TITLE: Pride and Joy

AUTHORS: Andi Dawkins and Devanie Maxwell

RATING: PG-13 (mild profanities)


SPOILERS: Anything after all things is fair game.

KEYWORDS: Mulder/Scully Romance, WilliamFic, Post-Ep

SUMMARY: How do you balance domesticity and a career? A G-Couples' guide to love, parenting, and atelectasis.

DISCLAIMER: Chris Carter begat Mulder and Scully; Mulder and Scully begat William; Andi and Devanie begat this story, no infringement intended. <

AUTHORS' NOTES: This is simply our contribution to the scores of post Existence fics already out there. You won't find a complex plot, deep themes, or white-hot nookie in this story. It's just happy domestic fluff. It's quite fluffy. The marshmallow fluff of all post-eps, actually. Mulder does wax philosophical at one point. See that? Redeemed. Anyways, we hope you enjoy; it's hard to nail that difficult William characterization. All that lying there is taxing on our creativity.

<insert timeline appropriate date here>
9:36 am

It always happened the same way.

She returns to work just over a month after William was born. The halls of the Hoover building are the same. Her fellow agents are the same. Even their old office is the same, right down to the I Want to Believe poster and Mulder's alien Pez collection. It's comforting, she thinks as she prepares for her re-entry briefing. After ascending the elevator to the third floor she enters AD Skinner's office. Agents Doggett and Reyes had assembled there with him in order to keep her informed of the most recent events in the department. After six weeks of communicating almost exclusively with an infant it feels refreshing to be back in business attire and in a professional environment. She offers a greeting to her coworkers. Skinner smiles, opens his mouth, and wails. Reyes seems affected by this. There is a flash of relief that someone else sees this as odd. However, before she can comment, Reyes' face turns beet red and she too cries with Skinner. Doggett also lapses into the same behavior, but at the same moment a brightly festooned clown enters the room, effectively entrancing him with balloon animals. Grateful at the distraction, she takes this opportunity to check Skinner's diaper...

Scully sat bolt upright in bed, quickly scanning her surroundings for reassurance that she did not indeed go anywhere near her superior's undergarments. Finding everything in order, she scanned the room for other signs of life. The bassinet at the foot of the bed was empty, as was the right side of her bed. The clock on her bedside table alerted her as to why. She hadn't slept this late since William was born. She had, however, been up four times over the course of the night attending to various baby crisises. Repeated elbows to Mulder's chest had gone unheeded. Ironic how this baby was conceived because he couldn't sleep and now it would take nothing short of a small nuclear explosion to rouse him from his slumber. She had confronted him with it one morning and he had simply answered "I was dead once. Old habits are hard to break."

She was unamused. Otherwise he was the perfect father. He changed his diapers; he read him stories. William was even treated to tales of his parents' adventures with evil monsters in far off lands. She told Mulder how they were going to be paying for this in his therapy in 20 years. Mulder just called it neonatal occupational training. Potato, potahto. Either way, the three of them had been adjusting well to their new life together. With Mulder being laid off and she herself on maternity leave they had slowly been mastering domesticity. Now, on this Sunday morning, she had only one day until she returned to the bureau. Hence the dreams. Mulder had said they are a result of her self-image having changed because of the baby and her newfound relationship with him. She has evolved, so must her worldview and the interactions with those she perceived as contrary to that new image. Scully dismissed it as a byproduct of her postnatal addiction to green tea. The argument reminded her of their intelligent sparring over cases on the X files. Only not intelligent and without the dire worldwide consequences.

Lifting herself out of bed, she padded into the living room. Mulder was sprawled across the couch with their sleeping son curled up on his chest. Both looked content. The volume was low, but apparently the television was tuned to Blue's Clues. Scully knew this was more for Mulder's benefit than William's, as the latter was just now learning how to focus on fixed objects. She ran a hand through his tousled hair before sitting next to them. Leaning into Mulder, she felt him plant a kiss into her hair. "You figured out who did it yet?" she asked, gesturing to the screen as Steve, who was singing the letter song for what seemed like the 50th time this week.

