TITLE: Blessed
AUTHORS: Sara and FredaX
CATEGORY: MSR, DAL, small amounts of Angst *g*
ARCHIVES: Anywhere, providing the headers stay intact. . .and you let us know, of course.
FEEDBACK: YES, PLEASE! Feedback is GREATLY appreciated; please send to fredaxfanfic@yahoo.com
SPOILERS: General knowledge through "Sein Und Zeit." DISCLAIMER: They're not ours, blah blah blah, even though we'd like to think so, yadda yadda yadda, but turns out they belong to the folks at FOX and 1013. . .and that Carter guy. We just borrowed them for a while, so don't sue us. *g*

SUMMARY: A holiday story, kiddies. . . . Mulder is welcomed into a Scully family Christmas, with the expected results.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: This story is just holiday fluff, written as if the pregnancy and abduction never happened. Scully's still barren, and Mulder's safe at home. *g* FredaX wishes to thank her partner in crime, Sara, whose indomitable spirit and constant inspiration kept this story alive; also, her willingness to research those pesky details at the insistence of a psychotic perfectionist. . .well, that was just nice of her. *g* Sara would like to thank Freda, for doing most of the writing and editing, and for being a great writing partner and friend yada yada yada.

Scully's Apartment
Thursday, December 21
10:20 AM

"Of course, Dana, but after so many years. . .I think she must have given up on him altogether."

She thought about this for a moment. "Well. . .I can't help but think that it should have been different. We always thought. . . . Zach and Jamie just seemed. . .so right for each other. I guess I can't help but feel badly about it. It's just sad."

Dana Scully sat in the corner of her sofa, nestled between the armrest and the large sofa cushions. Her legs were pulled up under her in an attempt to keep her bare feet warm, and she clutched a large throw pillow to her chest. She glanced up at her mother, who was sitting comfortably in a chair just beyond the opposite end of the sofa.

"Did she say why she left? Where did she meet this guy? How long had she known him before she married him?"

"Dana." Margaret Scully's expression was consoling, as if she were trying to explain to a young child why people had to die. "It's just the way it is. It doesn't matter why. . .it's done now. No matter how wrong it might seem."

"What about Zach?"

"She didn't say. He'll have to get on with his life, I suppose."

Dana pushed her chin into the pillow and wrapped her arms around it a little tighter. It still seemed. . .impossible. She had known Jamie Nester in high school. They had been friends. . .not the closest, but the two girls had still spent a great deal of time together, laughing, trying new makeup techniques. . .ogling boys. It had been established early on, however, that Jamie's young heart was set on Zachary Ikerson. Dana knew that all she needed to do to make Jamie turn into a blushing, giggling fool was to mention his name. Deny it though she might, Jamie adored him. Everyone in their class knew it. . .and it was understood by all that someday, somehow, those two would be together. Forever. To imagine either of them with someone else. . . . Dana was a very rational thinker. Things change, people change, she knew. Still, in her heart, where there yet existed the naivet of a sixteen-year-old girl, she felt that it signaled the end of all things good and right in the world.

Margaret studied her curiously. It always fascinated her to see the irrational child buried deep within her daughter come to the surface. Dana was always so logical, so serious. . . . It was good to know that there was still some innocence left in her that had not been destroyed by the horrible things she had seen, by the horrible things that she knew to be true.

Suddenly, the girl was gone. "You're right, of course. Life goes on. . .or so they say. Maybe I'll give her a call." Dana got up and went into the kitchen. "Do you want anything, Mom? I picked up a new tea at the store yesterday. It's supposed to relieve stress." She laughed uneasily. "At this point, I'll try anything."

"Sure." Maggie sat a little straighter in her chair. "Speaking of stress, when do you go back to work?"

"Wednesday." Dana put the newly-filled pot of water onto the stove and turned it on. She set two mugs on the counter, dropped in a pair of tea bags, and walked back into the living room. Her pajamas hung loosely around her small frame. She knew that they were too big when she bought them, but the smooth, black material was soft, and the price was good. Besides, they weren't for show. They were for comfort, and she relished in it. She pushed a loose section of tousled red hair behind her ear. Thank God for vacation days. "Though I can't imagine how I'm going to spend the time off. It's been so long since I've had any, really. . . . I imagine that I'm going to be bored to death before it's over."

Her mother grinned. "I suppose everything pales in comparison to mutant-hunting and alien abduction."

Dana shot her a look as she settled back into the couch. "Very funny, Mom."

Even as she scolded her mother's triviality, she couldn't help but chuckle inwardly. The woman did have a point, after all. How could anything compare to investigation into paranormal phenomena and extra- terrestrial autopsies? A smile graced her features, and she cast her eyes downward. The things she considered routine would be fantastic to any one else. . .while "normal" held a fascination for her. The smile slipped away as she thought about just how much--including "normal"-- she had lost to the x-files. She and Mulder had lost so mu--

Mulder. The name caught her sub-conscious attention. Mulder. She raised her eyes a bit, her thoughts taking her far away from the comfort of her living room. And she remembered why she did it, why it was so infrequently that she thought about her losses. She and Mulder were fighting the good fight. They were, one step at a time, preventing the demise of human existence. She had to believe that. . .or go insane with grief.

Then there was just. . .Mulder. In the eight years that they had worked together. . . . He was a good man. More than that, a good friend. More than that. . .her partner. And she couldn't imagine her life without him.

And she couldn't figure out if that scared her or not.

The high-pitched squealing of the teapot brought her out of her reverie. She jumped, as if having been rudely awakened from a deep sleep, and looked up at her mother, who had remained completely silent for several minutes. Her eyes were set intently upon her youngest girl's face.

"The tea's ready," Dana announced as if Maggie couldn't hear the pot, and she promptly jumped up from her seat.

Margaret Scully sat back in her chair. Though her daughter had been far away and had not given any indication of her whereabouts, she knew where Dana had gone.

And she couldn't figure out if that scared her or not.

Dana returned with two steaming mugs and gave one to her mother. "Um, Mom?" She was cut off by the ringing of the telephone. She reached over to pick it up. "Hello. Dana Scully."

"Hi, Dana!" It was Tara, her sister-in-law.

"Hi! How are you guys doing?"

"Great! Matt is so excited about Christmas--and this play he's in. He wanted me to ask you and Mom to come and watch. Would that be OK? It's tomorrow afternoon."

"Sure, Tara, I'd love to! Hold on, let me ask Mom." Dana put the phone to her chest and turned to her mother. "Mom, it's Tara. Matt is going to be in a play tomorrow and he wants us to come watch."

"Oh, I'd love to go!" Maggie exclaimed.

"Where is it, and when?" Dana asked into the receiver.

"Springfield Elementary School at 3:30 tomorrow. Matt will be so happy you came! Between our schedule and yours, he hasn't seen you in months." There was a brief pause, then she went on. "Well, I have to run. Matt needs a haircut. He's got a big day tomorrow!"

