NOTES: Written for Round 3 of SmallFandomBang

"Sir?" Karen said.

"Tell me again why none of my agents are capable of doing this assignment?"

"None appear to be old enough," she said softly, intentionally no doubt. She knew he didn't really want an answer. He just hated being put in the position of having to go into the field again. Even if it was only one case.

"Fine. Get me a list of the female agents who fit the requirements."

"All right," she said, clearly anxious to get out of his office.

"Plus, Sir," she said at the door.

"Yes, Karen?"

"Any other agent close to the appropriate age is married."

"They're agents. Working undercover, including doing so as a married couple is part of the job."

The mandate had come down from higher up. He'd been with the Bureau long enough that there weren't too many higher ups, but there were still a few.

"Would you like me to help you go through them?" Karen asked once she'd compiled the information he asked for on the available female agents.

"There can't be that many."

"Quite a few."

"No, I'll do it myself."

He prepared himself for a long afternoon of sifting through files. He would narrow it down to two or three from their files and then conduct interviews, with Karen's assistance, to ensure they were at least remotely compatible. No sense embarking on this assignment only to have it doomed to fail from the beginning because he'd chosen someone he couldn't get along with.

It was the fourth file that caught his attention.

He buzzed Karen immediately upon seeing the photograph included in the agent's dossier.

"I've found her," Gordon said.

She came into his office, talking to him through the intercom was fruitless most of the time.

"So soon?"

"Surprised me, too. This one," he said confidently.

"But, Sir, shouldn't you talk to her first," she said, taking the file. "She's just out of Quantico. She just got here this month. Are you sure this is who you want?"

"I was told the female part of the assignment was up to me. I've made my decision."

"I think."

"In order for this to work, for us to get close to whoever may be preying on these people we need someone I can be convincing with."

"Sir, I'm sure she's beautiful, but."

"Never mind beauty," he said, though his choice in agents certainly was that. It was more of a girl-next-door way than a Sophie Loren way, but he didn't have a problem with that. "I'm telling you, she's the one."

"Okay, I'll make sure she's available."

"I assume you brought files of only those available for a potentially long-term assignment."

"I did, sure, but you know how things don't always get updated immediately. I'm sure it won't be a problem. Shall I set up a meeting between the two of you?"

"No, I'll take care of the details."

"All right, Sir."

He couldn't help but think one of his other agents would have been a far better selection for this assignment. One of the married ones. At least someone who'd been married before. How could one go about pretending to be married when he hadn't a clue how to be married? Perhaps that was the reason he'd been chosen as well.

He did a quick search on his computer on the agent he'd chosen. He hadn't even known she was in his office. How was that possible? Granted, she'd only been here for a month or so according to her file, but their paths should have crossed by now. Unless she was deliberately avoiding him. That thought didn't sit well with him.

CENTER

/CENTER

"I can't believe you agreed to this assignment without meeting the man you're going to be living with first."

"What difference does it make, Tammy?" Shelly asked. She'd put the last of her essentials in a suitcase. The FBI would furnish their house, but there were a few things of her own she wanted with her.

"Well, you may not get along with him."

"So? Not all married people get along. And the only time we need to get along is when we're around other people in the community. I'm sure we can manage that."

"Shelly."

"What? It's a case. It beats sitting at my desk, watching all the other agents – male agents – get good cases assigned to them while I'm passed over again and again."

"You just got here. You're still new."

"I know, but that doesn't mean I'm any less capable. And how am I going to get experience if I don't work?"

"I don't know," Tammy said.

"Besides, I was told I was requested so I didn't really have much choice. I had a bad marriage, maybe living a fake nice one wouldn't be so bad."

"What if he's ugly? Or has a mole the size of Japan on his cheek?"

Shelly rolled her eyes. "I'll deal with it for a little while, Tammy."

"I just think you should have at the very least met him first. Set up some ground rules."

"Rules?"

"Yeah. I mean, what if he thinks the assignment is an open invitation for something not in the assignment?"

"I doubt that's the case, Tammy. We're both agents, it's not as if they just partnered me with some random guy."

"That's the point. He is! You don't know him or even what he looks like. For all you know, he could get kidnapped or killed before you get there and someone else could take his place."

"Oh my God, you're being entirely too paranoid."

"And why are you meeting him there? What doting husband makes his wife drive to their new house by herself?"

"One who wants to be sure both of their cars arrive on time."

"Shelly."

"Tammy. I've thought of this. I have. All of it. You can look through my suitcases. I packed absolutely nothing that would give anyone any sort of wrong idea."

"Some people might get that idea just from the assignment."

"And I'm telling you it's not going to happen. This isn't a romance novel, it's real life and a real assignment."

"I just worry."

"And I appreciate that. I do. I promise you nothing's going to happen but two agents cohabitating to catch the bad guy or guys." It'd been years since Shelly had anyone to worry about her. Leaving Twin Peaks, and Norma, behind meant putting that sort of thing behind her. She'd done it intentionally, though. After Leo's body was found, Shelly had realized it was finally time for her to stand on her own two feet and see what she could do with herself. Her life. It was both very exciting and extremely frightening.

She'd done it, though. Put herself through college and then joining the FBI. She was amazed she'd passed the background tests for it. Despite Leo being dead, it was still easy enough to track her life – and the shady characters from Twin Peaks in it. She'd been accepted, though, and here she was about to go on her first long-term, undercover assignment.

And Tammy wondered why she wasn't thinking twice about doing it?

"I'll call you with the phone number."

"You'd better."

"I will!"

Shelly rented a room in Tammy's house last month after coming to Seattle from out east. It was her first time out this way since she'd left Twin Peaks six years ago. She wished she could say she missed it, but she didn't really. Tammy had quickly befriended Shelly. She, like Shelly, was widowed much too young. Tammy wasn't grateful for her status as Shelly had been. So, they had differences for sure, but the fact that they'd both lost husbands before they were out of their twenties gave them something to talk about. Their friendship had blossomed from there. Shelly paid rent, but after just a month she no longer felt as though she was a mere guest in the house.

Tammy gave Shelly a hug, which made Shelly blink back some unshed tears. No one had hugged her like this since her mama, and that had been far too long ago for her to even remember.

"I'll be fine."

"If you say so I have to believe you."

Shelly believed it, too, but there was a part of her that was a little nervous about this. There were so many waiting for her to fail, to screw up somehow. It'd be just like her, too, to mess things up on an opportunity like this.

She brought her things to the car that the Bureau was providing for the assignment, because the Plymouth Horizon she owned didn't fit the image she was supposed to be presenting. She started the new Chevrolet sedan and fiddled with the rings on her left ring finger. It'd been too long since she'd worn any rings let alone on this finger, she wasn't used to it anymore. It was another of the props the Bureau provided for her.

