Title: Terra Firma II. Spondeo
Author: Malibu Sunset
E-mail: malibusunset88@gmail.com
Category: MSR, married, family fic
Rating: NC-17
Spoilers: Through Season 8. This is Part II in the Terra Firma Series. Please read that story first.
Disclaimer: Not mine. All theirs. But I love them like they were my own.

Summary: Mulder and Scully further their relationship while continuing to navigate parenthood. No X-File whatsoever. Very low angst. Pretty much a feel-good, happy story. Angst is coming in future installments, don't you worry. For now, warm and fuzzy. The title translates to "Promise."

May 12, 2002

Mulder sprinkled a little salt and pepper onto his masterpiece, then folded it over and carefully flipped the omelette with a spatula before returning to the task of slicing cantaloupe into neat little wedges. Two slices of rye toast popped up from the toaster. He examined them and then popped them back down for a second round.

William was sitting on the floor playing with a stack of plastic cups, measuring spoons, and refrigerator magnets that he definitely shouldn't have, but Mulder didn't have the heart to take them away from him after he had put forth such great effort in pulling himself up against the fridge and reaching for them. Mulder figured he had about thirty more seconds before the child attempted to put them in his mouth and he needed to negotiate them away, for safety's sake. If Scully were watching, she would have retrieved the magnets immediately, despite the wails and protests of an eleven-month-old, and would have followed up by shooting Mulder a look that conveyed her disapproval of his lenient parenting. Either that, or he would have gotten the lecture again about not allowing William to put anything into his mouth that was small enough to fit into the end of a paper towel roll. It was difficult. He was with William all day while Scully was at work and the child put literally *everything* into his mouth. Totally unsurprising that a child of his would have an almost desperate oral fixation. Mulder sympathized and tried to cut the kid some slack whenever possible.

"Ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba," William babbled, reaching his chubby arm toward the refrigerator.

"Yeah, I know, Dude. Hold on just a second," Mulder replied, without turning around. He flipped the omelette again, arranged the fruit onto a plate, and glanced around the counter, trying to remember what he was forgetting when the toast popped back up, black and burnt to a crisp.

"Damn." He grabbed the toast from the slots, burning his fingers in the process. "Ow, crap." He tossed them into the garbage and popped two fresh slices of bread in, pausing to adjust the settings on the toaster.

"Ow ow ow ow ow..." babbled Will. Then, "ba ba ba ba ba BA BA BA BA..." in a progressively more insistent tone. The baby tossed the measuring cups against the side of the dishwasher and let out a wail.

"Shhhhhhh, Will. You're going to wake up Mommy. This is a surprise, remember?"

Mulder went to the refrigerator to retrieve the object of William's desire. A row of filled baby bottles stared back at him from the top shelf. Formula or milk? Formula or milk? They were supposed to be weaning him off formula and onto whole milk as William approached his first birthday in another week, but Mulder couldn't remember which one the baby was supposed to get first thing in the morning. Scully usually did the wake-up shift while Mulder showered.

He shrugged and grabbed a bottle of formula, then unscrewed the cap and popped it into the microwave for twenty seconds. William, who had spotted what was coming and wasn't much for delayed gratification, began crawling toward the microwave. "BA BA BA BA BA BA!" he chanted as he pulled himself to a standing position against the cupboard and reached insistently. The microwave dinged, Mulder pulled the bottle out, screwed the cap back on, gave it a quick shake and handed it to his son, who tilted his head back and plugged it in. Mulder took advantage of the distraction to retrieve the prohibited magnets from the floor where William had abandoned them. They were already covered in spit. Too late. Mulder popped them back up on the fridge, further out of reach this time.

After arranging an omelette, fruit, toast, orange juice, and coffee on a tray, Mulder smiled with satisfaction and started toward the bedroom. He turned back toward William and motioned with a tilt of his head. "Come on, let's go wake her up."

William popped the bottle from his mouth. "Ba ba dun ma ma ba ba ba ma ma ba ba ba..." he said, thrusting the bottle toward Mulder.

"Yeah, bring it. Come on."

William plopped down onto the kitchen tiles in a seated position and stared after Mulder with a frown on his face. Then he picked up his bottle in one hand, crawled a few feet awkwardly, then sat back down, tilted his head back, and plugged the bottle back in. He sucked voraciously and stared up at Mulder as if to say, "I can't do both, so I'm just gonna hang out here and eat instead."

"Right," said Mulder, bending down to a kneeling position. "How about you concentrate on transporting yourself and the bottle can catch a ride on the tray." William trustingly relinquished the bottle and Mulder placed it on the tray next to the orange juice and continued on. William followed eagerly on all fours. When he got to the stairs that led to the second floor, Mulder stopped and extended his arm down to his son.

"Will, UP," he said, offering his left arm while balancing the tray with his right. William pulled himself up on Mulder's leg, clutching handfuls of his pajama pants. Mulder lifted him like a sack of potatoes and hauled the baby and the tray up the stairs. Cooking breakfast with a baby wasn't for wimps.

It was only 8:00. Mulder felt a little guilty for waking her, but unbeknownst to her, Scully had somewhere to be in a couple of hours and he wanted her to have time to enjoy the breakfast they had prepared for her. He set the tray down on the dresser and crossed the room to open the blinds. It was grey and dreary outside - the kind of drizzling rain that lasted all day, and Mulder realized with disappointment that he and William would need to find an alternative to the playground to keep them busy while Scully was off enjoying her Mother's Day gift.

Mulder sat down on the edge of Scully's side of the bed and leaned over her, smiling. She was sleeping on her side, facing away from him, one arm tucked underneath her pillow, her fiery hair fanned out. One bare shoulder peeked out from underneath the top of the comforter with only the thin, light blue spaghetti strap of her tank top visible. A subtle, yet notable shift had taken place in Scully's nighttime wardrobe in recent months. Her sleepwear of choice had always been long-sleeved tops and bottoms in silk or satin, sometimes flannel in the coldest months. She did own a couple of matching silk camisole and shorts sets and one little black number with tiny straps that made Mulder weak in the knees. On occasions when Scully emerged from the bathroom after her bedtime cleansing ritual wearing any of those particular outfits, Mulder knew the odds were in his favor that if he wandered onto her side of the bed without his boxers on, he would be welcomed. Scully was not overly aggressive when it came to initiating sex. Lingerie was her indisputable signal - her version of a mating call. A couple of months ago, however, he had taken it upon himself to mention to her, as he was busy inching the tiny strap down on one of her camisoles and peppering the slope of her neck with open kisses, how much he approved of her choice of sleepwear.

"I like this," he had muttered with his mouth muffled against her bare skin. "A lot."

"You've seen it before," she had replied, tilting her head to allow him better access.

"Mmmmm hmmmm...and I like it with renewed enthusiasm each and every time."

She had giggled softly and ran her fingernails through his hair.

"It's the shoulders," he had continued, breathlessly. "I like seeing your bare shoulders. They make me want to do very naughty things." And then he had proceeded to show her exactly what things he was referring to.

Since that night, a few additional items had appeared in her pajama collection: two more silk camisole sets - one with matching shorts, the other with pants, and yet another slip-like piece (negligee? He wasn't exactly sure what the proper terminology was and frankly, he might have been slightly concerned for his manhood if he did know) in a soft champagne color. All of them bared her shoulders. The only drawback, if you could really call it one, was that he could no longer rely on her choice of sleepwear to tell him whether or not he would be getting any. He had gradually been learning to become more astute at reading the other signals.

For example, a pass through the living room with a stop for a quick peck on the lips and a "I'm going to turn in now. I'm really beat," meant go ahead and finish watching the game on TV because it's more action than you're going to see in the bedroom tonight. However, that same pass through the living room, accompanied by a lingering caress along the neckline and a "Mulder, are you coming to bed?" and he could practically hear the chorus of Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get it On" singing through her pores. Likewise, a leisurely nighttime bath, followed by reading in bed, meant good night, sweet dreams. However, a quick bedtime shower, followed by lit candles and sometimes music meant she wanted oral sex. His profiling skills were coming in handy in more ways than he could have ever imagined.

Mulder leaned over her now and planted a gentle kiss on her bare shoulder, then another behind her ear and whispered, "Wake up, Sleepyhead. Rise and shine."

Scully stirred slowly and rolled onto her back, her eyes fluttering open. "Hi. What time is it?" she asked, yawning.

"A little after eight. Happy Mother's Day." He bent to kiss her again, this time on the lips. "The Sprout and I have a little treat for you."

As if in agreement, William pulled himself to a standing position alongside the nightstand. "Ma ma ma ma ma ma ma ma ma," he babbled, waving his arm in the air before noticing the telephone on bedside table. He redirected his attention toward making long distance calls to Saudi Arabia.

Mulder stood and retrieved the tray from the top of the dresser and brought it to the bed as Scully pulled herself up to a seated position.

"What is this? You guys made me breakfast in bed?" She took a sip of the orange juice. "And what do we have here?" she asked, lifting the baby bottle off the tray and offering it to a smiling William, who immediately gave up on the telephone and turned toward the bed, taking two steps away from the nightstand until he could reach the mattress.

"Did you see that?" Scully asked, eyes wide. "He just took a couple of steps."

Mulder nodded. "He's been doing that this week. Just one or two here and there. I didn't want to say anything because I wanted him to do it for you."

Mulder reached down with one arm and scooped up William underneath the arms and boosted him onto the bed, in the middle, next to Scully.

William placed his little chubby hands on both sides of her face. "Ba ba ba na dun wooshee ba ba ba ma ma" then he blew a raspberry and drooled a little onto the front of his sleeper. Scully kissed his cheek, then handed him the bottle and he plugged it in and sucked, flopping back onto the bed with one knee bent, his hand holding onto the bottom of his pajama-covered foot.

"Thank you," she said, taking a bite of rye toast. "Nobody's ever made me breakfast in bed. I could get used to this."

"Well, you might have to get used to the same thing. This is the only breakfast trick I have up my culinary sleeve. This and cereal. So we can alternate between Raisin Bran and omelettes."

"Mmmmm, sounds good to me," she said, forking a large piece of egg into her mouth, then cutting another and offering it to Mulder. He dipped his head and bit it off her fork. There was something surprisingly erotic about her feeding him, he decided. Father's Day was coming up. He wondered what it might take to get her to feed him his entire breakfast. Then again, maybe a late dinner after the baby had gone to bed would be a better idea, since he was pretty certain he'd want something other than food for dessert.

William polished off his bottle and sat up, reaching for the tray on his mother's lap. Scully broke off a small piece of cantaloupe with her finger and slipped it into his waiting mouth and he sucked on it, making a satisfied humming sound.

"You know, Mulder, if he's taking steps now, it won't be long before he's running all over the house. I know you don't think you need help, but you might want to reconsider if you plan on getting any writing done during the day."

"We'll manage. I can write on my laptop in the playroom, at my desk during naptimes. I don't want somebody else taking care of him, Scully."

Scully nodded her head, understandingly. "I applaud your determination, but looking after an active toddler is tough work. Just ask generations of stay-at-home moms. But add working from home to that mix? I don't know, Mulder. Just consider it, that's all I'm saying. There are plenty of perfectly competent nannies out there. Part-time, even."

"We're okay, Scully. Really. We have a system going, us guys. Right Buddy?" He looked at William, who grunted and reached for more cantaloupe. "But I love you for worrying." Mulder leaned over and kissed the tip of her nose. "And I'll take it under advisement if things get out of hand."

He lifted the near-empty tray from her lap and placed it back on top of the dresser and then pulled back the covers. "But for today, it's time for you to get up and get ready to go."

"Go where? Where am I going?" she asked, suspiciously.

"It's a surprise. A little Mother's Day gift from us."

"But you already made me breakfast in bed."

"This is better. C'mon, Scully. Take a shower and get dressed. Wear something comfortable."

"Mulder. What are you up to?"

"If I told you, it wouldn't be a surprise. Just trust me."

Mulder scooped William from the bed and tucked him underneath one arm, grabbed the breakfast tray with the other and headed for the bedroom door. "The Sprout and I will be waiting downstairs. You have..." he glanced at the digital clock on the nightstand, "...thirty-five minutes. Come on, Will, let's go clean up the kitchen and get you dressed."

A few minutes before ten, Mulder pulled off the road onto a steep winding drive that led up a hill. An enormous wood carved sign stood at the base of the driveway, along with another that cautioned them to drive no more than 10 miles per hour up the narrow two-lane road.

Scully looked at Mulder apprehensively with raised eyebrows and carefully placed her coffee thermos in the vehicle cup holder. "Mulder. Are you serious? The Beaumont? This place was featured in the Sunday Post a couple of weeks ago. It's the most exclusive spa in the D.C. area."

"Then they better do a good job," he said, pulling the car up in the front circular drive. He reached over in front of Scully, popped open the glove compartment to retrieve an envelope, and handed it to her. She took it between her thumb and forefinger as if it might burst into flames at any moment.

Her mouth hung open and her eyes were wide. "Rumor has it this place books up over six months in advance. I don't understand. How did you-"

"I know a guy who knows a guy," he replied with a cryptic smile.

"Like...the President?" she asked, laughing.

"Byers' brother-in-law's cousin's wife cleans massage rooms."

While sorting that out in her head, Scully shot him another dubious look and silently mouthed the word "wow."

"I guess she's a really good cleaning lady."

Scully nodded, both brows raised in disbelief and amazement.

"Anyway, just hand them this certificate when you get in there. Everything's taken care of. We'll be back to pick you up at 4:00."

"4:00? Mulder, that's six hours from now. What am I going to be doing for six hours?"

He sighed and took the envelope from her, opened it to pull out the card inside and read, "Um...manicure, pedicure, full-body Swedish massage, facial, and...something called a rejuvenating seaweed wrap."

She looked at him with something that might be a cross between morbid curiosity and slight fear.

He shrugged. "I don't know either. But if you end up looking like an Ubermensch, can you get someone to snap a picture? Oh, and the package also includes some kind of fancy macrobiotic lunch in there somewhere."

A sudden look of realization appeared on her face. "Uh oh. Lunch. I'm supposed to meet my mom for lunch this afternoon for Mother's Day. I totally forgot to mention it to you yesterday."

He smiled. "All taken care of. She's meeting you here instead."

"For lunch?"

"For the whole day."

"You two plotted this together?" she asked, incredulously.

"Never underestimate your mother's propensity toward covert operations, Scully. Now I know where you inherited your poker face."

She smiled, a big one this time. "This is...wow, Mulder. I don't know what to say."

"I'll think of ways for you to express your gratitude later. Now get in there. You were supposed to be changing into a big fluffy robe and drinking a six dollar bottle of mineral water five minutes ago."

She leaned over and kissed him on the lips, then grabbed her purse and got out of the car.

Mulder pulled away, glancing in his rearview mirror at Will, who was busy strategizing ways to get his whole fist into his mouth. Mulder reached behind his seat with one hand into the diaper bag and pulled out a ziploc bag with teething biscuits in it. He slid it open with his teeth while steering with his other hand, retrieved one and handed it back to his son. He had never realized all the things he could do and drive at the same time until he had a child.

"Just you and me, Will. Let's go find some guy stuff to do. Something messy that Mommy wouldn't approve of, whaddaya say?"

William didn't respond. He was too busy smearing goo from his teething biscuit into his hair. Apparently, he was getting a head start on the messy part.

Later that evening, after a dinner of barbequed ribs on the grill, one of Scully's favorites, Mulder loaded the dishwasher while Scully bathed William and put him to bed. Despite cruising through his days at warp speed, or perhaps because of it, Will had a habit of crashing out pretty much immediately after dinner each night. By 7:30, he was nodding off in his peas and carrots and ready to call it a day, which allowed Mulder and Scully the luxury of plenty of quiet time together in the evenings. The one drawback was that oftentimes, Scully didn't arrive home from work until 6:00, so her time with the baby was limited during the week. Mulder knew it bothered her, so he made a point of taking William to meet her for lunch a couple times per week, as her teaching schedule allowed. Scully was an early riser though, as was Will, so they always had an hour or so together in the morning as well. By 6:00 a.m., she was usually running on the treadmill while Will downed his morning bottle in a heap on the playroom floor, surrounded by a pile of toys, catching up on episodes of Sesame Street and Blues Clues.

After William was settled for the night, Scully padded down the stairs in her bare feet and into the living room, still wearing the black yoga pants and fitted white T shirt she had worn home from the spa. She set the baby monitor receiver on the coffee table and flopped down on the sofa next to Mulder, who was reading with his glasses on, feet crossed on the coffee table. He opened one arm to her and she folded herself into it. There were two full glasses of red wine on the end table next to Mulder. He reached without looking up from his book and handed one to Scully.

"Did he go down okay?" Mulder asked, still staring at his book.

"Mmm hmm," she said, sipping from her wine glass. "He was exhausted. What did you two do today to wear him out like that? I haven't seen him that tired since Easter when you let him eat that chocolate egg and then he was buzzing all afternoon, skipped his nap, and did a face dive in his macaroni and cheese."

Mulder chuckled. "Top secret guy stuff, Scully. If I tell you, I'll have to-"

"Yeah, not going to work, Mulder." She gave him that look that indicated she wasn't about to give up that easily and he might just as well come clean.

"Well, when I said 'guy stuff,' I wasn't just referring to Will and me."

"You didn't. You took him to the Gunmen's, Mulder?"

"Would you rather they came here to hang out?"

"Good point."

"Besides, he's been there before. It's no big deal. The Guys are great with him."

"I know they are, but he wasn't crawling the last time he was there. Please tell me you didn't let him crawl around on that floor. I can't imagine what he might have put in his mouth."

"Give me a little credit, Scully. We were on him the whole time. He had a blast. We played video games and um, well, that's about it really. Not much else."

"Mulder. What exactly is 'not much else?'"

"We may have stuck around to watch Langly's band practice."

Scully grimaced and closed her eyes, the mere idea of it appearing to cause her pain.

Mulder smiled. "What? I think it's our duty as responsible parents to expose him to many styles of music and let him explore his choices. I mean, we already know he likes Elvis, The Stones, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and that woman with the really wispy voice that you like to sing along to while you're folding laundry-"

"Sarah McLachlan."

"Yeah, her. Well, turns out he also likes The Dropkick Murphys and Social Distortion, but not so much Rancid."

"Thank God for that," she said, sarcastically.

Mulder reached for the wine bottle and refilled both of their glasses.

"Mm, thank you," said Scully, popping her bare feet up onto the coffee table and rubbing them against Mulder's sock-covered ones playfully.

"Your toes are pink, Scully."

"Yes, they came with the pedicure."

"You never paint your toenails. It's cute."

"Women who paint their toenails have too much time on their hands," she replied.

"I'll do it for you."

She giggled softly and reached for the TV remote, but Mulder covered her hand with his and gently took the controller out of it. Her brows arched and she gave him a questioning look.

He cleared his throat. "I um...got a call Friday afternoon," he began. "From New York. I've been offered a book contract."

"Oh my God, Mulder. That's incredible. Why didn't you tell me sooner?"

"I've just been kind of waiting for a quiet moment together, with just us."

Scully slowly shook her head back and forth, grinning from ear to ear. "I'm not surprised, you know. I knew it. I knew you'd get one. Which outfit?"

"Random House. Ted Markley, a senior editor there, saw me speak at a conference at NYU a few years back and remembered me."

"You are memorable."

"They want the first few chapters by the end of July and a completed first draft in six months."

"That's an ambitious timeline, Mulder. Can you do that?"

He sighed. "I'm pretty sure. Most of it has been swimming around in my head for years. And I've almost got the first chapter typed out already."

Scully's face took on a serious expression for a moment.

"What is it?" he asked.

"Nothing. I'm just thinking about our conversation this morning...about William. I'm just concerned, that's all. I don't think you're being realistic about how challenging it's going to be to balance all this."

He nodded slowly. "You might be right. But let me try it my way first, okay? I promise I'll be open to hiring someone if I need it."

She nodded, taking his hand in hers and lacing their fingers together. Then she reached her other arm up and behind his head and pulled him down to meet her lips. The kiss lasted for that curious amount of time where Mulder was uncertain if she meant it to be finishing something or starting something. They had just made love the night before last, so he thought probably not, but he couldn't be sure. She pulled away long enough to catch her breath, then kissed him again, slow and soft, nipping gently at his lower lip. Optimism was just starting to flood to certain parts of Mulder's body when Scully ended the kiss with a satisfied sigh, reached for the TV remote again, and Mulder was back at 'probably not.'

A couple of hours later, Mulder exited William's room after checking on him, closed the nursery door halfway, and then crossed the hall to the master bedroom. Noticing that Scully was still in their bathroom with the door closed, he went back down the hall to use the other upstairs toilet before getting into bed. That was one of the advantages of a four bedroom, four bath house - no waiting. They had only been living in the house for seven months and Mulder was still getting used to the size of it. At times it felt cavernous. When it was just he and the baby at home, they stayed on the first floor, a gate blocking William's access to the stairs. There were times, however, when both he and Scully were home together and an hour or more would go by before he'd remember she was somewhere in the house with him and he had no idea where. Then he would wander from room to room searching for her until he found her in her upstairs office checking email or in the laundry room sorting clothes or in the large pantry off of the kitchen, looking for tea bags or microwave popcorn.

Scully slid between the sheets smelling of mint toothpaste and moisturizer. She inched closer and touched her bare feet to his shin and he jumped.

"Scully, your feet are freezing."

She giggled and burrowed further under the comforter, tucking her head into the space between his head and shoulder. Her hair tickled his chin. He wrapped his arm around her and gently traced her spine through the slippery fabric of her camisole. He was rewarded with the sound of her exhale as she settled against him, fully relaxed. She lifted one smooth leg up and lazily draped it over his. Since this particular signal sometimes meant something and sometimes didn't and he figured he had nothing to lose, he allowed his hand to drift to cup her breast, thumbing her nipple through silk.

Scully nuzzled into his neck and kissed the soft spot under his earlobe. "Mmmm...we can't tonight," she breathed quietly while simultaneously arching her back into his eager hand.

Okaaay. Now he was confused. When Scully said no, she said no. He was receiving mixed signals and he didn't know why. Her response sounded more like a "not convenient" than a "not in the mood." She wasn't due for her period for at least another week, so it wasn't that.

"Um...I'm not complaining, but why is that again? I mean, my brain is a little fuzzy with you grinding your crotch into my thigh and sucking on my earlobe."

She sighed, rolling onto her back with her head resting on the crook of his arm. "I'm sorry, Mulder. I wasn't expecting to be so turned on tonight. It must've been the wine."

Mulder nodded slowly in the dark, his brows knit in confusion. "Right. Um...I think I might still be missing a key piece of information. Usually if you want to do it and I want to do it, then we just do it. Kind of simple, I know, but it seems to work."

He felt her reach for his hand and guide it down over her thigh and to the front of her panties.

"Scully, do you remember in those high school health classes when they warned us not to let heavy petting sessions go too far because it would only lead to no good? This might be what they meant."

She chuckled. "Shut up, Mulder, and put your hand in my underwear."

"Well, since you asked so nicely..." He slipped his fingers up and over the waistband and down to her mound and felt...nothing. Well, damn well close to nothing. Where her small, trimmed thatch of curls used to be, Mulder's hand rested against silky smooth skin and just the tiniest narrow strip of hair. He sucked in air sharply.

"I might have had some waxing done at the spa," she whispered.

"Oh my God, Scully." He tossed the covers off her and not-so- patiently pulled at her bikinis. "I want to see it."

Scully reached for his shoulders and stopped him. "Wait. No sex for at least twelve hours after waxing because of the risk of infection. That's why I said we can't tonight."

Mulder groaned and dove for the bedside table.

"What are you doing?"

"Setting the alarm. You had this done, what, before four o'clock when I picked you up, obviously. So if I set the alarm for 4:00 a.m., we should be good, right?"

Scully giggled and pulled him back down next to her, kissing him. "I think we can wait until tomorrow night."

"Your confidence in my self-control is admirable, Scully. Misplaced, perhaps, but admirable." He continued kissing her. His hand drifted lower again and she caught his arm.

"Tomorrow night, Mulder."

He tipped his forehead against her shoulder in resignation and moaned. "Can I see it, at least? Wait, never mind. I can't look and not touch, so forget it. Aaaaaaaargh, why did you even tell me, Scully? Now that's all I'm going to be thinking about for the next twenty-four hours."

She laughed. "I don't know, I was looking forward to surprising you, I guess. I didn't realize you'd like it this much." She pecked at his lips gently.

Mulder flopped onto his back, sighing. "How do I say this without sounding ungrateful? Um, I do like it. A lot actually, but Scully, you could be as hairy as a Yeti and I'd still want to jump you."

She snorted. "That's...charming."

"I just meant that...yeah, your body is hot - really, really hot, actually - but I'm attracted to the whole package. I was so in love with you by the time I finally took your clothes off that it really didn't matter what you looked like underneath."

Scully clucked her tongue affectionately. "That's actually really sweet, Mulder."

"Yeah, I know. I should be writing greeting cards in my spare time," he joked.

"I don't know if I'd go that far. Maybe you should leave out the hairy Yeti line."

Mulder chuckled and rolled toward her, propping himself on his elbow. He traced an invisible line up and down her bare arm with his fingertips.

"I don't know why, but for some reason I'm finding it incredibly erotic. I guess it's just because it's you. And you did it for me."

She cleared her throat. "Well, mostly. And because I like the way it feels."

"You mean you've done it before?"

"A few times."

"While we were working together?"

"Mmmm hmmm..."

"Jesus, Scully," he hissed. "It's a good thing I didn't know you looked like that under your suits or I would have done something incredibly unprofessional. You would have had me brought up on sexual harassment charges."

"Doubtful. We probably would have just ended up in bed together years earlier," she giggled.

Mulder slid one arm underneath her and gathered her to his chest. He kissed the top of her head and she settled into him and sighed. "Thank you, Mulder, for an amazing first Mother's Day. You've raised the bar really high, you know. I have no idea what I could possibly do for you for Father's Day that could even come close."

And that's when he said it. After all the hundreds of ways he had considered saying it, all the possible perfect scenarios he had entertained over the last year or so, he never anticipated that he would blurt it out half-naked in bed without a smidgen of forethought or preparation.

"You could marry me."

She was perfectly quiet. He couldn't even feel her breathing against him and he wondered if she might be holding her breath.

"Mulder, don't joke about something like that."

"Do I sound like I'm joking, Scully? I told you a year ago that I wanted to marry you. I wasn't joking then and I'm sure as hell not joking now. I told you that I would ask you someday and I wanted you to think about it."

