No Title by The Alexandria Trio

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No Title

From: bcfan <>

Date: Sun, 01 Jan 2006 14:45:30 -0800

Subject: No Title by The Alexandria Trio (Lucy Marchmont, kmom, & bcfan)

Source: direct

TITLE: No Title

AUTHORS: The Alexandria Trio (Lucy Marchmont, kmom, & bcfan)

CONTACT:

WEBSITE: http://www.geocities.com/alexandria_trio/index.html

KEYWORDS: Mulder/Scully UST

DISCLAIMER: Please do not read if you are offended by cheap jokes and gross national stereotyping.

NOTES at the end.

SUMMARY: Love knows no national boundaries or gender differentiation: Everyone loves Scully.

***

Chapter 1 – No Title; or, A Diplomatic Incident

***

Once upon a time Dana Scully had longed for excitement, a distraction from the sometimes banal realities of medical life.

The FBI had provided just such an escape and not long after, a boyfriend who, to the relief of her parents, wasn’t married.

Later, there was no boyfriend, but she did have the X-Files and she did have Mulder. Mulder wasn’t her lover, but she didn’t really mind. It was possible to have a happy and fulfilled life without physical intimacy for many, many years – wasn’t it?

Scully gazed at Mulder. She was certain it was.

Mulder looked up suddenly. “Scully? Did you want something?”

It was strange and annoying how easily swayed she could be by the sight of Mulder tapping his pencil against his bottom lip.

“I’m not sure, Mulder,” she replied slowly. “I’m not sure.”

xXx

Across town at the British Embassy, Fitz came out of his new office and straightened his tie.

“Aimes, I’m popping out for a bit.”

His secretary, a somber young man in his mid-twenties, nodded and said stiffly, “Have a pleasant lunch, sir.”

“Actually it’s more of a family duty. I promised Mother I would look up my cousin here in Washington.”

“Then allow me to rephrase: have a pleasant reunion, sir.”

Fitz nodded with a friendly air and the disarming smile which worked on everyone, it seemed, except his private secretary. Ah well. A riddle best left for another day.

The chauffeur held his door as Fitz popped into the Bentley and let his thoughts drift.

Fitz hadn’t seen his cousin for years – since Oxford, in fact, when he’d been a semi-regular at weekend parties and hunts. Remembered the muttered, “My name is Mulder”, as his cousin fired at an escaping fox – and missed. An odd duck.

He looked at his watch while worrying his bottom lip. How long must a duty visit last? Half an hour should do it, with a follow-through offer of drinks at the embassy. Americans seemed to be dazzled by the pomp.

Stepping into the FBI lobby, Fitz gave it a quick once-over. Only his diplomatic training prevented an expression of distaste that wanted to curl his lip. The structure was typical cinder block design with a garish logo embedded in the floor, like crumbling chalk to the subtle cheese of his homeland’s antiquity.

No history. Fitz began to wonder whether his new assignment to the D.C. Embassy was a privilege or a punishment.

Fitz was buffeted by the sudden onslaught of a raucous tour group, members chatting and screaming like the hyenas of his last safari. Using his elbows to good advantage, he struggled to escape the crowd before dusting off his Savile Row pinstripe and striding to the security guard.

“I’m here to see Special Agent Fox Mulder. My secretary called earlier and was informed that he’d be in all day. My card.”

The guard stared at Fitz, looked at the card, and stared at Fitz again. How tiresome, Fitz realized. The guard must have noticed the family resemblance.

“My name’s Mulder-Mulder. Lord Mulder-Mulder. From the UK,” he added helpfully.

A sly smile bloomed on the guard’s face. “Does Agent Mulder know you’re coming?”

“I’m not sure.”

“I won’t ring you through.” The guard called, “Jerry.”

A solidly muscled and equally well-armed woman stepped up to take his place at the desk. “Yes, Frank?”

“I’ll be escorting Lord Mulder-Mulder to the basement myself.”

Jerry blinked. “Lord Mulder-Mulder?”

“That’s what the card says. I’ve just gotta check to see if he’s for real.”

“If you’re referring to my family resemblance to Agent Mulder-” Fitz huffed.

“Calm down, LORD Mulder-Mulder.” Frank lowered his tone at Fitz’s glare to one more appropriately deferential. “Sir, it’s just that I’ve heard about a lot of, uh, unusual cases from Agent Mulder, but I’ve never gotten to see one for myself.”

“I am not a case. I am a member of the British Embassy, and as such an envoy of Her Majesty’s government.”

“Okay, okay, don’t get your Windsor tie in a knot.”

Fitz decided to ignore the guard. Why waste time on an imbecile?

The guard was equally silent as they rode the elevator, then threaded their way through a hallway’s maze of photocopy boxes.

“Someone to see you, Agent Mulder,” the guard announced. He walked into the room, stepping aside so that Fitz could enter.

“Hullo.” Fitz nodded cordially. “Mother sends her regards.”

Mulder’s eyebrows rose, and he stood behind his desk. “Long time no see.”

Frank interrupted the silence. “Agent Mulder, is he part of a case you’re working on?”

Mulder’s mouth turned up at one corner. “Afraid not, Frank. He’s a relative.”

“Well I’ll be damned.” Frank left, muttering.

Mulder crossed his arms, leaned a hip against his desk. “Welcome to the monkey house.”

Fitz glanced around the room, and tried not to stare at the strange assortment of clippings, photos, maps, and pencils stuck to the ceiling. Decidedly odd.

“How are you doing, Fox?”

“Call me Mulder. You?”

“Quite well. I don’t want it to seem as if I’m bragging, but I’ve just been assigned to the D.C. Embassy.”

“Congratulations.” Mulder’s voice was less than cordial.

Fitz turned as someone walked past. The profile of a distractingly lovely redhead had come into view.

The woman began, “Mulder, I-” before stopping abruptly.

Fitz straightened and smiled. “Who have we here?”

“Special Agent Scully. My partner.”

Agent Scully’s mouth fell open and her neck swiveled between them, back and forth, back and forth, like one of those bobble-head dolls. Fitz stepped directly into her line of sight before she injured herself.

He extended his hand both to steady her and introduce himself. “Fox seems to have forgotten the etiquette he learned from our great-aunt Matilda,” he said smoothly, “so allow me to introduce myself. I’m Lord Fitzwilliam Mulder-Mulder, cultural attache to the British Embassy and Fox’s cousin.”

He employed the disarming smile he had learned from his great-uncle Bertrand as he lifted her hand to his lips and planted a light but lingering kiss squarely in the centre.

Scully blinked as she continued to stare at Fitz, her eyebrows almost meeting her hairline. It was hard not to stare. She was, after all, looking at an ash blond almost carbon copy of her partner. The eyes seemed to be a little greener, but there was Mulder’s nose, Mulder’s height, Mulder’s build, and heaven help us, The Lip. She narrowed her eyes and concentrated on it perhaps a little more than she should have. As she came out of her fog Scully reclaimed her hand and a few of her senses. “Lord? Mulder-Mulder?” She turned to her partner. “Mulder?”

“The part of the family from ‘across the pond’, Scully,” Mulder deadpanned. “It seems old Fitzy has come to the colonies to seek his fortune.”

“Now, now, Fox, you know the family fortune is secure,” Fitz chided as he continued to smile at Scully. “I’m merely doing my service to Queen and Country. One must be ready to accept the challenge when world peace and security are at stake.”

Mulder rolled his eyes, “Oh, please, world peace…”

“Absolutely!” Fitz said as he glanced at his cousin, then looked back to Scully with a serious face. “The Prime Minister is calling on only the most qualified foreign servants now, those who know how to conduct business discreetly and honourably.”

Mulder leaned toward Fitz and whispered between gritted teeth. “And you’ve become acquainted with discretion and honour how?”

Scully had missed a few words of the exchange. What she actually heard was, “Family across the pond … Fitzy … family fortune secure … Queen … world peace … honour.” She was just beginning to wonder how it was that Mulder and his cousin had exactly the same chin when a phone rang. She broke Fitz’s gaze abruptly as she reached for her cell.

“Sorry, have to get this,” she stammered. A flip of her Nokia revealed it was not her phone that rang.

“Must be me,” muttered Mulder, but his Motorola was mute.

“Ah, of course!” said Fitz, as he pulled his Apple-enabled Sony Ericsson with Bluetooth out of his suit jacket. “Mulder-Mulder here,” he answered, and was silent for a moment while the other party stated their business.

“Ah, yes, Aimes, very good!” He glanced at Scully. “I hope you’ve sent the larger Bentley this time. I might be bringing a guest. Cheerio!”

Fitz glanced at the phone. “Damned brilliant piece of technology, this. Comes in handy when I’m doing presentations for Congressional delegations from my PowerBook.”

Fitz again smiled at the beauteous Agent Scully, who, to his delight, was still smiling at him. It was a dazed and confused smile, admittedly, but nothing to discourage. This duty was turning out to be very pleasant indeed, and Fitz had always preferred pleasure to duty.

Fitz looked at his cousin, who was now morphing into his competition. Judging by the way the two agents stood close together, Fox might be more astute with women than he’d thought. Then Fitz remembered the Oxford years, when poor Fox couldn’t tell the well-bred from the lowly, or the good girls from the bitches. Judging by his atrocious tie and rumpled dress shirt, he certainly didn’t have a woman to care for him. Dana had called him by his last name! Very odd. And now Fox was staring at him, eyebrows knit, looking for all the world like a lion protecting his territory. Well, well.

The sight of the two men sizing each other up was making Scully quite uncomfortable. She thrust the folders at Mulder to get his attention. “Well, I’m sure you two have a lot of catching up to do. I’ll leave these files with you, Mulder, and we’ll talk when you get back from your, uh, reunion.”

“That’s okay, Scully,” Mulder said, as he shook the other man’s hand. “Listen, Fitz, I’ve got a deadline here. Tell your mother I said hello and call me sometime.”

“All right, Fox, if you must stay. Agent Scully, would you be so kind as to join me for a little refreshment? I know it’s early, but I was hoping to find a suitable tearoom in the area. Do you know of one?”

The invitation caught her off guard. “Actually, I do, um, Lord Mulder-Muld-”

The ambassador smiled warmly. “Just Fitz, Agent Scully.”

“Well, then please call me Dana. There’s a small tearoom near my apartment in Georgetown. It’s frequented by university professors from the U.K., so it must be authentic.”

“Smashing!” The Smile was now a bona fide 100 watts. Fitz extended his elbow. “Shall we, then?”

That was it. Mulder spun back around to face them. “Ya know, Fitz old boy, I’ve suddenly got a hankerin’ for a scone. Is your larger Bentley big enough for three?”

xXx

The trio emerged from the elevator at the main floor just in time to almost run into Assistant Director Skinner.

“Agents,” he said under his breath as he hurried down the hall. Mulder took the opportunity to get Scully away from Fitz for a little chat.

“Fitz, Scully and I have to give some information to our Director. Tell your big Bentley to wait out by the curb and we’ll be out in a minute.” He placed his hand on Scully’s back and steered her down the hall to Skinner’s office.

“Understood, Fox. Chain of command and all! See you shortly!” Fitz said a little too loudly as he exited the building.

Just a few feet down the hall, Mulder opened a door to a vacant office, flipped the lights on and ushered Scully inside, closing the door quietly. “What the hell was that all about, Mulder? We don’t have any ‘information’ to give Skinner!”

“No, Scully, but I have some information to give you.” He glanced at the door. “That ‘attache’ back there is one of the main causes of my Oxford miseries. His family is nice enough-”

“How is he even related to you? I thought your family was Dutch.”

“A group of Mulders left Amsterdam in the late 1600s and settled in England, so that accounts for the offshoot of the family tree. But be assured, Scully, Fitzwilliam Mulder-Mulder fell out of the liar tree and hit every branch on the way down.”

Scully rolled her eyes. “Give the man a chance, Mulder. That was more than twenty years ago! People change.”

“I saw the way he was looking at you, Scully, and it’s the way he looked at every girl we ever met at school.”

“He does have quite a disarming smile,” she conceded.

“Disarming, disrobing, it’s all the same.” Mulder placed his hands on his partner’s shoulders. “Watch out, Scully, I’m telling you. He comes in like a shining white knight and sweeps them off their feet and right into his bed.” He shook his head as if to dislodge a memory and then looked deep into Scully’s eyes. “I just don’t want you to get hurt.”

All Scully could do was think, ‘So where’s my dark knight, claiming and protecting his damsel?’

Despite herself, Scully was impressed by Lord Mulder-Mulder’s chauffeured Bentley. It was sleek, black with red leather upholstery, and there was something strangely appealing about the mock bow he made as he gestured to Scully to get into the car first. Mulder climbed in after her, and judging by the smile of satisfaction, he had decided to prevent Fitz sitting next to her.

