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It's a Cat's Life

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"It's…"

"A cat." Scully presents him the slightly chubby, definitely bored cat. It stares at him and Mulder is convinced it's a reincarnated Queequeg. The orange color is reminiscent of the small dog, as is the obvious contempt in the pet's eyes. He's not sure what's going to happen if he attempts to touch it, so he doesn't.

"Did you find it in front of my building? I think someone here has cats. Maybe it escaped." The cat is clean, looks well fed. He's seen at least two roam around the neighborhood. Not this one, though. It's still staring at him and Mulder squirms. As happily surprised as he was to see Scully, and as much as he wants her to come in and stay, he wants this cat to leave.

"Not exactly," Scully says and cradles the cat in her arms. It purrs loudly, making Mulder jealous. He's never been jealous of a cat before. But this one clearly enjoys having his head stroked by Scully, judging by the noises it is making. He wonders what kind of noise he'd make if Scully touched him like that. The tabby closes its eyes, snuggles closer into her arms. Mulder wants to do the same. "I brought him for you."

"It's a him?" Mulder asks, watching the cat lean its head into Scully's palm. He is not seriously jealous of a cat – is he? How ridiculous. Wait… did she just say what he thinks she said? "You brought it – him – for me?" Not once has he expressed a wish to own a cat. Not once. He doesn't want a cat, or any pet. Some days keeping the fish alive is an impossible task.

"He belonged to my mom's neighbor who passed away. My mom asked me if I knew anyone who would want a cat. I thought of you." Scully holds out the cat to him as if it were an offering. He doesn't want to hold it. He doesn't even want to touch it. Scully takes his hand and puts it on the soft, fluffy fur of the cat. Mulder forgets what he was thinking about.

"Oh." Is the only sound he makes. The cat eyes him suspiciously; Mulder is certain the hint of animosity between them is mutual.

"He's a good cat who needs a home."

"But why does it have to be my home?" His hand is still on the animal and he strokes it gently, not even thinking about it. The cat purrs, gazing with half-lidded eyes. Mulder finds himself smiling. "I have fish, Scully. What if he eats my fish?"

"Mulder, please? Just take him in. The fish are in their fish tank – how would he even get in there? If it doesn't work out, we'll think of something. Just consider him a very late or very early birthday present." The wink Scully gives him makes it all worth it. Almost. She's smiling softly as she waits for his answer. It's not like he has a choice here. He nods and just like that he's the brand new owner of a cat. Scully pushes his new roommate fully into his arms and Mulder watches her reach for two bags.

"This is everything he needs for now. We'll have to think of something he can scratch, but my mom says so far he's been fine. You two are going to have so much fun." She seems in a hurry to get away as if she's afraid he's going to change his mind.

"Does he have a name?"

"That's the best part, Mulder," Scully promises him, her smile forming into a grin. "That's why I knew he'd be perfect for you. His name is Foxy."

And Mulder regrets saying yes.

*

It's a little white lie. Tiny. Having a pet, a real one, is going to be good for him. Scully reiterates it all in her head as she leaves Mulder alone with the cat. When her mother invited her over for Friday dinner saying she had a surprise, Scully half expected one of her brothers to be there or a set-up for a date. But it was neither. Her mother opened the door with the cat in her arms, grinning from ear to ear.

"I didn't know you got a cat, mom," she said, taking off her coat, glancing at the cat.

"I didn't. This beauty belonged to poor Mrs. Hayden, my neighbor. She passed away last week and all her children cared about were the house and the money. No one wanted to take care of poor Foxy."

"Foxy?" At that moment Scully looked more closely at the cat, an orange tabby. The fur's darker shade, almost red, did remind her of a fox. Foxy was a fitting name. She smiled at the animal, stroking its soft, warm head and received a gentle purr in return. She thought of the other fox in her life and chuckled.

"I think he would be perfect for you, Dana."

"Excuse me?"

"You haven't had a pet since that little dog. What was his name?"

"Queequeg." She still missed him sometimes. With their work schedule, though, a dog was out of the question.

"Queequeg, yes. That little devil. You've always been happier when you've had a pet, Dana. I worry about you sometimes. You seem so lonely."

