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Sore Luck at the Luxor

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The two FBI agents argued as they walked, or perhaps it would have been more accurate to say that they walked as they argued.

"Our witness said that the figure just walked up to the slot machine and pulled the lever and money cascaded out. She said that it was definitely a small, gray form with almond-shaped eyes and an oversized head."

"She also said that she's the reincarnation of Marie Antoinette, Mulder." Scully hurried to keep up with her partner. Their combined strides made a strange rhythm on the cement, a bit like a bongo drummer with one hand playing two-four time and the other three-four time. One went faster than the other, but they still covered the same amount of ground. Scully would have said that it was like two distinct sine waves, with the same amplitude but different frequencies, but then of course she would have gone on to kill the metaphor by noting that the waves would not retain their original amplitude but would occasionally cancel one another out and occasionally magnify one another. Which, if you thought about it, was not an inaccurate description of their partnership. Except for the part where their initial amplitude was the same.

Meanwhile, during the narrative aside, the two made their subdued way to their rental car, barely distinguishable from the other rental cars in the motel parking lot. Mrs. Edith Franklin (widowed) could not afford to stay in one of the casino hotels, but her senior citizens' group got a good discount at the Friendly Sombrero, which offered free parking and a shuttle to the main strip. Mulder put the keys in the lock and realized that the car he'd rented was actually on his *other* side (which explained why Scully had followed him to the door, and here he'd uncharitably thought that she was going to demand to drive).

Carefully avoiding Scully's eyes, he unlocked the passenger door for her and then scooted around the front of the correct car and opened the door. "So she's a little old lady, Scully, she's sharp enough to make three hundred dollars yesterday."

Scully buckled herself in with exactly the same satisfaction she showed at making a really even Y incision. "Did you ask her how much she's lost over the past year?"

"No," he admitted, realization dawning that Scully *had* asked.

"Twenty thousand dollars, Mulder. That sharp little old lady is a gambling addict." Unfortunately, the sound of the engine starting up did nothing to disguise the satisfaction in her voice.

"It doesn't mean she's an invalid witness," he rallied.

"Mulder. She said that she saw an alien win a jackpot, that Burl Ives often plays next to her, and that the paintings in the motel room occasionally give her advice about which casinos are 'hot' today."

"It could be true, about Burl Ives I mean." He tried to remember which way their hotel was. Despite Scully's dirty looks when she saw the Sphinx and the wandering employees dressed as Cleopatra and Pharoah, he hadn't picked it. They were required to stay in the Luxor so that they could carry out the surveillance on the suspect they were supposedly there to track.

Mulder was aware that the first rule of any job was 'never volunteer,' but it would have been criminal to ask him to pass up a free trip to Las Vegas. Scully had her fun with DefCon, and he was determined to see the side of her that the Gunmen had seen. Of course, then she was under the influence of drugs, but Frohike insisted that the symptoms combined drunkenness and hypnotized sensitivity -- Scully unbound, not Scully transformed. He had to put up with Scully on a regular basis and, dammit, he deserved to see her cut loose.

Unfortunately, Scully was still acting tighter than Lycra shorts; Las Vegas had yet to work its magic on her. She wouldn't let the issue of Mrs. Franklin's reliability go. She was like a cat with a mouse that way -- she'd let the topic think that it had escaped to safety, then reach out at the last moment and pull it back with one delicately deadly paw. Sure enough, she was talking again. "In layman's terms, her elevator doesn't go to the top floor. She's a few lights short of a marquee. She's -- she's got two cherries and an orange."

Or maybe Las Vegas was having too great an influence on her. "Check the map, willya, Scully -- should I go right or left at the light?"

****

Scully loathed gambling. Flying into the Las Vegas airport, where there were slot machines as soon as you walked off of the airplane, had made her skin crawl. She was having a mental allergic reaction to the entire *concept* of Las Vegas. If there ever was a time in her life for a psychosomatic illness, it was now, but her body was as stubborn as her psyche and no nausea or swelling was forthcoming.

And Scully did not understand the concept of dressing up to go gambling. On the one hand, it was perfectly understandable that one would not want to go around in a floral shirt and plaid slacks like some of the people in the casinos. On the other, if a person were to be so foolish as to gamble, could she really disguise that fact by dressing up as if it were the opera? There's no such thing as the Phantom of the Blackjack Tables. Evening dress implied that people actually looked at each other rather than at the cards or chips or other betting things -- Scully was fairly vague on that part of the gambling experience -- on which they were gambling away their hard- earned money.

But Charles "Chip" Morelli was a high roller and she and Mulder were supposed to follow him around in the fancy part of the casinos, and that -- according to Mulder -- meant expensive clothes. He'd been very specific when he called her and told her, gleefully, to pack for the trip. That was all very well for Mulder who could just wear one of his suits, but she'd be damned if she was going to shop for and buy an outfit with sequins on it -- blue sequins, thank you very much -- and then pay for it herself.  Accounting could suck it up. In fact, looking forward to the dispute with Agnes Whatserface in Accounting gave her the only enjoyment she'd had in the whole matter, other than puncturing Mulder's little "Aliens are taking all the money that losers lose in casinos" theory with Mrs. Franklin this morning.

Sadly, it was the hope of meeting Mrs. Franklin that had led Mulder to offer her (and himself) on the sacrificial altar of undercover work, like two chickens who normally worked in the basement but had wandered up into the daylight, blinking, only to find that they were part of a big complicated spell that involved chanting Miranda warnings and sticking pins in representations of the suspect until he confessed.

Something like that, anyway.

Organized Crime had jumped at the chance to have fresh faces doing the surveillance, and Mulder had jumped at the chance for a weekend in Las Vegas, and they met in the middle and smacked together and came down right on Scully.

Ever since she'd been lured to Vegas, Mulder had been itching to go together. Unfortunately, all the time she'd spent apart from the Gunmen was rather hazy in her mind and she hadn't resisted with as much vigor as she should have. Now that she considered it, Mrs. Franklin was a pretty pitiful excuse even for him. Mulder no doubt had some sort of dark and nefarious bet with the Gunmen involving what *he* could get her to do in Vegas.

Regardless of his true motive, he'd signed them up to do surveillance on Chip Morelli in a hotel in the ridiculous and superstitious shape of a giant pyramid. A black glass pyramid with neon coursing down the edges in case any alien spaceships needed landing lights. Mulder was in love with it.

Their suite was right next to Morelli's, up near the pointy top of the place. Ideally, they'd socialize with him and ingratiate themselves enough to get invited to his room for a drink. Once there, they could plant listening devices. The usual procedure in this situation was to get hotel cooperation, but this was Vegas, and Las Vegas hotels didn't have a healthy relationship with the Bureau. Thus they were forced to resort to subterfuge, and snappy dressing.

