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No Immunity

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Chicago. Chicago, fucking, Illinois. Organized crime, his new assignment. That was the judgement passed down from the OPR hearing, after the big shit storm. Skinner couldn't help him, was just another, impassive face in the pack of ADs, but it wasn't that Doggett figured he could. God knows what happened in that office, and likely as hell the man was compromised beyond any and all help. Monica, she'd had it easy, relatively speaking. Back to her old home, New Orleans and her old assignment. But like a good little fibbie, he'd packed his things into storage, rented the house in Falls Church and headed out to Chicago with about as much as fit into the pickup.

Fitting into his new assignment was easy. The Bureau was a big place. Nobody in Chicago seemed to know of his time in the Basement, of the time he'd spent trying to replace Fox Mulder. If they knew or asked anything about him, it was just that he'd been transferred from DC. He didn't volunteer anything more, and after a while, people didn't ask.

Finding a new place was just as easy. He stayed in one of those by the week hotels out by the airport for a while, then in his free time, he drove around the city and its close suburbs until he found what he was looking for.

He ended up renting the first floor apartment in an old brick duplex, though here in Chicago, they called them two flats. The owner, an old woman who'd lived in the building since her parents had built it, was so glad to get an FBI agent living in it that she didn't ask many questions, though that could have partially been her reticent nature.

Either way, as he moved his few possessions into the big apartment, with sounds echoing off its white walls, he was set. All he'd have to do was put up wooden blinds in the windows and get a leather sofa in here and it'd feel just as much like home as the last place.

All he really needed was someone to give a good goddamn whether he was alive or not.

Saturday afternoon, and for once he wasn't sitting tied to a wiretap listening to Sammy "the Muscle" Gianelli discuss whether a certain, uh, lady at the "Gentleman's Club" was silicone enhanced or not. Or as "the Muscle" put it so eloquently, "Ain't no broad got titties that big naturally."

It was four months since he'd been exiled from DC, no sign of reprieve, and Mulder and Scully had driven off into the desert. That'd been spring. This was now officially fall, only nobody had thought to tell the weather that here in Chicago. End of September, you wouldn't expect eighty five degrees and sunny. He had the back door propped open to catch what there was of a negligible breeze, the screen door shut. He was sitting at the kitchen table, gun apart on the table, NASCAR playing on the little TV on the counter. He cleaned the gun, slowly. Once he was done with that chore, his inner nag wouldn't let him just sit here and watch, but insist that he get out and do errands. Or just get out. I'm mouldering here, part of him thought. Packed up in a box. Waiting.

He squelched this part of him. Punched it down into the little compartment it'd poked its ugly head out of. Then he bent back to the task at hand, running the cleaning rag through the barrel of the semi-automatic.

The knock at the door startled him, at least until he remembered that his important role was done. He'd been discarded and left to rot. He didn't need to be paranoid, because the powers that be had decided he wasn't worth the trouble. He looked up, expecting to see his landlady.

No one was standing at the door.

"What the..." he said, rising to his feet. He walked over to the door, looked out, every direction. He didn't see anyone walking down the wooden steps, nor up the steps to his landlady's back door. He didn't see anyone walking away through the shady yard. Nor was anyone hiding in a corner of the sagging back porch. He shrugged, wrote it off to some weird wind burst rattling the door and sat back down, putting his gun back together a little more rapidly than before, race to linger over or not.

The knock came again a few minutes later. He looked up. Still no one at the door. He stood up more rapidly this time, walked over to the door. He opened it, intending to search the area on foot, but as he did, the source of the knock insinuated itself into his apartment from the one direction he hadn't looked- down.

The suspect- about twelve pounds, fifteen inches high at the shoulder. Distinguishing features- light and dark orange stripes in the pattern usually known as tabby and long whiskers. No collar or other immediately obvious marks of ownership.

A cat. An orange tabby cat, to be exact, had knocked on his door, walked in as if it owned the place and jumped up into the chair where he'd been sitting. The cat began to yowl. It had big paws, big, pointy ears, and a long, long tail, in addition to it looking awfully lean for its height. Its coat was kind of shaggy and rough looking. All clues pointed at it being a stray, probably not fully grown and seriously in need of a few squares in its belly. On the other hand, its civility spoke of having a human home. And cats had been known to lie about being hungry.

He'd once told Monica that he was thinking about getting a cat. He never had. She'd told him he was a dog person with such conviction that for a long time, he almost believed her. And there'd been that terrible accident where she'd nearly died. The getting a cat plans just had kind of died at that point. Still, he couldn't deny that he had a soft spot for creatures of the feline variety. It was almost second nature for him to go to his fridge and rummage around in it for something the cat might find suitable. No milk- he took his coffee black. No tuna- he'd always hated it. The closest he could come to acceptable was some sliced turkey from the deli.

"Okay," he told the cat, getting out the turkey and a small plate. "One meal and then out you go. Back to where you belong."

The cat scarfed down the small pile of turkey like a bum meeting a bottle of nighttrain after a dry week in the lockup. When it attempted to settle down to a post meal groom, licking its paws, Doggett swooped down on it. "Sorry, bub, but I figure you must have a home out there somewhere, right? And it ain't with me."

He carried it outside into the yard. His landlady was kneeling on the ground, fighting her usual, ineffective struggle against the weeds that thrived where the grass was failing. "Hey, Mrs. Mercer," he said. When he'd gotten her attention, she looked up, strand of deadly nightshade in her hand. "This cat just walked right into my place. You know if maybe it belongs to one of the neighbors?"

She struggled to her feet and walked over to him. The cat, contrary to expectations, wasn't squirming in his arms. Indeed, it kind of draped itself over his arms like some kind of mangy fur stole. It was purring.

"Oh, dear," she said, looking closely at the cat's head. She scratched behind one of the cat's ears. The cat didn't quite hiss at her, but it did start to squirm in Doggett's arms. "That's Cuddles. I recognize him from this scar here."

She pointed to a scar on the cat's left ear.

"Cuddles?" Doggett asked. As he looked closer, he could see a few other scars here and there. "Cuddles" looked like he must have gotten into more than a few back alley spats. "Cuddles" was probably one of those nicknames like "Skinny Pete" Leonardo who weighed about four hundred pounds had.

"He belonged to the people who rented before you. They must have left him behind," she said. "Honestly, they weren't very nice people, and I was relieved when they moved on."

"Where they'd move to?" Doggett asked, figuring it was across town, next neighborhood, that sort of thing. He thought about dropping the cat off at their door with a few choice words about responsibility for living creatures and all that.

"Supposedly to San Francisco. They were..." She whispered the next part, drawing it out to emphasis it, "Ho mo sex uals."

Well, so much for returning the cat to its rightful owners. And so much for a tolerant landlady. Not that he was much surprised.

"I'll get the number for animal control, Mr. Doggett," she said, turning towards the two-flat.

People might adopt kittens, Doggett thought suddenly. And they might adopt an adult cat if they were small and pretty. But nobody was going to adopt a scruffy looking, loud-mouthed teenager of an ugly cat, even if he draped himself over you like a rug and made sounds like an outboard motor. No, consigning this cat to animal control was signing its death warrant.

"That's okay, Mrs. Mercer," he said. "You wouldn't mind if I kept him, would you? The last people kept him."

"I suppose not, though I'll warn you, the last people lost their damage deposit because of him," she said.

Doggett pondered that. His nose was pretty sensitive. He was sure he'd have noticed it if there'd been a cat peeing all over the place previously, even if the carpets were replaced. How much damage could one cat do?

Mrs. Mercer went back to her battle against the weeds and Doggett carried the cat back into the house. He shut the door behind him, the storm as well as the screen this time, then went back to putting his weapon back together.

"Okay, soon as I'm done with this, I'll go out and buy you some cat chow," he had told the cat as he set it down on the floor. It wove around his ankles for a minute, tail high in the air. He got a gander of its assets, and determined it was a former tom-cat. At least that was a decision he didn't have to make.

Not a minute later, as he was still working, the cat jumped from the floor, right onto the table. Actually right on top of the loose parts that had yet to be fit back together. "Hey," he said, grabbing the cat. "If you're staying here, we're going to have to have a few words about things like that. You ain't getting up on the table."

He dumped the cat back down on the floor. It was quiet for a few minutes and he looked up as he finished with his gun. The cat was, pleased as you like, sitting on the kitchen counter, cleaning itself. Right on the spot where Doggett usually cut up vegetables, on the built in cutting board.

He scooped the cat off of there, saying, "Shoo!"

He dumped the cat onto the floor, where cats belonged. The just looked at him with injured dignity, as if he couldn't believe that someone would deny him the counters.

"Okay, you think you can hold it until I get back from the pet store with litter and a box?" he asked the cat, not expecting an answer. He got one, albeit non-verbal. The cat turned and walked through the door connecting the kitchen with the living room, tail held straight and proud in the air, the very tip of it swishing slightly as he walked.

There was one more thing they had to square away, besides the whole up on the counters issue. He might have wanted a cat, but John Doggett did not have a cat named "Cuddles." He'd definitely have to rename the cat. As he walked out the back door, locking it behind him, he started thinking about possible names. Now, with that orange fur and the big ears, the cat looked a little like...a fox. Of course. And those eyes. Big and mostly green with hints of gold and brown. Who did that remind him of?

Fox. It was perfect. And it wasn't like he was ever going to see Mulder again.

Doggett remembered a pet store just down the street a little and he headed there on foot.

It was a small, neighborhood kind of place, in an old brick building. When he opened the door, a string of jinglebells on the door rang, not that that was really necessary to alert the staff to his presence. The instant he set foot in the place, a big blue and gold macaw started screaming. The macaw was held by a chunky woman behind the counter. She started soothing it, then she said to him, "I'll be right with you. Just let me put Mr. Tweety away."

She went to the back room and in a few seconds, she reemerged, unencumbered by the bird. "Sorry about that. Mr. Tweety doesn't like men. He's the jealous type."

"Jealous?" Doggett asked, thinking about pet owners who attributed human emotions to mere animals.

"He thinks he's my boyfriend," she said. "Now, what can I do for you?"

"I just acquired a cat. Though I suppose it might be more accurate to say that a cat decided it was going to move in with me," he said.

"They do that sort of thing. So you need just about everything, right? Never had a cat before?"

Not for lack of wanting one. There were always cats around the farm when he was growing up, but they were more like part of the livestock. Ma would never hear about having one in the house. Cats were rodent control. Then there was the Marines and no chance to have a cat. Then Barb always claiming to be allergic when he brought it up. And finally the clusterfuck that his life had become, what with one thing and another. This was his first chance, really.

"Yeah, my first one," he said.

She directed him to an aisle with plastic litter boxes, big tubs of litter, cat toys and other assorted impedimenta and suggested this product and that, until his arms were full and his wallet was looking like it might get pretty empty.

"You got anything to help keep the cat off the table and counters maybe?" he asked finally.

She just laughed at him, then when he gave her a sour, surprised look, she explained, "This really is your first cat, isn't it? Look, I could sell you a spray bottle and you could probably train the cat not to get up on the counter when you're around. Or I could sell you something called a scat mat. Gives a really mild electric shock. It works on dogs to train them to stay off of thing, but a cat will recognize that its the mat that shocks, not the counter. I'll be honest and tell you that the easiest thing to do is to train yourself to clean the counter every time before you use it."

He didn't like the sound of that. "Uh-huh," he said, non-commitally.

She rang him up and as expected, it was more than he'd spent on groceries this last week, between the litter and the food and everything. This "free" cat was looking like it was going to cost him quite a bit.

Doggett walked back down the street. Once he was inside, he found a convenient corner of the bathroom and set up the box just like the instructions on the side of the litter instructed. "Okay," he told the cat, who'd poked his head around the door, looking at the proceedings with avid curiosity. "Men's room is now open. Knock yourself out."

The cat seemed singularly unimpressed with the bowl of dry kibble that Doggett set out before him. He spent several minutes sniffing it, his nose twitching and swishing his tail.

"Hey, it ain't like I'm trying to poison you," Doggett said, in sheer exasperation. It seemed the cat was as paranoid as his namesake. At that, the cat turned gracefully and stalked off, indignant.

"Fine," Doggett snapped. "Don't think you're going to outstubborn me. You'll eat it or starve."

Then he caught himself. Lord God, he thought to himself, I'm not just talking to a cat, I'm yelling at it. And taking it personally. He sighed and took a microwave pizza out of the freezer for dinner. The chair in front of his TV was waiting for its nightly appointment with his ass.

As he flipped through the channels, hoping for something decent, Doggett listened for the sound of little teeth crunching, but it never happened. He was sure that eventually the cat would break down, afterall, it sure looked hungry enough. After a while, he did hear a crash. Not a huge one, but a definite thud from the direction of the kitchen. He traced the sound to its source in the kitchen.

The damn cat had knocked over the garbage can. At the moment, he had his paw digging into a brightly printed waxy cardboard box, the box he'd opened just a few minutes ago. The frozen pizza. Doggett reclaimed the box from the cat. As he took it away, Fox batted at the box, as if hoping to capture it again. Damn. You spend nearly ten dollars on a bag of food for the stupid creature and it'd rather go digging through garbage for the ghost of a frozen pizza. Doggett started picking up the scattered trash and started looking around for a more secure location to stash the garbage.

Sometime in the middle of the early morning hours, Doggett was woken by a hideous racket, dragging him straight from a deep sleep into wakeful anger. It took him only a few seconds to identify the source of the sounds. They went something like, "Awwwrouuuw! Awwwrouuuw! Awwwwwrrrouuuuw! Eeeerrrrouuuuw!"

The cat didn't even have a good, decent meow. The sound was the feline equivalent of fingernails on the blackboard. It sounded like the cat was protesting someone drowning or strangling him. Doggett checked his alarm clock. Three thirty or thereabouts. When the caterwauling kept on, he suddenly worried that something might really be wrong with the damn cat, so he hauled himself out of bed and headed off in the direction of the noise. He found the cat in the short hallway connecting his bedroom with the kitchen, just on the other side of the door he'd closed to keep the cat out of his room while he slept. Far from being in any danger or ill health, the cat was sitting up straight, looking somehow pleased with himself.

"There a problem here?" he asked with the cop voice, just as stern as if he were breaking up any other domestic dispute.

The cat just stood up and walked into the bedroom, tail high in the air. Without further ado, he hopped up on the bed and started grooming himself, happy as the proverbial clam. Doggett didn't like the idea of sleeping in the midst of all that hair the cat was probably going to shed. And at that moment, he had the sudden, unpleasant realization that no matter how much you called it "cleaning" what the cat was really doing was spreading cat spit all over himself. That was the sort of epiphany one had if one did too much thinking during this time of night.

"Hey, Fox," Doggett said. He wasn't inclined to be indulgent, not having just been woken from his much needed sleep. He picked the cat up and dumped him on the floor. The floor of the hall outside of the bedroom. "What did I tell you? Cats are not allowed to sleep on the bed, so keep your hairy little ass off of it."

