table setting


Title: As Book II - Thanksgiving
Author: Dri
Feedback: Cherished at marmalad@terra.com.br
Written: 2004
Category: MSR
Rating: R
Spoilers: The follow up to my fic *As Book I*. Reading Book I is not necessary, though. If you want to, it can be found here - Book I
Disclaimer: They still belong to the guy and his company.

Summary: Being together is just the beginning.

Author's note: JKust remembering how to do this so I can post *Christmas* in December. As always, my thanks to my beloved betas Georgia and Toniann.

did you know that true love asks for nothing
her acceptance is the way we pay
you know that life has given love a guarantee
to last through forever and another day

Steven Wonder, As


"What's MSR?"

Mulder put the cardboard box he had been carrying back on the carpeted step and turned to see what Langly wanted.

"What?"

"MSR," Langly repeated, tilting his head in the direction of the box he had with him. "What's this thing?"

Mulder sighed and wiped his hands on his battered jeans. "What's the problem with you guys? I've been repeating what those letters stand for the whole morning." He got closer to Langly in the middle of the living room and traced each blue scrawled letter with his index finger. "Mulder and Scully's Room, Langly. Mulder and Scully's Room." Amused, he quirked the corner of his mouth and snapped, "Maybe you should lose this ponytail, pal; it's clearly damaging your line of thought."

"Maybe you should have spent your last night as a bachelor with us instead of trying to mess with our minds." Frohike said on the behalf of his friend. "Frankly, Mulder, what's the purpose of all those letters? What's the problem with the letter 'B' for bedroom?"

"There are three bedrooms in the house," he calmly informed. "How would you know which room to go to?"

"B1, B2, B3?" Langly suggested while walking past Mulder towards the staircase.

"Nope, too easy," Mulder said, following Langly. "What would be the fun in it?" Mulder picked up the box labeled S/K that had wrongly ended up in the second guestroom upstairs again.

"S/Sk, S/O, M/K, M/O," Frohike catalogued as he passed by several of the boxes scattered around the living room and in the hall. "You didn't even bother in putting subtitles on them."

"Hey, I stayed up until two o'clock in the morning labeling these boxes," Mulder replied. "I was too tired to subtitle them. You decode messages from the Pentagon, for Christ's sake."

"That's work. This was supposed to be fun," Langly said.

"Carrying boxes the whole day is your idea of fun?" Mulder asked surprised. Langly just shuddered and continued on his way back upstairs. "You should get a life."

"It took you how many years to get a life, oh Mighty Mulder?"

Mulder barely had the time to reply to Langly's insult before they heard Frohike half wailing in agony.

"What the hell is M/S/Sk?" Mulder again put the box he was carrying on the step and tried to calm down his distressed friend. When he looked at the large box Frohike had with him, he couldn't help but smile fondly at the package that guarded all the new purchases he and Scully had bought the week before. They were only supposed to have gotten a DVD player and a new TV. They ended up bringing home another dozen plates, mugs, glasses, and her credit card was going to remain useless until the next month.

"Everything that has a 'k' goes to the kitchen and the ones with an 'o' go to the basement."

"Thank you, Scully. You just ruined all the char..."

Whatever he was telling her lost its meaning and importance at the sight of her coming down the stairs with her hair held in a loose ponytail, and his flannel shirt revealing the pale curve of her shoulder that her white tank top didn't cover. He missed kissing her there. He realized it had been four days since they had had the energy to do something other than share the same pillow and sleeping bag.

"That was totally uncalled for, Scully," he said in a vain attempt at shooing away his desire to use her as an excuse to embarrass Langly.

"One more funny thing and you'll lose these cheap helpers."

Mulder looked back in time to see Frohike disappearing into the narrow hallway that led to the kitchen, barely able to balance the heavy box in his arms.

"He'll fall with that box, Mulder." "We promised them food, Scully. He may break some plates as an act of rebellion for this cheap treatment, but that's all. Besides, it's almost lunch time." Mulder forgot his parcel and patted his empty stomach, getting closer to her. "Woman, get down here and make me a sandwich!"

Her blue eyes got wide with surprise, and a second later they narrowed into a leer. "Take a break, Mulder. Lifting these boxes is not doing good things to you." Then she turned to Langly and beckoned him to follow her. "I'll show you where to put this."

"This is an MSR," Langly said, marching up the stairs.

"It's the sitting room. If we're wrong, Mulder can come down with it later."

"You know, nobody's cheaper than us, Scully."

"I know, Langly, I know."

Their tennis shoes went out of sight when they turned the second set of stairs.

He felt like bursting with happiness.

For the past three months, in times like this, he had distanced himself to be sure that he wasn't living another person's life. The man's reflection he saw in the mirror everyday was the same one he was used to staring back at for the last ten years. The color of his eyes had not changed, his hair was as thick as it had been forever, and he still didn't like his nose.

But she liked it. According to her very own words, she loved every inch of him. Even though the times she told him he was loved were rare, what he had was enough.

Having the life they had together was enough.

Mulder picked up the S/K box yet again, this time determined to take it to its final destination. Pushing some of the boxes out of his way, he finally reached the large kitchen.

Or chaos, he wasn't sure.

The boxes of dishes they had just bought were piled next to the stove, and the plastic bags that had covered the furniture were carelessly thrown on the new table, where the workers hired to set the furniture had left it the night before. And then there was all the stuff he and Scully had packed from their apartments, and some more to the point he really didn't know why they had bought. Boxes, boxes, boxes, and old furniture mixed with the new, and the cupboards were open so air could circulate inside of them, and the refrigerator was half-open because someone hadn't bothered to check to see if it was closed, and the people responsible for the kitchen were nowhere to be seen.

"What the hell is this?"

Byers' head appeared from among the cardboard and wood fort. He looked around the place, unconcerned by the mess, before getting back to his business. "The kitchen, I suppose."

Byers's words fell on deaf ears as Mulder made a complete circle around the room, trying to estimate how many boxes they had there. Too many, for his own sake. "Where did all these things come from? Are you sure there's just kitchen stuff here?"

"Positive," Byers said without stopping his chore. "I brought them here myself."

"I didn't know we had so many things." Mulder was desolate, wondering how long it would take him and Scully to put the townhouse in order. Or just the kitchen, for that matter.

"After eating directly from paper containers for so long, I bet you had no idea you even had plates in your house." Frohike's voice was muffled and there was no way Mulder could see his small figure in the crowded kitchen.

Mulder put his box on a chair and cracked the grey adhesive tape to peek inside of it. Scully's dishes.

"Scully likes my dishes." He thought it would be safer to put the box on the floor along with the other ones.

"She sure does. She's joining hers with yours."

Mulder chose to associate Frohike's observation to his overzealous behavior towards Scully rather than jealousy.

"And I'm damn glad she is, Mulder." Frohike's smiling face appeared from behind the backdoor. "You guys deserve it."

Frohike's words touched Mulder. He took time to glance around his and Scully's new kitchen, the clear wood of their new cupboards, the whiteness of the new electrical appliances, from their new toaster to their recently bought refrigerator. A small part of their new home, the beginning of their new life together.

Really there was no need to bother with boxes, empty or not, anymore. He would always have sufficient help to get rid of them.

"I was smart enough to get her,"

"Let's see if you're smart enough to not let her go," said Frohike, again fussing with god-knows-what behind the door.

Mulder shuddered at the mere thought of her walking away from him again. The moment that elevator door closed on his face when she had abandoned the hearing, he was sent to hell. Mulder pulled her yellow mug out of the box and turned it in his hands. "That is not an option, Frohike," he said quietly, then he put the mug back inside the box and started into motion again. "Can you handle things down here?"

He got no response, but since the guys had under their care thousands of dollars worth devices, he decided he could trust their china to them.

He went to the den. Things were a bit more organized there. During the past week he and Scully had met in the townhouse after work and brought some of their things, most from his apartment. He hadn't had the time to hang the pictures on the wall, but his leather couch and coffee table were already there. Scully had organized his British and her American Encyclopedias on the shelves of the wooden bookcase covering an entire wall in the comfortable room. His father's antique oak desk was en route from West Tisbury, and he believed they would still have space to place at least one of his armchairs, and his bizarre coat tree could easily fit in the corner behind the door.

With nothing practical for him to do in the den, he went back to the living room. He was sorting through the boxes there when Byers called him.

"Hey, Mulder, we have an M/S here. Where do you want me to put it?"

Mulder turned to see his friend standing in the living room door with a average sized package in one arm and a red case in his left hand.

"I'll take care of those, Byers," he said, relieving the other man of his burden. "Thank you."

Carefully moving around the labyrinth of packages and furniture, he made his way upstairs towards his and Scully's bedroom.


Only a few inches of her forearm could be seen between her yellow gloves and the rolled up sleeves of Mulder's shirt. That's the spot she used to wipe the sprinkles of sweat on her cheeks. So tired. That was the one thing she wasn't looking forward to when she agreed to move in with Mulder. Many years of practice had made her too much of a pro at moving days to mistake it with a romantic stroll in the park. She was sure Mulder would love to take a walk, holding her rubber gloved hands and kissing her smell-like-bathroom-cleaner hair in public.

But at least their bathroom was clean; that morning there was just the sink and the other assets to be taken care of. She had washed its walls and the tub on Wednesday evening while Mulder painted the bedroom. Everything needed to be ready by Thursday morning, before the new bedroom set was delivered. When they finished their tasks it was already past one a. m, but the bathroom was shining and the peach color of the bedroom was lovely. That color on the walls looked so right, she wanted to lick it. Not the manly dark shade of beige Mulder wanted nor the sterile white she had chosen, but peach. For some strange reason she couldn't explain, she had the impression that the walls would taste juicy and sweet with a twist of tartness for good measure, the perfect mixture of the two of them.

Definitely tasty.

She pulled off her gloves and threw them in a bucket, then rubbed her slippery hands together. The teeth in her gift horse's mouth may not be beautiful, but who was she to complain? If she had to share Mulder's sleeping bag, camped in her dismantled apartment for another week, she would be glad to do it all over again. It was a comfort to know that the heaviness in her chest would be the one caused by his arms crisscrossed over her breasts pulling her to him in their sleep, and not because of the longing she felt when she realized she wanted that man to be her companion for the rest of her life.

And nothing could possibly be compared to the heaviness she had felt when she abandoned that meeting almost four months ago.

She went to the sink and turned on the cold tap, letting the wet hissing sound of running water wash that brief, yet terrifying past away.

She didn't remember breathing in the six hour hiatus between the time she left the FBI building to walk with no destination on the streets of Washington, and the moment she stepped in her building to find him huddled in her hallway floor, clutching the frame his mother had asked her to deliver to him like every puff of air he was releasing among his tears depended on it. She thought she had already shed all the tears inside of her, but when he stood up on his feet and silently handed her the now empty frame with his red rimmed eyes begging her to accept it, to build new memories with him, she started sobbing all over again. She barely locked the door behind them and he swept her to him in a fierce, tight embrace. Their limbs bumped on the furniture while he hauled her to her bedroom, both of them blinded by their tears, their kisses, their despair, by the raw desire that ravished their bodies. They had spent the rest of the day and the entire evening in each other's arms making love, making vows, making promises that they would stay together no matter what. Just much later, in the wee small hours of the morning, when they were too deliciously sore to be together again, had she laid her head on his chest and realized what was happening.

He had come back to her.

She wept again, but this time enveloped in the blissful sensation of his skin pressed against hers in a warm embrace. When he asked her why she was crying, she told him that he was the man she had been born to be with. He didn't cry, but through her tears and even in the dim light she could see that he glowed.

The following morning, he handed Skinner his transfer request.

"Scully, where are you?"

"In the bathroom."

She let the cold water run on her hands for another moment before turning off the tap. She quickly looked at her flushed reflection in the mirror above the sink, and turned in time to see him appear at the doorway. She recognized the case he had with him as the one she'd use for the toiletries they were using in her apartment.

"Did I leave it downstairs?"

He nodded and went to her, then he put the case on the grey marble counter of the sink. He smiled in sympathy at her. "Got mixed up with the things in the kitchen. I'm sorry."

She opened the case and took out her facial mask and his aftershave lotion. "That's okay. I just thought I was finished with the bathroom."

He looked around the bathroom and its pristine walls with appreciation. "Job well done." His arms encircled her waist from behind and he nuzzled her hair. "You're smelling like that pink stuff you use to clean the bathroom, Scully."

She fought the urge to smile. "I knew I had a good reason to let my toothbrush cohabitate with yours, Mulder."

He chuckled and squeezed her belly. "Tonight I can show you a few more good reasons to prove you made the right decision."

She closed her eyes and let herself drink in the warm sensation of his proximity. She opened them again to meet his in the mirror.

"What?" his reflection asked her.

"I miss you."

Whenever she confessed something like that to him, his surprised eyes lingered on her for several long seconds, as if trying to stretch the moment to no end. This time wasn't any different, except that now she was able to hold the artificial gaze in the mirror with her own until he bent down to kiss her neck. Then she had to close her eyes again.

"Tonight, Scully."

"We'll be too tired," she said, facing the burning red projected on the walls of her closed eyelids.

"We'll find the energy to savor it together. I'll make it up to you." He sucked her earlobe and brushed his fingers across her breasts, making her nipples harden against the soft cotton of her tank top.

With her eyes still closed, she caressed the back of his hand with the pads of her fingers. Through the layers of jeans covering them, she could feel his crotch rubbing against her buttocks.

"You better go now, Mulder," she moaned.

He suckled on her earlobe one more time before letting her go. He nuzzled her hair again and whispered, "Tonight."

She nodded and held herself upright until she felt he wasn't there anymore. She leaned forward and let her forehead rest against the cold mirror, her breathing slightly labored.

Tonight.


He looked at their unmade bed.

He missed her, too.

Four days. It wasn't that long if he considered the endless nights when desire had been his only companion. In one thing those lonely times served him right: he had acquired an impressive will power of mind over matter. Sure lately, after a many-year dry spell, he was far from living as a monk, but it didn't mean he was cured. He called her twice a day at Quantico, and they tried to once a week have lunch together. Besides, he was a very disciplined junkie: he knew that even if he didn't get in touch with her through the day, the nights were reserved for his Scully fix. He looked again at their bed before partly closing the bedroom door.

Tonight.

With smug satisfaction, he started whistling on his way back downstairs.

"Hey, Mulder, is it you there?"

He took two steps back and entered the sitting room.

It was a small re-creation of Scully's former living room with larger windows. Her sofa, end tables and one of her armchairs were already there, and Scully had plans to hang some pictures on the wall and to put a few vases of flowers near the window. It was cozy, a perfect place to relax after a stressful day going through the violent crime reports in the field office. "Yeah, Langly."

Langly was setting the VCR and television that came from Scully's apartment on Mulder's old rack. "Do you want the rack here?"

"I think so. It's the perfect place, in front of the sofa and everything."

"Okay. I'll set up the DVD in the living room as soon as I'm finished here."

"Fine. Scully wouldn't let me go near that thing with a screwdriver, anyway," he said amused.

"Yeah."

The excess of bemusement in Langly's reply got Mulder curious, but he refrained himself of making any smart comment.

"Pass me the pliers, Mulder." Langly's eyes searched for Mulder's and his lips stretched in a tiny smile. "You know what pliers are, don't you, Mulder?"

"Whenever I need this kind of assistance, I use the telephone." Mulder knelt down besides Langly, and with rough hands he rummaged through the tool case. "But yes, I know what pliers are." He handed Langly the tool. Langly used the instrument to cut a two inch length piece of blue cable. "Won't you need this to connect the VCR?"

"Too long," Langly simply said. "This house has outlets everywhere." Then, as if remembering something, he looked at Mulder with inquisitive eyes. "A house needs maintenance, Mulder. Who's going to do this now?"

"Scully."

"That's a man's job."

"See?"

Langly gave the pliers back to Mulder. "I've always known she was the man in this relationship." He winked at Mulder. "A fine good looking man."

Mulder arched his brow in surprise. Once or twice he caught Byers studying the elegant curves on Scully's face, too shy to acknowledge that she had curves everywhere, for which Mulder was damn grateful because with his gentle manners, Byers could have any woman he wanted if he just knew how. As for Frohike... Well, Frohike was Frohike, which dispensed any other comment. However the thought of Langly paying attention to his partner's beauty never crossed his mind.

"I didn't grow a second head, Mulder, so stop looking at me this way." Fumbling with a Swiss knife, Langly got busy cutting another inch of the blue plastic enveloping the cable.

It took Mulder another second or two before he became aware that a tight line of lips locked in a crushing silence had replaced Langly's jovial smile.

"You'd make a mean monster of the week with two heads," Mulder said, the closest to apologizing he could get to.

The indifferent rise and fall of Langly's shoulders told Mulder things were screwed up. He stood up to leave before the damage became irreparable.

"I notice these things, Mulder. Women, you know."

"I never said you didn't."

"You never needed to. People look at me and just see a computer geek."

"You are a computer geek, Langly," he attested, matter of fact.

"And until yesterday you were a sorry excuse of a smart ass afraid of asking your best girl out." Langly smirked at him. "Am I lying?"

