table setting

Title: A Tradition of Giving Thanks
Authors: Jacquie LaVa and Tess
Category/Rating: MSR, R
Spoilers: Early Season 6
Disclaimers: If they really were ours we wouldn't be able to stand the fun! Implied characters contained in this story are the property of Fox
1013 Productions

Special thanks to Avalon for the loan of some folks very near and dear to her!

Summary: 'Some holiday traditions don't begin at home...'

Part I

November, 1999

Dana Scully shoved impatient fingers through her hair, tucking it behind one ear, a cellphone pressed up against the other. She had been on hold for such a long time her hair and ear were actually damp with sweat from the heat generated by the phone. She swore under her breath as the music intended to entertain waiting customers cycled through its limited repertoire of six songs for the second time. Scully ground her molars as a jazzy rendition of 'Simple Gifts' struck up a tinny beat in her ear. It was surely the work of Satan for such a beautiful hymn to be so relentlessly used to torture people trapped in an unyielding telephone queue.

Scully struggled out of her suit jacket and leaned one hip against the side of the car. Shading her eyes with her hand, she looked toward the squat yellow-bricked building that housed the local police, searching for Mulder's lean form. The asphalt was hot beneath her feet. A warm breeze stirred, briefly lifting damp hair from her neck and she squinted up at the tall palm trees that towered overhead and did little to shield the parking lot from the blazing sun. The heavy fronds did even less for her holiday spirit.

It was the day before Thanksgiving and Scully searched the surrounding vegetation for a hint of yellow or red or orange, finding only shades of green against a clear, blue sky. In her sour mood, she conveniently forgot the many Thanksgivings of her childhood spent in the warmth and sunshine of their West coast home, instead lamenting the loss of the crisp and cool late November days left behind in Washington, D.C. That the leaves on the East coast had long ago changed color and fallen to the ground to lie in damp, moldy piles was something she chose to ignore.

Scully perked up briefly when the music playing in her ear stopped and she straightened in anticipation of finally speaking with a human being. Seconds later, she was once again slumped against the car when the pause turned out to only be a small hiccup in the musical rotation. She reached through the open window of the car and lifted a can of rapidly warming diet soda to her mouth. Irrational tears stung her eyes as a recorded voice reminded her that her call was very important. She swiped her fingers over her eyes and attributed the moisture found there to the heat.

Dana Scully was tired.

The last six months had been a roller coaster of emotions. Somewhere between the burning and destruction of Mulder's basement office in May, the fiasco in Dallas and their subsequent reassignment under the thumb of Director Alvin Kersh, they had taken the monumental leap from partners and friends to lovers. Fearful that Kersh would not hesitate to use it against them, Mulder and Scully had agreed to keep the change in their relationship quiet.

Kersh had sent them to Nevada on yet another investigation and inspection of a large shipment of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, but before they had even left D.C., Mulder had received a tip from one of his anonymous sources about an X-File in northern California. Deeming it 'close enough', he had cajoled Scully into accompanying him on a two-day side trip to investigate what had turned out to be one more in a long line of dead-end tips.

She was not sure who Mulder's informant was, but that was nothing new. In the history of their partnership, she had never known much, if anything at all, about the various sources who came and went from Mulder's life. Over a shared plate of scrambled eggs and toast the morning after they had first made love, they had vowed all manner of things to each other. Chief among those promises were pledges to protect and love one another forever and, just as importantly, not to allow their status as lovers to interfere with the mechanics of their partnership. She fought down a minor irritation at being kept in the dark and instead tried to convince herself that there was comfort to be found in the fact that some things didn't change.

Now, finally in Nevada, downtown Henderson to be precise, she was waiting for Mulder to emerge from the police station with directions to the home of the man who had ordered the suspicious quantity of fertilizer. In the course of their tenure with the domestic terrorism unit, they had yet to find anything untoward in any of the people they were sent to investigate. But then, as the F.B.I. pointed out, the question begged to be asked - what did a man living in such an arid desert environment need with all of that fertilizer? And so, they would make the drive, ask their questions and poke about the property until they were satisfied that the United States didn't have another homegrown terrorist on its hands.

Scully's musings were cut short when a human voice interrupted the canned music. Several moments later, she disconnected the call, confirming what she had known all along - there were no available seats on any flights to Washington, D.C. or the surrounding area until midday Thursday. She glanced at her watch and noted that the flight they would have been on if it hadn't been for their road trip to California, was scheduled to leave Las Vegas in thirty minutes. She blew out a frustrated breath and tried to ignore the trickle of sweat running between her breasts. On the upside, it did give them more time to come up with a plausible cover story to explain to Director Kersh why they had been two days late reaching their assigned destination in Nevada. On the downside...

Scully lifted the phone back to her ear and dialed.


She ended her conversation and dropped the phone into her pocket with a sigh that more than matched her mother's in regret. They would not be home for Thanksgiving dinner. Scully hated to hear the disappointment that colored her mother's voice. They had been getting along so much better of late. After her scare with cancer two years prior, Scully had made more of an effort to keep in touch with her mother and in turn, Margaret Scully had - for the most part - squelched any signs of disapproval of her youngest daughter's chosen path. Margaret had plans to spend Christmas in California with Bill and his family and Scully had deemed a quiet Thanksgiving to be the perfect opportunity to bring Mulder home for a holiday dinner with the only family member whose approval mattered.

The sound of footsteps roused her from her thoughts and she glanced up to find Mulder walking toward her. He planted his hands on his hips and looked at her over the roof of the car.

"We took a wrong turn about twenty miles back. We need to get onto Route 160, at Blue Diamond, and head toward Pahrump." He squinted up at the midday sun. "The sheriff told me that our suspect has a small spread just outside the city limits." He made imaginary quotation marks in the air when he sarcastically drawled out the words 'our suspect' in case Scully wasn't completely aware of the disdain he held for their current assignment.

Mulder climbed into the car and stabbed the keys into the ignition. He cranked the air-conditioner on high and leaned his face toward the vents when they finally began to blow cool air into the car.

"The sheriff also told me that this hot weather is downright unusual for late November in this part of Nevada. Lucky us." He looked up to find Scully still standing outside of the car.

"Come on, Scully," he prompted. "Pahrump is at least an hour's drive from here." He tugged on his seatbelt, swearing softly under his breath when he realized it was caught in the door.

Scully listened to his quiet, yet inventive stream of curses as she watched him fumble with the seatbelt and she noted that the only time they seemed to get along lately was when they were in bed. She knew he was chafing against their assignment to the domestic terrorism unit and she hated working for Kersh as much as he did. Hated watching Jeffrey Spender and Diana Fowley working the X-Files.

She climbed into the car and tried to relax in the cooler air. "Did the sheriff give you any idea why someone would need all of that fertilizer in the middle of the desert?" She twisted in her seat to face him.

"Apparently, Pahrump is a Paiute Indian name for "water rock". It's well-irrigated and somewhat famous for the winery and vineyards there." He was studying the hand-drawn map the sheriff had given him. "Our guy, Roberts, has a much smaller vineyard on the other side of town."

Scully studied the annoyed expression on Mulder's face and privately, she agreed that they were probably wasting their time and had flown thousands of miles to inspect a fertilizer order placed by an honest American farmer. But her role in this partnership had always been that of a devil's advocate.

"Why would a small-time grape grower need that much fertilizer when winter is setting in?" she murmured.

Mulder shoved the car into gear and sped out of the parking lot. "What the hell do I care what this guy does with a gigantic pile of shit?" he muttered as he accelerated toward the highway. "I'm sure all our questions will be answered in Pahrump," he said with a sarcastic twist of his lips.

