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A Perfect Christmas by rac

Title: A Perfect Christmas (in three parts)
Author: rac
Email:
Website: http://enook.net/hl/rac/rac.htm
Archive: yes, using these header notes
Rating: NC-17 for adult sexual situations.
Notes: Some stories just aren't meant to have the story told in toto by using a ton of warning and summary notes, and this is one of them. So, I've included none of the usual ones. I will say that this story is post-Requiem, so consider everything up to that ep fair game. And you'll see the following characters within, in order of appearance: Mulder, Scully, Doggett and Skinner. There's even a mention of LGM. Plus a small OC. And there's both het and slash relationships included.
Otherwise, sit back. Relax. There is nothing wrong with your computer monitor. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can change the focus to a soft blur, or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to... The Outer Limits.
Uh....whoops. Wrong show. Plus it's a tad melodramatic. Heh :-)
I'd love to hear feedback. Thanks :-)


A Perfect Christmas
by rac / November 2000

***

It looked like a Currier & Ives painting.

A fire crackled merrily in the fireplace, and candles and decorations crowded the mantle above. Dangling from the edge were five velvet and satin stockings, some of their booty already plundered. A large Douglas fir stood in front of wide picture windows, the centerpiece of the room. Nearly nine feet tall, a thousand lights of all colors twinkled brightly, reflecting off glass balls and tinsel strewn carefully amid the branches. A glittering gold and white angel spread her wings over the top of the tree.

The floor beneath the tree lay strewn with toys of all varieties, no rhyme or reason to their nature. Some were meant for preschoolers, others for older children, some traditionally for girls, and others for boys. On top of tables and chairs, neat piles of the adults' gifts sat tidily: folded new clothing, small boxes with treasures, CD's stacked up, a piece of electronic equipment here and there.

Traditional Christmas music played softly in the background, guitar with orchestra. The house was redolent with the scent of pine and cinnamon, a homey, warm contrast to the cold weather blowing outside. Seen through the windows, snow still came down, although less vigorously than before. Bare oak and maple branches sported a new layer of white; fir and pine branches swayed heavily downward from the weight of snow. The world outside was white, white houses, white roads, white ground; even the electric lines dipping down between each wooden pole carried an inch of white on top.

A tall man and a diminutive woman stood together, his arm around her shoulders, looking out the front door at the lamp-lit winter scene.

"Oh, Mulder. I can't tell you how wonderful this is, having you back, celebrating the holidays with you. It's...it's made everything complete."

"Yeah, Scully." He squeezed her shoulder. "Some days, I didn't think I'd make it, but dreams of being here got me through the past three years."

"Daddy, Daddy." A small child ran out from the den, flyaway dark auburn curls bobbing over turquoise eyes and a distinctive nose. "You said we go sledding."

Mulder turned and reached out his hands, letting the child take the initiative to hop into his arms. "You're right, I did. But see?" He turned back to the window in the door. "The light's all gone outside, and it'd be too dangerous to go sledding in the dark. Do you think you can wait 'till tomorrow morning after breakfast?"

The child frowned deeply, staring hard at Mulder from inches away. "The snow still be there tomorrow morning?"

Mulder nodded solemnly. "Uh-huh. Maybe even more, if it keeps snowing."

Gears turned and a decision was reached. "Okay. But I wanna play 'puter. Unca Water said he's too...too...de-mor-al-ized to play anymore, and Dog says he's 'too wise to me'."

Scully snorted laughter, trying not to be too loud.

"Daddy, what's de-mor-al-ized?"

Scully threw up her hands and backed away at Mulder's beseeching look. "This is when she's all yours, Mulder. My genes certainly didn't have anything to do with her early precociousness."

Mulder let the child slide down his legs to the floor and grasped her hand, leading her back to the kitchen. "Let's go get some more dessert first. I feel an acute need for more sugar and caffeine."

Scully watched them go, small hand in large, and bit her lip at the overwhelming sense of gratitude swamping her. Mulder was home...she needed no other gift for the holiday. Her daughter's father and her best friend was back. Sensing eyes upon her, she turned and found John Doggett leaning in the hallway, watching her.

"You okay?"

She nodded and gave an embarrassed laugh, wiped at her eyes. "Yes, yes, I'm fine. Just fine."

Doggett held out an arm and Scully turned to lean into his warmth. His arm came around and pulled her in. "A little overwhelming, I guess."

She nodded into his sweater wordlessly.