“So how is your mother, Fitz?” asked Mulder as they drove to Georgetown.

“Not bad, not bad. Has a bit of trouble getting round the castle these days, but we fitted a Stannah stairlift on the grand staircase last year and now she’s up and down like a yoyo.” He winked at Scully. “The old girl still drinks like a fish, though. And Teena? Still seeing-”

“She’s fine,” interrupted Mulder.

Fitz looked sharply at Mulder. “Message received loud and clear, Fox.”

“So you were at Oxford with Mulder?” Scully asked curiously. “Mulder never mentioned he had family there.”

“Didn’t he? I must be another skeleton in the Mulder cupboard. Same year, same college, same subject.”

“You’re a Psychology graduate too?”

“Well, I don’t think I could quite put myself in Fox’s league, though it’s true to say my third class degree made me the most academically successful member of the Mulder-Mulder family to date.”

Mulder snorted.

“We had never met before, so it was quite the surprise when Mother ordered me to go over to my American cousin’s room to introduce myself. As unpolished as Fox was in manner and dress, the family resemblance was undeniable.”

“I don’t think anyone could criticize Mulder in that respect today. But the similarity between you is remarkable,” Scully agreed, looking at their shared profile and contrasting colouring. A blond, paler version of Mulder was somewhat eerie.

“When Fox joined us at Micklethwaite for the first shooting weekend of the season, my father, the then Lord Mulder-Mulder, kept warning me to watch out in case Mulder replaced me a la the ‘Prisoner of Zenda’. Happy days. Do you remember that weekend, Fox?”

Mulder grimaced. “As if I could forget.”

“We had a themed disco in the Great Hall, and Mulder came as Prince Charming from the Adam and the Ants song.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad, Mulder. I remember the eighties too,” said Scully sympathetically, adding with an impish smile, “‘Ridicule is nothing to be scared of.’”

“Didn’t I introduce you to that charming jezebel, Phoebe Greene, that night?”

“You did, but as I recall she left with a rugby player from Keble.”

“Ah, yes,” said Fitz. “You were smitten even then, but too slow to make a move.”

Not much had changed in that respect, thought Scully, as she told the driver they had reached their destination.

“Speaking of slow, why aren’t you married, Fitz?” asked Mulder. “I would have imagined you ought to have fulfilled your family duty and produced wife, heir and spare by now.”

“I’ve been waiting for just the right woman,” replied Fitz.

Scully flushed as his gaze rested on her face for a long moment.

“It’s true I’ve played the field, vacillated and let a few good ones get away. But fortunately I’ve found her at last.”

Still blushing from Fitz’s obvious admiration, Scully was about to make a comment about Fitz being ridiculous, when he pointed up at an advertising billboard for perfume: “Black Orchid: the fragrance for seduction.” The poster featured a striking brunette with impossibly long legs, bursting out of a very short decollete dress.

“That’s the woman I’m going to marry.”

“Right, Fitz. Good joke,” said Mulder, looking amused for the first time since his cousin’s arrival.

Scully laughed too, but with a nervous “Ha ha”; she could feel it was the laugh she knew signified embarrassment, but that Melissa had always labelled as sounding fake.

“You don’t believe me then?” asked Fitz, apparently affecting bemusement.

“I would, if it were likely that any woman really looked like that,” said Mulder, craning his neck to look at the Amazonian figure above them.

“I’m afraid Mulder’s right, Fitz,” said Scully. “Airbrushing and digital manipulation create the phantasmagorical illusions we see in the media today. You probably wouldn’t even notice this created goddess of advertising if she passed you in the street tomorrow.”

“If you say so, Dana,” smirked Fitz. “Not that you have to be a long-legged Amazon to be a goddess in my book.”

“Why don’t we go in and have tea?” said Scully. Despite her partner’s warning, she thought Lord Mulder-Mulder was incorrigible with his oh-so-obvious flirting, and it was peculiar how his aristocratic manner rendered what would normally be smarmy into charismatic charm. She tried to tell herself her partiality was not at all influenced by his likeness to Mulder.

Ye Olde Tucke Inn was, as Scully had said, an ‘authentic’ recreation of an old world tearoom, complete with timbered walls and waitresses in lace caps and white aprons over their puff-sleeved black dresses.

“Reminds me of home,” Fitz said insincerely, before flashing a brilliant smile at the very pretty blonde waitress who handed him a menu.

“Hi, I’m Brittany, your Ye Olde Tucke Inn waitress for this afternoon.”

“Heeelll-ooo,” said Mulder-Mulder. “I tell you what, Brittany, I’m rather partial to crumpet.”

“Knock it off, Fitz,” warned Mulder. “It’s hard to believe you’re here to represent your country.”

“All right, Fox, best behaviour from now on.” Fitz himself was becoming aware that his behaviour was verging on the obnoxious. Like reunited siblings, the temptation to revert into the bullying and teasing habits of youth (or “Fox-baiting” as he had called it in their Oxford days) was almost irresistible. Besides which, if he wasn’t careful he was going to alienate Agent Scully who, he could not help but notice, was not entirely immune to his charms.

Scully sat back in her chair and considered the man before her – a stranger, yes, but as familiar in look and attitude as her own reflection. It was disquieting. The carbon copy made her aware of the fact that she had occasionally taken the original for granted.

The flustered waitress handed the trio their menus, and Scully blinked back equal measures of astonishment and amusement. Mulder’s hand immediately reached for his inside pocket and wirerims; Fitz pulled out a round glass from what she’d mistakenly believed to be a small watch pocket on his vest. A monocle!

Scully bit down on a smile and Mulder smirked.

“What? Oh,” Fitz mumbled, lightly tapping the gold rim of the glass. “Bit of a wonky eye. I see you’ve resorted to spectacles, Fox.”

“Call me Mulder.”

“Right. Shall we start with drinks? I’ll have,” touching the menu with an elegant hand, “a pint of Guinness. Dana?”

Scully scanned the choices, eyes lighting at a small notation on the bottom.

“It’s a tea room, so I’ll have tea – and I see they’ve listed my favourite. A cup of Pearl Jasmine, please.”

“The British and their teas,” Fitz nodded approvingly. “Excellent choice, Dana. I’d expect someone of your sensitive nature to appreciate the exquisitely subtle taste of hand-rolled tea leaves.”

Scully smiled, pleased at the extravagant compliment despite herself. “My father was a Naval Captain, Fitz. He brought back teas and trinkets from ports of call, and Pearl Jasmine was the best I’ve ever tasted.”

“Ah, a military man. Knew the meaning of duty and-”

“I’ll have a beer.” Mulder interrupted. “Make mine a Guinness Extra Stout.”

Fitz straightened. “Change my order. I’ll have a Guinness Extra Stout too.”

The faces of both men were bland, but light reflected off their glass lenses like a clashing duel.

Dana rolled her eyes. What next? Arm wrestling? The entire situation was becoming too too ridiculous. In one corner, Lord Mulder-Mulder with his outrageous flirting – and in the other her partner Mulder who, in Scully’s well-considered opinion, just didn’t flirt enough.

The waitress fled, and Scully searched for an amicable topic. Hmmm. Lord Mulder-Mulder certainly seemed to enjoy talking about himself.

“What was it like growing up in a castle?”

“Historically inspiring, elegantly appointed. There are some who feel Micklethwaite is a bit drafty-”

Mulder snorted. “It’s freezing in winter.”

“As I was saying, there are some who feel it’s a bit drafty, but only those weakened by an overheated central system. If you’d care to visit the estate, Dana, I’ll make sure you’d be comfortable and cozy in any season.”

Scully ignored a muttered, “I bet,” from Mulder, and continued.

“You mentioned shooting seasons and dancing in the Great Hall. It sounds wonderful, but was it a bit – um – isolating to be so different from many of the neighbouring children?”

“Frankly, Dana, we hardly ever saw them. We ran with our own circle of friends, where a coat of arms and family hauntings are par for the course.”

Mulder perked up. “Family hauntings?”

“Didn’t you meet the late Sir Percy? He’s usually sauntering between the upstairs study and the old storage room.”

“I’m sure I would have remembered.”

Scully said, “Are you being serious, Fitz?”

“Of course, Dana. No castle would be worth its salt without a resident spirit. Sir Percy’s quite harmless. Never speaks, and has become wispier over the years since the storage room was turned into a spare loo. Too damp for him, don’t y’know.”

Scully bit her lip. Was she being teased? The alternative was just as vexing – that the belief in the paranormal was not just Mulder’s particular eccentricity but a genetic predisposition.

Brittany suddenly reappeared, a tray balanced on one strong, puff-sleeved arm. “Your drinks.”

Silence settled over the group. Scully closed her eyes momentarily while she savoured her tea, and opened them to watch Mulder trace an initial ‘M’ on the foam of his brew.

“Mulder?”

“Old habit,” Mulder smiled. “A good Guinness should hold the initial till the foam’s gone.”

Fitz raised one eyebrow and deliberately traced an ‘MM’.

Scully sighed and ordered a salad. Good food or not, good drink or not, the rest of this afternoon was going to be a long, dark teatime of the soul.

xXx

Well-fed, but with their veneer of civilization slipping, Mulder and Fitz reached simultaneously for the bill.

Mulder withdrew his hand. “Thanks,” he muttered. “I suppose the British Embassy will pick up the tab.”

Fitz shrugged. He reached into his inside pocket and withdrew a substantial wad of cash, the money clipped together by denomination. A subtle crest was visible, embedded in the sleek silver.

“My treat,” declared Fitz brightly. He brushed down his suit and tucked a monogrammed handkerchief firmly back into his pocket.

“Still wearing monogrammed underwear, Fitz?” Mulder asked, deadpan.

Fitz’s face reflected an annoyed flash of storm cloud before he pasted on an urbane smile. “Perhaps Dana would care to find out?”

Scully laughed. Fitzwilliam was incorrigible.

Mulder put a proprietary hand on Scully’s back as they rose from the table. “We’re close to your place, Scully. I could walk you home.”

“Nonsense,” Fitz boomed. “It’s far too early to retire, Dana. Would you like to tour the Embassy? Visit a museum? Attend a concert?”

“Well, I-”

A ringing cell phone interrupted Scully, and all three reached once again into their pockets.

“It’s mine.” Mulder moved away, and began to speak quietly.

Fitz persisted. “I’d really like to get to know you better, Dana.”

“Didn’t you mention a fiancee? Or were you joking”

“Oh, my fiancee is real enough. I would like to introduce Lady Jane to you at the next Embassy party. But I’m not married yet. While there’s freedom, a man can still hope. So what do you say?”

“Perhaps I’m not quite as open-minded as you are, Lord Mulder-Mulder.”

“Dana,” Fitz pouted, “Don’t give up on me. Here’s my card.” He pressed it into her hand. “Remember, I’m available – anytime.”

Mulder’s eye’s narrowed as he stepped between them, and turned to Scully. “It’s a case.”

Fitz’s face brightened. “The Bentley is outside. I’d be very pleased to escort you home, Dana.”

Scully’s choice was really no choice at all, she realized. “Thank you for tea, Fitz, and it was very nice meeting you. But we’re both on a case now.”

Mulder straightened and nodded, a trace of smugness on his face, if you knew how to look. “See you, Fitz.”

It was Mulder-Mulder’s turn to scowl as they hailed a waiting taxi and left Fitz at the curb.

Scully glanced affectionately at Mulder, who began to speak oh-so-casually. “Holding hands with my cousin, Scully? I might have to kill him.”

“Not necessary; I shot him down myself.” She held up his business card. “Although, if I know your family’s persistence, we haven’t seen the last of Fitz.”

“I don’t want to say I told you so, but Fitz is an ass, Scully.”

Scully’s mock-glare turned Mulder’s smug look into a wry grin.

“Okay, now you know the truth, Scully. I’m the black sheep of the family.”

“Mulder, if there are any more relatives like Fitz out there, I’d say you’re part of an entire flock of black sheep.”

“Baaa.”

***

Chapter 2 – No Title; or, A Mystery to be Unlocked

***

Mulder breathed a sigh of relief as Scully opened the door to their office. The cab ride back to the Hoover Building had been quiet, punctuated only with small talk about dry cleaning and Mulder’s recent car problems. The partners never discussed cases in the presence of strangers anymore, so the cab was not the place to divulge the information Skinner had given him during their short phone conversation. And, even though the case seemed to be a garden-variety missing person, Mulder was glad it would keep Scully away – even temporarily – from the cloying smile and roving hands of FitzMauler, as his cousin has been known in their Oxford days, for a few days or even weeks. After some solid time in the field, Scully might even forget the twit entirely. Scully was serious-minded, not the giddy bimbo type Fitz favoured. Serious-minded women favoured…

He stopped himself. He glanced at her as she opened her laptop and powered up. What exactly did Scully favour?

