffs out, quickly, "yes."

His mouth is open slightly and he stands there without saying anything long enough that she almost turns to leave again, thoroughly embarrassed. What was she thinking, coming to his room in the middle of the night in her bathrobe to tell him she'll marry him. She feels presumptuous, even tawdry. "I-I'm sorry." She reaches for the doorknob and curses under her breath. "This can wait until tomorrow. I didn't mean to wake you-"

His hand covers hers. "Wait. Just-just hang on a minute, okay?" He reaches past her to flip on the switch to the dim light above the closet, setting the room afire in a dull, tangerine glow. He looks right at her. "I don't want it to wait until tomorrow. If you're serious."

She draws a shaky breath and nods. "I am."

More seconds pass. Outside his door, a group of loud, boisterous hotel guests make their way down the corridor, laughing. Multiple doors slam shut before it's quiet again.

"Do you want to sit down?" he asks, stepping further into the room.

She follows him to the bed and sits primly with her hands folded in her lap, allowing her eyes to wander everywhere but to his. She can't stand how calm he is. She's barely keeping her dinner down and her vital organs are doing some kind of Cirque du Soleil act. Her extremities feel numb and the edges of the shady room seem to blur in and out of focus as she stares at the geometric shapes on the carpet.

"Are you all right?" he asks.

Nodding, she runs her hand through her strands of unbrushed hair, self-consciously. He sits next to her, all beautiful and concerned and half-naked. The last thing she can do is tell him that they're crazy for doing this, even though of course they are. Crazy things don't seem to bother Mulder to the same degree they bother her, although in this, like everything else, he's rubbing off on her.

"I've just been thinking about all that you said earlier and I couldn't sleep. You do realize this is crazy, don't you, Mulder?"

"You seem to think that might dissuade me. You should know me better than that, Scully."

She smiles down at her slippers and nods in reconciliation.

"C'mere," he says with a sigh, pulling her close. He presses his hand to the back of her hair and her face to his bare chest. "I know you're worried. I know you can't help wondering if you're doing the right thing for Emily, but you are, Scully. She should be with you."

Her body relaxes and she sinks into him, allowing her eyes to drift shut, floating in his intoxicating, musky scent until she can't think straight again. Until marrying him seems like the only sensible thing left to do.

When she pulls back finally, he tilts her chin up with his thumb and she gets a little lost in the smoke of his eyes. He seems reluctant to let her go, his hand resting at her hip. "You can stay here if you want."

Her breathe catches and a swarm of butterflies take flight in her stomach. Does he mean-

"I'm sure we could find some bad TV to put you to sleep," he says with a weak chuckle.

Okay, no then.

She manages a smile that is part relief and part disappointment. "Thanks, but I think I'll head back and try to get some rest."

"When?" he asks, tentatively. "When do you think we should...I mean, your hearing is Monday."

"And I have a meeting with my attorney tomorrow afternoon," she admits. "This will affect my case."

He swallows. "Well, there's no waiting period in California."

She wonders why he knows this.

"We could go to the court house in the morning," he suggests, thoughtfully, and her stomach flips once more. She can't even remember what the date is tomorrow - today. January 4th. All those years thinking a Fall wedding might be nice someday. Not that this is a wedding. She isn't sure exactly what it is.

He mistakes her hesitation for uncertainty. "Unless you want more time. Or-or you want some kind of, I don't know, event, or...do you want to invite your family?"

"No," she says, quickly. God, no. "It's fine."

Jesus. The idea of calling her mom and trying to explain this, not that she won't have to eventually. It would just turn into a whole affair with flowers and something borrowed, something blue, and dinner out some place nice. Worse yet, her brother might show up and she'd have to endure his sulky looks and possibly even, have to defend her platonic husband and her fake marriage to him. Many moons ago, her mother had probably held onto the hope that she'd be a virgin on her wedding day. Does this count?

"Tomorrow is fine," she answers, nearly business-like. She half wonders if they should shake on it. Do we have a deal then?

When he sees her to the door, she thinks for a split second he might kiss her goodbye, maybe on the forehead like he does once in a blue moon, but instead he gives her upper arms a brisk, comforting rub and releases her.

They agree to meet in the lobby at ten for brunch and then head to the court house.

She can't, for the life of her, imagine what this marriage is going to be like.

**

The Today Show is instructing her on how to dig herself out from under holiday credit card debt and what the best homemade soup recipes are to stave off the winter chill. She wonders if Katie Couric has any advice on what to wear to get married at the court house on less than eight hours notice.

Everything staring back at her from the hotel closet is black and she refuses to get married wearing black. It would surely be a bad omen, she thinks, then scoffs at herself because it's something Mulder would say. She tosses a navy skirt onto the rumpled bed and pulls two different white blouses, holding up one, then the other, in front of herself in the full-length mirror. She's going to be the most conservatively dressed bride ever. She's going to look like a damn FBI agent.

She hangs one blouse back in the closet and the other, sheerer one, over the closet door, then chooses a pair of pumps and earrings. Thankfully, she originally came out here for Christmas and happens to have her pair of drop pearls with the diamond studs in her jewelry stash. It's a bit more formal than what she typically wears to work, at least. She begins rooting through the neat drawers for matching lingerie - white, of course - let's not get carried away. Not like anyone will be seeing it. Unless-

She sits down on the bed wearing just a towel, wet hair dripping down her back.

Tonight will be her wedding night. Well okay, once again, it's not really a wedding. But that doesn't change the fact that she will be married tonight. Married to Mulder. What if he expects that they will sleep together tonight? As in consummate the marriage. The unmarriage.

She couldn't blame him. For having that expectation. It's what most people expect of a wedding night. Not that they're most people.

She remembers to resume breathing after a moment, normal respiration having been temporarily interrupted by her memory of him from last night, bare-chested and warm and very, very masculine.

Completing a second sift through the drawers, she comes up with a clean pair of satin blue pajamas, or the flannel ones that she wore last night. She can't, in good conscience, consider going to bed with Mulder in grey, pinstriped flannel. Not on their wedding night. Perhaps ever.

Satin it is. Although men's style, button-down, long-sleeved pajamas don't exactly scream 'Take me now.'

There's a Macy's a few blocks away. Maybe she'll have time after the meeting with her attorney to stop and buy one of those spaghetti strap things. Her head tilts back toward the ceiling and she closes her eyes and exhales through puffed cheeks. God. She hasn't based her sleepwear choices on a man's preference in years. Years.

She has some vague idea what the women in his videos wear - well, what they start out wearing - and she isn't wearing that. He can forget it. She draws the line at anything with the words 'crotchless' or 'edible' in the description, or anything with less material than your standard-sized napkin. And if memory serves, she looks ridiculous in too much lace, but she can pull off the garters look quite nicely.

Sighing again, she flops onto her back wearily, turns up the volume on the TV, and watches Al Roker forecast snow on the East coast.

**

The city clerk's office is located in the basement of the court house, making it possible to obtain a marriage license and actually get married all without leaving the building. Convenient, one-stop shopping.

"Better than Vegas," Mulder jokes, uneasily, while they sit and wait for the judge, watching the ink on their signatures dry.

Mulder wears the charcoal suit, fresh from the dry cleaners, with a burgundy striped tie. She can smell his aftershave and his shoes look freshly polished. The judge's secretary keeps stealing discreet glances at them. It could be because when asked for identification, Mulder had first presented his badge before showing his State of Virginia Driver's License. Scully doesn't suppose they get too many FBI agents getting hitched at the court house.

The door to the judge's chamber opens and a young couple walks out, smiling. The woman's blonde hair has baby's breath woven into it and she wears a pale pink, empire-waist maternity dress. Her new husband is in jeans and a neat, white button-down shirt with a toddler holding his hand. Apparently, they've gotten a head start on the kiss the bride part.

"Congratulations," says the secretary, with a cordial smile, handing the bride a green plastic bag.

"Mommy, I'm hungry," complains the toddler, tugging on his mother's dress.

"Connor, you ate breakfast an hour ago." She picks the child up, balancing him on one hip. "Come on, Grammy and Papa are home waiting for us. You're spending the night at their house."

"You can go ahead in," the secretary says to Mulder and Scully. "Judge Bernetti will be right with you."

They stand and Scully smooths the front of her blouse, drawing a deep breath. She feels Mulder's hand brush her back very lightly.

"Ready?" he asks, his eyes warm.

She nods.


When Dana was twelve years old, she planned her future wedding. She bought a five-hundred page bridal magazine and cut out pictures of all her favorite things - the ivory dress with the tiny pearl buttons and the cathedral length train, the red velvet cake with the little plastic bride and groom on top, the bouquets of orchids and lilies, the bridesmaids' dresses in lavender shimmer taffeta, the tulle-wrapped pastel mints on the tables. Every last detail. She taped her photos into a scrapbook and hid it under her bed, only taking it out when she was certain her sister wouldn't walk into their bedroom.

Once in a while she'd change her mind about something and replace an old photo with a new one. She made a complete list of songs, in alphabetical order by title, to be played by the D.J. at the reception and secretly decided which of her best friends were bridesmaid material. She snuck her grandmother's ring from her mother's jewelry box once and it fell down the drain in the bathroom sink. She paid Charlie twenty bucks to take apart the trap with a wrench and rescue it without ratting her out.

When she was packing for college, she came across the old scrapbook , dust-covered and hiding in a box of old record albums under her bed. It got tossed, along with some used notebooks and a shoe box of cards and letters from eighth grade summer camp.

Nowhere in that hopeful scrapbook was there a photo of a court house. Or a navy blue pencil skirt and simple white blouse. Or baskets of plastic flowers for decorations and a handsome, nervous guy standing next to her wearing a bad tie. Well, there was that. But he was a tuxedo-clad surgeon and she'd been engaged to him for a lot longer than ten hours.

"Hey Scully? Scully?" She's brought back by Mulder's voice and his look of concern.

"I'm sorry, what?" Scully notices that the secretary who ushered them in is now standing at the back of the room as a witness.

Judge Bernetti smiles, sympathetically, probably assuming the bride's nerves are getting the best of her, which wouldn't be entirely inaccurate. "Miss Scully, are you entering into this marriage freely, voluntarily, and without coercion?"

"Yes, your Honor."

"And Mr. Mulder, are you also entering into this marriage freely, voluntarily, and without coercion?"

"I am, your Honor."

"Very well then. Do either of you have any personal vows or readings you wish to include in the ceremony?"

Mulder gives Scully a startled look and she shakes her head. "Uh, just the standard deal, I guess," he replies sheepishly.

"Then we'll get started." The judge puts on his glasses and opens a small black binder. "We are gathered here today for the purpose of uniting you, Fox, and you, Dana, in matrimony, which is an honorable estate, not to be entered into lightly, but reverently and with a deep realization of its obligations and responsibilities."

The use of their given names startles her for a moment and she fears that Mulder will stop the judge and correct him, but thankfully he does not. She blinks rapidly, but remains still, losing her focus on the spoken words - words that she's probably heard dozens of times in her life. Except that this time, they are being spoken directly to her and in a moment, she will be asked to pledge her life to the man standing next to her. The man who stood by her when the cancer was winning, refusing to give up on her, even when the doctors offered no hope. The man who would always drive fifteen minutes out of his way on the mornings after her chemo to get her the only bagels that didn't make her nauseous. The man who slept on her sofa for two weeks straight after she came home from the hospital, guarding her like a hawk, restocking her kitchen with foods she had no appetite for, doing her laundry, and making her watch bad movies.

Intimacy can be measured in a lot of ways, certainly not the least of which is the depth of trust one person feels for another. At this point and time in her life, there is no one she trusts more than Mulder.

If marriage is about sharing your life with someone, well then she's already doing that and has been for five years now. In fact, if she's being honest with herself, Mulder is her life. And now Emily. If this marriage will make it possible for her to raise her daughter, then Mulder is right, they are doing the right thing.

By her side, Mulder reaches for her hand and holds it. Her breathing deepens and she feels something settle inside her just as the judge looks up with kind eyes and speaks directly to her. "Dana Scully, will you take this man to be your husband, to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, will you be faithful to him as long as you both shall live? If so, please say, 'I will.'"

"I will," she hears herself echo quietly.

"Do you have rings to exchange?" asks the judge.

Mulder appears momentarily stricken. "Uh, no, we don't. Is that going to be a problem?"

"Of course not. It's customary, but not required. We'll just skip over that part."

Mulder mouths the word, "sorry" to her and makes an apologetic face. She smiles and shakes her head, mouths back "it's ok" and then can't take her eyes off his. He's looking at her like he just won first prize at something and she simply can't believe, yet again, that he's doing this for her. For Emily too. Even more so, he's acting like it makes more sense than everything else in the universe combined, which just might be the truth after all. He might be onto something. She feels her heart swell and swallows back the lump in her throat.

"By virtue of the authority vested in me by the State of California, I pronounce you husband and wife and extend to you my best wishes for a successful and happy life together."

Oh my God. It's done. She's married. They're married. Jesus, that was fast. Her mother would be appalled.

"You may kiss your wife, Mr. Mulder," announces the judge, cheerfully.

Both of their heads turn to look at him like he's just suggested they consider rolling naked in a vat of Jello.

She wonders if the judge has ever married two people who have never kissed before. Each other, that is.

Mulder clears his throat and smiles nervously at her, taking a step closer. This should be interesting.

She wets her lips involuntarily and tips onto her toes a little as he bends. His one hand goes to her hip, the other behind her back and she has no idea what to do with hers, so she rests both at his shoulders. The lead-up to this could not be more careful if they tried. She's fourteen with braces all over again and he's the bashful boy at summer camp.

Her lips part and she tilts her head and closes her eyes, expectantly. And then he's there, his mouth on hers, just an introductory brush at first, followed by a solid kiss. Nice. Soft, yet confident. It's a good kiss. Regretfully quick and chaste, but a very pleasant, respectable kiss nonetheless. She'd give it an 8.

So he's a good kisser. There's a fleeting thought about what else he might be good at.

When they part, she sways a little on her heels and he keeps a hand at her waist to steady her. There's brief eye contact and an exchange of silent communication like they sometimes do. She sees relief and an overwhelming tenderness reflected in his and she returns the look.

"Well then, Mr. and Mrs. Mulder," exclaims the judge, "if you'll just stand over by the wall there, we'll take a picture and then Mrs. Pennington will have your certificate for you and a congratulatory gift."

They're ushered back into the reception area and Scully is handed the same green plastic bag she saw given to the previous bride, along with profuse congratulations and well wishes, and they're sent on their way.

Scully peeks into the bag as they walk down the front steps of the court house.

"I'm afraid to ask," says Mulder, "what is it?"

Her brows lift as she surveys the contents. "Samples of laundry detergent, dishwashing liquid, and...mouthwash. It looks like some coupons too."

"Nothing says 'Have a long and happy marriage' like a box of Tide," chuffs Mulder. "Any good coupons?"

"Uh...Olive Garden?"

He makes a 'not bad' face. "You like their salad."

"You don't care if I don't go by Mrs. Mulder, do you?"

"Not in the least."

"Okay, good," she says, relieved.


They manage a quick, late lunch at a coffee shop before meeting with her attorney. Mulder tags along at her invitation, both of them still in their nuptial attire, minus his tie.

Helena Lynch is in her late thirties, with sharp green eyes and stylish suits, despite her size. She could likely bench press Mulder if she wanted. She stares them down over a substantial, antique walnut desk. "You're married?"

"Yes," replies Scully, twisting her hands together.

Helena manages a tight, but flustered smile. "I'm sorry, I guess I didn't realize that you were...I mean that you had plans to...that um..." she sighs loudly and sets her pen down. "When did this happen?" Her tone makes it sound like they've both been arrested for shoplifting instead of having gotten married.

Scully chews at her lower lip. "About three hours ago."

Her attorney's eyebrows rise to her hairline and her mouth hangs open.

"We thought you should know," continues Scully evenly, "as we realize it will affect the adoption petition."

"Riiiight." Helena is studying them like some kind of bizarre museum display. When she finally speaks again, her tone is steady and business-like. "Did you get married for the sole purpose of improving your chances of being granted adoption?"

Scully meets her eyes. "That was a contributing factor, yes. A...strong one."

"I've seen people do a lot of interesting things to adopt a kid, but this..." She sighs, wearily. "Okay. Well, it does change things. But I have to be honest, a shotgun wedding five days before your hearing is going to look questionable no matter how we plead your case." Shuffling some paperwork, she puts her glasses on and jots something down in the file.

"Mr. Mulder, please tell me you're not a convicted felon or a paroled sex offender."

"He's my FBI partner," replies Scully incredulously, starting to feel a touch annoyed.

"Resident of the District of Columbia?"

"State of Virginia," says Mulder. "Nine years."

"How long have you two known each other?"

"Five years," answers Mulder. "We've been partners for over five years."

"And have you dated each other publicly?"

They both shake their heads.

A deeper sigh from the attorney as she tips her chair back and crosses her arms over her chest. "Give me some time on this. Be here Friday morning at 9 a.m. and we'll go over preparations for Monday's hearing." She walks to a filing cabinet and fishes out two pieces of paper, then slides them across the desk to Mulder, along with a ballpoint pen. "Sign and date those. Fill in the social security number."

Mulder's eyes scan the documents. "What are these?"

"You're giving me permission to run a background check and credit report on you," Helena replies, matter-of-factly.

"Is all this really necessary?" asks Scully.

Helena regards her over the rim of her glasses. "Do you want your daughter?" The question hangs in the air for a moment. Mulder picks up the pen and begins to sign.

"Doctor Scully, you're married now. Which means you're no longer petitioning to adopt Emily as a single parent. I now represent both of you." She regards them again for several seconds. "Are you staying in two hotel rooms or one?"

"Two," replies Scully.

"Cancel one of them today. As of tonight, you're sleeping in the same bed." She glances down at Scully's hands resting in her lap. "And get some rings. I'll see you Friday morning."


They pick her room, mostly because he has less stuff to move. She spends the twenty minutes while he's turning in is key and packing up his things making space in the small closet and combining her lingerie and pajamas into one drawer so he can have the other one. In the bathroom, she tosses cylinders of makeup into a zippered case. She tidies hairspray, deodorant, and lotion into a corner of the counter top.

He has his own key to the room now, but he doesn't use it when he gets there. He knocks and waits for her to invite him in with his plastic-wrapped, drycleaned suits and duffel bag. He settles everything into the closet and lines up his shoes on the floor with a great deal more precision than she knows he'd take in his own space. She can tell he feels like a guest and that it's still her room.

"I cleared a drawer for you," she says, hospitably.

"Thanks. I don't need much space."

The king-sized bed has been made neatly by housekeeping and they both stand together at the end of it, looking everywhere but at one another. "Do you, uh, have a side preference?" he asks.

"The right? I guess. But it doesn't really matter."

He arranges a small pile of books on the floor by the nightstand on the left side of the bed. "Let me know if these are in your way."

She thinks about his apartment and how that entire situation is going to work. They haven't even discussed it and she has no idea what he expects or how to broach the subject tactfully. Will he move in with her - fish tank, videos, mismatched coffee mugs and all?

"It's getting late," he says. "Do you want to get some dinner?"

"Sure," she nods.

And then in a handful of hours, we'll get into the same bed together. Married. Macy's closed at five and she never did get around to shopping for some kind of appropriate wedding night attire, whatever that might be. That leaves her with long-sleeved satin or...nothing.

She'll be ordering plenty of wine with her dinner.

They're on the sidewalk in front of the hotel getting ready to hail a cab when her cell phone chirps.

"Hello?" she answers.

"Dana, it's Anne. I don't want to alarm you, but I thought you should know. Emily has been taken to Community General Hospital. I don't know much about her condition, but I'm on my way over there now."

She looks at Mulder, who can tell immediately from her expression that something is wrong. "We're on our way, Anne."

She hangs up. "It's Emily. She's been taken to Community General."

Mulder steps off the curb and inserts two fingers into his mouth, whistling loudly. A yellow cab swings to a stop in front of them. He opens the back door and ushers Scully in, sliding in quickly beside her.

January 5, 1998

Monitors blink and beep and hum, displaying green and red digital numbers and graphs with jagged vertical lines. The room is otherwise quiet, except for the drifting sounds of voices from the hallway. Scully leafs through the pages of the chart for the twentieth time, looking for anything she might've missed the first nineteen.

Mulder's head peeks cautiously around the pulled hanging curtain. When he sees her, he moves silently closer and places a steaming Styrofoam cup of coffee on the bedside table, as well as a crumpled brown paper bag. "Any change?"

Scully shakes her head. "Blood pressure is normal now, which is good, but she's still having minor arrhythmia. And we're waiting on the lab results from the last blood draw to see if her counts have changed." She brushes wet strands of blonde hair from Emily's forehead, but the child doesn't wake. "Her fever is still not responding as well as it should."

Mulder squeezes her shoulder. "I brought you a turkey club. You haven't eaten anything since lunch."

Her eyes travel his wrinkled suit and turned up dress sleeves and she manages a weary half smile. "Thanks, but I'm not really hungry. You should go back to the hotel and get some rest, Mulder. It could be a long night."

He gives her that look she's so familiar with - the one that tells her he isn't even remotely considering listening to her. "And what about you? You've got to get some sleep sometime too, Scully. You can't stay awake all night."

"I will sleep," she lies. "I just want to stay awake until the blood work comes back." The truth is, she is long past feeling the exhaustion set in. The muscles in her neck are tight and she's got the start of a decent tension headache. It's the same way she feels after too many autopsies and too little caffeine and calories. Admitting this to herself, she sighs and reaches for the brown paper bag, pulling the wrapped sandwich out. Her stomach grumbles in anticipation.

They settle into two stiff, vinyl chairs the color of mold. Mulder tips his head back and rubs his eyes. "Not exactly a romantic wedding dinner, huh," he says, stifling a yawn.

Her chewing slows.

"Don't worry, Scully, I'll make it up to you."

She swallows a bite of turkey, bacon, and tomato without choking. There was going to be a romantic dinner? And he's going to make it up to her? How exactly will that go?

It's after midnight. She's officially been a married woman for over twelve hours and nobody knows it but Mulder, her attorney, and the State of California. There are three missed calls from her mother on her cell phone. She's not looking forward to the discussion they'll be having. A week ago, she insisted there was no romantic relationship between her and Mulder. Now she's married to him. And there's still no romantic relationship between them. Where's the flow chart for explaining that one?

Doctor Morris comes in carrying lab results. Scully awkwardly introduces Mulder as her husband with only a barely noticeable pause. Mulder doesn't flinch.

"Her red count is better," he says, handing the results to Scully.

She immediately breathes a sigh of relief, her eyes scanning the page carefully. "Her whites are up a little, though. Do you suspect a secondary infection?"

Doctor Morris gives a reluctant half nod. "It's a possibility, but I think it's too soon to tell for sure. They're only slightly above normal."

"What about IV antibiotics?"

"In an otherwise healthy child, I would have started her already," he agrees. "But with her fever still elevated, I'd feel more comfortable observing her through the night and doing another draw in the morning before we consider more aggressive treatment options. You're welcome to stay with her, of course. I'll stop back at around six on my morning rounds."

Five minutes later, a young nurse breezes into the room carrying linens. "So Doctor Morris says you'll be staying with Emily." She points to a tattered, small sofa shoved into a corner by the window. "The loveseat pulls out. It's not much, but it's a little better than sleeping on chairs." She smiles, sympathetically, and deposits the stack of sheets and blankets onto a bedside table, then opens a cabinet and retrieves two thin pillows. "There's a lounge down the hall for families. The coffee is bad, but it's strong, and there's some fruit and crackers. Help yourself."

Emily stirs when the nurse shifts her bedding to check her, but doesn't wake. By the time the nurse leaves, Mulder has the loveseat open and transformed into a makeshift cot. It looks anything but comfortable, but Scully knows she's probably slept on worse cheap motel beds over the years and she's tired enough not to care at the moment.

Mulder's hand squeezes her shoulder. "Lie down and get some rest."

"What about you?"

"I'm going to wander around and see if I can find a newspaper."

"You should go back to the hotel, Mulder," she repeats, "sleep in a real bed."

He shrugs and gives her a conciliatory smile. "Eh, you know me, Scully. I'm used to sleeping on a couch. What would I do with a four-star hotel bed anyway?"

She chuffs out a weak laugh and his hand lingers warmly on her shoulder. "I'll be around," he says, reassuringly. "Get some sleep."


When Scully was in med school, she used to spend the night sometimes at Melissa's apartment for a break from the academic drudgery. Living in a house with three other med school students had its ups and downs. On the upside, it was easy to relate to one another - the long hours, the sleep deprivation, the sugar binges. On the downside, everyone was pretty much equally miserable. Sometimes Dana just had to get away from it all for the night.

She'd show up at Missy's and they'd make frozen margaritas and watch Moonlighting reruns in their pajamas and talk about guys. "Cybil Shepherd needs to get laid," observed Missy.

"I need to get laid," Dana admitted.

"You do. What about that guy. The one you were eating lunches with at the hospital - the guy with the kid."

Dana licked salt from the rim of her glass. "Yeah, he's cute, but I don't know. I mean, he's divorced. And he has a five-year-old kid. Five years ago I was a sophomore in college."

Bruce Willis leaned back in his office chair and shamelessly checked out Cybil Shepherd's ass. "So he's a grown up," said Missy. "So what."

"I don't think I could be someone's stepmom."

Missy snorted. "Who said anything about marrying the guy? Jeez Sis, whatever happened to having a little fun now and then. I've heard about what goes on in those on-call rooms. Don't tell me you've never."

Dana sipped from her drink and sank a little lower into the puffy loveseat.

Missy tossed a cushion at her, just missing her drink and Dana squealed. "Hey, watch it! You're going to make me spill."

"I was joking," Missy giggled. "I didn't really think you had. Holy shit, Dana."

"It was nothing. It was stupid and it was a long time ago. Can we just drop it?"

"Not until you tell me who." Missy muted the TV and sat up straighter, crossing her legs beneath her.

"No. Just forget it, okay? It was one time and it was really dumb. I barely remember it."

"Yeah right," Missy smiled. "Was anyone else sleeping in the room when you did it?"

"No! Eww, Missy!"

"I hope you used something at least."

"Give me a little credit. I'm not stupid."

"Just tell me who."

"No."

"Come on. Do I know him?"

Dana reached for the remote. "We're missing Moonlighting."

Missy snatched it from her hand and tossed it onto the chair across the room. "David and Maddie haven't fucked in three seasons; they're not going to do it tonight. Now come on and tell me who it was. I know him, don't I?"

"How would you know him?" Dana's cheeks were the same color as the fuchsia hearts on her pajama pants.

"I have no idea, but I know you and you wouldn't be this embarrassed unless it was somebody I knew. You tell me everything. Now come on, just spill it."

Dana sighed and tipped her head back against the couch cushion. "You can't tell anyone."

"I won't."

"I mean it, Missy. You can't."

"I won't tell! Jesus Dana, what is the big-"

"Travis McQuaid."

A tiny wrinkle formed between Missy's brows seconds before her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open. "Oh. My. God."

Dana grimaced and her eyes screwed themselves shut. "It's not what you think."

"Holy shit, are you talking about your roommate's fianc‚? Kelly's Travis? The guy I met at the Fourth of July party? Oh my God, Dana, are you kidding me?"

"Stop looking at me like that. It was way before they ever got together. Like a year." Dana sighed and rested her head in her hands. "At least six months."

Missy shook her head and laughed. "Does anybody else know?"

"No. No! And they're not going to. It was just stupid first year resident stuff. We were both tired, it was late, one thing led to another..."

"How was it? He's adorable."

Dana bit her lip and made a sour face and Missy cracked up.

"That bad, huh?"

Dana covered her eyes with her hand and chuckled silently. "He's gotten better, I think."

Missy gave her an inquisitive look and Dana shrugged. "As it happens, my room is right next door to Kelly's. The walls are thin."

"Isn't is weird, though? Aren't you ever hanging out with Kelly and you're tempted to just blurt out, 'I SAW YOUR FIANCE NAKED?'"

Dana kicked the side of Missy's shin lightly and they both giggled. "There are four women under thirty, along with occasional significant others, sharing a house with one bathroom. Trust me, everyone has seen everyone else naked."

Missy sighed. "I knew I should've gone to med school."

"You couldn't dissect the frog in tenth grade biology, Missy."

Melissa waved her hand and then took another drink. "I could've been like a-a-foot doctor or something."

"Podiatrist. Still have to pass Anatomy and Physiology, Hon."

"Show off," Missy said, getting up from the couch and swaggering toward the kitchen. "Come on, my sweet and innocent little sister, let us drink some more."

Dana scuffled after her, her slipper socks making sticky sounds on the linoleum floor. "Do you think I should go out with Brian?"

"Who's Brian?"

"The grown up guy with the kid. He's really sweet."

Missy poured from the blender into their two glasses. "Yes." She gave a tipsy nod. "You should absolutely go out with grown up Brian. Why not? You like kids."

Dana took a sip and dribbled a little on her sleeve, wiped it up. "I do. I love kids. I want kids."

"You do?"

Dana smiled at her sister, who smiled warmly back at her. "Someday yeah. Don't you?"

"I think so," said Missy.

"You'd be a great mom," observed Dana.

Missy eyed her skeptically. "I don't know. I'm not the responsible one, you are."

Dana rested an arm around her sister's shoulder as they made their way back to the couch. "No, you're the fun one. My kids will eat five vegetables a day and have clean fingernails. Yours will jump on furniture, watch TV past their bedtime, and eat raw cookie dough."

"Let's get pregnant at the same time. We can commiserate. Our kids can grow up together." Missy grabbed the remote and unmuted the end of Moonlighting. "Why the hell do we watch this show anyway? They're never going to get together."

"You know if they did, the show would just go downhill."

Missy sighed. "I still want them to do it."

"Yeah, me too."


She lingers on the edge of sleep, trying to make sense of her strange surroundings without opening her eyes. Her shoulder and neck are sore, which could have something to do with the poor excuse for a pillow that she's resting her head on.

Machines and distant voices. Muffled intercoms. The smell of antiseptic and stale air.

The hospital. Emily.

She tries to sit up, but there's an arm resting at her hip. Mulder is spooned up behind her on the cramped extended loveseat, sleeping in his suit pants and dress shirt. His black socked feet hang off the end like hovering bats.

The thin cotton blanket, barely large enough for one person, has been draped carefully over her. She slides silently from beneath Mulder's arm and shifts the blanket onto him, then creeps over to check on Emily.

A nurse enters the room, one that Scully hasn't seen before, and she realizes she slept right through a shift change. "Her fever is down and she's been sleeping peacefully," whispers the nurse. "I didn't want to wake you. I'm Bonnie, by the way."

"Hi," replies Scully. "Has Doctor Morris been in on rounds yet? He said he wants to do another blood draw this morning to check her red count."

"Not yet. He should here in another hour." Bonnie gently lifts Emily's tiny arm and straightens out the IV tube. "She's a beautiful little girl. She looks like you."

Scully startles for a moment and then smiles wistfully. "She looks like my sister."


When Emily's lunch arrives, she's sitting up in the hospital bed, playing cards with Mulder who could definitely use a shave. Scully is completely charmed by him, nonetheless.

"That's the Old Maid!" Emily giggles loudly.

Mulder slaps his forehead and makes a goofy face. "You're not supposed to tell me which one it is, Silly!" Emily laughs harder. "Hey look, lunch is here."

Emily wrinkles her nose at the macaroni and cheese and fruit cup.

Mulder pushes the tray up to Emily's bed and pulls the lid off the fruit cup. "What? It doesn't look that bad. You even got two cherries in your fruit cup."

"I like chicken nuggets better," reports Emily.

There's a quiet knock at the door and Anne walks in, looking surprised to see Mulder and Scully sitting right where she left them about fifteen hours ago. "Hello Emily, how are you feeling?"

Emily smiles through a small bite of diced pears.

"Her fever is responding and her red count is better," Scully informs Anne, relief evident in her voice. "It was likely something viral. The doctors would like to keep her for observation today, but if she's still doing well by tomorrow morning, she can go home." As soon as the words leave Scully's mouth, she is struck by the sad irony that Emily doesn't actually have a home to go to.

"My Goodness, have you been here all night?" asks Anne.

Scully nods. "We didn't want her to wake up alone."

Mulder places a hand gently to Scully's lower back. "I'm going to walk around for a bit, okay? I'll be back soon."

Once Mulder is gone and Emily is picking at her food and watching cartoons contentedly, Scully pulls Anne over to the side of the room where they can talk quietly. "I hear congratulations are in order," says Anne with a genuine smile. "I didn't realize you were...uh, together."

Scully doesn't bother with complicated, lengthy explanations of the word 'together.' "How did you find out?"

"Helena Lynch told me this morning when I stopped by her office to drop off copies of Emily's medical records."

"Did she say anything else? About my case?"

Anne shakes her head. "But if it helps any, I've known Helena for a long time and I don't think I've ever seen her work so hard on a case before. I'm pretty sure when I stopped by her office this morning, she hadn't been to bed."

Scully draws a deep breath. "I want to take Emily back to my hotel tomorrow when she's released."

"Dana," Anne starts, the apology already in her tone, "you know that's against policy. I can't grant you that kind of leeway."

"We can get a suite with kitchen facilities and a bedroom for Emily," Scully argues, unwilling to accept defeat. "I'm a doctor. I can be with her twenty-four hours a day and monitor her recovery. It would give us a chance to get to know each other better." Scully's eyes plead with Anne. "You know she'd be better off than at the county children's home."

Anne's regretful face says it all. Sylvester chases Tweety across the small, mounted television screen and Emily watches, riveted in childlike wonder.

"I'm sorry, Dana."

"I know you are," she replies, truthfully.

"Monday will be here before you know it," Anne says, trying for optimism. "You should go back to the hotel and get some rest. I can stay here with Emily for a while."

A half an hour later, Mulder returns to the room with contraband Chicken McNuggets, two coloring books and crayons, a pink teddy bear, and a Mr. Potato Head.


When Scully wakes, she's in the hotel room where she practically collapsed into a dead sleep nearly four hours ago. Regretfully, Mulder isn't spooning her this time. In fact, he's nowhere to be found. But there's a note and a small blue velvet box next to her pillow. "Take a shower and get dressed. I want to take you to dinner. Reservations at 7:30." Scully stretches and yawns, absently massaging that annoying crick in her neck that lingers from the previous night's sleep.

She's still wearing her clothing from yesterday and she really, really needs to brush her teeth.

Without much more than vague curiosity, she opens the velvet box.

"Oh my God!"

Scrambling for the light by the bed, she knocks over an almost- empty tumbler of water and curses, rescuing her cell phone at the last second.

The ring is white gold and vintage looking. A sizable square diamond rests at the center, surrounded by three smaller, inset diamonds on each side. "Oh God," she repeats, carefully extracting the ring from the box and holding it up to the light.

Mulder's gift-giving track record has made it difficult to gauge his actual taste in things that matter. His suits are quite decent, his ties often questionable. His apartment d‚cor is safe and simple, and his friends are weird. Until now, she hadn't the foggiest notion what Mulder might find attractive in jewelry.

As it turns out, his taste is pretty damn good. She slips it onto the third finger of her left hand and admires it. Not a bad fit either. He must've spent a fortune on it though! She takes the ring off and places it back into the box, closing the lid. Helena said to get rings. He certainly didn't need to buy her a diamond; a simple band would do just fine.

She opens the box again and takes the ring back out, feeling both guilty and delighted at the same time. Slipping it back onto her finger, she holds out her hand and appreciates it again. She could just wear it out to dinner tonight and think about it, right? He could still return it tomorrow, no harm, no foul.


Mulder turns up at 6:45 in jeans. Scully feels ridiculous in the little black dress she bought an hour ago at a boutique a block from the hotel. Not to mention the strappy heels and matching clutch. "Why didn't you tell me you meant casual, Mulder? I'll need a few minutes to change."

He pulls his tee shirt over his head and tosses it onto the bed. "Don't be silly, Scully, you look perfect." His eyes are actually climbing her dress at the same time he's unbuttoning his pants. "You look really beautiful, in fact."

She catches her breath and manages to spin around to face the other side of the room just as he's skimming his jeans off. Breathe. In and out.

"Did you get some sleep?" he asks. She can hear the plastic being hastily removed from one of his drycleaned suits.

"I did. Where did you go all afternoon?"

"Well, I got a little shopping done and then came back and took a shower. After that, I took a bus over to Petco Park where the Padres play. I got you a shirt."

"And apparently a ring." She hears his suit pants zip up, so she turns back around.

He's searching her hand with his eyes, looking to see if she's wearing it. "Is it all right? It was between that one and a mood ring. If you want, we can exchange it."

She smiles at his playfulness, enjoying the familiarity. "It's gorgeous, Mulder. But you didn't need to buy me a diamond. A simple band would have been fine."

He looks at her puzzled, two silk ties dangling from his hand - a hand that she notices is also now wearing a ring. It's the same color white gold as hers, but wide and smooth without ornamentation.

"What do you mean? Of course, you should have a diamond, Scully. If you want to pick out a different one, we can go tomorrow. It's no problem."

He holds out the ties to her and she points to the blue one.

"Mulder, it's the most beautiful ring I've ever seen. Of course I like it. That isn't the issue." The fingers of her right hand twist the ring nervously.

"Then what is the issue?" He's staring into the mirror, concentrating on tying his tie.

"I just didn't-I don't... expect it. I'm sure you spent way too much and a simple band would have been fine."

He's quiet as he finishes the knot in his tie. She stands behind him, watching her own reflection in the mirror, afraid she's hurt his feelings. When he's done, he turns around and takes her hand in his, thumbing the diamond gently. "I would really like to give this ring to you," he says, thoughtfully, taking his time with each word. "And it would mean a lot to me if you would accept it. Okay?"

She can't meet his eyes because hers are going to spill over at any moment. But she manages a nod and a whisper. "Okay," she sniffs. "Thank you."

"You're welcome, Scully." He smiles at her. "Now that wasn't so hard, was it?"

January 6, 1998

They rush from the hospital to the hotel at 7 am still wearing their dinner clothes from the night before, having fallen asleep on the despicable pull-out loveseat yet again. The first two nights of their marriage spent sleeping in a hospital, instead of in the four star hotel room they're paying an arm and a leg for. If either of them thought that maybe they'd be consummating this marriage anytime in the first forty-eight hours, then it was a gross miscalculation.

There is still something champagne-colored and slinky folded beneath her panties at the hotel, though, just in case. She had bought it yesterday at the boutique where she overpaid for the little black dress, although she has doubts now about whether she has the bustline to pull off the barely-there lace cups. At the time that she made the selection, she was operating on massive sleep deprivation and was blinded by the sparkly new rock on her finger.

The hotel room door is barely closed behind them before Mulder is disrobing once again. Scully kicks her shoes into a corner and works her earrings off, pretending not to watch him. "You want to shower first?" she asks.

He makes it down to his boxers and then plops onto the duvet and begins channel surfing while munching peanuts from the mini bar. "Nuh uh," he says. "You go ahead. I only need a few minutes."

Apparently, this is something he will be doing now. Undressing in front of her. Spending time in his underwear.

"You should shave," she blurts, then immediately turns red in the face. God - married less than two days and she sounds like a nagging wife already. Is this how it starts? "I just meant, because we're meeting with the attorney and ..." She sighs. "Never mind."

He's smiling at her now, amused, watching her flutter about the room, gathering her clothing so she can change in the bathroom instead of in front of him. "I was planning on it."

"Sorry," she says in a quietly embarrassed voice. Her clean, folded panties drop onto the bed and she snatches them back up.

"Nut?" Mulder offers.

She shakes her head and rushes into the bathroom.


Scully sits with perfect posture, legs crossed and hands folded, left over right so the new ring is visible. Mulder sits in the chair next to her, clean shaven and bouncing one leg. Helena Lynch takes her time leafing through paperwork, stopping periodically to underline something or make a note.

Finally, she puts her pen down and leans her elbows on the desk. "Okay. This is where we stand. We've got a court hearing at 8:30 Monday morning. This is essentially the type of situation where the attorneys do all of the talking. Your job is to sit there and look pretty. This judge likes to talk, so you may be asked some questions, but it's unlikely to be extensive. There are two petitions for custody of Emily - yours and Linda Proctor's, Roberta Sims' older sister. I have been told that Mrs. Proctor is not planning to attend the hearing, which works in your favor."

"Doesn't she have to?" asks Scully.

"No. She does not. But like I said, putting your faces in front of the judge can only help you. You're both young and attractive. You look like parents." Helena makes direct eye contact with Scully. "And Emily looks like you, which is yet another advantage, silly as that may sound. This is family court - it helps if you look like a family."

Scully clears her throat and recrosses her legs. She glances at Mulder, who returns a soft and supportive look.

"There's an option that I think you should consider as well, and that's having Fox--can I call you Fox?"

Mulder looks startled. "Just Mulder is fine. I, uh, go by Mulder."

Helena arches her brows and makes a note of it in the file. "Like I was saying, I think you might want to consider having Mulder file a petition for step-parent adoption as well."

"Um, will that complicate things?" asks Mulder.

Helena shakes her head. "It's pretty standard and it may actually strengthen your case. You would think that you two being married would give you the same parental rights, but it doesn't work that way. The legal system loves to be a pain in the ass. In this situation, however, there is no other living parent, so honestly, the judge would have no reason not to sign off on a step-parent adoption. It's simpler to do it all at the same time." Helena pauses. "And I dislike bringing this up, but the reality is that if anything should ever happen to Dana, then Mulder could keep custody of Emily only if he has legally adopted her, so in that respect, it's worth your strong consideration."

Because I just survived cancer, Scully thinks sourly, and there are no guarantees. Nevertheless, she recognizes the logic.

After sharing a look with Mulder, she nods her consent. "Sure, that would be fine."

"Great. Now that that's settled," continues Helena, her sober eyes moving back and forth between Mulder and Scully, "you're paying me to convince the judge that you two are, without a doubt, the most morally righteous, squeaky clean, law-abiding, respectable, ridiculously qualified and capable parents Emily could ever hope to have. With that in mind, I need to walk into that court room Monday knowing you both better than your mothers do." She crosses her arms and sits back in her chair, leveling a look at them. "And I hate surprises."

Helena gets up and crosses the room, returning minutes later with a hot mug of coffee for each of them. "This won't be fun. And we'll be here a while. You need to be honest with me. If you're not, it compromises my ability to represent you and you should know right now that I refuse to do substandard work. So if you think you can't tell me the truth, let me know now and we'll part ways amicably."

She stops for a lengthy moment and waits before continuing. Mulder clears his throat and shifts in his seat. Scully takes another sip of scalding hot coffee.

"Very well then, let's start with the easy stuff." She sits down again and slides a piece of paper across the desk toward Mulder. "Are these titles of publications that you currently subscribe to, Fox?"

"Mulder."

"Right. Mulder."

Shit. Scully doesn't bother to look.

"Yes," he answers, unflinchingly.

"Cancel them today. All but the Sports Illustrated and the Science Fiction Weekly. You can keep those."

Mulder smiles weakly.


An hour and a half and two more cups of coffee later, they've covered family history, education, finances (Scully has too much credit card debt and Mulder owns an expensive chunk of land in Massachusetts that he's never mentioned), work history, recreation and hobbies (Scully pretty much has none. Mulder at least has running and basketball).

"Do you like to cook?" asks Helena, optimistically. "Bake?"

"Not really, no."

"Scrapbooking, photography, gardening, painting?" Scully shakes her head no.

"Do you play a musical instrument?"

Nope, not unless you count a year of violin in fourth grade. It was painful for everyone.

Scully scrambles. "I research and write medical journal articles." She wants to curl into a fetal position under the desk.

Helena looks relieved. "Okay, that's good." She makes a note in the file. "Ever been published?"

"Yes," Scully replies. "Several times."

"Good, good."

Scully breathes a sigh of relief and vows to work on getting herself a hobby.

"What about religion? Do either of you belong to a church or synagogue?"

Mulder shakes his head no.

"I'm Catholic," answers Scully. "I go to church...sometimes. When I can." In fact, she feels like she's at confession right now.

"What do you plan to do about Emily, if you're granted custody?"

"What do you mean?" asks Mulder.

"Well," says Helena, "will she go to church with Dana? Or not? Frankly when it comes to matters of religion, in the eyes of the court system, it doesn't really matter what you say as long as you're both saying the same thing. The judge will want to know that you're in agreement, that's all. So come prepared to answer that question should it come up on Monday." Helena continues taking notes for a minute, then, "Both heterosexual?"

Scully coughs on her drink and Mulder's leg stops bobbing.

"Excuse me?" asks Scully.

Helena looks up from writing. "I asked if you were both straight."

Scully licks her lips. "Um. We're married. To each other."

A patient smile from Helena. "Yes, I'm aware. You got married two days ago. And I've represented gay people who have been in heterosexual marriages for twenty years or more. So you understand my position."

Scully stares a visual hole into her black pantsuit. "Yes. I am. Um, heterosexual."

"Same," Mulder echoes.

"And all your sexual liaisons have been heterosexual as well?"

Oh God. I'm sorry, Mulder. Really, really sorry. Not that she knows anything. She had assumed he'd only ever been with women, but it's not as if it's ever come up.

"With all due respect," says Scully, sharply, "what difference does it make? What bearing should our sexual orientation have on our ability to be fit parents?" Her voice rises a little. "I mean, why should it matter?"

Helena puts her pen down once again and crosses her arms on the desk top calmly. "It shouldn't. And it doesn't. Not to me anyway. I couldn't care less who you sleep with. And if you want to support the rights of gays to adopt children, I'll be right next to you on the picket line. But in this case, all I care about is that this particular judge believes that you will be the best parents for Emily. Judge Henderson is a sixty-five-year-old grandfather who has voted conservatively in the last four presidential elections. Do you want to gamble on his social and political views?" She picks up her pen again. "Besides, you're a man and a woman in a heterosexual marriage. From the court's point of view, if you're lying about this, then what else are you lying about? So with that in mind...is there anything I should know about?"

Mulder is the first to clear his throat and answer. "Women. I've uh, been with just women. I went out to gay bars with friends before," he admits, "back in grad school."

"Buuuut..." Helena leads, waiting for more.

Mulder shakes his head no.

"What about you?" she turns her attention to Scully. "Any experimental girlfriends in your closet?"

Scully blinks in slow motion and then sighs, mentally weighing the chances of this ever coming up in her life again. One tends not to give much thought to the possibility that what one does while drunk and twenty-one will ever rise to bite them in the ass fifteen years later. And yet, here she is. "At a party once. I think it was...I don't know..." she tips her head back and studies the ceiling tiles. "Maybe junior year in college. It was nothing, really, just some...kissing, I guess."

"You guess?"

"Yes. I mean, no. Yes, it was..." Another painful sigh. "Nothing below the waist," she says quietly.

Don't look at Mulder, don't look at Mulder, don't look at Mulder.

His head is turned toward her - she can see out of the corner of her eye - and he's not moving a muscle. She guesses this probably constitutes the single most thrilling thing he's ever heard her say.

"And you haven't kept in touch?" asks Helena, matter-of-factly. Her tone is the same one she used when she asked Scully is she enjoys gardening.

"No. We have not."

"Okay then. Moving on. Has either of you ever had a sexually- transmitted disease?"

They both shake their heads no. Scully's temples are beginning to throb and Mulder is biting his cuticles.

"Has either of you ever employed a prostitute?"

Fuck. Oh God. She shakes her head no and closes her eyes, holding her breath.

"Okay, good," she hears Helena say, and Scully exhales.

If she had been hard pressed to guess that for Mulder, she would probably have said no, but she's still relieved by his answer.

"Dana, have you ever had an abortion?"

She swallows thickly. Jesus. "No."

"Let's see...first marriage for both of you..." The pen checks off a box on a page. "That's a matter of public record, of course. What about engagements? Any?"

"No," replies Scully.

"Um, I...Nuh-I..." Mulder rests his finger at his chin thoughtfully. Both Helena and Scully look at him, Scully with a great deal more interest than the attorney. "I suppose it depends on which one of us you ask," he finishes, with a weak smile.

"Fair enough," deadpans Helena. "Did this alleged almost- engagement occur within the last five years?"

"No," Mulder answers solidly.

"Let's just go with no then. We'll say it's safe to assume no jilted fianc‚s will be showing up unexpectedly in court on Monday morning to cause a scene. Which leads me to my next question: how many sexual partners have you had in the last ten years?"

She can't be serious. Scully has lost all feeling in her brain. If this woman asks her for names too, she's going to throw her coffee at her.

"I don't need an exact number, just a close guess. And be honest. I'm not your priest."

Scully rests her forehead in her hands, eyes closed, and waits. For either Mulder to say something first or for the world to end. When that doesn't happen, she opts to sit up straight, make direct eye contact, and simply answer the question. "Four. It's not a guess."

Mulder looks at her and appears to be thinking carefully. She hopes he isn't still counting his own lot.

"And you?" Helena prompts.

Mulder drains his coffee and sets the mug on the desk, purposely avoiding the coaster that's sitting directly in front of him - his own personal form of rebellion. He shrugs. "A hundred maybe?"

Scully would elbow him, but she's too busy turning four shades of red and staring at her shoes.

"Come on, that's not even one a month," he adds, coolly. "I want my money back on the girl of the month club."

To her credit, Helena shifts her jaw to the side and bites back a distinct smile.

Just answer the question, Mulder. Answer the stupid question. And please let it be less than a hundred.

He clears this throat and shifts in his seat. "The last decade?" He thinks another minute. "Nine or ten, I guess? Somewhere in there."

Helena is writing again. "Close enough," she says, disinterested.

Mulder turns his face toward Scully and the back of his hand grazes the seam on the side of her pants. "Probably nine," he says, meakly.

This is no doubt one of those things people talk about before they get married, not in front of their attorney two days after the wedding, while operating on too much caffeine and too little sleep.

"All right, I think that's enough about sex," announces Helena, flipping notebook pages.

Well damn, that's too bad. Just when it was getting interesting, Scully thinks, feeling her breakfast start to curdle in her stomach. Don't you want to know my favorite positions too?

And to think there used to be a time when she dreaded going to her annual gynecological exams because *those* were uncomfortable and awkward.

"So then," says Helena, tiredly. "Let's move on to controlled substances and illegal drug use."

Scully stands with a very long exhale and presses two fingers to the bridge of her nose. "A dozen or so uses of marijuana in undergrad, a handful of all-nighters in med school with the help of miscellaneous uppers, varying degrees of public intoxication including one very bad encounter with tequila my freshman year in college, and a weak nicotine habit during my residency," she says, all in one very long breath. "Nothing but social drinking in about a decade. Now if you'll please excuse me, I need to use the ladies room."


They're sitting on a park bench eating hot dogs and drinking root beers. Both have been remarkably quiet since leaving the attorney's office.

"Well that was...a productive meeting, I think," says Mulder.

"I'm so sorry, Mulder. I didn't think it would be that bad."

He shrugs. "It's all stuff you either already knew about me, or should know anyway if we're married."

"I don't think any of those things are going to come up in court," she says optimistically, "it's just a matter of being prepared."

He asks her if she wants another hot dog and she says no. He returns minutes later with his second one. She has her jacket off and her head tipped back into the sun, enjoying the warmth on her cheeks.

"There are probably some things we should discuss anyway, Scully," he says, chewing thoughtfully.

She opens her eyes and sits up. "Like what?" Silly question, actually, given the fact that they've discussed almost nothing regarding what this marriage...this arrangement, will look like. So many questions have been running on an endless loop in her brain from the moment they decided to do this. And with the distraction of having Emily in the hospital and then the meeting with the attorney, they've had no time to discuss any of them.

She has no idea what Mulder's expectations are. For that matter, she hasn't even given much thought to what hers are. She agreed to marry him, yes. And she assumes that what he has in mind is a real marriage, since he's given her no indication otherwise. She suspects they will live together. The idea is quite strange to her.

Waking in the morning to find Mulder reading a newspaper and drinking coffee at the table. Opening the closet to find Mulder's clothing hanging there. Finding letters addressed to Mulder in the mailbox, or stranger yet, mail addressed to both of them. His books on the bookshelf, his cereal in the cupboard, his socks in the hamper, his hair in the shower.

"The attorney said that even if things go our way, the judge would likely still require us to keep Emily in California for a period of time until the adoption became permanent. I think you should stay here and I should go back to DC," he says, simply.

She meets his eyes, but doesn't immediately say anything. He's right, of course. Adopting a child is a process that can take months. It's not possible for both of them to put their lives on hold until it's over.

He continues, as if reading her thoughts. "You've got at least three months of family leave you can take, plus vacation time if you need it, Scully. And I'm sure Skinner will be willing to work with me on time off as well, but you know as well as I do that if nobody shows up to keep the X-Files running, it would be the perfect excuse to shut us down."

"God... Skinner," she says, rubbing her forehead, wearily. "I haven't even thought about work. I suppose we need to call and try to explain-"

"He knows." Mulder smiles wryly out of one corner of his mouth. "He knows we got married."

Her completely bewildered expression causes him to huff out a laugh. "I got a call late last night on my cell phone while we were at the hospital. You were resting with Emily and I was watching TV in the lounge. Turns out, your attorney called yesterday to verify my employment information and she asked for a character reference. HR put her through to Skinner."

Her eyes are closed now. She doesn't want to imagine her boss's face. "Oh God. What did he say?"

"About my character or about us getting hitched?"

"I would hope I know the answer to the first one."

Mulder tilts his head, his smile continuing. "Well, first he asked me if you were sober when it happened, which I did not take as a compliment. Then he told me that if I didn't do this right, I'd better be able to run pretty fast."

She feels her face warm as her eyes cast downward.

"He's just jealous he didn't think of the idea sooner."

"Mulder..."

"Come on, you can't be that na‹ve, Scully."

"Na‹ve about what? He's our boss. You're being ridiculous."

He shakes his head at her words. "Men notice you, Scully. Skinner's no different. You shouldn't overestimate us - we're all wired fairly simply when it comes to a beautiful woman. But some of us know where the lines are drawn, and Skinner's one of the good ones."

Is that what she'd done? Drawn a line between the two of them years ago? She can't count the times it seemed like they could be on the verge of something happening between them, but then life simply went on - more cases, more monsters, more death- defying acts and bad diner meals. "You make all men sound like a pack of wild animals."

