Walnut, consider yourself spared. Run.
LATE SEASON EIGHT SPOILERS WERE HARMED IN THE
MAKING OF THIS FIC
Summary: Christmas, 2001
"I managed to burn the gravy." She leaned against the doorway and frowned down at the pot.
"I didn't know you could burn liquids," Mulder replied from his spot on the floor. He had been carrying on a running, one-sided conversation with his son while stacking brightly colored plastic donuts one on top of the other. Michael found the monologue hysterical, apparently, and showed his approval by reaching out with one chunky fist and knocking the neatly piled toys flying.
"I have discovered, recently, that I can burn any number of things," she assured him over happy baby giggles.
Mulder rolled over, facing her now, head propped in his hand. "I meant, I didn't know that ONE could burn liquids. That liquids could be burned." Michael sent the rings flying again, and a small blue one thumped Mulder in the back of the skull. "Hey, buddy," he smiled, "good shot. For a nine month old, the kid's got a good arm, Scully."
So's his dad, she thought. "Gravy is thixotropic," she murmured instead, and looked down into the blackened sludge at the bottom of the sauce pan once more. "More or less."
"More or less? Well, that changes everything. Hey Mike," Mulder stacked the rings again, leaned in close to the baby and whispered conspiratorially. "Gravy is thixotropic! And it burns! Whoa!" Another shower of colored donuts, another peal of laughter.
Another frown. Something else gone wrong, and the evening was just getting started. "Well, there won't be any gravy."
She couldn't imagine why, but Mulder smiled at her. "S'okay. I don't like gravy, anyway."
Yes you do, she thought, remembering a million gravy-smothered meals in a million diners, a million years ago and a million miles away. And we both know it.
"You sure I can't help?" he asked for what had to be the fifteenth time in two hours. "I can pop Mike in the Exer-Saucer and. . ."
"Do you have some miraculous formula for resurrecting burned gravy?"
He shook his head. "Sadly, no."
"Just keep him entertained. That's help enough."
"Okay." Michael squealed, cueing Mulder to roll over and get back to his primary function, namely toy-stacking. Mulder looked up at her and smiled again. "Thanks, Scully."
She wanted to ask what he was thanking her for, but she was afraid that if she asked, he'd tell her. Instead, she turned back to the kitchen, determined, at the very least, to burn no more liquids.
Carols were seeping quietly from the radio, providing red-and-green background noise for carrot peeling. She half-listened to the music, half-listened to the smile in Mulder's voice as he explained the finer points of their engineering project - something that seemed to involve not only the stacking rings but the chime ball and the Pop 'n' Play as well - in loving, ridiculous detail to his son. She rinsed a colander full of vegetables and assured herself today had been a good idea.
Her mother was determined to have them all in one spot for Christmas this year, and so, Scully and Michael were going to San Diego for the holidays. "To take advantage of the cheap fares, Mom booked us to leave and come back on a Sunday," she'd explained. "We'll be back on the sixth, but that means that you'll have to miss a weekend. So I thought we could. . ."
"That's okay," Mulder had replied as traffic half a continent away whizzed by behind him.
"It is?" she'd asked before she realized she was saying it. She hadn't fully admitted it to herself, but she'd been preparing for, at worst, an actual argument, and at the very least, his patented hurt/resigned/Mulder-the-martyr tone. She hadn't expected what sounded like genuine assent.
"Sure. I understand."
"Oh," she'd answered, not entirely certain she understood herself. As much as she wanted to be with her brothers and their families over the holidays, she still felt she had agreed to the trip under duress. Her mom had been a rock during her pregnancy and her earliest, hardest days as an exhausted, post-operative new parent. Even so, a nagging feeling had settled over her when her mother had smiled a little too broadly, presented her with tickets for Michael and herself, and explained in no uncertain terms exactly how the Scully clan would be spending the holiday.
"Of course, Scully. It's Christmas." He'd cleared his throat softly. "No problem."
"G-good," she had answered, haltingly. "Good. So, I thought we could do Christmas, maybe, the Saturday before?"
There'd been a brief pause. "'Do' Christmas?"
