'We've Only Just Begun'

by XSketch

TITLE: 'We've Only Just Begun'
AUTHOR: XSketch
ARCHIVE: I'd be honoured, but please let me know where! CATEGORY: MSR. Angst, S, AU, Family fic SPOILERS: Nothing too specific. Small references to Per Manum and DeadAlive myth arc. Set post-Existence, but in this reality Season 9 never happened (well, we can all dream, can't we?) DISCLAIMER: Is this necessary anymore? Oh well: Chris Carter, 1013, Fox etc own 'em...I'm just borrowing them to give them the life they deserved!!!
FEEDBACK: PWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAASE? I proudly beg for it at SketchShipper@hotmail.com or sketchney@ntlworld.com!!! AUTHOR'S NOTES: This is a lot longer than I had anticipated, or it probably should be, so many advance thanks if you bear with it. It was my sister's suggestion to get my writing backside in gear and do a February 29th fic, so if you don't like it, please blame her! LOL :) DEDICATION: For Susie Blue...Congrats on your wedding, mate!!!


DANA SCULLY'S APARTMENT
FEBRUARY 28th, 2004
7:27 AM

"You're listening to Josh Kerstein right here on Radio WDCX - home of all the up-to-date news and classic music you could wish for! But of course the big buzz in town - and probably the world - at the moment is: How many women are gonna be proposing tomorrow? Yes, it'll be February 29th - the one day in superstition women are allowed to pop that infamous question to their partners, and..."

The voice drained out as Dana Scully shot a glance over her shoulder toward the hallway from where she stood at the kitchen sink. Her own partner had fallen asleep in their son's room at about three o'clock this morning, and she had to ponder over the thought that even three years after living together, he still hadn't asked for her hand in marriage.

'Maybe he thinks you're not ready yet,' her mind rationalized. 'He's afraid of pushing too hard and losing you.'

It pained her to think that even this far down the line he could still doubt her feelings for him, and yet (funnily enough) even she wasn't sure if she was ready to be somebody's wife.

Scully's eyes reverted back to the dishes she was washing, but her attention was about a million miles...wondering if maybe it was time to be sure for once, and forever kill any doubts he still harboured.

XxXxXxXxX

"Daddy, woz a 'leap year'?"

Mulder's eyes flickered once, twice, and then slowly opened to halfmast. Something wasn't right... The small hand tugging at him wasn't the normal hand that had occasionally hit him awake over the past four years and on several cases before then... He wasn't in her bedroom either. Whe--

Realization kicked in as his eyes focused on the small, round face that stared back at him, and then he moved his head to glance at the walls of his son's bedroom.

"Daddy?" The boy's urgent voice made him turn back. "Woz a 'leap year'?"

Mulder sleepily rubbed a hand down the front of his face, and then smiled as he continued to stare at his son. It still threw him for six every day when he looked at what he had. And when he looked back at how many times down the road he could have missed out on all this...

"A leap year?" he clarified.

William's head nodded frantically.

"Where did that come from?"

"Mommy's listening to da radio, an' it say it a leap year... Duz that mean it jump aroun'? Is that an x-file, Daddy?"

A hearty chuckle exploded from Mulder. William had always been so curious - even before he could talk he had explored everything and soaked in every scrap of knowledge he gained. Neither Scully nor Mulder had really stopped to take stock of his heightened abilities, though.

"Daddy?"

"It's okay, Will...I just--... You can hear that?" Mulder fell silent and struggled to hear the radio, but there was nothing to be heard.

"Mommy's thinkin' about it... She worried..."

Mulder frowned. "Why? Is something wrong?" He made ready to quickly go and find Dana.

"Nuffing wrong, but she's fidgety... Woz a leap year, Daddy?"

"You know there are only twenty-eight days in February, right?" the sleepy man asked, only to receive a single nod of the boy's head. "Well, every four years an extra day gets added on, and that's called a Leap Year."