His smirk is playful, but honest at the same time. "Remember when you were in high school and someone wise told you that all boys are interested in one thing? Well, those boys grow up eventually, but not as much as you might think."

They sit in silence for a few minutes while she digests that tidbit of information and Mulder finishes his hot dog. He successfully sinks a wadded napkin into a garbage can from a dozen feet away and she wonders if showing off in front of women is also something men are hard-wired to do.

"I was thinking I could probably put most of my stuff in storage," he says, a bit uncertainly, "and the three of us could just stay at your apartment until we figure things out...buy a house or whatever."

She looks at him, surprised at the change in direction. "You think we should? Buy a house, I mean?" That idea hadn't even crossed her mind, although it's certainly not unreasonable.

He shrugs. "Well, we've got too much stuff for one apartment, and it would be nice to have a yard for Emily, don't you think? It doesn't have to be right away. But, you know, eventually."

God. He's thought this stuff out? She has no idea how to respond and she must be looking at him funny.

"You okay, Scully?"

"Yeah," she says quietly, finding her voice. "It's just...a lot, you know? I mean, what if we don't get her, Mulder? What if...after all of this...we don't get Emily?" The mere thought makes her throat tighten and she can't look at him.

His hand covers hers, warm and solid. "We will. I can't explain how I know it; I just do. She's your daughter, Scully. Certain things are meant to be."

January 8, 1998

The weekend passes. Emily is released from the hospital on Saturday and returned to the children's home. Scully would have given anything to have been able to take Emily to her hotel with her, to watch over her. But the rules prohibit overnight visits until the court hearing on Monday, and so Emily remains a ward of the State.

It isn't that the children's home is that bad. The caregivers are kind to Emily and she has made some friends in her short time there. But being in such close proximity to dozens of other children is certainly not the safest thing for Emily's challenged immune system. Scully insists on a course of preventative antibiotics for her and schools the caregivers at the children's home on proper handwashing and general hygiene. She asks so many questions regarding food preparation, the handling of soiled linens, and the process for sterilizing toys that the nurses cringe when they see her coming. Scully donates complimentary hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes by the case full. She also buys Emily new pajamas, clothing and shoes and writes her name in them with a black Sharpie, like her own mother used to do.

On Sunday morning, she meets her mother for brunch. Mulder hangs back at the hotel and watches TV or hits the pool or the weight room, or does whatever Mulder does in their room when she's not around (she tries not to think about that too much).

Maggie is already there when she arrives, sipping delicately from a steaming mug and watching pedestrian traffic. The caf‚ has an outdoor patio, but even in southern California, that's pushing it for January. Her mother has opted for a small round table by the window where the sun shines in.

Dana thinks at the last minute about pocketing her wedding ring until she's broken the news, but refuses at the last minute. She isn't embarrassed or ashamed, so she won't act it.

"Good morning," she says, smiling, and her mother stands to embrace her. She's come from mass, evident from her pantsuit and "good purse." Dana hasn't made it once since Christmas Eve and wonders when or if that topic will come up or if her mother has wearied from it.

"Fox decided not to join us?"

"He's...doing some other things. We've been back and forth to the children's home all weekend."

A waitress stops by the table. "Just a coffee, please," says Dana.

"And two chocolate croissants," adds her mother, with a wry smile. "You're still too thin."

"I'm fine, Mom. I'm wearing the clothes I wore a year ago."

Her mother appraises her sweater and slacks. "You're still seeing your doctor regularly, right?"

"Every other month," she assures. "You need to stop worrying, Mom. I'm fine. Really."

"Worrying is a mother's prerogative." Maggie smiles softly. "I'm sure you've discovered that by now."

Dana returns an understanding smile and they reach a silent truce.

"How is Emily?" Maggie asks. She had asked to visit Emily at the hospital, but Dana had told her that Emily's doctors felt it best to limit visitors, which wasn't entirely untrue. Part of that was her own selfishness - she simply hadn't wanted to break the news of her marriage at Emily's bedside.

"She's doing well now. The fever is gone and she was released yesterday. Mulder and I spent the day with her at the children's home."

"I'd really like to come to the hearing tomorrow," her mother pleads, tentatively, "but I'll understand if you'd rather I don't."

The coffee and croissants arrive and she's instantly grateful her mother encouraged the indulgence. Her stomach reminds her she hasn't eaten since late room service last night.

"I'd like it if you did come," she admits, honestly. "But there's something you need to know before you do...something I've been meaning to talk to you about." She stirs her coffee and gathers her nerves.

Maggie puts down her croissant and dabs the corner of her mouth with her napkin, curious, but patient.

"As you know, Emily's aunt has also petitioned to adopt her. And while it doesn't necessarily weaken my case, it does mean that the court has another option besides either placing Emily in long- term foster care, or with me." She draws a deep breath. "Now, for reasons that I don't entirely understand or agree with, the court feels that I would be a better mother to Emily if I ...am married." Her left hand, which she has been careful to keep resting in her lap until now, joins her right one on top of the small table. And she very calmly takes a sip of her coffee.

A wrinkle forms between Maggie's brows and she looks puzzled for a moment. "I don't understand. They know that you aren't married. How will wearing a ring..."

"I am married, Mom," she states plainly. "Mulder and I were married Wednesday."

The face across the table blinks back at her, silently, the expression steady, but unreadable. Never let it be said that the Scully women wear their emotions on their sleeves. "Well." Her mother swallows and shakes her head, looking calm, but entirely taken aback. "Well," she repeats, "I, um...I don't know what to say, Dana. This is certainly a surprise."

"I wanted to tell you sooner, but it's been hectic with Emily in the hospital, and..." she sighs, "the truth is, I wasn't sure how to explain it. It wasn't...planned and I'm still getting used to the idea myself."

Her mother's eyes widen a little. "What you said at Christmas, about not being able to conceive - you don't mean that you're...you're not..."

God. Leave it to her Catholic mother. "No, Mom. I'm not pregnant. What I told you before about Mulder and me - it's the truth. We're not romantically involved."

Her mother shakes her head. "I'm sorry, Dana, but you're going to have to help me understand this a little better. You married a man that you're not even dating?"

"It's complicated, Mom. Mulder asked me to marry him. He felt- we both felt- that it was the best chance I had of being granted custody of Emily. It just seemed like the logical thing to do. We met with my attorney Friday and she thinks that our chances are very good."

Maggie studies her for what feels like forever before speaking again. "And what happens if, the Lord forbid, you don't end up with custody of Emily? What about the marriage then?"

"I'm trying to stay as positive as I can. We'll cross that bridge if we come to it. For now...this is the best option."

"As always, you certainly seem like you've thought this through rationally," Maggie says, her expression scrupulous.

"I have."

Her mother drinks her coffee quietly for several minutes, but Dana knows the conversation is far from over. She resists the urge to speak again, to try and explain something she can't admit to understanding herself.

"When your father asked me to marry him, I was eighteen-years- old. At first, my father forbade me from saying yes. Then, when he realized that I was legally able to marry without his permission, he tried to convince me that it wasn't what I wanted."

Dana sighs quietly. "Mom, I've heard this story a hundred times."

"Then you'll hear it once more," her mother replies shortly. There are times when Dana knows better than to argue with her mother, even at thirty-three years old.

"My father told me that I'd be sorry if I married Bill Scully. He said that the life of a military wife was lonely and difficult, and in that he was right. He said that no matter how in love I thought I was, it wouldn't be enough in the long run and I'd live to regret it. Well." Maggie pauses and drinks, taking her time. "That's where I knew he was wrong. What I felt for your father..." Emotion clouds her mother's eyes and Dana has to look away. "I may have been only eighteen years old, but I was smart enough to know then that the only thing I'd ever regret would be walking away from your father. I loved him with all my heart. And I felt that way until the day he died. I still do."

Dana swallows, gathering her own emotions. "I know, Mom," she says softly. "I know."

"Marrying someone isn't something you do because it's logical, Dana. It's what you do when you realize that you simply can't live without them. It's what you do when there really is no other choice."

Dana slowly raises her eyes to her mother's and holds the contact. "Mulder's my best friend," she says, her voice unsteady. Her eyes dampen and her throat feels tight. "I trust him with my life. I trust him with...everything. And I can't imagine my life without him in it. When he's not there, it's like...I don't know how to describe it."

"Like a part of you is missing."

Dana looks at her mother, a look of quiet resolution passing between them. "Yes."

"Then maybe your decision was far less logical than you think."

January 9, 1998

Judge Thomas Henderson is a small, thin man in his early sixties with contemplative dark brown eyes and handsome, distinguished features. He seems to have no problem with lengthy silences, as he takes his time turning pages from his seat and reading, occasionally looking up to visually scrutinize the guests in his court room.

Scully sits at a table in her navy blue suit with her stockinged knees together, primly. Mulder is to her left and Helena Lynch to her right. Mulder is very clean shaven and proper in his charcoal suit. He reminds her of a news anchorman because he has perfect posture and a starched collar and also because he is anchoring her. His hand rests on her knee underneath the table, which is good because she feels she might fly right out a window if it weren't for him holding her down. Tethering her to the moment. How many times has she felt like this with him? Like her world might come crashing down at any moment and he'll be the only one left standing amidst the rubble, holding out his hand to her.

Their relationship is more than just need. It's survival.

Across the center aisle, Linda Proctor's attorney sits alone at another table, a corpulent, elderly man with thin white hair and glasses. Upon entering the court room minutes ago, Helena had greeted the man by his first name, Don.

There are but two people sitting on the court benches behind them - Emily's case worker, Anne, and Margaret Scully. The court room is quiet, except for the shuffling of papers and the occasional cough or clearing of the throat.

The judge finally speaks without looking up. "I take it these are your clients, Counselor? The Scullys?"

Helena stands. "This is Doctor Scully, Emily's biological mother, and her husband, Mr. Mulder, your Honor."

"And Mr. Allen, your client, Mrs. Proctor, was not able to be present today?"

Mr. Allen also stands. "No, your Honor. Mrs. Proctor lives 7 hours away and has another child at home."

Judge Henderson scratches his chin, still reading. "And yet I see that the Scullys reside on the east coast and still managed to be here."

Don Allen doesn't reply. Helena represses a smile and throws a quick, satisfied glance Dana's way.

If being referred to as a Scully bothers Mulder, he's doing a remarkably good job at hiding it. He sits there, doing his best Ward Cleaver. If they win this, she's going to want to fuck him silly. Even more than she usually does.

"Ms. Lynch, what is the current medical condition of the child in question, Emily Sim? I see a hospital report from just forty-eight hours ago."

"Emily was released from the hospital on Friday and is recovering at the children's home. Doctor Scully and Mr. Mulder stayed both nights at the hospital with Emily, and have been visiting her regularly to monitor her care since her release."

"And should your clients be granted adoption, I assume it is their intention to live in the District of Columbia with the child."

"It is, your Honor."

"I also see here that Doctor Scully and Mr. Mulder have different addresses listed. Care to explain that, Counselor?"

Helena clears her throat and glances down at the table briefly. "Well, your Honor, my clients were recently married. Their priority since then has been to stay here in California with Emily until after the adoption hearing. But once they return to Washington, they will be combining residences."

"Your Honor, if I may," says Mr. Allen, "Miss Scully and Mr. Mulder have been married for exactly five days." He chuffs out a disdainful laugh. "It could hardly be called a marriage at this point."

Helena shoots to her feet. "Objection, your Honor! Mr. Allen is not at all qualified to comment on the nature of my client's relationship."

Judge Henderson removes his glasses and sighs. "That is true, Ms. Lynch. However, you must admit the fact that your client managed to get married two weeks after she filed an adoption petition might seem a little odd. Do you care to explain this fortuitous course of events for the court?"

Shit. Here we go. Mulder's hand tightens on her knee.

Helena squares her shoulders. "Of course, your Honor. My clients have been partners for five years now. When Mr. Mulder proposed marriage, they both decided that their time and resources could be better spent on building a life with Emily rather than on planning a wedding. They also felt it would be less confusing to Emily if they were already married if-or shall I say hopefully when- they are granted adoption. Therefore, they opted to marry right away in a small, civil ceremony rather than a wedding. Emily has been spending a great deal of time with both Doctor Scully and Mr. Mulder and, as I'm sure Emily's case worker, Anne, will attest, Emily has grown quite close to both of them. Yes, my clients are newlyweds. But they have proven quite clearly that their first priority is Emily and what is best for her."

The judge looks thoughtful for a long moment before addressing opposing counsel. "If you have nothing else to add, Mr. Allen, then we'll move on."

Don Allen appears constipated. "No, your Honor," he grumbles.

Scully manages to breathe once again. Helena Lynch has just earned her savagely priced retainer. And then some.


She stands in the sun, on the lofty front steps of the court house, watching Mulder pace on his phone. She doesn't know who it is and she doesn't ask.

Heels click down the steps behind her and then Helena is there, sitting, legs together, rooting through her handbag. Her hand emerges, victorious, holding a cigarette and lighter. Scully inhales a faint whiff of secondhand smoke, that tang of nicotine that takes her back ten years.

"You want one?" offers Helena, and Dana wonders if it's that obvious.

"No thanks," she says, and means it.

"I quit a year ago," Helena says with a faint huff. "It's going well."

"I hope it's not in response to how you think our case is going."

"No," Helena shakes her head. "No, I'd say it's more a commentary on how my divorce is going."

"Ah," says Dana. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be. It's one mistake I'm more than ready to put behind me."

Mulder continues his mobile conversation, standing still now with one hand on his hip and his weight shifted onto one foot. His suit jacket is off, draped over his arm, and his shirt sleeves are rolled up to his elbows. She secretly loves this look. He could be on the cover of a magazine or in a mens wear ad.

Helena releases a long breath and stands, scuffing her pump on the granite step. "I think we did okay in there."

Scully closes her eyes. "Those questions about our jobs...about what it is that we do...God." She sighs loudly.

Helena shrugs and flicks an ash onto the grass. "We knew it would come up. There wasn't much we could do about it. The written statement from your boss helped."

Yes, she thinks. She and Mulder are going to owe Skinner a bit more than a bottle of wine next Christmas after that letter of endorsement. She hardly knew the man had it in him.

"Linda Proctor is a married elementary school teacher with a daughter," says Scully, remorsefully. "It's like competing against Mother Theresa."

"She's an aunt who Emily has seen only twice in her lifetime. She knows nothing about Emily's medical condition, and she and her husband have a sizable amount of personal debt. Taking on a child with Emily's needs would be a strain for them. The judge is smart enough to see that. Not to mention the fact that Emily has expressed her clear preference to be placed with you."

Dana nods, but remains silent. It's been an hour and a half since the judge adjourned the case, asking them to return at three o'clock for his ruling. She and Mulder have spent most of that time sitting quietly across from each other in a coffee shop, picking at sandwiches and reflecting on every detail of the morning. Her mother hugged both of them, and then turned down their invitation to join them for lunch, insisting that they should spend the time together and that she'd like to walk to the chapel down the street. Despite her fluctuating faith, Dana is still comforted by the knowledge that her mother is praying for them. In fact, she's found herself on her own knees quite a bit lately.

Helena stubs out her cigarette. "Don't count yourself out," she says. "You've got biology on your side for one thing. Just because you didn't give birth to her doesn't mean Emily isn't your child and for all intents and purposes, the court likes to honor that whenever possible. You're a skilled doctor who can manage Emily's condition better than most. You're both younger than the Proctors, and your combined income and assets are higher. Honestly, the only thing working against you at this point is your job. It's possible that the judge may require you to make some difficult decisions regarding your career. Are you prepared to do that?"

"Yes," answers Dana, quickly and honestly. "We haven't really discussed it, but if I have to, then yes." She watches Mulder end his call and pocket his phone. He makes his way over to them.

"That was Natalie Powers about the Carson James case," he says. "They've got a third victim. She's faxing me the information and they want me to profile it, but I told her there's no way I can get anything to her until tomorrow."

Scully's eyes cast downward. Helena glances at her watch before gathering her handbag. "I'll meet you inside," she says, with an encouraging smile.

"What did she say?" he asks quietly, lifting his chin toward Helena Lynch as she climbs the court house steps.

"Nothing we don't already know," replies Scully, crossing her arms.

Mulder studies her. "Are you all right?" He looks like he wants to touch her, but he doesn't.

She nods, but her eyes flit away from his.

"Do you want me to tell Agent Powers I can't do it?"

"No, Mulder," she says, her voice tinged with weariness. "I just...I thought you were taking vacation time."

"I am. I did." This time his hand goes to her elbow and she doesn't pull away. "I just thought I could help, that's all. I can tell her to find someone else."

She looks up at him and sighs, her expression a mixture of acceptance and understanding. Having him all to herself has to end sometime. "No, it's fine. If you can help, then you should do it."

His hand slides down her arm to her hand and gives it a supportive squeeze. "Come on, let's go back inside." They begin to climb the court house steps. "Agent Powers sends her congratulations, by the way."

"Was she disappointed?"

"Nah." He opens the door for her. "I told her you were willing to share me on weekends."


The judge looks directly at them when he speaks and Scully tries to convince herself it's a good sign. She focuses on her breathing, thinking it will calm her fraying nerves. She's hopeful she doesn't look as emotional as she feels, but she could be deluding herself. Mulder keeps stealing worried glances her way. Regardless of what happens, she couldn't have gone through this whole thing without him. She absolutely knows that now.

"I've been a family court judge for twenty-seven years, and the decisions I make in this court room each and every day are not easy ones. However, I happen to find adoption cases to be among the most challenging rulings I am called upon to make. When the child in question is a special needs child, like Emily, there is even more at stake." The judge crosses his arms in front of him and leans forward on the bench, looking at them pointedly.

"Doctor Scully... Mr. Mulder, it is obvious that you care for Emily a great deal and you certainly have the desire and the means to give her a good home. Doctor Scully, you are also a medical professional who is well-equipped to monitor Emily's condition. However, it is also a fact that you are both in high-risk, time- consuming occupations. I would be remiss if I didn't consider how your careers might affect the overall stability in Emily's life. This child has already been through a great deal."

Scully feels a lump swell in the back of her throat and she blinks slowly. Mulder reaches for her hand.

"Mrs. Proctor, Emily's aunt, has written a letter here that I have also read. It expresses her sincere desire to adopt Emily and to care for her as her own. Mr. and Mrs. Proctor have been married for twelve years and they have a daughter. If Emily is adopted by the Proctors, she would have the opportunity to grow up alongside her cousin. So as you can see, Emily Sim is a very fortunate child. She has two sets of parents who would like to give her a loving home."

Judge Henderson pauses to take off his glasses, placing them down in front of him. "Doctor Scully, the plain fact is, Emily Sim is your biological daughter. According to her case worker, the two of you have begun to develop a close bond, and Emily has repeatedly expressed her desire to be placed with you. And I have to say, given the circumstances, I can see no reason why you should not be allowed the opportunity to parent your own child. Therefore, I am granting the provisional custody of Emily Sim to her mother, Dana Scully. I am also approving the petition for step- parent adoption by Fox Mulder, so long as he remains married to Doctor Scully. The child must remain in the state of California for no less than six weeks, during which time a series of visits by a licensed social worker will occur to determine if this is an appropriate placement for the child. Court will reconvene again in six weeks and based on the successful outcome of these visits, a ruling will be made regarding permanent custody. As of four o'clock today, the State has twenty-four hours to turn the child over to Doctor Scully. If there are no further questions, then this court is adjourned."

The smack of the wooden gavel startles Scully from her paralysis and she looks at Mulder, glassy-eyed. "Did he just say what I think he said?"

Mulder smiles a Christmas morning smile back at her and if there weren't half a dozen pairs of eyes trained on them at that very moment, she would have certainly kissed him. A real kiss.

"Congratulations," says Helena.

"That's it? She's-she's really ours?" Scully asks, still unbelieving.

"Pretty much. Like the judge said, you'll have to work with Anne to schedule visitations and it will likely be a different social worker who will conduct them. We'll set another court date and if all goes well, you'll be able to take Emily back home with you permanently. So I'll see you both in six weeks."

Handshakes are exchanged and both Mulder and Scully thank Helena profusely.

"It's been my pleasure," she replies, gathering up files and paperwork. "I'll be in touch when I get a court date. Until then, you have my number."

**

They spend the evening switching rooms, yet again. This time to a two-bedroom, two bath suite with a full kitchen that hurts Scully's brain thinking about how much it's going to cost for six weeks. But Mulder insists they can afford it and by that he must mean *he* can afford it, which is yet another conversation they've yet to have in their new marriage. He's hinted before at the possibility that he may not be quite as broke as he pretends to be - something about cash and assets inherited from his father's estate. Leave it to Mulder to live in a shabby apartment with leaky plumbing and crappy furniture when he's got money to spend. Other than a taste for quality suits, Mulder seems satisfied living one step up from a starving grad student.

Each of the two bedrooms in the new suite has a queen sized bed and attached bathroom. The plan, she assumes, is for Emily to stay in one of those rooms. Which means that instead of sharing a king-sized bed with Mulder, things just got a whole lot cozier.

They go shopping after dinner and stock the small, but functional kitchen with food, probably more than the Brady Bunch would eat in a week. She wisely defers to Mulder's judgment when choosing foods Emily might like since his palate is not altogether different than a preschooler's. They wander the grocery aisles in their jeans and sneakers and fill the cart with fruits and cereals and peanut butter, cheeses, yogurt, rice and pasta. Mulder chooses four varieties of Goldfish crackers and Scully can't tell the differences among any of them.

In the granola bar aisle, he holds up a thin box with cartoon characters on it.

"What is it?" she asks, skeptically.

"Fruit Roll-Ups. It's like fruit in a box, Scully."

She frowns while reading the label. "There is not one bit of fruit in these, Mulder. It's false advertising."

"Well, you're no fun," he pouts, surrendering them back to the shelf to nestle among the sea of colorful, misleading boxes. "At least get good cereal." He reaches for the Captain Crunch and wilts at her non-verbal response.

"Come on, Scully, fortified with twelve vitamins and minerals."

"And enough sugar to power a small city."

"I suppose juice boxes are out the question too then." He tosses Cheerios into the cart and she doesn't object.

"Depends on whether or not they contain actual fruit juice or sugar water."

Disgruntled, he rotates a bottle of apple juice, searching for the label. "Yeah, like you didn't grow up on Kool Aid like the rest of us."


They watch TV on the bed and eat peanut M&M's - a small concession on her part from the shopping trip, and because she knows that after five years of partnership, Mulder has figured out that she won't turn down chocolate anytime within three days of either side of her period.

The Patriots are beating the Steelers in Monday night football and she isn't even pretending to be interested. Her mind is definitely elsewhere. "Maybe we should have bought some toys too."

"We've got coloring books and some puzzles and games already. We can go pick up the water balloons, finger paints and drum set when she gets here."

"Very funny."

Mulder throws a red M&M at the TV. "Come on! That was interference! Did you see that, Scully? That ref is blind!"

"Don't throw the red ones. Those are my favorite. Throw the brown ones."

His socked foot nudges hers. "I sense you're not entirely invested in the Patriots getting to the Superbowl this year, Scully. We'll need to work on that."

She yawns and gets off the bed. "I think I'm going to take a shower and go to bed."

"You're gonna miss the end of the game. There's only six minutes left."

"Yeah, I'm okay. Besides, that's like twenty in real time," she says, shuffling off to the bathroom.

"I'll let you know if they score," he hollers after her.

She spends the entire time shaving her legs (extra carefully) wondering what will happen when they turn out the light. He's given her exactly no clue about what his expectations are and she'll be damned if she's going to ask.

She brushes her teeth, applies moisturizer and body lotion, combs out her wet hair, and wraps herself in the fluffy white hotel robe. The negligee she purchased on a whim the other day is still folded beneath her other sets of pajamas, the tags still attached. It suddenly seems frivolous of her, almost adolescent- what essentially amounts to seduction. Other than a legal piece of paper, nothing has really changed between the two of them. And yet, in so many small ways, it feels like it has.

When she exits the bathroom, the television is still blaring. The game is over and Mulder is sound asleep on his back, his fingers slack on top of the remote control. With a sigh and a soft smile, she extinguishes the lights and the television, then carefully coaxes his legs under the comforter. "Wasaa score?" he mumbles, rolling onto his side.

"Shhh," she whispers, pulling the covers over his shoulder. "It's over. They won."

She lowers her robe and slips into her satin pajamas in the pitch dark before sliding between the cool sheets. Her breath hitches when he cuddles up behind her, close enough to feel him exhale on the damp hairs of her neck. He snuffles, half asleep and slides his arm beneath her pillow. "You smell good," he says. She smiles and lies perfectly still, listening to the steady rhythm of his slumber until her eyes grow heavy.

January 10, 1998

Anne delivers Emily, along with two rather small duffel bags, right after lunch. "This is everything?" Scully asks, taking the tattered bags and smiling reassuringly at Emily.

"She doesn't have much," replies Anne, quietly. "Some clothing, a few toys. Her medication is in a plastic bag in the front. There are instructions regarding dosages. The antibiotic needs to be refrigerated and she hates the taste of it, so you might want to negotiate a little reward system with her. She's a little afraid of the dark and she can't sleep without the yellow blanket." Anne bends down to Emily's level and tucks the little girl's hair back, affectionately. "Other than that, I think we're okay, right?"

Emily nods, shyly.

"We've talked about this," continues Anne, her tone clearly meant to be a reassurance to Emily. "Emily is very excited to be here. She hasn't stopped talking about it since I told her yesterday. But she knows she can come back to the children's home to visit her friends." Emily looks around the room curiously, a tiny smile creeping onto her mouth when she spots Mulder peeking out from around the side of a door at her.

"Hi," he says.

Emily's smile widens. "What are you doing?" She giggles.

"Waiting for you. What are you doing?"

Emily giggles some more.

"You want to see your room? It's cool," he says, enticingly. "The bed is so big you can sleep sideways and upside-down."

Seconds later, Emily has shed her pink sneakers and jacket and has scampered off to discover her new temporary digs.

"How are you doing?" inquires Anne.

Scully nods and returns a satisfied smile, draping Emily's coat over the back of a chair. "I'm good. It doesn't seem real yet."

Anne nods her chin toward the back of the suite where muffled shrieks of laughter drift out. "He's great with her."

Scully crosses her arms and smiles down at her shoes. "He is," she agrees. "Mulder's kind of a big kid himself."

The silence stretches and Scully finally clears her throat.

"I wanted to thank you for all you've done, Anne. I mean it. I don't think I'd be here if it wasn't for you."

Anne's expression is humble. "Well, you're welcome. But you really don't need to thank me. I just want what's best for Emily. And I think we've accomplished that."

After the goodbyes are said, Scully makes her way to the short hallway and stands silently just outside the view from Emily's room, listening with a smile on her face.

"You're getting warmer," says Mulder. "Warmer...warmer...Oh! You're hot! You're so hot...you're burning up!"

Emily laughs loudly. "I found it!"

"You did! You're too good at this game. I'm running out of hiding spots."

"What else do you want to do?" asks Emily.

"There's a pool. A really big one. Do you want to go swimming?"

"I don't have a swimsuit," says Emily, disappointedly.

"Oh. Well, we'll need to fix that soon. Do you want to play cards?"

She can't hear Emily's response.

Mulder tries again. "We could color."

"Do you have Play Doh?"

"Weee do not," Mulder replies, with an upward lilt to his voice, and Scully imagines him mentally adding that to the list of necessities.

"We could play fairy princess."

"Uh."

Scully presses a hand to her mouth and bites her lip.

"How does that go?" asks Mulder in the same voice he uses to discuss overdue expense reports.

She's tempted to go in and rescue him, but she just can't bring herself to.

"It's easy," instructs Emily, authoritatively. "I'll be the princess."

"Well that's a relief."

"You could be a fairy godmother and give me three wishes."

"Riiiight," replies Mulder, thoughtfully. "Or...Or!! I could be the ginormous fire-breathing dragon who scorches the land and threatens the castle."

"No. There's no dragon. But there's an evil sorcerer," Emily suggests, persuasively. Scully mentally vows never to try and negotiate with this child.

"Sorcerer I can do," says Mulder. "You've got yourself a deal."


Twenty minutes after Emily is bathed, read to and put to bed, she is standing at the edge of the kitchenette watching Scully load the dishwasher, fingering the satin binding of her yellow blanket.

"What's the matter, Emily?" Scully goes to her in concern, resting her hand to the girl's forehead. "Are you feeling all right, honey?"

Emily nods shyly. "It's dark."

"Right, I forgot," replies Scully, understandingly. She takes Emily gently by the hand and leads her back toward her bedroom. "Let's see if we can do something about that."

Minutes later, Emily is tucked back into bed with the bathroom light on and the door propped partially open.

The next time, Mulder has just emerged from the shower and is, very thankfully, dressed in appropriate sleepwear. "Guess who I found sitting in the hallway outside our room."

Scully is slouched low in a chair in the small living room area, reading a journal article on Bleeding and Coagulopathies in Critical Care. Emily looks sleepy and her eyes are puffy, her flannel pajama top eschew.

Mulder picks her up and props her against his hip, carrying and depositing her next to Scully.

"I'm scared," Emily whispers, sniffling. "I don't want to sleep alone."

Scully glances up at Mulder with a vaguely apologetic look.

"Maybe I could take her room for tonight," he suggests, "and she could sleep with you."

Which is how Scully ends up sleeping with a pink teddy bear next to her pillow, the bathroom light on, and little bare feet sneaking onto her side of the bed.

January 14, 1998

The week passes in a rush of soggy Cheerios, bathtub toys, Candyland, and morning cartoons. There are three trips to the park, four afternoon naps (one where all three of them fall asleep on the bed after a Blues Clues double feature), two lunches at McDonalds because Scully is outvoted, and four visits to the hotel swimming pool in which Emily wears a brand new purple swimsuit and learns to float on her back with Mulder's help.

Scully even buys herself a black one-piece with a plunging neckline that threatens to reveal a bit too much if she isn't careful. When she walks out of the bathroom wearing it the first time, Mulder temporarily forgets that he has feet, trips into the nightstand and swears.

"Watch your language," she warns, smirking.

"Watch what you wear," he replies, hoarsely, his hooded gaze flipping her stomach like a pancake.

The week is a time of acclimation for everyone. Scully learns that it really is possible for a child to exist on just seven foods, and also, that it isn't necessary for her to actually get *into* the bathtub to end up soaking wet. It isn't unusual for them to have to call housekeeping for a restocking of towels halfway through the day. She also discovers that the answer to "Are you sure you don't have to go to the bathroom?" is not always reliable.

Mulder finds out that Mister Rogers' Neighborhood at 7 am, followed by Sesame Street at 7:30 buys him an extra hour of sleep. He quickly learns some valuable cleaning lessons, such as the fact that Play Doh does not come out of carpet, and the word "washable," as it pertains to children's markers, is a big fat lie. Also, when the box says "some assembly required," it's probably best to cancel your afternoon plans.

Swapping back beds doesn't come up, and therefore, Emily continues to sleep with Scully for the week and Mulder has his own bed. It certainly won't be a permanent arrangement, but it can't hurt for the time being, while Emily adjusts to her new living situation.

There is a routine. After bathtime, Emily climbs into bed and Mulder reads her a book. Horton Hears a Who is the favorite, but really any Dr. Seuss is acceptable and even Curious George will do in a pinch. Another bathroom trip, two or three glasses of water, and several stalling techniques later, Mulder schlepps off to his own room to watch TV and Scully takes over.

Sometimes, after Emily falls asleep, Scully migrates to the other bed and flops down next to Mulder. They surf the old movie channels. Sometimes Scully even falls asleep there and wakes in the wee hours of the morning to make her way back to where Emily sleeps.

It's not an ideal situation, but somehow everyone manages to get a decent night's sleep and Emily seems to be acclimating well to her new family arrangement. And since Scully has no idea what the expectation for married sleeping arrangements is supposed to be between her and Mulder, it doesn't seem all that strange.

Before, they were work partners who were not married and not romantically involved. Now, they're still work partners, but married. And still not romantically involved. They do, however, seem to have a knack for co-parenting effectively, which is something. She didn't expect to be quite so impressed with Mulder in this regard. His desire to have or not have children had never come up before, and based on his lifestyle, she would have assumed it probably wasn't on his to do list. Which would have been a shame really. He's ridiculously good at it, even if he does go a little light on the discipline and heavy on the sugar.

Late afternoon on Saturday, six days after the custody hearing, Scully and Emily walk Mulder to the American Airlines gate at San Diego International Airport. Emily holds Mulder's hand on one side of her and Scully's on the other and they walk three people across through the terminal, making other travelers go around them.

Emily's been quieter than usual ever since they finished lunch and Mulder began packing. By the time they reach his gate, the first boarding announcement has already been made.

Mulder crouches to Emily's level. "So I'll be back in a week, okay?"

Emily nods, her eyes downcast.

He brushes her hair back. "That's not many days."

"Seven," she sniffs.

"Keep practicing your back float while I'm gone, okay?"

Another reluctant nod. "I put Horton in your suitcase," she says, "so you can call and read it to me before bed."

Mulder smiles. "I'll still be on the airplane when you go to bed. But how about if we read it in the morning? It can be a breakfast story instead of a bedtime story."

"Okay."

A second boarding announcement is made.

"That's me," he says. "Can I get a hug and a kiss for the road?"

Emily's hugs him, then kisses his cheek. "What about Dana? Doesn't she get a hug and kiss too?"

An uncertain smile peeks on Mulder's lips and he raises his eyes to look at Scully, who has been standing there trying not to overthink everything about this moment. Things are both different between them, and they're not.

Mulder stands, maintaining eye contact. "Of course," he replies, almost like he's asking permission.

He moves toward her, wrapping both arms to embrace her, like they've done countless times before. A warm and friendly hug. So long, see you around, Pal. But this time the palm of his hand presses into her lower back a little harder and she finds herself flush against him, his face turned in so she can feel the heat of his cheek on her temple. Her heart does a little hiccup in her chest.

"See you later, Scully."

"Goodbye, Mulder," she manages, as they separate.

Emily stands guard in her pint-sized pink Keds, eyes expectant.

Scully anticipates the cheek. Which is why she's startled when she gets it on the mouth, delivered in a bold, chivalrous gesture. Solid, but not overconfident. A cousin to the wedding kiss, but a bit firmer and with a much more interested audience.

Emily beams up at them, pleased.

Scully swallows when they part, her eyes fluttering back open.

A week suddenly seems like a very long time.

Part 2:

January 15, 1998

MULDER

It's not uncommon for her to make an appearance in his dreams. They spend an average of ten hours a day together, more when they travel, and he's pretty solidly in love with her, so it stands to reason she'd fuck with his sleep as well.

But since her cancer, his Scully dreams have pretty much stayed in the PG-13 camp, with an occasional foray into R territory. He hasn't bothered to really analyze it much. The likely answer is that his psyche was so profoundly affected by the fear of losing her that it decided there were more important things to dream about when it came to their relationship than what she'd look like propped against the filing cabinet with smeared lipstick and her panties around her ankles.

That apparently changed Saturday night.

He floats back to consciousness on Sunday morning with a torpedo-sized hard on. His phone is ringing. He tries to ignore it. Where were they? Oh yeah, he was on his back with his hands in her hair and she was bent over him wearing that black bathing suit. Why does she have her bathing suit on in bed? It's a dream, that's why.

The phone trills again.

Shit. He can't even manage to get good dream head.

Eyes still closed, he rolls over, bare-chested. "Yeah," he answers with a heavy sigh. "Mulder."

"Hey, you're home. We were just going to leave a message." A hand goes over the receiver on the other end and Frohike announces to the peanut gallery, "He's home."

"Good morning, Melvin. What's up?" Mulder reaches for his watch on the nightstand, blinking to see the time. 10:20. Fuck.

"We've got some information you might be interested in," Frohike says, cryptically. "On that stuff you emailed us a few days ago."

"Like what?" Mulder wakes up a little more.

A pause on the phone. "Rather not say over an unsecured line. Why don't you stop by."

Mulder sighs. "Fine. I'll be there in an hour and a half."

The call ends and Mulder immediately redials, sitting up on the edge of the bed.

"Hello?" she answers.

"Hi." His voice is immediately apologetic. "I'm sorry, I overslept. Is she mad?"

"No, she's fine." Scully's voice is light. "I bought her four new tubs of Play Doh as a suitable distraction. We're cutting out zoo animals in neon colors. You owe me."

"You can put it on my tab," he agrees, loving the sound of her voice.

"Emily, it's Mulder. Do you want to talk?"

There's shuffling and a clunk.

"Finish the giraffe," instructs Emily. "He should be blue."

Of course, thinks Mulder.

"Hello," comes Emily's voice, a little muffled, and Mulder pictures her with the receiver a little cockeyed against her ear.

"Good morning," says Mulder. "I'm sorry, I overslept." He's not optimistic that the smaller version of Scully will be quite as forgiving.

"It's not morning now. We had lunch."

Time zones. "Right. Sorry," he repeats. "My plane got in late and I guess I was pretty tired. It won't happen again."

There is a pause on the other end while this is considered.

"Dana read Red Fish Blue Fish and made French toast."

Scully made French toast?

"How did she do?" He's referring to the book, but also wondering about the toast as his stomach reminds him he hasn't eaten since his layover in Chicago.

"She did okay," says Emily, fairly. "She can read good."

"She's very smart," agrees Mulder.

There's more shifting and Mulder hears Emily say, "You need to put eyes on him." He assumes she is talking to Scully. He pictures Scully rolling tiny pieces of Play Doh between her fingers and getting blue sludge caked under her nails.

"Are you going to do your work today?" Emily asks him.

"Uh, I don't have to go into my office today because it's Sunday, but I do have some other work to do."

"At your house?"

"At my apartment, yes. What are you guys going to do?"

Emily hums a little distractedly before answering. "Dana says we're going to see that baby."

Mulder puzzles it out for a few seconds. "Oh, you mean Matthew? You're going to go see Matthew?"

"Yes. And Uncle Bill and Aunt Tara."

"Uhh huhh. Well, that should be fun." Poor kid.

"I don't know them yet," reports Emily. "But they're going to be my aunt and uncle."

"Yes," agrees Mulder, a bit saddened that he has almost no relatives to add to the equation, other than his mother who he'd better call soon and inform that she now has a daughter-in-law and a granddaughter. Package deal.

"Do you want to talk to Dana?"

"Yes, I do. But I'll call you again tonight, okay? And we'll read, I promise."

"Okay," replies Emily, before transferring the phone noisily.

"This stuff smells really weird," Scully says.

"You do autopsies for a living and you think Play Doh smells bad?"

"I didn't say bad. I said weird."

"I've always liked the smell of it," he says.

"That does not surprise me."

"So you're going to visit Bill."

"We're going for Sunday dinner, yes," she replies. "I think it would be nice if Emily got to know my family."

"Thank you for waiting until I'm three thousand miles away," he says, frankly.

"Never say I don't do anything for you."

"Please send my love."

"So what are you doing today?"

"Not much. Some errands, some laundry. Frohike called with some information he refuses to divulge over the phone, but it would appear to be related to the copies of the records I emailed him on Wednesday."

"Emily's medical records?"

He can hear the tone of her voice sharpen slightly.

"Yeah. I don't know what he's got yet. Hopefully some workable leads."

"Mulder, I thought we were going to wait and handle this together after we got settled back in DC."

"Scully, you're going to have your hands full when you get back here. We've got to get moved, find doctors for Emily, look at preschools...I think it's unrealistic to think you'll have time to go running down rabbit holes with me."

Her sigh is audible. "I don't like you doing this without backup." Her voice quiets noticeably and he can hear her movement as she probably relocates out of earshot from Emily. "Mulder, you shouldn't be doing this alone. It's crazy. Whoever is involved in this, they've gone to a lot of trouble to keep Emily's existence a secret from me...from us."

"Scully, the disease that Emily has was given to her. I don't know why or for what purpose, but I intend to find out. The cure exists; we just have to find it."

"She has hemolytic anemia. It's treatable, but there is no cure."

"I know you don't believe that," he says, patiently. "Whatever she has can't be found in any medical textbook. And the sooner we start looking for her cure, the better."

There's a long pause. "Be careful," she whispers, and if he's not mistaken, the command holds a great deal more weight than it ever did before.

"I will," he promises. "I'll call you later."

"Bye, Mulder."

He comes close to hanging up when he hears her voice again.

"Hey Mulder?"

"Yeah?"

A thick pause in which he doesn't breathe.

"Thanks for calling."

He exhales and blinks slowly. "Yeah," he says, "of course."


The sun is shining brightly, a rare occurrence in January, and yet it's darker than a crack house after sundown inside the Gunmen's lair. Mulder tosses his jacket over a pile of empty pizza boxes. "You guys need to get out more. There's a whole world out there."

Frohike scowls and fishes into the bag of Doritos. "Coming from the man who runs covert operations out of a leaky basement."

Byers, ever the gentleman, shakes Mulder's hand. It's the weekend, so he's casual in a suit with no tie. Mulder wonders if the dude sleeps in a three piece, then just as quickly forces the thought from his brain. "Welcome back," says John. "We heard about the custody hearing. Excellent news."

"Thanks."

"How's Scully?"

"She's uh, well."

There are suddenly two pairs of eyes on his ring finger. Langly is preoccupied in cyber space, typing and prattling on. "We've been doing some digging since your email and if the information in the medical chart you sent us is correct, then there is some seriously weird shit going on."

Nobody else is moving a muscle or making a peep. Langly looks up. "What?"

All three Gunmen exchange perplexed looks. Frohike juts his chin toward Mulder's hand. "Is that for real?"

"Yes, it is," he replies Mulder evenly. "You're looking at a married man, boys."

The three men frown at him and continue looking at one another, nervously.

"Who...did you marry?" asks Langly.

Frohike is scowling like a bulldog. "It better be Scully."

"Of course, it's Scully." Mulder opens the compact, dented fridge in the corner of the room and grabs a Coke, popping the top. "Who else would it be?"

Frohike's arms are crossed over his chest as he squints up at Mulder, dubiously. "Was she sober?"

"Why does everyone keep asking me that? Yes, she was sober. Of perfectly sound mind, with all her faculties intact."

Melvin scratches his chin, thoughtfully, still sizing up the situation.

Langly's head bobs. "Wow. This is...heavy."

Apparently, it is very heavy because the room settles into an uncomfortable silence.

It's Byers who decides to break it, stepping forward to offer his hand once again. "Well, congratulations then. We didn't know... you know, that you guys were..."

"We're not," says Mulder, leaning his weight against a battered bookshelf, then thinking better of it. "That is, we weren't." He sits down in a squeaky office chair that rolls across the crappy industrial grade carpet. "It just made sense in terms of strengthening Scully's custody case."

It sounds a bit hollow when he says it like that, but he doesn't feel like he owes them a more comprehensive explanation. Besides, he doesn't really have one.

Langly goes back to punishing a keyboard, his nail bitten fingers snapping away. "So now what? You're just going to go through the motions until the adoption's final, right?"

"Not at all," Mulder responds, earnestly. "There's nothing temporary about it. We're married."

"You mean like...really married?" Frohike asks, still looking like he's waiting for some kind of punchline.

"Are there different kinds? I've got the piece of paper if you want proof. It's perfectly legal."

"I'm not sure I get it," says Melvin. "Scully wanted to get married to get custody of Emily?"

"It wasn't her idea; it was mine. I asked her and she said yes. We plan to live together and raise Emily."

Frohike blinks at him. "You're really not kidding, are you?"

Mulder meets his eyes solidly, offering his friend a slight smile and his nonverbal response.

Frohike shakes his head before moving to give Mulder a backslapping hug. "Well hell man, congratulations then. You didn't even let us throw you a proper bachelor party. Let us take you out tonight, buy you a couple of lap dances, ex post facto."

"I ... think I'll have to pass. But thanks for the offer." Mulder moves over next to Langly to get a better look at the computer screen. "So what have you got?"

"According to Emily's records, she's been treated for the last year by a Doctor James Calderon who worked for a company called Prangen," says Langly, racing through computerized data faster than Mulder's eyes can adjust. "Prangen is a medical research facility located in San Bernardino Valley."

"I know," replies Mulder. "I paid a little visit to Dr. Calderon several weeks ago."

Langly stops typing and spins on his chair to face him. "You've met the guy?"

"In a manner of speaking, yes. Let's just say we didn't exactly hit it off. Why?"

"Well, because as of about a week ago, Doctor Calderon is no longer employed by Prangen. Nor any other medical facility. Not in California or anywhere else in the United States, that we can find anyway."

"What are you talking about?" Mulder moves closer to the computer.

Langly punches up a screen with a green background and a triangular logo in the upper left corner. Byers talks, his professorial tone sounding like something out of an infomercial. "Since 1978, Prangen has existed as essentially a home base facility for doctors conducting medical research. Most of that research has been in the area of gene therapy or DNA grafting. It's highly experimental and designed to lead to far-reaching advancements in medicine - in areas such as disease eradication, prevention of birth defects - things like that. The vast majority of the research is funded through government grants."

Mulder frowns and crosses his arms over his chest. "What does all that have to do with Doctor Calderon, or Emily for that matter?"

Langly's fingers sweep across the keyboard again. "Not much, other than it appears Doctor Calderon started working at Prangen in 1993 under a federally funded grant listed as the Alexa project. We've been unable to find any information about the project so far, other than the name. But your Doctor Calderon is no longer working at Prangen, nor anywhere else that we can find, and the Alexa project has been shut down by Prangen, funding withdrawn."

Frohike pipes in. "We've hacked into DMV and social security databases, tax records - even bank records and phone bills. The guy is nowhere."

"Dude is seriously MIA," agrees Langly. "Byers called Prangen from a cloaked number, saying he was from Calderon's credit card company, and asked some questions. They said Doctor Calderon is no longer employed there and they have no forwarding information."

"There's also no record of an Alexa project operating out of any other medical research location in the U.S.," says Byers.

Mulder frowns, thinking. "1993 was the year before Emily was born. Do we know where Calderon practiced before that?"

"Nooo, but..." Langly's types faster, brows raised. "It shouldn't be that difficult to find out which states he's licensed in. The AMA keeps a listing of physicians and licensure by state. If he's ever so much as written a prescription before, he's in here." No more than twenty seconds elapse before a screen appears with a small snapshot at the top that Mulder recognizes. "And voila," says Langly, proudly. "Dude graduated from Virginia Commonwealth in 1982 and is licensed in California, Virginia, and the District of Columbia."

Mulder tosses the empty Coke can into the recycling bin and grabs his jacket. "Thanks, Guys. Nice work. I owe you." He heads for the door.

"That's it?" complains Frohike. "We haven't seen you in a month, Man, come on. Langly's friend, Roach, is having a poker night tomorrow."

Mulder swings his jacket on and smiles over his shoulder at his friends. "I'll have to get back to you on that."


He slows his pace near the park bench, eyes scanning the perimeter. He doesn't bother glancing behind him; Mulder knows he was not followed. The sun is long past setting and the sky is the color of a dark bruise, winter clouds obscuring the starlight. The air is still and cold. His breath is visible and he buttons the top of his wool coat with gloved hands.

He is early and so he sits and waits for her.

His message had been brief, his paranoia getting the better of him, even though he knows it's a secure number. He hasn't used it in a year. He knows she'll come.

Another ten minutes pass before he sees her, nothing more than a thin shadow making its way toward him, her shoes echoing on the asphalt path. She sits down next to him on the park bench and crosses her legs, perfect posture, hands buried in the pockets of her black trench coat.

"Were you followed?"

"Of course not," she replies, a hint of annoyance in her tone. "You know me better than that."

They sit in silence for a minute, neither of them looking at the other. He catches a whisper of her perfume, rich and exotic, like French lace or vintage Bordeaux. There is nothing philistine about Marita Covarrubias.

"I'm going to assume this isn't a social call," she says finally. "What do you need, Agent Mulder?"

"Information. On something called the Alexa project and a man by the name of Doctor James Calderon."

She stiffens slightly. Exhales into the cold.

"You know it," he says.

"I know of it. Nothing more."

"I need anything you can find out. It could save a little girl's life."

This time she looks at him, her eyes dark and bottomless. There is life behind them, though. Compassion. "Who?"

His voice is even. "Scully's daughter."

She is quiet and doesn't ask how this can be. He assumes she knows. She knows far more than he ever will, and he suspects her conscience suffers the burden of that knowledge.

"I'll need time. A couple of days."

He nods.

"Wait for me to contact you," she instructs.

He waits until her blonde hair is nothing more than a moving speck, swallowed by the night, before he gets up and walks in the opposite direction.

January 19, 1998

Mulder spends the first few days back at work chasing paper. There are three hundred and eighty-seven email messages waiting for him, as well as one returned expense report from November requesting more information, and a note from maintenance indicating that they repaired the seal around the leaky window. He answers eleven of the emails and deletes three hundred and seventy-six of them. Since Scully isn't there to attach diplomatically polite Post-it notes to the expense reports, he wields a black Sharpie and scrawls the following message at the bottom of the page: "Yes, the purchase of twenty-six movie tickets was a legitimate expense. The next time you investigate paranormal activity while sitting through thirteen showings of Beverly Hills Ninja, you let me know how much fun it is."

When it rains, Mulder watches a steady drip of water run from the window sill down the stained wall to saturate the carpet.

There are cases. Nothing that interests him. The Carson James case broke last week - some forty-something year old accountant who got his rocks off photographing dead girls. Nothing at all having to do with the senator and altogether pretty anticlimactic.

Skinner stops down the day Mulder gets back and lingers longer than usual, standing around awkwardly in rolled-up shirt sleeves, making indirect eye contact. Mulder thanks him again for providing the recommendation that helped their custody case. Skinner keeps stealing glances at Mulder's left hand, as if he's never seen a wedding ring before. The topic of married federal agents working as partners - or more aptly not working as partners - does not come up. There are rules, of course, but since he and Scully sidestep seventy-percent of Bureau policies anyway, Mulder figures this, too, can just fall into the category of 'everyone else, but not us.'

"Don't worry about the personal leave," Skinner says. "If anyone hassles you, let me know."

"Thank you, Sir. I-we appreciate that."

Skinner is a man of few words. Mulder tries to read his boss's mind - all those curiosities pinballing around in that serious, bald head. 'I was right, wasn't I? You were sleeping with her all along. When did it start? Before her cancer, had to be. I saw the signs. Married, though? That was a surprise, to say the least. Honestly, I can't blame you, you lucky son of a bitch. You marry a woman like that. Any kind of decent man would. I would.'

Skinner has a thing for Scully. Not a crushing one. Not like he'd ever have acted on it. But it isn't very hard to miss, especially as a man who has a thing for Scully himself. Skinner's thing is probably sixty percent fond protectiveness and forty percent wanting to slap her tight, little ass.

With a male to female ration of about 6:1 in the Bureau, Skinner certainly isn't the only one there who harbors an occasional intimate thought about Scully. Mulder ponders this. He sort of enjoys the fact that he's now perfectly within his rights to feel possessive. She wears his ring now. There's something vaguely boorish about it. His other half. His woman. Mulder is more progressive than most guys, but thousands of years of male instinct and biology still make him vulnerable to an old-fashioned, testosterone-infused thought or two.

He receives several congratulatory wishes, a few sincere, most not. When he waits for the elevator or buys his slice of pizza in the cafeteria, people smile at him more than usual and he doesn't think it's because of his new haircut. If he had bionic hearing, he would hear the whispers.

"Did you hear about the Spookys?"

"Yeah, didn't see that coming."

"What do you mean, he's been tapping that for years."

"Well yeah, but why buy the cow when you're already getting the milk for free?"

"I heard she has a kid."

"Maybe it's his."

"I woulda married her. The things I could do to that mouth."

"Get in line."

After work each night, he spends time sorting junk in his apartment and filling garbage bags. Old clothes, crappy dishware he never uses, boxes of stuff he never unpacked from previous apartments.

The porn goes. Well, most of it. He keeps a few favorite anniversary editions that he locks in the bottom drawer of his desk. The rest goes in a box to Frohike, which ironically, is where a lot of it originated from in the first place.

He comes across a box full of things he kept from Diana. Photos, cards, even a bracelet he'd given her that she left behind. He doesn't know what to do with it all. He and Scully have never talked about Diana. There's never been a reason to bring it up. "By the way, Scully, I lived with someone for a year and a half, and then one day she came home and told me she was moving to Europe without me."

It isn't like Scully hasn't had serious relationships before. He knows she has. It just isn't something they've talked about.

He has no idea what the protocol is regarding what to do with keepsakes from previous relationships after you are married. He ends up keeping a couple of the photos, tossing the cards, and trading the bracelet for sixty bucks at a pawn shop.

Every evening at 7:30 Pacific Time, he stops whatever he's doing and calls to read Emily her bedtime story. Apparently, she's inherited her mother's punctuality because if he's more than a couple minutes late, he hears about it.

Regardless of what kind of mood he's in when he calls, however, he always hangs up smiling. Often, if Scully doesn't fall asleep with Emily, she calls him back and they watch TV together or chat about cases or just simply share fiber optic space punctuated with occasional sighs or yawns.

It's half past eleven on Thursday night when Mulder's cell phone rings. Having assumed he'd lost Scully to Morpheus hours ago, he hadn't been expecting any calls. Fresh from a hot shower, he grabs a towel and sprints for the phone, leaving wet footprints on the bedroom carpet.

The call is coming from a cloaked number and his senses immediately sharpen.

"Mulder," he answers.

"I have something for you. Can you meet tonight?"

His pulse thrums. "Where?"

"There's a bar at the corner of 16th and Vine. I'll be there in an hour."

The line goes dead and he looks at his watch. He knows the area she's talking about, although he's never visited any establishments there. It's not exactly an area of the District one would choose as a destination. Rather, it's the sort of place you find yourself as the result of a wrong turn. It's also the sort of place you might go if you want to remain unnoticed.

He dresses quickly in jeans, a black turtleneck, and his leather jacket.


The sign for Smitty's Tavern is half lit, a blinking blue beacon of melancholia on a narrow, one-way street. Just the sort of place you go to dull the pain or drink her off your mind. The bar area is deceptively large, about three times the size of his living room, but most of it is empty. Just dusty cases of alcohol stacked against the walls and a small, sad dance floor that looks like it hasn't seen a country line dance in a decade or more. The heads that bother to look his way when he enters have likely been planted on the same bar stools since afternoon, and will be on the same ones tomorrow and the day after that.

