Title: Adagio II: Less Than More
Author: Johnie
Written: 29 Dec 1997
Yes, yes, I promised to have this out during the holidays and here it is so stop sending me
E-mail asking where it is.
Rating: R
Disclaimer: All I own isn't worth as much as the net profits for a single day's worth of X-Files video sales so I hope FOX studios will be understanding about my using their characters for fun and absolutely no profit.
Category: MSR

Summary: Mulder has left and returned many times. Has his relationship with Scully survived?

Author's Notes: Consider it a belated Xmas gift to all you fabulous people who send me feedback.

Oh, you know the drill. You probably don't *have* to read Adagio to understand this but I wrote it and what am I going to say? Go read it first!

Archivist's note: This fic follows Adiago, which has nothing to do with kids. You can find that one here http://fluky.gossamer.org/cgi-bin/read.cgi?Adagio


"Hello."

Dana Scully startled slightly as warm lips touched the back of her neck. She put down the knife she had been using to chop carrots and turned away from the sink to face the owner of the lips.

She chuckled, "Mulder, you scared me. Do you always have to make such a dramatic entrance?"

"They don't call me Spooky for nothing."

Scully brushed a strand of stray hair behind her ear and rested a hand on her hip. "Nobody has called you Spooky for years," she informed him wryly.

He sat down at the oak farm table that sat in the middle of the kitchen in the space formally occupied by a large butcher's block. As the late afternoon sun slanted through the window and across Mulder's face, Scully noted how tired he looked. She was about to comment on it when the back door burst open tumbling in three children and a springer spaniel.

Just as the whole melee looked like it was going to throw itself across the kitchen to greet her and Mulder, she issued an order, "Charlie, please take your brother into the mud room to wash up. And all of you take off those filthy socks and sneakers and leave them in there. Dinner will be ready in ten minutes."

She didn't even manage to get the whole sentence out before the fracas disappeared down the hallway into the combination mud/laundry room.

"How are Moe, Larry, and Curly doing?" Mulder asked, shrugging in the direction of the children, "Wasn't Curly's parent-teacher's conference today?"

"Stop calling me Curly. I'm too old for that," ordered an indignant voice.

Mulder turned to the annoyed ten year old who had run barefoot into the kitchen. He ruffled the boy's close-cut crop of red ringlets. "Sorry, buddy. I'm getting old and I keep forgetting how big you're getting," he said smiling. "And I'm sorry I missed your parent-teacher's conference. I wanted to be home in time for it."

"S'okay, " the boy said, giving him a hug, "I missed you. Besides ask Mom, you have to go back. Mom made another appointment for next week."

As Mulder returned the boy's exuberant hug, Dana noted that the hem of his jeans were caked with mud. "Josh, go and change before dinner. You're covered with mud. What were you guys doing out there?" she asked in amazement. It had rained over two days ago, where had they found mud?

"Charlie and Sarah were showing me new soccer moves. Try outs are next week," he yelled as he ran up the stairs. "Hey, Mulder, I'm glad you're home. We missed you," Charlie greeted as he breezed into the kitchen.

The tall, dark-haired, gangly teenager tossed himself down into the chair beside Mulder. "Hey, Sarah, it's your turn to set the table. I did it last night when you were at practice," he called out.

Scully watched as her niece breezed into the room while sweeping her brown hair up into a pony tail. As always she was struck by how much Sarah resembled pictures of Scully's mother at her age.

"Hold your horses, dweebie. I remembered," Sarah answered as she began pulling silverware from the drawer. She paused to kiss Mulder's forehead and demand that he tell them all about his trip.

"Okay, okay. I'll tell you all about while we eat. And don't worry I haven't forgotten that I said we'd all go next time," Mulder promised.

"I'm taking that as a legal and binding promise," Sarah informed him, "Josh has talked about seeing Stonehedge, the Tower of London, and where you went to college so many times since you mentioned it, Charlie threatened to pull over and leave him by the side of the road the other day on the way home from school if he didn't shut up already."

Charlie laughed, "Hey, I restrained myself."

"Come on. If we all pitch in we eat sooner," Mulder said to Charlie as he got up and took a fistful of silverware from Sarah.

Scully watched them set the table as she finished making the salad. Mulder set down a knife and fork at each place, discussed college applications with Charlie and Sarah, and managed to sneak suggestive glances at her all at the same time.

She groaned mentally, surely Charlie wasn't really old enough to be going to college next year? And Sarah would be gone the year after that. If she went to college that was, she was insisting she wanted to go to New York City and 'explore living' before committing to a career and "chaining herself to a lifestyle'.


Scully knew that last comment had been a slight dig at her job and the amount of time it took up. The children had often questioned her, confused that Mulder could work for four months and then take the rest of the year off and she had to work long hours every time a crisis developed. And the crises developed often.