"I'm not lonely, mom." She turned away to not let her mother see that the comment hurt her. It made her think, too. Sure, she used to have more friends, went out more often. But that didn't mean she was lonely. She had her work. Mulder was a big part of her life. If someone were to ask her if she was lonely, the answer would be a no.

"I just worry, Dana. You know me," her mother chuckled, touching her back softly. Her mother had always hoped she'd marry, have a few kids, maybe a dog or two. Years later and there was no husband; there would never be any children. What her mother wanted for her now was to have a cat. Scully knew at that moment she wasn't ready for that either. She remembered Mrs. Hayden. The old woman had always had a cat or two, ever since she'd known her. She shivered, feeling cold. There was no way she'd take that cat home with her.

"Doesn't he remind you of someone?" Her mother interrupted her thoughts.

"You mean Mulder." Her mother's grin had been answer enough. Lately, she had made comments about her and Mulder. Had asked if maybe she should invite him for dinner, too. Maybe her mother had given up on trying to set her up with strangers she met at the church. Maybe she was now dead set on setting her daughter up with the only man who was already in her life. She had blushed at that point, seeing through her mother's plans.

"It's fate, don't you think? Fox and Foxy."

That's how, at the end of the evening, Dana Scully became a brand new cat mother. Or foster parent, as it turned out.

As she settled in with Foxy in her apartment, her thoughts drifted to Mulder. The cat was exploring his new home, walking around on tentative paws. A plan began to form in her mind and before she knew what was happening, she had packed all of Foxy's things and was on the way to Mulder's apartment.

Mulder needed companionship more than she did. That's how she reasoned, anyway. She isn't one for rash decisions; that's Mulder's domain. After dropping the cat off at his apartment, though, she feels a sense of pride.

Back at home, she finds a stray cat hair and smiles; Mulder will have to deal with those from now on. It's only been half an hour, but she wonders what he and Foxy are doing. Scully gets comfortable on the couch, her feet under her and dials the familiar number. It takes longer than usual before Mulder finally picks up.

"Yeah."

"Mulder, it's me."

"Are you calling to tell me you want your cat back? I agree."

"No," she chuckles. "I wanted to ask how you and Foxy are doing."

"Not well. I think he misses you. He refuses to eat. Is that normal? I've never had a cat, Scully." He sounds like a helpless boy.

"Just feed him and cuddle him, Mulder. I brought you everything he needs." Except for a cat tree. "How about we go and find a cat tree for him tomorrow?"

"Together?" His voice is hopeful. She hears Foxy meow in the background and she smiles.

"Yes, together. I'll pick you up in the morning. Give Foxy a kiss from me." Scully hangs up before Mulder can make a lewd comment. She takes a deep sigh and realizes that she's still grinning. This little cat is going to be good. For both of them.

*

Mulder feels like a kindergartner, all dressed up and waiting to be picked up. Foxy sits on his couch, licking himself clean before staring at Mulder with wide eyes. The cat has conquered his home. He may pay the rent, but the apartment belongs to Foxy Mulder now.

"Are you happy with yourself?" He doesn't expect an answer, shakes his head realizing he's talking to a cat. But the feline meows, glancing at him. "I thought about buying you a new toy, maybe. Or treats even. I'm not sure you deserve them." There's a knock on the door and Mulder opens it to find Scully in casual clothes. Or at least in clothes she herself considers casual.

"Morning," she says, her whole face lighting up. Something about her is different this morning. She doesn't wait until he invites her in and just walks past him to find Foxy. The cat meows loudly, sounds melodramatic as Scully coos and awws. "How have you been, little one?" Mulder is not used to hearing Scully speaking baby talk. He watches them a moment with a small smile around his lips.

"He's been fine," he answers with a sigh. His eyes are on the cat who, of course, looks perfectly innocent. "Unlike me. Scully, that cat is a monster."

"How can you say that? Look at that cute face."

"He only puts on that face for you. He's been using me as a scratching post all night." He rolls up his sleeves and shows Scully his battle wounds. He's put some cooling gel on it that he found in the bathroom, but it still stings and burns.

"Foxy did that?"

"Do you think I did it to myself?"

"No, of course not. We should get some ointment for those. We can pick it up after the pet store. Are you ready?" She looks him up and down. He's been ready for close to half an hour so he nods. Scully leaves a small kiss on the cat's head; Mulder just gives it a dirty look. Outside his apartment, he takes a deep breath.