Afraid? He hadn't been afraid of asking Scully out; he had been terrified. Even after they started dating, the insecure jerk inside of him had a hard time admitting she really enjoyed his company. "What can I say, Langly? I'm a romantic."

"I'd say you're a chicken, just like us."

"I have better looks," Mulder snorted back.

"That you have."

He squatted and patted Langly's back. "So you recognize it?"

"I meant that you're a good looking chicken." Langly twisted his lips in a faked smile. "But you got some of my respect back after what you did."

"And that was..."

"We know you're married to your work, Mulder." Langly turned his attention back to the VCR. "When we got word of what had happened, I thought you were going to choose your files." "It was time to have a clean start," he said. "I wasn't sure I could get anything else from those files."

"Are you kidding me?" Langly asked. "You had the curiosity and material to stay buried in that hellhole for another decade."

The way his friends reacted to the news mirrored how predicable his life had become since he got the X-Files.

He admitted that his curiosity was the first fixative substance holding him to his job. Obsession came later, when he discovered what was behind his sister's abduction. Since he was twelve he had the certitude Samantha had been taken by an entity unknown to mankind. The hidden files gave him the tools to start digging for the answers he needed. That was when he became a hard laborer who neglected the limits of his body and soul to find the truths so important in his life.

Then he started losing everything. Wife, parents, human contact, his career. Co-workers started questioning how long Spooky Mulder would last walking on the tightrope that became his sanity. If he fell, casts and bandages wouldn't keep him from trying again. He doubted that a straitjacket and a padded cell would restrain him either. Not if he could count with the net of strength they had thrown in his direction and he had tried to keep at arms length in the beginning.

He picked up the box with his and Scully's videos and arranged them alphabetically in the rack, just how she liked it.

"I came across a man right after I met you." He put Breakfast at Tiffany's between Blue Angel and his copy of Citizen Kane. "He stayed a decade longer working on those files." Plan Nine of Outer Space and Caddyshack went to the bottom shelf not to offend Scully. "I don't want to end up like him."

He always thought about Arthur Dales as a man to be admired. His predecessor was his very own person who had no familiar strings attaching him to the obscure secrets the documents guarded in an ordinary filling cabinet guarded. He had no other personal reason to pursue that quest, but his will to make things clear. That was what his character demanded, the most precious heritage a man like Arthur Dales had: his honesty.

From what he could see, the day Mr. Dales retired was the day he stopped living. He was an old man with no family, no friends, no job, no answers. A lonely man who few would remember, even acknowledge, his existence. A man about whom almost no one would remember or find out about in regards to the role he had played in the history of humankind.

"I hope you're not saying this to convince yourself, Mulder."

For almost a week after he gave Skinner his transfer request, that belated thought tormented him. For five years those files had been part of his existence. Files didn't betray you, files didn't leave you. For a long time, files were his constant.

Files didn't breathe, they didn't take care of you.

"They cut me a break, Langly." He polished the box of West Side Story with the hem of his T-shirt. "The Smoking Bastard said they lost everything in Antartica."

"Bullshit, Mulder, and you know it."

"Drop this fucking bullshit now, Langly," he snapped, traces of a raising anger and frustration clear in his voice. "I didn't give up. I just want something more. Does it make me a villain here?"

"Hey, buddy." Langly raised his hands. "I'm not accusing you of anything."

He wasn't a hero. He was just another paper soldier in a fragile battle field. The fire in the office had reduced his constant to a graveyard of mishappen gray things. If he had survived it was because he had made Scully his touchstone.

Langly spoke again when all the tapes where on the shelves.

"You're human, Mulder. I had forgotten that."

Mulder stood up with the empty box in his hands. He was human, with flesh and bones, blood and bruises. He had failed to notice that although his work challenged him, building up his intellect and feeding some of his needs, it was also replacing what once had been an innocent soul for an arrogant and insensitive one. Feeling was the sentiment that ruled his life since ever, and even this was becoming lost on him. Scully was the living, beautiful, fresh sentiment that was spurting inside of him now.

"I've come to realize that she makes me human," he said slowly. "I needed that, Langly."

Langly tested the VCR to see if it was working well. "Just don't hurt her."

He knew himself too well to make this promise to his friend.

"I'll always find a way to make up with her."

On the TV screen George Clooney was running away from a breathing tomato.

"The Return of the Killer Tomatoes, Mulder?"

Mulder laughed, grateful for the change on the subject. "It's Scully's."

"Like those videos that are not yours and will be Frohike's someday."

"I gave her the tape when she said George Clooney was hot. I had to prove her wrong," he said, heading to the door.

"Hey, Mulder."

He turned to see Langly putting the tape back in its case.

"The guys and I want this for ourselves, too. Computers don't warm you at night." Langly put the rack against the wall and looked at him. "Remember that and don't screw up."

Neither do files, he thought, closing the door.

He touched the white walls in the hall. They bought the house, it was theirs. He couldn't buy a future for her; he could provide the basis to make it solid. Past mistakes taught him that love was the strongest foundation in a relationship.

He smiled.

This they had.

He was going down the stairs two steps at time when the bell rang.

"I'll get it!" he shouted, already opening the door.

The brown bags almost covered the greater part of her face, leaving to his sight just the tip of her nose, which the cold air of November had made red, and the contour of her upper lips. However he would recognize Mrs. Scully's blue eyes at any time.

"Hi, Fox."

"Mrs. Scully," he said, dejected. "What are you doing out in this cold?"

The corners of her lips upturned, showing her amusement. "I heard there was a moving party on this side of town. I brought food."

"Ah!"

Moving party, moving day. Yes, he was moving in with the only daughter of a devout catholic mother who believed in the sacred vows of marriage.

He scratched his head, without knowing what to do with his hands. "We appreciate it. Scully and I, I mean," he stuttered.

Maggie shivered, pointing to the door with her nose. "Can I come in?"

"Sure," he said, getting out of the way. "Please, come on in."

Guilty as charged, he thought as he closed the door behind Mrs. Scully. He knew there was nothing wrong in the path he and Scully had taken. Being with Scully would never be wrong. Being in front of the woman who gave birth to his partner made him feel and act like a bumbling fool, though. He hadn't felt this way since the morning he opened Scully's apartment door and saw Maggie's grin shrink until it become a discomfited smile as she stared at his sleepy face and unruly hair. Today he was wearing more than just pajama bottoms, but he felt like he was stark naked before that woman peering at the four corners of the room.

Where was Scully when he needed her?

"Scully's upstairs."

Maggie adjusted the packages in her arms. "I guess you still have lots of things to put in order."

"Just the whole house."

This earned him a twinkle in Maggie's eyes. "Moving days can be tiresome, Fox, but the meaning behind them makes up for the trouble they cause. I can assure you this."

"I'm not complaining, Mrs. Scully."

"I know you're not, Fox." She handed him one of the packages. "Now could you please take this one? It's heavy."

Between the exchange of packages, he heard the voice of his salvation.

"Mulder, aren't the guys hungry?" His heart almost leapt with joy when he looked up and saw Scully coming downstairs. "It's almost one p.m. You could order... Mom?"

"Hi, Dana."

Scully looked at her mother, then at him, then at her mother again and finally blushed. "What are you doing here?"

Maggie shrugged as if asking, 'guess what?'

He muttered an excuse, got the other package Mrs. Scully was carrying, and escaped to the kitchen.

Langly was right. A chicken was still a chicken no matter how good it looked.


"And this is the bedroom." In a nervous wave of her hand, Scully covered all the expanse of the room. "Our bedroom," she added awkwardly.

Her mother was studying the large room with interested eyes.

"It's a beautiful house, Dana." Margaret ran her hand over the polished dressing table. "And your furniture is lovely. Did Fox help you to choose them?"

"Oh, yes." Scully pointed at a small round table and two stuffed chairs near the window. "It was difficult to find a bedroom set that matched that table, so we had them specially made."

"It must have been ridiculously expensive."

"Not really, and they delivered the furniture on schedule. They made the kitchen and dining room sets, too."

Margaret looked around the room and her eyes fell on the king size bed. "I want their telephone number. It's difficult to find good, cheap carpenters nowadays."

"Sure," Scully said, then added amused, "And, Mom, these guys... They are gorgeous."

"Dana." Both of them giggled like two little girls. "And Fox let you stay with them?"

"I didn't have that much luck. Mulder never left me alone while they were here."

"Fox jealous?" Margaret sniggered. "Who could've guessed?"

"Yes." Scully's face cracked into a smile. "Who could."

The Skipper brothers had been to the town house twice. On Thursday morning they had brought the bedroom set, and Mulder was incredibly territorial, getting hold of her waist and not leaving her side until she left for work. On Friday evening, when she arrived in the house, he was already there, dressed in jeans and an old T-shirt, ready to clean the small powder room they had downstairs. He simply told her to go back to her apartment and finish packing. He was going to wait for the kitchen's furniture.

Margaret's eyes brightened. "I missed it so much on you Dana."

"What?"

"You're smiling, healthy and happy." She touched her daughter's face. "You're happy."

Scully sat on their bed to better feel the warm flux of happiness flooding inside of her again. Her body was too small to house this anew, overwhelming sensation.

In the beginning she felt fear; she didn't like changes. Actually, she didn't like to live in suspense. Although she had wanted to experience this side of life with Mulder for a long time, the changes it carried within scared her. Her life was set, if not in the ideal one, at least in a comfortable pattern: go to work, chase monsters, pretend she was happy with the life she had, go home and get ready to relive this circle all over again the next day. It was safe, but it was also so tiresome and, in the end, it wasn't enough to pay for the sacrifice she was making anymore.

"I'm happy, Mom," she simply said. "Now my life is in the way I wanted it to be."

"I'm glad to hear that, dear."

Relief was a good sensation after all. Adding to the list of concerns she had to deal with, the possibility of her mother not approving her going to live together with Mulder had been robbing her of precious hours of sleep the past few days. It had become commonplace for Mulder to wake up in the morning to find the table set for breakfast and her reading the morning paper in what remained of her living room.

"I thought you'd be disappointed in me, Mom," she muttered with her eyes fixed on Mulder's pair of tennis shoes laying beside her slippers on the floor. "I know this is not what you had dreamed for me."

"I won't lie to you, Dana," Maggie's finger pads fluttered over the finger Scully should be wearing a ring in. "This is not exactly how I had dreamed things would turn out for you, but the end result was the same. You're happy and I can't condemn you for that."

"No one can after everything we've gone through," Scully sighed.

"No, not really." Maggie stood up and walked to the window. From there they could see the patio in the back of the house, which was not the most beautiful sight due to the current state said patio was in: a mess of fallen leaves and grown grass. It needed to be mowed urgently before she and Mulder furnished the area. "I believe he's all right with this arrangement."

"He asked me to move in with him, Mom. He bought the house because I liked it." She picked up their shoes and took it to the walk-in closet. "I didn't put any pressure on him. I wanted him, us to take our time and adjust to the situation."

Her mother said something she didn't understand. "What, Mom?" she asked, going back to the bedroom. Her mother was still looking outside.

"I meant your father, Dana. He knows that now you're where you belong, with whom you belong."

Scully hugged her mother and laid her head on her mother's shoulder blade. "Your blessing is important to me, too."

Maggie put her hand over her daughter's. "You have it, Dana."

"Thanks, Mom." She kissed her mother's face. "Mulder is a good man, and he's serious about us."

"He better be after buying you a house." Scully chuckled. "I didn't know Fox was rich. It must be intimidating."

Scully smiled against her mother's sweater. "He's a simple man, like us. And I'm paying for the furniture." She saw her mother's smile faintly reflected on the window among the pecks of light coming though the gray clouds in the sky. Typical November day.

"What about his mother? Is she okay with it?"

"She painted a china tea set and sent it to me, at my apartment last week with a note. She was asking me to make him happy." The weight of this responsibility made her lay further against her mother's shoulder. "I want to make him happy, Mom. I don't want him to ever regret his decision of putting his future in my hands."

"He won't, Dana." Maggie patted the hands around her waist lovingly. "He loves you."

"Sometimes I wonder if it's enough to keep him around."

"He chose you, Dana. He could have had his old job and a woman that loves him by his side, but he chose you." Scully shivered before the mere thought of Mulder in Diana's arms again. "That's all you have, dear, and it has to be enough." Maggie patted her hands one more time before breaking the embrace. "We still have this whole house to put in order, young lady. Let's feed those men downstairs and go back to work."


Maggie set tasks to everyone.

She divided the group in two subgroups in which she and Scully would have the help of two men. Or like Scully eavesdropped Frohike muttering to Mulder, both women were going to have two men to command. Maggie stayed with Langly and Mulder upstairs while Scully directed Frohike and Byers downstairs, occasionally attending to Mulder's call when he didn't know where to put this or that object. It worked just fine. By the end of the day the number of boxes had decreased considerably, their china was in the proper place in the kitchen and in the dining room, and Scully and Mulder would be able to sleep in a real bed after so many days.

The guys went home saying that after all that hard work they were taking their housewarming gift, the heavy iron mail box with the initials M and S painted in red artistic letters, back to their HQ. Just for precaution, Mulder stayed watching at the living room window until he couldn't see their Volkswagen van anymore. Maggie left shortly after the Gunmen, after she gave to Mulder and Scully her housewarming gift, a beautiful ice blue quilt with matching covers for the pillows.

"Trust him and what you have, honey," Maggie said when Scully walked her to her car. "Make what you have be enough."

She stayed outside until her mother's car vanished in the distance.

She was stretching the sheets on their bed when Mulder entered the bedroom.

He seemed to be exhausted with his hair spiking in all directions and his soot stained jeans and T-shirt clinging to every muscle in his lean body. Despite the stubble darkening his face and the heavy, lethargic movements towards her, his smitten eyes were bursting with - she dared recognizing it - happiness. She couldn't risk saying the words aloud because it would make the moment they were living real. She wasn't ready to live in reality, to face the problems she knew were posed before them. No, for once she wasn't going to adapt her dreams to the real life. She was going to live her dream and survive whatever fate threw in their way.

Mulder slumped on the floor and rested his back against the wooden frame of the bed.

"If we ever break up, I'm keeping the house."

She fluffed his pillow before putting it next to hers on the mattress.

"It wasn't even a total moving in, Mulder. Half of our furniture was already here, and the other half was neatly organized, ready to go."

"But I'm still keeping the house."

As she was standing on the other side of the bed, she just had the view of the stumpy hair on the back of his head. "I'm the one who found it."

"And I'm the one who dragged our things everywhere."

"Mulder, most of our furniture is new, and the men hired to deliver them carried them to their proper rooms. Besides, you had the guys help with our older ones."

He shook his head like a stubborn child. "I don't care. I'm still keeping the house."

Kicking off her sneakers, she crawled over the quilt she had just laid on the bed and stopped behind him, her head on level with his. She brushed her lips on his face, and let the tip of her tongue rob some of the salt on his cheek.

He sighed. "Keep going, Scully, and I may let you have the basement."

She licked the way up to his temple and he sighed again, deeply this time.

In slow circles, her nose traveled down to the crook of his neck. She let her senses wonder on the scent of sweat and fading deodorant coming from him, mixed with the primal, elemental odor of his skin that had no other name but Mulder. With his eyes closed he lay his head on the bed, humming a tune that reverberated like the early stages of an orgasm in each pore on her body. Her fingers hooked in the silk web of his disheveled hair as her lips sought for his. He thrust his tongue inside of her mouth and they started a new, much more pleasant banter of wet, thick sounds forcing their way up in their throats, but that their busy lips wouldn't let come out in their entirety.

Mulder broke the kiss and turned his head in her direction, a huge satisfied smile adorning his beautiful face. She touched her lips against his closed eyelids to confess a secret.

"I'd rather share the house with you."

His smile softened in extension, but not in its meaning. He opened his eyes and she took her time to absorb all the love she saw reflected in them.

"I couldn't have it any other way, Scully." He kissed her lips softly. She extended the contact a little longer to properly seal their commitment. No rings, no ceremony, just their knowledge that they were going to stay together.

"Mulder," she whispered, "it's tonight already."

"We're calling it a day?"

She kissed his raised eyebrow. "Umm-hum. Mom made some spaghetti and salad. We could put that huge tub in the bathroom to some good use." She kissed the tip of his nose.

"You want to bring the food to the tub?"

"Of course not." She massaged his scalp with her finger pads. "First our bath, then a candlelight dinner."

"I put a bottle of wine in the refrigerator this morning."

"Sounds like a plan."

He kissed her lips again. "A hell of a good plan."

She smiled and was seeking for another kiss when the phone rang.

"Let it ring," Mulder said, his breath warm against her mouth.

"Go get the wine while I answer it." She suckled his lower lip, and, in a moment of distraction, he probed his tongue against hers again.

The phone was on its seventh ring when he finally let her go. "Make it brief." He stood up and went to their bathroom.

Still in need of air, she answered the phone on the ninth ring. This phone call wouldn't last more than two minutes.

"Hello."

"Dana, it's me, Mom."

"H... hi Mom," she stuttered, embarrassed for being caught in such state of arousal by her mother. "Did you have a nice trip back home?" She closed her eyes to better breath in the chamomile bath oil scent that suddenly filled the room.

"Sure, dear. How are you and Fox holding up?"

Mulder chose this moment to come out of the bathroom bearing an indulgent smile.

