Title:Fumbling Towards Ecstasy
Author: Jenna Tooms
Rating: NC-17
Keywords: MSR, alternative universe, reference to rape
Spoilers: through season 5, up to "Christmas Carol/Emily"
Disclaimer: Mulder and Scully belong to Chris Carter, or so he likes to thnk. "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy" and the lyrics of its songs belong to Sarah McLauchlin. Many more things disclaimed within.

Summary: Scully comes to Mulder with a wound only he can heal.


I. Possession

"the night is my companion and solitude my guide - would I spend forever here and not be satisfied?"


1.

When I enter Shakespeare's Pub she is already at a table, waiting for me. I pause for a moment and watch her--the late afternoon sun is hitting her just right, highlighting the gold in her hair and skin. She is reading a file, her brows bent in concentration, every inch a Fed from her reading glasses to her low-heeled shoes.

She is so beautiful it hurts. When I see her like this I want to wrap her in my arms and protect her from all the evils and dangers in the world. But her fragility is deceptive. She is stronger than me. She is my strength. And as I look at her I fall in love with her all over again, for what is probably the thousandth time.

She looks up and sees me, and smiles and puts the file aside. We have an unspoken agreement that work is left at the door of Shakespeare's. Anyplace else is fair game. I make my way to the table and resist the urge to kiss her cheek, like we are husband and wife meeting for a drink before heading home. I don't know what she'd do if I kissed her here. The times I have kissed her have been intensely emotional, and thoroughly private.

That she asked me to meet her here tells me this may be intense as well. We haven't had a drink together since Pendrell was shot--since he took a bullet for her. Things have been strange between us since her cancer went into remission--not tense or strained, just strange. Sometimes I feel as if she is waiting. I don't know what--or who--she is waiting for. I'm afraid to ask.

A waitress comes and takes my order. Scully has a half-empty glass of white wine, which is about as much I have ever seen her drink. Neither of us drink much--no time, no desire, no need. She smiles at me again, nervously. We haven't said anything more than hello. I wonder what's on her mind, and worst-case scenarios flash through my head: her remission has ended, she's seen Krycek or Cancerman, Frohike has crossed the line from adoration to stalking. I blurt out, from sheer nervousness, "So, what's on your Christmas list, Scully?"

"Oh, the usual thing, books, movies, CDs. Stuff I'll end up buying myself anyway. What's on yours?"

You, I think helplessly, and get a mental image of Scully in one of those sexy elf costumes, grinning and saying, "Now, have you been a good boy, Mulder, or a very bad one?" Oh, boy. I need to get out more. "Nothing," I say. "I'm Jewish, remember?"

"On your Chanukah list, then. I think I can scrounge up eight presents for you again this year." She smiles at me over her wine glass as she takes a sip.

"Um, vacation. I think that's what I'd like most of all this year."

"You? An actual vacation? Wow," she adds, pensively, "My mother is going to San Diego this year, to visit my brother Bill. They want me to come too, but . . ."

"But?"

"Well, it's silly of me anyway."

"Tell me."

She sighs and rubs her finger around the rim of her glass. "My sister-in-law is expecting a baby. Their first. In fact she's due any day now. And I'm happy for them and I love being an aunt--Charlie's kids are darling--but I just don't want to deal with that right now. I've got . . . other things." She glances up at me and then back down at her wine glass, leaning her head on her hand.

Time to address the topic at hand, I guess. "So what's on your mind?" I say, my stomach clenching with dread.

"I need to ask a favor from you."

A favor. That sounds promising. "Of course, what do you need?"

She shakes her head, taking a sip from her glass. "You'll need to know more before you make up your mind."

"So tell me."

"Not here. First I need to take you to meet somebody." She takes another drink and says into her glass, "My therapist."

"I didn't know you were in therapy."

"For the past two years, with this one. He's a . . . specialist. I was seeing a regular therapist before that. Look," she takes a deep breath, "it's complicated and a little embarrassing, and definitely not something I want to talk about in public."

"Okay, sure, yeah. When, then?"

"I have an appointment tonight at eight. Can I pick you up at seven-thirty?"

"Sure." The waitress finally brings my drink and I smile my thanks. I say to Scully, "So when do I find out what this is all about?"

"My therapist will tell you." For some reason she is blushing. She stands with an "excuse me" and goes to the ladies' room.

There is a lipstick print on her wineglass. I glance around to make sure no one was looking--though it seems someone always is--and pick up her glass. I take a sip of her wine, my mouth where hers was. Yep, folks, Fox Mulder is a man in love. Though if anybody is watching, it just looks like I'm tasting her drink.

This is the fifth time I've done this. Two sodas and two cups of coffee were the others. She likes Cherry Coke and one cream in her coffee. The wine is sweet. When I kiss her--and someday I will--she will taste like this. Or maybe she won't. Maybe she will taste like something else entirely, of something that is essential Scully, something that has no name but Scully.

She comes out of the ladies' room and rejoins me at the table. Her blush is gone. If she notices that the level of her drink has gone down, she doesn't say. She gets a five out of her purse and says, "I've got some things I need to do before tonight, will you take care of my bill?"

"I'll get it. Go on ahead."

"Mulder--"

"Don't argue with me," I say, smiling. Is picking up the check a romantic gesture? If it is, I am its king.

"You and some outmoded sense of chivalry," she begins, but her voiced trails off and she bends and kisses me on the cheek. "Sometimes it's very endearing," she says into my ear, and leaves.

Oh, yes. I love this woman. If I didn't before, I would now.


2.

She knocks on my apartment door at precisely 7:30, and I open the door still tucking my shirt into my jeans. We both opted for off-hours clothes, though she still looks stylish enough to grace the pages of any fashion magazine. Well, I think so, anyway. If I am fashionable, it is only by default.

She waits in the foyer while I put on my shoes and pick up my jacket. Her lower lip is red, as if she's been biting it, and her hands are bunched in the pockets of her coat. She takes my arm as we walk out, which is new, and I think, What could be so terrifying about me talking to her therapist? She's talked to mine. She's *been* mine a time or two . . . dozen.

We get into her car and begin the drive. There is something incongruous about Scully and her car. It's a Ford Explorer, far bigger than she needs, a car for hauling Little League teams and Boy Scout troops. It's more difficult to analyze than something phallic, like a Porsche or a Prowler, and I don't quite know how to read it.

We drive is silence except for the radio. She has it tuned to a classic rock station, a concession to my tastes rather than hers, and doesn't give me her usual eye-roll when I start to sing along. I'm beginning to wonder exactly what this favor from me would entail. She's being almost too nice.

We pull up in front of a modest office building. Scully makes no move to get out, just methodically turns off the car, then sits quietly, staring at nothing. I watch her, waiting.

Finally she says softly, "I'm just trying to imagine what tomorrow's going to be like, Mulder, and it scares me."

"Scully, even your deepest, darkest secret wouldn't change how I think about you."

When she looks at me her usually clear, bright eyes are unreadable. "Some of my secrets are pretty dark, Mulder," she says quietly, and gets out of the car.

The office is on the fifth floor, with a simple nameplate. Terence Sherman, Ph.D. Below, in tiny letters, is written, "Intimacy Counseling."

"Intimacy?" I say. "He's a couples therapist?"

"He counsels couples," Scully says evasively, pushing open the door.

"Am I in trouble?" I say, and finally get a smile from her.

"That's for you to decide. Hi, Janine," she says to the receptionist.

"Hi, Dana. Have a seat." She buzzes the intercom and says, "Dana is here, Doctor."

The office door opens and the doctor comes out. He is perhaps fifty, with silver hair and sharp eyes. He greets Scully with a two-handed handshake, then holds out one hand to me.

"You must be Mulder," he says softly, and shakes my hand. Firm. That's good. "I've heard a lot about you."

"Nothing good, I hope," I say, and he chuckles.

"I understand," he says to Scully, who squeezes my hand and smiles. "So," he goes on to both of us, "if you haven't changed your mind, Dana," she shakes her head, "then I'll talk to you first, Mulder." Scully squeezes my hand once more and lets me go, and I follow the doctor into his office.

"Doctor," I begin.

"Please, call me Terence."

"Okay. Terence. I have no idea what's going on. I didn't even know Scully was in therapy until today."

"Well, part of Dana's problem is an--no, I should start at the beginning. Dana is in therapy for frigidity."

I stare at him for a moment before I can speak. "Scully? Frigid? You're joking."

"I've been counseling her for two years, Mulder. And before that she was in regular therapy for three. She's a very troubled young woman."

"But she's so--so--" He raises his eyebrows as I search for the word, and I finally say, "Passionate. She's passionate."

"About her work, yes. She channels great deal of her energy into her work. Dana told me you're trained in psychology, so I'll be brief. Dana's first sexual experience was date rape."

"Shit," I say softly.

"Which she hid from everyone, including her parents, and her first therapist until near the end of their working together. She's had three lovers from the time she was twenty until now, and none of them were able to bring her to orgasm. Dana considers herself incapable of enjoying sex. She tells me that even in the most innocent romantic situations she's had flashbacks--not just of the rape, but of things that have happened in your work together."

"Donnie Pfaster," I say after a moment.

"These cases have not been healthy for her psyche."

I have been slumped on the couch, and now I lean forward. "Scully said she had a favor to ask from me."

"Favor." He smiles. "That's an interesting way to put it. Dana and I feel she has reached the point where she's ready to try again, with someone she cares for and trusts. From our conversations together, it has appeared to me that this person is you."

It's like he's handed Scully to me on a platter. Despite how serious I know this was, I grin. I can think of at least three men who'd give their right arms for this opportunity.

Terence holds up one hand. "Mulder, try and understand. This isn't a question of your sexual prowess. It's about Dana's trust in you. What she needs from you is patience, tenderness, and willingness to move at her pace."

"I know," I say, but I can't stop grinning.

"You're very enthused," he observes.

"Yeah. The thing is, I love her."

He smiles and nods. "So much the better. Tell her that. Should I bring her in?"

"I'm ready." I wipe my hands on my jeans as he goes to the waiting room. He and Scully speak in low voices for a moment, and then they come into the office, his hand on her shoulder.

My grin fades when I see her face. She is blushing furiously, reminding me of the color of wine on porcelain, and it looks like she'd been crying as well. She sits down next to me but doesn't look at me, and she folds her hands together tightly in her lap.

Terence says gently, "Mulder and I have talked a little, Dana. He wants to help you." She nods, and he says encouragingly, "So what would you like to tell him?"

"I'm so embarrassed," she moans and covers her face with her hands.

"Dana, this shouldn't be something that causes embarrassment. You have worked too hard and too long to reach this point. Are you afraid?"

"Yes!" she says sharply, her head jerking up. "This man--"she points at me but speaks to Terence--"has been my support and my stay for five years and now I spring this on him and it just feels--it feels--"

"If it feels wrong, say so," Terence says, and I suddenly understand the term, 'heart is one's throat.'

"It feels like too much," Scully says. She is still speaking to Terence, not to me.

"Mulder, do you feel this is too much to ask of your friendship?"

"No," I say, watching Scully's face as she looks at neither of us; instead she stares furiously at her hands, which are twisting and turning like wounded birds in her lap.

"Do you feel it is too much to ask of you personally?"

"No."

"Do you feel it might be too much for Dana?"

I hadn't expected this question, and I answer as honestly as I can. "Yes, I think it might be."

Her hands go still.

I say gently, to her and only to her, "But she know what she can rely on me for. She knows that what I expect is no more than what she can give. She has never disappointed me."

"Dana?" Terence says softly. When she makes no answer he says, "Dana, until you believe you are deserving of happiness, nothing is going to change."

She raises her head and, for the first time since she entered this office, looks at me. She says, "I trust you," and smiles.

"I trust you too," I say, and smile back.

Terence releases a pent-up breath. "I feel like I just witnessed an epiphany," he says, smiling benignly at us both. "Now, Mulder, remember what I said. Let Dana set the pace."

"I will."

"And, Dana. Trust him."

"I will," she says softly, her eyes never leaving my face, and for a moment I have an urge to say something to the effect of, "With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship." But I don't, of course.

"All right. Go home. I haven't talked to my wife all day. Good night."


3.

In the car we are quiet as Scully takes me home. The radio plays randomly, and my favorite Dire Straits song comes on. Mark Knopfer sings over guitars and a synthesizer: "So far away from me/So far I just can't see/You're so far away from me. . ." and I drum my fingers on my knees, following the chord changes.

My mind is racing in a thousand directions at once, trying to take in what I've learned. I want to kill the man who started this. The one who robbed her of her virginity, took away her confidence and her sense of worth. No wonder she devotes so much of herself to our work, if it's the only thing that gives her any satisfaction.

I don't know what to say to her. We haven't actually said the word but we both know it comes down to one thing. Sex. She has asked me to have sex with her. I want to have sex with her. And neither of us have a clue of what to do next.

I have dreamed, imagined and fantasized this. I don't know what she expects. She is so tense I feel like if I touch her she'll fly apart.

I cannot let her go tonight until this tension is eased.

Scully pulls up to the curb in front of my building but does not turn off the engine. "Well," she says, "good night, I guess, Mulder."

"Come up with me, Scully."

Her eyes go wide and she says quickly, "I'm not sure --"

"We won't make love tonight. Just come up with me for a little while."

"And do what?" she says, but there is a hint of a smile at the corner of her mouth.

"Snog?"

She laughs abruptly and covers her mouth. "Snog?" she repeats.

"Snog. You know, kiss a little and hug a little."

"I know what it means, I've watched Monty Python."

"So? Interested?"

"Promise it'll just be snogging?"

"Scout's honor. You don't even have to take off your shoes."

"Hmm. Okay." She gives me a faintly challenging smile and we get out of the car and go upstairs.

My apartment is not the most romantic setting, but I turn the lamp to its lowest setting and put some make-out music on the stereo in an attempt to make it more so. Scully watches me with a mix of amusement and trepidation, perched on the edge of the couch. My own pulse is racing, and when I sit down next to her my hands are trembling.

"Our first real kiss," she murmurs, leaning back. And I can't think of a joke to save my life. She cups my face in her hands and pulls me close, and whispers as I lean into her, "Snog me."

Of course I laugh, and she starts laughing too, and laughing, we kiss.

She tastes like peach schnapps. Like fresh apples. Like the air at the sea. Like all my favorite things and like something I've never tasted before. I could happily spend the rest of my life figuring out what I taste in her mouth.

She sighs softly and her hands move from my face to my shoulders, and she gently pushes me away. "Slowly," she says, her eyes pleading me with to understand, and I nod.

"We'll go where you lead," I tell her, and stroke her cheek with my thumb. Again she sighs, and her delicate fingers slowly touch my face, tracing my eyes, my nose, my ears and finally my mouth, with a touch as light as a butterfly's wing. I close my eyes. Her mouth follows the route her fingers took, her touch still so light her kisses are like dreams. She kisses me innocently, like how children kiss, and I realize how much I've missed this, to kiss for kissing's sake instead of as the beginning of something else. Her hands skim down my arms and over my chest, and one comes to rest lightly on my waist as the other move back up to my face. "Mulder," she sighs.

"What is it?"

"Just 'Mulder.'" She takes my lower lip between her teeth and rakes it lightly, and she continues kissing me softly and slowly. I wonder if she understands how powerful this moment is for me, that I have turned myself over to her entirely, that even if we never touch more than this she still possesses me body and soul.

She lifts her mouth and looks at me with a troubled expression. "Mulder? What's wrong?" she says and touches my cheek. Her fingers come away wet.

I sit up and wipe my face with the heels of my hands. "Sorry. I'm a little emotional, I guess."

"And I thought I would be the emotional one," she says tenderly. "Come here, you big silly." I go back in her embrace and cry a little more as she strokes my face and plays with my hair. Finally I rest my head in the crook of her neck and breathe in the scent of her skin. Her hand cradles my forehead, warm and reassuring. "Tell me what's wrong," she whispers.

"That's my question."

"You know what my problem is."

I am silent for a while. I do know, but I want to hear her version of it. Or maybe I don't. Finally I sigh and tell her, "I'm crying because you're not."

"Do you think I should be?" There is amusement in her voice.

"No, it's not that."

"Then what is it?"

"I wish we could back to before he hurt you and I could, I don't know, prevent it, protect you from him, make it so that --"

She puts her fingers on my mouth. "Mulder, stop. Wishing won't change how things are."

"Why didn't you tell anyone?"

"I didn't think anyone would believe me. I thought my parents would be disappointed in me." Her voice drops to barely a whisper. "I thought it was my fault."

"Oh, Scully." I raise my head from her shoulder and kiss her warmly, and she pulls me close.

"It took me ten years to tell someone," she says. "Only my old therapist, Terence, and you know. Nobody else needs to."

"Your mother should know. She loves you, she'd understand."

She shakes her head. "I can't face it, Mulder. Not yet. The look in her eyes . . . I just can't."

"Okay, that's fair," I say. "But."

"But?"

"But if there's anything else I need to know, I think you should tell me now."

She drops her eyes and says, "No, there's nothing else." I touch her face and she kisses me abruptly. "No questions, tonight, please, Mulder," she whispers, and kisses me so I can't speak anyway. She is tiny in my arms, tiny and perfect. So I ask no more questions.

She leaves my apartment before things get too heated. I am reluctant to let her go. I want her to stay with me, she could sleep in my bed while I take the couch - but she shake her head when I start to speak, and leaves me without a word. Tomorrow in the office things will be as they always are, but the nights are ours.

Still, something doesn't feel right. Not what she needs me to do, but how to do it. If she believes only I can end her pain, I will move heaven and earth to fulfill her belief. But the mechanics of it is the hard question, the when and the where and the what. Well, I know the what. But it should be apart from the rest of our lives. Dim lighting and Miles Davis won't make my apartment a romantic place - - it's barely tolerable as living space. Her apartment is no better, too many associations. There's got to be a place we could go, someplace safe and apart.

It comes to me suddenly. Years ago -- back in the throes of another relationship I try not to dwell on now -- I spent a week in a little town in Vermont that I fell in love with. It was one of those tiny, charming places that isn't so trendy it's overrun with tourists. When I went there before we stayed in a hotel, but I asked -- already planning to come back someday -- and there are houses to rent as well. Beautiful, secluded, old houses, the kind I know Scully likes, with porches, gabled windows, flowing curtains, shingled roofs . . .

And nothing is too good for my Scully.

4.

The next morning there is a cup of iced tea waiting for me on my desk, and no sign of Scully. Strongly brewed tea with a twist of lemon, just the way I like it. I send an email to her upstairs office, "My secret admirer left some iced tea on my desk . . . jealous?"

A few minutes later I get this message back: "Oh . . . yes. Enjoy your tea."

I grin and write her back: "I'm thinking of a place I'd like to kiss you. Care to guess?"

She answers me: "New Hampshire?"

"A little more south."

"Ah. Georgia."

"Want to go out to lunch?"

"In Georgia?"

"Nathan's Famous on Coney Island."

"Sure . . . I've never been to Coney Island."

"Can I kiss you on Coney Island?"

"Only if you don't get onions on your hot dog."

"Oh, problem. We can't go to New York and back in time for lunch. I guess the usual cart on the corner will have to do. My treat. Can I kiss you on the corner?"

"Only if I can kiss you on the stairs."

"Baby, you can kiss me anywhere on God's green earth."

"Oh, trust me. I will." And she ends this with a wink.

Oh, boy. If anyone reads this, maybe they'd just think we're aggressively flirting. I can hardly wait to tell her about my plans.

The morning drags by as I answer my mail, make phone calls, and clean up the files that have been waiting to be put away. Scully does not come down from her office. I guess we're both feeling a little awkward this morning. And I can't kiss her when I see her next, that will have to wait until we're alone again.

Our email gives me an idea, though. I call her phone at home and wait through her answering machine message. I say in my sexiest voice, spinning around in my chair and leaning back to put my feet up, "Scully, it's me. First, I'm going to unbutton your blouse with my teeth. I'm going to kiss your neck and your breasts, and then I'm going to take off your skirt and your stockings. I'm going to kiss your entire body, finishing up with your mouth. I'm going to kiss you long and hard, Scully, and then I'm going to lay you down, and then I'm going to make love to you. Bye." I hang up the phone, grinning, and turn around to see Scully standing in the doorway, trying hard not to laugh. Suddenly I don't know what to do with my hands.

"Is that a promise?" she says, her lips quirking.

"Um, yeah. When you're, you know, ready."

"Mulder, I think we need to talk. Come on, let's get lunch." She holds out her hand, which I take.

We go to our usual hot dog stand and get sodas and hot dogs with the works. The day isn't too cold, so we find a park bench and sit down to eat.

Soon Scully says, wiping mustard from the corners of her mouth, "I've been thinking about what happened last night."

"Which part?"

"All of it. And I think I've overstepped the bounds of our friendship. So you don't need to feel obligated to -- you know."

"Do you think I'd make love to you out of a sense of obligation?" I ask, smiling despite myself.

"No." She watches the passers-by.

"Scully. Hey, Scully. Don't you trust me anymore?"

"Of course I trust you! You're the only one I trust. But this is about something else entirely."

"Is it?"

"You and I becoming lovers is insane, Mulder."

"Is it?" I say again, softly. I put my hand on hers, and she turns her hand and grips mine tightly.

"What would happen to us if it got out? Or even if just our enemies found out? Can you imagine what they'd do?"

I can imagine what they'd do. It's probably worse than what she imagines, and I don't repress my shiver.

"You see," Scully whispers. "It's insane. I shouldn't have asked you."

"Are you sorry you did?"

She looks away at the passers-by, her hand still gripping mine. "No. If things were different . . . but they're not different."

"They could be."

"How?"

"If we go away."

"I'm not running away just to have sex with you."

"I don't mean running away. Just taking a little vacation."

"Together?"

"Of course."

"Where would we go?"

"Vermont. I know this great place with skiing and horseback riding and hiking, and a beautiful old house we could rent and . . . just let nature be . . . natural," I finish lamely.

"When did you think of this?"

"Last night, after you left."

"Hm. Interesting. But it doesn't solve the essential problem."

"Well, if nothing else, it would be a vacation for you. I'd be your houseboy."

"Answering my every whim, is that it?" She smiles, picturing - I hope - exactly what whims I could answer.

"Like -" I name the most sappy-romantic thing I can think of. "Like washing your hair." Her grin broadens, so I go on. "Or painting your toenails, or rubbing your back, or making you my world-famous omelettes."

"Or singing to me," she says softly.

"And rocking you to sleep."

We smile, caught up in the fantasy that seemed so real I can almost touch it. I can almost see her sleeping in my arms, her lips parted, her face peaceful. I tell her, my voice low, "And nothing will happen that you don't want."

"I want to," she whispers. "I want to so bad. Just to get away from things." Her grip on my hand tightens again. "But I can't promise anything, Mulder, that I'll be able to - you know -"

"It's okay, Scully," I reassure her. "All that matters is that you trust me."

"Won't it look suspicious, though, both of us taking vacations at the same time?"

"It's Christmas. The whole city is shutting down." She doesn't answer, and I say,"Scully. Tell me what you're really afraid of."

She stares at me, hard. Finally she sighs and says quietly, "I'm afraid of so many things I don't know where to start."

"Do you want to know what I'm afraid of?" She hesitantly nods. "I'm afraid of hurting you. I'm afraid of letting you down. Most of all I'm afraid of never being able to make you happy. But I think it's worth the risk to try."

Her other hand comes up to touch my face. She says, her thumb lightly stroking my cheekbone, "It is worth the risk. When do we leave?"

"How about the twentieth?

She's smiling again, I see with relief. "And what should I bring?"

"Whatever will amuse you. Books videotapes, music, skis, um, snowpants . . ."

"Toenail polish," she adds, and I laugh.

"Toenail polish," I agree. I start to lean in to kiss her, then remember where we are and stop myself. A look of disappointment crosses her face, but she goes on stroking my cheek.

"Can I come over tonight?" she says softly.

"Sure."

"And we can . . . snog."

"Sure," I say, grinning.

"We should be getting back."

"Yeah. Unless you want to take a long lunch."

"Oh, yes. This bench is so romantic and private." She let's go of me and stands. She puts her hands on her hips and smiles. "You know something, Mulder?"

"What?" I squint up at her.

"You have the *best* lips," she says, and blushes and hurries back towards the J. Edgar Hoover building.

I haven't looked forward to Christmas vacation like this since grade school. I toss my garbage into the nearest can and walk back to the Hoover building, resisting the urge to whistle.


II. Wait

"pressed up against the glass I found myself wanting sympathy but to be consumed again oh I know would be the death of me"


1.

To pass the time on the drive, we're playing one of our road games. "'Once more into the breach, dear friends,'" Scully says.

"'Henry V.' Ask me a hard one, Scully."

"Okay . . . oh, I can't do the voice right. It's 'You take the blonde and I'll take the one in the turban.'"

"Hm . . . Marty Feldman. 'Young Frankenstein.'"

"You've seen too many movies, Mulder."

"It's my substitution for an actual life." I smile at her, and she smiles back, her hand tightening on my knee, where's it's been resting since we left the airport. "Your turn."

"As long as it's not from a movie called 'The Erotic Adventures of O' or whatever they're named now."

"You mean you've never seen 'Lola's House of Pleasure? It's a classic."

She makes a face. "Something mainstream."

"What's our turnoff again? 147?"

"Um. . ." She rummages for our directions and checks the map. "That's it."

"We're almost there. I've got a movie for you. 'Leave her alone, you bitch!"

"Oh, easy. 'Aliens.' The second one, the James Cameron one."

"Okay, can you name any lines from the Ridley Scott one?"

"Um . . . no. I haven't seen it for years."

"Good thing I brought it, then."

"I know a movie you've never seen." She grins at me. "'Killer Clowns from Outer Space.'"

"Ehh!" I imitate a buzzer and she laughs. "Seen it, laughed my head off. Have you ever seen 'Attack of the Killer Tomatoes'?"

"Of course. Have you ever seen 'Plan 9 From Outer Space'?"

"Of course. Have you ever seen . . ."

We go on like for some time. We can spend hours quizzing each other on movies we've seen or haven't seen. It passes the time, and I can admit seeing movies to her that I'd never admit to anyone else. Like 'Killer Clowns from Outer Space.' Imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered she's as much a B-movie freak as I am.

Eventually we reach our destination. The town is called Cobb Creek, and it's in the heart of Vermont ski country. By sheer luck I managed to find a house for us to rent, even though it's the height of tourist season, and when I pull the car into the drive I sit back for a moment in amazement. It's gorgeous. Two and a half stories, full front porch, painted a pale yellow with white trim. There's a shed at the end of the drive that looks like a small barn, and a basketball hoop next to the carport. It looks wholesome and homey and just the kind of place for two weary people to retreat for a while.

"Wow," Scully says softly.

"My thoughts exactly." We grin at each other and get out of the car.

The owner of the house is waiting on the front porch, a plump smiling woman in her fifties. "Mr. Mulder? I'm Leah Robinson."

"Hi. Fox Mulder. And this is Dana."

Mrs. Robinson shakes Scully's hand with enthusiasm. "A pleasure. A pleasure. It's so good to meet you at last, after all our phone conversations. Here are the keys. I had a cleaning crew in here Thursday, so everything should be in order. There's a list of addresses and phone numbers that should help you -- restaurants that deliver, the grocery store, so on." She puts the keys into my hand and smiles brightly. "Would you like me to show you around?"

"Sure, would you?" Scully says, and we follow her into the house. Mrs. Robinson chatters nearly nonstop - this wall has been repainted, these curtains are new, that chair is antique and this one is a replica - and Scully and I just hold hands and follow her, smiling at each other.

The house is bright. Pale wood floors, walls painted in pastel colors, comfortable overstuffed couches, Shaker style tables and chairs. A sizable TV. I brought my own VCR.

We go upstairs to look at the bedrooms. They're large and airy, and the master bedroom has a beautiful king-size bed with the thickest, fluffiest patchwork quilt I've ever seen. A perfect place to curl up with Scully on a snowy evening, with a cup of hot cocoa and a good book . . .

I smile a little. It's maybe too early to think about sleeping in the same bed with her. I put my arm around her neck, her hand still in mine, and kiss her temple, and Mrs. Robinson smiles approvingly.

"Well, you probably want to be alone." Mrs. Robinson heads for the door. "Have a good honeymoon, Mr. Mulder, Mrs. Mulder, and a Merry Christmas." She waves to us as she goes down the front porch, gets into her car and drives away.

Scully pulls her hand from mine and steps away from me. I don't like the expression on her face, like she's not yet mad but soon will be. "Why did you tell her we're married?" she asks, crossing her arms over her chest.

"I didn't. She assumed, I decided not to correct her. Would you rather I tell people the real reason we're here?"

"No, of course not."