"Being a cat owner is hard work," he says, meaning it. They used to have a dog when he was a child. Samantha always wanted a cat, but their mother was allergic. The dog was a compromise. It didn't take long for Samantha to lose interest so walking the dog was Mulder's job. The dog, a yellow Labrador named Molly, died when he was ten years old. Mulder cried all day, even though his parents told him it was silly. Samantha drew him a picture with herself, him and Molly. He kept it for years.

"You'll get used to it."

"Do I have to?" He had to empty the cat litter this morning. He doesn't want to get used to it.

"Don't you find him cute at all?" Scully gets into the car and looks at him. She wants him to like this cat. For whatever reason. And, he can't deny it, Foxy is cute. When he's not scratching him, that is.

"He is cute," Mulder admits and Scully nods. "He's just…"

"A pain in the ass sometimes?" She gets it! Mulder nods.

"I know someone like that, too."

*

The pet store is crowded. Families with children, couples holding hands and pet parents buying the essentials for their darlings. Mulder keeps close to her and Scully wonders if they look like a couple, too. They could be one. That line of thinking, however, is not sensible. She steers them towards the aisles with all things necessary and unnecessary for cats.

"Scully, what is this?" He holds up a rectangular, pink tube that looks like it doesn't belong in a pet store.

"It's a toy, Mulder." Though she's not sure that's true. She has no idea what it is.

"For cats or for humans?" He grins at her and she ignores him. All they need is a cat tree. There's a large variety on display and they all look huge. Scully inspects them, ignoring the price tags for now. "I really need to have a thing like that in my apartment?"

"If you want Foxy to stop scratching you, then the answer is yes." He sighs next to her, running his hand over the coarse fabric. "I'm just trying to decide which one to get."

"We should have brought Foxy here and have him check these things out for himself. He'll hate whatever we bring home. This is going to take up my whole apartment, Scully." She doesn't remind him – again – that it's only for his own good.

"How about this one?" She points at a tree and Mulder shakes his head. His expression is glazed over; his mind is occupied elsewhere. He's eyeing the toy section again. "Mulder, we need a cat tree." She winces; it's not them. It's him. Mulder needs a cat tree, because she gave him a cat. He turns to her and his look seems to be saying the same thing. She gave him that cat. That's the only reason they are here. Any minute now he's going to tell her she should take Foxy back, do with him whatever she wants. As long as the pet doesn't stay with him. But he surprises her.

"I guess that one over there wouldn't be too bad." Scully quickly turns, almost hurting herself in the process. It's one of the smaller trees and she can see it in Mulder's apartment.

"It's perfect."

No matter how hard she tries, she can't keep Mulder away from the toy section. She brought a whole bag of them when she dropped Foxy off but Mulder is on a mission. He picks a few and once he finds the treat section, it's even worse. But if she's honest, she can't deny that she's enjoying herself. Here they are, buying everything a cat could want – together. She blushes at that part, remembering the conversation she had with her mother. If she'd kept Foxy for herself, she would have come here alone. She prefers this way; Mulder is buying every treat imaginable, mumbling about whether Foxy would prefer fish or meat flavor.

"Are you a recent cat owner?" So lost in her own world that is only her, Mulder and the cat, Scully has not noticed the tall blonde walking over to them. Neither has Mulder. They both turn to her and Mulder grins stupidly.

"Is it that obvious?" They both giggle like schoolgirls.

"I remember when I got my Tobey – what's your cat's name?"

"Foxy," Mulder answers.

"What a cute name!" The blonde takes a step closer. Scully wonders if either of them is aware that she's here, too. Jealousy rages in her blood and she tries to calm herself down by taking a deep breath.

"I didn't pick it," Mulder admits with a sheepish grin. "The cat was a gift." To Scully's surprise, Mulder puts his arm around her shoulder. She tries not to stiffen. The blonde finally looks over at her and blinks a few times. It's obvious that she's looking at their hands, searching for wedding bands.

"Oh, I see," she says, obviously disappointed. Mulder is a catch with or without a pet. "Have fun with your cat." She trots off again, searching for someone else who might be single.

"We will!" Mulder yells before she's disappeared behind a corner.

"I didn't know the pet store served as a singles club," Mulder says, relief obvious in his voice. His arm is still around her, their hips touching. Warmth shoots through Scully's body, but she doesn't want to move away from him.

