Exaiphnes IV: Crescent City
Written by Marti

DISCLAIMER: This story is based on the characters and situations created by Chris Carter and owned by the Fox Network and 1013 Productions. As such, the characters named are the property of those entities and are used without permission, although no copyright infringements are intended.

Tim Bayliss looked at his watch again. Hadn't they said they would meet at 3:30? It wasn't that long a walk over here from the convention center.

Taking another sip of his coffee, he tasted the pleasing bite of chicory mixed with the smoothness of the milk, the perfect complement to the sweetness of the beignets smothered in powdered sugar. He hoped Mulder wouldn't mind that he had gone ahead and ordered without him, but since the other man was thirty minutes late, Tim figured he had it coming.

He was glad he had gotten a seat on the edge of the patio so he could see the streaming parade of people on the street. Most of them were tourists -- so he deduced from the cameras and Bourbon Street teeshirts. That's detective work for you, he said to himself wryly. But what was with those kids dressed all in black, body piercings everywhere, chains attaching their wallets to their belt loops -- they were walking arm in arm and pulling a dog behind them on a leash. Tourists or natives? He wasn't sure, since he hadn't been there long enough yet to get a feel for the place. He had just arrived that morning and had only gotten as far as taking a cab to the hotel and then figuring out how to walk over to Cafe du Monde, where Mulder was supposed to be meeting him after finishing with his conference panel. Why did he suggest we meet here? We'll never find each other in this --

Mulder suddenly came into focus, stepping out of the torrent of people to stride toward Tim's table. He had rolled up the sleeves of his pressed blue shirt and loosened his tie, and had his suitcoat slung over one arm. Tim fought the urge to stand up and meet him halfway with a kiss that would stop him in his tracks, and settled for grinning madly and holding Mulder's gaze until he got to the table.

"So, you started without me?" Mulder smirked as he tossed his jacket over the third chair and sat down across from Tim. He started to stretch his legs out into the aisle but had to pull them back in quickly as a waitress balancing a tray of water glasses flew by.

"Hey -- I was getting hungry." As Mulder drew his legs back in under the small table, Tim was aware of their knees touching, and he leaned in until his nose was about six inches from the other man's. "But mostly I was anxious for you to get here. I missed you."

"Really?" Mulder flushed a little bit. "It's only been three days, you know."

"Sure, but you've been about ten states away. That's too far." Even if declarations like this did make Mulder uncomfortable, Tim refused to be circumspect.

"Well...I'm glad you're here now," Mulder said quickly, turning away to flag down a waitress. "How was the flight down?"

"Good, good. I got in about 11:00. I talked to the guy next to me a little bit. He used to be a security guard at the Smithsonian, but he just retired and said he'd always wanted to see New Orleans. Heard so much about it."

Of course Tim would strike up a conversation with his seatmate, Mulder thought. He, on the other hand, would immediately lean back and close his eyes before the plane took off, or else bury himself in some reading material.

Soon a waitress in a white apron and paper hat brought coffee and another order of beignets. While Mulder ate, Tim leaned back in his chair and rested one elbow on the railing of the patio. "So, do you have some stuff picked out for us to do?"

"A few things." Mulder brushed some powdered sugar off his chin. "I haven't done that much touring yet."

"Because you knew it would be more fun with me?"

"Something like that. But I have been checking out the guidebooks, and there's plenty to see right in the Quarter." He took a swig of coffee and grabbed more of the thin paper napkins to clean up some of the sugar which now seemed to be all over him. "How's the room? Any trouble checking in?" Mulder had been staying in the conference hotel thus far, but was moving over to a bed and breakfast now that Tim had arrived.

"Beautiful. Period furniture, balcony. Just far enough away from the center of things that it should be pretty quiet. Bed's kinda small, though."

"So, you're saying we'll have to sleep very close together?" Mulder said quietly, raising an eyebrow.

"Hey, I'm just saying keep your elbows on your side."

"Don't I always?"

"I know you like to think so." Tim looked back out onto the street and inhaled deeply. The air was rich with smells: the fried dough of the beignets, the seafood cooking in a restaurant up the street, the sweetness of flowers starting to bloom. "I can't believe this weather...January and it's practically 80 out. When I left Baltimore it was 35 degrees and trying to decide if it was going to rain or sleet. I think we need to spend some time outdoors while we're here."

"Then let's go walk around. I'm done."