"He's...he's remarkably undamaged, considering everything," Doggett mused. "I don't know how he stayed sane for three years."

Scully sobered. "He won't talk much about it. In his case, I don't know if that's good or bad."

"Skinner told me he made Mulder talk about it during the last month, that's why he took time off and brought him out here, for the privacy."

"Yes. I guess it was good for him, he seems much more at ease than before. He insisted on having us here for a big holiday, with all the decorations."

"Makes sense to me. After all, for three years, he had no holidays, no family to celebrate with. He's got every right to go for it."

A stark picture of Mulder's childhood as he'd sketched it flashed in Scully's head: fear and simmering anger, suffocating silence. "Yes, he does. He has every right to have it all."

A comfortable silence settled between them. Doggett shifted and looked up, eyeing something overhead. "Why, Agent Scully, I believe that's mistletoe above your head."

Scully glanced up and grinned. "Why, Agent Doggett, I do believe you're right."

He caught her during the grin, lips curling up at the edges, white teeth glinting, and explored her laughing mouth thoroughly. Her powerful fingers gripped him, holding him close, not unlike her strength of will. Breaking away suddenly, he looked down at her, uncertain. "You okay with Mulder resigning? I know you'd always talked of his going back to the X-Files again."

Scully nodded, ran a finger along the throat of Doggett's sweater. She felt his pulse beat against her touch. "It's what he needs to do, John. He talked to me the other day, and I understand why. It...it was three years of his life, not a brisk walk in the park. It had to have changed him. We got him back, but...I don't think he'll ever be the same. He...he's okay, but he says he can't work at the Bureau anymore...he's got some significant gaps in his memory because of...his abduction. He says it compromises his ability to function as an agent."

Doggett nodded, frowned a bit. "How does Mulder feel about me having the Files now, with you permanently at Quantico?"

Scully gave him a luminous smile and leaned back in his arms to look out at the snow. "Mulder likes you. He said if I had to pick somebody as a husband and as a step-father to Missy, you'd do just fine."

"Yeah? I guess I should be honored by his stamp of approval," Doggett said dryly. "I know you lost your father years back, Dana, but you sure managed to gather a lot of territorial males around you to fill in." Too late, he caught the scowl on her face. "Not that you need protecting. That's not what I meant."

"Quit while you're very slightly ahead," Scully warned.

"Okay."

She eyed him. "Kiss me good enough again, and maybe I'll forget."

He complied, liking that plan. The kiss was long, deep and arousing. Scully ended up flat against the wall with Doggett pressed tightly against her.

Mulder stuck his head out of the kitchen in the middle of it. "Want me to put Missy to bed tonight?"

Scully and Doggett started, breaking the clinch. Scully turned red. "Mulder, make some noise next time."

"I thought you were doing enough of that between the two of you. So go on, move along. Go make noise in private upstairs. I'll put the munchkin to bed. I *am* her father, Scully."

"Mulder! I know you donated the other half of her DNA. Really. And it's a good thing you can claim that, or I might bop you."

Doggett grinned at Mulder as he followed a still-muttering Scully up the stairs.

Mulder grabbed the waiting tray from the kitchen table and headed back into the den.

"Hot chocolate," he announced. "And beer for those with no holiday spirit," he grinned at Skinner, handing him the bottle. "I almost put a couple marshmallows in your beer, just to liven it up."

Missy turned grave eyes on Skinner. "Here, Unca Water. You can have some a mine." She held out her hand with a few mashed marshmallows in it from the plate.

"Thank you, sweetheart. They're just what I wanted," Skinner assured her as he ate two of the mashed pieces and shot Mulder a narrow look.

"Did you pick out a book like I told you to?" Mulder asked Missy.

She nodded. "Uh-huh. Unca Water helped. He said to make sure 'n get a really long one, so you'd have a lot to read."

Mulder picked up Missy and settled down next to Walter on the sofa, cuddling Missy in his lap. "Unca Water can help read, too, can't he? Have a sip," he offered the cup of cooled-down cocoa for the child to sip from, "then we'll start to read about the Grinch. I think the Grinch is a relative of Unca Water's," Mulder whispered in Missy's ear.

Missy giggled, and curled up in her father's arms in her fuzzy, red, footed pajamas. "No, he's not. Grinch looks like those men you know, Daddy. Green, like what's inside." Missy blithely munched on marshmallows as Skinner looked at Mulder, stunned.

Skinner leaned forward. "Have you seen these men, Melissa?"