He shut the door on the cat and immediately the cat started up again with the back alley, barbwire aria. "Oh, for the love of Pete, would you stop that?" he said. Then he sighed heavily and opened up his bedroom door again. "Okay, you can be in the room, but not on the bed."

Doggett crawled back into bed pulling the covers over his head, into his usual sleeping position- his stomach, hoping he wouldn't have a problem drifting back to dreamland. The cat joined Doggett, settling himself over Doggett like an extra heavy weight blanket. A few well placed shifts of the legs dislodged the cat. Then again and a third time. But only for a moment. The cat bided his time, waiting until Doggett stilled and finally slept. Then Fox jumped back into bed for the final time that night. He walked onto Doggett and curled himself into a neat ball, going to sleep, for a cat nap at least, on Doggett's ass.

The next evening, home from a long, tiring day of wiretap, Doggett let himself into his apartment by the back door. He'd stopped to pick up a burger on the way home, knowing he'd be too tired to cook. He set the paper bag on the kitchen table while he went to go check messages, hang up his trench coat and put his firearm in a locked drawer for the night.

No messages, not that he figured there would be. Trench coat hung up in the closet by the front door, same with the table with the drawer. Less than two minutes later and he was headed back into the kitchen.

The damn cat was on the table again.

Not only that, but the cat was in the middle of pulling his head out of the paper bag that Doggett's dinner was in. Fox had a french fry in his mouth. Doggett was torn, not sure whether to bust a gut laughing at the ridiculousness of the long fry drooping out of the cat's mouth, or get angry at the beast for not only being where he wasn't supposed to be, but disturbing his dinner. Doggett picked the cat up, escorted it to the bowl of food, which despite earlier protestations, had actually been depleted a little. "This is your dinner," he told the cat.

That was when he noticed the hole in the bag of cat chow. A big hole towards the bottom corner of the bag, with what could only be the tiny round marks of cat's teeth around it. The tiny brown pebbles of cat food were scattered all over that half of the kitchen. "Did you do that?" he asked Fox. "Did you?"

Despite his best interrogation technique, the cat never confessed. Fox sat back on his haunches and began to groom himself, licking his paw and running it over his head. He ignored Doggett and his questions pointedly. Doggett decided that there was no progress to be made with this perp, so he started cleaning up the mess. By the time he'd swept it up and found a plastic container big enough to hold the food, and gotten it all squared away, his burger was cold.

Even so, once his cold dinner was finished, Doggett retreated to the living room and his television, the cat following him. The instant Doggett sat down, the cat jumped up onto his lap. It seemed the natural thing to do, to pet the dang thing, just a stroke of the hand down the soft back, a little rub behind the ears. The cat's fur was softer than he imagined it would be. The cat's ears, other than the bits with scars, were like velvet. And wouldn't you know it, but the cat lapped it up like cream. It even started purring. And Doggett for the first time since Fox had decided he was going to move in thought that maybe the cat might be worth all the trouble he was causing. Doggett relaxed, hardly paying attention to the channel surfing he kept up as more of a reflex than anything. He was so comfortable like this, so enjoying the cat's company, so loathe to disturb the cat that when the phone rang, he didn't jump up to get it. Instead, he let the machine pick up.

It was Monica on the line. She said, "Oh, hi, John. I was hoping to catch you at home, but you must be out having a good time in the big city. Or maybe you're just working late like you always do..."

Once he'd realized it was Monica, he decided he was going to pick it up, it was only a matter of figuring out how he was going to do it without disturbing the cat in his lap. The phone was just out of reach. He stretched. His fingers almost brushed the receiver. Just a little more. He reached further, having to lift out of the chair to do it. The cat looked up, but thankfully, didn't abandon his lap. His fingers reached the cord finally and he was able to pull the phone towards himself.

"Hey, Monica," he said. "I'm here. I was just a little, uh, tied up."

"It's so good to hear your voice, John," she said. He pictured her, curled up on her couch. She really was a pretty girl and it should have been her that he was missing, not a certain other someone who was certainly not missing him.

"Good to hear from you too," he said. "How's the Big Easy treating you?"

"I quit the Bureau," she said. "They were trying to drive me out, giving me all the worst cases. The equivalent of getting sent to rescue kittens out of trees."

"Same here," he admitted. "But I'm more stubborn than that. I'm not gonna let 'em drive me out."

"What's that noise?" she asked.

Fox had decided to start purring again. He really was incredibly loud. No wonder Monica had heard him.

"My cat," he said.

"John?" she asked, truly surprised. "You got a cat? I thought you were just kidding about that. You know, you really are a dog person."

"I don't know why you keep saying that," he said, impatiently. "I mean, just because of the name, doesn't mean a thing."

"Well, anyway, that's not why I called," she said, quickly, covering her faux pas. "I'm a free agent now and I'm investigating my possibilities. I'm not stuck here in New Orleans. I thought I'd look at a couple of places, see where I really want to settle. I thought I'd come up and see you."

He'd bought flowers in anticipation of Monica's visit, nothing special, just a mixed bouquet from the grocery store. A pure impulse purchase from the buckets kept by the registers just for that purpose. At five-thirty, he was plopping them in a vase. Monica was due at six. Setting the vase on the kitchen table, he went off to make sure that the rest of the place was up to his usual standards. It wasn't so much for the romance thing, just seemed a nice thing to do. But Monica had, in a subtle, hinting kind of way made it obvious that she was thinking something along the lines of come and get me, act now or never. And he was thinking about acting now. She was, afterall, the one he should be thinking of and thoughts about loving the one you were with and that sort of thing kept running through his head.

He didn't even hear the crash. At five minutes before Monica was due, he went back into the kitchen. The cat was sitting on the floor looking so innocent that butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. When Doggett walked into the room, the cat stared hopefully and pointedly at his food dish. Doggett hardly saw that. His eyes fell on the vase of flowers on the table. Or rather, the former vase, now in pieces on the floor and the flowers, scattered across the table. Some of them looked chewed, with little teeth marks. And the water from the vase was still dripping onto the floor, little runlets spreading every which way.

"You wouldn't happen to know anything about this little accident, now would you?" he asked Fox. Fox, as usual, said nothing. Not that Doggett was expecting him to. Even though the damn cat couldn't talk, that look of pure but wounded innocence made it clear the cat would deny everything. As it was, Fox batted at one of the streams of water, like it was some kind of toy. There was nothing for it but to grab a rag and start mopping up the water. He gathered up what were left of the flowers and shoved them in an old plastic soda cup he had sitting around. He'd only had the one vase and at least the cat couldn't break the plastic, could it? He picked up glass hurriedly and was nearly done by the time the doorbell rang.

He hustled out to the living room and checked out the front window. There was Monica, waiting on the front stoop, carrying an overnight bag with her. He went to go let her in. The front hall was kind of dark and dingy, so he hurried her through it and into his apartment. Once inside and the door closed behind her, she rose up on her tip toes and planted a chaste kiss on his cheek. Then her eyes light up as something caught her eye. She smiled and pointed, looking over his shoulder. "Oh, that must be..."

Doggett turned just in time to see the cat bolt into the hallway.

"...your cat," she finished, voice falling. She slipped off her shoes and left them by the door. They were expensive looking high heels. He never understood that. Women who spent so dang much money on little nothings of shoes, with heels so high they could hardly walk, then just couldn't wait to take them off at any excuse. She said, "It's very pretty. And your place is nice. You'll have to give me the tour."

"The cat is a he," Doggett said, leading her into the kitchen. For some reason, he suddenly found himself reluctant to share the name of the cat, afraid she might take it the wrong way.

The flowers were all over the table again. More little bites had been taken out of them. For the second time that evening, Doggett had to mop up water, even as he was explaining, "I got them for you. But the cat keeps knocking them over."

She smiled as she started gathering the blooms up from the table, rescuing what she could. "Thank you, John," she said. Yeah, she was a real pretty girl, with a nice grin. She'd dressed in some little black knit thing that was pretty low cut and with a skirt that didn't touch her knees. Her nipples showed slightly through the top. It wasn't that he didn't like what he saw. He did. It was just that he kept thinking of another grin and another set of nipples he'd once seen through, not a slinky knit top, but a plain t-shirt. That despite that managed to be a lot more appealing.

"Why don't we head out for dinner?" Doggett said. It'd be easy to cover his mixed feelings with food. "My truck's round back."

"Sure, John," she said. She took the flowers and having retrieved the cup from the floor, stuck them in it. She filled the soda cup with water, but left the whole thing in the sink. She explained, "If your cat knocks them over again, at least the water will go right down the drain and not all over your floor. Let me just go get my shoes."

She walked back to the living room and Doggett fussed with making sure he had keys and wallet. A feminine shriek came from the other room in short order. He ran towards the source, wondering what the hell it could be.

It was Monica. She was holding up her shoes by then, a look of utter disgust screwing up her face. She held the shoes gingerly by two fingers each.

"What's wrong, Monica?" he asked, innocently enough.

A look of fury crossed her face for just a minute, then she calmed herself, finding another one of her bright smiles. "I don't think your cat likes me, John," she said, gamely. "He peed in my shoes."

"He what?" Doggett asked in disbelief.

"Peed in my shoes," she said. She held out the shoes in question, put them right under his nose.

Doggett got a whiff and wrinkled up his nose. Without a doubt, the smell of cat pee, one of nature's more pungent scents. Damn cat. What the hell was it doing? "I'm sorry. I don't know what to say," he said. "I'll buy you another pair."

"No, don't worry about it," she said. "Just let me get cleaned up a little and I'll change shoes, then we'll go out."

Monica's just getting cleaned up a little ended up entailing her changing her whole outfit, not just her shoes, and took well over half an hour. By the time she walked back into the room from the bathroom, though she looked good and smelled better, Doggett was starting to get hungry, and irritable. Still, he forced himself to smile at her when she walked into the room. Though it'd been a good while since his divorce and he was out of practice at it, he remembered the sort things a man was supposed to say to a woman when they were out on a date together, about how beautiful she was, how lovely she looked, though if he were honest with himself, that all seemed like a lot of effort that he wasn't sure that it was worth making at the moment. He was remembering the few dates, if you could really call them that, that he'd had with Fox. The man could pull on a handful of seemingly randomly grabbed clothes and in less than three minutes, emerge looking like some kind of model. And for damn sure he didn't need any compliments if you wanted to end up in bed with him at the end of the evening.

"You look lovely," he told her, only because she did. The black knit outfit had been exchanged for a sleeveless black dress and a different pair of black high heels, these ones even higher and strappier than the others. "You sure you want to wear those shoes? You know how parking in the city is. We may be walking quite a few blocks."

"I'll be fine," she said.

Right, he thought, wondering again why he'd thought it was important to invite one of these strange, alien creatures called women back into his life again, social respectability aside. He liked Monica, but he could tell already that he wasn't going to like her walking back to the car, her hobbled by her own shoes. "Okay, your choice," he said.

They drove into the city, until they reached the little bistro that he'd heard about. As he expected, parking was nowhere to be found near the place. Monica, game as always, walked the several blocks back to the restaurant once he finally found a place, though he could tell she was tettering uncomfortably on top of her stilts.

As he held open the door for her, he said, "I asked one of the secretaries about where to take a girl for a first date. She recommended this place."

The place was in the first floor of a loft building and it certainly looked like it, the bare brick walls, the high ceilings with all the pipes and conduits exposed, the floors of thick pine boards sanded and sealed. Like all restaurants of this type, they had the big antique advertising posters, including that champagne ad with the champagne glass and the woman in the black dress. Tattinger.

A short while later, they were seated, with menus in front of them, and Monica had a glass of white wine coming to her. Suddenly it was awkward, as if the well of conversation had dried up. This was real, Doggett suddenly realized. She was no longer his coworker, his partner. She was a pretty girl in a little black dress with shoes that were obviously meant to say, "come fuck me." And he just might have.

Except this was all wrong.

Because no matter what he'd been telling himself about how she was the right one, and how it would be good to have someone to care whether he came home at night, it wasn't her he was thinking of in the long and sometimes sleepless hours of the night, lying awake staring at his own pillow. Love has a cruel and bitter way of making something that should be simple into a twisted mess, he thought. When she was lying in a coma after that accident, he'd mentally tried on the idea of kissing her, and while it made sense, it failed at some visceral level. And that hadn't changed.

Impulsively, he leaned over and touched his lips to hers, to test the reality of his thoughts finally, to see if his assessment was truly accurate.

It was nice.

But no more than that.

Her lips were soft, he could feel her lipstick smearing under his lips, her kiss hesitant and delicate, making him feel that he could do no more than taste her, her reticence and reserve drawing out those qualities in himself. He longed for another's kiss. Even as he let his lips wander over hers tentatively, he remembered kissing Mulder, how he'd never had to hold back, indeed, how Mulder seemed to always demand the full force of his passion, just to match his own.

Doggett decided he'd rather go without, rather than settle. He needed to be able to run his engine at full throttle. Better to live like a monk than at half speed.

Besides, his cat didn't like her.

His decision made in the thirty seconds or so of their kiss, he backed away from her. He looked her in the eyes and could see that for her, in those thirty seconds, nothing had changed. Her eyes were still bright and cheerful. He'd have to let her down easy. But not here, not in public.

They ordered and somehow, he found small talk to make, catching up on each other's lives since they'd been separated. Each asking the other, circumspectly of course, if they'd heard anything from Mulder or Scully, or from Skinner. She hadn't, which didn't surprise him. She seemed to be surprised that he hadn't heard from Skinner. "But you two got along so well," she said. "He seemed to really like you."

"I think maybe it's because he likes me that he hasn't been in touch," Doggett said, thinking of how the last time he'd actually had a chance to talk to the man was that adrenaline filled evening spent breaking Mulder out of jail. Skinner was compromised, no doubt about that, and probably thought that he could only influence Doggett's career to the bad now.

"You just seemed...close. You know, for a working relationship," she said, then suddenly seemed very interested in her salad, some combination of spinach, walnuts and strawberries. He wondered what she was trying to get at, but then decided he had no clue how her, or any other woman's mind worked, and that it didn't seem to be worth the effort to find out. He turned his attention back to his own salad, a proper spinach salad, with bacon on it. Soon though, she found some innocuous thing to say about the latest car chase movie, and soon they were talking like old friends again and he was reminded why he liked her. As a friend, though.

The evening through finally, they drove back to his place. She'd gotten a hotel for herself, even though before she came they'd been talking as if she were going to spend the night. That was probably a good thing, seeing as how he wasn't going to be asking her to his bed tonight, nor any night. He did ask her in though, wanting to have that talk with her.

"You want anything?" he asked when he had her seated in the living room.

"Maybe I'd better have a cup of coffee and sit awhile and let those glasses of wine wear off," she said.

He went off into the kitchen. The flowers were still intact this time, but the first thing he noticed was that the loaf of bread he'd just bought earlier today was missing from the top of the microwave, where he'd left it. A quick search of the kitchen revealed that the loaf had come to rest on the floor by the refrigerator. The plastic bag had been torn open and several slices of bread pulled out. Little round teeth marks, the hallmark of a certain resident of the household, were visible on all those slices, though only part of each had been eaten. Damn cat. He quickly picked up the partially destroyed loaf and tossed it. So much for toast tomorrow.

