Disclaimer: Mulder and Scully belong to Chris Carter and 1013 productions.

Author's Note: An answer to Lori's challenge to use one of the following words at the last word in a story: crumb, odds, corollary, clock, mambo or boobs. Feedback welcome at seemag1@yahoo.com


Day Fifteen. Lake Tahoe.

I'm not sure why I expect Tahoe to be different from any of the other places we've been to. I'm not talking about scenery, because that, this is us, and we're here because Tahoe is on the way to, well, I don't even know anymore. But our routine, the one we've fallen into for the last fifteen days remains unchanged. Drive to a sagging hotel, drag our suitcases and tired bodies into the hotel room, and collapse. Somewhere between arrival and bedtime, dinner. Mulder finds something, usually from a convenience store, usually high in calories and cholesterol.

"They don't have tofu at the Seven-Eleven," Mulder says now as he dumps our lunch on the table. Hot dogs and sodas. I grimace. "And no diet yogurt either. But they do have Ramen noodles, sixteen cartons for a buck, all varieties."

I shudder at the thought.

"Just once, " I tell him, "I'd like to go to a nice restaurant. I want to dress up, Mulder. I want to talk about something other than the weather and I'd like to see people who live normal lives, Mulder. I want to do all of this before I forget what it's like. Just once I'd like a meal that doesn't come from the Seven-Eleven."

Mulder sits down in front of me, his hands covering mine. "The Seven-Eleven is convenient, Scully. It's part of the very bedrock of American civilization, the model of free enterprise, capitalism at its finest moment. It's our civic duty to support the Seven-Eleven."

"Even though you'd never step foot inside of one in DC?" I ask.

"I never fully appreciated the Seven-Eleven for what it is, for what it means, until now," Mulder replies easily.

I arch an eyebrow at him, understanding what he doesn't want to say. Aliens don't seem to hang out in convenience stores, but no doubt, they are at every high class restaurant and hotel in this country.

"That very well could be the case," I say. I lift my Big Slurpy. "And grateful as I am for all that the Seven-Eleven provides, Mulder, I do need - want - more than this. Something other than - " I glare at the hotdog on my paper plate - "reconstituted insides of God only knows what."

Mulder considers. "All right, Scully," he says quietly. "Tonight. We'll go out."

Our hotel today is nestled among the pine trees and the room is a welcome change from the endless parades of browns; lavender, white and light green are the colors of choice. They are strangely soothing as I flop backwards on the bed, sprawling across the width of it. I kick off my shoes and close my eyes, waiting for the nightmares to come.

They're the same, these nightmares. I dream of eyes bleeding black, of cancer invading my body, of a man smoking through a tube in his throat, of a drop of red blood against a white sink, of men who cannot die, of explosions, of a baby with Mulder's eyes. These images, they're all mixed together, a mental tattoo to go with the Ouroboros on the small of my back.

"Scully?" Mulder's hand is gentle on my shoulder.

I open one eye. The drapes are drawn across the windows. "Tell me you've found rice cakes at the Seven-Eleven and I'll be content."

"We've got dinner reservations."

I sit up abruptly. "What?" I glance at the little travel alarm clock sitting on the bedtable. It's just after 6:30 in the evening. I was out for a good two hours. "You're serious?"

"A promise is a promise, Scully." His fingers are light against my cheek. "Dinner at eight and dancing after that."

"Dinner *and* dancing?" I put my arms around him, pulling him close. "Mulder? Are you all right?"

He grins at me. "Like I said, Scully. A promise is a promise."

"I didn't think you were serious. What if *someone* sees us?"

"Then they see us and poof, we're dead." Mulder squeezes my hand. "Tonight, you, me, and we'll leave the conspiracy theories here. Sound good to you?"

I roll off the bed quickly, beating Mulder into the bathroom. As I splash water on my face, I'm suddenly uneasy. What will it be like, this evening out with Mulder? In our nine years together - eight, if you don't count the year he went missing - Mulder and I have never been out on a date. Yes, there have been takeout in the office and at each other's apartments, occasionally even a rented video, but never a dinner and dancing type evening.

I only brought one dress; saving Mulder from execution, given the intricate escape plan Kersh, Doggett, Reyes and I came up with, didn't give me much time to pack. The dress is plain black, a stretchy cotton-type fabric, one that never wrinkles. I have no jewelry to go with it. I inhale deeply as I think of the little jewelry box I left behind; I only hope that my mother forgives me for doing this to her, for leaving her as completely as Melissa. I'm not dead but this new life Mulder and I have chosen, it means that there can be no ties to the past. To my mother, I might as well be dead.

Some nights, I toss and turn, unable to sleep because really, what I want is nothing more than to pick up the phone and call my mother, and hear her voice dripping comfort over the line.

Reyes assured me she would tell my mother everything, tell her that I was with Mulder, that we were happy. I said, "Tell her whatever you'd like. Whatever you think she'll hear." Swallowing hard, I continued, "She doesn't need the truth." And Reyes nodded, agreeing with me.

