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Bizarre and Inexplicable (So Basically, a Wednesday)

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Federal Bureau of Investigation
X-Files Office
8:35AM

"Mulder? It's me."

Scully's voice pierced through the insulating cardboard boxes and cobwebs of the back closet. "Be right out, Scully," he called. Louder, he added, "Don't get near--"

"Mulder? Did you know there was a--"

He cut her off emphatically. "Yes, I know. Don't touch it! I'll be right there." He yelped as he stubbed his toe on something definitely not made of cardboard and grabbed the butterfly net from the back shelf.

As he came around the corner, he gave a regretful thought to how he might look. He brushed some dust from his Pac-Man-patterned tie, ruffled god-knows-what out of his hair, then sighed and took a firmer grasp on the net handle. No point in cleaning himself up now. Scully had seen worse and there was an infestation to eradicate.

He came to an abrupt halt. "Scully, what are you doing? I told you not to touch--"

She glanced up from her palm, where an oddly colored mouse, with even more oddly colored eyes, was perched. The mouse glanced over at him too. Scully looked delighted. The mouse looked disapproving.

"Mulder, it's adorable," she said. "Have you decided to branch out from fish?"

"No!" He raised the net. "It was on the desk… *chittering* at me when I got here this morning. Scully, that thing could be carrying all sorts of diseases. Put it down."

"I think it's domesticated, Mulder." She peered down at the mouse, who peered back at her and squeaked. "Wild mice and laboratory mice don't particularly like humans. They like our food, but prefer not to have anything to do with us. I'm not even sure…" She stroked the top of the mouse's head with a gentle finger. "This animal doesn't behave much like Mus musculus at all. And it certainly has unusual coloring."

Mulder eyed the fluffy red hair and pale blue eyes -- on the mouse -- and grimaced. "Exactly, Scully. It looks like a mutant. How did it get here? Or more likely, who put it here?" He frowned as the mouse turned in Scully's palm and started chirping at him again. "And what the heck does it want?"

"Well right now, it probably wants food and water."

"I don't have any mouse food, Scully, and-- And we are not keeping that thing!"

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Federal Bureau of Investigation
X-Files Office
9:19AM

Mulder leaned back in his chair and eyed his desk. The mouse was busily, and, Mulder thought, rather pointedly, ignoring everything but the sunflower seeds scattered around it. Cracked shells were piled next to the cup full of pencils and the mouse was making happy, crunching noises. Who knew mice could be so loud? This one sounded like Scully with a plateful of barbecue in front of her.

"How is it doing, Mulder?" Scully called from the back of the office.

"Eating me out of house and office," he called back. "I'm going to have to stop on the way home and buy more seeds."

"So you're going to keep it after all?" Scully came around the corner carrying a mug and a teaspoon.

"No, I'm going to open a petting zoo." He paused, his sarcasm unappreciated as she sat down in her chair across the desk from him. "I don't think mice drink tea, Scully."

"This is water." She carefully lifted the spoon from the cup and placed it on the desk, with the handle propped on the edge of a videotape cassette.

Mulder thought of scrambling for the tape to turn it around so she couldn't see the title, which would probably send seeds, water, and mouse flying, then remembered which tape it was and relaxed. Scully would raise an eyebrow and smirk at him either way, but these days, he'd rather she do it for a tape titled, "Area 51 Revisited--Outtakes," than for the "Babes in Joyland" tape he had stuck in a drawer somewhere. Neither Scully nor the mouse needed to see that.

The mouse paused its enthusiastic crunching and looked up as Scully put down the spoon. It scampered over and ducked its tiny snout into the bowl of the spoon, lifted its head briefly to give Scully an adoring, wet-sounding chirp, then lowered its head again.

Scully gave Mulder a look that was probably just her being pleased by doing a kindness for a small, furry creature, but he perversely wanted to interpret it as, "Mulder, if I weren't here you'd still be hopping around the office with a butterfly net and a bad attitude and getting absolutely nowhere." And of course, she'd be right.

"So now what do we do?" he asked. Might as well admit he was stumped.

She looked thoughtful. "I'm not sure. We can't release it-- wait." The mouse had finished drinking and was quietly grooming its whiskers. Scully gently grasped its tail, ignored an indignant squeak, and glanced down. "We can't release *him* into the wild. He's much too tame for that."