William stared at his father as if he was the stupidest man in the universe, and Mulder found himself patiently waiting for the follow-up questions of 'Why?' and 'How?'

But they didn't come.

Instead the toddler gave an appreciative nod, grinned, slid out of bed and then made his way to the bathroom - leaving Mulder alone.

'Your mother's not the only one who keeps me guessing,' he smiled to himself.

XxXxXxXxX

For the next five minutes, Mulder sat in their bedroom pondering over why on Earth Scully could be 'fidgety' about February 29th. Over and over his mind turned, trying to recall if something tragic had happened on that day in the past, but nothing came up.

Mommy's thinkin' about it. She worried.

It'd be easier to just go ask her outright, but he knew that if there was something wrong, he'd likely just get the usual 'I'm fine' reply. He had to figure this one out himself and help do whatever he could to make things better for her - heck, she'd certainly been there for him!

After his leave from the Bureau, she had continued to support him - even in her heavily-pregnant state - and help him back to full health. He had kept his apartment and lived there, but things had been far from how they'd been before his abduction, and of course William's arrival had marked an even more important fork in their lives' twisting path. Suddenly his apartment had become little more than something to pay a glancing visit, he had 'something approaching a normal life' with the woman he loved, and there was no looking back.

"You know, there's plenty of...of room..." Dana had hesitated, turning to stare at him as they stood over their son's crib, side-by-side. "I mean, instead of you... You wouldn't have to go back and forth, you could get rid of your apartment, and it'd be good for Will if--" Her uneasiness had been palpable, but so had her desire to say it. And then she had cleared her throat and quietly, sheepishly smiled "I'd like it if you stayed here...long-term..."

When she had started work at Quantico, he had stayed at home with Will, writing articles on both psychological and paranormal topics for magazines via the internet, and helping out Agents Doggett and Reyes with any x-file cases they were stuck on (without Kersh's knowing, of course). A year and a half later Scully had managed to get him a lecturing job at Quantico.

He had everything he had ever wished for and more. She had helped him with so much and made his life so much better, if he couldn't help her with one little thing he knew he had no chance of thanking her.

XxXxXxXxX

7:52 AM

The radio was still on when Mulder quietly paced - barefoot - into the kitchen and wrapped his arms around his partner. His face nuzzled into her still-damp hair and the scent of the fresh shampoo immediately overwhelmed his senses almost as much as she herself did.

Her small frame leaned into him, welcoming the embrace she never tired of, and her eyes contentedly slid shut.

"I'm making coffee. You want one?" Scully asked.

Dina Carroll's voice started to sing out the chorus of 'So Close' on the radio, and Mulder smiled as they both began to instinctively sway to the music. They had always moved in perfect sync, but he couldn't stop wondering which of them had mellowed the most over the years.

"Mm... Maybe. After I've had my shower...alone... You couldn't wait til I got up to share?" He paused and raised his head off of the crest of her auburn hair. "And while I'm thinking of it, why did you leave me asleep in Will's room?"

She turned in the circle of his arms that had loosened to grant her movement, and then stared up into the depths of his hazel eyes. Once again she lost herself in them as his soul tightly wrapped itself around her, and it was difficult to comprehend that once upon a time they had never known each other. A hand reached up and gently traced the contours of his face before stopping to cup his right cheek (her thumb stroking back and forth over the small mole there). "Something bothering you?"

"I was about to ask you the same question," he smiled, relaxing into her touch. Her brow furrowed with confusion and he had to explain. "Will said you were worried about tomorrow, and I've been trying to figure out why. Am I missing or have I forgotten something? 'Cos if I have, I'm sorry - I jus--"

The warm palm against his cheek moved down to cover his mouth as Dana shook her head. The scientist in her still refused to believe or begin to explain how their son could read minds - especially from another room - whilst the mother in her worried at the implications. But she didn't question it anymore than how on earth she could so deeply love the boy's highly frustrating father. She would just have to accept that the two most important men in her life would always keep her on her toes.