"You didn't like her?" Scully jokes, hoping the answer is no.

Mulder throws her a look but doesn't say anything. He returns to the task of finding treats for Foxy, absent-mindedly talking to her about trying to teach the cat a few tricks. Scully listens, picks up her earlier thought process. How could she feel lonely when she and Mulder are out in a pet store on a Saturday? The only mystery to be found here is whether Foxy really needs all of this.

*

When they have to leave Washington D.C. for a case, Scully asks Mulder what he'll do with Foxy and whether she should ask her mother to come over and feed him. Mulder is too surprised to answer right away. Her mother? In his apartment? He thanks her but declines. His downstairs neighbor will check up on Foxy if they're gone for longer.
They end up being out of town for four horrific days. It's only on the plane ride home that Mulder remembers his cat at all. He turns to Scully who has fallen asleep, her head against the window. She's beat. He, too, is exhausted and can't wait to get home. There will be a cat waiting in his apartment and he finds that the prospect makes him smile. He hasn't spent that much time with Foxy yet but the little tiger is growing on him. Tiger fits him much better than Foxy ever did. But Mulder doesn't tell Scully that he's unofficially changed the cat's name to Tiger.

One Fox is more than enough.

Scully wakes right before they land. She stares at him with small eyes and he smiles to let her know that everything is all right. In many ways Scully is like a cat when she wakes up; uncertain where she is and grumpy that she has been woken up.

They are mostly quiet as they make their way to baggage claim. Scully yawns every now and then, never really waking up.

"Come on, let's go home. You look exhausted, Scully."

"I'll be fine. I just need 24 hours of sleep." He nods, understanding. He takes both their bags and carries them to his car to load them in the trunk. She settles in the passenger seat and is asleep again before they even leave the airport. He glances over at her every once in a while, just to make sure she's comfortable. She seems to be. Tomorrow is Saturday and he won't bother her. Not about the case, the reports or anything. She deserves a weekend off.

"Scully? Hey? We're here." This is the moment he hates the most: saying goodbye. Scully wakes slowly and stretches.

"Are we home?"

"You are," he says with a soft chuckle. "I'll help you with your bag." It's just because he wants a moment longer with her. She's standing on wobbly legs, shivering even though the night is mild.

"Thank you, Mulder. Drive safely." Each time she does this, he wants to lean over and kiss her. He never dares to go through with it. Her eyes grow wider, as if she's just thought of something. "Give Foxy a kiss from me," she says, her smile droopy.

"Hm, I don't know how you kiss." It's nothing more than a joke. At least that's what he aims for with his grin. But Scully has another idea. She gets on tiptoes and presses a soft, sleepy kiss against his lips.

"Now you know," she whispers. "Be sure to relay my message to Foxy." He nods in awe, still grinning.

"I hope you're not expecting me to kiss his mouth." Just the thought is too much for him.

"Goodnight, Mulder." She leaves him standing there, stupid grin and all.

Mulder's mood is excellent as he unlocks the door to his apartment, his thoughts on Scully and their kiss. She kissed him! It doesn't last long, though. His apartment looks like the scene of a crime. A feline crime. Glass crunches under his feet as he takes a few steps inside. That was his lamp. A plate he won in college. A frame. Someone must have been very, very angry.

"Hey Foxy," he says and feels dumb for expecting the cat to come to him, to even listen to him. The animal is nowhere in sight. "I know it was you, Foxy. Fuck, that name. Tiger, come on. Where are you?" He finds the cat perching on his cat tree. One of the few pieces of furniture he hasn't felt like destroying. He meows loudly at Mulder.

"Let me guess… you don't like being alone." Mulder reaches out to touch the cat and Foxy swats it away. "Hey now, come on." He tries again and this time the cat's claws get him, leaving deep red welts on his hand and arm. "Fine, I'm sorry!" Mulder has never apologized to a cat, has never even entertained the thought. And it seems like it's no use anyway. Foxy attacks him, keeps scratching at him as if he's gone insane. Mulder tries to get the cat off him, but the claws are stuck in his skin. Only when he squeals like a banshee does Foxy let go off him.

