Title: All Ye Faithful - A Christmas tale
Keywords: MSR, LGM
Spoilers: General baby-arc ones; nothing at all specific.
Archive: Any/everywhere, as long as you drop me a line to say so. (I will send it to Gossamer myself.)
Disclaimer: The X-Files and the characters thereof are the property of Ten Thirteen and FOX, and are borrowed without permission, but with great respect and appreciation. Merry Christmas to you, too, Chris.
Author's notes: First, I have no idea how far along Scully's supposed to be at whatever given time -- and I am spoiler-free, so please don't tell me! ;-) -- so I am playing it a little fast-and-loose here, and placing her very close to full-term at Christmas. Second, thanks for beta, hand-holding, and mom-POV advice to MaybeAmanda and Char Chaffin.
Summary: Scully entertains some special visitors on Christmas Eve.
"Mom?" Scully cradled the phone against her shoulder as she padded barefoot from the living room into the kitchen. "Hi. It's me." She opened the refrigerator door and leaned over to reach for the carton of milk; she opened the cabinet over the sink and took down a mug.
"Listen, I think I was right, what I said earlier, if it's still okay -- I'd rather just wait till tomorrow." She filled the mug halfway with milk, paused a moment, considering, and added a little more. She folded the carton lip shut. "No, I'm fine, Mom. ... We're both fine." She smiled, putting the milk away. "In fact, he's just settling down -- he was frisky all afternoon. I'm hoping he's about ready for a nap." She carried the mug to the microwave and set it inside; she pushed a few buttons, and she chuckled. "Kicking? No. It felt more like cartwheels, I think!"
She found a teaspoon in the drawer and set it out. She leaned back against the edge of the counter, watching the mug spin lazy circles in the microwave. "I know... I know," she said. "But I'll be rested up for Matthew and the presents, and I think God will forgive me for missing Midnight Mass this year." She stirred from the counter and took out a bottle of chocolate syrup and a bag of marshmallows from the cabinet. "Mom... no. Please don't worry. I just wear out a little easier than I used to. ... I never appreciated you carrying all four of us around like this!"
The microwave beeped, and she took out the mug of steaming milk. She set it on the counter and drizzled some of the chocolate syrup into it. "No, not really," she said, stirring the mixture, dropping in a few marshmallows. "I have a nice fire going in the fireplace, and I think I'm just going to be quiet for a while. Put on a CD -- read..." She ran her hand gently down the front of her sweatshirt, almost as if smoothing the fabric; the gesture had become automatic, almost unconscious. She smiled again. "Really? Read out loud? I'll try it, if he won't sit still."
She carried the mug of hot chocolate out of the kitchen, walking slowly. She paused near the end table, reached tentatively toward the lamp; she drew her hand back and went to the sofa instead, and eased herself down.
"I know, Mom," she sighed. "I know. ... I wish he was, too." She set the mug on the end table and laced her fingers together across the swell of her abdomen. "Thanks, Mom. ... I love you too. ... I'll see you in the morning. Merry Christmas. 'Bye." She took the phone in one hand and leaned over to replace it in the cradle, and then settled back again as she had been.
There was a flutter beneath her palm. "You still awake, little guy?" she murmured. "Go to sleep. You know you can't come out yet." She leaned down and drew the afghan up over herself from the other end of the sofa. "Tonight's time to rest," she went on, as much to herself as to the baby. "Tonight's time..."
She sighed again, her voice trailing off. It was time for home, and family, and she had that now, but not in any way she'd ever hoped or dreamed or expected. She wanted to promise that it would all turn out all right, but she hated to think that she might be lying to her child before he was even born, and so she was silent instead.
She reached over to pick up the mug. She cupped it between her hands, feeling its warmth; she sipped at the thick sweetness of the hot chocolate. She stared at the flickering light of the fire. She had finally had to face the fact that there was no way to know where he was, or whether he would come back at all. It was strange, she thought, how the uncertainty could come to seem normal -- how you could learn to live with this constant state of unknowingness. The human animal was far more adaptable than she had ever been taught in school, and she was living, unwitting proof.
The baby was quiet. Scully slowly finished the chocolate, letting her mind drift and grow still. She set the empty mug aside and settled herself more comfortably into the sofa cushions, watching the firelight. At length she began to doze.
She wasn't sure how much time had gone by when she was roused by a sound outside. A shuffling, a thud -- near the front door, she thought. She took a sharp breath and held it, instantly awake, listening intently. A moment later there came a crinkling sound, like paper, and the muffled thump of something against the door.
She was up from the sofa in an instant, her bulk notwithstanding; she was glad that the lights were off so that she could move freely to the table where she'd left her pistol. Not a single suspicious thing had happened in all these months, but still, she had never quite been able let down her guard.
She slipped toward the front door, keeping to the shadow near the wall, weapon at the ready. The baby gave a little bounce and she whispered "Shh," without thinking. She waited.
There was silence for another moment. Then she heard the solid, unmistakable sound of a key going home in the lock. A key -- who had a key? Her mother was at home, and who else... his keys. Of course he'd had his keys in Oregon; they'd never been recovered, had never --
The door swung open before her. She saw the figure of a man, and then another, silhouetted by the dim light outside -- her finger tensed on the trigger. Her voice was cold, commanding. "Freeze."
