TITLE: Double Dutch
AUTHORS: deejay and Saundra Mitchell
CLASSIFICATION:
S, R/A (Story, Romance/Angst)
KEYWORDS: Slash story ö Scully/Other Romance, Mulder/Other Romance, Mulder/Scully Friendship
E-MAIL: drjohn@wizvax.net and vii@netdirect.net
FEEDBACK: Please! Either address. We'll share. Thank you.
ARCHIVE: Go for it! Let us know, though, so we can be there to cut the ribbon!
RATING: R. The only thing that gets dirty is the language. Sorry about that!
PREREQUISITE BOILERPLATE: Dana Scully, Fox Mulder, Walter Skinner, and the two treacherous creatures in the last scene are the property of Chris Carter, 10-13 Productions and FoxTV. Tim Bayliss, Frank Pembleton, Al Giardello, John Munch, Meldrick Lewis and Laura Ballard belong to Baltimore Pictures and NBC. No copyright infringement is intended, and we made no money on this. Check our empty pockets if you don't believe us. Conversely, everything else in the story came out of the pointy little heads of the authors. You can mess with our heads, but don't mess with our characters, a'ight?
SUMMARY: An Alternate Alternate Universe story ö The Road Not Taken meets Slash Evidence. It came out of a joke made during a long-running mutual admiration society, and we had so much fun doing it, we just might do it again if you ask nice. <g> For the sake of continuity, the following are things we've changed or ignored in TRNT or SE to avoid ruining the story for "Double Dutch":
Everything that happened in TRNT 1-4 happened the same way; however, the events that occurred in TRNT5 and 6 never happened. Everything that happened in "Trace Evidence: Inadmissible" happened, except for Scully kissing Munch. This story (if put into a timeline) takes place after 'TRNT4: Calm", and between "Inadmissable" and "TE: Hobson's Choice". This story will have absolutely no affect on our regular series, we swear. Just think of this as a fanfic jam session.
We're seriously into sub-references here, so if you want to keep up, we suggest you read the original stories:
The Road Not Taken is available in novel form on The Annex at http://gfiles.simplenet.com/annex/ and in pieces on the ScullySlash site: http://www.angelfire.com/sc/scullypage/LIST.html.
The Slash Evidence series, as well as Saundra's other works, are also available on The Annex, as well as at http://baylissfan.simplenet.com/divtac/index.html.
Got all that? Good. On your mark. . . get set. . . GO!

--------

'DOUBLE DUTCH'
by deejay and Saundra Mitchell

UNION STATION, WASHINGTON D.C.

   Scully moved from foot to foot, standing in front of the entrance to Track 17. She was amazed she'd gotten to the station in time, traffic in the District the way it was at Rush Hour. Scully had never taken a train in all her time in Washington, let alone met anyone who chose to come to Washington any other way but by plane. So Scully was unfamiliar with the station's location, and had taken two wrong turns on the way. But there was still ten minutes to spare by the time she found the barred gates that separated the track area from the terminal itself.

   The train was on time, eliciting sarcastic comments from some of the other people. Scully was pleased she could see the diesel locomotive pull the silver cars next to the platform. It was almost Spring, but it was still pretty cold, and the engine put out enough condensation to give the disembarking passengers a movie-like ambiance as they wrestled their bags and boxes out the doors. Scully couldn't see Max until she was almost at the gates. She had a black hanging bag slung over her left shoulder, a tan short-collared raincoat over her usual tweed jacket, jeans and boots, and she looked like she wanted nothing more to do with trains for the balance of her lifetime.

   The smile that spread across her face when she saw Scully was almost as wide as the one Scully was already wearing. Max maneuvered around a family of three that was having a tearful reunion in the middle of the entrance. "Damn, you're a sight for sore eyes," she said, giving Scully a hug. They kissed each other's cheek and pulled back, giving each other a squeeze on the elbow. Scully & Max had gotten public displays of affection down to an offhand ritual, even though it still frustrated both of them.

   "Here, let me get that," Scully said, moving to take Max' bag.

   Max waved her off. "It's cool. First time I've had to carry it since we changed trains in New York."

   "How was the trip," Scully asked. They moved off towards the parking area, as side-by-side as they could get without touching.

   Max snorted. "Fucking awful. Baltimore PD would only spring for two tickets -- one for me, one for the suspect. The only reason I could read my book was because we were handcuffed together. Made turning pages and bathroom breaks all kinds of fun."

   "What did she do again?"

   "Allegedly, she killed her drug-dealer boyfriend, took his stash and his cash, and ran home to Momma in Roxbury. Momma found the alleged cash and flushed the alleged stash." Max laughed as they went through the automatic glass doors. She had to raise her voice to be heard over the traffic noise that filtered into the garage. "The resulting catfight was loud enough to make the neighbors call the cops. That's how we got a hold of her."

   Scully looked both ways before entering the crosswalk. "Does Baltimore PD know they're paying for an illicit weekend in Washington D.C.?"

   Max' smile looked very pleased with itself. "I paid for this leg. Least I could do for the taxpayers of Maryland." Scully laughed as they walked up to her gunmetal-gray Saturn coupe. "Hey, at some point this weekend, can I drive?"

   Scully popped the hatch and helped Max haul her bag into the trunk. "Sure, but why?"

   Max' smile turned into a grimace. "The Beretta's in the shop. Again. That's three times in six months. I think it's time to start test-driving potential replacements."

   Scully raised an eyebrow and pointed a crooked finger at Max. "You break it, you bought it." Max utilized another finger to communicate her answer, breaking Scully up. "You hungry?"

   Max nodded her head rapidly. "After Amtrak grub, I'm tempted to snatch a horse out from under a mounted policeman."

   "I think we can do better than that," Scully said. She slammed the hatch shut and walked around to the driver's side, fishing her keys out of her trench coat.

   "What's this 'we' shit, white girl," Max cracked as she stood by the passenger door.

   "'We' being me and Mulder."

   Max slammed a fist on the roof of the car. "Hot damn! I finally get to meet him!"

   Scully had a chagrined look on her face as she unlocked her door. "Well, it may be a little weird, Max."

   Max frowned. "How so?"