Missy nodded her head against her father's chest. "Inside Daddy's head."

Skinner couldn't believe what the child had intimated. "Mulder?"

*Later*, he mouthed, clearly unhappy. "Let's read that book now, okay?" He resettled the squirming child and opened the book to the beginning.

Mulder's voice rose and fell in a lyrical way, a wonderful soporific. Skinner thought he could sit and listen to him for hours; not so long ago, it was a sound he thought he would never hear again. He wanted to let Mulder's voice lull him to that place of quietude, but Missy's words kept intruding, ruining any sense of peace. Only by sheer dint of will did he manage to sit still until finally, Mulder let the book fall closed.

"She's finally asleep. I told Scully I'd put her to bed. They went up to bed earlier with a little private Christmas celebration in mind."

Skinner nodded silently, and Mulder considered. "Let me tuck the munchkin in, and I'll be right back down."

Skinner nodded. "We need to talk."

Mulder sighed. "Yeah."

***

It took no effort at all to carry the fuzzy red bundle up the stairs and into the second guest room. Missy barely stirred as Mulder rolled her beneath the covers, pulling the soft flannel and fleece up to her chin. He nuzzled into her soft curls and placed a kiss against her temple, smelling her sweet, young child-smell before standing back. She looked tiny in the queen-sized bed; it reminded Mulder rather abruptly how young and vulnerable she really was.

Warmth, sharp-edged and strong, flooded through him. Love, he realized. He loved her, this tiny bundle of humanity that carried many of the same genes he did. The first time he had felt it, it nearly bowled him over. Shocking and unanticipated--how could it have been otherwise? He had never experienced anything like it before.

With a fierceness often attributed only to mothers, Mulder swore to himself that he'd do anything--anything--to protect her. The realization left him a little dazed as he pulled the door closed, leaving it open a few inches.

How had he gotten to this place, he wondered as he loped back downstairs to another irreplaceable person in his life. An embarrassment of riches, riches he didn't deserve. But he knew he would do whatever it took to live up to it.

Snaring a bottle and two glasses, Mulder searched out Skinner and found him sitting in front of the fireplace in the darkened living room. Tree lights and flames were the only light, casting a magical glow over the room.

"Hey. You moved."

Skinner turned his head slightly, tracking Mulder's movements to the sofa. "Hey. Yeah. The fire, the tree, you know," Skinner said cryptically, gesturing toward the fireplace. "Nicer."

"Yeah. Here," Mulder poured and handed him a glass. "Thought we'd test out your gift from Scully."

Skinner grunted, and for priceless minutes, a comfortable silence lay between them as they sipped at the whisky, watching the logs crumble into glowing coals. When Skinner stirred and put down his glass, Mulder knew his respite was up.

"Tell me what Melissa meant, Mulder."

Mulder sighed, laying his head back against the cushions. "She's got the ability, Walt. It took them fiddling and doing God knows what to me to switch it on, but Missy has it naturally. Not like Gibson Praise, not anywhere near that perfected, but..." he shrugged. "It's pretty damn accurate when it happens. Right about now, we've got the ability just about equally, I'd say. Just...flashes, impressions, or the occasional clear thought. And not all the time, just...some times. No rhyme or reason to when, kinda like a loose wire that makes contact, completing a circuit, then it gets jarred away and it's gone." Long silence met Mulder's explanation. He turned his head and gave Skinner a worried look. "Say something, I can't read your mind right now," he joked weakly.

Skinner frowned fiercely at the fire, his knuckles turning white on both fisted hands. He spoke in harsh whispers. "I don't want to lose you or her. I don't want to risk those bastards coming back because of your ability. The thought that it might happen all over again, this time with two of you..." His jaw clenched. "I don't know how to protect either of you from that happening."

"Believe me, Walter, I don't want to go back, either," Mulder shuddered, and Skinner responded, turning and drawing Mulder's lean warmth back against his own, leaving them stretched out on the sofa together.

Skinner's arms tightened around Mulder. "We need a plan."

Mulder nodded. "I've talked a bit to the guys, discussed some ideas with them. You come, too, next time."

Skinner smiled crookedly. "Your three amigos?"

"Yeah," Mulder laughed.

Skinner sighed, and Mulder lay watching the lights on the tree in the warm, companionable silence.

