Title: The Ghost of Millcreek Inn - Book Two: The Aftermath
Authors: Jacquie LaVa and Tess
E-mail: tnv099@aol.com
Distribution: Please let us know first
Spoilers: Not really
Rating: NC-17
Content: Story, Romance, ANGST!
Keywords: MSR
Disclaimer: Some of the characters herein are the property of Fox and 1013 Productions

Summary: Home from their ill-fated vacation, Mulder and Scully must find a way to deal with the emotional fallout of their encounters with Molly Sullivan or lose each other forever.

Author's Notes: This story will most likely make absolutely no sense to you unless you've already read The Ghost of Millcreek Inn Book One: The Haunting.

When we set out to write The Ghost of Millcreek Inn, we never anticipated writing two books. The story was intended to be Molly Sullivan's story - the woman who lived and died during the Revolutionary War. Molly had spent more than two centuries waiting for her lover, Lieutenant William Foxworth, to return to her as he had pledged and had believed that Mulder was her beloved Foxworth finally come back for her.

Of course, as we wrote it, we slowly came to realize that there was a second story to be told. That story was the emotional impact of Mulder and Scully's encounters with Molly Sullivan's ghost on their relationship.

The Ghost of Millcreek Inn - Book Two: The Aftermath is that story. In many ways it is different from anything that we have ever written in the past. We originally expected that we would write and post the story shortly after posting Book One. That did not happen. This story was difficult to write; to keep the characters recognizable to us - and hopefully to you, the readers - while putting them into situations that were never presented to us onscreen. We spent countless hours chatting with each other trying to work our way through the various scenes and ultimately Book Two is the story that we felt we had to write.

We hope that you will find it a faithful rendering of the characters we know and love and that you will enjoy it.

Jacquie and Tess


Prologue

October, 2001 Ritz Carlton Hotel
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Scully held Will in her lap as she sat on a plush sofa. Her weary eyes followed Mulder as he made his way to the reception desk and reached into the pocket of his leather jacket to pull out his wallet. She could feel the curious gazes of the late night staff as they took in the bedraggled appearance of the hotel's newest guests. Her eyes wandered over the gilded elegance of the marble-columned lobby of the Ritz Carlton Hotel.

Immediately upon leaving the grounds of Cliveden, Mulder had fished his cell phone from his pocket and had placed a call to the information operator, asking for a listing to the closest Ritz Carlton Hotel.

"If ever there was a time we deserved to be pampered, it's now," he had said in reply to Scully's questioning look as they raced away from the battlefield.

Now, he returned to Scully's side and helped her to her feet. He pulled her and the baby into a loose embrace. "Housekeeping is going to bring some of the basic necessities up to the room," he told her.

"Diapers?" she murmured against his chest.

"And a crib," he confirmed. "Come on." He wrapped an arm around her waist and led her to a bank of elevators on the other side of the marble lobby. Scully noted the sympathetic smile on the desk clerk's face.

"Mulder, what did you tell them?" She craned her head back to look up into his face. He smoothed a hand over her hair and tickled Will under the chin.

"I told them we were on vacation and that our flight had been re-routed through Philadelphia." Mulder ushered Scully into the waiting elevator. He stabbed the button for the fourteenth floor with one finger. "I also mentioned that all of our luggage had been lost."

"What? You didn't think that they would believe the truth?" she asked wryly. Mulder huffed out a tired laugh as the elevator silently whisked them upwards. The doors swished open quietly and they stepped into the hallway. Even here, the carpets were thick and plush. They quickly found their room and Mulder slipped the key into the lock and pushed the door open. Scully stepped into the room and slapped wearily at the light switch just inside the door. Soft light flooded the room. Both exhausted, they were only dimly aware of the understated elegance of the living area of the suite Mulder had requested.

A quiet knock prompted Mulder to peer through the peephole before swinging the door open to permit the housekeeping staff to enter the room. A man in a crisp uniform trundled a portable crib through the doorway.

"Where would you like me to set this up, Sir?" he asked politely.

"I want to keep him with us." Scully spoke softly and looked up at Mulder for confirmation. He nodded toward the bedroom door.

"Put it in the master bedroom, please," he instructed. A similarly uniformed woman had followed the man into the room. She quickly moved toward the bathroom and began to set out toothbrushes and toothpaste; disposable razors and shaving cream, as well as a comb and a brush near the basket of complimentary soaps, shampoo, moisturizer and mouthwash already on the marble countertop.

She stepped out of the bathroom. "The night manager thought you might be more comfortable sleeping in this." She proffered a small bundle to Mulder. He grinned and shook out an oversized T-shirt bearing a picture of the famous LOVE sculpture and the words 'Philadelphia, The Place That Loves You Back'.

"The latest fashion in sleepwear," he smirked. Scully smiled gratefully at the housekeeper.

"This is perfect. Thank you."

The rest of the bundle contained diapers for Will and another even larger T-shirt emblazoned with the Phillies logo on it for Mulder.

Mulder walked the two employees to the door and pulled a tip out of his wallet. "The hotel has an overnight laundry," the woman offered as she discreetly slipped the folded bill into the pocket of her uniform. "There is a bag in the closet in the bedroom. Just leave the bag of clothes outside the door and call housekeeping. Someone will come right up to collect your clothes and they'll be ready for you in the morning."

Mulder leaned against the doorjamb. "Perhaps you could just tell housekeeping to send someone up in about twenty minutes?" he asked. The woman smiled and nodded.

"I'll take care of it, Sir."

"Thank you." Mulder swung the door closed. He leaned against it tiredly and watched Scully and Will disappear into the bedroom.

Scully called to him softly. "Mulder, would you bring a towel from the bathroom?" He pushed away from the door and poked his head into the bathroom, taking brief note of the huge sunken tub. The idea of soaking in a hot bath was infinitely appealing, but he was afraid he'd fall asleep and drown. He snagged a fluffy, white towel from a shelf over the vanity and carried it into the bedroom.

Scully had pulled Will's clothes from his tiny body and the baby, wearing nothing but his diaper, was happily kicking his feet. She took the towel from Mulder's hand and laid it over the silk bedspread as a changing pad. She lay Will in the center of the towel and quickly stripped him out of the soiled diaper and into a clean one. She tugged the cotton shirt back over the baby's head and fastened the snaps between his legs. She lifted him and walked over to the window, pushing back the heavy drapes to stare out over the city. She swayed back and forth softly and felt Will grow limp in her arms. She looked up to see Mulder's image reflected in the glass as he stood behind them. Turning, she held the baby out and Mulder carried him to the waiting crib. He settled the little boy into the crib and tugged a soft blanket over his tiny body. Mulder turned around to find Scully already stripped out of her clothes. Nude, she stretched her arms out to her side and rolled her head, grimacing and then sighing with satisfaction as she loosened some of the stiffness from her neck and shoulders. She stuffed all of her dirty clothes into the laundry bag that she had found in the closet and tugged the oversized T-shirt over her head.

Mulder quickly followed suit and he crammed his clothes and Will's into the bag with Scully's. Eschewing the T-shirt provided by the hotel, he padded naked through the suite, opening the front door just enough to set the bag onto the hallway floor and hang the 'Do Not Disturb' sign on the doorknob.

He returned to the bedroom to find Scully snuggled under the blankets. Mulder crawled into the bed and she turned and draped herself over him. She closed her eyes and let her body melt into his.

"What time is checkout?" she yawned against his chest. She unconsciously arched her back in response to the fingers stroking lightly over her spine.

"Noon." His sleepy voice rumbled through his chest and vibrated under her ear. "But I booked the room for two nights, so we can sleep as late as we like. Or as late as the baby will let us," he amended.

Scully's head popped up from his chest. "Are we staying here two nights?" she asked. Mulder clapped a hand over his mouth as a huge yawn escaped him.

"We can stay as long as you'd like." He slipped his fingers under the soft cotton T-shirt and rubbed his hands over the silken skin of her back.

"I want to go home." Her voice was soft. Tired. Plaintive. She settled down on him again and tucked her face into the warm skin of his neck.

"Then, I'll take you home tomorrow," he promised. He made a mental note to call Mrs. Knaubler at the Millcreek Inn in the morning to make arrangements to have their belongings shipped to D.C. Scully grumbled in her sleep when he shifted her off his chest and onto her side. Mulder curled his body around hers and tightened his arms around her. A few feet from their bed, Will shifted and sighed before settling back down.

Safe again... they slept.


Chapter One

November, 2001

Outside the wind picked up, rattling the glass in the windows of their living room. Rain spattered in uneven patterns over the side of the building and the sky was inky black. A small illuminating light from the kitchen was enough to assure Mulder didn't stub his toe, as he made his way over to the armchair by the fireplace, and sank into it. The air was a little cool; the furnace hadn't kicked on yet. Mulder pulled a soft wool throw from the arm of the chair and unfolded it over his naked body. He could have put on some clothes, but found he liked the feel of the wool against his bare skin. Besides, he didn't want to awaken Scully by digging through the bedroom when he knew she was asleep.

A quick glance at the Regulator clock on the mantle told him it was two in the morning. He had to be up in four hours for work. He was really wiped out... as he rubbed the heels of his hands into his eyes, Mulder thought about why he couldn't sleep.

Actually there wasn't a reason he could think of why he shouldn't be dead to the world, right now. And yet, he wasn't.

He and Scully had spent a happy but tiring evening playing with Will. Now six months old and the proud owner of two teeth, their son had eased off on the teething for the moment and was sleeping through the night once more. Scully was just beginning to wean him a little, supplementing his breast-milk diet with fruit and vegetables, as well as rice and a more substantial cereal. He was thriving, playing harder during the day but much more content at night. And he was just beginning to try raising himself to his hands and knees and crawling. Another few months and he'd be pulling himself up to his feet and trying to walk - and then the fun would really begin.

In the meantime Will was quite a handful just the way he was. But he'd been a very good baby and had fallen asleep with a minimum of fussing after a quick nursing. Scully had laid him down and when she came back to the bedroom and crawled under the covers with Mulder, who'd been dozing a little, he turned to snuggle her into his arms and had discovered a delightfully-naked bed-partner who had chucked her nightgown as soon as she'd hit the edge of the bed.

It had taken him about one second to shed his pajama bottoms and another three to get his body into 'erection status'. They'd made sweet, slow love in the quiet of their bedroom with nothing more than sighs and whispering moans accompanying the pounding rain outside. Afterward, Scully had fallen asleep very quickly but Mulder had been unable to relax his mind, though his body was beyond sated. He'd risen from their bed and walked to the living room in the dark, on silent feet.

They'd been home a month. Thirty days ago they'd escaped their vacation; it seemed an odd way to describe the recollection but it had happened just that way. Mulder rubbed his hand over his jaw wearily. He couldn't begin to fathom why in hell they couldn't have a normal family vacation like everyone else did. It was as if the outlandish and the unexplainable just followed them around like baby ducks. And it had nothing at all to do with their jobs, for neither of them worked on the X-Files any longer.

After Will's birth there had been no reason for him to go back. He had been politely asked to return and had as politely turned down the offer. It didn't interest him any longer; that particular fire was gone, burnt out. He had a family now; it was time to get a more responsible, less dangerous job.

Because of his background and education he was a very popular and professionally eligible catch, and had several job offers before he finally chose a full professorship at Georgetown University's Psychology department. In the Cognitive Neuroscience program at Georgetown Mulder had found an acceptable niche; the field itself was expanding rapidly and the discipline was one he found exciting enough to hold his interest and take his mind off eight years of the unexplained and paranormal.

More or less.

As for Scully, her decision to stay home with Will for at least a year had been met with disappointment at the Bureau and with great happiness by her family, especially Bill Jr. Because of her new status as stay-at-home mother and Mulder's final split from the Bureau Bill had actually softened quite a bit toward Mulder and the two had managed to form a wary truce. Extremely wary - but the tentative bridge thrilled Scully's mother to no end. It made things a lot easier for Scully, too.

Mulder stared out the rain-drenched window in the dark, thinking about the way a 'simple' week of vacation had messed up their balance - and he couldn't even say why. Before Lancaster, their lives were busy, to be sure - but fulfilling and happy. Living with Scully had added a layer of contentment, something Mulder had always lacked. It went way beyond the joy of fatherhood and the guarantee of regular intimacy. For the first time in his life Mulder felt like he was that 'whole person' he'd once fought to make Scully acknowledge.

Loving Scully was wonderful. She was passionate and her libido was a good match for his. The intimacy of their romantic relationship had enhanced their base friendship; had truly made them each other's touchstones. Once, they had both declared it. But never had it seemed to be truer than, when in their quest for sexual fulfillment and the possibility of reproduction, they had at last fully merged their souls. And having felt that level of love and trust for Scully, Mulder had thought nothing could change or alter it.

But something had touched it - something had given him pause to feel a restlessness and a kind of dissatisfaction - no, that wasn't the right word... a lacking - yes, that was more accurate. Something was lacking, not completely missing but certainly not all there, either. What troubled Mulder the most, though - was the feeling that he could have easily gone his entire life not knowing what was missing, and been perfectly content.

And hard on the heels of that revelation was the solid knowledge that if he thought about it too much, analyzed it too far, he'd discover way too much - and find himself confronted by events better left unacknowledged and words better left unspoken.


Scully opened her eyes and watched Mulder rise from their bed to move quietly through the darkened room. These late night sojourns had become more frequent of late, she thought, as he slipped out of the room and eased the door closed behind him. She sighed and stretched out one arm to rest her hand on the rumpled pillow he had abandoned. Scully knew that he thought she was asleep. Always before, Mulder had been the first to succumb to sleep after lovemaking. He would rest his cheek between her breasts or curl his body tightly around hers and she would listen, as his rapid breathing would slow until each breath was a rasping sigh of contentment.

But no longer. Now he eased away from her to lay in quiet stillness until he thought her asleep and instead of listening to the rhythmic sounds of his breathing, she could practically hear the thoughts whirling through his mind before he would steal away to his solitary retreat. Two nights earlier, Scully had crept to the doorway after he had left their bed. Peering through the door, she had found him sprawled in the armchair near the fireplace, a soft woolen throw tossed carelessly over his body. Tonight, she listened to the soft thud of his bare feet crossing the floor, the creaking of the chair as his weight settled into it and the soft rustle of the throw being shaken out.

Her fingers curled into the cotton of his pillowcase and she pulled it into her arms. Something was different, she thought, as she inhaled his scent into her lungs. Her eyes landed on the glowing red numbers of the digital alarm clock on the nightstand closest to Mulder's side of the bed. What sent him brooding into another room four hours before he had to get up for work? Was he chafing at the ties of fatherhood? Scully shook her head in mute denial. No, she told herself as she called up a mental picture of Mulder smiling in delight at Will's latest antics. He loved being a father.

