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Sometimes, you have to love someone enough to let them go.

DISCLAIMER: Not mine; they belong to CC, FOX, etc.

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*Five Years Later*

Mulder checked his watch as he waited for the email attachments to upload. Anna's birthday party had officially started only fifteen minutes ago, but from the squeals and shouts emanating from downstairs, it sounded like the event was in full swing. He was sure Scully would appreciate some backup, but she also understood that he needed to get this profile sent off first.

Not for the first time, Mulder noted with appreciation how much easier modern technology had made a job like consulting. Occasionally it was necessary for him to travel across the country to a crime scene, but the quality of video and photos that could be sent to him by fax or computer often made the trip unnecessary. Granted, his method of profiling had also changed. He no longer followed the self-destructive model that Bill Patterson had taught him--to immerse oneself in the mind of the killer. Now he used good old fashioned psychology, police work, and intuition to craft a profile.

Once the attachments were finished and the email was sent, Mulder powered down his computer and took a final look around his office to make sure none of the crime scene photos were lying around. The kids weren't allowed to come in here without permission, but he knew that Scully felt better if there weren't any traumatic images sitting out that the kids could accidentally see. Sometimes Mulder walked a fine line maintaining his work space within his home, but he had learned to keep his consulting work secondary and not let it consume him. Family came first.

As he descended the stairs, he caught a glimpse of the mayhem awaiting him. Anna had invited over only six friends for the afternoon party, but somehow the seven of them seemed to fill up the spacious family room. Mulder peeked in to see that most of the girls were sitting on the floor around the coffee table; another girl appeared to be chasing Anna around the room, while their friends cheered them on. At the edge of the room, watching with some trepidation and wonder, sat his three-year-old son, Isaac.

Mulder knelt down next to his son. "Hey, buddy. It's a little scary in here, don't you think? Why don't I rescue you."

Isaac held onto his stuffed dinosaur while Mulder picked him up, and the two of them escaped to the kitchen.

Scully was closing the oven when they walked in. She spotted them as she turned around to the island in the middle of the kitchen.

"Were you able to get the profile finished?" she asked.

"Yep. It's all done and sent off."

"I'm sorry about the noise," she said. "I told Anna to keep it down because you had some work to do, but she's too wound up. I figured I'd better get started on the food. Once the pizzas are cooked, we can start the movie, and things should settle down."

Isaac squirmed to get down, so Mulder lowered him to the floor. "What exactly are they doing in there?"

Scully got out the pizza cutter and started to slice the cooked pizza sitting on the counter. "Anna said they were playing a new board game."

"It looks to me more like Duck, Duck, Goose. And here I thought boys were supposed to be the rowdy ones." He looked over at Isaac, always the quiet antithesis of his talkative sister, now scribbling on his white board in the corner. "Whatever happened to 'sugar and spice and everything nice'?"

Scully gave him a look. "She's *your* daughter."

He laughed. "Says the tomboy. You can't fool me, Scully. I know you climbed your share of trees back in the day. You didn't spend all of your time quietly dissecting frogs and playing with your pink science kit."

"Did you come in here to mock me, or to help?"

"Help, of course," he said, as innocently as possible.

She rolled her eyes. "Good. You can get Isaac's food ready. The first pizza is done, so he might as well start eating. The second pizza will be out in a few minutes."

While Mulder was getting Isaac settled into his chair, a loud thud in the family room was followed by a round of cheers.

"Maybe we should have them play in the back yard," Mulder suggested.

Scully glanced up from sticking candles in the cake. "Have you looked outside? It's been pouring all day."

He came up behind her and purposely pulled her back against him to reach around her and grab a fork out the drawer. "Hey, I'm not the one who decided to settle down in Seattle. I can do my work from anywhere." Rather than letting her go once the drawer was shut, he nuzzled the back of her neck, heading for that sensitive spot behind her ear. "And I do my best work at home," he said in a low voice.