   Scully thought about it a second, and then said, "When was the last time you were on a double date?"


MULDER'S APARTMENT

   Sitting on Mulder's couch, Bayliss watched his counterpart try to adjust his tie using only the reflection from the fish tank. Even after assaulting it with a tie tack (Tim was surprised to discover Mulder owned one), the silken noose still wouldn't behave.

   "Let me fix it," Tim finally said, pushing himself up on his cane. Mulder let him take apart the knot and retie it, but ran a color commentary as he did. After one too many remarks at his expense, Tim slightly over-tightened the tie.

   "You're choking me," Mulder scowled.

   "Good," Bayliss answered, letting it out properly. "You need to calm the hell down."

   "Very helpful."

   Tim shook his head. "It isn't the prom, Mulder. Why are you so nervous?"

   Struggling for an answer, Mulder flopped down onto his black leather couch, running his fingers through his unruly hair. He was nervous because Max meant so much to Scully that he feared he would make a bad impression. Beneath that, there was an undercurrent of jealousy. Despite being overjoyed that Scully had found someone who loved her, Mulder still felt very proprietary about his partner. They had been through so much together, he considered her his in a way. He knew it was selfish and stupid, but there it was.

   "I haven't been on a double date since high school," Mulder offered. "And that didn't go very well."

   "Oh?"

   "As I recall," he answered, wincing at the memory. "My date left with my best friend and I had to drive his hysterical girlfriend home."

   Tim drew his hand softly across Mulder's cheek and smiled at him encouragingly. "I promise I won't go home with Scully tonight."

   "If you did, could I come?"

   Squeezing his eyes closed, Tim toyed with the idea of decking Mulder, just out of principle. In the end, he decided to kiss him instead.


LA BELLA CUCINA, GEORGETOWN

   The two women turned heads as they came into the restaurant. Neither was wearing anything exotic ö the redhead wore a low-cut knee-length evening dress with gold earrings and a small gold cross, while the brunette wore a khaki jacket over a black skirt/top combination -- but there was a power to these women as they handed their coats to the check girl and walked up to the maitre'd's podium at the edge of the foyer. "Scully, party of four," the redhead told him.

   The maitre'd ran a practiced eye over the reservation list. "Of course, madame," he intoned, casting a glance over Scully's shoulder. "Would you care to wait in the bar for the rest of your party?"

   The redhead glanced at her watch. "They should be joining us momentarily," she said smoothly. "Is there any way you could seat us now?"

   The maitre'd's smile was automatic. "Certainly, madame," he said, plucking two leather-bound menus out of a bin on the side of the podium. If business had been at its usual level, he would have graciously told them it was impossible, but things were relatively quiet that night. And anyway, he made the rules, so he could break the rules. "Would you come this way?"

   *If I could come _that_ way...* Max wanted to say, but she behaved herself as she followed Scully and the tuxedoed man down into the dining room. She had to keep tabs on them out of the corner of her eye, because she was too busy trying to look everywhere at once.

   The lights were low, like the piano jazz that played on unseen speakers as they wound their way through a maze of candle-lit tables. The well-dressed crowd was a wide range of ages, all of them engaged in conversation over a variety of Italian dishes. Between the candles on each table and the spices in the air, La Bella Cucina smelled absolutely heavenly.

   The maitre'd held their chairs as they sat, and hadn't been gone two seconds before he was replaced by a tall young man in traditional waiter livery. "Good evening, ladies," he said, displaying an array of caps that could blind someone in brighter circumstances. "My name is Chaz, I'll be your server. Can I bring you anything from the bar?"

   "Bloody Mary, Stoli," Max said immediately, still examining her surroundings.

   "Is there a house Merlot," Scully wanted to know.

   "Yes, ma'am," Chaz said, achieving quiet enthusiasm. "Nathanson Creek. And it's excellent."

   "That'll be fine," Scully told him. He nodded and walked away. She looked over at Max, who sat on her right, and chuckled. "You look like a kid in a candy store."

   "This place is out-rayyyyy-juss," Max whispered, her dimples going deep as she smiled. "Have you ever been here before?"

   "I treated myself on my birthday the year before last. Saw Mel Torme play upstairs afterwards."

   "That must have been fantastic."

   Scully made a face. "Actually, it was pretty depressing, if you want to know the truth. Eating alone in a beautiful restaurant is still eating alone, and doing it on your birthday doesn't make it any better." Max smiled and shook her head. Scully noticed the smile wasn't as happy as it had been. "What?"

   Max gave her a sidelong look. "I'm still kind of pissed you didn't tell me about this before," she said, her voice a notch lower.

   Scully sighed. "Max, I didn't tell you because it's been a roller coaster. Mulder wasn't sure if it was a phase, an experiment, or what. And when it looked like it was a real relationship, they broke up. They only got back together a few weeks ago, and they're still taking things slow. If that isn't enough, this has been a new experience for both of them."

   Max' eyes popped. "For _both_ of them?" Scully nodded sagely. Max pursed her lips and gave a silent whistle. Then she smiled. "You and Mulder are working toward guest shots on Jerry Springer. You know that, don't you?"

   Scully's eyes narrowed. "You're lucky I hold you high in my esteem."

   Max' smile was almost as brilliant as Chaz'. "Yes. I am." They squeezed hands under the table, dropping them as Chaz returned with two goblets of ice water.

   Scully wished he had brought her wine. She'd been simply frantic about this evening ever since she agreed to Mulder's idea of a double date. It wasn't like Scully was introducing Max to her mother (*A completely _separate_ nightmare,* Scully thought wryly), but it was pretty darn close. Even though Mulder wouldn't judge (or, at least, wouldn't say he judged), Scully desperately wanted Mulder & Max to like each other.

   Then there was Tim. How was he going to react? As far as she knew, Mulder hadn't talked with Tim about her relationship with Max. Tim was still dealing with his new-found sexual orientation (*And don't we know what _that's_ like. . .*), as well as getting comfortable with Mulder again. Would this help? Hurt? Have any effect at all?


OUTSIDE LA BELLA CUCINA

   Making their way toward the restaurant, Bayliss took a calculated risk and reached out for Mulder's hand. Twining their fingers together, Tim breathed a soft sigh of relief. With a quick press to reassure him that all was well, he let go.

