Title: Bearing Gifts
Author: ML
Spoilers: Beginning of S9
Rating: PG-13
Classification: MSR, Angst
Disclaimer: These characters are not mine, they belong to Chris Carter, TenThirteen, and Fox Broadcasting. I mean no infringement, and I'm making no money.

Summary: The Gunmen help Scully celebrate Christmas.

This is dedicated to all who are separated from loved ones. May you find a way to be together, if not in reality, then at least in thoughts and dreams.

"Merry Christmas, lovely lady," Frohike's voice greets her.

Scully shifts William on her shoulder. He's been cranky today, and she hasn't been able to calm him. She feels a little like crying herself.

"Are you there, Scully?" Frohike sounds a little panicked.

"Yes, I'm here," Scully says, jiggling William and juggling the phone. "What did you say?"

"I just called to wish you a Merry Christmas," Frohike repeats. "Is everything okay?"

"Yes," Scully. "It's fine," she says, and can feel the tears in her eyes. Everything's fine; of course it is. She had a fight with her mom the last time they spoke. Mulder's gone, and she hasn't heard from him in more than a month. William won't stop crying, and she can't figure out why. Merry Christmas.

"The guys and I wondered if we could stop by," Frohike asks. "We have some Christmas gifts for you and the baby."

It's on the tip of Scully's tongue to say no, that she's too tired, that she's on her way out, anything to keep them from coming over. They seem to have appointed themselves her guardians again, much as they did when Mulder was missing before. It's hard to be around them, though. She suspects they know more about Mulder's whereabouts than she does, and she doesn't want to embarrass herself by asking them.

"We thought we'd come over today, if that's okay," Frohike is saying. "I know you're probably going over to your mom's tomorrow."

Scully almost says no, she's not, but that would just bring more questions, so she makes a non-committal noise in her throat. "Okay," she says.

She doesn't really want to leave her apartment, and she doesn't really want visitors, either. That's what the fight with her mother was all about. Though she tells herself it's unreasonable, she hopes that somehow Mulder will find a way to get in touch with her directly. She won't let herself think of the possibility that he might just show up, as much as she longs for it. Logically, she knows he can't. Their enemies don't rest, and they will no doubt be on the lookout for Mulder.

William is finally starting to settle down, snuffling against her shoulder and sucking on his fist. She takes him back into the bedroom and lays him down in the crib.

Back in the living room, she picks up a few scattered items and straightens the pillows on the couch. She's had no visitors to speak of for some time. She'd put up a small tree and some decorations, more because of William than for herself. This is William's first Christmas, she tells herself. Of course there are gifts under the tree, mostly for William. She bought several herself, marking them "from Mommy and Daddy." There are a couple for Mulder under there, too. There's even one to "Daddy" from William. She's thought about the discussions she would have had with Mulder about appropriate presents for a baby.

She wonders how she and Mulder would have celebrated this first Christmas with William. Mulder wasn't one to mark the occasion usually, but maybe being a father would make him feel differently. She imagines Mulder buying a basketball, a baseball, something big and not quite appropriate for a baby. She imagines him bringing things home, a sheepish expression on his face, like he'd done in the past when he offered a present to her, as if half-afraid she would reject it.

She wonders if he's thinking about it being William's first Christmas, or if he's still choosing to think of it as just another day. Is he sorry that he's not here? He barely got to know William before leaving.

Does he miss her as much as she misses him?

Scully shakes her head sharply to rid it of the traitorous thought. Going away wasn't Mulder's choice, she tells herself firmly. You urged him to go. He doesn't get in touch because he knows it isn't safe, that's all. You made the plans together; you know the reasons.

She still keeps the irrational hope that somehow he will get in touch, that he would risk anything to be with her and William. The next moment she's scolding herself again for feeling that way, and blames it on her still unstable hormones and the season. Nonetheless, she still wants to stick close to home. Just in case.