Mulder turned his face into Skinner's chamois shirt, rubbing against the soft material and scratchy hair that sprang up where the shirt had come unbuttoned. "I like what I have here, Walter. I want to watch Missy grow up and live a normal life, surrounded by people who love her." He smoothed a hand absently down Skinner's arm. "I'm concerned about her, though. With her abilities, she'll have to be taught how to use them ethically and with control, so she doesn't cause chaos and freak people out."

"Good point." Skinner shook his head faintly. "I don't have a clue where to start with that."

Mulder sighed. "Since I'm not going back to the Bureau, it'll give me something to do once the holidays are over, doing the daddy thing with Missy. That, and coming up with a serious plan to keep those gray bastards away." No way was he getting anywhere near them...and risk losing all this.

Skinner ran a hand through Mulder's hair. "You think there's really anything we can do to keep them from taking you and Melissa again?"

Mulder heard the uncertainty in Skinner's voice. "I saw a lot during the last three years, Walter. I've got some ideas up my sleeve."

Narrowed brown eyes searched Mulder's for long seconds before Skinner's tense body relaxed next to his. "Okay," Skinner said simply before capturing Mulder's mouth in a swift kiss. "Time for bed?"

A smile slowly lifted the gloom from Mulder's face. "Yeah, sounds good."

Skinner slapped a hand on Mulder's bottom. "Take up the bottle and glasses. I'll turn everything off and lock up, be up in a few minutes."

"Okay." Mulder hopped up, collected their drinks and walked silently up the carpeted stairs.

He closed the master bedroom door behind him, placing the glasses and bottle carefully on a bedside table, and started to undress. He'd barely kicked his shoes into the closet and thrown all his clothes into the clothes basket when the door opened and closed again.

Skinner stood watching him with hooded eyes, his words low and gruff. "Nice look."

Mulder responded viscerally to the look in Skinner's eye, the tone of his voice, which always augured Skinner's state of mind more than any overt show of emotion. "Stop it," Mulder complained weakly as he disappeared into the bathroom, "you know how hard it is to piss with a boner."

"Hurry up." The directive sounded muffled, and through the door, Mulder saw Skinner's shirt go sailing across the room into the laundry basket.

Damn it. He inhaled at the sharp urgency spiking through him, tightening his abdominal muscles and causing his balls to pull up. "I think you do this on purpose, some sick sense of humor you normally keep hidden, a perverse desire to drive me crazy."

Skinner leaned against the doorjamb, naked and relaxed. "Need help? I'll hold it for you."

Mulder snorted. "Go away. Get the fire going and warm up the bed."

"Which fire?" Skinner smiled wickedly and disappeared.

Mulder listened to the sounds of the match striking and flaring, the soft woosh and crackle of flames catching in the tinder, the sound of comforter and blankets and sheets crinkling. Listening to the familiar, prosaic sounds of Skinner preparing for bed comforted Mulder in ways he could never put into words. It spoke to him of intimacy and belonging, two things more precious to him than gold.

Mulder finally emptied his bladder and ran the water at the sink, emerging from the bathroom by the light of flickering flames. "I swear if you do that to me again, Walt, I'm gonna do something dire." Skinner's grin was unrepentant, and Mulder warned, "Just remember, payback's a bitch."

The covers flew back. "Get over here."

The sheets slid cool and soft against Mulder's naked skin until a warm, hard embrace enveloped him. Skinner gathered him in, tangling them together from head to toe, smoothing long strokes down his back. Burrowing a hand into his hair, Skinner rubbed gently at his scalp, and Mulder sighed, a long, purring sound of pleasure.

"Oh yeah...that's good."

In response, Skinner trailed his mouth around Mulder's jaw, seeking and finding Mulder's mouth and taking it, at first gently, then deepening the connection, turning it quickly into a focused seduction. Smoothly, Skinner rolled them until Mulder lay straddling his length. "This what you want?" Skinner murmured. He moved slightly, nestling their erections together in the heat between their bodies.

Mulder couldn't resist and his hips surged forward. "Yeah, let's do it."

Skinner began a slow, gentle, pleasant motion...and after a minute or so, it dawned on Mulder that he wanted to scream. He frowned and pulled back. "Hold on, wait--wait a minute."

Skinner stopped immediately. "What? What's wrong, Fox?" Anxiety carved lines in Skinner's face.

"Nothing's *wrong*, just..." Mulder sighed, perversely annoyed. "Listen, Walter. I've been back a couple months now, and all this careful, hesitant sex is starting to get old. You look at me like you want to eat me alive, but when we get in bed, you're as aggressive as a kitten. I'm not fragile, I'm not going to freak out if you get a little rough or let go."

