Title: All I Want for Christmas
Author: Gemma Kingsley
Feedback: All =I= want for Christmas is feedback please! (Gemma at gkingsley@hotmail.com) (gkingsley@hotmail.com)
Disclaimer: Mulder, Scully and the rest of the gang belong to CC 'the surfer babe', 1013 and Fox. I mean them no harm and I promise that I'll give them back when I'm done.
Rating: PG-13
Classification: S, H, R (MSR)
Keywords: Mulder/Scully romance
Archive: Yep, anywhere you want!
Spoilers: Itty bitty ones for PMP and Christmas Carol. I haven't seen any of Season 6 yet, so apologies if what I've written doesn't fit with what's happened so far.

Summary: A Magical Christmas Mystery.

December 20, 1999
O'Brien Residence
Chestnut Hill, MA

"Dear Santa," she wrote out painstakingly with her favorite red crayon. The 'r' was back-to-front and the writing in general was rather shaky, but she didn't notice such small defects. Presumably the intended recipient, famed for his jollity and goodwill, wouldn't be bothered by these tiny faults in presentation either.

The end of her pink tongue peeked out the side of her mouth as she scrunched up her little face in concentration and tried to decide what to write next.

"I don't need you to bring me any presents this year okay." Did 'year' have an 'e' on the end? She couldn't quite remember, but thought it might. Adding the extra letter, she regarded the word critically. No, that was all wrong. Firmly, she crossed the second 'e' out.

"Because my big brother is lost and I want you to find him please. His name is Jamie." This was the most important part of the letter and she spent more time than usual in trying to make sure her letters were regular and neat. 'Because' was a difficult word, but she scripted it confidently, having spelled it correctly in a test only two days ago.

Was that it? Jamie had helped her with last year's letter, but he wasn't here now of course. Oh wait, there was one more thing she needed to add.

"I've been very good and I didn't even cry when that big black dog from across the road barked at me last week." She smiled to herself and nodded her head emphatically. If getting over her fear of large black dogs wasn't convincing proof that she deserved the very special present she sought, then there was nothing more to be done.

The room was quiet now that the crinkle of paper and the scratching of the crayon had ceased. As it did every night, the grandfather clock downstairs was striking the hour of eight p.m. with sonorous chimes.

The creaking of the third step from the top announced the impending arrival of her mother, and she quickly scribbled her name at the bottom of the letter. Then in one deft move she hid it under her pillow and pulled a picture book at random from the shelf by the side of her bed. It was going to be her special surprise when Santa sent Jamie home for Christmas, so she didn't want her Mom to know about it yet.

The woman who now stood in the bedroom's doorway looked upon the scene through red-rimmed eyes. "It's time for bed now, sweetheart." She managed, with only a slight tremor in her voice. Mechanically smoothing down the bedclothes, she took the book from her daughter's hands and replaced it on the shelf.

"G'night Mom."

"Goodnight, baby. Sleep well."

The little girl pouted at this term of endearment, which she disliked, having reached the grand old age of six, but her mother had already turned to shut off the light.

She waited until the sound of her mother's footsteps had receded, then counted to fifty, as high as she could add up. Assured that her mother wouldn't be returning anytime soon, she pulled out the flashlight that had been conveniently hidden under the covers and retrieved the letter from its temporary home beneath her pillow. The flashlight had been Jamie's, but he'd given it to her when their grandmother had sent him a new and more deluxe model for his tenth birthday.

The paper was slightly crumpled from its sojourn under the pillow, but she calmly evened out the creases and regarded her accomplishment with self-satisfaction.

Checking it one last time, she shone the light on each word in turn and quietly read them aloud to herself:

"Dear Santa,
I don't need you to bring me any presents this year okay. Because my big brother is lost and I want you to find him please. His name is Jamie. I've been very good and I didn't even cry when that big black dog from across the road barked at me last week,

Love Amy.

It was perfect, she decided; but now came the hard part. Slipping out of her warm bed she flinched as an icy draft bit cruelly at her toes. With the letter grasped firmly in one hand, and the flashlight in the other, she carefully opened her bedroom door, wincing at the high-pitched squeal the hinges gave out. She paused to see if she'd been detected, her heart pounding crazily overtime like the wheels on a runaway train. But the lower level of the house remained mercifully silent and her heart-rate gradually slowed to a normal level.

Tiptoeing down the carpeted staircase she avoided that perennially creaky third top stair and safely made it to the bottom. She poked her head into the front hallway, looked left and right as though about to cross the road, then darted quickly into the sitting room. Breathing a sigh of relief as she realized she'd reached her destination, she shut off the flashlight. The blaze that still burned merrily in the fire place provided more than enough light by which to perform her self-appointed task.

The flickering fire cast strange and wonderful silhouettes on the wall, suggestive of demonic shadow puppets, but she ignored them as she crossed slowly to stare into the dancing flames themselves. Please, she thought. Please, please let this work. Placing the flashlight on the floor she folded the letter in half, and then in half again. Its size was now only slightly larger than her own hand, and she gripped it tightly.

With two fingers on her other hand crossed for luck, and holding her breath in apprehension, she threw the piece of paper into the fire before she could change her mind. She half-expected it to be consumed by the flames, but instead it flew straight up the chimney and she grinned in euphoric delight at her success. Grabbing the flashlight she scurried back upstairs and leapt into bed, tugging the covers up to her chin to keep out the winter chill.

"I did it, Jamie." she whispered into the darkness. "You'll be home soon. I know you will."

December 22, 1999
Mulder and Scully's Office
J. Edgar Hoover Building
Washington D.C.

"Mulder, I don't believe this." Scully said, her tone a mix of exasperation and, well, disbelief. A new case, three days before Christmas? This has got to be a joke. At least it damned well better be.

"Oh, you're getting better at this." He laughed dryly. "I haven't even told you what the case is about and already you're skeptical."

"Very funny." Scully was not amused. "Don't aliens, mutants and mad scientists," she paused to gesture vaguely at some of the pictures adorning the walls, "have homes to go to for Christmas too?"

"Apparently not." He handed her a photo. "This is James O'Brien. He was kidnapped from his home almost a month ago."

Scully looked at the photo. The boy was giving a wide gap-toothed grin into the camera lens. "Kidnapped or 'abducted'?" she asked suspiciously. If this is some alien wild goose-chase, Mulder, you're on your own, she resolved.

"Kidnapped. The main suspect was his father. He lost custody of both children after a messy divorce finalized in late September, and Mrs. O'Brien told an officer investigating the kidnapping that her ex-husband had threatened on more than one occasion to take his son by force."

"So where do we come in?"

"Yesterday morning, James O'Brien was found alive and well in his own bed. Not a scratch on him." Mulder said.

Scully looked at the photo again. "After a month? That's very unusual. I mean, it's great news, but..."

"Wait, it gets better." Mulder insisted. "The same evening, a man was arrested in a house two blocks over from the O'Brien house for trespassing."

"Trespassing?" Scully asked, taking the mug-shot he handed her and looking at the stout, elderly man with a thick gray beard. "What's the link?"

"In his pocket he had a letter written by Amy O'Brien, James' younger sister. The investigating officers deemed that enough evidence to bring James in, and he identified the man."

"As his kidnapper?"

"No." Mulder shook his head emphatically. "As his rescuer."

"Really?" Scully asked, eyeing the photo doubtfully.

"Yep. According to James' statement, he came down the chimney in the middle of the night."

"Down the chimney, Mulder? But..."

"Hang on, you haven't heard the best part yet. When he was arrested and fingerprinted, he also had to give his name and address of course." Mulder said.

"And?" Scully demanded, becoming rather frustrated by Mulder's delaying tactics. This had better be good.

His expression carefully neutral, he handed her a piece of paper. Scully peered at the two lines of writing it held.

Santa Claus, Esquire.
c/o The North Pole

"Oh good one, Mulder." She smirked, dropping the piece of paper onto his cluttered desk. "You really had me going there for a minute. Score one for you, partner."

She waited for him to laugh and admit his joke, but he simply retrieved the discarded paper and looked at her steadily.

"You're joking, right? This is some kind of 'let's-put- one-over-on-Scully' Christmas prank, isn't it?" Scully asked, more uncertainly.

Mulder shook his head slowly.

Oh God, please let this be some nightmare that I'm about to wake up from. "Mulder, are you seriously suggesting we fly all the way up to New England to investigate some lunatic who thinks he's =Santa Claus=?"

"Even the psychiatrist, Dr. Chapman, who's been called in on the case admits there's not actually anything wrong with him." Mulder pointed out.

"Nothing wrong?" Scully asked. Hello, Mulder, this guy thinks he's a mythical man who lives at the North Pole with a troupe of magical elves and you're saying this is normal?

"Figuratively speaking that is." Mulder admitted. "Look, Scully, how about we just fly up there, spend a couple of days checking out this guy's story, then come back to D.C. in time for Christmas?" Mulder suggested. "And the New England area's beautiful in winter anyway, so it won't be a wasted trip even if it does turn out to be a hoax."

"Beautiful or not beautiful, hoax or otherwise, there's no way you'll get tickets this close to Christmas, so you might as well forget about it." Scully pointed out confidently. Thank God for over-crowded airports during the holiday season.

"Way ahead of you there." Mulder waved a pair of airline tickets in front of her face. "I called in a few favors, and hey presto! here we go. So whaddya say?"

Damn, how does he always do that? "Mulder, why do I get the distinct impression I'm going to regret hearing the words 'Santa Claus' and 'investigate' in the same sentence?"

3:30 a.m. December 23
United Airlines Flight UA 0120
29, 000 feet

Hearing the drunken Christmas carols and other revelry emanating from Business Class as he made his way back from the airplane toilet, Mulder was glad for probably the first time in his career that the Bureau was too cheap to spring for anything other than Economy.