   Mulder put an arm on Tim's back, and smiled up at him. "Who's nervous now?"

   "Never said I wasn't," Tim returned, grinning back. Despite his offhand manner, he was seriously apprehensive. Mulder and Bayliss had been together in public before, at movies, ball games, bars. (Your basic generic bars, anyway. Neither of them was ready for the gay bar scene.) But tonight would be the first time where it would be patently obvious Mulder was his date. Bayliss knew Scully was okay about them being together, but he knew nothing about her date at all. Tim hoped Max was the tolerant type; otherwise, this was going to be a very long evening.

   Inside, Bayliss was struck by the intimate atmosphere. To him, it looked for all the world like a seraglio, imported through time and distance to the heart of Georgetown. The rich scents of spice and oil mingled in the air, a pleasant invitation inside. Conversation filtered out into the foyer, low and musical, punctuating the sting of cutlery against china. Bayliss recognized McCoy Tyner's climbing solo from Coltrane's "My Favorite Things", coming from somewhere up in the ceiling.

   "We're joining the Scully party," Mulder told the maitre'd in a tone appropriate for the surroundings.

   With a nod, the dignified maitre'd motioned for them to follow him. Stepping down into the dining room, Tim scanned the tables for Scully and Max. When he zeroed in on Scully, he wrinkled his brow and caught Mulder by the elbow.

   "I thought Max was coming to dinner," he whispered, putting on a smile as they drew closer to the table.

   "That's her right there," Mulder answered, distracted as he measured Max with clinical eyes. Scully had given him only the vaguest of descriptions, so he was now matching what he knew with what he saw.

   "You didn't tell me," Tim said through gritted teeth.

   "Tell you what?"

   Bayliss cast an unnoticed glare at Mulder. "That Max was a woman."

   "I didn't?"

   "No!"

   "You know now," Mulder said flippantly.

   "Yeah, thanks," Bayliss frowned, immediately wiping the expression from his face.

   Movement at the far end of the dining room caught Scully's eye. She caught her breath. "Here they are."

   Max inhaled deeply, ordering herself to be calm. She looked at the two good-looking, conservatively dressed men following the maitre'd. The older one was walking with a metal cane, his eyes flicking from the maitre'd to the floor in front of him. The younger man walked two steps behind, keeping eagle eyes on every deliberate step.

   "Which one's Mulder," Max whispered.

   "The one without the glasses," Scully murmured.

   *Should have known that,* Max chided herself. Scully had said Bayliss was recuperating from a line-of-duty gunshot wound. Scully & Max stood as they came closer. "You nervous," Max asked out of the corner of her smile.

   "No," Scully said, quickly but quietly.

   Max brushed her knuckles against Scully's. "Me, too."

   Scully smiled twice -- an inward smile at Max' reassurance, an outward one to greet Bayliss. She stepped around the table and kissed him on the cheek. "Hey," she said warmly.

   Bayliss returned the kiss, squeezing her arm with his free hand. "How you doing, Dana?"

   "I'm fine. You're ambulatory!"

   Unhappiness flashed across his face. "Well, technically."

   Mulder and Max were shaking hands. "You must be Max," he was saying. "I've heard almost nothing about you."

   Max didn't miss a beat. "I'm a woman of mystery. What did you expect?" Mulder's smile seemed to freeze. Max turned to Tim and offered her hand. "Hi. Becca Maxfield."

   Tim took it, essaying another smile. "Tim Bayliss." *She doesn't look like a. . .* He caught himself before finishing the thought. What was a lesbian supposed to look like? Remembering his manners, he hobbled around to pull Scully's chair out for her.

   Mulder quickly considered his options. He could follow Tim's lead, but Max didn't strike him as the courtly manners type; then again, if he failed to respond in kind he would look like a jerk. *I'm good at being a jerk,* he told himself, holding a breath and going for the courtly option. To his relief, Max didn't seem to take offense.

   "Girl, you've got them _trained_," Max singsonged under her voice.

   Chaz returned with the Merlot and Mary, postponing the inevitable awkward moment of silence. Taking advantage of the waiter's presence, Mulder and Bayliss ordered drinks for themselves -- vodka martini for Tim, single-malt scotch for Mulder.

   Max raised an eyebrow at Tim once the waiter disappeared. "Ketel One? Why don't you just ask them to squeeze a potato for you?"

   "I'm very fond of potatoes," Bayliss replied with a grin. There was something familiar about Max, comfortable. "Let me guess. . . that Mary's full of what, Absolut? No, Stoli, I bet it's Stoli."

   Max gave Tim an appraising stare. Ignoring the horrified look on Scully's face, she pressed on, intrigued. "All right, extra bonus points if you can tell me how you came to that conclusion."

   "I'm a professional," Tim said modestly. "I own a bar in Fell's Point. Yuppies and bastards drink Absolut. Dana here is too good to. . . have yuppie friends. Therefore, it had to be Stoli."

   Max laughed, applauding lightly. "Okay, that'll work. Wonder what that Ketel One Martian of yours says about Mulder."

   Heat rose to Mulder's neck and ears as he tried to keep his smile pasted in place. It had seemed like such a good idea at the time, a nice double date to meet Max and share some conversation. Now he was sorely regretting the idea. Catching a glimpse of Scully's tight expression, he hoped she wouldn't blame him when their respective dates chewed each other's throats out.

   "I don't know anything about the psychology of bar drinks," he finally said, his sense of humor failing him.

   "Tim, did Mulder tell you Max is a homicide detective with the Boston Police Department," Scully asked. In her heart, she knew Tim and Max were just playing with words, that there was no malice in the exchange. But her partner looked as though he might crawl under the table at any moment, and this was the best way she could think of to intervene.

   "Why, no he didn't," Tim said pointedly. *No wonder she feels so familiar; Murder Police are Murder Police, no matter where they're from.* "I work Homicide out of Baltimore."

   Max did a minor Eye Pop. "Detective _and_ bartender? There's guys in my squad who'd _love_ your life." Her expression turned serious. "You know Edgerton and Pellegrini? I just got done taking them some dumb yo-ette who blew away her boyfriend."