When I come out of the bathroom, Mulder is already dressed in khakis and a white button-down shirt. New purchases in our last Wal-Mart stop. Not quite tailored Armani, but he looks pretty damn good to me.

"Ready?" he asks as I fall in love all over again.

The night air is crisp and cool as we cross the street to the restaurant. Through the pine trees, I can see the endless ripples of water, now purple in the fading light of the day. Few stars are visible at this time; I see Venus low on the horizon and a few other pinpricks of light.

"It's a beautiful night," I say, trying to remember the last time I was out on a night as clear as this. I edge closer to Mulder as we walk, but avoid touching him. A part of me still recalls the restraint we exercised after we pursued a relationship that was something more - a lot more - than professional. Even now, I can't push away the nagging feeling that someone is watching us, someone who will report us to Skinner, or worse, to Kersh.

"Yes." Mulder tucks his hands in his pockets. "The restaurant is on the water and I hear it has the best eclectic menu in town. Including tofu."

"And the dancing?"

"I found a night club, specializing in the blues." He grins. "Tonight, they have a big band scheduled, one that specializes in Spanish and Cuban music."

"Hmmm... sounds wonderful. You were busy while I was napping. And after the dancing? What then?"

"We can always try the casinos," Mulder says.

"What *what* money, Mulder?"

Mulder sighs. "Nine years, Scully, and you still don't trust me?"

"I trust you, Mulder, but I'm not sure that I want to gamble away what's left of our life savings."

"Gotta live a little dangerously, Scully. Take a chance, take a risk. Life's an adventure. It's what we make of it and we need to live every moment to the fullest. Otherwise, it'll pass us by and it'll be just you and me, growing old together and trying to remember where we left our teeth."

I stop suddenly. "Growing old together?"

Mulder looks at me. "We do all grow old, Scully. It comes for us all at one point or another. And then we die. End of story. You're a medical doctor, this shouldn't come as a surprise."

"No, it's not that," I reply quickly. "That's not what I meant."

"What did you mean, Scully?" he asks very gently.

I stand very still. Growing old. With Mulder. Me. Growing old. Five years ago, I had cancer, a nasal pharyngeal tumor. Incurable, they said. You're dying, they said.

I'd been ready then.

Or as I ready as I possibly could be.

I was thirty-three years old then. I never expected to see thirty-four.

And now, here's Mulder, talking about growing old together. More than anything he's ever done for me, more than anything he's ever said before, this takes my breath away.

Impulsively, I throw my arms around his neck and pull him down to me so I can kiss him full on the lips.

"Who are you and what have you done with Dana Scully?" Mulder sounds amused. I grab his hand - something I would never had done in public before.

But this is our new life.

I'm living it.

"Maybe this is the truth we've been looking for all the time," I tell him. "Instead of a government conspiracy, maybe it's something more simple. Maybe it's nothing less than perfect happiness that's been long denied to us. We've been so caught up in the complexity of what has happened to us, of trying to explain the unexplainable. Maybe all we needed was to believe in a force greater than what has been taken away from us."

"Is that what you believe?" his voice was very quiet.

I look into his eyes. "I believe we'll grow old together."

Mulder kisses my forehead; his lips are soft and warm against my skin. "Then we believe the same thing." The quiet refrain - the words we've repeated to each other so many times over the last couple weeks - comforts me. For once, we're not battling each other, questioning each other; we're in synch like we've never been before, needing and belonging as never before.

"And I don't want to do grow old in shadows, Mulder," I tell him gently. "I want to stop running. I want to stay in one place, I want somewhere I can come home to you."

He's looking at me quizzically, his hand on my forehead. "Scully? Is this you?"

"I want this." I pull away to spread my arms. "I want you, me, dressed up, I want us going out. Dinner. Movies. All of the things we never did before. I want them now."

"Scully, it's a risk-"

"You said yourself just a minute ago that life's an adventure, that we need to take risk. But I want to do more than casinos, Mulder. I want to do the last thing They expect us to do. I want a life. I don't care where, Mulder, I just want one."

A couple passes us by and I feel stupid standing there. By now, the sky has gone completely black, and the stars are out by the thousands. Our own private night show, I think. It must be close to eight, if not after. I feel suddenly and completely foolish.

"Sorry," I whisper. "I'm making us late for dinner. Let's go."

Mulder's hand is on my arm as he pulls me close to him.

"Scully, wait," he says.

I look at him questioningly. He takes a deep breath and if I didn't know better, I would think he looks nervous.

Mulder. Nervous. Around me.

And I wonder if I said the wrong thing. That maybe I oversimplified the extent of our relationship, of our commitment to each other, that maybe -

"Scully," Mulder says, his lips close to my ear, his breath warm on my cheek. "Let's mambo."

~ the end

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