She still had the ring from her marriage, saving it not for sentimental value but as a reminder of how far she'd come from that point in her life. She was no longer the girl Leo had swept off her feet or the woman he'd beaten into submission. The ring was stashed away because she knew it was valuable (the only thing worth anything she owned to this point), but she took it out once in a while for the strength it gave her to continue on.

The moving van was still parked on the street just outside the house when she got there so she wasn't too late. She was kind of hoping she'd miss them, so she'd know for certain who it was she was going to be living with for the next little while.

She parked on the driveway, no controller for the automatic garage door yet. She collected her purse, taking a second to glance around the neighborhood. She had no idea such a community even existed or that there was a need for something so specific.

A community that catered to May-December couples. They weren't all married she knew from the research she'd done, but most were. And from the intel they'd compiled, the few that weren't married were not taken as seriously and therefore not treated as warmly by the others. She imagined that was the reason behind the fake marriage and not just a living together arrangement.

"Snakes? You have to be kidding me."

Shelly froze just before reaching the front door at the voice. His voice. The reason, whether she wanted to admit it or not, she'd come to Seattle. She did not hold onto any hopes that the kiss they shared at the Double R meant any more to him than it would have to a normal person. To Shelly, though, it had meant so much. For the first time, ever really, someone had kissed her just for simply that reason. No expectations of sex. No ulterior motive. No task expected of her afterward.

"I never said anything about snakes, sir."

"Do I look like a snake charmer, son?"

She couldn't help but smile a little, certain the movers (who she'd assumed until this moment were also going to be agents) didn't realize how dreadfully hard of hearing he was. She couldn't help but wonder what they had been talking about.

"Time to start the show," she murmured. And just hoped that whatever reason he was able to hear her in Twin Peaks years ago was still there today.

"Sorry I'm late. I got a little lost. What seems to be the problem?" she asked, entering the room as though she belonged there. For the next little while she did.

"I was just telling your husband that a box fell off the cart, not hard enough to break anything."

"I see. I'm sure it will be fine. It's just a box that fell, Sweetheart. He said he doesn't think it fell hard enough to break anything."

"Well, why didn't he just say that?" Gordon said. "There's nothing funny about snakes. Even if we had pet snakes, we wouldn't keep them in a sealed box."

"If not, just let the company know."

"Is that the last of it then?" she asked, noticing earlier that the moving van was empty.

"Yes, ma'am."

"All right, thank you. Which box was it?" she asked.

"This one right on top. I apologize. It just slipped."

The box wasn't labeled with anything that sounded as though it would be fragile. Then again, she was pretty sure not every box contained household items. As they got to know their neighbors and came up with possible suspects they'd have to place bugs. That was assuming whoever was fleecing the couples of their life savings lived in the community. (In most instances it was the husband's life savings with the much younger wife reaping the benefits of his years of hard work.) It was hard to imagine someone who lived the very lifestyle this community aimed to protect would take advantage of others, but weirder things had happened.

"It happens, I'm sure. Thank you."

She shut the door behind the two men once they'd left. Her back was flush against the door as she took in the living room. And then finally him. He looked as well put-together as she remembered. For some reason she'd thought her mind, her memory, had built him up into some Carey Grant-like man the reality would never live up to.

"Checking up on me?" she asked, though realization was starting to dawn on her that Gordon Cole very much fit the picture of the December to her May. He looked nice, though, even moving into a house and more than likely flustered at people unaccustomed to talking to him the way he required being around him so much.

He smiled a little at that.

"Pardon the subterfuge, Shelly," he said and she noticed he did something with his hearing aids. Turned them down she imagined. "I wasn't sure you'd take on the case if you knew it was me you'd been partnered with."

"Why would you think that?" she asked. She'd not only taken the assignment gladly, she probably would have gone out and bought some new clothes. And rethought the packing nothing exciting route she'd gone.

He shrugged. He was leaning against the back of the couch, watching her with an almost astounded look on his face.

"You've been in Seattle for a month and I wasn't aware you were in town. Let alone in the Bureau."

"I honestly wasn't sure you'd remember who I was, Gordon." It went against everything she was trained and taught at Quantico to call him by his first name and not Chief. Apparently, though, they were going to be living here together until the case was solved and she certainly couldn't call him Chief given the circumstances. "Twin Peaks and Laura's case were both a long time ago."

He pushed away from the couch and closed the distance between them. It'd been years since she'd been this close to a man. Her choice. She left Twin Peaks and a lifestyle that she'd learned to regret behind her. Not to say she'd do anything differently if she had the chance, but she vowed when she got away that she was going to turn over a new leaf completely. She owed it to herself. To Norma. He smelled wonderful and she chastised herself for thinking so. She had no business thinking that about him. Not really.

Only he reached for her then, an almost barely-there brushing of the back of his hand against her cheek. Her eyes fluttered closed at the contact. It was so gentle. So unexpected. And it had been so very long since anyone had touched her like this. She wasn't even sure Leo ever had. And Bobby while not a bad lover wasn't much on simple touches. He preferred getting to the heart of the matter most of the time. A lot of that was because they were always short on time, worried about getting spotted by some busy body in town who'd report back to Leo or Laura.

"Obviously, you underestimate the remarkability in my being able to hear you."

"I guess so."

"I haven't. I thought, well, when I saw your dossier and your beautiful smile staring back at me. I thought I was dreaming. It was my goddess."

She opened her eyes at that.

"I'm not, Gordon."

"You are to me. My goddess. Shelly Johnson. I wasn't sure if I'd still be able to hear you, if whatever happened in Twin Peaks would again here in Seattle. For all I knew it was some fluke about your charming little town that enabled me to hear you."

"I don't know that I'd call Twin Peaks charming."

"It was quaint. Different but charming nonetheless. Agent Cooper was certainly infatuated with it."

"He was," she agreed. "Has he?"

"No," Gordon said.

Shortly before she'd left Twin Peaks Agent Dale Cooper had disappeared. Initially, the rumor was he'd left after the bank bombing, but his belongings were found in his room and so the logical conclusion was that he had disappeared. Through his own devices or someone else's no one knew. While he'd gained friends in Sheriff Truman and others like him there were many others who did not like Dale Cooper poking around in their business. Being so close to the Canadian border there was a lot of business, too.

"I'm sorry," she said softly, not knowing what else to say all this time later. She knew that Gordon had been friends with the agent.

"He'll turn up one day."

"You think so?"

"I know so," Gordon said, sounding convinced he spoke the truth. Maybe he was for all she knew. Though being gone for so long already seemed to point to his being wrong.