Scully rolled her head against the back of the seat and stared toward the mountains in the distance. We're back in the car, she thought grumpily.

Pahrump, indeed.

Flat. Really flat, with mountains far off in the brown distance. Lots of brown, everywhere. Tumbleweed and litter along the highway. Mulder had forgotten how much nothingness made up so much of Nevada. Although he'd never been this far west in the Silver State, as far as he was concerned Nevada pretty much looked the same all over.

He fiddled with the radio, locking onto a Vegas country station, grinning to himself when Scully sighed loudly and fidgeted in her seat. She hated country music, had never made secret of it. Mulder wasn't in love with it, to be sure, but when in the West... he left it on low, and glanced sideways at his partner. She looked as tired as he felt; tired and hot and irritated. Mulder could sure as hell relate.

By now they should be in DC, enjoying Thanksgiving with Scully's mother - not driving over the speed limit on a desert four-lane with hundreds of miles of nothing on both sides. She should be in the kitchen drinking tea and laughing, gossiping with Mrs. Scully, while he sits in the living room and roots for the football underdog. They should be wrist-deep in turkey and stuffing and homemade cranberry sauce...

Shit. He should never have taken the damned X-bait; when would he learn? And they should have flouted Kersh's orders and gone back to DC for the holidays, even if they had to drive night and day - instead of coming back to Nevada for what they both knew was a complete horseshit of an assignment. Literally.

As soon as he thought it, Mulder discounted it. Of course neither of them could afford to flout Kersh. Their new AD had them by the short hairs and he knew it. For now he'd say 'Jump', and they'd dutifully respond with 'How high?' It was just the way it was. Any circumventing of authority they tried to pull would have to be done with utmost subtlety. If they ever hoped to get the X-Files back, they'd have to play their AD's little games.

The files... THEIR files. God, that pained him more than anything. In the years since the X-Files had been assigned to him, Mulder had only wanted to share them with one person - and it sure as hell wasn't Diana or that pencil-neck Spender.

He glanced over at Scully again. She was leaning her head in one hand and had her eyes closed. He really hoped she wasn't getting another headache. Since working for Kersh, Scully had started suffering from occasional tension headaches, and he couldn't stand to see her in any sort of pain as a direct result of their new proximity to their asshole Assistant Director. He reached over and stroked her arm, smiling at her when she raised her head and stared at him, then smiled tiredly back. She cleared her throat a little, rubbing at her temples.

He decided to mention it. "Headache? There's a bottle of Advil in my jacket pocket." Scully nodded and slipped her hand into his pocket, retrieving the small bottle and shaking two pills out onto her palm. She washed them down with the rest of her soda, grimacing at the undoubtedly warm taste of it. "We can stop at the next gas station we see and I can get you some water, Scully - although I have a feeling the next gas station will most likely be in Pahrump itself," he added, and she sighed and nodded.

"It's all right. I had enough liquid to wash them down. They shouldn't take long to start working. I think it's the heat; I'm just not used to it." She wiped the perspiration from her forehead.

"Ah, but it's a dry heat, Partner - remember that." Mulder's voice was droll and monotone. "That's what my Aunt Rose always said, whenever she'd call Mom from wherever she and my Uncle Keith would be snowbirding it, for the winter. She'd tell Mom it was a hundred degrees in the sun but it only felt like eighty - because it was a 'dry heat'. Mom used to try unsuccessfully to hide her envy, but I knew she was pissed because she was stuck in the snow out in the Vineyard while Rose was soaking up the sun."

"I vaguely remember you mentioning Rose. Was she your father's sister?" Scully was curious. Mulder shook his head.

"Actually she wasn't a blood relation at all. She was a very close friend of the family; she and Mom went all through school together and I always felt like she was my real aunt. I think Mom was jealous of her most of the time; Uncle Keith was rumored to be quite the 'beast between the sheets', and Rose loved to talk about her sex life. I think she probably forgot how Mom and Dad were miserable much of the time, and the last thing Mom needed to hear was a commentary on how much Rose was getting in the nookie department."

Scully snickered softly. "Women love to brag, Mulder. They're no different than men in that respect. When they're sexually satisfied and happy they'll tell all to their friends. And quite cattily, too. Of course, it helps if they're drunk at the time." She glanced at Mulder and grinned at the look on his face.

Mulder was floored by the admission. "You too, Scully? A braggart? Have you been hanging out in the ladies' room and telling sexual secrets?" Actually, the idea was rather a turn on...

Scully shook her head. "Not me, Mulder. I never get drunk, remember? Besides, who would I tell? You know I don't hang out with any of the women in our building."

"But if you did have... someone... to tell. Would you? Would you brag about - well, would you brag?" Mulder's curiosity was now in full overdrive.

Scully hummed a little in her throat, no doubt pretending to think about it. Stalling as well, also no doubt for the express purpose of torturing him. He slowed down for a wayward roadrunner darting across the road in front of their car, and chanced a look in her direction - to find her actually sizing him up, her eyes considering. He drummed his fingers impatiently on the steering wheel and she chuckled aloud.

Her voice was low and rich with amusement. "Mulder, this I promise you: if I ever get drunk enough when I'm around a roomful of curious women... I'll make certain to mention your, um, name." She grinned at him and he grinned right back, before settling his eyes back on the road, the fast-moving little roadrunner a blur of dust in the desert beyond them.

It was vital that he have the last word. "See that you do, Scully."

They drove the remainder of Route 160, toward Pahrump, in affectionately companionable silence.

Outside the city limits, Mulder pulled into a truck stop and topped off the tank of the rental car, while Scully made a quick bottled- water run inside the cafe, emerging with a county map and two bottles of Dasani. She handed Mulder his bottle and spread out the map on the hood of the car, commenting, "We should find a hotel before we go tearing off for this vineyard, don't you think?"

Mulder shook his head, swigging water. He'd shed his jacket and had rolled up his sleeves and the sun beat down on his head while he stood next to Scully, studying the map. He pointed to an area north of town. "Let's get this over with first. Look there. We don't want the Pahrump Valley Vineyards, do we? The sheriff in Henderson specifically mentioned the vineyard this guys owns is small." He looked up and around the vicinity of the pumps, his eyes locking onto a beefy-looking woman pumping gas into a Chevy Silverado. With a murmured, "Hang on", Mulder walked over to the motorist, smiling at her when she noticed his approach and frowned at him.

"Excuse me - I was wondering if you could tell me how to get to Hank Robert's place. I hear his wine is much better than what's being churned out over at Pahrump Valley."

The woman disengaged the pump and re-screwed the cap, staring at him with suspicion. "You want to buy Hank's wine? You're kidding, right? Who told you Hank's swill was better than Pahrump Valley's? They were pulling your leg, Mister." The woman chuckled as she opened the door and settled her bulk into the driver's seat. As Mulder stared at her in confusion, she turned the key in the ignition, then pointed in the general direction of north.

"Turn left at the light. You want Bride Street. Six miles, then turn left again, on Saddle Lane. Look for the big blue adobe. Hank's crazier than a split-level squirrel; he's the only person in the entire state that would think to paint authentic adobe a goddamn bright blue. You can't miss it, I guarantee - and you better bring along a roll or two of Tums, Mister - if you plan on drinking any of Hank's brew." And with a gunning engine roar the woman shifted into gear and peeled out, spraying loose gravel over Mulder's dress shoes. He jumped back, cursing as dirt and assorted desert crud coated the expensive leather and streaked the cuffs of his slacks.

The additional expletive shot from him as he hurled himself into the driver's seat. "Well, just fucking GREAT!"