Last summer Mulder had taken the children to Martha's Vineyard for three weeks and she, despite many attempts, had been unable to join them. "Aunt Dana," Sarah had protested angrily when she called to let them know she wouldn't be arriving that weekend, again, "are you ever coming?" And Charlie had sighed when Sarah handed him the phone and ran out of the room. "We know you want to come. We had so much fun sailing last year and Mulder, well, sailing with him is impossible unless you want to spend all your time feeding him dramamine. Sarah's just sick of being in a houseful of guys. She doesn't mean it. We just miss you and sometimes it doesn't seem like people will ever get tired of killing each other."

No, people didn't ever get tired of killing each other. After Mulder and the children had come back and the serial rapist that had been strangling women all summer had been caught, she had taken two weeks off and spent them being a mom knowing that it wouldn't make up for being an absentee parent during the family vacation but it lessened her feeling of panic that the children were growing up in the same leaps and bounds she was forced to work in. It just didn't seem possible that Charlie and Sarah where old enough to be leaving home soon. The thought made her queasy and she ruefully acknowledged that empty nest syndrome was going to hit her and hit her hard.

Mulder walked over to her and she handed him the large wooden salad bowl, startling slightly as he deliberately ran his hand slowly over hers when he gripped the bowl.

The late afternoon sun that had given away the tired shadows under Mulder's eyes was now highlighting the gray in his hair as he moved around the table. Dana smiled to herself. Mulder was forever commenting about how lucky she was to still have her original hair color after all these years but little did he know she was still a red head only at the courtesy of L'Oréal hair coloring. Some truths, she thought drolly, are better left uncovered.

She sighed. Well, there was no denying that she was getting older, gray hair or no gray hair. Her day had been trying to say the least and she was definitely much more tired than she would have been when she was thirty or even forty years old. Her day -as a mom and as Maryland's Chief Medical Examiner- started early, she had gone to the parent-teachers meeting to discuss Josh's seemingly unquenchable curiosity with the way mechanical objects worked. His teacher had been annoyed but encouraging. She said Josh was a budding auto mechanic, engineer, or if all else failed a demolition expert. Dana had laughed along with his teacher when she showed her the remains of Josh's latest inquiry; it had the formerly been one of the classroom aquarium's air pumps but now it was scattered in several pieces across the teacher's desk looking like the leftovers from some sort of electronic wolf pack kill.

She had made another appointment to meet with the teacher and Josh after school next week to discuss curtailing the destructive side of his inquisitive behavior and then she had been off the district attorney's office to discuss her testimony in an up coming trial.

After that she had done an autopsy -confirming that the Jane Doe brought in the night before had died of a drug overdose- dictated a half a dozen memos to her secretary, had a nasty disagreement with the Police Commissioner about their turn around time on toxicological reports, visited the ballistics lab to pick up the report on a murder/suicide she had done the autopsy on the day before, dropped off her dry cleaning, picked up Sarah at her friend's and Joshua up at soccer camp, and finally arrived at home.

She had been so busy she hadn't thought about Mulder all day. Seeing him now in the kitchen she realized that didn't mean she hadn't been missing him.

Out of the corner of her eye, she could see he was carefully doling out salad, removing mushrooms from Josh's serving, carrots from Charlie's, and adding extra olives to his, Sarah's, and hers.

"Dad," Josh returned to the kitchen dressed in sweatpants and a Baltimore PD t-shirt that hung nearly to his knees, "Dad, after dinner can you help me with my homework? I have to find three legends from ancient Greece about the sea."

"Sure, we should find plenty in that book on Greek myths in the study," Mulder agreed and handed a piece of carrot to him. Josh noisily chewed the carrot as only a small boy could.

Dana pulled the two pizza stones from the oven. "If I knew you were coming home I would have made a white pizza but Josh and I can't eat one ourselves," she explained to Mulder.

"Ugh," Charlie commented, wrinkling his nose, "that should be a capital crime. To qualify as pizza you need tomato sauce or chopped tomatoes at the very least."

Mulder laughed.

Even years later Scully was still amazed at the instant rapport between Mulder and the children every time he came home. To them it was always like he hadn't really been away.

Mulder had never really lived with them full-time. Shortly after she and Mulder had become lovers, he had left for territory unknown. She hadn't seen him for eight months. He had sent her
E-mails from strange addresses and had, for a while, a post office box in Arizona where she sent him suggestive notes, reviews of his book clipped from various newspapers and magazines, and dozens of letters from his publisher demanding he write sequel and asking if he wanted to sell the movie option on Extreme Possibilities.

