Title: Terra Firma V. Semper Fidelis
Author: Malibu Sunset
E-Mail: malibusunset88@gmail.com
Category: MSR/ Married/ Family Fic/ Angst (some, but not pervasive)
Rating: NC-17
Spoilers: Through Season 8. This is part 5 in a series. The first four parts are: Terra Firma, Spondeo, Per Ardua, and Vita Nova. If you've read them, you're up to speed.
Disclaimer: They're not mine, but I love them like they were.

Summary: This story picks up more than a year after Vita Nova ended. Two kids now, and all the chaos that brings. Some relationship angst, but always a happy ending. Title translates to 'Always Faithful.'

**Literary nods to William Butler Yeats for 'When You Are Old,' and to Dr. Seuss for McElligot's Pool

Feedback: Very much appreciated.

November 23, 2005

Dana Scully was six miles high and her leg had fallen asleep. It was somewhere beyond numb and not quite yet at pins and needles when she reached down and adjusted Will's sleeping head on her lap. She was the only one awake. She hated flying.

Thank God for empty seats. It made flying with small children almost tolerable. She used to be one of the single, childless people who watched as parents with babies boarded the plane and hoped that they weren't the ones assigned to seats 16 E and F when she was in 16D. It wasn't that she didn't like kids back then. She did. But being imprisoned inside a large aluminum flying object for hours seemed to have a Jekyll and Hyde effect on most children. She always ended up next to the one who screamed inconsolably while Mulder usually got the one who kicked the back of his seat. Now she was the one ignoring the looks as she squeezed down the aisle, all the way to the back of the plane, with a four-year-old, a seventeen-month-old, an overstuffed diaper bag, and a folded umbrella stroller. What goes around, comes around.

Mulder sat directly across the aisle from her, Claire sitting in his lap facing him in an embrace, her sleeping mouth slack against his shoulder, brown curls falling in ringlets over her closed eyes. Mulder's head dipped back against the headrest, trying to make the most of the slight recline offered by the airplane seat. Both of his arms were wrapped underneath Claire's, his fingers laced behind her back, clutching her safely to him. Scully didn't think either of them had moved in over an hour. Claire's pink leggings had ridden up against Mulder's thigh, exposing smooth, baby soft skin the color of her father's. At over a year and a half, besides the shape of her nose and mouth which Scully could claim, Claire was all Mulder. She had a head full of disorderly chestnut brown ringlets, hazel eyes, and a sun-kissed complexion several shades darker than Scully's.

William stirred and yawned. His eyes fluttered open and he sat up, eyeing his surroundings suspiciously for a few seconds until he realized where he was. "I have to go potty, Mommy." Scully planted a kiss to his head and bent down to fish his sneakers out from under the seat. They made their way to the back of the plane. She was used to cursing her small stature, but at times like this, it came in handy. She couldn't imagine Mulder trying to fold himself and William into an airplane lavatory. Just getting him into a coach seat that wasn't in an exit aisle was like fitting a giraffe into a Volkswagen.

William stood in front of the toilet with his pants at his ankles. "Um, sit down for this one, Pumpkin." Air turbulence and bad aim didn't mix well. "How much longer until we're there?" asked William, pressing the tiny levers to disperse water and then lathering his hands.

"About another hour, maybe less," she replied.

"Are we having turkey dinner today at Aunt Tara and Uncle Bill's?"

"Tomorrow we will. Tomorrow's Thanksgiving, Honey."

"Claire won't eat turkey," he said, authoritatively. "She peels it off and eats the cheese and bread when Lindsey makes us turkey sandwiches."

Scully sighed and nodded. If you didn't count crackers, Claire's food repertoire consisted of about six items that she would eat reliably. If there was ever an argument for nature versus nurture, this would be it. They had done virtually nothing different with Claire than they had done with William. He ate everything and she ate next to nothing. Scully was endlessly frustrated; Mulder didn't have a problem upgrading Goldfish crackers to food group status and just adding a chewable vitamin to the mix. Claire's pediatrician assured Scully that the child would not starve, nor would she be twenty-five someday and still only eating grilled cheese and pasta.

"There are no paper towels," announced William.

"Drip dry. I have napkins back at our seats."

Claire's head popped up as they were settling back into their row. Her curls were plastered to her cheek with sweat. "Hi Mama," she yawned, wiggling down from Mulder's lap and scooting over to the seat next to Scully. Scully swept the hair from her face and stretched to twist the overhead fan on, then reached into her bag for the bottled water. She held a napkin under Claire's chin as the child drank from the bottle, a trail of water sluicing down her little chin. The sippy cup was buried somewhere under two stuffed animals, a baby blanket, and Mulder's outstretched leg.

Claire settled into the seat, her pudgy legs criss crossed Indian style. There was a noticeable post-nap, wet diaper paunch hanging low in her leggings and Scully glanced back at the tiny lavatory again, mentally sorting out the gymnastics that would be involved in changing a diaper standing up. Mulder stretched next to them and cleared his throat.

"Hey, how long was I out?"

"An hour an a half maybe."

He glanced at his watch. "Only about forty-five minutes until we land."

"Yeah, but I'm afraid we may need diaper intervention before then," said Scully, pointing down toward Claire's lap. "She's soaked."

Mulder glanced at the two empty seats next to him and then reached his hands for his daughter. "Grab me a clean diaper and the wipes."

"You're going to do it there?" Her brows arched.

Mulder shrugged. "It's just pee."

Scully dug into the bag at her feet and withdrew the necessary supplies. "Daddy's going to change you, Claire Bear, then you can have a snack." Claire reached for Mulder, who draped her across two empty seats and tugged her leggings off over her socks.

An hour and a half later, they had conquered baggage claim and were struggling toward the Hertz counter, which was inconveniently located two trams and three escalators away. Mulder schlepped with one small carry-on and two suitcases. William pulled his own small bag behind him while Scully pushed the stroller. Claire, who had officially grown tired of sitting still, was perilously close to full-blown meltdown.

"OUT, Mama," she whined, tugging at the canvas straps that imprisoned her. Concluding that her verbal protest was ineffective, she resorted to pulling one shoe off and tossing it onto the airport floor. The stroller bumped over it and Scully sighed, stopping to retrieve the tiny sneaker.

"Claire, you need to leave your shoes on. I mean it," Scully warned.

"Nooooooooo, OUT!" Her lip puffed out and she rubbed at her eyes. "Mama, owwwwwwwwwt!" Her leg kicked as Scully tried to steady it to get the shoe back on.

Mulder sidled up next to her and dropped the carry-on bag down. "Maybe we should just let her walk for awhile," he suggested.

Scully looked at him and blinked. Hurried people streamed around them on both sides, like the parting of the red sea. "Mulder, no. It's way too crowded in here."

William tugged on Mulder's jacket and pointed to a TCBY. "Can I get ice cream?"

"Not now, Buddy, we're trying to get to our rental car," he replied.

"But Daddy, I'm hungry."

"William, you had a sandwich on the plane less than an hour ago," said Scully.

Claire wailed and pulled a shoe off again.

"Daddy, I'm really hungry," said William.

Scully bit her lip and frowned as the strap to her purse slid off her shoulder and several items dumped out. Mulder looked at her and a tiny smile sparked in his eyes. He leaned in, kissed her cheek, and whispered in her ear. "Take a deep breath. We got this."

After helping her scoop up the contents of her purse, Mulder's neck stretched and he surveyed their surroundings. Then he took William by the hand and gestured with a tilt of his head for Scully to follow. He led them to a bank of chairs off to the side.

Scully took over William, unzipping a bag and pulling out a granola bar and handing it to him. Mulder located Claire's blanket and offered it to her. She clutched at it and frantically popped a thumb into her mouth, sniffling. Then he put Claire's sneaker back on and double-tied the laces on both. This was the modus operandi that they often fell back on, each managing a child quietly and efficiently, unspoken communication at work.

"It's a good thing we only have two, Scully, and we can stick with man-on-man. Any more kids and we'd have to switch to zone defense."

She chuckled and gave him a soft-eyed look. It was in the most chaotic of moments that his easy-going manner and sense of humor made her appreciate parenting with him all that much more.

Mulder clapped his hands together just once. "Okay, listen up everybody. Are you listening?" he asked. Claire's head bobbed with her thumb in her mouth and William nodded, munching his granola bar. This was the 'I mean business' Daddy and he was a rather rare creature. They were well accustomed to the Daddy who made silly faces and launched tickling contests on the floor, but when serious Daddy made an appearance, eyes went wide and mouths closed.

"It's been a long day already and everyone is tired, but we're almost there. We are going to walk in an orderly manner to get our rental car. We are going to keep our shoes on our feet and our complaints to ourselves. Understood?"

William nodded his head silently; Claire just stared with big eyes and sniffled again, clutching her blanket to her nose.

"Good. Let's go then." And they went.

Scully offered to drive because she knew her way around Southern California better. Mulder tossed her the keys and slid the passenger seat all the way back. Scully dug her sunglasses out of her purse and put them on, then folded a stick of peppermint gum into her mouth. She offered the pack to Mulder who declined.

"You do 'Valley Girl' quite well, Scully," he smiled. She snapped her gum and backed the car out.

"So please explain to me again why we're staying at Bill and Tara's instead of Charlie and Michelle's?"

"Mom is staying at Charlie's. We were going to do it the other way around, but our kids are closer in age to Bill and Tara's. William wants to spend time with Matty and Connor, and Claire and Katie are only a year apart. You can manage for four days, Mulder."

"I wasn't complaining."

She smirked at him and rolled the window down to collect a toll ticket, then headed down the onramp.

"Twenty bucks says she's pregnant again," said Mulder.

"Who? Tara? I doubt it, Mulder. Bill is almost five years older than me."

"Yeah, but she's your age. And I think she believes her mission in life is to procreate."

"That's rather shallow of you, Mulder. You don't even know her."

"You're right, I'm sorry. That wasn't fair. I don't know her."

"Neither do I, really," admitted Scully. "But that's probably my fault more than hers."

"How did they meet?"

Scully smiled. "From what I know, it was a blind date. One of Bill's friends was dating Tara's older sister. They fixed them up and the rest, as they say, is history. It took Bill a month and he brought her home to Mom and Dad's for dinner, four more months and he proposed."

"Wow. That's quite the efficient courtship. Hey, easy there, speed queen." Mulder glanced at the speedometer. "Might I remind you that you no longer have a badge to flash. Keep it under seventy- five, maybe?"

Scully eased her foot off the pedal a little. "Well, that's not exactly the whole story," she continued. "Bill had the same girlfriend all through high school and after. Her name was Jeanette and they dated for seven years. He joined the navy and when he came home on holiday leave, she was seeing someone else. It broke my brother's heart and he didn't date anyone again for a long, long time. It took him years to get over Jeanette and when he finally did, I think he was just ready to move on. He was thirty-three when he finally met Tara."

"Did she work before kids?" Mulder asked.

Scully nodded and smiled. "First grade teacher."

"That's just-"

"Perfect, I know," she finished, chuckling.

"I'll be good, Scully," he said, resting his hand on her knee and giving it an affectionate squeeze. "I know how important this visit is to you."

"Will you do me a favor then?" She gave him a sidelong glance and an unsure smile.

"For you? Anything."

"Bill and Charlie are golfing Friday morning. They invited you."

"Except that. Scully, you know I don't golf. I prefer bigger balls."

She ignored the joke. "Mulder, come on. For me? Please?"

"I haven't gone golfing since my father dragged me to the Country Club on my twenty-second birthday. I'm a terrible golfer."

"Which is perfect. Bill will golf better than you and that will make him happy. Besides, you'll have Charlie there and you two are like Ritchie and The Fonz when you're together."

"And just what are you basing that assessment on?" he asked, as if he didn't already know.

"The fact that during their last visit, when Charlie took you out, you rode home in a cab with no shoes on and Michelle had to run down in her bathrobe and pay the fare at 3:00 a.m. because you'd both run out of money." She smiled.

"Might there be beer involved in this little golf outing?"

"Yes, if Charlie has anything to say about it."

"Okay, I'll go. But, um...do think there might be some kind of, um, 'thank you' involved, Scully?" He wagged one brow and ran his fingernail along the side seam of her jeans.

"You drive a hard bargain, but I'm sure I can come up with something."

"Are we there yet?" William's voice called from the back seat.

Scully slowed and took the next exit.

Scully stood against the open car door, lifting her sunglasses to survey the yellow, two-story house, bigger than the last one. Bill came down the front steps, smiling at her. He had a little more grey hair at the temples than he'd had last Christmas, but looked otherwise healthy. Long arms pulled her into a tight hug. "You made it. How was your trip?"


"A bit more challenging flying with the little ones, isn't it?" he chuckled. "Tara has commented three times now on how relieved she is not to be making the trip back East with all three this season. It's your turn."

"Why don't you just move East," Scully suggested, somewhat seriously.

"And give up all this?" he smiled, tilting his head toward the modest house.

"It's nice. Bigger than the last one," she admired.

"Vice Admiral ranking means no more base housing and a better housing stipend."

"Admiral," she smiled, shaking her head. "Mom told me. Congratulations."

Mulder opened a back door and freed Claire from her car seat, carrying her around to where Scully and Bill stood. William also emerged from the back seat.

"Hello, Claire. I'm your Uncle Bill, but I'm sure you don't remember me. You were only six months old the last time I saw you." Bill smiled and touched Claire's hand. Claire buried her face in Mulder's neck.

"She's not usually shy," said Scully. "Just give her an hour."

"Happy Thanksgiving, Bill," offered Mulder, extending a hand.

Bill shook it and said, "We're glad you could make it," and actually sounded genuine. Then he squatted down to William's level. "Your cousins are on the swing set in the back yard, if you'd like to join them." William looked up at Scully for permission.

"Go ahead," she said. "Be careful." He dropped his backpack where he stood and ran off.

Bill grabbed one of the suitcases from the trunk. "Let's go inside. I hope you're hungry. Tara has been cooking for a week."

"Where's Mom?" asked Scully.

"Getting settled in over at Charlie's. She spent the first half of the week with us. They'll all be over tomorrow afternoon. I think it's just us for tonight," said Bill.

Scully glanced at Mulder, who was wearing his 'making the best of things' expression.

Scully climbed the stairs to the second floor with Claire clinging to her like velcro. The strange surroundings had made the child unwilling to let her mother or father out of her sight just yet. She kept her thumb firmly planted in her mouth and twirled her hair with her finger, like she always did when she was overtired. Scully suspected Claire would be out like a light as soon as dinner was over. Although it was only 3:30 in the afternoon, it was 6:30 Eastern Time. Tara had thoughtfully put out some snacks for them, anticipating they might be hungry and she had planned dinner early to accommodate their jet lag.

"Which room, Scully?" Mulder called back to her as he turned down the hall with two heavy suitcases in tow.

"End of the hall on the right. Claire is in with us. Tara said she put a portable crib in our room. William is bunking in Matty and Connor's room."

Scully came up behind Mulder, who had stopped right inside the doorway to their assigned bedroom. He dropped both suitcases onto the hardwoods with a thud. "The bed's, um, cozy," he said, tilting his head for an alternate perspective.

It was a full size, not even a queen. Their bed at home was a king, and unless Mulder was careful, his feet even hung off the bottom of that one. Claire shimmied down Scully's leg and walked around the room, inspecting everything. She stared at the portable crib for a long minute and then dropped her blanket inside, apparently having decided it would work.

Mulder sat down on the edge of the bed and bounced a few times. "It doesn't squeak." He wagged two brows at her.

She plopped down next to him. "Yes, and we have a roommate for the next four nights." As if in agreement, Claire came and sat down on the edge of the bed right between them, a two and a half foot tall human chastity belt.

"You can be quiet, can't you, Scully?" he teased.

Scully's head tilted in disapproval. She stood and unzipped the carry-on bag, pulling folded clothing out and tucking it into a knotty pine dresser drawer.

"Well, it's not as if much sleeping will be going on in a bed this small anyway," he smirked.

A rolled up pair of socks hit him in the face.

November 24, 2005

Growing up, Mulder had hated Thanksgiving. He would have hated Christmas or Hanukkah more, but his family settled for celebrating some dysfunctional, half-breed version of both holidays together and the whole charade always struck him as being more deserving of his pathos than his animosity. And there were gifts involved which, let's face it, for a kid, made it tolerable.

But Thanksgiving was much more loathsome in its forced pageantry. They never ate Thanksgiving dinner at home, but rather went to his mother's sister's house each year. He had to wear a stiff-collared shirt and tie and be pleasant to cousins who broke things and blamed it on him, or picked their noses and wiped it on the walls when they thought nobody was watching. His father usually drank too much and everyone pretended not to notice. Then his mother drove home and they argued the entire way.

But Scully Thanksgivings were different. From start to finish, they were the polar opposite of everything Mulder had learned to hate about the holiday. For one thing, there was a lot of food. The term "enough to feed an army" may have been modeled after a Scully Thanksgiving. And better yet, the food was actually good. That alone would have been just about enough to make it a successful holiday in Mulder's book, but as a bonus, the people seemed to actually enjoy themselves. The dinner table was noisy and people talked over one another. Dishes full of food were passed around and plates were filled again and again. Children made messes and weren't scolded for them. Sometimes children were passed around. Things spilled and were wiped up. Wine glasses clanked and laughter fogged the room.

When dinner was over, everyone helped clear the table and an efficient, assembly-line task force was formed. "Many hands make light work" - another saying the Scullys appeared to take seriously. The mess was successfully migrated from the dining room to the kitchen until all available surfaces were covered with dishes waiting to be rinsed and loaded into the dishwasher. Children chased each other in stocking feet, slipping and sliding through the kitchen as adults moved about, scraping plates and putting away leftovers. Mulder opened and closed various drawers looking for aluminum foil and Saran Wrap. The cat jumped up onto the counter and began licking a smear of mashed potatoes from a stray plate and was shooed down. The process was repeated several times until the adults gave up and the cat remained victorious, sharing a tiny section of counter space with dirty dishes and a gravy boat that she licked clean.

After clean-up was completed, the children were changed into pajamas and then trailed spare pillows and blankets into the family room to watch a movie. Mulder and Scully claimed a loveseat and Claire draped herself across both of them in a footed butterfly print sleeper. William and all the boy cousins heaped themselves in a pile on the rug in front of the large TV, a web of arms and legs and bare feet and giggles. They were shushed three times before the beginning credits to the movie started.

The lights were dimmed and Mulder leaned in close to Scully's ear. "The Sound of Music?"

"It's a Scully Thanksgiving tradition," she whispered back. That explained why he had walked in on her once in awhile singing My Favorite Things to Claire as a bedtime lullaby. There was something endearing about hearing Scully sing about 'whiskers on kittens' and 'warm woolen mittens' in a raspy, off-key voice.

By the time the Von Trapp children were singing on the staircase, Claire's eyes had fluttered closed and her tiny chest rose and fell in even breaths. Scully's hand absently stroked the hair back from her baby soft cheek.

"Do you want me to carry her up?" he asked quietly.

She sighed and glanced down at the bundle of warmth nuzzling into her lap. "In a minute," she smiled.

Mulder had already collapsed onto the top of the bed in his flannel pajama pants and T shirt when Scully padded in from the bathroom, closing their bedroom door behind her. Her pink silk pajamas looked cranberry red in the glow of the nightlight.

"I just poked my head in and warned the boys that if they don't settle down soon, William is coming in here with us. Tara has already spoken to them twice about going to sleep," she said, shaking her head.

"And where do you propose he sleep, Scully? You and I are already practically on top of each other in this tiny bed."

"I don't know, we'll figure something out. I'm sure Tara has a sleeping bag he can use."

Several loud thumps sounded on the other side of the wall behind their headboard, followed by raucous laughter. Mulder chuckled. "What the heck are they doing in there anyway?"

"Jumping from the top bunk down onto a huge mountain of pillows and blankets," she smiled, trying to keep a straight face.

"Cool," Mulder snorted.

Scully bent over the crib to cover Claire up again, then crossed to the bed and folded back the comforter, sliding between the sheets. "Scooch over, Mulder. I don't have any room."

"I'm already on the edge, Scully. Either this bed got smaller or I ate too much for dinner."

She chuckled and the mattress shifted as she rolled onto her side, facing away from him. He spooned up behind her and slid an arm over the dip in her waist, palming her warm flat stomach through slippery silk.

"I had a good day," he sighed. "I'm reconsidering my disdain for Thanksgiving."

"Wow. That good? Was it the green bean casserole or the pine nut stuffing?"

He chuffed out a breath and kissed her earlobe. "It was nice to feel like part of a family that you actually want to be a part of."

"You are part of the family, Mulder. Oh, and by the way, Bill wanted me to tell you that tee time is 10:30 tomorrow morning. Be ready to leave the house at 10:00, and he has an extra set of clubs you can borrow."

Mulder groaned and buried his face in the pillow. "Do I have to, Scully?"

"Yes. You said you would and my brothers are looking forward to it. I already told Bill you're not a good golfer, so they're not expecting much."

"Thanks. That makes me feel a lot better."

She rolled over to face him. Her hand cupped his stubbly cheek and she leaned to brush her lips to his. "You do this for me," she breathed, "and I'll do something for you."

He pecked at the corners of her minty scented mouth. "What um...what did you have in mind?"

The softness of her lower lip skipped over his jawline. "Mmmm, a Golden Ticket. Anything you want me to wear. Anything you want me to do."

He sucked in a breath and swallowed hard. "That's quite the offer, Scully. How do you know I'm not harboring some kind of kinky fantasy?"

"How do you know I'm not?" she teased, her voice low and throaty as the ball of her foot slid up his calf.

He held his breath for a moment as a tidal wave of mental images shredded his brain. He loved her. Oh God, how he loved her.

"I'll need to give it some thought," he said, recovering his breathing reflex.

"I thought you might."

"Anything?" he hedged.

She was silent for about five seconds. Then, "yes."

He sucked in air. "This is better than Christmas and my birthday combined. A Golden Ticket - like in Willy Wonka."

She chuckled. "Yes, but all Charlie Bucket got was candy, Mulder. I guarantee you will like this better than chocolate." Her fingernail skittered up the front of his shirt. "So you just put your thinking cap on and come up with something fun."

"You know what might help me think, though? Maybe give me some ideas?" His hand traced the skin at the vee where the buttons of her pajama top began their descent, and his eyes searched hers in the dim shadows.

He worked at a tiny pearl button before her small hand covered his. "I'm sorry, I was just playing a little." Her brows furrowed in repentance. "I think I'm too tired tonight."

"S'okay," he whispered, kissing the tip of her nose. "It would be too weird for you here anyway, wouldn't it?"

"Mm, maybe a little, yeah. My big brother is across the hall. The last time I made out with someone in this close proximity to him, I was in David Markley's El Camino after the homecoming dance, and Bill kept flashing the porch lights at us."

Mulder chuckled. "It sounds like something I would've done," (if it had been Samantha), he thought, but didn't say that part because the lost possibilities were dark and endless. He tucked crimson hair gently behind her ear. "Go to sleep."

She spun again and nudged her bottom back into the curve of his groin, then jerked forward a bit, putting space between them again.

"What?" he asked. Then realized and said "Oh."

"I'm sorry, Mulder," she sighed, apologetically.

"Forget it," he kissed the slope of her neck. "If you owed me for every time you made me hard, you'd never get out of debt, Scully."

She huffed out a breath, but he could tell she still felt badly.

"He's just being pesky and presumptuous. If you ignore him for awhile, he'll eventually go away." Mulder smiled, sliding his arm over hers and clutching her to him.

"Rain check?"

"Of course. I know you're good for it."

Her head swiveled back for a quick peck on the lips. "Happy Thanksgiving, Mulder."

"Happy Thanksgiving, Scully. Love you."

Her entire body relaxed into his with a deep, sleepy sigh. "What you said," she whispered, seconds before her breathing became deep and even.

November 25, 2005

Scully put Claire down for her nap and joined Tara and Michelle on the back deck of the house. She peeled off her cardigan sweater and propped her feet up on a chaise lounge, reveling in the fact that it was still short sleeve weather at the end of November. Sometimes she missed southern California.

The boys raced around the yard playing tag in shorts and baseball caps. Scully twisted her hair up off her neck and clipped it, then slid on her sunglasses and sighed. Her watch read 1:15. With any luck, Mulder had just about survived eighteen holes and was heading to the clubhouse for lunch and cold beer. At least they had a beautiful day for golf, although Mulder had probably been secretly praying for rain. Before slinging Bill's old golf bag over his shoulder and heading out the door that morning, he had leaned in close to her and said, "I've been thinking it might involve leather." Bill had tossed them a quizzical look and then passed by a second before Mulder discreetly reached around to squeeze her behind.

The red lights on the baby monitor danced wildly and Tara put down her glass of iced tea. "Katie just doesn't want to take her nap, but I know she's exhausted. I've been up there twice."

Michelle stood and placed a hand on Tara's shoulder. "Let me try. You relax."

Tara returned a grateful look. "There's a pacifier on her dresser, Michelle. Bill's not happy that she's still using it to sleep, but sometimes it's a last resort." Michelle nodded and wandered back into the house. Tara turned to Scully. "Claire is such a good sleeper. You're lucky."

Scully smiled. "She's a great sleeper, but every meal is a battle of wills. William eats everything, but wanders into our bed several times a week and Mulder has to walk him back."

Tara chuckled. "It goes so fast, though. I can't believe my baby is two and a half already. I've enjoyed every minute of being home with them, but I'm looking forward to going back to teaching once Katie starts school."

Her admission surprised Scully a little. "I didn't know you were planning to go back."

Tara nodded. "I've always been planning on it. I need to work on Bill a little longer, though. He's not crazy about the idea."

Scully smiled, sipping at her iced tea. "I can imagine. Mom was always home with us, so that's what he grew up with. But things were different then. And Dad was gone most of the time. Mom never really had a choice."

"Do you think you and Mulder will have more?"

Scully's brows lifted. "Babies? No. We're um, we're definitely done."

"You never know," her sister-in-law said with a giddy smile. "Life is full of surprises."

"Oh, in this case, I think we're pretty sure. Extremely sure, actually."