"Be brief," he mouthed as he passed by her.

"Yes," she whimpered, her eyes following the swing of his backside as he left the room. Then she remembered that her mother was listening to her erotic reaction. "We're fine, Mom."

The silence that followed was marked by some kind of reluctance coming from her mother's side of the phone. Now she had embarrassed her mother, too.

"We've just finished for today, Mom."

"You and Fox get some rest."

Her mother didn't give her the time to lie, saying that she and Mulder were going straight to bed; Margaret came out with something that Scully wasn't expecting.

"Bill is here, Dana. He wants to talk to you." A wave of cold sweat replaced the flush on her face.

"Bill? What is he doing here?"

"Don't you remember? I told you he was going to be in Florida this week."

Impressive this devotion Bill had for the ones he loved. He hated flying unnecessarily, and even so he would take the penance of getting an economic class ticket and visit their mother. She hoped that like the good Christian her brother was, he would take the news about the changes in her life as another penance and accept Mulder in their family.

"Dana, is it okay? Can you talk to him now?"

"I..."

"If you're too tired, he can call you tomorrow."

"No, that's okay," she said, wishing she could make her words come true.

"I'm passing the phone to him. Goodnight, sweetheart."

As Margaret passed the phone to Bill, Scully heard her mother warning him to be civil and he replying that he could perfectly behave himself. Scully cringed. The last thing she needed was to get into a quarrel with her brother.

"Hi, sis."

"Hi, Bill." The joyful sound inflected in her voice barely covered her reluctance. "How's Tara and the baby?"

"They're fine. Matthew discovered he has legs. He's trying to take his first steps," he said proudly.

"I hope you brought tons of pictures with you."

"This time I made it even better; all his baby hullabaloos are well documented in two video tapes. Mother has them. Just don't laugh when you see his mother and father drooling all over him," he laughed. A sad smile was all she managed to do.

"I'm glad he's doing okay, Bill."

"We all are, Dana." He became serious again. "Mom said you moved on, too."

She remained silent, getting ready for what was coming next.

"Is it true, Dana? Are you with him?" "Bill, this is something I won't be discussing with you. Not now, not in any near future." She was doing her best to control the agitation rising inside of her.

"I know this is none of my business," he said quietly. "I just wanted to understand why you had to move in with him."

She massaged her temple. She had asked this question herself thousands of times during the last month since Mulder asked her to move in with him. Every time she thought of bits of measly things that would sound meaningless to her brother, but were instead the proof she had needed to be convinced that it was worth facing her fears and taking this giant leap in their relationship.

"I just had to do this, Bill," she demurred. "Please, respect that."

"Of course I will, Dana," he said.

Even though his words didn't carry the reassurance she needed, she relied on them. The clink of glasses downstairs quickened her decision of finishing the call.

"Bill, I have to go."

"Sure, go," he said. Then, as if in an afterthought, he called her again.

"Yes?"

"I promise I won't talk about it again, but there's one thing I have to ask you."

"Bill..."

"I know it's not like you to act before thinking, Dana," he continued albeit reluctantly. "But after all these years, all that have been taken away from both of you... Dana, you're not doing this out of pity... Or despair, are you?"

She blinked, sorting through the emotions those two words carried within them. Despair and pity were not part of what they had together. Mulder was a blessed gift in her life. He was the man who gave up the life and beliefs he used to have to be with her, but she wasn't with him from obligation. She was with him because he made things right to her. She hadn't known the meaning of the word feeling until she met him. He could make her laugh with his wittiness and made her annoyed with his stubbornness. He could make her cry with his tenderness when they were making love while ripping her body apart with continuous climaxes. He could make her feel protected and still respect her independence. He took her as his woman and showed her why she belonged to him without making her lose herself along the way.

She looked at the man who had just stopped at the door frame, his eyes as sparkling and transparent as the crystal glasses he had in his hands. She was loved like no human being deserved to be. She wished her brother shared the same feeling with his wife, so he would understand her.

"I don't have any reason to feel that way about him, Bill," she said softly.

"Does he?"

At first she was sure the words had rung wrong in her ears, but a second later they rang again, clipped in the silent walls inside of her head.

"Scully?"

"Shit! Dana, no! It's not what you're thinking."

Bill's and Mulder's voices mixed inside of her head, making her dizzy. Thinking? She hadn't started thinking yet. She was still processing all the messages those two words brought to surface. There was nothing her barren body could give to Mulder, and she wanted him so badly to have it with her.

"Dana! Damn it, Dana! You know there's nothing wrong with you! You're much more than this!"

Bill was yelling on the phone, and Mulder was rubbing her arms, pleading with her to say something... To tell him something... She was cold...

"Fuck it, Dana! Talk to me!"

In the background her mother was yelling at Bill... Mulder keeping her against him. Just sounds and touches. No comfort. No more feelings.

Bill's words felt like pipes being pushed inside of her directly into her heart, draining out of her all the reasons she had to stay, and replacing it with the only real reason Mulder had to be with her in small, bitter droplets.

Pity. Pity. Pity.

"Dana, it's Mom. Talk with me, sweetie. Fox!"

"Fuck, Scully! Tell me what the hell is going on!"

She was shaken out of her stupor by Mulder trying to yank the phone away from her. Just then she saw the despair in his eyes, and heard her mother's plea in her ear.

"Please, Dana..."

She carefully put the phone back on its cradle.

"Scully?"

"I'll..." She cleared her throat. "I'll take a shower."

She gently pushed him away and went to the bathroom. She turned off the tub's tap. The water was warm to the touch, the bubbles fluttered on the tip of her fingers. She pulled her clothes off and entered the shower stall. The cold water hit her like needles piercing through her sore muscles.

She knew her brother already regretted his words, and that there was no reason for her to feel like that. She knew she would never find someone to love her as much as Mulder did.

She let the water mingle with her silent tears.

She was just aching too much to be rational at that moment.


He had turned off all the lights, however there was a soft glow right against his eyes. He had no will power left to stretch his arm and shut down the offending lamp. He protected his eyes with his forearm, instead. Such an old picture, as ancient as had been the nights he had laid on this same couch mourning the unfairness of life towards him and, later, towards them.

When he opted to leave everything and start a new life with Scully, he let himself believe he would never be part of any other sad image. Not even twenty-four hours had passed after they stepped in their house and he was already back into that dark place, for that same reason.

Fuck real life and its aftermath.

Immediately after Scully had run away to shower, the telephone started ringing insistently again. He wanted to have gone after her, but knowing she needed some time to recollect herself, he answered it. Maggie spoke frantically, asking how her daughter was between every two sentences. Then she told him what had happened, how her oldest son couldn't believe what he had just done, how desperate he was to talk to his sister. He knew that the final decision was up to Scully to make, but if it depended on him, Bill Scully could forget any plans he had to visit his sister at their home. Margaret didn't try to reason with him, she just asked him to send her love to Dana. He went to the guest bathroom to take a cold shower, and when he was finished he found her lying awake in their bed. She had a blanket pulled up to her chin, and her still frame told him she was fine and wanted to be alone. He went to the den and there he remained, chewing over his hurt.

"Mulder?"

Pretending he was sleeping was the last thing he wanted and surely the last thing they needed. He couldn't bring himself to look at her and tell what had happened in her absence, though; how much her silence affected him. It was not their style.

"Mulder, I know you're awake."

She had approached and knelt down in front of him. Her soft words were wrapped in mint scented toothpaste.

"Do you want to be alone?"

He slid his arm over his hair and tucked it under his head.

"I have no desire to be alone anymore, Scully." He peered at her face. "Do you?" There was a particular flash of light bathing the tip of her nose, bringing to his focus the cluster of freckles she had there.

"No, I don't." Her hair had grown a few inches; now it almost covered her neck completely. Dressed in his blue Knicks shirt she was evoking in him that need he had to protect her, and that he knew she hated.

She caressed his face. "Can I stay here with you? I brought a blanket."

He turned onto his side and patted the spot he had just left. She passed her thumb along his jaw one more time and stood up. He slid further up the sofa, pressing against its padded back. She covered him with the blanket before lying down, facing away from him. He held her around the waist to keep her from falling off of the narrow space.

"It didn't seem right to lie down in that bed alone, not on our first real night here," she said after a long while.

"I know. This couch is not as comfortable either, Scully."

"Has it ever been, Mulder?" She didn't break the mood, but gained a squeeze on her belly for the effort.

"It was everything I had, Scully."

She enlaced her fingers with his over his T-shirt. "I wish I could give you so much more."

His fingers brushed against her empty belly. "Maybe we can find more in our own way."

She nodded and her hair tickled his nose. "Maybe."


His words were simple, but she felt their emotion traveling from his chest to her lungs as he spoke. Perhaps his pain was not as deep as hers, but it existed. She found an almost sickening relief in the knowledge that she didn't need to bear the pain alone anymore.

He managed to plant a kiss on her cheek. "Your brother's sorry, Scully."

She bit her lower lip. "I overreacted. I should have handled things better." She lowered her eyes ashamed, even though he couldn't see them. "I wasn't ready to let reality come in."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"Not now, Mulder." His arms tensed around her.

"It affects me, too."

She took a few breaths to gather her courage to look at him. She turned her head on the pillow and stared at his hurt eyes. "I know it does, and I'm glad I have you with me."

The lines around his mouth softened in a tender smile. "Are you going to be okay?"

A new truth was uncovered to her that night. She would never be fine over this subject, but the most powerful presence she could have asked for in her life would always be there.

She kissed his mouth softly. "I love you, Mulder." She faced away from him again, and he rested his face against hers, another strong reminder of the love he felt.

He disentangled his fingers from hers and tugged at the hem of her makeshift nightgown.

"What are you doing?"

He undressed her, pulling off her panties too, then he made a few careful strategic movements to undress himself without shoving her off of the couch. When he was finished, he rearranged the blanket over them, and pulled her to him again, fiercer this time. The pads of her fingers swept the hair on his forearm and he threw one strong hairy leg over hers, making her feel protected; the contact of his masculinity on her buttocks made her feel loved. She sighed, not wanting another accommodation but the shelter of him.

He moved one of his arms up and covered her breasts. "Nothing has to happen, Scully. I just want to feel you." She stirred her buttocks against him. "Besides," he whimpered, "with the moving and everything, you must be tired."

She took his hand away from her breasts and put it between her legs. She urged one of his fingers inside of her, and her internal muscles contracted around it on their own accord. Mulder licked the way from her neck to her shoulder; his cock grew harder behind her, setting her warm body aflame.

"I know I can't do anything," he slurred.

She took out his finger from inside of her and suckled off her moisture from it at the same time as she reached behind her to catch him in her hand.

"Let's... ah, Scully... yes... sleep."

"Mulder?"

"Yes?"

"Turn off the light."

He did, and the night never seemed brighter to her.


Sunday was spent with Scully tailing him up and down the house to have the curtains hung, and with him complaining that with everything they still had to do, it could wait. After lunch he finally gave in and even pretended to be listening to her lecturing about neighbors invading their privacy while she helped him to move the ladder from one window to another. Later that evening he understood what she was talking about. Thankfully the new curtains in the living room had blocked any view of his partner kneeling down in front of him and sucking his brain out of his head through his penis. Truly he had let her talk and do what she did to him to give her back some control of the situation and to make some peace with his now restored mind. Scully's power of suction could put any vacuum cleaner into shame, but he didn't forget.

His business with Bill wasn't finished yet.

As usual, on Monday between his sunflower seeds and the discussion about the case his team had received that day, he called her a few minutes before the beginning of her last morning class. Like he had expected, she told him she was fine without mentioning any conversation with big brother Bill.

At thirteen minutes to twelve, he waved off the box of donuts Agent Jackson opened in front of him and picked up the phone again. If Maggie answered it, he would just hang up. It looked like it was his lucky day.

"Hello?"

"This is Fox Mulder."

"What can I do for you, Mr. Mulder?" Bill asked after a moment.

"I need to talk to you." It took them less than a minute to agree about a meeting place.

One hour later he was in the crowded room. Turning the glass of whisky in his hands, he kept repeating to himself that his patience had lasted the weekend. He loved that woman; he had the right to care for her and to make it crystal clear the place he had in her life to her brother. As long as Bill kept it civil, he wouldn't have a reason to be rude.

Bill arrived a few minutes after him. Wearing a dark blue jacket and tan trousers, he stood up in a crowd with his six foot two inch stature and military hair cut. To any person that had never seen him before, he could easily pass as big bully, but Mulder knew better. When they first met a year ago, with a sister already dead and the other one almost knocking on heaven's door, aside the sorry son of a bitch comment, Bill had never been verbally disrespectful to him. He hoped they could repeat the performance today.

Bill sat at the table and ordered a coffee from the waiter designated to attend them. He waited until the young man left to talk to Mulder.

"You wanted to talk to me, Mr. Mulder," he said politely.

"After what happened, I'm pretty sure you know what I want to talk about."

Bill accepted the mug the waiter brought and sipped some of his coffee. "I'm surprised it took you the weekend to call me."

"I was giving you time to apologize to your sister. Since you didn't, I'm here to make sure what you did Saturday won't happen again."

"You mean my wanting to talk to my sister?"

"No, I have no problems with you talking to your sister." He leaned forward to hiss at his one day to be brother-in-law. "I won't accept you treating her that way at our house, however."

A light shade of pink attached its color on Bill's face, but he didn't duck his head. "I'm aware of what I did, Mr. Mulder. It was wrong and I had no right. I was going to take Dana out for lunch when you called."

Mulder took his glass to his mouth to keep from swearing. Things were going surprisingly fine. Of course it wasn't going to last long.

"You could have told me that."

"It was none of your business."

"Your sister is my most precious business."

"Not when it's about my relationship with her."

Discretely Mulder cleaned one of his sweaty hands on his slacks. "Why can't you just understand? She's with me now."

Bill snorted, the closest he had come to show any distress. "This is something I'll never understand, Mr. Mulder, but for my mother's sake I'll respect Dana's decision."

"You should be doing this for Dana's sake, too."

"For her sake I'll do the unimaginable, Mr. Mulder. I'll put up with you."

He was ready for an attack like this, but Bill's words still hit him like he'd been punched in the gut. What hurt the most in this last statement were not the rash words themselves, but the sincerity behind them. Bill really meant what he had said.

"I share the feeling, Bill Scully."

"So it's settled." Bill stood up to leave. "I think we have nothing else to tell each other."

Mulder was breathing with his mouth closed to get his balance back. There was no way he was leaving that place as a loser, not in his first open battle with Bill. Not when the prize was the pleasure of having Bill looking at him in the eyes at family events without no other option but to accept his presence.

"There's just one more thing, Bill," Mulder said, risking his last shot. "You hurt her like that again, we'll take this conversation to another place and another level."

Bill flinched and clasped his fists on his sides, however he didn't lose his temper when he spoke.

"It works for both sides, Mr. Mulder."

He waited until Bill left the bar, then knocked back the rest of the whisky. He wanted to be swallowed by a hole in the floor. Bill had turned the tables on him so easily, without having to raise his voice to make Mulder understand. He had understood. Ah, that he had. But Bill had a few things to comprehend himself, including the fact that he, Fox William Mulder, was thick skinned and hardheaded. In short, he wasn't one to give up. If Bill had taken that he wasn't backing away, then all the bickering had been worth something.

He threw some bills on the table and picked up his jacket on the back of the chair.

He walked back to the FBI very slowly, enjoying the cold air of November the most he could. If Scully discovered what he had done, he wasn't going to live to see another autumn day.


The little things he did that morning gave him away. For starters, he didn't help her with breakfast - he made it all by himself. Her favorite yogurt, cereal with bee pollen and sliced strawberries, and the cup of hot fresh coffee were brought on a tray to their bedroom. He woke her up with a tender kiss on her shoulder instead of the soft but firm caress of his hand on the same spot. There was no mistaking the way he kissed her forehead at the doorway before he left for work; usually it was just a hurried peck on her lips while he munched on a buttered toast on his way out.

He was up to something.

Like everyday, the phone in her office rang a few minutes before eleven, during the twenty minute break she had before her last morning class. She answered it with the habitual, "What, Mulder?" She didn't get the low, rasp, "You've been thinking about me," usual reply, but a soft and unsure, "Hi, Dana."

"Hi, Mom." Things weren't exactly right between them more because of Scully's discomfort with the happenings on Saturday evening than because of Maggie's non-existent guilt. "Is everything okay?"

"Yes, sweetie. I'm fine. What about you and the moving in? Are things settled already?"

Scully put the notepad where she was taking notes back on the table. The thought of the house alone made her feel tired. "We worked some more on Sunday and yesterday night. I think now there are just the guest rooms to be taken care of."

"Thank god this routine is over for me," Maggie said with some humor. "But I had a good time helping you and Fox."

"Your help would have been welcomed again on Sunday."

"I wasn't sure it would have been a good idea, Dana."

Scully restrained the little smile forming on her lips. "I'm fine, Mom. Really."

"Bill didn't imagine you'd react that way, Dana. He was really sorry."

"I know."

It was part of Bill's nature, sometimes he spoke too much. But he wasn't a bad person. Like any of her friends' brothers when she was a child, he alternated moments of extreme devotion with episodes of single minded tantrums towards his sisters. When they got into adulthood, the tantrums would occasionally come back, but the love and affection he had for her and Missy was undeniable.