It was spring when he returned to her in the dead of the night. She had woken up at 2am and gone down to the kitchen to make a cup of chamomile tea. She was waiting for the water to boil and admiring the gleaming reflection of the streetlights in the kitchen's dark-tiled floor when she heard a shuffle in the living room. Thinking it was the grey tabby cat she had adopted recently she walked into the room.

She had found Mulder asleep on her sofa with the cat -named Foggy by her godson- asleep on his chest.

Quietly she had padded across the carpeted floor to stare at his sleeping form in the soft moonlight that was leaking through the slats of the venetian blinds. A partially healed scar marred his hairline, his face was covered with at least a week or two's worth of stubble and a faded greenish bruise, and his clothes were so rumpled it looked like they wouldn't qualify to be a scarecrow's Sunday best.

She smiled. Despite the fact that he looked like he had been living in the baggage compartment of a Grey Hound bus she thought he was the most comforting sight she had seen in a long time.

She bent over and whispered in his ear, "Mulder." She had never again called him Fox after his demand to be called Mulder while they were making love the first time.

In one swift movement -without opening his eyes- Mulder picked up the cat, dropped him on the floor and then swept her down on top of him.

"Missed you," he murmured against her neck, his hands running up under the T-shirt she had worn to bed to stroke her breasts. "I missed you."

She shivered as his warm breath ran along her collarbone. "Come up to bed."

"I don't think I can move."

She had helped him walk up the stairs, undress, and climb into bed. He had immediately fallen asleep with her curled in his arms.

The next morning she called in sick for the first time in her new job. After a year as Chief State Medical Examiner she thought she was entitled. Once she hung up the phone she had gone down the hall to the bathroom when she heard Mulder calling her. Assuming he needed a towel, she grabbed one from the linen closet and walked into the bathroom, over to the shower to hand it to him. Mulder had reached a soapy hand out and grabbed her arm. She hadn't been fast enough and he dragged her, half-dressed, into the shower with him. Ignoring her laughing protests, he slowly peeled off her soaked T-shirt and the flannel pajama bottoms she had worn to bed. The slow deliberate movements he used to strip her clothing, the steam rising from the water, and the dirty little tale he whispered in her ear about what they were going to do all day, had her so excited that she screamed against his neck when he picked her up and entered her, slamming them both into tiled wall.

Afterwards, Mulder had toweled her off, brought her breakfast in bed, made love to her into the afternoon, and then left before dinner.

He returned two weeks later and lived with her for several months before leaving, first for several weeks and then for an entire year. If he found any clues as to Samantha's whereabouts he didn't share them and she found she just couldn't bring herself to ask.

Her co-workers were confused by her relationship but didn't say much since she refused to explain Mulder to them or to anyone else much to the annoyance of her family and friends. Over the next two years her mother carefully avoided mentioning Mulder directly in conversation.

And during a lunch date shortly after Mulder's third disappearance, Skinner insisted she was insane to put up with Mulder's behavior. Scully had known he was just concerned about her but she loved Mulder and didn't find it difficult to live under the odd circumstances fate dictated until they had been lovers for three years.

She had been missing him more than usual, it was the holiday season and she was lonely. There had been no
E-mail, no phone calls or letters. No communication of any kind. She had spent several hours on Christmas wondering if he was even still alive. Depression began tangle itself into her thoughts, warping them to match the chemical reaction of sadness that was brewing in her head.

The chief M.E. of Virginia, who had become a good friend of hers, was having a New Year's eve party. She debated all the reasons to go and not go but had gone on getting ready anyway. She hadn't made her decision until she was completely dressed. The shimmering silver jersey and black pants she had bought for the occasion looked too good for her sit home alone she decided and off she went.

At the party she had been introduced by the hostess to a man named Richard. He was a horse breeder. A handsome blond man with a relaxed demeanor and soft sense of humor. She had found it extremely refreshing to meet someone in the D.C. area without government or political ties.

Scully had liked him instantly. He had invited her to his farm for the weekend and she had gone. The farm had been beautiful and uncomplicated the way his life seemed to be. Although she visited him several more times to go riding and cross-country skiing, she made it clear she was involved with someone and he had made it clear that he would respect that.

One day in early spring her resolve became a little less clear. It was a Sunday. Richard had invited her to see a new foal being born. She had driven out to the farm in a good mood. The thought of seeing his mare Sandstone Prayer deliver was uplifting and she was more than a little curious about the equine birth process.

It was a heady experience watching a new life come into the world. She had sent up a brief prayer of thanks that she had never gone into obstetrics. If she was witness to births everyday they might eventually seem commonplace to her. At that moment, nothing else seemed as tragic as that possibility.