"And it just sounds better, I think, to say we're honeymooners instead of saying we work together and ran away for a naughty weekend. This is a honeymoon, in a way, after all."

"Oh?" She's got her full skeptical face on.

"Yeah, you know, a new beginning kind of thing. A transition from one kind of relationship to another." Am I digging myself into a hole with this babbling?

"I don't like lying, Mulder."

"I know, I know, but it's not really a lie. It's just not quite the truth."

She shakes her head. "I don't like this, Mulder, not at all." But then she smiles and catches my hand. "On the other hand, I kind of get a kick out of being called Mrs. Mulder."

Probably not as much as I like hearing it. "Come on, let's get our stuff."


2.

After unpacking the car I order pizza, and while we wait we finish unpacking. There's some hesitation at first as to what goes where - we never really discussed sleeping arrangements - so finally I say, standing in the doorway to the master bedroom, "This can be your room, I'll take the one across the hall." The view isn't as spectacular as the other room, though I can see a good portion of the forest and Black Mountain in the distance, and the bed isn't as big. But if the time comes when we want to sleep together, we'll both take the big one.

Apparently my plan is obvious. "I can see through your insidious plot, Mulder," she says, but she's smiling.

"What insidious plot?"

"You want the big bed."

"Good thing there's room enough for two, don't you think? Unless you don't want to share."

"It's not a question of wanting," she says hesitantly, and there's no laughter in her face now. "I can't sleep with another person in bed with me. I get too tense and lie awake all night."

"Well, we can't have that," I say softly. "You take the other room, like I said. This room is great for me."

"We need to talk about that, Mulder."

"Oh?" I thought it was already settled, but I sit cross-legged on the bed and wait for her to speak. She folds her arms over her stomach, her face uncertain and determined.

"I've been thinking. I mean, I thought this was a good idea when you first brought it up, but the more I've thought about it the more - difficult - it seems."

"I'm not sure I understand."

"Look. I appreciate all of this. I do. You've been wonderful - you've restored my faith in mankind -"

"Well, my work here is done."

"Please, I'm not kidding. I know how this has been for you, me making impossible demands, and the expense of this alone -"

"Whoa." I hold up one hand. "First of all, your demands have been anything but impossible. I wouldn't even call them demands. And don't you worry about the expense. My father left me a wealthy man, and I can't think of anything I'd rather spend the money on than you."

She sighs, rubbing her forehead, and then looks up at me through her hand. "Okay. Here's what I really think. You and I having sex is insane."

"Oh."

"Our becoming lovers would only interfere with our working relationship, which has enough tenuous moments as it is."

"Oh."

"And it would certainly interfere with our friendship."

I say softly, "Interfere, or enhance, do you think?"

"I don't know. I mean, it's *sex,* Mulder, and I've been trying to convince myself that it won't change things between us, but sex always changes things. It'll change *us.* And I'm not sure I want us to change."

"It does raise the question of what happens when we return to Washington, that's true enough. But, Scully, let me remind you to two things. This can just be a vacation if you want it to be, we've got this gorgeous house and four inches of fresh powder on the slopes and I even bought Christmas tree lights." That gets a smile, albeit an uncertain one, but I add my second point nonetheless. "And this was your idea."

Again she sighs. She comes over to me and puts her hands on my shoulders. "I want to change," she says softly, "I want to change *me.* But your part in all this - it worries me. It scares me. You mean so much to me, Mulder."

I stand. Her hands stay on my shoulders, her eyes wide. I say softly, "You mean everything to me, Scully," and I kiss her, my hands on her waist.

For the first time her lips open beneath mine without any urging, and her tongue probes into my mouth. I keep my hands on her waist and let her kiss me as she will. When we part we both are breathing pretty hard, which is as heated as things have gotten so far. I lean my forehead against hers, breathing against her mouth. She nudges my mouth with hers and kisses me again.

It is harder and longer this time, as she breathes in my breath and runs her hands over my chest. With her hands on my waist she pulls me so that our hips are so close the only thing that separate us is the sixteenth of an inch of our clothes. She pulls my head closer still, reaching deeper into my mouth with an insistent tongue.

Alarms bells are going off in my head - this is too fast, she is trying too hard before she's really ready - but I am not about to stop her, either. I promised I would follow where she takes me, and that means everywhere she might care to go. My hands want to wander over her but I keep them firmly on her waist. Our breath seems loud and harsh in the silent house.

She pulls away first. She presses her cheek against my chest and I stroke her hair, waiting.

Finally she lifts her face to look at me, and she says softly, "I'm still scared."

"It's okay, sweetheart. One step at a time." I stroke her face with the backs of my fingers, and she smiles.

"I hope all your patience will be worth the reward," she says quietly.

"I don't doubt it, Scully." I hold her to me, her head tucked under my chin, and - not for the first time - it strikes me how well we fit together. Every way I hold her feels natural, as if I've been doing it all my life. We should have been children together, we should have been each other's first kiss, first date, first love. But I suppose it doesn't matter. She will be my last.

She kisses me again, briefly this time, and steps out of my arms. "Let's get our things out of the car."

"What do you want to go about meals?" I ask as we go back downstairs. "Eat out, order in, or cook?"

"Some combination of all three, ideally. We can go grocery shopping tomorrow. Do you even know how to cook?"

"Hey, I am a great cook."

"Uh-huh."

"I am. My omelettes are renowned in five states."

"Delusion, denial, confusion, insanity and -?"

I love it when Scully makes jokes. Frohike once described it as Stealth humor and that's the best description of it I've ever heard. I make an mock-injured face, grabbing my heart, and say, "Really, Scully, I'm hurt."

"You've live, it's only a flesh wound." Oh, she's on one now.

I stop on the stairs and plant my feet apart, holding the banister in one hand and my other hand braced on the wall, so she can't pass. She raises an eyebrow at this, and I say, "No crossing until you kiss me and apologize."

"For insulting your cooking?"

"You have never eaten anything I've cooked. You're making assumptions that I fully intend to prove wrong."

"According to the evidence I've gathered over the past five years, Mulder, you don't know an eggplant from a rump roast, so why should I assume you're a good cook?"

"Why should you assume I'm a bad one?"

"I've seen your kitchen, that's why." She attempts to pass but I don't move.

"Consider it paying a toll, then."

"Ug, Mulder, you're as bad as my nephews." She pecks my cheek.

"Weak. Doesn't count. And you still need to apologize."

"Oh, fine . . . I apologize for insulting your cooking ability, and for doubting you even have a cooking ability. Will you move now?"

"We need to work on your sincerity, Scully."

"I'll show you sincere-" She puts her hands on my shoulders and kisses me firmly. Oh, yes. I'd call this one sincere. I let go of the banister and the wall and wrap my arms around her. Even though she's two risers above me we're still barely eye-level, and I lift her up so that her feet dangle above the stairs.

I intend to turn around and place her on the stairs below me, but instead Scully does something that shocks the hell out of me: she wraps her legs around my waist. I suppose in itself this isn't a big deal, but in all our snogging she hasn't let me get this close to her body. I've tried to keep my hands to unthreatening places, like her hands and shoulders and knees. This is - this is so unexpected I almost drop her, and I lean her back against the wall because I'm not sure I can hold her up. My legs feel weak with lust. I don't know how else to describe it. My body just wants to touch her, my skin longs for contact, my mouth wants to devour her.

"Mulder," she whispers finally. "Mulder, please -" Her legs disengage from me and I let her go enough so she can stand on her own feet. I sink to my knees, too stunned to stand, and press my cheek against her stomach. She runs her hands through my hair, waiting for me to recover.

Why does this effect me more than it does her? When we kiss I feel like she's placating me before we go back to regular life, while for me it's an epiphany, it's my birthday, Christmas and the Fourth of July, it's all that and a bag of chips, it's like beholding the face of Love herself.

I look up at her and she smiles gently. "Are you all right?" she asks quietly.

"Yeah. Are you?"

"I'm okay. We still need to unpack."

"Yeah." Still, I'm reluctant to let her go. I could stay like this forever, just holding her, my ear pressed against the gurgles of her tummy and the steady ta-tump of her heartbeat. And I am reminded, suddenly and sadly, of how much I would like to hear a second heartbeat when I hold her like this, and feel the sturdy kick of our child against my hand. I know - more than she does - that it's possible, but it's as extreme a possibility as anything else we've encountered over the years.

The doorbell rings and we both sigh. "Mulder. Come on."

"I know." I stand, still holding onto her waist.

"Did you hear anything interesting?" she teases gently, stroking my cheek.

"Yeah, um, yeah. I could have sworn I heard someone say 'feed me, Seymour.'"

"Then let's eat. And tip him well, it's a long way from Cobb Creek."

"Yes, ma'am," I say, and kiss her quickly before tromping down the stairs to pay the pizza guy.

We eat on the floor of the living room, with the lights low, jazz on the stereo and a fire in the fireplace. We talk about movies and jazz and the best pizzas we've ever had, and finally around eleven we kiss good night and go to our separate beds. I set Samantha's picture on the night stand and tell her good night, as I always do.

The door is open between our rooms, but neither of us cross the hall.


III: Plenty

"in more than words I tried to tell you - the more I tried I failed"

 


1.

In the morning I go for a run, bundled up in three layers. The sun sparkles on the snow like diamonds, the road in front of our house is plowed and pounded down so that I can run with hardly a slip, and my breath comes out in long trailing vapors. It's clear and cold, perfect winter weather.

I take the road until I read the edge of the fence that leads to the ski resort. The road curves up the hill, but behind the fence there's also a path that leads into the woods. I decide to take the path. I haven't run in the woods for a long time.

The woods are quiet, its sounds muffled by snow. In fact the only things I can hear are my own footfalls, my breath and the occasional drip of melting snow from tree branches. I recite bits of poems as I run, my steps emphasizing the syllables.

 

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep."

 

I turn on the path and start the run back to the road. Scully must be wondering where I am. I left her doing her morning yoga. I invited her to come running with me but she said she wanted to save her energy for skiing later. How running could tire her out but yoga doesn't is a mystery to me.

 

"In Xanadu did Kublai Khan his stately pleasure dome decree,

Where Alph, the sacred river ran -"

 

I stop abruptly, breathing hard. Muscles in my legs twitch in protest at the sudden change, but I play them no mind.

A man is standing on the path in front of me. He's wearing a thin coat and boots, dark pants and a broad-brimmed hat. He's young, twenty at most, and his hair and eyes are brown. He looks normal enough, except that his expression is forlorn, miserable, and somehow I doubt the locals wear period costume on a regular basis.

I take a step towards him and say softly, "Are you all right?" Which is, I think, a good way to start a conversation with someone - something - you haven't placed yet.

Slowly he shakes his head, and then he turns his back to me and starts walking up the path. I watch him for several moments, wondering if he'll reveal more to me of who he is and what he's doing here, and then I run to catch up. Time to find out. I reach out to touch his shoulder.

My hand passes right through.

He doesn't even give me a glance, but only continues walking, and with each step he gets fainter and fainter until he has completely disappeared.

And the only footsteps on the snow on my own.

 


2.

I burst into the house through the kitchen door. "Scully! You're not going to believe what I saw!"

I don't get an answer, and I call, "Scully!" as I walk into the living room, where I left her. The TV is off and her video is back on the shelf. I run up the stairs, and I can hear water running from her bathroom. Darn it. Something exciting to tell her and I have to wait.

Or do I? It's what we're here for, right?

I go the bathroom door and knock. "Scully? Can I come in for a second?"

The water shuts off and she says, "Did you say something?"

"Yeah, can I come in?"

"Um, I'm not decent."

"It'll just be a minute." I open the door. "I was out running in the woods and I saw the coolest thing."

"Would you hand me a towel?" Her hand appears from behind the shower curtain.

I take one off the towel rack and put it in her hand. "Scully, I think I saw a ghost."

"Out in the woods?"

"Yeah. A man - a boy - dressed like a pioneer, and he disappeared right before my eyes. I was just running and suddenly he was on the path."

"And he just disappeared."

"Poof."

She opens the shower curtain and comes out, swaddled in the towel. Her skin is flushed pink from the heat of the water and her hair hangs in damp ringlets around her face. Her face, makeup-less, looks younger than ever, dusted with pale brown freckles and with a beauty spot above her lip that for some reason she normally covers. I've left the door open, and goosebumps rise on her skin from the sudden cold. "Disappeared like went into the woods and you lost track of him, or disappeared like -"

"Evaporated. Faded out. Right before my eyes. I can show you the spot, if you like."

"I'll pass. Are you sure you didn't overdo, Mulder? You're probably not used to the altitude."

"I'm fine, Scully, it wasn't a trick of the light. I seriously think there's a ghost in our woods."

"They're hardly 'ours' . . ." She looks at me skeptically. "Did he say anything? Did you say anything?"

"I asked him if he was all right. He didn't answer. He just stood there, looking sad. He's probably lonely."

"Uh-huh."

"C'mon, Scully, a place like this could conceivably have ghosts, don't you think? It's been settled a long time."

"Mulder . . ." Her placating tone. She doesn't want to contradict me, but her sensibilities won't let this pass, either. "I have an easier time believing the White House is haunted than a place like this."

"A lot can happen in two hundred years. Weren't there some battles from the Revolutionary War fought near here?"

"I don't think the war ever got this far north. I'm freezing, would you wait a minute so I can get dressed?"

"Oh - sure. Hey, do you want to go skiing today?"

"Actually, we have shopping to do first. Maybe this afternoon. Mulder, could we get a Christmas tree?"

"Sure, if you want. Big one or little one?"

"The good ones are probably already taken. Let's see what we can find."

"Okay. I did bring lights. Multi-colored blinking ones."

"Wonderful." She gives me a none-too-discrete shove and I leave the bathroom, closing the door.

Okay, she doesn't believe that I saw a ghost. I'm not terribly surprised. Even if she saw one herself she wouldn't believe it until she'd inspected the area for mirrors and cameras.

I remember something and knock on the door again. "What is it, Mulder?"

"Dickens."

"What?"

"Dickens. 'A Christmas Carol.' Didn't he write that because the Victorians believed the spirit world was more active during Christmas time?"

"Mulder, the Victorians believed the spirit world had nothing better to do than lift tables and rap messages on bedroom walls."

"A generation in doubt of their connection to God always searches for answers regarding the afterlife. That's why there's been so much interest in New Age beliefs now. But that's not the point - I'm just saying there are traditions of Christmas being a time when ghosts were abroad -"

"Mulder, please, let it drop. You saw something, I'll grant you that. But it's too early in the morning for philosophical discussions, okay?"

"Okay. Sorry."

The bathroom door opens. She's in her bathrobe and the towel is draped over her shoulders. She smiles at me gently. "I just don't believe in ghosts, Mulder," she says.

"I know. I just wish you could have seen it."

She smiles again, rubbing her hair dry. "I know you do. It's part of your charm, you know, Mulder, your enthusiasm for things, how much you want to share them."

"Oh." My charm? I have charm? I don't quite know what to say to this, so I ask her, "Should we go out to breakfast?"

"Sure, since we really don't have anything but leftover pizza."

"That was breakfast to me for almost two years."

"Mulder, sometimes it's a wonder you're still alive."

"Yes, it's a question I've often asked myself." I realize with a start that she's waiting for me to leave so she can get dressed. I've perched myself on the edge of her bed - already made up, completely without wrinkles - and I hastily stand up. "I'll go take a shower."

"Good idea." She moves closer and puts her arms around me. "But first . . . don't I get a good-morning kiss?" From the twinkle in her eyes I'm not sure if she's joking or not, but I kiss her anyway.

I mean for it to be a simple kiss to say good morning, but at the touch of her lips it is like fire on dry grass, hot and hungry and out of control. We kiss like we are starving, like we are drowning, like there is nothing in existence but each other's mouths.

My hand slips under her bathrobe and I realize, deliriously, that she's naked, utterly naked, that the softness I feel is her own self, that this is the skin over her stomach and between her breasts and it's as soft as silk and warm, too, and probably tastes sweet -

My mouth leaves hers and I begin to kiss around her face and down her neck, tasting her skin with the flat of my tongue. It is sweet. I part her bathrobe further and nuzzle her breasts, and kiss my way down to her stomach. And there at the apex of her legs is a curly thatch of dark red hair, where I can't wait to plant my mouth -

Her back arches and her little hands stroke my neck and wind into my hair. "Mulder," she breathes softly, and then more insistently as I kiss lower, "Mulder."

Reluctantly I raise my head. "Time to stop?" She nods just as reluctantly and pulls away from me so that she can close her robe and retie the sash. She sits down on the bed, cross-legged, and rests her head on her hands.

"I don't know if I can do this, Mulder," she says softly.

"There's no rush, Scully."

"It's not that. I want you to touch me, Mulder. I'm just afraid of . . . disappointing you," she ends with a sigh.

"You won't, I promise. No matter what happens, I won't be disappointed."

She arches an eyebrow at me. "Oh?"

"I mean -" I sigh. "I mean, it doesn't matter if we make love or not."

"Oh?"

"I mean, it does matter, but it's not the - it's not - dammit, Scully. I don't expect anything from you. I told you. If you want me to just be your houseboy, I'm happy to do it. I just want to take care of you."

The arched eyebrow relaxes just a little. "You do make a pretty interesting houseboy," she says. "I'm hungry - are you hungry? Go take your shower so we can get breakfast."

"Yes, ma'am," I say, and lean over to kiss her cheek. She cups my face in her hand for a moment, and closes her bedroom door behind me when I leave.

 


3.

We drive into Cobb Creek. We find a diner that isn't infested with tourists, and we both order short stacks of blueberry pancakes and juice. Awkward silence settles over the table as we try to think of other things to talk about.

Finally I blurt, "So what's it like for you, Scully? When you've tried before, how is it for you?"

The Eyebrow comes out in full force. "What's it *like* for me? Do you realize what you're asking, Mulder?"

"I have an idea. If you don't want to tell me -"

"No, I want to tell you. Let you know what you're in for."

"I have an idea of that, too."

She sips her water. "It's not fun," she says quietly, her eyes not meeting mine. "I want to and I want to and I just can't. For one reason or another. Most of the time I just close my eyes and think of England." She gives a tight smile and sips her water again.

"And no one ever noticed?"

"I cheated. Lubricants and fakes."

"A man can tell -"

She makes a disbelieving sound. On anyone else I'd call it a derisive snort.

"-if he's paying attention."

"I guess no one was paying attention."

"And no matter what they did, it didn't work for you."

"There's not much they could do."

"Not even when they -" I try to think of a delicate way to say this. This is a family restaurant, after all. Her look of amusement is growing as I struggle. Finally I whisper, "Lick the monkey?" and her laugh rings through the diner. I sink into my seat and hope the pleasant-looking older couple behind Scully aren't eavesdropping on us.

When her giggles subside Scully says mildly, "Actually I've never had that particular . . . maneuver."

"Never?"

"Never."

"Well, I guess I know where to start." I give her my best bedroom eyes and she starts laughing again.

"Later," she says. "We'll talk about this later. We need to make a grocery list."

"Whipped cream," I say, which gets me both a laugh and a reproachful look. "For waffles," I protest.

"Uh-huh. Only if you're making them, I never figured those out." She gets a pen and notebook out of her mini-backpack and starts our grocery list. "So. Whipped cream, flour, milk, butter, eggs. What else?"

"Green peppers and mushrooms. For Denver omelettes."

"How come the only food you know how to make is breakfast? Waffles, omelettes -"

"I can almost make anything pasta-based. Lasagna, fettuccine, uh, rigatoni -"

"Bread, tuna, mayonnaise, dill pickles, mustard, fennel seeds."

"What for?"

"To put in the tuna. It's delicious. Trust me."

"Ice cream."

"Right." She writes a few things more and then puts the pen and notebook down. "Let's improvise the rest."

"Improvise? You?"

"Mulder, I'm improvising this entire vacation. Groceries is the least of my worries." She drops her eyes as she puts the notebook away, blushing furiously. "Like you said, letting nature be natural."

"Did I say that?"

"You know you did, Mr. I remember everything to the point of absurdity."

"Yeah." We smile at each other awkwardly. I think, *So much to say, and no way to say it.* I reach over the table and take her hand. "Scully," I begin.

"Mulder," she says at the same time, and we break off and go back to awkwardly smiling. "You go first."

"You sure?" She nods, and I sigh. "Okay. I'm not entirely improvising."

"You have a plan?"

"I do. It involves you and me and skiing and hiking -"

"And toenail painting. I'm not letting you forget that."

I let go of her hand just long enough to crack my fingers. "Bring it on, baby."

"I brought ten different colors. One for each toe."

I grin, picturing what I'd like to do to her toes.

Scully shakes her head. "Get that lecherous look off your face, Mulder."

"Lecherous? Me?"

"Mulder." With a warning look.

"Anyway, my point. My plan, Scully, is to make you so relaxed, so comfortable, that you forget who you are."

"Are you sure you want it to go that far?" She's smiling, but there is uncertainty in her eyes.

"If that's what it takes for you to enjoy yourself."

She sighs, and half-heartedly pulls her hands from mine. "Mulder, stop trying to dress it up. We're here to have sex, and there's no point in trying to make it romantic."

"What if I want to be romantic?"

She raises her eyebrows again, and then puts her hands in mine. I go on softly, stroking the backs of her hands with my thumbs, "I want to be romantic, Scully. I want to seduce and charm you and bring you to my bed so slowly that when I make love to you it's perfectly -"

"Natural," Scully whispers, and her fingers squeeze mine.

"Exactly. What were you going to say?"

She smiles and shakes her head. "It's irrelevant now. I thought you were kidding about all that romantic stuff. I didn't think you were the romantic type. I guess the only thing for you to do is prove me wrong."

"Challenge accepted," I say, and we clink glasses.


4.

We find our Christmas tree, a six-foot blue pine. We have to buy a tree stand and a skirt to protect the floor from needles, but I have my lights and Scully brought ornaments. Wooden and cloth ones, mostly, that look like folk art: old-world or frontier Santas, reindeer heads, praying angels, musical instruments. No plastic Hallmark ornaments for Scully, though I do tease her about her need for a good Star Trek ornament or two. As a topper she brought a star that plugs into the string of lights, and it casts a mellow glow over the living room.

Once it's all decorated, Scully steps back and inspects it thoughtfully. "It needs something," she says.

"I hate that tinsel stuff. It sheds."

"I wasn't thinking of tinsel. I have something for you."

"It should wait until Christmas Day."

"I think you'll want it sooner." She goes to the front closet and gets out a largish paper bag, which she hands to me, her face nervous and expectant. I give her a puzzled glance and tear of the tape holding the bag closed.

Inside is a battered brass menorah. I take it out of the bag and turn it over in my hands.

"I have no idea when Hanukkah is," Scully says, "but I bought this back in Washington and I thought if we're going to have a tree then we need a menorah too. To cover all the bases."

"Thanks," I say softly.

She sighs. "You hate it. I'm sorry. I'll put it away, we don't -"

"No. I like it. I haven't used one in ages. Hanukkah is over, though, it ended a few days ago." I manage to smile. "I do have eight presents for you, though."

"I have eight presents for you, too." Her smile is back. "There are candles in the bag. Do you want to light them?"

"Tonight. They make electric ones now, you know."

"The many wonders of technology." She watches me as I put the menorah into the sill of the other picture window. I haven't lit a menorah of my own since . . . well, since ever, and my family stopped observing holidays when Samantha was taken. Even before then, we celebrated an uncomfortable mishmash of Christian and Jewish traditions, a menorah next to a nativity scene kind of thing. I've never even been to a Passover Seder. My mother never did one herself and my father wouldn't let us go to one with her family. I didn't see much of my mother's family, growing up.

"All we need is a dreidl," I tell Scully.

"I couldn't find one of those."

"Next year," I say, even though dreidls are really for kids. Maybe next year . . . I go to Scully and put my arms around her, and kiss her forehead. "Thank you."

"My pleasure, Mulder." She wraps her arms around my waist and holds me tight for a moment. She raises her face to me and I kiss her mouth and cheeks and nose, until with a sigh she gently pulls away.

"Let's go for a walk. Show me where you saw the ghost."

"Sure." I'd almost forgotten about the ghost. "Do you think we'll see it again?"

"I'll be happy with seeing it once." She squeezes my hand and lets it go.

We bundle ourselves up in coats and boots and walk up the road to where it meets the forest. We don't say much, but it's a comfortable silence. Our silences are usually easy. Scully has never been one to talk for the sake of talking. I feel like, with her, I can say nothing and speak volumes. There's so much in just a look in her eyes. I can only hope my looks and gestures are just as eloquent.

We get to the spot on the path. There's still only one set of footprints, my size-eleven feet in running shoes. "Here," I say, showing her where I stopped. "And he was standing right here."

"Hm. It's kind of remote."

"I'm sure that helped. Ghosts rarely show up on busy street corners - although there's supposed to be a ghost on Nob Hill in San Francisco - and there are several haunted theaters in London -"

"Hm. I'm just wondering . . . did you see his face?"

"As clearly as I can see you."

"Interesting."

"Do you believe me, Scully?"

"I believe you saw *something* . . . Scully says. "Are you sure it wasn't, maybe, one of the local people having some fun with you?"

"He didn't look like he was having fun. And he disappeared, Scully, he - he faded out. You can't do that except with trick photography, and I don't see anything around here that could work as a camera or a screen."

"That's true," Scully says, as if to herself, "if there was a screen you'd run right through it . . . Mulder." She turns to me. "Do you want to ask around? See if there are any old stories that might explain this?"

"Yeah," I say, grinning. This feels like a major victory - she believes me, or at least is willing to believe me. "Let's ask around. I bet Mrs. Robinson would know something."

"We'll start with her." She takes my hand again and we start walking towards the road.

"Hey, Scully," I say in my most conversational tone. "This place is pretty remote, isn't it."

"Yes."

"Does that give you any ideas?"

She glances at me and laughs. "It's too cold," she says. "I'd hate for some of your more sensitive parts to get frostbitten - or mine, for that matter."

"It was just a thought."

"Maybe with a sleeping bag . . ."

"Well, in that case, I'll find a sleeping bag."

"I said 'maybe.' Don't get your hopes up."

"I'm just planning ahead. Making love outdoors is high on those romantic places lists in women's magazines, isn't it?"

"I'm afraid I've never found it all that romantic."

"Why not? Or is that a dumb question."

"It's not a dumb question. Mulder . . . I was raped outdoors."

Shit. I don't say anything, I just put my arm around her shoulders and pull her close to me. She's told me nothing of the details of what happened to her - I only know it was date rape, that the prick knew her and still hurt her like that.

"I don't hate the outdoors," she says softly. "I just find them more dangerous than romantic."

"Scully, that time in Florida, with the moth men - were you scared then?"

"More of them than of you."

I kiss her gently. "Do you want to tell me about it?"

"No . . . but I probably should anyway. Look at this." She turns around and parts her hair, near the crown of her head. I lean in to look closely. There's a tiny jagged scar on the pale flesh. I kiss it and she brushes her hair back over it.

"He threw me down," she says quietly. "We were just walking and kissing some and he said - he said he wanted to have sex with me. He said I was beautiful, the prettiest girl in school. There's a botany lab at Berkeley, trees and a pond and several paths. It's kind of remote, like this place." She takes a deep breath, and I cup her face in my hands. She looks at me steadily. "Anyway, I said no. I mean, it was two weeks into the semester, I barely knew him. I liked him, though. His name was Matt. I said no and he got angry. He said why had I come out there with him if I wasn't going to act on my promises. I told him I hadn't promised anything and I'd rather just neck and wait a while - he said he'd waited long enough -" Her eyes squeeze closed for a moment. "He threw me down and my head hit a rock. I was groggy and we both were a little drunk -"

"Don't make excuses for him, Scully," I say quietly.

"Right. No excuses. So the next thing I knew was he had my jeans down around my knees and his fingers were - his fingers were inside me and he was kissing me so hard he bruised my mouth. I pushed at him and told him he was hurting me but he was so strong, Mulder." Her voice has dropped to a whisper, and her gaze is locked onto mine as if I'm the only thing holding her up. "He was so strong." Her hands wind themselves into my coat, twisting restlessly. "He turned me over and I started to crawl away, and he kicked me. So I was doubled over and near-throwing up and seeing double from my head, and he pushed my face into the dirt and raped me." She stops and her chest hitches a little, but her eyes don't leave mine. "And when he was done, he said, 'Baby, you were pretty good.'"

"Jesus, Scully." I wrap my arms around her and pull her close to me. I kiss her hair and rub my cheek against the top of her head.

"So I went back to my dorm and took a three-hour shower, cried myself to sleep and requested a transfer. I was at Johns Hopkins within the month."

"Did you see him again after that?"

"Oh, yeah. He'd smile this awful knowing smile, like he was thinking about doing it again. I think if he could have gotten me alone he would have. But the only times I was alone was in my room with the doors and windows locked. I didn't even go to bathrooms on campus without someone with me."

