Mistletoe by A R Turkington

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Mistletoe by A R Turkington

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From: (PhibeGreen) Newsgroups: alt.tv.x-files.creative Subject: NEW X-MAS STORY: MISTLETOE 1/6 Date: 14 Dec 1995 13:18:59 -0500

Hi! My contribution to the X-Mas spirit. This is a nice little story about love and friendship in the holidays. There are several warnings and addendums that go with this story—

1) This story is Rated NC-17, so if you read it now and don’t like it, don’t be silly enough to blame me.

2) I credit the first part of this story to Jennifer Lyon, whose rough concept I borrowed. I couldn’t have done the prelude to my own ideas without her fabulous story, “Fire and Ice,” available here.

3) The usual round of suspects….The X-Files and all characters therein are property of Chris Carter, Ten Thirteen Productions, Fox Broadcasting, and whoever else owns them. They are borrowed graciously without permission, with no copyright intended. Just having fun, guys….

+ + +

Mistletoe

By A. N. Turkington

+ + +

The doorbell rang, and Dana Scully, already in her black winter evening coat, crossed her short front hallway to answer it. At least he wasn’t too late, she decided, glancing briefly at her clock.

“Hi,” said the gentleman on the front step, tall, dark and handsome tonight. She had always thought he looked stunning in a tuxedo. His hair needed to be cut, but that added to the charm. His lopsided grin was slightly apologetic as she glanced pointedly at her wall again.

“I know, I know, I’m sorry. But you wouldn’t believe how hard it is to tie one of these things, ” he said, tugging at the black tie wrapped around his neck. She stepped aside to let him into her apartment, and shut the door behind him. It was cold enough in here already, with no heat. She had turned it off, in preparation of the long week ahead.

“Here, I got you something,” he said, and with a flourish, pulled out a red rose bud from behind his back, presenting her with it. He stopped just short of saying, “Ta-da.”

Scully smiled, and looked up at him wryly. “What is this, Mulder, a date?” He grinned again, and she turned into her kitchen to find a bud vase.

“A guy was selling them in a little stand on the way over, for couples walking along. You know, the guys that make you look like a heel in front of your girlfriend if you don’t buy one for her?”

She found a small porcelain vase her sister had given her, with blue swirls of flowers on the fine china. Thinking fondly of her sister, she cut the long-stemmed flower down to size, and filled the small vase with water.

“Yeah, I know. I’m usually the girlfriend left with the heel who didn’t buy one,” she said teasingly, placing the rose on her kitchen table, and smiling up at him. “Thank you.”

Mulder leaned against the doorway. “You packed your stuff already?”

“Yes, all of it’s in the trunk. Did you put your things in with it?” Scully grabbed her keys, and turned off all the lights.

“Yup. Not all of it fit, so some of it’s in the backseat.” Mulder handed her the black gloves that were lying out on the table, and she put them on.

“You didn’t bring any ski stuff, did you? Ellen and Daniel have everything you could possibly need.” Scully opened the door and led them into the hallway, and locked up after them. They began down the hall.

“No, I didn’t bring ski stuff,” he said, and opened the front door for them both as they went outside into the biting December wind of a winter in Washington, D.C. Snow carpeted everything, and Mulder placed one hand lightly at the small of her back as they walked down the icy steps.

“Then what on earth could you possible bring that didn’t fit? My car has excellent trunk space.” She unlocked said car, and stepped in on the passenger side, tossing Mulder the keys.

“We’re going to be gone for a week. In cold weather. I brought only the necessities,” he said. Shivering, he turned on the car and blasted her heater, and flipped the radio station from her classical to his classic rock.

Scully glanced dubiously behind her at the backseat filled with duffel bags and a backpack. “You know, you are the only guy I know who packs more than a woman on a trip.” She eyed the radio disdainfully, which wasn’t lost on Mulder.

“‘He who drives, gets to pick the radio,’” he quoted, some ancient male proverb that had probably circulated for generations “Besides, you get to drive all the way there, remember? You’re the one with the good sense of direction.”

Scully settled in, glad to have a car with a quick heater, and stared into the snowy world outside.

“I wish we could skip this,” she said.

“Yeah, me too, but Skinner especially requested our presence. ‘Mandatory attendance.’ I think he wants to introduce us to some people.” Mulder looked out of the corner of his eye at Scully, eyebrows raised wonderingly.

“I wonder who,” she said. “We’re not exactly popular…”

“I’m not exactly popular, you mean,” he said, turning a corner on the way to the Palace Hilton.

“No, I mean we,” she said defensively. “So why do we get dragged to the First Annual FBI Christmas Party? And might I add what a dumb idea that is in the first place. Formal dress, black tie, a bunch of boring federal agents pretending to be interesting for a night. And very convenient, about a hundred of us all in one place. Hope they haven’t received any bomb threats.”

Mulder chuckled, and pulled into the wide, steadily-filling parking lot, made up mostly of boring, nondescript grey and black cars.

“We’re not all boring. And might I add that the hotel was probably very pleased to hear that about a hundred law-enforecement agents would be gathered in one place—who do you think would risk a crime when a hundred people are carrying guns on the first floor?” They stepped out of the car.

“How do you know they’re all carrying guns?” She asked, taking his proffered arm as they walked across the snowy parking lot. She hoped her red pumps would survive the wetness, and the occaisional sinkhole.

“Are you?” he asked, and patted his side to reveal the outline of his ever-present holster. She blushed, thinking of her own gun neatly in her handbag.

“Let’s go inside,” she said, and he pushed open the wide double glass doors, embossed with the Palace Hotel’s insignia.

They were directed by signs not exactly telling it was an FBI gathering, but close enough so that any agent would know. Complimentary hotel security, she thought wryly. No one even knows it’s us.

They stopped at the coatcheck, and Mulder took off his black overcoat to reveal what she had previously glimpsed, but in more detail. His slender from was elegantly showcased by the black suit, and she looked away in a tiny smile as she thought of how nice he looked. She suddenly felt too shy to say anything, though.

So she took off her gloves, and put them in the pocket of her coat, and undid the tie. Finding it warm in the hotel, and with no need for her heavy layers, she took it off.

To Mulder’s surprise, Scully didn’t look at all like Scully. Her dress was red, a dark shade almost as intense as blood. It was ankle-length, and slit up to the knee on one side, and it hugged the sides of her shoulders and showed just enough cleavage to be classy and sexy at the same time. The pumps she wore accentuated her legs and her height, making her more on eye level with him. Her makeup was heavier, her eyes darker. He hadn’t noticed before, but her hair was softly curled around her face.

“Hey, Scully, you look great,” he said honestly, never one to hide his thoughts. She smiled and tried not to blush, and again took his arm as he escorted her inside.

Was it her imagination, or did people stare as they walked in? Scully glanced around at the familiar faces, and felt her face burn as they looked at the two of them, some in disbelief, some in humor, and some in annoyance.

Tom Colton came over to them. Scully inhaled sharply and grimaced. They hadn’t spoken since the Tooms case so long ago, when she had just begun work on the X-Files. Colton looked too happy and loose, perhaps sampling the punch too frequently. The party had just begun. Hadn’t he any sense of decency?

“Hey, Dana!” he said, and hugged her roughly. She stiffened, trying to maintain her balance as her squeezed her and almost lifted her off the ground.

“Hi, Tom,” she said, and pulled away as gracefully as she could. Mulder was biting back something between a smile and a frown; she couldn’t tell which. She pasted a happy expression on her face and turned to face Tom again.

“Hey, I was hoping you’d come,” he said, his mouth close enough so that she could smell the alcohol. She stepped back very subtly.

“That’s nice, Tom. I’m glad to see you’re having such a good time.” Mulder looked a little apprehensive now, she noticed, as she peeked at him form the corner of her eye.

“But why ‘d ya bring Spooky? He doesn’t know how to have any fun. There aren’t any aliens here. Why’d you come?” he said, facing Mulder directly this time. Mulder stared evenly and didn’t say anything.

“Tom, Mulder and I were ordered to come. It made sense to arrive together.” Scully stepped away from Tom to Mulder’s side, hoping to make her point clear. “Now if you’ll excuse us, we have to go find Assistant Director Skinner.” She tugged on Mulder’s arm, and soon Tom forgot all about them as he found someone else to annoy.

“I really don’t like that guy,” Mulder said. Scully and him weaved their way through the crowd until they found their boss, who was relatively easy to spot. Not many were as bald, as tall, and as broad-shouldered as Walter Skinner.

Even he looks good in a tux, Scully thought to herself He had ditched his glasses and was speaking easily with some other agents. He even smiled. Scully waited until he saw them, and then he walked over.

“Agent Mulder, Agent Scully, good to see you,” he said, looking at both of them. He had definitely loosened up, Mulder thought, looking at the glass of wine in his hand. He was by no means as drunk or wasted as Colton, but at least he wasn’t totally stiff.

“You too, sir. This is a lovely place,” Scully said, trying to make conversation. Skinner looked for a second at Scully’s hand still holding Mulder’s arm, and she dropped it immediately. He didn’t seem to notice or care.

“Yes, it was selected by the Presidential Catering Service. Can you believe it? Your tax dollars at work.” He took another sip of tax-dollar wine, and spotted someone else he knew. In a moment Skinner was gone, and they were left to get lost in the swarming crowd of people.

“What do we do now? We arrived fashionably late, and I’d like to leave fashionably early. Dinner isn’t for half an hour.” Mulder looked at his watch , as if willing it to speed up. Not that he wasn’t having a good time…well, he wasn’t having a good time. No one liked him, not really. He didn’t want to have to cling to Scully’s side all night, although she did look lovely. He wouldn’t have minded staying with her except that she did have friends here, and he didn’t want to get in the way. Almost everyone knew him by reputation and that was enough for Scully to be ignored as well.

