Title: Lessons Learned
Author: TrthIsOutThere
Author's page: https://www.fanfiction.net/u/1910840/
Storylink: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/6115632/1/
Category: X-Files
Genre: Family
Written: 08/15/2011

Summary: Collection of one shots, no particular order, just as the come to me. This is my solution for continuing the saga of Exley Mulder from my fic "Bedtime Stories."

Okay, so this is my solution for continuing "Bedtime Stories." It's just random moments/one shots inspired by quotes or random stories I've heard about kids or being a parent. This first part is the very beginning, and probably the only one that is in chronological order. I have a few ready to go and I'll be posting them over the next few days.

It had taken until she tried to unlock her office door that morning to realize that she had locked her keys in her car. Again.

The first time that it had happened, Dana Scully had passed it off as a fluke. She had accredited the added stress of presenting her findings from her stem-cell treatments on Christian Fearon to the prestigious American Academy of Neurology. On top of the stress, she had been spending several late nights after her twelve-hour shifts at Our Lady of Sorrows putting all her findings together. She was beyond exhausted. The presentation was a big deal, not only for her, but for the Academy board. It was groundbreaking. Stem-cell treatments were invasive and she had taken a risk, coming out successful, and she just may have found a method for easing the effects of Sandhoff's disease permanently.

But that presentation had come and gone and her keys had continued to elude her. She had locked them in her office and in her car on several occasions. It was frustrating having to wait for someone to come for her rescue the first time; the second and third time, it was flat out humiliating, and by the fourth time, it had become a familiar embarrassing routine. It didn't help that the same middle-aged grizzled locksmith was the one who came to her rescue. He had told her his name was George, but his shirt claimed it was Carlos. His bushy eyebrows would raise and he would attempt innocent small talk, but she could see his smirk through his thick, salt and pepper beard.

She squeezed that sensitive area between her eyes as her month-long perpetual headache spiked.

Now she stood in the parking lot of Our Lady of Sorrows for the second day in a row in her white coat and blue scrubs waiting for the same guy to come let her in her car. Again. She folded her arms across her chest and leaned against the hood of her silver Fusion, sighing in irritation. She was tired and was not looking forward to the twelve-hour shift that lay ahead of her. Especially if she was going to have to hunt down the janitor each time she wanted to get into her office since George-Carlos was displaying impeccable timing that morning. When the rusted and beat up red pick-up finally rumbled into the parking lot she stood and waited for George-Carlos to roll out of the driver's seat and pop the lock for her.

"Mornin', Doc," George-Carlos said, fumbling around the floor-board for his tools. "Callin' a little early today, aren't ya?" He smirked at her under his beard.

Scully was in no mood. "I had hoped this wouldn't happen again," she said, hugging herself against the sudden chill she felt. She frowned as she looked up into the sunny, clear sky on this abnormally warm mid-March day. Maybe she was coming down with something.

George-Carlos shrugged. "Happens to everyone, ma'am." At Scully's silence, he chuckled. "You know, my wife did this a lot when she was pregnant with our second son."

Scully felt her heart begin pounding a painful reminder of what she had loss barely three years before. The color drained from her face and she cleared her throat. "Forgetfulness is a common symptom of pregnancy," she said carefully, with a nod.

The man had missed her moment of discomfort and pressed on. "Any chance that's your problem?"

"No." Scully shook her head slowly. "No, there's no chance of that. I, um…I can't have children," she said quickly. It was a fact she rarely disclosed about herself, but she wanted to save herself the pain from old wounds that this conversation might uncover.

Her blatant expression of anguish did catch his attention this time and their eyes met for a brief moment before he awkwardly resumed his work. "Oh…oh, I'm sorry to hear that." They remained silent for the next several agonizing seconds as he slipped his tool beneath the window, fishing for the lock and popping it open shortly after. Scully thanked him and quickly retrieved her keys from the passenger seat. She thanked George-Carlos for helping her and retreated to the safety and privacy of her office as fast as she could. She sunk into her chair heavily, her fingers running softly across the scar on her neck, her permanent reminder of all that she wanted, but could never have again, and cursing its very existence. The corners of her eyes prickled as tears gathered and she drew in a slow, ragged breath, pressing her fingertips together in front of her face and squeezing her eyes shut. At the feeling of the first hot tear tracing its way down her cheek, she lost all control of her unyielding resolve and tears began cascading down her face.

Why today of all days? The pain that she had initially felt when she relinquished her son had faded to a mere sting, but today it was back in debilitating force. She felt her spine oozing into the curve of the chair, her limbs turning to lead. She wasn't going to be leaving the chair unless she absolutely had to for the rest of the day, she thought to herself as another chill ran down her spine.

The next morning, Scully's phone went off nearly two hours before her alarm was scheduled to wake her up. She groaned as she reached for it, not recognizing the number with a 304 area code. When the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of West Virginia greeted her on the other end, she was even more confused. It wasn't until they explained that they were short-staffed and she was the first available licensed forensic pathologist that worked in the state, that she was able to properly compute the phone call. She'd be there, she told them. They were just going to have to wait. When she hung up, she glanced over her shoulder at her ex-FBI partner and rolled her eyes. He was sleeping peacefully, snoring quietly, his sleep completely uninterrupted by the early phone call. The man with the world's worst case of insomnia had turned into the world's heaviest sleeper. Very trusting for a man who was evading a death sentence he received from the FBI.

Groaning again, she swung her feet over the side of the bed and placed them flat on the floor. The tears shed the day before had trapped her mind in a groggy haze. She was going to need a lot of coffee today, the thought alone causing her stomach to roil unexpectedly. There was a completely validated vacation looming in her near future, she told herself as her tired muscles protested her short trek to the bathroom.

Nearly six hours later found her in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, surrounded by disgruntled investigators and detectives from various police agencies who hadn't gotten the memo about the substitute pathologist's late arrival. The sloppy, greasy sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit she had craved the moment she saw it on the drive thru menu was starting to churn in her stomach. The three cups of coffee she had already ingested were doing nothing for the lingering feeling of exhaustion. Any more than four cups in such a short timeframe would have her hands shaking so hard that she wouldn't even be able to loaf the organs to properly examine them for any additional evidence to cause of death. On top of it all, the unremitting, dull throb of a headache was threatening to come back in full force.

Long story, short: Dana Scully was absolutely miserable. She felt the tops of her ears begin to redden with embarrassment again.

Pinching the bridge of her nose, she stepped into the autopsy bay and was immediately assaulted by an invasive sterile smell. The facility was new and hadn't had time to stew in the putrid stench of advanced putrefaction. She looked across the bay to the freezer and watched as two autopsy techs began wheeling out the previous night's catches one by one. The smell of antiseptic was making her earlier greasy craving roil violently. Swallowing hard, she stepped up to the closest tech and introduced herself.

"I'm Jimmy," the man said. He was tall, towering over Scully and his short brown hair had barely any gray in it. Too young to be cutting up dead people for a living. Motioning with his head to the other tech, he said, "That's Herb." His voice dropped to a whisper. "He's probably going to try to gross you out, but don't worry it's all show and, as a forewarning, the blood is fake."

