Truth (The) by eponine119 & Jessica Taylor

Truth cover

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The Truth

by eponine119 & Jessica Taylor
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Disclaimer: The X Files and its characters belong to Chris Carter, 1013, and Fox, not to us.

Authors’ notes: This story riffs off just about every fanfic cliché we could think of. We did this on purpose, and hopefully it will be obvious we wouldn’t have been able to write this if we didn’t love fanfic enough to have read lots and lots of stories over the past few years. It’s also very long. We hope it’s amusing enough to justify both of these things – it sure cracked us up! 😉 Anyway, send comments, we’ll be devastated if we don’t hear from anyone, and you don’t want to do that to us…do you?

Enjoy…

Cover art from the Annex (front) & from eponine.net (below)

Part 1

Mulder was giving a slide show. Scully always thought they were funny. Not that the images of UFOs, mangled bodies, or crime scenes were particularly amusing, but that she always had the notion that he was trying to impress her with an exciting show – and the best he could manage were some grainy, reversed slides and an attempt at witty repartee. She liked the idea of Mulder trying to impress her. It wasn’t required that he succeed or even try. She thought it was cute, and it made her smile to herself.

“Agent Scully, can you identify this substance?” he intoned. He always did his best to make things interactive.

She looked at the screen, realizing that she’d been staring at her partner. “It’s blue,” she offered. She glanced at him and he nodded enthusiastically. “It looks like the ocean.”

“And what about this one?”

She looked at the image projected onto the blank wall and then looked at him, wondering if he had finally lost his mind. “That’s the sun.”

“Agent Scully, I am surprised,” he said, but he was grinning.

“Why?” she asked, not understanding this in the least. And why on earth was he grinning like that?

“I’m surprised you recognized it. How long has it been since either of us saw the ocean? Or the sun, for that matter?”

Scully thought about it, but didn’t admit that he was right and it had been a very long time. Instead, she crossed her arms and asked, “What kind of case is this?”

“A murder.”

“Somewhere that the sun shines this time of year?” she asked, daring to hope.

“A tiny island resort in the Virgin Islands,” Mulder answered. He looked like he was also daring to hope.

“If you’re lying to me – if this is a joke -” she threatened, uncrossing her arms in preparation for strangling him in just a few moments, when the inevitable occurred and he cried, “Gotcha!” It was her birthday in a few days – maybe humiliation was his gift again this year.

And maybe she wouldn’t mind it so much, just as she hadn’t really minded the embarrassment of the flaming snowball and singing waiters at last year’s celebration.

“No joke,” Mulder said, and his face turned cold and serious, proving Scully’s theory that he could not remain smiling for more than five minutes. It was a physical impossibility or something. He’d been close to breaking the record this time, as he had been other times, but…no go.

“What is it?” she asked, knowing the case must be particularly gruesome for him to look like that at the prospect of spending time in the tropics when there was slush on the ground in DC.

“No,” he said. “I think I’ll wait and surprise you.”

“Have I ever mentioned that I dislike surprises, Mulder?”

“I’ll let you read the file when we’re on our way,” he promised.

“Playing it safe?” she teased. His response was an honest look. “It’s okay, I won’t change my mind about going to an island paradise, no matter how bad it seems,” she assured him. “Nothing could be that bad.”

“This is.” His face was grim, backing up his assertion.

• • •

“Now Entering Wedded Bliss,” read the sign fluttering over the end of the gangplank on board the gleaming white cruise ship.

“Mulder?” Scully dropped her suitcase and turned to face him after her eyes had given the sign a once-over.

“You probably shouldn’t call me Mulder,” he suggested gently, taking her hand into his. She yanked on it, trying to get it back, but his tender squeeze held her fast. Separating her fingers, he isolated her fourth finger and slid a plain gold band onto it.

Scully stared at her hand in amazement. Not only did the ring fit perfectly, encircling her finger with its faint gold caress, but the sensation of having a ring slid onto her finger was unique. That she probably never would have felt it but for Mulder and this case did not escape her, and she knew that she was giving her partner an odd, soft look, but she couldn’t help it.

“What – what should I call you?” Her voice had turned light and almost uncertain, betraying her. She didn’t like it. What other effects could a simple gold band on her finger have on her personality?

“Marty?” he tried hopefully, with such a boyish look that she had to laugh.

“Only if you call me ‘Chantal.’” She was aware that Marty was Mulder’s sex kitten alias, and she didn’t want him to think he had rights just because she was wearing his ring. “Fox it is,” she said, and he made his cringe comic to amuse her. She didn’t honestly think he had anything to worry about. If she remembered to call him “Fox” even once, she’d be shocked. Old habits really did die hard.

“So what is ‘Wedded Bliss’?” she asked.

“Maybe we should take this to our room,” he said, looking uncomfortable.

“Mulder?”

“Okay, it’s a honeymoon cruise for couples who postponed the wedding more than twice and need counseling,” he whispered, then plastered a permagrin on his face. It made him look absolutely maniacal. She didn’t like smiling Mulder, she thought, it was too weird and disconcerting. He thumped her back and ordered, “Smile.”

Her head came up in response to being hit and she saw then why he had been so quick to silence her. A perky young woman with reams of golden blonde curls stood before them, grinning like a moron. She held a clipboard and wore a uniform that identified her as a member of the on-ship staff. “Name?” she chirped.

“Mulder,” said Mulder. “We’re in cabin 47A. If we could -” Grabbing Scully’s hand, he made an effort to push past the woman.

“Ah-ah-ah,” she cautioned. She looked at her clipboard until she found them on the list. “Dana and Fox,” she proclaimed. “How cute!” Scully didn’t have to look to know that Mulder was rolling his eyes. “A lot of your information is missing!” She sounded genuinely dismayed.

“Do we have to do this now?” Mulder asked.

The cruise ship woman whose name tag noted she was “Julie” looked shocked. But then she broke into a grin, which she focused on Scully. Scully imagined Julie thought another woman would be more susceptible to her touchy-feeling plight. Scully also knew Julie was pretty damn wrong. “I think someone needs some therapy!” she clucked, nodding her head at Mulder as though sharing a private joke with Scully. “How many times did you postpone the wedding?” Her pen was poised, ready to write.

“Too many to count, really -” Scully tried, vague because she didn’t know what a good answer would be, and uncomfortable with lying.

Julie patted her arm. “I know you counted every instance and that you hold that number like a grudge in your heart.”

This was making Scully ill. “How do you know I didn’t call it off?” Scully demanded.

Julie’s mouth made a small, shocked O. “At least you finally took the plunge,” she stated, and bounced away to another couple, leaving a stunned Mulder and Scully to stare after her. Scully was wondering if water metaphors like “plunge” were really appropriate on a cruise ship.

“Oh my god,” said Mulder. “She used to be on The Love Boat.”

“Bite your tongue,” Scully snapped, grabbing her suitcase and starting deeper into the ship. She was anxious to see how bad their cabin – their shared cabin – would be.

• • •

“There’s two beds,” she said, and was unable to keep the absolute amazement from creeping into her tone.

“Disappointed?” Mulder smirked at her as he tossed his bag down on the bed nearest the door.

“At this delicate time, we wish to accommodate all of your wishes,” came a voice from the door.

“Who’re you?” Scully snapped. She hadn’t realized she’d left the door open and that they had gathered an audience. She would definitely have to be more careful in the future.

“The porter.”

“We carried our own bags,” Mulder pointed out, thinking the man was seeking a tip he wasn’t going to be getting.

“I brought you the schedule of events.” The porter offered them a pair of matching ivory sheets of paper. He handled them as delicately as if they were made of glass. Scully thought she saw him wince when she tossed hers carelessly onto the bed without looking at it.

“If you need anything,” offered the porter. “Champagne, flowers, security…please call.” He closed the door ever so gently behind him.

“Security?” Scully snorted. “And you say there was a murder on this boat?”

Mulder shook his head. “On the island, actually,” he told her.

“May I see the case file?” she requested, holding out her hand, which Mulder ignored, as usual.

“The schedule of events is much more interesting,” Mulder told her. He glanced up from it and saw her outstretched hand. Into it, he placed his copy of the schedule.

“I’ve already got one,” she said, but she looked down at the page in her hands. It was just beginning to amuse her when she heard her partner’s startled cry. “Mulder?” she asked.

“There’s no TV,” he said forlornly.

“What did you expect?” she asked. “This is a honeymoon therapy cruise. I’d think a TV would just exacerbate the situation.” At his troubled, sad pout, she suggested, “Maybe the porter could get you something.”

“Like some Dramamine,” he muttered.

“Mulder, we haven’t even left port yet!” As though the ship had heard her words, it lurched into motion at that very moment. Mulder clutched at the side of his bunk. “You are such a baby,” she told him. “It’s virtually impossible to detect the motion of the sea in a ship this size. Its weight acts as a stabilizer -”

“I just love it when you call me baby,” Mulder purred, and his eyes were alight with a teasing fire.

She was about to correct him, that she had called him a baby, but decided it wasn’t worth antagonizing him. He’d heard her the first time. “We have to get our story straight,” she said seriously, sitting down on the bed.

“Why?” he asked, similarly reclining on his own bunk.

“We almost got caught by the woman, whatsherwhatever,” Scully pointed out.

A slow grin spread across his face, that same grin that always threatened to melt her inside to a pool of warm emotion. “I thought we could just stay here,” he taunted.

“No,” she said, a little too quickly. Damn it, he had to be aware of these charms of his. He had to know what that grin did to her or he wouldn’t use it. “We have to participate, in order to understand the state of mind of the murderer when -”

He was closing his eyes like she was boring him to death. It had been a long day of travel, she realized that, and she could take a hint, but she also knew it was going to become an even longer day. “Speaking of the murder, don’t you think I should look at the file?”

“Don’t worry about it,” he said, his eyes still closed as he waved his hand dismissively. She was about to demand what was in the file that he didn’t want her to see when his hand slowly sank back down onto the bed. He’d fallen asleep, and almost in mid-thought. He must have been exhausted, she thought, feeling sorry for him.

She walked over to where he lay sleeping and experienced the oddest urge to push back his hair and pull the blankets up to tuck him in. Yawning, she called herself insane in response to these urges, and pushed aside the crazy notion. She had approached intending to swipe the file and study up, but Mulder’s head was resting on his carry-on bag.

She shrugged and yawned again, picking up the schedule of events. Three days on this ship. Exploring “couplehood.” She might as well unpack.

• • •

Mulder made a noise and Scully lowered her large unfolded map so she could look at him over it. He made another sleepy sound and one hand pushed the carry-on off the bed. He flopped over like a fish and pressed his face into the pillow. He was awake, even if he didn’t want to be.

“Mulder, can you explain something to me?” she asked. He made a semi—affirmative sound, so she continued. “Why is this a three day cruise when we’re only going forty five miles?”

He flopped over onto his back and stared up at the ceiling, crossing his arms over his stomach. He didn’t know he had a red mark on his face, an imprint of the trim of his luggage. “So they can have their seminars and classes,” he said.

“Weird,” said Scully.

There was a bold knock at the door and she rose to open it. There stood Julie. “It’s time!” she cried.

“For what?” groaned Mulder, but Julie had already gone.

“It says ‘introduction’ on the schedule,” Scully told him. “Come on.”

“Do we have to?” he groaned again, digging his body closer into the bed and closing his eyes again. A man in total denial.

“We should,” she told Mulder. Reaching out, she took his hand and pulled him up. Into a sitting position was the best she could manage. His eyes locked on her face, but she didn’t notice. The sudden movement made the gold ring catch the light and she stared down at it. She still couldn’t believe, or explain, all the things it made her feel. The sight of one small accessory on her pale hand, which was linked to Mulder’s larger, strong one, almost took her breath away.

“Admiring it?” he said softly.

She felt her face flush but denied it. “No, wondering why you don’t have one,” she said casually, releasing him and stepping back.

“So Scully, what do you think they make you do at an introduction?” he asked, getting up and stretching.

“Talk about your feelings,” she said in a very, very quiet voice. She wasn’t even sure he’d heard. But he put his hand against her back and together they left the cabin.

She didn’t know, but she probably could have guessed, that he was thinking, “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

• • •

Part 2

As they walked down the hall, more couples joined them. Mulder noticed that all of them were abnormally quiet, but he figured they were all as nervous about this cruise as he was. A few moments later, he corrected himself. There was no way they could be as afraid as he was. they were in no danger of letting something slip that would destroy their relationship with their best friend. Of course, his best friend would probably be none too pleased with the fact that their boss knew nothing about their new case. He had thought it would be interesting, a chance to relax and spend some time together that wasn’t overly stressful. Walking through the open doors of the reception area, he realized that he should have just offered to take her on vacation. Trying to promote friendship and good feelings was not something that should be based on a lie.

The room was small and dimly lit. It was full of tables, decorated with flowers and candles and sickeningly romantic music wound its way through the air. Mulder was about to suggest that they find a table far in the back corner, but the cruise line had other ideas for them. Julie and her group of happiness gurus were located just inside the door, speaking with each couple and directing them to their tables. Julie handed Mulder and Scully their name tags, each shaped like half of a heart holding their own first name and half of their last name. Scully turned around quickly, so that Julie couldn’t see it and demonstrated how, when fit together, the tags formed a heart that read ‘Fox and Dana Mulder.’ She rolled her eyes and then allowed Julie to fasten the tag to her shirt. Then Julie pointed them to a table, almost directly in the center of the room.

He would have protested, but Scully took his hand and walked toward the table, politely nodding to the two other couples at their table. She stood there, not sitting down and not saying anything, but staring pointedly at Mulder. He knew he was missing something. Another couple arrived, the man offering his hand to each other person, introducing himself and his wife before pulling out her chair. Catching on, Mulder copied Mike’s actions, glaring at Scully for her assumption that he would be chauvinistic. She smiled sweetly at him, completely ignoring that he was making faces at her, knowing that he couldn’t say anything to her.

The final two seats at the table were occupied by Julie and a man dressed in the same sort of outfit. They said nothing, merely observing the couples for several minutes. The others smiled and began talking amongst themselves, but Mulder and Scully just sat there, staring at everything except each other. A waiter served them glasses of wine, giving them one more thing they could stare at.

Julie cleared her throat and made eye contact with each person at the table; her partner did the same. “I just want to take this opportunity to invite all of you to share with the group. You are all here because you have some issues that you need to explore before you jump into the ocean of marriage.” Oh, God, all the water references were going to land this woman in a watery grave. Mulder snickered to himself and was answered with a sharp look from Julie and a sharp pain when Scully’s elbow made contact with his rib cage. He winced and promised himself that he would be good. “We know that there are as many different reasons for being here as there are people, but our wide range of sessions and lectures will offer solutions and problem solving techniques that will help all of you.”

Julie’s assistant took over so quickly that it seemed they were one in the same. “Private and group counseling will be available. At least two counseling sessions with each couple is an intricate and required part of your retreat.” Mulder caught Scully’s groan, but no one else heard it. She hadn’t turned to look at him, and wanting her to know he understood and appreciated her trepidation, he reached for her hand and squeezed it. She squeezed back, and didn’t pull her hand away. He didn’t understand it, and didn’t really have time to question it before he received Julie’s approving gaze.

She once again took over the speech, nodding obviously to Mulder and Scully. “For those of you with romance on your mind” The other couples at the table turned to look their way and Scully abruptly withdrew her hand. “There will be candlelit dinners every evening and dancing to follow.” Julie finished with a wide, incredibly fake smile and lifted her glass.

Her friend lifted his as well and spoke. “To love!”

The sound of clinking glasses followed. Mulder looked around and saw that the other tables were also having their own private toasts. He leaned over and toasted Scully’s glass, smiling a disturbingly intimate smile.

“To us.” He’d intended to whisper, but in the hushed room, the sound carried further than he’d expected, drawing several glances their way. Scully blushed, and avoided having to respond by taking a long sip of her wine.

He knew she was basically brushing him off, probably thinking it was for show. He hoped no one else noticed. Someone did. Sarah, Mike’s wife, who was sitting directly across from them saw the disappointment on Mulder’s face. He caught her staring, and expected her to look away when he met her eyes. She didn’t. She smiled, what Mulder considered to be a completely out of place seductive smile, and then he felt a foot sliding against his. His jaw actually dropped open and he pulled his feet back under the chair. This was the last place he expected to have someone come on to him. Even more uncomfortable than before, he shifted slightly, leaning closer to Scully’s chair, hoping to give everyone the impression that they were very much in love.

Sarah laughed then, a deep rich laugh connected with nothing in particular and tossed her long brown hair back. He was too busy staring at Sarah, a woman he did have to admit was obnoxiously beautiful, to notice Scully glare first at Sarah and then at Mulder.

Julie’s partner, identified by his name badge as Matt, completely missed the cause, but could see the tension between Mulder and Scully. He’d been staring at them the whole time, unable to understand why their interactions were changing from touchy feely to utter annoyance so quickly and so often. The ship’s staff worked in pairs with four couples to each pair. They worked together, one male, one female, to isolate and identify the problems, then to try every trick imaginable to cover, if not eradicate, the problem. He cleared his throat and waited for everyone’s eyes to turn to him. He knew he needed to interrupt before the fight started, since at this point, it was the only way to avoid it.

“Everyone is free to walk on deck or retire to your cabins now. Dinner will be served here at six, and also in the other dining room at seven, if you prefer to eat later.” The couples began to stand and Matt continued before any of them got away. “We do ask that you fill out your schedule requests as soon as possible and return them to myself or Julie so we can plan accordingly. We will make every attempt to fulfill everyone’s first choice, but we can’t guarantee it. I also would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that there will be a justice of the peace available on the island if you would like to renew your vows.” He let the insinuation that they would make everything better hang in the air. It sent a pleasant murmur through the group, the murmur successfully masking Mulder’s rude grunt.

Scully looked at him, about to rebuke him for embarrassing her and flirting with Sarah, but her cell phone rang, instantly silencing the room and turning all eyes toward them. She reached for it, even more embarrassed.

Mulder saw the chance and used it. He stood up quickly, and practically threw the chair back at the table. “I thought I told you to leave that at home.”

Scully’s bewildered look made him want to apologize immediately. She spoke quietly, completely opposite of the way Mulder had. “I don’t recall you mentioning it.” All she wanted was to crawl back to the cabin and feign being seasick until she could hop on the first flight back to the snow covered streets of home.

“You know I asked you not to bring it. We’re on a romantic cruise and you have to bring your work along.”

She hid her smile at the irony of his words and looked him in the eye for the first time since his outburst, expecting to see a hint of humor in his eyes. There was none. She stood up, turned off the phone and threw it at him, watching as he scrambled to catch it. Then she put her hands on her hips and gave him a look that made his blood run cold. “What difference does it make to you? We’re on our honeymoon cruise since we finally made it all the way to the altar” Her emphasis on the word ‘all’ made it seem as though there had been several instances that he had jilted her, making him cringe and want to pat her on the back at the same time. “and you are playing footsie under the table.”

He winced, not even hearing the whispers of the others, and let his shoulders droop. There was no point explaining that Sarah was playing footsie with him, not the other way around. He could tell by her tone that she was either genuinely hurt or that she was an excellent actress.

She waited for him to respond, unprepared for the fury that seized her. They were undercover on a romantic getaway and he still had to flirt with every woman except her. It burned her, more than she had imagined possible. There was one good thing about this argument, though. She could be as irrational as she wanted and then later just say she was pretending. She picked up her wine glass and doused him with what was left, then she turned and stomped out of the room.

He ran a hand through his damp hair to push it back from his face. There was no faking the anger he’d seen on her face. She was mad. Just in time for three days of relationship counseling. Suddenly aware of the eyes glued to him, he looked up and stared back. The room began moving again, everyone looking away and conversations resuming, undoubtedly about him. Mike looked furious and Mulder could only assume that this was not the first time Sarah had acted inappropriately. Sarah, on the other hand, didn’t seem the slightest bit interested in Mulder anymore. He saw Julie turn towards him and he quickly pushed through the crowd and followed Scully. He knew he was the last person, other than Sarah, that she wanted to see, but he didn’t think he could stand the stares of people if he headed anywhere else.

He knew it would be locked, but he tried the door anyway. The knob didn’t budge. He knocked on the door, and when it went unanswered, he knocked again. “Come on, Dana, open the door.” Sarah and Mike walked past him and stopped at the door next to his. Mulder sighed with the injustice of it all. “Honey, please unlock the door.” He turned and caught Sarah’s gaze as she was closing the door, a tight smile on her lips. He couldn’t be sure, but he thought she winked. At any other time, under any other circumstances, he’d be flattered. He’d probably even pursue her, but at this time, under these circumstances, he couldn’t be less interested in a woman. He was still staring at the closed door next to his, when Scully pulled it open.

“Go ahead. I’m going for a walk.” She stormed off again, not giving him the chance to apologize or talk her into sitting down. She was misunderstanding his role in all this and he didn’t like it. Maybe relationship counseling was exactly what they needed. He walked into the room and was rather upset to discover that one of the two beds had been removed. Walking over to it and carefully moving Scully’s things to the table, he thought about the situation. Maybe counseling wouldn’t be necessary. Maybe one night having to lie next to each other, where they would be acutely aware of the other’s every move, would be enough to spur a conversation and convince Scully to forgive him. If not, he could just pretend he was sleeping and put his arm around her and getting to lie there next to her would be rewarding enough to forgive her for not listening to him.

He stretched out and closed his eyes, lulled to sleep by the gentle motion of the ship. A knock at the door awoke him. He rubbed his eyes and walked to the door, not knowing whether it had been twenty minutes or twenty hours, but still thinking it was high time Agent Scully and her huff returned. He barely got the chance to realize that it wasn’t Scully before a robe clad, hysterical Sarah threw herself into his unexpecting arms and sobbed.

He pulled back and saw a large red welt on her cheek. His protective urge surged up and he ran his hand across it gently. “What happened?”

Sarah hiccuped and made quite a show of trying to gather herself. Mulder was too busy being concerned to see that Scully was standing almost two feet away with her arms crossed over her chest, tapping her foot.

“Oh, Fox, he hit me! He thought I was cheating on him!”

Sucked into the soap opera, thinking it was his fault for the scene at the reception, he put his arms around her and patted her back. “Shhh. It’s all right. It’s my fault. I’ll explain it to him. I’ll tell him there’s nothing going on. The problem is between Dana and me, it has nothing to do with you.”

Sarah, appearing so innocent and helpless to Mulder, knew that Scully was standing there listening. “Oh, but Fox, you can’t lie! He’ll know. He might hurt you and I couldn’t live with myself.”

Scully couldn’t take anymore. She stepped forward, pushing the embracing couple out of her way and starting throwing her stuff back into her bag. “Oh, Fox, darling, I couldn’t live with myself if I let this charade continue for another moment.” The sarcasm dripping off her tongue was enough to make Mulder immediately withdraw from Sarah.

“It’s not what it looks like, Sc…. Dana.”

She zipped her bag closed and through it over her shoulder, shooting Sarah and Mulder looks at the same time. “You would be amazed how many times I’ve heard that and known, as I do now, that it was a complete and utter lie.” She stepped toward the door, but sniffling Sarah was blocking her path. “Get out of my way!”

Sarah whimpered and moved aside, whining at Mulder as Scully tried to walk away. “Fox, I’ve ruined your cruise. I’m so sorry. I just didn’t know who else to turn to. I knew you would help me and now I’ve” She stopped long enough to sob loudly. “I’ve ruined everything and everyone hates me!” Sarah was so good at whining that a person could get drunk off it.

Ignoring her, Mulder grabbed Scully’s arm. She tried to pull away, but he tightened his grip and pulled her around to face him. “Where are you going?”

She jerked her arm away, but his grip was tight and she knew her attempt to free herself was going to give her bruises. “Anywhere. I’m getting off this boat and away from you if I have to swim to shore.” She threw another glare at Sarah, and then stared back at Mulder. “I’m sure you won’t miss me too much.”

She’d caught him off guard with her last remark and was able to wrench her arm away and tear off down the hall so fast that Mulder actually missed which way she went. He tried to follow her, but Sarah threw herself at his back and wrapped her arms around his neck. As if Mulder wasn’t having enough problems, Mike chose that moment to open the door. Sarah saw the opportunity arise again and couldn’t resist.

“Oh, no, Fox, please don’t let him hurt me!” She ducked her head and whimpered.

Mike’s stoic face reminded Mulder more of someone who was incredibly bored than of someone who was violently angry. “Fox, I’m terribly sorry for the trouble Sarah has caused you and Dana. She hasn’t been taking her medicine lately, and I’m afraid it has some rather irksome effects. She’s not like this usually.” He reached out to take Sarah’s hand and she pulled away, still connected to Mulder enough to cause him to trip backwards.

“NO! He’s going to drug me and then beat me again.” She dropped onto the bed and cried into a pillow.

Mulder stepped in front of Mike, aborting his second attempt to collect Sarah. “What’s she on medicine for?” He was not about to allow anyone to beat anyone, no matter how much trouble she was making for him personally.

“I’ve got papers documenting her condition in the other room. She’s delusional.”

“I’d like to see those papers. She has a huge mark on her face that came from someone’s hand. Unless I’m delusional too.”

Mike sighed. “I really don’t see what business it is of yours, Sir. If you’d like to summon security, I’d be more than willing to show the proof to the proper authorities.”

Mulder pulled out his badge. “I’m an FBI agent and I’d like to see those papers now.”

Mike nodded and went back to his room for the papers. Mulder checked both ways down the hall, hoping that Scully was going to come back. And Sarah lifted her tear streaked face out of the pillow and offered a brilliantly insane smile to Mulder’s back.

• • •

Part 3

Mulder accompanied Mike to his and Sarah’s cabin, where Mike showed him the prescriptions for powerful anti-psychotic drugs, and the reports and paperwork from her physician that would allow them to transport such drugs out of the country. Sarah was a basket case, Mulder read. “Why hasn’t she been taking these?” he asked Mike, surprised that under the circumstances, she had been allowed to discontinue her treatment.

“I give them to her. She’ll do anything to not take them. Fake swallowing, hide them in her sleeves, anywhere, to discard later. I can tell by her behavior,” Mike said and he sounded very sorry.

“Don’t they make her feel better?” Mulder asked Mike, surprised that Sarah would resist treatment so very strongly. He knew there was an acute societal bias against the mentally ill – he was a student of psychology and even he cringed when somebody referred to him as “crazy” – but Mulder thought Sarah would like to feel better.

“She thinks her normal state is ‘better.’” Mike explained. “You didn’t see where it listed ‘paranoid’ among her symptoms?”

Mulder let his eye fall over the papers again, and this time he did notice the inclusion of paranoid among the many other problems. He looked up and met Mike’s eyes. “That doesn’t explain the handprint on her face.”

“Doesn’t it?” Mike asked. By unspoken agreement, the two men walked back to Mulder’s cabin, where they found Sarah as they’d left her, pretending to sleep.

“Sarah?” Mulder said, and she sat up and immediately began her attempt to reattach herself to him. He took one of her hands and she gave it willingly, thinking this was leading to where she wanted it to, even though Mike was standing in the doorway. Mulder held her hand, which was rather large considering her size and feminine stature, up against the mark on her cheek. It fit exactly. Sarah had walloped herself one.

As soon as she realized she’d been discovered, she began to fight him. Mulder struggled to hold her still, crushed against his body so she couldn’t actually injure him. “Sarah, I’m very flattered you’d go to these lengths. But you’re a very sick young lady. Please stop fighting me – stop fighting Mike – so that we can help you.”

Her struggles ceased and she looked at him tentatively.

• • •

It was almost eight o’clock before the matter was resolved. Mulder left Mike grim-faced, supervising the loading of a screaming, cursing Sarah onto a helicopter they’d summoned from Florida to remit Sarah to an institution where she would be kept from harming herself, and hopefully she would gradually get better. She hadn’t liked the straight jacket when they put it on her, and Mulder hated the thought of anyone being restrained in such an archaic way, but he also knew it was necessary.

He needed to relax. His shoulders ached and his jaw was pure agony. He knew he tended to carry the majority of his tension in both spots when he was feeling pressure. And he needed to find Scully. He didn’t know what was going on with her. Had she really been angry, or had she (hopefully) just been putting on a good show? Mulder knew he was being optimistic with that last option. She’d seemed genuinely angry. A fact he found very, very interesting.

She was jealous.

And that was about the only way he could tell when the normally stoic Scully was having feelings about him. She kept them so very well hidden, but she couldn’t moderate her temper all of the time. Mulder was fairly certain that when he found her, she was going to be extremely cool with him. Calm, collected, absolutely rational, but also very reserved. Careful. That made him sorry.

Which was why he swiped a posie of flowers from one of the outer dining tables as he passed it. It was mostly white, with a couple of daisies and some other weedlike flowers he couldn’t identify. But they were flowers, and they would help. He remembered Julie saying that dinner was served at seven. Mulder figured Scully would be there out of boredom, curiosity and a need for understanding in the terms of their case, if nothing else. He was also hoping that he wasn’t too late to grab a bite to eat, even if it was almost eight.

Mulder spotted Scully sitting at the bar, alone. Her eyebrows were slightly raised in her staring off into space, lost in thought expression and her fingers toyed with the moisture on the glass before her. The liquid in it was clear and Mulder knew she was drinking water. He approached her stealthily from behind, watching her all the while. She sighed just before he reached her, a gentle relaxation of her back, giving her shoulders an almost forlorn tilt to them. He thrust the flowers underneath her nose.

Scully jumped and whirled around. Her eyes were full of surprise for a few seconds until she fully saw him. Then they closed down, turned to that arctic blue. “Mulder,” she said without much expression at all.

He waved the flowers again, re-presenting them. “These are for you,” he said, finding himself grinning at giving her flowers. It also eased some of the tension in his jaw, which he liked.

Her eyes flicked over to the few remaining diners in the room. “They’re from one of the tables.” She located her target, and then looked back up at him. “The second table from the door, in the corner.”

“But I got them for you,” he tried, giving her his best ‘please forgive me?’ look.

Reluctantly, she accepted the bouquet. Yes! Mulder’s heart cried in triumph. Until she placed them on the bar behind them without so much as sniffing them. “How’s Sarah?” she asked carefully.

“She was delusional, Scully,” said Mulder. “The handprint on her face was her own, she was injuring herself to get attention – or something. We summoned a helicopter to take her to a hospital in Florida. Hopefully, there she’ll learn to be okay.”

Scully gave him a look like he’d just told her Sarah had actually been the ghost of his great-uncle Larry’s beloved 1946 Buick. Incredulous. “You’re serious?” she asked. Mulder nodded. “And I supposed that as a psychologist and a profiler, you recognized these severe symptoms in her and felt you had to act, and that’s why -”

He interrupted her with a self-deprecating look. “I don’t think we need to have lies in our relationship, Scully. Why is why I have to admit that, no, I didn’t see those things in her.” Scully closed her mouth and set it and Mulder felt that terrible ache return to his stressed out body. “However, I was never interested in her. The fact that you and I are here should tell you -”

“Hey!” That perky scream could only belong to one person. The two agents turned around, frowning at the interruption, and focused their glares on the effervescent Julie. “There you two are!” she said, as though she had missed them both personally. “There’s a great seminar starting at eight, I know you two don’t want to miss it!”

Rather than going away, moving on, inviting other couples to join their little party as well, Julie remained, looking at them expectantly. “Well? Come on!” She seized Mulder’s right hand and Scully’s left and dragged them along behind her to the main conference room, which was beyond the formal dining room. Mulder shot Scully a look and she returned it. They had just been kidnapped.

Great idea, Mulder thought, two people are finally talking and on the verge of discussing their intimate personal feelings for one another – or at least, confessing to a tiny bit of inappropriate thinking – and Julie interrupts them. What a road to communication.

The conference room boasted thick, forest green plush carpet, wood (or a reasonable facsimile of wood) paneling, and an enormous fireplace, which crackled and glowed with heat and fire. There were also twelve other couples gathered, sitting on the floor, all of them in Tshirts and shorts or workout gear. At first glance, it reminded Mulder for all the world of a Lamaze class and that set his heart to beating a frightened rhythm. That didn’t ease when Julie released her grip and locked the door behind them.

“Now we’re all here,” she said, casting a beaming grin on Mulder and Scully. “We don’t want to be interrupted.” She bounced on up to the front of the room, where her partner Matt was waiting for her. Mulder remained standing near the door, as did Scully. She looked just as freaked out by this as he felt. Julie turned and looked at them, wondering why they were just standing there.

“Thirteen’s an unlucky number,” Mulder tried.

“Oh, but you counted wrong!” Matt’s voice boomed through the space of the room. “Julie and I are here, that makes fourteen. That’s why we needed one more.”

“Please, don’t be shy. Come on up here,” invited Julie. She waved her arm and didn’t stop until Mulder and Scully began to move closer. They only did as she said because they feared she would suffer an injury from the repetition of that wild arm movement.

They settled on the floor in front of the fireplace. Scully looked at Mulder, and he just looked on back. “Do you have any idea what this is?” she leaned in to whisper to him.

“No clue,” he admitted.

It was at that moment that Julie began to speak, introducing their seminar of the night. “Welcome to Touch Therapy!” she cried.

Mulder and Scully groaned simultaneously.

Julie heard them and turned sharply in their direction. Her face showed no dismay or judgment at their reaction. Instead, she worked them into her little spiel. “The healing power of touch is often underestimated in every day life. I’m sure that many of you – most of you – enjoy healthy, exciting sex lives. You may even be thinking, how is this going to help our relationship, if that’s not the problem? Well, this isn’t about sex.”

Scully let out a little breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.

“This is about trust.”

Mulder’s jaw hurt so much he imagined it was a bow, strung taut into a curve inside the musculature of his face. Any second that thin string was going to snap and it was going to become a straight stick again and fly across the room. He imagined that would be pretty painful.

“Most people are protective of their personal space. Even with their partners,” Julie continued, and Mulder and Scully had to wonder at her apt choice of words. “Only certain people are allowed to breach this space, and only at certain times. By learning to accept touch, we can begin to heal our inner love.”

“There are also channels of energy that flow through the body,” Matt picked up where Julie had left off. “These channels can become blocked by stress, or illness, or any number of things. Simple, directed touching can open these channels, and even redirect them to flow in more productive directions. Acupuncture functions on these same ideas.”

“And touching feels so much better,” Julie quipped, and the other couples in the room laughed, right on cue. Not Mulder or Scully. They weren’t even looking at each other at this point. They couldn’t.

“Women first,” Julie ordered, stripping her sweatshirt off and arranging her shiny Lycra covered form on her stomach in front of Mike. “Come on,” she said, coaxing them. The sounds of twelve couples shifting into position could be heard throughout the room. Then couple thirteen realized there was no going back, and moved as well. Scully pulled off her suit jacket, revealing the light knit sweater she wore underneath. It was rather form fitting, Mulder noticed as she gingerly lay on her stomach in front of him.

She jumped when he first touched her. Her entire body jerked and she let out a hiccuping laugh, embarrassed. She tried to force herself to relax, but somehow she couldn’t, not with Mulder’s hands on her. She thought she could feel the details of his fingerprints burning into her skin even through her shirt. She closed her eyes and found that it helped her to leave self-consciousness behind and focus on Matt’s instructions on breathing. A few minutes later, she began to notice her limbs losing their tension.

That was when Mulder’s fingers, previously resting against her back, began to move. They swept almost too lightly down the bones of her spine and she lost the momentum of her calm breathing for a second. As that feathery touch reached her lower back, it shifted outwards and then she felt the heels of his hands burrow into the flesh between her hipbones and her ribs. She moaned at the pleasant pain.

“That’s good, go with the feeling, don’t hold your feelings inside,” cooed Julie, who seemed to be having no reaction at all to Matt’s impersonal, demonstrative touch.

The sensation continued as his hands continued to dig in even, circular grinds into her muscles. Mulder focused just the proper amount of time on every area, giving her the attention she needed without letting the good feelings fade into irritation or pain. His fingers climbed back up towards her shoulders, spending extra time there, and even moving down the muscles in her upper arms. She had no idea that she could be tense there. She’d been carrying so much for so long, and now he was helping her to release all of that.

His touch turned delicate on her neck. She sighed with the softness of it, and then found tears flooding her eyes as each horrible moment represented in the knots of her body were untied and released. At Matt’s bidding, Mulder removed his hands. She almost cried out for him to keep touching her, because it felt so good. Not what he was doing, not that he was rubbing her muscles, but just that he was touching her. The simple touch of another human being had that power. It had been so very long. She lay there limp on the carpet and feeling the heat of the fire infuse her, feeling emotional and spent.

“Now turn over,” Julie said, obviously having missed her calling as a fitness video instructor.

Scully hesitated. She could sense Mulder’s confusion at that pause. It was as though somehow his touching her had opened a sharing of thoughts and understanding between them. She found that notion both comforting and uneasy. She barely had enough strength to flop onto her back.

She opened her eyes for just a second, wanting to check in with Mulder, wanting to see his eyes. Tears she’d been holding back spilled out and she knew he could see that she was crying because he’d been touching her. It had been that good, that…powerful. She was also aware of her nipples being hard despite the fact that she was lying a foot from a roaring fire, and she didn’t imagine he’d miss that one, either. She felt like she was lying naked in front of him, stripped to the essence of her physical and emotional self. All of her defenses had melted away in the massage. One instant of contact between their eyes transmitted all of this.

“Close your eyes,” Julie instructed, and Scully was glad.

At Matt’s urging, Mulder’s fingertips began to roam over her face, exploring its contours. They washed lightly over her eyelids several times like a gentle rain, then prodded deeper into her temples and behind her ears. The world was drifting away again and she was pleased.

Until it had to end. “Okay, his turn!” Matt cried jubilantly. “The rewards for your hard work are at hand, ha ha.”

Mulder’s fingers remained against her bare skin for several long moments. She opened her eyes and looked at him. She couldn’t sit up; the faint pressure of his ten fingers near her lips held her into place as surely as an invisible science fiction forcefield. “Mulder -” she began to say, and her voice cracked.

His fingers were gone. She was free. The spell had been broken. Drowsily, she sat up and then drew her body up onto her knees as Mulder lay down before her. Now she felt powerful. She had not felt subservient to him as she had lain on the floor open to him, but now she felt as though he was somehow giving himself to her. It was a very special feeling, hot in her chest. Or was she merely too close to the fire?

She followed Julie’s instructions loosely, listening with only half an ear for general suggestions. Scully knew the structure of the muscles – it hadn’t been that long since med school – and she could use that knowledge, paired with physics and the way it acted on the body together with years of observing her partner, to discover his own personal tension zones.

He gave a little scream when she teasingly pinched the beginnings of fat deposits on the sides of his stomach – “love handles.” That scream made her smile. She was beginning to feel like his body was her property and she liked it. She discovered Mulder’s spine was hard and bony, and that his back curved enticingly. The skin above his elbows was tender and white. The scar on his shoulder where she’d shot him was smooth and stiff and wonderfully sensitive, judging from the way he reacted when she slid her hand inside the collar of his white undershirt to touch it. Or maybe her hands were cold? She didn’t know. He bore more tension in one shoulder than the other, one side of his neck more than the other. His hair grew in gorgeous patterns on the back of his neck, thick and silky. He sighed when she began to explore behind his ears, where she could feel the right-angle corner of his jaw under that beard- stubbly skin.

Julie was walking around, checking on the couples as she gave her instructions. Scully wondered if Matt had done the same thing. She hadn’t been aware of his voice approaching and receding, but she had been unaware of everything but Mulder’s touch while he was ministering to her. “Good,” Julie said encouragingly, dropping a hand on Scully’s shoulder. She paused there to give the command for the men to turn over and lie on their backs.

Scully wondered what she would see in Mulder’s eyes when he moved to his back. He didn’t move at the command. His hesitation persisted into reluctance. Julie, still standing close, noticed, and moved a step closer. “Relax,” Julie told Mulder. “Think about something else for a moment.” Her eyes flickered to Scully, raking over her hands. “The wedding. Why did the two of you finally marry?”

“She was pregnant,” Mulder said in the voice a contented, purring cat would use if one could talk.

But the words hit Scully like an entire bucket of icy water. Her back stiffened and she couldn’t say she didn’t gasp. She stumbled backwards onto her feet, blind to everything but the pain she felt, pain Mulder had to know he had inflicted, and the fact that she had to get out of the room, immediately.

“Shit!” Mulder said, rolling and getting to his feet. The moment he heard that sharp intake of breath as though Scully had been sucker-punched in the stomach, he knew he’d done something very wrong. He hadn’t meant to hurt her, he hadn’t even fucking been thinking, that was the problem. Julie had put the image of a wedding into his mind, with a pristine white satin gown and a dance at the reception that placed Scully in his arms, his, forever, and the thought had been so appealing it had expanded into the bedroom, a house with a white picket fence in the country, and Scully heavy with his child. He’d forgotten the truth, that none of it was real. And in his need to get to her and explain, apologize, to regain a fraction of the healing energy that had flowed between them, he’d also forgotten the reason he’d been so embarrassed to turn over and had needed Julie’s mind-game in the first place, and that was the fact that he was very, very aroused by the way Scully had been touching him.

He ran out after her.

• • •

Part 4

Julie had understood the reason behind Mulder’s reluctance to move and knew how to get his mind off it, but she wasn’t prepared for him to stand up just then. Her green eyes grew wide for a moment before she turned away let Mulder leave the room. The thought that Julie and Matt were going to have a good laugh over the situation and the knowledge that Scully was probably never going to forgive him was enough to effectively destroy the mood. His first goal was to find Scully, after that he would figure out what to say to her.

He approached the first people he saw, another Matt and Julie, with name tags he couldn’t read in the dark. “Have you seen my wife? Petite redhead who just went running through these doors?”

They shared a confused look and the woman spoke. “It’s unusual to see people running out of Touch Therapy. Counseling it’s almost common…”

True to form, the man picked up where the woman left off and Mulder wondered how extensive their training must have been to get pairs of people to be able to finish each other’s sentences. But then he thought about Scully. Sometimes it just happened, like it was supposed to be. “She went that way” waving his hand to indicate the left. “I think I heard the door open, she’s probably on deck somewhere.”

The woman smiled and continued. “It can get very cold out there, you should make sure she’s all right.”

Mulder nodded and swallowed his pride enough to walk back into Touch Therapy to collect the jacket Scully had abandoned. Then he followed the man’s directions. Scully’s father was a sailor and Mulder knew she loved the sea. It made sense that she would be out there, staring off at the water, thinking about something infinitely more pleasant than her partner who was so adept at hurting her feelings that he didn’t even have to try.

He eventually found her up on the sun deck, a good three stories above their cabin in the windiest section of the boat. If he was cold, she was freezing. He didn’t say anything, just put her jacket around her shoulders and hoped she would turn around. She quickly slide her arms into the sleeves, buttoning up the front, looking for all the world like someone standing in the arctic circle wearing a bathing suit rather than someone on a cruise ship wearing a sweater and a jacket. His prayers were answered and she turned around. Unfortunately, his earlier suspicions were correct also and he could recognize easily the cold stare in her eyes without being able to clearly make out the rest of her features.

“Scully, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…”

She held up her hand and stopped him, and then completed the transformation into his stand-offish unfeeling coworker. She wasn’t his partner when she looked at him like that, she was the person who found out he’d been drinking coffee without putting money in the collection. “Don’t worry about it, Mulder. It’s all an act. I didn’t think anyone would sit there while their husband said they’d only gotten married because she was pregnant. I certainly wouldn’t.”

He looked her right in the eye. Maybe she was convincing herself, but she wasn’t convincing him. “You certainly didn’t.” She made an annoyed noise and turned away. He took advantage of it and stepped close behind her, putting his hands on either side of the railing and leaning in so she could hear him over the wind. At least, that’s what he told himself. “We’re supposed to be a disgruntled couple who want desperately to fall back in love. It was the first thing that popped into my head” A complete lie since the first thing that had popped into his head was how she’d gotten pregnant in the first place. “that would make a relationship fall apart.”

She turned her head a little, but, realizing that it would put their faces within inches of each other, thought better of it. “Well, it worked wonders on our relationship. I mean, our fake one.”

Her quick correction instantly clued him in on how much he’d hurt her. His hands inexplicably moved from the railing to her arms, Mulder unconsciously recalling the entire touch speech Barbie and Ken had given them. She shrugged him off, but his hands remained fastened to her. “Why don’t we get some sleep and talk about this in the morning? We’re tired from the flight down here and these are stressful working conditions.”

She turned suddenly, the vast majority of her body coming in contact with his, and glowered at him. “Yes, I imagine it could be especially traumatic to have to act like you care about someone when you really don’t.” She stopped momentarily to breathe, but not long enough for him to defend himself. “Since they’ve taken the liberty of removing one of our beds, how about you go get some sleep and I’ll stay here for a while. I’m not tired. I’ll wake you up when I want to go to bed.”

He opened his mouth Matt’s voice came out. Scully winced and slipped up long enough to let Mulder see her crestfallen look. “Hey guys! We were worried about you. I’m sorry to interrupt your romantic moment, but we’ve got something we think you’ll appreciate.”

The rushing wind couldn’t muddle Matt’s voice any, but it worked on Scully’s so that Mulder could just catch what she was muttering. “Is that the royal we or are you referring to your imaginary friend?”

Matt smiled a brilliant gleaming smile and stepped forward. “I’m sorry?”

She mirrored his smile, not even noticing Mulder’s dumb-founded open mouthed acknowledgment of seeing a full-fledged smile on her face. “Lead the way!”

Matt led them to a room, almost identical to the Touch Therapy room except with chairs. He escorted them in and handed them off to Tanya and Daniel, and then disappeared. Mulder couldn’t shake the feeling that Matt had followed them and waited to intervene until the exact last moment to stop them from storming away from each other.

Tanya was almost a perfect copy of Julie, but short obviously faked auburn hair replaced Julie’s golden curls. The happy smile was intact, as was the little skipper outfit, all in all giving Mulder the idea that Tanya was really a grown up Annie. He expected her to launch into a stunning alto rendition of ‘Tomorrow’ at any moment. Instead she reached for Scully’s hand and smiled harder.

“Dana, I’m so glad you’re here.”

Dana was not amused or fooled. Her icy tone made Mulder thank his lucky stars that it wasn’t aimed at him for once. “I’m sorry, do I know you?”

Tanya emitted a sweet giggle. “No, dear, but I’ve just spoken with Julie and we were afraid that you might be upset.”

So confused by a girl that was maybe 19, if she was being kind, calling her dear, Scully didn’t formulate a reply fast enough. Daniel outstretched his hand and motioned toward two of the four unoccupied chairs. “If you’d be so kind as to sit down, we can all begin our session.”

Mulder found his voice finally. “And what session would this be again?” All the information he had was that he and Scully were going to love it. Judging from Daniel’s grin, he seriously doubted that.

“It’s our Positive Criticism session.”

Mulder raised his eyebrows, exactly the same way Scully did. Annie, Tanya, whoever laughed. “You guys are too much.” Both of their inquisitive expressions disappeared as they sat down. There were ten chairs in all, set in a large circle, but each one was turned to face a partner. Once they were seated Tanya’s speech continued. “Criticism is usually harsh and undoubtedly at the center of most arguments. But often, such criticism is needed.”

Mulder leaned over to Scully and muttered. “I wonder how well she would take criticism on her lecture.”

Daniel frowned while Tanya pretended not to notice the whisper. “There is a way to make correction easier and we do mean more than just constructive criticism. Here, we use positive sentiments and positive words to help our partners stay on track. Daniel and I will demonstrate and then we ask that you each take turns trying it.”

Tanya sat down in her chair and reached for Daniel’s hands. His smile faded slightly, but not completely. He even sounded partially sincere and Mulder decided this was his employment until he could afford the plane ticket to LA. “Tanya, I love you and I hate it when you leave dishes in the sink.”

Tanya nodded, pretending to consider his words, and then looked over the group, never separating her hands from Daniel’s. “If you can’t think of anything critical to say, you can always say something positive. For example, Daniel, I love you dearly and your hair looks wonderful today.”

Daniel spoke again. “Are there any questions?” He waited, there were none, it wasn’t a difficult concept to grasp. “OK, Nicki and Kyle, your turn.”

Two couples later, all eyes turned to Mulder and Scully, who reluctantly turned their eyes on each other. Their hands were apart, twisted in their laps. Tanya’s voice filled the air, distracting everyone from the nerve-racking silence. “You guys need to hold hands. It helps the flow of communication.”

Mulder and Scully were fresh out of smart remarks, so they reached out to grasp hands lightly, tentatively. Mulder swallowed and decided to speak first. “Dana, I love you and” He was careful to avoid making eye contact, fearful that she might see the absolute truth to his words. “It bothers me when you shut me out.” He hadn’t meant to be honest, but it was the least critical thing he could think of and he knew everyone would see through him not having anything negative to say since they’d all seen one argument and heard about the other.

Scully paled slightly, giving Mulder the chance to pray that she might pass out and spare them both the embarrassment of letting this continue. “Fox I love you and it bothers me when you invade my privacy.”

Mulder sighed. The argument would continue. They sat through another round, managing to come up with things that wouldn’t make each other too angry and before they knew it, the third round was upon them and the other couples had all made dramatic break throughs and one woman was actually in tears. Mulder still couldn’t get Scully to look him in the eye. And somehow, the honesty of the other couples permeated his mind and truthful words slipped out. “Dana, you mean the world to me and I want to get past our problems and be with you.” He ran his thumb over her fingers, driving his point home.

She tried to pull her hands back, but he wouldn’t let her. If he was going to be honest, or give a damn good impression of it, she would too. But she was going to play the game her way. “Fox, I love you and I think you’re unbelievably sexy when you wear your glasses.” She smirked and play passed to the couple on their left, leaving a blushing Mulder behind.

When it was Tanya and Daniel’s turn again, they explained that each couple should continue, speaking quietly to each other, giving them to opportunity to talk about private things. Scully actually felt let down that she couldn’t embarrass Mulder again, but she figured she’d get the chance again. A quiet noise filled the room and Tanya and Daniel began to circle.

“Marvelous, they’re going to make sure we’re discussing intimate secrets.” Mulder let go of Scully’s hand and ran it through his hair, wishing desperately for a TV, a remote control, and a sport of any kind. He felt a man’s hand grab his, and redeposit it on Scully’s. Daniel looked at him reproachfully, but spared him the lecture.

Tanya walked over then and squatted next to Mulder’s chair. “I’m sure you can think of something, Fox.”

Sadly, the only thing he could think of was how much he hated to be called Fox. He shrugged helplessly and Tanya faced Dana. “How about you? Julie did share what Fox said earlier and I know that must have hurt you. How about sharing that?”

Scully glanced at Tanya. “Dear, I think you just did that for me.” Tanya’s eternally happy mask slipped and she stared at Scully, somehow the staff had not been trained to deal with sarcasm. It was exactly what was needed to rid them of Tanya. But Daniel hovered over them after that, tormenting them as a punishment for hurting delicate little Tanya.

Mulder groaned unhappily and laced his fingers through Scully’s. They wanted honesty and they were going to get it. “Dana, I love you and I wish you try to have a good time and not be miserable.”

Scully’s blank stare faded and her mouth turned down at the corners. “Fox, I love you and you’re making me miserable.” Daniel patted her shoulder, apparently glad to see another fight threatening.

Mulder was not dissuaded. His words were affecting her. He could tell by the way her answers were swinging from one end of the spectrum to the other. He checked his watch. It was three minutes of nine and he was sure the session wouldn’t reach past nine. Time to pull out all the stops. He took a moment to twist their hands, delighting in the feel of her tiny hands in his, amazed by the way his heart flipped over in his chest by a mere glance at the wedding ring. It wasn’t just another prop from the FBI. It was a family heirloom, his great-grandmother’s, grandmother’s and mother’s wedding band and he couldn’t vocalize how it made him feel to see it gleaming happily on Scully’s finger. He pulled her hands into his lap, resting them on his thighs, forcing Scully to lean much closer to him. He leaned forward too, their knees met, and their faces hovered inches apart.

“Dana, I love you more than anything in the world and I want to make love to you right now.” His gaze was locked with Scully’s, so Daniel’s astonished face went unnoticed. Scully’s disbelieving stare was received with a wide smile. Feeling bold and confident, he lifted each hand to his lips in turn, kissing first the back and then her palms.

After a moment, Scully found her voice. She knew time was running out for this little party and she was determined to have the last word. She waited until she heard Tanya take a deep breath, preparing for her closing remarks, and then she leaned forward, whispering directly in his ear. Both of them knew no one else would overhear her words.

“I love you, Fox.”

Scully turned then, facing Tanya with feigned rapt attention, separating their hands and crossing her legs. To anyone else, she looked like she was ignoring Mulder completely. But he knew better. He knew she was intently focused on him and his reaction to her words. Words he desperately hoped weren’t just to throw him for a loop.

He listened to Tanya and Daniel with one ear, missing the reason why all heads turned and smiled at him and Scully before he heard applause. He could see Scully looking around and knew she had no idea either. Maybe Daniel had shared Mulder’s last statement with them. He didn’t really care. He had other things on his mind. Sitting forward in his chair, which was still facing Scully even though she wasn’t facing him, he pulled her hair back from her neck and planted a kiss behind her ear, pausing just long enough to gently take her earlobe between his teeth and tug. He was glad she wasn’t wearing earrings for once, because he would have missed the way her legs uncrossed and her arms fell to her sides with the unexpected assault on her senses. Smiling, he inhaled taking in the luxurious scent of her strawberry shampoo and her perfume, and then he stood up, taking her hand and walking out, leaving the room to stare after them in unadulterated jealousy.

• • •

Part 5

Mulder clasped her hand in his and held her close as they headed out into the hallway. He turned and bent down to nuzzle her neck as they walked, which made it hard for her to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. Mulder’s problem was that he was hunched over more than twelve inches to place his lips against her neck. These two together led to them practically staggering together in the direction of their cabin.

With every step, Scully grew more anxious. They’d put on a good show at the Positive Criticism session. She’d gotten enormous satisfaction out of the way they’d shown up all the other whining couples and walked out of there, with every eye in the room fixed on them, and she knew that Mulder had planned it that way. But the fact that she didn’t know what was going to happen when they reached their room with its one bed made her very, very nervous. They were just pretending, weren’t they? Even though she hadn’t really felt like she was lying when she’d said, “Fox, I love you.” But she hadn’t felt like herself, either. She would never say such a thing. Fox was not someone she knew. Mulder was someone she knew. Or did she? She tried to look at him but it was pretty awkward with his mouth attached to her neck.

Which he was only doing to keep up appearances, right? she thought. She wished she could claim that she had been pretending when he had taken her earlobe between his teeth in the session. But the electricity that had shot through her had not been faked. The sensation in her stomach that she’d always before identified as love couldn’t be ignored. The things he did to her when he touched her, even now…

“Mulder, stop,” she said, and jerked her head away from him as she withdrew her hand from his grip. He looked confused, looking at her with dark, hurt eyes and a puppyish tilt to his head. After a moment, she realized he had a terrible crick in his neck. Serves him right for being so tall, she thought with a smirk she couldn’t suppress. “I can’t – I need a moment to think,” she said. Her brain was still addled from all the physical activity.

To her surprise, he nodded. “Okay,” he said evenly. He didn’t look angry at all. His eyes had taken on that luminous quality and he was being the sweetest man on earth. Scully tried to remember the last time she’d seen Mulder acting so wonderfully. A long time was the best answer she could come up with. “I’ll meet you in our cabin in ten minutes.”

She nodded, unable to find even the word “yes” in her vocabulary. She was shocked. Absolutely shocked. He’d just given up and walked away. Which was what she had wanted, but the fact that he had given in so easily…that had to back up her theory that stopping was the right thing, because they were just pretending. Right?

Scully watched Mulder walk away. He was taking the long way to their cabin. Considerate of him to let her take the short path, so she would have a few minutes to think before he arrived. Mulder being considerate was suspicious, she thought. He hadn’t been replaced by a green goo blooded morphing clone, had he? She quickly shelved the idea. A clone wouldn’t be able to affect her the way that he did. As her eyes returned to his retreating form, she also knew for certain that it was really Mulder. No clone could reproduce an ass as cute as his was. She watched him walk away for several more moments, until she realized that her face was flushed and she was feeling very warm. Tearing herself away, she returned to their cabin.

Mulder was having no such doubts. He knew that Scully was pragmatic and careful. Which was why he was walking straight to the onboard drugstore to buy a box of strong latex condoms. Because he was certain that when he opened the door to their cabin, she would be waiting for him and they would make love. He had been serious when he said that the only thing he wanted to do was make love to her. He was equally certain that she had been serious when she had said in that low tone that she loved him. He had been looking into her eyes and the look in them had given him goosebumps on his arms. She had meant it. This was real. They were finally, finally connecting.

He paid the inflated price at the drugstore without comment and ignored the leer from the clerk. Mulder just hoped he hadn’t forgotten to pack anything else he needed. They’d probably charge him five dollars for a toothbrush, since he couldn’t exactly get off the ship to go to the local discount store, could he?

Relaxed and confident and feeling excited about the coming change in his relationship with Scully, Mulder ambled back to the cabin, taking his own sweet time. Anticipation could be a great thing. His mind was spinning all sorts of delicious fantasies, the kind he’d rarely allowed himself to indulge in up to this point because hadn’t known if he would ever get his wish. And his sincerest wish was to be with Scully, mind body and soul. He respected her. He’d waited long enough. He’d brought them onto this cruise because he wanted something to happen. Now it was finally going to.

He wondered, as he walked, whether she would be waiting for him to come to her. Would she have turned off the lights, or lit candles? Would she be wearing a nightgown or nothing at all? Or would she have waited for him to undress her? Mulder was glad when he reached the door that was labeled 47-A. Their cabin. Theirs. What a word. It symbolized their unity.

He took a deep breath and gathered himself together. Then he opened the door.

Scully was sitting in the chair. The lights were on and she was fully dressed. She hadn’t removed so much as her shoes. Her legs were crossed and she was looking out through the porthole at the darkness of the sea. At the sound of the door and his entrance, she turned in his direction and rose gracefully from the chair.

The hopeful look on his face bothered her. Because she knew in just a few seconds, she would be watching it fall with disappointment. “Mulder, I can’t do this,” she said. “Not now, not here.” His face didn’t move, but the expression in his eyes did. He felt she’d toyed with him, and maybe she had. She continued speaking to stave off the accusations. “This place – this situation – it makes it too hard to know what’s real. I hear myself saying things and I can’t even know if I mean them. It’s so confusing. I don’t want anything to change based on something that might not be real. Something that might only turn out to be a passing dream waiting to wake.” She looked at him, hoping for understanding that she knew she would be lucky to get. She waited for him to curse or yell or call her a tease, as her first boyfriend had done in the backseat of his father’s car when she’d realized things had gone too far too fast. Scully had been called many things in her life, but “tease” was one of the very few that had actually hurt.

Mulder’s face was white and tense and he didn’t say anything. That worried her. Was he about to explode into a rage? She didn’t know how he would react in this situation. Did he feel like she’d manipulated him in some way? Had she? She probably had. “It’s okay, Mulder, I’ll go…find somewhere else to spend tonight.” Breaking their prolonged eye contact with her shame, she put her head down and took a few steps toward the door before he stopped her.

“No. I’ll go. It’s all right,” he said almost woodenly. Something crumpled in his clenched fist and when she looked at him, he didn’t appear to be breathing. Was he that angry? she wondered. He turned and walked stiffly out of the room. The door closed harshly behind him, a sure sign that he was angry. Door-slamming was a sign of frustration.

“Damn it, Mulder, I’m frustrated too,” she whispered fiercely. Couldn’t he see that he meant too much to her for her to risk this being a lie, or a carefully constructed game of pretend? She wanted things to be perfect between them. She wanted an experience they could build a lifetime upon. The thought startled her. She hadn’t consciously admitted the scope of her feelings before. She wanted a life with Mulder. Oh god, why did that panic her so much? Because she had turned him away or because he had gone?

Or had he gone because he hadn’t wanted her anyway? Had she overestimated his feelings for her? Had he been so eager to give her a few minutes to reconsider for the very reason that he had been putting on a show, and he knew that given a little time she would realize it and do exactly what she’d just done – tell him no?

“Why don’t I understand him?” she groaned to herself and began to get into her pajamas. She stopped. “Why am I talking to myself?” she asked herself. Thankfully, she did not reply to her own question.

As she crossed the room again to shut off the light before sinking into the plush double bed, she saw what Mulder had been clutching in his hand. He’d dropped it onto the table before he left. It was a now-mangled brand new box of condoms.

He’d actually wanted her.

She didn’t know what to do with that knowledge, so she got into bed. The sheets weren’t at all scratchy or forbidding like most hotel bedding. They were softer and warmer than even her sheets at home. Scully stretched out, sighing as she repositioned the pillow and then let the thick comforter settle heavily over her body. It was lonely. She could still feel the phantom touches Mulder had given her earlier. She could feel his hands on her body, his teeth on her earlobe, his lips on her neck. They made her body ache. All she could see when she closed her eyes was his face before he walked out of the cabin. It made it impossible to close her eyes. So she stared at the ceiling in the dark, listening to the motor of the ship and feeling the gentle rocking motion as she began to count off bottles of beer on the wall.

She was still awake at one-forty-eight, as it read on her travel clock. Mulder hadn’t returned. She wondered where he could be. With every minute that had passed, she grew more and more worried about him. It was a ship. A closed environment. How much trouble could he possibly get into?

Deciding she didn’t want to think about it any more, Scully got out of bed and dressed quickly. She would find him and bring him back. As two adults, they could overcome both their differences and their misunderstandings. Which didn’t mean she was going to have sex with him, not when she’d lain awake for more than three hours worrying about where he was. It just meant that they could certainly find a way to cope with the two people, one bed situation. They were both smarter than the average bear. There had to be a way.

Closing the cabin door behind her, Scully didn’t realize that sometimes the intelligence of the average bear is superior to that of a college educated FBI agent. The average bear wouldn’t have had any dilemma at all. The average bear would have shared willingly. And enjoyed it immensely.

• • •

“One more round on me!” Mulder cried. Then he looked around and realized he and the bartender were the only people left. “What do you know?” he slurred, pulling money out of his wallet. “Have one on me, buddy,” he said to the bartender. “And I’ll have another scotch on the rocks.”

“No more for you, pal, you’ve had enough.”

“What’re you going to do, take away my keys?” Mulder cried and burst into giggles. He laughed for a long time, hunching over the bar and closing his eyes. He was so tired. And so unhappy. He was only laughing because he knew that if he didn’t, he would cry. He didn’t want his new friend Mr. Bartender to see him cry. That would be embarrassing. Almost as embarrassing as thinking Scully wanted him and finding out she didn’t.

Passing by in the corridor, Scully heard a sound that was familiar. It was a choking, unmirthful laugh that sounded almost like sobbing. She knew instantly that it was Mulder. She walked into the room and saw that it was a bar, complete with dim lighting that didn’t hide the dingy decor. It was practically empty. At the bar, she recognized the downtrodden slump of Mulder’s back.

“We’re closed,” called the bartender.

“We are?” came Mulder’s voice. It made Scully’s steps hesitate. He was drunk. Really drunk. She’d never seen Mulder drunk before. Suspected it when she talked to him on the phone sometimes, yes. But seen him…no. She felt even more worried.

“I came for him,” she said, approaching and gingerly putting her arm around Mulder’s shoulders. He shrugged, trying to make her go away. It didn’t work, and he stopped trying. “Come on, Mulder,” she said softly and near his ear. She felt very sorry suddenly. For him to be this plastered, she knew she had done something wrong. They had both done something wrong.

“You done a number on him, lady,” said the bartender.

Scully wanted to ask him what he meant, but getting Mulder onto his feet took most of her concentration. He leaned heavily against her and she put an arm around his waist. “Walking, Mulder,” she said. “Yes, like that. Come on.” Once she had him in motion, she turned to the bartender over her shoulder. “Sorry about this,” she said. The bartender shrugged coldly and Scully knew it was Mulder she should really be apologizing to. But what was she supposed to say? Apologizing for not humoring his sexual wishes when she wasn’t ready was not something Scully was ever going to do for any man. Even if it was Mulder.

