Author: Janet F. Caires-Lesgold
e-mail: jfc@freeshell.org
Feedback: Please, to the above address!
Archive: By permission only!
Rating: R for language and implications of same sex interaction
Category: SAR/Caution: Intermittent schmoop warnings!
Spoilers: Not really any, but assumes existence of all episodes through middle of season seven EXCEPT FOR the "Biogenesis" arc and "Millennium". "Sein und Zeit" and "Closure" haven't happened yet, in any case. That AU territory thing is still in effect, folks, as if you couldn't tell!
Timeframe: Takes place six months after "Before the Parade Passes By".
Keywords: M/K slash-lite, and appearances by nearly everyone else!
Summary: New Year's Eve brings everybody together. Sequel to "Arrows of Desire", "Singing in the Dead of Night", and "Before the Parade Passes By"--you probably need to read those first.

DISCLAIMER: These characters belong to Chris Carter, 1013 Productions, and the whole X-Files gang, not to me. This story is just for the entertainment of my online friends and myself, not for any profit.

DEDICATION: For Leah and Tiff and the troops.

COPYRIGHT: (C) March 14, 2000, Janet F. Caires-Lesgold, jfc@freeshell.org

Please don't redistribute or alter this story in any way without the express permission of the author. Thank you very much.



Scully's invitation had read "Bring somebody to kiss at midnight! If you do not have one, a kissee will be provided for you!" Only Scully could make inviting you to her house sound like you were being arrested and Mirandized. But my partner was throwing a party on the last night of the 1900s--the least I could do was go and wear my best suit for the judge, whoever that might be.

Besides, dressing up gave me a chance to wear the tie she'd given me for Christmas (solid green to bring out my eyes, according to her) and unobtrusively hold it in place with Alex's tiny silver house tie tack. Call me a sentimental old sod, but I'd found a way to wear that thing every day since he'd given it to me over the summer. It had been stabbed through every one of my ties, both the garish and the tasteful (you'll have to ask Scully to differentiate them for you--I have no clue), and a plethora of sweater and t-shirt necklines and polo collars. It rode happily along on the crown of any one of my ballcaps, and once proudly on my warm-up jacket when I did a triathlon. I guess you could call me a marked man.

So why was I going stag to Scully's New Year's Eve party, destined to be paired to the "kissee" of Scully's choice? Why do you think? I might be tagged as belonging exclusively to an elusive little rat, but I could only spend time with him when and where he chose, mostly by dint of his shady employment. I'd learned early in our relationship that I needn't bother retaining his e-mail address longer than a week, because he always wrote me from an anonymous account that bounced back my replies as undeliverable if it had taken me longer than three days to read and respond to him. Snail mail with no return address was automatically from him, as were express envelopes from any one of a half-dozen MailBoxes, Etc., locations across the country. It was like being romanced by Dr. Richard Kimble.

I actually had not laid eyes on Alex Krycek since he'd seen me off at O'Hare the day after the Gay Pride Parade. While I thought I knew what it was like to miss him that day he'd run off from the hospital, I soon learned just how alone I could feel without him as the months crept by, my spirits buoyed only by those infrequent mailings, cryptic electronic messages, or more-valuable-than-ivory (not to mention rarer) phone calls. I'd learned by my father's example that attempting to cope with one's losses with alcohol just brought about more and more damaging losses, so I sidestepped my genetic heritage of becoming a wretched, lonely drunk. Instead, I became a wretched, lonely beer connoisseur who only occasionally found himself crying in his suds. However, I did retain my father's assessment of New Year's Eve as "amateur night", so I actively sought out any excuse to avoid getting plastered alone on December thirty-first, and Scully's wingding sounded like this year's perfect excuse.

