For all my readers and those who have patiently stuck by me through all my technical difficulties, my lack of updating, and my general life problems... you guys are the best! For Galia, who helped me when I needed it, Kelly Rocherolle and her brand new baby, and Kelly Youse, who is part of the reason I write today. And for Amy at the Haven, who always gives us year-round presents with her page. A Merry Christmas to all of you.
And for Jill, Rachel and Jenn, who are just the best in general.
And my big "sis" Erin... hang in there, it will all be ok, I promise. :o)
In the land of fables and storytelling, one of the most famous openings of all time is the one that begins with those enchanting words... (come on, you know them...) "once upon a time." Usually, that line is followed by the story of a prince---or a perhaps princess--or maybe even two royal figures, star crossed lovers of course, who somehow find each other through the pits and perils of a fanastical world.
Right. We've all read it before.
Thus, to start out this simple holiday tale, one of life, of love and of new discoveries, it would probably be much more effective to NOT begin with the normal "once upon a time" bit. After all, who needs the same old story regurgitated again and again until the teller is blue in the face? Certainly, not an intelligent, jovial audience preoccupied with stockings and wrapping paper and gifts piled under the tree that spill out to the living room and...
Well darn it, now we're just getting off track... let's start at the very beginning, shall we?...(As they say, "it's a wonderful place to start.." And since we're at the beginning, let's start out with this: It all began with a simple invitation.
Of course, later on, both our hero and heroine would probably claim
that the invitation had absolutely nothing to do with the entire situation,
but then again both were extremely good at out bullshitting each other
The Hoover Building:
Strange things often filtered down into the basement office of the X files division. Elvis look alike- ghost-ridden spottings somehow found their way into the inbox. One eyed, purple, hairy, gill breathing, non-dead monsters turned up in odd memos left under the door. Enquirer, Star-exclusive newspaper clippings of brain eating zombies were tacked to the bulletin board with tiny green push pins.
"You see this thing yet, Scully?"
Dana Scully carefully whirled around in her wobbly desk chair to face her partner. Nowadays, not many things surprised or shocked her. What, with a picture of big foot and another of a UFO tacked to the wall and everything, what was left to the imagination?
"See what?!" Mulder snorted, "see what?" He tossed an opened envelope at her and shook his head. His eyes went back to the papers on his desk.
Scully glanced at her partner strangely and looked down at the floor. After having worked in the "spooky" department for 8 years now, she had been used to odd objects showing up in their office. Usually they were phone calls, obscure memos or news paper clippings, smuggled disks or funny looking CDs. Last time she checked, however, leads and odd occurances didn't come wrapped in fancy ivory envelopes. With a sigh she dropped her papers to her desk.
"This is what you're all worked up about?" she asked, reaching down. She plucked the envelope off the dusty floor and held it under her desk lamp, opening the flaps.
"I'm not worked up," Mulder mumbled, scribbling something on his notepad. "Just annoyed."
Scully shot him a disbelieving look and glanced back down at the card in her hand. If there was anything she knew firsthand about her partner, it was that when he got worked up, his tone got all whiny, his hands became fidgity and frankly, he just didn't hide it very well. Fox Mulder was a man of extremes. "Just annoyed" was simply not in his vocabulary.
"Mulder, this is just..." she frowned, going over the black embossed letters with her index finger.
"An invitation, I know." Mulder angrily tossed a balled up scrap of paper towards the garbage. He missed by a mile. "Ridiculous..." He tossed another and missed again. "Stupid and ridiculous..."
Scully removed her glasses and stared at her partner curiously. "What is up with you lately?" she asked.
Mulder rolled his eyes at her. "Nothing is *UP* with me," he retorted. "I just don't understand---"
An auburn eyebrow raised at him. "You don't understand....what, Mulder? The return address? The RSVP?"
"Very funny Scully. You're a riot."
Scully sighed. She didn't care what her partner said. Something was definitely "up" with him. She just couldn't seem to unearth what it was.
"Alright," she finally gave, shifting her position. This ought to be interesting, she thought. She leaned forward slightly on her arms, brushing hair out of her eyes. She re-crossed her legs. "Clue me in."
Mulder swallowed and glanced down. His gaze discreetely swept and caught the barest inkling of Scully thigh before quickly looking up again. He cleared his throat. Scully caught his glance and jutted her chin. Slightly embarrased, she pulled her skirt down, realizing she probably should have thought twice before putting it on this morning.
"Fine..." He tossed another paper wad at the trash and missed again.
Scully widened her eyes and prodded, "And?"
Mulder shot her a look. "I just... I can't believe people still actually host these things, that's all...they're... travesties... Christmas parties have to be some of the biggest, most ludicrous wastes of time and money around, other than live christmas trees, which cost too much money to begin with because they die. But even that's beside the point. Just what exactly are we celebrating anyhow? The birth of commercialism, that's what. Did you know that December 25th isn't even the real birth of Christ? That nobody actually knows what the real date is? And did you know that Christmas is actually a Pagan holiday, Scully?"
Scully blinked and licked her lips. "And a bah-humbug to you too," she replied.
Mulder shook his head. "And you know what else bothers me?" he continued, throwing his feet up on the desk in a leisurely manner. "I'll bet you that there are at least a dozen X files we could be investigating this week, doing something productive, rather than sitting around on our respective asses, celebrating this national non-holiday we created in order to boost the country's sagging economy."
Scully sighed and re-crossed her legs, glancing at her watch. "Is that all, Scrooge?" she asked warily.
Mulder tipped his chin up. "Well that is the SCIENTIFIC way of looking at it, isn't it?"
Scully reached over and stretched her arms. She turned to straighen out her papers and then with a flick of her wrists, she turned off her desk lamp. She closed her eyes and rose up out of her chair, pursing her lips. "Well," she said with a sad breath. "It seems as if I've taught you well, young grasshopper. Now go and do my bidding."
Mulder scrunched his nose. "Don't patronize me Scully," he said, scribbling something down on a legal pad.
Scully rolled her eyes and chose not to comment. Then she stretched and reached over to snatch her briefcase off the desk, checking it a few times for loose papers. After she had securely fastened it, her right hand reached behind her head to smooth down a few locks of red. Her left hand straightened her dress jacket. Then her azure eyes stared straight at Mulder with a touch of sadness in them. She smiled thinly and picked up her case.
