Title: Terra Firma IV. Vita Nova
Author: Malibu Sunset
E-Mail: malibusunset88@gmail.com
Category: MSR, Family/Baby Fic.
Rating: NC-17
Spoilers: This is part 4 in a series. The first three parts are Terra Firma, Spondeo, and Per Ardua. If you read those first, you'll be up to speed.
Disclaimer: They aren't mine, but I love them like my own.

Summary: This story picks up four months after Per Ardua left off. Scully is pregnant with their second child. Very low angst, unless you count labor and childbirth. This is basically happy stuff. The title translates to "New Life."

**Interesting Author's Tidbit!!!**: Choosing the sex of Mulder and Scully's second child was an interesting process I'd like to share with you. Several readers of the Terra Firma series had weighed in with their opinions on whether the next baby should be a boy or a girl. I couldn't decide, so I opted not to. Instead, I put two slips of paper - one saying "boy" and one saying "girl" - into a bag and had my children draw. BUT, to be really certain, I had them repeat the process ten times! I recorded the choices and whichever sex was chosen the most, would be Mulder and Scully's baby. This way, it more simulated the way it works in real life. Whether you believe fate, nature, or God chooses the sex of a baby, we can probably agree that we, as humans, have very little to do with it. BUT, THERE'S MORE...and you probably won't believe this part, but it just so happened that one of the two genders was chosen 9 out of 10 times and the other only once! And again, this process was completely random and not fixed. So, the bottom line is, Mulder and Scully's baby chose itself (very emphatically), I just wrote the story. I did pick the name, though.


February 10, 2004

Scully's pager went off for the second time in five minutes just as she rounded the corner to the main desk in the Pathology wing. As she approached, Della, the head nurse who managed the desk, looked at her with the phone cradled between her ear and shoulder and held up one finger. She mouthed "hang on" silently to Scully. Scully smiled, plopped a file down onto the desk and began updating her case notes while she waited.

"No Doctor, I'm certain I placed it right on your desk next to the four stacks of other files. I even marked it with a post-it note, like you asked. Yes, that's right. Did you check under the...no, not on the credenza. On your desk. Sure, I'll hold on. You go look." Della covered the mouthpiece of the phone with her hand and rolled her eyes at Scully.

"I swear, I don't know what you doctors would do without me. Dr. Briggs would lose his head if it wasn't attached."

Scully chuckled to herself and continued with her notes. She liked the tough-as-nails, middle aged African American woman who managed the Pathology desk and she was pretty sure the feeling was mutual. Della ran a tight ship, took no grief from anyone, and worked daily on honing her intimidation skills. But underneath, she was a kind-hearted, hard worker with a refreshing sense of humor. "You found it?" Della asked, returning to her call. "On the desk you say? Next to the other files? Well, okay then. I will surely sleep well tonight."

Della hung up, shaking her head and smiling. She pointed one finger at Scully teasingly. "You're one of the only ones around here who knows which end is up, Doctor Scully. It's because you're a mother. Gotta have your head on straight to raise little ones these days. I know - raised four of my own, Lord help me."

Scully smiled and nodded. This was a familiar conversation between them. Della had even had the pleasure of meeting William and Mulder on several occasions when they had stopped by to have lunch with Scully. Della always fussed over William and kept lollipops in her desk drawer for him.

"You paged?" Scully asked.

"Oh yes!" Della replied, snapping her fingers. "He's here. In your office."

Scully glanced at her watch. "He's fifteen minutes early." She had her twenty week ultrasound today and Mulder was there to pick her up and accompany her.

Della kept smiling with one raised eyebrow and turned her head from side to side slowly.

"What?" asked Scully.

"I just have no idea how you manage to get out your door on time each morning," Della said, shaking one hand like she had just touched something hot. "That is one fiiiiiine looking man. Mmmmmm hmmmm."

Scully took the tease in the harmless way that it was meant and laughed quietly. Della made no pretense of appreciating Mulder's good looks and it was a joke they shared together. It was common ground for them and Scully didn't mind, taking it in good stride.

Scully stood behind a tall stack of files sitting on the counter and finished writing up her notes. She made a point of completing her notes before leaving each day while they were fresh in her mind. Mulder could wait a couple more minutes.

"Hey Della, who's the hottie in Doctor Scully's office?" a young female voice said from the far side of the counter. Scully recognized the voice immediately. It was Amy Pierce, one of her pathology interns. "Serious man candy alert."

Scully cleared her throat and walked out from behind the files she had been inadvertently hiding behind.

"Dr. Scully, I um...was just looking for you." Amy's cheeks blushed fiercely and she looked down at the stack of folders she was holding in her hands.

"Are those the files I gave you to work on, Amy?" Scully asked.

"Um, yes, they are." The poor girl looked like she wanted to crawl into a fetal position. Scully noticed that Della was smiling widely and pretending to be engrossed in paperwork.

"Are they finished?" Scully asked.

"Not quite yet," replied Amy. "I'll stay late, though. I really don't mind. I can have them on your desk by tonight. It's no problem at all."

"Actually, I won't be here, so tomorrow morning is fine. I'm leaving now with my husband for an appointment."

Amy's eyes darted to hers. "Right. Your husband. Right, of course." Realization dawned and there was more blushing. "Okay, then. Um...I'll be sure to have these on your desk by-"

"8:00 a.m. tomorrow, Amy," said Scully walking away from the desk toward her office.

"Yes, of course. 8:00 is great, Dr. Scully," Amy called after her. "Thank you."

As Scully was walking away, she very clearly heard the young girl say "shit" under her breath.


Mulder waited in one of the chairs in Scully's office. He spent the first ten minutes reading an article in the New England Journal of Medicine about a man who swallowed a pen and twenty-five years later when it was surgically removed, it still worked. Huh. He had always assumed that Scully's numerous medial journals would hold absolutely no interest for him, but not true. He'd have to reconsider that huge stack on the floor by her side of the bed. She had been holding out on him. He switched to a British medical journal article on freaky skin conditions and was ogling a particularly nasty looking carbuncle when Scully walked in.

"Hi, sorry to keep you waiting." Leaning down, she kissed him quickly on the lips. She glanced at what was holding his attention and raised her eyebrows.

"No problem. This stuff is really gross, Scully." He flipped a page. "Oooh, what's this one?" He turned the magazine around to face her.

She narrowed her eyes to see it clearly. "Scabies."

"And what about this one?" Mulder's finger pointed to a photo.

"It looks like Tungiasis. It's caused by a certain type of flea that burrows under the skin and lays eggs."

Mulder grimaced. He was wishing he hadn't eaten that double- decker pastrami on rye for lunch.

Scully reached into the bottom drawer of her desk to retrieve her purse. "We should get going, Mulder. Our appointment is at 4:15."

Just then, a man with sandy brown hair strode confidently into Scully's office. "Oh Dana, I'm glad I caught you. Did you have the chance to look over those lab results I gave you? I'd like your opinion on...Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realize you were meeting with someone."

"Paul, this is my husband, Fox Mulder. Mulder, this is Paul Hanover, Director of the Residency program here and my co-chair on the Coleman grant research."

Mulder stretched out his hand and Paul shook it firmly and smiled politely. "Mr. Mulder, It's nice to finally cross paths with you."

"Likewise," Mulder replied. "Scully speaks highly of your work."

Hanover glanced at his colleague with an amused, slightly perplexed look. "Scully? Cute...the last names."

"It's an FBI thing," Scully said, "just something we got used to."

"That's right. You two were partners for what, five years or something?"

"Eight," said Mulder, with an edge to his voice.

"Fascinating. I have to admit that I'm surprised the FBI doesn't have rules about those types of...liaisons, so to speak...within the context of partnerships." Hanover had piercing blue eyes and a firm jawline. He wasn't overly tall, several inches shorter than Mulder, actually, but something about him demanded attention. He looked to be in his late forties, fifty at the most, trim, but not athletically built. Mulder supposed that Hanover would be considered handsome by most standards, which did nothing to make him feel any more comfortable with the situation.

"We were professional partners and close friends...for many years," said Scully. "It's...a long story."

"And an intriguing one, I'm sure, if your books are any indication, Mr. Mulder."

Scully's head snapped to look at Hanover; she was obviously surprised at the mention of Mulder's books.

Had he read them, Mulder wondered? He looked at Hanover curiously.

"My wife," Hanover replied, smiling. "She's a big fan of your books, loves all those types of stories. I'm really more of a skeptic myself, a man of science and hard facts...like Dana."

"You should read them sometime," said Scully. "I think you'd be surprised at the extent to which scientific empiricism can fall short within the context of the natural world."

That's right, thought Mulder. She's my wife.

"Maybe I will," said Hanover, smiling. "And so you call him-"

"Mulder," she said, her cheeks pinking slightly.

Hanover nodded his head, smirking. "All the time?"

Mulder looked at the guy straight on. What was he asking? Was he being inappropriately nosy about their intimacy or simply curious? Usually it took Mulder all of sixty seconds to size someone up, but he was having a hard time getting this guy.

"Most of the time, yes," Mulder said, locking eyes with Hanover confidently. Why did he feel like he was in a pissing contest with this guy already?

Scully cleared her throat. "Paul, I started to go over those results, but haven't finished. I thought I'd take them home with me if you don't need them. We're leaving now for my appointment. Remember I mentioned-"

"Of course. Your appointment." Hanover's eyes swept quickly to Scully's stomach and just as quickly back to her face. Her abdomen had just begun to swell noticeably. Usually her lab coat hid the pregnancy and it was quite likely that not everyone at the hospital knew about it yet. Without her lab coat, however, it was much more obvious to the casual observer. Right now, she stood there in dress slacks and a non-maternity sweater - one of the few items from her everyday closet that still fit her - and the swell underneath was unmistakable. Mulder fought the urge to walk over and place his hand on her stomach, but he knew how immature and neanderthal it was and Scully would no doubt give him an earful once they got in the car if he tried such a maneuver. She was fiercely protective of her professionalism at work.

"Well, then I'll see you tomorrow," Hanover said, smiling at Scully. Then he turned toward Mulder again. "And congratulations, by the way."

Mulder nodded. "Good meeting you. I'll have to stop in more often." And whatever subtext the fine doctor read into that statement was probably not accidental, Mulder thought to himself.

"By all means. Don't be a stranger." With that, Hanover turned and walked out.

"Nice guy," Mulder said without looking at Scully.

"Yes, he is. He's been very supportive to me during my transition here."

"I'm sure he has."

"Is there something you want to say, Mulder?"

"Not at all. Let's get going." He helped her on with her overcoat and they walked out.


"So did we decide?" asked Scully, settling herself into the passenger seat of the car and securing the seat belt across her lower abdomen, underneath the swell of the baby.

"I thought we decided not to find out," said Mulder.

"You decided. I still want to know."

"Scully, why would you want to spoil one of the only true surprises in life?"

"I don't see it as spoiling the surprise, Mulder. Either we find out what we're having now and be surprised or we find out in June and be surprised then. Except that then everything will be decorated in yellow and green and we'll have to try and agree on two possible names instead of just settling on one."

"The baby isn't going to care if his or her bedroom is androgynous for a few months. William likes yellow. His blankie is yellow. Why the desire to know now, besides the fact that you're a control freak? You didn't know when you were pregnant with William and it didn't bother you then."

She was quiet and stared ahead at the road, a bemused smile playing on her lips.

"You knew! You sneaky little squirrel, Scully. You knew William was a boy when you were pregnant and you didn't tell me."

"I didn't tell anyone, Mulder, not even my mother."

"Yeah, but I asked you Scully. I asked whether it was a boy or a girl that first day of Lamaze and you acted like you had no idea."

"You didn't really want to know, Mulder. I know you too well. You wanted to be surprised."

"Well yeah," he conceded. "But still...I would've liked to have been given the choice."

Scully sighed. "Mulder, at the time I didn't even know if you wanted..." She looked out the window of the car at scenery flying by. "Forget it, it's not important now."

She had never said anything like that to him before. And although she was spot-on, he still felt like he'd just gotten the wind knocked out of him.

He reached for her hand and she didn't pull away. But she didn't look at him either.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I'm sorry I was an asshole then."

"You weren't an asshole. You had been through a lot."

"So had you. You deserved more from me then and I'm sorry. If I could go back and do it differently, I would."

She squeezed his hand. "It's okay," she said, quietly. "You came around."

He nodded. "Sometimes I'm a little slow, Scully. You knew how I felt when he was born, didn't you? I hope."

This time she looked at him and nodded, her eyes soft.

"And you know how I feel now, right? This is the most important thing in my life, Scully."

She smiled. "I know."

He lifted her hand to his mouth and kissed her knuckles. "We can find out if you want to. It doesn't matter anyway, boy or girl, right?"

"No, I don't want to. I want to be surprised," she said.

He chuckled. "Did anyone ever tell you that you change your mind a lot?"

She smiled. "It's a woman's prerogative."

"So I've been told. You keep me guessing, Scully."

"You really don't have a preference?"

"About whether it's a boy or a girl? No, none. You don't go through what we've been through to get here, Scully, and decide to be picky, you know? Ten fingers and ten toes, maybe your blue eyes, that's enough."


A half hour later, Scully was lying on a table with goop on her stomach and a smiling ultrasound technician whose nametag read Poppy, clicking out measurements on a computer keyboard. Are there grown women who really go by the name Poppy she thought? At least this technician was smiling. Scully hoped she'd never again have to lie on an exam table and watch a technician frown quietly at a black ultrasound screen.

"Wow, you've got a little wiggler here," Poppy said.

Scully smiled and looked at the screen. She wasn't trained to read the finer points of ultrasounds, but her medical background had equipped her to be able to recognize the basics. She could make out the head and spine clearly. An arm, bent at the elbow, rested by the baby's side.

Scully's face lit up and she chuffed out a small laugh. "Is he actually-"

"Sucking a thumb?" finished Poppy, chuckling. "Yes."

She didn't know why she usually referred to the baby as a "he." It certainly did not signify any precognitive intuition on her part. Sometimes pregnant mothers claimed to be able to sense the sex of their unborn baby, but truthfully, Scully had no idea. Perhaps she just fell back on the pronoun "he" because she was used to being a mother to a boy. Mulder was a bit more indiscriminate with his pronouns, using both equally.

Mulder stood from where he had been sitting next to Scully and moved closer to the screen. "Where?"

"Right there. See the little hand up by the face?" Poppy used the computer mouse to highlight the area for Mulder.

Scully swiveled her head to observe her husband. His eyes were wide in amazement and he stared at the ultrasound screen like he'd never seen anything so magnificent in his life. He shook his head very slowly, an awe-struck smile spreading across his face. Scully squeezed his hand and he squeezed back tightly, but his eyes remained on the screen. "Oh my God," Scully heard Mulder whisper.

Poppy moved the ultrasound transponder around until alternate views of the baby appeared on the screen.

Mulder pointed and his eyes grew wider. "Holy...is that his..."

Both Scully and Poppy chuckled simultaneously. "No, that's a foot sticking out," Poppy said.

Men, Scully thought to herself.

"But I think...um...let's see...the baby's moving around a lot, but I think I can tell you what you're having if you want to know."

"NO!" they both barked in unison.

Poppy laughed. "Okay, no problem. I won't write anything in the chart then. Most people these days want to know ahead of time, but I think it's more fun to wait and be surprised."

"What's the fetal heart rate?" asked Scully.

"I'm getting about 147. Nice and strong. Oh, can you feel that?" Poppy smiled. "Hiccups. Look, you can watch the rhythmic movements."

Scully concentrated for a minute and stared at the screen, but didn't feel anything. She remembered what it had felt like when William had gotten the hiccups - those tiny little jolts that came at measured intervals - but it had been later in the pregnancy.

"I don't feel-" she started to say.

Then, "Right there!" both she and Poppy exclaimed at the same moment.

Scully laughed. "I did feel that."

"She's been feeling movement for awhile now," said Mulder, and Scully nodded in agreement.

"That's common with second pregnancies. First time moms overlook the flutters. You know what you're looking for the second time around. Plus, you have got a very active little monkey here!"

"Greeeeeat," said Scully. "So what you're saying is that I should get as much sleep as I can now."

Poppy chuckled. "That might not be a bad idea. Everything looks great, though, Dana. I don't see any areas of concern. Of course, Dr. Walters will need to review the images, but everything I see here indicates a healthy baby. The due date in your file is listed as June 20th. I'm getting the 18th on my measurements, so I'm going to just leave the due date alone. We can always adjust it later if we need to."

A few minutes later, Mulder and Scully were back in the car holding two small black and white photos of their little sea monkey of still unidentified gender. Mulder clipped one to the visor above him and leaned back against the head rest to gaze at it.

"That just made the top ten list of coolest things I've ever done," he said.

Scully smiled and patted his knee affectionately. "Try to remember this blissful moment when I'm swearing at you in the delivery room in another four months."


February 27, 2004

Maternity underwear had to be one of the biggest fashion jokes around, thought Scully, as she sifted through her lingerie drawer realizing that if she didn't do some laundry very soon, she'd be going commando in a pair of yoga pants by Sunday. At a time when women were already self-conscious about their rapidly expanding waistlines, why did clothing designers think that wearing underwear that came up to your boobs and looked like something your grandmother might wear, could possibly make you feel at all attractive? Scully chose to rebel by purchasing regular panties in a size larger and just wearing them under her belly. She selected a pair of pink ones and pulled them on, then rooted around for a bra that still fit.

She was down to her last couple of those as well. It was past time that she caved in and purchased new bras. Her breast size had probably increased almost an entire cup size by now. She found it to be inconvenient; someone else in the house, however, treated it like a gift of manna from heaven. She took back what she once said about him being equally a breast man and an ass man. When she was pregnant, he was 100% a breast man. Half the time she had to struggle to get him to make sufficient eye contact with her. His gaze usually lost its upward momentum about eight inches below her face. She might consider being annoyed by it if she didn't find it just a little bit endearing and if he didn't always have that dreamy, worshipful look on his face.

It was Friday evening and she was meeting her oldest friend, Ellen, for a belated birthday dinner. It had been almost a year since she had seen her and, of course, Ellen wouldn't forget her fortieth birthday. She had never forgotten any of Scully's birthdays. Some years, Ellen's card was the only one she got in the mail, besides those from her family. Scully had not been particularly diligent at nurturing old friendships like she wished she had been, but she and Ellen had remained close.

This year, Ellen had phoned her on her birthday, as always, and Mulder had answered the phone. It took Scully nearly ten minutes to wrestle the phone away from him as he and Ellen did their own catching up, Mulder fielding all of Ellen's pressing questions about his latest book. Scully's friend made no pretense of her fascination for some of the cases she and Mulder used to work, and she was a big fan of Mulder's writing. By the time Scully got on the phone, Ellen and Mulder had already made plans for her to meet Ellen on Friday for a ladies night out.

For the most part, Scully's fortieth birthday had been exactly what she wanted it to be. After months of Mulder threatening to surprise her with a huge birthday bash and inviting everyone in their address book, she had finally convinced him that what she really wanted was a small, quiet affair at home. Her mom had come over for dinner. Mulder and William had baked her a perfectly wonderful, lopsided chocolate cake with vanilla frosting and about a thousand sprinkles on top. It was the most delicious cake she'd ever had.

Mulder had gotten her a brand new laptop computer, which she desperately needed and a pair of stunning emerald solitaire earrings - William's birthstone - which she did not need, but loved just as much. She hadn't taken them off since he gave them to her. Scully had never been one to purchase jewelry for herself. She used to see it as frivolous and indulgent, but since she'd been married to Mulder, he had taken pleasure in spoiling her and she let him. It had caught her completely off-guard, actually. Mulder used to be the guy who gave her things like weird key chains for gifts, and that was when he even remembered her birthday. Once, he gave her an orange-haired troll pen and a pair of rainbow shoelaces. She had no idea why. She still had them in her "Mulder box," packed away in the top of her closet. Who would've ever thought Mulder was capable of romantically appropriate gift giving? It was almost like he had taken a special secret husband class or something. She didn't ask; she just enjoyed it while it lasted. Every time she unwrapped a gift from him, she had the fleeting expectation that it might be a gumball machine or a Magic Eight Ball.

Her gift from William had been the best of all, though. It was a DVD. And on the DVD, a few minutes of William had been recorded by Mulder each week since Scully had returned to work following William's birth. She didn't even know they owned a video recorder. Apparently, Mulder had purchased it without her knowledge, planning this surprise over two years in advance. The recordings toward the beginning of the DVD were of Mulder, talking to her as he fed William a bottle or reading books to him. But as the DVD progressed, the recordings showed William's growth and development.

Sometimes they were simply random minutes of William playing. Other times William talked directly to her and said things like, "Hi Mommy, I miss you, " or "Daddy washed my red shirt with the white underwear," or "I swallowed my gum today and Daddy threw the rest away," or "I saved you the cookie from my lunch and put it in your dresser drawer," which explained why Scully had found a petrified Fig Newton in her sock drawer a few months back. The final recording had been done the day of her birthday and was of William and Mulder baking and frosting her cake.

Scully watched through the entire movie in one sitting and cried through the whole thing. It could have been the pregnancy hormones. She cried at songs on the radio that reminded her of sad things. She cried at songs that reminded her of happy things. She cried at dog food commercials, hair color commercials, chick flicks and whenever they ran out of orange sherbet. Two nights ago, she cried when she read The Lorax to William as a bedtime story. It was those damn truffula trees getting chopped down and the injustice of it all. She couldn't finish reading the book. Mulder had to do it. And don't even get her started on watching The Lion King.

She finished dressing in a pair of maternity jeans, her dressier ones that were dyed a deep indigo, and a crisp white button- down blouse. Her favorite heeled black boots completed the outfit. She brushed out her hair and refreshed her makeup, then appraised herself in the full-length mirror in their bedroom. She looked pregnant. This was a good thing. For the last three months, she had just looked like she was trying to masquerade a little weight gain under her white lab coat. Several of her residents had approached her in the last few weeks to congratulate her, just having recently detected the pregnancy. The rest stayed quiet still, perhaps not feeling comfortable acknowledging such a personal detail of her life.

Paul had known about the pregnancy for a couple of months now. She had felt that giving him as much advance notice as possible was the responsible thing to do given the intensity of the project they were working on. Advanced planning would be needed to cover for her absence and even then, she anticipated only being able to take four weeks of maternity leave instead of the standard six. He had responded with undisguised surprise and something else that she couldn't quite put her finger on. "I didn't know you were trying," he had said, and the comment had caught her off- guard. She was pretty sure that trying to conceive was not something that professionals typically shared with their co- workers, especially those of the opposite sex.

Scully made her way downstairs to find Mulder and William spreading Rice Krispies and marshmallows into a long pan. William stood on a stool to reach the counter. He reached for her with butter-slickened hands. Scully clasped his wrists gently and steered them away from her clean blouse while she kissed the top of his head.

"We made sticky tweats," proclaimed Will.

"I see that," she smiled. "They're your favorite."

"You want one, Mommy?"

"Oh, they look so good, but no thank you. I'm meeting Auntie Ellen for dinner and I don't want to spoil my appetite by having dessert first. Can you save me one for later?"

He nodded, patting down the cereal with the back of a spoon.

"So what's on the agenda for guys night?" she asked.

Mulder put the pan of treats aside to harden, guided William's hands to the sink and turned on the water. "I think we agreed on Finding Nemo, followed by Ice Age, if he makes it that long. We've got Rice Krispy treats, Twizzlers, and chocolate milk. If things go according to schedule, we should be entering a respectable sugar coma in about one hour, give or take."

Scully grimaced. "Sorry to miss it."

"If we're passed out on the living room floor when you get home, carry us to bed, will ya?" Mulder joked.

Scully nodded her head in amusement. "I just started a load of laundry. Can you please transfer it to the dryer later for me? After tomorrow, I'm out of underwear."

Mulder wagged a brow at her. "And that's a problem because..."

Scully rolled her eyes and leaned to kiss him goodbye. "We'll be at Mario's for dinner, then I think we're going to catch a movie. I might be late."

"Do you need a stack of singles for the club?" he asked, teasingly.

"Very funny."

"Have a good time. Give Ellen my best. Call if you need me to post bail."

"Bye, Mommy." This time his hands were clean and he wrapped them around her and squeezed. She buried her face into his neck and blew a raspberry against his skin. He giggled wildly.


Scully got to the restaurant before Ellen did, which didn't surprise her at all. Her friend was notorious for being a few minutes late for everything. Dana had met Ellen at the beginning of her sophomore year in college when she transferred to University of Maryland from Berkley. Dana had known no one at first and Ellen lived in the room across from her in the dormitory. They hit it off immediately and were soon inseparable. They even rented an apartment together off-campus for their senior year. Following graduation, Dana had gone on to medical school and Ellen had married Mike almost immediately. Over the years they had always remained the best of friends, even though at times, months or even an entire year would pass without them getting together. When they finally did, it always seemed like no time had passed, and they just picked right up where they had left off. Dana felt a little badly that her time working on the X Files had consumed so much of her life that she hadn't been the best friend that she could have been. When Ellen went through a difficult divorce six years ago, Dana and Ellen had drawn closer together once again through long phone calls and frequent emails.

Ellen had no idea that Dana was pregnant again. She had resisted telling her over the phone when they made their dinner plans and she was excited for her friend to share in her good news.

She spotted Ellen making her way to the table and stood to greet her. Immediately, she saw Ellen's eyes grow large as she walked quickly toward her.

"Oh my God, look at you!" she squealed, pulling Dana into a long, tight hug. "You didn't tell me! When are you due?"

"June," Dana said, sitting back down.

"I don't believe it. It's incredible, I'm so happy for you guys. But...how?"

Dana sighed and smiled, shrugging her shoulders. Ellen had long known about her struggles with infertility and had been shocked by the pregnancy with William. Now, she looked like she was completely and utterly at a loss for words, which was unusual for Ellen.

"We don't exactly know," admitted Dana.

Ellen shook her head back and forth slowly in amazement, smiling. "Well, you have always been an overachiever," she teased. "How's Mulder with this? Totally overprotective and driving you crazy?"

Dana chuckled. "Pretty much. He spends half the time we're together with his hands on my stomach. The other half with them-"

"On your boobs?" finished Ellen, laughing.

Dana laughed loudly. "Yeah, what's up with that? Well, I guess I know, but geez."

"God's gift to expectant Dads -big tits," said Ellen. "Maybe it's supposed to make up for all those months coming up when he has to share them."

"He's been great, though. He's very excited. It's almost cute at times."

"I'm still speechless," Ellen smiled. "You are about the most adorable pregnant woman I've ever seen too. You're glowing."

"It's the second trimester honeymoon. You should've seen me a couple of months ago. I was positively green. I was so, so sick. I don't remember being that sick with William."

"I was with Trent too. Then not at all with Carter. Do you know what you're having?"

Dana shook her head. "I wanted to find out, but Mulder talked me out of it."