Scully looked over her shoulder once more, meeting the resigned eyes of her reflection in the mirror, and realized yet again, as if for the first time, that there was no way she could wear a bra in the dress. It wasn't clear that there would be room even if it were structurally feasible. She sighed and pulled the heavy material up so that the collar -- er, halter top -- fastened around her neck.

The good thing about the dress was that the fabric was thick enough that the edges of the sequins didn't poke her in uncomfortable places. The bad thing was that it was therefore thick enough to qualify as blast shielding. As soon as she zipped the back up, all the parts of her that were covered began to sweat like a teen-age boy within sight of a Penthouse magazine. Fortunately (sort of), not too much was covered up. Clearly, it had been designed by someone under the impression that there was a horrible sequin shortage facing America. The dress stopped just above her knees and, in back, started just below her tattoo.

It wasn't entirely her fault. She'd only had one day to shop after Mulder broke the news, she didn't know much about high casino fashion anyway and had to guess based on her viewing of "Casino" and last year's Golden Globes, and the tattoo-baring style had seemed sexy and a little dangerous in the dressing room.

There was no way to wear hose with the damn thing, either. Scully scowled and unzipped the back long enough to ditch her underwear on the tile floor. She was going to be as damp as a rainforest all night in any event; at least she could hope for some cool breezes. The skirt was so tight that she could barely move her legs, and she was unlikely to pull a Sharon Stone on anyone.

Looking sexy and feeling sexy are two very different things, she realized as Mulder knocked on the bathroom door. "Time's a'wastin', Scully." She slid into the three-inch blue heels -- matching in color, but, thank God, without sequins -- and opened the door.

Mulder gave the obligatory wolf whistle, which was okay by Scully because it gave her a moment to run her eyes over him. In theory, she would rather have used her tongue than her eyes, but in practice her eyes were safer, and less likely to dry out in the process. Mulder had decided to roll out the black Armani with the band-collar white shirt. Tieless was good. Shirtless and pantless might have been better, but they had a job to do.

****

Scully looked around as Mulder charged some chips on the Bureau credit card. She really hoped that no one ever made a Freedom of Information Act request about their expenses; the scandal would surely see them fired if not prosecuted for ripping off Uncle Sam. The noise of the casino roared through her head like a hangover headache.

Chip was over at the craps table, and Mulder steered Scully through the crowd. "Ever played craps?" he asked, leaning over her like Little Red Riding Hood's cape. Maybe more like the Big Bad Wolf.

"Does 'craps' sound like the kind of game I would play?" Scully was annoyed, and not afraid to admit it. Mulder had lied to her about the necessity of dressing up. There were a few couples who were nattily dressed, but even among the high rollers shorts and polo shirts reigned. The sequins made her look like a miniature showgirl. Already someone had tried to ask her for a drink. She was going to have to think of something particularly creative to get her revenge, something befitting an irate forensic pathologist. 'Disgusting' and 'gooey' were useful concepts when dealing with a man as fastidious about his personal grooming as Mulder.

They were nearly to the edge of the table now, past the observers and among the people who were actually betting. "You know, craps players have a superstition, Scully," he murmured. "A woman who's a craps virgin is destined to have a hot roll her first time." Typical male fantasy about female inexperience, she thought and shifted further away from him, pushing herself into the solid cherry of the craps table.

Mulder insinuated himself next to their target and put some chips on the table.

Scully soon discovered that she didn't understand craps at all, which annoyed the hell out of her. As far as she could tell, the game involved lots of dice and yelling. Some numbers were good and some were bad, but only depending on what the other people at the table were doing, and, maybe, the latitude and longitude of the craps table.

It was annoying, but only to be expected, that Mulder knew exactly how to play craps. Chip was rolling the dice, but Mulder was betting, and apparently winning more than Chip, which she didn't understand. Finally, amidst shouts of "come!" and "don't come!" that reminded her of the old Frankie Goes to Hollywood song, something happened that required Chip to pass the dice along to Mulder.

"The lady's going to roll," he told the stickman, who smiled politely at her and pushed the dice towards her.

Mulder wrapped himself around her, his hands gripping the craps table on either side of her, and breathed "Just relax," into her neck in a tone that suggested she should do anything but. If he kept it up she was going to have to do something to him that didn't naturally occur in the animal kingdom. "Make sure the dice hit the opposite wall and bounce off."

The dice were red, and warm from repeated handling. She wondered if she should do something showy like blow on them, but that would have been even more awkward, so she gauged the distance between her hands and the far side of the table, then closed her eyes and threw.

She didn't even see the dice, just the chips being pushed towards her and Mulder, who kept some and put others on the table as if he were scattering breadcrumbs.

"Hard six," he said, looking at the dealer, speaking loud enough to hear but sending the words right past her ear as if they described a proposed sexual position. The dice were in her hand again, and she briefly imagined that they were his testicles, but that line of thought was going nowhere and anyway the dice were too angular for effective fantasy crushing. His breath assaulted the side of her face like the blast from an exhaust fan. If her hands shook a little, it was just a matter of aiming the dice. The onlookers exclaimed and Mulder collected more money.

Their drink orders were taken, and she sipped at the rum-laced thing Mulder had ordered for her with some resentment. She would have ordered a nice gin and tonic, but no one had asked her. She felt like the craps version of Vanna White, except that she wasn't required to smile. Again and again she rolled, and people were betting on her winning streak, and it all made her nauseous. Taking risks with perfectly good money, knowing the odds were against you, wasn't entertainment. It was stupidity. When she finished her drink, she turned to Mulder. "I don't want to do this anymore."

"You can't stop now, in the middle. When you make this point, you can give the dice to me."

Chip leaned over; he'd been listening to their conversation. "You shouldn't stop. Next time you won't be a virgin any more. Your luck won't be as good."

He wasn't bad-looking -- ruffled short brown hair, blue eyes with wry smile wrinkles, and a good strong chin. The well-tailored suit helped. Only gorillas were completely unattractive in formal wear. She smiled at him, aided by her FBI mission and the alcohol. "It seems to me that things get easier after you lose your virginity."

He grinned back. "Not at craps, baby."

She licked her lips and considered a reply. Mulder's hand clenched on her back and she started, then forced herself to relax as his hand swept up to her nape, over skin made sweaty by the crowd of onlookers. "Keep going -- baby," he ordered, and she felt her lips peel back from her teeth, thinking of the sleek Egyptian cats decorating the walls of the casino.

There was a collective groan when she finally surrendered the dice, but Mulder took over and kept going, only faster now as he didn't have to wait for her to roll. Mulder was always focused, like a ray of sun through a magnifying glass. Whatever target he found would soon burst into flames. She was surprised the craps table wasn't smoking.

And still he won. The man didn't just make his own luck, he manufactured it. He was the Henry Ford of luck, the Thomas Edison of happenstance, the Bill Gates of coincidence. If only preserving evidence were as easy as craps, she thought. How easy was craps, anyway?