A blank look faded into realization and Tara gave a quick laugh. "Right. Um, if you don't mind me asking, was it you or-"

"Mulder," Scully finished. "A month after Claire was born."

Tara sighed. "I wish Bill would consider it, but I think he's afraid it would change, um, certain things."

Scully smiled and tilted her face back into the sun. "It doesn't. I'd say he could ask Mulder about it, but somehow I can't even imagine how uncomfortable that conversation would be, for both of them."

Tara laughed out loud and covered her mouth with one hand. "I know, right?"

Just then, Michelle walked back out through the kitchen door. "Katie's asleep," she said. "By the time I got up there, Mom was already rocking her." She pulled her lounge chair closer and settled into it. "What's so funny? What'd I miss?"

"Vasectomies and sex," blurted Tara, giggling, her cheeks a ruddy glow. Scully couldn't help but laugh and shake her head too. Those were two words she never anticipated coming out of her sister-in-law's mouth. She half wondered if something had been slipped into her iced tea.

Michelle quirked an eyebrow. "Oh good, I'm a fan of both. Deal me in."

"Maybe we should wait for Mom," said Tara, jokingly.

"Oh God," groaned Scully.

"Did I ever tell you about the time Mom walked in on Charlie and me?" Michelle tipped her glass back, ice cubes clinking. She kept a straight face.

Scully slid her sunglasses down her nose and looked over the lenses at her.

"I think I'd die," said Tara, eyes wide.

"She was out here visiting when Timmy was about a year old. It was before I was pregnant with Andrew. She had taken Tim out for the afternoon and Charlie and I were supposed to go to lunch and a movie together. Well, we decided to, um, stay home instead. We thought they'd be gone for several hours, so we, uh, didn't bother with the bedroom."

Tara snickered and looked down at her pink painted toenails. Scully bit her lip and tried not to smile.

"We didn't hear a thing until they were already in the living room with us. It was...bad. So, so bad." She shook her head against the back of her lounge chair, eyes closed. "Our clothes were everywhere. I mean, not on us, but everywhere else."

Tara laughed out loud and Scully chuckled and smiled, reaching to pat Michelle's hand. "Don't worry, Michelle, I'm sure she was more embarrassed than you were."

"I don't know about that. Later that night when she was helping me make dinner, she put her arm around me and said, 'I'm so glad you and Charlie go out of your way to find time to be intimate. It's so important.' I was mortified."

Scully grimaced and Tara burst into more giggles.

"To this day, any time she's visiting and takes the boys anywhere, she calls Charlie or me on our cell phones to tell us when she's on her way back to the house. I still can't...you know...in the living room, no matter what. I have bad flashbacks."

All three of them laughed until Maggie came out onto the deck and warned them that they were going to wake the girls. And they laughed even harder.

She headed back out to the flickering bonfire holding a stack of sweatshirts draped over one arm. The other shifted Claire against her hip. The night was starlit and clear, already dark at 7:15, reminding her that the days were indeed getting shorter. Mulder stood to take Claire from her and the child reached for him, but then shrank back in surprise when the fire crackled loudly.

"It's okay," Mulder smiled. "Just a little 'pop.' Come here and Daddy will make you a s'more."

"Just the graham cracker, Mulder. She's already had too many sweets today." Then she looked down at William with his mouth full, sitting on the grass next to Mulder. He smiled up at her with marshmallow smeared cheeks.

"I told you no more, William. That's your third one!"

Will giggled guiltily.

"Campouts are about junk food, Scully."

She glanced dubiously at the two tents on the lawn. "No girls allowed, Aunt Dana," said Andrew, Charlie's youngest.

"That's fine by me. I prefer a warm bed myself."

"Did you bring a flashlight out, Mommy?" asked Will. "We need a flashlight to tell ghost stories."

"You'll have to ask Uncle Bill for that." William scampered off to find his uncle.

Scully sat down next to Mulder and reached for his s'more. She took a large bite and handed it back to him. "So what are the sleeping arrangements anyway?"

"Charlie and his boys in the smaller tent. Bill, Matty, Connor, me and William in the larger one."

Her brows arched. "Golf must've gone well. I never thought I'd see the day you'd be sharing a tent with my older brother."

He shrugged and smiled. "He's trying. So am I. Charlie just tells dirty jokes and gives us beer. It seems to be working."

She stretched her neck for a kiss. "Thank you for trying."

"It's not entirely for selfless and altruistic reasons," he replied, a spark in his eye.

"I appreciate it just the same."

"You'll miss me upstairs tonight."

"Claire already took over your side of the bed, so I think I'll manage."

Hearing her name, Claire perked up. "Big bed," she said, teetering on Mulder's leg and munching a graham cracker.

"Yes, you can sleep in the big bed with Mommy tonight."

Claire slid down from Mulder's knee and toddled off toward the shrieks of the other children running into and out of the tents, zippers sliding open and closed and pillows being tossed about.

"Not-so-big bed," said Mulder.

"Don't complain. You're sleeping on the hard ground tonight. You'll be begging for the not-so-big bed by tomorrow night."

"I'm just looking forward to our own king-sized bed the night after, and you in it," he smirked. "Not to mention a room to ourselves again." His large hand squeezed her denim covered knee. "If I climb up to your window tonight, do I get a kiss?"

Scully glanced over at the two-story house and the unstable, half- dead tree outside their window. "I think you might get a broken leg instead."

"A small price to pay for a kiss from you, Scully."

Claire ran over to them with her lower lip out and an indignant frown on her face. "WILL MEAN!" she sputtered, her arms crossed over the front of her sweatshirt. Her tiny sneaker kicked at the dirt.

"What's going on, Will?" Mulder called over.

"She keeps coming in our tent and messing up all our stuff, Dad. We've got all the Star Wars guys set up in here," he hollered back.

"I'll take her in the house in a few minutes, William," called Scully. "She doesn't get to sleep in the tent tonight and she's just curious. Try and be patient, Honey."

William huffed, but knew better than to argue.

"Chewba! Chewba!" Claire said loudly, then planted a thumb stubbornly in her mouth and sucked.

"Fine, you can play with Chewbacca, Claire, but leave the R2D2 alone. His arm is loose," sighed William, holding the zippered flap of the tent open in surrender.

"Chewba!" Claire ran back toward the tent and slid inside.

"So what do the ladies have planned for tonight?" asked Mulder.

Scully dug a single marshmallow out of a bag and impaled it on a stick. "According to Michelle, we're going to put the babies to bed and then make frozen margaritas and talk about boys." She smiled. "We might watch MTV and do our hair too."

"Sounds like fun."

"You can't come. No boys allowed."

"We'll see about that. What's a girl's sleepover without boys sneaking in?"

Her eyes sparked with amusement and she leaned over his lap to reach the chocolate bars and the graham crackers.

"One more day here," he said. "Is it wrong that I'm dreading the flight home?"

"Mom's on the same flight with us, so we'll have an extra pair of hands."

"Can we spike Claire's juice so she sleeps the entire time?"

She chuckled. "It's a morning flight. I don't think there's any chance of a nap."

"My point exactly. By the time we get home, I'll need a vacation from my vacation."

"I have to be at the hospital by 7:00 a.m. Monday for a meeting," she sighed. "The next few weeks are going to be crazy with the clinical trials coming up. Paul and I have a lot of work to do. I'm anticipating some late nights and even some weekend work."

"You've said that to me at least three times now," he replied stiffly. "Why do I get the impression you're working extra hard to prepare me?"

"I just...don't want you to be upset about the time I need to put into this project, that's all."

He put an arm around her. "We'll get through it. This is important to you and I knew about the time commitment when you took the job. Besides, I know how inhuman I am leading up to my writing deadlines. Sometimes I don't shave or shower for days and our conversations consist of 'grunt once for yes and twice for no.'"

She smiled. "I promise to shower. And maybe even shave once in awhile."

"I love you even when you're prickly."

Loud scrambling sounded from inside the tent where the kids were playing. "Quit it, Claire! Come on! Give me back Yoda!" Claire wailed loudly in protest.

The zipper slid open and William's head poked out, followed by Matty's, then Connor's. "MOM! PLEASE??? She's messing everything up again!"

Scully sighed and stood up, handing the rest of her half-eaten s'more to Mulder. "Sounds like Claire has overstayed her welcome. We're going to head in for the night." She leaned in and kissed him on the mouth, then started toward the tent. Her white canvas sneakers glowed in the fire light.

"MOM!" William called again.

"I'm coming, William! Hold on a minute."

Scully knelt down and reached into the tent with two arms to retrieve her daughter. "Come on, Darla. Looks like Spanky and Alfalfa are kicking you out of the clubhouse for the night."

November 26, 2005

It was Saturday, their last day in California, and they were spending it at Charlie and Michelle's house. Everyone was just a little bit tired and the day took on its own relaxed atmosphere, the bittersweet end to a satisfying visit. It hadn't taken Mulder long to pick up on the general essence of Scully family get- togethers. There was no formality or expectation. People mulled about and did what made them happy. If you wanted to walk around the yard or throw hoops, you did it. If you needed a drink, you knew where the refrigerator was. If you wanted a nap, you looked for a spare sofa or patch of shaded grass. You watched out for everyone's kids, not just your own. Everyone made messes and everyone cleaned them up. And there was always enough. Enough to eat, enough to do, enough to talk about, enough to laugh about, enough love.

Mulder found a hammock and folded himself into it, both arms crossed beneath his head. A string of boys with squirt guns ran by and Mulder wondered if one of them was William and if Scully had thought to bring a change of clothes for him. A frisbee sailed over his head. A chocolate lab named Reggie sniffed his foot and moved on. Mulder closed his eyes and drifted.

The sound of ice clinking against glass prompted him to open his eyes. Scully stood over him sipping from a glass of water.

"Hey you, whatcha doing?" he asked.

"Looking for you."

"Where's Claire Bear?"

"Asleep on Mom's lap in the living room."

He smiled and opened one arm to her. She eased herself down onto the woven rope bed and swung her legs up. The hammock swung side to side briskly for a minute, causing her tiny form to meld with his much larger one.

She giggled. "We need to stay in the middle or we'll flip out, Mulder."

"You could lie on top of me," he suggested, and that earned him an eyebrow. Her head rested against his shoulder and her hip came to about where his belly button was. Her bare feet tickled his upper calves. They could never lie together and have their body parts match up. It made some sexual positions a challenge, but they were nothing if not creative.

Her lighter denim mixed with his darker and he reached around to tuck one hand in her waistband, feeling the satin skin of her lower back. He couldn't see it from this angle, but the red ink of her tattoo would be right under his hand, peeking from the top of her jeans. She reached back to pull his hand out, smiling apologetically.

"There are kids around, Mulder."

Several shrieks sounded from the sandbox across the yard. "They're not paying any attention to us, Scully."

"My brothers are sitting right over there on the deck."

"I think they know we're sleeping together."

"We don't need to give them a show."

"I miss you."

"Just one more night." She sighed and her eyes drifted closed, relaxing. One firm breast pressed through her T shirt against his arm and he instinctively flexed his hand open and closed, musing about how karmic it was that she happened to have two breasts and he happened to have two hands and how they happened to fit together perfectly. Someone had certainly thought that one through.

He hadn't touched them in at least five days, maybe six. Other than a few quick glimpses when she changed her clothes, they had stayed more hidden than Where's Waldo. He wanted desperately to feel her up, and it was almost worth what she'd do to him if he did.

And since there wasn't much else to ponder at the moment and, let's face it, his brain was vulnerable to thoughts of this nature, he segued from copping a feel to sorting out the logistics of fucking in a hammock. There was nothing firm to brace your knees against, so missionary would be almost out of the question. About the only way he could foresee a chance at success would be with Scully on top, lying flush against him and sliding forward and backward, their bodies shifting like tectonic plates. She'd still need some way to gain leverage, though. Maybe she could thread her feet around his legs and hold onto his shoulders with her hands. Then there was the whole center of gravity issue with being in a swinging hammock. If they got to moving too vigorously, they'd be in danger of flipping out. He weighed a lot more than she did, so he'd have to keep his body still and let her direct the movement by shifting only her weight.

Mulder's thoughts were interrupted by a shadow. He opened his eyes to see William standing over him. "Hi Daddy."

"Hey Buddy, what's up?"

"We want to play baseball."

"Who's 'we'?"

"All us guys. Uncle Charlie said to go get you."

Mulder picked his head up to look over at the deck where his brother-in-law sat, smiling back at him. Mulder waived and Charlie nodded his head and lifted his beer to him.

"Okay, just give me a minute and I'll be right there."

William scampered off.

Scully hummed and nuzzled into his T shirt. "Can't we just lie here all day?"

"You can. I'm being summoned by the Bad News Bears." He kissed her temple and shifted his weight carefully to put one foot on the ground and pull himself up. The hammock swung with Scully still in it. She looked up at him with her hand shading her eyes.

"Hit a home run for me," she yawned, closing her eyes again.

"I'd rather hit one with you."

She smiled and dozed on.

Mulder made his way over to where Charlie and the boys were sorting bats and mitts. Bill scattered white plastic bases strategically around the large yard.

Charlie smiled at him and tossed him a right-handed mitt. "Sorry to interrupt your cozy little nap, Bro." His smirk said that he wasn't sorry.

"No problem," Mulder smiled. "Where do you want me?"

"Well, we're trying to divide ourselves up, but we're short a couple of players," said Charlie.

Bill spoke up. "Matt, go get Mommy." The boy ran off toward the house.

"Baseball's not Michelle's thing," said Charlie. "Andrew, wake up Aunt Dana and tell her we need her."

Mulder laughed lightly. "I don't know about that, she doesn't really play baseball."

Both Charlie and Bill looked at him in utter confusion. "What are you talking about, Man?" asked Charlie.

"She grew up playing baseball with us," said Bill. "Best curve ball in the neighborhood and she steals bases like nobody's business."

Andrew ran off to get Scully and Mulder stood there completely dumbfounded, recalling the feel of her hips resting between his hands as he guided her through the motion of swinging a bat, the way her warm hands felt nestled between his when the wood connected with the ball. She had had him utterly and hopelessly snowed. He didn't know whether to be pissed off, impressed, or turned on.

Not long after Tara joined them, Scully jogged over in her jeans and a borrowed pair of sneakers that looked a little big. Charlie slapped a navy cap with a red B on the front onto her head. Red Sox. She wore a traitorous smile and the enemy's hat.

Mulder leaned in to her ear. "Why the hell didn't you tell me you already knew how to play baseball?"

"And miss out on you spooning me over home plate? Why would I do that? That was one of the sexiest things we've ever done, Mulder. I regret nothing."

Charlie pulled her away by the elbow. "Come on, Sis, husbands and wives on opposite teams. Go show him what Scullys are made of. You can kiss and make up later."

She walked backwards away from him to join her team, still wearing a taunting smile and casually punching one hand into her catcher's mitt. His hand tightened on the bat. Game on. Game fucking on.

Two hours later, Mulder sat with his leg propped up on a lawn chair and an ice pack on his knee cap. Scully walked over and handed him a cold beer and then stood behind him, massaging his stiff shoulders. His head lolled back to look up at her. He was about to head straight down the sore loser highway and he couldn't stop himself even if he tried.

"You tripped me," he said, pressing into her strong fingers.

"I did nothing of the sort. That was a fair tag, Mulder. You were out."

"My knee saw the whole thing. Unfortunately, it isn't up to testifying at the moment."

"You have a little swelling. I think you'll live," she smiled, kneading his solar plexus.

"You stole that last run," he whined, willingly serving up the remaining scraps of his dignity.

"Wrong again. You guys were still fumbling for the ball in left field when my foot hit home plate. And quit your grumbling or this massage is over," she smiled down at him, punctuating her words by pressing her thumbs into his trigger points. He groaned in mixed pleasure and pain. She gave the best massages he'd ever had and he'd had a lot.

Charlie walked out from the kitchen, twisting the cap from his beer. He clanked bottles with Mulder. "To the losers," he said.

"What's your excuse? You had the home field advantage," teased Mulder.

"What's yours? Distracted by your wife's-"

"Charlie!" warned Scully, eyes wide.

"Curve ball," he laughed. "I was going to say curve ball. Get your mind out of the gutter, Sis."

Bill walked out, carrying a plate of hot dogs. He slapped Scully a high five as he passed. "Good game, Half Pint. You've still got it." He arranged the meat on the flaming grill on the corner of the deck, and then closed the lid. He still wore a Dodgers cap and some well-earned dirt on his cheek.

"How many hot dogs?" he asked.

"Two," said Charlie.

"Two," echoed Mulder.

"One," said Scully.

"One for each of us, please," said Maggie as she carried Claire out of the house. Claire's little bare feet were dirty, but her toenails were painted alternating hot pink and purple. She reached and Scully took her and settled her onto one hip, kissing her tangled brown ringlets. Curly hair, thought Mulder. From where? Samantha's hair had been a bit wavy, but that was the only evidence of it on the Mulder side. His own was thick and straight. Scully's hair was quite wavy when damp and she spent countless hours of her life taming it into submission with a round brush and a blow dryer. Once in awhile, she'd amuse him by falling asleep with it wet. The morning after, she'd look like a college student who survived a weekend bender and he'd be tempted to offer her cold pizza for breakfast. Maybe it was from Maggie's side.

Mulder touched his daughter's dangling hand and her pudgy fingers curled around his like shrimp. "Maggie, was your hair this curly when you were a little girl?" he asked.

She smiled and nodded. "More so, if you can believe it. I looked just like Shirley Temple."

Scully tickled the bottom of Claire's foot and the child responded with a belly laugh. "Your toes are lovely, Baby Girl. Who did them?" she asked.

Claire popped her thumb out and pointed toward the house. "Aunt Shell."

"That was nice of her. Did you say 'thank you?'"

Claire nodded vigorously.

"Aunt Michelle is enjoying getting her little girl fix this weekend," smiled Maggie.

"Where are the boys?" Scully asked, looking around the yard.

Charlie piped in. "The last time I checked, they were upstairs feeding Timmy's lizard some live crickets."

"Herman," said Claire, authoritatively.

Scully looked at her with raised eyebrows. "The Lizard's name is Herman?"

Another nod from Claire. "Eats bugs," she said, scrunching her nose.

"If you like your critters with fur, Claire, Andrew has a gerbil you can feed. Or there's always Reggie. He eats everything. And there's a tiger cat named Jazz hiding in the house somewhere. It's a regular petting zoo around here," said Charlie. "What do you guys have?"

"Fish," replied Mulder and it sounded pathetic even to him.

"That's it?" chuckled Charlie.

"We're getting a dog," said Scully.

"We are?" Mulder looked her way.

"Well, yeah. We've been talking about it since we got married."

"I thought we settled on 'eventually.'"

"'Eventually' could be soon, don't you think?" she smiled.

"Dana has always loved dogs," said Maggie. "Ever since she was a baby, she's loved them. Bill made them dog houses to sleep in, but Dana would wait until everyone was asleep and then sneak them into the house. I'd find the dog in her bed each morning."

"The dog isn't sleeping with us, Scully."

"Famous last words, Pal," said Charlie.

If Mulder didn't know better, he'd swear that Charlie's dog understood their entire conversation and was hell-bent on sabotaging him because the Lab bounded over wagging its tail and started licking Claire's bare foot. She erupted into giggles and stroked the dog's satiny ears.

A real man recognized when he was losing. Mulder tried to go down fighting. "Maybe we can find one that's at least house trained. One that doesn't shed a lot or chew things up."

"So basically you want a stuffed dog, then," Scully smiled.

"See, now you're talking," he smiled.

"PUPPY!" squealed Claire, clapping her hands. Reggie the dog tipped over Mulder's beer and began lapping it up.

November 27, 2005

Their flight was taxiing down the runway to the gate at 4:11 p.m. Eastern time. Claire had been awake since 7:00 a.m. Her eyes were glassy and pink and her diaper smelled like pee. She was stoned on Nilla Wafers and grape juice. William had completed two entire books of Hidden Pictures and played at least a dozen games of War with Mulder using a pack of Sponge Bob cards they had bought at the airport.

Mulder wanted a cheeseburger, a shower, the TV, and his bed, pretty much in that order. He'd throw sex in there too, but one look at Scully told him he might be aiming a little high for tonight. She had mascara smudged under her eye and a mustard stain on her shirt from an exuberant turkey sandwich. By the way she teetered in the aisle while pulling the umbrella stroller down from the overhead bin, he suspected the shower and the bed figured even higher on her list.

"Mom, did you leave your car here at the airport or do you need a ride home?" asked Scully, pushing Claire's noodly arms into a hooded sweatshirt.

"Thank you, Honey, but I have a friend picking me up."

"Miriam? I thought she was in Florida for the winter."

"No, not Miriam," Maggie replied, nonchalantly.

"Um, okay. We'll walk down to baggage claim with you."

The baggage claim carousel continued turning, cradling duffels and bags in dull shades of black and blue, various brightly colored ribbons tied to them like flags. They had located Maggie's bag and one of theirs. A final one remained a mystery and Mulder wondered if perhaps their dirty laundry had been accidentally diverted to Yemen.

Mulder saw it first. A look of recognition on Maggie's face, then a friendly waive. A man with a close-cut beard and grey hair was making his way toward them. He was casually, but neatly dressed in jeans and a blue button-down shirt and blazer. When he reached them, he gave Maggie a brief, but warm hug.

"Your flight's right on time. I got caught in traffic and thought I might be late. How was your trip?" he asked, his hand still cradling her elbow.

"Wonderful," she replied. "But it's always good to get home too."

Scully, who had been kneeling by Claire's stroller, stood. Mulder identified cautious curiosity on her face mixed with something more guarded.

"Dana and Fox, this is my friend, Robert Green. Robert, this is my daughter, Dana, and her husband, Fox. And these are my grandchildren, William and Claire."

Robert extended a hand to Scully first and she took it politely in hers.

"It's a pleasure to finally meet you," he said, kindly. "I've seen pictures."

Scully's eyes widened and her brows rose, questioningly. Mulder exchanged a firm handshake and a "nice to meet you" with the man.

"I've been following your weather on the internet," Robert smiled, making eye contact with each of them. "It certainly looked like you enjoyed sunny skies while you were there."

"It was lovely," replied Maggie. "Not a day of rain."

"I haven't been to San Diego in years," the man replied.

"Fox, isn't that your bag?" asked Maggie, pointing behind him. Mulder turned to see their navy blue bag sail by. He ran after it and caught it by the corner, dragging it off the conveyer belt and wheeling it over.

They all stood there awkwardly for another minute before Robert cleared his throat. "Well, my car is close by." He pulled the handle up on Maggie's suitcase. "Are you hungry? Would you like to get some dinner?" he asked Maggie.

"I'd love to," she replied. Robert turned back toward them. "Would you all care to join us?"

"Um-" Mulder began, then glanced at Scully for a clue.

She smiled politely, but shook her head. "I don't think so, but thank you for asking. The children are exhausted. I think we'll be heading home."

"Yeah, it's been a long day for them," Mulder supplemented, unnecessarily.

"Of course," said Robert. "Another time then."

Scully nodded. Hugs with Maggie were exchanged, followed by polite parting sentiments and additional handshakes. Mulder and Scully watched Maggie walk out through the sliding airport doors, Robert pulling her bag behind them.

"I'm hungry, Mommy," said William. "Why didn't we go to eat with them?"

Scully tugged William's hood on and pulled the strap on her purse up her shoulder briskly. "We'll eat at home, Pumpkin. Let's go." Scully led the way with the stroller and Mulder tipped two heavy suitcases forward and followed. The air felt chilly here, in more ways than one.

Mulder lay stretched out on the bed bare chested in his pajama pants, flipping channels. He paused on CNN long enough to conclude that he hadn't missed anything of worldwide significance over the last four days, and then moved on. He didn't know what he was searching for. Ideally, something that didn't require him to flex a brain cell. He found a rerun of MASH and surrendered the remote to the nightstand in satisfaction. He was chuckling at an image of Klinger in a dress when Scully waltzed out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her and tucked in the front, a toothbrush dangling from her mouth. Her hair was clipped up off her neck, damp wavy tendrils clinging to her skin. She crossed in front of the TV to retrieve a pair of underwear from her dresser and pulled them on underneath the towel, then continued brushing her teeth vigorously as she paused to watch the TV.

"I shink I've sheen zis un," she gurgled through a toothpaste-filled mouth. She padded to the bathroom to spit and rinse, then came back out, sans towel this time. His attention was momentarily diverted from the TV long enough to observe twin pink tips disappearing behind blue silk as she buttoned her pajama top.

"I think I've only seen about five MASH episodes in my life, but I've seen this one," she continued. "Isn't it funny how that happens?"

"I think it's funny that you haven't seen more MASH," he said. "But we can fix that."

She shrugged. "I didn't watch much TV growing up. There were too many of us and everyone fought over what they wanted to watch."

The mattress dipped as she sat on the edge, pulling her hair clip out. Red silk tumbled in disobedient waves, damp from the humidity of the shower. She propped two pillows behind her and slid between beige percale sheets.

"Do you think she met him at church?" she asked, massaging hand lotion into her knuckles.

Normally this would have been like coming into the middle of a conversation already in progress, except that this particular conversation had been going on since they left the airport. Mulder was already up to speed.

"I don't remember seeing him at St. Michael's," she frowned.

"You don't go that much," Mulder pointed out.

"I was there two Sundays ago and I sat with Mom. I don't remember him. Maybe he's new. Maybe he just moved here. She's been volunteering at the food pantry. Do you think she could have met him there?"

"Why don't you ask her," Mulder suggested.

"I wouldn't want her to think I was being nosy."

"No, we wouldn't want that."

His comment went right over her head as he watched her baby blues darting back and forth in thought. "He drove her home, so he obviously knows where she lives. Do you think that's okay? I mean, you can't be too careful."

"I'm sure if she let him drive her home, then she trusts him to know where she lives. Your Mom is a level-headed person. I wouldn't be too concerned."

"She never even mentioned him to me before. We talk about everything. Why wouldn't she mention him, do you think?"

He reached and caressed her hand, affectionately. "Um, I don't know, maybe she thought you might overreact?"