There's blood everywhere. Foxy, as if nothing has happened, licks his paws and stares at Mulder. Inspecting his battle wounds, he knows he's lost. Just like his now blood-stained carpet. He figures that his skin is more important- at least for now - and trots into the bathroom. He hopes to find the ointment Scully used on him the other day, but it's not in his cabinet. Of course not. His hands sting, so do his arms and his shoulders. Looking into the mirror, he realizes that Foxy has ripped his shirt, too. It's ruined.

"I never wanted a cat," Mulder mumbles as he takes it off, the cotton scraping against his skin painfully.

Back in the living room, Foxy sits on his cat tree and purrs. Mulder doesn't take his eyes off him, afraid of another attack. He picks up the phone and dials Scully's number. She picks up after three rings and is surprised to hear from him.

"Foxy tried to kill me."

"Don't be ridiculous, Mulder."

"I'm not. My apartment looks like a crime scene. I was wondering where you put the ointment you put on me the other day."

"It's in my bag."

"I kinda need it."

"Please don't tell me you want me to drive all the way to your place, Mulder. I'm tired."

"I can't leave this feline killer alone, Scully. He gets angry when he's alone." She's quiet for a long while, so long that Mulder wonders whether she's hung up the phone. Then there's a sigh and he knows she's coming over. "I'm sorry. I really am. But you brought this… thing here."

"He's just a cat."

"Wait til you see what he's done."

*

The first thing Scully notices when Mulder opens the door is that he's naked. From the waist up, that is. She's so taken aback that she doesn't see the blood right away.

"Come on in."

"Oh my god, Mulder." It's on his back. Deep welts, the blood now dark and dry. Scully reaches out to touch him, but he turns to her before she can and she gasps. His shoulders. His arms. He was right; Foxy must have attacked him.

"Foxy did that?" Mulder nods.

"He really hates being alone. Look at this." She takes in the rest of the apartment. It looks as if someone had broken in, wreaked havoc and left again.

"I had no idea he was capable of all this."

"Hmm. I hope you brought the ointment." Scully rummages through her bag without taking her eyes off of the chaos in Mulder's apartment. She hasn't seen Foxy yet.

"Did you… where is the cat?"

"He's in the living room, where else would he be?" It wouldn't have surprised her if Mulder had thrown the pet out. But then again that's not Mulder. She smiles at him sheepishly. "The ointment please, Scully. It really stings."

"We need to clean it first."

"You're staying?" He sounds surprised.

"Of course I am. You can't reach your back, can you?" She grins at him to loosen the atmosphere. His surprised expression turns into a soft smile.

"I could try."

"You're hurt enough as it is, Mulder. Let's get you cleaned up."

In the bathroom, Mulder sits on the toilet lid, looking miserable. She can't blame him. She cleans the wounds as carefully as she can muster. He winces now and then and she apologizes every time. She brought this cat into their lives, thought it would be a good idea to have Foxy live with Mulder. It was a mistake. She'll take the cat back to her mother and if she doesn't want him then he'll have to go to a shelter. It breaks her heart to think about it, but he can't stay here.

"You're awfully quiet, Scully."

"I didn't know Foxy would be so…"

"Rough?" Mulder chuckles. The cat trots into the bathroom and meows, wondering what all the fuss is about. He wiggles through Mulder's legs and leans against him, his own feline way of apologizing. To her surprise, Mulder starts petting him and Foxy purrs.

"I'll bring him back to my mother. Let her deal with him."

"You don't have to do that."

"I didn't mean for this to happen, Mulder. I thought it was a good idea. I thought…"

"You thought what?"

"I thought maybe you were lonely and Foxy could help with that."

"What makes you think I'm lonely?" Scully doesn't answer and applies the ointment to his shoulders. He's warm under her touch, strong and solid.

"I just thought some company would do you good."

"I have you, don't I?" She's glad she's working on his back and he can't see her face. There has never been any indication that Mulder is feeling lonely. She's been projecting; she's the one who is lonely. The feeling washes over her, as if a dam has broken. She's lonely, just like her mother said. Tears well in her eyes as she admits it to herself, finally. Her mother wanted her to have this cat because she saw something Scully herself has not allowed herself to see or feel. She didn't want a cat, still doesn't. What she wants is the whole package. Days like going to the pet store, giggling over silly toys is what she wants. She wants the man, the house and yes, maybe a cat. Or a dog. If she can't have it all, why settle for less? What she really wanted when she brought Foxy here was to have an excuse to spend more time with Mulder. How is she only realizing it now?