"Good for him. Be surprised. It wouldn't kill you to give up control of something for once, Day."

The waiter appeared and took their drink orders. Dana ordered a glass of cranberry juice with ginger ale. Ellen looked at her guiltily.

"Go ahead," said Scully, waiving her hand at her.

"I'll have a glass of merlot," Ellen told the waiter and he nodded and disappeared. "It would figure. The first time we go out together in over a year and you're knocked up," she smiled. "I was planning for us to get shit-faced and smoke like fiends, just like old times."

Dana laughed good-naturedly, but then tossed her a disapproving look. "Please tell me you're not smoking."

Ellen unzipped the side pocket of her purse and the very top of a red and white cellophane-covered small box peeked out.

"El-" she said, reproachfully, shaking her head.

"I know, I know. I'm quitting again. Really I am. I was off them for seven years, then Mike decided to buy a porsche and run off with the twenty-three-year-old that worked at the coffee shop and it was either shoot him in the fucking head or start smoking again."

Dana clicked her tongue sympathetically. Mike had always seemed like such a great guy. She had been completely taken by surprise when he left Ellen. "They're not still together, are they?"

Ellen snorted. "God, no. She dumped him after six months. But not before he paid off all her credit cards. Did I ever tell you that he asked me if he could come back home?"

Dana looked at her in amazement. "No! When?"

"A year after he left. I got home from visiting my mother one night and he was sitting on the doorstep, drunker than a skunk. Thank God the boys had been sleeping over at friends' houses, so they didn't have to see it."

"What happened?"

"I let him in and put him to bed to sleep it off. In the morning, we had sex."

"You did not!" exclaimed Dana, coughing on her sip of water.

Ellen nodded her head. "Then he asked me if he could come home and I told him no. It took every last ounce of strength I had to do it too. The day after, I filed for divorce."

The waiter brought their drinks and took their dinner orders.

"How are the boys?" asked Dana.

Ellen smiled. "They're great. Carter's completely in the middle of junior high awkwardness, zits and all. All he wants to do is play basketball and video games. Trent has a girlfriend now. I think it's pretty serious, actually, but he doesn't really talk to me about it. And he got his driving permit last month."

"Oh my God, I can't believe he's sixteen. It makes me feel so old."

"You? I'm his mother. I don't feel old enough to have a sixteen- year-old, I really don't. And look at you! A toddler and one on the way."

"At forty."

"Eh - they say forty is the new thirty."

"I don't feel forty," said Dana. "Mulder will be forty-three this year. And we're having another baby. Is that crazy?"

"Not these days, it isn't. Seems like if you have them before thirty- five it's weird. Things have changed. My parents were twenty-two when I was born."

Dana smiled. "My mom was twenty-five with me. Barely twenty- one when Bill was born. She had all four of us by the time she was twenty-seven years old."

"Dutiful Catholic families we come from, eh?" said Ellen, jokingly.

A mischievous smile played on Dana's lips. "Sort of."

Ellen questioned her with her eyes.

"My parents were married in December of 1959. Bill was born in June of 1960."

A delighted look crossed Ellen's face. "Maggie!"

Dana chuffed out a laugh. "It's the Scully family skeleton. Nobody ever talked about it growing up, but we had all done the math. The only one of us who ever dared speak of it was Missy when my mother came home one day to find her upstairs with Jimmy Ferguson. My mother lit into her and I can still hear Missy screaming back at her, 'You should talk! People who live in glass houses, Mother, shouldn't throw stones.' The very next day my Mom took Missy to the doctor and put her on the pill. She never, ever told my father that Missy was on birth control."

"I loved your Mom. I still do. She was the coolest mom ever back then. Do you remember when I stayed at your house during Thanksgiving break of our sophomore year in college? We went out with those guys from Loyola that one night and we were so hammered when they dropped us back off at your house. You were sick in the upstairs bathroom and your Mom woke up and caught us. She never said a word about it the next day. My parents would have killed me."

Dana nodded, smiling. "She had already been through all that with Missy in high school. I think she was just thankful I waited until college to do that kind of stuff."

Their food arrived and they both began to eat, continuing to share old stories and new ones, laughing and enjoying each other's company as if no time whatsoever had passed since the last time they did this very same thing.

"So...I can't help but ask," Dana started, "are you seeing anyone?"

Ellen sighed and took another sip of her wine. "Tell me why it's so hard to find a man who's not unemployed, gay, married, or on parole? It's not like I'm asking for a lot here. I'd like it if he still had a little hair and didn't live with his parents, but I'd even be willing to compromise on those."

Dana laughed out loud. "I wish I could tell you. I remember asking you a very similar question years ago. Remember when you fixed me up with that guy...what was his name...?" Dana snapped her fingers, trying to remember. "Divorced, blonde hair, father of one of Trent's friends."

"Rob?"

"Yes! That's it. Rob."

"I haven't thought of him in years. Trent doesn't keep in touch with his son anymore. You did go out with him, if I recall correctly, didn't you?"

Dana nodded and smiled, forking salad into her mouth. "I did. Just once."

"He seemed nice. Was he a jerk or something?"

"No, not at all, although he spent most of the date talking about how hard it was getting over his divorce."

"Ooooh, not good," said Ellen, grimacing.

"But it wasn't even that really. There just wasn't any chemistry. At least I didn't think so. He seemed interested, though. He called me two days after we had dinner and asked me out again and I turned him down."

Ellen offered a knowing smile.

"What?"

"You don't think your lack of interest had anything to do with your life getting turned upside-down by a certain work partner that you're now sleeping with on a regular basis, do you?"

"Come on, that's ridiculous. I had only been working with Mulder for a few months when I went out with Rob. I had no interest in him whatsoever back then."

Ellen snorted out a laugh. "You've always been a really shitty liar, you know that?"

Dana's eyes widened and she blushed. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Poor Rob never stood a chance."

The corners of Dana's mouth tugged slightly upward. She shrugged and tilted her head in concession. Ellen laughed lightly.

"Whatever happened to Rob anyway?" asked Dana.

"Come to think of it, I have no idea. Maybe I should look him up. He was kind of cute."

"He wasn't bad. Nice hands."

"Yeah, but did he have big feet? You know what they say."

Dana laughed at loud. "Can't say that I noticed that part. But it might be worth investigating. And besides," she cleared her throat, "there could be some truth to that old wives tale."

"*Could* be?" Ellen smiled.

Dana quirked a brow at her. "Mulder wears a size 13 shoe."

Ellen burst into girlish giggles, then composed herself and sighed. "You're so lucky. Does he have any eligible friends?"

She barked out a laugh. "Not ones who are exactly boyfriend material."

Ellen let out a frustrated sigh. "Sometimes I get so..." she snorted out a laugh, "well there are words for it, but they're not exactly appropriate for dinner conversation."

Dana chuckled. "Since when has that ever stopped us?"

Ellen leaned across the table closer. "It's been five years," she said, placing particular emphasis on the 'five' and the 'years.' "Christ, do you think it's possible to grow your virginity back?"

Dana snorted and covered her mouth to swallow her food. "If that were possible, then I would have been the Virgin Mary."

Ellen gave her a confused look.

Dana cleared her throat. "Almost seven years."

Ellen gasped and then chuckled. "What the-" she silently mouthed the word 'fuck.' "I had just always assumed you two were doing it, for like, years."

Dana shook her head slowly. "Not even a little bit."

"Why, why, why...not?" Ellen's face still had a look of bewilderment.

"Now... I have no idea. It seemed to make sense at the time."

"Wow, Dana. That's what I call foreplay."

They both giggled together.

"That must have been some mind-altering sex when you finally got around to it?"

Dana smiled and her cheeks pinked. Sometimes images of her first time with Mulder would enter her mind randomly when she least expected it and her heart would flutter and jump even now. "That might be an understatement. It was worth the wait."

An exaggerated sigh escaped Ellen and she leaned her face on one elbow like she was enraptured by the thought. "God. I want that. I need that kind of sex. Right now, though, I'd settle for mediocre sex with the possibility for improvement."

Dana chuckled and pushed her plate away, sated. "Come on, let's go find a movie to see. There's got to be a chick flick playing around here somewhere."


They left Ellen's car at the restaurant and rode to the Movieplex together, planning to stop back for it on the way home. Dana drove and Ellen rummaged in her purse.

"Don't smoke in my car!" Dana warned.

"I'm not! Jesus, chill out. Just getting some gum. Want some?" She held out a pack of spearmint gum and Dana took a stick, unwrapped it, and folded it into her mouth.

"You and I used to chain smoke in that little Volkswagon of mine," said Ellen.

"Awwww, I loved that car," sighed Dana wistfully.

"Then you had to go and quit on me."

"You quit right after I did."

"Yeah, Mike made me. Little self-righteous asshole. But you're right, that car was the nuts. It had so much character. Every time I made a right-hand turn, the tape deck would reverse sides."

"Whatever happened to it?"

"We sold it when I was pregnant with Trent and got a minivan. That might have been the end of my coolness."

"You'll always be cool," said Dana.

Ellen turned on the radio and began scanning through the preset stations. Suddenly she turned up the volume loud. "Oh my God, this song!" Cruel Summer by Bananarama belted out of the speakers. "Do you remember it?"

Dana nodded, laughing. "Summer between our junior and senior year."

"We took off in my Volkswagon and went to Virginia Beach for two weeks. We called our parents from a pay phone at 2:00 a.m. to tell them where we were."

"My father was not happy," said Dana.

"I know. But do you remember what my Mom asked me on the phone when I called?" Ellen was giggling so hard now she could barely catch her breath. "Do you?"

Dana shook her head no and smiled curiously.

"She asked..." more giggling. "She asked me if I had condoms with me just in case!"

They both erupted into laughter. When they finally caught their breath, Dana asked, "Well, did you?" and they both cracked up again.

"I didn't, actually. But I bought some there."

Dana glanced at her, eyebrows arched, trying to keep her focus on the road.

"Come on, don't you remember those guys from the beach? We hung out with them for like, four days."

"Yeah, I remember," said Dana. "But we didn't...you didn't...did you?"

Ellen smiled back, biting her lip.

"You're kidding! You slept with him? Jesus, El!"

"I thought you did too. With yours."

Dana shook her head, brows raised.

"Ooops. I just assumed. I mean, that last night on the beach...we spent all night down there and you guys were way down on the other end of the beach."

"Yeah, we were, but we only fooled around. I mean, a lot, but still."

Ellen sighed. "They were really cute."

"They were," agreed Dana.

"Not very bright, but really cute." They both laughed. "That was a great trip."

They both bobbed their heads in unison to the music. Ellen sang along, "It's a cruel...cruel summer...leaving me here on my own..."

Dana joined in and they both sang louder. "It's a cruel...cruel summer..."


Mulder felt a cold hand snake around his front, startling him from sleep. He glanced at the bedside clock. 1:18 a.m.

"Hi. You're home," he murmured. Damp kisses peppered his bare shoulder. He rolled over. "And you're naked."

"Mmm hmmm," she hummed, skimming her nails across his sparse chest hair. "Is that a problem?"

"Never. Did you have a good time?"

"Mmm..."

He took that as a yes. Her nipples grazed his hip bones and her hair tickled him as it skidded down his front. He sucked in a breath.

"What movie did you see?" he breathed, palming the back of her silky head.

"Can we talk about it later?" Her voice was husky and he felt her hot breath on his cock. He was half erect, despite being roused from a deep sleep just three minutes ago.

She took him completely into her mouth, the flat of her tongue cradling him. He groaned and spread his legs apart slightly so she could work his balls with her hand. He was rock hard in seconds.

Her head bobbed now, tongue swirling around his tip and cheeks hollowing with maddening suction. His hips bucked up and he grazed the back of her throat. She coughed and came up for air.

"Sorry," he panted.

"It's okay." She took a break to catch her breath, but continued working him tightly from root to tip with her hand. Her saliva provided a nice lubricant and her hand slid over him like butter. How was it that he had done this to himself for years and it felt nothing like it did when she handled him? It was the difference between black and white and technicolor. The palm of her hand was like satin and she handled him with the confidence of a skilled lover. His grip on himself was always tighter, goal-oriented and greedy for release. Hers was more balanced and sensual, the perfect pressure delivered in random long and short strokes, sometimes with a twisting of the wrist thrown in. When he did it, he always knew what his next move would be. Her technique was like hitting shuffle on the stereo. He felt like he was careening down the beltway doing 85 mph after dark with the headlights off.

The whole experience of waking up to her like this wasn't new or even unusual. Second trimester hormones had hijacked his wife and substituted this nymph in her place, lustful and wanting, bold and unforgiving in her desire.

They used to make love two or three times a week. In first trimester when she had been sick and exhausted, it had been maybe once a week and sometimes not even that. Once second trimester hit, it was like a light switching on. He had gotten more in the last two months than he'd perhaps gotten in the entire last year of marriage. Several nights in a row, one night of rest, then several more. Sometimes more than once per night.

She hadn't worn anything to bed in weeks. He was just on the verge of not being able to keep up and he'd never thought in a million years that he'd ever experience that particular anomaly. Not that he was complaining. She was beautiful in her desire, lush and full and ripe, the gentle slope of her belly swollen and taut. She reminded him of one of those ancient fertility goddess statues. Her breasts alone gave him reason to get out of bed each morning, or perhaps rather to stay in bed. As the pregnancy progressed, her areolas became larger and darker, her nipples puffier. He could write a sonnet about them.

She sank her mouth back down on him, her teeth scraped lightly just once, then she was all the way down and he held his breath for a second. Oh my God, how? She was so small and he didn't think it arrogant to admit to himself that he was larger than average. Women had told him this. He believed them. They couldn't all have been trying to feed his ego.

Opting for more shallow mouth strokes now, she set up a faster- than- usual pace with her hand anchored tightly under her lips, rising and falling. He panted and moaned, her name probably, or something more crude. He fought the urge to reach his hand to the back of her head and press. Only jerks did that. He held his fists tight against his sides instead and felt it start, that familiar stirring that meant she only had about a minute or so. He tugged at her shoulder.

"Scully...come here."

"Nuh uh," she rasped. "This way. I want to taste you."

Jesus. He was pretty certain no woman had ever said that to him before. He was back to wondering just which fucking movie she had seen and if he could buy it.

He erupted into her mouth, shooting off into the great unknown, an avalanche of his own sticky mess. She slowed and then pulled off. He watched her wipe an errant drop from the corner of her mouth with one manicured index finger and then sink the tip of it between her lips, swirling her tongue. She collapsed on her back onto the pillow next to his.

His breath still came in spurts and when he pressed his fingers to his closed eyelids, he saw flashes of color. "Fuck," he said because it was all he was capable of.

She let forth a small chuckle.

"I hope you know you don't have to do that."

"Do what?" she asked.

"You know, the swallowing part. Well, any of it of course, but I was thinking of the um, swallowing."

"Sometimes I want to. Not all the time, but sometimes. You taste kind of good."

He couldn't imagine, but okay. "What does it taste like?" He didn't believe he was asking.

"You really want to know?"

"Second-hand, yes."

"Different each time, and a little of the same. Salty, bitter, earthy. You taste like you. I was thinking about it on the drive home."

"Which makes me have to ask again, what movie did you see? Because I'm buying it when it's released on DVD."

She giggled. "Along Came Polly."

"Sounds like a chick fest."

"It was. You would've loved it," she teased.

"If you blow me every time you watch it, then it's my favorite movie."

"It wasn't the movie. I just want it all the time right now. It's normal for second trimester. By the way, are you going to talk all night?"

He glanced down at his limp cock curled against his groin and arched a teasing brow at her. "I think I might be done."

She grasped his hand and thrust it between her legs. "Think again."

"Oh, was I forgetting something?" he laughed.

He lowered himself down the bed until his legs were hanging off and all he could see was creamy white thigh all around him and went to work.


March 30, 2004

Scully walked through the door from the garage into the kitchen and tossed the mail, her purse and keys onto the counter. The house was suspiciously quiet. She grabbed a mineral water from the fridge and made her way down the hall to the Mulder's office.

"Mulder?"

He wasn't there, but his office looked like he had simply stood up from his computer and walked off. His screensaver rotated through a photo collage of mostly William. There were stacks of papers and legal pads in mounds on his desk, more on the floor over by the bookshelves. His I Want To Believe poster hovered on the wall above the credenza, corners curling in from age and wear. A bulletin board next to it held over a hundred newspaper clippings and various photos, plus a listing of phone numbers for his editors at Random House. A cup of cold coffee sat, half- consumed on the desk next to a hardened bagel. The light on his office phone flashed with unretrieved messages.

His old leather sofa sat along the wall under the windows. A few of William's stuffed animals and toys, plus a discarded pair of Thomas the Train pajamas littered the top.

She tossed the bagel in the trash can, delivered the pajamas to the laundry room and the dirty dish to the kitchen sink, then went upstairs to change her clothes.

William was either outside playing with Lindsey, or Mulder had let the nanny go home early and had taken him somewhere. In any case, she'd take advantage of the quiet. She changed into a cotton maternity T-shirt, khaki pants, and tennis shoes. Three more months to go and she was already getting sick of her maternity clothes. Maybe she'd shop for a few more things this weekend.

She was about to retreat to her office to check email when she heard the sounds of people downstairs. She descended to find William on a stool at the kitchen sink, Lindsey helping him wash his hands.

"Hi Mommy, Lindsey and me went to the playground."

"You did?" She kissed the top of his head. "That sounds like fun."

"I picked up milk and cereal on the way back. You were almost out," said Lindsey. "I used money from the jar. Hope that's okay."

"Of course. That's what it's there for," replied Scully.

Lindsey had been William's nanny for four months now. She had come highly recommended by another doctor that Scully worked with who happened to be relocating. Lindsey had worked for their family for five years. She needed a new job and Scully needed a new nanny. Even better, she had experience with newborns. William fell in love with her the first time they met.

"Lindsey, do you happen to know where Mulder is?"

She shook her head as she put the milk and cereal away. "He was around earlier before we left for the playground. He said he needed to run an errand. Do you need me to stick around and start dinner?"

"No, thanks. I've got it. You can go ahead."

Just then she heard the garage door open. "Daddy's home," William said, running to look out the window. "He has a different car."

"What?" exclaimed Scully, following him to the window.

In the driveway, next to her white sedan, sat a shiny, clean, silver car she had never seen before.

"What the-" She walked out the door from the kitchen through the garage, William trailing behind her.

"Whose car is that, Mommy?"

"I don't know, Honey."

Mulder stood next to the silver car, driver's side door still open. A persistent ding indicated that the keys were still in the ignition. He leaned in and took them out, tossing them once into the air casually and catching them.

"Hey Scully."

"Mulder?" Her eyes narrowed as she peered into the backseat. "What is this?"

"It's a Volvo, Scully. One of, if not *the* safest cars on the road."

"I see that it's a Volvo. Whose is it?"

"Ours."

"What are you talking about?" she sighed. "Where's your car?"

"Traded it. It was time. We talked about it, remember?"

"We started a conversation a few weeks ago. I'm pretty sure we didn't decide on anything, Mulder. Don't you think a new vehicle purchase is something couples should discuss first?"

"It's shiny," said William, hopping up and down.

"It's very shiny. Come check out your digs in the backseat, Dude." Mulder opened the back door, then went around and lifted the hatch on the rear of the car. "And look, lots of room for a stroller and groceries, and whatever else."

"The stroller fits fine in the trunk of my Camry, Mulder."

"Two kids in car seats, Scully. Two. Diaper bags and strollers and sports equipment and all kinds of crap-"

"Mulder-"

"Sorry, all kinds of stuff."

"Who's going to be driving it?" asked Scully, casing around the car with her arms crossed above her burgeoning belly.

"It doesn't matter. You can, if you want. Or I'll drive it. It has a moon roof. Look." He sat down in the driver's seat and pressed a button to retract the window in the top of the car.

Scully's eyes widened slightly. "I might drive it."

"See, I knew you'd like the moon roof."

"Cool!" William stood in the back seat and tried to reach his hand up through the hole in the roof.

Lindsey walked out the door of the house with her bag slung over her shoulder and stopped. "Nice car."

Scully tossed her a pleading look.

"Hey, at least he didn't buy you a minivan," she smiled. "Bye bye, William. See you tomorrow." She headed down the circular driveway toward her own car.

"Bye Lindsey!" William called out.

"I still think we should have discussed it first," said Scully.

"Get in. Let's go for a ride and discuss it over cheeseburgers and milkshakes."

"Yay! Cheeseburgers and milkshakes!" William squealed from the back seat.


May 8, 2004

The sun was warm on her cheek as she lay on her side on a blanket in the grass, one arm folded under her head as a pillow, her other hand swirling lazy circles on her stomach. She should have worn sunblock, she realized too late. She cupped a hand over her eyes and opened them to watch Mulder and William tossing a softball back and forth in the grass about fifty yards from her.

It was an unusually warm Saturday for early May. Both Mulder and William wore shorts and T shirts. She wouldn't be caught dead in a pair of shorts right now. She hadn't even bothered to buy maternity shorts, opting for jumpers and casual dresses instead. Six more weeks to go. She could make it before the really hot weather hit. Besides, they had central air conditioning in the house.

It had been Mulder's idea for them to pack a lunch and spend the day at the park. Despite having been told to take it easy by her doctor due to an unexpected blood pressure spike a couple of weeks ago, work had been stressful lately. She had been working long hours trying to get ready to go out on maternity leave. Some days she barely sat down. Mulder had taken to calling her at work several times a day to check on her and had recruited Della's help in policing her when he couldn't be there. The well-meaning nurse nagged her about taking breaks and eating lunch. Whenever Mulder couldn't reach Scully on her cell phone, he called Della at the front desk for updates. Scully accused them of conspiring against her, but she knew they meant well.

William came running over to the blanket and flopped down, sweaty and out of breath. He had outpaced Mulder, who was still trotting in from several yards away.

"Can we eat now, Mommy? I'm starving."

She smiled and sat up, sweeping his damp hair from his forehead. "Sure. Why don't you reach into the cooler in the bottom of the stroller, Pumpkin. There's bottled water in it."

"Did you bring me peanut butter and jelly?"

"I did."

"What else?"

"Take a look," she gestured toward the picnic basket.

William opened it and pulled out sandwiches, carrots and celery sticks, strawberries and grapes, and a bag of pretzels."

"Oooh," he said, delighted, grabbing the bag of pretzels.

"Your sandwich and some of the other stuff first, William."

"Okay," he said, disappointedly.

Mulder got to the blanket, retrieved a bottle of water from the cooler and plopped down, reaching for the bag of pretzels.

"Hey! Mom, how come Daddy can have the pretzels before he eats the other stuff?"

Mulder smiled sheepishly and tucked the pretzels away, taking a sandwich and unwrapping it.

Scully handed William a baggie with carrots and celery sticks. He wrinkled his nose. "Can I have the strawberries instead?"

"You can have the strawberries too. Please eat a few veges."

Scully sat cross-legged, munching on her own sandwich. A piece of crust tumbled to land on the top ridge of her stomach and stayed there. William giggled furiously.

"That's a handy little shelf you've got there," Mulder teased, smiling at her.

Scully made a face at him and stuck her tongue out. William burst into laughter again.

"Go ahead and laugh. I can almost read a book without holding onto it now," she bragged.

William rolled to his side and pressed his little ear to her stomach. "Is he up now, Mommy?"

Scully placed one hand on the side of her expansive belly and shook her head. "I don't think so, Pumpkin. He seems pretty sleepy right now."

William's little hand pressed gently against her skin just below her rib cage. "I want to feel him move again. It's funny."

Since William had felt the baby kick, he had been obsessed with feeling it again and again. She would never tire of watching his small eyes grow wide with wonder and awe when he felt that little thumping against his hand. Once in awhile, they would actually see her skin ripple and move as a foot or hand rolled across from the inside and when that happened, William's mouth would hang open and he'd squeal and laugh hysterically. She felt a bit like a side show act in the circus.

"Sometimes he wakes up after I eat. We'll see. But he's usually pretty quiet during the afternoon."

"Sleeps during the day, up at night? Should we be worried, Scully?"

She smiled. "Probably."

"Maybe if we wake her now, she'll sleep tonight. You had trouble getting to sleep last night because of all the movement."

"I don't think it works like that, Mulder. It's common for fetuses to be active at night. The mother's daytime movements usually lull them to sleep."

William tapped gently at her tummy. "Wake up in there. Wake up, little brother."

Mulder and Scully exchanged looks. Scully cleared her throat.

"Um Sweetie, you know that Mommy and Daddy don't know if you're going to have a little brother or a little sister, don't you?"

He looked at them confused. "Matty has a brother," he replied.

Scully realized that William was talking about his cousin, Matthew, Bill and Tara's son, who he had seen recently when Tara and the kids had come to stay at her Mom's house.

"Yes, he does. But he also has a sister now too," said Scully.

William nodded and smiled like he was privy to some kind of insider information on how this kind of thing worked. "Yeah, but he had the brother first. That's how it works. The little sister comes after the little brother."

Scully looked at Mulder for help. He shrugged and suppressed an amused chuckle.

"William, that's just the way it worked out for Aunt Tara and Uncle Bill. Not all families have two brothers first, then a sister. Sometimes a little girl is born first. Some families have just girls, and some have only boys. All families are different and they all have a different number of children in them."

William stared back like she had just told him the ocean was pink.

"We don't know if the baby inside Mommy's tummy is a boy or a girl," she continued. "It's going to be a surprise. Won't that be fun?"

"I want a brother," William said, decidedly, his brow furrowed in concern.

Scully looked at Mulder and mouthed the word "help."

He smiled and reached for William, rolling him onto his side and tickling him. William laughed jovially and covered his tummy with both hands.

William sat back up and Mulder handed him a baggie full of grapes, but not before extracting some for himself and popping one in his mouth.

"You know, I had a little sister," Mulder said.

Scully's eyes darted to meet his, then retreated down to her lap. She had stopped eating and fingered the label on her bottled of Aquafina.

"I wasn't much older than you when she came along either," he continued.

"Aunt Samantha," said William.

"Yes," Mulder confirmed. William ate grapes and listened quietly, apparently sensing that the situation called for his attention.

"Did you want a brother instead?" he asked.

"Honestly, I can't remember that part. But what I do remember is that I liked having a sister. She looked up to me and thought I was cool. I didn't have to share a room with her because she was a girl. And the best part was that she didn't mess with my toys because she had her own to play with, like dolls and stuff."

William wrinkled his nose. "Did she like cars and trucks?"

"Nope. Not really."

"What about Play Doh?"

"Maybe," he said. "But there's always enough of that to go around and it's more fun to cut out shapes with somebody else anyway, right?"

William sniffed and nodded, considering. "A sister might be all right," he said. "But is it okay if I think I want a brother a little bit more?"

Scully huffed out a small laugh.

"Yeah, of course," said Mulder, ruffling his hair. "Come on, eat your lunch. I want to do the big slide."