"I'm fine." The old response spilled forth before Scully had chance to change it, and even she had to cringe as her partner did the same. "Nothing's wrong - really. I was just thinking. I wish he wouldn't tell you things without being one hundred percent sure - he knows how you--"

"Worry?" Mulder raised an eyebrow. "And why shouldn't I?" His hold on her tightened. "The kid tells me because he knows I need to know ... That I need to be aware of what you are sometimes afraid to share ... He does it 'cause he knows I'll worry anyway... And, heck, if he's inherited anything from me or at least got a smart head on his shoulders (which I know he's definitely got) he likely worries about you too!"

"What am I ever gonna do with you two?" She shook her head as it lowered for a brief moment - her eyes slipping shut.

"I know something you could do with me, but it's probably not the clean answer you were hoping for," the tall man leered.

"Mulder!"

"What?" A small chuckle of laughter that was loaded with more affection than humour. "Twelve years together, and it still never fails!" Slowly, the seriousness reappeared on his face after she returned his wide grin. "So, what were you thinking about?"

That was a good question she wasn't sure of the answer to, but as Scully studied the intense mixture of sincerity, love and concern that filled every inch of his expression, everything fell into place and a subconscious question answered itself.

Yes, she wanted to spend the rest of eternity with this man.

In some way they had been like a married couple for a long time now, and no piece of paper would be able to change that, but she needed him to know how committed she was - that she was there for the long haul, that he wasn't a failure in her eyes and that he was exactly what she wanted. She had to rid him of the doubts that still ate away at his soul.

"I was thinking," she began as her mind quickly worked to concoct a plan, "that seeing as Bill so successfully ruined our original plans for my birthday, maybe I could get Mom to babysit William tomorrow whilst we go out to dinner..."

It was obvious that she was still trying to maintain a tight hold on the thread that separated Dr. Scully from Dana Scully and who she was now from who she had been when their relationship had been nothing more than a working partnership full of care, respect and bottled feelings. The lines all seemed to be merging somewhere along the way, though, and as she fell further into the depths of his soul, he felt the unquestionable need to tighten his hold - to comfort and reassure her...in some way, even, reassure himself.

When he didn't answer immediately, she stiffened and moved irritably from one foot to the other - contemplating stepping out of his embrace. No matter how intuned they were or how much they loved each other or how far away she had moved from the Agent Scully of days gone by, she still felt awkward when general conversation became too intimate.

'God, if I'm like this just asking him out to dinner, how will I ever ask him to marry me?'

"I mean, unless you're tied up on something with Monica and Jo--"

"No!" Mulder quickly cut in. "No, no... I-I'm helping them out today on that timeslip-in-rural-Georgia investigation, but that should be wrapped up pretty quickly - I know we used to have our fair share of bad cases, but this has to be the worst attempt at a hoax I've ever seen!" He grinned, hoping it would lighten the mood, but instead she lowered her head, only a tiny smile gracing her lips. "But even if I don't get it wrapped up, my family" (that still sent a thrill down his spine whenever he thought of it) "comes first. Always. I was hoping you'd know that by now." He watched her head lift and shoulders slump. "Yeah, I still help out on the X-Files, but they're not mine anymore, and I'm quite happy to let Agent Doggett and Agent Reyes take the reins. I've got everything I ever wanted here." To punctuate his point, Mulder placed a warm kiss on her forehead.

Out of the corner of her eye as it opened again, Scully noticed William step into the doorway, smile and then walk away.

"As for dinner, I think it's a great idea," her partner finished. "Don't mention it to Bill, though. I wouldn't put it past him to try stopping us from going out again! You sure your mom'll be okay babysitting at such short notice?"

There was a brief pause as Dana pulled herself together and then lifted her chin to stare at him again. "If it was up to her I think she'd have him around every single day!" she beamed.

"And why wouldn't she? He's a great kid!"

"The best, and he's ours. But, anyway, a few hours or even overnight won't be any trouble."