Did he miss having his own place? His freedom? He had given up his apartment at Hegal Place shortly after Will's birth to move in with her and the baby. The picture frames and flower-filled vase that had once graced the top of the low table in the hallway leading to the bedrooms had been removed to make room for his aquarium. His books were nestled next to hers on the bookcase. They had both put several pieces of furniture into storage and the apartment was a comfortable blend of him and her. Of them. Mulder's basketball rested in the same plastic tub as Will's toys. His sneakers lay in a jumble in the bottom of their closet in direct contrast to the neat array of high-heeled boots and shoes arranged by color on her side of the closet. When he appeared each night in the kitchen doorway upon his return from work, sniffing the air and snooping through the pots and pans on the stovetop, he always greeted her with a huge smile and a kiss. He was happy here with them... wasn't he?

It was only now, in the predawn hours, when he would sneak out of their bed that Scully sensed any sign of discontent. She closed her eyes and sighed tiredly. And in the darkness, she finally acknowledged the thought that had been nagging at her for weeks now. That she knew exactly when things had begun to change.

Lancaster and the Millcreek Inn.

Lying in a lonely silence broken only by the restless shifting of her brooding lover in the other room, Scully stared at the empty expanse of the bed he had abandoned and she couldn't help but give silent voice to a disquieting thought...

That Molly Sullivan was still haunting them.


Chapter Two

Three nights later, Scully snapped the dishwasher door closed and spun the dial to set the wash cycle into motion. She hoisted Will out of his highchair and set him on her hip. She bounced the baby up and down once or twice, eliciting a giggle and the proud display of two tiny white teeth.

She laughed. "Let's go see what your daddy is up to." Will slapped her shoulder with one pudgy hand and gurgled in happy agreement. She carried the baby into the living room. Mulder was seated at the desk, the checkbook to their joint account lying open and a stack of unpaid bills scattered across the desktop. He was thoroughly engrossed in what he was reading and was unaware of their entrance into the room.

"Hey, Daddy. Whatcha doing?" Scully hefted Will in her arms so that she was hiding behind his back and she pitched her voice up into a silly baby tone. She curled her fingers around Will's tiny wrist and helped him wave to his father. The baby's shrieks of laughter finally grabbed Mulder's attention. He spun in his chair, dropping the papers he had been reading and looked up over the tops of his glasses with a grin.

"Hey, Buddy," he called back and returned the wave with a waggle of his own fingers.

Scully walked over to stand beside Mulder who reached out to take the baby into his lap. Will stood with his father's assistance and he clapped his hands against Mulder's cheeks and squeezed his nose with his fingers. Something crinkled under Scully's feet and she bent down to pick up the papers that Mulder had dropped. It was the invoice from the Millcreek Inn along with a glossy color brochure and a calendar of scheduled events taking place in Lancaster over the upcoming holiday season.

Scully set the brochure onto the desk. "We just wanted to say hi," she told him as she lifted the baby back into her arms. "We'll let you get back to work." She carried Will over to the quilt spread out on the floor near the fireplace and guided his legs into the fabric seat of his baby walker. She sat down on the quilt and lifted a soft ball out of the plastic tub of toys and gave it to the baby. They played together, she handing the ball to Will who promptly tossed it onto the floor with an accompanying giggle before she held it back out to him. Scully laughed and offered the toy to Will again. He flung out his hands and she held the ball just out of his reach before swiping it against the baby's nose and handing it to him again.

She felt Mulder's stare and she looked up. He was holding the inn's brochure again and his thumb was swiping a lazy path over the glossy cover. He had a faraway look in his eyes, even though he seemed to be staring directly at her.

The ball bounced harmlessly off her cheek and she lifted it absentmindedly toward the baby as she stared back at Mulder. Unbidden, a hazy image flashed before her mind's eye. Mulder's fingers knotted in her hair; his eyes glazed and dark with passion. His face, contorted with an agonized pleasure that she had never seen before... or since.

She narrowed her eyes, wondering what he saw when he stared at her like that. Was he seeing her? The thirty-ish woman with milk-heavy breasts and a soft stomach that no amount of stomach crunches seemed to help return it to its taut, pre-pregnancy flatness? The woman who let her hair grow longer so that she could tie it back into a pony-tail to protect it from a baby's inquisitive fingers? Was he seeing the woman who had looked at him from across a basement office, who had been seated next to him in countless cars and airplanes, who had stared at him from hospital beds and who had peered up at him from the sweat-dampened sheets of their bed?

Or was he seeing a youthful beauty with curls tumbling down her back; high, full breasts and a blatant, earthy sexiness? Unbidden, a red mist of jealousy clouded Scully's gaze. The thought that had been gnawing at her heart since the moment she had awakened to find him standing over her with a wild, primitive, passionate look etched on his face, flooded her mind.

That it was Molly who had been making love with Mulder. Molly, who had brought such an expression of lust and desperation and need to his face. Scully closed her eyes against the most painful thought of all... that it was Molly, who even now, captured Mulder's thoughts.

Scully drew in a shaky breath and blew it back out. She opened her eyes and found Mulder's gaze fixed on her, a confused expression on his face.

"Are you okay?" He tilted his head to the side and raised his brows questioningly. Scully nodded wordlessly and blinked when Will tossed the ball and hit her squarely in the chest with it. She clutched the ball in her hands and looked back at Mulder. His eyes were clear and honest and his lips were curved in an affectionate, intimate smile aimed directly at her. She returned his smile shyly and dipped her head as embarrassed guilt swamped her.

Scully tugged the rubber band from her hair and leaned toward Will. Her unbound hair swept over her cheeks, hiding the flush of embarrassment from Mulder's eyes as she refocused her attention on the baby. She held the ball out to the Will and let him snatch it from her unresisting fingers... and she let his baby giggles hold her fears at bay.

Mulder loved her and was true to her. He would never cheat on her. He had believed himself to be making love to her... not to Molly Sullivan.

Later that night... when Mulder once again crept from their bed... it was a truth and a mantra that she clung to with all her strength.


Three weeks later

December, 2001

Mulder spun into the bathroom, resisting the urge to slam the door, letting it close by itself. His hands gripped the sink as he forced calming breaths through his nose, blowing them out his mouth. He didn't look in the mirror, didn't want to see the anger in his own eyes.

He could hear the clanking of pans and dishes in the kitchen, as Scully finished loading the dishwasher. He winced, imagining if she got any louder it would awaken Will, who'd just been put down for the night. But, maybe not - he'd been sleeping very soundly these past few weeks. Still... in his opinion Scully didn't have anything to be irate about - it hadn't been her favorite shirt, ruined at the cleaners...

"Mulder, I told you twice already. I did NOT kill your shirt! I took it to the dry cleaners, as per your instructions. I told them to use light starch. Again, as per your instructions." She'd faced him down in the kitchen, wiping her hands on a dishcloth. Her eyes held irritated patience at first - until Mulder plucked the shirt out of its plastic wrapper and shook it in her face.

"Scully, look at it! There are yellowish streaks all over it - they used the wrong kind of starch on it. You obviously told them heavy starch. It's even written on the receipt." Mulder had plopped his shirt down on the kitchen counter, crossed his arms and tried to retain a placid expression, which failed miserably.

Well, he was angry - this was the best and most expensive shirt in his wardrobe - and of such a fine- gauge cotton that using heavy starch on it would mean certain destruction. And Scully had always hated that shirt... hated the color, which was an unusual shade of blue. She'd once compared it to a 'mean sky in the middle of a tornado', and always managed to get in some sort of dig when he wore it. But she'd never deliberately tried to sabotage it - until now.

He must have spoken aloud... as he stared, her eyes narrowed and the tone of her voice warned him that a line had been crossed. "You think I sabotaged... a shirt? Are you nuts, Mulder? You don't think I have better things to do with my time than to kidnap your shirt, take it to the cleaner and attempt clothing manslaughter by instructing the clerk to SUFFOCATE it with extra starch? Jesus!" She glared at him once, then turned and faced the sink, grabbing the handle of the first pot she could find. Mulder scraped his ruined shirt off the kitchen table, before Scully could beat it to death with the grimy pot - and took himself off to the bathroom.

Deep breaths. Counting to ten. He looked into the mirror and saw the anger in his eyes. Again. It had happened again, within a few days of the last time something of small consequence had blown into a goddamn war.

It was getting worse. Mulder admitted this to himself, as he stared at himself in the mirror and sucked down calming oxygen.

He didn't understand. They never fought. Barely had disagreements. In the six months they'd been together they'd never bickered, not like this. And Mulder conceded that it had become something more than bickering, especially lately. It worried him. A lot.

It had started right around the time they'd returned - well, fled - from their vacation.

Suddenly there was a reduction in tolerance; that was the best way he could explain it. Mulder knew a great deal of it was his fault - he'd been unsettled since their return. Difficulty sleeping at night, his old insomnia problem resurfacing - feeling as if something was missing. Again, him. And he didn't know how to fix it. Wasn't even sure what needed to be fixed...

For the past week he'd been careful to show Scully by word as well as deed, how much she meant to him - how happy he was to be living with her and their son. He'd let small and daily irritants roll off his back; had gone above and beyond to relieve her of the bulk of caring for Will when he was being particularly fractious. He told himself he was making it easier on both of them... but in reality his actions were complicating an already-difficult situation.

Mulder wasn't quite sure how his actions were making it worse - he could only go by the way it felt between them - and it didn't feel right...

In the bathroom he stared at his unhappy face, and knew it was up to him to try again - to fix it.


Chapter Three

Two nights later Mulder got his chance.

It had been almost forty-eight hours of polite calm from Scully and continuing worry from him. Thankfully Will had been angelic and on his best behavior, so any stress forming was not coming from his direction.

They hadn't made love since two days before the 'shirt war' as Mulder had come to think of it - and Mulder was feeling the physical neglect very sharply. It was the longest they'd gone without some form of intimacy since Will's birth. Mulder knew that days could easily stretch into weeks, with each empty day solidifying the rift, until going back and fixing it would be just about impossible.

He didn't plan anything grandiose, nothing complicated. He brought home a delicious shrimp and lobster dinner from Franco's and picked up a nice bottle of wine. He snuck the food and drink into the kitchen when Scully was in the bathroom bathing Will. By the time she came into the kitchen with an armful of sleepy baby snuggled into his pajamas, Mulder had candles glowing on the table and fragrant seafood and rice pilaf mounded on plates, crusty sourdough bread dripping with butter and glasses of wine breathing, all ready to be consumed.

Scully skidded to a halt and took in the sumptuous spread, her mouth hanging open - then her gaze swiveled to Mulder, standing beside the table with a soft smile on his face. She blinked a few times, her nose twitching at all the delectable smells; she broke into a bemused smile and queried, "Mulder... what's going on?"

Ten minutes later Will was in bed, fast asleep, and his parents were enjoying a romantic feast. Everything was delicious, from the succulent lobster to the burnt creme the restaurant had so thoughtfully provided. They each had three glasses of wine and neither was feeling any pain.

Scully pushed herself away from her dessert plate and groaned, holding her stomach. "No more... I can't eat another bite. I'm dying over here!" At Mulder's chuckle she looked up into his smiling face; he'd come around the table when she was busy rubbing at her stuffed tummy and had missed him moving toward her.

Now she quirked an eyebrow at him when he reached down and pulled her gently to her feet; slipping his arms around her waist he hauled her into his chest and breathed into her ear, "Does that mean you can't handle Phase II of the dessert?"

"What's 'Phase II' entail, specifically?"

He nibbled the reply over her lobe, adoring the shiver she released against him. "That's where I get to have my dessert..."

She deadpanned, "But you already ate your burnt creme, Mulder... aren't you full yet?"

At her amused question, Mulder caught her lips with his and kissed her softly, then whispered into her mouth, "Not even close, baby. I want more..."

"How much more?"

"I'll show you..."

In the bedroom Mulder lit three candles while Scully finished up in the bathroom. He found himself actually shaking with excitement. Four days without sex... to think he'd once gone years without it, save whatever manual ease he could give himself. In his mind that counted for nothing at all; it had only staved off the tension and never did anything to sate him.

He knew the first year of life with a new baby was one serious settling-in period. And his and Scully's intimate time together had gotten short-changed not only by his absence during her pregnancy but her infection directly after childbirth and her body's own lengthy recuperative time frame. His own restlessness of late hadn't helped, either - and Mulder knew she could tell he had a lot on his mind.

But not tonight. It was going to be all about Scully, tonight. What she liked. What she wanted, needed... and in giving to her he knew he'd find everything he wanted for himself, for hadn't that always been the case between them? Nothing had changed it... nothing.

Had it?

When Scully came out of the bathroom on a cloud of something softly spicy, tinged with flowers... Mulder was reclined on their bed, naked except for a pair of pajama bottoms, his appreciative nose sniffing her scent and feeling himself start to tighten in reaction. She smelled delicious - she would taste even better.

Wearing a pale green silk tank and matching panties, Scully moved to the side of the bed, and sat down next to him. When he held out a hand to her she placed her palm against his, smiling when he brought her hand to his mouth and kissed it lingeringly, knowing how much she liked it. His eyes darkened as they roved over her, so lovely and so damn enticing in her silky little pajamas. Her hair was a mass of red flame around her head and her gaze was brightly blue and fierce upon him. He tugged at her hand and Scully fell into his arms.

God... this was it. This was what he'd needed, all week. This touch. This embrace, this kiss, this... everything. Oh, they'd made up after their fight, but it hadn't involved anything past the words and the hug and kiss. The rift had still hung between them. But now... that rift seemed silly in the extreme and a million miles away.

Mulder nuzzled at the sweet-smelling neck under his nose, smiling when she shivered and her fingers clutched at his arms. He wriggled himself between her thighs and pressed down on her teasingly, before murmuring to her, "I threw away that shirt, Scully..."

She huffed out a startled laugh against his throat. "You're kidding. After all of that hoo-ha about starch and sabotage and whatnot, you tossed your favorite shirt?" She pushed at him, enough to see into his face. He fought down a flush and nodded, then leaned in to bite-kiss at her lips gently.

"Yes. I did. The shirt wasn't worth the potential loss of the one person who has better taste in clothes than I do..."

She snorted. "You've got a thing going with Ralph Lauren?"

"Oh, yeah. That gray hair of his simply sets me aflame, baby..."

After that bit of silliness, no more words were necessary. Mulder set about telling his woman - without words - of how much he'd missed her, these past four days. With his hands, he told her, fingers trailing over and around each taut rosy peak of her breasts; with his lips he left her in no doubt of his desire and his need, kissing his way along the same path his hands had just traversed. With his eyes he adored her; with his body he cherished every inch of sweet skin that curled against him. So soft... so adorably sweet... his woman. His Scully. He hated to be at odds with her, for whatever large or small reason. Never again -

Their sighs rose and mingled in the moist air of their bedroom, as they kissed and caressed with mounting fervor. Mulder was ravenous for her and it showed in each deep kiss he gave and every touch of fire he left on Scully's skin. He tangled his fingers though her wet curls, tugged lightly - heard her ragged moan as she reacted to him. She smelled delicious; smelled of hot wet aroused woman. God... he slid down her body, clamped his hands around her hips and tilted them up to meet his greedy mouth. And when he fastened his lips around her swollen clit, she jumped and cried out, a strangled wordless plea...