“I know. We should go right after dinner, say around nine. It’s a two-hour drive on the freeway to the actual town of Bishop, but then Ellen’s house is up the mountains. That’s about another forty minutes or so, considering it won’t snow any more.” Scully looked around, and waved to Jessa Logan across the room, who smiled, then looked at Mulder and looked away. Scully frowned. She had been perhaps naive enough to think no one would care if she was with Mulder.

Mulder noticed, too. He shifted uncomfortably, and rubbed his neck with his hand,

“Hey, Scully, why don’t you go talk to Jessa? I’ll go do a little exploring.” Without giving her chance to protest, he walked away, into the crowd.

Scully frowned after him. “Mulder, you stupid, unselfish man,” she fumed. Jessa took Mulder’s exit as her opportunity to go talk to Scully.

“Hey, Dana!” Jessa hugged her warmly, and smiled. Dana weakly returned the embrace, and half-heartedly smiled.

“Hi, Jessa. What’s going on? How are you?”

Jessa, a young agent fresh form the academy, had been one of Scully’s students. She’d been assigned to D.C. because of her remarkable ability in the crime lab. She was pleasant, blonde, and tall for a girl. But being young, she also believed rumors easily, and she was sure she’d heard all the ones about Mulder.

“Oh, I’m great, Dana. The lab here is more sophisticated than anything I’ve ever worked with. Um, how are you? Are your, um, cases going well?” There was a glint of humor in Jessa’s eye, and Scully tried not to take offense on Mulder’s behalf. It seemed everyone knew who she was and what she did…or at least had a far-fetched, inaccurate assumption.

“They’re fine. Really fascinating, Jessa, you should read one of the case files sometime. They often have a great deal to do with unusual forensic evidence. Would you excuse me? I just saw Skinner; I should go say hello.” Scully disappeared abruptly, leaving Jessa to shrug at her abrupt departure.

Scully worked her way through the crowd, not really looking for Mulder or anyone else. She went to the drink table and ordered an iced tea—she would be driving later and wanted to be sure that she would be alert.

She sipped her drink and let herself just think for a minute. In about an hour, she and Mulder would leave for the town of Bishop, Pennsylvania, to spend Christmas there. This would be the first Christmas ever that Scully had not spent with family. But with Melissa gone…it seemed that no one was going to be together. Her brothers were off, and Mom…she laughed softly. Her mother was going on a cruise to the Caribbean this year with friends. She had said that the house held too many memories. Of course she had invited her daughter as her Christmas present, but Dana had declined, for reasons she didn’t want to admit to herself just yet.

So she had faced spending the holiday by herself…with Mulder. She had originally planned on taking him out to dinner or something…she knew he was often alone at Christmas and she hated that. Then her friends Ellen and Daniel Hill, her very rich friends Ellen and Daniel, had announced that they were spending Christmas in Switzerland this year with Daniel’s parents. They had a huge, beautiful house upstate in Pennsylvania, high in the mountain residential area of a little town. They had offered it to Scully, knowing that she would be alone, and Scully hadn’t thought twice about asking Mulder.

She drank her iced tea a little more quickly as she thought of all the reasons she shouldn’t have invited him. What would this say about how she felt about him? Would he take it as an invitation for something more? And what if Skinner somehow found out—he wouldn’t be too happy. She hadn’t thought of any reasons not to ask him until after she had, and he had accepted. It seemed like the right thing. He was her friend.

Of course now she was getting a little worried. She didn’t think anything would happen—after all, there was simply no reason to believe that anything would. Sure, they flirted every now and then, but so what? A lot of people did. It didn’t mean anything.

Scully sipped her iced tea.

+ + +

Mulder sipped his iced tea. He stood alone by the door, watching people go in and out, trying to remain inconspicuous and unnoticed. He wished he could go stand by Scully, so at least he wouldn’t be a total wallflower. But he didn’t want to infect her with the Mulderitis that he seemed to have that made people want to avoid him.

The place was nice—big, classy, and undoubtedly expensive to rent. It was a high-ceilinged ballroom, with tables all over the place set with poinsettia bouquets and Christmas colors. A small string quartet played in the corner, that could barely be heard over the buzz of people’s chatter. Men outnumbered the women about two to one, even though some agents had probably brought spouses and dates. Every man was in some kind of tuxedo—there was only one that wasn’t black, besides the caterers, a man in an obnoxiously tacky gold and white brocade suit. Some unfortunate agent’s date, he thought. The man looked ridiculous, and had had a few too many drinks.

Mulder was actually surprised at how many agents were a bit tipsy. But then he supposed a Christmas party is a Christmas Party, FBI, CIA, or comglomerate-office stiffs. He had declined an alcoholic drink, in case he would have to take over driving for Scully. Which was a shame, he lamented, noticing the labels on the expensive champagne bottles. They had some good stuff.

He was still surprised at himself for accepting so casually. She had asked him to spend the holiday with her—which had knocked him for a loop right then and there—and he had responded with an enthusiastic yes. He recalled the surprise in her voice as she repeated his answer—“Yes? You’ll come?”—and grinned. He suspected she had asked quickly, before she lost her nerve, and wondered how many times she picked up the phone and slammed it down before she finished dialing, like a schoolgirl calling a boy for the first time.

Observing the crowd before him, he thought of Scully. This weekend meant only that they were friends and had a life outside the office. It meant nothing more—he would be a fool to think she had ever offered more, however subtly. He was glad she had asked him, though. Christmas alone was never a fun prospect. It’s a time for family and friends. Well, one out of two ain’t bad.

The maitre ‘d called everyone to dinner. Mulder looked at the chart that was right next to him for the seating, and then weaved his way to table number 5. He knew he would be sitting right next to Scully, and thanked heaven for small favors. Someone up there must like them.

+ + +

He saw her making her way across the room, and again smiled at the vision she made. So pretty once you got her out of her suit, Mulder mused. Well, and into something else. Then again…

They were seated with four other people, among them Agent Peter Kensington. He knew both Mulder and Scully, and had worked with Mulder once before. They had not gotten along.

Kensington was loud and boisterous at dinner, although he blissfully ignored the two quiet agents. They remained occupied with eating the four-course meal the caterers served, and talking softly between themselves, mostly about Agent Kensington.

“Someone’s been a little heavy on the sauce,” Mulder whispered to Scully, then took a bite of salad.

Scully sipped her water, and wiped her lips daintily with a napkin. “A little?” Both of them bit back laughs.

Dinner was basically over soon, and people had begun to rise again, to talk, while some remained at the tables, lingering over after-dinner coffees or desserts. Mulder motioned toward the door, and Scully nodded. Together, they rose, and started out into the lobby.

“Hey, Scully,” Kensington drawled. They were just inside the door. So close to a perfect getaway, Mulder sighed. Both of them turned to Kensington.

“Yes, Peter?” Scully asked sweetly. She had never liked Kensington, not from the first time she had met him. He was crass and chauvinistic and thought he was a prime hunk of man, God’s gift to women. There was little she despised more than that kind of super-inflated male ego.

“That’s a lovely dress you’re wearing tonight,” he said quite tipsily, and stepped up to her for a closer look. Kensington was tall, and he tried unsuccessfully to be subtle as he looked down the front of her dress.

“Thank you, Peter,” Scully said, moving nearer to Mulder. Perhaps she was using him, but she placed her arm through his as a clear signal to Kensington. At least she hoped that’s what it was.

“Hey, Scully, why are you hanging around with him? C’mere, and I’ll show you how to hang.” He giggled drunkenly at his own crude joke, and put his hand on Scully’s waist. She stepped away, and his hand slid lower.

“Kensington, I will thank you to leave me alone,” Scully said in a tightly controlled voice, getting very angry. She moved closer to Mulder still, trying to avoid that octopus’ hands on her rear. Mulder shifted her to his other side and put an arm rather possessively around her waist.

“The lady said to leave, Kensington,” Mulder said in dark, threatening tones. Kensington looked up at Mulder, annoyed.

“You stay out of this. This is between me and Dana. You don’t know how to take care of her, buddy. You let her get taken.” Kensington grabbed Scully’s arm and tried to pull her over to him, but Mulder held tight. Scully did not like being fought over this way. They were drawing a crowd, and this was the most blatantly unprofessional conduct she had ever seen. All she could do was stare at the two men, who had reverted to fifteenth century fights of honor. She expected them to pull out swords at any minute.

“What the hell do you mean,” Mulder said, looking Kensington in the eye and not flinching.

“I said, you let her get taken. She’s not safe working on those weird cases, because she got taken away. Everyone knows it was your fault, Mulder. Just like your sister.” Mulder drew a silent breath, and Scully felt his arm tense around her. She swore she heard a collective murmur from the people surrounding them.

Kensington could probably have walked away unharmed, but he didn’t stop there.

“Yup, Spooky Mulder did it again. Lost his little baby sister, then had to go and lose Scully. You sure don’t have good luck with the ladies, do you, Spooky? Why don’t you come and stay with me, Dana. I’ll make sure the aliens don’t come and get you And if they do, at least I’ll get you back.” As the final straw, he reached out and grabbed her shoulder, lower than was appropriate. Mulder’s fist shot out and clipped him neatly in the jaw, causing him to fall to the floor.

Scully put a hand to her mouth, then Mulder led them quickly out the door.

“Mulder!” Scully said, as they stopped at the coatcheck. “Why on earth did you hit him?”

Mulder shrugged into his coat and gave her a look of disbelief. “Why did I hit him? You should be asking why I didn’t shoot that bastard. After the way he treated you? After what he said about—” Mulder stopped himself, and walked out of the hotel door.

Scully followed quickly after him. He had stopped at her car, waiting on the passenger side for her to unlock it.