"You know --" She felt foolish, suddenly, for having assumed he'd care either way. "-- The three of us. I'll make dinner. We'll watch Christmas videos. We'll let Michael rip the wrapping off some gifts and then we'll watch him play with the boxes and ignore the toys. This case you're on will be settled by then, won't it?"
"So, I mean, if you don't have other pl. . ."
A car horn had blared then. "Doggett's getting antsy. Hang on." The sound had become muffled, and she had pictured Mulder, his hand over the mouthpiece, glaring at his partner. "How come you never shot this guy, Scully?"
"He knew better than to honk at me."
"I guess so." Mulder had chuckled dryly. "As I recall, you'd have kicked his ass."
"Twice." She'd smiled into the phone. It felt like it was the first time they'd spoken to one another since Mulder's return without car seats or doctors' appointments or the warm, real weight of Michael falling first and foremost between them. It was, really: that, she knew, was her fault.
In truth, the last eighteen months were just a blur of fear and hurt and longing. Between Mulder's abduction and subsequent unsettling return, Michael's difficult birth, and the exhaustion of parenting an infant on her own, she'd barely had time to catch her breath. Now, with the holidays approaching, her maternity leave about to end, and the very real need for some serious decisions about her future, and Michael's, looming before her, getting her mental, physical, and emotional priorities in line had suddenly become enormously important.
The sound disappeared again, then returned. "So that's, let's see, Saturday the fifteenth?"
"Yeah. Unless. . .You do 'do' Christmas, don't you, Mulder?" She'd realized, suddenly, that she really didn't know.
"Um. . ." She hadn't thought that far ahead. "Say, between the afternoon nap and the before-dinner bottle?"
He'd chuckled again, but low and rich this time, and her traitorous stomach had fluttered. "Was there ever a point when we told time in hours and minutes, Scully?
"I think there might have been," she'd answered, hoping she sounded steadier than she felt. "I just don't remember when." She'd swallowed. "So, um. . ."
"After the afternoon nap," he'd said, "and before the pre-dinner bottle. I'll be there. Kiss Mike for me." And with that, he'd disconnected.
The radio announcer delivered another traffic and weather report, promising flurries overnight before launching some boy band's appalling version of 'White Christmas' on an otherwise unsuspecting world. The water for the vegetables was just starting to boil when she heard Mulder give a low whistle and exclaim, "Ew, yuck! Mike, where's your mom keep the diapers?"
"Oh, here," she called out, reaching for a lid and settling it on the pot, then cranking the heat down under all four burners. "I'll take him and I can - Oh!"
She spun toward the living room, and ran straight into Mulder.
"Sorry," they mumbled simultaneously. She took an awkward step backward, looked down, and noticed that he did neither. His cologne, which she'd been studiously ignoring all afternoon, rose up and assailed her.
She'd given him that cologne. For her birthday, in fact. She couldn't stand the stuff he'd been wearing since Christmas - some awful, outrageously expensive designer name his mother had sent him - and left it on his desk the morning of her birthday.
"Is this a hint?" he'd asked, turning the box end to end as if expecting a letter bomb.
"Hint, suggestion, plea for mercy - call it what you like," she'd grinned at him, and shrugged. "Consider it part of your gift to me."
"I can't do all your thinking, Mulder." She'd turned back to her keyboard.
He hadn't said anything else about it, but later, when he'd taken her to dinner, and later still, when he'd given her the rest of her gift, he'd certainly smelled better.
Not that he'd remember any of that, now.
"Dinner." He nodded toward the stove. "Smells good. Really good. But this guy here does not. Where do you keep the diapers?"
"Just a second, and I'll. . ."
"You've got your hands full." He hoisted the baby a little higher on his hip. "I can do this, Scully. I do it all the time. Five months and I haven't broken him yet."
That was true enough. Mulder had had to take The Every-Second-Weekend-And-Every-Other-Wednesday-Evening-Dad Crash Course, but he had graduated cum laude. As she'd always expected, Mulder was a great dad.
"His room," she answered, finally. "Everything's under the changing table."
"Right." Mulder hesitated. "A-a-and which one is his room?"
"Second door on the right, just past the bathroom." She turned back to the stove.