"Okay. Just...hold still." As they stood up, Tim reached across the table to smooth a streak of sugar off Mulder's cheek and let his hand linger there a little longer than was necessary.

With a few hours to kill until their dinner reservation, they thought they would explore the French Quarter, starting with the crowded square in front of them. After crossing Decatur Street, where Tim had seen the stream of people passing by, they arrived on a wide sidewalk between Jackson Square Park and a block of brick buildings, the top half consisting of historic apartments and the bottom half filled with souvenir shops and restaurants. The square itself bustled with activity. Amateur artists offered to paint the portraits of passersby, a trumpeter played old Dixieland standards for the crowds at Cafe du Monde, jugglers tossed balls and bowling pins in the air, and another performer whose clothes and skin were painted silver posed as a statue, not moving even when those in the crowd came close and tried to jostle him.

"Where to first?" Tim asked. "Louisiana State Museum?" This was housed just in front of them, to the right of St. Louis Cathedral at the back end of the square.

"Sure, if you want." Mulder seemed more engrossed in the sights on the brick sidewalk just outside the museum, including a man playing a piano which was painted red and covered with stickers. Apparently he dragged it out into the square to play every day.

"You don't sound too excited," Tim noted.

"No, it's fine."

But, as Tim predicted, Mulder breezed through the museum in about half the time he himself took. After the tour, Tim found him back outside, sprawled on a bench in the square, watching a street performer making balloon animals for the tourist children. He had even had time, it appeared, to get an Italian ice at a nearby shop, and was spooning the last of the orange shavings out of the cup when Tim arrived.

"Want me to get you one?" Mulder asked.

"Um, no thanks. So, we've got a little time left. What do you want to see? Not any museums, obviously." Though Tim was pretty much accustomed to Mulder's short attention span by now, he felt the need to call him on it occasionally.

Mulder stood up and tossed his crumpled cup into a trashcan in a perfect arc. "Actually, there is a museum I'm interested in, over on Conti. A wax museum."

"Wax figures of what?"

"Oh, famous people from Louisiana history."

"Won't that be what we just saw, only less interesting?" Tim looked over Mulder's shoulder into the park in the middle of the square, where the sun was now slanting through the trees, and raised a hand to shade his eyes.

"No -- they also have a chamber of horrors in the basement." Thus they ended up spending the remainder of their afternoon prowling through the dark labyrinthine corridors of the Musee Conti.


After dinner, Mulder proposed that they take a walk down Bourbon Street. "I don't know that we need to spend a lot of time there, but it's worth seeing."

"So you've checked this out already?"

"Well, I had to spend a *little* time away from the conference. It does typify New Orleans, after all."

In fact, it didn't seem to Tim to be terribly different from the Block in Baltimore. If anything, it was tamer. For being the ground zero of the city's decadence, it seemed surprisingly unshocking, despite the two or three strip clubs in every block: one had a pair of mannequin's legs, bare except for high-heeled shoes, moving in and out of an opening in the wall, and one advertised mudwrestling matches, for which the bar claimed they came out into the street to find contestants. The other storefronts were primarily bars and tee-shirt shops.

"In other words," Tim observed, "decadence here consists solely of drinking beer and looking at topless women."

"You got a problem with that?" Mulder attempted a lecherous look, but Tim was not impressed.

"It just seems that there are more perverted things than this."

"Have anything particular in mind?"

"Don't we both see more shocking things every time we go to work?"

"Sure, whenever I go check out a pile of fertilizer to make sure somebody's not stockpiling it. Now *that's* terrifying."

"Oh, come on. You know what I mean. Like that case I just worked, the guy killing women and broadcasting it over the internet. That was worse. I mean, what we've got in front of us isn't exactly the court of Caligula."

"True...but then too much perversion is not very marketable to the average tourist, is it? The people watching your killer on the internet wouldn't want to see it happening right in front of them while they're on vacation. But they might want to see a woman in a g-string gyrating a little. And even that might scare them if she got too close."

They abandoned their conversation as the music flowing from various doorways created a wash of sound around them, blending Top 40 pop with sultry R&B and more traditional jazz. Interspersed with the strip clubs were other bars whose signs, painted in neon colors, advertised specialty drinks, mostly jello shots but sometimes an original creation like the Tropical Itch. Deciding that they should sample all the aspects of the local culture, they stopped off at Pat O'Brien's for hurricanes, tall, strong drinks made of fruit juice and rum. They were allowed to carry these with them as they strolled, as long as they weren't in glass containers.

