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A Three Fish Man

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It wasn't a big change in his life when Scully moved in to the office. Certainly not the biggest. He had to remember to keep two mugs clean, and not to unbutton his shirt so far when the basement's ventilation went out in summer, and not to do all the things men do when women aren't watching, but it wasn't something new. Her presence wasn't a light bulb in the dungeon of his mind or a universe-birthing shock or anything as massive as that. She reminded him of an oscillating fan - a quiet hum you could tune out after a while and a gentle breeze once in a while, just enough to freshen the space, just often enough that you couldn't forget completely that it was there.

He wasn't sure why he started putting the empty vodka bottles in the recycling. Not that there were many, but he had a collection from his post-Diana months that had rattled on the counter by the toaster for too long. He wasn't sure why his runs lasted longer and longer, or why he slept better, or why he started eating lunch again, although it helped that she reminded him when it was time to order in or go out. He wasn't sure why he went to the pet store in the first place. He hadn't had a pet since the old dog Samantha had deviled. The rodents didn't interest him - the scratching and gnawing reminded him of the bullpen at the Bureau, and besides they smelled funny and slept all the time. The birds were too colorful, too noisy, too tied to their partners. He didn't think he could handle the droppings, either. He didn't read the newspaper very often.

Puppies were out. Kittens were out. Not only because of the apartment rules. Mulder didn't have the patience for adorable things that would pee on the floor while he was at work. He barely had the patience for Scully and she was quiet and good at math. She calmly dissected his theories and his evidence and made a long-stale cup of bullpen coffee taste almost decent. He wasn't sure how.

Fish.

Fish were the answer.

He stood in front of the wall of aquariums for a long time, hypnotized by the flash of light off their small bodies. The goldfish had a reddish tint that reminded him of Scully's hair.

"Three," he said to the man with the ridiculous green net. Three was a good number. Three meant that he still had two if one died, and that didn't look so pathetic. It seemed like a bold step into a new world of pet ownership. Three fish implied a certain level of confidence in his pet-caring-for abilities. He was a three-fish kind of man, yes sir.

Mulder decided he didn't know what the hell he was thinking these days. Maybe that gentle breeze of Scully's was blowing all the cobwebs through his brain. She was probably giving him dust poisoning with all the tidying up she'd been doing. He stood dumbly with the bulging plastic-bag worlds of the fish dangling from his hand.

"You'll need an aquarium, a filter, probably some rocks. Aisle three." He followed the orders of the pet store guy who pointed down the long rows of shelves with the dripping green net. He found a blue plastic cart and put his fish in the spot where a baby would sit, checking on them anxiously every thirty seconds. Mulder found himself seriously considering the merits of bubblers and fish foods, finally settling on a suitably large aquarium and equipment. At the last moment he threw in a bobbing diver. Wouldn't want the fish getting bored - he worked long hours.

He shook his head again, settled his account at the counter, and put the fish gently in the car. He knew where he'd put them. There was a perfect spot on the shelf near the window where he usually just threw old issues of The Lone Gunmen and maybe the tv remote. They'd be good there. He could watch them when he was going to sleep, make sure they were okay. He would be as a god unto them - this time, he could prove that he was dependable, a benevolent deity who wouldn't forget to feed them or change their water or get them a tiny UFO if they got tired of the diver.

Mulder wasn't really sure what was going on these days at all, but it felt like a start.

He turned on the radio and took the exit for home.