“Mulder, I know what he said was uncalled for. But—”

“Uncalled for? You call that uncalled for?” Mulder stepped into the car as she unlocked it, and put his seatbelt on.

“All right. It was way out of line. But he wanted to provoke you and you let him. That is exactly what you should not have done.” Scully turned on the engine, and pulled neatly out of the lot.

“Scully…what was I supposed to do, stand there and take it? Let you take it?”

“No, you were supposed to walk out. We were supposed to walk out. I really do appreciate your…well, your concern for me. He was a jerk. But this is an act of violence towards another agent. You’ll get an official reprimand on your personnel file, and—”

Mulder interrupted her with a short laugh. “Scully, my personnel file is Swiss cheese already. One more reprimand can’t hurt.”

“I just don’t want you in any more trouble than you usually are,” she said, trying to convey her concern. “And..I don’t want you to think about anything else he said, Mulder.”

He looked out the window at the world passing by, already thinking about it, and believing it.

“Why not? What he said was true. It is true. The truth does hurt, but that doesn’t make it any less real.” He laid his head against the cold glass, as if in defeat.

“Mulder, no! That is not the truth! He said that to antagonize you. You didn’t lose anyone. You are not endangering me. He just said that to—”

“To make sure I understand,” Mulder said stiffly. “And I do. Please, Scully, don’t talk anymore.” He turned the radio to her favorite classical station, and then fell silent.

Scully sighed. She didn’t want him to feel like this…damn Kensington.

What a way to start the holiday.

+ + +

Scully drove through the night, on a black highway, unsure of what came next. She didn’t speak to him again until they had passed Bishop and began their ascent into the mountains. His reply was a clipped answer that made her feel sorry she said anything.

They drove the rest of the way in silence, Scully not sure what to say. She didn’t want to overstep her bounds or get him even more upset by prying. It would be best to let him work this out all by himself, she thought. She had changed the station on the radio, and the Christmas carols that played on the only station the mountains picked up were of little comfort to ease the lonely silence.

The landscape she was driving through was beautiful, she had to admit. The mountains were all around, tall and snow-capped, like a haunting silhouette in the dark, starry night. The roads were well-paved, snow banked high on each side, and she felt safe driving through it.

After perhaps an hour after she had been winding through the mountain roads, she reached the described fork in the road, and took the right path leading up. This led to the “residential” area, and the other way went to a fantastic ski resort. Within ten minutes she saw the house after driving past some smaller, more modest homes. The large, log-style house was set against a breathtaking mountain backdrop of snow and pine trees. The gingerbread frame was trimmed with dark brown and red, like something out of a children’s storybook. The immense three stories seemed larger than life as she went up the long, curving driveway past the snow-covered lawn and white-tipped trees. She pressed the button on the garage-door opener that had arrived in the mail with the keys, and drove the car inside a wide, organized basement-type garage.

After she turned off the engine, Mulder pushed the trunk-release button and unlocked the doors, and climbed out brusquely. He retrieved his suitcase and duffels, and went straight into the house and up the stairs. Scully stared after his fleeting formed, surprised, hurt and a little angry that he had brushed her off so quickly. She heard his room door slam form the upstairs inside, a queue that she was on her own to unpack the groceries, presents and supplies. Trying not to get too angry, she began to unload the trunk.

Scully carried everything inside, then shut the garage and locked the door behind her. She looked around, to see that the garage led straight to the utility room, where a washer and dryer sat near a few laundry baskets and detergents, and a large water heater that hummed softly. She stepped out of it, into the kitchen, which opened up by swinging doors into a large foyer and living room. The ceilings were tall, the rooms large and impeccably decorated. Scully looked around in a bit of awe. Her apartment would fit into the living room and kitchen put together.

The kitchen she stepped into was modern, all the appliances on the white tiled countertops. The floor was tiled in a dark hunter green that set off the pine cabinets nicely. Everything was large and wide and very clean. The refrigerator was huge, tucked into a corner near the walk-in pantry with tall pine doors. Scully could see beyond the kitchen into the stunning living room through the half-ceilinged walls, and she stepped out of the kitchen through the doorway.

The carpet was dark green, like the kitchen tiles, and plush. White leather couches and loveseats sat scattered, among end tables, a large marble coffee table, and vases, pictures, and lovely knick knacks. A large white marble fireplace dominated one wall, while a very complete and elegant wet bar was near the kitchen on another. Portraits, landscapes of the snowy mountains, and classic works of art adorned the walls as well.

Scully smiled; near the fireplace, set in front of a large window, was a large, full Noble fir Christmas tree, and an overflowing box of Christmas decorations. Scully picked up a white piece of stationery that lay in the mantle. “Hope you have the time to decorate this place,” it read. “Please enjoy the tree, and the switch to the outside lights is the middle top one in the foyer. Love, Ellen and Daniel.”

Scully turned. The open foyer floor was the same white marble as the fireplace, with a large pine closet, paneled windows that ran the length of the wall, and double doors. Sure enough, a rather large panel of light switches was in one side. The end of the foyer led one up a curving pine bannister on one of the most elegant staircases she had ever seen, carpeted again with hunter green. The upstairs she could see, as it was only on top of the back portion of the house, where the dining room and bathroom were. The steps led to a long hallway with the same pine bannister, and she could see four doors. Two of them had little notes on them; she guessed they identified whose room was whose. Mulder was in one of those, she surmised.

Since she was in the foyer, Scully put her overcoat in the closet and turned on the heater, nevertheless rubbing her bare arms at the chill remaining in the house. He could have at least turned on the heater. She stepped out of her heels and returned to the kitchen, where she unpacked the few groceries they’d brought. She was growing more and more tired, after driving and fighting. All she wanted to do was change out of these formal clothes and fall into a warm bed. But there was Mulder to be dealt with. Never let the sun go down on your anger, her mother used to say. And although she wasn’t keen on confronting him when he was upset—especially if it concerned his sister—she didn’t want to wake up to a problem.

Scully placed the sack of presents by the tree, planning on dealing with them tomorrow. She and Mulder had decided to hit the slopes early and spend the day skiing, and they would probably decorate a bit after they got home and had dinner. It would be fun. She had really looked forward to tomorrow, Christmas Eve, with him. She wanted him to finally have a nice Christmas, someplace where he felt safe and cared for. Now more than ever, after that comment by Kensington. She bent to retrieve her pumps and climbed the stairs with her suitcase and bag.

She went to the door with the label on it that said “Mulder”, and crumpled it in her hand. She knocked gently. No answer. He couldn’t be asleep yet. She knew he wasn’t.

She knocked again. more forcefully. “Mulder?” she called. “Please, let’s talk.”

“Go away, Scully,” came the gruff and angry response. Mulder sat on his bed, still in his tuxedo and overcoat, no lights on. He wanted to be alone with his thoughts. If Scully talked to him now, he would end up yelling and saying things he didn’t mean, and he didn’t want to hurt her.

Mulder felt guilty and alone, and undeserving of the comfort Scully could have provided. Kensington had been right, and way you sliced it. Another year, another Christmas, without her. Another year he had failed her. He wasn’t even trying. What had he been doing instead of thinking of her, looking, hoping? Counting the days until he and Scully left to spend the holiday together. Putting her in front of his sister yet again. The guilt that he was feeling overshadowed every other emotion. He was indirectly and irrationally angry at Scully for taking Sam’s place this year, whether she knew she had or not. He knew he was being stupid to blame her, to put that on top of the guilt for Sam. He was a loose cannon right now, and would not allow Scully to break through his wall this time. It was for her own good.

“Mulder, please. Kensington was a moron, what’s more, he was a drunken moron. He knows what gets you angry, and if you continue to do this, he will have succeeded.”

“Scully, let me work this out on my own. All right? I don’t need your I-know-what’s-best mothering right now.” The voice inside the door sounded far away and childlike, despite the anger riddled through the deep tones. Scully was momentarily taken aback by the inadvertent accusation of her nature. Mothering?

“I don’t want to mother you. I want you to come out of that room, stop feeling sorry for yourself, and quit spoiling my holiday.”

Scully, please go away, he silently pleaded, before I say something I regret. He felt his anger boil inside, like a coiled snake on the verge of striking.

“It doesn’t matter, Scully. Go on and have your holiday. I can only assume you dragged me up here for company, so go to bed knowing there’s some one in the room next door. Go to bed, Scully.” Mulder bit his tongue. What have I done?

He heard her pause outside the door, inhale sharply. Now I’ve done it.

Scully bit back tears. Dragged me? She thought he had wanted to come, was looking forward as much as she…Scully shook her head. He’s just getting you mad, now. He doesn’t mean that. Maybe he will feel better tomorrow. Perhaps a a day on the slopes will clear his head more than I can hope to.

“Good night, Mulder,” she said tersely, picked up her bags, and stepped into the room right next to his. Unbeknownst to her, Mulder buried his head in his hands at the same time she did, both perched in identical poses on their beds.

+ + +

Mulder woke before Scully did. He had fallen asleep in his dress clothes, which were now very rumpled. His shoes were still on. Rubbing his eyes at the glowing light that was peeking in through his window, he undressed, and stumbled into his bathroom for a hot shower.

Feeling awake and clean but still lousy and moody, he dressed in comfortable clothes and blow-dried his hair in the bathroom. He went downstairs to eat, guiltily noticing that Scully had put away all of the groceries without any help form him. Jerkl, he chided himself. He made a bowl of hot cereal, which was bland even with the cinnamon additives, and brewed a cup of the gourmet coffee that Scully’s friend kept. He looked at his watch; 7:15. The slopes opened fifteen minutes ago.