The mouse looked up at her and gave a series of frantic-sounding chirps and squeaks.

"That's also very odd…" Her voice drifted off as the mouse turned around and squeaked some more at Mulder.

It gave a few emphatic hops across the desk to the grainy, black and white surveillance photos that prominently featured Krycek. Mulder had planned to analyze them this morning before getting derailed by unplanned pet ownership.

The mouse scrambled onto the stack of photos, turned around twice, then peed on Krycek's spiky hair. It moved over to the corner of the photo and ripped off a strip. Mulder said, "Hey!" and dropped his feet to the floor.

The mouse hopped off the photos and back to the sunflower seeds, then began to make a nest of shells and shreds of high-quality photo paper.

"It's odd, alright," Mulder muttered. With grudging appreciation for the mouse's pinpoint aim, he dabbed at the photo with the tissue Scully had rummaged from her purse. He wrinkled his nose and carried the tissue at arm's length to the trashcan at the back by the water cooler, high-pitched squeaking and chirping audible the whole way.

"Mulder, I think this mouse is trying to tell us something," Scully said.

"I think he's made himself perfectly clear." Mulder wrinkled his nose again and shifted the photos to a shelf by the desk

"It's very unusual for mice to look humans in the eye," she continued. "Rats will do that, but mice mostly ignore humans. This one is extraordinarily interactive." She glanced down at the mouse, which had snuggled into its impromptu nest and was sound asleep. "Um, when he's awake."

"Well, that brings us back to square one. How did he get in here? WHY is he in here? Is he…" The vague thought he'd had earlier reared back up. "Is he bugged?"

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Offices of The Lone Gunmen
Undisclosed Location
10:31AM

"Is he bugged?"

All three gunmen were looking down at the fluffy mouse in the Chinese takeout container, but it was of course Frohike who asked the most relevant question. Langly was still mourning that Mulder had not, in fact, brought them pork dumplings. Byers, after greeting them with, "Oh dear Lord, I am totally allergic to those things," was busy sneezing.

"We don't know," Mulder said, as he watched Scully hand Byers a tissue from her apparently inexhaustible supply. "That's why we're here."

"Come on, Mulder, you know better than that," Langly said, clearly grumpy. "If he is bugged, you brought them right to us!"

"He's a mouse! How bugged could he be?" Mulder said defensively. Langly had a point. He actually had Mulder's point, and Mulder didn't want to admit how ridiculous it sounded coming from someone else. "And who's them? Do you think Douglas Adams was right and he's the leader of a fluffy, pan-dimensional invasion force? He hasn't spelled out '42' in poop pellets yet, so we're probably safe."

"Poop…?" Frohike sounded nonplussed.

"Never mind!"

"You're as worried as we are," Byers pointed out, between sneezes. "Otherwise you wouldn't be here."

"Look, I just want to know if you can scan--"

"Do you perhaps have a MicroCT?" Scully interrupted. She looked around the cluttered office. "Or, um," She grimaced. "A grocery scanner?"

Frohike shot her an odd look. "Do we look like a branch of GW Hospital? Or a Safeway?" Then he looked embarrassed. "We actually have a mini-MRI, but Langly broke it trying to scan--"

"I did not!"

"Did too!"

"Stop!" Byers said, though it came out more like, 'Stob!' "For reasons we do NOT need to discuss--" He gave Frohike and Langly a quelling look. "We don't have any imaging equipment that works right now. What about your friend, Mulder, the guy with the--"

"Chuck?" Mulder looked annoyed. "He's in Venezuela."

Byers blinked. "Why?"

"He--" Mulder began, then reconsidered. Things were complicated enough. No time for *that* story. "Look. Can you help us or not? We have a suspicious mouse here!"

All five of them gazed down into the take-out container. The mouse gazed back. Mulder could swear its pale blue eyes narrowed. It started emphatically squeaking and chirping, then tried to hop out of the container.

Mulder exclaimed, "Whoa!" ("I did NOT squeak, Scully, no matter what you and Frohike say") and shut the flaps of the container. A series of small thumps made it shake in his hands.

