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"Home" is any four walls that enclose the right person. Helen Rowland (1875-1950), U.S. journalist.

 

December 24th, 1998
9am

 

The chimes told her the plane was about to land at the Vineyard Haven Airport. Scully put down the fascinating article on clams that she'd been reading, refastened her seat belt, and raised her seat back to its upright position without being told. That extremely perky steward would be proud of her. Of course, she had the 19-seat prop plane nearly all to herself. It seemed that unlike airports in the rest of the known world, not a hell of lot of people were flying into Martha's Vineyard on Christmas Eve day.

She gazed out at the morning sky and her thoughts again turned to Mulder. Considering all that had gone wrong in the last twenty-four hours, she felt an odd sense of adventure. In fact, she felt a kind of anticipation. Of course, it was coupled with the nagging feeling that she was doing something really stupid. But still, it was a definite improvement in her mood considering that just last night she'd been sitting on the cold tile floor of D.C. National Airport in tears.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

December 23rd

Mulder moved the car forward another foot in the traffic, as his fingers tapped a steady rhythm on the steering wheel. "It could work, Scully. Really. I've thought this thing through," he entreated again. Scully shook her head slowly in bemusement at his enthusiasm.

Mulder was trying to get her to National Airport so that she could make her flight to San Diego, California where she would spend Christmas with her family. Her brother Bill was stationed at the same base that they'd lived in as children. Her mother was already there, having flown out the week before as was her brother Charlie and his family. As their mother's gift this year, the Scully clan had booked a seven-day Christmas cruise through the warm waters off Mexico for the holidays and it was leaving early in the morning of the 24th.

However, a case that hadn't even been an X-file managed to get out of control and Scully had been prevented from joining them days ago as she'd originally planned. It had taken some flight juggling, and now she'd have to make some connections instead of the original non-stop, but she would still get to California in time to meet up with her family and make the sailing. After the misery of this eighteen-degree D.C. weather, Scully thought a change of scene might be just the thing to lighten the mood she'd been in recently. When she'd talked to her brother last night, it was 75 degrees and balmy out in California.

Mulder had offered to drop her off, probably feeling guilty that the case they'd been on had run into her holiday plans even though it actually hadn't been his fault this time. Scully glanced over at him as he tried to keep the car from skidding off the road as he turned on to the National Airport exit. She'd needed to get to the airport a couple of hours before her flight as the crush of holiday travelers would be insane. The weather had also turned dark and awful, but when she'd called in that morning, her flight was still scheduled to go.

But now between the snow, the bumper-to-bumper morning commuter traffic, and the bad roads, it had taken well over an hour to make the usually fifteen-minute drive to National Airport. It'd been a nerve-wracking morning, but if Mulder regretted his offer to drive her, he never complained. In fact, they'd spent the extra time in the car trying to figure out a way to both get re-assigned to the X-files and hide A.D. Kersch's body after they killed him.

"Come on Scully, any friend will help you move." He was wheedling her now. "But it takes a REALLY good friend to help you move a dead body."

She laughed. Mulder could always make her laugh even if sometimes she did it silently while outwardly making a show of disapproval. As she watched him carefully navigate the treacherous roads, she wondered where she would be had this extraordinary man not crossed into her life, bringing his X-files with him.

But the X-files were gone now and in recent months, they'd been assigned to tasks specifically designed to kill their spirits. It hadn't worked, of course, because they hadn't separated them like last time. If anything, she and Mulder were more united than they'd ever been. Those fools just never got that no matter how she and Mulder might clash between themselves, when faced with an outside threat they stood together. They were very much like family that way--they took care of their own, even though it was just the two of them

Last summer, the threat of losing both Mulder and the work had loomed dark and ugly over her head and when it had finally happened, she'd been devastated. Both the man and the work had moved in and taken over her life completely and it was as though she'd found herself suddenly homeless. She possibly could have found a way to cope with the loss of the work, but the thought of being banished from Mulder's side too had caused her to quit abruptly.

He'd been incredulous and angry at her decision; hurt because she'd made it summarily without consulting him. She realized now that she'd been wrong to do that. But at the time, her emotional state had been so ragged that she hadn't realized just how close to the edge he'd been too. The upheaval of her announcement had caused him to tell her what her heart had suspected but her mind still longed to hear. That she was necessary to him. Not just to the work, but to him. He'd understood that she'd needed the words and so he'd given them to her.

But even so, he'd still been mistaken about one thing. He'd told her that while he owed her everything, she owed him nothing. She now shook her head at that memory as she looked over at his strong profile. Ah Mulder, you're so wrong, she thought. I owe you everything too. I was hungry and you fed me. If fate hadn't interrupted us, I might have told you that.

Feeling her eyes on him, he glanced over at her before turning his eyes back to the road. "We're almost there Scully, you'll make it in time." She nodded and wondered, not for the first time, why she was going. She loved her mother. She loved her family. But the truth was, she'd rather be with him. She'd always rather be with him. Somewhere along the way, the subtle change had occurred and Mulder was family to her now. She couldn't name the event or moment in time when it became true, it just was.

But Mulder spent Christmas alone; he always had since she'd known him. But the why was one of those things they didn't really talk about. She'd return from Christmas, ask him how his holiday was and he'd say, "It was nice," just as he always did. And that would be it; no further elaboration was ever forthcoming.

The first year they'd worked together, she'd invited him to dinner at her mother's house. It was always a huge gathering with lots of friends, family, and business associates around. She'd thought that he might accept simply because with so many people he wouldn't feel on the spot or on display. But he'd politely declined and she never asked again, even though it was clear that he went nowhere, did nothing, and saw no one on Christmas. He chose to spend the time alone for reasons he didn't care to share and she begrudgingly admitted that he had a right to his privacy. She could hardly guard her own so assiduously and then deny him the same privilege.

They finally reached her terminal. He pulled over, jumped out, and grabbed her bag out of the trunk as she came around to the back of the car. As he set it on the curb, he met her eyes and gave her a sweet smile that was both hesitant and endearing. And she wondered how a thirty-seven-year-old man could sometimes still manage to look so much like a little boy. He looked uneasy, as though saying finding the words to goodbye was difficult

Damn it--it was difficult. As much as she wanted to go home for Christmas, she didn't want to be away from Mulder for eight days. This realization was something that had started to nag at her as her departure date approached and had slowly escalated in tension. As she watched him close the trunk, she wondered what it would be like to have Mulder alone on a ship for a week and she felt flushed at the picture that suddenly ran through her mind. Hopefully Mulder would think it was due to cold wind.

Of course, from the story he'd told her after she and the Lone Gunman had hauled his ass out of the water in the Bermuda triangle, they'd apparently already spent some time on a ship together. Of course, it was back in 1939. And of course, it wasn't her; it was just someone who looked like her. And of course, it couldn't possibly have happened. But Mulder believed it; he'd told her all about it when they got him home safely.

In fact, he'd told her a lot of things after that adventure and in her mind lately, she'd replayed one of the things a hell of a lot more often than was mentally healthy. Granted, he'd been drugged and had been whacked hard on the head when he'd said the words and outwardly, she'd brushed them off. But the part of her heart that had managed to escape the rule of her head was ready to believe them. She looked up at him as he stood there awkwardly a moment. "Thanks for the ride, Mulder. I'm sorry it turned out to be so difficult."

He gave a small laugh as he learned down towards her. "Hey, it wasn't nearly as difficult the LAST time I went tromping through the snow with you Scully."

She reached out and hugged him, holding on to him as best she could through the mutual layers of jackets and sweaters and he returned her embrace. "Take care and enjoy yourself," he said. "And don't get sunburned on those nude beaches."

"In your dreams, Mulder," she retorted, raising her eyebrow mostly because he would expect her to do so.

"Yeah, Scully. In my dreams," he agreed, looking down at her.

God, his hazel eyes were so beautiful up close, she could get lost easily and make little effort to ever get back. His lips curved in a gentle smile for her and she reached up, then chickened out at the last minute and instead brushed her lips to his cheek. "You be good while I'm gone. Save the Kersch thing 'til I get back, OK?"

He grinned and dropped a quite brotherly kiss on her forehead in return. But it still made her toes curl inside her boots. "I wouldn't dream of starting without you."

She drew back, serious now. "Merry Christmas, Mulder."

"Merry Christmas, Scully." He brushed her face gently with his fingertips, and suddenly she again wondered just why the hell it was that she was going to Mexico. All the warmth she needed was right here. Hey Mulder, ask me to stay. Please.

But instead, he started to back away and Scully had to stop herself from clinging to him, letting him go from her arms. They held each other's gaze a few sweet seconds before Mulder finally broke the moment and stepped back towards the car as Scully reached down to pick up her bag. Just as he opened the car door, he called her name and she looked back at him.

"Hurry home," he told her as he unconsciously touched his hand over his heart.