Scully smiled. "See you soon, Tara."

"Good-bye, Dana."

She turned to her mother after setting the phone down in it's cradle. "A play? It's hard for me to imagine that he's old enough to talk yet. Has it really been four years?"

"Time flies when you're having fun, Dana. I'm sure, however, that Bill and Tara can both attest to his going through the terrible-twos. Threes, as well." Maggie smirked. "And with a boy. I can tell you from experience, that is no walk through the park."

Dana smiled in response. "Meanwhile, Missy and I were little angels."

Her mother gave her a wry look and scoffed.

Sam's Diner
Friday, December 22
11:21 AM

Dropped in the heart of Washington's business district, Sam's seemed out of place amid the tall government buildings. But it was there, nonetheless, to the delight of a workday crowd over it's lunch break. The soup of the day was always a best-seller; homemade and hot, the concoction was the perfect escape from the chilly DC afternoon. The diner bustled with activity. The constant noise was almost a comfort to Scully. She had happened upon this place many years ago; after long mornings spent fighting invisible demons, it's environment was a comfort, the smells soothed her frazzled nerves. Even though she had not been to work for the past couple of days, she still found herself drawn to the sounds and smells. Today, she brought her mother along. She had gone to pick her up that morning, deciding that they'd spend it together before seeing the play. Dana might have found her mother's frequent presence over the last few days unusual, except for the holiday season. Besides, it had been entirely too long since they had spent real time together.

Dana blew lightly onto her spoonful of thick, creamy chicken soup. No, there was indeed nothing better to ward off the outside cold than this. She watched the constant flow of people into and out of the diner.

"Do you think that I should make a ham for Christmas?"

Dana's watchful gaze was redirected from the service counter to Maggie's face. "Where did that come from?"

"Oh, I was just thinking. It occurred to me that you're all going to be home for Christmas. With Bill's transfer to the Washington Naval District last year, he'll be able to spend most of the holiday with us. Charlie's only got a couple of days leave, but. . . . We'll all be there."

Both of the Scully women chose not to comment on the fact that it would be the first without Ahab.

"I don't know. Ham sounds great. Do you want me to bring anything?"

"I suppose that I could have each of you girls make a salad or something."

"Charlie's bringing Theresa?"

"I think so. At least, that was the impression that I got from the letter." She picked at her salad.

"I haven't seen either of them in years." Dana took another bite.

The corner's of Maggie's mouth turned upward a bit, and her eyes sparkled as a picture of a Christmas long ago formed in her mind. "I could make a fruitcake."

Dana was mid-bite when she caught her mother's expression. The two looked at each other for a beat, then broke into laughter. After receiving many questioning looks from the other lunch-goers, the women attempted to quell the mirth, but only succeeded in downgrading it to uncontrollable giggling. Dana fought to speak, her shoulders shaking.

"I can still see Dad trying to cut through that thing. He threatened to borrow a jackhammer from military supply--" The giggles overcame her again, and Maggie was forced to bury her own mouth in a napkin.

The door burst open in a rush of cold air. Dana clutched her coat about her as her mother looked up at the offending door. . .only to see an all-too familiar face.


Dana gave her mother a questioning look, then followed her line of sight to see that it was indeed Fox Mulder's entrance that had brought in winter's chill. Her eyes widened a bit in surprise, then dropped to her soup.

"Mrs. Scully?" He strode over to their table. "And daughter. Hey, Scully."

Scully ran a hand through her hair, her eyes leaving the soup only for a moment to meet his gaze. "Good morning, Mulder."

He studied the top of her head intently, as if attempting to commit to memory every strand of hair. "How goes the vacation?"

Sensing her daughter's sudden unease, Margaret chimed in, "Horribly. She's had to put up with me for most of it."

Mulder turned his attention to the elder of the two Scully women. "Can't be any worse than having to sit through my endless parade of photos and slideshows."

Scully rewarded Mulder's comment with a grin; catching it, he smiled broadly. "So, what are you two charming women doing today? Girls' day out?"

"Just spending some quality time. Discussing holiday plans. . . ." Margaret Scully eyed her daughter, who now devoted her entire being to stirring her soup. "Shopping. Getting ready to see my beautiful grandson's theatrical debut."

"Really? Good brother Bill's boy, I presume?"

"Yes, in fact, it is."

"Is he old enough to act already? It doesn't seem that long ago that Scully mentioned having a new nephew."

"He's four. A pre-school Christmas play." Taking note of his attire and remembering what day it was, she asked, "You're here on lunch break, I'm guessing?"

"Yeah, I called in and ordered it earlier. They're always pretty busy around this time. I wasn't sure that I'd have a chance to get here. I'm working on some case research--" He glanced back at Scully, who had looked up at the talk of a case. "Takes longer with only one person, you know."

"Anything interesting turn up?"

Mulder was surprised but delighted at Scully's interest. "Not yet. But I think. . .there's just something that's not fitting right, not connecting. I haven't put my finger on it yet. . .but when I do, I think that I'll have an idea about who our guy is. Assuming it's human." His eyes danced as he looked directly at her. She rolled her eyes, and looked back down at her soup, shaking her head. That's my girl, he thought to himself.

"Will you be in the office all evening then, Fox?"

Scully looked up at her mother. Maggie was up to something, she could feel it. And she didn't like it.

"I don't think so. I could always take it home, work on it over the holiday weekend. Or just let it roll around in my head for a while. It's bound to make sense, sooner or later."

"Why don't you come to the play with us?"

Scully dropped her spoon in her soup. Quickly retrieving it with the cunning use of her fork, she looked up at her mother, an astonished look on her face.


Both Margaret and Mulder looked at Scully. On Maggie's face there was definite amusement at her daughter's reddening features, while Mulder's. . . . He knew a game was afoot, and he loved to play with Scully's nerves. He was in, no matter what.

Maggie looked calmly back at Mulder. "I think that it would be wonderful to have you there. Little Matthew will be delighted at having his own cheering section. Besides, as a mother, I'm afraid I can't allow you to work all weekend. After all, Fox, it is Christmas."

Mulder was genuinely honored at being invited. He became more serious. "It's quite all right, Mrs. Scully. I was never one for putting too much consideration into the holidays. It's just another day of the year. . .save for the fact that absolutely nothing is open."

Scully looked up at him, her incredulous expression fading. Mulder was never one for celebrating the holidays. . . . In the past, however, it consoled her to think that at least he had family to go to, if the thought had occurred to him to do so. But, with Teena Mulder's passing. . .he had no one. . . . And the thought of anyone having to spend the sacred holiday with the Gunmen was not one she wanted to entertain. Only one obstacle to having Mulder enjoy at least this minor part of the holiday season with the Scullys remained.