Although it looked like Scully'd picked up some Christmas spirit somewhere along the line too, if the animated conversation she was holding with the blonde-haired man across the aisle was any indication. She'd been sleeping when he'd got up to use the facilities, and he was none too pleased by this new development.

Accidentally on purpose kicking the guy's legs as he stepped over them, well what does he expect if he leaves them out in the aisle like that?, Mulder took as long as possible to squeeze past Scully into his window seat, until she finally got fed up and gave him a none-too-gentle shove on the backside.

"Go back to sleep, Mulder." She almost-hissed between her teeth.

Not on your life, Scully. "No. I want to meet your new friend." He insisted. Being difficult on purpose, he leaned right over Scully until he was practically draped across her lap so that he could shake hands with their new acquaintance.

Scully sighed and rolled her eyes at her partner's sudden and not-at-all-subtle possessiveness.

"Fox Mulder."

"Michael Shaw." The man-across-the-aisle introduced himself. "Dana was just telling me she's a medical doctor."

"Oh yes." Mulder replied, with unusual jocularity. "And a Grade A forensic pathologist to boot. Comes in very handy in our line of work what with all the corpses we're always happening upon." He noted with glee that Scully's admirer didn't seem quite so eager anymore.

"And what line is that, Mr. Mulder?"

"FBI." Mulder told him. "Ya know, bang, bang, shoot to kill and all that. You should see =Dana= with a gun in her hand. Pretty amazing, if you know what I mean." He winked at the man who was suddenly yawning ostentatiously and pulling his blanket up over his knees.

"Well, goodnight Dana, Mr. Mulder. It was nice to meet you." He closed his eyes and Mulder smiled with satisfaction. I sure showed him.

Leaning back into his own seat, he was met with a painfully sharp elbow in the ribs from his partner.

"Ow! What was that for, Scully?" He demanded, rubbing the site of his injury.

"What do you think it was for?" She whispered sarcastically. "Thanks a lot."

"You're welcome, Scully." Anytime.

8:30 a.m. December 23
O'Brien Residence
Chestnut Hill, MA

Dana Scully was not in a good mood. The last two or so hours had been spent in maneuvering their rustbucket of a rental car along winding roads made increasingly treacherous by persistent sleet. And before that, she'd had to endure the redeye from Washington Dulles to Logan International, Boston. One of her least favorite modes of transport at the best of times, redeyes were even worse this close to Christmas when flights that might be half-empty for the rest of the year were suddenly full to the brim. Any hope she'd maintained of getting some sleep on the plane had been destroyed by a combination of turbulence and Mulder's restlessness, and on top of that, her suitcase was missing. Just the Christmas present for which she'd been wishing.

Glaring at her partner, who lounged against the ivy- covered verandah railing, she rapped sharply on the front door. A young boy opened it, and Scully's expression softened. She recognized Jamie O'Brien from his photo, and remembered that most kidnappings don't end as well as this one had.

"Hi. I'm Dana Scully, from the FBI. Is your Mom in?" Scully asked.

"Are you really an FBI Agent?" Jamie asked excitedly.

Scully smiled. "Uh huh."

"Can I see your badge?"

"Sure." She held out the leather wallet that contained her ID and badge and Jamie stared in admiration.

"Do you have a gun?" He asked.


"Can I see it?"

"Maybe later." Scully said, amused by Jamie's constant stream of questions.

"Who's that?" Jamie seemed to be noticing Mulder for the first time.

"That's my partner, Agent Mulder." Scully explained. Partner? Did I say 'partner'? Because I meant 'pain in the ass'.

"Does he talk?"

Scully glanced over her shoulder. "Yes. Usually way too much."

Mulder grinned unrepentantly, and Scully turned back to the door as Mrs. O'Brien appeared behind her son.

"Fox Mulder. We spoke on the phone." Scully's pain-in- the-ass partner said, stepping forward.

"Yes, of course." Mrs. O'Brien said. "Jamie, you shouldn't have left these nice people standing out in the cold."

Mulder and Scully followed her into the sitting room while Jamie disappeared upstairs to his own pursuits.

"Eggnog?" Mrs. O'Brien offered.

"We can't while we're working." Scully said.

"Oh, of course. It doesn't seem right that you two have to work this close to Christmas." She commented, pouring herself a glass.

Scully shot her partner a pointed look which he pretended to ignore while studiously examining the geometrical patterns in the carpet.

"So, Mrs. O'Brien," Scully began, hoping to get straight to the point.

"Please, call me Julia." She requested. "O'Brien's my ex- husband's name." The way she said 'ex-husband' made him sound more like a particularly nasty-smelling piece of refuse than a living, breathing human being.

"Ok, Julia, we understand James doesn't seem to be suffering any ill-effects from his kidnapping. Is that right?"

"Yes, it was a miracle - his return. I'd all but given up hope." Noticing Scully's raised eyebrow she elaborated, "He's a violent man, my ex-husband. That's why he was denied even visitation rights."

"He abused you?" Scully asked gently.

Julia nodded, her fingers clenched around the glass in her hands.

"And the children?"

"No, but I was always terrified they'd be next."

"And your ex-husband, George O'Brien, he was the main suspect in James' kidnapping?" Mulder interjected.

"Yes. He still had keys to this place. It was stupid of me not to change the locks, I know, but I hadn't heard anything from him since the divorce was finalized, and I assumed he'd given up and gone away somewhere. Have they caught him yet?" Julia queried hopefully.

Scully shook her head. "But we're still looking."

"And what about that man? The one who rescued Jamie. The one who thinks he's 'Santa Claus'." Julia asked. "He won't go to jail, will he?"

"No, I shouldn't think so. Most likely he'll be taken somewhere he can get some help." Scully explained.

"It's sad, isn't it?" Julia helped herself to another glass of eggnog. "I wonder where his family is? No one should be alone at Christmas. I wish there was something I could do to help him."

"Mrs., excuse me, Julia, you don't need to worry about him. We'll be speaking to him later, and we'll make sure he's taken care of properly." Scully assured her. "It sounds like he's a confused, old man, possibly with Alzheimer's Disease, or some form of dementia."

"Either that or he really is Santa Claus." Mulder put in irrepressibly.

Scully frowned at him, but fortunately Julia assumed he was joking and laughed brightly.

"Julia," Scully said, giving her partner a warning look, "could we have a few words with your son please."

"Of course, of course." She agreed, putting down her empty glass. Stepping out of the room, she called up the stairs, "Jamie, could you come down here please?"

"Mulder, what was with that Santa Claus comment?" Scully whispered in mild exasperation while their hostess was out of the room.

"Just exploring all the possibilities." He replied innocuously. You never know.

"Sweetie, these are Agents Mulder and Scully from the FBI. I'd like you to answer all their questions carefully, okay?" His mother instructed him.

"I know who they are, Mom." He said, rolling his eyes. "I talked to Agent Scully before and she has a badge and a gun and everything. And you know what? I'm going to be an FBI Agent too when I grow up!"

"Jamie, could you tell us about the man who rescued you?" Mulder asked him, amused by the boy's enthusiasm.

Jamie nodded. "He was old. Even older than you."

Scully stifled a smile.

"And he had a gray beard, and he came down the chimney, and he was Santa Claus."

"Jamie, aren't you a little old to be believing in Santa Claus?" Scully asked him. "You're ten aren't you?"

"I'm almost eleven." He corrected her. "And I didn't believe until now. But this wasn't some guy dressed up in a fake beard and a red suit. This was the real thing. And he could really do magic too."

"What kind of magic did he do?" Mulder was interested and didn't remember anything about this being in the statement Jamie had given.

"Promise you won't think I'm being stupid, or making it up and stuff."

"I promise." Mulder said solemnly.

And he probably will believe it too, Scully thought exasperatedly, and now we'll never get back to D.C. for Christmas.

"We flew." Jamie revealed with barely restrained excitement. "Right out of that place I was locked up in. And the next thing I remember is when I woke up the next morning in my own bed and Mom was standing there crying."

Mulder leaned back in his chair. Maybe there was even more to this case than he'd originally thought. Before he could continue this line of questioning, a small head covered in tousled blond curls looked around the doorway.

"That's my little sister." Jamie told them. "Come here, Amy." She trotted amicably into the room at the request of her brother and sat down on the floor with a bump at her mother's feet.

"That's a very pretty doll you have there." Scully said.

Amy didn't say anything, but she smiled shyly at the female Agent.

"Amy, do you recognize this?" Mulder asked, taking her letter out of its plastic covering.

She pulled her thumb out of her mouth and dropped the doll, reaching for the letter that Mulder held.

"Ask Agent Mulder if you can have it." Julia reproved her young daughter.

"Can I have it, Agent Muld-Mald...." Her tongue stumbled over the unfamiliar syllables.

"Mulder." Her mother prompted.

"Sure you can," Mulder said, passing the letter to the small girl.

"That's mine." Amy announced, once she had it in her hands.

"Did you make it all by yourself?" Scully asked.

"Uh huh. Just like Jamie showed me last time."

"And then what happened? Did you give it to an old man?"

"No leading the witness, Scully." Mulder admonished her. "What did you do with the letter when you'd finished it?" He asked Amy.

"I put it in the fire, and it went whoosh! up the chimney." She explained, with accompanying hand movements. "And then Santa sent Jamie back just like I asked." She grabbed onto her brother's leg as if to be assured that he was really there and wasn't going away again.

"Okay, I think that'll do for now." Scully told Julia O'Brien. "We really appreciate your co-operation in this matter."

"That's fine. I'm just glad to have Jamie back in one piece. Let me know if you need anything else." She showed the two Agents out and James and Amy waved from the window as Mulder and Scully walked down the driveway.

"Scully, did you hear what he said?" Mulder asked eagerly, as they trudged through the snow, his boots making deep imprints in the crunchy fresh drifts.