"We have ourselves a date, then, Agent Scully. Will you let me drive you home and then invite me in for coffee if I'm good?" he teased.

"If you're good I'll damn well kick you out!" came her teasing reply.

Mulder was about to shoot back his usual brand of wit (eager not to be outdone by his partner) when suddenly William reappeared in the doorway - excitedly calling out "Daaaaaddyyyy!" as he ran up to the tall man.

"Hey, big guy. What's up?" his father asked, scooping the boy up into his arms.

"Can we go park today?"

"Hmmmm, I don't know if my busy schedule will allow me," Mulder teased. At the sight of William rolling his eyes (an action so clearly inherited from Scully), he laughed and finally acquiesced, "Oh, okay. I'll have to miss a couple daytime TV shows, I guess."

"I was under the impression the nighttime programmes were more your thing, Mulder," Dana smiled.

Her partner shot her a smoldering glance, but they both knew nothing needed to be said... Not yet, anyway.

"Mommy come too?" William piped up, turning to face his mother also.

Looking at the hopeful and expectant faces on her two men, Dana smiled and mentally planned out her schedule for today - listing what she would have to do to make tomorrow run smoothly, and all excuses she could use to disappear for a few hours.

"I think Mom might be a bit too intellectual to be slumming it with the likes of us, kiddo," Mulder joked.

"That's a great idea, sweetie," she finally replied, ruffling the boy's hair and ignoring her partner's comment. "But I...uh...I--I got to go shopping with...um...with Grandma this morning..."

"Well, I gotta wrap up that case as well," Mulder added. "So, how about we go there for lunch? Take a picnic?" He glanced at his son and then back at Scully. "If it rains, we can stay in the car for a bit."

"Pleez, Mommy!"

There was no reason to hesitate, but she found herself pausing briefly to fully absorb the moment before finally smiling, "Of course."

William leapt from his father's hold and ran to his room, yelling at the top of his voice, "Yaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyy!".

Alone, neither partner stopped smiling or broke eye contact for another couple of minutes.

XxXxXxXxX

The day ran more smoothly than anticipated.

The Gunmen had watched over William whilst Mulder dropped Scully off at the downtown mall and then went on to the Hoover Building to help Doggett and Reyes with their case.

Scully, meanwhile, had found a perfect gold band to present her partner almost immediately, and had asked the clerk behind the counter if they could inscribe it with a personal message. She had expected to be told that a one to two week or so waiting period would be necessary, but instead the friendly gentleman had informed her - with a smile - that they could do it and have it done for her if she came back in a couple of hours.

On her way home, Dana phoned her mother to check that it would be okay for her to watch William tomorrow night (which, as she had expected, it was), and then called Mulder to let him know she was on her way home. Much to her relief, he was still at the Bureau, so she'd have plenty of time to get to the apartment and hide the ring.

If she could just hide the smile that kept tugging at her lips.

XxXxXxXxX

GEORGETOWN, WASHINGTON D.C.

"Mommy?" Will grinned at his mother after the Gunmen had shuffled out and she had hidden away today's special purchase.

"Yes, sweetie?"

"Daddy wanna be your huzbond...What that?"

Scully froze where she stood in the middle of the room and then slowly turned to stare at the boy that was looking at her over the back of the couch. "Wh-what?"

"Woz a huzbond? Why Daddy wanna be one?"

Her glance quickly flicked in the direction of the bedroom she shared with her partner. Their son's mind reading skills had always given her cause for concern - no matter how much she tried not to question them. She had to confess that her intrigue was piqued now, though, and felt guilty that she wanted to exploit his ability a little to gain further insight into Mulder's feelings on the matter of marriage.

"Your father said that to you?"

"He think it like you wanna be his wyff...What that, Mommy?"

"W-well...uh...when two people love each a lot--"

"Like you an' Daddy do?"

"Exactly. When they love each other that much, they get married and become husband and wife."

"Why?"