"MulllllGoddddd...!"

Mulder held her tightly, loving the way she shuddered against him, the way she pulled at his hair - the way her legs trembled and quaked. So goddamn good... he slipped a hand beneath her hips to support her, and his index finger pressed between her slippery cheeks. She gasped. And that sound triggered a memory in him, of a night of passion he could still recall with stunning detail, not so long ago - how a small hand had touched him and wet fingers had glided within, to rub, press - enflame him. It had been amazing... surely if he'd combusted in reaction to that deep massage, so would Scully.

He had to try it - had to give her that feeling. Had to see if she'd combust, go up in flames, there in his arms, against his mouth... on his tongue. He had to.

Mulder lifted his head, paused in his ministrations, until Scully opened glazed eyes and stared at him in confusion. But before she could utter a protest, he'd brought his glistening fingers to his mouth, and was licking at them, drinking in her wetness. She moaned again, couldn't seem to take her eyes from what he was doing, as he cleaned her from his fingers, then left his index finger in his mouth, soaking it in his saliva. Her eyes widened as he took that finger from his mouth, then bent his head and took possession of her clit once more, laving it with his tongue - gently, so gently - he could feel her tense up with the need for release, heard her hissing moan, felt her fingers digging into his scalp -

And felt the way her entire body jerked when he slipped his wet finger between her taut cheeks, and slid it inside, just a little...

"Don't!"

Her ragged protest stopped him, cold.

He let her go, let his hand slip from her, let his mouth release her, and eyed her in concern. Scully stared down at him with damp eyes gone wide with... shock. Mulder was seeing shock, that familiar look of her from over a month ago when in his passion he'd felt her withdrawal from him, the night she came to herself and the realization that she'd been a helpless participant in a game of desire she hadn't instigated.

Jesus... what had he been thinking?

That was just it... he hadn't allowed himself to think - he'd acted on feeling and feeling alone. That she would accept it - that she would revel in it, in the feel of something so intensely personal, so incredibly arousing. Something different - something dark and good. He'd thought she'd enjoy it the same way he'd loved it, when she had done it to him.

Well, judging by the shock in her face and the sound of her protest still echoing in the silent room... guess not.

He eased himself away and up, until he lay on the pillow next to her, still staring into her eyes. And he murmured the only thing he could think to murmur, at the moment. "Are you okay?"

Scully blinked at the question, and moved away from him to sit up, hugging her knees to her chest. "Yes. I'm all right. You just... you took me by surprise, Mulder. I wasn't expecting... that."

"Did you like it? Would you -"

She interrupted him bluntly. "No. I don't. I wouldn't. Mulder, nobody has ever... I would never let... I don't like... that."

He tossed her a puzzled, "How do you know if you'd like it or dislike it, if you'd never tried it before, Scully?" She just shook her head and looked down at her hands. Mulder reached out and tugged at the fingers closest to him, until she raised her head and glanced at him, a pink flush on her face.

She stammered. "I just know. I wouldn't have to - I just know I wouldn't like it, that's all!" She pulled her hand away.

Mulder found himself frowning in confusion, feeling the familiar beginnings of irritation at her closed mind. "Scully... I thought we were past the point where you just discount something because you haven't experienced it." He reached out for her hand again and gave her limp fingers a squeeze. "What's really going on? Talk to me..."

"No, I don't think talking about this serves any purpose, Mulder. It's something I don't like. That's all." Her voice was firm but he could see her bottom lip tremble a little - and he knew there had to be much more than what she'd said - or not said, in this case.

And he wasn't about to let it go - that's not what their relationship was about. In the years they'd been together both as partners and the months they'd spent as lovers, they'd learned not to avoid subjects for long. They'd kept it honest... and he wouldn't let her start to hide things again, not now.

Mulder took a deep breath, and chose his words carefully. "Scully... I want our love life to be wonderful and exciting for both of us -"

As soon as the words were out of his mouth he knew he'd said the wrong thing. Scully turned to him and the anger in her eyes was easy to see.

"You're telling me that what we now have together ISN'T wonderful? Isn't exciting? At least, not as wonderful and as exciting as I think it is. Sounds like that's what you're saying to me, Mulder." Her eyes never wavered from his, and her hands clenched the sheets. Even in the dim light he could see how white her knuckles had gone...

Shit. This was not going well - he tried again. "No, baby- that's not what I'm saying, not what I meant. I love the way we make love - love everything we do. I adore it. Tonight, I wanted to make you feel cherished and loved and I wanted to send you straight to heaven..."

Her voice was quivering when she interrupted him. "Mulder... your lovemaking already does that for me. When you love me it sends me to the stars - it always has. Whatever made you think it didn't? Don't I always let you know, maybe not in words but in the way my body responds to yours? Can't you tell how much I love what you do for me?"

Oh God, of course he could tell - she loved the way he loved her. But he wanted more for her; he wanted her to fly higher than the clouds; wanted her to know how incredibly erotic some acts of love could be, now that he'd had a taste of them...

And his mind refused to say why, or how that taste had come about, as Mulder slipped his arms around her bare waist and pulled her closer. Scully came, slowly. Hesitation, Jesus - she was acting hesitant, around him.

Shit.

He pressed soft kisses to her mouth, her cheeks, murmuring to her, "I don't want to fight about this, baby. Please... I'm sorry. Please - come to bed with me, I just want to love you..." He eased their bodies back on the mussed bed sheets and breathed a sigh of relief when she let him take her down. He lay on his side and tangled their limbs together, legs opened to each other - arms clutching eager flesh close, then closer. When she moved a thigh over his hip Mulder sent two tender fingers inside her, stimulating her anew, then sighed again when his hard flesh merged with her slippery silk and he plunged deep.

Slow. Deeper. Faster. Then harder. The way she liked it best - the way her body responded to him, the best. He locked his mouth to hers and drank in her moans, her breathless purrs - tongue to tongue, kiss for kiss. When she tightened around him and shuddered, cried out - he rolled her fully beneath him and thrust harder and faster, prolonging her climax for as long as he could, before succumbing to the hot waves, and following her under.

He collapsed against her, shaky and sweating. Pressed his damp forehead into her neck. Felt her soft kiss on his hair. Responded to her hands curling over his back and stroking over his wet shoulders. Stayed inside her until he couldn't stay there any longer, and let himself slip out gently. Lovingly.

Gave her the afterglow she loved the best - gave her the ease she adored. The ease he loved, as well...

Knew the moment she'd fallen asleep, and whispered an almost inaudible, "I love you" into her tender nape, before carefully extricating his body, and rising from her warm comfort.

And as he made his silent and usual way to the armchair in the living room and grabbed a soft throw to wrap around him... Mulder tried not to think about another kind of satisfaction - and how much he'd really wanted it just that way, instead of that ease he'd found, with his lover.

** Chapter Four December, 2001

Scully smiled at the elderly gentleman who held the door to the bookstore open for her to push the baby stroller through.

"Thank you, very much," she said. Her smiled deepened as he touched his fingers to the brim of his hat in a courtly gesture.

"You're welcome." His voice was soft with age. "Got to get that little one out of the cold. He waggled gnarled fingers at Will. "That's a handsome boy you have there, Miss."

Scully glanced down at the baby. His cheeks bore bright red patches of color from the sharp December cold and his eyes sparkled as he gleefully smacked his juice cup against the small tray of his stroller.

"He is," she murmured proudly. The wind kicked up, swirling about their legs as they stood in the entryway of the store.

"Best be going." The man tugged the collar of his coat over his neck. "Have a good day," he offered as he stepped outside.

"Thank you. You do the same." They exchanged a final smile and Scully turned to push the stroller away from the doorway and into the warmth of the store.

"Feels good in here huh, Will?" Scully squatted down and unzipped the baby's coat. She plucked the fleecy cap from his head and stuffed it and his jacket into the little basket beneath the stroller. She tugged off her own coat and draped it over the collapsed hood of the stroller. She consulted the store directory and pushed Will through the wide aisles stopping before the bookcases in the 'Self-Help' and 'Relationship' aisles.

It was mid-morning and the store was mostly empty. Scully knew that it would grow busier as the lunch crowd trooped in to get a jump on their holiday shopping, so she and Will had made the effort to get out of the house as soon as possible. The baby was babbling to himself and Scully handed him her keys to play with as she scanned the bookshelves.

Twenty minutes later, she pushed the stroller toward a secluded corner of the store and flopped down into an overstuffed chair with several books. Will had nodded off and was enjoying his midmorning nap. She carefully eased the stroller seat back so that the baby's chin wasn't falling onto his chest and he lifted heavy eyes to peer sleepily at her for a moment.

"Shh." She stroked her fingers over his tummy and pried a stuffed bunny from under his well-padded rear. He clutched the toy to his chest and rolled his head to the side as he sank back into sleep. Scully watched his tiny chest rise and fall for several moments before she settled back in her chair. She sorted through the books in her lap and selected one at random, stuffing the other three books onto the cushion beside her. Pulling back the cover, she idly flipped through the book.

I'm not a prude, she thought moodily. She'd had several relationships throughout her adult life and she had always enjoyed sex. She loved the sex that she shared with Mulder, but lately... it didn't seem to be enough for him. She leaned her head against the back of the chair and looked down at Will's peaceful face.

She wasn't a prude but prior experiences had made her a little hesitant to initiate sex or to experiment. Jack had been... intense. She remembered describing him as being incapable of relaxing, as relentless and determined. While the sex between them had been every bit as intense as his personality - it hadn't lent itself toward playfulness or experimentation. And Daniel... Scully scrubbed her hands over her face as if to wash away the memories. Strictly a missionary position kind of guy, Daniel had been shocked and put off by any suggestion of aggression on her part and his reaction had left her feeling inept and vaguely ashamed. To be honest, the entire affair had left her feeling very ashamed...

Scully opened the book again and stared sightlessly down at the pages, the words and pictures blurring as her focus remained turned inward. She had spent more than seven years repressing her desire for Mulder. At first unwilling to become involved in another relationship that would be deemed inappropriate by herself and those around her, and then afraid to jeopardize the most important friendship she had ever had in her life, she had ruthlessly pretended not to notice how desperately attracted she had been to her partner.

She knew that Mulder was a highly sexed man. The sly innuendos, the magazines and videos she occasionally found peeking out from beneath the rubble scattered over the coffee table in his apartment... the way he had always stood so close to her; had always put his hands on her in even the most innocent of ways... had caused her to spend many sleepless nights fantasizing about his hands on her in ways not so innocent.

When they finally did cross that line, when they had at last permitted themselves to admit their love and desire for one another, their lovemaking had been the most amazing experience of her life. To be bonded to this man who was the other half of her soul. They had touched one another with love and passion, with lust and romance. They had moments where they treasured and cherished one another and others filled with desperation and hunger.

And in the newness of it... they thought they had forever to learn everything there was to know about the other. But they didn't - and all too soon, Mulder had been taken away from her. And when he came back, she was two-thirds of the way through a difficult pregnancy. A prolonged healing from a post-delivery infection had followed. After Will's birth, she had found her focus shifting to the baby, something primal and deep causing her to be alert to his every need at the exclusion of everything else. The exhaustion of caring for an infant combined with the sudden changes in her life, as she became a stay-at-home mother, often left her feeling less than sexy and attractive.

When the hell was she supposed to have the time or the inclination toward being the sex kitten he suddenly seemed to want? She felt the resentment boiling beneath the surface and sighed as she recognized how defensive she had become.

Scully had planned their trip to Lancaster in part to find a way for her and Mulder to reconnect and rediscover one another. She had intended for it to serve as an opportunity for them to spend time together away from the daily grind of their everyday lives.

Instead, she couldn't help thinking that they came home further apart than ever before. And she couldn't shake the feeling that she had lost a part of Mulder to Molly Sullivan. Restlessly, she stacked the books in her lap and tapped her fingers on the cover of the top book. She knew that Mulder loved her; that he was in love with her. But lately, he seemed to need something more, to want something more than she was giving to him. Scully was afraid that he had found that elusive something in Molly and that she had lost a part of Mulder to the memory of the long-dead woman. Jealousy and anger flared briefly before she tamped them back down with the studied calm that had served her so well as a federal officer of the law.

Her upbringing - the admonishments of her parents and her church - as well as her relationships with Jack and Daniel had left her feeling awkward and uncertain - afraid of... and ashamed of her natural curiosities toward sex. She had spent most of her life suppressing those desires and curiosities, telling herself that she was wrong for wanting those things. Her innate shyness left her uncertain of her abilities to entice and attract.

But she'd be damned if she would lose Mulder to the memory of a ghost. While she hadn't won every battle, she had never backed down from a fight and she wasn't about to start now.

Regardless of how inane it seemed to be engaging battle with a ghost...

Resolute, she pushed herself to her feet and shrugged into her coat. She carefully eased Will's arms into his jacket and zipped it up before tugging his hat over his reddish-brown hair. Scully chose two books and put the others back onto the bookshelves. She struggled against the urge to bury her selections in a stack of other books. Struggled against it and lost.

She added a thriller from the bestseller's list and two soft-sided, plastic-coated baby books for Will to gnaw on to his heart's content to her pile and carried her selections to the counter. And immediately felt foolish when the bored clerk rang up her purchases and stuffed them into a shopping bag without blinking an eye.

She was now the proud owner of the 'Illustrated Guide to Kama Sutra' and '101 Ways to Please Your Man'.

God help her.

"When sitting facing her, you grasp her ankles and fasten them like a chain behind your neck and she grips her toes as you make love, this is the delightful 'Padme' - the Lotus position."

Scully wrinkled her brow and read the paragraph again and then studied the picture carefully. She looked around the room and then stood and dragged the maple valet stand that she had bought for Mulder over to the bed. She lifted the suit jacket he had hanging from the valet and draped it over the cedar chest at the foot of the bed. Sitting down on the mattress, she lifted her feet onto the valet and locked her ankles around the top of the hanger as if it were Mulder's neck. She leaned forward and stretched her hands towards her feet. Straining, her fingers brushed against the tips of her toes, but a shooting pain through her side had her flopping back onto the mattress. Gasping, she opened the button at the waistband of her jeans and lowered the zipper. God knows she wouldn't be wearing such restrictive clothing if she and Mulder were to actually try this.

Less encumbered by her clothes, Scully raised her feet onto the valet and stretched toward them with renewed purpose. She struggled and her fingers flailed toward her toes before gaining purchase. She curled her hands around her toes, panting with the effort. She held the position for several seconds before an inability to breathe and a vicious cramp forming in her calf had her falling back onto the bed in defeat.

"Oh God," she groaned. Her fingers played over the soft roundness of her stomach that was the legacy of her pregnancy. "I'm so out of shape." She sat up and tried again. When her hands were firmly wrapped around her toes, she looked up and caught a glimpse of herself in the cheval mirror in one corner of the bedroom. Her cheeks were stained a blotchy red from her exertions, beads of sweat trickled over her temples causing her hair to frizz and curl and her face bore a look of grim determination.