By this time, they had traversed several blocks, and the crowds were thinning out as the bars got fewer and farther between. It seemed they were crossing over into a more residential area, and the blocks were filled with brick dwellings decorated with black ironwork. But as they crossed from the more populated area into a darker block, they found themselves once more between two bars, both blasting electronic dance music.

"Hey, that's the kind of stuff you like," Mulder remarked. "Maybe they have some Erasure they could play for you."

"Yeah, and you'd love that, wouldn't you?" Tim observed that the exterior of the building was nondescript. At least there were no plastic legs sticking out anywhere. "What do you think -- want to go in? We should do more than just observe the decadence from afar, wouldn't you say?"

Mulder was looking up at the small sign over the door, which read "Oz." "Something tells me we're not in Kansas anymore."


"Had you noticed the people gyrating on the bar in their underwear are men?"

"No, I can't really see anything." Tim tried to look past the line of people waiting to get in the door. The bar was lit in black light, and many patrons wore white shirts that now glowed an eerie blue. As he took in the details of the scene, his eyes lit on another sign near the door: "This is a gay bar. You don't have to be gay to come in, but you do have to be nice."

"Helpful of them to spell it out for us." Tim turned to address this to Mulder, who was already heading back up the street in the direction they had come from.

"So, I'm guessing you don't want to go in," Tim commented as he caught up to him.

"No, thanks." Mulder slowed a bit as he crossed what now seemed to be an invisible dividing line between the two ends of the French Quarter.

They walked along in silence for a few minutes, then Tim decided to pursue the question further. "You know, Mulder, I'm not saying we had to go in, but if we had we certainly wouldn't have been out of place. I mean, what's the big deal? So it's a gay bar."

Mulder stopped on the sidewalk and faced him as the throngs of people flowed around them. They were underneath a sign whose blue neon light cast an glow on his face. "I know that...but as I look at those men in there it seems that I have nothing in common with them."

Tim didn't respond except to furrow his brow.

Mulder continued, "I mean, I don't think of myself that way. Do you?" He stepped back out into the street, which was closed to traffic, to avoid being jostled by a college kid stumbling along with a beer in his hand.

"I don't know. I don't think too much about what labels apply, I guess. I've been attracted to more than one man, but I've also been attracted to more than one woman. At this point I'm attracted to you and that decides it."

"Decides what? That you're gay?"

"I wouldn't say it's that categorical. I think it has more to do with the individual person."

"Yeah...I mean, I guess that's right." Mulder seemed to be working things out in his mind as he talked. "I can't say I've ever been as compatible with anyone, male or female, as I am with you. But that doesn't mean I look at any other men that way."

This thrilled Tim, but disturbed him at the same time. "So you're saying you're still attracted to women?"

"I guess, as a group, on some level. I mean, all those years of watching videos, they were all about women."

"So..." Tim swallowed. "You feel like this relationship is, what, an anomaly? That you'll eventually revert back to the way you were?"

"No, I don't feel that way. That's not my point."

"Well, what is your point? You're starting to make me nervous."

Mulder ran his hand through his hair in exasperation, then crossed his arms. "I don't know what my point is, Tim. I guess it's that I'm not interested in men in general, I'm interested in you. Period. I'm satisfied with that."

Tim smiled, letting out a little sigh of relief. "That works for me." He paused. "And hopefully it means you won't make me go in any strip clubs." Mulder nodded as they rejoined the crowd to head back towards the hotel.


Mulder had decided a few years ago he must have reached an age that made it constitutionally impossible for him to sleep late. Even though this was now officially vacation -- they had nowhere they had to be, and he was certainly tired from the cumulative effects of work and travel -- he woke up the next morning as soon as the first sunlight crept through the crack between the curtains. He tried to extract himself from the bed gracefully, but it creaked and shuddered a bit despite his best efforts, making Tim roll over and flop his arm onto the now-empty side of the bed. Mulder froze and waited for a second until he was sure Tim had fallen back into a sound sleep.

There was a four-cup coffee pot on the bathroom counter, a nice amenity he was more than willing to take advantage of. He had thought he would sit and look out the window while he drank a cup, checking out the early-morning view of the Rue Conti, but then realized that pulling back the curtains would let in a flood of light and wake Tim. Instead, he sat in one of the chairs by the window, facing the bed, contemplating the other man's sleeping form.