"Because..." Now there was the sixty-four million dollar question. "I don't really know, sweetie... To, uh...To prove how much they really are committed to one another - that no matter what, they'll always be together...til the day they die." She was on a roll now. "It's to show their love to God and everybody."

The boy nodded, happy with the explanation she'd given. But then a dark cloud passed over his face as something begun to bug him. "You an' Daddy bin to'eva loooooong time...Why you no' get ma-reed before?"

"Dad and I live very busy lives... We just never--...We know how deeply we care for each other, so there didn't seem any point--... It never really came up, I guess."

"You love Daddy, don' you, Mommy?"

"Of course!" She couldn't believe the question he was asking her. If he could read minds, surely he'd know just how much she really did... "Does Daddy think otherwise?" She knew Mulder had doubts, but surely he didn't think she didn't love him?

The boy tugged thoughtfully at his lower lip and remained quiet.

"William?"

"He know you care loz, like you said, but he thin' he no' deserve you... That you, maybe, love Uncky Walter or Doggy more..."

Scully's jaw sharply dropped.

"I tell him no' to thin' that an' he nods, but I know he worry, like I knew you were earyier." Will paused and stared at the aghast expression on his mother's face. "But you make it better - you arsk him to be your huzbond!" A wide grin lifted his small, red cheeks.

No matter how hard she tried to clear the lump of emotion that had blocked her throat, it took Scully a good few minutes before she was finally able to cough, swipe the tears from her eyes with a shaky hand and croak, "Yes, I am, but I'm gonna ask him tomorrow--"

"Coz it a leap year?"

"Yes, 'cause it's a leap year... So I need you to do me a big favour and keep it a secret. Do you think you could do that for me, Will?"

"Me no' tell and be a good boy - Daddy no' read my mind!" he beamed, proudly. "You make each uva happy - get ma-reed an' be huzbond an' wyff!" Still smiling, he slipped off the couch and excitedly skipped to his room.

"Yes, we do, and we will," Dana resolved with a sigh, glancing down at her watch. 'I just hope I don't send the world crashing down around us.'

XxXxXxXxX

1789 RESTAURANT
9:36PM

"Not wanting to imply that it was anywhere near as good as the stuff you cook up, Scully, but that was certainly worth the money!" Mulder appreciatively remarked, dabbing the napkin against his lips and then resting back in the chair. "But now, I think, it's time for a toast."

Scully's hands trembled violently underneath the table and she struggled to keep eye contact on her partner - to little (if any at all) avail. Her nerves were completely shot to pieces.

Special Agent and Doctor Dana Katherine Scully - the Ice Queen - was a complete wreck on the verge of having a total nervous breakdown.

Tonight had been so perfect: the time they'd spent together, the meal, the companionable silence occasionally broken by talk about something or the other. Could she be ruining it by--

But no, he was leaning forward, saying something about making a toast and reaching for the wine bottle to pour out the remaining liquid into their glasses.

She had to stop him!

She had to stop him and ask him now, while they were in a public place.

She had to ask him now so that another twelve years didn't roll by before the opportunity arose again. Or worse: never.

"Mulder, wait," she jumped, quickly outstretching a halting hand to touch his arm. "There's something I need...I need to ask..."

He felt the coldness of her skin, even through the jacket he wore, and looked down in concern at the shaking hand before staring back at her with haunted eyes. This couldn't be good: she would never show this kind of invulnerability and fear in front of him unless it was serious. William had said she was worried about something... Did it have to do with what she was about to tell him?

"Scully, what's wrong? You're... You're freezing!" Mulder exclaimed, moving his hand to cover the one she still clung to his arm with. He wanted - he needed - to know, but the fear that the Cancer was back or she no longer wanted him around tore at him.

Realization that she was tightly holding onto him as if her life depended on the contact dawned, and she let him peel the hand from his arm to then weave their fingers together. "There's nothing wrong ...but there's something I need to tell you..."