"Blue striped wallpaper. A ridiculous number of stuffed animals. Smells like baby powder."
"The one with the crib."
"Your mother is a laugh riot, Mike," his voice echoed down the hall, followed by noisy kisses on chubby cheeks and happy baby sounds. "A complete laugh riot."
"When was this?"
She'd put a wine glass next to Mulder's place setting, adjusted it twice, but it still wasn't quite- "When was. . .oh."
Mulder was holding a framed photo of the two of them.
Damn. She'd had the photo sitting on Michael's dresser so long that she'd forgotten about it. "Oh. That was LA." She moved past him and back into the kitchen.
"LA?" He followed her. "Am I wearing a tux?"
"Yeah." She opened the oven so she could poke and prod the turkey - which needed neither - and avoid having to look at him.
Mulder studied the photo, nodding slowly, thoughtfully, and she could hear the gears grinding. "Why am I wearing a tux in LA?"
"Where's Michael?" She turned to the fridge.
"Mike's in the saucer," he answered. "When was this taken, Scully?"
She inhaled deeply. When had that been, again? Sometime during what she had come to think of as The Big Gap. "April 2000, I think. Have you read up on the Lazarus Bowl case, yet?"
"I actually *remember* the Lazarus Bowl case," he replied. "What I don't remember is wearing a tuxedo at any time during the Lazarus Bowl case. And I certainly don't remember you wearing this dress. Nice dress, Scully."
She ripped the lettuce into tiny pieces, dropped it into a strainer with what she hoped looked like nonchalance, though her heart was pounding wildly. "That was at the movie premiere. Well, after the movie premiere. We went out to dinner."
"Oh, right. There was something about the movie stuck in the file, I think. We were 'consultants', yes?"
She chortled. "Something like that."
Mulder was quiet a moment. She hoped - no, she realized, that was actually a prayer - he was going to let it drop, but she knew better. "So, how was it?"
"The movie?" She took her time slicing first one tomato, then a second, considering how to answer. "It stunk. Stank. It was awful."
"I gathered that. I meant the premiere. Must have been okay." He tapped the glass covering the image. "We look pretty happy, here."
She gave a one-shoulder shrug, rinsed the lettuce. "The premiere was better than the movie. Root canal surgery, without anesthetic, would have been better than the movie."
He chuckled appreciatively.
"Skinner was so dazzled by it all that he gave us the Bureau credit card and told us to go have fun."
"Looks like we did, too."
Something in his tone made her look up and directly at him, in spite of her better judgment. She was so out of practice that she couldn't read his expression, but, for once, she was grateful. "We had a nice evening, Mulder."
"How nice?" he asked, suddenly serious.
"Nice," she answered firmly, determined to end his questioning.
"Good," he nodded, leaning a hip against the counter. "Good. I wish I could remember it. God, I wish I could remember anything from that time. April, hmm?"
He was doing the math, she knew, counting backward from nine to one, adding a week one way, subtracting a few days the other, trying to balance the equation.
"Would you open this?" She handed him the bottle of wine he'd arrived with and a corkscrew, and brushed past him, intent on rearranging the glassware one last time. "Yeah. Middle of April. We drove up the coast. It rained constantly for the three days we were out there and it was cold."
"Oh. Cold." He paused. "Is that why I'm wrapped around you like that, Scully?" he asked softly.
His quiet words hit her like a physical blow, and she stopped worrying the tableware just long enough to take a deep breath. No, she thought, you were wrapped around me like that because we were in love then, Mulder, and you can't remember it. Not one minute of it.
"It's just a picture, Mulder," she informed his dinner plate evenly, then turned to the living room to retrieve her son. "That's all. Now, let's eat."
"What kind of mutant do you think the Grinch is, Scully?"
"Hmm." Scully peered at the TV screen. "I never really thought about it."
Mulder readjusted Mike on his lap, stopping first to retrieve the tossed bottle. "Yeah, but look at him, Scully: green, furry, strangely proportioned, undersized-heart, oversized-feet."
"I don't know about the feet, Mulder." She sipped her coffee and decided to forego the obvious crack about Mulder's own size twelves. "His shoes are too small, but that doesn't mean his feet are too big. It may just mean he needs larger shoes."