Mulder debated his next step. He still felt boorish and upset. The dawn had not brought the emotional relief he had hoped for. He was tense and frustrated and didn’t feel like making amends yet. A part of him desperately wanted to, but he knew his temper and unpredictable mood wouldn’t be happy to do that. From experience he had learned that the best way to release emotional stress was to work it off through exercise.

He figured he’d be gone for a few hours, tops, and be back before Scully was up. There was only one car, and he didn’t want to strand her. He rushed upstairs and dressed in his warm ski clothes, then gathered his gear and wallet, keys she’d left on the kitchen table. Mulder pulled out of the garage and headed off to ski.

Scully awoke in an unfamiliar but warm bed. Her body was tired and she took a long time getting up. A quick glance at her clock told her that it was almost 9:30, and she had slept later than usual, but that was probably good because she wanted to be rested for skiing. She sat up and listened closely for sounds of Mulder getting ready, but she was greeted only by silence and the heater. He must be still asleep. She stepped into her slippers, wrapped herself in the robe, and went downstairs to fix some coffee.

Surprisingly, there was coffee already in the pot. Ellen must have forgotten to turn off the timer. It was still hot, and she poured herself a cup and fixed it to her preference. She stood by the sink, and stared out at the great whiteness of the world around her. It appeared to have snowed a little last night, and she thought she saw a few stray flakes still floating lazily in the white sky. She smiled. How could anyone be angry in all this beauty? Surely he will feel better when he wakes up and sees this.

She lingered a moment longer, then went to wake Mulder. They should be going soon to beat the rush. Today was Christmas Eve, a popular ski day. She carried her mug upstairs, wrapping her fingers around it for warmth, and knocked on his door lightly.

“Mulder,” she called. “Wake up, it’s almost 9:30. We should get ready soon.” No response. Heavy sleeper? No, not usually, she reminded herself. She knocked harder, in a mimic of last night. She expected groan and a plea for more time, Mom, but again, nothing. She turned the knob, surprised to find it unlocked, and opened the room.

It was still tidy. He hadn’t unpacked, but then, she hadn’t either. The bed was empty, and made. Something was not right. Her skin prickled and she got a dark, heavy feeling in her gut that felt a lot like suspicion. He wouldn’t.

She looked through his suitcase, feeling no guilt. His warm clothes and ski gear were gone. Anger that had been planted in her stomach like a seed began to grow. She fairly ran downstairs and down again, into the garage. Even though she had known what she would find, her jaw still dropped in shock and disbelief.

He had taken the car. One pair of skis, boots, and the snowboard was gone. He had gone skiing without her, broken set plans, leaving her up here alone with no car.

She went back inside, thinking this could be forgivable on an extreme long shot if he had bothered to leave a note or explanation. She checked the kitchen, living room, his room again, even the dining room and bathroom. Nothing.

She sat down on the wide, soft couch, anger now evolving into hurt. The rational part of her mind saw very clearly what was going on with him. She understood; of that there was no question. She always understood him. But understanding rarely eased pain. She had learned that when she had become a doctor, and had comprehended easily the technical, scientific reasons for death. But it hadn’t helped the pain of losing her father to know why and how he died, not one little bit. Just as it didn’t help the pain of being abandoned and cast aside.

She tried not to take it too personally. It wasn’t her fault, he was not doing this to be mean to her. They had a professional, respectful relationship, a friendship besides all else. Why did it hurt? She didn’t realize until then just how much she had wanted to spend time with him on a strictly friendly basis. His rejection, although indirect and not personally aimed, burned her deep inside.

Scully sat up, although it was the last thing she wanted to do. No sense wallowing. If Mulder needed time to go crazy and feel sorry for himself, let him. She had no idea when he would be back, and she didn’t care.

Scully showered, and dressed, not letting her mind wander to a certain partner who had skipped out on her. She unpacked, and after short consideration she unpacked his things as well. She had originally wanted to decorate with him, but she didn’t know when he would be home and she didn’t want Christmas to come tomorrow with a plain house.

Moving the presents away form their original position, she dragged the decorations box to the center of the room and began to unpack. It was well-organized; she could expect no less of Ellen and Daniel, she decided. She jumped up and put on some Christmas CD’s of theirs, and set to work.

She found lights, garland, ivy and holly chains, wreaths, statues, pictures, an many, many ornaments. She began by doing the mantle of the fireplace, her traditional job at her family’s. The boys and…Dad did the outside lights….Melissa always made the wassail in the kitchen that smelled so good, and Dana did the mantle. Mom cooked supper, and later, everybody would help with the tree.

She thought of her family now, scattered and decimated by time. Dad and Melissa were dead, her one brother had married and had a family of his own this year, and the other was away in the South Pacific on duty. Scully still couldn’t believe her mother’s plans—a cruise at Christmas with some of her best friends. Dana had never regretted her decision to decline. She knew this Christmas would be hard for Mulder, and lonely. His father was dead….he felt that deeply, even though the two had had a tumultuous, angry relationship even when Samantha was there. His mother probably would spend it with friends. Scully knew he would need a friend this Christmas. She had told herself that she stayed because she hated the commercialism of cruises, but the truth was, she didn’t want him to be alone. Her friend’s invitation to housesit and the FBI Party had made perfect excuses to bring him along.

Scully set holly garland along the wide mantle, on top of fluffy white cotton “snow” that looked real. Among the leaves she set small pots of poinsettias, both red and white, that had been in her upstairs bathroom, and several red glass spherical ornaments. She put two small stocking holders under the snow, so they were invisible, and ran upstairs to unearth the two she had brought. One was her stocking, the handmade one she had had since childhood. It showed a needlepoint house of three stories, the fireplace on the bottom, and a redheaded girl sleeping in bed in the top. The house had a tall chimney, and was set against a dark blue starry sky. Her name was in script on the top of it. All of it was hand-stitched and sewn, and Scully treasured it and used it year after year on the mantle at her mother’s, just as she hung it here.

The other stocking she had just bought, in a boutique at a Christmas craft show her mother had dragged her to awhile ago. It was another hand-stitched stocking, but this one showed a snowy forest of evergreens, with a lone dark red fox sitting alone. She bought it for Mulder immediately, and the woman stitched his name onto it as she shopped. She brought it out now, and she hoped she’d been right by having the lady stitch “Mulder” on the top instead of “Fox.” Somehow it seemed more personal and familiar, as if it were between the two of them that she respected him enough not to use his first name. She smiled down at it, and hung it next to her own.

She decided to do the long, curving bannister next. Occasionally a house they had moved into would be a two-story, and both her and Melissa had helped to do the staircase. All alone this time, Scully pulled out another string of realistic-looking cloth holly, unearthing many similar strings. Apparently, Ellen decorated the same way she was planning to. There looked to be enough to wind it all the way up to the hallway, and even on the rail there. Scully worked carefully, stringing the bushy, soft holly through the rungs and around the top, all the way until the end of the rail. She looked down, satisfied with her results, and for good measure added a string of soft, round white lights that was also long enough to stretch to the top and beyond.

Scully placed the pictures of snowy landscapes in the place of the fall ones, and hid them in the closet. She set the statues of various Santas, cut wooden reindeer, small children, and dusky-painted ceramic elves and faeries all over, in windows and a few on the mantle. She found a box containing an entire Christmas town, and she cleared the glass-topped coffee table to accommodate it. There was a large amount of angel-hair nylon snow, which she laid out, and set the pastel, old-fashioned town on top of it. There were houses with lights on inside, a church with a sloping roof, a store, a stable, and other little buildings. There was even an ice rink, with magnetized skating children that moved silently when the rink was “on”. Every building had crystal snow on top of it and some sort of light, not to mention the old-fashioned streetlights that were scattered around. Scully was enchanted by it.

She decided to take a lunch break. She had skipped breakfast in her eagerness to do something, and at almost noon, she found her stomach rumbling. Fixing herself a bowl of hot soup and a sandwich, she sipped her coffee and wondered what Mulder was doing. She was no longer angry, and her hurt was subsiding. Memories had flooded her while she was decorating; happier times, when her family was complete and she still believed the world was clean-cut and simple. She understood Mulder’s pain. The most important part of his family was still missing, and he hadn’t had a Christmas with her in twenty-two years. Scully knew he had to be mad at her out of guilt at what he believed were his failures. He probably also felt terrible that he had been planning on having a nice Christmas without Samantha, instead of his self-imposed emotional torture. Scully sipped her coffee and sighed. She hoped he would come home soon.

Mulder had spent a good four hours skiing. His bones ached, his stomach rumbled, and his lips were getting chapped. He trudged into the main room of the ski resort, a large log-cabinish building that was also a hotel. He stripped off his ski gear and put it in the locker he had rented for the day. Now, in turtleneck, jeans and sweater, he grabbed his wallet and headed for the restaurant.

Modest, but nice. He seated himself, and soon a young ski-bunny waitress came to hand him a menu and take his drink order. He tried to ignore her flirtatious gaze and smile as he ordered a black coffee and she went on her way. He just wasn’t in the mood.

He rubbed the muscles in his neck, stretched as much as he possibly could in the small booth. He had stayed a lot longer than he had planned, but it felt so good, despite the stiffness that was overcoming him. He had almost managed to ski away his anger and aggressions.

Scully was undoubtedly awake and furious by now. He wondered if she would page him here. He had left his cell phone on purpose, so she couldn’t call. He could always call her….but what would he say? He would have to explain himself in person. The feelings he had felt earlier were gone, but now he had to deal with leaving Sully alone. The bubblehead came back with his coffee, and he ordered hot vegetable soup and a club sandwich without looking at the menu. She asked him in a giggly voice if there was anything else she could get him, implying perhaps more, but he just shook his head and sipped the coffee. It felt good, tasted real, penetrating the cold all the way to his bones. Warmth and familiarity.