"And nobody noticed?"

"Girls travel in packs, Mulder."

"I find it hard to believe that you didn't change."

"I didn't. Maybe I did. I didn't go out on another date until I was a senior, and even that was a group date. I didn't even try to have sex until five years later. I just studied and spent a lot of time at the library. So I guess you can understand, can't you, why I don't find the great outdoors terribly great." She attempts to smile, but fails.

I kiss her again, as gently as I know how. "You're safe with me, Scully," I say quietly.

"I know, Mulder." She presses her cheek to my chest and I rock her slowly.

"Let's go back. It's getting cold."

"All right." But she makes no move to let me go.

"Scully? I need my legs to walk, love."

"Hm? Oh. Of course." She lets me go but hangs onto my hand. "Mulder," she says after we've been walking a few minutes.

"What?"

"You don't . . . you don't think I was asking for it, do you?"

"Of course not."

"Because sometimes I wonder, you know, if I did something that made him think I wanted him to."

"That's ridiculous, Scully."

"I know. But these were less-enlightened times. Maybe I did something - maybe I said something -"

"All you did was trust him, and he betrayed you. He's scum, Scully. Not even worthy to touch your shoes."

"Oh, Mulder." She smiles up at me and her arm goes around my waist. "Sometimes I wonder where you got this elevated view of me."

"That one's easy. I know you." I kiss her forehead and am rewarded with another one of her stunning smiles. Which is all the pay I really need.

 

"Stopping in the Forest on a Snowy Evening" is by Robert Frost. "Kublai Khan" is by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.


IV. Good Enough

 

"I never would have opened up but you seemed so real to me - after all the bullshit I've heard it's refreshing not to see - I don't have to pretend - she doesn't expect it from me"

 


1.

That night I find it near-impossible to sleep, but somehow I manage, anyway. I must be sleeping, because I hear singing. It's not Scully's voice - I know her singing voice, and while I find it lovely it's more throaty than this, more earthy. This voice is clear and high a very young girl's, and faint, like it's coming from downstairs.

"Lead kindly light, amid the encircling gloom,

Lead thou me on,

The night is dark and I am far from home,

Lead thou me on.

Keep thou my feet, I do not ask to see

The distant scene, one step enough for me."

What feels like a pair of lips brush my forehead. I'm not dreaming.

I sit up abruptly and see Scully standing in the doorway. "Scully? You okay?"

"Do you hear that, Mulder?" she whispers.

"The singing? I thought I was dreaming." But the voice is still singing. Faint, oh-so faint, but audible enough to make out the words.

"I was not ever thus, nor prayed that thou

Shouldst lead me on.

I loved to choose and see my path, but now

Lead thou me on.

I loved the garish day, and spite of fears,

Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years."





"Is it the radio?"

"I turned everything off before we went to bed."

"Mulder - don't laugh - but I'm a little scared."

Silently I hold out my arms, and she only hesitates a moment before she climbs into bed beside me and snuggles close. We listen to the third verse.

"So long thy power hath blest me, sure it still

Will lead me on.

O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till

The night is gone.

And with the morn those angel faces smile,

Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile."

"The ghost you saw," Scully whispers.

"Was a man and didn't say anything. This is a woman's voice."

"Or a boy soprano." The house is silent. We wait for the voice to begin again, but there's nothing. The concert is over for the night. Scully says, "I don't know what to make of that. Who would come and sing to us in the middle of the night?"

"Maybe my ghost has a partner."

"I think someone just decided to serenade us. Though why they chose that song. . ."

"An old hymn, in the middle of the night, to honeymooners? Not even the most rigid of fundamentalists would be that weird, do you think?"

"I - I don't know. It doesn't make any sense." She untangles herself from my arms. "Good night, Mulder. I'm sorry I woke you."

"'Sokay. Are you doing all right, Scully?"

"Oh, yeah. Fine. I'm just tired." She smiles at me from the doorway and goes back into her room.

I, however, am much to excited to sleep. I know some ghost hunters who'd love to hear about this - a disembodied voice, an apparition, two separate hauntings in the same area? It's got to be a great opportunity for them -

Except I don't want anyone to intrude on this time with Scully. No, if these ghosts are going to be hunted, I'll be the one to do it.

I get out of bed and dig in my luggage for my micro-cassette recorder, which I put on the night stand by Samantha's picture. If our ghost decides to sing again, I'll be ready.


2.

Our first skiing excursion, so of course I hurt myself. A nerve got pinched or a muscle got pulled, and I have to limp into the house on Scully's arm. "It was the double backflip," I protest as she maneuvers me onto the couch.

"I'd believe you if I thought you did it on purpose. Admit it, Mulder, you fell." She kneels down on the floor and unbuckles my boots and pulls them carefully off, as well as my thick ski socks.

"I was trying to hot dog."

"You fell, Mulder." She rises up on her knees to unzip my jacket. "I want you to take a hot bath."

"Do I offend?"

"It'll relax your muscles. We'll put a heating pad on it before you go to bed, and I hope we'll stop the swelling before it gets too painful. Can you hold up your arms?" Very gingerly I do so, and Scully manipulates my jacket, sweater and t-shirt off. I manage not to make too much of a fuss, just a grunt or two. "Okay, now, on your feet," she says, and helps me stand, being careful not to pull unnecessarily on my back.

"You would leave me to do the hard part by myself," I grumble.

"I really don't want to undress you completely in the living room, Mulder. I have some sense of modesty left."

We make our way to the bathroom and she starts the hot water running. "You can't say I never draw your bath," she says, and I smile, remembering.

"High time, too, woman," I say, and start working off my ski pants, drawing in my breath with a sharp hiss whenever my back twinges at my movements.

"Here, let me help you," Scully says indulgently. Her hands are cool on my skin and her touch is gentle, and she manages to undress me without my back protesting too much. She helps me ease into the water and turns to go.

"Aren't you going to keep me company?"

"I'm going to find you something for the pain. Aspirin at the very least."

"I'd rather you talk to me."

She sits down on the edge of the tub and runs her fingers through my hair. "You're the storyteller, you talk to me."

"How come you get to see me naked all the time and I've never seen you?"

Her face blushes scarlet and she says, looking away for a moment, "You've seen me naked."

"When. Name once."

"The first case. The hotel room."

"You were wearing underwear. Doesn't count." I grin at her, folding my hands over my chest.

"What are you plotting? Is this a ploy to get me in there with you?"

"Do you want to?"

"There's not enough room for both of us."

"Sure there is." I shove myself back against the far side of the tub.

"I'm not getting in there with you, Mulder, stop asking."

"Please?" I catch her hand and play with her fingers. "Please please please?"

"You are so ridiculous," she says with a sigh, standing. I sigh as well, resigned to another lonely bath, when I notice she's lifting her sweater over her head. She pulls off the thermal shirt beneath it as well, and stands there for a moment in her ski pants and demure peach bra. She takes a deep breath and runs her hands through her hair, then, not looking at me, takes off the rest of her clothes.

"God," I say softly.

"Oh, stop," Scully says, and gets into the water with me, facing me, her knees drawn up to her chest.

"What?"

"Don't get sentimental. I'm here just to keep you company."

"I'm not getting sentimental. You're so beautiful." I sit up carefully and take her hands, unwrapping them from her protective position. "Let me look at you, Scully."

"Mulder," she says in embarrassment, looking away from me again.

"Let me look at you. Let me see you." Drops of water sparkle on her skin, which is rosy from the heat of the water. Her nipples are darker than I expected, a shade of coral almost brown, and larger than I expected as well. Her breasts are high and round, firm as ripe peaches. Reluctantly she unfolds her legs and lets me pull her onto my lap so that she's sitting on my thighs, and she can't quite meet my eyes.

"Mulder," she says again, softly. "You'll hurt yourself."

"I'm just looking," I answer just as softly. I run my hands over her stomach, up over her ribs, around and between her breasts. "I always knew you were beautiful. Every time I look at you I wonder how close what I imagine is to reality. I have . . . I have underestimated you."

"I'm not beautiful, Mulder."

I raise my eyebrows at her. "According to whom?"

"I'm all out of proportion."

"According to whom?" I repeat, and she sighs. "You are in perfect proportion. The thing about a well-proportioned body is that it only shows when you're naked. Clothes cut you off in all the wrong places, but without them - oh, Scully, you're a work of art." I span her waist with my hands, slide them down to hold her hips. Despite my best intentions, the hot water and the strained muscles in my back, my cock is already twitching urgently against her thigh, and her hands clasp my shoulders tightly. I whisper, "I want to tell you a poem."

"I'm listening." She's holding herself stiffly. I can see her fighting against panic, against fear of what's coming next. I want to lift her up and thrust myself as deep into her as I can go, but I just stroke her sides and think about baseball, and quote her my poem.

"'My Love in her attire doth show her wit,

It doth so well become her;

For every season she hath dressings fit,

For Winter, Spring and Summer.

No beauty she doth miss

When all her robes are on:

But Beauty's self she is

When all her robes are gone.'"

"Hm," Scully says quietly. "Is it Shakespeare?"

"Anonymous. A wise, wise man."

"Sweet. It's sweet." She's relaxing, slowly, enough so that her deathgrip on my shoulders has eased up. She runs her hands lightly up my neck and back down to my stomach, watching her hands instead of looking at me. "You're not too bad yourself, you know," she says softly, and gives me a shyly flirtatious glance.

"You think so?"

"I think so. I'd quote you a poem back, if I knew any. That suited, I mean."

"Tell me a poem. Any poem."

She smiles and begins, "'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe-'" She stops when I start laughing, and after a moment, laughs herself. She leans forward, her arms going around my neck and her head resting against my chest. I bite down on the inside of my cheek. The least sexy thing I can think of is the guy in front of me in the line at the ski resort today, who was vulgar and obnoxious and smelled like he was unacquainted with basic hygiene. It's not helping.

"Mulder," she says softly, and shifts her hips enough so that I know she's aware of my engorged and throbbing cock. "Mulder, I want to - I want to do something for you. I want to take care of this for you."

I moan at the image she's planted and manage to ask, "What do you have in mind?"

"Something that won't hurt your back more." She sits up again and kisses me softly. Her hand descends beneath the water level and takes my cock in a gentle grip. As she kisses me her fingers tighten and relax, tighten and relax.

I unwind one arm from her and reach between her thighs. I feel her take a sharp breath, but then she deepens the kiss and the slow rhythm of her hand speeds up. I tease her lower lips with my fingertip, parting the thick curls, and find first the opening of her body, and then her small hooded clitoris. She still kisses me and her hand begins to stroke my cock more fully, but she whimpers now and again as we kiss. I rub her clit with my finger, dipping it into her to gather moisture from her body, circling her clit, pressing against the inner wall of her body in the hope I find the center of her pleasure. She spreads precum over the head of my cock with her thumb, using it and the water to lubricate her hand, her strokes still gentle but faster, harder.

I can hardly believe I'm finger-fucking Dana Scully. I can hardly believe she's letting me. I can hardly believe it was her idea.

Suddenly her mouth leaves mine and she arches her back, her eyes wide and full of wonder. "Mulder, I - Jesus, Mulder-"

"Just let it happen."

"I'm not sure - of what's happening -"

"Don't fight it. Just let it go."

Her hand flies from my lap and she grips the edges of the bathtub tightly. Her eyes close and she turns her head away from me, and I can see she's fighting to keep some semblance of control, unused to the sensations resounding through her. My hand moves faster and I pull her forward to kiss her, crushing her against me. She moans into my mouth, wrapping her arms around my neck, and I feel the walls of her body tighten around my fingers. She breaks off the kiss and buries her face in my neck, and it happens, it finally happens, an orgasm that is perhaps fleeting but at least is real.

As her shudders subside we hold onto each other, breathing heavily. She lifts her head from my chest at last and smiles, and kisses me gently. Her hand slides back down my body and encircles my cock once again, and as her tongue thrusts and parries with mine in our mouths she brings me off until I come into her hand.

She breaks off the kiss and leans her forehead against mine. "Now, that's better, isn't it," she says softly.

"Pretty damn good. My back doesn't even hurt anymore."

"That's just from the distraction," she says, but she's smiling. "This water is getting cold. Time to get out, secret agent lover man."

I laugh and get a smile in return, and catch her hand as she stands up to get out of the tub. "Don't be running away from me just yet."

"I'm getting towels. Do you think you can stand by yourself?"

"I think so. In a minute." I lean back in the water, my hands folded over my chest, and watch her as she gets out of the tub and wraps a towel around herself.

I want so much to do more with her, I want to go down on her, I want to make love to her in every position known to man and a few we make up ourselves, I want to make her come again and again so I can watch that beautiful, wondering expression on her face. I don't want to rush her, and I know this was a big step for her, but at this moment I can't bear the thought of sleeping apart from her for one more night.

"Scully."

"What?" She looks up from drying off her legs.

"Sleep with me tonight."

She sighs and sits on the edge of the tub again. "Not yet, Mulder. Not just yet."

"Nothing will happen. I just think you should get used to having me around. Besides, what if I fall out of bed in the night and can't get up? You'll find me on the floor in the morning frozen to death-"

"You have a back injury, your voice works just fine." Her fingers comb through my hair and her face is thoughtful. "Maybe . . . if you promise to behave."

"I promise. Indian Guide's honor."

"I'll try. I can't promise anything, Mulder." She looks at me sadly. "I've never been able to spend the night with another person. I get too tense to sleep."

"We can do like the Puritans did, and put a board between us."

"That didn't work for the Puritans."

"Do you not trust me?" I ask quietly. She makes a frustrated sound and starts to stand, but I put my hand lightly on her knee and she waits for me to finish. "I mean, this all is about trust, and if you can't, Scully, then why are we here?"

"I've been asking myself that."

"You're chickening out."

"I am not. It's just . . . it's harder than I thought it would be."

"Do you think I'm going to just jump on you in the middle of the night?"

"No."

"Then what is it? Talk to me, Scully."

"I don't know what it is. It's the reality of it. When - when making love to you was a fantasy it seemed so safe, and now . . . " Her cheeks are scarlet.

"And now I'm not safe anymore?" It's probably not time to dwell on my elation that she fantasizes about me. "Is that what's troubling you?" She nods, her eyes closed. Very carefully, I move up onto my knees and take her face in my hands. "I want to tell you a secret." She opens her eyes, and there is a depth of sadness in them that breaks my heart. I whisper, watching her face carefully for her reaction, "I will never touch you if you don't want me to. I will only touch you to love you. And that's a promise, Scully. It's more than a promise. It's a vow. On my life I will never break this. Do you believe me?"

I've come to know Scully's smiles well over the years, and she has one smile that stuns me wordless every time I see it. It creeps over her face now, battling with the need to sob, and though there are tears in her eyes the smile wins. "I believe you," she whispers, and kisses me softly. She adds, after a moment, barely lifting her lips from mine, "And I want to sleep with you tonight."

Her words go straight to my groin, but I shove the need back down. It's not the time to be selfish. I just smile and return her kiss, and stand up, still very carefully, and let her wrap a towel around my waist. I'm not up to any acrobatics tonight anyway.

At least, I keep telling myself that.


3.

Scully makes dinner as I lie on the sofa with a heating pad on my back. I have a novel to amuse myself with, but it's more fun to listen to Scully. She has the radio on to an oldies station that plays people like Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald, and she sings or hums along. I never would have imagined that Scully knew all the words to "Let It Snow" or "Winter Wonderland."

She's also more relaxed than I've ever seen her. Usually she holds herself . . . not stiffly, exactly. Formally. But now there's nothing formal in her manner, no tension in her shoulders, no watchfulness. There's a smile playing around her lips even as she frowns over her recipe, and I suspect she's not even aware that she's singing. Whenever she passes me she plays with my hair or caresses my shoulder, and once even swoops down and plants a big wet kiss on the back of my neck. And while I'd like to think it's a release of tension from what was probably her first orgasm, I think it really has more to do with her knowing she has nothing to hide from me anymore. I've seen her at her most vulnerable, I've seen her near death, I've seen her sick and weak, and now I've seen her most private self. And the truth is, as she's seen the same for me, I feel more comfortable with her too.

Someone knocks on the door and I start to rise. "I'll get it, you stay there," Scully says, kissing me again as she passes on her way to the door. I'm more than happy to obey her. Standing doesn't seem like the best idea just now.

"Mrs. Mulder, I hope I'm not disturbing you."

Mrs. Robinson's voice. Scully's reply is too low to hear, but they both come into the living room and Scully says sweetly -she's still not entirely happy about our pretending to be married - "Honey, look who's here."

"Hi, Mrs. Robinson," I say, and very carefully sit up.

"Did you hurt yourself, Mr. Mulder?"

"I took a tumble on the ski slope today. I'm out of practice."

"You probably ought to see a doctor. You can't be too careful with your back."

"I am a doctor," Scully says, "and he's doing fine." She sits down next to me and puts her hand - none too subtly - on my thigh.

Mrs. Robinson represses a smile - apparently she remembers her honeymoon - and says briskly, "Well, I just stopped by to drop off this," and holds out a brightly-colored flyer to Scully, who takes it and glances it over. "You weren't here when we originally mailed them out."

Scully hands the flyer to me and I read it. Cobb Creek's Christmas and New Year's activities: a carol sing-in at the town square with a Christmas tree lighting on Christmas Eve, and a New Year's Eve party at one of the churches.

"Looks like fun," I say to Scully, and she smiles.

"I'm going to have to teach you some Christmas carols."

"You don't want to hear me sing."

"Yes, I do. I've heard you sing before."

"Yeah, but that was along to the radio. This is different."

"We'll be happy to come," Scully says to Mrs. Robinson.

"Make him sing," she says. "Well, I'm sure you want to be alone, I'll be off -"

"Actually," I say, "there was something we wanted to ask you."

"Oh?" She takes one of the armchairs, resting her purse at her feet.

"Mrs. Robinson," Scully says with a glance at me, "my husband and I suspect that this house and the woods around are haunted."

"Oh, my," Mrs. Robinson says.

"I know it's an unusual complaint - not that we're really complaining," I say hastily, "I mean, it's really interesting and I'm fascinated with this kind of thing, but we were wondering if you know anything about this."

"What has happened?"

"Mulder saw someone in the woods and last night we both heard someone singing."

"You saw a boy in the woods," Mrs. Robinson says softly, "and you heard a girl singing. Am I right?"

"Yes," Scully says.

"You're right, of course. The house is haunted, and the woods too. It's been so long since anyone has mentioned it that I thought perhaps those poor children had finally found some peace." She sighs. "I guess not."

"So you do know the story," Scully says.

"Oh, yes. I grew up in this house, you see, not only do I know the story, I've heard Rachel sing, though I've never seen Cameron. What did Rachel sing to you?"

"It was a hymn. 'Lead thou me on', or something like that."

"'Lead, Kindly Light," Mrs. Robinson corrects her. "It's one of her favorites. She must like you."

"Oh," Scully says, giving me another of her looks.

"It's a very sad story, really."

"I'd like to hear it," Scully says.

"Well, it's local folklore, of course, so who can be sure how much of it is true. But the story goes," she clears her throat, "back during the 1870s or so, Rachel and Cameron were very much in love. Rachel lived in this house and Cameron lived in the next farm, where the ski resort is now. But Rachel's father didn't approve and so forbid them to marry. They decided to run away together, and they would leave on Christmas Eve. But there was a blizzard that night, and it was freezing cold. Rachel knew Cameron was waiting for her, and Cameron knew Rachel was waiting for him. So they both went out into the woods."

Knowing what's coming, Scully has tightened her grip on my hand almost to the point of pain. I lift her hand to my mouth and kiss the back gently, and she smiles a thank you.

"The snow was thick, and the wind was strong. Their bodies were found the next day, when the blizzard had ended, almost a mile apart. They never found each other. Oh, Mrs. Mulder, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you cry, it's such a terrible story for newlyweds."

"No, I-" Scully pauses and swallows hard, pushing the tears back down. "I'm all right. So, the ghosts?"

"Looking for each other throughout eternity. When I was a little girl Rachel used to sing me lullabies - 'Hush, little baby', mostly - and my husband, may he rest in peace, said he saw Cameron in the woods more than once. My husband used to say he'd have long talks with him - well, to him, actually, because Cameron never said a word. But my husband was glad for the company."

"And your other tenants?" I ask.

"Like I said, it's been years. I don't think Rachel liked all the new people coming and going in her house, so she left them alone, though I'd get complaints sometimes of small items missing and strange drafts when the windows and doors were closed. She's harmless, I think, though."

"And Cameron? What does he do?"

"Well," Mrs. Robinson says thoughtfully, "there have been times when the syrup harvesters have had trouble, but for the most part I think he keeps to himself. Though, once, oh, nearly six years ago now, a little boy got lost in the woods. The whole town turned out to look for him, of course, it being January and he was tiny thing, six or seven, I think. We found him in one of the old barns - it's burned down since - but he was safe and sound. He said that a man had showed him there, and covered him over with hay so he'd stay warm. No one will swear to it, of course, but I think it was Cameron who showed him the way."

"So they're not malicious in any way."

"Oh, no. Just . . . lonely. My husband once said that Cameron always looked like he was about to burst into tears. It's a terrible thing, to be separated from the one you love." Here she smiles sadly, her eyes far away, and I find there's a lump in my throat as well. I came so close to losing Scully forever.

"Well," Mrs. Robinson says, standing up again, "that's the story of Rachel and Cameron. I'm glad you like that kind of thing instead of being scared off. I did have a family once who refused to stay when they heard there might be ghosts, even though I assured them no harm would come to them."

"It takes a lot more than that to scare us," Scully says, and stands up to see Mrs. Robinson out.

When she comes back into the living room she sits down beside me and takes my face in her hands, and kisses me, hard. "What was that for?" I ask, holding onto her.

"For being here," Scully says, and kisses me again. The oven timer dings and she ends the kiss with a sigh. "Come on, you," she says, standing and holding out her hand.

"Hey, Scully," I say as we go into the kitchen, "would you haunt me if you ever die?"

"Everybody dies, Mulder."

"Just answer the question."

"Yes," she says softly, after a moment. "Yes, I think I would. A good haunting, though. I think I'd miss you enough to still want to be around you."

"I would, too."

"You know, this is strange, but I think that's the sweetest thing I've ever heard."

"Well, it's probably the sweetest thing I've ever said." I ease myself into one of the kitchen chairs.

"Oh, I don't know, I can think of a few other things."

"Shh, you'll ruin my reputation as a selfish lout."

"You're not selfish. You're . . . driven."

"On a good day I'm driven. On a bad day I'm selfish. Admit it, Scully, there are times you just want to smack my face in. I've seen the look."

"There are times," she admits, setting the casserole on the table. She sits down and I take her hands and kiss them gently.

"I'm sorry for all the times I take advantage of you."

"And I'm sorry for all the times I doubt you."

"You wouldn't be you if you didn't doubt me sometimes."

"Yes, but it drives you crazy."

"It keeps me sane. Proving myself to you has saved my life, Scully." I kiss her hands again. She has a slightly bashful look on her face, like I'm praising her more than she's comfortable with, and pulls her hands away.

"Eat, Mulder. Ghost hunters need to keep their strength up."

"In a way I envy them," I say as she hands me her plate for me to serve up the food. "It's not everyone who gets their love immortalized."

"Yes, only the tragic ones."

"That can't be true - there's got to be some good well-known love stories."

"Name me one. Jenny died. Guenevere ended up in a nunnery and Lancelot went crazy. Rhett left Scarlet. Romeo and Juliet committed suicide. Anna Karenina threw herself under a train. Tristan and Isolde - well, I don't remember what happened to them exactly, but I know they both died, and she was married to his uncle in the first place."

"Jane and Mr. Rochester got married in the end."

"Yes, but he had to go blind and lose a hand first. And then there's their counterparts, Cathy and Heathcliff, wandering the moors forever. The only well-known love stories that end happily are fairly tales." She frowning like this is really disturbing her.

I pick up my glass. "Here's to anonymity, then. I'd rather be happy than immortal."

"Here's to mortality," Scully says.

4.

My first night with Scully. Given my record so far today, I half expect it to be a disaster, too.

She's twenty minutes in the bathroom, which in itself isn't that unusual. I brought my book to bed so it wouldn't look like I'm waiting, but the truth is I read the same few sentences over and over, barely able to concentrate. The mere prospect of sleeping in the same bed with her is unbelievably exciting, even though I know nothing is going to happen besides sleep. But sharing a bed with someone is an intimate experience even if you never touch. And I've been sleeping alone for a long, long time.

Finally she comes out of the bathroom and I quickly avert my eyes to my book again. She's wearing one of those satin nightshirts she likes, a bright blue one that matches her eyes. "What are you reading?" she asks, climbing into bed beside me.

"'The Dispossessed.' Ursula K. LeGuin. Science fiction."

She smiles a little and says, "Don't you get enough of that on working days?"

"It happens to be a very interesting study of anarchy as a viable system of government."

"Sounds fascinating," she says in a voice that says the opposite. Apparently, though, it's the best game in town, so she says, "Read to me?"

"Sure."

By sheer good timing, I've reached the part where the protagonist is falling in love, and I read this to Scully:

"Takver, like any man or woman who undertakes companionship of the creator spirit, did not always have an easy time of it. Although her existence was necessary to Shevek her actual presence could be a distraction. . . ."

And,

"The usage the creator spirit gives its vessels is rough, it wears them out, discards them, get a new model. For Takver there were no replacements, and when she saw how hard Shevek was used she protested."

And my favorite passage,

"The others were peripheral to them: but they were central to the others. They did nothing much; they were not more benevolent than other people or more brilliant talkers; and yet their friends loved them, depended on them, and kept bringing them presents - the small offerings that circulated among these people who possessed nothing and everything . . . In giving they sought to share in what Shevek and Takver shared, and to celebrate, and to praise."

"That's lovely," she says in a soft voice when the chapter ends. "I thought it would be more political."

"Its politics don't hit you over the head. None of the characters accept the status quo unquestioningly, so you get all sorts of philosophical arguments, about expectations and ideology."

"But it's also a love story."

"Kind of. Love is a political thing, too, in a way."

"A power struggle," she says pensively.

"You gotta have *hand,*" I say, and she smiles a little.

"Don't you think it's true, though, that in all relationships one partner has more power than the other? And someone has more to lose than the other."

"Not in lasting relationships, I hope."

She's been absently massaging the sore spot on my back, and she says thoughtfully, "Sometimes I think love is just friendship with sexual benefits. Not terribly romantic of me, I know -" She pauses. "I know you've been in love, Mulder. I know you have a history. I know you've been swept away by passion. But looking back on it, were you friends with them too?"

"No. No, I wasn't. It wasn't friendship. You know, sometimes I think people undervalue friendship. Real friendship is harder to find than someone to keep you warm at night." I put the book aside and move closer to her, raising her face with my finger so she has to look into my eyes. "You're the only one I'd die for, Scully."

She studies me for a moment, then leans forward and kisses me. "Don't die for me, Mulder. Live for me."

"Anything you say," I whisper, and eventually we finally turn out the light and lie down, snuggled beneath the covers. Our heads are level on the pillow so we can kiss and nuzzle as we please, my arm is over her waist and my hand rests on the center of her back, and her little hand slowly and gently strokes my neck until it finally stops when she falls asleep.

Not a disaster. Thank you, God. Or Rachel.

"Lead, kindly light" is by John Henry Newman. "Madrigal" is an anonymous 17th century poem. "Jabberwocky" is by Lewis Carroll. "The Dispossessed" is by Ursula K. LeGuin.


V. Mary

"take her hand she'll lead you through the fire--give you back hope & hope you won't take too much"

 


1.

During the night I wake up disoriented--this isn't my couch, this isn't my bed--and then I remember. Grinning, I reach for Scully, meaning to huddle close and whisper to her of my dreams. But my hand finds only empty space. She's not there.

Not a good development, this.

I start to get out of bed and am at once doubled over in pain. My spine feels like it's on fire, like the base has fused to my pelvis. Despite Scully's best efforts, my back has worsened.

"Scully?" I call, and clear my throat and call louder. "Scully? I need your help."

I hear the padding of bare feet, and in a moment Scully is beside me, her cool, gentle hands kneading the sore places soothingly. "Overdid it, Mulder?"

"I was just trying to stand. Where did you go?"

"I needed some air. Lie still, Mulder. I think we may need to take you to a chiropractor."

"Just keep doing what you're doing." I bury my face in the pillow. It hurts but it's a good hurt, like getting stitches removed.

After a few minutes she says, "Can you stand? I think this would work better if you were on a firmer surface."

"Sleeping on the floor is supposed to be good for you." I push myself to my knees, back off the bed and lie down on the floor on my stomach. Again Scully works my back, digging in with her fingertips and the heels of her hands.