The air is too warm and smells like stale peanuts, cheap beer, and piss. Mulder orders a draft from a bald bartender, who might be Smitty, and sits at a table at the back of the place.

There's a dark room to his left where two men and a woman disregard the smoking laws while shooting pool. When the woman bends to take a corner pocket shot, the gold monarch butterfly on her lower back peeks from beneath her black tee shirt. Mulder wonders if this is the sort of place Jerse took Scully before her tattoo. Before he took her home and then took her clothes off. Before he gave her a concussion and tried to incinerate her.

It's something else they haven't talked about, other than what Mulder has derived from the case file, which paints a clear enough picture. Although, he supposes they should discuss it eventually. Hopes they might have a reason to sometime soon. Really, really hopes the sensible physician in her insisted on a condom.

When the door opens again and she floats in, phantomlike in her black coat, the eyes that barely glimpsed Mulder's way minutes ago, pause for a more dedicated look before calculating the odds and surrendering once again to the faithfulness of the alcohol. She orders a dry martini and leaves the money on the bar before joining him.

He's only ever seen her dressed casually once, unless you want to count unclothed. Her neat ivory blouse is tucked into a pair of dark, belted jeans and although she doesn't exactly blend in, she draws less attention than her standard slim skirt and heels might.

"Come here often?" he asks, watching her take an olive between two scarlet lips.

"I'm sorry." She scans the inside of the establishment. "Given the nature of the information I'm about to give you, I couldn't justify any unnecessary risk."

This piques his already heightened interest.

"What are we talking about here - nuclear access codes?" His attempt to lighten the mood falls flat as her crisp blue eyes lock onto his.

"What you've asked for is highly classified information, Agent Mulder. Had I known the full scope of what I'd find when we met days ago, I likely would not have agreed to help."

"But you did," he says simply, with more than a touch of blatant curiosity in his tone. "So why did you do it? You're not obligated to me."

She drinks, her eyes drifting away from his. "Because I have to live with myself. Which, as you know, is often easier said than done."

He accepts this without words. Because it's the truth. And because he doesn't for a second believe that all of what she does is noble. But as far as he knows, she's never lied to him. He doesn't pretend to know why she continues to take risks to help him. Except that in many ways, like him, she is a pawn. A player in a complex and complicated scheme that is much larger than either of them. And maybe because, like him, she wants to have just a little something to do with saving the world.

He knows very little about her. Where she grew up, what degrees she's earned, if she has siblings, what her favorite food is or even how she takes her coffee. These aren't things they've discussed. He does not really know her. But he does trust her.

When her martini is half gone, she leans forward over the table, her fingers slowly twisting the stem of the glass. She keeps her voice low. "The information you asked for was not easy to come by, and if you want to avoid putting yourself and your partner at risk, you should be careful how you use it. You don't know what you're getting yourself into, Agent Mulder. I'd advise you to leave it alone, but I have the feeling I'd be wasting my breath."

Mulder's expression is uncompromising. "What I know is that there is a little girl fighting a disease that was given to her, not by God or by the cruelty of nature, but by men. Men who see her as disposable. And I'll do whatever I have to do to help her."

Marita studies him for a long moment, her eyes doleful, before nodding in resignation. "You asked about Alexa, the project involving Doctor Calderon. What you don't know is that to understand Alexa, you have to first understand Denovio, the project that came before it."

Mulder is all ears, leaning forward until his head is close to hers. Until they look like some smartly dressed couple who found themselves in the wrong part of town.

"Denovio was started in 1993," she continues, "by the Syndicate as a means to try and create the perfect human/alien hybrid through genetic engineering. The ultimate goal was to eventually secure a usable vaccine for the alien virus."

"Using the extracted ova of the abducted women," he prompts, "like Scully."

"Yes. Alien DNA was grafted onto human DNA and embryos were harvested for implantation. Viable embryos were successfully created from all of the abducted women and were implanted into human carriers. Growth and development was manipulated in order to drastically accelerate gestation. Test subjects were harvested and ready for birth within weeks. All subjects were delivered alive and healthy."

She pauses. "That is until they were introduced to the alien virus. After that, everything went to hell. Instead of showing resistance to the virus, they became infected and were eventually terminated. The experiment failed in its objective to create a hybrid that was immune to the virus."

Marita takes a drink from her martini glass and allows her eyes to scan the bar room again before continuing. "That is, all except for the test subjects bred using your partner's ova. None of them were susceptible to infection by the alien virus."

Mulder's face screws into a frown. "I-I don't understand. Why Scully? How were her eggs different from the others?"

Marita shakes her head. "I have no idea. The data I could uncover was limited, but it appears that fetuses harvested using her ova were different from the others, stronger."

"Fetusus. Plural."

"Four." Marita looks away.

"Are you saying... that Scully has four children? Like Emily?"

"No," she says, quietly, drawing a deep breath. "At first, Calderon thought that all of the fetuses were responding the same way - your partner's included. He ...destroyed... all but one before he realized that the manifestation of symptoms was different. One fetus survived. She became the lone test subject."

"Emily."

"Yes."

Mulder swallows, trying to absorb the information he's just been given. Scully had four children. Four babies, born of her ova. No, not four babies - he can't think of them that way or it makes him feel sick to his stomach. Fetuses. Aborted fetuses.

Her unborn children were stolen from her against her will. Ripped from her womb and turned into some hideous, vile human lab experiment. And now they're dead. Disposed of like waste.

His jaw tightens and he feels the acid creep up the back of this throat. "Jesus," he whispers.

Marita continues, coolly. "A new study, what you know as Alexa, was formed as an off-shoot of Denovio. It centered around the lone surviving hybrid, with plans to study it. The goal was to create a successful vaccine."

"Don't say 'it.' She's not an 'it,' she's a child. A living, breathing little girl," he hisses, angrily. "She's as human as you or I."

"I'm sorry," she replies, more gently. "As it turns out, that may be more accurate than you think."

"What do you mean?"

"Emily survived, but for all intents and purposes, the Alexa project was a failure. The introduction of the alien virus made her sicker, and efforts to stabilize her condition enough to create a vaccine using her blood were unsuccessful." Marita pauses. "The Syndicate was in the process of...making decisions regarding the termination of the Alexa project before Roberta Sims' untimely death."

Mulder registers a numbness in his extremities. "By termination, you mean-"

"I don't know." Her eyes retreat from his. "Not for certain."

God. Mulder desperately wants to squeeze the life out of someone or something with his bare hands. He wants to make those responsible suffer.

"Is she in danger?" His voice remains deceptively even, despite the fact that all he can think about is Scully and Emily sleeping peacefully in a hotel room three thousand miles away from him. "Is Emily's life at risk right now?"

"I don't believe so, no."

He chuffs, his eyes wide and sharp. "Excuse me if I don't feel comforted by that."

"The last thing the Syndicate can manage is undue media attention surrounding this," she says, calmly. "The deaths of Roberta and Marshall Sim have already raised enough questions. The most prudent move would be to eliminate all traces of the Alexa project and let the child go. If anything happened to her now, there would be a media frenzy. This way...it all goes away. Quietly."

He considers this for a moment and realizes there's logic in her argument. "So James Calderon and Prangen?"

"Prangen was just the research facility that housed the study. They know next to nothing about the true nature of it. They constitute no threat."

"What about Calderon?"

Marita says nothing, but she doesn't have to. Wherever Doctor Calderon is, he won't be speaking to anyone about the Alexa project anytime soon.

She finishes her martini in silence while the last half of Mulder's beer remains untouched. The three pool players, having finished their game, sweep past them toward the bar and one of the men gives Marita an approving look, then nods at Mulder. Mulder considers throwing the guy up against the wall and beating the shit out of him, just because it would feel good to do it.

"I need to find a cure for her," he says, with finality.

"I can't help you."

"I think you can."

Her blue eyes plead with him. "You don't know what you're asking. It's much too dangerous. Even if we knew there was a cure out there, which we don't-"

"You wouldn't be here if you didn't think you could help this little girl. You've never wasted my time before."

She sits up straighter, her tone sharpening. "Why is this so important to you? I know she's your partner, but for God's sake, Mulder..."

For the first time since they've been seated across from one another, he brings his left hand up from beneath the table. He picks up his glass and swirls the amber liquid before taking a drink. It doesn't take her long to notice.

Of all those he's told so far, she is the least surprised. And to her credit, she doesn't ask who. She doesn't have to. "When?"

"A couple of weeks ago. Before the adoption hearing."

She gives a short nod, almost a thin smile. "I suppose...I should offer my congratulations then."

Neither speaks for several long minutes. The pub has mostly emptied as the hour creeps up on last call. It's that time of night when the only ones left have no one to go home with, or no one to go home to.

"So you see," he says, "I have more than a passing interest. I can't-I won't just let her die. I'm going to pursue this with or without your help."

She studies him passively and he wonders if she'll just get up and walk out. He wouldn't blame her if she did.

Finally, she sighs, her eyes drifting from the table up to his. "What do you want me to look for?"

He tries not to show his relief. "Emily's records. I think that what we've got is only half the picture. If we're going to figure out where to look for a cure, then we need to know everything the Syndicate knows. We need Emily's medical records from both the Denovio and Alexa projects. If there's something there that can help us, Scully will be able to tell."

She sighs, heavily, her eyes closed. "I'll try."

"I'm leaving tomorrow for California and I won't be back for four days."

"I'll need at least that long."

He nods.

"The same rules apply," she says, business-like. "Wait for me to contact you." She jots something on a napkin and slides it across the table to him. "In case of emergency only, leave a message at this number. Say that you're from the Post and you want to know if I wish to renew my subscription. I'll get in touch with you."

Standing up from the table, she slips into her coat, then turns to leave.

"Marita."

She looks back.

"Thank you."

"Don't thank me yet, Agent Mulder. I make no promises."

Mulder waits until she's long gone, then drifts out into the thick night.

January 20, 1998

He flies in late and catches a cab to the hotel, lets himself into the suite with his key card. There's a light left on for him in the small kitchen and a lamp still lit on the end table by the sofa. He drops his bag and draws a tall glass of tap water, downing it. When he looks up again, she's standing just inside the shadow at the edge of the hallway. "Hey."

He smiles. "Hey. I'm sorry, did I wake you? I tried to be quiet."

"No. I was still awake." She moves closer and he sees she's wearing a new pair of pajamas. Or new to him anyway. Plaid drawstring bottoms and a tee shirt that looks very soft and leaves a tiny band of her stomach exposed, her belly button like a kiss right in the center. Right now, that one inch of smooth pink between the hem of her shirt and her waistband is about the most erotic thing he's ever seen. If he weren't so tired, he might've gone for it tonight. Seen what she'd done if he had cornered her, slipped a hand up the shirt and his tongue in her mouth, that pretty little wife of his.

She slouches against a tall kitchen stool. "How was your trip?"

"It was okay. It's good to be here." Since when do they do small talk? He wants to say more. He feels like it might be okay. But he doesn't.

"Did you eat?" she asks. "There are leftovers."

"I got a burger at the airport."

The kitchen is clean, counters wiped down and green checked towel draped over a hook on the wall. A pan and utensils dry in a strainer by the sink. It's as much domesticity as is possible in a Hyatt hotel kitchenette with beige wallpaper, a matching counter top, and stark white appliances. There's a clock above the sink shaped like a cow and it strikes Mulder as humorously out of place.

"Do you want to go to bed?" she asks. He's ninety-two percent sure it's an innocent question, but the sleepy way her head dips to the side makes him cling like hell to that other eight percent for a few seconds. His silence might've given him away because she lowers her eyes and crosses her arms over her braless front. Her cheeks look warm and flushed. "You must be tired," she adds.

"A little, yeah," he admits. He glances past her toward the darkened hallway. "And I'll be willing to bet I won't be allowed to sleep in much past seven." He smiles.

"I'll bet you're right."

"Melvin sends his love. He was crushed."

She plays idly with the salt and pepper shakers. "Who says I'm off the market. Just because I married you."

He starts to say something, but she quirks her mouth at him and he shuts himself up. Avoids certain embarrassment.

She's playful and sleepy and has obviously waited up for him. He wants to explore this further, except that he's so exhausted he's starting to see floating spots.

"Get some sleep," she says, standing up. "Plenty of time to catch up tomorrow."

He notices a small plate stacked with cookies and covered in cellophane on the edge of the counter. She follows his gaze. "Someone wanted to make you cookies," she says, smiling. "Or she wanted them for herself and you were a good excuse."

He pulls back the plastic and takes two. "She's inherited your sweet tooth," he teases.

"I do not have a sweet tooth."

"Keep telling yourself that." The cookies are moist with gooey chocolate and slightly burnt edges that he suspects weren't Emily's fault. "Who bought four boxes of Thin Mints from Agent Patterson's daughter's brownie troop?"

"They freeze well." She grabs a cookie for herself.

"You didn't freeze any of them. You stashed them in the bottom of the filing cabinet."

She crinkles her nose at him and munches on her cookie. He gets the milk.

January 21, 1998

There's a warm little silky head fast asleep on Scully's lap and pink slipper socks resting against Mulder's thigh. He can still reach the half empty popcorn bowl nestled behind Emily's bent knees and he sneaks small handfuls carefully.

He and Scully are still watching the movie.

"I don't care how cute they are, that's a hundred and one dogs, Scully. Nobody adopts a hundred and one dogs. Especially in a flat in London."

She smiles and brushes damp hair from Emily's hot cheek. "It's a hundred and three, if you count Pongo and Perdita."

"Can you imagine their food bill?"

The back of Scully's hand is touching Emily's forehead now and she's wearing her physician face instead of her mother one.

"Fever?" He instinctively rearranges the little blanket and stuffed animal from around Emily's small body to give her some air. She has thankfully been fever-free since the night of their wedding.

Scully's hand moves to the back of Emily's neck. "I don't think so. I think she's just warm from lying on me. Can you carry her to bed?"

Emily is like a ragdoll in Mulder's arms and he turns his face into her hair and inhales. He never knew kids smelled so good. He never knew he could feel like this - like somebody's dad.

She doesn't call him Daddy, but she doesn't call Scully Mommy either. She had a mom and dad once and they're gone now. It's too soon. Maybe it will never happen, but he remains hopeful for Scully's sake. He knows what that one little word would mean to her. But for now, "Mulder" and "Dana" will do.

Transport completed, he returns to the suite area in time for Scully to hand him a glass of red wine, something he wasn't even aware they had. She must've bought a bottle of wine at some point for them to share. She's in another pair of new pajamas, like the ones from the other night, but in soft grey and they cover all of her belly, which is a shame. There are new outfits in Emily's drawers too, and a new pair of sneakers that light up when she walks. They must've shopped, which is, he supposes, what girls do together sometimes.

"So how long are you going to keep me in the dark?" she asks, with a lightness to her voice that he suspects is forced. He had alluded to the information he'd gathered while in Washington, but with Emily around, he'd only been able to share bits and pieces throughout the day. Enough for her to know he'd found something.

They sit on the sofa together and drink wine, the TV muted on some HBO feature of the week. "Some of what I'm going to tell you," he starts, "won't be easy to hear." He sees her eyes widen a little and her shoulders stiffen.

She takes a long drink of her wine, then sets the glass on the table, steeling herself. "Go ahead."

He tells her everything he knows, everything Marita told him. About the Denovio project and the Alexa project, about the babies that didn't make it and the one that did. The one that's sleeping right in the next room.

About James Calderon and Prangen and how, in some ironic way, the deaths of Roberta and Marshall Sim might very well be the reason Emily is alive now.

She doesn't interrupt, just sits with dark, solemn eyes for a long time before speaking again. "You really think they would have destroyed her?" she asks, her voice cracking on the last word. "An innocent three-year-old little girl?"

"Scully, I..." he sighs. "I have no doubt they're capable of it. If they did what we know they did to all those innocent women...to you ...then yes. I believe that if Emily had stopped serving a purpose for them, as evil as it sounds..."

She chokes back a sob and her wet eyes search the ceiling as she crosses her arms over her chest.

"But the important thing is that it won't happen now. It can't. Like Marita said, there's been enough media attention surrounding the Sim deaths and Emily's adoption case that the Syndicate can't afford any more questions. If Emily just disappeared, there would be no way for them to cover it up. A missing little girl who was recently orphaned under suspicious circumstances? The media would be all over it. We have an open adoption case, for Christs's sake. Social Services is involved. Trust me - Emily is safe from them."

Scully swipes at one cheek. "So then...their answer is to let nature takes its course. Just let her die."

He can't think of what to say to that. They both know it's the truth. Emily may be safe from the Syndicate, but she isn't out of danger, by any means.

"And she will die, eventually," Scully continues, "maybe not in five years, maybe not in ten. But without successful medical intervention, eventually her body will give out."

"We're not going to let that happen, Scully. I promised you that when I asked you to marry me, do you remember?"

She blinks slowly, her breath coming in shaky rasps.

"Do you remember, Scully? I told you that we were going to adopt Emily and find her cure. I made that promise to you and I intend to keep it."

She looks deflated, weary. "I know, Mulder. And I have no doubt that you meant every word of your promise, that you still mean it. But...I don't even know where to start. Doctor Calderon is gone, Prangen can't or won't help us...where do we go from here? I'm a doctor and I'll be the first to admit, this is beyond me. I don't know how to help her. I love her and I don't know how to help her."

"Marita is getting me Emily's medical records - everything from the beginning, the real stuff, not just the information we've seen in her charts. The answer is there, I'm convinced of it. There's something special about Emily's DNA, Scully. She survived."

She winces visibly at that and closes her eyes.

"We need to start with those records," he states firmly.

After a thoughtful silence, Scully retrieves her wine glass from the end table and sips at it. He watches her think. He's had some time to process all this; she's just getting started.

"Why me, Mulder? I don't understand. Why were the fetuses harvested with my ova different from the others? It makes no sense."

"I'm sure I can't answer that," he admits, "except that genetics is a complicated thing. There must've been a reason. Four babies harvested from the same ova, able to resist infection by the alien virus when fetuses derived from different ova were not - that's a statistical anomaly, Scully. That doesn't just happen by accident."

She swirls the burgundy liquid in her glass and takes another long swallow, finishing it. Her cheeks start to pink just a little, like they do when she drinks even the smallest amount of alcohol. She gets up from the couch and pads over to the small island separating the kitchenette from the sitting area, carrying the half empty wine bottle with her. Her pajama pants are just a little too long and she walks on the bottoms of them.

"I've never had any kind of genetic testing done," she admits, filling her glass, then emptying the rest of the wine bottle into his. "There's never been a reason to."

Never a reason to wonder about her unborn children before. Never a reason to think that things won't just work the way they're supposed to when the time comes. Five years ago, she was a healthy young woman with her whole life ahead of her. Beautiful babies inside her just waiting to be born. She should be a doctor, married to another doctor by now. Living in a colonial in Bethesda with framed photos of beach vacations and towheaded toddlers on the walls. She should be worried about things like beating afternoon traffic to make it to the Little League game, or whether they want to plan baby #3 like the last two or just see what happens.

He wants to apologize to her, but he doesn't know how. Anything he could think of to say would somehow fall short. He feels responsible for all that she's endured, but he knows she doesn't feel the same, and he doesn't want her to think that his proposal - that this marriage is a result of his guilt. It isn't. He loves her. Has quietly loved her for some time now. Marrying her wasn't an obligation. He didn't step up and do it out of the goodness of his heart so that she could adopt Emily, although that may have been the catalyst. No - he did it because when he thinks about his life and everything in it, she and Emily are the only things he gives a goddamn about. And if he has a choice in the matter, he'd really like to spend his life with her. Every day of it.

Mulder thinks about these things and drinks his wine, feeling his brain relax itself into a sublime buzz.

The television set is no longer muted, but the volume is very low. And now there are people doing unmentionable things on it. He and Scully both seem to notice this at about the same time.

"Mulder, what in the world is this?"

"Uhh." He reaches for the small glossy television guide and flips some pages. "What's today, the 21st? It's...Boogie Nights, I guess. Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore."

"This was supposed to be good." She says it like she's complaining about a restaurant meal that is inedible.

He tilts his head sideways a little, watching a screen full of bare breasts. "It looks good."

Clothing continues to disappear to a degree that far exceeds the standards of your typical R-rated movie. A topless woman in legwarmers and rollerskates does a line of coke and then climbs on top of a guy. While still wearing her rollerskates.

"Oh my God," says Scully.

"That doesn't seem particularly wise," Mulder observes. His hand hovers over the remote, preparing to switch the channel, but he can't seem to make his finger connect with the appropriate button.

Scully slouches down a little into the couch cushions and pulls her knees up, holding the rim of her wine glass to her mouth and sipping. She's blushing fiercely, but watching it just as much as he is. She looks both severely uncomfortable and intrigued at the same time. "Oh God," she repeats, as the activity on screen amps up to full blown fornication. It's a very good thing the volume is so low or the neighbors would definitely be getting the wrong idea about now.

"Should I turn it off?" he manages to squeak.

"I think so," she nods vaguely, eyes still trained on the screen.

After a lot of slow fumbling, his finger finds its target and the TV goes black. "Sorry," he mumbles, probably unnecessarily.

"Please," she snorts, "it isn't as if I haven't seen porn before."

He looks at her. "Well that wasn't exactly..."

"I know that. It was a film about the porn industry. For heaven's sake, Mulder, sometimes you act like I've been living under a rock for the past thirty-three years. I know what porn is." She gets up and takes her empty glass to the kitchen sink.

"So you've said," he replies, amused.

She's running water and clanking dishes quietly. He's turning off lights and checking locks. When he finally takes notice of her again, she's standing with her hands braced on the counter, her head bowed. He's pretty sure she's left the water running to mask her own sounds.

He comes up behind her, turns off the water and places his hands on her shoulders. He doesn't ask if she's okay. Some things you just know after having been with someone for so long.

"There were four?" Her voice is hushed and anguished.

"Yes."

She sniffles. "He feels her muscles tighten as she holds back a sob.

"I'm sorry, Scully."

"I wish I knew if they had been boys or girls. I know that sounds silly-"

"It doesn't. It doesn't at all."

She turns in his arms and embraces him, resting her head on his chest, wetting his shirt. "I thought about not telling you," he whispers. "But I couldn't do that. I thought you'd want to know."

"You did the right thing. It doesn't hurt any less, but I'm glad I know."

He plants a kiss to her hair. "Emily is a miracle, Scully. She's a miracle and she's sleeping right in the next room, and I'm not going to let anything happen to her. I promise."

January 22, 1998

Scully is scurrying about in a robe with a towel on her head, looking like a swami. "Emily, finish your breakfast, Sweetie. We need to get you dressed." Emily hums and colors a picture of a blue butterfly with yellow stripes.

"I got her," Mulder says. "Go get dressed."

Scully shoves some toys into a corner with her toes. "Can you just...I don't know...straighten up a little too? Sorry, I lost track of time."

Their first home visit with the social worker is in forty-five minutes. Operation perfect family is underway. This could be the first time in his life Mulder actually gives a rat's ass about appearing normal and conventional.

"I left something for Emily to wear on the bed," she instructs pointedly, which translates to, 'don't get creative on me today and definitely don't let Emily choose her own outfit.'

"Aye, aye, Captain." He salutes her and Emily giggles. "What do you want me to wear?"

Scully is fluffing couch cushions and Mulder watches, perplexed by this burst of Martha Stewartism. When she bends, though, her robe slackens just enough for him to catch a glimpse of breast slope, so he's in no hurry for her to go get dressed. "Jeans are fine," she replies. "A nice shirt, though. No tee shirt. And shave."

Wow. He's consulting her on his wardrobe and she's reminding him to shave. If he had any doubt that they were actually married, that took care of it.

He smiles and scratches his jaw, feeling two-day-old stubble. Yesterday was a lay around the pool and watch movies day and he'd skipped a few grooming steps. "You don't find my scruff dangerously alluring?" he teases.

She tosses him a smirk. "Maybe another time." She holds his eyes an extra second and his stomach does a little flippy thing. Let's go back to that later.

Within twenty minutes, the kitchen is wiped clean, the toys are stacked neatly, and Mulder is dressed like a Gap commercial.

He tugs a sweater with pink and yellow ribbons on over Emily's head. "Is Anne coming over?"

"No Honey, not Anne. A different lady this time. Her name is Mrs. Hundley."

"That's the name of the dog in the Curious George books."

"Probably best not to point that out. C'mere, let's brush your hair."

"Why does she want to visit us?"

Mulder sits down on the edge of the bed and Emily stands between his legs with her back to him so he can brush her hair. "Well, do you remember how we talked about staying here in California for a little while in the hotel? Until the judge tells us it's okay for us to take you on an airplane with us to where we live?"

Emily nods, listening.

"That's so that you can get to know us better and we can get to know you better. You know, before we all go live together." He thinks for a moment. "Have you ever had a new pet, like a dog or a cat?" The realization that she's only three hits him after he's thrown out the question.

"No. I wanted an orange cat for my birthday. Can I get an orange cat?"

"Ummm, let's um...you know what? Let's talk about that some more after we're all settled into our place together, okay?"

"Okay."

"But what I was trying to say is that sometimes when people start living together as a family for the first time, it takes a little while for everyone to get used to things. And Mrs. Hundley's job is to help us with all that stuff and make sure it's going okay. And then she tells the judge how it's going."

"And he decides when to let me go live with you forever?"

Mulder spins her to face him, smoothing the softs strands of her hair around her cheeks gently. He swallows the titanic lump in the back of his throat and smiles at her through murky eyes. Who says parenting makes you soft?

A year ago he never would've predicted he'd be completely wrapped around the finger of a miniature Scully in 3T leggings. He can't believe there's two of them and they're both cute. In different ways, but equally lethal.

Speaking of - fully dressed and polished Scully peeks her head in. "How's it going?"

"Good," he says, and Emily nods in agreement. "I think we're ready to kick some-"

Scully warns him with her eyes.

There's a stiff knock on the door.

"Uh, it's showtime," he finishes instead.

"Mulder says we can get an orange cat." Emily hops across the floor.

"What?" Scully glances back as she makes her way to the door.

"I said talk. We'd talk about it." He widens his eyes at Emily and she giggles.


Mulder tries not to bite his cuticles. Or fidget. Scully sits primly next to him while Emily puts together a floor puzzle.

Lois Hundley is wearing a brown tweed suit with a ruffly blouse. The color is probably represented by a more dignified name on the Crayola 64 spectrum, like Burnt Sienna or Raw Umber, but it's pretty much just brown. Her shoes and glasses are also brown. Her hair used to be brown, but now it's ash grey and pulled into a French twist.

She is pleasant and dignified, but not overly warm and Emily senses this, like kids often do. Twelve minutes into the visit and she's done with questions and ready for a snack. Scully stalls her for another five and then slices an apple and sets her up with a coloring book at the table. Mrs. Hundley watches every bit of interaction like a hawk, taking precise notes that Mulder tries to read upside-down.

"So Mr. Mulder, you've been commuting back and forth to Washington, is that true?"

"Yes," he answers. "Although it's only been a week and a half, so I've only gone back and forth once. I'm scheduled to leave again on Tuesday."

"And what are your plans regarding your career, Doctor Scully? Once you return home."

Scully smiles cordially and answers in her best post-modern woman voice. "The Bureau has been very supportive of my need for family leave and I'm grateful for that. I anticipate I'll take a few more weeks while we settle back in D.C., but then I plan to return to my job."

Mrs. Hundley looks up from her notes.

"Although possibly on a part-time basis," Scully amends swiftly.

"And where will Emily be while you're at work?"

Scully plucks at the seam on the side of her pants. "Well, we're looking into our options now. My mother has offered to care for Emily some of the time, and we plan to explore preschools as well. The Bureau also has an excellent day care."

Mrs. Hundley resumes her rabid note taking.

"Of course," adds Scully, "Emily's needs will come first. We're prepared to adjust our plans accordingly."

"I see here in your file that you've recently been married."

"Yes," replies Scully. "Almost three weeks now."

Mulder thinks this might be a good time to reach for her hand, so he does. Scully startles for a split second and glances at him, but they end up holding hands like proper newlyweds.

It doesn't go unnoticed by Mrs. Hundley, despite the fact that her pen continues its jaunt across the legal pad. "Where will you be living" she asks, "upon returning to Washington?"

They answer simultaneously.

"My apartment."

"Scully's place." It comes out almost as a blurt. "But we hope to buy a house soon," Mulder adds after a pause.

Mrs. Hundley looks up again, writing instrument poised. "And how many bedrooms are in this apartment?"

"There are two," responds Scully. "It's located in Georgetown, which is a very safe area. There are plenty of parks and museums within walking distance...an excellent hospital...good preschools...um.. "

"I'm familiar with it, Doctor Scully. So I assume Emily will have her own bedroom then."

Scully looks briefly puzzled. "Yes, of course."

"It's just that Emily mentioned going to Mr. Mulder's room to wake him in the morning and watch television." Her smile is entirely diplomatic and business-like. "So I assume she is used to sharing a bed with Dana."

Scully stumbles to respond.

Mrs. Hundley raises a hand, almost apologetically. "Relax, it isn't entirely uncommon. The adjustment period can be difficult and Emily is at an age where sleeping with someone can be comforting to her. I'll just caution you that it's a habit that can be difficult to break if it's allowed to persist. I suggest you start her off in her own room when you get to Washington and be firm about her sleeping independently."

"Of course," replies Scully.

"Besides," continues Mrs. Hundley, writing again, "it can put a substantial strain on a marriage, particularly a new one. Certainly you're focused on Emily, but you need to make sure you're finding time to be intimate with each other as well."

Scully's hand feels like it's on fire against his, but she doesn't pull away. They sit with perfect posture and attentive smiles. They've just been told by a sixty-year-old social worker who looks like Alice from The Brady Bunch that they need to have more sex. Correction - sex. Since you can't have more if you're not having it.

"Can I get you another cup of tea, Mrs. Hundley?" offers Scully, demurely, expelling a deep breath as she stands.


The visit is a total of ninety minutes of exhausting questions, punctuated by occasional requests or needs from Emily. Mrs. Hundley is patient whenever Emily interrupts to ask for something and even tries to engage the child in conversation whenever possible. Typically shy with people she doesn't know, Emily is reticent and quiet. The social worker observes each and every interaction among the three of them sharply, but reveals very little of her assessment. They are left with no real idea how the visit went and Mulder can tell this frustrates Scully significantly.

By the time it's over and the door closes behind Mrs. Hundley, Mulder can sense that Scully is coiled tighter than a spring. "Let's get out of here," he suggests, "go for a walk and grab some hot dogs."

"Is that lady going to visit us again?" Emily asks.

"Yes," Scully replies, calmly.

Emily ponders this while Mulder ties her sneakers, then she says, "I think we did good, don't you?"

Mulder kisses the top of her head. "Yes, I do. Especially you. You did great, Em."


At 10:30, Scully exits the room where Emily has been asleep for two hours, pulling the door partially shut behind her. Mulder meets her in the hallway. "Terminator 2 is on," he prompts. The door to his room is open and the sound of the TV wafts out. "Want to eat ice cream from the carton with spoons and do bad Arnold voices?"

She smiles. "I think I'm going to turn in, actually. I'm a little tired."

"How's sleeping beauty?"

"Sprawled in the middle of my bed. I don't know how someone so small can require so much space. I put her to bed on her side each night, but she invades faster than Napolean." She walks into the kitchen for a glass of water and he follows, still planning on that ice cream.

"You know you can always sleep with me." He digs a spoon from the utensil drawer and a bowl from the cupboard. "The advantage of my being used to sleeping on a couch is that I tend to take up very little bed space."

She appears to be seriously contemplating the ice cubes in her glass of water when he finally looks up, realizing what he's just said. Her one arm is crossed in front of her and her other elbow is perched on it, holding the glass in front of her mouth.

"Scully, I wasn't...I didn't mean that how it sounded. Just because the social worker said what she did earlier ... I wasn't suggesting anything. I mean, not tonight." He continues stumbling over himself like a drunken tightrope walker. "I know we haven't actually talked about uh...ya know..."

"We could talk about it," she acknowledges, softly.

He raises is eyes to hers, a little surprised. "Oh. Okay."

This was not at all the conversation he expected to be having tonight, but he's more than willing to go with it. She seems to be waiting on him. He overanalyzes and struggles to string together appropriate nouns and verbs.

The idea that they might have a discussion about whether they should engage in sexual relations never really occurred to him. He just kind of assumed they'd eventually find themselves in bed together and one thing would lead to another. That's how about ninety percent of his sexual encounters had happened.

"Uh, yeah sure, we can talk about it," he says. "Do you want to sit down or something?"

"Were you going to get ice cream?" She gestures toward the bowl and spoon on the counter.

Before they can get any further, a hushed voice sounds from the hallway. "Dana?"

Emily is standing there with sleepy eyes, holding her yellow blanket.

"Emily? What's wrong, Sweetie?" Scully goes to her and immediately feels her forehead by habit.

"I'm thirsty."

Mulder watches Scully's face, but the look she gives him conveys relief. It's another false alarm. Emily is fine. Just a kid getting up for a drink of water. Scully lifts her under the arms and lodges Emily against her hip, carrying her into the kitchen. Placing Emily on top of the counter, Scully fills a short glass with cold tap water and offers it to her. Emily drinks while Scully sweeps her twisted and matted hair from her cheeks.

When the glass is drained, Emily says, "You guys should go to bed. It's late." It's the perfect mimic of what Scully has said to her on multiple occasions and it makes them both smile.

"That it is," agrees Mulder, scooping her up off of the counter and carrying her toward the hall. "Come on, someone needs her beauty sleep."

"Take her to the bathroom before you put her back to bed," Scully calls after them.

By the time the process is completed and Emily is settled once again, Mulder can sense that the opportunity has passed.

Scully's mouth is stretching into frequent yawns and she looks far from ready to embark on a serious conversation about anything.

"She's down," he says, quietly.

"Thank you."

"Gonna call it a night?"

She nods, looking vaguely apologetic. "I think I'd better, I'm sorry." Another cavernous yawn. "A rain check...on..."

"Yeah, yeah, of course. It's been a tiring day." He catches her arm just a little as she walks past and they share a look. "There's no hurry," he says.

"Goodnight, Mulder."

"Sweet dreams, Scully."

January 24, 1998

He's taking a cab to the airport this time because his flight leaves at 7:30 a.m. He never intends to awaken her, but she's leaning against the door frame of his bedroom watching him pack.

"Hey, what're you doing up? It's not even five."

"Just wanted to say goodbye."

He smiles and zips his suitcase. He'll be gone longer this time. Ten days.

"Call me if anything comes up," he says, and they both know that he means Emily. She's been okay, but each day holds the possibility of a relapse, a fever, a trip to the hospital. He can't stand the thought of Scully managing it alone, although as a physician, she's more than capable. And she's proven her emotional strength time and again. Emily could not be in better hands.

He'll miss the second court-appointed visit from the social worker this time. If he's going to hold down a job, it can't be avoided. He suspects the court will see the advantage of him remaining gainfully employed and overlook the scheduling snafu.

He's in a suit and tie, intending to go straight into work from the airport. If there are no delays, he can put in a few hours and at least make a dent in his email. He has no idea what Skinner has lined up for the week. His boss has been going easy on him with Scully gone. There had been talk of assigning him a temporary partner, but Mulder had done his best to shut that idea down before it got far. "I work with Scully," he had said.

"I'm not sending you into the field without back up," Skinner had argued.

"Then I'll stay on desk duty until she gets back."

They both knew it was a lie.

Mulder doesn't play well with others. What can he do?

Skinner doesn't fight him on it because it isn't worth the aggravation. Mulder would likely ditch any other partner assigned to him anyway, and Skinner apparently doesn't feel like playing referee.

Mulder slips into his suit jacket and walks closer to Scully. "I should head down to the lobby. My ride will be here any minute."

Her arms are crossed over a pale pink tee shirt, her trim thighs only partially concealed by thin jersey shorts. The hotel room is hotter than hell half the time and the thermostat is minimally responsive. They compensate with less clothing, which suits Mulder just fine. He can't think about how delicious she looks at this moment. He won't make his plane and he wouldn't give a shit if the Bureau was paying for the ticket, but this one's on his dime.

"Be safe," she says, her eyes soft and sleepy.

"I'll call you tonight." After a brief hesitation, he kisses her forehead a bit awkwardly.

He's almost to the suite door, wheeling his bag behind him when she calls his name. He turns around. She approaches and tips up on her toes just enough to reach his mouth with hers. It's swift, not lingering. Just a kiss goodbye. But neither of them opens their eyes for a few seconds and she holds his elbow in her hand.

They stand close enough for him to feel her breath. "You're not making this easy," he whispers.

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be."

He can still feel the ghost of her lips on his as he sits in the back of a speeding cab, watching the sun come up.

January 27, 1998

He had hoped for a message from Marita as soon as he got back to D.C. A note slipped under his door, directions left on his phone, even something in his mailbox. But three days after his return and there's still nothing. He's anxious and edgy, watching in his rearview mirror when he drives to work, being extra vigilant on his morning runs. It's unlikely that Emily is still in danger, the Syndicate having washed its hands of the Alexa project permanently in order to avoid unwanted attention. Emily was no more than a lab rat. Covering up something messy at this point would be a nuisance to them, something to be avoided at all costs. Still, Mulder can't shake the feeling that he's poking a wasp's nest with a pretty big stick.

Friday after work he stops by the Gunmen's place for tacos and beer. They act privileged that he's there, as if he surrendered his independence card the minute he put the ring on. The evening is spent enjoying greasy food and multimedia entertainment. They play video games and swear freely. They watch Xena and make inappropriate comments. They pass around some porn and make even more. They sit out on the rooftop and drink.

With more than a six pack under his belt, Mulder considers crashing there, but the sagging, ripped orange couch looks like it would do a number on his back and is even less sanitary than his own. You could probably conduct science experiments with what you'd find under the cushions. He leaves his car and hails a cab.

Enjoying a good buzz, he should probably just go to sleep, or masturbate and then go to sleep, but instead he calls Scully.

"Mm'ello?" She's groggy. He consults his watch. The first blurry digit is a two. Shit.

"Heeey Scully, I'm sorry. I didn't realize it was so late."

"Mmm. Time izit?"

"Two something. Go back to sleep, we can talk tomorrow."

"No, hang on," she says quietly and then there is shuffling and movement. "I'm moving to the other bed, so I don't wake Emily."

'The other bed' being the one he sleeps in when he's at the hotel. The one he wishes she'd sleep in *when* he's actually at the hotel.

"How are you?" she asks with a sigh, after the rustling has stopped.

"Good. Little drunk. Not a lot."

"Had fun with the Guys, huh?"

"Yup." He belches quietly and kicks his shoes off onto the floor with two thuds. He should have taken Frohike up on the offer to take home some leftovers. He could go for a cold taco about now.

"You didn't drive home, I hope."

"Nope. But thanks for asking, Mom."

She's quiet on the other end for half a minute.

"Sorry," he says.

"It's okay. I don't want to worry about you, that's all."

He frowns with his eyes closed. He likes that she worries about him. It's nice to have someone care enough to worry about you now and then. "Thank you. For worrying."

"You're welcome. What did you guys do?"

"We didn't watch porn," he blurts.

"Um, okay. I didn't ask."

"You can, though. If you want. To ask." This is weird, he thinks. "We didn't watch it, though."

"Is that something you guys usually do together?" He can actually hear the crinkle between her brows. He adores that crinkle. He usually wants to smooth it out with his tongue.

Yup, should have masturbated before calling her.

"No, not usually. I mean, there were magazines lying around, but there always are."

"I imagine."

"I looked at them a little," he admits. "But we mostly did other stuff. TV, beer, video games, beer."

"Mm. Okay." She sounds funny. She sounds sleepy and confused. This wasn't what he was going to talk to her about. How did they get onto this? Oh right, he isn't a hundred percent sober.

"I'm sharing too much, aren't I?"

She laughs quietly. "It's fine. You don't have to confess everything to me, Mulder, just because we're married now."

"Okay."

A brief silence follows in which he mentally berates himself for at least the third time for calling her when he's buzzed and horny. "So what did you guys do today?" he asks, finally.

"Well, we spend part of the day at Bill and Tara's."

Oh good. A conversation about Brother Bill ought to take care of his hard on. He can feel it wilting as she speaks. "Oh yeah? How's my favorite brother-in-law?"

She ignores his dig. "Everyone asked about you. They'd love us to come to dinner the next time you're here."

"You're such a good little liar, Scully."

"You can't avoid my brother forever, Mulder."

"I can try."

"Maybe you could, I don't know, do something with him sometime. Find a common interest."

"Hmm, does he like to cut out newspaper clippings of reported UFO sightings? Or maybe I could invite him over to the Guys' and we could play with Langly's new block satellite tracking device. It can pinpoint the coordinates of every naval ship in the Pacific. I'll bet Bill would be impressed with that."

"He likes to play golf. Do you know how to play golf?"

"I can Put Put with the best of them, Scully."

"Or wait, I have it! He used to play basketball in high school. Maybe you guys could go shoot some hoops sometime."

"I can't wait. Hey, I got the rest of my apartment pretty much packed up. All except for the clothes and some towels."

"You're changing the subject."

"Yes I am. I was taking a look through your closet, though, and I think I'll have to leave most of my nonessentials packed away. You have a lot of clothes, Scully. I like how you have all the suits together and the dresses together and the blouses together. You're going to have to teach me your system because my dresses are always getting mixed up with my blouses."

"You went through my closet?"

"I wouldn't say 'went through', no. More like inspected. You know, just to get an idea of space. I think we'll be okay on drawers, though. Yours are only about half full and there's room for a second dresser over by the bookshelf."

"If my lingerie has been rifled through, you're in trouble, Mulder."

"I'm a trained investigator, Scully. I cover my tracks."

"I need food if you're going to keep me on the phone this late," she says, and he hears her moving about again.

"Ooh, what are you getting? I'm hungry."

"You're drunk."

"And hungry. There is nothing to eat in my apartment. Which is why I'm moving to yours."

"Cheese and crackers." There's a clunk and lots of crinkling.

"Sharp cheddar?"

"Gouda," she replies.

"Wheat Thins?"

"Triscuits."

"Baby, you know what I like."

"You should probably go to sleep, Mulder. Before you call me baby again."

Mulder closes his eyes and smiles. "They say we're young and we don't know," he starts to croon, softly, "We won't find out unti- hih-hil we grow...well I don't know if all that's true...cause you got me and baby I got you..."

"Mulder."

"Babe..ba-ba..ba-ba...I got you, babe..ba-ba..ba-ba..I got you, babe..."

"Mulder."

"They say our love won't pay the rent...before it's earned, our money's all been spent..."

"How do you know all the words to this song?" She laughs quietly.

He's on a roll. "I guess that's so...we don't have a pot...but at least I'm sure of allllllllll the things we've got..."

"You know, you actually have a very nice singing voice," she points out, munching crackers.

"Babe...ba-ba...ba-ba..I got you, babe..."

"Mulder."

"Ba-ba...ba-ba...I got you babe..."

"Hey Sonny!"

He stops. "Yeah?"

"You can move your stuff into my closet if you stop singing."

"Really?"

"Yes."

"Can I put my underwear in your panties drawer?"

"Don't push it."

He listens to her chew for a while and considers getting up to see if anything besides margarine and a carton of two-week-old eggs has materialized in his fridge since yesterday.

"I was thinking," he says, "that I might set up the spare room for Emily. Buy a new comforter for the bed with, I don't know, kittens or something on it. Get some cool toys, stock the bookshelf with Dr. Seuss and Curious George, find some pictures for the walls. Stuff like that."

She's quiet.

"I could paint, if you think she'd prefer a different color. Scully?"

"Yeah," she says. "I'm here."

"Unless you think she'd like to pick out her own stuff. I just figured, ya know, get something cool set up for her so she feels at home right away."

"No, you're right. I think it's a good idea. It is." She sounds hesitant.

"Buuut..."

She sighs. "I know she needs her own room. And...I know we do as well."

"That wasn't where I was going with that, Scully-"

"I'm just being a worrywart, that's all. When she's sleeping next to me I can keep an eye on whether she starts a fever in the night, or feels ill. But I know co-sleeping with her can't go on forever."

"It can go on as long as you want it to," he states, simply.

"It shouldn't, though. As a doctor, I realize that she needs to develop healthy, independent sleeping habits and she can't do that if I'm hovering over her all night. It's just hard, you know?"

"I know. I worry about her too. And we don't need to decide anything right now. There's plenty of time."

"There isn't, though," she admits. "Not really. Our second visit from the social worker is tomorrow and as of next week, we'll be more than halfway through the court-appointed waiting period. Mulder, she could end up going home with us in another three weeks."

"You don't sound as excited as I thought you would. What's wrong?"

"I am. I'm just...nervous too. What if the court says no, Mulder? There's no guarantee the judge will approve the final custody."

"He will. Scully, there is no reason for him not to. We're crazy about Emily and she's crazy about us. We've done everything the court has asked of us; we've jumped through all the hoops. Scully, you are her mother, and I don't just mean biologically. I've watched you with her for weeks now, taking care of her, comforting her, teaching her. Loving her. There is simply no way that you weren't meant for this."

She's sniffling on the other end.

"Don't cry on me, Scully."

"Too late," she chuffs, quietly.

"Emily is going to be coming home with us, there's no doubt in my mind. And there's something else I can promise you too. We're going to find a cure for her. I don't care what we have to do or how long it takes, we won't stop looking until we have it. She's going to be a healthy little girl and we're going to watch her grow up, Scully. I promise you that."

"I love you," she whispers, her breath catching on the end of the last word. It sounds like a hiccup, almost a sob. He can't even really be sure he's heard her right.

But his eyes are wide open now and he's stopped breathing for a few seconds and if he was a little drunk when he called her, he's dead sober now.

He doesn't say anything.

"I'm sorry," she says, softly. "Mulder, I shouldn't have-"

"Yes," he cuts in, quickly. "Yes. You should have."

"I'm tired-"

"Because I love you too."

This time it's her turn to be silent.

"I love you too," he repeats, steadily. "You just caught me off guard."

After a minute, he hears her huff out a quiet laugh. "If only I'd known long ago those were the magic words to shut you up," she teases.

"Amazing, isn't it," he smiles. "Feel free to say it again. You know, whenever you want to shut me up."

He can hear her smiling through the phone. "I'll keep that in mind."

"I should let you get some sleep. Unless you have any other late night confessions you'd like to make. If they're half as good as that one, I'm all ears."

"I think that'll do it. For tonight."

"Call me tomorrow. Let me know how the visit with the charming Mrs. Hundley goes."

"Okay. Goodnight, Mulder."

He gives her another second, wondering if she'll say it again. He's still floating, blissfully, feeling Cupid's arrow lodge itself deeper. "Sleep well," he says, finally.

"I think you should set the spare room up," he hears her say, right before he hangs up. "For Emily. I think she'd really like that. And why don't you go ahead and get your things settled at the apartment."

He smiles. "Do you want me to sing you to sleep? I know all the words to Paradise By the Dashboard Lights."

She chuckles softly, yawning. "Night, Mulder."

January 28, 1998

In a moment of clarity, he rents a small storage facility on Saturday morning and starts hauling things into it, whatever he can manage to carry himself and lodge into the back of his car. There is no way Scully is going to a) have room for more than just his personal necessities and b) actually want all of his crap cluttering up her place. Their place. Whatever. And Hegel, however much of a dump it is, is too expensive to hold onto just to keep his stuff warm and dry until they can buy a house. For a hundred bucks a month, he can store everything with room to spare.

On a day to day basis, he needs very little. Clothes, some books and CDs, his basketball, his fish. That's about it. He and Scully haven't exactly discussed the relocation of his fish, but she has a heart. She wouldn't expect him to get rid of them. Besides, albeit rather lacking in charisma, they do qualify as pets, and maybe Emily will be satisfied enough not to require that orange cat right away. Mulder can almost feel his nasal passages constricting just thinking of it.

Since last night, he's mostly been thinking about their phone call. What she said. What he said back. What it means. When they'll say it again. What will happen when they see each other. What he really, really hopes might happen.

How long a guy can live in close proximity to a beautiful woman he's in love with and not have sex with her without exploding. And explode really is an accurate description for what he feels might happen a great deal of the time lately. Except he doesn't because there are ways around that problem. He's overachieving in the self-gratification department lately, which is saying a lot for him.

He hadn't been thinking about sex when he proposed to her almost a month ago. Well, that's a lie. He was always thinking about it. Since about the second she invaded his basement hovel with her brainy theories and her badly fitting suits, he'd been thinking about it to varying degrees. But it wasn't his goal when he asked her to marry him. He loved her and he wanted her to have her daughter. He hoped that, as part of the marriage, they might eventually share everything as they became closer. But even if there had been no prospect of ever making love to her, he still would have married her.

He just hadn't realized how truly hard it would be to restrain himself. Although he wishes they were sharing a bed, he's also just a little bit grateful. He'd classify himself as possessing a reasonable amount of self-control, but sleeping next to her without being intimate might be pushing it. Or the very least drive him certifiably insane.

So he was surprised the other night, right before he left California, when she actually suggested they discuss having sex. Or at least that's what he thought she was getting at, unless he's much worse at deciphering a woman's signals than he thinks he is. Granted, he's fallen a bit out of practice, but he used to know how it worked - the mating dance. Although...in his misspent youth his modus operandi had been to ply them with alcohol and then wow them with his encyclopedic brain. Scully doesn't drink much and is as smart as he is. With his background in leggy brunettes, seducing a feisty redheaded pathologist has proven to be a formidable challenge.

He feels optimistic, however, after last night's phone call. He can't help but think that if he'd been lying there next to her instead of sixteen states away, they might have shared a little more than midnight confessions.

All of that makes it pretty difficult to concentrate on much of anything, but he does manage to move three carloads of his stuff over to Scully's place on Saturday and assimilate it reasonably well. Except for his basketball, which he tosses into a magazine basket over by the fireplace. Let's face it, there really isn't anywhere for sports equipment to blend in at Scully's apartment amidst her Pottery Barn furniture, classical music CDs and Yankee candles. He plots out space for the fish tank along one wall of the living room, but he'll need a hand moving it, so he leaves it for another day.

When he opens his apartment door after the last run to Scully's, he steps on a white legal-sized envelope with his name written in neat script on the front. He surveys the hallway of his floor and finds it empty, so he locks himself in his apartment and rips open the envelope carefully. Inside is a piece of paper with an address, along with a hotel key card and a note that says simply, "I have something for you. Room 776. Come after nine. M."

He memorizes the address, pockets the keycard, and destroys the note.


Mulder parks in the underground hotel lot and makes his way to the seventh floor, watching his back. He's certain he is not followed. The doorman barely looks him in the eye when he greets him and the desk clerk pays no attention as Mulder makes his way toward the elevators. Band music drifts from a nearby ballroom and three young ladies with rosy cheeks and blue swishy bridesmaids dresses tumble into the elevator with him, giggling. Oblivious to his presence, they wave their wine glasses and gossip in a small circle before exiting onto the fifth floor.

Room 776 is the second to last door at one end of the hallway. It takes him three tries to activate the key card and he starts to get a little nervous that he might have the wrong room. Or that it could be a set up. But he dismisses that thought as quickly as it comes. She's had plenty of opportunities and has never double crossed him before.

He engages the deadbolt and chain once he's safely inside. It's a suite, not quite as large as what he's sharing with Scully and Emily in San Diego, but more richly appointed. Music is playing and the television is on at the same time, muted, the screen displaying a 24-hour news channel. A sizable room service cart sits in the middle of the room with several covered silver dishes on it, along with chilled wine.

"Hello?" he calls out cautiously.

She appears around the side of a doorway to what he assumes is the bedroom, wearing a robe, her hair wet. She's massaging lotion into her hands.

"I'm sorry," he says, "Am I early?" His watch says it's after 9:30.

"No, you're right on time. Make yourself comfortable, I'll be right out. I took the liberty of ordering something to eat; I didn't know what you'd like. Please help yourself."

She disappears again and Mulder stands there awkwardly for a few more minutes before taking his jacket off. Whatever she ordered smells like heaven. Especially compared to what he's been subsisting on for the last week. He lifts one of the lids. A seafood platter - mussels, shrimp, oysters. A second platter has an assortment of cheeses and fruits, a third finger sandwiches. How many people was she expecting? There's also a sushi platter and two carefully wrapped slices of cheesecake with raspberry sauce drizzled over the plates. Mulder feels like he's in one of those episodes of Scooby Doo where Shaggy and Scooby suddenly find themselves inside a fully-stocked kitchen, aboard a creepy ghost ship. Like, Hey Scoob.

His stomach grumbles expectantly, but he doesn't touch anything yet. He feels like it would be rude, even though she's already invited him to partake. He sits on the couch and waits another fifteen minutes and eventually the door to the bedroom opens.

She comes out fully dressed. Jeans and a black silk blouse, her hair still damp, but combed neatly from her face, makeup inscrutable like always. She walks immediately to the chilled wine and works at the cork swiftly before pouring two generous glasses.

"You didn't eat," she says, removing lids from the platters.

"You didn't have to get all this."

She shrugs, biting a green grape directly off a small stem. "I was hungry." There are two white china plates and she goes about selecting a few items for herself, strawberries, cheese, shrimp and sushi rolls, and arranges them neatly. He does the same.

"So how was your trip to California?" she asks.

He gives her a curious, sidelong glance before answering. "Fine. It was fine." They've never shared polite, meaningless conversation. He's not sure how to feel about it. He searches his brain to think of something to ask her about, but he knows nothing about her life. She could be married with two kids for all he knows, living a double life. He's pretty sure she isn't, though. There's a certain loneliness about her.

She drags a black case out from next to a chair and swings it onto the small table, popping open the combination lock and removing a large manila envelope. Inside the envelope are two separate stacks of papers, one much thicker than the other.

"As you might have suspected," she begins, "there are two sets of medical records. These," she tosses the smaller stack onto the table, "are what you have seen. They're the public records - the ones Calderon produced in order to have something to give to the hospitals when Emily was treated." The second thick stack hits the table with a loud slap. "These are the real records. And believe me, they weren't easy to come by for a reason."

Marita levels a look at him and her voice goes soft. "Lives have been lost in order to protect this information, Agent Mulder. Don't make the mistake of thinking for a second that you and I wouldn't be indispensable."