A picture of Scully smiling at him came to mind. Warmth and familiarity—that fit Scully to a tee. He knew why she hadn’t gone with her mother this year, even if she had never said so, and her gesture touched him more deeply than he knew. Sometimes he felt like she knew him inside-out, better than he knew himself. He hadn’t looked forward to a Christmas alone at home, and she had rescued him form that cold fate. He was grateful and yet he felt that perhaps he could be there for her this Christmas, too. Being with her mother would undoubtedly remind her painfully that Melissa and her father were missing from the picture. With him, they could rely on each other to start new Christmas memories, safe and warm. Familiar.

“Sweet, Mulder,” he mumbled. “What a way to show you care.”

He sipped his coffee and dreaded going home to her. What could he possibly say to explain himself? He should go home alone, for the pain he’d caused her.

The waitress arrived with his meal soon, and Mulder let his thoughts wander while he ate. He thought of the bag of presents that Scully had brought in, and wondered vaguely if she had bought him anything. Something told him without a doubt that she had. He had put off buying her something in D.C. until it was too late, unsure if they should cross the gift-buying line yet, and even more unsure of what to buy her that she would like, and that wouldn’t mean too much…the usual anxiety that went with gift-buying. It was worse for him—he sometimes felt as though theirs was an ever-changing relationship, from spy to partner to friend to what? They flirted and played, and he wasn’t sure which category to buy for. So he hadn’t.

+ + +

He had to get her something now, not only because he wanted to, but to be on the safe side if she—and she most certainly had—bought him something, and to make up for the way he had treated her. He finished his lunch, still wondering, mind going haywire at the possibilities.

The waitress came back soon with his check, still smiling like an idiot. Where do they find these girls?

“Excuse me, I was wondering where the nearest mall was,” he asked. He got out a pen and turned over his paper placemat for directions.

“Oh, well, it’s all the way down the mountain, about an hour’s drive. You’re in town then, and if you go down Main Street you can’t really miss it. Not all that big, but okay, as malls go.” She batted her eyelashes.

“Thank you ,” Mulder said, handing her fifteen dollars. “Keep the change.” He walked over to the lockers and turned in his key, and slipped his jacket on. An hour’s drive. I hope she appreciates this. He packed his car and turned to go.

+ + +

Scully was only slightly worried. He was somewhere…venting his rage or guilt or whatever he was feeling…get your mind off him and go back to decorating.

The tree was her next objective. Fishing another string of round, soft white lights, she ran it all around the tree, just as she had always been taught to do first. Then she got out some silvery, soft, white garland, very high-quality stuff, and strung that around. The ornaments she found were classic and pretty, though impersonal, unlike the ones her family had. Every year until she was thirteen Scully had gotten a new ornament, as did all the children. There were fifty-two personal ornaments on the tree, plus some her parents had given each other. But this was pretty, too. Silver, red and green glass balls, tasteful velvet red bows, candy canes, and silver bells. How cute, she mused. I guess Christmas carols have to have roots somewhere. There was also a delicate silver star that she just managed to place on the top of the tree with a little help from the tallest chair she could find. She plugged it all in, and flipped the switch. Beautiful.

She put a red velvet cloth under the tree, and unpacked the gifts. Some were hers; from her mother, and two friends, although the number she had brought for herself to open here didn’t include the numerous packages from brothers and aunts and uncles and cousins all over the place. She hadn’t wanted a huge difference between the number of presents she got and the number Mulder had. There were just three for Mulder; one from his mother, one from her mother, and one from herself. She had originally debated getting him a gift, but she was always terrible about Christmas shopping. She went broke every Christmas buying gifts for everyone she knew, and this year, she had included Mulder. She had decided to forget all the connotations her gift would bring, what with their strange and unpredictable relationship, and she got him something he would truly like. She honestly didn’t care if he bought her something. There wasn’t anything in her sack, but perhaps he kept it with him. Doesn’t matter. She glanced at the stockings, which hung empty, and laughed; her mother had sent her stuffers for them both, with instructions not to put them into her stocking until Christmas morning, and not to peek. Scully herself had also bought stuffers for Mulder, which would be placed sometime next morning.

She glanced at the clock again. After her painstaking and careful decoration of the tree to get it just right, it was now two o’clock, and still no Mulder. She worried just a little but more, and decided she definitely would not page him at the ski resort. Instead, she went into the kitchen and pulled out the steaks to thaw for tonight’s dinner. She thought a Christmas Eve barbecue in the snow was a fabulously original idea, especially since she had found a glassed-in porch out back, with state-of-the-art barbecue grill and patio furniture that was almost nicer than her living room things. She also set out all of her things for Melissa’s traditional wassail, or hot apple-cinnamon-spice cider. She thought of past holidays with her sister with a small smile on her face as she began to mix the ingredients.

The drive down was pleasant enough, a beautiful snowy landscape he had been too angry to notice the night before. The drive took him around forty minutes, a little less than anticipated. Sure enough, the mountain road led straight to main street. He remembered this quaint, charming little town the night before when they had driven through. It was almost like this place was stopped in time, around the turn of the century, Buildings were old-fashioned, streets were narrow, and the population was only about 700. Just composed of a main street and a few side streets and a small down-mountain residential area, all of the shops were down here. At the end he saw a large, modern structure that stood out between the old buildings. On the side of the building he saw the name Macy’s…a chain outlet even out here, he thought. He drove in the large, mostly empty parking lot, and found a space right near the entrance to the department store.

Inside was as empty as he had ever seen a mall. He supposed that in this town, Christmas shopping was done early, and Christmas Eve was a time spent with family. Still, a few shoppers wandered around, buying last-minutes gifts or perhaps just passing time until the next day. A few salesladies dotted the areas, some giving makeovers, others chatting amiably with the customers. Everyone seemed to know everyone else, and Mulder felt like a stranger.

He walked up and down the aisles; he had entered into the perfume and cosmetics section, and the smells were invading his nose, making him want to sneeze. No perfume, he decided right away. Way too personal and <cough> way too smelly.

Certainly not makeup…he considered every item as he passed through the store. He wandered accidentally into lingerie, where he saw a beautiful full-length hunter green satin-and lace nightgown, with matching robe. He allowed himself a moment to toy with the notion of buying it for her as he imagined her in it. Then he imagined her receiving it, and didn’t relish a slap in the face. He moved on.

Ladies wear? No. Clothes wouldn’t be right. Besides, she wouldn’t wear any of these fashions anyway. They’re for old ladies, people without style. He had reached the escalator and shuddered a bit at the eerie memory, then looked up; housewares and bedroom stuff. No sale there.

He passed by the escalator and found himself in the jewelry section. That’s not a bad idea. He looked over the stuff, most of it fake costume jewelry that was still outrageously expensive. No, nothing here. Something told him she wouldn’t like a half-pound ruby ring embossed with gold filigree. But it had given him the idea he was looking for. He exited the department store into the mall, where he entered the first decent-looking jewelry store he saw.

The long glass cases presented a much more tasteful view than the one in Macy’s. Mannequin hands wore small and sparkling rings, necks in display cases wore beautiful small chains and pendants, heads sported earrings. He looked at one display, entitled Christmas Lights, which had a matching set of small, round-cut diamond earrings set in silver, a larger but still very lovely emerald teardrop pendant, a diamond and emerald bracelet, and a teardrop ruby ring set with a few diamonds. He immediately discounted the ring—too much of a statement there, and the bracelet, which was mostly diamonds, as being too expensive. But the earrings struck him as just right. Large enough to be distinctive, but small enough to be discreet and professional, she could even wear them to work. They were in a high price range, more than he had originally considered, but they were worth it…now that he had found the just-right gift he’d been looking for. Mulder imagined her ears sparkling every day with his thoughtfulness, and couldn’t suppress a grin. Every time she put them on, he would be on her mind.

He told the clerk of his decision—which made for a very happy clerk—and the young man put them in a small gift box and wrapped it in silver paper, with a tiny silver card and ribbon. Taking out a pen, Mulder decided to keep it to a minimum—he would say all he needed to say later. To Dana…..he paused. Love, Mulder. Bold, he decided. But it was true. It was what he meant to say.

Satisfied, he decided that because he had made his purchase so quickly, he would walk around the mall a bit. He felt guilty because knew he was stalling the confrontation when he got to the house, but he managed to make excuses to himself. He walked to the center, where a bored-looking Santa Claus was sitting, waiting for children that weren’t there. No line today, Mulder thought, as he waved in sympathy to the man, and smiled a little at the teenage elf in a short skirt. He passed display after display in every store, and found his mood improving. This place was charming.

He wandered into food court, and bought some roasted chestnuts from a vintage-looking food stand. Apparently set up just for this time of year, he mused. He popped a hot nut into his mouth and found it to have a warm, soothing and homey flavor, sort of like pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. He also passed a flower vendor, selling poinsettias and other flowers. What the hell, Mulder thought, and shelled out fifteen dollars for an unusual and pretty bouquet of red poinsettias, white roses and babies’ breath. He would be broke by New Year’s at this rate, but oh, well. She really deserved it after the way he had treated her…not to mention the fact that she was just plain Scully all year round. Putting up with him made her worthy of these comparably small tokens every day. Suddenly eager to give her the presents, he rushed out of the mall. He checked him watch; just after two. He should be home by three.

Scully was restless and worried. Against her better judgegment, she had called the resort and had requested to know if he had come and if he was still there; they said he had left over an hour ago. So she worried. And decorated more. Compulsive? Never.