They reached the elevator that would take them down to the level of their cabin. Scully pressed the ‘down’ button and Mulder began to come around and actually attempt to rejoin the world of the living and sober. “Scully,” he said. The way his voice broke over her name touched her heart. His fingers began to thread their way gently and clumsily through her hair. “You’re really here.”

“Yes I’m really here,” she answered, wondering when the damn elevator would come. What could be taking it so long? It wasn’t as though there was anyone else up and about on the ship at this hour. All those unhappy couples with great sex lives had settled in for the night. But this formerly happy couple with no sex life was all messed up. “I was worried about you.”

“You were?” He sounded thrilled. “You don’t have to worry about me, Scully. I’m fine on my own.” The elevator doors slid open and Mulder pulled away from her to enter via his own power, to show her that he was okay on his own. He stumbled over the elevator threshold and Scully had to steady him with both hands. They ended up in a strange kind of embrace as the doors closed.

Mulder’s head dropped even lower, closer to hers, and he inhaled deeply. “Mulder?” Scully asked, wondering what he was doing because it seemed that he was sniffing her hair.

“You smell so good,” he murmured, his words so close to her skin that she could feel the heat of his breath. It was igniting small fires in various areas of her body. If he would just lean down another fraction, he would be kissing her. The overpowering stench of alcohol that had clung to him seemed to be dissolving into an almost sweet, seductive perfume of his own. Mulder was leaning heavily against her, pressing her into the wall and there was little she could do to protest even if she had wanted to as he cradled her face in both his hands. His eyes were dark and unfocused almost crossed because his face was so close to hers.

The elevator doors opened again. It startled them both and they turned their heads to look. Beyond the doors was the floor they had just left. If, indeed, they had ever left at all, which Scully realized they hadn’t. She had neglected to press the button indicating their floor and Mulder certainly hadn’t done so. The elevator, confused, remained stationary, and opened its doors again.

“Press four,” Scully said, since Mulder was closer to the buttons and she couldn’t move out from under his heavy embrace to reach.

“Going down,” he said and the words seemed strangely significant as he pressed the button with the 4 on it and it lit up. His hands didn’t stop there, though, as he also reached over and pulled out the red button labeled “Stop.” Which the elevator did.

“Mulder, what are you doing?” Scully asked with a heavy warning note in her voice.

“You know what I’ve always wanted to do?” he said and he sounded more intense than drunk now. One of his hands slipped under her shirt and found her breast. She opened her mouth to protest his taking such familiar liberties without permission, but all that escaped was a little squeak of sensual pleasure as he began to knead the sensitive flesh through the silky fabric of her bra. “I’ve always wanted to do it in an elevator.”

“Mulder, this is crazy,” she said as she arched her back so he could give her even more pleasure. Her head fell back and her eyes closed. She felt the fingers of the hand he wasn’t using delicately raise the fabric of her shirt and then his mouth planted a hot, wet kiss against the skin of her stomach. “Mulder -”

His lips moved away and his hands followed. Leaning down, he pushed his head into her stomach, which didn’t feel nearly so nice. “Mulder?” She looked down and saw that he was struggling to unfasten his trousers. He’s so drunk he can’t get his pants unzipped, she thought, and it was something of a wake up call. His hand took hers and tried to get her to help him with his little problem. “Mulder, no,” she said and her tone was so firm that he froze and looked up at her. “You’re drunk, and this is an elevator,” she explained.

“So?” he asked.

“So, an elevator is not an appropriate place to have sex,” she informed him.

“Aerosmith thought it was,” he muttered, still yanking at his zipper. It would have been comical if it hadn’t been so sad.

“Mulder, stop it.”

“And it’s not sex, Scully,” he said in a low voice. “It’s love.” His voice sent hot shivers down her spine. But he pressed the STOP button back in and the elevator continued its descent. Within moments, they were reached the level of their cabin. For the split second before the doors opened, Scully wanted to yank that STOP button back out and take Mulder. It would be exciting, primal, with the small space and fear of discovery to contend with. But since he was drunk, she also knew it would be wrong.

The doors opened and she found herself angry that he only propositioned her when he was drunk. But then, that wasn’t true, she realized as she led the way to their room. He also propositioned her when he was making a point in public.

Why was the time and situation never right?

Why was she too good a person to take advantage of his drunken state? she wondered, opening the door and pushing Mulder inside ahead of her. Why did these things only happen to her? It had to be something she did to herself. She couldn’t think of one person she knew that had problems like this.

Mulder flopped face-down onto the bed and began snoring instantly. Scully, still standing at the door, stared at him, shocked. As another soft snore tore from his body, she began to smile. He was wasted, she thought. Besides, she thought practically as she put her pajamas back on, drunk men made terrible lovers. She curled up in the chair and slept there.

• • •

Tortured moans roused Scully from sleep only a short time later. She jolted awake, instantly alert, her heart pounding because she was certain someone was going to do her harm. Or they were already doing harm to Mulder. “I’m armed!” she called forcefully into the darkness, reaching for her gun and not finding it. She got up from the chair and found herself dreadfully stiff. She stumbled to the lightswitch and flipped it.

She and Mulder were alone in the room. No one was hurting him. He was moaning and sweating in the bed, though, his face contorted into terrible pain. Mulder thrashed on the mattress, tossing the sheets one way and the covers another. He was fighting as though some unseen hand was attempting to hold him back.

The moans took on the shape and substance of words. “Samantha,” he cried, his voice plaintive and young sounding. He sounded like a fourteen year old boy. “Samantha, come back! Samantha, where are you?”

His movements only became more worried and distressed. Scully climbed onto the bed with him and he sensed her presence instantly, not opening his eyes or awakening, but he knew she was there and detected that she was the enemy. “You let her go!” he cried, sitting up and pushing her. Her hands flew to grab at the covers to keep herself from falling backwards off the bed.

Scully pulled herself up more fully and seized his hands. “Mulder,” she said, hoping to wake him up. “Mulder!”

He froze and his face changed. His brow furrowed and his mouth opened. “Scully,” he said. He was still asleep. He still looked like he was seeing something terrible.

“Mulder,” she said again.

“That’s what she said.” He was amazingly coherent for a dreamer. For a second she thought he would open his eyes. It seemed as though the nightmare had faded and she had his attention. “She needed my help.” Dread began to fill her and he began to fight her again. “They took her away. Where is she, you bastard? What have you done to her? Where is she!”

“No, Mulder, it’s all right, I’m here.” Is this what he did when I was taken? she wondered. This is my fault for leaving him. She knew that Mulder was sensitive to abandonment issues. And while that would never lessen the horror of what had been done to her, while she could not feel sorry for leaving him until she had revenge on the men who had hurt her so much more badly, she now realized he, too, had gone through torture. Just a different kind.

“Leave her alone. Don’t touch her, don’t do that to her.” He was practically sobbing now.

“Mulder, come on, wake up. You don’t want to dream this. Open your eyes.”

He didn’t. He just descended back into inarticulate sounds of horror. He began to fight her, but she held his arms, crooning, “I’m here, I’m safe, you’re safe, Mulder. No one can hurt us.” She stroked back his sweaty hair and finally he stilled and lay back on the bed. Scully remained sitting next to him for a long time, waiting to see if the nightmare recurred. It didn’t. She wondered if he would remember it in the morning, if he would remember any of it. What would he think if he woke up and remembered trying to seduce her in the elevator – and that she’d rejected him again – and that she’d witnessed his nightmare fears about losing her?

Maybe, she thought, returning to her chair, she should just go jump overboard now and spare them both the embarrassment that the morning was going to bring.

• • •

Coffee…and bacon. She smelled them before she was even awake. In the muddle of her dream, she wondered why Skinner was suddenly wearing a chef’s hat and serving her and Mulder breakfast when only moments before he had been yelling at them about a criminal’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

“Wake up, sleepyhead.” A soft touch against her cheek made her jump and her eyes opened. Scully found herself face to face with a strange creature with a thick protective coating over its sight organs. She blinked and drew back and managed to focus. It was Mulder. For some reason, he was wearing his glasses and hovering over her. She blinked again and shifted into more of an upright sitting position.

“Was I drooling?” she asked, hoping for a joke, even though she wasn’t entirely kidding. Now that she was awake, she could smell the coffee and bacon more strongly and her stomach clenched, reminding her that her dinner the night before had been a glass of water. Mulder merely grinning and placed a steaming plate of food within her reach. She accepted it, almost burning her fingers as she began to eat.

When all of the bacon and egss were gone and only one link of sausage remained, Scully looked up and found that he was watching her eat. “What?” she asked.

He nodded and she looked down. The top button of her pjs had come undone in the night. He wasn’t watching her eat, he was looking at her chest. She shot him a look and fastened the button, smearing grease on the cloth. Then she realized she was wearing pink pajamas in front of her partner and somehow felt embarrassed for wearing such a girly color. “How do you feel this morning?” she asked carefully, searching his face for any sign of remembering his escapade.

“Great,” he said. She gaped at him in amazement. He wasn’t even hung over. Mulder was a medical miracle, given the things he survived without permanent damage, she thought. “How’d you sleep?”

She realized that the sun was streaming into the cabin through the tiny window. “What time is it?” she cried, setting the plate aside and jumping up from the chair.

“Almost ten,” he answered, grinning like the Cheshire cat.

“Ten!” she cried. She gathered some clothes and looked around for a place where she could change where he wouldn’t be able to see her. Not that he hadn’t been staring at most of her charms through her unbuttoned pj top for god knows how long. A flicker of doubt as to how the button had come undone shot through her mind, but burned out just as quickly. He knew she would kill him. Of course, he had also felt most of her charms the night before in the elevator. She cast him a skittish look, still wondering if he remembered.

She wished he would take off his glasses because she wanted to forget about dressing and stare at him all damn day. “The bathroom,” Mulder said.

“Wha?” she asked. Great, now she wasn’t even speaking in complete words. Her brain had gone to mush. She hadn’t felt like this since she was a teenager. She’d passed frustrated and crossed over right smack into the middle of horny, she thought, and that was not a good place to be, considering their situation.

“You can change. In the bathroom.” He was smirking at her confusion.

“Oh. Right.”

“Are you like this every morning?” he asked as she turned to go into the small room.

She turned back. “Like what?”

Beautiful. Rumpled. Intensely kissable. This is what Mulder was thinking in answer to Scully’s question. Sexy as hell. But he said, “Confused.”

The slow grin that spread across her face turned his stomach inside out. “Wouldn’t you like to know,” she said saucily and it was almost an invitation. Right before she slipped into the bathroom and he heard the door lock. He began to pace the room. When he thought he heard her laughing, he turned and looked at the door. He was about to ask, “Scully, are you okay?” when she emerged.

She looked like Scully again. She was wearing long pants and another of her under-jacket shirts. Her bare feet had been covered with nylons and high heels. Her hair had been combed and lipstick coated those once-kissable lips forbiddingly. She was still smiling at him. She walked directly to him, standing so close that he couldn’t even think to ask her what she was doing.

She reached up slowly and pulled his glasses from his face. Just the way you would remove someone’s glasses before giving them an intensely passionate seductive kiss. But then she stepped back and placed the eyewear on the table.

“Scully, what are you doing?”

She took his hand and pulled him out of the cabin, closing the door firmly behind them. While she was dressing, she’d realized why he was wearing his glasses. It was because she had said that he looked incredibly sexy wearing them. Which was why she didn’t want him to be wearing them, even though the fact that she’d made that confession had led him to wear them made her feel incredibly powerful. He wanted to be sexy for her. Was this how men felt when women put on fuck-me tight skirts and tops? If so, why weren’t there more men telling women to go put some more clothes on and quit tempting them?

“Scully, I can’t see anything,” Mulder complained as she dragged him up to the conference room to begin day two of their therapeutic cruise.

• • •

Part 6

They barely got out the door when Julie and Matt blocked their way. “OK, you guys have got a big choice to make.” She cocked her head to the side and squinted at them for a moment. “I hear you had a great time in our positive criticism session. Congrats.” Mulder and Scully nodded uncomfortably, not wanting to think about how their wonderful experience had backfired. “Anyway, as I was saying…”

Matt arrived and took over. Scully fought to keep the smile from developing into a cackle. “You’ve got two choices since you never turned in your schedule cards.” Julie did her best disapproving face and Matt clicked his tongue in a rather condescending matter. “OK, so your choices are one of your two mandatory couple counseling sessions” Mulder and Scully looked at each other and then back at Matt hopefully, praying the other choice was more acceptable. “Or you can attend another one of our group sessions.”

“Group session.” Their voices came out in unison, causing both Julie and Matt to laugh.

Julie grabbed Scully’s hand. “I’m so glad it’s starting to work already.”

Matt slung an arm around Mulder and he groaned. So far, ‘at least three feet of personal space on all sides’ Scully had been the recipient of the invasive touches. Now it was his turn. He shrugged Matt’s arm off, but it immediately returned. Mulder was not about to bond with anybody who was eternally happy. He saw no way around Matt’s arm, so he tried his favorite old trick. He looked over and caught Matt’s eye and then winked. Almost a millisecond later, Matt’s arm dropped to his side. Mulder smiled for real. One problem down, a million to go.

They entered the room where Touch Therapy had been held. Still no chairs, but lights had been turned on and there was no fire. Scully smiled too, assuming that it couldn’t be too intimate if there were fluorescent lights involved. And for once, they weren’t the last couple to join the party. Julie led them over to two free cushions and instructed them to sit down.

“Mulder, am I being overly optimistic in my hope that they aren’t going to make us sit on beanbag chairs?” Mulder grinned. “Did Julie slip you some of her happy pills, Mulder?” He grinned harder. She didn’t get it. He was in too good a mood. She reached the conclusion that he did remember the entire night before and that he was pretending he didn’t. Probably just to see how she would react. And she also had a very strong feeling that her pajama button hadn’t undone itself.

Matt handed out small tablets and pencils to everyone while Julie belted out instructions. A few more couples arrived, each drug in by the happiness police assigned as scouts. Mulder smiled when he saw another couple practically shoved into the room. They wore the expressions that he and Scully must have worn when they were abducted and forced to socialize.

“Now that everyone has joined us, we can begin. But before we do, we want to establish one rule for this session. Couples are not permitted to touch.” Mulder and Scully, and the other couples, looked confused. “We want you to perform this exercise without holding hands or kissing or touching in any way.”

Julie went back to smiling and Matt continued. “Each one of you has a notebook and a pencil. We’d like you to started by making a list. You can have as many things on it as you like, but there must be at least ten. Write down all the things that you look for in a potential lover. You can write anything you like, the list will remain secret. When you’re done, just put your pencils down and wait for the rest of the group to finish. Any questions?”

“Yeah, can we opt for the personal counseling instead?” Mulder’s quiet mutter was unheard by all but Scully.

Everyone began writing, pausing after a few moments to stare off into space and think. Scully looked at her pencil. It was a Faber Castell #2. Her page remained painfully blank. She knew she’d been promised secrecy, but this was an intimate retreat. She knew Mulder was going to see it. She made a decision and put down her pencil. She knew what Mulder was writing: big breasts, long legs, long curly brown hair, IQ of ten or below. She wasn’t about to let him mortify her. Not again.

A few moments later, everyone’s eyes turned expectantly toward Julie who was sitting primly, however that was managed on a dislodged couch cushion, studying her nails. Deciding that they were ready, she addressed the group. “Now, on the next page write down anything that annoys you about a potential lover.”

Mulder thought of one word: Julie. Her attention had become refocused on her hair, examining for split ends. He added another name to the list: Sarah. He glanced at Scully, who had given up her conscientious objection to the session and was scribbling away furiously. He wondered what she was doing. Then he wrote one last thing on his list and placed his tools on the floor.

Several minutes later, Matt cleared his throat and Scully looked up from her opus. Everyone else was long done and she wasn’t halfway through. She closed the tablet and smiled sheepishly. “OK, everyone we have one more list for you to make. Write down all the things about your partner that you would change if you could.” Scully looked confused. Hadn’t she just written that? She shrugged to herself and continued with her list, and finished the other half of the first one instead.

After a few more minutes, Matt continued his speech, while Julie collected all the pencils. “Now that you’ve written everything down, please exchange books with your partner.”

Scully’s jaw dropped open, as did Mulder’s. They’d known this was coming, but they still weren’t prepared to relinquish their books. Before they had the chance to argue, Julie and Matt swapped their books. “Sorry guys, gotta play by the rules if you want to see that Justice of the Peace.” Mulder couldn’t help but wonder why this place reminded him of a prison.

Scully folded her arms across her chest and glared at Mulder. He averted his eyes. It was a conspiracy and he was beginning to think that Scully was in on it, to crush what shreds of his ego were left. He remembered his utter disappointment from the night before and heading to the bar. He didn’t remember anything else before the morning when he’d woken up to see Scully curled adorably in the chair, one of her buttons undone and offering him an excellent view of what he’d been denied the night before. He’d seen the accusation in her eyes when she noticed it, but she hadn’t said anything. She’d been in a good mood. And then once they joined the session, she’d closed herself off again. He was about to be cut down to size, unless she’d revealed as many secrets as he had in the lists. He hoped he’d underestimated the power of prayer.

“Now that everyone has your partner’s book, read over their lists and talk about anything that bothers you.”

Happy Julie piped up. “Or anything that makes you happy.”

Cringing, Scully opened Mulder’s book. She flipped the pages, making sure the first list was the one about characteristics he liked. Then she wanted to cry. Or a time machine. A time machine would do much more good for her. Mulder’s list was brief and simple, falling short of the minimum of ten things. Way short. There was only one thing on it: Scully.

She wanted to rip her lists back out of Mulder’s hands before he had the chance to read them, but it was too late. He was completely engrossed in her words. She turned the page and read his second list. Things about lovers that annoyed him. Julie, Scully laughed, Sarah, Scully suppressed a snort, and Anyone who isn’t Scully, her laughter ceased instantly. He was either hell-bent on seducing her or he had been honest when he said he loved her. He’d written Scully, not Dana, so she knew it had been directed at her and not for the approval of the cruise staff. She had no idea what to say. She turned the page and read his last list, another one item list that spoke volumes. What would he change about her? Take her off this cruise from hell to somewhere that made her happy and keep her safe.

All the color drained out of her face as she laid the notebook back on the floor. She’d screwed this up royally. If he ever spoke to her again, she was going to force him to work out some kind of system so they would know when the other was being serious and open and completely honest and when they wanted to act like an ass so she could prevent further occurrences of them taking completely opposite sides. Something that would prevent to total and utter guilt and self loathing she was experiencing. She had some explaining to do, so long as he was willing to listen.

One of the other couples in the room joined hands and Julie immediately jumped on them. “Rule Number One: No touching. You’ll have to wait till the session is over.”

Mulder didn’t even look up. He was mesmerized by how Scully had managed to write so many cruel things so quickly. And how she’d been able to work with him for so long. Everything that had happened the night before must have been an act and he was almost glad they hadn’t slept together. He could only imagine how used he would have felt. It was the last item on her list, though, that he didn’t understand at first, but finally realized might have something to do with her mood. Her writing was sloppy, she had been hurrying, but he could still easily make out the words: The one thing I hate the most about my obnoxious, pigheaded, stubborn partner is when I’m attempting to drag his sorry drunken ass back to our cabin and he accosts me in an elevator and expects sexual favors.

At least he finally knew both why his stomach hurt and why he’d allowed her to sleep in the chair while he got the bed. He was just amazed that all his limbs were still intact. He glanced up, embarrassed that he’d written such open and honest things about her, knowing that her words had been just as open and honest, and wondering what her reaction could possibly be. She was staring back at him, but she looked away quickly.

“OK, everybody now the moment you’ve all been eagerly anticipating!” Julie’s exuberance was sadly not contagious. “Reach out and touch your partner!” Matt felt the need to demonstrate, wrapping his arms around a smiling, giddy Julie and hugging her tightly. The other couples followed suit. Mulder stared at a spot on the floor and tried to fight the wave of nausea that swept over him. Scully stood up and walked away, calmly but quickly. She needed air. Mulder needed a hug.

Almost two hours later, Scully had gotten her fair share of fresh air and was sick of having to make polite small talk with other couples. She was also worried about Mulder. She’d hurt his feelings again. She tried the cabin first, and when she didn’t find him, she searched the decks. He was nowhere to be found and she was worried. She bumped into Tanya, who regardless of Scully’s infraction on her psyche the previous night, offered her help. Scully nodded and headed back to where she’d left him.

He was still sitting there, in the same spot, and Scully could swear he hadn’t moved a muscle since she’d walked out. She closed the door behind her, throwing the lock because of the staff’s uncanny ability to interrupt them in private moments. Mulder didn’t look up. His eyes were still fixed on the imaginary spot on the floor and as long as he continued to stare at it, he could continue to breathe. His complete focus on the spot gave his mind something to think about other than the crushing blow Scully had just delivered.

She crossed the room and sat down on the cushion in front of him, hoping that he’d look up. He didn’t. She gave him a moment, thinking he might eventually react, but when it became clear that he would not, she tried another tactic. He wasn’t ignoring her; he simply hadn’t noticed her yet. She scooted around behind him and placed her hands on his shoulders, copying the movements she’d used in touch therapy. His head snapped up instantly, but he didn’t say anything. He didn’t move either, letting her massage and knead the muscles in his back in a loving and possessive manner. His eyes slid closed and his head fell forward.

Her gentle massage continued for a while before she carefully moved closer, running her hands down his arms and then sliding them around his waist. She leaned toward him and pressed her face into his back, holding him as tightly as she could.

“I’m sorry, Mulder. You have to know I didn’t mean that. I was angry.” Her face didn’t move from his back. She felt his hands cover hers and she thought he was trying to hold them. But it became clear that he was just trying to unwrap her from him. She held on tighter, inching forward on her knees so her legs rested on either side of him. If touching was the only way they were honest with each other, then she’d attach herself to him.

“Leave me alone, Scully.” His tone was low and held an unspoken warning. He was terribly hurt. He’d trusted her and when his trust was violated, he was liable to become violent. He didn’t want to hurt her. He needed her to leave until he got a better grip on his temper.

She was not deterred. “I was wrong, Mulder. I admit it. I’m sorry.”

“When you’re telling the truth, there’s no right or wrong answers.” He renewed his efforts to free himself from her embrace.

Seeing that he was determined, she let go, watching forlornly as he moved forward so there was no body contact. Then he went back to staring off into space with his jaw tightly clenched. “But a lie is always wrong, Mulder.”

He looked back at her, meeting her eyes for a long moment. “Yeah, yeah it is. So is lying.”

Ashamed, she looked down. She’d been trying to hurt him and she’d succeeded a little too well. And now he wasn’t going to forgive her. “I’m not trying to defend my lying to you, I know it was wrong. But you hurt me last night, Mulder. You got drunk and you”

“Accosted you in an elevator and demanded sexual favors?” His icy tone cut her off.

“You did push me up against a wall and try to take my shirt off.” She started to feel even more guilty. He’d gotten drunk and come on to her and she was reprimanding him for something he didn’t remember doing.

“I was drunk, Scully. I don’t even remember it.” He began picking at another invisible spot on the floor, something to keep him from having to look at her.

“Drunk drivers are held accountable for their actions, Mulder.”

He sighed, giving her the impression that he was very, very bored. “I’m not drunk now, Scully.” He glanced at her and continued once she nodded in agreement. “And the only thing I want from you now is for you to leave.”

She felt her chin tremble slightly and cursed the traitorous muscles. “Is that so?”

“Yeah, that’s so.”

She reached out for him, refusing to let him push her away. She grabbed hold of his arm and didn’t let him shake her off. “I’m not leaving you, Mulder. So get used to it.”

He glared at the hand attached to him and then at her face. “I can make you leave.”

“Oh, yeah, how?” Short of prying her fingers off with a crowbar, she wasn’t going to budge.

“Maybe I’ll get drunk and slobber on you. Then you’d want to go take a shower.” She didn’t let go.

He decided to try a different attempt. He stood up, pulling her a good two feet before she finally got her feet underneath of her and was able to stand up. But she wasn’t a quitter and her hand remained fastened to his arm. He wanted to admire her tenacity, but he was trying to hate her. He growled in frustration. She wouldn’t let him love her and she wouldn’t let him hate her and she wouldn’t let him be her friend. Anger coursed through his veins, giving him the adrenaline rush to rip her hand away from him and push her up against the nearest wall. He was furious, wanting to find something that wasn’t alive on which to take out his anger, and she was absolutely gorgeous. His face inched closer to hers. She was afraid of this rage, of the irate man pinning her against the wall, but his lips were getting closer to hers and she desperately wanted him to hurry up and kiss her.

Fate cackled maniacally as Julie pushed open the door. “Only staff is allowed to lock doors! Now come on, Daniel has a great session and he’s waiting for you two.”

The shock released the rest of his anger and Mulder backed away from Scully. Embarrassed at his violent aggression and that even after learning how she really felt about him, he still wanted to kiss her. He had tried to kiss her. He hung his head and followed the two women to his next torture session, wondering if Scully was going to have the police waiting on the island when they arrived or if she was going to just throw him overboard.

• • •

Part 7

They walked into Daniel’s “great session” together. It already seemed to be in progress and people were screaming at each other like they were on the Jerry Springer show. Scully cringed and Mulder took a step back. They were doing bad enough, they didn’t need this.

Daniel looked at them sharply. “You can’t be here,” he told them.

“What?” asked Scully, not sure why she was suddenly ready to fight for her right to fight.

“You haven’t done your mandatory couples’ counseling yet. This slot has to be filled with that if it hasn’t been already,” Daniel explained. “I think Theresa is free, go and see her.” He looked away, dismissing them just in time to remove the chair from the hands of a red-faced woman who was brandishing it at her wheelchair-bound mate. Scully stared a moment, horrified, until she felt Mulder leave her side. If she didn’t accompany him, she knew, she would lose him. She’d promised not to leave him, and she wouldn’t.

Theresa was sitting in a tiny office as though she was waiting for them. “Hello,” she greeted them at the door, shaking their hands and looking at their unhappy faces. “Please, be seated and get comfortable.” They did, in opposite corners, without looking at each other. “I’m here to act as a moderator. If you become stuck, I can help you get over it. But I want you to forget that I’m here and talk honestly to each other about your problems. Don’t worry about me judging you at all. I’ll give suggestions at the end of the session.”

“This is such crap,” Mulder said, but he didn’t get up and storm out. He remained sitting in his chair as though restrained. Theresa didn’t respond to his accusation, so he pushed harder. “We could talk on our own and get a hell of a lot farther and wouldn’t have to censor ourselves.”

“You don’t have to censor yourself here,” Theresa offered.

Mulder shook his head. Scully understood. They didn’t trust anyone on the outside. And now, if they didn’t trust each other, what was going to happen to them? The silence became deafening and Scully thought back to what she had done, the way she had written those hurtful things even knowing that he would see them. She thought back to his roughly shoving her up against the wall.

“What has happened between us?” Scully said softly. She couldn’t raise her voice or it would break into tears. She didn’t want this to be happening. She remembered what he had written in his notebook and it was what she wanted too, to get off this ship from hell so everything would be all right. She looked at Mulder, almost pleadingly, but he didn’t respond. “What happened just now?”

“You mean when I -”

“What were you doing, Mulder?” she asked. It had scared her. His violence, the rage she knew he carried just under the still surface, it was frightening when it was focused on her. But it was exciting.

“You liked it,” he accused in a sneering drawl.

She looked at the floor. Silence dawned and stretched on and on. She couldn’t say the next thing. It would hurt him too much. Finally, Theresa stepped in. “Perhaps it would help, to discuss your feelings, if you addressed each other and began each statement with ‘I feel.’”

Scully took a deep breath. She still didn’t look at Mulder, but he knew she was talking to him. “I felt afraid of you when you did that, Mulder. I felt, for a second, like you were going to…hurt me.”

“You liked that,” he said. “I saw it in your eyes. Violence excites you.” He turned and looked at her and she knew he could see the shock on her face. “If I’d taken you last night when you said no, would that have been what you wanted?”

“No,” she said, a tortured sound.

“That’s why you work so hard to hurt me. You like pain. You like to feel it and you like to inflict it.”

“No!” she cried, and this time she faced him. “I’m so sorry that I hurt you, Mulder. I never intended for you to see what I wrote.”

“You knew what they were going to do.”

“I was venting, I didn’t mean it, Mulder, you know that I didn’t mean it.”

“But you did.”

Another impasse. Scully looked at Theresa, wondering why she wasn’t intervening. Not that Mulder had taken her “I feel” advice anyway. The woman looked like she was out of her element. She looked like she thought Scully and Mulder were some kind of weird S&M duo and there was nothing she could do to help them, so she’d given up. She even looked faintly embarrassed. Scully knew she was going to have to do this herself.

“Ten things I look for in a potential lover,” Scully said, invoking the game from the prior session, the one that had snowballed this mess past repair. This was embarrassing. She’d never confessed her intimate preferences to anyone before. Not even to girlfriends, not even to her sister. What she valued to was too important to her. But she had to tell Mulder. Especially now that he’d called her preferences into question. “One. Passion. That glows in his eyes and radiates from his body in pure energy and heat. Passion so strong that he can’t turn away from it, doesn’t care what people say or think or try to do to change his mind. Two. An unwillingness to yield. Like the strongest tree, his will cannot be bent. He is always true to himself and what he believes. He does not give up. Three. Sensitivity. He is aware of the people around him. He is aware of what they think and what they feel. He can’t control it, but he feels it, and even though this sometimes hurts him, he is powerless to shut it out or close himself off to it. Four. Tenderness. I can feel it in his touch. His fingers are so gentle against my skin. And yet he has to touch me. Five. Humor. The ability to look into the face of any situation and have a sarcastic, biting, completely goofy, stupid, inappropriate remark to make. One that makes me know that he thinks the world of himself and his opinion. The sensitivity is what makes him cringe when I don’t laugh. It also makes him know that I’m amused even when I don’t laugh. Six. An amazing physical presence. I can’t ignore him when he’s in the room. I can feel his heat from across the room. I have to look at him, risking being caught by his eyes. Seven. Intensity. The feeling I get in my stomach when he looks at me. The feeling I get when I stare at him and I think about what could happen. The way the hairs rise on my arms when I imagine what kissing him will be like. And I know that fifty years from now when we are both shriveled and old, those lips will still make my blood sing. Eight. Integrity. Nine. Honor. Ten. Honesty.” Her voice rose with every word. She did not falter or lose count or search for even one word. The words poured from her heart as surely as blood would flow if she opened a vein for him.

“I hope you find him, Scully,” Mulder said quietly.

“I have,” she said, looking directly into his eyes.

He shook his head and looked away, unimpressed. He didn’t think she was idly flattering him because he did not believe that he fit that description. He believed he was unlovable. Which meant he would believe that he matched every word of what she was about to say as she continued.

“Ten things that annoy me about a potential lover. One. Insensitivity. He doesn’t care about my feelings. If I want to watch ‘National Geographic’ but the Superbowl is on, there’s no point in my even asking, no matter how much it means to me. Two. Ego. A fuck-you-I’m-right attitude when there is no reason for it. He always leaves the toilet seat up.” Theresa half-giggled. Scully ignored her. “Three. Weakness. If I shove him, he falls down and he is too afraid to get up and shove me back. Four. Ignorance. The unwillingness to learn. Five. Dominance. If he needs to own me, tell me what to do, it isn’t going to work. Six. Foolishness. He grins all the time. He laughs for no reason. I want to slap him. Seven. Ugliness. Of his soul. He hates, and this is why he is hated. Eight. Faithlessness. In himself and the world around him. Nine. Selfishness. He is the only person in the world. Ten. Inconsideration and disrespect. He will leave without telling me where he’s going because he doesn’t even think he should tell me. He knows that I’ll worry and he walks away anyway.”

Mulder was looking at the floor. She wanted to reach out and touch him, but she could not. So she just kept talking. “Ten things I would change about my partner if I could.” There was a long, long pause as she attempted to think of something. It was also manipulative, as much as she hated to do it, but she knew if she waited long enough with nothing to say, he would raise his head and look at her. At the moment that he did, she moved. He began to turn his face away again in embarrassment, but she stopped him. Scully jumped off of her chair and walked over to him, bending down in front of him, taking his hands in hers.

“I would give him the power to accept what he can never change. I would absolve him of the guilt that eats him like acid inside. I would never let misunderstanding come between him. I would let him know that I care about him. I would make the man who believes in everything believe in himself and that he is lovable. I would make him believe that I would never leave him. I would make him believe that sometimes it is the differences between us that make us stronger. I would give us both the freedom to communicate without misunderstanding. I would free us from hurt and pain and self-protection so that we could both, finally, grow and realize that we -”

There were tears in Mulder’s eyes. There were tears in her own. She was leaning in close to him and his fingers had a stranglehold on hers. Theresa interrupted before Scully could finish her sentence. She said, “We’re down to only a few minutes, so let me make my final recommendations.”

The moment was broken. Mulder blinked and the tears were gone. He looked at Theresa and Scully felt as though she had ceased to exist. Her hands were freed and she sank back to sit on the carpet as Theresa made her judgment. “You need to participate more,” she said to Mulder. “Don’t be shy and let others dominate the conversation.”

Theresa turned to Scully. “Since you did most of the talking, I know more about you. You have a real problem with authority. You also have a problem with abandonment issues. You mention specifically that you don’t want your man to go off and leave you alone to sit at home to worry. You need to take action yourself. You need to be able to rely on yourself. I also think that your aims are too high. No man could ever fill the shoes of your ideal man. I suspect that is where your trouble comes from. You have a fear of commitment because you are afraid to see the man you think you love fail to live up to your stringent standards. And yet your criticisms are not strenuous enough. You need to aim for the middle, and be happy with what you have.”

Scully didn’t know if Theresa was done or not, but she knew that she was wrong. She wasn’t going to listen to this any more. Scully had just made the most honest confession of her entire life, in the interest of harboring no more misunderstandings. She had said, seventeen different ways, how very much she loved Mulder. She had just been about to lay it clear in simple terms when Theresa interrupted her. Scully felt humiliated and hurt somehow by it all. So she walked out of the room.

She didn’t expect Mulder to follow her. He did, remaining close to her side like a leech. Scully dreaded his first words, because she was terrified they would be a judgment against her. She was afraid he would agree with Theresa. “What an idiot,” Mulder said. For a second, Scully thought he was talking about her. Then he went on, “I can’t believe she interrupted you. I can’t believe she said those things. She thought she knew you when she wasn’t even listening.”

Scully stopped walking and faced him. “Were you listening, Mulder?” she asked.

He nodded, unable to look away. “I’m sorry, Scully.”

“No,” she said.

“I never should have been so arrogant as to force you to come here. And I have been so self-prioritizing that I never even noticed that you weren’t with me, all those times I went off by myself. I never gave a thought that you would wonder where I had gone. I never thought you cared.”

She wanted to say ‘I do,’ but those were rather heavy words. So she said, “You don’t value yourself.”

“I do. Too much. That’s the problem. I take and you give. Today, with this -” He gestured with her list. That he still had it hurt her. “You were taking control. You weren’t going to give any more. And that knocked me right off balance.” Mulder crumpled the paper in his hand. He threw it overboard. She watched it sail in a lovely arc out into the great vast blue beyond. She wondered when it had gotten dark. The moon was enormous and silver. What better for lovers than moonlight, she thought.

“I wonder if we missed dinner,” said Mulder, who turned and started into the dining room.

Scully allowed her jaw to drop in shock. At least they were being honest, but she couldn’t believe him. He threw away her thoughts, discounted everything she had just said, and he was thinking with his stomach. Crossing her arms and frowning as she followed him, she thought ironically that she’d liked him better when he’d been thinking with a primal organ somewhat lower than his stomach. Then she’d been in his thoughts at least peripherally.

Mulder stopped in the doorway of the dining room. There were no tables and the room was full of people and noise. Conversation and laughter abounded. They had apparently missed dinner, but the faint smell of it lingered tantalizingly in the air. The people in the room were sorted into couples, and they were all dancing. Some were goofing around, and some were painfully focused, and some were working a silent, seductive magic on each other. But they were all dancing.

The final strains of “Can’t Fight This Feeling” faded away and Scully’s stomach felt odd. She began to edge back towards the door, knowing that she didn’t belong here. These couples were happy. Their problems had been resolved and their honeymoons had begun. There would be no honeymoon for her and Mulder. There would be no dancing, and no sneaking out, hot and lethargic from slow music, to kiss tenderly under the lovers’ moon. They didn’t belong. She didn’t belong.

The next song opened with a strong beat and melody. Recognition flooded her and she found herself unable to complete her intention to walk out of the dance area and retreat to their quiet, lonely cabin. She looked at him, and knew the same thought was in his mind.

“Put on my blue suede shoes and I boarded the plane

Touched down in the land of the delta blues

In the middle of a pouring rain

W.C. Handy, won’t you look down over me

Yeah I got a first class ticket but I’m as blue as a girl can be”

They just stared at each other as the unmistakable sound of Cher filled the room.

“Cause I’m walking in Memphis

Was walkin with my feet ten feet off a Beale

Walking in Memphis

Do I really feel the way I feel?”

Mulder held his hand out to her, unable to meet her eyes. With an odd feeling about this, she accepted it and allowed him to pull her against him.

“Saw the ghost of Elvis on Union Avenue

Followed him up to the gates of Graceland

And watched him walk right through

Now security they did not see him

They just hovered around his tomb

There’s a pretty little thing

Waiting for the King

Down in the Jungle Room”

Moving slowly with the music with Mulder was pure torture. Not because he was a bad dancer. In fact, the opposite. He looked down at her and he was smiling. She found herself smiling back.

“Well I was walking in Memphis

Was walkin with my feet ten feet off a Beale

Walking in Memphis

Do I really feel the way I feel?”

He was leaning in closer to her. Her smiling lips parted in anticipation of the kiss. Her head tilted back to ease their meeting…

“Do I really feel the way I feel?”

A sudden, terrible screech sent them apart, startled. There was a crackle, a pop, and a hiss and then one of the large speakers burst into flame. The flame disappeared almost as quickly as it erupted, leaving a curl of smoke emitting from the speaker. Scully stared at it as though it had been a cautionary omen. Just as Cher was cautioning her – okay, it was only a song, but still – to be sure she knew she really felt how she felt – just as Mulder was about to finally kiss her with the same tenderness and feeling she detected in his touch as they danced – a stupid, inexplicable, practically supernatural thing had to happen. Well, she got the message. This was not meant to be.

“Goodnight, Mulder,” she mumbled, and walked away, heading for their cabin.

He must have been right behind her as she stumbled down the stairwell and let herself into the small room because she’d just barely sat down on the bed when she heard the door open again. She glanced over in its direction just to verify that it was Mulder and not some nefarious villain and then proceeded to untie her right shoe and remove it. This was followed by her left shoe, both earrings, her necklace, her jacket and her socks.

She heard Mulder sigh and looked at him. He’d settled sideways in the chair and was staring at the porthole. He wasn’t really looking out of it, he was just looking in that direction. She had the oddest feeling she’d almost caught him looking at her. She ruffled her hand through her hair and stood up, on her way to the bathroom. She needed a hot shower and good night’s sleep.

Scully’s hand went automatically into her pocket to remove the day’s collection of change, keys and lint. What she found was the list Mulder had made in his notebook. Things he loved – her. Things he didn’t love – not her. Things he’d change – he’d make her be happy. She was unaware of the small sound that escaped her lips when she reread it and thought about how wonderful and sentimentally sweet he was to have even thought to write such things. She was equally unaware of Mulder’s eyes on her, drinking in every rich detail of her expression as she stared at the paper like it was a dear thing to her.

When she emerged from her shower, Mulder was asleep in the chair and so she ended the second day of the cruise by climbing into the big, soft bed. Alone. As ever.

• • •

Part 8

A loud crash woke her up. She jumped out of bed, searching for her gun and then reaching for the light.

“Mmmmphhh.” Mulder shifted around on the floor, in the overturned chair and promptly fell back asleep, regardless of the fact that one of his legs was twisted in such a way as to cause a conscious person great pain and both of his arms were trapped under the chair the rest of him was resting on.

She should never have been so inconsiderate to let him sleep in the chair while she got the bed. Not only had she found the chair comfortable, she curled up when she slept and she knew he stretched out and tended to flail. She didn’t know what had taken so long for him to move far enough to knock himself over. Somehow, the man she’d never known to sleep through a pin dropping in the apartment above him had slept right through it and was obviously more comfortable on the floor than he had been in the chair. Still, she felt guilty and walked over to him. She shook his shoulder, hoping he’d wake up, but he was caught in the sleep of the dead, probably from the emotional exhaustion she’d inflicted on him.

“Come on, Mulder. Go get in the bed. You’re going to be in pain tomorrow if you sleep like this.” She spoke softly, aiming on only waking him enough to shuffle to the bed. She didn’t really want to wake him up. He half mumbled something at her and rearranged one of his legs, but remained on the floor, knotted around the chair. She pulled the covers back on the bed, separating one out for her own use when she freed the chair up. Then she went back to prodding him.

She’d reached the point where she was kneeling next to him, resting one elbow on his chest, and poking her finger at his face by the time she actually got him to open his eyes. But when he did, she saw the most unfathomably sexy grin form on his face.

“Morning beautiful.”

She blinked at him, not comprehending his words. He couldn’t possibly have been awake. Or maybe she should have let him keep the glasses on. It wouldn’t have bothered her any to see them. “Mulder, you’re delirious. Get in the bed.”

His sleepy leer was absolutely adorable, but he followed her orders without comment. She pulled the covers back up, watched him pushed them back down, and then shrugged and turned away, heading for her chair. Strong arms encircled her waist, throwing her completely off balance and forcing her to fall back onto the bed with him. She was so surprised that she didn’t move immediately, waiting for the shock to wear off before she tried to regain control of her limbs. He used the time wisely, yanking the covers up, pressing every inch of their bodies together that he possibly could, and then tucking his face into her neck and sighing happily. All the while preventing her escape by keeping one arm wrapped around her. He was good, she had to give credit where credit was due. Her intention was to get up as soon as he slipped deeper into sleep and lost voluntary control over the arm that was holding her against him, really, it was. But at some point right as she started to think he was sleeping, he moved his face so that his breath fell right on the sensitive spot behind her ear. The same place he’d kissed her the night before.

All of her resistance ran together and pooled in a little puddle next to the bed as she carefully flipped over and pressed her face into his neck. She smiled to herself, and convinced herself that she’d claim complete innocence and say he must have climbed in bed with her when he asked. In the meantime, she’d enjoy the company.

A little while later, she woke up again. Unlike the earlier instance, she couldn’t immediately identify what the problem was. Then she noticed an odd sensation. Her neck was wet. Her eyes focused on the head of hair in front of her and she realized he was planting wet kisses on her throat. She wondered how long it had been going on before she noticed it. Then she remembered that she had to stop it, or at least offer some sort of token resistance.

She pushed him away slightly, causing him to utter another multisyllabic word meaning nothing, yet clearly demonstrating his unwillingness to release her. She tried again and his head moved, kissing the side of her neck instead. She felt herself giving in and pushed him away a little more forcefully. His eyes flickered open briefly and then closed again, searching blindly for somewhere to kiss her. There was something not quite right about it, other than the fact that she couldn’t really picture Mulder taking advantage of her in her sleep. He hadn’t made a single smart remark about them being in the bed together. She pushed his face away again and held it there. His eyes didn’t open.

The bastard was sound asleep. She was not amused. She was now wide awake and uncomfortable and she wasn’t about to let him have his happy little dream while costing her precious sleep.

“Mulder!” She said his name loud and sharp, the professional tone weaving its way through into his foggy brain and waking him up.

He looked startled at first, well aware that he had not gone to sleep with his arms around her. Then he merely withdrew his arms and tried to sit up, mumbling a quiet apology. She put her hand on his arm and shook her head.

“You don’t have to get up, Mulder. Just move over.” She didn’t really want him to move over, but she could tell he had no idea of what he’d been doing. She couldn’t embarrass him by telling him.

“No, I’ll go back to the chair.” His voice was low and thick and Scully felt one more shred of her self control slip uselessly to the floor.

“Please, Mulder, just lay down.” She saw his wary glance. “I’m cold.” True, ever since he’d withdrawn the heat of his body from her side. Also true because of the blanket that was sitting on the overturned chair. Maybe he wasn’t awake enough to notice.

He opened his mouth to say something, but after a few moments of his best fish imitation, he flopped back down on the bed, leaving ample space between them. He was awake for the day. If she’d just let him go back to his chair, if there had been a TV he could put on, he could have fallen back asleep. But when she asked him to stay in bed with her, every nerve in his body had gone on alert and sent his mind reeling. He had no idea how they’d ended up in the bed together with their arms and legs tangled together, but since they were both dressed, he was sure he hadn’t missed too much. He stared at the ceiling for a while, assuming she had gone back to sleep.

Her voice startled him. “Are you just going to lay there and stare?”

He turned to look at her. She was laying on her side, facing him, her arms tucked under her pillow, and her legs pulled up. And she was just watching him. Her hair was ruffled and her eyelids drooped. And she had a huge hickey on the side of her neck that he knew she was not aware of. He stared back towards the ceiling wondering if it was possible to extricate himself from the situation and ignore the incredibly erotic image his partner was providing. He felt her cool hand brush his warm one and he knew there was no polite way to do it. He’d just have to deal with it. He couldn’t hurt her again.

But then she snuggled up against him, resting her head on his shoulder and draping her arm across his chest. He turned slightly, repositioning his arm around her and holding her tightly. She knew how he felt about her and she wasn’t avoiding him, so he didn’t really see the point in hiding it anymore.

Morning came soon after, Scully reluctantly moving out of Mulder’s reach to gather her clothes. He turned over when she got up and was facing the wall away from her. She decided to chance it, wanting to avoid the cold bathroom floor on her bare feet. She shed her pajamas and pulled on khaki shorts and a tank top, with a sweatshirt over top. They would be arriving at their island resort that afternoon and she wanted to be dressed appropriately, hoping to not stick out as much as they had from the moment they set foot on the ship. Watching Mulder with one eye, she put on socks and a pair of sneakers. She was going to head out for a walk, but she stopped.

Deciding not to question her motivation for fear she wouldn’t be able to answer herself, she climbed up and knelt on the bed. He was still facing away from her, the lines from stress and worry and hurt feelings eased in sleep. She bent forward, brushing his hair back and kissed his cheek before heading out for her walk. As she walked a smile formed on her face. It was such a domestic thing, giving her sleeping husband a peck on the cheek before leaving. She stopped walking so quickly tripped over herself. He wasn’t her husband. He was her partner and friend and while they’d both basically admitted to some decidedly unprofessional

feelings, she knew she was taking it too far to consider him her husband.

She pulled the ring off her finger, the first time she’d done so since Mulder had put it on her, and examined it. A simple plain gold band, the perfect stereotype of a wedding band. But something about it had felt special from the moment he’d entrusted it to her. She looked closely at the inside, not quite able to make out the barest trace of an inscription. It took a lot of normal use to naturally buff out an inscription. And somehow, she just knew. It was his family ring, several generations old, and he had put it on her finger. He hadn’t just handed it to her and waited for her to put it on. He’d taken her hand and slid it on, with all the reverence of a man at a wedding. It had been a wedding of sorts; from that moment on, they’d been husband and wife. Feeling oddly unsettled, oddly only because it was a comfortable type of unsettled, she put her ring back on and walked to the dining room, intent on bringing breakfast back to her sleeping husband, even if it was only for pretend.

He’d been awake, never quite able to fall asleep after she’d put her arm around him, when she got up. He only turned away to stop himself from watching her and letting her find out that he was awake. He listened to the sounds of her opening drawers and pulling out clothes and waited for the bathroom door to close. But it hadn’t. The moment he realized that she was changing not even four feet away from him almost made him turn over and ‘wake up.’ But she’d trusted him enough to be so open and he wouldn’t trespass on that trust. Their whole relationship was too tenuous. He had actually gotten a grip on himself after that, managed to close his eyes from their wide as saucers state, and was patiently waiting for her to leave.

Then he felt the bed depress and her hand in his hair. And then the slightest hint of her lips touching his cheek. Thankfully she moved away too quickly to see the wide, totally unguarded grin on his face. She’d kissed him. On her own, without prompting. It didn’t matter that it was barely a kiss at all. It was the closest thing to a real kiss he’d ever received from her and he was ecstatic. Nothing, not even breakfast with Julie, Sarah, Skinner, Phoebe, and Krycek would rain on his parade. As it turned out, he was sitting on the edge of the bed, stretching his arms out above his head when she returned, holding two plates of something that smelled absolutely irresistible.

She smiled at him and offered him his food, along with utensils she’d stolen from a table when no one was looking. His stomach growled loudly, reminding him he’d skipped dinner the night before. He grinned at her sheepishly, not half as embarrassed about his stomach as he was about the whole night before. The dancing, his attempted kiss, her second reading of his lists, the way they’d ended up in the bed together, the hickey he’d obviously caused on her neck that he noticed she’d covered completely with make up. Everything. The whole insane way he had been acting suddenly occurred to him, a deep red blush flourishing on his face. He hoped she didn’t notice.

She didn’t. She was eating her breakfast, picking at the food that had looked better in the dining room and still smelled more appetizing than it actually was. She looked up, still lost in her own thoughts.

“I bumped into Julie in the dining room. Our choices this morning are ballroom dance instruction or the chair throwing lessons we observed yesterday. This afternoon, they’re offering an island luau, she told me we should come appropriately dressed if we decide to go, although I believe a luau is completely inappropriate since we’re not on our way to Hawaii anyway, another round of counseling, or what I have the sick feeling we will wind up attending, an onboard psychic will read our palms, tell our future, read our tarot cards and tell us if the souls of our dearly departed relatives are smiling on our union.”

Mulder nodded, considering the choices and noting the fact that she was doing her professional Scully bit even though they’d just spent the night curled around each other. “Well, I’m honestly torn between the luau and the counseling session.” Scully laughed and went back to her food. “I’m really rather curious what would be considered appropriate dress for an inappropriate luau.” She laughed harder, giving up on eating and pushing the food around on her plate instead. “We could lock ourselves in here and moan and jump up and down on the bed until the second shift.”

She grinned at him. “Actually, I was leaning towards locking ourselves in here until we dock on the island. I think, if you remember the last two days the same way I do, that we would be ill advised to attend anymore of these relationship sessions. They seem to have just made us fight.” She dumped her plate into the trash can and folded her hands together, waiting for Mulder to finish.

“On the surface, yeah.”

She looked around the room and then leaned forward to touch her hand to his forehead, checking for a fever. “Mulder, have you experienced what I have or am I having the most insanely detailed nightmare of my life?”

His plate joined hers in the trash and then he turned to look at her. “The sessions do seem to make us argue, I agree, but if you think about it, they’ve also done us some good.”

She gave her best incredulous look. “Oh, well, I guess so. Hurt feelings certainly toughen you up.” She stood up, dreading the feeling in the pit of her stomach that told her another fight was on its way.

He stood up and followed her, placing his hands on her shoulders and catching her eyes in the mirror. “No, that’s not what I meant. I meant that we’ve talked about things we never would have talked about, learned a little bit more about each other.” She nodded a little, still unconvinced this cruise was helping them. “Scully, we slept in the same bed, holding each other last night and you don’t think we’ve covered some ground in the past two days?”

The blush that rose to her cheeks confirmed his suspicions. They had made breakthroughs, but she was apprehensive. That was what the time on the island would fix. Give her some time to get used to the idea, give them some time together without Julie and Matt and Tanya and Daniel and the other people who were bound and determined to force Mulder and Scully to have a good time. He squeezed her shoulders and then stepped away, snagging her hand in the process. “I’ve always wanted to take ballroom lessons, I just never had anyone to take them with.”

She rolled her eyes at his back, but followed him, saying nothing as he laced his fingers through hers on their way to the next session.

• • •

Part 9

Mulder led her directly to the main ballroom of the ship. She wondered how he’d known where it was, but decided it was better not to ask. “Are you sure we’re dressed right for this, Mulder?” she asked, hoping she sounded like she was joking as she pulled back on his hand. She wasn’t. She didn’t want to ballroom dance. Somehow those tall, thin, forbidding looking women in their severe costumes with their ability to do amazing things with their bodies scared her. The thought of having to attempt that herself really scared her. She was athletic enough; she could chase down suspects, kick a man’s ass to save herself, and shoot accurately…but dance? No way.

She looked at Mulder. He looked like a kid standing outside the admission gate of the circus, waiting for his mom to hand him his ticket so he could go inside and see the poor abused animals and freaks inside. She knew there was no way she was going to convince him that he really would rather go pretend he was on a talk show and join strangers in yelling and screaming about the way their lives were ruined. Cringing, she followed him inside.

“Take off your shoes!” cried the female ballroom dance instructor, who was wearing one of those outfits that intimidated Scully so much. She had on a black, low-cut leotard with long sleeves that would have fallen over Scully’s knuckles if she’d even tried to wear it. Around her waist was draped a long, floaty black skirt. Black hair was pulled back into a bun, and she had a scarlet flower pinned behind her ear. Scully looked at Mulder, but he was eagerly following orders. She looked back at the instructor, who had joined her partner. He was dressed like a gigolo, which was pretty much in keeping with the stupid costumes men had to wear for these things.

Looking at Mulder again, she wondered if that was the appeal of ballroom dancing to him. Did he have some secret yearning to leap around in a feminine costume? God, she hoped not. She’d just spent the night curled around this man. Trying to picture him dressed like Zorro, the Gay Blade was making her physically ill. Still bent down from taking off his shoes, he raised his head. She managed to smile. Then he dug into her shoelaces.

“Mulder!” she cried.

“What?” he grinned up at her.

“I can do that!”

“It’s okay, I don’t mind,” he told her, unlacing the sneaker and raising her foot to remove it and then turning to the other foot. She was glad she’d put on the socks without holes in them. It would ruin her credibility if he found out even the fastidious Dana Scully sometimes wore socks with holes.

Setting aside her other shoe, he straightened himself back up. It seemed to her that he just kept going. Now he was going to find out just how bad an idea this was, she thought, looking up at him. She was five foot two. He was over six feet. She waited for people to laugh at them as the instructor gave her first order and Mulder took her into his arms. Dance was all about appearance; that was why those silly young girls dieted themselves into oblivion. Ballroom dancing was about the way two bodies moved together. The fact that she was doing something that was meant to be observed made her incredibly self-conscious.

“Your face is red,” Mulder noted, looking at her as he positioned his arm around her waist and then threaded the fingers of his other hand through hers.

“I hate dancing,” she admitted.

“We were dancing last night,” he mentioned.

“That was different.”

“How?” he asked, but she couldn’t answer. They had begun to move and she had way too much to worry about with looking at her feet and muttering “one-two-three, one-two-three” under her breath.

She remembered something she’d once heard that Ginger Rogers had said about dancing with Fred Astaire. “Everything he does, I have to do backwards, in high heels.” Scully had the heel problem down, but the backwards thing was a problem. Mulder just kept moving forward. Which meant her duty was to keep moving her feet back, out of the reach of his toes, and let that take her in whatever direction he wanted her to go. She didn’t like that. She didn’t like feeling like she was being shoved around in some meaningless little circle by some man, even if it was Mulder and when she glanced up at him, risking the future health of her toes for all time, he was smiling. She managed to look down again in time to see him moving his foot again and jerk back.

She’d been listening to the teacher, too. She now understood the concept of when to go forward and when to go sideways. She kind of wished there was a footprint diagram on the floor, like in the cartoons of her youth. She’d always thought those were cool. Scully began to try to take control of this situation. Every once in a while, she’d initiate the sideways or forward step. It caught Mulder off guard, so he’d move backwards. After a while, she was in charge and she liked it! It was even kinda fun.

That was when the instructor happened by. “You’re leading,” she said in a dour tone to Scully. It was just the kind of flat voice you’d expect a snooty dancer to have. Bet she gets along real well with the perky types, Scully thought. Bet she’s always sitting alone at dinner. But Scully stopped leading immediately and returned to meekly following Mulder. She was embarrassed to have been accused of doing such a masculine thing. That was her problem with dancing. Well, one of them. She didn’t feel girlish enough to do it. If someone made her put on one of those outfits, she’d feel ridiculous and irritated.

“Okay, now the tango!” cried the instructor.

For a moment, Mulder released her. Scully let out a deep breath now that he wasn’t touching her and felt herself relax. She hadn’t even been able to enjoy the fact that he had been touching her because she’d been too caught up in the agony of being made to do something that she should never be made to do. She looked at Mulder and he held her look for a moment. He was enjoying himself, she thought. That was what counted. Maybe she’d do better at the tango. How hard could it be?

To her dismay, it turned out that there was more to tangoing than there appeared. Scully had been remembering scenes she’d seen as a child, and the way she and Billy had laughed as they acted them out in the living room, essentially holding their arms out in front of them and zooming from one end of the room as fast as they could and then collapsing into giggles. Sometimes her brother would throw in a dip and let her fall on the floor. Then he’d laugh hysterically and she’d sit there ignoring the pain in her head/shoulder/arm and trying not to cry.

Bill sure was an asshole to me, she thought, frowning.

“Closer!” cried the instructor, who planted her hands on Scully’s behind and pushed her against Mulder. Mulder smiled. Scully turned her head to look at the woman, who had walked away to torment another couple. Mulder took her hand, and held it out like a pointer in the direction they were going. At least there wasn’t a leading thing involved, Scully thought.

Until they started to move to the heavy music. The dancerwoman hadn’t told Scully how to count, or what to count up to, so she didn’t know what she was doing. Scully also realized it was a lot harder to walk sideways while pressed full frontally against a solid, gorgeous man who happened to be a foot taller. Their feet kept tangling and Scully started to feel worse and worse as she contemplated the term “cheek to cheek” and the fact that she’d have to be dancing with Frohike to experience it.

She did her best and followed along without really thinking about it. When the instructor finally shut off that music and commanded their attention, Scully sighed and wondered what the next thing would be.

The woman was giving a demonstration. The pretty boy partner helped this time. It was swing dancing, which had been featured in several movies and always looked like fun to Scully, with its energetic steps and the way the boys sometimes tossed the girls over their heads, exposing layers of crinolines to the camera. It looked spunky and free. It looked like a dance you could do for exercise.

It didn’t look fun when the sour faced pair in black did it. Scully watched their feet flying as though possessed until the inevitable moment came. The high priestess of dance turned to her adoring audience of students and said, “Now you do it.”

Scully’s mind was blank on how to even attempt anything she’d just seen. She was aware of Mulder looking at her. She was also aware the couples around her all began to move like they had been swing dancing their entire freaking lives. Maybe they had. But she hadn’t. Scully felt all trembly, like she’d been shoved onto the stage and didn’t know the lines she was supposed to say. She put her head down and walked to the door. She grabbed her shoes on the way out.

The warm sea air hit her like a fan and she inhaled its wonderful salty scent. What were all those people doing in a dimly lit ballroom when there was such beauty outside? Her shoes still in her hand, she walked to the railing and looked down at the deep blue ocean. It wasn’t that sickly green-brown color you saw at the beach. There were no horrid dead strands of kelp or seaweed to wrap around your ankles, bringing toxic waste and discarded needles. There was just blue, intense, all the way to the ocean floor, as far as the eye could see, with white crests where the strong line of the ship parted it, throwing salt water spray into her hair and onto her skin. She licked her lips and tasted the salt and grinned.

“I’m sorry,” Mulder said beside her. She hadn’t realized he’d followed her until he spoke. She turned her head and looked at him and almost laughed. His knuckles were almost white on the railing and he was turned as far away from the water as possible.

“Don’t be,” she shrugged easily, that calmed by the sea.

“No, I am. The difference between the way you looked in there and the way you look out here is stunning.”

“The same could be said of you, Mulder,” she pointed out with an amused smile. Had she looked like that in the ballroom? Like she was terrified and uncomfortable and cranky? Mulder looked like a kid in the doctor’s office with his pants around his ankles, knowing the needle was coming and there was nothing he could do.

What an image, Scully thought, glancing at her partner and picturing him with his pants down and…She stopped herself. No odd doctor/patient fantasies about your partner, she thought. They’d even had a teacher who tried to cover that in med school – that some patients found the dominance of medical care exciting just as some doctors found the power thrilling. Scully’d thought it was sick then. She supposed it was still sick and that was why she didn’t want to be thinking it.

She licked her lips again. She always got a kick out of the way the salt built up. She remembered the way that when her father came home after a voyage, he would taste of salt for days when she kissed his cheek when he came to tuck her into bed. The smell of it would permeate him, his clothes and his hair. Sometimes it seemed that his eyes took on the color and the quality of the sea. She’d tried to tell her sister once and was told disdainfully she had a weird imagination. But her mother had said she understood. That Dana would love a man of the sea.

And here she was with a man who couldn’t even look at the sea.

Mulder’s hair was getting damp, and Scully unconsciously reached up to run a hand through her own. It was damp, as well, and she could feel it beginning to frizz and curl. She hated it when it did that. She thought the annoyance must have shown on her face because Mulder was suddenly smiling at her. Twisted man, she thought, but she smiled back.

Touching her hair had drawn Mulder’s gaze to it and he saw that it was beginning to fluff up attractively. Something about it, paired with the shorts and the sweatshirt she was wearing and the way she still held her sneakers in her hand made her so attractive to him suddenly. Because nothing about her reminded him of their work. At that moment, the darkness was completely behind them and they were free. To be in love. To feel. To laugh and play if they wanted to. Scully losing control over the natural wave to her hair – which he thought was beautiful and couldn’t imagine why she’d torture it straight – symbolized so much that he couldn’t even put words to. He’d only seen her that way a very few times, vulnerable. Approachable. When she threw herself into his arms that night in the motel after being drenched in the rain. When she was in the hospital with better things to worry over…

Mulder threaded his fingers through her hair and Scully looked at him, wondering what he was doing. The pads of his fingers caressed her scalp and she sighed deeply. She tilted her head up and found herself staring at his lips. Because she hoped this was a prelude to him kissing her. Because she wanted to kiss him now, when he had sea salt on his skin that she could taste and lick away. As though pulled by magnetic force, they were moving slowly towards one another. Scully closed her eyes and put one hand on his shoulder to steady herself.

“Hey! We were looking for you!”

Scully’s eyes opened and she groaned. Mulder’s hands clenched with consciousness of his anger at being interrupted, but he didn’t realize he still had a section of her hair in his fist.

“You have a mandatory couples counseling session to complete. And I know you don’t want to have to miss our exciting plans for this evening and this afternoon!” It was Matt giving them these orders. “Helen is waiting for you.”

Great, thought Mulder. She’s named after a woman who caused the worst war in Ancient Greece because she was unfaithful to her husband, and she’s going to give us martial counseling.

Great, thought Scully when they reached the small chamber, which was virtually identical to the one Theresa had occupied the night before. Helen was beautiful. She had long cascades of impossibly beautiful blond hair. Her eyes were bright and wide and blue and both her nose and her red bow mouth were as perfect as if they had been chiseled in stone. Or plastic, Scully realized, frowning as she discovered just who it was Helen reminded her of. She was a complete ringer for Mattel’s Barbie.

Scully glanced at Mulder, wondering if his head was also now filled with the lyrics, “I’m a Barbie Girl, in a Barbie World…” But he looked slightly enraptured of Helen. So she guessed he wasn’t thinking what she was. Or maybe he was, on some deeper level that had been programmed by society.

“Since this is our last day of counseling,” Helen began and Scully could barely keep from laughing. Helen didn’t have a squeaky blond voice like Minnie Mouse, or the perfectly modulated tones Barbie used when she proclaimed, “Math is hard!” to a generation of girls awaiting brainwashing. Helen had a voice so deep Scully imagined she could sing bass. Helen sounded like she had a fourteen pack a day tobacco habit. The juxtaposition was ridiculous. Scully looked at Mulder. His expression hadn’t changed. He probably thinks she sounds like Demi Moore, Scully thought, crossing her legs and then her arms. Helen continued, “I want to take you through an exercise that will open the lines of communication and give you something on which to build your married lives.”