She nodded her agreement with his request. She then watched him drive away as the swirl of holiday travelers bustled about. She took a deep breath, turned, and entered the terminal

Where all hell broke loose. The next hours were exactly like every frequent flyer's nightmare. Her plane was almost two hours late in arriving because of sudden bad weather in Chicago. By then, the storm that had been coming in towards D.C. had arrived and the departure was delayed as they waited for an expected break. The weather cleared but then the plane had to be de-iced. Then all 239 passengers were loaded. Then they waited along with every other plane trying to get out during the break. Then all 239 passengers were unloaded when an unspecified mechanical failure kept the plane grounded. Scully then waited in line with 239 EXTREMELY disgruntled people-- all desperate to get home for Christmas and whose own plans were far more important than anyone else's--as the beleaguered clerks at the desk tried desperately to get everyone re-routed to other flights and airlines. But then it turned out that no one was going anywhere, re-routed, or not, because the storm front returned and all flights were grounded indefinitely.

Scully slumped down wearily on the floor against the wall of the terminal along with all the other stranded travelers, feeling completely frazzled after twelve hours in this hell-hole. No one anywhere seemed to be in charge or have any idea what was going on. Plus, the constant noise, the screaming of babies and the yelling of angry passengers, the incessant and completely unintelligible PA announcements about the weather all grated on her nerves.

In the ensuing hours she'd read, she'd eaten, she'd called her family, she'd walked, and she'd wandered through every over-priced gift shop in National Airport. Not usually a big drinker, she'd taken refuge in a small corner table in a bar where she downed three airport versions of a margarita before a very drunk young stud persisted in offering to warm her up. Now she just stared out at the darkened sky as the frustration rose and her head began to pound with a pain that two ibuprofens didn't even begin to touch. She looked balefully around the terminal where the airport looked like a red-cross rescue station. People were stretched out everywhere, on the floor, on benches, even on some cots brought out by the airlines. Nobody was happy.

Finally, the announcement came. No flights were leaving until early the following morning. The storm would be gone by then. Everyone in the terminal groaned collectively and the low-level bitching started anew in earnest as Scully rubbed her temples. She folded her coat on the cold marble tile and sat back down on it. After a few moments of steeling herself she pulled out her cell phone and made the call she dreaded making. With the time difference, it was starting to get late in California and she had to let them know she wasn't going to make it.

After a few rings, her brother Bill answered the phone in a sleepy voice and she explained the situation. She was doing OK until Bill made a smart-ass comment about how if Mulder hadn't kept her so long on their last case she could have been there in time.

She lost it.

"Jesus Christ, Bill! Now you're blaming the weather on him too?" Scully yelled into the phone. She was on the edge and crankier than shit. "I had work to do. MY work. MY job. And I don't need you acting as though it's unimportant--like I'm some kind of mindless drone who just does whatever Mulder says. And I just spent the last TWELVE HOURS in this Goddamn airport trying to get home, so I don't need you dumping on me like that!"

To his credit, Bill must have realized that he'd crossed way over the line because when he spoke again his tone sounded apologetic. "Dana...I'm sorry. I know you're not having fun. It's just that you haven't seen the baby since he was born and...and I guess I was just looking forward to having everyone home for Christmas. Like the old days."

"It can't ever be like the old days Bill," she said crossly. "Not with Dad and Missy gone."

There was a long silence on the other end and Scully suddenly regretted her biting tone. Bill was a difficult person, but he was her brother, he loved her. His loss of a father and sister was the same as hers and it was no less painful for him. He was trying in his own way to hang on to what was left of his family. She sighed deeply. Why was everything so damn complicated? She was truly beginning to hate Christmas.

"Bill, let's not fight," she said quietly after a moment. "It's just not going to work this time. But there'll be others."

"Dana, I just don't want you to be all alone on Christmas. We can cancel the cruise, you're more important. You can just get here when you can get here."

Scully thought a moment. She really didn't want them to cancel their plans; they'd all been looking forward to this for weeks. And when the weather cleared, she could possibly get a flight to the ship's first port of call and join them there. But then again, that would entail even more hours in more airports and then sitting in a hotel in Mexico waiting for the ship to arrive. Either way, she'd still be alone for Christmas. Just like Mulder.

She remembered the gentle affection in his voice when he'd said goodbye and suddenly, she wondered if Mulder would take pity on a stranded traveler as a new plan formed in her mind. Well, not so new. It was really the thing she'd really wanted to do all along anyway.

"Bill, you guys go ahead. It's OK. Honest to God. Mom's got all her grandkids to fuss over, she'd gonna be in heaven. You and Tara could use some time together and I know how Charlie and Mary have been looking forward to this. I'm going to be just fine."

Bill gave up after a few more protests. Scully told him to give her love to everyone and that she'd call again soon. She hit the button to end the call and stared at the phone a moment. Then she tapped in Mulder's speed call number to his cell phone. She got the recording that said the mobile phone customer was away from the unit. She didn't leave a message and instead, called his real phone at his apartment. She got the answer machine there too. She glanced at her watch. This was strange but she started to leave a message.

"Mulder, it's me. You're not going to believe this, but I'm still at National Airport. My plane was late and we didn't get out before the storm hit. Now nothing can leave until the morning. So, I'm here just sitting here on my ass--"

"And a very fine ass it is, Agent Scully."

Scully froze. The voice that picked up the phone wasn't Mulder's. In fact, it sounded like....

"Frohike?" She asked cautiously.

"Correctamundo, my dear."

"Is Mulder there?"

"Nope. He left for the Vineyard this morning."

"The Vineyard? Martha's Vineyard?" she asked incredulously. "This morning?"

"Yeah, he drove up there after he dropped you at the airport."

Scully slumped back against the wall with a thud, completely bewildered as her mind whirled. Not there? How can that be?

"What are you doing there?" she asked.

"I'm on fish patrol and it's a good thing too, I think they were about to start eating their own kind."

His joke met dead silence. Bullshit Frohike, she thought churlishly, you're probably pillaging Mulder's video collection.

Damn it, Mulder was supposed to be home all alone waiting for her. Of course, he didn't know that, but she'd just so expected him to be there that she was completely rattled by the news that he wasn't. She felt pissy at Mulder even though she knew it was irrational. And now she'd just told her family she wasn't coming home because of a sudden sentimental streak towards him. She was reminded just why she rarely did anything spontaneous and now she just felt foolish, angry, and frustrated. How the hell could this be happening to her? Crap.

"Why the hell did he go up there?" she demanded, unable to keep the edge out of her voice.

"He didn't really say, Agent Scully. He just said he had to take care of some things at his dad's house and he'd be gone till the New Year." Frohike paused, "It sounds like your plans got all screwed up from what you were saying."

There was an understatement. Suddenly she felt completely blue, lonely, and lost as it all caught up with her--the whole rotten day and night now coupled with disappointment she'd set herself up for. Now completely depressed, she felt the tears close her throat up which made her even madder and it took her a moment before she could speak. "Yeah, I'm stuck here." Damn it her voice cracked. "I'm not going to make it to San Diego in time to meet my family."

"Agent Scully, are you crying?" Frohike's voice sounded concerned.

"NO," she sniffed vehemently.

"Do you want me to come get you?"

Despite her foul mood, Scully's heart was touched at the little man's gallant offer to come out on such an awful night. Mulder picked his few friends very well indeed.

"No, Frohike, but thank you," she said, her voice calmer now. "I can get home. There'll be ground transportation soon." There was another long silence as Scully gripped the phone and tried to get hold of her rambling emotions. Suddenly, she heard Frohike's voice again.

"Hey--Ever been to Martha's Vineyard in wintertime, Agent Scully?"

The question held possibilities she hadn't thought of in her misery. "No," she answered softly after a moment.

"Well, it's beautiful. You should try it sometime without all the summer crowds."

Scully was quiet a long time. "Do you think he'd mind?" she asked in a small voice. She didn't know why she was asking Frohike that. Perhaps she was just looking for someone to blame later.

"No, I don't think he'd mind."

Scully brushed away the tears and smiled into the phone. "Thank you, I might consider that." she said gratefully. She cleared her throat, trying to sound normal again. "So, what are you guys all doing for Christmas?"

"Well, Byers is with the little woman, Langly has himself a new chickadee that he met at a Dungeons and Dragons competition and except for the multiple body piercings, I think she's hot--"

"As hot as me, Frohike?" God, did she say that? Those margaritas had apparently taken their toll.

"Never, Agent Scully."

Scully smiled at his reassurance. "And you--what are you doing for Christmas?"

"I'm imposing myself on a good-hearted niece who uses her Uncle Melvin as an example for her children on what happens if you don't 'just say no.'"

"She's lucky to have you."

"I keep telling her that everything I have will be hers someday. That doesn't seem to carry as much weight as I hoped."

Scully laughed for the first time. "Merry Christmas, Frohike."

"Same to you Agent Scully. And hey, tell Mulder I really did feed his fish, I didn't wait until the day before he came back and just buy new ones like last time."

"Will do."

Scully disconnected. She sat there gazing about the terminal at all the other people whose original plans had been just as thwarted as hers had been. But she has new plans now. She made her way over to the to the ticket counter.

"I want to exchange this ticket for one to Boston and then a connection to Martha's Vineyard."

The clerk tapped wearily away at his keyboard. "I can get you on a commuter flight at 6am to Boston then on a small 19 seat hop to the Vineyard airport. That'll get in by about 9 am. Weather permitting," he added out of habit.

"Do it."

