"Mmm..." Her voice reverberates against my chest as I hold her close. We are still sitting on the bleachers at the high school. I've lost track of time, only cognizant of her warm body beside me.
"We haven't exchanged Christmas presents this year."
"No, we haven't, have we," she says pensively.
"That was the highlight of my Christmas day last year," I admit, telling her something she may have already suspected.
"Mine, too," she divulges.
"It wasn't opening presents with your family?" I ask.
"They were a close second," she says, amused.
"Oh," I say, flatly.
Why the hell didn't I kiss her that Christmas morning? Oh well, there's no use crying over wasted time... We're together, that's all that matters. The jewelry box I've been carrying around all week juts into my ribs as I readjust my arm around Scully. I don't want her to feel obligated, feel like she has to give me something too. But I can't resist this opportunity.
I give her a quick kiss, then say, "Can I give you something? It's just a little something, Scully. You don't have to reciprocate... I didn't mean to surprise you... I mean, I did mean to surprise you, I just don't want you to feel obligated..."
She looks up at me with a gleam in her eye. "Mulder, you have a gift for me and you haven't coughed it up yet?"
"Well, I wasn't sure..."
She smiles at me, then gently pulls out of my grasp, crossing her arms, pretending to be angry.
"You have it now?"
"Well, hand it over, G-Man. Before there's hell to pay."
I know she's not really infuriated, but fearing the wrath of Scully, I unzip one of my inside pockets and retrieve the small, square box from the jewelers.
She eyes it critically as I hand it over, weighing it, shaking it gently.
"Your present is at home, Mulder," she says, in a matter-of-fact tone of voice. "I didn't want you to feel obligated, either. And we didn't get to see each other on Christmas this year because I flew out to San Diego... so I meant to give it to you right away, but we got so busy with the case."
"You didn't have to get me anything, Scully. Just being here today, like this, was gift enough for me," I say, sincerely.
She smiles shyly, and I thread my hand around the back of her neck and pull her mouth to mine for a long kiss.
When we come up for air, she pushes me away gently, her interest returning to the box.
"Don't distract me, Mulder. I have some serious unwrapping to do here."
I laugh, and gesture with both hands, inviting her to go ahead. She carefully removes the small bow on top, then tackles the elasticized ribbon around the wrapping paper. One manicured forefinger slices open the scotch tape seal, and she unwraps the box, then cautiously sets aside all the red and green debris.
I hold my breath in anticipation. This is not a big, expensive gift. It's a very personal one, one I hope she'll like. She smiles up at me before she removes the lid, then carefully plucks the cotton off the top. I know I've made the right choice when her eyes meet mine. She understands the significance of this present, the message implied by it.
She doesn't say a word, but removes her own, very beautiful, pearl earrings and drops them alongside the new pair in the box. I watch her, spellbound by her swift, efficient movements. She secures the new pair in less than a minute, then purposefully tucks her hair behind her ears, and demurely shows me the end result, her head inclined to one side.
"You like?" she says, grinning broadly.
"I don't know, Scully... I think I'll have to inspect them a little better, don't you think?"
I draw her to my side, close enough to rain kisses over her diminutive ear, tickling her lobe gently. She giggles softly, and I fall in love for the thousandth time today. Scully has never acted this way around me, nor have I ever expected her to. These are private moments, wondrous ones that we won't easily forget.
"They don't concur with today's sports theme, Mulder. But I like them very much," she says, her warm breath tickling my face as she leans in to kiss me on the lips.
"The mystery of the heart..." I mumble, as she weaves her arms under my jacket and presses her cheek to my chest.
"Oh, just something a wise old man said to me last April. It's a very long story, though I think I've told you most of it before. I'm just glad I followed his advice that day," I say, playing idly with her new accoutrements.
"I'm glad you did, too," she says thoughtfully, running both her hands up and down my back. "Sage words from a wise old man."
I couldn't be happier. Only an exceptional woman like Scully would be more pleased with two little gold baseballs than two diamond studs. I'll get her those too, next year.
"I want to give you your gift, too," she says, softly.
"Okay. I wouldn't mind a little exercise."
Two seconds after I've said it, I realize the suggestiveness of my statement, or at least one possible interpretation of it. Scully stirs against my chest with laughter, then pulls back to a sitting position, one hand concealing her smirk.
I deny my culpability, shaking my head from side to side.
"That's not what I meant, and you know it, Scully. I meant that walking home would provide the exercise," I say indignantly.