"That's a bery bocal bouse," Byers said thoughtfully. The rest of them turned and stared at him. He blew his nose, then repeated, "That's a very vocal mouse."

"Well, I don't speak mouse, and I don't think anyone else here does either--" Langly started, then Frohike snapped his fingers.

"UHF," Frohike said meaningfully to Byers.

"Ah," Byers said, and nodded. He watched approvingly as Frohike went to the back of the office and started rummaging through a pile of dusty, mysterious equipment.

"Oh," Scully said. "Yes. That *might* work, though then again, it might just make things more complicated."

"Make what more complicated?" Mulder asked, as he watched Frohike approach carrying what looked like a Geiger counter. "Do you think the mouse is radioactive?" He lifted the takeout box by its wire handle and held it at arm's length, suddenly nervous.

"No. Well, I mean we could check that, but--" Suddenly Frohike looked nervous too. "Langly, get the Geiger counter, just in case." He looked back at Mulder. "This is an Ultra High Frequency converter."

He gingerly took the container from Mulder and placed it in the center of the worktable. They all waited while Langly switched on the Geiger counter, which helpfully gave a few disinterested background clicks when pointed in the direction of the mouse. "All clear."

Frohike turned on the UHF converter and said, "I think the lovely Agent Scully should do the honors of opening the box. The mouse looked pretty taken with her."

"Takes one to know one," Mulder muttered under his breath. "And what is that thing supposed to do?" he asked, much louder.

"Mice mainly communicate at very high frequencies," Scully said, as she carefully opened the box. They hear and speak-- er, vocalize at much higher frequencies than we do. It may be that the mouse *could* understand us, if it is in fact tame, and if it can actually hear us." She looked faintly embarrassed. "Well, at a very basic level, of course."

Mulder smirked. "Have I been working with Dr. Doolittle all along?"

She rolled her eyes at him and held up the microphone, then paused. "Um. Testing? One, two, three?"

The mouse leaped out of the container and landed on Scully's lapel. It clung there like a triumphant, furry brooch. Scully, to her credit, didn't move, just looked down at the mouse as it excitedly squeaked. She held the microphone to its tiny muzzle and a series of tones came from the converter, a rapid staccato much more complex than anything they'd previously heard.

Everyone, including the mouse, stayed still for a moment of expectant silence. Essentially at a loss and waiting for something to make sense, Mulder gave the mouse a tentative wave.

"Can you understand us?" Scully said hopefully.

The mouse replied with a rapid set of tones so high-pitched they could only hear them from the converter.

"Meep-meep?" Langly said, into the ensuing silence. Scully gave him a dirty look.

The mouse briefly closed its eyes. Then it hopped down from Scully's lapel and wearily trundled to the take-out container. It reached up, tipped the container on its side, and crawled in. The microphone picked up a faint sigh.

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Federal Bureau of Investigation
11:40AM

"Maybe we should try humming the 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' music to him," Mulder said, as they walked down the busy corridor.

Scully still looked aggravated at the professional-grade bluffing they'd had to do to get the mouse and the UHF converter through building security without getting both items confiscated. The ensuing gossip about Mr. and Mrs. Spooky and Spooky Junior would have been a nightmare.

"I'm surprised you haven't suggested getting a medium so we can contact Walt Disney," she muttered.

Trying to coax a smile, he replied, "Well, I do know a lady with a pink hair and a crystal ball who--"

"Mulder, no. We are not having a séance with a mouse."

"Yeah, she's not that good. A little scatterbrained. We might end up talking to Walt Whitman instead. Wrong poet. Lots of stuff about prairies, not enough about beasties." He was pretty sure Scully wasn't listening.

"So what *are* we going to do?" she asked. "We'd better figure out something, especially if he gets loose in the office and finds a friend. I don't think you want to find out first hand how seriously mice take the command to be fruitful and multiply."

"We still don't know if the little bugger is bugged," Mulder said. "Even if his container didn't set off anything in security, we don't know where he came from or what his deal is. Hopefully the portable X-ray machine in the lab is free."

Scully was mouthing back at him "What his deal is?" when a distinctive voice bellowed down the hall.

"Agent Mulder! Agent Scully! Get in here!"

They both froze.