Mulder's mouth goes instantly dry, but he isn't put off. To ask whether he's willing to risk his life to save Emily's would be a ridiculous question.

His eyes fixate on the heading of the second stack. Alexa Project, Subject DKS1194F. Scully's initials. Emily's birth month and year. F for female.

He sits down heavily.

**

Three hours later, they've migrated from chairs to the carpeted floor and Mulder's shoes are off. The pages of Emily's records are spread out around them like tiles. There is a small black ball pointed X in the upper left corner of the sheets that have been analyzed.

The sushi has disappeared, along with about half of the seafood platter. The cheese and fruit tray has dwindled down to a handful of withered grapes, broken crackers, and a few chunks of sweating cheese. Mulder finishes his third glass of wine and rolls over onto his side, depositing the glass onto the black lacquered, oriental style coffee table. "God, they tested her for everything," he says. "She had fifty-seven blood tests in the first two months she was born. She was a goddamned human pin cushion."

Marita reads, stoically, overturning another page. She is seated on the floor with her back against the sofa, her long legs stretched out in front of her, feet crossed. Her hair has been pulled back and secured with a barrette and she's wearing a pair of stylish black rimmed glasses. "There are many differences between the two sets of records. They're subtle, but they're there."

"Why was Emily different, though? From the others? You say the test subjects produced from the other mothers were destroyed because they didn't show immunity to the alien virus, right?"

He is shocked and somewhat appalled at how quickly over the past three hours he's grown accustomed to discussing a laboratory experiment on humans like he's talking about growing germs in a petri dish. He stopped referring to them as fetuses in the first half hour and calls them test subjects now. Is that what it was like for the scientists who worked for the consortium? Is that what it was like for Calderon? Is it possible to simply become numb to the concept of manipulating human life? And if that manipulation resulted in a vaccine that could save the entire human race, then who is wrong? The sacrifice of dozens to save billions.

"The test subjects produced using ova from all of the women, except your partner, were not immune to the alien virus. Once exposed, they all began gestating an alien life form, which meant that their alien DNA did not provide protection against the virus, as was hoped. Consequently, they were deemed unsuccessful and therefore, terminated."

"But the test subjects produced from Scully's ova were different."

"Yes," replies Marita, carefully. "Initially, it appeared that the subjects were responding just like the others...just like the infected ones. Three of the four were terminated. Emily was the last one to be exposed to the alien virus."

"Why was she allowed to survive?"

Marita flips back several pages and hands them to Mulder. "It's in Calderon's notes. After careful observation, he noted that aside from a high fever, none of the other symptoms that would indicate infection were present. He opted not to terminate, but to wait and observe."

"But then she got sick."

"Well, she was sick...from the beginning. Although exposure to the virus did not result in a gestating alien life form inside her, it did make her gravely ill."

Mulder's eyes scan the notes. "Her anemia. Exposure to the virus made her anemia worse."

"Yes. Calderon's notes indicate that initial efforts to cure her in order to pursue the development of a vaccine proved unsuccessful."

"The sons of bitches kept her alive as a guinea pig," he says in disgust, tossing paper angrily and watching it flurry to the carpet.

Marita waits a moment before responding, her eyes downcast. "Would you rather they hadn't?"

Mulder shakes his head and runs his fingers through his hair. "I don't know," he whispers. He's lying on his stomach now with his head in his hands, the floor inches from his face. He can't even think anymore. His anger is like a medicine ball in his gut and he desperately wants to hunt down those responsible for all of this and commit unspeakable acts. "I don't know," he repeats. "What I do know is that I have a child who is sick. She didn't ask to be born and she certainly didn't ask for this disease that is slowly, but surely killing her. I need answers and all this has done is raise more questions."

Mulder turns over onto his back and lies with his eyes closed, trying to get himself to a place where he can figure out which way to go from here. All he knows is that he can't go back to California without something. All of their hope had been placed in these records and he refuses to go back and tell Scully that they're no further along than they had been. He needs something to hang his hat on.

He glances at his watch. It's almost one. It's probably a damn good thing they finished all the alcohol already. He pulls himself up off the floor to go take a piss, leaving Marita chewing on the end of a pen with her face still buried in a stack of papers.

When he gets back, he starts looking for his shoes. "I should probably go." He's discouraged and just plain tired.

"Wait," she says, tapping her pen absently on his leg as he bends down to fish a shoe out from under the coffee table. "I might have something."

"What?"

He sits down next to her and she hands him several sheets of paper. It's an indecipherable sea of numbers and letters, all type written, with a few hastily drawn diagrams in the margin.

"Does CCR5 mean anything to you?" she asks, underlining the term in black.

He shakes his head. "Should it?"

"It appears all over Calderon's notes...in the Alexa Project files. See?" she leafs through six or seven pages, circling repeated references to the same term. "But I don't see even one mention of it in the public files...the ones seen by the hospital."

"What is it?"

"I have no idea," she says, still circling. "It might not even be significant. But it seems like you might want to check it out."

"Do you have an internet connection here?"

"Probably, but I didn't bring a laptop."

Mulder considers the time again, but then reaches for his cell phone anyway and dials.

It rings five times before it's answered. "This better be good. You're interrupting my beauty sleep."

"You'd better sleep until at least next month then."

"Haha, very funny, wise ass," growls Frohike.

"Hey, I need a favor. It's important."

"Shoot." Frohike's tone has transformed itself and is now attentive and serious.

"I need you to find out what you can on something called CCR5."

There's shuffling on the other end, the sound of paper ripping. "Can ya gimme a reference point?"

"It's something medically related," says Mulder. "Maybe having to do with the blood. Beyond that, I don't know. And I need the info ASAP. Can you call me back tonight?"

"I'm on it now. Give me a few minutes."

"While you're at it," adds Mulder, "can you hack into the records at Prangen again and see if there's any mention of CCR5 in any of their projects, past or present?"

"You got it. All in a day's work, my friend."

"Thanks," says Mulder, ending the call.

Marita is eyeing him with a touch of irritation. "I hope you know what you're doing. You can't just go around asking question about this stuff or you're going to show up on the wrong radar very quickly. And I have tickets to the theatre this weekend. I'd like to live to use them."

Mulder smiles. It's one of the only times he's ever heard her mention anything personal in her life. "Trust me."

"Do I have a choice?"


Twenty minutes later, they're still waiting for a call from Frohike. Marita is jotting down notes onto a yellow legal pad in very small, very femininely neat handwriting. Mulder has resorted to picking at the leftover shrimp and checking his watch.

At the moment he realizes he's probably too tired to manage the cocktail sauce with any finesse, a sizable dollop spills all the way down the front of his shirt and onto the very light colored beige hotel carpeting. "Shit," he exclaims, grabbing a napkin and dabbing at his shirt, ineffectively. It had to be the one his mother sent him for his birthday, the one that probably costs more than he makes in a week.

Marita doesn't bother looking up. "Soak it now or it won't come out."

Yes, that's helpful, thanks. He considers his options before unbuttoning the shirt and peeling it off. One look at the carnage on the carpet suggests that he'd better do something about that too. He schleps off to the bathroom, irritated.

His shirt is submerged in a sink of warm water and he's scrubbing with a sliver of hotel bar soap when his cell phone chirps. Good timing, Melvin. "Hey, can you grab that?" he calls out. "Tell him I'll be right there."

Thirty seconds later, Marita appears at the open bathroom door, with a curiously arched brow. "For you," she says, in a sing song voice.

He dries his hands hastily and takes the phone. "Yeah," he says, more than a little aware that his tone sounds perturbed. He perches the phone between his ear and shoulder, but it slips and tumbles onto the bathroom counter loudly, landing in a sizable amount of spilled water. "Fuck!" he says, imagining the look on Skinner's face when he tells him he's ruined a third phone in as many months.

"Yeah," he manages again, curtly.

There's a brief silence on the other end.

"Hello?" he prompts. If Frohike hung up, he'll kill him.

"Mulder?" comes a quietly cautious voice.

Scully.

What's she doing calling this late? "Hey Scully," he says with a thick sigh. "What's up? Is Em okay?"

Another pause.

He kinda can't do this now. Frohike is going to be calling at any-

His phone beeps, indicating a call is waiting. Shit.

"Mulder, where are you?" asks Scully. "I tried your apartment."

"Yeah," he says, hurriedly. "I'm um, out."

BEEP.

"Who was that who answered your phone?"

The water in the bathroom sink is turning pink from the cocktail sauce, but his shirt isn't looking any cleaner. Well, that's just great.

"That was Marita."

BEEP.

"You're in New York?"

"Uh, no."

BEEP

"Listen Scully, I gotta go. Are you sure everything's okay?"

A hesitation, then "Yes. Everything's fine."

BEEP.

"Can I call you back in the morning?"

"Sure," she answers quietly.

Mulder switches over to the other call and walks back into the suite area, carrying a wet washcloth, which he tosses over the spot on the carpet. "Hello," he says.

"What the hell? A comrade does you a favor, the least you can do is answer the phone."

"Sorry. I was unexpectedly detained."

"Ooh la la," croons Melvin. "Have I interrupted newlywed time?"

"Not that kind of detained. What did you find out?"

"I don't know if this is what you're looking for, but there's something called CCR5 - chemokine receptor type 5."

"In English, please..."

"It's some kind of protein," replies Frohike. "The information is sketchy and I'm certainly no doctor, but if I'm reading it correctly, it has something to do with T cells and retroviruses."

"Retroviruses," Mulder repeats quietly, his pulse quickening.

"Yeah man. HIV is the big one, though. There are others."

Mulder jots things down. "Did you uncover any connection between CCR5 studies and Prangen?"

"Their records are pretty well firewalled, but from what I can tell, there's no mention of CCR5 specifically. They do have a number of studies going on that involve HIV strain 1, but that's not a red flag. Just about every research facility in the country is studying HIV. It's the virus du jour, unless you're Langly and then it's bird flu."

"Bird flu?"

"Don't ask. Dude is convinced it's the next black plague. We've got twenty cases of canned tuna and baked beans in the basement already."

"Hey listen, thanks," says Mulder. "This was helpful. I owe you one."

"I'm sure we can work something out." Mulder can almost hear the eyebrows wagging. "Speaking of, please give my love to the little lady."

Mulder watches as Marita wheels the picked-over room service cart out into the hotel hallway and closes the door. Pretty sure she's not the little lady Melvin's referring to. "I will. Goodnight, Melvin."

He pockets his phone.

"Did you get something?" she asks, approaching him.

Mulder nods. "I think so. I'm not sure what it means yet, but it's a start."

She stands in front of him, close.

He's suddenly acutely aware that he's shirtless and she's noticed. Or noticed a while ago and he's just noticing now that she's noticed.

Her smoky blue eyes give him an appraising once over and she rocks back onto her bare heels, leaning into a door frame, invitingly.

He feels like he's being inspected. Maybe summoned.

"I uh...should get going," he says, clearing his throat.

"Okay." Her eyes walk down him and then back up again. "Or...you could stay."

That's his cue to leave. Now.

He meets her gaze, his expression firm, but not unkind. "Things have changed."

She smiles a bit wistfully and walks to the table, gathering together the documents. "I thought they may have," she says, regretfully.

There's a brief, awkward exchange about what he should do with his soaking shirt. He opts to skip it and wear just his jacket home, making her a thin promise about getting the shirt from her at a later date. It'll probably never happen, but given the value of the documents he has tucked inside his jacket, one expensive shirt is a small price to pay.

January 30, 1998

There's something wrong. He started wondering back in Chicago during his layover when Scully didn't pick up her cell phone, but now he's convinced of it. It's well past Emily's bedtime and the hotel suite is empty. The bed that Em and Scully share has not been disrupted. Mulder searches for a note, but finds nothing. He checks his voice mail again. Nothing. No blinking light on the hotel phone, no messages left for him at the front desk.

He finally dials Maggie Scully, who happens to be back at home on the east coast. It's very late there and it's obvious he wakes her.

"They're at the hospital. Dana didn't reach you?"

"I've been on a plane for six hours. There was no note at the hotel."

Maggie's voice is scratchy with sleep. "They went this morning. I'm sure Dana just didn't want to worry you."

She didn't want to worry him? "What's going on? Is Emily all right?"

"Another fever. I spoke to Dana a few hours ago. The doctors were talking about a transfusion."

"Why didn't-but how-" he stutters.

"She's in good hands. They're at Community General."

"There was no note," he repeats.

"Just go to the hospital, Honey."


Mulder flashes his badge at a cabbie, who shows his appreciation by reluctantly running a few red lights to arrive at the hospital in record time. Mulder overtips him and then is rude to the triage nurse who thinks her phone call is more important than directing Mulder.

"Emily Sim! Where is she? Emily Sim!"

The nurse lifts her index finger and smiles brightly at him, mouthing "okay."

"Emily Sim! My wife brought her in this morning, where is she?"

He finally reaches over the desk and disconnects the phone call. The nurse's congenial smile vanishes and Mulder gets that 'two seconds from calling Security' look that he knows all too well.

"Sir, you need to calm down."

"I am calm!" he shouts. "I need to know what room Emily Sim is in!"

"Sir, we have no one by that name registered here. Perhaps you have the wrong hospital."

"I don't have the wrong hospital! Look again! Emily-" He stops and runs shaky fingers through his disheveled hair, then repeats, with forced calmness. "Try Emily Scully. She's three years old. Can you just...can you please look again?"

The nurse eyes him doubtfully, but runs her finger three-quarters of the way down a list. "She's in Pediatric ICU, room 312. But visiting hours ended three hours ago, Sir. You can't just-"

Mulder takes off at a jog.

"Sir! You can't go up there at this hour!"

He's already pressing the button to the elevator. "Thank you!"

A second nurse, who happens to be exiting room 312 just as he is heading in, decides to try his patience further. "Can I help you?"

"Is this Emily's Scully's room?"

"Yes, but access is restricted to family at this time, I'm sorry."

Mulder strains his neck to try and see through the small rectangular window on the door, but it's dark inside. "I'm her um, I'm uh...she's my...Dana Scully is my wife."

"Oh, I'm sorry, Sir," the nurse's voice softens and she consults the chart. "Then you must be Mr. Mulder?"

"Yes. How is-how is Emily?"

"She's stable. Her fever us still non-responsive, but she's resting peacefully. You can go right in. Your wife is with her."

He enters quietly, easing the door closed behind him. The lights in the room have been dimmed and various machines beep in syncopation. Emily is asleep on her side, curled like a shrimp, her golden hair fanned across the pillow, and Scully sits in a chair next to her. She looks up at him and he can see exhaustion, fear, and worry etched into her features.

"Scully," he whispers, going to her and running his hand over her shoulder.

She watches him as he leans over Emily's sleeping form and kisses her hot, clammy forehead. "She's so warm," he says, concerned.

"The fever has come down a little, but it's still too high. She finally fell asleep a couple hours ago."

He drapes his overcoat over the back of a chair and pulls it closer. "Scully, why...why didn't you call me? When I got to the hotel, I was so worried."

She answers him matter-of-factly while keeping her attention focused on Emily. "You were on a plane all day, Mulder. You couldn't be reached. And besides, there was nothing you could have done."

"There was no note. I had to call your mother to find out where you were." He doesn't mean to sound accusatory. Well, maybe a little. She managed to reach her mother, but not him.

She sighs, wearily. "It's been a very long day. I guess I just lost track of time."

He studies her for a long moment, then decides to let it go. He's here now, which is what matters. "What do the doctors say?"

"That we need to watch and wait. They've got her on IV antibiotics and an immunosuppressant. We just have to hope that the fever starts to respond soon."

"Why suppress her immune system if she's already sick?"

She shakes her head, wearily. "They're just trying it. Emily's immune system is attacking her red blood cells, treating them as invaders. Immunosuppressants may slow this process."

"Your mother mentioned something about a transfusion."

She nods with her head tilted to the side, pushing damp hair from Emily's flushed cheek. "Blood transfusions can temporarily replace red blood cells that have been lost. But it's not a permanent solution. It just buys us some time."

"When will we know if it's necessary?"

"I don't know. If her fever doesn't respond within the next twenty-four hours, then probably."

"Is it safe?"

She nods again. "For the most part, yes. We may not have a choice."

They sit quietly for some time, just watching Emily sleep, her breathing rapid, but steady. Machines measure her vitals and the rhythmic beeping is actually calming after a while, becoming a form of white noise that lulls and pacifies. Scully has removed her shoes and is curled into a stiff vinyl chair with a thin blanket thrown over her. Mulder stretches his legs out and leans his head back, matching his respiration to the sounds in the room, allowing himself to be soothed. He dozes.

Somewhere around 4 am, he coaxes Scully out of her chair and over to a cot that the night nurse has unfolded in the corner. "I can't sleep, Mulder," she argues, ineffectively. "If she wakes up-"

"I'll be right there next to her," he assures, not bothering to point out that she's already been sleeping, curled up like a hermit crab, for the past three hours. "I'll stay awake, Scully, I promise."

January 31, 1998

Mulder wants to talk to her about the records Marita has given him, wants to show them to her and have her put her glasses on and go over them with a fine-toothed comb and chew on her bottom lip and frown like she does when she's in brilliant doctor mode. Except that she isn't. She's spent most of the day in worried mother mode, pacing and hovering and insisting on attendings instead of interns. They say doctors make the worst patients. They also make the most tyrannical parents. Mulder just apologizes with his eyes to nurses and candy stripers and to anyone who doesn't have any answers, which is pretty much everyone.

Besides caffeine, there isn't much that Mulder can manage to get into her. Half a bagel and an overly preserved oatmeal cookie he procures from a vending machine constitutes her caloric allotment for the day. Emily mostly sleeps and he can't get Scully to leave her side.

At 8:00 that night, Doctor Callahan, a thirty-five-ish woman with a British accent who has been treating Emily since noon, announces that she would like to go ahead with a transfusion since there has been minimal improvement.

"We'll start with a pint of O neg," she announces crisply, presenting the paperwork for Scully to sign, which she does. "And keep our fingers crossed." Mulder blanches a little. After being emasculated repeatedly by Phoebe Green, he's suspicious of any brunette with an English accent. He watches Scully place her small, neat autograph to four sheets of paper. Dana K. Scully. And right beneath on the line that says 'relationship to patient,' she writes 'mother.'

Scully's a mom. She's legally allowed-they're both allowed- to make decisions for Emily. Together, they're responsible for another person. The enormity of it seems to dwarf whatever responsibilities they've shared in the past, however significant.

"How long until we know if it's working?" he asks.

Doctor Callahan gives him a sympathetic smile. "Hopefully we'll know more by the morning."

"And what do we do if it doesn't?" he pushes.

"We'll cross that bridge if and when we come to it."

He hates that answer. It's such a non-answer. Of course we'll cross that bridge if we come to it. What the hell else are we going to do - say 'fuck no, I'm going to go to Disneyland and call it a day?'

Why can't anyone give a straight answer around here?

Emily gets her transfusion and doesn't even wake up for it. He and Scully watch for signs of change until 1 a.m. when Scully eventually nods off again, this time spooned up behind her sick daughter in the hospital bed. Mulder takes the cot, which has a metal bar that pokes into his rib cage and his feet hang off, but he's so exhausted he could have slept standing on one leg. The machines beep and swish, never sleeping.

February 1, 1998

A little before 6 a.m., while the outside sky is turning translucent with the first hues of dawn, Mulder opens his eyes and sees another pair of crisp blue ones staring back at him.

"Hi," whispers Emily.

Mulder snaps to attention, pulling himself up to a seated position on the cot. "Hi, Em." He smiles, so incredibly relieved to see her alert. "Hi," he repeats, in amazement.

Emily surveys the room without moving her head. "Is it the morning?"

"Yes. Very early. You're at the hospital."

Scully rouses next to Emily. Her clothing is wrinkled and her hair is matted on one side. She has the look of a parent who's spent a couple rough nights at a child's bedside, without the benefit of adequate sleep or hygiene. But she's still beautiful. "Emily?"

Mulder can see the adrenaline kicking in, her sleep-swollen eyes sharpening. She sits up and her hand immediately goes to Emily's forehead, then her cheeks.

"I'm thirsty," says Emily. "Can I watch TV?"

Scully nods and thrusts her nose into Emily's hair, swallowing tears.

Two hours later, the attending physician has confirmed significant improvement. Emily's fever is down and she is alert and responsive. There is discussion about moving her out of ICU and into a standard room. Emily's biggest complaint is the IV. Although she is used to the feel of the shunt in her hand, it hinders her movement. The nurse removes her catheter and she is able to use the bathroom with Scully's help, although the process with all the tubes and rolling devices leaves everyone exhausted.

After lunch, which consists of more bagels from the Brueggers next to the gift shop, Mulder convinces Scully that it will be okay for them to take turns going back to the hotel for a shower and a change of clothes. It actually takes very little persuasion since he's guessing she probably feels about as fresh as he does. He looks forward to a religious experience with several tiny bars of hotel soap and his toothbrush.

He wanders down to the hospital library and brings back some books to read to Emily and a Chutes and Ladders game with a crumpled box that's missing the spinner. They craft their own out of a plastic knife and a Styrofoam coffee cup, but it only seems to stop on 4 and 6. Mulder loses three games.

By evening, everyone has bathed, including Emily, and smells much better. They've been moved to a regular room now, which happens to be private and has one of those pull-out loveseats that masquerades as functional sleeping furniture. Heaven forbid that anyone should actually get comfortable.

Emily still isn't eating much, which could have something to do with the fact that she's still being pumped full of IV fluids. She picks at a grilled cheese sandwich with the crusts cut off and some chocolate pudding. She's asleep a little after seven and Mulder leaves to go find real food for him and Scully. They end up sitting crossed-legged on the crappy pullout loveseat, pizza box balanced on their knees.

"This is marvelous," she says, picking off the sausage and transferring it to his pieces. "I'm so hungry."

"You should be. You've eaten just enough to sustain a hummingbird for two days."

"I don't eat when I'm upset," she says, as if he didn't already know that.

"What now?" He hands her a cold Coke. "With Emily."

"We get released. Maybe tomorrow. More likely the next day."

They munch companionably, neither concerned with doing it neatly or politely. She doesn't even bother soaking up the extra grease with paper towels this time. He thinks about how many pizzas they've shared over five years. Maybe one a week, sometimes two. Times fifty-two. Times five. That's a lot of cheese.

Cheese. She's guiding a long string of it into her mouth, her tongue lapping at it indelicately and that's pretty much all it takes. He starts thinking about things again. Their phone call. What she said. What he said.

"I moved some things into storage," he says. "Hegel Place is pretty much empty now. The couch is still there." He smiles impishly. "Just in case you get mad and kick me out for a night."

Her cheeks pink. He hopes she'll return his serve, banter with him a little, but instead she wipes her mouth on a napkin and gets up to throw away her paper plate.

"I uh, didn't know about the fish," he continues. "I had Frohike help me move them. The tank is in the corner of the living room, between the bookshelves. We can move it later if that's not all right. Or get rid of them, if you want." He offers another smile. "If you're allergic to fish."

That gets him a very subdued smile. "No, of course not. They're fine. Emily will probably enjoy them."

"Has she mentioned the orange cat to you again?"

Scully nods. "Bill has one. I think that's where she got the idea."

Good old, Bill. Remind him to thank his brother-in-law.

"Do we have a family pet policy in place yet?" he asks, amiably.

She shrugs. "You don't like pets?"

Uh-oh, trick question. Tread carefully. He handled the Queequag debacle with about as much sensitivity as Attila the Hun.

"I've never really had any," he answers, cautiously. "Except for a hamster in grade school that didn't fare well and my fish. But um, we can think about it, I guess."

Great, yeah. He's getting a cat.

"Or we could always wait until we get a house," he prompts. "I've been looking around a bit. Picked up some real estate magazines and drove around some neighborhoods."

She looks surprised at this, but he can't say exactly pleased. "Don't you think we're getting a little ahead of ourselves? We're not even settled back in D.C."

"You don't want a house?"

"I didn't say that. I just don't see what the hurry is."

"When is the lease up on your apartment?"

"July," she replies.

"Well, that might be a good time. It takes a while to find something, though. And then there's the financing and closing process, but we're not selling something, so that gives us an advantage and I've got some cash saved for a down payment, so I think-"

"Mulder, can we maybe talk about this later?"

He pauses and gives her a quizzical look.

"I'm just a little overwhelmed right now. The visits from the social worker and the upcoming court date, and now Emily getting sick again...I just need some time... to process everything."

"Okay," he says, quietly.

She walks into the bathroom and shuts the door behind her, taking longer than usual. It's very quiet on the other side of the door, he doesn't even hear water running. He cleans up the pizza mess and just waits for her. Eventually she comes out.

He watches her fuss with Emily's blankets, checking and double checking her IV to make sure she hasn't rolled onto the cord again. The night nurse comes in, introduces herself as Cindy, and starts to take vitals. "Please wait and take her BP on the next rounds," instructs Scully in her doctor tone. "She's sleeping peacefully and the cuff disrupts her." The nurse nods politely and records things in the chart. "Is Doctor Callahan on tonight?"

"No," replies Cindy. "It's Doctor Martinez. He'll be in to check on her before midnight."

Scully reads the chart over the nurse's shoulder. "I'd like to see if we can take her off the saline drip for the night. Her catheter has been removed and her fluid levels look good. I'd rather not have to wake her to use the bathroom through the night."

"You'll have to ask Doctor Martinez about that."

God, they must hate her.

"Are you okay?" he asks, after they're alone again.

"I'm fine."

Which, of course, tells him nothing.

"Do you want to go to sleep?"

She eyes the accommodations where they happen to be sitting. Cramped and uncomfortable, but they've managed before. He can't speak for her, but it's not the worst place he's slept by a long shot. It has the advantage of being small enough that they can't really avoid lying close to one other. At least, he sees it as an advantage. The look on her face says perhaps she feels differently.

"I don't think so," she responds, softly. "You can if you want."

He decides to try a different tactic. "I've got some things for you to look at, if you're up to it. The records Marita gave me. I'm hoping you might be able to make better sense of them than we could."

She appears to bristle a little and he wonders if he should have just waited until they were out of the hospital and back at the hotel. The stress and lack of sleep has her on edge. But the reality is that time is of the essence, this recent setback of Emily's making that fact all the more evident.

"What did you find?" she asks, her curiosity getting the better of her.

He produces the file from inside his jacket and she takes it from him with cautious interest. "The records we've seen don't tell the whole story," he reports. "Calderon needed to produce something public - those records were a smokescreen. The second set, the ones with the header Alexa 1194F are the real deal."

Her eyes connect with his and he knows she's already made sense of the numbers and gender notation. "What does Alexa mean?"

"I'm not sure," he admits. "But I think...it might've been the name that the original scientists gave...to Emily. Before she was adopted." He hesitates. "The name Alexa is Greek. It means 'defender of mankind.'"

He watches Scully blink slowly, then take a deep breath as she reattaches her armor. The transformation from mother to scientist is nearly a visible one.

Her eyes scan the pages intently and her mouth forms soundless words. She is frowning and deep in thought, seeing for the first time the same data that he's been trying ineffectively to dissect for days. "Mulder, these two sets of records are entirely different."

"I know."

"How...It's like I'm looking at two different patients."

"Yes, I know," he repeats. "What I don't know-what I need your medical expertise on - is to figure out how they're different. It's nothing but numbers and random data to me, Scully. But the answers are there, I'm certain of it."

"Marita gave you this?"

"Yes."

Scully narrows her eyes almost imperceptibly. "How do you know you can trust her, Mulder? How do you know we're not being played here?"

"Because I do, Scully."

"What the hell does that mean? She has no personal interest in this." She looks up at him. "Does she?"

There is some kind of masked emotion there he can't quite identify.

"I trust her, Scully. I can't explain why, but I do. She's helped me in the past and she's never lied to me. Why would she start now?"

Scully's frown deepens. "Why wouldn't she? You mean to tell me she possibly risked her life to get these documents for you out of the goodness of her heart? Forgive me for being suspicious."

"She isn't a bad person, Scully. I think in many ways, she wants the same things we do. She's just caught up in something she has no control over."

"You know who she works for."

"But her allegiances aren't that simple."

Scully appears to consider this, and him, for a long moment. "How well do you know her, Mulder?" Her voice is quiet, even.

"Well enough to trust her on this."

"Trust no one. I thought that was what you always said."

He sighs deeply. "Yeah well, sometimes we aren't given a choice." His eyes drift over to Emily, asleep in the bed. "I think this is one of those times."

After a thoughtful pause in which both of them seem to be contemplating the direction of the conversation, he gestures to the stack of papers in her hands. "In Calderon's notes, there's something that shows up repeatedly - something called CCR5. I had Frohike dig around a little. He couldn't come up with much, except that it's related to the blood and it has something to do with retroviruses. Does it mean anything to you?"

She frowns, her eyes moving back and forth in thought. "Yeah," she says, tentatively. "Yeah, it does. Chemokine receptor type 5. CCR5 is a protein on the surface of white blood cells that acts as a receptor. It's likely that CCR5 plays a role in the body's response to infection."

She leafs through the papers and continues. "Some retroviruses use CCR5 to enter and infect host cells. It's thought that HIV may work that way, attaching to and invading T-cells."

Caught up in thought now, she settles herself on the pull-out with her feet curled underneath her and leans forward over the stack of documents, resting her elbows on her knees. "Can you hand me some paper and a pen, please?"

There isn't much around, but he digs through some papers that were left by the nurse, and pulls out a purple sheet with rules and regulations for the pediatric ICU. He flips it over and hands it to her, along with a hospital pen. She starts jotting down words, numbers, and symbols that are meaningless to him. Plusses and minuses, greater than and less than signs, some kind of chemical equation that looks like an upside down tree.

"And I'll take a coffee," she adds, not looking up, papers shuffling. "This could take a while and I'm going to need the caffeine."

**

He's snoozing on his back on top of the pull-out when she wakes him by shaking his knee gently. "Mulder."

She's used his prone body as a desk and there are papers layered over his stomach that slide off when he sits up. "What time is it," he mumbles, glancing at Emily, who is facing the other way, sound asleep.

"Late. After three."

"Did you find something?"

"Sort of." She slides over next to him, reordering some of the papers. "I think I can tell you why Emily might've survived when the others didn't. Although, I'm not sure it gets us any closer to a cure."

He rubs his eyes and looks down at her underlines, asterisks, and margin notes. There are tons of them. She's been hard at work while he slept.

"These are Calderon's notes," she says, handing him several pages. "Remember how I told you that CCR5 is a protein on the surface of white blood cells? How it acts as a receptor, allowing some viruses to attach to it and infect host cells?"

"Retroviruses," he says.

"Yes. Regular viruses work by invading the blood directly. Retroviruses are different. They don't live in the blood stream; they enter and live in the cells, sometimes remaining dormant for periods of time."

"The alien virus is a retrovirus."

"My guess is yes." She shifts papers. "But that's not the interesting part. Do you see here?" Her finger scans the page to point at a series of symbols and numbers. "And here? Where it says Delta 32?"

He nods.

"It's in several places in Calderon's notes, the same reference." She points to two more places.

"What is it?"

"It's rather new research, actually. I've been following it in the medical journals. CCR5-Delta 32 is a genetic anomaly, a deletion mutation. It's very rare in the human population, but preliminary studies have suggested that individuals who carry the Delta 32 mutation have some kind of resistance to certain retroviruses. The one that's attracting so much research attention right now is, of course, HIV 1. Scientists believe that people with the Delta 32 mutation may have a genetic resistance to HIV. Also smallpox."

He looks at her. "And maybe other retroviruses as well," he says, things beginning to connect.

She nods. "According to Calderon's notes, Emily has the Delta 32 mutation. It's quite possible that it protected her from a full blown infection of the alien virus."

"How would she get it - the Delta 32? Is it something they could have given to her?"

Scully shakes her head. "No. It's entirely genetic, just a random thing. She would have had to have inherited it from one or both parents."

"So...you could have it."

"Yes, I suppose it's possible. It isn't in any blood work-ups I've had done. I would have noticed it if it was. Like I said, it's rare. But I suppose, it couldn't hurt to find out. I can have a blood sample taken and tested. I guess I'd like to know if I'm a carrier."

"Can it help Emily? Could it help us find a cure?"

She sighs, her tired eyes sweeping low. "Unfortunately...I don't think so. Emily's records indicate that her anemia is intrinsic, meaning that it was also inherited. It's unrelated to the Delta 32 mutation. But in any case, I'd like to send a sample of her blood to someone I know for a work-up. I'd like to see if it's possible to isolate the gene or genes that are causing the hemolytic anemia."

"Who? We can't trust anyone at the FBI with this."

"I know," she replies. "I have a good friend, someone I went to med school with - he's a brilliant geneticist. He conducts research out of Temple University Hospital. His name is Cooper Reed."

"I don't think I've heard you mention him before." It shouldn't surprise him that there happens to be people in Scully's life she's neglected to mention. After all, she managed to live a full twenty- seven years before knowing him. But it still does.

"We won't find anyone more knowledgeable and current in the field of genetics, I can promise you that."

He frowns in concern. "Are you sure that's such a good idea, Scully? Having another professional analyze Emily's DNA? You know what he's going to find. All it would take would be one call to a medical journal, saying he's discovered some kind of genetic anomaly and the press will be all over us. And Emily."

She considers this. "He wouldn't do that. Not behind my back."

"Inhuman DNA, Scully. That's what he'll find. Are you sure about this?"

"I trust him." The look she sends him says it's not up for negotiation. He gives a fleeting thought to whether her reaction is in part because of how he defended Marita. As in, 'you go ahead and trust your friends and I'll trust mine.'

They need to be on the same team on this or they'll get nowhere fast. He reaches over and brushes the back of his hand lightly against hers. "Okay. Make the call."

February 4, 1998

Mulder is scheduled to fly back to DC two days after Emily gets released from the hospital. They spend that time at the hotel watching movies together and relaxing so that Emily can recover her strength. Mulder notices that it seems to take her a little longer to snap back than it did after her last hospital stay. She sleeps more, eats less, and doesn't demonstrate quite the same level of enthusiasm that he's used to from her. He takes her to the pool once, to splash around, and she tires after a short time, returning to the room and falling asleep for nearly three hours.

Scully leaves Emily's side only to shower. She watches over her like a hawk, day and night. Mulder doesn't think she's even getting more than a perfunctory night's sleep. Just enough to avoid keeling over.

Mrs. Hundley, the social worker visits for the third time. There is discussion of postponing it, but there's a time table to maintain if they want to complete all the visitations before the custody hearing. Emily lies in Scully's arms for the duration of the visit, watching TV with her thumb firmly implanted in her mouth. Scully's hand never stops moving as she answers questions. Rubbing Emily's back, brushing her hair from her face, caressing her slack hand and pale cheek.

"I should stay," he says at one point, as they both sit watching Emily sleep on the couch after dinner. "You need me here more than the Bureau needs me pushing papers right now."

"No, Mulder. Our custody hearing is in ten days. You need to go back and work, make sure everything's ready at home." She yawns and rests her head on the back of the chair. "We'll be okay."

He watches Emily breathe. Follows the steady, quickened rise and fall of her tiny chest. "Is she getting worse, Scully?" he whispers.

She doesn't answer him; she just gets up and walks into the bedroom.

February 9, 1998

Mulder closes the door on several layers of dust, his beat leather couch, and some art work hanging on the cracked plaster walls that he doesn't know what to do with. He forwards his mail to Scully's apartment, and starts sleeping there, although he can't quite bring himself to invade her bed. Some places one should be invited to, and he hasn't been yet. He settles on her couch each night, which is quite a bit less broken in than his, but smells better.

It's weird to be in Scully's apartment without her for days, but he feels like it will be better if he's already staying there when they bring Emily home. Less hassle. He watches her TV and uses her towels and puts his feet up on her coffee table while he reads.

He strategically and carefully makes space for his clothing and toiletries, doing his best not to disrupt her homeostasis too much. It takes him a half hour to figure out exactly where to put his shaving gear and deodorant in her medicine cabinet. The shaving cream is too tall for the top shelf, so it needs to be on the middle or bottom one. But if he moves her Tylenol and that little red jar with the face goop to the top shelf, she won't be able to reach it. There's space in the first drawer of the vanity, along with the feminine hygiene products, but Mulder isn't sure how she will feel about him keeping his stuff next to her tampons, so best not to upset that apple cart. The hairdryer, curling iron, hairspray, and several bottles of very expensive-looking salon junk take up the entire bottom drawer, so that's out.

Damn, girls need a lot of stuff. This isn't news. He's lived with one before. He's just gotten ornery in his extended bachelorhood and started taking the existence of space for granted. When they buy a house, he's going to be on the lookout for a monster-sized master bathroom with his and hers vanities, sinks, and medicine cabinets. Any man who has shared a bathroom with a woman understands that it's a necessity, not an option.

He moves all the over-the-counter drugs to the top shelf and takes the middle shelf of the cabinet for his stuff. If she has a headache, he'll reach what she needs.

Then there's the matter of the bedroom. He's able to usurp just enough closet space for his hanging suits, but that's about it. Gratefully, he only has a couple pairs of favorite dress shoes because floor space is desperately limited. She has more shoes than a centipede.

He picks up a black pump by the high, thin-tipped heel and rotates it in his hand. There's a scuff on the toe and he wonders which misadventure of theirs might've caused it. She's always blaming him for her footwear casualties. If he extends his middle finger and thumb as far as they will go, he can fit her shoe in his hand, heel to toe. Size 7M. He commits it to memory. A man should know his wife's sizes. In the event of rushed birthday gift purchases, shopping on Christmas Eve, a forgotten anniversary. Well, shoes aren't going to cut it if he misses an anniversary - best to stick to jewelry. Even Mulder knows that one.

Placing the shoe back down neatly with the other nine pairs that look exactly the same, he sifts carefully through the silk blouses, dark skirts, dress slacks, matching jackets. Oooh, a couple of dresses hiding in the back - one blue, one silver-grey, both sleeveless. Note to self: come up with a reason for Scully to wear those very soon.

More sizes. He shamelessly looks. Small...extra small...4...6P...4P...more smalls...some with no tags that look like he could maybe fit his ankle in the sleeve.

He moves on to the dressers and considers his options. Two drawers for his stuff would be adequate - he can keep some things on the top shelf above her closet that is mostly empty because she can't reach it without a stepstool and that pisses her off. She already has one drawer that is empty, except for an extra blanket that he relocates to the hall linen closet. He shoves three pairs of jeans, two pairs of sweatpants and half a dozen tee shirts in there. Begins hunting for a happy home for his underwear and socks. Don't look in that top one, don't look in that top one, don't look in that top one.

He looks in the top one.

Scully panties. Folded neatly and stored with the matching bras, satin and lace cups tucked one inside the other. Who folds their underwear this nicely? And what is the deal with everything matching? He can barely manage to coordinate his tie with his shirt. No wonder department stores target all their advertising toward women. They actually care about this stuff, apparently.

There's something midnight blue and shimmery peeking out from beneath a stack of undies and against his better judgment, he tugs it free. A cascade of slippery silk slides through his fingers and he finds himself looking at some kind of slinky, very short number with microscopic straps. He arches one brow while holding the item up in front of him. Why in the world would Scully have this and who might she have worn it for? Or is this just something every girl has lying around just in case? For sanity purposes, he decides not to think too hard about it. He files it away in the same mental folder with the tattoo and the psychopath.

It takes him a while to put everything back just as he found it. When he goes to push the drawer back in, something rattles around and clunks against the back of the dresser and he opens the drawer again. And hesitates. And peers a little closer. And then smiles.

Scully, Scully, Scully.

He shakes his head, smile stretching into a charmed grin. Not that he didn't assume she had one. If he were a woman, he'd have ten. Hell, if he were a woman, he'd probably never leave his house. Or put clothes on. He'd be too busy standing in front of the mirror. The female body is a brilliant creation. He can't imagine how women get anything accomplished with all that to admire and play with, right at their disposal.

A bright pink one too. How delightfully girly of her. If he has his way, she won't be needing it as often from now on.

Feeling slightly guilty for inadvertently invading her privacy, he very carefully tucks everything away where it was and closes the drawer.

Over the course of several evenings, he whips Scully's apartment into shape. Not that it was untidy to begin with. But without a dweller in almost two months, the place has gathered some dust and has taken on a stale feeling. He vacuums and mops and dusts and scrubs the bathroom. He does things to Scully's apartment he's never done to his own in almost nine years of living there. Scully has an obscene amount of cleaning products under her kitchen sink and he uses them all, just to be sure.

He makes two trips to Toys R Us and one to Bed, Bath & Beyond where he asks a very nice sales girl to show him everything a three-year-old girl would need for the coolest bedroom ever. He settles on a complete bed ensemble in pink and purple ladybugs, the scientific inaccuracy of which will drive Scully crazy. He piles the top of the double bed with a respectable number of stuffed animals and fills a bookshelf with children's books. In the corner of the room goes a classic wooden toy chest packed full of new preschool toys. By the time he's finished, the room has been entirely transformed.

Each evening, he reads to Emily on the phone and sometimes, an hour or so after tuck in, Scully calls him back. Emily's strength improves with each day that passes and Scully reports that a follow-up doctor's appointment confirmed improvement. Her red blood counts are better than they've been in weeks, no doubt from the recent transfusion. But Mulder knows, without having to ask, that there's been no miracle. Unless they find a cure, it's just a matter of time before a relapse is inevitable.

Lately, when they've talked, Scully has seemed different. More reserved and quiet. He's tried to initiate the banter and flirting that is so familiar between them, but she either changes the subject or grows silent. With Scully, being able to read her mind is an art form and he's still learning. She isn't forthcoming with either her thoughts or her feelings, and it gives the profiler in him a real workout. She should play poker - she'd walk away with all the chips without breaking a sweat.

He tells himself that it's just the stress. Emily's illness, the upcoming custody hearing, moving back to DC - of course it's all taking its toll on her. He wishes he were there to comfort her. To hold her. He wishes she'd let him.

He hopes for a day in the not-to-distant future when Emily will be cured. When she will be a completely whole, healthy and happy little girl. Their daughter. When Emily will go to school and learn to tie her shoes and ride a bike and whistle, like normal kids. A day when Scully will smile more and her biggest worry will be helping Emily through a case of strep throat or the stomach flu.

He never thought of himself as wanting anything normal. In fact, the idea of normal had always scared him a little. Like if he wasn't chasing the next big thing, he'd be missing out. He'd hear about friends from college getting married and having babies, buying houses and getting job promotions, and he'd wonder how it was enough.

If there are things lurking in this world and beyond that defy explanation, things that threaten and devour, men who profit from evil, whose entire existences are based upon deceit. If you know, as he does, that these things exist, then how do you do it? How do you leave your office at five o'clock each day to go to your kid's baseball game, then grill some burgers for dinner, walk the dog, make love to your wife and go to sleep?

In a thousand years, he never imagined that he might be attracted to such a life. And even now, he knows with plausible certainty that he can't just abandon his quest - the quest to find Samantha, to expose the lies, to find the truth. Those things are as vital to him as drawing breath.

But in the past few weeks with Scully and Emily, he's glimpsed an alternate reality. One in which a little bit of normal doesn't seem half bad. A reality where he can actually imagine a balance in his life for the first time. Where there's a reordering of priorities and the things he always thought were important to him still are, except that now they aren't front and center anymore. They're just one part of the picture. It's like looking at something through a kaleidoscope and seeing the brilliance of the spectrum for the first time. It takes your breath away.

February 12, 1998

The evening before the custody hearing, Mulder finds himself breaking bread with Brother Bill. Scully waits until he has been back in California for a day and a half to carefully inform him that they are expected for dinner at Bill and Tara's house. Since Emily will be spending the night there because the hearing is early the next morning, it would be impolite to decline the offer.

Mulder can't come up with a good enough reason to send Scully and Emily without him, and the firm look on Scully's face tells him he'd better not try. This must fall into the category of 'things you just suck up and do when you're married,' along with making sure the dirty socks always land in the hamper, not drinking milk directly from the carton, and putting the toilet seat back down. That last one will take some getting used to.

It isn't as painful as Mulder anticipated - shaking Bill's hand and exchanging forced pleasantries. Almost, but not quite. After they get past the 'you're fucking my sister' look that Bill gives him for the first half hour, it gets better. Mulder considers telling him that, in fact, he is not. But he isn't sure which would be more awkward - letting Bill think they're shagging like horny newlyweds or admitting that it's over a month past the wedding and they've yet to consummate the marriage.

Scully's sister-in-law is an exceptionally good cook. Either that, or repeated abuse by the Bureau cafeteria has completely befuddled his taste buds. The homemade chicken pot pie is the best he's ever had and he tells her so.

"I make my own crust," Tara replies, humbly. "My mother always insisted that it makes all the difference."

Mulder helps himself to a second piece. "Well, I'd say your mother was right."

"It's delicious," agrees Scully, cutting up pieces of carrot, potato, and chicken on Emily's plate. Emily wrinkles her nose and pushes the cooked celery out of the way with her fork, picking at the rest.

Tara passes a napkin covered basket around the table. "Would you like another buttermilk biscuit, Fo-um, Mulder?" The poor woman seems thoroughly confused as to how to address him.

"Thank you." He helps himself to a second biscuit.

"I want another too," states Emily, shyly.

"May I please have another," corrects Scully, gently. "And not until after you eat more chicken and vegetables, Sweetie."

Bill pauses between bites to watch his sister, just a little mesmerized.

I know, agrees Mulder. I know.

Bill winks at Emily. "We've got chocolate cake for dessert."

Scully reproaches him with her eyes, but the corners of her mouth are turning up. "You're not helping."

"Since when isn't chocolate cake helpful?"

Mulder grins. "The man has a point, Scully."

Bill glances his way and Mulder thinks that perhaps they might've just had a moment, but then Bill's smile fades and he redirects his attention back down to his food and grumbles, "Are you really going to keep calling her that now that you're married?"

"I like it," Scully replies, firmly.

Mulder visually high-fives her.

The baby starts fussing and Tara breastfeeds at the table and Mulder refuses to look anywhere but at his plate.


It's already past Emily's bedtime when they finally prepare to leave and Mulder can tell that Scully is stalling. He can't blame her. Only a week ago, Emily was lying in a hospital bed. Mulder's almost as anxious as Scully is about leaving her. But the hearing is at 9 am and they have no one to watch Emily. Tara is wonderful with her and Emily has become used to visiting.

"We'll be just fine," Tara assures, taking Emily's small overnight bag from Scully's hand. "The guest room is right across the hall from us and we'll keep both doors open."

Scully nods and chew her bottom lip. "Call us if anything comes up. Please - anytime day or night. We can be here in fifteen minutes."

"Stop worrying, Mama." Tara smiles, comfortingly.

Emily, who is curled onto the couch, fully engrossed in The Fox and the Hound, pays them no attention. She has her yellow blanket pressed to her cheek and her thumb in her mouth. Mulder's seen that look before plenty of times. In ten minutes, she'll be out like a light.

He squeezes Scully's shoulder. "Ready?"

She shakes her head. "Not really."

"Thank you," Mulder says to Tara. "We'll be back as soon as we can in the morning."

"With good news," Tara adds, her face bright.

He hopes so. Because there is no way on earth he'll be able to pry this little girl from her mother's arms if the entire world comes crashing down on them tomorrow. If there is a Man Upstairs, like Scully insists there is, then He'd better be calling the shots.


There's a biting chill to the air for February in southern California and she's shivering by the time they unlock the door to the suite. "I think the cleaning lady must've turned the heat down," he says, tipping open the door to the thermostat and adjusting the temperature.

He turns on a few lights while she stands fixated at the small kitchen table, staring at the dusty, cheap hanging chandelier. Her mind is off somewhere and he can pretty much guess where. He steps closer and gives a tiny, gentle tug to her sleeve. "Take your coat off," he says, trying to keep his tone light. "Stay a while."

She chuffs quietly, unbuttoning her jacket and draping it neatly over the back of a chair. "Thank you for going tonight. I know you didn't want to."

He shrugs. "It wasn't so bad. I survived."

"You did more than survive. I think my sister-in-law found you quite charming."

"She's very nice."

"She's a saint for putting up with my brother."

"I wasn't going to put it that way," he says, "but yeah."

"Tara gave up an art history fellowship at Boston University to marry Bill and move to California."

His brows rise. "A displaced New Englander. I knew I liked her."

"My brother married well."

He tilts his head a little and takes a couple of slow, lazy steps toward her, a small smile forming. "Not as well as I did."

She admonishes him with her eyes, but she's blushing.

They stand in silence for a few moments and he can almost feel the tension emanating off her. She's like a ball of worry, a coiled spring. He reaches for her shoulders and massages gently. "It's going to be all right." He hopes he sounds more convinced than he feels, although the rational side of him is arguing that it's the truth. The judge wouldn't have granted them provisional custody unless he had every intention of making it permanent, right? Tomorrow is just a formality.

"I'm fine," she says, her voice a weak whisper.

"C'mere." He coaxes her even closer until he can wrap both arms all the way around her. She rests her head on his chest and her body seems to shrink as he holds her, like someone let the air out of her. He shapes his body to hers, holding her tight. Her shoulders sink as she relaxes and lets go.

When she looks up at him, her expression is soft and open, unguarded. She looks tired and sad and he loves her more than he's ever loved anything in his life. If only he could protect her, give her everything she wants. He cradles her face in one hand and his thumb caresses her cheek, then thoughtlessly drifts over her lower lip. She closes her eyes and presses her mouth to his thumb.

He kisses the top of her silky crown, then her forehead, then her temple where her eyes are just a touch damp. She sighs, but keeps her eyes shut. Her lips part and he can feel the warmth of her sweet breath on his Adams apple.

He isn't thinking much at this point, just feeling her breathe with his palms to the back of her rib cage, a steady rise and fall. She tilts her face up just a touch and the softness of her cheek grazes his chin. He lowers his mouth to hers and pecks lightly at first, just tiny teasing brushes of his lips.

Then she stretches and he kisses her fully. Their mouths move nimbly together. His hands slide down to her waist and squeeze, thumbs pressing at her hip bones. Hers move to the back of his neck and the tips of her fingers sift through his hair. The kiss deepens ever so slightly and they're both breathing harder now. He makes the smallest of sounds in the back of his throat - a hum of distinct pleasure.

The change is sudden, nearly like flipping a switch. Her muscles tighten against him and her eyes open. She pulls back, still breathing heavy, and presses the back of her fingers to her mouth. She looks surprised with herself, suddenly uncomfortable.

"Scully," he rasps, in a heady, intoxicated voice. "What's the matter?"

She shakes her head, taking another step back. "Nothing, I..." she swallows, looking ready to flee.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I-I'm fine." She smooths her mussed hair, composing herself. "Tomorrow's a big day and I'm tired. I'm going to get some sleep. Good night, Mulder." And with that, she disappears into her bedroom, shutting the door, and he's left standing there wondering exactly what the hell just happened.

February 13, 1998

It's 9:03 and the judge has entered the court room. Helena Lynch warned them of Judge Henderson's punctuality and therefore, he and Scully have been waiting at the court house since 8:20, which Mulder thinks is a bit extreme, but he isn't going to say anything. Scully has been showered and dressed since 6:15, and he figures she has to do something or she'll go crazy. He practically has to pry the coffee cup from her hands when they leave the hotel. He doesn't ask how much she's had, but they're on the second pot and her eyes have taken on that familiar frantic look that he characterizes as her '3 am autopsy look.' She has lemur eyes. Coke addict eyes. He wonders if she's slept at all.

Getting a cab during morning rush hour proves to be another feat, but Mulder slips a twenty to Andre, their favorite hotel bellhop, and like magic, they're whisked away in a yellow taxi, rubbernecking through traffic.

They flash their badges at court house security and are ushered through at the head of the line, but since Mulder is wearing his weapon, the clearance process takes a few extra minutes and he gets the impatient posture from Scully. Arms crossed over her fitted blazer, toe tapping.

By the time everything actually gets started, he can tell Scully is more wired than a Christmas tree. He sits close to her, their suited elbows touching, both of them staring straight ahead. "Breathe," he whispers.

"I'm fine," she says, tightly.

"Okay."

"All rise. San Diego County court is now in session. Judge Thomas Henderson presiding."


Mulder maneuvers their rental vehicle down the picturesque, tree-lined street, passing by houses with children playing in yards, dogs barking, elderly women gardening, a college kid waxing his Mustang, a girl with a ponytail pushing a stroller.

It's middle class America. The American Dream. Picket fences and safe neighborhoods. Family barbecues and pot luck dinners. Camping trips and fireworks on the Fourth of July. Boy Scouts and Little League. It's everything everybody wants. It's what Scully wants. It's what Mulder never really understood. Up about two months ago.

The Chevy coasts slowly up the blacktopped driveway and Mulder cuts the engine. They sit for a minute, staring at the little yellow house with white shutters, rose bushes, and trimmed hedges. "Are you okay?" he asks, softly.

"Yeah."

She sits without moving.

Time passes.

"Do you want me to bring her out?"

Scully shakes her head. "No. Just give me a minute."

He does.

Finally, she opens her car door and gets out. He follows her lead.

Before they can cross the length of the driveway, the front door of Bill's house flies open and Emily comes skipping out. Tara is right behind her, trying to catch up. "Emily, wait a minute, Sweetie."

Tara looks at Scully, a nervous question in her eyes. With a shuddery breath, Scully's mouth lifts into a smile.

"Oh thank God!" Tara exclaims.

Kneeling down, Scully scoops Emily up into her arms and holds her. Emily wraps her legs around Scully's waist and rests her head on her shoulder. "Can we go home?" Emily asks.

"Yes," Scully whispers, her face buried in the silk of Emily's hair, her shoulders shaking. "Yes, we can go home."

Part 3:

February 15, 1998

SCULLY

Emily's first time on an airplane is Delta Flight 1371 from San Diego to Washington DC. They have a row all to themselves with Scully in the window seat, Mulder in the aisle, and Emily happily sandwiched between them. With both arm rests folded up, it's as if they have one long bench seat for the three of them.

There is clunking at the rear of the plane as luggage is being loaded. Emily squirms and stretches in her seat, looking every which way. Her sneakers don't even touch the floor. Scully has stored a tote bag under the seats in front of her, packed with snacks, drinks, coloring books, card games, and every trick imagineable to distract a three-year-old on a five hour flight. They'll be traveling through naptime also, which will either be a stroke of luck, or a very poor scheduling decision. If Emily can't manage to sleep, she'll be cranky and dead on her feet by 6 pm.