Scully's eyebrow arched high on her forehead. The blood is fake. Her stomach turned a little bit again. "I, uhh…I'd like to apologize beforehand, Jimmy. You're going to have to bear with me. My last autopsy was about three years ago and I was working in the FBI's lab in Quantico. I did my own incisions due to the lighter case load."

Jimmy smiled. "I'll help you out, Doctor Scully. Don't worry."

"Well, I greatly appreciate that, Jimmy," she said and attempted to return it.

"Okay, if you'll just follow me through here," Jimmy said, wheeling the first victim over to automatic door that swung inward. Once inside he stopped in front of an x-ray machine and unzipped the black body bag. Blood had matted the victim's hair together and dripped down his forehead and oozed out of his ears and nose, leaving clotted deep, crimson trails that finally pooled on his white t-shirt in a long, parabolic stain ending below his belly button. His head was curled down toward his chest, telling Scully he had died sometime late yesterday afternoon. That and the fact that there was a cherry hue to the skin at the bottoms of his bare feet and the backs of his thighs told her he had been found in a sitting position. Poor guy had been dripping on himself for nearly ten hours before anyone found him. She pulled on thick gloves and prodded the matted area, feeling the skull shift beneath her fingers. "They're all suspected suicides," Jimmy told her. "Two GSW's and one overdose. This will be a pretty easy day for you."

Scully offered a smile to the young man. "I've come to value days that don't include children sharing their germs with me. This is a vacation." She didn't add that she suspected her nausea might have been the result of those shared germs from one of her patients. She placed a hand on the decedent's forehead and sternum, using all her strength to break the rigor and get his head to lay flat on the table. It took some effort and Jimmy's help, but the victim's head finally lay flat and Scully motioned to the entrance wound at the front side of his left temple. "Just x-ray his head. Did the investigators recover a bullet?"

Jimmy shrugged and motioned with his head out the door where the crowd of impatient law enforcement officials was waiting for their department's turn. "This is the Parkersburg case." He wheeled the gurney closer to the machine and looked at Scully curiously. "Do you think there's any chance he's pregnant?"

Scully smiled again, but she felt another pang of grief deep in her gut. She swallowed again and shook her head, leaving Jimmy to snap a picture of the fragmented skull. The doors slid open and she began to gather the necessary information from each of the departments standing outside.

Twenty minutes later, the first two victims were lined up against the sinks. Scully helped remove all clothing and jewelry from the victims, cataloguing everything and then packing it into a clear plastic bag for personal effects to be returned to the next-of-kin. While she set to work removing those articles from the second body, Jimmy began his cutting work. After several moments, the detectives from Jefferson took a few steps back and began to comment how their guy was "a real stinker." Scully barely glanced up, knowing that the man had barely been dead for thirty hours. They were just being dramatic; the facility was new and the ventilation system relieved all observers from the brunt of the odor.

As she worked, she noticed that her bizarre mid-morning craving had started to settle in her stomach. All her other symptoms were fading away slowly. It was morbid to realize that she was more at home "slicing and dicing," as Mulder called it, than taking care of suffering pediatric patients. Scully finished cataloguing and packing the personal items from the second decedent before slowly walking back to Jimmy's case. The detectives' nostrils were all flaring widely and the uncomfortable frown on their brows told Scully that maybe the scent was worse than she had thought.

At the first whiff of rancid entrails, she felt her stomach lurch violently and the nausea returned full-force. She slammed her eyelids shut, gripping a metal table for balance, and was immediately taken back four years to the basement office in the Hoover building. Assistant Director Walter Skinner was walking in through the door with a plastic bag adorned by a giant yellow smiley face. The lighting in the office told her it was a very late dinner. She had been scouring through the X-files for anything that could help them with their search for Mulder. Skinner dropped the plastic grocery bag on the desk and insisted that she eat something and motioned to the Chinese carry-out. She thanked him and pulled out the first box greedily. Whatever dish was in the cardboard carton never made it in her mouth, but she knew it had shrimp in it. That smell immediately sent her stomach lurching and Skinner watched, helpless and wide-eyed, as she lunged, hanging over the front of the desk where Mulder had stupidly left the green metal trashcan, whatever was left in her stomach from earlier that day only making it halfway into the receptacle and splashing onto Skinner's shoes and the hem of his pants.

Her eyes shot open and she turned a sharp ninety degrees to the sink at the end of the autopsy gurney, losing the entirety of her fatty yen and four cups of coffee to the drain. She heaved once more so hard she thought she might actually disgorge organs if it was at all physically possible. Taking a deep steadying breath, she froze, hoping that had been everything. Her fingers slid beneath her loose ponytail and found their way to the small rise on the back of her neck, tracing gingerly over the scar.

A paper towel appeared at the corner of her peripheral vision and she remembered where she was. This whole ordeal made her key-loss fiasco more appealing and she found herself wishing she had merely lost her keys instead of her entire breakfast. She warily accepted the paper towel and wiped her mouth off and felt her cheeks turning a deep scarlet, extremely mortified. Jimmy had paused, his hand inside the chest cavity, but when Scully made no noise, he stepped closer to the sink and peered in coolly. "Well, Doctor Scully, it appears that the stomach contents possibly include sausage and what appears to be eggs, but I'm not sure if that a muffin or a banana." He looked up at her wryly. "Do we have to bag it and send it to tox?"

As the detectives and death investigators started to chuckle behind her, Scully smiled, but silently hoped that it wouldn't happen again.

It had been a long time since Dana Scully had been as afraid as she was currently. She could remember being bound and gagged, lying in her trunk, as a madman stole her away to the top of Skyland Mountain, had nearly been lobotomized by a psycho, and kidnapped several other times. She had faced cancer as it reared its ugly head, had watched as her own child lay dying in a hospital, and had managed to find her way home after being stranded in Antarctica. Fear was not an unfamiliar emotion for her and here it was again, staring her directly in the face and laughing. The only difference was that it was attacking at her weak spot this time, her most vulnerable place, and there was nothing she could do to run and hide.

After successfully completing the last two autopsies, though not without further "incident," she had found herself so exhausted that she didn't trust herself to drive the five hours back to Shawnee Land, Virginia. She had gone to the closest hotel, an Embassy Suites, and gotten a room, immediately climbing into the bed and calling to the front desk for extra blankets. Confusion muddled her thoughts and she longed for Mulder's arms around her, but she was too afraid to face him, too afraid of what her symptoms were implying, too unwilling to believe the truth herself. She continued to tell herself that she had acquired a bug at the hospital, some particularly bad case of the flu, though she knew deep down that wasn't the case at all. Realizing how afraid she was, she pulled the blankets around her shoulders tightly, tucking them in securely beneath her chin and closed her eyes, unable to resist the fatigue.

Monica Reyes' phone began ringing somewhere out of reach from her hand. The fact that she couldn't reach it from her position in front of bad daytime television was the most important detail. The ringing meant someone was looking for her, it meant that someone was worrying about her, it meant that she would have to answer it and insist that she was fine. She was seven months pregnant, damn it! She wasn't dying. Briefly, she considered ignoring the phone, but knew that if it was John or her mother, they would call back as many times as it took for her to answer. It took a few seconds of rooting around her purse to finally find it and was pleased to see Scully's name and phone number lighting up the Blackberry's screen.