"Oh yeah, Dana. Very sexy." Scully fell back onto her elbows in disgust. Rolling onto her stomach she dragged the book toward her again. Perhaps it would be best if she didn't start out with something so... complex, she considered. She flipped through the book and its beautifully erotic, Hindu-inspired illustrations. The less strenuous positions were, of course, the more ordinary and basic of lovemaking positions and not a far cry from those that she and Mulder had already tried.

She needed something different. Something that would catch his attention and make him forget about Lancaster and Molly Sullivan. She continued to read.

"Lift the lady's feet until her soles lie perfectly parallel, one to each side of her slender throat, cup her breasts and enjoy her... this technique is called 'Uthkanta' or Throat-high." Scully's mouth dropped open as she studied the illustration. "I don't think so."

She flipped forward through the book. "Seated, the lady raises one foot to point vertically over her head and steadies it with her hands, offering up her 'yoni' for lovemaking - this is 'Mayura' - the Peacock."

Experimentally, Scully lifted one foot over her head. Reaching up to hold her foot steady as instructed in the book, she chanced a glance toward the mirror.

"This is crazy!" she groused. How the hell was she supposed to be sexy when all of the positions left her feeling out of shape and ridiculous? She flipped through a few more pages, mumbling instructions.

"Sitting face to face in bed, her breasts pressed tight against your chest, let each of you lock heels behind the other's waist, and lean back clasping one another's wrists." She tilted her head to the side. "Hmmm." Not quite as adventurous as the other techniques, but definitely different from anything they had done. It might be a possibility... She used a scrap of paper to mark the page and set the book to one side.


Two nights later

Scully stood in the middle of the bedroom facing the cheval mirror. She stretched her arms over her head and pointed her fingers toward the ceiling, then slowly began to bend forward, curling her torso toward her knees. She bobbed down carefully, fingers touching her calves and then her toes. She shifted her legs and breathed steadily as she tried to place her hands flat onto the carpet between her feet.

"What are you doing?"

Startled, Scully lost her balance and tumbled to the floor. Sprawled in an inelegant heap on the carpet, she pushed her hair out of her eyes and looked up to find Mulder standing in the bedroom doorway, watching with curious eyes. She scrambled to her feet and made an effort at smoothing her hair.

"Just stretching," she said with a studied casualness. He lifted one brow in a fair imitation of her expression of disbelief and she hurriedly stretched her arms over her head again. Clasping her hands together, she pulled her arms from side to side and twisted at the waist in what she hoped was a convincing show.

"Going for a run?" He glanced toward the darkness on the other side of the windows. Scully gave up and dropped her arms to her sides. So much for limbering up first, she thought. She sighed and walked toward the bathroom.

"What's the score?" she called out as she hurriedly brushed her teeth. She pulled her hair into a sloppy ponytail and splashed cold water onto her face. She was hoping to redirect Mulder's attention to the football game he had been watching so that she could slip back into the bedroom and change into the sexy, deep red, silk pajamas that she had bought earlier in the day when he had settled onto the sofa with Will to watch the first of several ball games.

She looked at herself in the mirror. She had plans for this evening and they did not include trying to seduce Mulder while dressed in the oversized sweats she was currently wearing.

"Tied at the half." Mulder's voice was loud and unexpectedly close. Her face buried in a towel, she had not realized that he had followed her into the bathroom. Startled, she dropped the towel and turned around, but he was blocking her path out of the small room. His hands settled on her hips and pushed under the hem of her sweatshirt to caress the soft skin of her stomach.

Obviously, he had lost interest in the game. Scully closed her eyes as his fingers inched closer to her breasts. She had weaned Will down to only a bedtime feeding each night and although she suspected that Mulder privately mourned the loss of those more voluptuous curves, the good news was that she once again just about fit into the collection of pretty, lacy, frothy bras and panties that had always been her weakness.

The bad news was that all of those pretty undergarments were in the bureau with the sexy red pajamas, and beneath her sweats she was wearing what she considered to be truly ugly underwear. Mulder would take one look at her clad in the functional - but less than inspiring bra and panties - and completely lose interest.

"Why don't you go back to the game," she tried again to get rid of him, "and I'll slip into something a little more comfortable and join you in a few minutes?" His hand slid up her back to pop out of the neckline of her shirt and tug on the rubber band securing her ponytail in place. Her hair fell over her shoulders and his hand once again disappeared beneath the fleece-lined cotton shirt. As his fingers skimmed over her back, he paused long enough to unsnap the hooks of her bra.

"Why don't you just slip out of your clothes altogether?" he countered and slid both hands under her loosened bra to cup her breasts. His thumbs swiped a lazy path over her and her nipples immediately reacted to his touch, rising against his palms and begging for his attention. He nuzzled his face into her throat and she rubbed her cheek against the day-old stubble darkening his jaw. Mulder banded his arms around her waist and lifted her onto the small ledge that ran along the wall between the sink and toilet.

Scully was fast losing control of the situation and she placed her hands against his chest and pushed firmly until he was forced to take a step back.

"Let's go into the bedroom," she suggested. His head snapped up and down in a quick nod of agreement before he caught her hand in his and began to drag her out of the small room. She gasped as he pushed her shoulders and followed her down onto the mattress. Scully squirmed from beneath him until she was kneeling on the bed beside him.

"Come here," he demanded and propped himself on his elbows. Scully tore her sweatshirt over her head and skimmed the straps of her bra over her arms, tossing both garments onto the floor. She fumbled with the drawstring of her sweatpants for a moment before hooking her fingers into the elastic waistbands of both her sweatpants and underwear and hurriedly stripping them down her legs. Nude, she knelt in the center of the bed and sat back on her heels.

"Your turn," she instructed. She placed her hands on her thighs and watched him scramble out of his clothes, eager desire written all over his face. When he was naked, he reached for her, intent on pulling her beneath him again, but she stopped him with one hand pressed against his heart. He stared at her, confused.

"No," she whispered. "Like this." She urged him to sit up and used her hands to push his thighs apart. Crawling over the bed, she climbed into his lap and straddled his legs. Scully curled one leg around his hips and slipped her hand beneath one of his arms to lay it flat on his back. Inching closer to him, she locked her eyes on his face and saw his cheeks flush when she lifted her left leg and laid it over his right shoulder. His eyes darkened and he clamped his hand over her leg, securing it in place on his shoulder. His other arm curled around her waist and he helped to lift her into position.

Her breath stuttered from her lungs as his body penetrated hers. She knotted her fingers in his hair and tightened her free leg around his hips, hitching herself closer, forcing him deeper.

This position didn't allow for much movement. Instead, Mulder remained buried deep inside of her and they rocked against one another. He leaned his face against her leg and rasped his bristled cheek against the side of her knee. His gaze was cast downward at the place where their bodies were joined. He dropped his hands onto her hips and his fingers dug tightly into her flesh as he pulled her impossibly closer.

The feel of him pulsing within was nice, and of course she always loved their physical connection - but Scully soon realized she'd been too hasty, engaging intercourse before Mulder had a chance to stimulate her. And even as the thought came to her, so did the fleeting self-derision that her less-than romantic approach was cramping the mood, so to speak... Scully mentally shook it off and tried to concentrate on the way he felt inside of her -

But she could hear the change in the pitch of his breathing as Mulder drew ever nearer his climax. He was panting and her leg almost slipped from his sweat-slick shoulder. She was nowhere close to orgasm. She thought that maybe if she could just... reach between their bodies... She unclenched her fingers from his hair and immediately lost her balance, falling backwards and almost severing their connection. Mulder's arms wrapped around her in a vice-like grip and he hauled her back up.

This position wasn't going to work for her. His body felt good, so deeply buried in hers, but she couldn't quite get the right angle... couldn't concentrate as the leg slung over his shoulder began to cramp painfully... it was time to concede defeat - and save her poor leg from becoming gangrenous with a pressure- induced blood clot.

Scully curved her hand behind Mulder's neck and brushed her lips against his.

"Now," she whispered and bore down on him with her internal muscles, wringing a cry from his throat as he exploded into her. His arms convulsed around her as he spent himself. Exhausted, he fell back and her leg slipped from his shoulder. She followed him down and stretched her body over his, straightening her leg and flexing the abused muscles gratefully.

Mulder rolled her onto her back and rose up on one elbow above her. "That was... but you didn't... did you?" His eyes were still dilated as they gazed down at her.

Scully merely smiled and drew his face down. She brushed her mouth over his and then parted her lips to deepen the kiss. Breaking free, she curled against him and laid her cheek on his arm, pulling him down to rest on the pillow. She didn't answer him with words and to her relief Mulder didn't pursue it. He relaxed and cuddled closer to her.

As she felt him slide under sleep's embrace, she cautiously pulled her sore leg toward her, bending the knee and flexing the tight muscles. Tonight's experiment had been successful in one respect, but she had spent too much time concentrating on maintaining the position... perhaps next time she should try something else...


He wasn't asleep.

As he lay with Scully in his arms, her soft and slightly snuffled breathing indicating deep slumber, Mulder let his thoughts overtake him - and most of them were not... great.

He wasn't quite sure what that new position had been all about. Not that he hadn't enjoyed it; of course he had! Any time he found himself deeply buried within the woman he loved, it was a wonderful thing. The heat of her, the wet cling, all around him... the way she shuddered when she came. He loved it.

But she hadn't climaxed tonight. Thankfully she hadn't faked it, either. He once dated a woman who faked orgasm often enough to make him feel like a sexual failure; it took him years to get past the idea that it had been all his fault. As he'd gained experience not only with women but with life in general, Mulder had come to understand and accept that sexual intimacy had as much to do with the mind as it had to do with the body.

For him, sexual fulfillment meant experiencing the wonder of his woman coming apart in his hands. Knowing and exulting in the knowledge that she felt what she did as a result of what he gave to her - and in return, reacting to her orgasm and reaching his own pinnacle because of the way she felt when she peaked. One of the reasons he would gently refuse her offer of ease, back when she was recuperating from Will's birth, was because without her ability to share in the experience it just didn't mean as much. Mulder had found himself patiently waiting until she was ready - for her body and her mind to fully engage with his.

He reveled in the way her breath hitched when she was excited; the purring words of encouragement she was just beginning to feel comfortable moaning in his ear. Could anything be more wonderful than the way she tightened all around him, her inner walls squeezing him, at the height of her climax? It's what spurred him, seduced him, and made their love so utterly amazing. But this time he'd missed her getting there with him. Mulder smoothed a hand over her bare hip, quieting her when she moved restlessly against him. Scully sighed in her sleep and burrowed her face deeper into her pillow, body stilling beneath his palm. Mulder left his hand warmly cupping her hip, and thought about the past week.

He knew her sudden interest in alternative positions had to be a result of the things he'd said to her, when he'd told her he'd 'just wanted to try something new'. He'd hurt her feelings, made her feel as though she wasn't enough for him... even though he'd said that all he wanted was for her to reach the stars -

Well, tonight she sure hadn't left the ground.

As the night outside their bedroom window lightened into dawn, Mulder pondered how in hell he could possibly make this right - how he could take it back to the way it had been between them, a week or so before their ill-fated vacation.


Chapter Five

The next night

"Is he asleep?" Scully looked up as Mulder crept out of the nursery and eased the door closed behind him. He flopped onto the sofa next to her and squinted at the television screen.

"You're watching the preview channel?" He watched for several seconds as the grid of television listings slowly scrolled up the screen.

"Pay-Per-View." Scully stood up and glanced at her watch. "Come on. We've got about twelve minutes to make some popcorn and get something to drink. She held out her hands and pulled him to his feet, laughing when he pretended to stumble and fell into her. He squeezed her tightly in his arms and lowered his mouth to hers.

A moment later, Scully pulled away with a determined, "We're gonna miss the movie." She pressed one last smacking kiss to his mouth and stepped out of his arms. Mulder heaved a regretful sigh and followed her into the kitchen. A few moments later, Scully shook a bag of microwave popcorn into a large bowl. She was reaching into the refrigerator for two bottles of beer when she heard the microwave start up again. Scully wrinkled her nose in distaste as Mulder pulled out a small measuring cup filled with melted butter. He grabbed a second bowl out of the cupboard and dumped half of the popcorn into the bowl, drenching it with the melted butter.

Scully handed him a bottle of beer and carried her bowl of untainted popcorn into the living room. Mulder tipped back his bottle and took a long swallow of beer before ambling into the room behind her.

They settled onto the sofa. Mulder dug into his bowl, searched for the kernels of corn that were absolutely saturated with butter and popped them into his mouth with a near mechanical precision. The chatter of the preview channel's host was abruptly cut off when the movie started. As a low, throbbing, cheesy guitar riff began to filter into the room overridden by the sound of a woman moaning, Mulder sucked in a breath and inhaled a tiny piece of popcorn down the wrong pipe. Scully immediately turned to him and began to pat him on the back while peering into his face to be sure he wasn't choking.

"Here." She handed him his beer when he finally stopped coughing and sputtering. Her eyes were soft with concern.

"Are you okay?"

He nodded and pointed without making a sound. Scully's eyes widened as she followed his pointing fingers toward the television screen where a surgically enhanced actress was bent forward over a table - theatrically moaning and gasping - while an actor plunged into her from behind.

"What movie did you order?" Mulder wheezed. Scully snatched up the cable guide magazine and rapidly flipped through it, all the while keeping one eye on the screen.

"I must have pressed the wrong buttons on the remote," she muttered. "I thought I was ordering 'Men in Black'." She paused as she finally found the page she was looking for.

"Ohhh." Scully bit her lip and handed him the magazine. He looked down to where she was pointing and biting back a laugh, read the movie title aloud.

"Men in Back."

Her face was study of wide-eyed innocence before she turned her attention back to the screen where one of the title characters was grunting and groaning and to her ears, sounding as if he was close to dying.

Mulder took a sip of beer and waited for her to turn off the television but she merely sat back and scooped popcorn into her mouth. He thought of the exaggerated look of innocence on her face and smiled into his beer. On purpose, it would seem - still trying things on 'for size'... His penis stirred to life with the realization that she had planned the whole thing. With that realization came his determination that tonight she'd hit those stars - and pass them like a shot, all the way to heaven.

Mulder set aside his own bowl of popcorn and slid closer, draping one arm over her shoulder. He spent the next few minutes dividing his attention between the movie and Scully's face as she watched the onscreen antics. Her intent concentration; the way she licked popcorn crumbs from her lips as she stared at the screen - the way her hand tightened around her beer bottle as the sex on the TV screen sped up. Mulder focused on the grip of her fingers, imagining them around his already hard and aching penis - and stifled a groan. He wasn't ready to act yet - he wanted to see how far she'd let this go.

The scene changed and her brow furrowed as two young beauties began to eagerly strip the clothing from a man who was - to be kind - decidedly too unattractive to warrant such enthusiasm. Scully pointed her bottle toward the screen.