   Tim shook his head. "I know of them. They work Landsman's shift, I work Giardello's."

   "They're good guys," she said, nodding her head. It was a common expression, but it had special depth and meaning when spoken by one police to another. Even Mulder and Scully didn't catch the subtext: 'They'll watch your back. They'll close a case for you. They're the _good guys_.'

   Sweeping back to the table with drinks, Chaz nodded as he set glasses in front of Mulder and Bayliss, then stepped away with his arms behind his back. "Can I interest anyone in an appetizer? We have some exquisite spiced crab puffs, and the Calamari al Marinara is out of this world."

   "You want the crab puffs, don't you," Tim teased, knowing full well that crab was the last thing Mulder would order. He felt uneasy when Mulder repeated his plastic smile and shook his head. Under cover of the tablecloth, Tim reached out and took his hand, giving it an encouraging squeeze.

   "Maybe we should hold off for a few minutes," Scully told Chaz. "I don't think our friends have even looked at the menu yet. . ."

   Mulder & Bayliss snatched up their menus. "Actually," Tim said, "I saw something on the way across the room that helped _my_ decision process. . ."

   "I love deadline pressure," Mulder added, running his gaze down the list of choices. "Ladies first. We'll catch up."

   "All right," Scully said, confirming her earlier choices. "I think I'll start with the crab puffs. . ." She went on to order angel hair pasta in tomato and basil sauce, ignoring the evil eye Mulder was giving her. Bayliss hid a smile behind his menu.

   Max ordered Veal Piccatta, her all-time favorite Italian dish. "Does anyone want to split this Caesar Salad for Two?"

   Scully had wanted the crab puffs before Chaz mentioned them, but she would have changed her appetizer order if Mulder hadn't spoken up. "Can we have it with grilled chicken?"

   Max considered, then looked up at Chaz. "Why not?"

   Chaz nodded at the wisdom of their choice. "Anchovies?"

   Scully & Bayliss spoke at the same time. "_No_!"

   Mulder and Max looked at their dinner companions, totally taken off-guard. Scully and Bayliss looked at each other in wonder, and then burst out laughing. Max licked her lips, raising an eyebrow towards Mulder. "Help," she said in a Cyborg-like monotone, "I'm being oppressed."

   Mulder didn't bother repressing the smirk this time. "You can't fight City Hall."

   The rest of the order was relatively uneventful. Deciding Mulder had been punished enough for the moment, Tim picked the Calamari al Marinara for his appetizer, with Rigatoni Quattro Formaggio -- a pasta dish swimming in four imported cheeses -- as his main course. Mulder selected Lasagna Alforno, drawing a double take from Max & Tim when he ordered a roast portobello mushroom appetizer in addition to his half of the Caesar. (*Either he's got a hollow leg,* Max decided, *or the metabolism of a hummingbird!*) After a short debate on whether red wine should be served with chicken and fish, they took Scully's recommendation and ordered a carafe of the Merlot.

   Chaz jotted down the last orders and said, "Great. I'll be back with your bread and Italian butter in a moment." He trotted off to the kitchen.

   "Didn't he get that backwards," Max asked, putting her napkin in her lap.

   Scully shook her head. "Italian butter is something you dip your bread in. They pour olive oil and balsamic vinegar on a plate and top it with fresh ground pepper. They bake their own bread here, by the way."

   Mulder's eyes sparkled. "Great. But what are the rest of you gonna have?"

   Tim eyed him. "Don't worry about us. We'll have coffee and donuts with the EMTs while you recover from the coronary."

   "Says the man whose main course should be subtitled, 'Heart Attack On A Plate.'" Mulder's left hand was next to Tim's right. He hooked Tim's pinky with his. It was a small gesture, but it was enough.


LATER

   "Then, then he started crying and, keep in mind this is a forty-three year old man, he asked for his _mother_," Tim laughed, leaning back in his chair.

   Max drank some Mary, glad she'd waited til Tim had finished his story. Spit-takes probably weren't allowed in La Bella Cucina. She held her glass towards him. "They just don't make ax murderers like they used to," she said gravely.

   "That's for sure." They clinked glasses, toasting each other.

   Mulder nodded along, trying to understand. He and Scully had seen their share of corpses, both together and separately, but the FBI didn't do it every day. They worked what any homicide police would call 'murders that matter': Serial killings, kidnapping-murders, terrorist attacks. They hadn't grown the heavy callus of picking up the fifteenth drug shooting in ten days, or tried to make sense out of someone's dad lying in a pool of giblet gravy and blood over a Thanksgiving turkey not done quite right. They could see the humor in Max and Tim's shop talk, but they didn't feel it.

   "I'm going to go check on our reservations for upstairs," Scully said, pushing her plate away.

   "You okay," Max asked softly. *Damn it, Maxie, you've spent more time talking with Mulder's date than you have with your own!*

   Scully smiled sincerely, giving Max' leg a squeeze. "Couldn't be better."

   Pushing out his chair, Tim nodded to Mulder. "I'll come. I'd like to get a look at their layout, get some ideas for the Waterfront."


ABOVE THE KITCHEN JAZZ CLUB, UPSTAIRS

   *Perfect,* Tim said to himself, looking around the empty nightclub. Above The Kitchen was as cool and Art Deco as La Bella Cucina was lush and Old World. If he paused, he could imagine men in zoot suits and women in beaded short-gowns scattered at the tables, drinking illicit alcohol and smoking long, unfiltered cigarettes as they listened to a spirited big band or a spotlighted torch singer.

   "You're really thinking about putting something like this in the Waterfront," Scully asked incredulously.

   Tim's smile was sly and conspiratorial. "Not in a million years. But Mulder's not going to get to know Max if we keep playing 'Case Files I Have Known.'"

   *Great minds think alike,* Scully thought, pleased Tim had come to the same conclusion she had. "You two really understand each other," Scully observed, taking a seat at one of the tables near the door.

   Tim shrugged. "Common ground. The same way you understand Mulder."

   She kicked at the leg of the chair next to her, indicating he should sit down. "For a second there, I thought you two were going to 'understand' each other into a fistfight."