Skinner stilled at Mulder's frustrated words. "Mulder, I--"

"Don't bother denying it." Mulder leaned up on stiffened arms, his hands flat against the bed on either side of Skinner's body. "I know you're afraid to do something that might trigger a bad memory or a negative reaction in me. For a while, I thought it was sweet," he grinned at Skinner's grimace, then the grin faded away. "And for all I know, maybe I did need it, maybe I would have had a bad time otherwise. I don't know, nobody's ever been concerned for me like this," Mulder admitted painfully.

Skinner looked both uncomfortable and concerned in equal measures. "Fox--"

"Shut up, Walter," Mulder interrupted gently. "I want to get this out. I know you've been holding yourself back all this time. You're not giving yourself free rein to do everything you want, to get everything you need."

"Hold it right there." In a swift move, Skinner swept Mulder's hands from the bed and had him flat on his back in two seconds, peering down at him. "I have everything I need right here. I'm concerned about you, hell yes. And yes I'm cautious about this. Damn it, Mulder, you can't even tell me everything that happened to you, you can't remember it all. How the hell do we know what's going to trigger something negative or not? The last thing I want is to have you suddenly freak out on me because of something I do. Hell, *I* might be permanently traumatized if you did."

Mulder grinned crookedly at Skinner's fierce expression. "I think you're the crazy one in this relationship."

"Yeah, well, tough shit. You're stuck with me, warts and all."

Something light and pure moved through Mulder. He steadied himself with a hand flat against Skinner's chest, absorbing his warmth and the vibrations of his beating heart. When he spoke, his voice wavered. "I like your warts, Walter. They turn me on."

The stark clarity of emotion Skinner emitted staggered Mulder, and he pulled Skinner down, hiding away from his vulnerable brown eyes. Mulder buried his face against Skinner's warm neck, happily surrounded by his musky-sweet smell. "I'm okay," he breathed in Skinner's ear, "I'm okay. I'm here, I'm not broken. Don't make me see myself as damaged, Walter. I'm not fragile and I'm not crippled; I can give you anything you need."

Mulder's hands tightened suddenly around Skinner's shoulders and head. "I know what you need," he whispered harshly. "I know you'd like to tie me up, make sure I can never get away from you again. You'd feel safe seeing me tied spread-eagle on the bed, wouldn't you? Knowing I could go nowhere, making sure I couldn't leave you."

Mulder felt Skinner's hot breath stutter out shakily and he pushed on. "I left you, and it scared you and made you angry. You want to know I'm here, you want to know I'm yours for the taking. You want me bound and waiting for it, so you can have me whenever you want...do it," Mulder said, his mouth and nose hard against Skinner's ear and cheek, reveling in the sharp dig of Skinner's fingers where they latched on to Mulder like steel. "Do it now. Fuck me so hard and so deep you can't tell where I end and you begin. Come on, Walter, I'm waiting."

With a groaning rumble, Skinner pushed Mulder away with some strength. "What the hell are you trying to do?" he growled.

Mulder stared at him through slitted eyes. "Trying to make you lose all those damn reins with me."

A sheen of sweat glowed on Skinner's forehead. "You're reading--"

"Shut up, Walter," Mulder taunted. "Just do it, do it to me. I want it."

They lay staring at one another for long moments, an almost tangible struggle vibrating in the air between them.

"Stubborn bastard."

"Yeah, that's me." Mulder couldn't tell if Skinner's muttered words were fond endearment or angry curse; maybe a little of both. Something heated flashed in the depths of Skinner's eyes, reflected in the set of his full mouth, and Mulder's blood sped up in a sudden, empathic frenzy. Erasing the distance Skinner had put between them, Mulder leaned over and placed his forehead on Skinner's, scraping noses before staring eye to eye. "I'll beg if I have to. Whatever it takes."

"No." Skinner drew in a long, deep breath and let it out slowly. "No, don't. I don't want you begging for anything. That's..."

Distress moved through his eyes, and Mulder felt it. "What?" He stroked a finger over the soft skin at the back of Skinner's neck, feeling the short hair bristle as he ruffled through them.

Skinner's unease didn't disappear, and he pulled Mulder's face down, wrapping his arms tightly around him. "You've been through enough hell, Mulder. I won't fail you again."