It was hard to decide what to take to this party--chips 'n' dip was such a "bachelor dish", but the best I could do after spending most of Christmas week in New England with my mom. I had stood in the liquor store for a good twenty minutes trying to choose an interesting-looking brew that didn't sound like it should have a pink triangle on the label. Scully's voice deriding the cranberry lambic I took to her Labor Day cookout as "queer beer" still rang in my head, and I didn't relish a repeat of that event. Finally, dressed to the nines and bearing blue corn tortilla chips, high-octane salsa, and a six-pack of a good British import, I buzzed Scully's doorbell.

The hubbub emanating through her walls became more sharp as she opened the door, punctuated by a basso profundo laugh from Walter Skinner somewhere within her apartment. My hostess looked both smaller and brighter than usual, every curve accentuated by a high-necked, long-sleeved sparkly royal blue cocktail dress that barely covered her ass, her eyes shimmering from glitter-flecked eye shadow and possibly an early start to the champagne. "Hi, sweetie," she chimed, grabbing my bags from my hands and pressing her cheek up to mine, kissing the air next to my ear. Definitely champagne. "Coats go in the guest bedroom--I assume you can find that yourself?"

"Yep. You look great..."

Her grin grew bigger, if that were possible. "Thank you, Mulder! So do you! What do I need to do with these?" she asked, hoisting the bags she'd taken from me.

"Beer in the fridge if it'll fit. I'll come put out the chips and salsa myself once I put down my coat..."

She made a noise like the erupting of carbonation from a beer bottle being opened with a church key. "Nonsense! You're a guest. Go be a guest!" With a dismissive wave, she disappeared into the kitchen.

I had to excuse myself to three different total strangers in the narrow hallway on my way to the extra bedroom. Not having to meet 'n' greet people just yet gave me a moment to think. Scully wasn't thinking of being my "kissee" come midnight, was she? Or worse, was she hoping to get me to kiss her at midnight *and* stay over? True, when she was drunk she got more flirty than usual, so she was probably just drunk. The idea did make me regret the passage of a few years, though. That little fireball, I thought--if only she'd wound herself up like this in front of me just two years ago, I might have still fallen for her charms and considered myself lucky. (Or stupid, depending upon how she'd reacted the next morning.) Too late now, I recollected, with a rueful smile: among his other crimes, Krycek had stolen away Scully's last-chance date. I checked my hair in the bureau mirror and straightened my shoulders for my solo flight at this couples party.

As I turned down the hall back out to the rest of the party, I nearly smacked right into another Scully. "Fox!" Maggie cried, her delight at running into me evident from the light in her eyes.

"Mom Scully," I greeted her, squeezing her shoulders warmly and pressing her cheek not unlike the way her daughter had just done to me.

"*Maggie*, please!" she insisted, pushing me away playfully. Before I could say more, she reached out into the hall and dragged a tall, chiseled, impossibly blond forty-something man in the door behind her. "Fox, I want to introduce you to someone. Fox Mulder, I'd like you to meet Dale Warren."

"Dale," I repeated, shaking a strong hand and being regarded by ice blue eyes.

"Fox," he replied, his voice by contrast warm and scratchy like a heavy blanket.

"Dale's very active in our church, Fox." Maggie sounded like a doting mother--*his* doting mother. No, more like *my* doting mother, trying to fix me up.

"Funny," I joked, trying to let go of his hand, "you don't look like a priest."

This earned me a too-earnest laugh from Dale and an appreciative titter from Maggie. He gripped my hand once more, then moved to help Maggie off with her coat. "I like him," he stage-whispered to her, making sure that I could hear him. "He's funny."

Grinning uncomfortably, I waved silently and sidled out of the room at last. I was eager to lose myself in the noise and laughter echoing to my ears, trying not to jump to any conclusions that weren't patently obvious. The stereo cranked out twenty-year-old jazz by Steely Dan, and the television quietly displayed images of fireworks in some foreign capital's inaccurately named "Millennium" celebration.

My three favorite computer nerds sat in a row on the sofa, dressed not much more formally than they ever did and staring glumly at the TV screen.