More touch therapy? Scully thought hopefully.

“I want you to describe the perfect day.” Because Mulder was staring at Helen, she turned to him and smiled. “You first.”

Called upon, Mulder tore his eyes away and sat up. “I don’t know,” he said, looking embarrassed.

“You do; you just don’t want to share it,” Helen coaxed. Scully let her arms fall to her sides as she turned to look at Mulder. This she wanted to hear.

“No, I’ve never given it any thought,” Mulder protested. He was too embarrassed for that to be true, Scully thought.

“No?” Helen challenged in that gentle tone that purposely betrayed that she didn’t believe him either.

“Look, I had a really unhappy childhood and I don’t watch that much TV, so I really have no idea what it’s like being married, okay?” Mulder snapped. His body closed him off from the rest of the room, angrily adding, “So leave me alone!” to his statement.

“It’s okay,” Helen said gently, using the same tone as she would use to talk a terrified kitten out of a tree. Scully began to think about it and wonder why Mulder seemed so scared. Maybe his sarcastic words had been more revealing than he’d meant. Was he afraid of marriage because of his parents? she wondered, not realizing she had become completely sucked in by this. Helen went on soothingly, “Most people have no idea what it’s like to be married. That’s why beginning a life with another person is such a stressful event, even though it’s happy. It’s an enormous change. That’s the purpose of this exercise. You’re safe here,” Helen promised. “I won’t judge you. And neither will your wife.”

Mulder started when Helen referred to Scully as his “wife.” Maybe that’s what he’s afraid of, Scully thought bitterly. He’s afraid of me.

“How does it begin?” Helen prompted.

“I wake up.”

“How do you wake up?”

“That’s kind of – uh – personal -” His eyes darted to Scully’s face and bounced off when he saw that she was looking at him.

Helen smiled understandingly. “I see in your file that your wife is a physician. I’m sure it will come as no surprise to her that many men begin their day by waking in a state of arousal. Is that what you’re trying to say, Fox?”

He frowned and waited for Scully to giggle. He looked at her and her eyes were clear; no trace of laughter. He looked down, but then realized he didn’t really want to be looking at his lap at this moment, so he looked at the picture of the dying flowers in a vase that was on the wall. “Uh, yeah,” he muttered, almost inaudibly. “But she, uh, you know, doesn’t have to -” He stopped and let out a hard breath. Helen didn’t interrupt again. So he forced himself to go on. “So anyway, I take a shower and brush my teeth and get dressed and get ready for the day.”

“And where is Dana, Fox? Is she still sleeping? Has she already left for work?” Helen asked.

“She…well…she’s eating breakfast. Since I don’t eat breakfast, I don’t join her. But she slips into the bathroom while I’m in there to brush her teeth. And she ends up noticing that I haven’t shaved yet. I don’t shave in the shower because I know it clogs up the drain and she hates that. So she ends up sitting on the counter, and I’m standing between her legs and she…she shaves me.”

Scully’s heart was pounding and she couldn’t breathe. What about this was making her so incredibly hot? Was it the self-conscious honesty in his tone, or the fact that he was saying this in front of her even though he didn’t really want to? Or was it because she could see it, so real she could almost feel it, and she wanted to be there? Mulder looked at her again and this time she was the one who looked away.

“So anyway, I go to work and I get home and it’s late and I turn on the TV for noise and the lamp and pull out some books to do some research and if I’m really lucky the game is on.”

“Where is Dana?” Helen prompted again.

The look on his face was surprised. She’s at home at her house, he thought, but then realized he wasn’t playing the game. He was describing an evening at his house the way things were now. Because he couldn’t imagine a life with Scully. He couldn’t imagine her putting up with him. She hadn’t even wanted to look at him after he included his shaving fantasy. “She – um – she’s sitting at the computer. Typing. Her report.”

My report to Them about him, Scully thought and the pain in her chest was intense.

“But I’m restless and I know that I’ll disturb her, so I go out and pick up dinner. It’s Chinese takeout. She doesn’t even notice I’m gone, so when I get back with the dinner, it surprises her. And she smiles. We sit down on the floor and eat it while watching those paranormal type shows they have on the Fox network and drink just the right kind of beer that goes with Chinese food.”

This is a fantasy, Scully thought, since she wasn’t sure beer went with Chinese food.

“But then, you know, the shows go off and dinner’s over, so I pick up all the little containers and put them in the trash. She’s not all that interested in finishing her report now, but I have about twenty books to look through before work tomorrow. Since she takes care of herself, she goes to bed. Maybe she tells me not to stay up too late. And I sit back down on the couch and turn the TV off so it won’t keep her awake and start reading the books. About three or four in the morning, I probably fall asleep on the couch with my face in one of the books.” Mulder finished and felt like he should add “ta- da!” to indicate that he was finished, because neither of the women moved or said something.

Helen was frowning and Mulder assumed that meant he’d screwed up royally. Well, he’d warned her, he thought. He looked at Scully and thought he saw tears in her eyes. He’d really fucked it up then, he thought, and sat miserably waiting for Helen to pass judgment on him.

“You have low self-esteem, don’t you?” Helen said gently to Mulder.

“No,” he said stubbornly.

Helen nodded. “I can see it and so can your wife, even if you can’t,” she told him. Mulder looked at Scully and then closed his eyes. He didn’t want those tears to be there because she pitied him, damn it! He didn’t want that. But he said nothing. “In this fantasy, you ask nothing of her. And you expect nothing from her in return. The two of you don’t make love. The only thing you do together is have dinner, and you go out and get it for her. To me, it sounds more like the troubled marriage of two individuals who have grown so far apart they don’t even speak to each other any more. I don’t think this is your ideal day, Mr. Mulder. I think you’re too afraid of loss and hoping to even imagine a perfect day. I can recommend a good therapist in your area, and I think you should try to work some of these issues out.”

Mulder swallowed hard and accepted the sheet of paper Helen wrote the shrink’s name on. He wasn’t going to go. But he wasn’t going to fight, not now. He felt too exposed.

“Dana?” Helen asked. Mulder tried to relax but he didn’t know what Scully would say, so he couldn’t.

Her voice was low and breathy as she started to speak. She barely sounded like Scully. “We would wake up together and he would be holding me. He wouldn’t want to get up, but I’d make him, and we’d fight and get in each other’s way in the bathroom, but we’d laugh about it. We’d eat breakfast together and then go to work.”

Scully looked at Helen, seeking approval. She knew she was being too boring and she felt like she was talking too quickly. She wasn’t doing this for Helen’s approval, was she, she realized, and looked directly at Mulder. He looked down, but she continued to directly address him. “At work, my partner would surprise me with a new matter to look into. He might demonstrate the finer points by using slides or an overhead projector. He would suggest some crazy, insane theory on what was causing the problem, and I’d get called into a meeting, and I’d be glad because it would give me a little time to think of a rational explanation for him. The meeting would turn out to be my boss commending me on a job well done, rather than scowling and pointing out every typographical error and smear on his copy of my report. On the way back, I might stop by the lab and say hi to the boys there while I pick up samples that turn out to be something that will blow my partner’s mind. I’ll tell him my new scientific explanation, but we’ll have to go and check things out anyway. Since this is a perfect day, he lets me drive. In fact, he’s such a gentleman that in anticipation of letting me drive, he moved the seat forward that morning when he got out of the car. We interview some witnesses and I do an autopsy on the body and he doesn’t get grossed out and leave. He stays and watches – or if he doesn’t watch, maybe he faces away and we talk. Under no circumstances does he say I should go do something, leaving me to ask, ‘What’re you going to do?’”

“Dana, this is very interesting, but we’re discussing your married life,” Helen interrupted. Scully smiled. Helen didn’t know they worked together. Mulder had the faintest smile on his face. Amused. He understood every word she was saying.

“So after this wonderful day of working in absolute harmony with my partner, I go home. We have dinner and talk. It’s a simple dinner, maybe just some vegetables and a lean cut of chicken or something, but there’s candlelight and wine. And since I just started this case, I don’t have any reports to write about it. Miraculously, all of the scientific journals I haven’t had time to read are read, so my evening is entirely free. So is his. We light a fire and spread out in the living room and play trivial pursuit by firelight. It’s a gas log because he doesn’t feel safe around fire. We have a dog and it comes over to nibble on Mulder’s toes and he screams, but he’s kidding. He says it’s an ugly rat, but I know he’s joking because it’s my dog and he loves it because he loves me. I beat him at Trivial Pursuit. This means he has to do my will. My will is that he draws my bath. Of course he joins me in it, and this sends water splashing all over the floor but it doesn’t matter, since it’s only water and it’ll dry so we don’t have to clean it up. We go to bed, still laughing and talking, and we make love and I fall asleep in his arms.”

With no more words to say, Scully felt odd. While she’d been talking, she’d been able to see it all happening. Now that she stopped, it seemed like a silly fantasy. She didn’t want to know what Helen thought it meant. She really didn’t want to know what Mulder thought of it.

“You’re idealistic about marriage,” Helen told Scully. “Your parents had a good marriage, one that as a child you idolized. Your perfect day sounds almost like a modern fairy tale of good feelings. It could occur just as easily in a castle as in your house. You have issues with being in control – you have to win the game, he loves your dog, he does what you want. The fantasy element is that here is a man with no will – he’s like Prince Charming without a name or a line of dialogue. When you do talk, you laugh, it’s witty, like the fantasy of a movie. There’s no realism in this at all. Your parents had to work at their perfect marriage, that’s a side that perhaps you never saw.”

Scully felt she was being chastised and she didn’t like it. She felt she was being told her fantasy was wrong and stupid.

“The most realistic part of the fantasy, interestingly,” Helen went on, “is your work day. Things happen that you can’t control. Normal things happen. You describe a normal day, only with things happening the way you wish they would. It’s not uncommon for this to come out, since you have been to work but you haven’t been married before, but I got the impression you like your partner better than you like your husband, which I find rather…disconcerting.”

Scully thought she heard Mulder snort.

“Overall, though, the two of you are complimentary since you are polar opposites. His absolute realism paired with your need for the fantastic should -”

Neither Scully or Mulder heard anything Helen said after that. They were both working too hard not to laugh. Helen had just said that Mulder was a realist and Scully dealt in fantasy, when nothing could be further from the truth! They managed to hold onto their laughter until they were released into the hallway, where they collapsed against each other hysterically.

The laughter faded quickly, though, and they were left touching. Helen’s misdiagnosis didn’t change the fact that they had both been telling the truth in there. And the truth could sometimes be an uncomfortable thing, especially for them.

“Mulder, I -”

“Scully, I -”

They both stopped and smiled at each other. But the moment and whatever they had been about to share was lost when a woman swathed in gypsy clothes seemed to appear out of nowhere and swept down upon them. She grabbed Scully’s hand and said in a thick Slovakian accent, “Come, I must tell the future.” Scully looked back at Mulder and he followed as she was pulled into a dim room by the strange woman.

They were seated at a small table. The woman pushed aside a crystal ball and began to shuffle a pack of cards. “You are new married, yes?” she asked, looking at Scully’s ring.

“Well -” said Mulder, because he wasn’t sure it was a good idea to lie to a psychic. It might do something terrible to your karma or something.

“Yes,” Scully said, since she didn’t believe in any of this anyway.

The woman began to spread the cards out on the table in a formation. Scully saw that they were tarot cards and wondered not for the first time how cards with pictures on them were going to divine the future. Mulder asked, “Aren’t we supposed to ask a question and then shuffle the cards ourselves?”

“What kind of psychic do you think I am?” demanded the woman. “I ask question. I ask, what kind of marriage have you in future.” Then she went “ooooooooh,” as she looked at the cards. Scully imagined they taught you to do that in psychic school. Did psychics go to school? She was sure she would have noticed “Card Reading and Ooohing” in her class catalog in college.

“What?” asked Mulder, and he actually grabbed Scully’s hand like he was tense and scared of that “ooh.” He knew better than to believe this, Scully thought.

“Temperance is the card of where you are now,” said the psychic. “This card symbolizes the promise and renewal of a relationship. The gold and silver cups represent male and female, conscious and unconscious, being joined in feeling. The polarity of water and earth in the card reflects the power to unite opposites.” She looked at them. “This is a very good card to begin marriage on. The Fool will learn to have a balanced heart.”

Her wizened finger moved to point again. “This card. Ten of Swords. It is what conflicts you. We have – very interesting – the ending of an ancient curse through the fairness of Justice. You two are in law enforcement, justice department, right?” she asked and Scully could only nod. They had an ancient curse, too, didn’t they – Mulder’s father’s legacy in the Project. “There was no hope in sight. And now freedom. Warning: this is not fairy tale happiness. This means work toward progress of future.”

This was weird. It was right. Scully looked at Mulder and she could see he was thinking the same thing.

“Four of Pentacles. Your situation. Reversed, so negative value. You’re too attached to your position now. You have to let it go to move forward. You have jealousy, low self value. You keep this, it leads to loss.”

Mulder remembered Helen the shrink telling him he had low self esteem. And he thought of Scully’s efforts to not disturb the relationship they already had.

The psychic continued. “The Five of Wands is behind this situation. You have the completion of a creative idea. Maybe a ruse.” She was looking at Mulder. Did she know he’d created this entire situation? he wondered. He knew lying to a psychic was a bad idea. “If you are going to realize potential, you must work. You see a theme here yet? Potential. But work.”

“Your past,” she said. “Four of Wands. Very dull. Early reward from this idea. You think you won. Your friends helped you with this. Perhaps your boss. You hope the early success will continue. You were getting somewhere in the past…what happens?”

“Your future is the Ace of Pentacles. See this man?” she asked, tapping the card. Mulder and Scully leaned in to look. “This is Poseidon. God of the Sea. We are on a boat now, no? Very interesting you have water in your future. Is good because Poseidon is a fertility god.” Mulder saw Scully wince. “He is also husband of Mother Earth. You -” The psychic looked at Scully. “You are very much Earth Mother type. The fall leaf color hair. You are mother type. To him and in general. You take care. That future is Poseidon, good husband to you, this looks good, no?” Scully remembered her mother saying the man for Dana would be a man who loved the sea. She felt sad because the psychic seemed to agree – but Mulder hated the ocean. “Bad is, Poseidon is a force of nature. Water. And we are on the water. You must be very careful. But could be good. The water has the energy need to make your creative idea and ruse real.”

Scully looked at Mulder again. The woman seemed to know that they were lying. This was a little too on target for her to dismiss out of hand and Scully wanted to dismiss it, very much.

“Okay. Where you are. Three of Swords. You got your conflict in the open. Your heartbreak is revealed. Much hurt. But this can bring the release from stagnant, nasty tension. You need this conflict to reach your good end. Could be bad card. Doesn’t look so bad here.”

All the fighting, Scully thought. All the mess ups, all the wrong things said. They could end in something good? No, this was a pyschic, she wasn’t getting paid to tell them they would have a terrible life together.

“How others affect you. Five of Swords. Reversed. Turned negative. You got to accept your limits. And you have many. Something about a family – a family inheritance. You seem self-sufficient, but your families are with you always. Has caused major problems and set back in relationship. You got lots of false pride, and lots of fear coming from what has happened with these family members, the legacies they have given. You must leave that behind.”

As she spoke, Mulder catalogued this as truth in his mind. His sister. His father. Scully’s sister. They way his mother treated him and hid the truth. The faint pressure he always felt from Scully’s mother. Even the death of Scully’s father so early in their partnership. The way her brother hated him. Yes, they had a lot of baggage, he thought.

Oh, come on, everyone’s heard of mother-in-law jokes, Scully thought. The fact that she was working so hard to dismiss this only spoke of how it affected her.

“Nine of Pentacles is your hopes and fears. You are both afraid of yourself. You want satisfaction. But you are afraid to give. There is much danger. A dangerous venture. Maybe this voyage was a dangerous venture. You will have your reward. But you might have it alone.”

Chilling, they both thought.

“Now. The prize. The moment you been waiting for. The outcome!” The psychic’s eyes danced until she looked at the card. “Oh. King of Cups. More water. The water forms the relationship. The water can bring you together. Maybe cruise is good, then, huh? But maybe not. This guy -” She tapped the card. “He is a wounded healer. He helps others, but not himself. He got no trust in his life and so he can’t have no good relationship. Since you’re asking about relationship, this maybe bad. He can have emotional contacts, but they make him uncomfortable and insecure. Maybe he’s afraid of rejection. Don’t know. He is moody and sensitive. Don’t give up control to no one. Sound like anyone you know?” She looked amused as she looked at them.

My god, how does she know? Scully surprised herself by thinking it. She just described me, but at the same time the same description applies to Mulder. Hurt – control – I don’t want to believe this, she thought.

The woman continued. “You must be rendered absolutely powerless and torn to pieces before you can begin to grow.” She looked at them sharply. “You two have not had sex,” she proclaimed and they both jumped, making her laugh. “No, this maybe good. You fuck, you come, you scream a little, you got better relationship. What more you want from outcome card? But, could be bad. We got danger coming from the water in these cards. You could get hurt. You maybe got to die in water and come back, next life you got a better chance at happiness.”

Scully gaped at her.

“Pretend I not say that. Probably not happen. Probably what I said first. You two gotta do it before you get good relationship. This guy, he also have problems with trust. Solve problems with trust and you got some hope. The picture means, he wants to let go. But he’s afraid. He’s afraid he’ll drown if he lets go of control. You don’t realize, sometimes losing control can feel pretty good,” she proclaimed.

There was a moment of silence where Mulder and Scully just stared at her, thinking how incredibly on target she had seemed to be. And wondering what that meant about her predictions for the future. “So, you believe now?” she asked melodramatically. “You want to know if good dead ancestors approve of your union? You’re American, you don’t care so much for ancestors, but their opinions must be respected. As you got in your cards, they can really mess things up for you.”

She reached for her crystal ball and rubbed her hands over it. Scully was amazed that touching the glass left no fingerprints. The psychic then peered in. “Wow. Man. You got a whole crowd in here. Got some old guys. Got some young women. Even a black man! He’s cute!”

Mulder’s eyes slid to Scully. How would a psychic know about Mr. X? Why would a woman making things up about their families chose to include a black man when they were both so white?

“Okay, here we have our spirit guide. He wants to talk to you,” the psychic said, looking at Scully.

“Me?” asked Scully.

The psychic nodded and then she began to bark in high, yippy tones. Scully’s mouth dropped open and it was all she could do not to run out of the room. The barking sounded oddly like Queequeg. Soon the psychic stopped, and said to Scully, “You get the message?”

“I think it got lost in the translation,” Scully said cautiously.

“That happens sometimes,” shrugged the psychic. “He say sorry, time to move on, see ya later, all that. He’s back with his real owner, and he’s a happy dog. He never liked handsome there much anyway.” She nodded to Mulder. Scully frowned, because it was true Queequeg hadn’t liked Mulder very much. “There are too many people here to have them all talk. Take forever. You got lots of dead people in your lives. Very weird. Anyway, we take a vote. Doggie do the asking. Do you approve, yes or no?”

The psychic waited, as though listening on the other side of an ephemeral curtain. Then she began to relay the responses. Old man say, be careful Fox. Other old man agree. Red faced old man say be happy Starbuck. Young woman say Go for it Dana! There are others…many dislike both of you. That’s okay, they in cold dark place and not bother you. Doggie want to add vote. Doggie say he no like man. Oh…bad doggie! Bad doggie!” The pyschic looked at them. “Connection broken. Doggie must be punished. No lifting legs allowed in heaven. Bad doggie.”

“At least he wasn’t biting people,” Mulder leaned over to whisper in Scully’s ear.

“So,” said the psychic. “We got some relatives with warning be careful. This go with warning in the cards. Water may cause danger. Water may even cause death. There are powerful natural forces at work. Watch you. Other relatives say be happy. This nice, no? But mostly relatives of one don’t know you two together, so they don’t really care. This happens sometimes with ancestors. We got to respect them, they don’t got to respect us. You got a shot at happiness, kids. That be the bottom line. But you got to grow to do it. Got to let go of fear. And be careful of the water. And maybe try having sex now that you’re married! Jeez!”

Scully and Mulder exchanged crazy smiles, not knowing what to make of anything she’d just said, whether to take her seriously or not.

“What you waiting for? Go!” cried the woman. “Luau start soon!”

At this exclamation, the pair left the psychic’s den. They didn’t speak as they walked along the corridor, back out to the open deck of the ship. They didn’t know what to say to one another. Mulder wasn’t sure he wanted to believe it because it was so easy to believe. Scully didn’t want to believe it because it forcasted danger and yet it had seemed to be so on target. The polling of the ancestors had unnerved her. She thought she had been able to feel their presence in the room. She realized Mulder was holding her hand tightly. She looked up at him and he smiled at her.

“So you think we should listen to her?” he asked.

“What do you mean, Mulder?” she asked back.

“We should make love and then we’ll be fine.”

Scully didn’t have a response. She didn’t want to say no, but neither did she want to say yes. They were interrupted by the approach of the unshakable Julie. “There you are! It’s almost time for the luau! Make sure you dress appropriately!” she cried before she raced off to harass another couple.

“What do you suppose is appropriate?” Scully asked Mulder.

“Hawaiian shirts and leis?” he asked. His grin indicated he knew he was almost making a pun and she decided not to groan and give him that satisfaction. But she couldn’t help the face she made when she thought about Hawaiian shirts. “Cheer up, Scully, it could be worse,” he told her, squeezing her hand.

“How,” she said in a flat voice, not believing anything could be worse than dressing in ugly clothes and roasting a pig on a spit.

“It could be square dancing,” he said, and she realized he was right. Dressing in ugly clothes and dancing in public would be much worse, Scully thought.

• • •

Part 10

They wandered back to their room. Scully was unsure of her next move. Yes, square dancing would be worse, but by how much? How much worse could anything be other than Matt and Julie and Daniel and Tanya dressed in Hawaiian prints, having fun and dancing?

Mulder had stretched out on the bed, giving Scully the impression that he was considering their morning. He turned his head and grinned at her. “Do you think they’ll offer belly dancing lessons?”

She groaned. It had just gotten worse. “Actually, Mulder, yes. I’m absolutely certain that Julie would just love to teach you the finer points of belly dancing.” He rolled his eyes and turned to stare at the ceiling again. “Don’t for one second think that I missed the looks you were giving each other.” She grinned back at him, but he wasn’t looking.

“I don’t know, Scully, I’ve kind of had my eye on Matt.”

They both laughed, relaxing once again in the aftermath of the sobering psychic reading. “Mulder, if I promise not to get mad, will you admit to feeding that woman all that information?”

He stood up and walked over to her, shaking his head. “No such luck. I was hoping you’d done it. That was uncanny.” He rubbed at his face, realizing for the first time the source of the itchiness. “Hey, Scully, I forgot to shave this morning, care to help me enact my perfect day?”

She blushed and averted her eyes, trying to hide how very much she’d enjoy that very thing. “Here I thought you were trying to turn me on with your rugged, manly look.”

He leaned in close, launching a serious invasion on her personal space and blocking her escape route with his arms. “If I wanted to turn you on, I’d just put my glasses on.”

She blushed deeper and wished she could crawl under the rug. “I wish I’d never mentioned that.”

He grinned, obviously enjoying her embarrassment. “Oh, but Scully, now I understand why you walk into my office with that look on your face.”

She’d gotten past being embarrassed and wasn’t happy to be on the receiving end of his teasing. “Oh? And what look would that be?”

“The look that says you want to lock the door and ravage me senseless.”

He was teasing her, she hoped. But she was glad that everything was going all right between them. They were happy and flirting and he was standing in her personal space and she wasn’t complaining. She lowered her eyelashes seductively, as well as she could manage standing a foot below him. “The door’s locked now, Mulder.” She smiled suggestively, enjoying the surprised, then pleased look on his face. Both of them leaned forward, thinking that finally they would kiss.

It wasn’t in the cards. The psychic should have warned them. A staccato rap at the door distracted them, Mulder guiltily stepping away from Scully who was letting out the breath she’d been holding, trying not to seem disappointed. He pulled open the door, talking to Scully over his shoulder, not caring the slightest bit who was at the door.

“How are we ever going to have sex if we keep getting interrupted?”

Scully smiled, laughing nervously. Yes, it was something they both wanted to happen, but they had only hinted at it and joked about it. Something about Mulder’s deadpan suggested to her that he was dead serious about sleeping with her. Consequences be damned. It frightened her.

The woman at the door let her mouth hang open for a second, managing once in her life to actually think about what her annoying interruptions were interrupting. It took Mulder a second to figure out who it was. Under the long black wig, the string bikini top, and the grass skirt and toe rings was their annoying little waif friend Julie. A brilliantly fake blue flower in her fake hair and a bright pink lei completed the look. Matt joined her a moment later, an obnoxiously orange tan having recently been added to his skin with the help of tanning cream. The orange clashed horribly with the bright blues and greens and reds in his shirt, but then, so did the lei that matched Julie’s. The cream had stained the bottom cuff of his tan shorts, and stopped just short of the socks he’d been wearing when he put it on, but now that he was wearing sandals, it left something to the imagination. Namely, taste. Both had sunglasses push up onto their foreheads and their trademark thousand kilowatt smiles.

“Guys!” Was it possible Julie’s voice had become squeakier? He hadn’t thought it possible. “You’re going to miss the luau!”

Scully, afraid that Mulder would actually agree to such a display because of the presence of a bikini clad beauty, pulled him out of the way and planted herself between the two. “Jules, darling, we haven’t a thing to wear!” She heard Mulder snicker behind her and fought to keep a straight face. It wasn’t hard when she thought about her plans of locking the door and ripping enough of Mulder’s clothes off to prevent another distraction.

Julie linked arms with Scully, dismayed at the way Scully pulled away. She wasn’t being rude, she just didn’t want the tanning cream to ruin her sweatshirt. But Matt grabbed Scully’s shoulder, pulling her out of the room and attached himself to Mulder. “Let’s go! Up and at ‘em! We’ve got things for you to wear.”

Scully continued to resist. “I don’t think you’ve got anything in my size.” She knew it was useless. Julie could stand in for her as a body double.

“Nonsense, Dana! You’re what, a 6? I’ve got an extra skirt that’ll fit you just fine. I’ve got another top too. It’ll fit you like a glove!”

Scully ignored Mulder’s leer. “I am not wearing a neon green bikini, nor am I wearing a grass skirt. No!” She tried to walk back into the room, but Matt pulled the door shut in her face and Scully instantly remembered seeing the key lying on the dresser.

“You won’t have to, Dana. I’ve got an orange one!”

Scully winced. Orange was not only the worst possible color combination with her skin tone imaginable, but it would also serve to point out just how long it had been since she’d been on a beach. Three or four years, at least. But the unbridled joy of the pair could not be diminished and Mulder and Scully found themselves being whisked off in opposite directions to prepare for their doom, whoops, that would be luau.

She winced as the lotion hit her back. Coming from a bottle in an air conditioned cabin, the tanning cream was freezing. And Scully was already adamantly opposed to having it smeared on her anyway. But Julie wouldn’t let her do it herself, saying, in complete truth, that Scully would need help applying it to her back in such a way so it wouldn’t be too obvious. As if the fact that she’d been pale as a sheet moments earlier wouldn’t give that fact away. She stared at the bare wall as Julie massaged away. At Scully’s insistence, Julie had managed to locate a bikini top that was not neon, it was purple, but it wouldn’t glow. Scully considered it a compromise. The skirt was itchy as all hell and was at least a size too big for her, giving away Julie’s lie that it was hers. It was slung low across her hips, leaving little to the imagination, but there was nothing she could do about it. All the safety pins in the world wouldn’t keep the thing at her waist. Julie accessorized her as if she was playing with a Barbie doll, sliding on one piece of jewelry, frowning, and replacing it with another. Currently, Julie had settled on a thick silver bracelet positioned up above Scully’s elbow and huge silver earrings that Scully had every intention of removing before she left the room. Both ankles were adorned with silver jewelry that made an incredibly irritating noise when she moved her feet. Julie had presented her with a box of toe rings, at which Scully had merely refused to even look. Her mentions that she looked better in gold went ignored as Julie continued her costuming session.

Setting down the bottle of lotion and washing her hands, Julie produced a curling iron and went about twisting Scully’s hair into a wild array of curls. She left most of them free, but pinned one section near her face up and decorated her with a silk flower that matched the purple top. The tattoo had thrown her at first, but then gave her an idea. As soon as Scully’s hair was finished, she pulled out body paints and painted a tiny rose on the front of Scully’s shoulder. Annoyed as she was with the whole spectacle and the idea in general, Scully liked the rose. Julie was quite an artist. The make up artist moved on then, attacking Scully with blue mascara and bright pink blush. Next appeared the purple lipstick and Scully finally put a stop to the horror. She backed up, trying not to cry at the combined swishy whisper of the skirt and the jingle of the anklets. She shook her head forcefully.

“No. No purple lipstick. No. I’m a fair skinned redhead.”

Julie put on her best mix of happy and condescending expressions and turned Scully to face the full length mirror. “Not anymore!”

Scully just stared. Her skin had tanned nicely, not a hint of the orange goo Matt had used. Julie had done a wonderful job on her hair, even with the addition of the flower. The shadows the ringlets created made her hair appear much darker, blending nicely with her fresh tan. Even the outfit itself looked good, and she had to admit she had the figure for it. The rose was a nice touch. Somehow, with all her aggravating quirks, Julie had worked magic. Scully didn’t look like Julie did, not like she was playing dress up. She looked good. She could only think of one thing: Mulder eat your heart out.

Amazed with her transformation, Scully let Julie prod her until she sat on the bed. The Julie pulled one of Scully’s bare feet onto her stool and reached for nail polish. “Julie? Nail polish? We’ve already taken forever.”

Julie just smiled and embarked on painting. “90 seconds. That’s all it takes. Isn’t science amazing?”

Scully just stared as the bright pink polish hardened on her toes, even offering her hands before Julie had the chance to ask. She looked good. And knowing that she looked good was enough to override the silly feeling that overtook her walking around in a grass skirt and bright purple bikini. Two minutes later, after checking the polish herself and acknowledging that it was in fact dry, Scully mutely followed Julie out the door and out onto the deck where the luau was being held. She even forgot about the earrings when Julie handed her a light green lei.

The loud music and voices overpowered her for a second. She was used to dimly lit rooms and cushions and little sailor suits on the employees. They were no less noticeable, all the girls had the same waist length black wig and green bikinis. Their male counterparts all had identically orange skin. Scully wondered for a moment why they didn’t get the same realistic looking stuff she’d received. Then she saw him. She just knew it was him, standing off to himself, leaning over the railing, with a decided slant to his shoulders. She knew he assumed she’d talked her way out of it and was abandoning him. But she couldn’t leave. Not before she got a chance to tease him over the ridiculous outfit Matt had given him, looking every bit as goofy in shorts as she had always thought he would, wearing what had to be the most outlandish shirt on earth. He must have picked it out himself, she thought. It reminded her of one of his favorite ties. He was even wearing sandals and a lei that matched her own. She snickered as she approached.

He felt two arms encircle his waist. Finally, finally Scully had returned from the great beyond and was there to share the misery. But then he looked down at the deeply tanned arms that were clasped around him. The bright pink nail polish caught his eye, but the ring that stood out in stark contrast to her skin did not. He took the wrists and pushed them behind him.

The woman was not deterred, and her seductive voice fairly purred forth. “What’s a guy like you doing all alone in a place like this?” The arms returned.

He pushed them away again, stepping sideways to avoid another embrace. “I’m married.” He was startled at just how easily the words slipped out.

She grinned at his back. He had no idea it was her. She sidled up to him, delicately tracing her finger over his arm, continuing to use the low voice to throw him. “Who’s the lucky girl?”

He pulled his arm away. The woman was torturing him. And she smelled so good. “What makes you think she’s so lucky?”

Fearing his nonexistent self esteem issues were rising up, she turned and leaned her back on the railing, pushing herself between him and ocean. “I happen to think she’s very lucky.”

He looked down, not seeing for a moment. “Look, why don’t you…” His voice trailed off as he recognized her face. He let out a whistle that drew an unseen blush to her tanned face. He backed up, signaling for her to turn around so he could admire the view.

Any other man, she would have decked for the appreciative gleam in his eye. But she loved that it was coming from Mulder. And she loved that she was going to hold his attention for a while. She smiled back, feeling uncharacteristically bold because of her new persona. She stepped forward and ran her fingers down his chest, starting at his shoulders and stopping at his waist. His arms wrapped around her, lightly pulling her closer.

“I think I might have to hire Julie to come live with us.”

She raised her eyebrow at him. “Us? Planning on moving in with me?”

“No, you’re moving in with me.”

She shook her head, her heart beating rapidly at the dangerous ground they were treading on. “Is that so? Well, then I’m bringing my couch.”

He shook his head. “Sorry, miss, my couch stays.” He loved his couch. He’d keep it until the day he died.

“We could keep both of them, you know, put them back to back, play a little Battleship.”

They both smiled at his words turned around on him, being used in a much more friendly environment. “I’ve always loved Battleship.”

“You’ll have to teach me, Mulder. I’ve never played.” She loved the feeling of being in his arms, especially with his hands gently resting on her bare lower back.

He moved one hand, causing her to whimper slightly. Placing a finger to her lips, he silenced her. “Fox.” Shock won out over her other emotions and her mouth fell open slightly. He smiled. “There’s lots of things I plan on teaching you, honey.” It wasn’t used as an insult or subordinating comment. It was actually a term of endearment. She liked it.

She broke eye contact first, fearing a heart attack from the way her heart continued to pound. She heard the music lower, the frantic dance beat giving way to softer soothing music. “Let’s dance.”

His smile faded and he regarded her for a moment. “Let’s not.” His voice was choked and had to drop to a whisper to get the words out. She met his eyes again and slowly closed them as him mouth descended towards hers.

• • •

Part 11

A weight like a half-ton of bricks slammed into Scully’s back directly between her shoulder blades, corresponding with a tremendous crash. Tears came into her eyes, which flew open as her body reacted to the shock, and she turned around gingerly to see what had happened. Needless to say, her lips and Mulder’s never touched. “I’m so sorry,” Matt was saying over and over again as he stood behind her, just staring down at a spilled, ruined mess of hors d’oevres that had once been on the silver tray in his hands. It was the tray that he’d hit her with. He wiped his sweating brow with the back of his arm. “I didn’t see you there.”

“I’m sure,” said Scully, aware that the sweat running into Matt’s eyes was as orange as his skin. “That tanning solution is an eye irritant, you need to go rinse your eyes with water,” she told him. Meanwhile Tanya and Julie were rushing to pick up the food.

“There goes my appetite,” Mulder commented.

“Mine too,” Scully said dryly, stepping around the mess to follow him to a different location.

“Let me see,” Mulder said, placing one hand on her back and turning her around. She felt his fingers against her skin.

“Bruised?” she asked.

“Not yet.”

“Which means it will be.”

“Even with this orange stuff on you, I can see a big red welt. You’re fair, you bruise anyway,” he said and she looked at him, surprised that he’d noticed that about her. Not that she was fair skinned, that was pretty obvious, but that she tended to bruise. They stood there a moment looking at each other until she realized that his hand was still resting against her hip. Rather far down on her hip, actually. Where her tattoo was, if she wasn’t mistaken. And she didn’t want him playing with her tattoo.

“I’m glad you didn’t let them put that stuff on you,” she told him.

“There was no way,” he said. “I’m not that vain.”

“And I am, is that what you’re saying?” she snapped.

“Scully -” he protested, but she was already walking away. He followed her, but the place where she sat down was already crowded with people. There was room for her to sit, and she nodded to the people there as though she knew them, but there was no place for him. Her eyes flashed at him defiantly, and he slunk away to sit on the opposite of the big circle from her. At least he could see her. If she would look at him. What the hell had he done wrong this time anyway? he wondered.

“It will take some time for Wilbur here to be ready -” said Matt, who’d apparently recovered from his tanning incident. He now had a white stripe on his face across his eyes where he had washed the stuff off him. He looked like a reverse bandit of some kind and absolutely ridiculous. Mulder also had a problem with giving a name to a dead animal you were about to eat. It turned his stomach. ” – So we have entertainment for you,” he finished triumphantly and moved out of the way.

Tanya, Julie, and another similarly outfitted, black-wigged, twig- figured woman moved into the center of the ring. Mulder thought how much better Scully looked in the same ridiculous outfit. He wished he could tell her so, but she was all the way over there. The three women struck poses like Hawaiian dancers and one of them opened her mouth. Tanya. Mulder steeled himself for “The sun’ll come out, tomorrow,” but what she sang was actually much worse.

“Tiny bubbles,” she began and Mulder had to hold his breath to keep from laughing. Then the three guys came out onto the “stage” strumming ukuleles and he had to turn away. No one else looked amused. No one else seemed to think this was ridiculous. No one else seemed to have been overtaken by the horrible feeling that they had been beaming into a terrible 1960s beach blanket movie. Since he didn’t want to laugh, he decided to become irritated by its utter brainlessness instead. He crossed his arms and furrowed his brow into a scowl. He decided that if he saw Frankie and Annette he would jump overboard. He threw in a pout and looked at Scully. She had an odd look on her face, part puzzled and part amazed. He wished he could whisper to her that this was an X File and make her smile at him.

Then the most amazing thing happened. The women moved out into the crowd and so did the men. Each of them selected one of the unsuspecting now well adjusted couples and pulled them into the ring with them. Matt selected Scully. She shook her head, but he insisted that she get to her feet and join them. Mulder wanted to shout for him to unhand her, but he held his tongue. Scully didn’t deserve any more embarrassment. This was enough.

It was a hula dance lesson. Just what Scully had wanted. The other two women, who in Mulder’s opinion were slightly too hefty to be running around in bikini tops and grass skirts, picked up the delicate arm movements and hip shaking quickly. Scully looked like she didn’t even want to try. She stood there looking fairly miserable, backing farther and farther away from Tanya and Julie and their minions.

Mulder was on his feet in a second when he saw what was happening, but the crowd of seated viewers was too thick. In horror, he saw his wife – wait, no, Scully wasn’t his wife, was she, not really – he saw Scully back up too close to where Wilbur their dinner was roasting over an open fire. The flame jumped easily to the back of her dried grass skirt. “Dana!” he screamed, worried about her. She didn’t even look up.

She picks a great time to forget her name, Mulder thought, dashing through the crowd and not caring who he stepped on to get to her. “Scully, move!” he cried, just as she was beginning to see the smoke and feel the heat and realize what was happening. She turned around and looked down in horror. Mulder’s scream alerted the others, who looked up and noticed Scully’s skirt was burning. By the time he reached her, she was surrounded by hula girls and geeks with ukuleles who drew her away from the fire and beat the flame out of her grass skirt.

“Let me through!” Mulder yelled at them, pushing people out of his way. “Scully, are you all right?” he asked, locking eyes with her and reaching out.

She didn’t take his hands. “I’m fine,” she said coldly and he didn’t understand her reaction. She saw his confusion at her words, but she didn’t care. She was mortified. She’d made an ass out of herself in front of the entire ship yet again, and she’d ruined all of Julie’s hard work and the time that the other woman had spent making her look beautiful. Not to mention that she’d been mean to Mulder again and messed that up. The longer she stood there, surrounded, and thought about it, the more she thought she was a complete social failure.

“We’ll get you to the ship’s medic,” Julie offered.

“No!” Scully said, and Mulder saw panic in her eyes. He understood why instantly and moved to her side.

“We have two options,” he said, leaning down and talking directly into her ear so no one else could hear. “You can leave the skirt here, or you can leave it on and I’ll walk out of here behind you so no one can see you.” He knew she was worried about exposing her self to everyone who’d come to the luau, which if he knew the handiwork of their perky counselors, was everyone on board. If anyone had been able to escape their eagle eyes, he’d like to have interviewed that person for tips days ago.

She looked up into his eyes. “We have another option, Mulder,” she said softly.

“What’s that?” The way she was looking at him entranced him. Her eyes were perfectly innocent and absolutely seductive at the same time.

“You could carry me – oh!” The words had no sooner left her lips than Mulder scooped her up with his arm around her shoulders and the other behind her knees. The crowd made a sound as though they were spectators at some kind of thrill-movie. Scully wrapped her arm around his neck and pressed her face against him. He almost dropped her out of shock. She tucked her head underneath his chin and he could feel her breathing. Mulder prayed for strength and began to walk.

The surprise of his romantic action was effective for a few seconds. Then Julie began to follow and as she walked, she talked. “We’ll put her down in the library, and have the medic take a look. You’re not seriously burned, are you, darling? It was terribly careless of us, having that fire out in the open like that. Maybe we should have had this all indoors.”

Mulder groaned. An indoor fire would probably had a completely different set of problems, he thought. He’d never thought blondes were dumb before, but Julie was fast changing his mind.

Scully stiffened in his arms. She thought he was groaning because she was too heavy, or because he didn’t really want to be carrying her. “Put me down,” she said.

“We’re almost there.”

“I said put me down!”

“Scully, keep still or I’ll -” The words trailed off as he lost his grip and she slipped to the floor with a tiny thud. ” – drop you,” he finished lamely.

“Are you all right?” gushed Julie.

“Please just leave me alone,” Scully said and Mulder moved closer, worried about her. There were tears in her eyes and in her voice. She didn’t get up from where she’d fallen, just drew her knees up and buried her face. She didn’t make any noise, but he could tell from the tiny jerks of her shoulders that she was crying.

“I’ll get the medic,” Julie said and she sounded serious and worried. Probably about her insurance, Mulder thought cynically.

“Scully, are you hurt?” he asked and she didn’t answer. “Please…don’t cry, please.”

“Leave me alone Mulder.”

“Not when you’re crying and it’s my fault.”

“It’s not your fault so go away.” She breathed shakily, trying to stop the stupid tears but they wouldn’t. She was crying because she was embarrassed about being such a klutz and the way that this ship brought out her ability to do the wrong thing in any given situation – an ability she thought she’d outgrown before she graduated high school. She wanted him to go away. She wanted off this ship and away from these people and she wanted to go home where it was cold and the sun never shone and she had to deal with Skinner and weird mutants all day. She wanted to go home where she felt safe. But if she said it, it would hurt Mulder.

“No,” he said, placing his hand against her back. “I’m sorry I dropped you.”

“That was my fault. I asked you to carry me and I told you to put me down.”

“I should have put you down when you asked me to.”

“Well, maybe you should have,” she conceded, raising her head just in time to see Mulder’s anguished look return.

“This is my fault,” he said and she wanted to scream for all the times he’d said that. She knew he blamed himself for everything and now she was letting him do it again. But she didn’t have time to argue because the ship’s medic arrived.

He was a pleasant enough looking man, smiling at them both. “What seems to be the trouble?” he asked, as cheerful as a robot at Disneyland. At least he wasn’t in Hawaiian gear.

“I got too close to a fire. I’m fine,” Scully insisted, getting to her feet.

“Let him look,” Mulder told her.

“I’m fine,” she said. “I’m going to go change.”

“Wait and let him look.” Mulder wanted to keep her there, so he seized the only thing he could grab – the grass skirt.

“Mulder, let go, I’m going to go put on some clothes.” Scully took a step away to try to yank the skirt out of his hands. As it turned out, the laws of physics were on his side. The tie on the fragile skirt broke and Mulder continued to hold it as Scully stood there in her borrowed bikini bottom.

“That is a bad burn,” the medic said, stepping in and looking at the back of Scully’s thigh. She froze when he touched her. “You’ll want to keep it medicated and covered to keep out infection,” he told her, and she felt him tape a gauze square to the upper part of the back of her thigh. “Okay, you can go,” he said after a moment.

“Thank god,” Scully said and walked out of the library, leaving Mulder standing there holding her skirt. It was a moment before she heard his footsteps behind her in the hall on the way to their cabin.

“Scully, I’m so sorry,” he told her. She looked over her shoulder at him. “About the skirt, about all of this.”

“It’s not your fault,” she told him, opening the door and going inside. The door almost closed before Mulder reached it, pushing his way inside. He stopped just inside the door because Scully had reached her bag, repacked in anticipation of the ship docking on the island in a few hours, and was holding up as though on display for his approval a pair of white cotton underpants. She looked up and saw him staring at them and gave him a look that said, “Come on, you’ve seen these before.” She withdrew a pair of shorts from the bag as well and to his surprise, slid a hand under the string of the bikini she was wearing.

He gaped.

“Can I have some privacy?” she asked, raising her eyebrows at him.

“B-b-bathroom,” he said.

“I didn’t know you stuttered,” she shrugged, holding his eyes and challenging him. When he didn’t turn around, she began to lower the bikinis.

Mulder spun around so fast he got dizzy. He had to close his eyes, but doing so didn’t block out the very strong image in his imagination of what was happening only a few feet behind him. The bathing suit bottom was sliding down over those slender legs he’d gotten such a good look at. She was naked for a few seconds, bending down to slip the bottom off and step into those virginal good-girl panties. He heard the zipper on her shorts go up but didn’t turn around because his body was throbbing with how much he wanted to rip them back off of her.

“Mulder, you coming?” Scully asked, stopping beside him at the door.

“Yeah,” he said, then tore himself out of sexual-fantasyland. “I mean, uh – yeah. You’re going back? To the luau?”

“I’m sure Julie’s worried about me,” she said in a dark tone and headed out the door.

Julie had been worried, very worried, so much so that she cleared the way to give Mulder and Scully specially privileged seats where they could personally witness up close the carving of the roast pig.

“Here.” Someone pushed a small bowl between their hands. It was filled with a white paste. Mulder looked up but the person was gone. Scully looked down at the substance and then looked at Mulder.

“What is it?” she asked.

“Poi?” he said.

“What do we do with it?” she asked.

“Eat it,” he answered.

“How?”

“With our fingers.”

“Mulder, how do you know this?”

“Unlike you, Scully, my TV gets channels other than Discovery and the Learning Channel,” he answered with a grin.

“I watch the Weather Channel too,” she said with a charming smile of her own. She looked down at the paste again. “With our fingers, huh?” She looked doubtful. “What’s in this stuff?”

“Coconut?” Mulder tried and she looked at him like he was suddenly the world’s expert on luaus. “I don’t know.”

“What’s it taste like?” she asked, still looking like a kid confronted with lima beans.

Mulder swiped two of his fingers into the paste – which was lukewarm, to his surprise, and held them out to her. “Find out,” he said, mostly because her questions were starting to put him slightly on edge.

He didn’t realize that the consequence of his gesture was going to be her taking his fingers into her mouth. He watched her red tongue dart out and cautiously touch the substance on his skin. Then she opened her lips and placed them against his hand, lapping at the remaining substance there like a kitten with a bowl of milk. Mulder was acutely aware of every lash of her tongue. It was delicate and sensual at the same time, drawing a hot, hard knot in his stomach…not to mention lower as he thought of a few other body parts he wouldn’t mind having her tongue work on.

She removed her mouth and looked up at him with those wide, innocent eyes that he was beginning to believe were the first step in the Scully School of Seduction. “It’s good,” she said slowly. Then she dipped her own hand into the bowl and offered it to him with an intense control of her leisurely movement.

He lowered his head and began to lick her fingers. He heard her pant out a hard breath and knew he was getting to her. He continued to massage her fingers with his tongue long after the slightly sweet food was gone from their surface. Then he raised his head and looked at her, waiting for the next move to be made.

He was really hoping she would take the poi and smear it on her body.

Because if she didn’t he was going to have to do that himself and he had sensitive skin and since he didn’t know what was in it, he didn’t really want to be courting a week of allergic reactions. Although he was certain a little discomfort would be worth the enormous pleasure the act would lead to.

Neither of them moved. Then Mulder’s fingers began to inch back towards the bowl.

They both jumped as a huge hardened pink object dropped down onto the floor between them. “Oh my god,” Scully said, stunned. They’d been presented with the head of the pig, still complete with the apple in its mouth.

“For the guests of honor,” proclaimed Matt, who had brought them their trophy. “The bravest guests at the luau.”

“Speech!” cried Julie.

“That is disgusting,” Scully said and got to her feet, wishing to get as far from the pig-head as possible. Matt and Julie both looked at her, stunned, but she didn’t look back. She could feel the back of her thigh blistering and tried to block out both the pain.

“That was pretty sick,” Mulder said. She looked up. She hadn’t expected him to return to their cabin so soon. She’d expected him to have stayed at the party.

“What are they thinking, Mulder?” she asked, and she had to laugh at all of them – Julie, Matt, Tanya, Daniel, Theresa, Helen, the dancer and her gigolo partner, the pyschic…well, maybe not the psychic because there had been something about her predictions that rang eerily true…but the rest of them were so ridiculous, so far removed from Scully’s realm of understanding.

Are they thinking?” Mulder asked her back, and he was laughing. He produced a pair of glasses and a bottle of champagne. He filled one of the glasses and handed it to her. “Here’s to a cruise ruined by good intentions,” he said, filling his own glass.

“Where did you get this?” Scully asked, clinking her goblet against his and sipping the bubbly liquid.

“Remember the porter’s promise?” Mulder’s eyes danced with mischief.

“It’s good,” Scully told him.

“Want to get drunk?” Mulder asked, holding out the bottle and offering to refill her glass already.

She hesitated, and then allowed him to. “You can’t get drunk on champagne, Mulder,” she said boldly.

“Is that a fact,” he said ironically. “Scientifically proven?” he asked her.

“Iron clad,” she said, taking another swallow. It really was good, she thought. “What time does the boat dock?”

“About eight,” he answered.

“Well, let’s drink until then and see if we get drunk,” she said, offering her glass to him for a second refill.

Mulder was about to caution her to slow down, but didn’t. He didn’t want her to. He poured another glass and waited for things to get interesting, thinking that if she kept up at this pace, she would be passed out before the ship reached the island’s harbor and he was going to have to carry her and her bags.

Which, to his dismay, was exactly what happened.

• • •

Part 12

At first, he didn’t know what was happening. He was relatively inexperienced at being on board a ship and he was busy. Before she’d passed out, she’d spend a good half hour explaining to him that since she’d had to delightful opportunity of sleeping in his arms once, she could never sleep without him again. Then she’d launched herself at him, several rapid fire attempts to climb into his lap while he was standing up, before he finally sat down and let her have her way. She was still donning the shorts and string bikini top, that true to Julie’s words, fit her like a glove. She was so drunk that she stared at his admiring face without commenting. Then she’d cocked her head to the side with her drunken affection extremely obvious. Obvious in the she’d reached for the button of his shorts, having worked through the shirt buttons so quickly he thought several had popped off in the process.

She had one hand working desperately at the button and the other pushing his shirt off his shoulders before he really got the chance to respond. She was drunk, he reasoned, she hasn’t got a single clue what she’s doing. He reluctantly took hold of her wrists and held them. “No, Scully. Not like this.”

“Awwww! Come on, Mulder, I’ve had it with your whole gentleman act. If you were such a gentleman you wouldn’t have all those tapes, and you certainly wouldn’t have let me find out about them.” She bent down and snagged one of his fingers between her teeth, and in the state she was in, bit down a little too hard. He yelped.

“Easy, killer.” He wasn’t really opposed to the whole theory of her mouth being attached to any part of his body, but he couldn’t do this to her.

She giggled, a somewhat delayed reaction to his words. “You’re finger lickin good!” She threw her head back and laughed at her own joke, much more amused by her backhills impression than Mulder was. Still the sheer joy in her laughter caused him to smile.

His grip relaxed on her wrists and she finagled them free, renewing her attempt to remove his shorts. He stopped her again, picking her up and turning her around so she wouldn’t be able to try it again. His resistance was weakening and pretty soon, he’d be assisting her frantic work. She muttered under her breath, and he was certain he caught some sort of curse in her words. But when he turned her face toward him, she was pouting like a 3 year old, looking too innocent to have formulated the thought that he was a fucking tease. The pout faded when their eyes locked, somehow the gravity of their friendship seeping into her brain and sobering her slightly. But she’d looked away and tried a different tactic. She nuzzled his neck and the moment he felt her hot breath against the sensitive skin, he groaned. She giggled.

“Now, that’s what I like to hear.” She went back to the task at hand, turning herself sideways in his lap for better access, thoroughly amused when his body instantly reacted to her movement. She giggled again. “I know you want to.” If she’d used the seductive voice she’d used on the deck, he would have flipped her onto the bed and removed the shorts himself. But it was delivered in the singsong voice of the pouting 3 year old, sounding like she’d just caught her brother stealing cookies from the cookie jar and was about to tell mommy. It worked better than a cold shower would have.

He stood quickly, depositing her on the bed, being careful not to bump her blistered leg, and then pulling the covers up and tucking her in so tightly that in her drunken dexterityless condition, there was no extrication possible. She uttered frustrated noises while she tried to work her hands free, but he was sober and she was not. She offered one more mutter and then stopped resisting. He turned to walk away, but her calm, almost sober voice stopped him.

“Don’t go. Please? Just stay here till I fall asleep.” He shook his head. “Please, Mu, Fox? I’ll be good.”

He gave and sat down on the edge of the bed beside her. As it turned out, three minutes was all she’d needed to pass into that peaceful oblivion. He stood and quickly changed his shirt, dropping the old one in the trash and looked around for Scully’s sweatshirt. It would be evening when they docked and then wind would be chilly. And she was in the damned bikini that promised to be his undoing. He was just going to have to take it from her if he wanted to be able to think clearly for the rest of the trip.

He found a denim shirt after accidentally stumbling upon her collection of intimate apparel and decided the shirt would do rather than see one more pastel lacy satin thing that no nonsense, utterly professional Dana Scully wore under her business suits. Maybe he should steal her luggage and buy her all white cotton. But that fostered the whole good little Catholic school girl image and he kicked the bag in frustration. This cruise was not good for him. Not good at all.

He carried the shirt back over and sat down on the side of the bed again, gently reaching out and removing the flower and barrette from her hair. He had no experience with them, but it couldn’t be comfortable to sleep with a metal object pressing into one’s head. She sighed when he removed it and turned her head so that her cheek rested on his hand. He was awestruck at the feelings that swept through him. To say there were butterflies in his stomach was an understatement. He leaned over her and kissed her cheek, a reenactment of what she’d done that morning to him.

He was sitting there with his hand tucked under her face, wondering if he dared lean forward again to steal just a taste of those sweet lips, when he heard the loudest, most frightening noise of his life. The whole damn room, and probably boat, shook violently. He thought it was sinking for a moment, and wondered how he could wake Scully up in time to save her.

But then he heard footsteps in the hallway, lots of rapping on doors, and then finally, a tap at his own. He removed his hand and stepped over to the door. Behind it stood Julie, the Hawaiian do gone replaced with brown shorts and a blue shirt, her eyes wet and her nose red. She sniffled. Mulder wanted to hug her and ask her what was wrong.

“Fox, the ship’s docked, time to go!” The happy voice was muffled slightly by a hiccup. He must have looked concerned. “It always makes me sad to see the people go. We’ve all grown so close and gotten to know each other so well and shared so many good times” Sob, sniffle. “I’ll miss you and Dana so!”

Mulder saw her arms open wide, about to hug him, but suddenly Matt joined her side. Grabbing her with one arm, reaching out to shake Mulder’s hand with the other. “Good luck, Fox.” He turned, dragging a dismal Julie with him, rubbing her back and whispering to her.

Mulder smiled at the picture they presented. “Hey, Matt!” Matt and Julie turned around and looked. “Good luck to you two.” They glanced at each other sideways before smiling.

“Thank you.” Their voices rang out in unison and Mulder sincerely hoped they’d never wind up taking this kind of cruise for themselves. Then he turned back to the beautiful drunken bikini wearing mess that was his partner.

He shook her shoulder with one hand and tried to throw all their stuff into bags with the other. He figured they could sort it out later, but that they needed to get packed up quickly. “Scully, let’s go, come on, Matt and Julie want to say good bye.”

Sleepy Scully, a rather enticing diversion to the matter at hand, patted his hand. “Bye bye.”

He laughed and zipped up the bag. He checked the drawers, the bathroom, even under the bed, although in all his travels he’d never found something belonging to him there. Everything was all packed and another round of people came barreling down the hall. This time, dressed in uniform. He guessed they were the real crew of the ship.

“All right, everybody, time to go!” One of the men peered in the door and laughed. “You’ve got your hands full mister, but you’ve still gotta go!” Then he continued on his merry way.

“Thanks for offering to help, jerk.” Mulder grabbed the two bags, pleased for the millionth time that Scully carried a bag with a shoulder strap. He swung it behind him and scraped Scully off the bed. He’d forgotten what an excellent job he’d done tucking her in and the blanket came with him for the first few steps. She wasn’t heavy, but she was cumbersome, as were the two bags. It took quite an effort to drag everything up the stairs and he was gasping for breath when he reached the deck.

The gods smiled upon him and he felt Scully’s arm latch around his neck. She was awake, sort of. He dropped one of his arms, but not wanting to repeat his earlier mistake of dropping her, kept one arm around her. She blinked at him, very confused, and then leaned against him. He rewarded her by draping her bag over her shoulder, then grabbing her hand and walking toward the dock. She went back to her muttering, but went with him, stumbling occasionally because she kept her eyes closed.

They fell into line with the rest of the couples, most of whom like Mulder and Scully were holding hands. A hush fell over the crowd and everyone’s attention turned to Tanya, who, like the rest of the counselors, had also changed into normal clothes. “Everyone? I just wanted to take this time to thank you all, on behalf of all the staff of ‘Wedded Bliss,’ for participating and being good sports” Her eyes focused on Mulder and his sleepy, drunk, leaning partner. “Even you two,” Laughter erupted from the crowd and Mulder nodded, annoyed that they’d been humiliated again. “and for helping us to help you. We hope that you enjoyed your time with us and as a token of our thanks, we’ll be distributing Wedded Bliss sweatshirts to everyone, free of charge. See your group counselors.” She turned away, and started handing out her group of shirts. Mulder assumed their group counselors had been Matt and Julie, who were giving out the shirts while holding hands. He thought it was cute. The last thing he wanted was a sweatshirt from them, but he could see goose bumps rising on Scully’s shoulder and figured she’d appreciate it, since he’d repacked the shirt he’d held out for her.

He amazed himself sometimes, managing to get the sweatshirt and pull it over Scully’s head all the while not letting her fall on her ass, which she seemed sleepily determined to do. When the line had finally moved off the boat and he could actually see the dock, he nodded one final time at Matt and Julie. The resort staff was waiting to take over from there. About ten sixteen year old boys were lending a hand to the arriving guests, all dressed in white shorts and navy blue sweatshirts and blue and white baseball caps identifying them as ‘staff.’ Mulder snorted to himself. Like anyone would wear that outfit who wasn’t getting paid. Behind the boys, was a row of girls, with white sweatshirts, blue skirts, and matching hats. They were distributing papers, checking things off on their lists and smiling incessantly. Another group of perky people, this time with decidedly chauvinistic tendencies. He looked longingly back at the boat crew, missing their known evil already.

But one of the boys, ‘Ryan’ or so his name tag claimed, stepped forward and took Mulder’s bag, asking politely before reaching for Scully’s. Mulder pulled it off her and the boy either didn’t notice or ignored Scully’s difficulty with standing on her own. Mulder tucked Scully’s arm around his waist, slung his around her shoulders and hoped he could get them inside without making a spectacle in front of this staff too. The boy with the luggage followed half a step behind while Mulder approached the grinning girls. The girls were apparently in charge here, the boys just there for manual labor. He decided he’d complain in the morning.

‘Erin,’ maybe 17, if he was being kind, stepped in front of him. He offered her a tight lipped grin. She suppressed a smile and turned back to her cronies, who giggled amongst themselves. “Name?”

Scully chose to step forth from her alcoholic stupor and pulled Mulder’s still present name tag off his shirt. “There’s half of it.” She giggled to herself insanely, and the look on Erin’s face was so dumbfounded that Mulder had to laugh too.

“It’s Mulder.”

Erin actually lifted her nose in the air slightly, repeating the name to herself quietly as she searched the list, probably so she wouldn’t forget it. Pissed that this little twerp was acting condescending towards his partner, he amended his statement. “Doctor and Doctor Fox and Dana Mulder.”

Erin then offered him a small apologetic smile, frowning when another girl took the list from her hands and pushed her aside. ‘Bekkie’ offered him an even wider, but still entirely fake, smile. “I’m so sorry, sir. That won’t happen again.” She found their name not quite half a second later, checking them off and offering Mulder two keys. “Room 1704. Ryan will show you the way.” She stepped aside, allowing them to pass.

Two steps later, Scully emitted a small strangled groan, and Mulder stopped dead in his tracks. Ryan rammed into his back. Before he even got the chance to apologize, Mulder silenced the boy, offering him one of the two keys. He pulled his wallet out and offered Ryan a twenty.

“Please take our bags and leave the key on the dresser. Thanks.”

Ryan nodded eagerly and vanished with the bags. Then Mulder led Scully off the dock and down the landscaped path to the beach, where he carefully lowered her onto the sand before flopping down beside her. She leaned over on him and he traced gentle circles on her back. After a few minutes, he laid back, pulling her with him so that her face was resting on his neck. He inhaled the combination of sea air and strawberry shampoo and sighed happily. Scully propped herself up on her elbow, her free hand running up and down his chest. He caught her eyes and smiled. They’d survived the cruise of death and now they had a week of lazy days and long nights and sun and sand and each other.

She swiped at a piece of hair that had blown into his face, but missed and poked him in the eye instead. “Oops. Sorry.”

He grabbed her hand and kissed it. “Don’t worry about it. I have another one.”

She smiled again. “At least we escaped our counselors, the hellish harbingers of fun.”

Mulder laughed. She was certainly amusing when she was drunk. He wondered if she remembered what she’d done in the cabin. Probably not, since she still couldn’t stand up on her own. He could tease her about it happily for the rest of time. “Think we can drag ourselves to our room?”

She looked down, like she hadn’t realized their location. “Where’d I get this shirt?”

“Julie’s parting gift.”

Scully looked perplexed for a moment. “I didn’t know she was on a game show.” She didn’t even look annoyed when Mulder laughed outright at her. She was still feeling the effects quite stronly.

“Why don’t you just sleep, Scully.” He patted his chest and she settled down. He figured he’d give her some time and then drag her back to the room. But there was something about the comforting sounds of the ocean and the light breeze and Scully’s even breathing that lulled him right to sleep.

It was an incessant poking at his sore shoulder that woke him up, almost two hours later. He squinted and tried to figure out the cause in the dark. Scully was still asleep, turned away from him now, but her head still rested on his outstretched arm. She wasn’t guilty. He turned in the other direction and saw a dark shadow hovering above him. Shocked, he jumped up, forgetting about Scully and pulling his arm back so quickly that her head hit the sand with a thump. Scully moaned and the shadow backed up.

Then he recognized her. “Bekkie, right?”

She nodded emphatically, the blonde hair that reminded him sharply of Julie swinging with the motion. “I’m so glad you remembered!” Oh, God, it was Julie’s long lost twin. “Anyway, I hate to interrupt you, I know you’re on your honeymoon and you guys look so sweet together and all, but my boss is really strict about not having people sleep on the beach at night. Can I show you back to your room?”

Mulder scratched his head, trying to rid himself of the sand that had imbedded itself in his scalp. Then he rubbed Scully’s back. “Let’s go, honey.”

She opened one eye and pouted. “Uh huh.” Her eyes closed again.

“Dana,” He used both of his hands to pry her shoulders off the ground, offering his hand to her then to pull her to her feet. “this wonderful young woman wants to show us to our room. We have to go.”

She pushed her face into his chest. “But I wanna stay here.”

Bekkie smiled at Mulder. She thought Scully was just tired, she had never really grasped the concept that Scully had been drunk earlier. She reached out and patted Scully’s arm. “Dana? It’s nice to meet you. I’m Bekkie.”