"And just where are you going?" Mulder asked accusingly.
"Home," Scully answered, looking at her watch again. "That incredible waste of time you were talking about? Well, it started about a half hour ago and I was planning on spending the rest of it at my mother's."
Mulder frowned. "But there's still work to do."
"Not today Mulder, alright?"
Mulder stared at her as if she'd grown a third head made entirely out of blue cheese dressing. "Why not?" he asked, folding his arms.
Scully shook her head.
With a few quick strides she was across the room, around the desk and standing before her partner. They stared at each other for a pregnant moment and Scully noticed his tired eyes. Usually a passionate hazel, today they were dulled, sad. His dress blouse was rolled up to his elbows and his jacket was slung over the back of his chair. His hair stuck out at all angles. He looked like a wreck. Scully smiled softly and reached a warm, tender hand to smooth down his unruly locks. Mulder's eyes followed her fingers and then he closed them.
"Look Mulder, I don't know where this is all coming from but.... take care of yourself for me," she told him. "Please..."
Mulder opened his eyes and watched her. "I'll be fine," he muttered, staring at the desk. "Should be a game or two on TV..."
Scully shook her head and knelt down, placing her hands upon her partner's knees, staring directly into his gaze. He stared back. She knew she thought about Mulder more that she should... More than she had any right to, whether he was with her or not. Being without him for a week would be hard enough on her, let alone being without him and worrying about this newfound depression he seemed to be harboring.
"Mulder..." Scully closed her eyes and leaned in close, her red hair scattering over Mulder's chin and neck. She took a small breath and let her lips brush his cheek. Mulder swallowed hard but didn't move. Her fingers grazed over his mouth once and then she backed away.
"I'll see you in a week then," Mulder told her, forcing a smile, trying to sound disinterested.
Scully nodded mutely. "Merry Christmas," she finally managed, for lack of a better phrase. Mulder raised his eyebrows and let out a bitter sounding little laugh.
"Right," he answered.
And so there it was. Nothing. There was nothing left to say. Nothing but....
Scully stood and turned to walk out of the room. Mulder made no motion to stop her and Scully gave no inclination that she wanted to be stopped. Then she halted when she reached the doorway and turned to face him again. He looked so sad and lost. Her heart hurt whenever he looked that way.
"Night, Scully." Mulder was already staring at his paperwork again, shoving assorted clippings and reports from one metal basket to another. Sad, empty...
And so that was it.
Scully just shook her head and walked away.
Most years, the holidays were bleak for them. Go out, solve a case, come back, open a gift. Leave Christmas eve with the weight of the world on their heavy shoulders. Get a drink, buy a present, watch TV. Spend the weekend at home or with the family that was either hated for not caring at all or resented for caring too much. Go back to work on Monday. Same old routine, every year: Hi Mulder how are you just fine Scully how are you good great lets go to work okay.
Not this year.
Later on, both would insist that they had no inlking that this year would be different. No way, of course not. But then again, neither of them ever thought much about their feelings anyway. Maybe only the bottomest, deepest parts of their hearts were supposed to be able foreshadow...
Later on at Mulder's,
That evening there was absolutely nothing for Mulder to do. At 8pm sharp he was kicked out of the Hoover building----security reasons, the guard had said, and so digging up X Files and research was out. The Lone Gunmen were currently away on a short excursion to to Vegas (a holiday computer technologies expo, they had said) and there went any and all ideas for company. So he thought that maybe he'd go to a bar or something, drown his sorrows in a vodka shot but....well, it was December 24th, after all---Christmas Eve---- and everything was closed. Bars, restaurants, shops, everything with the exception of a few Wal-marts and Blockbuster Videos were shut down for the impending holiday.
So there he was, the stubborn and invincible Fox Mulder, all alone and once again left with nothing. Always at the end there was nothing. He wondered if maybe someone had said that to him once but he couldn't remember it. If someone had, he wouldn't be surprised.
Mulder let out a sigh that sounded as if he were deflating. His apartment was bare and devoid of all decorations, his windows free of lights, his living room lacking noise and laughter. He settled pathetically on the couch and stared at the clock. 8:25 it flashed. Christmas would be here soon.
"Gee, can't wait," Mulder mumbled to no one in particular. He leaned back into the cushions and loosned his tie, chugging down the last contents of the last can of coke in the fridge. Remorsefully, he remembered that the supermarkets were closed now and he didn't even have any goddamned food. "Shit," he cursed. Then the coke can flew across the room with a vicious fury and clanked against the wall before clambering to the floor. Mulder watched it spin in place on the ground as, remote in hand, he switched on the TV and hoped to god that something non-denominational would be showing on some obscure channel. Something that would make him feel less like wrapping his tie around the ceiling fan and hanging himself from a rudder.
"Have yourself... A merry little Christmas... Let yourself be light....."
Mulder turned up his nose and changed the channel.
"NBC now returns to it's encore showing of 'It's a Wonderful Life'...."
He hit the remote again.
"...Comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus, right down..."
"Now back to 'Mickey's Christmas Extravaganza'...."
"...Spirit tell me, these events can yet be changed...."
Mulder stared deadpan at the TV and tossed the remote aside. 60 channels and nothing on. Ok, fine, he thought. That was fine. He was tired anways. So what if there was no food and nothing to watch on TV? Maybe he could just go ahead and take a nap. If he was supremely lucky, then maybe he would just hibernate for two weeks and wake up on January 2nd.
"Yeah right," Mulder mumbled--once again--- to no one in particular.
Then he sighed, cracked his neck and grabbed the nearest pillow, turning away from the television set. Sleep, he thought wearily.
And so that's exactly what he did.
No one really knows what makes people act the way they do at Christmas time. Some buisnessmen and advertizing executives may attribute it to the rise of commercialism, or to the vast number of television programs promoting happiness and goodwill in the month of December. Some psychologists and social workers might blame bi-polar and manic disorders, the holiday pressure to be with family, friends and loved ones, when not everyone can find their "happy places." Policemen often say that crime and madness manifest themselves in the sad at heart during the holidays.