She walked along the paddock fence and admired the crocuses, tulips, and snowdrops blooming against the house feeling it was almost as tragic that she was alone in the world and had been since Mulder left in the fall. She wandered back towards the stables and watched as one of the trainers lead the mare and it's little roan filly outside. As the dainty filly took it's first steps she felt several tears escape her eyes. Nature had been reduced to it's simplest elements for her that morning: birth, growth, life, and death. So much of her own time was spent dealing with death, she had the overwhelming panicky feeling that she had to immediately spend more of it living.

Richard had found her struggling against crying. He leaned on the fence post next to her and wiped the tears off her cheek with the cuff of his flannel shirt. He had listened to her and then he had kissed her and she had liked it. He felt safe, warm, sexy, and substantial. Mulder had seemed so far away, so unreal. She told this to Richard and he said perhaps that was just what Mulder was -a fantasy.

There had been no pressure, no urging from Richard after the kiss. He had given her the time and space she needed.

Over the next month she reluctantly realized she was falling in love with Richard.

Oh, she didn't love Mulder any less, she reflected as she moved through the autopsy bay weighing a stomach and emptying it's contents into a container for analysis, but she wanted to... to live. Not to move through life, not to wait for it, not to relegate it to something that would happen in the future but to live, live, live and live.

She had wasted so much time playing other people's games, following other people's rules.

Her thoughts had been interrupted as one of the attendants wheeled a body into the room.

After work she had driven to Virginia to see Richard. Over dinner, boosted by a glass of wine, she told him how she felt and she kissed him, touched her lips to his in a tiny burst of warmth. The commonplace touching of lips to lips had been so comforting. Mulder had conceivably kissed every part of her body but her mouth. Tiny kisses across her cheekbones, nibbles down her neck, a tongue dancing along the edge of her ear. Soft little bites at the undersides of her breasts, wet sucking kisses along her pubic hair line, teasing kisses behind her knees. The hellishly delicate and muted touch of his lips to her wrists, fingertips and bottoms of her feet but never, never her mouth. He always gently refused; she had never asked why, never made an issue of it.

Richard had pulled back. "Dana, you know how I feel about you but I feel like I'm poaching on another man's territory. If you want to end things with Mulder, you need to do that before we begin."

Then he sent her home, saying she needed to think about it. She had agreed but when she got home she found her decision had been made for her.

Mulder was waiting for her.

And so was her mother. Mulder return home was serendipitous in more ways than one. Her mother was there to tell her that her brother Charlie and his wife had been killed in an accident with a drunk driver on a quiet highway in Texas. Their children were in state custody, they had just been transferred to a new naval base and there were no friends or family nearby.

Her brother Bill -who was closest geographically- was on his way to pick the children up. Dana had driven her mother to the airport so she could catch a flight and meet Bill. She stayed behind to begin making funeral arrangements and arrangements for the children.

She knew what Charlie and his wife Kim's would say; she and Charlie had talked about it only a year ago. In the event of both their deaths or incapacities full custody of the children would be granted to her. Charlie had felt three children would be too much for their mother to deal with, Bill had a family of his own, and Kim didn't have any siblings so it was decided that the responsibility was best laid at her feet in the off chance that it ever became necessary.

Now that it was necessary, Mulder helped her with the funeral arrangements and held her while she cried over the senseless death of another of her siblings.

"I carried a gun as part of my job. I went into dangerous situations so often it became routine to me and who dies? My sister the aromatherapist. Now my brother and his wife are dead because they decided to catch an early movie and take a break from the kids after unpacking," she said to Mulder through a haze of tears.

He had carried her up to bed and tucked her in. He had refused to leave her alone. He had held her hand and waited until she fell asleep, then sensing something had changed between them, he went down the hall and had slept in the guest bedroom.

In the morning Scully had been blunt and honest. She had thought about, dreamed about, and agonized over what she would need to do. She wasn't going to have the time, energy, or the heart to live in a world of half-concealed truths, mystery, and only semi-tangible relationships.

Nor would she be in any frame of mind to start anything new.

She had thought a lot about Richard and her motives for wanting a relationship with him.

"Mulder, I need to focus on the children now. Charlie and Kim's will is going to state that I will be appointed as their guardian until they reach the age of eighteen. It's a responsibility I intend to undertake very personally, with a hands-on approach. I'll need to provide a consistent, stable home for them."

She looked down at her hands and mentally pushed down the lump in her throat. The futile wish that Mulder were a different person and that the circumstances which formed his need for the truth could retroactively mutate into an situation that would form a Mulder that could be with her, just her and not his past, flitted clumsily through her mind like a drunken bird.

She smiled ruefully. Stop it, Dana, she told herself, then he wouldn't be Mulder and you wouldn't have the same feelings for him. And, sniveled a tiny voice in her head, this wouldn't hurt so much.