The shadows on her doorstep stumbled over one another in their haste to retreat. "Don't shoot!" "Scully, it's us!" "Get off me, dammit!"
She threw her head back in exasperation, lowering the gun. "For God's sake --" she reached over and flicked on the light -- "haven't you guys ever heard of a doorbell?"
Frohike and Langly and Byers huddled guiltily together in the doorway. "The -- the lights weren't on," Langly stammered.
"You were going to your Mom's," Frohike added.
She turned to Byers.
"It's -- I'm... we're sorry, Agent Scully," he said. He lowered the hand that held the offending key, seeming to realize just then that he was still brandishing it.
They exchanged stares for a long, uncomfortable moment, and finally Scully shook her head and stepped back from the door. "You're letting all the cold air in," she said. "Come on." The three stepped forward at once, bumped into each other again, and then fell into place, filing one by one through the door and stopping in the entryway. Scully shut the door behind them.
They hadn't moved when she turned back, but still stood, watching her nervously. The key she'd momentarily forgotten she'd given them still dangled from Byers' hand. Langly clutched the paper shopping bag he was carrying a little closer to his chest. Frohike, his fedora perched at the same rakish angle it had assumed during the jostle in the doorway, jammed his fists into his coat pockets.
"My Christmas elves," she observed aloud, shaking her head, and smiling a little despite herself. "I thought you just swept the place the other day...? Well, never mind." She walked ahead of them toward the kitchen, and they followed in her wake.
"Eggnog?" she asked. When there was no answer, she set the gun down on the counter and took three glasses from the cabinet. "Frohike, you'll have to spike it yourself -- you know where the liquor cabinet is."
Langly elbowed him sharply. "She thinks you're a lush, man," he muttered.
"Shut up, freak," Frohike hissed. He removed his hat, gathering up his dignity. "Thank you, Agent Scully," he said, taking the proffered glass of eggnog and heading for the living room. The other two took theirs and followed him.
By the time Scully joined them, they were crowded onto the sofa. The bottle of rum was on the coffee table next to Frohike's glass. She lowered herself into one of the armchairs on the opposite side of the table.
"So," she began after watching the three men staring furtively around the room for a few minutes, pretending all the while to be looking anywhere but at each other or at her, "is this a social call?"
Byers glanced up at her and then away again. Frohike studied the depths of the eggnog in his glass. Langly wrinkled the folded edge of the paper bag tighter with the hand that wasn't holding his own glass.
"We were on our way to --" Langly began, and stopped abruptly as Frohike's foot intecepted his ankle. "I mean, we were just bringing..."
"On your way where?" she encouraged him, but Langly glanced over at Frohike again and remained silent.
"We have to be somewhere in an hour. We can't stay long," Byers explained. The others' heads bobbed in relieved agreement. "We have something to do."
"I see," Scully said. "You didn't forget your list of who's been naughty and nice, did you?"
Langly grabbed at the joke like a lifeline. "And you should see him trying to fit down the chimneys," he crowed, nodding toward Frohike, whose glowering reduced Langly's laughter to a nervous chuckle in only another moment.
It struck Scully, all at once, that she'd known them for years, but that she hardly knew them. It had never occurred to her to wonder if they had families they went home to at the holidays, or friends who took them in; now, looking at them sitting on her sofa on Christmas Eve, listening to them evade her veiled queries about their plans, she was sure they didn't. Were they lonely? Suddenly it all seemed terribly sad, and she leaned forward in her chair and spoke.
"Listen," she said impulsively, "what do you guys do for Christmas? I mean, I could -- we could..." She trailed off, not sure exactly what she was offering. "We could have a nice dinner here, or..."
All three of them stared at the carpet. There was a long moment of silence. "Thank you," Frohike said at last, "but we'll be out of town." He looked up to meet her eyes. "But maybe we'll take you up on that after we come back."
"Are you sure?" she persisted. "It's a little bit of a long drive to my mother's, and I..." she glanced down at her belly. "She'd understand."
Frohike looked over at Byers, who looked in turn at Langly. The three appeared to be conferring silently, and finally, seeming to come to some kind of decision, Byers turned to face Scully, and cleared his throat awkwardly.
"Agent Scully," Byers sighed, "we were on our way to the airport just now. We have some business that won't wait."
Frohike took a bracing swallow of his spiked eggnog. "We've been tracking an anomaly for several weeks -- something that at first looked like a satellite. But it was traveling in an orbit where no satellites we knew of had been reported."
"We figured it was a military satellite, then," Langly interjected, "so we hacked into a database we've found useful before, and downloaded some stats on the latest launches, so we could compare its trajectory against the ones there."
"The data were encrypted, of course," Byers continued. "But by the time we had something we could work with, we could already tell our anomaly wasn't going to be a match for anything there."
Frohike nodded vigorously and added another splash of rum to his eggnog. "We first saw it in the eastern sky, and it was traveling west, but in an irregular orbit. Sometimes it even seemed to stop and maintain its position for a few hours before continuing."
