TITLE: Eclipse
AUTHORS: Diana Battis and alanna
DISCLAIMER: Don't own 'em. Never have, never will, damn it.
ARCHIVAL: OK for Gossamer. Please feel free to link to the story on our websites, and drop us a line so we'll know where to visit!
SPOILERS: Seasons seven and eight through Per Manum
SUMMARY: The subtext of shadows.
FEEDBACK: alanna -- alanna@alanna.net Diana Battis -- all4Mulder@aol.com

Authors' notes at the end.

Club Sambuca
Washington, D.C.
December 22, 1999

"What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?"

Mulder slides across the leather bench, a drink already in hand, and smiles into startled blue eyes. Though it's barely six, Sambuca is already teeming with happy hour patrons. The air is alive with muted voices and the clink of ice; pin stripes and dark gabardines blending into a choppy sea of monotony that belies the club's exotic name.

He expects his comment to be greeted with a raised eyebrow and a half-amused snort. Instead Scully looks away, her expression pensive. "I was just about to leave." Her voice is barely audible over the opening notes of "Mood Indigo."

Meeting here had been Scully's idea. He assumed she wanted to have a holiday drink before she left for San Diego. He leans forward, stealing a quick look at his watch. "I had a last minute call from Skinner," he murmurs in explanation, "but I'm all yours now."

Scully nods, and the faintest bit of pink seeps into her face. "I...what are you drinking?"

Mulder gestures at his glass, ice swirling in the amber liquid. "Twelve-year-old scotch, since you're paying. You are paying?" he teases, but his eyes narrow as he notes the way her lower lip trembles. He reaches for the glass, clenching it in a knuckle-whitening grip as he awaits her reply.

Scully stills the quiver with a weak grin. "Of course," she says, a chagrined shake of her head fanning her hair against her flushed cheeks.

He forces a smile and raises his glass in a toast. "Since I won't be seeing you, Merry Christmas, Scully," he intones, then takes a gulp of his scotch. The smoky warmth glides down easy, its malty tang almost enough to cover up the bitter taste of loneliness.

She lifts the goblet by the bowl. "Happy holidays," she offers, staring at the pale liquid. There is a nuance to her simple delivery that taints the greeting. Like an uncharted sea, it is full of hidden undercurrents that scare the shit out of him.

After one small sip, her glass is again on the table, her fingers dancing along the length of the stem to trace abstract patterns in the goblet's condensation. She purses her lips; tiny furrows wrinkling the corners of her eyes as she studies the swirls and drops with intensity usually reserved for the pathology lab.

"So..." He sighs, his tongue snaking out to wet his lips. "You all packed and ready for the big trip?" He rubs two fingers across his brow, trying to ease the tiny frisson of pain that now pulses behind his eyes.

She jumps at the sound of his voice, her eyes wide in her newly-pale face. Nodding, she looks away, setting down her glass to reach for a cocktail napkin. She scrubs her damp fingers repeatedly until the "Season's Greetings" message lies in an alphabet soup of shredded paper. Tossing it aside, she sits up straight and squares her shoulders, her chin thrust forward. "Mulder...there's something I need to ask you."

Her tone is brisk to the point of curtness, and Mulder finds himself holding his breath as he waits for her to continue.

"How much do you know about in vitro fertilization?" She slides a finger around the lip of her wine goblet.

The question is not what he expects. "Well, as far back as the third century AD, Jewish thinkers debated the possibility. In England, Robert Dickinson carried out secret experiments in the 1890s, but by the end of World War II the Archbishop of Canterbury recommended that artificial insemination be made a criminal offense. All that was moot by 1978 when Louise Brown was born, the first of the so-called test-tube babies." Mulder watches her, a slight frown creasing his forehead. She is no longer fidgeting with her glass, but her impatience is still palpable. "I take it that was really more of a rhetorical question," he finishes lamely.

Leaning forward, she tucks a few loose strands of hair behind her ear, her lips curling in a weak smile that never quite reaches her eyes. "I've been consulting a new doctor about...about my fertility options." The last few words are expelled in a rush of breath. She pauses, her eyes now wary, but at his nod she continues. "It's possible I may be able to conceive, with help."

"I see," he replies in a cautious tone, giving no hint of the myriad of questions crowding into his mind.

A nervous chuff of laughter greets his response, and her eyes flicker to his face before her lashes drop, concealing her expression. "No, I don't think you do."

The fragile wall between reason and fear crumbles at her words. His stomach roils, fueled by the volatile mixture of scotch and panic filling his gut. Christ, spill it, he wants to shout, clenching his jaw to hold back the words. Instead, he nods encouragement and leans back, draping an arm across the top of the seat. Only his fingers, curled like talons as they dig into the cool black leather, signal his reaction.

She takes another sip of her wine before answering. "My doctor feels I have a better chance of successful implantation if we begin immediately."

"How soon?" he asks, fighting the dread that surges through him.

"I...that all depends on you."

He chews on his lip for a moment, mulling over her words. "I can go it alone for a few weeks," he says finally, struggling to calm the thunderous beating of his heart with slow, even breaths.

She glances up, startled. "That's not exactly what I mean. I..." She hesitates, her tongue flicking at the corner of her mouth. "I would like you to be the baby's father."

Father. The word seems to hang in the air, mixing with the soft music and even softer bits of conversation seeping into his consciousness. "Scully..." He is like a drowning man, sucking in shaky breaths between the waves of shock that rob him of words.

"This isn't the way I wanted to ask you." She gestures toward the now-smoky room. "Miss Manners' book of advice doesn't seem to cover this situation." Shrugging, her lips curve in a smile that's a fraction short of genuine.

"I don't know what to say," he murmurs, reaching for his nearly empty glass. He is lying. He wants to say yes, to replace her mockery of a smile with a real one. But it's too soon. In the space of five minutes he has gone from being a co-worker and friend to something much more, something he has barely allowed himself to think about. The question is too important to be answered in a jazz club while Billie Holliday wails "Strange Fruit" in the background. He swallows the remains of his watery scotch in one gulp and sets the glass on the table.

"I didn't mean to put you on the spot." Her face is now grave and pinched, all the joy that should accompany talk of babies missing. "I couldn't figure out how to work up to the subject." She looks away, focusing on her half finished glass of wine. "I can think of at least a dozen reasons for you to say 'no,' and only one for yes. And it's not a very logical reason." A huge sigh escapes her. "Guess I'd make a lousy salesperson," she muses, tapping a fingernail on the base of the glass.

"Why don't you tell me your one reason?" he asks, his voice husky with suppressed emotion.

Her glance skitters to his face, then back to the wine. "There is no one I'd rather go through this with," she says softly. "I know it's not a simple request. I...I certainly don't expect your answer now. You'll want time to think about this."

"When?" He leans forward to whisper the word, pushing a nerveless hand through his hair. The dull throbbing in his head is kicked up a notch by the anxiety coursing through him.

"I was hoping for your answer when I get home on the thirtieth. I realize that's not much time. And it's selfish of me to expect an answer by then. It's just..." Her teeth worry her lower lip for a few seconds. "I couldn't figure out how to ask you."

Sighing, he looks at his empty glass, longing for another drink. "Have you weighed all the possible ramifications?" he asks in a less than steady voice.

"I've done nothing but think about them since Dr. Parenti first advised me of the possibility." Picking up her wine, she drains the remaining liquid in one long swallow before setting the glass back on the table. "I know it's asking a lot, but there isn't anyone else I'd trust." She reaches over to touch his hand.

He feels the weight of this responsibility, contained within the small cold hand that covers his. The lie of omission that manifested itself in a vial of ova has never seemed more painfully obvious than now. A very small part of himself is amazed that she would want him, but he quells that inner voice of doubt. "You flatter and honor me with the request," he manages, inwardly cringing at the stilted words.

The first hint of a real smile crosses her lips. "I need to be going. My flight is very early and I still have a few things to do tonight."

"Let me walk you to your car."

"Not necessary. Valet parking is a wonderful thing," she says lightly. She gives his hand a final squeeze. "Please, Mulder, just think about it." With those final words, she slides out of the booth and heads for the door, the cadence of her heels a frenetic counter-rhythm to the soft music filling the club.

Mulder stares straight ahead, unblinking, until the sound of her footsteps is lost in the roar of blood rushing in his ears. His vision blurs, and he blinks away the wetness stinging his eyes. It's the smoke, he tells himself, watching the feathery blue haze drifting through the air. And it's been a long day. A good night's sleep, that's what he needs...

He turns, waving to capture the attention of a passing waiter. "Glenlivet," he murmurs, pushing his empty glass across the table. "Make it a double."

Burnside Memorial Hospital
Rice County, MD
January 1, 2000

"Where did you park?" Mulder stands beside her, impatience coloring his voice. His jacket is thrown over his shoulders, the empty sleeves flapping wildly in the wintry gusts of air. Though the temperature has dropped dramatically, he seems oblivious to the cold wind ruffling through the downy hair on his uninjured arm.

Scully eyes him with care, noting the faint lines of pain etched in his brow. "Why don't you wait inside and let me get the car?" she counters, stepping off the curb without waiting for an answer.

"No." His hand comes down on her shoulder, the touch gentle but firm. "I've had enough of hospitals."

Shrugging, she tilts her head upward and breathes in, savoring the crispness of the air. It does feel good to be outside. After decaying flesh, gunpowder, and the cloying antiseptic of the hospital, she needs this. They both do. Nodding, she moves forward, unsurprised when his hand slips down to rest at the small of her back.

They walk in silence, his stride shortened to match hers. It's colder here in the open, away from the building's brick and glass protection. The wind is strong, its needle-like bursts biting into her flesh without remorse. Another sharp gust swirls past, playing tag with a crumpled sheet of newspaper. Shivering, she watches as it dips and soars in front of them like a strange, exotic bird. She doesn't see the large crack in the asphalt until her ankle turns and she begins to fall forward.

"Easy, Scully." His arm tightens, hauling her against him. "Are you okay?"

"It's nothing." Embarrassment makes her voice sharper than she's intended. She pulls away from him and walks a few steps. "I'm fine." The petulant child in her is refrained from adding, 'I can take care of myself,' but her meaning is clear.

His lips purse, but he says nothing. Instead, his arm encircles her waist, supporting her as they resume walking. Though she accepts this gesture, the weight is an added responsibility.

She is used to responsibility. All her life, she's been aware of her duty and what others expect from her. At home, in school, as an agent. Her purpose in life has always been clearly delineated. Now those roles are tenebrous. For the first time she is confused; unsure of how to act or feel.

She has never been one for spontaneity. Her life is well-ordered, controlled -- she prefers things that way. But fate in the guise of a kiss has knocked her for a loop. Pandora's Box is open, and she fears the hope that remains inside.

They walk in silence, his arm heavy where it curls around her waist. I can handle this, she thinks, feeling his warmth soak through the layers of wool and silk until her skin burns at the contact. She must, if they are to continue as before.

His hand starts to move over her, tracing a small circle on her back. She knows it is supposed to comfort her. It's a courtly sort of gesture -- Mulder is nothing if not polite. But tonight she can't seem to view it in the same light.

She sees the car and pulls away from his too-confining touch, breaking into a jog. Keys jangle from her clumsy fingers, filling the stillness with their jittery music. The darkness is swallowing her, and an irrational fear courses through her body with each pulse of blood, stealing away her breath. Reaching the car and fumbling to unlock the door, she wishes things could be as they were.

Once inside, she allows herself to breathe again, the rapid puffs of air fogging up the windshield. It was foolish to think they could contemplate parenthood and still have things remain the same. Already their relationship is changing. Though he hasn't told her his decision, she already knows what his answer will be. Mulder's proprietary air is more pronounced. She should have expected that.