"Mulder, please don't start." She wasn't faring so well with her skirt and heels and thought longingly of the fur-lined coat and walking boots packed in her missing luggage. "Could we at least get something to eat before you bring up any 'Santa is an alien' theories. And I don't know how you think we're going to find anywhere to stay two days before Christmas. Frankly a warm stable is looking better and better."

"Relax, Scully." Mulder assured her. "I've got it covered.

11 a.m.
Hill View Guest Houses
Chestnut Hill, MA

"Mulder, it's December 23rd. There is absolutely no way we're going to get rooms here." Scully insisted.

"Oh ye of little faith. I got the plane tickets, didn't I? And I can do this too." He'd just raised his hand to knock again when the door opened suddenly. The slim brunette who stood there took one look at him then threw herself into his arms.

"Fox Mulder, I was beginning to think you weren't coming!"

Scully's jaw dropped. Who the Hell was this woman to be greeting Mulder with such familiarity? And the fact that Mulder was returning the gesture with enthusiasm hadn't escaped her notice either.

"Oh, I'm sorry." The woman said, letting go of Mulder to grasp Scully's hand in between her two mittened-ones and shake it vigorously. "You must be Dana Scully. I've heard so much about you."

"Oh?" Scully asked, throwing a curious glance towards Mulder. "I'm afraid I can't say the...."

The woman cut her off. "Now why doesn't that surprise me? Of course Mulder and I were just friends twenty-five or so years ago, whereas from what I hear, you and Mulder are...."

Mulder abruptly elbowed her in the side before she could say anymore. "Thank you Sarah, that'll do for now. Do you suppose we could come inside?"

"My goodness, I didn't mean to be chattering on for so long. You're probably both freezing out there, and hungry too, I wouldn't be surprised."

Scully shook the melting snowflakes from her hair as they followed =Sarah= inside. Who was this woman? And didn't she ever shut up?

As if to prove Scully's theory correct, Sarah was at it again as soon as the door closed behind them. "I never properly introduced myself, did I?" She said to Scully. "I'm Sarah Chapman. Mulder and I went to school together on the Vineyard."

Chapman, Scully thought to herself as Mulder hung his trenchcoat on a hook near the door. Where have I heard that name recently? Suddenly it came to her.

"Chapman, as in =Dr.= Chapman, the psychiatrist assigned to the case we're here to investigate?" She whispered to Mulder as Sarah led them down the hall. "How come you didn't tell me back in D.C. that you knew her?"

"It didn't come up." He rationalized quickly. "Now since I happen to know that Sarah's Mom makes the best gingerbread cookies for miles around, I suggest we move our asses into the kitchen."

The gingerbread cookies were amazing, Scully had to admit a few minutes later. She was just starting on her second, savoring the firm consistency and spicy taste that certainly outranked any store-bought product. Mulder had wolfed down four as though they were going out of style and was currently sitting next to the fire, engaged in an apparently intimate conversation with Sarah.

Scully bit her lip and let the half-eaten piece of gingerbread drop back onto the plate. Suddenly it didn't taste quite so good.

"If you're not busy, Dana, could you give me a hand at peeling these potatoes?" Mrs. Chapman asked, perceptively noting the direction of Scully's gaze. "Dinner for so many guests always takes quite a bit of preparation."

"Sure." Scully picked up the spare potato peeler, glad to have her mind taken off the whispers and quiet laughter coming from the corner of the room. "It must be difficult always having so many people to look after, especially at Christmas." She said, politely making conversation.

"Well, there are good days and bad days, like any other job I suppose. It was a lot less work when my husband was alive, of course." Mrs. Chapman revealed, deftly paring the potatoes at a rapid speed. "But some of our guests come back year after year, and they start to feel like family themselves. After all, Christmas is a time for family, isn't it?"

Scully smiled tightly and Mrs. Chapman instantly felt remorseful. "I'm sorry, Dana, I wasn't thinking. You'd probably much rather be spending Christmas with your family than here with us."

"No, that's alright." Scully reassured her, head bent steadfastly over the bowl of potatoes so that her expression wasn't visible. "My Mom's flown over to San Diego to be with my older brother and his family. But Bill and I don't get along that well, so...." Scully paused. Usually not a confiding soul, for some reason she felt entirely comfortable sharing all this with Mrs. Chapman. "Well, anyway, I didn't have definite plans for this year."

"Hmmm," said Mrs. Chapman, placing the last peeled potato back in the bowl, "now that's something I'd more likely expect to be hearing from Fox."

"What's that, Lucy?" Mulder asked, getting up from his seat at the fireplace. "You girls aren't gossiping about me, are you?" He shot them a look of calculated mischief which Scully pointedly ignored and Mrs. Chapman reacted to by laughingly tossing him a dishcloth and an injunction to dry the dishes and keep his nose out of trouble.

Again Scully wondered exactly how close Mulder was to these people. Teasing and laughter seemed staples of this household, and she'd never have guessed that her partner would respond so well to that kind of atmosphere. A heavy knock at the door cut short her thoughts.

"That must be Jeff!" Sarah called, rushing out of the kitchen to get the door.

"So, Mulder, Dana, since you're spending Christmas here, will you be coming to the town Christmas party? It's quite the Chestnut Hill social event of the year, as Mulder is well aware." Mrs. Chapman said.

"Oh, we were actually hoping to get the case wrapped up this afternoon and head back to D.C. in the morning." Mulder explained. "So I don't think...."

"You must be joking." Mrs. Chapman told them, getting up to see what was taking Sarah so long in answering the door. "Haven't you been listening to the weather reports?"

Their disconcerted expressions indicated a negative response to her question.

"We're expecting a regular nor'easter," she explained, "six or more inches of snow overnight and probably more in the morning. I doubt you'll be able to fly out of Logan tomorrow. But don't worry," Mrs. Chapman assured them, noting their concern, "there are rooms here for the two of you as long as you need them."

"Damn." Mulder gave Scully an apologetic look. "I'm really sorry. I'd forgotten how severe the winter storms can be up here. Do you need to call your Mom and tell her you won't be able to make it?"

"Um, no, that's alright. I called before we left to let her know where I'd be." Noting a fleeting expression of surprise on Mrs. Chapman's face at this exchange, Scully was relieved that Mulder faced away from the other woman.

"Okay then, that's..." Whatever else Mulder was going to say was lost as Sarah returned, entering the room in mid- sentence.

"....and so I told him it was dangerous and that no one ever went tobogganing on that hill because it was way too steep, but Mulder didn't listen of course."

"Oh please, no embarrassing stories about my childhood." Mulder appealed, stepping towards Sarah to shut her up. But Scully grasped his hands and pulled him down onto the chair next to her.

"Quiet, Mulder, I want to hear this." She tried to pull her hands out of his once they were sitting down, but Mulder wouldn't let go, so she relaxed after a moment and left them where they were.

Sarah grinned. "So he hauled that toboggan all the way to the top, then shot down the hill as if he'd been fired out of a cannon." She related to her rapt audience. "Everything was going fine until he got about half way down, the toboggan hit a rock, and Mulder got tossed out. But with that much momentum, he didn't stop, instead rolling all the way to the bottom of the hill where he ended up covered in snow from head to foot."

Scully laughed along with the others at this image of her partner as a living snowman and Mulder threatened to retaliate with stories of Sarah's 'misspent' youth.

"You know I think we still have a toboggan somewhere around, Mulder, if you feel the need to recreate the event." Mrs. Chapman offered.

"Whaddya think Scully? You trust me enough to share a toboggan?" Mulder asked.

"What happened to the case we're supposed to be investigating?" Scully reminded him.

"Oh, that's right." Sarah pushed the most recent arrival to the center of the room. "Fox Mulder, Dana Scully, this is Jeff Fraser. He's from the Bureau in Boston."

Mulder reluctantly let go of Scully's hands to stand and greet their fellow Agent.

"Sorry I wasn't here earlier." Jeff said. "When I woke up this morning, my car was buried under a whole heap of snow and it took me the best part of an hour to shovel it out."

"Don't worry about it." Mulder said. "We made it here just fine and Mrs. Chapman's been regaling us with gingerbread cookies ever since."

"Any left for me, Mrs. Chapman?" Jeff asked, hopefully.

"Of course." She said, pushing one into each hand as he grinned.

"So are you ready to go?" He asked his fellow agents. To Sarah: "I can give you a ride if you like, so you don't have to bring your car out."

"And leave Mulder to get himself thoroughly lost?" Sarah smirked. "Not likely. But why doesn't Dana ride with you? That way we can meet up at the local PD."

"Sure." Jeff agreed, smothering his disappointment at Sarah's refusal. "This way Agent Scully."

"So?" Sarah asked expectantly.

"So what?" Mulder returned, taking his eyes off the road for a second to glance at her.

"So spill the beans about your partner."

"What do you want to know?" He asked, suddenly avoiding his old friend's penetrating gaze. "Scully is......" God, how do I even begin to describe her? "Well, she's.... Scully."

"Oh come on, Mulder, don't be obtuse. You know damned well that every one of the much-too-infrequent letters you write us is filled with 'Scully said this', 'Scully did that'. I'm not stupid, you know. Or blind." She added.


"Then it's usual for FBI partners to hold hands is it?" Sarah asked innocently. "I wonder if Jeff knows about that regulation."

"Sarah, you wouldn't......"

"Wouldn't I?" Mulder regarded her steadily. "Okay, maybe I wouldn't." She admitted. "But I still want to hear what's going on with you two."

"Well what do you want me to say?" Mulder asked, frustrated with Sarah's persistence. "That I'm madly in love with Dana Scully but desperately afraid to tell her in case: a) it ruins our friendship, b) she doesn't feel the same way, c) the Bureau splits us up and I lose the best partner I could ever imagine having, d) well I haven't thought of a d) yet, but I'm sure there is one, along with an e), an f), a g) ....are you getting the picture yet?"