Her tone was gentle, her voice soft as she prodded her mother, "But-- Bill. . . ."

"It doesn't matter. It's Christmas." She turned back to Mulder. "It's at 3:30 at Springfield Elementary, Fox. You will come, won't you?"

Mulder looked down at Scully, who raised her eyes up to meet his. She smiled lightly.

"I'll be there, Mrs. Scully."

"Do you have a minute to join us for lunch?"

"No. I'm going to grab my food and head back to the office. I have work to get done, if I'm going to get out of there in time."

He jogged back to the counter, and waved at the available clerk.

Dana's gaze followed him closely, never wavering until he left the restaurant. She then turned intently back to her soup. Margaret Scully watched her steadily.

She, herself, had just invited Fox Mulder--the man who's unrelenting quest had swallowed nearly half of her family into darkness--to a family event.

And she couldn't figure out if that scared her or not.

Springfield Elementary
Friday, December 22
3:17 PM

The children were abuzz with excitement. Dana watched with enjoyment as the costumed creatures created a blur of bright colors around her. Proud parents and family members filled the front hall, while disinterested older siblings clustered in groups in the corners, pointing and laughing. She looked up at the Christmas decorations constructed by little hands that adorned the hallway. Something deep inside of her stirred, a maternal feeling that did not go unnoticed by it's host, and she found herself gently resting a hand on her abdomen.

Her own family hovered around their star, making last minute adjustments to his red and white coat; fluffing the thick, white, cotton-ball beard that was fastened loosely around his face; straightening his hat. Matthew Scully's little cheeks were painted bright red, and the pillow that was tucked under the jacket threatened to loosen itself from the confines of the thick black belt. . .that Dana recognized as her father's, from a Santa costume in a Christmas past. She smiled at the boy, whose beaming face outshone the brightness of his costume.

He scurried over to her. "Aunt Dana! You came!"

"Of course I did, Mattster. I wouldn't have missed this for all the world!" She crouched down and gave her nephew a big hug, careful not to disturb his "whiskers." "My, but you look smart! Just like Grandpa!"

The child's eyes widened. "Really?"

"Yes, really. He would have been so proud of you!" She held his little hands tightly, and looked into his shining eyes. Missy's eyes, Dana thought.

"Are you gonna watch for me? I'm gonna be Santa, and bring the toys. I have real reindeers!"

Dana smiled at the little boy's enthusiasm. "You bet. As close as I can get to the front row."

He threw his little arms about her neck, and she returned the hug. When they separated, she found that the pillow was sticking out quite noticeably from the jacket.

"C'mere, Matt," she laughed, gently pulling him to her to right the costume again.

Dana suddenly felt the sensation of being watched, and glanced up in the direction of it's source. Mulder stood just inside the doorway of the school. His workday attire was gone, replaced with a pair of well- worn jeans, a white T-shirt, and a thick brown pullover sweater. He unfastened and shook his coat, sending snowflakes tumbling to the floormat. He wiped his feet and stepped forward. Scully noticed, rather in passing, that snowflakes still decorated his head, settled in his dark hair. She turned her attention back to Matt, and finished tucking the pillow back in.

"There ya go, good as new." She gave him a pat as the boy ran back to his parents and grandmother. Bill Scully looked up at Mulder, and his face showed a look of disgust. He spoke tersely to Margaret Scully, in a voice low enough that Scully could not hear, though she could guess what it was about. And she knew how her mother would react. . .yes, she was waving him off now. Maggie moved to greet Mulder, who only half-noticed the look of disapproval he was receiving, as his eyes rarely left Scully.

"Fox! I'm so glad you could make it!"

He smiled and took the hand offered to him. "So am I. I had to run out and follow a lead--turned out to be a dead-end--but I still had paperwork to do, anyway. But I'm here."

Maggie eyed him approvingly. "And had time to change, I see."

One corner of Mulder's mouth turned up into a grin as he looked down to survey himself. He took a breath. "Yeah. I thought. . . ." He looked up at Scully. "I thought that a three-piece suit would be a bit too much for a school play. Uncomfortable, anyway."

"You look good, Fox. Now, I want you to come and meet my darling grandbaby." Mulder gave Scully a look of amusement over the top of Margaret's head as she took his arm and pulled him over to the group.

"Tara, Bill, you know Fox? I don't remember if you've had the pleasure, Tara--"

Tara smiled. "I've heard a lot about him." Scully could bet that she knew how. "You work with Dana, right?"

"Well, I call it work. I'm sure she's got another word for it," he joked as he glanced at Scully. She came over to join the group.

Tara shook his hand. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Mulder."

"The same."

Bill nodded sharply as Mulder turned his attention to him. "Mr. Mulder."

"Mr. Scully," and he nodded back.

Matt lifted his eyes up to meet the stranger's. "I'm Matt!" He stuck out a little hand to Mulder.

Maggie smiled warmly. "And, as he's already declared, this is Matthew Scully. Matthew, say hello to Mr. Mulder."

"Hello to Mr. Mulder!"

Mulder knelt down and took the proffered hand and shook it gently but heartily, with a look of mock professionalism.

"Hello to Mr. Claus!"

The boy giggled. "I'm Matt. See?" He tugged on his beard gently to let Mulder see that it wasn't part of his face.

"Oh, Matt. Well, hello, Matt."

"Are you gonna watch me, too?" The boy's eyes, directed unhesitatingly at Mulder, were filled with anticipation.

"Can I?"

"Uh-huh. You can even come to my party after, if you want."

Maggie Scully smiled and gripped the boy's shoulder.

"Mr. Mulder might have other plans, Matt." She looked up at Mulder, then at Dana, who was quietly watching the whole scene.

Matt looked up and back at his grandmother. "But we're gonna go on a sleigh ride, just like in the song!" he argued. After all, how can anyone refuse that?

Mulder feigned a look of astonishment. "In a real, live sleigh?"

Matt knew the ride would catch him. He'd found a kindred spirit in this funny, tall man. "Uh-huh!"

"Well, then, how can I not?"

Bill's grimace deepened, as Maggie and Tara smiled at Mulder in delight. Mulder looked back over at Scully, her face expressionless. She returned his look.

The noise in the hall quieted as the teacher came out of an adjoining room and held his hands up toward the throng. "It's time for the play. Could the children please come backstage?"

Squeals of joy rose from the kids as they hurried to follow their instructor. Good-bye hugs and well wishes were given, and the hall was suddenly devoid of color. The remaining group moved in the direction of the auditorium.

Scully's eyes never left Mulder as he escorted Margaret Scully into the room.

The lights in the auditorium turned off and the curtain was pulled back. Maggie, Tara, Bill, Dana, and Mulder watched happily as little children in sugar plum and mouse costumes danced on-stage.