He realized, suddenly, that he had no idea. None.

“So what is it this time, Mulder? Yeti sighting? Blood oozing from paintings in the National Gallery?” She widened her eyes and curled up one side of her mouth in a smile. “Fake call to get rid of the annoying relative?”

Mulder mock-gasped and pressed his hand to his chest. “Scully, you misjudge me! I’d never fake a call to get rid of Fitz. I’d just give him a wedgie and stuff him in his Rolls.”

Scully put on her glasses. “Bentley.”

“Bentley, Rolls, what’s the difference?” Mulder said as he opened the manila envelope that had been left on his desk. “Just another bourgeois tactic to impress the common folk.”

Arching her brow, Scully asked, “Are you calling me ‘common’?”

“Never.”

“The Mulders from this side of the Atlantic were pretty well off, too, weren’t they?” she asked.

Mulder shrugged. “Well enough, I guess,” he answered, not especially comfortable with the subject.

“No title, though,” teased Scully.

‘No candidates for Upperclass Twit of the Year, either,’ Mulder thought. Deciding the topic was in desperate need of changing, he peeked into the envelope, looking for fodder. “Well, what have we here?” He pulled the Sports Illustrated from the envelope. “Not even the swimsuit issue. Rats.”

Scully took it from him. “‘Gold Standard – World Swimming Champions In Close Competition’,” she read from the cover. “I saw something about this on ESPN a week or so ago. The top four male swimmers in the world keep battling each other for titles, just seconds ahead or behind each other. It’s the most amazing field ever, and is sure to make the next Olympics incredible.”

“When did you start watching ESPN?” he asked.

“When they started talking about these guys,” she answered, flipping through the magazine. “Holy cow,” she murmured.

Mulder moved behind her. What he saw was not a story. It was a fold-out of four scantily clad physical specimens posed around the Trevi Fountain in Rome. Reclining to the left was Thomas Orwenyo of Kenya. In the middle stood Xien Cho of China and Angelo Panucci of Italy. To the right was none other than Eldon “Junior” McCuskey, pride of the Tar Heel State.

“Nice fountain,” Mulder commented.

She chuckled. “I guess I’ve picked up a few of your habits, Mulder.” She turned her head and Mulder found she was just an inch from his lips.

“Good habits, I hope,” Mulder said slowly.

“Mostly,” she whispered.

He was just about to ask what bad habits of his she’d acquired when the slap of expensive wing tips coming down the hall alerted them that Skinner was on his way to their door. Scully collected herself and the envelope’s contents just as the A.D. arrived in their office.

“Agents,” Skinner said as he handed them both print-outs. “We have the makings of an international incident on our hands and we need quick, discreet action.”

“Quick and discreet – that’s us,” Mulder replied.

Skinner ignored his remark. “The INS and State Department want agents not known for their work in immigration or defection cases to keep the lid on this.”

He gestured to their desk chairs and stood to the side of Mulder’s desk as he held up pages from his own stack of files; they were identical to the fold-out Scully had so recently been admiring. “At approximately 0900 hours this morning, Xien Cho, citizen of the People’s Republic of China, went missing from The Westin Grand Hotel here in Washington. He is currently on a two week good-will tour of North America with these other three swimmers. To say the least, the Chinese government is crying foul, suggesting he’s been kidnapped as a result of lax security. Our government has no official position at this time beyond promising a thorough and swift investigation.”

“And what is our government’s unofficial position?” Scully asked.

Skinner half-shrugged. “Given that he’s seen the wealth Chinese athletes like Yao Ming can have here, it’s possible he’s defecting. Whatever the case, this young man has not been seen or heard from in over seven hours. With the current tense relations between China and the U.S., I’m sure you understand how important it is to keep this out of the papers.”

Scully frowned. “Why are they saying kidnapping or defection so soon? Don’t they think a young man might decide to take off on his own for a few hours in a new city?”

Skinner shook his head. “His handlers say Xien is extremely focused and would never miss a training session. Questions?”

Mulder nodded. “Where do we start?”

“The entourage travelling with the swimmers is at Georgetown University for a photo shoot today and they’ll be ready for an interview upon your arrival. Please report back to me as soon as the interviews are complete.”

He closed his file and handed Mulder a set of keys.

“Valet service?” Mulder quipped, surprised.

Skinner gave a rueful grin. “Last car left in the pool. If the oil light goes on, bring it back. Immediately.”

“Will do,” Mulder agreed.

“Before the engine burns up,” Skinner emphasized. With that, he turned and walked out the door.

Scully smirked, probably suppressing the half-dozen snide comments that popped into her head, Mulder thought.

“Come on, Prince Charming. Let’s go get the coach.”

As he buttoned his trench, Mulder said, “Won’t you feel like you’re slumming in the Crown Vic after the thrill of Fitz’s big Bentley?”

“You said it yourself, Mulder. It was only to impress the commoners and I really wasn’t impressed.” She smiled. “Guess that makes me uncommon.”

He held the door for his partner as she walked through it. ‘You have no idea, Scully,’ he thought.

xXx

The scent of chlorine slapped her in the nose, and testosterone wafted closely behind. And what magnificent behinds were in view, Scully mused, mesmerized as four thoroughbred swimmers strained at the starting block, toes curled and bodies jackknifed, waiting for an imaginary start signal. Georgetown University Aquatic Centre was ground zero of a photographic feeding frenzy.

Mulder cleared his throat. Scully started and deliberately focused away from the swimmers. “I thought one of the swimmers was missing, Mulder,” she stammered. “Just trying to figure out what’s going on.”

“Uh huh.” Mulder’s tone was wry. “Why don’t we ask someone?”

Mulder shed his suit coat. A bead of sweat trickled down his temple and disappeared under the collar of his dress shirt. He loosened his tie.

As he walked away, Scully snuck a peek at yet another magnificent behind, then scowled as Mulder strolled up to what seemed to be the only woman in a roomful of men. A woman who appeared to be disrobing in public, piece by Versace piece.

Scully crossed her arms as the raven-haired beauty handed clothes to a patient assistant, as she peeled down to a tiny pink bra and matching bikini panties which didn’t hide anything of her perfect figure. She looked familiar.

‘Aha,’ thought Scully suddenly, ‘the model from the Black Orchid perfume poster they had seen with Lord Mulder-Mulder. What was she doing here?’

Scully tapped her foot as Mulder leaned into the model’s space, apparently lost in earnest dialogue. It was several impatient minutes later before Mulder and the model deigned to walk back to where she stood, the model waving away her own entourage.

Scully ignored the considering look in the model’s eyes as she looked down on Scully. ‘She’s probably sizing up the competition,’ Scully concluded glumly, ‘when there’s obviously no comparison. Damn the man for introducing me to a beauty in her underwear.’

Mulder seemed oblivious to her discomfort. “Agent Scully, this is Lady Jane Horsey de Horsey.” His grin was kid-at-a-candy-shop kind. “From billboard to the real thing. Coincidence, huh?”

Lady Jane grasped Scully’s hand and flashed a brilliant smile. “Absolutely lovely to meet you, Miss Scully. Or is it Mrs. Scully?”

“Agent Scully. Why are you-?” She waved her hand in Lady Jane’s direction. The model laughed, Mulder grinned wider, and Scully ground down another molar.

“It’s a publicity stunt, darling. I’m modeling lingerie. See anything you like?”

“Not my lingerie style, thank you,” Scully muttered, and poked Mulder with her toe to stop his head bobbing up and down.

Scully deliberately focused her eyes on the space behind Lady Jane’s shoulder. “Do you know why there are four swimmers here today? Our AC informed us that one of the members of the team was missing.”

“Yes, Xien Cho is missing. But you shouldn’t worry, I’m sure he’ll turn up somewhere.”

“Who’s the fourth swimmer then?”

“See the one on the end? The red speedo with the maple leaf on his arse? Robert Orr was fifth in line, and is the replacement swimmer until Xien reappears. Or not.” Lady Jane shrugged. “I know all the boys. Why don’t you wait until after our shared photo shoot and I’ll introduce you.”

“No problem,” Mulder said. “We’d be happy to wait.”

Scully gave up and removed her jacket, but only Lady Jane seemed to notice. “I’ll get you something to drink. It’s sweltering in here.”

“Heidi,” Lady Jane commanded, and a young Katherine Hepburn look-alike stepped to her side. She was mannish-looking with cropped hair, khaki shorts and laced boots.

“Yes, Jane?”

“Please supply my new friends with bottled water and anything else they desire. Within reason.” Lady Jane winked, then parted the sea of photographers with her confident stride.

Lady Jane struck pose after provocative pose with the boyish swimmers, and it soon became obvious that her charms were having a natural but unwanted effect. The Canadian was blushing, and the broad-shouldered teen in a stars and stripes speedo suddenly folded his hands low on his torso.

As their discomfort grew, Scully was dismayed to see Lady Jane choose a new target – Mulder. As Scully watched, the buxom brunette’s smouldering gaze was directed more and more frequently in Mulder’s direction, and she soon began to smooch exaggerated air kisses, winking broadly at her partner where he stood beside her. Scully kept her face stony as she turned to Mulder, thinking to roll her eyes – and was surprised to see evaluation writ plain, the same expression he slid into when considering crime scene clues.

‘Perhaps I’m wrong,’ Scully considered, ‘and it’s a one-way Lady Jane-to-Mulder attraction rather than a two-step courtship dance.’ It wouldn’t be the first time her oblivious partner hadn’t noticed an attractive female body being flung his way. Scully rubbed a nagging spot in the middle of her forehead.

The photo session wound to a close and swimmers rushed en masse to don terrycloth robes. Lady Jane looked into Scully’s eyes and smirked. Scully took a deep breath to swallow down unexpected giggles that were trying to escape.

The photographers were ushered out as the model sashayed to where Scully and Mulder stood, trailing swimmers in her wake.

“Well,” Lady Jane drawled, “that was lovely.”

Still in her lingerie, she placed her palm on Scully’s shoulder and began to stroke. Scully stepped away, confused, when the model began to trace her collarbone with a delicate finger.

Mulder smoothly stepped between them. “Lady Jane, you were planning introductions.”

“Ah yes. Agents Mulder and Scully, this is Thomas Orwenyo,” a solemn nod, “and Angelo Panucci.”

“Ciao, FBI. Cara mia, are all police here so beautiful?” Angelo kissed Scully’s hand before she had a chance to snatch it away.

Scully felt heat rush to her cheeks.

“I’m Junior McCuskey,” drawled the American, and shook Mulder and Scully’s hand. “And this here is a ringer from the great white north who swears he’s gonna beat ole Xien’s record, even if he’s not here to defend himself. Ain’t gonna happen.”

“My name’s Robert Orr, sir.” Turning to Scully he continued, “But you can call me Bobby, ma’am.”

Scully’s eyes trailed up a slim torso to strong shoulders to a vulnerable face with wide eyes and goofy smile. He had the physique of a Greek god and the friendliness of a puppy, and Scully couldn’t help but smile.

“Nice to meet you, Bobby.” She held out her hand and Bobby carefully shook it. He had large hands – like Mulder’s hands, she realized, and deliberately straightened her shoulders into a professional stance.

Mulder began. “Thank you for taking the time from your schedule to speak to us. Agent Scully and I are investigating the sudden disappearance of Xien Cho. Any ideas about what happened or where he might be?”

“No,” intoned Orwenyo in a deep voice. “We have discussed this many times. However,” his eyes cut to the nods of the others, “we have all agreed that if anyone knows anything it will be his auntie, Ahi Yi Cho. She travels with him.”

“She won’t say anything to us,” added McCuskey. “Pretends she can’t speak English, but she’s a soap opera addict so we figure she must understand well enough.”

“Anything else you can think of that might help us? Any particular habits of Xien’s, routines, preferences?” Scully asked.

Panucci shrugged. “Xien was always drinking strange teas that his zia brewed. Maybe a tea shop?”

Scully and Mulder exchanged raised eyebrows, remembering their shared luncheon. “Thank you,” Scully said. “Where can we find Ahi Yi Cho?”

Heidi suddenly stepped into the group, raised cell phone in hand. “It’s Lord Mulder-Mulder, Jane,” she announced in a bored voice, but Scully sensed disdain in the curl of Heidi’s lip.

“Just a moment, darlings,” Jane commanded, mouthing delicately, “My fiance,” as she took the phone. A negligent, elegant hand motion accompanied the words, and Mulder and Scully looked at each other. It seemed Fitz really was engaged to the super model.

McCuskey confirmed that Ahi Yi Cho was staying with the team at the Westin Grand Hotel as everyone pretended not to listen to Jane’s conversation. A few moment’s later, Jane spoke loudly, saying, “Yes, Agent Scully is right here. Fancy that.”