The ominous silence in the rental car on the drive back into town was not eased a bit by the loss of cool conditioned air, five miles from Buffalo Bill's Saloon and Hotel. Mulder had pounded on the console, until Scully had slapped a restraining hand over his, cautioning, "Mulder! You're going to break it; stop!" She pulled at his hand and kept a grip on it warningly, waiting for his temper to subside.

Mulder yanked his hand away and muttered balefully, "Jesus, what else could possibly go wrong, Scully? Let's just hope we can at least get into the hotel room before something else explodes!"

Buffalo Bill's was a small and garishly appointed establishment; its pink stucco and magenta-painted tile roofs offset by straggly desert palms and clumps of yucca. A lone sequoia cactus stood sentinel over the hotel entrance, and when they opened the double doors a blast of cold, smoke-infested air just about knocked them over. They found themselves in the main casino, the noise of clinking slots and chiming bells and whistles overpowering to their poor unaccustomed ears. It was dinnertime but the casino was packed with holiday gamblers, security guards, trolling cocktail waitresses dressed in skimpy fringed cowgirl spangles and a multitude of gaming staff manning the various tables. An elderly woman with lavender-tinted hair and wearing a silver lame lounge suit hurried past them, clutching an over-full cardboard bucket crammed with what looked like nickels. The smoke hung hazy in the frigid air and the smell of tobacco, alcohol and basic human sweat made Mulder want to gag.

They fought their way upstream, toward the long registration counter. Mulder pulled out his wallet and asked for a double room, figuring the extra bed would come in handy and afford them a little more breathing space. The bored-looking hotel clerk snapped her gum and stared at them both.

"No doubles left. I got a king smoking and two kitchenettes, one smoking and one non-smoking. What'll it be?"

Scully rubbed at her burning eyes. "What size bed in the non- smoking kitchenette?"

The clerk yawned, flashing them some impressive dental work, and resumed chomping gum. "Double. Kitchenettes all have doubles." Mulder groaned; he knew the bed wouldn't be long enough for him. And yet, if he had to spend a night or two in a smoking room, king sized bed notwithstanding, he'd be sick in no time flat. He nodded at the clerk.

"That'll be fine. We'll take the non-smoking kitchenette."

Five minutes later they were standing in a decently appointed kitchenette unit that unfortunately managed to smell of smoke, even though they were on a non-smoking floor. Mulder knew it was because whoever designed the casino had been stupid enough to dump the air ducts from the casino out into their corridor. Wonderful. He sighed and flopped down on the bed, which was longer than he'd expected, and very comfortable. Scully sank down in an armchair over in a corner of the room and surveyed their little 'home' away from home. The kitchenette had an oven and two-burner stove as well as a microwave and refrigerator. Since they were on the first floor there was a lovely view of the parking lot, and their door opened up onto a tiny concrete slab with two rickety cast-iron patio chairs and a small end table with a scarred top. Mulder let his eyes survey the entire room, before coming to rest on his partner, slumped in the armchair. Scully looked beat, and he knew the look was mirrored on his face.

He sat up and sent her a tired smile. "You hungry? We could get cleaned up, go find something to eat."

Scully shook her head and then gasped a little when the shake poked at her headache. She pressed the heel of one hand into her forehead, rooting around in Mulder's discarded jacket pocket with her other hand for the bottle of Advil. Mulder got to his feet and walked to the sink, poured her a glass of water. He handed it to her and she murmured her thanks and swallowed the pills and most of the water, before replying to his query.

"I'm really not hungry, but I know I should eat something, otherwise these pills are going to make me nauseous. Maybe we could just order room service. I'm tired, Mulder - I don't want to go out, not right now." She rested her head against the back of the armchair. Mulder knelt in front of her and reached out gentle fingers to brush the damp hair out of her eyes. His hand lingered against her soft skin. She gazed at him through half-closed eyes and he couldn't help but notice the dark smudges underneath them.

They needed a break. A long break... away from the shit detail that constituted so much of their present professional situation. Away from the office that wasn't theirs any longer and the work they could no longer perform, together. The trip to DC was to have been a grounding step for them, a coming-out of their relationship and a much-needed relaxer. And here they were, in Pahrump, Nevada, of all places - sitting in a room that was too cold and too stale, the faint clink of slot machines a tuneless tune in the background and miles of hot, dry brown outside the window.

Mulder rubbed a tender thumb along one of Scully's pale cheekbones, and thought that maybe, even though they were a few thousand miles away from an ideal Thanksgiving holiday... they could make their own, right here.

"I've got an idea, Scully. Let's eat something first, rest a little, catch a shower - and then I'll tell you all about it."

The next morning, Scully eased from beneath Mulder's arm and crawled out of bed. Shivering in the artificial coldness of the air- conditioned room, she stepped into the bathroom. She closed the door and flipped on the lights, squinting against the sudden brightness. After splashing cold water on her face and brushing her teeth, she felt slightly more alert. A cup of coffee would hopefully bring her the rest of the way.

Finishing up in the bathroom, she turned off the lights and re- entered the main room. It was still early, but she could see a tiny beam of sunlight battling around the heavy drapes that kept the room shrouded in darkness. She made her way over to the pile of luggage in one corner and dug out her laptop computer. Carrying it into the tiny kitchenette, she tore open a pouch of the complimentary coffee provided by the hotel and dumped it into the paper filter of the coffeepot. While the small appliance hissed and labored to produce a meager pot of coffee, she booted up her computer. They would be back in Washington tomorrow and Kersh would expect a report on his desk as soon as they arrived at the office, holiday or no holiday.

She sprinkled a small amount of powdered creamer into her coffee when it was ready and took a sip, grimacing at the taste. She glanced toward the bed where Mulder still slept and sighed. When he awoke, she was going to hustle him straight down to the restaurant for a cup of coffee with real cream.

She sat at the little table in the kitchenette, sipped her coffee and fingered the mouse button to open the directory she needed. Pulling up a blank report form, she set down her cup and began to fill in the standard, pertinent information. Date, time and place of investigation. Name of interviewee.

Hank Roberts. Proud owner of a shockingly blue adobe home and twenty acres of land. A free spirit, where his wife was most decidedly not, they had divorced four years earlier. Hank left his former life in Ohio behind and bought the spread in Pahrump where he intended on living out his dreams of becoming a world-class vintner. That he wasn't making any more of a success of his winemaking business than he had his marriage, was more than proven by the uneven rows of grapevines getting ready to go into winter dormancy and the too large order of fertilizer.

They had asked their questions and taken their notes and in less than two hours time they had been on their way to check into the hotel. Another wasted trip, she thought, as she put the finishing touches on the quickly typed report. But they hadn't come away from this investigation empty-handed. She glanced toward the counter where two bottles of Hank's finest Merlot stood. Vintage 1999.

Since they weren't permitted to accept gifts from suspects, witnesses or interviewees, Mulder had suggested, with an evil smirk, that they turn the bottles over to Kersh like the good agents they were. Recalling the woman who had given Mulder directions to Hank Roberts' vineyards and the scathing reference to the 'swill' he bottled, Scully had readily agreed.

She saved the file and shut down the computer. Standing, she stretched and leaned against the kitchen counter, moodily sipping her cooling coffee. She glanced at her watch and thought about turning on the television to watch the Macy's parade, but realized that with the time difference, she would only be catching the last few minutes of the parade. No matter. She had never truly understood the appeal of parades. She couldn't say why she always turned the television set to that particular parade. It was just something she did. Roasting turkey. Pumpkin pie. The Macy's Thanksgiving Parade. Traditions forged in childhood.