Mulder turned and looked at Scully, who was sitting next to him. He had nonchalantly taken the seat between her and her mother, feigning a conversation with Maggie and "ignoring" the fact that by doing so as they seated, he had put himself between them. Maggie had carried on gracefully, enjoying the discomfort the situation gave her daughter. As the lights had lowered, however, and the pre-school production began, Dana forgot that he was there and focused her attention on the cheerful faces that filled the stage.

Using the cover of darkness and the distraction of the children, Mulder studied her face. She was smiling, but he knew that beneath the smile lay a certain amount of sadness at something lost. He wished that he could make her genuinely happy, to give back what had been taken from her. He knew that he couldn't, though, and that hurt him more than anything else.

All of a sudden, Matt burst on-stage in a little painted cardboard sleigh, holding the reins of eight tiny fake reindeer. As his teacher read the poem aloud, Matt yelled out the names of the reindeer with him.

"Now DASHER! Now DANCER! PRANCER and VIXEN! On COMET! On CUPID! On DONNER and BLITZEN!" Matt beamed proudly at his parents and, to the audience's delight, waved from the sleigh as the teacher read on. "To the top of the porch to the top of the wall, now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!" The crowd burst into applause as the theatricals went on. Mulder stole another look at Scully. As she tucked another stray lock of hair behind her ear, her features unreadable, he noticed that the look in her eyes seemed to be very far away. . . .

Montrose Park
Friday, December 22
6:21 PM

The sun had already set on Washington, but the park was aglow with light as the Scully caravan made its entrance, with Mulder's Taurus close behind. After the play had ended (and several curtain calls later), Tara Scully had hurried to get Matt's costume off and neatly packed so that they could begin the two-hour trek. Maggie had discovered Montrose several weeks ago, and had been thrilled to learn that the park, during the holiday season, extended its hours in favor of nightly sleigh rides. She had made the final reservations that afternoon, just after dinner.

Dana pulled into the parking spot next to Bill, and couldn't help but laugh as Matt leaped out of the van and darted over to the sleighs, which were ready and waiting for them.

"Mommy, Daddy, look at the big horseys!" Matt rushed over and stared in awe at the magnificent creatures. Four tall black Fresains stood proudly hitched to two beautiful old-style, four-passenger bob sleighs. One lowered it's head to greet the child. "Hi! My name is Matt!" he told the driver as he reached up to pet the horse on the neck.

"Hello, Matt! My name is Lisa. Would you like to meet the horses?" The driver asked.


Lisa picked Matt up so he could see the horses better. "This--is Jake." She pointed to a large black horse, who was busy trying eat his teammate's harness. He pulled at the shiny gold bells adorning it, causing them to shake and make noise. "He's real nice. Do you want to pet him?" Matt nodded his head and gave the horse a pat on his back. She took him around to the other side of the hitch, where another large black horse was standing, his head held low and his eyes closed, dozing. "His name is Clink, and he's really nice, too"

"Hi!" Matt shouted, temporarily waking up the slumbering animal. Choosing to not pay further attention to the boy, he snorted and closed his eyes again.

"Well, Matt, you ready to go for a sleigh ride? " Lisa asked.

"Yeah! Mommy, daddy, grandma! Come on!" he exclaimed.

Maggie turned to smile at her daughter. "Isn't it wonderful? It's all so perfect--a picture-perfect winter outing." She climbed out of the car.

"Oh, brother," Dana whispered. She leaned forward to peer out the windshield. What was really sad about it, though, was that it was exactly that. . .perfect. It was as if her brain couldn't comprehend so immaculate a scene.

Mulder closed his car door and stepped up onto the sidewalk. He scanned the scene laid out before him. Bill and Tara hurried to catch up with the eager youth. Upon reaching them, Margaret hooked her arm through her son's and gave it a loving squeeze. Mulder realized just how out of place he was. . .and how out of touch with the role of a family member he had become in the years since Samantha's abduction. He averted his attention, as if wanting not to intrude on such a private, personal moment, only to find Scully still sitting in her car, observing the same scene with a similar sense of detachment.

He walked around to the driver's side door and knocked on the window. She rolled it down and looked up at him.

"Excuse me, miss? I'm with the FBI. I'm going to have to ask that you please get out of the car." He leaned in. "Hey, this isn't my family. I'm not going into this alone. Your brother's been watching for his chance at me all night."

She looked back at her family. "Mom seems to have taken a liking to you. I'm sure that she'll make certain that he behaves himself. Besides, it's unlikely that he'll kill you with Matt around."

"Was that supposed to make me feel better?"

She rolled up the window, pulled her coat around her a little tighter, and opened the door. Mulder took a step back to allow her some room, and together they strode over to where the others stood.

Matt called to Mulder. "Look at the horseys! I'm gonna ask Santa for one zactly like him!"

Mulder grinned. "I don't know, Matt. He'd have a pretty hard time getting it down the chimney, don't you think?"

"Nuh-uh. Santa's magic. He can make him small and squeeze him thru!"

Mulder looked over at Scully. "Magic? I. . .I just don't know. Sounds a little. . .far-fetched to me." The irony was not lost on her as she raised an eyebrow at him, turning the corners of her mouth up slightly. "That's an awfully big horse."

Matt stormed over to Mulder, stomping his little feet as he went, and gave Mulder his best Navy-regulation scowl. "Don't you believe in Santa Claus?" He pursed his lips tightly, and Mulder fought to keep from laughing. Tara and Maggie both smiled in great amusement while Bill looked sourly on, out of the line of sight of the boy.

Dana came over to the two and, with a look of amusement herself, asked Mulder in a most professional manner, "Yes, Mulder. Don't you believe in Santa Claus?"

He looked up at her, thankful to see the playful look in her eyes. "I. . . ." He paused for a moment, then went on, with a wink at his partner: "I want to believe."

"If you don't, he's not leaving you nuthin' for Christmas!" Matt announced, as he darted back over to the horses. Mulder and Scully stood for a moment, facing each other. He smiled at her warmly, and she returned the gesture. He laughed softly, looked down at his boots, and scratched the back of his head. Dana glanced at the moon that shone through the tree branches, then back at Mulder, who had turned to watch as Maggie approached them.

"Well, we can't all fit in one sleigh, so I reserved two. How shall we divide up?"

"I wanna ride with Mr. Mulder, Gramma! You, too!"

Bill coughed. "Um, I think that Tara, Matt and I should all ride together. Mom? You'll be riding with us, I imagine?"

"But I wanna ride with Mr. Mulder!" exclaimed Matt. He had already claimed Lisa's sleigh; the attendant helped him climb in, and he was calling out to them from atop the seat.

Maggie looked at the decisiveness on Bill's face, and knew that he had no intention of discussing other options. She considered the situation for a moment, then approached Matt.