"I was doing this all wrong," she admits, her hand stilling on his shoulder for the moment.

"Doing what all wrong?" He attempts to turn his head, but Scully stops him by putting her hand on the back of his head. She doesn't want him to see her tears. She squeezes out another dollop of ointment and applies it to the wounds on his neck and his shoulders.

"This."

"It feels good."

"No, I mean giving you the cat. I shouldn't have done that."

He shrugs. "I like the little guy when he's not trying to kill me."

"Do you know why my mother wanted me to take him?" Mulder remains quiet so she goes on. "She said I was lonely. I wanted to prove her wrong. I didn't realize she was right. Padgett said the same thing about me."

"He didn't know you, Scully."

"No, he didn't. But he was right about that." Yet she told him that loneliness is a choice. It is. She chose to keep Mulder at arm's length. Still chooses it, every day. It hurts less if she doesn't take the last, final step. They almost took it a year ago, before the bee stung. She absent-mindedly rubs her neck, as if it were itching. This past year they've been inching closer towards something that's more than friendship. Until Diana came back, making her doubt everything. So she chose loneliness. Again. The best of both worlds, she assured herself. But now she realizes she's got nothing.

"Are you lonely?"

"I am," she says. Saying the words is a relief, even if her next breath is shaky. "But-"

"Is it because of me? Did I-"

"Mulder, no. I chose this. I chose this life – I will always choose it. There's just something…" This time she hopes he'll turn around. It takes a moment, either because he needs to brace himself or because he's worried she doesn't want him to. Just as she's about to ask him to please look at her, he turns. The red welts all over him and the small, white dots from the ointment ridicule the situation. Seeing him like this makes her realize how much she loves him. It's as logical and as obvious as anything she's ever thought.

"What is it?" he asks, like she hoped he would. She knows what she wants to say and what she needs to say. All she needs is his help. They've always been a team and she can't do this alone.

"I thought- or, I didn't think. I hoped by giving you Foxy we could… that we could become more… than we are." He processes her words; she can see the wheels turning in his mind.

"When you said Foxy was a very late or very early birthday present, you weren't just copying my words." He gives her a big, fat grin full of happiness. "You meant it the same way I did." Tentatively, Scully nods. They're bad at this, both of them. But at least they're in this together.

"I wish we could have done this less painfully." He winces as he moves his shoulders. Scully touches him gently, stroking his skin. That at least makes him smile.

"I'm sorry, Mulder. I didn't-" he doesn't let her finish and hugs her middle. It's a desperate hug, clingy. She hesitates for just a second before she puts her arms around him, mindful of his wounds. She winds her fingers through his hair, marveling at how soft it is. It could have been so easy. It could have been like this from the start.

"You smell amazing, Scully," he mumbles into her shirt, his breath and lips warm even through her clothes.

"I'd say the same, but you smell like antiseptic ointment." They both laugh. It's a new beginning.

*

For the first time ever Scully stays the night. It's late and she's tired so it just happens. She jokes that she wants to keep an eye on Foxy, but they both know she wants to stay. Mulder wants the same.

They snuggle on the couch, another first, and Foxy comes to look at them, sniffs them out. When he seems content with who he finds there, he stays close to them on the back of the couch, purring on occasion.

"What are we going to do with him?" Scully asks. There's no way either of them can keep him. Not when the cat freaks out every time Mulder leaves him alone for longer than a few hours. But he's grown to love the chubby tabby.

"I don't know," he says honestly, daring to touch Foxy. The cat opens his eyes, just checking, and closes them again. How can this be the same cat who scratched him half to death? "We need to find a home for him." It's them. It's as if Foxy belongs to both of them now, just like that.

"We do," she says, her voice sad and reluctant.

"We'll find him a good home, Scully. Somewhere where he gets all the company he needs. He won't be lonely." She turns in his arms, looking up at him. They've barely kissed. Just a few pecks here and there, like children. He wants to kiss her, really kiss her.

"Are we ever going to get this right?"

"Finding Foxy a home?" She shakes her head and Mulder understands.

"We can try."

"Let's try."

And then, finally, their lips meet in a first firm kiss.