"I think telling her that would be a good start." Sarah said, grinning. For an FBI Agent, Mulder sure wasn't much good at keeping secrets. "And I even have the perfect place for you: the town Christmas party that Mom reminded you about. Ply her with champagne, hold her close as you dance, then whisk her under the mistletoe....so whaddya think?"

"I think you should mind your own business, that's what." Mulder replied. "Subtle you are not, Sarah Chapman, and the last thing I want is to have Scully's Christmas spoiled by your matchmaking games."

"You worry too much." Sarah told him, shaking her head ruefully. Does he ever! "I can be subtle when I feel like it. I swear she won't notice a thing." And you're not going to notice that I have my fingers crossed behind my back, are you?

"She'd better not." Mulder insisted as they pulled up at the police station, Jeff and Scully right behind them.

"Scout's Honor." Sarah said, saluting primly.

"If you'd ever tried to join the Girl Scouts, you would have been expelled." Mulder teased.

"Shows what you know!" Sarah countered. "No one gets expelled from the Girl Scouts."

"Well for you I'm sure they would have made an exception."

1:45 p.m. December 23
Police Station
Chestnut Hill, MA

"The truth is, I don't know what to believe." Sarah declared. "I've interviewed him once, twice, a third time and he still sticks to his story. I can't even catch him out with minor inconsistencies."

"And his excuse for trespassing at the Evans residence on December 21st was....?" Scully asked, as she skimmed through the file.

"That he was delivering a gift. A Beanie Baby, to be exact." Jeff clarified, laying the fur toy on the table.

Mulder smothered a smile. "Starting early this year to avoid the Christmas rush, was he?" He suggested.

Not quite sure whether or not Mulder was joking, Jeff looked to Scully for help.

"Did he have any explanation for why Amy O'Brien's letter was in his pocket? Or about James O'Brien's mysterious re-appearance?" Scully asked.

"Just that Amy had sent the letter to him, and that he gave her what she wanted." Jeff explained.

"So he admitted that he'd rescued James." Mulder asked.

"But he couldn't explain either how he knew where to find James, or how he got him out of there." Sarah pointed out.

"Couldn't or wouldn't?"

"Remember," Mulder said, addressing his partner, "James did tell us they =flew= out of wherever they were."

"Mulder, you're not really suggesting something supernatural here..." Scully's voice trailed off. The trouble with her partner being that it was quite possible, nay probable, that the involvement of supernatural elements was exactly the theory he was propounding.

"I'm not sure what to believe yet." Mulder said, his words offering Scully a little reassurance. "But I would like to interrogate =him= for myself."

"Sure." Sarah agreed. "I don't mind you taking a crack at him. But I wouldn't hold your breath if I were you. Either this guy has somehow managed to convince himself that he's Santa Claus, or maybe he...." She cut herself off, aware how what she was about to say would sound, but then took a deep breath and continued anyway, "or maybe he really is Santa Claus."

Scully groaned inwardly at Sarah's last statement. This whole case was becoming even more ridiculous than she'd first imagined and the last thing Mulder needed was more encouragement. Likening Christmas Spirit to a drug, she thought to herself that Mulder and Sarah had been seriously OD'ing.

Interrogation Room
Local Police Dept.
Chestnut Hill, MA

"Am I being accused of something?" The man asked before Mulder and Scully could even sit down.

"No, we're just making some further inquiries," Scully assured him, "Mr. uh..."

"Mr. Claus, or just Santa is fine. Or even Nick if that makes you more comfortable." He offered.

"Nick?" Scully jumped at the sudden possibility of normality.

"As in Saint Nick, Saint Nicholas, you know?" He said. "That's how I ended up with the name Santa Claus. You say Saint Nicholas over and over twenty times and see what happens."

Mulder had actually opened his mouth and was on the verge of trying it out until Scully's warning look changed his mind.

"Mr. 'Claus'," Scully began, slightly uncomfortable at playing into the man's delusions. "Could you tell us what you're doing in Chestnut Hill?"

"Well it certainly wasn't a pleasure trip." Santa Claus explained. "Not even a planned stop, for that matter. But the fact is, I had to put down in the pine forest on the east of town because I was having sleigh trouble."

"Excuse me?" Scully interrupted him. Did he really just say what I thought he said? "Sleigh trouble?"

"Unfortunately, yes. Mrs. Claus has been on at me to replace it for years, maybe even with a motorized model, but I can't quite bring myself to let the reindeer go." Santa Claus said. "But I miscalculated the landing angle slightly, and ended up with quite a bump on the head. When I came to, the sleigh and the reindeer were gone, and all I had with me was Amy O'Brien's letter and the Beanie Baby for little Cassie Evans."

"Yes, the letter." Scully said, focusing on the one aspect that she could be sure wasn't the product of an eggnog- induced delusion. Of course, that would be assuming she'd actually consumed any of Mrs. O'Brien's eggnog. Which in fact, she hadn't. "Can you explain how you got hold of it, and how you were able to return James O'Brien to his home?"

"Come now, Dana, you can't expect me to give away all my secrets." Santa Claus responded mysteriously.

Scully rubbed her eyes wearily, more than willing to let Mulder take over for the time being. Flukeman and liver eating mutants she could handle; with Santa Claus she was slightly out of her league.

"Mr. Claus....Nick," Mulder said amicably, "if Chestnut Hill wasn't, as you put it 'a planned stop', how is it that you just happened to have Amy O'Brien's letter in your pocket."

"It'd just come in with the early morning mail." Santa Claus replied, not at all flustered by Mulder's question. "I picked up the doll for Cassie Evans and planned to have one of the elves take care of both jobs in one go, but then I got caught up in taking the sleigh out for a dry run before the Big Day. Didn't even realize I had them both with me until I awoke in the pine forest. But since I was in the area, and temporarily without return transport, I decided to take care of the deliveries myself."

"So what went wrong?" Mulder asked him. "You must have been down how many chimneys?, and suddenly you get caught?"

Scully rolled her eyes. Come on, Mulder, you aren't really buying this, are you?

"Burglar alarms." Santa Claus said succinctly. "I was just looking for a good hiding place for the doll when I activated one of those motion detectors. Infra red beams or whatever they are - Mrs. Claus would probably know - she's the one who's interested in new technology, the Internet and all that kind of thing. Even wants me to computerize my 'naughty and nice' list, would you believe?"

"Mr. Claus, do you have any kind of proof for your allegations?" Scully was cold and tired and wasn't in the mood to indulge someone who with every passing minute was sounding more and more like an escaped mental patient. "I mean, the sleigh, reindeer, =elves=. All a bit farfetched." Understatement of the decade.

"Oh, Dana, Dana, always with the hard evidence." Santa Claus rebuked her laughingly. "Did you know, Mulder, when she was seven years old she wrote me a letter declaring that she wasn't going to believe in me any longer unless I supplied actual proof of my existence."

Scully's eyes widened. How the Hell had he known about that? She hadn't shown that letter to anyone and had forgotten all about it until just now.

"And you, Fox Mulder," Santa Claus continued, "you'd stopped believing in me by the time you'd turned nine, but that didn't stop you wishing every night for that telescope you wanted even after your Dad had said it was too expensive. Remember how your parents were just as surprised as you were when it turned up under the tree on Christmas Day?"

Now it was Mulder's turn to stare openmouthed at Santa Claus. He did remember the Christmas the man had spoken of, and his parents' reactions were exactly as described. At the time he'd thought they just were pretending, but now....?

He looked closely at the man calling himself Santa Claus. Up until this point, he'd simply been humoring him, amused by Scully's reactions to the story they were being fed and wondering how long it would go on for. But this? This was downright....spooky.

"Any further questions?" Santa asked obligingly.

Scully shook her head silently. This was impossible. It simply couldn't be real. Santa Claus was a myth, a legend - a story told to amuse children. But that still didn't explain how on earth he'd known about the letter.

"Oh there you are. Jeff and I were about to head back. Did you have any luck?" Sarah asked hopefully.

"Well he fed us a line about reindeer and sleigh trouble, if that's what you mean." Scully revealed. Boy did he ever - elves and all! But now that she was out of the room, she could almost convince herself that Santa Claus and his story had been a dream. Until Mulder came up behind her and interrupted that is.

"What about the other thing," he cut in excitedly, "you know, with the letters. Did you really write a letter to Santa telling him to prove he was real, or else?"

"So it was a lucky guess." Scully rationalized.

"And the telescope?" Mulder prompted. "Was that a lucky guess too?"

"Probably." Scully said, dismissively. The alternative just didn't bear thinking about. "I'm sure plenty of kids receive telescopes as Christmas presents. Or maybe someone tipped him off." She theorized.

Sarah smiled at their rapid-fire discussion, and judging that her presence wasn't required any further, followed Jeff out to his car.

"Yeah, or maybe..." Mulder stopped in mid-sentence, distracted by a loud exclamation from the other side of the police station.

"It was wearing a what?!" One of the local cops demanded in disbelief. He listened for a few more seconds then slammed the phone down. "Damned drunks." He was heard to mutter under his breath.

"What was that about?" Mulder asked, crossing the station floor.

"Huh?" The cop asked, looking up from a form he was filling out. "Oh, nothing to worry about. Just someone who'd been indulging rather too heavily and decided they were seeing things. Happens all the time."

"Seeing things? Like what?" Mulder persisted.

"Reindeer, would you believe?" The cop asked rhetorically, not even looking up from his paperwork this time. "In the middle of Main Street, and wearing leather bridles hung with silver bells. Now I've seen some strange things in my time, but if this story were for real, it would definitely take the cake."

"Yeah well, we're heading back that way; you don't mind if we stop and check it out, do you?" Mulder asked. The local PD had been nothing but co-operative for a change, and he didn't want to ruin the rapport they'd developed by a skirmish over jurisdiction.

The cop shook his head, but eyed Mulder strangely. "If you wanna waste your time, far be it from me to rain on your parade. But I'm telling you, this is just some whacko who's consumed way more than his daily allowance of eggnog."