Scully pulls Emily's yellow blanket from the tote and hands it to her, double checking the security of her seat belt. "Just a few more minutes, Sweetie."

"Can I have pretzels?"

"We just had a big breakfast at the hotel," Scully responds, surprised. "Let's wait until we're up in the air to break out the snacks, okay?"

Emily nods and pops the thumb in, pressing the soles of her sneakers to the back of the seat in front of her. Mulder gently pries her feet down and holds her bobbing legs still for a few seconds.

The flight attendant passes by and smiles down at Emily as she tries to maneuver an umbrella stroller into a stuffed overhead compartment. "Sir, is this yours?" She tugs free the corner of Mulder's black carry on. "Would it be all right if I move it to another compartment?"

Mulder says sure and removes a folded newspaper from the bag, tucking it into the seat pocket in front of him.

"I'm hot," says Emily.

"Once we're up in the air, it won't feel so stuffy," assures Scully, helping Emily out of her jacket and shoving it into the bag.

Several rows behind them someone hacks out a cough and Scully mentally categorizes thirteen different viruses that are probably incubating on every available surface of the plane. She reaches into the tote bag to check for the hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes again. It was all she could do to keep herself from slapping an N95 mask onto Emily for the flight.

Emily places her feet on the seat in front of her again and Mulder patiently lowers them. "You can't do that, Em," he says. "It bugs people." Scully smiles to herself. How many times have they both been on the receiving end of a pint sized kicker with restless feet? And here they are. What goes around, comes around.


They've been flying for an hour. Emily has polished off the packed pretzels and has played two games of Go Fish with Mulder.

"What if I have to go potty?"

"There's one in the back of the plane," assures Scully.

Mulder smiles at Emily. "It's the perfect size for you. I don't fit very well."

Emily thinks about this. "What do you do?"

"Hold it."

After half a minute, Emily decides it's worth investigating such a place. "I have to go," she announces, which Scully would bet is not entirely true, but with a three-year-old, you take their word for it.

Scully smiles at Mulder and unbuckles her seat belt. Mulder ducks into the aisle to let them out.

Thankfully, there's no line at the bathroom and they get right in. Scully squats with her back to the door, unbuttoning Emily's pants. She should have thought to put her in leggings instead. These must be things that moms just know from experience and she has some serious catching up to do.

Some of the tricks come naturally to her, such as you can never have too much patience, wet wipes, or cherry Popsicles on hand. If there is a way to get dirty, they will find it. And a Band-Aid with a Disney Princess on it will fix *anything*.

Other things, she's learning.

"Hold onto me so you don't have to touch anything," she says to Emily. Emily leans forward on Scully's forearms and looks intent for a few seconds before the peeing starts. Not much more than a trickle, as Scully suspected. They just went at the airport before boarding.

"Is that it?" Scully asks.

Emily is too busy looking around to decide this at the moment.

"Emily, are you done?"

"How come boys go potty standing up?"

"Um..." Scully's brows elevate. "How do you know they do?"

"Mulder does. He's a boy."

"What...um...when did you...see Mulder?"

Emily sniffs, nonchalantly, and fiddles with the Kleenex dispenser. "I was sleeping."

"Well if you were sleeping, how did you see him?"

"I was supposed to be sleeping. After Horton Hears a Who."

Ah, tuck in time. Mulder's shift. "But you weren't asleep yet?"

Emily shakes her head. "I opened my eyes. The door was shut, but then it came open."

"What did you see?" Scully asks her, entirely casual.

Emily shrugs, losing interest in the conversation. "His back. But he peed and then he flushed."

"Oh. Did you see anything else?"

Emily frowns, confused. "Like what?"

Scully exhales. "Nothing."

"So why do they?"

"Well, um, boys and girls do some things differently because our bodies are made differently. Em, are you finished?"

Emily nods. Scully tears off a wad of toilet paper and hands it to her. "Like how you have boobies?"

"Oh, um. Yes, that's one difference." She's a physician. This is basic anatomy and physiology. She can do this.

"How come I don't?"

"Don't what?"

Emily wiggles off the toilet and Scully inches her pants up. "I don't have boobies."

"Because you're still a little girl. You will when you're a grown up."

Emily appears intrigued, but not disturbed by this new information. They begin to wash their hands.

Scully foot pumps the water into the sink. "Rub the soap around some more, Honey, like this. Look, we forgot to clip your fingernails. Remind me to do that after your bath."

"Do they feel funny?"

"Not really." Although underwire bras sort of suck. "You get used to them." She hands Emily a paper towel. When they get back to their seats, Mulder's reading the Sports section and munching on airline peanuts.

They squeeze past him to their seats. "So what'd you think of the tiny bathroom?" he asks Emily, his eyes still trained on the baseball scores.

She wiggles around until she's comfy in her seat again. "It was neat. We talked about how boys and girls pee different and also boobies."

Mulder lowers the paper and lifts his brows. "Really?"

Scully roots around in the bag for a bottled water, smirking. "Really."


Maggie Scully has a lasagna and a salad waiting in the refrigerator for them when they get to the apartment, along with half a dozen helium balloons and a wrapped gift for Emily. The tag reads "Welcome home, Love, Grandma Scully."

Scully presses the back of her hand to her mouth and excuses herself to the bathroom.

"Can I open it?" Emily asks, excitedly, when Scully gets back to the living room, composed and smiling.

"Of course."

Emily rips at the pink paper. It's the complete anthology of Curious George books in read-along form, with tapes to go along with them. Inside the big book, her mother has written, "To Emily, my first granddaughter."

Scully excuses herself again and Mulder hands her an entire box of tissues as she walks by.

While they wait for dinner to heat up, they explore Emily's new bedroom and unpack her things. Emily removes every toy from the wooden toy chest, one by one, and squeals with delight.

"You did all this," Scully says to Mulder, sitting on the new puffy comforter and playing with the floppy ears on a stuffed dog. "It's beautiful."

Mulder watches Emily as she plays with a Fisher Price piano, grinning from ear to ear. "I'm glad she likes it."

Climbing up onto the big bed, Emily flops down next to Scully, her little head on her arm, looking entirely peaceful and exhausted. It's been a big day for everyone. "Hey baby," Scully says with a quiet sigh, kissing her temple. "We're home."


Emily's asleep within minutes of her head hitting the pillow. Her new bed is spacious with a mesh railing on both sides to prevent falls. Scully lingers in the doorway for several moments, the doorknob in her hand. A night light that projects stars onto the ceiling glows, and an air purifier hums softly.

Mulder touches Scully's shoulder. "She seems okay," he whispers.

Scully draws a deep breath and releases it. "She does."

He wraps an arm around her waist. "The kitchen is cleaned up. I don't know where everything goes. I left some stuff on the counter."

"I think I'm going to take a bath and go to bed. I'm exhausted."

He's quiet for a minute, lingering in the hallway. "Scully, um, I'm okay sleeping on the couch tonight. I mean, I didn't know...we haven't really discussed all the arrangements and I don't want you to feel uncomfortable or think that-that...um..."

Shit. She's been so preoccupied and it's been such a crazy day that she hasn't given it much thought. Sleeping. Not sleeping. Other things. "Oh. Uh..." She hesitates, awkwardly.

"I've been sleeping here on the couch for the last couple of weeks," he adds. "I thought we should talk first maybe."

She slips out from his arm and walks across the hallway into her bedroom. Her suitcase is lying open on one side of the queen- sized bed. She takes several folded items out and begins tucking them back into the dresser drawers, noticing how some of her things have been rearranged to accommodate his. It doesn't really bother her, but it's going to take some getting used to. All of this will.

"You can stay in here," she says without making eye contact, pacing back and forth between the suitcase and the closet while he stands like a tree. "I mean, you can't sleep on the couch forever."

He passes her a pair of her shoes. "I can sleep there as long as you want me to."

She really, really doesn't want to have this discussion right now. There's a knot of tension forming right between her eyes and she just wants to take two Ibuprofen and soak in the tub until she looks like a prune and then sleep for two days. Or seven hours maybe. That would be nice too.

"Mulder, I'm going to take a bath. I'm just really tired. You can sleep wherever you want." She pushes past him and shuts the door of the bathroom.

Steaming hot water fills the tub. She pours a generous glob of bubble bath and sits on the porcelain edge wrapped in a towel, her hair twisted and clipped. It wouldn't take much to make her cry tonight and she doesn't want to do it in front of him. She's operating on little sleep and all the stress of the past week has been building to the point where she just feels edgy. It's not the night to have an in-depth discussion about the parameters of their marriage.

She keeps coming back to that night and the phone call. Another woman answered Mulder's cell phone. At 2 am. In a hotel room - although, Mulder hadn't told her that part. She found the ticket stub to the hotel garage in the pocket of his coat a week after it happened. It was time stamped for 9:20 p.m. So what had he been doing in Marita Covarrubias' hotel room for five hours? Not to mention the fact that he sounded annoyed when he finally came to the phone. Anxious to end the call, like she had interrupted something.

And why is he so intent on trusting Marita? Unless he really knows her. Knows her well.

When Scully married Mulder, she had no clear picture of what he expected of their marriage. For all she knows, it's a legal arrangement and nothing more. But she still can't imagine that he might be involved with someone else. Their vows had included promises of fidelity, but what does that mean to him? It's something they hadn't even come to discussing before signing the marriage license. The decision had been made so fast that there wasn't time. Consequently, she has no idea what it means to him.

Before the night of the phone call, she had really felt like she and Mulder were moving slowly toward an intimate relationship. A real marriage. He touched her more and in ways that he hadn't before. When they were together, there was definitely a spark there, some kind of sexual energy that was undeniable. She's all but certain that he's attracted to her, physically. He has also told her that he loves her, but again, what does that mean?

Just because he's interested in sleeping with her and loves her, doesn't necessarily mean that he's *in love* with her and wants a real marriage. For all she knows, he sees this as some kind of friends with benefits arrangement. They live together and raise Emily as partners. Sometimes sleep together. And sometimes see other people, if either of them wants to.

Can she live with that?

She shuts off the water and drops her towel, sinking slowly down into the heat until her shoulders are resting on the back of the tub. Her eyes drift shut and she allows her mind to wander back to their kiss the night before the custody hearing. The softness of his mouth, the feel of his body pressed against hers. A deep sigh escapes her and the palm of her hand slides over the slickness of her tummy, coming to rest just below the slope of her breast.

She's frustrated. She doesn't want to admit it to herself, but she is. Being around him all the time like this is driving her just a little crazy. More than it used to. If that damned phone call incident hadn't happened a few weeks ago, they would have slept together by now, she's certain of it. But now, she just can't let herself do it, not without knowing how he feels.

It's either all or nothing.

She can live with having a platonic marriage with him, if that's what this is. It's not what she wants, but if she has to, she can do it. For Emily. Likewise, she knows that she can be in a true marriage with him. She can love him like a wife - make love to him. But she can't settle for something in between. She can't be his platonic friend and his part-time lover at the same time. Either it's a real marriage or it's not. They're going to have to talk about it eventually, especially now that it looks like they'll be sharing a bedroom.

She pulls her hand from the water and holds it up in front of her eyes, looking at the ring on her finger. It's incredibly beautiful - exactly what she might've chosen for herself if given the opportunity. She just wishes to God she knew what it meant. With another belabored sigh, she sinks lower into the water and closes her eyes again. Maybe if she stays in there long enough, he'll be asleep when she comes to bed.

A half hour later, the water has cooled and she can't stall any longer. She wraps herself in a thick robe and steals from the bathroom quietly, making her way to the bedroom. He isn't there. The bed is undisturbed. Several steps down the shadowy hallway, she hears the quiet sounds of the television. His socked feet are just visible, propped on the pillow at the end of the couch.

Feeling both relief and disappointment, she creeps silently back to her bedroom and goes to sleep.

February 17, 1998

The three of them have a couple of days together before Mulder returns to work. They spend them focusing on Emily's adjustment to her new home. Her real new home, not a hotel room.

Unfortunately, the heartfelt love Emily feels for her new bedroom seems to be confined to the daylight hours. While she's able to fall asleep in her own bed, she tends to wake in the night and wander across the hall to climb in bed with Scully. Logic (and all the parenting books she's accumulated) tells Scully that she needs to immediately escort Emily back to her own room. However, basic exhaustion usually wins out and Scully lets her stay - stuffed animals, yellow blankie and all.

Mulder continues sleeping on the couch without complaint.

Scully half wonders if she isn't subconsciously allowing Emily to sleep with her because it's a convenient way of putting off a discussion about intimacy with Mulder.

The morning Mulder returns to work, Scully's mom visits for breakfast. She arrives a bit earlier than expected and Dana, not quite having gotten used to managing a morning routine with a three-year-old, is still in her pajamas, slicing fruit.

"Come on in, Mom," she calls out to the familiar knock at the door. "We're in the kitchen."

"I'm sorry I'm early. There was no line at the bakery and traffic was unusually light. Good morning, Emily, give your grandmother a hug."

Emily smiles shyly, but extends her arms.

Maggie runs a tender hand through Emily's tangled bed hair. "I brought you apple muffins. Do you like those?"

Emily nods and eyes the wrapped bakery box with delight, losing interest in her banana and buttered toast.

"Mom, you didn't have to bring anything. I told you I had plenty for breakfast."

Maggie gives her daughter a kiss on the cheek. "I know. I wanted to. What can I do to help?"

Dana dries her hands on a dishtowel. "Not much really. I've got a quiche in the oven and I'm finished with the fruit. I suppose if you'd like to get Emily dressed, I wouldn't mind taking a shower."

Thirty minutes later, she's clean and dressed in jeans and a sweater and they're eating breakfast. Emily is wearing her favorite leggings and her hair has been brushed.

"I think we need to plan a shopping day soon, just us girls," says Maggie. "What do you think, Emily?"

Emily nods through cheeks full of muffin.

"She doesn't have many warm clothes," agrees Dana. "We took her out and bought a few things the other day. She didn't even have a winter coat."

"There's no snow," reports Emily, disappointedly.

"Emily has never seen snow before," Dana explains. "She was hoping we might have some."

Maggie smiles. "Well, it's only February. Still plenty of winter to go. We'll keep our fingers crossed."

Emily finishes her breakfast and scampers off to her bedroom to play with some of her new toys. Dana gets her mother a second cup of coffee.

"She seems to be settling in nicely," Maggie observes.

"I think so. I worry about when I go back to work. She's so used to me being around all the time."

"It'll be an adjustment, but she'll be fine. My offer still stands, Dana. I'd be happy to take her. I'll even come and watch her here, if it would be easier for you."

"Thank you." Dana gives her mother a grateful smile. "And I do think we'll take you up on a couple of days, but I can't, in good conscience, ask for more than that, Mom. A three-year-old is a lot of work."

"I'm aware of that, Honey," her mother says, patiently. "I have a little experience under my belt."

"I know. I just don't want it to be too much for you."

"You're making me feel old, Dana."

She touches her mother's hand, lightly. "No, of course not. I don't want to take advantage, that's all. And I think it would be nice for Emily to spend some time with her peers as well. We're looking into preschool programs to balance the time."

"Well, I can't argue with that."

The silence stretches a while as they sip hot coffee. Dana picks at the remnants of an apple muffin, conscious of the fact that it's been months now since she's been running or included any form of exercise in her daily routine. Her mother watches her, thoughtfully. "Are you eating enough?" This has been an ongoing discussion since her cancer.

"I'm eating, Mom. Too much lately, if you must know. I need to start watching myself."

"Nonsense." Her mother waives a hand dismissively. "Men enjoy a few curves."

"Mom..."

"I'm sorry. I'm just pointing out that you've always taken good care of yourself. I don't think you have anything to worry about."

"Well, thank you. I think."

Her mother fingers the handle on her coffee mug, thoughtfully. "Honey, it's probably not my place to say anything, but..."

Oh no. Now what?

"I couldn't help noticing that Emily's things are in your bed and there's a folded blanket on the couch. I assume Fox has been sleeping there."

Good God, her own mother is worse than the social worker, for heaven's sake. Dana starts to feel warmth flood her cheeks, a lovely trait that she can thank her father's side of the family for. She gets up from the table and takes her time running water in the sink, rinsing the few dirty dishes.

"Dana, I don't mean to pry. I realize it isn't my business. I just can't help but be concerned, that's all."

"About what, Mom?" She continues facing away from her mother. "Emily is still adjusting and it just takes time."

"I understand that." Her mother's voice is quiet, her tone calm. "Are you sure it's Emily who is adjusting?"

She sighs and palms the faucet, cutting the stream of water off, but keeps her back turned.

"I know you said that this was a rather unconventional marriage. But Dana, it's been almost two months. He's your husband."

"Mom, you don't know...everything...it's complicated."

"You keep saying that, so apparently it must be."

Dana turns around and walks back to the table, sitting down again. She can't quite believe she's having this conversation with her mother, of all people. "This isn't the 1950s. You make it sound like it's my duty or something."

"No, of course not," her mother says, shaking her head slowly. "I don't mean it like that and certainly, I would hope you don't feel that way. But you are married now, and God intended for there to be intimacy in marriage-"

"Oh God, Mom please," she closes her eyes and rests her face in her hands. "Please, please don't. I'm familiar with what the Church says about sex and marriage. But it isn't as if I've saved myself."

"I did not need to know that."

"Mom, I'm almost thirty-four. I think you already knew."

With a conciliatory nod of the head, her mother lifts her coffee mug. Dana thinks to hell with it and stuffs a huge chunk of her waning apple muffin into her mouth and chews.

"I'll say one last thing on the matter and then I promise..." her mother makes a zipping gesture of the mouth with her forefinger and thumb. "I know you've got a lot on your mind right now and you're probably not thinking about...that." Her mother pauses. "But I can guarantee you, he is."

Thanks to her mother, Scully spends the remainder of the day preoccupied with whether or not Mulder is thinking about having sex with her.

There are little things. The way he brushes past her while carrying plates to the kitchen table, his chest grazing her back. How he leans close when he talks to her, his eyes passing back and forth over her face, lingering on her mouth. The way his hand rests at her hip for a second as they do a quick little two-step in the kitchen, moving out of each other's way. How he casually compliments her on the pair of old worn jeans she's wearing that fit her like a glove. How his eyes spend a great deal of time practically glued to her ass.

He is slowly driving her crazy and it's really starting to piss her off.

February 18, 1998

Scully sits cross-legged on the floor with a cup of hot tea and all of Emily's medical documents spread out before her. It's afternoon naptime, which means that she has approximately two hours of uninterrupted peace and quiet, and she's hoping to catch Cooper on his cell phone. She keeps her fingers crossed as it rings.

"Cooper Reed."

She smiles at the familiar sound of his voice - that lazy drawl she's come to adore. How long has it been? Six months or more since they've talked, probably a year and a half since she's seen him.

"Hello, Coop."

It takes him a couple of seconds. "Well, I'll be. If it isn't my favorite red-headed pathologist."

"How many do you know?" she jokes.

"Honey, I only have eyes for you."

"Yeah, right. Tell me another one."

He chuckles. "So...how are you? What's going on, kiddo?"

Wow. Where to start? "I'm...okay, good actually. How are you? God, how long has it been?"

"Weekend before Thanksgiving, 1996," he answers, rather promptly.

"You remember the exact dates?"

"It was a memorable weekend." There's a playful lilt to his voice.

"Yes, it was," she agrees.

"Why we don't get together more often, though, is what we need to be asking ourselves. We should definitely do lunch soon."

"Mmm hmmm," she smiles. "We should." She clears her throat. "So I have a little news. I um, got married last month."

There's a long pause before he speaks again. "So when you said we should do lunch, you really meant lunch then."

She huffs out a small laugh. "Yes. I did."

"Wow, Dana. That is definitely news. Married! Uhh, congratulations? That's great. It is great, right?"

"Yes, thank you. Listen, I don't want you to think I didn't invite you. There wasn't a wedding - we just did something simple."

"And your mother let you get away with that?"

"Well, I didn't exactly tell her until it was over."

"You eloped?"

She hems and haws. "Not exactly. Unless the San Diego County court house qualifies as eloping."

"Why do I have the feeling there's a really good story here?"

You can't even imagine, she thinks.

"So who's the lucky guy?"

She hesitates, her eyes closing when she answers. "I married Mulder."

Cooper laughs in surprise. "As in... Mulder... your partner? *The* Fox Mulder."

God, let's hope there isn't more than one. "Yes. That would be him."

"And I say again - wow! Then I guess congratulations are most definitely in order."

"Cooper..."

He laughs again. "What? Just because you insisted there was nothing going on between you two and now I know you were lying like a rug?"

"There was nothing going on," she argues, uselessly.

"Sweetheart. The last time I saw you, we were together for what - thirty-six hours? And his name came up about seventy-five times. You're going to have to bluff a helluva lot better than that to put one over on old Coop."

"I guess you know me too well." She's smiling now and lying back on the carpet, her feet propped up on the edge of the couch. They've always been able to do this - pick up right where they left off, even after not talking for half a year or more.

"You bet your sweet little ass I do. Oh shit - I can't say that to you anymore, can I? You're a married woman."

"I know. Strange thought, isn't it?"

He sighs. "I'm really going to miss having...lunch... with you."

She laughs, blushing even though no one can see her.

"So when do I get to meet the new Mr. Dana Scully anyway?"

She sits up, her eyes sweeping over the documents scattered on the floor. "Possibly very soon. I need a favor."

"You call and break my heart and now you need a favor." His Louisiana drawl always gets stronger when he's teasing her. "Anything for you," he amends, serious now. "What do you need, Sweetheart?"

"I'd like to send you a blood sample and I need a complete DNA work-up."

"Easy."

"But Coop, listen. What you're going to find - it's going to be...strange. Extraordinary, and that's putting it mildly. I need you to do this completely confidentially - run the sample yourself, tabulate the results yourself. No one else involved. Can you do that?"

"Yeeeahh," he replies, cautiously. "Does this have something to do with one of those bizarro cases you and your main squeeze like to work on? You're not sending me ET's blood sample, are you?"

She scrunches her face, considering the irony. "Something like that. I'm sorry I can't tell you more; you're going to have to trust me."

"Of course," he says, like this is a given. "Whatever you need, you know that."

"Thank you." She breathes a sigh of relief, feeling like things might finally be moving in the right direction. Cooper Reed is one of the best genetic researchers on the east coast - hell, in the United States. Emily's chances couldn't be in better hands.

"So you haven't told me what's going on with you," she says, lightening the mood.

"Oh you know me, breaking hearts across the globe."

"I read about the Seager grant. Congratulations."

"Yes, well. It's possible I may have bitten off more than I can chew. I've been working seventy hour weeks and barely surviving on just my good looks and caffeine."

"That should take you pretty far," she teases, congenially.

"Thank you. Hey, I have an idea - come work for me. It can be like old times. We'll stay up all night writing proposals and eating Taco Bell. Oh, and the pay sucks too."

"It sounds lovely."

"I miss you. I'm glad you're happy. Honestly, no one deserves it more."

"I miss you too."

He promises to call when he receives the blood sample. With any luck, they should have some results within a week.

February 19, 1998

Scully is mentally sorting the contents of her refrigerator, trying to remember if there is anything suitable for dinner later, while riding the elevator up to her floor. Damn, she probably should have stopped by a supermarket. All this meal planning is hard to get used to. Her pre-Emily routine had been to toss together a salad, sometimes with chicken or tuna and call it a night.

She just finished dropping Emily off at her mother's house for part of Saturday, at Maggie's insistence. Her mother feels that if she is going to be helping to care for her granddaughter soon, it makes sense to become better acquainted now. With that goal in mind, she asked to take Emily for two afternoons a week beginning now. It's been so long since Scully has had any free time on her hands that she can't decide what to do first.

There's a back log of articles she's been meaning to read, although a nap also sounds enticing. The apartment could stand to be vacuumed and of course, there's always laundry to be done. She could really use a manicure too. God, what did she used to do with all her free time? Oh right. She worked.

Her footsteps slow as she makes her way down the hallway, one hand rummaging in her purse for the key. There is something hanging on the door knob to the apartment. It's a men's blue shirt, neatly wrapped in plastic. There's a ticket stapled to the plastic that reads Midtown Cleaners. She frowns, picking up the hanger and inspecting the tag on the shirt. It's Mulder's size, but she doesn't recall seeing the shirt before and this isn't the cleaner he uses. It's all the way across town. Perhaps they got the wrong address.

Once inside the apartment, she dials the number.

"Midtown Cleaners," a woman's voice answers.

"Yes, hello, I received a delivery, but I think there's been some mistake. I don't believe this is one of my husband's shirts."

"What is the number on the ticket, Ma'am?"

"60901."

"Hold on a minute while I look it up, please."

A minute later the woman returns to the line. "Is this Ms. Covarrubias?"

"Excuse me?"

"The order was paid for by an M. Covarrubias. We were told to deliver to 3170 W. 53rd, Apt. 35 in Georgetown."

Scully's breath hitches and she feels her stomach twist.

"Ma'am? Are you still there? Do you want us to come and get the shirt?"

"No," she says, quietly. "That won't be necessary. Thank you for your time."

Hanging up, she drapes the still-wrapped shirt over the back of the living room chair and walks into the bedroom. She slips her shoes off, sits carefully at the edge of the bed, and has a good cry.


She must've fall asleep. Somewhere between wondering what they were like in bed together and feeling like a fool. When she wakes up, he's standing in the doorway to the bedroom, looking perplexed, holding the stupid, goddamned shirt. He's wearing his running shoes, even though it's wet and drizzly outside and she's asked him nicely before to take them off so there aren't dirty footprints all over the carpet.

For the past few weeks, she's felt mostly confused. During the last hour, she's vacillated among sad, hurt, and humiliated. But now, looking at him standing there, holding his shirt, she feels angry. Not just angry, but furious. She hates that he's made her feel this way, and she's even more upset with herself for letting him.

"Hey Scully, Em's with your mom?"

She sits up, swinging her legs to the floor. Her eyes are dry now, thank God, although she can feel the puffiness without looking in the mirror. Her hands smooth her hair, then swipe at her cheeks self-consciously, trying to erase the smeared eyeliner.

He's staring at her with concern. Her blouse is all wrinkled and shifted and her hair is a mess. She hasn't answered his question. She doesn't intend to.

"What's the matter?"

"Nothing," she replies, tightly, her voice not much above a whisper.

He's standing in front of her now and she feels a bit cornered. She wants to go around him and lock herself in the bathroom until he goes elsewhere. Or until next week sometime, whichever comes first.

"You look upset. Is Em all right?"

"She's fine."

"Where did my shirt come from?"

She refuses his eyes and tries to step past him, but he puts his hand on her wrist. "Scully-"

"Mulder, take your hand off me please." Her voice is shaking.

He recoils, as if she's slapped him. "What in the world-"

This time she does look at him. She can feel her eyes start to flood once again. "And next time, maybe you could ask your mistress, or mistresses, to be a little more discreet," she nearly spits.

Completely stunned, he just stands there, frozen, looking at her like she's gone mad. "Scully, WHAT the hell are you talking about? You're going to have to give me a clue because I have no idea what's going on. Or what you think is going on."

"I know about it, Mulder."

"You know about WHAT?"

"When I got home from dropping Emily off at my mom's, your shirt was hanging on the door to the apartment. Apparently, your girlfriend was thoughtful enough to have it cleaned and delivered to you."

He's still looking at her like he thinks she's taken a ride on the crazy train. "My...what? Scully, I have no idea... " He pauses for a long moment, a deep frown etched on his face. "You mean... Marita? She sent the shirt?" A few seconds later, a look of realization passes over his face. "She sent the shirt," he repeats, quieter.

With her weight leaning on one hip and her arms wrapped around herself like armor, she can't bring herself to look at him. Damn him for admitting it. He could have at least cared enough to try and deny it, to spare her feelings.

"Scully, whatever you're thinking right now-"

"I'm not a fool, Mulder. Although I feel like one." Her voice is rising in spite of her promise to herself that she'd stay in control. If anyone can make her lose control, it's certainly Mulder. "You spent the night with her in a hotel room. She answered your phone and you sure as hell weren't interested in talking to me at the time - you made that very clear."

"Jesus Christ, Scully! Is this the reason for the arctic freeze these past few weeks? Is this why you practically jump out of your skin every time I touch you?"

"I don't know what I expected, frankly," she admits, her voice shaking as she pushes past him. He follows her out of the room and down the hall. "When you asked me to marry you, it's not like we discussed what this would be like."

She's slamming things around in the kitchen sink now, silverware clattering.

"Scully, this is ridiculous! You just assume you know what's going on without even-will you please turn around and look at me while I'm talking?"

She spins around in a huff and leans against the counter, eyeing him venomously. "You know what really hurts? Not the cheating, although I'll admit, I wasn't expecting it. The fact that you're so quick to trust her! With everything, Mulder! With Emily's life! You always said trust no one! But I guess that rule doesn't apply to pretty blondes you happen to be sleeping with, does it?"

"Sleeping with...Scully, you have no idea what you're-"

"It's fine, Mulder. You know what? Really, it's fine. It's not like this is a real marriage anyway. Just because we have a stupid signed piece of paper and a couple of goddamned rings." She works the diamond off her finger and tosses it across the kitchen counter with a bit more force than she had intended. It lands propped against the wall tile in the corner with a chink. "So consider yourself free to see whomever you want. Sleep with the entire secretarial pool if you want to - knock yourself out. Now that I finally understand what it is you and I are doing here, then that's just fine."

When she finally shuts up, he's just standing there staring at her with biting eyes, his jaw tight. "Are you fucking finished?" His tone is sharp, the profanity like a slap.

She swallows and gives a half nod.

"Good." She's surprised to notice that he's still holding the shirt in one hand. He flings it past her, irately - metal hanger and all - and she has to step back at the last second. It lands with a swish on the back of a kitchen chair and then slides off onto the hardwoods. "You are correct, I slept with Marita Covarrubias."

His words sting and she sucks in a quick breath.

"Well over a year ago. And not since."

Her eyes meet his and she frowns, feeling her stomach tumble just a little.

"I met her in her hotel room three weeks ago and we spent hours dissecting Calderon's medical records on Emily. Marita ordered a bunch of food. We ate a lot, we drank some wine, and we took notes. We did not sleep together. When you called, I had Frohike beeping in on the call with information I needed. That's why I was in a rush to get off the line, not because you were interrupting anything between Marita and me. If you had bothered to confront me about it, instead of jumping to conclusions, I would have told you that. You can ask Frohike if you don't believe me. I'm sure he knows exactly what time he called me that night."

He's sufficiently worked up now, waiving his hands as he talks. "While I was at the hotel," he continues, "I spilled something on my shirt, so I left it soaking. Marita said she'd get it back to me. I didn't think she was serious."

"Scully, this is crazy. You didn't even ask me what the hell happened! You convicted me before I even knew I was on trial and you gave me no chance to set the record straight. You want to know the truth? Do you?" He takes a step closer, his voice still elevated to just below a shout. She's nearly holding her breath. "You think I'm screwing around on you? Is that it? I'll tell you exactly how many women I happen to be fucking at the moment - NONE! NOT ONE! Not even my own wife."

She's backed up as far as she can go, the edge of the countertop pressing into her lower back. He advances on her several more steps until they're inches apart. She can feel the heat and energy, anger and frustration radiating off him.

"Mulder, I-"

"How can you think I'd cheat on you, Scully? You think this isn't a real marriage? You think I don't want you?" There's something wild in his eyes that she's never seen before. It makes her breath catch and she feels something close to fear coursing through her veins. His hand snakes around the back of her neck, his strong fingers pressing into her hair. "Dammit, Scully."

He's breathing hard now, his body flat against hers. A sudden flood of arousal lights her entire body on fire. His mouth comes down hard on hers, their teeth scraping. She lets out a small whimper and feels his hand tighten in her hair. He's rough. His tongue forces her lips apart before plunging inside her mouth. Oh God, oh God, oh God. Her heart is going to pound right out of her chest. Her hands scramble behind her for purchase and she hears things clatter off the counter and into the stainless steel sink.

She's never been kissed like this before in her life. Like he's going to consume her. Her legs feel like they're going to fold right out from under her. He must feel it too because he takes the hand that doesn't currently have a death grip in her hair and slides it down roughly over her ass, squeezing hard, before hitching her leg up around his hip. Her thigh muscle stretches and screams, but all she can do is kiss him harder.

He's thick and rigid, pressing into her stomach and he grinds himself harshly against her, moaning. His fingers bite into her skin as he grips her leg, but all she can think about is more. She wants more. It feels like he's trying to fuck her right through her clothing. She's so aroused, so starved for oxygen. Lightheaded enough to pass right out if he doesn't stop. Oh God, please don't let him stop.

He releases her in one quick movement and takes a step back. She nearly crumples to the floor but manages to stay vertical, swaying a little. He's panting hard, still looking frantic. "So you tell me," he growls, trying to catch his breath, "you tell me if that feels like a fake marriage to you."

All she can do is stand there in total shock, a hand pressed to her swollen mouth. He kicks one of the kitchen chairs, tipping it to the floor, before grabbing his car keys off the table. The apartment door slams shut.


Scully and Emily are unpacking grocery bags when she hears the key in the lock. Emily tugs on the hem of her shirt, holding a can of soup.

"In that cupboard over there." Scully points to the one next to the stove. "Can you reach, Sweetie?"

Emily forgets about the soup and grins up at Mulder when he approaches her. "Hey, did you have fun at Grandma Maggie's?"

"Yes. We made brownies."

"Did you save me one?" Mulder teases, tickling Emily's side.

Emily responds with a belly laugh, dropping the can of chicken noodle. Mulder retrieves it and places it into the cupboard where it belongs.

Scully is arranging fresh apples and oranges in a large fluted bowl. He walks a little closer and stands next to the table, quietly watching her.

"Hi," he says, tentatively.

"Hi."

Their eyes meet and hold for several seconds. She notices he's taken off his running shoes and left them on the mat by the front door.

"Can we talk for a minute?" she asks, softly.

He looks a little surprised, like he had no idea what her reaction would be upon seeing him. "Yeah, of course."

"Emily," she says, opening a new box of graham crackers, "How about some quiet time? Would you like to watch a movie while you have your snack?"

Pleased with this suggestion, Emily follows Scully into the living room to choose from the rapidly growing pile of VHS tapes on the bookshelf.

By the time Mulder follows Scully into the bedroom, Emily is curled into the corner of the couch and the opening credits to Beauty and the Beast are rolling.

She leaves the door ajar and stands by the neatly-made bed, her hands clasped in front of her. She thinks about sitting, but then he might sit too and they'd be having this conversation on her bed and that might feel strange. If he didn't sit, then he'd be standing there looking down at her sitting and that would feel weird too. So she stands, facing him. It's been four hours since he knocked her off her feet with that kiss and she half wonders if she dreamt the whole crazy thing.

"Scully, I'm sorry."

Okay, definitely not a dream.

His words surprise her. "What are you apologizing for, Mulder? I was the one who made a fool of myself, throwing around accusations."

His hair and collar are wet from the rain that hasn't let up all day. He looks cold.

"It wasn't your fault," he says, contritely. "I know it looked bad. I should have realized that."

"I should have trusted you."

"Yes, you should have," he admits, and it causes her to finally meet his eyes. "But I would have been upset too, had I been in your shoes."

He comes closer. "You didn't know. We never really talked about...things."

She offers a short, conciliatory nod.

"We should have," he continues. "I guess I just assumed you knew how I felt and I was the one wondering what you were thinking."

Oh Mulder. How could you not know?

"You mean...about whether or not I wanted..." She sighs. "If we would..." She can feel the blush spreading, damn her fair Irish complexion.

The corners of his mouth lift a little. "You know, we could just be grown-ups and say it."

She responds with a timid self-conscious smile of her own. "Now why would we do that?"

He approaches her slowly and she feels herself softening, anticipating his touch, craving it. The palm of his hand finds her warm, soft cheek and cups it. "I'm sorry for what I did earlier." The look in his eyes is stricken, penitent.

Is he serious? The only thing she's sorry about is that he didn't throw her down on the countertop and have his way with her. Had that not been clear by her tongue plundering his mouth? "It's okay," she whispers, instead.

"I was rough. God, I didn't hurt you, did I?"

She shakes her head and closes her eyes, loving the feel of his hand on her face, the familiar smell of his skin. "I've treated you unfairly these past few weeks."

He shrugs and smiles, pulling her into a hug. "I'll get over it. You're not divorcing me, are you?"

Her left hand lifts in front of his face so he can see that she's wearing the diamond ring again.

"Good," he says in relief. "Because I think Skinner was serious about coming after me if I messed this up."

She huffs out a breath against his shirt. "You didn't mess up, Mulder. If anyone did, it was me."

He's still smiling when he pulls back to see her face. "Oh, I don't know, you're pretty cute when you're jealous."

Great. Now her cheeks are definitely on fire.

"After I got over being afraid for my life, I kinda liked it," he pushes, playfully.

"It's embarrassing," she admits, pressing her forehead to his chest so she doesn't have to look into his eyes.

"Mmm mmm, no." He kisses the crown of her head.

She stands there, letting him hold her. His hand is rubbing her back and his mouth is pressed to her hair.

"Hey Scully, you know what we've just done?"

"Hmm?"

"We just survived our first fight."

"We've fought plenty of times before, Mulder."

"No, I mean as a married couple."

She sighs, enjoying the sound of the last two words. "Yes, I guess we did."

"You know what that means?" His voice is scratchy, a little ragged. "You know what people do after they fight?"

Her smile can't be helped this time. "I haven't the foggiest."

"They make up."

"Do they?"

His hand continues circling her back. "Well yeah, that's the best part."

She tilts her face up, propping her chin on his chest. "Then tell me this: why are you still talking?"

That does it. He dips his mouth to hers and kisses her, not as hungrily before, but there's definitely heat behind it. His grip on her tightens and the kiss progresses nicely, becoming more primal as it goes. When they separate finally, he plants two more quick ones to her lips, like his own personal encore. They have definitely not done this enough, she decides. They are undeserving of the word, 'Newlyweds.'

"So are we all right?" he asks, a bit shyly.

She draws a deep breath. "Not quite. But I think we could be."

He looks down at her, puzzled.

"It's almost a real marriage," she says, softly. "But there's still one thing missing."

They make eye contact and she holds it long enough to recognize when he starts to read her mind. His Adams apple bobs as he swallows and his gaze travels to her mouth. "If I haven't told you lately, Scully, you always have the best ideas."

She purses her lips, suppressing a smile. "I'd say there's no better time than the present, but I'm afraid there's a three-year-old in the next room who's probably expecting dinner soon."

The smoky look in his eyes tells her that his mind is on something else. She couldn't guess where. "Oh, yeah," he replies, preoccupied. "We have a kid, Scully."

"We do." She rocks a little in his arms, not wanting to leave them ever.

"Let's go hang out with her."

"Okay." Her fingers caress his ear lobe and he sucks in a breath.

"Then after dinner we'll figure out things to do to make her very tired," he whispers with a shudder. "Does that make us bad parents?"

"No, it makes us resourceful. She skipped her nap today because she was at my mom's."

"I love your mom, Scully."

She takes him by the hand. "Come on, let's go watch Beauty and the Beast."


It turns out, promising Mulder sex makes his brain descend several notches down the evolutionary ladder. She will do well to remember that if she wants him to pay attention to anything other than her ass, she should hold off hinting that he's going to get laid that night.

The next four hours are a slow, torturous burn - for both of them, although she hides it better than he does. She watches him with the salt shaker at the dinner table, brows arched. "Do you really want to put that much salt on your chicken, Mulder?"

He looks up at her, eyes fogged. "What?"

"The salt."

"Oh," he says, absently, eyeing his hand like it's an unattached appendage. "Sorry, I wasn't paying attention."

She can think of more enjoyable ways to give him a heart attack.

"What's for dessert?" Emily pipes in, cheerfully.

Mulder dials back in and snickers into his rice pilaf. Scully rolls her eyes at him. "I think Grandma sent home some of the brownies you made." Pleased, Emily hums to herself and concentrates on getting exactly one pea on each tine of her fork.

After dinner, Scully scrapes plates and runs the disposal. Mulder clears the table and puts things away. She prattles on about an article about spring construction on the Beltway, and how they're going to have to use another exit when she becomes aware of him lingering behind her. She pauses mid-sentence, suddenly aware that at this angle, he can see right down the front of her sweater. She arches her back mischievously, giving him an eyeful, and leans into his ear. "An hour and a half, Mulder," she whispers. "I think you can make it." He turns four shades of red and goes searching for the aluminum foil to wrap the leftover chicken.


Emily falls asleep without protest, thoroughly exhausted from a long day with no nap. Last night was the first night she'd stayed in her bed all night. Scully has every set of fingers and toes crossed for a repeat performance. She runs the air purifier, knowing the drone of white noise helps her sleep, while it also absorbs stray noises. It intrigues her to think she has absolutely no idea whether Mulder has quiet or loud orgasms and that, in a few hours, she will know the answer to that very important question.

Although she had maintained her cool exterior all evening, the truth is she's been thinking of little else than having him in her bed. Finally. They haven't shared a bed since before Emily came to stay, over six weeks ago and even then, it was platonically.

It's only 8:15, but Mulder is already securing the apartment locks and extinguishing lights when she meets him in the living room. The TV is black and silent and she realizes this will probably be their sign. How she'll know in the future that he wants to make love. All couples have them. Ethan used to come up behind her and rub her shoulders.

"Do you want a glass of wine? Or a beer?" he asks, and she wonders if her twitchiness is that obvious.

"Um, not really. Unless you do."

"I'm okay," he says, a bit quickly.

They stand there for a few long seconds, not looking at each other. Feeling a yawn coming on, she turns her head and stifles it, a little horrified. He notices. "Tired?"

She shakes her head. "No, I'm fine. I mean, maybe a little."

He continues standing inert before it dawns on her that he might be waiting for an invitation into her bedroom. Although his clothing has been there for weeks, he's been spending his nights on the couch. It would be unlike him to assume he should help himself to her bed. He still considers it her space. She wants that to change tonight.

She takes baby steps closer and locks eyes with him, then stretches to place a soft, sweet kiss on his mouth. He's already brushed his teeth; she can taste and smell mint. "Come on," she whispers, invitingly, lacing her fingers with his and leading him to the bedroom.

He watches her pluck the seafoam accent pillows off the bed and stack them on a chair. She turns the bed down, exposing clean, smooth sheets the color of eggshells. The idea of simply undressing in front of him as he watches her from the other side of the bed still feels strange to her. So with some discretion, she retrieves the negligee she bought in California from her top drawer and tucks the scrap of material under her arm. It still has the tag attached and it scrapes her tender skin. "I just need a minute," she says, excusing herself to the bathroom, knowing she must sound like a bashful bride and feeling a bit like one too.

She makes quick time in the bathroom, performing her bedtime routine like usual, except this time her heart feels like it's going to march right out from her chest. She's trying not to overthink what's about to happen. The silky garment slips over her head and arms, falling into place. It's shorter than she remembers, falling barely below the hip. Just far enough to cover her panties - clean, black bikini lace that she'd also grabbed stealthily from her drawer because she wasn't going to bed with him for the first time in grey cotton. The silk is cool and thin against her belly, making her feel nearly naked, which of course, she is. She wonders for a split second whether to even bother putting anything on. It's going to come off anyway, she assumes. Not to mention that her breasts are about seventy-five percent visible through the lacy cups of the bodice. Her rosy, pebbled nipples nudge eagerly at the sheer fabric.

The room is much darker when she emerges and it takes a few seconds for her eyes to adjust. She pauses just outside the bathroom doorway. A fat jar candle burns from the top of the tall dresser, bathing the walls in a warm citron glow. The only matches are in the junk drawer in the kitchen by the phone. It amuses her that Mulder went hunting for them in order to light a candle for her. So he has a romantic side after all. She's long suspected as much. The room smells faintly of sandalwood.

He's in the bed, on his back, covered to the waist, looking adorably expectant. She makes very quick eye contact and he smiles somewhat shyly. His chest is bare and she can't tell if he's wearing anything below the sheet. She doesn't look at him when she crosses to the bed, but his eyes are most definitely on her. When she slides in, he turns on his side toward her, propping on an elbow. She risks a tempting glance down and sees his hairy, masculine legs stretching out from rumpled, cotton boxers. He has to bend his knees a little so he doesn't hang off the bottom of the bed, an advantage of hers she's never really taken the time to appreciate.

They lie there for a little while on their sides, eyes traveling faces, occasionally a bit lower. A sweetly anticipative smile plays on his face. If he's nervous, he's hiding it well. "What are you thinking?" he asks, softly.

She breathes and focuses her attention on his lower lip. "I'm thinking...this is long overdue."

"That's so funny because I was thinking the exact same thing."

Her brows lift just a little, amused by his attempt at humor as they lie nearly unclothed and inches apart. "Oh really?"

"Yeah." His hand climbs over her pillow to find hers, the pads of his fingertips tickling her knuckles. "Well that, and I was also thinking that your breasts are pretty incredible."

Okay, this time she laughs. A soft one, curling her fingers into the clamshell of his warm hand. "Thank you."

"No. Thank you." His smile widens a little. "I'm at a loss for an appropriate adjective; most of the words I'm thinking of are expletives."

She glances away, hoping the lack of illumination in the room is hiding her complexion. He isn't being shy now about checking her out. The sheet ends at her waist, leaving much for him to appreciate and he takes his time like a kid in a sweet shop. She shivers when he touches her shoulder, slipping the tip of his forefinger under the tiny spaghetti strap and caressing her skin. "This is really nice." Her nipples pop at the tickle of his touch, hardening even more, and she watches him swallow, his eyes nowhere near her face.

She sends him telepathic messages to kiss her, but he's much too busy being a visually-stimulated male at the moment. The rise and fall of his chest is mesmerizing and she decides to take his lead, letting her eyes wander, unchecked. He's remarkable - skin taut and rippled over his abdomen, the lighter tone of his chest a contrast to the coffee color of his sun-kissed arms.

Without thinking, her hand wanders to his bicep and squeezes and that's all it takes. He slides across the sheets to kiss her, his head on her pillow with hers. Their bodies are still separated by space, but there's heat passing between them and the hairs on his chest tickle her shoulder. She sighs into his mouth and her lips part. His tongue flickers like firelight. She's surprised at his boldness, having wondered on occasion just how confident he'd be in bed. She had assumed he'd be a good lover. With a body like that and the tenacity to match, the odds were in his favor.

They do this for a while, like kissing is a goal in itself, something they've waited a lifetime to do and honestly, it feels like they have. He's entirely engaged in the act, exploring her mouth thoroughly like he's going to get graded on it. He's a very creative kisser, she finds, unsurprised. Just when she thinks he's going to slip his tongue deeper, he retreats and spends his time pecking at the swollen corners of her mouth until she can't stand it and nips back at him, like a snapping turtle with an attitude. He chuckles at her and she knows he's enjoying being in control. That is going to have to change.

She closes the last few inches between their bodies and slips one brave arm over his waist, tucking her hand into the elastic at the back of his shorts. His lips slacken on hers for a second and he opens his eyes. Her mouth quirks a little and her eyes dance at him. She becomes suddenly very aware of his erection. It jumps once against her bare thigh through the thin cotton of his shorts. "You might kill me before this is over," he mutters, sucking at her neck.

"I sure hope not." She scrapes her fingernails lightly against the skin of his lower back and he groans out a rendition of her name.

His hand creeps to her breast and he squeezes gently before swiping a rough thumb over her tight nipple. The sensation sends a spark of pleasure directly to her core and she lifts her hips. Her breasts have always been incredibly sensitive, almost embarrassingly so at times. Noticing her reaction, he pulls back to look at her again, his fingers circling her areola through the lace. His smile tells her that he's entirely pleased with himself, like he's just discovered an essential clue to how the universe works. The universe being her body.

Smile stretching into a self-satisfied grin, he returns to the task, fully applying himself now. His hands play while his mouth drifts below her earlobe, across her shoulder blade, and to the valley of her cleavage, leaving a scorched wet trail. He traces the trim of her negligee with the tip of his tongue and she expels a quick, hot breath, sinking a hand into his hair. Her back arches and her head presses into the pillow. A breast man. Of course. Well, there's one question answered.

With remarkable dexterity and swiftness, he manages to work both of them out of the lace until they're spilling over the top of the material like firm, round globes, pushed together. She must look comical, like some kind of naughty pin-up girl. They both glance down at her at the same time and he chuckles. "It's a good look on you." She can't think of a decent comeback; the wittier part of her brain has taken a short vacation, so she nudges his head back down.

Catching the hint, his eyes darken as he nuzzles first one, then the other. He kisses them reverently. "God, Scully, they're fabulous. I had no idea."

He spends the next ten minutes working her into a frenzy with his tongue and mouth until she's forgotten how to keep her hips still and wondering if he's ever going to move things along. With a sense of efficiency, he seems to enjoy pressing them together so his tongue has less square mileage to cover between nipples.

His cock is unmistakable now, rubbing against her hip. There's a small dark circle of wetness on the front of his boxers where he's started to soak through the cotton, and the idea that she's aroused him this much while barely touching him has her feeling drunk.

He bunches the fabric of her negligee and pushes it up over her hips. "Can this come off?" he pants.

She sits up just enough to shimmy the garment up and over her head, letting it whisper to the floor. Fifty bucks spent on a scrap of silk that makes his eyes do this when he looks at her? Best money she's ever spent. He looks like a heroin addict after a fix. Before she's even lying down again, his mouth is closed over her right breast, one hot hand cupping her left.

"Tit for tat, Mulder," she challenges, tugging at his boxers.

He snuffles a laugh before she even realizes what she's said. She laughs with him, thinking this really isn't as strange as she feared it might be. Somehow, they manage to communicate with the same balance of comfort and humor unclothed as they do clothed. It's a relief, really. She finds herself relaxing a bit more.

"Well as long as we're titting." His mouth travels low until his teeth are nipping at the satin trim on the waistband of her panties. Her stomach muscles tighten and jump when the tip of his tongue darts into her belly button. She's absolutely soaked and suddenly self-conscious of it. His overachieving mouth has found its way back down to her pubic bone and he's pressing his nose into the fabric of her underwear and oh God, smelling her. He literally inhales deeply and then emits a very quiet, yet audible growl.

Oh my God. He just growled at the smell of her.

She tugs at his shoulders and he climbs her body, collapsing next to her onto his back like a gasping fish. "This is awesome."

She giggles.

"I mean, we're not even... yet...and it's awesome."

"You're easy to please."

He rolls to face her, propping himself on his elbow. His other hand traces the contours of her jaw delicately. "Well, yeah," he says, smiling down at her with a tenderness in his eyes that's disarming. "It's you." His thumb sweeps her mouth. "Just being around you is amazing."

Her bottom lip trembles beneath his touch and she tries to smile back at him, but the emotion is getting the best of her and she pulls him down into a hug instead.

She rocks in his arms, reveling in the weight of him, feeling adored. It's the best feeling in the world and she wants it to last forever. They hold each other for several minutes, their arms woven together, his face buried in her neck.

Unhurriedly, he begins to kiss her again as they embrace. Kisses along her hairline, on her forehead, the tip of her nose, finally her mouth. His chest is pressed tightly against hers, covering her, skin to skin. It's such a beautifully complete feeling.

Heat begins to build again and she welcomes it, becoming acutely aware of the tingling between her legs. She plucks at the top of his shorts. "So what do I have to do to get these off?"

His chest ripples against hers with a repressed laugh. "What *will* you do?"

In a moment of bravery, she snakes a hand between them and closes her palm over his cock, rubbing up and down through cotton. He gasps softly and presses his hardness into her hand. "You're very convincing when you want to be, you know that?" His voice is low and airy, like a strangled breath. He teases the edge of her panties with his fingers and it's her turn to close her eyes and let her mouth fall open.

"Same time?" he challenges.

She nods and he rolls off her, onto his back again. They lock eyes for a moment and a silent countdown passes between them before she lifts her bottom a fraction, skimming her panties down her hips at the same time he's tugs his boxers off. The entire process is adorably shy and fresh, almost innocent in its execution. Only Mulder could make her feel like she's seventeen again, giggling through some kind of sexual initiation.

The bedcovers are rumpled at their ankles now and she has a quick impulse to reach for them and cover herself, but resists. She lies back and lets him look, taking shallow breaths through her mouth. He takes his time, his eyes like a burning flame on her skin. Bending one knee, she raises her leg at a right angle to the bed, allowing him an all-access visual pass. It makes her feel bold, confident, and beautiful. Propping an arm beneath her head so she can see him better, they drink each other in at the same time.

It's perhaps the most erotically charged moment she's ever experienced. Complete and total exposure, an exchange of trust. She's been naked in front of a man before, plenty of times. She's never had a man thoroughly study her body, which is exactly what Mulder is doing. There's an intoxicated concentration in his eyes, like he's committing every nuance of her to memory, which knowing him, is probably the truth.

He's not even touching her and yet, she can nearly feel the physical caress of his eyes roaming her body, raising gooseflesh in its wake. The drugged look on his face tells her all she needs to know about what he's thinking. Although far from supermodel material, she knows she has what most men would consider a decent figure. Curvy and feminine, yet toned and firm in all the right places. It won't last forever, but for now, she's been exceedingly lucky given the minimal amount of exercise she manages to fit into her schedule. Since the cancer, the returning weight has crept back on and settled into some fortuitous places. Mulder is visually consuming every inch of her like she's manna from heaven.

His eyes linger unapologetically at the trimmed triangle cradled in her parted thighs. He touches the drape of her russet hair against the pillow and quirks his mouth at her. She quirks hers right back at him. No, not an exact match, but pretty damn close. Why the fascination for most men, she'll never know.

He's turned toward her slightly, balancing his weight on his hip and one bent elbow. He has a swimmer's body - lean, well- defined, abdomen, strong arms and chest. Her eyes drift low and stay there. It's her first real chance to see him this way - at full attention, engorged, rigid - and she can't be rushed. The length of his penis lays thickly against his thigh, full and plump, the head a deep fleshy pink. She lifts her head off the pillow a little higher, checking him out for all she's worth in the dim candlelight. Her analytical, physician's eye admires the clean, even circumcision job.