Jane held the phone towards Scully. “Would you care to-”

“We’ve got to go.” Mulder grabbed Scully firmly by the elbow. “Thanks for everyone’s help.”

Scully smirked. “Please give Lord Mulder-Mulder my regards.”

They were almost to the door when Scully heard a quick footfall behind her. They turned as Orr rushed to their side.

“Did you forget something, Bobby?” Scully smiled.

“No, that is, er, yes.” Orr swallowed. “That is, Agent Scully, do you mind if I have your card? In – in case I think of anything else?”

Mulder’s sleight-of-hand was too quick for Scully to follow as he thrust a small rectangle into the swimmer’s hand. “Here’s mine, Orr. Agent Scully and I are partners, so you contact one, you contact us both.”

Bobby’s face fell. “Thank you. I understand.”

Scully waited until they were outside before she spoke. “That was uncalled for, Mulder. Bobby’s just a kid, and you know I’m not the least bit interested.”

“Everyone else seems to be interested,” Mulder complained. “And for my money, Orr is a prime suspect. His motive is impeccable – a spot on the World Swimming Championship team, with all its attendant fame – as well as one other little detail, oodles of cash.”

Scully shrugged, trying and failing to dismiss Mulder’s point. Bobby Orr was a logical suspect, but Scully didn’t have to like it. Silence chilled the air between them as Mulder steered their rental towards Ahi Yi Cho’s hotel.

As they drove, Scully flicked through the dossier Skinner had given them. Included in it were some photographs taken the previous day, depicting Xien Cho posing with Jane Horsey de Horsey and the other swimmers at a cocktail party with magazine editors. The men were all wearing suits and Jane, a purple cocktail dress. Xien was a good looking man, but, unlike the others, his smile appeared half-hearted.

“Mulder, I wonder if the Chinese government could be right and Xien Cho has been kidnapped. He’s the greatest swimmer they’ve ever had, and organized criminals may hope they’ll pay a ransom.”

“Admit it, you don’t want to believe that cute ‘kid’ Robert Orr pulled a Tonya Harding. The Chinese security service weren’t going to risk another defection, and they’ve been keeping a very careful eye on Cho. One of their agents has been watching him virtually day and night. Why do you think they let his little old auntie travel with him?”

“Poor guy,” said Scully, shaking her head. “His own aunt spying on him. I wonder if he had any idea. And we know from our own people that he hasn’t defected. Yet no one saw him leave the hotel.”

“If Orr was responsible, he, or an associate, managed to get him out of there without detection or sign of a struggle. Another security agent took over night shift surveillance duties from his auntie and spent the entire night in a chair outside Cho’s hotel room. It’s like the ‘Murders in the Rue Morgue’.”

“Oh? An orangutan took him?” joked Scully.

“No, but it is a locked room mystery. Now presuming the agent didn’t leave his post or fall asleep, there was no other exit from Cho’s room.”

“So not only do we have to determine where he went, but how.”

xXx

Ahi Yi Cho was watching an episode of ‘Sunset Beach’ on television, and looked decidedly pissed off at having one of her favourite shows interrupted. She looked small and wizened sitting in a very large armchair, and her hair was shiny and dyed jet black. On her lap were wool, knitting needles and a half-made garment of indeterminate variety. A large bunch of grapes was on a side table beside her. She didn’t look like a paid informer for the Chinese security service, Scully thought, but then that was the whole point.

“Mrs. Cho, we’d like to talk to you about the disappearance of your nephew,” started Mulder.

“What? What?” Yi Cho barked, before turning her attention back to the television.

They had been warned by McCuskey that, like a grumpy grandparent feigning convenient deafness, Ahi Cho could understand English when she chose.

“Mrs. Cho, we don’t want to waste time in finding your nephew. For all we know, he may already be dead,” said Mulder.

This at least got Mrs. Cho’s attention.

“He’s a good boy,” she said slowly. “I know he will come back and look after his old Ahi again.”

“No more foreign travel and room service for you if he doesn’t,” remarked Scully, as Mrs. Cho spat out a pip.

“We believe he may have been murdered,” said Mulder.

“Murdered! No, I do not believe he is dead. I think he has run away, but he will come back.”

“Run away, or does he plan to defect?” said Scully, muting the sound on the television.

“No, he would not defect,” said Mrs. Cho, sounding outraged at the idea. “He is a loyal citizen of the Republic. No, he is young and foolish, and he does not know what he is seeking. He wants one thing, and then he wants another. He used to listen to me, but now he only hears the words of others.”

“Who has he been listening to?” asked Mulder.

“That man!” Mrs. Cho pointed to a purple card on the mantelpiece. “We went to the herbalist on Exeter Street to get our preparations, and it was on the counter. And he had a person in his room last night.”

” ‘Achieve the peace of teaching your spirit to float on the plane of bliss,’ whatever that means,” read Scully. “It sounds like some sort of cult. But there’s no address or contact details.”

“Mr. Hau at the herbalist, he knows where.”

“And who did he have in his room?” asked Mulder. “Man, woman, or orangutan?”

“He had a woman in his room. He didn’t tell me, but I could tell he didn’t want me there. He shouted at me – his old auntie who has looked after him since he was a baby! – that he was a man now and needed his privacy. Later, I opened my door and watched a woman knock on his door.” Mrs. Cho pursed her lips and shook her head disapprovingly.

“Do we know who the woman was?”

“She was like one of those women.” Mrs. Cho pointed at the television screen. “Tall, brown hair and,” tapping her own, “a big chest.”

“Was it this woman?” asked Scully, showing her the photograph of Jane Horsey de Horsey at the reception.

Mrs. Cho nodded. “Yes, she is like the women on television.”

“Well, well,” said Mulder. He turned to Scully, “She’s staying in the penthouse upstairs.”

“Why don’t I go to talk to her, while you go and check up on the herbalist,” said Scully firmly, deciding she really didn’t want Mulder to see Lady Jane twice in one day.

xXx

When Scully knocked on the door of the penthouse suite, it was opened by Lady Jane’s personal assistant. Scully brushed past her and into the opulent living area of the rooms. The floor was covered with empty boxes, half unpacked bags bearing expensive brand names, and two freestanding rails of clothes, both of which had been pushed against a wall.

“Shopping?” asked Scully, as Heidi removed three coats from a chair so she could sit down.

The glum assistant gave a pursed-lipped smile. “Lady Jane has no need to shop, and she likes to live frugally. When we arrive in a new city, I merely make some phone calls and boutiques are only too happy to supply free samples. She is a walking advertisement for their wares.”

“Where is she at present? Collecting more freebies?”

Heidi replied stiffly. “She’s just gone to the bathroom to freshen up. Lady Jane has had a very fatiguing day.”

As she spoke, Lady Jane returned to the room, looking quite the opposite of tired.

“Better now?” Heidi asked softly.

“I’m much more energized!” declared Jane brightly, as she wiped her nose hastily with a tissue. “In fact, a night on the town and a few drinks this evening would be just the ticket after all, Heidi. Perhaps you would like to join us, Agent Scully?”

“This isn’t a social visit, Lady Jane. I’m here to ask you a few questions about the disappearance of Xien Cho.”

“Xien Cho,” repeated Lady Jane skittishly, as though she had never heard the name before. She jumped out of the chair, and then sat back down again. “I like your suit, Agent Scully. Black’s a very good colour on you.”

“That’s fortunate, as I wear a lot of it,” said Scully dryly. “If you can manage to sit still for a few minutes, Lady Jane, you can tell me why you didn’t inform us you were with Xien Cho in his hotel room last night?”

“Were you?” asked Heidi, sharply.

“Ah, you know about that?” said Jane looking slightly sheepish.

“Concealing vital information not only makes you an obstruction to our investigation, but also a suspect.”

“Fine!” Lady Jane raised her hands in mock supplication for mercy. “I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want any bad publicity in the newspapers.”

“I thought you thrived on the attention, and it seems you’re no stranger to bad publicity. I checked your records, Lady Jane, before coming up here, and I know you were cautioned by the Metropolitan Police in London for possession of a Class A drug last year.”

“Yes! But that was the old me.” Jane winked, “Well, so my publicist says, at any rate. But since I got my contract as the face of Esme Binoche, I’ve had to keep my nose clean – so to speak. I can have a good time, as long as I look beautiful and I don’t make a disgrace of myself publicly.”

“So what were you doing with Mr. Xien Cho?”

“Agent Scully, let me confide in you. As hard as it may be for you to believe, I’m not just a world famous fashion model with a lucrative contract with a cosmetics company; I’m a woman too!”

“And?”

“I travel the world, often seeing more of the airports than the cities I visit. Sometimes I get lonely all on my own in a hotel room with no human contact – apart from you Heidi, darling,” she added condescendingly. “When I saw Xien Cho yesterday, I felt a kind of connection to him and I resolved to get to know him a bit better. I asked if he was free last night, and we arranged a private tete-a-tete over dinner in his room.

“I arrived shortly before eight o’clock, but I could feel something wasn’t right. He seemed quite reserved, but that didn’t surprise me, as most men are shy with me at first. For some reason, I always have to make the first move.”

“Lord Mulder-Mulder doesn’t mind you ‘making a move’?” asked Scully, not bothering to conceal her disapproval. Fitz had been so friendly and so disarmingly like Mulder in feature, that she found herself feeling slightly annoyed at his being cheated on.

“Look, if you’re to understand anything about Fitz and me, you have to know we don’t believe in ownership. I’m not prepared to give up my career to spend day and night by his side at the embassy, and as we spend a great deal of our time apart, I have to make my own arrangements when I want a good fuck.”

“I see,” said Scully, trying not to sound as prim as she felt. “And so you and Xien Cho – ?”

“Regrettably, no. We had dinner in his room and things started well enough. We talked, and I flirted, but then he seemed to withdraw into himself, and he hardly seemed to notice me.” Jane broke off, as though lost in reverie at a painful memory. “Eventually he said he wanted an early night! Not many men would turn down the opportunity to be with me. Between you and me, Agent Scully, I think Xien Cho must be gay.”

“Oh surely not, Jane. I don’t doubt your ability to turn any man,” said a voice from behind Scully. “Unless your charms are slipping, old thing.”

“Fitz! Darling!” cried Jane. “You came.”

“How could I not, old girl?” Fitz Mulder-Mulder was standing in the doorway, looking very pleased with himself. “And what luck to find the lovely Agent Scully with you.”

At that and despite herself, Scully could not help but feel a very little bit pleased.

xXx

“Robert Orr, huh,” Mulder said to nobody as he drove from the Aquatic Center to D.C.‘s Chinatown. At first he’d felt almost sorry for the young man. A Canadian family that named their son Bobby Orr was like an American family naming their kid Michael Jordan. At least the poor guy was swimming in water instead of skating on it. But as soon as Mr. Orr began turning on the “Aw, gawrsh, ma’am” charm to Scully all pity had fled.

It was late afternoon and the grey D.C. skies had become the grey, drizzling D.C. skies. With the address of the herbalist shop taped to the dashboard, Mulder drove the bureau car slowly down H Street Northwest in the city’s Chinatown district. Even though the neighbourhood had shrunk to almost nothing over the years, the most authentic Asian restaurants and some businesses were still there.

Navigating the narrow streets, Mulder flashed back to a dim sum lunch he and Scully had once shared in Chinatown, a short time after her cancer went into remission. He had been earnest in his attention, trying to find the words to let her know he wanted to – wanted to – he still couldn’t find the words. She had displayed a hopeful look on her face through the meal, as though she expected him to say – something. That look had faded as he said goodbye to her at her door.

Honk! A blaring car horn and screeching tires shook him from his reverie and he looked out the driver’s side window. Mulder was no longer on H Street, but on a tiny side street in front of a small row of shabby stores. “How did that happen?” he wondered out loud, checking the address on the card from “Auntie.” When he looked out the window again he saw a small storefront with the words “Ancient Way Medicines” written in English under Chinese lettering on the door. Mulder pulled into the vacant spot, buttoned his overcoat against the rain, and sprinted across the street.

A tiny bell rang as Mulder closed the door to the small shop. Tidy shelves full of boxes, tins, and jars lined the walls and soft classical music mixed with the jasmine incense to create a new age aura.

“Hello? Anybody here?” he called, looking over a selection of tea pots, infusers, and pamphlets near the cash register. “I’m looking for a Mr. Hau.”

“Two is the number of cooperation,” said a clear voice behind him. Mulder turned and saw a middle-aged Asian man just a bit shorter than himself wearing a chambray shirt and black jeans. “It represents balance between two poles, yin and yang, man and woman.” He smiled. “I’m Paul Hau.” He looked questioningly at Mulder. “Let me guess – F.D.A.? It was Mrs. Zhang who advertised the ‘herbal Vioxx.’”