"Come on, Scully." Mulder called over his shoulder to his partner. "I think we might just have ourselves a lead."

"Where are we going?" Scully asked, having to jog to keep up with Mulder's rapid walk.

"Main street."

She came to a sudden halt. "Uh, Mulder, Main Street's in the other direction."

"I knew that." He said, making a graceful turn and heading back the way they'd come from.

Sure you did, partner.

Mulder stopped suddenly when he reached the corner, and Scully almost crashed into his back.

"Mulder, why did you...?" She began, then gaped as she stared at Main Street.

When they'd driven along it half an hour ago, Main Street had been calm and quiet, traffic flowing smoothly and Christmas lights blinking on the sidewalks. Now the place was a mess. Horns blared and drivers leaned out of their windows and abused each other angrily. Evidence that several collisions had already taken place was visible in the dented fender on one car and the crumpled hood and smashed headlights of another. And in the midst of this chaos were the promised reindeer, plunging in panic from one side of the street to the other in an attempt to escape the pandemonium they'd unwittingly caused.

Before Mulder and Scully could even begin to decide what to do, a large truck of the kind generally used to haul cattle drove up behind them; three men hopping out of the front.

"Alright guys, round 'em up." Two of the men moved towards the reindeer, menacingly brandishing the whips they held, and the third stepped towards Mulder and Scully.

"Are you responsible for these animals, sir?" Scully demanded. The man removed his cap and Scully exclaimed in surprise as she recognized the man from the airplane. "Mr. Shaw? Are these your reindeer?"

Shaw nodded. "What a lovely surprise. I didn't expect to see you here, Dana. And you too," he said, acknowledging her partner, "Agent Muldrake, isn't it?"

"Mulder." He corrected, giving the man his most insincere smile and stepping even closer to Scully so that their elbows were almost touching.

"Right. Anyway, I'm real sorry about the trouble I'm causing with these deer of mine. They're part of a circus act, you see." Shaw explained. "Can't imagine how they got loose, but the boys'll have them rounded back up in no time and we'll cover any damage they've caused of course."

Mulder looked over to where the men were herding the reindeer into the truck and winced as the whips came down hard on the deer's backs. He glanced back at Shaw to discover that he was also watching the loading of the truck, but his sharp blue eyes were as cold as the snow beneath their feet and expressed no compassion for the animals.

"I think that about does it." Shaw said with satisfaction as the last of the reindeer was driven onto the truck. "I'll be on my way," he told them, replacing his cap. "Sorry to have caused any trouble, Dana, Muldrake." He nodded to each of the Agents then returned to his truck.

"Didn't he say the animals were from a circus?" Mulder asked, still irritated over Shaw's obviously intentional mutilation of his name.

"Yeah, why?"

Mulder gestured towards the side of the truck as it pulled away.

"Quartech Consolidated and Associates" it read.

"'Cause I've never heard of a circus with a name like that."

Scully raised her face heavenwards and blinked as a fat snowflake landed in her eye. "Alright Mulder, we'll check them out. But not tonight," she continued before he could interrupt. "It's late, and I'm cold, wet and tired. Personally I vote we head back to the Chapman's guest houses and hope to Hell Mrs. Chapman kept some dinner warm for us."

3 a.m. December 24, 1999
Hill View Guest Houses
Chestnut Hill, MA

A door slammed, waking Scully from a deep and dreamless sleep. In a fluid movement acquired through years of practice, she reached for her gun and sat up in bed, listening carefully for the noise that had disturbed her. She waited for a few moments, and when no further sounds followed, leaned over to replace her gun on the bedside table. A high-pitched feminine giggle startled her, and she cursed under her breath as the gun slipped out of her hand to the floor. Wrapping the blanket around herself to ward off the chill, she retrieved her gun and pondered whether or not she should go see what was going on. Not that a giggle by itself was anything unusual, but it was the middle of the night after all, and if there was something wrong, Mulder was in the room next door and would be available as back- up.

A series of low moans, more giggling and then a loud creaking of bedsprings invaded her tired brain and Scully caught on to what was happening. Returning to her bed she felt relieved that she hadn't walked into an embarrassing situation by deciding to investigate further.

With the blankets pulled up to her chin, and on the verge of reclaiming sleep despite the noise of the activities next door, a sudden thought startled Scully awake once more and again she came to a rapid sitting position.

Wait a minute, Mulder was in the room next door? Her lips thinned and she frowned angrily. That jerk! Old school friends, my ass! And to think she'd actually bought that story. Dammit Mulder! What happened to professionalism? You're supposed to be working with her, not....not whatever it is you're doing now. Refusing to analyze why the thought of Mulder and Sarah together bothered her so much, beyond the 'lack of professionalism' it displayed, Scully lay back down and covered her head with the pillow to block out the muffled sighs and groans coming through the walls.

Well this was just turning out to be a great Christmas, wasn't it? Lost luggage, a delusional lunatic who thinks he's Santa Claus, runaway reindeer wreaking havoc, and now =this=. What next?

9:30 a.m. December 24, 1999
Hill View Guest Houses
Chestnut Hill, MA

Scully rolled over in bed and opened her eyes to find weak wintry sunlight streaming in through the window. It was Christmas Eve, she remembered suddenly, smiling. When she was little, Christmas Eve had been one of her favorite days of the year, even more so than Christmas Day itself. Once Christmas Day had actually begun, you knew you had to wait a whole year for the next one. But on Christmas Eve, there was always the unmistakable sense of anticipation. The tree would be brilliantly decorated with tinsel and shiny bells, all ready for the presents to be placed around its base that night. Her Mom would be in the kitchen cooking up all sorts of good things to eat, and in the evening her Dad would sit down in his armchair and read the Christmas Story aloud. Letting her eyelids droop halfway down over her eyes, Scully imagined she could see it again. She and Missy would be perched in their father's lap, with Bill on the floor at his feet, and little Charlie curled up in their mother's arms, nodding drowsily but determined to stay awake to hear the end of the tale.

A crash from the room next door brought her daydream to a sudden end and she stood and stretched, looking down at the pajamas she'd borrowed from Sarah last night. Sarah. Sarah who'd insisted she and Mulder were just old school friends and then had spent last night wrapped in his arms while Scully froze all alone in her cold bed. =This= was not how she wanted to spend Christmas. This morning she'd investigate the name on that truck if Mulder insisted, but after that she was going back to D.C. even if she had to drive all the way. And she'd probably be traveling by herself, if last night was any indication. But there was no way in Hell she was going to hang around and watch Mulder and Sarah fall all over each other at this famed Christmas party Mrs. Chapman kept going on about. No damned way!

Having come to this decision, Scully climbed out of bed and marched to the doorway of Mulder's room. Her knock was answered by a flushed and grinning Sarah, her hair in wild disarray from the long t-shirt she'd evidently just pulled on.

An unexpectedly strong surge of jealousy produced a bone-deep ache in Scully's chest, and she could hardly get any words out around the painfully large lump in her throat. Not fair, cried a little voice in her heart, I should be the one flushed and happily rumpled after a night spent in Mulder's bed. He's =my= partner, dammit!

"Dana, is there something I can do for you?" Sarah prompted.

Scully lifted her chin and squared her shoulders. She was determined not to give Sarah the satisfaction of knowing she was painfully jealous.

"I'd like to speak to Mulder please." She said, with as much self-possession as she could summon up under the circumstances.

Sarah looked at her with confusion. "Well, did you try his room?" She suggested.

"That's what I am doing." Scully said. For God's sake, Sarah, we both know you've won. Do you really have to drag it out like this?

"Uh, no, actually this is my room."

Scully shrugged with a creditable imitation of nonchalance. "Whatever. Can I see him now?"

When several seconds has passed without Sarah having made a move, Scully grew fed up and pushed the door wide open for herself. Stalking into the room she regarded the dark-haired form in the bed with unwavering displeasure as she prepared to do some serious venting of her spleen. "Mulder, how could you?" was as far as she got in her angry declaration before the man in the bed turned to face her. Scully's eyes widened in shock as she realized that despite his short brown hair, this man was certainly not Mulder. In the bed, Jeff Fraser blushed a fiery red.

"Agent Scully," he said, trying to regain his professional composure, not an easy task considering that he was presently in a horizontal position, not to mention buck naked under the bedsheets. "Good morning."

"I, uh, good morning Agent Fraser." Scully managed to say. "I was, um, just looking for Agent Mulder."

"Oh." Jeff wasn't quite sure what response was expected of him. "Did you want me to help you find him?"

"No, no, that won't be necessary." Scully insisted quickly, stepping hurriedly backwards out of the room. Sarah still stood in the doorway, turning red in the face as she tried to restrain her giggles, and as the door shut behind her, Scully heard an explosion of laughter.

"God, how could I be so stupid?" Scully berated herself aloud as she turned to go back to her room.

She promptly found herself pressed flush up against her partner's hard body as he looked down at her with amusement. "Talking to yourself again, are you Scully? So what have you done that's so stupid?"

"Mulder," she gasped, stepping away from him quickly. This was not what she needed after her most recent train of thought. "What are you doing here?"

He gave her a weird look. "It's a hallway, Scully. I was just walking along it, and suddenly, there you were." Examining her more closely, he reached out a hand towards her face. "Are you feeling okay? You look kind of red."

Scully almost jumped when his fingers made contact with her face and could have sworn she heard as well as felt the sizzle of electricity that followed. "I'm f-fine." She stammered, taking another step away from him. "I'm just going to, uh, get dressed, then I'll join you downstairs." She backed into her bedroom, Mulder watching her go with a look equal parts concern and amusement. This hesitation and uncertainty was not usual Scully behavior and he wondered just what was going on.

Continuing past her doorway he came to Sarah's room and knocked on the door. "Sarah, are you...."

"NOT now, Mulder!"

He lowered his fist from the door in confusion. For some reason everyone was acting very strange this morning, and Mulder felt rather like the one who'd been left out of the joke.