"Yeah... right. I'm supposed to believe that a man that homely and unattractive could get not just one, but TWO beautiful women - half his age - to want to have sex with him?" She snorted. "These movies really are a guy's fantasy!" Suddenly, her eyes widened and she actually leaned forward as the two women finished peeling the man's pants down his legs - finally revealing the true pull of his attraction.

"Oh my God!" she breathed, her eyes riveted to the screen.

Mulder winced and shifted as his aroused flesh strained uncomfortably against the fly of his jeans. He was suddenly jealous of the way Scully was so raptly entranced by the movie. He glanced down at his lap. Maybe it was time to distract her before he suffered by comparison. He knew anyone measuring less than two feet in the groin would suffer in comparison to 'Mr. Tripod' up on the screen - but that didn't stop him from feeling momentarily inferior. He carefully set his beer on the low coffee table.

Seconds later Scully squeaked as he suddenly yanked her onto the floor.

"Forget about him." Mulder's breath was hot in her ear. "I can give you everything you need." He pinned her to the carpet with his big, warm body. Scully pushed her hair away from her face and peered up at him speculatively. Everything, huh?

She wormed one hand between their bodies and cupped him through the well-washed and worn denim of his favorite jeans. He was rock hard already... Her fingers busily traced and measured his length until he thought he would burst through the sturdy metal zipper. Jesus... felt incredible...

Mulder groaned and pushed against her hand, encouraging further exploration with each pumping movement of his hips. Scully hid a private smile - this was working out exactly the way she had hoped. She had set out to seduce him until there was room in his mind for only her and judging by his harsh breathing and the way he chanted her name over and over again, she was succeeding.

Scully felt a heady rush of power. Of lust. Of possessiveness. He's mine, she thought. She curled her legs around him, lifted her hips from the floor and ground herself against him. She ran her hands under his T-shirt and skimmed them over the damp flesh of his back. She could feel him shudder when she lightly scraped her nails across his shoulders.

A piercing shriek from the television caught her attention and she looked up, distracted. Onscreen, the man was thrusting vigorously into one of the women. With each thrust, he was grunting and groaning, completely unintelligible - while the woman kneeling before him screamed and mewled and whimpered. The other woman watched, caressing each of them in turn, all the while snarling out commands.

"That's right. Harder, baby," she called to the man. "Oh yeah, you like that don't you," she sneered at the woman. The faces of each of the people onscreen were contorted into grimaces that Scully assumed were a display of the sum total of their acting skills. The entire thing was so ridiculous and so unattractively NOT sexy that Scully started to laugh. She snickered at first, causing Mulder to lift his head from his exploration of the soft skin beneath her jaw.

"What?" He noticed that she was watching the movie again. Well, that would never do... He nudged her cheek with his fingers to divert her attention.

"Hey... remember me?" he asked.

Scully looked up, her blue eyes filled with mirth. She twined her arms around his neck and pulled his mouth down to hers. She tried losing herself in their kiss and in the heat of his body pressed against hers, but a loud screeching 'Oh yeah! Oh yeah!' penetrated the fog of desire surrounded her and her lips curved against his in a smile. She studiously avoided looking at the television but, if possible, that only made things worse as the sounds emanating from it were even more ridiculous without the assistance of a visual aid.

At a particularly loud and impassioned shriek, Scully's body shook beneath his as a belly laugh worked its way up to her throat. She pulled away from Mulder's lips and clapped a hand over her mouth to hold it back but the music was building to a tawdry crescendo as were the moans and shrieks, and with each 'oh, baby' a giggle slipped from between her lips.

Mulder lifted his head again - it was impossible to kiss her at the moment - and glared at her with mock sternness. This was becoming way too distracting. And it was a hell of a mood-breaker...

He stared down into her eyes, demanding, "What's so funny?" She shook her head and scrubbed her hands over her face in an effort at regaining her composure.

"I'm sorry." She tried to settle her lips into a straight line and swallowed another laugh. "But that is just... just one of the most absurd things I've ever seen!"

Mulder glanced toward the television. To him it looked just like any one of the porn movies he had seen over the years - nothing unusual to it. But Scully obviously found it hilarious. And laughter was wonderful, but not when he was overheated and wanting nothing more than to get her in the same condition. Mulder eyed the remote control, but it was out of reach. He wasn't about to let her go just to snap off a TV set. She'd just have to focus on him instead of an ugly yet well-hung man and the women who used him...

Meanwhile, Scully had chanced another peek at the screen - taking a moment to marvel at the stamina of the actors. She screwed her eyes closed as another giggle threatened to erupt. This was ridiculous and she knew she shouldn't let the antics onscreen affect her this way... but little tremors of suppressed laughter wracked her body even as Mulder set himself to the task of pulling her attention away from the movie and back to him.

His busy fingers went to work on the buttons of her shirt and he smiled triumphantly against her breast when he heard her sigh and felt her body go limp beneath him. This was more like it... she felt wonderful. Silky taut skin under his fingers, God... nothing in the world felt better. He passed a hand underneath her breast and lifted it to his mouth.

Scully rolled her head against the carpet, losing herself in the sensation of Mulder's lips pressing against the aching tip of her breast. Her eyes opened as his lips roved over her skin and while one part of her brain was engaged in the pleasures he was creating, the other part could not help but notice that the actors in the movie were moaning and crying out in supposed ecstasy, but their mouths were not moving. When she realized that the vocals had been dubbed, she began to lose her composure.

Scully struggled valiantly against the image of the actors standing in recording studio, gasping and screeching into microphones with bored looks on their faces. But when Mulder ground his hips into hers and gasped, "Oh yeah!" against her breast, a shrieking laugh exploded from her. His head instantly jerked up and he stared at her in shock. She clamped both of her hands over her mouth, but the giggles continued to burble in her chest. Her entire body shook with helpless laughter and when the actors onscreen began to shout in supposed rapture, she lost it.

Her body heaved beneath his and she actually bucked him off as she rolled onto her stomach. Mulder watched with equal parts amusement and frustration as she gasped with laughter. Every time she thought she had regained control, she would take a look at his stunned face and lose it all over again.

Mulder had never seen her like this - and while part of him was enjoying her mirth, another part desperately wanted her to stop. As a mood-killer, it was a definite success. He could feel himself deflating with each burst of laughter. His brows snapped together in a frown, and as if she could feel it, Scully stared at him helplessly, shoulders still shaking.

"I... I'm sorry. I'm sorry," she chanted as she slowly began to calm. Tears streamed from her eyes and she wiped her hands over her face before reaching for him.

"I'm okay," she promised through a tiny snort of residual laughter.

Mulder's lips curved into a resigned smile. Maybe she'd finally gotten all of it out of her system... She was adorable - not a word he usually used to describe her - but in this case that's what she was. He wanted her badly, but when he cautiously lowered his mouth to hers again, her body quivered with another suppressed laugh - and it was just too much. Mulder gave up and heaved himself to his feet.

"Don't go." Scully sat up and held out both hands. "I'll stop. I promise."

Mulder eyed her speculatively but he could see how difficult it was for her to maintain her composure. He shook his head at her. "No, I don't think so, baby. You're not in the mood - and neither am I, right now. I'm going for a run." He bent down and brushed a kiss over her forehead, then turned toward the bedroom to toss on his sweats.

Scully sighed heavily, leaning back against the sofa. Well, that had been an unmitigated flop...


Chapter Six

With Christmas only a few weeks away, Mulder and Will were out taking care of some holiday shopping. Scully took advantage of the quiet to do some more reading. Movie night had been a complete disaster. Obviously, the dubious merits of porn were lost on her. She grabbed a note tablet on which she had written various ideas and crossed 'porn' off her list.

The campaign she was waging to drive the memory of Molly's lovemaking from his mind was pretty much a dismal failure, she thought. A comedy of errors. She was determined to succeed though - and she stretched out over the bed with '101 Ways to Please Your Man'. A couple of hours passed as she read and scribbled notes onto her tablet. Scully stretched her arms and rolled onto her stomach. Propping herself onto her elbows, she flipped to the next chapter and began to read attentively. Mulder never seemed to have any complaints when she took him into her mouth, but maybe there was something here to be learned.

She skimmed through the chapter; stopping when she hit a subchapter entitled 'Advanced Lessons', she began to read aloud.

"Don't bore your man. Keep things fresh by alternating techniques. Drive him crazy by humming as you slide your mouth up and down his penis. Wrap your thumb and forefinger tightly around the base as you suckle the head between your lips.

"Buy some strong peppermints and suck on them before taking him into your mouth. You'll enjoy the minty fresh taste and he'll go wild with the sensations.

"Don't focus solely on his penis and abandon the rest of him. Scratch your nails over his stomach; tangle your fingers in his hair. Cup his balls in your hand; nibble on his thighs.

"The inside of your mouth is hot... trying surprising him by taking a drink of something cold before engulfing him in your mouth."

A sound from the doorway caught her attention and she looked up to find Mulder staring at her with wide eyes. His face was an odd blend of shock and lust. Will was sound asleep on his shoulder.

"Wha... what are you reading?" He moved into the room and Scully slammed the book shut and hid it behind her. Her face flamed with embarrassment. He reached out to grab the book from her hands and she scrambled off the bed.

"No!" Her voice was loud and Will stirred in his father's arms, a tiny whimper escaping his lips. Mulder smoothed his hand over the baby's head, narrowed eyes taking in the hot blush on her cheeks. What the hell was she up to? In his arms, Will began fidgeting. Mulder sighed.

"I'll be right back." He carried Will from the room and Scully hurriedly began to gather her books and notes up. She slammed a bureau drawer closed and jumped guiltily when Mulder returned.

"Come on, Scully." He crossed the room and she maintained a defensive position in front of the bureau. Mulder reached around her and hooked his fingers around the handle of the drawer.

"Mulder... don't." She pulled on his arm and tried to move him away but he merely wrapped his hands around her arms and lifted her out of the way. He yanked open the drawer and pushed aside her lingerie. His eyes lit up and he pulled out the first thing he saw. Interesting choice of reading material...

"Illustrated Guide to Kama Sutra," he murmured and delightedly began to flip through the book, pausing as some of the more intriguing pictures caught his eye. Scully tried grabbing the book from his hands but he held it out of her reach.

"I want to see," he told her before turning back to rummage through the drawer. He pulled out '101 Ways to Please Your Man' and her notes. His delighted expression turned serious as he began to flip through the books. He noted that she had tagged various pages with yellow Post-It flags. She had used a pink marker to highlight a number of paragraphs in the books. Her notepad was covered with her plans for seduction. He frowned at the filled-out notepad. A planned seduction...

"What is this?" he asked. Scully shook her head, unsure of how to answer. Mulder's frown deepened.

"What IS this?" he asked again. He rapidly flipped through the books again and when he looked up the expression on his face did not bode well.

"You're what... you're studying?" he asked incredulously. "Taking notes?" Scully nodded, miserable at having been caught. Now he would know beyond a doubt that she was not a naturally creative bed partner.

Mulder took a deep breath, fighting a losing battle to keep his sudden anger at bay. "Why the hell are you doing this?" he demanded.

Scully swallowed. "I thought it would help. I... I thought I could learn something..." Her voice trailed off when he shook his head and skimmed through her notepad, obviously seeing the events of the last few nights outlined in her neat handwriting.

It was all there... Jesus! He passed his hand over his face and slammed the books down onto the top of the bureau. He was furious. Mulder clenched his hands into fists, still staring down at the books.

Scully felt the first stirrings of panic settle in. She moved a step closer. "Why are you so angry?" she asked hesitantly. His head snapped up, a confused frown on his face.

"I want to know why you're doing this." His eyes were dark with emotion.

"You said..." She gulped and pressed her fist against her hammering heart. "You said you wanted to try new things," she reminded him.

He gaped at her. "I wanted spontaneity! Exploration! You're treating our sex life like it's an exam you have to cram for!" His voice was accusatory. "Highlighting the pertinent chapters. Christ! You've got an outline here!" He slapped his hand down on top of the books.

"I don't understand why this bothers you so much." Scully carefully controlled her voice. She was humiliated at having been caught.

Mulder shook his head as he processed her words. Didn't understand... He sputtered, "You don't know why I'm upset to find out that everything we've done over the last few nights has been carefully plotted out by you beforehand? You don't know why it bothers me that you've been 'cramming' ahead of time to make love to me?" His voice was incredulous. He could not believe she saw nothing wrong with what she'd done; couldn't grasp why he was angry. Shit, more than angry... betrayed. He felt betrayed. And it all showed, there on his face; when she looked into his eyes, she saw it too.

Oh, God... Scully sank down onto the mattress and ran her fingers through her hair, raking it back behind her ears.

"Mulder..." She pressed her fingertips against her forehead, feeling a headache brewing behind her eyes. "This is the way I do things," she told him. She looked up beseechingly, willing him to hear her out and understand.

"I've got ten books on child-rearing. I read at least five books on pregnancy and devoured every magazine article about expectant mothers that I could get my hands on." Her expression told him that he should already know this about her.

"I've got half a dozen cookbooks in the kitchen and I painstakingly follow the recipes. I don't even think about experimenting until I've cooked the meal at least a dozen times."

His silence was unnerving; his stare unwavering. Scully blew out a frustrated breath, knowing she wasn't getting through to him. "This is who I am!" she reminded him. "I read. I highlight. I take notes. It's how I learn." She swallowed hard, refusing to cry. "It's what I do!"

Mulder looked past her to the books stacked haphazardly on top of the bureau before returning his gaze to hers. She didn't get it. It was impossible for him to wrap his mind around it; that she just didn't see a reason for his anger. His hurt.

"I..." he shook his head. "I can't talk about this now." Hurt colored his voice as he turned on his heel and left the room. Scully rose from the bed and crossed the room. She carefully aligned the books and laid her notepad on top of them. She slid her pen through the spiral binding of the notebook and pulled open the bureau drawer. She moved things around and set the books into the drawer, then stacked her neatly folded lingerie on top of them. Precision and control. Order. It's how she liked things.

As she pushed the drawer closed, she heard Will fussing in his nursery. She laid her forehead against the cool wood of the bureau and took a deep breath. Will was whimpering loudly now and she pushed away from the bureau to go to her son.

Things were going from bad to worse.


Mulder walked along the quiet street, hands buried in the deep pockets of his jacket. Hatless, his hair glistened with the snow that was intermittently falling. His ears were growing cold but he really didn't feel it. Actually, he wasn't feeling much of anything. And in his head the same words spun themselves around, again and again...

<I'm not overreacting. I'm not...>

His mind's eye could see Scully's face when she was pleading for him to understand. Why she felt the need to take notes. Why she had to write it down, what kinds of 'study habits' she seemed to feel were necessary. Mostly, WHY she seemed to think studying was necessary.

He hadn't overreacted.

He knew he wasn't by any stretch of the imagination a 'red-hot' lover. He hadn't been involved that many times in his life - but what relationships he'd had, whatever their seriousness, had been open-minded and enjoyable. He'd learned a lot, by experience and by the viewing of more than a few of those videos he liked to deny watching.

