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He’s been watching her suffer through something all morning, though he doesn’t know what. She’d walked in grumpy, mumbling an unintelligible greeting and dropping her satchel on her work station with a heavy thump. It had immediately fallen open, sending the contents spilling out onto the table and floor. She’d cursed under her breath and kicked the table leg before she crouched down and scooped up what she could and dumped it onto her chair with a huff. He’d bit back a sarcastic remark that was on the top of his tongue, electing, for once, not to redirect her anger towards him.

 

He delays the slideshow he has prepared so that she can finish her coffee, hoping the caffeine will elevate her mood a little, but it fails.  By mid-morning, she’s no less irritable than when she’d walked in.  The papercut probably didn’t help and the automatic software installation and required reboot of her computer that took twenty minutes to complete most certainly did not either.  

 

Her sighs were starting to get under his skin.  Ever since the x-files had been returned to them, he’d been trying to work on his patience, but sometimes it was hard.  Especially when she won’t talk to him about what’s bothering her.  He knows it can’t be something he did (or didn’t do) because just yesterday he’d finished his latest case report on time, had all his expense receipts in order, and got them out of the office before five.  All he’d done after leaving was go for a run, order a pizza, and fall asleep watching B-movies on the Sci-Fi channel, so he couldn’t possibly have managed to piss her off.  At least, he didn’t think he could have.

 

“Hey,” he says.

 

“What?” she snaps.

 

He gets up from his desk and comes around to the front.  “Come here for a second,” he tells her.

 

“Why?”

 

“Just...come here.”

 

She sighs, but gets up and stomps over to him with her arms crossed.  There’s an unhappy little scowl on her face as she looks up at him, pinching her brows together.  He takes a hold of her elbows and squeezes them for a brief moment and then puts his arms around her and brings her to his chest.

 

“Mulder…”

 

“Count to ten,” he says.

 

“I don’t want to count to ten.”

 

He pulls her in a little tighter.  “Count to ten.”

 

“Onetwothreefourfivesix-”

 

“Easy,” he whispers, cutting her off.  He takes a deep breath and rubs a circle over her back with the flat of his hand.  “One, one-thousand.  Two, one-thousand.”

 

She sighs in return and deflates a little.  Her arms loosen and then she takes a deep breath as well.  “Three, one-thousand.  Four, one-thousand.”

 

He wraps his arms fully around her as she finishes counting and then squeezes gently after she reaches ten, one-thousand.  He lets her go, sweeps his hand down her back once more, and then walks back behind his desk.  She stands still, staring after him.

 

“Mulder?”

 

“Hm?”  He smooths his tie down his chest as he sits down.

 

The raised eyebrows, widened eyes, and slight head shake all tell him she’s waiting for an explanation.  He pushes his chair back and opens the bottom drawer of the cabinet behind him and digs through it until he finds what he’s looking for.  He pulls out a psychology magazine from April, 1998 and flips through the pages.  He stops, turns the magazine around, and slides it across the desk towards her, tapping one of the articles.  She steps closer and leans over to read.

 

“Hugging for at least 10 seconds at a time releases oxytocin, a hormone which helps your body fight infections, boost your immune system and eases depression.”

 

“Pretty sure it also says something about a drop in stress chemicals as well,” he adds.

 

“Cortisol.”

 

“Exactly.”

 

She closes the magazine and slides it back to him across the desk.  He tosses it back into his drawer.

 

“So,” he asks.  “Feeling better?”

 

“I wasn’t…”  She trails off, opening and closing her mouth a few times before she gives him a short nod.

 

“Good.”  He grabs the remote for the slide projector and stands.  “Have you ever heard of The White Thing of the Kanawha Valley?”

 

“No, I...I can’t say I have.  I don’t even know where Kanawha Valley is.”

 

“West Virginia.”  Mulder moves around the desk, past Scully, to flip off the lights.  “Some say it’s half-bear, half-dog.  Saber-like fangs and white, wooly fur.  Possibly a relative of the Sheepsquatch.”

 

“The Sheepsquatch?”

 

“There’s been a rash of sightings in Cross Lanes, West Virginia recently.”  He squeezes her shoulder as he moves past her back to the desk, but then pauses in the light of the projector and takes a step back to face her.  “Scully, if you ever need 10 seconds, just ask.”

 

She looks up at him with her eyes narrowed, but her face softens almost immediately.  “Sheepsquatch, Mulder?” she whispers.

 

He chuckles and starts his presentation for her.

The End