She rubbed her eyes and sighed. There wasn't going to be anything traditional about this Thanksgiving. Scully abandoned her coffee and went back into the bathroom. She stripped out of her pajamas and stepped into the shower. She washed quickly, shampooed and massaged conditioner into her hair. She squirted a generous dollop of shaving gel into her hand and spread it over her leg. While carefully guiding the razor through the thick lather, she ruthlessly suppressed the irritation that cropped up every time she thought that if it hadn't been for Mulder's insistence on their pointless side trip to California to investigate a non-existent X-File, they would have had their real assignment wrapped up two days ago and would have awakened surrounded by the cozy familiarity of his apartment or hers instead of the dubious comforts offered at Buffalo Bill's Saloon and Hotel.

She finished shaving and rinsed the conditioner from her hair. She rubbed a towel briskly over her body and ran a comb through her wet hair. Winding another towel around her body, she ignored the cheap cotton scratching her skin. She left the steamy confines of the small bathroom and paused in the doorway to watch Mulder sleep. He was on his stomach, one arm flung over his head, the other tucked under his pillow. She should awaken him; he had asked her not to let him sleep late. He was a man with a plan, as he had carefully explained to her the prior evening...

"You want to cook Thanksgiving dinner in a hotel kitchenette?" The headache previously subdued by the Advil she had taken earlier was threatening to make a reappearance.

"Sure. Why not? The kitchen has everything we'll need." He swept a theatrical arm toward the kitchen to emphasize its many charms.

Scully looked at him incredulously. "The stove has two burners and I'm pretty sure my Easy Bake Oven was bigger!" Finally, she had proof. The man she loved really was insane.

Mulder blinked as an image of Samantha popped into his head. He remembered the way she would precisely measure the batter into the teensy baking tins before popping them into the oven to bake by the heat of two light bulbs. He also remembered gobbling up the little cakes as quickly as they would come out of the oven and Samantha chasing him around the house, shrieking that she had baked those cakes for a tea party.

He shook his head and turned his attention back to Scully. He loved her, but he was getting sick and tired of watching her look at him as if he had gone completely mad. He silently fumed at the memory of his first declaration of love being met with a similar look of disbelief and an 'Oh, brother'. Happily, his successive avowals of love had encountered a more welcoming reception. But, not for the first time, he wished that she would release her grip on her rigid self-control and just go with one of his suggestions without picking it apart.

"I'm just trying to find some way of salvaging the day," he told her, carefully banking the exasperation in his voice. "If you have another suggestion..."

Scully took a calming breath. When she was a child, her father had often pointed out the strident tone her voice would take on whenever she lost her temper. She had spent a lifetime curbing most outward signs of irritability, cultivating a persona of icy calm, but there were times when that shrill note would give her away. She knew she was taking her frustrations out on Mulder...

"Maybe we can make a dinner reservation at a restaurant in town," she suggested in a conciliatory voice. "I'm sure the hotel has at least one restaurant or someone at the front desk could recommend a place."

Mulder nodded his agreement and climbed into the bed with her. "Okay, it's a date." He snagged the remote and turned on the television. He wrapped an arm around her and she nestled her head on his chest, nodding off to the familiar rhythm of his channel surfing.

The desk clerk had recommended three restaurants in addition to the hotel eatery. Two of the restaurants were booked solid for the holiday. The third was closed for the day. In the hotel restaurant, Scully looked up from the plate of runny scrambled eggs and cold toast that was supposed to be her breakfast. Across the table, Mulder was valiantly sawing through a sausage link. She took a sip of coffee that was arguably worse than the stuff brewed earlier in their room. Glancing around, she hailed their waitress.

"Excuse me." She took the check from the harried woman. "Could you tell us where the closest supermarket is located?" She listened as the woman gave hurried directions to the market and dropped a couple of bills onto the table, meeting Mulder's grateful look with a smile.

"Let's go shopping."

Part II

Von's parking lot was unsurprisingly vacant, as they turned into the south end and parked. Maybe ten cars in the employee lot. Five or six more scattered close to the entrance. Another hot day, too hot for this time of year. Mulder caught hold of Scully's hand as they walked toward the entrance, swinging it a little. She sent him a little half-smile and he let his eyes linger on her; she looked so adorable in the bright sunlight. Beams of red-gold struck fire through her hair, and her blue short-sleeved sweater clung in all the right places. Her faded jeans clung nicely, too - and for once, she was wearing flat shoes; a pair of white Keds with blue laces. Next to him she seemed tinier than ever, her head barely breaking even with his upper arm. He loved it when she wore casual clothes. Her entire demeanor was softened in jeans and a pair of Keds, making her younger and more carefree.

They collected a cart and walked down the aisles, looking for anything that reminded them of traditional turkey dinners. The frozen poultry bins were empty, not a single bird to be found. Just as well, they'd never have been able to thaw it out fast enough. A quick troll through the fresh meat section likewise yielded squat.

Mulder sighed as they passed the beef and pork bins. "Well, shit. Maybe we should just go out and shoot a roadrunner. The one we drag- raced with was of a decent size to stuff, don't you think? Scully?" She wasn't near him; she'd wandered off while he was talking to her, and was standing in front of a display showcasing all manner of canned holiday fare. Pumpkin pie filling, ready-baked rolls, cans of cranberry sauce and jelly. She hefted a can of the cranberry sauce in her hand, staring down at it.

Mulder stepped up to her side, trailed a finger over her shoulder. "Scully? See something you want to pick up?"

"Hmmm?" She glanced up, a little startled. Mulder was regarding her quizzically. She looked at the can again, and shook her head, putting it back on the shelf. "Um, no. I was just... thinking. Remembering how my father despised canned cranberry sauce. He refused to have it in the house. Cranberry sauce had to be homemade, or forget it. Anyway, one Thanksgiving Mom was deathly ill with the flu and hadn't been able to do any shopping. Plus, she spent the entire holiday in bed. None of us knew how to cook a turkey dinner, much less shop for one." A corner of her mouth curved a little, as she recalled that day. Mulder nodded, encouraging her to continue.

Scully sighed, "Well, Dad decided we had to make a road trip. Missy stayed with Mom and the rest of us piled into the car and drove to the local A
P, the only supermarket open. I was only ten; I knew zilch about cooking. Bill knew how to scorch water and Charlie was too young to give a rip. Missy barely ate anything that wasn't organic... We bought a pressed, smoked turkey roll and a box of instant potatoes, some powdered gravy mix and a bag of frozen broccoli, but when it came time to get cranberry sauce Dad insisted we buy the real berries, and cook them. We dragged everything home and Bill fried the turkey in corn oil, which was a big mistake since it was already cooked. Missy ruined the potatoes by adding sprouts to them, my broccoli was soggy - but Dad made the cranberry sauce and it was perfect."

Mulder slipped an arm around her shoulders and gave them a squeeze. "It's a good memory to have, baby. So, are you saying it's okay to eat fake turkey and potato flakes smothered in powdered gravy... as long as the sauce is the real thing?"

Scully leaned into him teasingly. "Well, more or less. We'll see. I suppose we should start the actual purchasing, before it gets any later." Moving away a little, she grasped the cart's handle and pushed it forward. Mulder pawed through the chicken one last time, just on the off chance that a turkey might be hiding in there. Five seconds later he spotted a small turkey breast, and latched onto it eagerly, crowing aloud.

"Scully! Look what I found! The last hunk of turkey in Nevada!"

With the turkey breast safely in their cart, they walked up and down the unfamiliar aisles, searching for the rest of their dinner. Scully had written up a quick list on the way from the hotel, yet as with other aspects of their lives together, the collection of holiday food items took on new meaning when they started hunting the shelves.