Scully opened her eyes again and looked up at Mulder. She looked back at Bekkie. “Hi, Julie.”

Mulder quickly apologized, explaining to Bekkie how very much she looked like Dana’s sister Julie. Bekkie nodded and admitted her own tendency to sleep deeply. Then she reached out and took hold of one of Dana’s arms while Mulder took the other and they began walking back to the hotel.

Ten steps later, Scully sort of woke up, politely pulling her arms free and trudging along behind them. Bekkie was a little less bubbly than Julie had been and Mulder, still inexplicably missing Julie’s encouraging presence, was happy to strike up a perfectly civil conversation with her. Bekkie was overjoyed to explain all about the resort and its ten miles of private beach, although since they were the only resort there, the whole island was kind of private. She told him about the small group of shops and the movie theater that was a few miles away, within walking distance since there were no cars on the island. Then she started telling him all about the programs they offered and how it was run just like the cruise, but with more choices and heart shaped bathtubs.

Scully was not only annoyed with this new Julie, but also with Mulder’s enraptured attitude toward her. Then she received the blow about the sessions and she stopped walking. She didn’t care. Somehow, she’d survived that cruise, and all of the most embarrassing events of her life on that ship and now she was being forced to do it again. As soon as Mulder and the bitch were out of ear shot, she went back to her mumblings and plopped down on the sandy planks. If he ever noticed she was missing, he could come find her.

• • •

Part 13

Mulder followed Bekkie down the beach, aware that Scully was no longer by his side. He glanced back surreptitiously and saw Scully pouting off into the distance. He felt like the parents he’d seen in stores, walking away from their terrible toddler just to see how far he could go before she came running after him. He walked farther and farther away and grew more and more irritated with this little game of hers. He was sure she was sitting there thinking how much he’d forgotten about her and that he didn’t care about her. So he turned his head and called over his shoulder, “Come on, Scully.”

There was a sharp note in his voice but he didn’t have to ask her twice. A few moments later, she was once again next to him, as though she was pleased he hadn’t forgotten her after all. It had been several hours, so he would have thought the effects of the drink would have worn off, but she was behaving very emotionally – revealing a lot of her inner insecurities. It made him slightly uncomfortable to see her the way she saw herself when she was being open, and afraid. She wanted to see if he’d really abandon her. He’d passed the test – this time.

Bekkie opened the door to where they were staying. The resort was a series of separated little buildings that almost appeared to be huts, set far apart from one another, lending the appearance of isolation in this tropical paradise. Bekkie nodded to them both, and then like someone who was aware that her companions were on their honeymoon, she took off. There were palm trees and lush bushes growing around the entrance to their hut.

But inside, it wasn’t a hut at all. It was a comfortably furnished hotel room. The bed was enormous and had mosquito netting hanging down romantically above it, a gauzy curtain to shut out the real world. Mulder was pleased to notice an entire multimedia center. He moved closed and inspected the system. The CDs were duds, he thought – Kenny G, Michael Bolton, The Greatest Love Songs of All…he closed the drawer quickly. He opened the one next to the VCR and was surprised to see an erotic library had been provided for their viewing pleasure. The titles ranged from soft porn to instructional to dirty and nasty. He closed the drawer before Scully could ask what he was looking at.

“Maybe you should go to sleep,” he suggested, thinking she could sleep off the rest of her drunkenness and awake her normal charming self in the morning. He’d feel a lot better if that happened. His eyes made another sweep of the room and noted there was no couch. There was a good expanse of floor in front of the TV, he saw. He could sleep there.

He heard a soft noise and looked at Scully. She’d thrown herself down onto the bed, following his orders to get some rest. Except she hadn’t closed her eyes to go to sleep. Lying on her stomach, she’d propped her chin in one hand and was staring at him with the doelike eyes of a lovestruck teenager. That worried him. “No, really, get some rest,” he told her, hoping she would follow his suggestion.

He stepped into the bathroom, mostly just to see what was there. As promised, there was a large heart shaped bathtub/jacuzzi. Matching his and hers robes hung behind the door. Bet they lose a lot of those to thievery, Mulder thought. If it didn’t have big pink hearts embroidered on it, he might consider nicking one himself. Out of the bathroom again, he saw the intimate breakfast nook and a sliding glass door. He opened it and stuck his head outside.

What he saw took his breath away. A small, man-made waterfall cascaded from the trees in their own private cove. The water flowed gently into a pool formed by smooth stones. The sky was so clear he could see the stars shining overhead. It would be the perfect hideaway. Having spent two minutes out there, he never wanted to leave. He could imagine making love in the water. He could imagine sitting outside and talking until dawn.

God, he loved her.

But she was drunk or asleep in there, so he couldn’t think about that now. Taking a deep breath and clearing his thoughts, Mulder went back into their space. As he’d suspected, Scully was asleep on the bed. He threw a blanket casually over her, so she wouldn’t think he’d taken too much time over it. He sat down on the floor with the remote control in his hand, but he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t watch TV. The room was small and the sound would wake her. He also knew he couldn’t sit there and do nothing. He’d end up watching her.

He looked at the watch on his wrist. It was only nine-thirty. That was still early. He remembered Bekkie’s words that there were shops and things to do in town. They wouldn’t all be closed already, he thought, or would they? Regardless, taking a walk in the night air would tire him. Then he could sleep and they would have a fresh start in the morning, without Matt and Julie and without their forced counseling sessions. It would just be the two of them. Alone. Ready to face their feelings without artifice.

He noticed something else when he was looking at his watch. The date. It was the day before Scully’s birthday, and he hadn’t bought her a present yet. Except for sending them on this cruise, and he wasn’t sure she would think of that as a gift at this point. She’d had a miserable time so far and it had largely been his own fault. He would go and find her something perfect. Something that said how much he loved her. Quietly, he slipped out the door.

Scully raised her head up from the bed, feeling disoriented. She knew she wasn’t on the ship any more but she wasn’t certain how she’d gotten to be where she was. She’d been drinking, she remembered, and hoped she hadn’t done anything she would regret in the morning.

Sitting all the way up, she decided she couldn’t have been that drunk since she didn’t feel that bad. She also knew it was as good as morning for her. She wasn’t tired; she was going to be up for some time. She wondered where Mulder was. Scully took a wander through their rooms, assessing them. He hadn’t left her a note. That was fine. She thought she’d take a walk. Maybe she’d run into him out there and they could walk back together.

The air was cool and it smelled good. Scully felt herself relax almost instantly. Something about this tropical air, she thought as she walked. The exercise, the act of walking after so many days of being cooped up on a ship, also felt wonderful. In no time at all, she found herself in a small town center. The atmosphere was the opposite as it had been on the beach. The beach had been quiet and still; the town was noisy with music and voices. It reminded her of a carnival. The lights seemed especially bright and colorful against the black sky.

She continued to walk through booths of merchandise. People bickered over prices on brightly dyed fabric and pictures painted on wood and shells from the ocean. There was a lot of jewelry, also, and she moved a few steps closer. The beads and the coral were gorgeous and their colors seemed almost unfamiliar to her. She had been locked into the same gray and white world for so long that the rich scarlet reds and oranges and yellows and purples were vivid and alive. Scully looked up and found a woman watching her closely, anticipating her purchase. Suddenly she felt uncomfortably obligated and she walked on.

At the center of the small town, the street doubled back upon itself in a roundabout surrounding a park. A fountain fairly glowed as the water flowed, illuminated, up and then down again. Not surprisingly, this was where couples had gathered. Scully stood still and looked around herself. These are the people from the cruise, she thought. The people who had so many problems and followed the advice of those goofy counselors and found peace and harmony and a way to share themselves with each other. She and Mulder hadn’t.

Now it seemed that everywhere she looked there were couples. They were making out at the edge of the fountain, gazing into each others eyes as they sat on a stone bench. Scully felt trapped in a bizarre nightmare – everyone was paired off but her. She felt dreadfully empty suddenly and she didn’t like it. She started back to their rooms, seeking their solitary solace, and also hoping Mulder would be waiting there for her. She would have to…she now thought she could…do…something…but she didn’t know what…so maybe she couldn’t.

The people in front of her were walking maddeningly slowly. They were a couple, of course. The woman had long blond hair and the man was slightly stocky. They had their arms around each others’ waists and their hands did not stop for a moment, each caressing the back of their lover. After a moment, they began to remind Scully of horses switching their tails to drive away flies. It irritated her terribly. She didn’t want to look at them. She didn’t want to be alone anymore.

She shoved past them, walking more quickly, wanting to be out of this single person’s hell. As though he had been dropped there to please her, she saw Mulder directly in front of her. “Mulder!” she cried, feeling relieved. Her was her support. She could deal with anything if he was by her side, even these gooey lovers that were practically swinging from the trees. He looked up and she charged at him, throwing her arms around his neck.

“Scully,” he said, surprised, but she could tell that it was a happy surprise in his voice. His hands went up, as though he had thought to defend himself from her attack, but he’d changed his mind at the last minute. Another shocked second passed before he wrapped his arms around her, placing his hands against her back. She felt warmer then, and good.

“Mulder,” she whispered, and he leaned in closer so he could hear her in the midst of the crowd. “Make love to me,” she whispered, pressing her body against his.

He froze. She pressed closer. When he didn’t move, she looked up at him. He looked confused. “Scully?” he asked.

“Mulder?” she said, knowing he was going to turn her down. That he would have turned her down even if they weren’t in public. They weren’t going to be running to bed holding hands tonight.

“I can’t,” he told her. She raised an eyebrow, a signal to him that she wasn’t angry or hurt. “Not that I can’t,” he clarified. “But you’re saying that, now, for the wrong reasons.”

“Being surrounded by people who love each other and wanting to feel that myself is the wrong reason?” she asked, but she knew it was.

Mulder pulled back out of her arms and set his hands on her shoulders, looking into her eyes. “Scully, we could make love. But you’ll be more angry with me – and with yourself – in the morning if we do than you are now because I’ve said no.”

“You’re not ready,” she said.

He nodded. “No.”

“Thanks for your honesty,” she said, then stopped and laughed suddenly. “Listen to me, maybe I did learn something on that ship.”

“Respect?” he said, teasingly. His tone of voice made her grin back. “It’s a start.”

“It is,” she agreed. He put his arm around her waist and held her close as they began their walk back. She leaned against his shoulder and after a second snaked her arm around his waist too. It felt so good to be held, she thought. Shivers of intensely pleasurably feeling swept through her every time he moved his hand against her back. It have her that rolling feeling of desire in her stomach again. Had he been this frustrated that night she’d turned him away? she wondered, but didn’t feel that she could ask him. It seemed like he sensed what she was feeling because he jiggled her closer against him.

She was almost in agony by the time they reached their rooms. Every nerve ending in her body was screaming for him, crying for release from this tension that had been created that she knew was not going to be resolved. Not that night. Maybe not any night. Scully’s mood began to plummet. She’d thrown herself at him – literally – and he’d peeled her off.

He didn’t want her. As a doctor and an intelligent person, she knew that men always being ready for sex was something of a myth, and that she should be glad that Mulder cared enough about her to discriminate enough to say no, but in the middle of her intense frustration, it felt like a terrible rejection. It was easy to think that he didn’t want her so much that he’d pass up the opportunity to have sex…Mulder…who hadn’t done it in a long time.

You don’t know that, said an evil voice in her head. He might be out getting it every night. Just because you don’t have a life doesn’t mean he doesn’t.

She didn’t want to listen to the voice in her head because she was pretty sure it was misleading her because it was late and she felt lonely. Mulder had thrown back the covers and taken advantage of the fact that she didn’t seem to want to sleep to steal the bed from her. She didn’t care; she wasn’t tired. “Mulder?” she said, wanting to ask him something, but he didn’t stir. He was out. Must be a lot of work fighting me off, she thought, and smirked to herself. The confidence to be sexual was one of the best things a woman could do for herself, she thought, and not for the first time.

Which meant she didn’t need his help to get what she wanted. She thought for a second of the heart shaped jacuzzi and its hot jets of water, but turned away from the bathroom door. She could explore that later. And she still held onto the hope that she could explore that with Mulder. She’d get to work on convincing him tomorrow…but even as she thought it, she felt mildly sleazy, like one of those men who courted a woman just for sex. But she didn’t just want sex from Mulder. She’d already spent five years with him. That was a hell of a long first date.

But she couldn’t find the file folder. Scully felt a little funny going through Mulder’s belongings, so she didn’t search very hard. She looked at him again and the notion crossed her mind to strip off all her clothes and climb into bed with him, but she knew he’d spoken the truth when he’d said she would be embarrassed about these thoughts in the morning. They were here to investigate a case, no matter what that cruise had made her believe. Besides, it would hurt too much if her rejected her again, and under those circumstances.

So she sat down in front of the TV without turning it on and wondered what the case was about. None of those people out there had seemed close to murder. And murder was too straightforward for Mulder, when she thought about it. There would have to be ghosts…or ghoulies…or things that went bump in the night.

She heard a sound.

Scully froze and listened. There it was again. A thump. Coming from close by, outside. It came again, and louder. She got to her feet, one hand on her gun, ready to investigate and defend herself if she needed to. She looked at Mulder, sleeping soundly, as she walked past him. What a help he is, she thought as she moved towards the sliding glass door where she’d heard the sound. The thumps were growing more intense and she thought she heard a person who was crying, afraid or hurt.

Scully slid open the door and stepped out. Her mouth dropped open as she saw a waterfall. The sound of the flowing water was so soft she hadn’t been able to hear it from inside and even standing near it, it didn’t drown out the sound of the thumping or the cries. “Who’s out here?” she called.

Both sounds stopped instantly. Scully lowered her gun and felt her face flush. Mystery solved, Sherlock, she thought. Honeymoon resort…probably everyone has one of the gorgeous yards and waterfalls…she’d just interrupted a couple exercising their conjugal rights.

Which was what Scully wanted to be doing, had she be given half the chance, she thought longingly. Half the chance and a willing partner, anyway. She felt like she should apologize to the couple she’d intruded upon so she called, “Sorry,” over the vine-covered wall. She would have continued with a stumbling explanation, but giggles stopped her. Putting her head down, Scully went back indoors and sat down in front of the TV again.

That was when the hairs on her arms stood straight up and a creepy feeling overtook her. She recognized that giggle. It was one she had heard hundreds, thousands of times in her life. It had sounded like her sister. Melissa. Scully remained sitting on the floor even though her legs ached to run to the next cabin and find out for certain. She had had this problem before. She had imagined this before. She had heard her sister’s voice through a telephone and it had led her to a terrible discovery. She didn’t want it to happen again.

I was wrong, she thought, but couldn’t convince herself. In a weak moment, Scully scrambled to her feet and threw herself onto the large bed next to Mulder. “Huh?” He woke at the assault, but she just burrowed farther under the covers and against him, aware that he probably thought she was trying to molest him in his sleep. She wasn’t, not anymore. She wanted to feel safe and when he woke a little more fully, he realized that. He put his hand against her cold back and felt her trembling. “What is it?” he asked. His voice was thick and heavy with sleep and instinctively she moved closer to him. He felt her shake her head and resolved to hold her close and make her feel safe so she could sleep.

It wasn’t long before she exhausted herself with whatever had upset her, and Mulder felt her relax. He moved her arms from around him, arranging them on the bed so she would be comfortable. Determined to be a gentleman – and not be tempted himself – Mulder moved to the other side of the bed and closed his eyes. When he realized he could faintly hear the couple in the next hut having a good, wild time, he turned his back to Scully. He wondered again what had upset her so. But his thoughts turned to her birthday tomorrow. She’d lost track of time on the ship, he was certain, and he knew her watch didn’t carry the date on it. She would be surprised. He couldn’t wait.

• • •

Part 14

When she awoke the next morning, the sun was streaming happily around the edges of the closed curtains. She yawned and stretched and enjoyed waking up in a nice warm bed. She shifted around slightly and her feet found a warm spot. She lifted her head off the pillow, confused for a moment, and then recognized where she was. She patted the pillow next to her. Still warm. He hadn’t been gone long.

She looked around and when her eyes met the closed bathroom door, her ears instantly picked up the sounds of water running. He was in the shower. She lazily rolled over and climbed across the bed. Something thumped down onto the floor when she did so. Thinking it was a pillow or something like that, she reached over and grabbed.

Her hand closed around something small and crinkly. When she looked at it, she noticed it was a small box, wrapped in exquisitely pretty paper, a handmade bow on top. It was her birthday. She’d forgotten and he remembered. She smiled to herself, wanting to rip off the paper and see what he’d bought, but she felt guilty. She been acting like a nut, coming on to him, backing off, doing it again, putting him in a position she didn’t envy, and he’d still gotten her something. She placed it on the small bedside table and stood up. Her first instinct was to flat refuse it. They’d never done much for holidays or birthdays, the most extravagant thing either of them ever did was pick up the check at a nice restaurant. But refusing it would hurt him. So she’d have to accept it and love it and wear it every day. Because of the size and expensive wrapping, she knew it was jewelry. And every day she’d feel guilty for wearing it out of guilt. She contemplated the box for another moment, the four year old in her desperately wanting to know what it was immediately, the adult in her wanting to know what it was before she opened it in front of him so she would have the correct expression on her face when she got it. The box was slightly too large to be a ring. Refusing to allow herself to feel let down at that initial judgment, she decided it was a pair of earrings.

Feeling slightly better, she stood up and pulled out a change of clothes, pulling on her own green one piece bathing suit under her shorts and top. If she never saw a bikini again it would be too soon. She glanced back at the box while she fastened her sandals, pausing for a moment to send a blessing to Julie and her tanning cream for not letting her look like a hermit her first day in paradise, and reached another conclusion. The earrings had to be expensive or he never would have spend so much on the wrapping, which she was certain had been done by someone else. Gold anything would be too plain for him. She knew he’d never think to find out her birthstone, so she knew it wasn’t something simple like amethyst. Somehow, it just clicked. It was a pair of emerald earrings. It had to be. She was Irish, her hair was red, he was colorblind, and she’d have to spend the next year, at least, looking like a Christmas tree. But if they were emeralds, she might be able to get out of wearing them, claiming they were too good and too delicate for every day use.

Satisfied, she picked up one of the keys lying on the dresser and walked out the door. He wouldn’t want her to open the gift without him and he was taking his own good time in the shower. She wanted to explore a little, maybe see some of the shops that had been closed the night before. Maybe if she stayed away from him for a little while, she’d stop thinking like they were a married couple, which would make the next few days immeasurably more comfortable.

The sky was beautiful, as were her surroundings and she found herself humming as she walked down the path. It was a perfect day, just the kind for heading to the beach. Had she thought to grab a towel, she might have headed there herself. Instead, she continued toward the shops. Each step she took, though, she felt more and more pulled to the beach. She’d never been on an island in the tropics. The water was probably that gorgeous blue and the sand that dazzling white like in all the travel commercials. And until Mulder produced the damn case, she was going to dig her toes in.

She aimed for the first store that appeared to be the type that would have beach towels. She couldn’t go back to the room, for fear Mulder had emerged from the shower and would want to celebrate her birthday by giving her something she didn’t want for reasons that disturbed her. She was spending it on the beach. She’d just ignore the happy couples, who by all rights, should remained locked in their little bungalows in bed. Leave the beach to the undercover FBI agents who were so painfully single as to throw themselves at their unwilling partner at every chance.

There was no one else in the store, except for the saleswoman. She was a little older than Scully’s mother, but not in nearly as good shape. Chunky to the point that she gave a little waddle with each step, the woman had a decidedly teacher like quality about her. Scully could tell she was a kind woman and felt compelled to be nice to her. The woman seemed lonely. And all this, Scully got before either of them spoke a word.

Waddling over, with her hand extended, she introduced herself. “I’m Elizabeth. Welcome to my boutique.”

Of course an island resort would have boutiques rather than regular stores. Gave them the right to tack an extra digit in the price of everything they sold. “Dana. It’s nice to meet you.” She shook Elizabeth’s hand and looked around. She’d never find what she was looking for without being harassed. So she decided, as her birthday present to herself, to let Elizabeth have her way and sell her things she really didn’t need and wouldn’t have any use for back at home. Shopping was a release, it always made her feel better. Smiling widely, she looked at Elizabeth. “It’s my birthday and my husband surprised me with this trip.” Elizabeth clasped a hand over her heart and smiled, for some reason making Scully desperately want to please her. “He wouldn’t tell me where we were going, so I’m packed for the wrong occasion. Can you help me out?”

Elizabeth patted Scully on then back, leading her to a rack just inside the door. “You pick out a new pair of sunglasses. I’ll be right back.” Scully did as instructed, not looking at the price tag. She knew she wouldn’t want to know anyway, especially not when she thought about what she’d just signed herself up for. “Here, try this on, the dressing room is in the back.”

Scully took one look at the bikini and shook her head. “No, no bikinis.”

Elizabeth ignored her and prodded Scully back to the dressing room, tossing her the suit and pulling the curtain shut. The voice was distant, obviously hunting up more things for Scully to regret getting talked into, when it returned. “You’re a young woman. Wear it now. When you get to my age, nobody, including that husband of yours, will want you in a bikini.”

“My husband doesn’t want me when I throw myself at him and beg.” Grumbling to herself, she pulled it on. It was slightly more tasteful that the one she’d worn to the luau, but it was still two pieces. Not a Scully suit. She pulled it off and waited for Elizabeth’s next offering. A white suit. Still a bikini, but it contrasted nicely with her tan skin. She liked it. She’d never wear it again, but it didn’t bother her. She’d wear it today and that was the goal.

“Elizabeth? I like this one.”

Elizabeth pulled her out of the room and in front of the three way mirror. Scully squeezed her eyes shut. Just because she was wearing it didn’t mean she wanted to think about it. She let Elizabeth stare, for a moment before heading back to the dressing room. The discarded suit she’d had for years looked so much more comfortable. She ignored the urge to put it back on. Elizabeth took her arm, though, and led her to another rack.

“You don’t cover a suit like that with shorts and a shirt.”

Scully looked at the group of colorfully printed scarves and gaped. No. She couldn’t. Could she? Even as she thought it, Elizabeth selected one and tied the sarong around her elegantly. Instantly liking the silky feel of the material against her legs, she felt her backbone snap. “OK, Elizabeth, I’ll take it.” Seeing the smile and fearing more pressure, she held up her hands. “I want to buy a beach towel and sunscreen and that’s it. No more.”

Elizabeth nodded and Scully gathered her things, dumping her discarded clothes into the straw bag Elizabeth offered. Elizabeth was manipulative, and by the time she slapped the credit card down on the counter, Scully owned a beach pillow, special moisturizing sunscreen for her face and a straw hat that she knew she’d never, ever put on her head. But seeing Elizabeth’s face, she smiled too. At least she’d made someone happy on her birthday, even if it wasn’t herself.

She started walking toward the sound of the ocean when something caught her eye. A woman across the street had tossed her hair in a strangely familiar way. Scully lifted her sunglasses and squinted. The hair was bright red, like her own, but much longer, almost to the woman’s waist, and wavier. She heard the giggle waft through the air. The same one she’d heard the night before. The one that belonged to Melissa.

Scully followed, her previous aims lost to her then, as the woman and her companion started walking. She was the right height, right weight, and wearing the right light blue bathing suit that Melissa had loved. The walk was the same, steady, yet slightly bouncy, giving a hint of the contrasting personality within the body. The Melissa impostor was holding hands with a man, who looked even more out of place on the island than Scully herself did. He was wearing jeans. Skin tight black jeans. Scully could feel the beads of sweat on her skin and knew the man was out of his mind. With the perfect view of the greasy looking guy to pass judgment, she decided the woman was in her right mind. The guy had a nice ass. And Scully knew for a fact that was the first thing Melissa went for.

They didn’t notice her presence shadowing them as they walked. They were too much in love. They stopped no less than ten times to kiss, always for a long, slow, passionate kiss. Every time, Scully would stop too, burying her face in her bag. At one point, Scully called out.

“Missy?” The kiss stopped and the woman turned.

Shocked, Scully moved behind a group of people walking past. It couldn’t be her. Missy was dead. Had been for two years. Continuing with the group she’d joined, not looking again at the Melissa wannabe, Scully headed back to the room, suddenly feeling ridiculously stupid in the new clothes. She wanted her old ones.

Thankfully, Mulder wasn’t in the bedroom when she returned. She peered out the window at the waterfall and saw him standing there, staring at nothing. She took her bags into the bathroom and got dressed in the stuff she’d worn out that morning, but she left on the white bathing

suit. She stuffed the other things into the bag and vowed to destroy the evidence before Mulder saw it. But he was waiting for her when she emerged, sitting right in the middle of the bed, turning something over in his hands.

“What’s in the bag?” His face was blank, giving no hint of the storm brewing just under the surface. He’d left her present laying there so that she wouldn’t miss it, just in case she woke up before he got finished with his shower. And she’d left it there. She’d dressed and then left it there and wandered off without so much as calling in to the bathroom or leaving him a note. Where was the Scully that wouldn’t leave his side the night before?

She shrugged, afraid of the teasing she’d get if he ever found out. “Stuff.”

He nodded, acting like she’d offered him an intricately detailed answer and was thinking it over. “Oh, stuff.”

She dropped the bag on the floor, pushed it under the bed, and then toed her suitcase in front of it, trying to act casual since he was watching her. Done with hiding her bag, she joined him on the bed, seeing the bold way he backed up when their knees brushed. She’d obviously gone too far. And rather than tell her that, he had to be rude. She pulled her knees in to her chest and hugged them. “Yes, stuff.”

“I’m glad you told me you were leaving.” His hands continued to fiddle with the box, but she hadn’t seen it yet.

“Was I supposed to join you in the shower?” At his cold glare, she continued. “I mean, after last night I assumed you’d rather be alone.” It wasn’t often that she threw herself at a man, actually, it was never. She wasn’t about to get burned and not harbor a grudge. She understood why he’d refused her, but she still hated that he been flattered enough to at least consider it.

“How’s your leg?” His sudden topic change left her speechless. She’d been expecting a cutting blow, or a rude comment at the very least. That was the way they’d been working the last three days: one of them got mad for no apparent reason, the other got annoyed, they argued back and forth and hurt each other’s feelings and later found out it was just a misunderstanding. “Let me see it, Scully. The doctor said you have to keep something on it, didn’t he?”

The thought of dropping her shorts in front of him bugged her, regardless of the perfectly plain bathing suit she was wearing. He wasn’t asking out of concern. He knew how much being exposed to him would bother her when they were fighting and she didn’t like it. She snapped at him. “I’m a doctor. I can take care of myself.”

“Like you took care of yourself last night? Maybe you missed it, you probably did since you were completely drunk and all, but I drug your ass off that boat and in here.”

Her face flushed. She did hate losing control. But she’d thought she could trust him. Her chin trembled slightly before rage overtook her. She pushed herself off the bed, scraping the bandage along the blister and wincing at the sharp pain, but pulling herself together quickly enough to avoid Mulder’s attempt to catch her. “As I recall, you were perfectly content to leave me on the beach. Remind me not to ever trust you with my back turned.” She knew calling him on that tiny betrayal of trust, his mention of her being drunk, was hitting below the belt, but so was his insinuation that she needed him. She didn’t need anyone. Tears of frustration, or so she told herself, filled her eyes as she twisted around and picked at the tape on her leg.

He bit back his stinging retort when he saw her wince. He reached out, wanting to steady her, to offer his support and tried not to wince himself as she walked away. He said nothing as he watched her try to pull off the tape. She didn’t want his help, she’d made that much clear. She eventually succeeded, after rolling her shorts up quite a bit. He hadn’t realized just how far up the burn had been.

Once the tape was removed and she started working at the gauze, he saw her hand shake. The gauze was stuck, attached in a none too pleasant way to the broken blisters underneath. He couldn’t watch her hurt herself. The way she had to reach to get at it offered her no view of what she was doing. She was bound to wind up with an infection and the only thing he could picture worse than this mess he’d drug her into was landing her in the hospital on her birthday. He dropped the box back on the bed and moved to help her.

He was knelt behind her, and gently started working the bandage away from her skin. She hadn’t noticed his approach since she was wrapped up in how to finish proving her painful point without letting him know she was hurting. Her leg jerked forward when he touched it, but she didn’t say anything and she didn’t stop him. He took it as permission. A few minutes later, he’d worked the gauze all the way off, only hearing one tiny yelp from her.

When he didn’t say anything, she knew it was bad. She twisted to look at him and wished she hadn’t because of the way it pulled the skin on her leg. She felt his hands brace her hips. “Stay still. Let me get some tissue.” The moment he stepped into the bathroom, she twisted again, and saw the gauze. There was some blood on it and she knew she’d torn it open. And knowing that it was bleeding made it hurt worse. She walked carefully back over to the bed and rested on her stomach, waiting for Mulder to come back and begin what she knew would be a painstaking process of doctoring her back up.

She felt something pressing into her side and reached to grab it, finding his gift once again. She took it between her fingers and played with the wrapped box, knowing that it was the cause of his anger, but not understanding why. She was staring at it thoughtfully when he settled next to her on the bed.

“If you don’t want it, I’ll take it back and get you something else.” He began cleaning off the wound, using the utmost care possible. She didn’t answer. His next words were quiet. “I thought you’d at least open it.”

She closed her eyes tightly, wishing he wasn’t there so she could smack herself. What had led to another fight? Another miscommunication. Her answering voice was just as quiet. “I didn’t think you’d want me to open it without you.”

“I left it for you. I assumed that way you could make faces and hate it openly and still lie to me and tell me you loved it.”

She reached back and snagged on of his hands. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking.”

She heard the sound of him tearing open a new gauze pad and felt him tape it to her leg. Then he stretched out beside her, propping his head up on his hand and facing her. She mirrored his position. “Happy birthday, Scully.”

She smiled and waited for him to nod toward the box before she carefully unwrapped it, separating the tape from the paper, not wanting to rip it and appear even the slightest bit callous. She didn’t care what it was anymore. He’d gone out and picked it, thinking only of her and he was watching her with eager eyes and an unguarded smile as she removed the velvet covered box. Before she snapped open the lid, she looked at him, meeting his eye and knowing they would have to apologize for their harsh words, words that were already forgotten about.

“Mulder, I want you to know, right now, that I love it.”

“You haven’t even looked at it, Scully.”

She held the box in one hand and took his hand with the other. “You got it for me. I love it.”

Then she let go of his hand, smiling brightly when he draped his arm over her back and rolled onto his stomach so that he was lying right up against her. Personal space be damned, she liked him right where he was. She regarded him for a long moment, loving the happy shine in his beautiful hazel eyes, hoping the love shone back just as brightly in hers. Her attention went back to the matter at hand and she opened the top, gasping in shock when she saw what was inside.

• • •

Part 15

“You hate it,” he said, his voice not changing.

“Mulder, I -” Words absolutely failed her. “I – this is amazing. But how…?” She looked up at him, her lips still turned into a smile, wondering at the light in his eyes.

“Come on, Scully,” he said, and she could tell from his tone and the way his eyes slid away that he was embarrassed. “From everything you’ve said over the last few days, it was pretty obvious you wanted one.”

“I did, but – this means – you – I’m amazed that you would -” She wondered why she kept pausing. Maybe she was hoping Mulder would interrupt her again and finish her thought for her, since she was having so much trouble. He was looking at her again and she had to complete her sentence. He was waiting for her amazing proclamation. There were no words that would say all that needed to be said between them and she couldn’t think of an appropriate gesture, either. But she tried. With words. Again. “That you would – be willing – to give yourself this way.”

“It’s not like I gave you the keys to my apartment,” he quipped.

“I already have the key to your apartment,” she reminded him with a wink that stopped him in his tracks. “Should we try it out?” she asked.

“Oh, boy, yes,” he said sarcastically. Immediately he apologized. “I’m sorry, Scully. Being sarcastic undermines the real feeling behind this.”

It sure as hell does, she thought, feeling slightly less delighted already. She was actually beginning to feel that he was making fun of her with this, rather than giving her something she wanted so much. The gift in the box was a symbol. And symbols were useless unless they symbolized something. Something real and heartfelt.

“Scully?” he asked again since she hadn’t said anything or moved, but the look on her face had changed. He knew her well enough to know that her normal expression, even when she was content, resembled a frown, but this looked like a real frown. She didn’t like it. She’d maybe even misinterpreted it. He could never do anything right, and this was just more proof.

“Maybe we shouldn’t try it,” she said in a voice so soft he could barely hear it, and she was right next to him.

“You don’t like it.”

“Was I supposed to?” She looked at him, expecting an honest answer.

“Yes, of course. Why would I have bothered if – You liked it at first, what -?”

“That was before I thought about it,” she answered.

“You think too much.”

“I know that. But you put a lot of thought into this,” she said and he nodded. “You tell me what it was supposed to mean.”

“You know what it was supposed to mean, Scully.” He was beginning to be annoyed by this. If taking her on that damned cruise now meant she was programmed to question everything, every word or look or thought to try to anticipate and avoid even the slightest miscommunication, he’d made a big mistake.

“Why don’t you tell me so I know,” she suggested.

“Why don’t you tell me what you think it means so I can correct you.”

“Because I’m wrong?” she asked and he was amazed that she sounded surprised rather than angry. It must be surprised leading to angry, he thought, and waited for the explosion. It didn’t come.

“Tell me what you think it means that you don’t like.”

She sighed and pushed herself up from the bed, beginning to pace the room. Mulder recognized that – it was a way of avoiding eye contact. Of depersonalizing him and the situation. But he wasn’t going to get up and pace after her. “I think it means I’m possessive. Too possessive and you hate that, you resent it, so much that you bought this thing to make fun of me because you knew I would like it. It means the only way I’ll be happy is if I can put chains on you, and I don’t want to hold onto anyone who wants so desperately to get away from me!” In a burst of fury, she hurled the box at him.

Mulder was stunned. That she would infer all of that from a simple gift and that she would throw the box at him. But sitting here in the honeymoon cabin on a tropical paradise, he really didn’t want to fight with her. “Maybe it was supposed to mean I’m ready to be chained,” he said in a low voice, rising from the bed and walking to her.

She took a step back, but realized that she was retreating and stood firm, planting her feet against the floor and looking up at him defiantly. “I don’t think so,” she said.

“Why not?”

“I think it’s time to end this, Mulder.”

He felt like she’d held her gun to his chest and pulled the trigger, shooting him point-blank in the heart. “End what?” he asked in a voice that he couldn’t keep from trembling. After everything they’d been through, she wouldn’t end their relationship over a stupid birthday gift she didn’t like. Hell, if she was going to do that, wouldn’t she have over the idiotic keychain last year, which was also a symbol, but not of what she’d thought it was. See, he told himself, that was your clue to buy her something she would understand. He cursed himself for not buying her those heart shaped emerald earrings at the store the night before. But they’d seemed so…cliched somehow and he’d had such a better idea.

“This conversation,” she said. “We were talking, and somehow we just went right past each other. If we keep going, it could get ugly and we’ll say things we don’t mean, and I don’t want that to happen since Julie isn’t here to stop us from hurting each other.”

He hoped her mention of Julie was supposed to make him laugh, because he did. Mulder looked at her and she was grinning, too, so he knew he was back on solid ground. He picked up the box from where it had fallen and held it out to her, an offering. “You don’t want to use this?”

She picked it up and held it between the fingers of both hands, letting the light play off the thin, sparkly gold chain. It was real, and it was very long. At one end was a heavy gold band. As he watched, she twisted the ring and broke it from the chain. He gaped and she explained self-consciously, “It’s beautiful, but I don’t do too well with things on leashes.” But she held out her hand and a moment later, he realized what she wanted and put his hand into hers. With care and grace, she put the gold band onto his fourth finger. “This will remind you,” she said, and looked up into his eyes.

He was mesmerized for a moment by the bright sheen in her eyes and how beautiful she looked when she looked up at him like that, waiting. They were both standing on ground that was too shaky for him to chance kissing her, though. He was waiting for her to be ready – and not when she was drunk, and not when she was desperate. So he lowered his eyes and looked at the ring that now weighed heavily on his finger. “It will,” he promised.

“I trust you, Mulder,” she said, and he looked at her, startled that she would feel she had to say the words aloud. “All that gift symbolized to me was your lack of faith in that.” She let the chain drop onto the bed and turned for the door. “Let’s go to the beach.”

He followed her as she walked outside. Without speaking, they crossed the small distance between their cabin and the almost endless-looking expanse of sand and the truly endless blue water. There was no one else around. They were as completely alone as they had been inside their cabin, but here the sun beat down on them with a heat that renewed their vigor.

“I forgot the towels,” Scully said, taking a step toward the hut to return for them.

Mulder put his hand on his arm and stopped her. “We don’t need them.”

“We don’t?” she asked.

“It’s just sand, what can it hurt?” He smiled and sat down on it. After a moment, she followed and then they were sitting cross-legged, looking at each other. Mulder remembered just how boring the beach was. Sun, sand, nothing to do.

“You’re going to get a farmer tan,” he cautioned her, looking at her shorts and shirt.

“So are you,” she said back. It was almost a challenge. Instantly, they broke into grins and scrambled to throw their clothes off. Scully put her clothes into a small heap and stretched out on the sand. It was warm, having absorbed the warmth of the sun, and it felt good against her skin. She sighed luxuriously and turned over to feel the warmth on the front of her body as well. Closing her eyes, she pressed her cheek against the sand. “It smells good,” she said.

“Scully, you have sand stuck all over you now,” Mulder said, watching her with amusement. He’d never thought Scully could act like such a free spirit. Of course, she stopped as soon as he said that because it made her realize that he was watching her.

“Only one way to fix that,” she said, getting to her feet. “You coming?” She turned and held a hand out to him and that was the first time she’d looked at him since he’d disrobed. “Mulder,” she said, with the same surprise in her tone as she would have if she’d walked into their office and discovered him sitting at his desk naked.

There was a reason for that – in his tiny red Speedo, he was practically naked. She knew she was staring, but she couldn’t make herself stop. The swimsuit left little to the imagination. Very little. What little it covered aroused more than her curiosity and she wanted to knock him down into the sand and ravish him. But she knew that wouldn’t be proper behavior. He’d probably toss her off, she thought, managing to close her mouth.

“Scully?” he said after a period of time she couldn’t measure because she’d been gaping. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” she snapped, knowing that her bathing suit didn’t do for her body even half of what his did for his body. With that, she sprinted the distance into the ocean.

Mulder wouldn’t have agreed that her swimsuit didn’t flatter her. She looked beautiful, he thought, with that tanning cream rubbed into her formerly fair skin, contrasting darkly with the gleaming white of the bathing suit. It was cut high on her leg in the back, but not high enough. It seemed unstructured in the front, allowing her a gentle, natural bounce that threatened to set him on fire, but at the same time gave her cleavage that impressed him. He chased after her and grabbed her waist just as a wave broke over them, leaving him sputtering.

Scully took a look at his face, with his hair plastered down over his eyes, and couldn’t help laughing. She reached up and pushed the wet strands back and found him looking at her with eyes like the Big Bad Wolf’s. Since she’d left both her red cloak and her goodies for grandma back in DC, and she didn’t really want to be eaten alive, she removed her hand from his wet skin and stepped away from him, trying to think of anything but the fact that he’d just been drenched in saltwater and she wanted to locate each and every tiny grain of salt with her tongue and lick it off of him.

When Scully disappeared under the water with the fluid movement of a dolphin, Mulder looked around himself, figuring this was a new game. He didn’t see her. Apparently, she was serious about swimming. He could be serious, too, he thought, and dove under the water himself. A tantalizing view of a kicking foot appeared in front of him and Mulder seized it.

There was a loud splash and a frustrated scream as she tried to get away. They both foundered in the water and ended up finding the squishy bottom with their feet. “Mulder!” she cried. “I thought you were a shark!”

“You didn’t really think I was a shark,” he told her.

“Yeah, I actually did,” she informed him. “I never told you how much Jaws scared me when I was a kid?”

“Why don’t we get out of the water and you can tell me all about it,” he invited. Since the water was cool, she was eager to feel the sun directly on her skin again, so she agreed. He held her hand and they walked back together, standing firm against the waves that threatened to pull her feet out from under her. Mulder never seemed to have that problem, she noticed. He’s probably got stronger toes than I do, she thought, and immediately decided that was a weird thought.

The sun had risen to an even more glorious point in the sky, and though Scully knew they should seek the solace of shade, but she didn’t want to. Glancing around, she saw there wasn’t much shade to be had. Those palm trees really didn’t cast much of a shadow.

“So,” said Mulder pleasantly, arranging himself on the sand. Scully glanced at him and wondered how he could lay there, completely open and exposed, without dying of embarrassment. He loves his body, she thought, and even that thought turned her mind to sex, because she had to wonder if a man who loved his body would be so into it that he would be an excellent lover. Or would he be too egoistic to give a damn about her needs? That was the question – would Mulder care about my needs, she thought, and she felt herself turning red just thinking it, as though she was afraid he could read her thoughts.

“Scully?” he said, pulling her out of it.

“What?” she asked sharply.

“You were off in space,” he said.

“I was not.”

“What were you thinking about?” he asked.

Here’s my chance to ask him, she thought, but she couldn’t say it.

“Because I know it wasn’t Jaws,” Mulder continued.

She couldn’t even think of a good lie. “Okay, so Jaws. I was eleven years old and I was the biggest tomboy and -”

“No you weren’t,” Mulder said.

She raised her eyebrows at him. “Mulder, I was there and you weren’t and I was a tomboy.”

“But when you were…gone…” The words had begun to tumble out before he thought about what he was dredging up until he had to think of a pleasant, non-offensive word for her abduction that wouldn’t make either of them cry. Then he realized that there was no such a way, but gone was the best word he could come up with. It best represented the big gaping hole that he’d felt ripped in his chest during those days that she had been, well, gone. “I don’t know if I ever told you about it, Scully, but I spent a lot of time with your mother. She needed someone to lean on, and I think she could see something in me…because I’d known you so differently than anyone in your family or your circle of friends had. Or maybe because she’s such a wonderful mother and she recognized that I was blaming myself terribly for the fact that you were missing and it was all my fault…but we spent a lot of time together. One day, your mother called me to say that she’d had a dream. That all the Scully women have dreams, sometimes, that are about things that are going on in their lives. She avoided the word psychic, just like you would have if you’d been telling it. She didn’t think you were coming back, and it hurt too much for her to try to hold onto that hope anymore. That man, Addie Sparks’s father, was right when he said missing is worse than gone. We picked out your tombstone that day,” Mulder said, worried about the way she would react. He was ashamed that he had been so close to giving up on her, the day that she had returned to them. The very day. He doubted her mother had ever told her, out of that same shame.

“I’ve seen it,” Scully said.

That surprised him and he looked at her. She didn’t say anything, though, presumably lost in her own world of torment about what had been done to her. “Afterward, your mother needed to talk. We went to her house and spent hours looking through old photograph albums and she told me about you when you were young. That was when she told me I could call her ‘Mom.’ Seeing those pictures is why I’ve never felt the need to ask you about those years, since I’d already seen the pictures and heard the stories. And you weren’t a tomboy, Dana.”

“I was,” she insisted.

“Then explain to me this,” he said, and to her extreme shock, he produced his wallet and in it, there was a faded color photograph that she recognized as one of her school pictures.

“Mulder, you stole that from my mother!” She expected him to deny it, to say that Margaret Scully had given it to him, but he didn’t. “You did steal it,” she said, shocked again to learn that her partner was a thief who would steal for personal satisfaction from a mother in her time of grief and need.

“I couldn’t help it, Scully, I had to take it. I didn’t have any pictures of you – except the one from the office Christmas party that was taken by one of the other partygoers, but your eyes are closed in that and besides, you were having a bad hair day so it didn’t really look like you -”

“But a picture from when I was a kid does look like me?” she cried. “I don’t look anything like that now,” she insisted.

“That’s why it’s so charming,” he said. “That’s why I keep it here with this picture of me and my sister. Neither of us look like that any more. Well, I don’t know about her, of course, not having seen her in more than twenty five years, but since I know she’s out there, I can assume she no longer looks like she’s eight years old. But these are the people we once were. The people we still are in our hearts.”

“That’s very sweet, Mulder, but I’m not this girl any more,” she said, touching the picture lightly with one finger. The fact that he’d even seen it, let alone carried it around with him, bothered her. If this is the way he thinks of me, she thought, no wonder he keeps rejecting me. At least Mulder had been sort of cute as a little boy, she thought, looking at the photo in his still-open wallet.

“Only because you try so hard not to be,” he said.

“Mulder, I don’t know any adult who wouldn’t fight against being a fluffy-haired, freckle-faced teenager with a mouthful of braces.”

“Then I hate to be the one to tell you that your hair is curling up, I can see your freckles, and you still have an overbite,” he said, and even though she could see that special caring for her that he had in his eyes, she closed her mouth quickly, since it was the only thing she could do anything about at the moment.

“I was a tomboy,” she insisted, hoping he would put that stupid wallet away. “My mother wouldn’t let us go see the movie because she knew it was too scary for us, so one night we rode off on our bikes and went to the drive-in where it was playing and climbed up in the trees to watch.”

“What happened?” Mulder asked.

“I got so scared I grabbed my brother Bill and he fell out of the tree,” Scully said. Mulder laughed, thinking Bill had gotten exactly what he deserved. After a moment, Scully smiled too, although she said, “It wasn’t very funny at the time. He was furious and called me a baby for weeks and wouldn’t play with me.”

“At least you had other siblings to play with,” Mulder said.

Scully shook her head vigorously. “Charlie was too busy dressing up in Mom’s clothes, and Melissa was already dating boys who were old enough to drive and smoke and wear tough leather jackets. She always did love bad boys,” she said, and thought back to the couple she’d seen that morning. She had to stop thinking about this, she knew, or it would just make her feel worse and worse until she’d convinced herself that it really was then.

“Sounds like you had a lot of fun,” he said forlornly and she instantly felt sorry for him. When he was that age, his sister had disappeared, leaving him with the burden of guilt for the rest of his life. “I don’t know if I ever told you about this, Scully, but when I was young, my parents sent me off to this school for genius kids.” Sensing this wasn’t easy for him to tell, Scully remained silent, encouraging him to continue. “Thinking back on it now, it seems like it had to have been run by the people in the project that my father was working on. What they called ‘creative teaching methods’ actually involved terrible psychological testing and…”

“I’m so sorry,” she said, thinking he had faced so many things she couldn’t even imagine. Being tortured by evil teachers driven by the project couldn’t compare at all to being uprooted and losing all of her friends two or three times a year as her father brought the family with him from naval base to naval base. Scully had never been able to figure out why, since he was always going off on ships anyway – why couldn’t he have gone and left the family in the same house? She shrugged. It had made her a stronger person, and that was all that matter.

“It’s all right,” Mulder said, his voice turning tough, trying to show her that nothing could ever hurt him. “It prepared me for what happened after Samantha left. I mean, was taken.” He frowned and she wondered if he was having another flash of memory return. But his face cleared and she decided he’d just been reliving the horror of having his father beat him and call him names and blame him for his sister’s disappearance. Scully, having seen Mulder’s mother slap him recently, doubted the abuse had stopped with his father. Unless, of course, his mother had been raised to remain silent no matter what happened and turned to the world of Valium while their family was falling apart. It was amazing Mulder was even a functioning human being.

“You’ve done such a great job getting past that, though,” she said, touching his arm and trying to sound encouraging.

“It took me a long time to pull myself together,” Mulder told her. “When I was the FBI’s golden boy, the most brilliant profiler they’d ever seen, I got drawn in too deeply. It was this terrible case involving a sicko who was abusing children. The man was a high up in the government. The more I profiled him, the more I started to feel like I was living in his nightmare,” Mulder explained. He’d never told anyone about this before. He thought he probably shouldn’t even be telling her. She would think badly of him. She might even get up and walk away and not come back to him, afraid to be near someone who had been so terribly mentally disturbed.

Scully’s other hand wrapped around his arm, joining the one that she’d already placed there. Now she was literally hanging on his every word. “What happened?” she asked, knowing it was all very painful for him, but wanting him to know that he was safe with her.

“The other agents began to think I was copycatting the crimes. They thought I’d lost my mind. I had terrible nightmares and had to be sedated, but even the strongest doses didn’t work. Even then, they had to keep me on the case so I could find the real killer, or so they could prove it was me. Of course, then the killer kidnapped me because he thought I was the only person who could understand him. It was a confusing time. If they’d just let me go, maybe I wouldn’t have had to have been committed.”

Scully gasped. Mulder’s heart sank. He knew this was going to happen. “No, not committed – just, helped. I was in terrible shape when that case ended. We got Monty Props, but the cost to me was very high. I needed time. That was when I first went through deep regression hypnosis and was able to recall what had really happened when my sister was taken. So something good came of it.”

“I’m shocked.” What else was there for her to say?

“Talk about something happy, Scully,” he said and his voice broke slightly, betraying his desperate need to think of something else.

“This reminds me of one summer when I was about sixteen when my father took our family for vacation on the East Coast. Some town with a really weird name. I don’t even remember what state it was in. It was just for a few days, but I had one of the most profound experiences of my life there.” Scully stopped and looked at him, thinking he didn’t really want to hear about what had qualified as a profound experience when she was sixteen. He looked interested, though, so she continued on. “I met this boy, and we spent all of our time together. We were both so unhappy – me because my father was always making the family move around, and him because of his family, too. He was older than me, and incredibly smart and sensitive. He had the soul of a poet. He was going away to college again in the fall. But he’d had a hard time fitting in there too. I think I was in love with him, even in those few days,” Scully confessed. “But he wouldn’t kiss me.”

Mulder was nodding. “I had an experience like that, too,” he said. “Only it was when I was at Oxford. Phoebe and I were living together, but things had already turned sour. I was looking forward to getting my degree and striking out on my own in the states. One night I had to get away from her and I went to this bar and met this lovely American tourist. She told me about how she was going to become a brilliant doctor, but all I could look at was her cascading brown hair. It was almost to her waist. When she started to tell me about her job as a waitress, I thought she was going to say it was in Denny’s or somewhere. But she worked at a Playboy club. Topless.” He looked at Scully, and she had a shocked look on her face, just as he’d expected he would. “I lost her in a sudden crowd of triumphant rugby players and never saw her again.”

“Love lost,” she said in a strange voice, and they were silent for a long time. The moment grew so heavy she knew she had to say something amusing to break the tension. “Next you’ll tell me you’ve had feelings for Skinner,” she joked.

“Well -” he said and she looked at him, thinking he was about to tell her that he and the Assistant Director did indeed have a closer relationship than she had ever imagined. “Relax, Scully, I was just going to say I think he has a crush on you.”

“Skinner?” she cried.

“Obviously you don’t see how he looks at you,” Mulder told her.

“Obviously you don’t see how he looks at you,” Scully echoed back, and Mulder got a stunned look on his face that told her he hoped she was kidding. She hoped she was, too. “Let’s just sunbathe here a while, Mulder,” she said, stretching out underneath the hot sun again and closing her eyes.

“Are you telling me to be quiet?” he asked. He’d been enjoying their discussion. They never really talked, and he didn’t know why that was. Maybe they’d just never had the chance to tell each other these things. He was shocked they hadn’t said them before.

“You can talk if you want to,” she said graciously, yawning and moving into a more comfortable position in the sand.

• • •

Part 16

He regarded her uncertainly for a moment. Had she just said he could talk because she’d seen the look on his face and heard the unbearable silence or did she mean it? He decided to try and if she got too snippy, then he’d lapse back into silence. “So, Scully, what’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?”

She propped herself up on her elbows, staring thoughtfully out at the ocean, giving a perfect impression of those models stretched out luxuriously in those cruise advertisements he’d seen on TV. “I’m not really a wild and crazy person, Mulder. I was raised Catholic, had my rebellious green haired streak, had some weird friends, posed for Playboy, graduated from college, you know the story.” She didn’t look at him, and therefore missed the perfect chance to perform a tonsillectomy on him.

He scraped his chin off the sandy beach and swallowed, grimacing at the salty, sandy taste. “Yyyyouuu?” Had his voice cracked? He thought it had. Looking down, he said a small prayer begging for forgiveness. He’d worn the suit to ruffle her feathers. And now, with the thought of her as a Playboy centerfold, well, a skin tight red Speedo wasn’t the most brilliant clothing selection. He squeaked on. “poseddd for, for Play, huh?”

She turned to look at him, her cold FBI stare in place, smirking slightly at his uncomfortable squirm. “What, didn’t think the Ice Queen had it in her?”

“No, I never thought…” No, that was just the problem, wasn’t it? He never thought and therefore never anticipated her throwing him for a loop.

“The photographers showed up on campus one day and Missy convinced me to go with her. She was afraid to go alone. But the guy talked me into it and they ended up using one of my pictures.” She watched him as his mouth worked to form a word, but with the absolute lack of brain function, it wasn’t easy. “It was May of ‘84. Right before I graduated. In case you want to go find a back issue.” She winked at him and laid back on the sand. “Should I ever hear Frohike tell of it though, you may have difficulty having children.” She shrugged, giving him every indication that she was indifferent and unfazed by his speechless condition. Truth was, she was rattled beyond words and wished he could make a joke and let her feel comfortable again. “Mulder? You there?”

He couldn’t look at her. He knew he’d probably seen that issue. And the thought that he’d seen her like that… It was just too much to think about. Especially with her wearing only a very thin, very tiny bathing suit, sprawled out enticingly in the sand next to him. Damn it, he’d seen too many movies, a good number involving a beach. He needed to leave. “We forgot sunscreen. I don’t want you to burn. I’ll just go get it.”

It was a good long time before he returned.

When he did, he’d thoughtfully remembered to collect beach towels and paperbacks and sunscreen and her beach pillow. Her heart skipped when she recognized it. Beach pillow. Had been in Straw Bag. With Sarong. Oh, shit. She threw her face back into her makeshift grave. She heard him moving around but she didn’t dare look at him. She couldn’t. He’d seen her hide the bag. He’d seen her come out of the bathroom with the bag. He must know she’d been wearing it. She wanted the sand to swallow her up.

She yanked her head up and turned to look at him. He was busy spreading out his Marvin the Martian beach towel, next to hers. He’d just told the man she’d posed for Playboy and she was worried about him seeing her in a sarong? Her priorities were messed up. She sat up, dusted the sand off her and moved over to her towel. She didn’t miss how he’d overlapped their towels by a good six inches. Had she been with anyone else, she would have said it was to help keep the sand off them. But this was Mulder. He just wanted to accidentally bump into her. Deciding not to mention it, she flopped back on her stomach and idly wondered if she could still tan with tanning cream on.

Then she felt a cold squirt of something on her back and jumped. He laughed.

“Calm down, it’s just oil.” As if knowing he was carefully, gently massaging oil on her back was going to make her relax. Ha. Every single muscle in her body was tensed. And since he was rubbing her back, being a good deal more careful than she’d ever known anyone to be, he had to know how tense she was. He didn’t mention how tight she was, just continued the massage in silence, letting his hands wander a little too far down her sides as he worked. She could swear she heard a chuckle when she squeaked. He’d gotten a little too friendly there. He was trying to seduce her so he could tell her no. It didn’t make sense. He was taunting her. Well, she thought, two can play that game.

Innocently reaching back, she unhooked the top piece of her bathing suit, slowly removed it and tossed it aside. She was careful to not let him see much. He was teasing her. So she would be a tease. She waited for his hands to return to their task, but they didn’t. She glanced in his direction. He was just staring at her.

“I hate tan lines.” Then she turned away and suppressed her own chuckle. The poor thing was speechless. The tiny little conniving part of his brain that had remained above his waist after the whole Playboy confession was now gone. She’d won the game. She was quite happy with herself as she drifted off to sleep.

He woke her up an hour later, after he’d managed to tear his eyes away from her bare back. Never in his life would her forget her slim fingers deftly unhooking the clasp nor the way she rolled her shoulders forward to remove the straps. Eidetic memory would gleefully reproduce that image time and time again, most likely while they were sitting in Skinner’s office or somewhere equally inappropriate.

Distracted as he was, he didn’t forget that under that gorgeous fake tan was her beautiful creamy white skin, skin that he couldn’t imagine allowing to burn. He touched her shoulder gently. She didn’t move a muscle. He changed strategies, running his fingers down her back with a feather light touch. Her head turned immediately.

“Wha?” She rubbed her eyes, forgetting there had been a reason she’d pressed herself into the towel.

“Iiii, um, ddduh didn’t want to burn?”

His stutter reminded her immediately. She got the gist of what he was saying, but he was so fun to tease. She smiled innocently, reaching for her top, and then turned away from him to sit up. The moment her back was turned, her face broke into a wide grin. Then she forgot how to be a woman momentarily and slid to shoulder straps up her arms and looked back at him. He was just staring like a little lost puppy. Good. That was the whole point of her cruel coy act.

“Mulder? Could you help me out here?”

His eyes dropped from her face to her still bare back. Had she just batted her eyelashes at him? He must be hallucinating. Maybe the whole day was just a really strange completely unrealistic dream. He reached out and took hold of the two ends of the suit. It was a simple hook and eye closure. He’d removed them countless times, even help put them back on too, and the concept was extremely straight forward.

But ten minutes later, he still hadn’t managed to figure it out. He’d snapped the thing against her back three times, stabbed himself in the finger with the deceptively sharp metal object, and had succeeded in being the source of amusement for the woman who sat laughing before him. She was laughing so hard she couldn’t keep her shoulders still, and he snapped at her, pretending that was the reason. She just laughed harder. He got tired of letting her laugh at him and gave up. He sat back on his towel, choosing to remain on his stomach so he’d have a place to hide his face.

“I think it’s broken, Scully.”

She snorted and then reached back, much to his dismay and had the thing fastened a second later. She got up and shook out her towel, ignoring the accusing stare. He couldn’t believe it. She hadn’t needed his help at all, she’d just been trying to torture him. He rolled over and sat up, hoping she could see the scowl on his face. He didn’t like to be made fun of.

“I’m tired of the beach, Mulder. Want to get some lunch?” He scowled harder. Of course she was tired of the beach. She’d already mortified him.

“No.”

She turned around and raised an eyebrow. “The human eating machine isn’t hungry?” She waited for him to smile, nod, change his mind and say he was hungry, anything. But he didn’t. He was pouting because she’d been teasing him. He deserved it. She hadn’t been teasing him the night before and he’d decided to play gentleman again. “You know, your face is going to freeze like that someday.”

His eyes shifted from the water to her face and back to the water. The scowl remained. The troublesome little voice in her head clubbed her conscience over the head with five inch red spike heel. She smiled an evil little smile and squatted down next to him to whisper in his ear. “It’s OK, Mulder, I’m sure you don’t have any trouble getting them off.”

Then she started to laugh and walked back towards their room. She knew he was watching her, so she added the slightest sway to her hips and rolled her eyes heavenward. “Oh, Missy, if you could see me now!”

She said it a little too loudly and a little too closely to the cabin. She could hear voices, and decided to investigate, walking as close to their yard as she could.

“… I swear, I just heard her say my name again. I know it. I’d recognize her voice anywhere.” The Missy like woman sounded upset, almost frantic.

The guy laughed, quietly, but it was an unmistakable sound. “Honey, don’t worry about it. She’s not here. Neither is he.” Why did that man’s voice sound so familiar? She couldn’t place it.

She could place the whine though. She definitely sounded just like Missy. “Stop laughing at me. Why is it so unbelievable that they’re here? Everyone knew they were in love four years ago!”

“Him? Here? After taking the honeymoon cruise? No, they’d never do that. Even if you convince me that your sister would do that, and you won’t, I know he’d never be involved. No way.”

She didn’t catch anything else because Mulder happened up the path behind her. He placed his hands on her shoulders unexpectedly, and she yelped. He laughed then, amused at having caused so many heretofore unimaginable sounds to come out of Dana Scully’s mouth. It was her turn to scowl.

“Eavesdropping, Scully?”

She ignored him and walked into the cabin and digging out her phone. The no service light blinked at her. She scowled at it and threw it back in the bag and reached for the eleven dollars a minute phone on the dresser. She dialed her mom’s number, not feeling comfortable confiding in Mulder about the woman right then. A decidedly deep masculine voice that she distinctly recognized answered. She hurled the phone back on the cradle and stared at it. She was wrong. She had to be. It must have been one of her brothers or maybe she’d dialed his number by accident.

Mulder, who observed her actions silently, fell in her line of sight. She pointed at the phone. “Could you dial my mom’s number?”

Mulder looked confused. “Can’t you?”

“No, I can’t remember it. And I just tried the wrong one.” Mulder continued to stare, not swayed. “Could you? Please? If she answers, just give it back to me.” He shrugged and did as he was told, quickly handing her the phone.

“Mom?” She must have simply lost her mind. Hell, she even thought Missy was having her honeymoon in the room next door. “Are you there by yourself?”

Mulder watched, intrigued by the whole ordeal.

Her mother’s voice was quiet, but she could easily understand her. “Good Heavens, Dana! Where you’d get off to?”

Paranoia seized her. “Who’s there, mom? Who answered the phone?”

“Oh, it’s just a friend, dear, my hands were full and I asked him to grab the phone.”

No! The evil little voice was jumping up and down telling her things that she refused to believe. “What sort of friend, mom?” Mulder cracked up at the scared tone in Scully’s voice.

“A very very good friend, Dana.” Poor Dana’s face crumbled. She could just imagine how good a friend if he was answering the phone. “Now, I thought you were working, where on earth are you?”

“What sort of very very good friend, Mom?” Tears sprang to her eyes and reflected in her voice. It wasn’t just about her father being replaced. It was the replacement that she was having an issue with. “Mom, how would you know I’m not working…” Sniffle. “Unless that’s who I think it is.”

She heard a quiet thump and knew her mother’s hand was placed over the phone. Probably whispering to her boyfriend that her daughter was distraught over the news. Scully looked to Mulder for support. He reached for her hand and mouthed the question ‘what’s wrong’ at her. She put her hand over the phone too. “Oh, God, Mulder, it just can’t be true.” She heard her mother calling to her and stopped looking at Mulder’s worried face.

“Dana, honey?” Dana hiccuped from trying to force down a sob. “How’s Fox doing?”

She stopped trying to hide her tears. “He’s fine, mom. Now you have to tell me who that guy is.”

“Dana, I think it might be best if we were to discuss this when you get home when you and I and Walter can sit down…”

She screamed. Dana Katherine Scully dropped the phone, opened her mouth and let out a scream. A horror movie, blood-curdling, gut-wrenching scream. Then she collapsed on the floor and sobbed. Mulder picked up the discarded phone. “Mrs. Scully?”

“Oh, hi, Fox, is Dana all right? And please, call me mom.” Mulder looked from the whimpering muddle that had attached itself to his leg to the phone. He put it back to his ear. He heard a slight muffled conversation and was greatly intrigued by the identity of Scully’s mom’s new very very good friend that had caused such a horrified reaction from Scully. Then a new voice popped onto the line and Mulder instantly understood Scully’s horror.

“Agent Mulder, where in bloody hell have the two of you been? Maggie’s been worried sick. You know better than to worry her like that. Think of what she’s been through!”

Mulder set the phone gently back in it’s cradle, not quite able to stomach the reprimand about hurting his partner’s mother’s feelings from his partner’s mother’s boyfriend who was also his boss. He sat down on the floor beside Scully and held her until the sobs ceased. She looked up at him hopefully.

“I was wrong, right? It’s not him?” Mulder pushed her hair behind her ears and looked away. He couldn’t tell her that she was right, not when she was begging him not to.

The phone started to ring. They both looked at it in horror. Mulder reached for it.

“Mulder, don’t. It’s them. You know they traced the call.”

“Scully, you’re paranoid.” He lifted the phone to his ear and was greeted with the not too happy voice of Walter Skinner.

“What the hell are you two doing in the Virgin Islands, Mulder?” His voice was loud enough that Scully could hear him. Mulder glanced at Scully and she watched a grin form.

“Looking for virgins?” Scully started to crack up, releasing the stress of the last few minutes.