"I hope you're right. He seemed like a nice man."

"He is."

The back of his hand was still pressed against her cheek, smooth and warm against her skin. He seemed to realize about the same time that perhaps he shouldn't be touching her as he was. She didn't mind, though. Not really.

"I should," she started to say but was cut off by him kissing her.

Her eyes fell closed again as his lips pressed against hers. His were a little rougher than hers. His upper lip especially from stubble being so late in the day. She didn't really notice, though, because the kiss itself was so gentle. Nice. Simple. It wasn't vastly different than the one they'd shared at the Double R, but it wasn't the same either.

There he'd been hesitant. Today he wasn't so much, but there was no force or seeming expectation of more than a mere kiss. No hands moving to caress her body in places he had no business touching. No pressing his body against hers so she would feel what she did to him and expect her to rectify that problem.

She gasped softly at the idea that he very honestly might just want to kiss her. And want nothing else from her.

It was a frightening thought. A heady thought. A sexy thought.

And she had no business thinking that.

Hands at his chest she pushed him enough to break the kiss. He stopped kissing her, but he didn't step too far away from her just yet.

"Why did you choose me for this, Gordon?"

"Well, it should be apparent enough. I knew you. Knew we at least had chemistry six years ago. Seemed to me to be convincing there has to be some spark between the two of us."

"I suppose," she said. "You're not? I mean. What are you expecting from me exactly?"

"To live here and work the case with me."

"Nothing more?"

"What more would I expect?"

She gestured to her lips then to his with her hand not pressed against his chest.

"No, of course not," he said, seeming to know what she was suggesting. "The only woman in the world I can hear is in front of me again. I just wanted to kiss her hello. And without her boyfriend walking through the door looking like he has every intention of thrashing me within an inch of my life for laying a hand on you."

"Okay," she said, glad they had that clear.

"I can't deny I'm hoping we can spend what free time we might have actually getting to know one another."

"Why?"

"Why not?"

"You left."

"You were married and involved with another man. My career is here in Seattle. What would you have had me do, Shelly?"

"I don't know." It had been a ridiculous thought back then of him coming back for her, taking her away from Twin Peaks and her troubles.

"I did visit Twin Peaks a few times, checking on Coop's whereabouts but you were gone. No one seemed to know where you'd taken yourself to."

"Norma."

"Yes, I asked, discreetly of course. She implied she might have a way of getting a hold of you, but I wanted to respect your wishes. You were looking for a clean slate."

"Yes."

"I had to respect that and hope that if I'd made as much of an impression on you as you had on me you'd look me up when you were ready."

She glanced at him, surprised at his words. Did he know that was why she had chosen Seattle? It certainly wasn't to be closer to home and all the memories it brought with it. Driving the close to three thousand miles here, she'd had plenty of time to get drawn into memories. How many times had Leo driven through Idaho, Montana, and North Dakota hauling something?

No, having thoughts of Leo fresh in her mind was not what brought her here.

It had been him. Maybe not him exactly, because she didn't know him beyond that Agent Cooper had taken her aside and told her she wouldn't find a much more standup guy than Chief Cole. The idea that there was someone out there whose friends and coworkers thought so highly of him to say that to a married woman who was involved in an illicit affair. Well, that spoke volumes to Shelly and stayed with her until this day.

She wasn't sure he'd remember her. What were the odds? How many women on cases did he meet over the years? Hundreds, if not more. She had an advantage she guessed over them in that he could hear her. And only her apparently.

She'd needed the past six years on her own, away from everyone and everything familiar to her. She'd had to figure out who she was and what to do with her life. She'd also had to learn to fend for herself, to function without a man. She'd succumbed to Leo's seduction too easily and the reasons for that had started with her. Lack of confidence. She'd worked on that, though she still had moments.

"Why are you frowning?" he asked. "If my kiss was that unwelcome I'll apologize."

She laughed a little at that. "No, actually, I was remembering a promise I'd made my friend just this morning before coming here."

"And that was?"

She settled both of her hands against the lapels of his suit coat. Of course he was wearing a suit coat on the day they moved into their new house. She wouldn't expect any less from him. She took a step toward him and kissed him.

There was no hesitation in this kiss. On either of their parts. She let out a muffled groan at the feel of his tongue against her lips, allowing him entry into her mouth. He tasted like peppermint and she wondered if that was intentional, if he'd planned on kissing her from before she'd even arrived. She liked that idea for some reason.

He deepened the kiss the same time she did. Their tongues met and did a little dance before settling in to a seductive caress of each other. Her hands were at his neck, touching him there as she ran her fingertips through the ends of his hair. A little grayer than she remembered, but that was okay with her. It looked distinguished on him. Sexy in a way she never imagined she'd find a man sexy.

Her hands made quick riddance of his suit coat. He didn't seem to care that it just fell to the floor, or didn't notice. His tie was next, following the coat on the floor.

His hands joined in the quest, unbuttoning her blouse. She broke their kiss, crying out softly as she nipped his lower lip when he touched her bare skin just under her bra.

He paused as if waiting for her to pull away. He was probably expecting her to, but today she didn't want to. His hand continued up as she kissed his jaw and her fingers worked the buttons on his shirt. She groaned in frustration when she parted it, finding an undershirt beneath it.

He gave a soft chuckle, using his free hand to encourage her mouth up to meet his again.

"We can fix that easily enough."

"I want it off," she whispered.

He helped her accomplish that task, his button-up shirt following the other articles of his clothing on the floor at his feet. Soon the undershirt was there, too. She should stop. She should be embarrassed. She should be worried that from what little he knew about her, he probably thought that she engaged in this type of behavior frequently.

She couldn't though as his hands started to catch her up on her state of dress compared to his. Or lack of dress. Her blouse and bra didn't require them to separate as his undershirt did so she didn't have to stop kissing him for this part.

He didn't seem to mind that fact either.

Her fingers slid along his chest and the dusting of hair there to his shoulders and along his arms, encouraging him to touch her without the bra in the way. He didn't need to be asked outright. She bit his lower lip none so lightly as his thumb grazed her hardening peak.

It'd been so long that her body responded as if a dam had broken loose. Later, she'd have time to be ashamed as she slid a hand low along his abdomen before working the zipper of his trousers. She touched him without hesitation and he seemed to like that. A lot. She smiled at that thought.

"I'm not sure I should ask why you're laughing," he whispered.

"Did you hear me laugh?"

"Well," he said with a pause, realizing no doubt that he would have in fact heard her if she'd laughed. "No."

"I'm not laughing, Gordon. At all. I was smiling that you respond to me this way."

"Why wouldn't I?"