Bread dealt with, he went to start coffee. And nearly stepped in a pile of cat puke. He couldn't say that he'd seen anything more gross in a long while, at least not since he'd been taken off the X-files. The main mass of the puke was partially digested bread, still in obvious chunks. There was some cat hair in the mixture, as well as plenty of frothy, liquidy stuff. He was a brave man though. Poison spitting lizard creatures hadn't phased him. What could a little cat puke do to him? He grabbed several sheets of paper towels and swabbed up the mess. If anyone asked, he would have stringently denied that he was nearly gagging, feeling the bile rise as he mopped it up.

Eventually, he was able to get coffee on. Back in the living room, he froze as he first entered the room, seeing what he was sure would be a disaster, but unable to prevent it. The cat had jumped up on the arm of the chair that Monica was sitting on. She regarded him cautiously for a moment and then decided it was just making a friendly gesture. More quickly than Doggett could call out that he wouldn't do that if he were her, Monica raised a hand to the cat, as if to pat his head. And the cat turned in a big snarl of hissing. Monica gasped in hurt surprise then drew her hand close to her chest. Fox hissed one last time, then bolted, running for the hall.

Monica held out her hand to show him the mark. There was no blood, but there were a couple of red, angry streaks where Fox's claws had just barely broken the skin. "I'm realizing now that that wasn't exactly the smartest thing to do," she said wryly. "Your cat already made his opinion about me well known. I just thought he might change his mind. I'm always hopeful like that. Just like I thought you might change your mind."

So, she did know. She did understand that it wasn't going to happen.

"We should get that washed up for you," Doggett said. "Cats are filthy creatures."

"He seemed fairly clean to me," she said.

"Monica, that paw walks on cat litter every day," he said.

"Good point," she said, smiling.

They stood in the kitchen together, he gathering cups and pouring coffee, she washing her scratch at the sink.

"I'm sorry, Monica," he apologized. The words didn't come easily to him, seeing as they were about his feelings, and the whole scope of those feelings that he was just starting to notice and explore tonight. "I shouldn't have let you think, you know, that I was going to make a move. I should have known that if I was going to make a move, it'd have been when we were still in DC. Hell, when we were still in New York."

"You don't waste time, do you?" she asked, more a statement than a question really. "I should have known that too. The only thing that's got me curious is who you would rather have been kissing in the restaurant tonight. Do I know her? Or him?"

Oh, hell. She knew. She had him pegged and made. He didn't think that anyone besides Mulder knew about that particular aspect of his personality. How had she guessed? He didn't quite splutter, but his silence revealed everything.

"So it is someone I know," she said, triumphantly.

"Yeah, but I ain't saying anything more than that," he said, darkly enough that he hoped she'd take it as a clue to leave it at that. He finally pieced together what she'd been trying to hint around about Skinner. "And it's not Skinner, that's for damn sure."

"Well, you can't fault a girl for guessing," she said. "Though I think I might feel better if it were some burly man, someone with something I'm just not equipped to give you."

He'd heard Scully, Catholic as she was, say before that confession was good for the soul. Time, he thought, for a little confessing of his own. "Trust me, Monica. If it were a woman, it'd be you," he said, even as he couldn't look her in the eye. His coffee mug was just about the most fascinating thing he'd ever seen.

"John, John, John," she said, shaking her head. "I wish you'd told me before."

Later that night, after she'd gone to her hotel room, leaving him alone for the night, he parked his ass in front of the television. Fox jumped up on his lap, asking, no demanding tribute in the form of petting his head and scratches around the ears. "We gotta talk," he told the cat as he ran his hands down the cat's velvety soft flank. "Monica's a nice girl and it's not like she's going to be sticking around. You have nothing to be jealous of. I don't know why you don't like her, but you can't be doing that crap to her."

The cat, of course, had no answer to that.

Fall, as you would expect it had to, eventually turned to winter, just in time for Doggett to get taken off wire tap and to be put onto a semi-permanent stakeout in an abandoned building next door to a bar owned by their subject. Okay, if he wasn't willing to admit before that someone from above was sending him the message, 'Quit! Quit immediately!' he certainly was getting the transmission loud and clear now.

It was miserable. The building was an old brick apartment block that had had a minor fire once. The section they were using was structurally fine, but all the windows in the building were gone. They were boarded up, most of them, which kept out the worst of the wind. Mostly. Someone had brought a little kerosene heater, but it seemed like half the time it was out of fuel or they couldn't run it for some reason or another, not that it made a huge difference when it was running. After the first night, he took his clue from the partner he'd been given for the duration of the assignment and ditched the suit in favor of anything warm. He shivered and drank gallons of hot coffee and refused to quit. The year changed and January brought colder temperatures yet. He put on more layers and refused to quit. His partner was a real sullen bastard who never said anything beyond what had to be said for the job. Doggett refused to quit.

In the beginning of January, he picked up a bad cold, but kept working. It hung around to the end of the month, the cough deepening, taking an entrenched position in his chest, sinking its hooks into the soft flesh of his lungs. It was so bad that one night as Doggett settled into his position at the camera and started coughing so hard he had to cling to the tripod for support, his partner actually said something to him. "Jeez, Doggett," the guy said. "You're still sounding like shit. You might, you know, want to go to the doctor or something."

Doggett just kept coughing while inwardly cursing the climate conditions that had brought him to this place. It was a particularly cold night, the temperatures taking their annual dip to near zero. The wind was rattling the boarded up windows hard, and between them, the windchill was decidedly subzero. And wouldn't you know it, with all of that, this winter didn't even have the decency to produce a nice snow to cover up the frozen dog poop and brown grass. There were still some crusts left over from the six inches they'd gotten in late December. The crusts were mostly gray and black from road crud. To make things worse, they kept having small snowfalls, never more than an inch, but enough to get the road crews out spreading their salt. The streets were practically white with the accumulated salt. And that in itself was enough to make him curse, because he felt too crappy to do anything but collapse once he got off work, much less take the truck to a car wash and get the salt off. Each time one of these little snowfalls happened, he mentally wrote another year off the life of the truck's body.

After that, they worked in silence broken only by Doggett's coughs. A couple of hours later, his partner spoke up again, "You know, I can hardly stand to listen to you. Go home. I got a buddy owes me a favor. I'll call him up and have him cover for you."

And so Doggett went home, protesting. He would have thought that the first thing he wanted to do once home was fall into bed, but he was too restless to sleep and it was a little easier not to cough when he was sitting upright. So he ended up in his chair in front of the television. He thought he was a bit feverish, so he took some aspirin. The cat, almost on cue, jumped right up into his lap. At least the damn thing was good for something, some little bit of comfort. Sometimes it felt so good to cuddle with the darn thing that he wondered if cats didn't have some kind of drug that was somehow transferred to people through the skin or something. An addiction to whatever it was was the only thing that logically explained why he kept the evil little critter around.

Nothing but nothing was on at three in the morning, even on the premium channels, so after about twenty minutes of fruitless channel surfing, he just shut the thing off in exasperation. The big picture book about the Marines he kept on his coffee table. Carefully, so he didn't dislodge the cat, he reached for it and randomly started flipping through the familiar pages. Then he came across it. He'd hardly remembered that he'd stuck it there.

It was a photo of Mulder and himself, from one of the few, all too brief, happy times they'd been together. They'd gone out together for dinner at the pier, just some mall thing meant for the tourists, but it was busy enough that they could be almost anonymous in the crowd. Mulder had insisted that they duck into the photobooth. The photo captured them looking at each other, Doggett looking doubtful at Mulder, Mulder smiling at Doggett, looking so handsome and charming. Even just looking at the photo, Doggett remembered exactly how easy it had been for Mulder to seduce him once Mulder had decided he was going to trust him. The sparks had been there between them right from the start. It was just a matter of Mulder changing the direction of the tension. Doggett had fallen hard, no doubt about it. Only it had obviously never been anything but a diversion to Mulder. Afterall, he was gone, with hardly a word once Scully's baby had been born, and not a word at all since he'd gone off with Scully into the desert. It obviously hadn't meant a thing to the man, as much as it hurt Doggett to admit that. Why did he have to have fallen in love with someone who was obviously in love with someone else? And why couldn't he fall out of love and move on with his life? If he'd been able to do that, he'd have someone right now. He wouldn't be sitting here alone, coughing his lungs out with no one but a cat for company.

"Why did my momma have to raise such a fool?" he asked the cat. Then he started coughing hard to cause the cat to be knocked off his lap. Life was looking pretty shitty these days, that was for damn sure.

He did manage to sleep a few fitful, miserable hours sitting up in the chair, the cat keeping a cautious distance. Strange dreams, ones he could hardly describe, haunted him and when he was awake, he felt like he was hardly awake. His fever, he recognized, had gone up, not down, but he also felt unable to do anything about it, not even enough to drag himself to bed, or the bathroom for more aspirin. His whole body ached, with a bright starburst of pain seeming to center in the side of his chest, causing him to wonder briefly if he'd managed to cough so hard he cracked a rib, but then he forgot about that.

At some point he became aware that someone else was in the room with him and he was just too out of it to do anything about it. He still had his gun on, too tired to take his holster off once he'd gotten home even, but he could hardly do more than try and fumble with the snap.

That caught the attention of his intruder, who, truth be said, was on his way to Doggett's side of the room anyway. "Whoa there. Easy, big guy," the intruder said, the voice familiar and male. Doggett focused his eyes. Brown hair, cut rakishly. Infuriating grin first, then a sudden look of intense concern as his hazel eyes took in the situation. Mulder. Fuck, he really was feverish. And he'd never been so bad off before that the delirium had turned into out and out hallucinations. The effort of merely looking up had set off another bout of coughing, which brought its own agony, not that it hadn't hurt merely to breathe.

Mulder knelt by Doggett's chair, and first thing, he slipped Doggett's hand off his gun, then took the holster off Doggett's belt. "Okay, I'm thinking it'd be a good idea if you hold off on any shooting until you can hold the gun steady," he said. "What do you think about that?"

"Whatever," Doggett murmured. He'd never, not once had a hallucination so real before.

After he relieved Doggett of the gun, the Mulder hallucination put a cool, almost cold hand on Doggett's forehead. "Hey," he said gently, almost a whisper. "You're burning up. I could call Scully for a second opinion, but I think you've got pneumonia. We should get you to the emergency room."

Doggett muttered something under his breath. Mulder hadn't quite caught it, because he said, "What was that again?"

"I said," Doggett said, pausing between words to cough. "Why don't I get a Scully hallucination too?"

"You think I'm a hallucination?" Mulder asked. "Hate to break it to you, but I'm the real thing. And Scully's in Alaska. Here, let's see if we can get you standing so we can take you out to the car."

It took a mighty effort, but between the two of them, they got Doggett to his feet. With Mulder at his elbow, Doggett took tottery, unsteady steps towards the front door. "Shoes, John," Mulder said as Doggett reached for the door handle.

"How'd you get in here?" Doggett asked suspiciously as Mulder helped him put back on the boots he'd shed on the way in.

"Well, your landlord leaves the front door to the building open, and that tiny lock on your apartment door wouldn't keep a Girl Scout out. One little hairpin," Mulder said.

"And you're in like Flynn," Doggett finished. Something warm and thick suddenly reached out and grabbed him around the shoulders. Oh, his coat. Right. Miserable fucking cold out there, which is how he'd ended up like this in the first place. It seemed like it wasn't really worth the effort to go out suddenly. He'd just wait until the morning. Now what he wanted more than anything was bed. He tried to turn that way, but a firm arm around his shoulder prevented him from making any movement but forward.

It got harder to move once he hit the bitter cold. One breath of that frigid air and any hope he had of making it anywhere without doubling over was deflated like a balloon at a convention of pin makers. Somehow, through it all, Mulder kept him more or less moving and more or less upright until they reached a car parked on the street. Suddenly, something soft and upholstered reached up and hit his ass. Mulder reached across him and buckled him into place. Then the door shut. The car was surprisingly warm. Mulder must have just gotten out of it. After an eternity, the door on the other side of the car opened, allowing a blast of cold air in. Doggett's shiver was his only protest.

"Okay, where's the nearest emergency room?" Mulder said.

He must fallen asleep or passed out or something in the car on the way to the emergency room because when he was conscious again, it was in the way too familiar confines of a hospital bed. He had an IV in his arm and an oxygen mask on his face. So, he'd been bad off enough that they were giving him oxygen, but not bad off enough that they'd intubated him. Well, that was a relief at least.

"Oh, hey, look, you're waking up," a voice said. Except it wasn't Mulder.

He had seen Mulder, hadn't he? Hadn't Mulder been the one to drag him out of his chair, out to the car and at least theoretically to the emergency room? Or had he really been hallucinating? If he had been, then he could just about kick himself for giving way to wishful thinking like that. And for being so damn disappointed that Mulder wasn't here when he woke.

Not that he had anything against the source of the voice. It was his new partner from the stakeout. Phil was his first name, right? Phil Culvers. For all that they hardly spoke, Doggett thought they got along more or less okay, and it wasn't like you could expect every working partnership to have the sparks that passed between him and Mulder. Or even the friendliness that existed between him and Monica. Doggett opened up his eyes, and sure enough, there was Culvers' ugly mug. Culvers was a fifteen year vet with the Bureau and he certainly looked it.

"If I'd had any idea you were in such a bad way, I'd have told you to go to the emergency room instead of just home," Culvers said. "I brought you some magazines and stuff."

Then Culvers dropped a brown paper sack on the bed just in reach of Doggett's hands and turned to go. He paused in the doorway to say, "Get better soon, okay? The guy they got in your place is a real chit-chatty bastard. You're all right, Doggett."

And that was glowing praise for Culvers, a whole mouthful of it. More than Culvers had ever said when they were on stakeout together. When Culvers was gone, Doggett pulled the bag into eye's view. It was heavy, looked like Culvers had gotten him six or seven magazines. Between the energy it took to sulk about Mulder not really being here, and absorbing the possibility of a work partner maybe actually talking to him, Doggett couldn't do much more than shuffle through the pile. Two car magazines, one of which he was a subscriber to and he'd already read that month, one of which he normally didn't think was worth his bother. National Geographic. Maxim, complete with a mostly naked woman on the cover. One of those crossword magazines. Newsweek. People. Like he gave a good goddamn about what the cast of Friends was doing this week. Okay, so the magazines were mostly, but not totally a wash. He hadn't read National Geographic since he was a kid in the school library, looking for pictures of naked people, but maybe he might be able to have a more mature appreciation for it now. There was also a paperback, the latest Richard Patterson thing.

When he looked up from the bag, there was Mulder, back like the proverbial bad penny and grinning like a fool.