"I think. . .I think that Mr. Mulder will be just fine if we let Aunt Dana ride with him and keep him company. Mommy, Daddy, me, and you will ride in the other one. Is that okay? We can't all ride with you, no matter how much we might want to. . .and he and Aunt Dana are good friends." She turned to Mulder. "Is that all right with you, Mr. Mulder? You won't be lonely, and Matt can wave to you from our sleigh." Matt looked at Mulder, hoping that his grandmother's plan would be all right with his new friend.

Mulder seemed to consider this for a few moments. He nodded to Matt. "I think that will do just fine."

Matt shouted gleefully, and turned to plop down on the cushion. "Let's go! Giddy-ap!"

Tara laughed, "Well, I think it's settled! Everyone in!"

6:45 PM

The ride continued along the park's winding paths. Mulder and Scully spent most of it in relative silence, only breaking it to comment on the beauty of the park or of the horses. Every so often, Matt would jump up and wave and beckon to them from the sleigh in front of them, and they would call back. The only consistent sounds were the soft breathing and plodding of the horses and the jingle bells that adorned the harnesses. The silence was not forced or overwhelming, however; the pair seemed to have wordlessly decided that they would allow the mellow sounds to dominate the scene.

Afterwards, the group retreated to the main cabin for hot cocoa. Gathered about the fireplace, the Scully clan began to reminisce about their early Christmas' experiences. Peals of laughter filled the wooden enclosure as Dana and Bill both recounted stories of youthful plots to catch a glimpse of the jolly old elf himself. . .of good intentions gone awry. . . and of the fruitcakes and fire hazards that came to represent a Scully family Christmas. Tara related some of her own holiday experiences, while Maggie made promises of better things to come. Mulder listened intently, basking in the glow of happier memories in a family not his own.

As the evening wore on, the conversation broke off into pieces. Tara and Maggie discussed plans for the upcoming holiday while Dana occasionally interjected ideas. Bill and Matthew were entertaining themselves with a game of hide and seek. Mulder watched the game for several minutes, then decided that he needed some fresh air and rose from his seat. He left his cocoa mug behind and picked up his coat, heading for the door.

The movement caught Dana's attention. As her mother and sister-in-law prattled on about centerpieces, she got up and followed him outside.

He stood alone in the walkway leading up to the cabin. His eyes were turned upward, to the stars.

"I'm sure Matt would have let you play if you would have asked nicely, Mulder."

He turned to her. "You have a great family."

She laughed. "Pretty Norman Rockwell, isn't it?"

"Seriously, Scully. Even before Samantha was taken, mine could never have compared to what's in there. That's. . .what every family should be. It's amazing. I thought they only had families like that on TV."

She looked back in the window of the small building. Bill and Matt were playing a new game, and she could hear the laughter from where she stood in the outside chill. Mulder bounced lightly on his feet, warding off the cold.

"I suppose. . . ." She smiled softly. "I guess you could say I've been blessed."

Snow began to fall. Mulder turned his face upward and closed his eyes. She watched as it fell upon his face, landing on his cheeks, getting caught in his eyelashes. He took a deep breath, and let it out slowly.

She jumped as he suddenly turned his eyes to her. She had been concentrating so hard on each snowflake. . . .


"Nothing. It's just--" She reached up and gently knocked loose several white flakes from his hairline. "Snowflakes."

He looked at her for several moments, reading her expression, judging her mood. Then he brushed her cheek lightly with his hand as he moved to push a section of hair behind her ear.

"Yours, too."

She unconsciously leaned into his touch. His hand was warm, in sharp contrast to the bitter cold that surrounded her.

He pulled his hand back and examined her closely. "You've got to be freezing, Scully. Maybe you should go back inside."

"Are you coming?"

"Yeah. In a sec."

She hesitated, then took a step toward the door. She turned back to him. "Mulder?"

He glanced at her over his shoulder. "Yeah?"

"I. . . ." She faltered a moment. "I'm glad you're here."

He smiled at her, and she went back inside. He could hear the family happily singing carols as the door opened, and silence again as it closed.

He looked back up at the stars.

"Thank you."

Montrose Park's Parking Area
Friday, December 22
9:03 PM

Matt's head drooped upon his mother's shoulder. She gently hitched his sleeping form up a little higher on her side, as she bid Dana and her mother-in-law good-bye for the night. They promised to see each other again in a couple of days, when the family gathered for Christmas dinner at home.

"I'll bring some potato salad then, Mom. Family recipe."

Maggie fondly hugged Tara around the child. "I can't wait, dear. I love you."

"Love you, too, Mom." She hugged back as best she could while supporting her son, then turned to Dana. "It was wonderful to see you again."

"You, too." Dana attempted to put her arm around Tara's neck. "Matt gets more beautiful every day. You're doing a great job with him."

"I do what I can," she grinned. "See you on Monday."

Dana turned to Bill, who had just kissed his mother goodnight.

"Hey, big brother." She wrapped her arms around him. "I miss you."

Bill hugged her heartily, picking her up off the ground. "Little sis. Take care of yourself."

She smiled at him when he set her back down again. "It's only going to be a couple of days."

Bill watched as Tara and Maggie went to put Matt in the van. Mulder had, several minutes before, gone over to Lisa to inquire about the horses. All four were out of earshot. Bill took Dana's arm and pulled her over a bit, for security.

"Dana, are you sure you know what you're doing?"


"Bringing him along. Like he was family, or something." He nodded in Mulder's direction. She glanced over at her partner who was deeply engrossed in conversation, gently petting Jake's muzzle with one hand while gesticulating widely with the other. "That man killed Missy, for chrissake, and he nearly killed you more times than I care to remember."

"You talk as if he had put a gun to my head. Or shot Missy himself."

He shrugged. "Maybe not. But if it weren't for him, she'd be alive. And you'd be a hell of a lot happier."

"How do you know that?"

"How could you not? After all you've lost?"

She glared at him. "They say ignorance is bliss, isn't that right? If I weren't doing what I am. . .if not for 'that man's' efforts. . .the unimaginable could occur. This work is serious, Bill. The sacrifices-- "

"You can't believe in that crap!" When Maggie and Tara both looked over in his direction, he dropped his voice again. "Aliens? UFOs? C'mon, Dana, I know that you're more intelligent than that."

"Someone. . .something took me, Bill. Tests were done, with results that medical science has yet to explain. The cure for my cancer, even. I can't rule out possibilities that I can neither confirm nor deny."

"They took you to get back at him. It's all a hoax, to lead him on."

"Why? What is he to them? Not everything's about Mulder, Bill."

"The man's crazy, Dana, and he's dragging you down with him!"

"She's a grown woman, Mr. Scully. She makes her own decisions, chooses her own paths."

Bill wheeled around to see Mulder standing directly behind him, his eyes leveled at the angry man.

"She's not a little girl anymore. She can take care of herself. She's proven that more than once."