Mulder lifted his head to press his mouth to Skinner's, saying everything he couldn't say out loud with an easy, wet slide of lips and tongue. "You haven't--"

Skinner swallowed up Mulder's words with his mouth. "No, I haven't. But I can rectify that." With a smooth, slow maneuver, he turned Mulder over onto his stomach. Before Mulder could protest, Skinner straddled him, hands soothing over his shoulders and back. Kisses led a shivery trail down his spine. Skinner punctuated each kiss with a soft lick of his tongue, and as he licked across the top curve of Mulder's buttock, Mulder moaned, a shiver of anticipation sparking through him.

Skinner's large hands kneaded his bottom, rhythmically parting then closing his cheeks. When they parted next, Mulder felt the wet tickle of tongue against him and thought he would incinerate from the heat of lust that blasted through him. He nearly screamed, vaguely remembered something about house guests and buried his face into the mound of pillows to muffle his outburst. "Yeeeessss."

Skinner shifted his hold and angle and settled in for a long go at it, and Mulder knew he'd died and gone to heaven. He moaned like a banshee from the pleasure overload, and surprised himself by nearly dislodging Skinner when the shudders wracked through him.

Teeth lodged into one cheek, then the sharp sensation was swept away with a swipe of Skinner's tongue. "I take it this is more what you wanted, then?" Amusement tinged every word, and Skinner's breath gusted over damp skin in the crease of Mulder's buttocks.

***

Mulder couldn't hold back the shudder of pleasure that coursed through him, nor the moan accompanying it. "C'mon, Walter, do it. Now. Want it, want you--" His words ended in another moan as Skinner played with him, using a finger. "Now, yeah. Ah, please..." He strangled on the words as a finger slid into him, playing, loosening him, reducing him to mere noises again.

The bed dipped as Skinner shifted up to his knees, and Mulder willingly rose to his when Skinner grasped him on either thigh. He felt Skinner's hard length slide against his leg, slick with lube, as Skinner bent down to nuzzle him.

"Okay?"

"Oh yeah," Mulder breathed. He sucked air in as Skinner's hard, slicked skin pressed against him, and tensed automatically at the intrusion. Then air and tension whooshed out together as a finger unexpectedly rimmed him, rubbing his tightly stretched skin with teasing movements. Mulder cried out, shoving back convulsively against the stimulation. Skinner popped past his sphincter suddenly and filled him, sliding slowly and inexorably home up to the root.

Skinner pressed down over Mulder's back, wrapping himself around him and warming him, pausing as Mulder tried to relax his tense muscles. Skinner's weight and heat surrounded him, inside and out; Skinner's scent filled his nose. Mulder felt the heavy, fast beat of Skinner's heart pressed tightly against him. It was more than memories had shown him, much more than he had expected. Emotions flooded him, confusing and jumbled, and he stifled a rising sob, not wanting Skinner to hear.

Skinner eased into a slow movement, still wrapped tightly around Mulder. He felt pressure and fullness, and then discomfort quickly transformed into a bright pleasure. He thrust back, wanting more, and Skinner laughed and tumbled them flat on the bed. They curled together on their right sides, Mulder's left leg draped over Skinner's, while Skinner entered him from behind.

"You're so damn tight," Skinner muttered. "Cherry all over again." He plucked at Mulder's nipples briefly before wrapping his hand around Mulder's cock, thumbing the head and spreading the leaking moisture over its swollen length. "I think I could stay buried in you like this for the next twenty-four hours without stopping."

Mulder moaned deep in his chest, writhing between Skinner's cock and hand. "I think if you don't start doing some serious fucking here, I'm gonna explode without you."

  "You want it harder? Faster?" Skinner murmured, and thrust deep. "Like this?

Skinner's words ran through Mulder like electricity. Skinner matched his movements to them, and the bright pleasure that hummed in Mulder rose sharply now, blinding him. It expanded inside until it took over; it was everything. He heard Skinner growling in his ear, and Mulder felt Skinner's pleasure intersect with his, bright red to his yellow, swirling together, drowning out everything else. All he knew was the ecstasy, the sound of his own voice crying out in his head. Ah, Walter...

When the fog lifted, Skinner lay still, breathing heavily in his left ear, the man's arm a solid weight across his chest. The stretched, still-full sensation he felt told him they hadn't moved apart yet. Mulder's own semen had splattered his belly and chest, and threatened to dribble onto the sheets. Lazily, he swiped at it, idly thinking about cleaning up.