"I have no idea, but it's hard to keep track since you won't let me buy the licensed notebook," Mulder sighed, mock stricken at the inhumanity of the situation.
"Well, there's still Christmas. How long have you been up?" She noted their fully dressed state. Mulder was in his nearly standard jeans and black t-shirt while Will as sporting his Knicks jersey. It had been Mulder's first gift to the baby shortly after he was returned. She had been surprised he could find one so small, but then their son was probably the only newborn for miles who had his own tiny baseball mitt. Better that than an ankle holster, she guessed.

"Since seven. He started to fuss so I figured we'd get an early start on the day. I knew it would be good for you to catch up on some sleep since you go back tomorrow so I heated a bottle from the fridge and we were ready to roll. We just took a walk. I brought back some bagels. Real cream cheese. They're on the counter. No Cocoa Puffs, so don't even ask. Apparently a trip to the store is in order." Scully grimaced, partly at the notion of consuming presweetened breakfast cereal, but mostly as the prospect of grocery shopping with him. Antarctica was no match for Mulder, a screaming baby, and produce. That lesson was learned the hard way.

Mulder loved grocery shopping. Maybe he was compensating for all the years of having an empty refrigerator, but he'd seen more of Harris Teeter in the last month than he had in all his years as an FBI agent. From one extreme to another. Of course, that could be said about many aspects of his life.

"Mulder, you don't even like strawberry pop-tarts." Scully reminded him as she re-shelved his latest contribution to the cart.
"But now you get 10% more free."

"No, they take a couple out, raise the price . . . and two months later add them back for 'free.' Downsizing. You're a sucker for marketing, Mulder."

"They're just pop-tarts, Scully. You don't have to be so paranoid." She didn't laugh, but rather dotingly rolled her eyes as she added more canned goods to their selection. "Go ahead. Throw in one more can of green beans. Maybe by the time Will reaches the fifth grade we can use these for his science project. 'Preservatives of the Last Decade and Their Impact of The Worldstate Today.' First prize. Are those your thoughts? Because I have to tell you, eating all these is not a possibility."

Will, from his vantage point in the carrier, scrunched his face in agreement with his father.

"See, Scully? You've been outvoted."

"Just because you get the most votes doesn't mean you win."

"Ouch." Mulder winced, already moving on to the cookie aisle. An artfully triangular display of tomato paste narrowly escaped destruction as he weaved the cart back and forth in an attempt to amuse their son. William seemed unimpressed, arching a tiny eyebrow before returning his focus to his right fist. "So, what will it be?" Mulder asked, rounding the corner. "Oreos, Double Stuff Oreos, or the Oreos with the chocolate filling?"

Scully's attention was across the aisle, however, on the nefarious "B" section of the snack food aisle. Across from the cookies, brownies, and Swiss Cake Rolls. Where evil resides in the auspices of Vegetable Thins and reduced fat wheat crackers. "How about something like this?" she offered, holding up a very healthy looking box of multicolored wafers shaped like little carrots, peppers, and most frighteningly, heads of broccoli.

Mulder simply stared with an expression not too unlike someone who has just been offered mucus as a viable breakfast alternative. "Double Stuff Oreos it is." Starting to wheel the cart away, he stopped, studied the shelf, and added a package of Reduced Fat Oreos.

Because relationships are all about the compromises.

The rest of the day passed without event. Despite a nearly $250 grocery bill ("It was all your green beans, Scully.") they ordered pizza in celebration of her return to work the next day. Premium cable being the barren wasteland that it is, Mulder spent several minutes perusing his video collection before popping a tape in the VCR. Scrolling past the FBI warning and trailers he pressed play as the opening credits began.

"Caddyshack II, Mulder?"

"Well, we saw the original the week before...and I figured waiting more than a year to see the sequel would be cruel and unusual indeed."

Scully smiled, grateful to be sharing in this moment with him. The meaning of his choice of video was not lost on her. It had been a long, hard trip getting here, but things were getting back to normal. As normal as it could be considering a year ago Mulder was still an agent, she was still infertile, and they were still very not together. In that sense. Now, Mulder stayed at home building baby furniture for their month old son and they shared a joint checking account and a bed. Yes, it's been quite a year.

William napped throughout most of the movie while Mulder and Scully watched in content silence. He occasionally snorted and she occasionally rolled her eyes. Just like the first Caddyshack. After the film ended they prepared for bed. Scully laid out her suit for her return to work. She and Mulder had discussed the subject at length. Both decided it was best if she returned. Her maternity leave ended so it was now or never in terms of her status. The work was still important to them and since fired agents are not looked upon fondly at the office that left Scully to continue. Mulder had looked into teaching at local colleges, but for now he was content to watch Nickelodeon Jr. and put together little star and moon mobiles.