Maggie Scully had tried to reason with her daughter, though she was disadvantaged by the fact that Scully wouldn't come out and tell her why she didn't want to go to her mom's for Christmas, and why she didn't want the family at her place, either. Finally, Maggie reached the end of her patience. "Do what you want, Dana," she said. "You usually do, anyway."

"Mom, I've always done my best to be there for Christmas," Scully says. "Even when we were on a case, I nearly always managed to get there."

Her mother sighed down the phone line. "Yes, you were present eventually, at least in body. I thought things would be different now," she said.

Scully had a hard time keeping the edge from her voice. "Different how?" she asked. "Different from when? Before I had William?"

There was a long pause before her mother said, "Different from when Fox was here. He's not dragging you all over the countryside, keeping you from your family. But, somehow, he's still keeping you from your family." Maggie Scully's voice breaks just a little. "Maybe it was just an excuse for you. Maybe you were glad not to be around."

Scully could think of a dozen different things to say, all of them cutting, but she restrained herself. "Mom, I've got to go. I'll call you later, okay?" She could barely get the words out. She pressed the off key with a little more emphasis than usual. If she hadn't been using the cordless, she would have slammed the handset into the cradle.

She'd known for a long time that her mother felt marginalized. Her planning of the baby shower, and her insistence on a baby nurse/helper for her were bids to keep herself a part of Scully's life.

Scully had never intended to cut her mother out, but somehow it seemed safer to keep Maggie Scully in the dark about so many things. How could she possibly explain some of the things she'd seen and experienced to her mother?

Still, what her mom said cut Scully deeply. She'd always thought Maggie Scully liked Mulder, and she'd seemed overjoyed to learn that he was William's father. It appeared now that there had always been an underlying resentment of him, and the way he pre-empted most of Scully's time. Maybe Bill picked up that vibe and ran with it. He'd hotly deny it, but Scully had always felt that Bill was a sort of mouthpiece for her parents' views. Ahab might command, and Mom might use her calm voice of reason, but Bill was the Enforcer.

She knows she'll have to call her mother later, and try to explain her reluctance to leave the apartment. The temptation to not call, and to just spend Christmas alone with William, is very great. Once she would have turned to her mother instinctively for comfort and support. Now they are so estranged that to Scully it no longer seems possible.

Was Mulder the cause of this? Scully thinks not. Mulder may have his selfish impulses, but he always tried to do right by her. But if it isn't Mulder's fault, then it must be hers, as her mother said. Maybe she had used Mulder as an excuse in the past to get out of some family obligation.

Scully doesn't need her mother to help her feel guilty. She can do that all on her own. It's her fault that her mother is upset, her fault that she's alone.

Mulder went away because she urged him to, not because it was best for him. Even if that was Scully's reason for sending him. She tells herself that it's for the best, that it is the only course that makes sense for now, but she still worries and wonders every day. They've had no direct contact for months, and Scully wishes she could at least hear his voice again.

Her eyes blur as she lets all the feelings of regret and guilt and longing wash over her. She'd like nothing better than to curl up on the couch and sob for days, but she can't. She can't. She's Dana Katherine Scully. She's a mother, and she has responsibilities. Not just to herself, but to her child. And to her partner.

She dries her eyes, splashes a little water on her face, and puts the coffee pot on for when the Gunmen arrive.

When the Gunmen get there, William is awake again, has been fed and changed, and has decided to be charming. He bounces on Frohike's knee while Byers helps Scully with coffee and cookies in the kitchen.

Byers, as always, is dressed neatly, wearing a tie with tiny holly sprigs on it. Frohike's only concession to the season is to have on red fingerless gloves. Langly is wearing a tee shirt advertising something called "The Jingle Ball," featuring several bands Scully's never heard of. They accept the coffee from her with shy thanks.

For a few moments, everyone drinks coffee and eats cookies and says nothing. Scully remembers when they came to see her just after William was born. They stood, gaping at her, gifts in their hands. And here they are again, bearing gifts. She feels a surge of affection for the odd trio. Mulder is so lucky to have them as friends, she thinks. And so am I.