"Mulder, not potato flakes! We should get a small bag of potatoes." Scully plucked the box of spuds out of his hands and placed it back on the shelf.

Mulder frowned at her. "Scully, you can't get potatoes in a small bag! I've seen those huge ten-pound bags in the stores. We'd have to throw them away."

Scully huffed impatiently. "You can buy them like apples, Mulder. One at a time. We can get two or three of them. That way there's no waste. I'll go get them; you stay here and hunt down some of the other stuff on the list." She hurried off to the produce section, mentally ticking off things like whole cranberries and carrots. Maybe some brown sugar-glazed carrots would make a nice vegetable side dish...

When she located Mulder again, in the condiment aisle, he was holding an envelope of gravy mix in one hand and a jar of ready-made gravy in the other. Scully dumped the bag of cranberries, the potatoes and carrots in the cart and determinedly removed both items from his hand, placing them back on the shelf.

Mulder protested, "Now what? You don't want any gravy on your 'real' potatoes?"

Scully counted to ten before she responded. "We don't need gravy mix, or canned gravy. The turkey breast will render enough drippings that we can make our own gravy. All we need is a box of cornstarch." She started to push the cart toward the next aisle, but Mulder put a hand out and stopped her.

"Scully, this is getting to be a bit much, don't you think? You've already gotten potatoes that will need to be peeled - and carrots, too?" He stared at the contents of the cart. "Don't carrots have to be peeled? Are we going to have to buy more pots? One of those odd little peeler things for the potatoes?"

She took a deep, fortifying breath. "How many Thanksgiving dinners have you prepared, Mulder? It takes a lot of different ingredients. I know what I'm doing. And vegetable peelers are cheap - we can leave it behind. We need to go down the spice aisle; come on." With that, she pushed forward firmly, dislodging his hand. Mulder found himself trailing behind, watching with trepidation as she zipped up and down the aisles, plucking cans of spice and a bag of brown sugar, a bottle of oil, a box of cornstarch. And as the items in their cart grew, so did his concern that they were both getting in over their heads.

He honestly didn't see anything wrong with boxed food. He wasn't by any means a cook, but he knew the hotel kitchenette would limit them severely. His idea that they make their own dinner had been presented based on the supposition that they'd take advantage of the ready-made products. Frozen pies and rolls, stuffing mix - things like that. Neither of them had looked in the cupboards, Mulder realized. They were assuming there'd be pots and pans, silverware and utensils. Plates...


"Scully, wait. Maybe we should - what are you doing?" He'd caught up with her in the kitchenware aisle and there was now a bewildering array of 'equipment' in their cart. The aforementioned peeler, a potato masher, several aluminum roasting pans of varying sizes. A set of mixing bowls, a corkscrew. Corncob holders... Mulder blinked as he looked down at them. Corncob holders?

"Scully, stop! This is way too much!" He grabbed her arm as she turned to place a package of aluminum pie plates and a rolling pin into the cart. She spared him a fast glance as she pulled her arm away, plunked the items in the cart, then turned to face him, hands on hips.

"What? What's your problem, Mulder? You wanted a nice holiday dinner. Well, this IS a nice holiday dinner. You can't have traditional turkey and fixings without a little bit of trouble." Her eyes stared him down.

Mulder gestured helplessly at the bulk of the purchases in their cart. "A 'little bit of trouble'? Jesus, Scully! When I said we should cook our own, I was thinking more along the lines of a pre- cooked bird, maybe a box of stuffing - the 'just add hot water' variety! Maybe a package of rolls and a Sara Lee pie. You said yourself the kitchen area is too small to get into anything else; I believe you claimed your 'Easy Bake Oven' was bigger!" He raked a hand through his hair, standing it on end. "That's not much of a turkey breast but I'd bet it'll just barely fit in that oven. And now you want to bake a pie? And what's this?" He reached into the cart and pulled out a package of yeast. "You want - no, I can't believe - you want to bake bread? Maybe some dinner rolls? You gotta be kidding me!" He tossed down the yeast package in disgust.

Scully had been standing there quietly, watching him, listening to him. Trying to hold onto her dwindling patience... but when he spouted that crack about the rolls, she saw red, literally. Very deliberately she turned to the nearest shelf, picked up an electric beater, and laid it carefully in the cart. Then she sucked in a large breath and faced her partner.

"Mulder, shut UP. And listen to me. It's true I didn't want to get into cooking a dinner. I wanted to go out and eat; I thought it would be easiest. When we couldn't find a place to eat I fell in with your original thought that we could cook. Well, for me, cooking a Thanksgiving dinner requires a hell of a lot more than opening up a few cans and zapping a pie in the microwave!" Her voice had risen and timbre and she let it soar, feeling all of the frustration of the past few days, all of the resentment and anger of missing out on her mother's delicious holiday dinner, come out.

"I'm away from my family on my second favorite holiday. Away from my mother's chestnut stuffing and orange-cranberry sauce. Away from the goddamn Macy's Parade, not to mention crisp and cool fall weather. Instead I'm here, in Nevada. Hotter-than-Hell Nevada; Pahrump, to be exact... a place that has a name that sounds like an elephant in the throes of gastronomic distress, Mulder! I'm in a hotel room on Thanksgiving Day, trying to figure out how I can put together a decently traditional turkey dinner for the both of us. And if you think I'm settling for a slice of reheated turkey and a blob of instant potatoes, you're nuts!" Her words ended in a determined push of her body, into Mulder's personal space - a move that should have been indicative of her frame of mind. But Mulder was suddenly too frustrated himself by recent events, to pick up on it.

His retort was low and vibrated with intensity. "Damn it, Scully - don't you think I know what you're missing out on? Believe me, I do! And I'm sorry. I've already said I was sorry, in fact - several times. I'm trying to make this as normal a Thanksgiving as possible under the circumstances, but you seem to be deliberately complicating what should be a simple meal. We don't need much to make it a great day for us; we already have each other, right? We're together and that should be the important thing. Right?" His eyes were more placating than his voice - but Scully only seemed to hear his tone. She wasn't looking into his eyes.

And she took immediate exception to the tone she heard, for her next words were meant to sting. "Yes. We're together. But we could have been together, at my mother's. We could have had that great day with her. Instead, she's alone and so are we. You don't stop and think, Mulder. That's what tears me. You hear about a supposed X-File and you grab hold of me and we go ripping off to California, when we needed to be in Nevada taking care of a real case. You don't worry about air flights, time frame, commitments elsewhere." She could feel it building as she spoke, more and more resentment, more frustration. Months of it, starting with the loss of their true directive. All the bullshit since, with Kersh. The continuing bullshit, with Diana Fowley and Jeffrey Spender. It was all settled in her stomach, now rising like the worst kind of gorge. And for once, she let it build and come out, without swallowing it. This time she'd be damned, if she'd push it down inside her...

"It's been a hell of a few months, hasn't it? No only do I get to contend with having a pretentious egomaniac like Kersh for a boss, I also get the added bonus of watching your ex-associate Fowley and her nitwit 'dance partner' Spender infiltrating our work. Meanwhile, we get sent on yet another damn goose-chase and right in the midst of it all you get a wild hair and off you go, seeking the para-weird. It's the same old routine, except this time you didn't ditch me - this time I got to come along for the ride. Well, lucky me, Partner! Do me a favor... next time, DON'T do me any favors!"