"Looks like the coast is clear," Mulder said, pulling a chair up closer to the hospital bed and sitting down. "Sorry, I wanted to be here when you woke, but I also needed to be sure I'm not around when any one from the Bureau shows up, just in case its someone who might recognize me. Then my new bulletproof identity might not be so bulletproof.

"You know, I was really missing you," Mulder continued. "And it's done my ego no end of good to be able to show up and be your knight in shining armor."

Doggett mumbled something. He didn't have enough energy for full vituperous force, just simple spite.

"What was that?" Mulder asked, sounding innocent.

"Asshole," Doggett said, pulling the mask slightly off his face and making sure to enunciate clearly this time.

"Seriously, that was a real nasty version of pneumonia you managed to pick up there, and they say it looks like you were walking around with it for weeks before you collapsed. It took three days of heavy duty IV antibiotics to get it under control," Mulder said. "I was worried. So worried Scully offered to come out of hiding in Alaska and join me here. And that's really something. She's been happy there, especially since we retrieved William."

Doggett didn't the energy left after his little outburst to do more than listen and nod. Mulder was about to tell him about how they'd set up the perfect little family there and generally rub it in that he was with Scully now. And Doggett could harden his heart and not let it hurt, couldn't he? It didn't matter, did it? He was over it. All over it.

"But I wouldn't let her do that. I couldn't tear her away from her life and into danger again. She's finally settled in, found a big, strong manly mountain man who can give her everything she thought I should give her but couldn't," Mulder said, and as he talked, his hand reached slowly across the bed, skirting the discarded magazines and paperback, insinuating itself into Doggett's hand. "And now that she's taken care of, I'm free to go to the person who can give me what I need."

Then, Mulder switched topics, in that lightening swift away of his, "Oh, I've been feeding your cat. What's its name?"

Doggett hesitated. He might, for the moment, get away with claiming to be too tired, too out of breath to talk. Or he might claim that the cat had been named "Cuddles" when he came into possession of it and that he had just stuck with that. Afterall, the landlady was still calling Fox that. Or he might suddenly decide to call the cat something else. Afterall, it wasn't like the damn cat actually recognized his name, or came when he was called or anything like that. He'd never expected to see Mulder again, otherwise, he would never have considered the name. But it was just too perfect a name for the troublemaking little beast, who nevertheless had managed to worm his way under Doggett's skin. Just like the original Fox had. Maybe the feline Fox had a more limited scope, but they were much the same. The original dug into international conspiracies and unearthed the possible shitstorm of the century, whereas the feline Fox just dug in his litter box and scattered sharp little pebbles of clay litter all over the bathroom floor for Doggett to step on with bare feet every morning. If the original Fox didn't like the comparison, too freakin' bad.

Doggett pulled his oxygen mask off. He didn't feel like he needed it for the moment. "The cat's name is Fox," he said.

Doggett was delighted to see that he'd puzzled Mulder and for once the man didn't have some kind of snappy retort. He'd actually managed to shut the man up. That was worth something, wasn't it? Mulder was about to say something, but then paused, his mouth still open. Mulder closed his mouth after a second or two and remained in silent thought for a while. He opened his mouth again, about to say something, then obviously thought better of it. Finally, at long last, when he did say something, he settled for, "You named the cat after me?"

"He's a big troublemaker too," Doggett said.

Mulder didn't have a chance to say anything more. A nurse swooped into the room, fussing and flustering as she descended on Doggett. "Oh, Mr. Doggett, you need to keep your oxygen mask on until your blood gas levels are up to normal."

Then Doggett had a good reason to be quiet, to lie back in bed and for once, be the one that kept Mulder guessing.

The oxygen mask had come off early the next day and Doggett was feeling better, enough that he could take a serious look around the hospital room. It was pretty much standard issue, another bed in the room that just didn't happen to be in use at the moment. There were two bouquets of flowers for him. One was a generic florist's arrangement, carnations, that kind of thing. He'd had Mulder hand him the card. He read it. It was signed as being from everyone in the office, but he recognized the handwriting as being from Elaine, the friendliest of the secretaries, a friendliness that he'd taken pains to cultivate, because she was friends with the SAC's personal assistant. You wanted in good in an office, he'd learned early, don't discount the secretaries.

The other bouquet was tulips, red tulips, no card. Must have set whoever sent them back a fair penny to get them at this time of year. They were big, full, lush tulips too, bending gracefully over the sides of the vase in perfect arches, the red of the petals deep, marked with a tiny bit of yellow at the bottom. Plain glass vase, no extraneous foliage or the little white poofy flower things florists usually put in with bouquets. So, whoever sent them had good taste and a sense of what he liked. Not that he was much used to getting flowers, or sending them either. He tended to give cards when people landed themselves in the hospital. He wondered about who'd sent them. At first he thought Mulder maybe, but the man hadn't mentioned it, nor given any hint that he'd seen them. He hadn't even seemed to be looking at whether Doggett was looking at the flowers. Still, circumstantial evidence was strongly pointing to Mulder.

And that was far more a serious declaration of romantic intentions than Doggett was sure he could deal with at the moment.

Having adjusted himself to the reality that Mulder was gone, that Mulder wasn't going to be back and that Mulder never really had been a good idea in the first place, Doggett was not going to allow even the slightest of raising of expectations. Why would he want to put himself through all of that again?

You weren't going to find that Sal Doggett's son was the same fool twice. No way, no how.

Mulder might be calling himself by a different name these days, living under an assumed identity and supposedly safe from pursuit by the law, but Mulder was the same, infuriating Mulder he always was. He hadn't said yet why he'd shown up at Doggett's apartment that night, why he was still here and when he intended to leave, and Doggett wasn't going to ask. He might be flat on his back in the hospital, but he had some pride left. Still, Mulder would persist and just sit there like some bump on a log, when it was obvious that Doggett really didn't have that much to say to him.

"Okay, I get the picture," Mulder said eventually, when Doggett actually resorted to paging through the People Magazine, in order to have anything to do besides think about or talk with Mulder. "You're angry with me for how I left, the mere fact that I left, the fact that I didn't contact you at all, and the fact that I seem to expect to just waltz back into your life and pick up where I left off. Does that about cover it?"

To make it worse, he didn't seem to be angry himself, just sounded a bit sad and...understanding? One corner of Mulder's mouth quirked up in a rueful smile and he looked straight into Doggett's eyes. The man still had the most amazingly beautiful eyes, changeable, sort of green, sort of brown, stirations of gold through them. That grin was hard to resist.

"And you have every reason to be," Mulder added.

This understanding might begin to soften his resolve, Doggett decided and that was, in no way, good. Pretty soon, Mulder just might be begging Doggett to take him back, and Doggett might find himself listening.

"You know, this isn't exactly the best time to be having this conversation," Doggett said. "Seeing as I still feel like death warmed over and served on dry toast. We can talk about it later, about the same time you're going to tell me what the hell you were doing breaking into my apartment."

Mulder hesitated. "Not exactly one of my brighter ideas, but the heater in my rental is broken and I thought you wouldn't be home. I was going to wait for you inside, away from the cold. It's a good thing you were sick, because otherwise, I have this feeling that I might be the one in this hospital bed."

"You really think that?" Doggett asked. He always at least tried to ask questions first, using his weapon as a last resort. For some reason, he thought of a certain day in the Arizona desert, where he'd gotten his first look at Mulder. Or at least at some entity that emulated Mulder's physical form perfectly.

His first thought on seeing Mulder, quickly squashed, had been about how the man was even better looking than his picture. And then when Doggett had had his first encounter with the real Mulder, he had thought about how much more beautiful the man was when the fierce tides of anger had crossed his face. The passion in the man, more than anything, was why he hadn't really fought back at all when Mulder had shoved him that time in Skinner's office. He'd stalked away from Skinner's office more confused than anything, about Mulder's paranoia, that was true, but more than that, about how attracted to Mulder he'd been.

"You can be a suspicious man, John," Mulder said.

Doggett thought about the number of times someone had broken into his house since he'd gotten involved with the X-files. Logically, he should be even more suspicious than he was. "And that is the kettle calling the pot black," he said. He shifted in bed a little and picked up the magazine again, wondering just when the hell he could check himself out of this joint.

The very next day, his doctor, young, female and pretty, decided that he could go home. "You're looking much better, Mr. Doggett," she said, checking over his chart. She was blonde too, and that should have tripped his trigger right over. Instead, he couldn't help but be distracted from the conversation by thoughts of Mulder.

"I'd normally keep a single man like yourself in for a day or two longer, just because you don't have anyone to take care of you. But your friend, Mr. Martin, has promised to take the best care of you. You're so lucky to have such a good friend conveniently in town."

Doggett seriously wondered for a minute what line of bullshit Mulder had been feeding the girl, but then decided that she, like most people, had fallen hook, line and sinker for Mulder's effortless but almost graceless charm.

Yeah, lucky, that was it. He sure was lucky, to have to put up with the man again, to guard his heart against the inevitable talk that was coming, the one where Mulder was surely going to beg Doggett to take him back. It had to be coming. One thing was for sure, Mulder was taking extra pains to be sure that Doggett knew that Scully was with someone else now. All of Mulder's small talk seemed to be about Scully's new life, her new husband, how they were raising William, all of that. So, that was the background being laid. The implication was clear, that Mulder was free and footloose, no obligations. The importuning to Doggett to reconsider a relationship of some kind couldn't be far behind.

"Mr. Doggett?" the young and pretty doctor asked. "Did you hear me? I said that I thought it should be at least a week before you go back to work. Longer if you've got an active job. I'm sorry, what was it you said you did again?"

Just what did he really do? He'd had a pretty clear idea once. It had all seemed so clear cut. Catch the bad guys, bring them to justice. Then Mulder had happened to him and not everything was quite so clear cut any more. He'd thought of himself as one of the good guys, but he was clearly being punished for doing what he'd thought was his job. The bad guys had offices in the upper floors of the JEH, the justice system itself was riddled with corruption and he could hardly tell black from white, much less all the different shades of gray. "I'm an agent with the FBI," he said as blandly as he could.

"Well, if it's a desk job, another week," she said, then sent him off with instructions for the medications he was supposed to take, antibiotics to finish the infection off for good, and asthma medications to make sure that his "airways stayed open."

Then she was gone to finish filling out his release paperwork.

"Only four and a half days, not bad," Mulder said as they were getting into Doggett's truck. Mulder had taken the liberty of driving it to pick him up, he'd said, because he'd figured that Doggett would appreciate the luxury of heat, especially considering it was snowing. Mulder continued as he carefully pulled out of the hospital parking lot into the slow moving traffic along Harlem Avenue, "The time I was in the hospital for pneumonia, it was aspiration pneumonia. I was in the hospital for weeks."

The traffic crawled as the medium flakes drifting down slowly turned heavier and the wind picked up. The sky was heavy and leaden with clouds and there was already a good inch of churned and gray slush on this major street. "I thought the weathermen were saying this was going to miss us," Doggett complained.

"I guess not," Mulder said. "It's not so bad and most people here seem to have a good idea about how to drive in it."

Actually, Mulder was acquitting himself behind the wheel better than Doggett would have expected in these conditions. Despite the heavy slush, the truck didn't slide or slip once. Indeed, Mulder pulled the truck into Doggett's parking space in the garage without a single incident. Doggett glared at Mulder as the man got out of the truck and walked around, as if Doggett needed help getting down. The day he needed help getting out of his own truck was the day he was just going to pack it in and order the casket for his own funeral. Mulder shrugged off the glare as if he hadn't seen it. Instead, as Doggett went for the side door to the garage, Mulder reached behind the seats and pulled out the two bouquets.

"Why'd you bring those?" Doggett grumbled. "Fox is just going to trash them."

"We'll put them on top of the fridge or something," Mulder said.

Then they went out into the snow and cold. It was picking up rapidly. The snow stung Doggett's face and whipped his hair for the whole of the quick trip from the garage to the back porch. Maybe he was better, but he sure as hell wasn't well, he decided. It was less than fifty feet from the garage to the steps, but it felt like he'd walked miles by the time he put a foot on the first step. He was wheezing practically. Doggett still insisted on being the one to let them into the apartment, nearly pushing Mulder away from the door, when the other man approached it saying, "I found your spare key."

Once inside, it wasn't so much that the place had been trashed. Mulder, by nature, wasn't a slob. But everything had a certain layer of detritus to it. It wasn't a huge sink full of dishes, but there were cups and plates scattered here and there through the whole place. There were small piles of sunflower seed shells here and there. The cat's dish was full, but Mulder hadn't taken the time to sweep up the kernels of cat food that the cat dug out of his bowl and, as a game, would bat across the floor. The cat himself was too busy using the wood casing by the hallway door as a scratching post to even look up and acknowledge that the human he lived with had returned from an extended absence. And Doggett had once wondered why the casing around that particular door had looked newly installed, not the heavily painted over stuff that was around every other door.

Mulder, true to his work, put the floral arrangements on top of the fridge. Then he snapped on the little TV on the counter, turning the channel to the weather channel, where news about the storm that was hitting them was breaking. First thing that Doggett heard was, "We're now expecting eighteen to twenty inches here in Chicagoland, very possibly a record breaking amount for this day. As you can see here in this picture, crews are working frantically to ensure that O'Hare remains open, but it's looking like roads are closing down all over the city..."

Peachy. Just peachy. He was going to be snowed in with Mulder for God knows how long.

He might have done it more gracefully, but still feeling sick like this made him peevish and ill tempered. Between that and the fact that he didn't want to be nice to Mulder, didn't want to have Mulder be nice to him, didn't want to have his heart or resolve softened. He was being a real bastard. He looked at Mulder who was watching the weather avidly and snapped, "I won't send you out in that, but once the roads are clear, you're out of here. Back to Alaska or whatever rock it was you crawled out from under."

Having said his piece, he stalked off to his bedroom and found an unpleasant surprise waiting for him. Guess the cat had noticed that he was gone afterall. More or less the entire contents of his closet were scattered over the floor of the room. Suits, shirts, ties, all in big piles on the floor. Piles in which, if you looked closely, you could see the impression of a little cat body. The contents of the drawers of his dresser had been spared, but little else. He was sure if he examined them closely, he could see the snag marks of a certain feline's claws. If he hadn't known better, he would have assumed that someone had broken in and trashed the joint. Except given what he knew about his feline roommate, that seemed the far likelier explanation. Occam's razor cut that one by a good clear margin. The light frosting of orange cat hair on the clothes in certain piles was a pretty strong bit of physical evidence linking the perp to the crime.

"Fox! What the hell did you do to my room?" Doggett yelled, without thinking to hard about it.

A moment later, Mulder's head popped around the doorway as Doggett had sat down on the bed, starting to contemplate whether he'd be able to rest with the room in its current state or whether he could find the energy to start rehanging the clothes and sorting out which ones would need the attentions of the dry cleaner.

"What?" Mulder asked, sounding genuinely puzzled.

"Oh," Doggett said, embarrassed, then angry again at his forced upon him houseguest. "Not you. The damn cat."

"Your cat did this?" Mulder looked around in disbelief.