Turning her head, she watches him approach the car, the loose-limbed stride betraying none of the fatigue and pain he must be feeling. He wears disappointment well, she thinks, reaching over to open the door for him. But then, he's had more practice.

"Thanks," he murmurs, sliding with care into the passenger seat and dropping his jacket on the console separating them. Wincing, he pulls the door shut and begins fumbling with the seatbelt.

"Let me." Scully reaches across him, pulling at the strap with care. "You'll have to lean forward for a second." She tucks the shoulder section behind him, and fastens the belt around his waist, tugging the strap to make sure it is secure. "Okay?"

He nods, leaning against the headrest and closing his eyes with a weary sigh. "I'm getting old, Scully."

She touches his free hand, stroking over the hair-roughened skin. "You're just tired." Reaching down, she picks up his jacket and drapes it over him, tucking the sleeves beneath his back. "Try to get some rest. We'll be home before you know it."

Within minutes of reaching the main highway Mulder is asleep, his chest rising and falling in a measured rhythm under the black leather. She steals a quick sidelong glance at him. His face is relaxed, the lines of pain nearly invisible. Her hand leaves the wheel for a second to rest against a stubbled cheek, his skin cool to the touch. The painkillers and antibiotics administered at the hospital seem to be doing their job, she notes with satisfaction. He should remain asleep for the rest of the journey.

The road ahead is deserted and the shadowy blacktop seems to stretch into empty infinity. She cracks her window slightly, the cold air chasing the inertia she feels. With Mulder sleeping, the long drive leaves her with too much time alone to think. She doesn't want to think about this past week, about last night, about Mulder. Especially about Mulder.

She counts the mile markers that flash past, careful to keep her speed stead y. The tires hum on the road, their sound melding with the soft music of Mulder's snore. One mile closer to home, she thinks, her chest shuddering with a sigh. Home.

They pass through several small towns, the houses dark and quiet. She imagines families, asleep in their beds. Normal people leading normal lives. "Normal." She says the word aloud, trying to taste it on her tongue and lips. What does normal taste like?

Normal isn't zombies. Or conspiracies. Or having your reproductive rights stolen. Is it?

She knows the answer to that question.

Twenty minutes later she is pulling into a spot on Mulder's street, only a few yards from his front walk. She turns off the engine and leans back, closing her eyes as she flexes and stretches her cramped limbs. Rolling her head against the seat, a soft groan escapes her as the deep scratches in her shoulder and neck begin to throb.

"You okay, Scully?"

She turns her head to find Mulder awake, his eyes blinking sleepily. "Just a little stiff," she replies, shooting him a small smile.

"Want coffee or something?" With his good arm, he pushes the jacket to his lap and gropes for the buckle of his seatbelt, grimacing as he struggles with the catch.

"No, thanks anyway. I...I need to get home." She straightens up, replacing his hands with hers and unlatching the clasp with ease.

"Thanks, 'Mom,'" he says with a laugh.

Her body stiffens, and she pulls away from him with a jerky movement. She stares straight ahead, her face tight. "Can you manage the rest?" she asks, her voice cool.

He swears softly. "I'm sorry, Scully, I didn't mean..." His voice trails away.

Shivering, she closes her eyes for a moment. "Good night, Mulder." Blinking, she tilts her head sideways, studying him with feigned detachment. "Get some rest. We'll talk on Monday."

He clambers out of the car, his awkwardness failing to stir her sympathy. "Night," he mumbles, pushing the door shut with his foot.

A nod is her only reply. Her face stiff, she watches him lope up the walk and open the door. He turns, giving her a wave and a half-hearted smile before disappearing into the building.

She waits a few seconds, watching as the door swings shut, then switches on the ignition. Tires squealing in protest, she pulls away, white-knuckled fingers glued to the steering wheel. If she's lucky, she will make it home before the tears start to fall.

Chapter Two

Mulder's Apartment
Alexandria, VA
January 13, 2000

Anger and frustration simmer in his gut. He is tempted to drink a glass of club soda, to create his own anxiety cocktail.

The treatments were supposed to stay within the realm of their personal lives. The knowledge of what they were about to do certainly consumes his thoughts. One reason he has kept himself from getting romantically involved with her over the years is because he knew that once they bound their personal lives together, it would take over his psyche. They could lose their professional focus and everything -- love, work, life -- would fall apart. He knows deep down that such reservations are ridiculous, but they have been a very real worry for so many years.

If she would give him a sign that she felt the same fears and desires, he just might have the guts to take that final step. Even if she doesn't want him as a lover, he is determined to be an active father to this child, the thought of whom awes him. He is scared and excited. No matter what happens between Scully and himself, they are going to create a child together.

But she says nothing.

This frustrates him and is driving a transparent wedge through their professional partnership. They carry on, investigating teens moving at the speed of light in Virginia and driving home in the same car. Preparations for the in-vitro treatments exist on the periphery of their time together, referenced only in the making of appointments in their day-planners or a weighted sidelong glance. The issue stands between them all the same. He can barely contain his own emotions, so how can she do so with such ease?

They returned from Virginia yesterday. Scully has been cagey all day, answering his case-related questions with perfunctory replies. They barely spoke to one another as they completed the report for the Pittsfield case. He noticed that she made every effort to be out of the office as much as possible. Then, with an, "I'll see you tomorrow," she left for home at ten minutes before five.

Since they left the initial planning consultation at the New Chances Clinic six days ago, they have reached the point of no return. She has no right to be so guarded with him while their potential children are being created in a lab. Resentment slowly gives way to anger. Tonight he will call her and demand the information she is withholding. He deserves no less.

After pacing the office for a few minutes, feeling her aura still filling the room, he finally grabs his briefcase and storms out. Tight control keeps him from reckless driving, and he winces as he enters his chilly apartment.

Mulder changes into casual clothes and starts a pot of coffee, hoping the caffeine will quell his anxiety. As he picks up his phone to call for pizza delivery, he hears the staccato tone of the voice mail alert. He speed-dials the message service and freezes as the message begins to play.

"Mr. Mulder, this is Rebecca Finter at New Chances," a businesslike voice says. "We've already contacted Ms. Scully, but we wanted to personally let you know that the incubation was successful and that we look forward to seeing the two of you tomorrow at nine. Since she will need to have a full stomach and bladder, we recommend you have breakfast beforehand. If you have any questions, call me at the clinic before five today, or you can visit our website for more detailed instructions. Again, this is Rebecca Finter, and we will see you tomorrow morning at nine."

Blood freezes in his veins.

Still standing, he disconnects then hits the first speed-dial button on his phone. Two rings later, he hears Scully's at-home greeting of, "Hello?"

"So, Scully," he snaps, "be sure to give me your address when you move into that cute three-bedroom house with a big yard, so I can send my son or daughter a gift every year on their birthday."

"Excuse me?"

He does not respond. She remains quiet and he knows she realizes his meaning.

A full minute stretches between them.

She finally says, "I'm sorry."

He does not accept this. "When were you going to tell me? After the pregnancy test came back positive, or would I have to wait until the baby shower?"


"'No', what? No, you weren't going to tell me, or no, you made a wrong decision?"

He hears her sniff, and wonders if she has been crying. Mulder realizes that he doesn't want to know. His anger can't handle the added dimension of her tears right now.

"I'm sorry," she repeats. "It's just -- what if it didn't work? I didn't want to put you through that."

Mulder feels her sincerity and tries to tamp his anger. "Scully, you began to put me through all this when you first asked me to father your child."

"I know." Her voice is tenuous. "I've just had difficulties figuring out our roles in the process. I thought I'd had everything planned out to the last degree, but this is raising more issues than I'd imagined. This is something new to me."

He sinks to his desk chair and stares through the blinds to the twilight beyond. "I have a question for you, and I want you to think carefully about your answer."

"Yes?" she quickly replies, fear creeping into her tenuous voice.

"When I gave you my answer, you said you wanted me to be completely involved in this, to be a part of this child's life. What exactly did you mean?"

She thinks carefully for a long moment, then says, "I meant exactly what you just said."

"Am I going to be a weekend daddy, with my name on the birth certificate but little more than a guy the kid sees ever so often and donates a kidney if something goes horribly wrong? Or am I going to be there every step of the way?"

He hears her slow, even breaths over the telephone line. Mulder wishes he had waited to have this conversation, and gone over to her apartment so they could discuss this face-to-face. But he also knows that his initial anger was too great for a physical confrontation. Perhaps they are speaking honestly now because of the distance, or because they cannot see each other's faces.

"Every step of the way, Mulder. This is your child too."

"This is OUR child," he corrects her. "If you truly do mean what you're saying, then those steps begin now. You can't just wait until you're confident of the success." Mulder softens his voice. He doesn't want to lecture her, not when they're both so emotionally tense. "If it's not successful, please let me be a part of that too."

"I know," she repeats, then pauses for a long moment. "Will you come tomorrow?" Her voice is tentative, guarded.

"Yes," he immediately replies.

"Thank you," she says, and pauses. "And thank you for helping me with this."

Her words once again provoke his irritation. "Scully, when you thank me you distance me from the process," he says, slipping into psychologist mode and catching himself before he begins to lecture again. "I'm not just doing you a favor. WE are creating a child's life. OUR child."

"Half you, half me," she whispers.

His voice too drops to a whisper. "Hopefully the better half of each."

Mulder hears her soft laugh, tears clearly evident in the sough of breath. They remain silent for a minute, weighing the moment.

Finally, he says, "The nurse who left me the voicemail said that you need to have a full meal before the procedure. Do you want to meet me for breakfast beforehand?"

"I'd like that, yes." She pauses. "And after the procedure I'll have to stay off my feet for at least twenty-four hours. Tomorrow is Friday, so I'll have that plus the weekend. Would you here stay with me and help me out?"

He allows himself to smile. "Of course, Scully."

"Good. Then I'll pick you up at seven tomorrow?"

"I'll be here," he replies, then after a pause he disconnects the call.

If they are to become parents together, they have a mountain of issues to work through first. But the mountain is not insurmountable, as their seven years together have proven.

His call for pizza forgotten, Mulder settles on his sofa and begins to imagine the next forty years for him, her, and the child that may begin to grow inside her tomorrow morning.

If they live that long.

They will have to make some serious changes to their lives if she becomes pregnant. They can minimize risk, but Scully's cancer may return. The conspirators may come after them again. Any number of accidents could fell them. But if they live their lives expecting disaster, they can never be truly alive.

Perhaps the key to finding happiness it to seize it when the opportunity presents itself. Anything can happen, yes, but he doesn't want to look back on this experience and think, "I could have had so much if only I had let myself take the chance."

New Chances Clinic
Gaithersburg, MD
January 14, 2000

Somewhere in a petri dish in the lab across the hall is a mixture of her and Mulder's genetic material. Micro-manipulation techniques, the doctor is saying, but she isn't listening. She knows she should be paying close attention, but her mind is focused on those potential children.

Pulling her mind away from the dish, she focuses instead on the man across the desk, who is looking at Scully with a question on his face. "I'm sorry, could you repeat that?"

"I just asked if you'd followed the pre-procedural checklist," Dr. Parenti says.

She knows Mulder has glanced over at her because she can feel the warmth of his gaze on her shoulder. "Yes, I had a glass of water, so my bladder should be half-full for the ultrasound. I also took some cold medication so I won't cough."

"Right, Dana. Coughing causes uterine contractions which could cause problems." He glances down at the paperwork on the table. "Mr. Mulder, Dana will have to remain here for an hour after implantation. Will you be staying here with her?"