Chip the mafia donlet was in awe, trying to chat Mulder up for advice, following his every move. Mulder was working him, telling off-color stories about other gambling adventures. Meanwhile the casino swirled around them like a circus of hyperactive chihuahuas on speed.

The whole thing made her head hurt. Or maybe that was just the noise and the light and the free alcohol. Even though she was no longer betting, being with Mulder evidently entitled her to keep drinking and the servers took the empty glasses from her hand before she knew they were empty. As she watched and drank, craps seemed to make a little more sense. The better I get the drunker you look, Mulder, she thought and then smiled, because he wasn't looking.

Oh, he was fine tonight. Even in a room of flash and dazzle, Mulder shone. He was a searchlight amidst candleflames. A thin sheen of sweat glistened at the sides of his face, making his hair spiky, making her mouth water for some tequila and a lime. His eyes took in all the frenetic activity that surrounded him and processed it, shining like ancient amber as he surfed the sea of chance. He would chew his lower lip a little while the others bet, not nervous but impatient, and he shuffled from foot to foot like a sulky model searching for the best pose.

She could have told him, they were all pretty good as far as she was concerned. Work that runway, baby. He'd taken off the jacket several thousand dollars ago, and a miniskirted waitress wearing far too much makeup had taken it somewhere for safekeeping. Mulder had barely noticed as he pushed chips to and fro, pausing only to give her a few hundreds' worth.

The tailored pants showcased his ass as he leaned over the table, and with his shirtsleeves rolled up to reveal his forearms, flexing as he rolled the dice and followed through, he was a teenage fanclub fantasy, rock star and poet all in one.

Scully took a deep breath and considered. She was just fixating on him because she couldn't stand all the noise and crowding. She had a very orderly mind and the disorder of the casino was causing her to focus on the one item of familiarity, to wit Mulder, who was therefore taking on more importance than --

If that bitch in the little black dress "accidentally" jostled her breast against Mulder's arm one more time, she was going to find out if silicon implants couldn't be removed on the floor of a casino.

This is no good, she thought despairingly. No good whatsoever.

Chip's girlfriend, who couldn't afford to show interest in Mulder and, sensibly enough, expressed no real interest in craps, wandered over to the blackjack tables. Scully thought she'd make herself useful and follow the girlfriend, whose name clearly ended in "I."

"You with him?" the girlfriend asked, not looking up from her cards, when Scully sidled up next to her. "Hit me."

"Yes," she said. "I'm Dana." Feeling queasy, she pushed a twenty- dollar chip forward and was dealt two cards. An ace and a ten, a natural twenty-one -- maybe she was still caught in the aura of Mulder's luck.

"Hit me," the girlfriend repeated. She seemed to be a true blonde up close. "Damn. I'm Stevie." The dealer took Stevie's money and increased Scully's. Scully snatched away the extra chips, leaving only the original twenty.

"You're with Chip? The guy next to M -- to my friend?"

"Yep. He didn't want me to play, though. He has that thing about craps virgins, y'know, and once you've done it once you're useless. Sort of like life that way."

"It seems to me that's just one more rule invented by men."

Stevie won a hand and smiled triumphantly. "Yeah, well, I'm no good with rules."

Scully decided she just wouldn't pay attention to the betting. What she didn't acknowledge couldn't hurt her. Well, it might kill her, but it couldn't disrupt her settled expectations about life, which was really what mattered. "Have you been with Chip long?"

Stevie shrugged, causing her breasts to jounce impressively enough to sway the attention of the dealer. "Couple of months. I don't think he's looking for anything serious, but he's got the money to party. You and your friend, you like to party?" Suddenly her speculative eyes were quite threatening.

Scully's mouth opened and closed like automatic doors on overload. "That depends on how much M -- Joe wins," she managed finally. They were, after all, assigned to get close to this couple.

Stevie nodded with recognition. "Yeah, Chip's like that too. When he's winning, he's like a goddamn jack-in-the-box, when he's losing I get more satisfaction from my lipstick. Looks like he's betting with your friend. I won't be able to sit down for a week."

Scully swallowed another gulp of her drink. She could brave this out, no problem. After Arcadia, masquerade was a way of life for her.

****

The one great thing about ISU was that it rarely got involved with organized crime, and so Mulder had never, except for that awful wiretapping experience some years back, had to deal with mobsters on an extended basis. He was surprised they didn't all kill themselves out of horror at living the cliches of their existence. Chip Morelli seemed oblivious, though, and he was happily explaining how he'd run this deal involving trading furs for cars with some foreign country, without paying any of the associated excise taxes. Mulder feigned interest as they wandered the casino, looking for their "girls." Mulder had carefully steered Chip away from the blackjack tables so as to gain more time to chat with Chip. That was his job, and, despite what most people thought, he wanted to do it right.

Finally, Chip suggested that they have a drink together when the "ladies" were found, and Mulder agreed with relief and turned Chip toward the table where Scully and Stevie were playing. As a compass knows true north, he knew where Scully was; the magnetism required no conscious thought.

Scully had held her own with the chips she'd taken from him, neither winning nor losing much. Conservative, predictable Scully, only tonight she was exposing a radical and unpredicted amount of skin. He was actually glad she didn't seem to be betting heavily; that would complete her transformation into a stranger.

"Hey," he put his hand on her bare, sweat-slick back and she jumped off of her stool as she turned in shock. He stabilized her as she tottered on her spike heels. "Wanna call it a night?" Next to them, Chip and his doxy were kissing hello, as if by playing the part of lovers they could elevate their essentially commercial transaction into something more meaningful.

"Sure," Scully said, looking at his face for reassurance. He nodded and moved his hand to her hip. Even blinking in the harsh casino light, her eyes were as light as a perfect spring sky. They walked out of the noise and heat of the casino floor, into the hotel area where the air conditioning had not been overwhelmed by the crush of human bodies. The cool silence brushed against his face like cotton wool as they moved towards the elevators.

"Why don't I get some champagne sent up to celebrate our good fortune?" Mulder suggested, gesturing toward the concierge.

"Sounds great!" Stevie chirped.

Chip looked Scully over from head to toe -- it didn't take that long -- and smiled. "That's a pretty dress you're wearing. It sets off your eyes."

Scully's lips curved upwards as she cast her eyes to the floor. If she'd been any other woman Mulder would have thought it simpering. But he deeply hoped that she was faking pleasantness.

Mulder moved to the concierge's stand, leaving Scully wobbling behind him like one of those little plastic toys. Scully wobbles but she doesn't fall down. Maybe he'd had a bit too much to drink in the casino; it was hard to remember.