"You think I leave it like this?" Doggett said. "Unlike certain people I can think of, I don't have a trust fund to spend on fancy clothes. I take care of my suits."

And he definitely had better things to be spending money on than the dry cleaners, he thought as he reached for a suit jacket, even though he wanted more than anything to lie down. Thinking unkind thoughts about HMOs that pushed patients out of the hospital before they were truly better, he started to clean up, only the thought of preventing more creases keeping him going.

"You lie down," Mulder said, grabbing the suit coat from Doggett's unresisting hands, then starting to look around for a hanger. "You look like you're about to fall over. I'll take care of this. I've got a travel steamer in my bag. I can probably get the worst of the creases out without taking them to the dry cleaners."

So, Doggett let himself fall into his nice, soft bed. He quickly decided that it was far better than the hospital. Nobody was going to be coming by every two hours to stick him with a needle and enact the vampirism of "blood tests" on him. As a rest cure, hospital time definitely didn't have anything to recommend it. Mulder quickly worked gathering up clothing and matching it up to hangers. Doggett started to drift, almost ready to fall asleep again when the crash happened.

Though it startled Doggett awake again, it didn't frighten him. He'd almost been expecting it. Mulder, on the other hand, just about jumped out of his clothes. He covered it pretty well after his initial reaction, but he'd definitely been scared, maybe thinking broken window or something. "What was that?" he asked.

Doggett groaned, then pulled himself out of bed by main force. "Let's go see what the furry little bastard has done this time," he said. Actually, he had a good working theory as to the source of the sound of broken glass, but he just wanted to confirm it, then rub it in Mulder's face.

They made it to the kitchen in enough time to see Fox sitting on top of the fridge, one of the tulips in his mouth, biting it, then dropping it and batting it around, like he was playing with a captured mouse or something. Water was still running down the side of the fridge. Several of the tulips had dropped to the floor in a scattering of red among the widely spread shards of glass. For the moment, the other arrangement hadn't been touched, but Doggett was sure it wouldn't be long until it too, had reached a sad, unpleasant fate in the jaws of the cat.

"Did I or did I not tell you that he'd just trash them?" Dogget demanded. "Your fault. You clean it up."

"But how'd he get up there?" Mulder spluttered. "I didn't think he could possibly get up there."

"You," Doggett said, poking a finger at Mulder's chest. "Have obviously never had a cat. Get rid of the other one while you're at it, before he gets any ideas."

"Well, looks like I'll have to get you another bouquet," Mulder said as he looked around for paper towels to mop up the water with.

"No more flowers," Doggett snapped. "Got that? Back off, Mulder. No more flowers. No more of this nursemaiding me. You're out of my life, soon as the storm lifts."

With that, he stalked back to bed, laid down and went to sleep soundly. In a while, he woke just long enough to notice a small, furry body settling in for a cat nap on top of him. He didn't even wake up enough to protest or shift when a certain feline curled up on top of his ass, then started to purr and very shortly, fell asleep as well.

When Doggett woke up, it was dark outside again. He looked out his window and saw that snow was still coming down hard and heavy, blowing nearly horizontally. At least they still had power. He could see a light on in the kitchen from just beyond the door he'd left cracked open so that the cat could come and go as it pleased without raising a ruckus. Cats, Doggett had discovered, had this way of always wanting to be on the exact opposite side of whatever closed door they happened to be on. Nearly without exception.

Doggett sat up in bed and felt, for the first time in a while, nearly human. The cat had come slept with him a little while, he vaguely remembered, but there was no sign of him now. Something savory was cooking and the delicious smell drifted in to his room. He turned on the light so he wouldn't have to stumble and trip over the clothes on the floor.

There weren't any. They'd all been hung up neatly. Mulder had made himself busy then. At least he'd worked silently. Doggett checked the closet, just to see if Mulder's work was up to his standards, or if things had been hung up willy-nilly.

They hadn't. He didn't check every suit, but the sample he checked, all of them had the right pants with the right jacket. Not only that, but Mulder had arranged them by color, dark grays together. Blues together. Same for the ties that had been neatly hung up on their rack. He checked the suits for signs of cat hair or creases, but he couldn't find any. Okay, so maybe Mulder knew his way around a suit. Doggett decided that the sweats he'd worn to bed would be just fine for the rest of the evening around the house. It wasn't like he'd chosen to have company over. He padded out of his bedroom in stocking feet.

Wandering through the kitchen, Doggett lifted the lid on the big pot on the stove. Chili. Something was in the oven too. He opened the door and peeked in to see cornbread. He knew he shouldn't, but he stood in front of the open oven door for a little while, basking in the extra heat and thinking about how much exactly he really, truly hated winter. Things around the room had been cleaned up a little too. The dishes had been done and were draining in the rack, none of the sunflower seed shells were in evidence, nor was even the tiniest speck of glass from the doomed vase. Mulder had even gotten rid of the other arrangement like Doggett had said. The man could be infuriating. He wasn't supposed to be likeable, kind or amenable.

Doggett tracked Mulder down to the living room where he occupied the big chair in front of the TV. When he heard Doggett approach, Mulder stood up to allow Doggett the prime TV watching place. A small stack of videos were on the floor beside the television.

"I hope you don't mind. While you were sleeping, I did a little shopping for you, while the stores were still open. And I found a rental place that hadn't quite closed down yet. The pickings were kind of slim. I think people are planning to be stuck inside for quite a while," Mulder said. "Dinner will be ready in just a bit."

Then Mulder picked up the videos and tossed them onto Doggett's hands. Doggett looked through them. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Seen it, wasn't impressed. The Fast and the Furious. The Great Escape. And finally, at the bottom of the pile, Caddyshack. "How did you know this is one of my favorites?" Doggett asked, holding up the video suspiciously. He actually had a copy, locked up in storage, back in DC.

"It's a classic," Mulder said, grinning big. "Why don't you pop it in and I'll be back in a little bit with dinner."

Too much more of this, Doggett thought, and it would be hard to kick the man out into the snow. "Damn it, Mulder, I told you to quit fussing over me."

"This isn't fussing, John," Mulder said, sounding perfectly reasonable, and as if Doggett were the unreasonable one here. "We have to eat, so I made some food. I figured videos seemed the most likely option for entertaining ourselves without jumping down each other's throats."

"Fine," Doggett said. He took the seat Mulder had recently vacated and leaned over to pop, not Caddyshack, but The Great Escape. Mulder wandered off into the kitchen and started making noises. Mulder, Doggett noted, looking over by the door, had left a pair of shoes by the door, in the exact same spot where Monica had left that ill-fated pair of pumps. Out of simple spite, Doggett decided not to warn Mulder, though it possibly might be too late by now.

Mulder entered the room, having found a tray. He bore bowls of chili and fragrant corn bread. He settled the tray on the floor next to Doggett and took up a spot on the couch, taking a bowl with him. Doggett tentatively put his spoon into the chili then took a bite. Mulder, he decided, though he'd never been given a clue to it before, was a surprisingly decent cook. The chili had just enough spice for a little kick, but not enough to singe his taste buds off. There were plenty of black beans in between the chunks of beef, and little bits here and there of extra hotness, probably finely diced hot peppers. The cornbread was light and fluffy and for a while, Doggett was happy.

After a while, they were done eating. Bowls were set aside. The cat came up to lick at Doggett's bowl, but abandoned it after one brief lick. Guess the chili was too hot for the cat. They settled in to watch the movie in almost companionable silence. Well fed, warm and feeling almost better, Doggett was inclined towards generosity for a brief moment, even to Mulder, which was why when the cat investigated Mulder's discarded bowl, and Mulder's hand reached out to pet the damn thing, Doggett said, warningly, "He doesn't seem to like other people much."

Mulder gave Doggett a funny look as his hand came to rest lightly on the cat's head, Fox petting Fox. Wouldn't you know it but the cat had to prove him wrong? The cat started brushing up against Mulder's hand, bumping it with his head, in the motion that the lady from the pet store had described as 'marking.' In other words, the cat was saying, 'I like you. You're mine.'

"We seem to get along famously," Mulder said as the cat continued to brush himself against his hand.

"Did I ever tell you that a cat once saved my life?" Mulder said, after allowing the cat to pet himself on his hand for a while.

"Uh-huh," Doggett said. He was doubtful, but he didn't actually tell Mulder he was full of shit. That was about all Mulder could hope for considering the circumstances.

"Yeah," Mulder said. He then proceeded to tell some cock and bull story about sea monsters and how a cat had lured him out into the freshwater rain, where the sea monsters growing in his neck had died.

Doggett vaguely remembered it. "You didn't mention any cat in your report on that," he said.

Mulder shrugged and added, "It didn't seem important at the time."

Then Mulder flicked the movie off of the pause he had put it on to tell the sea monster story. He stood up and collected the chili bowls and other dishes and went off to the kitchen. The sounds of water started coming from the sink, along with the assorted clinks and clicks that indicated that Mulder was doing the dishes. Doggett, for his part, thought hard. Long and hard about his relationship, such as it had been, with Mulder.

It hadn't been for very long, but those short weeks had been the happiest his life had seen for a very long time. Before that had been the lonely, empty time after his divorce, before that, the general trainwreck that his life had been since Luke had died and the divorce had happened. It'd been years since he'd been happy. It wasn't so much that Mulder himself made Doggett happy. It was the emotions that Mulder brought out in Doggett. When Mulder was around, things seemed sharper, brighter, more highly wrought. Even struggling in the wake Mulder left behind, life ran at a higher pitch.

Even now. Doggett had to admit that he'd laughed more at that sea monster story than he'd laughed at anything in months. He might have been pissed at Mulder for dozens of very good reasons, but even that made him feel alive. They sparked, that was all there was too it.

Perhaps because it had been so good, then to have it ripped away so quickly, it made it all the hard to have him here now. It made him want again, and that wasn't good, because Mulder would never, could never do anything but disappoint him. Run off the next time that the direction of the wind changed.

Mulder was taking far longer than he should have, just to wash off a few bowls and plates. And Doggett was no longer hearing the comfortable sounds of dishes being washed. He got off his ass and padded into the kitchen. Mulder had stopped washing and was staring out of the dark window over the sink into the snow driven night. The snow had thinned considerably, though it still blew hard. Doggett figured the worst of it was just about over. Another day, two, then Mulder would be out of his life again.

God, but wasn't the man beautiful. Doggett remembered lying in bed with Mulder, in lazy, post-coital bliss, tracing a finger down the sharp curve of his jaw and cheek. The way the deadpan serious expression could turn to amusement fast as lightning. Mulder's languid, loose way of standing was just like it had always been. And the jeans Mulder was wearing tonight were tight. They cupped the curves of that gorgeous ass as close as a good race driver could take a tight corner. The jeans themselves were well washed, well worn to the point where the surface was soft, almost velvety looking, but they hadn't yet started to wear through. Soon though.

Doggett swallowed hard, just thinking about that ass, what he'd done to it before.

Then a certain portion of Doggett, one he had been almost sure had decided to take early retirement and move away to Florida, decided it was going to stand up and take notice of Mulder. This was, in no way, good. He didn't want to be turned on by the man. He didn't want to be flashing on memories of just how damn good it had been. None of that. His body was traitorous. Even if he didn't, it wanted Mulder and in a bad way. Out and out kissing Monica hadn't gotten him even the slightest bit hard, and just grabbing a quick look at Mulder's ass had gotten him nearly a full on woody. In a world that made sense, it would have been the other way around, but ever since his life had intersected with Mulder, not one goddamn thing made sense.

Then, before Mulder even became aware that he was being observed, Doggett cleared his throat and announced gruffly, "I'm going back to bed."

Mulder turned around to watch Doggett retreat down the hall, and said, "Good night." He seemed utterly unaware that he'd been observed, that anything had happened.

Once Doggett was in the bedroom, he shut the door behind him. The damn cat would have to be happy to be on the other side of it for once. And it wasn't like Fox didn't have Mulder, traitorous little slut for affection. He laid down and intended to first sulk, then sleep. He turned the light off and waited for sleep to come, but it didn't. He laid awake and couldn't help but think of Mulder's body. The sheer perfection of the man's abs and torso, slender but still muscled, defined enough to have a six pack, but not any more than that. Those long legs. The rakish way his hair fell across his forehead. His woody was getting even harder and harder to ignore.

He tried to think of baseball statistics. He tried to remember all the state capitols. He tried thinking about the case he'd been working on. Nothing kept his mind from drifting back to Mulder and memories of what it had been like to fuck the man.

Okay, he thought, admitting defeat silently to himself. Just this once.

If he took care of it quickly, without fuss, he could get on with the business of getting to sleep, passing the time until the roads would be clear and Mulder could leave, couldn't he?

First he reached to make sure that the box of tissues was in easy reach, then he eased his sweats down his hips. As he started with a nice, slow stroke, he thought about the first time Mulder kissed him. After that mess with that case Monica had drawn Mulder in, the murders that she thought were tied in some way to the death of his son, Doggett had gone over to Mulder's apartment, looking for some kind of answers from Mulder. Something more conclusive than the line of bullshit that Mulder had fed him earlier. He didn't remember clearly exactly what they had said to each other, until he said to Mulder, "Why can't you just give me a clear, decisive answer, Mulder? Even if it's total bullshit? I just saw a normal, no, a woman who wouldn't hurt a fly try and kill Agent Reyes. That woman ended up in the loony bin because of what happened."

"I don't have answers for you, Agent Doggett," Mulder had said.

"What do you have then?" Doggett had demanded, practically irrational by this time. He hadn't noticed how close he had come to stand to Mulder, so close they were nearly touching. "The way Agent Scully talks about you, you're the man with the answers. Damn sun and moon rise and set because you tell 'em to as far as she's concerned."

Mulder had looked to the side and shook his head a little. "All I can tell you, is that you can never really know. You can never know why Katha Dukes snapped when confronted with the loss of someone she loved and why you didn't when your son died. You can never know when little green men are going to abduct you. You just have to live for the moment, make the most of the opportunities to love that are presented to you, because the unthinkable could happen at any time."

And then, suddenly, Mulder had closed the remaining space between them. He hesitated only precious seconds, just long enough for Doggett to notice his smell, strong, masculine sweat, as if he'd just come in from a run. It was a heady, intense odor, one that made Doggett think of pleasures abandoned when he got married. Then Mulder's lips were touching his. The merest brush at first, tentative, as if Mulder hadn't been sure that Doggett wouldn't slug him. Doggett had stiffened at the unexpected touch, but there had been an almost chemical change suddenly. It was as if the kiss was a force of its own. It had been the moment when everything he thought about Mulder changed, even if he'd not been willing to admit it yet. Every muscle fiber in his body melted and he had slumped back against the wall. Mulder had moved closer, continuing the kiss, slowly and thoroughly. There hadn't been any tongue, just his lips moving languorously across Mulder's, all of his resistance softened. Mulder's hands moved to the back of his neck, to further control the kiss.