Finally Frohike brings over a battered-looking grocery sack he'd brought in and set by the door when they arrived. "These are for you, Scully," he says.

"We're actually just delivering these," Byers explains. "We received these in a few days ago with instructions to deliver them to you as close to Christmas as we could."

There are no tags on the packages, and they are somewhat crudely wrapped. One is about the size of a videotape box, and the other is slightly larger, and irregularly shaped. She sets them carefully under the tree.

"Thanks for delivering them," she says. "Any other messages?"

They all shake their heads solemnly. "Nothing new to report," Frohike says.

Byers says, "No news is supposed to be good news, Scully."

Langly says, "Yeah, right," and Frohike elbows him in the gut.

"Hey!" Langly says indignantly. "Knock it off, you overgrown dwarf!"

"Then shut up, Langly," Frohike warns him. "Honest, Scully, we haven't heard anything. We wouldn't keep anything from you. We couldn't." He glares at Langly.

"He's right," Langly says. "I didn't mean anything."

Byers gets up. "I think it's time we said our good-byes, gentlemen, before Agent Scully throws us out." He shakes her hand. "Thanks for the coffee and cookies."

"Yeah, thanks," Langly says after another jab from Frohike. He smiles a little weakly as Byers ushers him out the door.

Frohike pauses in the doorway. "It's really okay, Scully. Last we heard, Mulder was safe and sound in parts unknown. He's not due to report in again for a bit."

"Thanks, Frohike," Scully says. "Thanks for everything." She bends down and kisses his cheek. To her surprise, Frohike blushes.

"Bye," he mumbles and shoots out the door.

Scully can't help smiling a little at the visit from her unlikely elves. They're so sincere, and want so much to help.

She settles back into the couch with William and picks up the larger of the two packages. It's soft, and she's pretty sure that it's some sort of stuffed toy for William. Sure enough, it's a bear, dressed in a baseball uniform. Scully inspects it carefully for anything unusual, but can find nothing. It does smell nice, though. She holds it close and sniffs it.

Somehow, it smells like Mulder. It can't be just her imagination.

"Look, William," she says. "Look what Daddy got you." She takes another deep sniff and hands it to William, who grips it tightly. She holds William and the bear close, dropping a kiss on William's head. Then, with some trepidation, she picks up the other package and manages to open it one-handed.

Just as she thought, it's a videotape. The title surprises her, though. It's "Caddyshack." Not just any version, the "special edition." Hoo boy.

"It's a guy movie, Mulder," she remembers telling him.

She worries fleetingly that somehow the Gunmen know about that night and how it ended. Not from Mulder, but that they had somehow bugged his apartment.

She hadn't realized how much she'd hoped it was some sort of personal message until she'd unwrapped it. Well, it *is* a personal message of a sort. She'll take it as such, anyway. She'll even watch it, since Mulder sent it to her. But not while William is still awake. She's not sure yet that she wants to expose him to this great American classic just yet.

Once William is settled down for the night, she sits and looks at the tape box. She closes her eyes and remembers that night, one of the few they had together, and one of the most carefree. Mulder had been very pleased with himself, though he wouldn't say why. They'd grumbled at each other good-naturedly, and not long after the movie started, he'd reached for her hand. By the middle of the movie, she was leaning against his shoulder, and by the end, they'd been necking for some time. Necking. She snorts softly in amusement. Sounds like a word Ahab would use. The image of Mulder, nibbling on her neck, makes her flush. And then, when the movie was over...she smiles sadly at the memory.

Would she have done anything differently if she'd known that was the last happy time they'd have together before he was taken? She shakes her head to herself. It's a lovely memory, made bittersweet by what came after. But she wouldn't change a thing.

Well, maybe she would have let Mulder put butter on the popcorn. Maybe. In this way, she teases herself out of her melancholy.

She pops the tape into the VCR and goes out to the kitchen to fetch the popcorn. Just this once, in honor of Mulder, she puts butter on it. No beer, though. The best she can do is apple juice.