She shook her head, not wanting to answer him just then. She didn't want to admit how long it had been, how secluded and relatively lonely her life had been since leaving Twin Peaks. Instead, she distracted him aptly enough by sliding down the length of his body to rest on her knees before taking him into her mouth.

"Shelly," he whispered and she was almost afraid he was going to tell her to stop. Had she crossed some sort of line he'd drawn? His hands at her hair slid through it, but didn't pull her mouth off of him so she apparently misjudged his response.

She'd never much enjoyed doing this before because it was always expected of her. Leo demanded it from her. And Bobby? Well, he was a high school guy. What high school guy didn't love blow jobs? He hadn't forced her as Leo had, but the expectation was still there. The 'you do this for me and I'll make it good for you" line was one she'd become awful familiar with.

Today, though, she didn't feel that obligation. There wasn't any because he hadn't instigated this, she had. She slid her mouth over his length, taking the time to suck and lick along him. Tasting him. Feeling him. Finding out the spots on his shaft that seemed to get reactions from him. It was somewhat empowering to have that much control over him just then.

It had never once entered her mind with Leo that she could have power in this situation. That she could have done bodily harm to him. She would have lived to regret that for certain.

She took advantage of there being no badness or threats hanging over her head and simply let herself go for the first time that she could remember. He certainly seemed to enjoy what she was doing, which oddly (for her anyway) excited her.

"Shelly," he murmured as she broke away to kiss and nip at his inner thigh.

She glanced up at him and saw desire in his eyes. Good to know she was doing it right anyway.

"At least come to the couch with me."

She stood, taking his hand as he led her to the couch. She turned around when he sat so that he could unzip her skirt. She didn't need the help, but she liked the idea of him doing it. With as quick as he worked the zipper he seemed to enjoy helping her, too.

His hands slid along her waist and hips as he pushed the skirt down. He could have stopped touching her when he reached her thighs, the skirt would have fallen the rest of the way but he didn't. He followed the skirt's path down to her ankles and then slid his hands back up again. Her nylons followed and she let out a soft groan when he was finally touching just her skin.

"Where did you go?" He asked a good hour or so later.

"Virginia."

He chuckled. "Can't get much farther away from Washington State than that."

"No, that was my thought exactly."

"School?"

"Yes."

"For?"

"Accounting."

"Ah, yes," he said. "I remember now, forensic accountant. Another reason I chose you for this assignment. I knew if we got a lead you could look at a suspect's books or financials and spot any discrepancies."

She lifted her head from his chest, smiling a little at the fact his heartbeat wasn't completely going back to normal yet. She wasn't entirely sure she was ready to be done yet. Making love to someone who seemed more concerned with her pleasure than his own definitely had its benefits.

"You know what I do?" She was shocked. Hardly anyone she encountered knew what a forensic accountant did, and very few wanted to find out either.

He chuckled then. "Yes."

"I didn't mean to insult you."

"I know, Shelly, but yes, I understand your surprise. Your specialty is a little obscure, even for the Bureau. I'll be honest, that's what drew my attention to you before I knew it was you."

"So you would have picked me anyway."

"Possibly. So, the Bureau?"

"My advisor suggested I attend a recruitment meeting. I did."

"Your advisor definitely had you pegged."

"I don't know. If he knew what brought me to Virginia to begin with."

"You didn't do anything wrong, Shelly."

"There are quite a few who would argue with you there. Laura. Leo."

"You were what? Eighteen? In an abusive marriage with no way out. I don't think anyone who knew your situation would blame you. I'm surprised you're not remarried."

"No," she shook her head with a laugh. "Absolutely not."

"Never?"

"Well, I'm not going to say never, but no. In order to get married again I would have to put myself out there again."

"Haven't done that?"

"No. I wanted to do well in school. I hadn't done great in high school before I met Leo. It was one of the reasons dropping out and marrying him appealed to me. Seemed like a dream come true. More like a nightmare, but I knew I'd have to work hard. So I made myself stay focused."

"Good for you."

"My plan did not include having sex with my still new boss, though."

"I'm not here as your boss, and it wasn't part of my plan either."

"Good to know."

"At least we know we can be convincing if we have to be," Gordon said.

"Or incredibly awkward tomorrow morning."

"I doubt that."

"I'm glad you think so."

"Do you know how long it's been since I've been able to hear someone's whispers?"

"A long time."

"To say the least."

"You like it, I assume?"

"That's an understatement."

"Well, good. I like it, too."

CENTER

/CENTER

She swore she'd never come back here. Not with any breath left in her body anyway. Here she was, though, and God it looked the same. She didn't. She imagined the people here aged the same as she had, but the town was just as she'd left it. She assumed there was a new house here, an old house torn down there, a new business around the corner, or a failed business leaving the building empty down the street there, but overall.

Twin Peaks would be the same until the day she died.

First thing she'd done when she drove into town was pass by her house. It'd been finished by the time she picked up and left thanks to Big Ed and several others pitching in to help get it done so she could sell it. She had to see it, though, and know it was still there.

Bad memories aside, and oh God there were a ton of them, Leo had put a lot of work into that house. She had to see that it hadn't been bought and torn down. It hadn't and she'd been genuinely relieved at that. Hopefully, whoever lived there now was filling the place with good memories, making up for the bad ones she'd left for them.

Strange to feel anything about the place that she at one time thought to be little more than a makeshift prison. Her time with Bobby Briggs hadn't done much to help her to escape that feeling, which she realized now should have told her a lot about her relationship with Bobby.

Now, she sat outside the Double R. Her knuckles white from the grip on her steering wheel. She needed to let go so she could get inside, but there was a part of her. Well, she was second-guessing this road trip at all. She'd survived just fine without Twin Peaks thus far. She'd put herself through college and the training to be an FBI agent.

She'd never made any real friends along the way, though. None like Norma anyway, who would give it to her straight without judging her. Shelly needed that right now. She still couldn't believe how stupid she'd been. Now she wasn't sure how to proceed, which led to her impromptu trip to Twin Peaks.

She turned the ignition off, noticing the Valentine's Day decorations in the Double R's windows and door. She smiled a little at the sight of them. She'd put the decorations up for various holidays a time or two. Norma was good at making the diner seem festive, even if neither she nor her employees felt like celebrating the holiday being decorated for. Valentine's Day had been the worst for both of them.

She gathered her purse, sliding her keys into the pocket of her leather jacket and set about returning to her past. A past she had done her very best at running away from. She imagined there was something to be said for her feelings for Norma if she was willing to come back here to talk to her over anyone else.

She stepped inside the Double R and closed her eyes for a moment. It smelled the same as the day she'd last been here. Norma's home cooked meals, fresh coffee, and homemade pies. She could tell the special of the day was roast beef without having to look. And the pie was blueberry.