Scully pushed open the kitchen door, her eyes on the fax sheets in her hand. "Mulder, I called the Gunmen last night and it turns out that Quartech has property in the area."

Mrs. Chapman looked up from where she was reading a newspaper at the table. "What was that Dana?"

"Oh, never mind, I thought you were Mulder."

Mrs. Chapman chuckled. "No, sorry to disappoint you. I think he stepped outside to scrape the snow off your rental car. Can I get you some breakfast?"

"Coffee would be wonderful."

"Oh I almost forgot." Mrs. Chapman said, pouring Scully's drink. "A woman from the airline called this morning and said they'd found your suitcase. They're sending someone over with it later this morning."

"That's great." Scully said, relieved that she wouldn't have to wear the same suit for the remainder of their stay.

"Dana," Mrs. Chapman said, breaking the silence a couple of minutes later. "Sarah always tells me I'm a terrible busybody, but the thing is, I was wondering why you let Mulder believe you were spending Christmas with your family, when that obviously wasn't your plan."

Scully took another sip of her hot coffee, trying to decide how to respond to that.

"The reason I ask," Mrs. Chapman continued, "is because I've noticed that while at some times the two of you seem so close, at others, well you act almost like the barest of acquaintances."

Scully sighed. "It's complicated." She said. "I know that probably sounds foolish, because really, what relationship isn't?, but ours is even more so than most."

"In what way?"

"Because we didn't choose to be together." Scully clarified, thoughtfully tracing the whorls and knots in the wooden table. "I didn't bump into him in the street and think, 'he looks like a nice guy'; Mulder never struck up a conversation with me in some bar and said to himself, 'oh, she seems like someone I could be friends with'. The Bureau paired us up, and so that professional partnership has to be a defining element of the relationship."

"But that isn't the be-all-and-end-all of it, is it? I imagine law enforcement is a stressful career."

You have no idea, Scully thought ironically.

"But the two of you have stayed together. Even though surely there must have been times when you contemplated throwing it in?" Mrs. Chapman probed gently.

"Of course." Scully agreed, letting her coffee go cold as she considered Mrs. Chapman's questions. "We've been split up and shut down too many times to count, but something has always brought us back together."

"And I'll wager you've been through some difficult cases. Mulder doesn't say that much about them in his occasional letters, but from what I've gathered by reading between the lines, the work you do isn't exactly a cakewalk."

"No, you're right. It's not often easy. There've been times when....well, I don't really want to talk about that now." Scully smiled reassuringly at Mrs. Chapman. I could tell her stories that'd put her off her food for life. "But somehow we always make it through. Something gets us there. But I'm not really sure what that is."

"Aren't you?" Mrs. Chapman asked, her brown eyes twinkling with hidden amusement. "Because I know exactly what it is."

"You do?" Scully asked curiously.

Mrs. Chapman nodded sagely. "Love." She pronounced.

Scully smiled and shook her head. She should have known what Mrs. Chapman was leading up to, having had an almost identical conversation with her own mother several times. "No." She insisted. "It's not like that with us. Mulder and I, we're partners and friends. Best friends even, but that's all there is."

Deny it all you want, Dana, that's not going to make it go away. "I may be getting on in years a bit," She told Scully. "But I'm not blind or senile yet. Mulder's in love with you, and unless I miss my guess, you feel exactly the same way."

Mulder re-entered the kitchen at that moment, preventing Scully from making any further denials.

"Ready to roll, Scully?" He asked, oblivious to the underlying tension in the room.

"Just a minute." She said, gulping down the rest of her lukewarm coffee. "I had the Gunmen track down that company from last night, with the reindeer - Quartech Consolidated - and it turns out they own a considerable plot of land just a few miles out of town. Might be worth checking out, don't you think?" She suggested, handing him the streetmap.

"So your pal from the airplane's fallen off his pedestal, has he?" Mulder asked as Scully pulled on the boots she'd borrowed from Sarah.

"He was never my 'pal' as you put it, Mulder. I was just being friendly."

"Well from where I was standing it looked like you were being very friendly." Mulder pointed out.

"Oh really?" Scully smirked. "Were you jealous?"

"Not at all." Mulder answered quickly, reaching for the plate of hot from the oven muffins. "I was just making an observation."

Mrs. Chapman smiled ruefully and shook her head as she watched the two Agents leave. How was it possible that they were completely unaware of what was so obvious to everyone else? Something would have to be done.

11 a.m. December 24
Interrogation Room
Local Police Dept.
Chestnut Hill, MA

"I still don't see what the point of this is." Scully grumbled as they waited for 'Santa Claus' to be brought in. "Didn't you hear everything you wanted yesterday? 'Cause I certainly caught enough to know that this guy is Crazy, with a capital 'C'."

"Ah, but there've been further developments since we spoke to him yesterday." Mulder pointed out.

"Developments?" Scully queried incredulously. "Mulder, what we have so far barely covers the definition of a case at all. And there certainly haven't been any developments as far as I can see."

"Well maybe you weren't looking at it in the right way. But the....phenomenon was fairly obvious to me."

"Phenomenon?" Scully wracked her brains, completely at a loss as to what they could have witnessed that he'd define as a phenomenon. Suddenly she realized what he was on about. "The reindeer, Mulder?"

He nodded his head.

"You're telling me that a few circus animals meet your requirements for an unnatural phenomenon?"

He nodded again.

Scully leaned back in her chair, closing her eyes and shaking her head slowly from side to side. Whether this movement was supposed to indicate her disagreement, or rather her conviction that her partner had finally lost it, was not entirely clear.

She opened her eyes a few seconds later to find Mulder peering hopefully at her. "I'm going to play along with this." She decided aloud. "I have no idea what you're trying to achieve, but," and she paused to look at her watch, "I'm giving you thirty minutes. No more. Then we're out of here. Is it a deal."

Mulder agreed, and then got up to open the door. Mr. Claus entered, took one look at the Agents, and declared, "You've found my reindeer, haven't you? This is wonderful!"

Scully sighed and resisted the temptation to lay her head down on the table. This was shaping up to be the longest thirty minutes of her life.

11:31 a.m.

"Thank you, Mr. Claus, again we appreciate your co- operation." Mulder told him, shaking the man's hand. "Coming, Scully?" He asked rhetorically as he headed for the door.

"In a minute."

Mulder shrugged and shut the door behind him. Now what's gotten into her? One minute she wants to leave straight away, the next she's staying behind. Women! How are you ever supposed to understand 'em?

"Mr. Claus, that was quite a tale you spun for my partner just then." Scully commented nonchalantly.

Santa Claus raised one bushy gray eyebrow. "Was it?"

"But," Scully continued, preparing to go in for the kill, "I think we both know it's nothing but a bunch of old fairytales and nonsense."

"Is it now?" Santa asked, quietly and half to himself.

"Yes. Yes it is." She got up from the table and pushed her chair in. Since he obviously wasn't going to see reason, she was damned if she'd waste any more of her time. Especially on Christmas Eve.

Just before she reached the door, he made one more remark. "Okay then Dana."

She turned back to him, waiting for him to continue.

"Tell me one thing. What would it take to make you believe?"

"For me to believe that you're Santa Claus?" She clarified, inwardly rolling her eyes.

He nodded, regarding her seriously.

Scully gave a small, self-deprecating smile, and after thinking for a few seconds replied: "Give me what I want most for Christmas wrapped up with a red ribbon and a bow." She turned and left the room without looking back, and in doing so, missed the amused expression on Santa Claus' face.

"If that's what it takes, Dana Scully, then that's what it takes." He whispered.

"Scully, have you got the local streetmap." Mulder asked, shuffling through the papers in the folder he held.

She frowned, checking her bag. "No, I thought you had it."

"I did, but now I can't find it. I definitely had it in my hand just before we left this morning." Mulder recalled. "Then I put it down for just a second so I could pick up a couple of those cranberry muffins Mrs. Chapman had just baked to eat on the way, and..."

"...forgot to pick the map up again." Scully surmised.

"Oh. Yeah." Mulder looked crestfallen, and Scully laughed at him.

"Relax, Mulder. It's just a map. And besides, the Chapman's place is on the way."

Mulder looked at her, surprised. "What's got into you, Scully? Not that I mind," he qualified, "but an hour ago you were snappy because I wanted to do that interrogation, whereas now you're positively exuberant, and telling =me= to relax."

Scully shrugged. "Guess my Christmas spirit must have got lost along with my suitcase until now. Go with it, Mulder." She smiled at him. What am I supposed to say? I'm glad that this case-that-was-never-really-a-case-in-the-first-place is almost over. I'm rejoicing that my suspicions about you and Sarah were proved wrong. And Mulder, right now I'm looking forward to laughing and dancing and flirting with you at this Christmas Party in a few hours? No, some things were better left unsaid.

"Whatever you say, Scully." Mulder replied. And as if sensing the existence of her unspoken thoughts, although not necessarily their content, he said to himself, 'And whatever you don't.'

12:10 p.m.
Hill View Guest Houses
Chestnut Hill, MA

"Oh, you're back already!" Sarah exclaimed as she opened the door.

"What's got you in such a good mood?" Mulder asked, turning to look strangely at his partner who was suddenly choking on thin air.

"Mulder forgot the map." Scully explained, as soon as she was able.

"It's probably in the kitchen, but we could check my room as well if Dana wants." Sarah said mischievously, grinning like mad as Scully turned several shades of red.

Not knowing what on earth they were talking about, Mulder took a step backwards in the direction of the kitchen and promptly tripped over Scully's suitcase.

"Mulder, are you okay?"

"I'll live." He told Scully, taking her proffered hand and resisting the childish urge to tug on it so she'd end up on the floor, or in his lap. His lap. Hmm, maybe the urge wasn't quite so childish after all.