Now, crawling into bed next to an already catatonic Mulder, Scully hoped for a solid night's sleep so she could get through what would undoubtedly be an interesting day. William had been sound asleep after she fed and changed him a short time ago. Hopefully the night would hold few interruptions. Will, sensing the importance of this, wailed on the hour, every hour.

And of course, Mulder was oblivious.

7:52 AM

Despite her baby-induced sleep deprivation, Scully felt remarkably refreshed. Even the 7:00 AM Washington DC traffic, arguably the worst traffic in the entire country, didn't seem to bother her. For the first time in ages, she was actually excited to attire herself with hose and a tailored suit. And not just because she had an audience on this particular day (although it certainly didn't hurt). Today Dana Scully was the girl with everything.

As she approached the entrance to the Hoover building, all the remaining nervousness she had felt about returning to work left her. Even though Mulder couldn't be there with her, she wasn't searching the sky for him either. He will be at home with their son, waiting for her to return. This morning, Doggett will undoubtedly have a case ready to show her. It will be in the matter of unknown sticky, wet, viscous substances that glow in the dark and which are great threats to the people of Grand Forks,
North Dakota. She will argue that the substance is simply a byproduct of the chemicals used in the oil refinery five miles away from the victims. Or is that what he would say? Well, she would be contrary in any case. Then at 5:00, not 6:00 or even 5:30 . . . She will leave for the day and return home to her family, where dinner will be waiting for her on the table (or not).

This is what I was meant to be, she thinks.
Walking down the corridor, she notes that the office door now reads, "Special Agent John Doggett" and "Special Agent Monica Reyes." Is Dana Scully really so hard to spell? In almost nine years you think someone could have looked it up. Oh well. Bygones.
Should she knock? Or just walk in? After a moment's hesitation, Scully decides to knock and open the door at the same time. She knew all that education would pay off one day.

"Agent Scully!" Doggett stood and beamed at her from behind Mulder's desk. Or simply: the desk. She returned his smile and took a look around. She was surprised to see that the office had remained completely intact. Not one 8x10 glossy of Bigfoot had been removed. She hoped it wasn't a result of her attitude about the place when Mulder went missing.

"Good morning! How have you been? How have the X-Files been treating you?" she asked, genuinely curious.

"Oh, you know. Weird, scary stuff. Putting your ass on the line. Explaining to normal people why they should believe you're still normal. The usual."

Scully smiled, "Personally, I gave up on that one long ago. It's harder than the work itself, really."

"Yeah . . . so how is Will doing?"

"He's wonderful. You should stop by and see him sometime."

Doggett seemed absurdly pleased by this, and said, "Thanks, I will." After a brief but awkward silence, Scully sat down and hauled her bag onto the adjacent chair.

"It looks like I brought back more than I took home, but really it's just my computer and some papers I'll need for reinstatement," she explained.

"Speaking of which, when is your appointment?"

"Oh, I've got a few minutes before I need to leave. Why? What have you got for me?"

Doggett turned the file he was working on around, and pushed it toward her. "Three deaths in one week, all from progressive massive fibrosis, or more specifically Coal workers pneumoconiosis," he added, although there was no need.

"What is so strange about that? Millions of people suffer from occupational diseases everyday. Other than the fact that it's not normally deadly . . . "

"Well, all three were healthy people in their early twenties. They weren't coal workers or smokers, or really anything that would cause their lungs to fill up with massive amounts of dust. There were no prior indications that their lungs were anything but a hundred percent healthy, however . . . their autopsy results show the lungs of a coal worker of seventy years. And unlike most people who suffer from pneumoconiosis, they died from asphyxia instead of a resulting complication from the disease."

"Hmm. It sounds like this doctor just did these autopsies wrong. You see here where it talks about atelectasis at the time of death?" Scully indicated where she was on the report, and discovered that Doggett's attention had shifted. Following his gaze, she realized why. Her ring.