Between gales of laughter, she chokes out, "Sorry, Mulder, but the present I have at home is all wrapped up and ready to go. You'll have to open it first... before we can consider other options."
I know Scully can counter any innuendo I throw her way; she's had lots of practice over the years. What I'm not so sure about is whether her words were said only in jest. There was an evocative tone to her last statement that went straight to my groin, and the outside possibility that we'll make love tonight warms my face.
"Shameless, you're just shameless," she says, wrapping her hands around my neck and pulling me down for a kiss.
"You're humoring me," I say, pretending to be insulted.
"I always humor you, don't I? It just comes with the territory," she says affectionately, grabbing my hand in her own. "Come on, I think we have to catch up on all those bowl games."
The walk home is a little slower paced than our energetic trot an hour ago. We stop to look in a few store windows, then meander along the opposite side of the street, delaying our return to her apartment.
Once we get there, Scully makes a beeline for the fridge, grabbing liquid refreshment before we even take our coats off. Neither of us are big drinkers, but the beers taste good, and I'm glad I eschewed my pain pills today.
We lose our outerwear and Scully instructs me to sit down while she retrieves my gift. She comes back with a square package the size of a coffee table book. She perches on the couch and hands it over to me, beaming expectantly.
I open it with great ceremony, attempting to slide the green paper off without tearing it. The damage is done anyway; my fingers are less than deft, still cold from being outdoors. I finally get to my prize, a very expensive volume about the Negro baseball leagues. Not only that, it's been autographed by several of the players, making it very valuable as a collector's item.
I'll never sell this. It means too much to me. I chuckle softly, and Scully cocks one eyebrow, wondering if I'm pleased or merely amused.
I look up at her and say, "It's great, Scully. It's really neat. I've wanted this book for so long. Plus, it's autographed. How did you know I wanted this?"
"I poked through your computer one day when you stepped out," she admits, guilelessly.
My eyebrows raise in astonishment, and she continues, "I just looked through your browser history one day, Mulder. And... there were a few interesting visits that day... a few I didn't feel obligated to investigate, if you know what I mean."
"I really have to stop doing that on company time, Scully," I assert sarcastically.
"Tell me about it. Anyway, lest you think I was snooping... I thought I'd get an idea of any books you were interested in, and this one leapt off the screen in a big way. You really like it?"
"I really like it, Scully. It's the nicest Christmas present I've had. Since yours last year that is," I add.
She reaches over and places one warm hand on my cheek, and says, "Good, because I think these earrings are the nicest one I've had. Since last year, that is."
I turn my face into her palm, and say, "I'll have to keep up this track record somehow, from year to year, you know."
Her eyes brighten, and I know my point is well taken. But I think we've reached our breaking point for sentimentality. She rises from her spot on the couch and asks, "You hungry yet?"
"Starving," I say, enthusiastically.
"All right, it's time for my mother's Christmas gift to us, homemade lasagna. If you have no objection to that, Agent Mulder?"
"None at all. Want some help?"
"You can set the table, one-armed man," she says playfully.
The lasagna warming in the oven, we sit down to catch up on the Bowl games. Really, nothing could be less interesting to me now, but it does give me an opportunity to reacquaint myself with Scully's earlobes.
All this foreplay is definitely stimulating my appetite. I remind myself that it's Scully's move next. I don't think she's sending me home tonight, but I also don't want to pressure her. I'll gladly sleep on the couch if it makes her happy.
The timer's buzz cuts short our explorations on the couch, and we dig into some of the best food I've ever had. It's not long before we're cleaning each other's faces with more than just the tip of our napkins, one craving replaced by another.
We finish our bottle of wine, in between bites of one another. Scully leans over and whispers sultrily in my ear, "I think it's time for our second gift exchange, don't you think?"
I have no logical argument with that. In fact, my mind has left the building and my body is on autopilot. It seems cliche to say that I would follow this woman to the ends of the earth. Right now, I'll be grateful just to make it past her bedroom door.
I'm nervous about this, as I can tell she is, too. It's not what I expected, and better than I hoped. I need to make sure, very sure, that she wants this as much as I do.
She's standing beside me, her hand outstretched, her blue eyes penetrating my own. I don't see any hesitancy in her step as she leads me out of the kitchen, through the living room, and to her hallway.
I love this woman. I want to be her friend, her lover, for the rest of my life. I don't know what I did to deserve her, but I do know I'll never stop trying to make her happy. And that long journey starts now, as we cross the threshold of her bedroom to a brand-new life.
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