She had wandered into the garage and had found some outdoor decorations, which she set up. There were ceramic statues of santas that went on the front porch, and string after string of lights that she wound in the smallish, round trees in the yard, and some ground lights that she hooked up to run along the driveway. Though it was only three o’clock when she was done, dusk had already fallen up here in the mountains, and so she switched on all the outdoor lights in a brilliant flash. The trees looked enchanted, the house was lit up like a castle, and the driveways was a path of light. It had begun to snow half an hour ago, and it was coming down heavier now, with a little more wind. Scully surveyed her work one last time, trying to enjoy it as she worried about Mulder in the ever-worsening weather. She went inside to begin preparing the early stages of dinner, and made herself a fire for good measure and comfort.

+ + +

Mulder couldn’t believe how much snow could fall in a half hour. It was thicker, colder, and windier as he climbed the altitude, and the road had become dangerously icy. He went slower than usual, carefully going around every curve at a snail’s pace. He hated driving in snow. He wanted to be home.

Finally he pulled onto Evergreen Drive, and was very pleasantly surprised at what he saw when he turned into the driveway. He knew the house had lights on it, but they were turned on now. The sky was totally black at three-thirty in the afternoon, and the house was lit up like a star. The trees were hung with small blinking lights and appeared magical; the driveway paved a path of stars. He was sure this hadn’t been here last night and knew Scully must have spent a lot of time on it. He felt guilty again. It had been a tacit agreement to decorate together. He opened the garage, and pulled in the car.

Scully heard the door open, and her breath came out of her in a whoosh. Her knees almost buckled with relief; she had been so worried! She heard him coming up the stairs and composed herself, wondering what his mood would be, but in the back of her mind not caring because he was safe. She resumed washing the potatoes for baking, her side to him as he came through the laundry room.

She looked up as he entered, carrying a small paper bag and a large bouquet of flowers, wearing jeans, his leather jacket, and an apologetic smile. She smiled back, and dried her hands, as he stepped into the kitchen and looked around.

The inside of the house had turned into a wonderland throughout the day. The tree was lit and sparkling, two stockings hung from the mantle, there were presents under the tree—everything was so beautiful. The mantle and bannister were decorated with holly, and an adorable little town now occupied the coffee table. A good, spicy smell was in the kitchen, which was warm and cozy from a fire that burned brightly in the living room. He smelled pine and apple and cedar wood smoke, and a faint steak marinade. Christmas carols played softly from the stereo. It was all so warm, so real, so perfect. He couldn’t ever remember stepping totally into the Christmas mood as he did now. He felt like he had come home.

He turned with an amazed expression on his face to Scully. She had changed after she had gotten herself messy doing the lights outside, into a dark green velvet dress, cut ballet-style and long-sleeved, with a deep-colored red vest over it. She had on thick green socks and brown, soft kid-leather walking boots, and her hair was loose and fell on her shoulders. She smelled like cinnamon and pine from everything around her, and she looked beautiful, standing there in the kitchen. Home, he thought again.

“You did all this?” he asked. Stupid question, Mulder. Who else did it—Santa Claus?

“Yes,” she said, evenly. He couldn’t read her. She didn’t seem angry or upset or hurt….just guarded. She probably didn’t know what to expect from him.

“Dana, I’m sorry,” he said, using her first name so she would know he was serious. He felt so bad…

“I know, Mulder. I’ve got you figured out by this point…I understand. You’re not entirely off the hook, but I do understand.” She had a small smile on her face now, teasing him, and he felt sudden relief wash over him.

“You understand? But why? I ditched you, I yelled, I said things I didn’t mean, I ruined Christmas Eve for you, I—”

“Mulder,” she interrupted. She turned back to her potatoes, and he went to the counter so he could talk to her.

“Of course, I understand. What Kensington said got to you. You feel…like you failed. And guilty for wanting to enjoy this Christmas with me.”

Mulder’s mouth dropped a bit. “How did you know?”

She smiled, and looked him in his brown eyes. “You’re like an open book sometimes. Easily read. I know you well enough by now to know how you feel, and although I couldn’t possibly have predicted your reaction, I do understand it.”

Mulder looked down, and went to get the bouquet.

“I bought these for you,” he said, surprised at the shyness that came out in his voice. He’d given her a flower very recently, and he hadn’t been at all shy about it then.

Scully smiled widely, almost a grin. She took them and smelled, closing her eyes.

“Thank you. They’re beautiful,” she said, surprised at the quiet tone. She had received a flower from him recently. What was so different?

“What’s for dinner?” he said, changing the subject to something safe. He felt..strangely relieved. Like something he had been dreading was canceled. He supposed that although he hadn’t been looking forward to a fight with Scully, he would have gladly stood patiently by as she screamed at him. He deserved it. Instead, she said she understood him. A weight lifted. He felt the relief travel deeper, soothing him, like the coffee that had sunk deep down into him at lunch today. Safe and comforting, she was a strength that he realized he needed.

“Steak, baked potatoes, salad, and garlic bread.” Scully pulled a cut crystal vase out of a cabinet and put the bouquet in there, and filled it with water. She set it on the kitchen table, and returned to washing her potatoes.

“Anything I can do to help?” He asked, for the first time in his life genuinely willing and eager to help out in the kitchen.

“Oh, you will help, all right. Get the French bread out of the drawer over there,” she said, pointing. “Pull out the cutting board there. Knives are in the holder in front of you. Slice it lengthwise.” As Mulder followed orders, he felt moved down in position somehow. She was the boss. He grinned, waiting to accept new orders.

“Go into the pantry and find olive oil and garlic,” she said, and finished her potatoes. She set them on the counter and dried them, and Mulder came back with the two ingredients.

She pulled out the garlic press and a bowl for him, debating whether or not to give him salad duty and let her make the garlic bread. Well…

“Okay, now this is a garlic press. Shell two cloves—you know what a clove is, right?—of garlic, put them in here one at a time, and squeeze hard over the bowl. Then open it and dump what’s inside in the bowl. Then pour in about a cup or so of olive oil.. Okay?” Mulder nodded, and Scully went to pull the salad fixings out of the refrigerator.

While Mulder made the garlic spread, Scully chopped iceberg, romaine, and Greek lettuce into a bowl, added carrot peelings she made with a fancy little slicer, and other vegetables. Mulder finished, and she instructed him on how thick to slice the cucumbers and radishes. Together they made a very colorful tossed salad, which she covered and put back in the fridge.

By then it was four-thirty, and the steaks were done marinating. Time to grill, Scully thought, and she wondered if she could recruit Mulder into doing that for her. She didnt’t trust him entirely with the garlic bread, though.

“Okay, I will go light the grill, ” she said. Mulder turned to her with a look of disbelief.

“Grill? You’ve got to be kidding. It’s snowing and dark and windy and cold.”

“It’s indoors,” she said, and strode past him to the glassed-in patio. It was heated, like the rest of the house, and so she opened the ceiling vent to let the smoke escape once the grill was cooking.

She was relieved to find that although it was very large, it was still a natural grill, and she stuffed charcoal and newspapers into the starter and lit it. With nothing to do as she waited for the pieces to heat, she wandered inside and found the table settings for the patio.

Mulder was in the living room, examining things more closely. He stopped to look at the cute little old-fashioned village; how charming! Those little ice-skaters on the mirrored “pond.” Working lights…this was so beautiful and detailed.

The tree was one of the tallest and most impressively decorated he had ever seen. Everything matched everything else, nothing was out of place or tacky. It was so tall, he thought to himself, and he wondered which chair little Dana had used to put the star on top on reach the lights. Then he laughed a little, thinking what she would do to him if she ever found out he referred to her as “little Dana.”

Under the tree were presents; just enough for two people. He suspected that Dana had many more at home; she had a huge and expansive family that spanned the globe, and that she had only brought the special ones so she wouldn’t out-gift him. He felt warmed by the gesture, and at the same time a little sad at his lack of ties. He spied a smallish package that read, from Dana to Mulder, and smiled. He put his own tiny box to her on top of it.

He looked up then, at the stylish mantleplace above the roaring fire. She certainly had a way with decorating. It was so pretty, like a small forest with elves about. He saw the stockings for the first time suddenly; both hand-crafted and personal. Dana’s, he had no doubt, dated back to her first or second Christmas. His was new. The picture in it was a fox, standing alone…he grinned at the imagery and at the name on top. Mulder. I’ll bet the lady who stitched that thought Dana was crazy. But only people who didn’t know him well enough to realize he hated it called him Fox. Dana respected that.

All in all, the scene was beautiful. He heard Dana come back into the kitchen, and passed him a smile on her way to the dining room. She came out with a tablecloth, placemats, and napkins, done in a leafy red and green Christmas design. He followed her, and found her beginning to set the table in the glassed in porch.

“Can I help?” he asked again. It seemed that she was doing all the work today, making things pretty. But then maybe it was her place to. As a man, he really didn’t know about…well, making things look nice. Dana had a flair for making things special and magical. Maybe it was just her female instinct. Or maybe it was just Dana.

“Yes…in the dining room, get two Christmas patterned China plates from the case, two salad bowls, matching silverware for two, and two napkin holders.” She led the way, and as Mulder picked up what he was supposed to, she selected two wine glasses and two water goblets, and the silver candlesticks form the table. They carried their things out to the table, where Dana set the places properly, arranged the candlesticks, and went inside to retrieve the final pieces; Mulder’s bouquet, and two red candles.

Mulder smiled art the pretty picture before him. Dana, looking beautiful, and a lovely setting at a table designed for two people. The glass walls revealed a stunning picture-perfect landscape—a snowy mountain range in the dark, blue sky, a white expanse of snow and trees as far as one could see, and gently falling and swirling flakes that played in the wind.

Dana was looking wistfully outside, as though caught in a trance. Mulder took the opportunity to fully observe her, see her berry-stained lips the color of her vest and her hair open slightly as she breathed, her blue eyes heavy-lidded and dark as she daydreamed, her slender figure played up by the green velvet, leaving shapely bare legs soft and pale. She looked like an angel.