The room was suddenly obscenely quiet and still. His eyes had adjusted to the dark and he could see the silhouette of her face on the pillow next to him. She wasn't looking at him, but was instead staring up at the ceiling. Her eyes were huge and wet and her eyelashes looked impossibly long. She blinked once.

"Have you thought about it, Scully?"

"Yes," she replied in the barest of whispers. He wasn't altogether sure he had even heard anything at all. Then the sound of her voice came again. "Are you asking?"

"No," he replied and her head swiveled on the pillow to stare at him in confusion. He couldn't be sure in the dark, but he almost thought he saw hurt in her eyes. He jumped up off the bed quickly.

"Don't go anywhere, Scully. I'll be right back."

Mulder darted down the hall and descended the stairs to the first floor. He rounded the corner to the far back of the house and entered his office, flipping on the light switch. Before he opened the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet, he paused with both of his palms flat against his desktop, eyes closed, trying to calm his nerves. Then he knelt and retrieved what he had come for, turned the light off, and returned to the second floor, taking the stairs two at a time.

When he got to the bedroom, she was still lying in the bed, exactly where he left her. He switched on the bedside lamp and Scully squinted at the sudden light. He sat down on the edge of the bed and she pulled herself to a seated position next to him, her hands clutching at the comforter that was tucked up under her arms in an apparent case of sudden modesty. She licked her lips nervously.

Mulder fingered the tiny black velvet box in his hand and drew in a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. He reached for one her hands and pulled it to him, holding it against his bare chest.

He smiled gently. "Now I'm asking."

Her eyes locked on his. They were wide with emotion and she bit her bottom lip. Her hand tightened around his.

"This isn't exactly how I planned to do this, but for some reason, it seems right. This has been locked in my office for months now and every time I try to figure out how to ask you...well, nothing is good enough."

He sighed. "I didn't rehearse this at all, so keep that in mind, okay?"

Scully's eyes were the size of half dollars and she looked like she might be about to run for the bathroom, so he figured he had about two minutes to give this his best shot.

Big breath in, then out. Speak, Mulder.

"I think...I forgot how to exist without you a long time ago. I've been without you, Scully, and it's not something I ever want to be again. There won't ever be anyone else for me. You're it. I'm as certain of that as I've been about anything in my entire life. Will you marry me?"

Scully opened her mouth to breathe again and the air caught in her throat. A tear escaped out of the corner of one eye and she let it fall. Mulder looked at her with every ounce of hope he could find and waited. More lip chewing from her. Should it be taking her this long? In the movies, the girl would have thrown her arms around the guy's neck and shrieked by now. Granted, Scully was much more of the strong, silent type, but still, movement from her would be nice. He didn't think this was coming out of left field. Slowly, she began to nod her head. A few more tears fell and made wet splotches on the front of her silk camisole and Mulder reached and cupped her wet cheek.

"Yes," she whispered, in perhaps the smallest voice he had ever heard from her. She covered the outside of his hand with hers and held it to her cheek, then turned and kissed his palm. "I'll marry you."

Mulder leaned forward and covered her mouth with his. Her cheeks were wet and when he pulled back to look at her again, his were too. A grin began to spread across his face. "I have this ring here. Don't you want to see it?"

She smiled and sniffled at the same time. "I do."

"Oh that's okay, Scully, you don't have to say that part until later," he joked.

She chuckled a little, clearly appreciating his attempt to lighten the mood.

Mulder took yet another deep breath and held the velvet box out to face her, slowly opening the hinged top. He heard her draw a sharp breath and her hand rose to cover her mouth.

"Mulder, oh my God. It's...beautiful...and huge."

There was a suggestive innuendo in there somewhere, but he figured it might not be the right time.

"It was my Mother's ring. Well...the stone was. I had it reset into a simpler setting that I thought you might like, but if you don't, we can always-"

"I love it - it's gorgeous. Your Mom's ring, Mulder. I don't know what to say. I'm honored."

"Try it on." He pulled the ring from the box, reached for her left hand, and very carefully slipped it on.

"It fits," she said, surprised.

"I know."

She looked up at him in question.

"You don't own much jewelry, Scully, so you didn't make it easy on me. But you do have a college ring in the bottom of your jewelry box. I took it with me to the jeweler's and just had them size this one the same. Are you sure it's not too big?"

She shook her head, holding her hand out in front of her to admire the ring. "I need to be able to get it off when I perform autopsies, so it's perfect."

"Yeah, I guess it wouldn't do to lose a two carat diamond in some dead guy's cavity, would it?"

"Two carats?" Her eyebrows rose and her mouth fell open. "My God, Mulder."

"About two and a half, actually. But who's counting?"

"Your mother had exquisite taste."

"That's one way of putting it."

Scully shook her head slowly in disbelief. "Should I sleep with it on? I'm afraid I'll injure you," she joked, smiling.

Mulder placed the ring box on the nightstand, turned off the light, and climbed back into bed. He settled onto his back and let out a long sigh. "I can't believe you said yes."

"I never could say no to you, you know that."

"Yes, you can," he teased.

"No, I can't."

Mulder rolled toward her and his hand skated down beneath the covers to brush over the front of her panties.

"Mulderrr," she warned.

"See? I told you you could say no."

She laughed and kissed his lips, then turned away to spoon herself against him. His hand rested on the curve of her waist and he buried his face in her silky hair and breathed deeply. She smelled of vanilla lotion and warmth and his future.

May 13, 2002

When Mulder lumbered downstairs in his plaid pajama pants and grey T shirt and rounded the corner into the kitchen the next morning, Scully was sitting at the table with her back to him, already dressed in her suit, drinking coffee and reading the paper with her glasses on. She didn't hear him right away and he stood in the entryway watching her. Her stocking covered legs were crossed at the knees and her one foot flexed and bobbed up and down, her high heeled shoe dangling precariously from her toes. She took a sip from her coffee mug and set it down next to a plate with a half-eaten English muffin on it. The mug had a pink lipstick smudge on the rim and when she absent-mindedly fingered the handle, he noticed that her diamond caught the sunlight streaming in from the picture window and sent tiny prisms of light darting around the room.

"Da da da da da da da da da da," called William from his exersaucer when he spotted Mulder. The baby bounced up and down excitedly for a moment, then redirected his attention back to the Cheerios scattered around on his tray. Scully looked up and rewarded Mulder with a wide smile.

"Good morning," she said, tilting her head up.

"Hi." He planted a kiss on her lips. "I overslept. You should've woken me when you got off the treadmill."

"Actually, I overslept too. I never made it onto the treadmill this morning."

Mulder squatted down next to William to say good morning and the baby blew a raspberry, picked up a Cheerio in his pudgy little hand, and fed it to Mulder. "Mm, not bad. I'm partial to Fruit Loops, but Mommy says no. We'll have to wait until you're a little older to introduce you to the list of banned breakfast cereals. Or at least until you can keep a secret."

The edges of Scully's mouth tugged upward, but she kept her eyes on the newspaper. "At least let the rest of his baby teeth come in before you start working on giving him tooth decay. Speaking of- have you been using the finger tooth brush on him?"

"Everyday after breakfast," replied Mulder. "He bites, though."

"You don't have to tell me that. I breastfed him. You have to shake your head and say 'No biting' in a serious voice. He knows what you mean. If he keeps doing it, put him down and don't reward him with attention for a few minutes. Then go back to it later."

"It's like training a Golden Retriever."

Scully smiled. "But with a more advanced grasp of language."

William blew another spit bubble and squealed, "Ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba," while thrusting his arm toward the fridge and opening and closing his fist.

"Yeah, that's debatable," said Mulder. He took out a bottle, popped it in the microwave for twenty seconds, handed it to William, then took a seat at the table across from Scully. He sifted through the folded sections of newspaper until he found the sports section.

"So Scully," he started without looking up. "When?"

"When what?"

"When do you want to get married?"

Her head bounced up to look at him briefly, then retreated back down into the editorial. She cleared her throat. "Well, seeing as how I've only been engaged for eight hours, I haven't really given it much thought."

"Do you want a wedding?"

"Do you?" she countered.

He smiled. "I want to marry you. You decide how that happens. Although...I don't know what kind of wedding it would be." He tilted his head, considering. "I don't really have any family besides you and William. We might have to do away with the whole bride's side/groom's side tradition."

She shook her head with an amused smile, then sighed and placed both hands on the table in front of her, thoughtfully touching the ring on her finger. She appeared to be choosing her words carefully and Mulder waited patiently.

"I don't want a wedding, Mulder. And I don't really think you do either. I don't know - we're not really a first dance, cut the cake, throw the bouquet sort of couple. There may have been a time in my life when I would have wanted that, but not anymore. But what I do want..." she paused and took another deep breath, continuing to finger her ring, turning it back and forth nervously,"...is to go away somewhere...with you."

"Like a honeymoon?" he asked.

She nodded her head. "We've never gone away anywhere together, Mulder."

He chuckled. "C'mon, Scully, we've stayed in nice two-star motor courts all over the country together."

"You know what I mean," she frowned. "I was actually thinking...we could do it all at once. Go away for a week together and um, come back married."

"You want to elope?"

"Well...yeah, I guess. Although that implies running off without telling anyone what we're doing, and I don't see the need for secrecy."

"Your mom won't be disappointed?"

Scully snorted. "I think she gave up on us doing anything conventional somewhere in between you getting abducted by aliens and returning from the dead. The baby born out of wedlock was just the icing on the cake. I think if I told her we were going to have a traditional church wedding now, she'd probably keel over." They both laughed together at the absurdity.

"I think we should do it," he agreed. "I like the idea. But what about-" he tilted his head toward William, who had managed to get one sock off and was filling it with cereal.

"I already called my mom this morning and asked her to meet me for lunch-"

"Did you tell her?"

"Not yet. I plan to at lunch...although, I'm not sure I'll need to. It's tough to miss the planet on my third finger," she smiled. "I'll talk to her about keeping William."

"More like a meteor, actually. Planets are mostly gasses."

Scully ignored him and got up from the table to take her dishes to the sink. Then she bent over and pulled William from his exersaucer and held him while she washed his hands and mouth with a wet paper towel. Mulder walked over to take him from her so she could get out the door to work when it hit him. He grimaced and held his nose.

"Give me a break, Scully. Don't tell me you didn't notice that."

She smiled and held the baby out to him like a bomb. "I already did one first thing this morning; this one's all yours. Besides, I'm already late." She kissed him once on the lips and planted another on top of William's head before pulling her suit jacket from the back of the kitchen chair and slipping it on. "Use the diaper cream on him. I noticed he was getting a little red."

"It must be the whole milk or something, Scully. He's averaging, like, five bad ones a day now. The EPA is going to issue us a warning."

She chuckled. "It'll slow down as his system gets used to it. He needs the fat in whole milk until he's two, then he can switch to skim. The fat aids in proper brain development," she rattled off in her best know-it-all doctor voice.

Mulder continued holding his nose so his words came out nasally. "How 'bout we switch him now and just quiz him with flash cards instead." He sighed in resignation and headed for the changing table in the playroom. "Come on, Dude. Let's get this over with. You're never going to pick up chicks at the playground smelling like that."

At a quarter to six, Mulder pressed speed dial on his cell phone.


"Hey it's me, where are you?"

"Stuck on the beltway, a half a mile from my exit. Where are you guys?"

"Well, the Sprout and I are late coming back from running errands, so we figured we'd order take-out. I was just calling to see what you want from The Hollywood Cafe."

"You read my mind. I was thinking the other day that I had a craving for their Asian sesame chicken salad."

"Okay. That's it?"

"Dressing on the side. Ooooh...and they have amazing cheescake. Split a piece with me?"

"You got it. See you at home. Oh, and Scully. How did lunch with you mom go?"

"Good, actually. She said it was about time."

"She's right."

Scully laughed lightly. "I'll tell you more about it at home."

"Drive carefully, Scully."

They sat at the kitchen table with empty take-out containers strewn around and a half eaten piece of cherry cheesecake abandoned between two forks.

"It's all yours, Mulder. I can't eat any more."

He stuffed the last two extra large bites into his mouth. Scully looked at him, her forehead wrinkled in a mix of awe and disgust.

"Whaa?" he asked, innocently with his mouth full. "I wa huhgwee." He finished and swallowed. "My lunch consisted of the leftover crust from Will's grilled cheese sandwich and some mandarin oranges he fed me with sticky fingers."

William slouched in his high chair and chased noodles around on the tray with slippery hands. His forehead was furrowed in concentration as his brain sent signals to his fingers on how to pinch rotini between his thumb and forefinger and maneuver it to his mouth. On average, it took him three attempts before successfully scoring a mouthful.

"Scully, I think he got more on the floor than he did in his mouth."

"That's why we're stuck eating over the tile floor in the kitchen. Someday we'll be able to eat in a dining room with a rug again," she said, kneeling by the high chair in her stocking feet with a rag to wipe the floor. "He's tired. And he needs a bath. Do you want kitchen clean-up or baby duty?"

"I got this," he replied, stacking take out containers. "You haven't seen him all day."

"C'mere, baby." Scully smiled and lifted William onto her hip, carrying him toward the stairs. She blew a wet raspberry against his neck and he squealed loudly and erupted into a belly laugh.

A little past ten, Scully, who had been nestled in between Mulder's legs and reclined against his chest reading her book, stretched and got up from the sofa. "I'm going to go take a shower. Don't read too long, Mulder." And she ran her hand along the back of his shirt collar, her nails lightly scratching his neck. His cock twitched involuntarily and he tried to go back to his book, but ended up reading the exact same sentence six times before conceding that a shower sounded like a damn good idea. He turned the lights out on the first floor and ascended the stairs, tugging his shirt off over his head before he reached the top.

The water was already running and he could hear her humming behind the glass shower door when he entered the bathroom. He could just see the distorted outline of her shape through the beveled glass and he felt himself start to harden. She had her back arched to the shower head, her arms raised and sweeping over her wet hair. Mulder unzipped his jeans and lowered them, along with his boxers. They fell to a puddle on the bathroom tile and he stepped out of them, then he headed for the shower door and opened it just enough to pop his head in.

"Is there room for two?"

She jumped at his voice and her humming ceased. "Mulder! You startled me."

He stepped in and shut the door behind him. Then he just stood there and let his gaze drift slowly over her from top to bottom. Her hair was wet and slicked back and her skin was flushed a rosy pink color from the heat of the shower. Streams of water sluiced down her shoulders and ran over her rounded breasts in tiny rivers and down, down, down over the gentle swell of her hips. Over the taut muscles of her abdomen - flat again only a year after giving birth, a few tiny silver stretch marks the only remaining evidence - and finally to the soft space between her thighs. He allowed his gaze to rest there and she shifted her legs open ever so slightly to accommodate his curiosity.

He had since hardened fully and his thickness stood out at a forty- five degree angle in front of him, pointing straight at her. It made him feel ridiculous and he glanced down at himself, then raised his eyebrows and shrugged at her, the silent equivalent of "whatcha gonna do." She rewarded him with a playful smile, then reaching and wrapping her hand around his cock. He gasped as she gently tugged him toward her and he stepped forward awkwardly until their lips met.

After a long, very wet kiss, he pulled back breathlessly. "What do you want to do?" he teased.

She huffed out a quiet laugh and with her eyes closed, reached for the shower gel and a washcloth. "Wash me." So he did.

After she returned the favor and they were both slippery and clean, he pressed her body tightly against the tile wall and placed a gentle, but firm hand against her collarbone, his long fingers extending up the side of her slender neck. It was insistent, needy, bordering on rough, and her eyes widened in surprise.

He bent his head and growled into her ear, "I've been thinking about this all day."

"Me too," she whispered.

"What? Tell me what you were thinking about." His fingers slid down her to pinch one nipple between his thumb and forefinger.

She gasped and her eyelids slid shut. "Your mouth," she panted, licking her swollen lips. "On me."

He smiled and nipped at her earlobe. "Mmmm...I was hoping you'd say that." Then he reached to turn the water temperature up a notch and began his descent. Slowly, he ran the open flat of his tongue down each inch of her body, lapping at the water that flooded over her curves, pausing to suck on miscellaneous expanses of skin, taking one rock hard nipple between his teeth, then the other. She arched against his mouth, her hands resting, palms flat, behind her between her buttocks and the tile wall. He continued with his tongue bath, down the gentle slope of her tummy, pausing to sink into her naval and causing her stomach muscles to clench and tremble.

Finally, he found himself in a kneeling position in front of her. He paused to take her in, his first real concentrated look at the wax job she had treated herself to just the day before. Normally fastidious about her grooming in general, she typically treated the care of her nether regions with equal commitment and deliberation, without being overly self-indulgent. The end result was usually a small trimmed patch of auburn curls nestled unobtrusively an inch or so above where the real action began. Mulder liked it, loved it actually. But he had no complaint with the vast majority of female genitalia, at least the ones he had had the good fortune to enjoy. However, he was largely open to trying new things, in both life and sex, and he had to admit that what he saw before him now had him harder than a sixteen-year-old virgin on prom night. Her labia and surrounding area was pink and completely smooth. Her normal patch of pubic hair had been trimmed down to a simple narrow landing strip and he could've sworn he heard air traffic controllers beckoning him to drop his landing gear and prepare to touch down. Yeah, he could definitely get into this.

Mulder kissed the insides of both her thighs, then took both thumbs and carefully parted her folds. Her legs were trembling in anticipation and one of her hands came down to clutch the back of his head, urging him toward her. She wasn't usually this forthcoming with her need and it turned him on even more, just knowing how desperate she was for it, imagining her thinking about it throughout the day. He wondered if she had been distracted during her lectures, if her cheeks had been flushed, if her illicit thoughts had made her wet. He wondered if any of her students had noticed the ring on her finger, if they had imagined her being kissed, licked and caressed, being made love to.

He dipped his head forward and touched the tip of his tongue to her and she jumped, emitting a long drawn out moan and a breathy "Oh Mulder." Encouraged, he forged on, alternating between teasing her clitoris by fluttering it with the strong muscular tip of his tongue and running the whole flat of it all the way up her slit. She spread her legs further apart and bent her knees slightly to give him better access, both of her hands raking through his hair now, her fingernails scraping his scalp. The water ran down her body in rivulets, falling on his head. His cock was painfully hard now, standing straight out in front of his kneeling body and he took one free hand and stroked himself languidly, being careful not to get too carried away.

She was panting hard now and her thighs were trembling. "Mulder...Oh God. I can't...I can't stand up much longer."

He pulled back reluctantly and raised himself to a standing position and then kissed her on the lips hard, thrusting his tongue into her mouth so she could taste herself. She moaned into his mouth and cupped his face with both hands.

"Let's move this party to the bedroom," he said, shutting the water off and opening the shower door to reach for two towels.

A few minutes later, he was backing her into the bedroom until her knees hit the mattress and she fell onto her back, her breasts bouncing enticingly. He covered her body with his own and his erection pressed insistently against her wetness, but he didn't allow himself to enter her. He had something else in mind. He pulled back from her kiss and rolled onto his back. She looked at him in confusion, breathing harshly.

"You want me on top?" she asked, crawling to straddle him.

"Yeah, but...I want to finish what I started," he said, wrapping both hands around her buttocks and urging her to move upward on him. Her eyes widened in realization and her mouth formed a silent O as he coaxed her forward until she was hovering just above his head, his ears pressed into her thighs.

She looked uncertain. "I've never...had it like this," she whispered.

He smiled. "Just relax into it. You control the pressure. Don't be shy about it - take what you need." He squeezed the firm globes of her ass with his hands and lapped at her slickness. "Mmmm...you taste incredible."

Scully gasped and her eyes fluttered shut. Then she pitched forward to brace her hands on the headboard and lowered herself to his eager mouth.

She was tentative at first and Mulder had to stretch for her, lifting his head. But after a few minutes, she seemed to lose her inhibitions and settled herself against him, moving her hips forward and backward in a rhythm. She gripped the headboard tightly and it made a quiet tapping sound as it bumped against the wall in tandem with her movements. For some reason, the sound was incredibly arousing to Mulder. Nothing said reckless abandon quite like a rattling headboard. The idea that his conservative partner of eight years, the woman who had made a habit of ignoring his innuendos and chastising his suggestive comments, was currently sitting on his face - and by the looks of things, really enjoying herself - made his head want to explode. As for Mulder, he was thoroughly enjoying the view from below. He couldn't imagine anything more enticing than looking up and seeing Scully sliding back and forth over him, her cheeks flushed, eyed shut tight, forehead furrowed in concentration as she worked toward her release. Her arms were stretched forward, gripping the headboard and her firm round breasts swayed gently and rhythmically.

He sensed she was getting close. Her thighs were tensing around his head, her movements becoming more frantic and erratic. He tightened his grip on her ass, spread her open wider and dug in, drawing her clitoris all the way into his mouth and sucking on it with purpose. She cried out loudly, once, then twice and ground herself into him harder, then her movements slowed and he felt her thighs quake almost violently. Wetness flooded his mouth and he could feel her internal contractions against his tongue and lips. She lifted her hips from him slightly and he eased off, knowing that she was too sensitive to take any more stimulation.

She folded forward and rolled off him and to the side, clutching her knees to her chest, and panting harshly.

Mulder chuckled. "You okay?"

"I will be. I think. I'm just...a little dizzy..." Then she giggled and it was so endearing that he rolled and placed his mouth against her bare shoulder, kissing it softly.

"You've really never done it like that?"

"Mmmm mmm, no. It was um...different. The stimulation was ...intense. I liked the control."

He laughed out loud at that one. "I figured you might."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Just that you're not a passive person, Scully. You're a very assertive woman. And you enjoy being on top during sex-"

"Sometimes," she interrupted.

"More than anyone else I've been with."


"Definitely. But don't worry, it's a huge turn on. The view alone is mind-altering." He could almost sense her blushing next to him in the dark.

"Do you want to be on top more?" She was overthinking. If anyone could do that two minutes after orgasm, it would be her.

"I like it both ways equally," he said. "I think I last longer when you're on top. I tend to get overly enthusiastic when I drive."

She chuckled and rolled toward him, reaching in the dark and wrapping her hand around his still hard penis. "I could go for some enthusiasm about now."

He sucked in a quick breath and got up onto his knees, supporting himself with one arm and reaching down to guide himself to her with his other hand. He leaned forward and kissed her long and hard at the exact moment he entered her and she moaned her approval into his mouth. Their tongues slid against each other, mimicing the thrusting of his body into hers. He established a slow and steady rhythm and she lifted her hips to meet his downthrust each time. Her nails raked lightly over his bare back and he pulled away from the kiss to groan, his jaw clenching and his eyes slamming shut as he felt that enthusiasm that always got him in trouble starting to kick in. She wrapped one leg around his hip tightly while her other knee remained bent, her foot flat against the mattress, seeking leverage. He drove into her faster and harder, their bodies making a slapping sound as they met and separated.

He dimly realized that he had been in various stages of erect for at least an hour and his body was screaming toward release even faster than usual. He was losing just a tiny bit more of his self- control with each thrust. He had hoped to be able to take her over the edge once more, but he knew it wasn't likely. Occasionally she came twice, but it wasn't typical and usually took awhile. Not that he ever minded, but he was pretty sure time wasn't on his side in this case.

"God, Scully, you feel so good," he growled. His eyes were closed tightly in concentration and he turned his head back and forth slowly. "I'm close...can't help it," he panted. "Do you want...to get on top?"

She reached to cup one of his cheeks in her hand. "It's okay," she whispered. "Go ahead."

And he did, just like that, thrusting one last time into her, hard. He felt the contractions in waves all through his body as he flooded into her over and over again. His one arm gave out on him and he pitched forward onto her, his other arm still supporting half of his weight. He fought to catch his breath, mouth open against her bare shoulder. She brushed back his hair from his damp forehead with her fingers, affectionately, and kissed his head. God, he loved this woman.

He managed to summon enough strength to roll off and settle next to her. "I'm sorry, Scully," he panted. "I wanted to get you again."

She turned and placed her arm over his waist and her head on his chest. "Do I sound disappointed? You're talking to a very satisfied woman."

"But isn't two better than one?" He caressed her bare back with his hand, causing goosebumps to form.

She shivered and reached to pull the sheet up over both of them. "Haven't you ever heard the saying 'quality rather than quantity?'"

"Yeah, but still. It's orgasms we're taking about here, Scully. There are no truly bad ones, so why wouldn't you want as many as you can get?"

"Um...how do I say this without having to hear you gloat for the rest of my life? Mulder, you're one of the only guys I've been with who has actually cared that I have an orgasm at all during sex, and the only guy who has ever made it his personal quest to make sure I come every time, one way or another. Yes, one orgasm that I don't have to give myself is wonderful. It's perfect, in fact."

"Wow. Thanks."

"Yeah, don't let it go to your head."

He chuckled. "So tell me, Scully. Have you ever faked it?"

"Mulderrr," she warned.

"Come on, Scully. I wanna know. Lay it on me. I can take it."

"Are you asking me if I've ever faked it with you or with anyone?"


She sighed and was quiet for a minute before she replied. "No and yes, in that order."

Mulder exhaled and relaxed. "Why do women do it? Why would you want to sabotage your chances at orgasm?"

"Because sometimes...sometimes it just isn't going to happen no matter what and he isn't going to give up no matter what and you want to just go to sleep. That's the truth."



"Promise me you won't ever fake it with me."

She snorted. "I wouldn't give you the satisfaction, Mulder. Besides..." she stretched her head up to kiss him, "I doubt I'd ever have a reason to. You're pretty tenacious, you know." She kissed him. "And cute...," another kiss, "and you have a really nice ass." More kissing.

"You're thinking about that second orgasm now, aren't you, Scully?" he mumbled into her mouth. "Geez, you give a girl a ring and suddenly she can't get enough."

She pinched his arm teasingly. "Mmm, speaking of that subtle rock on my finger...my Mom can take William for the last week in June. Tara is coming out with the kids that week. The two of them can manage all the monsters together. Unless...you think that's too soon."

"Too soon? Let's put it this way: how does tomorrow look?"


"I'm just kidding. Sort of. Scully, if you said to me 'Mulder, let's get out of bed and go find a Justice of the Peace right now,' I'd say 'Give me thirty seconds to pee and get my shoes on.' So no, the end of June is not too soon."

She huffed out a little breath slipped one leg casually over his. "We need to figure out where we're going."

"Um...I might have an idea."

"It had better not be within a hundred mile radius of reported crop circles or Mexican goat suckers."

"Scully. Give me some credit. I have a few romantic bones in my body."

"Okay, I'm listening with bated breath. What did you have in mind?"

"Actually, I wondered if you trust me enough to surprise you?"

"Mulder," she said, the skepticism evident in her tone.