Perhaps all of them and none of them are right. Nobody really knows. In any case, the meisers, beggars and saviors of the world are often a perenial mystery to the ones in between at Christmastime; the ones who aren't concerned with saving the world or blowing their brains out on New Years Eve.
Similarly, Mulder was a perennial mystery to Scully. Not just at the holidays, but all year round. Every day. And this time, Scully had been worried about him. Very much so. So much so that her heart ached with the effort....
Meanwhile, at the Scully House:
Snow cascaded over the trees and danced to the ground upon the wings of air. Lights from houses down the road cast a warm, healthy glow over the glass as they sparkled in the distance. Dana Scully's coppery hair fell over her soft cheek and her hand ran over the cold, clear wall between herself and the world of white outside. The window pane fogged with her breath and her fingers traced the contours of a couch cushion.
"Dana... sweetheart? ..."
Mrs. Scully frowned and pursed her lips. Outside, the snow was falling swiftly and steadily over the sparkling rainbow lights that had been placed upon her house, mailbox and bushes. The tree in her warm and festive living room was glowing with lights and keepsake ornaments. Fifteen people had been invited to the Scully Matriarch's house for Christmas eve dinner and thus far, her youngest daughter had failed to socialize with even one of them.
"Dana..." She touched a gentle hand, warm from the oven, to her youngest child's back. Dana jumped.
"Jesus, mom," she gasped, placing a hand to the golden cross at her neck. "Give me some warning next time."
Mrs. Scully folded her arms and shook her head. "Dana," she said, "I called your name three times and you neglected to answer each time. What would you like me to do, wave a sign?"
Dana just looked at her mother silently and then glanced down at her hands. She adjusted her dark green sweater and licked her lips, spying for a moment over her mother's shoulder into the dining room. Her brother Bill was there of course, telling silly jokes to her cousins, Marty and Grace, while Dana's sister in law, Tara, laughed heartily. Bill and Tara's son, Mathew, played nearby with his new playschool truck and Father McCue, often a fixture in the Scully household, sat nearby and watched the outflow of laughing, happy human traffic in Scully living room.
"Please come to dinner, Dana... for me..."
Dana winced. Her mother's words just brimmed with sadness, worry and regret. She hated it.
"I'm coming, Mom. I'm sorry."
It was all she could think of to say. As a matter of fact, sometimes it was all she ever said. 'I'm sorry mom. I'm sorry I'm not around more, I'm sorry for my lifestyle choices, I'm sorry I get hurt all the time, I'm sorry I'm sad, I'm sorry I'm not married, don't have kids, don't make you proud...."
"Oh dear, Dana, it's Christmas," her mother chided, "There's no need for 'sorry's' or regrets or---"
"Yes..." Dana turned and looked back out the window, "sometimes there is..."
Occasionally, one of the odd side effects of Mulder's annual holiday depression would be that he couldn't sleep. Or that he actually did sleep alright, sound and heartily, but that he would dream of strange things. Whether it was smurfs dancing, leprechauns decorating christmas trees or tall bears shooting his enemies from a tower, it was always odd. And sometimes, these dreams would be all he would have to hang onto, all he would have to do with himself until Scully returned and the monotonous drone of his life could return to normal.
Usually, his dreams didn't change him or alter his perspectives.
Little did Mulder know that tonight would be different, that tonight would be special... even if his partner would never in a million years believe him afterward... that is, of course, if he ever decided to tell her.....
Back at Mulder's that night:
The light from Mulder's 21 inch Sony flashed and glowed bright blue over the couch, floor and walls like a flashlight beacon. Scrooge and "A Christmas Carol" was past and over, having been replaced only fifteen minutes earlier with "A Christmas Story,"--the one about the loser kid and the bee-bee gun. Mulder woke up once, caught five minutes of THAT, and was disturbed by the paralells to his own, sad childhood. He quickly rolled over and went back to sleep, vowing to stay that way until the new year, when life could return to its normal, sorry state of affairs.
The clock chimed 8:40 and Mulder groaned in his sleep but did not turn over.
8:41 and Mulder turned over, but did not wake up.
8:42 and the window flew open, blowing harsh wind and blustery snow over the desk and computer. The lower pane banged against the higher pane and the glass rattled from the impact. Mulder's eyes quickly shot open, his body startled by the sudden, disturbing noise. His hands abruptly scrambled to the nearby snack table for his gun, a weapon, anything, but before he could make another move, he was shoved violently off the couch and onto the floor, bruising his left leg in the process. He landed in a messy heap, his right hand wrapped around his leg and his left clutched at his head.
"Ow, fuck, what the---"
Mulder's eyes flew open. His head began to throb. I know that voice, he thought. I'll be damned if I know that voice...
And so he looked up to see who the familiar sounding intruder was... and then quickly wished he hadn't.... Oh Fuck, he thought. I am losing my mind... I am so losing my mind. His next words came out in a jumble:
"You--I know---I mean, I think-----"
"Please...just sit there on the floor," the voice interrupted him, "and be quiet so that I can explain this quickly and without interruption. I don't have a lot of time here so trust me, the explanation will make what we have to do next so much easier. I say this firmly because I sense anger in you and I don't want to fight... I really don't..." Mulder's visitor glanced around. "But for goodness sakes, Mulder, turn on a light or something first. Why is it always so dark in here? Are you against seeing your hand in front of your face?"
Mulder just stared, his mouth open, his eyes blank.
"Well, are you just going to sit there with your mouth open like that all night, Mulder, or are you going to turn on a light so that I can see the couch?"
Mulder swallowed hard.
"You know, my mother used to tell me that if you left your mouth open like that, a bird would fly in and make a nest... Did my sister ever tell you that?"
Mulder shook his head once and cleared it. The floor felt cold and hard. Finally, he cleared his throat and managed the only thing he could think of.
"You're uh, you're glowing, Melissa."
Melissa Scully looked down at her hands, then her torso, then her feet and nodded. "Yeah," she agreed. "Blue for contentment and light purple for enlightenment."
Mulder blinked again. "Oh," he said dully.
Please keep in mind, it's not abnormal for abnormal things to happen during Christmas. Some folks up north have claimed they've seen shooting stars that could have, in fact, been Santa Claus. Every year, children insist they see elves in toy stores. Every once in awhile, people who have never before believed in God have life altering experiences around the holidays that change their entire belief systems. It's just not unheard of.