He's been blessed, to say the least. Not that it would make a real difference to her, but she can't help but appreciate what she's got to work with. Oral might be a challenge, she thinks idly, unconsciously relaxing her throat muscles. She's never been one to compare, but if she had to make an educated guess, she'd say he's pretty far to one end of the spectrum, based on her moderate experience both as a doctor and a woman. She does a couple kegels and bites down on her bottom lip.

"Everything check out okay?" he asks, with a nervous half smile.

He's self-conscious. She finds the thought endearing to no end. Good Lord, he's got nothing to worry about.

She hides a smile behind her eyes, clearing her throat. "As your doctor, I'd have to say you appear to be a very healthy, fully functional adult male." She lowers both her eyes and her voice at him. "But I might have to do some exploratory research before rendering a firm diagnosis."

His eyes linger on her mouth, dreamily, as he leans his face closer. "Explore away, Doc."

She doesn't need a second invitation. They find themselves kissing again and she allows her hand to drift between his legs. Her fingers tease a line from his balls up the shaft to the tip before she wraps around him and takes up a loose rhythm. The only acknowledgement from him is a sharp intake of air, followed by his tongue flicking against hers more insistently.

He slides a warm, long finger into her slickness and she shudders and exhales into his mouth. A second finger teases her opening, nowhere near her clit and she's already trembling. She's so wet that his hand is making a squishing sound as he fingers her. Her hand moves faster against his thigh and she thinks that they really, really need to fuck and hurry up about it or this is as far as they're going to get tonight. He's apparently in the same place because he makes a strangled, throaty sound and grabs her wrist, tightly, halting her strokes. "Okay, exploration over."

Launching himself up onto his knees, he tugs her firmly by the hips until she's flat on her back, staring up at him. She yelps and then releases a convulsive little laugh as he settles himself between her parted thighs. Her arousal is overpowering and she lifts her pelvis and nudges at his swinging cock, anxiously. His locked arms hold the weight off her and his eyes watch her closely as he enters in a series of short strokes, accomplishing an inch or two more with each pump until he buried to the root. He stops, letting his head fall back against his shoulders and releasing a deep, cathartic breath. "Scully..." her name is barely there, a hushed sigh, like the sound the wind makes. "Oh God, Scully."

She pulls his head down into a kiss and they start to move slowly, languidly, his hips shifting and rocking against hers. Their mouths take up a counter rhythm, her tongue sliding under his, stroking. It feels amazing, all of it. The weight of him, pressing her into the mattress, his sweet breath on her cheek, the tickle of his leg hair. She moans, encouraging him with her hips and he moves a little faster, pulling out further with each stroke and returning harder and deeper. Every pleasure neuron in her body is humming.

Her hand cups his face. He turns his cheek, his stubble scratchy against her sensitive skin, and kisses her palm sweetly. He moves up into her with fast, steady strokes that force the breath from her and coax her eyes shut. She wonders if she touches her breasts if it will distract him too much. She'd prefer his hands, but they're currently occupied with supporting his weight and his mouth is nowhere near her nipple. Her fingers creep down to stroke the undersides of her breasts, then pinch lightly at her taut nipples. Pupils darkening, he slows like a faulty engine. "Have mercy, Scully."

Releasing herself, her hands move into his hair, nails scoring gently at his scalp. She's jumpy beneath him, the soles of her feet pressing into the mattress, eager to return to their previous rhythm. He holds her hip steady with his hand. "Easy," he pants, "I gotta slow down." He buries his face in her neck and taking a couple of long, deep breaths. "God, you smell so good."

She caresses his scapula, feeling him wrestle with control, reveling in the fullness of him inside her. His mouth presses damply to her shoulder, sucking, and she floats under him. Seconds later, he starts back up again, a rocking that builds gradually into deep, solid thrusts that make her spine tingle and her toes grip the sheet.

If it's going to be this, if she's going to be making to love to the same man for the rest of her life, she can't even imagine anything better. What's behind his eyes when he looks down at her takes her breath away. No one's ever looked at her like this before, not even Kyle Stanton who asked her out repeatedly for six months her sophomore year in college before she finally went to the movies with him, and then made him wait another three until she fucked him. Jesus, not even Ethan whom she lived with for two years.

Could Mulder really, possibly be *that* in love with her? She smiles up at him, hiccupping on emotion. Well yeah, because she feels the same way about him.

"What is it?" he asks breathlessly, slowing.

"Nothing," she chokes out, half laughing, her eyes wet. "Don't stop."

He doesn't.

She presses her fingers into the rolling and shifting muscles of his upper back and begins moving purposely with him, meeting his thrusts, losing herself. He picks up the pace and she keeps up, their bodies separating now each time he withdraws from her. Breath is leaving her in tiny pants. Her upper teeth scrape over her lower lip and a tight little furrow takes up residence between her brows. She glances down between them and his eyes follow. It strikes her as such a carnal thing, him pushing into her body like this, withdrawing pink and slick and wet.

Her release builds and he watches her intently, fascinated. She turns her head to the side, overwhelmed, but he forces it back with his mouth on hers. Their lips meet repeatedly in imprecise, frantic kisses. She's usually pretty private about her orgasms, but he seems intent on riding this one out with her. Knowing him, it's quite possible that watching her do this fulfills one of his major fantasies and if that's the case, how can she not?

She tilts her hips, pressing her bottom down into the mattress, improving the angle. The swift slide of his penis on her overstimulated clitoris makes her cry out and bite down on his lower lip. "Sorry, Mulder." He shakes his head and drives into her deeper, slowing the pace and finishing each thrust with a final, hard push at the end.

Her mouth pressed to his throat is the only thing keeping her even remotely quiet at this point and yet she's still whimpering and mewling like a kitten, sucking his Adams apple. "Oh yes, yes, yes...oh please..." That's not really her, is it? Oh God. Mulder slips one hand beneath her back and holds her tight to his chest as she shudders and rocks, shattering like crystal, pulsing all around him. He watches every last bit of it in utter fascination, his eyes huge with lust. She can taste the salt of his perspiration and tell by the tight desperation on his face that he's cresting at that very moment, following her. With a heavy groan, he pushes into her hard and holds himself still, his muscles taut, face euphoric as he comes.

Seconds later, he collapses like a house of cards, folding onto his bent elbows. He shifts his weight just to the side of her and they lie tightly together, unspeaking and unmoving for a while, chests heaving in tandem. He presses his nose to her, lashes feathering her cheek. "Fuck," he whispers, gasping for air, "oh fuck." She can't help but laugh breathlessly. It's a word he typically reserves for when he's overwhelmed, which makes the utterance of it all the more satisfying right now. A dozen scattered heartbeats later, he begins to slip softly out of her. His mouth finds its way to hers and they kiss, lingeringly, the humid warmth of respiration and sweat passing between them. Pulling back to look into her eyes, he caresses her face lovingly before planting another kiss to her mouth and then rolling off.

She shivers and he pulls the sheet over both of them, gathering her close, one arm under her shoulder, the other over her waist. He kisses the top of her breast. "I want to do it again."

Her brows lift. "Tonight?"

"Maybe. How would you feel about that?" He's still addressing her breast.

"Were you thinking we'd get any sleep?"

"Sleep is overrated, Scully. This is much better. You'll see, I'll show you - don't need sleep."

She ruffles his punk rock hair. "I might need a little."

His mouth is hiking back and forth between her shoulder and her ear now. She tilts her head to accommodate him. "You have no idea how much I've thought about this," he admits, quietly, "especially since we got married."

She looks at him. "Before we got married too?"

He smiles, like the answer is obvious. "Well, yeah."

Resting her head on the crumpled pillow, she considers this while he continues this post-coital routine of his that she's finding quite interesting and very intimate. He's humming blissfully, back down at her breast now. It seems to be ground zero for him. Leave it to Mulder to be the only male on earth who doesn't pass out cold after his orgasm.

"When we'd be riding in the car together-" she muses, thoughtfully.

"Thought about it," he mumbles. "Rest stops, back roads, fold- down seats."

Jesus.

"The basement?"

"Easy. Desk, chair, filing cabinet. Elevator especially."

Her eyebrows lift. "All those motel rooms-"

He snuffles out a laugh against her. "That's a given. Remember the time I heard you scream about that spider on your bed and I came in without knocking?"

"I did not scream."

"That was most definitely a scream, Scully. A girly one too."

"Well, it was a big spider."

"Anyway, I came in to save you from the big, scary spider and you were jumping all around looking for a shoe."

"Why is it you can never find a damn shoe when there's a spider?"

"I don't know. But the important thing is what you were wearing."

She frowns. "What was I wearing?"

"You were wearing this little white, v-neck tee shirt - not a long tee shirt, just a regular one - and a pair of pink panties."

She tries unsuccessfully to remember. "Are you sure? I don't even know if I own pink panties."

"Scully." He pauses for emphasis. "I cannot adequately express how sure I am. White tee shirt, pink panties. Little pink panties. Very, very little. A scrap."

"Was it the Hard Rock Miami shirt?" Because shit, that one is pretty small on her. She was with Ellen on spring break, drunk when she bought it and thought it said small instead of extra small.

"I don't know. I didn't read it. You were jumping around looking for your shoe. With no bra on. And the panties. Jumping. No bra."

She pats his arm sympathetically. "Well that had to have been interesting for you."

"Painfully so."

"Did you kill the spider for me?"

"I...don't think so. You did it."

"A lot of good you are in a crisis."

"Oh I was having a crisis alright. But mine had nothing to do with the spider. Scully, I could barely walk out of that room. So when you ask if I've thought about us this way, the answer is yes. I have."

She smiles and coaxes him onto his back, rolling on top of him. She props her chin on the downy, sparse hairs of his chest and slips her knee between his legs. He frisks her sides with his fingertips and she sighs, basking in his touch, thinking how easily she could fall asleep this way. "I think we did all right for a first time, don't you?"

He coughs and then laughs. "All right? You think that was just all right? Jeez Scully, you're a tough customer."

"Figure of speech, Mulder."

"I hope so. Or I'm doing something wrong."

"Trust me, you did everything right." She rocks against him gently, listening to the drumming of his heart for a long time. His hands dance over her shoulder blades, down her back and up again, along her rib cage and the curvature of her spine. Kneading her shoulders, skimming the sides of her breasts, playing with her hair, sometimes lifting her hands to kiss them. In ten minutes he touches her more than he has in five years and she loves it.

"Are you asleep?" he whispers.

"Mmmm mmm," she says, drowsily. "Just relaxing."

"I'm hungry."

She smiles, eyes closed, still blissed out. "Sex makes you hungry?"

"Apparently," he replies, with some wonder.

Stretching, she rolls off the bed and pads to the bathroom for her robe while he gropes the floor for his shorts.

In the kitchen, she pours glasses of milk for them and passes him a fork. They sit across the table from each other, sharing leftovers off the same plate. He's all rumply and sexy, watching her eat with a smitten look on his face the entire time. "You're very pretty," he tells her as she's loading the rinsed plate into the dishwasher. She shakes her head at him and smiles, leading him back to bed.

February 20, 1998

Sunday morning there is no alarm to wake her, but there is a pair of big blue curious eyes looking at her when she opens her own. "Hi," says Em, as she pushes a mop of tangled bed hair from her eyes. The clock on the nightstand says 7:55.

"How long have you been up, Sweetie?" Scully goes to sit up before realizing she is naked beneath the covers.

Emily shrugs, her eyes now on Mulder, who is also naked, but thankfully only visible from the chest up. This is the first time Emily has seen the two of them in bed together. The placid look on her face indicates that it's pretty much a nonevent.

"Are you hungry?" whispers Scully. "Would you like some breakfast?"

Emily nods.

Scully's robe is draped over the chair by the tall dresser, right where she left it, after last night's kitchen raid. If she's going to sleep naked, she's going to have to keep it a little closer to the bed from now on. "Sweetie, why don't you go out to the kitchen and I'll be there in a few minutes, okay?"

Emily shuffles off happily.

Mulder doesn't even budge when she slips from the cradle of his arms and into her bathrobe. He's lying on her side of the bed, sharing her pillow, pretty much right where they finished round two last night. She uses the bathroom as quietly as possible, not wanting to wake him from what is probably the most sleep he's gotten all week. There's dried semen on the inside of her thigh and she takes a warm, wet washcloth to it before examining the rest of her body for evidence of their lovemaking. A few red splotches mark the tops of both breasts, no doubt from Mulder's mouth, and she has a rather obvious hickey right above one shoulder blade. This might have to be discussed. His oral fixation and her sensitive skin aren't a good match, but there are certainly places on her body where he can use his mouth that won't leave a mark. Dana Scully, you naughty, naughty girl, she thinks, smiling at herself in the mirror.


The scrambled eggs are still hot when he wanders into the kitchen in his sweatpants and tee shirt on inside-out. "Something smells good."

"Bacon!" Emily bounces on the chair.

Scully pops two slices of rye into the toaster. "And eggs. We're out of orange juice though."

Mulder claims a moss-colored mug and pours from the coffee pot. He comes up behind Scully at the table while she's spooning eggs onto Emily's plate and lifts her hair to plant a soft kiss on the nape of her neck. "Good morning," he says, huskily.

She looks up at him, surprised at his greeting. His hair is doing something even weirder than usual, but he looks decidedly relaxed and chipper, especially for before 9 am. Morning After Mulder is an intriguing creature, she decides. "Would you like some breakfast?"

He lingers close to her, a hand at her waist. "I'd love some. How are you this morning?"

She smiles, trying with some difficulty to pay attention to what she's doing. "I'm just fine. How are you?" Well isn't this an amusing little exchange.

"I'm great. Emily and I have plans today, don't we Em?"

"Yes!" Emily chimes, munching crispy bacon.

Scully looks from one to the other and back again. "Plans? What kind of plans? I'm not invited?"

Grabbing a plate from the cupboard, Mulder scrapes a pile of fluffy yellow eggs onto his plate. "Nope."

"It's a secret," says Emily, her smile nearly leaping off her apple cheeks.

Oh right. She remembers the date now. Her birthday is in three days. They've been so busy getting settled back home that she had forgotten until her mother mentioned it yesterday, offering to come and watch Emily so they can go out to dinner. What scheme can these two possibly be cooking up? If Emily's gift- giving style is as eclectic as Mulder's, and let's face it - she's three - then this should be a very interesting birthday.

A Sunday to herself. She's surprised to find the thought quite appealing.


To the delight of her mother, Scully attends mass. Afterward, her attempt to make a swift exit is sabotaged by about a dozen of her mother's friends who insist on personally congratulating her on her recent nuptuals. Amazingly, no one brings up the fact that she wasn't married in the church, but there's some discreet whispering and more than one or two glances at Scully's mid- section.

Over brunch, Dana's mom regards her with interest. "How is everything?"

Dana pauses between bites of orange-cranberry scone. "Fine. Why do you ask?"

"No reason. You just seem...different."

Oh Good Lord. Is she wearing some kind of a sign or something? A scarlet letter? Her mother has always been able to do this - read her like a book. It's unnerving. The first time she drank too much in high school, her mother knew. Dana got the lecture the next day about being careful and making responsible decisions and how a young lady might allow a boy to take liberties with her when she's under the influence of alcohol. Dana had accused Missy of snitching about her riding up to the Lookout in Marcus's car with him, but Missy had sworn up and down she hadn't said a word and Dana believed her. She had far more damaging information about her sister that would have gotten Missy grounded for a year and she knew it.

She purposely avoids her mother's eyes. "Everything is just fine."

The two women sip coffee in silence for several minutes before Scully realizes that her blouse has gapped slightly, leaving her collarbone exposed. Dana surreptitiously adjusts the material, but not before her mother's eyes have honed in on it like a beacon. A gradual look of understanding passes over her mother's face, followed by a quirking of the mouth as Maggie becomes overly focused once again on her food.

"You know, I was thinking," her mom begins, "that it might be nice for me to take Emily for an overnight sometime soon, maybe even a weekend."

"Mom, I don't know if she's quite ready for that."

"Well, I just thought, you know, that you and Fox never really had any kind of a honeymoon. Perhaps you'd like some time to yourselves."

"Thank you. Um, I appreciate the offer. Maybe in a few months."

"Okay," her mother says, with a satisfied smile. "I'm glad to hear things are going so well."

It's after seven when she hears the key in the lock. She puts her book down. Emily scampers in, looking bright for having missed her nap the second day in a row. "Hi there," Scully greets her, smiling, as Emily leans into her arms for a hug, still wearing her coat and sneakers. "How'd everything go?"

"Great," says Mulder.

"We can't tell you because it's a secret!" Emily blurts, excitedly.

Mulder makes direct eye contact with Emily and communicates something to her with wide, careful eyes. "That's right. We talked about what a secret is, didn't we Em?"

Emily nods vigorously. "There are good secrets and bad secrets and bad secrets you should tell, but good secrets you shouldn't and Mulder left your present in the car because you're a snoop."

Scully's mouth opens indignantly and she looks at Mulder. "I am not a snoop!"

"Christmas 96, Scully."

She searches her memory. "You didn't hide that very well, Mulder."

"It was in the bottom drawer of my desk, under...some personal media material, which you happened to know I kept there. So unless that was what you went in there to get - which I would find interesting on a completely different level - then you were snooping."

Scully crosses her arms over her chest with a pouty mouth and Mulder kisses the top of her head. "We brought you leftover pizza from Santoro's - on the house. I told Mama Santoro we got married. She pinched my cheeks and said a bunch of things in Italian and gave us a free pizza."


Steam spills from the bathroom as Mulder opens the door and strolls out wearing a towel, scrubbing his wet rug of hair with another. Scully is sprawled on the top of the bed propped against pillows, cordless phone pressed to her ear.

"How's your mom, by the way? I forgot to ask you last time we spoke," she says into the receiver while her eyes following Mulder around the room.

"She's okay," replies Cooper. "Double mastectomy last year, followed by six weeks of radiation and chemo."

Scully closes her eyes, the familiarity just too raw. Cooper has no idea about her cancer. He would kill her if he knew that she never said anything. "I'm sorry, Coop. I wish I'd known."

"Rose and the kids moved into the house with her."

"What happened to What's-His-Name?"

"You mean my good for nothing, pond scum brother-in-law, Lyle? He's been gone for a couple of years. Took off when she was pregnant with Mikey."

"Rose had another? How many does she have now?"

Cooper's laugh is muffled and sleepy. "Three. Alexis is six and a half, Tess is four, and Mikey will be two in June."

Mulder's towel slips to the floor and he stands nude with his back to her, rooting through the dresser for underwear. "Wowwwww," she says, losing track of the conversation.

"Yeah, I know. They're great kids, though. They just have a dickhead for a father."

"Did you go home for Christmas?"

"Nah," he says in his lazy drawl. "I was in the middle of a research project. I couldn't get away this year."

"You need a life," she chuckles.

"Yeah, you know where I can get one of those, Miss I-Work- Seventy-Hours-a-Week-and-I-Married-My-Co-worker?"

"Touche."

"How's that going, anyway? Still floating in newlywed bliss?"

The bed jostles as Mulder plops down next to her in nothing but his boxer shorts and glasses, chewing a sunflower seed. He cracks open a dog-eared paperback."

"I think that's safe to say, yeah."

"Well, I'll let you get back to that husband of yours. I just wanted to call and let you know that the blood sample arrived safely. I should have some preliminary results for you in a couple of days."

"Thank you. I really appreciate this, Coop."

"Of course. Anything for you, Sweetheart. Wait - does he call you that?"

Scully smiles. "No."

"Good. I was afraid we might have a conflict of interest on our hands."

"Good night, Coop."

"I'll call ya in a couple of days."

She returns the phone to the charger and picks up her journal article, along with a yellow highlighter.

Mulder's turns a page. "That's the Temple guy? The superhero geneticist?"

"Cooper Reed. Yes."

"Cooper...Coop-err...Coop..." Mulder's voice has a musical tone to it. He keeps his eyes on his book. "Kind of an unusual name, don't you think?"

She bites her bottom lip, refusing a smile. "I guess, Fox." She highlights something on the page and folds the corner down.

"How, uh, how is it you know...Coop?"

"We became good friends our first year in med school. Studied together, did a few research projects, kept each other sane, that sort of thing."

"And you've stayed in touch?"

"Yes. I haven't seen him in over a year, but yeah, we still email once in a while, phone calls here and there."

"That's nice," he says. "So what - he's married now, or..."

"Coop? God, no."

"Oh. Gay then?"

She laughs and looks up at him with a 'you've got to be joking' expression. "Uh, no. He's definitely not gay."

"Ah." He nods, knowingly. "So then you slept with him."

Her mouth drops. "Mulder!"

"What?"

"Why in the world would you assume that? Whatever happened to the notion that men and women can be friends?"

He scoffs. "Welcome to the oldest discussion in history. Just because a chick flick says it's so doesn't make it so, Scully. Or shall I call you Sally?"

"I happen to like that movie." Her frown deepens. "And they did manage to be friends, so you're full of crap."

"Did you fall asleep before the end of the movie? Let me spoil it for you - they fucked."

Scully crosses her arms over her purple silk pajama top, her mouth still open. "You're being ridiculous. What about us - we were just friends for a long time."

Mulder clears his throat and tucks a bookmark into his book, then grins widely at her.

Right.

"I'm just saying that in most cases, there is some degree of sexual tension, Scully. If they're not doing it, then they've either done it, or at least one of them wants to do it."

She rolls her eyes at him. "I'm sorry, but that's ridiculous."

"It's the way men and women are wired. It's biology, Scully, you must understand that."

"You're wrong." She shakes her head, emphatically. "I have plenty of purely platonic male friends."

"Name one."

"Okay, fine." She pauses for a few seconds, then smiles, smugly. "Frohike." She waives her hand. "Melvin Frohike is my friend. So there."

Mulder snorts. "You're leading with Frohike?" He laughs again. "Melvin has had the hots for you since the day he met you. He's one of my oldest and dearest friends, but trust me, Frohike would push me in front of a train to get into your bed."

She levels a look at him.

"Okay, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration," he admits. "But my point stands."

"Fine. Walter Skinner then."

"Doesn't count. He's your boss."

"I can't be friends with my boss?"

"Mmm," he scrunches his nose, considering. "Not really, no. It's too complicated. Besides, that doesn't work either because Skinner thinks you're cute too. You're in a tough position, to be honest." He shakes his head sympathetically. "You're a very attractive woman, so most guys are going to want to sleep with you."

A blush spreads over her face, so she thrusts the journal article in front of her again with a huff, pretending to ignore him. "This is just silly - this entire conversation."

"So what then? You're saying you and this Cooper guy never did the wild thing?"

She refuses to indulge his curious gaze. "Frankly, I don't see how that's any of your business."

"It's not?"

The magazine is lowered and she regards him with an indignant frown. "Of course not. Who I've been with in the past has no bearing on our marriage. I don't ask you about all the women you've slept with."

"Aha. So did have sex with him!"

"Fine!" she exclaims. "Alright already! I slept with him. Are you happy?"

Mulder stops. "You did?" A surprised snort escapes him. "I was just messing with you. I didn't really think you had."

Scully's mouth drops and she hits his bare arm with the folded journal. "You're such a jerk." She swats his leg for good measure. "So all that stuff about men and women not being friends, you don't really believe that?"

He chuckles, avoiding her swings. "Of course not."

"Honestly, Mulder!" She's still wrestling with him, but getting distracted by his exposed skin. "Why do I put up with you?"

He laughs again. "That is a very good question and one I've been asking myself for years. You're really cute when you're mad, though." He pulls her into a kiss and they both lose track of the argument.

When she's finally forced to seek air again, she's on her back and he's unbuttoning her pajama top. She had actually been planning to get to sleep early tonight, but now she can't for the life of her recall why because this seems like a much better idea. He's on the last button when he slows and she feels his fingertips sweep over the faint bruises on her collarbone and breasts. "Did I do this?"

Her eyes answer him. They're soft, not displeased.

"I'm sorry Scully." He kisses each love mark tenderly, his lips brushing her skin with a tickle that makes her shiver. "You see what you do to me?" He smiles against the pucker of her nipple. "I can't control myself."

"Well you might have to try," she concedes, her fingers raking through his hair. "My mother noticed today."

He lifts his head and arches a brow at her.

"Don't worry," she chuffs. "I think she was thrilled."

"Well in that case, let's not disappoint her." He has her top off and is shimmying down her bottoms before she can protest, which she wasn't planning to do anyway.

"I have something else in mind that shouldn't leave any marks at all," he growls. The open heat of his mouth sears her stomach, her pubic bone. She's bare and squirming under his mouth, her breath quickening with the realization of where he's headed.

"Mulder..." She sighs his name like a plea and feels herself get wet in anticipation.

His hands slip under her bottom and his thumbs spread her labia. He goes down on her like a starved man, and her hips buck, leaving the mattress. "OH!" Her head slams back against the pillow and she lets her legs fall open wider, reaching between her knees to knot her fingers in his hair. He laves her in quick, firm strokes until she's a writhing, panting, mess, then slips two fingers inside her and curls them forward against her G spot. She lets go and melts in his mouth, shaking all over.

He licks his fingers clean and climbs up her body, entering her easily. Bracing her hand against his chest, she watches in fascination as he works himself to a swift orgasm. With a blissful sigh, she curls herself into his side, naked and exhausted, and drifts off to sleep.

February 23, 1998

Scully glances up at the serene sky as she leans into the back of the car and unbuckles the car seat. Temperatures have been running about ten degrees warmer than normal for this time of year and the sun is beating down on her back, making her a bit uncomfortable in her long wool coat. All in all, not a bad day for a birthday.

"Do you think we'll ever have any snow?" asks Emily, climbing out of the car.

Scully holds Emily's hand while wrestling her purse and two packages in the other hand. "This winter? I don't know, Sweetie. I hope so. I know you're disappointed."

"Is it like in Rudolph? And you can't see anything?"

Scully tries to remember the vintage television special she probably hasn't seen since she was a child. "You mean the storm?"

Emily nods and shuffles up the steps to the apartment, waiting patiently while Scully locates her keys. "Um, not usually, not in Washington." She can't find her keys in her purse and remembers she dropped them into her coat pocket instead. "We've gotten some bad storms before, but they don't happen that often. We're not far enough north."

Emily's face falls a bit and Scully smiles. "You should talk to Mulder about snowstorms. You know, he grew up where there's a lot more snow. I'll bet he has some fun stories to tell." Something normal about sledding or ice skating or making igloos, not about abominable snowmen, she hopes.

"Can we go there?"

"To New England? Um, sure. Sometime," Scully replies, wondering if Mulder has even bothered to call his mother in the last two months. Oh God, she has a mother-in-law now.

They're no sooner settled into the apartment and considering the lunch options when there's a knock at the door. Scully looks through the peephole and sees a kid, no older than twenty and wearing a Boston Red Sox cap, standing outside her door holding an enormous flower arrangement. Her mother had better not have...

She opens the door.

"Dana Scully?"

"Yes."

"Sign here, please." A clipboard with a wrinkled piece of paper and a Bic with a gnawed cap appear under her nose. Scully scrawls her initial and last name and the kid thrusts the arrangement into her hands.

"Hang on," he adds, fishing into a messenger bag that's slung across his body. "I'm supposed to make sure I give you this too." He holds out a can of A&W rootbeer. The kid shrugs. "Don't ask me. You wouldn't believe the stuff I have to deliver."

Scully balances the flowers between her stomach and arm and takes the lukewarm can of soda with her other hand. "I can imagine," she says, with a puzzled frown.

"Okay. Well, have a good day then." The kid turns to walk back toward the elevator and Scully works her way into her apartment, shoeing the door shut behind her.

"Flowers!" squeals Emily, scampering over next to her. Scully sets the arrangement and the rootbeer down onto the table and begins hunting for the card.

"Who sent them?"

"I'm not sure." She locates a small, white envelope tucked between the stargazer lilies and the irises and she unfolds the card. The handwriting is recognizable immediately and she smiles. There are only four words printed in the center of the card. "It must be love." Her face breaks into a wide grin and she sighs.

Rootbeer. Of course. Oh my God, how does he remember these things?

"Who's it from?" Emily is hopping in her socked feet and straining to see.

"It's from Mulder."

Emily claps her hands and giggles. "They're soooo pretty!!!"

"Yes, they are." She's a bit thankful that only Emily is here to see the adolescent, dreamy look on her face.

"He likes you! He likes you!" Emily exclaims, climbing up onto a chair to smell the flowers.

Scully brushes the hair away from Emily's eyes and then kisses her temple. She retrieves the cordless phone off the end table and dials.

He answers on the second ring. "Mulder."

"Hard at work, Mulder?"

He chuckles. "Or hardly working. Skinner hand-delivered a thirty- seven page budget proposal for next quarter to me at 8 am this morning. I'm supposed to be going over it, line-by-line, to see where we can cut expenditures by twenty percent."

"Ouch."

"Save me, Scully. You, of all people, know I suck at budgets. I'm on page 9."

She balances the receiver between her ear and shoulder, pacing to the other side of the room. "Well...you could always take a break and go back to it later. Go get a rootbeer or something."

There's a pause. "Yeah," he says softly, a smile hidden in his voice. "I could go for a rootbeer."

"Thank you, Mulder. They're beautiful."

"You're welcome, Scully. Happy birthday."

"I can't believe you remember these things."

"I remember all the cases, all the stakeouts, everything. It was like five long years of foreplay."

"Mulder." She clicks her tongue.

Emily is sitting across the room at the table, drawing and humming, paying no attention to their phone conversation. Scully turns her back, mouth close to the receiver. "That case gave all new meaning to the saying, 'I want to eat you.'"

Mulder barks out a surprised laugh. "Yes, it certainly did. Thanks, Scully - now my mind is definitely not on this budget."

"Sorry." She's not sorry. "I wish I could come into the office and give you a hand." She's smirking and biting her lip hard.

"You are an evil, evil woman."

She's beginning to understand why the Bureau has rules about married partners working closely together. For the past few days, Mulder's barely kept his hands off her when they're in the apartment. Not just in bed, but everywhere. In the bathroom while she brushes her teeth, in the kitchen while she pours coffee (that one almost ended with a trip to the ER), on the couch while they watch a movie (no idea how he learned to work a bra that swiftly and discreetly, but she was impressed). It's an interesting shift, and something she's adjusting to - this sudden physical closeness between them. It could be the newness of it, but she suspects Mulder is just an especially sensual creature, hardwired to crave touch.

"I'm leaving a little early to beat the traffic," he says, interrupting her thoughts. "Em and I want to give you your present before we leave for dinner. What time is your mom coming over to babysit?"

"Six."

"I'll be home by five, and Scully?"

"Yeah?"

"You know that dress in the back of your closet behind your suits? The blue one with the tiny straps?"

She thinks for a moment. What dress could he possibly be talking-OH. That one. It had been an impulse buy over a year ago. Way out of her budget, but half off on a clearance rack - one advantage to wearing an unpopular size. She has no idea if it will still fit now after her cancer. "Yes, I know which one you mean, but Mulder-"

"Wear that."

She sighs. "I'll see what I can do."

**

MULDER

He's twenty minutes late when he fits the key into the lock and lets himself into the apartment, carrying her gift. He wrapped it himself at the office and it didn't turn out half bad. Emily eyes the big red bow with an effervescent smile as Mulder shrugs off his overcoat. "Where's the birthday girl?"

The TV is on and Emily is camped out in front of cartoons with a handful of Nilla Wafers he suspects she procured herself, since the kitchen chair is pushed up to the snack cupboard.

"Getting dressed," replies Emily. "It's taking a long time. Want one?" When her small hand opens, there are four cookies nestled in the palm of it.

"No thanks. I don't want to spoil my dinner."

Emily sniffs and gives him the once-over. "Where are you going?"

"It's called Pronti's. It's an Italian restaurant she mentioned wanting to try once."

Emily chews, side-eyeing him.

His choice in upscale restaurants is being judged by a three-year- old whose favorite meal is buttered noodles. "It's nice," he persuades.

"Do they have pizza?"

Emily's sole definition of Italian food equals pizza.

He shakes his head. "No, I don't think so. More like pasta and seafood and veal - that sort of thing."

"Oh." She looks skeptical.

He gestures to the flat square package lying on the coffee table. "How does it look? I wrapped it."

Her face splits into a grin. "Perfect!"

Mulder consults his watch. "Let me go check on the progress, okay?" He glances down at the cookies in her hand. "Were you supposed to help yourself to those?"

Emily scrunches her nose and Mulder smiles. "I'll cover for you, but you'd better hurry up and finish them. Grandma Maggie is bringing you dinner."

Mulder moves the chair from in front of the cupboard and places it back neatly at the kitchen table, then brushes the crumbs off the counter.

He knocks gently on the door to the master bedroom before entering. She's standing in front of the mirror in bare feet and the partially unzipped blue dress. "Hi," she says with relief. "Can you zip me?" She backs up to him and her manicured nails lift the soft strands of hair off her neck.

His clumsy fingers fumble to locate the tiny pull to the zipper. Her black strapless bra disappears beneath the shimmery fabric as he closes the dress. Turning to the side in front of the mirror, she studies herself critically. "This isn't exactly an appropriate dress for February, but..." Her hands smooth the fitted fabric over her thighs.

Mulder stands there fixated until she makes eye contact with him. Her face registers concern. "What's the matter? Do I look okay? It's too much, isn't it?" She sighs and heads back over to her closet, throwing open the door and sliding hangers. "I have that black dress I wore in California, that would work...or I could just go with a simple skirt and blouse..."

"Don't you dare," he says, his voice quiet, but firm.

She looks at him, startled.

"Don't take it off. It's perfect. It's more than perfect."

A blush spreads over her cheekbones and she tries not to smile, her eyes dipping. "Let me just grab some shoes, then, and I'll be ready."

Emily pops her thumb from her mouth and sits up on the couch when they re-enter the living room. Her eyes dance with delight. "You look like a princess!"

Scully sits down next to her and kisses the top of her head. "Thank you."

"Open your present! Open your present! We can't wait!"

Scully picks up the package and gives it a gentle shake, arching her brows.

"You'll never guess, so don't even bother," chides Mulder.

"I didn't tell!" says Emily proudly.

Mulder chuckles and low-fives her. "Good job, Em."

Scully works at the seam of the wrapping paper, slipping her thumb nail under a piece of Scotch tape. "Oh good grief, Scully, rip it!"

With a mischievous smile, she tears into the paper, shredding it into strips of embossed gold that flutter to the Oriental rug. With a sharp intake of breath, she sits very still for several seconds, then looks up at him. "Oh my God, Mulder." Her hand grazes over the top of the leather bound album as if she's afraid to touch it. "It's so beautiful."

Mulder watches her. "It was, uh, drawn from a photograph. Someone that Byers' sister knows. I emailed a photograph of Em, and this is what she came with."

"It's me!" exclaims Emily.

"It is you," Scully chokes, swiping carefully under her eyes, trying not to smear her mascara. Perhaps they should have done this before the eye makeup went on, Mulder thinks.

"Open it," Mulder says, softly.

Scully tosses him nervous eyes before she slowly lifts the cover. She stares down at the first page for a dozen heartbeats, her mouth open. "Mulder...oh my God...how..." Slim fingers lift and turn pages with careful deliberation, her eyes devouring the images on each one. "I don't understand. Where did you get all of these?"

Mulder sits down next to her on the couch, his elbows on his knees, looking at the album with her. "Anne brought them by the hotel one day while you and Emily were taking a nap. She said they'd been found among the Sims' estate and she thought you should have them. They're all the photos of Emily that were recovered from the family home."

"I don't know what to say. This is amazing." Scully traces the scalloped edge of one photo with her nail, barely touching it. "Look at this," she whispers, faintly. "She was just a baby here. She couldn't have been more than eight or nine months old." She chokes back a sob. "Look at her beautiful smile."

Emily sits quietly, leaning into Scully, her cornflower blue eyes scanning the images that she's seen before.

"We kept them loose with just the edges fixed, so you can take them out, if you want," Mulder says. "Some have dates or ages on the back, but most aren't labeled, so it's hard to tell exactly how old she was. According to the paperwork, the Sims adopted Emily in April of 1995, so she would have been about six month old. The last photos were taken this past Halloween."

"I was a witch," Emily points out, "but a good witch, not a bad witch. I had a big hat. See?"

Scully's head bobs up and down and she blinks quickly, a tearful laugh escaping her. "I see. Look at that." Her voice is full of wonder.

When they finally reach the end of the book, she begins reversing the pages again, going just as slowly as she did her first time through, soaking up every single image. "Look at this one, Em. You've got your yellow blanket. And one small tooth on the bottom." Scully does a combination laugh and sniffle. "It was your first tooth."

"I have a lot of them now," Emily informs. "I have ones on the top and ones on the bottom."

On the next page is a photo of a diaper-clad Emily sitting in a high chair, covered from head to toe in ice cream. An upside-down cone sits in the middle of the tray. When she sees it, Emily bursts into giggles. "Look how messy I was!"

Scully smiles. "Yes, you were. You probably needed two baths after that."

Emily's giggles turn into full-blown belly laughs until she starts hiccupping.

Scully reaches for Mulder's hand and pulls it into her lap, beneath the photo album, lacing her fingers with his.


Mulder keeps it under the speed limit, even though he's anxious to get her home. The dress is everything he'd hoped for and more, but he knows that what's underneath is nothing short of nirvana. His own personal Garden of Eden. Shangri-la. He had always suspected she was packing a tight little body underneath all those prim and professional suits. He hadn't realized that once he'd experienced it first-hand, he'd be able to think of little else, day and night.

For the past four days, he's gotten next to nothing accomplished at work. The pencils in his ceiling grow as the backlog of paperwork in his inbox multiplies. He's supposed to be on desk duty until Scully returns to work, simply because he refuses to work with another partner. Skinner probably figures it's a good time for Mulder to catch up on reports and budgetary nonsense. Mulder prefers to use his time more wisely - clipping articles from tabloids and thinking about his wife in various stages of undress.

He has no idea how to cut twenty percent from his annual budget, but he's fairly certain of several other, very important facts: her breasts fit perfectly in his hands when she's on top of him; she has the softest, smoothest legs he's ever felt; she says "yes" a lot right before orgasm; and as a general rule, she wears far too much clothing. It's a good thing, then, that he's practiced at the art of undressing her, using nothing more than his overactive imagination.

Like now, for instance. The iridescent glow of streetlamps drifts through the interior of his car as they make their way down backstreets. She's staring blissfully out the window, listening to Jewel on the radio, while Mulder's eyes wander back and forth between the curve of her leg and the road in front of him.

She has the prettiest knees. He's never considered knees to be all that erotic before, but hers are trim and shapely, gently rounded and satiny soft. They're slightly ticklish and he loves to apply his lips to the underside of them and feel her squirm.

He reaches over the console and rests his hand on her knee cap. She continues watching out the window, but a sweet, comfortable smile appears on her mouth. He caresses with the pads of his fingers, drawing lazy circles, and she sighs in contentment. What a difference a couple of months make, he thinks. If he'd even attempted such a move several months ago, he would have gotten the disapproving eyebrows from her.

He coughs and slips his hand about six inches higher, along the top of her thigh, feeling bare skin just below where the hem of her dress ends. She lets him get away with it. Not even a glance.

The intersection to their turn approaches and he takes the corner fluently, the steering wheel slipping through his left hand while his right hand climbs higher. He's under the cool fabric of the dress now, nudging it with the fleshy base of his thumb. Her thigh muscle tightens.

"Mulder." It's her 'stop, please don't stop' tone, which means she doesn't really expect him to stop.

There are no stockings to contend with, so he figures if he keeps it up, he can score the edge of her panties before they reach their street, maybe even a finger inside if he's daring enough.

"We're almost home, Mulder." Her tone carries a warning that the twitch of her mouth doesn't support.

"Mmmm hmmm," he hums, stroking.

His foot eases off the pedal a hair, his concentration directed elsewhere. Her thighs part a tiny bit more and he thinks about what a fucking tease she is. Why hadn't he figured this out when he'd had his head in her lap last fall in the Florida rainforest? That sleeping bag comment was anything, but innocent.

In a rush of bravery (and because his pants are getting tighter by the second, cutting off the circulation to his brain), he sweeps his eager fingers higher and encounters...

Nothing.

Just her.

Luscious, silky soft, moist, beautiful, marvelously delectable pussy.

His fingers freeze and he swallows hard. "Scully?"

"Hmm?"

"Where are your panties?"

Her lashes flutter, innocently. "I assume they're at home, in my dresser drawer."

Dear God.

"So you haven't, um, been wearing any underwear?" He tries to temper the squeak in his voice. He sounds like a strangled chipmunk. "All night?"

"This is a form-fitting dress, Mulder," she replies, forced logic dripping from her tongue. "I didn't have anything to wear that wouldn't be visible, so I just skipped it."

Oh. Well, that explains it. She skipped it. Like wearing shoes with no socks, a shirt with no tie, jeans without a belt. She skipped it.

No big deal.

Hey look, you can see my pantylines under my dress. Well, that's no good, so I'll just go without. Who needs underwear anyway? Certainly not me. And Mulder must not need his brain either because it's oozing out his ear and puddling all over the interior of the car as he steers onto the shoulder of the road and kills us.

"Mulder, we're drifting."

His left hand jerks, overcorrecting, and they slam into a pot hole in the middle of the lane.

"Jesus, Mulder! Be careful."

"I should be careful?" he chuffs. Both hands grip the steering wheel now. "You tell me while I'm driving that you just happen to be going commando and then you expect me to get us home safely? Scully, if we wind up in the ER for the fifteenth time this year, this one's on you."

"First of all, I didn't tell you. You figured it out on your own." She shimmies in her seat, tugging her dress back down. "And second of all, where the hell did that term come from anyway? 'Going commando.' It's so silly."

Analytical Scully in no panties. He cannot cope. "That's what you're thinking about? The origins of 'going commando?'"

"I figure it must have some sort of interesting history to it because it makes no logical sense," she replies, musingly. "And stop speeding, Mulder. I don't feel like having to flash my badge at a traffic cop to avoid a citation."

"Oh, I don't think it's your badge you should flash if you want to get out of the ticket."

Her left hand slaps at his leg, but he can't contain his laugh.


It takes exactly ten minutes to get inside the apartment, thank Maggie Scully profusely for babysitting, and exchange hasty goodnight wishes. Mulder's desperation might be apparent.

"Mom, did you see what Mulder and Emily gave me for my birthday?" Scully asks, unhurriedly.

"No, Honey, I didn't."

Mulder stands there sweating through his suit jacket and hiding his partial erection while Scully takes her sweet time hanging her coat, getting a glass of water, transferring her stuff from her 'good purse' back to her 'everyday purse.'

"You know what, Scully? Aren't you and Em going over to your mom's next week? You could take it then, so she has more time to look at it without hurrying."

"Why does she have to hurry?" God bless the confused little wrinkle on her forehead.

The answer is because Scully isn't wearing any panties, of course, but he can't go with that. "It's just-it's almost ten and you have that-that appointment with the director of the Bureau daycare tomorrow, that's all. You seem a little tired. Aren't you tired?"

She shakes her head, nonchalantly, passing by him to get a second glass of water. He catches a whiff of her perfume, which does not help. "It's only 9:15, Mulder. My appointment tomorrow isn't until two."

"Okay," he croaks.

His mother-in-law, who might have just read Mulder's perverted little mind, gathers her purse and the latest Grisham books she's reading and reaches for her jacket. "Well, I'm getting a little tired myself. But I can't wait to see it on Tuesday when you bring Emily by."

Five minutes later, Scully has checked on a sleeping Emily and is rinsing dishes at the kitchen sink. Mulder presses into her from behind and buries his face in her neck. His hands wander, unchecked, and she tolerates his mauling with a simmering smile. "So is it the no underwear that did this to you?" she asks, amused.

"Hmm?" His palms are smoothing over her ass through the dress.

"Got you this aroused this quickly."

He sucks lightly at the back of her shoulder. "You," he murmurs, "you did it."

She wiggles under his mouth. "Don't leave any more marks, Mulder. I'm serious. I have to stop into Human Resources tomorrow and I'd prefer to not look like I've been molested by a toothless vampire."

"It's not my fault you taste this good."

She's still wearing the skyscraper heels, which makes her the perfect height for him to do truly improper things to her bottom using nothing but the bulge in the front of his wool trousers. The dress gets hastily pushed up until he can slip one hand beneath it, arm wrapped tightly around her slim body. When he tickles her labia, she gasps and her hands stop moving in the flowing stream of water coming from the faucet. His middle finger finds her core slick and wet and he groans. "You filthy little liar. You're as turned on as I am."

She presses into him and leans her head back to whisper in his ear, her breath like steam. "What are you going to do about it?"

In less than ten seconds, he has her dress pushed up around her middle and he's fumbling with his fly. When he thrusts into her, she cries out and grips the edge of the counter. "Too much?" he rasps, with both concern and desperation.

"No. God, no." She lifts her bottom and tips forward on her heels, arching like a cat in heat. Mulder's mind is blown. This is Scully doing this. Rocking back into him in her four inch pumps and snug, little dress (which will most definitely need to be drycleaned). Whimpering and spreading her legs wider and saying yes over and over again. Scully. His Scully.

He is fucking her in the middle of her kitchen. After she went out to dinner with him in no panties. It might be her birthday, but he feels like he's the one getting all the cool gifts.

With a toss of her hair, she bends forward another ten degrees and slips a hand between her own legs. OhGodohGodohGodohGod, this is like, at least four of his major fantasies coming true, all at once. It's not survivable. It can't be. How can the universe still be spinning on its axis? That's the first question. The second one is how is he going to keep from coming in about another thirty seconds, and that's a generous estimate. He absolutely needs to wait for her. It's her birthday, after all. And it's not like she's even expecting him to do all the work. By the movement of her elbow, he can tell that her hand must be very busy.

First things first, watching her touch herself is a recipe for disaster, so he closes his eyes. He feels himself start to relax just a little and his thrusting becomes shallow, slower. He's almost able to forget how fantastically tight she is like this. Almost. They've had sex five times so far, but this is the first time he's been behind her. It's not exactly the sort of thing a gentleman suggests right away.

Scully gives a soft, strangled cry and her hips jerk against him. "No...please..." she whispers. "Harder..."

His is going to die, that's all there is to it. He speeds up, gritting his teeth. Her tight little pussy is going to squeeze his life force right out through his cock and leave him an emaciated, drained, limp carcass. A very satisfied one, though.

"Scully...dammit..."

Just when he thinks it's all over for him, she shudders hard beneath him and the hand between her legs slows. With a loud exhale, he thrusts up into her one final time and releases.

Lying over her back panting, he clutches her with one arm wrapped under her stomach. She trembles under him, her legs wobbling like a young colt. The water is still running from the faucet.


Somehow they manage to shed the remainder of their clothing and make it into the bed. A half an hour later, her cheek is warm against his chest, the silky strands of her hair tickling his neck. Their legs are twisted like a double helix under the sheet. He thinks about how obsessed he is with every little nook and cranny on her body. He wants to explore her terrain like Lewis and Clark, planting his flag at every turn, claiming her for his own. He wasn't the first one there, but he intends to be the last.

"Do you think we're having too much sex?" she asks, out of the blue.

His fingers slow on her shoulder. This has got to be a trick question, right? First of all, is there such a thing? He can't come up with an answer that will make this conversation end well for him, so he goes with the old 'answer the question with another question' trick.

"Uh...do *you* think we're having too much sex?"

She sighs, thoughtfully. "I don't know. It's been every night for five nights now. It sounds like a lot, but it doesn't necessarily feel like it is."

"I think we're catching up," he replies, truthfully. "It's like being stuck on an island for ..." He stops to think. "Well, in my case, a very long time, with nothing to eat but bologna sandwiches. And after you get rescued, your first meal is a pink, juicy, succulent steak. I know that if it were me, I'd want as many steaks as I could get in a very short period of time."

She snuggles closer. "Am I a steak?"

"You're filet mignon, but yes." He pauses and she looks up at him with her chin resting on his chest.

"You're hungry again, aren't you?"

"A little, yeah," he admits.

She snorts and kisses his pectoral.

"Scully, I have to be honest and say that I don't think I could ever have too much sex with you. I mean, I could be practically dead and still want to. In fact, I'm pretty sure I have already. So I think it's up to you to set the pace. You tell me when, and with very, very few exceptions - actually none that I can think of - I will rise to the challenge."

He gets just one eyebrow for his bad pun.

Her forefinger traces the line of his chest hair over the ripples of his abdomen. "I really liked what we did tonight, by the way."

Flashes of her shaking beneath him not even an hour ago hijack his brain for a moment. She liked it. She liked mad, crazy, spontaneous sex in the middle of the kitchen. He meditates on the possibilities, silently, until he realizes that she's waiting for him to say something. "Which...part?" Good, Mulder. Just goes to show that when he thinks about Scully naked and talks to her naked at the same time, she shouldn't expect much in the way of intelligent conversation.

"All of it, I guess," she responds, a trace of shyness seeping into her voice. "Don't get me wrong, I love the slow, sensual..." she clears her throat and shifts against him, "...making love in bed kind of sex just as much. But sometimes...I like it...like that." She looks up at him and there's a spark behind her eyes.

Mulder swallows. "Yeah, me too," he whispers.

She stretches up to kiss him and the tips of her nipples skim over his chest. He moans and his hands tighten on the curve of her waist.

They kiss for several minutes - long, passionate lip locks mixed with teasing brushes of the tongue. He runs his palms over the smoothness of her bottom over and over again, sometimes tracing the crease where the tops of her thighs end and her ass begins.

Heart rates climb.

He pulls back, rubbing noses with her. "I'm hard again."

"I know." Her tongue dives into his ear, swirling. Her body is flush with his, the open, wet mouth of her sex rubbing against the bony part of his hip bone.

They nip teasingly at each other's lips. "What do you want?" he manages.

Her mouth twitches at the corners. "I don't know."

"The hell you don't." He flips her onto her back and she yelps, then laughs, intoxicated eyes staring up at him. She reaches down between her legs to guide him.

"What happened to too much sex?" He's inside her again, but they're barely moving, savoring the sensation of being connected, neither craving release. This time will be slow and languid, like the last rumbles of thunder after the storm has passed.

"It's still my birthday," she says with a deceptively sweet smile. "It's a special occasion."

He rocks, pushing into her deep, but slow. Taking one of her hands in his, he lifts her arm up over her head, their fingers laced.

"Every day is somebody's birthday, Scully."

Her stomach muscles ripple with laughter as she moves with him. "So it is."

February 26, 1998

SCULLY

Mulder calls her three times before noon. She doesn't know which of the two of them is having a harder time with his temporary desk duty assignment. If she's being honest with herself, though, she'd rather have him bored silly than doing God only knows what in the field without her. She tells herself it's because of the danger and certainly, that's part of it. Mulder could manage to get into trouble at a church picnic. But the real reason is that the idea of him working closely with someone else, anyone else, just doesn't sit well with her. She's the one who is supposed to watch his back. She chases the dead end leads with him. She reads the maps and keeps him from driving in circles. She sits on stakeouts with him in rental cars that smell like fast food and feet. She covers for him when he disappears on his covert, unauthorized missions and makes stuff up for reports so he doesn't get fired. She's his partner. Spooky, party of two.

Her cell phone rings again as she's sorting the mail and Emily is playing quietly in her room. She shakes her head when she answers. "If you're calling to ask what I'm wearing again, you'll be disappointed. It hasn't changed in the last forty-five minutes."

A pause, then, "I'm sorry, I don't think I caught that information the first time around."

Her cheeks warm. "Hi Coop. I'm sorry, I thought you were Mulder."

"Apparently." He laughs. "Does his boss know he's busy having phone sex with you while he's supposed to be working?"

"We're not having phone sex."

"Well, that sort of depends on what the answer to the first question is."

She smiles at his familiar joking, knowing it's completely harmless. Cooper is a bit like Melvin Frohike, except five inches taller with sandy hair, dreamy blue eyes, and an athletic build. But the wicked sense of humor and generous heart are the same.

"Were you able to get some results?" she asks, anxious to hear what information the blood sample testing yielded.

"Yes." Cooper pauses again and she can only imagine what he must be thinking, all the questions going through his head. This is not a normal sample, to say the least. Cooper is one of the most gifted and experienced genetic researchers in the country, and this is not even close to anything he would have ever encountered before. "Dana..." He sighs. "I get the fact, from what little you've told me, that the work you do is unconventional. But this..."

"I know," she admits, evenly. "Believe me, I know."

"I can't even begin to explain the anomalies here. And yet, it is obviously a human blood sample, just one with variations that I've never seen before."

"I know," is all she can say again.

"Dana, for lack of a better description, this blood sample is impossible. It simply doesn't exist in nature. Or in any nature that I'm familiar with."

Which is exactly it.

"I wish I could tell you more, but-"

"But you can't." Another sigh from him. She can picture him running his fingers through his thick, wavy hair.

"It's for your own good, Cooper. This is not something you want to be mixed up in."

He's quiet for a bit and it's Dana who breaks the silence. "I shouldn't have asked you to do this. I'm sorry," she says, sincerely, "please just let it go. Destroy the sample and-"

"No," he interrupts. "I can't do that. Dana, I know you, and you wouldn't have asked for my help on something like this unless you really needed it. I'd do anything for you, you know that. It's just that I get the feeling this not just about a case - that there's something you're not telling me - something that's deeply personal to you. I can hear it in your voice."

"Cooper, I'm sorry." She feels the sting of emotion and for a brief second wants to just spill it all to him. She loves Mulder with her mind, body, and soul, but sometimes, just sometimes, she thinks it might be nice to confide in someone else. She has always trusted Cooper and he's never let her down. Still, it's because she cares for him that she can't bring herself to put him in danger. "I'm okay," she says, swallowing her emotion. "Really."

"Well, whatever it is, I love ya, kid. I hope you know that."

"I do," she admits, softly.

"So about these test results I'm looking at right now..." Scully hears paperwork shuffling on the other end of the phone as the tone of the conversation turns. "Well, the first thing that stands out is that the subject is positive for the Delta-32 deletion mutation, which as you know, is very rare."

"Yes, I know." Scully had her own blood sample sent to Quantico for testing while still in California, only to discover what she had suspected - that she also possessed the same rare mutation. It doesn't help them much in their given situation, but it does shed some light on why Emily's cells reacted differently to the alien virus. "What I'm more interested in," she counters, "is the patient's diagnosis of hemolytic anemia, and which gene might be causing the disease."