"I did okay with the Mother's Day surprise, didn't I?"

"Yes, but this is the place where we're getting married. The stakes are just a little bit higher, wouldn't you agree?"

"Okay, why don't you tell me what your criteria are and I'll tell you whether or not the place I have in mind fits."

Scully sighed.

"Just...play the game, Scully. Come on."

"Okaaay. Um, I want it to be moderately warm, but not too hot. Some place off the beaten path, not too crowded. I want the actual place where we exchange vows to be private and...outside? Hmmm...yeah, I think outside. I want to sleep late, eat good food, and just relax and do nothing with you. Well...something."

"Lots of somethings, hopefully." He allowed his pinky finger to just barely graze the edge of her breast resting against his side.

"Okay, Scully, based on those criteria, I can confidently say 'done, done, done, and done.' You're easy."

"Can't you tell me anything about it?" she asked.

Mulder breathed deeply. "I've been there before, but it's been a long time. It's somewhere Samantha and I used to go as kids. And I was happy there. I want to take you," he whispered.

Scully tilted her head upward to look at him, but it was too dark for them to see each other clearly. Still, he felt her emotion reach out and tangle with his own.

"I want to go," she said. "Let's get married there."

June 26, 2002

Their plane had touched down in Boston a little after 10 a.m. and they rented a car and drove to the Cape, arriving almost an hour before the next ferry was scheduled to depart. There were alternate ferries that left sooner, but since they wanted to take their car with them, they were limited to the Steamship ferry.

She knew where they were going, had confirmed that fact on their flight from Washington to Logan while enjoying mimosas and those little individually wrapped biscuits that most people complained about, but that Mulder found quite tasty. They flew first class, so he got as many as he wanted, plus more leg room. She admitted to him that she had accidentally seen a flight confirmation to Martha's Vineyard minimized on his computer screen a few weeks ago when her laptop had crashed and she had used his computer. Her wide smile indicated that she was quite pleased with the plans. That, combined with the fact that she had kicked off her sandal and was rubbing her bare foot against his calf, made him forgive her for snooping. Come to think of it, some things made sense to him now - why she never asked about needing her passport, why when he gave her a typed packing list of suggested items, she had glanced over it and said, "You forgot to list a sweater or light jacket, Mulder. The nights can get pretty cool, even in summer." He should have guessed then that she was onto him. He smiled now, recalling their conversation after she had had a chance to peruse the packing list.

Her eyebrows had risen and her hand had paused midway to her mouth, spoonful of cereal poised and dripping milk back into the bowl as her attention was diverted to the list in front of her.

"Mulder. Little blue dress with spaghetti straps?"

"Yeah, the one you wore to that thing Skinner made us go to that one time. Um, it's in the back of your closet next to-"

"I know where it is, Mulder. That was four Christmases ago. How do you even remember that?"

"I just do. You wore it with those sapphire earrings that look like little teardrops. In fact, bring those too."

Scully stared at him, her mouth dropped open slightly. She had returned her spoon to the bowl, still full of cereal.



"What shoes was I wearing? With the blue dress? Four years ago."

He cleared his throat. "Um, well. They were black and had this little criss cross strap over the top of your foot, open toe, I think. Wait, maybe closed." He thought for a moment. "No, open. Definitely open toe."

She stared back at him, blank expression.

"Am I right?" he asked, looking down uncomfortably.

"I have no idea. I have about six pairs of black dress shoes. I can't remember. But you do, obviously."

He was busted big time. He didn't even bother trying to bail himself out. He had been tried and convicted of first degree ogling of his professional work partner and platonic best friend. Said violation happened over four years ago. He would have had no reason for remembering exactly what she was wearing...unless he had been staring at her that night, fantasizing about removing all those articles of clothing, which of course, he had been. Busted.

Scully had rolled her eyes, then continued down the packing list until something else caught her attention. She looked up again. "Windex colored bikini?" This time the look on her face bordered on painful.

"It's in the second to last drawer of the tall dresser. Next to the black one piece."

"You know where my turquoise bikini is." It wasn't a question.


She had continued reading, spooning some more cereal into her mouth. "Lingerie of your choice?" she said, mouth full. "Finally. A vote of confidence in my ability to choose my own underwear," she had said sarcastically.

"I could make some suggestions there too, if you want."

More reading of the list. "Wedding dress, Mulder? What makes you think I have such a thing?" She offered him her poker face.

"Beeeeecause... before you went to meet your Mom for lunch two Saturdays ago, she left you a message not to forget to bring a strapless bra for trying on dresses."

"Jesus, Mulder."

"I'm just trying to keep my investigative skills sharp. They say you lose it if you don't use it."

"Well, we're not having a wedding," she had said, smiling.

"You know what I mean."

"I might have something to wear. And stay out of my closet, Mulder!"

He chuckled. "It's in a zippered garment bag. I didn't peek. I want to be surprised."

After she had finished her breakfast, she had gotten up to leave, then turned back, staring down at the list again. "You forgot to list pajamas."

"No I didn't."

Shaking her head and smiling, she had kissed him goodbye and left for work. A week after that, he had noticed that her suitcase was open in the corner of the bedroom. She had been adding items to it little by little. He spotted both the blue dress and the turquoise bikini peeking out from inside.

They parked their car near the ferry and grabbed some lunch while they waited. They sat at an outdoor cafe table eating the best hot dogs Mulder had had since his last Yankees game.

"So have you ever been to Martha's Vineyard, Scully?"

She shook her head, chewed and swallowed. "Boston, but not the Cape or the Vineyard."

He reached to wipe ketchup from the corner of her mouth with a napkin. She smiled and let him.

"Are you going to tell me where we're staying or do I have to wait?" she asked.

Mulder finished his hot dog, then was quiet for a minute. He stared off over the horizon of water behind where Scully sat sipping lemonade.

"I spent every summer on The Vineyard - from as early as I can remember until...well, until I left for college, I guess. Sam and I used to look forward to it for months. As soon as the weather began to turn warmer, we couldn't wait for summer to end so we could go. We had a whole group of friends there, kids that we only saw for the summer. Some lived on the Vineyard year-round, others just spent summers there, like us. One of my closest summer friends was this kid named Todd Reardon. He was a little younger than I was, one grade, and spent every summer with his grandparents on the Vineyard. His parents were seriously messed up - his mother was an alcoholic and I think his father left when Todd was really little. Anyway, we hit it off right away, spent nearly every day during the summers together, playing baseball, swimming, sleeping outside in tents. It was me, Todd, Alan, Marty, Jeff, Gordie, and Frank, who everyone called Weasel for unknown reasons. Samantha had her own group of girlfriends, but a lot of the time, she tagged along with us. She was everyone's little sister.

The summer we were ten, this girl named Elizabeth showed up on the Vineyard. Her parents had purchased a place right next to Todd's grandparents and they had moved from New York to live on The Vineyard year-round. Her parents were what my Mother used to call 'new money.' The first time we met Elizabeth, she came over to where about a dozen of us guys were playing baseball and asked if we needed a pitcher. By the fourth inning, she had struck every one of us out. It was the beginning of a beautiful thing. She became like one of the guys and I think over a string of summers, each of us managed to have at least a minor crush on her at one time or another. But Todd - he had it the worst. He was in love with her from the minute she threw that first pitch.

By the time we all graduated high school, Todd and Elizabeth were an item. They both went off to Boston University together. During their senior year at B.U., she got pregnant. According to Todd, her parents threatened to cut off her college fund unless she had an abortion. She refused, they got married, had the baby, and beat the odds. Todd went on to law school and eventually became a family court judge. Elizabeth is a midwife now. They're still together and eventually had a second child."

Scully nodded her head and waited for a minute. "It's a nice story. But why-"

"Why am I telling you now?"

She nodded again.

"Because you're about to meet them. They live on the island."

"And we're staying with them?"

"Not exactly. But sort of. You'll see. That part's still a surprise," he said. "However...since Todd is a judge, I'd like it if he was the one to...marry us."

Scully nodded and her eyes were soft. She folded and unfolded her napkin several times before abandoning it and sliding her hand across the table to cover his. "I think that's a good idea."

An hour and a half later, their rental car pulled up in front of a large, modern-looking Victorian house at the end of a long winding lane. As soon as they got out of the car, a large German Shepherd came bounding toward them, barking with its tail wagging. A man with sandy brown hair, wearing shorts and sandals walked out of the house and headed their way, waving.

"Genevieve! Come here, Girl!" The friendly dog ran back toward him, then changed her mind and double-backed toward Mulder and Scully, tail still going a mile a minute.

"Don't worry - she's friendly, just a little nuts," he called to them. When he reached Mulder, he thrust his hand out to him, then pulled him into a hug, slapping his back enthusiastically.

"You big loser - it's about time you got your ass back here," he said, laughing congenially.

"Hey, Todd," Mulder said, smiling and returning the friendly slap on his back.

Scully bent and scratched the dog on the head. It lapped at her face and then turned a couple of circles.

Mulder turned toward Scully. "Todd, this is my fiance, Dana Scully. Scully, Todd Reardon."

Todd offered his hand to Scully and she took it in hers firmly. "It's great to finally meet you," he said.

"Likewise," she smiled.

"And let's not beat around the bush. Everything you've heard about me is true - except for the Fourth of July incident back in '78. It wasn't me that streaked across the beach during the fireworks, regardless of what he told you."

Scully arched two eyebrows at Mulder and grinned.

"I'm guessing you didn't tell her that one yet?" Todd slapped Mulder on the arm, jokingly. Then he leaned in toward Scully's ear, but spoke in a voice that Mulder was clearly supposed to overhear. "Later. I promise."

"I look forward to it," she replied, and obviously meant it.

"Congratulations, by the way," said Todd, glancing down at the ring on her finger. "We were beginning to lose hope for Mulder," he laughed. "Thought sure he and his fish tank would be moving in with Liz and me when he was eighty and toothless."

Scully laughed out loud. Mulder could tell she liked him already.

Mulder glanced toward the house. "How is she?"

Todd sighed, but kept his smile. "She's practicing again - just started back this past winter. We have good days and bad days, but we're finding our way. Today is a good day."

Scully looked at Mulder with a slightly puzzled look.

"She's in the house putting coffee on. Let's go in," Todd said, and started toward the front porch.

Scully paused at the rental car. "Should we bring our bags, Mulder?"

He shook his head. "No, leave them there for now."

Another puzzled look, but she followed both men toward the house.

When they entered, the smell of coffee and something else - something baking - greeted them immediately, followed right after by a little girl with a mess of long blonde curly hair, glasses, and freckles.

"They're here! They're here," she yelled, running toward them and literally throwing herself into Mulder's arms. He caught her mid-run, swung her once around, and put her down.

"What are they feediing you? You're growing like a weed, Mally!"

The little girl squealed and giggled, revealing two missing teeth. Then she turned her attention to Scully, a wide grin still on her face. "Is this her?"

"It is," Mulder replied. "Scully, this is-"

"Wait! I can do it myself," exclaimed the girl. "We're working on introductions and public speaking skills in my class. My teacher, Mr. Nolan, says we're building confidence and stage presence. Mom says that I'm so confident I'll be running for president before I'm out of high school. She's just being facetious, although I am wise beyond my years."

Scully smiled and looked up at Mulder.

The girl faced Scully and offered her hand, which Scully took in hers. "Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Mallory Jane Reardon and I'm nine years old. You can call me Mally, if you want. Most people do." Big toothless smile.

Scully bent down to the girl's level. "Pleased to meet you, Mally. I'm Dana."

"Do you like chocolate chip cookies, Dana?"

"They're my favorite kind."

Mally's smile grew even wider. "I baked some for you."

Just then a woman in a wheelchair rounded the corner. She had long chestnut colored hair and soft brown eyes. "Mally, your cookies are out," she said, then turned toward Mulder. "Hey Stranger."

"Hi, Elizabeth," Mulder said bending to hug her tightly.

She wheeled closer. "You must be the infamous Scully."

Scully smiled and extended her hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Elizabeth. You have a lovely home."

"It's haunted. Didn't Fox mention that? Most of the activity seems to be centered in the northeast bedroom of the second floor, which is where you'll be staying. He thought perhaps you wouldn't mind documenting the paranormal activity as you observe it. It really shouldn't consume your entire honeymoon, though."

Scully's head snapped up to look at Mulder, her smile fading into a look of obvious discomfort.

Elizabeth snorted. "Forget it," she laughed. "I can't do it, Fox. She looks like she wants to jump out a window."

Scully's eyes narrowed in feigned anger and she jokingly punched Mulder lightly on the arm.

"Sorry, Dana. He begged me to." She reached for Scully's hand and led her to the kitchen. "Come on - we have coffee and cookies waiting...and lots of catching up to do."

A half hour later, Mulder, Scully, Todd, Liz, and Mally were sitting around the table talking and enjoying homemade chocolate chip cookies in the shapes of United States presidents. Mulder had eaten a Ronald Reagan and an Ike Eisenhower and was eyeing the FDR that was still on the plate.

"These are awesome, Mally," said Mulder.

"Thanks. I got the cookie cutters for my birthday. I wanted the Famous Female Heroine ones, but they were backordered, so I got the presidents."

Scully laughed as she finished the last bite of her JFK and reached for the Harry Truman.

"Scully, you're eating all the democrats," Mulder teased.

The back door opened and a pretty teenaged girl came in. She stopped when she saw Mulder and smiled a little shyly, dropping her backpack on the hardwood floor with a thud. "Hey you."

Mulder got up from the table and gave her a big hug. "Tatum," he said. "What happened? You're all grown up."

"Yeah, tell them that. They still treat me like I'm ten," she said, making a sweeping gesture with her hand toward her parents sitting at the other end of the table.

Liz looked at Scully. "Sixteen going on twenty-five," she said and Scully smiled understandingly.

"Tatum, this is Dana Scully, Fox's fiance," said Liz.

The girl looked at Scully. "Hi," she said, politely. "And don't call him Fox, Mom. He hates that."

Scully smiled a smile Mulder couldn't recall seeing before and looked down at the table.

Mulder sat back down at the table and pulled the chair out next to him, offering it to Tate. She grabbed a cookie, sat down, and studied it for a moment. "Um, Mal? Who's-"

"Grover Cleveland. Twenty-seventh president of the United States. Democratic party," Mallory replied.

Tatum rolled her eyes and took a bite. She leaned to bump shoulders jovially with Mulder. "So, can you teach me to drive while you're here?" she asked.

"Tate," chastised Liz.

"Oh sorry, I forgot. You have other plans. When are you getting married?"

"Friday," Mulder replied. "You gonna come?"

"Can I bring a date?"

"Does he deserve you?"


"Then definitely not," Mulder joked. "I'd rather not have to hurt anyone on my wedding day."

Tate laughed and Mulder couldn't help wondering how it was that she was dating when just yesterday she had been six-years-old, teaching him how to bite the ends off of Twizzlers and use them as straws. It made him miss William and he sincerely hoped there'd never come a time when he would have a cat's-in-the- cradle moment and wonder where the time went, but he suspected it was an inevitability of parenthood.

Soon after, Mulder and Scully left to go get settled in with an invitation from Liz to return to the house at seven for a fresh New England seafood dinner. Mulder could see the anticipation on Scully's face as they walked out of the big Victorian house and she wondered where in the world they were going to be staying. They got back into the rental car and Mulder steered it slowly down a narrow, one-lane sand and dirt-covered access road on the far side of the property. The road twisted and turned for a stretch before opening up to reveal the ocean spread like a blanket before them. Mulder heard Scully suck in a breath and he smiled, knowing that feeling. He hit the buttons to roll both their windows down and the salt air permeated the car.

After following the sandy access road for about half a mile, he saw it sitting perched on the bluff, the old stone walls looking no different than the last time he saw it four years ago and the same as it did thirty years before that when he and Samantha had packed picnic lunches and snuck away to spend afternoons there. He drove down the bluff and parked the car.

"This is it. It looks just the same on the outside. The architects did a good job preserving the integrity of the building," he said.

"It's a lighthouse, Mulder," Scully said, her piercing blue eyes wide in wonder. "We're staying in a lighthouse?"

He nodded. Scully unhitched her seatbelt and got out of the car, walking slowly toward the old stone structure. "My God. It's gorgeous," she whispered. "This place has to be over a century old."

"1870. There's a date carved into the foundation. This was one of my favorite places when I was a kid. Sam and I, all the kids actually, used to sneak away and spend entire afternoons here. It was empty, abandoned. The house where Todd and Liz live wasn't there then. It was just an old empty farmhouse. The Reardons bought the property, tore down the farmhouse and built the one they live in now not long after Tatum was born. The lighthouse was in pretty bad disrepair when they bought the place. Todd called me last winter and told me they were finally going to have it torn down. The renovations were just more than they could afford."

"Why didn't they?" she asked.

He looked at her and smiled. "A benefactor stepped up and thought it was a worthwhile investment."

She continued to look adorably clueless.

"I bought the place, Scully. It's ours."

Her mouth dropped open. "Oh my God, Mulder. You're serious."

He nodded. "I couldn't let it get torn down. Too many memories, Scully."

"When?" she asked.

"February. I wanted it to be a surprise. Renovations to convert it into living space have been underway since then. I haven't seen the inside yet. Come on, let's go in." He placed his hand on the small of her back and guided her to the door.

Mulder inserted the key into the lock and opened the heavy red painted door. Immediately inside the door was a tiny foyer with a tile floor and a small closet. Two steps led from there up into a large, open central room that was designed to be a living room. It had gleaming hardwood floors and smelled of fresh paint. There was a beige colored plush sofa and matching love seat sitting facing each other with a coffee table in between them and two small end tables on either side of the furniture. A huge wood- burning, stone fireplace adorned one wall, while a flat screen television was built into the opposite one. A large fresh floral bouquet in a vase sat on the coffee table.

Circling the center living room was an enormous winding staircase leading to the top of the lighthouse. It was in the same exact location of the original old staircase, but it was completely renovated into brand new hardwood with a simple black, wrought iron bannister.

Behind the staircase, lining one side of the perimeter of the building, was a small, but cheerful eat-in kitchen with a high ceiling and windows lining the entire outer wall. New appliances, cupboards and granite counter tops had been installed. Off of the kitchen was a door leading to laundry facilities.

Crossing through the living room to the other side of the lighthouse, they found a larger bedroom with a king-sized bed and a smaller one with a twin bed and a crib. A large modern bathroom with separate shower and whirlpool bathtub connected the two bedrooms.

Scully set about wandering from room to room, opening closets, cupboards, drawers, and inspecting every nook and cranny. When she was finished, she met back with Mulder in the living room. He was bent over in front of the fireplace, stacking kindling and old newspaper to build a fire. When he stood up, she was right in front of him. She wrapped both arms around his neck and pulled him into a long kiss. He dropped the crumpled up newspaper in his hand and circled her waist with both arms.

She pulled back first and he kept his eyes closed, leaning his forehead to rest against hers.

"Does that mean you like it?" he asked.

"I love it. It's perfect. I can't believe you did all this, Mulder."

"Well, you can thank Liz for all the decorating. I was actually pulling for more of a seventies Legends of Rock theme - ya know, shag carpeting, black lights, some Foghat and Van Halen posters, that sort of thing. But Liz thought you might like this better. I told her that you know the words to all the Journey songs, but she still wasn't convinced."

"I like her. I like all of them. I'm so glad you brought me here, Mulder."

He nodded. "But don't worry - they totally get the whole honeymoon thing. I think Todd must've told me three times how nobody ever comes down to this part of the beach and we'd have it all to ourselves. I think he suspects I might get lucky."

"Why in the world would he ever think that?" she said, smiling and leaning in for another kiss, this time slipping her tongue out to trace his bottom lip. He moaned and pressed into her harder, reaching both hands around to cup her behind and gently squeeze. She had the most perfect ass. Deliciously round and compact.

This time she pulled back and his face followed hers, pitching forward, searching again for her soft lips, shamelessly thinking that the king-sized bed might be a little too far away and that the area rug they were standing on would do just fine for what he had in mind.

"Mulder, I was thinking-" she whispered.

"No, don't do that, Scully. Definitely don't do that," he said as he nuzzled her neck with his eyes closed.

She giggled, but placed a firm hand on his chest. He reluctantly pulled back and looked at her.

"I was thinking that since we're getting married the day after tomorrow, maybe we could wait."

"You mean..like... wait to...have sex?" he asked, fully realizing that he had a slightly painful expression on his face.

She nodded, eyes wide and honest, giving him much more credit for his self-control than she would have if she had any idea what he was picturing her doing to him right about then.

He cleared his throat. "Um...okay. If that's what you want, Scully." His erection was sitting up and begging inside his pants and he wondered how he was going to break the news to it.

"What's the matter, Mulder?"

"Nothing. It's just that...um, it's been four days now since we...did it, and if we're going to wait two more, then that makes almost a week."

"And? Jesus, Mulder, you went five years without it."

"I know. But um...I'm just concerned that when we do it on our wedding night, things might be a little...fast."

She smiled sympathetically and patted his chest. "I'm sure you can think of a way to take the edge off."

"You could help," he suggested, hopefully.

"Hmmm, I could, but then what's the point in waiting. We might as well just have sex."

"See, Scully, I knew you'd see it my way," he said, leaning back down to suck on her neck again, but she smiled reproachfully and squirmed away from him.

"Just take care of it in the shower, like during those months after the baby was born."


"What? I'm not that clueless, Mulder. And it doesn't bother me. At all." He was still trying to process that when she started for the huge circular staircase. "Come on, let's climb to the top," she said, kicking off her wedge-heeled sandals and starting up in bare feet.

He followed her up all seventy-eight steps to the top. She arrived ahead of him and he heard her draw in a sharp breath followed by a barely audible "My God, Mulder."

At the top of the lighthouse, but still inside, there was a small sitting area with two large cushioned chairs and a table. Windows lined the entire periphery of the structure and there was a door leading out to a small outdoor balcony. Mulder opened the door for her and Scully stepped out. The wind caught her hair and she gasped, either from the sudden gust or from the overwhelming display in front of them. Blue stretched out as far as the eye could see, the greenish-blue of the ocean water stretching out to meet the pale blue of the clear summer sky. Below them, angry waves crashed against a stone wall in measured repetition. Steps led down from the stone wall to the sandy beach below.

It was exactly like he remembered. The balcony was empty, except for a heavy steel telescope, one of the only remaining pieces that predated the renovations. It had been there thirty years ago when he and Samantha used to climb up and it was still there now, in surprisingly decent condition despite having been exposed to years of salt air. Mulder wrapped his hand around the narrower section and tilted it toward him. It made a metallic squeaking sound as it came back to life. He offered it to Scully. She bent to look through the lens and swept the telescope very slowly across the horizon.

"Wow, Mulder, this is amazing. I can see a boat to the Northwest, at about ten o'clock. It must be at least two miles off shore. I can read the name on the side - the Gretchen Marie. This is unbelievably cool." She stepped back from the scope.

"As kids, we used to come up here and spend entire afternoons whale watching, fighting for turns with the telescope. The stairs were in major disrepair back then - it's amazing nobody ever got hurt."

Mulder pulled the two chairs from inside out onto the balcony and they sat down. The chairs were large enough for Scully to curl up in, but Mulder stretched his long legs out in front of him and propped them on the white metal railing.

"So how does this work, Mulder? You bought the lighthouse from the Reardons, but they own the land?"

"We own both the lighthouse and the bluff it's sitting on, along with the large stone wall and stairs leading down to the beach. The beach is public, but people rarely come down this far. It's a good mile down from the busier areas, and if you look off to your right in the distance, you can see the dunes. They act as a sort of natural barrier. They're not as easy to climb over as they look and most beach walkers don't bother. So, while the beach isn't technically ours, it effectively is. The Reardons use it - Todd surfs, Tate and Mally too.

Todd and I have everything worked out on our end; I'm in the process of getting the land legally divided. As long as the Reardons own the property, we can use the access road by their house to get down here. If they ever sell, then we'd need to have another road put in, but they have no plans to leave. Liz loves it here. I can't ever see them moving."

Mulder pointed off to their left, a ways off from the bluff where their lighthouse sat, to a long wooden plank deck that stretched from the access road they drove in on, all the way down to the beach. "Todd built that four years ago so that Liz could get her chair down to the water. He totally converted the house, put in ramps, built a master bedroom on the first floor, the whole nine yards. He worships her. He'll never take her away from here."

"What happened to her, Mulder?"

He sighed, his eyes resting on the horizon. "An accident. Four years ago. The roads were icy and they slid over an embankment. Todd was driving and he walked away without a scratch. Elizabeth ended up in the chair. He's never forgiven himself. I can see it whenever he looks at her."

"It was an accident, nobody's fault" she said, sympathetically.

He nodded. "She was seven months pregnant at the time - a boy. They lost him."

Scully caught her breath and he saw the pain in her face. Her compassion had always been humbling to him. Even when they used to work cases together, it was always she who could connect with things, feel people's pain like it was her own. He knew it wasn't anything she learned in medical school. It was just her - as much a part of her as her inexplicable compulsion to say 'God Bless you' when he sneezed, even if he did it four times in a row. Or her penchant for arguing with him about how he shouldn't go running in the rain, even though she was a doctor and knew that being cold and wet never made anyone sick. No, Scully appeared unemotional on the outside, but underneath, she felt things. And it made her a wonderful doctor and an extraordinary person.

She looked at Mulder and shook her head. Her eyes were wet with emotion. "The girls-"

"They weren't in the car. Thankfully."

"It's so awful, Mulder. I can't imagine," she said. "Four years ago. That was the last time you were here?"

"I wanted to come right after it happened, but she wouldn't see anyone. I came out that summer, after she had been home for a few months. It wasn't good. She went through a severe depression. Todd was trying to hold everything together, but the girls were having a really hard time."

Understanding dawned on Scully's face. "They bonded with you - the girls. Didn't they?"

He nodded. "They're great kids. I never really thought about wanting kids before then, you know? Tate was twelve at the time and Mally was only five. We hung out together for almost a week. But I didn't think...they'd really remember. I haven't seen them since."

Scully smiled. "I'm not surprised you made an impression. But...I think...Tatum might have a little crush on you."

Mulder looked at her in confusion. "That's ridiculous, Scully. She's sixteen."

Scully smirked. "Uh huh. I remember what it was like to be a sixteen-year-old girl, Mulder. Let's just say that I might have my work cut out getting her to warm up to me."

"Jesus, should I say something to Todd?"

"No, whatever you do, don't do that. She'd be mortified. Just be sensitive to it, that's all. She'll outgrow it."

Mulder nodded, but the whole thing made him uncomfortable and he couldn't believe he might have missed the signs.