"Coming, sir," Scully replied. Mulder saw her take a firmer grasp on the container as the thumping started again. It seemed more frantic than before. He assumed Skinner's voice had the same effect on the mouse as it did on him.

Covering his worry with a bored look, Mulder slouched into the assistant director's office and set the UHF converter on the desk in front of Skinner. While dropping into the chair next to Scully, he eyed the cigarette butts in the ashtray. He leaned protectively closer to her and watched her cradle the container in her lap.

Skinner sat straight in his chair for several long, silent moments, staring at a point somewhere over Mulder's right shoulder. Then he said evenly. "I know I am going to regret asking this, but why did you two just smuggle a mouse through security in a Chinese take-out container?"

"Because a take-out coffee cup was too small, Sir," Mulder replied. As planned, Skinner's eyes latched on him.

"Agent Mulder, the FBI has a fully stocked forensic lab that no doubt can give me the answers I need, but the methodology may not be to your taste. I therefore suggest that you--"

"I'm not sure it *is* a mouse, Sir" Scully interrupted. "I mean it looks like a mouse and sounds like a mouse but it behaves almost hu…" She pressed her lips together, then amended, "Not like a mouse. Sir."

Skinner turned back to her. "Is it an X-File then, Agent Scully? Should I find a 302 for a trip to Disneyland in this stack on my desk?"

Scully’s joke was better, Mulder thought with a mild feeling of pride. "We're trying to determine that, sir. We think if we--"

"What's the UHF converter for?" Skinner interrupted.

Scully gave Skinner an admiring look. Mulder wondered briefly how Skinner would react to a small herd of mice in his underwear drawer.

"We thought it might help us communicate with the mouse, Sir," she said. "And--" She appeared to parse that sentence in her head and then clearly decided the hell with it. "And vice versa," she added, defiantly.

There was another long pause. "And? What did the mouse have to say for itself?"

"Himself," Mulder volunteered, trying to get Skinner's attention back on him. If anyone was losing their career over an anomalous rodent situation, it was going to be him, not Scully. "It's a he."

Skinner never even glanced at Mulder, who should have remembered Scully could play chicken with the best of them. Straight-faced, she said, "We don't know, Sir. The converter generated vocalizations that were audible but incomprehensible."

There were several long seconds of no reaction whatsoever, then Skinner leaned forward in his chair. He tapped a button on his phone. "Kim, cancel my next appointment and hold my calls."

"Yes, sir." The voice through the speaker sounded both knowing and amused.

He reached across the desk and slid the ashtray further away. "And get maintenance up here to change the lock on the side door again."

"Yes, sir." No amusement there. The line clicked off.

Skinner cocked an eyebrow at Scully. She set the container on his desk, flipped on the converter and carefully opened the box. The aroma of mouse wafted up, strong enough to mask the smell of cigarette smoke. Despite the unpleasantness all around, Mulder called that a win.

Scully held up the microphone and said, more deliberately than the last time, "Testing. One. Two. Three."

She steadily held Skinner's gaze as she dipped the microphone into the box. The UHF converter once again emitted a series of staccato tones. They continued for several seconds, stopped, then repeated, with emphasis.

"Huh," Mulder said. "He didn't do that before. Repeat himself, I mean."

The mouse's head popped up over the side of the box and he stared at Skinner. Skinner stared back. Then, before Scully could move, the mouse tipped over the box and scampered across the desk, scattering tiny brown pellets of – oh, crap. Mulder winced.

Skinner startled and reached out to grab the mouse, but it hopped onto his hand and started to squeak again. Scully hastily extended the microphone.

The same tones came out of the converter and Skinner's jaw dropped. He looked up at Mulder, who miraculously managed not to say, "Mouse got your tongue?" Instead he said, "Yes sir?"

"Get a pen," Skinner said. "It's Morse code."

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Federal Bureau of Investigation
Assistant Director Skinner's Office
12:36PM

"H," Skinner barked. "E, come on, Mulder, write it down."

"I am," Mulder said, "H-E-"

"L, I think we all know where this is going. P," Skinner added, anticlimactically.

They all stared at the mouse. It hopped off Skinner's hand and raced toward Scully. "Help?" she asked the mouse, earnestly, into the microphone.