He nodded. "Still, while vaguely humanoid, the subject is clearly not human."
"Clearly," she agreed, warming to the topic. "You want another coffee?"
"No, thanks." Mulder shook his head. "And, based solely on a cursory preliminary investigation of the physical attributes of the Whos down in Who-ville, I would speculate that said Grinch isn't entirely Who-based, either."
"Not entirely, no." She folded her legs beneath her. "I'd have to do some genetic typing of course, some sample matching, maybe run some tissue cultures before I could prove anything conclusively. . ."
". . .and even then, it might not help."
"But it certainly wouldn't hurt."
"Probably not. Hey, settle down, big guy." He recovered the bottle from the floor again as his restless son squirmed and fussed on his knee. "Suppose The Grinch chews up paper and spits in into a corner of that cave somewhere?"
"No. Complexion is all wrong," she replied. "Too green, not enough yellow. Doesn't look like a fat-sucker, either."
"Unless he's just been fat-sucking. Incanto looked really good until he looked, you know, really bad."
"That's true. But look -" she hit the pause button "- he doesn't have any visible ears. But I guess they might be detachable, like Rob's were."
Mulder's eyebrows arched. "Who?"
"Rob Roberts. Lucky Boy Burger murders? Costa Mesa?"
He nodded. "Right, right. I read it; I don't remember it, of course."
"No." She hit play and the Grinch's evil machinations resumed. "Of course you don't."
They watched the show in silence as Michael slipped at last into sleep and the Grinch slithered down another chimney. It was almost peaceful, she thought, almost good enough.
"Your maternity leave is nearly over, isn't it?"
She should have known it wouldn't last. Nodding, she took another sip of her cold coffee. "February first. I had some extra leave and vacation time saved up."
"So, maybe when you come back to work we'll open an X-File on the Grinch. Whaddaya say?"
Oh. She'd been putting this off too long, she knew, but it still wasn't long enough, somehow. She cleared her throat. "Mulder, about that, I, um. . ."
"It's - it's okay," he interrupted, raising a hand to stop her. "It's okay. I know."
"You do?" A jolt of anger flashed through her. He knew? How could he. . .? "So help me, if Skinner said one word. . ."
"No, Skinner didn't say anything. He didn't have to, Scully. I knew - well, I guessed - the minute I saw this guy." He nodded toward the baby with a wistful smile. "I've just been waiting for the transfer order to come across my desk for so long that I was beginning to think you were actually planning to leave the Bureau."
"No. I'm headed back to Quantico part-time for a while, I think," she replied, carefully. "Teaching. But I, ah, haven't even filed the paper work, yet."
"I don't know," she answered, finding a spot of spilled red something on the carpet suddenly very interesting. "I wanted to get everything else sorted out, and let you know what I'd decided."
"Quantico makes sense, though," Mulder said. "Regular hours, decreased risk. No partner waving a camera, cheeseburger, or insane theory in your face while you're trying to cut open some lucky stiff."
"And a bump up the pay grid," she added.
"Yeah." She gave a little smile, downed the dregs of her coffee. "Even part-time, it was a hard, if obvious, choice."
"Choices are like that, sometimes." Mulder lifted Michael, still sleeping, onto his shoulder, rubbed his back in small, slow circles. "For what it's worth, I think it's a good one. For both of you."
She smiled, relieved, feeling as if a weight she'd hadn't even realized she was carrying was suddenly gone. "It's worth a lot, Mulder."
His mouth twitched, then the corners curved slightly upward. "So I guess you won't need that glowing letter of recommendation I keep writing?"
"Not this time, no." She smiled back. "But keep it on file, okay?"
The TV screen went blue as the tape rolled to an end. Scully hit rewind, then rose, and stretched modestly. "It's early. You sure you don't want another coffee? Something to eat? I have enough leftover turkey to feed about fifty."
Mulder shook his head, obviously trying not to disturb the slumbering baby.
"I think he's down for the count," she offered, bending to pick up the empty boxes, new toys, and shredded wrapping paper that had apparently scattered themselves around the room. "You aren't going to see him for awhile, so if you want to tuck him in, I can get the rest of this mess tidied up."