The pain levels off and I feel like I can sleep again. Scully gets the pillows and the coverlet off the bed, put a pillow under my head and covers me over. She goes downstairs for the heating pad and a glass of water and more Advil. I take the Advil gratefully, and curl up against the pillow on my side.

I expect Scully to get back into bed, and I'm okay with that--but she gets the other pillow and more blankets off the bed and lies down beside me, spooned as best she can against my back. It's not the best fit as she's shorter than me, but her embrace warms me all over. She kisses my cheek and says softly, "Sleep well, Mulder."

"Good night, Scully."

We lie silently together, and her hand gently strokes my chest. We went to bed tonight with so much hope, eager to be together. Now that eagerness has been replaced by--what? Resignation?

"Scully? You asleep?"

"No. Do you want me to massage you some more?"

"I'm okay. Why did you need air?"

"Hm?"

"You said you left because you needed air."

"Oh. Yes." She sighs and her hand leaves my chest. "I woke up and I couldn't breathe. My heart was racing. I went downstairs and drank some water, and lay down on the sofa. I was starting to doze off when you called."

"Are you okay now?"

"I'm okay. We'll see. I haven't been able to sleep with another person--with a man--since . . . ever. I've tried. I panic."

"I swear I'm harmless."

She chuckles. "I know. It's not that."

"Then what is it?" I want to turn around, see her face. Kiss her and hold her and tell her I love her and everything's going to work out for the best.

I feel Scully's warm breath against the back of my neck, and she embraces me tightly again. "I want to be with you. That's all."

I put my hand over hers. "Wake me up if it happens again, okay? We'll talk."

"I may not want to talk."

"Just wake me up, okay?"

"Go to sleep, Mulder."

"Promise you'll wake me up."

"I'll wake you up. Good night, Mulder."

But I'm awake for a long time yet, holding onto her hand and listening to her breathe.

 


2.

In the morning there are dark smudges under her eyes. Cupping her face in my hands, I run my thumbs over them and say softly, "I'm sorry, Scully."

She shrugs. "I'm all right." She touches my face gently, just below my eyes. "We have a matching set. How are you doing?"

"I'm a little stiff. A good run will take care of it, don't you think?"

"I don't want you running just yet. Not alone, anyway. If you fall and can't get up--"

"I'll call the Life Alert people."

"I'm serious, Mulder. I'll come with you. Walking will do you good, if you're warm enough."

"Anything you say, Doc." She makes a face, but there's a smile lurking behind it. "What, you don't like that? Should I find another nickname for you?"

"'Scully' is just fine."

"What about Cuddlebug?"

"Mulder . . ."

"Or Sugar Britches."

Now she's laughing. "Stop it, Mulder."

"What if I called you my little lamb chop o' love?"

"What if I called you my widdle snooky-wooky?" Uh-oh.

"Point taken." My hand has been resting on her thigh lightly, and I gave her a small slap. "Time to get up, G-Woman."

"I like that much better." She stands up and stretches--arms up over her head, then down so that her palms are flat on the floor. Wow, she's limber. "Maybe you should do yoga with me, Mulder."

"Care to help me find my chakras?"

"You can find your chakras perfectly by yourself, G-Man. So which is it, yoga or walk?"

"Walk. If you don't mind."

"I think my spiritual well-being will survive a few days without retuning." She grins at me, still stretching. Arms to the top, to the sides, down. Does she do this every morning? I lie my head back down on my arm and watch her, and am rewarded by tantalizing glimpses of her cleavage.

"Hubba hubba," I say, and she gives me another "quit it" smile.

"Up, Mulder. Let's go for a walk."


3.

It's going to snow. The sky is iron-grey and the forest is still--no chirping of winter birds, no dripping icicles, not even wind through the trees. There's a sense of waiting all around us.

Scully and I walk holding hands. I wish I feel energetic enough to play in the snow, to make snow angels or have a snowball fight. As it is I step carefully, glad for her small supporting hand. The twinges are minimal, and only spark up when I slip a little on ice. Maybe in a few days I'll be myself again.

"Hey, Scully. You said you were going to teach me some Christmas songs."

"What do you want to learn?"

"What do you think they'll sing tomorrow night?"

"Oh--do you still want to go to that?"

"Yeah, don't you?"

"Yes," she says hesitantly. I look at her questioningly. She sighs and says, "I'm not sure I want other people to . . . intrude. Does that make any sense?"

I smile and cup her cheek for a moment. "It makes perfect sense."

"So do you want to go?"

"Yes. Even if other people intrude. Which reminds me, Scully . . ." I've been hesitant to bring this up, but I can't wait any longer. "What's going to happen when we get back to Washington?"

Again she sighs, and, taking my hand, starts walking again. "I don't know, honestly. If we don't . . . if we still need to . . ." Her cheeks are red, and it's not just from the cold. "It'll be different. From here, I mean."

"And from before."

"Yes. And from before." The glance she gives me seems nervous. No, terrified.

I stop walking again and pull her close. "It'll be better than before," I say softly, and kiss the top of her head. She snuggles her face into my chest, and I kiss the crown of her head as well, over the scar. I run my fingers over the scar lightly, and whisper, "Scully, do you ever think about prosecuting him?"

I get a low, single chuckle from her. "Mulder, I never even knew his last name."

"But you knew him--you saw him--"

"The statute of limitations has long since expired."

"Don't you want justice?" I ask softly, and she raises her face to me and smiles sadly.

"Justice won't give me peace, Mulder."

"It would give you resolution--"

"Shh. I don't want resolution through revenge."

"It's not revenge, Scully. It's restitution."

"Well, since I don't know where he is and I don't want to find out, it's moot anyway." She stands up on her toes to kiss me briefly, and snuggles against my chest again.

"But, Scully--"

"Mulder, I can barely stand to tell my best friend about it. I can't tell a lawyer and a judge and a jury--and Court TV, you never know. Let it rest, Mulder."

Her best friend. I can't say how much I like the sound of that. It's almost as good as someone calling her Mrs. Mulder. I kiss her again and we walk on, arms around each other's' waists.

"So," I say eventually, "about your . . . other problem."

"You mean the fact that I can't have sex?"

"Uh-huh. Have you ever considered the alternatives?"

"Do I want to know what you mean by alternatives?"

"Well, you know. There are sexual aids, various mechanical implements--" I'm trying to be delicate here. It's not helping.

"I'm not putting anything inside me that has an on/off switch."

"--or other women."

She laughs with surprise. "That one's easy, Mulder. I'm not attracted to other women."

"Well, there's more to sex than a guy and a girl."

"I'm well aware of that. And if the alternatives did anything for me, I'd probably use them. But they don't."

"And ordinary sex does?"

"It's hard to explain."

"So ordinary sex doesn't do anything for you."

"Not exactly."

"Then what, exactly? I'm just trying to understand what you're dealing with, Scully."

I don't think I've ever made her blush so much as I have in the past few days. "Sometimes thinking about it can be a little exciting." She is resolutely not looking at me. "If it stays in the realm of fantasy there are occasional tingles."

"What about yesterday, in the bathtub?"

"That was surreal anyway, Mulder."

"You said you fantasize about me." Do I sound smug, or just happy? I hope I sound happy.

"Well . . . I do. I have."

"Hey, Scully." I tighten my arm around her waist, and bend down to whisper in her ear, "So have I. So do I."

For a second the nails of her hand that's on my waist dig into my side, and she says softly, "Oh, my."

"What we did yesterday isn't even a thousandth of the things I've fantasized about doing with you."

"Oh, my."

"So tell me your fantasies, Scully, and I'll do my damnedest to make them come true."

"Mulder, I--" She swallows hard, and says softly, in a scared little girl's voice I've never heard her use, "Mulder, right now I just need you to be patient with me. Okay? There'll be time enough for the rest of that later. Right now I need you to be patient."

"Later like when? Tonight?"

"I don't know. Maybe. Please don't push me. I can't be spontaneous--if you want to drop here in the snow I can't do it, my body just doesn't work that way--"

"It's still too cold for that," I say, trying to lighten the mood. I don't remember the last time I've seen her look this scared. It's like I pulled a gun on her. But she's still holding me tight, and when her hand comes up to pull my head down for a kiss I relax, knowing she still believes in me.

As we kiss it finally begins to snow, and when I look at her there are large perfect flakes on her bright hair. "You look like an angel," I tell her, and she smiles.

"Hurry up and get better, Mulder," she says softly. "I want to play with you in the snow."

I want to play with you everywhere, I think helplessly, and we continue our walk.


4.

I'm learning things about Scully I never imagined. After our walk, showers and breakfast, she said she was feeling domestic and shooed me out of the kitchen. So for the past few hours I've tried to read my novel and ignore the succulent smells coming from the kitchen, the smells of bread and cinnamon and things with lots of sugar. I attempted to sneak in a time or two and snag some raw cookie dough or a fingerful of icing, but she always caught me.

"But it smells so good," I said, trying to make peace.

"It's for Christmas Day, Mulder. You can wait two more days."

So I'm here on the couch, a cup of coffee within reach and a perfectly engrossing novel failing to hold my attention at all. Because Scully is singing.

Okay, I'll be the first to admit her voice isn't wonderful. She'll never sing the lead in "Madama Butterfly," but that's hardly important. It's a sweet voice, throaty and warm. I know I'll never get tired of it. It's perfect for singing songs of comfort and tenderness and lullabies to sleepy babies . . .

I give up on reading and lay the book aside. I clasp a pillow to my chest and close my eyes. I never wanted to be a father until I fell in love with Scully--so, of course, her ability to be a mother was taken away. All right, that's selfish. But if there's a conspiracy of which I am victim and unwitting participant, then their taking away one of my, and hers, fondest desires fits right into their scheme.

Sometimes I wish I could just shut off my mind and not think anymore.

But I do the next best thing: I listen to Scully sing. She's singing carols now, her voice soft and breathy and sweet. And though I don't believe a word of it, it's oddly comforting.

 

"It came upon a midnight clear,

That glorious song of old,

From angels bending near the earth,

To touch their harps of gold.

Peace on the earth, good will to men,

From heaven's all-gracious king,

The world in solemn stillness lay

To hear the angels sing."

 

There's a counterpoint to her voice, what do they call it, a harmony. She must have the radio on again.

 

"Still through the cloven skies they come

With peaceful wings unfurled,

And still their heavenly music floats

O'er all the weary world.

Above its sad and lowly plains

They bend on hovering wing,

And ever o'er its babel sounds

The blessed angels sing."

 

My eyes pop open. That's not the radio. Scully is singing and someone is singing along with her. That same ethereal voice. "Rachel," I whisper and sit up. My tape recorder is upstairs--if I hurry--

"For lo! The days are hastening on,

By prophets seen of old,

When with the evercircling years

Shall come the time foretold,

When the new heaven and earth shall own

The Prince of Peace their King,

And the whole world send back the song

Which now the angels sing."

 

I manage to catch the tail end of the song, and turn off the tape recorder with a sigh. Scully has started singing something else--completely oblivious to her ghostly partner--and I go into the kitchen.

She's frosting cinnamon rolls, big round ones bursting with raisins. She stops singing and offers me a spoon. "I'm done, you can have some, if you want."

Instead of answering I hold up the tape recorder and press "play." Her eyes widen when she hears the second voice.

"Who is that?"

"Rachel?" I venture.

"The radio," she says. "A neighbor."

"Rachel. Betcha. She sang in perfect harmony to you, the radio can't do that."

"Mulder . . ."

"If you sing some more, some old songs she knows, I bet she'd sing along again."

"Come on, Mulder," she says, giving me Skeptical Look #28.

"Try it. Any old carol." I start the tape recorder again. She rolls her eyes, clears her throat, and sings, gripping the edge of the sink.

 

"Silent night, holy night,

All is calm, all is bright,

Round yon virgin, mother and child,

Holy Infant, so tender and mild,

Sleep in heavenly peace,

Sleep in heavenly peace."

 

Nothing. Not a sound. "I guess not," Scully says.

"Try another verse."

She sighs, but complies.

 

"Silent night, holy night,

Shepherds quake at the sight,

Glories stream from heaven afar,

Heavenly hosts sing alleluia.

Christ the savior is born,

Christ the savior is born."

 

It takes me a second to realize that Scully stopped singing about two lines in, and that the other voice has been carrying it to the end of the verse. I nod to Scully, whose eyes have gone very wide, and she takes a deep breath for the third verse. This time, she sings harmony.

 

"Silent night, holy night,

Son of God, love's pure light,

Radiant beams from thy holy face,

With the dawn of redeeming grace,

Jesus, Lord at thy birth,

Jesus, Lord at thy birth."

 

"Wow," Scully whispers.

I hold up one finger, leaving the tape recorder running, and say softly, "Rachel, we'd like to talk to you. Could you talk to us?"

Nothing.

"Isn't there anything you'd like to tell us, Rachel? Are you lonely? Can we help you in any way?"

Nothing. No answer at all.

The oven timer rings and we both jump, startled. I shut off the tape recorder with a sigh. "I've never had much luck with ghost hunting."

Scully gets the tray of cinnamon rolls out of the oven and sets them on the burners to cool. She says thoughtfully, "The worlds of the living and the dead . . . sometimes I wonder if they're a lot closer than we think."

I have no answer to this. We both have experienced things you could classify as spiritual, and we've never talked about them, really.

She says softly, "Rachel, we know you're in pain. We know you want peace. Let us help you. We want to help you. Tell us what will help you."

It comes like a whisper on the wind, soft as a lover's caress. "Cameron. Cameron. Cameron."

"How?"

"Cameron."

"Rachel, tell us how."

"Cameron."

Scully looks at me. "Somehow we've got to bring them together. That's the only way they'll find peace."

"How do you know that, Scully?"

"I'm not sure. I just know."

"But how do we do that?"

"Now that," she says with a sigh, "I don't know."

"If we could just see her . . ."

"I don't know if that would help any. It's a matter of bringing them together. Getting her to the woods, or him to the house."

"But you can't force a ghost to do anything. We can't lure her out of the house."

"Yeah, breadcrumbs wouldn't quite work." She smiles at me. "Maybe we need to call in a good psychic."

"Like, maybe, the Stupendous Yappi?"

"Oh, now you're in trouble, Fox Mulder." She starts to leave the kitchen but I grab her waist and pull her to me.

"You can't leave, Scully, we're bound together just like Rachel and Cameron are." I nuzzle her neck and she laughs from low in her throat.

"You can turn everything to sex, can't you?" she says, putting her hand in the center of my chest.

"It's more than sex, Scully. It's a bonding of souls."

"Uh-huh." She pulls away from me and goes back to the tray of rolls. She runs a spatula under them and sets them on a wire rack, and says, "We were talking about Rachel and Cameron, not us."

"I relate to Rachel and Cameron." I go to her and put my hands on her shoulders. "I almost lost you forever," I whisper into her ear, and I feel her tremble. "Without you . . . you make the sun shine for me, Scully."

She turns under my hands pulls me down blindly for a kiss. It feels almost desperate, like she's trying to show me what she's too scared to say. Or what she just can't say, because she doesn't like to lie.

I want to pick her up, carry her upstairs and show her myself, but instead I just kiss her, my hands on either side of her on the edge of the counter. Slowly, I remind myself, slowly.

She pulls away from me and leans her forehead against my chest. "Mulder, I . . ."

"Talk to me, Scully."

"I know you want to make love, Mulder, I know you do even though you say you don't need to, I understand that, but please, Mulder--"

"I know, Scully. Slowly."

"I want to try," she says resolutely, looking up at me.

For a moment I'm too stunned to speak. "Now?" I whisper. "Here?"

"Now. Upstairs." She takes my hands, and I follow her up to her--our--bedroom.

We lie down on the bed, kissing each other deeply, and for a long time we hold each other, kissing and touching and stroking. I don't dare undo a button, not until she says it's okay.

And she doesn't say it's okay. I'm as gentle, as slow, as patient as I know how to be, but she still flinches when I touch her breast or put my hand lower than her waist. "Scully," I say finally, "Scully, it's not working for you, is it."

"No, Mulder . . . Mulder," she says hesitantly, and then whispers, "Mulder, I'm going to kiss you, I'm going to kiss you and I'm going to touch you, and I want you to talk to me, okay? Talk to me. I need you to talk to me."

"What should I say?"

"Anything." She nuzzles my face with her nose. "I just need to hear your voice."

Oh, boy. Should I talk dirty? Tell her stories? I run my hands through her hair as she kisses me, and I say the only thing I can think of that seems appropriate. "Thou art beautiful, O my love, as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners. Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have overcome me: thy hair is as a flock of goats that appear from Gilead."

And as I recite she kisses me, my face and my neck, my hands and my arms. She pushes up my t-shirt and kisses my chest, and I tell her, "How beautiful are thy feet with shoes, O prince's daughter! The joints of thy thighs are like jewels, the work of the hands of a cunning workman. Thy navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor: thy belly is like a heap of wheat set about with lilies. Thy two breasts--oh, yeah, Scully--are like two young roes that are twins. Thy neck is as a tower of ivory--oh, Scully, mm, that's good--thine eyes like the fishpools in Heshbon, by the gate of--of Bath-rabbim; thy nose is as the tower of Lebanon which looketh toward Damascus."

I feel the vibration of her laughter as she kisses lower and lower.

"Thine head upon thee is like Carmel, and the hair of thine head like purple; the--the king is held in the galleries. How fair and how pleasant are thou, Ohhh love, for delights!" By now her tongue has discovered, explored and mapped my stomach, and her hands are tugging at the waistband of my sweats. Is she going to? She's going to. She pulls my sweats down and off, she nuzzles my balls, she explores my cock with her fingers and tongue. And I say, panting and twisting my hands into the sheets, "This thy stature is like a palm three, and thy breasts to clusters of grapes. I said, I will go up to the palm tree, I will take hold of the boughs thereof: now also thy breasts shall be as clusters of the vine, and the smell of thy nose like apples; and the roof of thy mouth like the best wine for my beloved, that goeth down sweetly, causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak. I am my beloved's--I am my beloved's--"

I can't remember what comes next, I am in her mouth, and all I can say is "I am my beloved's, I am my beloved's--" until finally all I can say is her name, and then I can't say any words at all.

When I come down from the ether Scully is holding me, my head resting in the curve of her neck. "How's your back?" she asks softly.

My what? I think fuzzily, and then remember. "It doesn't hurt at all."

"Good. You'll still need to take it easy the next couple days."

"Okay." Anything you say.

"The Song of Solomon," she says after a while.

"What?"

"That's what you were quoting. 'Kiss me with the kisses of your mouth, for your love is better than wine.'"

"'I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine; he feedeth among the lilies.' Too weird for you?"

"No. It was perfect."

"Yeah, I didn't think dirty jokes would do it for you."

She chuckles. "No, they wouldn't."

"Scully? Are you sure you're okay? You need . . . anything?"

A pause. "Maybe a breath mint."

I start to sit up. "I think I have some Altoids somewhere--"

She pulls me back down. "It's a joke, Mulder. Come back here."

"Oh." A joke. Okay. I ease back into her arms, the back of my head against her breast. She strokes my face gently with the tips and backs of her fingers, soothing me towards sleep. "Scully? Are you sure you're okay? You don't need anything from me?"

"I don't need anything, Mulder."

"Scully . . . that didn't . . . kissing me didn't do anything for you? Nothing at all?"

There's a very long pause. Then, so softly I almost miss it, "Not quite nothing." I start to turn over, but she holds me to her. "Not yet, Mulder," she whispers. "Please, not yet."

"I need to touch you, Scully. Please let me do this for you." I stroke her slim thigh, outside and in. "Please let me touch you. I just want to touch you."

"Mulder, I can't. Try to understand. It won't work."

"Scully." I put my hands on her knees. Even to me my voice sounds desperate. "I don't want to fuck you, if that's what you're afraid of. We talked about this, remember? The maneuver you've never had? I want to go down on you. Let me do this for you, Scully, please let me do this."

She's trembling. God, have I scared her that much? When she doesn't answer me I start to pull from her arms, saying, "All right, I'll go-" but still she holds on to me.

"Promise me," she whispers.

"Anything."

"Promise me you'll stop if I ask."

"I will. I will."

I can almost hear her think it over. "Slowly," she says softly, and I turn in her arms and kiss her. That I can't lift her up and move her around makes it a little more difficult, but I manage to pull her down so that she's lying flat beneath me. Her eyes are squeezed shut, so I start with them, kissing them tenderly, and then the corners of her mouth. She clutches at my shoulders, her hands grasping and kneading like she doesn't know what else to do. I take one of her hands and kiss her palm until her fingers relax and curl around my hand. I kiss her wrist and the soft, sweet-smelling inside of her elbow. She caresses the side of my face and brings my mouth up to hers.

Her eyes seem huge and dark in her pale face. I kiss her eyes again and the tip of her nose, and her lips, exploring them with my tongue and reaching carefully into her mouth. She strokes my wrist with her fingers, and her hand moves down my arm to my chest. Her fingers comb through my chest hair and she plays with my nipples for a minute or two, then her hand comes back up to my face.

We kiss for what seems like years, and I just touch her, undoing one button on her flannel shirt and stroking the skin for a long time before moving onto the next. Only when her shirt lies open do I finally stop kissing her mouth, and she looks at me with dark and heavy-lidded eyes.

"More?" I whisper, and she smiles.

"More."

She sits up and shrugs off the shirt and reaches behind her to unhook her bra. I stop her hand. "Not yet." Her hand falls away and she cups my jaw for a moment, then lies back down, waiting for me to go on.

I take my time, looking at her. Yes, I've seen her before, but she still fills me with wonder. According to most people, I suppose, she wouldn't meet the standards of beauty, but there's a perfection to her that makes the standard seem shallow. It's in the softness of her skin, the fullness of her breasts, the narrowing of her waist above the lushness of her hips--yet it has nothing to do with her body at all. The woman Solomon praised was not a tenth as beautiful as my Scully, and not a tenth as loved.

I kiss the warm stomach above her waistband, the skin above and below her breasts. I kiss her shoulders, the juncture where they meet her neck, her strong upper arms, her delicate neck. Her hands are not still--she touches me lightly, tiny stroking movements, her fingers dancing over my skin as if she's trying to memorize me. I almost want to ask her to talk to me as I did to her, but this is probably hard enough for her.

I cup one breast in my hand, kissing her mouth once again, and smile at the discovery of a hardened nipple beneath my palm. She whimpers slightly, then says, kissing me still, "Mulder, I think I'd like it if you--um, sucked."

"I do not suck, Scully. How dare you suggest such a thing."

"Damn it, Mulder, you know what I mean."

"Say the words, Scully. Tell me what you want."

"Please kiss my breast, Mulder. Please suckle me."

I bend my head to her breast and rub my cheek against her erect point. "You mean this?" I whisper.

"Mulder, please."

"Okay. No more kidding around." I reach behind her and unhook her bra, and draw it tenderly off. She watches me, shoving her hands through my hair, and sighs deeply when I draw my tongue down the valley between her breasts. She's trembling but she's still holding onto me, she's a part of this and not at all afraid. I hope she's not afraid.

Finally--feeling like Perceval before the Holy Grail--I take her breast into my mouth. Scully makes a tiny surprised noise, and then whispers, "Don't stop, Mulder."

I obey her--what else can I do?--and suck on her breast, I kiss it and lick it, nibble it gently and suck it with all the suction I can muster. And then I do it to her other breast. And back. And forth. And back. I make love to her breasts with my mouth and hands until her breath comes in sharp pants and her whimpers have become throaty moans.

I have no idea how long we've been at this. It feels like hours. It was a little dark when we came up here from the snowstorm, and it's gotten so dark I can barely see her face. When I lift my mouth to ask if I can go on, she turns away from me, and for a second I'm afraid this is as far as she's going to let me go. But instead she turns on the lamp on the night stand, and smiles at my questioning look. "I want to see you," she says, and I smile back.

"Should I go on, then?"

"You mean there's more?" She's kidding, I can see it in her face. I kiss her mouth once more. Then once more again. I don't think I'll ever get enough of her mouth. As I kiss her I open the button-fly on her jeans, and draw them carefully down her hips. She reaches down and pulls off her socks, and all but kicks off her jeans. She's lying in my arms in just a little scrap of white satin and lace, and I have to back off for a moment to fully comprehend this. Scully, nearly naked, in bed with me. Wow.

She must see something she likes in my expression. She touches my jaw again and draws me up for a kiss, and whispers, "Whatever you want to do, I'll say yes."

I moan at this, and press my face against her stomach for a moment. She strokes my hair, waiting. Slowly, slowly, I draw off her panties and put them aside, and part her thighs with my hands. Moment of truth time.

I part her lower lips carefully with my fingers, and dip one finger into her. She draws in her breath at this and closes her eyes, but her legs stay apart where I've put them. Her toes curl and splay out, her hands grip and release the sheets, as I move my finger slowly in and out of her, encouraging her juices to flow, spreading them over the folds of her body. I kiss her inner thighs and breathe on her mound, and pull out my fingers and take hold of her ankles. I raise her legs a little, opening her to me further. I run my tongue over the inside of her lower lips. I lap at her opening, tasting her thoroughly. Her breathing is as fast as if she's been running, and she makes little moans and inarticulate words. I kiss her mouth one more time, hook her legs over my shoulders, and place an open-mouthed kiss right on her clit.

"Oh . . ."

I look up for a second. Her eyes are still closed and there's an expression on her face that I've never seen her wear but that I know. Don't stop. I smile in triumph and settle myself into her.

Kissing first, gently. Tonguing. Around and around and around, then over. This gets me a shudder and another soft "Ohh." I pass my tongue over her clit again, anything to get that sound, and I succeed. I use the flat of my tongue, stroking up and back over her little bud, and jab at it with the point. Always slowly, always gently. Like licking an ice cream cone, around, around, up, up, back.

"Mulder. Ohh, yes. That's so good, Mulder. Oh. Just. Like. That. Oh, God. Oh, Mulder. Mulder. Please don't stop."

I guess I'm doing it right. I back up my mouth a little, take her bud between my lips. It's swollen, a tiny, erect, throbbing little piece of flesh, and I roll my lips around it, listening to the new tenor of her cries. There's my name in there, and the beginnings of several threats and promises, but she can barely get a whole word out, much less a sentence.

When I begin to suck on it she actually shouts. I think it's more from surprise than anything else, just a startled "Oh!" like she thought I was already done. Far from done, Scully. As I suck on her I use my fingers again, stroking inside her, bringing her to a place beyond words where she moans steadily, her voice hoarse from the unaccustomed use, her breasts heaving as she struggles to breathe. My own eyes are closed, they have been for who knows how long, but my other senses are focused on her, filled with her, her slickness and spice and sweetness and cries. Did I say I felt like Perceval before? This is the real Grail, her trembling legs on either side of my head, her hands in my hair, her head thrashing back and forth as my name gets mixed in with shouts and moans.

For a second the world stands still.

And then she's screaming and her hips are bucking and she's hanging onto the headboard so hard the bed rattles. I hang on to her myself, riding the wave through with her until the shuddering has stopped.

Panting, I rest my head on her thigh and study her face. I can't tell where she is, her eyes are closed and she seems reluctant to join me again.

Finally I pull my fingers from her and spoon myself to her, holding her tight. Her hand reaches back and caresses my face once more, and she pulls the sheets and blankets over us. I kiss the back of her neck and stroke her stomach, and soon her breathing tells me she's asleep.

I want to stay awake and watch her, but my body has other ideas, and soon I'm asleep as well.

 

"It Came Upon A Midnight Clear" is by Edmund H. Sears.

"Silent Night" is by Joseph Mohr.

Mulder quotes from the Song of Solomon, which is in the Bible. (My particular translation is the King James.) There is some debate about who actually wrote it.


VI. Elsewhere

 

"I believe this is heaven to no one else but me & I'll defend it as long I can"


1.

Scully and I are walking in the forest, but there's no snow on the ground. Scully looks different too, younger, her face rounder and her eyes wide and innocent. She's got her hair braided up the back of her head and she's wearing a flannel shirt, jeans, and hiking boots. She's leading the way, holding me by the hand, her steps sure and confident.

"Where are we going?" I ask. For some reason I'm in my dark blue Armani suit.

"Don't worry, I know the way."

We come to the entrance of a cave, and I stop, more afraid than I can explain. Scully looks at me with confusion.

"I don't want to go in there," I say.

"Don't be afraid, Mulder. I know where we're going." Tugging gently on my hand, she leads me into the cave.

It's unbearably dark inside the cave, and within a few steps I've lost the light from the outside. "Scully, don't let me go," I plead when I feel her hand loosening from mine. "Scully, don't let me go."

"I've got you, Mulder. I know the way." But her hand is gone. I'm alone in this dark cave, and I can't even hear Scully's footsteps anymore.