He liked seeing Tim so peaceful. It seemed that the furrows between his eyebrows had multiplied over the last few months, as had the grey hairs at his temples. While Mulder knew that Tim was happy with him, and it didn't seem that work had been too stressful since he had returned to it in the fall, he still looked haggard from time to time. He even seemed thinner than he had when Mulder had first met him, but maybe he was just playing more basketball and working the pounds off that way. Mulder almost never asked how he was feeling, and he supposed Tim thought he didn't even notice details like that, but the truth was that he did care if his lover was tired, or tense, or worried.

Fortunately he didn't appear to be any of those things now, and Mulder was glad they had decided to take a few days off. Finishing his coffee, he decided to go down and get a paper while he waited for Tim to stir. He spent a little time talking to the desk clerk, trying to get some recommendations for restaurants off the tourist track (he'd heard that K-Paul's really wasn't that good, despite the throngs of out-of-towners lined up outside), then headed back up. As he gently closed the door behind him, he heard some rustling from the bed, and then saw Tim squinting at him, unable to make out more than blurred outlines without his glasses.

"Hey. Morning." Smiling, Tim stretched and rolled over onto his back. "What time is it? How long have you been up?"

"Not long. It's about 8:00. Nice day -- sun's out again." Mulder crossed the room at the foot of the bed and pulled back the curtains part way.

"Good. Eventually I'll be ready to go out in it,but I just want to lay here for a few more minutes." As Mulder started to sit down and take out his paper, Tim interrupted. "Hey, why don't you come back to bed?" He watched as Mulder folded up the paper and laid it on the table, then unbuttoned his jeans, let them fall to the floor, and climbed back in bed in his tee-shirt and boxers.

Still on his back, Tim stretched out an arm on the other pillow, and Mulder slid under the covers, resting on his back with his head on Tim's shoulder. They lay in silence for a while, Tim smoothing back the hair from Mulder's forehead and listening to his breathing get deeper as he seemed to fall back asleep.

He never gets enough sleep, Tim thought. I don't either, I guess, but he's worse. Tim knew that when Mulder was alone he stayed up late poring over files or watching TV, and when they were spending the night together, Tim sometimes heard him slip out in the middle of the night and knew he was going downstairs to read, having never dozed off despite laying still in the dark for an hour or more. He hoped that Mulder would finally let himself relax on vacation, but it wasn't likely. He already had a lengthy list of must-see daily excursions that it was going to be hard to accomplish in the time they had.

For the moment, Tim thought, I'd rather just stay right here. He put his free hand, which had been flung over his head, on Mulder's chest, and as the other man shifted slightly toward him, he tried to feel a heartbeat through the thin cotton. He thought he had read somewhere that when two people lay in close proximity to each other, their hearts start beating in sync. Sympathetic vibrations or something, a musical principle.

I just want to stay right here and feel his heart beating.

It was 9:00 before either of them stirred again. Mulder spoke first. "What time is it?"

"What, afraid we're getting off your expertly-planned schedule?"

"No -- but we should get up eventually. Aren't you hungry? I'm hungry. We should think about breakfast."

"Yeah...let's find someplace with a really good brunch. Somewhere we can sit out on a balcony and eat eggs Benedict, or whatever the specialty of the house is in New Orleans."

"I think that should be possible." Mulder sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. "Do you want the bathroom first? I didn't shower yet either."

"Yeah, I'll go. You can read your paper." Then another thought struck Tim as he sat up behind Mulder and kissed the back of his neck. "Or...you could come with me."

"To conserve water, you mean."

"Sure...and to get us out of here and down to breakfast faster," he murmured with his lips pressed against Mulder's skin.

"I don't know, Timothy, that sounds pretty decadent." Though he was trying to maintain his usual ironic distance, Mulder had to admit that he was starting to feel the effects of Tim's efforts, the warmth of his hand making lazy circles against his back.

"Well, how else are you going to behave when you're in New Orleans?" Tim gave him a little push off the bed and headed for the bathroom.