“No, I’ve got three other letters – F.B.I.,” Mulder said as he produced his badge.

“Three.” Paul looked at the I.D. “Now, three allows all things to be possible. It means luck and success. What’s your quest, Mr. Mulder?”

“Well, for the moment, my quest is information about a customer of yours who’s disappeared.”

“Disappeared?” Paul walked behind the counter and began scanning the shelves. “I don’t think I’ve sold any of that lately. People have been wanting to stay put these days.”

“Xien Cho, the Chinese world champion swimmer,” Mulder said as he produced a picture of the young man. “He’s been missing for almost twenty four hours now and his government is very interested in everyone he had been in contact with prior to his disappearance. He came to your shop yesterday for some – preparations.”

Paul looked through his lower bifocal lens and frowned. “Sad, really, what pulling a person into a place they weren’t meant to occupy can do to the soul. It begins to look for any escape to restore harmony. If the will is strong enough, it might leave and never return.”

“Was Mr. Cho being forced into something?”

“Escape can come in many forms,” Paul said as he began removing small jars and a mortar and pestle from a cabinet. “It may be an activity, a person, a destination. Even death is an escape.”

Mulder felt his last nerve beginning to fray. “Mr. Hau, I am not here for a philosophy lesson. I am here to ascertain if Mr. Cho was in your shop yesterday to buy herbal preparations.”

Paul looked up from his work and smiled. “Well, you didn’t ask that. Yes, Cho was here. He’s come in several times the past week. He bought herb teas for his aunt and also took some books and pamphlets.” He gestured to a display.

“Did he say anything to you to make you believe he might be thinking of defecting or that he might be afraid?” Mulder began shuffling through the books and cards.

“He said what he really wanted was a potion to make his auntie sleep for a year. But those mushrooms are just too expensive these days.”

Something caught Mulder’s eye. A pile of purple pamphlets with the slogan, “Achieve the peace of teaching your spirit to float on the plane of bliss.” He opened it to see the smiling face of one Sky Turner, the bald-headed, blue-eyed guru who had been on every talk show from Oprah to Leno. “Is Sky Turner a customer of yours, Mr. Hau?”

“Gracious, no!” boomed the herbalist as he scraped some fragrant grasses into a granite bowl. “Mr. Turner has his own personal herbalist, and a very attractive one at that. One of his devotees brings me the literature. There,” he pronounced over the concoction before he began grinding away.

“A card with this slogan was found in Cho’s hotel room today. Do you know if he had any contact with Turner?”

“Afraid not. But I can tell you that the young man was quite vexed.” He looked up at Mulder. “Soul transmigration is very common in some cultures, you know. Most Westerners think it can’t happen to them, so it doesn’t. Here you are, Mr. Mulder,” he said as he poured the preparation into a small paper sack.

Mulder began scanning the framed diplomas and certifications on the wall. “B.S. in chemistry from Penn, Ph. D. Pharmacy from Auburn. Mr. Hau, you’re a pharmacist.”

The herbalist sighed. “Alas, my misspent youth. A young man will run thither and yon, trying to disprove the beliefs of his father. Going to great lengths to denigrate generations of faith. Then one day,” he leaned closer to the agent, “he realizes his ancestors were right. That’s when real learning begins, Mr. Mulder.” He pushed the sack across the counter. “Don’t worry. The first one’s always free.”

“I didn’t-” Extreme possibilities, a voice whispered to him as he scanned the Chinese characters on the label. “What is it?”

“I call it Nine Journeys. Nine stands for the final state of completion, ultimate fulfillment. It’s more a prayer than a potion, I suppose. But it is very tasty with lox and bagels.” Mr. Hau extended his hand. “I will keep an eye out for any information on Cho, Mr. Mulder. He is a sad young man who seeks release. I fear it may be easy for someone to take advantage of him.”

Mulder’s cell phone rang before he could reply.

xXx

Scully unbuttoned her suit jacket and settled down on the plush couch in Lady Jane’s suite, a martini in one hand. Fitz had declared the American work day was “just too damned long” and began mixing drinks at 5:00 pm sharp. The afternoon tea’s salad and tiny sandwiches were long digested and her empty stomach cautioned Scully against drinking, but one martini wouldn’t hurt, right? Also, getting Fitz and Lady Jane a little “loosened up” might unfurl their tongues and get her more information on the missing Cho.

Lady Jane took a Manhattan from her fiance’s hand and strode to the couch, brushing Scully’s knee with her own as she sat down. “Now that’s even better,” she purred after knocking back a generous swig of the concoction. Her brilliant smile and sparkling eyes gave her a look that didn’t need to be airbrushed and most surely got her anywhere she wanted to go. “It must be terribly, terribly fascinating to be a real secret agent,” she said, “and to work with such a brilliant, attractive man.”

Scully demurred and looked at her glass. “F.B.I. agent – it’s a lot of paperwork, really. And Mulder can be-”

“Cantankerous! Aggravating!” cut in Fitz, who was walking toward them with his own drink, a greenish concoction in a small glass. “Not changed a bit in over twenty years, I dare say.” He sat on Scully’s other side, and the agent began to feel a bit warm.

“Dearest, what’s ‘cantankerous’ and ‘aggravating’ to one person can be challenging and fascinating to another,” Lady Jane said, as she gazed at Scully. “Is he, Dana? Is he challenging?”

“He can be,” Scully answered honestly, looking over to Fitz. “But he is brilliant. And determined.”

“More like head-strong,” Fitz declared. “Always going against the grain, no capacity for fun.” He leaned into Scully a bit. “You like to have fun, don’t you, Dana?”

Scully’s heart suddenly began to thump and frowning, she pulled back from Fitz’s intruding torso, sliding out of her seat and standing in one fluid motion. She buttoned her suit jacket, smoothed her skirt, and wished for a suit of armour.

Fitz stood as well. “Leaving so soon, Dana?”

“I must-” Scully’s cell phone rang, and she felt herself calm as she listened to Mulder’s voice.

“My dear?” Jane murmured.

“There’s been a change in the case. Mulder’s coming to the hotel to pick me up.” She started to edge towards the door. “I’m meeting him in the lobby.”

Fitz stepped around Scully and blocked the door. “Dana, I must insist, as a personal favour, that you accept this invitation.”

Scully took the stiff card he was offering her. A coat of arms, with a passant dog above the shield, shared the cover with an ornately printed title: British Embassy Ball – with the location and date in small cursive, RSVP.

“If the case is finished and we have time – if,” Scully held up the invitation, “Agent Mulder and I might possibly be able to pop in for a few minutes.”

“Fox? You see him every day. Why not attend as my special guest?” Fitz urged.

“Yes, please do,” Jane added.

“I won’t attend without Agent Mulder,” Scully stated firmly.

Fitz’s smile slipped for a second, then a wry smirk took its place. “Very well, Dana. Mamma will be pleased that I’m inviting my cousin and all. A mark in her good books is not to be sneezed at.”

Minutes later, Scully grinned as Mulder pulled into the parking area outside the lobby. Stepping outside to meet him, Scully started chuckling to herself. Mulder had never before seemed so stable and predictable as when compared to his slightly lecherous cousin. A look of stunned happiness wreathed Mulder’s face at her welcoming smile. Scully resolved to put that look on his face more often.

“Good to see you, Mulder.”

“‘See’ being the operative word – since the rest of the Olympic team has suddenly disappeared along with Cho.”

“So you said. What do you think it is? Kidnapping, terrorist attack, publicity stunt?”

Mulder patted his coat pocket as he pulled away. “According to an interview I just had with the herbalist, it’s possible that the entire team could just, uh, disappear through some kind of potion. Or maybe they flew off in their bliss plane.”

Scully shook her head as she re-examined the purple pamphlet. “Wonder what the fare on a bliss plane is? I’m betting the price is pretty high.”

“Only one way to find out. We’re meeting with Sky Turner in half an hour, at his compound.”

***

Chapter 3 – No Title; or, A Not So Blissful Plane

***

Mulder leaned out the car window and pressed the compound buzzer.

“Peace and light, what’s your business?” droned a bored voice.

“Agents Mulder and Scully to see Sky Turner. We have an appointment.”

Mulder heard the faint rustle of papers before the electronic gate swung open. He drove slowly down the winding, narrow road, vegetation obscuring all peripheral vision.

“He likes his privacy,” Scully murmured.

Mulder swallowed his reply as they crested a hill. An oddly unsettling group of gleaming white buildings were scattered at random throughout the landscape, half spherical shapes seemingly tumbled from a giant’s hand. There were no paths or any other evidence of connection between the buildings, with wildflowers growing in a carpet entirely surrounding them. No evidence of doors or windows – or even people.

“What do these look like to you, Scully?”

“Monuments to Sky Turner’s bald head?”

Mulder grinned. The road abruptly ended at the largest of the hemispheres and, by straining to see, he made out the faint outline of a door. They walked to the building in a silence made more eerie by the absolute quiet surrounding them. A cleansing breath and the steadiness of touching Scully’s back and Mulder was ready for whatever strangeness was hidden within.

He was almost disappointed when the automatic door whooshed quietly open to reveal not a phantasm but a small, severely coiffed woman dressed in a white robe and chewing gum.

“I’m Fiona Feeny, your spiritual guide. Let’s see some I.D.”

Their badges were minutely scrutinized.

“Can’t be too careful. Gaganiji’s had a lot of crackpots trying to contact him. One even hacked into his website.”

Scully looked confused. “Gaganiji?”

“Nickname. It’ll be Guru Turner to you two. Now,” she snapped her gum, “strip in the other room and put on visitors’ robes.”

“Wait a minute-” Mulder protested

Feeny held up her hand. “You wanna see Gaganiji, you gotta follow the ashram rules. No restrictive and impure outside-world clothing. That goes double for guns. You guys packing?”

Scully started to back away, and Mulder could read the stubborn set of her shoulders and flashing eyes as easily as if she had shouted. He turned to her. “Scully?”

“Dammit, Mulder,” she hissed. “Turner is a suspect.”

They exchanged a glance. A long moment later, Mulder removed the clip from his gun and handed it to Feeny. Scully slowly followed.

“Stop gun violence.” Feeny intoned. “Now hurry up and get changed. Gaganiji doesn’t like to wait.”

Mulder followed Scully into the small guest room. A row of pegs lined one wall and, in the corner, a selection of robes was neatly folded on top of a wooden bench.

“Hey, Scully, I hear white is the new black.”

Scully snorted and removed her jacket. A card slipped out of her pocket.

Mulder bent to pick it up and spied a hasty scribble. //My natal day is March fourth// it read //the best birthday present would be your presence// Fitzwilliam Foxhound Mulder-Mulder//

Mulder flipped the card over, saw the words British Embassy Ball, and stared into Scully’s flustered face.

“I’ll explain later.”

“Scully, Fitz’s birthday is March fourth. If you want to go-”

“I’ll explain later,” she repeated firmly, snatched the card and stuck it back into her pocket. Her voice softened. “Don’t worry, Mulder. You’ll be my beau if we go to the ball. If.”

Scully turned away and stepped to the robes, shaking out two from the pile before she found a smaller one.

She lifted one eyebrow. “Do you mind?”

Mulder stood with his back towards Scully, refusing to think about trying to sneak a peek. Even though he was very good at both sneaking and peeking.

A shallow wicker basket held pairs of plastic sandals, and Mulder traded his black wingtips for flip flops. He felt a bubble of giddiness tickle under his breastbone as he threw on a robe, and began humming “Jesus Christ, Superstar.”

“Wrong religion, Mulder. Although this is technically a cult rather than a religion – and from what I’ve read, it’s the ‘Sky Turner Sexual Techniques Cult’ to the rich and famous.”

“Yep. He calls himself O Guru do Sexo. Doesn’t need much of a translation, does it?”

Feeny opened the door. “You’re finally ready. Come on so you can get enlightened.”

“Is that a threat or a promise?” Mulder quipped, but Feeny ignored him.

Down a narrow hallway, around a corner, up a set of stairs – and with each step the chanting grew louder and the sandalwood incense smelled stronger.

Feeny put her finger to her lips before carefully opening a set of double doors. Mulder and Scully stepped inside, blinking.

A mob of white robed acolytes surrounded Sky Turner in dozens of irregular concentric circles. Translucent light surrounded Turner’s still, cross-legged form like a halo, and Mulder had to squint to find the source. There it was. A pot light, partially hidden by a stylized infinity symbol.

Mulder smirked – Turner obviously had a flair for drama. The smile froze on his face, however, as Turner’s eyes opened. It was like staring into the cold intelligence and intensity of a snake.