He chuckled. "What did you think of Mally? Those president cookies-"

"Oh my God, Mulder, she's just.." Scully laughed, obviously at a loss for appropriate adjectives. "I don't think I've met a more precocious child." She reached for Mulder's hand. "They're wonderful - all of them. Thank you for bringing me here...for doing all of this."

Mulder glanced down at his watch. "It's 4:15. We've got time before dinner. Nap?" he suggested.

She narrowed her eyes suspiciously. "Would this be the kind of nap where I actually get some rest, or the kind where the pillows and blankets end up scattered all over the room and I can't find my clothes?"

"That only happened once, Scully, and I found your underwear the next day wedged between the nightstand and the box springs."

She got up from her chair and led him by the hand inside and they started down the winding staircase. "I thought I said I wanted to wait, Mulder."

"That was at 2:45. It's been an hour and a half. So we waited, right?"

She giggled. "You know what I meant. Good try, though. Just think about how good it'll be on Friday night."

"Oh, I am, trust me. But see...it could be good now *and* on Friday night. And maybe even tomorrow once or twice too. Why limit the goodness, Scully? Haven't you ever heard the saying 'Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today?'"

"Mmmm hmmm. And I've also heard 'Good things come to those who wait.'"

"Well, whatever loser made that one up never had to take a nap six inches from you."

At a half past eight, they had just finished a dinner of broiled scallops and fresh sea bass.. Mulder was happily stuffed. He had nearly forgotten what really great New England seafood tasted like. When Scully stood and started carrying dishes to the kitchen, Liz stopped her, informing her that dinner clean-up was one of Tatum and Mallory's nonnegotiable chores and then proceeded to lead Scully into the family room to look through photo albums. He and Todd stayed at the table, but Mulder could overhear Liz's high-pitched voice as she gushed over the few photos of William that Scully had brought with her.

Todd grabbed two beers from the fridge and handed one to Mulder. "She's great."

Mulder nodded. He had no question about the "she" to which he referred. "I know."

"No offense, but how the hell did you manage it?" Todd laughed.

"That, I don't know." Then he shrugged and sat back in his chair, crossing his arms in thought. "We were together long before we were really together, ya know? She hung in there, even when she had every good reason not to. And before I knew it, I couldn't live without her. She's my best friend. And...it took us a long time to get beyond that to something more. I wondered for years if we ever would."

"I don't think I've seen you this happy since...well, since before-" Todd said.

Mulder knew exactly what "before" meant. The night Samantha disappeared, his life suddenly became divided into "before" and "after." Most people in Mulder's life only knew the "after." Todd was one of those rare people who knew the "before" as well, making his comment all that more meaningful.

After Mally went to bed and Tate went to her room to tie up the phone line for a couple of hours with the guy who didn't deserve her, the four adults found their way out onto the back deck of the house. Mulder noted with satisfaction that Scully seemed relaxed and had been smiling much more than usual since they had arrived. He patted the spot next to him on the wicker love seat and she flopped down, folding her legs underneath her and sipping from her beer. She shivered from the cool night air and he wrapped his arm around her and pulled her in close. Genevieve, the German Shepherd, sat at Scully's feet and she scratched the dog behind the ears and stroked her back.

"I think you have a new best friend," said Liz.

"Scully's a dog lover," Mulder said. "I think it might only be a matter of time for us."

Scully smiled and continued petting the dog, who had rested its head on her knee. "Maybe in a few years, when William's a little older," she said. "We always had dogs growing up. A kid should have a dog."

"Agreed," said Todd, lifting his beer in approval and taking a long pull from it.

"Whatever happened to Scooby?" asked Mulder.

"Had to put him down two years ago. He was almost seventeen. We had him even before Tate was born."

Mulder turned to Scully. "You would've loved Scooby."

"Great Dane?" she asked, jokingly.

"No, actually. What the hell was Scooby anyway, Todd?"

"Who knows. Some kind of a weird hound mix. Best dog ever. He wandered into our apartment back when we were at B.U. and never left. He practically raised Tatum. I think he thought she was his puppy or something. Used to hang out on the beach with us and drag her by the diaper whenever she started crawling toward the water. Liked to get up on the surf board with me and float around. Fucking best dog." Todd raised his beer again. "To Scooby."

"To Scooby," the others chorused and then drank.

"We got Genevieve about six months after Scooby died. She was a nutcase for the first year, but I think she's gonna be alright," he said.

"She's going to be just great," agreed Scully, continuing to scratch the dog's head. She took another pull from her beer, then smiled at Todd. "So when do I get the Fourth of July story?"

Todd snorted. "Oh man," he laughed, shaking his head at Mulder.

"You had to say something, didn't you?" said Mulder. "There should be a statute of limitations on stories involving shameless inebriation."

"There is," said Todd. "Twenty-five, I think. So I'll tell it this time and then we'll lock it in the vault. What your wife chooses to do with it is her business."

Mulder glanced at Scully and picked up on a nearly unnoticeable startling at the usage of the marital reference. She looked down to keep from meeting his eyes and her cheeks tinged slightly pink in the dim light. He smiled to himself, wondering how long it would take her to get used to it.

Todd leaned back in his chair, taking the last long swallow of his beer and setting the empty bottle down on a table. Then he rubbed his hands together briskly and smiled apologetically toward Mulder, who sunk a little lower in his seat.

"It all started with a girl."

"Doesn't it always?" Mulder chimed in.

"It was the summer we all turned sixteen-"

"I was already seventeen. I'm a year older."

"Are you telling this or am I?"

Mulder made a "Be my guest" gesture with his hand and shut up.

"About a week before the Fourth, we all arrived back on the Vineyard. Nobody had seen one another for a year, so a lot of partying went on right off the bat. There was this place where we used to hang out called The Point. It was down by the water and none of us could get in because we were all underage, but we used to hang around outside, like that was cool or something. The drinking age was eighteen then and sometimes if we were lucky, some college kids would take pity and buy for us. Anyway, on this particular night, one of the guys had managed to swipe a bottle of vodka from somewhere. We were about three quarters of the way through it when a group of older girls came walking out of the bar. None of them were familiar; they were obviously older, but one in particular caught everybody's eye. So Mulder, who had a respectable amount of liquid courage in him at that point, decided it was a good idea to talk to her."

"It was a good idea...at first," said Mulder.

"Yeah, until a group of older, much larger college-age guys, who were clearly escorting these girls, exited the bar awhile later and he just happened to be sitting with this girl in the backseat of her Jeep with his arm around her, ass-deep in intimate conversation, and sharing a bottle."

"She didn't tell me she had a boyfriend," said Mulder.

"They never do," laughed Todd. "Anyway, that was it for that night, except that I think this girl's boyfriend had it in for Mulder from that night on. A week later, we were all at the beach for the Fourth of July fireworks. So of course, she was there - her name was Susan, right?"

Mulder nodded, having accepted that the story was going to be told, so he might as well help ensure its accuracy.

"Susan was there with the boyfriend. And Mulder gets the idea, again after quite a few drinks, that he'd like to deliver a message to her in a very special way. So he took off his clothes, *all* of them, mind you, and we helped him paint - why the hell did we have paint with us again?" Todd asked.

"Weasel had it in the back of his truck. He was painting houses that summer," answered Mulder. He glanced at Scully who had both feet planted on the deck and was leaning forward with her elbows on her knees, completely enraptured by the story. Her brows were lifted in amusement and a smile played on her closed lips.

"Right, that was it. So we took white paint and wrote the words "FOR SUSAN" in huge letters across both his back AND his torso, with arrows pointing south toward...well, you get the picture."

Scully's mouth was hanging open at that point. "Please don't tell me he did was I think you're going to say he did," she laughed.

Todd nodded emphatically, his smile broad. "He streaked all the way across the beach, bare-ass naked, actually *slowed down* when he got to where Susan and her boyfriend were to make absolutely sure she could read the message, then hauled ass up to the parking lot where the rest of us were waiting in the back of Weasel's truck. We peeled out and spent the rest of the fucking summer trying to keep Romeo here from getting his ass kicked by the boyfriend."

By this time, Scully was doubled over with her arms wrapped around her waist, laughing so hard tears were running down her cheeks. "Oh my God," she gasped. "Were you there for it?" she asked Liz, who had been listening politely, the look of amusement on her face from hearing a story that had been perfected over the years, but had never lost its charm.

Liz's head bobbed. "Oh yeah. I drove the get-away vehicle because they were all too plastered. But I never asked - did you ever end up seeing Susan again, Fox?"

Mulder shook his head. "I did not. But the next day, I found a bag with the clothes that I had left on the beach folded in it with a hand-written note that said 'The fireworks display paled in comparison. Thank you.'"

"Good times," said Todd, slapping his knee and standing up. "Your boy had a pair on him back in the day, I can tell ya that. Another beer?" He reached for both Mulder's and Scully's empty bottles.

"I'll take another," said Scully.

"Maybe I should skip it. Wouldn't want to end up on the beach with no clothes on, now would I?" Mulder said, looking at Scully with a mischievous smile.

Scully raised her brows and looked down almost shyly, the corners of her mouth tugging gently upward at the suggestive comment.

"I'll leave that one alone, except to say that it sure is nice how quiet that section of beach is right below your lighthouse. We almost never see anybody around there, do we honey?"

Liz shook her head and gave Scully an apologetic smile.

A few minutes later, Todd returned with another round of beer and lit up a cigarette.

"Thought you quit," said Mulder.

"He did," answered Liz. "Over ten years ago, before Mally was born. But he still keeps a pack stashed away in his office that he thinks I don't know about."

Mulder saw Scully eyeballing the pack on the table, so it didn't surprise him when, after a few minutes, she reached for it. She shook one out, lit it up and took a long drag, eyes closed and head tilted back as she exhaled into the night breeze.

"When did you quit?" asked Todd.

Scully took another drag. "Well, if you count smoking for one year in college and one in med school as being a bona fide ex-smoker, then fourteen years ago. And normally I have no desire, but once in awhile..."

"Yup," agreed Todd.

Scully held her hand out to Mulder, the cigarette wedged between her middle and forefinger.

He shook his head. "Not my vice." He thought about being a pain in the ass and reminding her that she was a doctor, but he was pretty sure it would earn him a "shut up, Mulder." And why bother? In the course of knowing her for eight years, he had seen her smoke a cigarette exactly three times. The pattern didn't exactly scream addiction and when it came right down to it, her self-control in just about every facet of life far surpassed his. Besides, he rather enjoyed seeing a random glimpse of the rebel side of Scully peek out once in a blue moon.

One of the windows from the second floor opened above them and Tate's voice called down, "Dad, can I go night surfing with Caitlyn and some people?"

"No," Liz called out.


"What your mother said."

"Tatum, first of all, it's already 10:30 and you have an 11:00 curfew," said Liz. "Second, the tide is high tonight and I'm not comfortable with you surfing at night without an adult down there. Not tonight."

The window slammed shut hard above them and Mulder was pretty sure he heard colorful words on the other side of the glass.

"Honestly, Todd. Could you have backed me up a little?"

"I did. She's got your temper," he replied. "Dana, do you surf?"

Scully shook her head. "My brothers do, but I never really got into it."

"She can drive a boat like nobody's business, though," said Mulder.

"My father was Navy," explained Scully. "I was behind the wheel of a boat before I even learned to drive a car."

"Ah, so Mulder marries a Navy brat," said Todd.

Scully smiled and took another long drag from her cigarette, his little rebel.

"Sail?" asked Todd.

"Used to," she replied. "It's been years. We had a 30 foot Catalina growing up."

"Nice. Well, there's a 19 foot Mariner docked down there if you two are feeling adventuresome."

Mulder felt himself turning green just thinking about it, so he was relieved when Scully looked over at him and huffed out a sympathetic laugh, putting her hand over his.

Todd finished off his cigarette and stood with the pack in hand. "Are we back on the wagon, or can I offer you another before I put these away?" he asked.

Scully stubbed hers out and held up her hand, palm facing Todd. "Done. But thank you," she said.

"We'll smoke one together once every few years, how's that sound?" he joked.

"Like a plan," she smiled.

The four of them spent the next couple of hours talking and laughing and telling stories until Scully's head was firmly planted on Mulder's shoulder and she was doing more yawning than talking. And then he drove her back down to their lighthouse and curled up in their bed and fell asleep to the smell of the salt air and the sounds of the ocean waves crashing against the stone wall.

June 27, 2002

When Mulder got back from his morning run, he found their bed empty.

"Scully?" He yelled.

"Up top," she called down.

He climbed the circular staircase to find her curled up in one of the cushioned chairs, a cup of steaming coffee in her hands and a book in her lap. Her hair was wet from the shower and fell in soft auburn waves. She wore a champagne colored silk robe and, by the way her breasts swayed invitingly when she shifted in the chair, not much else. The robe was tied at the waist and fell just to her knees, offering Mulder a delectable view of a set of tones calves and creamy white thighs. His blood coursed through his veins and he felt a surge of adrenaline as a result of his recent workout. It left him with an extra measure of anticipatory enthusiasm for tomorrow night, and although he respected her desire to wait to make love on their wedding night, it wasn't going to be easy. It took every ounce of his self-control not to reach out and give that sash on her robe a firm yank.

"I woke up early and couldn't fall back asleep. I went for a run," he said.

"I know. I saw you on your way back," she said, gesturing toward the telescope. "You went pretty far."

He shrugged. "About six miles round trip, I think. Not far." He pulled his sweaty T shirt off over his head. "I'm going to grab a shower. Then breakfast, then beach? Get your suit on," he smiled.

After an extra long, hot shower, he wandered into the kitchen wearing swim trunks and a clean shirt, his hair still wet and sticking up at weird angles. He found Scully flipping pancakes and humming to a radio on the countertop that aptly belted out U2's Beautiful Day. She had taken his advice and now wore a soft white gauzy bathing suit cover-up and flip flops. Her hair had been twisted up off her neck into a clip. Long wispy tendrils of disobedient locks fell down around her face and she absent- mindedly tucked the pieces behind her ears as she moved about the kitchen with a relaxed cheerfulness that was refreshing on her.

Mulder walked up behind her, planted a quick kiss on the nape of her neck, then saved her the annoyance of not being able to reach the plates in the cupboard by retrieving two and placing them on the counter. He realized that the arrangement of dishware in this kitchen would need to be reconfigured to better accommodate her smaller stature. Before they lived together, Mulder had simply gotten so used to comingling with Scully in her four inch heels that he never fully appreciated how petite she was without them. Since she typically didn't choose to cook in her heels (although Mulder had nursed a fantasy or two to that effect over the years, but they didn't involve her wearing much more than the shoes), they simply arranged their kitchen at home so that the dishes she used most were reachable to her.

"Elizabeth stocked this kitchen with literally everything, Mulder. Dishware, pots, pans, flatware, and tons of food. How did she know what we'd want to eat? All the way down to our specific brand of coffee."

"I might have given her a list," he replied, filling two small glasses with orange juice.

Scully looked at him and shook her head slowly in amazement, giving him that closed mouth smile that told him she was particularly impressed with something insightful or sensitive that he had done. He felt like a dog getting patted on the head. It was much better than the look he was used to getting, which hovered somewhere around "Are you kidding me?"

They ate stacks of hot pancakes and ate fresh sliced strawberries and talked with their mouths full. Drops of Jupiter played on the radio and Scully turned it up and said she liked the song. Any time it came on the radio after that, it would remind Mulder of pancakes and real maple syrup and Scully's freckles.

He finally got her into the water by mid-afternoon. She had spent most of the morning stretched out on a beach blanket reading her book, covered in a wide-brimmed straw hat and half a bottle of sunblock. On the contrary, Mulder had taken the opportunity to try and reacquaint himself with the fine art of surfing after borrowing one of the boards that had been leaning against the back of the Reardon's deck. Turns out, it wasn't like riding a bike. The last time he had been on a surf board Michael Jackson was still black and Hall & Oates were still cool. Every once in awhile, Scully would glance up from her book and lower her Jackie O sunglasses to offer an unguarded laugh at his attempts at boyish agility, or a thumbs up those few times he did manage to stay on the board for more than half a minute. At least he was amusing somebody.

By the time the sun was high in the sky and the temperature had kicked up to somewhere north of eighty degrees, Scully finally tucked her book aside, removed her hat, and stood to peel off her cover-up. Mulder simply concentrated on breathing as he was finally treated to a fine view of the coveted turquoise bikini. As tantalizing at it was sitting in her dresser drawer, it was far more incredible sitting on her body. He noted that her top was held in place by one string tied behind the middle of her back and another tied behind her neck. For such a skeptical person, she was placing a whole lot of trust in two tiny little strings. He wondered how likely it might be that one of those strings could accidentally or not-so-accidentally get snagged on something. Before he realized he had been staring just a moment too long, she released the clip from her hair to let it cascade down her back, then turned to him and said "Are you coming in, Mulder?"

She waded into the surf until it was waist level, then bent and dove under, resurfacing a little further out, treading water, her hair slicked back like a seal. He followed suit, breaking through the surface of the water directly behind her and grabbing her gently by the waist, pulling her to him. She shrieked in surprise and laughed, swimming away from him and encouraging his pursuit. They continued their game of cat and mouse, playing in the water until they were both out of breath. She made him feel like he was fifteen again.

"Can you touch here?" he asked, breathlessly.

She shook her head, then tipped effortlessly onto her back. "But I can float."

He joined her and they floated side by side, staring up at a cloudless blue sky. Then he righted himself with both feet on the sandy bottom and reached for her. She wrapped her legs around his waist and her arms around his neck and allowed him to fully support her.

"I love it here," she said.

"I knew you would. I want to come back every summer and bring William."

She nodded and bent to kiss him. He tasted salt on her lips when he ran the tip of his tongue over them. She retreated from his mouth and leaned back at the waist until her head touched the water, holding onto his forearms so that her upper body rested on the surf. She was so beautiful. Water lapped over her flat stomach and pooled in the valley between her breasts. He placed his hand under her lower back and pulled her up to him, sinking his tongue deeply into her mouth. She moaned and tightened the grip of her legs around his waist. He daringly allowed his hand to slip up her back and toy with the string that held the entire world together.

She pulled back from the kiss, one eyebrow raised, a reproachful smile on her face. "Mulderrrr," she warned.

He glanced quickly toward the shore and then locked his gaze back on hers. "There's nobody around. Scully."

"It's broad daylight."

"I just want to see you," he pleaded gently, running the very tip of his finger along the line where her bikini top rested against her skin and dipped it into her cleavage.

She smiled. "We wouldn't stop there and you know it."

"That's what I'm counting on," he said, as he bent his head to tongue her clavicle.

She threaded her fingers in his hair and tugged gently, raising his head. "Another time. At night," she promised.

"All of it?" he asked, knowing full well that she understood what he was asking for.

She nodded, holding his gaze with a playful smile on her mouth.

He could wait. But he needed to get out of this position if he had any hope of preserving his dignity. "Let's go for a walk on the beach," he suggested, swinging her free and starting to swim. "Last one to shore cooks breakfast tomorrow."

She shrieked and splashed after him. "No fair! You got a head start!"

"You're a better cook anyway," he called back.

She reached the shore just two strokes behind him, flopping over next to him on the sand, her chest heaving.

"Damn! You're a good swimmer," he laughed. "Thought I would've toasted you way back there."

"Two brothers," she panted. "My competitive streak runs deep."

He reached for her hand and pulled her to standing and they began walking in the direction of the sand dunes. They held hands loosely, their arms swinging with their movements as they walked barefoot on the rippled sand.

"So tomorrow," he started, "where do you want to do it?"

She darted him a look and a teasing smile to acknowledge the double entendre.

He smirked. "The getting married part. The part before the other part."

"At first I thought maybe the beach," she said. "But now I think not. I think it's most beautiful on the bluff outside the lighthouse, overlooking the water. What do you think?"

"I think what you think. I'm not going to be looking at the surroundings," he said.

Her cheeks colored and she didn't meet his eyes, but instead looked out over the water, her still-damp hair twisting in the sea salt air.

"And after?" she asked, with a brow arch and a tiny smile. "The part between the getting married part and the other part?"

He chuckled. "Um...a bit cliche, but dinner perhaps? I made a reservation, but we can cancel it if you don't want-"

"No, dinner's good. We should eat."

"We should. Especially since I'm planning on neither of us leaving the bedroom until at least Sunday," he teased.

"That's ambitious, Mulder," she huffed out a laugh. "We aren't twenty anymore."

"Speak for yourself, Scully. When I'm inspired, I suspect my stamina can put men half my age to shame."

"Then I'll have to do my best to be inspirational."

Mulder allowed his eyes to travel the length of her barely clothed body before coming to rest on her eyes. "Scully, you do that by just breathing."

He felt her hand release suddenly from his grip and saw her buckle into the sand before he even heard her cry out. A shriek of pain followed by an uncharacteristic string of profanity erupted from her as she sat in a heap, clutching her foot.

"Oh my God, what the fuck was that, Mulder?"

He knelt next to her, concern etched on his face. "What happened?"

"I don't know. Something bit my foot."

He stood and retraced their steps about twenty feet before he spotted it. "You weren't bit, Scully," he called out. "You were stung. It's a small jellyfish. You must have stepped on it."

He rejoined her, sitting on the sand and pulling her leg out so the injured foot rested in his lap. He lightly ran his hand over the reddened area and she winced in pain. "Jesus," she hissed through gritted teeth. "It feels like my foot is on fire."

"It's starting to swell pretty badly. Um...I'm sorry, I don't really know," he started. Then he paused for a minute and thought before he spoke. "Should I pee on it?"

"What?" she looked at him incredulously, pulling her foot from his lap.

"You know...pee on your foot...to lessen the pain. It...it was in an episode of Friends," he smiled sheepishly.

"Yes, I know, Mulder," she said, shaking her head. "There's no scientific proof to support the theory that urine is effective at treating jellyfish stings. So no, I'd rather you not pee on my foot if I have a choice." She winced again and hugged her leg to her chest. "Damn, this hurts like hell."

"Then I don't know...I've never been stung, so I really have no idea what to-"

"Vinegar. Um...I think. I'm trying to remember. I've never treated a sting either, but I think you're supposed to rinse it in salt water and then use vinegar or diluted ammonia to deactivate the toxins."

Mulder nodded, then placed one of her arms around his neck and the other underneath her bent knees and carried her to the water's edge, carefully depositing her onto the sand so the waves of salt water could wash over her foot.

"The cool water feels good," she said, closing her eyes.

"Can you walk?" he asked.

"I'm not sure. I think so." He stood and offered her both of his hands. She raised herself to a standing position and tried to bear weight on the swollen, red foot. She managed to take several steps and then stopped and he could tell by her expression that she was biting back the pain.

Without saying anything, he knelt down with his back in front of her, placing both arms behind his body, indicating that she should climb onto his back.

"Mulder, I'm too heavy for you to carry me all the way back."

He swiveled his head back to give her his best exasperated look. "You can't be serious, Scully. You weigh, what? All of a hundred and ten pounds?"

She nodded and he was instantly relieved he hadn't guessed any more than that. Nothing pissed a woman off more than overestimating her weight.

She conceded and wrapped both arms around his neck, hoisting her thighs into his waiting hands and he slowly stood up. She really was pretty light, he thought. He had carried her before, in Antarctica, and then she had been wearing twenty pounds of clothing, was passed out cold, and they had aliens getting ready to lunch on them. Comparatively, this was a piece of cake.

"You okay, Scully?"


"Should you go to the hospital or something?"

"No, as long as there's no allergic reaction, which there would have been by now. Then, no, I can treat it myself."

"I doubt there's anything like vinegar in the lighthouse. I'll take you up to the Reardon's."

A few minutes later he was loading Scully into the car and driving her up the access road to the main house. Thankfully, Liz was home and answered the door, although, Mulder had been told where the outside key was in case of emergency anyway.

Liz took one look at Mulder holding Scully with her legs tossed over his forearm and backed her wheelchair up so they could come inside.

"What the hell happened?" she asked.

"Jellyfish sting," Mulder replied. "Do you happen to have any-"

"Vinegar," Liz finished. "Cupboard above the stove. Set her on the kitchen counter with her foot in the sink. Then go into the hall bathroom and get the Benadryl from the medicine cabinet." Mulder did as he was told, returning a few minutes later to the kitchen to find Liz dousing the affected area with vinegar. Scully sat on the kitchen counter in her bathing suit, arms braced behind her, palms flat on the granite countertop.

"I'm so sorry, Dana. I should have warned you. Todd and Mally saw a couple down on the shore last week when they were surfing. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it hurts like a bitch. First sting?"

Scully nodded. "I wasn't even entirely certain what to do without looking it up. I've never treated a jellyfish sting."

"No allergies to any type of venom that you're aware of?" Liz asked.

"No, none," replied Scully.

"Then you'll be fine. It'll be swollen for a day or so, sometimes a rash, then that's about it. Benadryl for the swelling, Ibuprofen for the pain. But I don't know why I'm telling you that; you're the doctor," she laughed.

Scully smiled. "In this particular case, I think you are." She took two Benadryl capsules from Mulder's palm and downed them with a glass of cold water. "Thank you, Liz. I'm sorry, I got sand all over your countertop."

Liz smiled and made a dismissive gesture with her hand to indicate it was of no concern. She wheeled off down the hall and then back again a few minutes later with two beach towels and handed one to each of them. Scully wrapped hers around her body, underneath her arms and tucked it tight. Mulder helped her down off the counter and to a chaise lounge on the deck. Liz brought out two glasses of iced tea and Mulder downed half of his in two long swallows.

"Where is everybody?" Mulder asked.

"Todd's in court all day, Mally went to a friend's house, and from the sound of the bass coming from upstairs, I think Tate's in her room listening to music. It's only the second week of summer vacation, but I swear. She's on the phone until all hours of the night, then gets out of bed at noon, listens to music in her room all day, then heads down to the beach with her friends after dinner, and we don't see her again until curfew. And then the cycle starts all over again the next day. Jesus, were we like that?"

Mulder laughed and raised his eyebrows at Liz. "I can remember covering for Todd on several occasions when his grandma called looking for him and he was with you down on the beach all night."

"Oh my God, don't even say that." She covered her eyes with one hand. "We were older than Tate, though, weren't we?"

He shrugged, tilting his head to the side, considering. "Seventeen maybe?"

"Oh God. I feel nauseous," she said.

Scully smiled sympathetically and sipped at her iced tea.

Mulder smiled. "She seems like she has a good head on her shoulders."

Liz nodded, biting her lower lip. "I just have to trust her. Her grades are good, she comes home on time, and I don't see any evidence of drugs. But God, it's so hard, you know? It seems like she was just Mally's age."