Her eyes were thoughtful, searching. She paused in consideration. "No, I don't think that's the reason."

Of course not.

"Well, what did you think of him?" she asked.

"I don't know," he shrugged. "He seemed pleasant enough. He didn't look like a psychopath."

She startled and looked at him. "None of them do, Mulder. You know that as well as I do. God, do you think I should call and check on her?"

"No. I definitely do not think you should call and check on her, Scully. It's after 10:30 and it's been a long day. She's probably asleep."

She settled a little. "No, you're right. You're definitely right. I wouldn't want to wake her." Then her eyes sparked once again. "What if he's still there? At her house this late. Oh God."

"If that's the case, then you definitely should not call right now." He smiled.

She huffed out a very loud sigh and settled into her pillows, arms crossed over her chest. "This is weird, Mulder. My mother might have a boyfriend. I don't know how I feel about this."

He rolled toward her and propped his head on one elbow. "Okay, first of all, instead of jumping to conclusions and imagining that this man is Ted Bundy, perhaps you should talk to your mother. And second of all, and let me remind you that I adore you before I say this, if it does turn out that your mother is seeing him, or anyone else, romantically, butt out."

Her mouth dropped open and she searched for a retort, but he didn't give her the chance. "Your mother is one of the kindest, most generous people I know. If she has found someone who makes her happy, then let her be."

She sighed. "I want her to be happy," she whispered.

"I know you do."

"She deserves to be happy."

"She does."

"But what if...what if he's just a platonic friend? I mean, that could be, right? Friends pick up friends at the airport. Maybe they're not involved and he's just a friend. What did it seem like to you? Did they seem like just friends?"

Mulder flopped back onto his pillow with a loud groan, his arm covering his eyes. "Aaaaahhh, Scullleee."

"I'm sorry, you're right. I need to stop thinking about it and just talk to her tomorrow. Let's go to sleep. I know you're tired."

"I was. Now I'm wide awake."

She sighed. "Yeah, me too."

"Do you want to watch TV?" he asked.

She shook her head, so he turned it off. She scooted closer to him and rested a flat, satiny palm against his chest, bending her finger to tickle him with a nail. Her breath warmed his neck as she abandoned her own pillow and invaded his, her head nuzzling into the notch between his neck and shoulder.

"So here I am," she whispered, "in bed with you. Not sleepy yet."

He smiled against her silky crown. "Here you are. And you don't want to watch TV you said."


"Do you want to read?"

Her head rolled against him. "Nuh, uh."

"Do a crossword puzzle?"

"Mmmm mmmm."

"Play scrabble?"

"No, thanks."

"Well, I'm all out of ideas then," he sighed, faking an exaggerated yawn. "I'm just going to close my eyes and try to fall asleep and if you think of something you want to do, you let me know."

She clicked her tongue and swatted his upper arm playfully, giggling. But within a split second, he had grabbed her wrist and slid his other arm under her bottom, flipping her over onto her back and pinning her beneath him. She yelped in surprise and then raised both her knees to capture his hips tightly between them in a vise grip. Her legs were maddeningly strong and her pupils sparked as she sucked a plump lip between her teeth. Fingernails scored his back. So it would be this way tonight, then. Once in awhile it was and he never minded.

He pressed harder into the notch between her thighs, layers of thin clothing sliding back and forth as a barrier, and began a slow, deep dry hump. "Yeah," she breathed, her eyes fluttering and her head tilting back to bare a slope of perfect alabaster skin. He dropped over her and nipped lightly at her neck with each thrust, then switched to a circular motion, grinding mercilessly against her pubic bone. That little wrinkle formed between her brows.

He was fully erect, had been actually since her legs had captured his hips and her eyes had told him how she needed it. Solid, muscular arms propped him above her as he worked, delicious friction building between them. This wasn't the kind of sex married people had; it was the kind of sex kids had behind bleachers at football games or in frilly pink bedrooms with rock star posters on the walls and virginity still intact. It made him wish he'd been her first.

Her fingertips kneaded his ass and her hips bucked up into him, encouraging a faster pace. He could smell her. He would come this way if he wasn't careful and it might not wash out of silk. Impatient hands tugged at the waistband of her pants as he slowed. "Get them off. I need them off," he growled.

Fingers yanked and pulled, breathing heavy and fast, his knee accidentally made contact with her hip bone and she hissed. "Fuck. Sorry," he said.

"It's okay." Her pajama top melted off her body onto the carpet and he must have missed her release of all those buttons. She had always been better than him at clothing removal. It should go on her resume.

His erection stood out arrogantly from his body. It needed to go somewhere. For the second time that night he grabbed and flipped her down, positioning himself and entering her on a single well-aimed drive forward. Her muscles clenched around him and her hands gripped his forearms. Had she been ready? Of course she had been. They had been dry fucking for ten minutes. He hadn't thought to check her with his hand, though, like he usually did.

"You okay?" he managed.

"Yeah, oh yeah," she moaned. "You have to move, though. Oh God, I need you to move," she panted, her hips swirling beneath his. "I'm so close." He had forgotten to keep moving and now he remembered. He knew how to do this.

He tried to snake a hand between them to touch her, but she pushed it away, shaking her head. "Don't need it...just faster." Her breasts jiggled as he took her from zero to sixty in half a dozen quick thrusts. She gasped and went completely rigid under him and he lost it right behind her, his body arching backwards into a comma.

He kissed her neck wetly and then slid out of her, his chest pounding. In their haste, they hadn't even bothered with turning off the light. Black spots floated in his vision when he stared at the bedside lamp. "I like your idea," he panted.


"Of things to do ...when you can't sleep."

She tugged at a corner of the sheet to bring it up over her. "Yeah," she smiled. "It was a good one."

"Think you can sleep now?"

"I think so." Her hand made sloppy contact with the lamp and it teetered once on the table before the room plunged into darkness. He heard her breathing slow and a sleepy hum escaped her like a balloon deflating.



"Did it seem to you like he was touching her a lot while we were standing in front of baggage claim?"


December 1, 2005

The cursor on her computer screen was evil. Scully stared at it for a full three minutes before laying her head down on folded, mocha brown, cashmere-covered folded arms and closing her eyes. Just for a few minutes. She just needed to rest her eyes for a few minutes and she'd be as good as new. Her cell phone vibrated and her hand palmed the desk for it without opening her eyes. It could only be one person at this hour. She'd know that vibration anywhere.

"Scully," she answered, on the off-chance she could be wrong and someone else was actually calling her at 11:30 at night.

"Hey. You're still there." It wasn't really a question.

She stifled a yawn. "I think so, physically anyway."

"Scully, you sound too tired to drive home."

"Nah. I was just about to launch into another double espresso. I'm good. How're the kids?"

"Asleep for the last three hours. I think I'll turn in myself. Don't you think you should call it a night and come home?"

"Forty-five pages. Due to the research committee by next Wednesday, Mulder. That's in...crap," another yawn, "what day is it now?"

"Thursday. For another twenty-three minutes."

"That's in six days. I have completed eleven pages. I was really hoping not to have to work this weekend."

"We support that aspiration. But we also think you should sleep once in awhile. Come home."

She yawned again and flipped the switch off on her computer monitor. "Okay, you're right, as usual. I'm not going to get much else done tonight anyway. I may as well get out of here."

"Wow, can I please get that in writing?"


"The part about me being right, as usual?"

"I can't be held accountable for what I say after four coffees and a package of Skittles."

"That's all you had for dinner?" he asked.

"Um," more yawning, "Paul split half a sandwich with me earlier, but it had horseradish on it and you know how I feel about horseradish."

"That was...thoughtful of him. Was he working late too?"

"Yeah, I think so. We've been exchanging emails all night."

It was quiet on the other end of the phone. Scully cradled the phone between her ear and shoulder and pulled on her wool coat. "I'm leaving now, Mulder. I'll see you in a half hour."

"I'll wait up. Drive carefully, Scully."

December 2, 2005

It was Friday night. She had had every intention of leaving at 6:00. It was pizza and movie night. William had lobbied hard for Shrek 2, even though Scully couldn't recall having seen Shrek 1. She wouldn't argue as long as she didn't have to sit through Clifford's Really Big Movie again for the fourteenth time.

Her cell phone rang at 6:10.


"Hi, it's me. Can you pick up the pizza on your way home? I ordered about ten minutes ago."

"Hi. Um, how was your day?" she asked, sighing and taking her glasses off to rub her eyes.

"It was...good. Fine. What's wrong?"

"Nothing. It's just that..." another sigh.

"You're going to miss movie night, aren't you?"

"I-I- ... if I push through more of this document tonight, then I can take the weekend off. And tomorrow is Saturday. William wants to visit Santa Claus at the mall. I thought we could take them both."

Mulder chuckled. "What makes you think Claire's going to sit on Santa's lap? She won't even sit on Frohike's lap."

"Mulder, there are so many things wrong with that argument, I can't even begin to sort them."

"We ordered half with mushrooms and fresh tomatoes for you," he said, his voice sounding quiet and too far away.

"I'm sorry. I really am. I just...I have to meet this deadline next week. It's really important, Mulder. Our funding could be in jeopardy if we don't turn in the outlines for the clinical trials on time. If there was any other way-"

"I know, Scully. It's all right," he sighed. "Do you want us to save you some pizza?"

"I'll be late. I'll probably just grab something here."

"Just promise me something. Promise me that if you're too tired to drive home, you'll stay there and crash in the on-call room, okay? Please don't take any chances."

"I know. I'll be careful, I promise. I'm sorry, Mulder. At least this way, we'll have all of tomorrow and Sunday."

"Oh, by the way, your mom called. She said you were supposed to meet her for lunch today and you must've forgotten. She was worried when you didn't show up."

"Damn!" Scully covered her eyes with one hand. "It completely slipped my mind."

"Yeah, I told her you've been a little preoccupied. Anyway, you might want to give her a call." His sigh drifted through the phone. He sounded tired. "So, I'll see you later, Scully."

"Okay. Kiss the kids for me," she said, but he had already hung up and all she heard was the dead air between them.

Hours had passed. Several? Many? It was tough to say. She ignored the rumbling in her stomach and finished typing. Her contribution to the document was more than three-quarters of the way done. She had no idea how far along Paul was with his, but she knew he often worked weekends, so she had no doubt he'd finish before the deadline.

She saved her progress and hit "print," intending to take a hard copy with her to edit at home. A glance at her watch told her it was only 10:45. Only. She had still missed pizza and movie night and her stomach was punishing her for it, but it was nothing compared to the damage control she'd need to do at home this weekend. When she had embarked on her journey into parenthood, all idealistic and eager, no one had bothered to mention that she'd spend a good portion of each day questioning the decisions she would make, and twice as long feeling guilty for them.

A knock on her open office door startled her from her thoughts. She looked up to see Paul standing there, his dress shirt missing a tie and casually unbuttoned at the top. A trench coat was draped over one arm, briefcase in the other.

"How's it going?" he asked, smiling.

She sighed and tipped back in her office chair. "Pretty good. I have about ten more pages to write, then editing. You?"

"More than halfway, but I've been editing as I go. And I plan to be here most of the weekend." He shifted his stance. "I was just heading out and thought I'd swing by and see if you wanted to walk out."

It was thoughtful of him, Scully noted. The parking garage at night didn't exactly intimidate her, but it didn't give her a warm and fuzzy feeling either. "Sure, thank you. Let me just gather my things."

They walked through the Pathology wing which was mostly dark, although a few rooms still buzzed with lights and staff as various testing continued around the clock. Paul pushed the button on the elevator and her stomach rumbled audibly. Their eyes met and she smiled, embarrassed. "I had a yogurt and granola a few hours ago, but I guess it didn't stick with me."

He chuckled. "I think the last edible thing I encountered was a Caesar salad from the cafeteria sometime before four o'clock rounds, and I use the word 'edible' lightly." The elevator arrived with a ding and they stepped in. Paul pushed his shirt sleeve up and glanced at his watch. "Could I interest you in popping across the street for something to eat? They serve food until at least midnight." He saw her hesitation, so he lifted his briefcase and smiled, reassuringly. "I brought what I've written so far. It would really help me if you could take a look at it and offer suggestions. What do you say?"

"Um, I-" Her stomach growled again. She smiled. "I guess I could eat. I'm sure everyone is asleep at home anyway."

Minutes later, they were settling into a quiet corner booth of The Cellar, a popular meeting place for hospital staff on breaks and after hours. It was basically a hole in the wall, offering a dank and consistently gloomy atmosphere regardless of whether it was a sunny afternoon or the stroke of midnight. The walls were grey cinderblock and the booths were a blend of red and silver sparkly vinyl. They looked like someone had ripped them right out of a 1950s sports car. The juke box was stuck in the mid-80s and Hall and Oates' Maneater droned in the background, barely audible above the hum of voices and tipsy laughter. Regardless of how depressing the pub atmosphere was, it couldn't compete with what could be seen on any given day within the hospital walls. The beer was cheap and cold, the food was decent, and the people were comfortably numb.

Scully recognized a group of nurses sitting at the bar and several interns shooting pool. One of them, a sleepy-eyed second year whom she had coached through a Y-incision just yesterday, raised his pool stick toward her in greeting. She tipped her head in response and she saw the man whisper something to the guy next to him and they both looked her way. She knew them, but not by name.

A waitress with a tray full of shooters passed by them and tapped once on their table. "I'll be right with ya. Do you need menus?"

Paul glanced at Scully and she shook her head. The waitress wandered off. It was pub food. There wasn't much mystery in the choices. Besides, her stomach would have been satisfied with just about anything at that moment. "I've never been in here this late," she said.

"No?" Paul smiled. "It beats the cafeteria." He took his overcoat off and ran his fingers through his hair. "Do you want to split some nachos? They're good."

She quirked an eyebrow. "Mmm, maybe."

"Or the jalapeno poppers. Maybe a quesadilla. I can't decide. I didn't realize how hungry I was until I started thinking about it."

"Chicken wings?" she pondered aloud.

"Medium or mild?" he challenged.

"Oh, medium. What's the point in the mild?" She smiled.

The waitress returned with her notepad. "What's your poison? We're out of mozzarella sticks."

"Now there's one we hadn't even thought of," Paul chuckled. "Uh, I guess we'll do a dozen wings, medium. An order of jalapeno poppers and one of nachos."

"Oh my God, Paul, you're crazy. I'm going to be paying for this tomorrow."

"And I'll have an Oktoberfest draft."

"Just an ice water, please," she said.

He shot her a 'gimme a break' look."

"The drafts are two for one," said the waitress.

"She'll take one too," Paul said.

"Coming right up," the waitress said, sticking her pencil back into her stiff hair. "And the Ladies Room is out of order. Use the Men's."

Scully nodded politely and counted on being able to hold it until she got home. She cleared her throat. "So you wanted me to look at your document..."

"Right. I did," he said, unzipping his briefcase. He extracted a stack of paper and slid it across the table. "Can I...look at yours? I mean, you don't have to if you don't want-"

"Of course," she said. "I'd appreciate your thoughts." She pulled her hard copy from her bag. "It's rough. I haven't edited."

He chuckled. "I'll show you mine if you show me yours?" He took a pen from his shirt pocket.

Her eyes widened uncomfortably and she dipped her head to begin reading. She should call Mulder to tell him not to worry. She glanced at her watch. It was 11:35. She didn't want to wake him and besides, she had said she'd be late and not to worry. She'd stay long enough to eat and read the document, then she'd head home.

The table was a mess. Papers were scattered about and empty plates were stacked into baskets of mostly eaten appetizers. The jalapeno poppers were gone. If Scully had to choose, those had been her favorite. Just the right blend of spicy and cheesy. The whole top layer of the nachos had been eaten - all the good ones that had stuff on top. There was a layer of dry ones left, and in the last basket, one lonely chicken wing.

"Go ahead," she pointed, "I can't eat another bite."

"Not me. I'm stuffed," he said, muffling a belch behind his napkin. Paul was on his second beer and had wing sauce smeared on his cheek. Scully still had a swallow left of her first beer and she'd be damned if she was going to wipe the sauce off him.

"You have a little-" she pointed at her own cheek.

"I'm wearing my dinner, is what you're trying to politely say?" He smiled, brushing a napkin across his face. "Did I get it?"

She shook her head. "It's a little further to the-"

He kept wiping and then leaned forward so she could inspect.

"Yeah, it's gone," she confirmed. "But the lighting is bad in here. I can't be held completely accountable."

The waitress came and cleared the dishes. "Anything else?"

"God, no," laughed Scully.

"Another beer?" Paul offered.

"Um," she hesitated for a quick second, then shook her head. "No, thanks. I need to drive home and I'm already feeling a little buzzed."

"Hang out a little longer, then," he urged. "I want you to be safe."

The waitress deposited the bill face-down on the table and Paul reached into the inside pocket of his jacket while Scully rummaged for her wallet. He pulled out a credit card and rested one hand on hers. "Please. Let me."

"No, Paul, that was a lot of food. I'd feel better if we split it." She thumbed through the cash in her wallet and pulled out a twenty and a ten. "What did it come to?"

"Seriously, Dana. I got it this time. You can get the next one." Her mouth opened to protest again, but he shoved the bill and his card into the waitress's hand on her next pass.

"I, um, thank you. That was very nice of you."

She looked at her watch. 12:40. Shit. She should have called Mulder. And she had to pee and wasn't relishing the thought of braving the men's room. She could hold it a little longer. It reminded her of her college drinking days when her friends used to joke about how once you went to the bathroom and "broke the seal," you'd be making repeated trips all night. Stupid and illogical, she knew, but the memory made her smile.

"What?" he asked, studying her curiously, the edges of his mouth turning up.

She shook her head, still smiling. "Nothing. It's ...nothing."

"You should smile more often. You have a beautiful smile," he said.

Her eyes darted low and she was thankful that the poor lighting hid the pink in her cheeks. She grabbed her beer bottle and downed the last big swallow quickly, then cleared her throat and pushed his document across the table top toward him.

"So I like how you outlined the findings of the Merck study in Section II, part one, but I think you could benefit from doing the same thing later on in Section-" she flipped ahead several pages, purposely not looking up at him. "In Section V, here." The tip of her pen made a tiny dot on the stark white paper.

She was aware of his eyes on her. She kept hers on the paper and her pen still. It bled blue ink into a smudgy, uneven circle.

He coughed and then looked down at the document. "I wondered about that, but I questioned whether it would be overkill because later on, I went into more detail again in the section on -" he took her pen from her, his fingertips brushing hers and she instinctively curled them inward. He turned pages until he landed where he wanted. "-the section on stem cell research." He drew messy asterisks next to three paragraphs and slid it back to her.

She shook her head. "I think you'll be fine. More detail is better. They can always ignore the superfluous, but if they have to send it back to you for more information, it could potentially hold up the trials."

He nodded vigorously. "No, you're right. You're absolutely right. What would I do without you, Dana?"

She ignored the rhetorical question. "And what about mine so far? Suggestions?"

He looked down at it and fingered through several pages, holding a breath of air in his mouth until his cheeks puffed and then releasing it in a steady whistle. His eyebrows were at his hairline. He either loved it or hated it.

"Honestly? I've been trying, but I can't find anything wrong with it. It's thorough, yet succinct, specific, yet not drowning in jargon. I think...it's perfect. I wouldn't change anything. There are some typos, if that makes you feel any better."

She exhaled. "Well, it's definitely not perfect, but thank you. Like I said, I still have editing to do, but I'm afraid if I spend too much time on it this weekend, my family will disown me."

He slid her paper to her and took his own, tucking it back into his briefcase. "Well, we can't have that." He smiled. "Big plans for the weekend?"

"I'm almost afraid to say it, but I think the mall. The kids want to see Santa Claus. Well, my son does. My daughter will probably run screaming in the opposite direction."

He chuckled. "How old is she now? A year and a half maybe?"

Scully nodded, her eyes soft. "Eighteen months on the fourteenth."

"Wow, time flies. It seems like you were just pregnant with her. What am I talking about - it seems to me like my girls were just born and they're fifteen and almost eighteen now. Megan graduates this year."

"College plans yet?" asked Scully.

He nodded. "She applied and was accepted early decision to Cornell. Veterinary medicine," he wrinkled his nose.

Scully eyed him, curiously. "You don't approve?"

"It's her choice, of course. She's a straight A student, 1600 on her SATs. She could have written her own ticket into any medical program in the country. I was hoping she'd choose Internal Medicine or Cardiology." He sighed. "Instead, she'll end up earning a fraction of what she's worth giving rabies shots to Fido and Spot."

"Veterinary medicine can be extremely rewarding," said Scully. "It takes the right kind of person, someone with compassion. People love their pets like members of the family."

"You sound just like her mother. I'm sure I'll get used to the idea. I had just wanted more for her. You always do when it's your children. You'll see soon enough."

Scully shifted in her side of the booth uncomfortably and looked around the bar.

"Are you all right?" Paul asked.

"Yeah, I'm fine. It's just- I need to use a rest room and the waitress said the Ladies Room is out of order. I don't really want to use the Men's room and risk someone walking in on me." She surveyed her surroundings, noting that she happened to be the only female besides the waitress anywhere in sight. There were several men playing pool and a handful more at the bar, none of whom she recognized from the hospital. And most of them looked as if they'd already knocked back a few. All she needed was to walk out of a stall to find one of them aiming for a urinal.

Paul stood up. "Come on. I'll stand outside and keep watch for you."

She rose from her seat, shifting her purse onto her shoulder. "Thank you, I'd appreciate it." They made their way to the small hallway at the back of the bar. Paul ducked his head in through the door marked "Gents", and then pulled it back out a second later, offering her a reassuring smile. "The coast is clear."

She entered and quickly used one of the stalls, then set about washing her hands. As she was finishing up, her cell phone rang. She dug through her purse for it with wet hands. It slipped from her grip and skidded across the floor. "Shit," she exclaimed, retrieving it and answering, "Scully," although she knew who it was calling this late.

"Scully, it's me. Are you all right?"

"Yes, I'm fine."

"Where are you?"

"I'm at The Cellar." She pushed her way back out the door. Paul was looking at her curiously.

He pointed at her cell phone and said, "Everything all right?"

"Who is that?" Mulder's voice continued from the other side of the line.

Scully nodded toward Paul and began walking back toward their booth. "It's Paul. We're, um... we just stopped off to grab something to eat."

There was silence on the other end. "Mulder? Are you there?"

"Yeah, I'm here. I was worried, Scully. It's pushing 1:30. You didn't think to call?"

"I didn't want to wake you. I'm leaving now, though. I'll see you in a few minutes, okay?"

There was a long pause in which she wondered if he had hung up. "Scully, have you been...are you okay to drive home?"

"I'm perfectly fine. I had one beer over an hour ago. I'm on my way."

She said goodbye and hung up, sliding into her coat and feeling for her car keys in the side zipper of her purse. "I have to get going, Paul. Thanks for dinner."

"Anytime. I'll walk you out." He buttoned his overcoat. "Oh, I almost forgot." He pulled a white envelope from his briefcase and held it out to her. "I wanted to invite you to a holiday party that my wife and I are hosting at our home in two weeks. Bring your husband, of course. I know it's a busy time of year, but I hope you can make it."

Scully took the invitation from him. "Thank you. That's very thoughtful of you. I'll, um, look at our calendar and let you know on Monday."

When Scully walked into the kitchen through the garage, she could see the ghostly flicker of the television bleeding through the doorway of the family room. She tossed her bags onto the floor and her keys on the counter.

He was sitting on the sofa with his feet propped up on the coffee table, wearing pajama pants and a T shirt, no socks. His hair looked liked it had been slept on already. He didn't look at her when she lowered herself into the couch cushion next to him.

"You didn't have to wait up," she said, quietly.

No response. Nick at Night was airing an old episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Will Smith before he was Gettin' Jiggy with anything. Mulder wasn't watching it; it was watching him.

"Mulder, I'm sorry I didn't call. It was after eleven when I thought of it and I didn't want to wake-"

"Since when do I go to bed before eleven unless you're here?" he interrupted. He still faced the TV blankly.

She picked at her fingernail. "Are you pissed at me or something?" She sounded defensive without meaning to.

He let out a little huff, almost a mocking half-laugh. "No, I wouldn't say 'pissed' exactly."

"Then what would you say, exactly?"

His eyes narrowed like he was really giving it some thought. "I'm not sure there is a word for it...exactly. 'Confused' doesn't quite capture it. 'Frustrated' is always a nice adjective, but I'm not sure that's it either."

"Are you upset that I had to work late? Or are you bothered that I went to the pub with Paul?"

He shrugged, tiredly, and finally looked at her. "It sounds stupid when you say it that way."

"I have to work with him, Mulder. And there's a lot at stake this week. I thought you knew what I was up against when we got back from California. This is what I was preparing you for."

An absent, lazy nod was his response. "I know you work together. And I know what this project means to you. He calls you in the middle of dinner. He calls you when we're in the car on the way to the airport. He calls you ten minutes after you get in the door in the evening-"

"It's a collaborative project, Mulder. We need to-"

"I KNOW THAT!" he snapped loudly, then immediately backed off, his face softer. "I'm sorry."

She reached for his hand, tentatively and he didn't pull away. "Don't be," she said. "I should have called. It was late, I was hungry, he asked and it was right across the street. I thought I'd only be an hour or so, but we got to proofreading each other's documents and before I knew it-"

He opened an arm to her and she leaned into it. He was warm, his T shirt soft like butter and he smelled good. She laced her fingers with his and their rings clinked once, judgmentally. Her diamond had spun itself around so it was pointing to the side and his index finger pushed it back until it was centered above her wedding band. The world was full of metaphors, she thought.

"Come on, let's go to bed," she said to his armpit.

December 3, 2005

Mulder circled the parking lot for the third time without any luck. Who the hell went to the mall on a Saturday three weeks before Christmas? Oh yeah, parents like himself who perpetuated the magical myth of Santa Claus by having their children sit on the lap of a fat man being paid minimum wage to don a fake beard and a scratchy suit for an afternoon.