The echo of that last sentence pinged over both their heads, sounding unreasonably loud in the almost-deserted supermarket. And up until then Mulder had been standing very still, fighting to keep his temper and trying not to clench in anger. Failing miserably, when her words sliced into him. Damn it, he didn't deserve this! It wasn't his fault any more than hers that Kersh was now their boss, that their jobs had been relegated to shit detail and their positions usurped by people they both had reason to mistrust. They'd made a promise to each other that above all they'd stick together and they'd find ways to cope, until they could reclaim what they'd lost. He was doing his level best to live up to his end of the bargain... but was Scully?

Suddenly, he didn't think so. Suddenly, his fury, which had also been building, erupted. Hot and angry and worse than a blown volcano - and all over his petite, madder-than-a-wet-hen partner.

"You will NOT blame me for our present work environment, Scully. You got that? You won't. I had nothing to do with bringing in the asshole who presently controls our files and our professional lives. If you think I did, then whatever problems we're facing today run much deeper than how the fuck we're going to cook a six-course meal in an Easy Bake Oven. As for me dragging you along for the ride, might I remind you that the last time I 'ditched you', as you so enjoy wording it... the last time I did the fit you threw made me vow to you I'd never do it again. And I haven't, because I got goddamned sick and tired of hearing you light into me for doing it."

Like carbonated bubbles his anger fizzed and popped, straight through the top of his aching head, as Mulder sucked in one fast breath before continuing. "Yes, I could have used my head a little more prudently. I could have ignored the X-File, could have left it alone. But I didn't. Sue me. In case you didn't hear me the first time, I apologize. For dragging you to California. For fucking up your holiday plans. For making you miss your mom's dinner. For a lot of things, I apologize... but don't think I am going to apologize for anything that's happened since Kersh has gotten his sweaty paws on our files, because that's NOT MY FAULT."

His words served to bring Scully's anger up short and she blew out one frustrated breath, her eyes tangled in his. He was right. She was blaming him for things beyond his control, in an attempt to assuage her own fit of temper. She was also giving him a rash of shit for behaving just like Fox Mulder, the partner who got wild hairs and went ripping off on an X-hunch, sometimes taking her along and sometimes, not. She had sniped at him more than once for ditching her and she'd also seen his attempt to include her. Consequently, she had little to bitch about when it came to that less- than-satisfying aspect of their working relationship.

Didn't she?

The silence between them lengthened a little, then a little more, as they stared at each other. And Scully sighed wearily, breaking the quiet - and she put her hands back on the cart handle. "Let's go, Mulder. Before it gets any later, let's go back to the hotel." She made to push forward with the cart and as before, Mulder's hands stopped her. His face was a study in confusion as he took in her quiet determination.

"Just like that, we go? Like nothing happened, like nothing's been said? I don't think so, Scully. I think we need to have it out, whatever the hell 'it' may be. I think we need to do this and get rid of it." He locked his arms and refused to budge, when she huffed impatiently and tried to push again.

Scully held firmly to her reason. "It doesn't serve a purpose, Mulder. We both said a few things in the heat of anger. You apologized - and so will I. I'm sorry. I was out of line and irrational. Let's just forget it. Everything's fine..."

At that dreaded word, Scully inwardly cringed, unable to believe she'd let it slip out of her mouth. She chanced a peek at Mulder, and his face had visibly stiffened.

Oh, shit...

"Fine. Everything's fine. You're fine. I don't fucking think so. You are NOT fine. Neither am I. And we're not leaving this spot until BOTH of us are goddamn fine!" His voice rose in volume until he was close to shouting.

Scully shushed him, "Mulder, calm down! Can we please not get into this in a public place -"

He interrupted her quite rudely. "No. We can sure as hell get into this in a public place. Look around - there's no one even close. We may as well be the only ones here." It was true. They were alone and the store was so dead it echoed like a tomb. "So let's do it; let's get into it, get it out and then maybe over - and then we'll be 'fine'. We can go back to the hotel and cook our huge-ass turkey dinner in the little Easy-Bake kitchen and have ourselves one HELL of a dandy Thanksgiving!" Mulder gripped the opposite end of the shopping cart and glared at her... and Scully found herself glaring right back.

God, this was beyond stupid... they were like two little kids fighting over a toy neither of them wanted. She decided to try rationale. "Look, Mulder... I admit I went with you to California under protest, though I never said much to you. It seemed as if any questions I raised would just get wheeled over the way you are always wont to do. I'm not blaming you for Nevada. I know we had no choice, not if we want to keep what jobs we have. But I couldn't help but feel frustration at the side trip we could have so easily avoided."

Mulder's eyes narrowed ominously at the phrase, 'side trip'. "Are you inferring that my leads and hunches are worthless, Scully? That when I get an anonymous call or tip, I shouldn't try and pursue it? You do understand that many of my so-called 'side trips' have resulted in that high solve ratio we've managed to enjoy? Do you also understand that these little trips are completely the norm with me?" He leaned forward, for emphasis. "I don't think you do. I wonder if you ever did, because every time I run a hunch, every time that hunch proves to be something more... you back off, instead of accepting. You refute - instead of believing."

Scully snapped an irate, "I do not. I don't do that, Mulder. I always listen to you, then I look for the scientific explanation, the -"

Another rude snort, and interruption. "Give me a fucking break. You may listen but you don't hear, Scully. I can provide more than enough instances, where you didn't hear. Remember Antarctica? You listened, perhaps - but you sure as hell didn't hear, or accept, when push came to shove in that damn OPR interrogation!"

Scully didn't even bother counting to ten, this time. "Mulder, you know as well as I do the events in Antarctica were found to be inconclusive. For God's sake, I am a scientist! First and foremost I look for science as evidence - I stake my beliefs, my career, on science. We've had this argument before. I couldn't attest to that which I could not scientifically prove!" Blue fire in her eyes clashed with stormy hazel, in his - and Mulder was, in a word - pissed.

"Oh, bull-SHIT! Goddamn it, you were there. You were conscious! You saw what I saw! Nine times out of ten, you always see what I see, Scully! You just refuse to believe. You refuse to trust what your eyes tell you, what your heart already knows. Over five years together, and you're still fighting it! THAT's the true reason you can't really commit to what you call my 'wild goose-chases', because you still - after all this time and after all you have seen - you still can't open yourself up and believe. And I'll tell you something else, Scully," he bent down, into her angry face, "Until you do, until you accept, trust and believe... it won't matter whether or not we get the files back. It won't mean a thing when we take back our jobs, our office. Because we won't be on the same page." He rocked back on his feet, suddenly tired of it all. Tired of yet again having to fight for his reasoning, his intuition. Just plain tired...

It must have showed in his face, for whatever Scully was about to say, she visibly swallowed it. He was being irrational, and there was no use talking to him in that mood; it would only result in more of the same. And she was weary of it, too. The argument had drained her.

She straightened her shoulders and gripped the cart handle tightly. Her voice was low and intense. "I DO trust you, Mulder. That's always been my joy, and sometimes my curse. I trust you, I'll probably fucking die trusting you. But, you know... trust, like love, is fragile. It needs to be reciprocated to thrive." The look she sent him was hot with hurt and anger. "And now I've had enough. I'm going back to the hotel, as soon as I pay for these groceries. I'm going to cook dinner and I am going to find a moment, some small piece of today, to enjoy it the best I can. You can do whatever you like. If you're around in three hours or so, you can join me for dinner. Or not - whatever. Now, let go of the cart." Her eyes glittered ominously and her mouth was set firmly.

Mulder shrugged, let go. Strode to the front of the store and stood to the side of one of the checkout lines, as she ran the items through and whipped out her credit card to pay the bill. He stared unseeingly at the line of slot machines near the entrance of the store; only one of them seemed occupied. The occasional clink and clank of coins and handle pulls barely registered in his ears as he waited for Scully to finish at the counter. Her words, 'I trust you', also clanked in his ears...