Mulder nodded because she was right. It did.

"You guys just wait," said Liz, grinning. "If William is anything like his father, you'll have your hands full," she said to Scully.

Scully glanced at Mulder, who was wearing his most contrite expression and she huffed out a quiet laugh. "I have a feeling you're right."

Just then Tate walked into the room. "Mom, do you know where my blue-Holy Shit, what happened?" she exclaimed, looking at Scully's red swollen foot propped up on the chaise lounge.

"Tatum. Language," her mother reminded.

"Sorry. What happened to your foot?"

"Jellyfish," said Mulder.

"Man, that sucks. The day before you're getting married too. My friend, Jill, got stung last season and it stayed swollen and gross looking for, like, forever."

"Tate," said Liz.

"Yeah, um...but I'm sure yours won't be that bad," the girl backtracked. "It doesn't look nearly as swollen as Jill's did. You'll probably hardly notice it tomorrow."

Scully offered a weak smile bordering on a grimace. Then her eyes widened and she looked at Mulder. "Mulder, tomorrow. The shoes I brought to wear. There's no way I'll get into them. My foot is too swollen."

"Do you want to put it off for a few days?" he asked.

"No! No, I really don't, but..."

"You could always...just go barefoot," he smiled. "I mean, why not?"

He could tell by the look on her face that she didn't think this was the most brilliant idea he had ever come up with.

"Easy for you to say. You're six feet tall; I'm five foot three. Shoes matter."

"Dana, what shoe size do you wear?" asked Liz.

"Seven...that is, when they're not swollen to the size of a manhole cover," she replied, lips pursed in annoyance at the inconvenience of it all.

"Just a sec," said Liz, as she disappeared down the hallway toward the first floor master bedroom.

"She wears a seven and a half," explained Tate. "And she has more shoes than a centipede."

Scully closed her eyes and tipped her head back against the back of the chair, drumming her fingers lazily against the armrest.

"How does it feel now?" he asked.

"A little better," she said, without opening her eyes or picking her head up. "The burning has stopped and I think the Benadryl is kicking in. I took two, didn't I. Did I take two?"


"Hmmm..maybe should've taken only one. I forgot how this stuff knocks me out."

Liz wheeled back into the room with three sets of shoes piled onto her lap. "Okaaaay," she called out loudly. "Why don't you take a look at-Oh sorry. Is she sleeping?"

Scully opened her eyes and rolled her head to follow Liz's voice. "Not yet," she smiled.

"We have three possibilities and please don't be shy about saying you don't like any of them. But they're all a half size bigger than you wear and they're all of the sandal variety, so maybe your foot would have room to spread out."

"Oh my God, Liz!" Scully exclaimed, holding the heel of an off- white, thong style sandal with a thin strap and a high heel in one hand. With her other hand, she reached for a different style - a gold tinted slip on sandal with a slightly lower heel and criss cross straps with fine beading. A third pair still in Liz's lap also caught Scully's eye. It was another thong style with the highest heel yet, in a champagne color. Scully swung her feet off the lounger with a bit more energy and enthusiasm than he would've expected from a woman who had been in pain less than an hour ago. She began to carefully slip the different styles of sandals on her feet, admiring them like Marilyn Monroe in a diamond store.

Scully liked shoes. She liked them a lot. They rarely shopped together, but on those few occasions when they had headed to a mall on a Sunday just to get out of the house, Mulder learned that nothing distracted Scully more than a pair of Jimmy Choo heels in a lighted window display. They would happen to be wandering around, Mulder pushing William in his stroller, and discussing whether the place with the really good ice cream was in the food court on the second floor or the first, when he would eventually notice that the kid with the long hair and the nose ring on his right wasn't Scully. He'd backtrack to find her standing in front of a shoe store, her finger placed thoughtfully on her lips as she gazed inside. "You go ahead to the ice cream place and I'll catch up. I just want to pop in here for a sec," she'd say in a mesmerized, slightly stoned voice. Mulder and William would have managed to share an entire double dip cone together before Scully would find them, surreptitiously tucking a package into the bottom of the stroller before asking what the flavors of the day were.

"I can't decide," she said. "I think it's between these two." She placed the two with the highest heels, one on each foot and compared them. "What do you think?" she asked Liz.

"Take them both with you and try them on with the dress." she replied.

Scully removed both shoes and admired the off-white ones again up close, then turned toward Liz, a notable look of shock on her face. "Liz. These are Louis Vuitton shoes. I can't possibly-"

"Yes, you can. But I think the Gucci ones might be a little sexier, don't you think? You really need to compare them to the dress," Liz smiled.

Scully sat there staring at the shoes, held out at arm's length, as if they might spontaneously combust. "Wow, um...they're both amazing. I don't know what to say, except thank you so much."

Liz offered a satisfied nod. "They're my guilty pleasure. There isn't much that makes me feel beautiful in this," she patted the arm of her wheelchair with one hand. "But shoes do."

Scully smiled understandingly and reached to grasp Liz's hand for a brief moment.

Tate, who had left the room a few minutes ago, walked back in with a box in her hands, small glass bottles rattling around inside of it. "Pick a color," she said, placing the box on Scully's lap. Inside were at least a dozen bottles of nail polish. "If your toes are gonna show, they might as well look good," she said, smiling at Scully shyly.

Scully sifted through the box with her hands, holding up a pearly silver for examination, then a cranberry color. "I'm terrible at doing this," she said. "I don't think I went to enough slumber parties. I can't french braid hair either."

"Oh that's an easy one," said Tate. "You have to pull it tight all the way down. I'll do yours sometime." She picked up a bottle of polish in a petal pink color and held it up to both sets of shoes, her eyebrows arched in question. "I think this one, but it's your pick."

Scully smiled. "I like it. Will you do them?" She lifted both feet back up onto the chaise lounge and Tate positioned herself at the end, gently tapping the bottle of polish against her hand to shake it.

"You're next," Tate said to Mulder, giggling.

"Yeah, but can you french braid my hair too?"

A half hour later, Mulder carried a very sleepy, pink-toed Scully wrapped in a beach towel, along with two pairs of absurdly expensive shoes to the car. And ten minutes after that he was watching her strip out of his favorite turquoise bikini and into a pair of white cotton panties and an oversized T shirt. Dressed like that, with her hair air-dried into untamed waves, freckles running wild on her perfect complexion, she looked like she should be studying for final exams instead of getting ready to marry him in twenty-four hours. He tucked her into the king-sized bed and settled his head onto the pillow next to her to watch her nap, thinking about how tomorrow was the day that everything and nothing would change.

June 28, 2002

Mulder leaned back against the cushion of the chair, his head bent forward to watch her. They were on the top level of the lighthouse and Scully was kneeling in front of his chair between his spread legs, her mouth hot and wet, sliding up and down his length with vigor and expertise. His mouth hung open and his breath was ragged. His buttocks flexed as he gently pumped his hips up and down to meet her. Something tickled Mulder's nose and he flicked it away with his hand. He looked down to see her wrap two fingers around the base of his cock, directly underneath her mouth. He noticed that her hand was bare; she wasn't wearing her diamond.

"Scully, why aren't you wearing your ring?" he asked, but she only looked up at him, shook her head, then continued with the task at hand.

His nose tickled again and he scratched at it. Why wasn't she wearing her ring? Had she changed her mind? Mulder looked at his watch. 3:40 p.m. They were getting married in twenty minutes. Why was she going down on him twenty minutes before they were supposed to exchange vows and more importantly, why the fuck wasn't she wearing her ring? He swiped at his face. Whatever was tickling his nose was still there and now it was against his cheek too. And it was really starting to piss him off and ruin a particularly good blow job.

He woke with a start, lifting his head off the pillow and focusing his eyes to find Scully curled up completely on his side of the bed, her head resting right next to where his was just a second ago. Her silky red hair was strewn about. It fell in messy tangles and partially covered her face. Well, that explained what had been tickling his nose. Mulder smiled, then remembered his dream and flopped back onto his back, tossing one arm over his eyes and groaning.

Scully stirred next to him, licking her lips and absently sweeping at her face with one hand to get the hair out of it. "Mmm, Mulder, S'matter?" she asked, eyes still closed.

"Nothing. Just a dream," he sighed.

"Good or bad?" Her voice had that husky morning rasp that made him want to steady her hips and pin her between his groin and the mattress. Instead, he answered her question by guiding her hand down to cover his erection.

She raised one eyebrow and smiled, still not opening her eyes. She wrapped her hand around him through his boxers. "Good morning to you too."

Mulder groaned again and thrust back against her hand, but she pulled it away, allowing it to drift slowly up his bare chest and play in the hair there. She snuggled closer to him and tucked her face into his neck, kissing his throat, then his jaw. She was still wearing the white T shirt she had worn for her nap yesterday and he could feel the fleshy mounds of her breasts pressed tightly against his side. His dick twitched inside his shorts and he tried to reflect on when the last time was that he had had an orgasm. Five days? Maybe six? It had been with her, not solo, he was pretty sure. So that would've been...

"Scully, when was the last time we did it?"

This time she opened her eyes. She flopped back onto her own pillow, her breasts bouncing inside the T shirt, which wasn't helping his concentration one iota.

"Last Saturday. William's naptime."

"That explains why I feel like I'm going to explode."

She rolled onto her side and propped herself up on her elbow. "Sorry. I guess I was just busy getting ready to go and tying up loose ends at work. Sometimes it slips my mind when I'm busy."

How do you get too busy to remember to have sex, he wondered, but didn't ask.

"Why didn't you just...you know," she said, not meeting his eyes.

"Contrary to my reputation, I don't really... all that much anymore. We're together enough that I don't need to... much. I mean, just, you know, once in awhile..." he admitted, not even half believing that he was discussing his masturbation patterns with her. Oh the humanity.

"Well, don't hold off on my account. As long as there's...um... enough to go around, so to speak, I'm fine with it."

"Scully. I don't even know what to say to that."

She huffed out a short laugh. "I just mean that it's a perfectly normal behavioral response to a healthy physiological need."

"Thanks, Doc. That's helpful."

"It really doesn't bother me," she continued. "I've woken up once or twice when you thought I was sleeping and felt the bed shaking-"

"Jesus, Scully!"

"Sorry, I didn't mean to embarrass you."

"Well, I wasn't before, but now I am. Look, can we not have this discussion?"

He heard her giggle and sigh next to him. And after a few minutes of silence, he decided she needed a taste of her own medicine and besides, he was curious.

"So Scully, if it's not embarrassing, then you won't mind if I ask you whether or not you do it, right?"


"I mean, since it's a normal behavioral yada yada to a healthy physiological yada yada..."

More silence.

"Let me be more specific. Do you ever get yourself off when I'm not around? Or for that matter, when I am around? And might I remind you that your answers could possibly affect several of my top ten fantasies."

"I thought we were moving on from this discussion," she said quietly, rolling to plant her face into her pillow.

"Nuh uh. Good try. Not until I get an answer. I was honest with you."

She spoke slowly and he noticed that the husky voice was back, as was his boner. "Well...since we've established that it's a normal behavior that most healthy human beings engage in from time to time, then I would have to say that I am both healthy and normal."

Mulder grinned despite himself. "How often?"

She sighed. "Not often."

"Yeah, but like how often? Once a week, twice a week, once a month, less? Give me a mile marker, Scully."


"Come on. We're getting married. Who the fuck cares anymore? We don't have secrets from each other. I mean, you've swallowed my-"

"OKAY, OKAY," she interrupted before he could finish his painfully intimate statement. "I guess...maybe once every few weeks, more or less, depending on how...active we've been."

"So...would you say less now than before we were together?"

"God, yes! NOT that I used to do it...Jesus, Mulder, do you really need to know all this?"

He chuckled and reached for her hand, bringing it to his mouth and planting a kiss on her fingers. "Thank you. For being honest."

He was quiet for a minute and he could almost feel her relax next to him.

"Do you use a vibrator or just your hand?"


That was a better response than the slap he thought he might get. Still...totally worth asking the question.

He laughed. "Sorry, Scully. I just...my brain is exploding with visuals right now."

He felt the bed shake and he noticed that she was giggling next to him. The tension was noticeably dissipating.

"See? We can talk about this stuff, right?" he asked, still chuckling.

She sighed. Giggled some more. Then stopped. More laughing. Another sigh. How old were we again?

"Um, both," she said, quietly.


"Your question. The answer is both. Although, usually hand." Interesting. Where the hell did she keep it? There was nothing battery-operated in her lingerie drawers. Embarrassingly, he could pretty much recite the entire inventory from memory.

"I want to watch sometime," suddenly aware that the words he was thinking just came out of his mouth.

"Absolutely not."

"You've never done it in front of anyone before?"


"I beg to differ, Scully. I've seen you touch yourself during sex before when you've needed a little extra stimulation to finish."

She was blushing now, her cheeks a serious crimson. "Yeah, but...that's different. It feels...mutual and besides, you're distracted then, not lying there watching me."

"Scully, it's not that unusual, watching someone else, you know. Couples do that sort of thing all the time to spice up their sex lives."

She sat up in the bed, spun to face him, and tucked her legs up under her Indian style. Her shirt grazed the tops of her thighs and in that position, he had a straight shot view of her white cotton panties. Distractions abounded. Her forehead was furrowed and her wide blue eyes darted back and forth.

"Do you think our sex life needs spicing up?" she asked, worry etched on her makeup-less face. She was so damn cute.

He laughed out loud. "Scully, you're talking to a man who waited over five years for you to be ready. We could go strictly missionary, in bed with the lights out, once a week and I'd be satisfied." He grabbed her hand and pulled her back down, half on top of him. "Stop worrying," he said, kissing her forehead. "I love our sex. I'm merely pointing out that if you were ever inclined to allow me to watch you...pleasure yourself..., it would be a huge turn-on. That's all. And if not, then that's fine too. I'll just keep it locked in the fantasy vault," he said, pointing to his head.

She relaxed against him, her head on his chest. He reached with his hand and swept the hair from her face and her neck. "Hey. Don't get all quiet on me. You're not pissed, are you?" he asked.

"Mmm mmm, no," she sighed, kissing his chest. "Just thinking."

"About what?"

She slid her warm hand down under the covers and inside the waistband of his boxers to feel him hard against her palm. He hissed and lifted his hips. She tugged very gently up and down twice.

"About how you should probably take care of this in the shower so you don't disappoint me tonight."

He thrusted against her once more urgently. "Keep doing that a few more times and I won't need to."

She removed her hand and kissed him, giggling into his mouth. Then she patted him on the chest and got out of bed. "Take your shower. I'm going to make that breakfast I owe you."

"Scully, I wasn't serious about that. I don't expect- hey, how's your foot?" He looked over the side of the bed to the floor.

"Better," she said, looking down. "Quite a bit, I think. It doesn't hurt to walk on it."

"It looks like the swelling has gone down a lot. Maybe the shoes you brought will fit."

Her eyes went wide for a split second. "Um, I don't know. I think they might still be a little tight. Better stick with the sandals," she said, sauntering off toward the kitchen.

He chuckled to himself and shook his head in amusement. Whatever made him even think that she'd consider foregoing her chance to wear eight-hundred dollar shoes?

A few minutes later he was soaping himself up in the shower, thinking perhaps overconfidently that he'd hold out and still be able to impress her with his stamina later. Then his thoughts drifted back to their conversation from minutes before and an image of her invaded his brain. She was wearing that black lace bra he loved - she had many, but it was the one that pushed her breasts up and together like juicy melons and made him want to bury his face in there and never come up for air. Tiny matching lace panties completed the ensemble. She was lying back on their bed, knees apart and slightly bent. Her hair was fanned out around her in a halo and her head was turned to the side, eyes closed, her crimson lips parted. Her chest rose and fell with harsh breaths, the tops of her creamy white mounds threatening to spill from the cups of her bra. Her hand moved underneath the lace scrap of her panties, slowly at first, then faster and faster. Up and down rhythmically, her fingers moved as her back arched up off the bed. It took Mulder exactly half a dozen tight strokes before he was spilling over his fist, panting her name against the tile wall of the shower.

When he got out of the shower and dressed himself in comfortable shorts and a T shirt, he found Scully in the kitchen, spooning scrambled eggs onto plates. Another with bacon already sat on the table. Slices of toast popped up from the toaster and Mulder retrieved them, tossing two slices onto Scully's plate and two on his. "Butter or jam?" he asked her, opening the fridge.

"Jam, please." He sat down next to her at the table and she lifted an eyebrow quickly at him and smiled. "Feeling better?"

He smiled. "Yes. You have my personal guarantee for a night of marathon lovemaking," he teased.

Her cheeks tinted and she glanced down demurely at her plate. "I look forward to it," she said quietly, her eyes darting to the side to capture his before forking a bite of eggs into her mouth.

They spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon relaxing and reading. A call to Maggie confirmed their suspicion that William was thoroughly enjoying himself and was most likely being spoiled rotten. Maggie put the phone up to William's ear and Mulder and Scully passed the phone back and forth taking turns talking in embarrassingly high voices into the receiver. They were rewarded with heavy breathing and a couple of squeals. Mulder thought he might have picked out "Da da" among the babbling, but it could have just as easily have been any number of possible consonant/vowel combinations. Hard to say really. He missed the little Sprout.

Before they ended the call, Scully took the phone. Although Mulder only heard one side of the conversation, he was pretty sure he got the gist of it.

"No, not yet. Today at four o'clock," Scully said with a gentle smile on her lips.

"Thanks, Mom. I know...yes, I know. Do you really think so?" she whispered, her eyes turning soft and liquid.

"I love you too. So much."

"I'll tell him. I will, I promise. I love you too. Okay, bye."

She hung up and turned to look at Mulder and he handed her a tissue from the box on the end table. He questioned her with his eyes.

"She said..." (sniff) "she said that I have a beautiful family and my father would be proud of me." Mulder folded her into a tight embrace and rested his chin on her silky crown. She sniffled into his T shirt.

"What is it you're supposed to tell me?" he asked.

She pulled back and looked up at him, smiling. "She said to tell you that she knew it would be you all along. From the day you kept my necklace for me all those years ago. She knew it would be you."

He chuffed out a laugh. "Couldn't she have told us that then and saved us a little time?"

She chuckled and brushed her lips lightly against his. "We got here when we were supposed to, I think." The she turned his arm to look at his watch. "Speaking of time, get out."

"Excuse me?"

"It's two-thirty. I need to shower, get dressed, and do my hair and makeup. You need to take your stuff and get ready up at Todd and Liz's."

"Really? Isn't that a bit old fashioned?"

She walked into the bedroom and slid the closet door open, pulled his hanging suit out and thrust it at him. "Go. I'll see you outside on the bluff at four o'clock. I'll be the one wearing white," she smiled.

He quickly stuffed the few things he needed in a duffel bag, grabbed his suit and headed for the door, then turned back. "Hey Scully, I love you."

Her head popped up from the dresser drawer she was sifting through and she rewarded him with one of her unguarded, full lipped, stop-him-in-his-tracks smiles. "I love you too."

At a quarter to four, Mulder made his way back down to the lighthouse bluff. Tate and Mally rode with him in the rental car. Tate sat in the front seat in her lavender sundress and sandals and flipped the visor down to apply lipstick. Should she be wearing makeup? When did girls start to wear makeup? Probably by sixteen, he realized. He was glad he had a son and didn't have to ponder things like cosmetics and virtue.

"She's cool," Tate said, rubbing her rosy lips together in the mirror and making a smacking sound. "Dana. She's okay."

Mally bounced around the back seat. "I love her. She's a doctor, you know. When I showed her my room, she asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up and I told her a doctor and she said she was one. And that's when she said that girls can be anything they want to be."

Tate looked at Mulder. "I think I'm going to be an FBI agent," she said. Mulder smiled and stared at the road.

Mally kept chatting away. "She's really pretty too. At least I think so. I can't believe you used to get to work with her every day. That must have been really fascinating. She knows so much stuff. She's really smart, but you have to be to be a doctor. I bet she got really good grades in school. I think I'm a lot like her. We're both Pisces, you know. I asked her when her birthday was and she said February 23rd and mine is March 11th, so that means we're both Pisces."

Mulder smiled and nodded in amusement and Tate rolled her eyes.

When Mulder and the girls pulled up to the bluff, it looked just as it did a couple of hours ago. There were no flowers or decorations of any kind, no chairs set up or aisles to walk down. There would be no harps playing or music at all, no bridesmaids, groomsmen, or doves released into the sky. Just two people who had been in love for years, exchanging promises with their lips that had been hidden in their hearts for way too long.

Mulder walked to the edge of the bluff and looked out over the endless expanse of blue. The water seemed unusually calm, as if it too sensed that something was about to shift, lock into place, become whole, be as it should. Then he mentally cajoled himself for standing there in his suit and shiny shoes, waxing poetic on his wedding day. He was a walking cliche. He imagined Scully reading his thoughts and responding with a teasing look at his sentimentality. He was the overthinker in their partnership, the feeler, the "let's toss some things against the wall and see what sticks" kind of person. She wound him in like a kite and set his feet on solid ground. She was his satellite, his compass, his true north, his...lighthouse, he thought, smiling at the irony. Yeah, all that and she was probably one of only two things that stood between him living a respectable and productive life and standing unshaven on a street corner, muttering to himself. The other one had inherited his nose and his unfortunate tendency toward untidiness.

Mally and Tate walked up next to him and looked at him expectantly, like he was going to explain to them how this was supposed to go.

"I want to get married here someday," Mally said.

"You can't, Dummy. The lighthouse belongs to Mulder and Dana now." Tate rolled her eyes for at least the third time since the car ride.

Mulder smiled down at her. "You can get married here on two non-negotiable conditions, Mal."

"I invite you?" she asked.

"Well, three conditions then. Also that you're not a day under twenty-five, and that he walks on water."

She scrunched her forehead. "Well, of course. I need to finish medical school first. But I'm sorry, I don't think I'm supposed to marry Jesus."

"Well, something close then," he replied, rubbing the back of her long hair affectionately.

Todd's car pulled up and he helped Liz out and into her chair. She looked beautiful, wearing a sundress like her daughters, her long, straight chestnut hair falling past her shoulders. She had a small bouquet of pink and white flowers in her lap. "They're for Dana." She shrugged.

"They're really nice," Mulder said, bending to kiss her cheek.

"And I brought my camera," she said, holding it up. "Can I take one of you with the girls?" They spent a few minutes snapping photos until his watch said 4:12 and Mulder was beginning to get nervous.

Then the door of the lighthouse opened and there she was. He looked at her and wanted to smile, but he couldn't really remember how to make facial expressions other than stand there, unblinking with his mouth slightly open. He was vaguely aware of Mally's voice behind him in a hushed squeal. "Look! There she is! She's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen!" before her mother shushed her. Scully descended the two steps from the lighthouse door and walked toward all of them. Liz rolled to meet her and offered the flowers. Scully accepted the bouquet with a smile and then bent and gave her a hug.

Mulder paused to take all of her in. She wore an ankle length dress that wasn't quite white and wasn't quite not. He would have called it ivory, but he was sure there was probably a fancier name for the color. The top of the dress was a halter style that bared her shoulders, her pale, delicate skin making him dizzy in a good way. It was that shoulder thing again. She knew they were his favorite and he was certain she had done it on purpose. He had a hilariously fleeting thought that he hoped she remembered to wear sunscreen. The remaining top of the dress was fitted, showing off her slender waist before the bottom flowed down to her ankles. It draped gently against her legs and when the wind caught it, it billowed and danced around her. The dress was simple and elegant, perhaps a tad more daring on top than he would have pegged her for, but he certainly wasn't complaining. It was the perfect choice for her. He glanced down at her feet. The Gucci ones with the higher heel. He could have predicted that, he laughed to himself. Her hair was down, but she had curled the ends just a little and pulled two small strands of hair, one from each side back and secured them together with a small silver clip. Tiny white delicate flowers were woven into the two strands of hair. She took his breath away.

When she reached where he stood, she stopped and faced him, regarding him questioningly through long lashes. He continued staring for a moment until he realized that she was waiting for some kind of reaction from him. He couldn't imagine how she could possibly not know how gorgeous she looked. He recovered and leaned in to her ear.

"You are heartbreakingly beautiful," he said, and she rewarded him with a grateful smile.

"You look really nice too," she replied. "I'm a little nervous."

He nodded, but all he could think of to say was "I love you."

She smiled again and squeezed his hand.

"Is everybody ready?" asked Todd and they both nodded.

The next twenty minutes or so were a blur to Mulder. Words were said, important words about loving and cherishing, about honoring and respecting, about joy and sorrow and better and worse. Some words struck him as absurdly simple, such as "in sickness and in health." She had survived cancer; he had been to insanity and back at least twice. What else was there? "Til death do us part?" Well, they had already established that death could not, in fact, keep them apart after all. It was a formality; they had been living out the promises for years. And in the end, he gave her a ring, another one, for he had given her his heart a long, long time ago.

And then Todd said something about husband and wife and Mulder swam back to the surface from the depths of her blue eyes just in time to realize that he was talking about them and he smiled. She was his wife. Just like that. It was the simplest thing in the world. Given their history together, Mulder almost found himself waiting for the catch.

He looked at Todd, because he had been to enough of these shindigs to know that there was a kiss coming up and he didn't want to miss that part. Todd nodded at him and said "You can go ahead," but before he got to the "and kiss the bride" part, Mulder was already doing it. And he would have gone on with it a little bit longer because it was his absolute favorite thing to do, in general, and because she tasted like heaven on earth. But Scully finally pulled back and cleared her throat, signaling that perhaps their display might have just teetered on the edge of inappropriate.

Afterward, there were plenty of hugs and pictures and laughing and discussions about who was riding with whom to dinner. Mally informed her parents that she would be riding with Mulder and Dana and her mother gently pulled her aside to discuss the finer points of privacy as it pertained to newlyweds and that the Reardons would, in fact, be taking their own car. Mulder suspected that a similar, yet more tricky discussion might also take place later regarding why Mally would not be planning any unannounced visits to the lighthouse in the next couple of days.

Dinner was a private outdoor patio at Casa Bella that Todd had pulled a few judge strings to get because nothing was too good for his buddy's girl. And when Mulder saw Scully's eyes brighten at the sight of the tiny twinkling white lights adorning the trees on the patio and the vases of fresh flowers on the white linen tablecloths, he mentally reminded himself to thank Todd with a bottle of something top shelf, maybe two.