"Yes," he immediately replies, and Scully turns to look at him. His face is calm and interested, but she sees his hands clasped in his lap, knuckles white and tendons taut. She wonders what is on his mind; he doesn't seem as hopeful as she would have expected him to be.

"Okay, then," Dr. Parenti says, cheerfully. He passes a set of papers across his desk, and Scully takes them. "Since the embryos are ready to go, we need to discuss your options where they're concerned."

'Options' is such a loaded word, implying choice. Scully is here because she has only one option. The IVF is all-or-nothing. This must work.

As he glances down at the papers, Dr. Parenti continues, "Based on our discussion before Christmas, we were able to create eleven embryos in the lab. For a woman your age, we recommend implantation of no more than four at one time. If you choose to implant fewer than four, the chances of viable pregnancy significantly decrease, particularly since the ova are in a fragile state. As it stands, having four implanted would give you an approximately 10-20% chance of success."

"And you would freeze the remaining seven, right?" Mulder asks.

"Right. If this attempt is unsuccessful, we can begin again after Dana's next menstrual cycle. We would have two more opportunities, provided the embryos thaw properly." He turns back to Scully. "How does that sound?"

Scully looks at her partner, searching his face for any last-minute doubts. It is blank, but calm. He gives her a small, somber smile which helps to reassure her. She nods.

The process of signing paperwork and delineating the specifics of the procedure takes another ten minutes, then Dr. Parenti leads them out of his office and down the hall to the exam room. As they walk by the lab, Scully casts a glance inside, wondering where the petri dishes are now.

A mixture of her and Mulder, visible only through a microscope, waiting to find a home within her womb.

Their eleven children.

The preparation, reminiscent of a routine pelvic exam, is quickly accomplished. Blood slowly flows toward her head as she settles back on the table, her abdomen slightly elevated. She feels vibrantly awake, conscious of every cell in her body. The gown is soft from repeated washings, but it scrapes against her skin.

As the physician's assistant busies herself preparing the ultrasound equipment, Scully watches Mulder shift on his feet, his body tense. She seldom gets to see only the lower half of his body, and the new perspective seems fitting for such an unusual situation. The way he rubs his watchband fascinates her. Her eyes strain as she tries to see his face. His eyes flicker back and forth around the exam room, like an erratic slide projector.

He notices the extra chair in the corner just as she's about to point it out to him. Scully watches him fold his long legs under it, his upper body yawing back and forth against the bland upholstery.

"Mulder?" she murmurs.

He catches her eye and she holds out her hand, too nervous to keep it from hanging limply off the side of the table. A few scruffs of the leg coasters against tile, then his hand is in hers. She gasps at the pressure and he loosens his grip, apology on his face. Scully's smile of forgiveness does not reach her eyes, and at the sound of the door opening she bites away the smile.

"Are you ready, Dana?" Dr. Parenti says by way of greeting. An overlapping set of footsteps accompanies him as the lab technician wheels in the cart carrying the embryos and equipment.

Words refuse to form in her dry throat. Mulder answers, "Yes," and squeezes her hand. She closes her eyes.

The sounds of jostling and gesturing fill her ears, then she feels warm breath on the side of her neck. She would know the texture of Mulder's warm lips anywhere, even if all her senses were smudged away. Once near the corner of her eye, again at the curve of her cheekbone, then his smooth early-morning cheek rests in the crook of her neck. Another moment of fear, another rare moment of intimacy.

She wants to watch the process, but cannot. Dr. Parenti's repetition of her name finally furrows her fear, and she opens her eyes to see a phalanx of equipment, Mulder's chestnut hair framing the lower corner.

The procedure fulfills its promise of being like a pap smear, as Dr. Parenti recites each step while the PA traces an image on a sonogram screen, her finger as precise as a referee examining an instant replay clip. The scenario's absurdity hits Scully full-force, and she wants to laugh but doesn't, lest her abdominal muscles contract and ruin the procedure.

So she lies on the padded table, hips elevated above her head, and strains to watch the fluid image of the Wallace catheter in the café au lait of her uterus displayed on the video monitor.

Implantation takes barely forty-five seconds. She measures the time by the double-speed heartbeat thrumming in her eardrums.

A wince as the catheter is drawn out of her body, then Dr. Parenti cheerfully says, "All done, Dana." Scully feels a sudden panic that the doctor might rub her belly like a well-loved cat, but instead the man turns to the lab tech. He rearranges some equipment and says, "We're going to take the catheter into the lab and make sure all the embryos were implanted. It'll take about ten to fifteen minutes, Dana. You need to stay completely still while we wait, okay?"

She closes her eyes in assent, listening to the sounds of the medical personnel leaving the room. Scully doesn't feel any different than before the procedure; she shouldn't expect this to change her cellular makeup, but this stasis feels strange.

Mulder's face remains pressed in the curve of her neck, her skin now damp from either sweat or tears. She wonders why this man -- who has seen the world and then some -- cannot watch.

And then she feels the fear rising off them in waves, like vapor hovering above asphalt on a fecund summer day. Fertile and electric, the energies they have always tried to repress when it came to one another.

Their strength at this moment is not directed toward an unseen enemy: it is focused on the embryos swimming inside her uterus, looking for a home.

Chapter Three

Scully's Apartment
Washington, D.C.
January 28, 2000

The embryos are gone forever, explanted and lost.

There are times in one's life when words simply refuse to do justice to emotion. He holds her tightly as they stand together in her apartment, muscles so tense that his quadriceps scream in pain. Mulder has not spoken since he told her not to give up hope for a miracle. He scripts conversations in his head, but none can force themselves through his lips, which still rest on the crown of Scully's hair.

Her fingernails begin to trace the length of his spine. He shivers. She pulls away from him, her gaze a stone skittering over the surface of a pond. It moves from his chest to rest at his lips and remain there. He doesn't know whether she is sussing him out or letting her eyes ask what words do not.

He wants to kiss her. He does not.

Instead, he curves his hand around from between her shoulder blades, tracing the outline of her bra, then down the concave curve of her side to where he meets the new outline of her waistband. She is all lines and borders. Although he has seen her flesh before, he fancies that if he were to peel away her shirt he would find the faint dotted lines of a grid delineating her into a graph of soft peach flesh.

His hand moves to the front of her belly as her eyes still stare at his lips. Cupping his hand over the soft, barely there mound of her lower abdomen is difficult, given their position, but his life's work is adaptation. He presses on it and she gasps.

Mulder should be touching her like this in six months, his hand resting on firm skin covering a child within. Instead, her flesh is elastic and gives under the weight of his hand, too ordinary in the common female biological trappings of spongy tissue and just the slightest bit of water gain. Estrogen's natural cycles compensate for the child that should be slowly growing in her uterus, if the fates had allowed.

They stand together, just so, for a long moment. His tired muscles threaten to give way under the strain of standing for too long, or perhaps his weakness comes from the intimacy of the position. His hand on her belly, her gaze on his mouth. Humans are designed to eat, drink and procreate. Somewhere along the line, the latter has become lost to them.

They will sleep together tonight. He knows this now.

He fears this, for all the right -- and wrong -- reasons.

Her muted but warm sexuality scares him. He could so easily lose himself in her body. She wants him, has wanted him for so long. He has always known this, but sublimated it out of some ridiculous need for nobility and self-denial. Loving her is easy; having her is not.

They still have two chances left. If they are to become parents -- or at least try to be -- then this gives him license to let roving hands go, yes? He couches his rationalization in expediency; after all, their potential child cannot exist solely because of science. But her beloved scientific process cannot apply to this situation. It is much more simple than the path from hypothesis to conclusion.

He wants her.

He wants to taste every inch of her, more than gods or monsters can ever know.

Perhaps this is the miracle they should be seeking. It is a sure thing. It can only bring them happiness, or at least as much as they will ever allow themselves.

Just as he completes the task of working up the nerve to kiss her, Scully's arms clench him close and her nails press half-moons into his back as she pulls him down to a kiss.

Kiss her.

Kisssssss...oh. Preliminaries evaporate as their tongues quickly meet. He maps each of her taste buds, coloring sweet and bitter and sour and salty shades of Valentine red. The tip of her tongue is candy-apple crimson, sweetened by a twinge of the lipstick she licked away as she moved in for the kiss. Though she has always kept her outward appearance austere, he sees the full spectrum of color in her mouth.

So this is what an out-of-body experience feels like, Scully, he tells her, but she is too busy kissing away his lucidity to hear his telepathy.

They break away to breathe, then are back together, their lips parted and touching. Carbon dioxide is harmful to inhale, but hers is sweet, tasting of pheromones and starlight, with a pinch of sadness.

Then, as if a door has slipped off its hinges, the mood abruptly shifts. Kisses become bites and touches become white-knuckled grasps. She clenches his arms and pulls him, half-stumbling, toward her bedroom. As he turns his head to stare at her, his gaze catches on the overhead light, its electric glow searing his retinas and making phosphorescent sparks fly over her face. Their energy is no longer muted; he imagines the sleeves of his shirt are the only thing keeping her hands from giving him static shocks.

His prophecy is soon fulfilled as they move to the chill of her bedroom and she strips bare. He stares at her, in awe of the flush of her skin, so different from her pallor in the clinic ten days ago. As she moves, the muscles of her stomach and legs flex into the lightning bolts he had only sensed from her earlier. Mulder swiftly steps over and pushes her onto the bed, crushing her body beneath his. They kiss again, and she polishes his back, the sweater abrasive through the barrier of his cotton t-shirt. She frames his face with her hands and the electric shock bleaches her red hair white.

Blood racing, he alights from the bed and strips his own body bare, his clothes discarded on top of her own. When he returns to lie on top of her, he feels smaller somehow, his body boneless with lust atop her compact power.

Although he may be in the dominant position, she is the convection engine driving them forward. He lets her roll them over until she straddles his hips, her body rising above his like a mermaid on the bow of a ship. Her breasts sway and her shoulders hunch forward, fingernails digging into the crinkly hair of his chest. He reaches up to touch her hair, and the static charge passes through to her, sending her hair flying like a pulsar in a reddish glass globe.

She reaches for his cock and grasps him tightly, shivering and solid. One stroke, then two, and he is left panting for God, for mercy he doesn't want. Save me and send me under, he thinks. Keep doing this forever.

He reaches down to cover her hands with his and they begin to stroke together. Two weeks ago he sat in the clinic, jerking himself off to produce a sample. But whereas then he was simply imagining what she would look like if they ever made love, right now he knows. The love is mixed with arousal and bone-crushing need.

Inside me. Now. Let's do what twenty clinicians couldn't accomplish.

The words slither through his brain. He doesn't know if she said them or if they were his own synapses ordering him to fulfill what his body covets.

Hips shift in tandem and she guides -- pushes -- him inside her.

With other women years ago, he would have procured protection before this moment. He didn't want children, certainly not with those women. He'd played the field and had certainly had more than ample opportunity to be a father, should he have chosen that path. But then he found the woman who made his life complete, and protection was unnecessary. Futile.

He was fertile, but had not thought he wanted children until she asked him to father hers a month ago. She cannot give them to him. This devastates him, as the sudden need for children fills his mind. He wonders if this need is for a baby of his own, or simply for a child with her. But he cannot make logical deductions when she is around him, staring down at him with such craving.

Scully braces her hands on his chest and begins to move atop him. In and out, clench and relax. He wants desperately to touch her breasts, so beautiful and ripe as they sway above him, but her arms are in the way. He instead cups her face in his hands, and she turns her head to pull his thumb inside her mouth, sucking hard.