They ended up with four stuffed bags; Mulder grabbed them all, before Scully could reach for them. He followed her out to the car and stood while she unlocked the trunk, then he dumped the bags inside and slammed the lid.

Without a word, Scully slipped behind the wheel and Mulder climbed in next to her; she started the car and they nosed their way out of the empty parking lot and headed back up the highway toward their hotel - in complete silence.

Scully folded the last bag and set it aside. Hands propped on her hips, she glanced toward the door. In the ensuing silence of his departure, she could still hear the quiet snick the door latch had made as Mulder pulled it closed behind him, declaring he needed to 'get some air'. She tore her gaze away from the door and looked around. The groceries were arranged with military precision, covering every inch of the minuscule countertop and table. She had a lot of work ahead of her and it looked like she was going to be doing it alone.

She sighed. First things first. Time to preheat the oven. She spun the dial and cocked her head to the side, listening for the sound of the oven ignition. Nothing. She cranked the knobs to the burners on top of the stove. Useless. She crouched down to check for a pilot light, but there was no sign of the tiny blue flame. Scully peered behind the oven and found that the gas pipe was disconnected from the stove and capped.

She sank into a chair and surveyed the mountain of groceries surrounding her. What had she been thinking? How had it all gotten so out-of-hand? She didn't have to go far for the answers. She had let her temper get the better of her, throwing food and utensils into the shopping cart with abandon, determined at all costs to prove that for once, doing something normal like having Thanksgiving dinner was not going to be sacrificed on the altar of Mulder's quest.

She pushed a bag of carrots and a foil roasting pan to one side and braced her arms on the table. Taking a deep breath, she rested her cheek against her hands. She was frightened. Frightened that they wouldn't be able to make this work. Despite the joys of their newfound physical closeness... she was afraid that they were growing farther and farther apart. That they no longer instinctively understood the other.

Scully wanted more. More time for normal things like relaxing together and sharing holidays with family. She knew that Mulder was in some ways threatened by her desires for a more mundane way of life. He didn't seem to share her need for something more. For such a complicated man, things were often clear-cut and black and white to him. He saw aliens in that craft when he rescued her; therefore they must exist. As long as they were together on Thanksgiving, it didn't matter if their meal came in a box, ready in less than ten minutes from freezer to microwave. He wanted the work and he wanted her and he didn't need anything else to make him happy.

And Scully was feeling threatened, too. Threatened because despite his words to her the previous summer, suddenly her science did not hold its weight with him. She understood that Mulder felt he'd earned her blind faith, but it wasn't in her to just let go and believe as freely as he did. She felt threatened because suddenly there was another agent who believed without question and in so doing cast a shadow of doubt over Scully's need for validation and proof. That the agent in question was a woman made it all the more difficult for her, even though she had no doubts that Mulder loved her.

She brooded for a few moments - wallowing in her hurt feelings. She took another look at the mess surrounding her, then suddenly, she pushed away from the table and stood. This was ridiculous. Was she any happier sitting here alone in self-righteous indignation? She began to stuff the turkey and most of the other perishables back into the brown paper bags, ignoring the rest of the groceries and cooking implements. She walked across the room, yanked open the drawer of the faux wood nightstand and pulled out the local telephone directory. She placed a few calls and then lugged the bags back out to the car. A few minutes later, she was driving toward a small Methodist church on the other side of town, where volunteers gratefully accepted her donation. She walked out of the church hall with two huge sandwiches - turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce between thick slices of sourdough bread wrapped in heavy waxed paper. She climbed behind the wheel of the car and headed back to the hotel, hoping that she wouldn't be returning to an empty room.

Mulder had started 'getting some air' by walking fast, then speeding up a bit, then a bit more - until he was jogging. He ran for about ten minutes without stopping, before he finally slowed down. Jeans were not the most comfortable jogging clothes, and the air was just too hot and dry for running. He was sweating like mad after only a mile.

Mulder stopped to catch his breath, wiping dampness from his neck and forehead. He walked slowly, letting his heart rate calm down. Turning around, he headed back to the hotel, wryly admitting to himself that as usual, running from a problem did nothing but get him hot and bothered.

While he'd been sweating, he'd been thinking. In so many ways he and Scully were still unsure of each other. Those personality traits that made their partnership work so well, that kept them in balance, also served to enrich the love they'd found and the passion they had for each other. Those same traits could also undermine the security that lovers find in each other's embrace. As partners they'd fought many times over this case or that theory. But as lovers, this was their first - made especially hurtful by circumstances that Mulder knew they'd both promoted. His usual need to hare off when an X-lead dropped itself into his hands. Her determination that at any cost her world would retain a level of normalcy that sometimes just wasn't realistic. Not always for them.

And yet, he longed for those same spots of normalcy in his life. He'd always longed for them. As a child he'd found himself trying to force it to happen, especially after the loss of Samantha. Of course he failed, utterly. His mother and father were drifting apart so quickly their marriage seemed like shifting sand underneath his boy- sized feet. He quickly learned that love couldn't be forced, or molded. Love couldn't be controlled.

His love for Scully was absolute and permanent. Once he admitted it to himself it was a final and definite thing. And once he admitted it to Scully, of course he'd expected her to believe him. When she didn't, when she passed it off as another drug-induced litany of nonsense, Mulder had been hurt, but had chosen to try understanding why she wouldn't believe him. He thought it was the idea of 'extreme possibilities' that she just wasn't ready to accept.

But when she did accept, when she returned that love, it bound them together tighter than ever - and made them more vulnerable to outside influences. It also made them vulnerable to their own frailties as human beings.

Mulder rounded the corner of the hotel, his eyes automatically searching for their rental car - and a bit disconcerted when he found the spot empty. He walked toward the door of their hotel room, wondering where on earth she could be; unlocking the door he stepped inside, feeling the instant relief of central air and figuring she must have had some sort of errand to run.

He headed into the shower, thinking the least he could do was to be clean and good-smelling for her, when she got back. And maybe he could also do his part to make this Thanksgiving as normal as possible, even through Scully was so far away from her mother. He'd help her cook. He'd peel potatoes and carrots and even help her stir up the blasted bread dough - and he'd gladly eat her cranberry sauce, though he personally detested the stuff. Then after dinner he'd take her to bed and he'd tell her with his words and show her with his body.

The fight wasn't worth jeopardizing their relationship. Nothing in the world was worth that. As Mulder finished his shower and toweled off, he thought how nice it would be if he could give Scully some of the autumn colors he knew she was missing. Then he remembered the little flower shop in the lobby of the hotel - and his eyes brightened. He'd bet they were open - and maybe they'd have candles, too...

Scully slipped her key into the lock and pushed the door open. She stepped cautiously inside, bracing herself for the possibility that he would still be gone. Her heart tripped and then began to pound furiously when she saw him. Standing near the table, which was cleaned of its clutter and was now adorned with a beautiful bouquet of flowers in an explosion of deep reds, warm oranges and bright yellows, a bottle of wine in his strong hands. Two wineglasses rested on the table near the flowers and there were candles lit.

"I was told that this wine went well with turkey. Don't worry, I didn't get it from Hank Roberts." He held the bottle up for her inspection. He glanced around the room, confusion evident on his face. "Scully... where IS the turkey?"

She gave a watery laugh and sniffed back tears as she crossed the room to him. Taking the wine bottle from his hands, she handed him the paper bag she carried.

"Here." She picked up the corkscrew that was lying next to the wineglasses and began to open the wine while he peered into the bag. He unwrapped one sandwich and looked back at her, the confusion still evident on his face.