"I thought it was all going okay?" he suddenly blurted out. "I'm sorry if I'm not--"

"Mulder..."

"I love you and Will so much that I have to pinch m--"

"I know you do! Everything's going great - better than great...Of course there's the occasional day where I'm in a mood or you're more annoying than normal, but we've always been like that, even before... before you were taken..." Her voice had abruptly lowered to an almost inaudible level at the end because it still pained her (both of them, for that matter) to think about that spot in their past. But she was thankful for the sudden burst of confidence - even if it was at the expense of his unspoken fear that she wanted him out of their home and lives. "But I don't think you realize how much I love you too, Mulder ... You're so busy blaming yourself for things I've lost or you believe I've lost that you don't see that maybe I've stuck with you for a reason - that I want to be with you because you mean everything to me."

Mulder's eyes slipped shut to hide the tears that threatened to spill, and his head gave an imperceptible nod as he smiled, "I do realize... I know... I can't stop feeling regretful for all that's been lost 'cause I wish I could give 'em all back. I understand--"

"No, you don't. That's the thing, Mulder: you don't understand!" Dana snapped - forgetting her nervousness and why she had started this conversation in the first place for the time being. "Twelve years' partnership and three years living together you think I don't see how much you try to give but tentatively take? I had to reassure our three year old son, yesterday, how much I love you because he read from your mind that you think I care more about John Doggett or Walter Skinner!"

"Scully, I..." Angry and ashamed she knew about that, he looked away and tried to pull his hand from her grasp, but she held on tight and pulled it further across the table. "I..."

Clearing her throat, Scully sighed and shook her head - silently apologising for the aggravation that had leapt into her voice. "They helped me when I was looking for you - they became family. But I was looking for you - nothing and nobody else mattered. Not even me." Now it was her turn to look away in shame as she choked out, "Not even our child."

His eyes lifted to fix a stare on her.

"It was you I had to grieve over! Do you honestly think for one second that I would have let myself go through all that pain, stay alone and then work every second of the day to cure you when you were resurrected if I wanted to stay with someone else?"

"No." It was all he could manage.

Dana stared back at him. "Mulder, you've done so much for me. Even when we were first partnered you watched my back beyond the call of duty. Every step of the way you've been there by my side - when even my family had given up on me when I was returned from my abduction, through my Cancer, and when I tried the IVF." Her other hand reached across the table to wipe away the wet trail that had appeared down his left cheek. "God, you've even literally gone to the ends of the world to save me! I can never repay you for what you've done."

"Y-You'd d-d-do the same..."

"Yes, I would. But I want to get rid of the doubt in you. I need to make you realise that I wanna be with you always. That your place - at least in my eyes - is with me and William."

"Scully...Dana...It's the place I wanna be the most - I really meant it when I said that my family comes first... But sometimes it just feels like I should be waiting for the other shoe to fall, an--" His voice abruptly cut off and his jaw hung open as he watched her withdraw a small box from her jacket pocket with the hand that had wiped away his tears.

Her hold on his now-sweating hand increased. "How's that for the other shoe falling?" Scully quipped as she presented the gold band to her partner. "Mulder, I want you to be my husband...I want you to make an honest woman of me because you're the only one that I want, need and love. Nothing can improve on what we've already shared, but we can damn well try, can't we?" A pause. By the look on his face he was still trying to soak it all in. "I don't know how to ask properly, but will you?"

Tense silence was the only answer she was gifted with until finally there was the slow shake of his head.

Her hand sharply slipped out of his and the world begun to crumble.

"I'm...I'm sorry," Scully stammered, fumbling around awkwardly and getting ready to leave - all the time never looking up at her partner. "I shouldn't have-- I thought maybe-- I knew maybe I shouldn't have tried to change anything, b--"

"Scully, no...stop..."

She heard his voice, but the humiliating blow had been made - she couldn't bear to hear his explanations or apologies right now. She just wanted to forget she had ever brought it up and to carry on as before. "Let's finish up and then collect William from my mom's."