Turner rose in one fluid motion, waving away the murmurs of his followers. He walked serenely past Mulder and Scully and into a smaller room, Feeny anxiously motioning for them to follow.

“Agents Mulder and Scully, Gaganiji.”

“Close the door on your way out, Fiona.” Turner smiled at Scully, and Mulder felt his skin crawl with the oiliness of it. “Please, be seated.”

Mulder awkwardly perched on one cushion. He felt a wave of fondness as he noticed how Scully sat ramrod straight, her serious face at odds with her bulky robe. Despite the smaller size of the robe, he still couldn’t see Scully’s hands from under the long sleeves.

“Mr. Turner,” Scully began.

“Please, call me Sky. Although my name pales when compared to the celestial colour of your eyes.” Scully’s eyes narrowed and Mulder deliberately uncurled his fist.

“Mr. Turner, Agent Scully and I are here for one reason. We’re investigating the disappearance of the Olympic swim team. Do you know anything?”

Turner shrugged. “Why would I know anything?”

“Your pamphlet was found at the scene of Xien Cho’s disappearance, and now the other swimmers have also mysteriously vanished.”

Turner shrugged again, suddenly sat next to Scully and gently pulled up her sleeve. Mulder swallowed in shock as Turner began to trace a complicated pattern on her unresisting palm.

“Scully?”

Mulder reached across and snatched Scully’s hand back. “What the hell are you doing to her?”

“A life lesson, Agent Mulder. Touch can be a powerful thing. Soothing, or,” he reached behind and tapped one finger against Mulder’s vertebrae, causing him to gasp in a sudden jolt of pain, “not.” Scully blinked. “What’s going on?”

Turner smiled condescendingly at her confusion. “We’ve been discussing the Olympic swim team, Miss Scully. Although if you’d care to spend some private time with me, there are many more interesting things we could discuss.”

“No,” Scully cleared her throat. “No, thank you.”

“A pity. Well then, there’s no more reason for you to investigate. The team has not disappeared at all. They are staying in this compound as my guests, and I see no reason why you should disturb their contemplation.”

“Do you seriously expect us to believe that?” asked Scully. Even to herself, her voice sounded far away and a certain lethargy seemed to have drifted from her now fuzzy head to her toes. What had Turner’s touch done to her?

“Ever the doubter, Miss Scully,” smiled Turner. “I know all about you.” He glanced dismissively at Mulder, “You are partnered well with this hobbledehoy; but I sense you are not yet mated.”

He caressed the silken fabric of the cushion he was sitting on, in small circles with two fingertips, and watched with satisfaction as Scully had to shake her head to regain her concentration.

“What are you doing, Turner?” Scully was reminded of the uncomfortable eroticism of her hypnotism by Dr. Werber. In some undefined way, she could feel she was losing control; and if there was anything Dana Scully didn’t like, it was losing control.

“One doesn’t always need to touch to cause sensation when making a connection. I was merely using mesmerism, but of course you wouldn’t believe in that.”

“Look, Sky, tell us how you made the swimmers come here. Or was that mesmerism too?” Mulder’s voice was mild, tightly enunciated, and with a stress on “Sky” – a sure sign of reined-in temper, Scully knew. She placed a warning hand on his arm.

“I assure you,” Turner said,“the gentlemen came to the compound of their own free will. The entire hullabaloo about their disappearance is just that, a hullabaloo. The Olympic team members requested a private consultation after a discreet phone call from Xien Cho, and I arranged for my trusted driver to transport them from a hotel basement service entrance.”

“Why?” Mulder persisted.

“Do you mean, why would they wish to meet with me?” Turner flashed his teeth in a shark-like smile. “Let’s just say that my teachings offer the ultimate performance enhancer, in the most important area of performance a man can have. In fact, Miss Scully, a certain Bobby Orr muttered your name in deep meditation. I sense you are ‘inspiring’ him, which is why I am so delighted to meet you. Now I can quite understand the thrall in which you hold them.”

“That’s ridiculous,” spluttered Scully. “I only met them briefly.”

“I am aware of this, and the brevity of your meeting is all the more remarkable. They chose you, a small, ordinary redhead, over one of the world’s most desired models. Judging by Orr’s fervid response, I am most interested to witness his reaction in your presence. The years of untapped sexual energy within you must be truly immense.”

Mulder stepped forward. “Watch it, Turner. We’re not interested in Bobby Orr’s meditational fantasies – or yours.”

Scully wanted to slap the smug look from Turner’s face. Years of untapped sexual energy indeed! “We’ll need to verify Mr. Orr’s presence here, of course. Tell us where to find the swim team, Mr. Turner, or we’ll call our regional office to assist in our investigation.”

“No need, no need. Besides, it’s a free country, and I don’t think you’ll be able to convince them to leave, at least not until they’ve completed all seven levels of training.” Turner shouted, “Fiona!”

The door swung open. “Yes, gaganiji?”

“Show these people to my private quarters. They’d like a word with our newest guests.”

Fiona shot Mulder and Scully an angry look. “Fine. But it will be your responsibility if you screw up their spiritual training.”

“Now, now, Fiona,” Turner intoned, “after speaking to the Olympic team, Agents Mulder and Scully might even be convinced to join our happy family.”

As they stepped out the door, Scully relaxed as she heard Mulder mutter, “shoot me now.” In this crazy looking-glass of a compound, Mulder’s dour comments were a breath of normality. Besides, she would never admit it, but Mulder looked better in a robe and flip flops than the entire swim team in their cheesecake cover pose.

Sky Turner’s private quarters were about as ostentatious as those belonging to any spiritual cult leader with the belief that enlightenment could be gained through simplicity. Gold and red were the dominant colour scheme, and the Italian marble floors reflected the light from the Czech crystal chandeliers. A fleet of limousines could be seen though the French windows.

On what must have been the largest mattress ever manufactured, in the centre of the room, were Thomas Orwenyo, Xien Cho, Angelo Panucci, Junior McCuskey, and Bobby Orr. Each sat with their legs crossed in the lotus position.

They were not sitting still in quiet contemplation, but were instead taking it in turns to cross from one end of the mattress to the other; still cross-legged and by a strange method of bouncing.

“I’ve seen this before,” said Mulder. “It’s called ‘Yogic Flying’”

Scully, brow arched, said, “Yes, but since they’re bouncing, I’m to assume the flying part doesn’t quite work?”

“It’s adapted from Yogic flying, but we’re more interested in the sexual plane. But they are flying mentally,” insisted Fiona. “You are being limited by what you think you see.”

“Agent Scully!” McCuskey shouted on spotting them.

Bobby Orr, who had been concentrating on flying, bounced off the edge of the mattress in surprise.

Both men struggled out of their position, to rush over to Scully’s side.

“Ma’am, I hope you remember me,” said McCuskey.

“I’ve been thinking about you ever since we met,” added Bobby Orr.

Mulder looked perplexed. “Have you been drugged?”

Scully was unsure how she felt about Mulder believing that men had to be drugged in order to find her attractive. Admittedly, it seemed to be every man she came across recently, but even so, it wasn’t exactly flattering.

The other swimmers now joined them, looking equally love struck.

Sky Turner entered the room, and smiled with satisfaction. He placed one hand on Scully’s shoulder and one on Xien Cho’s.

“Join us, Agent Scully,” he urged.

“So pretty,” praised Angelo, kissing Scully’s hand.

Thomas Orwenyo attempted to take the other. “Agent Scully, if I have learnt one thing from Sky Turner, it’s that sex isn’t about love and marriage, or even procreation. It’s a way of communicating, of saying hello to a new friend.”

Scully shook her hand free. “At the moment, even a handshake is out of the question. Xien Cho, we’re from the FBI, and need to know whether you have been kidnapped or if you’re staying at Mr. Turner’s compound of your own volition?”

Xien Cho looked horrified at the suggestion of kidnapping, and praised Turner’s skill as a guru and sexual adviser effusively.

“Okay, I think we’ve heard enough,” interrupted Mulder, as Cho’s testimony started to get explicit. “Rest assured your Embassy and Immigration will be informed of your presence, and I very much doubt either will allow you to complete the seven ‘training’ levels.”

xXx

“You know, Mulder, that wasn’t much of a case,” remarked Scully as they entered their office.

“You’re right, it wasn’t,” Mulder admitted. “We didn’t ask Xien how he managed to get out of his hotel room without anyone seeing him, either. But here’s a mystery.”

Three packages, addressed to Agent Scully, had been delivered. One was a large square cardboard box, the second a round box, and the third a long canvas suit holder with a hanger poking through the top.

The square cardboard box had a card from Lady Jane. It contained soap, talcum powder, cleansing lotion and five bottles of perfume in different sizes. All of them were part of the Esme Binoche Black Orchid range.

Mulder sniffed the soap. “Is Lady Jane trying to tell you something, Scully? Too much of the eau de FBI agent, and not enough glamour?”

Scully turned two of the bottles over and showed Mulder the label: “Sample only: not for resale.”

“Not so generous after all,” smirked Mulder. “That’s the aristocracy for you. What’s in the other box and case? They’re from Fitz, I recognize his family crest.”

Scully undid the ribbon of the round box and lifted off the lid. Inside was a large broad brimmed hat, decorated with plumed feathers and a ribbon. Once unzipped, the case revealed a matching blue silk dress on a hanger, with voluminous petticoats and a lace collar.

“How very now,” said Mulder.

“What is this?” muttered Scully, before she read Fitz’s florid handwriting. “‘Forgive my boldness, Dana. Your resemblance to the third best Gainsborough on the grand staircase landing was too much to resist. Please indulge me, and come to the ball as my forbear, Lady Charlotte Mulder-Mulder.’”

“Fancy dress balls are a family tradition, Scully. Fitz always makes a point of going as one of his own ancestors, and it appeals to his ego if his friends do so as well.”

“Mulder, today I’ve already escaped induction into a cult, and now I’m expected to dress up like Little Lord Fauntleroy’s sister.”

“Well, have fun.”

“Oh no,” Scully said. “If I have to endure this humiliation at the hands of your cousin, you do too.”

“Fine,” Mulder replied after a moment’s consideration.

“So what are you going as?”

“No no no,” he replied. “I’ll surprise you. When I was at Oxford, Fitz rarely missed an opportunity to humiliate me at one of the college or Micklethwaite balls. ‘Fox-baiting’ was one of Fitz’s favourite sports, but this time it will be different, despite the Mulder-Mulder family motto.”

“Family motto?”

***

Chapter 4 – No Title; or, Fancy Dress Maketh the Man

***

Scully looked in the mirror and sighed. Her fingers traced the lines around her mouth as she squinted at the dark circles under her eyes. A woman she barely knew was looking at her. Where was the young, feisty scientist? The officer of the law, sworn to protect and defend? Most recently, she’d been sent to find people who didn’t want to be found, and had been completely disrespected by almost everyone in her path. Now she was getting dressed for a costume ball she didn’t want to attend that was being hosted by people she wasn’t sure she wanted to see again. She’d certainly escaped the boredom of her previous existence, but what had she lost?

And where was Mulder in all this? The old Scully was content to be partner and friend to the brilliant, troubled man. The new one wasn’t so sure that was possible any more.

In the meantime, Scully had to finish putting on her costume. Her heritage was Irish – she felt ridiculous portraying an English aristocrat and she certainly didn’t have any heralded ancestors like Fitz and Mulder did. A few clicks on the Internet and a call to an historian friend helped her to choose a more suitable personage. The blue dress Fitz had sent was restyled to put together a not very accurate approximation of a Victorian suffragette’s costume, combined with an Edwardian “Votes For Women” sign and sash.

Her costumed identity was pleasing to her, and she hoped it would be to Mulder, who had promised a surprise for Fitz and Lady Jane as well. He would be meeting her at the Embassy which meant she had to arrive alone. At first this had annoyed Scully, but seeing herself now, looking for all the world like she was ready to storm Parliament, she felt arriving unaccompanied was perfect. The woman in the mirror smiled. She might have a trick or two up her sleeve yet.

A knock at the door broke her reverie. Scully found a young man in a frock coat and white wig who was about to bow. However, upon seeing her costume he stood straight and a broad grin broke out on his face. “Dr. Dana Scully, I presume?” he said.

“Yes. And you are -”

“Aimes, Madam, Warwicke Aimes, private secretary to Lord Fitzwilliam Mulder-Mulder.” The grin returned. “I am dressed as my 1780s counterpart to the Mulder-Mulder family. But I see you are not dressed as Lady Charlotte.”

“No, Aimes, I am not. Or should I call you Warwicke?”

He closed his eyes and bowed. “Madam, even my parents call me Aimes.”