It was the soft touch of Mulder's tongue on his lips, questioning if Doggett would allow admittance, that had snapped him out of it, woke him up from the drug like spell that kissing Fox Mulder was. He had been about to do something he sure as hell hadn't intended on when he'd set out. He pulled Mulder's hands off the back of their neck, even as his skin protested that they didn't want that touch interrupted. He'd been skin hungry, had gone so long without sex or much human contact.

"Wait a minute, wait a minute," he'd said, pushing Mulder away to a safe distance.

"I'm sorry," Mulder had said. He'd been unable to look Doggett in the eye. "I misjudged. I shouldn't have. I misinterpreted."

"Damn straight you did," Doggett had said. He'd turned on his heels and had fled. He'd been ashamed of himself for fleeing. He'd once, when younger, been a cocksucker on a regular basis, even having a brief relationship with a guy when he was in the Marines. And there he'd been, a big case of homosexual panic. And he had always thought of himself as such a big man, able to face the truth about what he was, in all its tarnished glory.

For weeks, the alternate ending to that moment, the one where he didn't flee like some sissy, had been jerk off fodder, just like it was now. The ending where he'd pushed Mulder away, but only to kneel down in front of the man and unzip his jeans. They'd been tight and worn, especially over the crotch, just like the pair Mulder was wearing tonight. Unzipped in his imagination, Mulder's jeans had dropped to the floor, puddling around his ankles. Mulder's cock would be enticingly full, but still ready to be teased to full life with flirting, nipping sucks. The skin of cock would be velvety soft, like all cocks were, the softest skin on the human body. The feel of the swelling member in his mouth and the intense, earthy, sweaty smell of Mulder's body, concentrated in his groin would cause Doggett's own cock to grow, harden.

Alone in his bed now, Doggett increased the pressure of his hand in response to his body's cues that he was about to come. Doggett had hardly gotten to going over the feeling of Mulder's strong hands on the back of his head, the way Mulder's fingers would weave into his hair, when he felt the familiar, delicious contraction start. Focusing as much as he could on the underside of his cock, he kept reaching for fulfillment.

When he came, he forced himself to silence. Little more than a gasp escaped him, then he melted back against the mattress, too exhausted for the moment to even reach for a tissue. The semen on his belly, now warm, would cool off soon, then dry and get sticky. But he could deal with it later. So he told himself as he started to drift to sleep.

He woke when weak sunlight finally spilled into the room. He looked out the window and found that it was still snowing, in a lazy, desultory way, big, fat flakes drifting to the ground. Pretty much everything was buried under mounds of pure white. The snow had drifted halfway up the garage wall. Shrubs in the yard were visible only as higher mounds in the snow. Still snowing, but the sky was lighter than it had been yesterday, so the cloud cover was thinner. The snow would probably come to a stop soon, and then they could see if the roads remained open. He might be able to get Mulder out from underfoot by this afternoon even.

Sitting up in bed, Doggett found that his sweats were still down around his hips and his belly was sticky with dried come. He hadn't last night, had he? Gone to sleep by jerking off to memories of Mulder? He vowed not to give into any more moments of a weakness like that.

Walking into the kitchen, he was amused to see the cat sitting on the table, swishing his tail and Mulder on the floor, wiping up a big pile of cat vomit. Mulder looked suitably squeamish, not quite grossed out, but unhappy to be in the position he was. When Mulder had swabbed up the last of it and deposited the paper towels in the garbage, he started washing his hands. Then he said, "I left the corn bread out on the counter. Your cat got into it. I wrapped it up, didn't think that he'd bother it."

"For love of Pete, Mulder. Don't do that again. The cat's allergic to corn," Doggett said. He'd found that out after some expensive vet bills and having to switch cat food twice. "I'll be lucky if a bit of throwup is the worst of it."

Actually, Fox looked like he was in fine fettle, generally enjoying the proceedings. He vacated the table with a graceful leap to the floor and sat down by his food bowl, looking expectant.

"Aren't cats supposed to be carnivores?" Mulder asked.

"Well, an opportunist is what this one is," Doggett said, starting to reach for the plastic bin of cat food. Disgorged contents of his stomach notwithstanding, the cat looked like he was ready to eat. Of course, once the food was actually poured into the bowl, the cat sniffed it, then walked away without even touching a kernel. He'd be back. He always was. Doggett turned to the task of making coffee. He messed silently with grounds and filter, ignoring Mulder as much as he could get away with, but when the maker had finally started to burble, he had no more excuse. He walked away, planning to go to the living room and look out the window at the condition of the street. And Mulder just had to follow him.

The sight waiting Doggett from the front window of the apartment was not exactly encouraging. Some people had started digging out the sidewalks in front of their house, but the street was just a river of snow, hummocked on either side by big humps that must have been buried cars. No one had even started digging out their cars yet. There wouldn't have been much point because there was nowhere they could have gone anyway.

"If you weren't just in the hospital from pneumonia, I'd drag you out there and we'd make snowmen or something," Mulder said, a hint of glee in his voice. "This is great. We've never gotten this much at once in Anchorage."

"I hate the winter," Doggett snarked. He took his familiar position in the chair in front of the television and started searching for weather news, hoping to hear that the major roads were starting to clear at least.

He found it at last, and wasn't heartened by what he heard, not the least bit. "Finally, this morning at five," the weathercaster said. "They managed to clear the last of the area expressways. In some places throughout the region, they got even more inches than predicted. The hardest hit was the western suburbs, with as many as twenty-five inches in some places. Village and city officials say it may be another day before streets are clear."

"I think coffee is done," Mulder said after more of the same, damn depressing new. "I'll go get it."

After a short while, Doggett heard a girly scream coming from the kitchen. It had to be Mulder, but what could get him to scream like that? Doggett decided to investigate. He walked in to the kitchen as fast as he could get away with, his lungs still protesting a little.

Mulder was standing, staring at the cat. The cat had a mouse tail handing out of his mouth. Just the tail.

"What's the racket about, Mulder?" Doggett asked. "Why are you screaming?"

Mulder pointed. Okay, so maybe the tail in the cat's mouth wasn't so gross. It was the rest of it, scattered around the kitchen floor that must have set off that little display. Once upon a time ago, Doggett wouldn't have guessed that a creature as small as a mouse could make such a mess when the force of nature that was his cat was unleashed on it. Now, it was familiar territory to him. He wouldn't have minded the cat killing mice if Fox would actually eat them or something.

"I think mouse guts are definitely your territory," Mulder said.

Doggett unrolled some paper towels and got down on his hands and knees and started cleaning. They were pretty well scattered. Fox must have been busy, to find the mouse, catch it, then disembowel and scatter it in a few short minutes. "That carnivorous enough for you?" he quipped. "And it's not that gross. No need to go screaming like some kind of girl."

"That was not a girly scream," Mulder protested.

"Mulder, that was a girly scream if I ever heard one," Doggett snorted as he dumped the paper towels into the trash. "I know you saw a lot worse, why the panic?"

"That was not panic," Mulder said, defensively.

Doggett paused before he spoke next on hearing the edge to Mulder's voice. He'd been thinking about Mulder's time in VCU, then on the X-Files, where dealing with corpses in various nasty states was just part of the job. But the Mulder that had come back from the grave must have been a different man, more vulnerable, with hidden emotional landmines that hadn't been there before. With what had happened to the man, it was probably lucky he wasn't a total basketcase. Doggett could find it in him to be, if not exactly gentle, then at least not cruel. He said, "Whatever," then went to wash his hands. Only then was Doggett able to collect his cup of coffee. He was about to walk out to the living room again when Mulder moved to stand in his path.

"We never did have that talk you promised me in the hospital," Mulder said.

"I can't see as it's really necessary," Doggett said, stepping around Mulder. "I don't care what you're doing here or why you came, just so long as you go back to where you came from as soon as you can."

"John," Mulder said, moving to close the distance between them again. "I think you're protesting just a little bit too much."

Then, just like he had the first time, Mulder stepped up to Doggett and moved into Doggett's space. A moment later, before Doggett was even sure what was happening, Mulder's lips were on his and a kiss was happening. His traitorous body, remembering just what it had once had and still craving it like it was smack, responded. No, not just responded. Responded like a drunk to a bottle of Night Train after a week in the lock up. Doggett found himself pressed up against his cabinets, setting the coffee mug down on the counter, and opening his lips to Mulder's questing tongue. Soon after, Mulder's knee insinuated itself between Doggett's legs.

Before Doggett could recover himself enough to push Mulder away, Mulder himself moved away. He said, more than a little bit cocky, "Thought so."

"Wait a minute now," Doggett said, willing the woody he'd just sprung to subside. "You can't expect me to turn my dick off like its some machine, but I'm thinking with the big head here. Same with my heart. Feelings don't enter into this. The smart thing to do is to send you packing and that's what I'm going to do."

Mulder stepped closer to Doggett again, and while he didn't kiss Doggett again, he wrapped his arms around Doggett. Doggett resisted stiffly at first, keeping his muscles board hard against Mulder, not wanting to melt against that embrace. Mulder grinned for a moment, then put his right hand up to John's chin, just touching it lightly. "Sometimes, John, the only thing you can do isn't the smart thing. You know, we never really got a chance to see just how good it could be. We could now. Nothing's in our way anymore. It's just you and me and the snow."

It was then that Mulder kissed him again. Not the intense kiss of before, meant to make him submit, if not to Mulder, then to his own feelings. No, this kiss started out as tentative as their first kiss, just Mulder brushing his lips delicately against Doggett's. But it didn't remain tentative. Before long, Mulder's mouth was opening to him, and by opening, somehow demanded that Doggett's tongue follow in response. Doggett ran his tongue over Mulder's teeth, sought entrance between their hard porcelain, was surprised at just how hot Mulder's mouth was. Mulder was his weakness, the only one in so long who had known where the chinks in his armor were. Just being around Mulder softened him, eliminated his resistance. Mulder's chest was pressed up against his, Mulder's hands snaking into Doggett's, stroking them, rubbing the palm, a gesture that somehow managed to convey a full measure of lust. He had to push Mulder away for a moment to catch his breath, the gesture affecting him more than a full caress from another would.

He didn't want this, yet he craved this exact touch more than he had anything in his life. He was skin hungry. No, more than that. He was hungry for the fire that this man sparked in him, for the way that every feeling was more intense in his presence, whether this lust that was building, or even, he had to admit, the anger. Life with this man was running a wide open throttle, no doubt about that, full catastrophe living at its finest.

Mulder broke the kiss to trail his lips over to near Doggett's ear, to plant a small, wet kiss at the exact corner of Doggett's jaw and then whisper, low and meaningful, "We could start again. Turn the clock to zero. It could be a brand new day for us."

Then his lips were back on Doggett, used for things far more important than words. Doggett groaned as he realized, that for at least this moment, this one time, he was capitulating. Maybe when it was over, he might be able to think clearly, but right now, the struggle was over and he'd lost. Or had he won? It was hard to remember exactly why, as Mulder's supple and beautiful lips closed down on his earlobe, that this wasn't a good idea, why he'd been so opposed to it. It wasn't really thinking with his dick. Though that was definitely interested in what was happening, it was like every bit of his body wanted this and had taken him captive.

Mulder must have been needing this every bit as much as Doggett's body did, because the instant he heard the groan, he took that as a signal to rev up the engines. Suddenly, he was thrusting his hips up against Doggett's, reaching for the zipper of his jeans, pulling down Doggett's sweats. He knelt in front of Doggett finally and completely engulfed Doggett's cock in hot wetness. Doggett resisted the urge to thrust into Mulder's mouth, but instead, let Mulder take it all from him- his resistance, any last, rational thoughts he might have had.

Last night's orgasm notwithstanding, it had been way too long since he'd been with someone, not since his last time with Mulder. Swallowing him hard, Mulder took Doggett's cock as deep as it would go, at the same time questing fingers reaching behind for the cleft of Doggett's ass, for the tight pucker that he would find there. Just the thought of what Mulder seemed to be intending, sent him over the edge. He could feel his balls draw up, then he couldn't help but thrust into Mulder's willing, soft mouth, his hands finding the back of Mulder's head, fingers twining into that silky hair. The other one of Mulder's hands found its way between Doggett's thighs, parting them slightly, then starting questing upwards, searching for a particular spot at the base of Doggett's cock.

Oh, no, Doggett thought. Not that again. But even as he thought this, Mulder found what he was looking for, and then a short moment later, Doggett was coming.

When Doggett returned to his senses, Mulder was still kneeling at his feet, big grin on his face, like the cat who'd gotten the canary. Mulder's jeans were tangled around his ankles, his t-shirt still on, though he started to pull it off. Oh, no, Mulder was not done yet. That little maneuver he'd pulled just before he made Doggett come had assured that he wouldn't be denied his fun. It was only a partial release that Doggett had been allowed, orgasm without ejaculation. Doggett was still rock hard, even more sensitive than before.

T-shirt off, revealing those beautiful abs, Mulder stood, kicking off his jeans, so that he stood naked. Nestled in the curls of pubic hair, Mulder's cock was sticking straight out, hard and proud. It was beautiful, Doggett thought, shocked as always to be thinking that about a cock, but it was true. Mulder kept smiling as he opened a couple of cabinet doors, looking for something. It took Doggett, in his fuck stupid state, a minute or two to figure out exactly what, but when he did, Doggett said, "Let's go to the bedroom. I should have some lube in there. You're not fucking me with cooking oil."

At that moment though, Mulder laid his hands on a small bottle of extra virgin olive oil. He pulled it out of the cabinet, set it on the countertop and turned to Doggett. That look on his face was back. The one that meant that nothing, but nothing could dissuade him from the path he'd decided on. Doggett had only gotten to see it a few times in a sexual context, but he knew enough to know that he was in for one heck of a ride and that he might as well relax and enjoy it. Because his own traitorous body seemed determined to not just respond to Mulder's touch, but to submit to Mulder's every whim.

"So at least we're agreed that I'm fucking you," Mulder said. As he did, he reached for Doggett's sweatshirt and started to pull it off.

Then, with a firm, but gentle hand on the back of Doggett's neck, Mulder directed him to bend over the kitchen table. Doggett couldn't find any words in himself at this exact moment, but he moaned slightly as he felt the cool, smooth wood of the table contact his belly. He didn't think the shiver that ran up and down his whole spine was entirely due to the cold. The table was a small one, sturdy and solid wood, though he hadn't exactly had this use in mind when he'd picked it out at that garage sale. He'd be able to scoot up a little and grab the far edge of the tabletop to brace himself. No doubt the table could support both their weights if necessary.

Mulder for his part, knelt behind Doggett. His warm breath on Doggett's ass, as he spread Doggett's cheeks and paused to look, caused Doggett to shudder. Get on with it already, Doggett thought. But Mulder would not be rushed. He traced lightly with one finger around Doggett's opening, just a tease, a maddening tease. Then, when Doggett was sure he couldn't stand it a second longer, Mulder made his move, suddenly, decisively. Mulder's mouth was on him, dragging his moist, hot tongue in circles around Doggett's pucker.