"Oh, really? What about all of the times she's ended up in the hospital, shot, gored, in a coma! What about those times, when she couldn't?" He stepped closer to Mulder, putting his face inches in front of the other man's. "It's your fight, Mr. Mulder, your obsession. If you want to get yourself killed, that's fine with me-- but this is my sister we're talking about!"

Mulder attempted to maintain a steady voice, even as he balled up his fists in his coat pockets. "She made the choice to continue with me. I never forced her--"

"With your rantings about invasions and the end of the world? She never would have bought into that BS before!" He regarded his sister, who stood in stunned silence. "But, for some reason completely beyond me. . .she does buy it when it comes from you." He looked back at Mulder, and his voice was suddenly filled with conviction. "If you told her to stop, she would. If you really cared, you'd see what's good for her and--"

He stopped short, realizing that all eyes were now on him. The look that frightened him the most was on Scully's face. She stared at him stonily.

"You selfish, inconsiderate son of a--"

"Scully." Mulder's voice caught her and she looked over at him, her mouth still agape. "Don't. You'd only regret it. Besides. . . ." A sadness shone in his eyes. "He's right."

Stepping over to where Maggie and Tara stood dumbfounded, he nodded at them. "Mrs. Scully." He grinned half-heartedly. "And Mrs. Scully." The door to the van still stood ajar, and Mulder reached in to tug Matt's winter hat down on his forehead a little further. "Sleep tight, big guy. Hope Santa's good to you."

When he reached his car, he climbed in and started the motor.

Scully watched with tears in her eyes as the taillights faded into the distance.

Dana turned back to her brother. "How dare you?" She voice was seething.

"He shouldn't have come, anyway, he doesn't deserve to be here."

"Yes, he does. He had every right in the world--"


She turned sharply on her heel and strode over to her car, speaking sharply as she fumbled for her keys.

"He's a part of my life, Bill. Part of who I am, just as you are. No matter how much you--or I--deny it." The keys dropped into the snow at her feet. She closed her eyes and let out a breath of frustration. After a moment, she opened them again. "And I want him to be." She bent to retrieve the keys and unlocked the door, deactivating the other doorlocks with the press of a button. "And for that reason alone, you should welcome him."

"But he--"

"I want to be with him!" she cried suddenly. Then, as if she only realized it herself, she repeated, "I. . .want. . .to be with him."

Tara quietly climbed into the van and checked on the sleeping boy; then, turning her eyes forward, she buckled her seatbelt and stared at the windshield. Maggie moved over to the passenger door of Scully's car, and opened it. She turned to face Bill, who seemed dumbstruck.

"It wasn't right, Bill." She gazed at him with a gentle but stern expression. "You have every right to your own feelings. . .and I'm glad that you care about your sister so much. . .but at the expense of her feelings?" She climbed into the car. "And just so you know--not that it makes any difference whatsoever--I invited him." She closed the door. He looked at her with surprise, then back at Dana.

"Good night, Bill."

She got in, started the car, and drove away, leaving him standing in the lot.

Margaret Scully's Home
Christmas Day
1:07 PM

The dinner went along smoothly. Charlie, the last to arrive, had been greeted at the door with cries of gladness and several embraces, followed closely by a smiling Theresa and a warm casserole dish containing a traditional dressing. Bill and his family had arrived shortly after Dana, who welcomed him respectfully before hugging Tara and grabbing Matt up and taking him into the kitchen so that he could help mix the pudding. Whatever the mood, Maggie was thrilled to have them all together again--in body and spirit, as pictures of Admiral William Scully and Melissa Scully had prominent places on the mantle. . .and in the family members' hearts.

After the meal, Bill's family, Charlie, and Theresa retreated to the living room to watch "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas," at Matt's vehement insistence. Dana had volunteered to help her mother clean up, and the two listened with amusement as Bill's bass and Matt's treble joined in song.

"You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch. You really are a HEEL! You're as cuddly as a cactus--" The song went on, as Charlie joined in.

Maggie stole a glance at her daughter, who was busily clearing plates and scraping the leftovers into the disposal.

"Where were you this weekend? I got your answering machine every time I called."

"Oh." Dana shrugged, dropping a fork onto a chair. She grabbed it quickly, and brushed the crumbs off of the seat. "I had some errands to run. Had to go to the store and pick up some last minute gifts. . .and some medicine. Headache pills. For the inevitable." She smiled up at her mother, and grabbed a damp rag from the counter.

Maggie cast a worried glance over at her daughter. "When was the last time you had a check--"

"Mom!" She interrupted the woman before she could continue. "I'm fine. I am."

"Well, then. . .that was some shopping trip."

"Oh. . .I was just. . .enjoying my time off. Went to the park, to watch the skaters. Took the lighted tour around the Capital. The holiday drill that I never took the time out to enjoy. I always ended up back at the office, filing some report. . . ." She fell silent, lost again in thought. Margaret watched her face. She had drifted off several times over the course of the dinner in the same fashion.

"Did you call him?"

Dana snapped out of her reverie. "What? Who?"

"Fox. Did you call him?"

Dana looked out into the family room. "Mr. GRRIIIIIIINCH! I wouldn't touch you with a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot POLLLLLLLLLLE!" the men sang, full force.

Her voice became hushed. "No."

"Why not?"

She put the sponge and plate down into the water and looked at her mother. "What was I supposed to say to him? Sorry my brother blames you for everything that's wrong with my life?"

"For starters."

"Oh, come on, Mom. What kind of. . . ." She picked up the plate again. "It wouldn't be any use, anyway. Bill will go right on blaming him, and Mulder will go right on agreeing with it and feeling guilty."

"But it's not true. You don't believe it, anyway, and knowing that has to mean something to him."

"He knows I don't believe it. But what he knows and what he believes are two different things."

"Why don't you go to him?"

Scully slowly turned her eyes to her mother's face. Maggie had given up her cleaning efforts to focus on the conversation.

"It's Christmas, Dana. No one should be alone on Christmas." She moved to her daughter's side and put her arm about Dana's waist. "Besides, you want to be with him. You said it yourself. You're only half here today. Your heart--is somewhere else."

Dana paused in her work for a moment, letting her hands droop into the water. Then she turned to her mother and put her arms around her tightly.

"I love you."

"I know, dear." She pulled back from the embrace and brushed Dana's hair back with her fingers. "You're my baby girl. . .and I want you to be happy."

Tears ran down Dana's cheeks. "I know."

"He makes you happy." She held her daughter's face in her hands and smiled. "Almost as much as he makes you hurt, sad, and angry." She stared into the younger woman's eyes with a look of love and caring that only a mother could create. "Go be happy."

Dana sniffed. "Can I help you finish the dishes, first?"

Maggie laughed. "If you insist!" She handed over a pile of plates.