Scully couldn’t help but burst into laughter.

xXx

Embassy Row in Washington, D.C. was glittering. Limousines, Mercedes, even Hummers and slinky sports cars slowly made their way to the British Embassy for one of the social season’s most anticipated parties. Everyone from Arab sheiks to senators’ wives were desperate to see the new British Attache, Lord Mulder-Mulder and, more importantly, his supermodel fiancee Lady Jane Horsey de Horsey. They were even willing to go against the “business chic” D.C. dress code and come in costume.

As Scully’s limo pulled up to the red carpet, she was sure she saw Katie Couric from The Today Show dressed as Martha Washington. Was that Senator Hilary Rodham-Clinton as Eleanor Roosevelt? She was positive Daniel Day-Lewis was sporting the correct period clothing and beard to make him Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.

Aimes came around to the door and opened it for her, again smiling. “Do have a lovely time, despite Lord Fitzwilliam, Madam. The music and food alone will be exquisite.”

“Thank you, Aimes. I hope you can slip away for some fun as well.”

“Confidentially, Madam,” the young man whispered conspiratorially, “Lady Jane’s assistant, Heidi, and I are, as you say, blowing this taco stand shortly and going to Polly Esther’s dance club for 80’s retro night.”

Aimes bowed to the watching crowd with a flourish and led Scully down the red carpet. More than one woman saw her and applauded, with one shout of “Right on, sister!” ringing out as she reached the door. Aimes handed Scully’s invitation to the doorman and took his leave.

“Dr. Dana K. Scully, Federal Bureau of Investigation, United States,” rang the doorman’s voice as Scully entered the ballroom.

Aimes had been correct. The air was filled with music and the buffet tables were laden with every delicacy known to man. As Scully awkwardly juggled her protest sign and a plate of candied nuts, she heard a familiar voice. “Dana! Darling! We’ve been looking all over for you!”

Scully turned to see Fitz and Lady Jane striding toward her, brilliant smiles plastered on their faces. ‘And that’s not all that’s plastered,’ Scully thought as she caught sight of Lady Jane’s wobbly totter.

“Dearest, whatever have you done! The sash is all wrong with that colour,” fussed Jane as she tried to remove the strip of material from Scully’s shoulder.

“You first, Jane,” puffed Scully as she extricated herself from the Jane’s arms. “Tell me who you are.”

Drawing herself to her full height of almost six feet, Lady Jane turned her head to the side and lifted a white shoulder. “I’m the fifth Countess of Roxbury, confidant to Queen Victoria and great-great-great grandmother to both Fitz and myself.”

“And you, Fitz?”

“Lord Creighton Mulder-Mulder, who had the family home built and began the Micklethwaite hunt.” He was studying Scully’s attire. “I must say, Dana, I’m a bit hurt that you’ve changed my vision of Lady Charlotte.”

“Well, I did a little on-line research today and found someone a little closer to me. Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon.”

“Ah, the famous campaigner for women’s rights,” Fitz said, looking as though he’d just eaten something sour.

“She was instrumental in getting people to change their minds about women being seen as property, especially after marriage,” Scully said as she straightened her sash. “It’s hard to believe there was a time that when a woman married all her wealth, land, and identity went to the husband forever, even if he left her.”

“Why, that’s exactly how the Mulder-Mulder fortune was born,” a deep voice behind an impossibly huge layer cake said. “Wasn’t it, cousin?”

All three turned to see none other than Fox Mulder as-

“Robin Hood?” Scully questioned. “You’re Robin Hood?”

“The Bold Outlaw of Barnsdale,” cooed Lady Jane as she almost licked her chops in admiration of Mulder’s tight fitting costume. “Bold, daring and manly – Oh, yeesssss, how very Errol Flynn!”

Mulder was wearing a long-sleeved green tunic, deerskin breeches and tall black riding boots. But what was really amazing was the hair. Gone was Mulder’s short business cut. His hair was now a little longer than shoulder-length and it certainly didn’t look like a wig. Scully hadn’t seen him for a few days, but it wasn’t long enough to grow that natural-looking hair. Mulder’s face sported a closely shaved beard and moustache and a wry smile.

“Was it Lord Creighton that did it first? Married the cash so he could build the castle? You see, Scully, the Dutch Mulders were scholars and craftsmen. Not exactly high-paying jobs. The British transplants decided to just marry the darn stuff to get what they wanted.”

Fitz stood straight and tugged on the hem of his coat. “It’s not as if we were the only ones who did it. It was tradition.”

Mulder moved around the table and walked toward his cousin. “If there’s anything Scully and I have learned since joining the Bureau, it’s that traditions aren’t always just. Marry the rich girls, take off with their money, leave them destitute and take as many mistresses as you please. It’s what the Mulder-Mulders did for generations until the laws changed.”

Lady Jane began to giggle. “Well, I hope he didn’t plan to do that to me!” Her laughter was almost uncontrollable now. “After that last coke bust I had barely ten pence left. Most of the money from my Esme Binoche contract is going straight on court costs and taxes!”

People were beginning to stare at the laughing model and Scully turned to see Fitz looking more than a little concerned.

“My love, whatever gave you such a ridiculous idea! I’ve supported you through it all, darling, and that won’t change.” He moved closer to Lady Jane. “How much is ‘most’ of the money?” he whispered. Mulder said, “Fitz only got his posting because of family connections.”

Fitz took a defiant stance. “As always, Fox, you fail to appreciate the great burden of a landed name. One cannot take employment just anywhere -”

“Or in your case anywhere at all,” Mulder said as he speared a chunk of salmon with his dagger and held it out to Scully. “Hungry?”

“Famished,” she said as she reached for the salmon.

Fitz moved closer, one fist clenched towards Mulder’s face, and glared menacingly. “I hope you remember whose birthday this is, and whose guest you are.”

Mulder raised his fist in answer to Fitz’s, when suddenly a camera flash went off in their direction and a press photographer was seen scurrying away.

“How dare you!” Fitz roared with fury, and set off in pursuit of his retreating quarry.

“Oh, dear,” murmured Jane. “I can see the Washington Post caption now: ‘US Relations Strained with the UK’.” The band began to play a light waltz. Mulder touched Scully’s shoulder and said, “Dance with me.”

She smiled and said, “Only if you tell me about the hair.”

“This old thing?” Mulder made a show of running his hand through the chestnut locks. “It’s from House of Wig. You like?”

Scully bracketed his whiskered chin with two fingers, stepped close and moved his head, pretending to scrutinize the hairpiece. She took a long moment to visually caress his familiar features. The ironic lift of eyebrow and the thick lashes framing his chameleon eyes. His strong nose. The slight curve of lush lips. Yes, she liked. Very much indeed.

She stepped firmly back into her own space. “Not bad. If we ever need to go undercover to investigate a commune reunion, you’ll fit right in.”

“C’mon, Scully. Let’s investigate this waltz.”

Miss Elle’s dancing lessons came, unbidden, to Scully’s mind as she placed her hands demurely atop Mulder’s own. Practiced couples dancing had seemed ridiculously old-fashioned during her teen disco years, but now she welcomed the way she could easily pace herself to Mulder’s graceful lead.

Mulder bent to her ear, and spoke quietly. “We’ve got that teamwork thing going again. Dancing is just another form of unspoken communication.”

And what was Mulder trying to communicate, Scully wondered, as he embraced her more firmly for a spin around the floor? She could feel the heat radiating from his leaf green tunic and the tense muscles of his back. She impulsively gave his spine a friendly scratch, surprising a chuckle.

“You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours?”

“Maybe later, Mulder. Maybe.” Scully smiled at Mulder’s shocked expression. “You seemed a bit tense with your cousin, I was just trying to help out.”

His lips thinned and he averted his gaze.

“Mulder?”

“Let’s just say that Fitz took the Mulder-Mulder family motto a little too seriously.”

“What’s the motto?”

“Cave canem vulpes venans.”

Scully nodded. “Beware of the dog-”

Mulder finished, “-who hunts foxes.”

She wanted to laugh, but it died on her lips when she saw the muscle twitch in Mulder’s jaw. “You can’t mean that Fitz took some Latin throwaway literally?”

“I was young and stupid, Scully. Hard to believe, I know. I expected a long lost family welcome and instead met with a three year stream of Fitz’s oiled barbs. Guess the family resemblance and scholarship to Oxford bothered him more than I realized at the time.”

“Mulder,” Scully lay her hand over his chest, looked into his eyes, “you may look like Fitz, but you are nothing like him. I know your heart.”

The music, the room, the others faded away as Mulder suddenly leaned in. Scully’s eyes slipped closed as she felt his lips brush hers – then was jolted to reality as she felt a curvaceous body lever between them.

Her eyes popped open as Jane grabbed Scully and muttered, “Please, allow me,” inching in for a kiss of her own.

“That’s enough, Jane,” announced Mulder, peeling the manicured fingers off Scully’s arm. “Go find Fitz.”

“Dana, darling. Subtle hints don’t work with you. What does work?”

Scully blinked. “I’m sorry, Lady Jane. Not interested.”

Lady Jane sniffed, eyes bright, then tottered off across the dance floor. Scully was shocked to her straight-arrow soul when she stared into Fitz’s lascivious gaze.

She swallowed. “This evening’s charm is wearing thin.”

“Ma’am, may I be so bold as to ask for the next dance?” The bashful voice belonged to Bobby Orr.

He was dressed cavalier-style as, Scully presumed, D’Artagnan, but he wasn’t alone. Behind him were Thomas Orwenyo, Xien Cho, Angelo Panucci and Eldon McCuskey: the three musketeers and Cardinal Richelieu.

All four men gazed at Scully expectantly.

“More admirers, Scully?” sighed Mulder. “It looks like your dance card is full.” To her disappointment, the romantic mood seemed to have changed for Mulder and he left her to dance with Bobby, while the other four swimmers sulked at the side of the ballroom.

When she finished her dance with Bobby, Lady Jane sidled up to her, and bent down half a foot so she could murmur in Scully’s ear. Her hot breath tickled the back of her neck and Scully flinched as Jane noticeably sniffed.

“I’m disappointed you’re not wearing the Black Orchid I sent.”

“Sorry, it’s not subtle enough for my taste.”

“No matter,” said Jane airily, not sounding deterred. She looked across the ballroom to where Fitz was gesticulating wildly, and probably shouting at, the long-suffering Aimes. “Poor Fitz, I do feel for him so, and he’s such a child when he gets into one of his sulks. Agent Mulder’s presence is bringing out Fitz’s worst competitive side. Washington is such a wonderful job for him. He was worried he might be sent to the Falkland Islands. It would be such a shame if he lost this posting.”

“Perhaps he ought to aim for slightly more diplomatic behaviour,” ventured Scully.

“True, his brief time here has not been without incident.” Jane honoured Scully with another alluring look. “He told me he thinks you’ve very beautiful. You wouldn’t like to help me cheer him up at the end of the evening? You, me, a bottle of Bollinger and a night in the honeymoon suite?”

“Lady Jane, do you never give up?”

“I’ve told you before, I’m not used to being turned down,” said Jane, looking dejected. ““First Xien Cho, and now you; it has not been a good week. Xien turned out to be a bore, but your lack of interest just makes you all the more appealing. You have this wonderful funereal air of being determined not to enjoy yourself.”

“Thanks,” muttered Scully.

“If you’re not romantically involved with Fox Mulder, why not have fun with Fitz and me? Or have I been reading the wrong signals, and you and Fox are an item after all?”

“No, we’re not an ‘item’, we’re partners and colleagues.”

“Who happen to attend fancy dress balls and then stare lingeringly at each other’s costumes?” Jane raised her eyebrows in mock disbelief. “You’re so very different to the members of Her Majesty’s constabulary I’ve had the misfortune to meet.”

“Good night, Lady Jane,” said Scully firmly, having had quite enough of her supermodel admirer.

She crossed the ballroom and sat wearily on a plush red sofa. Sitting next to her, and clashing violently with the seating, was an elderly woman with a bouffant of yellow hair and a bright pink evening gown covered with frills and diamante. In her hand was a shepherd’s crook.

The woman looked disdainfully at Scully’s costume. “Nell Gwynn?” she asked.

“Barbara Bodichon, as a matter of fact,” said Scully, feeling somewhat offended.

“If you say so, my dear,” said the woman peevishly. “With that bosom I had imagined something altogether less virginal.”

Feeling even crosser, Scully realized the top front hooks on the bodice of her gown had popped open. No wonder Bobby Orr had spent so much of their dance looking down. Doing them up, Scully scrutinized her neighbour’s frilly fro-fro concoction of a gown.

“Bo-peep?” asked Scully.

“No, lost sheep aren’t quite my field, but you’re close. I specialize in broken hearts and lost loves, just like the woman my costume is based upon: Lord Mulder-Mulder’s ancestor the Dowager Duchess of Slough.”