He'd looked forward to trying different things, with Scully - but there hadn't really been all that much opportunity either before Will's birth, or after it - for experimenting. Both of them were always tired - Scully certainly more so than he - and it always seemed easier to make love in the most expedient manner. Of course it was wonderful. Loving Scully was the best experience of his life, regardless of whether or not they could take their time or had to hurry it along. It was all good...

The snow was falling faster now and Mulder turned up the collar of his jacket in an attempt to keep the wet stuff off his neck. He walked on, still thinking. How good it was - how he'd wanted to have the opportunity to make it better, for Scully. How those opportunities had come few and far between, until their vacation at Millcreek Inn.

How they'd both been looking forward to it, couldn't wait to get there and relax, spend quality time with Will - with each other. Time to snuggle in bed before a cozy fire, sip some wine - try something new...

Instead they'd been forced into a sort of bizarre ghost-hunt, with near-disastrous results. They'd escaped - from their own vacation.

Over a month later, their daily schedule was still insane and rushed. Even though Will had tapered off on the teething and the midnight crying sessions - and had responded well to the weaning process - he and Scully were still tired every night and their lovemaking had fallen back into the same familiar pattern as before. Certainly it was not a bad thing - but there was so much more, out there...

Mulder didn't think it was unreasonable to want that 'more' from the intimate side of their relationship. He had always thought Scully wanted the same thing. It's what growing together was all about... the need to explore, to learn and to apply. It had never been his intention to make her feel less than desirable, less than sexy and beautiful and everything he ever wanted in a woman. To him she was all of that, and more.

It was also never his intention to make her feel so out of balance with him, that she figured the only way to please him was to study up on sexual techniques and take copious notes as if a pop quiz was right around the corner. Not his intention to see her subjugate her own satisfaction in an attempt to give him what she thought he needed.

He hadn't overreacted.

But he'd made her feel less than everything he knew her to be... and somehow he was going to have to find a way to fix it - before it spiraled out of their ability to grasp hold and repair what damage had been done.

Chapter Seven

After Mulder returned to the apartment, hurt feelings on both their parts simmered beneath the surface for the rest of the evening. He'd entered quietly, shedding his damp jacket and hanging it up in the closet; leaving his wet boots by the door. He'd collected a towel from the bathroom and dried his hair, then walked into the living room where Scully sat, holding Will who had awoken wet and hungry. She'd looked up when he sat down beside her, had given him a small smile but hadn't spoken to him - and in return he hadn't said anything much to her. They sat side by side on the sofa and Scully had rocked Will until the baby finally dropped off. Mulder had silently held out his arms into which she'd placed the warm weight of their son, watching as he left the room. He carried the baby to the nursery and got him settled in. He reentered the living room, resumed his place on the sofa and they had watched the game in silence.

On this night, Scully didn't watch Mulder leave their bed - because he'd never joined her in it. Instead, he had watched the rest of the game and then, seemingly transfixed by the late-night sports wrap-up shows, had wished her a good night. Confused by his silence and the gentle kiss he'd placed on her forehead, Scully had retired to bed, alone. Hours had passed while she watched the flickering blue light of the television stream from the living room through the half-open bedroom door before she finally fell into an exhausted sleep.

While Mulder was at work the next day, Scully spent her time tending to Will and mechanically taking care of the myriad of chores and errands that made up her day. She was beginning to wonder if trying to outperform Molly Sullivan was a wise idea. She couldn't help but question whether she had been wrong all this time. Mulder never made mention of Molly. The rivalry appeared to be solely in Scully's mind and in trying to compete, she was failing miserably.

By the time he had returned home from work, she had come to a decision. She would put her jealousies and self-doubts to rest. A femme fatale she would never be... but she would do her best to be more open-minded about their sex life and hopefully together, they would find a way that worked for both of them.

It seemed they had both spent the day putting aside hurt feelings and misconceptions. The atmosphere during dinner was less strained. No mention of the prior evening was made, as they were determined to put it behind them. After dinner, Scully could hear Mulder rattling around in the kitchen as he cleaned up the dinner dishes while she settled Will into the safety bath ring seat secured to the bottom of the bathtub with suction cups. She felt her mood ease further as the domestic sounds Mulder generated in the kitchen filtered into the bathroom to compete with Will's happy squeals. Scully let the baby play in the warm water for several minutes and she gently splashed her hands, causing the water to spray lightly into his face. He shrieked and rubbed his fists against his eyes before smacking his own chubby hands into the water in retaliation. Scully reared back as the water splashed up and drenched her shirt.

"Okay, Will. You win, this time." She soaked a soft washcloth in the water and squeezed a small amount of liquid soap into it. She handed him a yellow rubber duck to keep his hands busy and quickly began to wash him. She rinsed the soap from his sturdy body and poured a bit of shampoo into her hand working a gentle lather into his reddish-brown hair. Grabbing a plastic cup from the shelf over her head, she filled it with clean water and carefully rinsed the shampoo from his hair. She lifted the baby from his seat and sent the water swirling down the drain.

Scully carried Will into his room and dressed him in a clean diaper and soft, fleecy pajamas. She sat him on her lap and, turning her blow dryer onto the lowest setting, blew his hair dry in a matter of minutes. He normally played with the dryer, trying to grab it from her hands, but he was sleepy tonight and by the time his hair was dry, his eyes were drooping heavily and she was able to lower him into his crib without the requisite thirty minutes in the rocking chair. She switched on the baby monitor and eased the nursery door closed.

>From their bedroom, Scully heard the sounds of the television being turned on in the living room and the rustling of the newspaper as Mulder settled onto the sofa. She peeled off her soaked shirt and bra and tossed them into the overflowing hamper. Her days spent reading and researching had left her behind in doing the laundry.

She pulled open the bureau drawer and yanked out the first nightgown she found, pulling it over her head. She quickly fastened the row of buttons that ran from neck to waist and tied the satin ribbon between her breasts into a bow. She shivered in the sleeveless nightgown. Belting her robe around her waist, Scully turned off the bedroom lamp and walked into the living room.

Mulder looked up with a hesitant smile as she came back into the room. He'd spent a great deal of his day thinking - almost as much as he'd spent the night before in front of the television. Luckily he'd had no classes today and no lectures, because the day had pretty much been a total waste for getting any work done. By the time he could leave for home he'd decided that yes, he had overreacted. He'd somehow driven Scully to feel compelled to research sexual variety because she thought he wanted it. And that wasn't it - not at all...

Mulder knew one thing, and one thing only: he cherished, adored and loved Dana Scully, madly. He hated being out of sorts with her. He'd do anything to make her happy, anything for her and for Will - and if it meant dealing with her need to research, catalog and take notes - then he'd deal with it.

His troubled eyes cleared when she curled up on the sofa next to him with a medical journal in her hands. Long moments passed with the quiet broken only by the soft murmurs coming from the television and the rustling sounds of his newspaper and her book.

"I'm going to make a cup of tea." She pushed to her feet. "Do you want anything?" Mulder reached out to play with her fingers for a few seconds before shaking his head.

"No, thanks."

She squeezed his fingers with hers and then went into the kitchen to brew the tea. When she returned to the living room, Mulder had set the newspaper aside and was slumped down against the sofa cushions watching a news magazine on the television. Scully set her mug onto a coaster on the end table and knelt down on the floor in front of him. She pressed her hands against his knees and pushed his legs apart, settling between his thighs.

"I'm sorry," she began. She shifted her weight and rested her cheek against one of his legs. "I thought I needed..." She cast her eyes around the room as if hoping to find the right words painted on the walls, before returning her gaze to his. "I thought I could find what you wanted in a book."

Mulder sat up and leaned forward. His hand slid beneath the heavy fall of her hair to curl around the back of her neck. His rubbed his thumb over the vein that pulsed with each steady beat of her heart. He was struggling to give a voice to his desires.

"Baby, I'm sorry, too. I feel so badly for pushing you into a situation where you thought you needed to go to a book. I just wanted..." His stopped and cleared his throat. "I thought we could try..." Again his words trailed off. Scully inched closer and nodded her head.

"You thought we could try something new." Her fingers tugged at the tie of her robe and she shrugged her shoulders, allowing the robe to pool onto the floor behind her. Her hands rubbed over his thighs and she looked up with eyes both sly and hesitant at the same time.

"You know," she paused and let her fingers toy with the buckle of his belt. "It would be a shame to let everything I learned go to waste..." She bit her lip and waited. His response was immediate as desire flared to life in his eyes and stirred under her hand.

Mulder watched as she unfastened his belt buckle and flicked open the button of his trousers before easing the zipper over his rising erection. Despite the anger and hurt feelings of the previous night, he also remembered the sudden rush of desire that had flooded him when he had heard her reading aloud from her book. His body had hardened instantly as he had stood in the doorway listening to her, and he had wanted nothing more than to pull her onto her knees in front of him.

Now she was there, kneeling - looking so goddamn beautiful, wearing a nightgown he had always secretly loved... tugging his clothing down his legs, peeling his socks from his feet. She stretched up and undid the row of buttons on the front of his shirt and pushed it open to reveal the rapid rise and fall of his chest. Her lips played lightly over his in a sweet, almost chaste kiss, while her fingers kneaded the muscles in his thighs. The soft cotton of her nightgown brushed over his heated flesh and he groaned aloud. Jesus... already the feelings she was arousing in him were not to be believed...

Scully's mouth began to follow a downward path. Lightly biting his jaw. Sliding wetly over his Adam's apple. Her tongue sipped from the hollow at the base of his throat and then she pressed an open-mouthed kiss over his heart. She nipped and licked and bit her way across the skin stretched tightly over his ribs and then over the quivering muscles of his stomach. She dipped her tongue into the sensitive crease where his leg met his torso and threaded her fingers into the tangle of coarse hair between his thighs.

"Stand up," she whispered. He rose on shaky legs and gasped when she swirled her tongue over the head of his penis. Scully peered uncertainly at him in the shadowed room and when he nodded and tightened his hand around the back of her neck, she lowered her mouth to him again. She didn't concentrate on what the books had instructed. Instead, she let instinct and a desire to please him, and in turn, herself, take over.

Mulder's low moans and the soft, wet sounds of her mouth moving over him filled the room. His fingers were knotted in her hair, showing her what he liked best. Scully's own hands were busy, stroking where her mouth could not reach, cupping him and smoothing her hands over his thighs. When she scraped her teeth lightly over his sensitive flesh, she felt his legs tremble and his knees buckle. She curved her hands around his hips to steady him. The knowledge that she was responsible for reducing this strong man to a mass of shivering flesh was... very empowering...

She shifted, sinking back onto her heels, taking him more shallowly into her mouth. Mulder cried out and bucked his hips forward, urging her to pull him deeper. Scully opened her eyes and looked up. Sweat gleamed on his shoulders and face; dampened the sparse hair covering his chest. He was watching her through the veil of his lashes, but although he seemed to be staring at his penis slipping in and out of her mouth, she didn't recognize the faraway look in his eyes.

For Mulder, the sight before him was overwhelming in its sheer sensuality. His woman, on her knees before him, her mouth doing the most incredible things to him, pure blue eyes smoldering up at him, hot wet tongue and clever hands... red hair tousled underneath his fingers.

Red hair... bright and soft and like silk rippling over his wrists, as he held her head against him, moved against her beautiful face, his engorged penis now deep inside her mouth. But it wasn't enough, there was something missing, something she did for him, to him... something he wanted so badly to feel again because it had been the most amazing thing he'd ever felt, and he had to have it, feel it, again...

Mulder bent forward, again changing the angle and the depth of penetration. He caught her hand with his free one and dragged it over his flank, pressing one of her fingers insistently against the puckered flesh between his cheeks. His hand clenched involuntarily in her hair, snarling in the soft strands painfully as he shifted his stance and opened himself to her... he was moaning, gasping... his hand pushed at hers, trying to place it where he needed it, had to have it there, right there...

And Scully was ripped from the moment and the safety of their apartment and flung back into their room at the Millcreek Inn. She tore her mouth from him and scrambled backwards. Away from him. Away from the blind desire clouding his eyes.

She crouched on the floor on her hands and knees and stared up at him through tangled hair.

"Oh, my God..."


Her raw, shaky voice snapped him out of the swimming fog, and Mulder opened his eyes, shocked at the way she cowered away from him. "Scully? Baby, what it is? Why did you... what's going on?" Mulder took a reflexive step forward, afraid that she had been hurt.

Scully flung up a hand and he halted in his tracks. "Oh God... oh God... I didn't want to believe it..."

"What? Believe what?"

"Molly! All this time... and I thought... but I told myself I was imagining things..." Scully climbed to her feet but kept a cautious distance between their bodies.

His face was a picture of stunned confusion. "Molly?! What the... what the hell has Molly got to do with anything?" "Ever since we came home... it's been Molly that you want. Not me!"

Mulder was completely taken aback by her accusation. "I don't believe... what the fuck would make you say something so insane? You're talking about a GHOST, Scully. A dead woman! Jesus!" He took another step toward her. Scully shook her hair out of her face and stood her ground. "A ghost you had sex with... apparently the greatest sex of your life!"

"Sex with a ghost. Are you nuts? It was YOU, Scully. I was making love to YOU. YOUR body," he protested.

"My body, yes... but it wasn't me doing those things with you... it was Molly." Her tone was strident with anger and hurt.

He could feel himself splintering inside as he listened to her. "I don't know what the hell you're talking about. I was making love to the woman I love and she was loving me right back. It was incredible, baby - how can you say that wasn't you? I held you in my arms! I was inside you, and everything you were doing to me... Christ, it was so good! It was us together, you and I - " He held out one hand in a pleading gesture.

She ignored his outstretched fingers. "NO! Look, I know... I know you thought it was me at the time, Mulder... but God! You're the one who figured it out. You're the one who told me the next morning. Damn it! You know I'm right!"

Mulder was stunned. She was literally quivering with rage and he felt his own temper flare in response. "No. You're twisting this around because, for some God-only-knows reason, you've suddenly decided you don't want to experiment, try new things... not unless it's something you can read and outline from some goddamn sex manual!"

Scully fought down the hurt caused by his words and savored the heat of her anger. "I can't believe you said that... you know what, Mulder?" She slapped back with her own spiteful words. "Before Molly fucked you senseless, you were perfectly happy with the way we made love."

He reeled back. "Fucked me... Jesus! The only one that ever fucked me senseless around here was YOU! At least, you used to... and now you're letting a fucking ghost come between us. Of the two of us, I thought I was the one who gravitated toward 'extreme possibilities'..." He raked agitated fingers through his hair. "You're the one who can't let it go, Scully. Not me. You're the one who thinks I'm not happy. Don't you get it? I love YOU. Not some spirit who thought I was her long-dead boyfriend!"

"You're right. I can't let it go because you obviously aren't happy. Why do you leave our bed every night? Before we went to Lancaster, we fell asleep wound around each other... now you sneak away as soon as you think I'm asleep." She wrapped her arms around herself, suddenly chilled in the sleeveless nightgown. "Did you think I didn't know? That I wouldn't notice your absence? That I wouldn't hear you shifting around out in the living room every night - sighing mournfully?"