She stepped up to the counter, taking a seat at one of the stools. A couple of customers were looking at her, trying to place her no doubt. Her hair was shorter. Her clothes were nicer. She wore makeup, nothing outlandish but certainly more than Leo had ever let her wear. Never mind the car she drove was a nicer one than she'd ever been able to afford while living here.

"Be right with you," came a voice from behind the counter somewhere.

Norma came from in back, carrying a pot of coffee. She paused mid-step and Shelly wondered if her old friend wasn't going to drop the coffee pot.

"Shelly?" Norma asked.

"Hi," she said almost shyly.

"It's really you. You didn't tell me you were coming to town."

"I didn't know I was until I drove here."

"Is everything all right?"

"Yeah," Shelly said with a shrug, accepting Norma's offered cup of coffee.

"Where'd you drive from?"

"Seattle."

"Not too far then."

"No."

"Been there long?"

"About six months."

Norma's lips tightened, and Shelly didn't need to be told that Norma thought it was too long for Shelly to have stayed away if she was so close all this time.

"I'm sorry. I wasn't ready to come home."

"I understand, sweetie, I just wish. I could have come to see you."

"I know," Shelly said. She'd thought of that, but it had been too hard to pick up the phone after so long. She hadn't known where to begin.

"You came in right when I was about to close."

"I know. I remember your hours."

"On purpose?"

"Yes," Shelly said. "I was hoping you'd want to grab a drink after you're done. I'll help you close up. I remember how."

"I wouldn't think of asking you to do that."

"You're not asking. I'm offering."

"Well, I would get done faster."

Shelly sipped on her cup of coffee while Norma finished with the customers that were still there. They left soon enough with Norma dropping the lock in the door in place as soon as the last one left.

She left Shelly alone to roll silverware and fill the salt, pepper, and sugar caddies on the tables. Shelly didn't expect her friend to trust her with any more than the side work so she wasn't insulted or upset.

"Are you staying the night?" Norma asked. She was out in the dining area to check on Shelly's progress. She was almost done. It didn't take long when she wanted to do it quickly. There was a time she delayed her side work as long as possible for as much of a reprieve from home as she could get.

"I thought about it."

"You'll stay with me, of course."

"I'd hoped you'd say that, but prepared for a room at the Great Northern just in case."

"Nonsense. We don't even have to go out for that drink. Why don't you run out and get whatever you want and meet me at my place. We'll stay in and catch up."

"Are you sure? I wasn't certain."

She set her hand over Shelly's and squeezed. "I'm positive. Much better than a smoky, loud bar. We're liable to run into people there, too."

"Right," Shelly said, not really having thought on that part of things.

"Okay. I shouldn't be too much longer. You go on ahead and I'll meet you there. You know where the spare key is if you get there before me."

"Yeah." Shelly slid her leather jacket back on and grabbed her purse before taking her keys from the jacket's pocket.

"And Shelly?"

"Yeah," she said, walking with Norma to the door. She'd have to let her out and relock the door behind her after she'd left.

"It's good to see you."

"You, too, Norma."

"See you in a few minutes."

Shelly was glad Norma had offered her the guest room at her house because it took them over two hours to catch up on one another's lives. They'd talked a few times over the years, enough for each of them to know the other was okay. So, Norma wasn't surprised at Shelly's career, though her being in Seattle was one. Shelly hadn't realized it had been that long since she'd talked to Norma until tonight.

"So, don't get me wrong, it's great to see you, but you came here for a reason."

"Norma."

"Don't Norma me, Shelly. You didn't drive all this way without calling first just to catch up."

"Well, it has been nice."

"Yes, it has."

"Especially without having to worry about Hank or Leo."

"There is that," Norma said.

"Well, since you asked."

"You didn't have to wait for me to ask, Shelly."

"I didn't want you to think I came here just for this."

"Well, you did. I mean, it's fine. I hope you don't wait another six months to come back, but talk to me, Shelly. Is there something wrong?"

"No. Maybe. I don't know. I did something dumb."

"Like?"

"Slept with my boss."

"What?" Norma asked.

"It's not what you think. Well, it is, but it's not. We were on an assignment together. There was a small living community that catered to May-December couples who were getting fleeced for their savings."

"I remember hearing something along those lines," Norma said.

"Yeah, it made the news when the arrests were made."

"And you were part of that?"

"Yes. We lived together for four months."

"As husband and wife."

"Right."

"But he's your boss?"

"Not just any boss, Norma. I mean, not my supervisor or anything. He's the boss."

"I don't get it."

"Remember Agent Cooper's boss?"

Norma's eyes widened. "I sure do. The man who had Bobby seeing green because he kissed you."

"Yes."

"It was him?"

"Yes."

"How long ago was this?"

"Three weeks. The assignment lasted four months and was pretty much twenty-four hours a day, so I was given a break before I had to report back."

"So, you haven't seen him since?"

"No."

"Talked to him?"

"No! I don't know what to say. He probably thinks it's nothing unusual for me. I mean, he knew me when I was married and had a boyfriend."

"I'm sure if you lived with him for four months he knows that's not who you are anymore, Shelly. I mean, you talked while you were living together."

"Yes, we did. We talked about lots of things. I hope he knows, believes. I just don't know what to do."

"Well, I would suggest talking to him. If nothing else you don't want it to fester to something that interferes with you doing your job."

"The thing is I like him. It was part of the reason I took a job in the Seattle office, I just wasn't expecting to be assigned to a case working directly with him practically as soon as I got there. I mean, I hadn't done anything of any significance before the assignment."

"Oh, I see, and you're afraid he doesn't feel the same?"

"I guess."

"I'm sure that's not the case, Shelly. I realize it was a long time ago and things change, people change, but he was rather taken with you during his time here."

"I know, and I wasn't expecting. I mean, I didn't move to Seattle expecting him to be in love with me or anything, but I remembered what he made me feel and wanted to at least look into it when I was ready."

"And you think you're ready?"

"Well, I had sex with him. I haven't done that since leaving here, Norma, so I must be on some level."

"You're sure it's not just four months of living with someone you're attracted to?"

"No, I don't think so. It just happened. You know? And it didn't stop happening until we left."

"How did he choose you as his partner in the assignment?"

"He chose me. I thought at first it was because I'm a Forensic Accountant, and that came in handy but that wasn't why he chose me."

"So, what's your question, Shelly? Obviously, he wanted you, maybe not expecting sex out of the deal, over any other agent he could have chosen."

"There's another thing to consider."

"Which is?"

"We didn't use protection a couple of times."

"Shelly."