3:31 PM

Dana finished the dishes, then went into the living room to watch the end of "The Grinch" with her family. Matt had made himself quite comfortable on her lap, and she sighed contentedly as she held the child close to her, leaning her cheek against his. He had fallen asleep there, and it had taken both Bill and Margaret's efforts to get him off of her without jarring him awake. She rose when they finally succeeded, and wrapped her arms around Charlie's waist, bidding him good-bye and best wishes. She gave Thersa and Tara a small hug before going into the front hall to get her coat.

Maggie came from the kitchen with a container that she set on the hall table, then took Dana into her arms, kissing her lightly on her cheek. "Oh, dear--don't forget this. And be careful on the roads. Call me when you get home, okay?"

Dana hugged her back. "I will. Love you."

"You, too." Maggie turned back to the family room and seated herself next to Charles to begin watching the next feature.

Dana's eyes scanned the room for Bill. He had taken Matt to the bedroom--

"Hey, little sister."

She turned to find him coming down the stairs.

"Big brother."

He put out his arms and clasped her small form. "I'm sorry about Friday. I just. . . . I want you to be safe. And happy."

She stood back to regard him. "I am happy, Bill. I have a purpose. I'm needed."

"Well. . ." He dropped his gaze to the floor. "You know how I feel about--"

"Yes, I do. There's absolutely no room for doubt there," she grinned.

"Well. . .he'd better take care of you."

She pulled on her coat and picked up the container.

"Good-bye, Bill."

The door closed lightly behind her.

Mulder's Apartment
Christmas Day
5:17 PM

The microwave beeped in the kitchen, and Mulder jogged over to it and popped it open. He reached in, then drew his hands back rapidly.

"Oooh, ouch, hot. Ow," he said as he waved his hands in the air. Pulling open a drawer, he withdrew a rag and reached in for the plate again.

A Hungry Man's TV dinner.

"Merry Christmas," he muttered to himself. Why would the Chinese take- out place close for Christmas? He went in to the sofa and seated himself in front of the TV, putting the plate down on the coffee table. "Oh--silverware." He got up again. Who would he offend if he ate with his hands? Of course, that would be messy. . .and hot. . . . He unconsciously waved his hands in the air again.

Just then, there was a knock at the door.

"You've got to be kidding--" He undid the lock and pulled the door open.

Scully stood in the hall with the container in her arms. A light layer of snow covered her coat.

She looked up hesitantly. "Mulder."

"Scully, what are you doing. . .don't you have Christmas with your. . . ."

"Can I come in?"

He turned, stumbling a bit. "Uh, yeah, of course. C'mon in." He gestured her in with his arm. "I, uh, was just about to have dinner."

"Really? What are you having?"

"Um. . . ." He grinned sheepishly. "A Hungry Man's TV dinner. A dinner for one, I'm afraid. I could try to divide it, but I'm not sure there'd be anything left. I don't know what kind of hungry man they're trying to feed, but--"

She held the container out to him. "Can I interest you in something not prepackaged?" Pulling off the top, she revealed huge amounts of leftovers from the Scully family holiday banquet. "Mom sent it for you. She thought you'd appreciate--"

He grabbed the container from her and headed back into the kitchen, dipping his finger into a pile of cold mashed potatoes and gravy. He stuck the finger in his mouth as he sat the container down on the counter and pulled a plate out of the cupboard. "Remind me to propose to your mother."

She wrinkled her forehead and grinned with amusement. "Okay, whatever." She removed her coat, shook it lightly, then draped it over the back of a chair.

Heaping the food onto the dish (and putting occasional spoonfuls into his mouth), he suddenly remembered Scully. "Do you want some?" he called.

"No, I had my share of that meal a few hours ago. Besides, I think that you can handle that by yourself."

He came out of the kitchen to see her standing in front of his dining room table, arms crossed, her eyes on him expectantly. She was still dressed as she had been for the party earlier that day; her brown slacks and cream-colored, form-fitting turtleneck set off her red hair perfectly. God, she's wonderful, he thought. She scanned his attire, causing him to realize that he was rather informally dressed--gray undershirt and boxers.

"I--uh--I wasn't expecting--"

She smirked and raised an eyebrow. "I can see that."

He sidled his way around her and escaped into his bedroom. "I'll be right out," he said as he shut the door behind him.

Scully chuckled and went into the living room. The TV dinner still sat steaming on the coffee table. She picked it up with the rag and went into the kitchen, where she found the original cover sheet of plastic. She replaced it, and put the meal into the refrigerator. She was pretty sure he'd need that, sooner or later. It wasn't often that he got a home-cooked meal, and take-out every night was bound to get old.

The microwave beeped, and Scully pulled the door open. Grabbing the washcloth, she carefully removed the plate. With her free hand, she rummaged in the nearby drawers for silverware. She carried the lot back into the living room and put it down where the dinner had been, then returned to the kitchen for drinks. Popping hers open, she nestled into the large, leather couch.

The door opened and Mulder emerged. He'd pulled on a pair of jeans and a black T-shirt. His hair still stuck out awkwardly, but she could tell he had attempted to remedy the situation with his fingers. Comfortable Mulder. Classic Mulder. She smiled up at him.

"You brought the food out."

He sat down next to her, and picked up the fork. "You sure you're not-- "

"Eat, Mulder."

7:58 PM

Mulder had eaten ravenously. Scully laughed as he stood up, sending a shower of crumbs tumbling to the floor. He had started at the sound, watching her face with great interest as she leaned over to brush the pieces of food that had fallen onto the coffee table into a pile. He dusted himself off with his hands as she took the scraps and dishes into the kitchen. He could hear water running in the sink, then it stopped. The next moment, she was beside him again on the sofa, flipping through the channels on the television.

"Unless you want to watch 'It's a Wonderful Life,' Mulder, I suggest a video. Assuming you own any that I wouldn't be deeply offended by."

They had opted for "Miracle on 34th Street" on the classic movie channel. Both had seen it several times, but still watched in silence as the screen flickered in silver, black and white. As the evening wore on, they both sank deeper into the cushions, eyelids heavy. The room was dark except for the light of the TV, and the pervading quiet lulled them gently.

Dana awoke to find herself still on the couch. She looked over to where Mulder had been. He was gone.

"Mulder?" she asked, her voice husky from sleep. The room was still dark, the TV still on, but muted; a crime-drama with James Cagney was playing. So much for Christmas, she thought, as he fired his gun noiselessly. She raised herself up on the armrest.

Mulder came in from the bedroom carrying two fairly small boxes. He grinned at Scully.

"Hey, you're awake. I tried not to disturb you--"

She sat a little straighter. She hadn't even remembered being tired when she had come here; the ease with which she had passed out unnerved her. She shouldn't get in the habit of doing that.

"No, it's fine. I didn't come over here to sleep, anyway."

He sat next to her, leaning forward and intertwining his fingers. "I was meaning to ask you that. Why did you come over?" He studied her curiously.

Put on the spot, she faltered a bit, and took a breath. "I. . .well, Mom wanted me to bring you the food while it was still fresh."