William giggled. "You're too big."

"Never," said Mulder.


Mulder lay stretched out on his back on top of the covers in his boxers, flipping channels. The night air was warm and the windows were open. A breeze caught the gauzy bedroom curtains and they billowed and flapped. Scully padded out from the bathroom and to her side of the bed. She was wearing a sleeveless cotton nightgown with a tiny floral print. The fact that she had changed into her pajamas in the bathroom was not lost on him.

After a bit of maneuvering and the strategic layering of many pillows, she settled herself down onto her back next to him, hands crossed over her belly. She reached for a medical journal, opened to where she had a page bookmarked and propped it up on her stomach shelf. Mulder smiled and flipped the TV off, then turned onto his side and quietly regarded her.

"What?" she asked, glancing at him.

"Nothing. I just like looking at you."

"Aren't you going to watch TV?"

"There's nothing on."

"Why are we paying for cable when I barely watch it and you're always saying there's nothing on?"

"Sports," he confirmed. "And Nickelodeon. It's the opium of the masses. Well, of the preschool crowd anyway."

Mulder slid closer and kissed her bare shoulder several times. He detected a tiny smile, although she was doing her best to ignore him and concentrate on her journal article. He took to nibbling her arm from bicep to wrist. She turned the page and kept her eyes on the print.

"Whatcha doing, Mulder?"

"Seducing you," his voice mumbled against her skin. His hand nudged the magazine out of the way so he could trace the underside of her swollen breast. She sighed and looked at him. He felt somewhat like a pesky mosquito about to get swatted.

"You're not in the mood?" he asked, not hiding his disappointment very well.

Her brows arched. "It's not that exactly."

He removed his tongue from the crease in her elbow. "Then what is it...exactly?"

She sighed and tossed the journal to the floor.

"Because I'm a little confused," he continued. "A couple of months ago we were doing it so much I thought my dick might fall off."

She puffed out a tiny laugh and her cheeks pinked.

"I'm serious, Scully. You were insatiable. In a good way, I might add. But lately, you've been more frigid than a virgin at a church social."

She pursed her lips and frowned. "That's charming. Really."

He snorted. "I'm sorry. Just tell me what I'm doing wrong. Because I'm hitting you with all my best moves, Scully, and you're shooting me down. I'm not even getting out of the gate anymore."

She sighed again and her eyes welled a little. "Have you looked at me lately, Mulder?"

He stared back, confused.

"I'm a blimp! My stomach is enormous. I can't imagine that you'd want to have sex with me right now, let alone figure out the logistics of it. I mean, God. I suppose you could just roll me in flour and look for the wet spot."

Mulder couldn't help it. He laughed at that. Thankfully, she did too, taking breaths between laughs and wiping at her eyes.

He shook his head tenderly and smiled at her. "C'mere, Honey." He pulled her against him and tucked her head under his chin.

"First of all, you're not a blimp, you're pregnant. Second of all, I happen to be completely and hopelessly turned on by this gestating version of you."

She snorted and turned her head to the side, not able to meet his eyes.

"Stop it, Scully. Stop disrespecting yourself. Think about what your body is doing. It's nurturing and growing an entire new person in there. There's fingers and eyelashes and knees, and a nose - hopefully yours and not mine - and it's all inside of you. I mean, come on, you're a doctor, don't you get how cool that is? Fuck the X-Files, this is way better."

"I get all that, but aren't you just a little bit put off by my size? I am. I have an outie now, Mulder. My belly button used to be an innie and now it's an outie. I liked having an innie," she whined.

"Um, I hate to break it to you, but you're still a pretty small person, baby and all. I don't get why women always assume men won't be attracted to them while they're pregnant. I mean, it's not like guys hang out and talk about this really, so I can't speak for anyone else, but I'm into it. You're like ripe and...sensual...and your breasts are like these juicy, round..." he shaped both of this hands into circles, flexing his fingers like he was squeezing something. He had a far-off, dazed look in his eyes.

Scully laughed out loud.

"Go ahead and laugh, but I can't stop thinking about them. Do you know that your nipples are erect literally all the time, Scully? Trust me, I know. I've made a point of checking them regularly. I can see them through the fabric of your shirts when you're just minding your own business around the house and I just want to drop down and roll them between my lips and teeth."

He heard her draw in a sharp breath and wiggle a little against his chest.

"Give me your hand." He grabbed it and dragged it down over his erection, which was solid and firm.

"That. Just from thinking about you. Do you think I'm faking it?"

She turned her face toward him and nuzzled her nose against his. He pecked at her lips until she opened them slightly and then he dove in, sinking a hungry tongue into her. Her hand never left the front of his shorts, but her grip tightened a little. He rotated his groin against her palm.

He skimmed his hand up the inside of her thigh. Her panties were damp already. She lifted one bent knee outward and he slipped a finger inside the elastic of the leg opening. She felt hot and slick around his finger. Her hand moved up and down against the cotton of his shorts. She was handfucking him through his boxers and her palm felt like it was on fire.

He pulled his mouth from hers just far enough to utter words, his teeth tugging at her bottom lip. "I want you. Please."

She nodded and a breathy "uh huh" wafted out as she nipped his earlobe.

"Can we lose some of the clothes before I make a mess in mine?" he panted.

She worked at the waistband of his shorts. He wiggled very ungracefully until they were off and then lifted her nightgown slowly until it was up over her breasts. The brown circles surrounding her nipples sang to him. He traced the perimeter of her areola with his finger over and over again and she arched.

Getting the nightgown over her head and off was a tiny bit awkward and he prayed she didn't lose the mood and revert back to self-conscious doubt. But then both of her own hands came up to pinch her puffed nipples and she licked her lips and he knew he still had a green light. His attention drifted to the panties that lay tucked under her hard belly. They were damp before, now they were simply wet. His nostrils flared. He could smell her arousal.

She lifted her hips and he tugged them down and off. Her knees fell open and he couldn't resist. He bent to run the flat of his tongue all the way up her slit to her clitoris and then drew it in and sucked it greedily. She bucked and trembled.

"Oh Mulder!" Her labia were open and inviting, mysterious folds and layers beckoning to him. He had never really contemplated the age-old analogy of a woman's vagina to a flower before, but he did now. Hers was pink and soft and alive. Nectar of the Gods.

"More?" he asked her.

She shook her head, locks of red gold hair shading her eyes. "I want you in me."

He pulled himself to his knees and appraised the situation. It had been over two weeks since the last time. She was bigger. She had been on top last time, but he didn't want her to strain her back. It had been a month since missionary had worked and it was tricky even then.

"How should we-"

She rolled to her side and pulled him down behind her. "This way," she breathed.

He spooned himself up behind her and she reached back for his hip, raising her outer knee and opening herself to him. His cock rubbed on her buttocks, leaving a slippery wetness there. He kissed her shoulder and then found a nice spot to latch onto and sucked, marking her. It was such an animalistic and territorial thing to do and yet, he couldn't stop himself.

He wet his fingers with saliva and reached down to guide himself inside her.

He felt her jump and tense, her fingers pinching his flank. "Oh! Watch where you're going, Mulder."

"Shit, sorry." He pulled back and felt around some more with his fingers, differentiating possible avenues.

She tipped her head back. "Were you trying to go, um, there?"

"What? No! I'm sorry, did I hurt you?"

She shook her head no.

He stopped trying to push for a minute and just kissed and suckled her skin. She hummed and one of her hands snaked between her thighs to touch herself. Oh God. He continued pumping shamelessly against her. Fuck. He was going to shoot off on the outside of her thigh if he didn't get into her.

He pulled his mouth off her shoulder and groaned. "Scully? A little help?"

She chuckled and reached her hand back behind her to guide him in safe and sound. He stroked into her, cupping her breast in his hand. She moved herself back and forth against him, meeting his thrusts. Her hand continued to work on herself simultaneously.

He could be really close if he wasn't careful. It had been too long since they were together last and days since he had bothered to take care of himself. He had been edgy to start with. She felt extraordinarily tight at this angle, her thighs pressed snugly together.

This wasn't a position they typically used much. It wasn't particularly conducive to deep thrusting or speed, something they were both equally fond of. But in her present condition, it worked extremely well for keeping his weight off of her. An added bonus was that she had easy access to herself, which she seemed to be making great use of.

He was getting there quickly, despite his efforts to control himself. Her walls were gripping him like a vise and her supple breast pressed into his hand as she moved against him, her erect nipple wedged between two of his fingers. It was sexual sabotage. She owned him.

"Scully, shit..." His staggered breath sounded pleading and desperate, even to him. "I'm so close."

"Me too." Those two words made him so happy he could cry. Her hand fluttered faster and her movements quickened. He drove in harder and just let it happen.

It was unclear who went first. He was vaguely aware of her crying out loudly, more so than usual, as she rocked hard against him. Her back arched like a bow. His fingers grasped her hip so hard, he hoped he wouldn't leave bruises. Thousands of years of civilization and when he comes, he could so easily go caveman on her. He fought the urge to bite into the smooth skin of her shoulder. His life emptied into her until there was nothing left and he was spent and sweating around her, his eyes unable to focus on anything more than the flawless slope of her willow neck.

He was still inside her, surrounded and safe. He could fall asleep that way.

The door to their bedroom creaked open and there was shuffling.

"Mommy, are you okay?"

"William!" Scully dove for the sheet.

Mulder lurched back to reality. His son stood next to their bed, his blanket clutched in his hands, a confused and frightened look on his face.

"Hey Buddy," he said, sitting up under the sheet.

William sniffled and regarded them curiously, his brows knit. "I had a bad dream."

Scully clutched the sheet to her chest with one hand and reached for him with the other. "It's okay, Sweetheart." She swept her hands over his hairline. "There's nothing to be afraid of. It was just a dream."

Mulder slid his legs over the side of the bed and searched the rug for his boxer shorts. Thankfully, they hadn't gone far. He stood and pulled them on, his back to the bed.

"Come on, let's go tuck you back in," he said, taking William's hand. Scully planted a kiss to William's temple.

"Can you lay down with me for a minute?" he asked in an uncertain voice.

"Yeah, I can do that."

He walked William back down the hall.

"Do you need to go to the bathroom?"

William thought for a second, then nodded and dropped his blanket in the hall. He pulled his pajama pants down and yawned through using the toilet and washing his hands. He shuffled back to his room and got into bed. Mulder laid down next to him on his side, one arm tucked under his head.

"Why was Mommy crying?"

"What?" Mulder had heard the question. He was stalling for time and hoping for an epiphany.

"I heard Mommy crying. What was the matter?"

"No, Mommy wasn't crying, Buddy. She was just, um, really excited about something, that's all."

William eyes him suspiciously. "She sounded hurt." The toddler crap-detecting meter was set to high, Mulder could see.

"No, no. She just got a little excited about something, but now she's fine. You saw her, right?"

William's face relaxed a little. He nodded and yawned.

Mulder had often wondered how he'd do when this topic came up, but he had figured he had at least a few more years. He certainly wouldn't win any parent of the year awards for that pitiful little exchange.

Within five minutes, William's breathing had regulated and he was back to sleep. Mulder slipped from his son's room and back to his own.

Scully was wearing her nightgown again and lying on her back, eyes still open.

"We should've locked the bedroom door," she said.

"I didn't think we were going to do it."

"Is he all right?"

"Yeah, he's fine. All kids walk in on their parents. It was bound to happen sooner or later. I doubt he'll need trauma therapy."

"What did he say?"

"He asked why you were crying."

Her head swiveled to look at him and she propped herself on her elbows. "Oh no, he thought I was hurt?"

Mulder smiled. "Something like that."

"What did you tell him?"

"I told him you weren't crying, that you had just gotten excited about something, but you were fine."

Scully clicked her tongue and fell back onto her pillow, one arm tossed over her face. "Oh God."

Mulder chuckled. "He's fine, Scully. He went right back to sleep. He didn't see anything."

"I shouldn't have been that loud. I'm never that loud."

"I liked it. I wish you were loud more often. It makes me feel like I'm doing my job."

Scully tossed him an adorably embarrassed look. "Well, William isn't the only one we woke up," she said, her hand rotating gently on the side of her stomach.

Mulder smiled and slid closer to her, joining his hand with hers. "She's up?"

Scully nodded and smiled. "With a vengeance. He's kick boxing with my bladder."

Mulder slid his hand up under the hem of her nightgown to rest against her skin. Nothing at first. He pressed gently. Then, as if in response, he felt a distinct tapping against his palm, followed by a swelling and rolling as a tiny body part shifted, then more tapping and pushing.

"Holy...she's doing the macarena in there, Scully."

She chuckled lightly. "I think the uterine contractions during orgasm set him off. It's happened before."

"It's a little weird," Mulder began.

"What is?"

"Making love with our child...there. I kind of feel like I'm being watched."

"Does it bother you?"

"Not enough to stop."

She laughed. "Somehow I doubt he'll remember a thing."

"You keep saying 'he.'"

"I think because of having William. It feels natural," she said.

"I think it's a girl," he smiled, his face against her cheek.

"You do?" She looked at him.

"Kind of. What do you think?"

"I sort of think it's a boy," she said.

Scully rolled to her side, facing away from Mulder and he spooned himself behind her, keeping his hand on her stomach.

"Will you be able to sleep?"

"I don't know," she yawned. "Probably. I'm kind of used to the nocturnal fiesta by now. It's good practice for those 2 a.m. feedings."

Mulder picked his head up and leaned over her, pressing his lips to the swell that reached all the way up under her breasts now at thirty-four weeks. "Go to sleep, little earthling. Your mother needs her rest," he hummed against her.

"Maybe if you sing to him, he'll fall asleep."

Mulder lifted his head and peered up at her, dubiously. "You're kidding, right?"

"Come on, Mulder, I've heard you sing in the shower. You have a nice voice. Better than mine. Sing."

He considered. "Any requests?"

"Something happy," she yawned.

He sang quietly, "Little darling, it's been a long, cold lonely winter...little darling, it feels like years since it's been here...Here comes the sun...da da da da ...here comes the sun...and I say, it's all right..."

"More," she whispered. "He's settling."

"Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces...little darling, it seems like years since it's been here...Here comes the sun...da da da da...here comes the sun...and I say, it's all right..."

He heard Scully's soft voice join in, slightly off-key and they sang together. "Sun, sun, sun, here it comes...sun, sun, sun, here it comes."


May 27, 2004

Mulder came in from his run and kicked his sneakers off, then headed for the kitchen to grab a quick lunch. The house was quiet. He found a note on the kitchen counter.

"Went to the park and then groceries with William. Your neighbor, Mr. Hannum, brought over your electric bill. It landed in his mailbox. Back before naptime.

Lindsey

P.S. I made chicken soup for William's lunch. Leftovers in the fridge, if you want any."

Mulder heated up a bowl of the soup and sifted through the sections of The Post scattered haphazardly over the kitchen table. He found the sports section and carried it and his lunch into the family room and flipped on ESPN.

As he was spooning chicken and broth into his mouth, he heard the trill of his office phone. He wanted to let the machine get it, but he had a deadline on several chapters biting his ass and it wasn't unlike Pamela, his editor, to call him the week before with nervous reminders. He liked Pamela. They worked well together...for the simple reason that his office was 200 miles from hers and he only saw her about four times a year.

He left the soup and trotted to his office to grab the phone.

"Mulder."

"Where the hell you been? I been calling your cell phone." He recognized the voice on the other end immediately. But usually it was joking with him and this time he got the feeling something wasn't funny.

"Della? What's wrong?"

"She's been admitted. Passed out during morning rounds. They're running tests. You better get over here."

"I'm on my way."

He left the soup on the coffee table and the TV on.


When Mulder got to her hospital room, the door was closed. He paused to catch his breath. He was still wearing his running shorts and T-shirt. He hadn't showered and probably smelled like it. The bottom half of her was visible through the small window in the door, a yellow cotton blanket covering her legs and feet.

Paul Hanover stood inside talking to a white-haired man in a lab coat that he didn't recognize.

Mulder pushed through the door. He purposely didn't look at Dr. Hanover, but went straight to Scully's side. She was awake, but looked dreamy and a little out of it. She smiled upon seeing him. "Mulder," she said, breathlessly.

He bent and kissed her forehead, sweeping hair from her cheek tenderly. "Hey, I'm here. It's all right."

"You didn't need to come. I'm okay."

"What? Scully-" He shook his head and frowned, picking up her hand and holding it between both of his. "Della said you fainted."

She gave a half nod. "I'm fine. I just got a little light-headed during rounds. People are making a fuss. The baby's fine."

He noticed her eyelids fluttering. She looked like she was fighting to stay awake. "Shhh, why don't you get some rest, okay? I'll be here when you wake up."

She sighed and closed her eyes. He squeezed her hand, then placed it gently down onto her side before becoming alert to Paul Hanover's presence again. The other man, another doctor, Mulder presumed, had already gone.

"What are you doing here?" Mulder asked. It came out before he could consider his tone. He hadn't meant it the way it sounded. Or maybe he had.

"Can we step out for a word?" Hanover asked, quietly.

Mulder nodded and followed Scully's colleague into the hall.

"What the hell happened?" Mulder asked. "She was fine this morning when she left."

"Apparently, she collapsed during her late morning rounds. There were residents with her and she wasn't injured, but she did lose consciousness for a few minutes."

"Why are you here?" Mulder knew he was probably being a dick, but he couldn't help it and being sensitive to Hanover's feelings wasn't his top priority at the moment.

"I'm her supervisor and co-chair. Of course I was called when she collapsed. I've been with her ever since." His tone bordered on smug. 'How convenient,' Mulder wanted to say.

"Has she been evaluated?"

"Yes, fully." Hanover sighed. "It's been a busy week. Dana and I have been finalizing a proposal document for part of the research. We had an early morning meeting and then went right into doing lab analysis and rounds. She was on her feet all morning and skipped breakfast. Initial blood workups indicated that her blood sugar, electrolytes, and iron were low. She blacked out."

"What about the baby?"

"The baby is fine. She had an ultrasound right before you got here."

Mulder ran his hand through his hair and shook his head. "Why is she so out of it?"

Hanover's eyes looked away for a minute and darted down the hallway in avoidance, then returned to Mulder's. "She started contracting right after she regained consciousness."

"So she's in labor?" Mulder asked, incredulously.

"Not now. She's been given Nifedipine to stop the contractions. And they also gave her a mild sedative to make her rest. Hopefully, the labor will remain stalled."

"And if it doesn't?" Mulder's eyes widened.

Hanover sighed. "Then she'll deliver early. She's thirty-five weeks. It would be better for her to go another few weeks, but she can safely deliver now if necessary."

Mulder's nostrils flared. "How the hell did this happen? There's no reason why she should have been on her feet all morning and keeping that kind of pace." Mulder was aware that his voice had been gradually rising and now their conversation was being noticed by staff members that passed them in the hall. He glared at Hanover through narrowed eyes. "She works for you. You should have been looking out for her well-being. She's eight months pregnant, for Christ's sake, and I've watched her come home exhausted and dead on her feet for weeks now."

"With all due respect, Mr. Mulder, I'm assuming that you know better than I do that looking out for Dana's well-being and getting her to do what's best for her are two entirely different matters. She's one of the most strong-willed people I've ever worked with. If I told her that spring came before summer, she'd find a way to challenge my argument."

Mulder chuffed out a laugh and stared at the floor, head shaking. He didn't have anything to say to that because it was true. Scully navigated the world on her own terms.

"So what happens now?" Mulder asked, his voice calmer.

"Well, we wait and see what happens in the next few hours. She'll be kept on IV fluids and encouraged to rest. If the labor doesn't start again, then she can go home. I imagine at this point," he glanced at his watch, "it will be tomorrow morning."

"I don't want her just picking up where she left off," Mulder said, authoritatively.

Hanover shook his head. "I anticipate she'll be ordered onto bed rest, so you won't have to worry about it." The tone he used and his pursed lips suggested that he found this to be inconvenient and a thorn in his agenda. "The sedative they gave her is likely to keep her out for a few hours. There's no reason for you to hang around here waiting for her to wake up. I'll be checking in on her regularly and I can take care of whatever she needs."

Mulder's hackles raised once again, despite his intention to play nice. "What's the name of the doctor on her case?"

"Dr. Silverstein."

"Then I'm sure it's Dr. Silverstein's job to check in on her regularly. And I'm not going anywhere. I appreciate you bringing her in and staying with her until I could arrive, but I've got it from here," Mulder said with conviction. He half considered peeing in a perimeter around Scully's hospital room, but thought it might be a bit much.

Hanover responded with a cool, self-satisfied tilt of the head. "Then you'll let me know if she needs anything."

Mulder gave a half nod and turned the door handle to go back into Scully's room.

She was still resting peacefully on her side, knees bent under the cotton blanket and one arm curled under her head. She looked small and vulnerable and Mulder fought the urge to climb up onto the hospital bed and curl himself around her. Instead, he stretched out in a stiff vinyl recliner, as much as anyone his size could stretch out in a chair, and nodded off.


When he came to again, a nurse was fastening a new saline bag to Scully's IV and smiling at him.

"Not the most comfortable chairs in the world, are they?"

Scully dozed on, despite the subtle tugging on her IV line.

"She hasn't woken yet," he stated.

The young nurse smiled. "That's good. She needs the rest. Are you Dad?"

Mulder nodded.

"Your little munchkin's been pretty active."

Mulder looked at the nurse curiously.

"I've got a fetal monitor on your wife to measure any contractions." She pointed to a small screen by the other side of Scully's bed. "Lots of healthy movement. Everything looks good. If labor doesn't start again, Dr. Silverstein will probably release her tomorrow morning."

"So no baby today, then?" Mulder asked.

"Never say never. Babies are the most unpredictable things around. But hopefully we can convince your munchkin to stay put just a little longer." She wrote in a chart and placed it back in a plastic holder by the door. "I'll be back later. Buzz if she needs anything."

"Can I use my cell phone in here?" Mulder asked, pulling it from the pocket of his shorts.

"Sure. Go ahead. If reception sucks, go out to the west waiting room. It's always better there."

The nurse left and Mulder made two phone calls -one to Lindsey to ask if she could stay a little later with William and one to his mother-in-law to apprise her of the situation and ask if she could take William to her house for the night.

As he hung up, Scully slowly awoke. A sleepy smile spread over her face when her eyes focused on him.

"Hi," he said, sliding his chair closer to her and taking her hand.

She took in his sweaty T shirt and shorts. "You didn't need to dress up for me, Mulder."

He laughed. "I didn't realize there was a chance we'd be having a baby today."

The giddiness left her face. "I'm sorry I worried you."

"You shouldn't have pushed yourself, Scully. It's not worth it."

"I didn't think I was. It just snuck up on me. I'll be more careful from now on, I promise."

"Yes, you will, because you're going on bed rest until this baby comes."

"Mulder, that's crazy. I'm fine."

"You're not fine, Scully. You passed out and started labor. That's not fine."

"There's no way I can leave work yet. I have a million things left to do to prepare for maternity leave and Paul and I have a research proposal due next week."

"It was Dr. Hanover who informed me that you'd probably be ordered onto bed rest. He's aware of the situation and I'm sure he can reshuffle some things and cover for you, Scully. And there's no reason why you can't work on your part of the proposal on your laptop from home." And I'd feel a whole lot better if you'd call him Doctor Hanover instead of Paul, but he left that part out.

Her mouth opened to argue some more, but Mulder just shook his head slowly and held up one hand.

"You know it has to be this way, Scully."

She sighed and gave a conciliatory, unenthused nod. "Dammit."

He knew she hated it when he was right.

The next morning he took her home with strict instructions to be off her feet as much as possible. Mulder didn't exactly think it would be a breeze, but he couldn't have foreseen just how hard it would be to get a petite, extremely pregnant, stubborn-as-a- mule, redhead to take it easy. Pain in the ass was putting it kindly.

He spent the next several weeks reminding her not to fold laundry, empty the dishwasher, and pick up the play room. One day he came home to find her vacuuming the stairs. He very calmly unplugged the vacuum cleaner, led her back to the sofa amidst her grumbling, and very seriously threatened to handcuff her to the end table if she got up for the rest of the afternoon.

In her defense, Mulder knew exactly what this was. It was nesting. He had read about it and she had all the symptoms. No matter how clean the house was, it wasn't good enough. She folded and refolded Onesies and put them into dresser drawers, stacked newborn diapers onto the changing table, and made lists of things for Mulder to do, such as "Install new carseat," "Dig the play pen out from the back of the garage," and "Check the stroller over for safety." The stroller was fine. But he did it anyway. Anything to keep her off her feet and content. Sometimes she asked him to rearrange the baby furniture to see if she liked the changing table better under the window or against the wall. He did that too. And smiled in the process.

William enjoyed having his mother home. They routinely cuddled together and watched cartoons in the morning until Lindsey arrived, sharing polite discourse on what exactly lived inside Oscar the Grouch's trash can. Before his afternoon nap, Scully read William stories and rubbed his back. Mulder enjoyed watching her have time with William during the day that she wasn't used to having.

Mulder managed to meet his writing deadline, despite the distractions at home. Instead of sequestering himself in his office, he wrote on his laptop in the family room, so he could keep an eye on Scully's activity level. She telecommuted from the sofa, carrying on daily conference calls with Paul Hanover. Mulder tried not to eavesdrop, but it was just a little too tempting, so he settled for trying not to appear like he was hanging on her every word.

The days on the calendar turned and she gestated on.


June 14, 2004

This one was even more vivid than the other dreams she'd become accustomed to during her pregnancy. She was thirteen years old and standing in the bedroom that she shared with Missy. There were white eyelet bedspreads on two twin beds and yellow curtains with ruffles and tie-backs. Her side of the room was always neat and it drove her crazy to have to wade through her sister's mess to get to her own bed. Perfume bottles and incense littered the top of their shared dresser, even though they were not allowed to burn incense in their room. Missy usually hid it under her bed, but had forgotten about it today in her haste to leave with her friends. Dana didn't bother cleaning it up, hoping their mother would notice it and Missy would get into trouble.

She pulled a few tops of Missy's out of the closet and tried them on. They were all too big on her, especially in the bust. She had just begun to develop, her new breasts budding into small, firm mounds, pressing against her Catholic school jumpers. They were tiny. She could completely cover them with her hands. Missy already wore a B cup at fifteen and a half. She saw the way boys looked at her sister and it both disgusted her and made her jealous at the same time. She put on the white halter top that tied behind the neck and then stuffed tissues in the cups to fill it out. Then she put on Missy's coral lipstick and assessed herself in the mirror. She looked ridiculous. She pulled the halter off over her head and got lipstick on the hem.

And then all at once she was at the beach. It was summer of the same year. Missy and her friends were swimming while Dana was stretched out on a striped towel reading a book. She liked to swim too, but Missy's friends were jerks, especially the boys. They were only interested in pulling girls under the water and yanking on their bikini top strings.