She flung out a hand in disgust. "How am I supposed to let it go... when you tell me not only with actions, but with words, that you want me to be someone else? Do you remember what you told me out there? You said that I was a seductress... inventive and wild... 'wanton', I believe was the word you used. You told me that one minute I was driving you out of your mind and the next minute I ruined everything by pulling away from you. How else am I supposed to take that?" Scully's voice was low with remembered hurt.

Pure shock colored his tone and Mulder could hear it as he protested, "Scully... how could you think I'm not happy? I have everything in the world I ever wanted! It's all I could think about when I was gone. Afraid I'd never make it back to you... but I did make it home, to discover that I was a father, too! I cherish and adore both of you..." Mulder gentled his tone, trying to regain control of the situation and to calm both of them. "You're everything to me. You're taking something I said during a stressful, trying time in our lives, and making it seem as though I'm unhappy, missing something. Hell, the only thing I'm missing is you, in my arms!"

"So... you're telling me that this is all in my head. That you are completely content with the idea that our sex life should stay the way it was before we went to Lancaster." She ignored the pleading look on his face, intent on making him see what was really happening. "And that... that this feeling I have deep inside that you are not satisfied with our lovemaking is my overactive imagination?"

"I don't know what I'm saying anymore. All I know is that one minute we were making love and the next you yanked yourself away as if I were some sort of deviant." He paced the length of the room, trying to walk off his frustration, but his own feelings were deeply hurt by her accusations. "The look on your face, Scully... it was as if you were staring at a monster. I know we haven't had all that much time together since Will's birth, but godammit... you know me! Of course I love the way we make love! I was just thinking it would be fun to try some new things... that's all. I sure as hell didn't mean for you to feel as though you have to take notes and study books as if it were some sort of damn class!"

His cheeks were flushed with temper. "You say this is the way you do things. You say you want this. And yet the minute it's put to the test you pull away. And blame it on something that happened two months ago, something totally out of our control."

Scully's shoulders sank under the weight of his allegations. They were getting nowhere. "I can't keep doing this. We're just going around and around in circles. Mulder... I never doubted your love for me. And maybe I am blowing things out of proportion. I don't... God, I just don't know what to think." She stalked into their bedroom with Mulder following close on her heels. "Maybe it's a pressure that I'm putting on myself. Or maybe it's a pressure that you are unconsciously putting on me, but I feel like I'm competing with her for your attention."

Scully tore the nightgown over her head and hurriedly stepped into a pair of jeans and a long-sleeved T- shirt. "Molly, with all of her experience, instinctively knew how to please you. I don't... I don't have... it doesn't come naturally... what I... God!" She swept up Mulder's keys from the bureau and strode out of the bedroom toward the front door. "I didn't mean to hurt you by buying those books and studying them. I meant it when I said I wanted to try. But I sure as hell didn't realize it meant recreating that night!"

Scully curled her fingers around the doorknob and yanked the door open.

"Where are you going?" he demanded.

"Someplace where I can be alone and think for a little while." She leaned her forehead against the doorjamb. "You may want to do the same thing," she said sorrowfully and pulled the door closed behind her.


Chapter Eight

Scully hit the steps of the apartment building at a run and burst through the front door of the building. The cold air of the mid-December night slapped at her.

I can't go back up there, she thought. She hurried down the street to her car. She fumbled with the keys, shivering with cold until she realized that she had grabbed Mulder's set from the bureau before escaping the apartment. She spun around and searched the street for his car. A few minutes later, she was thawing out as the heater blasted warm air into the car. When she was no longer trembling with cold, she put the car into gear and pulled away from the curb.

She drove aimlessly for long minutes as a million jumbled thoughts raced through her head. Sitting at a traffic light, she was startled when the motorist behind her angrily leaned on his horn. She looked up to find that the light had changed to green so she drove through the intersection. She passed a shopping mall and was surprised to see the crowded parking lot. Scully glanced at the digital clock on the dashboard - it was just a little after nine o'clock. For some reason it seemed much later to her. Time passed slowly when your life was falling apart.

Scully flipped on her turn signal and joined the short line of traffic entering the parking lot. The mall was open late - extended hours to accommodate the holiday shoppers - and she pulled into the indoor parking garage and turned off the motor. She reached over to the passenger seat for her purse and realized that she had raced out of the apartment without it. Pulling open the ashtray, she scooped out the change that Mulder kept there. Together with the two crumpled dollar bills in the pocket of her jeans, she had enough money to buy a cup of coffee.


Mulder would still have been standing in the middle of the room, staring at the closed door and hearing the echo of its slam throughout the quiet apartment... if Will hadn't chosen that moment to awaken, and screech. The pitch of the cry in question had 'hunger' written all over it. Mulder snapped out of his daze and headed to the kitchen to warm up a bottle, hoping the baby would take it gracefully and not reject it for the mommy-milk whose 'regulator' just vacated the premises.

He moved quietly into the nursery, bending over the crib, murmuring, "Hey, Willy... what's all the fuss, huh? Come on, nothing can be that bad!" Will lay on his back, feet kicking, red faced and little screwed-up eyes leaking huge baby-tears. Mulder slipped a hand into his sleeper; Will was dry so at least that wasn't part of the trouble. Had to be hunger... Mulder picked him up and cradled him gently against his shoulder; Will snuggled close but continued to sob.

With a sigh, Mulder walked into the kitchen and collected the warmed up bottle, pressing it to Will's mouth. The fretful baby sucked on it for about two seconds before spitting it out, and crying harder. Mulder laid a hand against his forehead, noting Will felt overly warm... sure enough, he was running a slight fever. And that meant...

A gentle finger inserted into the baby's mouth confirmed it, especially when Will grabbed hold of his finger with both hands, and enthusiastically bit down. Mulder smothered a groan. Another tooth breaking through. No wonder the poor little guy was feeling bad! He opened the freezer and rooted around for one of Will's teething rings, finally locating it behind a quart of Godiva ice cream. Carrying the ring, the bottle and Will back into the nursery, Mulder pulled a soft blanket from Will's dressing table and sat down in the rocker, preparing himself for a teething siege.

As Will gnawed furiously on the icy teething ring, Mulder wrapped the blanket around him, and thought about what had happened earlier.

Scully's accusations had shocked the hell out of him. Her abrupt transition from eager and sexy lover to cowering victim had truly thrown him. The look in her eyes... her body language - it was as if she'd discovered herself making love to a stranger. And as much as he'd refused to acknowledge, at the time... in some way he'd felt like a stranger... had felt different than Fox Mulder, lover of Dana Scully.

When they'd left Lancaster, Mulder had done his best to put the whole bizarre experience out of his mind. Molly Sullivan and William Foxworth had been reunited. They'd left a realm in which they no longer had a place, and had at last retreated to the world that welcomed them, had been waiting so long for them.

The damage that Molly's spiritual possession had wrought on Scully manifested itself the day after they returned to DC, and had taken over a week to reverse; her blood pressure had remained elevated as well as her heartbeat. She'd slept for almost two days; awakening only long enough to nurse Will when Mulder couldn't get him to take a bottle filled with pumped breast milk. Her appetite was practically non-existent, and Mulder had fought his own panicky impulses, and had managed to avoid nagging her to eat. Will had been fractious for most of the recuperative period and it had been difficult keeping him away from his mother, who'd really needed her rest. Finally, after about a week of frequent, restless sleeping and no appetite, Scully had improved almost overnight and their lives had slowly gotten back to normal.

Mulder gently rocked the chair, Will propped on his shoulder and still awake but now snuffling tearfully as the teething ring eased his sore gum. Mulder rubbed his back soothingly as he let his mind drift, analyzing the past hour - trying to piece it together.

He seemed to remember bits and pieces of that week at Millcreek Inn, albeit different bits and pieces than Scully had been able to recall. They'd both had bizarre dreams - not exactly nightmares but certainly not anything overly pleasant. Scully had mentioned dreams in which the spirit swamping her consciousness had refused to leave, even for her beloved Foxworth; Scully would awaken from those dreams in tears and gasping for breath. Mulder would hold her, rub her back, until she fell asleep once more. And he'd remain awake.

Scully had accused him of leaving their bed after lovemaking, waiting until she was asleep to ease his body away from her and spend the rest of the night alone in the living room. And Mulder couldn't deny it... he'd done exactly that. Only it wasn't always because he just couldn't seem to fall asleep; had another woman on his mind, as Scully had assumed... quite a few times his reasons stemmed from the disturbance of Scully's dream, and his inability to relax after he'd soothed her back into slumber. He had no idea she'd awoken again and knew he'd been restless. It was another layer of misunderstanding, and one they could ill afford.

As for his dreams... they'd centered around a hot, lush mouth, kissing him, engulfing him - soft, damp hands that caressed him, stroked him, enflamed him - blue eyes burning so deeply into his that he'd become mesmerized, consumed by a need such as he hadn't felt in so very long - slender thighs opening to him, rounded arms that twined through his and a body made for loving... He'd awaken drenched in sweat, panting and hard as stone and with his woman's name on his lips - sitting upright in the big overstuffed chair in their living room with a soft wool throw tenting over an erection that had returned with a vengeance, even though not two hours before he had been loved to Heaven, and back.

He didn't want to even consider thinking about any woman except Scully, not during intimacy whether real or in dreams. The woman he'd held in his arms, who'd given him these amazing experiences - had been Scully. And yet... not.

Maybe the thing he couldn't accept, refused to consider, was the knowledge that he'd been loved by a stranger who just happened to look like Scully. And when they'd been at the Millcreek Inn, when this bizarre episode in their lives had actually happened... Mulder had no trouble accepting it, even fighting to make Scully believe it. So, why now was he in such absolute denial?

Because. Because at that time the spirit of Molly Sullivan had been firmly in place, fooling him. It was - acceptable - he supposed was a good enough word - because he hadn't known the woman in his arms was anyone other than the one he adored. Now that ghost was gone, and there wasn't anything he could use for an excuse. That was pretty much the crux of it. He didn't have a reason to want that 'other' side of Scully - the side that really hadn't been her at all. And yet... obviously he did want just that...

Scully sat in a deserted corner of the nearly empty food court and cradled her coffee cup between her hands. She pursed her lips and blew a stream of cool air onto the surface of the hot beverage. What's that old expression, she wondered? 'A man wants a lady in the parlor and a whore in the bedroom'. She set down the cup and idly traced the abstract design of the Formica-topped table with her thumbnail.

Yeah, she thought cynically. Well, if that's what he wants, he can forget it. She moodily tore open a packet of sugar and dumped its contents onto the table. I'm not whoring myself for anyone, not even Mulder!

But it's not whoring when it's with someone you adore... when it's an expression of love, a tiny voice whispered in her brain.

Shut up! she snarled silently, effectively sending the voice of reason scurrying off into the recesses of her mind. Scully propped her chin in her hand and let her eyes wander around the mall. Directly across from the food court, less than fifty feet from where she sat, was a lingerie store. The windows were filled with mannequins dressed in skimpy bras, matching panties and filmy robes. Scully watched as a man close to Mulder's age hurried past the store. He stopped abruptly and stared at a window display for several long seconds before marching decisively into the store. Scully craned her neck to get a better look at the display that had captured the man's attention. A mannequin was posed in a sheer red teddy, trimmed in faux white fur, complete with matching Santa hat.

Ten minutes later the same man strode out of the store, with a satisfied and expectant look on his flushed face. In his hands he clutched the handles of a clear shopping bag emblazoned with the store logo through which Scully could make out a gaily-wrapped package.

Typical, she sneered to herself. Men buy trashy lingerie and try to pass it off as a gift for their woman... and every woman knows that he's really bought it with himself in mind. Typical, she repeated. Selfish. Her hand tightened around her coffee cup and she cracked the fragile Styrofoam, spilling a small river of lukewarm liquid onto the table.

Swearing, she leapt to her feet and hurriedly mopped up the spill with the handful of napkins she had grabbed at the coffee shop. She tossed the sodden mess into a trashcan and wiped her damp hands against her jeans.

Leaving the food court behind, Scully wandered toward the lingerie store. She sank down onto a bench and stared into the store windows. That's what men want, she thought. That's what Mulder wants. She studied a large photograph of a famous model dressed in a maroon velvet bra trimmed with sparkling beads and matching thong underwear. A triple strand of pearls was looped around the model's neck, nestling into her impressive cleavage and her lips were pursed into a pout as she coyly sat on Santa's lap and whispered into his ear. In the background, an elf - who looked disturbingly like Frohike in pointed shoes - peeked lecherously at Santa and his... helper. Beneath the photograph was an artfully arranged array of velvet bras in various colors, along with the matching thong underwear.

Was this what women had to do to keep the attention of the men in their lives? Dress up in fantasy-inspiring clothes and pretend to be someone else? She looked at the model - with her tousled-hair, voluptuous breasts and impossibly thin waist and wondered how real women were supposed to compete with the fantasy.

She couldn't compete. Mulder hadn't even seen Molly... she had hidden in Scully's own body... and still, it was obvious to her that she would never be able to measure up to his memories of those nights when Molly had kissed him and enticed him; aroused him and satisfied him.

Scully thought of the drawer filled with pretty undergarments back in the apartment and she knew that it was not just men. Women would buy into the fantasy as well. She had a weakness for lacy bras and panties and had indulged in them even during the long periods of abstinence that had made up most of her adult life. She had worn them, because she had bought into the fantasy... and because they made her feel sexy. Feminine. Desirable. Even back at a time in her life when it seemed that no one would ever touch her again.

Mulder rocked Will a little slower, tightening his grip on his son, enough for the drowsy child to grunt softly in protest, face puckered into an irritated pout. Immediately Mulder eased his embrace, kissing the baby's forehead. He wrapped the blanket more securely round Will's little body and soothed a hand over his back, hoping he'd give in to sleep soon... and thinking hard about where to go from here.

Sex with Scully was wonderful... fact. They hadn't had a lot of time to learn about what each of them wanted, needed, in the bedroom... also a fact. They had just begun to try different things, when they took their fateful Lancaster vacation - big fact. Little wonder that, when faced with a sexual dynamo inhabiting Dana Scully, he'd gone off the deep end for her. Now, the question Mulder had to ask himself: if allowed to discover each other naturally, without an intrusive third party... would the consequences have been the same?

He honestly didn't know. And another unknown would be whether or not he'd ever care about the difference. His only surety was that he loved Scully, more than life - and he couldn't lose her to something this insanely unimportant. He had to MAKE it unimportant, and then they needed to start over. He couldn't live without her. And he wouldn't put her through any more pressure, either consciously or otherwise. Somehow he had to make her understand... whatever she wanted was more than good for him. He adored her. And love was far, far more necessary than sex... more vital and lasting. Fifty years from now they'd be incapable of more than a peck on the cheek and maybe a fumbling clasp of gnarled, arthritic hands... but the love they had for each other would be young and as strong as ever. It was all that mattered.

Mulder stared out the window in the middle of the night, rocking his teething son, waiting for Scully to come home, so he could tell her, show her - make her believe.