"Hi, guys," I addressed them, perching on the arm of the side chair near Frohike, who had put an extra coat of pomade in his hair, thrown a threadbare blazer over his leather vest, and apparently bathed in Brut.

"Hey, that's Vivian's chair," he warned, trying to shoo me away.

"Vivian?" I pondered, picturing a lady truck driver with visible tattoos or a streetwalker in a flea-infested platinum wig and baggy fishnets.

"Did I hear my name?" a dulcet voice cooed behind me.

I turned and stood to find myself eye-to-eye with a girl who could have put Misses September through December to shame. Red leather boots with stiletto heels stretched up her calves to graze her sumptuous knees, leaving a few acres of creamy thigh exposed between their tops and the hem of her matching red leather miniskirt. The ensemble was topped off by a bustier in the same material, but stretched to its limits trying to contain her ample bosom. Her bare shoulders were kept warm by mounds of silken brunette curls that curved past her Hepburnesque neck to frame her exquisite face perfectly.

"Boys," chanted a tiny elfin voice somewhere inside my brain. "You like *boys*!"

Forcing myself to close my gaping mouth, I manufactured a civilized smile and introduced myself to the vision standing before me. "How do you do, Vivian? I'm Fox Mulder. Are you a friend of Scully's?"

A steel-booted toe jabbed the back of my calf at the instant she laughed like a gentle breeze through a crystal chandelier. "Oh, no. I just met her tonight. She's sweet. Melvin said I'd like her..."

"Melvin?" I marveled. Stealing a quick glance at Frohike, I mouthed silently and incredulously, "She's your *date*?"

He raised himself to his full height somewhere near my elbow. "Yeah," he growled, not even gloating, "I met her online. And they say increased 'net usage reduces interpersonal interaction..." Reaching up to take her arm, he escorted her gently away, presumably to keep the sight of my eyeballs falling out of my head from disturbing his consort. "Come on, honey. Let's go get another daiquiri."

I fell into his recently-vacated spot on the sofa as if someone had taken the bones out of my legs. Langly, in a black t-shirt imprinted with a photograph of a mushroom cloud, took in my dumbfounded expression and remarked, "I know what you're thinkin'..."

"You do? What?"

"You bet she's just after his money..." He upended his beer bottle into his mouth, then let out a hearty belch. "So, Mulder, you mean *you* don't have a date to this unforgettable soiree?"

I shot a dirty look through his smudged hornrims, aware that he knew perfectly well that I was dating nobody but Alex, who was God knows where. "No," I mumbled back at him through gritted teeth, "I don't."

Standing up suddenly, he announced, "I recommend: heavy drinking! More beer..." he explained as he stepped over the coffee table and wove into the throng of attendees between him and the buffet.

Casting a glance over at Byers, who wore his trademark charcoal grey suit with a white shirt and low-key tie, I found myself aping his desolate pose against the opposite end of the sofa. "What do you hear from Suzanne?" I asked innocently.

His head pivoted towards me as if his neck was the only mobile portion of his anatomy. Uncharacteristically, he snarled, "What's it to ya?" before he turned back to stare blankly at the silent television.

Well, I guessed we were in the same boat tonight, and he didn't want to be reminded of that fact. "Sorry I asked," I apologized weakly, focusing on the television myself and trying to tune out the partygoers around us.

Unfortunately, our circle of solitude was suddenly invaded by one Walter Skinner, who plopped firmly into the armchair at my side, still chuckling at a previous conversation. "Happy New Year, Mulder!" he chortled, his eyes twinkling freely, as he'd left his glasses at home. He practically looked like a different person than my dour, businesslike boss in his sharkskin suit and a black satin shirt.

"Having fun, sir?" I asked hesitantly.

"Oh, come on, Mulder! Drop the "sir"! It's a party!" As he leaned over to slap my knee cordially, my eye was drawn to the tendrils of chest hair that poked intriguingly from his open collar. I found myself swallowing hard and trying to tear my gaze back to his face when he turned away and shouted across the room, "Kim!"