She felt something strange. It felt damp and tacky between her legs, slippery and thick. Dana knew exactly what it was without looking. It hadn't happened to her yet, but she had known to expect it because she had seen a movie about it in school, and because she was the last out of her closest friends. Kathleen, Meg, and Susan D. had all gotten theirs already. She had been carrying supplies in the side compartment of her school bag for months now just in case. Of course, since she had come unprepared to the beach, it would have to happen there.

She waved Melissa in from the water and her sister followed her to the locker room, beach towel wrapped around Dana's waist. But all Missy had was a tampon and when Dana tried to use it, it hurt too much and she gave up, ready to cry. She stuffed a wad of toilet paper in her bathing suit instead. It felt stiff and uncomfortable and she kept soaking through. Warm and slippery, it wouldn't stop. It was too much, too wet, and she put her hand between her legs.

And then she startled awake, gasping. Her nightgown was soaked.

"Mulder!"

"Hmmpff," he mumbled beside her, his face buried in two puffy pillows.

She shook his shoulder. "Mulder! My water broke."

That did it. His head shot up and then he was on his feet beside the bed in a split second, looking dazed and disoriented. He looked down at her, still supine on the mattress. He had roadmaps on his cheek from the pillow and a morning erection that pointed at her, mockingly.

"What do we, um,...should we..." He scratched at the morning stubble on face and stumbled for coherent thought.

"There's no hurry yet," she said, rolling herself from the bed carefully. Water trickled down the inside of her leg. "I'm not contracting at all. I'm going to take a quick shower because I don't think I'll get one for awhile. Why don't you call my mother and see if we can drop William off with her until Lindsey can pick him up."

"Should you take a shower? I mean, is it okay?"

"Yeah, showers are fine. No baths after the membranes rupture."

He was staring down at the soaked sheets on the bed.

"I put a waterproof mattress pad on three weeks ago, just in case," she said, reading his bewilderment.

"I'll strip the bed, then," he said, tugging the comforter and top sheet off. "What time is it, anyway?"

"Five fifteen," she replied, heading for the bathroom.

"Hey Scully," he called after her. "It's June 14th. We're having a baby on Flag Day. How very patriotic of you."


They were parked in front of her mother's house and the door to the passenger side of the Volvo where she sat was open. Mulder wrestled William from his car seat and the little blue duffel bag with William's initials from the back of the car. The door to the cape-style house opened and her mother walked out to the car in her bathrobe and slippers.

Dana closed her eyes and braced against the sharp tightness, taking deep and even breaths, then opened them again as it passed.

"How far apart?" her mother asked, now standing at the car with her hand resting gently on her daughter's shoulder.

"Far enough. They just started about thirty minutes ago. They're not bad yet."

Maggie bent over and placed both of her hands on either side of Dana's face, planting a kiss on her flushed cheek. "You're going to do just fine. Don't be surprised if it moves faster than with William. My labor with Bill was twenty-two hours. Melissa was seven and you were only four. We barely made it to the hospital with Charlie."

She tried to smile. Seven hours still seemed like a long time when she knew it was going to get a lot worse before it got better. "Lindsey is going to pick William up at 8:30 this morning. Can she drop him back off at dinnertime to spend the night with you?"

"I'll just stay at your house, Honey. It will be less disruptive for William. This is probably confusing enough as it is for him."

As if in response, William sidled up to the passenger side of the car and draped his small arm lightly over her stomach. "Is the baby coming out of your tummy today, Mommy?"

"Yes." She pulled him into an embrace and kissed his temple and then his hair, breathing him in. Things were about to change forever for her and William, and although she was indescribably excited to meet her second child, she couldn't help feeling just a little saddened for the inevitable shift in her relationship with her firstborn. She held him tightly against her and didn't want to let him go, but her mother reached for William's hand and he drifted away obediently.

As she watched him walk up the driveway and into his grandmother's house, she felt the beginning of another contraction building. Mulder opened the driver's side door and got into the car. He watched her with concern etched on his face until she finally relaxed again and her breathing slowed.

"That was a little closer together than before," he said.

She nodded and rested her head back, eyes closed.

"Do I need to break any speed limits, Scully?"

"I don't think so," she whispered.

He did anyway.


"Was that one worse than the one before?" he asked, eyes on his watch. "Because it seemed to last a little longer."

"Mmmm," was all she could manage. She was standing bent over her hospital bed, both hands resting palms down on the mattress. She had been pacing the room for the last two hours because it felt better to be moving than lying still. The word 'better' being relative here. It still hurt like hell. She had been offered an epidural twice and refused it twice. It had seemed like a solid decision at the time, but she was starting to doubt her sanity.

"What was that? Did you say worse or the same, Scully?"

"I don't know, the same, I guess. Mulder, can you stop asking me that? In fact, can you please just shut up for awhile?"

He looked stricken, the shadow of a self-pitying pout hovering over his face.

She clicked her tongue and frowned at him. "No way, Mulder. Don't even think about making me feel badly for what I say to you while I'm giving birth to your child. My gut is being twisted inside out right now. So either get a thicker skin and learn to take it or get the hell out while I do this."

He nodded. "Fair enough. Can I get you anything? Ice chips, water, juice?"

She shook her head no, squatting beside the bed to stretch her muscles. Her back was killing her. An hour ago when her doctor had checked her and declared her to be between five and six centimeters dilated, she had also palpated Scully's abdomen and said that she thought the baby was in the occiput posterior position. In English, that meant that the baby was facing her abdomen instead of her back. It also meant that every time she had a contraction, the baby's head felt like a bowling ball being pressed into her lower vertebrae. In the beginning, Mulder had used his hand to put pressure on her lower back during contractions and that had helped. That was about four million contractions ago, give or take. Now, nothing was helping. Exhaustion was setting in.

"If you don't need anything...I mean, would you mind if I stepped out to get myself-"

"Go ahead," she said, with a haphazard waive of her hand. Mulder was terrible at sitting still for any length of time and his restlessness was driving her crazy.

"If you need me, I can stay."

"Go!" She hadn't quite meant to bark at him, but she had lost her grip on the finer points of courtesy. Funny how pain reduced all humans to their baser selves. She was feeling like something out of the stone age right about now.

He left and a few minutes later, a contraction seized her that caused her to momentarily see stars, and not the pretty, shiny ones. So about that epidural she had turned down...She pressed the button to page her nurse.

A few minutes later, a cheerful young blonde one breezed in. What happened to the grumpy middle-aged one? Shift change, must be. She had liked the grumpy one better. It didn't seem right that anyone should be that happy when she was in this much pain.

"Hi Dana, how are you doing?"

"I think I'd like to consider an epidural," she said, forcing herself to take long breaths in through her nose and out through her mouth.

"Let me page Dr. Walters and have her check you again, okay?"

Scully nodded and the nurse disappeared. She laid down on the bed and curled forward into the shape of the letter C. It stretched her vertebrae and helped marginally with the intense pain. Now her back hurt even when she wasn't contracting. How the hell did her mother do this four times? Her Aunt Olive had had nine children. What would possess someone? Then again, Olive had always been a bit batty. She had plastic over her furniture and a house full of cats now.

Scully looked down at her pale calves peeking out from the hospital gown and realized that she hadn't shaved her legs in several days. It had just gotten to be too much of a hassle. She couldn't see over her belly anymore, so when she did bother shaving, she missed huge sections. Sometimes Mulder did it for her while she was in the bath, her leg propped up on the side of the tub while he sportingly applied floral-scented shaving gel to her.

Speaking of Mulder, he sauntered back into the room with a cup full of juice and a handful of something wrapped in cellophane.

"Look, Scully. There's a whole kitchen down the hall with drinks and snacks for patients and their labor partners. They have a king's ransom of those little individually-wrapped biscuits I love that the airlines give out." His face was lit up like a child. It was hard to be annoyed with him, even if it was his magic sperm that had put her in this position in the first place. She tried to manage a smile, but before she could get it out, she found herself heading straight up the hill of one bitch of a contraction.

"Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhh," she cried out. He didn't utter a sound, bless him, just thrust his large hand toward her. She grasped it and squeezed so hard she heard his knuckles crack. This one was long and relentless and she felt the ripple of severe cramping roll all the way from her lower pelvis to her breastbone. She felt like she couldn't breathe, but knew she had to make herself. Holding her breath only made it worse. She forced air into her lungs. Her eyes were shut tight, but she was vaguely aware of others besides Mulder in the room with her now.

"Shorter breaths, Dana. Try and pant through your mouth. Sometimes that helps."

It was Dr. Walters' voice and she was palpating her abdomen.

"Please don't touch me!" Scully roared.

"Okay," Dr. Walters said softly, removing her hand. "You're doing great, Dana. It's almost over. You're over the crest and coming down now. Just keep breathing through it."

It passed and her stomach unclenched. She felt sweaty and utterly exhausted.

"Worse one yet?" Dr. Walters asked.

She nodded.

"I was told you might want to consider an epidural after all."

"Not consider," she said breathlessly. "I want it. Please. I just need a little break, that's all, just a little."

"Let's have a look. Can you slide down on the table a bit?"

She did and a sheet was draped over her bent knees while her gown was lifted. Amazing what giving birth did to one's modesty. She was momentarily grateful that she had had the good sense to insist that no OB residents be allowed to assist in her labor or childbirth. It was one thing to have students there when you were in a teaching hospital where no one knew you, quite another when you gave birth in the hospital where you were Assistant Director of the Student Residency Program in Pathology. Residents talked. All she needed was for the hot topic at the resident lunch tables to be whether or not she was a natural redhead.

A cold latex gloved hand reached into her. She relaxed her muscles and stared at the grey flecked ceiling tiles. Mulder continued holding her hand and she let him.

"What time did I check her last?" Dr. Walters asked the nurse.

Paper rustled. "Um, an hour and a half ago."

"Where was she then?"

"Between five and six," replied the nurse.

"Dana, you're almost nine now and just about fully effaced. Your labor is moving too quickly at this point for me to authorize an epidural. You're going to be ready to push within another hour, probably sooner."

Mulder's eyes widened. Scully closed hers and sighed, "Damn." She had missed her window of opportunity for the epidural. She was an idiot - an exhausted, sweaty idiot with unshaven legs. She stared down at her gargantuan stomach. It was the size of a small planet. This baby had officially overstayed his or her welcome and she wanted it out now. She was not feeling particularly motherly. Her eyes swamped a little and she wiped at them with the heel of her hand.

Mulder tenderly smoothed the wet tendrils of hair from her forehead and rested his chin on the pillow next to her ear. "You can do this, Scully. You're doing great and you're so close."

She rolled her head back and forth. "I just want to be done now. I'm so tired, Mulder. I want to rest."

"I know you do. Look at me." She didn't. "Scully, look at me, please."

She bit her lower lip and turned her head toward him.

"It's almost over and you're doing so great. You're the strongest woman I've ever known, Scully. You can do this."

His hazel green eyes with flecks of gold searched for hers and she felt herself lock in. She was suddenly anchored. She took deep cleansing breaths through her nose and her shoulders relaxed a little, releasing the tension. Slowly her head nodded while her lip trembled.

"Okay," she whispered, weakly.

"Okay," he agreed, nodding and squeezing her hand.

"Okay." The next contraction came and she rode the tidal wave, gripping his hand, her entire body rocking back and forth.

Forty-five minutes later she was pushing, channeling every last ounce of strength and energy she had left, with both knees bent back at extraordinarily unnatural angles, and wondering why God thought it was a good idea for something that big to come out of a hole that small.

"Oh my God," she heard Mulder say. Where the hell did he go? He wasn't next to her head holding her hand anymore, so he must be *down there*. Not that he hadn't gotten up close and personal down there on many, many occasions. But giving birth was, to put it mildly, messy. Any number of undignified things could happen while pushing a baby out. It wasn't exactly the sort of image she wanted in her husband's head during his future south pole expeditions.

"Scully, I can see him! I can see hair when you push and then it goes back up when you stop. It's so cool!" She was glad someone was amused.

"Come on, Dana," Dr. Walters encouraged. "The head is right there. Give me one more big push and hold it for ten, okay? Push through it. Don't hold back."

She reached inside of herself for every possible last reserve she had and bore down hard. She felt a stretching and a burning.

"The head is out, Scully! Holy sh--oh my God, he has a whole mess of dark hair!"

She felt the slippery release as the remainder of the baby slid from her body, followed by a gush of fluid. Her chest heaved as she struggled to catch her breath and her body trembled all over.

"You might want to revise that observation," said Dr. Walters.

"Red hair?" Scully panted, tilting her chin to her chest to try and see her baby.

"No, I mean the 'he' part. Congratulations, you've got a little girl here," the doctor smiled.

Scully eyes brimmed over with tears that spilled down her cheeks. Every kind of emotion imaginable flooded her. "I don't hear her," she said suddenly. "She's too quiet."

"Calm down, she's just fine. I'm suctioning her and she's not happy about it. I'm sure you're going to hear from her in a second," replied Dr. Walters.

Scully barely heard the last word of the doctor's sentence before a high pitched wail split through the room. Nervous laughter escaped her and more tears flowed.

"Here, Dad, do you want to cut the cord?" the nurse asked.

"Oh um, sure," Mulder replied, nervously. "Like this?"

"That's fine. Right there. Good," the nurse said.

Mulder moved up next to her head. In more than ten years, she thought she had seen every one of Mulder's facial expressions, but this one was entirely new to her. "She's so awesome, Scully. She's all bright-eyed and pink and goopy. She's beautiful!" His eyes were damp and he leaned over to kiss her several times on the lips, then the forehead.

The baby was placed, naked and wet, on Scully's bare stomach and she looked down at her daughter's wrinkly face. Her little nose was slightly squished in from her recent traumatic journey through tight spaces, but other than that, she was the most perfect thing she'd ever seen. "Hello, baby girl," she said, an anxious laugh following her greeting.

"Time of birth was 2:38 p.m." said Dr. Walters. "Does she have a name yet?"

Mulder looked questioningly at Scully and she smiled and nodded in agreement.

"Her name is Claire," said Mulder. "Claire Margaret."

"That's a lovely name." The nurse reached for the baby and lifted her from Scully. "I'm going to get some measurements on Claire and get her cleaned up a bit and I'll bring her right back to you, okay?"

Scully nodded, but her hand caressed over the baby's tiny leg and then foot as she was lifted away from her. She didn't want to be separated from her, even for a minute. "Go with her," she pleaded with Mulder, who nodded obediently and left her side.

They were just on the opposite side of the large hospital birthing suite and she could hear the nurse cooing at the baby, who sounded like she was less than enthused about being poked, prodded, measured, and fussed over. Her high-pitched newborn cries made Scully's nipples tingle. Already? she thought. Her milk was a day or two away from coming in. How could her body know yet to react to her child's pleas?

And then the crying tapered to quiet whimpers and eventually to silence and she heard the sound of Mulder's voice shushing and calming the baby in gentle tones.

"Did you see that?" asked the nurse. "Did you see her turn her head toward you? She recognizes the sound of your voice, Dad."

Scully smiled to herself, picturing all those nights when she was trying to fall asleep and Mulder insisted on chatting away with her pregnant stomach. And then there were those times when he had been away from home on business trips and he had made her hold the phone against her skin so he could say goodnight to the baby. This was his big pay-off and she was happy for him.

A few minutes later, Mulder came back over to the side of her bed holding the swaddled baby. His face was beaming. The last time she had seen him this deliriously happy, he had been holding William between them in the bedroom of her old apartment, about two minutes before the kiss that changed everything.

"Eight pounds, two ounces and twenty-one inches," he announced proudly.

"And I felt every last ounce of it."

"Well, William was seven pounds, six ounces. At this rate, the next one could be a nine-pounder, Scully."

She stared back at him blankly, blinking several times. "Bite your tongue, Fox Mulder."

He smiled. "It was a joke."

"It wasn't funny. Not even a little." She would not give him the satisfaction of laughing.

"I know, I know, one of us is getting fixed."

She replied with a smug tightening of her lips and two raised eyebrows.

"And by the way you're looking at me, I can almost feel the snip now."

"It is a much simpler procedure for you."

"Define simple," he said, wincing.

She just smiled back sympathetically and reached for the baby. He placed her gently in her arms and then pulled up a chair to the bedside. They both gazed down at the pink-faced, tightly swaddled bundle. Scully had nearly forgotten how small they were. She gently unwrapped the baby and carefully examined ten tiny fingers and ten equally tiny toes.

"Look how dark she is. All that hair...she's all you, Mulder."

"Not quite. She has your mouth and nose, thank God."

"You think?" Scully held the baby up to her face to offer a comparison and Mulder's eyes squinted to assess.

"Oh definitely. I'd know that nose anywhere." He leaned over and planted a kiss on the end of Claire's tiny button nose. "And those lips, yup, I know those too." He kissed Scully's mouth tenderly and she smiled.

"My mother is probably going crazy," she said. "Can you make a few phone calls while I attempt to get her to latch on?"

"Sure." He stood. "I'll be right down the hall." He bent again to kiss them both, lingering just a bit on Scully's mouth. "I love you, Scully. She's amazing. Thank you."


Mulder made his first phone call to Scully's mom, who cried when he told her she had a granddaughter and even harder when she was told what her name was. He and Scully had gone round after round about first names, but her middle name had been locked in from the beginning of the pregnancy. Any first name they settled on had to go well with Margaret. They had disagreed so much about names that Mulder had finally told Scully to make two lists of her top five choices for both girls and boys and he'd pick his favorite from each list. It was a strange way to do it, but diplomatic negotiations had failed and they had even gotten desperate and consulted William, who offered up the suggestions of Elmo for a boy and Dora for a girl. The list method seemed like a better idea.

Maggie had promised to call Scully's brothers, so Mulder continued down his contact list and called the Gunmen, Ellen, Skinner, their friends Todd and Elizabeth Reardon, and their nanny Lindsey. He also placed a call to his editor, Pamela, and to Paul Hanover at Scully's specific request. He was relieved that his prayers had been answered and he got Hanover's voice mail instead of having to make polite talk with him about birth weights and baby names.

After his calls were finished, he went for a walk to a local florist shop and picked up a bouquet of irises, Scully's favorite. He had taken her the same thing when William was born. Then as an afterthought he popped into a jewelers and bought her a pair of cultured pearl earrings, Claire's birthstone. She used to have a pair, but had lost one last summer swimming in Martha's Vineyard. He had been meaning to replace them and now seemed like a good time.

When he got back to the hospital room, she was sitting up and nursing the baby. His smiled faded when he saw an enormous vase full of pink roses next to her bed. He held the smaller vase of irises down at his side and walked in.

"Hi."

She flashed him one of his absolute favorite smiles of hers - the one that made him feel like she had been waiting all day to see him.

He drew closer and bent over the bed, running his finger along the baby's nursing cheek. It was petal soft and pink against the creamy white of Scully's breast. "She's nursing already," he said.

Scully smiled. "Second time, actually. Turns out, she doesn't just look like you," she teased. "How did I get lucky enough to have two babies who eat like their father?"

She looked down at the irises at his side. "Those for me?"

"It looks like somebody already beat me to it, though."

She shrugged and smiled. "I always thought pink roses were sort of cliche. In fact, can you do me a favor and move them over to the window sill?" He did, along with the accompanying card that read 'Congratulations on your baby girl! Paul Hanover.' Wasn't that thoughtful, Mulder thought, his jaw tight.

She reached for the vase of irises in his hand and settled them on the table right next to her where the roses had been. "Thank you. They're exactly what I wanted," she said. "Did you know that in Ancient Greece, the iris was given as a symbol of the connection between heaven and earth? I think that makes them the perfect flower to be given at the birth of a child." He didn't think it was possible for him to love her any more than he did right then.

"I have a little something else too, actually." He reached into his pocket and withdrew a tiny black box. "Sorry it's not wrapped." He handed it to her.

She lifted the top of the box and he got another one of those smiles.

"I thought...you lost one from your other set and...it's Claire's birthstone. I thought you should have a new pair."

"Mulder, they're beautiful. I love them. Will you put them in for me?"

"Um, okay. I've never, um, done that before, but okay, I'll try."

"I would, but I sort of have my hands full," she said. Claire's eyes had drifted closed and her tiny lips were slack around Scully's nipple. She lifted the baby up and against her shoulder confidently, patting and rubbing circles on her back. Mulder marveled at how much more relaxed she seemed this time around. He recalled how unsure and awkward she had seemed in the hospital right after having William, especially when breastfeeding. This time, the neckline of her hospital gown dipped low and her full, round breast lay exposed, a pink and puffy nipple distracting him from the task she was expecting him to focus on. She wanted him to stick something metal through a tiny hole in her ear. He might need to stop staring at her breast to do it. It had been almost two and a half years since she had nursed William. He had forgotten just how much fun this part was, for him anyway.

He pulled a chair up close to her bedside and extracted one pearl earring from the box. His fingers felt clumsy and large and they trembled slightly as he removed the back from the earring and reached for her earlobe. She tucked strands of shiny crimson hair behind her ear.

"You won't hurt me. I've had my ears pierced since I was twelve. They're not sensitive."

He stretched her lobe and found the tiny hole, pushing the earring through and attaching the back. A sexual metaphor invaded his brain. He didn't think there was any part of her body that he hadn't had an erotic thought about at one time or another.

Claire let out a gurgly belch that would have made a trucker proud and Scully's head tilted down to look at the side of her sleepy face. "She keeps falling asleep at the breast, but she's too cute for me to wake her," she said, smiling. She pulled the baby gently from her shoulder and cradled her.

"Here, turn so I can put the other earring in," Mulder requested, trying not to drop the pearl. He bent over her and searched her other ear for the right spot. "This is kind of cool. Maybe I should get an ear pierced, Scully."

She made a face. "It's kind of hot on twenty-year-olds, Mulder. On forty-two-year-olds, it's a little sad."

He pouted, pulling back after successfully securing the second earring. "What? But you can get a tattoo?"

She didn't smile, but feigned distraction by untucking and retucking the receiving blanket around Claire's legs. It was the thing they never talked about. It was possible, though, that after all these years, perhaps they should. It occurred to him that maybe she thought the sight of it bothered him, when in fact, it didn't. It reminded him that there was another side to Scully, a dangerous, impulsive, rebellious side that he had actually seen surface a few times over the years, and just knowing it was there, lurking under the prim and proper surface, aroused him beyond belief. Whenever they had sex with him behind her, he came too quickly. He knew she assumed it was the angle and yeah, that was intense. But more than likely it was that little symbol of her wanton naughtiness staring back at him that drove him over the edge.

"Well, what do you expect me to do when I go through my mid- life crisis?" he asked, resurrecting a lighter, playful mood.

"You could buy an expensive, hot car like other guys," she smiled.

"Well, I'd argue I'm ahead of the game there. Nothing says 'chick magnet' like a Volvo wagon with two car seats in the back."

"Don't forget the stray french fries on the floor and the sippy cups in the cup holders."

Scully yawned and adjusted her gown again to better cover herself.

"Can I take her so you can get some rest?" he asked.

"Actually, what I'd really love is a shower." She carefully transferred the sleeping bundle of blankets into Mulder's waiting arms and slowly swung her legs over the side of the bed.

"Are you feeling up to it?"

"Yeah, I feel pretty good, actually." She stood and made her way to her suitcase and began rooting around inside. She pulled out clean underwear, one of her own nightgowns, and her toiletry bag and headed for the bathroom. "You know where I'll be if she starts looking for a working nipple." Then she poked her head back out from the bathroom door.

"I forgot to ask," she called back, "how did William take the news that the stork decided to deliver a sister instead of a brother?"

"It was a tough sell. Your mom's going to bring him to visit tomorrow morning, but I think he's starting to come around. He said that maybe the next one will be a brother."

Her eyes flashed and Mulder was tempted to duck from flying objects.

"Yeah, I know, * snip snip*," he said with a grimace.

"Anyway," he continued, "I tried to focus on the benefits of not having to share all his boy stuff."

She stared back at him blankly. "When I was a kid, I played with boy stuff. I even wore the Spiderman Underoos instead of the Wonder Woman ones."

"I think I'd keep that to myself, if I were you," he said.

She rolled her eyes and disappeared behind a closed bathroom door.

A few minutes later, Mulder heard the spray of the shower start up and he breathed deeply and relaxed back in the recliner with his daughter snuggled into his arms. Her eyes were closed as she dozed peacefully, her tiny lips moving up and down in a simulated suckling motion. Mulder chuckled to himself. He could remember William doing that in his sleep all the time as an infant. It was amazing that they were born already knowing how to suck. It was amazing how his daughter recognized the sound of his voice right out of the womb. In fact, if he had to list everything about this experience that was amazing, he'd be awhile.

Mulder didn't know if he believed in God. He knew that he didn't *not* believe. It was contrary to his nature to flat-out deny the existence or possibility of just about anything. He was a truth- seeker, whatever that truth may be. He had to admit that he had seen just as many things in his lifetime to suggest there could be a higher power, as he had seen to support the idea that the universe was just one big mess of random coincidences. When he looked down at this healthy, beautiful child - the second perfect child that he and Scully had made together and she had carried in what was supposedly a barren womb - he found himself with his feet planted firmly in the miracle-believing camp.

Right then, he felt like the Grinch at the end of the classic Christmas special when his heart grew three sizes. Mulder could almost feel his own threatening to burst through his chest. He was hopelessly, madly in love. Claire yawned and stretched a little and he thought he could eat her right up, every last bit of her.

When Scully got out of the shower, she tried to convince him to go home for the night and sleep in a real bed, but he resisted. William would be staying with Scully's mom, so Mulder didn't see the point in going home to an empty house when he could stay with Scully and help her with the baby in the middle of the night. Besides, he had slept in worse places than a vinyl recliner.

She continued arguing with him until her dinner arrived and he found his ace in the hole. He offered to rescue her from hospital food and go get her the baked vege lasagna from Casa de Pasta if she quit trying to convince him to spend the night at home. Never underestimate the ability to bribe Scully with quality take-out. Mulder went home to shower and change, then returned with pasta, salads, and tiramisu.

They spent the evening staring at their daughter until neither could keep their eyes open, then Mulder kissed Scully goodnight and stretched out in the recliner. The baby slept soundly, but he heard Scully tossing and turning in her hospital bed.

"What's wrong?" he whispered.

"You're too far away," she answered.

So he walked over to her bed, removed his shoes, curled himself around her in the small bed and they both fell fast asleep.


June 15, 2004

Claire had just finished nursing and Mulder held her while Scully brushed her teeth and cleaned up before William and Maggie came. The baby was surprisingly alert and Mulder took the opportunity to examine her eyes. They were that slate blue color that was common among newborns and Mulder wondered what color they would eventually settle on. William's had been similar, although a bit bluer from the beginning and now at three, they were every bit the piercing azure color of Scully's. He wondered if Claire would have hazel eyes like his, blue like Scully, or something completely different. Perhaps some recessive browns that had conspired to overthrow everything. Unlike William's sandy blonde hair with hints of auburn, Claire's was chestnut brown just like Mulder's. Although Scully reminded him that it was common for a baby to lose all their newborn hair and for it to come in a different color, he argued that she was just being greedy. One of their offspring already looked like her. He got this one; it was only fair.