"And then two days ago it crossed from Europe to the eastern seaboard of the US so darned fast that I thought I'd lost it," Langly said. "It has to have some majorly gnarly propulsion system. You familiar with the concept of laser-driven light-sails, Scully? The idea is --"
"Dammit, Langly, you don't know enough about the thing to figure out what's driving it, and it doesn't matter anyway," Frohike interrupted. He turned back to Scully. "The point is, I started checking the police blotters in the areas where our anomaly was making its stopovers..."
"Byers' idea, not yours," Langly muttered.
"The names of the towns were familiar," Byers said. "Frohike found at least one listing of a John or Jane Doe, or of... of a specific person who'd been reported missing some time ago, and who'd just turned up again, in towns near each stopover point. Out of nowhere, the police reports all said."
Scully realized she'd been holding her breath. "And you think..."
"Now, you have to understand that we can't be completely certain," Byers went on cautiously, "but it appears, so far, to be working its way backward very closely along the trajectory of the anomaly we tracked through the southwest back when... after..."
"You're going to Oregon. You're going to Bellefleur," Scully said.
The three nodded in unison.
"On Christmas Eve?" Scully asked, suddenly flustered. She folded her hands in what remained of her lap, trying to keep her voice level. "Do you know what it's like trying to get a flight at the last minute on --"
"Not that airport, Agent Scully," Byers said. "We're going to the Air Force base in Sterling. We're taking a military jet. We'll get there before the anomaly will."
"A military..." she marveled. She could not finish the sentence. "How in the world...?"
"Agent Doggett," Langly answered her unfinished question. "He has some old friend in the Marines, some high muckety-muck. Pulled some strings, called out a favor the guy owed him."
"Must've been a hell of a favor." Frohike drained the last of his eggnog and poured a little straight rum into the glass to wash it down. "But it works for us."
"You're not going alone," Scully said, suddenly almost panicky. It was impossible for her to go now, and how in the world could she ask poor Skinner to go again? "You don't know what you'll find. You're not even armed. You don't --"
She rose hurriedly from her chair as she spoke, and all three men scrambled to their feet. "Whoa, whoa!" Byers exclaimed, taking her arm. "We're not going by ourselves."
"It's okay, Scully. We're meeting Doggett and Skinner at the base," Langly added hurriedly.
"Skinner and -- and Agent Doggett?" She looked from one face to the other. "Both of them?" she repeated.
"That's right, Agent Scully," Frohike said, taking her other elbow in his hand. "You just sit tight. It's all under control."
"You didn't even think I was home." She sank back slowly into the chair, hating this feeling of her own helplessness, frustrated at herself for letting it get to her the way it did. "You weren't going to tell me about this," she said dully. "You were just going to go."
"We didn't want to get your hopes up," Byers said gently. "In case it's not..."
She looked up at the three worried faces above her. "Why did you come here, if you didn't want me to know?" she almost whispered. "Why did you come?"
Langly jiggled the paper bag he had been toting the whole time, and said, "We were just going to drop this off."
Frohike took the bag from him and set it on the coffee table. He unrolled the wrinkled top and reached inside; he came forward, Melchior in half-fingered gloves, offering the three little gaily wrapped packages. He crouched down in front of Scully's chair and held them out to her.
"I don't know if you'll want to open 'em yet," he said gruffly. "They're really for Junior, there." He nodded in the direction of her belly. "Maybe you'll want to wait so he can see what he got."
She reached out slowly to take the packages, and found herself taking Frohike's hands around them instead. She met his eyes and said softly, "Maybe I'll wait till you bring his daddy home to open them with us."
Frohike opened his mouth as if to answer, but then just blinked quickly a few times and nodded, his eyes swimming behind the thick lenses of his glasses.
"Um, guys," Byers said, "we'd better get moving."
Frohike pushed the little presents into her hands and stood quickly. "Don't get up, Agent Scully," he said. "We'll see ourselves out."
"Thanks for the eggnog," Langly said.
"We'll be in touch, Agent Scully," Byers said. "Tell your mom Merry Christmas."
Scully watched the three of them hurrying toward the front door. "Guys?" she called after them, and they stopped and looked back at her.
"Thanks," she said. "For... for everything."
Byers nodded; Langly bit his lip and glanced down at his feet. She thought Frohike blushed a little. Then they all turned and went into the hallway, and she heard the front door open and close. In a moment, in the nighttime stillness outside, she heard the old VW bus wheeze to life and pull away.
A piece of wood popped in the fireplace; the fire had gone down, and Scully knew she ought to get up and add another log, but instead she glanced up at the mantel clock and did a little quick calculation in her head.
If she left within the hour, she decided, she could still make it to meet her family at Midnight Mass, and then follow them home and spend the night the way she'd been supposed to. She looked down at the three little packages, and twirled the long loose end of a piece of ribbon slowly around one finger.
She leaned forward as far as she could, and just managed to put the presents on the table next to the bottle of rum, and then she reached over for the phone and dialed her mother's number.
"Mom?" she said, and began to smile as she spoke. "Hi. It's me again."