They shared several appetizers among the table and ordered expensive entrees from the menu and laughed their way through one of the best meals Mulder had ever eaten. He ordered a bottle of the best champagne the restaurant carried, plus some kind of legal imitation for the girls, and they took turns toasting friends and happiness and mostly love. Scully's delicate, white shoulder rubbed against Mulder's when she laughed and her left hand with two sparkly rings rested on his knee under the table. He couldn't stop himself from looking at her. He had never seen her smile so much. Mally tapped her glass with her spoon and giggled expectantly. Scully blushed and Mulder tipped her chin up with his finger to capture her lips.

Soon after the sun set, they drove back to the lighthouse. Mulder asked if she wanted to go for a stroll on the beach, but she dipped her head and regarded him from under long lashes, then grasped his hand and led him into the bedroom. They stood awkwardly facing each other and Mulder pulled her close so their foreheads touched. He ran his hands along her bare shoulders and felt goose bumps form as she exhaled. She was jumpy.

"We've done this...lots of times," she said, "but it feels different."

"Better," he said and she nodded, meeting his eyes.

"It's just us," he said, "in expensive clothing."

She laughed and he felt her relax some. Her hand caressed his gently and she fingered his ring, a simple gold band, running her manicured thumb over it and smiling.

"We did it," she said.

"We did."

"You look good in a ring."

"Only for you," he smiled.

"The moms at the park are going to be so disappointed," she teased.

"They're already afraid of you," he said and she laughed again.

Then his eyes grew darker and he slid both hands to cup her face. He started at her temples, placing soft kisses along her hairline, at her brows, over shadowed eyelids that had fluttered closed. Down her perfect roman nose, on the rosy apples of her high cheekbones, then on her parted lips, first the top one, then the bottom, finally covering her mouth with his. She returned his kiss, moving her lips against his softly, then a bit more urgently, pulling away to nip gently before changing angles and covering all the same bases again, this time with her hands sifting through his hair. He was aroused, hard and eager, and acutely thankful that he had had the good sense to take the edge off this morning and hadn't stupidly fallen victim to his own overconfidence. All men wanted to think they could last all night, satisfy a woman multiple times, be the perfect model of control and self-discipline. Fox Mulder knew better. And he was fully aware that the one thing that could summon lust from him, that could shatter his self- control in the blink of an eye, was standing in front if him with plump berry-red lips and dangerous cleavage.

He broke for air, his gait hovering unsteadily, tucking his face into the slope of her neck and sliding his mouth up to her earlobe. "I want to undress you myself," he whispered, "but I don't want to rush. Let me know when you're ready." He continued kissing her throat and the soft spot behind her ear.

Scully tipped her head to allow him better access. Apparently deciding for herself that he was also wearing a bit more clothing than she preferred, she slid his suit jacket over his shoulders and down his arms. She tossed it toward the chair next to the bed and it landed with a perfect drape. Then she started in on his tie, managing to slide it off in one smooth movement, tossing that too onto the chair with impeccable accuracy. She's done this before, he thought in amusement. Her eagerness was a huge turn-on and he moaned into her shoulder, suckling her pale skin with his tongue and lips, vaguely aware that she was going to have a mark there tomorrow and liking the idea.

The shirt was next. Her slender fingers worked the buttons, managing three or four before his posture became a hindrance and she had to coax his mouth from her shoulder and his body to an upright position so she could finish the job. Once his shirt had been removed and he stood before her bare chested, she slowed down, pausing to run her hands over his skin, threading her fingers in the sparse hair there, skimming over his nipples with her fingernails, making him shiver and toss his head back. The hands he had circling her tiny waist tightened their grip.

When he finally looked up, he found her eyes seeking his. They were dreamy and soft. Without looking away, she reached for his hand and guided it behind her neck, helping him pop open two tiny hook and eye clasps that held the strips of fabric together. Then she dropped her arms to her sides, inviting him to take over. Very slowly, he lowered the halter of the dress to reveal a strapless white bra underneath. He ran his fingers along the very top edges of the cups where white rested against white and felt her draw a sharp breath. Once again, his hands drifted to the back of her dress. He found a zipper on the bodice and gently slid it down, being careful not to force it. Giving a subtle tug on both sides of the dress, he eased it down over her hips and she stepped out of it. He placed it carefully on the chair with his garments and then turned back to her, drawing her tightly against him in a deep kiss.

He went to work on the bra and, although he considered himself fairly skilled at undergarment removal and bra clasp manipulation, both front and back, this one had him stumped. After a solid few minutes of fiddling with it, he pulled back from their kiss with a desperate cry of "Sculleee..." He didn't want to resort to yanking on things, but he was close to it. She giggled and reached back and in a split second the offending garment snapped off her and onto the floor and her perfect breasts spilled into his waiting hands. He covered them with his palms and just stood there for a moment, feeling the heat coming off of her. When his hands began moving of their own accord, thumbing over her hardened nipples, she arched her back and leaning into him, her head tilted back.

He tucked one arm behind her and gently lowered her onto the bed, hovering over her. Fumbling with his belt for a few seconds, she managed to unclasp it and slide if from the belt loops in one fluid motion, tossing it across the room to land somewhere on the floor with a clink, metal against metal. Her head lifted from the pillow as she worked his button and zipper and began tugging his pants and boxers down. He tried to help with one hand while propping himself up on the other and found that the whole thing was rather ungraceful and humorous. His foot tangled in the leg of his pants and he almost lost his balance and fell on top of her. He couldn't help but chuckle a little and she responded with a smile and a soft laugh, which promoted more laughter from him.

"We do know how to do this," she said in between giggles. "I'm sure of it."

After a joint effort, they finally managed to divest him of all clothing. He settled himself down next to her, his chest leaning over hers while he teased her nipples with his tongue and lightly ran the palm of his hand over her thighs. She trembled at his touch. She still wore a pair of the tiniest white lace bikini panties that Mulder had ever seen. It almost begged the question of what was the point. He allowed his hand to ever-so-briefly skim the front of them, feeling her heat and arousal. She jumped a little, her hips rotated and her thighs fell open. He bent his head and kissed her flat stomach, feeling the muscles tighten under his mouth. She reached with one hand and ran her fingers through his hair and he went lower still, planting an open-mouthed kiss on the slight indentation on the front of her panties where he knew her opening was. Another jump, this time more pronounced and accompanied by a gasp and a clenching of her hand in his hair. She smelled so good and he nuzzled between her thighs with his nose.

"Mulder, God," she gasped.

Just "Mulder" is fine, he thought in amusement, half wondering if it was normal that he often carried on humorous conversations with himself in his head during sex.

He hooked two fingers in the waistband of her panties and she lifted her hips so he could ease them down. He tossed them off somewhere nonspecific to commune with his belt and her strapless bra. Tomorrow morning they would do the "this is yours, that's mine" routine of post-sex undergarment sorting. Or maybe they wouldn't bother because it was their honeymoon and really, who needed clothing? He would propose a minimum twenty-four- hour clothing embargo tomorrow.

He redirected back to the task at hand, kissing, licking, and nipping his way around soft skin in the dark. His erection rubbed shamelessly against her hip, creating maddening friction and she reached to circle a thumb and forefinger around him, sliding up and down his length and swirling her thumb over his tip and around the swollen head. Her sudden touch caused him to dip his head heavily against her, his mouth open and moaning, the flat of his tongue on the slope of her breast.

He recovered and lowered himself between her parted thighs, intending to go down on her, but she lifted her head and tugged at the tops of his shoulders.

"Not this time," she panted, breathlessly. "I don't need it. Come here."

He crawled back up her body until he was positioned in the valley between her parted thighs and then kissed her, parting her lips with his tongue and sinking into the wet warmth, his tongue sliding against hers. His erection pressed into her folds insistently, and he rotated his hips, trying to enter without the need of manual guidance, but it wasn't working. The angle was just a little off, so the end result was that he was getting very slick with her wetness, not getting anywhere, and driving himself crazy in the process. As if reading his mind, she reached her hand down between them, shifted her hips slightly, and guided him home.

At the exact moment of penetration, they both broke the kiss, seemingly unable to process both feelings at once. He stilled himself inside of her and moaned against the slope of her neck, his one hand pressing into the mattress next to her head, supporting most of his weight. She turned her face to his, gently bit his ear and began pumping her hips against him. He started to move.

The thrusting was slow and deep at first, a physical metaphor for the emotions they were both feeling at the moment. He closed his eyes and lost himself completely in the silky, hot wet feel of her walls around him, clenching and unclenching as he entered and retreated over and over again. Her fingers scraped against his buttocks and he buried his face in her hair, breathing her in. He felt the fleshy mounds of her breasts pressing into him, her nipples noticeable hard little pebbles and he was immediately overcome by a wave of lust. Lifting his head from her neck, he palmed one breast with his free hand and guided the peak into his mouth, sucking and laving his tongue around in circles. She moaned her approval and snaked one of her own hands up to fondle her other breast, just about blowing his mind in the process.

Whenever she did anything to herself during sex, it drove him crazy. Normally, this would have been the point where he started to unravel and drive into her with reckless abandon until he crossed the finish line and collapsed in a heap. Sometimes she got there with him, but much of the time, he guarded against the possibility of disappointment by taking care of her first. Tonight, however, he had time to spare, being once again grateful for his little morning diversion in the shower. The result was that he could concentrate on her pleasure without having to put as much thought into holding himself back. He smugly decided that it was about time she reaped the benefits of his increased stamina. Then he drew himself back up so he was balanced on his legs, folded one of her legs so her knee was pressed to her chest and began pumping into her harder and deeper. She cried out in surprise, her eyes widening at first, hands clutching at his forearms.

"Oh God, Mulder, that's so good," she hissed through harsh breaths. She lifted her head from the pillow to look down to where their bodies met and bit her bottom lip, lifting her hips slightly to meet his downthrusts. She had never done that before - watched them. He found it to be incredibly hot. So he went even faster. Her breasts jiggled with each hard thrust and he wished he had a free set of hands so he could squeeze them. Then he realized with slight embarrassment that he had voiced that out loud because she licked her lips and said, "I'll do it," and then slid her palms over her own breasts. Jesus Christ.

She was breathing hard with her mouth open, her eyelids at half mast, and a tiny wrinkle on her forehead - all the indications that she might be getting close. This position didn't usually do it for her without manual stimulation too, but she seemed really worked up tonight, so maybe, just maybe. Mulder buckled down to the task and pressed on, now hooking both hands under her knees and lifting up, then gently pressing her thighs outward so she was completely opened to him. The angle allowed for even deeper penetration and for the first time, he felt just the hint of an orgasm chasing him. If he wasn't careful, if he allowed himself to get carried away or stared too long down at her underneath him, watched her running the tip of her tongue over her swollen lips and pressing her breasts together in her hands, he'd certainly lose it. So instead, as much as he hated to do so, he closed his eyes. Visual stimulation, especially when it involved watching her, was the downfall to his self-control. If he understood this, he could work around it. He had promised her marathon lovemaking and he had every intention of giving it to her.

He released one of her legs and moved his hand to her center, brushing his thumb over her clitoris lightly. Her hips jumped and she cried out at the contact. In this position, with her thighs turned out, she was spread open to him, her glistening layers unfolded like a flower, the pink bud of her clitoris unhooded and swollen in arousal. He kept a steady thrusting rhythm while at the same time flicking his thumb up and down over her bud. She was slick against his thumb and it made a sound that was incredibly erotic to him. She started to rotate her hips and pant harder. He smiled to himself, and wondered if he had time to back off and tease her a little or if she was too close. Her thighs hadn't started to shake yet, so he probably had at least a minute before she entered point-of-no-return territory.

He slowed both his hand and his thrusting a little, then took his thumb away altogether and placed the palm of his hand against her pubic bone to steady her and slow her impending orgasm. Her eyes flew open and she lifted her hips against his hand in frustration.

"Mulder! Please," she begged.

And so he bent forward to kiss her stomach and tongue her nipple. When he felt her calm a little, he sat back up and started in again, thrusting into her, using two fingers to rub fast circles over her clitoris, slow, then faster and faster until her head was thrown back against the pillow and her hands clutched at the bed sheets. He thought about backing off again, but then her thighs starting going and he knew he was committed. Besides, based on the sounds coming from deep in her throat, he suspected that if he teased her any more, he would be taking his life in his hands. Her thighs trembled and then began clenching and unclenching, signaling the beginning of her climax and within seconds he felt the tell-tale fluttering deep inside her and all around his cock, over and over and over again. He slowed his thrusting a little to allow her to ride it out, and when he finally felt her relaxing, liquifying under him, he bent over her and kissed her mouth, her throat, her shoulders.

"You okay?" he whispered, pecking at the corners of her mouth gently.

Her chest rose and fell rapidly under him. He caressed her bare arms with his hands.

"I think so," she panted. "I will be. Oh my God, Mulder."

Starting to catch her breath and come back down from the stratosphere, she returned his kisses, tangling her tongue with his. Then he felt her pause thoughtfully for a moment and clench her vaginal muscles around his penis.

She quirked an eyebrow in surprise. "You're still in the game."

"Mmmmm hmmmmm, " said moaning against her mouth.

She mouthed a silent "wow," then whispered "I'm impressed" into his ear.

Feeling her clench her muscles tight around him triggered his desire to move again, but he wasn't sure if she was too sensitive, so he rotated his hips against hers.

"Do you need a break?" he asked.

"I don't think so." Her breath was hot against his neck and he started half-thrusting again, but very slowly, despite have an overwhelming urge to speed up and seek his own release.

He pulled his face back slightly until he could lock eyes with hers. There was just enough moonlight streaming through the window above the bed that he could see the whites of her eyes and the sparkle of desire glinting from the dark blue of her pupils. He began to move more insistently inside her. She responded by sliding against him, encouraging him. She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. He wanted to make love to her forever.

"Can you...again?" he asked, breathlessly.

Her eyes fluttered closed for a moment and she bit her bottom lip, as if she was concentrating on every single tiny sensation flowing through her body. "I... I'm not sure...Maybe. Oh God it feels good," she groaned in that sexy, raspy tone that made him want her more than air. He remembered hearing that same tone a few times in the Hoover basement when she was doing something totally mundane, like opening mail or looking through files and he would go instantly hard. It had been completely unintentional on her part, but the effect was the same. He couldn't stand up for a good ten minutes.

Now she was under him and around him and everything to him. He had known for a long time before they were ever together, long before he had even kissed her, that there would never be another for him. She was it. And he had suspected long before he ever undressed her that the intimacy would be amazing between them. How could it not? But like this? He had never imagined anything could be like this.

He pulled back, pulled out completely from her. She cried out at the loss of contact and reached for him, but he was sliding down her warm body with the flat of his tongue.

"Mulder," she whispered, just the start of a protest.

"Shhhh...it's okay. Let me. I can help you along," he said before the tip of his tongue made contact with her center and she gasped and lifted her hips to him. He had one goal and one goal only in mind and he worked with intensity and purpose. She responded to him with unabashed enthusiasm, all her self- consciousness with regard to this particular act having been abandoned not long after they became intimate. It had taken some convincing from him initially to make her appreciate just how much he enjoyed doing this for her, but once she warmed to the idea, she committed herself fully. At times, her boldness in requesting his oral services even surprised and amused him. She liked it. A lot. And from her physical response, he was pretty certain that he wasn't too shabby at it. Turns out, sunflower seed addictions were good for something besides killing time on long car rides.

He pleasured her for awhile, until her hands were clutching at his hair and she was lifting herself to press against his moving tongue and he knew that the window of opportunity had indeed arrived. Then he took his mouth away and quickly moved up her body to reposition himself, guiding into her with one swift stroke and immediately starting to move. She lifted both legs to wrap around him, her hips tilted up and forward to meet his hard thrusts, her tiny feet pressed into his back. They moved together in perfect counterpoint and he felt himself getting desperately close. At the same time, he saw that her eyes were shut tight, her forehead was furrowed in concentration, and he knew she was on the edge, plateauing, wanting it so badly.

"Come on, Scully. Come on," he panted into her ear in between deep, fast thrusting. "I love you."

And then he felt the thighs clenching again and every single muscle in her body tensed for a few seconds, before she cried out loudly and shuddered all around him, dragging him with her, always with her. He drove into her several more times, erratically, and then buried himself deep and stopped moving, opening his mouth against her bare shoulder in a silent cry. And it kept coming, flowing from him and into her, every last bit of him until he was completely empty and shaking against her warmth.

He was collapsed on her and he could feel her fingers sifting through his damp hair and her soft lips kissing his forehead. He slid lazily off to her side, but his one leg stayed over hers. He lay his head near her breast and she wrapped one arm around him to caress his back.

"See, I knew we knew how to do this," she said, huffing out a breathy laugh.

"That was," he started, then fizzled out, his brain short-circuiting. And started again, "That was..."

"Yes, it was," she finished.

"If that was any indication of what the rest of this week is going to look like, I should have brought multi-vitamins," he said. "That was the best wedding night sex in the history of wedding nights."

She snorted. "Once we got the clothes off."

"Clothing is overrated. And speaking of, I would like to propose a ban on all clothing for the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours."

"I don't know. I brought skimpy things and you're not going to let me wear them."

"I just thought that it might be-really? You did?"

"Just a couple of little things...new things."

"Like...how skimpy?"

She giggled, stumbling from the bed and toward the bathroom, flipped a bright light on, made a displeased sound, then flipped it back off. He could hear her using the toilet in the dark with the bathroom door ajar. "Um, that turquoise bikini you're so fond of?" she called out.

"Yeah," he said, following her in and waiting by the sink for his turn.

"It could be considered overdressing, comparatively speaking."

"Fuck. Scully, I love it when you shop."

More giggling as they made their way back into bed and curled back together on what he approximated to be about one quarter of the king-sized bed. "You still want to go sans clothing?" she asked, tucking her hand under his back and rocking gently against him.

"How about I be the resident nudist and you do a sort of skimpy/au natural combo?"

"Mmmm, deal. Can I sleep first, though, before I titillate you with strategically-placed tiny scraps of fabric?" They settled, legs intertwined, her head tucked under his chin, sharing a pillow. He closed his eyes and drifted to the feel of her steady breathing.

He woke in the predawn light to the warmth of her next to him. He lifted his head to glance at the bedside clock. 5:40. She was facing him, lying half on her back and half on her side, asleep. Her hair was messy, unruly tendrils falling over her closed eye and cheek, a little smudged eyeliner evidence that her usual bedtime routine last night had been sacrificed. It was the look of having been on a sex bender and he chuckled to himself and leaned to sweep the hair from her cheek and plant kisses there.

He had intended to let her sleep. It was much too early to get up. But she stirred at his attention and he couldn't help himself, he reached and pulled her over on top of him. She kept her eyes closed, but a tiny smile formed on her lips and she began to return his kisses. His morning erection hardened even more and he began to move against her.

She giggled into his mouth as her body began to respond to him. "Again?"

"Mmmmm hmmmmm," he hummed, moving his hands down to brace her hips. She sank down on him and they moved together in a sleepy rhythm, face to face, bodied pressed tightly. When they were done, they fell asleep again, still joined together.

The next time he awoke, he was alone in the bed. Rain streamed down the windows in tiny rivers, the room still shadowy even though the clock read 9:17. Their first rainy day there. On the day they planned to stay in bed all day anyway. How convenient, he thought as he made his way, naked, toward the smell of freshly brewed coffee.

Scully stood with her back to him in front of an open cupboard wearing his white dress shirt from last night. It hung to the middle of her thighs.

"Good morning," he said, and she spun to face him, an unopened box of Raisin Bran in her hands.

"Morning." She had brushed her hair and the smudges were gone from underneath her eyes. But her swollen rosy lips gave her away and the shirt collar didn't quite hide the evidence of a slight red mark on her neck, just above her collar bone. It was her "just been fucked" look. He'd seen it before, although not nearly enough. It was one of his favorites, followed far behind by her black pantsuit, high heeled "if you even think about objectifying me or making a sexist comment, I will wreck you" look that he had seen leveled at quite a few sorry male agents over the years.

"I see you're not playing by the rules," he said, tugging teasingly at the tails of the shirt and then slipping both hands underneath to cup her bare ass and pull her to him for a kiss. He tasted mint. So she had brushed her teeth as well. Her morning-after self- consciousness was cute. It must be a honeymoon thing. He had the sudden urge to get her as messy as possible.

"I don't know," she said, a bit shyly, her legs straight and together, hands holding the collar of the shirt closed. "Nudity in the kitchen seems a little...unsanitary. And a bit too 'nine and a half weeks' for my tastes."

"Then let's spend as little time as possible in the kitchen," he replied, taking the box of Raisin Bran from her hands and bending to run his tongue behind her ear. They ate bowls of cereal at the kitchen table. She wore his shirt; he wore absolutely nothing. It really didn't weird him out all that much. There had been times when he had spent entire Sundays at Hegel Place without a stitch of clothing on, but that was mostly due to him forgetting to do the laundry.

Afterward, he followed her out of the kitchen and watched as she unbuttoned and discarded his shirt, flinging it over her head on her way to take a shower. He thought about following her there, but his Scully vibes were telling him that she was feeling the need to actually get clean this time. He gave her her privacy.

When she emerged from the bathroom twenty minutes later, he was flopped out on the bed reading the parts of yesterday's paper he hadn't gotten to.

"All yours," she said, and something in her voice made him look up just in time to see her bending over to retrieve one of the unfortunate pieces of clothing strewn around the carpet from last night's walk on the wild side. What greeted his eager eyes was the color of midnight, very lacy, and barely covered her ass. She stood and spun around and he noticed that her lips were moving, but he had no idea what she was saying as he clawed his way back from sensory overload. The top, if you could call it that, to skimpy item numero uno, had spaghetti straps and lacy little cups where her breasts nestled happily, but the entire thing was pretty much transparent. Her nipples were visible, as well as the darker areolas. The mesh-like fabric made them look the color of charcoal. A wispy bit covered her belly and led to the matching bikinis, which were also, God bless them, completely see-through. The only things missing were the high heels, the pole and a stack of singles in his hand.

"Huh?" he managed.

"I said that I think I saved you enough hot water, but you might want to wait a few minutes just in case."

There she goes. That talking thing again. He knew that he was supposed to be looking at her face and acknowledging, but the synapses were misfiring and his gaze was stuck somewhere around her belly button, trying to decide if the scenery was better to the north or the south.

She seemed to comprehend his dilemma. "Take your time," she smirked and continued retrieving lost articles of clothing and tossing them into the hamper.

They spent the next thirty-six hours making love and sleeping, taking breaks when needed to eat or shower, but even then, sometimes the making love part got mixed up in that too. He eventually got to see skimpy item number two and its effect on him was much like the first. It was navy blue, more silky and less see-through, but the panties were of the thong variety and he spent the better part of a half hour trying to convince her of the merits of wearing thong panties under her suits because they eliminated the nuisance of panty lines. She argued that performing autopsies in a thong just seemed all kinds of creepy and besides, did he really want her male students musing on the absence of panty lines and putting two and two together? He conceded her point. Checking out Dana Scully's ass had been a vocational past time among certain circles at the Hoover back in the day. He suspected Quantico wasn't much different. Why encourage it? He had hoped that the shiny rings on her left hand would be enough to fend off the wolves, but you could never be too careful.

They enjoyed time and privacy together that they simply didn't have at home. Besides reading, watching TV and walking about in various stages of nudity, they did other things they rarely, if ever, got the chance to do. She shaved him, sitting bare-ass naked on top of the sink, facing him. She had to keep reminding him to look up when she got to his neck, but it was hard when where he really wanted to fix his gaze sat about ten inches below her face. In a quid pro quo exchange, she allowed him to shave her legs in the bath. He used the lavender scented shaving gel she kept on the side of the tub and was extra careful around her ankles and knees, like she requested. He made it through the first leg and was most of the way through the second thigh before his self- control withered and he dropped the razor and pulled her into his lap. Water sloshed over the sides of the tub and they had to use half a dozen towels to soak it up.

That led to the need to do laundry which inspired him to ask her if she had ever done anything naughty in a laundry room, which she had not, so they did. Turns out that the height of a standard washing machine was really not the ideal height for him to bend over and use his tongue for any length of time. He ended up with a backache and a stiff neck, but she made it up to him with an extra long massage and then fed him chocolate chip ice cream in bed, sitting naked astride him.

By Sunday afternoon, she rolled from the bed, trailing a sheet behind her and headed for the kitchen for something to eat, only to return with a sullen pout and announce that someone would need to get dressed and go scouting for provisions. Apparently, there was nothing left to eat, but cereal, ice cream, a couple of granola bars and some Ritz crackers. Back in the Hegel days, that would have constituted a pretty good breakfast and lunch, but hey, everyone's standards were different. Mulder threw on jeans and a T shirt and took her shopping list.

A couple of hours later, he returned with everything on her list, plus a half a dozen things that weren't, such as Pop Tarts, barbeque potato chips, and a bag of Kit Kat bars. Scully frowned her disapproval, but he caught her sneaking Kit Kats while cooking dinner. She taught him to make seafood lasagna from scratch and after tasting it, he proclaimed her an honorary New Englander. Later that night, they found a Hitchcock marathon on cable and he had to laugh to himself when, halfway through Rear Window, she got up and returned with two beers and the bag of barbeque chips. Scully had a complicated relationship with junk food. She wouldn't buy it on her own and would outwardly express her firm disapproval of his eating habits when it followed him home from his grocery excursions, but if it was there, she would indulge now and then. The same rules applied to french fries. She wouldn't order them herself, but when he did, she pilfered them shamelessly. And he always knew when she had her period because junk food around the house disappeared at a more accelerated rate than usual.

Scully dozed off before the end of Dial M For Murder and he carried her to their bed without waking her and tucked her in and watched her sleep until his eyes drifted shut.

On Monday morning, Mulder woke to a knock on the front door. He threw on a pair of sweatpants and opened the door to find nothing but a wicker basket on the steps with a bunch of aluminum foil in it. He brought the basket inside and unwrapped it. Inside were cookies in different shapes. They had names under the faces in case he didn't recognize them, and many of them he did not. The top layer of cookies included Marie Curie, Susan B. Anthony, Nellie Bly, Rosa Parks, and Amelia Earhart. There were three layers. Mulder took a bite of Amelia.

Scully stirred and raised her head. "Who was it?"

"Apparently, Mally's female heroine cookie cutters came through," he said, bringing the basket over to the bed.

Scully sat up and dug her hand in the basket, came back with Elizabeth Blackwell and took a bite, chewing with her eyes closed, still sleepy. First woman to graduate medical school. How appropriate, thought Mulder.

He finished Amelia and went for another. "Who was Sybil Ludington?" he asked.

"Revolutionary war heroine. Teenaged messenger. Sort of a female Paul Revere," said Scully.

God, she was smart.