"Scully!" I shout, and my voice echoes back to me. "Scully! Where are you? Scully! Scully!"


2.

I jerk awake, sweaty and panting. Nightmare. After three days of no nightmares, this had to come. At least it's a new addition to the ole circuit.

I turn onto my side, hoping to curl up against Scullywarmth and let the steady cadence of her breathing lull me back to sleep. But there's no Scully there, and my searching hand finds only a note left on the pillow.

Damn it.

I'm tempted to crumple it up and toss it away, pack up my stuff and get the hell back to Washington. Instead I turn on the bedside lamp and read what's she written in her small, precise handwriting.

"'Mulder, please don't worry. I won't be gone long. I just need to get out of this house for a few hours. Scully.'"

Never mind that it's one a.m., that I will worry no matter what she says because I can't not worry, that even a minute not knowing where she's gone is a minute too long. No, she just left.

I get up, all hope of sleep gone, and put on the clothes I was wearing earlier, t-shirt and sweats, and then another sweater on top. We didn't turn the heat on before we went to bed, and the floorboards are cold beneath my feet. I go downstairs and light a fire in the fireplace, wrap myself up in the afghan that hangs over the sofa and prepare myself to wait.

How many times has she done this for me? Waited and wondered if the next phone call would be the one telling her to come down and identify a body, or worse, that someone had heard I was dead and wanted to tell her first before she found out from someone who doesn't care. I have an arrangement with the guys at the Lone Gunmen: if I ever disappear and they hear any rumors, they tell Scully. I don't want her to find out what's happened to me from Skinner or anybody else. I want friends to tell her if I die.

Of course, rumors of my demise have been premature before. I smile, remembering walking into that senate hearing a year or so ago, the look on her face when she saw me, saw that I was well and whole and back. She yelled at me later, and I cherished every word, though at the time I teased her about it. "I didn't know you cared, Scully," I said, and her uncomfortable answer was, "Of course I care, you idiot. We thought you were dead."

Of course she cares.

Just like I cared when I stood in front of a morgue window and steeled myself to raise the blinds, to look in and see if the dead woman was her. I was elated when I saw it wasn't, but that only lasted a second. Another family would be called in to give this body a name, and another call might come for me. Another body. Another death. But that time we found her, and I've sworn to myself and to her that I will always find her when she's lost.

But this running away is new. I've run away from her myself a few times, when I thought our getting closer would only hurt her more, but never as completely as this. Leaving me without a clue, without a hope of when she'll return, without a car.

It occurs to me suddenly: I'm abandoned here. No car, no way of leaving even if I wanted to. I have no choice but to wait, I can't even go looking for her.

And it's still snowing, and she's not very experienced at driving in the snow. It's late and she's tired and probably not in the most serene state of mind--if that phone rings--

I feel a light touch on my neck and jump to my feet, whirling around, expecting to see--I don't know what. An apparition of some kind, whether a misty shape or a neon-green glowing splotch of ectoplasm.

But the house is empty but for me. No one. Okay. I'm just nervous and jumpy and expecting strange things to happen. It doesn't necessarily mean strange things actually are happening. Breathe, Mulder, breathe.

When I was very small, three or four, I was convinced the thumping noise I heard at night was the boogey man coming down the hall to get me. Later I figured out it was the echo of my heartbeat that I was hearing, but that fear has never really left me, if that makes any sense. I'm still waiting for that shadow to cross my threshold, for the boogey man to come and swallow me whole. Sometimes I find myself muttering, like the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz, "I do believe in spooks, I do believe in spooks, I do I do I do believe in spooks."

Scully would laugh if she ever knew that.

But I'm chanting it to myself right now, not even knowing why, because I know--I know--that I'm not alone here. A being, a presence, is with me. Knowing her name doesn't help the fear, either.

I've asked for this, though, haven't I. Wanting to believe. You find what you're searching for, eventually.

"Rachel," I whisper, and my mouth is dry. "I'm alone and I'm worried, Rachel. If you have any influence on her--if you can do anything at all--bring her home safe to me. Bring her home safe."

There's a sound like a slamming door and I turn, my heartbeat tripling. What did I just do? What forces have I unleashed? What--

"What are you doing up, Mulder?"

Scully.

I sink back onto the couch, unable to speak. Scully walks over to me from the kitchen--she must have come in from the back door--and lays a cool hand on my forehead. "Are you all right?"

"I didn't know where you were."

"I just went for a drive."

"In the middle of the night?"

"I needed to think, Mulder."

Her eyes are so clear, her face is so pure, like a Renaissance Madonna. I take her hand from my face and kiss her palm, and find that I'm shaking and crying and my heartbeat has not slowed down. "Mulder," she whispers, and kneels on the sofa beside me and holds my head to her breast. She kisses my hair and strokes my face, and says nothing. I guess I've confused her thoroughly this time. I'm confused myself.

Eventually I manage to choke out, "I was worried."

"I told you not to be."

"It's snowing."

"I'm a very good driver." She raises my face and kisses me gently, and holds me to her again.

God, I'm sobbing like my best friend just died, but here she is, holding me and whispering to me and trying to understand what's wrong. What's wrong? Damned if I know. I just want to hold her forever. Hold her and love her and shelter her, as she holds and loves and shelters me.

"You needed to get away from me to think," I say, looking up into her eyes.

"Your presence does, kind of, cloud my judgement," she says softly, smiling a little. "Not that it's a bad thing all the time."

"But it was tonight?"

Her face grows pensive, and she rests her cheek on my head for a moment. "I needed to make a decision. I wanted to be . . . logical. You understand, don't you? I'm dealing with a lot of new feelings here, a lot of new possibilities that I never seriously considered before. I drove into town and looked at the Christmas tree they have set up for tomorrow night. It's lovely, Mulder, they've put lights up all over the square and it looks like a set from 'The Nutcracker.'"

"I hate the ballet."

She sighs and kisses me again. "Well, it's lovely there."

I, on the other hand, feel ugly and mean. I pull out of her arms and say, "I'm glad you had some time to think. Did it do you any good?"

"Yes, actually, it did."

"Marvelous. Bloody marvelous. Meantime I was left here wondering if the next time I saw you would be in a morgue."

"Oh, Mulder, really."

"Really, Scully. I worry. I worry about you a lot. Every time you leave me I wonder if it's going to be the last time. Every time we say goodbye I wonder if we'll ever say hello again."

"And do you suppose I feel any different, whenever I'm told you've run off to God knows where again? I worry too. There have been times when I dreaded every time the phone rang, because I knew it would be someone telling me they'd found your body. I hate living like that, Mulder."

"I only leave you behind to protect you."

"I know. But you can't protect me forever." She smiles at me and moves closer, to put her hands on mine. I turn my hands up and clasp hers tightly.

"Don't leave me again like that," I say quietly. "Please don't. I turn into a gibbering idiot without you."

"I know, that's why I stick around." We smile at each other tenuously, and she kisses me again. "Let's go to bed, Mulder. It's late."

I nod and unwind myself from the couch. She goes upstairs as I put out the fire, and I come up to find her in bed, her head pillowed on her arm as she lies on her side. She smiles at me sleepily as I get into bed beside her, and her hand strokes my face for a moment before falling away. I kiss her and turn out the light.






3.

The smell of coffee wakes me up. I blink slowly, rubbing my eyes with my hands. The sun is out, slanting across the floor and the bed like the lighting from a Vermeer. I sit up and squint out the window. The snow is fresh, untouched as far as I can see by tires or a snowplow or even animal tracks. It's sparkling and beautiful, fresh as only a perfect winter day can be.

"Good morning, sleepyhead," Scully says cheerfully from the doorway. "I was hoping you were up." She comes over to me and sits on the edge of the bed, folding up her legs. She's dressed already, in jeans and thick socks and v-neck t-shirt and sweater. Her cross glints demurely at the base of her throat.

"What time is it?"

"Past ten."

"You let me sleep that long?"

"You looked so content when I woke up, I couldn't bear to wake you. You must have needed it. I've got breakfast ready to cook, if you're hungry."

"Thanks. I'll be right down." But the bed is so warm and the sheets so soft, I'm tempted to ask her if she wants a mid-morning nap. What the hell.

"Scully, c'mere."

"Why?"

"Because I'm asking nicely. I want to hold you." I hold out my arms.

She comes into them, snuggling against my chest, and kisses my chin. "When my nephew Brian was learning to talk, whenever he wanted to be held he'd say 'hold you' in exactly that tone you just used."

"Hold you," I whisper, kissing her ear. "I'm not really hungry. Wanna snuggle?"

"Snuggle? I think you mean snog."

"Maybe I do. Wanna snog?"

"Mm . . . do I wanna snog." She gives butterfly kisses to my eyes and my cheeks. "Just snogging, okay?"

"No groping?"

"Maybe a little groping." She traces my mouth with cool soft lips. "You're so beautiful, Mulder," she whispers.

I laugh with surprise. "Come on, Scully."

"You are. You're a beautiful man." Her tongue darts out against my lips. "It's your eyes," she says softly. "The color of your eyes. They're the color of clover. They make me think of fresh, growing things."

I don't know what to say to this. I've never given much thought to my eyes beyond the occasional eye exam.

"I like your eyes even when they look at me like the world is about to end. Even when you use that expression you have, the one that probably melted your mother and the resolve of every girl you showed a remote interest in."

Here I have to defend myself. "I never once manipulated a girl into sleeping with me. I don't do things like that."

"Of course you don't. I know you don't. But you can't tell me you didn't use that look at least once to get what you wanted, a pretty girl, a game of slap 'n' tickle."

"Well . . . it never worked on my mother."

She laughs and kisses me again. "And your lips," she goes on, tracing them with a fingertip. "These perfectly kissable lips. You have any idea how many times I've daydreamed about these lips?"

"Once every twenty-six seconds."

She laughs again, and I pull her down to kiss her own perfectly kissable lips. "Close," she whispers against my mouth. "Very, very close."

"Mm," is my only answer. Her mouth is warm and sweet, her tongue circling my mouth and sliding along my tongue. I love the feel of her hands in my hair or gently stroking my face, the slight weight of her body, the pressure of her breasts. She said groping was okay. I ease one hand around her breast and knead it, squeeze it, always gently, always slowly.

Her mouth leaves mine and she plants kisses along my jaw, down my neck, up to my ear, where she whispers, "Race you downstairs," and jumps off the bed.

I throw the blankets aside and run after her, chasing her downstairs. We're both laughing, and when I catch her at the bottom of the stairs she yelps, "Home base! Home base!" grabbing for the newel post of the banister.

"Too late, can't call safe when you've been caught." I bite her neck and she laughs, twisting out of my arms.

"That's what we need, Mulder, a good game of hide-and-seek."

"I think I'd prefer slap 'n' tickle."

"I bet you would." She grabs my face and kisses me again. "I know what you're getting for Christmas," she whispers.

"Do you unwrap presents Christmas Eve or Christmas morning?"

"Oh, Christmas morning. Although sometimes when we got new pajamas we could unwrap them Christmas Eve and wear them that night. And I do have something for you to unwrap tonight."

"As long as you're inside."

She laughs, a low throaty sound, and pulls me down for another kiss. "You have to wait to find out."

"What do you want for breakfast?"

"I have pancake batter made up."

"I'll make them. It's my turn to cook."

"That's true, you've been slacking, houseboy. My toenails are still unpainted."

"I'll get right on it."

"And I brought a color that would look great on you."

"You'd have to hold me down to do it, G-Woman."

"I can do it, too, I know where are your vulnerable spots are." She pulls me towards the kitchen. "Come on, Mulder, I'm hungry. I've had a busy morning."

"Oh? What have you been doing?"

"I went shopping."

"What did you get?" In the kitchen now. I get out the griddle and turn on the burners. Scully gets the bowl of batter out of the refrigerator and syrup out of the cupboard.

"That's for me to know and you to find out." She grins me and kisses me quickly.

"Is it my surprise?"

"Mmmmaybe."

"In that case, maybe I ought to do some shopping today too."

"Just make breakfast, Mulder. Keep your energy up."

There's so much promise in her smile that for a second I can only stare. "Oh, baby," I breathe, and then remember myself. Pancakes. Right. I can do pancakes.

As soon as the griddle is warm enough I start the pancakes. Three circles together to make Mickey Mouse, two circles with their ends drawn together to make hearts, mutant ones that run together to form amorphous blobs.

Scully comes over from setting the table and blinks in confusion at my creations. "Um, Mulder . . .?"

"You know how old I was when I made my first pancakes? Seven. Samantha loved my Mickey Mouses, and I'd use chocolate chips for the eyes and nose. I've made cinnamon pancakes, blueberry pancakes, chocolate chip pankcakes--"

"Yes another installment in Mulder's list of breakfast accomplishments. So these are failed Mickeys?" She points to the blobs.

"Nope, these are overestimations." I offer her a batter-covered finger and she shakes her head, and I lick my finger clean myself. Pancake batter isn't wonderful uncooked.

"And these?" She points to the hearts. They don't look much different from the mutant pancakes.

"Um . . . failed Mickeys." Coward. I know.

She picks up one of the smaller pancakes and takes a nibble, grins at me and pops the rest into her mouth. "Yum."

"Glad you approve."

"Limited though your repitoire is, you're very good at what you can do."

"Maybe someday you should teach me more."

"Maybe I will."

Sizzling from the griddle draws my attention, and I hastily flip the pancakes over before they burn. Scully gives me a pancake-flavored kiss and gets some fruit out of the refrigerator to go with our pancakes. There's milk and juice as well, and of course the inevitable coffee. She knows exactly how I like mine, a dark roast with just a little sugar. She must like it too, she smiles whenever I give her coffee-flavored kisses.

While she was out this morning she must have bought flowers, because there's a small vase with white and yellow daisies and brightly-colored chrysanthemums on the table. There are new candles in wooden candlesticks, cloth napkins under the silverware, a stick of butter on a plate instead of our usual tub of margarine. "Wow," I say as I set the plate of pancakes in the center of the table, "if this is how you celebrate Christmas Eve I'm excited to see Christmas Day."

"I want to be Martha Stewart in my next life," she says, deadpan, and puts the bottles of heated syrup on the table. We sit down and start to eat, and I am entranced by the sight as she licks spilled syrup off her hand. I catch her hand, give her my best lecherous smile, and lick off the rest.

"Breakfast," she says, a little breathless. "There's plenty of time for playing later."

"I say we build snowmen."

"Snow people," she corrects me. "Mm, Mulder, these are delicious."

"And you didn't think I could cook."

"Then why do you live off canned soup and pizza?"

"Because it's no fun cooking for one."

"That's true," she concedes. "Everything's better when it's done with a friend." We smile at each other and go on eating.

4.

I don't know what decision she made last night but I seem to be benefitting from it. I don't know how else to explain the snow family we built, the snow angels we made, the snowball fight we got into. I've never seen her so willing to play, so relaxed with me or anyone. I think we melted half our front yard necking in the snow once she conquered me in the snowball fight.

So in the afternoon we lie on the sofa with a fire going, homemade mochas nearby and our feet in each other's' laps as we paint toenails. For me she choose a bright metallic green, which she swore up and down no one else would ever know about. I had a hard time deciding on what color would work best for her--she said my first choice of scarlet was too obvious, the rose was what she usually wore, and she didn't want the same green she was using on me. I finally decided on a pale silvery purple.

"So is it obvious," I say as I carefully paint the first nail, "that I've never used nail polish before?"

"Not terribly obvious. Start in the center and then work on the sides, wait until that coat is dry to do the next, and try not to tickle me. Involuntary reflexes, you know."

"You mean I shouldn't do this?" I run my finger over the arch of her foot and she yelps and her foot jerks away.

"Yes, you shouldn't do that. Meanie."

"A blue meanie, yet." I grin at her.

"Hm?" She's absorbed in painting.

"You mean you've never seen 'The Yellow Submarine'? The Beatles movie, the animated one?"

"I've seen 'A Hard Day's Night.'"

"You've got to see 'The Yellow Submarine.' It's great, especially if you know the album."

"Is that the one that's supposed to make more sense if you see it when you're high?"

"That's the rumor, yes. I personally have never seen it high."

"Mulder, you honestly can't make me believe you never inhaled."

"Have you?"

"Ever inhaled? No."

"So you know it's possible for a college student to go his entire career and not experiment with mind-altering substances."

"I get drunk off two beers, Mulder. I can just imagine what drugs would do to me."

"Two beers? That's it?"

"Size, weight, metabolism. Irish heritage aside, I'm just not a big drinker."

"Whew, Scully. Remind me to get you drunk sometime."

"That's not funny, Mulder."

"Sorry."

We paint in silence for several minutes. I don't look at my feet in her lap. I can just imagine what the guys, Skinner, and my mother would say if they ever knew about this.

So what do I do, after making a gaffe like this? The obvious.

"So, Scully. What happened between you and Ed Jerse?"

I feel her eyebrows go up before I see them, and she says softly, "Do I want to know why you want to know?"

"Well, this is kind of similar circumstances."

"Toenail polish comes off, Mulder."

"I'm curious."

"You want the nasty details."

"Only as much as you're comfortable telling me. I mean, I read the report, of course, but I'm just curious about the parts you left out."

"Before or after he tried to kill me?"

"Before. Before. In the report you said you went back to his apartment, and he slept on the couch and you slept in the bed. What I want to know is, what happened before you went to bed. Because all this time I've thought, um . . ."

"You've thought?"

"You know. That you . . . um . . . slept with him."

She shakes her head, her hair dancing around her face. "No. Nothing like that. It was kind of sweet, really. We made out, and he cried. He'd been a little rough with me earlier, but it wasn't a threatening kind of rough. It was like a . . . 'be careful' kind of rough."

"He didn't scare you?"

"Not then. I felt so different anyway, it was exciting. I thought maybe I'd try it with him . . . but he didn't want to. He couldn't."

"Couldn't . . ."

"You know. Perform."

"Oh." That would bring me to tears, too. "And the tattoo?"

"You still haven't seen it, have you."

"Nope. I've been neglecting your backside. It's weird, I know what the tattoo looks like, I know where it is, but I still haven't actually seen it."

"All in good time, Mulder." She gives my toes a tweak, and I wiggle them in response. "Satisfied? You now know the big deal between me and Ed Jerse."

"Satisfied. You and Eddie van Blundht, now . . ."

She grips my toes a little too tightly. "Stop before I hurt you, Fox Mulder."

"You were going to kiss him."

"Correction. He was going to kiss me. You were going to kiss me."

"What was going through your mind, Scully? Did you want him--me--to kiss you?"

"I wasn't . . . opposed. It was a strange circumstance, anyway. And you know how I feel about kissing you, anyway."

"Somehow I don't think you would have been so open to it a year ago."

"Maybe not. Maybe I would have told you--him--about everything then. We'd talked a lot about things we'd never talked about before. I mean, Mulder, we know each other so well but sometimes I feel like we don't know each other at all. I don't know your favorite color, the music you like--I mean, I know now--I've learned more about you in the past five days than in the past five years. I even know that you talk in your sleep."

"I do not."

"You mumble. The truth is, Mulder, I felt closer to you that night than I had for a long time before or after."

"Yeah," I say softly. "We kind of lost each other for a while."

"Fatal illnesses have a way of being terrifying."

"I tried to be there for you, Scully."

"You were, Mulder, you were, as much as you know how."

I stroke her tiny pale feet for a few minutes, not knowing how to answer this. "I give you everything I have, Scully. Everything I have to give you."

"I know, Mulder. I know it's hard for you. And I appreciate everything you do for me, I do. I treasure every gesture you make, every smile you give me. There are times, Mulder, when you look at me and I feel like . . . like I can do no wrong. It's frightening sometimes, to be that admired. I'm so afraid of failing you."

This last is said in a soft, tiny voice, and she doesn't look at me. I lift her foot to my mouth and kiss the bottom. "You won't, Scully. I'm more afraid of failing you than of you failing me."

"But don't you see, Mulder, that short of you turning out to work for Them," she acknowledges my snort with a nod of the head, "there's nothing you could do to fail me. I know you admire me and respect me." She puts my feet out of her lap and crawls up my body to look deep into my eyes. "I admire and respect you, too, Mulder. As much, if not more, as you do me."

I cup her face in my hands and kiss her firmly. There's so much that I want to say, but even after this I can't. I can't. I cap the bottle of nail polish and put it aside, and hold Scully tightly to me as she holds me tightly to her.

The fire crackles and pops. The wind blows softly against the windows. Scully's heart beats steadily against mine. And I wouldn't swear to it, but I believe I can faintly hear someone singing.


VII. Circle

"What kind of love is this that keeps me hanging on

despite everything it's doing to me?"


1.

Christmas Eve.

I spent last Christmas Eve throwing cards into a hat and watching 'Rudolf Saves Christmas' or whatever it was called. Scully called me from her grandmother's, where her whole family was gathered, around ten o'clock to ask how I was doing. I told her everything was fine, yes, I'd remembered a gift for my mother, no, I was not going to spend the holidays alone. I had dinner with the guys on Christmas Day, and we played our new computer games until two in the morning. I took down my lights around Valentine's Day. Mainly because most of the bulbs had burned out.

This Christmas couldn't be more different. The house is cozy and cheerful; it smells of pine and cinnamon and Scully's perfume; there are lights on the porch, a beautiful tree with lots of presents beneath it, a menorah in the window, music constantly playing; and a tender, loving woman who gives meaning to the whole thing.

Scully has been on the phone with her mother in San Diego for nearly an hour. I'm trying not to eavesdrop, but it's really hard not to when she's right next to me, in the doorway between the living room and the kitchen.

"Yeah, it's lovely up here, Mulder and I are having a good time. Only once, Mulder hurt himself so we haven't been back. Oh, we've found other things to do. Mom, will you please tell Bill it's not like that?" There's a pause, and she laughs uncomfortably. "What is it like? It's just a vacation. Because we can, Billy. Oh, will you stop? I'm a big girl. Do you want me to tell Mom about that night at Grandma's when you and Tara snuck out until six in the morning? 'Cause I was sharing a room with her, remember? I thought you'd see it my way. Love you too, Billy. Kiss Mom and Tara and the baby for me. Bye." She hangs up the phone and comes over to the couch where I'm pretending to read. She sits down at my feet and leans her arm over my knees.

"And I still need to call Charlie."

"Ah, family."

"At least Charlie doesn't try to regulate my private life. Billy seems to think you have designs on me."

"That's because I do have designs on you."

She laughs and scratches my knee with her nails. "Are you going to call your mother?"

"She's Jewish. Christmas Eve is meaningless."

"But you're going to call her."

"Later."

"Mulder . . . "

"Later," I say more firmly. I think she spent the holidays with her brother and his family, she usually does. I'll call her tomorrow.

Scully stands up, using my knees for support, and then straddles over my lap and takes my book out of my hands. "Has there been a revolution yet?" she asks, scanning the pages.

"Yep. You know the funny thing about revolutions, it seems like no one can really pinpoint the moment they begin."

"Lexington and Concord," Scully says, turning a page.

"Please don't lose my place. Does a revolution start when the first gunshot is fired, or when the revolters--that's not a word, is it? The people doing the revolting?"

"That reminds me of a joke. The workers are revolting--and they smell bad, too."

"Ha, ha. Anyway, doesn't a revolution really start when the oppressed people decide they're not going to take it anymore? Before the battles begin?"

"The first battle of a revolution is won in the heart," she says, putting my book aside.

"How do you figure?"

"It's always easier to stay with the status quo, no matter how oppressed you are. Declaring independence from injustice or oppression is an emotional decision, based on ideals and one's belief in the basic goodness of mankind, and it's always a huge risk. A lot of the founding fathers were wealthy men before the Revolutionary War, and many of them were bankrupt by the time it ended. It calls on a kind of belief beyond logical thinking."

"Scully."

"Hm?"

"Kiss me."

"Don't you mean, Kiss me, you mad fool?" she says, smiling, but kisses me all the same.

"I was going to say, Shut up and kiss me, but I didn't want to be rude." I kiss her back.

"Heavens, no, we can't have rudeness." She sets about kissing my face, soft little smooches accented by flicks of her tongue. Scully's gallery of kisses is endless, it seems. And she still tastes like maple syrup. "Do you still want to go to the thing tonight?"

"The carol thing?"

"Yeah, that thing."

"Do you want to?"

"Sort of. Apparently it's a pretty big deal. The elementary school is going to have a choir."

"Great, off-key renditions of 'Up on the Housetop.'"

"And 'Jingle Bells, Batman Smells.'"

"One year my father wanted Samantha and me to be in a choir with the kids of other State Department mucky-mucks, but because they weren't going to do any Chanukah songs my mother said no. She tried for a long time to make us Jewish. I'm not sure it worked."

"Since you're an atheist."

"Agnostic. An atheist is someone who doesn't believe, and agnostic is someone who doesn't know. I go to church sometimes."

"When?"

"When I'm miserable. I've lit candles for Samantha more than once."

She smiles slightly and says, "I've lit candles for you."

"You have?"

"Uh-huh. Siberia, New Mexico, when your mother had the stroke--whenever you needed a prayer."

I get the feeling this isn't something Scully does lightly. I know the question of her own faith puzzles her, that she's not sure how much she believes of what she learned as a little girl. I'm very touched by this, though, and I kiss her tenderly. "Let's go to the thing. If it's dull we can leave early."

"If it's dull I'm sure we'll find something interesting to do." She kisses me one more time and gets off my lap. I wait for a few minutes as she gets ready to go, trying to get myself into a more people-friendly frame of mind. The truth is, I don't want to go out--I want to stay here and play with Scully, make love with her, celebrate that we're together and still have over a week before we have to go back to real life.

Later. Later. I hope.

Scully stops behind me with her hand on my shoulder and leans down to kiss me. "Come on, Mulder. Let's go."

"Wherever you lead me, Scully," I answer, and get up to follow her.


2.

Scully was right--the square does look like a set from "The Nutcracker." There is something magical about lights in leafless trees, about groups of families talking and laughing, about choirs in their robes warming up to sing, and particularly about the forty-foot blue spruce in the center of the square. It's decorated in white and silver, with a huge star at the top.

"Isn't it beautiful," Scully says.

"Yeah," I answer, looking at her. She smiles at me and squeezes my hand.

There are tables set up with coffee and cocoa and hot spiced cider, doughnuts and cookies. Scully and I get cups of cider and join the crowd around the tree.

Finally one of the choirs starts singing. Scully and I smile at each other--it's "Silent Night," a perfectly logical choice. I whisper into Scully's ear, "Do you think Rachel likes this get-together?"

"I think she does, if she ever gets to it. Do you think she leaves the house?"

"Hauntings are so unpredictable, who knows."

"Listen to us," Scully says. "As if we know what we're talking about."

"We know more than most people." I kiss her temple and she smiles at me, leans against me and closes her eyes. I keep my arm around her shoulder, and she holds onto my hand, her fingers woven between mine.

The church choirs sing, the school choirs sing. We drink cups of cider and cocoa and hold onto each other, singing the songs we know and listening to the rest. I half expect an ethereal singer's voice to join in, but the prettiest voice I hear belongs to a flesh-and-blood woman.

So I'm biased. Love will do that to a guy.

While the whole thing is nice to listen to, it's not visually interesting. Watching people sing always makes me yawn. I find myself scanning the square for something to look at, which is why movement in one of the dark streets off the square catches my eye.

"Are you packing?" I ask Scully softly.

"I only brought my badge--is something going on?"

"I'm not sure. I'll be right back."

She let's go of me reluctantly. "Be careful, Mulder."

"Hey, it's me you're talking to."

"Like I said. Be careful."

I follow the movement into the side street. The alley is lit only by the light cast from upper windows. I can hear only my own footsteps and the sounds of celebration behind me.

It occurs to me that this is ridiculous. What am I thinking, running off like this? I'm not even sure of what I saw. I know what I thought it was . . .

The alley empties out onto a street lined with folksy shops and small businesses. There are street lights here, casting pools of pale light on the snow.

Pale light. Street lights are amber. These are not.

I hear the cracking of a whip and the sound of hooves trotting down the snowy street. In a moment I can see it, a wagon drawn by two draft horses, the driver hunched over his reins from the cold. He stops in front of one of the stores and gets down from the wagon, throwing the reins around the hitching post. He speaks to the horses a moment, running his hands over their muzzles, and goes into one of the stores.

Suddenly I'm surrounded by people in nineteenth-century dress, talking and laughing and carrying neatly wrapped parcels. Women in long, full skirts and men in boots and broad-brimmed hats. And they pay no attention to me. They walk right past me without giving my leather jacket and bare head a glance.

Two young men are arguing as they walk towards me. "You can't do it. You can't ask her to run away."

"It's the only way we'll ever be together. Her father doesn't like me, he thinks I'm trash."