There was a spot one row over! Mulder gunned it and turned the corner, but just as he was coming down the lane, a red Escort slid into the empty space. "Son of a-"

Oh, how he longed to finish that sentiment. It was times like these when he realized with regret that he hadn't taken full advantage of his freedom to swear back in the days when young, impressionable people weren't listening. If anyone had told him he'd be watching his language 24-7 in a few years, he would have cursed with reckless abandon when he'd had the chance. Instead, he laid on his horn loudly.

Scully touched his elbow. "Mulder. Calm down. It's Christmas."

"Not yet, it's not. Don't tell me that wasn't rude, Scully. I was clearly heading for that spot."

"We'll just have to park over by Lord & Taylor instead."

"That's all the way on the other end of the mall from the food court. Where is Santa supposed to be?"

"In the center commons, across from Baby Gap."

"Uh oh. There are those words again."

"What?" she smiled. "We're here to see Santa."

"And you're telling me you're not planning to go in Baby Gap, Scully?"

"Well, maybe for just a minute. My mom said they had the cutest little green Christmas dress for Claire. I thought I'd check for it."

"Their closets are full of clothes. Doesn't she have a dress to wear?"

"Not a Christmas one. And she looks so good in green. It brings out the color of her eyes."

Mulder looked at Scully's eyes instead. They were a darker shade of blue today with more of a smoky hue. He wondered how likely it would be that he could find a lingerie set to match them and if there was a chance Victoria's Secret was anywhere near Baby Gap. He headed toward Lord & Taylor, prepared to commit any number of offenses in order to secure a parking spot.

"Lunch or Santa first?" he asked as they passed a Pizzeria Uno and the smell of deep dish assaulted his senses.

Scully looked at her watch and then at Claire and William who appeared serene at the moment, but experience had proven that the emotional climate could go from contentment to major meltdown in the time it took to wait through a line at Wendy's.

"It's almost noon now. What if we do Santa first because the wait might be shorter while everyone else is at lunch?"

"Eat after? You think they can make it?"

She shrugged. "I guess we'll find out."

"I'm willing to risk it if you are," he said in his best voice of parental solidarity.

Fifteen minutes later, they were nearing the front of a very short line, behind a little girl in pigtails and saddle shoes who wanted rollerblades, an American Girl doll, and a dalmation puppy. She looked rather insistent about her selections too. She reminded Mulder of the girl from Willy Wonka who kept chanting "Daddy, I want it now!" He thought it would be cool if she turned into a blueberry and fell down a chute.

Scully lifted Claire out of her stroller. "We're up next, Claire. Are you sure you don't want to sit on Santa's lap and tell him what you want for Christmas?"

Claire scrunched her forehead and talked through one finger stuck in her mouth. "Mama go too."

Scully's brows arched. "And sit on Santa's lap? No Honey, only kids are allowed to do that. I'll walk up with you, though."

Mulder's mouth quirked in amusement. "Oh I don't know, Scully. I'm sure Santa wouldn't mind. Have you been naughty or nice?"

She tossed him an annoyed look and the father standing behind them in line snickered.

Pigtail girl was done and it was their turn. "What do you say, Claire, are you going to do it?" he asked, trying to manufacture tidings of comfort and joy in his expression.

Claire offered an uncertain nod and Scully looked at Mulder. "Here's goes nothing." She carried Claire forward and placed her carefully on Santa's knee, pulling her arms away slowly, like she had just dismantled a bomb.

Problem was, she hadn't quite dismantled it, and as soon as Santa let fly a boisterous "HO HO HO," Claire's entire body went rigid, her face crumpled, and she produced an ear-splitting howl. Shoppers within a forty store radius stopped to look at the screaming kid on Santa's lap. The woman dressed as an elf taking photos said, "Oh my," while Scully scrambled forward to take Claire, mumbling words of apology to Santa. She carried Claire back to the stroller, patting her back and whispering into her ear as Claire's breathing slowed to a syncopated hiccup/sniffle combo.

William, who had been standing patiently awaiting his turn, touched Claire's dangling hand and said, "It's all right, Claire," and Mulder was caught momentarily off-guard by his son's compassion. He rumpled his hair and said, "Go ahead, Will. Do you want me to go up with you?"

William shook his head. "No, I'm okay, Daddy." And he stepped forward and allowed Santa to pull him up onto his knee.

"Hello there, young man," said Santa. "What is your name?"

"William Mulder," said Will.

"And have you been a good boy this year?"

Mulder saw William's face dart to look at his and he smiled back. "I think so," answered Will.

"What would you like Santa to bring you for Christmas?"

"I'd like a Thomas the Train set, please. But the table for it is kind of big and I don't think you'll be able to fit it down our chimney," he said, worriedly.

Santa chuckled. "Oh don't you worry, William. Santa has magical ways of taking care of things like that."

"But I don't see how, Santa. My friend, Anthony, has the same table and I looked at it. The legs don't screw off."

Santa was beginning to look a little flustered. "Well, now. Haven't you ever heard of magic dust, William?"

Will frowned. "You mean like fairy dust? Like what Tinker Bell uses?"

"Exactly! Santa has magic dust that he sprinkles on toys to make them small enough to fit down chimneys. How about that!"

"But then how do the toys get back to their regular size once they're in the house?" William's face clearly spelled out 'not buying it.' Mulder was incredibly familiar with that expression. It was the same one Scully wore for eight years while working with him. Good God, his son was a miniature Scully. Poor Santa had no idea who he was dealing with.

"Now that's a very good question, William," said Santa, putting a white-gloved finger to his mouth and stalling for time. "But see, Santa can't share all of his secrets, now can he?"

Oh come on, Santa. No self-respecting four-year-old would fall for that cop out.

William looked like he was gearing up to blow a million holes right through Santa's line of B.S. when the photo elf said that it was time to move along. Santa had many more good little boys and girls to visit with who were willing to buy a photo and wouldn't give Santa a hard time. William hopped down off Santa's lap and walked back over to Mulder.

"I don't that was the real Santa," William said with a frown. "It was just some guy dressed up like him. Anthony met the real Santa in Colorado and Santa told him that he brought the train table in through the front door. If this was the real Santa, he'd know that," he sighed. "Can we please eat lunch now?"

He drove them home through some light flurries. She held a navy Baby Gap bag on her lap with a perfect, little green velour dress in size 2T folded in it, but that wasn't all. In the twenty minutes she had been in the store, she had also managed to snag two pairs of corduroys, two matching shirts, and a sweater vest for William, and three sets of leggings, four tops, two sets of pajamas, and black Mary Janes for Claire. All in twenty minutes. Mulder shuddered to think of the damage she could do in a couple of hours. If she ever won one of those contests where the shopper got to grab as many things as they could in under a minute, she'd be a retailer's biggest nightmare.

But despite her findings, she was clearly more preoccupied by the small pink and black bag on the floor, the one he had refused to let her peek in just yet. They had been finishing lunch in the food court, one of Scully's least favorite places because it "perpetuated unhealthy eating habits" when he excused himself for a few minutes without much of an explanation other than that he was going to pick something up.

Thankfully, he had found what he was looking for fairly quickly and due to his kinky obsession with the other lingerie in her drawer, he knew exactly what size to buy. He had returned to the lunch table curling a small pink bag against his hip and upping his swagger enough to hide the threat to his manhood.

Of course it had been the first thing she saw, and why wouldn't it be? "What's that?" she had asked, a tiny wrinkle between her brows.

"Nothing. Just a little something."

"From Victoria's Secret?"

"It's not for me," he had smiled.

"Well, I should hope not."

"It's for you."

"Well, I should hope so."

He could play this game all day. She wasn't getting the bag.

"Can I see it?"

"Not now. Later."

"Like when?"

"I don't know yet. It's for my Golden Ticket," and her eyes had widened a little. "You're not going to renege on your promise are you?"

She had hesitated briefly. "Of course not."

He would have been willing to bet she had forgotten. He certainly hadn't.

In the car now, her eyes continued studying the bag. "It's a really small bag," she said, casually.

"It has very small things in it." He flipped the windshield wipers on to clear the snow. "But don't worry. This isn't all you'll be wearing."

He felt her gaze on him. "So you've thought about this, then," she said, her fingers toying with the white drawstring on the Gap bag.

"Oh yeah, I know exactly how it's going to go. It is my choice, right?" he said glancing her way. "That's what you said."

"That was the deal. When, um, when do you want to ...do this?"

He shrugged, enjoying her curiosity. "Oh whenever. That can be your decision. I don't want you to be tired, though. You'll need your energy."

This time she smirked a little. "Oh really? I see. And we're good to go whenever I'm ready? You don't need to purchase anything else?"

"Nope. I'm ready when you are."

She exhaled and settled against the headrest. "Hmm, I don't know, I'm feeling pretty rested today. And maybe if I get in a short nap while Claire does this afternoon, tonight might be a possibility. Just how much energy do I need, Mulder?"

He just smiled and turned on his signal to exit the freeway.

December 4, 2005

When Scully's eyes opened and she rolled over, he was already awake and looking at her. "How long have you been up? What time is it?"

"Only a few minutes. It's 7:15. You were smiling in your sleep. Good dream?"

She stretched and yawned. "I don't know, I can't remember." But she did remember last night. She remembered Mulder waking her just enough to get her from the sofa up the stairs and into their bedroom. Shit.

"I'm sorry, Mulder. I fell asleep while we were watching TV, didn't I?"

He nodded and reached to sweep strands of hair from her cheek. "S'okay. You were tired."

"I must've been. I know you had plans for us last night."

He scooped her with his arm and pulled her to his chest. "Don't worry about it, Scully. We'll get to it." He kissed her forehead, then her nose, then her chin.

Mulder glanced at the clock. "You promised your mom you'd make it to early mass today," he reminded.

She groaned and pulled a pillow over her messy hair. "It's cold out. I want to stay here."

He took the pillow off. "Trust me, I would like nothing more than for you to keep your warm body against mine all day, but I'm sorry, I can't be responsible for you blowing off your mother. So get in the shower and I'll make coffee."

She slid one leg out from the covers and sighed. "I'm only going as a ploy to pump her for more information about her 'friend', Robert." She used her fingers to make air quotes around the word "friend."

"I know that." He smiled, slipping a T shirt on with his flannel lounge pants. "I don't see why you haven't just asked her about him, if you're so curious."

"I have. But she seems hell-bent on not giving up any juicy details over the phone. All I've gotten out of her is that he lives in Bethesda and she met him at a dinner party back in September. September, Mulder! That was three months ago! She's been seeing somebody for three months and she couldn't be bothered to tell me about it?" she huffed.

"Well, not for nothing, Scully, but you were pregnant before you admitted anything about us to your mother."

"That was different. We weren't really...or maybe we were, I don't know."

"Oh, we were. We definitely were. It just took us seven years before we were sleeping together, that's all. But the rest? We were."

A mild wave of nausea passed over her. "Oh God, Mulder, you don't think it's possible they could be...I mean, they wouldn't be...OH GOD!" She flopped back onto the pillow, her hands hiding her face.

Mulder chuckled. "How old is your mother, Scully?"

"Sixty-six," she mumbled through her fingers.

"Well for her sake, I certainly hope they are. I hope we are when we're eighty-six. Well, when I am anyway. You'll still be a spring chicken of eighty-three."

"OH GOD!" Scully wailed, half laughing. She pulled the covers up over her face. "Happy thoughts. I need to think happy thoughts," she chanted.

He wiggled her foot through the blankets. "I hear signs of life down the hall. You jump in the shower and I'll free the prisoners."

Dana walked out through the heavy wooden church doors into the bitter air, pulling the buttons of her wool coat closed and circling her plaid scarf around her neck. It took her mother forever to get out of church once mass ended. She knew absolutely everybody and thought it rude not to stop and ask about the well- being of grandchildren or listen to stories about rheumatoid arthritis or hip replacements. Dana rubbed her gloved hands together briskly until her mother joined her on the front steps.

"Goodness it's cold out!" Maggie exclaimed. "I wonder if we might get a white Christmas this year?"

"Do you want to get some breakfast?" Dana asked, pointing to a diner across the street.

"I'd love to," Maggie answered, hooking her arm in her daughter's. "We have some things to talk about, don't we?"

Dana sipped at her coffee and made small talk with her mom about what the children wanted for Christmas, how her research at work was going, and how strange it would be this year without Bill and Charlie making the trip home. Dana found herself staring down at a stack of blueberry pancakes and trying to figure how to bring up the elephant in the room when her mother did it for her.

"So you would like to know about Robert," her mother said casually, spreading jam on rye toast.

"Yes, I would. If you'll tell me."

"Of course I will. What would you like to know?"

Dana paused from eating, her fork dangling from between two fingers. Her mouth opened and closed twice before she found words. "I- I- don't even know where to start, Mom. You hid from me the fact that you've been seeing a man for three months-"

"Now hold on a minute," Maggie raised a finger. "I never hid anything from you. I chose to get to know him and see if there was any potential for a relationship before I involved my children."

"And what - you're serious about this man?" she put her fork down this time, the pancakes suddenly seeming a bit heavy for her dwindling appetite.

"I enjoy spending time with him, yes. He makes me happy and I think the feeling is mutual."

"How much could you even know about this man in three months, Mom?"

"'This man' has a name, Dana. It's Robert. And I feel I have come to know him quite well. I also think I'm a decent judge of character and I believe Robert is a good man with a kind heart."

"Do you know anything about his past - where he's from, if he has a family, what he does for a living - or did he just surface out of nowhere? There are men out there who prey on women your age, Mom. I just don't want you to get hurt."

"Good grief, Dana, you make him sound like a wanted fugitive. I realize your law enforcement background makes you cautious, but please. There are still some nice people out there."

"I know, I know. I'm sorry. I just ...worry about you, that's all."

"I appreciate your concern, Honey, I do. But I'm sixty-six years old. I've raised four children and buried a husband and a daughter. Please don't treat me like a child. "

The bluntness caught her by surprise. Dana nodded, her face softening. She picked her silverware back up and began to eat. "So tell me about him. Please. I want to know."

Her mother's face brightened. "Well, he just moved here a year ago from Upstate New York to be near his son and grandchildren. He has another son who lives in Chicago. He's retired now, but he used to teach high school history."


"Widowed. Six years ago. His wife died of cancer and he still loves her the way I love your father, but he wants to be happy again and so do I."

Dana reached for her mother's hand and traced a brown age spot with her thumb. Her eyes swamped a little and she didn't bother blotting them.

"No one will ever replace your father, Dana. I've spent the past eleven years mourning him and preoccupying myself with my children and grandchildren. But I've decided that I'm not done living my life and Robert is helping me do that."

"Are you in love with him?" Dana asked, quietly, not sure if she was ready for the answer.

Her mother was silent and thoughtful for a long moment. "Honestly, I think it's a little too early to know. I enjoy being with him and he makes me feel young again. I care about him very much and I see the potential of that growing into something more. Right now, we're just enjoying each other's company."

Dana smiled. "I'm happy for you. I really am, Mom. I'll admit it'll take a little getting used to for me, but I'll get there." She took another bite of pancakes, relief heralding the return of her appetite. "So what else? What kinds of things do you do together? Does he have any hobbies?"

"Well, he's a wonderful cook. I'm not used to being spoiled by having someone cook for me. Breakfast is his specialty."

Dana paused with her fork halfway to her mouth, but then recovered. Breakfast. Just a meal. And it could be enjoyed between friends who meet at one another's homes in the morning. It didn't mean-

"We enjoy seeing movies together and taking walks and listening to music. Robert is an artist too. He has a sculpting studio in his house and he's been teaching me how to make lovely pottery."

Unbidden images of the pottery scene in the movie, Ghost, invaded Dana's brain and she quickly forced them out.

"Let's see...what else...he has a dog - a border collie. He enjoys building model airplanes and he's a great kisser."

"Oh God, Mom!" Her napkin went to her mouth as she choked on a swallow of coffee.

"What? You're going to tell me that's not important?"

"When I asked you to tell me about him, that's not what I meant!"

Maggie laughed. "I'm just being honest."

"I appreciate the, um, sentiment. But certain things you can feel free to keep a secret."

They laughed and talked through the remainder of breakfast and she recognized an easiness in her mother that she hadn't realized had been missing for quite some time. In a way, it was hard to accept that her mother could need something else besides her children to be fulfilled. At the same time, if this man could make her mother feel this way, then she wouldn't stand in the way. Her mother had always been there for her, had supported her through hardships that no parent should have to endure. It was time she gave a fraction of that love and support back.

Just as they were leaving the diner, Dana's cell phone rang. She saw from the caller ID that it was Paul's office number. She was half tempted to let it go to voice mail. She wanted to get home to Mulder and the kids and have a relaxing Sunday together. But with the proposal deadline coming up on Wednesday, she thought she better take the call.

"I'm sorry, Mom, it's work. I have to take this," she said, then flipped her phone open and said, "Scully."

"Hi, Dana, it's Paul. I'm sorry to bother you on the weekend, but I'm here at the hospital and we have a little problem."

"It's okay, what's going on?"

"I just got an email from Bernstein saying that the funding committee is expecting the results of the fourth genome study to be included in our written proposal on Wednesday."

"Paul, that's not possible. The fourth study wasn't concluded until last summer. Those results haven't even been summarized yet. That could take-"

"I know. But I get the impression we don't have a choice if we want our funding for the trials approved."

She sighed and then fell silent for a minute.

"You know what," he said, "don't worry about it. I'll get started on it today and see what I can get done. I'll have Della cancel all out meetings and rounds for tomorrow and we'll hole up in the conference room all day. I'll see you tomorrow then. Enjoy the rest of your day."

"No, wait. Paul, hang on a minute. This will go twice as fast if we do it together. One of us can analyze and chart while the other one enters the data. I'll meet you in your office in a half hour."

She hung up, gave her mom a hug goodbye, and then made another call she was dreading. There was just no way in hell this was going to go over well. No way.

Four hours later they had moved from Paul's office to the conference room because his desk wasn't big enough for all the paper piles. Scully had kicked off her shoes under the table and was sitting cross legged in a chair, staring down at charts of microscopic integers. Even with her glasses on, they swam in front of her eyes.

Paul pounded away on his laptop across from her in his jeans and a white button-down, sleeves rolled back to the elbows. He had a solid case of five o'clock shadow and she wondered if he had even been home all weekend.

Scully surveyed the table. Three mugs of coffee (whose was the third?) and a Sprite, an empty bag of pretzels from the vending machine (his), a granola bar wrapper (hers), a half-gone bag of Twizzlers (shared, from his desk drawer). She missed seeing the open bag of sunflower seeds. Work binges weren't the same without them. She looked at her silent cell phone on the table next to her and touched it until the light came on because maybe she had missed a call, but how could she because she had only stepped out of the room to pee once and had taken the damn thing with her.

He hadn't been as pissed off as she had predicted. He had sounded more resigned, which was even worse. She'd rather have pissed off any day. She knew how to handle pissed off. Resigned was just ambivalence with a dash of apathy thrown in.

Paul pushed away from the table and stood. He stretched side to side and pulled on his shoulders. The sight of him was starting to annoy her, but too much of Mulder had yielded the same effect back in the day too. Wait, scratch that. It was an entirely different situation. Back then, she had wanted to fuck Mulder. Pretty much from Day One, if she were being honest with herself, although she would never have admitted it then. Looking back, she knew he could have had her that night she dropped her robe in front of him over some asinine mosquito bites. It would have taken just the right moves; she wasn't a slut by any means. But she could imagine a scenario that would have had him embedded deep inside her not long after she had lain on his bedspread like a buffet while he enchanted her with stories of alien abduction. That had been the first night of many to follow when she had gone back to her own room and gotten herself off to thoughts of what he would look like moving above her.

She didn't want to fuck Paul. And this was where she did what every woman does at some point while working closely with another man - any man. They're lying if they say they don't. She eyed him critically and asked herself if, given the right circumstances, would she have ever wanted him? In other words, she gauged his potential fuckability, in a perfect scenario where everyone was single, and she had consumed plenty of wine, and they didn't work together. Oh Hell, in all fairness she couldn't really consider that last part as a factor, now could she? Counting Mulder, she had fucked three men that she'd worked with over the years. It didn't sound like much until you considered that it was out of a total number of seven. The math geek in her did a quick calculation. Forty-three percent of the men she'd slept with had been men she worked with. She shuddered to think about the carnival a shrink would have with that tidbit of information. It could be worse, she chuckled to herself. She could have slept with forty-three percent of the men she'd worked with.

But back to Paul, who was still performing some hilarious pseudo calisthenics at the end of the conference table. She studied him carefully, but discreetly. Physically, he certainly wasn't unattractive. He had a certain clean cut, polished look about him, which she had always appreciated in a man. But beyond that, there just really wasn't anything there for her to sink her teeth into. He just didn't have IT. That elusive quality that made her want to both slap a man and pin him to the floor under her hips. IT was what made her go home to her apartment alone and slam things around, but then call him from her cordless phone in bed hours later to find out if he was still awake and what he was watching on TV.

Daniel had had IT. Jack had had IT in the beginning, but then lost it gradually so that by the time they split up, she was giving him the "it's not you, it's me" speech over al dente pasta she had cooked for him at her apartment. Mulder had so much IT that he had spoiled her for any other man forever more. In fact, he had the kind of IT that caused her nipples to tighten at the sight of his lower lip even as she was trudging through four inches of rain in ruined shoes.

So the bottom line was no, she couldn't imagine a likely scenario when she might have ever done the horizontal tango with Paul Hanover. It would have had to have involved copious amounts of alcohol. Many drinks.

"...to drink, Dana?"

She snapped back to the present, realizing that Paul was staring at her holding the door to the mini fridge open.


"I asked if you wanted anything to drink. There's some Diet Pepsi in here, a couple more Sprites, and green Gatorade. I wouldn't recommend it, but if you like to live on the edge..." He smiled.

She opened her mouth to answer and her cell phone rang. She picked it up. "Scully."

"Hi, it's me. I um, was just going to put some chicken on the grill and wondered if you were going to make it home for dinner or not?"

Paul stood there with the refrigerator door still open and a question on his face. She must've taken too long to answer because Mulder started to speak again.

"You know what, forget it. You have to work. I'll just see you...whenever-"

"I'll be there," she blurted out. "Grilled chicken sounds really good. I'll be there as soon as I can." Then she hung up and began feeling around on the floor with her feet for her discarded shoes.

"I have to go," she said, without looking up.

"Um, okay..." he said blankly.

She gathered together stacks of paper and threw away her garbage. "We've gotten a really good start on this and we have all day tomorrow and Tuesday. We'll get it done. But tonight, I need to go home."

When she walked out, he was still standing in front of the fridge holding a Diet Pepsi.

Scully turned the page and William stretched to see the pictures. She feathered her fingers through his hair while she read. "...Oh, the sea is so full of a number of fish, if a fellow is patient, he might get his wish! And that's why I think that I'm not such a fool when I sit here and fish in McElligot's Pool!" She closed the book and placed it on the wooden nightstand.

William giggled a little, then yawned. "That's a really silly book."

She smiled. "It is. I think the message is that things aren't always what they seem on the surface and if we dream big enough, we just never know what the possibilities are."

"Yeah, maybe. Or it could just be a weird book."

Scully laughed, shaking her head.

"Can you read Harry The Dirty Dog now, Mommy?"

She smiled and pulled the puffy comforter up higher to cover his shoulders. "Not tonight, Pumpkin. It's already past your bedtime and you have preschool tomorrow morning. Did you remember to brush your teeth?"

William nodded and turned over onto his stomach.

"Goodnight, Pumpkin." She planted a kiss on the top of his head and then clicked on the nightlight and headed for the door.


She turned back, fingers hovering on the light switch. "Hmm?"

"Are we going to get our Christmas tree soon?"

"Next weekend, I think. We'll decorate it together, okay?"

"Okay. I made an ornament at school, but it's still drying. I can bring it home soon."

"Nice. I can't wait to see it," she smiled. "'Night, Babe, I love you."

When she got downstairs, Mulder was walking out of the kitchen with two glasses of red wine. He handed her one and she took a grateful sip. It felt good going down, spicy and fragrant. She followed him to the sofa, happy that he hadn't bothered to turn on the TV, but that he had thought to build a fire. It crackled softly and cast flickering shadows on the terra cotta painted walls. It had seemed like a good color when they moved in, but over time it had begun to nag at her senses. Too orangey. Maybe she'd repaint the room taupe in her spare time, and then laughed at how preposterous the concept of free time actually was. Time was never free.

Mulder's arm came around her and he pressed his thumb firmly along her scapula. She moaned and leaned into it. "Mm, how much extra for a foot massage?"

"I'm sure we can come up with a fair trade," he said, sliding over and pulling both of her legs up so her bare feet rested in his lap. She tipped her head back against the arm of the sofa and tried not to spill her wine when he dug into her arches.

"Thank you for coming home." His voice was liquidy and it was having a calming effect on every muscle in her body.

"I feel like a schmuck when you say that."

"I know you had work to do."

"*Have* work to do."


"I'm pissed it took up as much of the day as it did," she said, apologetically. "It wasn't my intention."

"How did the talk with your mom go?"

She smiled, recalling. "My mom has a boyfriend, Mulder. And I think it might be okay."

"Did you do a background check and run his prints yet?" he teased.

"I don't have anything he touched. Give me time."

Mulder chuckled and his fingertips traced up the inside of her pant leg and tickled the soft skin behind her knee caps. She was pretty sure *that* wasn't usually included in a standard foot massage.

"He sounds normal, nice actually," she said.

"He probably is. Maybe you should give him a chance."

She sighed. "I will. I'd do anything for her." Then after a moment of thought, she lifted her head again. "And for you."

His eyes met hers and the corners of his lips twitched in amusement. "I've heard that one before. You fell asleep watching TV."

She took another draw from her wine glass and licked the wetness from her lips. "Well, I'm not tired now," she said in that throaty voice that suggested things could get interesting.

"What, um, what's on the menu?" he hedged.

"I'm pretty sure the deal was anything you want."

He smirked and he kept massaging, but his touch had gotten lighter. She was distracting him from the task.

"Are you sure you're up for it?"

"Well, I'm not entirely certain what 'anything' entails, but as long a it doesn't involve death-defying acrobatics or some kind of kinky public exhibitionism and can be done in our home, then yeah, I think I'm up for it."