"Mulder, we can't continue like this. I can't be with you anymore. I need to try to be a mother and I'm jumping in to the middle of-"

Mulder bent his head down to hers, his palm lifted her chin as his lips brushed her temple. "I agree. We can't continue the way we have. It would be too confusing for a child to understand." He paused. "And I think... I think it's becoming too difficult for you to live with."

Scully felt a tear escape her left eye and watched it run down onto Mulder's hand. She imagined that she was still connected to it, that some part of her was still suspended in it's warm saltiness and that she could feel the texture of Mulder's skin, the pattern of folds in his palm as the droplet ran across first his life then his love line. The lump in her stomach jumped back up into her throat.

"You met someone didn't you?" It wasn't an accusation, it was a softly asked question.

"Yes. Yes, I thought I did but I think... I think I only wanted someone to, to pretend that... to pretend that I was someone else with a more conventional life, a more conventional love," she managed to choke out.

"Come're." Mulder enfolded her in his arms and silently sat on the sofa while holding her and let her cry.

She felt her tears run down face and then disappear into nothingness, disconnected from her after all.

"Scully... Dana, I want to stay here with you. I want to try to... " Mulder sighed and tried again. "I've always gone to extremes and when you've needed... I've gone to extremes for you but I've never put enough faith in the trust, in the feelings we have for each other, to be ordinary for you."

"Mulder." She stood, panicky suddenly at the thought of an ordinary Mulder. The thought of another change -even one beneficial to her heart- seemed devastating. She paced over to the bay window and back to the sofa, "I want to be with you but not if that compromises who you are."

Mulder rose from the sofa and loomed over her in her barefoot state. "There has been many things that have made me into who I am over the years but nothing has defined me more than being Agent Scully's partner and Dana Scully's lover. I had four years to be your partner and so little time as your lover."

She looked up at him stunned. Her eyes questioned him, set in an expression of anxiety and confusion.

"I am Dana Scully's lover," he stated, his voice seemed so loud in the silent room, it seemed to echo off the walls, the furniture, and the inside of her head. "I would go to no less extremes to be that then I would to find out if I'm still Samantha's brother."

"I..." as she went numb with shock words failed her but her eyes told Mulder what he wanted to know.

The distance between them closed as he took a step forward. Scully suddenly realized that they were so close that the warm air she was breathing in had just been expelled from his lungs.

"I am Dana Scully's lover," he repeated. "That is the most defining factor in my life. I would give up everything else in my life to continue to be that. I could give up everything but that and not regret it. You do need me."

Her words, her words that first morning came back to her. I don't *need* anything except water and oxygen, Mulder. I want you.

They were the right words then but somehow she sensed they weren't right anymore. They no longer expressed a freedom of choice, pure will and desire. Instead they now conveyed a reluctance to be dependent, a push against the constraints of a heart's wish.

"Now I want more. Tell me this isn't just about wanting. If you can tell me you need me the way I need you, I'm home. Home to stay." His words were whispered, they were as quiet as the faint morning light that trickled through the blinds she hadn't bothered to open, as quiet as his fingers trailing along the strands of her hair.

The air in her lungs became an oppressive weight, hanging in her chest. She pushed the air out with an exhalation and watched in fascination as Mulder closed his eyes and breathed it in.

"I do need you. Not just because of circumstances but because-"

Her words were cut off as Mulder's lips brushed hers. Something in inside her cracked as each ridge of his bottom lip dragged against hers and just when she thought she had pulled herself together under the sensual onslaught of his lips, he gently forced her mouth open. The texture of his tongue, the soft friction of it stroking her own, caused a low moan to vibrate in her throat.

The moan was the only sentiment Scully felt she was capable of expressing as she suddenly realized that the voracity and the intensity of the first time they made love was nothing, nothing compared to what he had been holding back. Holding back with a simple kiss as the flood gate.

He had known. How had he known? she thought. He knew I wasn't completely ready, that I was afraid to admit I needed anything or anyone. Her words came back to her again -I don't *need* anything, I want you. She heard her own voice echoing in her head: I want more, I want more, I want more. But she hadn't known what she meant really. But she knew she had been comfortable with their situation for so long because the distance gave her a measure of control.

Then the realization hit her that when she had asked for more she wasn't asking for it from Mulder, she was asking it of herself.

Mulder pulled back and lightly kissed each arch of her upper lip.

Though the fog of desire that was quickly overwhelming her, she heard him ask. "Do you want me to stay?"

"Yes." She knew Mulder didn't need to hear anything beyond the brief affirmative answer, he could read everything else in her eyes, her expression, her responses.

He unbuttoned the velour shirt she was wearing, making short work of removing it and the rest of her clothes.

"Mulder," she protested as he picked her up, "what are you doing?" She felt slightly ridiculous being carried completely nude in her living room.