A faint blush crept to her face as she casually shifted her hand off the desk, quickly finding the file fascinating. "Atelectasis was indeed present in all the victims during the post-mortems, indicating that..." Scully's voice trailed off, silenced by the feeling that while she had moved on from Doggett's observation, he apparently had not. Looking up from the folder she confirmed this, taking in his amused gaze. It was the same look he gave her on cases when her theory dealt with anything vaguely out of the ordinary. She hated that look. She stared back, ready to tell him so, when he spoke first.

"So. It looks like your vacation has been even busier than I thought, Agent Scully," he stated, taking obvious enjoyment from her evasive maneuver. "Was it a small affair or did my invitation get lost in the mail?"

She eyed Doggett. "Mulder,William, and myself. Elvis served as Justice of the Peace. It was lovely," she added, maintaining a straight face. She was spared by a ringing phone, Doggett moving around the desk to answer it. Before picking up the receiver he placed a hand on Scully's shoulder. "Congratulations."

Scully smiled in return. As Doggett sat down to take his call she gestured towards the door and pointed at her watch. Doggett placed his hand over the mouthpiece of the phone. "I'll catch up with you later, okay?"

"Come over at one point. You're always welcome.

"Will do."

Scully, pleased to have that conversation behind her, made her way to the elevator. Stepping in, she slipped her keycard into the slot and pressed the button for the fourth floor. The key access was a recent development. Since that level of the building was primarily executive offices, those in charge had found it necessary to further restrict accessibility to upper floors. It made sense, Scully observed wryly. It was seemingly a refuge for every murderer, conspiracist, and alien hybrid in the greater DC area. Not to mention the horrors seen by the Bureau parking garage. The paint is probably still drying from the cleanup of last month's bloodbath.

The elevator doors slid open and she exited into the hall leading to Skinner's office. Several agents standing nearby gave her cursory glances as she passed. She gave a short nod in return and rounded the corner into the waiting area.

"It's nice to see you back, Agent Scully. The AD has been expecting you. I'll just buzz him..." Kimberly stated politely to Scully's back as she walked through the door to the inner office. The assistant simply sighed and returned to her records.

Inside Skinner was at his computer. Hearing the door, he quickly minimized whatever had been on his desktop. Probably porn, Scully thought irrationally but not without amusement. Domestic life had made her punchy.

"Scully, welcome back." Skinner stood and quickly approached her, taking her right hand in both of his and shaking it in warm welcome. Scully rewarded him with a wide smile. "It's nice to be back. Thank you." She took a seat across from his chair and he quickly followed suit.

"I know you're anxious to get back to work, so I'll get right to it," Skinner said, handing her a folder that she could only assume contained her forms for reinstatement. "Just fill these out and send them through interdepartmental mail back to my assistant. I'll make sure they get to the necessary people."

"I appreciate it, sir." Scully stood up, gathering the files. Grasping them awkwardly in her right hand, she reached with her left to shake his. Walking to the door, she turned midstride. "Things are finally settling down. Why don't you join us for dinner tonight? Around seven?"

"I'd like that." Scully smiled lightly and began to turn the knob. "And Agent Scully."


"I see congratulations are in order."

Scully winced. So much for low profile. "Thank you, sir."

Scully's Apartment
6:11 PM

"Your mom is going to LOVE this."
Will gurgled his appreciation from the bassinet.

Mulder stepped back to admire his handiwork. In a departure from his normal behavior, he had spent all day preparing for this celebration dinner. And that was with take-out instead of cooking. Not just any take-out, though. Lobster, filet mignon, garlic potatoes, and a $150 bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from this romantic restaurant in Georgetown located inside an old church.

Their dinner was arranged carefully on the kitchen table, still warm. A crystal vase displayed a single yellow rose, surrounded by a white candle on each side. Soft music was emitting from the speakers in the living room, and the lights were dimmed. Such things were uncharacteristic for the apartment, but not an unwelcome change. Sometimes he forgot that he could make romantic gestures now. He would have to do this more often.

Mulder took one of the roses from coffee table and started fidgeting. There were eleven more in front of him, and to the left of the flowers dark chocolate fondue was set up with strawberries and cheesecake. He idly wondered if they would make it to dessert tonight.

<First, Scully has to get home. What's taking so long?>

As if on cue, he heard the deadbolt turn behind him and he rushed to the door.