His brows arched and she knew he was gearing up to comment on the kinky exhibitionism when another thought gripped her. "Unless you wanted...Oh God, Mulder, you weren't thinking you wanted to involve someone else, like have-"

"A threesome?" he finished chuckling. "Uh, no. That wasn't the plan. Although I'll admit that menage a trois does hold a certain allure, it's probably a fantasy best left up here," he said, pointing to his head.

She exhaled. "Is there anything else I should know ahead of time then?" She hadn't intended it, but she knew he could hear a touch of nervousness in her voice.

He swung her legs back to the floor gently and then leaned over her, cupping her face in his hand. His palm was warm and a little rough against her cheek and she relaxed under his touch. "Do you trust me?" he asked, to which she nodded, silently.

His lips made contact with hers, brushing back and forth lightly and she closed her eyes. "I'd never make you do anything you didn't want to do. Ever. If this isn't enjoyable for you, then it won't be for me either. If you want to stop at any point, then you say the word and it's over, okay?"

She nodded again and returned his chaste kisses. "I don't want to be tied up," she whispered. "I don't think I could handle it after...there've just been too many times against my will."

He shook his head slowly and his forehead connected with hers. She saw a shadow of pain on his features. "I'm not going to tie you up. Not ever. I promise. I think you'll be surprised at how vanilla this is going to be. You should know by now my kinks aren't all that kinky."

She laughed at that and relaxed again. He resumed kissing her mouth and it felt amazingly good. His tongue grazed her bottom lip and her grip on his upper arm tightened.

He pulled back and swallowed. "Let me ask you - if we weren't talking about this, and we just went upstairs to bed tonight, and I was my usual charming, sexy self-" A loud snort of laughter escaped her and she bit down lightly on her lower lip, but it was no use. She laughed again loudly.

"Thanks, Scully. Where was I...?"

She cleared her throat and stopped laughing. "You were being charming and sexy."

"Right. As I was saying, if it was a normal night, would you want to...would you be interested in making love? With me? Now?"

He looked insecure and adorable and she was suddenly so turned on it was ridiculous. Her eyes went darker and she leaned to suck his lower lip between hers until she heard him whimper and even that wasn't enough. "Oh yeah," she breathed when she was forced to let go of him and seek air.

His eyes took on a childish excitement as he led her up the stairs. When they got inside their bedroom, she stood in front of him, bouncing gently on her heels, brows arched in question. "Um, you have something you want me to wear?" she asked.

"I do, yes. Um, I'll need just a few minutes to get everything together and then I also need to set something up downstairs, so maybe-"

"Downstairs, Mulder? We're doing this downstairs?"

He nodded, smiling. "In my office."

Her mouth hung open for a second. She could not possibly imagine anything sexual they could be doing in his office, nor was she sure she wanted to. But he had told her to trust him, so perhaps against her better judgment, that's what she'd do.

"How about if I take a quick shower while you get ready?" she suggested.

"That's good. There will be something for you to wear on the bed when you get out of the shower."

"What about my hair? Wet? Dry? I can clip it up if you want it to stay like dry."

He studied her for a moment, one finger tapping thoughtfully on his mouth. "Dry. Keep it dry. And styled, um, you know, the way you normally would. Down. And can you, um, put on a little more makeup? Nothing over the top, just like what you'd wear to work. Lipstick, though. Definitely lipstick."

She smiled, amused. "Okaaay, I'll see what I can do." She headed into the bathroom and closed the door behind her.

As soon as he heard the 'snick' of the bathroom door and the sound of the shower starting, Mulder sprang into action. He dug the Victoria's Secret bag out from inside the zippered compartment of a piece of luggage in the back of his closet. He had been pretty certain she would not check for it there. If there was one thing he'd learned about Scully, it was never to underestimate her snooping capabilities. When it came to Christmas gifts, he had taken to wrapping them in unusually shaped boxes and stuffing them full of crumpled paper to keep them from shaking. Even then, he tried not to put her gifts under the tree until Christmas Eve so she'd have less time to sabotage his surprises.

Mulder clipped the tags off the lingerie and laid it out on top of their comforter. Then he went to her closet. He pretty much knew what he wanted, he just wasn't precisely sure where it was. The skirts were all grouped together, so that helped, but she had at least six black ones and several looked exactly the same to him. He was able to eliminate two right away because they didn't have slits in them. It would be difficult for her to do what he wanted her to do without a slit. Another two went back into the closet because they were longer than the others. He wanted knee length or shorter. He was down to two and he studied them carefully.

Then he remembered. He wondered if it was still there or if she would have bothered to mend it, it was just so tiny. He turned the bottom up on each skirt and examined the hemlines carefully and sure enough, there it was. Almost too small to see unless you knew what you were looking for. A tiny knick in the hemline, a few threads undone. It had happened the first time she'd worn it and they had been chasing God-knows-what through God-knows- where. That part he didn't remember. What he did remember was that the bottom of her skirt had caught on a nail and snagged. She had made a big deal out of it, especially given the fact that it was practically unnoticeable. But she had gone on and on about having just bought it and how it wasn't cheap and, not for nothing, but her clothes were always getting ruined in his presence and what did that tell him? Maybe that she should buy cheaper clothes, he had thought, but did not say because he valued his life and loved her more than air, even then.

He spread the skirt out next to the lingerie and went back to the closet for the matching jacket and a blouse. A white sheer one. Again, there were several, but he quickly found one he liked. Next were shoes and they were important. Rows of black heels presented themselves to him like mail order brides. When it came down to it, it really didn't matter. He'd gladly fuck her in any of them. Oh, what the hell - the skirt was short; the shoes might as well be extra high. It was his fantasy, dammit. He pulled the shoes and tossed them on the bed, then made his way downstairs to set up the office. He was already half hard.

When he got back upstairs, she was standing in front of the bed wrapped in a towel, looking down at his wardrobe selections. She held up one index finger and the impossibly small, black lace panties dangled from it. They had looked like a little more on the hanger in the store. Right now, they looked like a few strings sewn together. Her head tilted sideways as she picked up the matching bra in her other hand.

"This is...interesting, Mulder."

"Did I get the right size?"

She examined the satin tag. "Looks like it, but Good Lord."

He chuckled. "I told the sales girl you were an exotic dancer. She thought you might like those."

"Mmm," she said, holding the bra up against her. "Not that I don't appreciate your, um, generosity, Mulder, but I do have several sets of black lingerie in my drawer. You didn't have to spend the money."

"It's okay. I didn't want to have to worry if they got ripped." And that prompted her to look at him with her mouth open slightly.

She tossed aside the underwear and fingered the edge of the skirt and jacket he'd chosen. "Not exactly what I was expecting, but okay. This does it for ya?"

"Totally." He smiled.

Her hand went to the towel tucked between her breasts, then she paused. "Do you want to watch me put all this on, or -"

"No, you take all the time you need. Meet me downstairs in my office when you're done. Don't forget the shoes." He picked one up and tossed it gently back onto the bed. He was just about out the door when she called to him and he turned around.

"Mulder, do you want stockings?"

His brows arched. How could he have forgotten? "Yes, please."

She went to her dresser and pulled out a pair of black thigh highs. "Will these do?"

He nodded enthusiastically. "See, Scully. You're a natural at this."

She was smiling as he left the room and closed the door behind him. He had a slight skip in his step as he made his way to the office. "Showtime," he said, under his breath.

He sat on his old leather couch in his office and waited. It had only been a few minutes. She was probably still getting the lingerie on. Don't think about it. If he got himself too worked up before things even get started, he'd be fucked. Or probably not fucked because he wouldn't even get that far.

Maybe he should have something in here to drink, he thought. She might get thirsty. He walked to the kitchen for two bottled waters, then resumed the waiting game.

Shit, the shades were still up. That certainly wouldn't do. He pulled them, then reassessed the stacks of papers on his desk. The surface certainly offered intriguing possibilities, if she was creative. He hastily relocated all piles to the top of the filing cabinet.

It occurred to him that maybe he should have showered too. Or at least brushed his teeth. He breathed into his hand and made a sour face, then bolted to the downstairs bathroom and flung open the cabinet below the sink. Toilet paper, cleaning solution, rubber gloves, extra Kleenex, a couple of magazines for when you just needed something to read to get things moving along. No extra toothbrushes or paste. He started going through the vanity drawers and located mouthwash in the third one down. Excellent. He'd be minty fresh. He swirled, gargled, and spat, then repeated. A quick sniff of the armpits told him that his antiperspirant was doing its job, which was great because he heard movement upstairs and crap, he needed to get back to home base pronto.

He was settled onto the couch again, trying to stay relatively calm and having a mental conversation with his semi erection. No, it wasn't time yet. Stand down until further notice. Do not misfire under any circumstances.

A soft knock sounded at the closed door.

He cleared his throat. "Come in."

She stepped in and he couldn't help but smile. She was perfect.

He studied her carefully. The skirt fell just above the knee and hugged her hips like nobody's business. Smoky stockings led the way to black leather four-inch heels. He knew she thought her legs were too short, but he disagreed. Right about now, they were making him salivate.

The jacket was trim and professional. She had buttoned the front, so he could only see a narrow strip of the white blouse peeking out from the collar. And there were things underneath all that. Wonderful, incredibly tantalizing things. But all in good time.

She pressed her lips together and he took note of the shade of lipstick, a mulberry color, slightly darker than her usual. And he wasn't an expert on makeup by any means, but she was wearing at least eyeliner and mascara, maybe muted eye shadow. Her eyes looked darker, more sultry. Her hair was sleek and tamed, not a lock out of place. She was heartbreakingly beautiful. He almost didn't want to mess her up. But then again, he did.

Her hands clasped and unclasped repeatedly in front of her. "I feel like I'm going to work, only with less sensible shoes and scratchier underwear." She giggled nervously.

"That's the idea."

She eyed him curiously and walked a few paces closer. "I figured you'd have me in a cheerleader uniform or a French maid outfit, maybe a cowgirl get up."

"All reasonable choices, except for the cowgirl thing. Not my scene."

"I look like I could be taking the elevator down to the Hoover basement."

He smiled and nodded slowly. "Exactly. Except that back then, I spent years fantasizing about sliding my hand up the inside of your thigh while you sat fifteen feet away from me, and now I can. When you offered me a golden ticket, I knew right away how I'd use it. Living out my top three Scully fantasies."

"Top three?" she asked, her cheeks pink now.

"From back then anyway. There are others now, more updated ones. But I'll always have a special place in my heart for the Hoover fantasies."

"So...are you going to fill me in on the details?" She stuck one high-heeled foot out in front of her and toed the fringe on the oriental carpet.

"As we go along, yes. Are you ready to start?"

She inhaled deeply, then exhaled and nodded, meeting his eyes. "Do you want me to take this off?" She reached for the buttons on the blazer, but he held up his hand.

"Not yet. Actually, the first part involves keeping the clothes mostly on." He stepped close and kissed her softly. She responded, but she a little stiffly at first. "Relax, Scully," he whispered against her mouth. Her eyes closed and she opened to him, moaning quietly as he slid his tongue over her teeth, then grazed the roof of her mouth.

Her hands circled his waist and pulled his body closer to hers. He wasn't sure where to put his hands, so he cupped her face in them. She looked so good that he was almost afraid to touch her, like perfectly swirled frosting on top of a cupcake. Fuck it. He had always been one to lick all the frosting off before eating the cake. He dove into her mouth and slid his hands down to manhandle her ass, pushing her body flush against his. He could feel the slight ridge of the lacy panties underneath her skirt and he grabbed two handfuls of material and shimmied it up far enough to run his fingertips over the bands of her thigh highs. He needed to back off. He needed to back off now or he'd have her bent over the desk and driving into her within minutes.

He drew his face back and hers followed, her full lips still reaching and her eyes closed. "I like this fantasy so far," she whispered. "What's next?"

His long fingers unbuttoned her jacket slowly to reveal the white blouse underneath. It was tucked into the skirt, accentuating her trim waist. There was a distinct dark shadow where the black bra was clearly visible through the sheer fabric. He bent his neck to trail kisses from her earlobe down to the vee where the top buttons of the blouse began. He slid one tiny button from its hole and stopped.

"I want you" (he kissed the edge of her mouth) "to touch yourself" (he kissed the other edge) "for me."

Her eyes sprang open and something flickered in them. "Mulder-"

"Shh, hold on, before you say anything. Just listen. Scully, this ranks higher than a lifetime supply of sunflower seeds for me. I want to imagine we're down in our old office and you don't even know I'm there. I want to watch you bring yourself off, from start to finish. All of it."

"Mulder... I've never...in front of anyone..."

"You do it when we make love sometimes."

"I know, but that's different."

He took her hand and raised it to his mouth, sucking two of her fingers between his lips and tonguing them until she gasped. "Please, Scully. Please. Will you do it for me?"

She nodded slowly. "Okay. Yes, I will." Her hands reached to the side of her skirt where the zipper was, but once again, he stopped her.

"No, leave it on. Leave the skirt on and just lift it. Leave the jacket on and unbutton the blouse underneath until I can see the bra."

Her breathing picked up slightly and she licked her lips. "What about the panties?"

"Um... on, I guess. Can you push them aside? Or, um, work around them?"

She nodded. "Where do you want me to be? I can't do it standing up very well."

"Oh, um..." he looked around the room. "I thought maybe I'd sit on the couch and you could be on the desk chair...or the desk, you know, like you're in our office or something. But if that's not comfortable enough, then-"

"I think it'll be fine." She smiled, a bit shyly.

He backed himself up. "I'm going to just sit over here and watch. I'll try to be quiet. Pretend I'm not here."

A throaty chuckle arose from her. "I just happen to be fingering myself in our old office and you just happen to be watching without me knowing. Because that's realistic. I did that all the time," she laughed, sarcastically.

"Hey," he said, eyes twinkling. "Stop making fun of my fantasy. I don't care what you say, it's hot."

"So are you going to be, um, participating while you watch me do this?" she asked, quirking a brow.

"I'd say it's not out of the question. But not too much or I'll never make it through the next two fantasies. Damn refractory period."

She laughed again and then calmed herself and took a few deep breaths. "Give me just a minute, okay?"

"Whenever you're ready. Take your time."

She turned around and faced the door and he saw her shoulders rising and falling with deep breaths. When she turned back, her jacket was open and the top three buttons on the white blouse were undone, revealing the black lace demi bra underneath and two perfect, creamy globes threatening to spill over the top. She needed more bras like this. One in every fucking color. His cock, fully erect now beneath his denim, twitched in agreement.

She settled on his office chair facing him, but turned slightly to the side. Her skirt slid up to her thighs when she sat, but she kept her knees together, so he couldn't see anything yet. She closed her eyes and raised her hands to cup her breasts through the bra, gently lifting over and over again. Then she traced the top edge of the cups with her nails and he saw her shudder slightly. Her fingers dipped in and around the edges of the bra and she pinched at her nipples through the lace.

After a few minutes of doing this, to the point where Mulder wanted to beg her to please just take them out so he could see them, she kept one hand at her breasts and lowered the other to her knee. Her palm brushed slowly up and down the outside of her stocking- covered leg for a moment and then drifted around to the inside. Up the thigh and down, up and down. The hand that was still at her breasts reached in and pulled one up high enough that the nipple was just visible above the bra. Then the other breast made an appearance too and Mulder's breath caught in the back of his throat.

He wanted to touch himself. Not yet. He adjusted his position so his jeans (stupid idea wearing those, now wasn't it) seemed less constricting.

She stood up and shimmied her skirt all the way up so it was bunched at the waist, then sat back down. Oh God, yeah. Her knees parted and he was staring at the entire world. Well, not exactly. The entire world hidden behind a scrap of lace thinner than the width of a ruler. He couldn't remove his eyes from it.

Her fingers danced up her thighs and teased the seam of the panties. She slouched down further in the chair for better access. The hand massaging her breasts was pinching nipples now, one, then the other. Mulder's hand pressed down against the outside of his crotch to feel the hard ridge through his jeans.

She spread her legs wide open, pulled the crotch of the panties to the side and bared herself to him and he couldn't help it. He made a noise in the back of this throat. It wasn't a loud one. Just a quiet whimper, but her eyes opened briefly and she seemed to stiffen.

Don't mind me, he thought. I'm just dying to crawl forward on my hands and knees until my face is buried in your cunt. But please, carry on.

She must have been receiving his telepathic messages begging her to keep going because two of her fingers came up first to dip into her mouth, and then down, down, down to tease her labia. She stopped working her nipples now and brought her other hand down to join the party. One hand held herself open while two fingers on the other slid up and down the length of her slit repeatedly. This went on for at least a few minutes during which time her breathing quickened.

And so did Mulder's. He unbuttoned the fly on his jeans and pulled the zipper down. His boxers immediately sprang through the opening at the urging of some eager and powerful force underneath.

Scully's busy fingers were now alternatingly dipping inside her pussy and then out again and back up to circle her clit. She was very wet and pink folds glistened at him. Her clitoris looked swollen and it obediently slid from side to side under her fingers. She was pressing hard now, much harder than he ever did. Was this how she liked it? Her hips rotated on the chair and her heels rocked back and forth. He was absolutely mesmerized by her, couldn't stop staring at her eyes, shut tight now, a tiny wrinkle of concentration sandwiched between her brows. Her mouth hung open and she panted, fast and shallow.

Mulder reached through the fly on his boxers and took himself out. His cock lie rock hard against the flat of his stomach and he stroked his palm just over the top of his shaft.

Her hand was a blur now, fingers fluttering. Her bottom was almost lifted off the chair entirely and her body rocked side to side. Her upper arms, flexed with tension and trapped her breasts between them so they looked voluptuous, almost obscene. Her nipples were erect and stood out over the top of the bra cups. He wanted to trap them between his tongue and teeth.

He couldn't look away, was afraid to even blink. The universe could have chosen that moment to shatter into oblivion all around him. Armageddon, colonization, catastrophic forces of nature's fury, all held no fascination for him when compared to Scully teetering on the edge of an orgasm of her own making. This was mental masturbation material for a lifetime.

"Yeah, yeah," he heard her whisper. She bit down on her lower lip and her eyes flew open just for an instant while her entire body tensed against her hand. "Oh God, oh God," she moaned. Her frenzied movements slowed gradually until she was twitching with a series of strong aftershocks.

Mulder was transfixed, his mouth completely slack, working his hand over his cock now from root to tip, followed by several very brisk strokes. He repeated this process as he watched her come and then start to relax again. His mind was jello. He wanted to be inside her now. He may have overestimated his stamina for this.

Her head rolled to the side and she opened her eyes to him. His hand stopped moving and he let his cock spring free. It slapped back against his stomach. She smiled a drowsy, satisfied smile. God, she was the most beautiful fucking thing ever.

"Was that okay?" she said, sitting up and tucking her breasts back into the bra.

"Fuck," he replied and she smiled again.

Her hand was still resting against herself and when she pulled it away, the crotch of the panties gradually floated back into place. She stood and tugged her skirt back down right before he reached forward to grab her wrist, pulling her onto the couch next to him. She yelped in surprise as he sank her fingers into his mouth to taste her.

"I might need a minute," he said and she glanced down at his eager cock. It flexed up in greeting, but when she lifted a hand to it, he stopped her. "No. I'll lose it, I swear."

He summoned enough energy to find a bottle of water on the table next to the couch and handed it to her. She clicked the cap off and drank in long swallows, a tiny rivulet of water trailing down her chin to pool in the crevice at the top of her cleavage.

"How do you feel?" he asked.

"Mm, good. Woozy. Relaxed. Loose. All good things." Her head tipped back against the sofa. "What now? Part two?"

"Do you want to stop?" he asked. "If you're feeling done, I'll just borrow your hand for a minute here, trust me, it'll only take a few seconds, and we can go to bed." He smiled, jokingly. "I don't want to overstay my welcome."

She chuckled. "Nope. Let's see this through. I'm waiting for my next assignment."

He sighed. "Well, parts two and three are going to sort of blend together, I think."

Her look told him she was ready to hear it.

"This is where the clothes come off. Slowly. I want you to do a strip tease for me."

She groaned and her hands covered her face, then two fingers parted so she could peek through them. She laughed. "Oh man, Mulder. Seriously?"

"Very. Why? You don't want to?"

"It's not that. I'm just not very good at this sort of thing, that's all."

"Well, how do you know unless you try?"

She removed her hands from her face and looked at him, pointedly.

He cleared his throat. "Unless...you have tried before. In which case, I don't want to know who. My dick is wilting as we speak."

She bit her lip and smiled. "No comment. But I'm willing to try, IF you promise not to laugh at me."

"I promise. Trust me, Scully. Nothing about you getting naked is even remotely funny to me."

She stood up and finished retucking and rebuttoning things as her eyes surveyed the room. She grabbed the office chair she had just sat on and slid it to the center of the carpet. "Sit there."

"Yes, ma'am." He moved to the chair, but not before handing her the remote control to the stereo. "Track 7. Whenever you're ready."

"You have music," she said, eyebrows raised. "Of course you do. Can't wait to hear this."

"Oops, hang on a sec, Scully." He stood and tucked himself back into his boxers and jeans, his face grimacing a little. "Better put him away before he steals the show."

She smiled at that because referring to penises using pronouns was always good for a chuckle. "Ready?" she asked, remote poised.

"Bring it on."

She hit some buttons and the stereo came to life, spitting out a song that he second-guessed as soon as he heard the first notes. Would she think it was corny? Overused? It was, but it was still the soundtrack that played in his head whenever he pictured panties hitting the floor.

Her jaw shifted in amusement and her brows rose. "You Can Leave Your Hat On, Mulder?"

"Thanks, but I'm not wearing one."

She wasn't moving yet and she still had the remote in her hand.

"It's a classic, Scully. Didn't you see Nine and a Half Weeks?"

"Yup, I saw it."

"Well, you're wasting the song. My face should be in your cleavage by now. Start it over."

She rolled her eyes, but hit "back" on the track skip. This time she was ready with her back to him when the song launched. She whipped her head over her shoulder with a sidelong glance and his eyes widened. The fuck she didn't know how to do this. Yeah, right.

After the first few bars of the song, she spun to face him propelled by some gently gyrating hips that were making Mulder a little dizzy. She was still working on the buttons to the jacket and Jesus, he hoped the song was long enough.

Her legs looked impossibly long swaying about and he questioned the wisdom of stockings for a moment because she'd have to remove the heels first, then the stockings, but he really wanted her to put the heels back on after and how would that work? His mind was thinking in run-on sentences. He supposed she'd figure it out because clearly, she was obviously much better at this than she gave herself credit for. That joke he used on her from time to time about stripping her way through med school? Hmm.

Mulder had seen enough strippers in his day, perhaps an embarrassing number, and he was certainly no virgin to lap dances either, but damn, she wasn't bad. It could have something to do with the fact that he would crawl across the globe on his hands and knees for her. That may suggest a certain bias.

The jacket was off now, sliding down some random piece of furniture across the room where it had landed. Her manicured nails started in on the buttons of the sheer blouse and that black shadow of promise taunted him from underneath.

She paused after only three buttons and approached him. The black lace cups of the bra peeked from the top of the blouse. Bending down, she brought her dark lips close enough to his that he could feel her breath. He strained forward to kiss her, but she pulled back and smiled, playfully.

The heels were off now and when had that happened? He realized that she had snuck it in there while bent over his face. She nudged his legs apart and placed one foot on the edge of the chair between his knees. He looked down at the foot until he quickly realized that her hands were sliding her skirt up to get at the top band of her thigh high and that was way more interesting.

She slid the stocking down and off and he smiled as she trailed the sheer material once around his bare neck before depositing it on the floor. The other one came next, same move, but he knew what to expect this time, and angled his face so the material drifted over his mouth and nose before it fell. It was cool and whisper soft and smelled like the lotion she put on her legs.

She slipped her shoes back on and turned around for a few seconds. When she faced him again, the blouse was undone and she whipped it down and off her shoulders in two quick movements, circling it in the air on the tip of her finger and slinging it somewhere in the direction of the couch. She stood not six feet in front of him in just her bra, skirt, panties and heels and she was already working at the side zipper of the skirt. He forgot to inhale for a few seconds as he watched her ease the zipper down. Her hips never stopped moving to the music as she shimmied the skirt down and let it slither to pool at her feet. Toeing the garment aside, she approached him again and this time, straddled him, face-to-face.

Her hips were sliding back and forth over him, but she kept just enough distance between her ass and his groin that he could feel her heat and nothing more. He was harder than a rock under her. He figured they had almost half the song left and if she kept this up, he'd blow his load before it was over, which wasn't exactly what he was after, but hell, certain things were worth altering the plan for. She was killing him.

He was a split second away from trying to see if the standard "no touching" rules applied in this particular case when she pushed off his shoulders with her hands and walked seductively backwards again. One hand slid up her arm to the black strap on her shoulder and Good Lord, he knew exactly what was next. She eased it down slowly, then did the same with the other side and finished by twisting the front clasp and tossing the tiny scrap of material right past his head. She kept the palms of her hands over her breasts, though. Nice touch, he thought.

His brain floated as he lost himself in her movement. Hips gyrating, hair swaying, and her stomach was doing this funky little belly dance thing that he'd never seen her do before. Well, Hell, pretty much all of this he'd never seen her do before. He tried to watch every tiny thing she was doing all at once, but fuck there was just too much and before he knew it, her hands had taken a detour north to twist through her hair, which meant they were no longer covering her breasts and yup, there they were in all their glory. Little taut pink nipples like hard candy.

"Come here," he said, hardly above a low whisper. "Come here, Come here, Come here," just a little louder this time, but he still didn't think she'd heard him over the music. Then her eyes connected with his and she smiled, teasingly, and he knew she had. Within a second she was down on all fours and crawling toward him. Her eyes never left his and although she was moving, it felt like she'd never get to him until suddenly she was there, now climbing his body like a tree to sit in his lap. One heeled foot on either side of his legs, her hands finding purchase on his shoulders, and her naked breasts not four inches from his mouth. He stuck his tongue out to reach her and she giggled at him. Not long enough, he pouted. His head pitched forward a bit and she arched back, taunting him, just out of reach of his tongue. One of her index fingers wagged back and forth in front of his eyes and she shook her head reproachfully, "Nuh, uh, uh. No touching."