"Scully, stop!" His hand stretched across the table to touch hers, but she flinched away from the contact. "Scully, you don't understand--"

"I do. I even said I knew a certificate couldn't change what we have, didn't I? Come on, Mulder, I want to see my son, and then we can settle down to watch a movie or something...just forget I ever said anything..."

Mulder quickly slid off his chair and knelt beside her as his hands moved to still her. "Oh, God," he breathed with his head lowered before looking back up at her and clearing his throat. "Dana, please, just stop a second."

The regret, sadness and embarrassment was still on her face, but she finally did as he bade and stared at him.

"You did go through all that stuff when I was abducted - despite being pregnant, you still put yourself in danger. I owe you my life, my soul... Anything you want it's yours, but not because I feel guilty or it's my job or for some male-ego reason. Everything I have is yours, whether you want it or not, because I can't live without you - as clichd as it sounds, out of the choice of you and air, I'd pick you to live with every time." Mulder paused, feeling the tears welling in his eyes once more.

They had never stopped flowing from hers.

"I can't let you ask this...Not now...I don't want you feeling pressured into asking because it's February 29th or because you feel the need to help rid me of my fears. I know you feel the same - really, I do - but I'll never be able to stop thinking about what you could have had if you'd taken another path...I can't help but be petrified at the thought of losing you any less than I can't stop worrying about you or watching your back because I want to see you safe!

"You already asked me a massive question and made me the happiest man alive when you asked me to father your baby. I'm kinda guessing you felt the same when I said yes?"

Her head nodded vigorously, but no sound came from her mouth (the emotion clearly blocking her throat).

"So, I...uh...I was wondering if we could try an experiment and...and swap that scenario around..." He paused. This was clearly difficult for him, and Scully frowned in confusion as she watched his head lower for a second.

He was reaching for something in his pants' pocket.

"That's-- I mean, that's if you're still up for the idea?"

He looked back up at her, but she didn't see - she was too busy staring, wide-eyed, at the beautiful diamond ring being presented to her.

"Mu--"

"Scully, not even death could stop me being with you. You help me live - you gave life to me - and as bad as I feel about asking more from you, I need to know: will you marry me?"

The tether snapped. To hell with Doctor and Agent Scully! Now she was Dana Katherine Scully - mother and partner and prospective fiance - first and foremost. The Ice Queen melted, the world rebuilt itself in a whole, new, brightly coloured way, and the largest kick of happiness flowed through her as her arms flung themselves around the dark-haired man that still knelt in front of her.

'Mulder. Mulder. Mulder...'

The mantra of his name ran over and over in her head as she nuzzled and kissed the side of his neck. Soon she realised she was sobbing it as well. "Don't do that to me!"

"Is this a good or a bad answer?" he hesitated with the barest chuckle.

Scully pulled back only far enough so that she could look into his hazel eyes.

"Well?"

"Did the aliens steal every ounce of your intellect? Of course that's a yes!" she snorted. "I'll marry you, but will you marry me?"

"Over and over again."

Eyes shut. Lips fused. The love was too great to stay contained in one body, but the electricity of it all managed to keep it between them.

There was the distant sound of applause as everyone in the dining room watched the couple, but it didn't matter. Nothing had or ever would matter except the fact that they and their son would be together until the day they died, and long beyond that even.

The passionate kiss ended, and a blushing Mulder smiled before looking down at the ring he had bought her not long after his return from the dead. Scully did likewise and then took the box from his grasp to look at it more closely.

"There's...There's a message on it," he whispered - breathless.

She shot him a curious glance, before carefully picking out the ring and examining it. Sure enough, on the inside of the band were etched the words:

'FOR MY TOUCHSTONE. M.'

It shouldn't have, but the burst of uncontrollable laughter erupted from her straight away and it stabbed at him like a lance through the heart. Noticing the pained look on his face just as quickly dampened the hysterics, though, and Scully placed a tender kiss on his forehead.