"Yes?" Monica asked.

"What are you doing?" Scully's voice was quiet and Monica knew something was wrong instantly.

"What's wrong?"

"I…I can't tell you over the phone."

"Why? Because someone could be listening?" Monica snapped, immediately regretting it. She began to apologize, but Scully's snippy response cut through her apology and caught Monica off-guard.

"No, Monica, I'm not convinced the world is out to get me." Scully groaned. "Jesus, just…can you…what are you doing?"

Monica glanced over at the plate of celery covered in mayonnaise, running a hand over her swelling belly. It wasn't the worst combination in the world, she knew. She could have had a stranger craving that morning. "Satisfying one of these stupid cravings. Why?"

"How fast can you get to Charleston?"

"West Virginia?" Monica exclaimed, her hand flying to her stomach as the diminutive life growing inside her jumped at the sudden raise in her voice. "Sorry, little man," she whispered.

"Monica, I need you. Here"

"Dana, it's going to take me like six hours to get there."

"It's okay, Mon," Scully said. "I can't go home. I'm so...I'm so lost. Please come."

"I'm on my way."

Scully was pacing back and forth in front of the television when she finally heard a knock on her door later that day. The door opened and Monica peeked into the dimly lit room, cautiously stepping in as if someone might jump out from behind any object in the room. "I flashed my badge for this." She held up a key card and shrugged. "You had that tone where you might have spent the day sleeping." She cast a glance at the bed, piled high with extra blankets confirming her suspicions. Her eyes then ran over the trashcan that had been strategically placed beside the bed. "Are you sick?"

Scully wrapped her arms around herself tightly. "I really hope so."

Monica frowned. "You hope so? You are the only person I know that would wish they were sick."

Scully hesitated for several long moments, her eyes not quite focusing and making her look completely lost. "I've locked my keys in my car four times in the last three weeks and I threw up when I smelled putrefaction this morning."

Monica hesitated, unsure what her friend was getting at. "Dana, you recently gave a huge presentation at an international neurological forum. You probably worked down your immune system. A long vacation full of sleep will do you wonders." She paused. "As for getting sick…it's been years since your last autopsy. It happens to some people." Scully looked unconvinced. Monica sighed and pulled her over to the bed and sat next to her. "You don't seem to think that's the case though."

Scully shook her head and ran trembling fingers through her auburn hair. Closing her eyes, she sighed. "I want that to be the case. Truly, but only because I fear the alternative…what it could mean…" She shook her head, at a complete loss. "Monica…I think…I think I'm pregnant. In fact, I'm almost positive."

Monica's jaw dropped open and she was at a loss for words. She was not sure how she was supposed to react. She knew that Scully feared that she may end up losing this child in the same way that she lost William. The innocent little baby had been naturally created, yet was merely a pawn in a game, the end result of decades of scientific experimentation. Monica couldn't bear for that to happen again and she rubbed her own stomach, knowing that Scully would be devastated watching John and Monica's baby grow after having lost her own to a fate she had no control over. When she and John had announced their pregnancy to their closest friends, she had seen the sadness lurking in the shadows of Sully and Mulder's congratulatory smiles. The hole was still there and the pain not yet forgotten. Monica pursed her lips and covered Dana's hand with her own. "Listen, Danes. We grow and learn from the past. Nothing can replace what you and Mulder have lost, but you've been given a second chance to have something that you never thought would happen once, much less twice." She paused, thinking. "How do you know that this one is even in any danger? You don't know for sure."

Scully's eyes were appreciative as she shook her head, smiling sadly. "I can't help but assume the worst, Monica. Mulder and I are already genetically diverse from the rest of the world. We can't just conceive a child even if we wanted to." Scully emitted an uncharacteristic noise of frustration. "This is absurd. Irrational. I don't even know if I'm pregnant, this could be a bad case of the flu."

"Well, let's find out then," Monica said, dragging a stubborn Scully to her feet.

"What the hell does this one say?" Scully asked.

"Which one is it?" Monica asked, sifting through box upon box of at-home pregnancy tests. Scully showed her and Monica picked up a box, dumping unused tests on the floor. Monica squinted at the results and then looked at the box again. "I'm not sure. I don't think the test is sure either."

"There are only two possible answers," Scully grumbled. "How hard is it to say, 'Yes,' or, 'No?' What is the purpose of confusing, parallel lines?"

Monica glanced at the previous tests from five other brands and pointed to one with a digital results display that had clearly indicated Scully was expecting. "I think we can say that five out of six is pretty positive. I think it's safe to say that you need to make a doctor's appointment," Monica said, with a pointed look. She leaned back against the couch, rubbing lazy circles over her stomach.

Scully watched her for a brief moment before scanning over the mess they had made on the coffee table. Sighing, she rested her elbows on her knees and propped her chin on her hands. None of the tests claimed to be one-hundred percent accurate, but they all claimed that their results were reliable enough. That did nothing to indulge the scientist within her. Her heart was beating rapidly in her chest. The only way she could eradicate her doubt would be to quantify all her evidence in a lab. Monica was right about needing to make a doctor's appointment. But what then? What did this mean? Were they in danger? Scully was skeptical about returning to the life of a fugitive, especially after making such a breakthrough in the world of neurology. She didn't have the option of dropping off the planet again.

It took several rings of her phone to bring Scully out of her reverie. She caught sight of Monica's almost-worried glance as her friend asked if she was going to answer her phone. Scully shook her head and reached for the Blackberry singing lines from Elvis Presley's "Burning Love," the song her man-child partner had snuck onto her phone while she wasn't looking. "Hello?"

"Scully, it's me."

"Yes, I know, Mulder," she said, rolling her eyes.

He paused. "Is something wrong?"

"No, I'm fine." Monica scoffed and Mulder was no longer placated or fooled by that answer anymore. She frowned across the room at her friend.

"Do you want to talk when you get back?"

"There's something I have to tell you," she said vaguely.

"Good or bad?"

Her answer didn't come quickly. She paused for quite some time, mulling over her answer for several long moments. Even if they were in danger, this was a good thing. It was something she had wanted a second chance at ever since she relinquished her son those few years ago, a chance that she was positive she would never be given again.

"Scully?" His tone was worried.

A hint of a smile played on her lips as she finally answered him. "Good," she said firmly. "Very good."

"Daddy! Ow! Stop! Daddy, that hurts!" Pause. Two more brush strokes of complacency and then, "OW! Daddy! You're doing it wrong!" Four hands fought for the same space as two small hands grabbed handfuls of auburn hair to block any more contact from the brush. Exley Mulder spun on her father with the meanest scowl she could muster and folded her arms across her chest with a forceful, "Hmph!"

Fox Mulder sighed and rolled his eyes, not buying for a minute that he was inflicting as much pain and suffering as she was letting on. He set the hairbrush on the bathroom counter, stubbornly frowning down at his equally obstinate five-year old offspring. "I don't even tug as hard as Mommy, yet you adamantly swear that I'm killing you every time."