Once they were in the tub, Mulder watched as Tim stood under the spray first and closed his eyes, letting the water wash over him. Something about this situation seemed strange -- pleasant, but strange. Mulder wasn't sure why. They'd been together, what, four months? They'd been in all sorts of intimate embraces, dressed and undressed. He knew every contour of Tim's body, the curve of his neck, the sinews in his legs, the taste of his buttery skin. But he thought this might be the first time he had just stood and contemplated the other man when they were -- what was that phrase? In the all-together. It seemed appropriate: Tim, just as he was, reduced to his most basic essence, not speaking or moving, just being. Beautiful. Mulder was sure he had never thought of that word to describe Tim before, but there it was, and it was the right word.

Tim became aware Mulder was looking at him intently, and opened his eyes to see him smiling. "What?"

"Nothing. Turn around."

Tim obliged, and leaned forward against the wall as he felt Mulder's strong hands, covered in lather, moving across his back, kneading the muscles as he went. When he was done soaping everything he could reach, Tim turned back to face him, standing in a compliant posture, arms outstretched. Normally he might have felt vulnerable in this position, but instead he felt a kind of peace, as Mulder's hands attended to every inch of him.

He had simultaneously longed for and resisted this for as long as he could remember, the sense of trusting another person totally. They were in a situation which ordinarily would have brought back a flood of dark memories, images of his uncle's face -- he had never talked to Mulder about that -- but instead there was nothing other than his lover's gentle and deliberate ministrations, aimed at making him feel good, satisfied, purified.

After he let the water run over him, clearing away the last traces of the soap, he traded places with Mulder. This required a delicate little dance, in the middle of which their bodies brushed up against each other, and before he could do anything else, Tim had to take time out for a deep kiss, grasping the back of Mulder's neck to pull him close.

"Mulder..." he started to say before he pulled away.


The confession, the "I love you," was on the tip of his tongue, but he stopped short. He had no doubt about his feelings, but he did doubt Mulder's readiness to hear it. It could wait, he decided.

"Nothing." Tim reached for the shampoo and poured some into the palm of his hand.

The events of the morning came back to Tim from time to time throughout the day. When they were having lunch at a patio table, listening to a jazz combo playing in a courtyard, Tim looked across the table and thought, I can't believe that a few hours ago I was standing there washing his hair.

After lunch, they decided to take a walk along the Mississippi, since Tim had not yet gotten a good look at it. The Quarter was situated next to a sharp bend in the river, which made it difficult to navigate. They watched as barges and tugboats slowly passed each other, some on their way to the wharves just to the left of the Quarter, further downriver. The two men followed a riverside path all along the length of the French Quarter, and stopped in a park at the end so Tim could lean over the rail for a better look at the steamboats docked there.

A moment later, Tim heard Mulder's voice saying, "Good. How's Denver?" Then he heard a woman he didn't know respond and add something about a paper she'd given at the conference. Curious, Tim walked over to join the conversation.

At first, Mulder didn't seem to realize Tim was there, but continued to talk to the woman animatedly. Finally she paused and turned to Tim, inferring that he must be somehow connected to Mulder. She smiled, and he reached to shake her hand.

"Tim Bayliss."

"Sarah Schultz."

"Oh, sorry." Mulder realized the moment had passed when it would have been appropriate to introduce them, and tried in vain to catch up. "Um, Tim, Sarah was at Quantico when I was. She's a field agent in Denver."

"Oh, so you knew Mike Giardello too?" Tim asked.

"Yeah, I think I had a class or two with him. How do you know him?"

"We work together. I'm a homicide detective in Baltimore and he's our FBI liaison. My lieutenant is his dad, for that matter."

"So you're down for the convention as well?"

Before Tim could answer, Mulder interrupted. "He's just here for the sightseeing. Listen, Sarah, it's good to see you. I'll be sure to look you up in Denver; I'm out that way a lot." He put out his hand for her to shake it.

"That would be great. If I had a card on me, I'd give you one..." She patted her pockets, looking over at Tim and back to Mulder. "Well, you can always find me at the office. Good to see you. Nice meeting you, Tim."

"Same here."

As they parted ways, Mulder took off at a fast clip, his long legs covering enormous stretches of sidewalk.

"Mulder. Mulder!" Tim caught up to him and grabbed his arm. "What was that about?"

"What was what?"

"Oh, come on. If you didn't think there was something wrong, you wouldn't be trying so hard to get away. Why did you cut me off like that?"

"I didn't cut you off."

"Yes, you did. So?" Tim wanted to hear Mulder to admit it.