He could hear behind his back that Chip was saying something else to Scully, whose forced laugh probably sounded perfectly natural to him; as a mobster he must be used to people who had no choice but to laugh at his jokes. "Could you have four bottles of your best champagne sent up to Mr. Morelli's room. And some fruit." He thought about keeping Scully involved in the charade. "And chocolate. Truffles if you have them, Godiva if you don't. Put it on my tab. And let us sleep in tomorrow, all right?" He pushed a hundred-dollar bill across the counter to show his good will.

When he returned to the three people waiting for him, Chip was examining Scully's palm as if it held the secrets of the universe. Chip's date was appraising him, suggesting just by the tilt of her hip that she wouldn't be averse to partner-swapping. Mulder made the panic face at Scully, who didn't look up from Chip's stubby fingers against her skin.

He grabbed Scully's upper arm and it was instantly as if his hand had been sunburnt by the unforgiving Nevada sun.

The elevator wasn't an actual elevator, but a novelty device they called an "inclinator," which no way was he going to try to pronounce in his current state of near-intoxication. It went diagonally up the inside of the pyramid, so that the familiar pull of gravity was distorted by the sideways motion. He closed his eyes and tried very hard to pretend he was on solid land. Seasick was one thing, but Scully would never forgive him if he puked on her sparkly blue dress because of an elevator with verticality issues. When the thing stopped moving, he stayed inside and held the door open long enough for the world to stop jittering around him like an overcaffeinated butterfly.

Chip babbled interestingly for a while, but then he simply curled up at the corner of the overstuffed couch and watched, increasingly glassy- eyed, as Stevie discussed with Scully the best variety shows in town. Stevie was partial to the pirate extravaganza, while Scully held out for Sigfried and Roy. Mulder dearly hoped that this was her idea of playing an undercover role.

No one paid much attention to Mulder as he wandered around, placing the bugs in inconspicuous locations. Three glasses of champagne and six listening devices later, the job was finally complete. When he was finished, he sat down on the couch, where he observed with a trained investigator's eye that Scully had saved the world from the terrible burden of six chocolate truffles. He reached for one of the survivors, but backed off under Scully's laser glare.

Chip took the opportunity to let out a mighty snore. Stevie rolled her eyes. "Look, he's no use. You guys wanna ... go somewhere? Like your room?" She deposited her hand on Mulder's thigh as if it were a gift from Santa Claus.

Mulder carefully lifted her hand and moved it to a safer place. "Sorry, Stevie. I think we're too tired for that. We're just going to turn in. Maybe we'll see you tomorrow?"

Stevie sighed. "Yah, sure. Guess it's a good thing this place has a decent shower."

Mulder puzzled over that one for a little bit, until he realized that Scully was slightly pinker than usual and flashed on one of his films, where the redhead was all alone in the shower with that snakelike shower fixture ... Oh.

****

Despite the fact that the hallway was overdecorated in a category that Scully had never imagined existed -- Egyptian kitsch -- it was cool and quiet and they were at long last alone, finished with their Bureau duties. The hallway was perfect as long as their job was done.

"Well, Scully, will it be fun and games in our room or fun and games downstairs?"

She pressed her back against the cool mirror that ran between the two luxury suites and shivered as it touched her bare skin. Mulder was watching her from underneath lowered lashes, hoping for a reaction. For such a highly educated man, Mulder could be a damn fool at times. That was what she wanted: for him to be convinced of her complete detachment and distinterest in him. But paradoxically, and naturally, she wanted him to see through her, which was exactly why she'd decided that it would never work.  Not to mention that he was less stable than the transuranic elements.

If only he could look a little more froglike, and less like a GQ model, it would be much easier. Idly, she wondered if she could arrange for a slight disfigurement. Mulder would blame it on the Consortium, of course -- but it would probably make it harder for him to interview suspects, so it was a bad idea all around.

The ping of the "inclinator" doors surprised her from her reverie, and an older couple trotted out into the hallway, giggling like teenagers. Mulder insinuated his hand between her and the wall to guide her back to their room. The contrast between the glass and his fleshy heat almost made her jump, but in the dress and the heels she would have fallen like a mummy decanted from its tomb so she controlled herself.

Did he always wiggle his fingers like that? Maybe she couldn't tell when their skin sandwiched her clothing. The trick is to keep walking, Dana. The woman of the couple, a tall, elegant lady with white hair and a purple dress with matching trailing scarf, winked at her as they passed and Scully felt embarrassed, though she didn't know why.

The "Egyptian carvings" on the imitation-stone walls looked too much like math symbols for her comfort. "The decorations are entirely inauthentic," she complained. "People come here to gamble, Mulder, why does the management feel it necessary to create a pallid exoticism, an imitation of something that never really existed?"

"But, Scully, it's *fun*," he said, which in her opinion did not count as an answer. She would have pressed the point, but they'd arrived at the room.

Mulder, gentleman that he was not, nonetheless opened the door for her with a flourish. He knew she didn't have room in that dress for a key.

"What are you going to do with your winnings?" she asked, searching for a neutral topic of conversation. Carefully, wobbling only as much as physics and biology required given her shoes, she walked to the kitchenette and poured herself a glass of water. She felt smoky and alcohol-bloated and she knew she wouldn't respect herself in the morning.

"The Bureau will probably make me turn it over as part of the investigation," he said mournfully.

The water was blessedly clean, stolen from some mountain redoubt to fuel this phantasmagoric city in the desert. She drank and then poured another glass, determined to fight the onrushing hangover as best she could. Then she poured Mulder a glass for himself and tottered over to him. No doubt he hadn't the faintest idea how difficult that was for her. The things she did for him --

"Thanks," he said, proof enough if she needed it that he'd been drinking, and smiled at her. "You know, I bet they couldn't make me give it back if we went ahead and spent it. They have twenty- four-hour everything here, Scully -- we could buy you some more spiffy dresses like that," he gestured, as if she possibly could have forgotten that she looked like the Little Mermaid with less hair and more legs. The Little Mermaid was about the only person she was ahead of in the legs department, she thought despondently. And Ariel didn't even exist.

A round or two with Mulder would make her feel better. Verbally. A verbal round. "Mulder, I'm sure we could get married by an Elvis impersonator if we wanted to in this town, but the exact same question arises --"

Mulder appeared to choke on the water, but recovered before she could make it back to his side. "Who looks better in white satin?"

"Why would we want to?"

Predictably, Mulder's face fell. She would have felt sorry for him if she hadn't been fully aware of how the game was played. It was like having a dog, only you could generally reuse a dog toy and Mulder had to be offered new opportunities for bon mots every day. "If we were going to get married, it seems to me that we ought to at least go to Area 51. It's not that far and it would make a superior honeymoon spot."

He grinned at her, and the width of the smile made his nose look much more size-proportional. "Scully, you little devil. If I'd known what you were like with a few drinks in you --"

"You might have tried to get more in?" and she had the satisfaction of making him swallow, twice, as he figured out what to say next. Well, Mulder might be a natural gambler, but Scully had a wit and she wasn't afraid to use it.