“Tell Agent Scully that I am not amused.” Mulder watched Scully suppress the rest of her laughter by pressing her face into a pillow.

“Sir, Agent Scully can hear you. Quite clearly.” Mulder suddenly felt guilty for invading on Skinner’s personal life. But it was his own fault.

Scully snatched the phone out of Mulder’s hand. “Can I call you Dad now?”

This time it was Mulder who started laughing. But his laughter threatened to be contagious and Scully shoved a pillow in his face.

“I don’t think any of this situation is at all amusing. I’m still waiting to hear what you’re doing on vacation when neither of you have requested vacation time.”

Skinner had lowered his voice and Mulder had not heard him. Scully look at Mulder and started to wonder again why she hadn’t been allowed to see the case file. “Well,” She cleared her throat. “Sir” Mulder snickered. “We’re working on a case.” Mulder stood up and headed for the door, inexplicably.

“And what case would that be, exactly?”

She looked at Mulder’s quickly retreating form and started to understand. “I’ve got to go, Sir.” She hung up without waiting for an answer and followed Mulder, breaking into a run the same time he did. He slowed down a few minutes later, seeing her determination to catch up to him.

She grabbed his arm so that he might not get away from her again and swung him around to walk back towards the cabin. “We’re going back to our room, Mulder.”

“You know, once you mentioned it, I realized I am sort of hungry.” He turned and headed for the town.

She planted her feet and pulled. He faced her reluctantly. “We’re going back to the cabin now, Mulder, where you are going to show me the case file, OK?”

“No, not really Scully, I’m really hungry.”

She glared at him and started walking, pulling him miserably along behind her and locking the door behind them once they were safely back inside the cabin. “I’ve just found out my mother is sleeping with my boss, there’s a woman next door who looks, sounds, and acts just like my dead sister and I’ve started to think that my partner is lying to me. Tell me my day isn’t really this bad this early. Please.”

Mulder just stared back.

• • •

Part 17

“Scully, maybe you should sit down,” he said, pressing gently on her shoulders until her bottom made contact with the chair. “Are you -”

She didn’t want to hear him ask her if she felt all right. “I know it sounds crazy, Mulder, but it looks and sounds just like her.”

His eyes were serious and not mocking at all as he crouched down next to her. “What do you think is going on, then?” he asked.

“I don’t know!” she cried. “I just don’t know. It doesn’t make any sense.” She glanced at him. “I know this has happened before. I know what happened in San Diego. And maybe…maybe I am imagining things, maybe I am losing my mi-”

“No, Scully,” he told her, holding her eyes with his. “There has to be a logical explanation, right? You know what we have to do.”

“Talk to her?” Scully asked.

Mulder shook his head. “Eat lunch,” he said. “Can’t you hear my stomach? I’m starving, and I’m sure you are too. Things will look better once you’ve eaten.”

“You sound like my mother,” she said, annoyed, but realized what she’d said. “Oh god, Mulder, my mother and Skinner. It can’t be true.”

“And yet it is,” he said lightly. She groaned. “Your mother’s a grown woman, she’s entitled to a life of her own.”

“Mulder, how would you feel if your mother was slee- fu- doin- um, with Skinner?” She frowned, thinking about it. “You don’t think it’s a conspiracy, do you? You don’t think they would use her that way to get at us, do you?” she asked.

“Scully, listen to yourself. Get dressed and we’ll eat.”

“Mulder, I’m dressed,” she said, crossing her arms and waiting for him. “Where are we going?”

“There has to be somewhere to eat in town,” he said.

• • •

There was. One restaurant. It was an Italian restaurant, complete with dim lighting, red checked tablecloths, and candlelight. It was also quite crowded, probably because it was the only place to eat on the island. It must make breakfast interesting, Scully thought. They should have stayed in and gotten room service.

Then again, room service had its uses. Like when you couldn’t drag yourself out of bed long enough to eat. She and Mulder would probably never know what that was like, she thought.

“Are you having a good birthday?” Mulder asked her.

Scully was distracted, though, by the entrance of a woman with bright red hair that flowed to her waist. She never turned in their direction as she was seated at a table by herself. Scully stared nevertheless. “That’s her!” she whispered to Mulder.

“I see her,” he said.

“Don’t you think she looks like my sister?”

“Scully, I only saw your sister the one time,” Mulder pleaded ignorance. Scully didn’t stop staring, turn and answer his question. She continued to look at the other woman. He reached out and took her hand to get her attention. “I’m worried about you,” he said.

“If you could see her, you wouldn’t be,” she insisted, and the hopeful look on her face made him feel very sad.

“I know what this is like,” he told her. “Don’t think it’s never happened to me. But you know that your sister is gone. You know what happened to her, that she isn’t coming back. There is no explanation for this that you want to accept. A twin, a clone, a freak resemblance…which do you want it to be?” He knew his words were harsh, but he wanted her to see how ridiculous this was.

“What do you think?” she asked. A waitress approached and they ordered their meals without much gusto. Mulder refused to answer. He believed Scully’s sister was dead. She looked down at the table and began to speak, to try to explain herself. “Maybe it’s because I’ve worked so closely with you, but I had so many doubts about the way Melissa died. Would they have really mistaken her for me? Professional killers, and they were so careless?”

“Maybe she saw them.”

“Maybe it wasn’t her.” At his surprised look, she went on, “Not that I think it was someone else, someone who had no reason to be in my apartment. But I think it’s possible it wasn’t her in the hospital. By the time anyone was called, her head had been bandaged. There was no positive identification.” She shook her head. “I know, Mulder, I know how it sounds but -”

“What about the autopsy?” he asked gently.

Scully shook her head again. “There was a mix-up. Her body was cremated before it was scheduled to be. We never saw the body without the bandages on.”

“Listen to yourself, Scully. You’ve gone from ‘her’ to ‘the body’ in a matter of minutes.”

She looked at him defensively. “What are you saying, Mulder?”

“I’m saying, this can all be solved. Go and talk to her.”

Scully turned around quickly to do just that. She was just in time to witness the woman going in the direction of the ladies’ room. With a backwards glance at Mulder, Scully followed.

Mulder sat at the table and waited for her to come back. The waitress brought their bread and drinks. Then, some time later, she brought their food. Mulder at that point wondered if he should go and get Scully, but he knew he couldn’t go into the ladies room without getting into some trouble, and he assumed she wouldn’t want to be interrupted. He ate. When he finished his food with no hint of Scully’s return, he began to be worried. Mulder got to his feet to go to the ladies room to find out what she had been doing in there for more than forty five minutes. There could be danger involved, he thought, worrying.

He stopped before he reached his destination, however. Sitting at the table where the woman Scully thought was her sister had been sitting was a man he recognized. Mulder reached out and grabbed the scumbag by his ratty leather jacket and shoved him up against the wall. “What did you do to her?” he demanded, the entire scenario unfolding in his mind with color and detail. Mulder couldn’t believe he’d had the guts to hurt Scully and then come in here and sit so smugly.

“Mulder, it’s good to see you again,” his companion grinned ironically at him.

“Where is she, what have you done with her, answer me you slimy rat bastard or I’ll blast your ass from here to Canada!” Mulder roared. It attracted the attention of the other patrons, who understandably, didn’t wish to interfere. In fact, the restaurant began to empty out rather quickly.

“It’s awfully cold in Cana-”

“Not as cold as it’s gonna be where I take you and leave you to die if you did anything to hurt her, Krycek!” Mulder sneered.

“Mulder, you won’t believe -” Scully began and stopped short. “Well, maybe you will,” she amended.

“Is it her?” Mulder asked, unwilling to take his eyes off his untrustworthy former partner.

“I don’t know,” Scully said.

“Will you let him go, please?” the red haired woman requested, placing her hand on Mulder’s arm. Mulder turned and looked at her at the touch. He could see why Scully thought this woman was her sister. The resemblance was uncanny. “Please?” she said again. Mulder sighed and released Krycek, giving him a mean glare to remind the other man that he meant business, and he would hurt him if he tried anything. The woman slid her arm around his waist and looked into Krycek’s eyes. “What’s going on?”

“You tell me,” Krycek said, looking back at her.

Mulder looked at Scully. “She says her name is Kristin.”

“It is Kristin!” the Melissa-looking woman insisted.

“She also says that it’s only been Kristin for about two years. She has no memory of anything that occurred before that. She awoke in a hospital in North Dakota with no memory. Which is where she claims she met this man. Alex Krycek.”

Krycek had that confused, amused look on his face Scully remembered from his partnership with Mulder and their subsequent encounters. He even laughed. “You think this is your sister, Scully? Your sister’s dead, remember, you accused me of having shot her.”

“It’s not her?” Scully demanded.

“I don’t know this woman.” Melissa/Kristin said, looking suitably confused. Scully stared at her. Melissa had never been a very good liar. She said it messed with your karma. Kristin wasn’t wearing the crystal Melissa had vowed never to remove. And why would Melissa want to fake her death? Her sister had never had any qualms about running off without a word whenever it suited her. She wouldn’t have to go to a ruse like this.

“Scully?” Mulder asked. Feeling confused, she turned away. It was strange that Krycek was involved, she thought. Coincidence? She didn’t really know. Mulder turned to Krycek. “What are you doing here?”

“Hiding out from the men who would like to kill us both,” Krycek answered with an intense look in his eyes. Mulder bought it. “Now that you’re here, I’ll be leaving.”

“Good,” said Mulder. Scully placed her hand on his arm before he could inform Krycek that “there wasn’t enough room on this island” for the both of them.

“I don’t want them to find me.”

“You don’t want me to find you,” Mulder replied, staring him down as the red haired woman pulled Krycek out of the restaurant. Scully had an odd feeling about everything that had happened, but beyond its obvious weirdness, she couldn’t put her finger on what it was. “It wasn’t her,” Mulder said.

“I guess not,” Scully said, and she had a sad, sad look on her face.

“I know how much you wanted it to be true,” Mulder offered. Scully shrugged delicately and his heart sank. She couldn’t allow this to drive a wedge between them. Not this time. “Your food’s cold,” he told her.

“I’m not hungry.”

“You have to eat.”

“No, Mulder.”

“Do I have to forcefeed you?” he threatened.

“I’d like to see you try,” she challenged, not imagining for a moment that he’d take her up on it.

• • •

Outside, the couple grabbed hands. “What time does the boat leave?” Krycek asked.

“We have ten minutes. We’d better run!” They ran for the dock, just making it onto the ship before the loading ramp was raised and the ship set sail for Florida. They shared a deep, intimate kiss then. “I can’t believe she bought it,” Melissa said.

“Maybe your brilliant sister isn’t as bright as people think she is.”

Melissa didn’t answer. “I hated lying to her.”

“Leaving your life behind entails that, Lis. You knew that when you signed on.”

“I know. And the money’s nice. But I never thought she’d find me. I never thought I’d have to look her in the face and lie.”

Krycek slipped his hand into hers. “You know if that cigarette smoking bastard finds you, he’ll kill you.”

“So I’m living dangerously being with you, since he’s searching for you,” Melissa teased.

“Good thing you like to live dangerously,” Krycek teased back

“Good thing,” she said, kissing him again as the tiny island disappeared over the horizon.

• • •

Back in the restaurant, Scully found herself pulled into a position where she was practically lying across Mulder’s lap as he shoved cold spaghetti into her mouth. Every time she tried to get up, he held her more firmly and if she didn’t chew and swallow, he crammed more into her mouth until she was in danger of choking. He was determined that she eat and since he’d turned it into this game that took her mind off things, it was not such torture.

“No more!” she cried.

“More!” he insisted, tickling her sides to get her to open her mouth when she refused.

“No,” she groaned, “I’m full, stop!”

“But this is so much fun!” He leaned in close to her face and their eyes locked. She thought he was going to kiss her. She thought it was finally, finally going to happen. Her eyes even began to close before he said, “No, if you say you don’t want any more…”

He’d given her the distinct impression that if she wanted a kiss, she was going to have to let him feed her. She opened her mouth willingly, but Mulder shoved the plate away from them. With one hand against her back, he pushed her into a sitting position again. They were done. No kiss. Fine, Scully thought, getting to her feet.

“Scully,” Mulder said, from the other side of the table.

“What?” she turned back. The way he was looking at her made her eyes go wide. His eyes were fixed on her lips with such a heavy gaze she could practically feel it. “Mulder?” she said.

He began to move closer and her heart began to pound. “You’ve got a little…” he gestured to the corner of his own lips.

“Not surprising, you slob,” she teased.

“I’m not the one with sauce all over my cute little face.”

He thought she was cute? “What are you going to do about it?” she taunted, shaking her hips defiantly.

“This.” He seized her shoulders, and she thought they were finally on their way. Mulder lowered his head and she raised her face up, her eyes closing as his lips touched…her cheek. Her mouth and her eyes opened in shock and protest, but he held her still. He wasn’t finished. His lips moved to her other cheek, another soft kiss. Then he dropped down to touch her chin. This time his tongue touched her skin and an erotic sound slipped from her mouth. Mulder shifted in even closer and she knew this was it. This had to be it. He lifted his lips again. Finally they would kiss, she thought.

But his mouth closed on the tiny space between the end of her nose and her lips. He was torturing her on purpose, she thought. So close and yet so damnably far…

Mulder released her.

Scully thought her knees would buckle and she would slide to the floor. That had to be the only reason why she didn’t grab him and shove her tongue down his throat while wrestling him onto the floor. Her senses were overwhelmed. So she could only watch as Mulder walked out of the restaurant. She didn’t notice the grin on his lips that would have told her he really had been toying with her on purpose, and that was why she didn’t have to kill him.

“Here’s your check,” the waitress said perkily and shoved it into Scully’s limp hand. She looked at mournfully, wondering if her body could self destruct under the pressure of such temptation after so many long years without.

Then she realized she didn’t have any money. The waitress was looking at her as though she suspected that very situation. How do I get out of this one, Scully wondered.

• • •

Part 18

Scully looked at the waitress and smiled. “I don’t have any…”

The girl began clearing plates, throwing them violently into the dish pan she was holding. “Don’t go anywhere.”

Too embarrassed to move, Scully stood there until the waitress and her leering friend came back. “Tony, the chick here doesn’t have any money and her hubby ran off.”

“Well, he didn’t really run off, he just didn’t realize…” She stopped, realizing it didn’t really matter. “Can you charge my room or let me get my credit cards? Is there an ATM around?”

Tony put his hand on her shoulder. “Nah, don’t worry ‘bout it, hon, you can just work the dinner shift.” The man had so much grease in his hair he made Krycek look like he’d just washed his hair.

“No, really, Tony,” She stepped backwards and pulled out of his grasp. “I’ll just call him and and and he doesn’t have his phone with him.” Her voice had dropped to a mutter by the time she finished. Tony smiled and wrapped his arm around her shoulders.

“I’ll get you a uniform.” Scully instantly became very attached to the bikini top and shorts she was wearing. But she didn’t see any other way out, so she followed Tony back into the kitchen. She would make Mulder pay for this. The moment they got home, she was going to destroy every one of his tapes. And then she’d think up even worse things.

What Tony hadn’t mentioned about the dinner shift was that it went on for seven hours because there were nowhere else for people to eat and most people went out for dinner, even if they couldn’t scrape themselves apart any sooner. Scully did not like waitressing, but she figured if she was nice, she’d get a bigger tip and then she could leave earlier. She was doing OK, but then she started mixing things up. She was working six different tables and none of the waiters could produce a spare pen or piece of paper and she was working from memory alone. She switched a veal parmesan for chicken, gave someone marinara sauce instead of meat and brought several people diet soda rather than regular. After two more hours, though, she’d pretty much gotten into the swing of things, and controlled her forgetfulness. To an extent.

She was walking out of the kitchen, proud at her ability to balance a tray with such little practice, and the guy in front of her held the door for her. Until she was halfway through it. Then, without so much as a backward glance, the guy let go and the door came crashing back. It hit the tray and sent her sprawling on the slippery floor, spaghetti sauce and noodles everywhere, most especially on her and then the back of her thigh exploded in pain as it made contact with the still hot plate underneath her. And all the staff, who were well aware that she’d been ‘ditched’ started to laugh. Then she turned around and walked away. She’d go back with the money later. First, she had to rip Mulder limb from limb. It was almost 11 at night, pitch dark, and had become very chilly. And suddenly her room seemed really far away. She whimpered with each step because of the way the sauce stained bandage rubbed the blisters. She would have killed to see Mulder, or anyone actually, who she could convince to carry her home.

She walked up to their cabin, pushed open the door, and walked in. She shed her shoes, untucked her shirt, and headed straight for the heart shaped bath tub. She didn’t even notice Mulder, stretched out on the bed with his eyes closed. Everywhere she looked, all she could see was sauce and noodles and meatballs. She felt sick thinking about the food he’d fed to her.

He heard the door open, but he never looked up. Yes, he knew it was mean to walk away from her like that, but he was trying to prolong the exquisite agony as long as he possibly could. There would never be another first kiss. And he didn’t want it to be in that restaurant simply because he’d shoved food in her face. He wanted it to be perfect. He didn’t understand why she didn’t understand that. He knew he could just tell her, but then, he was kind of afraid to. He was the sentimental fool, she was the cool headed scientist. She’d probably think he was being ridiculous. She did think he was being ridiculous. That was the only reason he could think of for why she didn’t come back. His fear that something had happened to her waxed and waned. He wanted to postpone the inevitable moment went he went running through the one street in town screaming desperately for someone to tell him where she was. Somehow he managed to remain sitting there until she meandered back.

His eyes were closed as he spoke. “I’m so glad you decided to grace me with your presence.” His tone started out as sharp, but faded to mildly annoyed as he realized that at least she was back safe.

She made a face as him, knowing he couldn’t see it. “Well, this is the most unbelievable story, but this guy I went out to lunch with ditched me with the check and I didn’t have any money on me so I ended up getting roped into waitressing the dinner shift and it was horrible and then I fell and everyone laughed at me and yes, in answer to the question you asked me before, I’m having a wonderful fucking birthday and I just really want to go home now.” It was just stress. But she was still crying again, in front of him and she wiped madly at the tears, unknowingly wiping more sauce on her face.

Mulder’s eyes flew open at her pained voice, practically jumping off the bed to get to her. He reached for her, but she shoved his hands away and began working on the buttons of her shirt. She was still wearing the now ruined white bikini underneath and with her hair in all different directions and stains all over her waitress uniform, she looked like a little kid. He reached out again, intent on wiping the tears away. She’d have none of it, yanking her face out of his hands. “Why don’t you act like a jerk like you always do? Stop trying to be nice. It’s all your fault and now you’re trying to be nice so I’ll forgive you.”

He held his hands up in surrender. “Fine. How was I supposed to know you didn’t have any money?”

“You could have come back to see what happened to me.” She unbuttoned the shirt and threw it behind her. Then she took off the shorts and tossed them in the pile.

He’d seen her in the bikini all that day, but still, it was weird seeing her undress in front of him. He turned away. “I thought you wanted to be alone.”

She glared at his back, then stepped forward and shoved him out of her way. She was just so angry right then. “I didn’t want to be alone then. But I do now. Get out. Go away. Just don’t be here when I come out.” She stomped away, turning the water on full blast and dumping in half the bottle of complimentary bubble bath.

A half hour later, he was standing exactly where she’d left him, toying with the box in his hands. It was her real birthday present. The one he’d planned on giving her at dinner that night. But then she hadn’t come home and he’d decided he didn’t want to give it to her after all. But then she did come home and given her mood, he couldn’t tell if it would make her feel better and forgive him or if she’d hate him even more for it. He swallowed hard and made his decision.

A tap on the door jolted her from the semi conscious state she’d been drifting in and out of. “What?”

The water was still running and it masked any tone he could hear in her voice. He looked at the box again. He wasn’t a chicken. He reached for the door knob and thanked his lucky stars that she was up to her neck in bubbles.

She glared at him, her dark cloud returning the moment he moseyed in the bathroom. “What do you want, Mulder?”

He didn’t say anything, didn’t even look at her as he walked across the room and sat on the sopping wet floor right next to her. He looked up, and seeing an errant bit of the suds from the bath on her cheek, gently wiped them off. She stared at him, wide eyed. She hadn’t seen the box yet. “Look, Dana, I know you had a bad day and I know I was most of the reason, but I want you to know that I’m sorry.” He forced her to look at him by sliding one finger under her chin and turning her face towards him. “I never intended for anything bad to happen. I wanted you to have a good time and enjoy yourself and I mistakenly thought you might be able to do that with me.” She opened her mouth, but he didn’t let her talk. “Everything has been so crazy these last few days. I know we’re both feeling strange and out of sorts, and I think maybe we should just wait. I know how I feel right now, how I’ve felt off and on this whole trip, but I don’t want something that’s just going to make us feel less lonely now and then fizzle when we go home. I think we should not make any decisions regarding our relationship until we get back home to the misery and the messes that we’re are comfortable with. OK?”

She was hurt. But only because she was disappointed. She understood what he was saying and had she sat down and thought about it, she would have come up with the same thing. She didn’t want to mess things up between them either, for fear of how awful her life would be without her job and Mulder. She sat for several minutes, just contemplating what he’d said. She didn’t realize he was waiting for an answer.

“Scully?” She looked back at him, disappointment still evident. “Oh, man, Scully, I didn’t mean to…”

She touched his hand to stop him. “It’s all right, Mulder. I understand. I do. I’m just tired.” She noticed the box in his hand then and looked up to question him.

He held it out to her. “It’s your real birthday present.” He loved that he was the reason behind her bright smile, even if it didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Before you open it, I just want you to remember that it’s OK if you don’t want it or don’t like it or hate me for buying it. But I want to offer it to you.”

“Can I open it or are you going to insist on ruining the surprise?”

He grinned and motioned for her to open it. This time, she didn’t bother being careful with the paper. She just wanted to see it, to see what he was so apprehensive about giving her. Another dark blue velvet colored box. She checked his face and saw how nervous he was. It made her nervous too. She lifted the lid and almost dropped the box. Inside was the most beautiful emerald ring she’d ever seen. It wasn’t obnoxiously huge, but the setting, with the two small diamonds on either side, gave away its value. Tears sprang to her eyes. It looked like an engagement ring. He must have had it before she’d vanished and now he’d given her the speech about nothing changing between them and she knew she’d ruined it. If she’d only stopped teasing him, if she had only held her temper in check, it would be an engagement ring and he would be sliding it on her finger just like he was doing right then and he’d be on his knees just like he was right then and it would be an engagement ring, rather than the overly expensive, inappropriate gift he was giving his pal.

She let the tears fall, looking at the ring, loving it, loving him, knowing she couldn’t have him, and knowing it was all her fault. He let go of her hand and lifted her chin again. “Dana, honey, what’s wrong?” She let him wipe at the tears this time, since they were immediately replaced by fresh ones. “You don’t like it? Don’t cry, I’ll take it back”

She looked back down at the ring. It wasn’t fair. She’d had no idea what her grumpy mood and short temper were going to destroy. “It’s beautiful. I love it.”

He smiled and cocked his head to the side, imploring her to tell him what was going on. “Scully, why are you crying then?”

She was already crying hysterically in a bathtub over the ridiculously expensive engagement ring her partner had bought her with no intention of asking her to marry him. What more dignity could she possibly lose? “It looks like an engagement ring, Mulder.”

He didn’t understand why she sounded so heartbroken. “Well…”

Her eyes darted up to his and then she sobbed loudly. “But you don’t want to marry me. You don’t even want to kiss me.” Her shoulders shook and he knew he should have just asked her.

“Aw, Scully, come on. Look at me.” She turned her face toward him, but she couldn’t see him through the tears. She had decided she was never going to get married and didn’t want to, but now that she knew she could have had it, she wasn’t so sure about not wanting it anymore. “Dana, it is an engagement ring. If you’ll have me.” She managed to look confused, even through the sheer misery reflected on her face. “I don’t want you to decide now. I want you to think about it. Sleep on it, think all the way home. And then think about it some there too. I don’t want to rush anything. I don’t want you to think you feel something because you’re surrounded by happy couples on their honeymoon. Just wear the ring and think it over. I’m not going anywhere.” He reached for her hand squeezing it tightly in his. “Read the inscription. And then get out of the tub before you turn into a raisin.” He winked at her and walked out of the room, with his pants soaking wet from the knee down from all the water on the floor.

Curious, she pulled the ring off and read it. It was simple, but it told her everything she needed to know. ‘D – BELIEVE – F’

She smiled and slid the ring back on, then stepped out of the tub and wrapped herself in one of the dumb looking white robes with the pink heart. She walked out of the bathroom and saw Mulder sprawled across the bed, flipping channels on the TV, wearing only a T-shirt and black silk boxers. She smiled and curled up next to him.

“I love it, Fox. And I love the boxers.”

He turned to face her and winked before turning back to the TV. “I figured you would.” He held her hand in his and, without looking at her, finished speaking. “And Happy Birthday, Dana.”

• • •

Part 19

“It’s been a wild one,” she admitted, about her birthday, to her partner who was lying across the bed next to her, channel flipping to her heart’s content. Scully rolled onto her back and crossed her arms over her stomach, staring up at the ceiling and feeling the weight of yet another ring added to her finger.

“I can’t believe any of this is real,” she said. “You know what I mean?” He didn’t respond, but that didn’t keep her from going on. “That crazy cruise, and now the perfect island paradise. I guess the fact that it’s been so crazy is how I can tell it is real, that it’s still us. Nothing ever runs smoothly for us, does it?” She paused to think of all the twists and turns in their relationship. “In a way, this fits right in, who ever heard of getting engaged while you’re already pretending to be married? Of course, we’re not really pretending to be married. And I guess we’re not really engaged, since you’ve been gracious enough to let me think about it…As much as I love you, I can’t imagine spending the rest of my life with you, and yet -”

There was no response. Scully had thought that she would at least get an interested noise, seeing as how she’d just admitted to man who had been with her through thick and platonic thin that she loved him. But he said nothing. Trust a man not to be listening, she thought, turning her head to look at him so she’d know where to kick.

His eyes were closed and his face was mashed into the mattress. The remote control dangled limply from his hand. He was asleep. She admitted that she loved him, and he was too asleep to hear it. That pissed her off to some degree. It hadn’t been an easy thing to say and he hadn’t even bothered to stay alert to hear it.

Fine, she thought, taking the remote from him and switching off the TV. Looking down at him, she considered tossing the covers of his thinly- clad body. But this was the tropics, he wasn’t in any danger of freezing to death. So she reached out and felt the tempting silk of his boxers instead. A part of her wanted him to awaken to find her hand caressing his ass, just to see what he would say, but Mulder was dead to the world.

She began to look around the rooms, trying to determine what Mulder had been doing all afternoon. She found no clues. Neither did she find the case file. Mysterious that Mulder hadn’t mentioned it now that they were on the island. Not that she was desperate to be facing some kind of weird monster or mutant. Let the sea monsters stay in the sea, she thought.

• • •

Mulder roused the next morning to the scent of toast and the feeling that he’d missed something. His face felt a little swollen from laying on it all night. He must have been really tired, he thought, sitting up and stretching, sore from lying in the same position all night.

He saw Scully sitting in the breakfast nook, eating and reading something. He groaned, trying to attract her attention, but she didn’t look at him. Fine, he thought, getting up and getting dressed right there in full view, hoping she would look over and feel the need to throw him down on the bed and jump his bones.

Needless to say, it didn’t happen. Mulder was very disappointed. He joined her at the table and she didn’t even look up. Just like being married, he thought wryly. Then he saw that she was wearing the ring and his heart leapt a little. She was wearing the ring! It looked so right on her finger. He wanted to make a crack about not wearing the ring until she’d answered the question, but he couldn’t. It was too serious, too important. He was also worried that if he reminded her, put it to her that way, she would remove the ring. He wanted her to get used to wearing it. He wanted her to forget he’d asked her and just move onto accepting that their engagement was truth.

Because he did want to marry her.

“What do you want to do today?” Scully asked. She hadn’t looked at Mulder at first because she wasn’t certain she would be able to with a straight face. He didn’t know she’d been looking, because as a woman she was aware of the meaning of the word “subtle” but she hadn’t missed much of the little striptease he’d been doing to try to get her attention. It had, more than he knew. But she wasn’t going to give in so easily. This was her vacation and she was going to enjoy it. She looked into his eyes and asked, “Did you know that this resort offers a choice of 17 different outdoor sports?”

“You know, Scully, I’m kind of better at indoor sports,” Mulder said and gave her a come-hither look that would have sent her into giggles if she hadn’t wanted to go, hither, and promptly.

“Indoor sports are such a waste of a beautiful, sunny day,” she pointed out.

“Indoor sports can easily be taken outside,” he said. By the way his eyes turned dark, she had the notion they weren’t talking about Monopoly here any more.

“Cheer up, Mulder, I hear rain is in the forecast for tomorrow,” she said and the hopeful look on his face warmed her heart. “There’s a tennis court,” she told him, laying the brochure on the table.

“Is there a basketball court?” he asked hopefully.

“There’s also a full stable of horses. Which do you want to do,” she asked, “Ride or play?” The look in his eyes told her she’d phrased the question dangerously, and his smile only confirmed it. Suddenly Scully needed air. “Tennis it is,” she proclaimed.

Mulder glanced down at his worn grey shorts and accompanying black T-shirt. Scully’s eyes followed, but she didn’t let him know that. “Too bad they don’t rent costumes to go along,” he commented.

“Too bad,” she murmured in agreement. In her mind’s eye, she conjured up an image of her tall, lean partner in short, tight white tennis shorts and a polo shirt that opened at his throat, exposing a clavicle that begged to be kissed. That little fantasy descended quickly into a romp on the clay court – and not the kind that involved rackets. Although the rackets could introduce a healthy element of fun, she thought before she realized it was very warm where she was sitting. Perhaps it was too warm for sports.

She didn’t know her partner was thinking the same thing. Mulder would much prefer Scully in a bright white tennis skirt that barely covered the tops of her thighs over the Scully he had in a baggy, knee-length pair of walking shorts. Adding a halter top to the mix made his temperature shoot several degrees higher. Maybe if he claimed to be sick, she wouldn’t make him play outside, Mulder thought. Maybe she’d let him stay in bed all day…and maybe she would join him.

“Time’s a-wasting,” Scully said, shoving herself away from the table and tearing herself away from her fantasies. “Last one to the courts is…” She couldn’t think of a suitable insult as she raced for the door.

“I don’t even know where the courts are!” Mulder cried. He heard the door bang shut behind her. Ditched, he thought miserably, jogging the few steps to the door and opening it. “Scully!” he bellowed after her.

“What’re you waiting for, slowpoke?” she teased from down the walk. He smiled. She hadn’t ditched him. And she was being playful. That was a good sign. He’d think of a way to turn tennis into a contact sport yet, he vowed, following her to the courts.

They borrowed a pair of rackets from the pro shop as well as one of those furry green balls that looked so much more appealing on the end of some old Volvo’s windshield or hanging out of a drooling dog’s mouth. Mulder wandered onto the court, standing at one end as though uncertain of what he was supposed to do. Scully jogged perkily to the other end and he really wished she was wearing a tennis skirt. They were alone on the courts, of course. Everyone in their right minds was indoors, celebrating their honeymoons by screwing like rabbits, Mulder thought bitterly. He looked up just in time to see Scully toss the ball in the air and clobber it with her racket with more power than he’d ever realized was packed into her petite frame.

He was vaguely aware of the ball headed straight for him, but before he could react or even raise his racket in self defense, the object of great velocity smacked right into his forehead, making an interesting smacking sound. Or was the smacking sound the one his body made as it hit the ground? Mulder would never be sure, because things had gone pretty dark at that point.

He opened his eyes to Scully’s out of focus face hovering nearby over his. “Mulder, are you all right, can you sit up?” She sounded frantic, and he could feel one of her hands on his arm and one on his back. She dragged him into a sitting position and he blinked several times. “Mulder, why didn’t you tell me you’d never played tennis before?” she demanded. “Why do you keep blinking? Are you all right? Seeing double, any spots or nausea?”

“Everything’s blurry,” he said through the fog in his mind. It cleared rapidly after that, but his vision didn’t.

“Oh God, Mulder, I’m so sorry -” In her furious concern, Scully touched the exact spot on his forehead where the ball had impacted. He was surprised there wasn’t a crater there. It felt like there was a hard bump instead. He winced and she removed her hand. “I’ve hurt you.”

“They say you only hurt the ones you love,” he joked, but her sharp intake of breath alerted him that it hadn’t been funny to her. “I’m fine, really,” he promised, crouching down and beginning to feel the ground with his fingertips.

“Then what are you doing?” Scully demanded, that worried edge lingering in her voice.

“Don’t move,” he instructed, wrapping one of his hands around her ankle to hold her foot still. She went stiff at his touch and he leaned in closer, so that he was practically kneeling between her legs.

“Mulder?” she asked.

“There we go,” he breathed carefully, picking up the small shiny object on the end of his finger. He held it up for her examination. “Lost my contact lens,” he said.

“Don’t -” she said, squirming at the idea that he would put something that had been on the ground into his eye. To her relief, he didn’t, instead jumping to his feet and going to the drinking fountain to rinse the lens before he blinked it back into his eye.

“All better,” he said and even managed to smile, but she still felt sort of grossed out by what she had just witnessed. She was fairly certain the drinking water was clean, having been swimming in the crystal blue ocean the day before, but she couldn’t help thinking about the bacteria that was bound to be lurking on the drinking fountain. Then again, she told herself, if she was so concerned about his well being, she wouldn’t have brained him with a tennis ball.

“Mulder, you didn’t tell me you’d never played,” she said again.

He didn’t admit to the truth, and neither did he tell her a lie. “Show me,” he said, holding out his hand that was clutching the tennis racket. He loosened his wrist and let it droop towards his toes pathetically.

Scully took the bait, moving in close to him and placing her hand around his wrist. “Like this,” she said, straightening the line of his arm and shaking his hand, repositioning each of his fingers individually on the grip.

“How do I stand?” Mulder asked, adopting a stance like a batter in baseball. He spread his legs wide apart and angled the racket at the other end of the court as though he’d just hit a home run and didn’t even have to bother running for home plate.

“Not like that,” Scully informed him, walking around behind him. Just where he wanted her to be, Mulder thought. She placed her hands on his hips and she almost groaned. Until she twisted his back and they both heard it crack like a fighter’s knuckles. “That was a good one,” she said sarcastically. “You want to be facing that way,” she told him, and bring your feet closer together.

Mulder pressed his feet against each other like a virginal schoolgirl being threatened by the inquisitive nose of a rude mutt.

“Not that close!” Scully cried, insinuating the tip of her sneaker between his heels and nudging his legs apart. This pressed her body up against his back. “Comfortable?” she asked when, looking down, she judged his feet to be about the proper width apart.

No, he thought, suddenly wishing she was pressed against the front of his body so she would know what she was doing to him. “Mmm,” he murmured non-committally.

“Now swing,” she instructed.

Mulder did, and made it sorrowful.

Scully hurried back to his side to attend to him. She leaned against him again, outlining his arm with her own as she guided him in the arc of the swing. Her firm breast pressed into his side and he twisted closer, ready to drop this whole racket.

“Why can’t you swing straight?” Scully demanded, moving away from him. “That’s better!” she cried encouragingly when he managed to swing straight, since he had no reason to twist against her any more. To his dismay, she kept getting farther away, scurrying over to her side of the court again. She tossed the ball up and hit it to him gently.

Allowing his frustrations to display themselves, he returned the serve with passion and strength. Scully was so surprised, she didn’t even try to hit it back to him. She watched it go past her with wide eyes and then stared at him, her mouth open. “I think you’ve got it,” was all she could manage to say, and she looked so stunned he wanted to laugh.

• • •

After he beat her at every match they played, Scully began to get the idea that he’d hustled her. To her credit, he thought, she didn’t say a word. Maybe she’d enjoyed their training session as much as he had, Mulder decided and couldn’t keep the smirk from his face.

“What do you look so smug about?” Scully demanded.

Mulder’s head came up and he looked at her. “Nothing,” he said quickly.

“Do you ride as well as you play tennis?” she asked.

“Well -”

“Novice at that, too, huh?” she teased.

“Maybe we should leave the horses for another place and time,” Mulder suggested.

“You don’t think it would be ro -” she censored herself before the word “romantic” slipped from her lips and replaced it with, “fun to ride horses down the beach?” He didn’t answer. “It’s quite a picture, huh?” she continued.

“Makes me think of that last scene of ‘Planet of the Apes,’” Mulder said with a sour look.

“That’s bad?” she asked.

“I hate that movie,” he grumbled.

“Why? Did you feel threatened by the fact that humans could one day be overwhelmed in their intelligence by a terrestrial species we believe to be primitive and inferior to our own through our own ignorance?” Scully asked.

“No, it just pissed me off when they nuked the world.”

“That was in the second movie, wasn’t it?” Scully asked.

“Whatever,” said Mulder.

“I promise we won’t encounter the Statue of Liberty’s buried hand out there in the sand,” Scully said diplomatically and opened the barn door. Mulder tried to image them both dressed in animal skins, on the back of a wild horse without a saddle, but the image came about as freely as did the notion of Scully and himself conversing with a pair of apes that looked like bad props from a scifi movie.

“What do you know,” Mulder said, feeling better already.

“There’s only one horse,” Scully said, frowning. She looked at him and he wiped the grin off his face as quickly as possible. “Why would they have an odd number of horses if this is a place for couples?”

Mulder knew that if he explained to her the appeal of two human bodies pressed close together on horseback, she would never agree to ride with him. So he shrugged and began to lead the horse from its stall. He walked over to the wall and pulled down the heavy leather saddle. Scully watched the play of muscles in his back and arms, visible through his shirt. “Aren’t you going to help me?” Mulder asked her.

“I’m holding the horse,” she replied, patting the side of its face, feeling the softness of its silky coat against her palm.

“Of course,” he muttered as he struggled to get the saddle onto the horse that kept sidestepping him. He had a good idea of why this horse was the only one left.

“You know about this, don’t you Mulder?” Scully asked, sounding impressed.

“We spent a lot of time riding in the summers,” he answered. “You?”

“I learned in college because I thought I should. We never had the time or money for horses when I was young.”

Mulder nodded. “Why did you think you should?”

Scully hesitated and moved her body as though she was about to relate something she found embarrassing. “Okay, my friend taught me to drive a stick shift because we were having an argument about what if you were stranded somewhere with a killer and the only way out was a stick shift car. So I thought about it, and decided that an FBI agent should be able to ride a horse, too. Just in case.”

“Makes perfect sense,” Mulder said, making a face that indicated that it made no sense to him at all. Scully was usually much more logical than that, he thought. Or else it was a logical thing to say and that was why it went right over his head, he thought. “All set,” he said, patting the horse’s rear. It sidestepped him once again.

He took the reins from Scully’s hands and led the horse outside. Then he met her blue eyes and asked, “Ready?”

She smiled her brave smile in return and he could tell she was having doubts. Mulder swung up into the saddle and then reached down to help her up. She ignored his hands, determined to do it herself. She smashed her foot on top of his in the near stirrup and struggled to haul herself up. Mulder put his hands out and grabbed her body to steady her against him.

The horse, startled by this unfamiliar activity, began to walk, throwing Scully against Mulder before she could seat herself in the saddle. “Grab the reins,” Mulder cried.

“What?” Scully said, taken off guard.

“Reins?” he said pointedly.

“Oh,” said Scully. She had to lean forward to grab them from where they were hanging down. This pressed her behind against Mulder provocatively. The horse began to trot and Mulder threw his arms around her waist, worried she was going to take a bad fall. “Got them,” she said, settling back into a sitting position. “There’s not much room,” she judged, trying to get comfortable.

No there’s not, Mulder thought as she squirmed against him. “Ever ride a motorcycle?” he asked, hoping the motion of the horse and everything else would distract her from how much this was turning him on.

“No,” she told him.

“You think they rent them here too?” he joked.

“I don’t know, can you ride them in the sand?” she said in a seductively teasing tone, leaning backwards and turning her head to meet his eyes for a moment. She was equally uncomfortable, with her the saddle horn pressed tightly against her. She was beginning to quickly understand the Victorian appeal of sidesaddles in a way she never had before. She was also beginning to understand why young girls found horses so exciting and why many psychologists contended that horses were a stand-in for sexuality in young girls. The movement between her thighs, especially with the saddle rubbing against her, was very….enticing. Especially with Mulder’s chest pressed against her back and his arms resting loose but strong around her. She leaned back against him and heard him groan low in his throat.

“What was that?” she murmured.

“I didn’t say anything,” Mulder protested and his voice was low and sensual.

“This is fun,” she said and the words were weak.

“Mmm,” he agreed. He leaned forward and placed his lips behind her ear, nuzzling warmly at her neck. She threw her head back to allow him greater access For a second, she felt unsteady and like she was losing her balance, and Scully strained to hold herself upright by pressing into the horse’s side with her feet.

The horse broke into a run and the two enamored people were taken off guard. Unable to move quickly enough to hold on, they tumbled off together in a tangle of arms and legs. When they came to a stop, hard against the ground, Scully was on the ground with Mulder curled around her as though he’d been trying to protect her. It hadn’t worked, since her body had been the one to hit the ground, but it had been a nice try.

“Ow,” Scully commented. Her body ached where she’d fallen and Mulder was crushing her with his greater male weight.

“Are you okay?” he asked, looking concernedly into her eyes.

“Get off me,” she insisted, pushing at him. He got to his hands and knees and crawled backwards from her body and she sat up. “I’m going to be sore tomorrow,” she said, not looking forward to it.

“But you’re okay?” Mulder asked eagerly.

“Yeah, are you?” she asked, looking at him. His forehead was beginning to turn dark and bruised where she’d socked him with the tennis ball.

“Great,” he answered.

“This is fun,” she said.

“I’ve got good news for you, then, if you think so,” Mulder told her.

“Yeah, what’s that?” she asked.

“The horse is gone.”

“Hell,” she breathed, trying to decide if it was worth the effort to get up. Then she realized what he was saying – they were going to have to drag their battered bodies back. “How far do you think we rode?” she asked.

Mulder shrugged. “Do you know what direction we were going?” he asked.

She’d forgotten his utter inability to pay attention to his location at any time. Scully looked up at the sun and thought for a moment. “That way,” she said, stretching out her arm and maneuvered herself back onto her feet. She hoped it wasn’t going to be a long walk. She also knew better. Just think of the jacuzzi at the end of the trail, she told herself, linking arms with Mulder and they started on their way.

• • •

Part 20

Two miles later, Scully plopped down in the sand. Mulder remained standing for a while, staring first in the direction they were walking and then in the other. “You sure we’re heading the right way? It didn’t take this long to get here.”

Scully wiped at the beads of sweat that were threatening to drip into her eyes and make them sting. “We were on a horse who was doing all the work. And we were, uh,” She saw that his attention had returned to her. He was staring intently. And grinning.

“We were uh what, Scully?” He sat down beside her, closer than she wanted any human being to be at that moment. The damn island was a little too tropical for a long walk.

“We were… Stop that!” She batted at his hand which was slowly making it’s way up her leg. He ignored her. When his hand reached her knee, she pushed him again.

“We were what, Scully?” His grin, his hand, his voice, the way he was leaning forward and just barely gliding his cheek against her hair, she knew he was teasing her. He was never going to make a move on her that wasn’t a joke. But then the sparkle of the ring caught her eye and she smiled.

She shoved him away, more forcefully, knowing the last shreds of her self control were going to snap at any moment. “Distracted, Mulder. We were distracted. I, in fact, was purposely being distracted by you.”

He tried to look innocent for a moment, but failed. He pointed his finger at her. “You were the one distracting me. You were bouncing up and down in my lap. It was kind of hard to ignore.” Scully blushed at the insinuation and since she couldn’t think of a comeback, she stood up and started walking again. “Hey, where are you going?”

“Somewhere where I can get out of the sun. I’m about beached out right now, especially since we’re still nowhere near the room.” He caught up to her, respecting her need for personal space, but close enough that they occasionally brushed arms. “What I wouldn’t give for a swim right now!”

Mulder looked between his partner and the ocean so many times he started to get dizzy. “Uh, Scully, I think you have heat exhaustion, or sun poisoning, or heat stroke, or…”

She looked at him, noticing the odd, quick way he head was turning. “Mulder, are you having a seizure?”

He looked at her, not realizing what she was talking about. “Scully, there’s a whole ocean, right here.” He made a wide sweeping gesture with his arm, to indicate that there was actually an entire ocean at her disposal.

She gave him The Look. “Mulder, I’m not wearing my bathing suit.”

He stared back, straight faced. “So?”

Indignant, she folded her arms over her chest. “You’re not suggesting that I…”

He grinned and started pulling his shirt over his head. “Last one in has to clean the sunflower seeds out of my car!” He’d changed in front of her that morning, so he didn’t feel too embarrassed stripping it all right back off. He left his boxers on, though, and she couldn’t help but be disappointed. There was no telling what could happen if they were to go skinny-dipping. He dove into the water with all the grace of a swan. She watched him, contemplating his strong shoulders. He was a swimmer, she could tell, although she’d never seen him in a pool or heard him talk about it. She watched him take a few strokes, not looking back to see if she was following him.

She started to pull off her shirt, folding it carefully, before unbuttoning her shorts. She toyed with the idea of taking her bra off, but in the end, she left it on, figuring that was wearing as much clothing as she had been when she’d paraded around in the bikini. So why did she feel so nervous? Probably because underwear wasn’t meant to get wet and therefore couldn’t be counted on not to turn transparent. She shrugged off any remaining thoughts in her head and chased him into the water.

They splashed around for almost a half hour. And then Mulder dove under the water and vanished, reminiscent of the way he’d done the day before. He knew it scared her. She counted to twenty and when he didn’t surface, she started walking back to shore. She wasn’t going to play if he wasn’t going to play fair. He reappeared behind her, not scaring her because she was too annoyed to get scared, and wrapped his arms around her. She clawed lightly at his hands, trying to get away, but gave up and relaxed against him.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. There’s a strong undertow.”

She attempted to face him, but he held her tight. “Are you OK? Did you get hurt?”

He rocked her slightly, tucking his face next to hers, both of them amazed at the way it seemed to fit perfectly. “I’m all right.” He tightened his grip. “I’m all right, now.” He let her go, swimming back to shore quickly and then depositing himself spread-eagle in the sand. She could tell he was rattled by the experience and hurried to join him, feeling partly responsible because she’d just assumed he was playing around and not that he might be in any danger. She stretched out beside him on her stomach, catching his hand and holding it between both of hers. He let her hold it, turning his head to watch her.

She kissed his knuckles and then the back of his hand and then his palm before he moved his hand out of her reach and pulled her against him. “Mulder, I’m never going to let anything happen to you.” She said it quietly and was caught off guard at how much she meant it.

He grinned at the top of her head. “Hey, that’s my line.”

They stayed like that for a while and once they were dry, they got dressed and started walking again. She stole a few sideways glances at him, still worried, but not wanting to harass him. He noticed her watching him, and let her until it really started to bother him.

“OK, Scully, what?”

She sighed, caught red handed. “You like to swim, don’t you.” She said it as a fact, knowing he’d say it was true, barely waiting for his confirmation. “But you hate the water.” He shrugged, as if to claim it didn’t really bother him. “Why are you afraid of the water?” She said it quietly, not trying to make him feel self conscious, but wanting to understand.

He didn’t speak right away. “When I was little, long before Samantha was abducted, I used to have nightmares.” She didn’t say anything. She’d never heard him mention having nightmares, but she knew they plagued him. All the nights in dinky motel that couldn’t afford insulation had taught her to expect to be woken up by his screams. She just never knew what to say. “Terrible ones, horribly vivid. I used to dream the same thing every night, that Samantha was drowning and I was there and couldn’t get to her. I could hear her calling to me and then her head would disappear under the water and she never came back up.” She took his hand again, squeezing it to provide support, but letting him finish without interruption. “Sometimes I’d run into her room and wake her up and other times I’d just stay in my bed and scream. My father would come in those nights. He’d hit me and call me a loser and all kind of names.” Scully wanted to say something to undo the years of damage the abusive man had caused, but she couldn’t think of anything. “My mother sent me to a shrink a couple of times, but he never got anywhere. The nightmares stopped right before… it happened. Then they were replaced by different ones. Real ones. That’s when I stopped sleeping.”

“You’ve certainly slept a lot the last few days.” She hadn’t realized it until then, but it was uncharacteristic of him to sleep all night.

“It’s different when you’re here.” He smiled at her and then turned his eyes back to the sand as they walked. “I can only sleep through the night when you’re in the same room.”

“Mulder, I’m flattered, but I’m sure there some…”

He interrupted her. “No, Scully, I know I haven’t slept more than a few hours at a time in 25 years. You’re a miracle worker. You make me feel safe.”

She didn’t know what to say to that. So she said nothing. After a while, he continued. “I’ve always loved to swim, as long as it’s in a pool.”

“Then why did you..” She trailed off, afraid she was pressing him, being too logical when he was talking about his feelings. Feelings and fears didn’t have to pay any attention to logic. That’s why Scully was so afraid of having them. It was the only fear she allowed herself to have.

“I know you love the ocean, Dana. You’ve told me about your father calling you Starbuck and about how much you love the water. And I want to love it too. I want to love anything that you love. I want to love it with you.”

She squeezed his hand again, loving him so much it hurt because he was willing to do something he was afraid of for her. With her. “Thank you.” It was the only thing she felt it was right to say.

He toyed with the idea of telling her that he’d heard her confession the night before and had been so surprised that he pretended to be asleep. He hadn’t seen it coming and then she’d mentioned that she loved him and had been so casual about it. He hadn’t known what to do. He had a hard time saying the words, but he knew there were other ways and opening himself up to her was one of them. He knew he trusted her, but thinking about what she’d said on the cruise, he wasn’t sure that she knew he trusted her. He wanted to show it, and telling her about his fears was one way. She was so forgiving and gentle, not saying anything to make fun of him, that he couldn’t help but love her more.

He wanted to throw her down in the sand right then, and he knew she probably wouldn’t resist him, but he’d made a promise to her the night before. He would give her time to think. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t try to sway her every step of the way. She was wearing his ring. He’d caught her staring at it quite a few times. A downright foolish grin spread across his face. It was such an outdated idea, her being ‘his,’ but he knew it was true. He knew no one else in the world could take her away from him. He looked up at the scattered puffy white clouds and decided someone up there like him a whole hell of a lot.

They were shocked when they realized they’d made it back to the inhabited part of the island. Walking along the beach, holding hands in silence, the time and the distance just seemed to fly past. Their hands remained joined as they walked past the other couples and back to the hotel grounds.

“Mulder, we really should tell them we lost their horse.”

“Scully, we really should sue them. Their horse lost us. We could have been seriously injured from the fall.”

“I’m sure there’s some kind of release somewhere in the paperwork, Mulder. They have no proof we knew anything about horses, and I don’t think they were really all that concerned about getting sued when they let us run off and play Black Stallion.”

“Scully, do you think we could possibly find something even lamer to fight over?”

“Yes, I think so.” She paused for a moment. “Mulder, I’d appreciate it very much if you weren’t so damn sexy.”

He grinned. “And I’m not even wearing my glasses.”

Pure laziness told them to head back to their room for a nap rather than for the stables to defend themselves against having lost the horse. But when they got there and Mulder sprawled on the bed, Scully decided that it wasn’t going to work. She couldn’t continue to stay glue to his side, even while they were napping. Not if she was going to make it home before she begged him to marry her. She started to smile. She had a better idea than a nap. An idea, that if it worked out the way she wanted it to, guilt would prompt him to take her to see that Justice of the Peace to make an honest woman out of her.

“Hey Mulder?”

“Hey Scully.” Poor baby, had no idea what was coming.

“Know what I found this morning?”

“No clue.” It sure as hell wasn’t the case file. He fought to hide the grin.

“I’ll give you a hint. It’s in the bottom dresser drawer.”

He sat straight up in bed, remembering what he’d found in the top drawer and very very frightened of whatever they’d hidden in the bottom drawer. “Um, no?”

She smiled. “Twister.”

He raised both eyebrows. “You want to play twister?”

“That wouldn’t be much fun. I want to play strip Twister.”

• • •

Part 21

“Strip. Twister?” Scully asked in that wonderfully incredulous voice she usually reserved for when he was telling her that little grey men had landed at the local Burger King to try those new fries. The expression faded into an amused, teasing smirk. “Poker wasn’t good enough for you, Mulder?”

“I didn’t see any cards,” he admitted, feeling as embarrassed as he would have if he’d suggested he handcuff her to the bedposts and blindfold her and do unspeakable things to her body. Which, actually, wasn’t a bad idea. “Well, there were cards but -”

His shrug was self conscious and Scully would have sworn his face was actually turning red. “Mulder, are you telling me there are erotic playing cards in that drawer?” she asked in a low sexy monotone. He didn’t answer and she jumped up to look in the drawer for herself.

“Maybe you shouldn’t -” he began but stopped.

“I’m a doctor,” she reminded him, as she’d known he would. Her hand, dipping into the drawer, found the cards at once. She looked down at them, flipping through, turning a few over, her eyes growing ever wider. When she set them aside, she couldn’t look at him. “And those people on the internet think they invented pornography,” she murmured.

“Scully?” Mulder said. Was that what she did when she was sitting so demurely at that table in his office, glued to her computer screen for hours at a time? Looking at dirty pictures? The mind boggled.

Realizing what it sounded like she’d said, Scully said, “No, you know, those Republicans who want to regulate everything don’t realize -”

“Scully, you say that like you’re not one.”

“A Republican?” she asked, shocked. “I’m not.” She looked at her partner. “I’m not that stodgy, am I?”

“You really voted for Clinton?” Mulder asked.

“Who was my other choice again?” she reminded him. “Anyway,” she said, wanting to get the conversation off of politics as quickly as possible. “These were interesting.” She set the cards aside and pulled the drawer out further to see what else was there.

She raised her head and looked at him a moment later. “See, Mulder, we don’t have to play Twister,” she told him. “There’s Battleship!” He groaned. “Or there’s this game called Seduction that sounds interesting.”

“Scully, that’s an adult game!” Mulder cried and he sounded like a thirteen year old who had just been told by his more mature best friend to put his parents’ porno tape in the VCR, sit down, and shut up.

She looked him up and down in a way that made his blood hot. “We’re both adults, aren’t we?” she said, pulling the box into her lap and wiggling its lid off. “More cards,” she observed.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Mulder asked, suddenly feeling sort of tense and afraid when faced with the possibility of changing their relationship in this way. There would never again be a first time. He didn’t want theirs to be part of a game for old, tired, impotent married couples.

“What can it hurt?” she asked with a casual tone that hurt him already. He was beginning to think that she didn’t care. He was beginning to think that she thought he’d gotten her out here just to seduce her. Which, okay, was maybe sort of half true, but there was more to it than that. Mulder wanted so much more, and Scully was acting like she was hot and horny and any reasonably warm body would do.

“There is a case,” he proclaimed out of the blue, thinking she’d been doubting him.

The look on her face said it all. She was so certain he was lying about it that she wasn’t even going to bother to ask him about it. Instead, her eyes lowered to the first card on the deck. “It’s a suggestion card,” she said.

“I seem to have missed the point at which you read me the instructions in great detail,” Mulder said, not liking this new sexually forward partner at all. To say she was weirding him out would be an understatement.

“There are suggestion cards, which are actions, and there are discussion cards, which have questions. Pretty simple, isn’t it?” she said. “And this is a suggestion card.” She set it aside for a moment while she wiped her heavily sweating palms off on the fabric of her shorts.

“What’s it say,” Mulder sighed as though she were tormenting him. Which she was. Just the idea of this game had him hot and bothered already.

She looked at him sharply, then looked at the card. “It says we should hold hands for five minutes.”

“I thought this was an adult game,” Mulder said.

“I bet holding hands can be a more profound experience than you think,” Scully told him, holding out hers for him to take. He did. The room fell into silence.

Mulder couldn’t keep still for more than thirty seconds, Scully learned as she sat there listening to him breathe. His hand kept squirming against hers as he shifted position, his fingers grinding into hers. She closed her eyes and soon all of her attention seemed to be focused on that one small area of skin. Her nerve endings seemed to be ten times more sensitive than they had been. Her hand had suddenly become the center of her body. And Mulder was rubbing it.

His thumb slid up and down, making a slow sweeping circle. Her breath caught and she jumped. “That was five,” she said, aware that her voice was unnaturally high. She was also aware that Mulder was now staring at her.

“What’s the next card?” Mulder asked evenly, convincing her that men were just not into these things the same way as women were. Men didn’t need foreplay to be able to climax, she thought as though it explained everything about the species in general. She had no idea how deeply the sound she made just before she jumped away from him had affected him.

“It’s a discussion card,” she reported, glancing at him. She looked back at him with eyes that gleamed with naughtiness. “Kissing.”

“It has to be more specific than that,” Mulder complained. She shook her head vigorously and he thought how cute she looked with her hair being tossed from side to side in that carefree way. “What do you want to know?” he asked.

“What do you have to tell me?” she asked back, beginning to grin. He didn’t answer, willing to take the fifth amendment on this question completely, although that meant going on to the next card.

“What do you like?” she asked seductively.

“What do you mean, what do I like?” he demanded.

“What do you like?” she repeated. “What else is there?”

“I don’t know, what do you like?”

“I asked you first!”

They’d reached an impasse quickly. Another moment and this could easily become an argument, Mulder thought. So he’d better answer. “I don’t know, it’s different with everyone.”

“Well, how old were you when you first frenched a girl?” Scully asked and suddenly she sounded more like a dirty-mouthed rebellious Catholic schoolgirl than his partner, and Mulder had to consider that at one time in the past, she may have been just that. Picturing her in a jumper with knee socks made him want to throw her down on the sand and have her there…but alas, they were indoors.

“Age, that’s all you want to know?” he asked. “Like, twelve.”

“Like twelve?” she repeated. Obviously he was not comfortable discussing sex, she decided, or he would be talking more like himself and less like someone else. She wondered what reason he would have to be insecure about sex. She’d seen him in the speedo, he didn’t appear to have anything to worry about in the size department. “Who was she?”

“Older,” he said.

“Did she intimidate you?” Scully asked and he merely looked at her. “I only ask because you seem so uncomfortable with this entire subject, and it seems to bring out insecurities that, unlike most of your other insecurities, you are having a hard time hiding.”

“Who are you, Dr. Ruth?” Mulder snapped. “Tell me about you.”

Scully waited a moment, and he expected her to tell him to answer the damn question himself. But to his surprise, she got a delicious look on her face and answered him. “I was fourteen and I’d just started a new high school in Texas. There was this boy who didn’t fit in at all. In the middle of all those cowboys, he was pale and wore black and wrote poetry. And his tongue did the most amaz -”

“Scully!” Mulder yelped.

She looked at him innocently, then her expression turned confused bordering on hurt. Because he wasn’t playing the game. Instantly he felt guilty because Scully never, never pulled out all the stops like this. “Then tell me what kind of kisses you like,” she said insistently, taking his hand in hers again. He wondered worriedly what she was going to do with it, but he soon found out. She held it to her lips and touched it ever so gently, just barely brushing their moist, lush surface against his knuckles. It made the hair on his arm stand up. “Gently,” she asked, “Or more…intense?” Now she pressed her lips against his hand again, crushing it to her open mouth. When she began to use her tongue in such a way that it felt like she was making love to his hand with her mouth and he could really think of better places for it, he pulled away. She raised an eyebrow at him. “Well, I’m waiting.”

It would serve her right if I leaned over there, knocked her to the floor, and showed her what kind of kiss I like and what comes after it, Mulder thought, but there was a violent rage that accompanied the thought that worried him. He couldn’t unleash that on her, not now, not the first time, not until they were both ready to face that kind of intense darkness. “I like long, slow, deep, wet kisses that last three days,” he drawled and cast a devil-may- care look at her.

Scully’s toes were actually curling in her sandals. He’d hit a sensitive spot, he suggested, and it made his longing worse. “I loved that movie,” she sighed. Then she straightened up and he was amazed at how quickly she could go from looking like a soft, adorable kitten to looking like his straightforward, practical partner. “Do you want the first shower?” she asked.

He blinked, taken off guard by her question. “I – uh -”

“Go ahead, really,” she told him.

Was this his cue to suggest sharing? he wondered. She didn’t look like it was. He didn’t think they were ready for that. “Scully -”

“No, honestly, go ahead,” she insisted. “I’ll be here.”

Was that an invitation, he wondered as he went into the bathroom with its hot pink colored molded tub. He set the shower going on hot, then after a moment reconsidered and turned it down several notches. Scully might not have realized it, but she’d really gotten him going with her questions and her insinuations, and mostly by the side of her that he’d never seen before – the sexual side. He liked it.

Maybe too much. He was in the bathroom for a very long time.

Too long, as it turned out. Mulder emerged in a cloud of steam to the sounds of huffing and puffing and general moans filling the now-darkened living room. “Scully?” he said, stopping in his tracks, worried that he might be interrupting something. He didn’t know how he felt about that possibility – he knew that men did it, frequently, but women? – Scully? He wasn’t sure he wanted to know about that. Then he realized he heard male sounds as well, and he knew that even if there had been another couple on the island searching for a threesome, he hadn’t been in the shower that long.

Mulder walked bravely farther into the room, wondering why Scully hadn’t answered him when he called her. Sure enough, the TV was on, its flickering images displaying a sad example of one of the products from the top drawer. Over on the bed was Scully, her face pillowed against her hands, fast asleep.

She must have been tired, Mulder thought, walking over to her and drawing the blanket over her lightly enough that it didn’t wake her. He had never heard of anyone falling asleep while watching an erotic video before. He looked at the screen, holding the remote in his hand. Then again, this wasn’t the best example he’d ever seen. It was more clinical, like a National Geographic special, than erotic. And, he thought, glancing at his partner’s hair illuminated by the warm light from the screen, women didn’t react to visual stimuli the way that men did. At least, that’s what he’d heard. Now Scully had proved it.

Mulder clicked the button and the movie disappeared. He sat down in the chair, not tired at all, to watch her sleep and contemplate why she’d put the movie in the VCR in the first place. He sat there, staring at her for hours, listening to her sigh and watching the way her body burrowed deeper into the covers. Lying against her the past few nights, he’d had the best sleep of his life in the last twenty five years. The downside to that was he’d had more sleep than he was used to getting and wasn’t tired at all.

I’m in for the long haul, Mulder thought, feeling slightly bored. Usually he had something to work on, even late at night. People to call, a backlog of decidedly odd paranormal letters to wade through from strangers who’d heard of his work through the Freedom of Information Act or heard his name from a friend or on Jerry Springer. Not so in the complete peace of the island paradise. He settled back and wondered if he could convince sleep to come.

Which was when Scully groaned something that sounded suspiciously like his name and moved to lie on her back. He watched, his eyes growing larger, as she raised her hand and dropped it casually on her bosom, touching her breast as her back arched. “Mulder,” she said, and this time he heard it clearly as her head turned on the pillow.

Ignoring the areas of his body that had been set on fire by hearing her say his name in a way he had never heard before, Mulder carefully approached the bed. As he’d suspected, her eyes were closed. A jolt of excitement went through him as he realized Scully was having a hot dream about him!

He couldn’t just stand back and watch. He knew that. Much as he wanted to, because this was a very human side of his partner he was seeing, oddly vulnerable in a way he’d never imagined. He would never block the image of her face as it looked at that moment from his mind – unless he had a better memory to replace it. Since he’d heard her say that she couldn’t imagine spending the rest of her life with him the night before, he doubted that moment would come, even for all of her seductive teasing.

Mulder didn’t know what to do as the dream escalated, pulling Scully deeper into layers of obviously intense physical sensations. Amazing the way the body can manufacture these emotions and feelings, Mulder thought, fascinated for a moment. He could run into the bathroom and hide until she was done, or he could wake her.

Or he could stay exactly where he was. Except he knew that was wrong. He wanted to touch her, but he thought she’d wake up. Gingerly, he put out his hand to touch her shoulder. He shook her gently. “Scully,” he said, feeling a fear that defied logic. He wasn’t doing anything!