"Oh...God," Doggett exhaled breathlessly, hands now scrabbling for that table edge. That only encouraged Mulder in his attack. He was still coherent enough that he forced himself to release one hand from the table's edge. He put that in his mouth, to stop himself from the mindless babbling about how good it was that Mulder always seemed to force him to, but that he hated to hear coming from himself.

The finger that insinuated itself inside him was inevitable, but Mulder's comment surprised him. "You're as tight as a virgin, John. There hasn't been anyone else while I was gone?"

That gave Doggett enough coherency to string together a few, sensible words, "Never let anyone but you do this to me. Never will."

It wasn't exactly that Doggett hated being fucked, because he knew already that Mulder was going to make him come and come hard, probably harder than he had in over a year. Since the last time Mulder did this to him. It was that he couldn't imagine anyone else who could so cause him to lose himself that he could allow them to breach that tight barrier. Not just the ring of muscle, but the mental resistance of being the one penetrated.

Mulder drew in a hard breath when he heard Doggett say this, then he leaned over and suddenly Doggett could feel damp, soft lips touch gently, a gentle kiss, right at the top of his ass crack. This, somehow, caused Doggett to shiver with excitement. The handful of times he'd allowed Mulder this before, he could always count on Mulder to be both tender like this, and to be ruthless, relentless, not just making Doggett come, but stealing it from him.

"I'll take it easy on you," Mulder said. The voice was low and quiet, but it was not gentle. It seemed to quiver with suppressed lust. "Just like our first time."

Doggett put his hand back in his mouth.

As always, Doggett didn't have to force himself to relax to accept the intrusions into his body. No, his body just seemed to take them in. A second finger joined the first, then, in a while, the third. Then Mulder was in him. Doggett was so far gone he didn't even care if Mulder had found a condom somewhere or not. He was trembling, not so much because the sudden thrust was painful. It hadn't been. He couldn't quite explain exactly the source of his sudden fear, though part of it might have been fear that once he allowed himself this kind of pleasure again, he'd never be able to say no to it. Part of it was fear that Mulder would not be satisfied that he'd conquered John's body, but would demand full capitulation, mind, body and soul. And that he would get it.

Mulder laid himself full length, so that his chest was on Doggett's back, his weight heavy on Doggett. He reached up to stroke the back of Doggett's head, and he said, "Easy, easy. I've got you."

That, Doggett thought to himself, is exactly what I'm afraid of.

Then Mulder raised himself up and starting thrusting in earnest, long, slow strokes, taking his time and making sure to stroke Doggett's prostate every time. After a while, Doggett had to take his hand out of his mouth, for fear he was going to do some damage to it. He grabbed the table edge with it, then started whimpering, "Please...Please."

Perhaps at another time, Mulder might have teased him, might have demanded, "Please what?" But this time, Mulder just reached around for Doggett's cock and started stroking it in time to his thrusts, finally giving Doggett the release that had become all important. Doggett's come must have triggered Mulder's as well, because a few seconds after Doggett came to himself again, Mulder shoved himself in deep one last time, groaned low and throaty, then collapsed on top of Doggett. They were sweaty with their efforts, Doggett so limp he couldn't rise up and force Mulder off of him. They laid there, long minutes, Mulder's softening cock still imbedded in him, but just starting to slip out. Doggett's thighs were dripping with his own come.

"Shower," Mulder said after a while. He'd roused enough to play with Doggett's hair, was running it through his fingers, seemingly fascinated by it.

"Shower," Doggett agreed. The last thing he needed was to catch cold again from standing naked and clammy with sweat in this cold kitchen. They separated, and though every part of him but his mind protested, his brain was glad to have enough blood supply to think clearly again.

Doggett led the way to his little bathroom. The tile was pink- carnation pink, just like in the box of crayons, but it was a rental and nothing could be done about that. The white towels he'd owned before hadn't cut the femininity of the room enough for him, so he'd gone out and bought dark blue, and a dark blue shower curtain. He reached around that now and started the hot water. "Me first," he said, intending, despite what they'd just done, for them to take turns.

"Not enough room for me in there?" Mulder asked. The edge to his voice meant not just the shower, but everything. Mulder had made his move, volleyed his shots. Now he was waiting to see exactly how Doggett returned fire.

Being reminded now so viscerally just how good at least the sex had been, Doggett wasn't sure he'd find it in him to send Mulder away again. That barrier had been breached, come tumbling down like a certain wall in Berlin a while back. But on the other hand, he needed a little immediate separation, a little time to think, to figure things out, to sort out hormones from real feelings, to evaluate, figure out what this all meant.

"Oh, sure," Doggett said, realizing with that edge to his voice that Mulder was just as vulnerable at this moment as he was. The difference was, Mulder never seemed to fear his own vulnerabilities, but instead embraced them. Mulder had always been the one to stand on the edge of the void and poke it in the figurative eye.

"I just wanted to, you know, have a bit of time to think. About things. About what I'm going to do," Doggett said. He reached out and pulled Mulder closer. He kissed Mulder briefly, then said, "You walk in here. You change all the rules like you always do. You gotta give a guy five minutes to adjust."

Mulder nodded sagely. He'd always been an expert at pushing Doggett's buttons, but he'd always known when to stop too. Before he walked away, he said, "let me know when you're done."

Doggett stretched out his normal brisk, business-like shower for as long as he dared, not wanting to completely deprive Mulder of hot water. He might have been spiteful on occasion, but he wasn't entirely cruel. He tried to think, tried to lay out exactly all the reasons why it was a foolish, stupid thing to even consider taking up a relationship with Mulder again, but every time he did, all that came to him were flashes of just how good it had been, what Mulder had done to him. You could have that all the time, one rebellious voice insisted. Maybe the time is right this time. Maybe this was meant to be.

Finally, he had to shut off the water, get out of the shower and start toweling himself off. He walked down the hall to his bedroom. Fox was sleeping on his bed, on the pillow, where he would be sure to leave the maximum number of hairs for Doggett to breathe in as he was sleeping. Fox looked up and blinked sleepily at him, then settled back down into his catnap, burying his nose under his tail.

Doggett grabbed himself a fresh pair of sweats. If the cat hadn't been sleeping, he might have asked Fox what he thought of recent developments. Fox hadn't peed in Mulder's shoes. That was a positive sign for sure.

Dressed, Doggett padded off in search of Mulder, to tell him that the shower was all his. Mulder was in the living room, on his cell phone. Whoever he was talking to, it raised that big, brilliant Mulder smile. Doggett hesitated just on the other side of the living room door to listen. "'Ove you too, Billy boy," Mulder was saying. "Let me talk to mommy again."

There was such sweet regard in Mulder's voice that Doggett couldn't help but be glad. It was one of the greatest things in the world, something that had been ripped away from Doggett. He didn't think he could stand it if Mulder didn't grab that opportunity like he did everything else.

Meanwhile, Mulder was saying, "Yeah, he really is doing just fine, Scully. I just made my move. I don't know if I screwed up by moving too soon, or if I just succeeded."

Mulder listened to what Scully was saying carefully. What Doggett wouldn't have given to be privy to the other side of this conversation. After a brief moment, Mulder said, "You're right. I should let you go so you can get back to sleep."

Mulder looked up at Doggett and smiled. So, he hadn't been unaware that Doggett had been listening. "I forgot that it's only seven in the morning back home, Scully was about ready to kill me, but she's glad to hear you're doing better."

"Shower's all yours," Doggett said, finding his seat and the remote. Truth be told, while he was much better, he probably hadn't really been up for this morning's activities. He was thinking nap or at the very least dozing in front of the television for a while. "Mulder, this afternoon, we'll talk and you'll tell me what couldn't wait that you had to break into my house to ask me."

Mulder toddled off to the shower and Doggett prepared to settle in to some television. He gave one last look out to the street though, to see if there was a chance it had been cleared yet. No luck on that front. But Culvers, from work, was out front, armed with a shovel and doing some serious excavation. What the hell? His landlady was standing by, watching without comment, though she appeared to be pleased with Culvers progress. Had Culvers come to see how Doggett was doing and been roped into the job? Normally, his landlady did it herself. Or rather, Doggett always tried to get out and do it before she did, not finding it in him to stand by and watch an old woman work. He would have gone out to do it earlier, only he was sure that would be inviting another bout of pneumonia. He'd been thinking about sending Mulder though.

Mulder. Culvers. Shit. He was going to have to make sure those two didn't intersect. He went back down the hall and knocked on the door of the bathroom. "Hey, Mulder," he called over the sounds of running water. He opened the door and stuck his head into the steamy pink room. Mulder stuck his head around the shower curtain, water dripping everywhere.

"My partner Culvers is at the front door. Right now he's shoveling the walk for my landlady, but no doubt he was dropping by to see how I'm doing," Doggett said.

Mulder responded by shutting off the shower. He pulled open the shower curtain and reached for a towel, allowing Doggett another good look at his naked body. The man was just gorgeous. There were no two ways about that. His abs, if anything, were even more perfectly sculpted than before. From foot to rakishly cut hair, there just wasn't a single thing wrong with the man's body. And you could have that, Doggett thought. Every single day. Not only that, he wants you. That is the man that wants you.

"Right," Mulder said. "I'll get dressed, then make myself scarce for a bit."

Doggett went out to the living room to wait, and a few minutes later there was a knock on his door. Doggett sighed and went to go face Culvers. He opened the door and immediately, Culvers thrust a brown paper bag at him. "My wife made soup for you," Culvers said.

Culvers had a wife? Of course everything that Culvers had said up to now about his personal life could be summed up by the word nothing. Culvers apparently had a wife, and one who cooked. Doggett found himself wondering if the man had kids. Doggett stared for a second or two, then caught himself, remembering his manners.

"Thanks," Doggett said, taking the bag. "Come on in."

"You'll have to heat it up again," Culvers said, indicating the bag. He remained standing in the doorway, so it didn't seem that he was planning to stick around, thankfully. "I was helping your landlady with the walk. I figured you probably would have if you were up to snuff. You're looking good, Doggett. You sure the doctor hasn't cleared you for field duty yet?"

"I just got sprung from the hospital yesterday," Doggett said, defensively.

"You know, I was thinking. What you need is a wife. A wife would have sent you off to the doctor's long before that cold turned to pneumonia."

"I had a wife once and it's an experience I don't much care to repeat," Doggett said, thinking of the bitter acrimony that his marriage had dissolved into. No, whatever sort of significant relationship he might get into next, with whoever it might be, Mulder, or not, definitely he wasn't going to take a wife.

"That's too bad. Best thing in the world, to have someone care for you like that," Culvers said. "Eva's the best thing ever happened to me. Oh, hey, your landlady was telling me about your friend George Martin, the one who got you to the hospital. He still around?"

So, that was what Mulder was calling himself these days, a combination of two pseudonyms he'd used in the past. Doggett paused to consider how to handle this one. He could lie and say that Mulder was gone, but lies tended to bite you in the ass when you least expected it.

"He's here, but he's sleeping," Doggett said. "He's still on Alaska time."

"Like four hours behind or something. Okay, I just wanted to thank him for saving your ass. You don't know what a relief it is to get a partner I can live with," Culvers said. "I can't stay. Gotta get some sleep before heading out to work tonight."

Then, thankfully, Culvers was gone. Doggett headed back down the hallway to the bedroom where Mulder was hiding out and he saw that he hadn't really been lying. Mulder had settled onto his bed, stretched out on top of the blankets, grabbing a quick nap. He'd pulled on a pair of jeans, but nothing else. Fox had snuggled up to Mulder and was sleeping, curled up on top of Mulder's legs. Fox's eyes opened up, as if asking, "Why don't you join us?"

Doggett sighed. A nap definitely had been on the agenda, but now apparently his bed was occupied. There was no reason he shouldn't join Mulder and Fox on the bed, but he was still digging his heels in against what seemed to be an inevitable conclusion. He hadn't really made up his mind to take Mulder back, he was still telling himself. He didn't want the intimacy yet of actually sleeping together, even though they'd just had mind-blowing sex. Then Mulder sighed in his sleep, shifted and turned onto his left side. Doggett was reminded of the few times they'd spent the night and how they always managed to drift into a spoon position, him on the outside, Mulder on the inside, both on their left sides. Having been ousted by Mulder, Fox found another spot, settled himself against Mulder's chest and went back to sleep. It seemed like a good place to be. Doggett hesitated for only a minute longer then joined the pair of them.

The whoosh and crunch of the snowplow coming through a few hours later woke him up. The next thing he noticed was that Mulder was still in bed with him, in his arms, warm and solid. He'd missed it, sleeping with someone, just the sense of another's presence in the bed. And Mulder was a good person to have in your bed in the winter. It was like having a personal furnace in bed with you. A living, breathing, cuddly heating pad. It was the first time in a long time he'd woken up with his nose in someone else's hair and it felt better than he cared to admit. Mulder's hair smelled good. Even though it was the same shampoo Doggett used, on Mulder it was nicer somehow. Like grass and herbs and summer afternoons.

"Sounds like the roads are getting cleared. Should I start packing now?" Mulder asked, but he sounded confident, as if he was sure the answer was no. Arrogant bastard, but the thing was, like always, he was right.

"Look, Mulder, or George or whatever you're calling yourself these days, I'm not saying I'm taking you back," Doggett said. "What I'm saying is there's room for discussion. Negotiation."

Mulder turned around in Doggett's arms and started nuzzling him, at the moment a creature of pure animal lust. Despite their earlier activities, Mulder must have woken with a hard on and now he was grinding it against Doggett's hips. "Talk later," Mulder murmured. "Make love to me now."

It took every bit of willpower that Doggett could muster as his own cock started coming to life again, but he managed to think with the big head for this once. He pulled away from Mulder and said firmly, "No, we talk and get everything out on the table before any of that happens again."

"So talk," Mulder said, rolling onto his back with a sigh. "Tell me what you want to know. I suppose it just all seems so simple to me at this point. I love you. I want to pick up where we never really got a chance to get started. I want you as one of the most important parts of my life. I want...everything with you. I was hoping you'd feel the same about me. But I can see now that things might not be as simple for you as they are for me."

It was a hell of an attractive thought, waking up with Mulder like this every morning. He thought about how Mulder had hesitated on the word everything, as if it were too small to contain the extravagance of his feelings. He thought about full catastrophe living with the most outrageous, gorgeous man he'd ever known. He thought about having someone to share cleaning out the damn cat box with.

He still had questions though. He couldn't just forget about how Mulder had walked out on him without a word. Not that he questioned the right of the man to preserve his own safety, but to just leave like that, as if he didn't even trust Doggett enough to tell him. All this time with hardly a word, then he was expected to just forget about what still felt like betrayal, as much as his brain was telling him it wasn't.

"You're right. They're not," Doggett said.

"Nothing in my life ever is," Mulder said. "What can I tell you that could even start making things right?"

"First of all, I want to know why. Why come back now? After all this time," Doggett asked. It'd been two years since Mulder had disappeared from his life the first time. Seeing him in that courtroom and then springing him from the military jail had been so brief they'd hardly counted, especially because they'd been around so many people, and he'd had to pretend that Mulder was nothing special to him.