July 4, 2002

It was their last full day. They were heading home on a 10:00 a.m. ferry the next day. And it was the Fourth of July. The Reardons had invited them to a cookout at the house, followed by a bon fire and fireworks on the beach. They accepted, thinking it would be a nice way to say goodbye and figuring it was about time they were social again. They had spent the last five days mostly in the lighthouse, mostly in bed, save for two takeout runs and a sightseeing excursion for half a day after Scully indicated that she was "starting to get sore." To be honest, Mulder had been thankful himself for the reprieve. He had been starting to worry about permanent damage to his genitals and his tongue had gone numb.

At 5:30, Mulder and Scully knocked on the Reardon's door with a plate of watermelon wedges and a six pack of beer. Tate answered.

"Hey. It's the newlyweds. Try and keep your hands off each other. Love nauseates me," she said, turning and walking back toward the deck.

Liz peeked from around the corner in the kitchen and smiled, apologetically. "Hi. Sorry about that. Guy trouble."

"They're all trouble," said Mulder.

"But cute," said Liz, looking up at Todd as he walked into the kitchen, extra long grill tongs in his hand. He snapped them teasingly at Liz and she rolled her eyes and smiled.

"You're here. Excellent. Help me change the tank on the grill, Pretty Boy," said Todd. Mulder popped a beer and followed him out to the deck.

Mally was sitting at the picnic table husking corn-on-the-cob. A few minutes later, Scully came out and asked if she could help and the little girl nodded enthusiastically.

"This is a lot of work for a nine-year-old, you know," said Mally. "And Tate won't help because she's all 'Oh Dylan's going to the fireworks with Kara, sob, sob, sob.' And I'm all like 'Good riddance because the guy was a loser.' She won't listen to me, but whatever. I've decided that I'm going to stay single for as long as possible, you know. I just don't want the grief."

Scully nodded with her best sympathetic look and started peeling back layers on an ear of corn. She glanced over toward Mulder, who stifled a laugh and smiled back at her. It occurred to Mulder that if he and Scully had a daughter, she would probably be a lot like Mally - precocious beyond her years, scary intelligent, a feminist with an attitude, and able to talk down an entire college debate team on speed. God love the guy who falls for Mally.

Mulder noticed Tate sitting by herself on the steps on the far end of the wooden deck. She was listening to headphones and trying to look sullen and generally pissed off as she chipped blue nail polish off her fingernails. He wandered over and sat down next to her, silently extending a hand toward her Discman and flexing his fingers several times quickly to indicate he wanted to see what she was listening to. She handed it over. Radiohead's Amnesiac. Mulder nodded thoughtfully and turned the volume down a little.

"It's okay," he said. "Less cerebral and more industrial than Kid A, without enough strong guitar to really carry it. And not even close to the mass appeal of OK Computer, but still respectable. At least it's not 'N Sync. You'll be okay."

She smiled, and he wasn't sure if she took his last comment as a reflection of her musical tastes or whatever it was that had her asserting pubescent angst at the moment.

She clicked off the Walkman and pulled the headphone off her ears to hang in a circle around her neck and sniffed.

"Wanna talk about it?" he asked, kind of hoping she might not since he had absolutely no experience in diffusing teenage girl melodrama.

She raised both eyebrows and gave him a look like he might have just sprouted a second head. "Why would I do that? You're one of them."

Okay, now there was an 'us' and a 'them.' Mulder was pretty sure he understood why he was considered a 'them.' What he didn't know was how to convince her that, for the most part, being a forty-year-old 'them' was a lot different than being a sixteen-year- old 'them.' He remembered what it was like to be in the sixteen- year-old camp and he couldn't blame her for wanting to haul ass in the other direction.

"It gets better," he offered. "Guys grow up and most of them, although not all, eventually figure out how to respect females. As a gender, we can be a little slow on the uptake."

She snorted. "That's the understatement of the year. Guys my age are assholes."

He thought about calling her on the language, but figured it wouldn't do much for establishing rapport, so he skipped it. Besides, she was mostly correct.

"Have you talked to your mom?"

She huffed out a breath and rolled her eyes. "I don't want to talk to my mom about guys. She overreacts."

Mulder nodded and pursed his lips in consideration. "You could talk to Scully... I mean Dana. She knows a lot about guys." He hoped his smile looked convincing.

She scrunched up her face dubiously. It was the same look he got from Scully when there was absolutely no scientific proof for his argument, which was ninety-nine percent of the time.


"Sure, oh yeah. Tons about men." He bobbed his head.

Tate shrugged and turned to give Scully a sidelong glance, as if sizing her up. Then she turned back around and sniffed again.

"She's really lucky. I just want somebody to look at me the way you look at her. Is that too much to ask?"

"No, it definitely isn't," he said. And because he couldn't think of any additional words of wisdom to offer her, he gently slapped her knee and said, "Wanna play frisbee? Unless it would be considering consorting with the enemy."

She smiled. "I think I can make an exception. But only because I can kick your butt."

He got up and fetched a yellow frisbee that sat in the grass under a kick ball and a slobbery dog toy and headed into the back yard with Tatum following close behind in bare feet. He couldn't help smiling at the thought of Scully attempting to explain the mystery of sixteen-year-old boys. She had once teased him about offering dating advice. What goes around, comes around, Scully.

Dinner was grilled chicken, corn-on-the-cob, potato salad, baked beans and watermelon. They ate frosted cupcakes with flag designs that Mally had made for dessert. Mulder downed one in about four bites and felt like his stomach might burst, but it was so good that he ate another. He suggested to Mally that if the doctor route didn't pan out, she could most certainly enjoy a career as a baker. Genevieve, the German Shepherd, sharked around the table waiting for bits of food to fall and praying that some stupid human might inadvertently get up and leave a plate of grilled chicken unattended.

After the dinner dishes were cleared, Liz and Mally went about gathering blankets and sparklers for the beach while Mulder and Todd packed a portable cooler with ice and beer. When Mulder looked for Scully, he was surprised to find her sitting one step lower than Tate on the end of the deck. Tate was french braiding her hair, a wide-toothed comb in her lap and a brown elastic ponytail holder gripped between her teeth. With her hair up off her neck, Scully's gold cross caught the sunlight and sparkled against her skin. She had slipped her wedge flip flops off on the grass in front of her and she sat with her knees bent, holding her legs to her chest, khaki shorts bunched up on her thighs. From behind and dressed like that with her hair braided, she looked like just another friend of Tate's. Mulder thought that might be a compliment, but he wasn't sure, so he'd keep the observation to himself. A few minutes later, they wandered over to him. Scully was barefoot, her flip flops dangling casually from her fingertips. Without shoes on, she was positively tiny. Tatum was taller than her by a good five or six inches, another observation Mulder would keep to himself.

"We're going to go walk on the beach," said Scully. "I'll see you down there."

He nodded and bent to kiss her on the lips. He caught a roll of the eyes from Tate, but the corners of her lips tugged slightly upward.

They dug a pit in the sand and built a bonfire on the beach from a hodge podge of sticks, brush, and driftwood. They sat in a ring around the fire, spread out on blankets, Liz in a fold-up beach chair with rainbow colored nylon straps, her wheelchair sitting vacant nearby. Tate was sprawled out by herself on one huge blanket, lying on her back with her headphones on, eyes closed, foot bobbing to a random bass that Mulder could hear from across the fire pit. Mulder and Scully occupied another blanket, stretched out and sipping beers, mesmerized by the flickering flames . Todd and Mally wandered the beach nearby in search of the perfect sticks to skewer marshmallows on.

The dog repeatedly chased a battered and slobbery tennis ball that she retrieved and brought back for Scully to throw again. After about two hundred rounds of this, Genevieve collapsed, panting, onto their blanket next to Scully, then rolled over for a tummy rub, which Scully enthusiastically bestowed upon her. It was official - he had married the Dog Whisperer.

Liz watched the interaction, smiling. "Todd's going to have to put Genevieve in the car before the fireworks start or she'll try and crawl up her own ass, she's so scared of them." Mulder thought that might be interesting to observe.

He smiled at Scully and reached to gently run his hand over the bumps in her braided red hair. She gave him a sidelong look and shrugged, scrunching her bare toes and inching her feet underneath his thighs to keep them warm.

Mally came running over and handed two sticks to Mulder and Scully. "For after the fireworks, "she proclaimed. "They're going to start any minute now."

"Mal, please tell Daddy to put Gen away for the fireworks," said Liz.

"Genevieve, c'mon Girl! C'mon!" Mally called, clapping her hands. The dog darted off after her.

If Mulder remembered correctly, the display was launched from the pier in Aquinnah and would be able to be seen over the water from where they sat. It was quiet, except for the sound of the tide as it swept onto the shore and the crackling and popping of the fire. Scully shivered despite the warmth and Mulder handed her the sweatshirt she had brought, a heathered purple, oversized one that said Martha's Vineyard that she had picked out on their sight seeing excursion. She pulled it on over her head, being careful not to mess up her braid. Mulder stretched his legs out on either side of her and she leaned back into him as the first lights opened up the dark sky in flashes of green, blue and silver. Mally screeched in delight as the colors kept coming in steady bursts, completely lighting up the sky, followed by the loud boom seconds after. Mulder wrapped both arms around Scully and held her close, leaning forward to place his head alongside hers, their cheeks touching. He couldn't recall the last time he had bothered seeing fireworks on the Fourth of July. It was romantic in a cliche, sappy love song sort of way that he had adamantly resisted in the past, but which suddenly didn't seem so unsettling to him. He wouldn't be standing outside her window playing Peter Gabriel on his boom box anytime soon, but for some reason, beach blanket pyrotechnics was making him gooier than he'd felt since he last slow danced in a high school gymnasium. As if reading his mind, Scully leaned her face back over her shoulder and kissed the edge of his mouth, startling him with her girlishness. He smiled and leaned in again, connecting with her in a full-on kiss. He wasn't aware if anyone else noticed and he didn't really care. Her hair smelled smoky like the bon fire; her breath was sweet like beer, and he sort of wanted to try and feel her up to see if his hand got swatted away. Something about a barefoot girl in a sweatshirt and khaki shorts that smelled like beer.

The marshmallow roast commenced after the fireworks. Mulder tried to show Scully the fine art of toasting the lump of sugar evenly on all sides by patiently rotating the stick slowly and not too close to the open flame. Care must be taken not to keep the stick still for too long or the marshmallow would become comfortable and arrogant and ooze right off. Like her son though, Scully was not much for delayed gratification. With few exceptions, her impatience led her to dip her stick too close so that her marshmallow caught on fire. Then she would blow it out and sit and stare at him with pouty lips until he swapped with her and gave her his perfectly toasted masterpiece in exchange for her carcinogen on a stick.

By the time the Reardon clan said goodnight and headed for home, the fire had dwindled into glowing embers. Scully sat with her legs criss crossed, Mulder's head in her lap, his body stretched out on the blanket and his hands folded across his chest. She sifted her soft fingers through his hair and massaged his scalp. It was therapy like no other and he drifted to the symphony of waves lapping the shore.

"This was the best vacation I've ever had," he said.

"Me too. But the last one I went on I had to microwave a demonic doll in Maine. This week sort of redeemed New England for me."

"Are you ready to go home?"

"I am. I miss him," she said, wistfully, and Mulder didn't need to ask who the 'he' was because he missed him too.

"I hope your mother survived in one piece."

"My mother is tough as nails. She raised four kids nearly by herself because my father was rarely home for more than a few days at a time. And I think they would have had more, but Charlie did them in."

"Hmmm, curious..."


"Oh, just the whole Catholics and birth control thing," he said, smiling. "You don't think they-"

"Nothing official, I'm sure. It was the 1960s. The Vatican treated the pill as the catalyst for the potential downfall of humanity. But there is such a thing as the rhythm method and as many faithful Catholic families will attest to, it can be quite effective if practiced with discipline."

"So what did you and Tate talk about?" he asked, casually.

"Should I bother asking why you're segueing from a discussion of birth control to my private conversation with Tatum?"

"I don't know, Scully, should you?"

"We had a nice talk."

"That's it? That's all you're going to tell me?"

"I can't violate the sacred female trust. You're one of 'them,'" she narrowed her eyes, suspiciously, but was clearly suppressing a smile.

"I seem to get that a lot."

Scully huffed out a little laugh. "Don't worry, if there was something to be concerned about or that I thought her parents should be made aware of, you know I'd do the right thing, Mulder."

"So then...she's not..."


"How do you know?"

"Because I asked her."

"You just came right out and asked if she was sleeping with this Dylan kid?"

"Yes, I did. Or anyone, for that matter. I had to know whether I needed to be Doctor Scully and have a frank discussion about safety and making responsible choices, or be Dana and commiserate over how guys are immature boneheads." Then she took his hand in hers. "Not all guys," she said.

"Thank you, I think. I still feel like a 'them.'"

"Not to her. She was just upset before. She doesn't think of you that way. In fact, I'm fairly sure she thinks you hung the moon."

"What makes you say that?"

"Oh I don't know. Could be the monologue about what honest eyes you have, how intelligent you are, what a great sense of humor you have, and that you can sink a three-pointer from center court." Scully rolled her eyes and feigned sticking her finger down her throat.

"I am a charmer. It comes naturally really. It's a curse in a way." He faked a contemplative look.

"You forgot humble. And you have an incredibly hot ass."

"Takes one to know one, Scully," he said, leaning in to kiss her hard on the mouth while sneaking one hand down to gently squeeze the bottom of her thigh. It was the closest he could get to her ass because she was sitting on it. "And if I'm not mistaken, you promised me a little something on the beach about a week ago. And we're leaving tomorrow. I'd better collect, don't you think?" The words came out in stagnated mumbles against her mouth as he continued pecking at her lips.

She quirked her brow, but didn't retreat from him. "You haven't gotten enough yet?" she smiled.

"With you, it's never enough. Wanna go for a swim?"

"I'd bother reminding you that we don't have our swimsuits on, but it seems like a waste of breath," she said, running the tip of her talented tongue over his bottom lip.

He nodded slyly and inched his hand up underneath her sweatshirt to trace the underside of her breast through her satiny bra. "Seems like a shame to put something on just to take it off."

She pulled back and he thought about staging a protest, but he saw a certain look in her eye that stopped him in his tracks. It was the same look he'd seen three nights ago when she had found him watching TV on the sofa and straddled him, knees on either side of the cushion, yanking the crotch of her panties aside and sinking down on him until he was pressed against her cervix. And the same look he had seen the morning after that when he had woken up and looked down to see her lips wrapped tightly around his morning hard on.

She looked around in the dark cautiously and he knew she was weighing the possibility of encountering anyone else on their secluded area of beachfront after midnight. He was just about to point out the sand dunes to their east once again when she raised herself up to a kneeling position and tugged both her sweatshirt and fitted T shirt over her head in one swift movement. The khaki shorts were next as she plucked the button open and eased the zipper down slowly, them shimmied them over her hips. They fell to a heap around her ankles and she toed them aside and then stood in front of him in her white satin bra and pink panties. There was a good chance he was salivating.

"Keep going, G-Woman," he said, reaching to run his hand over one toned calf.

He saw her shoulders rise and fall as she breathed deeply. Then she reached one hand behind her back and when it came forward again, the bra slid off with it, down her arms and onto the blanket. She brought two hands up to cup her own breasts, covering them in a brief second of modesty before releasing them to slip two thumbs beneath the waistband of her panties. She eased the tiny scrap of fabric down, bending to pull them off over both feet, then gathered the bra and shorts and tucked the whole lot of it carefully underneath her sweatshirt. He had to hand it to her - even her striptease was tidy. She headed down to the water, leaving him in a pile of his own liquified self.

It might have taken him thirty seconds, but it was really probably more like ten before he was in his birthday suit and wading out to join her. The water was a bit cold and he had a brief Seinfeld moment when he wondered what possible effect the water temperature would have on his ability to impress, but he'd take his chances.

She stopped where the water reached her shoulders and waited for him. When he got close enough, she pushed off the ocean floor with her feet and drifted to him, wrapping her arms around his neck and both legs around his waist. She was soft and slippery against him and he looked down to see her breasts bobbing enticingly on the surface of the water, her nipples puckered and tight from both the chill and her arousal. She sunk her tongue into his mouth deep, nearly sweeping his throat, her lips pressed to his almost forcefully. He groaned at her boldness and kneaded the globes of her perfect ass with his hands, then lifted and lowered her down onto his hard length until she bottomed out completely. She grabbed handfuls of his wet hair, pitched her head forward into the valley of his neck and rocked feverishly against him.

July 5, 2002

They pulled into their driveway a little after four o'clock to find Scully's mom's car there. She had called to inform them that there was no need to pick William up; she would take him home and wait for them there. Scully jumped out of the car leaving the door open the second he put the vehicle in park and was up the front steps and into the house before he could pull the keys from the ignition. He followed her in, leaving the luggage in the car.

When he got inside, Scully was sitting on the floor holding William tightly to her chest and pressing the back of his little head into her shoulder, her nose buried in his neck. "He smells so good," she said, her breath hitching.

Maggie stayed long enough to give them the entire run-down on the week, mostly focusing on all the new pseudo-words that had made repeated appearances in William's vocabulary, along with her assessments of all their possible meanings. She found the recurrence of "joo" to be the most perplexing and thought that it most likely referred to apple juice, which she had admittedly given Will more of than Scully usually allowed. She didn't think that, heaven forbid, it could possibly be in reference to her neighbor, Mrs. Rosenthal because she had only discussed her ethnicity once with Tara in front of William. Mulder smiled politely. "Joo" had been a staple in the vocab since April and it meant "shoes," but he didn't feel it necessary to trivialize his mother-in-law's efforts at translating toddler speak, so he didn't bother mentioning it.

They spent the rest of the afternoon stretched out on the living room floor together watching their son impressively sort plastic Fisher Price cups by size and color.

"He wasn't doing that when we left, was he Scully?"

She shook her head, contemplatively. "He was just filling them with his Cheerios and then dumping them."

"When do babies usually stack and sort?"

"Um, I think about eighteen months or so."

Mulder nodded his head slowly. "We're too late for Fall semester, but if we get his application in soon, he might have a shot at Oxford's January admission."

July, 2002

The rest of July was one big, unending lump of writing mixed with well intentioned, yet not always successful attempts at child safety. When he didn't have William cordoned off by a gate in the playroom so he could belt out a few nonsensical paragraphs, he was following him as he teetered like a drunken frat boy up the stairs, arms hovering inches from his Oshkosh overalls in case he decided to do a backwards header onto the hardwoods below. Short of covering the entire house with bubble wrap, which actually didn't sound half bad, there was no way to keep the child out of harm's way. Three or four decent-sized black and blue spots was doing good; any more than that and Mulder hesitated taking him for his well-baby visits, fearing that some well- intentioned health care professional would summon Child Protective Services. He knew it was a normal stage of development, had been assured by Dr. Scully, but every time William toddled into a piece of furniture or a door frame and screamed for ten minutes, he felt like a shitty parent.

Thankfully, William could be kept pretty content wreaking havoc on the playroom, so Mulder set his laptop up on a card table in the corner and got quite a bit done, even with the challenge of having to tune out Blues Clues and The Wiggles. With a few exceptions, he also managed to get the child dressed sometime before Scully got home around 6:00 p.m.

And in the evenings, he wrote some more. Scully took over kitchen clean-up, baby bathing and tucking in, and really just about everything in between, including laundry and most cooking. She didn't complain, but she was tired and it showed. Once again, she suggested a nanny and once again, he insisted he could handle it, that he and William had a system going. She pursed her lips and continued emptying the dishes that had sat clean and ready in the dishwasher from the morning and then scrubbed the grilled cheese skillet from their lunch. Mulder wrote and drank Diet Coke. Scully picked up little socks and stuffed animals that littered the stairs and hallway and went to bed early.

August, 2002

By the second week of August, Scully called a meeting one morning over breakfast.

"Mulder, I get that you don't want to hire a nanny. And even though we disagree, I am willing to concede that by some miracle, you're managing. William seems happy and aside from eating too much macaroni and cheese out of a box, he is flourishing."

She stopped talking for a full three minutes while she forked sliced honeydew melon into her mouth and chased it with strong coffee. He could sense the big "but" coming, sneaking up to kiss his ass.

"However, the house is another story."

There it was.

"Things aren't getting done and I'm trying to pick up the slack as much as possible because I know you're working up to a deadline, but there's only so much I can do while teaching four classes. I don't mind the cooking and some laundry, but..."

She downed more coffee and refilled her mug for the third time, a lot of java even for Scully. He wondered if she'd be amused if he got up and brought her the whole carafe with a straw. Probably not.

"This house has four bathrooms, Mulder. Four. Unless I want to spend every second of my weekends cleaning bathrooms, mopping floors, and vacuuming, things aren't going to get done. And I'm not suggesting that it's your responsibility either. Taking care of William while I'm gone is your job. Writing is your job. But the rest we need to figure out."

He nodded and retrieved the plastic keys William had tossed onto the floor tiles and reached to give them back to him, then caught Scully's raised eyebrows. He supposed that the kitchen floor was one of those places she didn't think was getting adequately cleaned, so he gave Will an apologetic look, then got up and tossed the toy into the dishwasher and dumped a handful of raisins on his tray as a peace offering. He totally sympathized with her position, although it was still about the cleanest place he'd ever lived by far. Still, he was aware that she had standards and was presently about one scummy shower stall away from saying, "What the fuck, Mulder?"

"I'm open to ideas, Scully."

"I think we should hire someone to come in and clean on a weekly basis."

And that's how they merged paths with a middle-aged woman named Rosalie who came on Tuesdays and Fridays and called him Mr. Fox. He thought about setting her straight, but it was hard to correct someone who reminded you of your Aunt Louise and who washed and folded your boxer shorts. She referred to Scully as simply "your wife" with the occasional "Dr. Scully" thrown in just to reinforce who wore the pants in the family. He didn't think she had any idea that he had a vocation, that he was actually writing a book all those hours he spent clicking away at the card table in the playroom. He didn't bother explaining because then she might want to read it. He didn't want to have to tell Scully that the cleaning lady quit because she thought he was a freak. He figured that would come in its own time, but why rush things?

October 14, 2002

The day after he turned forty-one, he Fed Exed his completed manuscript to Random House, dropped William off at his mother- in-law's for the afternoon, and went home and slept for four hours. When Scully got home at 5:45 carting a sushi platter, he was still in bed and the baby was still at Maggie's. Scully disrobed and slid under the comforter and on top of him before he was fully conscious.

His eyes fluttered open to see her silky red crown against his bare chest, her manicured fingernails tracing shapes there.

"This is a really nice way to wake up," he murmured, skating his palms up her naked hips and torso.

"Is it done?"

"Mmm hmmm. First draft."

"I miss you," she said, shimmying her body up his far enough to kiss him gently on the mouth. Her hands were cupping his face, her thumb stroking his stubbly cheek. He hadn't shaved in about forty-eight hours.

"I'm here."

"I know. You know what I mean."

And he did. The last few weeks had been tough. He had worked nearly around the clock, landing in bed around 3:00 a.m. each night, only to get back up at 6:30 with William. They hadn't made love in over a week and a half and the time before that had been a fast, middle of the night encounter when he had come to bed completely wired and wound tighter than a drum. He had coaxed her awake just enough not to feel guilty, then had rolled onto her for a full five minutes of thrusting before emptying into her with a pent-up groan and an apology. He knew she didn't finish, hadn't even gotten close and he had a fleeting thought about making it right before he fell fast asleep. Not one of his more stellar performances.

"I'm sorry, Scully. I know it's been a long few months. Probably not the best way to start off a marriage."

"S'okay." Her hair tickled his chin and her lips were as soft as satin against his own. "I'll let you make it up to me."

"I don't want to rush, though. What time is it? I told your mom to bring him back at -"

"I called her. She's keeping him overnight. You're picking him up after breakfast tomorrow," she smiled.

He arched two eyebrows in surprised pleasure. "That gives us, what, a good twelve hours? I could probably make it up to you at least two or three times."

She giggled. "We have to sleep too, and eat. I brought home sushi."

"You know one thing about being a stay-at-home Dad? It makes you really good at multi-tasking. I've been known to balance a very wiggly toddler on one knee while writing a soon-to-be award winning, mostly non-fiction book about two sexy FBI agents' exploits into the paranormal."

"Hmmm, intriguing. How sexy were they, these agents?"

"Him? A little awkward at times, one might even argue he had some social inadequacies. But he could turn on the charm when he wanted to. But her?" He made a hissing sound and shook one hand like he had just touched a hot stove. "She was world class. Sizzling hot. Left men weak in the knees and begging for mercy. But she was madly in love with her brilliant partner and only had eyes for him."

She pinched his side playfully and rolled her eyes. "What happened to them? Were they doomed to a life of desperate longing and unfulfilled romance?"

"You might think, but alas, no. They eventually got it together. In fact, he swept her off her feet and -"

"He did?" she eyed him skeptically.

"He did. Over an evening of critically-acclaimed comedy entertainment and mouth-watering refreshments."

"You mean Caddyshack and popcorn."

"Who's telling this story?"

"Sorry. Is that when he swept her off her feet?"

"It is. For the second time, really. Or was that the third time?"

"It was the fourth, actually," she said.

"Well, technically, if you want to get picky, they probably belonged to each other much earlier than that, but regardless, yes she was swept off her feet."

Scully sighed and teased his nipple with her tongue. His breath caught. "Well, she was off her feet, that's for sure."

"And he made mad, passionate love to her," he growled, twisting his hand through her silky hair.

"He definitely did that." Her hand snaked between them to palm his erection. "Then what?" she breathed.

His breath was getting labored and he pressed himself into her hand. "They lived happily ever after. And he spent his nights satisfying her, bringing her to rapturous pinnacles of pleasure."

"Show me," she whispered, raising herself up before taking him fully inside her.

And he did.

December 24, 2002

"The black sweater or the dark green?" Mulder stood in his charcoal pants and socks in front of the open dresser drawer.

Scully walked out of the bathroom wearing black dress slacks and a bra, holding a mascara wand between the tips of her fingers like a lit cigarette. "The hunter one. It's more festive."

"What time is everybody getting here?"

"My mother, Bill, Tara and the boys? Five. Charlie and Michelle? Who knows. Their flight gets in at four fifteen and they're renting a car."

"And who are their offspring again?"

She tossed him an impatient look. "Timothy and Andrew."

"And Bill and Tara have Matt and-"

"Connor. He's the littlest, besides William. And then she's pregnant again. Five months, I think."

"Good grief. You're telling me there'll be five little boys under the age of eight in this house tonight?"

"Seven," she sighed, returning to the bathroom to finish her makeup. "Timmy's only seven. And speaking of little boys, can you please check on Will? I thought I heard something."