"I'm sorry he called off our lunch yesterday, Mom. I think I wanted to talk to him."

The pause that followed caught Scully by surprise. "Called off your lunch?" She could see Maggie frowning. "Dana, he borrowed my car saying that he was going to meet you."

"There must be a mistake, Mom," she said confused.

"I'm pretty sure," Margaret said without hesitation. "He told me he was going to meet you."

"He told me some of his friends had called. Something about a get together before he went back to San Diego."

"Maybe he called later to say he had changed his mind, and you weren't there to talk to him," Maggie suggested.

"No, Mom. I got only three phone calls yesterday morning. I talked to Bill, then Mulder called a couple of hours later, and then soon after..."

Bill called again.

Stupid woman, she thought. Three months out of the field and she had already lost her investigator's touch, missed all the evidence Mulder was flaunting under her nose since the previous evening. Mulder making dinner and cleaning the dishes; Mulder leaving her alone to finish her report in peace; Mulder waking up earlier to make her breakfast on a weekday. Mulder going to bed alone, before her! Damn it! He wasn't up to something this morning. He was covering what he had done the morning before.

"Mom, what time did Bill leave?"

"Sometime around noon. Why?"

Mulder usually called at ten-thirty; yesterday he had called a little later, just a few minutes before her last morning class. She talked to Bill again around ten to twelve, more than enough time for him to have received another phone call from Mulder.

That was it.

"And Dana, who else does Bill know here in Washington?"

He knew Mulder, who had taken her brother out for lunch.

"I have an idea, Mom."

Her mother actually giggled when she finished telling her suspicions, which just made Scully more pissed.

"This is serious, Mom. He confronted your son."

"I'm sorry, honey. I'm having a hard time imagining Fox this domesticated."

"He is not, Mother."

Her mother cleared her throat, shaking off some of the flippancy in her voice. "I know Bill has his issues with Fox, Dana, but they are adults, they behaved as such. Bill didn't seem to have any black and blue mark on him when he came back home."

They hadn't made love the night before, so Scully couldn't tell if Mulder was hurt, although she had snuggled close to him to sleep and he hadn't winced.

"I think Mulder is fine, too."

"I don't approve of what he did, Dana. This is something you have to talk over with Bill, not Fox. But I somehow expected him to do something like that."

"It wasn't right, Mom."

"Welcome to the married world, Dana. Nothing is born right; we just adapt to things and keep going with our lives," Maggie said wisely. "I have to go now, Dana. I'm having lunch with the church group today."

"Fine."

"I won't get involved in your life, Dana, but hear me out: don't talk to Fox about this until after you've calmed down. You'll only get more distressed."

As the day wore on, her anger flitted to different stages. When her mother hung up, she was mad at him. At mid afternoon her anger had decreased a little, and now on her way home she had already purged away the will to kill.

She knew Mulder's train of thought. When they worked together, she was able to anticipate most of his movements for he knew nothing about poker faces or guarded gestures while dealing with her. It hadn't changed when they got involved. If not, it became worse.

He had no problems in taking their relationship to the physical side; from the beginning of their partnership, he was always touching her. What started with sporadic touches on her elbow to gently steer her in the right direction when they were walking, became the touches on her face to give her comfort or to wake her up on stakeouts, and nowadays she couldn't stand the thought of another person's hand on the small of her back. What changed when they became a couple was that now he touched her more openly. His arms around her waist when they were in the line of the theater, lips in constant contact with her flesh while watching those chick movies she loved, his hand always caressing her face or smoothing her hair over a pizza at Dino's. He needed her close to him and never hid it. She was the one still adapting to all those changes.

Touching Mulder was easy, a dream coming true. How many times had she caught herself straightening his unwrinkled tie, or sprawling her fingers on his chest, marveling on how such a hard combination of muscles and tissues could guard a heart so gentle and pure. In bed she had no reserves to love and to be loved, to give him as much pleasure as she received. Sexually she was an open book in his arms; emotionally she was still learning how to share things with him.

Her episode with Bill was slapping her in the face again. Mulder had been there for her and she shut him out. Luckily it didn't take her long to come to her senses and look for him. They shared very little of their grief that night, converting what should have been pain into strength. His going after her brother behind her back, without telling her a word, turned everything into betrayal.

Of course she was being too dramatic. Didn't she feel ashamed for thinking so little of him, of what they had shared? She did, she felt like she would never be able to live with herself again. He wasn't being overprotective nor trying to rule her life. He was being the Mulder she had learned to love a long time ago.

So why couldn't she just forget it and keep going?

Because she was still learning.

She parked her car in the empty driveway of their house. Picking up her overcoat, briefcase, she made her way to the front door.

Check the answering machine. Two messages: Bill saying he loved her; Mulder telling her he was going to be home late but in time for dinner.

Love you too, Mulder.

Gathering her thoughts, she proceeded to the bedroom.

In the beginning, the duty of taking care of each other was not hard on them. She filled his need of being her guardian angel by letting him protect her, and she let herself be protected to make him feel good. She saved him to feel strong, and he let himself be saved to make her stronger. Somewhere along their second encounter with Tooms this pact started changing. Iced tea or not in that bag, things were already different, feelings were too deep. Protection came not in the name of duty; it was simply about survival.

The Dana Scully of those days was still very much alive inside of her. Being with Mulder, however, brought another one to the surface, a more loving, caring and fragile Scully that needed to be understood in order to be accepted.

She pulled on a pair of old, comfortable jeans and a yellow sweater before heading to the kitchen to prepare dinner, pasta again.

Her mother was right, Mulder was expected to do something like that. The old Dana Scully would demand his respect because she was fine and could perfectly take care of herself.

The water was boiling on the stove when she heard his car. She dried her hands on a dish cloth and went to meet him in the living room.

This new Dana Scully had the hard task of sitting down and talk to him, showing that she didn't like what he had done without making him feel guilty. They weren't good at that, but they could learn together.

He opened the door and smiled shyly at her. "You're home already."

With a sheepish smile of her own, she gladly accepted the arms he had opened up to her.

She had missed him the whole day, too.


He took her out for dinner first to make up for his little rendezvous with Bill three days ago. And second because if she ever made him eat vegetables again this week, he was going to spit the food back on his plate. What a way to punish him! The day before yesterday, pasta with broccoli and white sauce for dinner, and his enthusiastic Scully telling him they were having fruit salad for dessert, no whipped cream.

Yesterday, chayote souffle with green salad and his significant other asking among innocent smiles and lascivious sips on her white wine if he wanted more. Tonight no salad for Scully.

His petite Scully had ordered a chicken sandwich, a diet coke, a large order of fries, and asked if he wanted to share a banana split. A lovely offer that he had to refuse after having busted his own arteries with the thousands of calories and grams of fat his abused body was asking for. Guiltless, he encouraged her to go for the medium sized vanilla milkshake she wanted. She sighed in contentment when she suckled the beverage for the last time. He smiled relieved behind his coffee. For twenty bucks he had gotten a decent dinner and Scully's forgiveness.

Also, why not, a little bit of revenge. He clasped his hand around hers as they walked back to their house. "God, Mulder. Why did you let me get stuffed up like this?" She leaned on him. "Where's the car?"

"At home," he said for the tenth time since they left the diner two blocks ago. He almost couldn't keep his amusement with the situation to himself. "And don't blame me. I refused the banana split."

"You let me have the milkshake. Actually, you told me to get the milkshake." "I can't control your life all the time, my dear."

His deadpan sounded too contrite to be taken as a joke. Her fault; all of it was her fault. How was he supposed to deal with a Scully who had calmly taken him to the kitchen, served him a cup of steaming coffee and patiently clinched the reason why that particular argument he had with Bill made her upset. She loved him, she loved her brother, she hated seeing two loved ones getting into a fight because of her. The good, old argument that she was fine and could take care of herself never came. His carefully constructed rebuffs lost their meaning. She had rendered him speechless without shredding a drop of sweat.

"You really don't have to, Mulder." He stopped jerkily, preparing his ground for the battle. "If you're talking about your brother, I won't apologize for what happened, Scully," he snapped.

"I'm not asking you to," she said after releasing a very unlady like hiccup. "But I want you to think before doing this the next time." He remained silent. Why tell her that next time he and Bill wouldn't be just talking?

"Did you talk to him?" he asked, changing the subject. Her hair moved against his jacket in a negative way. "What was he doing here after all?" "He was in Florida. In a conference, I think. He flew here to see mom and me."

He looked down at her, worried with the weariness in her voice. "Hey, you okay? Do you want me to call a cab?"

She buried her head in his chest. "No. I just feel sick." He smiled. "Don't puke on my jacket, Scully, or you're going to have a hard time." "I'm just allowed to drool on you?"

He chuckled, hooking his arms around her waist. "You can lick, suck, swallow anything you want, Scully. Just don't puke on my jacket. This is my favorite one." "After what you did, don't give me ideas, Mulder." "Lick, suck and swallow?" "Puke and ruin your favorite leather jacket." All the thoughts he had been having of taking a cab to get her home and into bed faster fled from him. In its place came all the indignation, all the pride he had swallowed three days ago when he heard what she had to say about the chat he had with her brother. He had his reasons. He hadn't mentioned them before because he hadn't wanted to start a discussion with her. But they all had been there, bubbling up inside of him. And honestly, the vein throbbing in his temple told him he had had enough of her crap.

"This is what you think I am? Your shoulder to puke on?" She pulled herself away from him. "Pardon?" "That's how I'm feeling now, Scully, like I'm your shoulder to puke on," he hissed at her. Once he had started, he wasn't going to stop now. "Sometimes I don't understand what concept you have of our relationship, Scully. Let me tell you mine."

He towered over her. She stepped back. "Mulder?" Pale, fragile, beautiful. "I love you, what we have is serious, and this is the most important relationship of my whole thirty-seven year-old life. It means that if someone hurts you, this person is in serious trouble with me. I don't give a shit if this is your brother, your mother, your best friend, your whole family. Hell, I don't give a shit if this person is me. If you hurt, I hurt, and I can't bear the pain of seeing you suffering."

"Mulder, you didn't understand..." "So make me understand," he said calmly. "We don't work together anymore, Scully. I don't watch your back, you don't see me worrying if a psycho is going to kidnap you or if you're going to be shot in a bust. I know you're working safely in a lab, surrounded by hundreds of armed government agents. I know you don't need it, but I feel better this way, even though I'm not there with you." Her lips quivered and she lowered her eyes. "But in this life here you gave yourself to me, Scully." The aching inside of him didn't reach his voice or his gestures. "Let me take care of you," he whispered.

She reached out for him. "Oh, Mulder," she sniffed against his jacket. He lost track of time, of how long they stood on the curb in the company of the hidden moon, of one or two stars and themselves. Of how many times he kissed her hair or hummed that he loved her against the faint flecks on her forehead.

He asked if she was okay, she said she was. She kept her arms around his waist until they got home.

He made an herbal tea with very little sugar and took it upstairs with him. In the bedroom, he found her combing her hair. Her cheeks were rosy and warm from her bath. He gave her the tea cup and went to take a shower himself.

About twenty minutes later, they were under the covers. He was lying on his back, she had her head on his chest. Everything in his world was in its right place, secure in the grasp of his right hand. Now they just needed to sleep.

"Mulder?"

"Hum?"

"The thing about puking on your jacket. That wasn't about Bill." His thumb stroked the palm of her hand. "No?" "It was the food. I was really sick." He blinked sleepily. "You okay now?" "Yes." "So I'm still not sorry, Scully." "I know." Scully moved against his chest like it was a pillow that would mold into the shape of her head. It would be a problem if she started beating him up to make him softer. "Did I tell you I'm having lunch with mom tomorrow?"

"Hum." "I think she has plans for Thanksgiving. I told her your mother is in Europe."

He got alert. More than turkey dinner, he smelled trouble in the air. "Ah." "She will be expecting us there, Mulder. I told her I needed to talk to you first." She closed her fingers around his thumb. "Are you okay with this?" Sharp smell of trouble. "Scully..." "For now just think about it. Thanksgiving isn't until next week," she said in one breath. She kissed the underside of his chin. "I have an autopsy early in the morning." He stayed up for a long time trying to remember what turkey dinner tasted like. Sleep finally overtook him and he hadn't remembered yet.


There was nothing else for him to do but wait.

The cake and the bottles of wine they were taking to Maggie's were packed, the car was already on the curb, and he had long ago locked all the doors and windows in the house. He didn't need to bother with his clothes; his outfit was perfect. Everything black but the brown leather jacket. And glasses. Glasses were important, they made him look serious. Scully had kissed him in approval.

He looked inside the bathroom, where Scully was putting on some rosy lipstick. She looked gorgeous herself wearing that long brown velvet skirt with matching boots and a light green wool twin set. She looked good enough to ravish, but they didn't have the time for that.

With her purse slung on his shoulder and the car keys dangling in his fingers, he called her again. "Why is it that every time we're going out you have to take this long to get ready?"

No response came from the bathroom. Considering that the door was open and that from her place in front of the mirror she could perfectly see his agitation, his conclusion was that he was simply being ignored.

He knocked on the doorway impatiently to draw her attention.

"Damn it, Scully; we're running late."

Damn it, Scully.

Come on, Scully.

Why the hell do you take this long to get ready, Scully?

Not exactly words to cajole her to be faster in doing all the 'ups' existent in the female vocabulary when they were on their way out.

Dress up.

Make up.

"Hurry up, Scully!"

With all the calm missing in him, she closed the little case with the powder stuff she was spreading on her face. Hands on her hips, she walked the distance separating her from the door. With a frisky glint in her eyes, she shut the bathroom door in his face.

He wasn't going to explode. He was better than that. Besides, what the hell was his problem today? He enjoyed this new side of Scully, how she did this for him, made herself more beautiful than she already was only to please him.

Also dinner at Maggie's was not a new currency in his life; his stomach was always looking forward to this kind of invitation on her part. Why couldn't the rest of him do the same this time?

Easy. Because the three times he had gone to her house to eat, just Maggie, Scully and himself were at the table. From what Scully told him last night, Maggie's kitchen table was too small for the dinner they were having, with seven people in the house. When she told him this new piece of information he had been dazzled from their lovemaking. In situations like that, if she told him to tape what happened in that bedroom and send it to Brother Bill as a Christmas gift, he would set the camera first and ask questions later, when he got his power of speech back.

Poor Bill. He wasn't a problem today. Charlie was.

"You have two minutes, Scully!" He rammed his fist on the door. "If you don't come out in two minutes..."

She opened the door, and he missed her forehead by just one inch.

"You'll what, Mulder?"

He lowered his hand deflated. "You did that on purpose."

She pulled her purse from his shoulder and put her make up case away. "You knew Charlie was going to be there."

"You told me that at two o'clock this morning, Scully."

"So what?" She sprinkled some of his favorite perfume on her neck. He couldn't concentrate with her smelling like fresh flowers next to him.

"Nobody is awake and coherent at that time in the morning, Scully."

She enlaced her arms around his neck and kissed his chin. "You were wide awake one minute later, remember?"

He bent down and kissed her, relaxing in her embrace. "You're a devil with red hair, woman."

She laughed and he enjoyed the little thrusts of her chest against his ribs. He tilted her head and kissed her again, with lots of difficulty since she was still chuckling. First he got her teeth, then her tongue when her lips eased under the pressure of his. Scully, the dichotomy of the dichotomies. An evil woman whose tongue, limbs and touch were a one way ticket to Paradise when he had her with him.

He was sent back to Earth when she broke the kiss.

"You'll be okay, Mulder," she said quietly. "Charlie is okay."

He pushed her head to bring her lips to his again. Maybe, just maybe he could make her change her mind. He calculated they were five steps away from the bed. They could make a little revival of what had happened at two oh-one in the morning when he fully woke up to her hands inside of his pajama bottoms.

"No, Mulder."

He recognized that voice. It was time to stop and put the whiny child inside of him to rest. He was a grown man in a serious relationship; meeting Charlie was part of the process in becoming part of her family. Scully had done the same for him on his birthday, when they had visited his mother on the Vineyard. She had been even braver: she had agreed in spending one night at his mother's instead of going back to Quonochontaug. If she had survived, so could he.

"Let's go."

She kissed him again. He had been kissed a lot lately. Perhaps that was her way to comfort for what was to come. He didn't want to think about that.

"You kissed my lipstick away, Mulder," she said, cleaning his lips with her thumb.

He pushed a lock of hair behind her ear. "You're beautiful anyway."

"Thank you." She nibbled his lower lip. "But I really need my lipstick."

"Oh, No! You don't!"

Pushing her away, he quickly picked up her brown suede jacket from the bed and helped her to pull it on.

"Mulder," she said exasperated.

This time he was the one to ignore her. He took her hand and urged her out of the bedroom. They had better go to Maggie's before his inner chicken took over again.


Scully had the cake tin on her lap and a very pensive partner by her side in the car.

She understood his reluctance towards Charlie. Bill had not exactly made a good impression on Mulder, and during the time they were partners she had never shared any information about this other brother of hers.