"I don't know. I was just ready for the conversation to be over." He crossed his arms and looked over Tim's shoulder, out toward the river.

"Right. Or you didn't want to explain who I am."

"I did explain why you were here, didn't I?"

"Yeah, sure, we just happened to run into each other sightseeing in Jackson Square. Why couldn't you just tell her I'm here with you, I'm here because you asked me to come? That is why I'm here, right?" A waver crept into his voice, though he was trying hard to remain calm.

"Of course. I just didn't know how to say that to her." Mulder moved back over toward the railing, away from the people passing on the sidewalk. This wasn't the best place for a quiet conversation, as the air was filled with the bursts of the steamboats' whistles and the shouts of kids playing in the park behind them.

"What if you were here with a girlfriend? Wouldn't you have been able to explain that?" Their fights always went like this: Tim firing questions and accusations and Mulder putting up more and more walls to deflect them. "How well do you know Sarah?"

"Not very."

"Did you date her at Quantico?"

"No. We might have had coffee a time or two."

"So would you have been more or less likely to introduce me if you knew her better?"

"I don't know. Would you quit hammering at me like I'm one of your suspects?"

This stopped Tim short, and when he didn't respond right away, Mulder kept talking. "Look, Tim, I didn't mean anything by it. I just didn't feel like getting into the personal details of my life with her."

"Fine. I understand if you don't have that kind of relationship with her. But it does leave me wondering what kind of relationship you have with *me*. I want to be able to say to people, to share with people, you know, that we're together, we're happy. Or aren't we?"

"I'm happy. I'm just not big on...public proclamations."

"Yeah, well, the end result of that is you looking like you're ashamed to be with me." Tim finally gave up and started walking back towards the Quarter, replaying the scene in his mind. What had he wanted Mulder to say, anyway? This is my boyfriend, my lover, the guy I've been screwing around with for four months? Tim didn't even know what the right word for him would be. Companion? Partner? Whatever -- just something other than what he had, or hadn't, said.

I can't believe I was going to tell him I love him, and he can barely admit we're together. How many times have we had this conversation? Tim wondered. One of the first times was way back in November, when they went camping. Tim had tried to explain that he needed some kind of positive reinforcement, and Mulder had said he'd try to do better -- or had he even said that? He certainly hadn't done anything about it. Nothing has changed in three months, Tim thought. It's still me feeling all the emotions, doing all the work. That's it, I can't do this anymore. By now, he was halfway back to the Cafe du Monde, not sure exactly where he was going, but wanting to be away from Mulder.

The other man was closing in, however, and the phrase that kept pounding in his head was "I've done it again." He couldn't have said exactly why he kept Tim at arm's length even after all this time. It was just...well, not just, but partly that the depth of emotion which occasionally rose up through the chinks in his armor scared him. He had never felt this connected to anyone but Scully, and look what happened there; he told her he loved her -- after six years -- and her response was "Oh, brother." But this most recent misstep -- screw-up -- suddenly made it clear that Tim was capable of walking away, and he had to get him back.

"Tim? Tim? Please stop." Mulder was aware that people were observing their little lovers' quarrel, but he didn't care, which was perhaps a step in the right direction. Fortunately Tim halted, but he didn't turn around. "Look, you don't know how I wish I could get the last ten minutes back. I don't want you to be upset. What do you want me to do?"

"Mulder, if I have to make you do it, it doesn't count." Tim took a deep breath. "Okay, I know this is not the time or place for this conversation, but I think we have to have it."

Mulder acquiesced, though normally he wasn't up for this kind of discussion even under cover of darkness, much less in a crowded park.

"Look, I really want to be with you. But if you don't think you can commit to it, please tell me now."

"I want to be here. I want *you* to be here."

That's good, Tim thought, because it would be a little difficult for me just to pack up and go home right this minute. "Good, but I wish you could *show* it once in a while. I realize this isn't the kind of thing we can shout from the rooftops, but some kind of sign...I mean, I spent years just trying to get Frank Pembleton to have dinner with me; I don't want to go on forever trying to drag a response out of you."

"Look, I know you don't believe me, but if that's what you want, I'll do it."

"Yeah, I'll believe it when I see it." Tim started to move forward again, but slowed down so Mulder could keep up.