"I know. It'd been so long. I had my IUD taken out almost as soon as I moved from here. I figured I could go on the pill if I needed birth control again. I wasn't going to get involved with someone again who I had to hide it from. There were just a few times neither of us thought of grabbing one, you know."

Norma was the only person besides the doctor who put the IUD in and the one who removed it who knew about the device Shelly had used while married to Leo to prevent pregnancy. At first, the idea of having a baby had been exciting and wonderful. Quickly, she'd changed her mind but knew that under no circumstances could she be caught trying to prevent a baby.

"I know, sweetie."

"I mean, I don't think I am, but I could be."

"I know it can happen, but one time probably isn't anything to worry so much about."

"It wasn't just once."

Norma didn't say anything to that. Shelly's blush was probably all the answer her long-time friend needed as a response. They'd more than used being alone with one another for four months and knowing it would eventually end as an excuse to spend as much time together as they could.

"You need to talk to him, Shelly."

"And if I'm pregnant? People aren't stupid. They're going to know when I was on assignment and with whom. He could get in trouble."

"Would that matter?"

"It might matter to him, and I don't want to get him in trouble. He might think I did it on purpose."

"You're getting ahead of yourself. Talk to him. Outside of work. If nothing else to ensure when you see him at work things won't be awkward. As far as you doing it on purpose, he'd have to know you didn't. You didn't know you were going to be assigned the case."

"I could have gone to the doctor sometime during the four months."

"One last question," Norma said.

"Yes," Shelly said, wondering what it was. It wasn't as if the last bit of their conversation hadn't been extremely personal in nature.

"Was he good to you?"

"Yes."

"Talk to him, honey. Do you have his number?"

"Yes, he gave it to me."

"Tomorrow's Saturday. You go back to work on Monday?"

"How did you know?"

"Because I can tell you've been thinking about this and if you had three weeks off I'm probably your last attempt at figuring out what to do."

"Yeah."

"And if you are pregnant you know you can always come here."

"I won't do that."

"I know you don't want to, Shelly, but the option is there if you need it."

"I know, thank you."

"That's what friends are for. And please tell me you have some in Seattle."

"Not many. I got there and almost right away got the assignment. I rent a room from a woman and we're kind of friends. She's a widow like I am, young like I was, too, when Leo died."

"That's something at least."

"She's not you."

"I know, sweetie, I could say the same to you in return."

"I'm sorry, Norma."

"For what?"

"Leaving. Not coming back for so long. Not being better at calling or writing."

"You have your own life to live, Shelly. I've made my choices. My life is here. Yours. Well, you no longer had anything holding you back. Who could blame you for leaving? I certainly couldn't. Just don't stay away so long this time."

"I won't."

They turned to other topics, mostly Norma catching Shelly up on the comings and goings of Twin Peaks. Turned out Bobby Briggs married someone Shelly didn't know. One baby and a divorce pending. Infidelity on his part was the rumor. Shelly couldn't say she was surprised.

"You're not like that," Norma said, squeezing her hand as if reading Shelly's thoughts. "You didn't have a choice. Leo wouldn't have let you get a divorce or leave."

"Thank you," she whispered.

"Is that what you're afraid of? That you can't be faithful?"

"I guess, a little."

"Talk to him, Shelly. I'm sure he knows some of what your life here was like, but be honest with him. If he has doubts about you holding him back then you need to know that, too. You can't live your life trying to prove to him you won't do anything wrong. You'll be miserable all over again."

"I know."

"And if you need a character witness, you can always have him come talk to me."

Shelly smiled at that. "A character witness?"

"Well, yes, not many know you better than I do."

"That's true."

Eventually, they said good night, Shelly going to the guest room and Norma retiring to her bedroom. Shelly slept surprisingly well. The wine she'd had to drink (probably not overly wise if she even remotely thought that she could be pregnant) calmed her in a way she hadn't been since going home after the assignment had finished.

Norma wouldn't let Shelly leave the next morning without trying to call Gordon first. She put it off until after breakfast, but Norma wasn't budging. She'd been surprised when he invited her to his house, assuming he'd want to meet her somewhere more public. Neutral.

The other thing Norma ensured Shelly did first thing in the morning was take a home pregnancy test. Shelly had gone to a drug store at least twice to buy one, but had always chickened out. The fact her long-time friend risked going to the drug store in Twin Peaks where everyone knew her and would think the test was for her meant too much to Shelly for her not to take it. She'd never been so relieved to see a negative.

She'd helped Norma clean up the kitchen and as Norma headed to the diner to open up for the day, Shelly continued on along the highway heading back home. Norma said she'd be sure the ringer on the phone by her bed was on tonight in case Shelly needed to talk later. She hoped that wasn't necessary.

He'd given her very precise directions, which were incredibly easy to follow considering she was still learning her way around Seattle. So, it didn't take her long to find his place once she got back into town. She contemplated not going, but knew she couldn't.

If nothing else, she had to be sure she still had a job to go back to on Monday. If she did she then needed to be sure nothing would be weird between them, that he wouldn't think she expected anything from him because of what happened.

She briefly thought about whether to get out of the car. Would he get in trouble if she was seen at his house? Surely, he would have thought of that, though, if it was the case. He was the regional chief after all. He knew the rules inside and out.

He opened his front door as if expecting her, which ultimately led to her getting out of the car. He lived in a nice neighborhood, which she expected when she thought on him over the years. Not that she'd dwelled on him, just the thought of someone like him gave her hope that all of her hard work would pay off and ultimately lead to her being happy. Otherwise, what was it all for?

"You look lovely for spending the last couple of hours driving."

"I stopped at my room first to shower and change."

"I see. Well, no wonder you look refreshed."

"Thanks."

"Debating about showing up at all?"

"How did you?"

"Know? It's taken you this long to call. I was beginning to think you weren't going to."

"You know how to find me, too, Gordon."

"I do, but didn't think it wise to chase after you. Especially if you thought I took advantage somehow."

"Took advantage?"

"Well, yes, some could see it that way."

He took her jacket from her, hanging it in a closet next to the door. His home was neat, modernly furnished without being cold.

Did he really think that she thought that? Did he truly wonder if she wasn't a willing participant? That she somehow felt coerced or somehow obligated? He never in the months they were staying together tried to force anything between them.

"Why would you believe I do?"

"Well, it's no secret I'm smitten with you."

She smiled a little at that.

"At first I admit, yes, it was the fact I can hear you. And only you. That day in Twin Peaks. I remember it vividly. It'd been so long since I'd heard anyone's voice so clearly. I thought I was dreaming. But after spending time with you it wasn't just that."