   Easing himself into the seat, he leaned his cane against the table. "Oh, you know Murder Police. We have to mark our territory."

   Scully smiled warmly. She would have liked Tim even if Mulder wasn't involved with him. "How are you," she asked. It was a specific question, despite its brevity.

   "Good, I think. I'm good."

   "I'm glad. . . I'm glad Mulder talked to you."

   Tim looked over at the bandstand. *The space next door's been empty for a month. We could get another loan, knock out some walls. . .* "So am I."

   "He needs you," Scully said quietly.

   The aim of his gaze didn't change. "Maybe."


AT THE TABLE

   Chaz raised his eyebrow at Max on his way to the kitchen. Max pointed at Mulder's glass. "You want another?"

   Mulder shook his head. "Still savoring this one."

   Max held up her glass to Chaz, mouthing 'Just one for me.' Chaz nodded, smoothly changing direction. "What's the attraction of single-malt scotch," Max asked. She had looked forward to meeting Mulder ever since Scully had told her about him. Now, alone in the confines of La Bella Cucina, she scrabbled to connect with him in any way she could.

   Mulder considered the question. "It's civilized. It's not a drink to be gulped. You can sit back all evening with the same glass and watch the world go by. It's kind of peaceful, really."

   "Does the consumption rate have anything to do with the outrageous price?"

   He smiled into his glass. "That might be a factor."

   Max measured the lines of his face, the tightness of his shoulders as he played with his drink. "You have no idea what to say to me, do you?"

   He wanted to deny it, but her level gaze and stone smile told him lying wouldn't take him far with her. "Not a clue."

   Max bit her lip. Putting people at ease was usually her strong suit. "We have Scully in common," she offered, her tone of voice betraying how weak the gambit was.

   "Do you love her," Mulder blurted, immediately regretting it.

   Max blinked. "Is that what you're worried about?"

   "She's. . . she's given up so much in the last five years. I guess I just want to make sure she won't get hurt."

   Max smiled wryly, remembering Elliot. "By anyone but you, you mean."

   Raising his eyebrows, Mulder leaned back in his chair. "What are you saying?"

   "Well, the way I see it, she's all you have." She shook her head. "Didn't know about Tim, though. I might have to revise my opinion."

   "I want her to be happy," he insisted.

   "You sure?"


UPSTAIRS

   Waitress service hadn't started up here yet. Tim could have used another Martian. "Sometimes, just sometimes I don't know what to think. I didn't mean for this to happen, and I sure didn't expect for it to end up on the evening news. I almost wonder. . . I almost wonder if he's staying because he thinks he has to."

   Scully shook her head, patting Tim on the knee. "Mulder feels. . . regret. Fear. Passion. Anger, definitely. But all his guilt is reserved for Samantha. He wouldn't be here, with you, if he didn't want to be."

   "Thanks," he murmured. Tim looked off at the bandstand again, still measuring his words. "He didn't tell me about Max. I was. . . surprised."

   "So was he," she grinned. Watching his face, she played with the cross at her neck, her smile fading. "So was I. I've never felt. . ." She examined the space between them. "This is still very new for me."

   Tim cocked his head. "You're serious."

   Scully nodded once. "Oh, yes."

   "You'd never. . ."

   "Never _ever_."

   Bayliss blew out a breath, digesting this information. *You're not the only one who finds this out late in life. It just _seems_ like that sometimes. But what are the odds. . .* "'FBI Agents and their same-sex Homicide detective lovers! Next on Geraldo!'"

   Scully's grin was coming back. "Max said it would be Springer."

   "Nah. . . not unless you want to beat me up on national television."

   Scully raised an eyebrow at him. "I only do fair fights."

   "Oh, that _really_ makes me feel good." Tim looked Scully over as they shared the laugh. He had few friends outside of the squad, and was glad Scully was among that few. "I like her. She's very real. I'm happy for you."

   Her smile was back to full strength. "Really?"

   "Hell, I'm jealous," he leered good naturedly.


DOWNSTAIRS

   Mulder glanced over at the stairs again, willing Scully and Tim to reappear. Unfortunately, ESP was still abysmally absent from his long list of talents. He looked over at Max, trying to read her face as she toyed with the remainder of her meal.

   "I do want her to be happy," he said finally. "But it's hard to let go."

   Max shifted uncomfortably. "Why do I feel like there's something here I'm not getting? I mean, I worry about my partner; I'd do anything for him. . . but I don't begrudge him a personal life."

   "Until Tim. . ." Mulder paused, struggling. He was not a sharer. Expressing his feelings was something he had reserved for Scully alone, and even then, it was done reluctantly. "Until Tim, yes, Scully _was_ all I had. My one in five million. She's the only person I can trust completely."

   "What about Tim?"

   Contrary to what his partner had just told his lover, a wave of guilt washed over him. "I haven't known him very long."

   "You're not gonna keep knowing him if you can't trust him," Max advised solemnly. "And from what I can tell, I'd say he's worth the effort."

   Mulder nodded, surprised at how pleased he was that Max liked Tim. She was right about everything else, though, and the prospect terrified him. 'Trust No-One' was a tough maxim to get over. "Tonight was supposed to be fun."

   Leaning over, Max caught Mulder in a stern stare. "Hey. Don't go getting all morose on me here; I'm not gonna pity you, and you're not gonna ruin my first double date _ever_. That chip is coming off your shoulder, one way or the other. Gimme your hand."

   "What are you . . . "

   "Just shut up and gimme your hand!"

   Tentative, Mulder offered his hand, which she took in her own. The look in her eyes was almost intimidating. "We don't have to be friends, but I want to try. She's given it up for you, so you must deserve it. For now, that's enough for me." She squeezed his hand tightly, harder than he would have thought possible. "You love her, fine, I understand that." She leaned forward until they were almost nose-to-nose. Although she dropped her voice, it lost none of its intensity. "But I love her too. Completely. Don't ever forget it."


UPSTAIRS

   The musicians were starting to set up, making it evident they didn't need an audience. Scully held out a hand to help Tim out of his chair, then handed his cane to him. For all appearances, they were a good couple. He towered over her, but the soft light in their faces held gentle promise -- a mirrored image of honest sympathy, even if it had been tempered by years of intimate contact with violence. They could be hard, but for now, it didn't show.