"That's 'cause you do it wrong!" Her eyebrow flew up to her hair line, making her look exactly like her mother.

"Ex, I only know one way to do it," Mulder said with an aggravated sigh. "Let me try one more time. I promise I'll try to do it like Mommy does."

Exley groaned and turned back around to face the mirror, her arms still folded across her chest and the unrelenting Dana Scully eyebrow remained high on her forehead. "Only one more time. I'm not letting you do it anymore if you keep doing it wrong," she warned, sounding just as foreboding as her mother.

Mulder rolled his eyes again and tugged the brush down through her hair the way that he thought Scully did it. It lasted for about five more seconds until she began yelling and screaming again and ran out of the bathroom. Mulder's arms dropped to his sides and he tilted his head back, a long gravelly groan reverberating deep in his throat. He threw the brush in the sink and followed Exley down the hall where he could hear the tantrum beginning. He was assaulted at the door by screams of, "I want Mommy!" and quickly remedied the issue by shutting the door, just as he heard his phone ringing from his bedroom down the hall. As he entered the room, he checked the alarm clock by the bed, noting that it was nine on the dot. Like clockwork. Smiling, he answered the phone. "Hey, poopyhead."

There was a scoff on the other end of the phone. "You are never going to let that one go, are you?"

He laughed. "Scully, can you honestly tell me when someone last called you a name that involved the usage of the word 'poopy?' People don't forget things like that."

"Mulder, you don't forget anything."

He shrugged. "Well…there's that too," he acknowledged and flopped down onto his bed. "How's your conference?"

Scully's metallic sigh echoed back to him. "Another conference, another speech. Not anything exceptionally remarkable to speak of." There was a pause. "How is bed time going tonight?"

She knew his answer never changed, but would ask anyway. "I'll let you hear it for yourself." Mulder stood up and walked back down the hall, pushing Exley's door open and allowing the continued hoarse screams for Mommy to be heard through the phone. After a few seconds, Mulder shut the door again.

"What the hell was that about?"

Mulder shrugged. "She wants Mommy, Scully. I thought it was obvious."

"Mulder," Scully said snappishly.

Mulder sighed. "I don't know, Scully. It started after ballet. We got home late because of traffic and she was being moody about eating. So when she yelled at me the first time, I sent her to her room. I finally got dinner together and she had a fit about the chicken nuggets. Apparently, they weren't prepared right because they tasted differently than Mommy's. So I threatened to take her food from her and then she threw another tantrum," he said, not even waiting to plunge into the rest of his story. "And then in the bathtub, I said no bubbles because she needed to go to sleep early. More screaming. And then the hair brushing." He groaned and scrubbed his face with his free hand, before raking his fingers through his unruly brown hair. "Every night, Scully. She starts yelling at me and then runs away…and why are you laughing?"

"She's five years old, Mulder," she sighed. "She weighs a whopping thirty-five pounds. Stop allowing her to walk all over you."

"Scully, but the screaming...it's so much easier to continually placate her. It's so much easier to go to sleep without a headache."

"Mulderdo you know how many years I went to sleep with a headache because of you?" Scully sighed again, but this time she chuckled. "Try reasoning with her. She's just having a hard time because I've been away so much recently."

"I know that, Scully," Mulder said, running his thumb across his brow. "I've been handling the psychotic dysfunctional breakdowns."

"Well, I promise this is the last time I change my medical specialty."

"We all appreciate it," Mulder said, a bitter undertone lacing his words.

"Let me say goodnight," Scully said through a smile. She didn't have to be in the room for Mulder to know that she was amused by his predicament. "A few of my friends from med school are here; they want to get to the bar."

"Are you going as Scully or Dana?"

Scully paused. "Last I checked they were the same person."

"Who are your friends?"

"Why does it matter?" she asked indignantly.

"What are you wearing?"

"Mulder, give Exley the phone."

Smirking, he pushed the door open to hiccupping sobs and Exley with her head buried deep in her pillows. "Hey, baby," Mulder said gently and was met with an aggravated, whiny growl that had been perfected over the past few months. "Mommy wants to say goodnight." Exley looked at him with a deep scowl on her face and then reluctantly slid off her bed to take the phone from her father.

"Hi, Mommy," she said and then was silent for a very long time. Mulder could hear Scully talking at length to their daughter and could tell by Exley chewed her lower lip and periodically glanced up at him that whatever was being said was spoken firmly. Finally, she nodded and said, "Okay. Goodnight, Mommy…I love you too." She held the phone up for Mulder to take.

"What did you say to her?" Mulder asked.

"Nothing in particular," Scully said flippantly. "I'll be home tomorrow afternoon. I love you and I miss you both."

"We love you too." Mulder ended the conversation and looked down at Exley. She motioned for him to come closer, so he squatted down in front of her. Her arms wrapped around his neck, and he smiled into her wet hair.

"Sorry, Daddy," she said.

"It's okay, baby. Should we get these knots out of your hair now?"

"I think we should try again." She nodded.

Mulder kissed the side of her head and led her back to the bathroom. Maybe every now and then, Mommy's way was the best way.

"Okay," Monica Reyes said, eyeing the two five-year-olds waiting patiently by the side of her Tahoe. "Listening ears?" Both her son, Phoenix, and her pseudo-niece, Exley Mulder, giggled and cupped their hands behind their ears to show her that they were listening intently. Monica pulled her younger son, Maddox, out of his car seat and adjusted him on her hip as she turned to regard Exley and Phoenix. "Make sure you're holding on tightly so we can cross the parking lot. Ready?"

"Yes!" they both exclaimed

"Alright. One…two…three!"

"Pockets!" they both said, shoving their hands into the back pockets of her jeans as deep as they could.

Monica giggled at their enthusiasm and grabbed her bag and slung it over her shoulder, glad to have developed the "hands-free" method for crossing streets and getting through stores. They stepped out into the parking lot, crossing the pavement to the park on the other side. As soon as they were in the grass, Exley and Phoenix released her pockets and ran for the slide. Maddox looked at her with big blue eyes. "I play too?" he asked, squirming his way to the ground. Monica tugged his knit cap further onto his head before she released him and watched him run after his brother and Exley to the slide. Monica sighed and dropped the bag on the nearest bench and settled in to watch until the first signs of hunger kicked in. She tried to shrink into her jacket to hide from the chill of late fall.

A little while later, another mother showed up with her son who quickly ran over to join the other three at the giant sandbox. The other woman sat down on the other side of the bench, calling after her son to please play nicely with the other children. She smiled at Monica, but remained silent. Monica noted how much the brunette woman looked like a dark-haired Michaele Salahi, tall like a model, sickly thin, and perfectly manicured in every aspect of her appearance. Snidely, she wondered if this woman was appearing on Real Housewives: Washington, D.C. in the near future. Monica sighed, wishing Dana had been able to contribute her own jokes about the glamorous life of the Northern Virginia upper class. It was barely two minutes before an iPhone rang and was pulled from deep within the other woman's expensive-looking trench that quite possibly cost more than Monica's monthly salary. Barely any time had elapsed before the brunette woman began to rant and rave that she hadn't made "any mistakes ordering the colors for that room."