However, even so, Mulder decided right then and there not to tell Scully just what exactly had happened to him that night. Not because she wasn't used to his odd flights of fancy-- he knew she was --- but because he didn't want to upset her. Perhaps it was that Mulder was only then --after 8 years of being partnered together--- realizing that Scully was not made of stone. That she was more than his granite touchstone...
But of course, Mulder could only figure out so much for himself, as
dense a man that he could be sometimes. To discover the rest of the
puzzle would take a little push, a small hint... or a big one....lord knows
he'd missed all the small ones all those years....
Still Mulder's that night:
"So what are you saying?"
Fox Mulder scratched his head in confusion and looked around. His living room was an odd purple shade and it was damned near disturbing. The distracting blue light of the television set had been switched off ten minutes before, now having been replaced with the distracting blue aura of his ghostly visitor and (at said visitor's request) the soft white glow of Mulder's desk lamp. That, combined with the little red light of his fish tank, seemed to create an odd violet glow that bounced off his walls and flashed over his couch cushions.
"I already told you," Melissa said, folding her arms over her chest. "I've been sent to teach you something you should have figured out for yourself a long time ago. You have to take my hand to be able do it. That's why I'm here. This isn't an option, Mulder. Either you come or I have to make you, and frankly I don't want to do that. It creates bad energy."
Mulder rolled his eyes. It had been nearly five years now since Melissa Scully's death, and she was just as blunt and new agey-enlightened as she had been when she was alive. God lord. How Scully and Melissa were related was beyond him. If I were Scully, Mulder thought, I would have asked for a blood test a long time ago.
"Fine," Mulder told her. "Let's just say I decide to go with you...where do you think---"
"Good." Melissa reached down and grabbed his hand before he had a chance to react. "I'm glad you agree with me. Let's go."
"But wait--" Mulder frowned and whipped his head around to try and gain his bearings. The room was growing foggy and spinning. He suddenly felt as if he were drunk and had no control over any of his muscles. His arms were heavy, his legs heavy, his eyes closing. What in the world was happening to him? Was he falling asleep?
"Melissa---" He started to shake his head and the world started growing clearer. "Melissa, what---"
But when he opened his eyes, he was not in his apartment.
You know it's strange, how the world works and how small things affect people in the strangest ways. Funny, how a single piece of ivory, high-gloss paper makes a person look over their entire existence, and realize that they've been wasting away the better parts of their hearts for what seems like eons. Squandering their feelings and their ability to love life and each other because the walls they've built are too tall and too strong.
You see, while Mulder had insisted--that afternoon in his office---that
he was upset because the piece of paper he held in his hand was an invitation
to a Christmas party, what he neglected to mention was the fact that he
was a shitty liar. And not at all upset about Christmas trees, or
parties, or even Christmas itself. No. The real reason that
Christmas made him want to burrow his head in the sand had nothing to do
with fancy shindigs where people exchanged presents and cheer over badly
prepared punch. It had nothing to do with the rise of commercialism,
or with the lack of X Files and activities to keep him occupied over his
forced holiday excursion.
It was because he was in love with his partner.
And every Christmas, every happy holiday, every blessed new year that went by reminded him that another year was over and done with... and he was still alone. And not just alone for now, but alone forever. Because he knew he could never ever have Dana Scully. And frankly, he just didn't want anyone else.
So maybe if he'd only had the slightest inkling of reciprocated feelings, things would have been different... might have been... but then again, Fox Mulder wasn't the only one in need of a little push in the right direction...
After a time
The Scully household that night:
Dinner in the Scully household came and went like the passing of five minutes in the blink of an eyelash. First the turkey had been passed out and eaten--lovely turkey, everyone had said, my compliments to the chef, Mrs. Scully---then the mashed potatoes, sweet potato pie, string bean casserole, stuffing, cranberry dressing with just a touch of real cranberries, ham of course, and then the tour de force, Mrs. Scully's famous Chocolate Cream pie and Pecan pie with Vanilla ice cream for dessert. Oh delicious, yum, absolutely wonderful mom, oh yes Maggie, lovely.... Dana had folded her hands politely upon the table and sat silent as a stone while compliments rained down from everyone sitting around her. Father McCue (who had been seated next to Dana, of course) even jabbed her in the elbow once, politely, to tell her how lucky she was to have such a fabulous cook for a mother. Dana had merely nodded with an enigmatic soft smile and gone back to eating, burying her nose in a glass of her mother's chardonnay which she had nursed throughout the duration of the meal.
Dana turned at the sound of her name upon her mother's lips and replied, "yeah?" with as much enthusiasm as she could possibly muster. It wasn't much mustering though--either that or her unhappiness was evident in her large blue eyes, because her brother Bill looked up and stared at her in the oddest way when she answered.
"Help me with the dishes please?"
Dana nodded and carefully placed her red and green cloth napkin upon her crystal engraved plate. She slowly rose up with a soft apology to father McCue, who had to move out of his seat for her to pass, and began collecting plates from her mother's dinner guests.
Her mind, however, was a thousand miles away... well, maybe not a thousand miles per-say, maybe about fifty--or wherever her partner was choosing to spend the night right then. And at this point, it could be anywhere... the lone gunmen's, a bar, drowning his sorrows in a hundred vodkas....perhaps she should call him...
"Jesus, Day--watch what you're doing!"
Dana flipped her head around just in time to catch a falling crystal goblet she had accidentally knocked off someone's plate. Damn it, she thought. Her forefinger and thumb quickly snatched it, and she lifted it onto her pile of dirty dishes. She let out a relieved breath and turned just in time to gaze into her brother's direct line of fire. His blue eyes, so similar to hers, pierced through her unhappy reverie like a knife, and accused without having a single word emerge from the lips so like her father's. You're thinking about him, they said. You're thinking about him when you should be thinking about us... about yourself.... He didn't need to say it. She saw it loud and clear.
"You alright, Dana?" he asked.