Mulder nodded again, slowly, then chewed the inside of his cheek thoughtfully. "Scully, is that. . .?" He stopped.
She glanced at him, waiting for the rest. "Is what what, Mulder?" she asked gently.
"Is -- is that why you asked me over today?" He nuzzled his son's soft head with his cheek. "Just so you could tell me you weren't coming back?"
"What?" she asked, genuinely surprised: she thought she'd been clear.
"I appreciate it, either way, I just. . ."
"Oh Mulder, no, of course not." She sat back down on the couch, so near this time that their knees were touching. "It's Michael's first Christmas, and he's going to be away, for which I am truly sorry, but my mother would not take 'no' for an answer. You missed the first four months of his life and I don't want you to miss any more. I just thought...it hasn't been that bad, has it?"
"He's just a baby, Scully." His voice was so hushed that, even this close, she could barely hear him. "He'd never know."
She tried to swallow the lump filling her throat. "I'd know." She put her hand cautiously on his leg, squeezed gently, reassuringly, she hoped. "And you'd know. You're his father, Mulder. You're family, right?"
Mulder nodded silently, but she knew that look. If Mulder started crying, she'd start crying, and the last thing she wanted was for this day to end in tears.
When he didn't reply, she stood again and cleared her throat. "Well, I'm going to clean up these things." She lifted their cups and dessert plates from the coffee table. "Put him to bed." She took two steps toward the kitchen, then turned back to him. "No rush, Mulder, okay? Take your time."
When Mulder returned, she had all the pots and pans she'd left to soak washed and put away, the floor swept, the dishwasher started, a plate of leftovers covered in foil for the trip to Alexandria sitting in the fridge, and was halfway up the step ladder with her grandmother's antique bone-china platter. Somewhere between Michael's room and the kitchen, Mulder had tracked down his jacket and boots, and was now standing behind the ladder, car keys dangling from his fingers.
"Can I help you with that?" He grasped one leg of the ladder with his free hand, steadying it for her. "Be careful, Scully."
"It's okay," she replied. "I put this up here when I moved in thinking I'd almost never need it; I didn't stop to think about how difficult it would be to get when I DID need it, though. And it's so fragile. . ."
Keys jangled as he dropped them into his pocket and took hold of the other side of the ladder, too. "When you're done, I'm going to get going."
"Oh," she answered, bracing herself against the cupboard, only slightly disappointed, only a little surprised. "It's still early. You don't have to. . ."
"I think I'd better," he interrupted. "I think. . .you'll be back on the sixth?"
"Can I have, um, take him, ah, can Mike stay with me the weekend after that?"
She stretched, placing the platter on the highest shelf, pushing it back as far as it would go. "Sure. Wednesday, too, if you want." One final, gentle nudge and. . .
"My lawyer thinks we should have a formal agreement."
She turned too quickly, nearly losing her balance. "What?"
Mulder hadn't noticed; he was talking to the floor, white-knuckled hands wrapped around the ladder still, and she had only a view of his bowed head. "I had to change my will. I was explaining the situation, or as much of it as I could, considering how little I know, and she told me that, if push came to shove, I'd be screwed, and that I should have something in writing."
"Oh," she said, uncertain that there was anything else she could say. "Oh."
She started down the ladder, feeling lightheaded and off-kilter, suddenly. Mulder seemed to hesitate a moment, then quickly backed away.
"She offered to draw something up. I told her I didn't want something drawn up. I told her you and I were just in some kind of transition, that I was still hopeful about, um, about us. I told her I'd spent most of the last five months trying to think of a way to say 'Hey Scully, I guess we've already done the sex thing; want to try for the dinner and a movie part?' that wouldn't insult you or make me feel like any more of an idiot than I already do."
She exhaled slowly. "Mulder, I don't. . ."
"I know, Scully." He held up a forestalling hand. "You don't want to talk about this. We've had this same conversation about not having this same conversation I don't know how many times, now. All this time, I'd assumed your reluctance just meant that, one night, you finally took pity on me - had mercy, decided to put me out of my misery, whatever - and subsequently discovered that rumors of your inability to conceive had been greatly exaggerated."