"Scully's finally settled and happy. I told you that. So now I can settle down," Mulder said. He shifted onto his side, propped his head with his hand.

"What about your so-called invasion. End of the world, all of that," Doggett asked, thinking of Mulder's crazy quest. While he was still sure that half of it was the total bullshit he'd always thought it was, truth was, he'd seen some weird ass shit during his time on the X-files. "You know, with all I saw, I'm starting to think my light saber might be around here somewhere."

"I've been a busy guy. Things are taken care of," Mulder said, soberly and succinctly in a way that made Doggett wonder if he would ever know what really happened in the time Mulder had been gone. Then Mulder added, "You did get your anti-terrorist smallpox vaccination, didn't you? Or the booster they were offering if you got one earlier in life."

"Yeah. I work for the government, remember? We got it first," Doggett said, then the light clicked on. He'd wondered vaguely at the time, but then dismissed it as paranoid suspicion. "Mulder, what were we given?"

"A vaccine," Mulder said. "The Russian syndicate developed it. The new American syndicate perfected it. I stole it and got it to the people who were willing to put it to use. If you got it, you're now immune to both the black oil and the supersoldier virus. Oh, and smallpox too. So, you can see, for the first time in years, I'm free. Completely free."

He sounded to relieved, so happy, that Doggett felt envious for a minute, remembering how it felt the first day he realized he was free from his grief for his son, that he would always miss Luke, but that he no longer wore mourning like a cloak, and how it had felt the weight of the world had been taken off his shoulders.

"So, you're free," Doggett said.

"Well, not exactly," Mulder said. "I've got a son. No one with kids is ever truly footloose and fancy free. And I bought a house. The mortage payments and the cable bill and all of that tend to tie a guy down. But for the first time in years, I'm free to do all of that, making decisions based on what I want, not on international conspiracies and intergalactic contingencies."

"You have a house with cable?" Doggett asked. Presumably in Alaska. It was hard to imagine Mulder, the quintessential apartment dweller as the owner of a house. In Alaska.

"Just ten minutes outside of Anchorage, about five minutes away from where Scully and her new husband live with William," Mulder said. "It's on the side of a mountain. My neighbors are out of eye shot range. There's trees all around. I had a moose in my yard last week and a mountain goat the week before."

That last was said with near unholy glee. Fox Mulder, being thrilled to pieces by the thought of a moose. Who would ever have thought that?

"It's so beautiful there, John," Mulder said, starting to plead. "You'd love it there."

This was a humdinger of a problem. Mulder had just about convinced Doggett to take him back. Until they got to this roadblock. If winter here in Chicago had just about killed him, wouldn't Alaska be ten times worse?

"I can appreciate what you're trying to do here, Mulder," Doggett said. "But winter and I have some fundamental, irreconcilable differences. No way you're going to be able to talk me into heading up there."

"John, I could..." Mulder started.

"No, you couldn't. No way I'm taking you away from your son and that's final," Doggett interrupted Mulder, wanting quash from the get go any ideas about him moving down here.

"I wasn't going to say that," Mulder said. "I was going to say that I could work something out somehow. I'm not sure how yet, but we could figure that out. You could come for extended visits in the summer. You'll love Alaska during the summer."

At this point, Fox appeared from nowhere, stalking into the room with his tail pointed straight up in the air, its little tip waving a bit in rhythm to his walk. With a smooth, graceful leap that hardly seemed to use muscle power, Fox leaped up onto the bed, between them. For a minute, Doggett thought Fox was coming to complain about an empty food bowl or the fact that the bathroom faucet he liked to drink from was turned off or some other something that was offensive to his delicate, cat sensibilities. Instead, Fox made a beeline straight for Mulder and butted his head up against the hand Mulder held out to pet him. Fox the cat and Fox the human engaged in mutual adoration as the conversation was forgotten. Doggett might have been inclined to be jealous of both the cat and the human, but together they made quite the picture, especially as Fox started to purr and do that bread kneading thing cats did on Mulder's bare chest. Mulder's expression turned into a comical combination of pleasure and suppressed reaction to pain. The cat, when he did that, sometimes let his claws slip out of their sheathes a little. That cat was a born sadist, yet when he did it, it was hard to stop him because it was an action obviously born of such affection and pleasure in your presence. Mulder kept up the petting, despite the pain, which somehow Doggett loved him for. Eventually, the fickle nature of cats took over. Fox found something else to capture his feline imagination and stopped molesting Mulder. Fox hopped off the bed and stalked back out of the room again. Maybe he heard another mouse or something.

Mulder let out a big sigh, both of relief and probably also regret. He laid on his back and swept his arm over his eyes dramatically. "Razor blades. I think your cat keeps razor blades in his paws."

Doggett looked and there were little dots of red, not really blood, just markings, from Fox's claws on Mulder's bare, sparsely haired chest. He would have shrugged if he hadn't been lying down. "You try holding him down to trim his claws," he said.

Doggett had tried once, not long after he'd gotten the cat, or rather, the cat had gotten him. It had been the biggest mistake he'd made in a long time. All he was willing to say on the matter was that bat beasts had nothing to that cat when claw clipping was on the line. It'd been done at the vet the one time they'd been and not since then. They'd ended up taking the cat to another room to do it and even through a closed door he had heard both the cat and the vet tech screaming bloody murder. When the vet tech returned to the exam room with the cat, she'd been holding him with one hand grabbing the scruff of his neck, the other wrapped around him tightly and she was wearing heavy leather gloves. "This one really has some spunk to him," was all the vet tech would say.

Mulder rolled over onto his side again to look Doggett in the eyes. There was such a look of serious, devoted tenderness that for a minute, Doggett was tempted to capitulate totally again, just tell Mulder that he'd give it chance, that he'd brave the wilds of Alaska, and the sub-zero temperatures and the ice and snow. For a short, unbelievable time, he'd been so happy with this man and here was his chance to have that again, if he didn't blow it. All he had to do was just grab it. Just decide that his hatred of winter was secondary. He wondered if what Culvers had said, about a wife getting him to the doctor before he'd caught pneumonia, applied to a husband. Would Mulder look out for him? It was crazy to even think about life with Mulder, but then the minute Mulder stepped into your life, all kinds of crazy happened, and not all of it bad crazy.

Mulder had laid out all his cards on the table. With total honesty, Mulder had laid his heart bare and didn't Doggett owe it to him to consider them all carefully, without making snap judgements based on concern for his own comfort? Before Mulder could open his mouth again, Doggett said, "I wasn't just imagining that we were happy together, weren't we? For those two, three weeks. That was really something good, wasn't it?"

"Probably the best weeks of my life," Mulder affirmed. "John, we will work it out somehow. I have no intentions of letting you slip away just because you can't commit to moving to my home. I'll come to you whenever I can. Lots of people have done long distance dating. We can too. If I can't have everything, I'll settle for anything you'll let me have."

"Mulder, shut up," Doggett said. The hell he was going to date someone who lived nearly three thousand miles away. Especially when he didn't mess around with dating usually. He'd always been a dive in head first kind of guy. He reached over and put a hand on the back of Mulder's neck, then pulled Mulder in close for a kiss.

Doggett paused before opening the door to the big SUV, Mulder's SUV, his own truck being on a barge somewhere between here and Seattle. This was it. He was finally here for good after a year and a half of day long plane trips. Of waiting for the transfer to the Anchorage office that never came and finally deciding to say screw the Bureau and getting a job with the Anchorage PD. A year and a half not seeing his lover anywhere near enough. There'd been selling the house in Falls Church to distract him too, packing up the rest of that life from his storage unit and shipping it ahead of him.

Fox had been drugged for the plane trip, so he could ride in a carrier under the seat, but he'd begun to wake up in the Anchorage airport, and had yowled the whole way home from the airport. Better get that cat out of the car.

Doggett opened the door and stepped down to the gravel drive and looked around. Even though it was nearly eleven at night, if one went by their watch, it was as bright as any summer afternoon. The air smelled sweeter than it had back in Chicago. The aspen leaves rustled in a slight breeze. Summer in Alaska, land of the midnight sun, almost made up for the winters, though winter in Anchorage hadn't been as bad as he'd been imagining. Though there had been a brief moment of panic when Scully and her new husband had been making noises about moving to Fairbanks, where it wasn't uncommon for it to get to fifty below. Mulder would have followed and therefore Doggett would have too. Thankfully it'd just been talk.

He looked back down the long, twisting driveway they'd just driven up. It was longer than the block he'd been living on back in Chicago and twisted out of sight, hidden by the trees. Behind him was Mulder's house, more of an overgrown cabin really, two levels tucked into the hillside, painted brown to blend in, the only real luxury to it the big deck complete with a jacuzzi tub.

Mulder hopped out of the car as Doggett was retrieving the cat carrier. He nuzzled Doggett's ear, tickling a little, then said, "The welcome party I'd planned is going to have to wait a bit. Looks like Scully's here waiting for us."

And just then, the door opened and Billy ran out. He was three and a half, getting close to four, fleet and steady of foot as one of the mountain goats that sometimes ventured down to their part of the mountain. Scully was right at his tail as he ran, not to greet Mulder. Not to Doggett. Right to the cat carrier and tried to poke his fingers into it. "Kitty!" Billy cried out with far more enthusiasm than a kid should have at eleven at night.

Not that he mistrusted Fox normally, but the little critter was in a strange new situation and might snap. Doggett lifted the carrier up out of Billy's reach and said to Billy, "We'll take Fox inside and then let him out of the cage. Maybe he might want to say hi to you or maybe he might just want to hide. You know how tired you are when you get off the plane."

"Oh...Okay," Billy said. He ran back to the house. The kid had two speeds- off and full-throttle, warp speed. Doggett followed, leaving Mulder and Scully to chat in the driveway. Actually, it was a familiar little bicker about trying to get the kid to sleep at "night" when it was still bright daylight. Doggett looked over his shoulder as he walked to the house and was rewarded with a wink from Mulder.

Billy was Scully all over again, delicately boned, face that was nearly too pretty for a boy, at least until the kid snarled it up into one of the "monster boy" faces he'd been practicing lately. For all that he looked like Scully, there was no doubt that the kid was all boy, for which Doggett was grateful, intensely grateful. He had a chance, not to replace Luke, but to love another wild, scruffy little boy again. He was "Uncle John," not daddy, but that was good enough for him.

Once they got into the house, Doggett sat the cat carrier up on the kitchen table, so as to give Fox a chance to escape small hands. He opened the crate's wire grate and Fox bolted out like a bat out of hell, down off the table and into the living room, too fast for Billy to catch him.

"He's probably pretty cranky and needs a nap," Doggett said to Billy. Then he gently suggested, "Maybe you need a nap too."

Billy shook his head vigorously, "Uh-uh, look at my new monster boy face, Uncle John."

Billy snorted, hooked pinkies into his nostrils and drew them up so they flared then made horns by his ears with the rest of his fingers. He snorted again and again, getting louder.

Billy might have looked like all Scully, but definitely part of his personality had been rubbed off of Mulder. Definitely the parts like this, that were so cute that Doggett found impossible to resist. The little boy, just like his dad, and a certain feline had wormed their way into his heart like some kind of virus that it was impossible for him to resist, something that he simply had no immunity to. He thought about how not too long ago, he'd been ready to give up on love, on having anything more than a lonely existence rattling around like a bb pellet in a can. Who could have thought that he would have started opening the door to love by opening a screen door for a mangy ex-tomcat?

"Ohhhh," Doggett said to Billy. "That's awful scary. I think I'm gonna have to get the monster trap out."

Then he scooped up Billy, threw the giggling boy over his shoulder and went out to find Scully and Mulder.

"I think I'll take that," Scully said, holding her hands out for Billy, with a smile on her pretty face. This woman who Doggett was getting to know was hardly anything like the Scully he'd known on the X-files. She was calmer, more expressive, more open. Not the worried, pinched soul she had been. Paul, the man she'd found here, had done for her what Mulder was beginning to do for him, Doggett thought. Paul had poured the healing balm of love over her, and she was a better woman for it.

Billy, meanwhile, kept up the giggling like a maniac, even after the transfer had been made from his arms to over Scully's shoulder. It was still strange to see Scully like this, in practical clothes- t-shirts and polar fleece, flannel and denim. But she'd adapted and just like Doggett had before he'd moved, she'd dumped all her fancy work clothes, the beautiful suits that were standard form at the Bureau. Nobody but nobody wore them here, pretty much.

"Okay, see you tomorrow then," Scully said, heading for her SUV. "I'll let you two get on with whatever welcome Mulder has no doubt planned. You probably want me out of here for what he's got in mind."

The last was said with a wink, though that wasn't what made Doggett blush, but the way that Mulder sidled next to him and out of sight of Scully and the boy, grabbed his ass and gave it a big squeeze. There were some protests from the peanut gallery as Scully buckled Billy into his seat, but she was firm. "Home," she said firmly. "I said you could say 'hi' to Uncle John and you did. You're already up way past your bedtime."

In short order, she and the boy were gone, leaving him alone with Mulder. And Fox, once the cat decided to come out of whatever hole he'd bolted into. "So, what kind of welcome did you have in mind?" Doggett asked Mulder as they walked into the house and started climbing up the stairs to the upper level of the house.

"How about a soak to start?" Mulder asked.

That sounded real good actually. Something about long airplane trips made you feel limp and sort of grungy. Doggett was more than ready to be done with such frequent travelling.

They passed through the living room out to the deck. Some of Doggett's furniture had already been moved in, shipped up months ahead. It seemed to fit in with Mulder's pretty well. Doggett saw things he recognized from Mulder's Alexandria apartment too, since they'd cleared out Mulder's storage unit when they were selling Doggett's house. The wacky coat rack was visible in the corner. On one side of the room was his leather couch, on the other was Mulder's. Hunkering between them was his sturdy coffee table.

Once out on the deck, they both quickly stripped down to the skin. Even if the neighbors hadn't been so far away, nobody could have seen a thing, considering how heavily wooded the lot was. Doggett finished stripping first and went to fold the tub's cover up and out of the way.

"How 'bout I get you a beer?" Mulder asked.

"You trying to loosen my inhibitions so you can take advantage of me later?" Doggett asked as he slid himself into the warm, bubbling water. Oh, yeah, this was just exactly what he needed. He felt muscles loosen and kinks start to untie themselves. Mulder was a smart man. Without letting Doggett have a preliminary soak, Mulder's chances of getting lucky tonight, after that plane trip, would have been slim to none.

"Guilty as charged, officer," Mulder said, with a grin. He turned to go back into the house, but paused as he caught sight of something in the window. That particular window there wasn't enough of a ledge to support the full grown, eighteen pound cat that Fox had become, but there was a visible set of paws and a head peeking out into this new and apparently exciting world. The ears on that head were twitching with excitement, and Doggett could almost imagine the tail swishing back and forth. Fox would get along here just fine, Doggett decided. And so would he.