New tickets in hand, Scully commandeered one of the cots vacated by a traveler who'd finally given up. Things were looking up; she could even get a few hours’ sleep and she was going someplace she'd never really been before.

In more ways than one.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

December 24th

The small plane touched down. Scully wandered into the tiny terminal, found the bathroom, and proceeded to clean up as best she could. She opened her suitcase and fished out her small toiletries bag. She'd been in same clothes for well over 24 hours and she smelled like it. She had her heavy coat that she'd worn in D.C. but as for regular clothes, she pretty much only had shorts and T-shirts to choose from. Although there was no storm here and it was certainly warmer than where she'd come from, she was still going to freeze her ass off. She did have a clean pair of jeans and she layered on a couple of shirts that would do until she could find something to buy that was warmer. When she was done washing, brushing, and changing, she looked in mirror, feeling clean and refreshed at least.

Of course, she might be out of her mind too. But it was too late to do anything about that now. She smiled at her reflection.

She closed her bags back up and followed the signs to car rental counter. She'd only ever been to Martha's Vineyard once in her life. But that had been for all of forty-five minutes when, during the John Lee Roche case, she and Skinner had picked Mulder up at a small motel less than a half-mile from the airport and left immediately back for Boston.

She had no clue where Mulder's father's house was other than in someplace called West Tisbury. She only had the address because she'd called the office and had Skinner's assistant dig it out of the file. Fortunately, the car rental counter had a map and it was then that she really realized just how small this upscale island really was. Nothing was much more than a few miles from something else. The rental agent also kindly directed her to a nearby clothing store in Vineyard Haven that was on her way.

It was that proverbial one shopping day until Christmas and Scully picked up a long sweater, a turtleneck, sweats, gloves, and socks in a whirlwind buying tour that lasted all of 20 minutes. She wore everything except the sweats out of the store. OK, she'd stalled long enough. Time to go track down Mulder.

As she drove across the island, its winter beauty hit her full on. Stately upscale New England homes mixed with quaint small farmhouses. But the Old-World charm didn't fool Scully. She understood in summer even the tiniest rental was a gold mine and the summer tourists paid top dollar to share in the enchantment of this place, if only for a while.

She entered the town of West Tisbury and located the street without any trouble. She drove down the tree-lined road slowly, looking for the address, finally finding it. She parked the car just a bit down the street, got out, and walked slowly back. The houses in this area were all set on large parcels of property and she couldn't see the house from the street because of an extremely tall hedge in front. There was a gate entry in the hedge and she approached it slowly, wanting to look before she was seen.

The gate led to a long pathway that in turn led to some meandering wooden steps that led up the slope to the house. It had a great expanse of veranda all around. This wasn't the house Mulder grew up in; this was the place his father had moved to after his divorce from Mulder's mother. Looking at the house, Scully felt it was far too large for a man living alone and she wondered if perhaps Mulder's father had harbored some dream that his family would reunite here someday.

The huge yard in front of the house was quite extensive and very overgrown. The many trees, shrubs, bushes, and even the grass leading up the slope to the house hadn't been tended in what appeared to be years. Empty since the death of Bill Mulder, it now looked like the kind of house that neighborhood children told scary stories about. Scully stepped closer to the gate and peeked through.

She now saw Mulder in the corner of the yard trying to cut back some huge shrubs that seemed to be fighting back. She heard him curse softly as he received a deep scratch for his pains. He was concentrating that single-mindedness that he was capable off and hadn't heard her approach. She watched for long moments as he worked, cutting back branches and tossing them on an ever-growing pile, his movements fluid and he slowed only to wipe the sweat from his brow that gathered despite the cold of the day.

Mulder doing yard work. There was something so completely incongruous about that sight. It was just so... ordinary.

She called his name softly.

Mulder's head snapped up at the sound of his name and he turned around. His eyes widened when he confirmed the owner of voice he'd thought he'd heard. He stared at her in disbelief, looking almost as surprised as he would have had Samantha suddenly reappeared.

"Scully, what's wrong?" he asked, dropping the shears on the ground, and crossing the yard.

The concern was evident in his voice and Scully smiled to reassure him as he approached. His face was dirty, he hadn't shaved, and his hair was a mess. That new spiky haircut he'd gotten recently had taken some getting used to but she had to admit it made him look younger. He stood before her in ratty jeans and a faded sweatshirt over a turtleneck and Dear God, he'd rarely looked more appealing to her. "Everything's OK, Mulder," she answered. "Really. There's nothing wrong."

He stopped up short at the gate, just staring at her. "What the hell are you doing here?" Mulder gestured to show that he hadn't meant for the words to sound as unfriendly as they did. She knew he was taken aback by her unexpected appearance. Here she was, standing outside his father's house on Martha's Vineyard when just yesterday he'd dropped her at the airport so that she could meet her family. She was supposed to be 3000 miles away right this moment. He had every reason to look confused.

Scully gave him a greatly condensed version of the ordeal at the airport as Mulder nodded his head in sympathy; they'd suffered though many an airport nightmare during their time together. But then he asked the question she wasn't sure how to answer.

"That explains why you're not in San Diego, but it doesn't explain why you're here on Martha's Vineyard."

"Because my idea of Christmas is not drinking eggnog in an airport bar with shoe salesmen from Poughkeepsie," she answered lightly. But Mulder just fixed her with at intense gaze of his and she looked away under his scrutiny. "I'm here because I didn't want to spend Christmas alone. I'm here because I wanted...." She trailed off unsure of how to finish.

But he rescued her, seeming to suddenly remember his manners. He stepped forward and opened the gate. "I'm sorry Scully, I know you were looking forward to being with your family."

She nodded noncommittally as she stepped through. She looked about a bit. "You've got quite a job ahead of you here. Wouldn't it have been easier to hire someone to do all this?"

Mulder shrugged slightly. "It's my responsibility. And with the holiday I had the time." He paused. "It just seemed like the time to get it done."

"Are you getting it ready to rent?"

"No, to sell. But the real estate broker said the yard had to be cleaned up before he would show it."

Scully smiled a bit as she surveyed the grounds. "It does kind of look like Boo Radley from 'To Kill a Mockingbird' lives here."

That drew a laugh from him as followed her gaze around. "Well, I guess that's better than Norman Bates."

When he turned back, he saw that Scully was sliding off her coat. She dropped it over the gate and pushed up the sleeves of her sweater. "Let me help you," she said.

"Scully, you don't need to do that."

"Yeah, I do, Mulder. I really do."

"But it's Christmas Eve!"

"It's Christmas Eve for you too."

"Yeah, but it doesn't mean anything to me. It's just another day. But I know it's different for you. You should be home going to midnight mass or something."

Scully couldn't help noticing that Mulder was looking at her as though her hair had turned to snakes. Suddenly, this all began to look like the really bad idea that it probably was. "Mulder, do you want me to leave?" she asked tightly, backing up towards the gate. "I mean, I understand if you do, I know I just barged in on you and...and you weren't expecting me. I can go--"

Mulder reached a hand out to stop her. "I didn't mean it that way Scully, you know that." Oddly enough, he sounded just slightly hurt himself. Then his voice took on the low soothing tone that was his alone. "I was just surprised. But that doesn't mean it's not a good surprise." He leaned towards her just a bit. "Of course, I'm glad you're here."

"Then let me help you."

Mulder bent down and picked up a pair of clippers as Scully reached out, taking them from his hand. "Go for it FBI woman. There's a shrub over here that's been possessed by the devil I think."

Like everything else they did together, Mulder and Scully accomplished the same goal by using different means. But they worked well together, dividing the tasks and settling into the massive job. Although hard physically, Scully actually found herself enjoying it, enjoying just being with him as they talked about nothing. She asked questions about Martha's Vineyard as Mulder played travel agent and filled her in on the towns and history.

But he also talked about himself, something he rarely did back in D.C. He told her about Indian Guides with his father and feeling that he ruled the world between his house and school when he got his first bike. He told her about his high school and the teams that he played on. He'd been an avid baseball player, which she'd would have never guessed considering that basketball seemed to be his sport of choice now. He'd even gotten a sport scholarship offer from one college and she couldn't help but wonder how different his life would be had he taken it. He told her about summer jobs he'd held and his adventures as a lifeguard at one of the public beaches where he spent most of his time pulling mainlanders out of the water who seemed to think that the riptide flags didn't apply to them. Mulder was rarely this gregarious and she enjoyed every minute of it.

He asked her questions too, and she found herself telling him about growing up on military bases, her first car, medical school, and about how the first time that she'd been faced with cutting up a cadaver, she'd actually gotten dizzy and nauseous. She told him about how she'd been deathly afraid to tell her parents she wasn't going to practice and Mulder seemed to really understand her fear of failing her father. It was almost like the warm, funny and intimate conversations she'd had with Eddie Van Blundht while she'd thought him to be Mulder. Except now it really was Mulder and he hadn't already heard some of these stories.

Later she went inside to use the bathroom and get one of soft drinks that Mulder had told her were on the kitchen counter. As she wandered out, she looked around the glassed in porch, thinking about the horrible events that had transpired in this house years ago. She could understand why Mulder was selling it. She wondered about the ugly twist in Mulder's life that caused him to lose the one man who probably knew more of the answers he sought than anyone else in his life did. She'd never heard Mulder sound like he had when he'd called her from this house the night of his father's death. She'd been so afraid for him during that time.