“Beautiful,” he whispered.

“Yes, isn’t it?” she asked, not understanding his meaning. He sighed, and dumped the now-ready charcoals onto the grill. Dana broke her reverie and went to fetch the steaks.

Mulder was put in charge of steak-duty. Steak—meat in general, on a grill—was one thing he could cook well. His father had taught him how through countless Labor Days, Fourth of Julys, and summer weekends. Dana liked her smaller steak medium well, not pink at all, but Mulder preferred a slightly red meat. Maybe it was a guy thing, but most men he knew liked theirs the same way.

Dana had put the potatoes in the oven to bake some time ago, to assure that they would be ready in time. She was in the kitchen now, preparing the garlic bread, as she thought of how….familiar this night seemed. It was almost domestic, she decided, the man cooking the meat and the woman in the kitchen preparing the rest of it. After doing the bread, she mixed up some fresh Italian dressing in a bottle from a recipe she had learned in college. She checked the potatoes, made sure the wine was chilling nicely, a deep red Cabernet Sauvignon she knew they both liked. Left with nothing to do but wait for the steaks and the potatoes, she carried the bread and some foil outside.

“Almost done?” she asked, glancing at the brown meat. It smelled heavenly; she had spent quite awhile marinating it with a special blend of her mother’s. She hoped it would be done soon; it was nearing six o’clock.

“Just about. I’m giving yours about ten more minutes. Mine’s already done.”

“Okay. Well, scoot mine over a little, I have to do the bread,” Dana said, putting both long slices facedown on the scorching hot grill. Within about thirty seconds, she turned each one over; they were each a perfect golden brown, completely unburned.

“How did you do that? ” he asked. “I always burn bread. I have never had a way with open flame.”

She smiled. “Practice, my dear,” she said, carelessly letting the endearment slip out. She wrapped both pieces of bread in the foil to cook without scorching, and left him to ponder her statement, and to get the potatoes and salad.

Mulder wondered. The word had slipped over him easily and didn’t panic him as it had when his last date had called him, “sweetheart”. Usually endearments meant commitments and commitments meant pain. But with her it was different. Everything is different, he thought cryptically, as she returned, carrying the salad, dressing, and two large baked potatoes.

She set them on the table, and went back to the kitchen yet again, this time returning with a small platter for the steaks, and steak sauce, and salt and pepper. Arranging them, she lifted the bread off the grill, and handed him the platter. Mulder used a spatula she had brought out on an earlier trip to scoop the steaks onto the platter, and they were set. Almost.

Mulder served each steak, and he cut the bread, dished out salad, and placed a baked potato on each plate. She seemed to think a moment, then a look of recognition crossed over her face, and she left one more time, but this time he followed her. She opened the fridge and pulled out the Cabernet, and he went into the utility drawer and got a book of matches.

When he returned, she was pouring wine for each, and then she sat down and looked up at him in the door way.

“Come on, it’s getting cold,” she said, watching him watching her.

“Just a sec,” he said. He stepped forward and lit the candles, then stepped back and dimmed the lights almost to Off. The result was a soft candlelit dinner for two on Christmas Eve. She smiled, and looked out at the snow. With no lights, it felt like they were outside.

Mulder took off his leather jacket and sat down across from her, loving the way the candlelight made her look. Her eyes sparkled when she smiled, and she seemed like magic.

They talked over dinner. They talked about why he had left; Mulder brought it up. He wanted to make absolutely sure she knew it wasn’t her fault and it wasn’t her that he had been angry at.

“‘Anger directed at the wrong person?’” she quoted with a wry smile, and he grinned in mock disgust as he remembered the official reason Eugene Tooms had been released.

“You could say that,” he said. “The point is, I was looking forward to this, really looking forward to it. I couldn’t wait. And I guess I felt guilty once I realized just how much.”

Dana looked touched, and she felt his admission deep inside. She had wanted this, too, a retreat from the bureaucratic confines and professional nonsense. Just a chance to be themselves. She smiled, and took hold of his hand over the table.

“I know,” she said, meaning so much more than was apparent in her response. Mulder knew, too, and squeezed her hand.

The conversation was lightened after that. They joked and laughed, discovering the free and easy people they could be when miles away form the office. They finished dinner and instead of cleaning up right away, went to enjoy the living room, with cups of hot wassail that had been brewing all day.

“How did you manage to do this all in one day?” he asked, motioning toward the tree, the mantle, everything that she’d done. Nat King Cole played on the stereo, singing “The Christmas Song,” one of his favorites.

“Well, I needed something to do other than get angry at you in the morning,” she said, pointing to the mantle , the town, and the bannister. “Then, in the afternoon, I needed something to do other than worry,” this time gesturing toward the Christmas tree and pointing outside.

“Worry?” he asked. “Why would you worry?”

“Think about it. If I had gone skiing all by myself in a mad rage and not come home until dark, would you have worried? I called the resort around two and they said you’d been gone for over an hour. Where else was there to go? So I worried that you’d crashed or something awful like that. Where were you all that time?”

Mulder remembered what she’d said earlier about not being let off the hook entirely…here it came.

He chose his course carefully. He didn’t really want her to know he had only just bought her present. Could he get away with not telling her that and not lying? So where was he….buying flowers? For all that time? Sure, Mulder.

“Well…..” he began, and she quirked an eyebrow. This should be good. He was fidgety and nervous, which meant he was trying to be subtly evasive. She expected him to jump up and start pacing any second.

“I felt bad. Really bad. And I remembered that I hadn’t bought you a gift yet because I hadn’t known what to get you that would be, well, acceptable,” he said, stuttering a little. Dana looked amused.

“So I drove all the way into town, to the mall, and bought you something. It’s a long drive. I also got the flowers there. Peace offering.”

She smiled. “Okay. And it must have taken you awhile to get back—that’s when the snow picked up ad the wind began.”

“Yeah.” Scully stretched out like a cat, and yawned.

“I think I’ll go clean up. I’m getting tired, and I want to go to bed soon.” She rose, and he followed her.

“Hey, let me clean up. You’ve done everything else.” Dana began to scrape the dishes clean.

“No, it’s okay. I don’t mind. I cooked, so I’ll clean.”

Mulder took the plate from her. “You have a twisted family philosophy. It goes, you cook, the others clean. Now move and let me do it.” He gave her a good-natured bump on the hip, and jounced her out of the way.

“If you insist, Mulder. I’ll see you in the morning. Don’t break anything.” She turned, and as Mulder watched her go through the door, he noticed something he hadn’t before.

“Dana, wait,” he said, and she stopped in the doorway and leaned against it.

“Yes?” she asked.

He walked over to her, and tilted her chin up. Then he bent down, and kissed her softly, and she was amazed at the immediate, heated response her body had to the touch of him. Her mouth fit perfectly against his full lower lip, and she closed her eyes in wonder.

It lasted only a too-brief few seconds, and she was soon left with tingling lips, standing perfectly still, her heart beating and pulse racing.

Mulder smiled, slightly out-of-breath. “Mistletoe,” he said, his voice slightly huskier than usual. She looked up, and there it was, a dried sprig wrapped sweetly with a red curled ribbon. Mulder silently thanked Dana’s friends for their uncanny foresight.

He turned back to the sink, and she lingered only a moment longer before turning and walking up the staircase. Mulder watched her go, touching her finger to her lips. He did the same, and peered down at the part of his body that had become almost painfully hard. He was as surprised as she at the explosive reaction. But he wasn’t as scared.

+ + +

Okay, sorry to keep you all waiting. This is the NC-17 part, so shield your eyes, kiddies.

Dana woke at five-thirty, to be sure to wake before him to stuff the stockings. Her hair was mussed, and her eyes still half-closed with sleep, but she hurriedly wrapped a robe around herself and put her feet in slippers, and grabbed the small sack of stocking stuffers.

Tiptoeing downstairs, she quickly filled the stockings and lit the fire, so it would be lovely by the time they woke up. She went into the kitchen and set out the new wassail, which would be perfectly brewed and extending its rich aroma all about the house in a few hours. She turned of the outside lights and turned on the tree and the little village, so when they came down, things would be just perfect.

Stretching, she rose, and turned.

“Looks like I caught Santa in the act,” Mulder said, dressed in sweats, t-shirt and socks, his hair equally messy but very attractive. Stop it, she thought.

“Did I wake you? I’m so sorry. Go back to bed. I am,” she said, her voice deeper and muskier than usual, as she hadn’t spoke yet that morning. Mulder had always thought that there were few things sexier than a woman straight out of bed, which was unfortunate, because his girlfriends and dates seldom hung around until morning. Dana’s hair was tousled, her robe askew, showing her nightshirt underneath, her eyes heavy-lidded and dark, and she was probably still warm from the heat of sleep. He thought suddenly of what her bed must feel like as soon as she had risen out of. it.

All too late Mulder realized that his train of thought had definitely taken a dangerous path.

“Allow me to escort you to your room, lady Claus,” he said, bowing slightly and extending his arm. Dana blushed, and took his arm, where they began to walk the stairs together.

Leave it to him to do something this silly and chivalrous. She felt that she was old-fashioned at heart, and had been disappointed to discover that not a single date she’d had, not even through her entire year with Jack, had anyone given her flowers, opened a door, or pulled out a chair. Men were too scared to do such things and be accused of being a chauvinist. But two nights ago, Mulder had opened doors wherever they were, puller her chair at dinner, led her into the place like a lady, and had even given her a single rose, which to her was more romantic than an bouquet. And the amazing thing was, he wasn’t doing it to be impressive. He was just being Mulder. She had never noticed before, but as she recalled, he always opened doors for her, always sat her down if they were in a place with chairs. She suddenly became sure of how Mulder would treat a woman. He wouldn’t bang her, or screw her, or use any of the vulgar terms so popular. He would make love to a woman, treating her as if she were fine china, or silk. The thought made her cheeks flush, her heart race, as she remembered their kiss the night before. The last true gentlemen, she mused.