The strawberry blonde teetered over in nosebleed heels and a narrow slip of a dress, also quite out of her secretary uniform. The big man tugged on her wrist until she dropped awkwardly but comfortably across his lap, making her giggle delightedly as he nuzzled her nearest ear.

So the office romance was out in the open. Some of the more observant around the Bureau had rumored that they'd been doing the deed years ago, but this was the first evidence I'd gotten on my own of their liaison. They were tipsy and a bit loud, but I had to admit that they made a cute couple. Before I started considering just how cute Skinner was looking to me at the moment, I excused myself and stalked off to the kitchen to find some of my beer.

I threaded my way through the small clutches of unfamiliar faces, assuming that Scully was more sociable around the office than I was and knew all of these people when I didn't. Then it occurred to me that some of them could have been from her church, or authentic friends. Not everybody limits their social circles to work and a few pathetic acquaintances, I berated myself.

Scully's kitchen was a flurry of activity, with several women arranging hors d'oeuvres on platters and running the blender. I opened the fridge and found my offering, which was still not so cold as to taste inauthentic. As I straightened up and shut the door, I could have sworn a couple of the girls giggled as if they'd been copping a gander at my ass. Before I could get a good look at them, they turned and carried their trays out to the food table, leaving me wondering if I might find any of them suitable midnight partners, assuming that Scully was planning on testing my patience by pairing me up with a person of the female persuasion. However, this *was* a large gathering, full of people from several sources, so perhaps she was planning things to make for nice, family-oriented appearances.

As if to prevent me from speculating any further on this notion, Maggie came sweeping in, a nearly-empty plate in hand. Upon spying me there, she plunked her dish down on the counter and linked her arm in the one of mine that wasn't holding a bottle of beer.

"So, Fox," she began, cordially, "I understand you spent Christmas up north? How's your mom doing?"

Sighing inwardly at her safe choice of conversational topics, I replied, "Fine, I think. She's slowing down a little..."

She chuckled warmly. "Oh, but aren't we all?"

I had to smile in response. "I guess so. I mean, it must be hard for her all by herself up there. I try to go up as often as I can, but with work and all..." My voice trailed off guiltily, knowing just how Maggie must feel when I stole Scully away to risk her life time and time again, leaving her home alone to wonder and worry.

"I'm sure..." She paused, as if changing tapes in her head, then started a new topic. "Tell me: what do you think of Dale?"

Oh, brother. I was pretty sure that Maggie knew that I was gay, especially after all these years of leaving her daughter untouched, but I couldn't bear the thought of her bringing some studmuffin over for my consideration. Fumbling about so I could let her down gently, I began, "Well, he seems like a nice enough guy, but..."

Just then, Mr. Nordically Hunky stuck his head into the kitchen, eyes practically turning solid white when he spotted us together. "Oh, there you are!" he called, sounding thrilled, and strode up to us in two huge steps. I was about to demur the moment Maggie planned to leave us alone, but then Dale surprised me by saying to her, "Come on. We need a fourth for bridge. Are you game?"

Her eyes brightened several lumens, but dimmed slightly when she turned to me. "Oh, I'm sorry, Fox! I'd love to stay and chat, but Dale and I *adore* bridge. I hope you'll excuse me!"

My mouth still must have been hanging open a few moments later when my partner bustled in with both hands carefully clutching empty glasses by the tops. "Whatcha doin', Mulder?" she asked amusedly. "Catchin' flies?"

Shaking myself, I put down my beer and hurried to help her set down her burden. "Sorry, Scully, but I think I'm confused..."

She turned to add the glasses I'd taken to the dishwasher and cocked her eyebrow at me. "So, this is different from your usual state how?" she joked.

Bending my mouth to her ear conspiratorially, I whispered, "What's the deal with your mom and this Dale fellow? Is she trying to fix me up or what?"