His friend snorted. "He'll lock her up in that house sooner'n let anybody court her."

"I know. But I love her, and she loves me. I'll take good care of her. I made two hundred dollars last year, and if we head out west we can homestead a place for free, just live on it for seven years. There's land for the taking, all you need to do is get there."

"But Christmas Eve, Cameron? Running away?"

Cameron. I've been following them anyway. Now I know why.

"Christmas Eve. Running away is the only thing we can do. We leave tonight or he'll lock her up in that house for good. We even have a signal." He stops walking and sings softly, "'Silent night, holy night . . .'"

"The song she sang in church last week."

"That's the one. We'll find each other through the song."

"I'd hurry, though, Cam. Storm's coming."

"Won't be long now. We leave at midnight. Reverend Alden said he'd marry us soon as we come to his house and he'll put us up until we can leave for New York on the first train after Christmas." He laughs. "Next time you see me I'm going to be an old married man."

His friend laughs as well. "I'll drive you to the station myself." They head into one of the buildings. On the front stoop Cameron pauses, looking around the street in bewilderment. He sees me, and smiles slightly, and goes inside.

I start to turn aside for someone to pass, and then realize I'm alone again. The street lights are electric, casting amber light, not candles in wrought-iron lamps. And again I can hear singing from town square.

I go back to the square, where Scully is pacing the edge of the crowd, clasping and unclasping her hands. I come up behind her and tap her shoulder, and she whirls, her face and body on alert. That crumbles when she sees it's me, and she throws herself into my arms.

"Hey, calm down," I say, embracing her tightly.

"You've been gone almost half an hour." Her voice is muffled in my chest. "Even when you've got your gun anything could happen to you--what if you'd been attacked?"

"It wasn't anything dangerous. It was Cameron."

She looks up at me. "Cameron? Here?"

"More like it was me, there. It was the coolest thing, Scully, I saw him, I heard him talking to a friend about their plans to run away. They were going to find each other in the forest by singing. They were going to find a place out west."

"You had a time-slip. Isn't that what it's called?"

"Yeah. But I haven't heard the coolest part yet. He saw me, Scully. He looked straight at me and saw me."

"But we still don't know how to help them."

"No. But if we think about it--"

Scully sighs and pulls me down and kisses me. "No ghost-hunting tonight, Mulder. Let's go home."

"Are you bored?" I ask, smiling.

"Around you I'm never bored. I just want to be alone with you."

"Oo, you know what I like."

She lightly punches my arm. "Shut up, Mulder, and take me home."

"Yes, ma'am," I say, putting my arm around her waist, and we make our way to the car.


3.

Scully had little to say on the drive home, but then she rarely does when she drives. Of course, I usually sleep when she drives on our long trips. She turned on the radio and spun through the dial a few times, which she never, never does.

When we get to the house she turns on the Christmas tree lights. "Will you start a fire, Mulder?"

"We ought to go to bed before midnight, or Santa Claus won't come."

"I want to talk first."

This sounds serious. I build a fire as she makes hot cocoa, and she brings the mugs out to the living room where I'm waiting on the couch. She gives me my mug and tucks her legs under her when she sits down, leaning against my side.

We sip our cocoa, listening to the fire. I chase a marshmallow with my tongue, then tuck it into my cheek and kiss Scully, giving her the marshmallow. Our lips are sticky from all the sweets we've had tonight.

"Mulder," she whispers, pulling away, "later, I promise."

"So, what did you want to talk about?" I sip my cocoa.

She sips hers as well, watching the fire. "Last night. When I left."

I wait for her to go on, watching her face.

Finally she says, sighing, "Mulder, I haven't been completely honest with you. There's something I haven't told you."

For a second I'm afraid I'm going to spew up my cocoa. There's someone else, I'm just here to help her get over her fears so she can go to the man she really loves a whole person--it's probably Skinner--she's in love with Skinner, I'm sure of it, oh, God, why did I come here?

"Oh? What's that?" I manage to say calmly.

She runs her finger over the rim of her cup. "When Terence and I first talked about--you know, getting over my fears--he told me about people who do it professionally. Sexual therapists."

"Right. I've heard of that."

"I even talked to one, and he was a nice enough guy . . . but I couldn't bring myself to. I just couldn't get comfortable with him. I told Terence about this and he said maybe a professional wasn't the route for me." She clears her throat and glances at me. "You had come up in our conversations several times, and he said maybe I ought to ask you to help me. Because it was clear to him that you're the person I'm most comfortable with. That I care about most." There's a long pause. She watches the fire as I watch her. Finally she says softly, "That I love."

For a second I forget to breathe. Her cheeks are flushed scarlet, and she still refuses to look at me. I take away her empty mug and raise her hand to my mouth, kissing her warm fingers. She closes her eyes and licks her lips.

"That's why I asked you," she said softly. "I love you. I didn't--don't--want anyone else to be this close to me. I love you, Mulder," she says clearly, and looks at me at last.

I don't know what she thinks of what she sees. I'm grinning like an idiot, I'm sure, the joy I feel must be obvious on my face. She begins to smile hesitantly, and her fingers curl around my hand.

"I just need you to know that, Mulder," she says softly. "When you suggested we come here I was terrified but so excited, because I knew you were taking it seriously. And you've been so wonderful, Mulder, you really have been more than I hoped for. No, that's not true. I knew you'd be gentle."

"Always with you, Scully," I say softly.

She smiles and takes my other hand. "Last night, when I left, all I could think about was how much I like being so close to you. How much I want to be with you. And I realized, Mulder, that I really can't ask that of you."

"What? Why?"

"You haven't got room in your life for a lover. It's hard enough for you to have a friend. When we go back to Washington I'll be all right with things going back to the way they were. And I'll always cherish this." Her hand caresses the side of my face, smoothing back my hair. "I'll always love you."

I kiss her hands and hold them to my chest. "Scully," I ask softly, "have you ever wondered why it was so natural for us to move from friends to lovers?"

"Well, there's been attraction for a long time--"

"It's more than that. You're more to me than a friend, Scully. Much, much more than a partner." Her eyes hold me steadily as she waits for me to get to the point. Okay. The point. "There's always room for you, Scully. In any capacity you want. But I'd prefer to be your lover, if you want to be mine."

Her smile broadens. "Yes," she says softly. "Yes."

"Or even better . . . " Her eyebrow goes up as my voice trails off, and I kiss the skeptical feature gently. "Your lover." I kiss her nose. "Your partner." I kiss her right eye. "Your best friend." I kiss her left eye. "And your husband." I kiss her mouth.

For a second she's stiff with surprise, and then she melts into me, putting her arms around my neck. She pushes me back against the sofa arm and lifts her mouth enough to whisper, "Say it, Mulder."

"Say what?"

"Say you love me. I'm not going to say yes unless you say you love me."

"You love me, Scully."

"Very funny," she says and nips my nose.

"Ow! I love you, Scully. Even though you're a bully."

"Get used to it, buddy. You're in for a lifetime of it."

"I'm not complaining. Is that a yes?"

"That's a yes. I love you."

"I love you too." It feels so good to say it at last. We smile at each other and kiss some more.

Suddenly she jumps off my lap. "You get your present now. You were going to get it anyway, but--well--come on."

"Where are we going?"

"Upstairs." She takes both my hands and pulls me to my feet. "I want you, Mulder. I want to make love to you."

I feel a shiver run through her as she says this, but she looks at me bravely. I hug her and kiss her, and whisper, "We don't have to, Scully."

"I know we don't have to. I want to. I want to . . . feel you. Inside me." Her face is still flushed, and her lips are wet. We kiss deeply, and she clings to me as if I'm the only thing holding her up.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes."

I start to bend, to pick her up, and she stops me with a hand on my shoulder. "You'll hurt yourself. Put out the fire, give me a few minutes. I need to, um, prepare."

"No cheating, Scully."

She smiles and shakes her head. "No cheating."

I kiss her one more time before she turns and walks up the stairs. I take a few deep breaths and run my hand over my face.

I open the screen in front of the fireplace and poke the logs apart, crushing out the fire. I make sure the doors and windows are locked and all the lights are out. The flowers she bought this morning are still on the table. I sniff them, deem them worth leaving in the vase, and close the kitchen curtains. I can't think of anything else to stall, to give her time, and go upstairs.

Our bedroom--ours now, for good--has been transformed. There are candles on every available surface, painting the room in dappled shadows and scenting it faintly of peaches. She's turned back the covers as well but left the curtains open. I start to close them, then decide she wanted them open for a reason and leave them, letting the moon shine in. The clothes she was wearing are neatly folded on one of the chairs, and I can hear movement in the bathroom. I wonder if there's anything I should be doing, then get the box of condoms I brought out of my suitcase and put them on the night table. I don't know that we need them--we're both healthy and we both know the odds of her becoming pregnant are astronomically against--but if she wants me to use them I want them nearby.

I sit on the edge of the bed, trying not to get nervous. The first time. God. I so want it to be good for her, for this to be a decision she never regrets. Slowly, I decide, just do everything slowly and gently, talk to her, look at her, kiss her constantly. We'll figure this out, how we work together.

Finally the bathroom door opens and she comes out. She's wearing a full-length, pale pink silk nightgown, and her skin is golden in the candlelight. Her eyes are dark and her lips have never been fuller. She smiles at my expression and says softly, "Merry Christmas, Mulder."

"Merry Christmas," I say. She comes to me and takes my face in her hands and kisses me gently. I finger the strap over one shoulder and whisper, "Is this for me?"

"No. What's inside it is."

"In that case, very merry Christmas." She laughs as I pull her into my lap, and we kiss each other deeply for quite some time. Kisses that are warm and sweet, where she breathes in my breath and I breathe in hers, where our tongues chase each other and play together and slide along each other sensuously. Our hands tenderly touch what is both familiar and wondrous, skin we have felt before and tasted before and kissed before but that is still magical, still delicious, still precious above words. We know each other's smells and sounds--I know when to kiss here and bite there without her saying a word--but whenever I look into her eyes they are filled with wonder and joy, because this is our first time and there is only one first time and we want to celebrate it, treasure it, remember it.

And I know I will always remember it. The peachy scent of the room that is also on her skin. How her hair tickles my chest as she bends over me. That her skin is so soft that I can't tell where the nightgown ends and she begins. That we kiss with our eyes open so we don't miss a moment. The flush that comes over her body when I look on her, naked, at last. Her soft husky voice as she tells me how good it feels, how right it is, how much she loves me. The tears that fall on my face when I reply in kind, that I have always and will always love her. The vows we make, the questions we ask. "Is this good?" "Ohhhhh . . . yesssss . . ." How ready she is for me when I finally venture to find out. How utterly right it feels when she kneels astride me and takes me into her. How her eyes open wide with wonder and how she watches my face as we make love. How beautiful and free her face is when she comes. How I force my eyes to stay open as I come and drown in the blue waters of hers.

I will remember this. When I am old and life is fading, I will remember the night I made love to Dana Scully and she laughed with joy.

 

I know you all were expecting a blow-by-blow account (oh, bad pun) as that is my usual style, but the trouble is, I rewrote that scene four or five times in four or five different ways, and none of them were right. So for once I'm going to play Jane Austen and give our lovers a modicum of privacy.


VIII. Ice

"Offer what you can, I'll take all that I can get"


1.

Imagine my surprise when I reach for Scully and she's actually there.

I'm not sure what woke me. Not a nightmare, not a dream that I can remember. Maybe just the novelty of having another body next to me, and the knowledge that stayed with me even as I slept that she's here because she wants to be, she wants me, desires me, loves me. Maybe subconsciously I don't want to waste a moment of this beautiful, perfect night.

Or it could be the smell of smoke from dying candles. That's pretty strong in here.

She's lying on her stomach with her arms folded against her sides, naked, tousled, sticky with sweat and fluids, her hair over her face and a tiny sleepy smile on her lips. I move her hair away from her face and smooth it back behind her ear. The sheets come up only to her waist, dipping slightly at her spine.

She looks comfortable and content. I run my fingers lightly down the valley of her spine. Her skin is warm. I move closer to her, propping myself up on my elbow, and ease back the sheet to just above her ass.

There it is. A serpent devouring its tail, green and blue with black and red details, vaguely primitive like a cave painting. Beautiful, really. I trace it with my finger. I can feel the marks in her skin where the needle scarred her. I move closer still and gently kiss the tattoo, and run my tongue over the circle. It feels strange, like tougher version of her skin. I kiss is again and move back up to look at her face.

She's still sleeping. Still smiling. So beautiful it hurts.

I wind a curl around my finger, and lay it over her lips. She moves her head enough for the curl to fall away. I put it back, and again she moves it away.

Tired of this game, I get out of bed and blow out the candles that haven't already burned out, until the room is dark except for the moonlight. I get back into bed and pull the covers over us, making sure Scully is warm. She murmurs something incoherent and moves closer to me, rolling onto her side, facing me.

This is perfect. I wrap her in my arms and drop kisses on her face, tuck her head under my chin and close my eyes. She burrows even further into me, throwing one leg over my waist.

The house may be cold but our bed is warm and sheltering. Wrapped around each other, we sleep.


2.

There's something warm and wet on my lips, and a delicious smell in the air, the scent of another's skin. I sigh in contentment and reach out my hands to encounter soft warm flesh and thick curly hair. I hear a soft chuckle and the kiss deepens, her tongue working its way between my lips. I tease her for a moment, refusing to open my teeth, and her tongue becomes insistent, looking for any resistance, any weakness in the barricade. Her hand pushes in my hair, pulling back my head. I decide to let her win and open my teeth, meeting her tongue with mine. She sighs and her hand moves down my neck as she kisses me deeply, slowly, her tongue staking its claim on my mouth because she knows it belongs to her.

I open my eyes at last. It's too dark to see. Mentally I shrug and close them again, giving her butterfly kisses with my lashes. I feel her smile, and her arm moves under my neck, propping up my head. The house is so quiet I can hear every brush of skin against skin, the slight smack of wet lips, the tiny moans coming from her throat.

I stroke my hands down her back, feeling her shoulder blades, her spine, the perfect handfuls of her ass. I think, These are mine, and I want to laugh aloud. Her body is mine. My body is hers. She will take better care of my body than I ever did, I'm sure of that.

Her feet rub slowly against my legs as far as she can reach. She strokes my face and hair, my neck and chest. She takes my hand and presses it to her breast, and at once I begin to knead it, pulling gently on her nipple and rolling it in my fingers. Again she sighs, her sweet breath filling my lungs. She moves up, bracing her arms on either side of my head, and teases her nipple against my lips before she allows me to take it into my mouth. She moans aloud as I suckle her, the first real sound I've heard her make since she woke me up. She pulls her breast from my mouth and gives me the other, moaning again as I play with it and bending her head to kiss the top of mine. I let go of her breast and run my tongue down the valley between them, scooting down to tongue her stomach and her navel and parting her legs as I move. She's moaning steadily now, still tiny soft sounds, involuntary, and she folds her arms and rests her head on them. She lets out a deep sigh when I reach into her with my tongue. Her hips move against me as if she's barely aware of what her body is doing. My entire being is focused on pleasing her, on her tiny slick bud that quivers under my tongue. Her juices run down her thighs and my face, and she groans as I push my middle finger into her, searching for her sweet spot.

Suddenly she surprises me by pulling away. I sit up, confused, and she climbs into my lap and kisses me again, cleaning herself off my face. Her legs wrap around my waist, her ass rests on my folded thighs. I know she's ready--I know I'm ready--I lift her up and lower her onto me, slooooooowly. We both groan until I am completely inside her.

She buries her head in my shoulder, her breath coming in hot quick pants. I show her how to move with me, and her head lolls on my chest and her arms stay folded loosely around my neck. I'm grunting with each stroke, I'm trying to keep it slow at least for now, and she whimpers in response. Her teeth scrape over my skin, her nails dig into my neck.

I can't keep it slow. It's been too long, I've been waiting too long. She's been waiting too long. I reach between us and stroke her clit in time with each stroke of my cock, and she cries out with each pass. She grabs my face and kisses me, still moaning even as we move together faster.

I rise up onto my knees and lay her on her back, my body cradled in her thighs, and drive into her, her breast in my hand and her tongue in my mouth. I want to wait for her but I'm not sure I can. I'm probably hurting her, I'm pounding into her, thrusting with all my strength, but I can't stop. I can't even think anymore. There's nothing but that tight slick burning passage clutching at my cock. I reach between us again, praying to bring her with me, when she catches my hand and shoves it aside. Her own hand goes between her legs and she rubs herself furiously, her head tossing back and forth, her legs spread wide apart and her feet planted flat on the bed. I kiss her, deeply, and her teeth scrape over my tongue for a moment before she pulls away. Her whole body goes rigid for a second, her nails digging into my back and her face turned away, and then she groans, long and loud, and her body shivers and shudders and her cunt grips my cock like so many massaging fingers. I cry out in kind, my own body overwhelmed by the power of hers, and empty myself into her.

Panting, we lie together for some time, unable to move. Finally she pushes on my chest gently and I pull out of her, both of us sighing. Still in my arms though no longer joined, she kisses me sleepily and lies her head on my chest. In a few moments I know she's asleep, and I smile, drifting there myself.


3.

I suppose I can't blame her for feeling a little shy in the morning. When I wake up she's in her bathrobe, sitting in one of the armchairs, and she smiles when she sees I'm awake. "Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas," I answer, sitting up and rubbing the sleep dirt from my eyes. "How'd you sleep?"

"Fine. Except for that interlude, there . . ." She blushes and looks away.

"I thought that was pretty cool."

"Or something." She gets out of the armchair and comes over to the bed. "Do you want to see if Santa Claus came?"

"I know he did, I don't want to push my luck. Hey, Scully, come here." I pull her gently into my lap. "Are you okay?"

"Sure. Yes. I feel fine. I guess I . . . I'm a little surprised at how bold I was."

"I liked it, Scully."

"Yes, I thought you did." She smiles and puts her arms around my neck. "I liked it, too."

I kiss her and run a hand through her tousled hair. "Bed head."

"You too." She runs both her hands through my hair, and frowns at the lack of effect her handiwork has. "I bet you had cowlicks and spikes as a boy, didn't you?"

"I was the inspiration for the original Alfalfa."

"Ha. More like Alfalfa was the inspiration for you." She plays her fingers through the hair at the back of my neck. "Mulder," she says hesitantly. "Did you mean it?"

"Mean what?" Her robe is gaping open. I pull on the sash, encouraging the knot to loosen.

"What you said. About marrying me."

I look up at her, the knot forgotten. "Of course I meant it. I wouldn't ask you something like that lightly. You meant it when you said yes, didn't you?"

She nods, and puts her arms around my neck and kisses me. "I meant it. I still mean it. I'll always mean it. I love you."

"I love you too. God, I love you." We kiss deeply, holding each other tight. "Scully. You know it's not going to be easy."

"I know."

"They'll never stop looking for ways to hurt us."

"I know. I'm not afraid." She laughs abruptly. "Listen to me. I'm not afraid."

"I know. I'm so proud of you."

"You know what, Mulder? For the first time in years I don't feel like 'Dana Scully, raped woman.' I feel like 'Dana Scully, lover.'"

"Good for you, baby." We start kissing each other's faces.

"And I have to say, I like being your baby."

"And I like being your . . ." I pause, realizing she really hasn't called me by any nicknames.

"My Mulder. Always my Mulder."

"Your anything."

"My everything."

I don't remember when I opened her robe but it's open, and I run my hands over her pale flesh greedily as we kiss. Christmas can wait another hour or so.

Still kissing me, Scully moves off my lap and takes my hands. "Where are we going?" I whisper against her lips.

"Bathroom. Shower."

"Oo, Agent Scully . . ."

"Unless you'd rather have a bath."

"Mm, shower. Definitely a shower." She sheds the bathrobe as we walk and leads me into the bathroom. She starts the water running and tests the heat, pushes back the curtain and steps into the shower. She closes her eyes as she steps under the spray. "Mulder? Coming?"

"Uh . . ." is about all I can say at this point. I join her and shut the curtain, enveloping us in heat. She opens her eyes and smiles at me, pulling me to her. We kiss, and she turns us so the water falls on both of us. She picks up her fluffy sponge thingy and squeezes some of her liquid soap on it, and works up a lather that drips down to her elbows. Smiling, she draws the sponge over my chest, up my neck and over my face. "This smells like you," I whisper, closing my eyes.

"Lavender-scented. I love lavender. Spicey, never too heavy, always fresh . . . like lying a meadow, don't you think?"

"Yeah . . ."

"Great for headaches, too."

My eyes pop open. "You don't have a headache, do you?"

"No, I'm just telling you my secret headache cure. Lavender spray on my face. Works every time. One of those discoveries I made in college. Remember it, Mulder, you may want it someday."

"Oh. So I'll know what to do if you ever try to use the headache excuse."

"Right." She washes my ears and my chin, the back of my neck, my shoulders. She stops to make up more lather, and goes onto my arms and hands, my chest and stomach. She smiles at me wickedly and gently washes my balls and cock, getting a grunt from me, and I brace my hands on the wall as she kneels down and washes my legs and feet.

No one has bathed me since I was five or six. This is . . . amazing. Tender. More erotic than I expected.

Finally she stands and puts the sponge aside. "Your shampoo is in the other bathroom, isn't it?"

"Uh-huh."

"Do you mind using mine?"

"Uh-uh."

She squeezes out some shampoo and rubs it between her hands. "Head back, Mulder, your hair's not wet."

I tilt back my head and let the water wash over my face. In a minute I feel Scully's hands in my hair, gently working in the shampoo. It smells like her, too. "Green apples."

"It's nice, isn't it."

"Yeah."

"I hate shampoos that smell like chemicals."

"Mmm."

She chuckles and continues massaging the shampoo into my scalp. "Lean forward a little, Mulder. You're too tall."

"Mm. Sorry." I lean my head forward, and feel her wipe lather off my face.

"Don't want you getting any in your eyes."

"Thanks."

She guides me under the spray and rinses the shampoo out of my hair, combing her fingers through it. "Conditioner?"

"Sure."

"The scent matches the shampoo."

"Good."

Her hands gently work in the conditioner. I want to open my eyes and look at her but I get the feeling this is easier for her if I'm not watching her. I keep my head bent forward so she can reach, concentrating on her tiny hands in my hair. Tiny hands, but strong and knowing, sure of what they're doing.

She guides me under the water again, making sure my hair is rinsed. "There," she says softly. "Socially presentable."

"Are we going somewhere today?"

"No. I just wanted to do that for you."

I open my eyes and look at her, her rosy skin, her big blue eyes, her tightened nipples. "Your turn."

She smiles and hands me the sponge.

4.

We make it downstairs eventually, not bothering to dress beyond bathrobes. The elaborate breakfast Scully had planned gets tossed aside for another day, and we have bowls of instant hot cereal which we eat as we unwrap presents. Scully puts on a CD of Christmas music and we loll on the floor, surrounded by gifts and wrapping paper, giving each other brown sugar-flavored kisses and talking about nothing and everything.

"Has it ever occurred to you," I say as I lay my head on the blue cashmere sweater she's given me, "how much we treat each other like lovers anyway?"

"We do?"

"At times. I don't pick up dry-cleaning for just anybody, you know."

"I only asked you that once."

"I was happy to do it. Anyway, that's not the point--the point is, except for the fringe benefits--" I wiggle my eyebrows, which gets the smile I was hoping for--"we've been living as lovers for a long time. We travel together-"

"To work."

"We eat together."

"At work."

"We hang out together a lot."

"Doing work."

"We lend each other stuff all the time."

"Mulder, we've been living as partners for a long time. The way we love each other is . . . it's not expressed in the usual ways. It's not about borrowing the car or leaving your razor at my apartment--though I guess now I'll have to clean out a drawer for you, won't I?" She grins at me.

"Until we found a place to live together."

"Mm . . . living with you is a lot more fun than I thought it would be."

"Did you think I'd be difficult?"

"Um . . ."

"Scully."

"Yes. I thought you'd be difficult. Picky. You know, a bachelor on his own for a long time develops habits."

"Anybody living on their own for a long time develops habits. Our good fortune is that our habits mesh."

"Yes, they do." She sprays the perfume I bought her on her wrist and sniffs it. "Mm . . ."

"The saleslady thought I was nuts. She asked why I didn't just ask what perfume you wear instead of smelling every one at the counter."

"Why didn't you?"

"And give myself away?"

"I wouldn't have suspected. You could have brought in up in casual conversation. You knew it's not your favorite, after all, that narrows it down."

I wince at the jab and grab her hand. "It's my favorite now."

She puts the bottle aside and kisses me. "I think you're going to work out," she says softly, and kisses me again.

"You've got me whipped."

"I believe the current term is 'whupped.'"

"Fussy, fussy. . . Anyway, you've distracted me again. I was trying to say that I have loved you a very long time and it's really . . . good to be able to say so."

She smiles again and rubs my chest, lying her cheek against mine. "It is good. Very, very good."

"Sometimes, though, I wish we'd met under different circumstances. More normal ones."

"If we'd met under normal circumstances you never would have given me a second glance."

"That is not true. I would have known right away that you were the one for me."

"Oh, really."

"Yes, really. I would have seen you in, say, a bookstore. In the Personal Growth section."

"Reference," she says, settling down on the floor next to me.

"Okay, Reference. And because you were in the Reference section, looking at a book entitled, um, 'Beyond Einstein', I'd know you're smart and not just a pretty face and a great set of legs."

Here she laughs outright. "Great legs. Right."

"They are. They're lovely. Slender with little round pink knees and your pretty little toes and slim ankles . . . you know why Victorian men loved a pretty ankle, don't you."

"Hm? You've lost me."

"Because it was all they could see. When a lady would step down from a carriage and lift up her skirt just a little he'd catch a glimpse of her ankle and go into palpitations."

"I see. Anyway, you were saying about Reference."

"Right. Reference. So I go up to you and ask if you've read 'A Brief History of Time.'"

"And I say, yes, of course I have."

"And I ask you to explain it to me over coffee."

She laughs again. "You understood my thesis when you read it, didn't you?"

"That was different, I was trying to get to know you. I'm talking about our normal circumstances."

"Ah. You're chatting me up. I get it."

"Anyway, you're so charmed by my admission of stupidity," I ignore her guffaw, "that you agree to come with me for coffee. And we have a wonderful time because I am at my wittiest and most boyish, and you are thoroughly smitten by the time the check comes."

"What about you? Aren't you smitten?"

"Honey, I'm smitten the moment I see you reading Einstein in your 'fuck me slowly' shoes."

"I do not own any pair of 'fuck me' shoes."

"Oh, yes, you do. 'Fuck me slowly' shoes. That's different from just 'fuck me' shoes."

"If you say so."

"Of course, I read all sorts of things into your clothes that you probably don't intend. You've got that one pair, grey suede with the thick, tall heels, that make me want to break several public decency laws."

"I think I brought those, if that's the pair I'm thinking of," she says in a low voice.

"Mm . . . I'm holding you to that. Anyway. So we've met and had lunch . . . now it's time for the first date. The first real date."

"Right."

"And I know I have to sweep you off your feet, because I know it's not going to be easy getting behind that caution your build up around yourself."

She's quiet for a moment. "Is it that obvious?"

"Yes. 'Sokay. We've all got walls. So, in order to sweep you off your feet, I find the nicest, least trendy restaurant I can, and I get tickets for a well-recommended play. Something like . . . Shakespeare. Can't go wrong with Shakespeare, right?"

"I like Shakespeare."

"Okay, Shakespeare it is. So we go to the play and we go to dinner, and we're both smitten even further. And we both notice that people watch us because we're such a good-looking couple and we're so obviously in the throes of something magical."

"Oh, Mulder, people do not watch us."

"Yes, they do. They look at you and think, Wow, that's a gorgeous woman, what's she doing with a dork like him?"

"You're not a dork."

"I believe the current term is 'doofus,' actually."

"You're not a doofus, either."

"Well, they watch one of us, if not both. My money's on you. So we leave the restaurant. And because it's a nice night and we don't want to part just yet, we go for a walk. And we pass a park. And we take off our shoes and walk barefoot on the grass, holding hands."

Her hand gently rubs my chest, reaching under my bathrobe. I smile--again, woman? No problem.

"And we realize as we're walking, that it doesn't get any better than this, that in the course of an evening we've found out everything we need to know. And we look at each other in the moonlight and kiss, and we whisper what we both already know: that this is love."

She draws in a deep breath. "This is a fairy tale, Mulder."

"Of course it is. And there's the requisite happy ending: we get married and live happily ever after, chasing bad guys and making love at every opportunity."

"Five years," she says softly. "We could have had five years."

"We could have . . . but we've got the rest of our lives."

She sighs and withdraws her hand from my chest. "And who knows how long that's going to be."