Rolling her eyes Monica pulled out her not-as-fancy Blackberry and lazily scrolled through her contacts until Scully's name was highlighted. One push of the menu button and a quick scroll through her options had her quickly texting her closest friend. They weren't sure what they found so entertaining about these sorts of women, but they were fascinated none the less. Her fingers flew over the keys as she quickly typed, "Housewife, Danes."

Scully's response was quick. Monica smiled, knowing her friend was taking her lunch break. "Ughh! I've been dealing with their sick kids ALL DAY, Mon…"


"Drama, drama, DRAMA! So who is this one? Super-mom or absent, career-driven mom?"

"Career, but I think she has the ability to work out of the house. I'm going with either interior designer or wedding planner."

"Ooh, an in-betweener? How unconventional in the megalopolis with a never-ending propensity for lacking common sense…"

"You cut so..." The words sat stagnant on her screen, the text completely forgotten the moment she heard the unsolicited and unmistakable sound of a fist connecting solidly with flesh. Children began to wail and she and the other woman stood quickly, making their way to the playground equipment. Monica hesitated as the unfamiliar boy ran towards them both screaming for his mother, seeing the red streaks flowing down from his nose and over his lips. She cast a glance at the other three, noting Exley's defensive posture. She had the look of a tough and irritated miniature Dana, her small, fair eyebrows furrowing deeply in a fit of anger. Exley watched as Phoenix was kneeling beside his younger brother, offering a helping hand as Maddox climbed to his feet, hiccupping sobs wracking his body so hard that he was having trouble committing the simple act. Fuck, was the only word that Monica could think of that was even remotely apropos. She turned toward the boy who was still crying in distress as his mother looked lost, the situation not as familiar to her as it was for Monica. This may not have been the kid's first bloody nose, but it was probably her first. At least she didn't look like she was getting queasy. Monica had to give her that.

She jogged over to the pair, reaching into her pockets for anything to staunch the blood flow. Finding nothing there, she pulled the knitted glove from her hand. "Here, use this. This happens a lot with two boys," Monica offered, barely acknowledging Phoenix's string of "Moms!" getting closer and closer as he and Maddox ran over to her. She made a note of Exley standing her ground beside the slide, the furrow of her brow deepening with each passing second. What did they do? Monica asked herself.

The woman looked grateful for her assistance, but a furtive glance toward the bench where her iPhone sat told Monica that her business call had been unceremoniously interrupted. Monica dropped to one knee and pushed the boy's head forward, handing the glove to his mother. The woman hesitated but took the glove. Monica pinched her own nose where the bone stopped. "Pinch it right here," she said, as Phoenix frantically pulled on the seam on the shoulder of her jacket, still calling to her repeatedly. "Just leave it there for a minute or two." Tears and blood mixed together and splashed to the ground as the boy continued to cry, more scared than hurt now. Monica escaped from Phoenix's hold and ran her hand over the other boy's soft hair making soothing noises. Finally, a frustrated Phoenix balled his fists and stomped his foot. "Mom!" he bellowed.

"Oh my, God! What, Phoenix? Can't you see that I'm helping him?"

Phoenix pointed an accusing finger at the boy. "Mom, he pushed Maddox off the steps! Hard!" Maddox peeked out from behind his brother, stray tears trailing down his chubby cheeks.

"Evan, did you push that little boy?" the woman asked, her voice tingeing with anger. Monica was caught off guard by the sudden drawl in her voice. It hadn't been there when she was on the phone several moments before. Someone must have given her a really hard time for it if she carefully hid it like that.

Shaking her head, Monica pulled Maddox out from behind his brother, doing a quick once over for any signs of injury. "Well, he appears to be fine. Why is he bleeding?" She nodded at Evan.

The tears started pouring again from Evan's eyes, taking his turn to point the accusation across the playground to Exley, who glared at Evan and then averted Monica's gaze, kicking mulch with the toe of her shoe. "She hit me!"

"She hit you?" his mother asked. Like every other person, she underestimated Exley's petite stature for frailness. The reality was that Exley could hold her own against any boy she had come across. Her adorable wardrobe and well-hidden dirt-stained knees betrayed her alternate tom-boy persona.

"Damn it," Monica uttered, climbing to her feet and crossing the playground in long, resolute strides. She heard Phoenix and Maddox trialing closely behind her and saw Exley's eyes grow wide as the distance between them closed quickly.

"No! Aunt Monica!" Exley said, arms and legs flailing wildly as Monica swiftly swept her up into her arms before she was able to escape.

"No?" Monica asked. "You punched that little boy in the face!"

"I don't want to say sorry!" Exley continued, tears beginning to stream down her chapped cheeks. "I don't want to do it!" Monica dodged away from a stray elbow and caught Exley's tiny hand in her own and pinned it down against the small girl's chest. "He pushed Maddox!"

"Mijita, that doesn't mean you have to hit him."

"He was mean!" Exley wailed. "He laughed and said Maddox was a dummy!"

Monica paused, looking deep into her glassy blue orbs. "Okay, okay. Well, you don't need to handle it. You let me handle it, okay? You come and tell me."

Exley twisted violently again, struggling against Monica's hold. "I'm not saying sorry!" she insisted. "Por favor, tia. ¡No quiero hacerlo!" The tears started streaming again. "I said it in 'Panish! Please?"

Suppressing the urge to laugh, Monica stepped up to where Evan was glaring up at his mother, absently wiping at his nose and smearing a drop of blood across his cheek and the back of his hand. They appeared to be having the same argument. His mother wiped at the blood smear with her hand and rubbed it off on her dark jeans. "Well, you don't just push people, Evan. Say sorry to the little boy!"

"But she hit me, Mom!"

The woman looked up at Monica with an amused look in her eye and then back at Evan. Monica was close to laughing now. "Well, you were both wrong. So you say sorry to Maddox, and she will apologize to you."

Monica placed Exley on the ground and nudged her toward the even more reluctant Evan. "Say it, Exley."

"Sorry," she mumbled, avoiding his gaze. She wrung her hands behind her back and stubbornly twisted her torso away from him. It was an awkward motion that only children could do when they were being forced to do something they thought was ridiculous.

"Is that how your mom and dad taught you?" Monica asked, more out of entertainment from seeing her squirm than anything else.

Exley's tiny hands balled into fists at her side and she glared at her aunt. "No," she mumbled, and then looked Evan in the eye. "I'm sorry for hitting you."

"It's okay," Evan grunted begrudgingly. He looked over at Maddox, standing behind Exley, braving to come within Evan's reach again. "I'm sorry I pushed you down and called you names."

"Thas okay," Maddox said, quietly. "I forgive for you."

"Okay, good," Evan's mother said. "Now go play again. Nicely."

As the kids ran off toward the swings, Monica looked at the other woman with a frazzled look in her eye. "I'm so sorry. She's my, umm…her parents and my family are very close. She doesn't normally do that. I…I don't know what got into her."