Behind him, Skinner moved slightly. Mulder felt a wet mouth on his ear as Skinner rumbled deep in his chest. "You okay?"

Skinner moved again, and an absurd emotional response welled up in Mulder as they separated. "Yeah," he said huskily. He followed an impulse and rolled over, plastering himself against Skinner. "Yeah, I'm good. That was...good." It sounded horribly inadequate, but he couldn't manage anything else at the moment. He tried to make up for his lack of words with his kiss.

Skinner pulled back after some time, chuckling. "Whoa, down, boy. This old man needs a lot of recovery time." Skinner kissed him hard and fast, then leaned their foreheads together as he kneaded the back of Mulder's neck. "Maybe it was ridiculous, but I was concerned...you know...our first time since you were away," Skinner explained quietly.

"Yeah." First time. That damn emotion welled up in Mulder's throat, and he couldn't speak, so he buried his face against Skinner's chest, letting the sound of Skinner's heart and the warmth of his body sooth him until it settled. Then he became aware of the stickiness on his own chest, now smearing onto Skinner from their embrace. "Let me get a washcloth before we're glued together."

Mulder slid out of bed, grateful for the fire warming the room. Getting a towel and a cloth soaked in hot water, Mulder sat on the edge of the bed and carefully cleaned off Skinner's body, then patted him dry. Mulder pulled the covers over him as he lay back on the pile of pillows, drowsing, watching Mulder with warm, affectionate eyes.

"You'll spoil me this way," Skinner said humorously.

Mulder barked a laugh, eager to lighten the mood and regroup from the overwhelming, confusing intensity of emotions he'd felt earlier. "Fat chance. You're the one who's been waiting on me hand and foot for a month. Let me do something for a change." From the bottle he'd brought up, Mulder poured a finger of whisky into Skinner's glass. "Here. Relax. Recoup your energy so we can do that again later, while I go...stoke the fire," Mulder grinned and waggled his eyebrows, feeling high.

He started to stand up, but Skinner's hand curled around his wrist. Skinner sat up, the covers falling down to his waist, his skin gleaming a golden shade in the firelight.

"Fox." Skinner trailed his hand up Mulder's arm and cupped Mulder's cheek.

Mulder's heart lurched at Skinner's tone.

"I love you," Skinner said with quiet conviction.

A heated flush swept through Mulder at the unexpected pronouncement. Such soulful brown eyes on such a masculine man, Mulder thought. They really are ridiculously beautiful.

Skinner's hand tightened in Mulder's hair. "I'm so damn grateful you're back, and I sure as hell don't want to fuck this up. It's so easy to do. I know, I've done it before. This time...this time, I don't care how awkward or uncomfortable the words are, whatever needs to be said or discussed, I'll do my best. Okay?"

Anxiety edged Skinner's eyes, and Mulder found himself unable to reply because of the lump in his throat. He nodded solemnly and swallowed, trying anyway. "Yeah," the words came out ragged. "I...I love you, too, Walter." He hid his face in an embrace. "I'm such a damn lucky guy." Mulder squeezed Skinner in a painfully tight hug, then slipped away before Skinner could stop him again. "Let me go clean up."

Mulder slipped into the master bathroom, his heart pounding as if he'd been running for miles. A flick of a dial turned the lights on low. Hundreds of reflections of his body sprang to life in the mirrors on the walls. With brisk motions, he wet another washcloth and scrubbed at his own chest and stomach, washing away the evidence of his own pleasure until his skin glowed red from his brisk treatment.

He threw the used washcloths and the towel into the hamper and turned back to the mirrors, mesmerized by what he saw. He placed a hand on his chest and felt the fast thump-thump of his heart.

I've done it, he thought. I've bound myself irrevocably to this man, to that young child, to this life. There's no going back, none at all.

I swear I will never go back.

The star-shaped scar on his shoulder mocked him silently. Scars saving lives...amazing how plastic surgeons get paid thousands to take away scars, yet they can be just as good at creating them.

He turned his head slightly to one side. Farther up on his neck, a dark mark nestled under his ear, hallmark of the lovemaking session he'd just engaged in for the last hour. The ties that bind, he thought. But no chains or ropes are as strong as the intangible tie of love, the most elusive and precious of human emotions.

Hesitantly, Mulder reached up to his shoulder and felt the small striations of scar tissue fanning out from the main wound. A wound inflicted under strange circumstances. A wound inflicted to keep a life alive...and in an unexpected way, it had saved his.