Mulder didn't have too much to fear in this terrain. Charlie was easier going than Bill, at least about her current relationship. He had been the one to encourage her to go for it, saying that fighting for her happiness was right and fair. She wanted Mulder to meet Charlie because of this. Each man in their very own way were the reason why she was living the most happy and complete period of her life.

"Charlie was a handful as a child, Mulder."

"What?" he asked distracted.

"Charlie," she repeated. "He was terrible. He could be in ten places at the same time."

"I believe he had a good teacher." Mulder smiled softly. "Your mother once told me you were a tomboy."

"I was not that bad." She slapped his thigh. "But Charlie and I were alike in this matter, alright."

"Were you close?"

Charlie was her best friend ever. When she was a child, Scully felt a little isolated. Few of her friends liked to use their Barbie dolls as bloody patients in the hospital. Once her mother discovered where all the Betadine in the house went to, she had to turn her medical attention to her little brother.

"He used to be my patient when we were kids."

"Liked to play doctor even then?" She nodded. "Had he been wrapped in gauze and everything?"

"Like a mummy?"

He chuckled. "Yes, like a mummy."

"Just once." Scully looked out the window. Houses and trees passed by them as they advanced towards Baltimore. "And I used all my mother's make up that day."

"This once?"

"Yes. Charlie had been run over by a Mack truck."

"A Mack truck?"

"You know me, Mulder. When I do something, I do it right."

He laughed again. "I know you like to make thorough exams, Scully."

She caught the dubious meaning of his words. "Mulder," she admonished him.

"Okay, sorry." He swallowed his laugh. "Then what?"

"To make a long story short, Mom discovered what I'd done and grounded us for the rest of the week. We also had to pay for Mom's make up."

"Poor baby."

She raised her eyebrow, but her belly laugh put her seriousness away. "We were terrible. Bill used to say that Charlie and I were trouble magnets."

"I know what you mean," he said melancholic. "Samantha and I used to be like that. Usually when we were grounded, Mom sent us to different rooms because if we stayed together we would just cook up more pranks."

She looked at him. The air around them felt rich and thoughtful, full of memories. She liked it. That was another kind of intimacy she liked to explore with Mulder, and they so rarely made it.

Her right hand curled more firmly around the package on her lap. This way she could free her right one and touch his face. "You and Charlie have so many things in common. You'll like him, Mulder."

He took her hand and kissed her palm. "When we get there, I'll be used to the idea of meeting him."

She rested her hand on his thigh. "We can go back if you're not all comfortable with the situation."

Through her peripheral vision, she saw his lips contracting as he considered her offer.

"That's okay, Scully."

"Really, Mulder. I don't want you to feel bad."

"You wanted to spend Thanksgiving with your family. For me it has been such a long time, Scully. I just have to relearn how to do this, be part of a family again."

She squeezed his thigh. "Okay. If you want to go home, you tell me."

He covered her hand with his. "Feed me a bird and I'll be okay."

She smiled. "I'm about ready for some bird to eat myself."

"I can be your personal chicken."

"Drive, Mulder."


Two steps separated him from his near future.

He used the last miles of silence to think about some small talk he could engage into with the members of the family. Be polite, his mother taught him when he was little and his parents were having guests for dinner. He was a charmer who used to enchant people with a brilliant toothless smile and irresistible invitation.

Hi. I'm Fox William Mulder. Do you wanna play with me?

At five it earned him a cute comment from the ladies, and a kiss on the cheek from his mother.

At thirty-seven he was going to get a black eye if he dreamed of inviting one of the Scullys out to play.

"Mulder, we're here."

The door of destiny was right in front of his nose. Scully rang the bell.

It couldn't be too difficult.

"Dana, Fox." Maggie greeted them, drying her hands on an apron. "I thought you weren't coming anymore."

"Hi, Mom." Scully hugged her mother and kissed her cheek. "I made the cake this morning. That's why we're late."

"You baked a cake? You didn't have to, sweetie."

"That was no problem. Mulder helped me."

"You've been a great surprise, Fox." Maggie tiptoed to kiss him. "How have you been, dear?"

"I'm fine, thanks," he replied, kissing her back.

"Good." Maggie smiled and got the package Scully was holding. "But let's come in."

They stepped in a room wrapped in the strong, pleasant aroma of homemade baked food. He kept his watered mouth shut. For years all he had gotten for thanksgiving dinner had been that economic tray of flavorless overcooked turkey and smashed potatoes that looked and tasted like glue.

"It smells delicious, Mom."

"Thanks dear. We're having Boston style turkey this year," Maggie said without stop walking. "Take off your coats and come to the kitchen. Louise is helping me there. Charlie and the kids are in the backyar..."

"UNCLE FOXY!"

A cherubim-like figure without wings came flying through the corridor and almost collided with Maggie. Caroline was a few inches taller and a few pounds lighter that the last time he had seen her. Her blue eyes and rosy face radiated energy and happiness.

He gave the bag with the bottles of wine to Scully, and opened his arms widely to greet her niece.

"Hi, sweetheart." He laughed while Caroline squelched continuous kisses on his face. "Aren't you beautiful in this red dress?"

Caroline giggled. "Thank you, Uncle Foxy. Granny gave me the dress for my birthday. I'm six now!" She was all proud of herself, her eyes twinkled.

"Congratulations, sweetie!" He squeezed her and planted a kiss on her nose. "Now you're a big girl."

"A big girl with a bad behavior," said Scully swirling her fingers in her niece's blond curls. "Is just Uncle Fox here? Don't I get a welcome kiss too?"

Caroline bent down and wound her left arm around her aunt's neck. Scully pecked her lips softly. "How's my little girl and where's my young man?"

Caroline squirmed and Mulder put her down on the floor. "I'll get him." She dashed again through the corridor. "Jay! Uncle Foxy and Aunt Day are here!"

"Walking, Caroline."

A stern look from the blonde woman standing in the hall and Caroline was the epitome of good manners. The wrinkles on the woman's forehead had a brief life, though. Caroline disappeared in the kitchen and the woman's face was as smooth as a peach peel again.

"This daughter of mine! She reminds me my sister-in-law all the time."

"Don't start, Louise." Scully hugged her brother's wife. "Her father was not a nice person, either. I think her mother used to hang around with us, too."

"Poor kid. Bad blood all around her." Louise turned her brown eyes at him and smiled. "You must be Mulder. Caroline and Jason talked so much about you."

He shook the hand Louise was offering. "That's me. Nice to meet you, Louise. I met them the last time you came here. You have wonderful kids."

"Thank you." Louise smile pleased. "They are good kids, but sometimes I've come so close to putting them on leashes and tying them onto the table legs."

"Who's going to tie whom on the table and why wasn't I invited?"

Charlie had blue eyes. Mulder could see as he wrapped his arms around Scully not for fear nor to show she was his. Mulder did that because those sharp blue eyes had been haunting him long before he discovered their color. He wanted to be sure he was awake and finally going to meet the infamous Charlie Scully. Those eyes belonged to the man that he once had thought was Scully's lover, to the man that caused one of the greatest hangovers he remembered having had. Those eyes were a couple of inches higher than his. They surrounded Mulder, studying him as if he were a rare specimen trapped on an examination table.

Intently.

Inquisitively.

Ready to cut, to slice, to probe.

To test.

"You have a twisted mind, Charles."

Charlie muttered something back to Louise, breaking the scrutinizing contact to sweep Scully in his arms, apparently forgetting that Mulder still had a hold on her.

"Aren't you ever going to grow up, Charlie?", Scully said, chortling in her brother's embrace.

"Let's not discuss the fine art of growing up here, Daney," Charlie said, dwarfing his sister in another six foot two inch bear hug. "You stopped doing that when you were sixteen."

"I wasn't talking about being taller, Charlie."

"Neither was I."

For a brief moment, the siblings held each other's gaze. In a battle between brother and sister, Mulder would put his money on Charlie. Someone who could literally make Scully shut up just with a mocking retort was someone to be respected.

And to be watched closely.

Scully pulled on her brother's earlobe as he put her back on the floor.

"Behave, Charles," said Louise, getting the bottles of wine and taking them to the kitchen with her.

Charlie winked at Scully like he was going to do any other thing his wife would ask him to but behave.

Scully stepped aside and both men were face to face again.

"Charlie, this is Mulder."

Charlie knew how to greet a man in Mulder's position. The first physical male contact was made with a crisp shaking of hands, to check if the man was strong enough to support and to protect a beloved, precious treasure.

Or so Mulder thought. Unfortunately, Samantha hadn't stuck around long enough for him to find out. But that was the kind of greeting he would dispense to the man he had the knowledge was sharing a bed, a house, a life with his sister twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week.

The grip of Charlie's hand was steady and firm, demanding respect. Mulder met him halfway, without letting the clear attempt of intimidation get to him. Five years working day in, day out with a beautiful woman taught him how men reacted to his proximity to Scully. Most of the time they were field officers trying to make their way with his partner. All the feedback they got was a freezing hazel stare to cool down their libidos. Scully wouldn't have found endearing this particular protection he had provided her along the years, but what Scully didn't know could not hurt her.

He smirked.

Or hurt him, for that matter.

"Nice to meet you, Charlie."

Not that Charlie's interest could be related to the interest of those men. Charlie was not an opponent fighting for Scully's affection, which didn't make things easier exactly.

"My pleasure, Mulder."

A firm grip on his hand, lips curved upwards not in a smile, but in a neat and alluding message.

I know who you are and where you live, you son of a bitch.

Mulder furrowed his brow.

He liked Charlie Scully.


In her entire childhood, Scully had always viewed her mother's kitchen windows as the frame of the world. Her world had already been backlit by San Diego's sunset on a summer day, by the gray sky of London in the winter, and although she had seen too many different background scenarios through the years, the things that really mattered hadn't changed now that she had become an adult. Her world was enlarged and got some new welcome and beloved characters.

Caroline was patiently telling her father that he wasn't supposed to open his eyes until she finished saying the magic words. Mulder was in charge of helping to keep an eye on Charlie while trying to convince Jason that the Knicks were not a lost cause.

"Dad, if you open your eyes again I won't tell Mom I want to eat cookies anymore, and you won't have cookies either."

"Honey, this is not fair. I'm not cheating," Charlie whined in the same way he used to do over twenty years ago.

Lousy liar, Scully thought. She knew he was peeking between the fingers covering his eyes.

"Yes, you are because Mom said you always peek through your fingers." Caroline's air-stuffed cheeks were red. She had her arms crossed over her chest while her left food tapped the floor.

"I'll show you who's cheating."

Charlie pulled his daughter onto his lap, and started tickling a now squirming Carol.

"Dad, stop!" she cried.

"Cry uncle," Charlie demanded.

"NO!" Carol laughed and squirmed some more as her father's fingers poked her faster. "Uncle Foxy, help!"

Mulder looked at them from his place at the other side of the table. "Sorry, Carol. I have to defend the Knicks first."

"Give up, Mulder," Charlie said, letting Carol go. The girl took this opportunity to hide behind her father's chair. "Some things are just not meant to be."

Scully smiled. Fortunately a few things were.

"I caught her smiling again, Mom."

Scully turned to find Louise at her side with a smile of her own, and her mother too occupied stirring the turkey in the other corner of the kitchen to pay attention to them.

"Let me guess," Maggie said, closing the oven. "She's smiling at the garden."

"Bingo. More precisely at the new, dark flower talking to Jason. Look, Mom." Louise beckoned Maggie to join them at the window. "He's smiling back."

Instead of crumpling her smile, all that teasing made it even wider. "I was smiling at my brother. It's not my fault if you married a bozo, Louise."

Louise took the bowl with vegetables from Scully's hands and carried it to the table. "In this case I won't go outside and plead with him to stop being so silly in front of your partner. Charlie missed having you as an audience these last couple of years."

"I missed him, too, Louise." Scully left Maggie peering outside and took another chair at the table. "I wished he had been at home, especially last year, with all the awful things that happened."

Louise had her gaze fixed on the thin slices of onions she was cutting. Scully didn't know which technique Louise used, but her sister-in-law never cried while dealing with the vegetable. "Your brother loves you very much, Dana, but he wasn't what you needed. Mulder was there with you."

She got another knife to help Louise. "We weren't together then."

Louise stared at Scully for a moment before going back to her onions. "Silliness must be part of this family's blood. What a waste of time! But then, maybe the time wasn't right before and you wouldn't be together now."

Scully separated the sweet potatoes in another bowl to peel them. "I guess we wouldn't. If we had tried a relationship any other time, it wouldn't have been about us. It would have been a terrible mistake, I think."

"The problem with us, women, is that we're not satisfied in torturing ourselves only by waiting for Mr. Right. We also want the right place and the right time," Louise said.

"What's the problem in waiting for Mr. Right?" Maggie protested. "You younger people think this is old fashioned, a total waste of time. But if you really want to know, in my opinion it's all about you, young ladies, being afraid of getting involved with someone else."

"Mom, I don't think you have a point here," Scully said. "The concept of Mr. Right has changed for the modern woman. When you were younger, you knew where to look for him. A good man with a promising career, preferably a little older than you, and brilliant enough to get your parents blessing."

"Dana, I'm not that old," Maggie snorted. "In the end of the fifties, when I got married, things were changing and old taboos were crumbling since World War II. Women rediscovered their value in society. While men fought, we women kept the house together. Besides, I know my Captain was a keeper, wasn't he?" Then she added in the form of a question rich in pride and longing, "A young man from the beginning of the sixties who wasn't a pigheaded macho man."

Scully ducked her head to hide a smile. Her mother was usually a humble person, but give her the opportunity to gloat to the four corners of the world what a wonderful, respectable and supportive man her husband had been that she would make good use of it.

"But it was a baby step towards independence, Maggie. As soon as the soldiers came back home, women in general were back in the kitchen, behind their aprons," said Louise, swinging from the lovely daughter- in-law mood to the lioness defendant of women's right. "As a social worker, every day I see how society treats us. And believe me, it's not beautiful. You were just lucky you had a man who respected you from the beginning of your lives together."

"Hey, calm down young lady. I'm on your side here," Maggie said, softly disarranging Louise's hair. "What I was trying to say is that, despite the fact that women are still undervalued, even nowadays, things are a lot easier for you now thanks to us, women from the sixties."

Both Scully and Louise knew that Maggie's heart had been with 'the cause', and that probably had been all the 'sisters' from sixties had known of Maggie Scully, who at that time was the prototype of everything her 'sis' were fighting against: a loving young mother of four whose husband was engaged in yet another war.

"Maggie, women from that generation burned their bras in a public square, but it doesn't mean they've freed us from men's domain. From society's domain. Quoting that song, we're still women in chains, still following the path society expects us to."

Maggie washed her hands to stir the turkey again. "I married the Captain because I was in love with him. Nobody forced me to do that. And nobody forced you to marry Charlie either, Louise."

"But our options were narrowed down to the ideal kind of man: gentle, white and well accomplished in life to marry, to mate and to breed."

"So I broke the pattern," Scully said. "I'm living with a Jew who happens to be divorced, and I'm not married to him."

"I'm sorry to disappoint you, Dana, but since the melting pot tale, this was supposed to happen someday in the American family. Besides, Fox is rich and well educated, the dream man of any woman with brains." Vegetables sliced, Louise busied herself mashing the sweet potatoes. "Things would be pretty different if you had gotten involved with a Hispanic or a black guy, Dana. Or, even worse, with a woman."

Through the corner of her eyes, Scully saw her mother wincing at the stove. She was almost sure her mother would survive if she dated a black or a Hispanic guy, but getting involved with a woman would be the death of Maggie Scully.

"Nowadays love has several faces, Louise. I don't know if it was part of the Creator's master plan, but that's what love has become. Some of us find our Prince Charming, others find Princess Charming, others find no Charming at all. I know a few couples that live in this situation, that are in an interracial or unconventional relationship and they're all fairly happy, I must say," Scully said, full of herself for deep down she knew that when it was about being unconventional, she and Mulder ranked on the top of any list. At least in their workplaces.

"Dana is right, Louise. This politically correct line of thought has allowed women to choose their own path and lead their lives the way they believe is the best one."

"Maggie, Dana, I hate to disagree with you, my dears, but in my opinion, the modern woman just came to the conclusion that metaphysics sucks."

The three women burst out laughing.

The kitchen's door opened, and with the cool gust of air came Caroline hand in hand with her father complaining that she was starving, and asking if she could please have a couple of cookies. Louise quietly ordered father and daughter to get the table ready for dinner if they wanted to eat. Soon after Jason and Mulder came in. Jason hugged his grandmother around the waist and asked if he please could have a glass of juice. Maggie more than quickly poured a large glass of apple juice for her grandson. Mulder sat at the table with Scully and asked if he could help with anything. Scully put a piece of sweet potato in his mouth and told him dinner would be ready soon.

She tasted the sweetness on his lips when he gave her a quick kiss before going to help Charlie in the dinning room.

Prince Charming or not, she was just glad with what metaphysics had preserved for her.

She smiled as she followed her beautiful partner with her eyes.

How could she ever complain?


His being with the Scully family could be called a fine experience. He had been introduced to Carol and Charlie's amusing show of magic, and had his ass kicked by Jason over an argument about basketball. He found in Louise another cheesy movie freak, much to her husband's disgust. Maggie took endless snapshots of the whole family, including one of him and Charlie discussing the morality of the affairs inside of the White House while lining the napkins on the table. Scully kept shooting blithe smiles in his direction, blinding him with the gayness her eyes reflected at him and at everyone that now was sitting at the dinning room table.