“Why, thank you,” he said, and she felt surprised that she had spoken those thoughts out loud. She hoped that had been the only thing.

They had reached her door. Mulder opened it for her, as she expected he would, and bowed as she stepped into the doorway.

“Thank you, kind sir,” she said, playing along. She curtsied as much a was possible in her robe, and giggled. Mulder laughed, too, and he hugged her suddenly.

His strong arms around her waits, Dana felt secure. She wrapped her slender arms about his neck, pushing one hand into his ruffled hair, and laid her face on his warm chest.

He pulled back slightly, and she felt his breath on her neck, a safe feeling, like hot chocolate. She pulled her head back, already knowing and wanting more than she ever had.

Their lips met softly, feather-light, and she wasn’t sure if they were actually touching. But then someone pressed more—she didn’t know who—an the kiss became passionate and strong. His tongue ran over her lips, causing shudders to course down her spine, as she opened her mouth and asked silently for more. He was slow, agonizingly slow, and complete, leaving no space in her mouth untouched.

He bent down suddenly, and picked her up. Her carried her to the bed, still kissing her, and she was never sure what happened next. Clothes were taken off as they learned they were too numerous, and she could only recall the sensation of finally feeling skin upon skin. His mouth left hers to kiss her cheeks, neck, the base of her throat, and lower still, his touch like velvet fire on her skin. His hands made paths of heat along her body, and she clung to his waist tightly with her small hands, pleading for a release to the whirlwind that was ever picking up speed inside her. Slowly, with all the grace and delicacy of a blooming rose, he came into her, and all she knew was fire and light.

She awoke slowly and languidly, as if coming out of a drugged sleep. She felt arms around her waist and neck, a palm placed possessively on her belly, a face buried into her hair and warm breath on her cheek. She smiled, as she recalled who the owner of the leg between her own was.

She turned around in his arms, face pressed into his chest, and kissed him . He stirred slightly, but didn’t wake. She moved up the length of him, and kissed his lips, which brought a smile and a sudden flip to her back.

“Good morning,” he growled in her ear, and she laughed like a little girl at the ticklish sensation.

Squirming beneath him, she wriggled out of bed, and stood at the side. He lay pouting under the covers.

“No fair. You can’t leave yet.”

“Yes, I can. It’s Christmas. Come one, we have to open presents.” She turned and headed toward the bathroom.

Mulder was just a little upset at leaving bed so soon. She looked so sexy, standing there all naked and muzzy form sleep and a night of passion.

“Please come back to bed,” he said, in his best impression of a puppy dog. She grinned again, devilishly.

“You can stay in bed if you want,” she said. “But that means I have to shower all by myself.” She disappeared into the bathroom ad turned on the faucet.

“Shower?” Mulder repeated. He lingered for a second, then fairly ran to the bathroom.

An hour later, they were dressed and eating a breakfast Dana had prepared; French toast and that yummy wassail. I could get used to this, Mulder couldn’t help thinking, as he watched her bustle around the kitchen, cooking for him, in that lovely white silk blouse and red skirt. He hadn’t ever had a woman cook for him; only his mother, and that didn’t count. Last night and this morning were the best two days Mulder could remember.

They ate next to each other, and soon found that it was infinitely more fun to feed someone else than it was to feed yourself.

After breakfast came the presents. Mulder was pleasantly surprised to find that the stockings had been filled overnight.

“You stuffed your own stocking?” he asked, watching her as the opened them.

“Not really,” she said, pulling out some bubble gum. “Mom sent me a package with instructions not to open it until I fill the stockings and even then not to look until Christmas morning. She felt bad because she does stockings for everyone every year.”

Mulder shrugged, and was amused at the contents of his own. Marvin the Martian socks….he held them up.

“Very funny.” Dana giggled. He hadn’t heard her giggle until last night and found he rather liked the sound.

They put away the stockings in exchange for the real presents. Dana insisted he go first. He selected his mother’s present, a clothes-shaped box.

He opened it, and pulled out—what a surprise—a sweater. A pretty nice sweater, actually, but he wouldn’t wear it. His mother had enclosed the receipt; she knew him well enough to know he probably wouldn’t like her gift.

“Well, now you can get something you will like,” Dana said, as she pulled the package from her own mother. It was a beautiful raw silk blouse from J Crew that she had admired before, in a dark shade of green that Dana wore well.

“Wow, that’s beautiful.. You look great in green,” Mulder said, and she blushed, laying the gift aside.

The next he selected was from Dana’s mother. He was surprised that she had gotten him anything, but was pleased by the gesture. He knew he had Dana’s mother’s personal approval, which might prove to be a very handy thing. He pulled out a grey and tan Banana Republic jacket that was absolutely gorgeous and must have cost a fortune. He knew, because he’d wanted to buy it earlier but hadn’t because of the price.

“Oh, Dana,” he breathed. “Why did your mom buy this for me? It’s so expensive! And I didn’t even get her a card, oh—”

Dana placed a finger to his lips.

“She likes you, Mulder. She knows you care for me, and that is very important to her. She knows you like her, too. Accept it and thank her.” She kissed him, lingering, and moved onto a gift form a friend of hers. A nice bracelet from Beth.

Mulder fished out her gift to him, a smallish box that wasn’t too heavy. He looked up at her with a glint in his eye.

“Hmmm, I wonder,” he said. Dana looked nervous, wondering to herself for the first time that he might not like it. At least she didn’t have to worry about it being to personal now.

He unwrapped the red paper and found a beautiful silver Citizen watch. What was it with the Scully women? he wondered. They bought the best gifts.

He hugged her, and kissed her deeply, and whispered ‘thank you” in her ear. She pulled back, breathless. “You really like it?”

“I love it,” he said. “Now you. I bought you a gift, remember?” He took it off the floor, and handed it to her.

She looked at the card, smiling at the sentiment, which warmed him. She opened it carefully, and took of the lid to the earrings with an agonizing slowness. He watched her face, anticipating her reaction.

Her first thought was that the diamonds seems to glow of their own light. They were absolutely breathtaking. Her mouth fell, and she looked up at him with tears beginning to form. He had bought these before last night. They were not a gift borne of heat-of-the-moment passion, but rather long, careful consideration and friendship.

“Why are you crying?” he asked, alarmed. She smiled, and shook her head, not letting the tears fall. She leaned forward, and sat herself don in his lap, and kissed him with all the love she felt.

She reached back to retrieve them, and put them in her ears. She lifted her hair, and turned her head, showing Mulder the way they glinted and shone in the light reflected for the Christmas tree.

“They’re beautiful,” he said. He kissed each one, and then her mouth. “You’re beautiful. I love you, Dana.”

She smiled under the kiss, felt something close around her, as if her life had been open and unsteady until that moment. “I love you, too,” she said. Mulder picked her up, and just like Rhett Butler, carried her up the stairs to make love in her room.

The remainder of their vacation was spent in either in bed or on the slopes, or cooking. Dana rediscovered a lost art when she began to cook more often for Mulder, and he found a cave-man type reaction to a woman in a kitchen he’d never had before. It was homey and sexy at the same time. He began to think of her as his; she was his Dana now, his woman. As Neanderthal and boorish as that was, she couldn’t help delight every time he referred to her as “my” anything. Some ancient feeling made the endearment sweet instead of possessive and twisted.

Mulder overcame his ear of pet names and commitment, as he discovered that he was already as committed to her as would ever be to anything. She had become a part of his life, as surely as breathing was, and he did not intend to let her go. He had found someone who understood and loved him for who he was and not what he pretended to be.

The drive back came all too quickly. Mulder and Dana found that they were just as comfortable with silence between each other as they were with conversation. If nothing needed to be said, nothing was, that simple. Mulder felt utterly comfortable around her.

The next day was work. Both of them knew that discretion was key; if they wanted to continue to work with each other they must remain detached and entirely professional and not let word get out. Still they were perhaps apprehensive and afraid they’d reveal too much in a look or gesture.

Which worried Mulder. He found himself thinking of permanence and forever-after, and though he had no doubt that Dana felt the same way, he wanted the world to know. He wanted to get married. But how to get around it? He couldn’t deny the importance of his work in his life, any more than he could deny the need for Dana. He needed her at work, to be his partner. And he needed her at his side to love, to make him feel like a whole man instead of a mere shell, looking for answers.

He thought of all they’d been through, if there were any way to make sure they would not be separated.

He was still thinking of it when Monday morning rolled around and he found himself in his office, trying to keep his mind on papers as the ideas rolled around his head. Scully came in.

“Hi, Mulder,” she said, taking a seat at her desk across from him. She gave no other notice, and it was understood that none would be forthcoming. They were at work now.

“Hey, Scully,” he said, and looked up to smile at her. She was checking her EMail, and returned the smile absently.

“Mulder,” she frowned suddenly. She stared at her screen, a delicate grimace a mar on her features.

“What?” He walked over to her desk, and peered at the glowing white screen. It was an EMail from Skinner’s office.

TO: Agent Dana Scully

FROM: Asst. Director Skinner

I request your and Agent’s Mulder’s presence in my office today at 10:30 am. I wish to speak to you regarding your behavior at the FBI Party.

“Ah, he probably just wants to rattle me about punching Kensington. Don’t worry.” He kissed the top of her head, and returned to her own desk.

Scully mumbled an noncommital reply. She wasn’t worried about today. But she did wonder how long they could keep pretending. Sooner or later, they would slip somewhere—someone might notice a gesture, or an accidental touch that didn’t seem accidental. She worried for the future, and what it might bring.

The End…….that is, until New Years……

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