"Scully, nobody knows how long forever is going to be. I'm grateful for every day I have. I've come too close to losing you too many times to be otherwise."

She props herself up on her elbow and looks at me seriously. "So have I, Mulder."

I cup her face in my hand and kiss her gently. "No more than I can help, Scully."

"Often enough. Do you want me to name them all? Siberia? New Mexico? Canada? The retrovirus at the Arctic Circle? Several 'nice trips to the forest'?"

"I can't ask you to come with me when I don't know if I'm coming back."

"Mulder." She puts a finger over my mouth. "You can. I'll come with you. If you're not coming back, neither am I."

"Scully--"

"Those are my conditions, Mulder. I'm not going to sit idly by while you risk your life. I've hated doing it before, and it's only going to be worse if we're married. I'm not going to sit home nights and wonder if you're gone forever or just late."

I sigh and kiss her hand. "Okay. I accept your conditions. No more ditching. But I have one of my own."

"Okay."

"When I ask you how you're doing, you don't say you're fine unless you mean it."

"I always mean it."

"Scully, you're not fine when you're in pain. Physically or emotionally. No more 'I'm fine.' You tell me how you really are."

After a moment, she nods. "I'll try."

"Well, it's a start."

She lies down again, her head on my chest. "I guess I should be grateful you don't want me to hide anything from you. But it's going to be hard changing that mind set."

"I know. It goes both ways, okay? We tell each other everything."

"Okay. I hope . . . I hope it won't cause problems later."

"It won't," I say confidently, and then remember what secret I've been keeping from her. That I really should tell her. I've kept it from her long enough.

But I still don't tell her. Not yet. I'll know when the time is right.

Won't I?


IX. Hold On

"My love you know you're my best friend you know that I'd do anything for you"


1.

We don't get dressed for three days.


2.

It's late and I should be sleeping, but I'm watching Scully sleep instead. She lies on her side, her back to me, with her head pillowed on her arm and the sheets drawn up to just over her breasts. Her lips are parted, and I can see the movement of her eyes beneath her eyelids.

I wonder what she's dreaming about.

I wonder if she's dreaming about me.

In just a few days we'll go back to Washington, and I'm dreading it. It's all very well to say that we're going to be together and not let anything get in our way, but we both know it's out of our hands. Skinner might separate us, though I doubt if he did it would be only his decision. Or it may not be that overt--I may come home one day and find Scully gone. Taken from me again.

I shudder at the thought and pull her close to me, getting a soft "Hmm?" as she starts to wake up. I kiss her face and whisper, "Sh, baby, sh, go back to sleep." She settles against me, nestling her back to my chest and her butt to my hips. I kiss her again and go on worrying.

I'm greedy for her, I admit it. I don't want to spend a single moment away from her. I know sometimes it drives her crazy, and I really don't know how working together and living together is going to work out. We've been doing okay this week, but this is vacation. In the past few days we've done just about everything together, cooking, showering, sleeping, playing. When we pursue our own amusements we prefer to be in the same room. We spent the afternoon today lying on the couch, reading our own books, my head on her breast and her hand playing slowly through my hair except when she had to turn a page. Sometimes I would put my book down and close my eyes, and just focus on the feeling of her chest rising and falling beneath my head. Scully with me. Scully breathing. Scully healthy and safe.

How hard is it going to be to keep her that way?

They'll know, if they don't already, that the best way to control me is to threaten Scully. If I stand up in front of all our friends and family and vow before God and the state that she is the most important person in my life, how long until they decide to take advantage of that? What more could they do to her? They've taken away so much already.

And who knows what it will take for the cancer to come back. I know, for the rest of my life, every headache and sneeze of hers will send me into a panic. They could give her anything. Or worse, what if they left her body alone and messed with her mind? Her wonderful, lightning-quick mind, so skeptical and so open at the same time. They tried to drive me to madness once, they could conceivably try it on her. They could steal her, lobotomize her, give her back and watch us suffer. I'd suffer, she might not even be aware of--

"Mulder." Her voice is soft, and she turns over to face me. She kisses me gently and smooths down my hair. "Go to sleep, sweetheart."

"How'd you know I was awake?"

"I can feel you worrying."

"Sure you can."

"You get tense and your breathing speeds up, and you're more possessive, too. Whenever you start grabbing for me it's usually because you've been thinking again." Her cool, calm hands stroke my face. "Worrying isn't going to help, you know. You need to sleep."

"I can't help it, Scully. I worry."

"I know." She kisses my eyes. "Close your pretty eyes, love. Think about the good things."

I close my eyes and she goes on kissing me gently. The good things. Okay. Moments like this, I guess, that's something to look forward to. Scully comforting me when I feel like I'm falling apart. Fighting with her and making up. Waking up to her every morning. Children, maybe. Growing old with her, maybe. I hope. I see us as one of those aged couples who hold each other's arthritic hands during walks in the park.

"Scully."

"Hm."

"I want to grow old with you."

I can't see it but I know she's smiling. "So do I, Mulder."

I tighten my arms around her and kiss the top of her head. Sleep is slow in coming, but it does come.


3.

I don't shop much, and I'd forgotten about after-Christmas sales. Scully had, too, until she decided today she wants to see what Cobb Creek has to offer. So I spend the morning amusing myself, counting the minutes until she comes back.

At the slam of the door closing I look up. "Scully? That you?"

"It's me." Shedding her coat, she comes into the living room and drops a kiss on my head, leaning her hip on the sofa back.

"What did you bring me?"

"I didn't find anything."

Her voice is troubled. I look up at her and put down my book. "What's wrong?"

"The strangest thing happened at the shoe store. I was trying on a pair and the salesman started--well, he tickled my foot."

"Tickled?"

"Yes."

"Did you giggle?"

"I do not giggle," she says with a disapproving look at the very notion.

"So what did you do?"

"I pulled my foot away and told him he'd lost my business, and left the store."

"You go, girl."

"What offends me, though, is that he thought he could get away with it. I mean, it's the Nineties, nobody buys that kind of attitude anymore."

"Well," I say, "you are a very beautiful woman, Scully."

Open mouth, insert foot. She raises both her eyebrows at me, folds her arms over her chest, and says, "So you're saying that excuses it?"

"No, I'm not saying that it excuses it. It just explains it. Maybe that was his way of picking you up. It may have worked on other women before."

"I find it hard to believe any woman would fall for that."

"Scully, think about it. Here's a guy who works in shoes. Day in and day out, he looks at women's feet. He's probably got a foot fetish--he probably took one look at your beautiful pink toes and fell into a severe infatuation, causing him to risk his job and his customer while he indulged himself in what is probably the only thing that gives him any kind of joy."

"That still doesn't excuse it." She starts up the stairs, pauses, turns and says, "Beautiful pink toes, Mulder? C'mon."

"You have toes like a Renaissance painting of Venus. Poor guy, he was probably so dazzled by your toes that he didn't even look at the rest of you."

"What about the rest of me?" she says, coming over to the couch, and she sits down next to me with a expectant expression. I've learned to recognize this tone of voice, the "you'd better back your words up, buster" voice. Looks like it's about to be lovin' time.

It's my kind of challenge. I take one tiny foot in my hands and take off her shoe and sock, and inspect her foot thoughtfully as I talk. "Yeah, the rest of you. I mean, all he could see was your feet. Now, granted, they're lovely feet. Cinderella feet. Tiny, slender, the kind of feet shoes designers have wet dreams about. And maybe he looked at your ankles." I slide my hand from her foot to her ankle, lingering on the arch. "Maybe he noticed the perfect way they segue from your feet to your legs, and how your calves are plump and strong. Maybe he even noticed your skin, how it's the color of cream sprinkled with cinnamon. Maybe he noticed that. But I doubt he got any further. Beneath this skirt he couldn't see your thighs. So he missed out entirely on your thighs, and probably your stomach too." By now my hand is resting lightly on her belly, and her cheeks are flushed and she's breathing a little faster. "This lovely, lovely stomach. Round like a little girl's. The perfect resting place for a tired man's head. And he probably paid no attention to your hips. The lush way they swell from your waist, how they make a man want to grab you by them and hold you so that he can listen to your heart beating." I lower my voice, speaking from my chest instead of my throat, and my hands gently, barely touching them, really, cup her breasts. "And I doubt, I sincerely doubt, that he even noticed your breasts. That they're round and high. An exact handful." I do no more than caress the sides of her breasts and move my hands to her shoulders, and she whimpers slightly. I think I've won. "And I know for a fact that he didn't look at your shoulders or your arms. How strong they are, how straight you hold yourself. You know Dr. Zhivago? Have you ever read that?"

"Mm . . . I think so."

"He always describes Lara has having strong white arms. I never knew how sexy that could be until I met you. Strong, white arms. Strong, tiny hands. Strong, slender fingers. Magical hands. Oh, poor guy, he missed out on some of the best parts of you."

"Is -" she clears her throat and looks at me with darkened eyes, "is any particular one your favorite?"

"Oh, let's see. It's hard to choose. Your tummy. I love your tummy. I love your hands, too. And your ass, Scully, should be in a museum, as a model for everyone else of how an ass should be."

"Mmm . . ."

"But I would have to say, my favorite part of your body, is this, right here." I brush my thumb over her lips and she sucks my thumb into her mouth. I would say I did this right. Score one for Mulder. I whisper, "Because these lips have given me the greatest joys I've ever known, kisses with real love, words of affection and friendship, smiles that speak volumes that only I understand. If I had to choose one part of your body, it would definitely be your lips."

Her tongue has been stroking my thumb, and when I lean over to kiss her she kisses me with open eyes. I keep my eyes open as well, and we watch each other as we kiss. This used to unnerve me, I used to have to close my eyes, but I love watching her face, how she smiles with the corners of her eyes, how she gauges my reactions to what she does with her teeth and tongue, how when her eyes finally slip closed it's with a sigh of satisfaction and desire.

I pull her onto my lap and we kiss for several minutes more as she unbuttons my shirt and runs her hands over my chest. Her mouth leaves mine and slide down my jaw and neck, down my shoulder and breastbone, and finally locks onto my nipple. I moan and stroke her back and the back of her neck, finally cradling her in one arm as she suckles me, her hands stroking my stomach and making their way into my lap.

I want to tell her what she does to me, how she has made making love from a game into an art for me, but all I can get out is, "Oh, yeah, that's so good, mm, Scully . . ." Her mouth moves to my other nipple and she suckles it as well. I kiss her deeply as I knead her breasts, and then lower my head to kiss their upper curves. Not very long ago she stopped me at this point, and now it's only the beginning.

I take her nipple between my lips, through the fabric of her blouse. It's already hardened, and she moans my name and fumbles at the buttons on her blouse. I pull it off her and unhook her bra, and she pulls my head down to her breast. I suck her hard and slip one hand up her full wool skirt, between her thighs. Her panties are already damp, and I yank them off. She twists her hips against my hand, moaning wordlessly, as I kiss down her stomach to her thighs. I yank her skirt off as well and she goes to work on my jeans with trembling hands. I draw in a sharp breath as she lowers the zipper over my cock, and then moan outright as she takes me in her hands. I rest my head for a moment on her stomach and kiss her navel, then look up at her flushed face and whisper, "So, would you like to make love now or what?"

She laughs with surprise and pushes my jeans down my hips. I kick them off and kiss her, hard and deep, as she wraps her legs around me and guides my cock into her.

Tight and wet and hot, throbbing around me. Her face, her eyes, how she locks her gaze onto me and I can't look away. Our moans and whispers, our sighs and groans, the creak of the couch springs. Her legs and arms holding onto me, holding me to her.

If we could merge cell to cell, we would.

It is at this moment, as we watch each other and know that the end is near, that I feel most like I'm a part of her and she is a part of me. Flesh to flesh doesn't begin to describe it. Heart of my heart, soul of my soul, more likely.

She cries out my name when she comes. I love that.

"You know," I whisper when I can speak again, "it's probably bad of me to say so, but this is my other favorite part of your body." I cup her cunt in my hand gently.

"'Zat so?" She smiles at me sleepily and takes my cock in her hand. "This is probably one of mine."

4.

I wake up early, before dawn. Scully isn't there, which doesn't surprise me much. I get up and pull on some clothes, and go downstairs. Scully is out on the front porch, holding amug from which I can see steam rising. I put on my coat and go out to join her.

"Morning," I say softly and kiss her cheek.

"Morning, sunshine. Coffee?"

"Thanks." I take a sip of hers and give her back the mug. "What're you doing?"

"Watching the world wake up." She points at the mountain. "The sun is just starting to come up, just over there."

"I see it." It's beautiful, just a glint of gold over the side of the mountain. I put my arm around her shoulders and kiss her temple, and she smiles at me briefly.

We trade the mug of coffee back and forth, holding each other and watching the sun rise. "Ta-dah," I whisper when it finally appears over the mountain side.

"Like magic. Every day. Amazing, isn't it."

"Basic physics, Scully."

"I know. That's not what I mean. There have been so many times I was sure I'd never see another sunrise. Sometimes I like to watch one, just to remind myself."

"Of what?"

She gives me that smile again, the Enigmatic Dr. Scully one, and just says, "Survival."

5.

"You know," I say as we're washing dinner dishes, "I'm surprised we haven't seen or heard anything of our ghosts lately."

"The haunting probably ends on Christmas Eve."

"Didn't you expect something spectacular to happen Christmas Eve, though?"

"Something may have, and we didn't notice." She smiles slightly, blushing just a little.

"I think we would have noticed, despite our other occupations." I flick some suds at her, and she flicks them back.

"Not if it was out in the woods, Mulder."

"Maybe. Damn. I wanted to see this haunting through. Maybe we can come back next year."

She laughs. "Maybe we should. Although . . ."

"What?"

"I can't explain it, really, Mulder, but I'm get the feeling it's not over yet. There's more to them. I mean, we've seen and heard more from them than anyone except people they knew well."

"The Robinsons."

"Exactly. And Mrs. Robinson didn't say anything about other people experiencing a time slip. That's got to mean something. And this has puzzled me: why was this beautiful house free, two weeks before Christmas, at the height of the tourist season?"

"On the phone she said she had a cancellation."

"I think it was more than that."

"Fate, Scully?"

"Maybe, Mulder," she says seriously. "Maybe it is fate. It's been over a hundred years for them. They're tired. They want to rest. And for some reason we're the only ones who can help them."

"You sound very sure of that."

"I am. I can't explain it. I am." She gives me a tight smile and dries the last dish, setting it in the dishrack.

"Psychic Scully strikes again."

"Oh, stop."

"This has happened before, Scully. You remember Clyde Bruckman. You knew it was the bellboy."

"I remember Clyde Bruckman," she says softly. "It was the Chantilly lace. That's how I knew."

"Most people can't make intuitive leaps like that."

"You do on a regular basis."

"Well," I say, "I'm not most people."

"That is where you're right, more than you know." The sink doesn't have any more suds in it so I can't flick any at her. She's still ticklish, though, and despite what she thinks, she does giggle.


X. Ice Cream

"Your love is better than ice cream better than anything else that I've tried--"


1.

I don't know why this is, but I love watching Scully get ready. Getting dressed or putting on makeup or even getting ready for bed. I even love it when she does one of those mud masks that turns her face blue. She did one last night, and because I was so fascinated with it she smeared some of the mud on my face as well. It actually felt pretty good.

Now it's New Year's Eve and we're going dancing, and I'm lying on the bed watching Scully get dressed. I'm dressed already, shaved even, so I can afford this little indulgence.

She's done her makeup already, the base stuff and the powder stuff and the mascara and the pencil. She's putting on lipstick now: first a pencil outlining her lips and filling them in, then more lipstick out of the tube with a brush. She's wearing her underwear, her hose and her slip.

She finds my fascination with her rituals amusing, as far as I can tell. "You've lived with women before," she says, cocking an eyebrow at me.

"That's true, I have. But just because I've seen it before doesn't mean I don't find it interesting anymore."

"So why do you find it interesting? Are you planning on borrowing some?" She grins at me wickedly.

"Oh, no, no. You look better in my clothes than I ever would in yours. You wanna know what I think about when you're getting dressed?"

"Surprise me."

"Undressing you."

"Ah. Of course." She caps her lipstick and puts down her brush, and turns away from the mirror. "You want this?" she says softly, her voice low, and I have to smile at the layers of the question. Do I want that? The slender compact body, the hair like flames and eyes like a friendly sea? The cupid's bow mouth with its array of smiles, each more devastating than the last? The voice like whiskey over ice, the mind like a leopard? Do I want that?

Oh, yes.

She must see my answer in my face, because she smiles and says, "You have to wait until later."

"I'll manage. If you can."

"I think I can. Save the slow dances for me?"

"Every dance is yours, baby."

"Baby," she repeats, like she's amused by it, and she goes to the closet to put on her dress. It's velvet, the color of red wine, long-sleeved, low on the shoulders and neck, ending just above her knees. She gave it to herself for Christmas, along with the matching shoes. I wonder if I can persuade her to leave them on later . . .

"Will you zip me up, please, Mulder?" She lifts her hair out of the way.

I go to her and zip up the dress, slowly, running my hands over the soft velvet. I kiss the back of her neck and smooth down her hair. She sighs, tilting her head to one side, and reaches back to put her arms around my neck.

"Do you want to stay in?"

"No . . . not entirely. I want to dance with you. We've never danced. I had a dream we did, once. To 'Walking in Memphis.'"

"That Marc Cohn song? I like him. Have you ever heard 'True Companion'?"

"Yeah." I nuzzle my face in her hair and sing to her softly, "'And with a trembling finger, I'll lift up your veil, and when I get you home with wild abandon make love to you just like a true companion, your true companion.'"

"Mmm." She turns around and kisses me. "What else happened in your dream?"

"Oh, odd stuff. It comes from reading Frankenstein before bed. There was a two-faced man and angry mobs and a mad scientist, and for some reason I appeared on Jerry Springer."

She laughs. "I can just imagine you on Jerry Springer."

"I probably wore this suit."

"I like you in this suit." She turns and straightens my tie. She's got little gold hoops in her ears and her cross around her neck. Her mouth is like a red rose in full bloom, her skin like cream. Whipped cream. We still have whipped cream in a can down in the fridge. Oh boy. Maybe I do want to stay in.

"Mulder? Are you okay? You look a little dazed."

"Just amazed at my good fortune, that's all. Ready? Let's go."


2.

New Year's Eve is actually one of the better holidays. If you aren't invited to a party you can always crash a public one--I've spent more than one New Year's Eve in Times Square--and if you're really lucky you have someone to kiss at the strike of twelve. I did kiss someone last New Year's. I think her name was Cleo. She gave me her phone number but I never called. I should have. Oh well.

Scully and I go into the activity hall of the Unitarian church, greeted by the sound of a high-voiced girl begging someone "Love me love me say that you love me" to a dance beat. I am glad to see we're not the oldest couple there--in fact, we're one of the younger ones, though there are teenagers clustered in the darker corners. We hang up our coats, and Scully says into my ear, "Somehow I pictured this would be more sedate."

"Maybe they'll bring out the big band music later."

"I hope so--I don't know how to dance to this." She points to a young couple who look like they're having muscle spasms. "Or if I want to."

Other couple are doing two-steps, which looks like a better idea. "Scully, I have a confession to make."

"What's that?"

"My parents made me to go dancing school for three years."

Her lips twitch and she says, struggling valiantly not to laugh, I'm sure, "And?"

"And so I know how to do a few more steps than you may suspect."

The giggles are right there on the surface. I know she's picturing me in white gloves and a too-tight suit, trying hard not to step on some little girl's feet as I desperately try to count the beat and not watch my feet. That's pretty much what it was like. "So? Do you remember any?"

"I know how to waltz. Foxtrot. I fake a decent swing."

"You'll have to show me. I have to warn you, though, I'm not very good at following."

"'Sokay, I'm very good at leading." I pull her into my arms and we go out onto the dance floor, just in time for a slow song.


3.

"I must be in love," I observe to Scully later.

"What makes you say that?" she asks, her mouth quirking, expecting a joke.

"All the love songs suddenly make sense."

"Oh, is that how you tell?"

"It's one of the ways." I pull her close to me again and sing into her ear, along to the song that's playing, "'I see your true colors shining through, I see your true colors, and that's why I love you . . .'" It's a popular one here, most of the kids are singing along too.

"Know what?"

"What?"

"Whenever I hear this song I think of you." Scully blushes a little as she admits this.

"Really?"

"Well, it's close to my heart. Sometimes I do think I'm the only one who really knows you."

"That would be because you are."

"I hope I can handle the responsibility." She looks up at me seriously and lays her hand on my cheek. She sings to me, "'I see your true colors, and that's why I love you, so don't be afraid to let them show, your true colors, true colors are beautiful like a rainbow.'"

Only Scully would find me beautiful. I sigh in contentment and kiss her briefly, and we go on dancing.


4.

We can't decide if we should sit out the Will Smith song from "Men In Black." "I liked the movie," I admit to Scully.

"Yes, I remember, you laughed all the way through it." Some of the kids are dancing along to it like the choreography from the video. Everyone else is sitting it out.

"So? Bounce with me? Walk with me?"

"Next time. I'm thirsty." She leads me by the hand to the refreshments, and we both get cups of punch and find a relatively quiet place to sit.

"Mulder."

"Hm?"

"Do you dream about us a lot?"

I watch the dancers for a few minutes. "Just about every night."

"Hm."

"Do you?"

"Sometimes. Your dreams always seem more . . . vivid than mine."

"I'm highly in tune with my subconscious."

She smiles and sips her punch.

"I sense a sarcastic remark."

"Nothing of the kind. You live in your subconscious, that your dreams are real to you doesn't surprise me at all."

"Not real. Detailed. And I remember a lot more than most people. Did you know that women dream in color more than men do?"

"Really? I didn't know that. I've heard that people without a lot of outside stimulus--like prisoners--tend to dream in black and white."

"I've heard that."

"So have you dreamed about us lately?"

"Yes. Yes, I have."

"Anything good?"

"The last few nights they're been highly influence by my waking life."

She smirks. "That explains a few things. What about before?"

I take her hand and trace the lines in her palm. "When you were sick I had a lot of nightmares about you dying," I say softly.

Her smile fades fast and she puts her other hand on top of ours. "So did I."

"And when you were--missing--well, I didn't sleep much anyway, and when I did I've have nightmares about what they were doing to you."

She raises my hands to her mouth and kisses them gently. "When we thought you were dead in New Mexico, I had a dream where you told me you'd be coming back soon."

I nod. She's told me this before.

"Every time you go missing again I hope for another of those dreams. Sometimes I get them."

"And I always come back."

"When I don't have a dream like that I get so frightened."

"No more ditching you, Scully. I promise. I want you watching my back."

"Among other parts." She smiles and kisses me.

"I had a nightmare about us just the other night," I tell her, though I'm not sure I should.

"A nightmare? When?"

"The first night we slept together. It's what woke me up."

"Oh. What happened?"

"We were walking in the woods--I don't know what woods--and you were leading the way. You looked very comfortable, and you kept telling me you knew the way and that I shouldn't be scared. We came to a cave and I didn't want to go inside, but you said you knew the way. So we went inside. And when I pleaded with you not to let me go, you did."

"I let you go?"

"Yeah. Left me alone in the dark."

"God, Mulder. That sounds terrible. I hate to think what brought that on."

"Well, you already knew I have abandonment issues."

"It's not a joke, Mulder."

"You're with me now, Scully. And it was just a dream."

Her hand goes into my hair at the back of my neck, and she says softly, "I'm never leaving you. Not even death will keep me away from you. I love you."

I put my hand into her hair and kiss her back. "I love you too. Stronger than death."

She smiles and leans her head against my shoulder.


5.

Reggae is dangerously sexy music. There's something very sensual about the rhythm. The DJ put on Bob Marley's "No Woman No Cry" and I thought we might sit it out, but Scully likes this one. We dance slowly, barely touching, our hips brushing against each other as we move. We watch each other closely, though, our eyes all but locked on each other.

We were planning to stay until midnight, but I think we're not going to last that long.

I lean forward and whisper, "Whaddya say we blow this joint?"

"Oh . . . let's stay. At least until midnight. It's not much longer, it's a quarter till twelve now."

"Then let's leave right after."

"All right." She slips her arms around my neck, still dancing. I put my arms around her waist and lean my cheek against her hair. She smells so good. Even when the Bob Marley stops we go on dancing like that, holding each other close.

"Sir? Ma'am? Would you like a blower for midnight?" A kid with a basket of plastic horns and blowers stands next to us. We both choose horns, and she blows an experimental toot.

"Hm. Not the best sound."

"You need more lung power behind it." I take a deep breath and blow. It sounds like a dying kazoo, and Scully laughs.

No one else can make them sound better, though, as the activity hall fills with hoots and blats. The minister, who's been making periodic announcements all night, mainly about lost keys, climbs up onto the stage and takes the microphone.

"It's one minute to midnight," he announces, and smiles as people cheer. "Any last minute resolutions?"

People shout out things--"Eat more chocolate!" "Drink more beer!"--and he goes on smiling benignly. I whisper in Scully's ear, "Resolved: to make every cell in your body come simultaneously at least once tonight." She claps a hand over her mouth, smothering her laughter, and widens her eyes at me.

The minister has been saying something about New Year's being a time for rebirth yadda yadda, and he gets a watch out of his pocket. "Ten! Nine! Eight!" Everyone shouts the countdown along with him. "Seven! Six! Five! Four! Three! Two! One! Happy New Year!" Balloons fall from the ceiling and people blow their horns, and someone starts "Auld Lang Syne."

Looking into my eyes, Scully sings it too. "We'll drink a cup of kindness yet, in the days of auld lang syne." We hug each other closely and kiss, and I can see it in her face: it's time to go.


6.

I can't stop touching her. My hand in her hair or on her knee, or on top of the hand that rests lightly on my thigh. It's a wonder I don't crash the car. I want her breasts in my hands, her tongue in my mouth, her hands on my ass. Her tight perfect body under mine, or over. It's easier for her to come when she's on top. Oh . . .

The drive to our house has never seemed to so long.

Her hand is very high on my leg.

I park sloppily on the drive and fumble to get the keys out of the ignition. Finally she reaches over and pulls them out herself. "Come on, love," she says softly, and gets out of the car.

She has to unlock the front door, too, my hands are shaking too badly. I don't know why I'm so nervous. Actually, I do. It's her. Always her. Out of all the people she knows, she loves me most. I'm one of the few people she allows close to her. She's the only one who knows me. It does get a little overwhelming at times. Dana Scully--queen, goddess, angel and woman--loves me.

We fall back against the front door once it's closed, kissing fiercely. I remember to lock the door, and we shed our coats, still kissing. And I won't be put off of this any longer, screw my back: I pick her up in my arms, cradling her against my chest.

"You'll hurt yourself--"

"It's worth it." I kiss her again and carry her upstairs. I don't know what she's so worried about, it's like carrying a child.

I set her on the edge of the bed and kneel down, kissing her still. She hold my face in her hands as I run my hands over the velvet of her dress. "Does it feel good, Scully?" I whisper. "Does it feel good when I touch you?"

"Always, Mulder. So good."

I lay her back and scoot us both further onto the bed. Her eyes are wide and dark, and her tongue sweeps over her lips in that maddeningly, unconsciously erotic way. Every time she does that, no matter if we're inspecting mass burial sites or going over case notes, I've wanted to follow her tongue with my own.

And now I can. So I do.

She pulls off my tie and pushes off my suit jacket, and her hands fumble at the buttons on my shirt. She growls with hunger as she runs her hands over my chest and stomach, pushing my shirt off. She forgot the buttons at the cuffs and it takes me a minute to get my hands untangled from the sleeves.

My hands look so dark against her skin, dark and big. Sometimes when I'm next to her I feel enormous, unnaturally tall and overly bulky, but never when we're making love. When we're making love we fit perfectly.

I roll onto my back and she kneels over me, and I unzip the dress and draw it slowly down her body. She watches me, smiling at my expression, and shrugs off the straps of her slip. The bra is strapless, and when I unhook it and put it aside she lets out a deep breath.

"Constricting, was it?"

"A little. It has to be, to stay up." Her slip is still on, though, and I don't want her to take it off just yet. The white lace is so enticing against her skin.

"You ought to wear this more often," I whisper, running my hand over the edge of the lace over her breast.

"And get arrested for indecent exposure."

"I'll strip-search you."

"And you'll enjoy it, too." She leans on her forearms and kisses me. "Don't forget I know where your vulnerable spots are," she whispers, and tickles me in one of the more sensitive ones. I yelp and grab her, rolling her beneath me.

"Just for that . . ." I rub my chin against her neck, scratching her with the few hour's stubble that's grown there. She laughs and twists away, getting to her feet. She shimmies her hips to get the dress off the rest of the way and hangs it over the back of a chair. "What next, Mulder?"

"Panties."