   "I wonder if they've killed each other yet," Scully mused nervously as they started down the stairs. The walls were lined with autographed pictures of artists who had played Above The Kitchen: Dexter Gordon, Sarah Vaughan, Sonny Rollins, Dianne Schuur. . .

   "You worry too much," Tim told her, leaning on the brass banister for support. "They're a lot alike in ways. They'll beat their heads against each other until they determine they're equally hard, then they'll get along fine."

   She sighed, still unsure. "You're probably right."

   Raising an eyebrow, Tim smirked. "Contrary to what Frank thinks, sometimes I do have a point."

   "Frank doesn't think that," Scully said.

   Tim laughed. "Yes he does, but it's okay. I don't know what I'd do with myself if he agreed with me."

   As they stepped into the dining room, they were both surprised to find Bayliss' prediction come true. Stopping, they watched their lovers from a distance. Mulder's stiff smile had disappeared, replaced with his comfortable, boyish grin and Max gesticulated wildly as she related one of her many tales of adventure. Tim squeezed Scully's hand, smiling down at her.

   "I win," he said, pleased with himself.

   "I am in awe of your prowess," she joked back.


ABOVE THE KITCHEN, INTERMISSION

   "Cal Ripken."

   "Wade Boggs."

   "Boog Powell."

   "Dwight Evans."

   "Eddie Murray."

   "Mo Vaughan."

   Bayliss jumped on that. "Oh, no no no no. . ."

   "He falls within the ground rules," Max maintained.

   He looked around to see if anyone else heard what this crazy woman just said. "There's no comparison! Eddie Murray's the greatest first basemen in the history of the game! Mo Vaughan is George Scott with height!"

   Max held her ground. "Sure. That's why opposing managers keep pitching around him. Come on. Gimme another."

   Bayliss sighed, mildly frustrated. "Brooks Robinson."

   "Carl Yazstremski."

   "_Frank_ Robinson."

   "Carlton Fisk. Yes," she added, cutting off his objection. "He played the outfield. Left field, near the end of his career."

   Tim's eyes narrowed, his mouth turning up at the corners. "Earl Weaver."

   "He's a manager, not a player," Max cried.

   Tim pointed at her, knowing he'd won. "I didn't say anything about players. I just said the O's had more Hall-of-_Famers_ than the Red Sox." He leaned forward. "Earl Weaver."

   Max opened her mouth, then closed it. "Ralph Houk?" Tim just looked at her. "Okay, okay," she grumbled, flagging down the waitress as she passed by. "'Scuse me, I have to buy this misguided man a drink.'

   "Vodka martini," Tim told the waitress. He gave Max a mildly triumphant look. "Ketel One."

   Max stuck her tongue out at him. *Someday I'll get you, Red Baron.* She threw a glance at the entrance, wondering what the call had been about, and why it was taking so long.


IN THE STAIRWELL

   "I can't believe you're even considering it," Scully told him.

   "I'm not _considering_ it," Mulder said, without much heat. 'I'm just _thinking_ about it."

   Her ears were getting warm, a sure sign Mulder was pissing her off. "What's the difference?"

   Mulder kept his eyes on a publicity still of Tony Bennett. His hairpiece looked like it would jump out of the frame and bite someone. "Scully, she's been a resource. She hasn't let me down yet. . ."

   Scully spoke through clenched teeth. "Mulder, the last time Marita Covarrubias 'didn't let you down', she sent you right into a Russian gulag."

   "I still don't think she knew. . ."

   Scully wanted to shake him. "Oh, come off it, Mulder! If she knew the area where the diplomatic bag came from, she damn well _had_ to know what was going on there! She might have even been working with Krycek! Or _for_ Krycek! Ever think of that?" Mulder stayed quiet, though his expression said he knew she was right. When he didn't answer, Scully sighed hard. "All right, look. You want to go? Go. I'll make sure Tim gets back to your. . ."

   Mulder cut her off. "No!" A head shake. He put his cell phone away. "No. I'm not going."

   "If it's that important she meets you right _now_. . ."

   "She said it was important. She didn't say _why_ it was important."

   Scully shrugged. "Phone security."

   This head shake was firmer. "Then why call me on my cell phone? It's not like she's yelling my name out a window, but it's the next best thing."

   "You've moved on less information than this," she pointed out.

   A faint smirk appeared on the horizon. "I thought you didn't want me to go."

   She glared at him in amazement. *No-one I've ever known could be this infuriating.* "I'm just trying to figure out this sudden change-of-heart."

   Mulder looked at her for the first time. "I'm having too much fun?"


IN THE KITCHEN

   "The TAC Squad _and_ the Mayor's detail," Max marveled. "You've had a varied life."

   Tim made a dismissive gesture. "I did time in Robbery, too. That takes some of the sheen off my career."

   "How was that?"

   Bayliss looked like he'd swallowed sour milk. "Boring as hell. Grasping, small-minded people all the live-long day. That's the perps _and_ the vics."

   "And they say cops aren't sympathetic," she deadpanned. "Why'd you do it, then?"

   Tim sipped some martini. "Not my choice. The department instituted a rotation policy last year. The thinking is all the squads get a crack at the best detectives." A look came over him that Max couldn't read. "That was the official line, anyway."

   Max decided not to push it. She widened her eyes, falling back on one of the Bear's favorite lines. "'Who knows what weevils lurk in the brains of the brass?'" That broke him up. "You meet Mulder while you were in Homicide?"

   Tim nodded. "I was the primary on a case he spotted on NCIC. Female vic, had nearly all the blood drained out of her. Mulder had been tracking similar slayings that had happened over. . . a number of years. He came up, helped me solve it."

   Max drank a little Mary. *Too much horseradish.* "Was that when you got together?"

   Bayliss looked into the middle distance. "That was a couple of months later. The three of us were working on the Prince Charming task force. . ."

   "The guy in Indiana."

   "Mm hmm." He started his next question twice before he was able to form it. "How long have you. . . known?"

   Max looked confused. "About you and Mulder?"