Dana licked her lips. Her chin turned up defiantly at her brother. In the past year, though she had never meant for it to happen, a huge gap had formed between herself and not only her brother, but her entire family. Bill would often tell her that it was because of the X files, because of Mulder, because of his "bad" influence on her, but she knew that theory was crap. It was never Mulder, not really, and it was never the X files. It was because of her. Because she was always missing something. Because when she was not with Mulder, when she was there with them, her family, she was never really there anymore. She was always somewhere else, always thinking of something that she couldn't quite put her finger on, and it seperated her from them. From them and from the woman she used to be, the woman who used to laugh that she had her whole life ahead of her, once upon a time.
"I'm fine, Bill." Dana smiled thinly and gave Bill the look she often gave Mulder. "Why wouldn't I be?"
Mulder stared around the busy, bustling Scully household in a daze. Of all the places he had expected to turn up, Margaret Scully's house had not made the top ten list. As a matter of fact, it had not even broken into the top twenty. Half of him had expected a dream-like trip to his mother's old house---the old Vineyard cottage where he had grown up with his sister. After having watched one too many "A Christmas Carols" and "Scrooges" he'd pretty much expected a teary trip down memory lane, the ghost of Christmas past, a cheerful giant, and death come to pay a visit, with him playing the part of the wicked old meiser.
"Mathew, darling, no, no coffee table... Granma Maggie wouldn't like that----."
"Marty--Marty---did you see this special? Garth Brooks and Faith Hill sing Christmas----"
"Tree, mommy! I know it's under there! Why can't I unwrap---"
Mulder let out a low whistle as throngs of people passed by him, oblivious of his presence. "Jeez, Scully," he breathed. "You do this every year?" Of course, there was no answer, as there was no Dana Scully in sight, but he felt the need to voice it as he gazed at the impressive Scully Christmas tree. For the life of him, he couldn't remember his partner ever having put any holiday decorations of this magnitude in her apartment. A little, dinky christmas tree on her kitchen counter came to mind, but nothing else he could put his finger on.
"Say, Melissa--" Mulder turned his head to ask his ghostly leader a question but found her nowhere in sight. No blue aura. No rushing wind. Nothing. For all intents and purposes, it was if she had never been there in the first place. Mulder's brow bent in puzzlement. Odd, he thought. Very odd. Just then an errant young Scully--or what he assumed was an errant young Scully--red hair, blueish green eyes, rushed past him down the hallway, running after a small, blue ball. If the child had seen Mulder standing there as he raced down the hall, he had taken no notice. And as a matter of fact, the child wasn't the only one oblivious to his presence.
"Well, here's an interesting turn of events," Mulder said out loud, amused by his little epiphany. He grinned and walked further into the room, shoving his hands nonchalantly in his pockets. He noticed Bill Scully by the dining room doorway, staring strangely into the kitchen.. Mulder watched him for a minute from the other side of the room. As he approached, Bill shook his head and crossed the threshold of the living room to his wife, Tara, who was playing with her son by the tree.
Huh, Mulder thought with a tiny smile. I wonder what interesting items are lurking in good old brother Bill's suitcase... For a brief moment, Mulder imagined the small stick he fancied was up Scully's brother's ass, and he let out a small chortle at that.
"And wouldn't that be funny," he said out loud.
But then Mulder remembered that he was most likely there for a reason. And most likely, that reason had to do with Scully.
"Alright, so why *am* I here," Mulder wondered out loud. He wandered towards the entryway to the kitchen. "What am I supposed to see?"
Dana Scully sunk her hands into the filmy sink water as her mother approached and sat more dirty dishware upon the counter next to her. Dana didn't acknowlege, just stared, oblivious, out the window overlooking the backyard. Her hands washed and her eyes followed the cascading snow.
"So Dana, are you going to tell me what's bothering you or do I have to wait for another phone call from Fox?"
Dana's head snapped around at the inquiry and she felt the sting of every word. She sighed. She had been halfway expecting something like this all evening.
"Please don't try to bullshit your mother," Maggie said smoothly, piling one plate upon another. "I don't know if you think I'm stupid or maybe just blind, but I'd like to think I know my daughter. At least well enough to know when she's troubled."
"Because the LAST time I saw you like this, you ran out of the house without a single word ... then you came back nearly eight hours later. EIGHT HOURS, Dana! And the time BEFORE that, it was because you were depressed that you couldn't bear children--something no one but Fox knew, of course, until you finally decided you couldn't keep it a secret any longer. And then the year BEFORE that, it was cancer that you conveniently forgot to tell anyone but Fox about.... So would you please, for once, before the world ends and the sky falls, tell me what is going on here?" Maggie angrily tossed down the dish towel she had errantly picked up. "For gods sakes, you are STILL my daughter, Dana Katherine, and I'd like to think that there are still some things in your life you would come to me about... as much as I know you think I don't understand anything."
Dana's chest heaved in a large, sad breath. Her neck hung into her shoulders. Her back was frozen, her hands stationary in the soapy, dirty water. She wished she had some answers, some truth, some heartfelt confession, something that would appease her poor mother, but the truth was that half the time, she didn't even know what to tell herself. Dana shook her head at the thought, and a crystal goblet slipped through her fingers and splashed into the sink. Her mother closed her eyes and shook her own head, leaning upon the marble, formica counter for support. When Dana finally did turn around, there were tears in her eyes.
"I don't... don't know," was all she could think of to say. "And I'm so sorry..." Her head sank and she gulped hard, trying to will herself not to cry. Dana wrung her fingers around the bottom hem of her sweater. She hated it when she hurt the way that she did.
"Please tell me," her mother prodded, moving closer. "My god, I love you, Dana. Please tell me what---"
"It's not something I... I don't know, mom." Dana took a deep breath. "It's never been something I knew... It's never been.... never been anything I could tell you."
Maggie Scully shook her head and put her hands on her daughters shoulders. She rubbed her shoulder blades hard and firmly for a moment before asking, "what is it you can't tell me, sweetheart? I don't understand... is it...is it work, Fox?"
Dana shook her head with a bitter laugh. "No. Mom, it's nothing. I'm fine, really--"
"Fox... It's Fox, isn't it?"
"Now that I think about it, it's always Fox... every time---"
Dana turned around to face the kitchen window, her cheeks tomato colored up to her ears. She yanked a dish angrily out of the sink and began to scrub.
"No. No it hasn't. And I'm fine... I'm just tired, that's all," she said, firmly. "let's just drop---"
"Good god..." her mother gasped. "How could I have not seen it? It was right in front of my nose, I...I should have realized..." Maggie took a breath. "Dana, sweetheart, if you're in love with Fox then why don't you tell him?"