"Well," Mulder whispered with a lascivious smile she could feel against her hair, as he headed for the stairs, "I thought I'd take you upstairs and start giving you... more."

The lilt of her answering laugh had buoyed her heart a little against the difficulties she knew would follow.

And it had been difficult, she reflected as she ran the wheel of the pizza cutter through first one then the other pizza, but as she had reminded Mulder the first time they had been up all night with Sarah and Charlie -when they had gotten a bad case of poison ivy during their first summer vacation on the Vineyard- the things most worth having in this life required the biggest leaps of faith and the most work. Mulder had rolled his eyes and given her a weak smile as he began preparing another oatmeal bath at one in the morning.

She doled out the pizza slices and watched as Joshua carefully picked each topping off and ate it before eating the pizza itself. She smiled as she watched her family and their idiosyncrasies. Mulder and Charlie both wolfed down their salads first -in order to get it out of the way she was sure- and Sarah put her to the side to eat afterwards 'to cleanse her palate'.

Dana bit into the crust side of her slice, showing one of her own quirks.

She had felt so bruised after her brother Charlie and his wife died that a pleasant dinner like the one they were having now had seemed a fantasy.

In the beginning, Sarah and Charlie Jr., who were only six and eight at the time, seldom slept through the night. Their sleep had been peppered with nightmares of abandonment and loss, and fitful crying for Mommy and Daddy. Charlie had a hard time adjusting to a new school and had withdrawn from social interaction with anyone but the family. And Scully soon found -after being stuck in heavy traffic one afternoon- that Sarah become anxious and tearful whenever Dana, Mulder, or her grandmother arrived home late. Mulder had suggested family counseling and they had all seen a therapist together for four years.

Josh had been easier. The only memories he ever had of Charlie and Kim were the pictures Dana showed him and the stories the rest of the family told him. To him Mulder and Scully were his parents and his first word had been directed at Mulder; he had called him Daddy.

After that Mulder had insisted they get married. Dana had laughed when he mentioned it. Mulder had been a stay at home dad for a year at that point and she had forgotten that they weren't married. The ceremony that had hastily taken place in their backyard because Mulder had a publication dead line for a text book and she was in the middle of testifying in a highly publicized trial, had made Sarah and Charlie feel secure and it seemed to help them settle in better. Charlie had kept a copy of their marriage certificate hanging on his wall for years. "Aunt Dana," Sarah beseeched, "do you think we could go shopping tomorrow? Soccer starts on Wednesday and I'm going to need new cleats."

"I'll take you," Charlie offered, "I need new cleats too and I promised Curly here that I'd take him to get knee pads and a new pair of goalie pants. I'll take you that is, if I can have the car?"

Mulder laughed, "And this jockeying for the car doesn't have anything to do with the fact that you know your Aunt Dana and I would love to have a few hours to ourselves and you're sure I'll be willing to hand over the keys to my Land Rover."

Charlie adopted a look of complete innocence. "Of course not. I'd be happy to drive Aunt Dana's mini van."

Mulder snorted, "Oh, sure you would, I know how much it impresses the ladies. I'll leave the keys to the Land Rover on the hook by the door. Just have it back by dinner and make sure you all wear your seat beats. And don't leave your little brother by the side of the road."

"Thanks," Charlie grinned. "I'll pick up a couple of movies too," he said referring to their habit of having a night in together every time Mulder came home.

"But Sarah can't pick them out," Josh made a face reminiscent of Dana's look of disapproval and informed no one in particular, "she always picks out girly movies with stupid mushy stuff like love and kissy-face crap in it."

"Yeah, Sarah, how gross," Charlie laughed.

Having heard this complaint a hundred times, Sarah ignored her brothers. "That new movie, The End Is the Beginning or something like that, about the FBI agents that fall in love is out on laserdisc and I'm going to rent it for Aunt Dana and I to watch. She appreciates my taste in movies even if you cretins don't. And I don't see why you get to drive. I've had my license for two months now," she added with an annoyed sniff.

"I'm older and more responsible that's why," Dana heard Charlie condescending inform his sister.

Dana ignored the argument. Mulder had offered his Land Rover now he could deal with the feud that erupted over it. She watched as they bickered and Mulder desperately tried to act as an arbiter. While they quarreled, Charlie rinsed the dishes handing them to Sarah and Mulder who loaded the dishwasher while Joshua wiped off the table. He waved the sponge at her as she attempted to help. "Mom, remember the rule: if you cook, you don't clean-up."

It was nice to be called Mom, even in a reprimand. For a while she had been sorry that she and Mulder hadn't been able to have any children of their own. Then one day while she was sitting in the airport waiting for Mulder's flight to come in she realized that they did have kids of their own. Charlie, Sarah, and Joshua may not have been their biological children but... well, that just didn't matter.