"Sorry 'bout that, Mulder." Sarah pushed the suitcase out of harm's way. "It was just delivered a couple of minutes ago and I haven't had time to put it away yet. Speaking of which," she continued, without even pausing to take a breath, "there's something else that was delivered for you two. I think Mom put them in the kitchen."

"What?" Mulder asked.

"Presents, by the look of them." Sarah said. She glanced back at Mulder as she entered the kitchen, "I didn't even know you told anyone you were staying here."

"I didn't." He confirmed. "Unless Scully..."

"Don't look at me. I only found out we were going to be here yesterday." She reminded him.

"That's strange. Oh well, here they are anyway." Sarah indicated two large, shallow boxes, brightly wrapped in Christmas paper. "Aren't you gonna see who they're from?" She asked, perching herself on the table and watching avidly.

Scully opened her card first, and Mulder and Sarah looked on as her eyes widened dramatically.

"What does it say?" Mulder asked.

"You first."

He shrugged, and pulled his own card out of its envelope. His eyes flicked over it rapidly, then he lifted his head to meet Scully's gaze. "It says:

Dear Mulder,
I know it's not a telescope, but this gift might just help you to get closer to a certain heavenly body. Trust me, I know you want to believe.
Merry Christmas, from Santa Claus.
P.S. Present to be opened on Christmas Eve."

Scully cleared her throat. "Okay, mine says:

Dear Dana,
I'm giving you what you want most, just like you asked, so maybe I'll make a believer of you yet.
Merry Christmas, from Santa Claus.

P.S. Present to be opened on Christmas Eve."

Once she'd finished reading it, Mulder took the card from her hands to compare the writing on both.

"This is weird, Mulder." Scully said. "He's been in that cell since before we even got here. How could he have done this?"

"No idea." Mulder answered, handing her the cards. "But I'm going to call the station and see if he had any visitors apart from us."

Her partner's loud "What?" a few seconds later distracted Scully from further perusal of the cards.

"He said he was working with us?" Mulder asked the person on the other end of the phone. "You're sure he specifically said 'Agents Mulder and Scully'?"

Mulder frowned as he listened to the disembodied voice. "Describe him." He said suddenly. "Uh huh. Uh huh."

Scully moved to stand right in front of her partner, but his face didn't give away any clues.

"Dammit!" Mulder exclaimed suddenly, hanging up the phone.

"Mulder, what is it?" Scully asked, alarmed.

"Someone masquerading as an FBI Agent, supposedly working with us, turned up to escort Mr. Claus to the state penitentiary." Mulder related. "A blonde man, with blue eyes. Doesn't he just keep turning up like a bad penny. Three guesses who it is, Scully, and the first two don't count."

"Shaw." Scully stated tersely.

"Got it in one."

2 p.m. December 24
Agricultural Property
Chestnut Hill, MA

"Are you sure this is the place?" Scully asked, peering through the fogged-up windscreen at the small sign that leaned drunkenly to one side and read 'Lot 21'. "It looks like it's abandoned."

"Ah, but that's what they want you to think." Mulder climbed out of the car, putting up a borrowed umbrella which offered scant protection from the swirling gusts of snow that surrounded them and made two o'clock in the afternoon look more like the middle of the night. The snow that had seemed picturesque earlier was now more of a hindrance than anything else as they staggered together through the drifts towards the nearest outbuildings.

From the doorway of a small building, Mulder and Scully surveyed the landscape, searching for any sign of a team of reindeer or of Shaw and his goons.

"Over there!" Scully called, having to raise her voice to be heard over the burgeoning blizzard.

Mulder looked in the direction she'd indicated, and marked the light that blinked on and off.

"Let's go." He said, as they ventured out into the snow again. Common sense dictated that Mulder, with his larger bulk, lead the way, and chilled from head to toe, Scully fancifully imagined that just like Good King Wenceslas' page, she too could feel the heat imprinted in the footsteps in which she trod.

Only a few meters from the barn for which they were bound, Mulder and Scully were knocked off their feet by an explosion of heat and light. Landing on their backs in the snow, they automatically looked upwards, and high in the air, through the almost blinding spectrum of light that assaulted their eyes, they saw....something. Something of which even Mulder could never be certain, and Scully later analyzed as a shared hallucination caused by the bumps on the head they'd received as they hit the ground. But for those few seconds, they experienced something magical, and 'Bells, I can hear bells jingling' was Scully's last thought before she passed out.

"Mmm Mulder." Scully snuggled close to her partner's warm body.

"Dana, Dana." Someone was calling to her insistently, but she didn't want to wake up. Pushing her face deeper into the pillow she told the voice to get lost.

"Dana." The voice refused to be told. "Dana, wake up."

Reluctantly opening her eyes, Scully saw a very relieved Sarah looking down at her. "Whaddya want, Sarah?" Scully asked drowsily.

"Time to get up." Sarah insisted. "And could you wake Mulder as well?"

Scully turned her head to the left, and sure enough, there was her partner, still fast asleep and mumbling something that sounded suspiciously like her name over and over again. She also noticed that her arm, as if it had a mind of its own, had wrapped itself around Mulder's waist as they both slept. Snatching it back as though burnt, the movement was enough to wake Mulder who blinked sleepily, noticed Scully next to him in bed, and obviously imagining himself still in the midst of a pleasant dream, rolled over, encircling her in his arms.

Scully gasped at the sensation and Sarah smothered a fit of the giggles, both of these reactions causing Mulder to become fully awake whereupon he hastily withdrew his arms, apologizing profusely until Scully silenced him with a question to Sarah.

"What happened? The last thing I remember is lying in the snow..." Sitting up in bed, she ran a professional eye over herself and Mulder. Both were still clothed and neither displayed any obvious signs of injuries.

"We were rather hoping you could tell us that." Sarah replied. "After an hour passed, and the two of you didn't come back, Jeff and I went looking for you. Fortunately Dana'd left that fax on the kitchen table so we knew exactly where to go. And there you were, passed out in the snow next to the blackened and flattened remains of a barn."

"Flattened?" Scully asked, her tone indicating incredulity.

"Yep," Sarah confirmed. "And in the building next door, we found a guy called Michael Shaw, and two others, tied up tight as can be. Jeff took 'em down to the station and it turns out they each have a rapsheet a mile long and will be spending a not-so-merry Christmas behind bars." "And that's it? You didn't find any animal bodies in the ruins of the barn?" Mulder asked.

"No." Sarah assured them. "Just you two lying in the snow and the others tied up nearby. Oh, and this." She picked an object up off the bedside table and handed it to a curious Scully. The leather was frayed at the edges, but the tiny silver bells attached to it identified it for what it was.

She passed it to Mulder and he turned it over and over in his hands, wondering at how everything but this small remnant had vanished. What had he seen in that blinding flash of light? Maybe he'd never know for sure, but he was certain that it had been something marvelous.

He was brought abruptly out of his imaginings as Scully grabbed hold of his arm, gripping it tightly. "How long were we out?" She asked Sarah, distressed. "Did we....did we miss Christmas."

Sarah chuckled. "No, of course not. It's still Christmas Eve. Five p.m. to be exact." She reassured them, glancing at her watch.

"Oh, they're awake." Mrs. Chapman said, pleased, as she entered the room. "How are you feeling?"

"Pretty good, considering." Mulder replied, stretching his limbs in preparation for getting out of bed.

"So you're still up to going to the Christmas Party, then?"

"Of course, Mrs. Chapman, wouldn't miss the Chestnut Hill Christmas Party for the world." Mulder insisted.

"How about you, Dana?" Sarah asked.

"Yes, sounds great. But I..."

"Then that's settled." Mrs. Chapman continued. "Since there'll just be the four of us..."

"And Jeff, Mom." Sarah reminded her.

"Right. Five of us then. So we can all pile into the stationwagon and leave the other cars at home."

"Fine with me." Scully agreed. "But the thing is..."

"Okay, everyone make sure they're down in the kitchen at 6:30 and we'll take it from there."

Sarah watched her mother leave the room, then offered Mulder a hand up. "Come on ya lazy bum, can't stay in bed all day."

"What did you just call me, Sarah Elizabeth Chapman?" Mulder demanded, eyeing her threateningly. "Because I think you should remember that I'm your childhood friend, and as such know all your secrets."

"Oh yeah? Such as what, Mr. lazy bum?"

"Such as," Mulder said, throwing back the bedsheets and swinging his legs over the side. "The fact that you are desperately, horribly ticklish."

"You wouldn't." Sarah stated, taking a step backwards towards the door.

"Try me." Mulder countered .

Sarah squealed and ran from the room, Mulder following in hot pursuit with surprising agility for one who'd recently been unconscious. Scully lay in bed listening until Sarah's high-pitched shrieks and cries to Jeff to rescue her had faded away. Then she sat up, pulling one of the pillows into her lap. "Christmas Party? Sounds great." She said, mimicking herself. "Stationwagon? Fine with me. But.... anyone else want to interrupt me now? No? Good. But, what in the Hell am I supposed to wear to a party so famed that Mulder 'wouldn't miss it for the world'?"

5:45 p.m. December 24
Hill View Guest Houses
Chestnut Hill, MA

Scully put her hands on her hips and regarded her surroundings with frustration. It looked rather like a hurricane had suddenly blown in, turning a neat, organized bedroom into something that bore a closer resemblance to ground zero of a nuclear explosion than anything else.

And she =still= hadn't found anything to wear.

The contents of her suitcase were now scattered around the room, but neither the jeans on the floor, the suitpants and jacket on the bed, or the trenchcoat hanging off the bedside lamp, looked any more suitable for a formal party than they had twenty minutes ago when they'd laid horizontal in the case.

Frowning with displeasure, she stepped over her case to retrieve the suitpants for another look, and promptly stumbled over a box left lying on the floor.

"Ouch! Dammit, what the Hell?"

Rubbing her bruised ankle, Scully bent down to retrieve the parcel, recognizing the present that 'Santa Claus' had sent her.