Dana Scully's entire body went stiff at that, her fingers slipping from the plate she held over the sink. She let out a shuddered breath. The plate fell from her hand and clanked right off the edge of the counter, shattering upon the floor in a million crystal pieces.
How in the hell was she supposed to answer that? "Mom, I--"
Dana turned just in time to see her infuriated brother staring red-faced and horrified, from herself to her mother.
"Oh wonderful," Dana muttered to herself. She closed her mouth and groaned, putting her hand over her forehead to rub her temples. She could just feel the impending migrain now.
"Oh no... no way...Over my dead body, Dana," Bill growled, glaring at
his sister from the doorway of the kitchen.
It wasn't the most intelligent of utterances, but it was all Mulder could think of to say at the moment. Well, that and the even more sophisticated, "I...I... could you repeat that?"
Of course there was no response, as no one could actually SEE or HEAR Mulder. But instead of gaping like an open mouthed idiot, he simply stared, in shock, from Maggie to Dana to Bill Scully, and then back to Dana again. Because if he had heard what he thought he had heard, then it meant that Scully's mother --perhaps for a long time-- had the sneaking suspicion that her daughter was in love with him. A theory that his partner had not--- and was not-- jumping to discount out of hand. Good lord, Mulder thought, his heart beating wildly. What if it's true?
Mrs. Scully turned to face her eldest son and sighed. "Don't you raise your voice in this house, William!" she snapped. "This isn't anything that concerns you."
Bill snorted. "The hell it isn't, Mom!" he said. "How many times does she have to get hurt to see that this partner of hers is trouble! He's a goddamned basket case, that's what he is! How in the world----"
Mulder watched as Scully banged an angry fist upon the marble counter top. A lock of red hair flew into her face and her eyes sparkled with a positively venemous look. He'd seen that look before, alright. Usually, it ended with a gunshot. Uh oh, he thought, with a tiny bit of pride. Here it comes... He leaned triumphantly against the doorframe and shot Bill Scully a smirk, even though he knew the other man would never see it. Oh yeah, here it comes... Here it finally comes.
"I said shut up, Bill." Scully took deep breaths to try and even out her equalibrium. "That's what you say to someone who speaks without understanding the situation. You say shut up."
Mrs. Scully frowned from the other side of the kitchen and approached Bill slowly, perhaps hoping to intervene before a fight broke out. Then for a moment she gazed worriedly over Bill's shoulder into the living room. Probably hoping that Bill and Scully hadn't already made a scene, Mulder thought. He watched one Scully and then another, wondering how this would all turn out, all the while hearing his heart hammering in his ears. In love with me, he thought with an almost maniac glee, in love with me, she's in love with me, in love....
"Damn it Dana," Bill shot back, moving right into his sister's angry face. "I'm only trying to help you!"
Scully shook her head. "Yeah, well don't."
Bill pursed his lips and glared at her. "You know something? I am so fucking sick of this Dana. You sit there and defend this guy all the goddamned time and it's insane! Where the hell is he when you're hurt... or, or lying in a hospital bed? Or maybe just in need of a friend? Where is he? huh? Where?"
Scully rolled her tongue in her cheek and narrowed her eyes. Her back stiffened against the counter. "How DARE you judge me, Bill? What do you know of my life?"
"I know plenty."
"I know enough to know that your ridiculous behavior hurts mom."
Mrs. Scully gasped. "William!" she cried, her hands flying to her neck. "That's not true! Don't you dare---"
"No mom," Scully put a surrendering hand up to silence her mother, then turned to face her brother, folding right arm over left in front of her chest. "No, really. Now I want to hear this. He's been dying to say it since I got here. Just let him say it."
Bill stared at her and held his ground.
"I know enough to know that you're following a fool on a fool man's quest, Dana."
Scully jutted her chin in defiance but Bill refused to back down. He shook his head at her as if condemming his own sister to failure. Mulder narrowed his eyes from the doorway and fought the urge to punch the elder Scully in the head.
"I know enough to know that he's never going to come for you."
Suddenly, the kitchen froze in time.
Scully's nostrils flared, and Mulder was sure he had never seen such an intense look of hatred spark for her older brother before. For a pregnant moment, no Scully spoke. Mulder walked closer, careful to stay a few feet away from his Scully, Bill Scully, and Mrs. Scully, who was silently and sadly watching this vie for control play out between her two children. Mulder felt a twist of sadness for her in his heart. This is my fault, he realized sadly. My selfish behavior has done this. I've done this to her... to Scully...
"What.. is... that.. supposed.. to.. mean?" Scully managed thinly.
Bill licked his lips and matched her tone. "What...does...it...sound...like...it...means?"
Scully clenched her teeth and shoved an errant copper hair out of her eyes.
"You don't know anything about me, Bill," she finally said. Her knuckles were clenched over her arms and white as paper. Her face was staunch.
Bill let out a bitter laugh. "You know what? You are something else Dana. You really are. If you honestly think I don't see you... If you think I don't hurt when I see you pining away for this Mulder who is never going to feel the way that you do..."
Mulder turned and looked at his partner, his heart nearly stopping in his chest. Scully averted her eyes then, her mouth opening but no sound coming out. Mrs. Scully looked away from her daughter, as if thinking the same thing her son was thinking at the same moment he said it, but not wanting to believe it were true. Mulder looked at his feet. If it could possibly be confirmed, he now felt like the lowest creature ever to walk the face of the earth.
"Dana, when are you going to open your eyes?" Bill asked, running a weary hand through his hair. "If what mom says is true, and you truly do feel the way you feel....then he has never given you any indication that he loves you even an ounce as much as you love him...." He paused to glance at his mother. "And with the suicide crash course he's taken, he never will. When are you going to understand that?"
Scully's averted eyes found her brother's again, and Mulder wished with all his heart that he could go to her. To tell her that it wasn't true. That damn it, he DID love her. But as he began to sink, deflated, out of the kitchen, he could hear the venom in Scully's voice cut through the air like a razor.
"You don't know anything about the way I live my life," she managed, "And you can go to hell." And then Scully covered her mouth with her hand as she walked stoically out of the room. Her back was straight, her mouth thinned, her shoulders squared... but her deep breaths were totally suspended by the weight of her tears.