Maggie had both of her children beside her, Charlie on her right, Scully on her left. Their respective partners were seated beside them, and each one of them had one kid at their side. Jason sat beside his mother, Caroline beside Mulder. All of them had their attention turned not to the golden brown tanned turkey before them, nor to the mouthwatering dishes carefully placed on the white linen tablecloth, but at the oldest Scully sitting at the head of the table, getting ready to start the round of thanks for their good fortune of that year.

"It's a profound joy having so many dear faces here with me, in the house I've always been so happy, to share and to count all the blessings that have lain upon us this year, and also to ask God to look after Bill and his family. They couldn't make it this year, but I'm sure we're in their prayers right now too, at Tara's parent's." Maggie looked at Charlie, who smiled back at his mother. "Would you like to start the prayers, Charlie?"

"Sure."

Mimicking everyone, Mulder closed his eyes and bowed his head. Under the table, he twisted his finger, fighting the foolish urge to crack them. When they were making the cake that morning, Scully had told him about this tradition her family had, where everyone would say some words to express how grateful they were for the good things that had happened to them. The chocolate he was melting almost burned when he realized that he too would have to speak. For exactly twenty five years, Thanksgiving Day been a date to mourn, not to show gratitude. A quarter of a century of tradition was not to be forgotten overnight.

"I remember the last time I sat down at this table and said my thanks for the good year I'd had. It happened five years ago. I'll never forget that year, because that was the last time the Captain started the prayers. His first thanks was for having all his brats reunited at his house. Mine is for the opportunity of being back to my parent's house to celebrate."

Charlie's words were simple, filled with love and longing for a man that wasn't going to be there, being part of their lives anymore. Mulder felt for Carol and Jason, children that in the future would have only straws of memory binding them to their grandfather. He ached for Matthew, who would depend on the recollection of others to get to know the grand man his grandfather had been.

"I don't mean my words to sound like an eulogy, because we all know that as long as there's a sky over our heads, and an ocean to get lost before our eyes, the Captain will be alive for us." Charlie released a low, choked sigh on the back of his throat. "We miss you, Captain."

At the head of the table, a sharp intake of breath burst.

Someplace inside of Mulder started hurting.

His life was divided in before/after fall of '73. In between them, there was a gap, a large whole in which ghosts inhabited. Funny. He hadn't called them ghosts in a long time. Actually, he had never seen them as ghosts until last summer when, with Scully by his side, he rediscovered what being in the light was about. For the past twenty- five years they had been only spectrums of a past that insisted in not going away, and whose presence had been so persistent, he had been forced to learn how to coexist with them. They had become so familiar, such a great part of him, that they only assume their real identity through the prism of rage that at times assaulted him.

"I remember when I was a child, no older than Carol is now, he told us the meaning of Thanksgiving, both the word and the celebration."

Starting in his ears, where Charlie's words were tearing apart the tight stitches joining the two edges that formed his life, an unremitting flow of selfishness spewed out of him. Sadly, he had no control of it. God knows he didn't envy Scully's family. He wished them nothing but the best. However, he felt hollow for the lack of things to say, or to feel. After Samantha disappeared, Thanksgiving had been a date to spend alone with his thoughts. For the first couple of years, his parents had tried to make it normal for him. Oxford china service and silverware on the table, the first of the two glasses of wine he was allowed to have every year placed at his hands reach, and the chair beside his empty forever. Then his parents divorced and the expensive dishes disappeared. Two other empty places made him company at the much smaller table in his apartment when it was his turn to get divorced and be alone again.

"Suffering and struggle exist to make us better appreciate the good things of life, and light only has value because of the existence of darkness."

The stitches were hurting so badly, they burned his stifling chest, popping up repressed sobs that wracked his soul. Bear the pain, he ordered himself. When the tears threatened to fall, his fingers dug his palm searching for absolution, asking for permission to look inside of the gape his chest hid - a Tartarus that host the lost souls responsible for the nightmares that still haunted his dreams: his sister's abduction, his parents withdrawn, his father's murder... Scully's abduction, her cancer, Emily, the fear that she would finally figure out he wasn't worth it and leave him for good...

"Let's say thanks for the light."

Then he felt her perfume and her presence beside him. The stitches, rather than closing, all propped open at once, freeing not ghosts, but threads of color, subsiding the pain to a scale that almost didn't exist. He hadn't known it, but Scully had been touching that place, too, and started a cleaning up. A spring cleaning that had been lasting five years now.

"I want to say thanks for life and for the love my family dispenses me. Thanks for my mother, for my wife and children. Thanks for my siblings Dana and Bill and for the people that make their lives better. For Melissa, for being what she was, a crystal herself." Charlie sniggered, a small sound that puzzled Mulder in that emotional moment. "And I also say thanks to my sister, that finally baked her own cake."

If there was an inner joke to be understood, he missed it.

Under the table, soft fingers sought for the solace of his rough hand, curling around his palm, digging in his flesh.

The rounds of gratitude continued, with Caroline giving thanks for the light of the sun and for the fish lamp that cast shadows of the ocean Aunt Day had sent on her birthday.

Mulder started making up his speech. The demons still existed, but her love was taking care of them. He was healing.

He traced the lines molding the 'M' in her palm, assured that she also carried him in her heart.

That alone was more than enough reason to be thankful.


Like she had thought, she found Mulder in the kitchen, sitting at the table with a plate of cookies on his right, a mug of something she prayed wasn't caffeine on his left, the legal pad they used as a shopping list before him, and a pencil in his hand. Deep lines of concentration made skin on his forehead uneven, his middle and ring fingers were crushing his nose, his eyes were hooded behind his glasses.

She was so tired, she just wanted to sleep, and he had been keeping her feet warm.

"Mulder, it's past two o'clock in the morning."

He mumbled a 'shup' sound that could have been ketchup, syrup, or he just ordering her to shut up.

"It's late, Scully. What are you doing up?" he asked, revising his notes.

Step by step, she stumbled into the kitchen. "I came to see what you were doing up, and whatever it is, it can wait until morning."

"Actually, it can't," he said after flipping the pencil around his fingers eight times.

"What are you doing, Mulder?" she asked when he sat down after a careful inspection of the cupboard above the stove.

"I'm making a shopping list," he said, and sneaked his first glance at her. "We have a bag of Doritos and another one of chips. Is it enough to entertain the kids until lunch is ready?"

A shopping list? He had let her feet get cold because of a shopping list?

"Mulder," she sighed.

"I'll add another bag of chips for caution. This dish takes some time to be done."

Scully reached for his cup on the table and got a swing of his drink. Lukewarm cocoa. "You could do this in the morning."

"Besides the rice, we could also cook some steaks to go with the eggplants. An option for the kids. What do you think?"

"I... fine."

"Your enthusiasm is making me sick, Scully."

"Ignore it."

"Great idea."

From over his shoulder she read the words 'lettuce' and 'peas' in the sub item 'green salad'. Through Mulder's terrible handwriting and the haze of sleep, she also read 'Maggie's favorite', an underlined reminder beside a bottle of Riesling. Lettuce and peas in the salad ingredients because Louise commented the only way to have the kids eating those vegetables was combining them, her mother's favorite kind of wine, enough eggplants to feed their entire neighborhood...

Her cold feet grew warmer.

"We didn't invite my family over for lunch to keep you up the whole night, Mulder," she amended, ruffling his hair.

With patience, her chin atop his head and her arms around his neck, she waited until he checked the essentials one more time. "Maybe a little more ham, Mulder. After all the turkey we had this evening, the change will be welcomed."

He added another pound of ham to the pound on the list. She thought now they had too much, but putting the leftovers aside would be easier than convincing Mulder of that.

"What about the cheese?" "I think it's fine. You'll get extra points with Charlie. He loves cheese. Do we really need basil?"

"To use in the sauce." He wrote 'tomatoes' under 'onions'. "Shit. I could use my mother's help here."

"I'm going back to bed," she said quietly. The hurt his comment brought she kept to herself.

"My mother is an expert with Eggplant Parmesan, Scully. That's all."

She tied the sash of her robe, giving him time to give a new direction to this conversation.

"When she wanted to make this dish at home on the Vineyard, our cook was only her assistant. Sometimes my father would help her with the sauce. We're having one of his recipes tomorrow."

"You've decided everything. And we have tomatoes."

"After tomorrow we'll have none. Look, Scully, my parents were excellent hosts. I'm not about to screw our lunch up." He looked up at her. "I didn't stay married long enough to make good friends in the building Diana and I lived. My family... Well, you know, and Diana's lived too far away in Seattle. I, I don't know how to receive guests at home, and this is your family."

In his own way, Mulder was the most competitive man she had ever met. It could have been a remarkable feature in his character if he didn't set such high, impossible goals for himself to achieve: proving to the world, and mostly to himself, that he was a good man. It was difficult to fight with a mirror, and even more so when the distorted mirrored image he had of himself kept winning the battle.

"You don't have to prove anything to my family, Mulder."

"I'm doing this for myself, Scully. For myself."

Fox Mulder just believed in Fox Mulder's criticism, so it didn't matter how many times, in how many different ways she tried to make him see himself in the light she saw him - her air, her darkness, her light. He was a box full of puzzled words whose riddle message she was willing to spend the rest of her life deciphering, searching for the key word that would kill the beast of his insecurity. For now she lived on clues: a little gesture here, another small, incisive look there.

"Go back to bed, Scully." She almost missed the gift of the night, a small piece of the ever growing jigsaw of him.

She sat on the chair beside his.

"Add another bag of chips to the list, Mulder." He used the little rubber in the rear end of the pencil to erase the number 'two' he had written, then flipped the pencil back to write 'four'. She didn't mind. "You don't know how hungry we Scully people become when there's a good smell of food adrift in the air."

The next morning, the chirping of the radio clock they had in the bedroom woke her up at 8:30. A soft light was pouring through the window, and she pulled the blanket rasping her chin up to cover her entire face only for a moment. If Mulder had changed the alarm from the classic rock radio station to that irritating, unmelodious metallic tune, it was because she didn't have an extra minute to spare in bed.

In bed?

But wasn't she supposed to be checking the shopping list with Mulder, in the kitchen?

Slowly, each breath she was taking to better wake up, was also bringing back tidbits of the list of chores she and Mulder had made.

1) Defrost the steak they had;

2) Go grocery shopping;

3) Vacuum downstairs;

4) Clean the powder room;

5) Prepare the strawberry mousse;

6) Nothingness.

Then the shy glowing of sunlight, and her bladder screaming for relief eliciting her to wake up.

A quick shower, a bagel with cream cheese, and the coffee Mulder had made got her ready for the day.

She sipped the rest of her coffee.

For the day with her family.

She and Mulder were being ridiculous. They were turning into nervous wrecks over a simple family gathering. Because, yes, she was nervous, as nervous as Mulder was. She was also worried, and insecure, and whatever else the dictionary called the shivers she was feeling in her back, arms, and in her bobbling legs.

She called it being terrified.

Her family was both her greatest weakness and a powerful source of strength. Today the pendulum of reason was swinging between her inner self, who kept reminding her that her life was nobody's business, and the almost mandatory need... No, obligation, to straighten what little link she still had with her folks. Like yesterday, but with a difference: Thanksgiving was about coming together in gratitude, a date to be centered in the good things. Today was the first day to make good things happen, the first opportunity they had to create an event worth being thankful for in the next year.

Mulder had left the list fixed on the refrigerator's door. There were five more items she had no recollection of, including item number nine, fix the basketball hoop on the garage's door. This one along with items two and four were already crossed. The meat was still in need of being defrosted, though.

She got the packs of beef from the freezer and put them on the counter. She checked off item number one, then went off to organize the house and the rest of their day.


(7)

"Aunt Day, the smell is so very good," Jason said with a yummy face.

"Thank you, Jason. It's Mulder's concoction, though."

A puzzled Carol looked at her aunt. "But Dad said men can't cook, Aunt Day."

"Your father can't cook, Carol," Scully corrected her. "Don't get yourself deluded by Mulder's sauce, though. He can't cook either."

If Scully had wanted to make a secret out of it, she would have murmured her last observation to the children rather than just pretending he wasn't close enough to listen to them.

"I've heard that, Scully." Mulder raised the wooden spoon to mock threaten her, but had to check the sauce instead. It needed more salt. Scully winked and smiled radiantly at him, the worry stiffening her shoulders that morning finally gone.

She walked around the table to tiptoe beside him. He bent forward to have his ear in level with her mouth.

"You know I'm gonna eat any kind of anything you have for me."

Mulder inspected her pupils to be sure she wasn't on drugs. They were bright and clear and alive. Was Scully really playing around, insinuating what it sounded like with only the kitchen table separating them from the kids?

"Are you drunk?"

"Try me."

Mulder kissed her lips, taking the special care to first suckle her upper lip, then her lower one, searching for the faintest taste of alcohol. Nothing stronger than a vague lemon juice tartness mixed with small spots of salt from the chips.

"Watch out, woman," he warned.

She kissed his cheek. "I will, but only if you serve me your special, later."

He took the spoon to her mouth to let her taste the sauce. "I'm gonna have it ready and waiting for you."

She licked her lips a little longer than necessary. "It better be, Mulder."

She kissed his cheek again and asked the children who was going to help her with the rest of the snacks. Carol volunteered, getting a fistful of her aunt's wiggling fingers, then jumping all the way to the living room. Jason and his empty glass of juice stayed behind.

Jason was all attention while Mulder measured the amount of chopped basil to add to the sauce. Actually, it looked like anything was more enjoyable than Mulder's company to Jason this holiday.

"Come here, Jason. Let me show you how to prepare a good sauce."

Again that fishy look, innocence and curiosity in those rounded blue eyes, full of questions to ask. A dangerous combination to any adult.

"Uncle Mulder..."

"Yes, Jason." "Don't you like us anymore?"

"What?" He almost dropped a whole bottle of pepper inside the pan before the unexpected question. "Don't like you anymore? Why wouldn't I like you anymore, Jason?"

"You married Aunt Day, and you didn't invite me and Carol," the boy accused, his Irish temper evident in his flushed, indignant face. So that was the reason for all those hurtful stares and vicious attack at the Knicks yesterday.

"I thought you liked us, Uncle Fox," Jason continued with disconcerting sincerity. "You didn't know mom and dad, but you knew Carol and me, and Granny Margaret. You left us behind." Jason pouted, one heartbeat from crying.

Children should be barred from being so honest.

"Jason," he said quietly, afraid of drawing attention to them. "Your aunt and I are not married."

"You live here with her. She said the big bedroom upstairs is yours and hers."

"She said the truth, Jason."

"You live here with her, right?"

"Yes, Jason, I do. This is our house."

"So why do you say you're not married?"

The oil heating on the stove sizzled. Mulder turned to put the battered slices of eggplant in the frying pan.

Cupid was blind, society pretended to be blind, and due to the turn his life had taken, he believed that God was in urgent need of a pair of spectacles, too. However, it was impossible to blindfold a child without suffering the consequences. Reasons to lie to Jason he had none, and he had no intention of creating one. The problem was that he didn't know how much further he could go with his explanations without confusing the boy.

"What do you know about being married, Jason?"

For a boy of his age, Jason raised his eyebrow like an adult Scully.

"Come on, Uncle Mulder."

"No, I'm serious." Mulder put the wooden spoon on the counter beside the stove. "I need to have an idea of what you believe a marriage is."

"Mom and dad are married," Jason said after a few seconds. "There's a picture on the mantle of the fireplace. Mom and dad are in front of the church. Mom is wearing a bride's dress, and dad is wearing his most beautiful navy uniform. Dad's hair was full of rice people around them are throwing. Dad is looking silly at mom. His eyes were almost falling off his face." Jason stifled a laugh by covering his mouth with his hands. "You look silly at Aunt Day, too."

Mulder smiled. Try to mislead a child. They may not know how to put their feelings into words properly, but they had such an accurate sense of observance, it was almost possible for him envision his eyes popping out of their sockets whenever he looked at Scully.

"So I look silly when I look at your aunt?"

"Yes!" Jason squealed. A moment later he was knitting his eyebrows and screwing his lips in disgust. "I'll never get married!"

"Why not?"

"Because I don't want to look silly!" Jason said, his arms bouncing up and down on his sides, as not believing how naive his uncle was.

"It's a good silliness, Jason."

"How do you know if you're not married to Aunt Day?"

The kid was restless.

Mulder didn't want to get into sensitive areas, such as Diana or divorce, but he owed Jason an honest answer.

"I was married once, Jason, but it didn't work out."

"You weren't silly enough?"

Mulder chuckled, stirring the meat simmering in another pan. "Sort of, but I had a good marriage."

"And is it good with Aunt Day?"

Mulder looked over at the small vases of flowers Scully had put on the kitchen's window sill. To make the kitchen colorful, she explained when he asked her what was the purpose in keeping flowers in a place grease and smoke reigned. He just couldn't see himself fluttering in the grey world his life used to be. His world had gained more intensity thanks to the presence of that small woman. As corny and astronomically wrong as his comparison was, Scully was the sun shining in his cosmos.