She can hear the title music as she pours the juice and grabs the bowl. She stops dead in her tracks as the music ends and she hears Mulder say, "Hey Scully, it's me."

She looks wildly around the room. Mulder? Here? She hadn't heard the door; she looks all around, and nothing has changed. Except, instead of the movie on the TV screen, it's Mulder. She sets the popcorn and juice down and grabs the remote to rewind the tape a little.

Sure enough, right after the opening credits, the screen goes blue for a few seconds, and Mulder pops on the screen. She stares at the paused image in dawning comprehension. She pushes the play button to start the tape again.

It's just Mulder. He's sitting in a plain folding chair. She can't tell anything from the background. No pictures, no window, just a blank wall. He's wearing jeans and a black crewneck pullover. His hair is a little longer, and he still looks too thin, but he looks so good to her.

"Hi Scully," Mulder says diffidently, looking directly into the camera. "I hope this gets to you in time for Christmas. I'm sorry I can't be there with you and the little guy, but I do want you to know that not a day goes by that I don't think about you both." He blinks and looks down for a minute, and his voice sounds a little lower, a little raspier than it did. "I asked the guys to let me know how you're doing. They promised they wouldn't look at this, that no one would see it but you. So I guess it's safe to tell you how much I, how much I love you, and, I really, really, miss you.

"I don't want to make you sad, but this is so hard to do without you here. I wish you were here, Scully, or I wish I was there. I told you a long time ago I didn't want to do this without you. I still don't.

"I have a Christmas wish, and I'm gonna tell you in a little bit, but first I want to give you your present. It's a little unusual, and I hope you'll like it. But I need your assistance with it, so work with me here, Scully, okay? Sit back and relax. I hope you're sitting on your sofa, `cause that's where I'm imagining you and me, right now. I want you to close your eyes...are they closed? Keep `em closed, Scully. Now imagine I'm there, in the same room with you." His voice has gotten very low, almost a whisper. "I'm just behind you, Scully. I'm gonna wrap my arms around you, okay? And you can lean back against me, so I can whisper in your ear." Scully burrows back into the plump, soft cushions and imagines it's Mulder's arms around her. With his voice in her ear, she can almost feel him.

"You can't see, but I've got my eyes closed too, Scully," Mulder continues. "I'm imagining I have you in my arms. You feel so good, Scully. You're warm, and you smell like... like that shampoo you use."

Scully can't help but smile as she hears this. It's a very Mulder thing to say. She wraps her arms around herself, trying to approximate the feel of Mulder holding her. She sinks back into the sofa cushions and remembers the last time they were together, the night before he left.

"I'm kissing you, Scully. I'm kissing your cheek, and you turn your head so I can really kiss you, `kay? Now, I'm just going to kiss you for a while, so keep your eyes closed and go with it."

Scully thinks of the kisses they've shared in the past. She lets her mind wander down memory lane as the silence goes on and on. She thinks about his hands cupping her face, the first touch of his soft lips against her own. She thinks of the warmth of his body pressed against hers, the feel of his arms holding her close. She can smell him, the combination of after-shave and everything else that makes up his unique Mulder scent.

She thinks she can remember every kiss they ever shared. She can almost feel his presence, almost feel his lips on hers now. She breathes low and quiet, keeping her eyes shut, listening to Mulder's soft breathing on the tape.

After an interval that seems all too short, she hears Mulder whisper, "Was it good for you, Scully?" Her eyes fly open, and there's Mulder's grinning face, but with the glint of moisture in the corners of his eyes.

In spite of herself, even though she knows he can't hear her, Scully says in a whisper, "Yeah, Mulder, it was good for me, too." She feels more alive than she's felt for months.

"I'm sorry this can't be a two-way street, Scully, I'd like nothing more than to see your beautiful face, and William, too, but I can't risk it."

It's a terrible disappointment, but not really a surprise. She doesn't want him to have anything around that someone could use against him.