There was a kind of uneasy peace between them the rest of the weekend. Without their directly mentioning anything they'd said in the park, it still seemed to hang there in the air. Mulder felt a little like he was on probation, or trying to get some time off for good behavior. And he wanted to behave well, but he wasn't at all sure how to go about it. What did I used to do with my girlfriends? Not much, he decided, since none of those relationships had lasted this long.

They spent Saturday exploring some other areas of the city, then ended up back in the French Quarter for dinner, so they could go see a parade that night, the Krewe de Vieux. It was the unofficial beginning to the Carnival season, the only parade that rolled within the confines of the oldest part of the city. When they came out of the restaurant after dinner, crowds were already gathering, and they strolled for a few blocks, trying to decide where the best vantage point was going to be.

"So what goes on at these parades?" Tim asked. "Is it kind of like the Rose Bowl?"

"Not exactly. I'm pretty sure this one doesn't even have floats, because the streets are too narrow. I gather that there will be people in costume, tableaux satirizing things that are happening in the city. They also throw things."

"At us?"

"To us. You know, beads and baubles and stuff. The larger and pearlier the beads, the more ‘valuable' they are in the Mardi Gras economy. You just have to get the attention of someone in the Krewe who likes the look of you. Hopefully you won't have to show anything."

"Show anything?" Tim raised an eyebrow.

"Drop your pants. Lift your shirt -- or maybe that only works with women."

"Well, if it comes to that..."

They found a spot at the intersection of two streets and waited until they heard some faint music in the distance. Soon the first wave of revelers started to pass by, dancing and carrying signs proclaiming the theme of the parade. A little hail of trinkets came towards them, and Tim stuck his hand out, ending up with three strings of beads clasped in his fist.

"So, what do I do with these now that I've got them?"

"Wear them proudly. See if you can trade them in for something bigger on Bourbon Street later."

When they had first chosen their spot, there had not been too many people around, but as the parade moved forward, the crowd from down the street had followed it, some joining the parade, so that soon Mulder and Bayliss were lost in the crush of people. When Tim turned to reply to Mulder, he discovered they were no longer standing next to each other. Then he heard the familiar voice say, "Come on," and felt Mulder grasp his hand to pull him along. An unexpected sensation. He wasn't sure they'd ever held hands.

They swam along in the crowd for about half a block, until Mulder spotted a doorway with a stoop and moved up into it for a better view, pulling Tim along with him. The space was barely big enough for both of them, so they were pressed shoulder to shoulder. Tim realized that Mulder still had a grip on his hand. He must not have noticed, Tim thought ruefully. Isn't he afraid someone will see us? But they stayed in that position until the parade passed and the crowd started to disperse.

Mulder turned to Tim. "Too bad we can't stay for more of Carnival. This is fascinating. That whole idea of the world turned upside down, the natural order of things in the whole city being upset for two weeks."


"The spirit of Carnival. The city governed by the Lord of Misrule. Unexpected things happen. They're even encouraged."

Tim was still in a bitter mood from yesterday, so he was having trouble giving himself over to the festival atmosphere. "So what's the appeal of --"

Before he could get the sentence out, Mulder stopped the flow of words with a kiss. Not just a perfunctory peck on the lips, either, but a full-blown kiss which pressed Tim back against the doorframe they were standing in. Their hands were still interlaced until Mulder's arms went around Tim's waist, and his tongue swiped through Tim's mouth. They stood there for a minute or two, oblivious to the music and shouting in the air as stragglers passed through the street in front of them.

When he finally pulled back from the embrace, Mulder stood looking at Tim for a moment. "Surprised?"

"Yeah, I...wow." Tim fingered the sleeve of the other man's shirt. "Just don't tell me this is something I'm going to have to give up for Lent." It occurred to Tim that this behavior might be an aberration; however, he couldn't complain at the moment. He peeled himself off the doorframe to stand up straighter.

"Let's go back to the hotel," Mulder said.

When they got to their room, Tim unlocked the door and had just set the key down on the dresser when Mulder came up behind him. The other man's arm snaked around his waist, and he started to lay a row of soft, yet deliberate, kisses along the back of Tim's neck, sending a rush of heat through his body all the way to the floor. He sank back against Mulder, reaching around behind him to try to grab onto his hips.

"So, I take it that feels good?" Mulder whispered into his ear.

"Mmm-hmm." It was difficult to muster up any more coherent words at the moment.