"I know," she said, reaching to touch his cheek. That had worried her a lot. She'd agonized over making her choice of coming to Seattle at all. She was holding onto a brief moment between two people who were essentially strangers. Their paths crossed fleetingly and became memorable only because of that which made her stand out above anyone else for him. For her, he was the carrot on a stick. Hope. It wasn't necessarily him, but the idea of him. Someone nice and kind who made her feel special. She deserved that.

She closed the distance between them. It wasn't difficult to do considering they were still standing by his front door. Her lips met his and she wasn't sure who groaned in response to being so close again. Perhaps they both did.

She could have said a lot of things to tell him she didn't think he'd taken advantage or somehow coerced her. Those were just words, though, and could be said falsely. She couldn't fake that she enjoyed kissing him. She vowed long ago never again to be in a position to have to fake any of her actions.

"I have some things to say."

"I figured as much, and I'm all ears, Shelly."

"I didn't just sleep with you because it was convenient or anything."

"I know that. You already told me that you hadn't been with anyone since leaving Twin Peaks, so I didn't think you entered into a physical relationship with me casually."

"Well, the first day I saw you wasn't exactly not casual."

"After the first time then."

She laughed softly. He had yet to grasp the concept that he was the kindest lover she'd ever had. She had orgasms with Bobby a time or two, but they were more due to her extra efforts to bring herself off than anything in particular he did.

"Okay, if you say so. I still see it as something you could doubt."

"You have no reason to lie to me. If you'd had sex the day before or ten years before, what did it matter to what we were doing?"

"Trust."

"You think I'm not going to trust you?"

"I think I wouldn't blame you."

"You're not involved with a controlling, abusive man any longer, Shelly."

"Yes, but."

"You're not eighteen any longer."

"No."

"And we're not getting married tomorrow so we have plenty of time to work on things like trust. It would seem you need to trust me better, too. That I'm not a man who just wants you for sex and because it's convenient."

"I didn't think."

"Of course it had to cross your mind. I chose you for the assignment. The attraction was already there. You may have thought I'd planned or plotted it somehow."

He placed a finger over her lips.

"My point is the way this started could lead both of us to some thoughts that aren't true."

"Yes."

"So, I guess it's up to you whether you want to pursue this outside of the assignment."

"Can we?"

"Should we? Probably not, no, but I'm not about to let you walk out of my life a second time because of Bureau politics. I'd quit before I'd allow them to reprimand you."

"That's a big risk."

"One I think you're worth. But do you, Shelly? Are you ready?"

"I came to Seattle hoping to run into you."

"You mentioned that before. I'm still not altogether certain that means you're ready."

She stepped away a little, back against the door.

"Rules."

His eyebrows shot up at that.

"Well, I think we need them, don't you? I'm not sure we can continue having sex if we're actually going to pursue this."

"You don't?"

"No! Because if we had met again under any other circumstance we wouldn't have. We know we work that way."

"We do," he agreed.

"It's the rest of the stuff. The day to day stuff when we aren't Mr. & Mrs. Clarke."

"Agreed."

"You do?"

"Yes. You deserve it, too. To be pursued and wooed as women are when they begin dating someone."

"You want to date me?"

"What did you think I was talking about?"

"I'm just being sure we're on the same page. Can we actually go out on dates?"

"Sure. We can't flaunt it and some discretion will have to be used, but we can."

"All right."

"And our age difference doesn't bother you?"

"Does it seem as though it does?"

"Now is not the time for riddles, Shelly."

"No, it doesn't bother me."

"Because during the assignment we weren't unusual, but out here we will likely be."

"I really don't care what someone else thinks. Well, I might care if someone thought I was trying to sleep my way to better things."

"That shouldn't be a factor anyway. This was a fluke our paths even crossing let alone working together. I very rarely sully my hands any longer unless it's a high-profile case as Laura's was. And my involvement there was more to soothe ruffled feathers than anything else. So, it shouldn't be an issue as long as we don't broadcast our involvement."

"I wouldn't. Norma knows."

"Norma?"

"Yes, I went to see her because I didn't know what to do."

"Am I that difficult to figure out?"

"Based on my experience with men? Yes, you all are. I just didn't know. I just know I wouldn't be able to really get an answer if we kept having sex."

"I agree. Though sex with you gave me lots of information."

"I'm sure it did."

"You don't believe me?"

"I do, but it's probably not the type of information I'm thinking of."

"Probably not. I assume it's because of her you're here?"

"Something like that, yes."

"Well, then I owe her a thank you."

"I'm sure she doesn't think you owe her anything."

"Just the same. Now, are you hungry? Would you like to stay for lunch?"

"Sure."

"I made a pot of my famous chili."

"Sounds delicious. Bread, too?"

"Of course."

"Well then, how can I refuse, it was my favorite thing that you made."

"That was why I made it."

"You presumed I would want to eat lunch with you?"

"I assumed your calling and asking to meet me was your way of saying you at least wanted to see me again. Or you would have just avoided me."

"Maybe."

"Probably. I know how it looks, or at least would look to you. I'm not your late husband, though, Shelly. I'm not going to change tomorrow, next week, next year."

"I want to believe that."

"And I will do my best to prove it to you every chance I get. You're so strong, you deserve only the best, and hopefully you'll come to the conclusion that I fit in your life somewhere."

"It's awful quick."

"We lived together for four months."

"Not really."

"Couldn't get much more real, Shelly, you can't deny that. The conversations we had privately were sincere and real."

"I know," she admitted.

"It's lunch, Shelly, followed by a series of dates. I'm not asking you to make a serious commitment beyond give me a chance."

"I wouldn't be here if I wasn't willing to do that."

"That's all I can ask for."

"So, just lunch today?"

"I didn't say that. I have to eat dinner, too. You're the one who seems to have some boundaries set up so I will leave it up to you to tell me when I've crossed one of them. Otherwise, I'm going to act as normally as I can."

"You make it sound like I'm the only one with doubts."

"I have no doubts. I want to continue to get to know you better. I know your story, what you've told me, but I know there's more, and I want to hear all of it."

"No, you don't, Gordon," she said, following him to the kitchen.

"I do. I don't have some glorified ideal in my mind, Shelly. I know you're human with flaws and bruises just as I am. I promise not to judge you if you don't judge me."

"Judge you?"

"There's a reason I'm single, Shelly."

"Oh," she said softly, realizing that he was right. They talked about lots of things during their four month long assignment, but not everything. Evidently there were some things for both of them that weren't easy to talk about. "All right."

"Now, if you want to set the table I'll pour the wine."

"Sounds good."

CENTER

/CENTER

The next few months went by so fast. There was always something to do in Seattle and Gordon seemed quite happy to show her as many things as he could. From museums to concerts and theatre to basketball and baseball games, and even the state fair.