Mulder shook his head, bemused, and then focused on her. She could feel the weight of his stare, like quartz, heavy and crystalline. "You know," he said, moving towards her, "we are sharing a room tonight."

Scully refrained from rolling her eyes. After six years, they'd shared a room or two, even before that idiotic interlude in Arcadia. As innuendo, it lacked a certain freshness.

"Which might make it a good time to ask something that's been on my mind."

Scully looked at him carefully. Obviously there was a devastating joke heading her way. She could try to raise her shields against known forms of attack, but Mulder was a past master at developing new forms of weaponry. The problem was that he often made them a little too powerful at first, so that they hurt her despite his good intentions.

"Scully, when ... when Padgett said that you were in love ... was that accurate?"

God, this dress was uncomfortable. It had to have gained two pounds in sweat (hers) and cigarette smoke (not hers) during the trip to the casino. And her feet -- she was suddenly aware how very much she wanted to take off her high heels, but there was no way that she could do so until this conversational shoal had been navigated.

"Scully?" his voice was soft, waiting for the blow, trembling in anticipation of it. She'd stepped closer to him, or he to her, and they were standing in the middle of the room so that the Steadicam could swirl around them, only there was no Steadicam, just Mulder and the sandstorm rising in his eyes, threatening to scour her flesh from her bones.

It was too much and she turned away. That was all the answer Mulder needed, and she heard him choke off a breath or a word. Mulder's gift, a curse in equal measure, was that he never got a mental "Do Not Pass Go" sign; with him it was always "Take Another Turn," or sometimes chutes and ladders were involved because Mulder was never one to play by the standard rules. So Mulder felt that he'd lost his stake because he'd rolled the dice one too many times, but he hadn't even bothered to check the numbers that had come up.

Folding her arms across her chest, Scully tried to formulate an answer that they could both live with. Outside, the city gleamed like a starship in a cheap sci-fi movie.

"I've ... considered it often. He was accurate in describing some outward attributes of my life. But by his own confession he was badly mistaken in evaluating my inner life. The question ... is more difficult because I'm far from certain what the word 'love' means. We have cultural rituals and routines for it ... but how much of that is from genuine feeling and how much from a sense of what is appropriate, what should be felt in a particular situation? Love is risk and I have never willingly chosen risk. At times I've waited until the risk has forced itself upon me and then I have tried to maintain the courage to embrace it. I consider my partnership with you to be the most extreme risk I've ever taken, Mulder."

There was a quasi-syllogism in there somewhere, she was certain. She wasn't sure what he'd make of it; Mulder wasn't big on the contrapositive at the best of times.

"So my job," he said, his voice hesitant as if he were practicing the lines for a better time, "is to bring risk into your life?"

Scully turned, the wet and heavy dress weighing her down. She wasn't surprised to see that Mulder was shaking. Or maybe that was her doing the shaking. "I have never been that good at predicting what's best for myself," she told him. "I didn't want to learn to swim when I was a child. I didn't like the multiplication tables. I have never liked change -- until it happens."

"If I were really a gambling man," he said hoarsely, his eyes whirling like the roulette wheels, shining with the same electric fire as the twinkling lights on all the signs on the street below, "I might do something ... risky."

"Yeah?" Her voice had followed his down into the depths of the earth, looking for something mysterious no doubt. She'd follow him into Hell, and why wouldn't her voice do the same? She swallowed, licked her lips, and turned away again, pressing her hands against the cool glass of the window. The suite was at the top of the Luxor pyramid, and so the window sloped out, creating a useless triangle of space. Glitzy and wasteful, like so much of this city. But a little magical, too, especially when the space was filled with the sound of their breathing, in thick, harsh pants. Mulder's outline was reflected in the glass in front of her, a ghost against the bouquet of neon that decorated the night outside. When she spoke again, she was pleased that her voice stayed even. "I think that gambling for money is a waste of good risk."

She had no idea what that was supposed to mean, but Mulder seemed to like it, because he moved up behind her until his shadow-image in the window merged with hers and his breath ruffled her hair, or would have ruffled it if not for the hairspray.

"So you like your risks ... more intimate?" he rumbled, and his hand was at her neck, fumbling with the intricate catch that kept the dress in the same plane as its wearer.

"Mulder..." It was more of an indrawn breath than an actual name, but he got the idea anyway.

"Shh..." and the dress fell forward a few inches until it hit the window. She was still decent, nothing irrevocable had happened, and it wasn't as if he hadn't seen the full floor show in Antarctica. But her hands knew the truth of the matter, and without her conscious volition they slid up the slick glass, up beyond her peripheral vision and behind her head, following the angle of the window, as she leaned forward and pressed her cheek to the glass and waited for him, one eye seeing night and neon and the other seeing the buttery yellow light of this room, this remarkable room where It was finally going to happen. All she could see was the fake-Egyptian lamp on the bedside table and, underneath it, a sign that said something about being glad to attend to your housekeeping needs, but the view was breathtaking nevertheless.

Mulder's fingertips traced her shoulders, as light as if she were a soap bubble he feared to pop. She felt traceries of light and heat where he mapped his way across her back, down the sides of her ribcage where her breasts felt only the disturbance in the air as he skimmed by them, down the violin curve of her waist to where the dress still had her in its grip.

Suddenly his mouth was at the nape of her neck, hovering millimeters away from the scar that gave her life. The heat of him made her shiver, made her want to melt into the glass and escape. She could feel his fingers on the zipper pull at the small of her back. If she vibrated at any higher frequency the window was going to shatter. "Mulder," she murmured again, this time with certainty and ease. The avalanche had started -- some would say it started six years ago and this was no time to argue chaos theory -- "you've never been afraid to press your luck."

The sweep of his tongue on her skin made her arch into the window, her nails dragging uselessly against the glass. Glass is a liquid, not a solid, she thought senselessly as he turned a lick into a full-fledged suck and began exploring the curves of her neck and shoulder. It just pours very, very slowly. Like us.

Mulder was making little surprised sounds, "oh oh oh" as she thrust her hands behind her to caress whatever part of him she could reach. He was obviously having some trouble adjusting to the fact that there was a high probability that he'd be in close proximity to a naked woman soon and that, according to Bayes' theorem, it was almost certain that the woman would be Scully. His shirt was soft as it slipped through her fingers, but it wasn't what she wanted.

"Mulder," she tried again, achieving with the third repetition of his name a cross between a groan and a squeak that would have embarrassed her terribly if she'd had any neurons free for self- analysis. "I think I can promise you that luck is a lady tonight."

Finally, at long last, he pulled the zipper down like a man pulling the lever on a one-armed bandit, and then he gasped like that very same man when he actually wins the jackpot as he realized that she wasn't wearing any underwear.