Scully walked into the lingerie store and wandered through the aisles, trailing a finger over the pastels and jewel-tones of the shop's merchandise. Almost without conscious thought, she gathered several items into her hands and carried them toward one of the plush dressing rooms at the back of the shop. She nodded politely as the salesclerk offered her assistance and waited for her to unlock the dressing room door.

Once she was safely behind the locked door, Scully methodically stripped out of her clothes, noticing for the first time that she had been in such a hurry to get out of the apartment and away from Mulder that she had not even put a bra on beneath her long-sleeved T-shirt.

She pulled the first item from the padded hanger, dressed herself in it and stared into the mirror. The black, baby-doll nightie was split down the middle, held together between the breasts with a tiny, black pearl button. Strategically placed embroidered flowers drew the eye to her breasts and to the matching string bikini. Scully smoothed her hand over her slightly rounded belly, sucking in her stomach and arching her back in an attempt to lift her breasts and mimic the lush body of the model in the photograph.

Her breath left her in a rush and she sank down onto the padded bench in the dressing room. Still staring at herself in the mirror, she reflected that it had been a very long time since she had felt sexy and desirable.

She stood again and twisted her head, studying herself from every angle in all of the mirrors. And what she saw was a woman with tired eyes and tangled hair and a body that would never be model-perfect playing dress-up in a slinky baby-doll nightgown.

"What are you doing?" she whispered to the woman in the mirror. "Who would want that?" She jerked her chin derisively toward her image and turned from the mirror.

Mulder would. That tiny voice of reason whispered again in her brain, and this time she didn't hurry to hush it. Mulder would want you in lace and satin or in cotton and denim. She thought of the joys to be found in his lovemaking and of the tenderness of waking to him in their bed, and she compared it to the last few months of joyless sex and the empty expanse of their bed when he crept from it in the middle of the night.

What did he expect of her... and perhaps more importantly, what did she expect of herself? The answers were not going to be found in the dressing room of a lingerie store.

Two hours after she left, Scully slipped back into the apartment. The living room was empty but a soft light spilled from beneath the door of the nursery and she could hear Mulder's low voice. She crept across the room and leaned against the wall, peering into the baby's room.

Mulder was seated in the rocking chair. His toes were braced against the floor as he pushed the chair back and forth on its rockers. Will was nestled in his father's arms, his fingers playing with the buttons of Mulder's shirt. He was fighting sleep, eyes drifting closed under the hypnotic tone of Mulder's voice, only to spring back open seconds later.

Mulder smoothed his fingers over the baby's cheek and continued his story.

"The clock was counting down, ten... nine... eight... seven... and I thought 'this is my chance!'... six...five...four... she had saved my life earlier that night - again! She was my beautiful, avenging angel at the top of those stairs, and even more beautiful as she wistfully watched the ball dropping in Times Square... three... two...one! So, I bent down and I kissed her. Our very first kiss, Will." The baby gurgled and slapped his hand excitedly against his daddy's chest. Mulder grinned, an almost faraway look on his face as he continued, "And if I hadn't already been head over heels in love with your mother, I would have fallen right then and there."

Scully knuckled a tear from her lashes and stepped into the room. Mulder looked up and his face was filled with the same hope and hurt, fear and frustration... love and longing that tied her stomach into knots.

She crossed the room and took Will from Mulder's unresisting arms. The little boy snuggled his face into the curve of her neck and she shifted her weight from one foot to the other as she studied the familiar curves and planes of Mulder's face. She felt the baby sag in her arms as sleep finally claimed him and she spoke to his father over the wispy curls that covered his head.

"Can we talk about this?"


Chapter Nine

Scully led the way out of the nursery and Mulder pulled the door closed behind them. She glanced toward their bedroom, but changed her mind - thinking that it might be better to keep this conversation out of the bedroom.

She sank into the sofa cushions with a tired sigh and Mulder eased himself down onto the coffee table, facing her. He wanted badly to touch her, but she was rubbing her hands nervously over her jeans-clad thighs.

"Scully..." His voice trailed off when she held up a staying hand.

"Mulder," Her voice was soft. "May I go first?"

He hesitated for a moment before nodding his assent. She flashed a grateful smile and continued to rub her hands over her legs.

"I need you to let me say it all... without interrupting." Her eyes bored into his. "Please?" Again, he nodded and held out one hand in an invitation for her to speak.

Scully drew in a deep breath and slowly, slowly exhaled before beginning.

"First of all - I want to say that I'm not a prude. I like sex. I love sex with you. And I want to be sexy and exciting for you... for us.

"I guess I just never thought that there was anything wrong with our love life. I know that it hasn't been perfect - but nothing ever is for us. I arranged for us to go to Lancaster, not only because I thought we could use the vacation but also because I wanted to go away and really make an effort to rediscover each other. I know that since Will's birth, I've been tired, sometimes too tired and I wanted to go someplace where we could relax and just enjoy each being with each other."

God! She had expected that this conversation would not be easy - but it was worse than she had imagined. She stared at her hands and plowed doggedly on.

"I knew things could be better, but I didn't realize you were so dissatisfied. Shortly after we returned home, though, I started to wonder if you were unhappy. You kept climbing out of our bed in the middle of the night. You seemed distant at times, lost in your thoughts. It all seemed to lead directly back to our vacation and that's when I began to wonder whether you were thinking of Molly."

Mulder sucked in a breath and leaned forward as though to speak, but without looking up, she shook her head sharply to forestall him.

"I'm not accusing you of being unfaithful... I know you love me and I know that in your heart and in your mind you were making love to me in Lancaster, but since we've been home..." Her voice trailed off. For her, this was the heart of the matter and she had to word it just right... she had to make him understand.

"I can't help but feel that you are comparing me with Molly and that I keep coming up lacking in some way."

Her head lifted and she looked at him with pleading eyes. "I didn't know what else to think. All of a sudden, you seemed frustrated with our love life. Suddenly it felt as though I wasn't enough anymore; I thought you wanted me to be someone else...

"It was as if I was in some kind of competition with her... and I was losing. Molly the wild seductress versus Scully the boring mother."

She paused and buried her face in her hands.

"That's why I bought the books and studied them. I was jealous!" Scully's voice was muffled as she continued to hide her face. "I hated the fact that Molly's lovemaking had been so exciting and unforgettable. I wanted to drive her memory out of your head."

Her hands fell away from her face and she tiredly leaned back into the sofa cushions and stared at the ceiling.

"Every magazine, movie and television show drives the message home to American women. It's not enough to be smart. You have to be sexy. Beautiful. Thin but big- breasted. You have to have a perfect body. And you have to be a wild woman in bed."

She rolled her head against the sofa cushions to look at him.

"When I realized that you were in love with me... I knew that all of that hype was wrong. It was so amazing to me..." Her voice was soft with wonder. "I knew that you loved me - all of me - regardless of how I looked, whether I was tired or grouchy or sick... You loved me. And you wanted me."

Scully paused. She was tired, drained from the emotion of the evening. She had rehearsed this speech all the way home from the mall... so why did it sound so incoherent now? To her own ears, she was rambling without making any sense. But she couldn't stop. She had to keep going until she could make him understand.

"When you suddenly started to want to do things differently - when our lovemaking didn't seem to be enough for you - that was proof to me that you wanted me to be more like Molly.

"I did a lot of thinking while I was out tonight and... I know you don't want to hear this, but I can't help it. There IS a connection between your encounters with Molly in Lancaster two months ago and your recent dissatisfaction with our lovemaking."

His eyes had fallen to the carpet between his feet and this time, she was the one to lean forward in an attempt to emphasize her point.

"I want what we deserve. Time. Time to explore each other; to learn everything about each other we don't already know. In bed and out. But I've learned that it has to come about naturally. It can't be forced. It can't be based in jealousy and fear. And much as I may think differently... it can't necessarily be found in a book. And, Mulder, there's something else. I remembered tonight that there is something more important than any of that. I have no doubts you love me and that you want me in any way you can get me. I realize now you haven't consciously been thinking of Molly or comparing me to her. "I heard the story you were telling Will." For a second, her lips curved in a tiny smile. "And I want you to know, because I don't tell you often enough... Mulder, I'm head over heels in love with you too."

This time she was the one who reached out a hand - and relief flooded through her when Mulder linked his fingers with hers, palm damp and a little shaky. They stayed like that for a full minute, unspeaking, both staring at their joined hands - then Mulder slowly released her and the eyes he raised to hers were glittering with emotion. Scully braced herself, hoping what he had to say wouldn't hurt...


Mulder took a deep breath as well, hardly knowing where to start - so damn glad to hear her say she loved him, that nothing else mattered. But, that wasn't true. It did matter - his thoughts, his feelings. She'd been honest with him, even though her words had cut. It was his turn to afford her the same courtesy.

He locked eyes with her and fought to keep his voice even. "I wish we'd never gone to Lancaster. If we'd never gone we wouldn't be having all of these problems. Because I truly believe we'd have discovered everything about each other's sexual needs, naturally - in our own good time." When she bent forward and her lips parted as if to interject something, Mulder shook his head, silently cautioning her not to interrupt.

"Don't get me wrong, Scully. I love that you wanted to give me a vacation for my birthday. I love that you thought of a haunted inn. Shit, who could know we'd get caught up in a Revolutionary-War ghost story? And that we'd become actively involved? Even I, with my supposed 'nose' for the paranormal, couldn't have predicted something that 'out there'." He shook his head again, this time in self-derision at his steadfast proclivity for finding the 'weird', and smiled a bit when he saw her nod.

He murmured, "I wish we'd never gone because it hurt you, Scully, physically as well as emotionally. It took weeks for your body to recuperate from the damage Molly's possession had rendered. I was so worried. I could barely sleep at night, found myself watching you to make sure you were breathing properly, for God's sake.

"What it did to us... I can't even begin to sort all of it out. Mostly because we're still learning each other, baby. We may have known each other over nine years but we're still learning. Intimacy with you... it was something I'd longed for, ached for. I used to wonder if it would ever happen, and if I ever deserved for it to happen. When you first told me you loved me, first showed me... it was amazing. I'd needed you for so long... years. When it finally happened, I was beside myself with happiness."

The emotion in his voice was enough to make both of them tear up - and they did. Mulder took another fortifying breath, determined to get through it all. She needed to hear it, all -

"We only had a few chances between us, Scully - to make love. To create the life that became Will. I was taken and gone for all those months, and when I returned you were so pregnant that you knew there wasn't a way in hell I was going to jeopardize you by expecting sex. It was enough to be back with you. Our time would come and I was content to wait for it.

"After Will was born you were so sick, baby. And you'd only been healed and really functioning again for a little over a month when we went to Lancaster. I was looking forward to that trip as much as you were. I had hoped we could finally start learning about each other. Well, obviously it didn't happen that way."

Another deep breath; needing to touch her, Mulder again took hold of Scully's hand, caressing her fingers. It was so difficult to keep his voice from cracking when he continued, "I know I hate to think about it this way but you're right. Another woman got to me first, took advantage of me before you could. I never knew, Scully - how could I? Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine a ghost would take you over, make you do those things to me. I thought it was you. I thought it was your way of showing me - what you liked, what you wanted us to do together. And it was the same things I had wanted to do with you - the very same. Of course I went off the deep end! All my dreams were coming true."

He met her eyes and the pain he saw in those blue depths tore at him. And the knowledge that his next words could fuck up their entire future, made him speak with raw intensity. "When I realized it wasn't you, I was crushed. I felt like something had been stolen, from both of us - the chance to discover, and to learn. And deep inside I guess I knew we'd have problems dealing with it when we got back. And sure enough, we are.

"I accept the responsibility for just about all of it, Scully. The side of you I saw in Lancaster was fabulous, but it wasn't you. Not really. And now we'll never know for sure if it could have been you, and me responding to you - because that chance has been taken away from us. I feel like we have been cheated. And I don't want to feel that way. I could so easily ignore it, tamp it down - but that's not honest of me. And above all else, our love has to be honest. Like everything else with us." His gaze clung to her - he knew he was about to beg - and he didn't care that his male pride was in danger of being permanently eradicated. His pride was nothing - Scully and their life together was the only important constant.

He whispered brokenly, "I don't want to pressure you. I don't want you to think I find you anything but desirable and sexy and exactly what I need in my life - for the rest of my life. You are everything to me, Scully - you and Will. I breathe you... God, don't you know that? If you were gone I'd surely die. I couldn't go on. Not even for Will, God help me. I'm not that strong, even though everyone thinks I am. I know exactly where my weaknesses are - right at your feet. Same place as my heart.

"I'll do anything to get past this. I'll go to counseling with you if you think we should, I'll leave you alone if that's what you need. If you want to get away from me and think, need time apart - I'll request a leave of absence and take care of Will. Anything you want. Only don't leave me for good, baby. Don't cut me from your life. I love you so much, Scully. I love you."

Heart pounding, eyes blurred by tears, Mulder found himself holding his breath -

And Scully fell onto her knees in front of him; inserted herself between his spread legs. She wound her arms tightly around his neck and clung to him with all of her strength.

"Never, Mulder. I'll never leave you." Her voice sounded as raw and broken as his...

A shudder wracked his frame and his arms tightened convulsively around her as she molded herself to him.

So many other things had threatened to tear them apart in the past. They had prevailed through heated disagreements, perceived betrayals, abductions, cancer, enforced separations and the loss of loved ones. Clinging tightly to one another, they knew that none of those things had come as close to destroying them as the interference of one sad and lonely soul who had spent centuries searching for her lost love.

Tonight, they would begin to truly lay the ghost of Molly Sullivan to rest.

The End

Authors' Notes:

We know that there is a strong possibility that this story is not exactly what the readers were expecting and if you're reading these notes, we appreciate the fact that you stuck with us to the very end. We thought long and hard about the ending of this story and we knew that it wouldn't be realistic to tie it up with a pretty bow and make everything better in a flash. But we felt that we left them in a good place... in love and in a stronger place in their relationship to take things forward from this point on and make a happy life together. We hope you feel the same way.

This has been quite a journey. We'd like to thank the readers first and foremost for the wonderful feedback we received on Book One... and for the encouragement we received to continue the story in Book Two. You've been very patient. We hope that you enjoyed this story.

Our beta-team. Rafferty, Aly and Sallie - what an amazing trio of women. Our heartfelt thanks to them for taking the time to read Book Two and give us their honest opinions, valued beta and for being sounding boards for us. The story is all the better for their contributions. An additional heaping of thanks goes to Aly for maintaining Tess' website.

Tess: In addition to our joint thank you's, of course, I must thank Jacquie for her friendship and for sharing her talent with me. I enjoy writing all the more when I'm writing with Jacquie.

Jacquie: I can honestly say that the best writing experiences of all come from pairing up with Tess. And when she came up with not only the outline for Book One, but also Book Two - I knew the story needed to be written. I also know I would not have known how to begin, had it not been for Tess and her insight - and her immense talent. Thank you, Partner Mine!

 

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