"It's better than good, Jason."

"Better than extra chocolate fudge in a sundae?" Jason asked, licking his lips.

"Definitely," Mulder agreed, amused with the child's association.

"Cool!" Jason said. Mulder got it as a strong sign of approval. Ice cream was a serious subject in general children's protocol.

The eggplants were ready to go, so he asked Jason to get him the plate covered with a paper napkin on the table. Jason delivered the dish and a decisive question.

"If it's so good, why don't you marry Aunt Day, Uncle Mulder?"

Bingo.

Their conversation had started naturally, and came in full circle that same way.

Marrying Scully. He had considered this possibility a few times before they got together, always in the what if realm, an alternate universe too painful to delve into without getting hurt if she said 'no'. Scully was a generous person, and she truly cared for him, but he still had his fears: if she rejected him in the reality they were living now, he would get maimed for the rest of his life. However what he felt for her was too strong, to complex to be put on a marriage license.

Thinking back now, what he had with Diana had been a tenuous link with love, which he had hoped he could have strengthened with God's blessing. With Scully it was different. She was the link.

She was the blessing.

Some might say their union was profane, not deserving of God's protection. At this point, his religious beliefs were twisted even to himself. He didn't comprehend the existence of God, but he respected the ones that understood and believed in the Creator's existence. He knew prayers, he somehow wanted to believe in miracles, and he trusted Scully and what they had together. That was where what he considered his sacred vows laid upon, in respect and cherishing what they had together until the end of his life.

Now how the hell could he tell this to a nine year old?

"Uncle Mulder, the pan."

He gathered the eggplants to put them on the plate and eliminate the excess of oil. "You know, Jason, if your mother and your father didn't love each other, the picture you told me about would be meaningless." He was careful in using Charlie and Louise as an example. "The same thing happens with your aunt and me. If she wants to get married, though, she blinks her eyes and I'll marry her tomorrow," he concluded, adding another bunch of eggplants to the frying pan.

His answer seemed to satisfy Jason's curiosity, but the boy looked sad.

"I wish you married Aunt Day, so you'd be my uncle and Carol's and Mathew's for real, Uncle Mulder."

Mulder blamed the aftereffects of his chopping onions for smarting his eyes and burning his throat.

"I don't need to marry your aunt to be your uncle, Jason. You'll always be my nephew and Carol will always be my niece," he promised with his hand over his heart. "As for Matthew, I think we'll have to wait until he's a little older to see whether he wants me as an uncle or not."

Jason opened a bright smile at him. "He will, Uncle Mulder! You're so cool!"

Mulder swatted the boy's behind and rushed him to the living room to talk to his Aunt Day because she had missed him. He had wanted to kiss the boy, but he couldn't risk his cool uncle status now that he found out what a 'cool' sensation that was.


Everything in Fairfax County was related to large scales and giant proportions.

Larger than the states of Delaware, Montana and Wyoming, to name just a few of them, this thriving 399 square mile urban county was the most populous jurisdiction within both Washington and Virginia metropolitan areas.

Half of its residents had a four-year-college degree or more educational attainment, which could be the reason for one the highest median household incomes in the nation: over eighty thousand dollars per year. A great deal for the retailers, since Fairfax ranked second as an East Coast shopping paradise, and to the residents, that didn't need to go far to get their goods.

Fairfax County concentrated over 150 international companies, the largest foreign industry grouped together within Washington metropolitan area.

It was one of the eighteen counties out of 32,000 jurisdictions to get the triple 'A' bond state in the U.S.

"And now it's also the house of Uncle Foxy Mulder and Aunt Day Scully," Charlie said after Scully finished her ramblings about the place where she and Mulder now lived.

"Mulder won't be pleased if he hears you call him 'Foxy', Charlie."

"So keep me safe and don't tell him I started this 'Uncle Foxy' thing."

"Afraid of Mulder?"

"Give me a break, Dana. Me afraid of that skinny man?"

Scully elbowed her brother's arm lightly. Mulder could be many things, but skinny was not one of them. "Respect the man, Charlie. He's a Special Agent with the FBI."

"And I'm Bill Scully Jr's younger brother. Let's see who's got better back up."

Scully rolled the large mug of coffee between her hands and looked over at the view before them. The street was quiet, almost a small village of townhouses lost in time and space in that micro-cosmos of modernity and prosperity. Ahead of the highest step at the entrance of her home, where they were sitting now, the red bricks and white downspout of the detached houses before them stared back at her.

"Bill fears you'll never talk to him again."

"I was going to talk to him, Charlie. He preferred to have a drink with Mulder instead."

"Damn! And I missed this flare-up," Charlie said, hammering his knuckles against the open palm of his hand, a sly smile betraying his inconsolable face.

Scully had nightmares only for thinking about what could have happened if her brother and Mulder had let their macho pride take the better of them.

"Mulder told me they behaved."

"Depends on what he considers good behavior. Bill's idea of irreproachable composure is to keep the family together with no harm. He considers Mulder a harm."

"Mulder is good for my health, thank you very much." Her words came out teemed with scorn and anger. "He is not a harm, Charlie. He's not responsible for the hazards in our family, and if Bill can't see beyond that, it's his problem. Mulder is his own worst prosecutor, Charlie. He doesn't need Bill on his back." Suddenly she felt tired of having to defend Mulder to her oldest brother, to the Bureau, to the world, and now to Charlie. Bill would never get over the fact that her partner was not the eighth plague of the Egypt. She hoped Charlie didn't get infected by their brother's venomous. "He could give Mulder a chance, Charlie."

Her brother smiled. "Dana, Bill will never like Mulder."

"And you think this is funny?" she asked, not believing Charlie's amusement.

Charlie chuckled. "Bill is your oldest brother. It's his duty to dislike your boyfriends, Dana. Did you really expect him to like Mulder?" He chuckled again. "The Mulder?" Despite her anger, Scully let out a small laugh. "But call Bill, Dana. He's hurt because you're talking to Mulder but not to him."

"I have a life with this man, Charlie," Scully said, gesturing backwards with the magnitude of having evidence A, B and C all rolled up in her and Mulder's two store house. "I live here with him, I sleep with him. I have to talk to him. Whether Bill likes it or not, Mulder is the most important part of my life. That's the whole problem."

"Bill doesn't have a problem, he just loves you."

Scully shook her head. Loving was so troublesome and complicated in her life. She bit her lip and silently begged for God's forgiveness. If there was something she couldn't make any complaints about, it was about love in her life. "I'll call him, okay?" she promised, attempting to show God she was really willing to make up with her brother.

"He'll be happy, Dana." Charlie picked up his mug of coffee. "From the things I've been hearing about Mulder along the years, I'd never picture him living in one of these made-in-series houses," he said, changing the subject.

Or maybe not. Her brother seldom threw words out to the wind for nothing.

"Did your opinion change now that you've met him?"

Charlie shuddered. "I've got some new information to focus on, Dana. Some new things about him to work with. Maybe you could help me with them."

As soon as they had finished savoring Mulder's delicious Eggplant Parmesan, Charlie assigned himself and Scully along to take care of the dishes. Mulder had his best panic face on as he took the rest of her family to the living room to play host. In each rinsed dish her brother handed her, she heard the loud thud of her heart in her ears. Charlie wouldn't let another opportunity pass without having that small talk to her. They fixed the kitchen up and he pushed her towards the front door so they could talk in peace. He told her Mulder would be okay discussing The Monster of the Lagoon or any other crap movie with Louise and the children for another few minutes. She loved Charlie from the bottom of her heart, but sometimes it was so difficult putting up with his occasionally bossy manners.

"I hope you liked him, because he's staying, Charlie. And I'm staying with him."

Charlie cupped his hands around his mouth, looking away from her. She saw condensation escaping between his fingers to get lost in the cold afternoon. Charlie knew. Out of all the members of her family, he was the only one who truly knew how dearly she had wanted all the things happening in her life now.

"I know, Dana. And I accept Mulder in your life. Believe it, Bill and Mom want to accept him, too. But I also understand them and share some of their concerns," he spoke carefully. Both of them were aware of how slippery, how delicate the Mulder subject was. They were also conscious of the damage it had already made in her relationship with their oldest brother. "You've been together for what, Dana? Six months? You'd stayed for over a year with Ethan, with Willis. The moment they started the ringtalk you sent them home."

"Neither Jack nor Ethan was the right man, Charlie. You should know this better than anyone else. Their rings weren't right." She blinked to cast that involuntary sensation of remorse away. "In both situations I tried to be honest with them and with myself. I never loved them, or I didn't love them enough. I don't know. With Mulder it's different. It's complete and solid. It's everything."

In the pavement across from their house there were two large, solid trees. Their realtor had explained that the contractor who planned the house had planted the already adult trees when the buildings were finished. Charlie studied their naked branches for a long time before speaking again. "I admire your courage, Dana. I really do. But you moved on too fast."

"I love him, Charlie," she said softly. "Mulder offered me more than a ring; he gave me the whole package. I don't need anything else."

He took her cold hand between his frozen ones. "But was moving in with him a wise decision? Things change once you live with someone else, Dana."

She understood her family's concern. She was almost flattered for knowing they cared so much for her, but this was her life, her destiny, her happiness. They needed to trust her and her judgment on what was best for herself.

"He makes my life good, Charlie, easier. He's still the old times Mulder, I still recognize him as so. This is good, it feels safe, like things didn't necessarily change. They just took their natural turn. We're not forcing any situation."

He dropped her hand to tuck his between his legs. "He seems to be an honest man. Are you honest with him?"

Scully braced both her arms on her raised up knees. Mulder's parka sheathed her body from the freezing cold, but not from the small, unsaid things still hanging between herself and her partner, herself and her family. Herself and what was echoing in her heart.

She shivered. "There are things he still doesn't know, as I'm sure he has his secrets, too. But we're trying, Charlie. We're more honest with ourselves each passing day. We talk, we don't let the silence in our pasts interfere in our lives together. We're creating a good relationship, our ties are getting stronger."

They smiled at each other, their conversation making the air around them comfortable again.

"I'm glad to hear that, Sis. Things just get really bad if we don't tell each other what needs to be said." Charlie looked at her, his eyes apologizing for bringing up something so particular, so private, reminding her of why she trusted that man so much. "Don't postpone your life any longer, Dana. Be honest with him, but most of all, be honest with yourself."

Her cheeks warmed up, and her lips crushed up in a little, tight smile. "When the right time comes, Charlie, Mulder will know everything about me. And I'll know everything about him." She stood up brushing her hands over her jeans. "Let's get inside before Mom comes out here to scold us for being out this long."

Charlie picked up their empty mugs of coffee off the floor and stood up, too. "A woman of this age still afraid of Mommy."

"You had bronchitis, Charlie, not me."

"And I'm staying with her." Charlie grimaced, curving his shoulder and legs like a kid that had been given a shot of a bitter, terrible medicine. "Do you think she still has that herb she used to force down my throat when I started coughing?"

"Wheeze in front of her and you'll find out."

For the rest of the afternoon, Charlie didn't even breathe in front of their mother.


Dusk poured into the kitchen filtered by the window and eased by the fluorescent light forcing its way out of the room. They met halfway, each of them carrying their indissoluble properties of darkening/lightening, fighting a lost battle for one couldn't block the power of the other. Dark was growing outside, light brightened inside, shadows faded on the walls.

On the table, another peculiar war took place. White spots matched the flat rectangular pieces of black wood resembling a motionless snake on the kitchen's table. In one end there were two white spots; in the other end, five white spots. In Mulder's hand there were all sort of combination of spots, but the ones he needed. In his gaze there was the shadow of worried lips and frowned brow; in Charlie's, the light of a cynical sneer.

"Hey, are you planing on making your move before the next holiday?"

Mulder let go of the stones in his hands to scan through the China's Great Wall miniature he had built before him. Charlie, on the other hand, had laid all his game on the table. Mulder felt a bit like a fool for trying to hide what he had. In this game they were even. The 28 stones had been shuffled face down and evenly distributed: he had fifty percent of the pieces; Charlie had the other half. They could come out clear. With no boneyard for stockings left, it was only a matter of time before they figured out each other's game, whether it was the domino match or the little game of nerve both men were playing with each other.

Mulder was conscious that Charlie had a small advantage over him, starting with the fact that the younger man had grown up with Scully, so he had his particular stock of information. It didn't mean Charlie had taken part in every decision Scully had made in her life. Scully was self confident and woman enough to decide which steps to take and direct her life the way it better suited her needs. No, not that. But Charlie had the power... No, power was not a quality Scully would let any man impose on her. Her past love affairs were the best proofs that dominant men both fascinated and withdrew her from any deeper involvement. Two mortal mistakes Mulder was in constant self vigilance not to commit, and that Charlie had no qualms in making. At this, Mulder associated him to Bill, with the difference that the youngest Scully seemed to be more sensitive and respectful about his sister's choices. Even so, Scully trusted him.

More than once Scully stated that her youngest brother was her best friend ever. For the last twenty-four hours, Mulder had been trying to discover the reasons why. Charlie didn't pretend wounds did not hurt, or that they did not exist. The youngest Scully had the belief that, in order to heal, it was necessary to push the pain to the limits of the body. Mulder didn't see this intervention with sympathy. After all, power tasted sweet on the inquisitor's tongue, but provoked a bilious sensation in the one who had to respond and justify what was considered right.

Mulder had a sweet tooth. Charlie was being damned in denying him this small treat.

If Charlie weren't Scully's nearest and dearest, and if he and Mulder weren't so alike in this... harmless... trace of their personalities, his would be the top name on Mulder's-people-to-be-kept-at-arms-length list. But the most annoying thing about the man was...

Mulder swore under his breath as three dominoes that had acquired lives of their own twisted around his fingers before falling face up on the table. Charlie shook his head and spied on them, already rearranging his own game.

... Dominoes, for Christ sake! "Dominoes aren't your game, right, Mulder?"

"I don't like it very much," Mulder replied, choosing sincerity over flippancy. "Hits too close to work for comfort."

"As a profiler?" Charlie asked, organizing his dominoes by groups of numbers. Five with fives, two with twos. Damn! Of course he couldn't find twos. Charlie had all of them.

Giving up on twos, Mulder started hunting for threes. Making use of his adversary's stratagem, stones with the same numbers were being grouped side by side.

"As an investigator." He was almost running out of fives, too, but he had most of the ones. "I prefer shooting a few hoops as an off-duty civilian, though."

"In this freezing cold?"

"Winter sports," Mulder answered wrinkling his nose. Holding the set of dominoes in his hands with the grace of a counterfeit professional, he wangled ways of forcing his game on Charlie. And how to make Charlie respond to it.

After five years of at times pushing, at times respecting her silence, by perchance he found out that the best way to have Scully talking was by offering her his undivided attention and perennial patience. His effort and willingness to wait for the right moment earned him half sleepy, half wrapped up in contentment bits and pieces about her life at the base, the convivial with her siblings and the pets she had adopted as a child. About Charlie there had been few anecdotes shared against his shoulder, usually when darkness was high in the sky. The advanced hour and the sleepy comfort that his being with her brought ended up plundering most of the valuable information he was so in need of having now.

The enthusiasm and tenderness in Scully's narrative had shaped her brother in mythical canvas, a supernatural being who fit a child's imaginary friend in the top of the qualities: a listener who didn't classify you as a claptrap, a presence that brought comfort just by being there. Someone who could turn ordinary words into treasured secrets just because you trusted them to him.

Charlie was more than a twisted mind: he was a twisted reality. Mulder was loath in letting that particular Scully's family member inside of the walled up world he had constructed to live in with Scully. He was constantly en guard around Charlie; the youngest kept confounding him, acting like Mulder wasn't the responsible for at least half of the newest aging lines smearing Maggie's face. Bill's position had been crystal clear; Charlie was giving him a time Mulder didn't know how to make use of. Reinforce his foundation?, improve his defense mechanism?, or just unwind and be himself?

Charlie's bland face didn't give an answer. It was a calm, mute invitation to accept the honesty offered by his blue eyes. And those blue eyes were like beads of water luring to their liquid nest.

Mulder was a man who welcomed challenges with open arms. The fascination for the unknown constantly overpowered his sense of caution. Water could be turbulent, most certainly traitorous, but also so compelling and involving.

Enticing.

Charlie was safe. Scully had told him Charlie was safe, and she was the only water he waded into without the fear of drowning. Yet, caution reigned. One couldn't hold onto water.

"I'm not a fulltime profiler anymore. Now I'm an ordinary field agent, got a regular job."

"Dana told me you primarily worked as a profiler at the Bureau, and that you were the best in what you did. When she let out you had applied for a transfer, that was the first place I thought you'd go back to." "It would have taken me back to Quantico, and Scully needed some space."

"I've heard of that," Charlie said, the game momentarily forgotten as he stole a glance at the kitchen's door. They were a good thirty feet away from Scully, who was having coffee and carrot cake with Mrs. Scully, Louise and the kids in the living room. The TV was on and they were a noisy laughing group. Ghost of a chance for them to hear what was happening in the kitchen. Even so, Charlie kept his voice low, edged with anger. "Those shitheads, setting up both of you like that. Dana kept it quiet. She just told me you wouldn't be working together anymore. Had I known it sooner, you'd have witnessed a serious ass- kicking session, Mulder,"

"You wouldn't have found any to kick, Charlie. Those men have no faces, much less a back side to be kicked. Unless you meant kicking my ass. This one was there for everyone to see," Mulder said, discarding a 3/1 spotted stone, and Charlie let out a startled, 'Shit!' That was what he did best: fall heavy and dirty in the awake of an imminent menace.