   He shook his head, leaning forward so she could hear him. He didn't whisper, but he wanted to. "About yourself."

   "Oh! Okay." She thought a moment. "I guess, if I'm honest with myself, I've always known. I mean, don't get me wrong, some of my best friends are men. . ." Bayliss smiled at the joke. Max' grin was very brief. "Just not in bed." She took another sip. "The lightbulb finally lit about four years ago."

   Tim's eyes were on the table. "Was it hard?"

   *. . . this has been a new experience for both of them.* "Just because you discover a new world doesn't mean landing on it's a snap," she told him. "Has it been bad?"

   "Well, getting outed on television didn't help any. . ." Bayliss downed the rest of his martini.

   "What?!"


IN THE STAIRWELL

   Traffic between floors was light, so few people came between Mulder & Scully as they stood on opposite sides of the stairwell.

   "It's not like I've lived like a monk _all_ my life," Mulder was saying. "I was married. I've had relationships." He paused. "I have needs. Thoughts. . ."

   "I know," Scully said solemnly. "I've seen your video collection."

   "Those videos aren't mine," Mulder said automatically. It had been a private joke for so long, Mulder wasn't even embarrassed anymore. He chuckled, then continued. "I decided some time ago that, if I was going to make this search the best way possible. . . I couldn't allow myself to get involved with anyone else." He paused. "That it wouldn't have been fair to put someone through the long hours, the long nights. . . Leaving with no notice, not coming back for days. . ."

   "And," Scully said slowly, "it would be one more thing for you to have to think about."

   Mulder squinted at her. "I wonder what it would be like to have a partner who didn't make me work for everything."

   "Terrible," she shot back. "You'd be bored. You'd get complacent. You'd do all your work from your apartment, sitting around in sweat pants while you got all your tips off the Internet."

   "What," Mulder said mildly. "And miss the way you snore in an airline seat?"

   Scully gave him the Fish Eye. Then she returned his easy smile. "Okay. That was then. What about now?"

   Mulder considered again. "I owe Tim. . . No, I _want_ to give Tim better than that."

   "Relationship is compromise, Mulder," Scully advised him. "You think there isn't going to be a time when Tim has to quit whatever you two are doing and go out on a case?"

   "No," Mulder admitted, remembering what was about to happen before Bayliss got the call about Laura Ballard. "But then it would be his job. He'd have no choice but to go, and I'd understand. And if this had been Skinner calling, then neither of us would have a choice. But in _this_ case, I do.' He paused. 'I choose to stay."

   Scully regarded him with obvious affection. "I think you've made a good choice."

   Mulder nodded his thanks. "I think you have, too."

   Scully's breath caught. "You do?"

   Mulder nodded again. "Stronger than that beast woman, and she smells a lot better, too. She's funny. Smart." He almost leered, but stopped himself. "Attractive." He got serious again. "And she makes you happy. That's all I care about. And all you deserve."

   Scully felt giddy with relief. She held a hand across the stairs. "We _both_ deserve a little happiness, Mulder."

   Mulder squeezed her hand. "Just a little. I'd hate to get complacent."


IN THE KITCHEN

   "Sue the fucker!"

   Bayliss was surprised at the level of outrage coming from Max. She hadn't said a word throughout his description of the events surrounding the Elsa Bettis trial. He thought it was shock. Now he saw it was pure, righteous anger. He caught the waitress' eye, pointing to his glass and Max's. "It's not that simple," he began.

   "The fuck it isn't," Max insisted. "This is America, sweet land of legalese. If you can sue somebody for selling you hot coffee that you're stupid enough to keep in your lap, you're sure as shit able to sue for something like this. I'll bet you another round of drinks you could open a phone book and find a dozen lawyers who'd be willing to carpet-bomb that rotten bastard til there's nothing left but rubble and bone fragments. . ."

   "Sure they would," Tim said, letting his own anger take a quick walk. "And the whole thing would be brought back into the public eye again, and that's the last thing Mulder and I need. Much as I'd love to go downtown on that fat fuck, I'd also like my family to speak to me again sometime before the end of the decade. The only person in my family who's called since leaving a message on my machine the day of the big surprise is my niece. My niece, Max. And the only way she can do that is to call me from school, or from a friend's house."

   "Jesus," she said softly.

   Tim nodded, turning his empty martini glass in his hands. He took a deep breath, trying to calm down. "Anyway, it's not as bad as it could be. I haven't been fired. I haven't been evicted. _Most_ of my squad treats me like a normal human being. . ."

   Max reached out and squeezed his hand. "Shit, Tim, I'm really sorry." She was also horrified, though she did her best not to show it. Except for telling the Bear, Max had kept her closet firmly locked when it came to her professional life; the thought of going through that kind of public scrutiny with Scully terrified her like nothing else could. Worse than that, she couldn't even consider what would have happened if her father had found out about his daughter's sexuality by watching the local news.

   Bayliss shrugged. "Munch says what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." He sighed. "Then again, Munch is the true Messiah of the 'shit rolls downhill' gospel."

   Max stayed quiet, trying not to cringe while she watched him struggle with the loss of his identity. She could tell by the way he stared into the distance that he'd start talking again at any moment.

   "Mulder is everything I've ever wanted, in so many ways. But in so many _other_ ways, he's a Chinese puzzle box. We've been together eight months, and I don't understand how he thinks any more than I did the day we first met." He paused again, still looking anywhere but at her. "And no matter what he says, no matter what Scully says. . . I still don't know why he's stayed with me."

   Max held her glass with both hands, looking at Bayliss over the rim. "Because you're worth it," she told him.

   He looked up at her, surprised at the firmness of her declaration. "What?"

   *Guess it's my night for writing out reality checks.* "You're worth it," she said deliberately. Then she lightened her tone. "Despite your allegiance to poorly-managed, over-the-hill baseball teams."

   Bayliss smiled in spite of the slight at his beloved Orioles. "Two points if you can tell me how you came to that conclusion."

   "Hey, you have to be," she said simply. "It's like my old partner's favorite toast." She raised her glass, nodding at him to do likewise. "'Homicide: When they care enough to send the very best.'"