"You OK Scully?" She turned. Mulder had come up behind her and saw her staring off into space.

"Yeah, I was--" she hesitated. "I was just thinking about what your father was going to tell you that night and what questions he might have answered."

A distant look came into his eyes as he nodded. "That night seems such a blur still. I mean, between the drugs and the fever it was almost like I was on the outside watching it all happen. But for about ten minutes that night, I had my father back. The man who treated me as a son and not as a polite stranger. And then he was gone." With an awkward glance at Scully, he turned and headed back out into the yard without saying anything further. She followed him to where he knelt and started tying the cuttings up into bundles.

"Mulder, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have brought that night up. I wasn't questioning the kind of man your father was. I didn't mean it that way, honestly."

As he worked, Mulder shook his head, indicating her apology wasn't necessary. "I know you just want the same answers I want." He sat back on his heels and looked up at her; there was sadness in his eyes now. "I know your life has been as affected by all this as much as mine has, if not more so. I don't ever forget that Scully, even if it seems I do. Don't ever apologize to me for asking your questions."

He returned to the job before him, seemingly concentrating on that. But Scully could tell from his body language that there was still much going on in his head. She helped him finish up with the cuttings and it was some time before he spoke again. He glanced over at her and apparently decided to plow ahead with what was troubling him.

"Scully, last summer I was told that my father did allow Samantha to be abducted, but so that she could be taken to a cloning program where she might become a human-alien hybrid. So that she would be immune to the same virus that would have killed you." He stopped working and looked up at her again. "I was told that he allowed her to be taken so that she might survive in the future and that I stayed behind because he hoped that I might someday find a way to change that future."

Wow, this put a whole new spin on things, she thought. Scully knew Mulder's hope even if he didn't voice it. His hope that the father he'd loved once hadn't failed his family as badly as he'd been previously led to believe. His hope that perhaps his father had instead tried to save his children as best he knew from the future he believed was coming. "Who told you this story, Mulder?"

"The old British gentleman who has helped us in the past."

"Do you believe him?"

Mulder stood up now and pulled his work gloves off, tucking them in the back pocket of his jeans. He looked over the yard as he shrugged with uncertainty, and she could see that the long years of betrayal and disappointment were not easily erased or forgotten. They would always made him wary of taking anything to heart. Reserve was a necessity of life. "All I know for sure is that I wouldn't have found you in time without him. He the one who sought me out, he's the one who gave me the directions to find you and the vaccine. He saved your life." He met her eyes briefly before he turned away and walked away, back towards the remaining hedges that needed trimming.

She came up behind him, reached out and touched his arm. He turned and looked down at her. "He may have given you the means, but you saved my life, Mulder. Don't ever think I forget that even if it seems I do," she added, returning his earlier words back to him.

There was a moment of silence between them, then finally, Mulder smiled for her, accepting her words.

She handed him the clippers. "Come on Mulder, this hedge needs to be taught lesson."

 

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In the mid-afternoon, they both suddenly realized they were hungry. They drove to a nearby market to get some sandwiches and while they were there, they decided to get some supplies for the next couple days since they knew things would be closed. The little store was bustling with last minute shoppers trying to get a Christmas dinner together as she and Mulder wandered up and down the aisles.

Grocery shopping with Mulder was something of an experience. It turned out that he was a creature of immense habit with definite likes and dislikes. Since she'd barged in on him, she offered to cook whatever he liked and he put up surprisingly little resistance to the offer. In fact, he revealed that macaroni and cheese was his favorite thing in the world. But only homemade--he had to be close to starving to eat the stuff that came in the blue box. She was amused that such simple comfort food was something he craved, not to mention greatly relieved because it was something that she actually knew how to make. If he'd wanted ratatouille, she would have been in big trouble.

They picked out fresh cheese and other ingredients when he decided they needed something sweet for afterwards. She managed to talk him into trying a new cookie brand for desert and after he'd looked at her as though she'd suggested putting ketchup on ice cream, he nodded dubiously and tossed them in the basket.

As for breakfast, she was pleased to find that he hated grapefruit juice as much as she did and he gallantly let her pick the brand of orange juice. They argued over whether it should be should doughnuts or croissants, and while they could have easily purchased both, they finally settled on muffins as a compromise. They moved on to soups and other canned goods. They bought bottled water and soft drinks. Then while she picked up some paper products, she sent him off to find a wine that went with macaroni and cheese. He came back with a nice Merlot. He had better taste than she would have given him credit for and she nodded approvingly.

As they browsed the fruits and vegetables for a salad, he picked up a truly oddly shaped potato and held it up to her. "Hey Scully, doesn't this look like Spender?"

She grinned. No matter what else happened to them in this life, they would be forever united in Spender bashing. "Yeah, it does," she told him. "But it probably has more personality."

"True" he laughed as he set the misshapen lump back down. "Why defame a perfectly good vegetable."

But then Mulder's laughter faded as he sighed a little bit. "I still can't believe that bastard has our cases." He looked up at her, quiet distress now in his eyes. "Honest to God Scully, I think I could have handled almost anyone other than him." He ducked his head and seemed intent on picking out a tomato, his previous good humor having vanished.

She was deeply aware of Mulder's anger over their current work situation for it certainly matched her own. It was one thing to have had the X-files closed and no one working the cases and it was a different thing ENTIRELY to have them open and have someone ELSE working on them, especially such a sucking weasel. Watching Spender do a half-assed job with their life's work was painful for them both. But Spender wasn't alone with their X-Files.

"Well, Diana is still there," she said. "You have her to watch over your interests." Scully heard the involuntary cool tone in her own voice. But Diana was a sore subject for her and try as she might, it seemed she couldn't avoid the edginess she felt about the woman.

For a second she didn't think Mulder heard her, but then he suddenly looked back up as though her words had just sunk in. He leaned in close to her, holding her gaze. "I have you to watch out for my best interests, Scully," he said quietly. "I don't need anyone else." After a moment, he smiled again as he held out a tomato for her inspection. "OK?"

Scully took it from his hand gently. "It's perfect."

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

They returned to the yard work, and in the next couple of hours finished the heavy cutting and pruning. It was beginning, in fact, to look pretty damn presentable, Scully thought as she looked around. They'd gotten a lot done and oddly enough, she felt really pleased.

The leaves needed to be raked up before they could do the final mowing of the lawn. They started in opposite corners and started working on this immense project. Scully soon had a pile that resembled a medium-sized mountain when she stopped a moment to rest her aching arms.

The sound of Mulder's voice came behind her. "Good God, Scully. That's taller than you."

"Everything's taller than me Mulder. That's not saying much," she said as she finished the last couple sweeps into the pile. She leaned her rake against the nearby tree and dusted her hands as she turned to look up at him. It was only then that she saw that look on Mulder's face that always meant his mind was clicking away on something. Usually something dangerous.

"Nonsense, Scully. You're exactly the right size," he said as he moved slowly towards her.

Oh God, she was in trouble. "No, Mulder," she said, backing away. She had brothers; she knew full well what was coming.

"Yes, Scully," he said, approaching her as steadily as she was moving away. Scully realized that she was backing up towards the hedge and tried to fake him out with a quick feint to her left, something that had always fooled Charlie and Bill. But Mulder was smarter than that. He moved just as quickly, scooped her up in his arms, turned, took two strides, and tossed her gently on the enormous pile of leaves.

Scully softly billowed down though the mass, sending leaves swirling up in a small storm about her. She sat up sputtering, poking her head back up through the leaves.

"Mulder!" She brushed the leaves out of her eyes and glared up at him, thinking he'd lost his mind because he never played jokes like that.

But as she looked up into his face, she just couldn't stay mad for he so contented and carefree as he grinned back down at her. He looked the way that she wished he could look more of the time and he was beautiful. And she decided that a moment's humiliation was well worth the outcome because it gave her such pleasure to see him like that.

"Are you happy now, Mulder?" she asked slowly in mock-aggravation.

He knelt and pulled a few leaves from her hair as he looked at her. Then he grinned even more as he nodded, “Yeah, I'm happy now, Scully."

He took her hand and drew her to her feet where he stood close and plucked a few more stray leaves from her sweater. Scully shivered a bit, which Mulder apparently thought was from the cold for the sun was getting low to the horizon and a wind had kicked up. "Let's call it a day," he suggested. "Let me go lock up and we'll head out of here."

"You're not staying here?" Scully asked in confusion.

He shook his head as he picked up the tools. "I'm staying at the Chilmark house. We can just leave your rental car parked here for now though since we have to come back."

It suddenly dawned on Scully that of course Mulder wouldn't want to stay in the house where his father had been murdered. But was staying in the house his sister had been taken from much better? She watched as he tossed the tools on the veranda, locked the front door to the house, and came back down the pathway. They moved her suitcase into the trunk of his car and headed out for Mulder's childhood home.

It was only a six-mile drive, but Scully was constantly surprised at the island's changing terrain. Whereas West Tisbury was very much like any of a hundred New England towns, complete with a steepled church, Mulder's hometown of Chilmark barely qualified as a village.