Mulder cannot kiss her in this position, so he purses his lips and blows in her direction. Her answering smile is closer to a grimace, eyes fluttering closed as he moves his other hand down to thumb her clitoris. She shivers, and he marvels at the symbiosis of sex, the give and take turning sensation into its own circular logic. He rubs her hot clit and she shivers. She clenches her vagina around him and he moans, impulse making him rub harder. Current flows around the circuit, sending currents of electricity through every cell of his body.

He continues to rub and her body suddenly freezes above and around him, her heat still searing his skin despite the gooseflesh he sees on her belly. Mulder stops thrusting and lets her ride out her climax, watching as she throws her head back and closes her eyes. Her tongue traces her upper lip and he sees all the shades of red he had only sensed as they'd kissed.

She finally softens around him, her blurred beauty gazing upon his face. Moving his hands to his chest, he laces their fingers and she lowers herself down on him, their bodies pressed together. His fingernails are against her soft nipples and his knuckles dig into his pectoral muscles. She slowly begins to move again and he thrusts in counterpoint, more gently this time but still grinding his teeth with his rising passion.

Then suddenly he is on the edge of climax. He blinks. She looks down on him with wonder.

In a perfect world, this would be It -- the beginning of conception. Lovers everywhere create children this way, by accident or by intention. He and Scully have the intent, but cannot make it happen.

He comes, breaking the circuit and letting his energy spill inside her. The thread snaps and he lies, boneless and spent, matching her pliancy. Tilting her head, she kisses him. Mulder marvels at the shift of emotion from delirious need to sated softness.

"Are you still hoping for a miracle, Mulder?" she whispers after a kiss.

He traces the curve of her jaw and thinks that maybe this is the one he was looking for.

He says nothing, and kisses her again, warmth and life flowing everywhere in their bodies except where they crave it the most.

New Chances Clinic
Washington, D.C.
February 3, 2000

The room is cold. Scully shivers, folding her arms around the flimsy cotton gown she wears. Her skin is a crazy quilt of scratches and bruises, the colors vibrant even in the weak light filtering through the half-opened blinds. Closing her eyes, she forces herself to take slow, deep breaths, but the air is tainted by the smell of antiseptic and failure.

The last time she was here life had been planted in her womb.

She swallows the taste of tears, salty and viscous in her throat. She's tried to remain optimistic, to keep her spirits up and her thoughts positive. But defeat covers her with its oppressive cloak, weighing her down in mind and body.

Her feet swing free, hanging over the side of the examining table like a child's. The bandage on her right ankle is stark against the bruises that bloom like exotic flowers on her leg. A reminder of another failure. Shuddering from more than the chilled temperature of the room, she tightens her arms' hold and tries to squeeze Pfaster's face from her memory.

Mulder hadn't wanted her to work on the case, treating her with a kid-glove kindness he usually reserved for the victims they encountered during an investigation. She couldn't allow him to take charge; she needed to be in control of some portion of her life. Work was all she had to keep her grounded, to keep things normal and help forget the pain of disappointment. Now she deals with those consequences as well, that failure stirring in an additional measure of stress to her pressure cooker existence.

A thin trickle of tears cut a pathway across her cheek, warm against her icy skin. She wipes them away with her fist, scrubbing hard to eradicate the telltale sign of her weakness. Mulder is waiting for her, just a few doors away. If she starts crying now, Scully fears she will never stop, and if she is to make it through the next few weeks she must remain strong. For Mulder, for herself, but most of all, for the life they hope to create together.

"Hello again, Dana." Dr. Parenti enters the room, closing the door behind him with a decisive click, and walks over to the examining table. "I'm sorry to keep you waiting. I had an overanxious father to contend with."

Scully forces her face into a parody of a smile. "I understand. I presume you're satisfied with my physical condition and we are ready to schedule the second implant procedure."

The doctor fans through the papers in the folder he is holding. "I've been studying the hospital report, Dana." He drops the file onto to the table and reaches for Scully's arm, examining the contusions with care. "I was under the impression that you'd made arrangements to cut back on your duties in light of these fertility procedures." His tone, though gentle, is tainted by censure, and Scully squirms under his piercing eyes.

"That was...*is* my intent. This was an unusual case. It...I don't plan on taking any chances in the future." She wets her lips, choosing her next words carefully. "I know how important it is to follow procedures. I can assure you, if I had been pregnant I would not have been working in the field on this particular case."

"I see." He lifts Scully's leg, taking note of the livid bruises and myriad of scratches marring the skin. "Are you taking any medication for pain?"

Scully shakes her head. "Nothing, not even over-the-counter pain relievers."

Dr. Parenti nods. "Your tests results are all within the accepted parameters. Heart, blood pressure normal. Have you resumed working?"

"I'm on a leave of absence at the moment." There is a slight hesitation before Scully speaks again. "When...when can we schedule the next procedure?" She winces, hearing the anxious quiver in her voice.

Picking up the folder, the doctor makes a few notes. "Why don't you get dressed? We can talk in my office."

In the dressing room, Scully stares at herself in the mirror. She feels vulnerable in the rough cotton gown; unprotected. Clothes are her armor. The tailored navy blue pantsuit and white blouse are chosen to project the image of a cool, business-like woman, a player not to be taken lightly.

But once re-girded in the wool and silk, she feels nothing like the woman she wants to be. Instead, the somber colors and straight lines of her clothes highlight the fragility she is so determined to cover. Seated in Dr. Parenti's office, renewed anxiety sweeps through her, and she folds her hands in her lap, willing away the trembling that wracks her frame.

"Now, Dana." Dr. Parenti looks up, his expression sober. "There are a few things we need to talk about."

A cold feeling of dread settles in the pit of Scully's stomach, and she suddenly wishes she'd asked Mulder to be present for this part of the consultation instead of leaving him to thumb through outdated magazines in the clinic's waiting room. "Is anything wrong? Has something happened that I need to be aware of?" Visions of destroyed ova flash through her mind, and she swallows hard against the bile rising in her throat.

As if reading her thoughts, Dr. Parenti shoots her a small, reassuring smile. "No, nothing like that," he says with obvious gentleness. "I'm just a bit concerned about you, especially after that work-related...incident." He pauses, removing his glasses and setting them on the desk. Without them, his brown eyes seem larger, and Scully can see the concern reflected in their depths. "I'm not sure you fully understand what a beating like that can do to your body, specifically in light of your fertility issues. Your reproductive system is already compromised, and there are signs that your body is in a periomenopausal stage. I'm not saying you won't be able to conceive using the in vitro fertilization procedure. But you will need to be extremely careful, if you want to succeed."

Scully nods, her mind processing the doctor's words. She had only three chances to conceive, and one has already failed. There is no way she will risk further disappointment. "I will see to it that I'm not put in this position again. I promise you that."

"Mr. Mulder...does he understand all this? Perhaps you would like to set up a meeting with him to discuss the matter?" Though the question seems probing, it is delivered without curiosity and Scully tamps down the fear that causes her heart to race.

"I will be sure to relay the information to him," she states, moving to perch on the edge of her seat.

Dr. Parenti nods. "Good. Someone will call you within the next forty-eight hours to set up the appointment. Meanwhile, continue to get plenty of rest." He stands, extending his hand to Scully. "We'll get through this together, Dana."

Scully rises and takes the offered hand. "Thank you, doctor."

In the waiting room, Mulder slouches in the corner, staring out the window to the parking lot below. She watches him, noting with surprise how pale his face seems. The shadow of his impending beard seems darker, almost sinister until he spies her and a smile lights up his face. He jumps to his feet and grabs their coats, striding over to meet her with ill-concealed relief. "Ready?" he asks, holding out her coat.

"Yes," she replies, slipping her arms into the proffered garment.

Grinning, he leans down to whisper, "Did the doc let you know when we get to do it again?"

His smile is contagious; she finds her lips curving in a matching one. "Someone will call to set it up, probably in a day or so," she assures him, pulling the belt tight around her still-small waist.

He takes her arm, matching his steps to hers as they walk to the door. "So, how about grabbing something to eat? Thai, Italian, Mexican, Chinese. Take your pick. After reading six issues of Gourmet, I'm starved."

She looks at him through lowered lashes. "I have some boneless chicken breasts in the freezer, plus the makings for a salad. Why don't we have that instead? It's healthier. Besides, we need to talk," she adds, almost as an afterthought.

He looks at her, his smile fading. "Whatever you want, Scully. Count me in." He pushes at the door with his elbow and gestures for her to go through. "I'm with you, every step of the way."

Chapter Four

Scully's Apartment
Washington, D.C.
February 11, 2000

He is amazed that the creation of life makes him immeasurably sad.

He should be exhilarated by the IVF attempts, but life has inured him to pain and he has learned the hard way never to get his hopes too high. Instead of feeling anticipation and hope, he has come away from the second attempt depressed, fatalistic.

Opening the door with a nudge of his hand, he watches Scully as she slowly enters her apartment. Each movement is careful, her body tense but her hands limp at her side.

"Can I get you anything?" he asks as he walks toward her kitchen.

He hears the soft squeak of her rubber-soled boots against the wood floor. "A glass of water would be great, thanks." The next sound is the rustling of fabric, and he guesses she is now sitting on the sofa. He draws the tap into a chilly glass then takes the water to her.

Following the direction of her gaze, Mulder tries to decipher what holds her attention, then he looks at her face. Her eyes have glazed over. She is retreating into herself. He knows he should pull her out of this, but feels a selfish consolation that she is silent and unobservant. Right now he just can't manage a conversation.

Scully is fiercely protective of her furniture, even after the abuse it has handled over the years, so he procures a coaster for the water glass. The thud of contact seems to startle her out of her reverie and she glances up at him, murmuring, "Thank you."

He nods his reply. After a pause, he murmurs, "You should be lying down, Scully. Let me get you a pillow for your hips." She mirrors his nod and he retreats to her bedroom, grateful to be out of the room so he can gather his thoughts.

When he turns on the overhead light, the waxy reddish smudge on the paint above the headboard is visible -- a permanent memento of the night last week when they'd made love for the second time. They'd been naked within thirty seconds of entering her apartment. As she rode him, her smooth belly stretching as her back arched, he'd lifted a finger to her lips and rubbed the red waxy lipstick away. A few moments later, he braced his hands against her wall as she climaxed, her power nearly lifting him off the bed. The wall now bears a blood red scar from his hands grasping for purchase, the skin of his palms threatening to tear with the strain.

In the dim light, he glances down at his palms, examining their lines, jagged like broken glass. Lines for heart, head, life and fate. This is all he knows about palmistry, and he thinks he might like to explore it further. Maybe it could reveal his future, or the secrets she keeps from him.

She is secretive today, her body tense and barricaded in the living room. The bedroom is too full of memories, so he grabs the pillow and retreats without a second glance at the smudge above her bed.

When he returns to the living room, he finds Scully half-sitting on the sofa, eyes closed and body draped akimbo along the back like a Titian portrait. He stands next to the couch for nearly a minute before she appears to register his presence, then she tries to smile when she opens her eyes. It is mirthless, resembling a grimace.

She reaches for the pillow and stands, then unbuttons her pants to ease the restrictive binding. "Should I get you some pajamas?" he asks, but she shakes her head. Were she to speak, he knows she would just parrot, 'I'm fine.'

As she leans forward to smooth her clothing, her half-unbuttoned shirt gapes open, revealing the curve of a breast. It is opaque milk; the strawberry blister he'd left there last week has faded.