He groaned long and loud, thrusting his hips up to make contact with her lace panties and she gasped before settling her bottom down on his jeans and commencing a slow grind. His mouth hung open, his eyes were half shut, and he was panting. It was not possible that he didn't look utterly ridiculous at this point. Not having any idea what to do with his hands, he held them out to his sides, hovering in the air. She reached to retrieve them and placed them tightly on her, bracketing her hips. His thumbs rested on her hip bones.

"I thought this was against the rules," he panted.

"Just be good."

'Good' was a relative term, he thought as she increased the intensity of her grind.

He gripped her hard, pushing her down onto him, but she didn't protest. At times his hips were completely up off the chair as he ground himself into her. She gave as good as she took, all of her weight pressing down onto his groin, the heat created by their friction setting his cock on fire. This type of thing would most definitely not fly during a real lap dance. He would have been tossed out of the club on his ear.

He was still grinding away when she started kissing him, nipping at his mouth and running the tip of her tongue over his lip.

"You're letting me kiss you?" he asked, only half-dialed in.

"The song's over," she breathed. "I'm still wearing the panties. I'm sorry, I think you wanted them off by the end. I got a little carried away."

The CD player had moved on to some cheesy song that was decidedly not fuckable in his book and he scrambled for the stereo remote, killing the music.

She was still straddling him, breathing hard, nipples pressing into his T shirt. "What's the last part of the fantasy?"

He sucked on the flesh at the top of one breast. His answer was muffled. "I think you can guess."

"I was hoping because OHH!" she sucked in air quickly as he scraped over a nipple with his teeth, "I'm so wet right now." Well, if that wasn't an invitation, he didn't know what was. He reached between them and slid two fingers through the leg hole of her panties and up into her. Hot and slick like butter, she rode his hand hard. "Oh God. Do you want me to come like this, because...OH..." And he pulled his fingers out of her and set her upon her feet.

She swayed unsteadily on her heels and he chuckled a little. "Not fair," she pouted, lip protruding.

"Put the skirt and the bra back on. The blouse too, but leave it almost all the way unbuttoned."

"What? Come on, Mulder," she sighed. "Can't you just fuck me like this?"

"Sorry, Potty Mouth," he laughed again. "Still my fantasy."

She picked up the skirt and slithered into it, then started on the bra. "I take it we're keeping with the work motif?"

He nodded enthusiastically and smiled.

When she was dressed again, if you could call it that, he grabbed her and brought her into his arms. They were both breathing hard and he figured this wasn't going to last long, so he'd better get to work. He'd had about as much foreplay as any man could handle. He sunk his tongue into her mouth deep and she whimpered and dug her fingers into his forearms, spurring him on. After a minute, she pulled back. "How does this part go?" she panted.

"A good, hard, office fuck, plain and simple. What I never got to do to you," he said and then lifted her by her bottom and put her down roughly on top of his desk. She yelped and then laughed in surprise, but sobered quickly when he knelt down in front of her open legs, pushing the skirt up around her thighs. He kissed her through the damp panties and she spread open wider so he could tongue the elastic seam around each leg.

"Now they come off," and he yanked them down her legs and over the heels, then dove right back under her skirt. And oh yeah, she was so wet and so sweet, just like he had always imagined she would be back then. He tongued her voraciously, flicking up and over her clit in quick bursts, drawing the whole thing into his mouth now and then to suck. Her hips were sliding back and forth on the desktop and she had her fingers twisting in his hair and damn, she was so close. He knew the signs; they were like beacons to him now. Should he let her go? No, not this way. He pulled back and stood up.

"WHAT? Oh my God, Mulder, please!" She was completely wanton, reclined on her elbows, breasts spilling out of the black bra under the white blouse. She had done the black bra/white blouse trick to him just a few times at work back then and it had almost made him come in his Armani.

"Mulder, please, I'm edging here," she breathed, blue eyes fluttering in arousal. "If you don't finish the job, I will."

He laughed and pulled her up to standing, then spun her around. Bending her forward over the desktop, his hands fumbled at his fly desperately until he was palming his length, solid and hard, not even bothering to remove his jeans. Lifting one of her knees up and holding it, he swiftly aimed and then entered her in one long thrust. "Yes, oh yes," she cried out and he almost finished right then and there.

Her hands were braced, palms down against the wood and she rocked back into him hard and fast, skin slapping against skin. He knew she had been almost there, but Christ, six strokes later and she was bucking and clenching under him, her inner walls gripping and releasing him as she came undone. Three more strokes and he cried out, grabbing handfuls of her skirt from around her hips to pull her tight against him. His upper body arched back and he leaned in, his legs shaking under him in release.

He simply couldn't stand anymore, so he pulled out of her and staggered back to the couch, pants still undone, half-guiding, half- carrying her with him. She fell on top of him, both lying in a spent heap on the leather.

She laughed and the vibration against him brought about his own laughter. One of her bare legs lifted into the air over them. "Can I take these off now?" she giggled, not waiting for his response before kicking one shoe off. It flew somewhere to land with a thud. The second shoe was next, followed by the white blouse. "That's a little better," she sighed, still lying on him in a kinky bra, ring of skirt around her waist. He couldn't see her perfectly bare ass from this angle, but he was sure it was down there. He was sticky underneath her, but she didn't seem to mind. He kissed the top of her head.

"We can't fall asleep here," she mumbled against him.

"Mmm," he sort of answered.

"I look like a cheap slut," and that brought about another fit of giggling.

"Not a cheap one, no."

"Carry me up," she yawned against his shirt.

"Um, maybe not. There are stairs involved and I just-" he rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hand, "you know-"

"Blew a huge load?" she snorted.

"Scully! You don't talk like that."

"Yeah, I don't dance like that either. You may have opened Pandora's Box, Mulder."

"Really?" He lifted his head to look down on her. "Because I have a bunch of other fantasies we can act out too."

She patted his chest affectionately and pushed to stand, heading for the door. "Let's go to bed," she yawned. "Will you find my underwear? I'm too tired and they're very, very small."

December 7, 2005

It was done. It was almost 7 p.m., she and Paul had just met with the research committee to submit their document, and she was gathering her briefcase and paperwork together.

The comments and acclamations floated about them. Hands connected with both hers and Paul's.

"Nice job, Dr. Scully."

"Wonderful work."

"Looking forward to working with you on the trials."

"Excellent analysis."

She would have enjoyed it more if she had slept more than three hours out of the last twenty-four.

She looked down at her feet and noticed that she was wearing two different colored trouser socks with her black pants. A by- product of showering and getting dressed in the women's locker room after a brief and restless sleep on an on-call bed. She hadn't been home in...she really wasn't sure. Monday sounded familiar.

"You're amazing, you know that," Paul said, catching up and walking beside her. "That presentation you made? You had them hooked in the first thirty seconds."

She smiled. "Thanks. You did a great job yourself."

"Not like that, Dana. I felt like background music to you. That thing about the potential results of the clinical trials being able to predict courses of treatment in Sickle Cell, Fragile X Syndrome, and Tay-Sachs? Where the hell did that come from? It was beyond brilliant."

"It was all in the research we did. If you look at the fourth genome study, it's not much of a stretch to apply those results to the upcoming trials and see what the possibilities will be."

Paul shook his head slowly in amazement. "Well, you outdid yourself. And I'd love to buy you a drink to celebrate. What do you say? Happy Hour at The Cellar? Or dinner somewhere else? It's still early."

"Oh, thanks, Paul, but I think I'll just head home. I'm exhausted and I haven't seen my family in two days."

He smiled. "Of course. Another time, then. We'll have a drink together at my party. You are coming, right?"

They reached her office and she fished in her pocket for her keys. "The party...right. I um..." she sighed. "Sure, yes. We'll try to make it."

"Great. Glad to hear it. Get some sleep, Dana. I'll see you tomorrow."

Sleep. She sort of remembered what that was. She'd need a bunch before she told Mulder that she had RSVP'd them for a party at Paul Hanover's house.

When she walked into the kitchen, William was standing on a chair at the counter, cutting shapes out of dough and arranging them on a cookie sheet. Claire stood on the floor next to him, partially covered in flour, shaking a closed plastic bottle of brightly colored sprinkles. Lindsey stirred batter in a large bowl.

"Mommy!" two voices chorused. "You came home, Mommy! You came home!"

The knife twisted a little deeper.

Claire toddled to her with goopy outstretched arms and she lifted and held her, not giving a crap about her work clothes.

"Hey, Linds, what're you still doing here? Where's Mulder?"

"He left to do some Christmas shopping for you." She smiled. "I offered to hang around and make some cut-out cookies with the kids."

"You didn't have to do that," said Scully. "You've been here all day."

Lindsey made a dismissive gesture with her hand. "It's cool. Really. I had a break earlier. The Pickle took a really long nap and Will fell asleep while watching a movie, so I did some reading. Besides, I didn't have anything going on tonight."

"Well, thank you."

"Look at the cookies, Mommy," said William, pointing toward the other end of the counter. Sugar cookies shaped like bells, stars, and Santas were spread about.

"They're beautiful. Did you make all those?"

His head bobbed proudly. "Lindsey showed me how to cut them out. Do you want to do one?"

"Sure. Should I make a bell or a star?"

"The bells are easier. Try one of those until you have more practice," he said, seriously, and Scully smiled. She balanced Claire on her hip and used the other hand to cut a shape out of the rolled dough.

"We're going to frost them too!" said William.

"Tomorrow," said Lindsey. "They need to cool overnight."

"You want to help us finish?" asked William, hopefully.

"I'd love to," she said, smiling. She sat Claire down on the counter next to her, stripped off her jacket and grabbed some cookie cutters.

December 10, 2005

There had been snow. For all of the past week, there had been snow on the ground and now it was gone. Melted overnight due to temperatures in the mid-fifties and rain. She saw William's face fall as he ran to the window that morning, hoping they'd have snow on the ground when they went to get their Christmas tree. Scully brushed the sleep-matted hair from his face and kissed him. "Hey. It'll still be fun, right?"

"Do you think we'll get more snow before Santa comes?" he asked, sniffing.

"Well, we still have a couple of weeks, so there's a good chance we might." William's face brightened.

Mulder walked into their bedroom carrying Claire, who had just woken up and was rubbing her eyes. She reached down to Scully, and Mulder lowered her tiny form onto the big bed, limb by limb, tickling her all the way down. She erupted into giggles, her feet kicking. William ran from the window to the bed and scooted all the way up the center to lie in the middle next to his sister. Scully pulled the covers over both of them and Mulder got in on the other side. This had become a habit of theirs - all four of them lying in the big bed together on weekend mornings. There was always a great deal of talking and laughing. Sometimes they got up and ate their breakfast and then got back into the bed afterward. Sometimes they watched cartoons together, although Claire usually wanted Barney and nobody else did. William wanted Scooby Doo, as did Mulder, but it was too scary for Claire. A stack of retro Looney Toons DVDs sat next to the TV, something everyone could agree on.

"Let's get a big one this year," said Mulder.

"YEAH!!" squealed William. "Really, really big, like the one in the middle of the mall."

"Um, that's a nice thought, but it has to fit on top of the car and then into the family room," said Scully.

"Aw come on, Scully. Don't make us get one of those Charlie Brown trees again this year," whined Mulder.

"That was a sweet little tree. It looked beautiful once we had it decorated."

"No respectable Mulder Christmas tree should ever be described as 'sweet' or 'little.'"

"I thought size didn't matter, Mulder," she smirked.

He wagged his brows back at her. "We all know that's not true."

"BARNEY!" yelled Claire, pushing her baby blanket in front of her face and resting her head on Scully's arm.

"No, Claire. Not fair. Nobody likes Barney!" replied Will.


"Who introduced her to the purple menace?" asked Mulder, walking to the DVD player.

"Lindsey, I think," said Scully.

"Did we give her a raise this year?"

"Ten percent."

"I want it back," he said, popping in Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner.

Four hours later, Scully held the front door open and Mulder dragged. Then pushed. Then dragged some more.

"It's not going to fit, Mulder."

"It'll fit. We got it all this way. It'll fit."

"We should've gotten the five-footer."

"Charlie Brown, Scully."

"Okay, but did you need to let William see the eight-foot tall one? You knew he'd want it as soon as he saw it and I'd have to give in. It was an evil plot."

"What's the point in having cathedral ceilings if you can't get a whopping big Christmas tree?"

"I don't even know if we have enough strands of lights for this?"

"One thing at a time, Scully. Walgreens is open twenty-four hours."

"This better not take twenty-four hours."

"Then help me pull, Woman."

Ninety minutes and a Walgreens run later, the tree was standing in the corner of the family room with eleven strands of lights on it and miraculously, they all lit. It only leaned a tiny bit. She tilted her head to the left. If she held her head like this, it was perfect.

Mulder brought three large boxes down from the attic. He had a cobweb hanging from his hair and she brushed it off, planting a quick kiss on his lips. "How many more?" he huffed.

"There should be five boxes all together, all marked 'Christmas' in the Northeast corner of the attic."

"How could we possibly need this much Christmas junk, Scully?"

"Wait, there are actually six if you count the one with the manger set."

"Let's do Hannukah next year. Less stuff," he called out, heading into the kitchen for a Diet Coke.

She followed him. "We could get a menorah too, if you'd like. I think it's a great idea for the children to be exposed to their heritage on both sides."

"Maybe," he said, clicking the top off his soda bottle and swallowing. "Or just Christmas. It's not that big a deal to me. At least your holiday has flying reindeer and dancing snowmen. I'm pretty much good with that."

Mulder trudged down with the last three boxes while Scully and the kids unpacked them, then they all pitched in to hang ornaments - Mulder taking turns lifting Claire and then William to reach the higher branches. The ladder was brought in from the garage to place the star at the tippy top.

The holiday music was loaded into the CD changer and when Jingle Bell Rock came on, the kids ran laps around the room and jumped up and down until they both collapsed in the middle of the carpet in a fit of giggles. Mulder found the sprig of mistletoe in the box with the candles and the Christmas placemats, and he held it up over Scully's head. She pulled him into a long kiss until he dropped the mistletoe and wrapped both arms around her waist. She forgot where she was until William tugged on her shirt and requested hot chocolate.

After dinner, they all changed into pajamas and Mulder built a fire. They turned the lights out and sat around the lit tree until the kids got sleepy. By the time Scully had Claire tucked in and had made it back downstairs, Mulder had a stack of pillows and blankets on the rug in front of the fireplace.

"Mulder?" she called out quietly.


She found him at the counter, spooning ice cream into two bowls. A smattering of toppings covered the countertop. He pushed a bowl toward her and she popped the cap on the chocolate sauce first, pouring a decent amount on. She handed him the chocolate and went for the whipped cream and sprinkles next.

"This is genius," she said.

"Quiet or you'll wake them up and we'll have to share."

They ate their sundaes in front of the fireplace, backs propped against pillows against furniture. The fire crackled and popped. Bing Crosby crooned from the stereo.

"What was the best Christmas gift you ever got, Scully?"

"Hmm," she licked the back of her spoon. "Favorite actual item or best non-material gift?"

"I don't know, either. Both. Whatever."

"I need to think for a minute."

"I'll bet I know," he said. "It was an Easy Bake Oven."

"Ew, Mulder. Have you ever tasted anything that came out of one of those?"

"Yeah. Samantha had one. I thought the brownies were pretty good."

"You would. I'm thinking. Um, best gift as a child or as an adult?"

"Geez, Scully. I don't think I really need to know this badly. Just a simple answer. Didn't you ever open up something on Christmas morning when you were a kid and go, "Fucking A!"

"No. My father would have washed my mouth out with soap."

"I know what mine was," he said.

"Do share."

"Army green banana seat chopper bike. Monkey handlebars, spoke wheels, lemon peelers."

"A bicycle, Mulder? That sounds really...normal."

"I was a normal kid, Scully. I got weird later."

"And what are 'lemon peelers?'"

"Super slick tires that helped you peel out and enhanced your skid mark capability. Totally necessary."

"I think mine was probably my first turntable record player." She sighed and put her empty ice cream bowl on the coffee table before lying down on her side, head propped on one elbow. "But that wasn't my favorite Christmas."

He slid down against a stack of pillows and waited for her to continue.

"When I was eleven years old, my father's ship was stationed miles off the coast of Southern California, near the Channel Islands. He was supposed to be home two days before Christmas, but there was a freak storm the day before his ship was scheduled to come into port. Radio contact was cut off and we had no idea if he was safe. I remember going to bed on Christmas Eve to the sound of my mother crying across the hall. And...when I woke up again, it was after five in the morning and my father was coming through the front door. I've never seen my mother that happy in my whole life."

She sniffed, feeling self-indulgent for turning a particularly easy- going evening into something maudlin. She huffed out a self- conscious half laugh and swiped quickly at her cheek. "Anyway, that was my best Christmas."

Mulder slid closer and reached for her, settling himself on his back, her head on his chest. He pulled a blanket up over both of them and sighed. "That's a really good one," he said lacing his fingers with hers. She drifted off to sleep feeling his soft breath moving her hair and listening to the steady drumming of his heartbeat.

December 17, 2005

Mulder's phone rang just as John McClane was busting through a plate glass window with bloody bare feet.

"Yeah, Mulder," he said, not taking his eyes off the TV, despite the fact that he could practically recite the entire movie, line-for-line.

"Mulder, you're still there?"

"Oh, hey Scully. Yeah, the movie's almost over."

"DUDE!" yelled Langly, turning up the volume.

"It's almost four thirty, Mulder. You're supposed to drop the kids off at my mother's and then come back home to shower and get dressed. The Hanover's party starts in two hours."

"Uuugh, I don't wanna, Scully. Do I have to?"

"I told you I'd go alone, although I'd rather not. But, you don't seem to like that idea either."

"I like the idea of your Mom taking the kids overnight. Can't we find something else to do? In multiple rooms?"

"Amigo. Really?" This time it was Frohike protesting. "Why do you have to rub it in?"

"Take it in the other room, Mulder," said Langly. "And pass the Doritos."

"What are you watching?" asked Scully through the phone. "It's really loud."

"Die Hard."

"Again, Mulder? Aren't you guys sick of that movie?"

"Aren't you sick of watching An Affair to Remember with your mother?"


"Same concept, but with more blood and swearing."

"So this is how you get your ya-ya's out, then?"

"There are other movies we could watch, but I have a feeling you'd like them even less."

"Well, are you coming home soon? I'd hate to ask you to miss the end of a movie you've seen twenty times."

"Don't be silly, Scully. I've seen it way more than twenty. By the way, Frohike offered to be your date so I can stay here and play cards with Langly and Byers. What do you say? He cleans up nice and he still has the tux he wore to his senior prom."

"Wow, that is a tempting offer. But in all fairness, I wouldn't want you to be jealous, Mulder. You know I can't control myself around Frohike in a cummerbund."

Mulder laughed. "I'll see you in twenty minutes, Scully."

Mulder arrived home in record time and gathered up two very excited kids, two overnight bags, one baby blanket and several stuffed animals that could not be parted with, even for one night, and headed to his mother-in-law's.

Claire, who had a decent case of the sniffles, still offered Mulder the best chance of getting out of the Hanover party. Mulder had checked and then rechecked her temperature with the ear thermometer before they left for Maggie's. "I don't know, Scully, it might be a little high. It says 99.0. Maybe we shouldn't go." Although Mulder loved the idea of a night in the house alone with Scully, having to spend a good chunk of it making nice at the Hanover's holiday party was more than enough reason to throw in the towel on the whole shebang and keep the kids at home.

Scully had patiently informed him that 99.0 did not qualify as a fever in an eighteen-month-old and that since Claire had spent most of the day circling the house at warp speed and was currently pulling all the cushions off the couches to make a fort, she thought they could chance it. Besides, they'd only be a phone call away and Grandma had plenty of experience with childhood colds. To which Mulder had pulled his daughter aside and calmly informed her that if she felt unwell at any time during her visit, even just the tiniest bit, she should tell Grammy and they'd promptly leave the party and come get her.

When Mulder got home from dropping the kids off at Maggie's, he found Scully standing in front of his closet in wet hair and a slip, sorting through his ties. She was barefoot and he saw that her toes were painted a dark wine color, which he found intriguing for some unknown reason.

"Mulder you have some truly awful ties. Maybe we could sort through these sometime."

"What's wrong with my ties, Scully?"

"Where do I start? Oh, look - how about with this one." She pulled a black tie with a prism shape on it off the tie rack and held it up in front of her. Her eyebrows arched.

"It reminds me of The Dark Side of the Moon album cover," he said.

She tossed it aside and pulled another one out with overlapping yellow and orange squares on it. "Okay, I give up. Which psychedelic rock album is this?"

He chuckled. "It's not. I just like neat geometric shapes." She blinked twice at him.

He grabbed the tie rack from her hands. "I must have something in here that passes muster with you. How about this one?" He held up a silver one with black squiggles all over it. "I think it says 'metro chic,' don't you?"

She tilted her head to the side. "Hmm, I think it says 'I slept through the last decade.' Does MC Hammer know you raided his closet, Mulder?"

"The correct line is from the Breakfast Club, Scully, and it's 'Does Barry Manilow know you raid his wardrobe?'"

"Well, how about this one, then?" He offered her a purple and blue striped tie. "Simple and classic."

"Maybe, but it clashes with my dress."

"What does your dress look like?"

She went into her closet and came out with a burgundy colored dress with very thin straps. Mulder was certain he hadn't seen it before. He would have remembered it. "Nice. Is it new?"

"Yes. What do you think?" she asked, a little nervously.

He narrowed his eyes and studied the dress. "I think-I think I'll be the luckiest guy at the party."

She rewarded him with a beaming smile and leaned in for a quick, but solid liplock. "I think you're off to a good start tonight, Mr. Mulder," she whispered in his ear. Then she put her palm to his chest and patted twice before heading to the bathroom to blow dry her hair. "Wear any tie you want," she called back.

Scully stared down at her open-toed shoes as they waited on the front step for someone to answer the door. Were you supposed to wear open-toed shoes in the winter? She was never clear on all the rules. They were new and matched the color of the dress perfectly, were thirty percent off and in her size, so she'd said 'what the hell.' Cabernet. That was the color on the dress tag and also on the shoes, even though she had found them in different stores. She took it as a sign and bought them both. Her strapless bra was slightly itchy. She had entertained the idea of going without, but she was pretty certain she hadn't worn a dress without a bra since she was fourteen. She had just a little too much 'proper' in her for that, but if the chafing continued, she'd be in the powder room tugging the damn thing off and shoving it into her handbag once everyone was drunk enough not to care. Or at least once she was.

Although typically prone to feeling a little self-conscious when she was dressed up, she felt good tonight. When Mulder had helped her with her zipper and she had turned around to face him in the dress, she had almost laughed out loud at him. He had been wearing that slightly drunk-when-sober expression he always wore whenever he was distracted by her.

The door opened and a fifty-ish, attractive, dark-haired woman in a black beaded dress stood there. "Welcome. I'm Kate Hanover. I'm going to take a wild guess and say you might be Dr. Scully," she smiled.

"Yes. Dana, please. And this is my husband, Fox Mulder."

The woman stepped aside. "Well, come in, come in. Don't stand out in the cold. When Paul told me you'd be coming, I was thrilled. I've been so eager to meet you. I've heard so much."

"Um...thank you for inviting us. It's a pleasure to meet you," smiled Scully.

"Yes, can you believe you've worked with Paul for two years and this is the first time we've met? If I didn't know better, I'd say Paul was trying to keep us apart." She laughed.

"And Mr. Mulder," Kate said, taking one of his hands between both of hers and shaking it. "I'm such a fan of your writing. I'd love the chance to chat with you about your books later. Your ideas are just so fascinating to me."

Scully saw Mulder smile politely and exchange pleasantries with the woman. He had gotten used to encountering fans in their everyday lives, but she could tell it still gave him a slight thrill when they would come across someone with genuine interest.

"Well, there's a coat rack around the corner and an open bar in the dining room. Please make yourselves at home while I let Paul know you're here." Kate walked off and Scully took a few minutes to soak in her surroundings.

The house was quite large, bigger than their own, and much older. Everywhere she looked, there were people mingling in spacious rooms filled with antique furniture. Voices echoed off walls and sconces with candles gave the rooms a soft glow.

"She seems friendly," said Mulder. "Kind of weird you've never met her, don't you think? She doesn't come in to the hospital?"

Scully shrugged out of her coat. "I'm not sure. Once in awhile, maybe. We've just never crossed paths."

"Huh," said Mulder, talking her coat from her. "Let's find that coat rack, shall we?"

She followed him into a room off to their right and he hung their coats up. Then they went in search of the promised bar. People in festive clothing holding drinks stood in small groups nearly everywhere they walked and she had to turn sideways to pass through doorways. People she knew, some by name from various departments at the hospital, waived to her from all corners of rooms. Caterers in black pants and white shirts wove through the crowd, carrying trays with appetizers and decorative toothpicks. She held her hand behind her feeling for Mulder, and he hooked a long finger through one of hers, like lobster claws connecting.

She went around a corner and bumped right into a red tie. "There you are! Kate said you'd arrived." Paul clasped her free hand and tugged her forward through the crowd. She dragged Mulder behind her with the other hand in some kind of bizarre ring- around-the-rosie dance. Someone stepped on her foot and she heard a muffled "sorry."

Suddenly things opened up and they were in a large room in the back of the house with windows all along one wall. Tiny white lights were strung around the window sills and a Christmas tree towered in one corner. There were gifts underneath of varying sizes, all wrapped in gold paper with alternating green and red bows. They looked like those empty wrapped boxes that department stores put in their windows during the holidays and Scully was willing to bet these boxes had nothing in them either.

A bald man in an ill-fitting tuxedo who bore an odd resemblance to Walter Skinner was playing Silver Bells on a grand piano and Scully had to do a double-take. Mulder leaned in to her ear. "They say everyone has a twin."