"Hi, sorry I'm late." Reaching up for a kiss, Scully stopped short. Mulder was holding a rose for her, and was dressed in a black turtleneck. He knew her weakness for that shirt. She grinned and was starting to thank him when she noticed her surroundings. Candle light, music, wine? She was simultaneously thrilled and devastated.

"Welcome home," he told her. She rewarded him with a kiss, and wrapped her arms around his waist. With her face buried in Mulder's chest, she contemplated what to do. In the hall she had set down several bags of groceries for their dinner with Skinner in oh, say
. . . 50 minutes? Why the hell had she invited him?! She should have called home this morning. Or something! Shit. It figured that the one romantic night Mulder had planned for them . . .

"What's wrong?" he murmured into her hair.
Pulling back to look at him, she chose her words carefully. "Thank you, Mulder. This is wonderful. It means so much to me."


"But . . . will that lobster keep?" she asked apologetically as she reached over and turned on the lights.

"What?" Mulder was clearly confused and more than a little distressed.

"This is a complete surprise - and I wasn't expecting it," she added redundantly. "And you see, this morning I went to my appointment for reinstatement. With Skinner, who we haven't seen since Will was born . . . " Mulder gestured for her to finish. "So I sort of invited him to dinner."


"Uh. Yes, tonight. Mulder, I'm so sorry."

"Can't you call and reschedule?"

"Reschedule, Mulder? It isn't a meeting; I invited the man to dinner! If I cancel, in all likelihood he's not going to ever come again."

"So?" Mulder put his hands on his hips and didn't meet her eyes.

Scully took his hand in hers and tried to placate. "Mulder. You know that I want to spend this evening with you more than anything in the world. And we will continue this either later tonight . . . or tomorrow night. Or sometime. I promise. But right now I only have forty-five minutes to bake chicken and cook some green beans. We will play nice for a few hours, then I'm all yours. Okay? Okay, Mulder?" He still wouldn't look at her. "I really am sorry, you know."

"I know. It's not your fault."

"Don't be disappointed. I promise I'll make it up to you."

"Oh yeah? And how do you plan on doing that, exactly?" Mulder leered at her, and she knew all was forgiven.
With a seductive grin, Scully reached up to whisper in his ear, "I have groceries in the hall." And with that, she walked out the door.


They made short work of the dinner preparations; Scully taking on the task of the unpacking, cooking, and presentation of the food while Mulder set about such necessitated tasks as opening the microwave door and shouting the occasional 'That smells great!' from the couch. From the kitchen Scully could see it was a basketball game, the sound muted so he could deliver his own play-by-play to his son. William, nonplussed, gazed in rapt fascination at the ceiling fan. Scully empathized, learning early that sometimes when Mulder went off on a tangent you just have to make your own fun.

Pulling the hot pan of chicken from the oven, she realized she had nowhere to put it. "Mulder." No response came, as he had probably not heard her over his 'Thomas goes up for the rebound, he shoots, he scores!' complete with a mimed cheer on Will's behalf, who seemed rather perplexed for a one month old. Scully normally would find this display very amusing, if not for the searing pain radiating through her hand. The heat was coming through the oven mitt, becoming increasingly uncomfortable. "Mulder!" she shouted perkily, finally catching his attention. "Can you please clear the candles and flowers from the table? It's not very Skinner appropriate and I would like to set this down before losing the skin off my RIGHT HAND!"

Mulder rose into action, setting William down gently into his carrier and almost leaping over the back of the sofa in order to come to Scully's aid. Returning the now extinguished candles to the cabinet, he reached around and grabbed the nearly intact bouquet of roses just in time for Scully to race across the kitchen and almost throw the chicken on to the table. He was about to solicitously ask about her hand when the doorbell rang. Scully, now rinsing it under cool water, gave him a pointed, questioning look while nodding at the door. Their optical communication at home was no less effective than that in the field, but the former had an intimidation factor that was not to be underestimated. Mulder grimaced and walked briskly to the door. Checking the peephole for confirmation he swung it open to reveal Skinner in a cotton blue button down shirt and khakis. Mulder opened his mouth to welcome in his former boss, but Skinner spoke first.

"Are those for me, Mulder? You shouldn't have." Skinner smirked. Mulder, confused, heard Scully let out a snort in the kitchen. Looking down, he realized he was still holding the eleven yellow roses. In his haste to answer the door he hadn't set them down. Now, from Scully's angle, he stood dressed in his come hither turtleneck bearing flowers for the Assistant Director.