And before the dress hit the floor he'd spun her around, crushing her between his heavy body and the window. "You should stop stealing my lines," he said quite distinctly before his mouth took hers like Sherman marching through Georgia.

****

Mulder had never seriously expected any of his teasing to work. He had, reluctantly, come to the conclusion that Scully had simply decided not to know how he felt, the same way she'd decided not to know about colonization. When she began to babble about risk he was unable to translate it into normal English, but he thought he picked up on the meta-level of her meaning, and when she offered him her naked back for the second time it was both too much and too little, a single meal presented to take away the aching emptiness of famine. His brain, dazzled by the images arriving via his optic nerves, was thinking half- thoughts that fizzled on the ends like Fourth of July sparklers and left him incapable of coherence.

This was no time for analysis, he reminded himself, as the whirlpool in her eyes drew him down to where the secrets of her mouth were made known to him. She kissed him for an aching eternity. Her lips were chapped and her skin was desert-hot but her mouth was an oasis. He drank with an aching gratitude that made him as nervous as he was ecstatic. Predators live by water in the desert because that is where the prey has to go.

She danced away from him, stepping out of her lethal shoes like Cinderella deciding the hell with the Prince. He shook off the shock of desire and followed her, closer to the bed, which was a good thing because he realized, in a hazy sort of way, that Scully had been mooning Las Vegas. "Scully --" her name caught in his throat like hard candy and he shook, as confused as if he'd just taken a blow to the head, and maybe he had.

Her eyes sparked challenge at him. Scully didn't like to be the one to start a conflict, but she was always game to finish one. She was winning the staredown with her 'refute my scientific evidence if you dare' expression. "Questions, Mulder? Is this a close encounter whose existence you acknowledge or is it just swamp --"

He was on her again, covering her like shellac. Words tended to fail him in personal matters and he kept his mouth busy with other things so that she couldn't fault him for being inarticulate. No doubt she would fault him for something, but it wouldn't be for mangling sweet nothings. He had his right hand at the small of her back, pressing her to himself as if he could compress her into a paper doll against his belly. His left stroked her shoulder and her hot smooth neck, feeling the thick heavy ends of her hair brush against his fingers like the pelt of some jungle-stalking beast.

Eventually she came down from her tiptoes and tore away from him even as he tried to double over like Victor Hugo's hunchback to follow her.

The bed could have doubled as an orbital platform for space shuttle repair; you'd need sled dogs to get to the center of it. Mulder landed on her, his arms braced around her to avoid angering her with his weight, as they fell onto the outer perimeter. Her eyes were hotter than tracer rounds as she pushed her chest against him. Her hands were tugging at him, giving him the kind of examination lady doctors always went in for in his movies, and he was going to ruin his pants if he didn't get control quickly. Her breasts ought to be on Schedule One for restricted substances, he thought as he took hold of her wrists and wrenched them up behind her, over her head.

Scully threw her head back against the bed like a spooked horse, exposing her throat so that he could bite at it. They were thrusting against each other like teenagers in the living room, hoping that Mom wouldn't come downstairs to see what was going on. She was stretching herself out like a movable feast, and none of the delights of Paris could compete with the availability of her body. She moaned when his hands closed over her breasts, and moaned again when he squeezed. "Harder," she demanded and he complied, hoping not to bruise her at the same time as he wanted to mark her as his.

The noises she made roared in his ears like flame. The room was on fire with her and he was going to go up like a thousand-year-old forest. Scully's body was an instrument worthy of Stradivarius. The hungry sounds she made when he sucked at her skin were better for his ego than the praises of a hundred Oxford dons. He wanted to consume her, to disappear inside her and she in him like the worm tattoo that marked the parchment of her back.

When his mouth closed on her nipple she shook underneath him like a storm. He freed a hand to skim down the elliptical curves of her waist and hip to where her legs were clamped together like a mermaid's tail. Through the thick wildness of her pubic hair he found her clitoris but she wouldn't allow him any further. She wanted him to fight for her as they'd fought for six long years, and this was one battle she might let him win. When he ran the edges of his teeth around her breast, she sighed and relaxed her legs fractionally.

He slipped one finger inside her, curving his thumb around to tease her clit, as he scalloped the edge of her breast with love bites. She was hot as a smithy's forge; she was going to melt him down and transform him into nobler metal. He pulled his hand away before it melted off and lowered his head to her thighs, which she immediately clamped shut again with killing force. When he looked up, she was smirking at him, daring him to once again challenge her boundaries. That was their game: he proposed, she disposed. He pushed, she shoved back.

This time, when he put his hands on her thighs to pry her legs apart, he pushed her legs up so that he had perfect access. The muscles in the backs of her thighs jumped against his hands as he bathed his face in her.

She tasted like the salt on a margarita, the foam on root beer. She tasted as good as coffee and vanilla always smelled. He tried to get her on every part of his tongue so that all of the separate tastebuds could sample her. Scully's cries rose and then cut off as she thrashed against him with her orgasm, then tried to pull away from the overstimulation. He moved up to lay his head on her stomach and she sighed, a long exhalation that he felt vibrate against his cheek.

"See, that mouth is good for something," she told him lazily, like a cat watching a bird with a broken wing. She was smiling, too, as if he'd brought home a report card covered with gold stars and was allowed to pick a special treat to celebrate. He had some thoughts about what his reward should be and crawled up her body, hanging on to her like a rock climber clings to a cliff face.

Scully pulled away and began to work at his pants. She did no more than push the pants and boxers over his hips, marginally out of the way. Someday the shirt would come off and that would be a good day too, but now was not the time for subtlety. Now was the time for fucking.

Her breasts were jouncing with her panting breaths and he put his hands on them to stop the distraction. He plunged his tongue into her mouth so that she could taste herself on him, then pulled back when she began to worry his tongue with her teeth. Somehow she'd gotten her legs closed again and he wrenched them open like a kid going at the packages under the Christmas tree. If he could have he would have cracked her like a walnut and swallowed her whole. He couldn't bear to separate his hands from her breasts to guide his cock into her, so he rubbed against her like the horny beast he was. In a flash of luck almost enough to make him reconsider religion, he entered her in one sudden thrust that made her shudder around him like a dynamited building.

The feeling of being buried back in her was more shattering than seeing a UFO, more exhilarating than witchcraft. He was going to fuck her into next Sunday. She would never want anyone but him again.

He lifted himself off of her with his hands on her chest so that he could look down and see her flushed body against the bed, her navel winking obscenely at him and her perfect-handful breasts spilling out around his fingers with the pressure of his weight. She stretched her legs and suddenly they were over his shoulders; she was doubled up beneath him which made her about a third of his size, and her feet were locked around his neck, pulling him into the heat of her mouth. He moved his hands to her hips so that he could get enough leverage to thrust in and out as she imitated him with her tongue, yin and yang on the vast acres of bed.