“Mulder,” she replied, turning and shifting in such a way that she insinuated her breast against the hand he’d placed on her shoulder. Mulder’s hand was glued there as though by some unseen power. Her nipple was so hard and her breast was so soft. He took a deep breath, gathering the strength to yank his hand away.

“Scully,” he said sharply just as a low squeakish sound tore from her throat. Her eyes opened and he saw the puzzlement in her eyes as they met his.

She sat up halfway, her eyes never leaving his as she frowned. “What is it, Mulder, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” he said, feeling shy about his urgent tone. Obviously it hadn’t been called for. “I – you – it sounded like you were having a bad dream.”

“No,” she said, thinking back. Wake a dreamer and they remember their dream, Mulder thought, but she showed no signs of comprehension about his tension or embarrassment over being caught dreaming about him.

“What were you dreaming?” he asked, barely above a whisper.

She whispered back because it was dark and late and night was all around them. “I don’t know,” she said truthfully, shaking her head over the dream that had disappeared from her mind like a bubble popped by the wind, ceasing to exist. “Maybe…you were making me a sandwich?” she tried, since it sort of rang a bell but she knew Mulder had never done such a thing and never would.

“What kind of sandwich?” he asked in a throaty, tempting voice that made her look at him.

“Mulder?” she asked.

“Never mind, go back to sleep,” he told her.

“What about you?”

“What about me what?” he asked.

“Aren’t you going to sleep?”

“I don’t think so, Scully, I’m not tired.”

She patted the bed next to her. “You said you could sleep when you were with me.”

“It’s okay,” he told her, shaking his head.

“No, Mulder, get in,” she insisted, pulling back the covers and looking at him.

“I don’t think I -” He didn’t want Scully pressing against him in sleep. She’d done enough to arouse his body when he’d just been sitting across the room from her. If he was lying next to her, she’d know. He knew she’d know. And being awake next to her would be torture. Wanting, but not able to do anything.

“Mulder,” she said again, and he knew he’d lost the battle, if not the war. He sat down carefully, swinging his legs up onto the bed. She was still looking at him in the darkness and he wondered how good her night vision was. He slid down and turned his back on her.

“Good night, Scully,” he said, forcing himself to relax against the mattress and forget that she was there.

Scully lay on her back a few moments longer, frowning. She’d just pulled Mulder into bed with her and he wouldn’t look at her. He lay on the edge of the bed, all stiff and careful like he was afraid of touching her. She knew that turning your back on your bed partner was actually a sign of trust, but it didn’t make her feel better. She wanted him to be with her, but she didn’t know how to ask him any better than by doing what she’d already done. She was trying so hard and nothing was happening. She could only conclude that he didn’t want her. It was the only explanation. So she turned on her side, also, and faced away from Mulder, lying miserably staring into the darkness. After some time, she heard him begin to take those deep breaths that wanted to be snores but weren’t and knew he’d found sleep. She knew she wouldn’t.

Annoyed by everything and wishing she could sleep, Scully kicked the covers off her body. Too warm with them, she was cold without them. So she bit the bullet and moved against the hottest thing in the bed – Mulder. She scooted in close, curving her body around his back like two spoons in a drawer. Her face was against his shoulder and she was once again confronted with a reminder that she had at one time pointed her gun at this man and pulled the trigger.

It had been to save him, and he understood that as much as she knew it had been necessary at the time, but it hurt her that she’d caused him so much pain. The exit wound, which she was looking at, had left a gaping hole-like scar in his flesh. That was because he hadn’t had proper medical care. Which was her fault. She’d patched him up with silk thread and prayed against infection. He would bear the scar of her wounding for the rest of his life.

She pressed her lips against it in a moment of weakness, wishing with a fiercely protective urge that she could heal him with a kiss. Make that one marred spot match the rest of his beautiful body. Maybe while she was at it, she could heal his broken soul as well. She worried about Mulder. Because she loved him.

Scully fell asleep there, with her lips still brushing her partner’s bare skin with the faintest hint of her breath.

• • •

Part 22

For Mulder, the night was long. He’d slept through her curling up against him, but the moment her lips had touched his skin, his whole body awoke. It was like pure electricity jolted through his body. He feared at first that the kisses would continue, that they would rain their way slowly down his body, across his neck, onto his face and if they did, he’d be powerless to resist her. And even when they didn’t, he wasn’t sure he had the strength to not roll over onto her and begin his own assault of kisses.

He’d made her a promise, one he intended to keep, and even though it was the absolute most disgustingly ridiculously infuriatingly agonizingly stupid promise known to man to be made, he’d done it. Now he had to live with the results. Unless he could piece together a time machine and have them transported back to their real lives and have her agree to marry him. But the lack of self esteem whispered in his ear that they would probably go home and become federal agents again and the ring would disappear and not a single word of this vacation would ever be spoken again. At least not during waking hours.

After her lips remained against his skin for an interminably torturous amount of time, he rolled over and put his arms around her. He was going to be in hell anyway, he might as well make her comfortable. She wanted to be close to him and he didn’t have a real good reason to ignore her. He hadn’t thrown her down in the sand yet, he’d most likely be able to deny the urge for a while longer. A few hours before dawn, he drifted into a light, dreamless sleep.

An almost unrecognizable sound woke him the next morning. He blinked awake, taking more time to do so than usual because he was loathe to move his blanket. Partner. She was his partner. But at some point after he’d fallen asleep, she’d moved again, winding up squarely on top of him and he wasn’t sure how exactly he’d managed to sleep through it. The noise intrigued him, and since he’d had nothing to investigate in almost a week, he was itching to look into something. He carefully pushed her onto the bed, but she was dead to the world and he really could have thrown her onto the floor without her waking up. Then he strode to the door, pulling it open, intent on finding the source of the noise.

It was clear the moment the door opened. There was a howling gust of wind that pried the door out of his hands and slammed it against the wall. He checked back at Scully. She shifted and mumbled slightly, but remained asleep. The rain was coming down in torrents and it was so foggy that the best description Mulder could come up with was that a cloud had descended and was sitting outside the door. The little bit of ground he could see was gooey, sandy mud and the wind started to blow the rain in the door. Mulder closed it, having a bit of trouble because of the fight the wind was putting up.

He looked around the room and his eyes fell on his sneakers. He hadn’t gone for a run in a week either. The voice of reason, the voice that sounded remarkably like Scully, told him that going out in the middle of a tropical rainstorm was dumb. One of the dumbest ideas he’d had in years. He pulled on a pair of sweatpants and a windbreaker, tied his sneakers, and set out into the storm.

It took a while to find any kind of rhythm to his steps because every time his feet landed, they sank into the mud about three inches. He decided that if he moved faster, they wouldn’t have as much time to sink. He couldn’t see much, the wind was so loud that he couldn’t hear himself think, and the windbreaker wasn’t water proof and was doing a pathetic job of breaking the wind too. He ignored it, knowing the alternative was watching Scully sleep. Or sitting there staring at Scully awake. It was good for him to get out, he figured. Have something to do besides watch her. Something like thinking about her. He stopped running and shook his head, water shooting out in all directions like a wet dog shaking itself dry.

Something had to give before they got home. He’d never last that long. He pondered asking her to break his promise, but he couldn’t. She’d think he was a low down sleaze if he did. He was a low down sleaze, of course, but she didn’t seem aware of it yet. He decided to hide it as long as he could. Maybe he could orchestrate something that would break the tension, but not make him look too guilty. 25 years in the future, he could tell her the truth. Strip twister might be the answer. Since he’d turned her away that first night, she hadn’t really physically come on to him again. Maybe if he could get her to again, then he could accept her advances, on the premise of not wanting to hurt her feelings, and it wouldn’t really be his fault then. A half hour later, he turned around and headed back, hoping he’d wind up back where he started.

She awoke relaxed. Content. Happy. She could hear the wind and the rain and she had a nice big bed and a nice warm blanket and a nice cuddly partner. Wait, no, something was different from the last time she’d been awake. She opened her eyes. No Mulder. No nice cuddly partner. The day was already headed down the drain. She called out for him, thinking maybe he was in the bathroom, or at least somewhere within earshot, but she got no answer. She sighed, tucked her feet in, and rolled over with the covers pulled up to her chin. She wouldn’t fall back asleep, but she could enjoy the rest. The days where she didn’t have to jump out of bed and save Mulder’s ass or get right up and go to work were few and far between. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d slept in late, spent the day in bed, reading the paper or watching TV, or reading a book.

She wondered if it would be like that with Mulder, sleeping in on the weekends, doing the Sunday crosswords, with a small red haired hazel eyed little girl sleeping soundly between them and a brown haired blue eyed little boy playing at the foot of the bed. She rolled over to her other side and frowned. She couldn’t have children. Unless they adopted, assuming that they ever made it to the altar and that she could either persuade Mulder to be married in a Catholic ceremony or convince her family to let her not have a church wedding, there would never be any children in her future. She was in the middle of sighing unhappily when the door blew open and Mulder tripped back inside.

He was on his knees barely having managed to close the door behind him. Coughing and sputtering like an old car engine, he pushed the hair out of his eyes. St. Scully appeared before him then, holding an armful of towels, telling him she’d started the shower, and that the water was hot. The weather had taken a turn for the worse on his way back and his legs had been half covered with mud. But that was before he stumbled over a rock and fell face first into the sandy mud. It was not something he wanted to taste ever again. If that wasn’t enough, on his way down, his leg had connected painfully with the rock and he knew before he saw it that it would be black and blue. He crawled into the bathroom, leaving a twenty foot streak of mud behind him and climbed in the bath tub, fully clothed. He didn’t bother to take of his clothes or shut the door. Scully peered in worriedly, finally deciding to follow him and make sure he was all right.

She reached for the hem of his jacket, pulling it up and over his head without so much as a word from Mulder. He dropped his mud splattered face onto her clean white robe, burrowing into her neck and moaning. But it wasn’t a happy moan. It was the moan of a soaking wet hurt cold unhappy man who was too embarrassed to admit to having done something stupid. She gently lifted his face up, holding it in both of her hands.

“Are you all right, Mulder? What happened?”

He grimaced and wiped some mud off his lips, but never moved away from her hands. “I tripped.”

She pressed her lips into a thin line. He knew she wasn’t pleased. “What the hell possessed you to go out today?”

He shrugged and smiled. “The spirit of the great god of rain.” She shook her head, switching the controls to run the water for a bath instead of a shower.

She put the stopper in, leaving him to undress himself. “I trust you won’t drown if I leave?”

He leered at her, but the effect was lost since most of his features were disguised in the mud mask. “I’d rather you stay.”

She pulled the door shut behind her. “Tease.”

She could heard him laugh from the other room. The mud streak on the floor caught her attention. She picked up the phone to call housekeeping, to demand that someone remove the offensive stain, but the line was dead. She shivered, looking around the dark room, dark regardless of the lights that were turned on. It was the perfect sort of day to watch a deliciously scary movie. And she even had someone to tease her when she screamed at the intense parts and make her feel better. She wandered into the kitchen area, scrounging around until she found popcorn. It was a perfectly despicable breakfast, and therefore, the perfect vacation food.

Unfortunately, a thorough search of the room revealed no movies with any sort of plot and the popcorn smelled so good that it was long gone before Mulder stumbled out of the bathroom in his robe. She looked at him, took in the pink heart logo on the robe and burst out laughing. It was about the funniest thing she’d seen in a long time.

He let her laugh at him, choosing only to shoot a glare at her rather than mention it. He grabbed some clean clothes and disappeared back into the bathroom to change. She used that time to get dressed herself, pulling on jeans and a light sweater because of the chill from the rain. He reappeared a few minutes later, leaving them with the question of what to do. They looked at each other for a while, uncomfortable with having no options of escape, should the need arise.

“The phone’s dead.” Scully offered helpfully, hoping that a conversation might break out.

“Yeah, it’s a pretty bad storm.” They returned to dead silence then. Scully sighed, having made her attempt to start a conversation. He pulled open the bottom drawer, pushing the seduction game aside because that game had not developed well. He lifted out the twister game and looked at it. Seemed pretty simple. Maybe they could change the rules. “Hey, Scully.” It was unnecessary since she was still standing there staring at him. “Want to try this?”

She regarded him uncertainly and then nodded. “OK, what are the rules?”

“Same as regular, but every time a person messes up, they have to lose and article of clothing.” He spread the mat out on the floor, gazing intently at the colorful pattern of circles. He wasn’t the most flexible person. This game could prove to be one of the more embarrassing experiences of his life and there was some major competition for that title on this trip. “We could take that part out?” He tried to hide the hopeful tone in his voice. He was sure being 5′2″ would be an advantage in a game of twister.

“No, let’s play by the rules.” She screwed up her face for a moment, looking at her outfit. “Can I put on some more clothes?”

Mulder grinned, feeling how uncomfortable she was too. Maybe he would have the advantage. Besides, he could stand to lose more clothing before utter embarrassment set in. “Nope. It’s in the rule book: no players may don additionally clothing for the purposes of play.”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “Are you sure it says that, Mulder?” Her voice gave away how very much she didn’t believe him. He just smiled and set the spinner on the floor. “OK, then, let’s play.”

He flicked his finger at the spinner. “Right foot red.”

And so it began, they started on opposite ends of the mat, eventually getting more and more tangled up, slowly becoming untangled. After almost an hour, Scully was bent backwards, supported by her arms, and Mulder was stretched out over top of her. Their faces were almost touching. Both were red from the physical aspect of the game, but both remained fully clothed, not so much as a sock had been removed. They stared at each other, the inanity of the game making them both start to laugh.

“Scully?” With their faces inches apart, he barely had to whisper.

Her eyes darted to his lips. He was going to kiss her, she knew it. “Yes?” Her voice was a whisper too.

He smiled softly at her. “We must be the two most flexible people on earth.”

She started to smile, slightly let down over the fact that it had been another false alarm. Damn the man and his heartfelt promises. She was ready to make her decision right then. She shifted her hand on the mat, allowing her fingers to feel the now familiar shape of the ring. “Do you think they have some sort of Twister competition? Maybe we could win a prize…”

He started to grin. “I’m determined to win this game, Scully.”

Scully groaned. Her muscles were starting to protest the strain. “Come on, we’re going to break something before either one of us loses our balance.”

“We suck, Scully.”

Her professional mask settled on her face, the regular tone evening out the playful inflections in her voice. “I’m sorry?” The same tone she would have used if Skinner had told her that she was fired.

He smiled again. “The one game in the world that you want to lose…” She saw his point and started to smile. “We can’t even lose right.” Scully laughed outright, relaxing when she realized he was just joking. “It’s not funny, Scully. I’m going to win this game.”

“How so? I’m not giving up.” She could put up with the strain on her arms a little longer.

“I’ll cheat.” He moved one of his hands, a flagrant infringement on the rules of the game. She felt him tugging on her sweater, sliding his hands up underneath. She took a deep breath, knowing she was not exactly ready to stave off the sensory overload. But then his fingers moved to her side, an evil grin taking over his features. By the time she realized what he was doing, it was too late to stop him. He continued to tickle her, resting a good portion of his weight on her to free up his hand. With her arms behind her, there was no way she could shift her weight enough to let her move her hands. After a few minutes, though, she was gasping for breath, completely unable to stop laughing. Her stomach hurt from laughing and not breathing. She moved one hand, trying to shift her weight and not fall. But she was off balance and both of them tumbled to the ground.

They landed in a tangled pile of arms and legs on the plastic mat, their sock clad feet offering no resistance on the game board to stop their fall. Mulder was keenly aware of the fact that his knee hurt, as did the leg he’d injured earlier when he fell. But he was concerned for Scully. He’d come down directly on top of her.

He lifted his face off her hair. “Scully? Are you all right?”

She was still trying to breathe from the tickle attack, and the arm that had tried to hold her up was throbbing painfully. But she was fine. “Cheater.” She playfully pushed him to the side and attempted to crawl out from under him. “You forfeit.”

He dropped his arms down to either side of her, holding her in place. “But you’re the one who fell.” She didn’t say anything, giving him a look that warned him not to argue with her. She had declared herself the winner. Seeing things had worked out like he planned, he dropped his face back down, nuzzling the side of her face and neck. She obediently turned away slightly, allowing him better access. Even with her permission to break his promise, it didn’t feel right. He pulled back, looking at her, sucked in completely by the desire in her eyes. She groaned softly when he removed his lips and he felt so guilty for driving her to make that unhappy noise that he immediately put his lips back against her neck, shifting his body into a more comfortable position, completely pressed against hers. She moaned again, this time in pleasure.

The lights flashed once, twice, three times, and then went out completely, leaving them in total darkness.

• • •

Part 23

“Mulder?” Scully’s voice coincided with her body clutching around him – her hands, her arms, her legs. He sucked in a deep breath, wishing he could have caused such a reaction without the help of the storm.

“It’s just the storm,” he said with a jolliness in his tone that he really didn’t feel with her wrapped so tightly around him. He wanted her completely. But he could feel the tiny but incredibly strong beat of her heart against his chest, fast with fear. He knew it was fear rather than excitement. He couldn’t take advantage of that.

Lightning flashed blindingly, and thunder boomed directly over their heads. Scully shuddered and Mulder could feel her breath coming fast and shallow. She was really afraid, he marveled. With his arms, he pushed himself to look into her eyes since he was no longer kissing her neck and indeed, no longer felt welcome to do so. He didn’t notice that this pressed his lower body closer against hers, but Scully did.

She didn’t meet his eyes. She gave a little groan and took advantage of the clearance space to roll onto her side, drawing her knees up into her chest protectively and wrapping her arms around. Mulder knew that position. It was protection. Because he wasn’t doing it. Is this what having your heart ripped out feeling like? he wondered.

He sat next to her and placed his hand against her back, wishing to comfort her and not knowing how because he didn’t know what was wrong. She took a deep breath and said, “This is how it always begins.”

“What begins?” he asked, wanting desperately to understand what had the fearless Scully terrified.

“The dreams.” Her voice almost broke. He didn’t know what to say, so he waited. She spoke again finally. “Ever since I was a kid, storms meant bad things to me. Not rain, not regular storms, but powers-out, thunder and lightning storms that leave it dark and you defenseless. That’s always been with me. You know that my father used to read to me from Moby Dick when I was a little girl and I called him Ahab and he called me Starbuck. There’s a terrible storm at the end of the book, and Ahab is lost at sea. Still relentlessly pursuing his goal, willing to face even death. He didn’t care about anything but that one pulsing need inside him. Then, when I was small, it made me afraid for my father when he went to sea. What if he saw a white whale like Ahab and cared more about it than me? And, along the way, there have been others. Other men.”

She didn’t have to say “other men fixed wholeheartedly on their goal, blinding them to the world and to me.” Mulder knew. He knew she was talking about him. That made him almost wish that she had said it, because then he would have been able to answer to her fear once and for all. He could promise never to leave her. Or could he? He didn’t make promises he didn’t know if he could keep. And he didn’t know if he could keep it. That put real fear into his bones.

Scully had relaxed. By thinking about her fear, it had dissolved from her unconscious into her conscious mind. The storm was beginning to fade into the distance, as well. She rolled onto her back and stretched her legs and her back, seeming to lengthen in a lithe way like a cat. A sexy cat, Mulder thought, unable to take his eyes from the outline of her body in the darkness. She smiled up at him and he waited to see if she would purr.

God, he wanted to make her purr.

“You’re safe,” he promised, placing his hands on her waist and drawing her closer to him. Insinuating his legs between her thighs, he lowered himself so he was laying over her, tantalizingly close. Then he bent his head and pushed her shirt up, nuzzling the intriguingly warm skin of her stomach.

Scully flinched, surprised by the touch, and raised her head, looking at him and what he was doing. After a moment, she closed her eyes and let her neck relax, allowing herself to sink back onto the carpet. She put her hand on the back of his head and said, “What are you doing?”

“I adore your body, Scully,” Mulder said with the reverence of a man in a temple. “All of it.”

You’re kissing the wrong part, she thought, feeling a vast dark emptiness in places that would have better served by his mouth. His hands moved higher than his head, pushing her shirt up farther and pressing against her ribs. Close to her breasts, but not close enough. He is either the foreplay king, Scully thought, or he has no idea what he’s doing.

“Let’s do it in the dark,” she whispered.

Mulder froze. Hands, mouth, body, everything that wasn’t already stiff became that way in response to one murmured phase. “Do what?” he asked and it struck him as comical, because he knew what he thought she was asking and he was certain he was the only man on earth who had to ask to make sure they were both on the same playing field.

“Play Twister, what did you think I was talking about?” Scully said and pushed herself up. “You don’t want to walk away a loser, do you?” she taunted, taking up a stance on the game board.

“No, Scully, I’m determined to win,” he insisted, even more determined than he had been before. The game began anew, and the darkness added another dimension to it, an aspect that would have been like the junior high school party game “Seven Minutes in Heaven” if it hadn’t been so sensual. Their bodies moved against each other in almost a sensual, tribal rhythm. They were like dancers on a stage, perfectly choreographed.

Mulder was right, they were too good at this game, Scully thought, wondering if she should think about forfeiting it. She could fake a fall. It wouldn’t be hard. She’d just have to allow herself to become slightly more distracted by his proximity than she already was. But she wasn’t certain she wanted to be the one to disrobe. Mulder was the model of self control so far on this trip, and it was becoming the most painful thing she’d ever experienced in her entire life. In addition to the physical longing for his body, she had to constantly wonder how it was that Mulder had developed such amazing reserve. Mulder was constantly like a child at Christmas – he couldn’t wait for anything. His waiting for her had to be because he didn’t really want her. So she tried to think of a way to make him lose, so she could jump him. She was getting tired of this game. It was a workout, all those contortions…

Mulder was having similar thoughts. A good accidental shove would make her fall, he thought. Or he could trip her. He knew such thoughts were wrong. He knew he shouldn’t think of her that way, that he shouldn’t be working so hard to get her clothes off, because she would take them off when she was good and ready and he had decided to leave this in her hands, hadn’t he? He polled himself. He had. So wait it was, he knew. His arms were growing weary of supporting his weight and his back ached. He was no longer the spry young fellow he once pretended to be and a glance at the clock told him why: it had been almost an hour since their last break, the one during which he’d wanted to make her purr. That was going to be his lifelong goal, he thought, and wondered how to achieve it. Quickly.

The lights came back on. Even though the worst of the storm had passed, the rain had continued to beat down and kept the sunlight away. Mulder groaned at the sudden brightness and Scully used the opportunity to sink gratefully to the floor. Mulder raised his head as though she’d done something terribly interesting. His eyes were on her, questioning: had she forfeited? What would she remove?

“I’m tired,” she said simply. “This isn’t turning out the way we thought it would.”

That could be said of so many things, Mulder thought woefully. He watched as she picked up her light jacket from the chair it was slung over. “Where are you going?” he asked. He knew he should get up and go with her, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t get up. He was tired too. First the running, and the falling down, and now this…he needed a nap. Too bad he couldn’t reach the remote control to turn on the TV to lull him to sleep.

“I’ve been with you all day every day for almost a week, Mulder,” Scully said. “Amazing as that may seem, nice as it’s been, I think I need some time to myself.”

“In the rain,” he said in a flat voice.

“I’ll be back soon,” she vowed and he heard the door bang shut. Mulder groaned, a long and painful sound, wondering what he had done wrong this time. It had to have been something. Now he couldn’t even figure out what it had been. Scully understood him so well – why did he not understand her at all?

Scully knew Mulder wouldn’t understand. It was her first thought as she left their little cabin and ventured out into the gentle rain. It felt good, beating cool but not cold down on her face and hair and body. It was so wet and fresh and its sound was so soothing. The perfect day for a walk. The perfect time for a walk. Mulder wasn’t responding to anything. She needed time to plan.

He couldn’t reach the remote from where he was lying on the floor. Telling himself it was laziness rather than an inability to get up, Mulder tried to propel himself across the floor with his legs. All that got him was a carpet burn on the back of his neck, and he could think of several better ways to get a carpet burn. So he decided to forget the remote. Forget the nap. He didn’t need sleep. He was Mulder.

He also didn’t need the time to think, as it turned out, because every time he began to do so, his mind reeled back through their excruciatingly long games of Twister. That idea was a real success, he thought as he raised his knees and felt the pure pleasure of his spine straight against the floor. The only game left in the drawer was Battleship. Mulder knew at this point, was perfectly certain and had accepted it as an inevitability, that they would play Battleship. He tried to think of a way to make it more enjoyable. Because if he didn’t add some element of seduction to it, he knew he was going to be in for a long session of “Captain Scully’s travels” stories. He knew Scully had loved her father very much. But she hadn’t been married to the man, for god’s sake!

Scully walked and walked and walked. She didn’t think so much as just stare out at the waves crashing against the shore with their leisurely pace. They were higher due to the storm out over the ocean. Some debris was cast up onto the beach, but not much. The wind whipped her damp hair about her face and blew her wet clothes against her, chilling her, but she didn’t care. It felt good. More than anything, it felt alive.

Alive in a big, open way instead of a close, dark smothering way. She also felt alive when Mulder was lying against her, whether on the floor or in the bed they’d shared so carefully and platonically since the trip had begun. But that wasn’t like the rain. The rain infused her soul and saturated her body. Nothing could stop it. Whereas she and Mulder had hit all kinds of snags. She knew she would feel more alive and excited if Mulder would simply do a few specific things.

He could kiss her for starters. She was never going to believe that he wanted her, as a woman or as a wife, until she felt his lips, on hers, pressed tight, kissing her, touching his tongue to hers so she could taste him and…

She groaned, right there on the beach. Looking around quickly as she wet her lips, she was relieved that only the seagull overhead could have heard her. If thinking about Mulder could bother her so greatly, what would happen if he ever did bother to touch her properly, none of this silly nuzzling and caressing stuff. Not that she disenjoyed those moves. She just wished he would expand into a more traditional market. His hands led her to believe he would be a phenomenal lover.

But she wouldn’t know for certain until she kissed him. Until he kissed her, rather, since she was not going to make any more moves until he did. If he wasn’t playing, neither would she. Nothing would tell her more about his lovemaking than kissing him. Well, besides lovemaking, obviously.

At least I have my fantasies, she thought, setting her lips determinedly as she turned around and reversed her path back to the cabin.

Mulder was having a dream. It was vivid, though, and the colors were odd. It seemed to be more of a flashback to his childhood. He could feel his body, thin and wiry the way he had been before he’d become a man. He recognized the house – the one on Quonochontaug, where they had never returned after his sister’s abduction, although the house had never been sold. She hadn’t been abducted from there, but for some reason, the house was mixed up with the memory in his mind. If he’d given it any thought, it would have made him question the validity of any of his alien-abduction scenario memories. But he never thought of that.

He had, in the past, been aware that the Cigarette Smoking Man had known his parents, had spent time with them. Mr. X had implied, before his unfortunate death that had led the landlord in Mulder’s apartment to carpet the hallway to disguise the terrible, inconvenient bloodstains, that his mother and the CS-Man had known each other better than he and Scully did, though not for lack of trying on his part. The fact that his mother whacked him when he asked her about it was considered a clue by Mulder.

Regardless, in this dream, there was another man there with the Smoking Man and his father as Mulder leaned over the loft high above the seventies style living room. Even though he was looking down on them, he could see the man’s face clearly. It was round, and red, and he didn’t have any hair except a small bit of yellowish orange fluff. The man was wearing a full dress uniform of the military, white and starched with brass buttons and lots of insignia. Mulder heard his father call the man, “Captain.”

Scully’s father was a captain, Mulder thought in the dream, which was odd in itself because when he was twelve, he hadn’t known Scully.

A hand on his shoulder roused him. He opened his eyes a moment before he realized he was awake. He found himself focused on Scully’s face, her blue eyes worried, her hair dark with rain. He realized what had been weird about the dream. Not that he had possibly remembered that Scully’s father had been involved with the terrible Project his father had run and sacrificed his daughter to. It wasn’t that at all; Mulder had practically forgotten that detail already. It was that the dream had been a memory from before he’d fallen colorblind. He’d been able to see strong red and greens.

“I wish you were in my dream,” he said sleepily, gazing at his lovely partner.

“Mulder, what are you doing on the floor?” Scully asked.

“Back hurt,” he replied smoothly. “Don’t you want to know why I wish you’d been in my dream, Scully?” he asked, still staring at her.

“Am I sure you want to tell me?” she asked warily.

“I’d have been able to see your hair,” he said and reached up to grab a handful of it. It wasn’t like silk, he found. It was wet and rather tangled and her head jerked as he tried to run his fingers through it because it was snarled from the weather outside. “Your beautiful red hair, that through the fact that I can’t see red or green, I can’t appreciate.”

Scully looked at him like he was delusional. Or else she was deciding she was going to have to cut his fingers from her hair, he hadn’t decided what that look meant. “Mulder, you can’t be in the FBI if you’re colorblind.”

“Don’t ask, don’t tell,” he said mildly, a phrase she was uncomfortable with, considering that she wanted to drag him outside and screw him in the rain with the hard packed sand against her back.

She frowned. “Where does your back hurt, Mulder,” she asked, trying to get at it, but he wouldn’t budge an inch from the floor.

“Everywhere,” he said and there was a studied note of pain in his voice. His eyes almost seemed to well with tears as he straightened his legs and let his back sway naturally again. “Would you walk on my back, Scully?” he asked.

“I – uh – no, I don’t think I -”

Mulder rolled over onto his stomach, presenting his back to her. That back included his gorgeous, perfectly rounded ass. She wanted to fill her hands with it. That would get his attention, she thought. “You won’t hurt me,” he promised.

“This has absolutely no medical value whatsoever,” she informed him, already preparing to step up onto his delicate composition of flesh and muscle. She didn’t warn him that her feet were damp and sandy as she stepped up, pressing her foot down bit by bit against his spine and hearing it crack.

He sighed deeply as she listened to more vertebra pop. She tried to dig in her toes as sort of a massage, but it didn’t really work. “Your clothes are dirty now,” she said as she moved off of him.

“What do you suggest I do about that?” he asked, now finding the will and the power to sit up.

“Take them off,” she said, reminding herself of her promise to herself not to make a move on him until he kissed her. That was the price he was going to have to pay if he wanted anything. She’d made up her mind. If he didn’t kiss her, she would give both the beautiful emerald engagement ring and the timeworn traditional ring back to him. Doing so would hurt her terribly, but she was a woman and a Scully, and she did have her pride.

He shot her a tigerish look. “Okay,” he said, moving to do as she’d said, thinking they were finally getting somewhere. All bets are off, he thought. He was right about that, but he didn’t know what Scully had in mind, either.

Just as she didn’t know that he’d come to the decision that he wasn’t going to leave her side – not for a second – until she kissed him.

• • •

Part 24

Mulder sat up, enjoying the fact that his back was once again relatively pain free, cracking his neck along the way, making Scully cringe. He climbed up onto the bed, crossing his legs Indian style and propping his face up on his hands. “So, what now?”

Scully settled across from him. “I don’t know.” Dead silence reigned. It wasn’t their usual comfortable silence and it was driving her mad. “So, what was your dream about, since it wasn’t about me?”

He shrugged. He knew Captain Scully had only been there because he’d been thinking about him. He didn’t feel comfortable about telling her anyway. “I don’t remember it really.”

She raised an eyebrow. “But you remembered that I wasn’t in it.”

He drug his eyes over her body slowly, in fact, the best leer he’d given her the whole trip. “I always remember my dreams about you.”

A flush rushed into her cheeks, forcing her to stand and hide her face from him. She opened the door and glanced outside. “The rain’s slowing up. Want to go into the town? Maybe get something to eat?”

He smiled. “I’m starving, Scully.” His stomach growled in agreement as he stood up to join her.

She pulled out a brush, intent on fixing the tangles, but he pulled it out of her hands. “Hey! Give it back!”

He didn’t say anything, just prodded her back toward the bed. He sat down, pulling her to sit on the edge, right between his legs. Once they were settled, he began to brush her hair, gently working out the tangles. She closed her eyes and leaned back. There was nothing that felt as good as having someone play with her hair. Well, nothing else that Mulder appeared to have any plans to do. A moment later, though, the hairbrush dropped onto the bed. He wrapped his arms around her, giving her a tight hug and pressing his face into her hair.

She prepared for him to tease her a little more, but he didn’t. He pushed them both forward, keeping a tight hold on her so she didn’t fall when he stood up. As soon as she gained her balance, he let go, holding his arm out to her. She took his arm, grabbed an umbrella and stepped out the door.

She’d been waiting for them, they knew it. Bekkie was smiling, the gleaming smile enough to light the entire resort when the power had gone out. She was in the standard blue skirt and white shirt, but she’d pulled on a navy and white jacket and had her happy little ponytail sticking out the back of her hat.

“There you are!” She bounced up to them, ignoring their open mouthed unhappy faces. “I haven’t laid eyes on you the whole time so far!”

Scully looked up at Mulder. “Oh, geez, we’re sorry.” Her tone was sweet and high and only Mulder knew it was fake.

Bekkie took Scully’s free arm and tried to lead them toward the main building. “Oh, don’t worry about it, it is your honeymoon.” Bekkie winked knowingly at her. “We’re so sorry about the power outage and the phones and all, but everything’s back up and we want everyone to come on in. We’re going to serve everyone a free dinner and they’ll be dancing and…”

Mulder let go of Scully’s arm momentarily, just long enough to detach the parasitic leech. “Thanks, Bekkie, but we have plans. Bye.” He started walking away.

“Oh, but wait! Are you guys joining any of our sessions or lectures? We’ve got some great lectures on…” Bekkie’s voice trailed off as Mulder and Scully walked away.

Scully leaned against Mulder’s arm while they walked. “Thanks. I don’t think I could stomach any more relationship counseling for a while.”

He moved his arm, lacing their fingers together instead. He loved the way it felt to be so close to her, to have her openly demonstrate her feelings. “I think we’re managing pretty well.”

She lifted her head and smiled. “Yeah, yeah we are.”

The bad weather must have gotten to most of the visitors on the island, because it appeared that everyone was in the town. There were wall to wall people in every direction and it appeared most of them were headed towards the restaurant. Mulder ducked into the first store he could get to, sighing happily to have escaped the mob. He didn’t know it was the boutique that Scully had spent a great deal of money in.

Elizabeth waddled over. “Oh, Dana! Hello again! How are you?” Scully smiled and nodded, hoping that Elizabeth would waddle away. No such luck. “Dana, are you going to introduce me?”

Scully let go of Mulder’s hand and motioned toward Elizabeth. “This is Elizabeth. This is Fox.” She watched them shake hands, knowing Mulder’s eyes were questioning how she knew Elizabeth. Elizabeth took hold of Mulder’s hand and led him off, talking excitedly about whatever. Scully moved away to look through the racks, seeing nothing she wanted.

Ten minutes later, Mulder grabbed her arm and bolted for the door. Instinct sent her running with him, knowing she could ask later. As soon as they were outside, he slowed. “Mulder?”

He shrugged. “I had to get out of there. She wanted me to buy things. All kinds of things. In fact, I think she expected me to buy the whole store.”

“Yeah, she has that way. She talked me into dropping way too much. So, are you still hungry?” The crowds had died down a little, but there was still a large group around the restaurant.

“Yes. I’m still starving.” He motioned toward the overflowing restaurant. “But even if we get in there, the service will be horrible and it’ll take forever.”

Mulder sacrificing food for quality service? “Who are you and what have you done with my Mulder?” Mulder lived to scrounge up crap in dinky roadside dinners with dirty dishes and bad food.

He stopped and looked at her, a pensive expression settling in. “Your Mulder?” There was a teasing lilt to his voice and it made her smile.

She squeezed his hand quickly, then let go and slid her arm around his waist. “My Mulder.” She raised an eyebrow at him. “Unless you’d like to be my Fox.”

He draped his arm around her shoulder and steered her back towards the hotel. “I’d like to be your anything.” She leaned against him and they walked back in silence. When they reached the end of the path, Mulder turned and headed to the main building, not their cabin. “Um? What are you doing?”

“Two words, Scully: free food.” He pushed open the door, holding it for her, gently maneuvering his hand onto the small of her back.

The place was decorated beautifully, everything going well with the navy and white nautical theme of the employees’ uniforms. Scully was sure that if the staff was to lean against the walls, they’d blend right in. She was right, as it turns out, because Bekkie surfaced right in front of them.

“I’m so glad you made it! The dining room is this way!” Every syllable that came out of Bekkie’s mouth was an exclamation. She was an exhausting person to listen to. She led them into a large room, tables pushed closely together, giving Scully the impression that more people had shown up than were expected. Bekkie dropped menus onto the table in the center of the room. Scully grimaced, missing the privacy they’d been enjoying.

“Bekkie?” Mulder’s voice was soft and Scully knew he was about to wheedle his way into a better table. He had that magic, magnetic quality around women, no matter their age, he could always get his way and leave the woman glad to have given it to him. “This is a wonderful table, but Dana and I would appreciate something maybe just a little more private. Do you have anything else? Maybe with some candles?” Scully hadn’t realized it before he said something, but the room was lit with overheard lighting. Bright, conference room, or group session, lighting. Irritating lighting.

Bekkie’s smile faltered slightly. “Uh, hold on, just one second.” They stood in the middle of the room as Bekkie walked over to a tall, heavyset man. He was also in navy and white, but his sweater and dress pants gave him away as a manger of some sort. He nodded at Bekkie, followed her pointed finger to Mulder and Scully, and then tapped her on the shoulder and sent her in a different direction. Then he approached the couple in the middle of the room.

“I understand you’re looking for a bit more privacy?” His tone was flat and even. Neither of them could read him.

Mulder was ready to scamper out of the room with his tail between his legs. He was afraid of bullies. Scully stepped forward though, her business face back on. “Yes, sir, we would appreciate a little more space and privacy. We are on our honeymoon after all.”

The man stepped back, signaling to two of the boys. Then extending his hand to Scully first, then Mulder. “I’m Bob Minner, manager of the Wedded Bliss Resort and our aim is to provide you with whatever you require to have an enjoyable time.”

Mulder and Scully watched, shocked, as the two boys hoisted the table over their heads and marched out of the dining room. Two other boys followed the first group, carrying the chairs. Bob cleared his throat and spoke again. “We’ve got a great place for you, complete with the candles you requested. If you’ll just follow me…”

They followed and were lead into a small alcove off the main dining room. They had a perfect view of the beach, soft romantic music was playing, and the table was already set and adorned with flowers and candles. Scully just smiled, amazed at how easily their goal had been accomplished. Bob pulled out a chair for Scully. She accepted it gracefully and allowed him to push her back into the table. Mulder sat in the chair across from her, smiling at the realization that candlelight made her look even more beautiful.

There were no other people in the room, except for the kind woman who served them with the utmost care and attention. She had perfect timing, not interrupting once, still bringing them their food while it was hot and keeping their wine glasses full. She didn’t hover nor did she bother them with clearing the table when they stood up to dance. Over an hour later, after spending a great deal too long staring into each other’s eyes while dancing closely, they backed apart and wanted to leave. The waitress reappeared at exactly the right moment, refusing to let them tip her, and ushering them out the door.

The rain had stopped while they were eating and the ground had miraculously changed from the sandy mud back into sand. They walked slowly, knowing what frustration would greet them when they returned to their room. Their hands were still linked, as they had been most of the evening.

“Let’s go for a walk on the beach, Mulder.” She waited for a response, not wanting to make him do anything unless he wanted.

“OK.” Anything, he’d agree to anything so long as he was attached to her. That was all that mattered to him. He led her down the path to the beach, walking right up to the water line and then turning to walk up the beach. She smiled and followed his lead, hoping that a romantic stroll on the beach, following that intensely romantic dinner and dancing, might actually do the trick and make him kiss her. It would be such a shame to waste all that wine and candlelight.

• • •

Part 25

Mulder sighed. This would be the perfect time to lean over and ever so gently press his lips to hers. The sand, the moonlight, the ocean, the gentle breeze, all of the conditions were ideal. Her fingers would dig into his shirt as she clung to him. They’d end up rolling about in the sand. He looked at her. She looked like she wanted him to kiss her. But as he had well learned already, he couldn’t judge Scully’s thoughts by the look on her face. He had promised not to pressure her, and he wouldn’t. “Guess we should head back,” he said softly. The low tone to his voice covered the sound of his disappointment in not being able to kiss her.

He was looking at the ground, so he didn’t see the look on her face. Startled and upset, because she’d been so certain he was finally going to do it. It’s just a kiss, what’s the big deal, she tried to tell herself. But it felt like he didn’t care about her. It felt like an emerald on her finger big enough to put someone’s eye out was a stand in for the things that would really be important in a marriage. So she turned with him to walk back.

Inside the main building, the guests who had been dining were sitting in a large circle in the cleared-out conference room. For a second, Scully was worried they were having an enormous seance, but then she saw what was in the center of the circle. An empty champagne bottle.

Fifty or more honeymooning couples were playing spin the bottle. Another quick glance told her that no nautical-suited Bekkie types were anywhere to be seen. Just the man who was the manager of Wedded Bliss, looking nervous and overwhelmed by the crowd he’d found himself in charge of.

Scully’s hand tightened on Mulder’s. “Mulder -”

“Let’s go before they see us,” he completed her thought. They turned around, starting for the door, and came face to face with Bekkie. They were caught, and instantly began trying to think of excuses to get out of whatever she had planned out on her clipboard.

“You’re just in time!” Bekkie cried happily.

“For what?” asked Scully, dreading the answer. Her list of excuses to escape had disintegrated. So had Mulder’s.

“Our best, most exciting seminar ever!” Her eyes sparkled. “Mr. Mulder, you stay here and Ms. Mulder, you come with me.”

“Wait,” said Mulder. “It’s a couples’ seminar and you’re splitting us up? How does that work?”

“You’ll see,” Bekkie giggled and took Scully’s hand from him. They shared a tormented look just before Bekkie dragged her away into a neighboring conference room. Scully sat there alone, feeling uncomfortable, certain that if she got up to make an attempt to leave, the door would be open and she would be caught in the act by Bekkie, her erstwhile jailer. The door did open and a large group of women entered, talking and laughing among themselves. They were all tanned and looked to be in robust health, while Scully knew that the fake tanning cream she’d applied days earlier had begun to wear through and show her regularly pale skin beneath. These women radiated sexuality – they were on their honeymoons. Scully crossed her legs, unwilling to think about how long it had been since she’d had sex.

A woman in a business suit and a casual, authoritative manner strolled to the front of the room. “Settle yourselves,” she told the women. Scully thought it might be Bekkie’s mother. Or perhaps the woman Bekkie would be if she ever grew up. A hush fell over the legion of women in the conference room, and Scully looked at their faces. They looked as though they were waiting to have the greatest mysteries of the natural world revealed to them in a triumphant blaze of sisterhood.

The last time Scully had been called into a room with a bunch of women under similar circumstances, it had been in third grade when Sister Clement had explained to them in the cafeteria that very soon they would begin bleeding monthly. The elderly nun, who’d seemed quite baffled about the scientific principles involved, perhaps because she was a music teacher, had managed to set almost half the class into hysterical tears. They’d prayed for almost an hour, and then been released to go home early.

Scully began to feel dread in her stomach. The woman at the front of the room showed no such tremors and began to speak. “My name is Lilith,” she opened, “and this seminar is going to tell you everything you ever will need to know about male sexual desire.” She nodded to an unseen person in the back of the room and the lights dimmed. A slide projector clicked on. As the other women giggled and made anticipatory sounds, Scully groaned.

This was not what she needed.

On the screen was a badly drawn, anatomically correct figure of a man. “Most of us don’t give any thought to the sexual process,” Lilith continued, picking up a long wooden pointer and approaching the slide screen. “Men want us, and we respond to their overtures. Most of us learned some time ago what works and what doesn’t. This seminar will take away some of the doubt you may be experiencing as new brides, embarking upon a lifelong relationship. The era of the virgin bride is over, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to be learned.”

And I haven’t even kissed him, Scully thought, wondering if there would be a question and answer session or if she would have to approach Lilith about this when class was over.

• • •

A man was teaching the class Mulder found himself in. None of the men looked particularly thrilled to be there, except for a thin geeky man with bad skin. Mulder wondered what the class was about that the men would look like they were being forced by their new wives to attend. Then the chiseled profiled man at the front of the classroom addressed them.

“My name is Roque, and I will be your instructor. You’ve all shown a great deal of courage joining this class, I’d like to say that up front. Requested attendance can be seen as an affront to manhood, but I’m sure we’re all macho enough to put that aside.” Wink wink, nod nod, thought Mulder. Roque – pronounced Rock, of course – looked like a soap opera star and had a voice like a cartoon character, ridiculously deep. “But get out your pencils, men, because we all have a lot to learn about how to please a woman.”

A collective groan went through the room. Except from the geek who looked like he’d never seen a woman before. Mulder wondered what the man’s wife looked like. He also wondered what he was doing taking a class on lovemaking when he’d promised to give her time and space.

“I know you’re all having the same thought: I’ve never had any complaints before. But at the same time, are any one of you positively certain that she’s never faked with you before?” Roque asked.

Mulder wanted to raise his hand, but being a smart ass would just draw attention to him and he didn’t think he wanted that. He was sure Scully’s never faked with him before, though. He often wondered if she would ever get the opportunity to do so in the future.

He wondered what she was learning on the other side of the wall.

“I can – and will – teach you the techniques that will guarantee she has a screaming orgasm each and every time you do it,” Roque continued. “Please direct your attention to this video…”

I can’t believe I’m stuck in a screaming orgasm class, Mulder thought, trying not to snicker. The video proved to be a real challenge to his sense of humor. He was expecting something along the lines of the movies they showed in drivers’ ed, of terrible car accidents, only these would be terrible examples of lovemaking.

It turned out to be a woman with an obscene hand puppet.

• • •

“One of the most important elements to a mind blowing sexual encounter,” Lilith told them, “is confidence. Too often, even in this day and age, a woman takes the passive position, waiting for the man to initiate sex. It doesn’t have to be this way. What are some ways to get his attention?”

“Undress,” said one woman.

“Strip!” cried another, building on that suggestion.

Scully wondered if she should be taking notes.

“Do something he can’t ignore.”

Like walk on his back, she wondered ironically.

“These are all very good suggestions,” Lilith said woodenly. “But I know one that works even better. Communication. All you have to do is say, ‘Honey, I want you.’ That’s all it takes. You all probably have your own shorthand already. Let me hear you say it, nice and clear.”

“Honey I want you,” Scully mumbled, her voice lost in the chorus of other embarrassed mumbles.

“Don’t be shy,” Lilith admonished. “Be proud of your sexual nature. Just shout out your desire. Don’t be afraid to let it go.”

The chorus grew louder.

“Again!” Lilith cried, and they complied. “Again! Again!”

Scully found herself getting into it, enjoying the anonymity of shouting, her voice lost among the voice of so many other women. She imagined the freedom and courage to say this to Mulder, to end their game playing and doubt by just telling him what she wanted. It felt powerful. It felt good. It even felt a little sexual.

She tried to imagine his face if she shouted it out: “Mulder, I want you to fuck me!”

The silence startled her. Scully looked around quickly, feeling her face turning a bright shade of scarlet. She hadn’t realized that they’d finished the exercise. She wanted to melt into the floor.

• • •

Sounds from the other side of the wall distracted the men from their focus on the videotape. Wondering what their wives were learning on the other side of the wall was much more interesting than learning the proper names and techniques to identify various parts that were sensitive on the female body, and what type of touch they were sensitive to. Mulder had been wondering if there would be a test later, and if so, what would happen to the men who didn’t pass.

That all shattered as they heard muffled, excited shouting coming from the other room. It sounded to Mulder like a cultish exercise, the sort of thing evil religious leaders made their new initees do to brainwash them. That made him feel chilled. Brainwashing was a serious matter, and since Scully didn’t believe it worked, that would make her more susceptible to it.

What are they doing? he wondered. He’d just assumed they were learning about men and sex. A short class, he’d have guessed: always ready, always willing. What else was there to know? Roque was apparently as intrigued as he was, moving to the VCR and stopping the picture for a moment.

The mens’ ears strained against the silence, waiting to hear something come from next door, straining to pick their wife’s voice from the pack.

Mulder didn’t have any trouble. He could have heard a pin drop when he heard a shrill voice scream, “Mulder, I want you to fuck me!”

The men around him cringed and glued their eyes back to the video. Roque pressed the play button and they were once again involved in the complexities of the responses of a woman’s body. Mulder couldn’t focus on it, for obvious reasons. That had been Scully. And maybe she had been participating in some sort of role playing – he hoped it hadn’t been a spontaneous shout – but he didn’t know what to make of it. She hadn’t screamed that she wanted him to love her. She wanted him to fuck her. Did he mean so little to her? Was his physical self the only one she wanted? The thought disturbed him greatly.

• • •

“Next, we’re going to learn how to get men to slow down and focus on us,” Lilith continued. “We’re going to practice telling a man specifically what it is we like. Usually this is another group exercise to keep down the embarrassment factor, but -” She looked at Scully and Scully slid down farther in her chair. “Perhaps we’ll go around the room instead.”

Scully didn’t want to hear what these couples had been doing for the last several days in their explorations of each other. She didn’t want to hear what each women liked the best. She thought this was terrible idea, and she wished it would end. Quick.

• • •

The video ended. Mulder was a little worried about what he might hear from the other room in the ensuing silence, but the women were as quiet as the men were. He looked at his fellow students and saw that they looked either lost in thought or confused. Brows were furrowed across the room. Making plans for the evening probably, Mulder thought, wondering what he would be doing that evening. Playing Battleship or watching television. Both such tempting choices, he thought wryly.

“Now for the hands on part,” Roque told them and Mulder raised his eyebrows. Roque went out of the room and Mulder hoped against hope that he would return with the group of women. He didn’t want their first real caresses to be in such a public forum, but maybe this is what they needed, Mulder thought. To be made to touch each other. To be made to grow closer, to expand their relationship to the next plane.

Roque returned with a bag of tomatoes. He placed two on the desk of each man. “Many women’s greatest complaints are that men don’t know their own strength. This is often difficult for men to come to terms with, that they squeeze too hard or are too rough. That’s where these come in.” He grinned and held up a tomato. “We’re gonna practice.”

Mulder wondered what would happen if he got up and walked out at that moment. He looked around and saw that the other men looked the same way. At least he wouldn’t be suffering on his own.

• • •

“Now that we’ve explored our powers of communication,” Lilith said, “We’re going to explore what men have said they enjoy. Of course, not every man will respond to every technique. The most important thing is to establish communication with your lover, to make it a two way street. The second most important thing is to be open to try new activities.”

Like kissing? Scully thought, annoyed by all of this.

Lilith stepped out of the room for a moment and returned with a TV- VCR unit which she dragged into the front of the room. She popped in a tape and pressed play.

Great, thought Scully. A porn tape like the ones in the room. Naptime.

• • •

Mulder and Scully reunited in the larger ballroom of the main building. They tried their best to ignore the couple around them, most of whom could not resist throwing themselves into each others’ arms and touching and kissing intimately before starting on the way to their cabins. There was little doubt what would be going on all over the island that night.

Mulder and Scully were both a little nervous. They approached each other gingerly, looking carefully to see if there was any evidence of what the other had been doing. Mulder saw that Scully had a red mark on the side of her face in approximately the shape of her arm, as though she had been asleep and lying on her arm. Scully was more straightforward, probably because she couldn’t see any changes in his appearance. “How’d you do?” she asked.

He held up his hands. “I passed,” he said. “Not a bruise.”

“Mulder, you sound like you were arm-wrestling.”

“Not exactly,” he said uneasily. He didn’t want to tell her that he’d spent the last half-hour squeezing tomatoes. Many of the other participants had ended up with the red fruit on their hands, having squeezed too hard and punctured its thin skin with their fingers. The geek, Mulder had noticed, hadn’t even put soft dents into his with his weak, girlish hands. Mulder was proud of himself for going just far enough.

Maybe I should tell Scully, he thought, wondering if she would be proud of him. Maybe with a guarantee, she would trust him to touch her. But he didn’t want to have to offer that to gain her trust. He wanted her trust naturally.

“What about you?” he asked uneasily. They walked side by side toward their cabin, but this time they didn’t clasp hands. There was suddenly a strong no-touching taboo between them, like a wall that had been dropped between their bodies.

“They made us watch porn flicks to get ideas,” she admitted in a bored voice. “I fell asleep.”

“Why?” he asked.

“Why what?” she asked back.

“Why did you fall asleep?”

“Don’t you think watching other people having sex is boring?” she asked, then stopped herself. “No, I guess you wouldn’t.”

“Does my interest in pornographic videos bother you?” Mulder asked her frankly.

She shrugged like she didn’t care. “I’m not one of those militant feminists who think they severely degrade and demean women, if that’s what you’re asking me,” she said.

“Funny how you said that just like you do think those things,” Mulder said.

“Convincing, aren’t I?” she deadpanned. He opened the door and they went inside. They sat down on opposite ends of the couch and didn’t look at each other. The seminar had apparently allowed them to make great strides in their relationship.

“So, TV?” Mulder asked, taking the remote. Scully nodded and he turned the TV on. Even on a tiny island paradise, there was still ESPN and Mulder managed to find it. Scully drew her feet up underneath her body and leaned toward Mulder. After a moment, he took the hint and edged closer, allowing her to place her head against his shoulder. She sighed and he could feel it.

“Fishing, huh?” she asked.

“The best darn sport there is,” Mulder said in a false southern drawl.

“Don’t you think we should be doing something else?” she asked.

“Like what?” he asked back. Both of them were unwilling to make a move, so they sat there and watched the large men in flannel shirts fish.

Scully was beginning to have an idea though. Mulder liked those videos. There had to be a video camera available somewhere on the island. If she could make one…but that would be making the first move, and she was determined to make him kiss her first. Then again, she thought, it might be just the thing to make him want to kiss her. It might just be the thing to make him want to do a lot of things.

She shifted on the couch, sitting up, and Mulder looked at her. “Where’re you going?” he asked.

“For a walk,” she said, lying though her teeth.

“I’ll go with you,” he said, and a small part of her closed off.

“Okay,” she said as he clicked the TV off. She was thinking, kiss me on the beach Mulder and don’t make me make a fool of myself…again. She doubted he would. And suddenly, she wondered if it was worth it. Maybe they would keep their same relationship forever. And be happy with it, maybe. Suddenly she thought her video idea had been incredibly stupid. She wasn’t going to humiliate herself for Mulder’s titillation. No way. Not until he leveled with her. She would make him talk to her on the beach. Much as her body craved him, she needed to get things straight between them first.

They went through the door and were on the beach in no time.

• • •

Part 26

They walked for several moments in silence, their linked hands saying all they needed. Scully stopped walking to remove her shoes, leaving them up on the beach and deciding to come back for them later. The sand felt good between her toes and she walked a little closer to the edge of the water. Mulder took his shoes off as well, leaving them next to Scully’s and then rejoining her. The water was cooler than it had been during the day, but it was still warm enough to feel refreshing lapping at their ankles. They continued to walk, falling into step with each other naturally and reaching out at the same moment to take hold of the other’s hand.

The clouds had moved on and the sky was clear. There was a full moon, lighting the beach so brightly it seemed more like twilight than nine at night. But the romance of the moonlit stroll started to fade. Scully could feel the weight of the rings on her finger. She’d grown used to them, but they suddenly seemed wrong. They weren’t married. They weren’t engaged. And every minute that went by with them holding hands, the more it seemed to her that it was all just pretend. He’d drug her there claiming that there was a case that needed their attention, a murder. She’d seen no evidence of a victim or any indication that anything was out of the ordinary. Mulder had gone out of his way to fool all the staff members that they were a couple. She was sure that he’d lied. And to build their relationship on a lie was wrong, no matter how honest his intentions. She glanced at the rings, staring at the way they reflected the moonlight. She didn’t want to wear them anymore. Not unless it was real.

“Mulder?”

“Hmmm?” He sounded so content, she glanced up to be sure that he wasn’t half asleep.

“What’s going on here?” It was a perfectly good question, and as good a place as any to begin the conversation.

He sounded startled, almost guilty. She started to wonder how much of what he’d said to her was true. Maybe the reason he kept starting to seduce her and then backing out was out of his guilt for lying. Maybe he did just want to get her in bed and every time he got close, he realized it was wrong to use her like that. But even so, she knew this was a little too involved for anyone for the mere purpose of getting laid. But then, Mulder was an involved man. Nothing was ever simple for him.

“What do you mean?” He left his hand linked with hers, but she could swear he started acting nervous.

She lifted their hands up and then let them drop back down. “I mean this. She threw her arm out around her, indicating the beach and the water and the island. “All of this, Mulder? What are we doing here?”

She felt his hand loosen, but he didn’t try to take it back. “We’re on vacation?”

She pulled her hands away and turned to face him, shaking her head in disbelief. “We’re on vacation?”

“That’s what I said.” His tone wasn’t soft and sweet and romantic anymore. It was flat, even, measured. It made her uncomfortable.

She put her hands on her hips. “What about the case? The murder you brought me here to solve?”

He waved his hand dismissively. “We’ll get to that, OK? Just relax.” He reached for her hand, not masking the disappointment when she twisted away to avoid it. “What?”

“You brought me here for a reason, Mulder, and I don’t think that it had anything to do with a case. I think you lied to me. Actually, I’m sure you lied to me and I want to know why.”

“I didn’t lie, Scully. I just want us to relax and enjoy ourselves and not have to worry about mutants and killers and bosses and work.” He put his hands on his hips as well, sounding almost convincing, but not able to meet her eyes.

“Why would you decide to take us on vacation? We’re not a couple, we’re friends, barely that anymore, and you decided to sign us up for a romantic getaway?”

He looked her in the eye for a moment, silently conveying his hurt, and then turned back to the sand. “I thought you might enjoy it. We’ve been through so much recently. I thought maybe…”

“You thought maybe what?” He sounded like he was about to tell her she was right, that he had lied and brought them here for the sole purpose of getting her in bed. She started to feel sick to her stomach thinking he’d betrayed her like that.

“Nothing has to change, Scully. I told you that. We can go back any time and forget this. I just didn’t think you wanted to leave. I thought you were having fun. I thought we were having fun. Sorry.” He turned away from her entirely then, staring out at the hated ocean and wishing he could vanish.

“Why don’t you just tell me the truth? Don’t lie to me, I’m not going to believe you.” Her mind had closed off to him, deciding that she was being lied to, not even willing to believe him.

“You already don’t believe me, Scully.” His hands raised to his face, but since his back was turned, she couldn’t see that he was wiping away tears.

“You haven’t given me any reason to. Can you turn around and tell me you’ve been completely honest with me?” He was thinking about his promise to give her time and not pressure her. She was thinking about everything else.

“No, Scully, I can’t. I’m sorry.” He wanted to die right then and be spared the agonizing pain of her leaving him.

She felt like the rug had been pulled out from under her. She pulled the rings off her finger, pushing them into his hand and then turning and running back toward their room. She wouldn’t let him see her cry. He’d just been playing an elaborate game of seduction and he didn’t know how to tell her once he’d realized she’d fallen for it.

He looked at the rings in his hand, still warm from the heat of her body and started to cry. He had her answer. And he wished he’d left the whole thing alone, not bothered her with his one sided feelings. Then maybe she’d still be by his side. He put the rings back in his pocket, fighting the urge to throw them out into the water. Even if she hated him, she’d worn the rings, and that was a good enough reason to keep them.

He sat down in the wet sand and stared out at the water. The water he hated, the water he feared, and the water he’d braved to be at her side. And now he was facing what he hated, she was nowhere to be found. His greatest fear was realized: He was all alone.

Finally, Mulder got up, feeling numb. He walked on stiff legs back to their cabin, hoping Scully would be there. There were no words he could say that would make things all right – he knew he was wrong to have been untruthful to her – but he would feel better if he knew she was nearby and not trying to make a swim for it.

She was sitting on the bed with her arms wrapped around her knees. She looked at him when he walked in. “Scully, I’m sorry,” he said, but she made a movement with her hand like she really didn’t want to hear it. He sat down on the bed, waiting for her to yell at him to get off. She didn’t. She didn’t seem to care at all. “Are we going home tomorrow?” he asked quietly.

She didn’t say anything for a long time. Her eyes looked damp, but he knew he had to be imagining that. There was no reason for Scully to cry; besides that, Scully didn’t ever cry. She was the one who wanted this. She was the one who didn’t want their relationship to change, who couldn’t trust him enough to let their relationship change. But that was his fault. He blamed himself.

“Maybe that would be best,” she said finally.

Mulder’s heart sank. But then it rose again on the wings of hope, as only Mulder could manage. He still had one night, and part of the day tomorrow. The cruises back to the mainland left each day at about 3 pm. They weren’t scheduled to go for another few days, but he was sure they could finagle their way onto tomorrow’s boat. He wasn’t going to committ another crime in Scully’s eyes and lie and say they couldn’t change their reservations. He just knew he had a limited time to make her want to stay with him. To make her want to wear these rings. To convince her that he loved her, and that he was safe for her to love.

“Then we should make the most of our last night here, don’t you think? Enjoy it while we have it?” he said in a non-threatening tone.

“Mulder, I think I’d rather just stay here and watch t -” Scully began, but then she interrupted herself. A new thought occurred to her – that he was right, that as long as they were both there, why shouldn’t they have fun? Specifically, why shouldn’t she have fun? This entire fiasco was at his expense, at his insistence. She might as well take advantage. She didn’t have to sit home and pine because they’d argued, because she’d said what was on her mind and their relationship was maybe not strong enough to stand that. “Okay,” she said determinedly. “Let’s go.” Bring it on, she thought, we’ll be safe as long as we don’t run into Becky. Er, Bekkie.

She and Mulder walked into town together. After the scene on the beach, it didn’t seem like such a tropical paradise anymore. Scully knew she would miss it, though. She wasn’t looking forward to their rapid return to cold weather and reality as of the next day. She wasn’t sure she was ready for this to end. It just had to. Unless she could make Mulder see her point of view, and change himself, all in one short night and part of a morning.

“Where are we going?” Mulder asked when the sand gave way to a street. “The shops are all closed, and we already ate, unless you want to try the restaurant for desert.”

“I’d be happy if I never set foot in that restaurant again,” Scully said, remembering her ordeal waiting tables. It would be too easy for Mulder to forget to pay the bill and walk out on her again. “That leaves…there,” she said, gesturing to a beaten up looking windowless building.

“What is it?” he asked.

“We’ll find out,” she said. She reached for his hand, but then remembered she wasn’t pleased with him and she didn’t want to give him the wrong idea. Awkwardly, she stuck her hand in her pocket, knowing he saw anyway. They walked together to the building and went inside.

Inside, it was smoky and dark. Music filled the room, as did conversation and the smell of alcohol. Someone was singing along with the music and the harsh sound of his voice grated on Scully’s ears. Cringing, she turned around to see where it was coming from. A man was standing at a table, looking down at his blushing bride, serenading him. A spotlight shone on him. He had a lot of energy, at least, she thought.

Mulder froze just inside the door. “We’re in a kareoke bar,” he said with obvious horror in his voice.

“So?” Scully said. “We’ll have a couple of drinks and relax.” It was enough to coax him into sitting at at table, but that wasn’t exactly what happened. She ordered an Irish whiskey, knowing she would need her strength, and waited for the right moment to present itself. And it soon did.

She stood and saw Mulder’s eyes widen. The spotlight careened madly around the room before it found her. Someone slipped the microphone into her hand and she spoke into it, her eyes locked with Mulder’s. “This song is for Fox – Mulder,” she said, hesitating on his name. “He should find it very…meaningful.”

The first strains of music filled the room with an odd power and Scully began to sing in a beautiful, clear voice. She could have been a singer, Mulder thought, marvelling at how very different she had sounded in the Florida woods, her flat voice mangling a song to keep herself awake. This Scully was a siren. He tried to keep his captivation to a minimum and listen to the words, as she’d instructed him to.