There were the smaller things, too. Movies, dinners out, and just going for walks. As much as she enjoyed the big stuff and Gordon seemed to enjoy having someone to take to those things. Well, the intimate nights at his house over Chinese takeout and a video rental were nice, too.

It was new to her, not having to rent a VCR to go with the videos. She'd never owned one. Gordon did, though, which was nice. There'd been times in college and while at Quantico she'd been unable to get a VCR so had been out of luck renting movies.

He was good to her. She spent the night a time or two, but only on weekends and if it got too late. He didn't take her staying the night as presumption of sex. Not that she was stingy with him about that after the first month or two when she realized they really did seem to be making it work.

She thought maybe that was the best thing. Sleeping with him. During their assignment they hadn't done a whole lot of sleeping when in bed together. Knowing they were on limited time and the unknown surrounding what would happen afterward.

It was a rainy Friday the weekend of Halloween when they got married. A civil ceremony with Norma and Ed as their witnesses. Quiet. Cozy. Under the radar. Gordon was prepared to resign if it came to it, but they were trying to stay discreet at work. It helped that their paths never crossed. No need for them to. She was more worried than he was; she didn't want to cost him his job no matter how many times he told her he was heading toward retirement soon anyway.

It was the reason they used Norma and Ed as their witnesses. It was great to see them, even if Ed was struggling with Nadine. In a way she had to admire that about him.

"Do I look all right?"

She was nervous for many reasons. She hadn't been to mass of any kind in years. He went regularly, but she was not quite ready to go back. It was Christmas Eve, though, and it seemed a good time to start a tradition.

"You look lovely, Shelly."

"I'm not sure lovely is what I'm going for at Christmas Eve mass." She'd never been nervous before about being dressed right, but this was different. She didn't want to embarrass him because she knew it was an important aspect of his life to him.

"Lovely will do just fine."

"Okay," she said, adjusting her sleeves a little.

"Don't fidget. It's mass not the Spanish Inquisition."

It wasn't all that she was nervous about, though. They were exchanging gifts later, and hers was a little odd. Well, for her it was odd and unexpected.

She regarded herself in the mirror one last time, fingertips caressing her abdomen lightly. She had no idea what kind of mother she'd make. She hadn't spoken to her mother in years, and had no desire to start anytime soon. It was her home life as a child and teen that had led to her fleeing into Leo's arms. And a more miserable situation.

With Gordon by her side, though, she was sure she'd do the best that she could.

Mass wasn't terrible. The ceiling didn't cave in and the walls didn't crumble. She actually enjoyed it. The message was nice, as she supposed Christmas Eve messages probably were.

She fixed them each cups of egg nog while he got a fire going in the living room. She made sure she handed him the right one since hers didn't have alcohol in it.

He'd gone all out decorating. Neither of them had much reason to do things like that before now. She imagined he did it more for her than himself, but she got a sense he liked it, too.

"It's beautiful," she said.

"It is a sight to behold, isn't it?"

"Thank you for taking me to mass. It's been years."

"You're welcome. I'm glad you were willing."

"I haven't had a whole lot to be thankful for or have faith in."

"You've had you, Shelly. You should have faith in yourself because you've gotten to this point."

"I know."

"So, give or receive first?"

"Give."

"Really?"

"Yes," she said, handing him her box.

"You're shaking," he said as he took it and worked the bow. "It can't be that bad."

"Just nervous."

"It's so light," he said, shaking it before setting about unwrapping it.

She held her breath for a minute as he opened the box. Her doctor had insisted on an ultrasound because ever since she'd gotten her IUD removed her cycles had been inconsistent. So, to be sure of how far along she was she'd had one done.

His gift?

The thermal printout from the ultrasound of their barely peanut-sized baby.

"I'm sorry, Shelly. You'll have to explain this to me. What am I looking at?"

She was quiet, not at all expecting him to not know what it was.

"Oh God," she whispered, hands shaking again. Only harder this time.

He set the paper down and kissed her. "Talk to me, Shelly. Maybe it's supposed to be obvious to me, but it looks like a big gray window. I see your name is on it."

She grabbed the paper and settled against him. She pointed at the little spot that was their baby.

"See that?"

"Yes. Well, sort of. Is it supposed to be something?"

"Well, yes, that's your son or daughter."

"What?" He took the paper from her. "It looks like a blob."

She gave a soft laugh, running a fingertip along the tiny outline they were looking at. "I suppose it does, but it's our blob."

"When did you find out?"

"Last week. Just had the ultrasound yesterday to see how far along I am because I wasn't completely sure."

"And?"

"About six weeks."

"So, August then?"

"Sounds like it."

"I guess I'll have to be sure the air conditioning is working then. So you don't overheat. Don't want him or her to get overdone."

"What about me?"

"Oh, I have a plan to keep you cool."

"And it doesn't involve air conditioning?"

"If I keep you naked you won't need it."

"I think that's how we ended up with a blob as your Christmas present."

"Well, there's nothing wrong with blobs. They get kind of an unfair rap I think. Blobs are people, too. At least this one is."

She laughed. "Certainly in this case, yes."

"Why were you nervous, Shelly?"

"Well, we haven't even been married two months."

"We talked about this. I'm not getting any younger. We said we'd try."

"I didn't think it'd work so fast."

"Well, obviously we're fully functioning."

"Obviously."

He took the picture from her, turning the lamp up a setting brighter to look at it closely.

"When does it start looking like a person?"

"A couple of months longer yet, I think. She'll do another ultrasound in about sixteen weeks and she said we may be able to see the sex then."

"That soon?"

"That's what she said."

She turned around to face him, straddling him.

"So, Merry Christmas."

"Well, my gift pales in comparison."

"I'm sure it's great. You picked it out. I didn't do a whole lot for yours."

"You certainly did!"

"You know what I mean."

"Still. I would have chosen something else if I'd known of your condition."

"I'm pregnant, Gordon, it's not a condition."

"You know what I mean."

She slid off his lap so he could stand and get her gift. His box was much larger than hers had been.

"Oh, Gordon," she said, taking the floor-length negligee out of the box. It was black lace with some red. "Oh, velvet," she said when she touched the fabric. "It's gorgeous." And must have cost him a fortune.

"You think so?"

"God, yes. Why would you have gotten something else?"

"Well, it won't fit in a while."

She stood then, working the zipper on her skirt.

"Well, it does now. And it will again after."

"You sure?"

"Help me put it on and I'll show you."

"Here?"

"You expecting someone?"

"No."

"Then I can't think of a better place and time then here and now in front of our first Christmas tree."

~The End~