The automatic engineering that activated the mechanism of his defense system started rotating before Mulder had the time to dissect what Charlie had said. It could have been nothing, as well as it could have been everything. A befogged blame, or a simple and harmless statement. What mattered was that he couldn't take his chance; Bill proved Scully's males were great kick asses. And he never used his boot to attempt any further contact to Mulder.

With tight pursed lips, Charlie made slight back and forth movements with his head, the eyes fixed on the game on the table not giving Mulder a clue of what he was thinking. He just wished him and Charlie could come to terms to all that tiptoeing around each other and be authentic, be themselves.

Charlie pulled out a 2/2 and cross-cruised it on the table. Mulder hadn't given him many options after all.

"My sister wasn't found alone, Mulder. The violation was hard on you, too, I suppose."

The violation had been humiliating, crushing to put it in a few words. However, what broke him, shredded all his bones to dust with no mercy had been the impact of, in their aftermath, look at Scully in the eye and not being able to detect any sign of confidence, of control or pride, not any trace of the coolness that inhabited Scully's self rise to the surface. He wasn't ready to see her face displaying the emotions of a rag doll, to see her acting as a rag doll. Someone had handed her an FBI issue jacket. She pulled it on. Another agent helped her out of the bed. She didn't protest. Trajan told them they were supposed to stand before the Discipline Board on Tuesday morning. She didn't question. Mulder drove them to his apartment, tucked them in his bed, and held her shivering body all night long. She nestled closer to him, and just had an automatic reaction when he told her it was time to get up and meet Skinner. 'What now, Mulder?' she had asked.

What now?

"It was, Charlie. I thought they had finally succeeded in taking away the only good thing I'd gotten working in the X-Files. If Scully had left..."

"She didn't. Despite everything she's here, right by your side."

Each of them discarded three more stones before Mulder found the right words to ask Charlie a question that, although he didn't like to admit it, was important to him - Charlie's approbation. He tried to be indifferent towards the others. Mrs. Scully never treated him badly, Louise had been nice and the kids adored him. He had aimed for less than that, but since he got all this sympathy, he wasn't going to complain. One Scully keeping him guessing all the time and another one openly hating him was all he could get, though.

"Are you okay with this, Charlie?"

The match was coming to an end; each of them just had four more pieces to play and once again their layout had that same two open ends: three and two, odd and even. Charlie chose odd, putting down a 3/5. "You're her choice. That speaks for itself."

"And don't you speak for anyone, not even for yourself?"

"My sister, more than anyone else, deserves to be loved and happy. You cover both bases."

"But would you rather have another person covering those bases?" he asked again, laying the 1/1 double on the table. After that, solitaire no more.

Since they started playing, Charlie had granted Mulder the access to his game. Now, with closure as their next step, Charlie turned face down his two remaining stones, switching off the several white spots that had been illuminating the dark tiles.

"You shouldn't be worried about my sentiments towards you, Mulder. It wouldn't make much of a difference now or ever."

"So there are sentiments." Mulder let his pieces fall on the table. He was at his house on a long holiday. It wasn't fair to himself if he kept his mind working, fending off answers to a man that gave very little in return. "That says a lot, Charlie."

"Why the irony?" Charlie asked, zigzagging the remaining stones under his fingers on the table in a fast spinning dance. Mulder wasn't impressed with the movement. Without the white spots to distract his mind, the dark dominoes pieces were just that, pieces that an UNSUB left along the way and that he had to join and figure out the puzzle.

"For a guy that enjoys talking to everybody, you're doing a mean job in not saying anything at all to me, Charlie."

"Attitudes speak louder than words, Mulder."

"They do," Mulder agreed to soon after rebuff, "And you're just acting like the criminals I chase."

"You don't sit around with your suspects sharing a beer and a domino match, Mulder," Charlie stated as if trying to put a stop in that discussion, what tasted like a sugar spoon in Mulder's craving mouth.

"I have lots of coffee at their expense, but the domino match is all there," Mulder said, reaching out for the forgotten bottle of beer before him. "When the guy is good, little information is left behind, but I have to make do with them. Some of the pieces I have match among themselves, but I need more to make it really work. Sometimes I can play catch faster, but sometimes I just can't. Sometimes I have less than this," he pointed at the couple of pieces Charlie had turned down, "and it's easier to figure out the criminal's next movement. And there are times when he leaves his half in the open, works in the open and I just can't catch him. It's all there for me to see, and I just can't catch him. I could so easily reach out and take him, but that's not how it works. It can be a trap, or how you so nicely pointed it out, a big set up shit." As he talked, Mulder turned up the three pieces he still had and let them there in total display to his opponent. At this point he had nothing to hide or to lose. "I could reach out and get your pieces, Charlie, but that's not how it works for me either."

"So I've been an UNSUB from the very beginning?" Charlie whistled low, a long tune that concealed real embarrassment. "This is more credit than any of Dana's former boyfriends gave me. Should I feel flattened, or is it a variation for SOB?"

Mulder chuckled. Charlie's boneyard still had resources. His game hadn't been blocked, but his almost pass was a good sign. Charlie would be a good friend someday.

"Sometimes we refer to them in those terms, but most of the time they're just UNSUBs. SOB is for personal reference."

"So if you call me a SOB I shouldn't be offended. It's your FBI standard way of letting me know we're getting personal." Charlie tilted his chin forward at Mulder's pieces. "It's your turn to play."

Mulder studied the man before him without hurry to make his next movement, scrimping and saving time like Charlie scrimped and saved words. They could forego that game to no end, and Mulder couldn't care less for that as along as Charlie understood that he, Mulder, was there to stay.

"I don't know how much Scully told you about our work, or how much you think is believable. The only thing I can guarantee is that we've seen things human eyes should be spared of. Scully and I faced evil in the eye and more than once we were tempted to accept what they were offering us. We bargained with devil itself and got bruises that will leave scars for the rest of our lives." Mulder paused to get a long swing of his beer, letting the cold beverage work as a bitter refreshment for his memory. "Scully had her feet planted firmly on earth, but I've always been a believer wanting to believe in everything they showed me, in any piece of crap people waved before my nose attesting that it was the truth I was looking for. People called me 'Spooky' with a reason, Charlie. I was becoming Spooky."

"Dana said people called you Spooky before you started working together," Charlie said accenting the word before, reminding Mulder of the longevity of this unwanted alter-ego.

"They did. I've been called Spooky since before Diana. Things worsened after I divorced her. Diana was the status of normalcy I lost when she left," Mulder snorted, observing how dusk was becoming more substantial as night spread its dark and dense wings over the moon. "I just realized how uncomfortable that title made me when I found out I had fallen for your sister, however. She is the best thing that has ever happened in my life, Charlie. Sometimes I can't remember how it was before her."

"I understand, Mulder," Charlie said with a notch of sympathy in his voice. "If you ask me what happened in my life in the last ten years, the first thing that comes to my mind is my kids. Jason and Caroline are past, present and future to me."

"I have too many things tying me to my past. Samantha, the X-Files, Diana, my years in the VCU. I'm proud of the years I spent in the basement. They taught me more than a lifetime of any other experience I could have had." Mulder lifted his eyes, pointing his nose to the light hanging on the ceiling and that, from there, spread throughout the corridor in the first floor of the house until it met the light coming from the living room. Then he finally looked back at Charlie to make his point clear. "I'm rebuilding my present now. This house is what holds me into the present. A life with Scully is my dream for the future."

"Dana is part of your present, Mulder. You can't be so insecure to the point of not realizing this."

"I'm aware of my limitations, that's all." Mulder shuffled his stones, face up, meeting Charlie's quiet gaze. "I'm almost ten years your senior, however in the last ten years I bet I didn't experience half the simple things of life you did. I'm 37, Charlie, and I feel that just now I'm settling down for real. I didn't know how to react when I found myself wanting more of life, and wanting your sister as a part of it. She was supposed to be temporary, not permanent."

"Does it bother you? Having her as a permanent part of your life?"

Mulder's fingers froze on the stones under them. "She's everything, Charlie. Without her there's no life at all."

"So I don't understand why you're telling me this, Mulder."

Mulder ducked his head embarrassed. "I don't know, Charlie. I'm not used to open up with anyone. Even with Scully, we talk more in our silences. What I told you are sentiments I've been carrying since I joined the Bureau. Most of them have no impact in my life anymore. I just felt like sharing."

"Dana said you don't trust anyone. Why me?" Charlie insisted.

"I don't know. Maybe because she trusts you. Maybe because I want to befriend you. My first experience with a Scully male was terrible. I was hoping with you it would be different."

Mulder had three stones with him: 5/6, 1/6 and 5/1. Charlie had two stones that Mulder calculated were 2/4 and 5/2. On the table, the open ends were, in one side 2, and in the other 5, which was the only side Mulder could play since he didn't have any two-dotted stone. On the other hand, he had the remaining sixes and ones, and most of the fives. Whether Mulder used the 5/1 stone or the 5/6, Charlie would have to use the 2/4 and keep his last five. Then he would depend on Mulder to win this match.

Mulder didn't want to block Charlie now that they're were finally heading somewhere.

He discarded the 5/6.

And astonished saw Charlie turn a 2/4 and a 6/2 dotted-stone face up and lay it flat on the table, before the motionless snake's epicenter.

"You shouldn't have a six-dotted stone," Mulder babbled. "You should have a 5/2."

"You didn't count the game rightly, Mulder," Charlie said, taping his finger on the 5/2 stone amidst the body of the snake that one of them had already discarded. "You met Bill when our sister was dying. We were introduced when you're making this same sister happy. Bill saw her deathbed. I saw the bed you lie down with her every night. Don't accuse Bill of anything, not in front of me."

"I'm not accusing him of anything, Charlie," Mulder said, struggling to get over this turnabout. He had offered Charlie everything with no reserves, and had everything he had said used against him. "I know I'm not an easy person, either. But you're at least trying, sitting here and listening to me. It's more than what he gave me."

"It's a matter of opportunity. If I had met you where Bill did, I sure wouldn't be here, either," Charlie said looking at him straight in the eyes. "I may be the most diplomatic Scully child, but I'm not a saint."

Then, to Mulder's surprise, Charlie got the 6/2 stone and matched it with the other two-dotted piece, leaving both ends of the game six- dotted. Mulder could go dominoes in either side of the game.

He looked questioningly at Charlie, who explained, "You went beyond what I had expected. You deserved to win at least this match." Charlie reached out and offered his hand to Mulder. "I'm Charles Scully. It's nice to meet you."

Mulder clasped Charlie's hand in a friendly handshake. Charlie hadn't blocked his game. He could finally be Mulder.

Just Mulder.


Coherence stumbled upon coordination, that collided with indulgence, and all of them dropped self-control from his stiffing member and his spinning head onto her shoulder as he let go inside of her until there was no where else to run.

At the end of this orgasmic journey, lethargy enveloped him in its heavy arms, his tiredness not allowing him to breathe in compass with his needs as he was starved for air. The fingers stroking his hair were lazy conductors of pleasure along his used up body. So good, he nestled up against her, fitting his chin on her collarbone, with the top of his head outlining her tilted jaw. He fizzed the beginning of her name as she purred the end of his, and he smiled full and sated on her skin.

Having her so solid and perfect filling up his environment, he counted another day that had passed by. If he added the two following days to come, he would sum another week. One more week and November would be over. Then December would come, bringing with it another roll of four weeks and three bonus days to be added to the calendar he had created since he started living in this surreal reality. Time now was not measured in minutes, hours or seconds; those were grains of sand that had been escaping between his fingers for way too long. In his new calendar, time was measured by tangible moments he could hold onto to be convinced this life was no wraith. All the tastes and textures he was experiencing now were too rich and well shaped to belong to a dream. It took him weeks to accept this simple truth, that the curvaceous body breathing beneath his wasn't a chimera anymore, getting used to take as fact what once had been an illusion. Scully was not a thread of hair net-like patterned with the wool of his suit jacket that he carried back home after a day's work, or a pillow he had caught at random in the several motel rooms he had spent the night when they had been out on a case. In his arms she was harder and steadier and no dream.

And no dream.

"Half a penny for you thoughts," she bargained softly.

"They're not on sale. Raise up your offer."

She chuckled low and brief; he floated in the sound, high and long.

"I can't afford them all at once, Mulder."

"Is it a nice way of saying that I think too much?"

"No. Only my way of saying they're too precious to me."

He lifted his head, careful not to slip out of her, searching for an angle in which he would be able not only to listen to her words, but also to look at her face. Contentment fitted her nicely, a compliment that he, of all people, was bringing it back into her life.

She had spent a long time outside talking to Charlie. About the secrets of the universe, or about countless bouts with death. About childhood games or children's pranks. She and Charlie could have shared bales of useless things or their deepest dreams for life. Mulder didn't know. Whatever it was, it remained with the cold outside the minute she and Charlie stepped into the house.

She looked relieved, and felt like a warm spring breeze caressing his face, and for a moment Mulder envied Charlie for being the warmth Scully needed to open up and let go of her fears.

Then she found him looking at her and she smiled. Mulder melted. Her brother could be warmth, but he was the element that kept her fresh and anew. Everything he did revolved around her, to keep the heat of her contentment alive as long as he lived. Without knowing it, she returned the gesture sharing her contentment not with kisses or other open demonstrations of affection, but only by allowing him to fill in her silences, her voids.

"I accept whatever you can give me, Scully," he said, lowering his head back onto her collarbone. He felt her fingers working on his hair again. "Small payments for the rest of our lives is a good start."

She kissed his forehead. "What if one lifetime is not enough?"

"That's what reincarnation is there for, Scully."

"I'm Catholic, Mulder."

"So resurrection is what it is, Scully." He pushed his right arm from under her and laid it on her stomach. Turning his lips against her neck, he slurred sleepy, "And you better believe I'd go after you until I found you."


He was still inside of her.

She smiled plenty for the simple things life had been gifting her with, like the weight of the head that most nights rested on her chest. Or for being able to be the heaviness on his chest, for having his hair tickling her face as she absorbed the musk and acrid odor of his body after they had made love. The simplicity of this primeval bond awed her for with none of her other few past lovers had she shared this connection. Mulder was more and she wondered why, what was this intrinsic magnetism pulling her towards him.

Her relationships had been good ones. The men in her past had treated her right and with property. They had loved her, but she had been incapable of returning the sentiment with the same intensity. With Mulder it came as naturally as breathing. In the beginning she had been scared for not knowing how to deal with the ache that stung her chest her being so close to him caused. Later on, as their relationship evolved, she found there was nothing to fear, only to accept. From the very beginning, since when they had first been introduced, their goals had been the same. As working partners it had been the truth. As man and woman they were, hand in hand, heading towards completion, and finding it in the very small things, such as in their towels hanging side by side on the towel rack, or during the rushed trips to the grocery store after work only to get a quarter of milk and guarantee his milky-like lips against hers as he kissed her goodnight. Or because...

Or maybe because, like she had told Charlie, now she had the whole package. They still had adjustments to be made, and there were things she still had to say, but they were on the right path. She had faith in their truth because the truth had become themselves.

She pulled a lock of hair away from his eye to trace the contour of his eyelid. He feathered his lips on her shoulder.

"I thought you were sleeping," she said a little surprised with his movement.

"I'm almost there," he whispered.

"Don't sleep just yet. I want to talk a little."

"I liked him, Scully. He's very nice for a brother-in-law," he mumbled. "I was nice to him, too, and didn't push him on the floor when we were shooting hoops outside."

"Did you hurt him? Why did you push him onto the floor?" she asked amused by the psychic!Mulder that had just been waiting around the corner, eager to bring her brother up to their conversation.

"I didn't," he harrumphed. "He hit the floor because he plays basketball like he has two left feet. No wonder *I* had to teach you how to play baseball."

She *knew* how to play baseball way before their batting lesson in the summer. That was one of the little things he would know someday.

"That's why he plays dominoes."

"I've already figured out that much. Can I sleep now?" He moved his hand up to capture her left breast, getting ready to sleep.

She sighed and covered his hand with hers, trying to keep him awake for a little longer. "I don't want to talk about Charlie."

"My other bro?"

"If Bill catches you calling him bro, Mulder..."

"He better get used to it. I'm the last bro he's getting from you." His sleep-induced mumbling warmed up her neck and her heart.

"I called him this evening and got his answering machine. I left him a message."

"Whatever."

He was far gone, she thought as she pulled another blanket over them. She could tell him the message had been left in their names during breakfast tomorrow morning. He shifted his body, finally disengaging himself from her.

"I love you, Mulder," she whispered.

As he had tucked her in the night before without waking her up, she gathered him in her arms to place his head on his pillow.

"U no pillow an'mor, Scul," were his last words before he started snoring.

She turned off her bedside lamp, another smile adorning her lips.

He was still inside of her.

The End




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