"I've been looking forward to your visit," Mulder responded, a slight leer to his voice. Both men smiled and shook hands. Mulder gestured him into the living room, where immediately the focus of attention was the baby.

"His hair is darker than the last time I saw him." Skinner noticed, lowering his voice as not to wake the now sleeping infant.

"It's my obviously dominant and superior genes."

"He has quite a little pug nose there."

"That's all Scully."

As if on cue she appeared, emerging from the bedroom in jeans and a shell pink V-necked sweater. Her hair was pulled back in a twist, completing the transformation from the obvious Federal Agent look of just a few moments ago.

Mulder gave her a look of appreciation as she crossed the room to greet Skinner with a brief hug. That was an aspect of their relationship Mulder hadn't seen, and he wondered if it was something that stemmed from the period he spent in a coffin. He found himself attributing a lot to that time. Rationalization is easier if you have a span of time where you've been dead. He'd make sure to put that in his book right next to "Top Ten Reasons that Embalming is a BAD idea."

Scully stood back and gestured to the table. "Why don't you both have a seat? I'm just going to see if I can get Will down to sleep before we eat. Hopefully it won't be more than ten minutes or so."

Mulder led the way to the dining area, still ruminating over the loss of his first truly romantic dinner with Scully. They were married with a baby and hadn't had anything close to a date since their trip to Los Angeles for the Lazarus Bowl premiere. The honeymoon was on standby until William was a little bit older. Their post-wedding dinner came from the McDonalds' drive thru on the way back from the District. Just like many other trips home, only now they were married with a two-week-old infant in the back seat. It wasn't the most traditional of nuptials, but they never had the most traditional of relationships. The fact they were able to get through it without any deaths, abductions, explosions, or swarms of locusts was enough to make it a success. There had been no question after the birth of their son that they would take the next step. The events of the last few months had gone a long way to illustrate to each of them how very necessary the other was in their life. It had always been clear in some ways, but as a defense mechanism they could always ground their need for each other in the work they shared. It was only after the events of the previous spring that the last barriers began to fall. Now that same need was based in the personal. The last year had been hard for both of them, Mulder thought, but particularly Scully as of late. He found himself really wanting to be with her right then. That wasn't possible, of course, because she had invited a guest to his well-orchestrated candlelit dinner. He liked Skinner, but he needed to leave. Smiling at his former superior, he quickly dished out portions of the chicken, rice, and vegetables to his plate.

"We might as well get started, Sir. I would hate for this to get cold." Mulder slid the plate back to the AD, jerking his head toward the fork and cloth napkin next to his left hand. Skinner gave him an inscrutable look.

"What about Scully?"

"I'm sure she'll be along. I know she wasn't feeling well earlier. I'm sure she wouldn't want us to put off the meal on her behalf."

Skinner stared at Mulder. "Is she okay? She seemed fine earlier at work. She was at several meetings. She seemed fine a moment ago."

Mulder shook his head solemnly. "She's such a trooper. What a game face. She's been quite ill for the last several days. Vomiting, stomach cramps, dizzy spells. It must be evolving into something else because when she was preparing dinner earlier I heard a lot of coughing and sneezing. Sounded like she was hacking up a lung. I offered to come in and help, but she just kept cutting that chicken. I give her a lot of credit."

Skinner stopped his fork midway on its ascent to his mouth; the piece of chicken dangling limply. He nonchalantly rested the utensil back on the china. "That's terrible, Mulder. It must have been rough on her to go to this trouble. Perhaps it would be better to come back another evening?"

"No, I'm sure Scully has been looking forward to this. She even mumbled something about it before she passed out on the couch after work. Her fever seems to have broken now, at least. I know she hasn't thrown up in at least two hours. Please, stay."

"I think it would be better if we postponed this."


Mulder stood up and walked briskly to the door. Skinner followed, looking a bit disconcerted. At that moment Scully made her reappearance from the bedroom, a look of confusion on her face. She glanced at the table.

"Sir? Is everything okay? You haven't touched dinner," she observed, looking slightly hurt.

"I'm fine, Scully. Why don't you get some rest." He smiled piteously at her, then added "Feel better. Take all the time..."

