a/n: I said I wouldn't do this. I said I wouldn't post this story without it being finished. I'm going to go to hell for being a liar.

a/n II: the idea for this story popped up in my head almost two years ago now, and for some reason it wouldn't go away. in the same way I have taken a journey in the past two years, my writing has as well, and I'm more confident than ever that I'm putting out a believable story that has everything you're looking for. and if not, well I'm working on it. big giant mahoosive thanks to AmorFati32. this story wouldn't exist if she didn't. she's my biggest cheerleader and I hope that I can encourage her as much as she's encouraged me.

alright. on with the show.


Fragile

by dearpearlie

"Alright Stacie, when is it due? Okay, I'm going out of town this weekend on a case, can I drop it by before I leave? How late? Then I'll just drop it in your mailbox. No problem. Bye."

This was the phone conversation Dana Scully walked in on her partner having just hours before they were supposed to catch their 5:00 flight out to Indianapolis on a case involving a cat-like creature terrorizing a small village another hour and a half's drive from the city. Scully was sure it was a crack case, but Mulder was convinced it was something more, and since his mother's death, it was hard to say 'no' to him all the time. Besides, she'd already planned her trip to the outlet malls there, hoping to score a few early Christmas presents for her nephews and niece. They were getting bigger and older and she felt the need to make up for the fact that she didn't see them as often as she would like with gifts. It made her feel good, though, when on holidays, the children were always eager to open "Aunt Dana's gift."

She dropped her bags on the floor, making her presence and the way she checked her watch obvious so that Mulder would understand that they didn't have much time to waste. She'd run through many a terminal, Kevin McCallister-style, hoping that someone had dropped their carry-on or the pilot was late, anything to help them get on the plane in time. Mulder eventually hung up the phone.

"We have to go to Fairfax to drop something off at my cousin's house on the way to the airport," he informed her, empty suitcase visible from the entryway.

"You have a cousin?" Scully was suddenly far more interested in this new tidbit of information that she had learned than their quest to get to the airport.

"Yeah, Stacie. She's my mother's sister's daughter. She just moved out here."

"What are we dropping off?"

Mulder looked over to his desk, where his checkbook was sitting, open.

"Rent money."

"What?" Scully was more than suspicious at Mulder paying this previously unheard of cousin's bills. He walked into his bedroom and began throwing clothes and suits into his pack.

"She's got two little kids and she just moved here from Charleston. She's had a drug problem since she was a teenager and recently got clean, so I help her out."

It was such a sad, but common, family problem. Much more common, at least, than alien abductions and assassinations, Scully figured. Sometimes she was taken aback by how giving and selfless Mulder could be, given that his search had consumed his life and even hers.

No. She wasn't. She remembered three months ago. When she had asked him to be the father of her child and how he did not have to think about it while he thought about it. He'd said yes. Then six weeks after that moment, when she was pressed up against his chest as hard as she could be, sobbing with everything inside of her for what was not inside of her.

"Well come on, then. We have to get out of here if we're going to make it in time."

XXX

Three days later, a too-tired-to-try-not-to Scully was arguing with an equally tired and mostly disheartened Mulder. They were sitting on her couch, nursing hot mugs of tea, same clothes they had jumped off the plane (but not back to semblance) on. Neither of the agents could tell you when this ritual had started, but recapping on her couch before either of them had had the chance to jump in the shower after a case was normal for them. First he would nearly knock through her door by slumping on it while she used her key to let them inside. Then they'd both take a huge sigh as they rid themselves of at least the physical baggage they'd had to carry in their hands and on their shoulders because of the case. He would go straight for the kitchen to start the kettle while she made a b-line for the couch. Two clumps on the hardwood floor meant that her shoes had come off, and it would only be a matter of seconds before her now-bare feet were curled up underneath her. Before the IVF failed, she'd be in the kitchen with him, imagining a life where instead of late-night conversations they'd be dealing with late-night feedings. A world where she would trade sleep for motherly sounds and a uniquely platonic relationship with her partner for something she was too scared to even allow herself to think about in his presence. When the tea kettle whistled, Mulder would deliver two hot cups to her coffee table, and then assume the same position. Yes, they were arguing, they always were. But this ritual was important to them. After seven years and too many lost lives to count, they needed to fight and argue while sitting on her couch and inhaling the scent of herbal liquid and each other. On their terms.

"Detective Halvorson was totally biased from the beginning, Mulder. It's one thing to have to explain the deaths of livestock to a bunch of local farmers, it's quite another to have to explain it to a whole town of tourists. He was just trying to rev up the local economy," she tried not to yell and tried not to look at his gorgeous eyes staring her straight in the soul. Instead, Scully buried her face in the cushions of her new cream couch, which were perfect for that purpose.

"Not just livestock, Scully, pets. Family pets. Killed inside their homes with no evidence of a break-in. And what about those bite marks we saw on all of the victims, the ones that don't match those of any local predators? So what if it's a cave town hurting for tourists, that doesn't mean that something isn't going on there."

"Mulder, I'm a lot more inclined to say that there's a physically deformed or possibly injured coyote running around taking whatever easy meal it can get than I am to say there's a non-indigenous phantom panther, that just happens to be attracting a lot of Bigfoot hunter types, stalking the area. They can hype this up all they want, Mulder, but that doesn't mean that the FBI has to go out and investigate."

"Inside their homes, Scully, no evidence of a break-in. Even Wile E. left clues—" suddenly their very intellectual argument was interrupted by the muffled sound of a cell phone ringing from across the room. And since Scully's cell was already sitting next to her tea on the coffee table, Mulder threw his hands up and went to dig through his suitcase to answer it.

"Don't hang up don't hang up don't hang up," was his mantra as he dug through compartment after compartment searching for the device. Finally, on the twelfth ring, he was successful.

Scully didn't hear him go through all of the formalities of answering the phone. She stopped listening and started paying more attention to the fact that she desperately needed to take care of her painful hangnails.

Until this:

"Okay okay Zach, I'll be right there. I'm not going to be long. You and Megan stay right where you are and wait for me. Don't go anywhere near the door," he hung up and bolted for his suit coat and keys.

"What's going on?" Scully asked, popping off the couch.

"I need to get to Fairfax," Mulder answered cryptically.

"For what?" Scully had forgotten their small detour there the other day.

"Zach and Megan, my cousin's kids, haven't seen their mom at all today and someone came looking for her, trashed the place, and left. They're scared. They want me to come over."

"Are they alright?" Scully followed him out the door. She was going with. Their post-case time together hadn't expired yet.

"I won't know for sure until I see them."

The agents could never have prepared themselves for what they found that day, though.