As he sped up, her head dropped back and she moved with his near- rhythm, grinding herself against his pubic bone. Her eyes were squeezed closed and she was panting, her hair sticking to the side of her face with perspiration. Oh and when he came it was going to last forever if only he could wait just one moment longer just to make sure that she was coming too --

And she cried out like an animal caught in a trap and Mulder pounded into her, wanting to cover her with his signature and his kisses so that she would know as well as the rest of the world did that she was for him alone, but God it was intense and he'd have to wait awhile, just awhile, and he slumped over her, saturated with pleasure.

****

"Scully?"

She frowned, not entirely pleased that he could be so coherent so quickly. "Mmm?"

"Maybe I should, uh, get undressed?"

She nodded and felt him pull away from her. If sex made Mulder hesitant instead of bossy, she'd just have to whip herself for avoiding it for so long. Orgasms could be achieved solo, but obedience was a pearl without price. She propped her head up on one elbow so that she could watch as he stood, wavering, and finished taking off his clothes. Socks, then pants and boxers, and then the cufflinks, which he put on the nightstand. Then he got tired with neatness, unbuttoned a few buttons, and pulled his crisp white shirt off along with his undershirt and threw them on the floor. He'd been doing ab exercises again. What a nice, considerate man.

"I'm not sure that striptease was extended enough to deserve a tip," she said, smiling to show that she was not trying to fight.

"I don't have anywhere to tuck a dollar bill anyway," he pointed out, and she nodded her understanding. He sat down on the bed with his back to her, self-conscious now, and paused. It was a fine back, but Mulder vertical was Mulder thinking and, at this juncture, that was bad news. "Scully?" His voice dropped to a whisper.

No, it's Lara Flynn Boyle, Scully thought. We traded places when you turned your back and now I get to star in a David Kelley show and she gets your ass. Don't ask who won the coin flip.

"Yes?" she said, quelling her nasty thoughts.

"Aside from the striptease, that was -- good, right?"

*That's* why I stayed away from this so long, she remembered. With the naked male comes the naked male ego. "It was fine."

His shoulders slumped.

Okay, she'd obviously had either too much or too little to drink for this conversation. In a clever tactical move that surprised even her, she put her hand on Mulder's waist, feeling the moist heat of him. He sighed and straightened a little. "It was very good. It's just possible that it's going to take a few dozen more times before I can give you a reliable evaluation. Right now the sample size is so limited, and as a scientist I just can't generalize even if I very much want to do so."

He chuckled, and finally laid down, curling into her arms with a quick motion that spoke poignantly about his desperate need for touch. She draped her arm over him and they spooned. "So, the scientific method, eh? Does that mean trying different positions will skew the experiment? I'd hate to mess up --"

She ran her hand down his belly, feeling the sparse coarse hair crinkle under her friendly fingers. "I was thinking there might be a need for some -- blind -- samples."

"Ooh, Scully," he crooned and then ruined it by yawning.

She kissed the back of his neck. "Rest now," she said. "You'll need your strength."

****

She woke again sometime after four. When she realized she was naked her limbic system dumped so much adrenaline into her bloodstream that she sat straight up and began searching for her gun. She stopped looking for the gun only when Mulder groaned and threw an arm across her naked lap. The night outside was still a parallel, electrified day, which fit in very well with the topsy- turvy world in which she'd actually had sex with Mulder.

Okay, Dana, think this one through.

Point one: You did it, and since the military hasn't seen fit to share its memory-tampering expertise, from now on you will always be two people who have had sex with each other.

Point two: But I was drunk! Tipsy at least.

Point three: Oh, shit.

Point four: Point one obviates all other points. It's either never again or harder-yes-harder from now on. And I did all the work the first time.

It was good to realize that logical reasoning could, once again, point a path through the morass of possibility and confusion that so often surrounded her. Fortified with her rational conclusions, she squirmed free of Mulder's arm. Somehow he'd gotten his lower half under the covers and she pushed them away so that she could more carefully examine the specimen now in her custody.

Nothing happens in contradiction to nature. (Except for plastic surgery, but he hadn't had any.) Consistent with the demands of time and gravity on a man of nearly forty, his body was spreading and settling a bit, but he was a lifelong athlete and he was mature and powerful. Touchable. Lickable, if she had to specify.

He grunted when her tongue left a cool wet trail down his pectoral and abdominal muscles, searching for the most sensitive parts. His hips were perfect for her hands, solid bone underneath the reassuring layers of skin, fat and muscle, flexible at her touch but perfectly anchored in him. The skin of his flanks was smooth, punctuated by a few moles; she darted from one to another as if she could connect the dots and solve the puzzle that was Mulder. Slowly, his cock was shuddering to life, still a few minutes ahead of its master. He smelled like sex, and when she took him in her mouth she could taste the sweet and salt left from their earlier encounter.

A scientist should remember, she thought as Mulder gurgled towards consciousness, that averages are simply that. And Mulder was always at the far end of any distribution.

"Oh my god," he gulped, and surged upwards, nearly choking her before she recovered. "Oh -- god." She tuned out his words, which were suspect enough from an atheist even if she didn't consider the circumstances. It was enough that his hands drifted to her shoulders, his fingers tightening and releasing as if he feared she'd evaporate if he let go for too long. Her nose brushed against his pubic hair; she'd forgotten how good a man could smell, woodsy and raw, with notes of Mulder's unique leather-and-salt. She rubbed her hands up and down his thighs until he thrust one last time with a loud war cry and spurted into her mouth.

Scully rolled over, swallowing hastily as Mulder twitched happily beside her.

"Wow," he said to no one in particular. Then he reached for her, dragging her close so that he could kiss her. They made out for endless minutes, while the room got hotter and his hands roved further. Finally he pulled away from her mouth and began to canvas all the areas of her body he'd neglected before, including the ones he'd only ever seen covered in green goo before a few hours ago.

He licked his way around her like a surveyor, mapping the territory for more in-depth exploration at a later date. She tried to hold him in place when he found a good spot, but he was determined and she let him continue. She was horrified when he worked his way to her feet, and then ecstatic when his tongue slithered down her instep and right to the base of her toes. No one had ever investigated her feet as an erotic zone, but under Mulder's tongue it was as if every nerve ending in her body had migrated there. She'd read that every spot on the foot corresponded to a spot on the body, but she hadn't been aware that sex organs were included. I hope this doesn't make me a foot fetishist, she thought as she jerked and squealed.

Mulder relented and began to work his way back up her body, letting her calm somewhat from the overstimulation. She could feel that he was hard again, ready to make a withdrawal from the First National Bank of Mulder. Scully was aware that she was smiling idiotically up at the ceiling, and, worse than that, she didn't give a damn. In fact -- "Oh, please," she groaned, thoughtlessly, helplessly, losing fragments of pride like ticker tape at a parade in celebration of her sexual satisfaction.