   His smile was a full-fledged grin now. They clinked glasses. "I knew there was a reason why I liked you."

   They didn't notice Mulder and Scully until they walked up to the table. "And what is this," Mulder asked, feigning indignation. "We come back and you're the only ones with fresh drinks?"

   Bayliss still smiled at Max. "Well, we figured Tommy Lee Jones had walked up and zapped you both with his magic wand." He looked around for the waitress.

   "Never happen," Mulder asserted, sitting down next to Tim. "I've got better shades than he does."

   "That's a matter of opinion," Scully cracked, squeezing Max' shoulder before she sat down.

   "Don't you diss Ray-Bans in _my_ presence, pal," Max warned him.

   The lights started to go down. "Shoot him later," Bayliss advised her. He leaned over and murmured in her ear. "Just don't blow away anything I might need."

   Max tried to look grave. "Might be hard."

   "Here's to hoping."


AFTER THE SHOW

   They were some of the last people to leave the club. Max and Bayliss had started towards the door as soon as the lights came up, but Mulder and Scully suggested they follow the same wait-and-watch strategy that worked so well on crowded airplanes. Bayliss was explaining his still-forming concept for music at the Waterfront as they came down the stairs.

   ". . . we'd call it 'Blues For The Blues,'" he said, his enthusiasm bubbling over. "There's only a few really good jazz groups in Baltimore, but there's enough decent blues bands to help us put on some kind of charity event. . . for the PAL, or for families of cops killed in the line of duty. Then we could bring in national acts after we're established. . ."

   "This would be perfect for Munch," Mulder snickered. "He already dresses like the Fifth Blues Brother."

   "I thought you said you guys had paid off most of your original loan," Scully said, handing her ticket to the coat-check girl. "You sure Munch and Lewis will want to go back in the hole?"

   "Aw c'mon, Scully," Max said playfully, shrugging into her raincoat. "They don't trust you in America if you're not deep in debt."

   Scully was still skeptical. "Well, it sounds great, Tim. But you'd better watch out this doesn't turn into the kind of place that starts out trying to be the Hard Rock Cafe and winds up doing karaoke five nights a week."

   Bayliss guffawed. "Speaking of Munch! I never _saw_ this, mind you. .."


OUTSIDE LA BELLA CUCINA

   "There they are."

   She straightened up, fatigue disappearing as her eyes darted to the entrance of the restaurant. The pavement was fairly crowded, but the four of them had snaked through the throng to the edge of the sidewalk. The man with the cane must have been telling a funny story, because Mulder & Scully burst into hysterics. The other woman laughed too, but you could tell from the distance she didn't completely get the joke.

   The woman in the passenger seat didn't speak as she watched them talk to each other. She looked closely at them, observing Mulder's body language. The four stood close together, but she could tell Mulder was standing closer to the other man than to Scully. Their shoulders touched, and the man with the cane watched Mulder's face with complete attention. . .

   "What did I tell you," the man behind the wheel said. His voice had an edge to it.

   The woman brushed blonde bangs out of her eyes. "I still can't believe it," she said listlessly.

   Her companion looked over at her. "He not only didn't leave, he turned off his cell phone. _Mulder_ turned off his _cell phone_! That isn't enough for you?"

   Her eyes were still on Mulder, who was asking Scully a question. "I read the news reports. Read the trial transcript. Now I see this. . ." She shook her head.

   The man was amazed at her self-delusion. "Do you think he _lied_ about it? Made up a story, under oath, so he could be made a circus freak by the media, and maybe even get himself cashiered? Did he make up the disciplinary reports that attorney found, too? You tell me. Why would he do that?"

   The woman was thinking about standing over a sleeping Mulder in her New York apartment. She could still see him slumped in her easy chair, unable to resist the fatigue any longer. *How long did I stand there? It would have been so easy to kneel down. . .* "He's protecting Scully."

   The man rolled his eyes. "Oh, _please_. . ."

   She waved an arm at the group across the street. They were still talking, probably deciding where to go next; it was still pretty early, especially for a Friday night in Georgetown. "Well, what's she doing here if he's involved with this man? Even _I've_ heard the rumors about Mulder and his partner! I hear he'll protect her at all cost! That says to me he'd sacrifice his career to save hers. . ."

   "You want to know what she's doing here," the man snarled. He jutted his jaw at Scully, who was talking to the other three. "_She's_ protecting _him_! Even after he's _acknowledged_ the relationship, she's out there trying to show the world that Mulder is still Spooky Studboy, one of the FBI's ten most wanted heterosexuals!" He sounded utterly disgusted as he watched the group go off together, shoulder to shoulder, men behind the women. "She's _covering_ for him, for God's sake!"

   The woman looked at Scully's companion. A little shorter than Scully, she seemed to bop as she walked. She looked too happy. "You don't think Scully and. . . and that woman are. .."

   The man laughed derisively. "Not even if hell froze over." He'd always hated Scully. Hated Mulder's devotion to her. Hated her precision. Her coldness. Her attitude, which denoted someone with a stick inserted firmly and deeply up the anal canal. He laughed inwardly at the thought of a woman coming on to Scully. *She'd run like a scalded dog!*

   But Mulder was different. He knew that the moment they shook hands. His lips tingled at the thought of the kiss in Mulder's darkened apartment. If only he'd been able to play the game a little longer in the prison camp. *A few weeks of hard labor, of pain, of living with the realization that he would never see home again. . .*

   The woman's voice brought him out of his reverie. "Take me back to the hotel, Alex."

   Krycek looked over at her, then started the engine and put the Continental Mark VII in gear. He knew that look, knew that hushed sound in her voice, knew what was going to happen when they got back to the Watergate. The idea didn't exactly fill him with revulsion. Having sex with Marita wasn't an unpleasant experience; she was quite willing to please, and was fairly proficient at the things he preferred to do. *Besides,* he thought philosophically, *if you close your eyes, you're fucking whoever you want.*

   Krycek caught a glimpse of the group in his rearview mirror as he pulled out into traffic. Marita was slumped down in the seat again, the depression washing over her. She couldn't know Alex was thinking the same thing she was:

   *How could he? How _could_ he?*

THE END. . . MAYBE.