Listen as the wind blows, across the great divide,

Voices trapped in yearning, memories trapped in time,

Why can’t you hear my voice, Mulder? Why don’t you listen to all the memories we have? Scully thought.

The night is my companion, and solitude my guide,

I could I spend forever here and not be satisfied,

Mulder didn’t want to have to leave the island. She was right. The words were meaningful. He was solitary in the night, but he wanted her there with him, why didn’t she know that. What he didn’t know was whether she felt the same way he did.

And I would be the one to hold you down,

Kiss you so hard I’ll take your breath away

And after i’d wipe away the tears just close your eyes dear.

Which was exactly what Scully had been wanting to do for days. Her eyes dipped closed as she focused on the song and the image – Mulder, tossed down beneath her on the sand. Sometimes she thought that was the only way their relationship would progress. Could progress. If it was sexual and nothing more.

Through the world i’ve stumbled, so many times betrayed

Trying to find an honest word to find the truth enslaved.

She had been right. This song could be about him, Mulder thought. About them. He’d been lost in this world until she’d come to him. She was the only one who hadn’t betrayed him, even though at times he’d thought she had. The truth was his goal, his shining light, and yet it didn’t keep him company. She did that. He was a slave to her just as much as he was to the truth.

You speak to me in riddles and you speak to me in rhyme,

My body aches to breathe your breath, your words keep me alive

Mulder could never be straight with her. That was what their problem always was. Even now. He danced around the truth. He loved it so, and yet couldn’t open his own life to the truth. She knew he’d been hurt by lies before. But now she was hurt by his dishonesty. She wanted him, wanted him desperately, if only he could give her the words she needed to hear….

She glided through the chorus again and onto the next verse.

Into this night I wander, it’s morning that I dread,

No words could have been more true. She was alone tonight and they were both lost. When morning came, the dream would be over.

Another day of knowing of the path I fear to tread,

Back to their old life. She knew they would never speak of this island once they returned. It would be too painful, the way “it might have been” always was.

Into the sea of waking dreams i follow without pride

Cause nothing stands between us here and i won’t be denied

This trip was a dream on the verge of waking. It was real, but unreal. If she went along with it as he wanted her to, she would lose her pride. Was it worth it, she asked him through the song. Maybe it was. Their barriers were gone on the island. He could not resist him if she took him. But what would happen when morning and reality came?

She finished the song and a quiet moment hung in the air. Conversations resumed around the room and she gradually came back to reality. She felt the sweat cooling her body, and the microphone leaving her hand. Scully even managed to tear her eyes from Mulder’s, and she knew nothing had changed between them. That angered her and she left the restaurant, walking along on the beach, overwhelmed with the emotions she’d allowed to billow up and fill her with the music. This entire time she’d been deluding herself.

Back at their cabin, a room so full of possibilities that would be unfulfilled, she went out to the patio and sat down before the waterfall, letting its beauty and soothing sound wash over her. She wasn’t certain how much time had passed before she heard the screen door scrape open again and was aware that Mulder had joined her.

“The song was beautiful, Scully,” he said. “You’re beautiful.”

“But it doesn’t mean a thing,” she said in a voice light and rough with tears. Emotions that were threatening to tear her apart. He didn’t deny it, didn’t say anything, and she turned away from him, going into the cabin. It was time for bed. Let the morning come that much sooner, she thought. Let this torment end.

If she’d looked at Mulder, she would have seen that he was kneeling with the emerald ring in his hand, ready to propose all over again. She’d walked away before he could. And he let her go.

• • •

The next morning, Scully awoke as alone in the bed as she had gone to sleep. One thing was different, though. The emerald and diamond ring had resurfaced on her hand. Mulder had slipped it there while she slept. Anger shot through her and she wanted to twist the ring from her hand and hurl it as far away as possible, but sentimentality kept her from doing it. She looked down at it for a long moment and got out of bed.

Her things were packed. She had no doubt that Mulder had been thorough. All that remained was to join him in town and wait for the ship to leave, sailing back to reality. He’d taken his things with him, she saw, lifting her bag and making a final check around the room. She turned her back on it sadly, feeling the death of a dream.

Mulder was sitting on the doorstep with his suitcase. His smile when he saw her held all the radiance of the sun. “Good morning, sunshine,” he said.

She almost smiled back, but reminded herself that ice queens didn’t smile at men who’d broken their hearts. “Are you ready to go?”

He nodded mildly and they set off together, carrying their bags and walking slowly in step with each other, across the beach and down through the town.

They’d almost reached the boat when Bekkie came running up, accosting them. “You’re just in time!” she said, her eyes as fevered as a maniac’s. “I heard you’d been called back home on urgent business, but I’m so glad I caught you! You have just enough time to join us!” She began to run back toward the town center, then stopped and looked back. “Come on!” she yelled.

Mulder and Scully looked at each other and followed her.

• • •

Part 27

Bekkie bounded back to the main building in half the time it would have taken the road runner. Two boys appeared in her wake, taking the luggage and allowing Mulder and Scully the chance to catch up to their track star host. Scully reached the door half a second before Mulder, pulled it open and stopped short. Mulder crashed into her, sending her sprawling, then helping her back up before noticing why she’d stopped. The dining room had been converted, in a manner of speaking, to a church of sorts. It tried to be nondenominational, but it was fashioned primarily on the Catholic church. On instinct, Scully genuflected before walking forward to take her seat. Mulder hung back. He was raised Jewish, this was a new and entirely frightening experience for him. He tried to believe in something, but it was hard for him, given his life, and he was sure that if there was a God, He wasn’t happy with Mulder. Feeling eyes on him, he copied Scully’s quick movements as quickly as he could, hoping people would mistake his unfamiliarity with old habit. No one seemed to notice, other than Scully who shot a glare at him.

He slid into the seat next to her as others arrived. The service hadn’t begun yet and others were still speaking quietly. He took his cue from Scully though. She had dropped onto her knees and dipped her head in quiet prayer, her fingers straying to touch the cross at her neck. By the time he realized he too should be on his knees, she was settling herself back in the seat. He leaned over and whispered to her. “Am I allowed to be here, Scully? Is it some kind of sin?”

She glared at him, as though to rebuke him for talking in church. But she hadn’t been in a Mass for years, so she couldn’t really blame him. She could barely remember what to do. “As long as you don’t take Communion, you’re welcome at the service.” She looked like she was about to say something else, but a hand on her shoulder caught her attention. Bekkie was standing there and whispered to Scully, who did something with her hands and then motioned to Mulder. Bekkie nodded and smiled and Scully seemed relieved. Mulder decided to be relieved too.

A man stepped forward from the group in the front of the room, an oddly casual liturgical garment draped around his shoulders. Thankfully, he seemed to be aware that there were people present who weren’t used to attending church and issued simple instructions. The prayers he used were run of the mill ‘thank whatever god you pray to for your wonderful life’ and Mulder simply clasped his hands and bowed his head. Scully seemed to take to the service well, mumbling things along with the crowd, her hands remaining clasped for an extra second or two to finish her prayers.

As quickly as it began, the service ended and the couples began to leave. Bekkie approached the man acting as priest and pointed to Mulder and Scully. The man smiled and nodded and spoke to another person who also smiled. Mulder was getting nervous. Scully was too. Bekkie had asked if everything was all right, because they had to leave and everything. She’d said that everything was fine, feeling horribly guilty for telling a lie, and then had asked if the priest might be willing to give them a blessing. Bekkie assumed it was because of their wedding, Scully had been hoping it would help them stay friends after this. Then Bekkie had asked for her rings, and Scully had given them over, mentioning that the wedding band was an heirloom and to please be careful with it. At any rate, the commotion at the front of the makeshift church was beginning to scare her.

Bekkie hopped back over to them. “OK, they’re all set. We’re ready when you are.”

Scully was about to ask what was going on, but Mulder bent over and asked her what was going on. She looked back at him, feeling guilty for signing him up for an encounter with a priest without his consent. “I just asked for a blessing. We have a long trip ahead of us and several problems to deal with once we get home.” He nodded, understanding, and adding his own silent prayer that everything would be fine.

He leaned over once more as they approached the priest. “Is it OK for him to bless me? I’m not going to hell or anything over it am I?”

Scully laughed and stopped walking long enough to answer. “Mulder, you would be the first man in the history of the world to go to hell for receiving a blessing.” He smiled too, realizing his own complete ignorance of her faith.

They presented themselves in front of the priest, with Bekkie at Scully’s side and the other man at Mulder’s side. Mulder narrowed his eyes and looked at Scully. She looked like she was about to explain that she wanted turkey and not chicken to the guy at the deli counter. She closed her mouth again, deciding she was just paranoid. This was merely a blessing, not what it looked like.

The priest cleared his throat. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to renew the wedding vows…”

Two jaws dropped open in sheer horror. Just as they were both about to back away, each felt the arm of their ‘witness’ holding them in place. Scully turned to Bekkie, wanting to scream at her. Bekkie beamed happily back, thinking that the seminar on sexual desires had been rather helpful. Mulder, horror stricken to the point of utter speechlessness, assumed that since he wasn’t of this faith, the wedding would mean nothing. But it got harder and harder to believe that as first he and then Scully mindlessly repeated the words spoken to them. Their eyes had long since locked together, both searching the other to see just how much truth lay there.

Mulder tried to listen to the words as Scully said them to him, looking for all the world like she meant every word, especially with those tears in her eyes, but her voice was drowned out by the voice in his head, the one screaming at him ‘she’s marrying you.’ He wanted to be upset since he’d really never thought much about getting married, nothing other than that he wanted to be married to her. But he couldn’t be. If she was saying this and he’d already said it, it meant that he could kiss her. It meant that he could make love to her. And she could tell her very Catholic mother that they’d waited until they were married to have sex. He was so proud of himself for waiting. He smiled at her, hoping she would stop crying.

Bekkie presented the rings to the priest, who made the sign of the cross over top of them, and who, in turn, presented them to Mulder. He took them one at a time and slid them onto Scully’s finger, keeping hold of her hand when he was finished. Her hands shook slightly even while he held them. Then the one sentence he’d actually heard during the ceremony floated through his mind: You may kiss the bride. He had the permission of God, for Christ’s sake, and he was still gazing at her hesitantly. Tears continued to roll down her face. Was she having second thoughts?

She couldn’t stop the tears that made their way down her face. >From the moment she’d realized what was happening, she knew he had to have realized it too and she kept waiting for him to run out of the church. But he hadn’t. Every moment he stayed there, looking intently into her eyes, saying words she’d begun to think she’d never hear from any man, she felt a little piece of her heart crumble to make room for him. By the time he slid the rings onto her finger, she could even pretend that she wasn’t crying. It was the prefect wedding for them, she realized. Tiny, just them and the bare minimum of others present, no fancy clothes or flowers or hours of preparation. It was so beautiful she almost wished someone was there to take a picture. Their first kiss would be as a married couple. And the best part of all, he wasn’t insisting that they get married in a courthouse, with a justice of the peace. He was marrying her in her church, before the eyes of her God, and she couldn’t wait to call everyone in her family and say they were all wrong about him.

And then he hesitated. It was the moment she’d been waiting for since, and it shocked her to admit it finally, since the day she’d met him. She thought and planned and wished and fantasized and hoped and waited for him to kiss her from that first day, that first embrace in a dark candlelit motel room. She tilted her head up and saw his face. He was confused, upset, mad? Could he think she’d planned this? Even if she had, he could have left. She didn’t know why he was looking at her like that, but she did know he wasn’t about to kiss her. She turned and ran through the door, across the grounds and onto the dock where a crowd of people waiting to get on the boat had amassed. They were all happy and in love and she was still crying, though now in pain and humiliation and let down. She’d just married him, and for whatever reason, whether to please her or mock her or be mean to her, he’d married her right back. And then he’d refused to kiss her, in front of those people, for no reason except to spite her. She pushed through the crowd and onto the boat, ignoring the crew telling her she had to wait, threw the rings onto the deck, hoping they’d roll off and get eaten by a shark, and ran into the first room she found that was unlocked. It was a storage room, full of any paper product anyone might ever need. She sat down on a box of paper towels and let the tears rock her shoulders as she sobbed.

He didn’t get it. He was trying to decide if she was for real, if she meant any of what she’d said during those few minutes they’d been in front of the priest. He’d come to the conclusion that she had just married him and that he was finally going to have the chance to kiss her and she ran out the door. Just turned and ran. Afraid he’d done something terribly wrong, he chased her, watching her get swallowed into the crowd on the dock. He wasn’t crying hysterically and so, didn’t get the crowd’s permission to push through. He had to wait his turn and after a half hour, he knew she’d found a good hiding place. He had just decided that he’d search the place until he found her when a glimmer caught his eye.

He bent down and picked up the wedding band, looking around until he spotted the engagement ring as well. The wedding ring was intact, somehow surviving. The emerald ring however, was missing one of its diamonds and the ring itself was smushed into a wide oval. He was sure they could fix it with a little help from a jeweler, the problem would just be whether or not she’d put it on again. Assuming he could ever find her.

He spotted a crew member and approached him, shoving the rings roughly into his pocket. “How long before we dock?”

“It’s a short trip, about three hours. You might want to head back inside though, cause there are some pretty nasty looking clouds the way we’re headed. It’s probably just rain though.”

Mulder gulped, already feeling psychosomatic seasickness since Scully wasn’t there to tell him it was impossible. “Probably?” He was squeaking again, the most obvious sign that he was terrified. The other sign being the way he was squeezing the life out of the poor guy’s arm.

“Aw, I reckon it could be a tropical storm, doubt it’s a hurricane, not so close to the mainland without warning.”

Mulder went deathly pale and headed to the middle of the ship, turning down a hallway, trying to figure out where the sturdiest and steadiest part of the ship would be. He leaned on a door frame for a few minutes, then remembered that was for earthquakes, and tried sitting on the floor. He was horribly nervous, scared out of his mind about the damn ocean already, now they were headed into a doubtful, but possible hurricane and he wanted Scully to hold his hand. He needed Scully to hold his hand. But he couldn’t find her. And he was too afraid to go back up on deck and see the ominous clouds they were sailing into. He started to wonder where the life jackets were. He desperately wanted one, not caring how dumb he would look. One of those would make him feel better.

A half hour later, Scully was about cried out. Or so she thought. She’d sob and sniffle her way down to a hiccup and think she’d regained control of herself, but then she’d envision his annoyed face as she waited for her kiss and start sobbing all over again. She was jostled from her seat atop the paper towels by the ship as it rocked to one side, then overcorrected its balance and rocked to the other. She didn’t panic, quickly wiping the tears from her face and stepping out of the closet. This was a big boat, it would take a lot for it to actually capsize, but hiding in the closet, with things piled up on either side of her, was a bad idea. She stepped out into the hallway, and fell against the opposite wall at the ship rocked violently again. She heard a woman’s shrill scream and found herself taking deep calming breaths. It was probably just a storm. But should something happen, she knew she didn’t want to be deep in the belly of the ship. She walked down the hallway, bracing her arms out to either side, falling anyway when the boat inevitably rocked several more times, each time farther and more sharply than the last.

She reached the door onto the deck and pushed it open with all of her strength. The wind whipped by, pulling her unrestrained hair across her face and blinding her. The rain was falling hard enough to sting when it made contact with her skin. And the fog was so think that she blinked three times before she realized her eyes were open. She clung to the railing as the ship rocked again, coming so close to the water on its return trip that her hands touched the ocean water. Involuntarily, she screamed at the thought of what was going on. The ship was completely out of control. They were in the tropics, she knew the storms were terribly violent there, they’d had one the day before, and she’d still forgotten to check the weather report before they left.

Refusing to give in to the panic, she made her way down the deck, hoping to find a life jacket somewhere. She ran into a group of people huddled around a life boat. One of the women was screaming about taking the boat before they lost their chance and Scully bit down the urge to point out that a life boat would be toast in water so rough. But she didn’t. Seeing the hysterical woman, she thought of Mulder. As mad and hurt as she was, she was still in love with him and he was still afraid of water. She found a few life vests, strapping one on for herself and then grabbing one for Mulder. Her initial decision that the ship was going to survive began to disintegrate as a wave of water ten feet high crashed over her. She held on to the railing, determined not to leave without Mulder.

She tried to think logically as people, the crew included, began to panic around her. Mulder was afraid of the water. He’d probably have faith in the boat though and try to get somewhere as far away from the water as he could. And knowing his tendency towards motion sickness, he would probably aim for the stillest part of the ship. She headed for the door again, pushing through the group with the now wet, screaming woman, and running down the stairs. He’d probably be down in the belly of the ship, the least likely to survive if the boat was to flip, and the least likely to know he’d be the least likely to survive.

She’d only made it down one flight of stairs, though, when the ship rocked again, more violently than the last few times. She realized what was happening in the heart stopping second when the boat teetered on it’s precarious balance. Then she felt the horrifying moment of weightlessness as the ship rolled to its side, before she crashed into the floor that had once been a wall. Pain ripped through her shoulder when she landed. She tried to think. But it was hard. The ship was sinking and for once in her life, she was scared to death that she was going to die on the sea. She pushed herself back towards the door and pushed it open, hoping she could get back to the deck before the rest of the ship went under.

• • •

Part 28

She’d only made it down one flight of stairs, though, when the ship rocked again, more violently than the last few times. She realized what was happening in the heart stopping second when the boat teetered on it’s precarious balance. Then she felt the horrifying moment of weightlessness as the ship rolled to its side, before she crashed into the floor that had once been a wall. Pain ripped through her shoulder when she landed. She tried to think. But it was hard. The ship was sinking and for once in her life, she was scared to death that she was going to die on the sea. She pushed herself back towards the door and pushed it open, hoping she could get back to the deck before the rest of the ship went under.

“Mulder!” she shouted, her voice carrying and echoing oddly off the walls of the inner decks of the ship. Answer me, she prayed. What the hell had either of them been thinking? she wondered as she fought against the water to try to get to him. She thought he’d only married her to be polite. She had no idea what he’d thought of the whole scene, but she suspected he believed she’d set it up. She had, after all, been throwing herself wildly at him for days now. Nothing like a fight for survival to bring things into clear focus, she thought.

Something slithered across her leg and for the first time she realized she was in sea water. Even though she was in an enclosed environment, even though it seemed really safe, this wasn’t a movie. The water around her was dark and murky and all sorts of things lurked down there. She remembered the foundering of several ferryboats near Europe – they’d had the tendency to roll over. She thought this ship was large enough it wouldn’t have gotten knocked over. Scully hoped that it would remain on its side. Perhaps it would be able to float that way. She didn’t really know.

“Mulder!” she shouted again, feeling herself grow weary from fighting against a current. Wait, a current? If she was fighting against it, that meant she was heading towards where the water was coming into the ship. If Mulder was there, it was likely he was already dead…or swept out to sea. She couldn’t let that be so. There was so much pain and hurt between them, all unnecessary. They’d wasted so much time with game playing and unwillingness to be honest. They’d both been equally guilty of not being able to put their feelings on the line, to risk saying the words. This was what it got them. A ship full of water.

It was getting deeper, and she wasn’t going to go without him, even if that meant she would die here herself. She imagined Mulder having fought his way out of instinct, to the surface and surviving while she fought to save him. She could picture her funeral – Mulder trying valiantly not to cry, everyone she knew dressed in solemn black. Her body wouldn’t be found, but they’d lose hope quickly. They had done so before.

Chills had arisen on her skin and she could feel herself being bogged down by the idea, by all of the nightmares she had already endured in this life. “Mulder?” she cried once more, no longer a demand for an answer. She heard the sigh of hopelessness in her own voice. Already she had grown tired. She wasn’t even calm. She felt hiccupy and weak, like she was going to sob. “No,” she said to herself, to hear it aloud. “No,” she said again more strongly. She began to move through the water again.

Mulder hadn’t known what was happening, only that something was. He’d felt the violent rocking of the ship, but everything had happened too quickly. By the time he’d gotten to his feet, the room had been disoriented, turned upside down and had begun to fill with dirty water. Just the kind of water he hated. Water he couldn’t see through.

Knowing Scully was on the ship somewhere, he knew he couldn’t stay where he was. They should be together, was all he could think. Their lives had been joined in matrimony – however phony or false or contrived it may have been, that still meant something to Mulder. He knew it had happened to their souls long ago, perhaps from their first meeting. Or perhaps it was something that had been destined even longer ago than that. Mulder didn’t believe in reincarnation, but he didn’t disbelieve either. If any relationship upheld the tenets of that belief, it was his relationship with Scully. He could believe they had been put on this earth to find each other. He had learned so much from her already. As had she, he was certain. But there were things they had to learn together.

To love without fear.

If they died now, apart, like this, he at least had the consolation of knowing it would guarantee another lifetime together to learn where they had failed in this one.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t good enough for Mulder, although god knew he’d considered it before. End this life and start fresh with less pain, he’d thought. But in the end, the instinct to survive always won in him. As it did at that moment. He had to see her again, hold her again, and tell her just how very wrong he had been.

“Scully!” he yelled, even though he knew she couldn’t hear him. Just as he began to move his legs in the water, even though he couldn’t see them. He knew they were there. And he knew they wouldn’t fail him, not when it was so very important. He’d trained as a swimmer for a reason. That reason was now.

As he broke through the door, Mulder became aware of a strange presence in the water. Presence was the wrong word, but he didn’t know the right one. An energy, a buzzing, a filling of the void between the atoms that made the air and the water and all matter, including his body. He didn’t understand it, and yet he did on the most primal of terms: something really fucking weird was happening.

“Scully!” he called again, and his voice stretched oddly into infinity, yet bounced back to his ears too quickly. Mulder never for a moment thought he was having a hallucination or that this was what death was. He knew this was real, and it filled him with the same wonder and awe he had for all paranormal phenomena. He only wished he had more time to stay and study it. He had to find Scully.

“Mulder!” her voice sounded just as odd to his ears, but there she was, alive, and safe. She was looking for him. It brought tears to his eyes as he opened his arms, moving towards her. She swam at him, and he enfolded her in a hug so tight neither of them could breathe.

“You shouldn’t be here,” he murmured into her wet hair. “You should have gone, you shouldn’t have come back.”

“I shouldn’t have run away,” Scully said and he could tell she was crying too. She held her arms around him, and neither of them made any move to break the hug. He felt warm against her storm chilled body, and she was never going to let go of him. She was never going to let him out of her sight again. He got into too much trouble. She looked up and met his eyes. “Why did you hesitate?” she demanded.

He didn’t know what she was talking about. “Why did you force that wedding on me? I was determined not to pressure you and you -”

“I didn’t do it, Mulder, it was that Bekkie person. She must have thought that was what we were asking for,” Scully said. Mulder’s arms relaxed and she took the opportunity to push out of them and look at him frankly. “It’s okay. We didn’t sign a license, and the ceremony he performed was a renewal of vows, not the vows themselves. You’re safe, Mulder, we’re not married.”

“I don’t want to be safe,” he told her.

“You could say that again,” she cracked, “Look where we are!”

“I asked you to marry me, Scully.”

“But -”

“I did mean it. I do mean it.” Mulder found the rings in his pocket. The engagement ring was too damaged for him to put it on her finger again. But the heirloom wedding ring was perfect. He put it back on her finger where it belonged. “I don’t want to pressure you, Scully, but I don’t need a license or a ceremony. In my heart, where it matters, I am married to you.” She looked away and his heart sank. “Even if you don’t want to hear it, that’s how I feel.”

“It’s how I feel, too, Mulder,” she said, licking her lips and looking at him again. “We’ve both been so foolish.”

He nodded and they felt the water lap around them as something set the ship rocking around them. Scully clutched at him involuntarily, and he grabbed her, holding her tight. This is it, they were both thinking. They’d survived mutants and killers and giant bugs and being stranded in a ship that aged them and clone viruses and alien abductions and cancer and a hundred other things that would have killed any normal people. Just as certain as they had been of being able to overcome those obstacles, they were certain they were not going to cheat death this time.

“Kiss me now, Mulder,” Scully ordered him. “We’ve wasted too much time.”

He looked down at her, wanting to be sure she was sure. He wanted this to be perfect, even more so now given the circumstances. But he held her tight against his body so she wouldn’t get any more bright ideas that he didn’t want her. Mulder’s hands roamed up and down her back and he held her blue eyes with his. The electricity between them was intense as he began to slowly lower his lips to hers.

Scully made a soft, terrible noise and went limp in his arms. “Scully?” he cried as his eyes flew open. He saw blood, bright and terrifying oozing from her head. A split second later he saw a piece of wood floating on the water. She’d been hit in the head. He struggled to hold her upright with her head above water, knowing she would drown in her unconsciousness in a moment. There seemed to be so very much blood and she was cold. Too cold even for this water. Tears stung Mulder’s eyes. He’d waited too long.

Even through the tears, he knew the melting and jumbling of the walls in front of him was unusual. It wasn’t supposed to happen. I’ve been hit in the head too, he thought madly, or this is what oxygen deprivation due to drowning causes. He would never see Samantha again. He would never find her, and redeem himself. He would never be given the opportunity to show Scully every day how much he loved her. This was the end. Mulder fought and lost and his eyes closed. His arms released Scully into the water, and the world seemed to cease.

• • •

There was a big, painful…*pain* in her head. She groaned before she even thought about opening her eyes and the sound set off all kinds of interesting colors exploding behind her closed eyelids. She drew in a deep breath full of the warm, humid air and opened her eyes.

The sunlight made her squint, but she was all right. She reached up and gingerly touched the spot on her head that hurt. Sure enough, she had a bump and it was sore. She made herself jump when she touched it. Something had hit her, she reasoned. But what? And when? She didn’t know. It’s not unusual to block out a trauma, she told herself.

Even as she reassured herself, she knew it wasn’t that simple. She didn’t know where she was or how she’d arrived there. The basics were easy to discern: she was on a hot, bright, sandy beach. There wasn’t a footprint in sight, so it was a fair guess she’d come from the ocean, although she didn’t know how she’d come to be there. She was fully dressed, so she hadn’t been swimming.

She became aware of two things at almost the same moment: the heavy gold ring on her finger, and the man lying a few yards down the beach. She got to her feet, but stood there for a moment, deciding which to investigate first. The man didn’t move. He looked dead, but she didn’t want him to be dead. She looked down at the ring and twisted it from her finger. It was worn. She’d been married a long time. The feeling in her chest that told her she didn’t want the man to be dead told her he was the man she was married to.

It didn’t tell her her name or how she’d come to be where she was, but it was a beginning. She walked down the beach, realizing things as she went. She’d lost her shoes in the water and the sand was hot. Her clothes were torn, but not badly. She was uninjured but for the bump on her head. She reached the man.

He was limp and it was easy for her to roll him onto his back. Handsome, she thought, touching his face with its finely chiseled features. His lips were parted and she held the back of her hand inches from them. Brief, hot moisture touched her skin. He was alive. She ran her hands through his dark hair, searching for some sign of injury. There was none. She didn’t know why he was unconscious.

She didn’t know a lot of things, but she wasn’t thinking about that now.

There was a ring. On his hand. It was a simple gold band like the one she wore. He was her husband. She didn’t remove the ring to look for an inscription. Chances were it would be as worn as hers was. It also seemed a bad omen. If she removed it without his permission, it would be like allowing him to die.

A large wave approached the shore more quickly than she could anticipate or move and it washed over the man. She was tense, waiting to see if he would be all right. He sputtered against the water he’d inhaled and he rolled to his side, curling up and coughing weakly. But his eyes opened and they looked at her. He smiled. “You’re safe,” he said in a low voice that resonated intimately through her. She loved that smile. She loved him, she knew it by instinct and not conscious memory. He sat up and held out his hands and she let him touch her face and her hair, wanting him to touch her.

“I don’t remember anything,” she said, liking the way he left his hand to rest against her cheek.

“Probably better that way,” he murmured, his eyes not leaving hers.

“No, I mean, I don’t remember anything,” she repeated, feeling strangely vulnerable. She was at his mercy, she realized, and she had to trust him. There was no one else to trust. His eyes widened but he didn’t speak. “Not my name, not your name, or where we are or how we got here or any of it,” she said.

He looked at her a few long moments. Then he removed his hand from her cheek and got to his feet. She jumped up, following him. It was her only choice. He knew her, he knew what was going on. That meant she needed him with more than just her heart. He looked up at the sky and not at her. “It’s going to be dark soon,” he said, not answering one of her questions. “We need to be prepared.”

She followed him as he tramped through the sand, also shoeless, to the edge of the foliage. She watched as he picked at the trees and the bushes like he was shopping. He looked up at the sun a few times. It began to grow colder and dimmer, and still she followed his footsteps. She could read his emotions. He was frustrated. He was scared. And he didn’t want her to know.

Finally, she walked directly in front of him where he couldn’t ignore her. She stuck out her hand at him. “Hi, I’m not sure we’ve met,” she said with a smile. “I realize it’s kind of embarrassing, seeing as how we’re married and all, but I don’t remember your name.”

Mulder gaped at her. She thought they were married. That was his first big shock. He was able to figure it out rather quickly, however. She’d noticed they were both wearing wedding bands. Women always noticed these things, he thought. The other thing that absolutely shocked him was Scully herself. How very un-Scully-like she seemed. She was relaxed. There was no tension in her face, no worried line between her brows. She was beautiful, and she was free. He’d done so much to change her – to hurt her – since he’d met her those five years before. She used to be like this. Free, and easy, and happy. Willing to stand there looking mildly foolish, waiting for him to shake her hand and introduce himself.

“Mulder,” he said gruffly, shaking her hand.

“Mulder,” she said with a smile. She leaned in charmingly and asked, “And I am…?”

“Sc – ah – Dana,” he answered.

“How do you spell that?” she requested.

“Dana. Your name is Dana. Dana Scully.” He felt embarrassed, for when she remembered everything and thought back on this moment and what an idiot he was. He wondered if he should be concerned about her amnesia or if it was a natural reaction to being conked on the head and shipwrecked.

“How’d we get here?” she asked him, gathering twigs in her hands as they walked.

“The ship we were on sank.”

“Weird,” she said, sitting down and making a little pile of the twigs. He watched her, interested.

“Very weird,” he concurred. “We’re in the Bermuda Triangle.”

“What’s that?” she asked, picking up a pair of stones from the sand. Mulder thought she would have said the same thing even if she had her memory. But she’d already been knocked out when the strange vortex like tunnel had taken them out of the water and carried them unharmed to the island. She wouldn’t believe it if he told her. Striking the two stones together, she made a spark that ignited the pile of sticks. Her face light up. “Wonder where I learned to do that!” she said with a grin that melted his heart.

“I don’t know,” he said, getting up again.

“Where are you going?” she asked him. He didn’t answer, but he stopped walking. “Stay here, tell me about me.” She laughed and patted the sand beside her. “Keep me company.” Reluctantly Mulder sat back down. “So, we’re married.”

“Scully I should -”

“Why do you call me by my last name if we’re married?” she asked practically.

“There’s something you should know -”

“What?” she asked brightly. She was sitting very close to him and he couldn’t answer with her eyes so dark a blue in the fading sunlight. He could only try to close his mouth and shake his head. She drew closer, aware that the heat of the sun was going with its light. “We’re going to need more heat than this fire can provide,” she murmured, almost crawling into his lap. Mulder made little effort to get away because he was stunned. He’d never known Scully as a seductress before and it amazed him. Her hand snaked up around his neck and drew his face close to hers. “I want to know my husband.”

In that moment he wondered if this was all a ruse of amnesia aimed at seducing him. He didn’t care. She captured his mouth with hers, working magic with her lips and her tongue. Mulder knew it was wrong, but he couldn’t push her away. The fire coming from within her felt so good and he’d waited for so long. He knew this was Scully. Your personality, your loves and your desires didn’t change just because you got knocked on the head. So he let himself kiss her back and touch her as she lay back on the sand and opened herself to him. He accepted willingly, and she was not exactly a passive participant herself. In the early hours of the evening, they found contented sleep.

• • •

When Dana Scully awoke to the bright pink rays of dawn the next morning, she remembered everything. Not only her name and where she’d gone to school, but the pretense of being married and the pseudo wedding and the shipwreck. The thing she remembered most was the previous evening, though. It was strange to think back and know that only a few hours before she hadn’t known her own name, and know that fact had changed her.

Her reaction to the fact that Mulder was lying beside her and she remembered every loving, pleasant detail was embarrassment. She’d thrown herself at a man she hadn’t known anything about, except that she thought she knew him and was married to him. Scully knew about psychological amnesia, where a person blocked out their memory because they couldn’t – or wouldn’t – deal with it at that moment. The fact that her mind had done that to her, seemingly for the express purpose of seducing Mulder, embarrassed her all the more. Not only had her body betrayed her, but her mind had helped.

Before she had time to decide how she wanted to react, he stirred beside her and opened his eyes. He smiled and the love she saw in his eyes was incredible. He loved her. Her heart pounded because she still didn’t know what she was going to do. She could tell him the truth. She could pretend she’d regained her memory, but forgotten the previous night. Or she could pretend she still had amnesia.

Pretending is wrong, she thought.

Just look where it’s gotten us.

She looked at Mulder and knew she had to say something.

• • •

Part 29

She didn’t need to decide, not right then, at least. Mulder sat up, his contented, unguarded smile forcing her to smile as well. He wrapped his arms around her, planting a kiss on her cheek and then pulling her down.

“Come back to bed.” He was still groggy and half asleep, but he had noticed the lack of warmth from the body beside him. It was warmth from a body he desperately wanted beside him. She offered no resistance when he pulled her down next to him, letting him nuzzle her neck and kiss her face. She turned her head toward him and she was finally given the opportunity to kiss him with her memory intact. It was every bit as enchanting as she thought it would be, deep and wonderful and loving and long. The kind of kiss they’d talked about when they were playing that game. It wasn’t long before he rolled on top of her, obviously intent on making love again. His lips moved away from hers and onto her neck. She bent her head back so he could kiss her on every square inch of the sensitive skin at her throat. He nipped at her ear again, the way he had on the cruise that night, and she couldn’t fight the moan.

“Oh, god, Mulder…” She expected him to continue, expected to feel his lips teasingly land somewhere else to elicit another moan from her.

What she got was the increased pressure of his lower body pushing against hers as he propped himself up on his elbows. “Scully?” He was looking at her, and she couldn’t immediately understand why he was so confused. She didn’t think she’d done anything wrong.

“Yeah?” What else was there to say? He sat up and turned away. She followed suit, touching his shoulder and watching him shrug her hand away.

“You got your memory back.” He sounded let down.

Scully couldn’t help but feel hurt. He’d only wanted her because he’d thought she was someone else. Not someone else, really, just someone with her face and her voice and her mannerisms, but with an entirely different personality. At that moment, it stuck her. He didn’t love her. He wanted her. And there was a world of difference. She stood up and stalked off into the woods, praying he wouldn’t follow because she wanted the time to sulk.

He remained where he was on the beach. It didn’t make sense to him that her memory had returned so quickly. Maybe she had been pretending the previous night, just to get him to have sex with her. He felt like he’d been used, raped in a way. He didn’t like it. He’d been worried about the amnesia, but he assumed it would clear up in time, though not exactly the next morning. They’d made progress on that ship, filling up with water, about to die in each other’s arms. That was it, he figured, she’d thought they were dying. And then when they didn’t, she decided to get something out of it. He almost wished he’d thought of it. As mad as he was, he couldn’t let her wander off. If the amnesia was real and she were to fall or reinjure her head, it might return. And then he would have to go through it all again. It was best to keep an eye on her until she got to a doctor.

He followed her path, listened for the sounds of sniffling and stumbled upon her a couple minutes later. She had pulled her knees into her chest, her arms pillowing her face, her shoulders shaking. He’d managed to hurt her again, even though she was the one who neglected to mention getting her memory back. He knelt down in front of her, pulling her arms out from under her head and holding her hands. She looked at him for lack of anything else to look at.

“I don’t know what I did this time, Scully, but I’m sorry.” He was. He was sorry for a whole hell of a lot.

Sniffle. “You only wanted me when I couldn’t remember. You lied to me.” Sniffle, sniffle. He laughed. Not at the unseen humor, but at the irony. Here, he thought she only wanted him when she couldn’t remember. “Don’t laugh at me! It’s not funny.”

“I know, it’s just that we’ve had so many misunderstandings on this trip, but I can’t remember ever having one in the five years prior.”

She contemplated him for a moment. “What does that mean?”

He lifted her hands to his lips. kissing each of her palms. “It means I have wanted you from day one.,” He dropped another kiss on each of her hands. “loved you from day two,” He let go of her hands to press a kiss onto each cheek. “and been married to you since yesterday.” He placed a chaste kiss on her lips, pulling back before she had the chance to kiss him back. He stood up quickly, reaching for her hand. “Let’s go.”

“To where?” She felt like he knew something she didn’t, but she stood up and took his hand anyway.

“Well, we’ve royally screwed over our honeymoon cruise and vacation, and about ruined our wedding, then we got rescued from a sinking ship by something that I’m sure you’d deny even if you had seen it, and now, we’re stranded on a tropical island with no prospects of getting rescued and nothing to do.”

She pushed him up against a tree, pressing herself against him as hard as she could. “Whatever are we going to do with ourselves?” She could see them living out the rest of their lives on the island, spending their days talking and their nights making love. Why hadn’t she tried to get them shipwrecked before? She had, but that was in an alligator infested swamp. This was much better.

Mulder pushed her away, taking her hand and dragging her back to the beach. “I’m hungry, Scully. Let’s try fishing.”

Scully made a face. “Let’s try berries, Mulder. There’s just something about beheading things and pulling out their guts that makes me want to eat vegetables.”

“OK, and then we can build a fire and sing camp songs.” He grinned at her.

“Mulder, are you…” She stopped talking, blatantly distracted by something. Mulder turned and looked, and saw what had caught her attention.

“Scully, is that?” He couldn’t make himself say the words, because he was sure that by speaking them, the mirage would be forced to vanish.

“Yeah, I think so.” She crept forward, reaching out suddenly, and grabbing the reigns of the horse that had thrown them off and run away days earlier. “Mulder, we must both be having a very vivid hallucination here, because I’m pretty sure that I’m holding onto that horse we took out the other day. What’s your hallucination of?”

“A horse.”

They both nodded, thinking about how insane they really must have gone. The horse noticed nothing and went on merrily chomping on berries. “Mulder, if this is that horse, then we’re on the same island?”

“Right.”

“So we get on this horse and go back to the resort and brave another boat or we let go of it and have to kill our own dinner?”

“Right.”

“Mulder, boost me up?” He took the reigns from her, helped her up into the saddle, and then climbed on behind her. He felt her inch forward, trying to keep space between them.

“What’s wrong, Scully?” He didn’t want to take it personally, but she was acting like he had cooties.

“I’m just recalling how we fell off the horse the first time and I’m not really looking forward to walking all the way back.” He didn’t answer her, just looped his arms tightly around her waist and promised himself that he would be good.

She nudged the horse forward and it made a kind of unhappy noise and continued its feast on the berries. She dug her heels in harder and it made another annoyed sound, but started to walk. No matter how hard she pushed, the horse took its time walking, nowhere near the gallop it used to escape from them before. It was three hours before the horse ambled its way back to the town. But they were happy to have gotten there at all and let the horse go as soon as they saw the resort. The horse remember having more than one gear and took off, running back into the wooded part of the island and disappearing. Mulder reached for Scully’s hand and they started walking up to the main building. Surely someone there would have heard about the crash.

Scully pulled open the door, glad to get out of the hot sun and into air conditioning. Something seemed strange about the place as she looked around. She remembered the walls being a different shade of blue, but she decided she’d just spent too much time out in the sun without her sunglasses on. She walked up to the desk and tapped the bell. A woman stepped out from the office, looking perfectly normal, in a black suit and light green blouse, instead of the customary blue and white. Scully smiled, thinking the woman looked oddly familiar. She didn’t have the chance to ask before she heard Mulder’s incredulous voice.

“Bekkie?” He couldn’t believe it and yet, he knew it was true. She nodded and looked confused.

“You guys look familiar, but I can’t quite place you. Have you stayed with us before?”

Scully looked at Bekkie, the gawky smiling 17 year old was gone. This couldn’t be her. “We’re Fox and Dana Mulder, the boat we were on…”

Bekkie’s eyes opened wide, her jaw dropped open, and every last bit of color drained out of her face. “Oh, my God.” Scully looked at Mulder, he looked at Bekkie.

Another person popped out of the office. “Is something the matter?”

Bekkie looked at her friend. “These people were on that boat.”

The friend looked confused. “What boat?”

Bekkie leaned in to whisper to her friend. Mulder leaned in closer to listen in. “The seance… remember the boat wreck, five years ago? These were two of the people reported dead, they never resurfaced. But they don’t look any different.”

Mulder straightened back up. Five years would explain Bekkie’s transformation, but that was all it would explain. He glanced at Scully, who’d caught only a few of Bekkie’s words and was as lost as he was. He saw a newspaper lying on the counter and pointed to it. Scully read the date: February 25th. 2003.

• • •

Part 30

“I don’t feel like Rip Van Winkle,” Scully said, to Bekkie’s blinking amazement.

“You don’t kiss like him either,” Mulder muttered and was treated to Scully’s outraged stare. He shrugged back. What else was he supposed to say?!

“Is there a phone I can -?” Scully asked, thinking of her poor mother. What would she say? How much she must have suffered all these years, Scully thought.

Bekkie – whose name badge now proclaimed that her name was “Rebekkah” – shook her head sadly. Her eyes were still wide with the amazement of seeing two ‘ghosts.’ “I’m sorry,” she said. “There are no telephones on the island. A few years ago, we changed over from the Wedded Bliss honeymoon resort to a haven for Techno-phobes.” She looked at them carefully. “This isn’t some kind of sick practical joke, is it?”

“Only if you’re the one playing it,” Mulder informed her, knowing it wasn’t possible. This was Bekkie, this was the same island, yet subtly changed with the changes the world had no doubt wrought in the last five years – five years that had just gone the way of the nine minutes in their first case. Looking around, he saw that the words she spoke were true – there were no technological instruments of any kind. It would have been too much trouble to concoct this as a joke, even if someone had been evil enough to want to play it. He had nothing in his bag of tricks to explain this. Not yet.

She was thrown by his comment. She was thrown by all of this. The poor girl was shaking and looked like she was about to have a nervous breakdown. “I’m sorry, the next ship back to the mainland doesn’t leave until tomorrow afternoon. We can, of course, provide you with a cabin and anything else you may desire. To try to compensate.” She bit her lip as soon as she said the word, imagining the lawsuits her careless words might bring. “Not that we think we’re responsible, or, or, or anything.”

Mulder shot her a tight smile.

Rebekkah leaned over the counter and addressed them in a low, careful whisper. “You might want to stay in the cabin tonight.”

“Why?” Scully leaned back, using the same conspiratorial tone.

“You’re, well, sort of like legend on the island. And when word gets out…I don’t think you understand the kind of people who come here.”

“What kind of people?” Mulder asked, seeming intrigued. Of course, Scully thought, every detail of the future would fascinate him. Mulder was insanely curious.

“People who’ve, you know, had a little too much. They seize onto these anomalous happenings. Most of them are lonely, and come back here once or twice a year to try to meet other people they can relate to. They feel isolated from society because they scorn technology’s advances.”

Bekkie’d turned herself into a quite a good little profiler, Mulder thought. “And what about you? Why are you still here?” he asked.

She shrugged. “It’s a good job.” Then she turned serious. “I mean it, you two. These people are kooky, and they really latch onto the romantic idea of two people who came here, found love, and married just hours before they disappeared forever. If word gets out and you’re accessible, you might be here forever. Answering questions.” She turned to a man who had appeared at her elbow. “Ramon will show you to your cabin.”

Ramon was also looking at them with quivering awe. He opened his arm in a gesture to show them which way to go and they walked ahead. Scully could feel his eyes burning a hole in her back and dropped her pace to catch him. “Hi, Ramon,” she said.

“Uh, hi,” he said as though being addressed by a deity.

“Why are you staring at us?” Her tone was wheedling, like she would use with a small child.

“You’re, well, them!” he cried. “The people from the Fox Festival.”

“The what?” Mulder choked at the same moment Scully snorted, “The Fox Festival?”

Ramon only nodded solemnly. “It is occurring tonight. It is the highlight of the island’s activities. Our patrons enjoy the legend. Here is your cabin. I must leave you.” He looked between them and the door nervously.

“What are you afraid of?” Scully said, the keenly intuitive detective that she was.

“This is your cabin. Legend has proclaimed it haunted since you disappeared all those years ago.”

“Five,” said Mulder. He realized Ramon had probably still been watching Disney movies five years ago, but he still bristled at the characterization of them as these ancient beings. They hadn’t aged, either, so he wished the kid would get over it.

Ramon nodded, and sort of bowed to them as he backed away hastily. He acted like he feared they would suck him into some kind of temporal anomaly and when he came through on the other side, he’d be so old he’d have to shave every day. Mulder knew true fear when he saw it – Ramon hadn’t even waited for a tip.

Scully pushed the door open and went inside. “Hasn’t changed a bit,” she said, looking at the wall where the entertainment center had been seemingly only a day before. Instinctively, she reached for the lightswitch, only to find there was none. It took some fumbling in the dark before she located the matches and the candle and managed to light it. “I know they had electricity in that main building,” she grumbled, finding another candle and lighting it, handing it to Mulder. She wandered away and he wondered where she was going. His answer came a moment later when he heard the toilet flush. Always the lady, he thought. He’d located an Almanac on the shelf and settled down on the bed to read it.

He heard Scully come back and begin to shuffle through the books. He turned his face away and tried to hide it behind the book, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to hide the repetitive motion of his hand coming up to his eyes. And he couldn’t let the tears run down his face unchecked. A depression on the bed near his legs told him that she’d joined him. She put her hand on his knee and made him look at her. She was asking what was wrong – as though she didn’t know! – without saying the words. “We lost five years,” he sniffled.

“This from a man who once cheered the loss of nine minutes,” she said gently. He could see the tears glittering in her eyes now, too, but she was too dignified to let them fall.

“It’s five years, Scully. I’m…hell…more than forty years old now! There was so much I wanted to do before I was forty.”

“You’re not five years older, Mulder. The rest of the world is, is all.”

“Oh, is that all?” His sarcasm was biting.

Scully understood it, though. He was hurt, and most of all, he was scared. This was what Mulder did when he was scared. A defense mechanism learned in his difficult childhood, she was certain.

“How can you just accept this?” he accused.

She took a deep breath to calm herself before answering. “What else can we do?” she said simply. She went on to explain, “We went to sleep last night and woke up five years later. There is no evidence that anything happened to us during those five years. This is very different than waking up in a hospital the other side of death in November when the last thing you remember was being forcibly abducted in September.”

Mulder couldn’t help the sob that escaped him then, thinking of her disappearance and the things that had been done to her – because of him. And now this, too, had happened because of him. If only he’d stayed in DC, maybe looked into that boring matter of the killer bees in Arkansas that Skinner was so hot about, then she would be safe. But no. He’d wanted to change things. And change they had.

“The world is a different place, Scully,” he told her. “These technophobic people Bekkie mentioned may be right.”

“What are you talking about, Mulder?” she asked, looking inquisitively into his eyes.

“The Project went forward. In 1999, on the eve of the new millennium, a force of clones ‘outed’ themselves and established a new world order,” Mulder said, repeating what he had just read in the book. “The new technologies they had secretly developed were powerful and awe-inspiring. This led to a global depression in the year 2000, as the human worker was suddenly not needed. Of course, depression brings war. 2001 saw heavy casualties. Only now, it indicates, are things beginning to return to the way they were before.” It was too hard for Scully to believe and she just frowned at him. “It’s a good thing they offered us this room for free,” he said wryly, “Because even the money’s changed. Even basketball has changed,” he lamented.

“Wow, that is far reaching,” she said, unimpressed. They stared at each other for a long moment, trying unsuccessfully to read each other’s thoughts.

“What are you thinking?” Mulder said finally, intrigued by the look on her face.

“I want to go to the Fox Festival,” she said. He groaned, but she took his hand insistently. “We have to see.”

• • •

They snuck up on the edge of the outdoor party. It was like a luau Julie could only have dreamt of, with a roaring fire and people gathered around it. Except there were no funny costumes and no pig. Thank goodness.

A man sat at the center of the circle. The firelight played oddly on his face. Everyone sat rapt as he spoke. “I knew Fox Mulder,” he said in a soft voice. “He knew about the clones before they came. He was a prophet for our time!” There were mumbled assentions to go along with this. Scully glanced at Mulder and saw him puffing up his chest, preening as though he had something to be proud of.

But then she heard her name and looked back at the storyteller. “Dana Scully was his life. She was beautiful, and what’s more, she was smart. Smart enough to challenge Mulder’s bullshit theories. She would have known the science behind the world changes. And she was leader enough to stop them.”

Mulder looked at Scully’s smile. He caught her, and she knew it, and she began to whisper something to him, but he shushed her. This was the part he wanted to hear. The man continued. “What they had together was amazing. And they kept their love a secret, so secret that even those closest to them, knew nothing of it.”

“I don’t know that man,” Mulder editorialized.

Scully studied that man’s profile, his thinning blond hair, and his velour track suit. “He looks kinda familiar,” she said.

“If the 80s are coming back, I’d like to sleep another 5 years please,” Mulder murmured.

“Don’t worry, maybe you didn’t miss parachute pants,” Scully muttered back. They were joking, but he only held onto her hand more tightly.

The man waved his hands and performers took the center stage, looking like children dressed for a backyard play. A tall but paunchy man with dark hair grimaced menacingly. He wore a dark blue bathrobe like it was a trenchcoat. A shorter, thinner man – odd how it all seemed to be men on this island, Scully thought – bounced out a moment later wearing a yarn wig that made him look like Raggedy Ann.

“Although no marriage license was ever located, the two were finally united in marriage on this island,” the storyteller continued. The man and the ‘woman’ behind him knelt before a man in genuine priests’ garments. “And we have here tonight, the man who actually married the great Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, they who fought so valiantly to preserve our way of life even before it was known what the clones were planning.”

Thunderous applause drown him out as the priest stepped forward. Thankfully the two men who represented them in this odd little play disappeared again.

“This is gonna be good,” Scully muttered, waiting to see what the man would say about their legendary selves. She’d never thought in a million years that she would be at the heart of a twisted cult, and yet here she was. All she had to do was take a breather for five years. Maybe if she made it ten, they’d make her a saint. Disappearing back into the wilderness with Mulder seemed more appealing every moment. It was embarrassing to be idolized. Mulder must have been feeling it too, she thought, since he was digging his fingers painfully into her arm.

“Even though they were deeply flawed people, we do not respect any less the efforts they made,” said the priest. Deeply flawed? both Mulder and Scully thought irritatedly. “Even though he was directly related to the Evil Dictator, the overthrown Queen Samantha, and even though she was was hopelessly devoted to the misbegotten ‘science’ of her time, Fox and Dana were -”

The crowd didn’t take this well. A couple of hecklers shouted out, and an object thrown from the crowd barely missed the priest’s head. The storyteller rose to try to regain order. “Hey!” he cried. “There is a rumor that they didn’t die after all. There is a rumor that they are on the island even as we speak and not one day older -”

“You’d better believe it,” Mulder shouted, revealing himself to the crowd. “And Langly, you know me better than this.” The man in the center of the ring started with recognition. Mulder shifted and Langly saw that Scully was standing there too. He dropped to his knees, crossing himself. “What the hell happened to you?” Mulder demanded of his short-haired, contact lens and track suit wearing, very reformed old friend.

He never received an answer. The crowd had turned on them. “Impostors!” was the general cry, and the mob surged forward.

“Run!” Scully screamed, holding Mulder’s hand and sprinting for their cabin. He followed her at every step and they barricaded the door a moment before the people caught up.

“Oh my god,” Scully said, leaning against the door, trembling.

“I can’t believe this,” Mulder said. “Want to go back to living in the wild?”

She was tempted. “We can’t,” she said, shaking her head sadly. “I have to see my mother, and my brothers. If they’ve built some damn cult up around us, they will just have to unbuild it.” She crossed the room.

“Where are you going?” Mulder asked, still pressed against the door as though his back was going to keep the mob outside.

“To bed. I’m hoping I can dream myself back to 1998. Good night.” Without further ado, Scully climbed under the covers and pulled them up over her head.

• • •

“Do you think it’s safe to go out there?” Scully asked, looking nervously at the door the next morning.

“It’s the only way to get the boat back,” Mulder told her. “Besides, I think we’re safe.”

She looked at him like he was crazy. “Those people were pretty angry last night, Mulder, I think -” He was shaking his head. “What?”

“Impostors are a tradition at the Fox Festival,” he told her, cringing at the name. “After the chase, there is much dancing and celebrating. Guess they were pretty confused when we didn’t let them catch us.”

“They’ll recognize us, Mulder, and mob us -” Scully said, unconvinced.

He was shaking his head again. “They’ll never recognize us,” he said positively. “You know how memory fades after a while?” He held up a paperback book. “The way we’ve been immortalized by the quick-to-make-a- buck R.W. Langly, no one will ever recognize us.”

“What are you talking about?” she demanded, reaching for the book.

“I didn’t know you’d ever hosted a little-known talk show, Scully. Or that one of your students when you were a teaching assistant in med school went on to find a cure for herpes.”

“I didn’t do either of those things, Mulder,” she said with a frown.

“Exactly,” he said. “Let’s get on the boat and leave this crazy island.”

“Is it going to be any better in the crazy world?” she asked, seeming genuinely afraid and hesitant to go.

“I think so. At least in this aspect. This island is a gathering place for, well, our cult. Sort of like a giant convention center, or magnet for all the conspiracy minded folk Langly’s been feeding information all these years.”

“Why?” she asked, distressed that the former Gunman could sell them out this way.

Mulder looked pained. “I think the poor guy cracked when Byers and Frohike were both killed in the clone wars. They were closer than family to him. We can’t blame him. He did what he had to. Or thought he had to.”

“He needed help,” Scully said sadly.

“At least now he has support,” Mulder volunteered. “He admits in the book that he was always kinda in love with you,” he added, and instantly knew it had been the wrong thing to say by the way Scully’s face turned white, and then her cheeks began to glow pink with an angry vigor.

“Let’s go home, Mulder,” she said, threading her fingers through his. “Nowhere could be worse than this island.”

He was mildly wounded that she didn’t at least have fond memories of their “honeymoon” on the island, but they were both very overwhelmed by the surprises life had sprung on them in the past day. “Let’s go home,” he said, feeling more dread than curious at what would greet them when they reached home. They got onto the boat in silence, not knowing what to say.

• • •

Part 31

The boat looked a lot like the one that had wrecked. Enough like it that Scully hung back from it, bumping into Mulder. He was eager to return home and see what it was like there. He’d gotten over the initial shock of having lost five years and was now incredibly excited about what life would be like. He noticed Scully’s lack of interest in getting on the boat.

“Scully, what’s wrong?” His hand went to her back as it had so many times in the past, his mannerisms as unchanged by the passage of five years as his mind was.

“I don’t want to get on that boat, Mulder. I want to stay here.” She sounded like a whiny kid and she didn’t like it.

“Why?” He wanted to be happy that she wanted to stay there, but he wasn’t sure he had anything to do with it.

She turned to him, wide eyes and frightened. “I’m afraid of the water.”

“That’s weird, cause it doesn’t bother me at all anymore.” He was amazed at how true it was. The thought of being out on the big huge uncontrollable ocean no longer instilled fear in his guts. He was kind of enthralled by it. He saw that she wasn’t kidding, though, and his heart went out to her. He knew exactly how she felt. “Hey, it’s OK, Scully. We’ll be all right. What are the odds of us being in another shipwreck?”

She whimpered, and he regretted having made a joke out of her fears. He took her hand and walked slowly onto the boat, keeping a tight hold on her so that she wouldn’t be able to run away. She hung back slightly, but she was more afraid of being left on the island alone than getting on the boat with Mulder. She gripped his hand tightly as they climbed on board, moving her hand to his arm to clutch it violently once they got there.

Not used to seeing his unflappable partner quivering in fear and not liking it one bit, Mulder grabbed the first crew member he could find. “How long till we dock?”

“Twenty minutes, sir. You and your wife need to take your seats now.”

“Twenty minutes? 45 miles in twenty minutes? What the hell kind of boat is this?” Mulder couldn’t believe that was all it would take.

The man looked insulted. “I assure you, sir, our boats are the top of the line. You’ll be hard pressed to find others much faster than ours. If you’re insinuating that we’re running substandard equipment here…”

Scully raised her hand to quiet the man. “No, no that’s fine. Thank you. Would you mind directing us to the closest airport from the dock?” She really wanted to get home. as far away from water as she could get.

“Airport? I haven’t a clue. How long have you been on this island? No one’s used planes in years.” He looked confused for a minute. “You two look like… Nah, can’t be. They’ve been dead for five years.”

Mulder and Scully both whimpered at the mention. Mulder spoke up first. “We’ve been gone a long time. So, if you wouldn’t mind telling us where our seats are and what’s the fastest way to Washington, DC, we’d be appreciative.”

The guy regarded them strangely, pointing off at a door behind them. “Any two seats in there will do. As for Washington, the AirTrack’s the fastest way. Don’t know where you guys have been that you haven’t heard of the AirTrack.” He walked away from them, mumbling to himself about the crazy couple behind him.

Scully turned to find their seats, still attached to Mulder’s arm. “I hope you don’t need tickets or money for the AirTrack.” Mulder squeezed her hand and followed her into the passenger compartment.

They grabbed the first two seats they could find, not daring to look at the other people in the room. After a few silent minutes, Mulder shifted slightly in his seat, glancing around him, noticing for the first time that, while the colors varied, the people were wearing clothing all the same. Mostly dark colored pants or skirts, lighter colored shirts, and practically identical white shoes.

He nudged Scully’s arm and bent to whisper to her, afraid of being overheard. “Check out the clothes.” She shook her head, dictating that she had no interest in the fashions. There was a loud crack, a bang, and then they felt themselves slammed back in their seats.

“Guess that’s why no one’s standing out on deck, Mulder.”

Thankfully, just under twenty minutes later, the pressure relented and people moved around. Mulder stood up quickly, pleased that he hadn’t become seasick. He was proud of himself. He led the way out to the deck and looked for another crew member he could question. All the others seemed to know exactly what they were doing and where they were going. Mulder and Scully were lost. The dock looked like a regular airport, complete with computer screens and irritating announcements. Suddenly, Scully surged forward, still connected to Mulder’s hand, giving him no choice but to follow. He saw what had gotten her attention. A big white outline of a telephone on a blue background. The international symbol for a public phone.

But when they neared the sign, they saw no phones. Nothing that even resembled a phone. Scully glanced around, walking up to one of the blank screens that looked like a TV that was turned off, and copied the actions of a man at another terminal. She touched her palm to the screen. It lit up, revealing a woman with dark curly hair and brown eyes.

“Welcome. May I help you place your call?”

Scully nodded, and then, not seeing a camera, said yes, just in case.

“Who are you calling please?” Scully could see the woman’s hand poised at a keyboard.

“Margaret Scully.” Her voice came out strong and clear, not a hint of the timid, scared, pathetic way she felt showing.

The woman clacked away. “Hmmm. Spelling of Scully, please?” Scully spelled it. “Do you know what city she’s in?”

“Baltimore?” Scully hoped her mother hadn’t moved. This was already traumatic enough.

“Are you sure about that?”

Scully shrugged. “No. She lived there in 1998.”

“Could she have gotten married?” The woman’s helpful voice started to grate on Mulder’s nerves.

“No?” Scully hadn’t intended it to be a question.

“I am showing a Margaret S. Skinner, former address in Baltimore, Maryland.”

Scully’s dropped open. “That can’t be her.”

The woman smiled and pressed another key. “Well, then, I’m sorry. Is there another call I can place for you?”

Mulder stepped forward. “How about Walter Skinner?”

“Middle initial?” Mulder provided it. “It’s the same number. I’ll connect you.”

The happy operator screen faded to gray and then the gray faded to the image of a brown haired little boy. “Hawoow?”

“Um?” It was all Scully could squeak out. She glanced back at Mulder, pleased to see that he was as upset by this as she was. Knowing that he was blown out of the water by this too, she managed to compose herself.

They watched the screen as two hands lifted the boy out of the way. “I told you not to answer the phone, Andrew.” The man sat down and turned to the screen, speaking before he recognized the two faces staring back at him. “Hello?” Then his jaw dropped open. His mouth opened and closed quite a few times, telling Scully this nightmare was every bit as horrific as it seemed.

Mulder was amused by Skinner’s reaction to their resurfacing. “Hi!” It was the happiest tone he could imagine ever having used in his life. “Miss us?”

“But you… where… how?”

Skinner didn’t get the chance to finish his blathering before a pair of arms encircled his neck, and a unidentified face pressed a kiss onto his cheek. The faced turned to the screen. “Who’s on the phone, honey?” Her face paled in recognition.

So did Scully’s. “Mom?” She whimpered again and then sank to the floor and latched on to Mulder’s legs like a four year old who didn’t want to go to school. “Mulder, I want to go home. This isn’t funny anymore.” She was whining. And crying.

Mulder’s eyes were glued to the screen in front of him, only vaguely aware that his wife was having a nervous breakdown next to him. Mrs. Scully, um, Skinner, had joined her, um, husband at the console. As had the little boy and a matching little girl, who were tugging at Skinner’s shirt and saying ‘Daddy.’ Mulder stared, eventually regaining his composure, sort of.

He nodded at the two kids. “Are those my half siblings in law?” Humor was his favorite, and most effective, defense mechanism.

Maggie continued to stare, Skinner answered. “That would depend on if those rumors about you and Dana getting married the day of the crash are true.” Another whimper from the woman connected to his legs distracted him and he bent down to try to convince her to stand up.

She shook her head and then rested her forehead on his knees, mumbling all the while. “No. I’m not letting go till everything goes back to normal.”

“Don’t!” The call from the speaker made him look back at the fading screen, but it was too late. The call was lost. A moment later, another operator appeared.

“Welcome. May I help you place a call?”

“Walter Skinner, please.” The operator nodded and the screen faded again. Mulder smiled to himself for having figured out the logistics of the new phone system.

The image of Skinner and Maggie returned. “Fox, you can’t turn away from the screen or it will hang up.”

“Yeah, I noticed.” Mulder looked perplexed for a moment, not sure what else to say. Scully had called them. It hadn’t been his idea. “Can we come home?” It was the best thing he could come up with. As scary as it would be there, it would be better than in a crowded terminal with all this new technology that they didn’t understand.

“We’d love for you to come home! I’ll go put some dinner in!” Maggie walked away, leaving Skinner alone.

“Um, how do we come home?” Mulder reached down and patted Scully’s head, just to assure himself she was still there.

“Lean a little to the left. Let me figure out where you are.” Mulder did as he was told. “OK, Mulder, when we hang up, turned around and look for the counter. When you get there, tell the people working the desk that you’re picking up two travel vouchers and give them my name. They’ll direct you to the AirTrack gate. See you in a little bit.” The screen went blank.

Mulder looked around, seeing a pair of men he instantly knew were guards staring at Scully. He bent down next to her. “Scully, those scary looking men over there will probably not take too well to our story, so what do you say, you stand up, we follow Skinner’s directions and we go home and have your mom’s spaghetti tonight?”

Scully followed his gaze to the guards. “OK.” She stood up, feeling a little better without having to see the image of her mother and her boss. She even walked up to the counter without Mulder’s prodding. She didn’t even reach for his hand. When the man looked up, she pretended that she did this all the time.

“Yes, we’re picking up two travel vouchers please. Walter Skinner.”

The man played with his little keyboard. “Yes, gate 34, follow the yellow arrows.” He handed over two pieces of paper, which she took and then turned back to Mulder. She held them up for his inspection, as if to say ‘look, ma, I did it myself!’