Mulder heard sneakers in the hallway and William appeared around the corner of the door like a hurricane. He carried a balloon and a pink teddy bear. No sign of Maggie yet and Mulder suspected she was down the hall a bit, trying to catch up with her grandson.

"Hi Daddy!"

"Hey Buddy, what do you have there?"

"It's a balloon and a bear for my sister." William's eyes grew wide and he stared down, transfixed on the bundle in the crook of Mulder's arm. "Is that her?" he asked quietly. Mulder nodded and smiled, letting his son simply absorb, pulling the blanket back a little from the baby's sleeping face.

Maggie entered the room and hugged Scully, who had just come out of the bathroom, hair and teeth brushed, wearing a clean nightgown.

"She's sleeping," said Will, matter-of-factly.

"Yeah, she does a lot of that right now," replied Mulder.

"I brought her a pink bear. Girls like pink. A bear for Claire," he giggled and Mulder chuckled with him.

"Hey, Pumpkin," Scully said, squatting down and hugging William. "I missed you." She followed his gaze to the baby. "So what do you think?"

He shrugged, his expression noncommittal. "She's really little."

"She is. But she'll get bigger before we know it," said Scully. "Do you want to hold her?"

Mulder looked at Scully questioningly, his eyebrows raised. "It's okay," she mouthed back, silently.

Mulder got up from the chair. "Here, sit down Buddy." William did, looking uncertain, but fascinated. The look on his face was grave, like he had just been given an enormous responsibility and he was taking it seriously. His small arm hovered in the air awkwardly; he was trying to imitate his father's posture.

"It might be best if you rest your arm on the chair, like this," Mulder said, gently guiding William's arm down until it was solidly propped on the cushion of the chair. Mulder bent down next to the chair and carefully transferred the baby into William's waiting arm, not removing his own until he was sure Will had a good hold on her.

A big grin spread over William's face and he looked from the baby to his parents and back down again. "I think she likes me," he said.

Mulder laughed. "I think she does too."

"She looks like a worm."

Mulder almost laughed out loud and Scully closed her eyes for a moment, suppressing amusement. Mulder leaned in to Scully's ear. "That's actually a big compliment, coming from Will," he whispered. "He thinks very highly of worms."

"What does she do?" he asked.

Mulder and Scully exchanged amused looks.

"Well, not too much yet, Pumpkin," Scully said. "She pretty much just sleeps and eats right now."

"Can I feed her?"

Mulder smiled, keeping his mouth shut and waiting to see how Scully was going to handle that one. It occurred to him that there was a strong chance that William had not seen a woman breastfeed before. This could be interesting.

Scully cleared her throat. "Only Mommy can feed her right now, but when she gets a little older, you'll be able to give her a bottle."

William nodded, apparently satisfied with that simple answer. He squirmed a little, appearing to be done with the novelty of holding a newborn.

Maggie stepped up. "Oh, let Grandma take her," she cooed. She lifted Claire into her arms and sat down with her in a nearby chair, her face beaming. "She's so beautiful. She has your nose and mouth, Dana."

Mulder gave Scully an 'I told you so' look.

"But the rest of her is all you, Fox. Goodness, all that dark hair! I wish she'd open her eyes and let Grandma get a good look at them."

"When are you coming home, Mommy?"

Scully sat back down on the bed and patted the spot next to her. William climbed up and she pulled him close to her side. "Tomorrow, I think."

"Will Lindsey help take care of the baby too?"

"Yes, once Mommy goes back to work, Lindsey will take care of both you and Claire during the daytime."

He nodded and looked down, fingering a string on the edge of the blanket. "I wonder if Lindsey will still be able to take me to the playground if she has to take care of Claire too," he sniffed.

Scully kissed the top of his soft hair. "Oh, I'm sure she will. And I'll bet Lindsey will need your help sometimes pushing Claire in the stroller to the park."

William looked up, hopeful. "Yeah?"

"Definitely," she nodded.


June 19, 2004

"Scully, wake up," his warm hand jostled her shoulder gently.

"Mmmm, already?" She rolled over, bleary eyed. "What time is it?"

"Nearly 6:00. I'd do it if I could." Claire's whimpers had escalated into soft cries and were on their way to full-blown wails.

"I know, it's okay. Did you change her already?" Scully sat up and unbuttoned her nightgown, offering her swollen breast to the baby, who latched on and suckled hungrily.

"Yeah."

"Was she wet?"

"Soaked. When isn't she?" He flopped back down onto the bed in his boxer shorts, one arm flung over his face. "I forgot about this part."

"Hmm?" she yawned.

"The getting up four times a night. I think it was easier with Will. I don't know why."

"We were three years younger and you weren't trying to meet a writing deadline," she offered, stretching her warm leg under the covers to run her foot along his calf.

"How the hell are you going to go back to work after four weeks when you're barely sleeping?" he groaned.

"I already talked to Paul. I'm going to work the first two from home and then go back at six weeks."

His arm came off his face. "Oh? When did you talk to him?" he asked, casually.

"Yesterday. He dropped by to see the baby while you were out running."

"Huh. That was...nice of him."

"It was. He's been very supportive. It was actually his idea for me to telecommute the first two weeks back."

"Progressive."

"Mulder?"

"What?"

"Is it my imagination or do you dislike Paul?"

"There's something about the guy that gets under my skin, Scully. He's, I don't know...too friendly or something?"

Her brows lifted. "Too friendly? What does that mean?"

"Forget I said anything. If you're happy with your job, then that's all that matters," he said, unconvincingly.

"I am happy with it, Mulder. Very happy. And Dr. Hanover and I work very well together."

"That doesn't make me feel any better, Scully."

Her eyes studied him. "Are you...jealous, Mulder?"

"No, of course not."

"You are. You're jealous."

"Scully, that's ridiculous. Why would I be jealous?"

"I have absolutely no idea. You tell me. The man is married. And even if he wasn't, I am. Happily. With two children. Jesus, Mulder..."

"Sometimes I think you're naive about the way men look at you, Scully. Married or not."

"You're being childish, Mulder. Women look at you all the time and you don't see me acting this way." She lifted Claire to her shoulder to burp her.

Mulder propped himself up on his elbow and faced her, an incredulous look on his face. "Are you kidding me, Scully? Shall I list them over the years? Let's see...the moms at the park, the dog lady - what was her name - "

"Karen," Scully said, sheepishly.

"Yeah, her. Diana, Dr. Berenbaum, Angela White, Phoebe, shall I go on?"

She shook her head and her cheeks pinked. "Am I really that bad?"

He chuckled and caressed her arm, planting an affectionate kiss on her bare shoulder. "I don't mind. It's cute, actually. But don't tell me I'm the only one around here familiar with the green-eyed monster because I'd have to argue that you might be a few up on me in that department."

"Touche," she said with a contrite smile. She switched the baby to her other breast.

"I'm sorry. I know he's your friend and co-worker. I'll try to be better about it. Just promise me one thing."

"What's that?"

"If he ever suggests playing baseball, for any reason whatsoever, you run the other way," he teased. "It means he's only after one thing."

She smirked. "Oh really, is that so? So that little birthday present you gave me way back when...you're saying you only wanted-"

"To get into your pants? Desperately."

"Really?" The surprise on her face wasn't disguised.

"How could you not have known that, Scully? Give me a break. My boner was rubbing against your ass all night."

"Why didn't you make a move that night, Mulder?"

"That was my move! In retrospect, too subtle, obviously."

"I thought you were just showing me how to hit a baseball."

"While pulling your hips back into my groin? Christ, Scully, I was flirting shamelessly. I all but threw you down onto home plate."

"Why didn't you kiss me?"

"I wasn't sure if I'd get decked or not. You can be hard to read sometimes, Scully."

"You're an idiot, Mulder."

"Why, what would you have done?"

"I'd have gone to bed with you."

He gulped. "I am an idiot."


Scully walked into the living room, the baby cradled in one arm and a full laundry basket balancing on the other hip. She settled Claire onto her back in the play pen and started folding clean laundry. She could hear William whining in the family room and Lindsey talking to him. She sighed and got up, walking into the kitchen to get a glass of ice water. Nursing made her desperately thirsty.

The family room was right off of the kitchen and she could hear William loud and clear. "But I want to watch it. You said I could, Lindsey."

"I said after you picked up the toys in the play room, William. Good try," replied Lindsey.

The tone and volume on the preschool whine ratcheted up a notch. "But I want to watch Blues Clues now."

Scully walked into the family room, crossed to the TV and turned it off. "William, that's enough. Go pick up your toys like Lindsey asked. Now." He stomped off, lips forming a respectable pout.

Lindsey hesitated awkwardly, then went into the kitchen and began unloading the dishwasher.

Scully went back to folding laundry. She heard Mulder walk in through the garage, whistling. He poked his head into the living room. "How is everybody?"

She smiled, tiredly. "Good." Scully nodded toward the play pen and Mulder went over and peered down. "Don't wake her up, I just got her down," she warned.

"Still eating all the time?" he asked.

"Every two hours, at least. My nipples are killing me. Did you get-"

"Yup." He thrust a pharmacy bag toward her and she took it, pulling out nipple cream and breast pads. "I ran into a guy I used to work with in VCU at the pharmacy. Do you know how hard it is to look a guy in the eye and carry on a conversation while holding nipple cream, Scully?"

She chuckled. "I'm sure you did just fine."

"Yeah, well, he was holding hemorrhoid ointment, so I think it was a stalemate."

Mulder sat down and began sorting through the stack of mail in his arms. Bills in one pile, junk mail in another, baby cards in a third. He opened an envelope. "Hey, our neighbors invited us to a Fourth of July picnic."

"Which ones?"

"The Martins?" he read, shrugging.

"They live down on the corner, in the yellow house," she informed.

"Are they the weird ones with the snappy little bulldog and the lawn gnomes?"

"No, that's the Sampsons. The Martins have teenagers who have loud pool parties and a mailbox shaped like a swan."

"Oh riiiiight," he said, snapping his fingers. "Dan and Shelli? Sherri? Sheila?"

Scully nodded. "Some 'Sh' name."

"Didn't we meet them at last year's block party?"

"Uh huh. She brought that cole slaw you liked."

"Yeah, let's go then. I want some more of that. Since when did we get so fucking domestic and neighborly, Scully?"

She tossed him a stern look. "Shh, language, Mulder. William's in the toy room. And it happened when we bought an expensive house in suburbia and decided to pretend we were normal."

He smiled. "I think we're fooling them all, Scully. Let's go and get really drunk and dance on picnic tables. The invite says 'kids welcome' and to RSVP by this Friday and bring a dish to pass. What do you say? Cocktail weenies?"

"Fruit salad," she countered.

He glanced at his watch. "What's the plan for dinner tonight?"

"William really wants pizza."

"Cool. I'm down with that. Do I have time to write for another hour or so? Do you need a hand with anything? Applying nipple cream?"

She looked at him disapprovingly.

"Very well then. I will be in my office if you need me, writing the next great American classic. And I will RSVP to the Martins and tell them we are delighted to accept their invitation and we will be bringing fruit salad and two children under four. They'll be ecstatic, I'm sure."

Scully finished folding the laundry and then Lindsey poked her head into the living room to inform her that she was going to take William outside to play. Since Claire still napped soundly in the playpen, Scully laid down on the sofa and drifted off, herself. She had been waking up three or four times per night to feed the baby and she had forgotten what the sleep deprivation of the first couple of months was like. Mulder had been wonderful - getting up to change Claire's diaper and bring her to Scully in bed. But unless he sprouted a functioning nipple soon, Scully would be waking every few hours to nurse.

When she finally awoke to the baby's hungry whimpers, the house was still quiet. The clock on the mantle told her that she had been asleep for an hour. Thank you, Claire, I needed that, she thought. She finished nursing and was on her way to do a diaper change when Lindsey and William got home. She could hear them in the kitchen.

"Can I have another cookie, Lindsey?" William asked.

"Sorry Dude, you had one with your lunch and I think you guys are ordering pizza soon."

"But I'm really hungry."

"If you're hungry, you can have a handful of blueberries or some baby carrots," replied Lindsey.

"No, I really want a cookieeeeeee," he whined.

Scully walked into the kitchen, holding Claire against her shoulder, trying to encourage a burp from her. "William, Lindsey said no. You may have the blueberries or the carrots or wait for dinner. Those are the choices," she said firmly.

Lindsey looked down at the floor. William sighed and said he'd have the blueberries. Lindsey put a handful into a small plastic bowl and settled Will at the table with his snack.

"Can we talk for a minute?" Lindsey asked with a kind smile. "In the other room?"

Scully was a bit surprised. "Of course."

"I'll be right back, Will, okay?" Lindsey said.

He nodded and continued coloring at the table and munching.

Scully carried Claire back into the living room and sat down on the sofa, still rubbing the baby's back. Lindsey sat down on a chair, leaning forward with her hands clasped in her lap uneasily.

"This is kind of hard for me to bring up, but you've always been straightforward with me, so I think I owe you the same."

All Scully could think was 'please don't quit, please don't quit, please don't quit.'

Lindsey continued. "William's a great kid and he and I have a wonderful rapport. For the most part, he's a great listener and he respects me. But, um...I feel like when you step in and take over whenever he and I are working through things, it compromises my authority with him and gives him the impression that he doesn't have to obey me. I need to be able to discipline him if he's going to respect me." Lindsey exhaled deeply.

Scully felt foolish. How had she not seen this happening. "Lindsey, I'm sorry, I didn't even realize I was doing that."

"Oh don't be! Please." She smiled and gestured with her hands. "You just had a baby! You're balancing a lot right now and I know it must be strange being home all day with me here taking care of William. This is your house and Will is your son. If I am handling something differently than you'd like me to, then by all means, I need to know."

"No, of course not. You're handling things exactly the way I would. I overstepped and you have every right to feel the way you do. William needs to respect your authority and I trust you to discipline him."

"He's a great kid and I really enjoy caring for him. And I think he's making the transition with the baby really well, actually. He talks about her all the time. I just think that maybe he's just testing things a bit now, that's all."

It occurred to Scully that this woman knew what she was talking about. Besides that, she seemed to genuinely care about William. She understood why her colleague had recommended her so highly.

Baby Claire squirmed against Scully's shoulder and cried. Scully rubbed circles on her back and gently swayed back and forth. "Gas, I think," she said. "Sometimes she seems uncomfortable after feeding."

Claire cleared her throat and offered two open hands. "May I?"

Scully gave up the baby reluctantly.

"Once in awhile, I've had a little luck with this position," she said, draping the burp cloth over both of her knees and then resting the baby belly-down over them. She patted Claire's bottom and the baby settled with her face turned to the side. Her cries stopped after a few seconds and a soft, but clearly audible belch followed.

Scully didn't bother trying to hide the surprised look on her face. Lindsey lifted Claire from her knees and cradled her in her arms, swaying from side to side and cooing at the baby calmly. She looked up at Scully and smiled. "You know I was thinking," Lindsey started, "that it might help William with the transition to sharing my time if he and I could take Claire from you for an hour or so each day until you go back to work. If it's nice outside, we could take her for a walk in the stroller. Do you think that would be okay?"

Other than wishing that she had thought of the idea herself, there just wasn't anything about what Lindsey said that Scully didn't think was okay. "I think that's a great idea," she managed to say, smiling. An hour of time to herself each day? Clearly she had the wisest, most talented nanny in suburban D.C. They had just given her a raise to accommodate for the added responsibility of another child, but Scully was beginning to wonder if they shouldn't perhaps toss in a Caribbean cruise and a Mustang convertible too.


July 1, 2004

It was a Thursday night, the first Thursday in a few months that Mulder had played basketball with the usual crowd at the YMCA. The game finished and several of the players invited Mulder out for a beer afterward. He grabbed a shower in the locker room and changed his clothes, then called Scully from his cell phone.

As soon as the line picked up on the other end, he could hear crying in the background.

"Hi, it's me," he said, "what's the matter with her?"

"I wish I knew. I just nursed her a half hour ago and she burped. I'm not sure why she's so unhappy tonight. How did your game go?"

"I got my ass handed to me. That's what I get for playing with a bunch of thirty-somethings. I'm old, Scully."

She chuckled. "Not so old."

"Listen, a bunch of the guys are going out for a beer and I was going to tag along, but now I'm wondering if maybe I should just come home."

"Why?"

"Well, to help you, I guess."

"I'm fine, Mulder. William is in bed and as soon as I get Claire down, that's where I'm headed too. She would probably be asleep by the time you got home anyway."

"If you're sure..."

"Yeah, go ahead. You should go out once in awhile."

"When was the last time you went out and did something on your own, Scully? Not since the baby was born."

"I can't even fit into my clothes yet, Mulder."

"This weekend. Go shopping with your mom, see a movie, get your nails done or something."

"We'll see," she said, noncommitally. "Right now, I'd settle for a few hours of uninterrupted sleep."

"Or that. I'll cover the kids and you can sleep all day Saturday."

"Go out and have fun, Mulder. Just don't get drunk because I'm not packing up two sleeping kids to come pick you up, no matter how much I love you."

"Aw, you're no fun, Scully," he joked. "No, just a beer or two. I'll probably be home before eleven."

"Good night, then."

"Good night, Scully."


Mulder finished his second beer around 11:15 and, despite intense peer pressure to stay and have another, he bid a round of farewells and promised to go out with everyone another time. He had won three games of pool, lost two of darts, and played all the good songs on the jukebox already. He figured he should head home while he was still awake and sober enough to drive. Scully wouldn't be able to pick him up and he didn't think spending the night in his car in the parking lot of Nick's Clam Shack sounded too appealing. With any luck, he'd get home in time to catch about two hours of sleep before the 2:00 a.m. feeding.

When he walked into the kitchen through the garage door, he heard distant crying. He looked at the clock above the stove. 11:50. The baby never woke up at this time to eat. She usually went down between 10 and 11 and slept until about 2:00. He climbed the stairs to their bedroom.

Scully was sitting in the rocking chair with Claire propped against her shoulder. The baby was screaming in earnest, her little face red and damp.

"Hey. Did she just wake up?"

Scully's eyes indicated that he had clearly asked the wrong question. She shook her head slowly, continuing to rock. "Remember when you called me from the gym at 8:30?"

"No," he said, incredulously. "She's been crying since then?"

She nodded, vacuously.

"What's the matter with her?"

Another unimpressed look. "If I knew that, do you think she'd still be screaming?"

"Is she hungry?"

"Oh, thank you! Why didn't I think of that?" She looked like she might throw something at him. He perused the room. Nothing heavy and breakable within her reach. Good.

"Where have you been?" she asked, coolly.

"I told you."

"You said you were going out for a beer. That was at 8:30. It's midnight."

"I'm aware. I didn't realize I had a curfew. I shot some pool and hung out for awhile."

She answered with an exaggerated sigh.

"Scully, you told me to go. I offered to come home and you told me to go."

No response. The baby continued to wail.

"I would have come home. You should have called my cell phone."

"Every time I thought about it, I figured you were probably on your way home anyway."

He was late. He got it. Let's move on.

"Has she really been crying for four hours?"

"She slept for about 15 minutes somewhere around 9:45, I think. I changed into pajamas and washed my face, so however long it took me to do that. Since then I've been holding her, rocking her, feeding her, changing her, and bouncing her. I even sang classic rock."

He questioned her with his eyes. It was a well-known fact that singing in tune wasn't Scully's strong suit.

She shrugged. "It works when you sing to her."

"The Eagles?" he asked. "She likes Tequila Sunrise."

"Rolling Stones. You Can't Always Get What You Want. I thought the title was appropriate. Maybe I should have gone with I Can't Get No Satisfaction."

He took the humor as a positive sign. He sighed and walked over to the rocking chair. "Here, give her to me. I'll take her downstairs for awhile. You try and get some sleep."

Her stubborn side looked ready to argue with him, but the exhausted one prevailed and she handed the baby over reluctantly. When she stood, he leaned to kiss her and she back away, making a face. "You smell like beer."

"I had two," he said, defensively. "Maybe you need a few." He hadn't intended the edge to his voice.

Her eyes threw daggers at him.

He sighed and his face softened. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean anything by that. Try and get some sleep. We'll be downstairs."

Mulder grabbed a baby blanket and carried Claire downstairs. The walking seemed to placate her a little and he became hopeful. But when he got to the family room and sat down, she ramped back up to full throttle and he realized it couldn't possibly be that easy. He flipped on the TV and shushed the baby tenderly in her ear.

"What do you want to watch, Claire Bear?" He surfed channels and yawned. "We've got bad MTV, some Cosby Show reruns, something in Spanish..." He glanced down at her as her crying peaked. "No habla, huh? Okay, let's move on then. Um, it looks like a spaghetti western here - that's a possibility." He continued surfing and went quickly past several shopping and cooking channels and one with a man kissing a woman's naked breasts. HOLD ON just one minute. He flipped back and paused.

If he wasn't sitting on his sofa holding his own baby, he would have suspected that he had accidentally walked into someone else's house. The last time he checked, they weren't subscribed to *these* types of channels. He hit the channel guide button on the remote and a bar popped up at the top of the TV screen that said HBO. Interesting. He noticed the time on the clock. 12:35 a.m. So HBO had soft core on after midnight. Good to know. Not that he needed it. Definitely not, no. Only four more weeks to go and he and Scully would be back in business anyway. Four weeks would go fast. Until then, a long shower was his best friend.

The man on the TV screen slid his hand underneath the woman's short skirt. "Whoa! Okay, I think that's enough of that," he said out loud. He threw one hand gently over Claire's eyes to shield them while he scrambled to change the channel, as if she had any idea what was going on. "I don't think it's necessary to upset Mommy with this information, do you?" Claire cried on. He'd take that as a passive aggressive confirmation.

Several clicks later, he landed on a movie channel airing The Blues Brothers and he smiled, setting the TV remove down and settling back into the sofa. "This is a good one, Claire Bear. I think you'll like this." She seemed skeptical until Aretha Franklin launched into Respect. The crying started to taper off and her breathing regulated. She hiccupped quietly and gurgled. Mulder laid down lengthwise with Claire on his chest and pulled the folded blanket down from the back of the sofa to cover them both.


Scully woke at 5:30 a.m. The spot next to her in the bed was empty and the sheets were cool, not even slept on. She got up and padded across the bedroom carpet. So was the bassinette. She used the bathroom and then crept downstairs.

The house was still dark, but she heard the sound of a TV coming from the family room. When she rounded the corner, she found Mulder asleep on his back on the sofa, Claire lying prone on her stomach, against his chest. A patchwork quilt was draped over them both. The child's tiny form rose and fell with Mulder's deep breaths, a tiny wet spot visible on his grey shirt where the baby's mouth rested. She turned the TV off. Then she snuck out of the room and quickly down the hall to Mulder's office where she retrieved the digital camera. When she got back to the family room, they hadn't moved an inch. She was able to snap several pictures before Mulder stirred and then Claire followed, like a chain reaction.

"What time is it?" Mulder asked, sleepily.

"After 5:30. She slept right through the 2:00 feeding."

"All that crying must've worn her out." He yawned and pulled himself to a seated position, handing off the baby to Scully.

"I just think she discovered how warm and comfortable your chest is," replied Scully, smiling. She began unbuttoning her nightgown, settling herself onto the end of the sofa. One swollen breast was offered to Claire who latched on, her tiny fist opening and closing rhythmically against her mother's bare skin.

Mulder stretched next to her, rotating his upper body from side to side. "Hard to believe I used to sleep on a sofa every night. My back doth protest."

Scully reached with her free hand and rested it on his knee. He still had his jeans on from the night before. "I'm sorry about last night," she said, quietly.

"It's okay. I should've just come home at 8:30 when I heard her crying through the phone."

"No, that's crazy, Mulder. You had every right to enjoy an evening to yourself. I was just frustrated and tired and I took it out on you."

He lifted her hand to his mouth and kissed the back of it. Sometimes he looked at her with such adoration, it disarmed her. Who was this achingly handsome man with bedhead, yesterday's stubble, and baby drool on his shirt, and how is it that she came to share two children and her bed with him? It was hard to believe that just several years ago, she had wondered if perhaps Hell would indeed freeze over before he managed to kiss her. If someone had told her back then that her eccentric and flighty work partner and best friend would someday be lugging two car seats around suburbia, making breakfast toast in animal shapes, and falling asleep with their baby on his chest, you would've been able to blow her over like a feather. Not to mention the sex. Embarrassingly, she had once tried to figure out while soaking in the tub, a mathematical equation to calculate the approximate number of orgasms Mulder had given her compared to all of her previous partners combined. There were factorials involved. Mulder approached sex in much the same manner that he used to tackle their old cases. He was driven, he was intense, he was thorough, and he never left a job unfinished.

Claire shifted and pulled off her breast with a muffled pop. Scully repositioned her against her shoulder and patted her back. "What finally put her to sleep?" she asked.

"The Blues Brothers," he replied, leaning back with both arms crossed behind his head. "By the way, have you bothered turning on HBO after midnight lately?"

She gave a half shake of her head and looked at him, puzzled. Any time she was up past midnight, she was either feeding a baby, or it was back in the pre-Claire days when they had been otherwise occupied, and it certainly didn't involve bad late-night TV.

"There's naughty stuff on, Scully."

Her eyebrows raised. "Like 'Basic Instinct' naughty?"

"Naughtier. I changed the channel fast."

She frowned. "Are we paying for that?"

"Apparently. I think the smut comes free with HBO."

"What a deal," she said, moving Claire to her other breast, but the baby seemed too sleepy to nurse. "Now you want to sleep," she said, looking down at the tiny pursed lips.

Scully put the baby down on her back in the extra bassinette in the corner of the room. Mulder stretched back out on the sofa and motioned to her with his hand. She came and snuggled into him, but the sofa wasn't terribly wide. She had to lay half on him and half to his side. He pulled the blanket up over both of them and wrapped both arms all the way around her tightly.

Scully sighed and laid her ear to his chest. She could hear his heartbeat, steady and strong. Mulder kissed the top of her head and she tilted her chin up to capture his lips. She thought they might drift back off to sleep, but there seemed to be a little too much kissing going on. Small pecks mixed with longer lip locks. His large hands were splitting time between her waist and her hips and she tried not to startle the first time his tongue flicked out to graze her bottom lip. It was much too soon to be doing this and she was certain he knew it. It wasn't like they hadn't been through this before.

When his hand drifted to her ass through the thin cotton layer of her nightgown, she pulled back. "Mulder," her voice warned.

"It's okay," he said, a little breathlessly. "We're just kissing. That's all we're doing. Just kissing."