The three of them stood in a crescent shape in the center of the room, not far from a very well-attended bar. "What would you like to drink? Wine? Scotch? Beer?" Paul asked.

Scully requested a red wine and Mulder asked for club soda. She knew he was purposely not drinking because he had to drive home and he was hoping they wouldn't be staying long. She had promised him just a couple of hours.

All in all, the party was more enjoyable than she had anticipated. They spent the first hour wandering from room to room, mingling and falling into and out of conversations. Mulder stuck to club soda, but he made excellent use of the wide assortment of food that passed by. The house was big and it was easy to get lost among the maze of rooms, all similarly decorated. After awhile, the people all started to look the same too. Scully could've sworn that same blonde woman with the red dress had been in the room she'd just walked out of.

Paul sifted about through the crowd, as did Kate. Scully hardly saw them in the same place at the same time. Paul seemed to have his own acquaintances from the hospital, and Kate circled amongst other groups of people that she seemed to know. Several times, Kate ducked by them with a smile and a jovial "Are you having fun?" and a reminder to Mulder not to leave before she got the chance to talk to him, and would he mind signing a couple of books? He didn't.

Before she knew it, almost three hours had passed. She asked Mulder if he wanted to leave and he seemed nonspecific. A few minutes later, Kate and several of her book club friends descended upon Mulder, so she excused herself to go find a restroom. She located one off of the kitchen, but there were four women ahead of her in line, so she decided to try her luck upstairs. A long hallway with a series of open doors presented itself and she peeked into two bedrooms and an office before finding a bathroom. It was quiet upstairs and her ears rang with the sudden absence of noise. She allowed herself a few extra minutes in the bathroom because it felt good to just be away from the crowd for a moment. She hadn't realized how warm and stuffy the air had gotten downstairs. She washed her hands in cool water.

When she came out of the bathroom and headed back down the hall, a room to her left caught her eye. It looked like a library, but like none she'd ever seen, at least not in anyone's home. The door stood ajar and a light was on, so she entered. The room was surrounded in wall-to-wall books. They extended nearly floor to ceiling along three walls. The fourth had a small sitting area with a sofa and chairs. She began browsing through the books and pulled out a copy of Madame Bovary when she sensed a presence in the doorway.

"It's one of the first French translations. There are better ones now, but I could never part with that one. It's an antique."

"Oh Paul! You startled me." Her cheeks flushed. "I'm sorry...I was up here using the restroom and I couldn't help but notice this room. It's ... my God, these old books are exquisite." She trailed a finger along the spine of a gold filigreed copy of Leaves of Grass.

He crossed the room to stand next to her, looking at the shelves of titles. "Do you like poetry?"

"I-I'm not really...I always feel like I'm missing something."

He smiled and shook his head, taking down a volume and flipping through it. He started to read:

"When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look,
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your mountains of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled

And paced upon the mountains overhead

And hid his face amid a crowd of stars."

"It sounds familiar. James Joyce?" she asked.

"W.B Yeats. 'When You Are Old.'"

"Ah. I took an Irish poetry class as a freshman at Berkley to fulfill a Humanities requirement. I guess I don't remember much." She smiled sheepishly.

"You went to Berkley?" He chuckled.

"For a year before transferring to UMD."

He laughed again.

She put her hands on her hips, her bare arms at right angles to her body. "What is so funny about that?" She frowned.

"I'm sorry, I just can't see it. It would've been what - 1984-85?"

"'82. And I did quite well there."

"Oh, it wasn't your academic suitability I was questioning. I'm quite sure you would excel just about anywhere. You'd settle for no less."

"You seem to think you know me quite well," she said, looking down a bit uncomfortably.

"On the contrary, actually. I've never know anyone quite like you, Dana. I have a feeling I've only scratched the surface. I hope to get to know you better."

She felt the heat of his gaze on her and a burning sensation in the pit of her stomach. She had only consumed two glasses of wine all night, but maybe she should have eaten more first. Why was he still staring at her? She felt like she did toward the end of that night at the pub - as if she really should be somewhere else. Anywhere but there.

She cleared her throat. "I really should be getting-"

"What's your favorite classic book?"

"Excuse me?"

"Your favorite? Wait - let me guess. Maybe 19th century British? Jane Austen, Lewis Caroll, Dickens? Or no. How about 20th century American? Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Faulkner? Or perhaps something much older. Greek classics? Homer and Sophocles?"

"I have a lot of favorites, but if I had to choose just one book, I guess I'd have to say Moby Dick. My father read to me from it when I was young. It's always held a special place in my heart."

He nodded and walked across to another wall. His finger skimmed along a row until he came across a wide, yellowish- ivory book with red lettering. He pulled it out and handed it to her. "It's not a first edition, sorry." He smiled.

She ran her hand gently over the delicate cover. "It's in near perfect condition."

"You can have it. Please, I'd like you to."

Her eyes went wide and she opened her mouth in surprise. The book suddenly felt heavy in her hand and the air in the room shifted. "Oh Paul, no, I couldn't possibly-"

And then the next few minutes happened so fast and so slow at the same time. It was like she was outside her body, watching it happen. He leaned in and kissed her and it took a minute to even realize what was going on because Holy Hell, she wasn't expecting it, but then again maybe she was. His lips were on hers, solid and invasive. He was standing over her, against her, and she had nowhere to go with the bookshelf pressed into her back, his hands at her waist, steadying her. She thrust her hands out behind her, palms down against the books. She felt the dusty grain of old leather.

She had been so stupid. Images, clips of a bad movie that she didn't want to see, but couldn't keep herself from watching slaughtered her brain. His hand on her elbow, a brush of fingertips, a friendly squeeze of the shoulder, distracted eyes on her when they should have been on something else, caught watching her, then a casual laugh, a joke to lighten the mood. She had been so stupid. Words like daggers. "He told me to watch for a pretty redhead with blue eyes," said the waitress, and there he was waiting for her. "What would I do without you, Dana?"; "You have a beautiful smile. You should smile more often,"; "Everyone knows who Hanover has his eye on, it's so obvious," overheard from inside a bathroom stall. But it hadn't been so obvious, at least not to her. Or had it been? She had been so stupid.

When her head finally re-engaged, she found that he was still pressing against her, his lips moving despite her unresponsiveness. She put a hand to his chest to push him away, but he was heavy and his hands still bracketed her waist and she felt like she couldn't move, let alone even breathe. His eyes were closed, hers were open and she looked up to the crack of the open doorway and saw someone standing there in the hall. Oh God, no.

A strangled cry sounded from the back of her throat and she pushed hard with both hands to Paul's chest. His eyes opened, startled, and he backed off her. But she was barely aware of his presence or his words, asking her what was wrong, because she was moving toward the doorway and into the hall. "Mulder, wait!"

The hallway was empty, there was no sign of anyone, but she was certain she had seen him. "Mulder!" she called again, eyes darting about. That look on his face, oh God. How long had he been standing there? It all happened so fast, but she had been so shocked by the kiss that she hadn't struggled right away, had simply stood there and oh God, oh God, it must've looked bad. How could this have happened?

Paul exited the library behind her. "Dana, stop, please."

She swung around to face him, both hands out in front of her, palms out to stop him. "He was just here, which way did he go? Mulder!" she cried out again.

"I-I didn't even see him, Dana, I'm sorry."

"I have to find him," she started to walk toward the stairs. He reached for her arm, but she yanked it away, angrily. "What was that, Paul? My God, what happened in there? Why did you do that?"

"I thought...I don't know, I thought you wanted-"

"NO! I didn't want it. None of it."

"I'm sorry. Let me help you find him. I can explain-"

"Please, Paul. Just-just leave me alone." She ran down the stairs and wandered quickly from room to room, her eyes searching desperately for him. He had to still be there; he wouldn't leave the party without her. But God, that look on his face. It haunted her. This was very, very bad.

Three passes later and there was still no sign of him in the house. Where the hell did he go? She spotted Kate talking to a group of guests and Scully approached her and touched her arm.

"Dana, hi! I don't know if you saw, but there's dessert set up in the dining room."

"Thank you," she replied, distractedly. "Kate, have you seen Mulder anywhere?" She was keenly aware of the slight tremor in her voice.

"Well, not in at least a half hour, I'd say. We were talking about his books for a little while and then he excused himself to go look for you. I haven't seen him since. Is everything all right?"

"I'm sorry, Kate, excuse me," she stammered as a thought came to her. She went to the coat rack and sure enough, his coat was gone. She found her own still there. She put it on quickly, running out the front door still buttoning it. She saw him almost immediately. He was standing with his hands in his pockets, pacing the edge of the driveway, staring down at his feet.

She walked down the driveway, her heels clicking on the blacktop. It had started to flurry and he had white flecks in his hair. He didn't look at her, but she knew he was aware of her presence because he stopped moving and just stood there.

"Mulder, that wasn't what it looked like." She wanted to reach for him, but something told her it wouldn't be welcome.

He snorted out a laugh. "Wow, Scully. I would've pegged you for something a little more original than that."

"Please listen, it's the truth, Mulder. There is absolutely nothing-"

"Save it, Scully. Just don't, okay? Don't tell me about the truth because the truth is that that man has wanted you for over two years now and you can't tell me you haven't seen it."

"Can we just talk about this? Please? You're angry and I understand-"

"I'm not angry anymore, I'm numb. I was angry about twenty minutes ago when I saw him all over you. Actually angry didn't begin to cover it. If I had stayed in that house, the cops would be here right now. So I came out here and called a cab. The keys to the car are in your purse."

"Mulder, don't go like this."

"Go back in the house, Scully. You look cold."

A yellow cab pulled into the end of the driveway and Mulder walked over to it and opened the back door.

"Mulder, where are you going? Let's just go home together, okay? Please."

He paused and sniffed, looking down at his shoes, still holding the door handle to the cab and she wondered if he was reconsidering. Then he got in and pulled the door closed behind him and the cab sped off in the opposite direction of their house.

Mulder got out of his second taxi of the night at a few minutes before two in the morning. He was a little more drunk than not and it took him several tries with his key before the front door opened and she stood there in her bathrobe with red eyes. She walked away with the door ajar and he came inside. He shrugged off his overcoat and let it fall on the floor, kicking off his dress shoes in their own tipsy pile. He went down the hall and took a long piss, but she was still sitting in the dark in the living room when he came back out.

"Why are you up?" he managed.

"Why do you think? I was worried," she nearly whispered.

His ass made sloppy contact with a chair and he leaned his head back, but then the walls started breathing and he had to sit back up to get a grip. He could feel her watching him and would've bothered trying to act sober, but he was too busy feeling indignant and pissed off to make the effort. He had really been hoping she'd be asleep already so they didn't have to endure that awkward moment when she wondered if he was going to sleep in the bed with her and he wondered if she wanted him to. Passing out on the couch suited his mood just fine and was probably the best thing for everyone.

"Aren't you going to ask where I was?"

"I can smell," she said, not meeting his eyes.

Several minutes passed. His chin bent forward and he looked down at his partially unbuttoned dress shirt. His tie was gone. That was too bad. She had actually liked that one too. He mentally retraced the steps of his evening to pinpoint when his fashion misstep had occurred, but he got sidetracked and started to doze off.

"Mulder, can we please-"

"No, I don't think so. Not right now."

"Why won't you listen to what I have to say to you?" Her voice wavered with emotion and it made his throat tighten.

"Don't push, Scully. Not now. It's just not a good idea."

He stood up with effort. "I'm going to go change." She followed him up the stairs, but stopped to hang up his overcoat on her way by. He wished she wouldn't pick up after him right now. He wanted to let himself be a mess, just like old times. The doors to the kids' rooms were open and dark and he thought about what an insanely good idea it had been sending them off for the night, but not for the reasons he had hoped. There'd be no loud and raucous sex on the living room rug tonight.

She dropped her own robe, but then stood there awkwardly in her silk pajamas while he changed, her arms crossed over her breasts. He grabbed his pillow from the bed and went to head out of the room, but she stepped between him and the door.

"Scully, please move."

"Mulder, this is crazy. This entire thing is just a big mess."

"Scully, I'm sleeping downstairs. We'll talk in the morning."

"Mulder..." and she put her hand on his forearm and it felt like it was burning, scorching through his skin. He choked back a lump in his throat and his eyes swam. She said his name again and he turned toward her and walked her backwards toward their bed.

He bent and kissed her hard, his hand wrapping around her head to press her to him. She felt stiff in his arms, unresponsive. "Is there a reason, Scully?" he growled against her lips. "I want to know why. I need to know what I'm up against." His hand clutched her thigh hard, his fingers digging into the flesh.

"What are you talking about, Mulder?" she asked, but he barely heard her because he had his face buried in her neck, nipping and licking her salty skin. He pushed a hand underneath her pajama top and up to her breast, roughly pinching her nipple, trying to coax it to life, but she wasn't aroused.

"I don't understand," he whispered roughly, still pawing her breasts, one, then the other. "Is it not enough when I fuck you, Scully?" Her hands pushed at his upper arms, not hard, but firm and she turned her head away from his kisses.

"Stop, Mulder. You're not making any sense." Her body was stiff as a board.

His mouth latched onto her neck, sucking really hard. "Ow. Jesus, Mulder, stop."

"Don't I do it for you? Is that it, Scully?" His hands abandoned her breasts for her ass and he clutched at her through the silk, but she kept slipping from him and if he could just bury himself in her, he'd feel better. "Is it not enough when I go down on you? When I fuck you? Just tell me because I want to know."

"Mulder, stop it. Come on, knock it off. Please." She was pushing at him hard now and wriggling out from his grasp. Her neck strained away from his mouth. "Jesus, Mulder! Stop it! I am your wife, not your whore!"

His head snapped back at that and he released her.

"Are you his whore, Scully?"

He had no idea where it had come from. Words with no forethought or reason, meant only to inflict hurt. But before he could take it back, her palm connected with his cheek, the sound a deafening crack that echoed in his head for seconds before all he was aware of was his labored breathing. They were both shaking and her eyes sparked a shade of blue he'd never seen before. They were the color of cold, hard steel. He was out of the room and barely to the top of the stairs when he heard the bedroom door slam and the lock turn.

There had been days, somewhere around age 22 when he could drink himself silly, fall into bed - sometimes alone, sometimes now - and still make it to a 9:00 class on nothing more than strong coffee and Extra Strength Excedrin. He wasn't twenty-two anymore. And he was hurting.

His tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth and his teeth felt furry. His entire office smelled like a distillery. His old leather sofa was not offended; it had been down this road with him a few times before. It made unattractive noises when he shifted his bare skin against it. Even the fish weren't passing judgment this morning. They pressed their mouths to the glass in sympathy, but they'd surely change their tune if they knew what an ass he's made of himself last night.

A glance at the watch he still wore told him it was nearly ten. He hadn't slept this late since he caught that weird thing from William last winter and spend the better part of forty-eight hours unconscious and sweating out a fever. Damn preschool was like a germ incubator.

He shuffled his way to the downstairs bathroom hoping to find Ibuprofen there because otherwise he'd have to brave the stairs and right now just walking in a straight line was optimistic. He felt like the first floor of his house had been transformed into one of those fun houses at the fairgrounds with the slanted floors. Gravity was not his friend.

Having popped three Tylenol and slugging down enough water to drown a decent sized hamster, he walked about the first floor in search of Scully. Scully, who, if he was really lucky was just not talking to him, and if he was unlucky, was off filing divorce papers right about now. He had overreacted last night and he knew it. In his heart, he didn't really believe she had been involved with Hanover. He knew her better than that.

Scully was a lot of things. She could be stubborn, obstinate, picky, and at times, even self-righteous. She was convinced that her way was the right way and she could be incredibly inflexible. But she was loyal and honest and he had never doubted her fidelity. And last night, he had been a temperamental, chauvinistic jerk. For Christ's sake, he had nearly forced himself on her in his jealousy and anger. He'd never, ever done that to a woman before in his life. And then what he said to her after - he had deserved the slap.

No sign of her on the first floor and the upstairs was silent too. "Hey Scully?" he called out tentatively from the bottom of the stairs. There was no way she'd still be asleep. On an afterthought, he opened the door to the garage. Her car was gone. She must have gone to her mother's to pick up the kids. Yeah, that made sense. So he'd just wait. And showering wouldn't be a bad idea either. He smelled himself without even trying to. And rehydrate, he thought, wincing at the pit of burning hell in his stomach.

By 4:00, she still wasn't home and her cell phone was going to voice mail. He'd left two messages. He decided to try Maggie's number. She answered on the first ring.

"Hello, Fox." Geez, Caller ID took away all the mystery these days.

"Hi, Maggie. Is um, is she there?"

"Yes, she's here."

"Can I talk to her, please?"

"She's taking a nap with Claire right now. I don't want to wake her. She was exhausted when she got here this morning."

"Did she, um, tell you what happened last night?"

A sigh. "Yes, she did." Her voice sounded calm, soothing, nonjudgmental. She would have been the type of mom who promised her kids that if they just told her the truth about whether or not they stole the pack of gum, she wouldn't get mad, and she would have kept her word. Mulder trusted her.

"All of it?" he asked, his eyes closed.


"How is she?" he whispered.

"She's upset, but you know she hides it well."

"What about the kids? How are they?"

"They're wonderful, don't you worry about them. As far as they're concerned, they're just enjoying an extra long visit with Grandma."

Mulder rubbed his tired eyes. "I said something to her last night. It wasn't nice."

Another sigh, longer this time. "Oh, Honey. These things are never one person's fault. Dana told me there was a...misunderstanding. She told me what happened at the party...what you thought you saw-"

"I blamed her for it. Because she didn't see the signs and I did. I thought she let it happen."

"She blames herself too."

"I really need to talk to her, Maggie. Can you just please tell her to come home?"

"She will. She'll come home when she's ready." Maggie chuckled softly through the phone. "You waited on her for seven years. You know as well I do that Dana does things when she's good and ready and not before."

"Well, if you could please just tell her that I love her and I want her and the kids to come home, I'd really appreciate it."

"I will do that."

He must've dozed off again in the family room because it was exhausting work staring at a quiet phone all day. There had been nothing else to do. There weren't even dishes because he had made himself toast for dinner and ate it on a paper plate standing over the sink.

The muted TV was flickering in the dark when he opened his eyes to see her standing in the doorway between the kitchen and living room with Claire slumped over her shoulder. "William's still asleep in his booster seat. Can you carry him up?" she asked, her expression guarded. She looked small and vulnerable. Her hair was unstyled and fell in soft waves just past her shoulders. When had it gotten so long? He wanted to pick her up and carry her too.

When Mulder unbuckled him and pulled him from the car, William awoke and gave him a groggy smile. "Hi Daddy. I'm home."

Mulder put his face down to his strawberry blonde hair and breathed deeply. "Yes, you are."

"That was a long visit with Grammy."

"Did you have fun?"

William nodded and yawned big. "We made a gingerbread house, but Claire ate too many gumdrops, so part of the room was just empty."

By the time Mulder carried him to his bed, he was asleep again.

He crossed the hall to their bedroom and heard the shower running. A pair of faded jeans and her blue, cotton V-neck sweater were draped over the chair by her closet where she had slipped out of them. He picked up the sweater and held it to his face. It smelled like her tea tree shampoo and something else - cinnamon maybe. He folded it carefully the way she might and placed it on top of the Calvin Kleins. They were old jeans - ones she'd had when they used to work together. He remembered them from one night when he'd fallen asleep on the couch of her apartment after Thai food, and beer, and a stack of expense reports. When he had awoken at four in the morning, his shoes had been removed and a patchwork quilt had been draped over him. He knew they were the same jeans because they had an ink mark on the knee in the shape of a crescent moon. The faded, barely readable satin tag stuck out of the waistband. Size 4 petite. My God, she was small. Sometimes when he did the laundry, he would hold up a shirt or pair of panties of hers and think to himself, 'how can someone fit into something this small?'

When she walked out of the bathroom wrapped in her towel, he was sitting on the edge of the bed, unsure whether or not she wanted him there. Her posture offered no clues and she made no eye contact, just pulled folded pajamas from a drawer and put them on, no expression of modesty. He wondered if that meant she was comfortable being naked in front of him because he was her husband and nothing had changed, or because she was numb and everything had.

She stood facing their bed and him for a brief, yet awkward moment before folding back the covers and getting in. She didn't lie down, but rather sat on her side, back propped against pillows, staring down at clasped hands in her lap. He couldn't find any words, so he got up and brushed his teeth.

It was only 9:30. They never went to bed this early.

When he went back into the bedroom, she hadn't moved. He stood at his side of the bed because it seemed presumptuous of him to get in. She should sleep here because it was where she was most comfortable. He could sleep anywhere.

"We should talk," she whispered.

He nodded, but she wasn't looking at him. "I'm sorry. I should've listened to you. What I said to you at the end...it was ...I don't know what it was or where it came from."

"You were hurt," she said, her head tilting and her eyes staying low.

"Yeah. I was. But I still treated you in a way that I never would have thought I was capable of."

She looked at him, finally, and her eyes pooled. "You're not."

"Were you afraid of me?" he asked, not able to move his fixed gaze from the corner of the blue and beige duvet. Things around the edges of the room faded in his peripheral vision. It was safer this way. He could listen to her words or look into her eyes, but not both at once. He might not survive the honesty.

"No, never," she said. Her hand drifted from her lap to the center of the bed and stopped. She seemed like she was trying to bridge the gap, but he was still uncertain and too vulnerable to risk it.

"Get in bed, Mulder," she sighed.

"Are you sure?"

"Sleeping on the couch isn't going to help. It's running away and that's what I do, not you."

He pushed back the comforter and sheet and slid in gingerly. The bed seemed huge, the space between them cavernous. It felt good to be this close to her, though, even if he didn't know if she would welcome his touch. Her hand looked slight, ethereal, but he knew there was hidden strength there. He had always thought she had the most lovely hands.

"Paul Hanover resigned," she stated firmly.

He spun his head to look at her, shocked. "What? How could...what about the project?"

"He had another job offer in Houston on the table. He had said he wasn't going to take it. I guess he changed his mind."

"Did he call to tell you?"

"No, Della did. Apparently, he cleared out his office today."

"What about your research?"

"The funding is tied to the hospital, so the project will continue. I'll be assigned another co-chair to supervise the clinical trials. Dr. Hanover will still be credited for his participation when the study is published. Life goes on."

He sighed. "I'm sorry Scully. I don't know what else to say."

"It's not your fault. And in the end, it's probably for the best." She covered his hand with her own. "There was never anything between Paul and me, Mulder. I hope you know that."

"I do. I know that. I did last night too; I was just pissed off."

"You had a right to be. You expressed your discomfort about my partnership with Paul from the beginning and I didn't listen. I should have and I'm sorry."

"You were just doing your job."

"There were signs along the way and I chose to ignore them. I told myself I was imagining it."

He snorted softly. "You always were a little dense when it came to male infatuation with you, Scully. I had to risk my life crossing several continents and it still took another two years to get you into bed."

She smiled down at their hands, intertwined now. "You never asked."

"I guess I'm a fan of slow seduction."

"Glaciers move faster, Mulder."

He tugged gently on her hand. She could choose to ignore it or not. Her body rolled slowly to his side of the bed and she rested her head on his shoulder. Apparently, she chose not. He clicked off the light, but his eyes remained open, adjusting to the dark until he could just make out her silhouette, the slender dip of her waist, a swell of a hip. Her chest rose and fell in tandem with his. In the shadows, they looked like one form. Maybe they were.

December 25, 2005

Scully carried the last of the dishes from her mother's dining room into the kitchen and began rinsing and stacking them in the dishwasher. "Everything was so good, Mom. The potatoes were amazing. Is it a new recipe?"

Maggie smiled. "Robert made them."

"I've never seen Mulder eat three helpings of potatoes before. And the bread was delicious - did you get it at that little bakery on the corner of Grant Street? They have the best apple turnovers, not that I'd know that," Scully smiled, mischievously.

"Robert made it. You should try his scones."

Scully lifted her brows at her mother. "Please never invite him to dinner at my house. I don't ever want him eating my cooking," she joked.

Maggie chuckled. "Dana, you're a fine cook."

"I'm an adequate cook."

"I'm so happy you had the chance to meet Robert's son and his family," said her mother, handing a clean platter to her daughter to dry.

"I can't believe Robert has a son named Charlie. That should be interesting. Who's going to explain to our Charlie that he might have to go by Chuck from now on if you and Robert get married." As soon it came out of her mouth, she stiffened, her gaze falling to the stacks of dishes instead of her mother's face.

Maggie cleared her throat and continued busying herself with scraping plates.

"Mom, I didn't mean anything by it."

"If you'd like to know, you could just ask, you know," her mother said gently.

"Okay. Has it come up?"

"It has. As a possibility sometime in the future. Nothing more specific than that. Does that answer your question?" her mother smiled, warmly.

Dana nodded. "I really like him, Mom. You're happier than I've seen you in years. And although I know you certainly don't need my permission, I just want you to know that if this works out for you, I'll be glad."

Her mother gave her a tight hug.

"I'm just sorry Robert's family had to leave before dessert. William and Claire loved playing with their girls," said Dana.

"They still had to go to Angela's parents' house to open gifts, so they weren't able to stay longer. You'll see them again sometime, I'm sure."

The comment, which might have made Dana uneasy just a month ago, no longer did. She had had the opportunity to get to know Robert over dinner twice since her mother had started seeing the man and she had warmed to him. He was easy-going, had a fun sense of humor, and seemed to really care for her mother. On top of all that, he was wonderful with her kids. Each time William went to Grammy's house, he asked if Robert would be there and they could work on a model airplane together. Dana couldn't believe she was thinking it this early, but it warmed her heart to see her children with someone who could serve as a grandfather figure to them.

Mulder walked into the kitchen with several empty wine glasses balanced between his fingers. He squeezed his mother-in-law's shoulder, affectionately. "Robert is dazzling the little people with some surprisingly cunning magic tricks in the living room, but I think he could use a lovely assistant. Why don't you go join him? We've got this," he said, taking over at the sink.

"Did he do the one with the cups and the marbles yet?" Maggie asked.

"Yes! How did he do that?"

Maggie chuckled. "I have no idea. He won't even tell me."