He has to turn away, and does not know if she has noticed what he saw. Blood-red desire floods him, throwing his cells into an uproar of chaos. The doctor told them an hour ago, just as he did last month, that they should refrain from sexual activity for at least twenty-four hours until the embryos have an opportunity to adhere to her uterus. Mulder thinks he should leave, because he can't possibly make it through the next day here without wanting to devour her skin. He clenches his fists, nails etching new lines onto his palms, and wills away his arousal. Seven years of working alongside her have given him a doctorate in suppressed desire.

Another rustle of movement, then he knows she is back on the sofa, her hips elevated as Dr. Parenti has instructed. Once all his blood has returned to normal flow patterns, he turns back to face her and finds his predictions are met. The pose is strange: her belly tilts upward, the quilt over it giving the impression of the latter months of pregnancy. Yet with her eyes closed and face slack, she resembles a corpse.

"Scully," he says, alarm creeping into his voice.

She opens her eyes and looks at him, startled, her eyebrows raised and deep wrinkles on her forehead. He shifts on his feet, unsettled. She raises herself on one elbow and says, "Mulder," her tone asking him to come there.

He takes a deep breath. He knows what she wants.

Ten seconds later, he is sitting on the sofa, her head in his lap. The position seems to relax her, but he wonders if she can feel his tense thigh muscles or hear his hitched breath.

"It's okay, Mulder. I won't break," she whispers. The crescent shape of her lashes flutter but her eyes remained closed. She is always so strong, so vital, and to see her face pale and weary frightens him more than he cares to admit. What if this fails? he wonders, brushing a trembling hand through the cascade of red hair spilled across his denim-clad thighs. How will they deal with it?

In a few minutes her chest is rising and falling in even intervals, her body at rest. He studies her face, mentally mapping the new lines that seem to have appeared overnight. Having a child is supposed to be a joyous occasion, a way of celebrating love by creating new life. Somehow, they've managed to do it backwards, and he can't help the feeling of regret that burns like acid in his chest.

Scully sighs in her sleep, the soft sound hovering in the air like a melancholy note. His mouth set in a firm line, he touches her too-pale skin, his fingertips kissing the random freckles that dot her nose. He will do whatever it takes to make this work. For her, for himself.

"I promise," he whispers, laying his head against the back of the couch and closing his eyes. "I promise."

Scully's Apartment
Washington, D.C.
February 26, 2000

She remembers the day Grandma Scully died. Her father, his face wet with tears, speaking to her mother in hushed, urgent tones. At eight, she thought Ahab was the strongest man in the world, and to see him weep frightened her. She ran upstairs and climbed into the window seat, pulling the faded green drapes closed behind her. Her secret place, where everything was still right with the world and grown men didn't cry.

How she longs for that sanctuary now.

Too many blows have been dealt in the past few weeks. Mrs. Mulder's suicide, the truth about Samantha. When she heard from Dr. Parenti that the second attempt had failed, she was more resigned than surprised. Deaths are rumored to come in threes.

Four days have gone by since that news. Four days of pretense and generic conversations. Mulder passed the time with a pale, blank face, his presence almost ghostlike. Only his eyes were alive, dark with the pain he kept to himself.

Her own emotions laid closer to the surface. She was afraid to speak to him, fearful of unleashing something she's incapable of dealing with. It won't take more than a scratchy-voiced Mulder to break through her fragile shield, and she is more than grateful when the weekend arrives.

On Saturday morning she decides to turn out her closets. Piles of discarded clothes, sorted by season, litter her bedroom floor, awaiting transport to St. John's. Several cartons sit on her dining room table, rescued from the dusty oblivion of the top shelf in her hall closet. If the third procedure is successful, she will not be climbing ladders or lifting cartons from high shelves.


So much of her future depends on a two letter word.

By seven that evening she is nearly finished. Only one carton remains, and she wipes away the filmy gray coating the corrugated top before opening it. Inside, a splash of tissue-wrapped scarlet encased in plastic greets her eyes, and she smiles for the first time in days as she lifts it out of the box. Carrying it over to the couch, she settles herself among the cushions before unsealing the plastic.

The kimono is still in perfect condition. Even after thirty years the rich, vibrant color hasn't faded. She touches one of the tiny gold butterflies that dance across the silk, remembering the look on her father's face when he gave it to her. 'There isn't another one like it in all the world. This is special, Dana, like you.' Smiling, she sets it aside and reaches back into the bag.

This time she removes a gold obi and a small wooden box which contains a pair of butterfly hair ornaments. She fingers the sash, remembering the first time she wore it. She had felt so grown up. So beautiful. It had been a sad day when she'd no longer been able to wear the kimono and her mother packed it away. 'You mustn't be selfish. One day you'll have a little girl. Think how much she'll love wearing this.'

Was that a promise, Mom?

Blowing out a shaky breath, she carefully refolds the outfit, wrapping the items in tissue before replacing them in the plastic and setting the package on the coffee table. It will go back into the carton, closed away in the upper recesses of her hall closet. Waiting...

A tentative tapping startles her. Blinking back her almost-tears, she walks to the door and peers through the peephole, somehow unsurprised to see Mulder there. She pushes back the bolt and opens the door, dread mixing with delight as she prepares to greet him.

"Hey." He rocks back on his heels, hands thrust into the pockets of his unfastened leather jacket. "Is this a bad time?" he asks, his smile tentative.

"Bad time?" She forces herself to keep her hands by her side, tamping down the urge to check her face for stray tears.

Mulder reaches out a finger and touches her cheek. "New makeup?" He examines his fingertip, eyeing the film coating the skin with narrowed eyes. "It seems to be composed of minute fibers, dander, and...pollen." He casts her a questioning look. "Am I close?"

The breath whooshes out of her, and she raises an eyebrow at the spurious cheer in his tone. "It's dust," she confirms laconically. She moves back to allow him to enter and bolts the door behind him. Turning, she leans back against the wood and watches as he shrugs out of the jacket and drapes it over the back of a chair. His movements are jerky, awkward, almost fumbling. Without the cover of his glib tongue he reminds her of a teenager on a blind date. It would be almost amusing under different circumstances. But not now.

His eyes dart around the room, looking at the opened carton, the bags of clothing by the door, everywhere but at her. "I'm sorry. Probably should have called first, but I needed to talk to you," he mutters at last, the words so low she barely hears them.

She frowns, her throat suddenly dry. "Are...are you okay, Mulder?" Only the tiny break in her voice betrays the anxiety she feels.

He nods, his lips pursed. "It was too quiet and I started thinking...about the past, my life." He finally lifts his head to look at her, his eyes dark and troubled. "You."

"Sit down, Mulder," she says gently, relieved when he complies.

Pushing away from the door, she is aware of how she must look, and tugs at the baggy sweatshirt she is wearing. Damp hair lays like streaks of rust against her forehead, and she pushes it away from her brow, smoothing it back with a nervous hand. Slipping past him, she takes a seat on the couch and tucks her legs beneath her. Heart pounding, she waits for him to speak, unsure if she wants to hear what he has to say.

He stares straight ahead, his profile almost grim, and the silence grows more uncomfortable as each passing second is marked by the anniversary clock sitting on the mantel. It seems absurd to act like this, she thinks, chewing on her lower lip. As if they were strangers instead of friends and...lovers. Eager for an excuse to break the ice, she remembers the kimono, and on impulse leans forward to pick it up.

"My father gave this to me," she murmurs, pulling at the seal on the bag.

He turns to look at her. "It's certainly red," he notes, his face a mixture of curiosity and relief.

"Definitely red." Smiling, she pulls it out of the bag for the second time and hands the garment to him. "I was six when I received this. We had just moved again." She sighs, glancing at him through half-closed eyes. "Definitely not a happy time in my life."

"A little Scully-geisha," he muses, examining the unfolded kimono. "You probably drove all the little sailors crazy."

She snorts. "Not exactly." She hesitates, then reaches out to stroke the silky fabric. "But it made me feel beautiful."

He swivels around to face her, his eyes bright with curiosity. "Go on," he encourages, covering her hand with his much warmer one.

She flashes him a startled look then turns her head, shielding her face with a curtain of hair. "I wore it to school that first day. It gave me courage." Her lips curve in a rueful smile. "But it wasn't a success. When it came time for recess I refused to play outside with the others. Beautiful little geishas didn't do anything as prosaic as skipping rope or playing tag," she adds, feeling the color rush into her cheeks. "The others laughed at me."

His thumb traces over her wrist, warming her flesh with random patterns. "So, did a handsome samurai warrior come to the rescue?"

"No, but a certain naval officer did." She trembles with awareness as his hand slips under the cuff of her sweatshirt, tickling her skin until the tiny hairs on her arm stand on end. "It took my dad to make me see that how I looked wasn't as important as who I was inside."

His hand leaves her arm to cup her chin, tugging until she turns and meets his eyes. "Your father was a special man, Scully. I wish I'd had a chance to meet him."

"So do I," she replies, her voice husky with emotion.

His lips curl in soft smile, and he presses a quick kiss on her cheek before releasing her. Turning away, he replaces the kimono on the discarded tissue lying on the coffee table. "Your story reminds me of why I came here tonight." Reaching into his pocket, he pulls out a yellowed piece of paper and unfolds it with care. "I was going through some of my mother's papers and found this," he explains, handing it to her.

It is a list of questions. Nine in all. The writing sprawls across the paper, the letters large and ungainly, the questions both simplistic and poignant. 'What makes the ocean look blue?' 'Where do clouds come from?' 'Why is it okay for some people to lie?' She steals a quick look at his face. She imagines she can see him, young, intense, lonely, composing his list after thoughtful consideration.

"That was the way I communicated with my father," he explains in a voice devoid of emotion. "If I had a question, he encouraged me to write it down. We would discuss it when he had more time." He laughs, the sound almost chilling in its lack of humor. "Trouble was, he never did have time, and all I ever had to show for the relationship were a lot of lists like the one you're holding."

She swallows with difficulty, tasting the bitter and salt of tears clogging her throat. "I'm sure he was trying to do his best for his family." Though she has tried to infuse her words with comfort, they sound hollow and lacking in conviction.

Mulder shifts restlessly, throwing his arm along the back of the couch. "I don't want my relationship with our child to be remembered as a series of questions scribbled on notepaper." He touches the back of her neck, his hand warm as it slides across her nape. "I want to be there for him, Scully. And for you." He faces her, his eyes suspiciously bright. "In every way, no matter what it takes."

She slides across the few inches separating them to nestle close to him, resting her cheek against his chest. "You will. I'd expect nothing less from you."

He pulls her closer, wrapping her in a tight embrace. "I will," he echoes, his words fierce. He presses a kiss into her hair. "You have my word on it." She is content, for the moment. They won't fail -- they can't. Together, they are invincible. Closing her eyes, she lets the beat of his heart lull her to sleep.

Chapter Five

New Chances Clinic
Gaithersburg, MD
March 15, 2000

Cold reality is beginning to make him bitter.

They have had so many chances to conceive over the past three months. Making love has become second nature to them; it fits him and Scully like hand in glove. He has come inside her so many times, filling her womb with sperm and this new, physical brand of love. They have become good at making love, but they have to rely on a speculum and catheter to make a baby.

A few minutes ago, Dr. Parenti led them into the exam room, after telling them that this was it. Oh, his words were much more professional and sympathetic, but Mulder heard the truth behind them: if this doesn't work, you'll have to give up hope of a child of your flesh and blood.

Scully hands him her blouse and pants, which he carefully hangs on the wall hook. When he turns around, she has already donned her gown and fumbles with the ties with trembling hands. Using the stepping stool as a foothold, she climbs up onto the table, her legs dangling from the edge.