“What contribution did she make to British history?”

“She was a delightful eccentric who wandered the streets of the east end of London, looking for couples to act as matchmaker for. She would, for example, see a telegram boy and a flower girl, hook them with her crook, and make an introduction – and voila a marriage was made.”

As she spoke, in way of demonstration, she stretched out her crook and caught Mulder.

“Look what I found for you,” said the woman with amusement. “Alas, the Duchess of Slough’s end was not a happy one. Some say she fell into a canal, others that she became an unknown victim of Jack the Ripper.”

“Jack the Ripper?” questioned Mulder with sudden interest.

“But you don’t seem to need me, my dear, or my crook. You appear to already have two suitors.”

Both Mulder and Mulder-Mulder now stood before them.

Fitz rubbed his chin thoughtfully and looked injured. He adjusted his monocle and cleared his throat.

“Dana, I see you’ve already met my great aunt, Dame Millicent Cureton, the romantic novelist. She’s touring America courtesy of the British Council, to bring a little love into the lives of Americans.”

“My intuition tells me this young woman already has that,” said Dame Millicent.

“Quite,” said Fitz. “I would like to ask you to dance with me, Dana, but this clumsy oaf of a cousin of mine might punch me on the nose.”

“Scully is capable of making her own choice of dance partners,” said Mulder. “I’ll try not to punch you.”

“I say, old fellow, why don’t I take fox baiting off the menu for the night and we can call a truce?”

Mulder looked for a moment as if he would rather do anything but shake hands, before reluctantly allowing Fitz to do so.

“Friends again, cousin?” asked Fitz.

“Possibly,” said Mulder, not bothering to disguise a note of caution.

“Capital, and blood’s thicker than water, don’t y’know? So why not do us both a favour, and go and have a word with the odious ‘Washington Post’ photographer over by the buffet table? He took a photograph during our little contretemps earlier, and I was not successful in confiscating the film.”

Scully and Fitz danced stiffly together. Fitz might resemble Mulder, but he did not possess Mulder’s ease with himself and fluidity of movement.

“Do you need rescuing, my lady?” asked Mulder at the end of the dance. “If you don’t mind, Fitz,” he added, remembering their uneasy truce.

Fitz stepped aside, sighing as Jane’s loud voice could be heard as she emptied her handbag on a table, “Bloody hell, someone’s nicked my Ecstasy.”

The band leader announced the last dance of the night, Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade”, and Scully relaxed once more in Mulder’s arms.

Only two couples remained on the dance floor, Mulder and Scully and Dame Millicent and her elderly husband, locked in each other’s arms.

Mulder and Scully watched as the elderly couple spun past them.

“I wonder how many years they’ve been together?” pondered Scully.

“Half a century, maybe. Of course they might have been friends or co-workers before they got together.”

“Maybe,” agreed Scully, half worried and half hoping that Mulder was back in flirtatious mode. “So, Mulder, what would you choose for a family motto? ‘He who wears the best costume wins’?”

“How about ‘Slow but sure’?” asked Mulder, looking down at her with unmistakable intent.

Scully swallowed. She had wanted a moment like this, but now that it was here, in a ballroom while in Mulder’s arms, it seemed contrived. It was the second time she had sensed he was about to kiss her while dancing, and she didn’t want it to happen just because they were swept away by the atmosphere.

“So what’s brought all this on?”

“I’ve come to the conclusion that I had better not wait another five years before I make my move,” said Mulder with a teasing smile. “Or someone else will step in. From the swimmers and Sky Turner, to Fitz and Jane, it seems that no man – or woman – can resist you. It might be dangerous to introduce you to any more of my relatives; they might all want to make love to you.”

“Well,” spluttered Scully.

“Let’s get out of here before Fitz’s birthday speeches. Self-congratulatory pomp and ceremony aren’t really my style.”

They backed away from the dance floor and had made it as far as the refreshment table when the music ended and the `clink’ of silver on fine stemware could be heard.

Mulder groaned. “Busted.”

The crowd quieted and all eyes turned towards Aimes, whose wrinkled frock coat and slightly askew wig hinted at a hasty entrance.

“Ladies and gentlemen, my apologies for the interruption. One last duty almost slipped my mind, which must be tended to before Lord Mulder-Mulder’s birthday festivities can begin. The Hay-Adams Hotel has generously donated a weekend package to the attending couple considered to have the most creative costumes. My assistant and I,” Scully saw Aimes glance at Heidi, who was smiling up at him, “have been charged with making this difficult decision. Before we announce the winner, I’d be pleased to inform you of the top three finalists.”

A buzz rippled through the crowd, with singletons frowning and couples standing closer together, some preening and others adjusting their partners’ costumes. Scully eyed the competition, and realized Mulder was also coolly glancing around the crowd. She schooled her face into sober nonchalance but her insides were chattering away. A fancy hotel – Mulder – a weekend package – Mulder. She mentally crossed every finger and toe.

“One of the three finalist couples are Lady Jane Horsey de Horsey as the Countess of Roxbury and Lord Fitzwilliam Mulder-Mulder as his ancestor, Lord Creighton Mulder-Mulder.”

Mulder rolled his eyes as the crowd applauded. Scully relaxed. No surprise here. How could they possibly win against the British birthday boy?

“Next are Miss Rebecca Vouillon as Queen Victoria and Sir Robert Laure as Prince Albert, in costume from the 1842 painting by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer.”

Scully looked more carefully at the smiling couple. Their costumes appeared to be old-fashioned and somewhat uncomfortable.

“Mulder, do you know anything about this painting?”

“Royal collection. Windsor Castle.” He shrugged. “I saw it once when it was loaned to the Tate. They’ve done a pretty good job of replication.”

Aimes smiled slightly. “Lastly, Dr. Dana Scully as suffragette Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon and Mr. Fox Mulder as the inimitable Sir Robin of Locksley.”

Scully turned away from the stares and polite applause. Her hand found its way into Mulder’s, and she glanced up to see him grin. “Not busted after all,” he whispered. “At least, not yet.”

“Before I announce the winner, I’d like to make an observation. I’ve been welcomed here in Washington D.C., both at a personal and professional level.” Aimes smiled down into Heidi’s tilted face. “It occurs to me that we are visitors here this evening in the eponymous city of a man who fought to have the inequities of hereditary privilege purged from this nation. Even though we seem to celebrate privilege on occasions such as these.”

Aimes continued, speaking slightly louder to be heard over the crowd’s restive buzz. “What better reflection of Washington’s foundation than to select a couple who embody societal change. Ladies and gentlemen, please congratulate the winners of this evening’s costume ball, Dr. Dana Scully and Mr. Fox Mulder.”

Scully would swear to herself later that time slowed, each event of the inevitable catastrophe impossible to stop.

The clapping of the crowd timed events like a metronome. Fitz strode forward to shake Mulder’s hand. Mulder started back, surprised, and Fitz somehow missed, knocking a bowl of foie gras to the floor. Mulder’s black riding boots skidded. His arms windmilled, and he twisted his body in midair like an eel on a hook, to avoid Fitz’s giant cake. Mulder’s back hit the refreshment table and lobster tails went flying. His elbow sank into a small rectangular concoction which was marzipan and chequered – or at least it used to be.

Time snapped back to normal with Fitz’s roar. “DAMN YOU! Mama sent my Battenburg birthday cake straight from Micklethwaite!”

Fitz grabbed Mulder’s tunic and shook hard. Mulder regained his balance and warned, “Let go of me.”

“Or what?” Fitz shouted, “You’ll ruin my birthday party?” He swung at Mulder and they both slipped to the ground, wrestling and throwing punches.

Scully glared at a giggling Lady Jane, stepped around the gathering crowd, and hefted an open bottle of Bollinger’s. She was tempted to bean Fitz, who was now on top and appeared to be winning the fight, but no – she might hit Mulder at the last second.

Scully took a healthy swig, stood over them, and dumped the rest of the champagne over their heads in a shower of pricey bubbles.

Fitz and Mulder broke apart, sputtering, and the crowd’s clapping turned to cheers. Scully grinned and mock-curtseyed, wishing she had her protest sign at hand.

“Well done, Ms. Bodichon,” Aimes said, before offering a hand to Fitz.

“Aimes, you’re fired,” Fitz snarled. He stomped into the crowd, head high, entirely ignoring Lady Jane.

“Yes, sir,” Aimes replied blandly to Fitz’s back. He winked at Scully before handing her a white envelope. “Here’s your prize. You and Agent Mulder deserve it.”

“Will you be okay, Aimes?”

“More than fine, Agent Scully. Lord Mulder-Mulder doesn’t realize that my position as private secretary is more secure than his own posting. Diplomatic immunity only works outside of the embassy.”

He hesitated a moment, before whispering into Scully’s ear. “I shudder to think about where he’ll be posted after this evening’s faux pas. One does not engage in fisticuffs at an embassy function.”

Mulder pushed himself to a seated position on the floor. Dark smudges marred his tunic and hand.

“Mulder, are you bleeding?”

“Huh? No, it’s jam.” He licked his fingers. “Apricot.” Mulder started to rise, before sitting back abruptly. “Scully. Help?”

“Mulder,” rebuked Scully half-heartedly as she proffered her hand. To her irritation, she found that the exertion of raising the bottle above her head had finally split the bodice of her dress altogether.

“Oh, dear,” said Jane as she watched Scully pull Mulder up. “The birthday boy isn’t going to be happy about this.”

“I’m sure he’ll survive the loss of his Battenburg,” said Mulder, brushing crumbs from his costume and trying to be discreet as he peeked at Scully’s cleavage.

“I daresay he will, but he is very competitive and he had his heart set on winning the fancy dress prize.”

“Well, you’ll have to excuse me from pitying him, Lady Jane, as it feels good to have bested Fitz at something at last.”

“I don’t think it’s the only thing you’ve bested him at,” smiled Jane, broadly. She glanced at the miserable swimmers. “Isn’t that right, Dana?”

“It’s possible I should have carried a placard reading, ‘I’m not single’,” admitted Scully. “But I did enjoy dancing with you all.”

“You would make a better diplomat than Fitz, you’ve rejected us all so nicely.”

xXx

“This has been an interesting ending to the evening, Mulder,” said Scully, as they walked back to Mulder’s car.

“Never let it be said that I don’t know how to show a woman a good time. Special Agent Bodichon, it looks as if you have a date this weekend,” said Mulder, tapping the envelope with their prize.

“I hope so,” said Scully shyly. “But what if Skinner won’t come with me?”

“Tell me I’m not going to have to fight him too!” laughed Mulder.

“Well, you remember what Sky Turner said about me? That the years of untapped sexual energy within me must be immense. It looks as if you may find out whether he was right.”

xXx

The next weekend was everything Scully had hoped for and more. The bedroom suite at the Hay-Adams was beautiful and romantic, and Mulder and Scully were surprised and pleased to find that most of their initial awkwardness soon dissipated after a couple of glasses of champagne.

Early on Sunday morning, as they lay on the bed stretched out and holding hands, a still flushed Mulder was whispering sweet nothings that made Scully laugh with an abandon she hadn’t felt since childhood.

“Practice makes perfect, Scully,” he said as he bent over her for another kiss.

“I don’t recall having any complaints the first time last night,” smiled Scully. “However, shower first and I want you to order breakfast downstairs while I get dressed.”

“The room service is very good.”

“The balcony view overlooking the White House is stunning,” insisted Scully. “We don’t want to waste our prize.”

***

Not for the first time, Mulder wondered why it took women so long to get ready. He had already had one cup of coffee and a croissant.

Ah, that was why. She wanted to impress him.

Looking out over the balcony, in a 1950s style off-the-shoulder dress, with a pinched waist and floral skirt waving in the breeze, was a vision of loveliness.

He rose from his chair, his hands itching to place them on those curvaceous hips.

Such beauty and now she was his!

He walked up behind her, embraced her and muttered in her ear, “What took you so long?”

“Mulder! What are you doing?”

Ouch, he knew that sharp tone only too well. Scully was annoyed, and what was more she wasn’t in front of him but was standing several feet behind him. He dropped his hands guiltily as the vision of loveliness also spun round in surprise and faced him.

Two Scullys. It couldn’t be, but it was. Two petite, beautiful redheads, and the imposter had an uncanny resemblance to the original. At least his one looked as if she was going to see the funny side of the situation.

“Mulder, you seem to have stumbled across my cousin from Connemara in Ireland. Allow me to introduce you…”

***

NOTES: Many thanks to our dynamic beta duo: MaybeAmanda and Euphrosyne. Also, thanks to Halrloprillalar for her clever turn of Latin phrase.

Like our Mulder-Mulder family crest? Blame the talented and blue-blooded MaybeAmanda. We plan to order the dinnerware pattern ourselves.

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