The other woman smiled. "Evan likes to get his way. He'll be fine. If not, I'll just call his pediatrician later. It's not a big deal at all. She's a natural with kids and has definitely helped my sanity. He's the only child, everything is new to me."

Monica smiled in understanding. "Sounds like we see the same doctor for our kids." Silently, she hoped that wasn't true.

The woman's eyes brightened. "Do you go to Dr. Scully too?"

Monica groaned.

Fox Mulder sighed heavily as he looked at the calendar. Christmas was only two days away. Luckily, the only task left was the wrapping and his own personal elf had volunteered to wrap all the gifts that he hadn't gotten wrapped in the stores (all of which had mysteriously been for his partner so the surprise wouldn't be ruined later). His eyes shifted to the clock in the bottom right corner of his computer screen before they slid up to the ceiling. There hadn't been any noise coming from above him for at least an hour, hopefully meaning his partner was now working diligently on gift-wrapping in her office and their four-year-old progeny was finally in bed asleep.

After a few more silent seconds passed, he turned off his computer monitor and made his way out of his office and up the stairs. He passed his daughter, Exley's, room and paused in the door way. By the way that she had sprawled across her small bed, Mulder knew she was fast asleep. He smiled and walked quietly into the room, turning off the Monster's, Inc. DVD playing on her television and kicking stuffed animals and toys out of the way as he made his way to her bed. Slowly, he pulled the covers up and tucked a strand of unruly dark auburn hair behind her ear, planting a soft kiss on her forehead.

He wandered slowly from Exley's room to Scully's office and gently pushed the door open, peeking his head inside. He watched as she wrapped the presents, noting how she had turned it into a more meticulous process than it really was. Every fold was smoothed down to a crisp, perfect straight line, the tape was rubbed down to near invisibility, and every gift was topped with a shiny bow. Leave it to Scully to randomly obsess over such a mundane task, Mulder grimaced. He was glad he always got the stores to wrap his gifts for him, otherwise they would have ended up in a plastic bag from the grocery store. He stepped into the room softly and leaned against the wall. "Need any help?" he offered against all of his better senses. He knew he was setting himself up to partake in a task he would have much rather skipped.

Scully looked up and relief passed over her face, and she climbed to her feet. "Yes! Yes, I need you to do something for me."

Mulder's panic face settled over his features. "What did I just get myself into?"

Scully chuckled. "Something you will probably not like." She shook her head, her face sobering and the slight panic returned. "I need you to go to find a doll."

"A doll? Right now?" He pushed himself upright from the wall and looked at the clock on the far wall. "Where would I go to get a doll right now? And why would I do that?"



"Did anyone ever tell you ask too many questions?" He frowned at her and she smirked, but continued without waiting for his response. "Because Exley's preschool teacher taught them that stupid 'Up on the Housetop' song at school the other day and now she's told everyone she meets or sees that Santa is going to bring her a dolly like the one he brought Nell."

Mulder choked back a laugh. "I don't think that she's told everyone."

"Mulder, she told every cashier we saw today."

Mulder groaned and scrubbed his face with his hands. "Well, why can't we tell her that she didn't give Santa enough time for her request?"

"Mulder, then maybe you shouldn't have promised her the world when she was born." Her eyebrow rose knowingly on her forehead.

Mulder paused. "I thought you were asleep when I said that."

She shook her head.

Mulder emitted an irritated noise and rolled his eyes. "Yeah, but, Scully…I didn't mean on December twenty-third, two hours before the stores close."

"She has told everyone, Mulder. Think of how disappointed she'll be if her dolly that laughs and cries isn't under the tree on Christmas morning."

Mulder frowned again. "Scully, that's not even fair."

Scully continued, as she turned around to continue wrapping. "And tomorrow is Christmas Eve; think about how crowded the stores will be then."

"Scully, come on!" Mulder pleaded, regretting ever coming up the stairs to check in on her. He could have been downstairs in his office doing…well, not shopping the day before Christmas Eve. He strode into the room and stood over Scully as she went back to wrapping both the presents and Mulder tighter around her- and Exley's- little finger.

Scully paused her wrapping and looked up at him. "Can you imagine her face…?"

"Okay, Scully! I'm already on my way," Mulder grumbled, throwing his hands up in defeat. He bent down and placed a soft kiss on the top of Scully's head.

Mulder trudged back into the house later that night. Never again, he swore to himself. Never again. He wasn't entirely sure how he had managed this last-minute method of shopping for so long. It wasn't until he began joining Scully in her holiday shopping endeavors that he even knew that Christmas shopping could occur well before Black Friday. After that, too many people crowded the stores gifts were hard to find. Things like that never bothered him before. Perhaps he was just getting older, turning into his own grumbling father (God forbid) in regards to any holiday. After searching the stores in the near-by Fair Lakes Center, he finally found a doll that he knew would eventually get on his nerves with its computerized giggle and goat bleating cry.

He passed through the kitchen, dropping his keys on the counter, and bounded up the stairs to Scully's office, shutting the door behind himself. He wasn't surprised to see her sitting in the middle of the floor still, the pile of gifts having grown larger since he had last seen it. His eyes slid over the pile of packages and he bit his bottom lip. "Next year it's just Jelly of the Month Club memberships."

Scully looked up at him and giggled as she rose to her feet. "I'll just make sure that we get a finalized Christmas list so that you don't have to go out at the peak of the rush. Were you successful?"

Mulder began pulling the box out of the bag. "I sure hope so. There wasn't much to choose from." He spun the box around to show Scully his purchase. But her reaction was far from anything that he had expected. She jumped back and gasped loudly, taking a step back from the doll.


"No. That one's wrong. It has to go back," was all she said. He was slightly amused that she had reacted the way she did, and was now actively trying to pretend like nothing had happened. She sat back down on the floor and continued wrapping gifts.

"What's wrong with it?" he finally asked.

"I can't look at it."

With that comment, Mulder did burst out laughing even as she glared up at him from her spot on the floor. There must have been something about the doll that had triggered a memory from her past, though he wasn't entirely certain as to what the trigger was or even what memory had suddenly come to life. He held the doll in front of him, searching for anything that might bring up any memories of monsters from their past. Had he missed something? The doll was nothing remarkable . Brown curly hair, a round, button nose, and brown eyes. The clothes were ugly, but Mulder hadn't been in the mood to be picky when he had gone shopping. "I don't get it. It's not ugly or anything. Not deformed. And she certainly doesn't look anything like any of the Child's Play characters."

Scully pursed her lips and looked up at Mulder. "Do you remember…? Remember when I went on vacation shortly after my bout with cancer? It was just for the weekend." She climbed to her feet again but didn't make any move toward her partner, pretending to busy herself with a gift on her desk.

Mulder paused, searching his memory for a brief moment before nodding. "Yes. You went to Maine and kept asking me off-the-wall questions about witchcraft and jujus." The pieces fell together quickly, probably before he even finished his sentence. "You said that you weren't investigating a case there!"