He took her hand and looked for the arrows. They followed them down a corridor and up to the desk at the far end. It looked an awful lot like an airport, but he knew better than to mention it. They stood in the line, slowly making their way to the counter handed over their vouchers. The woman nodded and then asked them to place their hands on a flat screen. Scully glanced back at Mulder and gave an almost imperceptible shrug, then placed her hand on the screen with Mulder’s.

“That’s odd.” The woman’s voice reminded them of Julie. The computer says you guys are missing.” They didn’t even have a chance to look worried before she waved them by. “It’s just a glitch, we have your scans, go on through!”

Sighing, Scully stepped through the doorway, and onto the AirTrack. “Mulder, we’re on a giant subway in the sky.”

Mulder looked out the window, then around the train like vehicle they were in. “Yeah, but the stations are cleaner than the Metro stations at home. No homeless people.” Scully wanted to laugh, but she couldn’t.

“OK, Mulder, how long does the AirTrack take to where home is now?”

The AirTrack operator’s voice crackled through the speaker before Mulder had the chance to speak. “Next stop, Washington. Arriving 30 minutes.”

Scully looked at Mulder, Mulder shrugged. They found their seat belts and leaned back in their seats, wondering when they would wake up.

The AirTrack moved at a considerably faster pace than the ship had, but the trip wasn’t characterized by the violent onset of pressure at the start. The AirTrack offered a smooth, quick ride and it was apparently heavily traveled. Mulder spent the half hour looking out the window, amazed that a monorail had become the wave of the future. Hadn’t he ridden one of these at an amusement park when he was 15? He tried to suck Scully into his vortex of joyous discovery, but she was staring at the back of the seat in front of her, determined to ruin his good time. That was her function, she decided, she existed merely to keep her flighty partner’s feet on the ground.

Near the end of the trip, Mulder leaned over to her. “You know, you’re little brother’s name is Andrew.”

Scully glared at him. “Half brother.”

“I wonder what your sister’s name is.”

Scully glared again. “Half sister.”

“Any guesses, Scully?”

Scully did not like how amused Mulder was with the idea of her new siblings. Half siblings. But she found herself relaxing, talking to Mulder, pretending they weren’t on a futuristic monorail that was moving at the speed of light. “Mulder, if we’re moving at the speed of light and we go backwards, can we get home before we left?”

“Huh?” He reached out to check for a fever.

“It’s probably Annie. That’s what Charlie’s name was going to be if he was a girl.”

“Scully…” She was acting strangely. It must have been an effect of the five missing years.

“I’m glad you’re not calling me Mulder. That could get confusing.” She looked down at her ring, twisting it around on her finger. It felt so familiar by that point that it was like she’d been wearing it for five years. Who knows, she thought, maybe I have been.

“So, you’re considering us married?”

“Aren’t you?” She tore her eyes from the ring to look at him, feeling her heart skip a beat at the thought that they were going to go through all that again.

He smiled, lacing his fingers through hers. “Yup. Just wanted to make sure.” She smiled back and rested her head on his shoulder. “Scully?” She muttered something to indicate that she was listening, but her head didn’t lift from his shoulder. “If Skinner decides to be nice and give us our jobs back, do you still want it?”

She lifted her head up and looked at him. “Why wouldn’t I? As far as I’m concerned I was at work with you a week ago?”

He nodded. “Things are different now, though. We’d probably have to go back to the Academy to learn all the new laws.”

She squeezed his hand reassuringly. “I’m sure you can handle it.”

“Don’t you mean we?” Did he sound hopeful or scared? She couldn’t tell.

“Mulder, I was thinking maybe about us and you know, maybe having kids?” She separated their hands because it felt better to her to be able move them around. “I know we can’t have any, but we could adopt or something. I don’t want to pressure you or…”

He touched her hand lightly, stopping her words. “It’s OK. I want them too. Let’s just get our bearings and figure out what’s going on and then we can look into it.”

She couldn’t hide the smile that crept across her face. She linked arms with him and rested her head against his shoulder again. “I love you, Fox. Have I ever told you that?”

He grinned at her, even though she couldn’t see it. “We’ve been married five years and I can’t recall you ever saying that.”

She looked up and kissed his cheek. “Then I think we ought to make up for lost time.”

He kissed her on the lips, letting his lips linger a little longer than they needed to. “I think you’re absolutely right.”

The operator’s voice filled the air once more, distracting them from their plans. “Now arriving, Washington.”

Mulder let out a breath and unbuckled his seat belt, waiting for Scully to do the same. “Ready?”

“Or not.” She stood up and walked to the door, letting Mulder’s reassuring hand rest on her back. She waded through the crowd at the gate and looked around. It was pretty much the same as the last terminal. She stepped closer to a wall and checked with Mulder. “What now?”

“Guess we look for a taxi?” Mulder followed the crowd of people into the main part of the building. Scully stayed close to his heels, afraid that if they got split up, they’d never find each other again.

They found their way to the front of the building and stepped outside. Scully looked up, and tugged on Mulder’s sleeve. “I think we’ve slipped into every sci fi movie ever made.”

He didn’t see what she was looking at, he was too busy looking at the cars, much wider, flatter objects than they had been in years past. “Why?”

She pointed up at the sky. “Flying cars.” Mulder looked up, making a dramatic show of it, and saw what Scully had seen. Flying cars. He sighed in disappointment.

“What are the odds that yellow checkerboards still mean cabs?”

She looked at him and shrugged. “Why?”

“Cause I see one.” He marched off, trying to fight through the congestion to get to the car. Scully meandered after him, still looking up at the cars. They were absolutely amazing.

Mulder reached the cab, pulled open the door, and was quite annoyed when it opened backwards, making him look like an idiot. Scully managed not to laugh, thankful that it hadn’t been her mistake, and climbed in, pulling Mulder after her.

The car driver turned to look at them, not understanding their collective sigh of relief. Not only was he human, but he was greasy and intimidating and missing three teeth and nothing made them feel better than the indiscernibly foreign taxi driver accent he had.

This was tricky and he hoped cabs were somehow connected to the phone system. “Walter and Margaret Skinner’s residence, please.” The driver nodded and pressed something next to him on the seat. Numerous beeps echoed into the back. Then the car lifted twenty feet straight up in the air.

Scully climbed over Mulder’s lap to look out the only window in the back. She loved it. “Mulder! We’re in a flying car!”

He pushed himself into the seat she’d occupied earlier, giving her better access to the window. “I’m happy for you, Scully, but I think my motion sickness has returned.”

She paid him no attention as she watched the ground zip away under them. “I want a flying car, Mulder!” She actually waved when they passed another car, laughing when the driver gave her the finger. “Guess somebody woke up on the wrong side of bed.”

Too soon for Scully’s liking, the car slowed and lowered back to the ground, the doors opening automatically. She went to climb out, but the driver caught her shoulder. She turned back to see another one of those flat screens. Feeling like an old hand at it, she pressed her palm against it and waited for the driver’s go ahead.

He looked confused. “Says you’re missing. Must be a mistake. Go on.”

Shrugging, Scully stood up with Mulder right behind her. They were standing in the driveway of an obnoxiously large house. She glanced back at Mulder, wishing they were still in the car. It was less stressful than knocking on her mother’s door. But there was nothing she could do. She walked up to the front door and knocked.

The door swung open a few seconds later, but no one was there. Deciding it was some kind of automated thing, she reached for the screen door. A high pitched voice stopped her.

“Stranger!” The shrill cry was joined by three others. Scully looked down.

Five of them. There were five of them. Three were screaming, one was crying, and the other pushed open the door. “You’re the phone people.” There were three girls and two boys, all with brown hair and blue eyes, all standing the exact same height, looking like mirror images of each other, except the girls had longer hair.

Mulder nodded and stepped in the door, turning back to Scully just in time to catch her as she passed out.

• • •

Part 32

With Scully in his arms and no longer blocking his view, Mulder could see why she’d fainted. Even though she’d had four children from her previous marriage and five from this one already (in five years no less!) Margaret Scully Skinner looked about ready to deliver number six. “Hi,” he said awkwardly, trying not to drop the drooping Scully on the floor.

“Oh dear,” Maggie said, looking from her daughter to Mulder and back again. “Where have to two of you been?”

“The Bermuda Triangle,” Mulder said sheepishly.

“I guess you liked it if you stayed five years,” Maggie quipped, placing a hand at the base of her back and turning to bellow into the house. “Walt!” she hollered, then turned to the munchkins staring at Scully. “Kids, come on, clear the way.”

Walter Skinner, seeming even more buff and intimidating than ever, appeared and walked toward Mulder with such determination that Mulder stepped back, afraid that his former boss and now father in law was going to hug him. Instead, he took Scully from Mulder as though she weighed less than air and carried her into the living room.

Scully came to about halfway to the couch. She looked up and the sight of Skinner’s face so close to hers almost made her faint again. “Put me down!” she screamed, feeling hysterical. Skinner did as she demanded, settling her onto the couch.

“Scully, are you okay?” Mulder asked, at her side in an instant with one hand on her forehead and the other squeezing her wrist.

“No,” Scully gulped and jumped off the couch, holding her hand over her mouth as she careened toward the bathroom.

Maggie Scully just made little clucking noises that made Mulder turn around and look at her. She was stroking her large belly and looking at him. “That’s how it always was for me,” she said.

“What was?” Mulder asked, alarmed, hoping she was referring to belated-onset carsickness or future shock. Maggie just shook her head and waddled away, leaving Mulder alone with Skinner. “Hi,” he said, feeling embarrassed and striving to cover it. “Dad,” he added because he couldn’t resist the opportunity to see Skinner’s old, familiar scowl. Maybe it was because so many people had told him it was five years, or maybe it was because of all the changes he’d witnessed, but Mulder was starting to feel like he really had been gone more than just ten days.

“Where the hell have you two been?” Skinner demanded, sounding every inch the boss. Or protective father. Mulder couldn’t tell.

“Um, the Bermuda Triangle, sir.”

“Why didn’t you tell me about this before you went?”

“I – well – the dog, sir.”

“The dog?” Skinner’s eyebrows hovered above his glasses.

“It ate my report, sir.” Mulder strained not to laugh at the look on Skinner’s face. But at that moment, Scully came back into the room. Her mother followed not far behind with a package of crackers. A warning went off in Mulder’s mind, but he dismissed that possibility as impossible.

Almost as impossible as a sixty year old pregnant woman? that annoying voice in his mind demanded.

“You’re probably too young to remember, darling, how it was when I had your brother, but I had the same problem,” Maggie said, patting her daughter’s leg.

Scully’s eyes were wide and blank. “What are you talking about, Mom?”

Maggie’s eyes widened, mirroring her daughter’s. “You don’t know,” she said.

“Know what?”

“She thinks you’re preggers, Scully,” Mulder said. Scully switched her focus and gaped at him.

“That’s – that’s – that’s -” she said, or tried to say, her voice rising with each attempt, “It isn’t possible!”

“Neither is losing five years in one fell swoop,” Mulder said. But he couldn’t help grinning as he took Scully’s hand. He was more excited by this than anything he’d seen in the future so far. “Isn’t it romantic,” he whispered to his wife, “conceived on our wedding night.”

“That will have to be proven,” Scully said, still staunchly denying that anything so weird could have happened to her. It had taken her mind of denying that they were in the future, though, so Mulder thought they were in pretty good shape. “Aren’t you going to introduce us?” Scully asked in a soft voice, looking at the troop of children who were staring quietly and calmly at them with five identical sets of brown eyes.

“Of course!” Maggie said. “This is Andrew, Sergio, Michelle, Meighanne, and Gesykka.”

“I’ll never remember that,” Scully whispered to Mulder, then turned to face her mother. “How did all of this come about, Mom?”

Her mother’s hand snaked out to take Skinner’s hand. “We met and fell in love, Dana. Surely you can understand that.”

Scully nodded, and Mulder could tell she was putting on a brave face. “But five children?” she whispered

“Oh, times are different now, Dana,” her mother laughed. “You don’t have to have them yourself. Unless you want to, of course. Artificial wombs were approved to market just after you disap – left.”

“They all grew in an artificial womb?” Mulder asked, fascinated. “All together?”

Maggie nodded. “All together. Of course, sometimes nature takes a hand, like with our little Samantha.” She rubbed her belly and Mulder and Scully exchanged a quick look. Maggie noticed this. “I hope you don’t mind, Fox. We’d already decided to call her after your sister.”

Mulder was speechless. Finally some words returned to his shallow brain. “Mrs. Scully – I mean Skinner, I’m touched, I don’t know -”

“Please, call me Mom,” Maggie reminded him with a smile.

“And call me Sir,” Skinner reminded them both.

“Walt, they’re family!” Maggie protested.

“I suppose you’ll want your jobs back,” Skinner said gruffly.

“Well -” Mulder said, waiting for Scully to answer before he said something she wouldn’t agree with. After all, he and his work had gotten her into this whole mess in the first place. But she said nothing, sitting there as though completely lost in thought and overwhelmed. “I’d love to, sir.”

“I didn’t mean you, Mulder, I meant Dana,” Skinner clarified. At the sound of her name, Scully looked up. “There’s no need for the X Files now; science has explained most of that crap as perfectly normal. But there’s always a call for another skilled, forward thinking scientist like Dana.”

“I’ll have to think about it, sir,” Scully said demurely while Mulder fumed about how he’d been blown off by Skinner. He had to be kidding, right? No X Files? What kind of world was this, Mulder thought. Flying cars, children grown in cabbage patches…he was beginning to feel a little nostalgic when the doorbell rang.

“That’s probably Annie and Denise,” Maggie said, lumbering to her feet. “Walt, why don’t you come with me to get the door?” She gestured to her husband with her eyes, suggesting that Mulder and Scully might need a little time alone.

“Mom?” said Scully before her mother reached the door. Maggie paused to hear her daughter’s words. “When are you due?”

“Two weeks ago,” she answered happily and headed for the door.

“My god, Mulder,” Scully said in a shocked voice. “It’s all too incredible.”

Mulder could only nod, but then realized she wasn’t looking at him, so he said, “Yes, Scully, it is.” After a pause he continued, “I’m so sorry.”

“Why?” she asked.

“If it wasn’t for me dragging you along, you’d have been in this world the whole time and you wouldn’t be so shocked now.”

“No, Mulder,” Scully said. “If you’d left me behind and gone by yourself, I can’t…I’d have thought you were dead for five years. I couldn’t have lived through that alone.”

“Scully?” He said, interrupting her hot tears.

“What?” She looked up.

“You’re forgetting I couldn’t have gone alone. It was a honeymoon cruise.”

“Oh.”

“Besides, I didn’t want to.”

“Oh,” she said, accepting that as a token of love and leaning over to kiss him gently on the lips. A moment later, though, she was sitting up and thinking again. “I wonder who Annie and Denise are,” she said. “There’s no one in our family who -” Scully trailed off with her eyes fixed on the figures in the doorway.

Her silence got Mulder’s attention and he looked up. Instantly he felt as though the rug had been pulled out from under his feet and he’d fallen backwards onto his ass. “Samantha?” he cried.

“Fox, it is you!” the woman with the brown hair said with a huge grin. She looks like Mom, Mulder thought, getting to his feet and hugging her tight.

“You’re safe!” they said at the same time. Their hug broke apart and they stood there a long time staring at each other.

“You’re younger than me now,” Samantha said, laughing at her brother.

“You wish, brat,” Mulder retorted.

“Who’re you calling brat, buttmunch?” Samantha demanded. “You’d better behave yourself or my husband’ll kick your ass.”

Her honesty was refreshing, Mulder thought. “Who’s your -” His question was answered as the man walked into the room. “-husband,” he finished lamely, looking into the dark green eyes of Alex Krycek.

“No!” Scully cried, getting to her feet and joining the fray. All heads turned, surprised, in her direction. “You were on the island with my sister!”

No one looked more confused than Krycek. “Samantha and I have been married since 1991,” he said. “I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you, Mulder, but your dad would have killed me.”

“My dad?” Mulder gaped.

Samantha nodded. “You knew him as the cigarette smoking man,” she explained.

“Cancerman,” Mulder said in a low, angry tone. That bastard couldn’t be his father! he thought, but even as he thought it, he knew that in his heart that it was true in a sick, Star Wars kind of way. “But he’s dead.”

“No,” Samantha said, astounded. “Where have you been, Fox?”

“It’s a long story,” he said.

Scully was standing by his side with her arms crossed, tenacious as a puppy. “Where were you five years ago?” she demanded of Krycek.

“If this is about your sister, Scully, I’m very sorry, but I wasn’t there. I didn’t do it.”

“So you’ve said before,” Scully insisted. “But I saw you with her. I know it was you!”

“What are you talking about?” Krycek asked, confused. He’d thought she’d gone back to her maniacal ravings that he’d shot her sister Melissa. He’d heard it all before and couldn’t understand it, even after all this time. Samantha could vouch for him – he hadn’t been there to shoot her. He’d been busy that night. His hands had been very full. A lightbulb came on over his head. “Unless -”

“What?” Scully demanded.

“Unless you saw my long lost presumed dead twin brother Nikolai,” Krycek said.

“Shit,” Scully said, “This is General Fucking Hospital.”

“Dana,” her mother said, cautioning her.

“My life is a goddamned soap opera!”

Mulder had never heard her swear that way before. “Scully, are you okay?” he asked, placing his hand against her arm.

“No, I am not okay!” she said in a breathy, upset voice. “Yesterday everything was fine and great and today everything’s different and crazy! Krycek’s got a twin brother and your sister is married to him and my mother is married to Skinner – Skinner, for god’s sake – and has five children! We lost five years!”

“Sssh, it’s okay,” Mulder said, holding her against him as the crowd in the doorway of the living room disbursed. There was another ring at the doorbell, so Maggie and Skinner went to answer it. Krycek produced a magic-seeming toy from his pocket that made the childrens’ stoic faces turn to grins of amazement and they followed him further into the living room.

“You okay, Scully?” Mulder asked after she’d stopped sniffling into his sleeve.

“I’m fine,” she said, raising her head and bracing her shoulders.

“Good, because you’re going to love this.” Her eyes met his, questioning, and he glanced over her shoulder. She turned and looked. To his surprise, the sight didn’t send her back into tears. Scully grinned and opened her arms to hug the man standing behind her.

“Charlie!” she cried, embracing her brother.

“It’s Annie now,” he replied, hugging her back. Annie, nee Charles Scully, was dressed elegantly in a black slim skirt and white silk blouse. Mulder thought s/he was attractive, until it hit him to wonder how Bill Scully, Jr. would look in a dress and heels. He wiped that thought from his mind as quickly as possible. “And this is Denise.”

Denise was also a man in women’s clothing. He had long brown hair and rather nice legs. Stop it! Mulder thwarted his thoughts. “So nice to meet you finally,” Denise said, putting out her hand for Mulder to shake. “Dad’s told us so much about you.”

“Dad?” Mulder asked, turning to Skinner, who didn’t even look embarrassed.

“He introduced us,” Denise said.

“Denise is a DEA agent,” Annie added.

“You’re going to have to tell me all about this!” Scully said enthusiastically.

“I promise, sis. And you’ll have to tell me about him,” Charlie added, sliding his eyes over Mulder before he swayed his hips into the living room. Mulder felt overwhelmed. He hadn’t even begun to recover when he heard Charlie squeal, “Lexi! Sammi!”

“This is a regular family reunion,” Mulder said, feeling more and more like he wanted to run screaming back to the deserted island with Scully so they could be alone.

“Where are Bill and Tara?” Scully asked her mother. “And Matthew.” Her eyes filled with tears as she realized Matthew would be five years old. Little Emily would have been eight. She gave a little sniffle.

“They’re coming on the 8:30 AirTrack,” Skinner said. “They couldn’t make it for dinner, unfortunately.”

“Dinner?” Mulder and Scully asked simultaneously.

Maggie and Walter looked at them. “You do know it’s Thanksgiving?” They said at the same time.

Mulder and Scully looked at each other. “If it’s Thanksgiving, where’s the snow?” Scully asked.

“And the, well, the turkey?” Mulder added.

“I can’t deal with this!” Scully said, turning tail and going into the living room. But when she got there, she found it was too full of small children, killers, missing women and men dressed as women giving horsey rides to small children who were sort of related to her and all looked like clones anyway, for her to feel comfortable. She stomped into one of the bedrooms and went to close the door.

Mulder’s hand stopped her. It was on the door. He narrowly avoided losing several fingers to her confused wrath. She flung herself onto the bed and he joined her, holding her close. “I know it’s a lot to deal with,” Mulder said.

“You could say that ten more times and still not be lying,” Scully said.

“Isn’t there anything you like about the future?” Mulder coaxed.

“I like the flying cars,” Scully confided with a tiny grin that told him everything was going to be okay after all.

“See?” said Mulder.

She looked up at him. “What would you say if I said I wanted to be a truck driver?”

“I’d say you should get some rest…or something,” Mulder said, pushing her down on the bed and climbing on top of her.

“Mulder, get off!” she whispered, shoving him so hard he fell off the bed. “Mulder, are you okay?”

“Great,” he muttered, rubbing his arm where he’d fallen on it. “What did you do that for?”

“We can’t do that here!” she said in that same fevered whisper.

“Why not?” Mulder asked.

“This is my mother’s house!” Scully replied.

“Scully, we’re married!”

“Yeah, I can tell by the way you keep calling me ‘Scully,’” she muttered.

“Dana -”

“Don’t call me that!” she cried. Now that he had nothing to call her, Mulder climbed up on the bed and started kissing her neck. “Mulder!” she said insistently.

“That’s your name too now,” Mulder pointed out.

“Fox,” she said, annoyed.

Mulder cringed and she gave him a look that said, see? “What?” he said.

“This is my mother’s house with Skinner! We can’t do anything here!”

“I guess you’re right,” he said, moving reluctantly away from her. The idea did kind of give him the heebie jeebies. “What are we gonna do now?” he asked.

“Mulder, what if she’s right?” Scully said.

“About what?”

“What if I really am pregnant?” she asked, and she looked scared to Mulder. He put his arm around her to try to make that look go out of her eyes.

“Then it’s a blessing,” he replied, completely honestly.

“But Mulder, what kind of a baby do you think it will turn out to be, born to a mother who had her ova stolen by aliens and conceived in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle while we were losing five years?” Scully sounded really afraid.

Mulder took her hand firmly in his and pulled her up from the bed. “Mulder?” she asked, but he didn’t say anything as he wrapped his arm around her and propelled her back to the noisy living room. “Mulder?” she said, sounding more alarmed.

“Scully,” he said finally, directly into her ear, his hot breath sending a delicious chill down her spine. “They’ll fit right in.”

Staring at the motley crue yelling and screaming and pulling hair and teaching makeup techniques and running military laps around the room, Scully knew he was right. She put her arm around him in return and hugged him back, reveling in the feeling of loving and being loved and feeling secure in that. When he leaned down and kissed her, she kissed him back.

That was when Maggie gave a little cry that managed to silence the entire room. “I think,” she gasped, “It’s time.” Her hand on her stomach gave them no doubt as to what she meant.

• • •

Part 33

“What do you mean it’s time?” Scully’s voice was high and hysterical. Skinner patted her shoulder reassuringly.

“Don’t worry about it, Dana. She’s had a few.” He put an arm around Maggie’s shoulders and helped her from the room, toward the stairs.

Mulder jumped in front of them. “What are you doing? Take her to the hospital.”

Maggie and Skinner laughed, pushing Mulder out of the way. Krycek walked over and slung an arm around his shoulders. “Come on, Fox, it’s no big deal. There are doctors available upstairs.” He punched him teasingly in the arm, ignoring Mulder’s hateful stare. “Come on, let it go. It’s been years, we’re brothers now!”

Mulder violently pushed Krycek away and found a quiet corner, which wasn’t easy, to sulk in. He was busy sulking when Krycek’s wondering eye fell on Mulder’s distraught wife. “Hey, beautiful. If you ever want to leave him, I’m your man!” He leered at her, but the leer faded as Samantha hit him over the head with Denise’s purse.

“Jerk!” Samantha put her hands on her hips and stomped her foot, watching her husband rubbing the bump on his head. Scully vaguely realized that when people were missing for twenty some odd years their mental development didn’t make much of a surge forward. “All you murderers are the same. Not an honest man among you!”

Scully stared as Samantha stomped off to sulk like her brother. Krycek got up off the floor where he’d fallen, moving to the couch and bringing Scully with him. She resisted, but he kept a tight hold on her arm. “Sit, Dana, I want to talk to you.”

“If you think I’m going to sit down and talk to you, that bump is worse than you think.” She went with him anyway, sitting beside him.

“I can tell this whole future is alarming you, it’s OK, I’m not going to hurt you.” Krycek’s demented smile made her feel slightly better.

“You’re a murderer. You killed my sister! Who’s not dead…” She trailed off, not sure why she thought he’d killed her undead sister anyway. They’d already caught the man who did that.

“Maggie told me you’re expecting. I’m so happy for you and Fox.” Krycek actually looked happy. “There’s someone you guys might want to see. She’s a psychic who works especially with pregnant women. She can broadcast her visions on a television screen so you can see your baby. It’s neat! Samantha and I were just there last week. She’s amazing. You might want to tell Fox, though, I don’t think he’s taken too well to me.” He patted her on the knee and walked off to find his wife.

Scully scraped herself off the couch and walked towards the next room, peering in carefully to make sure she wasn’t going to run into anyone she did or didn’t know. She had to find Mulder and then she was dragging him back to their little island paradise. It didn’t take long, he was the only person on his knees facing a wall with his hands folded in prayer. Scully approached him quietly, not sure what was going on.

“Holy Mary, mother of… bless us our gifts… Man, I don’t know the words.” Mulder hung his head and dropped his hands to his side.

“Mulder?” She tapped him on the shoulder and he shrugged.

“I figured it might help. I mean, it can’t really hurt, can it?”

“Krycek wants me to tell you about this psychic that can project our baby onto a TV screen, but I want me to tell you that we’re walking out the door and going back to our little island.” She took his hand, as if they might have better luck forging the scary new world together.

“I think I understand what all those people were afraid of. Do you honestly think we could have prevented this?”

Scully smiled up at him, the only other person in the house dressed in normal clothes, and if she tried to block out all the background noise, she could almost pretend that everything was still all right. “Look at me. Mulder, I know that if there was anything, and I mean anything, that we could have done to prevent this, we would have.”

Mulder smiled and gave her a hug. They walked into the other room, holding hands, watching Annie give Sammi tips on how to keep her lipstick from coming off on her cup and Lexi was braiding Denise’s hair. “But you know, Scully, everyone seems genuinely happy here. Maybe we should just leave it alone.”

She looked at her weird family, having the sneaking suspicion that the rest of the families were as weird, and tried to be happy. “Mulder, could you really ever be comfortable here?”

He looked over the room, his eyes finally falling on Scully, and he shrugged. Then they heard Krycek’s voice start singing, and turned to stare.

“Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Meyer wiener, then everyone would be in love with me…”

Mulder and Scully ran for the door, tripping over Skinner and their new brother. “Hey! Where are you guys going? Say hello to Fox!”

Together, they pushed past him and out onto the front porch. There was a woman standing there, in traditional gypsy garb, holding a key chain with a small globe attached to it.

“Someone called for a psychic?” The gypsy/psychic checked her watch and tapped her foot.

“Wow. You’re really psychic!” Scully was amazed at how the woman had known they’d been speaking about her. Mulder was annoyed.

“Let’s go, Scully. I don’t trust her.” He stepped forward and tugged on her hand.

“But, Mulder, she’s a psychic!” Realizing her own words, Scully looked down, wondering how she would ever live this down.

The gypsy reached out, placing a hand on Scully’s stomach. “I’m in a bit of a hurry here, so I’ll make it quick.” The woman moved her hand around for a moment. “OK, twins, fraternal, a boy and a girl, one’s a redhead, one’s got brown hair, both have hazel eyes. I’ve got to be going now.”

Scully stared after the woman who took off in her flying car. “That was amazing, Mulder!”

Mulder leaned over, calling away Scully’s attention. “Scully, look at us. It’s not being psychic, it’s an educated guess about what our kids would look like. Let’s go. Before your mom has anymore kids.”

Scully pulled her hand away, upset that Mulder was making a joke out of it. “What’s wrong with her having kids?” She could list a hundred different reasons, but it was different when it was someone else having a problem with her mother having kids.

“What if one of them turns out like Bill?” He knew he’d done something wrong by the way Scully’s mouth opened in outrage.

“What’s wrong with Bill?” She loved her older brother. How dare Mulder talk about her family like that.

“Scully, he beat the crap out of me! I don’t like him.” He didn’t mention that Bill had beat the crap out of him because he’d used the word ‘Dana’ and the word ‘fuck’ in the same sentence, regardless of the fact that it wasn’t at all like it sounded.

“You probably deserved it. Go away. Go find your mother. I’m spending Thanksgiving with my family. My real family.” She turned to walk back in the house.

“Scully, why are they having Thanksgiving in February?”

She was so distracted by his words that she didn’t notice when the door swung open in front of her. Skinner was on his way out the door, wanting to tell the neighbors about the new baby, but he didn’t see Mulder and Scully standing on the steps. The door hit Scully right in the face, knocking her backwards into Mulder. Mulder tried to steady her, but lost his balance and they both fell back, smacking their heads loudly into the concrete walk.

Skinner was leaning over her when Scully slowly blinked her eyes. It took quite a while before things swam back into focus and she gratefully accepted Skinner’s and Mulder’s help in getting off the ground. Her hand went to her head automatically, rubbing the sore spot.

Skinner still looked concerned, and quite a bit guilty according to Mulder, after all he had been the one who pushed open the door so quickly. “Are you all right?” Skinner’s gruff voice didn’t sound at all like the proud papa anymore.

Scully blinked again, looking at Skinner, and made a face. “You’re not my dad.” At the sound of Mulder’s laughter, she turned to glare at him, realizing for the first time that they weren’t standing outside anymore.

Skinner looked adequately surprised initially, then settled his hands at his hips. “Well, there’s a load off my mind.”

Scully looked back at him. She didn’t remember him wearing a tuxedo before. “What happened?” She sounded and felt weak. She looked back at Mulder, who she noticed miserably was wearing a tux as well. Whatever was going on, she knew her walking shorts and tank top and sandals weren’t appropriate. She looked down, an noticed for the first time that she was wearing a floor length, siren red, open backed gown, five inch heels, and there was a slit in the skirt almost up to her waist. She turned her head sharply, noticing a mirror and saw the way her hair was swept up and piled on top of her head, a few curly tendrils hanging down and framing her face.

Mulder stepped closer to her side, placing a hand at her elbow and gently prodding her to a seat. Once they were seated, Mulder removed his hands entirely, and she had to admit she felt slightly more comfortable. He shrugged. “I don’t know, Scully. We were going in, he was coming out, we both fell, I don’t remember much else.”

Skinner stepped forward, looking tired and unhappy and really rather attractive in his tux. “You were both out cold for at least five minutes. I think I should call an ambulance. Agent Scully, you don’t look well.”

Scully looked up at the older man, completely transfixed by the gleam of the light on his bald head. “Sir, do you have any children?”

Mulder snorted. “Named Meighan and Jessyka?” Scully’s jaw dropped open and she stared at Mulder, missing Skinner’s expression.

“Come to think of it Agent Mulder, you don’t look well either. Have you guys been drinking?” The man’s words went unheard as Mulder and Scully looked at each other.

“Did you…” They started and stopped in unison, before each of them shook their heads and brushed it off. Nah…

“Sir?” Scully pulled herself together as best she could, not sure which reality was the alternate one. “Where are we?”

Skinner pointed at a sign, which luckily answered Scully’s second question of ‘what year is it’ as well. Mulder read the sign aloud. “Why, Scully, we’re obviously at the 1997 Annual FBI Awards Banquet and Christmas Party.”

“It’s not February?” Scully sank back down into the chair. “And we’re not in Bermuda, either.”

Skinner laughed, thinking her behavior had just been a joke. “No, unfortunately. We’re in Virginia in December. You know, when I instructed the two of you to show up here, I expected that you would not come together. I’m sure the rumor mill is in overdrive tonight.” He added a raised eyebrow and looked Scully up and down with an appreciative leer. Then he patted Mulder’s shoulder. “Though I can’t say I blame you for not wanting to share.”

Scully crossed her arms over the low cut dress while trying to pull the slit closed as well. She decided standing would allow the revealing dress to cover more of her body, but she was having some trouble balancing in her shoes. She wanted to go home, assuming she still had one. “Sir, unless you want me to slap you with a sexual harassment lawsuit so fast you won’t know what hit you, I’d advise you to at least stop drooling until I’ve left the room.” She turned on Mulder, her eyes blazing with anger. “How dare you!” She walked back into the reception, trying to remain upright and not trip over her own shoes, since everyone’s eyes in the place were on her.

She sat down at the first table she could find. Two minutes later, Tom Colton joined her.

“Hi, Daaana.” She could smell the alcohol from ten feet away. He tripped into the chair next to her, placing a hand on her exposed thigh. “You could do sooo much better than Fox, you know.” He nodded at her, before taking another swing out of the bottle he’d lifted from the open bar.

“Go fuck off, Colton.” She turned away, seeing Mulder approaching them. She didn’t have a chance to stop him before Mulder lifted Colton out of his seat by his shirt collar.

“Get our hands off of her, Colton.” Colton shakily held his balance as he swung a fist at Mulder. But Mulder was sober and threw a better punch, sending Colton sliding backwards on the floor. He reached for Scully’s hand, pulling her out of the hall, leaving all the other agents to stare after them.

As soon as they were back in the hotel lobby, Mulder let go of her. “Mulder! I can’t believe you did that.” Her cheeks were flaming red and she wanted to disappear.

Mulder looked at her like she was insane, which she was almost sure she was at that point. “Should I have let him feel you up in there?”

“It was none of your business.” She wanted to walk away, but she knew he’d follow her and she couldn’t quite remember how she’d gotten there.

“Well, you wanted me jealous, didn’t you? That was the whole point of this” He gestured at her dress, comprised primarily of a gauzy lycra/spandex blend that left the better part of the dress to one’s imagination. “wasn’t it?”

“If you must know, Mulder, I have no recollection of buying this dress, putting it on, or coming here with you.” She sat down on a bench and looked down at the fancy hotel’s carpet.

“Last thing I remember, we were having an argument about a psychic”

“On my mother’s porch”

“Who was married to Skinner”

“And had just given birth”

“To Fox Skinner.”

“In 2003.”

“Oh, God. You were there.” Scully dropped her face into her hands and whimpered.

The sound seemed familiar, although he couldn’t remember hearing his partner whimper at any time. Then he remembered the scene in the dock, where they’d encountered the AirTrack. He reached out and put his arms around her shoulders, rocking her slightly, wanting to jump for joy when she hugged him back. “Shhh, Dana, it’s OK. We’ll figure it out.”

“But it was just a dream, wasn’t it? You don’t remember it because it was just in my imagination because I must have had too much to drink or something, right?” Her arms were still wrapped around him when she spoke, but he reached behind him to gently pull her wrists back.

“Maybe we had the same dream.” He looked down at her hand, at the gleaming wedding band on her left hand, the one that had belonged to his great-grandmother. He tapped it, drawing her attention to it. “Where’d you get this?”

“You put it on me when we were getting on the boat.” He paled at her words. “The boat that we never got on because it doesn’t exist.” She went to take it off, figuring he would want it back.

“No, Dana.” His hand folded over hers, preventing her from removing the ring. “Keep it, honey.”

She just looked at him, her memory of the cruise already starting to fade. Then she stood up suddenly. “I have to find something out before I forget.”

Mulder took her hand and went with her as she walked down the hall. She spotted Skinner talking on the phone, gesturing wildly with his free hand. He was speaking loudly enough that they easily overheard him.

“No, I have no idea. I think she knows, though… I didn’t tell her… Because of something she said… she said ‘you’re not my dad.’ … well, she’d bumped her head, but I’m sure she’s all right… Mulder’s with her… OK… I love you too, Maggie.” He hung the phone up, turning around to catch Mulder and Scully standing there, their mouths hanging open in shock.

Scully took a firm hold of Mulder’s jacket with both hands and looked up at him, her eyes joining her voice’s plea. “No, please, Mulder, tell me it’s not true, please!”

Mulder looked at the woman clinging to him and shrugged helplessly. He looked up to glare at Skinner but the other man had already slunk away. He carefully unfastened her death grip on his jacket. “Let’s go home. We’ll get a taxi, I’ll make sure you get home safe, and then I bet after a good night’s sleep, we’ll both feel better.”

She walked with him to the hotel’s front desk where he asked the woman, a young woman with oddly familiar golden curls, a blue and white uniform, and a shiny gold name tag that read ‘Julie,’ to call them a cab. Julie smiled, and then pointed to a man who was standing at the desk with her.

“You’ll have to ask Matt, he calls all the taxis!” Happy Julie went back to her work, typing merrily on a computer. Mulder followed Julie’s directions, and then led Scully out to the vestibule where they waited for the cab.

“Mulder, how will you get a good night’s sleep? You never sleep.”

He grinned at her. “I’ll just watch you sleep. You sleep well enough for both of us.” Scully response was drowned out by a high pitched squeal.

“Fox!” A tall, obnoxiously thin, red headed woman ran up to them and latched onto Mulder’s arm, pouting and smiling at the same time while pushing Scully out of the way. “You’re not leaving without me, are you?”

Mulder squinted at her and bit his lip, not sure if he wanted to take the plunge. “Tanya?”

“Why Fox, you act like you’ve just seen a ghost!” Tanya bent over to rest her head on Mulder’s shoulder while Scully walked back to the desk to ask Matt for another taxi.

While she was standing there, she felt an arm slide around her shoulders, and she was loathe to look up and meet the man’s eyes. “Hi, Daniel.”

“Dana, I missed you. Where have you been?”

She didn’t manage to formulate an answer before she saw a girl come bounding down the hallway with a precariously balanced tray of hors d’oerves. The girl leaned over the desk, and tried to get Matt’s attention. “Not now, Bekkie.” The young waitress bounced back down the hall, magically keeping her tray balanced while she skipped.

Scully leaned heavily against Daniel’s shoulder, not sure she could keep herself standing any longer. Mulder watched as Scully slumped in Daniel’s arms, and peeled Tanya off in time to run over and take Scully out of Daniel’s arms. Mulder carefully lifted her into his arms and out to the taxi that had arrived, completely unaware of how Tanya and Daniel were left gazing at each other.

• • •

Part 34

“Mulder?” Scully said, feeling even more confused than she had before. Why had he just shoved her boyfriend and his girlfriend into a car together and pulled her out of it? And come to think of it, why had Tanya and Daniel looked at each other that way? It had been strangely reminiscent of the looks she and Mulder often shared. Did that mean…? She began to nervously twist the ring on her finger – the only remnant of “proof” of what she remembered. Or thought she did. Already it was beginning to fade and be replaced by what she knew to be the truth. Tanya was a bitch who Mulder couldn’t even talk to, but kept around because he liked to fuck her. The first time Scully saw Tanya, she’d been shocked at the perceived resemblance to herself. But she was certain that was only wishful thinking, that she wanted Mulder to love someone who looked like her…

Scully realized he hadn’t answered her, so she said, “Mulder?” again.

“Taxi!” he yelled, running after one of the yellow cars that whizzed by him. It stopped up the road and he grabbed her arm roughly, pulling her along with him.

“Hey!” Scully cried, but he paid her no attention. He shoved her into the cab and jumped in, slamming the door behind them. “Where are we going?” she demanded.

“The FBI Building. 16th and E,” Mulder instructed the cab driver, who floored the gas, sending Mulder and Scully tumbling into each other.

“What’s going on here, Mulder?” Scully demanded.

“We need to talk,” he answered.

“We’re going to work to talk?”

“I can’t be sure whose place Tanya and Daniel will go to,” he answered and the thought made her skin crawl. She didn’t want to imagine Daniel taking that slut back to her apartment. But she also knew Daniel, unfortunately, had practically moved in. Scully hadn’t said anything before since she was never home. She knew she had to pack his things first thing tomorrow and leave them in the hall, though. She no longer wanted to be with him. Not in the least.

“You really think…?” Scully asked, raising her eyebrows at Mulder, who nodded. “Good, let him beat her for a while,” she said. Mulder started, but didn’t say anything. She watched the creases in his forehead grow deep, though, so she put her hand on his arm. “It was only one time,” she reassured him. “And I broke three of his ribs.”

“What did you ever see in him, Scully?” Mulder asked honestly.

“Sixteen-fifty,” the cab driver interrupted, saving Scully from having to answer. Mulder didn’t even argue as he shoved a twenty dollar bill at the driver, and didn’t ask for change, either. He had his hand around Scully’s arm and was shoving her out of the cab instead. She stood by his side as the car sped away, feeling forlorn, standing on the empty street in the dark, all alone. The FBI building wasn’t in the best of neighborhoods. She’d often noticed Mulder surreptitiously following her to her car when they stayed late, making sure she got there all right.

She shivered, and Mulder shrugged out of his coat, draping it around her bare shoulders as they made their way to the employees’ entrance. They didn’t speak as they passed the guard and waited for the elevator down to their basement office. Once there, they took their usual places – Mulder at the desk and Scully at the table near the door that wasn’t rightly a desk, but was as good as she was going to get. Considering the way they were dressed, it didn’t feel normal.

“Well?” Scully asked, wondering why Mulder had dragged her back here in the middle of the annual FBI Christmas party. She wouldn’t have minded staying a while longer, being given the opportunity to show off this dress she’d bought expressly to catch Mulder’s eye and make him forget that pale, washed out frizzy-haired Tanya. If he’d only asked her to dance instead of asking her to return to work…

“I was waiting for an answer to my question, Scully,” Mulder said formally. “But I suppose the fact that you can’t tell me what you see in a buffoon like Doug -”

“Daniel,” Scully intoned.

“Daniel,” Mulder picked up smoothly, “backs up my theory that you kept him around for his muscles and nothing more.”

“Not quite, Mulder,” she replied, knowing it would make him angry. She knew the “muscle” comment was a direct dig at her going back to her ill- fated date with Ed Jerse. She couldn’t help it if she liked men who took care of themselves. “It wasn’t his big muscles I liked.” Mulder’s face turned red and she expected the top of his head to blow off and steam to rise like in cartoons. It didn’t happen, so she pushed him a little farther. “Why don’t you tell me what was so appealing about your little friend Tanya?”

“Let’s not do this,” he said suddenly.

“Do what, Mulder, I’d like an answer.” She moved closer, trying to impose on his personal space, intrude on him, make him answer her. Make him pay attention to her for once in their stupid partnership, in any case!

“I didn’t have to close my eyes to pretend I was making love to you and not her,” Mulder said in a low, strange tone.

Scully slapped him and he grabbed her hand. They were both breathing hard as they glared at each other. “I don’t look anything like her!” she informed him.

“I know,” he said back. Their glaring was turning into an intense staring contest, and neither of them wanted to be the one to look away first. There was only one place this was leading, and neither of them wanted to lose. “Damn it, Scully,” Mulder said, tilting his head and she knew what was coming next. She could feel the kiss on her lips already.

“What?” she breathed, pausing to wet her lips.

“When you look at me like that I just want to …” He stopped himself.

“Want to what?” she taunted. On the inside she was shrieking, OH GOD YES KISS ME NOW, KISS ME NOW!!!!!!!

“Do this,” he admitted, putting his hands on her hips and backing her into the filing cabinet. It was cold against her skin, since her dress had no fabric to protect her from the metal. Mulder was quite a mover, she thought, as he’d managed to hike her skirt up to her waist as he was maneuvering her into position. His hand slipped down between their bodies to caress the tops of her thighs above the stockings she was wearing with a very naughty black garter belt.

“I think you forgot something,” Mulder commented, moving his hand up.

“I didn’t forget,” she said boldly.

“Darn, and now I’ll never find out if the garters go on over or under the panties,” he murmured, making her smile the way only Mulder could. A second later, she gasped as his fingers found her warm core. His fingers pushed her to the high edge of the cliff many times before finally he pushed her off. She screamed as she fell.

When she opened her eyes and looked at him, he was smiling a secret smile. “I want you inside me,” she whispered. He seemed happy to oblige, filling her so completely that she gave a soft, surprised sound. He was so big and it had been so very long, but it felt so good…

(She’d lied about Daniel; Mulder had been right that only his muscles were big. That was why Daniel hit her sometimes – he was incapable of pleasing a woman. But that had been fine with Scully, raised as she had been in the Catholic faith not to be promiscuous. Besides, she had been saving herself for Mulder.)

There was a storm out on the ocean, and its frenzy drove the waves up and up, crashing ever faster over them until finally, the storm broke. It took a long time before they settled back to earth and looked at each other.

“Wow,” said Scully.

“Double wow,” Mulder replied, grinning at her. That was when she knew she really loved him. She wanted to be able to see that grin whenever she pleased. She wanted it to be her own, personal Mulder grin.

“That was…” she said, but words failed her.

He stroked a strand of her hair away from her face. “I didn’t hurt you?” he asked. “I was afraid I might have…”

“No, Mulder, you didn’t hurt me. It was perfect. You were perfect.”

“You made this noise and I -”

Sometimes, she swore, Mulder was as innocent as a schoolboy. “Mulder, if you don’t recognize pleasure when you hear it, there’s much I need to teach you.”

“Believe me, I’d love to learn,” he said with a mischievous look in his eyes that made her heart clench. Did he think they were just playing games? Now that the “take your partner” game was over, would he move onto “the naughty schoolboy” with someone else?

She refused to let her insecurities show. “Mulder,” she said in a low, sexy voice.

“Yes,” he said in a tone that told her he’d follow her anywhere.

“Can you put on your glasses?” she asked, hoping he wouldn’t laugh.

He had those babies out of his tux pocket and onto his face in a matter of seconds. “Only if you’d be willing to use these,” he said, making a venture of his own as he withdrew his handcuffs for her display.

“Hurt me,” she cried with playful abandon as she thrust her wrists out for him to take. The metal was cold against her skin, but they soon managed to warm it up between them.

• • •

The months passed. Scully evicted Daniel, and she never heard Tanya mentioned by Mulder again. She wasn’t certain the woman was gone, however, since Mulder would never let her come to his apartment. And how would she be able to find an incriminating strand of hair clinging to his jacket when she and Tanya had the same color hair? She sighed.

“What was that sigh for?” Mulder asked, putting down the file he had been paying rapturous attention to for the better part of the day.

“I want to go to your apartment,” she said frankly.

“You don’t want to do that,” he cautioned her.

“Mulder, I don’t feel like we have a real relationship. We don’t date, and the only time we…you know…” She glanced at the walls, aware that they did, in fact, have ears at times. “Is when we’re in a motel on a case. Once, in my apartment. I haven’t been to your apartment in months.” While she spoke, she’d been moving closer and she rubbed her hand up and down his arm.

“Wouldn’t it be more exciting to do it on Skinner’s desk?” Mulder offered with hopeful eyes.

Scully rolled her eyes and looked at him seriously. “Mulder, the cleaning people are onto us. No one can ‘forget’ to turn in a report that many times. He’s going to find out.”

Mulder shook his head. “He’s too in love with your mother to notice.”

“STOP!” Scully shouted, clapping her hands over her ears. “I don’t believe it, there is NO evidence that it’s true -” Since he wasn’t talking, she uncovered her ears.

“Except that he hasn’t called us in to ream us in over a month, Scully,” Mulder reminded her. “Even you have to admit that’s weird.”

“We’ve been doing very good work,” Scully said prissily.

“Don’t you think he should have called us in when I accidentally looked the other way and let the suspect in those murders escape before I could call backup, and I couldn’t shoot him because I’d dropped my gun?” Mulder pointed out.

“I knew you were testing him with that one!” Scully cried. “Okay, Skinner’s been a little preoccupied.”

“More than a little,” Mulder insisted, but she shook her head and began to turn away. He touched her and she hesitated, looking back at him. “The real reason I haven’t had you in my apartment is -”

“Figuratively or literally?” Scully asked, giving him a careful look.

He considered his words. “Both,” he admitted. “I don’t have a bed, Scully.”

“Where do you sleep!” she cried.

“Exactly,” he said, nodding.

“How long have you lived in your apartment, Mulder?” She looked like she didn’t believe him.

“Seven years. Which is why I was too embarrassed to bring you home and let you find out for yourself that the only room I’ve furnished is the living room.” His eyes betrayed that this was a big confession, one with which he was trusting her implicitly.

“What about your couch?” she asked.

“What about it?” he asked, and she marveled that any man could be so incredibly dense. Either that or he didn’t want her, she thought, and it put a frown on her face.

“We could, you know…”

“Not on the couch, Scully,” Mulder said firmly.

“Fine, then,” she said in a tight little voice, turning away before he could see her tears. She picked up her briefcase and her trenchcoat, knowing he was staring at her. “If you don’t want to have a relationship with me, I understand.”

“Scully -” Mulder said, getting up, ready to go after her.

“No, really, it’s okay,” she said, putting on a brave face. “Just because we’re partners doesn’t mean you have to like me. We tried it a few times. We had fun. Just because I thought that meant that we meant more than that -”

She wasn’t even making sense, Mulder thought, knowing he had to do something, but he couldn’t. He opened his mouth and couldn’t find the words. There were tears in her eyes and he couldn’t say anything. How could he have known she’d be this upset that he didn’t have a bed?

“It’s fine, Mulder, I understand completely,” she said, already thinking of ways to word her letter of resignation. But she knew she couldn’t resign. She loved the FBI, and she loved being Mulder’s partner. As long as they were partners, she could harbor the tiny hope that he’d remember what he’d once seen in her. She knew she’d seen love in his eyes before. Besides, if she resigned, Skinner would tell her mother and her mother would kill her. She’d been so determined to become a good agent, if she turned back now, it would betray everything she believed in. Everything she’d struggled against – like the male agents who’d laughed at her in the FBI Academy because she was short and a girl. She remembered what her father had always told her…

“Scully, were you leaving?” Mulder asked, because she’d been standing there with her hand on the doorknob and a weird look on her face for some time.

“Yes, Mulder, I was!” she cried, and walked through the door. She slammed it behind her, and dissolved into tears. Mulder didn’t come after her. And she knew she wouldn’t run into Skinner. She was pretty sure he was at her mother’s house. She sniffled all the way to her car.

Inside the office, Mulder reached for the file that had been hiding on the corner of his desk for almost two months, since that fateful night of the Christmas party. It had been waiting for just the right moment. There would never be a better moment than this one, he thought. It was his wild card, his ace in the hole.

It was his last hope.

• • •

Scully had calmed down in the hours since she had left the office. A hot bath, a tall frothy Cappuccino from Starbucks’ and an extra squeeze of her favorite strawberry scented body lotion had gone a long way toward improving her mood. She could be Mulder’s platonic partner. She’d done it before. She’d do it again. What was important was that she didn’t let her silly romantic dreams of love get in the way of what was really important to them – the truth, and trust.

She answered the phone, when it rang, with a pleasant, “Hello?”

“Scully, can you get here – to the office – right away? Something’s come up. Something important.”

Mulder’s voice was urgent. “I’ll be right there,” she said and was halfway to the door before she remembered she was in her white terrycloth robe and slippers. She paused to change, and hurried on her way.

• • •

Mulder was waiting for her. He’d lit what seemed like a hundred softly scented candles and placed them all around their office. He was a little afraid that one of them would catch a draft and ignite one of the posters, folders, or books that littered the office. Their office. There was a huge bouquet of white flowers on top of Scully’s table in the corner. He held another bunch of bright red roses in his fist, almost crushing their stems, waiting for her to come.

The door flew open. “Mulder, what’s going on?” Scully demanded breathlessly and he got the tiniest charge from knowing that she’d run right over. Then she stopped and actually looked and saw. The shocked look on her face made Mulder’s heart beat more strongly. “Mulder?” asked Scully.

He was shaking. He couldn’t believe it. He was so nervous. He held out the flowers and hoped she wouldn’t see him trembling. “These are for you,” he said and felt like the biggest fool ever.

“The case involves a florist?” she asked, even though neither of them knew it was true. Mulder laughed roughly and watched her lean in to smell the roses. “They’re beautiful – it’s beautiful, Mulder, I don’t know what to say.”

“Don’t say anything,” he said. “Just listen.” He took the flowers from her hands, not seeing the touched look her face, not noticing that it turned bereft without her flowers. He set them aside and humbly went down on his knees in front of her, his face open and vulnerable as he strained his neck looking up at her.

“Mulder, no,” she murmured.

“Scully, yes,” he said, taking her hand in his. From his pocket, he produced a small box. He opened it and she saw the way the simple diamond ring caught the light. It wasn’t gaudy like the ties Mulder wore. It was understated. That it matched her taste touched her. But for a moment she wished that it reflected more of him. But then, she didn’t want an engagement ring that came from a 25cent trinket machine. She had no doubts as to what it was.

“Will you?” he asked.

“Will I what?” She was going to make him say it.

“Marry me.” He slid the ring high up onto her finger.

“Mulder, I just had the oddest sensation of deja vu.”

“Scully, I’m surprised that you believe in deja vu.”

“I don’t, but if it indicates somehow that this is meant to be and that this is going to be right…” she said. “Get up.”

He shook his head stubbornly. “Not until you answer.”

“You didn’t have to do this. Just because we fought…”

“I didn’t do this because we fought,” Mulder informed her. “I did this because I love you.”

“Then I have to say yes, don’t I?” she breathed lightly.

His eyes turned dark. “Don’t be obligated, Scully.”

“I didn’t mean it like that, Mulder.

“What does that mean?” he asked, and she saw that he was retreating.

“Are you going to keep calling me Scully when we’re married?” she asked as charmingly as possible.

“You’ll have to say yes first,” Mulder told her.

“Yes!” she cried, and a moment later Mulder had flung both of his arms around her neck and was hugging the life out of her. “Yes yes yes yes yes!” she cried, and heard him saying it too. They clung together a moment. “Maybe if my mother catches the bouquet at the wedding she’ll finally tell me the truth.”

“Are you ready to face Skinner as a stepfather?” Mulder asked.

“Are you ready to have him as a stepfatherinlaw?” she shot back and watched him cringe. She laughed and he laughed too. “Well, at least I know you’re not marrying me for the baby’s sake,” she said lightly.

“SCULLY?” Mulder cried, and she only laughed harder.

The shock on his face was priceless. He gaped at her questioningly, and she nodded with a grin. “It’s true. It must have been the night of the Christmas party.”

“But I thought -” he said.

“Guess they were wrong,” she said and he had never seen her so happy. “Or it’s a miracle, Mulder. Our own little private miracle.”

“I love you,” he said.

“I love you too,” she replied.

• • •

Part 35

She could feel the weight of the ring on her finger and it made her unable to stop smiling. Things had been so up in the air with her and Mulder since the Christmas party, but now, looking at the diamond ring, she was sure things were finally going right.

“Scully? You OK?” He caught her hand, trying to read her face.

“Yeah, I was just thinking. We have to go tell my mom!” She was so excited, the knowledge of her engagement giving her an inexhaustible source of energy. She turned to leave the office, blowing out as many candles as she could on the way. Mulder finished off the candles and followed her to her car, letting her drive. Her grin widened when she saw that he expected them to take her car. Maybe old dogs could learn new tricks.

The trip to her mother’s seemed to take only a few short minutes, but that was probably just because Mulder was holding her hand the whole way. Every time she looked over at him, she saw him grinning back. It was rather distracting. Regardless, they made it to Mrs. Scully’s house in one piece. An unfamiliar car was in the driveway and it made her heart skip a beat.

“Did your mom buy a new car?”

“Mulder, why would my mother buy a Crown Victoria? She still has the ‘72 wagon.” Scully tried to convince herself that her mother simply needed a new car, but it wasn’t really working.

“Scully, that car just seems really familiar.” Mulder didn’t even have to say what he was thinking because the Scully’s front door opened and two familiar figures were visible in the light. Scully was still staring at the car. “Uh, Scully?”

She turned around, instantly seeing who was there, and her hand went to her mouth. “Oh, no.”

Mulder took hold of Scully’s arm and prodded her onto the porch and through the front door. Skinner crossed his arms and stood behind Maggie, though whether for protection or support, Mulder couldn’t tell. Maggie hugged both Mulder and Scully, an awkward silence following immediately as Mulder and Scully stared accusingly at their boss.

Mulder leaned over to Mrs. Scully, using his best stage whisper. “I don’t have to hug him, do I?”

Mrs. Scully’s laugh eased a little of the tension. Skinner extended his hand, instantly letting Mulder know that he wasn’t their boss in that situation, he was Maggie’s boyfriend. Mulder shook the offered hand and then went back to standing mutely next to Scully. The poor thing was still in too much of a state of shock to speak. It was Mrs. Scully again who came to the uncomfortable group’s rescue.

“Dana, I’m so, we’re so glad you’re here. I have something I wanted to tell you.” She took her daughter’s arm and led her into the living room, the two women sitting next to each other on the couch. The two abandoned men looked at each other warily, not sure what to say. Skinner waved his hand, as if to invite Mulder into the living room as well, with a manner that seemed to convey that he was at home and Mulder was the guest. It made a cold shiver run down Mulder’s spine. They had just been joking in the office. This wasn’t something they wanted to see.

While they walked, Skinner spoke quietly enough that he wasn’t overheard. “Was that a ring I saw on Dana’s finger?”

Fear shot through Mulder; his heart stopped beating for a second and he could just about hear the words ‘you’re fired.’ He wasn’t sure what to say. “Wouldn’t Agent Scully be more appropriate?” He crossed his fingers and prayed.

“Not under the circumstances.” With those mysterious words, Skinner settled on the couch beside Maggie at the same time Mulder sat beside Scully. There wasn’t enough room on the couch for four people, though, and both Skinner and Mulder chose to vacate their seats in favor of two chairs on opposite ends of the room.

When everyone was settled, Maggie smiled brightly and reached out to take Skinner’s hand. The thought of Skinner holding hands with anyone made Mulder want to laugh, so he turned his eyes to the carpet and left them there. Maggie cleared her throat. “I have an announcement to make.” Scully looked to Mulder for support, but he was still staring at the floor. “Actually, I have two.” Mulder dared to glance up, taking in Scully terrified expression, Maggie’s gleeful face, and Skinner’s apprehensive glare in one shot and then looking back at the floor. “Walter and I have decided to get married.” An odd sense of deja vu coursed through Scully’s veins, and she met Mulder’s eye, knowing he was feeling it too. Neither said a word. Maggie looked to Skinner, he shrugged, and she continued. “I’m also expecting a baby.”

Scully uttered a small frightened squeak and Mulder could only describe her expression as comically homicidal. Mulder decided that he could speak for the pair. “Congratulations. On both accounts.” He glanced at Scully, seeking permission. He saw nothing identifiable, probably because she was thinking of going on an ax murdering spree, sparing her mother’s and partner’s lives, but taking out the rest of the east coast. Or maybe just Washington. She couldn’t decide. The more people she killed, she figured, the easier it would be to plead temporary insanity. She could easily envision explaining to the judge that she’d found out her boss was about to become her stepfather and that her own child would be older than one of her siblings. She started to giggle while she thought about the looks on the faces of the people in the court room as she told her story, especially that of her lawyer. Maybe she should defend herself, one more log for the fire. Her laughter developed into a sort of hiccuping snicker as she tried to stop it.

Mulder decided that he’d better say it before Scully got herself committed. “Mrs. Scully,” She opened her mouth to protest. “Maggie, um, Sir,” Again, Maggie opened her mouth to protest and again Skinner shrugged. “um, er, eh, Walter,” Scully’s snickering grew a little in volume.

“Dad!” She blurted out happily, her face red from the suppressed laughter. Mulder won the fight against laughing himself, and tried to continue.

“Actually, in light of both of our announcements, I guess I can call you dad now too.” Maggie gasped excitedly.

“You can both call me Walter.”

The room lapsed into an uncomfortable quiet, broken only by Scully’s snicker. Mulder tried to determine if it was safe to speak. Scully spoke up instead.

“What about Wally?”

Everyone turned to look at her, her shoulders shaking violently, tears running down her face. She immediately stopped laughing. She glanced at Mulder, once the other pair had turned away. She somehow found the strength not to suggest ‘Waldo.’

Mulder cleared his throat again, waging a silent battle with Scully, daring her to make another comment. She didn’t. “I’ve asked Dana to marry me.” Skinner stood up, again offering his hand to Mulder, this time in mutual congratulations. Maggie stood as well, pulling on Mulder’s arm until she was able to plant a kiss on his cheek. “And we’re also expecting a child.” Skinner smiled, seemingly happy. Mulder looked to Maggie.

Maggie reached out and smacked Scully right across the face. “Dana Katherine Scully! You’re Catholic!”

Scully’s hand went to her cheek, jumping to her feet and frowning in defiance. “And you of all people have the right to speak.”

Maggie looked embarrassed for a moment. Then she spoke quietly. “I’ve already been married.”

Scully’s jaw dropped open in disbelief. “Oh, is that how it works?” She couldn’t believe she was getting a talk on morals in front of her partner and boss from her pregnant mother who was marrying a man a little more than half her age. Scully grabbed Mulder’s wrist, tugging him along behind her. “Let’s go.”

Scully pulled open the door and stopped short when she saw the woman on the step. “Can I help you?”

“Dana?” Why did that woman’s voice sound familiar? “Dana, it’s me!”

She looked again. “Charlie?” The woman grinned, letting Scully get a good glimpse of the tooth Charlie’d knocked out playing hockey with her.

“It’s Annie, now.”

“AAAAAAUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!” She screamed as loud and as long and as hard as she could. Nothing changed. Then she closed her eyes and did it again.

She felt hands on her shoulders, shaking her. Her eyes opened to darkness and a familiar voice calling her name.

“Dana? Dana, are you OK? Wake up.” Dana blinked a couple hundred times looking up at her brother’s worried, lipstick smeared face.

“Charlie?”

“Should I get mom?”

Dana looked at her brother, his stocky legs covered with pantyhose, his eyes lined with make up, their mother’s heels about three sizes too big. “Mom is going to kill you when she sees you!”

Charlie grinned, his teeth all wonderfully intact. “It’s not mom’s. It’s Missy’s!” Her brother hobbled away, happily adjusting his skirt as he went.

Dana turned on her lamp and reached over to extract her notebook from under her bed. She had to write down her dream. She hadn’t heard from her penpal in a while, but there was no way she could ignore the crazy dream. It took her an hour to write it all down, but when she was done, it still seemed fresh in her mind. She took out an envelope from the brand new box of stationary she’d gotten for her ninth birthday and addressed it: To Miss Samantha Mulder. She paused for a moment as she wrote the name, her heart seeming to soar as she wrote the last name. A weird feeling overcame her momentarily, almost as if she’d been there before. She shrugged and turned off her light, pulling the covers back up and trying to fall back asleep.

****

Agent Fox Mulder put the lid back on the box in his closet, feeling as dejected as always whenever he looked through Samantha’s letters. The woman who was being assigned to work with him, the spy they were sending down to him, was named Dana Scully. He’d done all the research he possibly could on her, still convinced that she wasn’t for real, and still unsure as to why he knew her name. All the letters were signed ‘Dani,’ but there was no last name and he was left wondering. He’d looked at the letters a hundred times, skimmed the content of most them too, but he’d never read them. It didn’t seem right to go through his sister’s things. But the last letter in the box, the last one that ever came, had been sent a few months after Samantha had disappeared. It hadn’t been opened until that night.

He’d smiled as he read it, amazed at the mention of his own name and the detailed account of his personality, which at the time the letter was written, was completely different. And it had been signed Dana Scully.

He had no doubt that it was the same red haired angel from his dreams. The same woman he’d met years earlier at an FBI function when she’d only been in college. She was so young and beautiful, but still so mature and friendly. They’d instantly felt the connection, but for whatever reasons, hadn’t exchanged names or numbers. He’d spent years knowing she was the woman of his dreams, wondering how he’d let her slip through his fingers, praying he’d get another chance. Now it seemed his dreams were about to all come true.

Maybe it was just meant to be. He smiled, laying back on his couch to sleep, hoping he’d dream of her one last time before she appeared at his side.

THE END!!!!!

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