She smiled with her lips hovering over his. "We might be making out a little."

"Nuh uh." He cupped her bottom and squeezed. "If we were making out, it would be more like this." The hand that wasn't feeling her ass came up to tangle in her silky hair and anchor her head while his tongue dove right past her lips and teeth, into the deep dark of her sweet mouth. She didn't have to wonder if he was hard. There was a solid ridge under his jeans extending at a long, noticeable angle. She wanted to touch him through the denim, but that would have been leading him on. She didn't make offers she couldn't follow through on. She was sleep-deprived and her breasts were leaking milk through her nightgown and onto his T shirt and yet, she was aroused. She had never been in control of her body's response to him. Any notion to the contrary was foolish and arrogant of her.

Their mouths separated and his Adams apple bobbed once as he swallowed. They were both short of breath. "What are you thinking?" he asked.

"I'm thinking...that there are still things I can do for you," she whispered, her eyes darting down between them and then back up to his face in time to see his breath hitch slightly.

"You don't have to," he said, breathing through his mouth.

"I want to."

"I won't stop you."

She hadn't yet reached for his zipper when the pitter patter of feet sounded on the stairs and a tiny voice called for 'Mommy,' then 'Daddy.' Scully pulled herself up quickly to a seated position on the sofa and smoothed her hair down, crossing her arms in front of her chest over her milk-soaked nightgown. William came in dragging his blanket with him, hair peaked at odd angles and pajamas all eschew.

"Nobody was upstairs," he said loudly.

Scully pulled him into her lap. "Shhh, you sister's sleeping over there." She pointed. He was warm with sleep and she cuddled him closer and kissed his temple.

"Is it morning?"

"Early, but yes," she said.

"I'm hungry."

"Me too," agreed Mulder. "How about chocolate chip pancakes?" he offered, ruffling Will's hair.

William nodded, his eyes twinkling mischievously like he'd just been offered candy for breakfast.

Mulder stood. "Come on then. Let's let Mommy rest some more until Claire wakes up."

Scully leaned to give him a kiss on the lips that was promissory in nature. It lingered a bit and suggested that perhaps they could pick up where they left off much later. Mulder adjusted himself before following his son into the kitchen.


July 4, 2004

"What do you want me to put on her?" Mulder asked, poking his head inside the door to the master bedroom. He cradled the baby in one arm. She was naked, except for a tiny newborn diaper.

"I left a sundress on the top of her dresser," Scully replied, flinging several more articles of clothing from the closet onto their unmade bed. There was a mountain of summer clothing on the comforter about thirty items deep. She had been trying on everything she owned for the last hour and he could hear her dissatisfied huffs all the way from the baby's room. He recalled going through this same conundrum after William was born. She was unforgiving with her body. All the books said "Nine months up, nine months down," meaning it could take just as long to lose the weight as it took to gain it. She didn't accept that. And he knew that making any sort of comment, however encouraging and supportive, was not smart, so he tried to make himself useful by dressing the kids and staying out of the way.

She tried buttoning a cute little cotton top and it gapped at the chest, not quite making it. "Damn! My tits are too big." She let the blouse fall open in defeat. Claire squawked and Mulder thought she might be protesting the insult to her meal ticket. Scully's eyes swamped slightly and she turned away, going back to the closet. The hell with it - Mulder went to her. He'd risk getting his head bitten off.

"Come here." He shifted the baby to the side and pulled at her shoulders with his free arm. She turned into his chest and put her head on him. "Whatever I say won't be the right thing."

She huffed out a sad laugh against his shirt. "I'm fat."

Okay, now she was delusional. "You can't be serious, Scully. You're anything but fat. Most of the time you border on too thin. If I'm not mistaken, when you went for your six week check-up after having Will, you were just about back to your pre-pregnancy weight. It's only been three weeks. You need to give yourself a break. And stop insulting your breasts. Claire and I object."

She let out a tiny conciliatory snort and looked up at him, her chin resting on his chest like a child. She looked so small standing there in her bare feet and underwear, no makeup, freckles scattered disobediently on her face. He bent his head forward and planted a kiss on her nose. "You're beautiful," he said, honestly.

"Thank you," she smiled.

"I'm going to finish dressing the spawn and we'll wait for you downstairs," he said, pulling away and heading toward the door. "Wear the navy sundress. It makes your um..." he cupped one of his hands at chest level and smiled, guiltily. "The color is patriotic?" he offered. She quirked a brow and shook her head back at him. "Well, I like it anyway."

"I'll take it under advisement," she smirked, playfully.

Mulder waited with two dressed and sunblocked children and one fruit salad downstairs until Scully joined them. She wore the navy sundress with wedge-heeled espadrilles.

"You look pretty, Mommy," William said.

"Yes, she does," agreed Mulder.

Claire grunted and spit up a little. Thankfully, Mulder rarely walked around the house without a burp cloth over his shoulder these days.

Scully tucked Claire into the top of the stroller and the diaper bag into the bottom, Mulder carried the salad, and they set off walking down the street to the Martin's Fourth of July picnic looking absurdly respectable.

Mulder mused on their remarkable transition from basement- dwelling spooks, the black sheep of the FBI, to respectable, upper middle class citizens, raising two children in a coveted neighborhood of suburbia. He wasn't naive enough not to recognize the fact that Scully was the straight shooter in the equation. For all appearances, she was a color-in-the-lines, drive- between-the-ditches kind of woman. He just piggybacked off her normalcy. Mulder had seen the other side of her, though. Underneath that sleek haircut and understated makeup, she hid a wildly rebellious side that could be coaxed out to play once in awhile. She could do shots of tequila without blinking, she knew words that could make even him blush, and although she didn't keep any in the house, she craved a cigarette on rare occasions, especially with a good strong beer.

But for today, they were two upper middle class professionals with a darling newborn baby and a well-behaved, charming son. He wrote bestselling books from home and she was a dedicated doctor, one of the most well-respected in her field. Their white two-story colonial with the wrap around porch was one of the most lovely on the block. It had a manicured lawn, a circular paved driveway, a jungle gym in the backyard, and a basketball hoop above the garage. They owned a summer place on Martha's Vineyard and two modest, late model family vehicles. They were both very attractive and clearly in love. When he happened to pass by his neighbors on his morning run, he'd smile and waive politely. He was handsome and charming and the women on the block couldn't help but notice how his running shirt clung to his toned chest. Their husbands slowed their vehicles to watch the pretty redheaded wife with the petite, shapely figure unload groceries from her car and they wondered what it would be like to have her warming their beds at night.

Aside from the vaguely strange habit of calling each other by their last names, they were delightfully perfect.

As was customary at many of these types of social events, there was a naturally-occurring separation between the men and the women. They had no sooner arrived than Mulder found himself being handed a beer and herded outside to play lawn darts with the men. Scully barely managed a sympathetic smile and waive before the other women were circling around her and coaxing her over to the cushioned lawn chairs in the corner of the patio where gossip and estrogen filled the air like cheap perfume. William enthusiastically galloped off with a pack of rambunctious children and several dogs. Baby Claire was passed around among all the women, who cooed and smiled over her and commented on what a pretty baby she was and how there was no possible way Dana looked like she had had a baby just three weeks ago.

The food was good and Mulder had a second helping of Mrs. Martin's cole slaw. William ate two hot dogs and was refused a third by his mother, so he switched to eating his weight in watermelon. Claire, although having been recently nursed, decided to get fussy just as Scully managed to sit down with a plate of food for herself. Mulder came over and peeled the baby from Scully's arms. He propped her over his shoulder, and proceeded to walk and bounce her so Scully could eat her dinner. A collection of approving smiles and appreciative nods from the women in attendance communicated their endorsement of him as father of the year. Mulder couldn't help but smile to himself as he overheard their comments.

"Your husband is so helpful!" proclaimed Mrs. Goodall.

"What a sweetheart!" agreed Mrs. Martin.

"Jerry was terrified to hold ours until they were a year old," complained Mrs. Schultz, following up with "You're so lucky to have him!"

Mulder watched out of the corner of his eye in amusement as Scully smiled politely and nodded. He could almost see the little cartoon thought bubble floating above her head that said, "Oh Brother, you've got to be kidding me."

When the fireworks started soon after dark, Scully held Claire against her, bundled tightly in warmer clothing. She held a blanket to her ears to muffle the loud booms and the baby was, not surprisingly, under-impressed with the show. She was actually much more interested in the bedtime snack that rested not far from her cheek and the baby rooted, sucking on handfuls of Scully's dress. Mulder saw her discreetly slip the strap of her sundress down to allow Claire to nurse underneath a well-placed blanket, and Claire dined right through her very first pyrotechnics display. William sat on Mulder's shoulders, shrieking and clapping while his father held his legs with strong hands. He carried William home afterward, sleeping slumped over his shoulder, dirty bare feet dangling against Mulder's stomach, Will's sandals tucked into the bottom of the stroller that Scully pushed.

They successfully transferred two sleeping children to their beds and then Mulder fell onto his own while Scully performed her mysterious female bedtime ritual. He wasn't sure exactly what was involved, but it took precisely twelve minutes every night and she always emerged with her face pink and flushed and her skin smelling like the icing on those cinnamon rolls he loved from Au Bon Pain. It was a warm night and even with the air conditioning, the second floor of the house was stuffy. The ceiling fan above the bed spun on high. Slightly off-balance, it wobbled a little as it rotated and Mulder thought about going down to the basement to get his tools and tightening it right now, but decided it could wait until tomorrow. He laid there naked on his back on top of the sheets until Scully emerged from the bathroom. She settled next to him, turning out the bedside lamp.

"It's hot," she complained.

"I know. Sleep naked," he suggested, hopefully. She hardly ever did unless they had just made love.

She stood and peeled her sleeveless nightgown off and let it tumble to the rug beside the bed. She lay on her back with both arms folded under her head, one knee raised and bent. It was dark in the room, but the outlines of her full breasts were visible in the filtered moonlight. She kept her panties on. Her stomach was nearly flat again, but a bit softer and her hips still fuller, the only indications besides breasts that were a cup size larger, to indicate she had recently given birth. Her body actually did this whole process quite seamlessly. She was snapping back even faster this time than with William. He thought she was way too hard on herself, though. He told her she shouldn't be exercising this soon, but she did anyway.

He rolled and propped himself on one elbow, tracing the underside of her breast with one fingertip. He knew they couldn't do anything and she didn't bother reminding him. He enjoyed just lying close to her.

"I thought that went well today," he said. "Did you have a good time?"

She sighed, contentedly. "I did. We should do more things like that."

"Like...neighbor stuff?"

"Like, stuff with other people. We don't have any friends really."

"Frohike would be offended to hear you say that."

"You know what I mean. Couples our own age."

"Like do what? Play Trivial Pursuit and go bowling?" he teased.

"I don't know how to bowl. But maybe dinner or something simple. Mrs. Martin introduced me to her daughter, Ashley, at the picnic. She babysits and she seemed really nice. I took her number."

"Okay. Well, who do you want to go out with?" he asked.

"I don't know. What about Trish and her husband, what's-his- name? They have the two little boys. The ones who live around the corner on Pinecrest?"

"I know who you mean. His name's Tom. He's okay, I guess. A little dull."

"Well, you don't know him yet. You're easily bored by normalcy, Mulder. Give them a chance to dazzle you. Maybe they have a twisted side lurking underneath and we'd get along swimmingly. Besides, William gets along well with their youngest son."

"Okay, we can ask them to do something," he agreed. Then he snickered in the dark. "What if they're swingers?"

"Mulder. Be serious."

"I am!" he laughed. "You never really know about people, Scully. I suspect there's a deep underbelly of secrets in middle class suburbia."

"You spent too much time in Arcadia, Mulder. I sincerely doubt that Tom and Trish are swingers."

"Okay, but the second he sticks his hand up your skirt, Scully, we're done with them!" he chuckled.

"Why does everything always come back to sex with you, Mulder?"

He put a hand to his chest dramatically and clicked his tongue. "I'm wounded, Scully. How can you say that's all I think about?" He indiscreetly slid closer to her and buried his face in her neck, kissing her behind her ear seductively.

"Hmm, I wonder," she smiled.

"Haven't you heard that the average man thinks about sex every seven seconds? I just can't help it, Scully. It's beyond my control."

"I have heard that, Mulder, and it's a myth. In fact, the Kinsey study indicated that slightly over fifty percent of men think about sex between one and three times per day. The other forty percent think about sex less than once a day and a small percentage even less than once a month."

He pulled back and look at her with curiosity and amusement. "You cared enough about this to bother looking it up?"

"You're not the first guy I've known who tried using this outdated myth as a lame excuse."

"Well, for the record, Scully, I happen to fall solidly into the first fifty percent with a strong tendency toward three times or more per day. At least when you're around." He lowered himself to kiss the top of her breast, nuzzling the smooth skin with his nose.

Goose bumps formed under his lips. "Has it always been that way, Mulder?"

He kept his mouth to her skin and thought about what she was asking. Clearly, the question was whether he used to think about sex that frequently back when they worked together. And furthermore, did it involve sex with her?

"If I say 'yes', will I be in trouble?"

"No."

"Then yes."

"Really?" Her head lifted on the pillow.

"That surprises you?"

Her eyebrows jumped.

"Didn't you think about it?" he asked.

"Not several times a day," she replied, laying her head back down.

"Well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration. In the beginning anyway. But not by the end, like after I kissed you, but before we- " He cleared his throat. "Then it might have been fifteen times a day."

He saw her smile and nod, like she knew exactly what he was talking about. He recalled those few months when he wondered almost constantly about the direction they were going in and whether he should kiss her again. Fifteen times a day was not an exaggeration. Considering he spent most of his work days wondering what color bra she was wearing and if that was a hard nipple he saw outlined against her blouse or just a crease in the fabric, it was a miracle he got anything else accomplished.

She ran her fingers lazily through her hair, sweeping it off her neck to keep cool. "So back when we stayed in all those crummy motel rooms with adjoining doors?" she asked, her mind clearly still pondering his admission.

"I listened for the shower to turn on and imagined the water hitting your body," he said, skimming a hand up her elbow to her shoulder.

"Sitting in department meetings in Skinner's office?"

"I wondered if you were wearing regular stockings or thigh highs." The same hand traced down her torso, in between her breasts, barely touching her skin. Her back arched.

"Studying files down in the basement?"

"I wondered if your desk would hold our combined weight." He pressed a kiss to her belly button and her stomach muscled danced under his lips.

"All those miles in rental cars?"

"Two words, Scully: back seat."

She giggled. "You were baaaad."

"Mmmm hmmm," he hummed, the flat of his hot tongue circling one nipple.

Her breath caught and she reached for his hair, gently pulling his head from her. "Better stop," she whispered. "A few more weeks."

"I know. Sorry." He put a few inches of mattress between them and fell back onto his own pillow in understanding resignation. "By the way, I forgot to mention that I called and scheduled my appointment."

"For what?" she asked.

"What do you think?"

Her head turned. "Are you sure?"

"Yes. Right? I thought we had decided this. You're confusing me, Scully."

"No, you're right. I'm sure. It's just weird, you know? For a long time in my life, I was obsessed with reliable birth control. Then I found out I couldn't conceive so I didn't need to worry about birth control, but I wasn't having any sex anyway, sadly, so it was a moot point. Then by some miracle, you and I conceived not once, but three times, and I was suddenly back to thinking about birth control. And now pretty soon I won't have to think about it again. It's reproductive schizophrenia."

"But you are sure, right? You're not going to hold a newborn in a couple of years and start bawling on me, are you Scully?"

"Mulder, I'm forty-years-old. Somewhere back in my misspent youth when I had the insane notion that I could actually plan these things, I figured I'd have a couple of grade-schoolers by now. At no time did I anticipate that I'd still be breastfeeding and changing diapers. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. I wouldn't trade what we have for anything in the world, but I think I can safely say that I'm finished procreating. I'll be fifty-eight when Claire graduates high school."

The thought startled him. "That will make me...ouch! Let's change the subject, please."

She chuckled quietly and rolled to rest her head on his bare chest, her fingers trailing his upper arm carelessly. "Will you still want me when I'm old and grey?" she asked.

Mulder sang quietly, "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 64..."

"That song gets less and less charming as the years fly by," she mused.

Mulder captured her hand moving against his arm and she turned her face upward curiously, her cheek still pressed to his chest. "Scully, a whole lifetime with you isn't enough."

Her eyes glistened in the scant light with emotion that she was hesitant to show sometimes, even with him. She made a clicking sound with her tongue and kissed his collarbone tenderly. "You should have saved that one when you had a prayer of getting lucky, Mulder. I'd say that line would have hit you a home run."

"You mean I can't use it again?" he whined.

"Mmmm, well I was going to say you can get a rain check, but let's see if there isn't something else we can come up with..." Her mouth charted a steady course down his torso, the tip of her tongue fluttering like a butterfly against his abdomen. His muscles tightened and blood flowed south.

"I think I promised you something a couple of days ago," she whispered, "and I've been looking forward to it."

His brain swirled as her hot breath reached the thatch of hair on his groin. She had been looking forward to going down on him? He thought he could not possibly love this woman more. Then her wet tongue circled the bulbous head of his cock once and her entire mouth engulfed him and he realized he had been wrong.


July 16, 2004

Scully checked email on her laptop while Claire lay propped on several pillows against her breast. In the two days since she had started back to work, telecommuting from home, Scully had learned to multi-task like a champ. Although she usually liked to break to nurse, she had a conference call later this afternoon that she was finishing preparing for and she was leaving with Mulder for his doctor's appointment in a half an hour. Today was the day. Mulder had come downstairs after his shower dressed in tight- fitting jeans and she had sent him back upstairs to change into looser fitting pants. Hadn't he bothered to read the pre-op instructions?

Claire pulled away from her nipple and Scully lifted the baby to her shoulder, rebuttoning her blouse. She hit reply on a message and typed with one hand, patting Claire's back with the other. When she had finished, she powered down her laptop, put the baby down in the play pen and went into the kitchen to find Lindsey, who was preparing William's lunch.

"So I just fed Claire," Scully started, "and changed her. I put her down in the play pen and she'll probably fall asleep. There is a bottle of breast milk in the refrigerator if she needs it, but she should be okay until we get back."

"Okay, no problem," said Lindsey, trimming the crust off of a turkey sandwich.

The phone rang and Scully answered using the cordless while she searched for her purse.

"Hello."

"Hi Honey, it's Mom."

"Hi Mom."

"How's your first week back to work going?"

"Oh, you know. Busy," she said, distractedly as she wandered into the foyer to find her purse and car keys on the table by the door. "I'm working from home for at least another week."

"Make sure you're relying on Lindsey to help you, Honey. Don't try to do too much in the beginning. You're not even getting a full night's sleep yet."

"I know Mom. I'm...fine. Lindsey's a big help and Claire adores her."

"That's good. Listen, I wanted to call because as you know, Bill and Tara and the kids are coming out in August and I wanted to plan a dinner for everybody and I know how busy you and Fox are. Would Saturday, August 14th work for you?"

"Um, I think so, I'm not sure. Mom, can I check our calendar and get back to you? I'm just on my way out the door to take Mulder to his...um...I need to give Mulder a ride to...um...I'll call you back tonight and let you know about August, okay?"

"Of course, Honey. Give the babies hugs for me."

"I will. I'll talk to you later, Mom."

She hung up and went back into the kitchen to tell Lindsey one more thing.

"We should be home by 3:00, Lindsey, but if we're not, I have a conference call scheduled with Doctor Hanover from Georgetown Hospital at 3:30. Would you please just answer and tell him to call my cell phone. I'm thinking he'll figure that out on his own, but-"

"Doctor Hanover? Paul Hanover?" interrupted Lindsey.

"Yes, I work with him. Why, do you know him?"

"Paul and Kate Hanover?"

"I think that's his wife's name, yes," said Scully. "I've never met her."

Lindsey look a little surprised. "They're still together then."

"Um, I think-"

"I'm sorry," Lindsey jumped back in. "I shouldn't have said that. I don't make it a habit of discussing people I've worked for. That was inappropriate."

"It's okay," said Scully. "I don't really know much about his personal life, but he has mentioned his wife and girls before. We just work together." Paul had always struck Scully has intensely private, for the most part, and she didn't really mind. They worked well together and she had always preferred keeping her personal life separate from her professional one as well. They really didn't discuss their families much, but that was common among medical professionals. She knew very little about the personal lives of those she worked with and, aside from Della, she'd guess that not many of them knew a great deal about hers, other than the fact that she just had another child. She was curious, though, why Lindsey thought Paul was separated or divorced. He didn't mention his wife often, but Scully had always just assumed they were together.

She cleared her throat, casually. "So you worked for them?"

Lindsey nodded. "It was about six years ago. They hired me to go to Cape Hatteras with them for the summer to watch their girls."

"Why um, why did you wonder if they were still together?"

Lindsey blushed a little. "Oh, I-I shouldn't have said that. It's just that...they split up after that summer and I continued working for just him for another six months whenever he had the girls. He was actually seeing someone else for awhile, another doctor, I think. Then he got back together with his wife. I guess I just wondered if they were still together. It's always nice when people work things out, you know?"

Scully nodded. She felt slightly ridiculous for even having this conversation. It was none of her business, nor did she want it to be.

Lindsey tucked her head into the family room and called William to lunch just as Mulder jogged down the stairs in his running shorts and T shirt.

Scully appraised him.

"You said loose-fitting," he said. "It's hot outside. I'm not wearing sweatpants."

"Okay. Whatever works for you," she said.

"Let's get this over with," he said and they headed out the door.


After dinner, Scully finished loading the dishwasher and went into the family room to find Mulder and William sprawled out on the floor, playing Chutes and Ladders. Claire lay on a blanket next to them, hiccupping rhythmically.

"How are you feeling? Do you want more Ibuprofen?" she asked.

He shifted a little, assessing, and winced. "Maybe. The numbness is wearing off."

"Do you want a bag of frozen peas for the swelling?"

"I've heard of doing kinky things with vegetables, Scully, but somehow holding frozen peas against my junk doesn't sound all that hot."

"Mulder." She tilted her head toward William, who was lost in trying to count ahead six spaces on the game board.

"Sure, I'll take a bag. I'm open to new experiences," Mulder said, flicking the game spinner with his finger.

"You got two, Daddy. You're going down the chute!"

"Noooooo! Not the chute again!" Mulder said, his face twisted into an animated frown as he slid his game piece down the board. "You're killing me here, Will."

"This is my best game," he said, seriously. "Maybe we could play a game you're good at next, Daddy. What's your best game?"

"Spin The Bottle."

"Mulder!"

"How do you play that one?" William asked.

"We'll skip it. You need a lot more girls," Mulder smiled, ignoring the warning looks Scully was shooting at him.

"How about Hi Ho Cheerio, then?" suggested William. "You just count apples for that one. Guys can do it."

"That sounds perfect," said Mulder.

William spun again and moved ahead three. "Claire stinks, Mommy," he said, nonchalantly.

Scully picked up the baby and rotated her carefully in her arms, putting her nose up close to the backside of her sleeper and then making a face. "You didn't notice that before, Mulder?"

"I'm supposed to take it easy on the stairs, Scully. Doctor's orders."

"We have a changing table right in the corner of this room, Mulder."

"I don't think I'm supposed to lift either."

She rolled her eyes and carried the baby to the changing table.


July 31, 2004

Her cheek felt warm and her pillow felt cool. Scully's eyes fluttered open to rays of sunshine filtering in through the bedroom blinds and a suspiciously quiet house. She had a vague recollection of nursing Claire sometime around 5:00 a.m. and both of them falling back to sleep in the big bed together. Mulder must have moved her back to the bassinette afterward without Scully even waking up, but that wasn't surprising. It was the Saturday morning right after her first week back at the hospital and she had been exhausted all week. It had been a harder transition than she anticipated with Claire still waking at least twice between 11:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. every night to nurse. She would take bottles of pumped breast milk now and Mulder was more than willing to get up with the baby and feed her, but Scully hated to have the baby take a bottle during the night when she did it all day during Scully's work hours. So she nursed her in the middle of the night, zombie-like, falling asleep with Claire at the breast more times than not.

The bedside clock told her it was 9:20. How had she slept so late? And where was everybody? A question that deserved an answer, but first, her bladder needed attention. She rolled from the bed and shuffled toward the bathroom. Something crunched under her foot. She looked down to see a piece of paper lying on the floor next to Mulder's side of the bed. She could tell before picking it up that it had Mulder's chicken scrawl on it. He must have left it on his side of the bed for her and the ceiling fan had blown it onto the floor. She carried it into the bathroom with her, reading as she walked.

"Scully - Took the monsters to breakfast with your mom, then to the park. Sleep some more. I hired Ashley Martin to babysit tonight. I'm taking you out to dinner. See you around lunchtime. - M"

She smiled. A date. The first real one since the baby had been born, unless you counted the Sunday Scully's mom watched the kids for a couple of hours so she and Mulder could shop for a new washer and dryer. She didn't have to speculate about motive. Her six week postpartum check-up had been last week. She had been given the green light to have sex whenever she felt ready. Then she had proceeded to fall asleep upon sudden impact with her pillow for five nights in a row. The mind was willing, but the body was weak. Ten to twelve hour shifts and chronic sleep deprivation was homicidal to her libido. The silky lingerie in her dresser drawers mocked her each morning when she reached for her sensible cotton underwear.

Mulder had arranged for her to catch up on her sleep. He had hired a babysitter. He was taking her to dinner. It was seduction 101. Somewhere in the deep recesses of her mind, before leaky breasts and late night feedings, she remembered what that was. She assigned him mental points for effort and began looking through her closet for something to wear that let him know how much she approved of his plan. Then she ran a tall, hot bath, put on some soft music, and spent extra time shaving her legs.


Mulder wandered into the bedroom in his dress pants and white shirt, tie hanging loose around his collar. "Ashley's here."

"I'm not even ready yet," Scully said, standing in her black bra and panties in front of the closet, her back to him.

"Relax. I had her come early so you could get ready in peace. Everything's under control. William is eating his dinner and Claire has been fed. I told Ashley to go ahead and put her in the bassinette and she'd probably fall asleep."

"If she sleeps now, she won't sleep later, Mulder. You know that."

He looked at her blankly.

"Later? As in, when we want her to sleep..." Scully hinted.

Still no expression.

Scully sighed loudly and smirked. "Think with the little head, not the big head, Mulder."

She saw it click and he ran back out of the bedroom and down the stairs. "Hey Ashley..." she heard him say.

She was pulling several items from the closet when he ran back up, out of breath. "Okay, the baby will stay awake. Come hell or high water, the baby will stay awake."

"Mulder, I didn't know we were dressing up. Where are we going?"

"I made a reservation at Bellini's."

"Bellini's? Really?"

"You don't like Bellini's?"

"Yes, of course I do. It's wonderful, just expensive."