The buzz of the oven timer interrupted him. Snickering at his antics, Scully nudged him and his roving hands out of her way. "Then you can work on getting the bag of ice out of the freezer."

"Party pooper," he said good-naturedly.


Half an hour later, the house was indeed quieter. Scully finished cleaning up the pizza pans and finally left the kitchen, wondering where Mulder had gotten off to.

She found him leaning against the doorway to the family room, watching the party but not quite joining it. She gently placed her hand on his back, and he lifted his arm to gather her close to his side. They shared a contented smile and turned to watch on for a few minutes.

Scully took in the scene in the family room. Colorful paper plates with various states of pizza crust dotted the room, along with half-empty cups and crumpled napkins that matched the plates. The girls were sprawled out on the furniture and around the floor, attentively watching "Finding Nemo," which was Anna's latest favorite movie. And curled up in his sister's lap was Isaac, with his beloved stuffed dinosaur firm in his grasp.

Scully looked up at Mulder and realized that he was watching Anna and Isaac rather than the movie. She said quietly, "You haven't said anything about it, but I know what this day means to you."

Mulder looked down at her, raising his eyebrows in question.

"Anna's ninth birthday," she explained.

He nodded and turned back to watch their children giggling at the movie. "Samantha never made it to her ninth birthday--at least, not with us."

Scully squeezed him a little tighter and nestled her head against his chest. She loved this man so dearly, but especially his tender heart and undying devotion. Where others saw obsession, she saw loyalty and enduring hope. She never wanted to lose that part of him.

It had been a long time since Mulder had chased down a lead relating to Samantha. There were times when Scully doubted, wondering if he had given up or let go. But she knew he still monitored the UFO websites. And as the pictures of Anna and Isaac were changed out for new ones in the frames on Mulder's desk, another photo sat there always, of a little girl frozen in time.

"Maybe she did have that birthday party, Mulder, just somewhere else."

"Maybe." He rubbed Scully's shoulder, almost absent-mindedly. "And maybe she's given her own kids the ninth birthday party she never had." He huffed out a small laugh. "She'd be almost forty now. Can you believe that?"

Scully leaned her head back to pin him with a look. "You're not implying forty is old, are you?" Her own fortieth birthday was only a week away.

"If it is, then I've passed 'old' and gone straight on to 'ancient.'"

"Shhh!" Anna reprimanded them over the back of the couch.

Mulder and Scully shared a smirk. "I guess we were talking too loud," he whispered.

Scully pulled away from his side. "Go watch the movie with the kids. I have to finish wrapping Anna's present, then I can come join you."

He gave her a quick kiss and then slipped into the room to join the party. Anna scooted over a little on the couch to make room for him, so he squeezed in next to her and then shifted her and Isaac so they were both sitting on his lap.

Scully thought about getting out the camera to get a picture of the three of them but decided the flash would be too disruptive. Maybe she would sneak in a shot as the movie ended. She had a similar picture sitting on her desk at work, but it was over a year old. She wouldn't mind replacing it with a newer one.

Scully thought back to the framed photos on Mulder's desk, including the one of his sister and one of Anna now about the same age. The similarity between them wasn't as strong as it once was, but there was no denying which side of the family Anna most resembled. The two pictures were a constant reminder that while loved ones are never forgotten, life must go on.

The hole that Samantha left in Mulder's heart would never be filled by anyone else, Scully knew. But little by little they were healing old hurts by making new memories. And with those new memories they made up for lost time, redeeming the days that had been squandered when Anna was young. Looking at father and daughter cuddled together and smiling at the movie, Scully was reminded of how far they had all come. It had been a long and bumpy road, but they were finally traveling it together as a family, and together they would face the journey that lay ahead.

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Author's notes: That's all she wrote. Thanks for hanging in there. And thanks especially to those who sent me pokes and feedback to remind me that people were still interested. Pokes really do inspire writing!

Send feedback to: bellefleur1013@yahoo.com

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