Ordinarily, I enjoyed hearing Scully laugh, but she didn't ordinarily burst out guffawing at what seemed to be my expense. "You're kidding, right?" she choked, straightening up and shutting the appliance door. "Dale is my mother's *boyfriend*, Mulder. You thought he was *gay*? Oh, that's rich! I'll have to tell her you said that!"

"No, no, please don't!" I begged. "This isn't funny! I could have really embarrassed myself..."

She wiped delicately at the corner of her eye with a cocktail napkin in an attempt to avoid mussing her makeup. "Come on, Mulder. You've gotta admit it's pretty funny! You didn't *say* anything, did you?"

"Not at all, but I was starting to feel pretty uncomfortable. Isn't he sorta young for her?" I hinted, trying to turn her focus away from my near faux pas.

Composed again at last, she replied, "Yes, but he's good to her. He's good *for* her, actually... She needed somebody to spice up her life, and he makes her happy. I figure it's not my place to argue, you know? I'm sorry I laughed at you, Mulder," she comforted, patting the back of my hand before she turned to the fridge.

Two unidentified ladies came into the kitchen, dropping their paper plates into the trash and preventing me from accepting Scully's apology. "Hey, Dana," one of them piped up, "isn't J.J. coming?"

Scully's face was suddenly transformed, making me understand that she wasn't talking about a casual acquaintance. "Oh, I forgot to tell you guys: J.J. called to say that session was running long. By ten-thirty--that's all I know."

The girls nodded knowingly and exited in a joint giggle. Meanwhile, I found myself staring at the partner I thought I knew. So she wasn't all dolled up for *my* benefit, I realized with seriously mixed emotions. At last I couldn't stand it any longer. "J.J.? Who's J.J.?"

It was now her turn to catch flies. She blinked awkwardly, then reluctantly caught my gaze with her own. "I'm sorry, Mulder, but I guess I should have said something before. You see, I've met someone..."

I was momentarily thrown by this revelation, but could tell that she was primarily afraid that I'd accuse her of keeping secrets from me, not that I might be jealous. Smiling to try to put her mind at ease, I answered, "Really? This is a surprise--a *nice* surprise, but a surprise. Tell me more... Like, for example, how long has this been going on?"

A wave of relief seemed to wash over her as she spoke. "A couple of months now. I'm sorry, but it just never seemed to be the right time to tell you. I knew that if nothing else, I'd be able to introduce you tonight. J.J.'s a lawyer, but I think you two will get along great. You've got a lot in common..."

Somehow that fact didn't surprise me in the least. She stood before me, visibly yearning for my approval like a teenager introducing her first beau to her daddy. Opening my arms, I gathered her close for a warm hug. "I'm happy for you, Scully! I hope you've found your one true love..."

She snuggled affectionately against my chest, perilously close to scraping her cheek on my tie tack. "After *you*, right?"

Startled, I stared down at her, wondering if she'd meant what she'd said.

Tipping her head back and grinning playfully, she added, "I'm *kidding*!" She chuckled happily and gave me one more squeeze before releasing me to go back to her party-hosting responsibilities. I kept standing in the middle of the kitchen, slightly stunned, making her glance back at me curiously. "Thank you for being okay with this... You *are* okay with this, aren't you?"

"Oh, sure," I assured her, not one-hundred percent sure myself. "Let me know when J.J. gets here--I wanna be first in line to meet the one who stole your heart!"

She gave me a glorious smile as I left the kitchen with dozens of pictures of possible J.J.s churning through my head. Would he be tall, short, old, young, Asian, black? What did the "Js" stand for anyway? James Joseph? Jeremy Jacob? Jeffrey John? I knew I had absolutely no right to feel that way, but as I tried to visualize the man that Scully wanted me to meet, I realized that I *was* a little jealous, after all... While I had given my heart to another, did I expect her to spend the rest of her days alone, bemoaning her loss and what could have been? Perhaps I needed to shut myself in the bathroom for a few minutes to compose myself...