She runs the tape back and watches it again, but this time she keeps her eyes open when Mulder tells her to close them.

Sure enough, he's closed his eyes just as he said he would. She watches him in silence, his head thrown back, his beautiful mouth moving ever so slightly, as if he was truly kissing her. She sees his tongue move over his bottom lip slowly, and she sighs involuntarily, her breath catching in her throat. His hands rest on his thighs, but she can see his fingers rub restlessly against the fabric of his jeans. It's fascinating to watch, not to mention arousing. She's a little embarrassed to feel turned on by this.

She sees Mulder's eyes open slowly, sees him rub his fingers across his eyes before he composes himself and says, "Was it good for you, Scully?" with a heavy-lidded look that she didn't see the first time around. Then comes the grin, and she grins back, unable to help herself.

"Scully, I told you I had a Christmas wish, and this is what I want for Christmas. Every day at nine PM, your time, I want you to close your eyes and think of me. I guarantee you wherever I am, I'll stop what I'm doing and I'll be thinking of you and William. Will you do that for me?"

Scully nods. She knows he can't see her doing so, but it doesn't feel silly at all. She can bet he knows her feelings as she watches this tape, and what her reactions will be.

"I know how hard this has been on you, Scully. I wish things could have been different. I'm working on some stuff that I hope will change the way things are, and I'll let you know what's going on when I can. Until then, remember what we talked about before I left, okay? And keep yourself and William safe." He just sits for a bit, looking into the camera, as if he could look into Scully's eyes for real. She feels almost as if he is. Where is he right now? Is he thinking of her? Is he imagining her watching this tape?

He clears his throat, and says very softly, "I love you. Always remember that."

He closes his eyes briefly, and she watches his throat work as he swallows past the lump she knows is there, because she's got one, too. He clears his throat before speaking.

"I gotta finish this up, Scully, so I can get it to you. Have a good Christmas, and take lots of pictures of Will. Don't let Bill bully you too much, okay? Go to your mom's, I know it's her turn to have Christmas there. Go to your mom's, and have a good time. I want to think of you there, with your family. It's important to me, okay? I don't want *you* to be alone at Christmas."

She never realized that Mulder kept track of where she celebrated Christmas. Mulder knows her too damn well. Scully can feel the tears forming again.

I love you, and I love Will. Signing off..." He smiles again at the camera, fumbling for the remote camera control so he doesn't have to look away before the picture goes blue.

Scully sits back in the comforting softness of her sofa with her eyes closed while the tape rewinds. As she hears the click indicating it's done, she watches the tape through to the end again.

It's still dark outside, but Scully can see the lights in the front window as she pulls to a stop on the street. William fell asleep in his car seat on the drive over, but she knows he'll wake up as soon as he realizes where they are. She carefully lifts him out of the seat and walks slowly up the front step. The trunk and the rest of the car are filled with packages, but she'll make Bill go out and get them.

She has a key, but her arms are full, so she rings the doorbell. She hears voices and footsteps approaching the door.

Maggie Scully opens the door, and her eyes light up. "Dana! I didn't know -- I wasn't sure --"

"Hi, Mom," Scully says. "I told you I always make it."

Her mother somehow manages to engulf both Scully and William in a hug. "I'm so glad," she whispers in Scully's ear. "I'm so sorry for what I said yesterday."

"I'm sorry, too, Mom. But we can talk about it later."

Maggie nods. "Dana, honey, I miss him too. I do. I hoped..." she has tears in her eyes.

Scully nods. "Me, too, Mom. I still hope. Don't you give up, either."

Maggie Scully shakes her head, and takes William from her arms. "Look who's here! Bill, Dana has packages in the car. William, look, it's your aunt Tara, and cousin Matty!"

Scully follows Maggie into the warmth and light of the living room. Merry Christmas, Mulder, she thinks. I'm thinking of you all the time, not just once a day. I love you. You're here with me.

The connection between them is still strong. Time and distance cannot break it; even death couldn't do that.

She allows herself to be swept into the embrace of her family.


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