"He's only been asleep an hour, Scully. He's usually good for at least two in the afternoon."

"I know, but...just go look. Please. He hasn't been sleeping well. He has more teeth coming in."

"He naps just fine. I'm here with him every day and he sleeps two hours. But if you say so, Doc."

"And if he's awake, can you please put those corduroys with the red sweater on him that I left out on the changing table?"

"You mean the reindeer sweater with the sparkly pom pom nose on it? Way to humiliate the kid, Scully."

"My mother gave it to him. I can't not have him wear it for Christmas. Besides, you took him to the grocery store in a Yoda mask last week. I think he's beyond humiliation."

"He loves that mask. I made him leave the light saber at home, though. The last time we brought it, he smashed all the boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios."

"He's not even supposed to have that. It says ages three and up, Mulder."

"I supervise him carefully with it."

"Yes, I can see that."

Mulder finished buttoning a white shirt, then tugged the green sweater on over it and crossed the hall to the nursery. He turned the doorknob carefully and peered inside at the crib. No movement whatsoever. He eased the door closed, then went downstairs to the kitchen and opened the oven door to check on the turkey.

He did a mental calculation to determine how many place settings before gathering together everything necessary to set the dining room table. Seven adults, four kids in regular chairs, and one in a high chair. Their table sat eight, ten if they were tight. It was going to be a cozy evening. As he contemplated the strategic placement of Scullys, spouses, and children, and how far away from him he could get Bill without it appearing obvious, his Scully breezed into the kitchen, heels clicking on the ceramic tile. She was wearing her silvery grey blouse, unbuttoned just far enough to distract him, but not far enough to be inappropriate for a family dinner. He had a pair of diamond and onyx earrings in a wrapped box under the tree for her that would go great with that blouse, but he'd still make her wait until tomorrow.

"You look great," he said, appreciatively.

She smiled back and self-consciously tucked her hair behind her ears. "Did I remember to put the sweet potatoes in the oven?" she asked.

"Yes. You did. Relax, Scully."

She nodded and chewed on her bottom lip. "I haven't seen Charlie in four years. And Bill has never met William. Nobody has seen our house."

He touched her elbow comfortingly. "At least we're married now, so we'll be spared the 'living in mortal sin' lecture and if I'm really lucky, Bill will only mention that I knocked up his little sister once or twice."

She huffed out a laugh and wrapped her arms around his waist, leaning her head against him.

"Is there anything else I can help you with?" he asked, kissing the top of her hair.

"You can cancel the whole thing and take me to bed," she pouted, tilting her head up for a quick kiss.

"Mmmm, unbelievably tempting. But that's a lot of turkey for the three of us to eat."

The door bell rang and she stepped back and smoothed her hands down her blouse and black pants.

"Let's get it on, Honey," he said, grinning and starting for the door.

Scully opened it and he heard her before he saw her. Tara, in a red pea coat hurrying up the porch steps with a poinsettia in her hands and making a high pitched sound that Mulder could only classify as squealing. "Merry Christmas! Look at this place, it's absolutely huge. And beautiful! Ohhhhh Dana, it's so good to see you!"

She gave Scully a hug while trying to balance the plant with one hand. It started slipping and Bill jogged up the stairs to the front door and took it out of his wife's hands. Tara pulled back eventually and headed toward Mulder next like a Golden Retriever who had been shut up in the house all day. He took a step back.

Bill gave his sister a stiff hug and then loped inside with two large shopping bags full of wrapped gifts and the poinsettia.

"Mulder. Merry Christmas." It almost sounded genuine. He had obviously been rehearsing it. Mulder offered his hand and he shook it firmly like any respectable military man would do.

Maggie and the kids came next, the boys toeing off their shoes immediately at their father's instruction. The eldest approached Mulder with his hands in his pockets.

"I'm Matt Scully," he said nervously.

"I know," replied Mulder with a smile. "I'm Fox Mulder. You can just call me Mulder like everybody else."

"Can I use your bathroom?" the boy asked, shifting from foot to foot.

Mulder pointed him down the hall.

"Merry Christmas, Fox." Maggie offered him her cheek and two pies. "Where's my baby?" she asked Scully.

"Still napping, but it's been two hours. I think we should wake him, don't you?" Scully looked at Mulder and he knew that the 'we' meant him, so he headed upstairs to dress his son in a ridiculous sweater.

When he got back downstairs holding a drowsy, slightly cranky William, Maggie, Bill, and Tara with Connor hanging off her like velcro descended upon them. William grabbed fistfuls of his father's sweater like it was a life preserver and buried his face in his shoulder. Mulder didn't blame him. He sort of wanted to hide too.

"Oh my Goodness, look how much he's grown. Do you remember your cousin, William?" Tara asked Connor. He stared at Mulder with his thumb plugged solidly in his mouth.

"He doesn't say much," Bill said, smiling uncomfortably. "The doctor says it's perfectly normal."

Mulder nodded politely and shifted William to his other hip. Then he knelt down and smiled at Connor, silently mouthing the word "Hi." The child remained quiet, thumb still inserted, but he offered the smallest of smiles back. The strong silent type.

"William's not allergic to anything, is he?" asked Tara. "Because we brought a plant, but I didn't think to check-"

Mulder shook his head. "No. No allergies. He might eat it, though. He does that with most everything. But don't worry, if it's really bad news, he'll just puke it up. No harm done."

His sister-in-law looked at him with a slightly open mouth, as if he had just informed her that William could levitate. Mulder really wanted to be on his best behavior, he really did, but the Scullys just made it too easy not to be.

The second wave of in-laws arrived soon after with just as much fanfare. Charlie was different than Mulder expected, although he wasn't sure exactly what he had expected. A younger version of Bill, perhaps. In reality, he looked very little like his older brother and acted even less like him. Instead of the shock of red hair his siblings had, Charlie's was a soft blonde color and he was a good four inches shorter than Bill and stockier. But he had those same Scully baby blues. He exuded a warmth and casualness that appealed to Mulder and his smile lit the room up brighter than the Christmas tree. He strode through the front door with confidence and gusto and descended upon Scully with a hug that lifted both of her tiny feet off the ground.

"You're skinny as a rail, Squirt. Go eat a freaking cheeseburger or something."

"That's what I keep telling her, but she eats all this macrobiotic crap," said Mulder stepping with an outstretched hand.

"You're Mulder," the youngest Scully said, grabbing Mulder's hand and pulling him into a full-on, backslapping man hug. No, this one wasn't what Mulder expected at all.

A pretty woman with shoulder length brown hair was struggling with a bag full of gifts through an open car door. Two young school-aged boys fidgeted at her side in matching Dodgers caps.

"Just leave it there, Babe. I'll get everything later," Charlie called out. "Just come on up. Timmy and Drew, come and see your Aunt Dana and Uncle Mulder."

Uncle Mulder. Okay then. It kind of sounded like some condescending children's TV show host. Captain Kangaroo, Mister Rogers, and Uncle Mulder.

The pretty woman climbed the porch steps and Mulder saw that she was even more attractive up close. She had soft brown eyes, a kind smile, and a smooth complexion of olive skin. Mediterranean maybe. She was shorter than Charlie, but a couple of inches taller than Scully and just a little plump.

This time Scully stepped forward first. "Hi, Michelle. It's been much too long."

"Look at you. You get more beautiful every time I see you. It's so good to be here," she said, hugging Scully and doing that little side-to-side sway that women do when they embrace.

"This is my" (split second hesitation) "husband, Fox Mulder." There ya go, Scully. Admittedly it's hard to rewire eight years of "partner" out of the vocabulary, but she was coming along.

Michelle extended a gloved hand. "Wow. I can't believe it's you."

Mulder quirked a questioning brow at Scully and she returned an equal look of confusion. "Um, in the flesh?" he replied, hesitantly.

She laughed. "I've heard about your work for years. My brother, Max, is a professor at UCLA. Psychology with a focus on abnormal, behavioral, and psychopathology. He's obsessed with the paranormal. I think he's seen you speak about six different times on panels over the years. When I told him you married Charlie's sister, he just about tried to zip himself into my luggage as a stow- away."

Mulder laughed. "I'm flattered. I hope the uh...real thing isn't a disappointment."

Michelle smiled politely. "Dana mentioned that your new book just came out. I wondered if I might get an autographed copy to take back as a Christmas gift for him?"

"Absolutely. You can get ten. My office is stacked with boxes full. It won't be available for mass distribution until March."

"Mulder's a weird name," said one of the pint-sized Dodgers fans looking up at him.

"Andrew," his mother chastised.

Mulder gave her an "it's fine" smile and knelt to the boy's level. "It is. But my first name is Fox. What would you do?"

The kid thought for a minute. "Mulder's cool."

"Dodgers fan, huh?"

Both kids nodded.

"They looking good this year?" asked Mulder.

This time Timmy, the older one, jumped in. "Awesome. Rumor is they're getting Daryle Ward from the Astros."

"You don't say," said Mulder. "Who they gonna trade?"

Timmy shrugged. "Dunno yet. Better not be Green, though."

"It won't be, don't worry. You don't hit forty-two home runs and get traded the following season, no matter how good the other picks are." Mulder ruffled his hair. "Dan Evans knows what he's doing with his team."

Both kids nodded and stared up at him like he was God. "Well, this is a Yankees house," Mulder said, trying to feign seriousness, "but since those aren't Red Sox hats, you're welcome to wear them. Go on in and find your cousins." The boys scrambled into the house.

Scully looked at Mulder with that contented smile of admiration he got when she was particularly impressed with him. If all he had to do was spout baseball stats and season predictions to gain brownie points, this was going to be a no-brainer. He wondered if Brother Bill had a favorite baseball team.

An hour later, the turkey was out of the oven and Mulder was working on transferring it to a carving platter without having to completely change his clothes afterward. Scully walked back into the kitchen from points unknown and took a green salad that could have fed a hundred starving rabbits from the fridge and began dressing it.

"Who's got the Sprout?" asked Mulder.


Mulder gave her his best constipated look.

She smiled back. "He seems to like Bill."

"Give him time."

"Be nice," she warned.

Maggie and Michelle walked into the kitchen and began doing things that needed to be done without asking, such as slicing bread and making gravy. How did women just know this stuff? Mulder was always more than eager to help, but secretly hoped that when he offered, he'd be given something simple like filling water glasses.

"Tara's rounding up the troops and supervising hand-washing in the upstairs bathroom," said Maggie. "Where's the stuffing, Dana?"

"In a separate casserole dish in the oven."

"You don't cook it in the bird?"

"It's not sanitary to do it that way, Mom."

"We did it that way for years," Maggie said, her voice trailing off in a sing-song tone of mild disapproval.

"You thawed meat on the kitchen counter and used the same cutting board for everything too."

"And you all turned out just fine."

Scully pursed her lips and shook the bottle of salad dressing harder than necessary. Mulder placed his hand on her lower back and rubbed two reassuring circles of solidarity.

Charlie strode in with a beer in his hand. "What can I do?"

"What do you know about wine?" asked Scully, not bothering to look up.

"I like it," he replied.

"Can you grab a white and a red from the wine rack and open them?" She gestured toward the wall rack near the pantry with salad tongs. "There's a bottle opener in the drawer above the lazy susan."

"Look at my seeester, all domesticated," he teased. "You never did this shit growing up."

"I cooked. Sometimes."

"Grilled cheese and overcooked spaghetti don't count."

"It was really good grilled cheese."

"Missy was the cook," he said and a heavy silence blanketed the air. Maggie sniffed and continued slicing the bread. Mulder saw Michelle toss Charlie a sympathetic look. He rummaged through the drawer for the bottle opener unsuccessfully. His wife crossed the kitchen and reached into the drawer, retrieved it for him, then squeezed his bent elbow affectionately.

Scully spoke first, which sort of surprised him, given her penchant for uncomfortable silences. "Remember those apple crunch muffins she used to make?" A wistful smile played on her lips.

Charlie's face brightened. "For the love of God, they were incredible. She put those little chunks of fresh apple in them-"

"And cinnamon-" continued Scully.

"The perfect amount of cinnamon. I loved when she made those. I used to sneak them up to my room," said Charlie.

"You were the one? I thought it was Bill. I always got like one and then they were gone."

"Geez. They were better than Mom's." Then he looked at Maggie and shrugged apologetically.

"They were better," she agreed, smiling, and everyone laughed as tension evaporated like fog clearing.

Bill walked in holding the Sprout. "What's so funny?"

But the moment was gone, so nobody said anything. William wriggled from Bill's arms and was released onto the tile floor like a wind-up toy. He ran to Scully and thrust his pudgy little red sweater arms insistently in the air. "UP," he demanded. She placed two hands under his armpits and lifted him onto her hip.

"You want me to take him?" Mulder offered.

She shook her head and pressed her mouth and nose against his wispy hair. "You can call everyone to the table, though."

Dinner conversation was actually less awkward than Mulder would have imagined, but then again, the holiday dinner conversations he'd grown up with had consisted of quiet shuffling of food and clinking of silverware amidst uncomfortable throat clearing and annoyed sighs. Virtually any talking whatsoever was preferable to that. And he quickly discovered that the Scullys knew how to talk. Topics included Charlie and Michelle's ongoing home renovations, Bill's opinion of liberal California politics and how it related to his rising property taxes, what type of computer Maggie should invest in if she wanted it primarily for e-mail, and whether or not Mulder and Scully had given any thought to whether William would attend public or private school. They hadn't actually. And he could honestly say that Scully's public school education matched his expensive private one brain cell for brain cell, so he was pretty okay with whatever she wanted. But he politely tuned out while everyone voiced their opinions and Scully squeezed his knee under the table, warning him for the third time in as many hours to be on his best behavior. He was really trying because experience had taught him that the big rewards from Scully, more specifically the ones that involved nudity, were worth any amount of ass kissing.

"So Dana, Mom tells us that you've been teaching a full load of classes. And Mulder, you've been, what, home then, with William? That's...progressive," said Bill.

"Mulder wrote a book, Bill," said Scully smugly, taking an extra large sip of her red wine. "In fact, we just received a shipment of the first edition last week. And he has a contract for the next two with Random House."

Bill nodded slowly, seemingly a little surprised. "I'd love to read it."

"Um that might not be-" Mulder began.

"You should," interrupted Scully, stepping on his foot. "It's brilliant."

"It's amazing. I can't wait to read it," said Michelle, covering her mouth with her napkin politely as she swallowed her food. "I'm not surprised that you got published. Your work is truly groundbreaking,"

Yup, he liked this one.

"It's always been a dream of mine," she continued. "Getting published."

"What do you write?" asked Mulder with sincere interest.

"Historical fiction mostly. But it's hard to find the time with the boys."

"Do you have anything completed?"

She placed her hand in front of her, palm down and made a see- saw motion with it. "Sort of. Getting there."

"Well, that's not really my genre, but I can give you the name of someone to send your manuscript to. I can't promise anything, but I can probably at least get it read for you."

"Seriously? That would be great."

Bill looked at Maggie. "Mom, you're quiet."

"It's just nice having my whole family together like this. It's been too long." Maggie's face had a gentle strength etched on it and Mulder saw Scully in another thirty years.

Scully looked down at her plate and pushed the last bit of her turkey around with her fork. She smiled, but he saw loss reflected in her eyes.

William broke the silence by squealing loudly and then shoveling more sweet potatoes into his mouth with his goop-covered, orange fingers.

Chuckling went around the table. "He's a good eater," said Tara. "Connor's going through a picky phase." In affirmation, Connor pushed his mostly full plate away with a wrinkled nose and stuffed his two-year-old thumb into his mouth.

"Who does William get his appetite from?" Tara asked with a jovial smile.

Scully looked at Mulder, then smiled and placed her hand on his arm affectionately.

"I guess I can take credit for that," Mulder replied, sheepishly.

As if in response, William patted his now empty tray loudly with his messy hands and belted out a liturgy in toddler speak. Scully put a spoonful of peas and more turkey, cut into tiny pieces, on his tray and William went back to shoveling.

"Slow down, William," said Scully. "Eat slowly." She picked up his sippy cup full of milk and handed it to him.

"You were very picky at that age," said Maggie toward Scully.

"What about me, Mom?" asked Charlie.

"You ate everything."

"He still does," laughed Michelle.

"Too much of everything," nodded Charlie, patting his gently rounded stomach. "I need to take a lesson from Michelle. She's at the gym every day."

"Not that it does much good. Drew is almost five and I'm still trying to lose the last fifteen pounds from the pregnancy," she said, placing her napkin on the table and her silverware at three o'clock, as if the food had suddenly become less appetizing.

"You're beautiful," Charlie said, leaning over and kissing her cheek. "Besides," he continued, "who says we've totally closed the book on trying for number three? In fact, we could get started right now, if you want. Come on, Honey, let's go." He started to stand and tugged on his wife's hand, jokingly.

"Charlie," Michelle warned, blushing.

Tara looked clueless while Bill suppressed the barest hint of amusement.

"What?" Charlie smiled. "I'm just saying. This is an awfully big house. I'm sure nobody would notice if we just disappeared for a little while. It won't take long, will it Honey?"

"Charlie." This time it was Maggie who spoke, reproachfully, but she too was biting back a smile.

"Ma likes lots of grandchildren, don't you, Ma?" he asked.

Maggie smiled at William, whose high chair sat between her and Scully. She helped him scoop some peas onto his spoon and get it most of the way to his eager mouth before he gave up and dropped the utensil, grabbing handfuls and rooting against his hand. "I have been blessed with five beautiful grandsons."

"Yeah, but admit it, Mom. You'd like a granddaughter."

Maggie smiled. "A granddaughter would be nice, but I'm happy with whatever the Lord gives me."

"Well, I'm game, but it sounds like my partner in crime here is throwing in the towel." He smiled at Michelle. "Looks like we're passing the torch. Maybe Bill and Tara can help you out."

"I'm working on it now," Tara said with wide, telling eyes and a broad smile.

Maggie's head popped up and turned quickly toward her daughter-in-law. "You mean you found out-"

Tara nodded, her hand swirling protectively on her pregnant stomach. "It's a girl. We were going to wait until tomorrow to surprise everyone, but this seems like a good time."

Maggie got up and hugged Tara, then Bill. Plenty of laughs and congratulatory comments circulated. Scully got up from her seat to go around the table and embrace her sister-in-law.

Charlie slapped Bill on the back jovially. "Good job, Bro. I was beginning to think the Scully boys only shot Y chromosomes."

"CHARLIE!" Maggie, Michelle, and Scully all chorused at once.

"Sorry!" he laughed loudly and Mulder couldn't help but shake his head and join him. He liked Charlie and Michelle. This was by far the most entertaining and fucked up holiday dinner conversation he'd had in years, thanks to his colorful brother-in-law. Scully had tried to prepare him, but he could see now that he hadn't fully appreciated what she meant by "outspoken." He found himself wishing they didn't live on opposite coasts because he could actually see himself hanging out with this guy. He might've even fit in with the Gunmen. Then again, that was probably stretching it. Byers was really the only one out of the three that was fit for human consumption and that was getting sketchier by the year.

"Hey, you've still got Mulder and Dana, Ma. They look like they might be good for another," said Charlie.

"OH, are you two planning on having more?" asked Tara, clapping her hands in delight at the thought. Procreation truly excited this woman, Mulder could tell.

Scully's cheeks tinged pink and she cleared her throat. "Who would like pie?"

Mulder placed his hand over hers. "I can start cutting," he offered. Then he leaned in to her ear and whispered, "Meet me in the kitchen in five."

Mulder cut generous slices of apple and cherry pie and put them on small plates with dessert forks teetering off them. He scattered the plates across the center island in the kitchen and went to the fridge in search of whipped cream. All they seemed to have was Redi Whip in a can and he was wondering why they even had that since he couldn't recall having eaten any of it. At least it wasn't the light stuff. Hot chocolate, he realized. Scully made hot chocolate with whipped cream and watched chick flicks on nights when he was writing. He squirted a dollop onto his index finger and sampled it. Not bad.

He squirted a second dollop onto his finger just as Scully walked into the kitchen.

"How's the pie coming -" He shoved one sticky white finger into her mouth. She looked surprised at first, then swirled her tongue around, lapping the cream off his digit like a kitten. "-along?" she finished.

He grasped her hand and half-pulled, half-dragged her into the walk-in pantry. There were two wall switches for overhead lights. He flipped one on.

"Mulder," she smiled inquisitively. "What are we doing in here?"

He fixated his eyes on her bottom lip where a tiny smudge of white cream sat waiting to be rescued. "I'm not sure. But I think this." He bent forward and kissed her, running his tongue over the errant cream and she giggled into his mouth.

He wrapped his hands around her waist and pulled her flush against him. "I just needed you," he said, planting kisses at the corners of her mouth, on her chin, behind her ear. "You want more whipped cream?" he murmured into her neck.

"Mmmm hmmm," she hummed, her hands gently kneading his back and shoulders.

He squirted his finger and held it out to her. She quirked one brow before snaking her tongue out and sucking his entire finger in, cleaning it completely. He was pretty sure he'd need a few minutes before he could walk back out into that dining room.

She took the can from him and dispensed a peaked swirl onto her own finger and offered it to him. He took it and they went back and forth like this a few more times, exchanging mouthfuls.

"Your family's crazy," he smiled.

"I warned you."

"I love them, they're great."

"Even Bill?"

He shrugged, noncommittally. "Eh. He's growing on me. He has some repression issues and he thinks that establishing his authority in every social situation will reinforce his manhood, but beyond that...if he'd stop giving me the rabid 'you're doing my sister' look, I think we'd have something to build on."

"What do you think of Charlie?"

Mulder smiled. "I think...that if he took me out drinking that I'd probably wake up in a dumpster in Columbia Heights. And it would be totally worth it."

Scully chuckled and nodded, knowingly.

"It's a good thing he doesn't live closer because I have a feeling he'd coax me into exhibiting unseemly behavior for a forty-one- year-old man. Charlie is the id to my super ego."

She sighed and pecked at his lips with tender, close-mouthed kisses. "Tara's having a girl."

"Mmmm hmmm," he said. "And?"

"And nothing. It'll just be nice to have a little girl in the family. That's all."

Was it? Was that all? He had wondered on more than one occasion if she wanted another child, but he didn't ask because the chances were pretty good that they couldn't have more even if they wanted to. William had been a miracle. There was unlikely to be another. She didn't need to be reminded of this. The topic had come up a year and a half ago, right after William was born and she had evaded the question. Since then they had been having unprotected sex, a lot of it, and nothing had happened, so he assumed that pretty much answered the question. He rubbed the small of her back reassuringly and kissed her again.

Suddenly, a voice entered the kitchen. "Dana, we need five apple slices, three cherry, and Connor just wants a piece of cheese, if you have it." It was Charlie. "Dana? Mulder?"

Scully stood frozen in place pressed against him, her hand over her mouth, eyes wide. Mulder smiled and suppressed a chuckle. Scully's eyes were drawn upward to the light that was on. She took her hand from her mouth and silently mouthed "Shit" and Mulder couldn't help but snicker. She swatted his arm and held her finger to her lips urgently.

The pantry door flew open and Charlie stood there, blankly for a minute, trying to assess the situation. Then a grin took over his whole face.

"Excellent!" he exclaimed. "The pantry. That's a new one, even for me. But I gotta tell ya, the whipped cream? Not very original."

"Charlie-" Scully started, her cheeks flaming red.

He started closing the door. "Don't worry, Sis. I got you covered." He looked at Mulder. "Carry on, Mate."

They heard the rattle of forks and plates and then Charlie's loud, booming voice as he carted plates full of dessert back into the dining room. "Who's got apple?"

Scully covered her face with her hands and buried it in Mulder's chest. "I haven't seen my brother in four years and he catches me making out in the closet."

Mulder snorted. "Look on the bright side. At least it wasn't Bill who opened the door. And there really wasn't all that much making out going on. But I'm thinking, if we've already been assumed guilty, we might as well enjoy the crime," he said, sliding his hands down to her bottom and kissing her again.

"Mulder. There are people waiting for pie. Come on." She took his hand and opened the pantry door. He went to step out behind her, then thought better.

"Uh Scully. You go ahead and I'll catch up. I um...might need a minute."

She glanced down quickly and then arched her brows. "Right."

A few minutes later, he grabbed the remaining two plates of pie off the counter and strode confidently into the dining room.

Charlie grinned from ear to ear at him and cocked his head. "Say Mulder. You wouldn't happen to have any whipped cream, would you? For the pie?"

"Uh, no Charlie. I think we might be out of that. Sorry."

Scully cut a large bite of her cherry pie with the edge of her fork and shoveled it into her mouth. Her cheeks were the color of the pie filling.

"OHH, whipped cream," said Maggie. "I love whipped cream. Your father used to enjoy eating it on absolutely everything."

Scully's eyes grew wide and she nearly choked on the piece of pie in her mouth, scrambling for her glass of water. Mulder patted and rubbed her back.

Charlie, whose grin had now escalated into full-blown silent laughter, leaned over and whispered something in Michelle's ear. She glanced over at Mulder and Scully and then cleared her throat and smiled down at her plate.

Even Bill, who wasn't entirely sure what was going on, but had picked up on some kind of subtext, let out a quiet snicker.

"What?" Tara asked, visually surveying the faces around the table with her sweet, wide innocent smile.

William, who had apple filling in various stages of mush on his tray and on his clothes, screeched "Piiiiiiiieeeeeeee," at the top of his lungs and then shoved some in his hair, for good measure.

Everyone laughed out loud, especially Scully who seemed eternally grateful for the distraction. Mulder squeezed her knee under the table and she smiled back at him. She lifted her water glass again and her rings clinked quietly against the crystal, the diamond catching the glow of the candlelight with the movement of her strong, slim fingers. Her eyes were a bright cobalt blue in the soft light and Mulder thought that he could possibly sit and look at her forever. He was vaguely aware of the dull roar of voices and laughter that filled the room, but he tuned it out for a few precious seconds as he paused to take a mental snapshot of the moment.

He had a family and a home and a life that he never in a million years thought he'd have, never thought he deserved and probably still didn't. Funny how it all worked out. He had known bizarre, dangerous, impossible, and macabre. He had seen the extraordinary, the shocking, and the unimaginable. But in the end, it was the simple, the normal and the familiar that changed his life.

It was love.

Author's Note: More to come! This is not the end of the Terra Firma series. There will be more, so if you enjoyed this, please check back. Look for the latin titles. Smart is sexy! Thank you so much for reading. If you wish to send feedback, I love receiving it and I try to respond to each message.

Archive Of Our Own: http://archiveofourown.org/users/Malibusunset/pseuds/Malibusunset

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