"That's nice of you." Mulder spoke loudly, cutting off the Assistant Director in mid sentence. "We'll have to do this another time." Without another word Skinner was ushered into the hallway and the door was closed firmly behind him. Mulder turned around slowly to confront a very perplexed and vaguely irritated Scully.

"Mulder, what was that all about?"

"Skinner thought you could use some rest."

"How did he come to that conclusion?" she asked, a tone of suspicion creeping into her voice.

"I have no clue." Mulder stated cheerfully, not meeting her eyes. Will chicken keep?" He continued walking to the kitchen, pulling out the meal he had intended to serve before the distraction of before. "Help me clear the table?"

"Mulder." Scully mono-worded, trying with some success to hide the look of amusement threatening to overcome her currently annoyed expression. She was beginning to understand exactly what was going on. Mulder had concocted some excuse to get Skinner out of the apartment so he could get his way about their dinner plans. Part of her found that incredibly endearing, while another wondered what the excuse was. That was always the complicated part. She opened her mouth to ask that very question when she noticed the candles and flowers had returned to their previous positions on the table. The smells emanating from the kitchen told her dinner was warming. Mulder was approaching, managing to look reproachful and intense at the same time. Her questions could wait.

His eyes never broke from her face as he closed the distance and raised his hand, brushing a loose strand of hair behind her ear. He grazed his thumb across her chin, tilting her head up. His lips inched closer to hers. Scully reached up to close the distance. There was passion. There was intensity. There was...

a doorbell ringing.

Scully grimaced, more because of Mulder than the interruption.
"Jeez, Scully. If I had known you were planning a social gathering of this magnitude, I'd have bought some Chex Mix when I was picking up dinner. You know how fast that stuff goes. Should I run down to the Exxon before everyone else arrives?"

Scully rolled her eyes, but otherwise didn't acknowledge him. When used for evil, that pout had the power to prepossess.

"Who is it?" Mulder asked as she reached the peephole.

"Agent Doggett." Scully whispered harshly. "I told him to stop by sometime! I didn't know he'd come over tonight!"

Mulder put his hands on his hips, and looked up. He was either counting to ten, or had developed Will's fascination with the ceiling fan. He liked Doggett. He respected the guy. Trusted him, even. But he sure picked a hell of a night to visit. <How do you catch a break around here?>

The doorbell sounded again.

"Scully. Okay. I want you to think back. Are you thinking? Now, how many people did you invite over? This is very important."


Scully shot him a look of warning, and opened the door. She had a great big smile ready, while Mulder stood behind her with his neutral-at-best face on. Neither of them expected to find a single plant staring back at them, however.

"We had a case where a man turned into a plant once. Idaho if I remember correctly. Some sort of blue green bacterium caused it, remember? You did the autopsy. Awful smell." Mulder commented to himself.

Scully was out in the hall. "Agent Doggett!" she called down the stairwell.
"Scully, I'm looking out the window here. He's in his car. Just thank him for the plant tomorrow and invite him over on a specific evening. One that you will mention to your loving husband before the fact. Hey, there's a note here."

"Really? What's it say?" Scully shut the door and plopped down in the sofa next to Will's bassinet. He was sleeping like a baby. Naturally.

"It says, `Just wanted to offer Congratulations all around. You know where to find me, Doggett.' A real poet, isn't he?"

"That is so nice! I can't believe we missed him. I wonder if he heard us talkin-" Scully took a closer look at the gift in his hands. "Mulder. Is that plant . . . is it plastic?"

"Looks like silk."

"He brought a fake plant?"

"What's wrong with that? It never dies, always stays green, and doesn't require food. What more could an FBI agent and new mother want from a gift? Just dust it every month or so and presto: plant for life. They're expensive too."
Scully couldn't help but grin. "Men."

"What was that?" Mulder set down the plant and headed for the couch. "What did you say?"

"I didn't say a thing."

"I think you did." As he advanced on her, she backed to the corner of the sofa and managed to contain her smirk. She let out a yelp of surprise as he pounced and tickled her stomach.

He kissed her mouth, even as she laughed. Being this way with Mulder made her feel immeasurably free and safe. It was unlike anything she had ever known. She would have to tell him that soon. But for now . . .
"Dinner before dessert," Scully informs him as she slips out and heads for the kitchen. He groans from his spot on the couch, but she feels no sympathy. Hey, this was his idea.


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