"I was trying to relax, I was on vacation. I didn't ask to be caught up in the middle of a local case," Scully said, defensively. "You have to take it back."

"Scully, I don't want to go back out there," Mulder said, motioning vaguely out the window. "Especially not tomorrow."

"Mulder, take it back." She pointed out the door.

"I have a better idea," Mulder said. "You take it back, I'll wrap presents."

"I don't want to have that anywhere near me," Scully shot back. "No matter how ridiculous or irrational that sounds. I saw a woman beat her forehead with the…the claw thing on a hammer!" She emphasized by tapping her forehead with two fingers. "Because of a doll that looked like that." She looked up at Mulder with the same pleading eyes she had used earlier to manipulate him into going shopping. "Please, take it back."

Mulder felt himself caving in as his irritated gaze met her pleading eyes. "Scully…" he said, though the warning he had tried to put in his tone faltered.

"We have to get Exley her doll from Santa," she said. Her mouth twitched as she tried to keep from smirking.

Mulder shook his head slowly. "No. No, no, no…"

"Just think of how sad she'll be…"

Mulder turned on his heels quickly and headed for the safety of his office, doll in hand. He had to avoid her pleading eyes before she conned him into running some other errand while he was out. "Fine, Scully! I'll go tomorrow morning…" As he made his way quickly down the stairs, he could hear Scully laughing from her office.

Exley Mulder stood at the window in the brightly colored sun room, frowning in disgust at the contrasting environment outside her house. The room where she stood was warm and sunny, the vibrant floral fabrics and artificial Amazon lilies, hibiscus, lotus, and bleeding heartwines and the heated tile floor tricking her mind enough to believe that she could possibly be somewhere humid and tropical if she closed her eyes. But the deck just outside the door and the yard beyond it painted a different picture. She opened her eyes and frowned at the snow that fell quietly, layering above the snow that had fallen the previous day and night. She shivered just thinking about the cold and took a sip from the mug of chai tea in her hand.

The stark whiteness of the snow, gray skies, and natural quiet that came with the snow fall made her feel slightly discouraged. The feeling came every year at this time; everything had calmed from the mad rush of the holidays, and many people were finding themselves in a gloomy funk as they counted down the days to spring and less miserable weather. Exley herself was waiting to return to school from her freshmen holiday break. Her older brother, William, had told her that break was going to be a welcome relief from her first semester of university classes. She had to admit that it was nice for the first couple of weeks, but now she just felt the days dragging on and on.

Movement at the end of the deck caught her attention and she watched as her brother's one and a half year old black and white Malamute bounded back and forth across the backyard. He crossed the deck twice as fast as he possibly could before skidding to a stop in front of the door. He barked at Exley, his front feet coming off the ground excitedly, and took two steps toward the steps before turning around and coming back to the door and repeating the whole process again. At least someone was enjoying all this snow, Exley thought to herself, as the dog barked again trying to get her to come play outside. She shook her head and put her mug down on the table beside her.

Bracing herself for the bitter cold, she opened the door and whistled for the dog to come in. He bounded up the stairs and stopped in front of her again, only this time he sat obediently waiting to be told he could come in the house. That had been the only requirement their mother made for getting the dog. It had better listen to every command it was given. After a second, he cocked his head to the side and Exley smiled as she grabbed the towel from behind the door that was already wet from brushing all the snow off the dog over the past day and a half. "Alright, Roz, come." The dog trotted happily into the house, immediately lying down on his bed in front of the fireplace in the adjoining room.

When William had asked for a dog the Christmas before, his response had been vague as to what kind of dog. His joke of "something like a wolf" had turned into a purebred Alaskan Malamute puppy fiasco that required papers and official AKC registration. Their parents had stumbled upon that mess by accident and even to this day Exley still wasn't sure how they had ended up with a dog that was bred for show and competition. But official papers require official names and the dog quickly went from his original planned name of plain and simple Maverick to Allston Terrace's Roswell Gray of Corona. The name had been an obvious joke made up from the famous UFO incident and their street name, but Roswell ended up sticking and Maverick eventually died out.

Exley quickly shut the door and snatched her tea up from the table before running back to the couch and climbing under the warm blanket. The room was dim from the gray skies and late hour, and the fire and television cast odd multicolored shadows around the room. She flipped aimlessly through the channels on the television, not finding anything that grabbed her interest. She looked at the dog and Roswell's head lifted expectantly. "Find me something to do until the snow melts, Roz." He dropped his head back on the bed and heaved a deep sigh in response. Rolling her eyes, Exley shook her head. "I know how you feel."

She flipped through a few more channels until she landed on trueTV and watched as some police officer said that the woman he had just stopped was a man to the film crew. Her eyebrows rose on her forehead and then she squinted at the supposed male on the television. He was certainly passable as a girl. She wasn't entirely confident that the cop wasn't on drugs himself. It only took a few minutes for Exley to become fully engrossed in the show on the T.V. As the garage door opened and then closed, she looked down at the clock on the cable box and saw that she had wasted nearly an hour watching COPS. Roswell jumped up from his spot to go greet her brother as he came in the house.

"Hey, Ex," William called from the kitchen. "What did you do today?"

Exley stretched and yawned. "I watched Roz enjoy the snow," she called back and shrugged. "Aside from that, I wasted my life away with shows like COPS." She turned the television down as the next episode started with some cop from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's office giving his monologue to the crew about a full moon. She rolled her eyes.

William looked up from the pile of mail he was going through and chuckled. "Enjoy your break, Ex. Working twelve hour shifts for a residency isn't all that awesome. I have never seen so many broken bones come through the E.R. in one day. Kids were doing such stupid things."

"I take it that today was busy then?"

William slapped the pile of mail on the counter and groaned. "It was horrible," he clarified as he shuffled into the living room with the dog in tow. He kicked his shoes off as soon as he landed on the couch and motioned to his clothing. "I didn't even bother changing out of the scrubs today. I just wanted out. I completely bypassed the locker room when my shift ended." He scrubbed his face with his hands.

Exley smirked. "Well, please, my dear brother. Enjoy some mind numbing entertainment with me. You'll feel relaxed in a few minutes." She turned the volume up again.

William laughed but made no effort to move. They sat quietly as the deputy led the camera crew into the backyard of some run down dump of a house and then disappear into the shadows. When he ran back out into the light he was shouting at the camera men to run, and they all took off in the opposite direction giving an interesting Blair Witch twist to the already dizzying, first-person filming-style of the show. The crew and deputy continued screaming as they clambered into the cruiser. Exley and William exchanged confused glances as the video began to jerk with the car as some unseen force sent the car rolling down the street with the deputy calling for back up. The camera broke as the car landed upside down and sent the show into its first commercial break.

It took several seconds before Exley or William said anything.

"Well, that was slightly more intense than any episode of COPS I've ever seen," William said, turning to Exley. She nodded.

"I kind of wish this was recorded on the DVR so we could fast-forward through the commercials," she mumbled.

They sat silently through the commercials in anticipation. The show returned with the deputy sitting in the back of an ambulance reporting what had happened to an African-American woman who was clearly in charge. She was set on helping her officer and getting those in charge of flipping the squad car.