Mulder, who was either sensitive to her need to preserve her dignity or so aroused that he couldn't think himself, saved scraps of her self- respect by spreading her legs and entering her in one smooth-sticky thrust, his mouth covering hers as if he could merge them into one seamless entity, a sexual Klein bottle that went on forever. He held onto her hips and rolled them over so that she could ride him like the jockey on a racehorse; she liked the image, as she was small enough to be a jockey and he was -- well, he *was*.

Mulder's hips were rising and falling in an uneven rhythm, his head thrown back into the covers so that the tendons in his neck stood out like an anatomical model. Their breathing was as syncopated as their gaits, she thought, getting the same place by the same path, just at a different pace. It was good, but she needed more this time, not just the train-into-tunnel of standard intercourse, and she tried to wriggle a hand in between their sweat-sodden bellies. Mulder divined her intention and, like the enlightened male that he occasionally was, took it as his signal to contribute more to the encounter.

His fingers assaulted her with the vigor he usually reserved for the paranormal. At first she thought that he just couldn't find her clit, and she was beginning to rethink the entire concept of sleeping with a man whose main sexual activity for the past few years had been jerking off into a towel, but his touch was insistent and her entire body arched off of the bed before she even realized that she was feeling something new.

God, his fingers were digging into her, as if he was going to excavate her, finding the root of her clitoris where it was anchored deep inside, manipulating her like a puppet. She'd never felt anything like it, as if his fingers were going to plunge into her until they met up with his cock. The sensation ripped through her, like a plane jolting at takeoff, like the vibration of a speaker at a stadium reaching thousands with its roar. Turbulence, she thought, I'm experiencing turbulence.

The world went black with light, the orgasm shaking her like a leaf in a typhoon, and she thought she understood what an epileptic seizure was like now. The pleasure fractured her mind in a thousand places so that Mulder's madness shone through, and it was beautiful.

She sagged forward as Mulder, more frantic than when he was chasing clones or little gray men, redoubled his efforts, wrapping his arms around her back so that he wouldn't buck her off, which was otherwise a real possibility. She could feel her sweat in the valley of her breasts merging with the sweat that was evaporating off of him as he arched up into her. Shakily, she assessed the situation. He was going to rupture something if he didn't come soon, and that was very much contrary to her plans. She could still feel her own contractions around him as she lowered her head to his and breathed into his ear, darting the tip of her tongue out to notch the top curve of cartilage.

He yowled like a cat and came with three hard, shuddering thrusts. Scully smiled and laid her head on his chest. A man who liked to lean that close to talk had to have an ear fetish. It simply stood to reason. He was panting so hard that she was almost bouncing on top of him. She would have laughed if her own heartbeat hadn't been thrumming through her like the rumble of a supersonic plane.

"Where did you learn that?" she wondered, still feeling twitches run through her like lightning at the edges of a summer sky.

Mulder made a noise oddly reminiscent of a purr. "I'm glad you liked it. I was afraid you'd think it was ... irritatingly indirect." There was some sort of value judgment lurking in there, she thought, and decided that it wasn't worth puzzling out, not while she was draped over him like the priciest of fur coats. Times like this, too much air conditioning was perfect; it gave her an excuse to cuddle.

****

Because Scully had set the alarm on her side of the bed even before they went down to the casino, they were up in time for their mandatory exit interview with the Vegas Bureau office. Agent Blankenship, the nice young man who'd briefed them on the assignment, was also in charge of ensuring that they left the state without inflicting the usual X- Files damage. He spent most of the interview asking Mulder for tips on how to play craps.

Y2K creaked ever closer as he yammered on, pursuing irrelevant details of the previous night's conversations and asking inane questions about the Washington Bureau. Finally, he leaned back in his chair, a good sign that the interview was coming to an end. "Well, you guys have a good flight home. I hope they didn't disturb you last night."

"What do you mean?" Mulder had the unpleasant sensation that his stomach had departed and was now searching for the aliens who lived at the center of the earth.

"Well, you do remember that we also installed a few listening devices against the wall you shared with Morelli's suite, in case you couldn't get into the room? Their bed must be right up against that wall, because we got some *incredible* audio of him and his girl. The man's a machine, I tell you. Once last night and twice this morning, and then a few hours later he's doing a deal with the biggest guys in Vegas, eating strawberries and drinking champagne. It's enough to make you envious of the mob."

Over Agent Blankenship's head, Scully's expression unmistakably indicated that he was to keep silent if he valued his life and his balls, not necessarily in that order.

"Oh, I don't know," he said, throwing caution to the wind. "I think I'm lucky to be on our side."

Scully stalked off as if he'd just tried to sell her a pyramid to sharpen her razor blades, and he hurried after her, giving the confused Agent Blankenship a long-suffering look as he exited.

"Hey," he cajoled, putting his hand on the small of her back, or at least on the clothes covering the small of her back -- but now was no time for a happy memory. "Scully?"

They were out of the building now, and gaining speed fast. Had she replaced those little legs of hers with wheels? She hurried over to the rental car, where she stood by the driver's seat as if she had some expectation that she would drive. Unh-unh. No way, no day. He'd seen her drive, and by 'drive' he meant that there was some relationship between her foot, the gas pedal, and the road, but he wouldn't go further than that. Calm, Agent Scully was merely a threat to tolerance and to brake linings. Pissed, she'd be capable of totaling a bumper car.

"C'mon, Scully, he has no idea." He wasn't letting the keys out of his pocket until he had gauged her mental state.

"No, Mulder, that would be you." Her arms were folded over her chest -- such a chest! -- and her face was a cold front sufficient to refute fears of global warming.

"*Scully,*" he whined. Her glare communicated the idea that she did not consider her name to be a plausible argument. "Okay, look. There's just no way you can expect any human being -- more to the point, any man -- more to the point, me -- not to be proud and happy about last night. I'm not going to advertise in Times Square but I'm not going to pretend like it didn't happen. If that's what you want then Agent Blank in there is the least of our worries."

She looked at the ground. He could sense her deciding to forgive. Scully had a hard exterior, but inside, in the part of her that she saved only for him, she was as soft and inviting as a chocolate- covered cherry. Mmm, Scully and chocolate-covered cherries...

"I said, Mulder, all right, but let's get going," she said patiently, and he moved his eyes back up to her face.

He nodded happily. "You know, I heard that you can actually get married by an Elvis impersonator at the airport these days..."

"*I* heard," she said, relenting and heading for the passenger side of the car, "that certain federal agents can be convinced to have sexual relations in airplane bathrooms if their whims are sufficiently well- catered to."

Oh yeah, life was good.

END