"Have you thought about the other options Dr. Parenti mentioned?" he asks as he moves to stand before her.

She wrings her manicured hands. "Egg donation?" He nods. Without looking up, she murmurs, "It wouldn't be my child."

"It would be our child," he stresses. "Even if it were my sperm and someone else's ovum, the child would still be ours. You would carry and give birth to it."

She cuts him off. "My body doesn't seem to want to accept an embryo."

"Scully." His voice rises. "If you've already decided that in-vitro won't work, then why are we even here? The doctor said many couples go through this procedure five or six times before it works."

"But this is our last chance."

"I know it is. If it doesn't work and you decide you still want a child, we'll take a break and explore our other options. Donor eggs. Surrogates. Adoption. This doesn't mean we won't have a child. It just means that we won't do it in the traditional way." He reaches for her limp hand. "But if you have this fatalistic attitude, then you're only setting yourself up for failure. I know you, Scully, and you are not a quitter."

He doesn't expect her to reply, given the defeated expression on her face. She looks away. "And if it doesn't work? Where does that leave us?"

"You and me?" She nods. Ire begins to churn in his gut as he realizes just what she is asking. "You think I'm going to just give up on our relationship if you don't get pregnant? God, Scully." He bites his lip to keep from yelling. "Don't you have any idea how much I love you?"

The words seem to startle her. He has told her before, but she brushed him off. Perhaps this time she realizes that he means it.

"I'm in this for the long haul," he continues. "I would have made the same commitment to you even if you hadn't asked me to father this child, though it might have taken me a lot longer to tell you."

She reaches up to place a hand on his shoulder, then draws him close. Her warm, lush scent overcomes antiseptic. For the first time, she whispers, "I love you too," then presses a kiss to his mouth, their lips brushing and tripping over each other.

He feels alive, joyful, as if he might burst out of his skin. She loves him. He has known this for some time, but saying the words makes it real.

As they kiss, her breath tickling his upper lip, the door opens and Dr. Parenti chuckles. "Getting in the mood, are we?"

They break apart and Scully sits up straight, smoothing her gown. Mulder can tell she is uncomfortable at being caught in the act, so to speak, though kissing seems quite appropriate for two people who are about to try again to conceive a child.

While the doctor and his assistants prepare Scully for the procedure, he pulls over a chair so he can sit next to her.

The conversation will have to wait, as Dr. Parenti says, "Are we ready?"

"Yes," Scully replies, then catches Mulder's gaze. Her voice conveys confidence, but he sees familiar fear in her eyes.

She settles back and he gives her a soft smile as the procedure begins.

Mulder's Apartment
Alexandria, VA
April 2, 2000

Darkness is a great equalizer. It can hide, or comfort, or protect. For Mulder, it serves all three purposes.

There is something consoling about being wrapped in its plush black velvet, safe from the pain that lurks in the light. Maybe that's why he is so comfortable with it. Or maybe it's easier to protect yourself from reality when you can't see the things that hurt you.

How different the circumstances were a few weeks ago. A milestone reached and whole-heartedly embraced. A future together. A family, something that seemed to be out of the realm of possibilities just six months earlier. And love. He made a fatal mistake that morning, clutching her cold hand in an iron grip. He allowed himself to hope.

Now he lays in the dark, the muted light from the outside halogen lamps the only concession to the night. The rough fabric of his sofa pillow is damp with sweat and tears, abrasive even against an unshaven cheek. This cracked leather couch has been his asylum for the past two days, and he dreads the coming of tomorrow morning and work. He dreads seeing Scully.

Most of all seeing Scully.

Their final chance has failed, lost in a fatalistic swirl of blood and tears. His grief has surprised him with its intensity, hitting like sucker punch to the gut that leaves him winded and aching.

She has proved to be more stoic about it, her initial tears giving way to calm acceptance. The knowledge should comfort him; she has gone through so much that she deserves some measure of solace. Instead, it rankles, and he holds that additional misery inside, letting it mix and ferment until he fears he will explode.

Maybe her way is healthier, to put up a brave front, to tolerate the limitations, to accept the hand life has dealt you and just move on. Maybe it makes her happier in the long run, keeps her sane, lets her open her eyes again each morning.

Or maybe she's just a better loser than he is.

He throws a forearm across his face, as though to press back the tears stinging his eyes. It's amazing, he thinks, how easy it is to analyze others' feelings and motives, but so much harder to do the same with your own.

"Mulder...?" Keys clank restlessly as soft footsteps cross the floor, tentative and almost wary in the cool darkness.

"In here," he sighs, peeling his body from the sticky leather to sit upright. Fingers scrub at the final traces of wetness before dropping to splay on the faded denim covering his thighs.

"I was worried." There is no censure in the words uttered from where she stands, framed in the doorway. The street lamp spills its light across the floor, illuminating the new lines and shadows imprinted on her face. "I tried calling you, but you didn't answer."

He shrugs, hauling himself to his feet and crossing to look out the window to the empty street below. "Sorry. I guess I didn't hear it," he manages to choke out.

"Or didn't want to answer." Somehow, she is already beside him, her body braced against him and her cheek pressed to his back.

She knows me well, he thinks, locking his knees against the trembling that threatens to topple them both to the floor. He remains silent in her embrace, watching as a lone car passes; the beams from its headlights sweep across the blacktop like twin beacons. A small black cat is caught in the moving shafts of light, its eyes glowing pinpoints of gold. For a few seconds it is frozen in place, and he ceases to breathe until it turns and scampers off into the shadows and safety.

"Come on. Sit down." She catches his hand, curling her fingers around his. Hers are surprisingly warm, and he automatically returns the firm pressure, feeling some of the tension leave his body as he allows her to pull him back to the couch. "Everything will be all right," she whispers gently, pushing back the few strands of hair stuck to his forehead.

Her gentleness is his final undoing and a new rush of wetness spills down his cheeks like heated rain, dripping off the point of his chin to the threadbare tee-shirt covering his chest. "I'm sorry," he repeats to the floor, the words thick and full of remorse. He isn't sure if he is apologizing for his weakness, or her worry, or the events which have so inextricably bound them together.

She says nothing, but pulls him to her, coaxing his body to fold itself over hers. Cradling his head against her warmth, she rocks him in slow tandem with the heartbeats that thump under his cheek. He can feel her fingers against his scalp, stroking through his hair as she murmurs soothing nonsense that blends with the musical creak of leather and springs; a litany of empathy that finally stills his tears.

Drained, he breathes in shuddering gasps that are muffled against her. The front of her blouse is wet, clinging to her milky white flesh like a second skin. He pushes his face into the vee of her neckline, nuzzling the hollow that smells of almond soap and tears. His hand moves to fumble with a button, pulling one free, then another, until the blouse lays open. He lifts his head to look at her, letting her see the emotions that he's fought so hard to hide.

She meets his gaze. "We're okay, Mulder," she murmurs, her eyes dark and intense. One slender hand rasps through the pumice of his beard, curling around his neck to ruffle the fine hairs at his nape. "This isn't finished," she promises. And then she kisses him.

If she tasted of red before, now she is golden hope and redemption. Her mouth is thick honey, warm caramel. Like cafe au lait, hot and sweet. Tongues touching, renewing, reaffirming; recoloring his perceptions in a kaleidoscope of sensations.

He feels her scrabbling for the hem of his t-shirt, hands skittering along the skin at his waist until she clutches fistfuls of thin cotton. A sharp tug, and the worn material gives, exposing his back to the cool air and heated frenzy of her hands. Nails scrape along his spine, and over his ribs, painting scratches on his skin. She is marking him, staking her claim with the welts blooming in her fingers' wake, and he revels in it.

Claim me as I will claim you.

They twist on the slippery leather, discarding clothes with unconcealed impatience. Soon she is whispering to him, words that make no sense over the blood rushing in his ears. He tugs at the pebbled crown of her breast, the flesh like bronze-tipped ivory in the faint glow from the windows. He feels her humid gasp, hot as it rushes through the strands of hair she grips so tightly.

They kiss again; darker, bittersweet kisses that melt like chocolate in the heat. Frenzied kisses, teeth nipping, scraping, biting. He maps her collarbone, tickles her skin with goose bumps as he sucks at the fragile hollow of her throat. Staking his own claim with every wet stroke of his tongue.

Poised over her, his cock heavy and engorged with blood, he stares at her. Her head is thrown back, her hair a dark coppery spray against the muted colors of the pillow. Eyes closed, kiss-swollen lips parted as she keens the word 'yes' over and over in a voice clamorous with need. He wants to keep this moment, to indelibly imprint her image in his memory so that he will never forget. Visceral, primordial, more real to him than anything else he has ever experienced.

This is love.

He rocks into her, slowly, slowly, sweat dripping from his face like tears. The tight channel of her body is as accepting of him as her heart is. He feels the clench of her muscles, holding and releasing, pulling at his penis with its every thrust and retreat. Her body wraps around him, swallowing him, her arms and legs anchoring them together as they move in perfect symmetry, attuned in every way.

The movement of her hips becomes more urgent, and she drops a hand to where they are joined, slipping fingers into her folds. He feels them brush against his cock with every thrust until her body stiffens in climax, the tiny contractions becoming stronger with every thrust of his body. She was always beautiful to him, but never more so than now, her breath little more than heated gasps, her mouth slack and wet and wanton.

This, too, is love.

When he comes, his whole body is alive with sensation, all feelings centered on the seed spilling into her. They may never create a new life together, but what they have is real and life-affirming. His cheeks once again wet with tears, he feels the words erupt from him, forceful and true. "I love you, Scully. Always."

And he begins to heal.

Chapter Six

Bernhardt's Piano Bar
Washington, D.C.
April 21, 2000

"Do you want anything? Something to eat, maybe?" he asks as the bartender walks toward them.

She shakes her head and he waves away the woman. The piano bar is just hitting its stride, even at the late hour. People mill around them, having a last drink on a warm springtime Saturday night. Mulder's eyes are far too focused and alert after a couple of glasses of Merlot. The dim light of the bar doesn't mute the faint flush of his face or the sparkle in his eyes.

He looks lovely.

Such a strange adjective to use for a man, but it suits him. His beauty is in the little things, like his long pianist's fingers and the way the midnight shadow of his beard melts into his collar. His features are nothing like those chiseled by the ancient Romans, but his beauty is classical.

And he is a classic man. Old-fashioned. She'd chuckled and been a bit taken aback when he said he wanted to take her on a traditional date.

She accepted his offer, but didn't quite know what to make of it. Deep down, she had feared that this new intimacy existed only because of the circumstances of the IVF treatments -- that their emotional closeness was an effect, not a cause. Yet as she stares at him across the table from her, his thumb tracing the back of her hand, she realizes they could never have embarked on the treatments without the intimacy they have always shared.

No, she amends her thought, without the love they have always shared.

She still feels odd thinking of him as a lover, but the beauty of his face right now makes the new appellation come more freely to mind. He is her lover now -- not in the old, sordid way as a euphemism for sexual partner, but as one who gives her love and to whom she tries her best to return love.

"We can continue like this, Mulder," she murmurs over the soft sounds of the singer. Wine and new realizations make her bolder than she has been in the past. If he is to be her lover, they need to learn to talk to each other this way, without reservations.

"Hmm?" He doesn't seem to have read her motivations on her face.

"I realized tonight that we didn't become lovers out of need or because of the intimacy of the treatments. We became lovers because we want each other. I want you in my life, Mulder. Forever."