"By who? By gangbangers?" she asked. The officer stuttered for a brief moment and she pressed him. "Keith?"

"Yeah, I mean yeah. It was gangbangers."

"You don't believe that!" Exley yelled at the television, causing William to jump and Roswell to bark at her. William raised an eyebrow at her and she smiled sheepishly. "Sorry, I'm really into this."

The officers were now running down the street, supposedly after possible suspects. The sergeant was shouting orders and translating the numerical code for the camera men. A 417 meant armed suspects apparently. The slew of officers rounded the corner and inaudible yelling burst from the television's speakers as several of the officers started giving commands to the two people they were now trying to apprehend. As soon as the camera men got in closer, they revealed that the two suspects were a man and a woman in casual dress. But there was something about the woman's hair that had Exley on the edge of her seat and when she identified herself as FBI, her jaw dropped and she said, "Oh…my God."

Beside her, William's eyebrows shot up on his forehead. "No way," he muttered. The siblings exchanged the same dumbfounded glance before looking back to the television to confirm they had seen what they thought they had seen. After a brief hesitation, William sat up straight and motioned to the remote. "Exley, DVR. Quick! Record this!"

Exley had already had the same idea and was scrambling with the remote trying to set the DVR to record. "I'm trying! Hold on!" After a few more seconds of fumbling, she put the remote down and looked at her brother again. They both burst out laughing so hard that tears started streaming down their faces.

Later that night, once everyone had returned home for the day, they were sitting around the kitchen table eating dinner. Exley and William had laughed their way through the rest of the episode of COPS, completely entertained by the fact that their parents had made an accidental guest appearance on the ridiculous show.

Because of the spooky nature of the episode, Exley and William had discovered that it had become that season's Halloween episode. They had quickly Googled the episode and read that the producers passed it off as a kind of ghost hunting episode. Every article they had read denied that any of the theories exchanged between the FBI agents were plausible enough to be true, but the producers thought that it made for great spooky entertainment. There was no way that fear could be transmitted person to person like a virus.

One obscure website had even claimed that an employee from the L.A. County Coroner's Office had actually died on camera. The footage had been one of the incidents cut to make the thirty minute time mark. They felt that had been too graphic for the general public and William instantly dismissed this claim. The article said that the coroner's office determined she had died from a rapid onset of the Hantavirus. William said that the Hantavirus would never present that quickly, which immediately turned into an argument about whether or not their father's theory would allow that to happen.

It had taken a while to sober up once the episode finished, but once they finally did they went to pick up pizza for dinner and returned home to find their parents waiting for them. The moment had been temporarily forgotten.

"Did you have fun today trapped in the house, Exley?" Fox Mulder asked, sitting back in his chair.

"No, not really," she admitted. "Where did you go today, Dad?"

Dana Scully looked at him from across the table and her hand paused halfway to her mouth. They exchanged a silent conversation across the table. Scully's eyes clearly expressed her annoyance with Mulder and his eyes were amused with her reaction. Whatever they were telling each other would more than likely be picked up later that night.

"Can you guys not do that, please?" Exley said, taking a bite of her pizza slice. "It freaks me out."

Scully resumed eating, clearly not pleased with what his answer was. Mulder chuckled and leaned forward on his elbows. "I was helping Aunt Monica and Uncle John on a case."

"Why is Mom getting annoyed with you for doing that?" William asked from beside Exley. They both looked expectantly at Mulder.

"Because it had a certain…spooky twist to it," Mulder said cryptically. "She doesn't like me working on those cases with them."

"That's not what I said, Mulder," Scully said from the other end of the table. "I'm annoyed that in a matter of a few hours, you evaded John and Monica and went after the suspect on your own and they had to call me to reel you back in. Imagine my surprise, or lack thereof, when I found you bleeding in an alley in Richmond and had to spend the rest of the day putting you back together." She paused. "And then you escaped from the emergency room when I tried to get lunch and I had to go find you again before you killed yourself over a false lead. Jesus, Mulder. It was like watching a Naked Gun movie."

"Dad!" Exley cried as William began laughing.

"He just thinks that he's indestructible," Scully shot across the table.

"Scully, I had to get like twenty stitches…" Mulder replied, his tone indicating that she was overreacting.

"You jumped from a second story window. Onto a dumpster and tore through your calf."

"It wasn't that bad…"

"I had to re-break about four bones today!" William said over the escalating bickering. The rest of his family looked at him and he nodded. "And I got puked on. By two of those people. It was such an awesome day," he said, not hiding the sarcasm in his voice.

"Sorry, sweetie," Scully said, shooting an irritated glare at Mulder. "I'm sure the emergency room was hectic today." Scully resumed eating as if nothing had happened. She didn't say it, but was thankful that William had cut in before she and Mulder had the chance to allow their argument to turn into a full-fledged fight. She wasn't the biggest fan of chasing Mulder down as he stumbled down Memory Lane, trying to relive his glory days as a fit, young federal agent.

"I don't have any cool stories like that," Exley muttered.

"So you didn't even play in the snow?" Mulder's question was directed at Exley.

She shook her head. "I just watched T.V. all…uhh…" Her eyes shifted between her parents before she and William looked at each other, sending themselves into peals of laughter again.

Mulder and Scully exchanged glances again, no longer angry with each other.

"Uhh…" Mulder said, and cleared his throat. "What…what is so funny?"

"Oh my God!" Exley said and continued giggling as she dabbed her eyes dry with her napkin. "Mom, how do you…" she giggled again. "Mom, how do you feel about the show COPS?"

"COPS?" Scully echoed.

"Yeah, Scully," Mulder said. "You know the one where the film crew follows the departments around…"

"I remember, Mulder," Scully said, quickly cutting him off. She attempted to hide the look of embarrassment trying to settle across her features. "Why?"

Exley managed to sober up to explain. "Because there was a marathon on today. And lo and behold, we find our parents making a special guest appearance on a Halloween special."

Scully covered her face with her hands. "That is so mortifying," she moaned. Mulder started laughing.

"We have it recorded on the DVR," William said.

"Oh, that makes it even worse!" Scully grumbled from behind her hands.

"I didn't know that actually went on the air," Mulder's tone indicated his sudden interest. "Can we watch it?"

"Yes," William and Exley's responses were quick, covering up the exasperated, "No!" that Scully uttered from the other end of the table.

"No?" Mulder queried. "Scully, that was like…twenty years ago."

"Mulder, that show did nothing for our already-ruined reputation. I can't believe that they're still showing an episode that old on T.V."

"It was the 'Best of COPS' marathon," Exley interjected, earning an irritated glare from her mother.

"Come on, Scully," Mulder pleaded. "They've already watched it. You have nothing to hide from."

"'The FBI has nothing to hide,'" she said in bitter resignation. So much for keeping Mulder from reliving the good ol' days. This was going to be a long night and all Scully could do was pray for a power outage.

The End

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Post-IWTB fics
One Each Way Challenge
Tell Mulder, Tell Mulder challenge
Picture It Challenge
Doggett-Reyes (DRR) Babyfic Challenge
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