By keeping Fox Mulder alive, he had been saved.

Now he was here, in this lush home in the Shenandoah Valley, part of the family he had never had. He loved and was loved; he knew what it meant to be cherished and valued and the thousand and one things that other humans took for granted, but he never had taken them for granted, no--he'd never had them at all. How could take them for granted?

He knew it would be a cold, cold day in hell before he'd give all this up and go back to that life, go back to that place.

The place where he had lived for the last forty years.

He looked in the mirror at himself, and another face superimposed itself over his own. Two faces, two men, the exact same sad eyes and haunted lines. He had spent three years together with the Other, with One. He'd learned so much from One, so much. In three years of talking himself hoarse, reliving memories and trying to keep his hope alive, the Other had helped him live a lifetime: the other's lifetime. The other's childhood, his family, his school, his university, his work, his lovers. The other's life. A complete life to fill in the empty spaces that had been him.

A life now his by default. Memories now his by default. A child to love and help raise. A lover to hold. He looked down at his splayed hands, saw the strength in his wiry fingers. He would hold on to these things with his very soul, because now he had a soul. And for nearly forty years, he had not.

The Other, his beautiful, obstinate, rebellious twin, had gifted him with life in his one last act of defiance. After three years, the Other had looked on him with pity in his weary eyes and told him that he had to try to escape, even at the risk of death; the Other knew what he was missing, even if his poor, pitiful lab-created twin brother did not.

The One who sought freedom with such longing had found it in death, and the Second, who had not known to even seek it, had freedom fall into his lap...and since living it, he hadn't looked back. He was Fox Mulder now, not M-2, the Consortium's control in the Mulder-gene experiment. He had assumed an irrevocable responsibility to M-1 that his keepers hadn't foreseen: to cherish M-1's life. Take care of his family and his loved ones and never, ever, see them harmed, no matter what his keepers had told him before turning him loose. His allegiance now was to his brother and his brother's family, not to the distant, non-caring and clinical beings who had raised him all these years.

Yes, he would see that Fox Mulder lived on...but for his own reasons, not those of his keepers. He had learned one stark truth bonding with his brother: love is necessary for life. Where love is, the fullness of life flourishes...and where love is not, life is twisted and shriveled and dying. Through fate, he had inherited Fox Mulder's life; he would live it to the best of his abilities, and try to banish the twisted darkness that threatened all life, just as his brother had died trying to do. In him, the spirit of Fox Mulder would never die.

A presence brushed past his mind long seconds before he heard the covers on the bed rustle. Swiftly, Mulder composed his face and busied himself at the sink.

Skinner slipped in the door, and immediately, heat and warm earthiness enveloped him as Skinner wrapped arms around him from behind. "Everything okay?"

Mulder looked at their reflection in the mirror, his own slightly underweight slenderness enveloped in Skinner's more muscular embrace. He wondered briefly if One had truly appreciated what he'd had in his life: his friends, his lover, the ties that bound them to him, and him to them. A darkness passed over his face as he thought of how his brother had risked and found death in attempting to get back to this.

Yes, he'd known. He definitely known.

Mulder turned around, slid his arms around Skinner's waist and burrowed into his warmth. "Yeah. Just thinking."

"Dangerous habit," Skinner said, then cajoled, "Come back to bed. This old man needs his sleep, and I have a feeling you will, too, if Missy is anything like my niece. Woke up at dawn each morning, raring to go."

Mulder grimaced and turned off the lights, following Skinner out of the bathroom. He climbed into bed by firelight, automatically rolling over and spooning up behind Skinner. He had discovered he liked to sleep with his head either on Skinner's chest or curled up with his ear against Skinner's back...like a baby, he felt comforted by his heartbeat. Like a magical talisman, Skinner's heartbeat kept the nightmares--a trait of his brother's he now suffered from--away.

"I have to admit, I like this new you." The words sunk in, but before Mulder panicked, Skinner explained. "Ever since you came back...you're more tactile. Much more. Not that you weren't before, just...well, I like this new cuddly you."

Long seconds passed by before Mulder tightened his arms. "You're not the only one who needs to know I'm not going anywhere, Walt."

"Damn right."

Yes, damn right. He was alive and well and, possibly for the first time in his monotonous life, felt disgustingly alive and happy. All of Mulder's friends and family were content and happy to have the man they loved safe at home. For the man known as Fox Mulder, it had almost been a perfect Christmas.

~~fini~~

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