"So this is what I want most for Christmas, is it?" She said to herself, looking at the red and green elves on the wrapping paper. "Smaller than I expected."

Shrugging, she flipped over the box and slid a nail under the sticky tape, running it along the join to remove the paper. Carelessly tossing the screwed up wrapping on the carpet, What's a bit more mess?, she lifted the lid of the box it had covered. For a second, sheets of tissue paper hid the gift from her view, but pushing them aside, her fingers met silky blue material. Mentally crossing her fingers, Scully drew the garment out of its box and held it up against herself.

"Beautiful." She said, marveling at the dress. And it was. Full length with thin straps, several shades darker than her eyes, and exactly the right size too by the look of it. How on earth had Santa known? Or maybe not on earth?

"Now don't get carried away, Dana." She cautioned herself. "He's just a good guesser, remember?" And besides, lovely and opportune as the dress was, Dana Scully was hardly so shallow as to have an item of clothing as her greatest Christmas wish. And where were the red bow and ribbon?

"Sorry Santa, close but no cigar." She said into the air as she carefully laid the dress down on the bed and tried to remember where she'd tossed her spare pair of heels in the mad rummage through her suitcase.

6:20 p.m.

"Dana, what a gorgeous dress!" Sarah exclaimed as Scully entered the kitchen. "Jeff, doesn't she look great?"

"Yes, you look lovely, Agent Scully." Jeff complimented her.

"Thank you. And please, call me Dana." Scully insisted absently, searching in vain for her partner.

"Mulder's not down yet." Mrs. Chapman explained, realizing the direction of Scully's thoughts. "Would you like a glass of mulled cider while we're waiting."

"Yes. Thank you." Scully told her, taking the long- stemmed glass in one hand. Noticing Jeff's tuxedo, she idly wondered what Mulder would be wearing since she didn't think he was in the habit of bringing formalwear along on cases with him. Probably just the gray suit he'd had on yesterday, she deduced. Sipping at her drink, she moved to the other side of the kitchen to examine a framed photo on the wall.

"That's Sarah's class photo from the Second Grade." Mrs. Chapman told Scully as she looked at the small children with their smiling faces. "See if you can find Mulder in it." She suggested.

"Do I hear my name?" Mulder asked.

Scully swung round to greet her partner and almost choked on the mouthful of cider she'd just taken. Clothed in a jet black tuxedo and white linen shirt he was devastatingly handsome, but the items that had stunned her were the red cummerbund and bowtie that adorned his person.

Like a broken record, the words "Give me what I want most for Christmas wrapped up with a red ribbon and a bow" ran over and over in her mind. Was this what he'd meant? Could it be? She had to be sure.

Taking a deep breath she crossed the room to stand before her partner. His wide-eyed gaze and broad grin as he stared at her were as much of a compliment as the actual words of praise he offered on her appearance.

Placing her glass on the table before she dropped it, Scully raised her arms to straighten Mulder's bowtie. Was it her imagination, or did he actually lean into her touch?

"You brought this outfit with you, did you?" She asked, feigning an indifference she was far from feeling.

"The monkey suit and trappings?" Mulder queried. Had he actually sighed as her fingers smoothed over his shirtfront then moved away? "Nah, it was a gift from You Know Who."

"I Know Who?"

"Do you?" Mulder quipped.


"Alright, alright. It's from Santa. You know, the boxes that were delivered for us earlier." He revealed. "Am I to assume that this beautiful outfit is also a gift?" Running his fingers along one strap of her dress, he looked down at Scully and smiled. "Because if so, I think he has very good taste." He told her quietly.

"Come on everyone, enough dallying. It'll be midnight before we get there at this rate." Mrs. Chapman said, herding her daughter and Jeff towards the door.

Mulder grinned and held out his hand to his partner. "Shall we?" A simple question when taken at face value, but the elusive expression in his deep brown eyes hinted that more might be implied than was readily apparent.

But Scully didn't hesitate to take his hand. "Yes." She answered confidently, to anything and everything he was requesting of her.

9 p.m.

'Dammit!' Scully swore silently. 'I'm a grown woman, an MD what's more, not to mention an FBI Agent who carries a gun. And yet I'm letting myself be intimidated by that woman - did I say woman? I meant octopus - who has her slimy tentacles all over =my= partner.'


'So what if she has blonde hair down to her waist and legs practically up to her neck? I've got, I've got. Dammit, what have I got?'

"Dana!" Sarah repeated loudly, startling Scully out of her self-pitying meditation.

"Oh. Sarah. Sorry, I didn't see you there."

"No? I'm not surprised. I mean, this deserted corner you've discovered is just so full of action and excitement." Sarah replied sarcastically, drawing an unwilling smile from Scully that faded as soon as she caught sight of Mulder again.

Following the direction of Scully's gaze, Sarah rolled her eyes at the sight of Cindi (with an 'i') Pearce, a long way the wrong side of forty, plastic surgery paid for with the settlements from the two divorces under her belt, yet still imagining herself the youthful Prom Queen no male could resist. Oh puhleaze!

"Come on, Dana. You're not seriously telling me you think Mulder's attracted to that....that witch. Get on over there and rescue him before he goes insane." Sarah exhorted her.

Scully remained uncertain. "You think so? I mean he is dancing with her."

"Yeah, but only because she dragged him out there. You go cut in and I bet he's so grateful he does his best to smother you with kisses."

Scully blushed a delightful pink and Sarah grinned. "This is the nineties, after all," she continued, "so instead of waiting patiently for him to come to you, go get him yourself."

"Alright, I will." Scully said, determinedly squaring her shoulders and preparing to march over there and drag that woman off Mulder by the roots of her hair if need be.

"What are you grinning about?" Jeff asked Sarah curiously, returning to her side after having completed his dance with her mother.

"Wouldn't you like to know?" Sarah responded cryptically.

"Yeah, yeah I would."

She laughed at his baffled expression. "C'mon babe," she said, grabbing Jeff by his lapels and dragging him back onto the floor, "I think you owe me another dance."

Mulder shifted uncomfortably as Cindi's hand drifted lower again, and she batted her eyelashes in a way she was certain made her look quite exotic. Her eyes fluttered closed again as she rested in his arms, and Mulder grimaced, scanning the room again in search of his partner. His eyes brightened as he caught sight of her heading straight for him across the dancefloor. Letting go of Cindi immediately, and not even noticing as she tottered and almost fell, he gave the approaching Scully his most welcoming smile.

Drawing her into his embrace, he marveled at the fact that even though they'd danced together but once, they moved in tandem as easily and naturally as if they'd been doing it for years. Which really they had been doing through the years of their partnership, albeit metaphorically rather than in a literal pas de deux.

"I'm sorry you didn't get to spend Christmas with your family." Mulder told her regretfully.

"It doesn't matter, Mulder."

"No, it does matter." He insisted. "I really did intend for us to fly back to D.C. this morning, and then you could have...."

"No, I mean I was never planning to fly over to San Diego at all. Whenever I speak to Tara on the phone, all she can go on about is 'Matthew this', 'Matthew that'. He's a sweet kid, but that just isn't what I need right now."

"So what were your plans for Christmas?" Mulder asked as he twirled her around then gathered her back into his arms. "Anything I should know about?"

"Well, last year I spent Christmas Eve sitting in front of the fireplace, eating homemade apple pie and listening to Christmas carols."

"Sounds good. Is this a private party or can anyone join in?" Mulder asked.

"By invitation only."

"Ahh." He said, playing along. "And how does one acquire an invitation to this exclusive gathering."

"Oh, it's not so hard." Scully replied. If her insecurities hadn't already been relieved by the speed with which Mulder had abandoned Cindi, this unabashed flirting would have done it. "Who knows, if we were in D.C. tonight I might just have called you."

"Maybe next year." He suggested.

Smiling up at him, she raised one hand to lightly trace the edges of his dark red bowtie. "Maybe."

"You going to tell me what's so fascinating about this tie that you can't keep your hands off it?" Mulder asked, amused as Scully guiltily dropped her hand from his throat. Pulling her still closer and smoothing his hand across the bare skin of her upper back, he waited patiently for her reply.

"Mulder, what do you think happened out there?" She asked, performing a neat evasion by means of another question. Lifting her head to meet his gaze, she clarified, "When the barn exploded."

"I can't say for sure." Mulder answered, without dissembling. "But what I am certain of," and he thought of the tattered piece of leather and the bells that adorned it, "is that it was something....magical."

Scully chuckled. "So we're left with no hard facts. And all the evidence has disappeared as usual. Santa Claus must be an X-File after all."

"I think you might be right. And now come on, what is it about the bowtie? I know there's a connection somewhere. Give, Scully."

Taking a deep, calming breath, she explained the significance of the red bow and ribbon, to be met at her conclusion with Mulder's widest grin.

"So you're saying that =I= am what you want most for Christmas?" He asked her, thrilled.

"Yes, well, I mean, that is..." She said, flustered by the warmth and enthusiasm in his tone.

Silencing her with a single finger on her lips, Mulder's expression displayed a vast tenderness which, although somewhat unfamiliar, suited him very well. "Do you believe, Scully?" He asked as he slowly lowered his lips to meet hers.

"I want to believe." She admitted fervently, tilting her face up to his to receive the gift she'd wanted most this Christmas.

And if they'd been listening very carefully as they finally kissed, they might have heard the jingle of bells and the snuffling of reindeer snouts as A Certain Magical Person guided his sleigh high above the town hall and smiled down at the scene contained within.

The End.

Merry Christmas everyone! I would love some feedback, if you feel so inclined. Gemma at gkingsley@hotmail.com

** Chestnut Hill is a real place, but I'm sure it's not at all like I've imagined. I just picked it because it was in the right area and I liked the name. **

*** And of course thank you, thank you a million times over to my beta readers Brandon, Ellen and Kristen! Everyone on the newsgroup who told me that beta readers were fabulous can gloat now because you were right! ***

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