He seemed disappointed, and his hands fell. "It was really generous and kind of her to have thought of me. . .especially on Christmas, with all the family around."

"Well. . . ."

"And. . .I never got to thank her for inviting me to spend the evening with you Friday. I enjoyed it--Matt's a blast."

She smiled softly as she pictured Mulder's farewell to Matthew a few nights before. He was so good with kids. . .he would make a great father.

Did she just think that?

"He liked you, too. He asked about you today."

Mulder's face lit up. "Really?"

"Yeah." She smirked. "He wanted to know where Mr. Moolder was."

Mulder laughed. "I like that kid. Speaking of which--" He handed her the larger of the two boxes from the coffee table. "Could you give that to him? I saw it in a store over the weekend and. . .well, it is Christmas. Tell him it's from Santa."

She took the box from him, and scanned it with great interest. She lifted her eyes to his, and he noted the childlike curiosity that came flowing from them. "What--"

"Go ahead, open it. It's in a gift box; he's not going to notice that it's been tampered with."

She flipped the lid open, and a large smile spread across her face as she pulled out a small, plush horse, black and gallant, just as the horses had been the night of the sleigh ride. She caressed it's soft fur, and looked at Mulder approvingly. He scratched his brow.

"I--uh-- Just in case Santa didn't bring him the real thing."

She looked back at the toy. "Oh, Mulder, he's going to love this. Really."

He lowered his head. "I hope so. It was that horse, or this little stuffed alien that I'm sure his dad would have appreciated."

Ignoring his joke, she spent several moments admiring the horse, holding it to her and petting it lightly. Then she returned it to the box, and closed it carefully.

"I'll take it to him tomorrow. He's spending the night at his grandma's."

He carefully picked up the other package. "Oh, and this one--" She waited for him to continue. With a look at her, he went on. "This one's for you. Merry Christmas, Scully."

She reached out and took the box. She looked down at it, then up at him. "Mulder, I didn't--"

"Open it."

She opened the box meticulously. Inside, she found packing Styrofoam. She pulled the packing out, and removed the top half.

"Oh, Mulder. . . ."

From the Styrofoam, she cautiously lifted a porcelain-based snow globe. The base was elegantly molded in the shape of a winter scene. Inside the globe, a contented couple embraced against the winter cold atop the seat of a grand sleigh, pulled by two stately horses. Dana carefully turned the globe upside down and righted it again, watching the snow swirl about the pair.

Mulder reached over and gently took the globe from her. "It's musical." He wound the key and released it, handing it back to her. Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful. So, since we've no place to go. . . . The song ran through her head, and she could hear Mulder softly mouthing the words. It doesn't show signs of stopping, and we've got some corn for popping. As long as you. . . . She looked up at him, then back at the globe.

"It's. . .it's beautiful."

He watched her closely. "You really like it?"

Her eyes met his. "I love it. I love it, Mulder."

He sat back with a thankful sigh. "Good."

She looked at it again, soaking in every beautiful detail as the music played on slowly. When it finally stopped, she rested the gift carefully atop the table and turned to Mulder. He moved to get up. "I really should--"

She held him back with a hand to his chest, and leaned in to kiss him softly on the corner of his mouth. He froze as she drew away and he looked at her. She turned back to the globe, running her hand over it, feeling the exquisite smoothness of the present. He reached up and tucked her hair behind her ear, away from her face. She turned back to him, and wrapped her arms around his neck. He held her, and she could feel his voice shake within him.

"God, Scully, I don't want anything to happen to you. I want you to be safe, to be happy. . .I never meant to hurt you."

"I know," she said, smoothing his hair with her hand. "I know."

"If you only knew--"

"Mulder." She held his face in her hands. "There's no place I'd rather be right now than here. . .right here, with you. I came here because I. . . . I am blessed, Mulder. I have you."

He bent forward and rested his temple to hers as they had done so many times in the years before. Eight years. His friend. . .his partner. The only one he trusted.

He couldn't imagine his life without her.

He fell asleep in her arms. She slid out from under him and off of the sofa, tenderly easing his head onto one of the large cushions. After turning off the TV, she repackaged the globe and gathered the boxes up. She paused when she reached the door, then turned and sat the boxes down again on the dining room table. She found a piece of paper and a pen and wrote, "Merry Christmas, Mulder-- Thank you." She rested the note on the coffee table, went back for the packages, then closed the door softly behind her.

Fbi Headquarters
Wednesday, December 27
8:12 AM

Special Agent Dana Scully reached the door to the basement office, briefly stopping to regard it before entering.

"Good morning, Sunshine." His voice was bright, full of excitement. That could only mean one thing. . . .

Mulder grinned at her from behind a slide projector aimed at a blank wall. She looked blankly at the machine as she removed her overcoat and sat in one of the chairs in front of the desk.

"Wednesday, January 5th, 2000, 4:28 AM. Millstadt, Illinois. Officer- on-patrol Craig A. Stevens hears reports via CENCOM that 'the Highland PD had a report of a large flying object hanging in the air.' Other departments in the area claim to have sighted it heading in his direction, so he goes to check it out. He sees what he described in his official report as 'a very large flying object coming from a southward direction,' 'flying very low' and 'slowly,' and 'making no noise." Mulder pressed a button, and blurry photographs appeared on the wall. "He got pics. Polaroids. Then he returned to the office to file the report, and made sketches." Another press of a button, another slide. "NUFORC reports that a nearby airbase claimed to have closed their tower and turned off their radar, and that none of their personnel was aware of the sightings or had seen the object." He chuckled. "PDs had followed this thing for miles, and a base within 2 to 3 had coincidentally shut everything off for that particular hour?" He shrugged. "There were also alleged intercepts by military aircraft." He looked at her. "NUFORC further cites other unconfirmed reports that there were visits made to the departments and eyewitnesses by active employees of the federal government who 'requested that the parties' 'curtail all their statements to the press.' Investigations were continued by several organizations including, of course, the MUFON Illinois and Missouri chapters."

She eyed him warily.

"Oh, but, Mulder, this is just another sighting, right? Wrong. This one gets a little more interesting. Today, we are exactly a week from the one-year anniversary of those sightings. Over the last fortnight, several of the eyewitnesses have claimed to have had dreams, premonitions that the craft will return to the American Heartland for more than just a sightseeing tour. . .and, one by one, these people are disappearing." He began to flip through slides of the missing persons. "I've booked two tickets to Illinois, Scully. Our plane leaves in a couple of hours. Just enough time to pack."

She rose slowly, and grabbed her coat.

He picked up the tickets from his desk, and followed her out of the office. The elevator door opened, and they stepped in.

Turning around, Mulder handed her a ticket.


She took a breath. "Yes, Mulder?"

"Welcome home."

She smiled at him as the door slid closed.

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