The roads were small, and the place very rural. The beaches were long with wild rugged coastlines and she even saw a lighthouse. The houses were mostly set back in wooded areas and few could be seen from the main roads. She saw very little that reminded her of the suburban neighborhoods she was more accustomed to. There were lots of woodlands, and it was hilly. There were sheep wandering in pastures and official signs that said, "duck crossing" and other signs that led to places called "Squibnocket" and "Lobsterville." There were ponds with names like, "Bliss."

Mulder told her that in the winter season, there were far fewer than a thousand residents and when he'd been growing up it had been more like five hundred. It was clear that many of the houses were closed up in winter, used only as summer rentals.

And Scully was stuck by the fact that the sudden disappearance of a child 25 years ago would have been astounding to the residents of such an idyllic place.

Mulder turned up the meandering tree-lined drive that led to the house, bordered on both sides by a low stone fence. The sun was just setting and the land was bathed in soft pink light. To say Mulder's home was quaint was an understatement. A far more modest affair than the other house, it took Scully's fancy the moment she saw it. The house itself sat on beautiful land, with a small marsh pond on one side and the woods on another. God, it looked like the perfect place to grow up. So different from the utilitarian military bases she'd spend most of her youth in.

She'd wondered how Mulder felt about staying here, the place from where his sister had disappeared. But now she thought she knew. Mulder choose to believe that his sister was alive somewhere. He didn't know if she was the woman the Cancer-man had brought to the diner or if she was in another place near or far. But where ever she was, this place had been her childhood home as well as his. It was a good place to come home to.

He parked the car in the drive and they got out. He handed her the keys to open the door as he pulled the bags out of the trunk. "The place may be something of a mess. I wasn't expecting company," he said as he followed her up the pathway to the house.

She turned and looked up at him. "I'm not 'company', Mulder. I'm Scully," she admonished him lightly before turning back and opening the door. She entered the living room and looked about as Mulder followed her in.

Furnished simply, there was a long comfortable looking couch and a couple easy chairs by a large window which looked over the yard. A big stone fireplace. Lots of bookshelves. It all seemed clean and fairly dust free. "Actually, it looks like someone has been taking care of it," she told him. "Do you rent it in the summer season?"

Mulder looked around the room a moment, almost as though he'd not been there before as he shook his head. "No. I know my mother comes over a few times a year. It seems important to her to keep the place up, even if she won't live here anymore." He set their bags down. "We better get the groceries."

Scully nodded, but the truth was she often struggled with feeling kindly towards Mulder's mother. She knew the woman had suffered great losses. But her silence on the matters desperately important to her son caused him pain and Scully had a hard time forgiving that, even more so than Mulder it would seem. Mrs. Mulder claimed to not remember so many things, especially since her stroke, but Scully wasn't sure she bought all that. But no matter, Mulder loved his mother and whatever else conspired to pull his family apart, he'd been unwilling to let go of that final bond between them no matter how strained it became. She was his only link to his old normal life.

Scully followed Mulder back out to the car where they unloaded the bags of groceries and brought them into the kitchen. She unpacked the bags as Mulder put things away, placing certain items in certain cupboards or places. Scully smiled a little at the unconscious habit at work in his mind. Years might pass, but some things were ingrained.

"How long did your mother live here?" she asked as they worked.

"She was born here on Martha's Vineyard. She met my father when he came here one summer. They married and moved to Virginia for a while, but she wanted to come back here to raise a family. They moved back a year or so before I was born. Dad worked in Washington but he was home a lot, he didn't seem to have what you would call regular hours. “He paused a moment. “She was happy here then. We all were before..." He trailed off.

"Before Samantha."

He nodded, but then seemed to reconsider his answer as he rearranged some of the soup cans. "Actually, things began to go wrong months before Samantha was taken. I remember hearing arguments, and my father was gone a lot more and then when he was home, there was a coldness. Not all the time though. Sometimes it was as though nothing was wrong and things were like they always were."

"I couldn't really figure out what the problem was. For a long time, I thought it was something I'd done. That I'd done something to make them mad at me. I mean, I know better now, but when you're eleven or twelve..." Mulder abruptly let that train of thought go and moved on. "Then Samantha disappeared and it all fell apart. They hung on for a while together, but then my mother asked my father to move out. And even though he was close by the silence had started. He was like a stranger and nothing I did or was seemed good enough and he'd never been like that before." He bent down to put the dish soap under the sink and he paused again as though he'd just thought of something.

"What Mulder?"

He glanced up at her. "I was just thinking that if what that old British gentlemen told me about my father is true, he must have felt so alone in the world." He looked pensive as though he were trying to make it work in his mind. "It...it would explain a lot of his anger and bitterness."

Scully nodded as she handed him some paper towels. "You're right, Mulder. It would." Mulder met her eyes as he took the towels. After a moment he nodded too then straightened back up.

"Anyway, Mom and I lived here until I graduated from high school. When I left, she left. She moved to Connecticut and I've only been back to this house a few times since." Mulder suddenly looked embarrassed. "God Scully. WAY too much information--I'm sorry. Your head must be spinning."

She laid her hand over his arm. "No, it's not way too much information. I'm glad you told me. It helps."

He raised an eyebrow. "Helps what?"

"Helps me understand you."

He laughed in self-effacement as he shook his head. "Well, then you'd be the only one who does--including myself." He smiled though to soften the comment. "But thanks for trying."

They finished with the groceries and Mulder headed back to the living room, picking up both of their bags. "Come on, I'll show you your room." Scully followed him up the staircase, greatly enjoying the view from behind. He opened the first door at the top of the stairs. "This is the master bedroom, I think you'll be comfortable here."

Scully passed by Mulder as he held the door open. The room was large, but as simply furnished as the living room had been. A dresser, a reading chair. French doors opened to a veranda that looked over the woods. But a massive wooden sleigh bed stood against one wall facing the windows, a sheet tossed over the mattress to keep dust off. "Wow, that's beautiful," she said walking over to it. "Is it an antique?"

"I guess so. It was my great-grandmother's. Then it went to her daughter who gave it to my mother." Mulder fell silent a moment. "It was supposed to go to Samantha next."

Scully nodded as she sat down on the edge of the mattress. She ran her hand over the carved footboard, looking at the artisanship that was seldom seen anymore. "It's exquisite work," she told him.

"I was conceived in that bed."

Scully's hand stopped moving and she looked up at him, seeing the amusement dancing in his eyes but feeling suddenly strangely self-conscious. "Now THAT may be way too much information, Mulder," she said lightly to cover up the strange emotion.

He grinned, as he usually did when he succeeded in rattling her a bit. Scully got off the bed and Mulder dropped her suitcase on it. She explored the room a little more. On the other wall was a door that led to a bathroom that also looked over the woods. Another door held the closet and linens for the bed. She turned back suddenly.

"Which is your old room, Mulder?"

"Down the hall. Come on."

As she followed Mulder down the wood-floor hallway, she hit a board that creaked as she stepped on it. It made a funny noise and she bounced on it again, repeating the sound. Mulder chuckled a little. "I think that was Mom's way of finding out what time I would sneak home after curfew."

She laughed as he opened the door to his room and stood aside so she could enter. He dropped his overnight bag on the floor as she wandered about.

It too was sparsely furnished. A full-sized bed, a dresser, a bookshelf crammed floor to ceiling with books. She stepped over to examine Mulder's childhood taste. She scanned the titles quickly. Some of everything it seemed, both fiction and non-fiction. Classics tales of Long John Silver, Robinson Crusoe, and Moby Dick were mixed with books that had been contemporary for the time. Lots of mysteries and adventure stories. A lot of John Steinbeck and of course, the ubiquitous Catcher in the Rye. The non-fiction books were on sports, psychology, comparative religions, and cultures. All were well worn. She liked that, books were for reading, not for show. She smiled over at him to show her approval as he watched her peruse the evidence of his past life.

Interspersed with the books were other mementos of youth. A baseball mitt, a model car, an autographed baseball from a player she didn't know. There were some photos in small frames. One held a photo of a four-year-old Mulder sitting on the large bed in the master bedroom holding a wailing newborn gently on his lap as he looked sheepishly up at the camera. She examined it closely because she'd seen very few pictures of him as a child and never one this young. It showed a cute little boy, gangly and sweet. But still, the shadows of the handsome man he would become were there. Even then, his eyes had that wise look; the look of an old soul.

She smiled up at him. "Samantha's first reaction to her big brother?"

"Yeah, I started getting that response from women early on."

She laughed and looked at the next photo. Taken much later, Mulder looked to be about ten. He stood proudly in a little league uniform next to a taller man whose arm rested along the boy's shoulder. She took it off the shelf and looked at it closely in the light. Scully had never met Mulder's father before he died and she'd never seen a good picture of him. Bill Mulder looked to be about the same age that Mulder was now and she was struck by the similarity in features. The same nose, full lower lip, and face shape. It was almost like someone had taken a recent photo of Mulder and pasted it on a twenty-five-year-old picture. "That's amazing."

"What is?"

She looked up at him. "How much you look like your father." Mulder stepped up next to her and looked at the photo as though he'd never seen it. He nodded slowly and a strange look crossed into his eyes.

"What Mulder?"