"Well, he promised to show Will so he can impress his preschool class," said Mulder.

"No!" Maggie's eyes went wide. "Now that's just not fair. Robert Green!" she called out, stamping off in the direction of the living room.

Scully watched Mulder scraping plates and rinsing. His shirt sleeves were rolled up to his elbows and the muscles in his forearms flexed as he moved. It was one of her favorite places on his body - the space between his elbows and his hands - well, his arms in general, but that was the section she got to see the most of, so she had a special fondness for it. She loved the way the dark hairs feathered all in the same direction. He had a small scar in the shape of the letter S just above the wrist bone on his left arm. She couldn't remember which misadventure had resulted in an injury that left him branded with her initial.

"Earth to Scully," he teased in a sing-songy voice. "You're sleeping on the job." She coaxed her eyes from his dreamy forearms to see a gravy boat and a large bowl sitting in the strainer waiting for her to dry them. She'd have to find a dry towel; the one she held was too wet to do much good. The corners of her mouth twitched into a smile and she twisted the wet towel with both hands and then snapped it, lightning fast, at Mulder's hip.

He tried to mask his surprise while keeping both his hands moving in the sink. "Do it again, Scully, I dare you."

Now why did he have to go and say something like that? She moved a few steps back, twisted the towel again and let it fly, this time harder and faster. It connected with the very edge of his bicep with an audible snap.

This time his hands stopped moving in the water flowing from the faucet, and he very calmly lowered the dish he was rinsing to rest against the stainless steel bottom of the sink. There was a second towel, a green and white plaid dish towel, used and wet, sitting on the corner of the counter top where it had been abandoned. Both of their eyes studied it, quietly calculating the steps needed to reach it before the other. His arms and legs were longer and he was at least two feet closer to it. She already had adequate ammunition; her best move would be a defensive posture. Be ready and let the danger come to you. She turned her towel in her fingers until it was tight. She held perfectly still. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw his fingers flex open and closed and his nostrils flare. He was like a bull scratching his hoof in the dirt.

In a split second he launched himself at the dish towel, grabbed it and twisted it before casting it toward her arm. It connected with a loud snap, stinging her skin.

"You had fair warning, Scully." He was already twisting again.

"I have two brothers, Mulder. Surrender now; you can't win this. I'm smaller and faster."

He swung the towel at her, just missing her by a hair. "Yeah, but my arms are longer," he said in an exerted breath. He popped back to a safe distance as her towel snapped at him, catching him at the waist.

"Ow! Nice one. You prove to be a formidable adversary, fiery- haired Jedi. Prepare for counter attack."

Mulder's towel snapped forward with force, this time catching her on the side of her breast. Damn! It smarted. "Hey! Boobs are off limits, Mulder."

"Yeah, story of my life." He smiled and she smirked back at him.

She circled him like a panther and struck again, catching his upper thigh. "But rear-ends are not!" She giggled.

He moved in closer and they went back and forth striking and retreating amidst utterances of "Ow!" and "Missed me!" and "Nice try!" until he was leaning against the counter and she against the refrigerator, both breathless and laughing.

William wandered in and looked at them strangely. "Whatcha doing?"

"Oh, just a friendly little towel war," chuckled Mulder.

William eyed his Mom and then scowled toward Mulder. "You're not supposed to fight girls, Dad."

Mulder's eyes narrowed. "Your mother is not a girl, she's a ruthless warrior. Don't underestimate her. She sings to me like a siren, her beauty tempting me to certain destruction."

Scully laughed out loud and William looked completely puzzled.

"Grammy says it's time for dessert," said William, because that was something that made sense.

Scully tilted her chin up at Mulder. "Cease fire?"

"Make love, not war," smiled Mulder, two eyebrows dancing at her.

Scully smiled, her eyes trading promises with his.

"You guys are weird," sighed William, opening the drawer for forks.

Scully had violated one of her main housekeeping rules when they had left for her mother's house earlier that day. It was the one about 'don't leave the house a royal disaster because it's no fun to come home to.' She was reminded of her poor decision when they traipsed through the door at 9:30 p.m. and she slowly surveyed the damage and said "Ohhhh."

Breakfast dishes were in the sink, unrinsed, with scrambled eggs crusted on them (also appearing in her mental housekeeping rules, filed under 'foods not to let harden on dishes'). Two strikes. Someone (Mulder...) had left the milk out on the counter. They'd need some more of that tomorrow. Claire's footed sleeper lay in a wad at the foot of the stairs because, for some reason, the child liked to drag her clothes downstairs to get dressed lately. Scully didn't pretend to understand the toddler psyche and she subscribed firmly to the 'pick your battles' method of parenting. Besides, the discarded pajamas were closer to the laundry room this way, so everyone wins. She picked up the sleeper and tossed it in the general direction of the laundry room before heading for the family room where the real fun was. She considered the wisdom of entering without a Hazmat suit.

Toys, games, and shiny new books without bent pages or crayon scribbles were strewn about. Boxes with new sweaters and pajamas poked out from under the Christmas tree. Wrapping paper with snowmen, Santas, and pictures of Disney characters littered the floor, some wadded into large balls from a brief wrapping paper war. Disemboweled stockings dripped from furniture. A half-eaten candy cane was stuck to the coffee table.

"We're going to need a few garbage bags," said Mulder, resting a hand on her shoulder and squeezing gently.

"A few?" she replied.

William picked up a Curious George DVD, still in its packaging. "Can we watch this now?"

"Honey, no. It's past your bedtime and you were up at 6:30 this morning. Claire didn't even take a nap," said Scully, glancing at her daughter, who was sitting in the center of a pile of wrapping paper with her blanket, sucking her thumb. If her glassy-eyed stare was any clue, Claire was about five minutes away from doing a face plant into the Hungry Hippos game.

"But Mommy, I'm not tiiiiired," William whined.

"No, not at all," said Mulder. "Bedtime, Dude. More fun and mayhem tomorrow." He picked Claire up and hauled her over his shoulder.

Scully took a deep breath. "You take Bedtime; I'll take Decon?"

"Roger that," he said with a peck to her lips. "Don't tire yourself out too much," he winked.

Twenty minutes later, he found her scrubbing red gooey stuff off the coffee table. Boxes had been broken down, garbage and wadded paper had been bagged, and toys had been stacked. The floor was mostly visible again.

"Wow," he said, crossing his arms over the front of his dark green sweater. "How much to do my office?"

She smiled. "Did they go down without a fuss?"

He nodded. "Claire Bear was wasted. She didn't even bother asking me to wind up the musical dog. Will said he wasn't sleepy, so I told him he could stay awake all night, as long as he stayed in his bed."

Scully chuckled, knowing where that was going. "He was asleep in minutes, wasn't he?"

"Passed out cold in the time it took me to use the bathroom and check on him again," he smiled. "You don't suppose we'll get lucky and they'll sleep late tomorrow, do you?"

She did the brow thing at him.

"Didn't think so," he sighed, picking up two full garbage bags to haul to the garage. He stepped on something that squeaked from underneath the tree skirt. "What the-" he pulled out a stuffed yellow and orange toy and dangled in front of Scully.

"I haven't a clue," she said. "Charlie and Michelle sent it. I assumed it was for Claire, but it looks more like a dog toy. I think it's a hint."

"You want one, don't you? And I don't mean the toy."

She smiled and shrugged, taking the mysterious squeaky thing from Mulder and studying it. "Kind of. Yeah, I think I do."

"Scully, this isn't going to go the way of the Belgian waffle maker, is it? You said you wanted one of those too, and it sits on a shelf in the pantry with the rice cooker and the asparagus steamer we never use."

"I love Belgian waffles. I'd make them if I had more time for breakfast. And no, I'm not going to put our dog on a shelf in the pantry."

"You're at work all day. It'll chew my eighty dollar running sneakers," he said.

"Don't leave them out."

"It'll jump up on the furniture."

"We'll get it its own bed and train it to sleep there."

"It'll drink out of the toilet."


"It'll poop in the yard."

"If we're lucky." She smiled.

Mulder drew in a deep breath and then let it out through puffed cheeks and she knew she had him.

"We're not getting one of those poofy little things," he said, following her up the stairs to bed.

Sometimes he was obvious about it and sometimes he wasn't. Tonight he was.

Sometimes it amused her and sometimes it didn't. Tonight it did.

He was already naked when she got into bed and maybe even...(she glanced down)...oh yes, saluting her.

She bit her lip and smiled. "What, did you get a head start or something?"

He pulled the sheet up past his waist. She had embarrassed him, imagine that. It wasn't easy to do.

He coughed. "You, um, left the bathroom door open while you changed your clothes. I could see you."

"I change my clothes in front of you all the time."

"I know. But you didn't know I was watching you this time. It was kind of hot."

"So you're a peeping tom," she teased, smirking.

"I'm sorry," he stroked her arm tentatively with the back of his fingers. "I've been wanting you for...since..."

"I know." They hadn't made love since the whole incident with the party. It wasn't that they had been avoiding it, specifically. She didn't really know why. It seemed that perhaps he had been working through some things in his head - about what had happened and the way he'd treated her. And if she'd been completely honest with herself, she had needed a little time as well. He'd given it to her.

But all day today, he'd been watching her, hoping. He'd given her clues - teasing, flirting, innuendo. Just like old times. It was deja vu and she had been right back sitting in a rental with him on a stakeout after midnight, eating sandwiches and flipping through the radio presets while he casually pointed out the sexual undertones in classic rock lyrics. He had been seducing her for years and he was damned good at it. When he was committed to the task, like today, he could play her like a well-worn instrument and leave her begging for an encore.

"I think I'm overdressed," she said, lightening the mood and he chuckled. She disrobed at the edge of the bed and he didn't laugh anymore.

She slid to the middle of the bed, neutral territory, and he leaned over her. Starting at the top, he kissed his way down, not missing a freckle. The man was nothing, if not thorough. His tongue left cool, wet circles on her skin and she felt like a freshly bathed cat.

He started to go down on her, what he always did when he was buying a little extra insurance just in case the party ended before everyone had gotten a piece of the cake. And if she got two pieces, well, all the better. He lapped at her like she was a bowl of rich cream. She switched off her brain and just concentrated on what it felt like to be worshipped.

She came fast and hard and he was inside her even before she floated back down. She knew he had wanted to take his time, but some things weren't entirely up to the thinking part of his brain. Still, he took slow, deep strokes, kissing the hollow of her throat, her chin, her open mouth, staying connected to her in every possible way. She swept her fingers along his shoulder blades, up and down, barely making contact with his skin, and he closed his eyes and tilted his head back, mouth slack in intoxication.

"Go ahead," she said to him, and he shook his head no as his body sped up anyway, defying him. She loved to watch. He pulled her knee up and held it there, and she clenched her internal muscles around him, watching his face contort in response. "Oh yeah," he whispered.

He stiffened and held his breath and she felt it. Rhythmic pulsing deep inside her, like the steady bass of that song you couldn't get enough of. Then a long exhale as his body lowered itself over hers. He started to push off her, but her hands tightened. "Not yet," she said. So he kissed her and brushed the hair from her face, their noses rubbing together.

Eventually, he slipped out of her because these things do happen, and they both rolled to one side, maintaining an embrace. She draped one leg up over his hip.

"You're not going to let the dog in our room while we're doing it, are you?" he asked.

She chuckled. "Why? Performance anxiety?"


"Well, if I remember correctly, we did it a couple of times, at least, with Claire asleep in the bassinette in the corner of the room."

"Yeah, but she didn't pant."

Scully giggled and kissed his chest.

January 20, 2006

Mulder held William's hand and followed the woman toward the back of the facility, past closed doors and rooms with grey cages lining the walls. Scully was behind him, carrying Claire. He could barely hear what the woman, who introduced herself as Betty, was saying amidst the racket all around.

"I've got them in the back," said Betty. "Came in a week and a half ago, local police found 'em in the garage of an abandoned house. Mom's in pretty good shape, considering. We had seven pups; I'm down to two males and one female left. They're all cuter than a button and they've been checked out and had all their first shots."

The door to a small room was opened and they were ushered inside. "Oh my God, Mulder," he heard Scully say, and he knew come hell or high water, he was going home with a dog today. If he was lucky, just one.

Claire let out a little squeal and wiggled down Scully's leg. Her hazel eyes danced about, watching the flurry of activity behind the expandable gate that separated them from the puppies. She giggled and clapped her hands together and was rewarded with several excited 'yips'.

"Now, the Mom has a family ready to take her just as soon as the last three pups have been adopted," said Betty. "They're done nursing, but we want to keep Mom here until they're gone. They've all checked out healthy."

"How old are they?" asked Scully, bending down to get a better look.

"About nine weeks. You can go ahead and go right in the gated area, if you'd like. The mom is fine with folks handling the pups."

Scully unlatched the gate and walked inside and she was immediately covered in wagging tails and pink tongues. Her face beamed and she went from one pup to the next, trying to give each equal attention. She picked up one squirming puppy and held it snugly to her chest, scratching behind its tiny flopped ear. "They look like they've got some Lab in them," she said.

Betty nodded, looking over at the mother, a pretty, fawn colored dog with darker fur around her eyes and snout. "Lab/Shepherd mix, we think. See how Mom has the classic Shepherd mask? But the ears are floppy, like Lab ears. Nice, medium length, soft coat."

"They're just adorable," said Scully, putting the pup down and scooping up the next.

"Can I come in the gate too, Mommy?" asked William. Mulder lifted him up and over and he sat down on the tile floor. A puppy crawled right into his lap and started licking his face. He giggled wildly.

"That one there is one of the males," said Betty. "Seems to be the most outgoing one of the bunch. The female one's a little bit quieter."

Quiet's good, thought Mulder. "How big will they get?" he asked, trying to curb the apprehension in his voice.

"They'll be good sized dogs," replied Betty. "The mom is about sixty-five pounds, and we think she's about two years old now. The male pups might get a little bit bigger than that."

Claire pointed her finger insistently toward where her brother sat, two puppies walking over him now, and said "Claire in."

"Come here, Claire Bear, you can sit with Mommy and pet the puppies," said Scully, and Mulder handed the child in, carefully. "You have to be gentle, okay? They're just babies." Claire knelt down on her knees next to Scully and a puppy climbed up her legs and sniffed her chin. Claire howled in laughter.

"Please, can we have one, Daddy?" pleaded William. "They're so awesome. Please?"

Mulder looked at Scully, who was staring back at him all doe- eyed. He sighed and nodded, smiling. Like he really ever had a choice.

"Now the question is: which one?" asked Scully.

Mulder drove. How hard could it be to get a nine week puppy home safely?

"William, keep him on the leash, okay?" instructed Scully from the front passenger seat. "He needs to stay in the back seat with you guys so Daddy can drive."

There was a tremendous amount of giggling going on behind him. Mulder drove.

"He ate a french fry off the floor, Mom," said William.

"He'll survive," she replied, smiling. "What are we going to call him?"

"We could call him Will, after me!"

"Um, I think that might be a little confusing, don't you?" Scully asked.

"CHEESEBALL," squealed Claire, laughing loudly.

"That's dumb, Claire," said William.

"William," warned Scully.

"Well, it is. We could call him Yoda."

POTATO!" from Claire again, more giggling.

"They might need a little help with this," Mulder said and Scully chuckled.

The puppy barked several times and then whined and turned circles on the car seat.

"Scully, did he, um, go before we put him in the car?"

Her look told him that it had been a really solid choice to get the leather upholstery upgrade when he bought the car.

"Just pull into this parking lot coming up on the corner of Bailey," she said. "There's a pet store there and I'll run in and pick up puppy food and a few things while you walk him."

He nodded and punched the gas to get through the yellow light.

"Now he's eating smooshed popcorn off the carpet, Mommy," said William.

Scully tilted her head back to look down at the floor. "Good grief, Mulder, do you ever vacuum this vehicle out?"

"Yeah," he replied, sheepishly. "Sometimes. Once in awhile. Hey, it's not my fault your kids are messy."

"William, what's in his mouth now?" Scully asked, an edge of concern to her voice. "What does he have?" Her arm reached back to grasp the puppy's red collar and she swept a thin index finger in the puppy's mouth to retrieve a clear plastic water bottle cap. She faxed Mulder a look of disapproval.

"What? I wasn't prepared to have a nine pound furball grazing off the carpet in my car."

Mulder pulled into the parking lot and coasted to a space in front of the pet store. Scully pulled out a small pad of paper and a pen from her purse. "So let's see..." she said, starting to write. "We'll need plenty of puppy chow, some treats for training, a dog bed, a few chew toys, dog shampoo and..." she reached back and ran her hand through the puppy's coat, "yeah, a dog brush too. Also some of those plastic pooper scooper baggies, food and water bowls, and maybe an extra leash. Am I forgetting anything?"

"Should we have taken out a loan?" he blinked at her.

"Oh, and some of that carpet cleaner stuff for accidents," she said, a finger perched on her lip in thought.

"Of course. That. Um, how long exactly does that whole process usually take?"

She shrugged. "It varies. It's been a long time since I've house trained a puppy. Maybe a couple of months."

"Yeah, okay. So we'll be done with him just in time to start on Claire." He smiled.

A half hour later, they were back in the car on their way home. The trunk of the car was full of dog crap and his credit card was down a couple hundred bucks. But the walk had been successful and the puppy appeared to be emptied, at least temporarily.

Mulder took a left and headed for the freeway. "We still don't have a name for him."

"Mr. Barkums," offered Will and Mulder winced unnoticeably.

"JELLY!" blurted Claire in a fit of laughter.

"Mulder, I think the freeway is the other direction on Bailey."

The puppy barked twice in agreement.

Mulder pulled into a gas station and turned around to go the other way. "This doesn't look familiar at all Scully. I don't think we got off the freeway on Bailey."

More yipping sounded from the back seat and the puppy turned several circles.

"He can't have to pee again, can he?" asked Mulder. "He just went."

"William, pet him and see if you can get him to lie down and relax," said Scully.

William scratched the dog's furry head. "We could call him Steve, like on Blues Clues."

Mulder hung a right and then a left.

"Where are you going, Mulder?"

"I'm going to try the next block over. I don't think the freeway entrance is on Bailey."

The puppy barked several more times.

"Anthony calls his dog Booger," said William in a fit of giggles.

Scully arched her eyebrows and sighed.

"That's nice, Will, but somehow I have a feeling we can come up with something a little better than that, don't you think?" asked Mulder, smiling.

"HAMBURGER!" yelled Claire, clapping her hands.

Mulder pulled up to an intersection with a stoplight.

"Which street is this?" asked Scully.

"Um, I'm not sure. I can't read the sign yet."

The light turned green and their car nudged forward behind several others.

"Bailey!" exclaimed Scully. "How did we get back to here? You must've gone around the block, Mulder."

In the back seat, the puppy barked excitedly and then paced back and forth.

Mulder face brightened and he took a turn back into the parking lot where the pet store was, and they were right back where they started. He put the car in park and looked at Scully.

"What? Why are we back here, Mulder? Did we forget something?"

He held up one finger and said, "Shhh, just humor me for a second." Everyone was quiet, except for the puppy who panted loudly.

"BAILEY!" he yelled out.

The puppy barked three times in quick succession and wagged his tail.

"That's his name," said Mulder, smiling.

Scully's eyes widened and she swiveled her head to look behind her. "Bailey?"

Two more barks. Then the puppy turned several circles before lying down with his head on William's lap and closing his eyes.

"Bailey," said William, stroking a hand down the soft ear draped over his leg. "He likes that."

"Scully, can you please pull the map out of the glove box and figure out where the heck we are?"

Mulder ruffled William's hair affectionately. "Time for bed, Will. Come on and I'll tuck you in."

William tossed a little plastic, bacon-shaped, squeaky toy across the kitchen tiles and the puppy skittered after it, fishtailing and thumping into a wall as he finally came to a stop. He grabbed the toy in his little jaws and shook his head back and forth like crazy, bringing it right back to William for another toss. The process repeated itself for about the fiftieth time and William erupted into laughter once again.

Scully shushed him. "Shhh, your sister's been asleep for almost an hour. Time for bed, Pumpkin. Bailey will be here when you wake up in the morning."

"Can he sleep in my room? Pleeeease?"

Scully chuckled. "No, not yet, Honey. Once he's house trained, maybe. He's too little to make it all night yet. We're going to have to get up and take him out."

Mulder cocked a brow at her. "'We,' Scully?" He groaned. "Can't we just slap a newborn diaper on him?"

The puppy squatted on the kitchen floor and a puddle drifted out from under his legs. "There he goes again!" William said, laughing.

Scully swung into motion. "Whoops. Okay, let's go out again, Bailey," she said, scooping him up.

Mulder went for the roll of paper towels. It was going to be a long night.

An hour later, he was sitting next to Scully on the couch in the family room, watching TV, both their feet propped on the coffee table. Her thick socks nudged at his feet, playfully. The room was chilly and he wanted a fire, but was too comfortable snuggled up next to her to get up and build one. He draped an arm behind her neck and she molded her side to him.

"You like him, don't you?" She tilted her head up to see his expression.

He maintained his poker face. "He's okay." The puppy was casing the room, checking out the nooks and crannied, pausing once in awhile to contort like a pretzel and scratch something.

"He's scratching. Do you think he has fleas?" Mulder asked.

"I doubt it. It's only January. Too cold for fleas yet, but it probably wouldn't hurt to give him a bath tomorrow."

"That ought to be fun," he replied, flatly.

Bailey planted his bottom on the rug, looked at Mulder, and wagged his tail.

Scully patted her knee and her voice went two octaves higher. "Come here, Bailey. Come here, Boy."

The puppy panted and sat there.

"Bailey, come here." This time, she added some facial animation, plus a little smoochy sound.


Mulder slapped his palm against his thigh once. "Bailey, come here," he said calmly, minus the cute smoochy sounds. The puppy got up and trotted over, tail swinging. He jumped up onto Mulder's lap, circled once and laid down.

Scully's mouth hung open and a wrinkle formed between her brows. "What the hell was that?"

"What?" He chuckled.

"You didn't take him outside to pee eight times since we've been home. You didn't throw toys for him. You didn't even feed him. And you certainly don't make the little kiss-kiss sounds to him. You're totally undeserving," she whined.

Mulder stroked the top of the dog's head, kneading the loose puppy skin. "Maybe he doesn't like a suck-up."

She doused him with a cold stare.

"His love can't be bought, Scully."

"Watch it or I'll accidentally leave your running shoes next to the basket of chew toys."

Mulder handed her his empty glass off the end table. "Would you mind getting me a refill of iced tea? I have a dog on my lap."

She huffed in mock indignation and got up off the couch.

"Don't forget more ice, Scully."

Scully woke up in the dark and allowed her foot to wander to the other side of the bed to find...cold sheets. His pillow held the indentations from where his head had recently rested. She pulled it to her face and breathed deeply. She could drift off again so easily, but he'd fight her for the pillow in a few minutes when he came back to bed. This was a common occurrence for them. Mulder was a restless sleeper. He often got up in the night - to get a drink of water, use the bathroom, check on sleeping kids, play a game of chess on the computer, check sports scores on ESPN. And when he came back, she usually had his pillow in a death grip, because if she couldn't have him, she'd settle for his smell. Sometimes she would have completely taken over his side of the bed and he'd just climb in on hers rather than risk waking a sleeping dragon by sliding her over.

This time, she stretched and got up to go looking for him. Besides, it was probably time to take the puppy out again, unless she wanted to wake up to puddles. She swung on a robe and shuffled down the stairs.

The kitchen was dark, except for the small blue tinted nightlight she had placed above the toaster. She glanced into the gated area, but it was empty. Some fluffy balls of stuffing spilled from one of the soft dog toys - a fake stuffed squirrel that William had chosen for Bailey at the pet store. It had cost ten bucks and lasted just as many hours. Perhaps they'd stick to rubber toys. And warn the squirrels in the yard that they were about to be ambushed. The bowl of puppy food lie overturned, kibble sprayed in an arc.

Blueish-purple light wafted from the direction of the family room and she followed the low hum of the television. Mulder was snoring quietly on his back on the couch, one arm hanging off the cushion at a right angle, the other draped across fur. The puppy was curled into a ball on Mulder's chest, his snout wedged into that perfect space between Mulder's chin and clavicle. One rear paw twitched spontaneously.

Scully aimed the remote at the TV and clicked it off. Mulder inhaled deeply and his head swiveled to look at her through heavy lids. "Oh, hey Scully. We were just checking on the scores." Tawny paws stretched and the puppy lifted his head to look at her, thumping his tail against the couch cushion.

"I see that." She smiled. "Has he been out?"

"Twice. I came down because I could hear him whimpering. He doesn't like it in the kitchen, Scully. He's lonely."

"Oh brother. Come up to bed, Mulder."

He glanced up at her, then down to the puppy, then back to her.

Good grief. "Bring him," she sighed, trying to suppress her smile.

A look of relief passed over his face and he got up from the couch, boosting the puppy up over his shoulder and following her up the stairs.

"You stole my dog, Mulder."

"I'm sorry, Scully. He's cooler than I thought he would be."

They climbed into bed, settling the puppy on top of the covers between them.

"He spilled his food bowl in the kitchen," she said, yawning.

"I'll clean it up in the morning."

"He better not pee on the bed, Mulder."

"He won't. I'll get up and take him out in a couple of hours."

"He's going to need a lot of exercise, you know."

"I'll take him running with me."

"He better not chew my good work shoes."

"Keep your closet door closed."

"He's not coming in here when we have sex," she said, smiling in the dark.


"I love you, Mulder."

"I love you too, Scully."

A tail thumped between them.

The End...or is it?

Feedback always appreciated and answered at malibusunset88@gmail.com. Thanks for reading.

One more note: The puppy, Bailey, was named after my cat, Bailey, who died in 2007. It's my little homage to one of the coolest, most lovable cats ever. RIP Bailey.

Archive Of Our Own: http://archiveofourown.org/users/Malibusunset/pseuds/Malibusunset

Kid William fics list
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Big Brother William
Keeping William
Married With Children
Young Relatives
Picture It Challenge
One Each Way Challenge
Stolen Ova: Another Child Challenge
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