And that was all Mulder remembered before the room went black.
If anything absolute can be said about life, it is that there is not a single person on this Earth who understands love. Sure, some people say they have seen it, have known it, have felt it or or maybe have stepped in it once or twice, but nobody really understands it. Nobody ever stands up in the middle of a crowded room and says, "I know how love works," the way they might say, "I know it's cloudy outside today."
Similarly, there had never been anything concrete, anything absolute about the way Fox Mulder felt about Dana Scully. It had simply been an untangible thing that had happened between them. Something that had been there since before they had met each other, something that had only grown upon time... time and the inevitable expanse of affection, experience and change. And though the timing may never have been right before, perhaps at that moment it was. Or perhaps there was no such thing as a right time and no such thing as a whole person, or fate or true love...
And if there was, later on, neither of them would admit to being the first to realize it was so...
Back at Mulder's:
When Fox Mulder fell off his couch that evening, the first word to come out of his mouth was "ow."
His head hurt, his heart hurt... and his damned leg hurt because that was the second time he had fallen on it in one night.
But the next word to come out of his mouth was "Scully."
And when he said it, his whole body seemed to ache with a need that went beyond his leg hurting or his desire to swallow fifty advil for his throbbing skull. It was something he couldn't even begin to explain to himself, although after the whopper of a dream he had just experienced, he wouldn't be surprised if Elvis and Billie Holiday appeared suddenly in his living room and tried to explain it to him.
Mulder's head whipped around a few times and he tried to clear his thoughts, gazing around his apartment as if he had never seen it before. His TV was turned off--- although, if he remembered correctly, he had left it on when he fell asleep... before his dream, that is. Or at least, he had thought. In contrast, his desk lamp was turned ON for some odd reason or another, and it was tilted in an odd direction that seemed to spotlight his answering machine. And that was odd in itself because, not only had he never turned on a lamp that evening, but he also didn't remember the phone ringing, or the machine picking up, even though the little red light on his answer-o-matic was blinking furiously. How odd, he thought, his eyes shifting back and forth. Very odd indeed. Then he took a deep breath and dragged himself up off the floor, shaking his head as if trying to get the water out of his ears.
"It couldn't be," he said to himself, moving towards the machine on his desk. "I've just been watching too much TV..."
He hit the little play button and nodded, as if that must be the solution. "Yeah, too much TV... and that office coffee... gotta lay off that...."
The machine beeped and rewound itself. Mulder sighed and scratched his head, standing there waiting for it to play. Finally, the last click sounded and it kicked into gear. The soft, familiar voice rang clear and true through the tape.
"Go to her," was all it said.
So Mulder froze like a deer in the headlights and stared at it... for a long, long time...
It was cold outside, freezing actually, and frankly, Dana Scully had no idea why she was standing there, on the porch, without her coat on. Perhaps it was to spite her family, to get a fever and not have to speak to anyone for the rest of the duration of the holiday. Or perhaps it was the need to get away from her brother, to flee from the laughter, the cheer and the happiness, or maybe just the vain hope that the tears on her cheeks would freeze and quit falling from her eyes. She just didn't know. And part of her, for whatever reason at that point, just didn't care either.
'Dana,' her mother had somberly asked some ten minutes earlier, 'Dana, sweetheart, please come inside. It's freezing out here.' The begging and pleading went on, her mother trying every single trick in the book. 'Mathew was looking for his aunt... Marty wanted to know how work was going.... The gift exchange is going to start...' But none of it had worked.
And it wasn't like she wasn't sorry or hurting because of the pain she knew she had caused her mother. She was. She most certainly was. And it wasn't like she was trying to act like a spoiled child who had been scolded, because that wasn't the way Dana operated, it was just... it was just that, for her, to go inside meant to admit that Bill was right. It meant having to face her mother, her older brother and admitting to him and herself and maybe the world at large that she was a ridiculous fool for falling in love with her partner.
And since she already knew that, she didn't feel like licking her wounds in front of an audience.
"Who is worse," she muttered to herself, her breaths coming out in short puffs upon the cold winter breeze. "The fool, or the fool that follows him?"
"How bout the fool that thinks she'll always follow."
Scully's head whipped around at the unexpected response and she nearly fell into the floorboards. Her back banged violently against the railing as she turned and grabbed a nearby wooden post for support, nearly smashing tiny white lightbulbs in the process. Her breathing escaped in a ragged succession of fog bursts from her lips, and shadows from the outdoor Christmas lights played over her surprised features.
"Sorry, Scully... you ok?"
Scully closed her eyes and shook her head warily.
"Jesus, Mulder," she gasped. "What are you doing here?"
Mulder shoved his hands into his pockets. His lips turned up just the slightest bit and he stared at her for a moment: her red hair billowing against her soft, pale skin, bluish from the flashing lights, her teeth beneath perfect red lips chattering from the cold, her tiny nose, pink from the wind chill, her blue eyes inquiring and large. Mulder opened his mouth... and then closed it. Scully eyed him strangely for a moment. Then finally, Mulder spoke.
"I...." he sighed. "I wanted to come here, ah... I wanted to say..." Blue eyes... such large, beautiful blue eyes..."I..." soft skin... brilliant mind.... "I... I wanted to say that I was sorry..."
Scully frowned. "Sorry?" she asked. "Sorry for what, Mulder?"
"Sorry..." he said. "Sorry for tonight..." Then he shook his head. "No, that's not right. Sorry for all the bullshit... these past years actually, sorry for being..."
Scully's lips began to turn up as if she were amused with him.
"Sorry for being selfish and not thinking about...well, just not thinking period. Sorry for being me, Scully. I'm sorry, I just... wanted to say... say that... that I'm sorry." Mulder nodded to himself as if trying to convince a third party of his convictions. "Just you know... yeah, sorry....and um...." He shrugged as if unsure of what to say at this point. "Merry Christmas?"