"Nothing, I guess I just never really noticed it before…I don't look at the old days much." He glanced up at the dusty mirror that hung above the dresser as though to remind himself what he looked like. Scully met his eyes in mirror a moment then she placed the frame gently back on the shelf.

Piled on the lowest shelf was a stack of old Life and Time magazines, now over twenty years old. "Wow, these are probably worth something," she said as she knelt to look through the stack. Suddenly another magazine plopped out from between the pages of one of the magazines. She held it up. "Hmmmm.. March 1975 Playboy. Now this is probably REALLY worth something." She looked up at him and he rolled his eyes a bit. "Unless of course, the pages are all stuck together."

Mulder reached out and deftly plucked the magazine from her hands. "Don't disparage my family heirlooms, Scully." She laughed and stood up as Mulder bent down and carefully placed the magazine back between the pages of the Life Magazine.

She wandered over and sat on the edge of the bed, bouncing slightly as he watched her. She looked over and decided to put him on the spot. "So--got any stories you want to share about THIS bed, Mulder?"

To her absolute amazement, Mulder blushed. God it was wonderful and she wouldn't have thought it possible. "Not as many as I hoped at age 16," he finally answered.

"Ah, so there's at least one?"

He tilted his head and squinted at her a bit. "Agent Scully--are you asking me to tell you about my first time?" he asked with a smile, now having recovered his composure quickly.

She grinned mirthfully. "I guess I am."

"You gonna tell me about yours if I tell you about mine?"

"Only if you tell me yours first."

He came over and sat down next to her on the bed, leaning dangerously towards her. "What--you don't trust me Scully?" He asked in a mock-wounded voice.

She tilted her head back and eyed him carefully as though she was waffling on the answer. "No."

"Well, then I'm not telling you mine," he answered firmly.

"Mulder," she paused then looked him straight in the eyes and said in a small voice, "What if I told you I didn't have a first-time story?"

At her solemn look, Mulder eyes narrowed and his lips parted to say something. She saw that for just a millisecond something that almost looked like belief--or was that hope? --flashed in his eyes. But then he shook his head as he leaned back a bit. "Nice try, Scully."

She laughed brightly. "I had you."

"You did not!"

Scully stood and walked towards the door. "Did too."

"No way," he argued as he followed her.

She turned in the hallway. "Mulder I'm going to go take a shower, we can finish this discussion later."

"Oh sure, run out because you were losing the argument."

She grinned at him. "In your dreams Mulder," getting the last word as she shut the door to her room.

Later they convened in the kitchen, both now showered and clean. They agreed to call a truce and decided to start on dinner. The kitchen still had a few pans and dishes in the cupboard, which Scully washed before using. She put Mulder in charge of the salad and she asked him to open the wine too.

Except Mulder couldn't find a corkscrew. He searched everywhere, digging through every cupboard and drawer. "I can't believe this," he muttered. "I know my parents drank wine." He was just about to admit defeat when his usual ingenuity came to the rescue. In the junk drawer that exists in every kitchen everywhere, he came up with a small screwdriver and a rather sizeable screw. With some effort, he managed to get the screw mostly in the cork, then with much grunting and tugging, he managed to slowly yank the cork out. Well, most of it anyway.

"Jesus, now I need a drink after all that," he said. There were no wine glasses but they decided that the juice glasses would do just fine. He poured the wine and they toasted a job well done today, then both fished bits of cork out before taking a swallow.

"This is good. The cork adds a piquant grittiness," she said as she sipped and stirred the macaroni into the hot water.

"Hey--cut me some slack. All you had to do was boil water. I had to do all the manly-man stuff with tools."

She laughed. "I can't wait to see you get out your hacksaw and go to work on the salad."

Mulder gave her a look. "You know Scully, there's a really unattractive mean streak in you."

"Ah, come on, Mulder. You love my mean streak."

His eyes narrowed a bit in retort, but he said nothing and they managed to churn out the rest of the dinner together without further incident. They ate out in the living room and Mulder complimented her extravagantly on her macaroni and cheese abilities. Scully felt absurdly pleased. She'd never really cooked for him. Their meals together were generally restaurant, take out, or drive through. She'd made sandwiches once on a case where they were stuck in a hotel with no restaurants in fifty miles. But in her mind, the ability to slap baloney on bread didn't really qualify as cooking for someone. She liked it. There was something so simply satisfying and ordinary about sharing a meal they'd prepared together.

Later they made coffee and brought out the cookies, which Mulder begrudgingly admitted were better than his choice. The evening had flown by and it was late. It was so quiet in the house. None of the usual street noises. There was a TV in the living room, but neither seemed interested in turning it on, preferring to talk instead and Scully asked Mulder the question she'd been curious about for a long time.

"Did you ever celebrate Christmas?" Mulder looked surprised at her query. "I mean, you said earlier that it was just another day for you. A lot of people don't celebrate Christmas for personal or religious reasons."

He shook his head. "My mother is Jewish, but not my father. But neither was religious or involved in either of their birth faiths. But we did the full-on Christmas thing though; tree, presents, dinner. I think it was just easier to do it all in one day instead of an eight-day thing. It was more convenience than spiritual." He laughed a little. "It wasn't until I studied comparative religions in school that I really learned anything about either faith and their differences or similarities.

He pointed to a corner spot near the fireplace. "Mom used to put the Christmas tree right there. Dad would bring it home and we'd spend the day decorating it." He went quiet a moment, recalling something.

"What Mulder?"

"I was just remembering that when we would finish, Dad would turn all the house lights out and just leave the tree lights on in the dark. That was Samantha's favorite part, I think. When she was real little, one of the first words she liked was, 'pretty.' She would sit on the floor in front of the tree and say, 'Look Fox, pretty,' over and over." Scully could see the gentle emotion of a good memory cross his face. "And she was right, it was a beautiful thing. I can still remember it."

"You let her call you Fox," she teased gently.

He came back to the present and chuckled. "Yeah, it was my Christmas present to her that year."

Scully laughed too. "Well, I think it's sweet that she wanted to share that with you. It says a lot about her even as a little girl."

Mulder nodded. "The last Christmas we did was the one that came less than a month after Samantha was taken. My parents went through the motions for my sake and I went through the motions for theirs and it was pretty much the most miserable, awful time for all of us. God, Scully--it was horrible." He took a breath. "Then after that, my father was gone. Mom tried but her heart wasn't in it and neither was mine, so Christmas pretty much just fell by the wayside after that. I just kind of got in the habit of being by myself over the holiday." He looked over at her with a charming grin. "Well, until now anyway."

"Mulder, I appreciate your taking me in. I know your plans didn't include me."

Mulder tilted his head as though she'd started speaking a foreign language that he couldn't comprehend. "I..." he trailed off as though he didn't know what to say. He sat back on the couch, stretching his arm out the length of the back as he looked out the window at the blackness. For a moment Scully wondered what it would be like to scoot across the couch and nestle in next to him. Maybe just stay there forever.

"Scully, I know with your father and sister being gone, the holidays have changed for you too. It's hard when a way of life you're used to goes away and you feel like a part is missing. But I really admire that your family had the faith to hang on to each other instead of breaking apart. That's really the way it should be."

He turned his eyes back to her. "I know your own plans didn't work out this year the way you hoped and that you're missing the family dinner and the midnight mass and all. And I'm sorry for that. But even though it may be selfish, I'm still glad that you're here," he finished softly.

God, sometimes Mulder just knew how to say exactly the right thing. She bowed her head a little, smiling. "Thank you. And you're right, it does feel strange you know, in some ways. I mean, I can't ever remember missing a midnight mass. It's just so ingrained in me that it feels like something is missing. I'm like Pavlov's dog I guess," she added with a small laugh.

He reached out and touched her arm. "There's St. Augustine's over in Vineyard Haven. That's just a few miles, it's easy to find, it's right on the main road. You'd make it in plenty of time if you want to go. You don't have to stay here because of me."

Scully shook her head. "I didn't mean it that way, Mulder. You're not keeping me from anything."

"I know Scully. But I think you should go. It's already bad enough that the rest of your Christmas didn't work out. But this is something you could still do. Something of the day that would feel familiar."

Scully was tempted at his suggestion. Thirty-four years of habit and comforting ritual were hard to let go of but she didn't want Mulder to feel left alone. "Would....would you like to go with me?"

He shifted uncomfortably and hesitated in answering. "I wouldn't feel…honest about it," he finally said as though he were afraid the answer would disappoint her. "But if it's important to you that I go with you, I'll go. I don't want you to miss it."

Scully was touched by his offer. Whatever his beliefs, Mulder was a good man with a willing heart. "No, Mulder. I can go on my own. It's OK. Really. Faith is personal--it's not a favor or a bargain between friends. I hope you know that your feelings and convictions don't need to be the same as mine for me to respect them."

Mulder looked at her a long time and for once she couldn't figure out what was going on inside his mind. Perhaps her response was not what he expected. But slowly he smiled a little and shook his head almost in wonder. "Scully, I swear sometimes you're enough to make me believe in God," he told her.

Scully was rendered inarticulate by his words and Mulder suddenly picked their coffee mugs up off the table and entered the kitchen. Scully didn't follow him as some instinct told her that he'd revealed more than he was comfortable with and that she'd make it worse if she followed him. So instead, she gathered up her purse and coat. She headed towards the door and called to him from there. "Mulder, I'm going now. I'll be back in a couple of hours. I'll just take the door key--don't wait up."