She smiles and reaches under the slip with both hands, and teases her panties down her hips until they rest on the floor. "Now?"

"Slip."

She lifts it over her head and it flutters like a feather to the floor. I groan, my hands clenching the bedcovers, and she smiles. She knows who's really in control here. Naked but for shoes, garter belt and stockings, she looks like sex personified, like something dangerous and delicious, like one of those Death by Chocolate desserts. I half expect her to get out a whip and handcuffs and ask me if I've been a good boy lately.

"Mulder . . . tell me what you want."

"Uh . . . come here."

She comes to the bed and stands over me, smiling down at me, her hands on her hips. "You have to tell me, Mulder. You have to tell me what you want."

"All of you. I want all of you. I want to eat you up in one mouthful. I want to merge with you cell to cell. I want to be so much a part of you that your pain is my pain and your joy is my joy."

Her expression softens as I speak, and she lies down on top of me and kisses me. "You already are. Every part of me is yours, Mulder. Everything I have is yours. Everything I am is yours." She kisses me again, unbuckling my belt, and unzips my trousers and reaches into my boxers. I feel her smile at what she finds there, and her cool fingers stroke my cock lightly.

"That's yours," I whisper. I put her hand over my heart. "This is yours." I kiss her hand and press it to my face. "Everything--anything you want--it's all yours."

"I'll take it all." She kisses me with open eyes, and draws her hand out of my shorts.

I know I'd toyed with asking her to leave on the stockings and shoes but I've changed my mind. I just want her skin. I reach down and pull off her shoes--she's so tiny--and unsnap the garter straps. She kisses me as I draw off the belt and stockings, and she helps me off with the rest of my clothes.

I press my face for a moment against her stomach, and her hand cups my jaw tenderly. I kiss my way from her stomach to her mouth, exploring the dips and swells of her body, and when we're face to face I see she's smiling. It's a tiny smile, a Mona Lisa smile, a smile she probably doesn't even know is there, and I kiss it as well.

"You're beautiful," I whisper.

"You make me beautiful." She pulls me down to kiss me again. Her skin is damp from my tongue and sweat, and I lick sweat from her hairline. Her mouth latches onto my neck. She nips at the skin and sweeps her tongue over the bites.

I ease one hand between her thighs and brush my thumb between her labia. She buries her head in the crook of my neck, and in a second I discover why: she's not quite ready for me yet.

"Scully? You okay? You need some more time?"

"Just a little. I'm okay. A little slow to get started, that's all."

"Let me take care of that." I roll onto my back with her on top of me, sit her up with her cunt over my face. She whimpers slightly and spreads her thighs further apart, most of her weight resting on her knees. The view is spectacular. I don't know where to start, I want it all, the swollen pink lips, the soft red curls, the dark opening to her body and the little bundle of nerves that is, for now, my primary objective. *For God and country,* I think and plunge my tongue into her.

Her body stiffens for a moment, and then she's grinding her hips against me, whimpering and sighing. Moisture floods from her, and I'm lapping up juices that taste of the ocean, of flesh and honey, of Scully. She's wet. Scully is wet for me, wet and hot and I've got her clit between my lips, sucking and pulling it like I did her nipples earlier, and she's crying out, whimpering, her body shaking. I thrust my tongue into her, swirling it around, licking her hard and long, and flick the tip of my finger against her clit, more firmly each time.

Her head is rolling on her neck, there is sweat dripping from her face, her hair is soaked, her body is covered with a fine thin sheen.

And somehow she manages to get coherent words out. "Don't stop Mulder don't stop oh god don't stop Mulder Mulder don't stop --" She's so beautiful. Her deep husky voice is beautiful. Her throaty moans are beautiful. The arch of her back, the tilt of her neck, the movement of her thighs as she rides me - it's all beautiful.

And she's delicious. The taste is darker than the fruit and breezes I taste in her mouth, more like chocolate, like really good scotch. I'm humming and slurping like her pussy is my last meal. I move my tongue and fingers from her clit to her opening and back, back and forth, now sucking, now flicking, trying to find *that place* -

"Mulder - Mulder - I' think I'm - oh god - I think - I'm dying -" She bends over me, her thighs open wide so I can reach into her as deep as I can go, and plants her hands on either side of my head, moaning low and deep. Her hips rock against my face, and my fingers inside her feel the walls of her body tighten and pulse. She's breathing through her teeth, her jaw clenched, and then she cries out, "Mulder!" once more and her body writhes in near-frenzy before she rolls off me and collapses.

Her position, her nakedness, the tumbled bed and her still-flushed face - she's a work of art. I wish I could paint her.

"Scully." I touch her face gently and she smiles and opens her eyes.

"I think that did the trick, Mulder." She pulls me onto her and kisses me, cleaning herself off my mouth. She wraps her legs around me, locking her arms around my back. Her tongue reaches deep into my mouth.

Her invitation is clear, and who am I to refuse? I brace myself over her and push into her slowly, carefully. Her wetness and tightness and heat. Oh, god. I just want to bury myself inside her and never leave.

She grabs my face, forcing me to look into her eyes. She has to see me when we make love, she has to watch me. And I can't look away. I fall into her eyes, I drown in them, lose myself in them. Even when we kiss her eyes are open. When we come our eyes are locked together, and hers close only when we collapse together, exhausted.

I stroke her back slowly and she strokes my chest. "Happy New Year," she whispers.

"Happy New Year. Scully."

"Hm?"

"There's something I need to tell you."

 

"True Companion" is by Marc Cohn, "Love Fool" is by the Cardigans, "True Colors" is by Cyndi Lauper, "Men In Black" is by Will Smith, "No Woman No Cry" is by Bob Marley and the Wailers, "Auld Lang Syne" is by Robert Burns.


XI. Fear

"But I fear I have nothing left to give I have so much to lose here in this lonely place tangled up in your embrace"


1.

Scully raises her head from my shoulder and looks at me steadily. "What is it, Mulder?" Her fingers lightly stroke my breastbone.

I take her hand and kiss it gently, and rub her palm with my thumb. There's so much love and trust in her face. Her pure, sweet face. "You know I love you."

The corner of her mouth quirks and she says softly, "I'm becoming convinced of it, yes."

"And you know I only want your happiness."

Her smile deepens and she kisses me. "I know. That's what I want for you, too, love."

"And I need to know your feelings on the subject of children."

Obviously this was the last thing she expected, and she draws back from me. "Children, Mulder?"

"Yeah. I know we've talked about it some before but never seriously, you know, never how it applied to us."

"Well, I know the Mulder family passes genetic muster. But it's not that simple. Not with me, anyway." She takes a deep breath. "I found out recently that I'm unable to conceive. My ovaries were damaged by the radiation treatments. I'm infertile, Mulder."

I hold her face in my hand and kiss her firmly. "I know, Scully," I say.

"You know? How could you know?"

"It wasn't the cancer treatments that did this to you. Look, there are a lot of things I haven't told you, things I've seen and learned. Remember last year, when you went into the hospital in Allentown?"

Her face darkens. "I remember."

"And I went to that fertility clinic . . . and Kurt Crawford was there."

"Yes, you told me."

"I didn't tell you everything."

"Okay," Scully says cautiously, "so tell me now."

I take a deep breath myself. "When you were abducted--when all those women from MUFON were abducted--one of the things they did to you was use radiation to cause hyper-ovulation, for the purpose of harvesting your ova."

Her eyes grow wide with horror, and her hands tighten on mine. And there's still more to come. God, help me through this.

"In the Pentagon, I found . . . women. Being held, as near as I can figure, as breeding tanks."

"Oh, my God."

"And where do you think they're getting the genetic material from."

"Abductees," she says, and leans her cheek on my chest. "That's why Kurt Crawford looked so familiar. There's a real possibility that he was my son."

"A possibility. He--the clones--told me that those women, the abductees, are their mothers. That includes you, Scully."

"Oh, God." Her nails dig into my hand.

"I found more at the fertility clinic than clones, Scully."

She looks at me with trepidation. "What else, Mulder?"

"There was a storage unit. Hundreds of cryogenically stored ova, all labeled." She draws in a short breath, waiting for me to go on. I can't stop now. "I took a vial of them, Scully. I took a vial of yours. They're in a fertility clinic in Arlington, under the name of Katherine Hale. I had them tested, too, Scully. They're healthy. Undamaged. With a little help you can have a healthy child anytime you want."

For a long moment she just stares at me. I'm about to speak again when she shoves herself away from me and gets out of bed, pulling on my abandoned shirt. She paces, her mouth working and her face dangerously pale.

Finally she whirls on me and says, her voice soft, "You knew this for over a year and you kept it from me? Knowing what you know about me--knowing how much I want to have a child--and you kept it from me?"

I nod, not trusting my voice.

"Why, Mulder? Why?"

I stutter, "I--I thought--it seemed like the best thing to do at the time."

"And when that time ended, why didn't you tell me then?"

"I don't know."

She stares at me, her hands on her hips, and then shakes her head slowly. "Because you didn't know what I'd do. You didn't know how much it meant to me. You didn't know if it would matter to me."

"No, no, I knew how much it meant--how much it means to you."

"And you still didn't tell me. I suffered, Mulder, I've cried over this, I've wondered if I'd ever feel like a whole person again, like a whole woman, and you kept it from me."

"Scully, please-"

"Shut up. Shut up for five minutes for once, you arrogant son of a bitch. You ignorant, self-absorbed, selfish bastard." Her fists are opening and closing. Any second now she's going to fly at me. "It's my family we're talking about here. My future. My body, for God's sake, my possible children. Whether I have children or not is ultimately my decision, and you had no right to make it for me. Keeping it from me makes you no better than the men who took them from me in the first place."

"Scully, no, you don't mean that."

"Don't I? How would you feel, Mulder, if you were in my place? If you suddenly found out the one person you trusted--someone who supposedly loved you--suddenly betrayed you?"

"Oh, Scully."

In a few quick strides she crosses the room and lands a stinging slap across my face. "Don't you dare feel sorry for yourself! This has nothing to do with you!"

I whisper, "You don't mean that."

"You think I don't? Fuck you, Mulder. Fuck you. It's my body. My choice. You didn't know then if we'd ever be together, how dare you assume that you could control me that way?"

"It had nothing to do with control--"

"Bullshit it had nothing to do with control!" She's so furious she's shaking. I've never seen her this angry. "You thought you could dangle it like a carrot in front of my nose--'Love me, Scully, and you can have that baby you've been craving!'"

"I never thought that. Never."

"Bullshit you didn't. Bullshit it never crossed your mind, you--you--" She can't hold the tears anymore, they're flowing freely and her whole body is shaking with them. She ignores them. She may not even know they're there. "What if I didn't love you, Mulder, what if I'd chosen someone else? Would you have told me if it were Skinner I was in love with?"

"Scully-"

"Answer me, Mulder. If it were anyone but you, would you have ever told me I could be a mother."

I can't answer her. I honestly don't know.

She studies my face, and her expression hardens further. "If this is your version of love, Mulder, I don't think it want it."

I lose my breath like she's kicked me in the chest. "Scully--don't say that--"

"Love isn't about control, Mulder. No matter what that book you've been reading all week says. It's not about power. And you tried to keep the power, you tried to control me. Well, fuck you. I don't need you that much."

"You know I'd never purposely hurt you."

"You know, that's the problem, Mulder--there's so much that you don't mean to do but you do anyway. It never occurred to you once in the past year that I might want to know this about myself? That this was important to me?"

"Scully--come on--"

"Answer me, Mulder. Tell me if it ever occurred to you."

I whisper, "It occurred to me."

"And you still didn't tell me. We spend nearly every waking moment together--we talk about everything under the sun--and you still don't tell me. And to save my life I can't understand why."

"Because--because there was so much else going on--"

"Oh, yes. Me sacrificing everything I believe in to help you and wondering if I'll live to see my next birthday. You son of a bitch. You selfish, uncaring, insensitive--"

"Scully--baby--"

"Don't call me baby!"

"Okay. Okay. No calling you baby. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. It was wrong. I know it was wrong. I was just trying to protect you."

"Why?" She grabs my shoulders and shakes me, hard. "What do you think you're shielding me from? I am not helpless! I am not a baby! I am not some sort of pristine fainting little girl who needs a man to come and save her!"

"Scully! I've never thought that--" I grab her hands to get her to stop shaking me. "I have never thought of you as anything less than capable. I want to love you and make you happy. And yes, I've screwed up. I'm always screwing up. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I was wrong. I can't love you the way you need. Maybe we ought to forget this whole thing. Maybe we ought to forget about getting married--and--and everything. Everything."

She says quietly, "Maybe we should."

I can't bear to look into her angry face anymore. I close my eyes and turn my face away. "I'm sorry, Scully." Damn. I'm about to cry. I'm already crying. I wipe the back of my hand over my face and look back at her.

Her expression hasn't changed. Her face is still white and her lips are pressed together so tightly they almost disappear. Only now she's getting dressed, pulling on jeans and socks and her hiking boots.

"Scully." I feel like I've been beaten up. "Where are you going."

She gives me a look like I'm five different kinds of stupid and goes to the closet. She rips a coat off its hanger and yanks it on. "Away. Out."

"Please don't go." My voice breaks. "Please stay--we can work this out--"

She whirls around and holds up a warning finger. "I don't want to talk to you right now," she says fiercely. "Right now I don't even want to see you."

"Scully--it's the middle of the night--"

"I'll come back when I'm not mad at you anymore--which may not be until sometime next year. Don't wait up," she throws over her shoulder, and hurries down the stairs. She shouts from downstairs, "And don't you dare follow me!" and slams the door on the way out.

I sink down onto the bed, numb. I've lost her for good. I know it. I should have told her that night, in the hospital hallway. She would have told me then what she wanted done with them, she wouldn't have been angry with me. She would have been glad. She would have cherished that knowledge all the time she was sick, that if she got better there was the possibility of motherhood waiting for her.

I curl up against the pillow and let the sobs come. It was my dream, too, Scully. To be the father of your children, to make a future with you. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I've violated you, too.

I am five different kinds of stupid.

And now I'm paying for it.


2.

I jerk awake suddenly, terribly aware that I'm alone in this enormous bed. The wind is howling against the windows and the room feels unbearably cold. I get up and pull on some clothes, and go into what was my room. The bed is still made. I check the other rooms. No Scully.

She's got to come home soon.

I go downstairs. Not in the kitchen, not in the living room, not in any of the bathrooms. I turn on the porch light to check the drive. The car is still parked sloppily in front of the house.

Okay. She couldn't have gone far.

So why isn't she back yet?

The wind is blowing hard and the snow is falling thick and fast. Storm's coming.

Where could she have gone? Why isn't she back? What if she's lost and hurt, out in the woods all by herself?

Oh, God.

I sink down onto the sofa and let my head fall into my hands. This is my punishment. After everything she's been through, she's going to die because of my stupidity and thoughtlessness. It's bad enough that I've put her life in jeopardy a hundred times, now I've gone and driven her to a final, meaningless--

Suddenly the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I'm not alone.

I look up cautiously, and my hands fall away from my face. A woman stands in front of me, misty to the point I can see the wallpaper on the opposite wall through her body. She's beautiful. Her hair flows down to her shoulders, her face is sweet and kind. She's wearing a long, high-collared dress and high-button shoes, the loneliness of a hundred years in her eyes. She reaches out to me, her palm up, and steps forward.

"Rachel," I whisper, and she hesitates, then nods. "Rachel, you like Dana, I know you do, please, help me."

Her voice seems to come from elsewhere. "The storm is coming."

"Oh, god," I moan, because I know what she's telling me--if I don't find Scully--

"Come, Fox." She holds out her hand again. I stand and walk to her, but when I try to take her hand she disappears.

"Shit!"

"Fox."

"I'll follow you, Rachel, keep talking, sing, something so I know where you are."

Her voice, sweet and high, leads me outside.

"'When shall we all meet again? When shall we all meet again?
Oft shall flowing hope aspire, oft shall wearied love retire,
Oft shall death and sorrow reign, ere we all shall meet again."

Outside, through the blowing snow, down the road and into the woods. I follow the disembodied voice, though sometimes, if I'm looking very hard, I can see glimpses of her figure.

"Though in distant lands we sigh, parched beneath the hostile sky,
Though the deep between us rolls, friendship shall unite our souls,
And in fancy's wide domain, there shall we all meet again."

The woods are dark. I didn't think to grab a flashlight. I trip and stumble along the path, desperate to keep up with her voice.

"When the dreams of life are fled, when its wasted lamps are dead,
When in cold oblivion's shade, beauty, wealth and fame are laid,
Where immortal spirits reign, there may we all meet again."

I go for several steps when I realize she hasn't sung anything. "Rachel! Rachel, please don't abandon me now! Help me find her! Rachel!" All I can hear is the wind roaring in my ears, and I'm nearly blind from the snow. I grope my way from tree to tree. "Rachel, please! Please, Rachel."

There's a flash of light and I throw my hand in front of my eyes. I lower it cautiously, and before me stands Rachel, no more solid than she was before. She beckons to me, and I follow her off the path, into the trees.

Scully. Please, Scully. Don't die on me now. Don't leave me like this.

I put my hands to my mouth and bellow, "Scully! Scully! Where are you?"

Rachel turns to me again, signaling for me to follow, and I do, trusting that her guidance will be true. For Scully. Gotta find Scully.

I don't know how long I follow her. My fingers and toes feel like solid ice, my nose is frozen cold. I burrow deeper into my jacket, but I have to keep my head up to see Rachel. My hair and clothes are soaked through, and I can feel ice forming in my hair. "Scully!" I bellow again, and Rachel beckons me forward, always forward.

Oh, God. What if we've been wrong all this time? What if they're malicious spirits and she's luring me to my death? What if the last thing I see is Scully's broken and frozen body before I meet my own death?

"Scully!"

Rachel holds out her hand, and steps into a small clearing that is partially sheltered from the storm. I follow her, and nearly drop to my knees in relief.

Scully is sitting beside a tree, her arms wrapped around her knees, shaking with cold. And standing beside her, looking for all the world like a guardian angel, is Cameron.

"Scully!" I run to her and wrap her in my arms. "It's okay, baby, I've got you, you're going to be okay."

"Mulder." Her voice sounds exhausted. "I got lost. I want to go home, Mulder."

"We will, baby, we will." Holding her against my chest I start to stand.

"Mulder," she whispers, "look."

I look. Rachel and Cameron are staring at each other across the clearing. Rachel's hand goes to her throat, and her lips move. Cameron steps forward hesitantly, as does she. And then they run.

When they meet in the middle of the clearing there is a burst of light, white and gold, like the heart of a bonfire. In the center of the light Rachel and Cameron hold onto each other, kissing and kissing, stepping back to stare at each other, kissing again. I can't swear to what I hear above the howling of the storm, but it almost sounds like . . . like angels laughing.

Their forms dwindle into the light, until the light itself is a white and gold ball, no bigger than my hand. I help Scully to her feet, and the light dances around us, drawing us away from the clearing and back to the path. Sometimes it jumps ahead, skittering among the tree branches, then it swoops back down and encircles us, leaving a trail of light in its wake.

Scully has to lean against me to walk, her arm around my waist. She doesn't look up at me as we walk, but she clings to me tightly.

When we reach the house again the ball of light bounces along the porch roof, dances against the windows, sails above the chimney and disappears into the night.

"So that's what joy looks like," Scully whispers.

 

"When Shall We Meet Again" is an anonymous 19th century hymn.


XII. Fumbling Towards Ecstasy

"All the fear has left me now I'm not frightened anymore . . . I won't fear love . . . peace in the struggle to find peace-- comfort on the way to find comfort"


1.

There's a dent in the wall behind the bed, from the headboard slamming into it so many times. I wipe my fingers over the paint and sigh. I'm not very handy and I haven't a clue what will fix this that will not be obvious. Spackle and paint, I guess.

The bathroom door opens and Scully comes out, bundled in her warmest pajamas, one of my flannel shirts, thick wool socks and a towel wrapped around her head. I made her take a shower to get warmed up, while I heated some soup that's now waiting for her in a mug on the night table. She gets into bed and burrows beneath the blankets, and I hand her the mug. "Thanks," she says softly, and sips it, still watching me.

"So do you think that's it?" I ask.

"What do you mean?"

"With Rachel and Cameron. Do you think the haunting's over?"

"Oh. I think so. Doesn't the house feel different to you?"

It does, but probably not in the way she means. I've been happy here, and in a few days I'll leave it forever. I'm never coming back. I don't want to be reminded of the place where Scully stopped loving me.

"Yeah. It feels different."

"I think we did it. What they asked of us. I think they're at rest. I think they've finally found peace." She drink her soup, watching me as I prowl around the bedroom, then sets the mug down and pats the mattress beside her. "Mulder. Come here."

I go, but sit facing away from her. "Just say it, Scully."

"I'm curious as to what you think I'm going to say."

"Good bye, good luck, good riddance. I don't much care at this point."

Her hand touches my shoulder, and I close my eyes. I'm going to miss this. Her soft cool touch. Those tiny, slender fingers wiping away my tears or squeezing my hand or dancing over my body.

"Mulder. I'm not going to say good bye. I'm not angry anymore."

I don't turn around. So she's thought it through rationally. So fucking what. So she'll have a rational argument about why we can't see each other any more. I'm surprised she hasn't already neatly typed her transfer request.

"Mulder. Please look at me." Her hand rubs over my back soothingly. God. She just doesn't get it. I can't look at her. I don't want to see her face when she tells me we're through.

Both her hands grip my shoulders and she turns me to face her, and I sob and bury my face in her breast, wrapping my arms around her waist.

"Shh, shh, love," she whispers, rocking me and kissing my hair and stroking my face. "Shh, shh. It's okay. You're here, you're safe, I'm not going anywhere."

"I can't do this. I can't let you go. Don't make me leave you, Scully."

"Never, Mulder."

"I just want to love you."

"I know, baby. I want you to love me too. I want to love you."

"Scully--Scully--" I move back enough to look into her face, and cup her face in my hands. "Tell me I'm forgiven."

She smiles and says, "Well, you're not quite forgiven yet. I'm getting there."

I swallow hard and let her go. "Okay. I understand." I start to get off the bed, but she grabs hold of my arm.

"Where do you think you're going?"

"The other room--you don't want me here--"

"Mulder." She sighs, and pulls me to her again. "I want to explain something to you, something apparently you haven't figured out yet. I love you. That means when you drive me crazy, I still love you. When you laugh at me, I still love you. When you do something that I don't understand, I still love you. When you run away from me, I still love you. When you make me want to tear my hair out, I still love you. When I want you to just shut up for five minutes and let me hear myself think, I still love you." She caresses my cheek, raising my face so I have to look in her eyes. "Even when you inadvertently hurt me, Mulder," she says softly, "I still love you."

"But you said--you left--"

"I went for a walk to think, Mulder. To breathe a little. Mainly, to try to not get so angry I'd say something I'd regret. Although I seem to have done that anyway. I do need you, Mulder. I want whatever version of love you can give me."

I lay my head in her lap and she bends and kisses my ear. She strokes her hands through my hair, her nails soothingly scratching over my scalp. "You don't believe me," she says after a few moments of this.

"I'm trying to. I want to." All my life, it seems, love and approval has been hold over me like an inaccessible reward for good behavior. It's very well for her to say she'll always love me . . .

But Scully doesn't like to lie. She doesn't lie. And she has nothing to gain from lying to me about this.

I sit up and look her square in the eye. "Tell me the truth. Tell me you love me, if it's true. Right now, can you honestly say you still love me?"

She nods, smiling. "I can honestly say it. I still love you."

"I love you too," I say through a closing throat, and we embrace again, my face in her hair, her soothing touches and murmurs and the steady beat of her heart.

"There's still, however, the matter of my ova," she says eventually.

"Oh. Yeah. Well, like I said, they're undamaged. I know it's not the most exciting way to conceive but the success rate is pretty high, I've heard."

"Not the most romantic method, no. But necessary."

"Very necessary."

"Mulder," she says hesitantly, "the thing is, I'm not getting any younger, and the longer you wait to have a baby the harder it is, and there are enough strikes against me that waiting any longer seems like asking for more trouble. And I really want to have a baby."

"I know."

"The case in Home got me to thinking about it. How far people would go to reproduce. I started looking into, maybe, a sperm donor and just going into it on my own, but of course then the cancer came along and I got sidetracked . . . and by the time that was all over my doctor told me I'd never have children. When he said that, Mulder, I wanted to curl up and crumble away. It was like wanting to be a painter when you realize you're blind."

"I should have told you. Long ago. As soon as I found out."

"It wouldn't have helped me then."

"It might have been a comfort to you."

"Maybe. But I know now, Mulder, and I want to act on it now. I need to know how willing you are to help me with this."

"How much do you want me to be?" I whisper.

She swallows hard. "Oh, you know, the usual. Driving to soccer practice. Going to dance recitals. Teaching them to ride a bike. Paying for college. Tucking them in. Making pancakes for breakfast on weekends. Changing diapers half the time. The usual."

"Them? More than one?"

"Let's start with one. Then see what happens."

"I'm willing to start with one. No Fox jr or little Dana, though."

"Good God, no."

I smile and kiss her hand and press it to my heart. "Marry me, Scully."

"I will."

"And have children with me."

"Yes, Mulder."

"And grow old with me."

"Absolutely, Mulder." She kisses me gently, and snuggles against my chest.

When I'm sure she's asleep I kiss her again and slip from her arms. I turn out the lights and go downstairs to make sure the doors are locked. As I'm looking outside it seems like the storm is starting to calm down. I put my hand to the window glass for a moment, then let it fall away.

It's late and cold and I'm tired. And everything I love is asleep in the room upstairs.

I turn from the window, test the doorknob one more time, and go back to bed.

 


2.

Around eight a.m. the phone rings. "Scully," she answers it as if by reflex. "Mom, hi. Happy New Year. Oh, we're fine. We had a little adventure last night but everything's good. She did? When? It's a boy? Oh, Mom, that's wonderful. How are they doing? I'm sure Billy's--right, exactly like that. Yes, take tons of pictures. Matthew William. I like that. I'm sure he's beautiful. All right, yes, I'm sure you're exhausted. We're heading back tomorrow. I love you too. Kiss them for me. Bye." She hangs up the phone and smiles at me. "I'm an aunt. Again."

"Hey, congratulations. It's a boy?"

"Uh-huh. Matthew William Scully."

"New Year's baby."

"He was born at two after midnight, the first one of the year for that hospital. His picture is going to be in the base paper."

I reach up and rub her back. "Are you okay?"

"Oh, yes. I'm happy for them."

"We'll have good news for them sometime soon, I'm sure."

She smiles at me, then leans down to kiss me. "You know, this vacation didn't go at all like I expected."

"Oh?"

"I thought we'd spend more time skiing, for one."

"Yeah, well . . ."

"And I thought, at most, I'd be able to share a bed with you. Little did I know how strong your powers of persuasion could be."

"I do have the magic touch, Scully."

She laughs and lies down, resting her head on her hands on my chest. "Magic is one way to describe it." Her face grows serious. "I love you more than anything, Mulder. I hope you understand that."

"I understand," I whisper, and touch her face lightly. "And I love you more than that."

She smiles and kisses me, and nestles her cheek on my chest. "Still so tired, though." She yawns.

"Go to sleep, baby. I'll watch over you." I run my hand slowly through her hair, and listen to her breathing deepen and slow.

Oh, yes. I love this woman. If I didn't before . . . well, you know.


3. Epilogue

 

Notes of Special Agent Fox Mulder:

According to Mrs. Robinson, no further sightings of Cameron Dale or Rachel McAlister have occurred, either in the house itself, in Cobb Creek, or in the wood surrounding Cobb Creek. She does believe if they are to reoccur, it may be next Christmas season, but she does not think they will. Neither do Agent Scully nor myself. Agent Scully believes her getting lost New Year's Eve was the catalyst needed to bring the lovers together in order to end the haunting. Although I cannot explain why this is so, nor why the ghosts chose us to help them, I believe she is right. The spirits of Rachel AcAlister, 1860-1878, and Cameron Dale, 1859-1878, are finally at rest. Case #XGH-47832 (unofficial) is closed.

Ecl: transcript of audio tape recording, Agent D. Scully, Agent F. Mulder, and unknown voice.

Photographs of the graves of Rachel McAlister and Cameron Dale, Cobb Creek City Cemetery.

Photographs of the house belonging to Leah Robinson, #14, Postal Rte. 8, Cobb Creek, Vermont.

Photocopies of church records, containing the birth and death dates of Rachel McAlister and Cameron Dale, Cobb Creek Methodist Church, Cobb Creek, Vermont.


4.

IT'S A GIRL!
Katherine Hope Mulder
October 13, 1998
7 lbs 14 oz
14 inches
Fox and Dana Mulder

End.

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