Unfortunately, someone had beaten me to it, as the door was shut and locked. Leaning against the wall opposite the door, I waited my turn. It didn't take long for the lock to click and the knob to turn, the door opening to reveal a smiling Skinner.

Before I could move to step into the room he was leaving, he warned me, "I wouldn't go in there just yet!" He shut the door behind him and grinned at me, then wandered back to the party.

Not quite sure what to do next, I shuffled my feet for a moment before holding my breath and trying the doorknob. To my surprise, the door opened more easily than I expected, because there pulling the door from within was a slightly disheveled and very happy-looking Kim.

"Oh, Agent Mulder!" she flustered. "Hi! We're done now! It's all yours!" She stumbled to put on a shoe, then followed her paramour out into the main room.

Shutting myself in the bathroom, I noticed a wadded pair of nylon pantyhose on top of the tissues in the wastebasket and realized that my boss and his girlfriend had a distinctly just-been-fucked look about them. I shook my head, marveling at the romances blooming right under my nose, and trying very hard not to feel sorry for myself that mine seemed by comparison more like a fondly remembered but distant affair.

During the next hour or so, I paced my beer consumption and grazed lightly from the fabulous spread Scully had laid out for her guests. I played a few hands of bridge, then found myself in an animated discussion with Dale about the relative merits of the Knicks and the Lakers. Somebody put some dance music on the stereo, and chairs were cleared out of the way to make room to take advantage of it. Despite my single status, I was starting to have a little fun, shaking my groove thing with first one, then another of Scully's friends, moving on to her mom, and eventually even our hostess herself.

Frohike, still attended by his arm candy in red leather, held my attention for some time drunkenly arguing about Bill Gates' plot to take over the world, and I was genuinely enjoying bickering with him on the topic. Suddenly, the chatter in the room was pierced by Scully shrieking, "J.J.!" when the front door opened out of my view. I excused myself from the Gunman's incoherent rant and wove through the assembled guests to find Scully and introduce myself to her new flame.

The crowd parted before me to reveal a pair of happily liplocked women, whom I didn't notice at first as I scanned the group for a guy who looked like a lawyer. Soon the couple separated, whereupon I was shocked to note that one of them was Scully, and that J.J. was female.

My partner, my best friend, the lady who once could have qualified as the love of my life stood before me, breathless and starry-eyed, saying, "Fox Mulder, this is J.J. Devyanathan, my, um... my..."

J.J. elbowed her gently out of the way, smiling with her hand outstretched, and said, "I'm her girlfriend. Dana's told me a lot about you, Mr. Mulder..."

"Just Mulder, J.J. It's a pleasure to meet you." I shook her hand and gave her as thorough a once-over as she was giving me. Not two inches taller than Scully, she would have had to be soaking wet to weigh nearly as much. Dark brown hair cut into a pixie cap matched her huge dark eyes that shone with intelligence and humor from her warm olive-toned face. She wore a black velvet suit that at once contrasted and complimented Scully's bright blue dress, and I saw immediately how perfect they looked together.

Pleasantries exchanged, I let Scully steer J.J. down a veritable receiving line of people who'd been waiting to greet her. What was it that Phillip Padgett had said in the jail that day? Ah, yes... "Agent Scully is already in love." How conceited was I to think that he might have meant that she was secretly in love with *me*? Besides, all evidence suggested that only now was that statement finally true. Scully was gabbing a mile a minute, glowing like a miniature supernova, conditions that I'd never seen in all the time I'd known her.

I had to admit to myself that I was surprised to see her this way over another woman, but that was probably just preconceptions on my part. Was this how Scully had felt the morning that Alex had first been hurt when she'd stumbled into my bathroom and discovered us in a naked clinch? Despite being spoken for, I couldn't help feeling left out, like I'd missed a chance that I was never going to get again. Of course I was happy for Scully, happy for them both if this was true love or whatever. Why the hell did the sight of the two of them together make me feel that much sorrier for myself?