"Glad to know it's working." Mulder continued his progress, ending with a flick of his tongue in the hollow just below Tim's ear. Then Tim felt Mulder's hands inside the waistband of his pants, taking hold of his shirt to slide it up and off.

Damn -- I can't believe the effect he has on me, Tim thought as he raised his arms limply above his head to assist in getting disrobed. It felt like all his muscles had turned to water, like he might end up as a puddle on the floor at any moment. "I think we need to go...over there." He gestured vaguely toward the bed, and Mulder obligingly pushed him in that direction.

As Tim stretched out on the bed, Mulder straddled his waist and started to undo the button on his pants. Tim started to reach out for him, to touch his face or his hair, but the other man gently met his arm and made him lay it back down on the bed.

"Not right now. I don't want you to do anything but lay back and enjoy this."

Tim arched his back slightly as Mulder slid off his pants and then, still straddling him, started to kiss him. Everywhere. On the soft skin on the underside of his outstretched arms, down both sides of his abdomen, between each pair of his ribs. For the second time in two days Mulder took his time and explored every bit of skin he could reach. Then he came back to the center and started a row of kisses at Tim's navel, moving down, down, down, until...

Tim swore he could see little explosions of white light behind his tightly closed eyes as he felt his lover's mouth engulf him. Mulder had never, ever, done this before. It had taken a while to assemble a repertoire of things they both felt comfortable doing, and Mulder had seemed not to know how to proceed at first. It surprised Tim a little, since he figured Mulder should know what the male body responded to and what it didn't.

But Mulder certainly had become adept somewhere along the way, since there was nothing awkward or hesitant about what he was doing now. All rational thoughts flew out of Tim's mind, and he abandoned himself to the sensations that flooded through him, the heat, the moisture, the fact that it was *Mulder* down there lavishing this pleasure on him, the feel of his tongue, his lips...then Tim couldn't hold back anymore, and felt himself reach the edge and plummet right over it, sinking back into the bed like the puddle he had thought he would turn into earlier.

When Mulder slid back up alongside him, Tim couldn't speak, but just enveloped the other man in his arms. For a moment they lay still, as Tim caught his breath and waited for the blood in his ears to stop pounding. He wanted to say something, but what? Thank you? Do you think you'd like to do that again sometime soon?

Mulder broke the silence. "How do you feel?" He trailed one hand gently down Tim's chest, resting it on his hip.

"Um, good, very...wow. Where did that come from?" Not the most romantic thing to say, but it was all he could think of.

"Well, I've been doing a little research, and it appears that men *like* that kind of thing."

"Yeah, I'd say it's safe to draw that conclusion." He shifted to give Mulder a kiss and then look into his calm hazel eyes, asking the question again silently.

"I just wanted to make you feel good," was Mulder's simple answer.


They woke up in much the same position they'd been in the night before, arms and legs intertwined. Tim checked the time -- about an hour and a half before they had to leave for the airport. As he settled back down on the pillow, he felt Mulder stirring.

"Is it time to get up?" Mulder asked.

"Soon. Not quite yet."

"I still have to pack." He started to push himself up off the bed.

"Yeah, me too, but there's time. Let's just lay here a minute." It was so rare that they had a chance to do this, Tim wanted to take advantage of it. They couldn't spend the night together that often -- even on weekends it was difficult, since Mulder often had to be out of town -- and when they did, usually they were in a hurry to be at work or somewhere else. "I'm not ready to go back to Baltimore."

"I think it's a little late to change our tickets now."

"I know, I'm just saying...when we get back, I'll have to go back to work, and you'll have to go back to DC. I'm sure Scully has a whole list of things for you to do at the office."

"Yeah, don't remind me. I called in once or twice. But this had to end sometime. At least we had a chance to go away -- that doesn't happen very often either."

"Yeah." Tim rolled over to lay his head on Mulder's chest. "I wish you lived closer."

"Baltimore's only a half hour away."

"Mmm-hmm." Tim waited a second. "Would you ever consider moving?" He hadn't really thought about it until that moment, and didn't expect a positive response, but he thought he'd at least throw it out.

"Mmm...I might."

"You might? Really?"

"Sure. My landlord is anxious to get rid of me anyway...the neighbors complain about all the disruptions in the middle of the night. And that apartment is a little dingy."

Tim couldn't believe he was hearing this. "That would be...really great."

"Yeah. Listen, we really better get moving or we'll miss our flight."