She leaned back against the counter, arms crossed protectively in front of her. They were going to have this conversation, after all. Damn.
"Mulder, I. . ."
"I've just assumed your refusal to talk to me about it was some combination of embarrassment and disappointment, and I didn't want to have to face the reasons for either. But it doesn't fit, Scully. I realize I have big chunks of my memory missing, I realize those memories were probably excised for a reason, that they're probably not coming back. But the last thing I do remember, and remember with perfect clarity, is that I was deeply, profoundly in love with you. And maybe I was just seeing what I wanted to see, but I was starting to think you might feel the same. Yes or no?"
She sighed. "Please, Mulder. . ."
His shadow fell across her as he took a tentative step closer. "Yes or no, Scully?"
Oh Mulder, she thought. Don't do this. We've both been through enough. Please don't do this.
His gaze was steady, but his eyes were pleading. She had never wanted to lie to anyone, for any reason, so much in all her life. Just one word, one syllable, and her wounded pride and hurt would go on being hers, and hers alone.
But she couldn't do that; not to Mulder. Not even now.
"Yes?" he whispered.
"Yes." She licked her impossibly dry lips. "I, um, felt the same way."
"Felt?" he asked. "Past tense?"
She rubbed her eyes with the pads of her thumb and forefinger. "We were," she searched for the right word, couldn't find it, "'together', for almost a year."
"A year?" Mulder sagged visibly, slumping back against the counter opposite her. "Oh god, a year?"
Mulder stared at her, wide-eyed, jaw jumping as he ground his molars. Running his hand through his hair, he finally looked away. "What, god, what happened? Why did you. . ."
"I didn't, Mulder." She shook her head. "You did."
"What?!" His fear give way to surprise, then shock. "I did what?"
Where to begin? "About a week before you disappeared, we were back in Bellefleur. Billy Miles called us out. There were reports. . ."
"I read the file, Scully."
She nodded, understanding his impatience. "So, we were out there, conducting our investigation. One night, I was working on my field notes, and I started feeling sick. This was before I knew about, um, Michael. I came to your room, and crawled into your bed. You kind of tucked me in, laid down with me. I was so cold, I just wanted to get warm. We were lying there, you were wrapped around me, and all of the sudden, you told me it had to end. You kissed me on the cheek, and you walked away."
"I did what?" Mulder looked stunned. "Why?"
She sniffed. So much for not crying. "You said the personal costs were too high, Mulder, that there was so much more I needed to do with my life." She wiped her nose with the back of her hand. "Not our lives, Mulder. My life."
Mulder was nodding, slowly, taking it all in. When he finally spoke, his voice was shaking. "Scully, if I said that - if that is what I said - in those words - I didn't, I didn't mean it. Not the way you took it. There is no way - I couldn't have. I loved, I love. . ."
She shook her head. "I think you did, Mulder." There was no tissue in the kitchen, so she reached for a paper towel. "I think you were being noble, and self-sacrificing, I think you were trying to do the good thing, the right thing, but I think," her voice cracked, "I 'know' you meant it."
She didn't move toward him, and she had no recollection of his moving toward her. All she knew was that one second she was wiping her eyes with Bounty, and the next, she was surrounded by him - his arms, his scent, his warmth - and sobbing, in spite of herself, into his sweater.
"Why didn't. . .when they found me, finally figured out who I was, and you came, and you told me about Mike, Scully, god, why didn't you say something? You spent all those months looking for me, and then-"
"What could I say, Mulder?" Her breath hitched, caught in her chest. "You didn't remember it. Any of it."
"Scully. Oh, Scully." He rested his chin on top of her head, whispering, she could tell, through his own tears. "I know the nurses told you I'd been screaming for you for days. I couldn't remember my own name at that point, and I remembered yours. I remembered you. How could you think I would forgot you? How could I ever forg-?"
"That's just it, Mulder." She pulled back far enough so she could look into his red-rimmed eyes. "It wasn't that you'd forgotten; I could have lived with that. It was the fact that you might remember. I was afraid it'd all come back to you, that you'd remember all of it, and that you'd make the same choice, again."
"Oh, Scully." He pulled her back to his chest. "God. No."