As they contrasted so severely with the ones all around me, I didn't want anyone to see the emotions painting my face right then. Deciding to go out for a breath of air, I headed down to the guest bedroom to grab my coat. On my return trip, I heard voices coming from inside the bathroom. Skinner and Kim had already left for another party, so I paused to listen for a moment to satisfy my curiosity.

"Yeah, I'm good." That was Langly. "Go ahead and put it in there..."

"Okay. Are you sure?" Byers? What were *they* doing in there?

"Sure, come on. You'll feel better, I'll feel better..." Was one of them sick? Was the other one helping?

I certainly hoped that the door was locked, and that nobody noticed me listening so intently outside it. Indistinguishable noises came to my ear, so I tuned out the party noises around me in an effort to identify them. Were they getting high? I couldn't smell any pot smoke, so discounted that activity. I was pretty sure that neither of them were into coke, either, so couldn't imagine just what was going on.

Byers let out a groan, but it didn't sound like one prompted by any kind of distress.

While I tried to process that, an entirely new image formed in my mind at Langly's next impassioned whisper: "Ohhhh, pretty boy... Do me harder..."

Stepping back from the door, I'm sure I blinked dimly for a moment while I fully grasped the probable scene on the other side. Langly had told me that he found Krycek attractive the day he'd volunteered to Alex-sit during his recuperation at my apartment, so I *knew* that he went for guys, at least part of the time. By contrast, I guessed that Byers had his ways of handling his own loneliness that was beneficial for them both. While I was glad and a little envious that they could take comfort in one another like that, I made a mental note not to set my plate down on the vanity counter later...

As unobserved as possible, I made my way to the front door, only to hear a very familiar voice ask me quietly, "You're not leaving, are you, Mulder?"

I turned to find Scully staring at me with huge, sad eyes. Reaching out to give her shoulder a reassuring squeeze, I answered, "No, of course not. I just need to step outside for a few minutes..."

A frown of concern crossed her face as she placed her hand on top of mine. "Are you okay? I mean, is *this* more than you can handle?" She gestured back in J.J.'s general direction without attracting her attention.

Giving her a small, hesitant smile, I replied, "No, Scully. I want you to have anything that makes you happy. Does she make you happy?"

The stars returned to her eye as she sighed, "Oh, yes--more than I've been in a long time."

"Then I'm happy *for* you." Letting go of her shoulder, I shrugged into my coat and added, "I'm just having a bad night. I'll be back soon, I promise."

She opened the door for me, smiling broadly. "Well, make sure you are. You've got to be here at midnight for the big kiss!"

With a resigned exhalation, I nodded as she shut the door behind me. The sounds of televisions, laughter, and dishes came from each of the apartments I passed on the way to the front door of Scully's building. When I was outside, I let the door close, then stayed on the stoop and leaned up against the outside wall as I dug my gloves out of my pockets and put them on. No cars or pedestrians passed by, and the neighborhood felt like every living creature on earth was hibernating until spring.

The moon had been at its fullest a week and a half earlier, so a bare sliver hung in the sky, leaving the stars plenty of darkness to fill in its absence. The crystalline surface of the recent snow refracted the light of the nearby streetlamps into tiny earthbound stars, as well. I huffed out a breath that I could see in the cold, looking like the last warm cloud escaping from my body to leave it completely alone at the end of the world.

Some small animal, maybe a squirrel or a winter bird, stirred the branches of one of the tall pine bushes off to my right, and I stepped off the scraped path and into the snow to see what it had been. The ice crunched under my feet, but I could have sworn that I felt another person out here in the winterland. I looked behind me, but saw nothing, whereupon a voice just behind the shrubbery startled me by saying,

"Lemme guess: *You* can't stand that damned Guy Lombardo song, either."