And it didn't matter that Mulder hadn't always been there.

The year after their marriage Mulder had written a book -Sunlight Never Whispers to Me. It was the story of a twelve year old boy who's younger sister develops leukemia and after battling the disease for a year dies. The boy's poignant thoughts of loss, the slow unraveling of his family in the face of the tragedy, and the difficulties of trying to grow up in the middle of an emotional maelstrom, had brought Scully to tears when she read it.

Although she was probably the only one who knew all the autobiographical overtones of the book, she hadn't been the only one who loved it, she reminded herself as she walked out of the kitchen and up to her bedroom to change out of her suit. The book had been chosen by Oprah as one of her book club selections and much to the children's delight Mulder had appeared on TV.

Then the book had won the Pen-Faulkner Award. Mulder had spoken on college campuses, given readings and been honored by the American Association of Pediatric Hospice Care and the Canadian Society of Bereaved Parents for furthering the understanding of the needs of terminally ill children and their families.

Seeing Mulder identify so easily with thousands people that had suffered such profound losses gave Scully the evidence she needed to push him into discussing what was obviously an ever present need to discover the truth of Samantha's disappearance.

After Mulder returned from his book tour she had told him their life was as ordinary as it would probably ever be and she wouldn't mind injecting a few peculiarities into it.

She argued that the children could handle it. They had responded well to Mulder's business trips in the past. She had worried senselessly that they would be nervous to no avail. They had discussed it ad nauseam before Mulder left on his first trip to LA to discuss returning as a clinical consultant to the police department but it hadn't seemed to bother the children.

Charlie and Sarah had shrugged it off and after having several family therapy sessions about it she realized they honestly didn't mind. Their father, being a naval officer, had been gone for months at a time and he had died while he was home with them, not while he was away at sea. They missed Mulder when he was gone but he was also at home -sometimes for months- working at nothing more than just being a father.

Which was better than she could manage sometimes, she sighed, sitting down on the bed, kicking off her shoes and happily pulling off her nylons. Being Sarah's aunt and not her mother hadn't spared her from the mother-daughter teenage conflicts that had erupted in the last few years. Sarah always felt abandoned when Scully had to work overtime even if she carefully balanced it with time and home and drew limits on how much overtime was too much for her and everyone else on her staff.

Mulder too, managed a balancing act. He went off on his expeditions from time to time but he was always careful to never be gone for more than four months. He held the time period of four months in his mind as some sort of magical interval during which nothing bad could happen.

The first time he had gone looking for Samantha again he was away for five months and he missed Joshua's first tooth falling out.

Scully had watched him try not to cry as he realized he missed Joshua's first encounter with the tooth fairy. The constant battle between needing to resolve his past and living out his present had been heartbreakingly evident in his face that day but Dana knew it was a private war. There was no weapon she could use to eradicate his personal demons. She could face these things with him but the power of their destruction -if ever found- would be his and his alone to utilize.

After that he kept his trips between three weeks and four months with some sort of bizarre reassurance that it would be okay if only he came home within his self-designated time frame.

And it had been okay, she reflected as she leaned back against the mound of pillows at the head of the bed. Yes, it was okay, she thought as she inadvertently drifted off to sleep. She woke as something tickled her nose and the sneeze that followed broke her completely out of her semi-sleep state.

"Don't tell me you've grown allergic after all these years," Mulder commented as stood over her idling twirling the sprig of rosemary he had rubbed on her face between two fingers.

"If I was allergic, I would have gone into anaphylactic shock long before now," she informed him with a grin thinking of all the rosemary scented bath oils, soaps, and sachets she had received over the years. And if that didn't do it the four-foot tall rosemary plant trimmed to look like a pine tree, that she received several years ago at Christmas would have done her in had she the slightest allergy.

"What time is it?" she asked suddenly realizing that she was still half dressed.

"Ten-thirty. Sarah and Charlie went to bed a half hour ago groaning that an hour of listening to him beg, cajole, wheedle and whine to them about needing help with his 'goalie moves' was more tiring than two hours of playing with Curly the soccer dervish. I played three games of Chinese checkers with Curly and told him all about Wales and the Isle of Man. Finally he quieted down and went to sleep."

Scully was surprised he had gotten away after only three games. Josh had developed a passion for Chinese checkers and drove everyone crazy by insisting on got up and began removing the rest of her suit, adding a little flair to her movements for Mulder's benefit. "So did you finish?"

"Yes," he said, carefully watching her shimmy out of her skirt, "I finished the research for the sequel to Extreme Possibilities. It will be set in Wales and will deal with Owen David and Fern Keighley's relationship. Detective Scanlon won't be in it. I submitted the book proposal. Now as my publisher put it 'all I have to do is write it," he said with a groan as he fell back on the bed.