"Was there ever a doubt?" he immediately replies, then furrows his brow. "Wait, that sounded wrong. I understand what you mean, Scully, but I never had to come to any realization." He pauses, and turns his palm to grasp her hand.

"I made love to you that first night because I wanted you -- have wanted you for as long as I can remember. Maybe the situation gave us the impetus we needed, but it would have happened eventually anyway. I've always been absolutely sure that we will be together forever."

He takes a deep breath and squeezes her hand. She shivers.

"Maybe we'll have a child someday. Maybe not. Maybe we'll live forever, or maybe we'll die tomorrow. But whatever I may imagine about my future, you are in it."

As her eyes fill with tears, she knows they are not caused by fears for their future, because she no longer has any. No, the tears are for love of his man. This lovely man whose warm hand in hers makes her feel strong and sure.

She leans over and kisses him lightly, the bar stool swiveling with the motion. She loves the strange intimacy of the scene.

"Mulder," she murmurs, her low voice carrying above the music, "if we ever do have children, I want them to be just like you."

He chuckles, but she can see the warm glow of flattery in his cheeks. "I could say the same."

"Well, they can be a combination of both of us, biologically or just emotionally."

He purses his lips, then spreads them into a smile. "I like your sense of compromise."

After a few moments of drinking in his beauty, the light catches the near-empty wine glasses on the bar, and she lets go of his hand and refills their goblets. "Thank you," he says, then takes a sip.

"You have impeccable manners, lover," she says with a laugh, the wine and conversation making her bold enough to give him the unusual pet name. She thrills in the red of his blush. "Did your mother teach you how to be a gentleman?"

"Etiquette classes and many a night playing host at my parents' cocktail parties. I was saved from the reputation-destroying sissiness of it all by the fact that every other boy on the Vineyard had to do the same thing." His face breaks into the smile of the boy he had once been.

She takes a sip of her wine. "That would explain tonight."


"Dinner by candlelight, the theater, then this bar? I'm surprised you didn't take me dancing too."

Ever quick with a quip, he retorts, "I couldn't find a ballroom open this late. The senior citizens of D.C. have early bedtimes."

"When we're old, Mulder, will we go to bed early?"

"Only if you're naked in that bed."

She reaches for his hand again, her entire body buzzing with a potent mixture of alcohol, love, and wild, growing lust.

"Take me to bed, Mulder."

In one fluid motion, he withdraws his wallet and tosses a fifty onto the bar to cover the bottle of expensive wine and tip. "Anything for the old lady."

Before she can raise a teasing eyebrow, he amends, "Anything for my lover."

Much better.

So much better.

She slips on her jacket and grabs her purse. Laughing, lets him take her by the hand and hastily lead them out of the club to her home. Together. Taking her lover to bed.

The past few months have been a test of their strength and commitment. But despite the failure of the treatments, they have passed the true test, and now they can begin the rest of their lives together.

"Did you know that when you're tipsy, your skin gets this adorable flush to it?"

"Oh?" She wobbles a bit more than she should as she steps out of the skirt pooled at her ankles.

He reaches for her shoulder and steadies her. "Yeah. And you lose a bit of muscle control."

She lightly shrugs away his hand so she can pull off her shirt. "You've never seen me drunk before. How do you know it's that and not lust?"

Mulder takes her shirt and begins to fold it, the action rather inappropriate for the situation, but he knows it will make her happy. "While I'd like to believe it's lust, Scully," he gives her breast a gratuitous grope before reaching behind her to begin the arduous task of unfastening her bra, "I know inebriation when I see it. You nearly finished off that bottle of wine on your own. You're the one who insisted I drive us home, remember?"

Damned bra won't cooperate. As he moves to stand behind her, her head lolls back on her neck, fine red hair brushing his fingers as he struggles with the hooks. Perhaps lust has made her close her eyes, but the lolling is all alcohol. It charms him, and he has a sneaky suspicion she loses a bit of inhibition with a '91 vintage in her bloodstream.

This should be fun.

"Mmm... Mulder?" She slurs his name, but recovers with, "You're still dressed, you know."

"Are you sure about that? Maybe I got naked faster than a speeding bullet."

"Bullet or not." She presses back into his body. "I can feel the buttons of your shirt against my spine."

Busted. He doesn't regret it one bit. "You want to take my clothes off?"

"No." Her head lolls some more; her hair tickles his collarbone. "I'm not in full possession of my faculties."

"So you admit that you're drunk?" Mulder needs to step away so he can unbutton his shirt, but this feels too damn good. Pressing his hips against the small of her back, his erection doesn't quite fit perfectly into the curve just above her ass, but he doesn't care.

"I admit nothing."

"Lust, then?"

"Of course."

He finally puts his hands on her shoulders and stands her upright, propping her long enough to make sure she has regained her balance, and then he quickly sheds his clothes.

"There is one advantage to all of this, though." She pivots to face him, but keeps her eyes closed. "If I were pregnant, I couldn't have had that marvelous bottle of wine."

Thank God her eyes are still closed, so that she can't see him freeze in panic. Steady voice, now, he cautions himself. "True."

Her face is calm, though. A slight smile curves her lips. Perhaps this fuzziness presents the best opportunity to take advantage of the situation and say something that has long been on his mind.

"Why don't we try anyway?"

Blue eyes bolt open. "Try to get pregnant?"

He nods.

"I can't." The words should be sad or bitter, but she seems more intrigued than angry.

"Maybe not, but we can certainly have fun trying."

After a long stare, full of dilated pupils and a just-barely creased brow, she lets a slow smile spread over her face. "Let's try."

Blessed instinct comes through again. "I love you, Scully," he murmurs.

"Me too," she whispers through her smile. A quick flinch of surprise, then, "I love you too."

As she advances on him in a now-steady gait, he marvels at the predatory gleam in her eyes, mixing with a new playfulness. On first thought it doesn't seem "her," but he realizes that they are trying on new roles. The previous times they made love were a mixture of heartbreak and comfort and need. They have never been together like this just from the joy of being together.

Tonight it is just them, in love and as close to sheer happiness as they have ever been. If they are to make good on those small steps toward permanent commitment tonight, they need this. Badly.

As she slowly licks his shoulder, he half-groans, "Do you know how many babies are conceived during drunken sex?"

"Mulder, do you know how many of those people don't even know each other's names?" she asks his pectoral muscle.

Seven years of intense observation have seared her face into his memory; it is as familiar to him as his own. "I know your name, Scully." Mood drops from a tease to a whisper. "It's the first thing on my mind when I wake up every morning."

She looks up at him and blinks. He adds this expression to his portrait gallery of Scully beauty.

He wants this to be as good for her as he knows it will be for him. To create something tonight, be it a miracle child or a seal on a commitment.

I am yours and I am you and you are mine and me.

But he almost doesn't want to become her; he wouldn't be able to look at her the way he does now. Loving one's self is narcissism. Loving another is divine.

Stepping back, she nods in the direction of the Queen Anne chair in the corner of her bedroom. A glance at her reveals only the quirk of lips and brow, but he reads her signals. She clasps her hands behind his neck, and whispers, "Ready?" With that, he lifts her, gripping her hips tightly as she locks her heels on the back of his thighs. A few straggling steps later, he is seated with her on his lap. The chair isn't quite big enough for the both of them, but they manage.

"After this, I don't think I'll be able to pass this heirloom down to our kids." Her voice is a low, throaty chuckle as she gets her balance.


"My grandmother's." She runs her fingers through his hair. "I don't think this is what it was designed for."

He raises his hand to mimic her, red hair falling fluid through his fingertips. "Maybe generations of your family were conceived in this chair."

"Per--" she begins, then the word trails away in a puff of air as he cups her breast in his hand and rolls the nipple with his fingertips. He thinks she says, "Oh, goodness," but the words are barely more than a long stream of breath.

When he enters her, she sighs again, her breath tickling the curve of his jaw. Once she is balanced around him, he pulls her back so he can look at her face.

We can spend the rest of our lives together and be happy, he thinks. We will make it work. We are a family, whether or not children enter our lives.

With his hands on her hips, he cannot touch her clit, so she does the honors, her knuckles brushing against his cock with every ring. As he watches her climb toward her climax, he stills his lifts of her body, so he can give her this climax before his own. Impulse tilts his chin up to meet her lips, and he steals a quick kiss before she comes. Her body swirls like a twister, then she stiffens and melts into his body, boneless and sated.

"I love you," she whispers to him. "Come for me, Mulder."

He regains his balance just enough to begin lifting her up and down on his cock. A few long slides then he is coming inside her, long and breathless and electric.

Minutes pass and he stays inside her, as if he could hold his semen inside and conceive their child. Afterglow makes him truly believe this could happen. In the late hours after dinner, theater, and wine, the world is his. Anything is possible.

"Be mine," she whispers, a Valentine's endearment two months too late.

He opens his eyes and stares at her dear, familiar face.

"I am."

Chapter Seven and Epilogue

Interstate 5
Between Los Angeles and Sacramento, CA
May 16, 2000

As they sat in the theater, Scully was intermittently distracted by the whispering of a woman speaking on a telephone. She found some strange poetic justice in a cell phone disrupting this ridiculous movie supposedly based on their lives. After the fourth call, she turned around and glared at the phone user, but the woman shrugged and whispered, "New baby at home." Manners were at a premium, it appeared, but then this was Hollywood, after all.

And they were mannered people. Both she and Mulder kept their hands to themselves throughout the film, but after the baby comment, he reached over and squeezed her hand. Later, in the darkened soundstage, she returns his touch. Two months ago, such movements would have had their genesis in pain. But they have grown so much since then, and they can touch one another out of love and the new measure of happiness they are beginning to find together.

"Let's get out of here," he murmured as they left the soundstage.

She nudges his arm with her shoulder. "Want to get something to eat?"

"No." He stopped and turned to face her. "I mean let's get out of town. I'm sick of this city."

Scully replied with a tentative, drawn-out, "Okay." As they neared the car, he asked her where she wanted to go. "Surprise me." She trusted his instincts. After the methodical progress of the IVF and their relationship, she needed to be surprised, to be swept off her feet for once.

The first surprise was their arrival back at the hotel, rather than the great unknown. "Pack up all your things, Scully. I'll meet you down here and we'll check out."

She willed herself not to look at him skeptically. After packing, she returned to the lobby, wearing jeans and a lightweight sweater and carrying her suitcase. Comfortable clothes, he'd instructed before they parted on the elevator. The lobby was still busy, even at an hour past midnight; Scully wondered if L.A. was really the city that never slept.

Now, five hours later, they are on the road to Lake Tahoe. If she had remembered how long the drive was, she would have said no when he suggested it, but now she is enjoying this time with Mulder. They have seldom had the opportunity to simply drive like this, without having to focus on an investigation. She realizes just how much she enjoys being with him. She never wants it to end.

"Tell me about the first time you went out there, Scully," he asks as the night sky slowly begins to segue into dawn.



She closes her eyes and tries to remember the trip itself, but all she can recall is the scenery and the overwhelming feeling of grandeur and freedom. "My dad was transferred back to San Diego when I was in eleventh grade. My high school senior trip was to Tahoe."

He interrupts, "You didn't go to the beach, Scully? I thought that was the required destination for senior trips."

"Mulder, we lived barely five miles from the beach. Anyway, we rented a couple of coaches for the trip, which took forever." She chuckles. "Jimmy Watson kept trying to get his hands up my shirt."

"Oh, really?" He sounds quite amused. "And you shot him down?"

"Who says I did?"

"Lucky him," he says with a laugh.

She decides to play coy for once. "Are you jealous?"

"Why should I be? You're mine now." He reaches for her hand, and she takes it.