"But, what... where's all the stuff we bought?" He set the bag of sandwiches onto the table to take the proffered glass of wine from her hands.

She clinked the rim of her glass against his and took a sip, enjoying the chill and flavor of the wine as it slid over her tongue and down her throat. "I've been doing some thinking," she stepped closer so that her body was brushing against his. "You were right," she admitted. "I love you and it doesn't matter how we celebrate, as long as we celebrate together."

He trailed his fingers over her cheek before wrapping them around the back of her neck. "I was doing some thinking too," he offered. "I came back here to help you cook dinner. I think you're right too, Scully. It's important to make time for traditions." He took her wineglass from her hand and set it on the table along with his own before leaning down to touch his mouth to hers in a soft kiss.

Scully stretched up on her toes and wound her arms around his neck, prolonging the kiss, taking it from gentle to passionate. She wanted to feast on his mouth, get drunk on his kisses. She tore her mouth from his, the need for him bubbling up inside her lightening-quick.

"The bed," she gasped before pulling him back into another kiss. Her fingers were knotted in his hair as he nodded his assent, finding himself caught up in her urgency. He gave brief consideration to scooping her into his arms and carrying her across the room, but she was already tugging on his hand, and he willingly followed. They stood next to the bed and began peeling the clothes away from the other with sure fingers. He cupped her breasts with reverent hands; she licked a path from the hollow at the base of his throat up the strong column of his neck to press a kiss to the soft flesh beneath his jaw. She felt his pleasured groan vibrate against her lips.

Together, they tumbled onto the mattress. Scully laid one hand against his chest and pushed him into the pillows as she reclaimed his mouth. His hands roved over her body ceaselessly, fingertips trailing over the slight bumps of her vertebrae and skimming across the satiny skin of the thigh crooked over his.

She lifted her head and rose above him. "Mulder?" She smoothed her hand over his brow, tunneling her fingers into his hair. He made a sound that might have been an acknowledgment and pushed up onto one elbow. His lips closed over a velvety nipple as he hungrily drew her breast into his mouth; she curled her hand behind his head to hold him close. Little jolts of pleasure danced under her skin.

She ran her thumb over his cheek and he turned his face from her breast to press a kiss into the palm of her hand. She called his name again.

"Mulder?" He tipped his head back to meet her eyes and waited. Her voice was hesitant as she spoke, but her gaze on him was so loving.

"You do know that just because I sometimes want to take a break and do something normal, doesn't mean that I'm not committed to our work, don't you?"

He nodded, his arms holding her close. "Yes, Scully. I understand that now. I don't think I did before. I thought that you were... I don't know... that maybe you were losing interest in the work, or that I wasn't enough to keep you happy." She shook her head and started to speak, but he hushed her by pressing a finger to her lips.

"No, it's okay. "I finally figured it out when I was out wandering aimlessly. Taking some time for ourselves isn't a threat to the work. But you know me, Scully. I tend toward obsession. With work... with you." He shrugged ruefully and grinned.

She returned his smile with one of her own. "You're everything that I want and need in this world, Mulder. Both as a partner and as the man I love. That's what I realized today. I can have all the trappings of a normal life around me, but they don't mean anything without you. You said today that we don't need a lot to make a day special for us, as long as we're together. You were right. But you know me, Mulder. I tend toward perfectionism..."

He pulled her down onto his chest and wrapped his arms tightly around her. She could hear his voice rumbling in his chest when he spoke.

"I love you, baby - so much. I need to tell you more often." When he caught her gaze again the emotion was a tangible link between them.

She folded her hands on top of his breastbone and rested her chin on them, deciding to tease him a little. "Talk is cheap, Mulder. But I'm a scientist and I require proof." His eyes lit in response to the challenge. She gave a shrieking laugh as he rolled her onto her back, but her merriment quickly gave way to passion as he settled his hips more intimately between her thighs.

"You want proof?" He thrust deeply into her. "I'll give you proof undeniable." Her soft moan brushed his cheek and her legs coiled around his waist as he slipped his arms underneath her back, hands cupping her shoulders. Half-closed eyes cloudy with emotion met his, and Mulder found himself moving very slowly, long easy strokes. Sometimes the best delicacies took longer to create but the result was so much worth the wait...

They shared soft and open kisses, wet and delicious, as their bodies rocked together. It wasn't necessary to speak; their bodies wanted to do the talking, first. There would be ample opportunity for them both, to explain and to verbally reassure each other that all was right with their love. Right now it was more important to reconnect, to rebalance.

She felt wonderful in his arms, so small yet stronger than any woman he'd ever known. Mulder stroked tender hands down her body, his fingers curling into her hipbones, molding her tightly against him. He could love her this way forever, he thought. Building it slowly, taking their time - no worries and no hurries. He raised his head and stared down at Scully, noting her flushed cheeks and glistening eyes. Her mouth curved into a delighted smile when he slipped a hand between their bodies and rubbed his thumb over her wet flesh.

He whispered to her, real words at last. "Feel it, Scully. Right there," and he took one of her hands in his, moving them both into position, his fingers and hers touching their bodies, acknowledging the glide of his penis and her slick reception. Scully sucked in a startled breath as she explored with her own hand the way he moved inside her, the tension and the strength of him within the tight cling of herself. It felt amazing...

"Oh... my..." She locked eyes with Mulder, his just as wide and fascinated as hers. He kept his eyes open when he kissed her again and her voice was a soft moan into his mouth. "Is that us?"

His lips trembled in helpless amusement against hers. "God, I hope so!"

With a tiny giggle, she buried her face into his neck and curled an arm around his back for support, her other hand still aligned with his as they felt for themselves the buildup of passion between them. Now faster, now deeper, their excitement grew because of the tactile sensation of fingers stroking each other.

Higher, harder... and when Scully shuddered beneath him he caught her mouth with his and swallowed her gasps, allowing the throb of her release to trigger his own, letting it pour into her. So good...

"So good -" She murmured it into his shoulder, as he stilled and his full weight pressed her down into the sheets. She tightened around him when he tried to ease off a bit, fearful of smothering her.

"Stay put, Mulder. I like being crushed." She grinned up at him and he relaxed over her and dropped his head onto the pillow next to hers.

There were a million things he wanted to say to her, all centered around his utter love for her and the need for them to never lose a moment's sight of each other, ever again - but what came out of his mouth was slightly different.

"Well, dessert was wonderful... what's for dinner?" He was being careful, playful. Right now their emotions were still running so high, and the reality of their earlier troubles was bound to come back a little. In time they'd both need to talk some of it out, but for now it was more important that they keep the physical link between them, and light-hearted banter was easier and safer.

Scully could read him like a book. And he was right, neither one of them needed to get into it, not yet. Maybe later, after they'd eaten, and snuggled a little - and made love, a lot. Later was good, she thought.

She stretched beneath him, loving the way he felt, still deep within her satiated body. "Food? You want food, after that... level... of dessert?"

He pushed back at her, teasingly. "Well, yes. You fed my boys, baby - but your partner needs to replenish his vast stores of potency."

She rolled her eyes at him. "Oh, Brother. I can't believe you call your equipment, 'my boys', Mulder."

He smirked, "I can't believe you said, 'Oh, Brother', to me, Scully..."

"Well, I guess we're even, then. Can I tempt you with a really thick turkey and dressing sandwich loaded with cranberry sauce on sourdough bread?"

Mulder kissed the tip of her nose. "Mmmm. Now that's my kind of Thanksgiving meal, Scully!"

She hugged him tightly. "Mine, too."


The End

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