Before I could go for my gun, the shadows resolved themselves into the familiar silhouette of Alex Krycek, smiling like he was looking at the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen. Rather than ask him what that could be, I leaped into his arms quite enthusiastically.

"Alex! My God, you're here!" The endorphins of relief and arousal swept through my bloodstream, leaving me quite giddy.

His good hand grabbed my head to position it better to kiss me warmly and solidly.

"Damn, it's good to see you, baby!" I gushed as soon as I could catch my breath.

"I couldn't let the end of days come without seeing you one more time. You know that..."

Holding him at arm's length, I gazed at him quizzically. "Wait. Do you know something...?"

He wrinkled up his nose sweetly and chortled at my credulity. "I'm yanking your chain, gorgeous. You're so much fun to tease. Or have I been away so long that you forgot about that?"

"Could be, could be... Better kiss me again to make up for lost time." He obliged without further ado, replacing the flavor of English ale in my mouth with his own rich vintage. When we broke again to stare into one another's eyes passionately, I braved asking, "So, how long are you here this time?"

"A couple days. I wanted to give you your Christmas present in person."

"This is the best present I could have hoped for, Alex! I got you a little something, but I don't think it can compare. It's at home..."

"Yours is right here," he offered, digging in his pocket.

"Oh, man, I didn't mean you had to give me a real present! It's special enough just having you here!" A tiny slip of paper, about the size of a fortune cookie fortune and bearing a series of numerals, was placed into my upturned palm. I looked at the unpunctuated string for a moment. "What's this?"

"What do you think it is?"

"I don't know. A password for a computer program. A Swiss bank account number. The combination to your high school locker. I don't know, Alex. Give me a hint."

He rolled his eyes impatiently and asked, "How many digits is it, Mulder?"

Counting quickly, I replied, "Ten," then was struck by realization. "This is your phone number, isn't it?"

Smiling earnestly, he nodded. "No matter when you need to talk to me, you can call that number, and they will find me. No one else has that number. It's your private access number to me. Guard it with your life."

For a moment, I thought I might cry with joy. Instead, I dug out my wallet and tucked the number deeply inside, reciting the memorized sequence in my head. "Thank you, love. I don't think the CDs I picked out for you could possibly compare to this."

"That's okay," he assured me, taking me in his arms once again. "I wanted you to have it. The past six months without you has been hard on me, too. I love you, you know."

"I think I knew that, since I love you, too. C'mere, you prick..." Once again, I lost myself in his kiss, at least until something not very heavy hit me lightly in the middle of my back. I turned and looked for the projectile, finding only the crumbled remains of a snowball at my feet.

Langly's voice called out from the front stoop, "Merry Christmas, Mulder! Now you can't say I didn't get you anything!"

Bending and straightening quickly, I grabbed up a handful of snow, pressed it together, and flung it at his head. "You doofus! This was *your* idea?"

He let the snowball crash into his shoulder, then cocked a thumb behind him. "I just worked out the mechanics. It was *her* idea to bring him here!" He stepped aside to reveal Scully smiling warmly from the hood of a goosedown parka.

Turning to Alex for confirmation, I was astounded to find him nodding in concurrence.

"I *said* I'd find you somebody to kiss at midnight, Mulder!" Scully laughed. "I just wanted who it was to be a surprise!"

My mouth dropped open in shock. "You mean mine was the only invitation that said that part?"

"Yep," answered Langly, grinning. "Ain't computers wonderful?"

I picked up another clump of snow and took aim, but Scully hopped into my line of fire and let it hit her back before jumping off of the stoop and beginning to make her own snowballs. Langly ran back inside for the plastic snowball-making tool Scully had bought for her nephews' visits, so Alex could join in, and soon everyone who was left at the party came straggling out in their nice clothes and coats to join in the fray.

Alex may very well have kissed me at midnight that night, but nobody was paying particular attention to the exact time, and I can't say that we minded one bit.



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