The mouse stood on its hind paws and lifted its tiny arms in the universal gesture of "Hallelujah," or perhaps, "Oh my God, what do I have to do to be understood by you people? You all suck." It was hard to tell.

Mulder felt an unsettled mixture of euphoria and suspicion, plus the urge to spray paint a giant "X" on Skinner's carpet. "What the actual hell is going on?" he asked, to no one in particular.

"How can we help you?" Scully asked. "Do you-- do we--" She stopped as the mouse reared up again and seemed to gesture at the microphone. She obligingly held it back down.

The staccato started again, a very different pattern, and Mulder repeated after Skinner, "I-A-M-"

"I am," Skinner said, under his breath, "quite possibly going insane. P-" he continued, along with the mouse, "E-N-D-R-"

"Oh my God," Scully said. "It's Agent Pendrell."

The mouse hopped off the desk and into her lap, ran up her arm, and vigorously nuzzled her cheek.

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Alien Conspiracy Headquarters
Bioengineering & Implant Laboratory
Rockville, MD
12:48PM

The Smoking Man stood in the doorway of the laboratory. He cupped his entirely off limits cigarette in his palm and was careful not to get too close to the bubbling vessels that, even under industrial lighting, emitted an eerie green glow. He glared at the cowering group of technicians and hissed. "I told you people we needed Super SOLDIERS. Not Super MICE."

One of the technicians cleared his throat and stuttered, "S-Sir?"

"I assume one of your little hybridization experiments got out of hand, but how did you manage to turn an FBI ag-- a human subject into a mouse?"

"A-- a mouse, sir?" The technicians looked at each other. All except one man, who was surreptitiously backing away.

"YOU," the Smoking Man growled. "Stop right there. What happened? And don't lie to me or you'll find out what other kinds of hybrids we can make using…" he lowered his voice "Volunteers."

"It was--" The man audibly gulped. "I think it may have been an accident, sir. Maybe-- maybe something got spilled and maybe it was of very limited quantity and maybe, uh, there may have been some… bench top recovery, sir."

The Smoking Man momentarily forgot to hiss. "What?"

The other technicians started to edge away as the first technician spoke again. "It's uh, when you're working with a limited quantity of something, sir."

The Smoking Man's eyes narrowed and the speaker began to babble. "In this case, er, presumably it was a very specific type of DNA that was, you know, um, Alien DNA, and well, things happen. And if it drops on the lab bench, you try to recover it as best you can, but if there is *another* type of DNA on the bench, like, possibly -- and I'm just speaking hypothetically here, sir -- *laboratory mouse* DNA, it might get mixed in with the final product and--"

He abruptly stopped speaking as the technician in the back turned and started to run through the lab, tipping gigantic glass vessels behind him. They sent up a horrifying stream of putrid smoke.

An alarm sounded, the lights shifted to red, the technicians scattered, and the Smoking Man howled, "I swear to the Almighty there will be BEES. BEES FOR ALL OF YOU."

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Watergate Hotel
Underground Parking Garage
Foggy Bottom
1:22PM

"Agent Mulder, stop wasting my time." The large black man glared at Mulder from the shadow cast by a Dodge minivan.

"I swear every word of this is true. What the hell are those people trying to do? Agent Scully found a lump under Agent Pendrell's uh-- fur. We think it's an implant."

X had started to turn away, but swung back around at the last word from Mulder. "Did you say implant?" Then he muttered under his breath. "Dammit."

"Okay, look, what do you know? TELL ME and I won't bother you again."

X snorted.

"Okay, I won't bother you again for *a while* but we have to do something for Pendrell. Scully is freaking out." She was, in her Scully way. Mulder hated that he couldn't figure out how to fix that.

"Agent Mulder, you seem to be under the impression that I am on your side."

"Well you agreed to meet me for a reason, and I don't think it's because you're missing a partner for bridge. What do you know about this implant?"

X crossed his arms, looked down, then heaved a sigh. "Agent Mulder, did it ever occur to you that you are not the only FBI agent with whom I have contact? And did it ever occur to you that my other contacts might have certain… skills that you do not possess that might be useful to me?"

Mulder caught himself feeling oddly… jealous? Then spit out, "Go on."