Cooper hesitates. "But, see that's the thing - isolating the offending gene is a challenge under ideal circumstances. But in this case, it's simply not possible."

"What do you mean?"

"Well...I analyzed everything carefully, did numerous tests, most of them more than once, and what I found is that *none* of the genes are the cause. This patient was not born with HA, Dana. The disease isn't intrinsic, it's extrinsic. Whatever caused the anemia, it happened after birth."

"Are you sure?" Based on all of the medical notes, and the diagnoses of multiple doctors, they had always assumed Emily had been born with the disease. If this is true, it changes everything.

"Very sure," replies Cooper. "I was thorough. I can email you the breakdown of tests if-"

"No. I trust you, of course. I'm just surprised. It isn't what I expected."

"An external factor definitely caused the anemia. My guess would be some kind of exposure to either a viral agent or a toxin at a very young age, although unless you know the history of the patient, it would be almost impossible to pinpoint exactly what. There are a number of things that can cause chronic, extrinsic HA."

There's another lengthy pause in which Scully tries to absorb this new information.

"Based on your silence, I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that you might have a clue," says Cooper.

"There has been exposure," Scully confirms, plainly, "to a virus."

"What kind of virus?"

"Cooper..." she hedges.

"You can't tell me that."

She sighs, frustrated that she's forced to be evasive with someone she trusts this much. "All I can say is that it isn't anything you've ever seen before."

Cooper chuffs. "Well neither is this blood sample. It's beyond weird, Dana."

"Believe me, I know."

"If it's a virus, then there could be a vaccine," he suggests.

Scully's heart skips a beat at his words. Her mouth runs dry and her respiration increases.

Mulder. Tunguska. The alien virus.

Mulder was infected with the alien virus in Russia and he was administered a vaccine. It would be nearly impossible for them to get their hands on that exact same vaccine. However, if Mulder was exposed and he recovered, then theoretically, he could have some, if not complete, immunity to the virus.

"Cooper," she says, a notable weight in her voice. "If you were to get your hands on another blood sample -one that contains antibodies for this virus - would it be possible to isolate those antibodies and manufacture a vaccine? Something that could be administered by injection as a serum?"

She hears the hesitancy in his reply. There's an audible sigh. "Wow. Uh...it's possible, yeah, but...Dana we're talking about weeks, potentially months of testing, research, clinical trials. Not to mention I don't have that kind of advanced equipment here. And there is protocol to follow. I'd have to contact the CDC and get a permit to-"

"No, Coop. I'm sorry, you don't understand." Her tone is pleading and apologetic. "I'm asking if you can do this. Just you. No one else can know. No clinical trials, no CDC involvement, no permits, just you." She pauses. "And I don't have months."

Her plea is followed by a thick silence. She feels like she can almost hear his thoughts. He's concerned. Curious. Eager to help her, but this is more than he ever expected.

"I know what I'm asking for, Cooper," she says, softly. "And I realize it may not be possible. I'm just asking if you'll try."

Another silence, longer this time. Then, "You're saying you have a blood sample that contains the antibodies?"

"There's a good chance, yes. I can bring it to you in person."

He sighs. "Okay. I'll try."

Dana expels a long breath and closes her eyes for a moment. "Thank you," she whispers.

"I can't promise anything, but I'll do what I can. When can you come?"

"Soon. A few days?"

"I'll wait for your call."

February 28, 1998

Scully is awoken by the feel of weight. Something is scrambling over her, scampering on top of the comforter. A jab into the fleshy area below her ribs makes her groan. Her eyes open into tiny slits and struggle to focus. Murky light filters through the blinds and splashes onto the top of her wooden dresser.

Mulder is sleeping next to her, sprawled out like a lion, one long, bare arm hanging off the bed. She still hasn't gotten past the point where she doesn't do a double-take each morning when she wakes up to find him half-naked in her bed. Sometimes entirely naked.

There's a little face directly over hers now, bright eyes staring down. "There's snow!"

Scully pulls up onto her elbows and glances toward the bedroom window. "Really?"

Emily tugs at her hand and nods frantically, climbing over her onto the floor. Scully allows herself to be led to the window, still half asleep, her warm feet immediately chilled by the hardwood floors. She lifts the blinds and squints against the brightness, the early morning sun reflecting off freshly fallen snow. Four or five inches at least and still falling in fat, puffy flakes, dissolving into crystals on the window pane.

"Can we go outside and play in it?" Emily begs, barely able to contain her excitement.

Scully smiles. "Yes. But it's a little early yet, Em." She yawns and glances at the clock. 6:42. "How about some breakfast first?"

Mulder stirs in the bed behind them and makes sleepy snuffling noises. "S'going on?"

"Snow!" shrieks Emily again, bounding across the room and back up onto the bed. "Snow!"

Scully slips back between the warmed sheets in her silk pajamas and takes a cursory glance down just to confirm that Mulder is, in fact, wearing something. He has on a pair of plaid, flannel pants that she secretly loves. They're soft against her legs when he wraps himself around her, and makes her think of cozy mountain cabins and hot frothy drinks.

Emily burrows between them under the covers and Scully kisses her head, breathing in the scent of baby shampoo. "Em, your feet are freezing," she says. Emily giggles and lodges her toes beneath Scully's thigh. Scully hooks one arm around the child and draws her in, Emily's back to her front, and Emily settles quietly with her head under Scully's chin.

Mulder's alarm starts making that hideous noise that sounds like a very large bird being tortured, and he attacks it with a well- aimed pillow. "The Beltway's going to be a skating rink," he laments. "If I left now, I'd still be late."

"So don't leave," Scully says with an impish smile.

He raises a brow at her. "Agent Scully, are you suggesting that I play hooky?"

She feels his forehead with the back of her hand and frowns. "I don't know, Mulder. As your doctor, I'd have to say that you might not be well enough for work today."

He smiles. "Hmm. What would you prescribe, Doc?"

"I think...a lazy morning, maybe some pancakes for breakfast, followed by an afternoon of playing in the snow, then movies and hot chocolate."

"With little marshmallows?"

"Of course. You should be feeling better by tonight."

Emily sports a watermelon-sized grin and claps her hands together, jiggling the entire bed.


The snow stops shortly after breakfast, but leaves a decent blanket of fresh, clean powder over the entire city. Schools are closed for the day and the radio report indicates one big traffic mess after another.

Scully, Mulder, and Emily bundle up and trudge four blocks to a hardware store where they purchase an old-fashioned wooden toboggan. There are numerous options in the store, but Mulder insists on the Flexible Flyer six-foot classic wooden toboggan. Scully, who's been on a sled perhaps half a dozen times in her life, defers to his New England expertise.

The man at the hardware store directs them to a hill behind one of the elementary schools that is within walking distance and they set out, pulling Emily on the sled over snow packed sidewalks. Scully is grateful for the ski pants that still fit from about seven years ago when Melissa convinced her to spend a weekend in Vail. Scully had spent a day on the bunny slopes before deciding that reading a book in front of a roaring fire was really more her idea of winter recreation.

The sledding hill is like a mecca for pretty much everyone in the neighborhood today. The pristine white landscape is dotted with color as kids of all ages (and plenty of adults too) climb the hill in their knit hats and snowsuits.

Mulder points to a location on the far side of the hill that seems to be getting less traffic because the grade isn't quite as steep. They decide it might be the perfect spot for Emily's induction into sledding. By the time they climb to the top, Scully's grateful they didn't choose the tallest part of the hill. It never looks as high as it is until you're hoofing it wearing an extra ten pounds of clothing.

"Em's on in front. You're in the middle, Scully. Put her inside your legs and hold her tight. I'll steer," instructs Mulder, like he's laying out the plans for the space shuttle launch.

"How come you always get to drive, Mulder?"

"Person in the back steers, Scully. I weigh the most, so I'm in the back. Haven't you ever been sledding before?"

She wrinkles her forehead at him. "Of course I've been sledding before. Plenty of times."

He points to the sled where she's standing with her weight on one boot. "Good. Then you know that it's a bad idea to stand on the sled at the top of the hill."

The toboggan starts to move forward slowly and Scully's eyes widen as she tumbles off it and onto the snow with a shriek, landing on her bottom. Mulder, whose hand has been holding the rope all along, tugs the sled back into position while Emily laughs like a miniature hyena.

Minutes later, the three of them are stacked into position and ready for flight. Scully tightens her arms around Emily's stomach.

"Ready?" Mulder asks.

"I think so," replies Scully.

"YES!" Emily calls out, her voice muffled by layers.

They take off slowly, inching down the first few feet of the hill. The snow crunches beneath them. The sled begins to pick up speed and Scully can feel the solidness of Mulder behind her, his arms tightening as he pulls the rope first to one side, then the other, correcting their course as they go.

Before long, they're whizzing down the hill, a fine layer of snowy mist flying up around them each time they hit a small bump. Emily's laughter ripples through Scully's body as she clutches her, keeping her small body nestled safely between her legs.

In just seconds, they're at the bottom, slowing gradually as Mulder continues to steer them straight. "Let's do it again!" cries Emily, leaping off the sled and jumping about in the snow.

"Now comes the really fun part," smiles Mulder, pointing back toward where they came from. "We get to walk all the way back up."

Emily is already ten paces ahead of both of them, in her very own race to get back to the top.


Eight trips later, Scully's butt is sore from the wooden toboggan and her toes are getting cold. She flops down onto the snow and sweeps her arms and legs up and down, staring up into the cloudless blue winter sky.

"Whatcha doing?" asks Emily, sniffling and looking down at her, curiously.

"I'm making a snow angel." Scully picks her head up to look at her creation. "See? Why don't you try."

Emily lies down next to her and mimics her movements for a few seconds, then jumps back to her feet again and makes a dissatisfied face. "Mine doesn't look like yours."

"The trick is to be very careful when you stand back up. Try and keep your feet inside the angel."

Emily thinks for a minute before flopping down onto a clean patch of snow and trying again, sweeping more diligently this time.

Scully closes her eyes and lets the sun bake her eyelids, the warmth on her front a stark contrast to the cold on the backside of her body. She's startled by a cold, wet glop landing on her upper arm. It makes a loud thwack when it hits the nylon of her ski jacket. She opens her eyes to see Mulder sitting about six feet from her with a smug smile on his face.

"I don't think you want to do that again," she warns, trying to temper the amusement in her voice.

"Why not?" he teases. "What will you do about it?"

She's busy formulating a smart response when she's pummeled by a second snowball, this time on her leg. She lies perfectly still for a few heartbeats with her mouth hanging open, listening to Mulder chuckle.

"Hey Em?"

"Yeah?" Emily's says, with quiet hesitation.

"I think we need to teach Mulder not to mess with girls." Within a split second, Scully hauls herself onto her feet and scrapes at the snow with her gloves, shaping it into a round, firm ball.

Emily jumps up, laughing and copies her. Scully launches two quick snowballs in a row at Mulder, missing him once, then hitting the bulls eye of his chest with perfect precision.

"Get him, Emily!" Scully yells, gathering more snow as fast as she can and launching it. Mulder gives it right back, going for Scully over Emily at a ratio of two to one, saving his smaller ammunition for Em. Snowballs fly back and forth like mortar fire until all three of them are covered in snow and out of breath, laughing and panting. Scully has snow dripping down the back of her neck and her gloves are soaked. "Cease fire!" she calls out, pulling her glove off.

"Are you surrendering, Scully?"

"Never," she says, stubbornly. "But my hands are cold."

He comes over to examine her red fingers, then kisses them and pops his own glove off. He fits the entire huge thing right over her chilled hand and she can feel his damp warmth inside.

"What do you say we head home and get warm?" he suggests to Emily, who is doing a great deal of sniffling. She nods with pink, rosy cheeks, apparently having gotten her fill of winter for one day.


Fire hisses and crackles from the hearth, casting the entire room in a warm apricot glow. Emily is sleeping peacefully on the couch, a plaid blanket draped to her shoulder. She's been there for the past two hours, having fallen asleep promptly after dinner. She looks too cozy to move her to her bed. Scully's cheek is resting on Mulder's thigh, the rest of her curled onto the rug in front of the fire. The pages of his book turn every couple of minutes. She decides she'd be happy to just stay in this moment for the rest of her life.

"I think I want another baby," she says suddenly, her voice so quiet she can tell he isn't certain he's even heard her correctly.

"Maybe," she amends, after a lengthy pause.

Mulder slowly and meticulously inserts a bookmark between the pages of his novel and sets it down next to them on the carpet. He rests a warm hand at her hip and breathes quietly.

"How long have you been thinking about this?" he asks, after several minutes of silence.

"I...don't know if I ever stopped," she answers, truthfully. "Ever since you told me about the embryos."

Months ago, right after her cancer went into remission, Mulder had made a startling admission to her. On a quest to find the cure for her illness, he had stumbled upon a vial of her ova - some of the eggs that had been stolen from her body during her abduction years earlier. He took them and had them evaluated for viability.

After medical analysis, he was told that the ova were, in fact, usable. The best option for sustaining them was to have them stored as frozen embryos rather than as eggs. Of course, such an option would require having the eggs fertilized by a donor.

Scully had been gravely ill, fighting for her life. At the time, Mulder had explained, he simply could not imagine burdening her with another decision. Time was critically short, and with very few options, Mulder made the only choice he thought he had.

She clearly remembers her reaction as they sat on the sofa in her apartment - this very same sofa they're resting against now - and he told her that there were six embryos stored in a secure medical facility in Maryland. Six embryos that contained both of their DNA.

Hers and Mulder's.

She hadn't been angry with him. At the time, how could she be? He had made a choice with her future in mind. And if she's completely honest, she can't say that if presented with the same difficult decision herself, she wouldn't have done the very same thing. Not to mention the fact that his own personal sacrifice can't be discounted. The sincerity on his face at the time had told her all she needed to know. There had been nothing self-serving in his decision to do what he did. It had been for her. A gift. A choice. Given from one friend to another.

They haven't mentioned it since that day.

Until now.

"I know...when you did what you did," she starts, hesitantly, "that you never expected we'd be sitting here today. But we are. And I can't help thinking that things happen for a reason."

He draws a deep, thoughtful breath and his hand drifts up and down her side, tenderly mapping the curve of her waist. "A baby..." he says, with a sense of wonderment.

"Is it crazy?"

"No," he responds quickly, "no, it's not." There's a buzz in his voice, almost an intoxication that she wasn't expecting.

"It's not the right time, obviously," she tempers, backing up a step, "but maybe in-"

Before she can conclude her thought, he slides from under her and stretches out on the rug, propping himself on his side. "Maybe it is the right time," he says, bluntly. She's on her back now, looking up at him. The hue of his eyes has deepened to an intense jade. "Maybe it's the perfect time, actually."

She's formulating her response, sorting no less than a million different thoughts, when he continues, unfazed. "Why wait? I mean, we have the embryos. The sooner we use them, the better our chances, I presume. Em is three now and if we want to give her a sibling, we should start thinking about it, right? We've been considering moving into a house...we could start looking right away and be moved before the baby comes." He runs the palm of his hand over the thin cotton shirt covering her abdomen and the look in his eyes is nothing short of fascination. He swallows. "God, Scully...you'd be pregnant."

Her mouth hangs open for a moment. She blinks up at him. "Hold on, Mulder. Not so fast. If we decide to try and do this..." She pauses, fighting for his attention. His hand has now slipped under the hem of her shirt and he's looking at her as if she's already incubating an entire litter of Mulders. She gently lifts his chin with her finger until eye contact is achieved. "IF we do this," she starts again, "it's not a simple process. There are hormone shots, followed by tests. It's expensive, Mulder. Very expensive."

"I know. I'm not worried about that."

She's aware that he has some money put away. After the adoption proceedings, there are no financial secrets between them. Still...this would certainly take a decent chunk of it.

"And even then," she says, softly, "there are no guarantees."

"I know." He kisses her cheek.

"The success rate is not great."

"I know." He kisses her mouth.

"With only six embryos, we'd probably have just one shot at it," she reasons.

He nuzzles her ear. "Scully. I know. But...there's six embryos." He smiles, his eyes sweeping her face.

She smiles back at him.

March 2, 1998

MULDER

Mulder merges onto I-95 North and sets the cruise control. "So we've got two and a half hours to Philly. What should we talk about?"

Scully watches the disappearing skyline in her side view mirror. "Why do I get the feeling you already have something in mind?"

"Oh, I don't know," he hedges. "I just find it a little strange that you happen to be such close friends with this guy and you've never bothered to mention him before, that's all."

"It's not as if I talk to him all that often. A few times a year maybe."

"You just sounded pretty close on the phone."

"We've been friends for a long time. I'm sure you have plenty of friends you've never mentioned to me."

He thinks about that. Not really, no. There's aren't many that he still keeps in touch with, other than the stray holiday card or baby announcement. Well, wait. There's Ed Hammond, who was in DC on business last fall and they met for a beer after work. Then there's Ben Custer whose mother's funeral Mulder went to a year ago. Joe Murphy who invited him to his bachelor party, but Mulder couldn't go because he was working a case out-of-town with Scully.

"Yeah, I guess," he admits. "A few."

Of course Scully has friends from med school and college. That shouldn't strike him as unusual. So what is it about this Cooper guy that piques his curiosity? Is it because he's an ex-boyfriend with whom she's stayed friends?

Mulder considers that for another moment. Does he still keep in touch with anyone he's dated in the past? There was that thing with Phoebe several years ago that didn't end well. To think he almost let her screw him over again. Literally.

Embarrassingly, most of the women he's dated would not be especially pleased to see him again and would certainly not go out of the way to do him any favors. Not like Cooper Reed is doing for Scully. If they're on such great terms and still so close, then why did it end in the first place, he wonders?

"So what happened between you two anyway? Why didn't it work out?"

Her head swivels to look at him, a wrinkle between her brows. "What do you mean?"

"Well, obviously you broke up, but you're still good friends. So I just wondered why it ended. Not that I'm complaining, mind you." He chuckles and reaches for his Starbucks-to-go cup.

Scully manages to look even more perplexed. "What makes you think we dated?"

He makes quick eye contact with her before turning back to the road. "Well, you...you know. You said you slept with him and since you're still in touch, I just figured it was more than a one night stand."

Scully clears her throat and takes a lingering sip of her own coffee before returning her cup to the console. "I didn't date Cooper," she says, matter-of-factly. "And it wasn't a one night stand."

Mulder fishes a sunflower seed from his coat pocket and tosses it into his mouth, mulling things over. "So what're you saying - you were friends with benefits?"

She's quiet and it takes a minute for Mulder's amusement to take root. His attention passes back and forth between her profile and the highway. "You were really fuck buddies?"

She exhales and closes her eyes for a few seconds, as if he's trying her patience. "I'd prefer a less crude term, but if that's what you want to call it."

"Wow," he manages, lamely.

"I don't understand what is so fascinating or hard to believe about that, Mulder. People do it all the time, especially in med school where nobody has time to eat or sleep, let alone maintain a relationship."

He huffs out a laugh. "So how exactly does that work?"

She eyebrows him, her chin low. "How does *what* work?"

"I mean, you just...have sex? Whenever the mood strikes? You just do it. No strings attached."

"You make it sound like some kind of free love, flower child thing, Mulder. It was med school, not Woodstock."

He chuckles. "It sounds pretty free to me. I'm just wondering about the logistics, that's all. This is interesting stuff, Scully."

Scully sighs. "We were friends. It's not like that was the only time I ever saw him. We did other things together too."

Mulder laughs. "Well that's good to know."

"You mean to tell me you've never slept with someone where there wasn't any kind of romantic implication whatsoever?"

He scrunches his forehead. "I don't...I'm not sure. I mean, like a one night stand, sure. Like that?"

"Sort of, only much better because it isn't a stranger. It's someone you care about and trust, maybe even love. It's just not a romantic love."

Mulder is beyond intrigued. It's not like the concept is new, or something he's never heard of before. It's just not an arrangement he's ever had with anyone. And Scully has. Which is a little bit mind-blowing. Scully had a fuck buddy. She had someone she called up whenever she was horny and just needed to get laid. He doesn't know whether to be jealous or turned on. He's a little of both.

Who in the world would be the type of guy Scully would agree to partake of such things with? Mulder had been moderately interested in meeting Cooper Reed before this conversation. Now he's literally chomping at the bit.

"So then...you never considered dating him?"

Scully tilts her head to the side for a minute, appearing to give this considerable thought before answering. "No," she says, simply. "Honestly, no. Cooper is a wonderful friend and a very sweet man, but we make much better friends. When it comes down to it, we're very different people."

Mulder looks at her. "When it comes down to it, so are we."

Scully holds eye contact with him. "Yes, but we're also the same. In all the ways that count." Her voice is soft and low and he has to force his attention back to the road.

They ride in silence for several minutes.

"When was the last time you and he, uh..."

"The November before last," she answers, plainly. "Cooper was in DC on business. We spent a weekend together."

"Oh." He might not have been expecting that.

It was supposed to be a med school thing, right? Not a six-years- after-med-school thing.

And they spent a weekend together. Not dinner. Not a night. But a weekend. That's a minimum of forty-eight hours of non-stop sex. He hasn't even had that with Scully yet and he's married to her.

Continued silence.

He wants to know more and he doesn't. He can't bring himself to ask. Instead, he tries to think back on where they were, what they were doing in November of 1996.

Tennessee. The Temple of the Seven Stars. Melissa Riedel. Sarah Kavanaugh.

It's all like a blur to him now. Like a strange dream, something that he can't even be sure happened. Could that have had anything to do with why she spent the weekend with someone else? How could he even ask that? It wasn't any of his business what she did and who she did it with back then. He doesn't have to remind himself that it was about that same time he spent the night in Marita Covarrubias's New York apartment.

"Mulder? Is this going to be a problem for us?"

"What? Why would-no. Of course not, no."

Her interest in trying to catch his eyes suggests she is not entirely convinced he's fine with all this. His avoidance suggests she might be right.

"There were plenty of chances for Cooper and me. If it was ever going to happen, it would have." She watches him drive. "We're friends. There isn't any more to it, okay?"

"Okay."

She reaches for his hand and pulls it into her lap. It stays there until their exit.


They reach the outskirts of Philly just before noon.

Philadelphia. The City of Brotherly Love. Or in Scully's case, not- so-brotherly. There are at least two men in Philadelphia Scully has slept with. One is a nationally-renowned research scientist. The other is serving out his sentence in a state mental institution for the criminally insane.

She sure does like variety, doesn't she? He scoffs quietly to himself as he's entering the parking garage. She tosses him a questioning look, but he forces some inane comment about the parking ticket machine instead of voicing his thoughts. He doesn't think she'd appreciate the humor.

As they're exiting the vehicle on the third floor of the garage, he can't stop himself from asking. "Hey Scully?"

"Yeah?"

"Just out of curiosity, why didn't we do that?"

She's rummaging for something at the bottom of her purse, her attention diverted. "Do what?"

"You know, have an arrangement. Like what you and Cooper had."

Her head snaps up. "Mulder..." she says, shaking her head, her tone almost an admonishment.

"Seriously, what would you have said a year ago if I'd suggested it?"

"I would have said no."

Now he's starting to get a bit of a complex. Cooper Reed, but not him? Why? "Why?"

"It wouldn't have worked," she replies, emphatically, shuttling her purse onto her shoulder and closing the car door.

"Well, why the hell not?"

"Because...it just wouldn't have."

"Scully, our jobs are pretty damned stressful. You mean to tell me you don't think it would have helped?" He crosses his arms in a defiant pout.

She starts walking toward the stairwell and he follows her.

"I didn't say it wouldn't have helped, Mulder. I said it wouldn't have worked."

"That's not fair. You know, Scully, sometimes you're wrong about things."

"Not in this case."

"I just don't see how you can be so-"

His words are cut short by her. Before he can complete his thought, she spins around on her heeled boots and backtracks to stand directly in front of him.

"You really want to know why it wouldn't have worked, Mulder? This is why." She leans up and kisses him. Not softly. Not sweetly. Not like a wife might kiss her husband in a public place.

No. She grabs two handfuls of his jacket and devours his mouth like she forgot to eat breakfast that morning. Mulder whimpers.

When they finally part, his eyes are still closed. He can feel her breath on his face, like a fog in the cold, crisp March air. He rocks a little on his feet, steadying himself.

"It wouldn't have worked because I couldn't not feel this. That's why." She stands for another moment with her hand on his chest, catching her breath. Then, she starts back toward the elevators.

Mulder's loafers stay glued to the cement floor for a dozen heartbeats until he realizes there's a car approaching and he'd better get the hell out of the way.

"Are you coming?" she calls back to him.

"Yeah."


Scully stops in a restroom down the hall from Cooper Reed's office. When she comes out, Mulder notices that she's reapplied her lipstick. He swipes self-consciously at his mouth with the back of his hand, realizing that he's probably wearing her previous application and not feeling overly excited about meeting Scully's ex-whatever-he-was for the first time while wearing a smudge of Clinique's Rum Kiss.

The door to room 2-117 is closed and Scully knocks twice.

"Yo! Hang on," a man's voice responds.

The door swings open and a guy who bears a striking resemblance to Matthew McConaughey sweeps Scully into a hug before they're barely out of the hallway. She laughs and her feet actually leave the ground for a few seconds.

Mulder stands there behaving himself, watching the joyous reunion. After that kiss in the parking garage, he had started to feel pretty okay with the idea of Scully's past with Doctor Love. Now he's back to being not too comfy with it.

"Hey you," says Cooper, still in full hug mode. "It's so good to see you."

"You too," Scully replies, with a genuine smile. Her feet reconnect with the floor, but she hangs with one arm draped around Cooper's waist like they're posing for a photo. "Cooper, I'd like you to meet Fox Mulder. Mulder, this is Cooper Reed."

To his credit, Cooper beams with a welcoming smile and steps forward to extend a hand. "Well, if it isn't the one and only Agent Mulder. Dana's told me a lot about you. It's great to finally put a face to the name."

Mulder accepts the hand politely and the two men shake. Cooper has a notably strong southern drawl, something Mulder was not at all expecting. "Likewise," he manages, wondering just how long Scully has been bringing his name up in conversation and what she might've said.

Cooper is better looking than Mulder had expected, although he has never really felt confident in his ability to gauge the appeal of another male. He doesn't look like a doctor so much as he looks like a mix between a cowboy and a movie star, but that might just be because of the accent. He has a thin nose, strong jawline, thick, sandy colored hair and deep-set blue eyes. Sadly, there's no denying it. The guy is charmingly handsome in an intelligent, yet rugged sort of way.

Taking a step back, Cooper ushers them into his office. "Come on in." Mulder follows Scully into the room and takes a cursory look around. The office is not overly large, but it's well-appointed with rich, dark-grain wood furniture and tasteful, modern art. Floor-to- ceiling bookshelves line two of the walls and they're packed with thick textbooks. A third wall is covered with framed certificates and more awards than Mulder has probably seen in any one office in his lifetime. His stomach twists a little and he starts feeling that complex creeping up on him again like a bad burrito. When Scully said Cooper Reed was good, apparently she wasn't exaggerating.

Scully crosses to the picture window that overlooks a picturesque park. "Is this a new office? If I remember correctly, you used to have a lovely view of the side of the parking garage."

Cooper chuckles and joins her at the window. "It is. With the new grant, I've switched research teams. The powers-that-be wanted me closer to the action. If I had my druthers, I'd have preferred to stay put. The leaky windows and clanking heat in my other office had a certain charm, wouldn't you agree?"

Scully looks doubtful, wrinkling her nose at him. "It smelled like mildew."

"Ah, I believe you were confusing that with the aroma of brilliant minds at work."

Scully had been here to visit him before? When-when-when...was that??

She runs a manicured nail over an oak frame. The certificate beneath the glass is ivory paper, embossed with gold lettering. Cooper Reed, National Science Foundation Award for Excellence in Genetic Research, 1997. There are at least fifteen more just like this one, different foundations, different years. "Look at you," she says softly, smiling in awe.

"Yeah," Cooper replies, sounding more than a little embarrassed. "Who woulda thought, right? Some backwoods, country boy from Louisiana."

Scully looks at him. "I did. I knew."

He shakes his head and laughs. "I keep thinking one of these days, the jig will be up. Everybody will figure out that I really have no fucking clue what I'm doing."

Scully responds by touching his shirt sleeve gently.

Mulder observes this exchange without a word. There's an obvious closeness certainly, but it's not that of mates or lovers, and this realization quiets his souls a bit and brings him a whole lot closer to liking Cooper Reed. Whatever this man has with Scully, it's genuine and heartfelt, but it's much different than what he has with her.

"I'm forgetting my Southern hospitality," says Cooper. "Have a seat. Can I get you guys some coffee or something? A Coke?"

Both Mulder and Scully shake their heads, having ingested enough caffeine between the two of them on the ride up to power a small country. A dark, plaid loveseat is nestled against one wall of the office and Scully settles herself on one end of it. There's an awkward split second moment where Mulder and Cooper stand there looking at the one remaining seat next to her before Cooper opts for the leather chair instead. Mulder sits down next to his wife.

Cooper breaks the silence. "Well hey, congratulations, by the way. I couldn't believe it when Dana told me. What's it been now - like two months, right?"

Scully nods, crossing her legs neatly. "It'll be two months Sunday."

"That's awesome. Did you go on a honeymoon or anything like that?"

"No," answers Scully, frankly. "We've actually had some...events going on in our lives that have made our situation a bit unusual, to say the least."

Cooper's eyes track from Scully to Mulder and back again. "Riiight," he says, knowingly. "Classified, top secret, government stuff. My tax dollars at work. Don't worry - I won't ask."

Scully glances at Mulder in confirmation before she speaks again. "Actually Coop, Mulder and I have discussed it ...what we're asking you to do - and well, it's a pretty big deal. There's information that you should know before you agree to help us. We owe you that much."

Cooper's surprise dissolves into solemnity as he clearly understands that things might be a bit more complicated than he had anticipated. He looks at Scully with a depth of caring and compassion that is evident, even to someone who has never met him before. There is something unguarded and honest about this man that, for whatever reason, makes Mulder eager to trust him.

"Okay," replies Cooper quietly, taking a deep breath. "Okay. But before we start, I know a little place a few blocks from here that has the best steak sandwich you'll ever eat."

"What're we waiting for?" asks Mulder.


Two and a half hours later, the three of them are still hunkered down in a tall-sided back booth at Sneaky Pete's Ale House with plates and glasses strewn about the red checkered, plastic tablecloth. The lunch crowd has thinned and there are only two other tables still filled, aside from theirs.

Cooper sits slouched down across from Mulder and Scully, the same pained expression on his face that he's been wearing for the past hour. "I still can't believe I never knew any of this. About your abduction, the cancer...why wouldn't you have called me?" His voice is tinged with regret, not anger. "I know a lot of people, Dana. Oncologists, surgeons - the best in the country. I could have..."

Scully reaches across the table to cover his hand with hers. "There isn't anything you could have done, Coop. If I thought there was, believe me, I would have contacted you."

"Would you have?" he asks, in almost a whisper. "Contacted me? If you hadn't recovered?"

Scully hesitates before answering and Mulder hopes that Cooper isn't as good as calling her bluff as he is. "Yes."

"And this abduction - you say that these people - they...did things to you?" Cooper runs a shaking hand through his disheveled hair. "Dana, I don't even know how to make sense of this. It sounds like something out of a bad science fiction movie or something."

"Cooper. I'm okay now. I'm fine." She squeezes his hand.

"And this little girl, Emily...she's really your daughter?"

Scully nods. "She was created from my ova, although I didn't give birth to her. But yes, she is my daughter."

Cooper's eyes immediately glance off Mulder, already entertaining the next logical question. Mulder shakes his head. "No," he says, simply. "Not that we know of, anyway."

"It was a complicated process," Scully points out, calmly. "And one we don't fully understand. We haven't tested, but no, there is no reason to suspect Mulder is Emily's biological father."

"A child," says Cooper, completely awed. "Do you have a photograph?"

Scully pulls her purse into her lap and retrieves her wallet. The photo she carries with her is one of the three of them, taken by Tara the day the adoption became final. Scully is sitting on the grass and Emily is in her lap. Mulder is next to Scully with his arm around her shoulder. All three of them are beaming from ear to ear. Scully's eyes are just a little red still from when she cried into Emily's hair, not twenty minutes before the photo was taken.

Cooper holds the picture carefully by the edges and smiles. "My God, Dana. She's the spitting image of you. She's beautiful." After a long and careful look, he hands it back to Scully and his face turns serious. "She's the one who has HA?"

"Yes," replies Scully. "We believe that she was exposed to something - a retrovirus that is wreaking havoc on her cells, manifesting itself in the form of anemia."

"A retrovirus," repeats Cooper slowly, like he's putting together all the pieces to the puzzle in his mind. "The Delta-32 mutation...She has it. And I'm guessing ...you do too."

"Yes," confirms Scully. "I have it. I had my blood tested for it a month ago. I must've passed it to Emily and that's what provided at least partial protection against the virus."

Cooper's shaking his head, eyes wide. "This is some crazy shit."

"You can say that again," says Mulder. "The people who did these things, they're dangerous. You need to know that if you decide to get involved. You'll need to watch your back. Don't talk about it to anyone."

Cooper nods once. "My work is very solitary to begin with, Agent Mulder. Extra hours in the lab won't arouse suspicion."

"Just Mulder."

Cooper cocks his head. "Excuse me?"

"My friends just call me Mulder."

The two men exchange a conciliatory look. "So will you help us?" asks Mulder.

Cooper locks eyes with him, his face painted with conviction. "Fuck yeah."

A bit later, Scully excuses herself to the restroom and they both watch her walk away toward the back of the bar.

The conversation dies for a minute. Mulder takes a swallow of watered-down Diet Pepsi that he isn't sure is his or Scully's. He's aware of Cooper watching him, curiously.

"So she told you," the other man starts, "about her and I."

Mulder swirls his glass, then finishes the rest of it. "What makes you say that?"

"Because she'd never lie to you."

Mulder tilts his head, considering for a long moment before he answers. "Yeah, she told me."

"I hope she was clear...about what it meant and what it didn't."

Mulder doesn't respond. He's warmed considerably to the guy over the past few hours, but he still doesn't feel like making this any easier for him.

"I imagine I wasn't your favorite guy before coming here today," continues Cooper.

What makes you think you are now, Mulder thinks, but doesn't say. "It'll still take a little getting used to," he admits instead.

"I don't blame you. I'm not sure I'd be as generous."

Mulder doesn't reply. This is one of the stranger conversations he's had.

"For the record," Cooper says, "I care about her. I wouldn't hurt her for anything in the world."

For whatever reason, Mulder believes him. "I know you didn't use her. She was clear about that."

Cooper looks relieved. "Good. I don't want you to get the wrong impression. A year ago when I saw her, it was the first time in a while. We hadn't planned on spending the weekend together, it just sort of happened."

"You don't owe me an explanation. Scully and I weren't together then."

"I feel like I do. You know...your name came up a lot that weekend. Dana insisted you were just friends. I hope you know that if I thought there was anything..." He sits up a little straighter on the bench seat, "Well, it wouldn't have happened."

Mulder nods, not sure what he's really expected to say so he doesn't say anything.

"I just want you to know that I'm not a bad guy," Cooper continues, "and you have nothing to worry about. I've never seen her like this with anyone. She's happy and that's all I've ever wanted for her."

Their waitress interrupts to clear the table. "Can I interest anyone in dessert?"

Both Mulder and Cooper shake their heads and the waitress deposits the bill face-down, mid-way between the two men. "You can take this up front to the bar. They'll take care of you there."

Cooper reaches first while Mulder says "I got it" and fishes for his wallet inside his jacket.

"Come on, man, consider it a belated wedding gift," presses Cooper.

"I think you've already agreed to do enough for Scully and me, don't you think?"

Cooper meets his eyes. "I just hope I can do what she wants me to do," he says, with raw honesty. "I couldn't bear to disappoint her."

"I know."

A long moment later, Mulder draws a long breath and gestures toward the bill still in Cooper's hands. "Yeah, you can buy," he says with a shrug, "you did sleep with my wife."

Cooper cracks a loud laugh and shakes his head.


Mulder bends and unbends his elbow where the bandage is sticking uncomfortably to his dress shirt. Finally he just peels it off and stuffs it into the pocket of the car door, along with the candy bar wrappers and used napkins. He needs to clean his car out more often. He can never find his seeds when he wants them. As if reading his mind, Scully pops open the glove compartment and passes him the small, crinkly plastic bag. He pops one into his mouth.

"How's your arm?" she asks, turning the radio off.

He shrugs. "Good." It had taken Cooper a couple of sticks to get the vein. Those jokes about never let a doctor draw your blood are apparently true.

They've been riding in silence for half the journey, both of them lost in thought and listening to the radio. They're about an hour outside the suburbs of DC now, and Mulder reaches over to run the back of his hand over her knee for no special reason. She turns from looking out the window to smile a little sadly at him.

He doesn't have to ask her what she's thinking. "It's going to be okay," he says.

"I know," she replies, unconvincingly. "Cooper's the best."

"He'll do everything he can," agrees Mulder.

There's a long silence, then Scully's soft voice again. "What if it's not enough?"

He squeezes her knee. "It will be."

They pass four more exits before Mulder notices that the red needle on the gas gauge is barely still resting above E. "We need to stop for gas. Are you hungry?"

"Maybe something small. I'm still full from that steak sandwich."

Mulder's pulls off the highway to gas up and asks the attendant where they can find a decent diner. He's directed another mile down the road to a ramshackle place called Sweet Sue's. Scully tosses him a dubious look as he shifts it into park next to a rusty Ford.

He smiles at her. "Lots of truckers here, Scully. You know what that means."

She returns his smile. "Good pie."

"It's all about the pie," he agrees, hanging his sunglasses off the front of his shirt pocket.

They slide into a corner booth and order two coffees and two large slices of apple pie a la mode. Besides the waitresses, they happen to be the only people in there not wearing Wrangler jeans and flannel. The older lady behind the counter who slices their pie for them looks like Aunt Bea and Mulder has to keep himself from asking where Opie is at.

"So what did you think?" Scully asks, after finishing half her pie.

Mulder talks with his mouth full. "The apples are a little tart, but the crust is flaky and I think the whipped cream is homemade."

She manages a patient smile. "I meant about Cooper."

He knows what she meant.

Mulder lifts his shoulders. "He's okay. I hope he's better with a blood sample analysis than he is with a needle."

Scully palms the back of his elbow and examines the microscopic red mark on the fleshy inside of his arm. "I think you'll live."

"How long will it take him, do you think?"

She draws a deep breath, considering. "Well, first he has to do the work-up on your blood to make sure there are antibodies there. That will take a couple of days."

"Do you really think I'm immune, Scully?"

"Medically-speaking, there's an excellent chance, Mulder. You contracted the virus and you recovered. If this virus operates like any other virus, then you will have maintained antibodies in your blood."

"And it's possible to create a vaccine by isolating the antibodies and separating them out?"

"Theoretically, yes." She pauses before speaking again. "But Cooper will be working alone with the equipment he's got. They're certainly not ideal circumstances. It could take a while, if he's even successful at all."

"I'm sorry I gave you a hard time about him earlier," he admits. "You had a life before we met and besides, I'm no one to judge."

She arches her brows back at him in agreement, but doesn't respond.

"He seems all right. And it's obvious he cares a lot about you, Scully."

"We were close," she admits, her eyes seeking his. "But always just friends."

"That's what he said."

She looks a bit surprised. "You...talked about me?"

"A little. While you were in the bathroom. Not much."

"What did you say?"

He sniffs haughtily, forking another bite of apple. "I just didn't want there to be any misunderstanding. If he so much as looks at you the wrong way, he'll be sorry. I think I made an impression on him when I showed him the gun."

"Mulder! Please tell me you did not."

He chuckles. "Don't worry, I was nice."

"Good. Because it takes two, you know. The arrangement between us was mutual. I had just as much to do with it as Cooper did."

Mulder smiles down at the remaining few bites of his pie, swimming in melted vanilla ice cream.

"What?" she presses, her fork poised.

"Nothing," he chuckles. "It's just interesting to me that you would...have this...arrangement, as you like to call it, with someone."

"Why?" She frowns. "Because I'm a woman?"

"No," he answers too quickly. "Maybe."

"Mulder, that is sexist."

"Come on, Scully, no strings attached sex? It's usually not what most women want. Not the ones I've known anyway."

"As I've explained to you...several times...my friendship with Cooper was unique. It was possible to have that without it becoming complicated, and it was a much different time in my life. The last thing I had time for was a relationship."

"So you guys just got together once in a while and worked off some tension."

"Pretty much, yes," she replies, matter-of-factly.

Mulder finishes his pie and pushes the plate away. He loses himself just a bit watching Scully lick the back of her fork thoroughly.

"How was it?" he blurts.

She blinks at him several times, then tilts her chin down and her eyes follow. "Mulder."

"What - I can't ask that? I'm just curious, Scully. It must've been decent if it was an ongoing thing." He keeps his tone light and nonconfrontational. He really is curious and he's not looking to pick a fight. Besides, it's over. It doesn't matter anymore anyway.

Scully sips at her coffee, avoiding his eyes.

"You're not going to answer?"

"It was fine."

Now it's his turn to hike the eyebrows. "It was *fine*? You kept going back for 'fine'?"

She sighs, loudly. "Mulder, no man ever really wants a truthful answer when he asks that question."

"I do."

She shakes her head and smiles down at the table.

"No, I do, Scully. Really. I'm curious."

She looks at him for a long moment, as if weighing the risks and benefits of saying another word.

"It was good," she declares, finally.

"Good is better than fine." His interest is sharpening at an alarming rate now. "Like how good?"

Scully squirms in her seat. This concerns him even more.

Mulder chuffs nervously, his smile starting to fade. "Scully? How good? Like 'best you ever had' good or 'worth staying awake for' good?"

He chases her eyes with his own for a minute before she sighs again, then meets his gaze and holds it long enough to answer his question.

His eyes narrow a little and his jaw tightens. He glances about the diner for their waitress. A different one passes by and Mulder grabs her by the sleeve instead. "Excuse me, we're in a hurry, can we get a check please?"

The waitress smiles politely. "Hang on a sec, I'll get your server."

"Mulder, what's the matter?"

"What time do we pick up Em?" he asks, curtly.

"Not until bedtime."

"Are you finished?" he interrupts, pointing to her leftover pie. "We should get back on the road so we don't hit evening traffic." He stands and peels a twenty off a stack of bills, tossing it onto the table. "Come on, Scully, you can get your coffee to go."

She's still trying to get her coat on as he's hauling her by the hand out the door, her heeled boots scuffling, trying to keep up with him. "Mulder, Jesus! What is the hurry?"

Best you've ever had, my ass.

Mulder merges onto the highway heading south, punching the accelerator.


With one last muffled shriek, Scully collapses on top of him, trembling. His fingers slow between her legs, then stop. He keeps them inside her, caressing lightly until she wiggles against him and mutters a barely audible "no more" into his ear.

Their bare chests heave together, rising and falling as they both gulp for oxygen. The room is warm and he kicks the sheet with his foot, hearing it swish onto the floor with the rest of the bedding. The pillows are gone too and his head lies flat against the mattress.

She shudders with the aftershocks as his hands make feather light circles on the wings of her shoulder blades. His penis is still deep inside her and he flexes it just once.

"Oh God," she breathes, "did you come?"

"Oh yeah." He kisses her damp hairline, inhaling her gorgeous fragrance.

"Good." She slips off him and melts over onto her back. "Because I can't..." she pants, "...anymore."

He huffs quietly. "I find that hard to believe." His fingers wander to her breast, finding her nipple rock hard from her last orgasm. The third one, unless "Oh yes, oh God, Mulder, YES! YES!" means something different than he thinks it does.

She squirms away from his touch. "Too sensitive," she whispers, her breath still coming hard. "Oh my God, I'm dizzy."

"Are you all right?"

"Yeah." Her bare arm flops over her eyes. "I just need to lie here and not move for a few minutes. Maybe a little longer."

"Want a drink of water?"

She nods and Mulder slips off the bed and pads naked to the kitchen to fill two tall glasses. Making his way back, he has to navigate around hastily discarded clothing, pillows, the wadded comforter, one tangled sheet, and a few miscellaneous items that got knocked off the nightstand. The bottom sheet is pulling off one corner of the mattress as well.

"We made a mess, Scully."

"You're telling me." She's still lying on her back. Hips lifted, she dabs between her legs with a wad of tissues.

Mulder makes a face. "You want...a towel or something?"

"No, I think I got it." She coughs and then, "Oh! Yeah, maybe."

He swipes the hand towel from the bathroom. "Here, lift." She does and he tucks it under her bottom. The glass of water is presented to her like an offering and she drinks.

After downing a third of it, she hands it back to him. "Thank you."

Mulder places it onto her nightstand, tipping her clock back up from where it had capsized as well.

"Your voice is hoarse, Scully."

"What?" It comes out as a half croak, scratchy and light.

He swan dives over her onto the mattress and the bed bounces and creaks several times before stopping. "Your voice. You sound like you've been at a rock concert all night."

Her hand goes to her throat, massaging. "It is a little sore."

"Doesn't surprise me. All I can say is it was a good thing we had the apartment to ourselves. Although if the neighbors give us funny looks the next time we see them in the hall, you'll know why."

"What are you talking about? I wasn't that loud."

He flashes a Cheshire grin and she frowns back at him. "Was I?"

"You were enthusiastic."

"Oh God." Her hand goes to her mouth. "Oh shit."

"It's no big deal. I'm sure Mrs. Humphrey couldn't hear you over Jeopardy, and the Davis's probably think you were just agreeing with me a lot. "

"This is very embarrassing, Mulder."

"You enjoyed yourself." He kisses her shoulder. "And I enjoyed watching you."

A second corner of the fitted bottom sheet snaps off the mattress drawing snickers from both of them. Scully rolls onto her stomach and shimmies up the bed until they're face to face. "Please tell me all this wasn't because of Cooper?"

"No, of course not." He hesitates. "Maybe a little."

"Mulder, how many times do I have to tell you that it was just sex?"

He huffs out a laugh. "Oh, don't worry. I think we've established that part. It was just sex. Really. Good. Sex."

Scully's face softens and she expels a long breath, tilting her head forward to rest her forehead on his chest. "Oh no," she whispers. "Mulder..."

"It was my fault. I asked."

With a sigh, she lifts her face again and kisses him tenderly on the cheek. "Mulder, when I said it was just sex, there is something you need to understand about women. Just sex is exactly that - it's just sex. And it'll never be anything else. Physically, it can be amazing, but if it's missing that emotional component, then it'll never be entirely fulfilling. What I have with you is different. It's so much more. I would never trade it for 'just sex'."

He's silent for a moment, his hand stroking her back as he considers her point.

"Yeah, but Scully. I still want to give you the best sex you've ever had, I can't help it. I'm a slave to my ego, just like every other guy."

"Well guess what?" She molds herself closer to him, fitting her leg over his. "I think you just did."

"See -" he shakes his head, "now I don't know whether it's true or you're just saying that to make me feel better."

With an exasperated sigh, she sits up. "First of all, when have I ever said anything to you just to stroke your ego?"

He gives that some thought. "True."

"And second, were you just here for that? Or did I dream that I had three orgasms in an hour? That doesn't happen to me, Mulder. Encores from me are about as rare as a Big Blue sighting."

He lifts his forefinger. "That, actually, is not all that rare."

"I've never seen it, so to me it is."

"Point taken."

"Not to mention, look at this room. Would I let it look like this without a damn good reason?"

He smiles. "We were out of control."

"I've never had a man...do that...to me for that long." She bites her bottom lip and hides her eyes.

"You mean..." God, that was nothing, he thinks. There's a lot more where that came from. "Really?"

She nods, peeking through her fingers. He finds her self- consciousness endearing.

"Scully, you've got nothing to worry about." He tugs her back down next to him. "If you enjoy that, I mean."

"I do," she whispers into his shoulder. "You do it a lot. I thought you were just being polite."

This makes him laugh. "Um, no. I happen to like it. Very much. So if you do too, then I guess that works out well for us."

"I guess it does," she says, with some wonderment.

The lay twisted together a little longer, until the light sifting through the window turns silver with twilight. "What time is it?" she whispers.

He glances at his watch - the only thing he's still wearing. "Quarter to eight."

"We have to go pick up Em."

"Yeah."

They both sit up, reluctantly, and survey the small catastrophe that is their bedroom. "Wow," she muses, sidestepping things while weaving to the bathroom.

She leaves the door open and the light off and he can hear her pee. There's a hiss, then "Ow."

"Everything okay?" He works his boxers and pants back on over his sticky body. No time for a quick shower. Jesus, the whole damn room smells like sex.

"Just a little sore," she replies. A smile creeps onto his face and he feels like an ass for allowing it.

"Sorry, Scully."

"I'll be all right. I might need to write myself a script for an antibiotic." She makes her way back into the bedroom and begins to dress, wincing as she eases her panties up. "Maybe we could have the best sex of my life once a month or so, and just have really great sex the rest of the time."

He kisses the top of her head. "I can live with that."

March 8, 1998

When Mulder gets home from work, the living room and kitchen are empty. He hears muffled sounds coming from down the hall and he follows them. The door to the bathroom is open and Emily is reclining in the tub with the water still filling. Scully, who is seated on the white porcelain edge, reaches her hand into the water to swish it around before cutting the flow. "How's that, Sweetheart?"

Emily nods her approval as her eyes find Mulder, standing in the doorway. "Hi," she says, weakly. "I don't feel good."

"You don't?" He tries to keep his tone light, but his eyes meet with Scully's and he sees his concern mirrored. Scully stands up to greet him and he leans down . "Hey," he says, giving her a quick kiss on the mouth. "What's going on?"

"My head hurts," answers Emily, from the tub.

Mulder squats down on the floor tiles next to her and places the back of his hand to her wet, pink cheek. "I'm sorry, Em." He glances up a Scully. "When did this start?"

"Just before lunch."

"That long ago? Why didn't you call me? I would've come home."

"We've been fine," she says, with a reassuring smile directed at Em. "We've been resting most of the day."

Emily plays uninterestedly with several squirting toys, her slick hair floating like a blanket of seaweed around her head.

With a nod toward the hallway, Scully leads Mulder just outside the bathroom door where they stand, keeping one eye on their bather.

"Fever?" he whispers.

She nods. "Not that high. Around 101."

"Well that's good, right? That's a good sign, that it's not very high."

Scully doesn't say anything.

"So it could be anything, really. Just a cold or a stomach bug or- or...just something that kids get."

"It could be." Her tone is flat.

"What should we do?"

She sighs and leans into the door frame, wearily. "Just watch and wait. That's all we can do."

Emily manages to eat two pieces of toast with strawberry jam for dinner and then promptly falls asleep in front of the TV. Her fever maintains around 101.5, despite alternating doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. At 9:30, Mulder carries her to their bed and the three of them climb in together. He reads while Scully flips through a medical journal, stopping frequently to feel Emily's forehead and adjust the blankets around her.

After a restless hour in which Mulder manages to read a grand total of four pages, he puts the book down. Scully has already nodded off with the magazine resting on her stomach. He removes it and pulls the covers up over her before turning off the light.

He awakens in the dark and lifts his head from the pillow, unsure what drew him from sleep. As his eyes struggle to adjust, he listens to the sounds of the night. The hum of the refrigerator. A car's worn muffler as it accelerates around the corner. Scully's deep and steady breathing. A soft whimper next to him is a reminder that Emily is sharing their bed tonight and he reaches in the dark to touch her.

Her skin clammy and hot, she moans again when his hand makes contact with her neck. Mulder sits up and clicks the small bedside lamp on. Emily is soaked with sweat, her hair clinging to her forehead and cheeks. Whimpering again, she shifts fitfully in her sleep.

"Scully," he whispers, nudging her arm gently with his hand. "Scully, wake up."

She lifts her head immediately, as if she'd been teetering just at the edge of sleep's abyss "What is it?" she asks, her voice scratchy.

"Emily's worse."

Scully sits up quickly and yanks the covers back. Emily looks so small curled against the sheet, her pink nightgown twisted. "She's burning up, Mulder. The sheets are soaked."

He's already pulling his jeans on. "Get dressed. I'll get the car."


Another hospital room, another bed, another IV, another pale blue gown. More machines, more nurses with squeaky shoes, more forms for Scully to fill out, more vending machine coffee. Florescent lights, blood pressure cuffs, bleached sheets, cold linoleum floors, vinyl chairs, lab coats. Emily sleeping, Scully whispering, Emily crying, Scully holding, Scully shushing, Emily sleeping, Mulder wandering the halls, Scully crying, Scully sleeping.

Everyone sleeping.

March 9, 1998

Mulder's half-eaten grilled cheese sandwich oozes onto the Styrofoam plate. He pokes at it with a plastic fork like it's some kind of science experiment. More orange seeps out. Scully edges her way around an apple with her teeth. Her strawberry yogurt remains untouched.

"So now what?" he asks.

She doesn't respond, just sits hunched over the cafeteria table, taking up even less space than she normally does.

"They said she can't have the transfusion like last time because her white count is too low. Is the virus doing that or is it something else?" he continues.

She tosses the ravaged core onto his plate and steals his unused napkin.

"And they haven't started the IV antibiotics yet. I don't get it, Scully. Why haven't they started the drugs?"

Her stare is fixed and glassy as she looks to the left, across the cafeteria. "She isn't strong enough for another transfusion."

"But how can that be? She was fine. Two days ago, she was fine. How could she have gotten this sick so quickly? It makes no sense."

Her shoulders lift tiredly. "None of this makes sense, Mulder. It could be a secondary infection that set off the HA, but there's no specific test that would determine that."

"All right, but what about the antibiotics again? That could help, right?"

"It could. Or it could make her sicker. There's no way of knowing."

"Well we can't just do nothing," he argues, the tone of his voice escalating. "We'll go somewhere else if we have to. There are other hospitals."

She closes her eyes and leaves them that way for a long time. "This is one of the best hospitals in the country. I'm convinced that everything that can be done for Emily is being done, Mulder. We just have to hope that her counts go back up and she's eligible for the transfusion."

He sighs and shakes his head, feeling much the same way he felt a year ago when she was wasting away in this same hospital. He hates this fucking place. "What about...have you talked to Cooper? It's been almost a week."