"I'm sorry - that was rude, but... Well, look at the band I gave you."

He did.

'MY CONSTANT, ALWAYS. S'

The grin on his face couldn't get any wider if he tried.

"I only asked to find out how long it would take to do. When they said it could be done straight away, that was the only thing I knew I had to put," she explained.

Gently brushing aside some errant red hairs from her face, Mulder gave a nod. "Must be an x-file," he beamed. "I was gonna put 'one in five billion', but something made me change my mind."

An x-file it could have been, but in the end there was just the fact that they had each managed to take separate paths and still come back together.

Always together.

They toasted to the fates, took a long stroll home underneath the cover of the stars, went to bed to do the dance men and women had done since the dawn of time but they had somehow made their own; all without a single word ever passing between them.

XxXxXxXxX

1:13 AM

The two lay, sated, on their sides, facing one another. Scully had fallen asleep, so Mulder silently and peacefully watched her.

He didn't know what he'd done to deserve any of the life he'd come to share with this woman that had captured his soul the minute they met, but he was certainly ready to finally accept it to the full - not with the constant black cloud over his shoulder that told him he was on borrowed time.

"Hey," he quietly smiled as his partner's eyes slowly cracked open.

"Hey."

"You okay?"

"Mmm. Thinking."

"About?"

"Worried..."

Regrets already? His eyes widened slightly.

"...that Bill's gonna kick your ass from here to Kingdom Come before I've even had chance to get you down the aisle!"

The breath he hadn't realised he was holding whooshed out of him as he chuckled, "I forgot about the quid pro quo of proposing! I'll have to make sure I'm armed."

"You're not put off, then? I mean, no regrets?"

"No! Hell, no! Wild horses won't be able to make me stay away, let alone Bill, flukemen, aliens, death, a jealous Assistant Director Walter Skinner, Frohike... Nothing. Especially when I know that if I don't show up you and Will'll hunt me down and kick my sorry ass twice as far as Kingdom Come!"

"Damn right!" Dana snorted, playfully slapping his arm.

"So you've no regrets then?"

"Never. I just wonder-- Oh, nothing..."

"What?" His concern was rising again.

"Can it get better than this? We've got everything we could hope for in our lives, against all odds, and I know I shouldn't but I wonder if it can stay like this, or if it can even get better..."

"Of course it can!" Mulder exclaimed, smoothing a hand down her bare arm and then moving it up to caress her cheek. "This is just another fork in the road...a new page in the book...I bought that ring for you before William was even born, but I could never get up the nerve to ask. I almost did when we celebrated our tenth 'anniversary', but that was when Will decided to scream for food. Three years since I got that, but it's gotten way, way better. Are you saying, now I've actually asked, it's not gonna be good?"

Even in only the light of the pale moon that filtered through the curtains of her bedroom window he could see his partner ashamedly blush and shake her head.

It was rare to hear such confident reassurances come from his lips, but it always managed to make her feel guilty for thinking he would say anything less.

"Twelve years of all we've been through and felt can't be taken away by a bit of paper and a couple of rings - you even said yourself tonight that you knew it couldn't change what we've had. We've been together that long, but in the greater scale of things we've only just begun, and I'll happily take the bad times as long as we share them along with the good."

Scully nodded, leaned forward to kiss his forehead, and then both pairs of lips met again.

Again, there was no need for words. No need even for 'I love you's.

The truth they both knew.


THE END

We've only just begun to live,
White lace and promises
A kiss for luck and we're on our way.
And yes, We've just begun.

Before the rising sun we fly,
So many roads to choose
We start our walking and learn to run.
And yes, We've just begun.

Sharing horizons that are new to us,
Watching the signs along the way,
Talking it over just the two of us,
Working together day to day
Together.

And when the evening comes we smile,
So much of life ahead
We'll find a place where there's room to grow, And yes, We've just begun.

~'We've Only Just Begun' by The Carpenters


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