"We haven't been out to dinner without little people in three months, Scully. I thought we'd spring for it, but if you'd rather hit Tony's Barbecue Pit or Pizza Palace, we can do that."

She stepped out from the walk-in closet, tossed a black skirt onto the bed, and held up two tops in front of her. One was a silvery- grey dressy tank that had a shimmer to it, the other was a sheer slate blue button-down blouse. "Which one?"

His eyes steadied themselves on her. However they didn't seem to be on the clothing she was holding, but rather on the lingerie she was wearing.

"Mulder? Which one do you like better?"

He walked over to her and traced a path with his index finger from the side of her neck down to her cleavage, dipping it in the tiny cleft between her breasts where they pushed out of the top of the black bra. It wasn't a new bra, but one she had from before the baby. Her nursing breasts were perhaps a touch large for it, but not enough to buy a bigger bra. The result was that her breasts had the slight appearance of wanting to escape and judging by the look on Mulder's face, he was hoping they might.

"You look really good, Scully," he said in a low, breathy voice, his finger still circling a tiny spot of alabaster skin between the valley of her breasts.

"Thank you," she smiled playfully. "Should I finish getting dressed?"

His face was the picture of regret. "Sadly, yes, if we're going to make our reservation. On second thought, do we really need to eat or could we just lock ourselves in our room?"

"It might be kind of rude with the babysitter downstairs. For the third time, which one?" She jiggled both tops in front of her, making their fabric dance on the hangers.

"The silver tank. Bare shoulders," he said.

Right. She returned the other to the closet and hung the tank on the door knob, then unzipped the black skirt and slipped into it while Mulder finished tying his tie in the mirror above his dresser.

The skirt fit snugly, but it wasn't tight. The scale told her she was within just a few pounds of her pre-pregnancy weight, but her muscle tone hadn't completely returned. If past experience revealed anything, it would take a few more months for that to happen. Still, Mulder's hungry look told her all she needed to know and she tossed self-deprecation to the wind for the evening.

She slipped into black sling-backs with an open toe and was still fastening the back to her earring when she entered the kitchen, heels clicking on the ceramic tiles. William was building a moat in his mashed potatoes while Ashley stood at the sink washing dishes.

"Oh Ashley, you don't have to do those. Just leave them in the sink or load them in the dishwasher."

"I was just washing out William's sippy cup because he asked for apple juice and it had milk in it."

Scully watched in her peripheral vision as William sunk a little lower in his chair.

"William, you know you're supposed to have milk with dinner. You had one cup of juice with breakfast and one in the afternoon. No more juice today. Water or milk."

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Mulder, I didn't know. He just asked for it."

"It's okay," Scully smiled. "It's not your fault and it's certainly not a big deal. But William knows better."

"Can he have anything else before bedtime?"

"Mommy, can I please have a bowl of ice cream before bed?"

Scully nodded. "One bowl," she said to Ashley. "And help yourself to anything you'd like."

"Thanks, Mrs. Mulder."

"Scully."

The girl looked at her blankly.

"I go by Doctor Scully instead of Mrs. Mulder."

"Oh right! I think I knew that. Sorry."

"It's fine. Everybody does it," said Scully, her face soft, trying not to scare away their one and only babysitter besides her mother.

Mulder walked into the kitchen carrying Claire. "I just changed her, so barring any gastrointestinal mishaps - and hopefully she's filled her quota of those for the day -you should be able to get away with just changing her once more before bed," he said, passing the baby off to Ashley.

"She'll be ready to go down by around 8:00," said Scully. "There are bottles in the fridge. Warm one for twenty seconds in the microwave and give it to her about a half hour before bed and then burp her. Be sure to use a burp cloth if you like your shirt. She wakes again to eat between 11:00 and midnight, but we'll be home before then. William goes to bed at 8:30. I left his pajamas out on his bed. Make sure to remind him to use the toilet and brush his teeth before bed. He needs his blankie to fall asleep and he likes his night light on, but he'll tell you that if you forget. You don't need to bother with a bath for him because he had one earlier today. If you have trouble getting Claire to sleep and she seems fussy, there are Mylicon drops on the counter in the medicine cabinet of the children's bathroom. Two drops in the side of her cheek should alleviate her gas." She took a breath. "I think that's it. Right?" She looked at Mulder who nodded and shrugged.

Scully continued. "I wrote it all down for you on the notebook by the phone, along with both Mulder's and my cell phone numbers and my mother's home and cell numbers too. Um...any questions? I know it's a lot."

Ashley shook her head. "I think we've got it, right Will?"

William gave a thumbs up and smiled with a mouth full of mashed potatoes. "You look beauteous, Mommy."

Scully kissed his hair. "Thank you, Pumpkin."

Mulder jingled the car keys in his hand and glanced at his watch. "Come on, Scully, we gotta get going."

"Don't worry about a thing. We'll be fine," said Ashley.

Scully hesitated for another second until Mulder literally grasped her elbow and coaxed her out the door and into the car.


Scully would have liked to be able to say that she remembered every detail about the delicious food she ate and the perfect ambience of the restaurant, but she couldn't. What she did remember was the way Mulder pressed his warm hand on her shoulder after he pushed her chair in for her, or the way he stopped eating mid-chew to watch her suck an errant strand of angel hair pasta into her mouth. At one point, he lost his train of thought and couldn't finish his sentence because he got distracted by her lipstick smudge on her water glass. He stared at it and adjusted his posture in his chair. She noticed and pressed her berry lips together, then dabbed at the corners of her mouth with her cloth napkin. It was unnerving to see him want her so much.

They should have just gone to the barbecue place and saved the money. Neither of them could remember much about what they ate, other than it was good. Tonight it wasn't about the food. They split a slice of cherry cheesecake off the same plate with two forks. She wasn't trying to lick her lips a lot. It was just something she did. She had been accused of it before by him, as if she consciously used it as her ace-in-the-hole when it came to seducing him. She didn't want to burst his bubble by telling him that it wasn't all that hard. The cherry glaze was thick and clung to her mouth. After the dessert plate was cleared, he asked if she minded if they just sat for a few minutes. She smiled and wondered if she was right about why he didn't want to get up from the table right away or if she was just reading into things.

By the time they left the restaurant, there was a chill in the air. She shivered and he pulled his jacket off and draped it over her shoulders. They had to walk three blocks to their car, but it was a starry night and she was wearing her more comfortable pumps. His fingers laced lazily with hers.

"Do you want to go anywhere else?" he asked.

"Do you?" she countered, blinking up at him.

"Or should we just go home?"

"Should we?"

"Are you going to answer all my questions with questions?" he teased.

"Would you like that?" she smiled back.

They rounded a corner and he pressed her against a building without warning and kissed her hard. "I'll show you what I'd like." It caught her off-guard and she liked the spontaneity. Both of his hands managed to sneak inside the jacket of his that she wore and traveled up and down her sides before settling on her hip bone and stroking with his thumbs. She pulled away first, needing air.

She couldn't help staring at his plump lower lip and she had the overwhelming urge to bite it. Not hard, but hard enough to make him whimper. His chest rose and fell. It was no longer pressed so tightly to hers. If it had been, he would have felt her nipples tight like gumdrops in the cool summer night air. They tingled and she hoped she didn't start leaking. It didn't happen so much anymore just as long as there wasn't a baby crying anywhere close by. If there was, then forget it, she was a walking fountain. Working in a hospital, it had become an occupational hazard. There were babies everywhere. She kept several extra blouses in the bottom drawer of her desk and purposely avoided getting off the elevator on the fourth floor maternity wing.

"What do you want to do now?" she asked, smiling as one brow rose without her permission.

He laughed loudly, then stopped. Laughed again, shaking his head. "You can be a fucking tease sometimes, do you know that?"

Her cheeks flushed hot. His voice was low and gravelly and she felt damp in certain places.

He pulled off her and led her by the hand down the sidewalk again. "Come on, let's go home and we'll see if we can think of something to do."


Scully checked on William and then woke Claire to change and nurse her while Mulder drove Ashley home. She was rocking in the chair in the nursery with Claire on the second breast when Mulder got back. The baby's eyes were heavy with sleep and she had just about nodded off, her mouth slack against the nipple when Mulder came up the stairs and peeked in. Scully put a finger to her mouth to keep him quiet and then carefully lowered the baby into her crib and eased the rail up.

She adjusted herself underneath her top as she closed the nursery door part way and joined Mulder in the hall. "I think she's down," Scully whispered.

In the bedroom, Mulder stripped to boxers and headed for the bathroom while Scully undressed and put on something slippery with spaghetti straps and a ridiculously small amount of fabric. They brushed their teeth side-by-side at twin sinks and when Scully reached for her moisturizer on the top shelf of the medicine cabinet, her negligee crept up to reveal the bottom of one rounded globe of ass. She hadn't bothered with panties because what was the point?

Mulder froze, mid rinse, a blob of blue gel toothpaste clinging to the corner of his lip, and stared. "Are you going to do that again?" he asked.

"Do what?" She rubbed white moisturizer into her chin.

"Put your goopy stuff back on the top shelf?"

Her lips pursed, wryly. "When I'm done using it."

He sat down on the closed toilet seat lid and waited, eyes fixed on the bottom of her nightie like a puppy waiting for a treat.

When she finally headed for the bed, he was already there. Her side of the covers had been turned back and she slid into the cool, smooth sheets. He clicked off the bedside lamp and then leaned over her, slipping one hand underneath her neck to cup the back of her head. His kisses were short at first, almost reverent, alternating between her top and bottom lip, before parting them gently with his tongue. One large hand skated up her front to cup her breast through the slippery fabric and he thumbed her nipple. It rose obediently underneath his touch.

She took a scattered breath. "Did you get condoms?"

He pulled back. "What? No, I thought...um, I didn't think we needed-"

"You're not considered sterile until you've had two clean samples, Mulder. You know that."

"Yeah, but you're breastfeeding and you haven't had a period yet."

"I'm less fertile when breastfeeding, but it's not a guarantee. And an egg is released two weeks before menstruation. Technically, I'll release an egg before I ever get a period."

"It worked for us before, Scully." His head dropped forward to rest on her shoulder. "No, I don't have a condom. What do you want me to do?"

She sighed, but didn't say anything.

He groaned and slid one strap down her arm until he could free her breast, lifting it up until his mouth found the nipple. She sucked in air and arched.

"Mulder, we need to think. This isn't helping," she panted.

"I want you so bad I'm dizzy, Scully. I don't want to wait. Can't I pull out or something?" He sounded desperate.

"I don't know? Can you?"

He launched himself off her and flopped onto his back. "Fuck!" Then he got up from the bed and she heard his belt buckle clanking as he pulled on his pants.

"What are you doing?" she asked, raising herself up on both elbows.

"I'm going to solve the problem. There's a 24-hour Walgreens three blocks away." He bent over the bed and lifted the material of her nightie to plant one kiss directly onto her mons.

"Mulder!" She giggled, surprised, and pulled her knees up.

"I will be right back. Do. Not. Fall. Asleep. Or you will see a grown man cry, Scully." He flew down the staircase and seconds later she heard the hum of the garage door going up. The alarm clock said 11:24.

At 11:41 he stumbled back up the stairs and into their bedroom. He had one button left to go on his shirt and he was already working on his pants. He shrugged out of the shirt and skipped forward, stepping on the cuff of his pants and falling onto the foot of the bed. He kicked the pants off frantically and tossed a plastic store bag onto the floor.

"Jesus, Mulder. Did your tires touch the road?" she giggled.

"That was the fastest contraceptive run I've ever made in my life, including college and grad school. I think I'm still hard. I...I have no idea what I ended up with. They could be glow-in-the-dark for all I know. There was this old geezer in line ahead of me and when he saw what was in my hand, he gave me a wink and let me cut in front. I must have looked desperate."

She laughed out loud.

"Please tell me you're still in the mood, Scully."

She sat up in bed and tugged her negligee off over her head and flung it aside, then stretched back out like an offering, staring up at him. Her hands went up to her own breasts and she kneaded them and pushed them together.

"Oh God," he said, tugging frantically at his boxers while keeping his eyes trained on her nude form. He knelt over her, his erection standing out from his body at a forty-five degree angle, bobbing and swaying. She heard the cardboard box open and the crinkle of wrappers, then a pause.

"Um, I'm sorry, I should probably...this has been some pretty shitty foreplay, huh?"

She shrugged and smiled sympathetically. "It's all right."

He sighed and tossed the box of condoms onto the top of the nightstand. "No, it isn't. I'm sorry, Scully. I'm an ass."

She chuckled. "No, you're not, but you do have a nice one." She squeezed it to prove her point.

"C'mere," he said, pulling her to him and tucking one arm under her torso. He kissed her lips tenderly. "Can we start over? I can wait."

She nodded and responded to him, her eyes closing. He didn't rush, although she was aware of the tremble in his body as he lay over her. They kissed for a long time, longer than usual, and she was touched by his selflessness and desire to put her comfort ahead of his need. His hands skimmed her body, exploring terrain that he knew well, using pressure and technique that she responded to, touching her in ways that only he knew how to. He was hard against her thigh and she enjoyed the reminder of how much he wanted her.

Her teeth tugged at his earlobe. "I think I'm ready," she whispered, and he slid his hand down between her legs to tickle her labia. "Almost," he said, and walked his body down the mattress on his hands to hover above her, his breath warm on her skin. Her hips moved in a circular dance as if possessed. He pushed one of her knees up, her foot flat on the mattress and slipped both hands under to cup her ass. He raised her to his mouth and she jumped under the first touch of his tongue.

She could only breathe through her mouth, air coming in short spurts as he licked and taunted her. He avoided her clitoris, only skimming the edge of it, and it was possibly the first time she could imagine coming without him even touching it. She felt wired and electric and the urge to push herself against his tongue was overwhelming.

He slipped a finger into her and just as quickly back out before raising himself over her body again. "Now you're ready," he said.

She rolled her head on the pillow and groaned, opening her eyes to look at him kneeling over her. His body was beautiful and she reached one hand to grasp his erection, sliding her thumb over the tip to play in a drop of wetness that had already accumulated there.

His hand covered hers and stilled her movement. "Too much," he breathed. He bent toward the nightstand and his hand searched the wooden top, accidentally sweeping a box of tissues and a book to the floor before he found what he needed. She heard a crinkle as he tore the wrapper with his teeth and then a quiet pause.

It had been a long time since she'd had sex using a condom. Since when? Jack, probably, before he had produced two clean blood tests for her and she went back on the pill. Never with Mulder before. So this was Mulder using a condom, a concentrated look on his face as he fitted himself. She was amused and she had no idea why. At least he put it on himself and didn't ask her if she wanted to do it. It was puzzling to her why some guys treated it as part of foreplay when, by the time you got to that part of the process, she was usually like 'just get the thing on and let's go.'

"Okay," he said, lowering himself.

"Go slow," she pleaded, suddenly remembering that this had hurt a little the first time after William.

"I'll try." He looked unsure.

He nudged at her opening and she reached between them to position him. When he started to enter, she sucked in a sharp breath and he stopped. "Are you okay?" he asked.

"Yes, it doesn't hurt," she panted and his head fell against her shoulder. "Oh, thank God," he said, and pushed a little harder. Her body welcomed him and with less protest than she had anticipated. He used short, quick strokes until he was all the way in, then stopped and breathed against her skin, his mouth open and his tongue flat to her clavicle. "This feels so good," he groaned.

"Yes, it does. I'm sorry you have to use a condom."

"It's okay. I'll last longer." He began stroking into her slowly, his face inches from hers, kissing her lips, her chin, her closed eyelids. Her nails grazed his back and he picked up the pace. He had been holding back before and now he wasn't, his lower body meeting and separating from hers in escalating thrusts. Her nipples were hard and he bent his head to capture one, then came back up, startled. She glanced down to see tiny droplets of milk on her areola.

"Damn, I'm leaking."

He didn't stop his movements. "It's okay...don't worry 'bout it." His breath was stagnated and he struggled to get words out as he exerted himself. "Just surprised me."

He pulled back onto his knees and lifted one of her legs to wrap it around his waist. "I want to make you come."

She nodded, closing her eyes and forcing all distraction out of her head. The recipe for her orgasm was at least eighty percent mental. All the stimulation in the world wouldn't get her there unless she could convince her brain to switch off. She relaxed into their mutual rhythm, lifting her hips each time to meet his downstroke. Without looking, she felt his eyes on her, burning hot into her flushed skin, lids heavy and dream-like as he edged closer to his own release. She bit her bottom lip and reached for his hand, guiding it to her center and he moaned, immediately falling into a learned tempo as if to say 'why didn't I think of that?' He had learned over time how she needed it and sometimes she forgot it was his hand and not her own moving against her flesh.

Her thighs shook and she called out his name, then bit her lip to keep from doing it again and waking anyone. She fluttered and contracted around him and he backed off the rhythm of his hand, knowing she needed much less now as she coasted through. His fingers slid slowly back and forth, then ceased altogether as her moans tapered. Her eyes opened again and he floated back into focus, still moving above her, now with increased urgency. He knew it was his turn and he was getting serious about it.

The thrusts became shorter, faster, and deeper and he questioned her with his eyes. She nodded to tell him it wasn't too much, she was fine, and he forged on, knowing exactly how to get where he was going. She lifted both legs up, bent at the knees and hooked her heels around his waist. His jaw slackened and he panted, enjoying the deeper penetration that this angle allowed. She watched his face and by his expression, could nearly count down to his climax. Ten-nine-eight- his lids fluttered heavily and he wet his lower lip - seven-six- a tiny frown of concentration settled between his brows - five-four- his eyes gave up on focusing and slammed shut - three- he opened his mouth further into a silent groan - two-one - his entire body froze in place as she felt the unmistakable muscular pulses inside her. Then he followed up with several small aftershock thrusts before pitching forward onto her, spent and sated.

He kissed her lips, breathlessly, then slid his open mouth across her bare shoulder and pulled out of her, flopping onto his back. "You're still okay?" he asked hoarsely.

"Mmmm hmmm," she hummed, "more than okay." She rolled to put her head on his chest.

"Not sore?"

"Not so far."

"Hang on a sec." He sat up on the edge of the bed with his back to her and she heard rustling and then a snapping as something was removed, tied off, and deposited into a tissue, then the garbage can. "Okay, that's better," he said, migrating back to the middle of the bed where she had taken over all the pillows. He gathered her to his chest and sighed. "What do you think? Are we back?"

She smiled. "I think we're back."

"I should get more condoms, probably."

"Probably. Two clean samples, then we can go without," she said.

"How about one?"

"Two clean samples either a month or at least twenty ejaculations apart, Mulder. Let's do this right."

"Well, hell Scully, I can manage twenty in a week if I'm diligent and you help out."

She snorted out a breath. "Maybe get more condoms in the meantime," she suggested. "Is it really all that different with them?"

"Yes," he said quickly. "Well, wait a minute, back up. Yes, it's different, but still very much worth it." He paused, thoughtfully. "How do I describe it? Um...let's see... the first probably five years I had sex, I used condoms. I had no idea what it felt like without. You know how when you're reading your book next to a lamp with a sixty watt bulb, you can see, but sometimes you have to squint a little?"

"Mmmm hmmm," she hummed, curious where he was headed.

"Well, then somebody comes along and pops a hundred watt bulb in and you're like 'Whoa!' The words on the page become so crisp and clear that you can't believe you were ever reading with that sixty watt bulb in the first place. Sex with a rubber is like reading with a sixty watt bulb. You can still read fine, and you're pretty satisfied with it... until you see what it looks like with the hundred watt bulb. Then it's hard to go back. I've just spent too long reading by the hundred watt bulb with you, Scully. You feel amazing with one on, but without? There's nothing like it."

"Did it feel any different when you...you know, since the vasectomy? I mean, it's not supposed to, from what I've read, but I'm still curious if you noticed a difference this time."

"Well, this isn't exactly my first, um, ejaculation since the vasectomy." He shrugged and smiled sheepishly.

Of course not, she thought, amused by her ridiculous assumption. It had been weeks since the surgery and she knew nothing had happened between them, so... two plus two equals a few long showers.

"But no," he continued. "To answer your question, I haven't noticed anything different. Feels the same, looks the same...um, I was going to say tastes the same, but you'll have to be the judge of that," he teased. That earned him an eye roll and a head shake.

"Well, you can get back to me on it," he said, pulling her flush against his side. "We should get some sleep before the 2:00 a.m. roll call."

She made a quiet pouting sound. "I need a detachable boob that I can just leave in her crib with her, self-service style."

"They have that. It's called a bottle, but you're not supposed to leave it in the crib, unfortunately. Do you want me to get up with her and feed her a bottle tonight?"

She sighed. "No, it's okay. I keep reminding myself this is temporary. And it's the last baby, so enjoy it - sleep deprivation, poopy diapers, spit-up, and all."

"If it helps, I think you're doing a great job. You're a natural at this, Scully. She's lucky to have you as a mom."

"Aww, Mulder, that's so sweet," she sniffed. "Look at you saying all kinds of sensitive crap to me."

"I mean it from the bottom of my heart. Do you want to have sex again?"

"No, I want to sleep."

"Okay. It was worth a try. If I use the same line on you tomorrow night, will I have a shot then?"

"No, you need to come up with new material."

"Good to know. I love you, Scully. Sleep tight."

"Hmmm. Love you too."


August 2, 2004

Mulder was on his third Diet Coke since noon. He was wired and his fingers were flying across the keyboard. It had barely registered when Lindsey poked her head in his office an hour ago to tell him she was taking the kids to the playground.

His cell phone vibrated, scooting across his wooden desktop. He reached for it without looking away from the computer screen.

"Mulder."

"Hey Mulder, it's me."

"...was deeply ensconced in parapsychological liturgy, period, end quote, next paragraph..."

"What?"

"Just finishing a thought. Hey, Scully, what's up? What's shaking? How's it hanging?"

"How many Diet Cokes have you had, Mulder?"

"Three," he tipped the can back, draining the last bit of liquid, "so far."

"How's the writing coming?"

"Good. The creative muses are speaking today. Is that what you called to ask?"

"No. I called to say that I'm going to be an hour late. I have a meeting that starts at 5:00. I should be out by 6:30, home by 7:00. Her Highness will have to settle for a bottle for dinner and I'll nurse her before bed."

"Gotcha. Should I figure out dinner for us then?"

"There's leftover chicken from last night and salad fixings in the fridge."

"That works. I'll see you later, then."

"Save me some chicken."

"You got it."

He hung up, then popped into the kitchen for another Diet Coke and a bag of sunflower seeds. When he got back to his office, his cell phone was vibrating again.

"Can't go five minutes without hearing my voice, can you?" he answered.

"Hello? Mr. Mulder?" a girl's voice asked, uncertainly.

"Yes. Speaking."

"This is Ashley."

Mulder searched his brain for mile markers. Who did he know named Ashley and why was she calling his cell phone?

"Ashley Martin?" The voice continued. "I babysat for you last Saturday?"

"Ashley! Right. Sorry, I wasn't expecting- um, how did you get my cell number?"

"This is your cell number? I'm sorry, I have three numbers written down here that Dr. Scully gave me and I just picked one. I meant to call your home number."

"No problem. What can I do for you, Ashley Martin, the babysitter?"

"Well, I think I left my book in your car when you gave me a ride home. I wondered if you could perhaps check and see if it's there?"

"Um, sure. Hang on a minute." Mulder jogged out to the garage taking his phone with him. He opened the passenger side door and felt around on the floor. He moved aside a crumpled McDonalds bag and looked under the seat. There was an empty plastic sippy cup. He unscrewed the top and recoiled. It had once held milk. Awhile ago. He looked again to find a book with dog eared corners behind where the sippy cup had sat.

"I have here...let's see... Schaum's Quick Guide to Writing Great Short Stories."

"Oh thank God. It's a library book and not even a very good one. I thought I was going to have to pay for it. Listen, would it be all right if I stopped over to pick it up?"

"No problem. I'll be here"

Twenty minutes later, it was pouring rain when the doorbell rang. Mulder answered the door and Ashley stood on the front porch, soaking wet without an umbrella.

"Come on in," he said, holding the door open. "I didn't know you were going to walk down in the rain. I would have dropped the book off."

"My brother took the car. And it wasn't raining very hard when I left. I got about halfway when it started coming down harder. I figured I might just as well finish walking here."

"I'll give you a ride home," Mulder said, reaching for his car keys on the hook on the wall.

"Can I please use your bathroom first...and maybe borrow a towel?"

"Oh yeah, sure. Down the hall and to the...well, you know where it is. There aren't any large towels in there. I'll grab you one from upstairs."

Mulder trotted up the stairs and grabbed a bath towel from the linen closet, then on second thought, decided to stop in and use the bathroom himself. The four Diet Cokes had caught up with him. When he got back downstairs, there was no sign of Ashley in the hallway or the foyer, and the powder room door was ajar. He poked his head into the kitchen and the family room, but she wasn't there either.

"Ashley?" he called out.

"In here." The sound came from his office. He went down the hall and turned the corner. She was standing in front of his bookshelves, thumbing through a copy of his last book. He handed her the towel and she wrapped it around her shoulders, rubbing her wet hair.

"This is my favorite one so far, you know," she said, holding up the book.

"You've read it?"

"I've read all your books several times."

He must have had a surprised look on his face because she looked down at the floor nervously and smiled. "I like to read a lot. I want to be a writer someday."

"Short stories?" he asked, quirking a brow and holding out her lost library book to her.

She shrugged. "Maybe. I'm taking a creative writing workshop at the community college this summer. I start full-time at UNC Chapel Hill in the Fall."

"Well, if you do decide to stick with short fiction, I'd recommend something like Sudden Fiction by James Thomas. It's a bit dated, but still iconic. Or anything by Tom Bailey is pretty good too."

Her eyes went wide. "Hang on. Do you have a pen?" Mulder handed her one and she turned over her hand and wrote on her palm. "James Thomas and Tom Bailey. Got it. Thanks!"

"It's still raining pretty hard. Come on, I'll give you a ride home," he said.

"Who's your favorite author?" Mulder asked, backing down the driveway in the rain.

Ashley fiddled with the radio stations and settled on something Mulder had never heard before, sitting back and tapping her knee cap with her hand. "John Irving," she said, turning the volume up on the radio a couple of notches.

"Irving? Really?" Mulder turned the radio back down.

"Why? You don't like him?"

"I love his work. He's just not someone I'd imagine a person your age being into, that's all."

"I read The World According To Garp for the first time when I was thirteen," she said, smiling out the window and holding her finger up against the dry inside of the glass as rivers of water washed down the outside. "I've read all his work now, of course, but Garp's still my favorite. The movie wasn't as good as the book."

"They never are," said Mulder.

"The bio in your books say that you used to be an FBI agent."

Mulder smiled, but kept his eyes on the road. "That's right."

"Is that where you got the ideas you write about?"