The day after they got home from Philly, Cooper called to deliver some news. Mulder's blood did, in fact, contain antibodies to the alien virus, although his blood type was not a match for Emily's. That would not matter if the antibodies themselves could be successfully isolated and transferred into an injectable serum. It would take time, but Cooper's research partner was out-of-town for the next two weeks and he anticipated having some lab time to himself. Since that phone call, they haven't heard from him.

"He'll call when he has something," she says, quietly. "He's working as fast as he can."

"Yeah well. Maybe he needs to work a little faster."

March 10, 1998

SCULLY

Twenty-four hours later, the results of Emily's blood work remain unchanged. Her fever is moderate at around 101-102, occasionally spiking a degree or two higher for short periods of time. At one point it hovers at 100 for a few hours and there is great optimism. During that reprieve, Emily eats a small meal of buttered noodles, bread, and juice and plays two games of Old Maid with Mulder before feeling sleepy again. When her temperature is taken an hour later, it's back up to 102 and Scully has to leave the room for a few minutes to pull herself together.

Around dinnertime, she sends Mulder home to take a shower and bring back a change of clothes and toothbrushes for both of them. Scully sits vigil, watching cartoons with no sound while Emily drifts in and out of sleep.

A little after eight, Doctor Ratcliffe, a kind, middle aged man who has taken a special interest in Emily's case, knocks gently at the door and enters. He flashes Scully a smile and tells her not to get up from her seat. He pulls up another chair.

"How is she?" he asks, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees.

"She's sleeping a lot," answers Scully, knowing even as she says it that it isn't an encouraging sign.

"It's good that she's not uncomfortable," he says.

Scully searches Doctor Ratcliffe's face. "You have more test results," she says.

He nods. "Her white counts are still low. In fact, they're lower than they were when she was admitted, which means I'm not recommending a transfusion at this time."

Scully draws a deep breath and bites back the rush of emotion that threatens to swallow her. Her only response is to nod that she understands.

"That doesn't mean it won't be an option in the future," Doctor Ratcliffe says, manufacturing optimism in his voice. "But for now, I think it's just too risky."

"What do you recommend?" she asks, holding herself together.

"Well, her fever remains constant, but with aggressive doses of ibuprofen and acetaminophen, we've managed to keep it in a non-critical range. She's able to rest without discomfort and she's eating and drinking in small amounts. Frankly, there isn't much we can do right now."

Scully's eyes widen. "Are you suggesting she be discharged?"

"No," Dr. Ratcliffe replies, "not yet. I'd like to continue monitoring her here to see if there's enough improvement to risk a transfusion. Also, it wouldn't be a bad idea to run her LFT's tomorrow, just to be on the safe side."

"You think her liver could be at risk?" Scully asks, in alarm.

"It's just precautionary, but as you know, ongoing infection can impair liver function." She is spoken to as another medical professional, which Scully appreciates. At the moment, however, she just feels like a mother.

The doctor smiles compassionately as he stands. "You've got a strong little girl. I see from her chart that she's been through a lot. If there's anything you need, have me paged."

"Thank you," she says, sincerely.

Emily stirs from sleep moments after the doctor has left and Scully swipes all evidence of tears away, smiling at her. "Well, look who's awake."

"I want to go home," Emily says, her voice scratchy from sleep.

Scully's throat tightens with emotion, both because Emily has begun referring to their apartment as her home, and because Scully wishes more than anything that she could take her there right now. "I know, Sweetheart. We will." She sits and leans over the bed, tucking her arm beneath Emily's pillow, drawing her closer. "We're going home just as soon as we can."

Emily sniffles and presses her yellow blanket to her cheek. "Do I have to have more needles?"

"Not tonight. I promise."

"It hurts."

Scully presses her mouth to Emily's hot forehead. "I know it does, baby. I know." Scully climbs up to lie along the edge of the hospital bed, her arms cradling Emily. "I was thinking," she whispers, "when we get home, maybe we could see about that kitty cat."

Emily nods and smiles sleepily around the thumb she's sucking.

"Would you like that?"

"Yeah," whispers Em. "An orange one."

"An orange one," agrees Scully.

"Did you ever have a kitty?"

"I did. When I was a little bit older than you are now. My brother brought home a stray cat and hid it in his room for a week before Grandma found out."

"Uncle Bill?"

"No, your Uncle Charlie. He's my younger brother. You haven't met him yet. You'll like him, he's really silly."

Emily smiles, weakly. "Like Mulder?"

"A lot like Mulder," Scully chuckles. "Only Charlie is shorter and he has light hair."

"Was she mad?"

"Was who mad?"

"Grandma."

"Oh, right." Following a conversation with a three-year-old is a lot like reading the pages of a book out of order and then trying to figure out the plot. "She wasn't very happy, no. But by then, Charlie was so attached to the cat that she had to let him keep it."

"What was his name?"

Scully smiles to herself, remembering. "'He" was a 'she' and her name was Mrs. Whiskerson."

Emily giggles. "That's a funny name."

"It is. Everyone just called her Whiskey. She was a bit of a cranky cat, but she loved Charlie."

Scully kisses Emily again and holds her close, listening to the rustle of her breathing. She's about to look up to see if Emily has fallen asleep when a small voice says, "Sing to me."

Scully grimaces a little. "I'm a terrible singer, Em." Where's Mulder when she needs him? He actually has a halfway decent voice, a little fact she has picked up on since they've been sharing an apartment with a shower near the master bedroom.

"Sing to me," implores Emily, not at all put off.

Scully sighs. As a mother, it was bound to happen sooner or later. "What should I sing?"

"Frosty the Snowman." The suggestion is made without hesitation.

"Aren't we a few months late for that?" she chuckles. "Or very, very early."

"It's my favorite song."

Of course it is. Emily and her snow. This child has definitely lived in the wrong climate for the last three years. "It's a very nice song, Em. But I'm afraid I don't remember all the words. Can you sing with me?"

Emily sucks her thumbs and considers this carefully before nodding.

Scully begins quietly. "Frosty the snowman, was a jolly, happy soul..." Emily chimes in. "With a corn cob pipe and a button nose and two eyes made out of coal." Scully nods at Emily, encouragingly, and Emily smiles back. They begin the second verse together. "Frosty the snowman, was a fairytale they say...he was made of snow, but the children know..." Scully falters and makes a funny face, but Emily continues singing, "how he came to life one day."

"Very good, Em! You know the words much better than I do."

"It's my favorite song," she says again. "Sing more."

So they do.


MULDER

Truth be told, Mulder is grateful to get out of the hospital for a few hours. Just watching Emily like that and not being able to do a damn thing makes him feel so helpless that he wants to put his fist through a wall. Not to mention the fact that he feels he needs to hold himself together for Scully's sake.

Scully, who has been through Hell and back. Who he loves more than anything in this world, or any other for that matter. He'd do anything for her. For both of them.

But he can't. He can't do a damn thing. And it's slowly eating him from the inside-out. If there's one thing he knows for certain, it's that he can't sit idly by and do nothing while his family suffers. He's never been able to accept defeat. Not when Scully was missing and her family presumed her dead. Not last year when she lay dying in a hospital bed and the doctors said there was nothing left to be done.

Not even twenty-five years later, when every rational bone in his body tells him that Samantha is not coming home. He still can't give up.

And he won't now.

As he steers the car toward Georgetown, purple dusk creeping onto the horizon, a plan begins to take shape.


Clean from the shower, Mulder sinks into a comfortable pair of Levi's and picks up his cell phone.

She answers on the second ring with a simple, "Yes."

"It's Mulder."

A long hesitation, in which he half wonders if she'll hang up, then "You shouldn't be calling me on this line. What do you need, Agent Mulder?"

"Your help. Again," he adds, unapologetically.

"I'm in New York." Her voice is hardly above a whisper. "I can't meet you."

"I don't need you to."

"Than what do you want?"

"An address."


Cloaked entirely in dark clothing, Mulder lingers just out of sight at the edge of the alley, watching the door for over an hour. He's begun to think the object of his interest won't show, when a taxi pulls to the curb and the car door opens and closes. The cab speeds off, tires splashing through rain-drenched streets.

Mulder watches as the man fumbles at the lock, fingering through several keys and mumbling to himself. He's drunk, Mulder realizes. Not exactly the best circumstances under which to make his demands, but there's no time to waste waiting for a better opportunity. Mulder approaches with caution, double-checking the reassuring feel of his weapon in its holster.

"Krycek."

Startled, Alex pivots on the sidewalk, swaggering. It's dark, but Mulder can clearly make out the suspicion and hostility in the man's eyes. Something else too. Fear perhaps. "What the hell do you want?"

"Aren't you going to invite me in for a drink?" Mulder asks, provokingly. "Looks like you've gotten a head start."

"Fuck you."

Mulder chuckles. "You wound me, Alex. Is that any way to treat an old partner? What's the matter - not expecting company tonight?"

"How'd you find me?" he slurs.

"You give yourself too much credit. You're not that hard to track down. I just looked in the alleys where the other rats hang out and here you are."

Alex looks Mulder up and down before smiling in bitter realization. Shaking his head, he goes for the door again, working the lock open. "Bitch," he mutters in disgust. "Does your new wife know you're still fucking your blonde mistress? What's the matter - Scully a little too frigid for you? I'd be happy to break her in, if you'd like."

Mulder grabs a fistful of Krycek's jacket and spins him around, tossing him through the open apartment door and against another wall. "Why don't you watch your mouth, Asshole. I'm even less in the mood for your bullshit than usual, Krycek, so I'm warning you - don't push me."

Alex stares at him with undisguised disdain, the two men's faces only inches apart. Krycek's breath smells like a distillery and Mulder heaves him aside. "Jesus," he says, grimacing, "you stink."

Krycek stumbles back to his feet, straightening his clothing. "Like I said, what do you want?"

A ramshackle set of wooden stairs behind them lead up to God knows where, and Mulder gives him a shove. "Not here. Why don't you give me the tour."

After a moment of consideration and then a weary sigh, Krycek starts to climb the stairs, begrudgingly, with Mulder following a safe distance behind him.

The building is weathered and worn with paint-chipped walls and creaking boards beneath their feet. They walk down a short hallway, passing by another apartment with an open door. Mulder glances inside and sees tattered clothing and trash littering the floor. A television blares, but there's no sign of an occupant.

Krycek stops at a door without a number on it and opens the lock, this time with less trouble. The two men step inside.

The first thing that strikes Mulder is the smell. Like fried food and stake cigarette smoke. Alex turns on a light and Mulder almost wishes he hadn't.

The apartment is strikingly bare, except for a couple of outdated, threadbare chairs and a coffee table with a TV sitting on it. A round kitchen table sits off in the corner by a small kitchenette. There are no chairs at the table and the surface is stacked high with books, magazines, and papers. Near one of two filthy-looking windows lays a twin bed, the mattress and box springs thrown onto the dusty wooden floor. A lamp with no shade sits next to it. A partially closed door toward the back most likely leads to a bathroom that Mulder is quite certain he can live without seeing. The entire place is one room, not much larger than the size of Scully's living room. Probably smaller. "I love what you've done with the place," Mulder says, sarcastically.

Alex fumbles around the kitchen, filing a glass with tap water, then downing it. He belches quietly and wipes his mouth on the sleeve of his jacket. "Are you going to tell me why you're here or do you want to watch some TV and reminisce first? I'd offer you something to eat, but it's the cook's night off," he sneers.

Mulder opts not to sit down. "Last year," he begins, "in Tunguska, I was exposed to the alien virus. You were there."

"Yeah? So?"

"I was given something...some kind of antidote or vaccine. I want you to get it for me."

Krycek stares at him for a long minute, then snorts loudly. "You're even crazier than people think. What makes you believe I have access to something like that?"

"Don't bullshit me, Krycek. Like I told you, I'm not in the mood. I know you have connections."

Krycek looks him up and down. "Tell me why you want it."

Mulder maintains unflinching eye contact, but refuses to answer.

"It's the kid, isn't it? What's her name? The half-breed."

Fists tightening at his side, it's all Mulder can do to stay focused on his mission and not put Krycek through the second story window with his bare hands. "Shut the hell up, Krycek."

Alex leans back against the chipped Formica countertop, scratching the stubble on his chin, a fiendish smile spreading over his face. "You're really something else, Agent Mulder, you know that? Supposing I could get you what you wanted - why would I help you?"

Mulder had anticipated this question. "Name your price," he offers, flatly.

Krycek barks out another laugh, louder this time. "You couldn't afford me. Besides, I don't want your money."

"Then what do you want?"

Alex sniffs, haughtily, and crosses his arms over his chest, his eyes narrowing. "Blood," he says, finally. "A vial of the kid's blood."

Mulder's nostrils flare. He feels for one split second like he might throw up. "You're out of your fucking mind."

"I'm not the one who's asking for favors here. It's your choice, Mulder."

"No."

"Think about it," pushes Alex. "You give me the blood. It gets used for research purposes. Nobody has to know who or where it came from. I give you the vaccine. The kid lives. Everyone goes home happy."

"Go to Hell, Krycek." Mulder turns around and starts to walk toward the door.

"Scully's then," Alex calls after him.

Mulder stops.

"Get me a vial of Scully's blood instead."

"What would you want with Scully's blood?" Mulder asks, as he turns back around to face Krycek, cautiously.

Krycek shrugs, smiling like a serpent. "Dozens of women are abducted, their eggs used to harvest alien/human hybrids. And hers is the only one that survives?" He huffs out an incredulous laugh. "That didn't happen by chance. I'm willing to bet her blood is worth something to the right people."

"You disgust me, Krycek, you know that? You're a wretched excuse for a human being."

Alex tilts his head to the side, mockingly. "Gosh, I'm hurt. And I really thought we had something special, you and me. Does this mean I'm not going to be Uncle Alex to the little half breed?"

In three swift, angry steps, Mulder grabs Krycek again by the collar, spins him around, and shoves his face down onto the dirty kitchen counter, cocking his weapon to the side of his head. "Fucking call her that again, I dare you."

Krycek is breathing heavily, his fetid, sour breath turning Mulder's stomach once again.

"Testy, testy," Alex pants, but Mulder detects fear and uncertainty in the man's eyes. Mulder maintains his grip.

"The vial, Agent Mulder. You asked my price and I gave it to you. Now all you have to ask yourself, is how badly do you want to save the kid's life?"

Fuck. Much too late, Mulder begins to realize what a bad idea this was. Scully is going to kill him.

He curses under his breath. With a firm shove, he backs off, reholstering his gun. "You've got two days, Krycek."

"I want the blood first."

"No deal," hisses Mulder. "You get nothing until I have the vaccine. I'll be back in forty-eight hours."

Krycek smiles, shifting his clothes back. "Pleasure doing business with you, as always."

Mulder tosses him a scathing look then heads for the door.

"Are you enjoying playing daddy?" Alex taunts after him. "What makes you think you can protect her? You couldn't protect your own sister."

Mulder's gait slows, but he keeps himself from turning back around. If he does, he'll end up killing the guy and then he'll be shit out of luck.

"I was right, wasn't I?" Krycek continues. "Marita told you where to find me. Hey, don't make the mistake of thinking you're the only one who's had that." He snorts again.

Mulder walks out, slamming the door behind him.

March 11, 1998

Maggie arrives at the hospital after lunch, carting a small canvas bag stuffed full of coloring books, new crayons, card games, and picture books. She kisses and hugs Emily, who is picking her way through a peanut butter sandwich, leaving behind more than she's eating. "Look what Grandma brought you, Baby Girl. How are you feeling?" Emily produces a weak smile and accepts the cuddles good-naturedly, happy to see her grandmother, but unable to muster much energy. Her appetite has been waning a little more each day.

"Mom, thank you, but this wasn't necessary," Scully protests, looking at the bag of new toys and books. "What do you say, Emily?"

"Thank you, Grammy," says Emily, obediently. "Can you read to me?"

Maggie kisses her head again. "You bet. It's going to be just the two of us girls this afternoon."

"We've been alternating trips home," says Scully, which is a lie, but Mulder wisely keeps his mouth shut. Scully hasn't moved from Emily's bedside for more than an hour in days. There are bags under her eyes and her clothes are hanging off her thin frame. Mulder had begun to suspect that getting her to take a break from the hospital would require an act of God. Or a very persuasive mother.

Fifteen minutes and four pages of instructions later, Mulder is unlocking Scully's car door and practically pushing her inside. "I think I forgot to leave an extra pair of socks for Emily," she mumbles. "Sometimes her feet get cold." Scully reaches for her cell phone.

Mulder pries it lovingly out of her hand. "Scully," he says, patiently. "It's a hospital. There's a nurse checking in every hour around the clock. If Em needs more socks, someone will get a pair for her." He starts the car. "We'll be back before bedtime, okay? They'll be fine and your mom will call if she needs us."

Scully nods, distractedly. "No, you're right." She fastens her seatbelt and they sit for a minute, listening to the idle of the engine. "It's just that I feel fine," she starts again. "I'm not that tired and it's just as easy for you to stop home and get clothes for me. That's all I need." She's so exhausted that her voice has begun to give out, cracking on every other word. Her tired smile makes his heart clench and he wants to wrap her inside a warm, safe embrace and hold her forever.

Leaning to the passenger seat, he presses his mouth to her hairline. "You need a break, honey," he whispers. He's never called her that. Ever. It makes an impression because she nods with a long, defeated exhale.

"Okay."


He coaxes her into a hot shower first, literally having to help her out of her clothes. The bedroom hamper is full, so he tosses everything onto the floor in the tiny laundry room and closes the door so she won't be tempted to deal with it today. He'll have to come home some day this week and do a few loads. He has about three days' worth of underwear left, but he can get creative if he needs to. The situation isn't truly desperate until Scully runs out and she's still okay for another week, although she'll have to settle for non-matching bras and panties. At this point, he doubts she'd notice if he even gave her someone else's underwear to put on.

No one has slept in the bed for three days, but it remains unmade from when they left for the hospital in the middle of the night. He takes the time to straighten it, folding the sheets and blankets down invitingly, hoping that he can entice her to sleep for a few hours.

He's about to head for the kitchen to see if he can pull together something for her to eat when he hears muffled crying. The bathroom door is open and he stands at the threshold, swallowing the knot forming in the back of his throat. For a second he can't decide whether to go to her or give her privacy. Knowing her, she'd prefer the latter, but he loves her too much to give her what she wants. He sloughs his shirt off. "Scully?"

At the sound of his voice, the crying turns into quiet, shuddering breaths that sound even worse. Her pain cuts him to the quick.

"Scully, I'm coming in."

"I'm fine," she chokes out.

Wrong. Not this time.

He peels his jeans down and steps out of them, his underwear and socks following. Opening the shower door, he steps into the steam. She's huddled with her back to him, under the spraying needles, and he wraps himself around her like a blanket. The heat of the water nearly takes his breath away and he gasps. She has it turned up as hot as it will go. He's afraid she'll burn herself, so he reaches around to adjust the temperature.

Her small shoulders tremble with her efforts not to cry. "Hey," he breathes into the side of her neck, "hey." He rocks her gently. "You don't have to hold it together, Scully. It's just us here."

With a strangled moan, she shakes and sobs, releasing her grief in waves. She turns in his arms until she can bury her drenched face in his chest. Her hands clutch at his arms, fingernails digging and scratching his skin. He welcomes the pain. Water and tears flow over both of them like a river.

When the sobbing finally withers to exhausted sniffles and quakes, he cuts the water and wraps her in a towel. She follows him to the bed and they climb in naked and wet. He holds her and kisses her cheek and hair as she shivers.

Scully's breathing begins to regulate and she turns onto her side, facing him. She searches for his hand with her eyes closed and guides it between her legs.

"Scully, you should sleep."

Her small hand closes over his cock and he jumps. "Honey," he whispers, tenderly. There's that word again. If she wasn't so exhausted, she'd no doubt tell him what he could do with that word.

He's soft, but that's changing rapidly as she strokes him. "You need to get some rest," he protests again, a bit more weakly this time. He feels guilty for responding to her physically, but it's been almost a week since they made love and she's completely naked and panting into his mouth, her hand rubbing like she's trying to start a fire with his dick.

"Please, please, please," she chants, arching into his hand. "Need this...need this...please."

Oh God.

With a soft groan, he rolls onto her and reaches down to guide himself in. She's tight and overheated from their shower. She keeps her eyes shut, writhing and rocking beneath him. Kissing her wet cheeks and her eyelids over and over again, he pumps into her in slow, deep, even strokes. The bed creaks rhythmically with their movements.

When he tells her he loves her, her breath catches on a sob and he slows. "Please...please..." she pants again, frantically this time, her hips bucking. He keeps going, feeling the push of her hand as it slides between them to touch herself. There's a desperation in her movements and he realizes just how much she needs this release. When it finally comes, it's like a storm cloud breaking. With her open mouth to his shoulder, she cries out and convulses beneath him in long shuddering gasps that seem to go on forever. Eventually, she lies still and spent. Mulder clenches his jaw in concentration and finishes in half a dozen quick, deep strokes, feeling the tension drain from his body as he empties into her.

Moments later, they both give themselves over to slumber.

March 12, 1998

SCULLY

Emily pushes her cereal away again.

Scully sighs. "Not even a few bites?"

Emily shakes her head, limply.

"How about some yogurt?"

Nope.

Accepting defeat, Scully covers the contents of the tray and moves it out of the way. Emily's eyes flutter closed again. She's only been awake for two hours, but that seems to be the extent of her energy right now. It doesn't help that she's eating very little.

Scully settles herself once again next to the bed. She hums and gently strokes Emily's hair until she drifts off.

Minutes later, her cell phone vibrates, noisily walking itself across the nightstand. Scully grabs it and creeps into the hallway before flipping it open. "Scully."

"Hey, Scully. Anything?"

She sighs tiredly. "Not yet. Doctor Ratcliffe said before noon." The process of waiting for daily blood work results is stressful and anxiety-inducing. The hope with each CBC is that Emily's white count will have improved enough for her to safely receive a transfusion. So far, that hasn't been the case. In fact, her counts happen to be going ever-so-slowly in the opposite direction.

Mulder went home two hours ago to do the laundry, then run errands. Her mother would arrive shortly after lunch to sit with Emily so that Scully could go home for a shower. The three of them take shifts so that Emily is never alone and it seems to be working, although she and Mulder get very little sleep at night on the hospital cots.

"Did she eat breakfast?"

"No."

"I don't blame her," replies Mulder, forcing optimism. "I wouldn't eat half the stuff they offer her, which means it's pretty bad."

Scully wishes she had the energy to smile at his words. "We'll try again with lunch. It's chicken nuggets today, so fingers crossed."

"Skinner left a message at the apartment. He said not to worry about the time off."

"You've used up all your vacation, Mulder."

"I don't care," he says, defiantly. "They get their pound of flesh from me. From both of us, Scully."

"We need to keep our health insurance." The Bureau's benefits package is generous, to say the least. But Emily's medical bills are mounting with each passing day and they simply can't afford to do anything that might jeopardize their jobs.

"We're fine, Scully," he replies, evenly. "I'll handle it. You don't need to be thinking about anything, but Emily, okay?"

Scully chews at her bottom lip, an anxious habit she's been fighting lately.

"Okay?" he asks again.

"Okay."

"Is there any chance I can convince you to sleep at home tonight?"

She sighs. He's asked her the same question for the past two nights and she refuses, despite his promise not to leave Emily's bedside all night.

"I can be there every second. I won't even sleep, if that's what it'll take to get you to take a night off."

"Mulder..."

"You're no good to her if you're dead on your feet, Scully. You're a doctor - you should know that the first rule is to take care of yourself if you're going to take care of anyone else."

She closes her eyes, knowing he's right. "My mom will be here in a couple of hours. I'll come home and take a nap," she concedes.

"That's a start." He hesitates and she senses that he wants to say something else.

"What is it, Mulder?"

"Have you spoken to Cooper? Is there any progress?"

"I left a message on his cell phone earlier this morning. I haven't heard back yet."

There's another pause, then, "I may have a lead, Scully."

"What do you mean?"

"An idea. Of how we might help Emily. But...there's something we'd have to do and we need to discuss it."

His words pique her curiosity. But there's something about his tone that makes her heart skip a beat and not necessarily for a good reason. "Mulder? What would we have to do?"

He's quiet and she wonders for a second if she's lost his call. Then she hears him breathing.

"Mulder. You're scaring me."

"No," he says, softly. "It's going to be all right."

"What is? Please promise me you're not going to do anything stupid."

"Come home and let's talk."


Scully cuts the engine to her car, then closes her eyes and leans her head forward to rest on the steering wheel. Mulder's car is not parking in front of the apartment and she figures he must still be running errands. She's not at all anxious to tell him that Emily's blood work came back with no change and she has yet to hear back from Cooper. When she left the hospital, Emily was sleeping again, under the watchful eye of her mother. About the only positive news she has to share is that she did manage to get Emily to eat four chicken nuggets for lunch, which is more than she ate all of yesterday.

The doctors used the word "discharge" today for the first time, but not in a hopeful way. Unless Emily improves enough to have a transfusion, there isn't much that can be done for her at the hospital and she would probably be more comfortable at home. As a medical professional, Scully understands the logic of this. As a mother, the thought terrifies her. If a patient is not getting well, there is only one reason to send them home from the hospital.

This is one of those times when she wishes she was much better at lying to herself.

Locking her car, she makes her way toward the apartment building, dialing Mulder on her cell phone as she walks. After several rings, the call goes to his voice mail. "Mulder, it's me. I just got home. Not sure where you are. I'm going to take a shower and then wait for you to get here." She glances at her watch. It's 1:40. "Uh, okay. I guess I'll...see you soon then."

Inside the apartment, she slides out of her shoes and coat, then surveys the pitiful contents of her neglected kitchen, searching for something edible. She has two slices of bread and a jar of peanut butter out on the counter when she hears something. She freezes and holds her breath, listening. There it is again - a faint creak. Barely audible. Like a door closing.

It's coming from somewhere down the hall and she's tempted to call out Mulder's name, but something stops her. She's certain his car was not parked in front of the building or she would have seen it. There were plenty of spaces open in the middle of the day; he wouldn't have parked down the street.

Pivoting slowly, she eyes her purse across the room, on the table by the door. Her cell phone is inside, but more importantly, so is her weapon.

Her heart is pounding like a drum. There is no doubt in her mind that whoever is hiding inside her apartment knows she is here as well. She made no effort to keep quiet when she entered just minutes ago.

Stealthily, she makes her way across the hardwood floor toward her purse, stepping lightly, keeping one eye on the shadowy hallway behind her. Her hand wraps around the cold metal of her gun and she breathes again.

Dammit Mulder, where the hell are you? Weapon cradled in her raised hands, she starts down the hallway.

She reaches the master bedroom first and swings the door open slowly, covering herself in all directions as she enters. Her eyes scan the room quickly, seeing nothing out of the ordinary.

She's beginning to wonder if Mulder was right and her exhaustion really is getting the best of her, when a darting movement registers in her peripheral vision, exiting Emily's bedroom and heading for the hall. Spinning, wide-eyed, she aims her gun at the back of a dark-haired man, dressed all in black. "FREEZE! DON'T YOU DARE MOVE!"

Her intruder raises both hands over his head very slowly, cursing under his breath.

"Turn around!" she orders. "Keep your hands where I can see them!"

The man turns to face her and Scully feels a surge of anger, her mouth dropping open. "What the hell are you doing in my apartment?" She takes a step toward him, her eyes blazing.

"I'm not armed."

Scully keeps her gun aimed high. "I asked you what you're doing in my home, Krycek!

"Why don't you ask your husband that question," he snarls. "Where's the kid?"

Scully registers a vague sense of panic. She's just come from the hospital. Emily is safe. There's no reasonable way Krycek could possibly have gotten from the hospital to her apartment and inside before she did. "What do you want with Emily?" Scully shouts furiously, her hand tightening on her gun as she takes a step closer.

"I want answers," he replies, calmly. "Just like everyone else does." His raised arms falter a little.

"I SAID KEEP YOUR HANDS UP!"

"Are you this bossy in bed, Baby?" he leers. "Maybe Mulder needs to teach you a lesson, put you in your place."

"Shut the hell up, you son of a bitch! I asked you what the hell you're doing here!"

"I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that your husband never bothered to tell you about his little meeting with me the other night. Pity, because I would have assumed you two lovebirds had better communication than that." He tilts his head in mock sympathy. "Hiding things from each other already..."

Scully frowns, her eyes narrowing in suspicion.

"He didn't tell you what he promised me either, did he? It seems Mulder thinks a vial of the kid's blood is a fair exchange for the vaccine."

Scully can't mask her surprise.

"A deal's a deal. I've come to collect."

"You're lying."

"Where is she?"

"If you so much as look at my daughter, Krycek, so help me God, I'll-"

"You'll what?" He laughs. "You'll shoot me? I don't think so. If I die, there goes your precious vaccine."

Scully thinks for a few seconds, remembering her phone conversation with Mulder just hours earlier. Was this what he had been referring to? A deal with Krycek for a vaccine?

"Where is it?" she demands. "The vaccine. I want to see it."

"It's in my pocket. Why don't you put the gun down and I'll prove it to you."

"No." Scully raises the gun from his chest to his head. "I'll get it myself. If you even so much as cough, I swear, I'll blow you head off."

He smiles at her. "You have no idea how turned on I am right now."

Scully swallows, disgusted, and steps closer to him, keeping her gun steady. She maintains eye contact as she reaches slowly and deliberately into the pocket on Krycek's leather jacket - first one side, then the other. Her hand emerges, empty. "There's nothing there! You're a filthy, rotten liar!"

He chuckles. "Not that pocket, Baby. Aim a little lower."

"Don't call me baby, you lying sack of-"

Her last word is sucked out of her as Krycek lunges, smacking his forehead hard into hers. Searing pain screams through her and she literally sees stars for a few seconds, her eyes unable to focus. She's knocked down hard onto her hip and the gun goes skidding across the hardwood floor toward the dresser. Krycek lands on top of her, trying to pin her to the floor and she scrambles and twists beneath him. The son of a bitch is a lot heavier than he looks. Her stocking feet slide against the polished hardwoods, unable to gain purchase, and she cries out in frustration.

He tries to cross his forearm over her wrists and pin her arms to the floor while her legs swing about. She screams in pain as he grabs a handful of her hair and twists hard. "FUCKER!" she screams. Focusing all of her remaining energy, she thrusts her knee up as hard as she can and hears him howl in pain. He rolls off her and she scrambles across the floor, closing her grip on the handle of her gun. Struggling to her feet and staggering a little, she aims her weapon at him once again. He's lying crumpled on his side, clutching his groin, his face contorted.

Scully's aware of her name being called out. "In here," she manages, breathlessly. "I'm in here."

Mulder launches himself around the corner and into their bedroom, stopping short at the sight of Scully holding Alex Krycek at gunpoint.

"What the hell happened?" he yells. "Are you all right, Scully?"

She nods, wincing in pain. "I'm okay." A hand raised to her head comes back with a smear of red on it where Krycek hit her. "He was in the apartment when I got here," she pants.

Mulder hauls Krycek to his feet and slams him into the closet doors. "YOU SON OF A BITCH!" he roars. "YOU BROKE INTO MY HOME?"

Krycek sneers at him. "Your cunt kneed me in the balls. Teach her some manners or I will."

There's a loud crack as Mulder's fist connects with Krycek's jaw. Stunned for a second, Krycek recovers and returns a poorly-aimed swing. Mulder wrenches the man's arm behind his back, then thrusts him onto the floor and presses his knee into his back.

"YOU OWE SCULLY AN APOLOGY!"

Krycek groans like a sick dog.

"I DIDN'T HEAR YOU!"

"Fuck you!" he growls.

Mulder hits him again. Krycek moans.

"APOLOGIZE!"

"Mulder, stop!" Scully begs, her hand on his forearm. "That's enough."

Glancing up at her, Mulder's face softens a little.

"Please, Mulder," she says, stepping closer to him.

Reluctantly, he lifts off of Krycek, catching his breath for a minute while Alex cowers in a tattered heap. After a minute, Mulder nudges him with his boot. "Get up."

Krycek struggles to his feet. His face is a mess. He has a bloody nose, a split lip, and by the looks of it, at least one of his eyes will likely be swollen shut by morning. He takes several steps back from Mulder and touches the corner of his mouth. "Fuck you," he repeats. "The deal's off."

"There never was any deal," Mulder hisses. "You were never going to get the vaccine, were you? You lied to me, you piece of shit!"

Scully looks from one man to the other and back again. "Is it true what he said, Mulder? You were going to trade Emily's blood for the vaccine?"

Mulder looks at her, stunned. "What? No, Scully. I never said that." Mulder redirects his attention at Krycek and takes a furious step toward him.

Once again, Scully stops him with a hand to his arm. "He said that you made a deal with him. A vial of Emily's blood in exchange for the vaccine. Is that true?"

Krycek's face splits into a smug smile. "Such a shame when the trust in a relationship breaks down, isn't it."

"Shut the fuck up!" yells Mulder.

"No, Scully. It's not true. He asked for Emily's blood. I told him no, I swear to God. Then he asked for yours."

She stares back at him.

"That's what I was going to talk to you about today," he finishes, running a shaky hand through his hair.

Scully crosses her arms tightly over her chest and steps back, unblinking, overwhelmed.

"I'm sorry, Scully. I thought I could get the vaccine," he says, weakly. "I thought it was worth a shot. The final decision was going to be up to you."

Krycek sniffles. "This is all very touching, really it is. But unless you're offering something that's worth my time, I've got better things to do."

"Not so fast," snaps Scully. "You said you have the vaccine."

Mulder looks at Krycek, suspiciously. "He's lying, Scully."

Her eyes connect with Mulder's for a heartbeat. "What if he's not? He said it's in his pocket."

Mulder eyes Krycek up and down, venomously. After a moment's hesitation, he says, "Prove it."

"Are you going to shoot me if I reach into my pocket?" asks Krycek. He smirks, devilishly. "I'd offer to let you, Mulder, but you're not really my type." His chin juts toward Scully. "You, on the other hand, we could have some fun."

Scully aims the gun below his waist. "Watch it, Krycek. No quick movements or it won't be my knee this time."

He glowers at her and reaches into the front pocket of his jeans, pulling out a sealed glass tube. "You get your vaccine; I get my blood."

Mulder ignores his demands. "Toss it over."

After a brief hesitation, Krycek underhands it to Mulder, who catches it in his right hand. "This is the vaccine," Mulder says, dubiously, holding the tube up to his eye.

"That's what you asked for," says Krycek. "And I think I've been patient long enough. I get what's coming to me."

Mulder screws the top off the tube and swirls the clear liquid around before holding it up to his nose, cautiously.

Maintaining a steady grip on her gun, Scully throws a questioning glance at Mulder.

He waives the open tip of the tube under her nose and Scully's hopes plummet. Confirming her suspicions, she dabs the liquid and raises her finger to her tongue, then lowers her gun. "Saline," she says, softly, swallowing a thick knot of disappointment. "It's nothing but a saline solution."

With clenched teeth, Mulder slings the open tube at Krycek, dousing his face and the front of his jacket in the liquid. "Get the fuck out of here!" The glass tube hits Krycek and clatters to the floor, rolling to a stop by his foot. Mulder grabs Krycek by the collar roughly and drags him down the hall, through the living room and to the front door. Flinging it open, he heaves him into the hallway. "If you ever come anywhere near my family again, Krycek, I swear to God, I will kill you." The door is slammed shut again before Krycek even manages to get up off his knees.

**

They sit at the kitchen table together and she skillfully wraps his hand. "Mulder, I just don't understand what the hell you were thinking." She isn't finished being pissed off with him.

"I thought I could get my hands on the same vaccine that was used on me. Krycek was there, Scully - he was in Russia with me. And I know he has connections."

"Why in the world would you trust him?"

He shakes his head in frustration and sifts his other hand through his hair. "I didn't really. But I had to take the chance. Knowing that there could be something out there to help Emily...I couldn't just sit by and do nothing, Scully. I swear I never thought he'd break in here."

She secures the end of the bandage, then examines it thoroughly until she's satisfied. "Be careful with it," she warns. "I don't think you've sprained it, but you're going to have some swelling."

Mulder flexes his hand, experimentally. "Thanks, Doc. How's your head?"

"I'm fine. The bleeding's stopped."

He touches her forehead tenderly. "You're gonna have a goose egg, Scully. Maybe even a shiner."

She refuses to give him a smile as she's packing away the first aid kit. "You should see the other guy."

He chuckles tiredly, then watches her for a minute, his eyes soft.

"I'm sorry, Scully. This was fucked up, even for me."

She sighs and tilts her head, looking at him like he's a scruffy dog that followed her home. With his bandaged hand, tousled hair, and blood on his shirt, he doesn't look far off. "Sometimes I don't know what I'm going to do with you, Mulder."

He looks up at her through mossy eyes. "Keep me?"

His forehead is warm against her own. She lets her thumb sweep his lower lip. "I think that's a given."

"We should get back to the hospital," she says, finally.

He nods in agreement, but neither of them moves.

"Scully, I know you think I did this for you," he says, softly, "and for Em. Because I couldn't stand to see either of you hurting. And while that was part of it, I think the real reason was that I did it for myself."

She frowns at him, searching his eyes.

"I never really thought about having kids before. I mean, not in any real sense. It wasn't that I didn't want to; it was more like I just couldn't imagine it ever happening to me. My life is...was...not exactly the kind you subject a child to."

Scully huffs and blinks slowly, conceding his point.

"But Emily changed that. When she looks at me, Scully," he shakes his head, the corners of his mouth lifting, "I feel like I really am the person she thinks I am. And I don't care what any piece of paper or blood test says, Emily's my daughter. At least in any way that counts. So you see," he continues, his voice starting to break as he takes Scully's hand, "I did a stupid thing. And I did it because I'm selfish. Because now that I've got her, I'm not willing to let her go."

Scully bites her bottom lip and nods, unable to utter a word. And simply knowing that she doesn't have to.

Throughout their partnership, she and Mulder have differed on so many things. But on this, they are the same. They would both do anything for Emily. They're a family now.

A trill sounds from Scully's purse. She's so tired and emotionally- drained that it takes a moment for her to recognize it as her cell phone. Then she remembers that her mother is at the hospital with Emily and she jumps up. Grabbing her purse, she digs for her phone, breathing again when she sees that the call is from Cooper. He's no doubt returning her call from earlier today.

Flipping it open, she puts the phone to her ear and closes her eyes, daring not to hope. "Coop," she says, wearily, "I could really use some good news right about now."

"Hey kiddo. You might be in luck. I think I may have something."

Scully's eyes spring back open and she looks at Mulder, who is staring straight back at her, anxiously.

"How soon can you be here?"

Epilogue

June 24, 1998

SCULLY

Scully is bent over the sink in her black skirt and ivory bra, applying a coat of mascara in the bathroom mirror. Mulder lingers behind her, leaning into the door frame and munching on a buttered English muffin. He's missing a tie, but other than that, is fully dressed for work. She hates it when he watches her put her makeup on. Some things just aren't meant for an audience.

She also hates it when he beats her into the shower in the morning because it means he'll be ready before she is and will have nothing better to do than stand around, making conversation with her while she contorts herself into a pair of pantyhose or applies her antiperspirant. Which is certainly going to get tested today - damn, it's hot already.

"What the hell is wrong with the air conditioning in this apartment anyway, Mulder?" Her mascara wand falls onto the vanity and leaves a black smudge that she wipes off with the back of her hand. "Didn't you call the super the other day?"

Mulder nods and munches. "I did. It's hot, Scully. It's been in the nineties for a week now. He said the units are old."

"With the rent we pay?" She arches her brows. "They can afford to replace them." Pushing past him into the bedroom, she heads for the closet. "I'm starting to agree with Emily - let's move to New England. I think I'd rather have six months of snow."

He shakes his head. "You wouldn't. Trust me."

Their closet is packed and Scully fights with hangers. "I want our new house to have enormous closets. Obscenely large."

"We've looked at sixteen houses, Scully. You just need to pick one."

"The one on Marigold Street had decent-sized closets."

"Which one was that again?"

"The one with the detached garage and the sun room."

"Right."

"But you didn't like the yard," she points out.

"I didn't say I didn't like it. It's just small. No room to get a good pick-up game going, that's all."

"Well, I'm sure there are parks nearby."

"I guess," he says. "What about the one close to the elementary school? On Academy Street. That has a big yard and it's closer to work."

"Did you even look at the kitchen? I think Carter was in office the last time those appliances were updated. And don't even get me started on the cupboards." She shudders.

"So we remodel the kitchen."

"Well, they'd have to come down then. It's overpriced."

"It has four bedrooms," he says, quietly.

Her breath catches a little. Not now, she thinks. Let's not do this now or I'll never make it through the day. She doesn't turn around.

"Sorry, Scully."

"It's okay. I just don't want to get my hopes up."

The back of his fingers run once down her bare arm. "I know."

Plucking two blouses from the bar of the closet, she holds them up in front of her and wiggles them.

"That one," Mulder recommends, pointing to the sheerer of the two.

"Fine," she sighs, returning the other to the closet. "I'm not wearing a jacket, I'll melt."

"It's Friday." He shrugs. "Casual."

"Mulder, the Bureau doesn't do casual Fridays."

"It's eighty degrees at 7 am, Scully. I'm not wearing a tie; they can bite me."

She smirks at him, buttoning her blouse. "Can I?"

He looks her up and down with a playful smolder. "Don't start what you can't finish, Agent Scully."

"Oh I can finish it." She checks the clock again. "But we'd be late. Speaking of late, can you brush Emily's teeth and get her dressed?"

"Sure," he replies, looking a little regretful at having to abandon the flirting right before it got interesting.

He lumbers off, leaving her to puzzle over her shoe inventory alone.

So far, they've managed to keep things from getting out of hand at work, not without significant effort however. As it turns out, the privacy of a basement office can be both a blessing and a curse. Most days, they're the only two who even set foot down there. She happens to harbor a secret fantasy about kneeling behind Mulder's desk while he's seated in his chair, just to see if she can do a little something about his work-related tension. The thought of him watching the door with his hands in her hair as she finishes him makes her face feel hot. Perhaps today will be the day.

Foregoing the stockings, she slides into a pair of black sling backs and heads for the coffee pot, making a pass by Emily's room first to check on the progress there.

"I want to wear the blue shirt," declares Emily, standing next to her unmade bed in a pair of denim shorts.

"Blue shirt it is," replies Mulder, grabbing it off the hanger.

"The blue one with the butterflies."

Mulder does a one-eighty and heads back to the closet. "Butterflies it is."

Scully smiles and continues past the doorway, calling out, "Don't forget to toss the sunblock in her backpack. She's with grandma today and they're setting up at the church bazaar."

Mulder and Em appear in the kitchen, with backpack and pink sneakers, a few minutes later. The look on Mulder's face, along with the hairbrush he's carrying, indicates that her assistance might be needed. "She wants a French braid, Scully. Your turn."

"Morning, baby," says Scully, kissing Emily on her tousled hair. "How did you sleep?"

"It's hot," replies Emily simply.

"Yeah, it is." Scully spins Emily around and begins gently brushing her hair. "We can put a fan in your room tonight. That should help."

A butterscotch kitten weaves in and out of Scully's legs, mewing. "What's the matter, Percy, didn't anyone feed you yet?"

The kitten mews again and jumps onto the table.

"Mulder," she says, not taking her attention off Emily's hair.

"Got it." Mulder scoops Percy with one hand under the cat's tummy and relocates him to the floor, then pours a pile of cat chow into a ceramic dish. "I think he's doubled in size since last week, Scully. Is that supposed to happen?"

She smiles. "He's only four months old. I think he's going to grow for a while yet."

"Then we're gonna need a bigger bag of cat food."

"Can we go to the beach today?" asks Emily.

"Not today, I'm afraid. Mulder and I have to work and you'll be with Grandma. But tomorrow's Saturday. Maybe we can go tomorrow."

Mulder is opening and closing drawers in the kitchen. "Scully, have you seen my watch?"

"No. Why would it be in a kitchen drawer, Mulder?"

"I don't know. You put things in weird places."

"I put things away." She smiles, patiently. "You should try it sometime."

"Then I wouldn't be able to find anything," he complains.

"You mean like now?"

Emily giggles.

Mulder makes a silly face at her. "Hey, whose side are you on?" he teases. "She's gonna make you clean your room next."

Emily's smile wilts a little.

"Check the bedroom," Scully recommends. "I think I saw it on your nightstand."

Mulder plods off.

Scully separates even sections of Emily's hair and starts to braid it, tugging gently as she moves along. Emily's request to go to the beach makes her smile. Mulder has been promising her they'd go just as soon as it's warm enough, and Emily is going to hold him to it. For the last eight weeks, Emily has been taking swim lessons at the YMCA with Mulder and loving it. Emily seems to have a natural affinity towards water and Scully is curious to see if her daughter has also inherited her love of the sea.

Thinking back over the last three months, she feels nothing short of amazed. Even Emily's doctors have no explanation for her miraculous recovery. Besides, Mulder, Cooper Reed, Scully's mom, and herself, no one else knows about the vaccine that was created by Cooper and administered to Emily last March.

The night of Cooper's phone call, Mulder and Scully checked a very sick Emily out of the hospital against her doctor's recommendation. After transferring her to Maggie Scully's house, Cooper arrived just hours later and injected Emily with the serum containing the antibodies procured from Mulder's blood sample. It was two more anxious days before Emily showed any signs of improvement. They were the hardest two days of Scully's life.

Cooper remained with them the entire time, all four adults and Emily spread out among the various rooms of the house. Just waiting. And hoping. And in some cases, praying.

On the third night, Emily's fever broke. By morning, she was eating and taking short walks around the inside of the house. A week later, Emily's doctor was sitting across from them in an examination room, shaking his head at the blood tests. There was no sign left of the anemia. And simply no medical explanation for the mysterious turnabout. Emily Scully was deemed nothing short of a miracle, a recovery unexplainable by modern medicine.

Three months later, Emily is fever-free. A healthy three and a half year old girl, who goes to day care and is learning to read and loves pancakes and playing hide and seek and getting her fingernails painted. Who cries when she's overtired and makes a mess in the bathtub and occasionally, although not often, has to sit in time out for making poor choices. In short, she's just like every other happy, healthy three-year-old. Perhaps a little precocious, and with a streak of her mother's stubbornness thrown in.

Scully marvels at the unpredictability, yet perfect symmetry of life. The events that transpired to lead them all to this point in time. If she hadn't been abducted four years ago, Emily would have never existed. If Mulder hadn't been infected with the alien virus in Russia and then injected with a vaccine, he never would have developed the antibodies that would eventually save Emily's life.

Securing the rubber band at the bottom of Emily's finished braid, Scully pats her hips and presses another kiss to her cheek. "All done. Now what would you like for breakfast?"

"Blueberry pancakes," pronounces Emily.

"Sorry, Sweetie," Scully says, with an apologetic face. "Not enough time this morning. Pancakes tomorrow. We can do cereal, an English muffin with jam, or...hang on and let me see if there are any frozen waffles left." Scully opens the freezer and catches the ice cream as it tumbles out.

"I don't want waffles, Mommy."

She freezes with the pint of Rocky Road in her hand. The chill from the freezer escapes, swallowing her breath as she exhales. Calmly, Scully straightens the items and then replaces the ice cream. Just as well - they're out of waffles anyway.

She turns around to find Emily watching her, a cautious look on her face.

"I'm sorry," Emily whispers.

Scully's eyes flood and she walks swiftly back to the table. Kneeling, she draws Emily to her in an embrace, pressing her little head to her shoulder. "For what, baby?" Scully swallows a sob. "For what?"

Emily doesn't respond and Scully continues holding her tightly, her nose pressed to the soft side of Emily's cheek.

After a minute, Scully pulls back and looks at Emily, who is watching her with a great deal of uncertainty. It occurs to her that Emily is not sure how to interpret her tearful reaction. With a cleansing breath, Scully holds Emily's hands between her own and smiles reassuringly at her. "It's perfectly okay if you want to call me that."

Emily fidgets a little, looking down at her sneakers.

"I would like it very much," adds Scully, softly. "Okay?"

Emily nods and raises her blue eyes to meet Scully's.

"Hey Scully, I found it. It was right where you said it-" Mulder scuffles to a stop while fastening his watch. He looks at them both, curiously. "Everything all right?"

"Yes," replies Scully, not quite able to take her eyes off Emily's. "Everything is just fine."


MULDER

"You think I'm being too picky, don't you?" she asks.

Mulder's oversolicitous smile is her answer. "Of course not, Scully."

"It's our house, Mulder," she says defensively. "It's probably the single biggest investment we'll make in our lives and I, for one, don't want to make it rashly."

"I couldn't agree more. I'm just starting to wonder, at what point do we say 'We've seen enough. Let's just pick one?'"

Scully sighs, relaxing on her back with a folded arm beneath her head. "You think we're there, don't you."

"Of course not, Scully."

"Stop saying that!"

He laughs and takes her hand. "Look, I want you to have what you want. I'm just not sure it exists," he reasons, with a patient smile. "In our price range, anyway."

"Dammit. Why do we have to live in one of the most expensive areas of the country?"

"Because we work here? But hey, I'm willing to be flexible with that too. We could switch careers and start a dude ranch in Montana. I hear real estate's cheap there."

She rolls her eyes at him. "Okay, okay, let's go through the choices again."

"We could do up a spreadsheet," he teases and she frowns at him, but he'd bet his paycheck she's already considered it, maybe even has one hidden somewhere.

"How about," she starts, "you tell me which three are your favorites and then I'll do the same and we'll...I don't know, negotiate or something."

"I'll trade you the two-car garage for the wine cellar?" he jokes. "Like that?"

"What do we need a wine cellar for?"

"I was just making a...it was...nevermind." He kisses the little wrinkle between her brows.

"Okay," she says, moving on, "your favorites are Academy Street, Woodpecker, and which other one?"

He scoffs. "Not Woodpecker."

"I thought you liked that one. It has the finished basement with the media room."

"Yeah, but I'm not living on Woodpecker Lane, Scully. I don't care how awesome the man cave is."

She looks at him, biting back her smile. "Mulder. It's a word. It doesn't mean anything."

"Yeah, tell me you'll be able to keep a straight face every time you tell people where we live."

"Of course I will."

He stares her down and she finally breaks into a grin. "Okay, fine," she laughs. "Cross off Woodpecker. What are your other contenders?"

"Waterbridge and ...I guess, Camden. Wait, Humboldt. No," he shakes his head, "Definitely Camden."

"Camden is a very busy street, Mulder."

"Yeah, but it's pretty big and the price is right."

"The price is right because it's a busy street," she argues.

"Fine. Humboldt then."

"Humboldt is nice," she says, unexcitedly.

He waits for it. The but.

"But," she sighs, heavily, "it doesn't really have a lot of character. Not much personality."

He blinks at her. The 'yes dear' is just begging to roll off his tongue. "Okay, so which ones do you like?"

"Well," she starts, taking a deep breath. "Lexington, of course. But it's at the top of our price bracket and a longer commute. Um, Marigold. And... probably either Academy or Stafford."

"I thought you hated the kitchen in Academy."

"I do," she admits. "But you're right about the location. It would be nice to be close to schools and if we made an offer below their asking price, we'd have enough money left over to renovate."

"That's true," he agrees. "And it has the extra bedrooms."

Her eyes retreat and she shifts uncomfortably. He's immediately sorry he said it. Again. Where's the nearest wall so he can hit his head against it? Don't mention the bedrooms, Mulder, don't mention the bedrooms. As of now, they don't need extra bedrooms. They may never need extra bedrooms.

"Well, Stafford's nice too," he points out, a little too eagerly. "It has that...room thing... off the kitchen for all the...stuff."

"The pantry," she says, softly.

"Yeah, that."

There's a short knock at the door before it opens. They both look up as Doctor Mitchell enters. "Good afternoon, how is everybody?"

Scully smiles anxiously. "Fine, thank you."

Doctor Mitchell pages through the chart for a moment before laying it aside. "Well," she says calmly, "are we ready to take a look?"

There's a hesitation before Scully nods, releasing a nervous breath through her mouth.

The lights are turned down and the doctor reaches for the gel. "Now, it's still a little early. I don't want you to get discouraged if we don't see anything today, okay?"

They both nod. Mulder can feel the anxiety coming off Scully in waves and he holds her hand a little tighter, rubbing his thumb tenderly over hers. It's going to be all right, Scully, he says to her without a word. We have Em, and she's healthy and whatever happens, everything is going to be all right.

The ultrasound monitor clicks on and Scully turns her head to look at the ceiling, her breathing slow and measured. In and out, through her open mouth. In and out, like some kind of relaxation exercise.

That's it, Scully. That's it. No matter what. You and me.

Mulder bends so his face is right next to hers. He kisses her hand. "I love you, Scully," he whispers. He doesn't care if the doctor hears him. He doesn't care if anyone hears him. She's all that matters right now.

The room is silent, except for the gentle hum of the machine. Time slows to a crawl. He ignores the thunder of his own heartbeat and concentrates on her. The feel of her hand in his. The fragrance of her moisturizer. The whisper of her hair against his cheek.

Should it be taking this long?

Scully swallows and blinks, her eyes still staring up at some mystical point on the ceiling. A drop of moisture gathers at the outer corner of her eye and threatens to spill. Without thinking, he presses his mouth to the spot and tastes the salt of her tear.

"I'm not getting...hang on," Doctor Mitchell says, hesitantly.

Mulder closes his eyes.

A door somewhere down the hallway slams.

The muffled sound of a woman's laugh.

Then more silence.

More humming.

More breathing.

Finally, "Dana? You might want to take a look at this."

Scully's head turns. Her eyes narrow. Then widen.

He feels her fingers press sharply into his palm. She draws a quick, ragged breath.

"What is it?" Mulder asks. It looks like a black screen with white stuff on it.

"Right there," says Doctor Mitchell. "Do you see?"

Scully nods, her lip trembling.

"See what? What do we see, Scully?"

She squeezes his hand harder.

"Mulder?"

"Yeah?"

The edges of her mouth lift.

"We're going to need those extra bedrooms."

He swallows and blinks. "How many extra?"

The End (Phew!)


Thank you for reading! If you wish to send feedback, I enjoy receiving it. My address is malibusunset88@gmail.com. The web page is www.excuria.net.

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