Scully, having finished removing her own clothing, climbed on the bed, straddled Mulder's thighs and began unbuttoning his shirt.

"You know, you have to stop calling Josh, Curly. He thinks it's undignified for ten year old."

"I know, I know but it's hard to remember when Charlie and Sarah still call each other Larry and Moe. Besides I forget how old he is. Thinking of him as being ten makes me feel panicky, like-" he explained.

"Like all the little birds will soon fly the nest?"

Mulder nodded, "I can't believe Sarah and Charlie will leaving for college soon. The house will seem so empty with them."

Scully pulled on the cuff of Mulder's shirt sliding one arm free. "I can't say the thought doesn't depress me but at least we won't have to referee any more nasty arguments over the bathroom," she said referring to the shouting matches Charlie and Sarah engaged in when Charlie took one of his forty-five minute marathon showers and Sarah wanted to do her hair. "Besides Ellen assures me that all the ugly teen mother/daughter dynamic disappears around age twenty and I for one am greatly looking forward to that."

"After Josh leaves home, do you think we could retire and run off to live in sin somewhere?" Mulder asked, changing the subject as unbuttoned the cuff of his remaining sleeve. "We're married, we can't live in sin," she drily informed him.

"Wanna bet?" he grinned. "And you better enjoy my sinfulness while you can. I'm getting old."

"Yeah, you are getting a little decrepit. Maybe I'll have to trade you in for a newer model," she deadpanned as she peeled his shirt off and dropped a kiss on his collarbone.

"I think that was totally uncalled for." Mulder rolled and pinned her to the bed with his hips. "Especially when I've been gentleman enough not to mention that you color your hair," he laughed.

"I should have known you knew," she groaned abandoning the task of unbuckling his belt and pulling her hands from between them.

"Actually I just guessed. After all your fiftieth birthday is right around the-"

He was cut off as she tossed him off and jabbed him in the ribs with an elbow for mentioning her age and tricking her into revealing the secret of her graying hair.

"Mul-der." She shot him her look which over the years had evolved to include not just the lifting of a eyebrow and a head tilt but a bit of nose scrunching as well.

"You know, Scully, someday your face is going to freeze that way," he informed her with mock solemnness.

The laugh that escaped her was cut short into a sort of snuffled chortle as he dragged her into his lap and fell back against the pillows. Several of the blue-gray throw pillows she used to pull the color scheme of the room together -a decorating idea that caused Mulder too give her a blank look when she explained it to him- slid to the floor.

Mulder reached behind him and threw a neck roll to the foot of the bed. "What's the purpose of all these pillow-type things again?" he complained, not really asking.

Scully sighed, after they became lovers he had always insisted they sleep in the room they had first made love in, and when the children moved in they gave Charlie and Josh the master bedroom and moved in permanently. "Well, this room wasn't meant to be the master bedroom. It's rather small. If you let me paint this room a different color I wouldn't have to try so hard to-"

"But Scully I like remembering it the way it looked the first time I did this." He dropped his head and began sucking on the flesh at the base of her throat. She instantly felt her pulse pick up. Somehow after all their years together she found that although she knew exactly what was coming, exactly what kind of lover Mulder was, she was never bored. In fact, she mused as her breathing became ragged, forehand knowledge of the event only served to excite her.

Yes, she thought feeling his hands close around her waist, knowing what was about to happen was a powerful aphrodisiac indeed. She closed her eyes and visualized his hands moving down, parting her, his fingers tracing each ruffle of her flesh moments before he actually did it so that events always unfolded like a vibrant fantasy coming into existence with an alacrity that startled her every time it happened.

All those years ago Richard had been right, Mulder was a fantasy but he had showed her that he was a tangible one. A fantasy that didn't fade in the face of daylight or under the monotony of everyday tasks of living.

"I'm so glad you're home. I'm so glad every time you come home," she murmured with her lips pressed against his forehead as she picked the forgotten rosemary branch out of his hair.

Then she felt his hands reach up to grip her shoulders and pull her away from him so he could look at her. In the dim light glowing from the tiny bedside lamp she saw an unformed question brewing behind his eyes.

"What is it?" she whispered, concerned at the sudden seriousness of his expression.

"I want more," he whispered back, "I can still hear you saying that Dana. And what I've given you over the years has been... it's been decidedly less than more. I-"

"Mulder, if this," she swept her hand over their half-naked bodies and gestured toward the children's bedrooms, "if this is less than more, then I'll take less." A full smile seeped out of the corner of her mouth and spread across her face causing an echoing smile to appear on Mulder's face before she finished her statement. "Because less has been more than enough."

END

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