"Once was enough, Mulder," she whispered, sobbing again, wishing she could stop. "Once 'is' enough."
He held her as she cried, cradling the back of her head with his hand, murmuring soft, meaningless comforts, and she let him. Eventually, he pulled back, and lowered his forehead to hers.
"Knowing me, I was probably too busy being noble and self-sacrificing and stupid and all that other crap to have mentioned it, but everything I ever wanted 'for' you, Scully, whatever I said, I wanted 'with' you, too." He put his hand under her chin and tilted her face up, forcing her to look at him again. "I still do. Tell me there's a way to fix this. Please tell me there's a way."
There were so many things she wanted to say - things she'd practiced during the long months he'd been gone, in the long months since his return, things that came to her, there and then, for the first time. They zipped around inside her head, competing to be the first out of the blocks. She searched his face, her eyes darting from feature to well-remembered, well-loved feature, as if she might find the right words written there for her to recite.
Finally, rubbing her nose with her palm, she dropped her eyes and looked him squarely in the chest. "Oh god Mulder, I got. . ." she sniffed once, once again. "I got your sweater all snotty."
He went very still, stiffened momentarily, then, much to her relief and probably his own, he chuckled. Wrapping his arms around her again, pulling her close, the chuckle turned into a laugh. "Yeah," he answered. "Yeah, you did." He tightened his embrace. "You want to make it up to me? You could let me take you to dinner and a movie. How's that sound? I'll even spring for the popcorn."
"Okay." Nodding against his chest, she mumbled, "No butter."
"Ew," he commented. "That's un-American."
She laughed, gently at first, then a little harder as the absurdity of it all overwhelmed her.
"What?" he asked, clearly confused. "What did I say?"
She shook her head. "We've got a lot to talk ab. . ."
She was interrupted by a distant thud, followed by a high-pitched "Ba ba ba ba ba ba ba!"
"Bottle overboard," she said, knowingly, easing herself reluctantly out of his embrace.
"He does that at my place, too." His mouth twitched to one side, then the other. "I HATE that game."
"That child has your impeccable timing, Mulder." She reached for the paper towels again. "Wait here, I'll go tend to him and, um, and then. . ."
"No." Mulder shook his head. "No. I'm going to go."
"Oh." She arched one eyebrow, concerned, but trying not to show it. "Is this you being noble and self-sacrificing again, or what?"
"Probably just me being stupid again." He shrugged. "No, you guys have got a long flight and a busy day tomorrow, and we don't have enough time to get into this tonight. Besides," he rubbed his chest with his open palm, grimaced theatrically, "my sweater's all snotty."
She smiled. He was right, of course, and she was glad neither one of them felt they had to force the issue. "Okay," she nodded with another sniff. "Yeah."
Michael called for his bottle again, more adamantly this time.
"You better. . ." he pointed.
"I better. . ." she agreed, and they left the kitchen and started down the hall.
"I'll let myself out," he gestured toward the front door, crossed to it. He paused with his hand on the deadbolt. "The sixth, right?"
"The sixth. Our plane comes in at 3:10 in the afternoon." She smiled. "We could always use a ride home."
Mulder nodded, grinning almost shyly. "'Kay. G'night," he said, turning the doorknob. "Thanks for. . .thanks for everything, Scully. For everything."
Again, one of them must have moved, but she didn't know which, and she didn't care. In the space of a heartbeat, she found her arms around him, his lips on hers, their breaths mingling. She could get used to this, she thought as Mulder's hand slid maddeningly from the curve of her waist to her hip, pulling her impossibly closer. No, she corrected, smiling against Mulder's wonderful mouth, she would get used to it. Again. Soon. Often.
"Ba ba ba BA!!!" bounced down the hall, pulling them apart.
"Love you," Mulder sighed breathlessly against her cheek. "Always."
"Good." It was all she could think of, but his tightened embrace told her that it worked.
"Gotta go," he murmured just below her ear, "or I'll never get out of. . ."
"Go." She stepped back, and pointed to the door. "Go. I'll see you on the sixth."
He leaned in, brushed her lips with his, quickly, this time, confidently, familiarly.
"Love you," she whispered.
He smiled, and was gone.