At that last part, Scully actually began to laugh.... hard.... and at him. Right at him. And not just a small laugh either but a large one, a large, gushing, overflowing laugh that made her grab her sides and bend forward to contain herself. "You---" she paused in a fit of giggles and waved her hand to try and manage her thoughts. "You---came---all the way---" more laughter, "To say----" and even more laughter, "Sorry--for--being---" she couldn't help herself. "being--YOU?!" Then she bent forward again and tried to control herelf. "Jesus Christ....Mul-Mulder---" Now she was almost in tears. "You should..." she wiped a tear from the corner of her eye, "should put that.... in writing.... on a bilboard and... and..." she sighed with the last signs of laughter," sign it...in triplicate... so I can take it out and show it to you next time we're on assignment..." Then she let out a small last chuckle and Mulder pouted at her.
"Well, that wasn't exactly the response I was going for," he grumbled, giving her a dirty look as she dissolved into laughter once again. "And you forgot about the 'Merry Christmas' part."
"Right," she managed, taking deep breaths to get herself to stop, "Right....Merry Christmas... to you too..." She shook her head and swallowed, pushing down the rest of her emotions. "So is that it?"
They stared at each other in the half light of the porch. So many things had gone unsaid between them. So many years and so many things that could not be said in one instant, but would have to instead be stretched out over time... for time could heal all wounds and broken hearts... couldn't it? Sometimes, Scully wasn't so sure.
"I... I don't know..." Mulder stepped close to her and looked down at his feet. "I was... I was thinking about something but..." he shrugged slightly. "Now I... I forgot..."
Scully let out a long breath and sighed, sadly. "Mulder---"
"No, I remember now." Mulder touched her cheek. Scully watched him with nervous eyes.
"I wanted to say... I will always come for you, Scully."
Scully's breathing hitched and suddenly the rest of the world faded away. It was... it was exactly what her brother had said to her earlier and yet... yet it wasn't... But then, how could that be, she wondered. How did he know...
Scully swallowed hard and looked in his eyes... past his eyes... past everything... And in that one moment, they became nothing but the sum of her and Mulder... and of what they were to each other that no one else could understand... or take away. Her eyes filled with tears she couldn't fight and she asked softly, "how... why... why did you say that?"
Mulder took a deep breath. "Because I wanted you to know... so that you don't ever doubt."
Scully shook her head.
"And because I'm always with you, even if I'm not holding your hand."
"And because there isn't anything I wouldn't do for you."
"Yeah, but Mul---"
"And because I love you."
"Yeah I know that, But Mulder how did you know..." Scully's eyes widened in shock... "what did you say?"
For a moment they just stood there staring at each other, lost in the moment. Lost in time. Lost in each other. Scully took long, deep breaths that billowed into the air and Mulder just had the oddest smile on his face.
"He said 'I love you!' Dana!" sounded a loud, female voice from doorway to the house. "For goodness sakes, say it back!"
Scully blinked then, in eminent confusion, and then her large, blue eyes went wide as she realized that they had been spied upon. Mulder, for his part, just couldn't help himself. He began to laugh. First a chuckle, then harder laughter, as if he didn't quite know what to do with himself. Then the two of them turned and faced the doorway of the house, finding there fifteen curious faces plastered to the screen door, Mrs. Scully leading the pack. Next to her, standing stoic and expressionless and still as an angry statue, was a stone walled Bill Scully, who simply blinked and turned, walking away without a single word for either his sister or her partner, derogatory or othewise. To that, Scully didn't know whether to be worried or relieved. She just swallowed her pride and watched him leave, taking it at face value. Maybe Bill's way of letting me live my own life, she thought, and sighed with relief. After all, one never knew...
Mrs. Scully smiled lightly from the doorway. "Watch out for mistletoe," was all she said. Then she quickly turned and began ushering curious houseguests away from the doorway and back into the living room. Scully looked back up at Mulder and smiled.
"You know it's cold out here," she told him after a time.
Mulder nodded emphatically and ran his hands up and down her shoulderblades to try and warm her up. "Astute observation, Agent Scully," he answered.
"Yes, but there's ah... quite a few stashes of mistletoe in there, from what I've been told," she went on, smiling that enigmatic smile of hers.
Mulder raised an eyebrow at that.
"From what you've been told?"
"Hmm..." Mulder leaned in close so that his nose ran along the contour of her jawline. "Sounds like a more sound investigation is in order then, don't you think?"
Scully closed her eyes and wrapped her arms lightly around his neck. "I think....Unsubstantiated speculation is always good reason for more concrete investigating...."
Mulder pulled away for a moment and grinned, then leaned close enough to kiss the corner of her mouth. "Then what are we waiting for?" he asked.
Scully grinned mishceivously. "Engraved invitation?"
Mulder rolled his eyes and wrapped an arm around her waist as he led her inside, small snow flurries falling sideways from the sky catching upon their hair and eyelashes.
"Oh no... don't you even start with that, Scully....We never would have gone...You know I hate Christmas parties..."
"Yeah, well, it might have been interesting, Mulder... but God forbid you should actually see what one is like,---"
"Oh come on, you've seen one and you've seen em all. Boring, pointless, no one wanting to be there, and to top it all off, you know the kind of money that's wasted throwing those things, when ---"
"When government employees can be buying alien autopsy videos and writing it off as a business expense?"
"Ok, Scully, that's not fair. That WAS a business expense, that video--"
Mulder nearly flew off his feet as Scully grabbed him by the tie and pulled him two paces over to his left. She glanced up at the archway to the living room, then caught his jaw in her hands.
"Could you shut up for two seconds?" she asked.
Mulder stared at her confused. "I...what? huh? Yeah, sure, ok, I guess so..."
Their eyes met. Their hearts found each other. On the TV, in the background, beyond the talking and laughter, a bell rang. Then their lips met as Scully murmured softly, "suspect spotted and captured....investigation over...."
Suffice to say, this is where our holiday tale must end... for now. Funny, how it all started out with a simple invitation and not "once upon a time"... Or maybe it goes even farther back than that. Maybe it goes as far back as the VERY beginning, although not the beginning of the X Files, mind you, but the beginning of life. The beginning of happiness. The beginning of the most fascinating X File of all; love.
But for now, we'll not worry about such trivialities and we'll just say that everything turns out ok in the end. We can say that, can't we? After all, you don't want to get all worked up and create bad energy, do you?
So for now, we'll just say 'Merry Christmas' and a happy new year... and we'll leave the love to the lovers of the world...
for another year.