Mulder's voice drifted softly back from the kitchen. "OK."

She picked up the key and opened the front door, but then she hesitated, standing in the doorway a moment as she realized that she needed to tell him something more too. She took a breath and turned back. "Mulder?"

He came to the kitchen doorway, looking at her questioningly as she met his gaze.

"Mulder, I could have still made it to my family's if I'd wanted to."

Slowly Mulder's handsome face brightened as he nodded in understanding. "I'll leave a light on for you," he promised softly.

Scully smiled at the affection in the words and left the small house.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Returning a few hours later, Scully saw the lights long before she could see the house itself. There were no street lamps here and it was almost a moonless night. As Mulder had said once, living in the city you could forget how dark night could be. The lights were like a beacon in the woods, drawing her in towards them.

As she walked up to the house, she noticed that the light was out in Mulder's room. It was very late and Mulder had to be exhausted. Despite his outward demeanor, she knew this was an emotional and difficult day for him. God, she'd learned so much about him since she'd stepped off the plane this morning. It was as if someone had suddenly located missing pieces of a puzzle, enabling her to get a better look at the picture being formed.

She quietly entered the house, shutting off the porch light and locking the door. She crossed the room, shutting off the small lamp by the fireplace and started up the stairs. As she hit the hallway the floor creaked and she smiled, thinking of a 16-year-old Mulder trying to sneak in so many years ago.

As she opened the door to her room, she suddenly remembered that she hadn't made the bed and she sighed because she was so tired herself. The old house didn't have a light switch by the door. She cautiously made her way across the room where, fumbling in the blackness, she finally found the small lamp on the nightstand. She switched it on and a gentle light illuminated the dark room.

Mulder had made the bed for her. Clean flannel sheets now covered the bed with a thick comforter. God, what a good man. The only thing missing was a mint on her pillow.

The only thing missing was Mulder, she thought with a smile. If his light hadn't been off in his room, she might even have headed down there. But instead, she pulled her clothes off, pulled on a long T-shirt against the winter chill, and climbed into the warmth of the flannel sheets.

Scully relaxed back into the pillows with a deep audible sigh. The simple pleasure of just laying down after all the hard physical labor was wonderful. But even so, she couldn't get her mind to shut off enough to get fully asleep. She drifted in and out of twilight consciousness, losing all sense of time.

At one point she reached out and groped for her watch on the nightstand. She pressed the tiny button that illuminated the dial. 3am. She dropped the watch back on the table and fell back into the dreaming languor, when she heard footsteps move softly down the hallway, navigating the darkness with the ease that comes with familiarity, avoiding the creaking floorboard. She heard the steps pass her door, pause and then move back the way they'd come from. Moments later, the sound returned, moving more quickly this time. Again pausing at her door. She heard the door creak just slightly as it was pushed gently open.

"Scully?" Mulder's voice was so soft that if she hadn't been awake, she wouldn't have heard it.

There was little moonlight from the window and she could barely make out his shape in the doorway. It was just his voice in the darkness. She raised herself on her elbow, looking in the direction of the voice. "I'm awake, Mulder."

He moved with his familiar grace across the room. As he reached the bed, what little light filtered in through the window now softly outlined his body and she felt the bed dip slightly with his weight as he sat on edge of it. She sat up, reaching out for the light by the bed. He saw the shadow of her movement and he reached across her body to catch her hand with his.

His eyes never left hers as he pulled her hand gently away from the lamp and back towards him, intertwining their fingers. She caught her breath as he brought it back to lay it over his heart, the gesture silently signifying the emotional devotion she'd always known was there. But now she felt it physically for the first time as his large hand covered her smaller one; that touch causing her to feel shaky inside as he looked at her.

Scully felt his warmth radiating through his T-shirt as he held her hand against his chest, his fingers caressing hers. The sound of his breath lulled as she felt the gentle rise and fall of his chest and the even softer rhythm of his heart. Almost nonexistent moonlight cast dark shadows over the planes of his face as he grazed her cheek with his free hand. He slipped his fingers through her hair, cradling the back of her head as he moved closer to her on the bed. He let go of her hand now to slip his arm around her waist and pull her against him. Scully took him in her arms, grasping his T-shirt in her fingers and holding on.

Mulder nuzzled his face into her hair and down against her neck, rubbing slowly and sensuously as he turned his lips to her ear. "Scully," he whispered, his soft breath sending a cool delicious chill through her system, causing her shiver. He felt it against his body and went completely still, his face pressing into the crook of her neck, his body warmth and his soft breath sending radiant heat pulsing through the rest of her body as he held her. The silent question asked, he waited for her response.

Scully could hardly draw breath. She ran her hand up his arm, along his shoulder to his neck, where her finger trailed up to brush along his jaw line, caressing softly as she answered his completely unnecessary question with her own touch.

Mulder lifted his head and turned his face towards her. She brushed her fingers over his face and up through his spiky hair that tickled under her palm just as she knew it would. She traced back down over the smooth skin of his forehead and down his strong nose, the across the roughness of his cheek, the different sensations under her touch fascinated her. She smoothed her fingers over his mouth and she felt him move to kiss her fingertips. Then his hand cupped the back of her neck as he drew her forward, his lips parted in anticipation.

And Mulder finally kissed her for the first time, at last completing that step started in his hallway long ago, and her head swam with pleasure as she drew him in. His warm and comforting mouth took possession as he explored softly with his tongue and he made a deep sound of pleasure at the taste he found.

He'd said no more words since he'd spoken her name and this was fine with Scully. For six years, their world had been filled with nothing but words and she didn't need more of them right now. She just needed to feel his touch and hear the more primal noises that her own touch evoked in him.

Scully returned his kiss, seeking his taste for herself as she reached down to grasp the edge of his T-shirt, sliding her hands underneath and feeling the smooth skin of his chest. He drew in a sharp breath as her hands caressed the hardness of his nipples and he pulled her even deeper into the kiss.

She broke their contact just long enough to lift the shirt up and over his head in impatience, needing the feel of his skin. His sweatpants went next as he moved all the way on to the bed and within moments her own nightshirt was gone and the comforter was pushed aside as Mulder gathered her back against him. She felt the hard planes of his naked body pressed into the length of hers for the first time as he just held her close a moment. Then he found her lips again and she was drawn once more into the headiness and feel of his mouth.

Mulder pressed her back into the pillows as his hands roamed her body quickly almost as though he couldn't decide what to touch next. His mouth followed his hands, with wet kisses and soothing tongue strokes, followed by his cooling breath on her moist tingling skin, over her breasts and belly. In the darkness, it seemed his touch was intensified, the sensations acute and overwhelming for her as they continued. She'd forgotten; she'd actually forgotten what this felt like. And after so long to have it be this man was emotionally breath-taking.

Oh God, Mulder, she thought as she touched him everywhere, she could reach, the softness of his hair and the hardness of his body pressed into her. She trailed her own kisses down his neck to run her tongue over his nipples. She had the satisfaction of hearing him moan deeply as she began to stroke the full length of his erection. Even as he pressed that hardness and heat against her hand, he sought her moistness with his fingers. Seeking and finding a rhythm that made her pull from his kiss with a warm cry.

He moved over her and she cradled him with her legs. She felt his fingers guiding his way and he moved in a deep, hard stroke up inside her. Scully gripped onto his arms and cried out sharply at the exquisite feeling as he filled her body with his.

He went still and touched her face. She opened her eyes to meet his and she saw that he wasn't sure if the sound he'd heard from her was pain or pleasure. It was both and she nodded against his hand, kissing his fingers as she arched her hips up against his to bring him even deeper within if she could. All she needed at that moment was more.

That was all the answer Mulder needed. He began long deep strokes within. Slowly and gently at first, and then with more urgency as his need and tension grew in response to her growing need for more. He slid his arms underneath her, bracing his weight on his elbows. He brought her mouth back to his in long, slow, drugging kisses, stroking into her mouth as he stroked deeply into her body below.

Scully lost time. Oh God, she'd been so starved of this; so hungry for his skin and his weight pressed against her as he moved against her body, so hungry for the soothing of her longing as he moved within her body. And his taste, it was so good. The tangy salt flavor on his skin and the sweet warmth of his mouth as he caressed her. She'd subjugated her craving for so long that she felt ravenous for him now. She couldn't get enough satisfy her appetite, the pleasure causing her to lose the rationality she was so proud of.

Slowing his thrusts, Mulder curled down to kiss her breasts and then take her nipple into his mouth, sucking and nipping. She cradled his head against her with one hand and stroked up and down the length of his back with the other, her fingers digging into the muscles. The hot, sweet motion of his mouth seemed to go on forever before he moved his lips back up to her neck.