"It's possible that a box of prototype implants made their way to Agent Pendrell's laboratory at some point this week. Now what the hell he did with them, and how the hell he managed to turn himself into a--" X paused and closed his eyes, then took a breath to continue, "A *mouse*, I have no earthly idea, nor do I think I *want* to know. However, I would *strongly* advise you to get that thing out of him as soon as possible."

Mulder nodded slowly at the confirmation of Scully's wild theory, the one she had defensively thrown at him while *daring* him to laugh. Then, because he couldn't help pushing, he asked, "What was the implant supposed to turn him into?"

"It wasn't supposed to turn him into anything. He was supposed to simply extract whatever was in it, and-- and I am done with this conversation."

"Was it alien? Are the aliens we're dealing with-- do they look like mice? Have we been looking for the wrong shaped--"

"Agent Mulder, what part of 'done with this conversation' do you not understand?"

"Look, I'm just trying to--" and Mulder stopped. Because of course, X had vanished.

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Dana Scully's apartment
Georgetown
6:23PM

Mulder stood in the doorway, awkwardly unsure of whether to say goodbye or try to come in. He watched Scully walk across the living room to a small table, where she deposited her purse. He idly wondered if she has any tissues left, or if she was going to have to re-stock.

"Are you okay, Scully?"

"I'm fine, Mulder," came the expected reply, muffled as she shrugged out of her coat. She looked over at him. "Aren't you coming in?"

He started a little, then stepped into the apartment and shut the door. "Can I uh, do anyth--"

"I don't think I have any food." She looked up at him. "We could um, get a pizza?"

"Sure, I can go to--"

"No, I mean, delivered. We can get one delivered. Sit down, Mulder. It's been a long day."

And just like that, he got a spot on the blue-striped couch without having to get slimed or concussed or anything. It shouldn't feel as much like a miracle as it did.

He listened while she ordered pizza (half pepperoni and half tomatoes and peppers) and wondered how Pendrell was faring with his hospital dinner. Maybe they'd save a couple of slices for when they visited him tomorrow. Mulder made a resolution to stay on Scully's good side and not offer to bring him sunflower seeds.

Scully collapsed onto the couch beside him, looking for all the world like a woman who had spent her day figuring out how to communicate with a human-mouse hybrid and how to save him. It couldn't have been easy to start an implant removal operation on a fluffy red mouse with blue eyes and end it on a highly embarrassed, naked, red-headed FBI agent with flushed skin and a tiny surgical drape clutched to his lap. Mulder had bit his tongue (seriously, he deserved a dozen medals for everything he hadn't said today) and brought some spare clothes for Pendrell's subsequent trip to GW.

Pendrell hadn't said much on the drive over, just stumbled through a narrative about wanting to test the newly arrived implants in a lab rat, and about making a bad slip with the inoculating needle. He also assured them that they did NOT want to know what the inner structure of the FBI building looked like between the third floor labs and the basement. They had managed to check him in for exhaustion, and left him with guards helpfully assigned by Skinner sitting outside his door. It was somewhat terrifying to contemplate the sort of prize he represented as a survivor of… something.

Mulder still wasn't sure what that might be, and raged a little about the fact that the extra implants had disappeared while Pendrell had been making himself at home in Mulder's office. Scully had had to destroy Pendrell’s implant in order to remove it, and now here they were back in a familiar place. They knew nothing, except that the Smoking Man was probably involved, and what he was involved in was, if possible, even weirder than they'd previously thought.

He looked up from his brooding as Scully came back from answering the door. This still wasn't the worst of their failures, he decided. This one had ended with a spot on Scully's couch. And pizza.

"I have beer, Mulder. Do you want one?"

He sat up and blinked at her. This was new. "Yes. Beer. Sure. Always," he added without thinking.

She gave him a doubtful look, then said, under her breath, "Good to know," and headed for the kitchen.

He slumped back on the couch and watched her as she brought in plates, napkins, and two bottles of something that looked suspiciously like Pacifica. With lime wedges in them. "I said I'd like a *beer* Scully," he said pointedly.

She shot him a look. "Pretend you're on a beach and be grateful it's not Corona."

She sat down on the couch, not at the other end, but not quite next to him either, and opened the pizza box. He picked up his bottle, grimaced as he squeezed the lime into it, then held it up to her. "To what should we toast? Morse Code?"