"Some of them." He shrugged and tilted his head. "Most of them, yes."

"Why'd you leave the FBI?"

"Complicated. Let's just say we came to a mutual misunderstanding."

"The partner you talk about in your books - was that your wife?"

He smiled. "Are we playing twenty questions?"

"Sorry. I was just curious. Like I said, I've read them several times."

"Yes. Only she wasn't my wife then."

"Yeah, I wondered about that."

Mulder pulled up in front of her house. "Here we are."

Ashley didn't get out of the car right away. She unbuckled her seat belt and shifted toward him. He was startled until he realized she was just reaching behind her to pick up her book. Something about this girl was unsettling to him. He cleared his throat and checked the automatic door locks to make sure her door was open. It was. She still didn't reach for the door handle.

She cleared her throat, nervously. "I don't quite believe I'm about to ask this, but do you want to come inside?" She ran one hand through her wet hair. "No one's home."

He turned to look at her, his brows knit in confusion. Her eyes were big and wide and they volleyed between his large hands resting on the steering wheel and her own clasped in her lap.

"Um, I-I...I'm not sure I understand..." he stumbled.

She giggled. "Obviously not. For a really hot guy, you're pretty clueless."

He swallowed, completely sure he must have misheard what she said. Was he expected to form some kind of response to that because one wasn't coming to him. He said nothing and his cheeks felt like they were burning up. Well, this was awkward.

"I asked you if you wanted to come in. I've got the house to myself."

"I heard what you said. Ashley, I'm married," he managed to choke out.

"I know that, obviously. And I'm leaving for college in a month. I'm not asking you to go steady," she snickered. "I'm suggesting something far less complicated. Just an afternoon. Why not? You don't even have to call me," she laughed.

This wasn't happening. It was no longer awkward. Things had been upgraded to excruciatingly uncomfortable. He would have gotten out and started walking if it wasn't his car. "Why not? Why not? If the married part wasn't enough for you, then how about the fact that I'm twice your age?"

"I'm eighteen. Perfectly legal."

"Oh, you're eighteen. Okay, that changes everything. Then I'm more than twice your age. Is this something you do? Proposition married men whose kids you babysit for?" He was pretty sure he had seen a few movies like this before. Daddy bangs the babysitter. He was caught in a bad cliche and the four Diet Cokes had turned into pure acid in his stomach.

"No. This is the first time, actually. Look, I'm not a slut. I've had two serious boyfriends in my life. I just like you for some reason. You seem...nice. You're fun to talk to and wickedly easy on the eyes."

"Well, I'm not interested, but thank you, I guess?"

"You don't have to get pissed off."

"I'm not pissed off. I'm just not interested, that's all. I love my wife. A lot. I'm not going to cheat on her."

She shrugged. "Suit yourself. You know where I am if you change your mind."

"Goodbye, Ashley. Good luck at Chapel Hill."

"Thanks. I'll be waiting for your next book."

She got out of the car and ran up the driveway in the rain, holding Mulder's towel over her head.

Shit. He drove off a little fast. Tires squealed.


Scully lifted Claire from the baby bathtub and handed her over to Mulder, who wrapped her in a hooded duck towel. She stared up at him, sucking her fist and smiling. Mulder made quacking noises at her and her grinned widened.

"Look at her look at you," observed Scully. "She thinks you're hilarious. You can always get her smiling. She always looks at me like I'm trying too hard."

"That's not true. She smiled at you last night while you were singing Pop Goes the Weasel."

"That's because I was nursing her at the same time. She was placating me. Besides, the word 'weasel' is just humorous."

"True," he conceded. "I'll pajama this one while you bathe the next?"

"Deal. WILLIAM!" she yelled. "Bathtime!"

A blur ran by the bathroom door and down the hall. "I don't want to!"

"Sorry, Dude," said Mulder, sympathetically. "Time to get clean. There will be more dirt with your name on it tomorrow."

William returned to the bathroom door and began stripping down. "Dirt can't have a name. You say weird stuff, Daddy."

Scully raised her brows and nodded. "You start getting used to it after about ten years. When he begins sounding normal, you know you're in trouble."

Mulder faked a silent "ha, ha" at her.

William used the toilet, then got into the tub and dumped a plastic bucket full of toys into the water.

"Oh Mulder, guess who I ran into at the supermarket yesterday. I completely forgot to mention it."

He shook his head and shrugged, playing with Claire's bare feet peeking out from the towel.

"Trish." He must've continued with the clueless looks because she elaborated. "Trish from the fourth of July picnic? As in Trish and Tom, who we were discussing wanting to subject to possible social interaction with us?"

"Got it. Trish. At the supermarket. Does she sort through the cereal boxes, too, looking for an undented one to purchase?"

"Are we really going to go head-to-head with our quirky tendencies here, Mulder, because I think we both know how that contest would turn out."

"Point taken."

"Anyway, you're not going to believe this, but SHE actually approached ME and said that since the picnic, she and Tom had been talking about how the four of us should get together and do something sometime."

"You don't say. People that willingly want to socialize with us? What's the catch? Do you think they're criminals, Scully? Mentally insane? Martians? Communists? Jehovah's Witnesses?"

Scully chuckled. "I don't know, they seem normal, Mulder."

"They're probably saying the same thing about us. It just goes to show, you can't be too careful."

"Anyway, she invited us to their house for dinner a week from Saturday. What do we have going on then? You're not in New York are you?"

"Um, no. I'm not even going to New York in August now. Turns out Toni Morrison's new book comes out the week before mine, so my meetings got bumped. She's got nerve, you know that?" he joked. "Like winning a Nobel Prize and a Pulitzer earns her the right to bump Fox Mulder."

"Good, because I told Trish I thought the date was fine. I thought I'd call Ashley and see if she can babysit that night."

Mulder had been headed out of the bathroom with Claire, but he froze and turned around. "Ashley?" He hoped his voice didn't sound as squeaky as he thought it did.

Scully didn't bother looking up. She was kneeling by the tub, massaging shampoo into Will's scalp. "Ashley Martin? From down the street? She babysat for us two nights ago?"

"Right, that Ashley." He sounded constipated.

"Do we know another?"

"No, listen, um, Scully. About Ashley...um, don't call her quite yet. We need to talk about something."

She stopped pouring water over William's head and looked up at him, curiously. "What? Did you forget to pay her or something when you drove her home?"

"No, nothing like that. Just, um, let's put the kids to bed first, okay?"

He walked out of the bathroom and to the nursery feeling her eyes on his back. Crap. He hadn't been sure how he planned to handle what happened - scratch that - what didn't happen today. Part of him had hoped he could have buried it six feet under where it deserved to be. Ashley would go off to college in a month and he'd probably never cross paths with her. Let sleeping dogs lie, water under the bridge, live and let live, and a hundred other idioms told him to just shut his mouth and forget about it. How much were you supposed to tell your wife about something that was never more than an infatuated notion in the impressionable mind of a young girl? Did it even warrant a discussion? Sometimes he wished that marriage came with an instruction manual. Or that at least women did.

He felt like he had stepped in a big pile of dog shit and he couldn't get it off his shoe.

Of course he couldn't avoid saying something about it now. Obviously they couldn't use Ashley as a babysitter again and Scully needed to know that. How likely was it that she would find the humor in the situation? Claire squealed loudly, kicked her legs, and peed onto the towel she was lying on. He took that as a sign that it didn't look so good.

"Daddy had a weird day, Claire Bear," he said, fastening a diaper on her. She scrunched her forehead and passed some gas. "My sentiments exactly."


Mulder finished tucking William in and then went into his bedroom and changed into a T-shirt and shorts. He thought about watching TV on the bed while he waited for Scully to finish nursing Claire and putting her to sleep, but he decided downstairs might be a better option just in case his redhead decided to see red. While they both had tempers that flared on occasion, Scully was more likely than he was to raise her voice during arguments. They rarely fought, at least seriously anyway. He could count on one hand the number of times a disagreement had escalated into what he'd define as a full-blown argument, and even fewer times when they had gone to bed angry. When they did fight, though, they didn't mess around. Scully had a cache of words stored in her personal vault that could make a sailor blush.

She wandered into the family room twenty minutes later wearing the shorts and Knicks T shirt she liked to sleep in, carrying a mug of tea. She put it down on the coffee table and sat down on the sofa next to him as he turned the TV off. Her bare knee brushed against his as she shifted sideways to face him.

"So what did you want to talk about?" she asked. Her face indicated cautious curiosity, but no warning bells were ringing. Yet.

He took a deep breath. "We can't use Ashley as a babysitter anymore," he stated.

"Oh-kaay. You're going to have to give me more than that, Mulder."

"I was afraid of that," he sighed, uncomfortably. His hands pressed into the sofa cushion as he rotated his body toward her. "Something happened today."

Her face paled and her head tilted to the side slightly. Her eyes shifted color and became darker.

Shit. Not the best lead-in, Mulder, he thought.

"Go on," she said, warily.

"When I drove Ashley home on Saturday night, she left her book in my car by accident. I didn't realize it. She called today and stopped down to pick it up. Um, it was raining when she got here and I invited her in to dry off. I gave her a towel." The look on Scully's face made him pause. He realized her mind was already several steps ahead of his story and it was headed down the wrong path. She looked like she wanted to throw up.

"Scully, it's not - "

"What happened, Mulder?" Her tone was even, emotionless.

"Nothing. Absolutely nothing. She asked me questions about writing; she said she'd read my books. She's starting at UNC Chapel Hill in the fall. Her favorite author is John Irving," he chattered, nervously. Those last two things were unnecessary, he realized.

She looked confused. "I don't understand. If nothing happened, why are you telling me all this?"

He continued digging himself in deeper. "I gave her a ride home so she wouldn't have to walk in the rain." She gave him one tiny nod that he should continue, but she didn't necessarily look like she wanted him to, which made two of them.

"She um...when I dropped her off, she-she propositioned me. And then she took our towel with her," he said nervously. Was it possible she might focus on the second part instead of the first? Scully loved those fluffy blue towels.

She didn't move at all, not even a facial muscle. "Please tell me you mean that she asked you to read something she'd written and give her feedback."

He shook his head slowly.

"Are you sure you didn't misunderstand her, Mulder?"

He kept shaking his head.

"Maybe she was just being friendly and you misinterpreted-"

He chuffed. "Granted I haven't really been playing the field much lately, Scully, but I think I remember how to detect when a woman is offering me sex."

"Did she use that word?"

"She didn't have to. The message was crystal clear. She used words like 'no strings attached,' 'uncomplicated,' 'just an afternoon,' and 'you don't even have to call me.'" Now I ask you, what do you think she meant by it?

"Fuck," she whispered, putting her hand up to her mouth.

"Yeah, that's pretty much what I thought she meant too."

"Is that...all...that happened?" she asked warily.

"What do you mean 'is that all?' Isn't that enough?"

"Nothing else happened? You're sure, Mulder? You didn't-"

"I didn't what? Fuck her? Kiss her? Let her blow me? No, should I have?"

She winced at his bluntness.

"Jesus, Scully. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I was under the impression we had this little arrangement now called 'being married' that meant we only did those things with each other." Now he was getting a little pissed. He figured she might be angry with Ashley, but he didn't imagine she'd actually wonder about his part in all this.

"What I meant was, is it possible that she could say something happened that didn't? I mean, God Mulder, how old is she? If she's underage-"

He shook his head quickly. "She's eighteen. She tried to use that as a selling point," he half-smiled. "I don't think she'd lie about it. What would be the point? She's leaving for college in another month."

"I don't know, Mulder. You're not exactly an unknown. I don't think it's unimaginable for a girl her age to want to brag about sleeping with a well-known writer."

He sighed. "I have nothing to back this up, except my gut, but I don't think she'd do that. She said I was 'hot' and 'easy on the eyes.' I think it was just a harmless crush. I said I wasn't interested. I wished her good luck in college and she left. End of story."

Scully's eyes flamed a little. "She said that? That you were hot and easy on the eyes? What a little bitch."

Here we go. Here come the claws. He wouldn't smile. He wouldn't.

"I can't believe we left our children with her," she said, her voice climbing a few decibels.

"I don't think she's evil, Scully. Misguided and a little slutty maybe? But not dangerous. I don't think the children will need therapy. Not from that anyway."

"Just where does she get off seducing other women's husbands? I have half a mind to pay her a visit and have a little woman to woman chat with her."

Mulder chuckled now. At least the daggers weren't flying at him anymore. Don't mess with jealous Scully. Christ.

Her arms were crossed tightly over her chest and her blue pupils sparked. "I think the little bitch propositioned the wrong woman's husband, that's what I think."

"Shhh, okay, come on." He reached for her hand. "Just let it go. She's leaving for college in a month. She's eighteen, Scully. She did something stupid. It's not like it was a thirty-year-old woman who offered. If that happens, you have my permission to kick some ass. Didn't you ever do something stupid when it came to an older guy?"

She was quiet and he saw the wheels turning as her face softened. It didn't immediately occur to him, but it eventually did. Daniel Waterston. He had been a lot older and married when Scully met him. Mulder didn't know all the details, but he knew she had slept with the man. He assumed the situation was quite different. It wasn't like Scully to jump into bed with married men, but still, the end result wasn't much different. People had been hurt and she hadn't been an innocent bystander. He was pretty sure all this was going through her head as he visibly watched her relax.

"Hey," he said, tenderly, pulling her to him and wrapping an arm around her. "It doesn't matter what any other woman says, does, or offers. What matters is what I want. And I think you know what that is. At least I hope you do by now."

She nodded and he tilted her chin up with his finger to kiss her. "Let's forget about it, okay? Do you want to watch a movie?"

"Okay. Just not Fatal Attraction." A tiny taunting smile played on her lips.

"How about The Crush?"

"Not that either."

"Indecent Proposal?"

"Mulder!"


September 8, 2004

When Mulder got out of the shower, the upstairs was quiet and the bed was made. Scully had been up for a couple of hours and had already run on the treadmill, showered and dressed. He assumed she was downstairs with the baby. Lindsey would be arriving any minute, but today was a different kind of day. Scully had the morning off so they could take William to his first day of preschool.

Mulder finished dressing and crossed the hall to his son's room. William was lying on the floor in his pajamas, looking through a stack of books. The one he was currently perusing had buttons to press that made obscenely loud sounds to accompany the pictures. Mulder could've sworn that one had been conveniently lost awhile back.

"Will, why aren't you dressed, Buddy? You still have to eat breakfast before school."

Mulder pulled a pair of jeans, underwear, and socks from the dresser, then opened the closet and took out a striped shirt.

"Did you use the bathroom this morning?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Go again." He stripped Will's pajama top off over his head, dragged the bottoms off, and William staggered down the hall to the bathroom nude.

"And don't forget to wash your hands," Mulder called after him.

"Brush my teeth too?" the little voice asked.

"After breakfast."

Mulder heard a flush and water running. Then William hopped all the way back down the hall into his room. Mulder helped him get dressed.

"Daddy, what if I don't like it?"

"What, school?"

"Yeah," he sniffed.

"I think you will. Remember you went to visit last week? And there were cool things to play with and a hamster in your classroom?"

William nodded, tentatively.

"And that kid, Jake, is in your class, right?"

Another nod, a little more enthusiastic this time.

"Jake's older brother says that kids are mean on the bus."

"You're not riding a bus."

"I'm not?" he asked, hopefully.

"No. Buses are for regular school, not preschool. I'm going to drive you to preschool. And Mommy's coming today too. Lindsey will pick you up."

"What's the difference between preschool and regular school?" Will asked.

"Preschool is the school little guys go to for a couple of years before they go to regular school. It's only for a couple of mornings each week."

He processed the information while he pulled on his socks. "Will I eat lunch there? Because Jake's older brother says school lunch sucks."

"No, you'll be home before lunch. And don't say 'sucks'. In fact, just don't say anything Uncle Langly says unless you want Mommy to get mad and not let you go over there to hang out."

"What about what Uncle Melvin says?"

"Pretty safe unless it involves girls. Then don't repeat it."

Mulder stepped back and clapped his hands together once. "Okay. Looking good, my man. Say the alphabet."

"A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H-I-J-K-elemeno-P-Q-R-S-T-U-V-W-X-Y-and-Z."

"Good. Numbers to ten?"

"1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10. I can go to twenty, if you want," William offered.

"I believe it. What's your name?"

"William Mulder."

"Where do you live?"

"2279 White Spruce Lane."

"Phone number?"

"202-555-2778."

Mulder held out his hand, palm up. "Gimme skin." William slapped his hand. "You are ready. In fact, I'll bet you're going to be the smartest kid in the class."

"Daaaad..." William rolled his eyes in a very Scully-like manner.

"No, I'm serious. How'd you get to be so smart? You got it from your Mom. She's the smartest woman in the world, did you know that?"

William nodded in all seriousness to indicate that he was aware of this well-established fact.

"And the most beautiful," Mulder added.

"She is really pretty," agreed William. "I want to marry her someday."

"Ummm, you know what? We'll get into that later. Right now, you're going to be late if we don't get downstairs for breakfast."

Scully was sitting at the table nursing Claire when Mulder and William entered the kitchen. There was a plate with a stack of pancakes on it and a bowl of sliced fruit in the middle of the table. William slid across the tile floor in his socks over to his chair.

"It's about time, gentleman," said Scully. "Get the pancakes while they're still hot."

Mulder walked over and kissed Scully on the lips, then Claire on the head. The baby's tiny fist opened and closed against Scully's blouse, her fingernails making scritch scratch sounds on the fabric. "Morning," he said. "How's Claire Bear?"

"Hungry," replied Scully.

"Me too," he said.

"Daddy, can I have apple juice?"

"May I have apple juice - what?" prompted Scully.

"May I have apple juice, please?" offered William.

"Yes, you may," said Mulder, popping open the fridge.

The front door opened and Lindsey walked in. "Morning everybody," she called out. She carried a helium balloon in her hand. It was shiny purple and green and had an electric guitar on it. It read "You Rock!" in a lightning bolt font. She handed it to William, who grabbed it with syrupy hands and grinned. "Big day, William!"

"Thanks, Lindsey!"

"Here, let me tie it to the back of your chair so you can finish your pancakes," she offered.

Scully watched the interaction with a smile, lifting Claire to her shoulder and patting her back. "Thanks, Lindsey. That was sweet," she said.

Lindsey reached for the baby. "Let me take her so you can finish your breakfast." Scully handed over the burp cloth and Claire, who snuggled her face into Lindsey's neck and belched quietly.

Scully's eyebrows went up and she lifted one hand in mock surrender. "I give up. I can sit here for fifteen minutes rubbing her back. You take her for a few seconds and she does it for you. You've got the magic touch, Linds."

"I can get babies to pass gas," she laughed. "Do you think it'll help me meet a nice guy? And should I bring it up on the first date or the second?" She smiled at Scully, who exchanged an amused woman-to-woman moment with her.

"Help yourself to coffee," said Scully.

Lindsey went for the cupboard with the mugs in it. "Did you make it or did Mulder?" she smiled.

"I did," chuckled Scully.

"Then yes, I'd love a cup."

"Hey! Why does everybody make fun of my coffee?" Mulder whined.

Both Scully and Lindsey laughed.

"Just remember who writes your checks," teased Mulder.

"I love your coffee," said Lindsey.

Mulder smiled, enjoying the banter. It was common among the three of them. Lindsey had been working for them for a little less than a year and she was already like one of the family. Her sense of humor was quirky and sarcastic and weird and she fit right in with them. She was great with the kids and they adored her.

"So what's the plan?" she asked, sitting down at the extra chair at the table and bouncing Claire on her knees. "Am I taking William to school?"

"We'll take him today," replied Scully. "After today, you and Mulder can draw straws or something. Can you pick him at noon?"

"Yup. Should give us plenty of time to get home and have lunch before The Pickle goes down for her nap."

Lindsey's pet name for Claire was The Pickle. He and Scully had no idea why, but it seemed to be an insider joke between Lindsey and Claire. Claire squealed and laughed whenever Lindsey said it in a high sing song voice.

"Can we have hot dogs for lunch, Lindsey?" asked William.

"Since it's your first day of school, you get to pick whatever you want for lunch," she said.

Scully's brows arched.

"Within reason," she added.

"Aww, so ice cream sundaes are out?" he asked.

"Hot dogs with something else that won't get me into trouble for lunch. Ice cream after naptime. Deal?"

"Deal," said William. "Grapes. Grapes won't get you into trouble, Lindsey. I like grapes."

Scully stood, looking at her watch. "We need to get going, William. Are you finished with your pancakes?"

William nodded and Mulder began carrying dishes to the sink. "Go brush your teeth, Will," he said to his son.

"Can I just spray that mint stuff into my mouth like you do in the car whenever we go pick up Mommy from work?"

"Um, that would be a 'no.' Go brush please." Mulder saw Scully smirking as she rinsed and loaded dishes.

"Kids say the darnedest things," said Lindsey, grinning widely.

"I don't even want to know what our son has said to you about us, Lindsey," said Mulder.

She busied herself with carrying dishes over to Scully at the sink. "Well, I can tell you this: he definitely did not say anything about finding you in the shower together when he got out of bed one morning last week."

Some silverware slipped out of Scully's hand and clattered loudly in the sink.

"We were conserving water," mumbled Mulder.

"Of course. What else?" smiled Lindsey.


It took them ten minutes to finally get William to come over and say goodbye. Mulder kept waiving his hand at him to get his attention. William finally walked over, another boy tagging along with him.

"What is it, Dad?" William asked, curiously. Was this the same kid who had expressed hesitation about preschool not two hours ago? And why was he all of a sudden 'Dad' instead of 'Daddy?'

"Well, um, we just wanted to say goodbye and wish you a great first day," Mulder said, "but it looks like you're already off to a good start."

"This is Anthony," said William, looking at his new friend. "He has two turtles and a snake. He feeds it mice."

"Hi, Anthony," said Mulder. Anthony offered a half-smile.

"So can I go now?" William asked.

"Give your mother a hug."

Scully knelt and William hugged her quickly. She tried to kiss his head, but only got in a brief peck before William pulled away. "I gotta go now," he said. "Some guys are setting up a long row of dominos and we're going to knock them down."

"Have fun, William. I love you," said Scully. "Lindsey will be here to pick you up later." William didn't hear her; he was across the room already with a circle of kids and a pile of dominos.

Mulder and Scully walked out to the car in silence. He hit the key fob and the doors unlocked automatically. They got in and sat.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"Maybe," she replied.

"I expected you to cry."

"I might," she sniffed, quietly. "I didn't want to upset him."

"He seemed pretty settled."

"Do you think he'll miss us?" she asked.

He hesitated. "Yeah."

She sighed. "No."

"No," he agreed. "He won't."

They both looked at each other and she chuffed out a small laugh. He smiled back at her.

"He's in preschool," she said, choking back a sob. "They're not supposed to grow this quickly."

"I don't think we get a choice in the matter." He reached for her hand and squeezed it. "What time do you need to be at work?"

She shrugged. "I told Della I was taking the morning."

"So what do you want to do?" he asked.

"Well, we already had breakfast. I suppose I could just go to work."

"Or-"

"Or?"

"We could go home."

"And do what?" Her expression was innocent.

His wasn't. His eyes glinted with a mischievousness that he knew she'd recognize.

"Mulder." Her brows went to her hairline. "Now? Lindsey is at the house with Claire."

"I gave her a grocery list and a credit card."

"You planned this?"

"My second sample came back yesterday, Scully. We're in the free and clear. I'm officially shooting blanks. I think it's time to screw that hundred watt light bulb back in."

"Interesting verbage." She gave him a sidelong glance and her mouth twitched in amusement.

He tucked two fingers into the gap between the buttons on her blouse and gave her his best smoldering stare.

Her eyes twinkled and she smiled tauntingly at him. "That's the best you've got?"

He leaned in to her ear and nipped at her lobe. "Not even close."

He drove her home while his hand rubbed her thigh and his jeans became increasingly uncomfortable. When they pulled into the driveway, Claire's car was gone and the house was empty. He hoped the grocery list he gave her was long enough. Then again, it probably didn't need to be that long.

He took Scully by the hand and all but pulled her through the door and into the kitchen. She giggled like a school girl as she tried to keep up with him in her heels, then gave up and kicked them off on the kitchen tiles. His peripheral vision saw one fly off and land under a kitchen chair; he heard the other ricochet off the stove and slide to the floor. He wasn't really paying much attention because her fingers were in his hair and he was checking out her tonsils with his tongue.

She slid one stockinged leg up the back of his calf and he grabbed it and wrapped it around his waist, hoisting her onto the kitchen counter roughly. The back of her head made contact with the cupboard and she winced. "Ow," she moaned into his mouth, and then laughed a little.

"Sorry," he mumbled, rubbing her head with his hand. "I'll go slower."

"Nuh, uh," she protested and grabbed two handfuls of his shirt, pulling his mouth back to hers. He worked at the tiny buttons on her blouse.

He was in the process of figuring out how he could use the angle of the counter to his advantage when she released his tongue. "Bedroom," she pleaded. He lifted her, cupping his hands under her buttocks as a shelf and she wrapped both legs around his waist. He made it to the staircase before losing his balance. They tumbled onto the fourth stair, her skirt bunched, blouse gaping open. She tugged at his belt. He pulled her blouse down her arms and off, tossing it over the stair railing.

She heard it before he did. The distinct sound of a key in the front door lock. Scully's eyes went wide and she scrambled out from under him. "Lindsey!" she whispered to him, frantically. Mulder stood and turned just as their nanny walked through the door. She looked startled and he saw her eyes dart to the flash of red at the top of the stairs right before their bedroom door slammed shut.

Mulder stood there like a deer caught in headlights, his belt unbuckled and hanging loose.

"I-I, um, forgot the diaper bag," she stumbled.

Lindsey took in his state if dishevelment and her eyes focused for a moment on Scully's light blue blouse hanging on the stair railing like a guilty afterthought. It was the same one she had been wearing at breakfast. The corner of Lindsey's mouth twitched and she bit her bottom lip, suppressing a smile.

Mulder pointed with one finger toward the diaper bag, sitting on the floor in the foyer.

Lindsey clicked her tongue and tilted her head. "There it is, right where I left it." She picked the bag up and slung the strap over her shoulder. "So, um, Claire and I have quite a lot of grocery shopping to do. And then we'll be picking up William at 12:00, so you won't see us again until 12:15. We'll be gone. Out of the house. That whole time."

Mulder gave a half nod and cleared his throat.

Lindsey glanced again quickly at the blouse on the stair railing. "Tell Dana I said 'Have a great day,'" she said, smirking and then walking out the front door.

Mulder exhaled and then jogged up the stairs and opened the door to his bedroom. Scully was sitting on the bed wearing only her bra and panties and biting at her fingernail. "Do you think she suspected anything?"

He swallowed and then smiled. "Not a thing," he said as he shed his shirt, kicked the door shut behind him, and headed for the bed.

The End

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