His voice was now low in her ear, his words mostly unintelligible, but the emotion clear and his breath hot. The now urgent thrusting, the sweat and the long dormant sensations that his body now evoked in hers all increased in intensity. He moved his hand to take hers, drawing it over her head, intertwining their fingers as he looked down into her face. She could just make out his features in soft darkness. He held her gaze, until she had to close her eyes from the pleasure as she edged towards the white heat. So close, so close. And then it consumed her, and waves of soft pleasure pulsing out over her body, more intimately satisfying than anything she'd ever known and so peaceful at the same time. Gentle and so deep the motion, it seemed to go on forever, like a low rumbling earthquake. She moaned in delicious release and when she was able to open her eyes, she saw Mulder smile.

Just moments later, Mulder's own fulfillment came to him and his grip on her hand tightened. He cried out hoarsely and he held himself still and deep within her as she felt the jolts of his orgasm rock him and she felt his rhythms within her own body. She brought her hands back down to hold him close, still trying to pull him even farther inside and he trembled gently now as the hard contractions of his pleasure wound down into peacefulness.

Long moments passed before Mulder regained the strength to move and she could hear his once ragged breath begin to slow as hers had. He rolled slowly to his back and she felt cold without the warmth and weight of his body covering hers. But then she felt his arms move around her as he turned on his side facing her, his eyes on hers. She could still only barely make out his features but even so, she wondered if he could see in her face what she saw in his. He must have because he kissed her again and she was complete as he held her.

After a moment, Scully turned in his arms so that her back was pressed to his chest. He slipped his arms around her waist to pull her back against him and she settled back into his embrace, her arms wrapped over his. Mulder pulled the down comforter back up over them and then starting at the round of her shoulder, he slowly kissed his way to her neck. When he reached her ear, he spoke for the first time, whispering, "You've ruined it for me now, you know."

"Ruined what?" she asked softly.

"Doing this alone."

She gave a small laugh, brought his hand to her lips and kissed his palm before she laid it back over her heart as he'd first touched her. She heard him sigh in contentment. "Thank you for ruining it, Scully."

"It was my pleasure Mulder."

He burrowed in closer against her and within moments, they were both caught in the gentle rhythms of tranquil deep sleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

December 25th

The sunlight caught Scully in the eye, waking her slowly as she realized she had the bed to herself again. She lay peacefully a moment, curled up on the pillows, clearing her head of sleep and remembering. The soft shadows of last night seemed almost unreal in the brighter light of day. Except for the heady scent and the unmistakable evidence of Mulder's presence on and within her body, she would have thought it a strange and wonderful dream.

But it was a strange and wonderful reality instead. She stretched, wishing that he were still there in bed with her. She wished she'd awakened earlier because while she'd seen Mulder asleep on many occasions, it had never been in the soft morning light, never in her arms. She swung her legs over the bed and made her way to the bathroom. She started the shower and then spent a moment looking at her face in the mirror, somehow expecting to look different. Somewhat to her disappointment, she didn't--unless you counted the tiny hickey she now sported just where her neck met her shoulder, which Mulder had applied just before sleep had taken them both. Scully smiled at her reflection and then stepped into the shower.

A half-hour later she was showered, hair blown-dried and dressed. Mulder still hadn't made an appearance. She'd noticed that his clothes, which had been tossed to the floor last night, were gone. Perhaps he'd even gone back to his other room to sleep. She suddenly wondered in amusement if he was sleeping on the couch downstairs and the thought made her smile. Other than hotels, sleeping in beds was not Mulder's habit and she'd even on occasion known him to sleep on the couch in front of the TV in a hotel room.

As Scully walked down the hall in her stockinged feet, she hit the floorboard that creaked and she stopped, laughing a little. As she padded down the stairs, she suddenly remembered for the first time that it was Christmas morning--The first Christmas in her 34 years that she hadn't spent with her family in some manner. As she entered the living room, there were no decorations, no tree, no presents. Nothing that was familiar. Layered on top of the events last night that still seemed so dream-like in her mind she felt strangely disconcerted.

"Good Morning."

She turned and leaning against the doorway to the kitchen was Mulder, wearing sweatpants, a T-shirt and a still-sleepy look. But when her eyes met his, the very slow gentle smile that lit up his face also lightened her heart and the disorientation faded as quickly as it had appeared.

She smiled back at him. "Morning, Mulder."

He held two steaming mugs in his hand. "I was just coming to wake you up. The place comes with room service you know." But he made no move to approach her.

Scully came to him instead, taking one of the mugs from his hand. He made no move to touch her either, it was almost as though he didn't seem ready to talk about or even acknowledge last night. She was surprisingly OK with that because she felt completely secure in his affection. She had not one iota of regret and she knew he didn't either.

He gestured to her to sit and she returned to the couch in the living room. A moment later he reappeared with breakfast muffins and some juice that he placed on the coffee table in front of her then sat next to her on the couch. This felt completely familiar, she thought. In fact, she thought, this moment was no different from a hundred breakfasts they had shared together over the years together.

He looked at the simple meal before them. "I forgot something."

"What?"

"This." Mulder leaned over, kissing her so tenderly. OK, so this breakfast was very different.

When he drew away, he pressed his forehead against hers, as his eyes closed. After a moment he drew away and looked at her as though searching for something and she saw a melancholy come into his expression. He turned away and picked up his coffee mug, staring down into the liquid.

She slid her arm across his back. "What?"

"You asked me a question a little while ago that I never really answered."

"Which question?"

"You asked me whether I ever wanted to settle down, and live something approaching a normal life."

She nodded now, remembering the conversation in the car on their way to Nevada not so very long ago.

"The answer is yes." He turned his eyes to hers, nodding slowly. "Yes, Scully, every once in a while, I think exactly that. Especially if that normal life could be like this. Like yesterday. Like last night." Mulder took a deep breath of resignation. "But I don't know that it's something that I'll ever be able have because so much in my life conspires to prevent it. But I do think about it, Scully. More and more lately."

Mulder set his mug back on the table. "But now I have a question for you too." He stood and walked to one of the windows, looking out on the lawn covered in morning dew, his arms crossed over his chest as though he were cold. After a moment, he turned back to her.

"Scully--Do you believe that my sister was abducted by aliens?"

She looked at him intently. Mulder had asked her that impertinent question only one time before in six years and she'd been unable to answer. But even back then, she'd known that he'd feared that she might utter the ultimate in cop-outs, "I believe that YOU believe it, Mulder." She'd known even then, that he'd be hurt by that precious kind of humoring far more than if she told him that she still didn't believe it. But even so, she'd been unable to answer or even hold his gaze, instead looking down and away, her gesture signifying her answer as loudly as any words.

But today, as she looked into his eyes, she realized the motivations behind the question were different this time. With bright clarity she understood that what Mulder was really asking was if he should give up. If he should walk away from overwhelming odds that would have crushed any other man years ago. He was asking for her advice on whether he should let it all go because for the first time, the idea was tempting him.

Mulder waited in silence as she looked back at the man who'd literally gone to the ends of the earth for her on nothing more than a man's word and his hope in the truth of those words. She now knew that same perseverance and willingness to believe would lead him to his answers about Samantha someday.

She owed him her own truth, even if it meant losing that chance for a normal life--that other holy grail and the thing they both wanted just as they'd wanted the truth for years. God, they were selfish; they wanted it all.

But nobody got to have it all, she remembered sadly.

"Mulder..." she faltered a moment then squared her shoulders and looked up into his eyes as she nodded. "Yes, Mulder. I believe it's possible. I've believed it for a long time. I just never told you."

He tilted his head, seemingly almost incredulous at her admission, as he exhaled softly. He crossed the room and knelt before her, eye level now. "Really, Scully?" His words didn't question her honesty, but rather were a simple confirmation that she knew what they were letting go of. She nodded quickly and Mulder reached for her, holding her close.

"Thank you, Scully," he whispered, "Thank you for telling me." His voice filled with an emotion that made her understand how much her words had meant to him and she wished she'd given them to him earlier. He drew away just slightly and trailed his fingers down her face before he smiled gently. "That's the best Christmas present I've ever had," he said lightly. "But I didn't get you anything."

She smiled as she shook her head. "Yes, you did, Mulder."

At his quizzical look she continued. "For 6 years you and I have been on a journey whose nature doesn't allow us the opportunity to be regular people." She reached up to caress his face and a bittersweet look came into her eyes. "We're different, you and me. Different both by circumstance and by choice. But we're still different, we're still outsiders to many of the things the rest of the world gets to take for granted."

Scully took his large slender hands in hers and she looked at their intertwined fingers a moment before she continued. "But yesterday, last night and today, we did all the regular people things that regular people get to do. I wanted that gift for a long time." He squeezed her fingers and she looked back at him. "Mulder, I know that we'll get the X-Files back soon because we have a job to finish. And I know that by necessity, things will return to how they were before, always having to look over our shoulders, never really being free. But I'll have these days forever. You gave me that and it's the best gift I could ask for...even if I know I have to give it back soon."

He nodded in understanding even as his eyes filled. He swallowed hard and Scully let go of his hands, wrapping her arms around his neck as she held him close again. "I did get to go home to my family for Christmas, Mulder," she whispered.

"Scully--" Mulder started, but then he just settled on a single word as he nodded. "Yes." He stood slowly, bringing her to her feet also. Bending to her, he kissed her deeply, the delicious emotion of it was both powerful and weakening.

Taking her hand, he drew her back towards the stairs as she followed, and Mulder finally came home to his family for Christmas too.

 

The End