She looked at him for a moment. "To Skinner?"

"Let's not go overboard, Scully."

"To Agent Pendrell, then."

They clinked bottles and leaned back on the couch. It wasn't barbecue, but there was a lot of contented munching from Scully's end of the couch before Mulder, as usual, had to break the mood. "Do you think you're wasting your time, Scully?"

She gave him a quizzical look. "Pizza is never a waste of time, Mulder."

"No, you could be doing, I don't know, actual research. That you could publish. Without the risk of getting committed. Do you ever think about that?"

"Yes," she said. "Sure. Always."

He winced. "Okay, maybe--"

"Mulder, I'm not certain how we always end up here--" she gestured between the two of them with her slice of pepperoni, "but we really don't have to have this conversation after every crazy case. Or not case, even, but… event. That seems to happen. To us." She took a bite of pizza, then mumbled, "Only to us."

He looked at her, concerned. "Are you--" He stopped. Started again. "Did the..." Gave up. Gestured to the back of his neck and tried to look like the cool, experienced investigator he was (no really, he was) and not a... freaked out... friend. Partner. Something.

She held his gaze for a moment, then put down the pizza slice, reached for a napkin and wiped her shiny fingers. She angled to face him. "Don't you dare ask me how I am, Mulder. We saved a life today. That's worth a lot, don't you think?' She bit her lip and lowered the volume a bit. "Of course, I can never tell my colleagues or-- or my mother, but you know it, and I know it, and… our boss knows, which may or may not be a good thing, but that's no reason to quit."

He felt a little spark of encouragement and rejoined the familiar battle. "I wasn't thinking about quitting, just… some forward progress would be nice."

"How do you know we didn't make forward progress today? Biologically speaking, we were part of something pretty spectacular today and I for one will be trying to figure out how it happened for probably the next ten years. And you can spend that time figuring out *why* it happened, and maybe, in time, we will get some answers. I--" She looked up at the ceiling then picked up her pizza and waved it at him in something like astonishment. "How did this happen that now I'm convincing *you* that working on the X-Files is a good thing?"

He smiled. "Maybe a little of Pendrell's persistence rubbed off on you. If you repeat this I'll deny it, but he was pretty impressive today."

"Well, I think he's still in shock. I can't imagine what's going through his head right now."

"Do you think he's craving cheese?"

"Mulder, stop it."

His smile widened as he watched her. That was one of his favorites of all the Scully smiles, that small one being womanfully restrained from getting broader. "And he'll probably never get Chinese take-out again."

She gave a little hiccupping laugh, then bit her lip. "We are changing the subject."

"Okay," he agreed. He loosened his tie and slouched further into the couch until his head was resting on its back. This felt more comfortable than he had ever imagined it would be. "What do you think the impl--"

"Mulder, that is the *same* subject and I--" She looked down. "To be honest, I'd really rather not talk about the implants again until tomorrow. Can we talk about… I don't know. Something else."

"Okay. Tell me about, uh…" His thoughts skittered through topics like Mouse!Pendrell in a bag full of sunflower seeds. "Why Pacifica? Is that from living in San Diego?"

She smiled, reminiscent. "It is. Have you ever been there?"

"Nope." He looked over at her. "The Atlantic is a far superior ocean."

"But it doesn't have a great beer named after it."

"Neither does the Pacific." He waggled the bottle in his hands and then laughed as she pulled a pillow from the armchair and smacked him with it.

"Just for that, no more for you."

"Okay, I apologize. It's a truly *great* beer and I would like more." He tilted his head toward her. "Please."

She looked at him and said, "If you have more, you might have to stay the night."

"Scully, I got great parking in Georgetown. I was planning to stay as long as I could just to enjoy that."

She gave him a smile that slowly developed into a grin (that one he hadn't seen in a long time) and got up to go to the kitchen. When she came back with two more beer bottles, she sat next to him.

"I think I figured out a toast," she said.

"Hmm?' he asked, putting his arm over the back of the couch, not quite touching her hair.

"To curiosity."

"Dangerous stuff, Scully. Look what happened to Pendrell."

She clinked her bottle against his. "We can handle it, Mulder. We can handle anything."

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The End