The next few miles pass with a smile, then she continues, "I don't remember much else about the trip itself -- just that I loved the mountains and wanted to live up there someday. Hasn't happened, though."

"When my mother's house is sold, I'll have enough money to buy us a condo up in the mountains. Would you like that, Scully?"

She is caught by his words -- to buy them a condo. It speaks of a permanence to their new relationship as lovers. Fear had made her worry that he only meant for them to be together as parents, but now that scenario has become moot. He simply means forever.

She realizes that she wants this very much.

"Yes," she murmurs. "I'd like that."

He is quiet, perhaps realizing just what has taken place between them.

She wants to ask him something, but cannot make herself say the words. Instead, she says, "Back then, I always knew I'd be a doctor. I never expected to join the Bureau, but you know that already." He nods. "I think I knew even back then, though, that I'd have someone like you in my life."

He replies, "I didn't realize it until much later, but I think I knew the same thing the day we first met, Scully."

Although the sun has not yet risen, the eastern sky begins to fill with pinkish light, matching the glow his words have infused in her.

A plan begins to form in her mind.

Later, on the other side of Sacramento, Scully sees a road sign telling her that they are about an hour away from Lake Tahoe. Mulder pulls off the freeway at an exit ramp and she stretches her legs as he fills the gas tank. He sets the latch for auto-pump and glances over at the foothills of the Sierras in the far distance. Wind ruffles his short hair and he squints in the early morning sunlight. She thinks her heart might burst for love of this beautiful man.

Nervousness nearly derails her plan as she enters the well-appointed gas station and looks around for what she needs. Nostalgia draws her toward the pink Sno-Balls on a display, but she passes them by on her way to the candy aisle. She sighs with relief as she finds what she has sought, then goes to the register.

"Sweet tooth?" the clerk asks.

She chuckles and hands him the money as she unwraps the cellophane on her purchase. "I guess so."

When she steps back outside, Mulder is leaning against the passenger side of the car. He looks delicious, and she feels delectable in his hungry gaze. The promise of very satisfying things to come gives her the last bit of courage she needs.

Sidling up to him, she presses her body to his and kisses him long and hard. Although they have not eaten since a fast food stop hours ago, his mouth is candy sweet. She wants to wrap her arms around him, but her hand is closed tight around the prize behind her back.

When she draws away, he raises his brows in a question.

"Mulder," she begins.

"Yes?" He sounds amused by her flirtiness, but she hears a note of confusion in his voice.

Taking her hand from behind her back, she takes his own and places the candy ring pop on the end of his middle finger.

"Marry me."

He freezes, shock on his face.

She has never felt more sure of anything in her life, but her confidence begins to melt as he stares at her, processing her words. Reassuring herself as much as him, she continues, "I want to be with you. Wanting a child brought us together, but now I've realized that it doesn't matter as much as waking up next to you every day for the rest of my life. I want us to grow old together."

The corners of his mouth twitch, and his hand trembles in hers. "Will you marry me, Mulder?" she repeats, desperate to hear him say something, anything, even if it is a politely-worded rejection.

His chest rises and falls with a deep breath, then he says with surety, "Yes."

So this is true happiness, she thinks as her heart fills with joy and wonder. Another car pulls into the gas station, but the world exists solely for the two of them as he pulls her up for another long kiss.

"Yes," he murmurs against her lips.

"Yes," she repeats.

"Aren't I supposed to buy you the ring?" he asks as he stares at the plastic-and-sugar ring on his finger.

She laughs. "When have we ever been conventional, Mulder?"

"True." He joins her laughter.

'Unconventional' certainly suits the situation. Many women dream of their lover proposing on bended knee in a fancy restaurant, with a diamond solitaire sparkling in the candlelight. But she and Mulder are leaning against a rental car at a gas station in the middle of northern California, and the ring she has given him is a 99-cent piece of candy.

This is perfect. She wouldn't want it any other way.

"You're going to be my wife." He looks down at her, blinding love in his eyes.

"And you're going to be my husband." She loves the way that sounds.

He laces their fingers together. "We'll be a family."

She stills, eyes wide despite the early morning sun.

"I didn't mean..." his voice trails away. "The treatments might not have worked, but we have other options, remember? I just want you as my wife and the mother of my children, however they might come."

The shock begins to fade, and she gives him a reassuring half-smile. "It's okay. I know what you meant. But I don't want to talk about that now."

Mulder nods, then leans over and kisses her, his lips warm and beautifully familiar. "Let's get out of here," he whispers against her mouth.

As they merge back onto the interstate, she remembers something in her pocket. "We never did use the Bureau credit card, Mulder."

He chuckles as he glances over his shoulder to check his blind spot. "Think Skinner would mind if I used it to buy you a huge diamond ring?"

"Probably wouldn't be a good idea, no."

A few miles pass as she thinks about this incredible thing that has happened to them. Five months ago they were simply partners, in love but too afraid to admit it to each other. Since then they have become lovers, tried to conceive a child together, and now this has happened.

As if he can read her mind, Mulder murmurs, "Life has a funny way of throwing curveballs, doesn't it?" Perhaps he can read her mind; it would only be fitting.

"I'll step up to the plate with you any day, Mulder."

He laughs, full and throaty, the car swerving a bit with its force.

The peaks of the Sierras begin to peek out from behind the foothills. They are strong and permanent, like Mulder and herself. Behind them, the sun inches up in the sky, beginning a new day. 'Today is the first day of the rest of our lives,' pops into her mind, and she doesn't mind the cliché. She has waited all her life to have this kind of symbiosis with a man.



"Let's do it," she says, her voice strong and sure.

"Do what?" Before she can answer, he says, "Oh, the wedding? Of course we'll do it. Do you want to set a date?"


"Today?" he parrots. "Now? Don't you want--"

"I want *you*." She smiles. "If we wait, we may never do it. How long did it take us just to kiss each other? I don't want you to wear that candy engagement ring for another seven years." This spontaneity is new, but it feels so good.

"I want you too, Scully, but I know how important weddings are to women. Hell, they're important to me too."

She hopes he will not bring up his first wedding ten years ago. She has already accepted it and has no hard feelings, but doesn't want it to intrude on this moment. Fortunately, he doesn't mention it, and she says, "I'm not like other women, Mulder. Weddings are just a ceremony and a party. I'm more interested in the marriage."

"True." He pauses, and she waits for him to continue. "Well, both California and Nevada don't require waiting periods or a blood test. We could get married immediately. Does that sound good to you? It does to me."

She loves how his voice alone can sound like making love.

"Lake Tahoe is beautiful. I can't think of a more perfect place." And she can't. Any place is perfect as long as he is with her.

"You don't have a dress, Scully," he reminds her.

She glances down at her light sweater and jeans. "I don't need one. That's not me. Though, if we wanted something more appropriate for our relationship, I might as well pull out one of my suits."

He laughs. "Don't do that. You look beautiful just the way you are."

"You do too." She reaches over and places her hand over his. He takes it off the steering wheel and once again laces their fingers together. The candy ring perches on his other hand, shining in the dawn light.

Mountain Shore Lodge
South Lake Tahoe, CA
May 18, 2000

At a quarter after seven on Thursday morning, Scully and Mulder stand on the banks of Lake Tahoe as the county justice of the peace pronounces them husband and wife.

He feels lighter than air, exhilarated and amazed that this is happening. That they have overcome fear and failure and misunderstandings to stand here together, committing their lives to one another. He has finally found pure, honest happiness in this chaotic world in which they live, and she is the one who has given it to him. She is the only one who can ever make him feel this way.

The civil servant smiles as Mulder kisses his bride. He and Scully are both barefoot on the beach, and he pulls her up slightly to meet his mouth. Although she is nearly a head shorter than him as they stand, barefoot in the sand, she feels larger than life. The scenery is magnificent but it melts away with the touch of her tongue against his.

Yesterday was a blur of preparations. As they stood in the county clerk's office and waited for the paperwork to be filed, she browsed through the dozens of wedding chapel brochures, most of them too tacky to contemplate. He laughed as she showed him a pamphlet touting western-themed weddings at "The Authentic Ponderosa Ranch." Rolling his eyes, he murmured, "Well, we all know what happens to a Cartwright bride."

Scully laughed and said, "I think we already have all the risk we need in our lives."

A few minutes later, she paused and handed him one offering ceremonies on the lake shore. She didn't need to say a word. It was perfect.

They had to pay double the usual fee to get the owners to agree on such short notice, but now the manager and his wife serve as their witnesses as the sun rises over the Sierra Nevadas. The Barclays have recommended a wonderful local restaurant for a romantic breakfast, which will serve as the reception while Scully calls her mother with the news; she hadn't wanted to call Margaret earlier, lest her mother try to talk them into a more formal ceremony back in D.C. This is what he and Scully want, and it is perfect.

Her back is warm in the early morning sun as he continues to kiss her, tracing the strength of her spine. Though they are barefoot, he wears a gray suit and she is in a simple white slip dress she found at a boutique in town, a shawl around her shoulders to ward off the dawn chill. It is perhaps less traditionally romantic than tulle and satin, but it fits her body and spirit like a glove. Their only concessions to tradition are his boutonniere and the mountain lilies pinned in her hair, and the gold bands now on their fingers.

Simple people, simple wedding. They don't need pomp and a bevy of spectators to validate their marriage; having her here with him is truth enough.

"You are my everything, Mulder," she whispers, her words filling his mouth like honey. He has always known she has the soul of a poet, deep down beneath the pragmatism and calm.

And she is his everything. She is his wife.


Scully's Apartment
Washington, D.C.
August 3, 2000

Scully slips off her shoes and settles into the century-old Queen Anne chair.

The creation of mahogany and cornflower upholstery has been passed to three generations since her great-grandmother bought it for her first home in America. Although it is not very comfortable, Scully needs its history and stability now. It has survived ages. She needs to be reminded that she will too.

A hand on her slightly-curved stomach reminds her of the generations to come.

Though she can never be certain, she now believes their child was conceived on the night she and Mulder made love in this chair. They had made a commitment to one another over a bottle of wine, then came home and made a baby together.

That moment will carry her through the days, months, years to come. Memories of touching his skin, seeing his smile, sliding a ring on his finger.

Today she wears widow's black for the funeral, but nobody knows the true significance behind it but herself and her mother. Margaret Scully mourns Mulder just as deeply as a son-in-law as she has as a dear friend. Perhaps someday she will share the story of that morning at Lake Tahoe with the world, but not yet. It is her and Mulder's beautiful secret. The world knows too much of their lives; the most perfect moment of her life is something she wants to keep to herself.

Scully pulls the green candy and plastic ring out of her pocket. Although Mulder had been unclothed when they discovered him, she found the ring on the forest floor next to him. Of all the things for his abductors to return, they would choose the one that appeared to have the least significance, but which she would guard and treasure the rest of her life.

Glancing over at her bedside table, she sees the framed photograph of their wedding. Displaying it is her boldest move, but then nobody has entered her bedroom since Mulder. Through squinting eyes she sees two people in love, smiling at each other against a backdrop of mountains and a cool spring morning.

She rubs her stomach with her free hand, and thinks of the child who will never know her or his father. Eight years of dear memories to share in bits and pieces with their child, whispered over cups of morning juice or a bedtime story.

Perhaps the first memory she will share is of the precious few days when she and Mulder were truly happy.



Authors' Notes:
We owe beta thanks to a lot of people. To Blackwood and Narida Law for squeezing us into their busy schedules. To Jintian, Kristy, and Mish for sticking with us through the whole saga. And to Musea, for keeping it real.

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